Our Mentors: The Chaplain Threw a Brick at me

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Karen Fisher-Alaniz is a freelance writer and published author. She holds a master's degree in education and taught special education for 14-years. She is a frequent speaker on veteran's issues, and teaches workshops on memoir writing. She teaches a life story writing course at her local community college. At midlife, she found herself dealing with health issues, divorce, and the loss of a job she loved. She shares her journey of starting over at midlife on 8 Women Dream every Sunday morning. Her dream is to build a writing life, and find her writing voice, while restoring her 100-year old home. She dreams of writing best-selling books in her own voice. Karen lives in the pacific northwest with her family.
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Our Mentors: The Chaplain Threw a Brick at me - The Washington Monument

Our mentors, part II:

Last week as part of my dream story about starting over at mid-life, I wrote about my very special friendship with my mentor, bestselling author,  J.A. Jance. Judy and I email periodically just to catch up with each other.

She’s a great supporter of my writing.

I’d been struggling with the structure of my current book; the true story of Vietnam Veteran and gifted portrait artist Michael Reagan.

For the past ten years, Michael has spent his days drawing portraits of fallen soldiers. The portraits are given, free or charge, to families of the fallen; he’s drawn more than 4,000 thus far.

It’s a sacrifice – though he doesn’t see it that way. Time and again, he puts himself back into the most painful part of his life – his Vietnam days. My most pressing concern as a writer; that I am not the best author for the book.

While I feel an intense connection to Michael and what he does for families of the fallen, I am not a multi-published author. I’m not the most talented, nor the best-selling.

What I do know – is that this story deserves the very best writer. And in my email to Judy, I shared my concern that I am not that writer.

I poured out my heart, mind, and soul to her in an email. But as soon as I sent the email, I realized something. I wondered if she’d heard the wonderful news about Michael Reagan – that he would be receiving the Citizen Service Before Self Award – a medal given annually by the Medal of Honor recipients in a ceremony in Washington, DC. So, I sent her another quick email, sharing that the news.

I went back to working on the book about Michael, with continued frustration. Judy sent an email a short  time later, with her usual encouragement and a few suggestions that I quickly considered.

That night, as I walked the dog, I was talking to my sister, Susan, on the phone. I shared with her  how much I wanted to be at the award ceremony for Michael. But the cost, the time, and my responsibilities at home, were far too great to even consider it seriously. I said,

“If God wants me to go, He’s going to have to hit me over the head with a brick.”

The next morning, another email from Judy was in my inbox. When I read the first few lines, my heart dropped.

“When I sent your note about Michael’s commendation to [my friend Loretta], I failed to realize that the entire string of correspondence was attached.” Judy wrote.

The pit of my stomach was a tangle of knots.

This was everyone’s worst nightmare; an email with personal information accidentally going to an unintended recipient.

I read on.

“However, God works in mysterious ways.  Loretta is one of the recipients of a Michael Reagan portrait.  She is also a fire/police chaplain, and my friend.  This note is written to me, but it’s really intended for you, and I’m sending it along as written.

It’s the same thing I wrote to you through a different perspective, and what is says is FOLLOW YOUR HEART.  YOU CAN WRITE THIS.  YOU HAVE EARNED THE RIGHT TO WRITE THIS.”

Note: Below is a portion of the email written by Loretta to our mutual friend, Judy. I’ve met Loretta, though briefly, at an event some months ago. She began the email by telling Judy to feel free to share the email with me.

She continued;

I have read all of this, and I just can not sleep…God talks to me during the wee hours. I was moved to tears when I read Karen’s e-mails, wanting to reach out, and hug her tight. She’s grieving, she’s feeling all this loss, and thank God she does.

She IS the best author, I believe God ordained it, brings that bright young woman and Michael together, in a ‘trust’ based friendship.

And, an admiration that goes both ways. I know straight from Michael himself just exactly how much he loves Karen as a trusted friend.

She’s earned Mike, NOT an easy gift given from the weary, stoic, closed off survival tactics and habits of combat vets. I would tell Karen she has been blessed…

Karen is a wonderful person, she radiates compassion, intelligence, empathy and a loving soul. I picked that up straight on when Mike introduced her to me, I was indeed impressed. I feel she should go to Washington, DC as she will gather more insight by being a part of this very honorable event.

It will help her write freely with Confidence through an understanding she will be impacted with by attending.

She went on for pages, pouring out her soul. That email that my mentor-friend had accidentally sent, somehow spoke to her. So much so, that she was compelled to send me a message back.

She had no idea how “right on” she was – how much I needed to hear those words. After reading the email through once, with tears gathering momentum, I re-read it a second time.

My heart tells me to tell Karen to go!

Remember that brick I challenged God with?


I picked up the phone and called my sister. I told her there was no doubt about whether I should go to Washington, D.C. or not and that I would be going.

“I already checked with work,” she said. “I can get the time off.”

So, less than 2-weeks later, we boarded a plane to Washington, D.C.

It was the beginning of a whirlwind adventure. It is not lost to me that it is all because of a couple of women of strength, who walked alongside me, whispering in my ear.

Our Mentors: The Chaplain Threw a Brick at me - At the Lincoln Memorial

As I spent time in Washington, D.C. this week, they were there with me in spirit as I experienced what was meant to be – a journey that was there all along; I simply needed to step into it.

Sometimes, whether we’re strong or not, whether we are confident or not, whether we feel destined or not – we just need someone; a trusted friend, a mentor, a confidante, to stand beside us and whisper, “Go!”

Thanks, Loretta. That’s just what I needed!

Have you ever doubted yourself and then somehow, some way, realized that the signs were there all along? That you just needed a little (or big) push? What was the outcome?

Please share below – I’d love to hear your story!

Karen Fisher-Alaniz
Starting Over at Midlife

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