Peacemaker’s Journey

Connecting the dots

I remember when I was young, the anticipation of connecting the dots in a dot-to-dot picture.  Sometimes, I would know what the picture would turn out to be even before it was finished, but most often, I never knew what the entire picture was until it was completed.  The dots took my pencil along the expected route, but then I would have to look all the way across the paper until I found the right dot, separate, yet connected to the other dots. The pictures with the least number of dots were the easiest, but as I got older the pictures had more dots, some even seeming to overlap one another, as the picture became more detailed.

It’s funny, I now can look back on most of my life and connect the dots.  I can see where the experiences and the people that I have met along the way have led me to where I am today.  Some random dots, way off the page, and others going exactly as I would have expected.  I can go all the way back to a picture I drew when I was in 2nd grade.  It was a picture I drew of my dad holding my new baby sister.  It’s just a picture in a scrapbook now yellowed with age, just a small part of the whole picture, separate, yet very much connected.   

The years followed as expected; married, three beloved daughters, living life within the boundaries of my own comfort and backyard.  Like any family there are difficulties and almost unbearable heartaches in-between the humdrum, every-day-is-just-like-any-other-day days, the joy-filled celebrations and the milestones that once seemed so far away but are now knocking on my door.  Then one day, out of the blue, something happens that changes everything.

Lives are shaken.

Hope shattered.

Faith questioned.  

This is not my claim to be a peacemaker, but rather a journey towards awakening, awareness, and my small contribution to a more peaceful world.

The following are some of the random events and coincidences that have occurred since September 11, 2001.  Separate, yet deeply connected, I am just connecting the dots.

September 11, 2001

At about 7:50 a.m. on the morning of September 11, 2001, I received a phone call from my daughter, Katie, who was away at college.  I was a bit startled because it was earlier than I usually hear from her.  She told me to quickly turn on the news.  She had just heard about a possible explosion at the World Trade Center in New York City.  Together, we anxiously watched to find out what had happened, and then in disbelief and horror saw the second plane crash into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  For the next several hours we sat watching the horror unfold, me in my living room, Katie in her apartment.  I can still see everything that happened that day.  I can almost choke on the dust and ash. 

In the days that followed I did what most people did; went to memorials, cried, attended fundraisers, lit candles, and cried some more.  Nothing seemed like it was enough in the wake of the horror we had just witnessed.

You Decide

When I was 15 in 1969, I drew a pencil drawing of four children for a school art class.  It had been long forgotten after getting water damage from a flooded basement in 1979.  I had occasionally thought about painting it as a black and white watercolor, but never found the time.  Now was the exact time I needed to paint it.  After not seeing the original for years, I found the original drawing in a spare bedroom closet under a pile of stuff…the first place I looked. There it was.  Water-damaged.  Blackened around the edge of the matte by mold.  There was a slight rip under one of the girl’s eye, which now looked like a tear running down her cheek.  I looked at the painting and at the eyes of the children.  I knew I had to paint it again.  Now.  I took out my paints and prayed, “Please let me get the eyes right.”

September 19, I painted what I would title ‘You Decide’.   While I painted I cried, often wiping the tears off the paper.  I just kept thinking what I wanted the painting to say.  After I completed the painting I wrote a little thought card to give away with each picture.  I sent prints, first to New York City, the hospitals and fire stations, then Washington D.C., the president, vice president, Colin Powell, our state and national representatives, service organizations, and anyone that I thought it would make a difference to.  Soon it was making its way to nearly every state in the country and then to many different countries around the world.

You Decide

You Decide

  Look into my eyes.
What do you see?
Perhaps, if you are a government leader,
you will see the eyes of the innocent and
make your decisions very carefully.
If you have lost a cherished loved one,
maybe you will see the need for hope.
Just maybe, you will be more understanding,
more accepting of the differences in each of us.
Maybe you will see the need for your time,
if only for an extra hug or two,
or an encouraging word.
I wonder if we could make this a kinder,
gentler world for our children.
Now, you decide.

