Circle of Life


Tears. Sadness. Hope. Joy. Death. Life. Yesterday.

When my uncle, Robert Vern, was a young boy he accidentally stepped on the teeth of a rake that was hidden in tall grass. The handle of the rake rose up and hit him in the head causing traumatic brain injury that left my uncle brain damaged and battling epilepsy for the rest of his life. My uncle lived with my family for many years. When he was diagnosed with cancer he fought bravely, but lost the battle at age 68. At 6’4″, he was a lot of body to physically protect and care for and the loving staff at Horizon House (hospice) did so with such great gentleness and professionalism. I spent many hours with my uncle in his room and at the dining table at Horizon House during the last few weeks of his life…and I was there with his body during the middle of the night just after he passed.

Yesterday, when I turned the corner onto Neptune Blvd. to attend the open house for Chrysalis Cove, formerly known as Horizon House (hospice), tears welled up in my eyes and my throat constricted with emotion. The last time I had been to this house, Oct. 14, 2006 1:45 am, was to gather my uncle’s belongings and oversee the moving of his body.

As Sheri Boelter, Executive Director of Tumbleweed Runaway Program, spoke to the crowd at the opening of this home now a safe haven for homeless youth, a big, beautiful yellow and black butterfly flew in a circular formation from one end of the front of the house to the other. As I watched this butterfly I thought of my uncle and how my grandparents and parents could have thought the challenges that came with his brain damage were just too much to deal with and could have either institutionalized him or turned their backs on him and left him to either fend for himself or others to care for, but they chose to love him through the hard times and to keep him part of their family unit. My mom always chose to embrace him with a loving home and family.

Tears. Sadness. Hope. Joy. Death. Life. Yesterday.

As I embraced a young girl — the first to move into this home — I thought of my uncle and I thought of her future and smiled as I handed her a snow cone.





Good Morning

Video Courtesy; William J. Clinton Presidential Library

I remember, on that day, watching and listening to every word she spoke as if they were tangible pieces of hope, freedom, and release of burdens I could give to my loved ones of color, my loved ones whose faith system was different than mine (Christian), my loved ones whose heart loved the same as mine, but because they loved a member of the same sex they were shunned, ridiculed, and made to feel less than, dirty, and repulsive. I remember holding her words — words that empowered ME with courage, hope, and a freedom to rise up and say Good Morning to those I love, to those with which I disagree, to those whose journey is different than mine, to those I can help, to those for which I am grateful, to those whose scars feel generations old, to those whose hearts are weary, to those whose hearts are full of hope…

Good Morning.


Inaugural Poem

Maya Angelou
20 January 1993

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

The Summer I Fell in Love with Bees

I sometimes wonder how my life’s journey would have been different if, in my youth, I had been given a camera in a science class and told to go take pictures of patterns in nature. As someone who learns more quickly and easily by watching and listening, I think I would have fallen deeply in love with science versus feeling frustrated and eventually dreading and fearing it.

Nature is full of the most beautiful audio and visual patterns.

In 2013, through the lens of my old point-and-shoot camera, I began seeing the patterns that my [first] garden was forming and through the lens of my camera, I began seeing bees differently than I ever had before.

From their dance to their work to their sleep, they are extraordinary to observe both in their own form and in the forms they create through their movement.

2013, the summer I fell in love with bees.



Robby’s Story and Praying for Leigh

Yesterday, Leigh Newton Pechillo, who traveled with Up with People Cast B 1993, awoke to her two young children singing to her. She posted the video and more yesterday about how her children celebrated her on the day they know is named for her — Mother’s Day. Later yesterday, Leigh suffered a major heart attack and is in ICU. I didn’t travel in Leigh’s cast, but our casts share the same reunion years and we have become friends through the years. Her cast is AMAZING and they have a bond that has been a blessing to witness as a fellow alumni and as a member of the Up with People International Alumni Association Board of Governors when one of their cast mates was honored with the J. Blanton Belk Outstanding Alumni Award in 2008. At last year’s reunion, Leigh was surprised when she was honored with the James E. MacLennan Everyday Hero Award! To those that know Leigh, it is a fitting honor and could easily be awarded her every. single. day. because she is a hero every day.

