Thank you for your service

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This picture was taken on Pine Island at the VFW.

Sunday afternoon I had the privilege of covering the Veterans Musical Tribute in Jonesborough, Tenn. as an assignment for the Herald & Tribune.

The beautiful ceremony kicked off with a video sharing the history of the Star Spangled Banner in celebration of its 200th anniversary. Although I had watched it before, it was interesting to watch yet again.

The ceremony continued with additional videos and music sung by  the Appalachian Express Chorus. After the program concluded, I walked up to one of the singers in the choir and told him he had a beautiful voice. He did a solo number during one of the songs. The appreciation in his eyes and his handshake still has me smiling a few days later.

This tribute was yet another reminder of what our veterans have done for this country, both young and old.

Jonesborough Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Marion Light who organized the annual veterans program started off the program by sharing the statement below with the crowd:

“It is a soldier, not the reporter who has given us the freedom of press. It is the solider, not the poet who has given us the freedom of speech. It is the solider, not the educator who has given us the freedom to protest. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is graced by a flag to give the protestor the freedom to abuse and burn the flag.”

Although I do not come from a strong military background, I have grown to know a very special veteran who spends countless hours helping other wounded veterans. I met this Marine in 2012 while I was covering an event for veterans on Father’s Day.

Dave has such a special place in my heart. I have nothing but respect for what he has done and what his visions are for the organization he founded, Wounded Warrior Anglers. It is such a beautiful thing to watch and hear his stories of how he is helping his fellow veterans get through some hard times as they struggle with injuries and PTSD. That help is provided in such a therapeutic way, fishing in the beautiful waters of Southwest Florida while creating an everlasting companionship.

Since that afternoon where we shared a picnic table at Olde Fish House talking, he has introduced me to countless other veterans who have left an everlasting imprint on my heart. I can never fathom what these service men and women went through while fighting for our freedom. With that said, it brings nothing but joy to my heart when I am given that opportunity to shake these veterans hands and tell them “thank you.”

I must revisit a memory that still more than a year later has the same effect on me that it did back in April 2013.

The moments I shared with Angel, who served in the Army for 26 ½ years, tugged at my heart. As we sat there, he shared a few stories of when he was deployed, which truly meant a lot to me.

Before I said goodbye, I thanked him. He instantly asked what did I do? I said you served our country and fought for our freedom. The emotion he shared at that moment will be a part of me forever. It still gives me goose bumps as I sit and write about it now. These men and women who join the service do not do it anticipating a thank you from us civilians, but rather because something called them to that job.

The honesty in Angel’s eyes touched me in a way I cannot explain. I told him just know that you are appreciated before I shook his hand once again.

The goosebumps resurfaced as I reread that passage.

So as I sat in the audience taking in the videos, the comments and the songs, my thoughts constantly wandered to Dave and how much being a part of the organization Wounded Warrior Anglers means to me.

Dave, thank you for your service. Thank you for fighting for our freedom. Most of all, thank you for caring enough to make a difference in the lives of so many veterans through your generosity, your vision and your countless hours of dedication to the organization I am proud to be a part of.

There were two videos that I have to share from the program.

One of the video’s was Ronald Regan’s Veterans Day Prayer, the clip is added below.

Although the entire prayer raised the hairs on my arms as I sat with the audience listening to the words spoken, these words below grabbed a hold of me.

“All we can ever do for our heroes is remember them and remember what they did and memories are transmitted through words. We see these soldiers in our minds as old and wise. We see them something as the founding fathers gray with gray hair. But most of them were boys when they died and they gave up two lives. The one that they were living and the one they would have lived.”

The other video was called “Solider Deck of Cards.” Rather than writing an excerpt  of what was said, please watch the video until the very end.

I love when I am assigned an event that touches me  . . . I loved how the program ended . . . members of each branch of service stood as the room filled with applause.

Happy Veterans Day.

Thankful

Some thoughts that struck me while exercising today . . .

