Blog Featured Stories

Announcing the Candles In The Sun – Weekend Read

Here’s the idea. I’m going to force myself to write my book in public. This will be the unedited first draft. I make absolutely no promises that a reasonable editor will not blue-line most of this, given the chance. I have no idea if I will be able to keep up apace. I have no idea if you will like it. So, how about we find out together.

The goal is to post whatever I write during the week. It could be out of sequence or be isolated scenes for a while. I could go back and re-write sections. I’ll post a note on the blog for those who want to keep current. It’s simply a grand, scary experiment.

You are free to make comments, although I reserve the right to delete anything unpleasant. Suzie might make her thoughts known, or not. The goal here is simply to get the story told. The main page is HERE and the dedication is already there. Chapter One starts in the morning.

Thank you for playing along. I hope you enjoy it.

Dennis R. Ritchie

Endurance Featured Never Give Up Stories

52 Bits of Grit – Francine’s Chocolate

Small Things

One of the most powerful ways I found to help us through the toughest of times are the stories of other people who have been through the worst things imaginable. They reveal the unbelievable power of small things to pull you through. Things like chocolate . . .

Blog Brain Fun Featured Science Spiritual Stories

How I Know God Exists – Blue Tennis Shoe

Shot To The Heart

Four days before Christmas, on December 21, 1944, in an Army hospital unit at Camp Barkeley outside of Abilene Texas, a ridiculous scene played out. A ward boy, a lowly private, suggested the nutty idea that his superior officer, a medical doctor, should inject a dose of adrenaline directly into the heart of a dead man.

Private George G. Ritchie had died from double lobar pneumonia, drowned by his own bodily fluids in an era before antibiotics. He had been discovered without a pulse more than ten minutes before. There was no known medical value in giving a man who couldn’t breathe a few more heartbeats, but for some reason, possibly just to shut up his passionate ward boy, the doctor wasted the unprecedented shot to the heart.

A Wild Tale

Private Ritchie, no relation, became one of the first documented cases of resuscitation from clinical death. Slowly his heart restarted and began to find a rhythm. Then respiration returned. Consciousness took three days. It was two weeks before he could get out of bed and walk.

He awoke with a crazy story to tell, a disjointed tale of traveling across the country and meeting Jesus. While they were pleased and shocked at his recovery, his story was universally dismissed. The ward boy and M.D. that had given him the adrenaline shot were transferred elsewhere by the time he could walk. There was a war on and more important things to do than listen to a private’s wild tales.

It was discouraging. Besides sharing it with a few family members, Ritchie kept the story to himself.

Red-roofed Diner

Ten months later, on a cross-country car trip from Virginia back to Camp Barkeley with some other soldiers, George was surprised again. As they were about to cross the mile-wide Mississippi River at Vicksburg, Mississippi, he saw a familiar street in a place he’d never been before in his life.

During the time he was clinically dead, Ritchie had desperately tried to get to medical school in Virginia and found himself flying over the countryside at a fantastic speed. Along the way he realized he had no idea how to get there and stopped, after midnight, at an all-night café by an extremely broad river to ask directions.

The man he asked, entering a white diner with a red roof and a Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer sign propped in the right hand window, didn’t hear him. When George tried to tap the man on the shoulder his hand went right through him. Trying to figure this out, George stood out in front for a long time by a telephone pole with a guy wire. At one point he leaned back and passed right through the wire.

It Gets Real

Now, ten months later, in a place he’d never been, George was staring at the same red-roofed diner with a neon sign, now off, the same Pabst sign in the window, the same telephone pole and guy wire next to the same massive river. The soldiers with him asked what was wrong. Overwhelmed, he had no words to explain it.

He just brushed off their concerns and kept it all to himself until years later, after he became a medical doctor and later a board certified psychiatrist. After decades of reflection to try and make sense of the experience, author Elizabeth Sherrill finally George G. Ritchie, M.D. to write the book Return From Tomorrow, published in 1978. It has never been out of print since. Here’s the Kindle version.

It remains one of the earliest credible accounts of life beyond death by a medical professional. It is unique in that Dr. Ritchie later visited sites that he travelled to while medically dead. He also claims to have visited the future and seen things that didn’t happen until years later in real life.

Enter The CCU

As fascinating as the story is, however, none of the details were verifiable by outside witnesses. But that would soon change.

