I've written before about the paths we take, the steps we take in the shoes of our choice, and how our choices make us the people we are. Sometimes we surprise ourselves and we are stronger than we thought possible. Other times, we are weaker. We've done a lot of traveling, and unfortunately that took a toll on us, health-wise this season. It was unexpected and unusual for us to be so ill for so long. I'm never at my best when I'm sick, or when a loved one is sick, or hurting. I remember the last Christmas we had with my Dad, and how weak and frail he looked at the end. I see the vacant chair at Christmas morning when we open our stockings, and I miss him. This year, even though it's been 3 years now, I missed him more than ever.
IMG_6227 He'd love to see the grandkids and their sparkly faces. He'd love to see how they enjoyed seeing the Crystal Palace at Disney World, the Osborne light show at Disney Hollywood, IMG_6042 how the kids greeted me at the door at my daughter's house for Christmas morning. With a living room so filled with packages all colorfully wrapped, there wasn't room for furniture. A sea of abundance.
There was that ache in my heart, partly from missing those that have passed on, partly because I just felt something was missing. My life is truly blessed. I have everything I've always wanted, and more. And yet something was missing. I thought a lot about it during these past four days. This morning I found the answer.
My best friend sent me some music and it made me cry. I'd been staying off the internet, trying to be present with the people physically around me, trying to get over this lonely feeling something was lost or missing. But I opened my computer and saw a post from Mark Divine, who is a SEAL trainer and one of the smartest men on the planet. With the beautiful music as my background, I read his blog, “The Secrets of Resiliency.” And that was what I was missing.
Being a romance novelist I am very sensitive. When I was little, I would cry at movies and TV shows, my family often making fun of me. I was just like my grandmother Fox. When I stayed with them, we would sit on the couch and cry together. Shows like Come Back Yeller and Lassie just broke us up into pieces. Our big red puffy eyes testament to how deeply we felt things. Two of a kind. We wore our badge with honor.
Mark asked the question, “Do you tend to back off when you get overwhelmed emotionally and let fear, uncertainty or frustration derail you? I had to answer “yes” to that. I've been halfway around the world. Had a scare with my husband's health and a diagnosis I was afraid to hear. I'd just finished a book in a new genre for me, which turned out to be more work than I'd anticipated. My year was huge in terms of what I accomplished. And yes, I've been overwhelmed. Though I'm proud of all these great things, I was letting fear take a front seat in my roller coaster ride of life. What if next year is even harder? Am I prepared? Have I made the right choices?
The miracle of life, of the season, and the answer I got this morning was that yes, I have been making the right choices. Feeling emotionally vulnerable prepares me for the next big challenge. Of one thing I am certain, there will be challenges and failures next year. People will disappoint me. I will disappoint those I love. Nothing is, afterall, perfect.
But it still is. Because the perfectness of life is that we get to learn how to be more resilient by being challenged. We don't learn to walk except by falling down. We don't learn to do anything outstanding without having first experienced failure. But if we let fear stop us, we don't progress. And by progress I mean we get resilient, not perfect. We learn how to dust ourselves off and get up and try again. We get the opportunity to have a breakthrough. Without the toughness and the fears we have to face, we don't get those breakthroughs. We don't get the silver linings without the clouds.
We got to share our Christmas Eve with a couple from Croatia and their four year old daughter. What a blessing it was to see their faces light up as they watched their daughter, only here seven months, be able to speak English and share her first Christmas in a new land with an American family. It was an honor to share our home with them. It was my greatest Christmas gift.
So I have the gift this season of being emotionally challenged, overwhelmed, with my heart bursting with gratitude for all the opportunities I have now, and in the future. Oh yes, fear will still be my familiar friend, but now I can thank him for making me a stronger person. For reminding me that my job is to feel. Not just be, but to feel. And the more resilient I become, the more gifts of feeling I will be able to experience.
Nothing stays the same. Everything passes on, fades and dies. Everything. What I see now at my age is different than what I saw as a child, a young bride, mother, daughter, grandmother. I don't have to be perfect. I just have to fill my days with enough of all the good things I can stand.
Happy, Bright, Shining New Year. May it be the first of many.
I decided to give you a little short story to sketch out a new character I'm going to be writing for my next SEAL book in the Bad Boys of SEAL Team 3 of my SEAL Brotherhood series. His name is Rory Kennedy and I'm already in love with him, and he's only nine in this story, until the very end.
Enjoy! Merry Christmas to you all!
Rory Kennedy didn’t believe in Santa Claus when he was a child, because there were no pictures in the orphanage he spent five of his young years in. There was a Christmas Tree, but they removed it when Rory and a number of the boys took the glass ball ornaments outside and tossed them at each other like snowballs.
They’d missed their dinner that night too, but the giggles continued all through the evening. Instead of Christmas carols, they told ghost stories in the corner of the locked room they shared. The room was always locked at night from the outside because these were the incorrigible boys, and though the oldest was seven, they had earned a reputation they liked: impossible to live with. They figured if they’d continue screwing up, they could stay together until their teens, and then be a pack of friends “on the outside” as they referred to it. Though they’d been scolded and reminded of it many times, it still felt like a children’s prison.