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Do you ever wake up thinking you have a beautiful life? That the life you lead is because of the confidence you have in yourself to make it happen?

I’m not sure if these thoughts have bombarded me because I had a conversation with someone from my past, or if I’m just reflecting on how far I’ve come because I’m experiencing the daily change in new life right outside the window.

The life of nature, if you think about it, goes through some drastic changes before new life is born. That new life of spring, and the warm temperatures that also grace this season, has spoken to me.

I really cannot put into words the feelings that take over me when I spot that new flower presenting itself on a tree or on the ground for that matter. After seeing the trees bare for so many months, its eye-catching for sure.

Today, while I was out taking pictures, I heard lawn mowers running and the smell of new cut grass filled the air. This alone made me smile. Do you know how long it has been since hearing those sounds or smelling that fragrance?

Yeah, is all I have to say.

Reflection . . .

The best part of that conversation earlier this week, is it made me smile, instead of making me dwell on the life I decided to leave behind. It’s amazing how much your life can blossom when you have the right people in your life. Without support from my closest family and friends, those mountains that blocked my path seemed unbearable. With their constant encourgement, the mountains turned into little, tiny hills, bumps for that matter. It was easy to catch a glimpse of the other side of the hurdle and continue along this path of my life.

IMG_1434What I took as genuine happiness about how far I have come from this individual kind of left me speechless. I know it shouldn’t have because he was so encouraging when he was a big part of my life. Even as discussions were had about another person of my past, the feelings that used to consume me no longer did. The only feeling that grabbed a hold of me was sadness. The same conversation that was had almost five years ago, was the same tune I heard that day. It’s a shame when someone can’t or does not want to find the new light at the end of the tunnel to carry on and see the new beauty that presents itself.

Life is precious, you have to make the most out of everything. This of course can be hard on occassion. The daily stresses of life sometimes gets the best of me.

The statement below I found one day is very true.

“Stop worrying so much. – Worry will not strip tomorrow of its burdens, it will strip today of its joy. One way to check if something is worth mulling over is to ask yourself this question: “Will this matter in one year’s time? Three years? Five years?” If not, then it’s not worth worrying about.”

I have found myself getting better at this every day.

New beauty . . .

IMG_1429New beauty is constantly presenting itself, if not in nature, in the daily happenings of my own life.

So, why not leave the worry behind, the unneeded stress, when you are in charge of your own happiness?

That one day struck me, it was time to grab a hold of that happiness and be in charge once again.

A huge turning point for me was moving back home to Fort Myers to be close to family and friends. The unconditional love and support often times took my breath away. I will never forget those days. I will never forget how my dad was my strength, how he carried me through one of the hardest times of my life.

The second best thing was rekindling that relationship with my first love.

I will never forget that conversation that started on Facebook almost five years ago after more than a decade of time passing by.

Strength . . .

That word can mean so many different things. I often find my thoughts turning to this word as I’m out in nature admiring its beauty. The more time we spend outdoors, as well as my time I spend at the gym, constantly reminds me just how strong I have become.

IMG_1423I have discovered a strength I did not know existed almost five years ago. I owe that discovery to my family and Jason.

Jason constantly pushes me, which I am so incredibly grateful for. He pushes me in every aspect of life. Every aspect in life.

When we are out hiking and an obstacle presents itself along our path, he pushes me forward, often times giving me words of encouragement, as I battle with the “I can’t do that” kind of thinking.

I have also found a strength inside as we continue this adventure in our new home state. Things, I won’t lie, were really rocky when we first arrived. I was an emotional mess for a few months, until I found my own footing. Found the confidence I needed in the new life we created for ourselves.

This morning as I chatted back and forth with my really good friend back in Florida through text messages, I was flooded with the thoughts of accomplishments. She asked how many papers I now contribute for . . . eight in Arizona, four in Florida and one in Tennessee.

Who say’s you can’t accomplish something when you have faith in yourself?

