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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Stories of Inspiration: An Angel with Four Paws

This is the story about a little angel who came into the life of a family 13 years ago. He didn't say much, at least in any language his human family could understand, but his impact was large in the ways that mattered most.

His name was Jake and he had four paws, floppy ears, and one of the happiest dispositions around.

Jake as a puppy in 2002.

Jake's mission in life was to make people feel better, show love to everyone, "torment" his canine sister (she loved it, and adored him), have fun, and spread smiles.

Jake's dad, Tom, went to the local shelter one day in 2002 "just looking" to see what was available. He walked by a cell that contained one lone puppy -- the last of a litter. This little puppy with floppy ears, long tail, and a beautiful blue merle coat took one look at Tom and knew his "dad" had finally come to take him home. It didn't take much convincing...it was love at first sight on both sides!

Jake came home and immediately infused the household with laughter, fun, and love. Due to some genetic issues, Jake was partially blind and prone to arthritis, but none of that kept him from his appointed mission of love and light. 

But maybe I'm reading too much into it. After all, he was "just" a dog, right? Can dogs really have "missions?"

Sometimes his human family wondered if he was, in fact, a very old soul in a dog's body. Jake certainly seemed to think he was a person. He talked, a lot. His low-volume "WooooooWoooooos" spoken directly to their faces seemed to be his way of conversing. Unfortunately his people never fully understood what Jake was trying to tell them, which would prompt Jake to continue his attempts at speech.

Jake also had the uncanny ability to smile. No, really, he did. And it was in context, too. His family thinks he learned by watching them smile. When someone in his life smiled or laughed, Jake would bare his teeth in the biggest, most intentional grin you could imagine. In fact, his grin was so huge that it would often send him into fits of sneezing. He would smile when his family came home after a long day of work. He smiled when he was fed. He smiled at his grandparents when he visited them at their home. He smiled at his canine buddies. He even smiled at people on the street who stopped to pet him. His granddad affectionately called him "the smilin' fool." Jake just seemed to want everyone to know he was happy to see them.

Jake was also the kind of dog who instantly knew when someone was feeling down and needed special love. He would come up to the person, put his head on their knee, and just silently commune. That's what I called it anyway. I was the blessed recipient of his healing touch on a few occasions. It seemed as though he wanted the person to know that they weren't alone, that he cared, and that all would be OK. His caring touch really did seem to heal.

This communing happened all though his life, but the most touching instance occurred the night my friend, Cathy, passed away. Cathy was Jake's human grandma (Tom's mother) and lived just a block away. And being the loving grandma that she was, Cathy doted on Jake as much as she could. Of course Jake reveled in her attention!

But Cathy was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. Unfortunately, by the time it was discovered it had metastasized to a large part of her body. The prognosis wasn't the best, but Cathy maintained a positive outlook and fought the disease with all of her strength. Several rounds of treatments helped her survive a few years and enjoy her human and canine grandkids as much as possible, but by January of 2014 (the same general time as my accident) Cathy and her family knew the end was near. She entered a home-based hospice program. 

One week in late February of 2014, Cathy's body started to give out. She lost consciousness one evening and everyone knew the end was very close. Cathy's husband, Jim, stayed with her constantly those last days, and so did Jake and his canine sister, Jolie. Cathy and Jim's dog, Rosie, was also there. But the family said Jake seemed to understand that something was happening.

A couple of nights after Cathy became unresponsive, Jake, Jolie, and Rosie were sleeping on the floor by her bedside. Jim had fallen asleep on a chair in the same room. In the early morning hours, something caused Jake to awaken. He walked over to the chair where Jim was sleeping. Jake then used his paw to pat Jim on the knee to wake him up. Jake was insistent. He didn't stop patting Jim on the knee until his granddad fully woke. Once he saw that Jim was awake, Jake walked around to Cathy's side of the bed and sat down facing his grandma, just watching. Jim joined him, and the pair quietly stayed with Cathy and comforted her as she took her last breaths.

After it was clear that Cathy had finally passed on, the spell broke and Jake went back to being a playful dog again. But in those moments as he sat by Jim's side comforting Cathy during her passing, he was more than that. He was an angel with four paws, helping guide Cathy on the next part of her journey.

Jake passed on this morning. His mind and soul remained the same loving, caring guy until the end, but his body just couldn't survive another day. All of us who knew him mourn the passing of this little angel, but we won't forget the impact he had on us and our lives.


text and photos copyright Nancy Rynes, 2015.






Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Gift from Cathy

I was sorting through my dresser drawers recently and found a pair of threadbare socks I've owned for many years. The socks were black and red, and sported a pair of Canadian maple leaves on each one. I noted the holes in the socks' heel areas and decided to pitch them in the trash. They had served me well for many years, but it was time to let them go to make room in my overcrowded sock drawer.

Almost immediately after tossing the socks in the trash bin, I started crying. At first I had no idea why I cried. The tears simply came, seemingly unbidden. Instead of squelching them, as the old me might have done, I decided to roll with the emotion driving the tears and see where it led me.

Those red and black socks. Maple leaves. Ah...then I remembered. The socks had been part of the first Christmas gift I'd received from a friend who had passed away shortly after my accident.

A gift from Cathy.

I cried off and on the rest of that day, allowing myself to remember her and the times we spent together: holidays in Moab; crewing for my favorite mountain bike racer at the time (my then-husband who was also her son); discussing the nature of life and relationships; hiking in the mountains with our dogs; teaching me rock climbing; the last letter she sent to me just a few weeks before she passed away; watching her read stories to her grandchildren; a smile that would light up the darkest and gloomiest of moods. So many wonderful memories of an amazing woman who I won't see again on this plane of existence.

I felt waves of deep gratitude for having had the privilege of knowing Cathy in this life.

Some people might assume that those of us who have had a near-death experience wouldn't feel grief anymore, that we know what comes after this life is amazing and so we don't feel a sense of loss. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. 

The me that is here on Earth now is still a human, and being human, I still feel the pain and grief of missing someone just as anyone else might. My grief is modulated now, though, meaning that because I know there is more than just this life, my grief doesn't emotionally paralyze me as it might have just a few years ago.

Here's an example: when my father passed away in November of 2000, I didn't cry at all for over nine months. His death paralyzed me emotionally. I refused to believe that the man I knew was gone, FOREVER. I blocked his death out of my mind and heart for many months because I just could not fathom his being gone. Back then I was an atheist, so I saw his death as the final chapter in a relatively brief and unhappy life. My inability to handle his loss paralyzed me for well over two years. And two years after my father's passing, my oldest sister died in a horrible car accident a couple of days before Thanksgiving. I was just climbing out of a pit of grief from my father's passing and fell right back into it grieving for my sister.

Thank goodness that things don't work like that anymore for me.

While I do grieve now, and allow myself to grieve, in some ways it's a much more positive and healthy thing. I remember the good times. I marvel at the ups and downs of life, not forgetting that what comes after we pass on is even more incredible than life on Earth. I think about the person who's passed on and am very grateful for the things I learned from him or her, knowing that she or he is still with me in a very real, spiritual sense.

In a way, any grief I feel now is something of a gift back to the person who's left this plane of existence. She or he has touched my heart and my life, and any tears I shed are a testament to my love and respect.


Copyright Nancy Rynes, 2015. You may link to this page, but do not copy or reproduce any content without my written permission.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Stories of Inspiration: Nichole Rider (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Nichole's story. Check out Part 1 by clicking here.


Nichole Rider in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Part 2, by Nichole Rider


A positive attitude and optimism have always been strengths for me. They carried me through those first days after the accident, and all of the years since. While the accident itself was horrendous, I had a profound intuitive sense that everything was exactly as it should be. My boyfriend at the time escaped with just a few minor scratches, but I didn’t blame him or feel enraged over what happened. I only felt total peace and forgiveness towards him from the beginning. I never questioned it. The only way I can explain it was that God’s grace came into my life, and for that I am eternally grateful!

After three weeks in the Ft. Collins, Colorado, hospital, I was transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver. Craig is a world-renowned spinal cord rehabilitation center. The people at Craig helped me begin my new life. In my mind, I looked at it like a basketball camp: I was there to learn. It was the little things I did daily, along with my awesome physical therapist, and my sister, that allowed me to gain mobility in my arms and legs. Amazingly, within 3 months I was back on my feet! By no means was I running, but the relief and the elation I felt to stand on my own again is beyond words. Today, I am able to walk with two canes, but use a wheelchair to make getting around a bit easier.

In March of 1996, I was discharged from Craig Hospital to live with my parents. Going home for the first time was a big shock. I was no longer running the dirt roads and shooting hoops as I was the last time I was home. Now, I was relearning basic mobility. Just the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other was a struggle. The love and support from my parents and family helped me immensely. Without them, I would not be where I am today.

