My entire family & I wish you & your family
a Blessed Holiday Season & Happy New Year! So many positive events
have happened to us this year…
Yesterday, a dear friend
of my sister’s sent us the US
Flag from his last combat mission in Iraq.
We should all remember our brave service people & their sacrifices this
Holiday Season. We are a blessed people.
This year, my sister Kirsten
& her husband Chris converted my garage into an art studio. Thank you!!!
:o) My parents & I took our first airplane ride
across the country with Sophia (my helper dog) who sat underneath the seat in
front of us quietly. She did terrific! Back on the ground, Sophia stood next
to me while we keynoted a slide & music presentation about our journey with
multiple sclerosis (MS), the artist Vincent Van Gogh & Awakening the
Artist Within at the Rocky Mountain MS Center’s Annual Convention held in
Denver, Colorado. This year Sophia assisted me at elementary schools demonstrating
to the children & adults how a helper dog can assist a person with MS. She
appeared with me in newspapers, on television & in “Lehigh Valley Magazine”
bringing support to programs & technology that benefit people with MS &
their families, like the MS Wellness Program at Good Shepherd
& the iBot 4000 Mobility System. (see enclosed)
Sophia’s favorite story,
however, did not appear in any newspaper, TV report or magazine this year, but
begins with the two of us down at the park on a gorgeous summer day. I had just
fallen off my scooter playing “tug of war” with her. Clearly the loser,
I lay in the dirt, muscles in spasm, unable to get back on my scooter, just
casting her angry glances. Thankfully, two college girls ran up to us &
then two men who were able to lift me back onto my scooter seat. One of the
men asked me about my German Shepherd “She’s beautiful!”
I told him “Her name is Sophia & she’s trained to make my life easier!”
He laughed “Sophia, that’s Greek for wisdom... I teach at Saint Sophia in New Jersey. Wow, Sophia can really catch those
sticks in the air! What a well trained companion you have.” I halfheartedly
agreed still irritated with her “Yeah, I trained her & she’s training me
I suppose. We used some books by the Monks of New Skete… They raise German Shepherds
in New York State
someplace. Always wanted to visit them...” The man laughed, “Oh, I know those
guys.” “You know the monks?!” “I sure do, in fact tomorrow my name will
change from Jay Rochelle to Fr. Deacon Gabriel. I’m Eastern Orthodox, like the
monks. You said you’d like to visit them?” Many weeks later, Sophia & I
are on our way up to visit the monks with my cousin Gretchen – winner of last
year’s Sophia Award!!!
For those who do not know, each year Sophia
confers a special award on one person who has in some way supported the National
MS Society in the ongoing fight against MS. We know many people each year who
help the Society push towards the cure! But, Sophia chooses just one person
each year who has inspired her in a special way… Don’t
ask me how I understand who she chooses! I just understand. Last year’s Award
went to Gretchen who with the help of many people has, once again, pedaled 150
miles across Texas & Oklahoma with her teammates
raising funds & support for the National MS Society in this year’s MS 150.
My special thanks to Gretchen!! To her team!! & to everyone who helped
support them on their ride this year - & also last year!! Gretchen is
obviously a competitor & traveler with a big caring heart for her family!
She arrived at our home in Allentown, PA
from Dallas, Texas
eager to begin our shared spiritual, dog training experience with the monks!
What must have been divinely inspired, Gretchen arrived at our house - unknowingly
- on the Feast Day of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel & Rafael – who are
3 of the 7 archangels in the Hebrew tradition. I smiled when she arrived for
dinner that evening & mentioned our sponsor’s name to her again, Fr. Deacon
Gabriel. “The angels must be with you, Gretchen!” :o) The Roman
Church celebrates the Feast
of the Archangels on September 29th. I am Roman Catholic not Eastern Orthodox
like the monks, but no matter, we are all God’s children. Michael (means
“Who is like God?”) is the archangel who cast Lucifer & the wicked angels
out of Heaven & into the underworld. He is the protector of all humanity!
Gabriel (“Strength of God”) announced to Zachariah the forthcoming birth of
John the Baptist, & to Mary, the birth of Jesus. His greeting to the Virgin,
"Hail, full of grace," is one of the most familiar & frequent
prayers of Christian people. Raphael (“Medicine of God” or “God has healed”)
is the archangel who guided Tobias on his journey in the Old Testament story.
Raphael’s mission as healer & fellow traveler often causes him to be invoked
before journeys. Visiting New Skete would be just such a journey. So, I printed
out a copy of the Book of Tobit & read a few parts
to my traveling companions as we drove to visit the monks & their German
Shepherds. The Book of Tobit chronicles the story
of Archangel Rafael, the young Tobias & his funny little dog who follows
through the adventure. Gretchen’s Pit- Bull “Suki”
would not be tagging along with us this time, but Sophia was ready for the adventure!
Curiously, Tobias’s faithful dog is the only one mentioned in the Bible! Sophia
is a real expert on this particular dog character in the Bible, but spent most
of our travel time snoring on the backseat while I read to Gretchen. Truth
is I have a special fondness for storytelling & for the Archangel Rafael,
whereas Sophia just enjoys sleeping more. While my folks & I were visiting
Medugorje in 2003, I briefly spoke with a very mysterious
young woman named Rafael (a masculine name?). Upon returning I would discover
that Rafael means “God has Healed” or “God’s Medicine” in Hebrew.
So, I like to believe that a guardian
spirit is still hard at work in my life – in some way!
l s) n.
spirits or guiding influences.
Financial backers of an enterprise.
Gretchen & I spent most of our drive
talking about angels, dogs & joking around about some of the more colorful
moments in the story when Gretch’ suggested that we
take a vanilla shake break at the next Mc Donald’s. Sounded good
to me & to Soph’ (who was still snoring on the backseat). Oddly though,
try as we may… after exiting the highway & driving a few more miles down
the road, we could not find that darn Mc Donald's anywhere! Frustrated, we settle
on a bathroom break at a Shell Gas Station. Sophia immediately wakes-up as Gretchen
drives our van into the lot! Gasoline prices are high. $3.07 for one gallon
of premium, but Gretchen filled the tank anyway. I used the bathroom first.
As I am inside finishing up, washing my hands, I hear Gretchen shout through
the door “Brett, our gas attendant is named Rafael!!! &, he's Russian,
like the monks... Are they Russian ???” :o) Gretchen
snaps this picture of Rafael (above) & telephones her mom. “Gretch’ your
mom & dad are going to think we’ve gone crazy, & that I’m to blame!”
In the book of Tobit the Archangel Rafael is disguised
in human form as the traveling companion of Tobias.
Well, after meeting the Archangel,
we drove to Gretchen’s sister Amy in Connecticut.
She introduces me to her funny little dog, also named Sophia!!! Amy joins
us on the way to New Skete & we all attend a late service at what we would
soon discover is named “Hagia Sophia Church” (see front) Together, we
enjoy a weekend of camaraderie with the monks, sisters & married couples,
wonderful food (especially the nuns gourmet cheesecakes), two litters of German
Shepherd puppies, Sister Cecilia’s iconography, beautiful prayer services &
some much needed rest on my part. Sophia’s Award goes not only to the riders,
but to the people who inspire & support them. Sophia’s choice for this Year’s
Award – Amy Reid! :o) She has been an
inspiration to everyone on this very special journey in Fall 2005. I have been
blessed with several angels!!!
wish everyone a beautiful Holiday Season & Happy New Year! - Brett & Family