After telling her this information, my mouth kind of dropped open. I knew I contributed to quite a few, but until I wrote them all down, I guess I forgot the extent.

Independence . . .

IMG_1421I was taught to take care of myself through the years I was growing up. My parents raised all of their children to be independent, which I will forever be grateful for.

Unfortunately, sometimes through the course of life, you lose site of that “independence.” You believe life can only be fulfilled with that one person next to you.

Although I cannot look into my future and not see Jason there by my side, it doesn’t take away my independence. We built this relationship on us both being independent, but sharing a life with each other.

Through the course of last year and into this year, I have found that independence. My contribution to all these publications provides me with the independence I need.

You see . . . some of these things leave such an overwhelming feeling of thankfulness. Often times it leaves me breathless, but in a good way, when I think about the beautiful life I have created and absolutely love living.

The outdoors . . .

Growing up, my brothers, sisters and I, spent a lot of time outdoors. It was just how we were raised. So, it really isn’t a mystery that I still love being outdoors as an adult.

I’m just thankful I have a new found love and appreciation for everything around me. When we moved to Tennessee, I had a feeling I would appreciate my surroundings a little more. Indeed, I have.

Jason and I have run into many people who have lived here their whole lives and not seen half of the places we have in the last year. Being with Jason has shed a light on exploring new places. I couldn’t imagine not exploring. I never want to take where we live for granted, especially when it provides so many great getaways only miles down the road.

So on that note, here are a few more pictures I took today while out and about. The pictures above are also pictures I took today of the simple beauties that surround me.

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One month down . . .

Last year I read a post on Facebook about an idea I wanted to try, which I’m proud to say is still going pretty strong. It has become a habit that’s for sure, second nature if you will.

Today starts month two and I finally went and bought a pretty jar, well vase, for my 2014 project, so I could see all the paper pile up as the days and months go on.

That Facebook post said to write about a surprise gift, accomplished goals, the beauty of nature, lol moments, memories worth saving and daily blessings on a small piece of paper.

JarWell I added my first hint of color, pink, for the month of February. I’m still on the fence of what color I should add for March and April for that matter. January was easy, I decided to write on white because of our first snowy winter in Tennessee.

It’s been a fun exercise. Some days that moment stands out and other days I have to think a little more. Those days really make me appreciate my blessings.

Today’s moment was a text from Jason, one that brought me to tears. I heard his voice, saw the concern in his eyes and felt his love, all through a couple of lines that appeared on my phone before he clocked in for his shift today. He’s such an incredible person, always finding ways to make me smile. The thing I love the most, more than four years later, he still finds ways into my heart that make me fall in love with him a little deeper.

A post I shared on Facebook towards the end of last month: “These last few days have reminded me why Jason and I are so good together. No matter what lies before us, we work together as a team. We balance each other and bring out the best qualities in one another. This man, my best friend, is my rock. I’m beyond grateful to have such a special relationship, one that makes me smile each and every day.”

Jason’s response: “It’s all too easy when you are open, honest, and expectations are based on actions and not delusions.”

 . . . I love this man to pieces . . .

As you could imagine his name appears on many small pieces of paper that are filling my vase.

I’m excited to read 365 pieces of paper at the end of the year to see what my special moments were. I’m also excited for Jason to read them.

Beautiful morning

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While I sat at a stop light this morning waiting for the light to turn green, I had to take a picture from my side mirror, so I could try and capture the beauty. Although I was happy to capture this, it does not fully depict what I saw.

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Of course as I made my way through Matlacha I had to stop at one of my favorite spots to take more pictures. I love the sunrise, it gives you hope for another beautiful day.

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The best part is this is the beginning of the end of my 10 day working spree! What a great way to kick off a day that I anticipate to be very hectic as I try and finish another week’s paper.

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Heartwarming experience

What an emotional, gratifying, heartwarming, special, spectacular day yesterday.