$30 and a Pocket Full of Miracles

We have never had a lot of extra money.  In the weeks following 911, I decided to take $30 and put it in my pocket just to give it away, use for getting prints and mailing costs, Pass It On and later Peace Learning Circles.  I was amazed that each time I gave the money away, I found the $30 in my pocket so I could give it away again.  You see, once I decided to give the money away or use it for making a difference, I changed the story I told myself about lots of things.  Did I really need a new pair of shoes or could I wear the ones from last season?  Could I save a little money here, so I could add it to my pocket?  I started to change the story I told myself.  As a result, the money was always there. And sometimes it multiplied itself many times, usually just when it was needed.  

I had always been a “back door” kind of person.  Stay in the background.  Then I found myself being directed to the side door.  But now I was being pushed right through the front door!  

I had been getting prints made of You Decide at the local Econoprint for $2 each.  Whenever I had extra money for the prints, mailers, and postage I would have as many prints made as I could, usually a half dozen or so. But now I needed 500 prints of You Decide for Make a Difference Day.  I called the local store, asked where I could find the owner.  I was given the address for the President of Econoprint, about 45 minutes away. I asked my mother to drive with me to talk to him.

When we arrived, my mother stayed in the car praying, and I went into the office, pretending to be calm & confident.  He must have thought I was out of my mind.  I told him what I needed, and that I did not have much money. To my amazement, and he even looked surprised, he agreed to give me the prints at cost!  I could not believe it!    And he also told the Econoprint store in Racine to give me the prints for 60 cents each whenever I needed them! 

Several days later a parent of one of my daughter’s friend from high school sold me enough green satin ribbon, printed with “….because kindness matters…” to make 900 ribbons at cost!  Amazing!  I hope you read what happened at the mall on Make a Difference Day.  It was nothing short of a miracle.  

Mr. Johnson

I was watching the news following the tragic events of 911 when I saw a tall man with such sadness in his eyes.  It was Norman Johnson. He was the grandfather of a young man that died in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  Mr. Johnson lived in Racine and the local TV news was doing a story about his grandson, Scott Johnson, who was just 26 when he died.

At the time, I worked as a floral designer.  I decided to send a peace lily to Mr. Johnson, along with a print of the painting “You Decide” and a card, just signed “Sue”.  However, when I looked up Norman Johnson in the phone book, there were two Norman Johnson’s that lived in Racine.  I did not know which one was the correct address.  The plant sat for a while, until the delivery driver, Chuck, asked me where the plant was going.  I told him my intention, but since I did not have an address, could not send the plant.  Chuck said not to worry; he used to live next door to Norman Johnson and new exactly where to deliver it! 

By October, I decided to try to raise money for the families of the victims of September 11.  October 27 was Make a Difference Day.   I had 500 prints of ‘You Decide’ made and 900 green ribbons printed with ‘…because kindness matters’.  The local newspaper ran an article about all of the events that were going on for Make a Difference Day.  I planned to give away the prints of ‘You Decide’ and ‘kindness’ ribbons at the local mall all day.   Donations were accepted, for the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and the America’s Fund for Afghan Children.   Now comes the amazing part. 

While giving away prints and ribbons, I looked down the mall at all of the people going about their day.  Above the people walking by, I saw a tall man walking with a purpose, but with his head lowered. He came up to where a group people were standing, and simply said, “I am looking for Sue.”  Somehow, before he said my name, I knew who he was, Norman Johnson, and my eyes overflowed with tears.   I walked over and just hugged him for what seemed like for a very long time.  (He had read the article in the local newspaper about the Make a Difference Day projects that were going on that day and recognized the name and painting.)  

