08/29/2011 04:25 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2011

A Heart Filled With Grace

Learning how to realize our hopes and dreams can come about in the darndest ways, and I would like to thank my niece for teaching me, with her heart filled with grace and poise.

I've had my 16-year-old niece with me for the past week and a half, and the truth of the matter is I learned more from her -- with her gigantic heart -- than I can ever imagine her learning from me. Both she and her sister are wise beyond their years -- partly because they lost their father, my brother, when they were 12 and 14 a couple of years ago. Charles "Rusty" Rust was larger than life, and he gave them a great legacy of humor and love very much alive in them both.

The first part of our adventure involved staying in a hotel, and our first order of business was to swim and try coffee with our chocolate chip cookies. They were soon replaced with cranberry chip cookies, as they were deemed "more sophisticated" -- this at ages 14 for Savannah and 16 for Danielle.

We laughed and played, and the next morning we had a buffet breakfast where anyone counting calories, carbs or how many things one could fit on a plate would have been in sugar shock. But we had fun! The girls have so much grace in their hearts. Savannah routinely donates her gorgeous hair to cancer patients, and both the girls work at a thrift shop on Saturdays and work with a homeless charity organization.

Sadly, Savannah had to start school a week earlier than her sister, so we only got to play for a day, but we played some educational games, and the girls amazed me! Since there is so much pressure on kids to make good grades and get into college I found great joy, because they knew their current events, geography and history. I did not know that they knew all that they knew.

We talked about dreams and choices. I know they are busy dreaming big dreams, and I know their dreams have a good chance of becoming real. They are unafraid to reach out and try new things or spread their wide wings. They are fearless and don't confuse excitement with fear.

They know they are loved even though they may have loved ones in heaven. (They lost their grandparents right before their father). But they don't have a lot of encouragement -- just an overtired but great single mom, Colleen, and me -- who is Auntie Mame to them. (If I had my way, we would be traveling the world full time for some great learning.)

What most people don't realize is that children are just mini people. Or maybe adults are just children in grown-up bodies. We are really just the same, only adults have been around longer and, as such, can have better life skills. So, let's see what Danielle did at age 16 which I learned from.

First, we went to several markets to get all the ingredients for her gourmet cooking. Well, any child of any age who wants to put together nature's bounty is already a saint to me. And does she ever make delicious concoctions that she almost invents as she goes along. Over some of her homemade fudge made with dates, cocoa powder and avocado, she asked whether we could take some ceramics classes that she ended up adoring.

As we say in Hollywood, "cut to" the office of Dr. Ted Carden, who thought she might have injured her back horseback riding and falling while jumping. She mentioned that she might trade horseback riding for throwing pots and ceramics. How sensible and well thought out.

No one told her that she had to stop riding. It just made good sense. Good sense is something we don't see enough of -- throwing those pots versus jumping her beloved Jasper the horse that she has loved unconditionally for years. I appreciate good sense which is not something you expect to find in teens.

When we drove to Pepperdine University to take a campus tour, she expressed interest in my lovely friend, Christine Chiu, giving her the "real deal tour." Christine loved her time there, and Danielle thought that this would be the best way to see one of her most cherished dreams unfold with someone who had lived the dream. Danielle recognized the importance of passion.

When we were invited to join friends for dinner and a comedy club, she took the opportunity to ask about getting shoes to make her look slightly more sophisticated. The club said that she could come at age 16, but that they prefer age 18. So, we ended up finding a new outfit that I had to talk her into buying because she looked 18 in it. She said, "Aunt Trish, when I'm 18, I want to look 18, but for now, I would rather look 16."

She wasn't afraid to spread her wings and go to the comedy club, she simply wanted to be authentic to who she is. After all, when she came to visit one time when she was nine, she said, "What I need is a good dose of stand-up." I think this is the visit I introduced her to South Park. No matter what the goal, humor can always play a role in achieving it. She wanted to be real.

Yes, I have introduced both the girls to things such as coffee in their milk and unnecessary make-up, but all things considered, Danielle sings in the church choir, is an angel, wants to be a biologist or work with animals and is an excellent artist and athlete. She even brought her colored pencils with her when I brought her "on the set" with me this week and did some wonderful work while I was busy working.

She was a huge hit with the crew and they were all one time film school graduates who were very supportive of the art she was creating. She showed me the importance of expressing yourself, which I am lucky enough to do daily.

We went straight from the shoot to the Tim Burton exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and I admit to being tired that night and falling asleep early. When I awakened, Danielle had watched three and a half hours of taped Dr. Oz shows. He was new to her and she had fallen in "like" with the doctor. She had notes and recipes, and I couldn't have been prouder of her taste in television!

Danielle and I were together for every moment for over a week -- I watched her put on her perfect face. I watched the look on it as we drove around a top university that might become her home in two years. I watched the hope on her face as she talked about her classes for the remaining two years of high school, and thought about all the love that she needed in order to see that through. Oh, she so hopes to learn her French fluently. I saw the importance of commitment.

I hope she gets the love she needs because that's the same love we all need. There's also a universal need to give love -- nothing feels better. Just think of how good charity work feels. (Pause for a plug for my own -- see Power For Kids). Love moves mountains.

If you can fill your heart with grace, dream as big as you dare and then reach out for that dream, unafraid to spread those wings or jump off the metaphorical cliff to soar into those dreams coming true.

Ask those who care about you for love and encouragement, and then, you too will have gleaned something from 16-year-old Danielle Rust who asked me for mine. She may not be riding Jasper the horse for a while but something tells me that the universe is going to see that her dreams are realized in a very big way. Feel free to let me know how you are coming with yours.

Feel free to comment below and friend me on Facebook at Patricia Rust.