On May 20, 1962, Dr. Hugh Day opened the first coronary care unit was at Bethany Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. Dr. Day combined two new developments, closed chest cardiac compression and the external monitor/defibrillator into a treatment plan for cardiac arrest and invented the Crash Cart. He also invented the term Code Blue and Coronary Care Unit or CCU.

Soon it was a common occurrence for people to be resuscitated from clinical death. It was not long after that that the stories began to circulate of long tunnels ending in brilliant lights. They were, as a rule, ignored. They were considered hallucinations of a toxic brain in the process of dying. People were simply out of their heads.

The Blue Tennis Shoe

In Harborview Hospital in Seattle, Washington, critical care social worker Kimberly Clark was making her rounds when a migrant worker named Maria begged her for a favor. Maria had suffered a severe heart attack while visiting friends. While the doctors were working on her, Maria claimed to have floated to the ceiling and watched the procedure. Then she found herself floating outside the hospital when she noticed something unusual.

On a third story ledge outside a window, Maria had seen a single tennis shoe which she described in great detail, how the laces were tucked under the heel, how the toe was worn and the color – blue. Maria begged Clark to go and search for it to see if her experience had been real. Clark followed her directions and found a single blue tennis shoe in the exact place and condition described. The details could not be seen from inside the window and would have required a perspective of someone three stories up directly outside the building.

 Externally Verifiable Evidence

While this story is one of the more famous accounts, it is far from the only account. Over time such stories began to provoke more questions and a lot more research.

The implications seem to challenge the very basis of science and a few brave scientists took up the challenge.

To be continued . . .


Photo Credit: The World According To Marty via Compfight cc

Blog Featured Science Spiritual Stories

How I Know God Exists – 106º

Is God?

The fundamental question of faith is this: Does God exist?

Not, “How could a loving God do X?” or “How was the universe created?” or “What about evolution?” or any of a hundred theological hand grenades.

If we do not get this question right then nothing else really matters. If we do get it right then many questions are already answered. I haven’t had a problem with this question since I was five years old.


The year was 1960 and I was sick, sick enough to sleep on the couch. It was the first time that had ever happened and I felt special. Our forest green vinyl couch in the living room was only folded out flat for visiting guests and it had a good view of the television.

I had a headache, hurt all over, was running a fever and just wanted to close my eyes but the couch was fun and the cool vinyl felt good. I could watch TV from my “bed”. I was enjoying all of the attention.

What I didn’t understand was that I was running a high fever and had to be kept away from my siblings so they wouldn’t catch whatever I had, which turned out to be scarlet fever. My fever reached 106 degrees and all the attention was because my parents were afraid I was dying, a real possibility.

Mighty Mouse

I alternated between naps and watching TV. Mom came in occasionally to check on me and put a cold cloth on my forehead but mostly I was alone.

Then, I woke up feeling better. The pain was gone. I had energy and was happy. I climbed out of bed and felt light on my feet. Very light. I jumped to try out this new feeling and launched all the way to the ceiling. I floated to the other end of the room and came down.

I thought I could fly like Superman or Mighty Mouse on the cartoons I’d been watching. I jumped again to try and swoop around the room but I didn’t. I just hung there, higher this time, and slowly came floating back down. It wasn’t flying but it sure was fun.

Leaping For Joy

I was confined to the living room with the doors closed so I yelled excitedly for Mom to come see what I could do. Even though she was just in the next room, she didn’t come. I’d been quarantined away from everyone else so I couldn’t go and look.

Impatient, I bent low and jumped even higher but this time was really weird. I found myself over the house, having effortlessly come through the roof. I floated back down in the front yard, elated and ready for more. I don’t remember ever feeling so good.

I yelled at the top of my lungs but no one came. So, I tried another jump. I was surprised when a soft pine branch went past my left ear. I had sailed past the top of the large pine tree in the front yard but was looking down so I didn’t see the limb until it swept by. Whoa!

What Goes Up Does Not Come Down

This time I didn’t come back down and just kept climbing like a bird. The house shrunk below me and I really felt like I was a superhero, but with one problem. I had absolutely no control. I couldn’t fly down the street or come back down. I just kept rising.

Things kept getting smaller and I was getting a little freaked out but I felt so good. I wanted to come down but it was like something was pulling me from behind. I turned around and looked into a deep black sky. Weird. But what happened next was even weirder.

Black Sky!