Well, to continue with the amazement, I found out the Mr. Johnson and my grandfather and my uncle did business together many years before.  My husband graduated from high school with Mr. Johnson’s son, Tom, Scott’s father.  Several weeks later, after making bread, I decided to take a loaf to Mr. Johnson.  While we were visiting, he showed me pictures of his family, which included his daughter Katie and her family.  It turned out that Katie and her husband Pat had belonged to our church.  I was the cheerleading coach for his granddaughter, Sheila, about 7 years earlier.  Mr. Johnson and I remained friends until he passed away on February 6, 2005.  

Pass It On

I continued writing letters and sending out pictures.  I needed to do more, so I started outlining a program to teach children how to treat each other better.  In January of 2003, my grandsons asked me to present an options class at Red Apple Elementary School.  PASS IT ON, a program to teach children about acts of kindness and how to pass it on to others and all about peace and peace pebbles became a reality. What was supposed to be a one time fun class lasted for most of the year, the students giving up their lunch time to participate in PASS IT ON.  

A Simple Story

In March, 2003, I knew I had to paint a picture with many children from different backgrounds.  I was not even sure I could bring my vision to reality; so, I did what I do before I start any painting.  I prayed.  I prayed some more, then I prayed to get the eyes right.  The eyes tell us so much about a person.  When we really look into someone’s eyes, we can see into their heart as well.  Well, this painting took about 3 months and I got to know the children well, so when I was painting them, I named some of the children. 

Grace, in the purple dress in the upper corner, is from Jamaica.  The child in the opposite, lower corner I called Pearl.  She is from the Fang tribe of Africa.  The two young boys in long white robes and hats are from Afghanistan.  My son-in-law sent me a picture of the boys from Afghanistan during his deployment.  The baby is his son, Gabriel, who was born while Geoff was deployed in Afghanistan.  Nick is from Korea; he has a ribbon that says, ‘I’m the big brother’.  Dark, curly-haired Josie is from Guatemala.  There is a mother feeding her children on the steps leading to the capitol building in Madison, and other African American & Latino children. 

I titled the painting ‘A Simple Story’ with 18 children from different ethnic backgrounds.  The entire story “Once upon a time they lived happily ever after.” is written across the painting on worn parchment.   I started to give away A Simple Story.  I continue to give away prints of ‘You Decide’ and ‘A Simple Story’, sending them where ever I can and giving them to whoever would like a print. 

A Simple Story

That Still Small Voice Inside

In October of 2003, I got a new job as assistant manager of a local business.  Over the next several months, I had several discussions with my new boss, the owner of the business, about his discrimination at the business such as his refusal to let the manager, who was Latina, answer the phone or let her talk to customers because of her accent.  He told me he wanted me to answer the phone and call the customers.  He especially wanted me to talk to the funeral homes we dealt with. He was afraid he would lose business if the customer heard a Latina employee. I flatly refused to intentionally answer the phone or make phone calls to keep another employee from talking due to her “Tex-Mex” accent. In February, 2003, an African American man came in the business and asked if he could wash the large outside windows.  After he was finished washing the windows, the owner of the store was standing on a ladder, re-washing the windows while making rude and unnecessary comments about the window washer.  I said something to him about his negative comments.  His sarcastic remarks to me that followed echoed through the entire building. The manager and I went into the basement to clean up and escape his banter.  

We could still hear him hollering in the basement. I heard a whisper that kept saying “Walk away” so with permission from the manager, I left for the day, an hour before quitting time.  That night, the owner’s wife called and fired me.  It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.  It will never be okay to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear on things that really matter.  If I do not stand up for someone who is treated badly, who will? 

An Unexpected storm

I continued to work on PASS IT ON until Dec. 18, 2003, the day before my birthday, when I received another life-changing phone call, this time from my father.  Just the month before, Dad and his wife of only 7 years, Pat, sold their home in Burlington, Wisconsin and moved permanently to Florida.  Now, he quietly said that he was just diagnosed with terminal cancer and had 3 to 6 months to live.  I could hardly breathe as I listened to his words.  All I could envision and think about was my tall, strong, healthy and active father who-had-never-really-been-sick-a-day-in-his-life-and-who-now-looks-like-Sean-Connery-since-he-grew-his-beard….there must be some mistake.  Breathe. 