Rory’s parents were said to be still alive, but he didn’t believe it. The nuns had two classifications of children: orphans and true orphans. This made a difference since the center was given an allotment of new clothes every year, along with hand-me-downs given by the community. The true orphans got the new clothes, and the orphans, like Rory, got the hand-me-downs.
Rory didn’t mind this arrangement, because he didn’t like the look and feel of stiff pants that made skinny underweight kids like himself look like cardboard stick figures as they walked around in their new finery. The fact that his clothes had smudges and tears made him more comfortable, and less guilty when he damaged them further.
His mother visited him one time. She brought a boyfriend with her, and afterwards he realized he’d not passed the test she was hoping he would and they never returned. No doubt, the man was looking to see if Rory could come home and live with them and evidently he decided he couldn’t. It hurt a little bit. Would have been better, he thought afterwards, if she’d never come. It was evidence that she’d abandoned him, and not the other way around. And that sucked big time.
But fate had a way of messing up his community, and one by one the boys were sent off to foster care as the aging nuns began to close down the orphanage. The Diocese was in need of money, and this enterprise was considered expendable, especially since there were other agencies who could handle children that needed homes.
The first foster care home only kept Rory for a week. The second was another zoo of unkempt children with snotty noses and Rory took ill and wound up in the hospital. They discovered he’d picked up a tapeworm and along with other things, removed him from the home.
He’d developed an allergy to strawberries, of all things. His new foster mother liked to put them in everything, and Rory was soon covered in spots. At first he was quarantined like he had chicken pox, but when the spots continued for a month, the allergy was discovered. Rory had liked his quarantine. He’d started reading Playboys he’d snuck from his foster older brother, who also was a good source for alcohol and cigarettes for the nine-year-old Rory, who acted as lookout for some of the teen’s more questionable activities. But all that dried up when young Frank was sent to Juvenile Hall for some infraction he swore he never did, involving a girl at his high school. Rory was, once again, left alone.
He knew he’d developed an addiction to cigarettes. He’d heard and seen things enough to know that’s what happened when you smoked several a day. Sometimes he’d steal a whole pack from his foster mother when he learned where she stashed them after Frank was carted off. But then she discovered his sinister deed and kept her smokes in a locked cabinet.
Frustrated and telling himself he needed some kind of distraction or he’d start thinking about running away, he began a love affair with fire. He liked to set small fires in the rear yard, raking up leaves and burning them, thinking he’d been helpful to The House as he called it. His foster mother seemed to be okay with it, for some reason, since Rory was the only one to rake the leaves or do any work around the house. He liked tinkering with things.
He started tinkering with bottle rockets when he was given some firecrackers by a Chinese kid at school. Then he began unpeeling the paper on the little explosive devices and filling plastic straws with a longer fuse, which really sent the projectiles into the air. Of course he could never tell where they’d land. Only one of them landed on a car and set off the alarm. It left a large crater in the roof, though.
He found some shotgun shells in the old garage that was more of a toolshed than garage and he knew he was in like Flynn. He accidentally set one off on the workbench. He was lucky to get away with only losing the fourth finger on his left hand, but the ensuing fire burned down the garage and once again, Rory was sent to his fourth foster home after his surgery and hospitalization.
Now, as a grown man, and a Navy SEAL, he sat in the coffee house/book store and watched the chubby and well-loved children huddle at a book reading with a woman dressed as Santa Claus, telling stories to her little horde of fans. He allowed himself to drop the window on his calluses, and enjoy the scene, even though he felt a pang of hurt. It was like the caramel salted latte he sipped: some salt and some sweet. It was the story of his life.
Hope you enjoy your Holidays with friends and family. Let's remember those who are no longer with us this Holiday season as well. And the men and women who stand for us in harm's way. God Bless.
Life is one fool thing after another.
Love is two fool things after each other.
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Audray has just assumed the title as first-ever Queen of the Underworld. As she attempts to consolidate her rule, characters from the past threaten to destroy her and the love she shares with Jonas Starling, a 300-year old dark angel. When she discovers she has been the recipient of a miracle, suddenly their whole immortal lives are changed forever. Will they survive the coming war or get snagged in the power struggle over not only the underworld, but the human world as well?
Sharon Hamilton and JD Hart Speak with Arial Burnz
Sharon Hamilton Speaks With Arial Burnz
I've shared before about some of the things I learned about Walt Disney and the amazing organization he founded, developed and then inspired. I was told by one of his good friends that his rule was simple: everything has to work, and there's no chipped paint. As a young father in Los Angeles, he was frustrated when he used to bring his girls to a nearby park and the equipment was either broken or the paint was peeling. Who knew this simple mission statement would yield something so powerful as Disneyland. He saw something that needed doing, and he kept doing it, and then repeating the process over and over again.
Creating the Happiest Place On Earth hasn't been easy, but it's been a labor of love. I can't imagine what kind of powerful leadership it takes to create and run an organization like Disney did. But he was the spark. And today, his legacy lives on because he was able to light that spark in hundreds of thousands of his co-workers and “cast members” around him. Yet, even after all the success he had in business, he never forgot that he was first an illustrator, and never tired of drawing pictures for children, being with children and helping to create happy memories for children of all ages.
