Friday, December 21, 2012

Newtown - A Moment Of Silence...A Time To Be Still

Remembering those lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School

Psalm 46:10  Be still...and know that I am God.

Today marks one week since the horrifying events at Sandy Brook Elementary School.  As we each take time to remember all the victims, their families, their loved ones, their friends and the entire community with a moment of silence, I encourage each one of us to be still.

There have been so many voices this past week. We are all desperately grappling with how to make sense out of something that does not make sense. Experts as well as a myriad of solicited and unsolicited spokespersons are attempting to sort and sift through the emotional rubble in a hopeful attempt to figure out reasonable sensible solutions, or if there is possibly a pathway that will lead us to a safer way of being. In the fury of it all, sometimes our minds begin to spin with all the noise around us. Today, in remembrance of the precious beings who were taken from us, calm your mind.

As you do so, consider the verse from Psalm 46:10...Be still...and know that I am God.  The verb still (rapha) means 'to be weak, to let go, to release'.  In your moment of silence, let go or release all the senselessness, chaos, chatter, and emotional carnage that fills your thoughts.  Focus on the infectious smiles of all those lost, the missing teeth of the young faces that have filled our screens, the freckles, the curly locks that adorned adorable innocents, the chubby cheeks and trusting eyes,  the favorite toys and identifiable outfits of each unique being, and on the stories of kindness, generosity,and love that were exemplified in the lives of each.

And as we are being still....and releasing...the verse reminds know that I am God. What ever your Higher Calling may be, there is, at least for me, comfort in knowing that there is a force - God - who is in control.  In your moment of silence, surrender to your Higher Power and allow that Power to take hold of the forces that we cannot control. By doing so, at least for this singular moment in time, you will be able to let  go of the 'why', and you will find yourself putting your focus on the 'who' - those lost last week.  

As we leave our place of calm and as the voices increase in intensity and vie for their rightful positions and posture, let us not forgot to stop frequently along the way...and return to those moments of silence. In being still, we honor the memory of those who are no longer with us, and we allow their legacy to take hold within our spirits. And thus, in moving forward, their silent voices will be represented.

"Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything has a purpose."

Elizabeth Kubler- Ross -  Author & Grief Expert

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Gentleman and A Warrior - A Veteran's Day Tribute

Three years ago, I had a relatively brief but incredibly inspiring conversation with a stranger who instantly became my hero.I was at the San Diego, CA Airport waiting for a flight when the only seat available in the overly-crowded waiting area was next to a young, tall, impeccably suited Marine. I slowly walked over looking to see if perhaps a buddy or two was with him before asking the Private if the chair was taken.  He politely answered, "No, mam, it is  not. Please sit down."

After arranging my coat, computer case, and purse, I eased back into the black and metal seat. I glanced over at the young man next to me.  He was leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees and his long fingers were carefully nestling his hat. He was staring down at the floor for long periods of time, and then he glanced upward when a flight attendant's voice rang over the intercom. Risking that I might be interrupting his thoughts but wanting to say something to this brave soldier, I spoke first.

I introduced myself as he did in return.  I then asked the Private where he was going. Over the next several minutes, the handsome young man named Brandon explained to me that he had just completed Basic Training in San Diego, CA, and was returning home for a short break with family. Brandon described his time in Basic Training as rigorous and challenging, but that he was 'up to the task'. The soft-spoken soldier went on to admit how much he had missed his family -  more so than he had anticipated. Picking up the importance of this and being a mom myself, I continued to ask about his family. As Brandon painted pictures of his mom, dad, brother and sisters, his face lit up. He smiled as he named them and shared a bit of history of each. When the Private told of father's pride about his joining the Marines, his blue eyes brightened and danced with esteem.  As I listened, I smiled back but my eyes were straining to hold back the tears.

Brandon and I continued to talk for about ten more minutes.  As I asked him about the weeks ahead, the Private described how he would return to Southern California in about a week to continue his training at Camp Pendleton's School of Infantry. Brandon's excitement spilled over as he talked about how the intensive preparation would ready him for his first deployment and his opportunity to defend his country. As I continued to listen to his every word, I studied his face. His skin revealed his youth - no more than 19 - and his voice, although deep, had a bit of  boyish tone in it. The crafted wisdom of his words far exceeded his years on earth and his innocence spilled out with familial nuances.  I suddenly felt myself feeling afraid. I started visualizing this precious young man in harm's way. I started to feel anxious. As a mom, I wanted to say, 'Stop...Brandon, don't go. You might get hurt, or even worse...' My  mind grabbed hold of stories and images of returning veterans.  I wanted to shout through the noisy crowd, 'Don't let this boy go!  He won't come back the same...if he comes back at all!'

