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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Stories of Inspiration: Cathy McKeen

Every so often, someone very special graces your life...someone whose presence and approach to living are so different, in a good way, that you can't help but be changed for the better.

I met Cathy McKeen during the spring of 2002. Her son, Tom, and I were dating, and one day early in the spring of that year he introduced me to his parents. I immediately knew something was very different about his mom -- something very good, yet unique. Her welcoming smile brightened the room, inviting me into her beautiful home outside of Colorado Springs.

Cathy's smile was infectious and I soon learned that she gifted that smile on almost everyone she met. She was perhaps the most genuinely happy person that I had the gift to know up to that point in my life. Her warm energy filled the home, and everyone there seemed caught up in her happiness, too. It was obvious that she loved her family and enjoyed spending time with them whenever she could. 

She was also very present with each person, in each and every interaction. What I mean by that is that when she interacted with someone (even a "someone" with four paws), I noticed that she gave her full attention. It might sound odd if you are used to doing five things at once and don't have time to really pay attention to the person in front of you, but her presence in conversation showed me that she valued me as a person, as she valued everyone. 

Cathy also practiced love, forgiveness, and living life fully every minute that she could. I don't remember that she ever said an unkind word to, or about, anyone. Perhaps she occasionally did in private, but never in front of me. She believed in, and practiced, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, and kindness on a daily basis, as a part of a normal life. I had never met someone so present, so centered, and so gosh darn happy before! 

I wanted what she had, and in the years to follow she inspired me to learn what happiness meant in my own life, which included what it took for me to live fully and in alignment with who I was as a person. She also inspired me to be active in the enjoyment of being alive, no matter my age or physical condition. Her son says that she packed more living into her 67 years on this planet than most people would fit into two or three lifetimes. I would completely agree.

Meeting Tom and hanging out with his family, but especially his mom, changed the way I looked at being active. I didn't have a choice, really. His whole family "played" in the outdoors much more than anyone I had met to that point. They rock & mountain climbed, hiked, camped, kayaked, canoed, ran trails, and mountain biked. While I was somewhat active in the outdoors, I knew that I was (at the start anyway) no match for these folks. But I wanted to be, and with Cathy as my example, cheerleader, and sometimes-teacher, my athletic abilities improved bit by bit. She helped me relearn climbing again after many years away from the sport. She encouraged me with mountain biking, and inspired me to take up trail running for a time. We occasionally hiked together, too.

But Cathy was a bit more gung ho than taking on your basic trail running or cycling. One year, around the time she turned 60, she decided that she would bike up north to see her father. That might not sound like a big deal at first...until I tell you that she lived near Colorado Springs, Colorado, and her father lived near Seattle, Washington. Yep, that's right! That summer Cathy got on her road bike, packed up a little trailer to tow behind it, and proceeded to bike from Colorado to Seattle to see her Dad. She made a 1,400+ mile trip in about 30 days. Wow, what an inspiration! Who said that grandmas need to spend all of their time in a rocking chair on the front porch?

To top it off, a couple of years later she did another cross-country cycling trip, this time from Minnesota to Maine. And let's not forget a biking tour of Italy in there as well. Witnessing this fireball of a woman simply getting out and doing the things she enjoyed inspired me to do the same, as it did many others as well. I marveled at her energy and joy in giving to others when she lead rock climbing or hiking trips for the Colorado Mountain Club. She believed in living life as much as possible, here and now, because you never know what was coming around life's next bend. And she taught many others to live life fully, too.

Cathy became a trusted friend over the years I knew her. As women will, we had many deep conversations about family, friends, love, forgiveness, children, grandchildren, parents, spouses, politics, geology, biology, gardening, and the state of the world. Simply by watching the way she lived her life, Cathy opened my eyes to true compassion, love of family, gentleness, forgiveness, being of service (volunteering), and fun. She began to show me that the circumstances of our early lives did not have to determine our fates. We could think, plan, and make choices that would allow us to improve ourselves and situations. Life doesn't guarantee us a happy ending, but we can choose happiness and joy in each moment. It's up to each one of us to create that for ourselves and help others along the process when we can. Unfortunately, I didn't fully integrate these lessons until the accident that almost ended my life, years later. I can be a slow learner at times.

In 2011, Cathy began to feel ill and visited her doctor for help. She thought at first she might have a food allergy, but many tests revealed a terrible diagnosis: a genetic form of cancer, the same one that had ended her own mother's life at a young age. Cathy was now facing a fight similar to the one her mother had faced. It was a wrenching diagnosis for all to hear. A woman so healthy and alive as this, now facing longterm treatments for a very serious disease. How could this be? 