Men and women were invited to Matlacha this past weekend to take part in the Warrior and Caregiver Retreat, two days put on by Wounded Warrior Anglers to treat the warriors and caregivers to a stress free day.

Friday night kicked off with a captain’s dinner at Miceli’s Restaurant in Matlacha to provide the warriors and caregivers with the opportunity to meet the men who were taking them out on the water the following day. As everyone gathered around the table and enjoyed pizza, new friendships were formed. Conversations were had, laughter was shared and life long memories were created.

It’s truly amazing to witness how complete strangers turn into instant friends in a matter of minutes for the simple reason of them sharing a common experience – serving in the military.

Saturday morning I arrived at the Olde Fish House Marina minutes before a presentation was had by Tim, who is a part of Bimimi Bay Outfitters. He presented the warriors with rods and reels. The night before the warriors received sunglasses for their fishing trip.

Dave Souders, co-founder of Wounded Warrior Anglers, said the rod and reel is a tool for their own therapy, so they can continue to fish beyond the day of the retreat.

As all the warriors were called upon to receive their rod and reel the excitement of fishing began to fill the space.

Once completed, the captains and warriors filled one of eight boats that were stocked with what they needed. Their spouses, or significant others, kissed them goodbye and sent them on their way wishing a great day of fishing.

As everyone became settled the engines were turned on and the boats departed one at a time. The smiles and glows that filled these warrior’s faces were priceless. The captains also shared the same excitement.

The amazing part of that moment, is all of these captains donated their time and boats Saturday because they all believe in the organization’s cause.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGeorge who joined the festivities for the first time Saturday, as a captain, said the experience of taking the warriors out on the boat was “awesome.” He instantly became hooked and is looking forward to the next retreat.

As George sat there and shared stories of their day out on the water, a permanent smile remained on his face as he shared how excited Paul, one of the warriors on his boat, was the entire time they were fishing. Although Jim, another warrior that was aboard the boat, goes fishing quite often, George said Jim shared that it was the best day he has had on the water since October.

Those reasons alone are what captures the beauty of what the organization is all about. These generous captains created a stress free day for these warriors who battle with so many injuries and PTSD. Because of these captains, these men and women who fought for our freedom and served our country, forget about their worries while focusing on catching fish after fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA short time after they left the docks, five caregivers and Dave’s wife, Judy, also a co-founder of the organization, walked to Spa 33 for their day of relaxation.

Nadine and Tammey, owners of Spa 33 in Matlacha, close their business for the day to treat caregivers to a manicure, facial, massage, make-up, as well as a having their hair styled. These owners wanted to take care of these caregivers because they take care of the warriors who kept us safe. They shared that so many times when women are taking care of their loved ones they often times forget to take care of themselves.

The day, I believe was just as touching to Nadine and Tammey, as well as the rest of their staff, as it was to all of the caregivers. What huge hearts these women have. Once again because of their generosity, life long memories were created as some of the women experienced massages for the first time.

Again, these women who met for the first time this weekend shared an instant connection, which sparked nonstop conversations of their husbands, and boyfriend, as well as the experiences they had when they were deployed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was such a positive environment that had continuous laughter as the women one-by-one became more relaxed as they were treated to personalize pampering.

The word “thank you” was shared more than once as the afternoon began to sink in for these caregivers.

Although a day of pampering was had, Danielle said she enjoyed the conversation the most.

“The conversation was my favorite,” she said. “I’m talking to adults and not kids.”

Many of the women expressed that they were more excited about their husband and boyfriend being out on the water fishing. They all said it was good for them because many times they do not share the experiences they had while in the service.

This is the second time I have spent the day with the men and women who were brought in from either Lee County, Collier County or other areas of Florida for the retreat. The day pulls on my heart as I witness just how much the day means to them . . . how as the day goes on they become more relaxed and their daily worries disappear.

I am so fortunate to be a part of such a wonderful organization that truly helps others. I am also honored to have been asked to serve on their board.

battle of matlachaThe conversations I had with these men and women will stay with me forever, especially one I had after the men returned from their fishing trip.