I felt a presence like I’d never known. It was all-encompassing and overwhelming. It was not an impersonal force but someone, someone that knew me and was pulling me closer. It’s very hard to explain but I knew, instantly and fully, that I was facing God in that vast dark sky.

The black sky, the lack of control and a powerful presence combined to send me into a wild panic. I was only five and fear struck me like a bolt of lightning. I wanted to get away and back home! I turned around and clawed to no effect.

No One Hears Me

I screamed out for my Mommy and Daddy over and over again and lost altitude. I looked down and saw my mother somehow through the roof of our house. I yelled harder but she ignored me and walked across the room toward the couch. I saw the back of her head as she bent over and put a cold cloth on someone’s face.

I looked closer and saw that it was me, still lying in the bed asleep. This really freaked me out. I yelled again that it wasn’t me, that I was up above her but she never reacted. She walked out of the room into the kitchen.

I looked down at this strange self in the bed and drifted lower. The other me wasn’t moving at all. Then, suddenly, I woke up in the bed, wet with sweat and clammy, aching all over.


I called Mom and she came through the kitchen door and asked me what was wrong. Relieved to be home and heard, I began to tell her what had happened in an excited five-year-old vocabulary.

She paid no attention and told me I’d just had a dream. I argued with her but she reassured me. She was very certain it was a dream. I tried to explain that it wasn’t, that it was too real, that it was vivid and real in a way I’d never dreamed.

She shushed me and told me everything was alright and I should go back to sleep. She tucked me in and left. She was my Mom and she knew everything. Maybe, I thought, she was right.

Sick Again

I felt exhausted, painful and suddenly sleepy. I gave up trying to explain, rolled over, shivered with a chill and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

I never forgot it. It was real in a way that made regular life seem dim. I was sure it wasn’t a dream. It was surprising and scary but I was back home.

I got the idea Mommy didn’t want to talk about it. I decided to be happy watching TV on the couch. It didn’t last long enough. In a few days I was well.

I had no clue that, more than fifty years later, this event would still be changing my life.

Read Part Two


Photo: Starry Night by NASA

Adventure Blog Courage Creativity Dreams Encouragement Featured Stories

Safe Harbor – A Dream Parable

My First Big Dream

It all started with a determined dog. Our beagles, Dep (AKA Deputy Dog) and Mike (no idea where this came from) wanted to do what they were born to do – chase rabbits.

Our house on Sunny Lane Drive (Yes, Lane Drive) backed up to a huge meadow that stretched the size of ten football fields to a distant creek and woods beyond.

To the neighborhood kids this endless sea of grass became a football field, baseball diamond, battlefield, pirate island and blank canvas for endless imaginary adventures.

It Smelled Like Adventure

To our dogs it was a rabbit paradise so close they could smell it. They excelled in plotting escapes and we often came home from school to the sound of distant baying and an empty yard.

This led to an ongoing battle of wits and fence experiments by my dad. One of these was a five-foot-tall roll of two inch redwood pickets, wired together and pointed at the top. It smelled like adventure.

Dreams Splinter

Dad, ever the instigator, gave the leftover piece to my brother and I and he soon discovered a way to pull out the wooden slats. They made enviable pirate swords and Roman spears and quickly became the weapons of choice in any pre-revolutionary imaginary battles.

But they were rough cut and few things annoy a pirate or gladiator like having to stop a battle and get his mother to tweeze splinters out of a manly hand. Eventually we came to see the advantages of games with splinter-less guns or death rays and the fence slats were stacked and forgotten.

Until One Day

I don’t remember what boredom or book inspired me to try and build something out of the discarded wood. Dad gave us access to his hand tools and I began nailing the rough redwood slats together to see what I could make.

Starting with three, then two then one, I found I could make a fifteen foot tall flagpole that was fairly sturdy. But there were three more slats left. After some thinking, an idea sparked and an image popped into my head.

I Had A Vision

The three pieces could fit into the bottom of the flagpole and suddenly I had a yardarm, a crosspiece for a sail. I had it finished in no time and couldn’t believe how sturdy it was. I wondered if it would hold a sail?

By this time my obviously indulgent Mom was home and I excitedly talked her out of a bed sheet. Folded into a triangle, it just fit. I couldn’t believe that I now had a fifteen foot tall mast and sail!

Landlocked Doldrums

I was out of slats. I had no boat and was landlocked in my backyard. The nearest water was a muddy creek across the field. I was done.