I also continued physical therapy three days a week, six hours a day, and with thanks to my physical therapist, I made great strides in regaining mobility. By June of 1997, I was ready to fly the nest again and I moved back to Laramie, Wyoming. My sister and I rented a house together and I worked on my degree in Social Science. I managed to walk to my classes using two canes. While moving this way was slow, I made it to all my classes and adjusted easily to life on campus. In 1998, I received my degree and soon after, ventured out into the work world.

In hindsight, my accident was as much a spiritual transformation as it was a physical one. I felt as if some kind of cosmic alarm clock had gone off and I was awakened into a new, deeper sense of what life is all about. Through this accident, I learned many lessons about love, life and people that would have been close to impossible otherwise. Sometimes people think I’m crazy when I tell them I would not trade my accident for anything. Yes, of course I would love to be running and jumping again. But this event gave me a deep understanding that our physical bodies do not define us. Rather, they are just a vehicle we inhabit for a few years while having this particular human experience.

After my accident, I was drawn to books about people who have had near-death experiences (NDEs). Through their stories, my eyes were opened to a new level of spirituality.  One of the most liberating things I initially learned or “re-membered” is that we are all just spiritual beings having this human experience. 

Eventually, the world of sports drew me back in. With a little research I realized amazing opportunities existed for disabled athletes! My first ride to freedom was getting on a handcycle and riding around the streets in Denver. Within a few weeks, I owned a handcycle of my own and spent my weekends in Ft. Collins, riding the bike paths throughout town. I rode at least 15 miles each time I went out, with my longest ride being 35 miles. That longer ride was a great accomplishment for me. When winter arrived, I put away the handcycle and tried adaptive alpine skiing. I was hooked! 

I experimented with other sports, too, including wheelchair rugby and kayaking. Wheelchair rugby was the closest thing to basketball I had played since my injury. Kayaking is something I had always wanted to try and but never did it as an able bod.
Through all of these activities, I felt exhilarated at experiencing life again.

By April of 2010, I found my next athletic passion in the sport of sailing. Sailing wasn’t a common activity in Wyoming so while I was on vacation in South Florida, I had the opportunity to get out on the water.  Wow! From the first time I was on the boat and I felt the water catch the rudder and the wind fill the sail, I was hooked. No engine, no motor noise. Just me and the wind. I felt as though I found home. Sailing felt like complete freedom for me!

Within six weeks of being on my first sailboat, I participated in the Wyoming Governor’s Cup. My racing career began. I participated in 12 regattas over those first two summers, earning the titles “US Sailing Sailor of the Week” and “Miss Congeniality" (for the Mobility Cup Regatta in Hamilton, Ontario).

Nichole sailing in Florida


In September 2011, I began doing motivational speaking. Soon after, the call of warmer winters brought me to Florida. I initially planned to be in Florida for only 5 weeks during the coldest part of the winter, but after the first week, I decided to move there permanently.

Recently, my twin sister and I had the opportunity to compete together again for the first time since my accident. We were asked to help a friend launch her non-profit organization, ThumbsUp International, which pairs able bodied and disabled athletes together to compete in events. My sister, her friend Janeen, and I participated together in the Miami Half Marathon. They ran the course of 13.1 miles in two hours, all while pushing me in an adult “baby jogger.”  It was an exhilarating experience but not completely satisfying for me as I wanted to be more actively participating. We’re planning for the 2016 Miami Half Marathon and this time I will be riding my hand cycle alongside my sister and Janeen, who will be running. 

Through the accident, physical recovery, and the years since, I never did get discouraged.  One of my favorite quotes is by Albert Einstein:  "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving!" I believe the key to complete happiness and joy in life is the attitude of gratitude. When you operate from a state of love and gratitude, the energy of both you, and everything around you, shifts to something more positive and light-filled.

What motivates me today? It's my nature to strive to be the best version of "me" that I can be. I don't need to be better than someone else. I have come to such an understanding and knowing that we all come to this life with our special gifts. It is our job to discover our gifts, grow into them, and express them out to the world. My main goal today is just to show love and kindness in all my interactions with everyone I meet.  We all come from the same amazing Loving Source and when we re-member that, life is such a beautiful thing!