I left for Florida on December 27.  We spent Dad’s 72nd birthday, New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2003, with 4 of his 5 children.  The bitter sweetness of being together, yet celebrating what could be his last birthday, choked in my throat.  New Year’s Eve, 2003, we celebrated Dad’s birthday, took family pictures & deep breaths, swallowed hard & laughed and reminisced.  I spent much of the next 9 months learning more than I ever wanted to know about cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, the ups and downs, the good news and not-so-good news.

Twice I went with Dad and Pat to M.D. Andersen Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. The first time we went, we met with the doctor to see if there was a clinical trial that my dad could participate in. In between appointments, we went to mass at the large chapel in the medical complex. After mass, the priest was greeting several people and blessing them. My dad is a very quiet man, never rushing before his turn. We sat in the pew until most of the people had gone. Then my dad went up to the priest and asked the priest to pray for him. The priest asked several of the people left in the chapel to join us and place their hand on my dad. He then asked my dad what he wanted us to pray for. My dad, by now was quietly sobbing, trying not to have anyone notice. As if choking on the words, my dad choked out, healing and the strength to go through this. I had never seen my dad cry before. It was heartbreaking.

Acceptance comes in waves, not all at once.  There is always hope; hope that the doctors are wrong, hope that the chemo and radiation will rid the body of this unexpected and uninvited invader, hope that there is a clinical trial that will bring new hope for a cure, hope for more time, hope that the prayers for healing and courage will be answered… and they are answered. The priest said healing does not always come in physical ways; healing can come in acceptance and surrender and courage. 

Dad bought a boat and he looked forward to fishing in the Gulf and long, slow, relaxing rides up the calm inter-coastal waters with family and friends to favorite restaurants.  With his new boat lift installed, a dream was fulfilled.  Now, one warm sunny day, I listened from the bedroom, tears streaming down my face, as Dad made the final arrangements to sell his boat.  Preparations.  Acceptance. Surrender.

My Dad wanted desperately to make sure Pat was going to be ok. We drove him to the auto mechanic where he had his vintage Cadillac worked on. He wanted to make sure that they would continue to take good care of Pat so she had a safe car to drive when he was gone. I went in and asked the mechanic if he could talk to my dad. He said to just bring him in. I explained that my dad was in the car and too week and sick from the chemo to get out and would he come to the car. He did and we listened, heart aching, as my dad talked to the mechanic. Then we quietly drove away without talking.

An unexpected event that I never thought I would be a part of was being in 3 of the way-too-many hurricanes that hit Florida and the surrounding areas in 2004.  My dad and my step-mother, Pat, live on Treasure Island, a barrier island just west of St. Petersburg, on the Gulf of Mexico.  My first experience with a hurricane was Frances.  Dad was worried about getting off the island if we needed to, and once the bridges were up, there was no way to escape the storm or get to medical care if needed.  So we packed up and spent the night in Pat’s sister’s condo directly on the Gulf of Mexico. 

The night seemed to be endless.  We were on the 7th floor.  The noise was deafening from the storm and the hurricane shutters.  The huge chandelier in the middle of the room was swaying.  

The most worrisome part was that my three daughters, Kristen, Sarah and Katie, were staying with my brother in Safety Harbor, just a short distance away.  They had come to say goodbye to their grandfather over the Labor Day weekend.  They could not leave to escape the storm because all flights were cancelled.  To make matters worse, Sarah and Katie each brought their 5 and 9-week-old baby girls to see their great-grandfather for the first and last time.  I could only pray they were all safe. 

My husband Jack, alone in Wisconsin, was terrified to have his family in the middle of the hurricane and not able to do anything but watch the devastation on the cable news.  I was on the phone with him most of the night, hardly able to hear because of the loud train-like noise, coming from outside.  He kept me somewhat calm until I finally was able to get a few hours’ sleep. 