But I had this great, amazing thing. Would it really hold wind? Inspired, I experimented.

With a long rope to the top of the mast and another rope to the end of the yardarm, I found that I could stand the mast, hold it up with one rope and adjust the angle with the other.

If only I had some wind. But sadly the house and trees of the backyard blocked the breeze. The sheet just sagged.


Curiosity drove me. The back field was high grass at that point. I ran for the front yard and discovered a slight downdraft from gathering clouds. Could it work?

It would be a public spectacle. People driving by and my friends could see my crazy experiment. If it feel apart, ridicule was likely.

But this thing was the biggest, most beautiful thing I’d ever made. I had to try.

Setting Sail

The sun went behind a cloud and it looked like rain. So, I drafted, cajoled, nagged my big brother into helping me carry it through the gate and around the house.

I found my spot. I gauged the wind and hauled to. The mast rose into the gathering wind from the storm clouds.  The wind filled the sail. It billowed – then quickly pulled me flat!

The force was staggering. But it worked!

Fair Seas

I gathered myself and tried again. I’d have to lean back farther and wrap the rope around my forearms. I lifted . . .

Music played. Crowds roared. Fireworks blazed. The sail swelled and I held it up. The ropes popped tight and the sheet snapped in the wind.

My backyard scraps became a ship driven before the storm on tossing seas. I adjusted the angle and felt the force change. I was actually controlling it.

Land Ho!

It was quite a spectacle for our little street. Cars slowed. Mouths gaped. Kids pointed. But no one, no one laughed.

The mast never gave way. The ropes held. The sheet didn’t slip. I sailed my private schooner into the afternoon. I joined the ranks of sailing men with salt in my veins. As ship’s captain, no one outranked me.

Until my Mommy called. It was starting to rain. She wanted us safe from lightning. She wanted her sheet. Landlubbers never understand.

 The Lessons

  • Dreams must be given safe harbor.
    • They must be nurtured and encouraged. Newborn dreams are easily crushed.
  • You need the tools to experiment.
    • I could make a sailboat out of scraps but I needed hammer, nails and a borrowed bed sheet.
  • You need the courage to try.
    • Moving a dream into reality makes it public. Failure is a real possibility.
    • Dreaming isn’t for wimps.

I’d like to say I bought my own boat and sailed to the Caribbean. I have friends who have raced and used their sailboats as a tax write-off and second home. My musical pursuits took me indoors and farther from the coast.

I never, ever forgot the day I became a sailor. The salt gets in your blood.


Photo Credit: trix0r via Compfight cc

Blog Courage Encouragement Featured Stories

How Did Superman Learn He Was Bulletproof?

Comic Book Academy

Imagine you are Superman (or woman) growing up in Kansas. You have greater than usual abilities but how far do they go? What are your limits?

The only way to find out is to try. But when it comes to being bulletproof, that’s not an easy jump. No one’s ever been bulletproof before. Finding out might end you.

Your Superpower

First of all, you’re NOT bulletproof! You knew this but I just wanted to be clear. Don’t try this at home or anywhere else.

However, you are much stronger than daily life requires. You have reserves of strength and stamina that only a painful test would reveal. That sounds risky and ouchie. You could be super at something but what if you aren’t?

It Would Be Sad

It would be a waste to live your entire life without finding out. You could be settling for the life of Clark Kent when you could be Superman.

But you don’t want to take the figurative bullet and find out you were wrong. That would be considerably worse. And how often do you really need to be bulletproof anyway?

Super Mentor

Fortunately for us, we are not alone. We can find other people to guide us through Super School. There are people who have been there and earned their Super Wings.

They are all around us like Clark Kents, disguised as regular bumbling folks like us. They can show us how to fasten our bulletproof vest properly so it doesn’t get tangled in our cape.

Don’t you hate when that happens? You’re trying to be a hero for those you love and the thing keeps blowing over your head. Embarrassing.

Super Power Manual

That’s what I’m trying to do, to teach the things we learned when we went through our toughest times.

That’s why I’ve been working so hard on a Kickstarter for Candles In The Sun, the story of Suzie’s wild ride through multiple cancers.

I’m no Superman but Suzie just might be a super woman. I’m more like the cub reporter trying to tell the story. But I’ve met some super men and women along the way. Their stories should be told, their lessons shared.