If I can just inspire one person a day with a simple smile, word of encouragement or a dose of my energetic enthusiasm, then I feel I am truly doing what I was meant to do.



Text and photos copyright Nichole Rider and Nancy Rynes, 2015. You may link to this page, but please do not copy it in any way without our permission.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Stories of Inspiration: Nichole Rider (Part 1)

From Nancy: Nichole Rider's story is truly inspiring to me. Every day, Nichole is a living embodiment of several of the messages given to me and detailed in "Awakenings from the Light." What strikes me is her positive attitude and determination to live her life to its fullest, no matter her circumstances. Read about this amazing woman's struggle to live a full life after a traumatic spinal cord injury, here in her own words...

Nichole Rider


By Nichole Rider, 2015


I grew up with an identical twin sister and a younger brother in the “All-American Family” on a ranch near Douglas, Wyoming. My parents and grandparents were huge influences on my life: their athleticism, determination, and work ethic still greatly affect me today. As children, my twin sister and I developed a love for sports and started playing basketball in grade school. It came easy to both of us, but we still spent many hours refining our skills. Our hours of practice and disciplined training paid off. We both went on to play basketball at the University of Wyoming (UW).

In 1995, as a senior at UW, my life changed forever. That November 25th was beautiful and it started like any other: I went out for my 3 mile run, which was a habit I had developed in grade school. I remember how amazing I felt that morning, how all of my senses seemed to be heightened at a level that I had come to know as “the zone.” Running felt fluid and effortless.

I spent the rest of the day in Ft. Collins, Colorado, with my then-boyfriend. As we drove back home to Wyoming in the afternoon, he fell asleep at the wheel and our little truck flipped 1 ½ times. The vehicle collided against a steep rock embankment and we came to rest upside down. I was suspended from my seatbelt with my neck bent at a 90 degree angle over my left shoulder. I don’t remember much about the accident except  telling my boyfriend to hit the brakes!

In hindsight, I feel that the accident was a Divinely-guided event. The vehicle on the road behind us was driven by an off-duty emergency medical technician (EMT), and he immediately stopped and called for help. Within 45 minutes I had an I.V. pumping me full of methylprednisolone, a drug given to people with spinal cord injuries (it minimizes swelling and the damage in the spinal column).

It took emergency crews over two hours to extricate me from the crumpled vehicle, then I was flown a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colorado. My injuries were severe and the initial prognosis was bleak. Hospital staff immediately put me on a respirator. It turns out that I had sustained a fracture of my cervical spine (neck) at the C-5 level and I would have died at the scene of the accident had I not been so physically fit. Because of the trauma to my spine, my diaphragm quit working which should have caused me to stop taking breaths. But my thoracic (torso) muscles were so strong that they somehow took over and kept me breathing. I also couldn’t feel my legs.

The doctors initially told my parents that I had a 50% chance of surviving the first night and if I did, I would be a quadriplegic. They also said I would most likely be in wheelchair the rest of my life. As you can probably imagine, the news devastated my parents but they stayed optimistic and held out the highest hope for my recovery.

My first night in the hospital, I fought with all the strength I had to stay here on Earth. I remember drifting in and out of consciousness and slowly feeling I was losing the battle. The room was dark, but then I saw a white light up in the right side of the room. I felt a profound sense of peace, so profound that it is impossible to put into words. It was then that I totally surrendered to God saying, “If it’s my time, then take me, or if I have things that I need to do here, then let me stay.” I finished by saying, “Thy Will be done” and surrendered into God, the Higher Power, and the Universe. When I surrendered, I felt the most incredible sense of peace and love – it’s impossible to put into words. God touched my soul so deeply that I still feel that connection today.

The first thing I said to the nurse the next morning was, “My butt is numb!” She stopped what she was doing and ran out of the room to get the doctor. I was confused as to why she ran out of the room so quickly. It turns out that the medical staff were ecstatic that I had regained feeling in my body, so they immediately started performing tests to get a baseline of my injuries.


Two days later, the neurosurgeon repaired my fractured neck. After surgery, he told that it was a clean break and he thought I had a chance of regaining movement below my neck, though he made no promises. It didn’t matter to me what the doctors said about my chances for recovery. My discipline and determination kicked in and I knew I would give it everything I had to get back on my feet.


If you have an inspiring true story of hope, positivity, overcoming obstacles, or living one of the messages in Awakenings from the Light, please contact me by visiting my website (AwakeningsFromTheLight.com).