Suddenly, a voice came blaring through the waiting area announcing the boarding of Brandon's flight. He quickly apologized for abruptly ending our conversation and stated gathering up his belongings. As he straightened his coat, I stood so that I could look him in the eyes.  I cleared my throat and struggled to maintain my composure.  I was failing miserably.

Holding out my hand, Brandon took it in his.

"Thank you, Private", I said. "Thank you for what you are doing -  for serving our country."  My voice was shaking and my eyes were watering. "I will keep you in my prayers. I won't forget you. Thank you..."

The strong soldier towering above me replied firmly yet compassionately.

"Thank you, mam.  And thank you for listening to me and for your prayers.  But, please, mam, don't worry.  This is my job. It is what I want to do."
Reaching over and pulling a crisp clean handkerchief from his coat pocket, Brandon laid it gently in my  hand so I could dry my eyes. And as he turned to walk away, he spoke one last time,

"And please mam, if you will... remember me as a gentleman... and as a warrior." 

I have not forgotten.

A tribute to our all our soldiers... Let none of us forget our soldiers, not just over Veteran's Day, but every day.  Let's remember the soldiers still serving and those who have returned home by supporting  them in any way that we can.  Let's not forget that many of our veterans are suffering from psychological scars such as PTSD, anxiety and depression.  Countless others' lives have been re-landscaped by traumatic physical injuries. Many are homeless and jobless and suffer from chronic disorders.  Most are struggling not only to redefine themselves but they are trying desperately to find how to fit back into the lives they left.

Although there are a myriad of ways to support our troops, one organization that I have found to be extraordinary is the Bob Woodruff Foundation. BWF provides resources and support to service members, veterans and their families to successfully reintegrate into their communities so they may thrive physically, psychologically, socially and economically.  For more information,  please contact

Monday, October 22, 2012

Breast Cancer Survivor Traded in her Dusting Rags for Dancing Shoes!

Terry Peterson, age 65 and a 20 year breast cancer survivor, recently created, directed, and performed in the 2015 Santa Cruz Follies’ annual musical production - Those Were The Days. When asked how she views her long-term wellness, she is quick to respond.  “My doctor said that my attitude about getting well was 50% of my healing.  There came a time in my treatment plan when I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

                                         So, I traded in my dusting rags for dancing shoes."

Terry’s journey with breast cancer began when she was just 45 years old.  After a second opinion confirmed that a lump in her right breast had changed, Terry received her biopsy results September 15, 1995.  She indeed had stage three breast cancer with seven of fourteen lymph nodes testing positive. After a lumpectomy, Terry completed an aggressive and grueling year of treatment:  four months of chemotherapy, five and one-half weeks of radiation, and then another six months of chemotherapy.

Amidst the debilitating side effects, Terry remembered her doctor’s words about attitude and outlook.  Along with her unwavering faith, Terry gave herself permission to rest, to focus on getting well, and to enjoy every day.  Even when she was weak and exhausted, Terry walked a nearby mountain road three times a week.  As she breathed in the fresh air and warm sunshine, Terry also focused on her love for her two teen children and wonderful husband.

In September of 1996, Terry began taking the drug tamoxifen.  After two years on the medication and with three more to go, Terry knew she needed to do something more to feel better.  After attending a performance of the Santa Cruz Follies (a 50 plus theatrical ensemble), Terry knew she wanted to be a part of it.  Although still too young to join, Terry immediately started taking beginning tap, ballet, and jazz.  Even during her most difficult times, Terry was dancing up to twelve hours per week. 
In 2001, Terry officially became part of the Follies.  To her surprise, there were several other cancer survivors in the cast: a woman in her fifties, one woman in her seventies (who is a three time survivor), and another woman who is still tapping away at age ninety-one.  Terry emphasizes that

“the camaraderie, encouragement, and understanding of one another’s experiences is invaluable to one’s perspective and healing.” 

Terry’s husband, Lee, joined the Follies in 2002 and credits their faith in God and their partnership in the group as key element s to maintaining a healthy relationship. Lovingly stated, “Performing together gives us joy.”

As Terry reflects on her twenty year journey, she encourages others.

 “Find your passion and pursue it. 
 Fill your days with laughter and fun. 
 And for heaven’s sake, put down your dusting rags and pick up your dancing shoes. 
 Feel your spirits soar. “

To listen to Terry's  amazing journey ...