Who knows, you just might be one of them.

Thanks for reading. More updates soon. I’m making progress.

Now, how do you get coffee rings out of a super cape?


Photo Credit: Me!bourne Mermaid via Compfight cc

Adventure Blog Change Courage Endurance Featured Never Give Up Stories Success Travel Uncategorized

High Desert Desertion – Part 3

This is the third part in the series High Desert Desertion.
See Part One HERE.


Powdery dust rose from each footstep and disappeared in the wind as I followed the dirt road farther into the desert. Ahead, my landmark steeple ducked and hid behind hills and peeked between piñon trees both letting me know I was on the right path and reminding me how deceptive distances are in the high wilds of New Mexico.

It never seemed to get any closer. I recalled that I had seen the mountains on the horizon out the bus window a full day before we finally arrived. Still, there was nothing to do but put my head down and keep walking. There were tire tracks in the soft talcum that couldn’t have survived the wind for long. Sooner or later I would find people.

My imagination conjured Hollywood images of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood riding through the sagebrush over the hill. I smiled to myself at the impossibility of movies coming to life when a muffled shuffle tickled my ear.

Movement through the brush caught the corner of my eye and I froze. Hair stood on the nape of my neck and I felt alone and defenseless, but not afraid. Predators out here would be quieter. The lower echelons of my brain went on alert but I was too curious. I heard a soft, stuttering churr of breath.

I moved on down the dusty track and the sound shifted with me. This time the muffled noise became the staccato thump of hooves. A horse nickered.

I saw a fence post, the barbed-wire camouflaged by the brambles. Indistinct voices drifted, men, then sharp laughter cut though the trees. I’d found civilization, but what kind?

The road rounded a curve into a clearing where a small herd of horses circled a paddock, staring at me, ears forward. I must have been an odd sight for them, a lanky stranger carrying a guitar case with a garish band logo emblazoned on the side.

The laughing group of men separated leaving one standing, offended, with his hands on his hips, obviously the butt of the joke. They were dressed like ranch hands, jeans, boots, bandannas and spurs. the only thing missing were movie sized revolvers strapped to their thighs.

A string of western styled buildings stretched along the road with covered wooden walkways and even hitching rails. A cement loading dock spoiled the image but not much. More men stood in the shade along the buildings.

Someone finally noticed the horses moving toward me and staring as one in my direction and followed their gaze. All heads swiveled. All conversation stopped. A mouth gaped. No one moved. A horse huffed in the silence.

I kept walking, nonchalant, as if I were supposed to be there. Nothing to see here folks, move along now. They stood stock still and glared.

I finally had to turn my head and acknowledge their presence. Where I grew up strangers in the country waved in passing. If you had on a hat you gave a nod. If you were driving it at least required the raising of an index finger from the steering wheel.

Having no wheel in my hands and considering the wave too touristy, I gave a serious nod and looked them in the eyes like I belonged – me and my gaudy guitar case. I may as well have been riding a camel.

The eyes I chose to look into were the color of obsidian and as hard. The cold  stare was framed by a dark face and square jaw. He wore a black Stetson from which flowed a thick black braid to where his pistol should have hung. He wore a vest over a white long-sleeved shirt. Knee-high black boots held spurs and a wide, tooled-leather belt held his hooked thumbs. He looked like a native American gunslinger and his stare never wavered.

I nodded again, specifically at him, and held his gaze for a long pause as he took me in and sized me up. With a snort he dismissed me like a bug or a lizard and turned his back. At his cue everyone else resumed what they’d been doing but took curious glances as I strode up the road in as manly a manner as I could manage toting a guitar.

If this had been a a real western, I was obviously in the band that served as background for the main characters at the barn dance and would no doubt end the night with my guitar smashed over my head for comic relief.

So be it. I kept walking.

Cue western theme . . .

Adventure Blog Change Creativity Featured Stories Travel

Road Trip! You’re Invited


Now that I’ve decided to dedicate a significant amount of time to finishing my book, I want to include you in the process. The easiest way to do that is to subscribe by email in the right hand column. There will be goodies.

Though the book means fewer long form posts here, I want to add more ways to stay connected. I plan to give you excerpts of what I’m writing. I will also add a newsletter with some material too long to include on a blog post.