In true Cathy form, though, she tried to maintain her fighting spirit and positive outlook (at least to outsiders).  She spent the additional time that medical treatments gave her with her family and friends, and made a special effort to be with her grandchildren. But after close to three years of treatments, her health was getting worse and she and her family knew the fight was almost over. She entered hospice care about the same time I had my bicycling accident, in early 2014. 

About a week after I arrived home from the hospital and was still feeling like a broken doll, Cathy sent me a handwritten letter that I continue to treasure. At the time I didn't know she was in hospice, although I did know her health was deteriorating. Her letter was positive, upbeat, and encouraging, though: 

"...Walking with a full body cast has to be a challenge but you have probably found, like me, that walking is your mental salvation. It has been hard at times to focus on what I CAN do and not on what I can't. Keep in mind that bones heal and you will recover...I am glad you have your sisters there to help out. Mine has been wonderful. Jim [Cathy's husband] has been doing all the work but Jane [her sister] keeps me entertained...Take care of yourself and mend well..."

Just a few weeks after I received the above letter, Cathy became bedridden and then semi-comatose. Within a few more days, she passed away, and her soul began its next big adventure.

Remembering Cathy makes me realize, once again, that life doesn't necessarily guarantee us a happy ending, but we can create that sense of joy and happiness for ourselves no matter the circumstances of our early lives. Also, focusing on what we CAN do and not on what we "can't" helps to pave the way for being truly happy.

Those memories also prompt me to think about the concept of legacy. What is it that we truly leave for others when we pass on from this life? For some of us, it might be a business we've built, a structure we've engineered, or perhaps songs we've written. But for most of us, the legacy we leave behind is a bit more ephemeral: it's how we treat others, the ways we raise our kids, the love that we share, the messages of encouragement or inspiration or kindness we pass to others, and being of service.

Cathy's legacy is immeasurable. The number of people her life touched in a positive way is huge. She has family, friends, former co-workers, students, and acquaintances who can tell you how she helped or inspired them. She left a very large, very real legacy of love and inspiration for many. This was simply my story.

Other posts about Cathy:

A Gift From Cathy

An Angel with Four Paws

All text copyright Nancy Rynes, photo copyright Thomas McKeen. You may link to this page, but please do not copy it without my written permission.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Review: The Gratitude Connection by Amy Collette

Don't be fooled by its size. This small book is packed full of ways to help you amp up the good in your life. 

A strong spiritual practice can help us overcome fears and live more from a place of joy and strength. But how do we develop a strong spiritual practice? One way is by focusing on gratitude. But gratitude isn't just an automatic verbal response to someone doing a nice thing for can go much deeper than that, as I am learning this summer.

Amy's book on gratitude is beautifully written in clear, concise language. She walks you through how she came to a practice of giving and feeling deep "thanks," and tells about the positive impact it has had on her life and the lives of others.

As a bonus, at the end of August I will give away one copy of The Gratitude Connection to one subscriber on my email list (sign up at This is in addition to the current giveaway for newsletter subscribers. I am blessed to know Amy, and feel very strongly that her book can change lives for the better.

The Gratitude Connection is available on, or directly from Amy via her website (

And now, for a little insight into why I feel so strongly about this book. About 18 months ago, right after my accident and NDE, I gently (or maybe "gingerly" is more correct) put my life back on a spiritual path. My path is more like a big, sweeping stairway: one "step up" separated by a stretch of a level walkway, then another step up, etc. It has been slow-going at times, but I realize I have a lot to learn and many shifts to make in my attitudes and way of living.

I've been on a level walkway now for a while, but this summer that level walkway entered a dark tunnel. We all have shadows within ourselves that need to be loved and filled with light before we can escort them out of our lives. And being on a spiritual path does not keep us from facing those shadows. In fact, it can make those shadows more obvious.

This summer, a few life stressors have crept up on me and slowly began to erode my sense of joy and light. They are life stressors that anyone would face, and many of us do: little stuff having to do with tight schedules, too much to do, and the ins and outs of starting a business. But without a solid spiritual foundation, those little stressors can sap our emotional resilience and put us into a tailspin of negativity and fear.
I received Amy's book just at the right time. The gratitude piece of my spiritual practice has not been as strong as I would like. There were so many things available for me to focus on when I started my spiritual development in 2014, that I simply had to choose. I chose to focus on love/compassion, and reaching out to others in community. Both of these are important and necessary, but now I see that it is time time for me to strengthen those with a strong practice of true gratitude.