Although I originally wrote this three years ago for another publication, I wanted to honor my sister again for her unwavering strength and her uncompromising spirit... 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"Positive Power Chat" with Wendy Wagoner CH.t 10/06 by Wendy Wagoner | Blog Talk Radio

"Positive Power Chat" with Wendy Wagoner CH.t 10/06 by Wendy Wagoner | Blog Talk Radio

Domestic Violence Awareness Month -Why Do Victims Stay?

* In light of the recent news headlines regarding Domestic Violence and well-known athletes, and with the hope of shedding a bit more understanding into the victim's mindset, I offer this blog.

In October, three causes all deserve our attention - Breast Cancer Awareness, Anti-Bullying Awareness, and Domestic Violence Awareness.  It strikes me that all three share a common theme - individuals are fighting for their lives. So, I think it is fitting that they share the attention collectively.  Hopefully, each one will shine a light onto the importance of the others.

Over twenty years ago, I interned at a Battered Women's Center in the Bay Area of Northern California.  This was part of my pre-degree hours required to obtain my Masters in Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling. Because I knew I wanted to specialize in the areas of abuse and trauma, I eagerly anticipated this learning experience.  Before I could begin interning at the Shelter or at the Counseling Center, I was required to attend a 40 hour training on Domestic Violence. On the first day of class, what I was about to learn would completely alter a common perception of Domestic Violence victims.

After registering and getting acquainted with the requirements and responsibilities of the class, the first workshop facilitator approached the front of the room.  With our  note-paper and pens in hand, the instructor faced us directly and spoke:

     I want you all to think of a friendship that you knew needed to end, but you kept it going.   I want you to think of a job that you really disliked and wasn't getting you anywhere, but you did not quit.  I want you to think of a club, a team, or an organization that you no longer wanted to be a part of..that you were tired of or didn't agree with, but you stayed. I want you to think of a place that you so longed to move to and actually had the opportunity to do so, but then, you gave up on the idea. I want you to think of someone or something that you strongly believed in only to find out it was a lie, but you continued to invest into it or them.  I want you to think of any commitment to anyone or anything that you vowed you would discontinue, and you remained in that situation much longer that you ever wanted to or anticipated...  

   And then she added,

     I want you to think about this for the next twenty minutes.  As you are doing so, I want you to write down every reason you stayed in the relationship or in that circumstance...  And, I want you to write down how you felt about staying in those situations or relationships.

The room was silent save for the noise of the pens and pencils racing across the sheets of paper. At the end of twenty minutes, the teacher asked us to bring our attention back up to her.  With her black marker in hand, she asked us to begin reading off our responses.  As we related them, she began filling the white-erase board.

     I was afraid he would get mad....  I had no other job to go to....  I needed the money... I was ashamed... I didn't know anyone who would help me....  I didn't want to disappoint my family and friends.... I was afraid of what others would think of me....  I didn't know if I could make it on my own.... I was alone and being with her was better than being alone.... I didn't know where to go next...  I believed that I had to stay - that is what I was taught... I felt I was just being weak...  I thought things would get better... I was embarrassed...  He promised things would change....  I thought something was wrong with me... I thought that if I stuck it out, I might eventually be able to leave on my own terms... I felt I was nothing...

For the next half hour, the "reasons" flowed from the mouths of the interns and the scribbles filled the entire board. With each new reason came added awareness and insight into the lives of Domestic Violence victims. The heaviness in the room lifted like a thick fog dissipating, allowing the rays of understanding to settle within us. And I could sense our collective commitment to this cause move through us and motivate us all to further our knowledge and to guide us in our work ahead...  

As I left the classroom at the end of the day, one thought  permeated my being - for the victims of Domestic Violence, it was never a question of not wanting to leave - it was a matter of needing to survive.

With that truth embedded in my being, I embraced a new and hope-filled focus. I began my work at the Shelter the following week.   

Needing to survive.

Monday, September 10, 2012

September 11th Need Not Define Us...But Refine Us

Although every year since the attacks of 9/11 have brought us through the grieving process and helped us to reach stronger levels of healing, the ceremonies at last year's tenth anniversary seemed to move us into a truly significant realm - one where we were no longer defined by the events...but refined by them.

Making that critical transition is indeed a painful and difficult process, but it is one that will continue to serve us well, if we continue to embrace it.  When we were horrifically betrayed in 2001, our political, economical, social, financial, and of course, relational foundations were pulled out from under us.  Our lives were forever re-landscaped, and hundreds of thousands of citizens were sentenced to years of immeasurable heartache and loss. Most of us tried desperately to make sense out of something that did not make sense so that in the chaos of our confusion and in the prison walls of our powerlessness, we might be able to cling to some morsel of rationale or of sanity.