Lend A Brain

Soon, I want to ask for the help of those who are interested in correcting and proofreading the manuscript. Being slightly dyslexic makes this a non-starter for me. Yes, I’ll actually give those who make the commitment parts of the unreleased book in advance for free. I figure if you’re proofing for free it’s the least I can do.

I also want to keep you updated about my Kickstarter project that’s in the works. I’m mulling on the video now. If it is successful then I can write faster with fewer distractions. This could be fun.

Format Change

In order to keep my nose to the keyboard I’m going to include more photos and some video. I’m a visual person and love art. It can be very uplifting and even make you healthier, as I’ll be pointing out. More fun stuff.

Music has been my creative home for most of my life and I haven’t yet included it here but that’s about to change. There are some great musicians and wonderful music on the way.

I’m going to be asking your opinions about some things and will start to include some polls to get your thoughts.

Special Guests

I will also start including some carefully selected guest posts from some of the great people I’ve been meeting. There are some wonderful encouragers out there that you need to get to know.

These are the people that keep me going. I can’t wait to share them. They will be worthwhile.


I know, you’re asking how all of this will help me focus on writing? The entire point of this exercise to to allow me to concentrate on finishing the book and now I’m adding tasks?

Well, I can’t do all of this immediately. It will take some time. I’ll change things and add things a little along the way.

The point is, I’m doing this for you. Otherwise I’m just talking to myself.

Rather than take a lonely trip to a mountaintop in Tibet to write, then showing back up years later riding a yak with a long beard and handmade clothing, I’d rather have your company on the trip.

(virtual) Rooaad Triiip!

My son, the English scholar, is currently in Portugal on a writing trip with his friends and professors. I’m not sure what they do on these trips or how it helps them write but I say we give it a try.

Maybe we could all go to an internet beach and soak in the figurative sun together, or possibly we could rent a virtual villa in Tuscany and speak bad Italian to each other. If we could really all pack up and travel while writing, where would you go?

Anyway, pack your digital bags, subscribe by email, and let’s set off on a creative yak-free adventure. Who knows what we’ll see?


P.S. – Someone just texted a correction on my Musical History page. See, I told you I needed your help!

Photo: Tuscan Cyprus by Maarten Van Hoof via Flickr
Adventure Blog Change Courage Endurance Nature Stories Uncategorized

High Desert Desertion – Part 2

This is the second part in the series High Desert Desertion.
See Part One HERE.


Once I made the decision to start walking there wasn’t much to think about except putting one foot in front of the other. I crossed the bridge over the highway and the road turned the wrong way.

I could still see the tip of the steeple I was using as a guide peering over the horizon. The ground was open desert with sparse trees and scrub brush. I debated following the road but I didn’t trust it. Who knows how far out of the way it went?

I decided to save time and cut across country. I was leaving obvious tracks in the loose dirt so I could always follow my path back if I got lost. As long as I didn’t hit an obstacle I should get there.

Walking into the desert alone, what could happen?

All I knew about the desert I had learned on television. Step by step, years of TV dangers crept into my head. I seemed perfectly safe but I began to hear tense underscoring in a minor key well up from my subconscious. I wondered if I was the bold hero or the hapless victim heading toward my own crime scene. I kept walking.

My fears didn’t materialize. I saw no rattlesnakes, sidewinders or wolves. No buzzards circled overhead. There were no alkali waterholes with longhorn skulls nearby. No box canyons or dusty outlaws on horseback blocked my way. No roadrunners or coyotes raced by. No ACME anvils fell from the sky.

What I did see was unexpected. Nothing was like I’d imagined. Not a plant or bird looked familiar and no wall of pine forest blocked my view. The dirt wasn’t sticky Mississippi mud. Even the sky was a deeper blue because of the altitude. Walking on level ground I was at 7450 feet, higher than the tallest mountains of the Eastern U.S. without knowing it.

In fact, the depth of my ignorance was as vast as the high desert. I couldn’t tell a poisonous Juniper from a Piñon pine or a Prickly Pear cactus from a Cholla. I had seen flowering Yucca but never thought about making a basket from one or eating a Pigweed salad like the Navajo.

But my ignorance inspired awe. For the first time I understood why explorers called this the New World. Every view in any direction was uncommon, nothing was familiar. It was barren, empty and dazzling at the some time.

I stepped out of the scrub brush onto a powdery dirt road. It seemed to be heading my way. I shifted my guitar to the other hand, wiped sweat from my eyes, caught my breath and started again.