I think of a spiritual practice like building a house. If love and compassion make up the foundation, then gratitude forms the frame upon which we lay the roof, tack up the siding, and add the interior finish work.

My intention now is to strengthen my own gratitude practice, using Amy's book as a guide. Anyone care to join in? 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Q&A: Animals and Spirit

I have had several questions about the connections among God, nature, animals, and people. One reader recently asked about whether animals have souls like we do. She asked because she was disheartened at how many humans seem to disregard nature and animals as important or worthy of respect. I realize this is a huge topic, and one that could ignite a firestorm because so many religions hold strict beliefs about this. I'll do the best I can from the standpoint of my own learnings and beliefs. As always, I suggest everyone searches within his/her own heart and mind for answers too.

"Free Spirits" Oil on Canvas, (c) Nancy Rynes

I didn't have any direct teachings about the souls or essences of animals during my NDE. I was told and shown, though, that all of creation, and that includes the animals (and us), are part of Divine love and Creation (I explain this more fully in my book, Awakenings from the Light). What that means is that animals are a very real part of Spirit, and the Divine reveres all of them. Every one. In light of this connection, I was asked to show love to nature (including the animals) because of that connection to God.

I think this is why I feel so drawn toward St. Francis of Assisi. He called nature and the animals our brothers and sisters, and I feel the same way. I've been carefully reading the New Testament recently and noted that Jesus said similar things, too. Buddhists, many Native American tribes, and other cultures, also revere animals as an important part of creation, worthy of our respect and good will.

Tundra Swans. Photo by Nancy Rynes

The question as to whether animals have individual souls like we do is another thing. I tend to think, from my own personal experience, that yes, they can and do have some kind of a soul or a soul presence. And I also believe, again from my own experience, that God can choose to work through an animal if that is the best way to have a positive impact on the life of an individual person. I have seen this in my own life with dogs, horses, and even hawks and eagles. 

I understand that different faiths will have different teachings on this, so again, please look within your own heart and feel free to think or believe won't hurt my feelings :-) I know that I want to do more exploring and learning about this topic, too.

Jolie. One of the animals in my life who has taught me so much.

Does it mean that animals have individual souls like we do? I suspect so, and I treat them all as if they did, with love, respect, compassion, and kindness. They are beautiful creations of the Divine, regardless of the "type" or "level" of soul to which they play host.

But then again, at its most basic level, it doesn't matter. We humans can become endlessly distracted from what is really important (Divine, Love, compassion, etc.) by getting wrapped up in unsolvable arguments like this  ("unsolvable" in our human existence, anyway). I call this spiritual distraction, and it can take us away from our own spiritual practices. Knowing that Divine love flows through all of creation, including humans and all animals, is good enough for me. All deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, as Jesus, the Buddhists, Franciscans, and others teach. But that is just my opinion.

We cannot escape the fact that we rely on nature and animals for our survival. But that does not mean that we are given a free pass to treat them with disdain or disrespect, either. As part of the Divine, they deserve our kindness and compassion. And while we do need them in order to survive, we can commit to "taking" only what we truly need from nature, with respect and reverence. After all, without the natural world and the animals, we humans would not be here.

Belted Galloway Cattle
In my own life, I do what I can to treat both people and animals well, and to pass on the message of Divine love. One of my upcoming books is about Spirit and my own spiritual connections to nature and the animals.



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Autumn Workshop

Full-Day Workshop: Oct 3, 2015 Boulder, CO

Awakenings from the Light

This will be a fun, lively, and extraordinary afternoon of empowering information and practical tools to create the changes you desire in your life.
Location: Caritas Center,  5723 Arapahoe Rd., Boulder, CO, 1PM - 4PM

In January of 2014, Nancy Rynes experienced a remarkable near-death experiences (NDE) that completely transformed her life from that of an agnostic scientist to a firm believer in the Divine. After a traumatic bicycling accident, she was in surgery when her soul left her body and traveled to heaven. She was met by a silvery, female form who told her she was being given a second chance. During what seemed like 3 months in Heaven with God, her Guide, and other spiritual beings, she was given many teachings and insights that she could use to bring her life back into alignment with Spirit. 
“Awakenings from the Light” is information she was given, presented in book form. Nancy will walk you through the messages from Spirit and give you exercises for applying them to your life.