Being here in Orlando the past 2+ days, I'm amazed at the lights, the way millions of people wander through his vision, his land, from all over the world, a place where I couldn't wait to go to as a child, took all my children to, and now my grandchildren. A place where imagination can run wild. We want to share in the experience together, even though the lines are long, the restaurants are hard to get into, where you have to plan ahead to get to go on favorite rides – we all do that willingly and mostly without complaint. Because we want to be connected. People are using their mobile devices to make reservations and work through all the limitations of being in a setting and sharing it with hundreds of thousands of strangers.
We are all connected, and this place shows it, though we are different individuals, we still strive for that “happy” place where we can join our way. The park offers hundreds of ways people can do this. Kids and adults have their favorite lands, favorite characters, favorite experiences from the the choices offered. Entertainment is connection, where we are moved by a performance or talent outside ourselves. We go back again and again to the same things, experiencing the promise consistently delivered over and over again, like a great movie or thrilling book we've watched or read or listened to over and over again.
It was powerful last night to watch as the lights on the Castle turned the whole area into a shimmering Frozen wonderland. My little voice was just one. My grandkids screams of enjoyment a few more. Together we shared in the magic of connection with strangers all over the world. And we walked away with a little more sparkle dust. I'm sure when I get home today, there'll be some glitter in my clothes when I unpack.
I know there's lots of sparkle in my heart.
We spent yesterday in Antigua. Headed straight for the Admiral Nelson Dockyard, which is a National Park here, at English Harbor. We've been before, but always on an organized tour, where we were crowded in for the rum punch freebie, and bellied up to the bar like a good tourist with our German, English and French friends from the ship. This time we hired our own driver, Winston James, and he was a hoot. When we left the ship, we had to make our way through the gauntlet of taxi and tour drivers looking to pick up a good customer. We made it clear, it was just a taxi ride, but in the end, we wound up with something sort of hybrid. He got us there, but we also took in some other sights he thought were important. Well, they were beautiful. And he's rightly proud of “his island.”
Nelson's Shipyard was originally founded in 1740, but the great Admiral himself lived there only 3 years in the 1760's I believe. It was fascinating to read about this garrison, founded before the Revolutionary War, and England's plans to not only protect its interests in the Caribbean, but to establish a safe harbor from the hurricanes that would sometimes decimate a fleet in this region. They also were attempting to stop local pirates from having their way with merchant ships that frequented the Caribbean, loaded with money and other goods bound for England. I was fascinated by the accounts of family life, with “no women allowed” yet where evidence that the sailors and some of the workers they brought from overseas developed relationships with the local women, sometimes raising families, even though there was a wife and family at home. There was one account where a sailor's grave was repositioned, to find that he had been buried with an infant son on his chest, probably due to Yellow Fever. Very touching.
An unexpected miracle was the fact that there was a charter yacht convention going on. They are gearing up for a Sailing Week coming in 2 weeks, where the rich and richer gather with their “boats”, will race, party and party harder. I'm sure it will be a wild time. I was in awe as I walked down the pier, passing probably fifty ships that cost more than I'll earn in 10 lifetimes. Some of these were for sale. Some prospective buyers were charter tour operators and people who liked to own a percentage share of a “boat” like owning part of a racehorse. New stuff for me. And fascinating.
The internet was spotty around the dockyard, where I'll definitely come back to again, so we took local advice and hopped on a dingy, a water taxi, and headed over to Galleon Beach, and had, yes, a cheeseburger in paradise at Roxy's Beach Bar. I was introduced to their version of rum punch, both the old fashioned kind and the standard variety. I got a nutmeg moustache, enjoyed the sun on the water, sat under the fronds and umbrellas, and checked my FB and internet messages. While there, a woman from one of those huge boats tied up her dingy, bringing her chocolate lab to the ocean for a swim. And she stood in the water while he had his fun, a romance novel clutched in her hand. I found this woman fascinating! She said she brought 75 romance novels with her on this trip. Good for her! Wish I'd had a spare book I could have given her, although she was into historicals.
I talked last week about going through doorways and unexpected turns. The trip on the water taxi was a whim for us, just to see something new. Now I feel like the whole trip, the whole cruise was created just so we could have this day at Galleon Beach. We met a group of prospective yacht buyers from the UK who were going home that day, a couple from South Africa, another handsome bartender from South Africa, and Joshua, originally from Guyana, but who came to Antigua when he was 15. I felt the westernized stiffness leave my bones as I relaxed, loved the sounds of the gentle waves, the music and light chatter, and just unwound. Found a part of myself there I didn't know I'd left behind. A new story developed, I'm itching to get to, but I lined it out briefly, shared it, and hope that I can keep the fire burning after I complete some edits I have to start working on tomorrow.
Wonder what Admiral Nelson would think of these boats that are probably worth more than the entire net worth of Antigua itself as a country. One thing is for sure, he probably sat on this beach and enjoyed the sounds of the bay and felt the warm breeze on his face, saw the blue sky and big billowy clouds, and knew that this was indeed paradise.