The moments I shared with Angel, who served in the Army for 26 ½ years, tugged at my heart. As we sat there, he shared a few stories of when he was deployed, which truly meant a lot to me.

Before I said goodbye, I thanked him. He instantly asked what did I do? I said you served our country and fought for our freedom. The emotion he shared at that moment will be a part of me forever. It still gives me goose bumps as I sit and write about it now. These men and women who join the service do not do it anticipating a thank you from us civilians, but rather because something called them to that job.

The honesty in Angel’s eyes touched me in a way I cannot explain. I told him just know that you are appreciated before I shook his hand once again.

Although I will never know what these men and women experienced while they served our country, Wounded Warrior Anglers continously provides me with plenty of opportunities to thank them for what they have done.

Judy and Dave have created something special. Because of this special couple, these men and women’s circle of friends continues to grow, which in itself is a beautiful thing because it is another support system that will be with them forever.

A glimpse of my impact

The last few days I have revamped my resume as I updated it with my latest journalism jobs, improved the wording and changed the style. This document, which made me proud of my accomplishments, will soon be sent to newspapers of our new destination.

While working on my resume, it made me reflect once again on where I started and how far along I have come. Memories poured out of the words that appeared before me as the descriptions of my duties brought me back to the time and place of that particular job, making me remember stories, people and co-workers I have had the opportunity to work with.

This morning I stopped by my executive editor’s office to share a little more about my move, as well as discuss details about my departure. As we caught up on each other’s life, my appreciation for this woman increased as she told me she would take care of me and wished me the best on my journey. The more we talked the more she shared her excitement for my new adventure.

As the economy affected the newspaper over the past few years, this woman always found a position for me within the company, so I could continue my passion of writing.

It will definitely be a bitter sweet goodbye when that final day comes as I walk away from my newspaper that I have become so proud of, as well as my editors who have recognized my hard work and shared wonderful compliments.

As I drove from the Cape Coral office to my office, I began brainstorming who would be so kind to write a letter of recommendation. Within an hour, my first letter appeared in my mailbox, which almost brought me to tears as I read how much of an impact I have had on this little community.

beaconThe executive director of the Beacon of H.O.P.E. truly touched me with what she wrote.

“We will be at a loss to replace her, but I am confident that she will be an asset in any endeavor she attempts,” she explained in this letter addressed to whom in may concern.

I have truly enjoyed writing about this non-profit organization that began shortly after Hurricane Charley devastated the area. Over the years, this incredible island organization has provided countless programs, which are still increasing and improving, to help island residents young to old excel in life. As I wrote articles for the Beacon, I formed a friendship with the executive director and never left the room without sharing a hug.

“She would arrive on time for any event as requested, with a smile and a curiosity to really understand what was happening. Her writing was articulate and accurate and spoke well of our community,” she continued.

One of my favorite parts of being a journalist is conducting the interview because I love finding out why people do what they do. I love digging into the subject and finding out the story behind that particular subject.  Whenever I wrote an article for the Beacon, this woman always directed me to the right person to interview and was always happy to share the history of how a particular program began.

“Meghan has been the editor of our local paper, The Pine Island Eagle, and has functioned in this role with enthusiasm, dedication and professionalism,” she wrote.

The compliments continue through the many paragraphs that grace this letter of recommendation. I am incredibly proud of these words and look forward to pass them on to the jobs in which I apply for in the very near future.

Although I am walking away from this editor position to further my career, I will never forget all the wonderful memories that were created on this little island in Southwest Florida. I will always hold these compliments close to my heart as I strive to improve my writing and path in this amazing career.

I never imagined that a career as a journalist could be so rewarding and so touching. What an amazing journey these past 16 months have been.

I truly believe the best way to get to know a community is through being a reporter because of the rapid pace in which you learn about the area and what it has to offer. This community welcomed me with open arms and provided me with an incredible learning experience as I tackled being an editor for the first time.