By 6:00 a.m. Dad was so agitated; we had to take him home.  It took all of us to get him to the car without nearly blowing away.  We drove, silently through the deserted streets, wind still howling, power lines down; it was eerily like an Outer Limits TV show I had seen when I was younger.

It seemed like only days later, hurricane Ivan became the new focus.  Only this time, it is predicted to be an even bigger threat.  Dad wants to come to Wisconsin to wait out the storm so I book flights.  Dad was getting worse, so once the path of the storm changes, I cancel the flight.  Dad would have never made it.  We barely got through it.  We were still well within the outer bands of the hurricane.  I watched as the roof of the apartment building across the way is slowing being lifted.  We are glued to the TV and watched as the hurricane devastated the Florida panhandle and the Gulf Shores of Alabama until we lost power.  Through grace and mercy, they were spared any damage.  

Once again we traveled to M.D. Andersen. Tests showed my dad had 11 brain tumors and because of this, they would be stopping all treatment in the clinical test. There was nothing more they could do. Again, without talking, we left and flew home. On the way home from the airport, we went to one of my dad’s favorite place to eat, although by now the tumors in his esophagus made it almost impossible to swallow. I secretly asked the staff if they could puree the clam chowder as best they could for my dad so he could swallow it. It was his last meal.

I can remember the exact evening the cancer, that by now had spread to his brain, took over.  It was so insidious, so unrelenting. My dad was so confused and agitated and upset and just not himself. It was through pure grace and mercy that Dad did not know what was happening the last week of his life.  He was spared the knowledge that would strip away his last bit of dignity. 

By Friday, September 17, hospice brought in a hospital bed for Dad.  I stayed in the living room during the nights with my dad, sleeping when I could on the couch. I had brought a DVD of beautiful Psalms with soothing music and would play it during the night while my dad slept on and off. I wanted him to hear the Psalms and see the calming pictures if he woke up during the night.

Friday morning, September 24, Pat told Dad that it was OK to go, that she would be all right.

My father quietly and peacefully passed away with his children and Pat by his side later that day. 

September 25, yet another hurricane, Jeanne, threatened the Gulf.  After making the memorial arrangements and totally exhausted, Pat and I decided to stay on Treasure Island and wing it. The bridges would be up, but we had food and flashlights.  After the electricity went out, we sat up all night on my bed.  We could see the roof being lifted off of the building across from us. The water was thrashing over the harbor. The candlelight reflected a warm glow over the room, despite the howling of the wind and the crashing of the rain against the windows. 

Pat just talked about my Dad and how much she loved him and how much he loved his children.  They had been married just 8 short years.  Pat was an R.N. in New York City when she met my dad.  She was waiting to hear about a new job, but decided to retire after meeting Dad.  He was happier than I had seen him in a long time.  I learned more from Pat about love and commitment and compassion during the past nine months. I just listened to Pat talk about my dad, and the wind howling outside. 

As we lay on the bed in my room, Pat told me that when she told Dad that she would be all right and it was okay for him to let go, she also asked him to talk to God and ask him to help bring peace to our children and the world.  Through tears, I smiled in the dark and thought of the music that played as my father was making his final journey.  During the last few hours of his life, as my father was breathing irregularly, I wanted to play the DVD of Psalms that I played at night for my father. Coincidently, or maybe not, to my disappointment the DVD player did not work.  It had worked every day for the past 2 weeks, but now I could not get the DVD to play.  Disappointed, and almost frantic, I remembered a CD that I brought to play for my Dad, “Peacemaker’s Journey” by Joanne Shenandoah. The CD player worked. As my dad made his final journey, Peacemaker’s Journey played. Finally, comfort amidst the grief.

To listen to Peacemaker’s Journey by Joanne Shenandoah CLICK HERE. It will open in a separate tab. If you want, you can just leave it on and come back here to finish reading while it plays quietly in the background.