Each ensuing year, whether we have agreed or disagreed with the course of political action taken to right our country, we have come together on the anniversary date of 9/11 as one. While embracing, remembering, and honoring those who lost their lives in the attacks, we have continued to move forward. In quaint quiet hometowns and in massive busting cities, millions of us will once again take time on Tuesday, September 11, 2012, to take stock of the sacrifices that were made on that day (and so many days since), and we will face the challenge before us - how we choose to live our lives from this point forth is a testament to their memory and to the meaning of that unforgettable day.

During the ceremony at Ground Zero last year, the movement of the water over the memorial walls seemed to signify a new beginning. Yes, we do not ever want to forget what took place.  Nor do we want to be held hostage to our past or to be defined by our betrayal.

 Let's be stronger because of our tragedy. 

 Let's be more forgiving, more compassionate, and more understanding 
because to do otherwise only diminishes the past.

Let's leave all bitterness for the betrayers,
 and let's allow the memories of those who have given their lives for us to shine in us and through us.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Hope Springs" Offers Hope For All Couples!

Last week, my husband and I saw an entertaining movie - "Hope Springs".  Before the movie started and as the people were pouring in, I noticed that the auditorium was filled with silver-haired bobs and shiny bald scalps.  Yes, the average age was probably mid to late seventies.  Soon, the lights dimmed, the music started, and the Seniors began soaking up the wonderful acting performances of Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep. What surprised me is that this movie has a strong message, not just for the those in their Golden Years, but for every couple!

Throughout the movie, there were bursts of laughter and yet there were moments when I saw several audience members take out a Kleenex and catch a tear or two. There were uneasy scenes when couples in the audience pulled apart from one another (just as the characters did in the movie) and there were times when partners snuggled closer together, again mirroring the emotion displayed on the screen. As the movie continued, the  messages of a marriage gone stale, of a wife feeling alone and lonely, of a husband content with routine and sports slowly eked out as they main characters seek help from a therapist. But the one message that rang out loud and clear and the one I hope everyone got is that all couples, even those who are younger or not married very long, often fall into the trap of not seeing one another!

Yes, they no longer see one another!  I understand - life does become routine, there are children to care for and to run and here and there, jobs are demanding, and the responsibilities of day to day living are overwhelming, especially during these difficult economic times! And then, technology (with all its wonders) has disconnected us even more as we spend less face to face time together.  However, there is hope!  Here are some easy wellness tips for couples to implement, now!

  • Once a week, put the kids to bed early, turn off all technology, and sit face to face for one hour. Talk to each other.  Listen to each other.  Hold each other. Really look at each other.  Tell one another what you love, respect, and appreciate about each other. 
  • Once a week, set aside a "date night."  I know you've all heard this before.  Don't poo poo this! The first week, one partner plans it.  Then next week, the other partner plans it. Here's the kicker- plan a date night that you know your partner will love!  Make it about him or her -not you!
  • During the week days, leave little love notes for one another, make an unexpected call or visit to each other's place of work just to say "hi" or to give a hug, plan a lunch together, or do a chore or job for your partner without being asked!   
Start with these three tips.  If we really see each other, we will want to please other. And, hope will spring eternal!


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Taking Away the Power from the Aurora Betrayer and Reclaiming Our Own

I am saddened and sickened by the massacre that took place in Aurora, Colorado.  My heart goes out to all the victims and to their families and friends. As the days go by, most of us get on with our routines and we look forward to the goodness in others and in the day in front of us.  Tragically, the relatives of the loved ones killed or injured in the shootings as well as the caring community in Aurora have had their lives forever re-landscaped by this horrific event.  They will continue to spend the ensuing days, months, and even years working through their losses.

Although I understand the need for the media to educate and inform the public as to the identity and to the persona of the shooter, I tremble each time I hear his name and see his photo. Each and every time his dastardly act is mentioned, the betrayal he inflicted on innocents receives attention and thus contributes to his infamous notoriety. Each and every time his name is spoken and his photo is shown, we (perhaps unknowingly) glorify him, we give our power over to him, and we negate the victims in the process.  On one of the news channels, a relative of one of the victims recently stated, "I will not mention the murderer's name. To do so gives him credibility as a fellow human being.  He has proven himself otherwise."