When the tragic events occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, Leigh immediately took action to help the families and town that suffered such tragic losses and she has stayed active with her support. When other parents, friends, and strangers have experienced a heartbreaking loss or a wound of some kind in their life, Leigh is always one of the first to take action to help. Leigh and her husband Tom know first hand the fear a parent experiences when their child is hurting or seriously ill. Leigh created a beautiful video that shares her son’s story.

What I have learned from watching Leigh through the years is to stay focused, stay positive, and keep telling your story. Leigh and her family are champions for the American Heart Association and for Leigh, I want to share Robby’s Story with you. Your prayers for her recovery are so very welcomed and, since right now, Leigh’s physical voice is quiet, I’m asking for all of you willing to be her voice to please share Robby’s Story also. Leigh’s love for her children is beyond measure and her determination to help Robby and others challenged with a heart disease or defect knows no bounds. She truly is an every day hero. Thank you for sharing Robby’s Story and thank you for praying for Leigh and her family.

Love Bees!

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One of the most unexpected joys to come from my garden was the magical performance given each day by the bees! They danced from bloom to bloom turning their work into a theater in which I had the best seat in the house. I grew to love bees instead of fear them and each day I set out with my camera to discover as many as I could.

Bees — one of our greatest resources for the food we eat.

They are extraordinary.

Love bees!

Joy, the Little Dog that Conquered Fear

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February 9, 2009. Joy. Joy was one of 189 dogs seized from a breeder in Montana on December 30, 2008. For about 9 months, most of the dogs were housed in horse barns as the legal case made its way through the court. As with many of the dogs, fear was an issue that held Joy back from fully engaging in the opportunities presented to her . . . until one thing happened.

I earned her trust.

From December 30, 2008 – February 8, 2009, Joy dd not leave the 8 x 10 barn stall she shared with 2 other dogs — Love and Happy. But on February 9th (the picture is of this very moment), Joy moved toward the open door for the first time and watched me walk, play, and engage outside the stall with Love and Happy. When she was ready, I knew she would come to where I was standing a short distance from where she is in this picture.

And she did!

As the months went on Joy continued to conquer fear and prove to be one of my greatest life teachers of all time.

On August 14, 2009, Joy was taken from me and I’ve never seen her since. I think about her every day and have pleaded with those who took her from me to know where she is, but, to date, I do not.

The woman who took Joy died last month.

Through the torture of silence and never-ending tears, Joy lives in my heart.

When Someone that Caused You Extreme Pain Dies

Girl in the moonlight alone

Yesterday, I learned that someone who caused indescribable pain in my life for almost 5 years died last month. Her actions were brutal, intentional, and, to my knowledge, she never displayed an ounce of remorse, nor did she ever attempt to change the course of her actions, which she had the power to do. If anyone ever tells you that being a Christian is easy, then they have never experienced the crux of the cross. That experience does not occur in a church or within a group of fellow believers. That experience occurs within the darkness of our own individual souls. It occurs when we, alone, fight to inflict judgment and Jesus combats that with the filter of His shed blood. We are left to fight not seeing the actions of another who caused us or others pain, but seeing only the blood Jesus shed at the cross. We are left to fight with the knowledge that Jesus did not shed His blood for me and me alone, but for the ones who cause us pain as well. We are left to fight to the resolve: Do we believe in the power of His shed blood or do we not? It is always alone, in the darkness of our own souls, that we must answer that question.

For me, the shed blood of Jesus is a beacon of light that breaks the darkness; removes the burden of judgment; and instills grace and mercy. The pain inflicted by others is not lessened and still has its consequences to bear because they alone control their actions, but, at times like now – learning of the death of someone who caused horrendous pain in my life – I am grateful I am relieved of the burden of judgment and can work through the process of her death with grace and mercy.