By 6:00 a.m., with the wind dying down, exhausted, we each fell asleep among a calm and peace and relief and, I guess, finally surrender. My father’s struggle was over.  He ran a good race, fought a good fight. 

My Angry Walk to the Mailbox

Several days after the hurricane, I returned home.  It would be several weeks before Dad’s memorial service.  I would give the eulogy.  I was having nightmares, trouble sleeping, and just felt lost.  It had been a long, emotional nine months. 

Monday, before the Saturday memorial, I got very angry with God.  I did not know if I could give the eulogy.  I did not know where the strength and courage would come from.  I was depleted of all energy from the past 9 months.  I told God that He had until Thursday.  I had better have some sign, something, anything, by Thursday, in my mailbox, or else. 

Thursday came. The mail came. And I stomped down the driveway to the mailbox, saying to God, “You had better be there for me.  I don’t know what I will do if you are not there.  I cannot do this without you!”  I took the pile of mail into the house and started on top.  On the bottom of the pile was a small box, obviously damaged from going through the mail machines. I opened the box and there was a cross, engraved with a black scrolled design. Prayer answered. I put it on and did not take it off for a very long time. I was able to give a heartfelt eulogy and honor our father.

Several months later, when the time was right, I mailed it to a very special person who was going through a very difficult time.  I just asked that when the time was right, she pass it on to someone else that needed it.

When things got back to ‘normal’, I continued making peace pebble bags, sending prints of my paintings and working on the kindness program.  Little did Dad know how much he would be a part of Pat’s last request and my dream for a better life for our children.  He left each of his 5 children a small inheritance.  I would use it for Pass It On which would later become Peace Learning Circles and donate to someone that needed it.  Funny thing, it doesn’t seem to run out, no matter how much I give away.

Peace Learning Circles

In early 2006, I was contacted by several other people that had the same passion that I had.  They had heard about the Peace Pebbles and Pass It On Program.  Four strangers, people that never knew each other, were brought together.  We started a program that teaches respect and how we should treat each other, about values, inclusion, kindness, and how to resolve conflict without violence.  It’s about not hurting people’s hearts. 

In May, 2006, Peace Learning Circles had its first pilot program with one class from Racine and 2 classes from Kenosha.  Since that first workshop, we have grown and increased the number of classes and students that participate in the PLC workshops. 259 classes from 33 schools have participated in our program.  More than 9000 students have taken part in the PLC program and have committed to be peacemakers in their home, school, neighborhood, community and the world. 

New York City Visit

I had never been to New York City.  Dad said we should go when he and Pat could take Jack and I. They would be our “guides”.  Dad never got to go, but he had asked Pat to take me when she could. In November of 2006, 2 years after Dad died, Pat took my Aunt Sandy and me to New York City, a trip I had dreamed about since 911.  (Pat grew up and lived her entire life in New York City.  She was a nurse and hospital administrator when she met my dad.) 

We spent an entire day with a Barbra Olsen; a friend of Pat’s who lost her son, Eric Taube Olsen, on September 1, 2001.  He was a firefighter with Ladder Company 15, who, along with many of his fellow firefighters were in the Twin Towers when they came down. 

We went to Ground Zero and the fire station.  We just sat and talked and walked around for most of the day. 

For the next several days, as we walked through the streets and subways of New York City, sight-seeing. I randomly left prints of my paintings and peace pebbles wherever I could, even the subway. 

I have not traveled a lot.  Most people have dreams of Hawaii, cruises or beautiful exotic places.  New York City, and visiting the site of where the Twin Towers stood, will certainly be the most meaningful and lasting memory of my life.  Even today, years later, it still brings tears to my eyes.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

One day in 2017, while I was in a popular chain store, I witnessed something very disturbing. I was waiting to return an item at the customer service desk.  There were two people in front of me.  The woman directly in front of me was a beautiful, tall, black woman about 30 years old.  When it was her turn to be waited on, the person behind the counter was extremely rude, and treated her very badly.  I was shocked and could not believe what I was hearing and seeing. 