As a longtime advocate and counselor of victims, I strongly encourage the victims themselves and their supporters to work on reclaiming their power.  Although this is a lengthy process, a key step is to find and reinstate one's voice especially in reference to the horrific betrayal incident. To accomplish this, here are two important strategies:

One: Honor and value your betrayal experience with dignity and grace.  Because the opinions of others, solicited or not, are commonplace on the Internet, it is wise to validate your feelings, emotions, and thoughts privately. Through letter writing (without sending it), or making a tape, or daily journaling, affirm and validate your voice. Honor your opinion, your perspective, and your truth. Tell your story, in your way and in your words. Let your spirit flow freely and allow your inner power to rise up again.

Two: Honor and value your position, perspective, and truth with healthy guidelines and boundaries. Those injured by a betrayer have every right to be filled with anger and sadness. And we need to release those emotions.  First, I encourage you to "make time for your voice" - let out the grief. In a safe environment and with the support of loved ones, express your painful feelings. Get out every emotion; do not hold anything back.  Secondly, also learn when to contain your experience. Keep your "circle of confidence" in mind at all times.  Disclosing your betrayal experience to those who are not worthy of your voice will only bring you re-injury. Thirdly, because we are caught off guard many times by unsuspecting questions or comments or because we are so vulnerable, we need to prepare a statement in advance about our betrayal and rehearse it. This  may sound a bit rigid, but it is for our own protection. In today's world, where anything we say can be sent out to the cyber world and take on a viral nature, we must honor our betrayal injury by being selective in our disclosures. By implementing healthy guidelines around our voice, we empower ourselves because we honor our content and we value our character.

We do not have control over the attention and coverage that the media or online users give to violent betrayers such as the one in Aurora. We cannot silence their voices when they say his name nor can we remove his image from the screen. However, long after he is out of the spotlight, our power will continue to shine as we move forward honoring and valuing our voice and our truth.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day Can Be A Hard Day ~ And A Healing Day

Millions of individuals are celebrating Mother's Day with yummy BBQ's, exquisite brunches, specialty restaurant dining,lovely cards, thoughtful gifts,and bouquets of flowers.However, there are countless others who struggle to get through this difficult day.

  It is something we don't often talk about, we are afraid to admit,
and we suffer silently wishing the day would pass quickly. 
~ Quiet Suffering ~
There are no words that adequately describe the pain of a mother who abandons or rejects her children, who neglects or abuses or harms them in any way, or who violates their trust, love, and need for her. And it is extremely injurious for others whose mothers did not protect them from outside injustices or provide safety from familial betrayals. For those of you who are suffering today, I want you to know that you are not alone. I want you to know that you have every right to feel angry, sad, and bitter. I want you to know that you need to honor your pain,grieve it, and need to let it go.  This may take some time and you may need to repeat the process again and again. But, do let it go.  Give it to your God, Higher Power, or Source  or embrace whatever releasing practice or ritual is comfortable for you. 

 But, do release the pain and release yourself from the hold it has on you. 

~ Release ~
As you let go of your wounds, it is critical that you put your focus back on you! If you have not done so already, start honoring yourself in the ways that you needed and still need! Take good care of yourself - physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. Work diligently at being the authentic person you want to be -  personally and professionally. And if the opportunity presents itself, be a quality mother, father, aunt, uncle, friend, coach etc. to a child. Other individuals choose to invite precious pets into their lives, raising and nurturing them and creating a beautiful bond with them. Break through any lingering bitterness and resentment by giving unconditional regard and love to a young person and/or a furry, feathery, or favorite creature of your own. You will be amazed how healing this can be.

Healing takes root by mothering yourself...
and blossoms by mothering others.

Lastly, break through your feelings of betrayal by focusing on those around you who love you, respect you, and treat you in the ways that you deserve and need. When the hurtful memories resurface from childhood, replace them by building nourishing memories with those who are present and available for you now. Focus on the new and claim it.

Avoid letting the past define you...
Allow the present to refine you.

When Mother's Day rolls around  this year and in the years to come, plan ahead and prepare. Set aside some time for yourself.  Buy yourself a card, treat yourself to a special day, and celebrate the person that you are and what you have become.

 Most of all, be gentle with yourself... 
The day will pass and you will be stronger because of it. 

~ Feel the gentle strength within you grow ~

~ For more healing resources, please visit Holli Kenley. And "like" us on Facebook - Author Holli Kenley and follow us on Twitter

~ If you are struggling to "break through" past injuries and injustices from your mom or other
   individuals, I invite you to get your copy of "Breaking Through Betrayal 2nd Edition".

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