Adventure Blog Courage Encouragement Featured Perspective Recovery Stories Travel

Links In A Change – Lisa Allen’s Amazing Life

If you’re having a bad day, here is really encouraging news, a scientific breakthrough, a story of redemption. But like all such stories, it begins badly.

Lisa Allen began smoking and drinking by age sixteen. Her excess weight reflected a lifetime of chronic overeating. She was deeply in debt and had never held a job for an entire year. She was in her thirties when her husband told her he was in love with another woman and wanted a divorce.

She did not respond well.

Her grief led her down a dark, obsessive road.  She fell into depression and followed him around town in tears. Then she began to stalk her husband’s girlfriend. There were midnight phone calls and hang-ups, eventually escalating to a drunken, screaming, door-banging visit where she threatened to burn down the girl’s condo.


Desperate to escape the embarrassment, she found a novel but questionable solution. She had always wanted to visit the pyramids and her credit card wasn’t maxed out. It seemed like the right time. So, she took off for Egypt.

The next morning she was shocked awake, jet-lagged and confused in the pitch dark, by loud Arabic calls to worship from a nearby mosque. Shaking, she fumbled in the blackness for a cigarette and promptly lit an ink pen. She jumped out of bed and knocked over a large water bottle which exploded into noisy shards in the darkness.

She collapsed back into the bed in tears, her life’s failures pressing down. She thought I can’t even smoke right!

The Big Idea

Later, she took a taxi to the Great Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza beside the Nile. On the dirt road, surrounded by vast, baking desert, she felt the desperate need to control something, anything, even just one thing in her life!

It was then that she had her life-changing idea.

She felt she needed a goal in her life, something to focus on. So, she decided to trek across the desert. She had no idea if it was even possible. She was broke and her life was a train wreck. She didn’t even know the name of the desert she was riding in.

But the idea seized her imagination. It was big. One year from now she would return and cross the desert.

Without a clue, she had already decided it would take a year to prepare. She knew she would have to make sacrifices. And somehow she just knew she would have to quit smoking.

This was her one thing.

The Goal

She had no idea it was the beginning of a chain of events that would ripple to every corner of her life over the next six months. First, she replaced smoking with running. As her wind improved, she began eating healthier. The exertion led to full nights of regenerative sleep. The goal meant she had to save money. She took control of her work schedule. She was planning and looking forward to the future.

As her endurance increased, she began running half-marathons and the weight fell away. She committed to a full marathon and completed one. She decided to go back to school and get her masters. She bought a house. Then she got engaged.

In the middle of this process, she went back to Egypt and took her trek across the desert, the Sahara Desert she now knew. There were no marathon hikes. The caravan of air-conditioned vehicles required for the luggage, food, and water would have certainly held a carton of cigarettes.

But it didn’t matter a bit.

By now, Lisa was in love with her new life. And it just kept getting better.

Changed Brain

At school pursuing her masters, Lisa participated in a scientific study of people who had changed their lives in a short period of time. She soon became the researcher’s favorite participant.

They tempted her with every vice that had once held her captive while doing brain scans and discovered an amazing thing. The areas of her previous addictions lit up brightly, still very much active. But another area of her brain is what excited them.

The frontal lobe, the area of the brain responsible for impulse control and self-discipline, increased in activity with every single scan! Lisa was actually growing the part of her brain which over-rode the areas for hunger and cravings.

Starting with the dream of crossing the desert and quitting smoking, she had been building self-discipline and control with every task she accomplished. The improved part of her brain was then available for the next step which also grew her brain further. They could measure her progress. They could watch the change.

Linked Changes

If Lisa had tried to change everything at once, she most likely would not have had the resources. But the one thing, the thing that she needed to control, provided her with the growth to attack the next problem. The dream provided her with a tantalizing, tangible reward for her hard work.

By this time in the study she had lost sixty pounds, looked ten years younger, had been at a web design firm for thirty-nine months, could out exercise any scientist in the building, and hadn’t had a cigarette in four years.

And she was not the only one in the study. Others reported similar stories of lives changed quickly.

Change That Remains

What does this mean for you? According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, change is not only possible but can happen faster than we imagine.

It starts one thing at a time. It builds upon its own success. You get stronger as you go. You can actually grow self-discipline like a muscle. Your own personal dreams are possible.

Right now, that possibility is enough to change my day. After that, who knows?