I did not believe that if she was a white woman that she would have been treated so badly. The black woman remained calm and poised the entire time. I am quite sure I would not have been able to keep it together like she did.  Another person came to wait on me. I looked at the black woman and said I was sorry that she was being treated so badly.  She smiled and thanked me. 

Since I was finished before she was, I turned to leave the store, but halfway to my car I heard that whisper, “Go back.”  I turned around and went back into the store. I was just inside the store when I saw the black woman pushing her cart toward the exit. I approached her and again said I was so sorry the way she was being treated and I was going to report the behavior of the employee to the manager. We talked for a while and we parted ways. I walked around to find the manager. I asked several employees, but he was busy and did not answer their call. When I got home, I sent an email to the corporate headquarters for the store to report the disturbing behavior of the employee. I never heard back from anyone.  

The Fine Line Between Right and Wrong

Boundaries are a funny thing. They are there to protect us.  Then one day, someone steps over the boundaries just a little bit, because after all, this is a new generation. We are young and modern. So we move that boundary, just a bit mind you…..and then a little bit more, until one day we are wondering how we got here, what happened? Where are the boundaries? Just for fun, kids are now committing senseless acts of violence, just to see how many hits they can get on You Tube. This boundary has moved so far, that we have little room for what is right anymore.

We must all listen to that small still voice inside us when we know something is not right. We must stand up and say, “No.  You may not cross the boundary.”  We pushed the boundaries so far to the wrong, who’s to say we cannot push them back to the right. 

I remember hearing my grandparents shake their heads and remark about the kind of world we were living in and that it was never like that when they were young.  Children respected adults, teachers, etc. Then I heard my parents say the same thing.  Now I hear my own voice echoing their dismay.  What will my children and grandchildren have to say when it is their turn?

Changing the Story I Tell Myself

One of my favorite stories I changed was about my car.  My first new car I ever got was a 1996 white Dodge Intrepid.  I was so excited to have a shiny new car.  I named my car Rosie.  I never had any problems with Rosie. 

After about 10 years, I began to look at the other shiny new cars on the road.  By now Rosie had a few scratches, and her shine was not quite as bright as it once had been, but I still never had a bit of trouble from her.  I was a little embarrassed at times, worrying about what other people were thinking. 

I began to think about getting another new car.  But then I started to think about having a car payment which I did not have for the past five years. I really could not afford a car payment if I was going to continue to work with Peace Learning Circles and not get paid.  I would need to get a “real” job and get paid.  But Rosie was still running perfectly.  And I loved what I was doing. 

I decided to change the story I told myself. Instead of being embarrassed by a 10-year-old car, I began to thank Rosie for getting me where I needed to be. I even prayed for Rosie. I decided that I could not wait to have Rosie for 25 years.  She would be a classic and I could get those pretty blue license plates. 

For the next 10 years, Rosie performed beautifully, me thanking her and praying for her and Rosie faithfully, getting me to where I needed to go. I was never embarrassed about Rosie again.

Unfortunately, my husband, Jack, was diagnosed with macular degeneration.  His eye sight was getting worse each year. 

Finally, in 2016, when Rosie was with me for 20 years, it was evident that Jack would not be able to drive like he used to.  To ease the transition of not being able to drive, I suggested we give away my cherished Rosie to someone that needed her more than we did.  We did not need two cars anymore. It was bittersweet, but, with great joy and love, I gave Rosie to someone that needed her more than we did.

One of the most important lessons I have learned since September 11, 2001 is if I change the story I tell myself, I will change the way I feel. Had I not changed the story I was telling myself and changed my priorities and lifestyle, I would not have been able to work as Executive Director of Peace Learning Circles for so many years without pay.  Amazing things can happen when you change the story you tell yourself. Try it.  It may just change your life and make a difference in the lives of others. 

Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it. Chinese Proverb

I remember one day I was at a downtown business and I saw a t-shirt with the words, “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.” by Maggie Kuhn.  One thing I know for sure, my voice will quiver, my knees will knock, my hands will shake, but I will speak.

From September 11, 2001, to teaching over 9000 students about being peace makers and how to peacefully resolve conflicts and nonviolently back away from a fight, about values, caring and belonging….it seems like a dream.  As I look back, especially on the past 19 years, I marvel at how tragedy can be turned into something good.  This is about faith and hope and grace and mercy all rolled into one, and one day having a better life for all children to live in.  It is about the choices we all have and choose to make every minute of every day. 

People are skeptical.  I have heard so many questions. “Why should I get involved?”  “How much are you willing to pay?” My answer, “How much is one child’s life worth?”  On September 11, 2001, 2996 people from 115 nations paid. How much were their lives worth? That is enough for me. I look forward to the day when we have learned the lessons well. 

My hope is that we not only see with our eyes, but with our heart.  It is only when we fully open our hearts that we can see and truly feel.

A Fork in the Road

I thought I would be on the same path for many years, but I found myself at another turning point. After 11 years, in September of 2017, I sadly resigned from my position as Executive Director of Peace Learning Circles (PLC). It was a very agonizing decision, but one that needed to be made. It is funny how things happen, with just the right timing. The board of PLC had a different vision, one that I was not completely onboard with.

I was agonizing over what to do, when circumstances at home, made the decision for me. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and my husband’s continuing health problems were escalating. He was diagnosed with both lung and thyroid cancer. It was clear what I needed to do. I left PLC to become a caregiver.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Little did I know how much the past would influence my future. The lessons learned and yet to be learned were right in front of me. The biggest challenges were yet to come. Was I ready? Was I able to meet the challenges head on? Ready or not, here I come……

To be continued…..



P.S. Please leave a comment below. We are all connected by our shared stories.

All images © 2020 Sue Ragan Hollow All rights reserved.

Sharing is caring!

10 thoughts on “Peacemaker’s Journey”

  1. Dear Sue,
    I have been following you for a while & after watching you on FB this last Sunday and you talked about the “Peacemaker’s Journey” & 911 I knew I had to read this very touching story. What a beautiful story that touches your soul. You have a very special Gift from God for loving, sharing and inspiring others. May you always follow your heart and may God’s Blessings & Favor continue to shine upon you. Love in Christ, Debbie

  2. I went on your website to see if you posted any thrift items. I stumbled across your blog.You are amazing and I truly enjoyed you sharing your stories. You are a fabulous writer !

  3. Dear Sue,
    I have followed you for awhile now. Watching you craft and painting beautifully. Your voice is so peaceful. As usual it is 2:00am and I am awake. I went on your website looking to where I could purchase the bee napkins. I love all things honeybees as I am a beekeeper. I did not find the napkins but I did find your story. I am in awe of your strength and endurance. I also am a caregiver for my husband and feel overwhelmed by that. Next time I am in a predicament with him I will take a breath and say to myself what would Sue do. You take care of yourself.
    Your internet friend,

  4. Maryanne A

    Your story is so touching. You write so well and I read every word. I believe that we are the same age. I love your crafting and style so when you said you had a website I checked it out today. It’s funny, I was eating a piece of your pumpkin cranberry bread while reading. I enjoyed your story Sue.

  5. Pretty nice post. I stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your article. After all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

  6. I read every word and it felt like you were writing a beautiful love letter that made me laugh and cry. I feel honored that you shared so much May God’s grace always be close to your heart.
    Love You

    • Thank you for your kind words, SJM. I wrote that after my father passed away and I could clearly see the path that was behind and the path that was laid out in front of me if I chose to follow it. It feels very vulnerable to share it, but I am trying to get back to living into my value of courage.


Leave a Comment