“judge justice” by Anne Stewart Helton

 

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Harris County Criminal Courthouse

“Here’s how you get out of Jury duty”, my friend said to me as she proceeded to give me statements to say if selected that would make me sound totally biased or crazy to either the Prosecutor, the Defense or to the Judge!

“But I want to go to Jury duty” I replied sheepishly, as if it was something to be ashamed of, saying, “It could be my little chance to get things right in the world or to at least stamp “DONE” on my civic duty bucket list.”  A shaking of her head was all the reply I received. I guess I still believed in everyone doing their part and Leviticus 19:15- “Do not pervert Justice, do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly”.

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Jury Pamphlet                                      Jury Summons

I have been to Jury Duty a lot in my life and was even on a real-life, grizzly and sad murder trial once; it was just like one of those Dateline TV shows. I did reschedule this Jury summons due to calendar conflicts but last week the jury date arrived and I awakened way too early, excited to go to “downtown”  Houston for my obligation in the Harris County Criminal Court System. The Harris County system is wonderfully organized with a new Jury building and charming Texas security workers and Deputies, so getting in and out of the Courts is seamless and helpful. And there’s nothing more geometrically beautiful than the downtown Houston skyline!

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When sitting in the large Jury room for hours, it seemed like I would just fulfill my day and go home without being called. However, when the very last chosen numbers were put on the screen, mine was in the mix. We were told to quickly line up against a wall because the Judge wanted his Jury!

“Here we go”, I said to a lady lined up next to me but she just stared at me and immediately got on her phone telling someone she had been chosen. There were 30 of us lined up against a wall. When the Bailiff came into the room to take us through the underground tunnels to the Courthouse, it suddenly felt serious, especially when I saw how the Sheriff had to waddle and hold his arms away from his body due to an uncountable number of items hanging from him…of course one was a BIG gun, but everything else just looked like tools that could be used if you got out of line…so I didn’t!

I should have realized it was going to be an unusual day when we arrived at the Courtroom and all thirty of us were quickly put into a 12 person Jury deliberation room. So, was this going to be musical chairs or what? Twelve people sat at the table and the 18 rest of us stood around them in a circle. Now, I have always loved to watch how “group process” unfolds and evolves especially as thirty strangers are put in a different setting, with serious intent and potential unintended consequences. We were quiet for a few moments as the Deputy explained to us that there was a phone if the Judge needed to call us and there were two bathrooms also in the room. No one would dare enter those bathrooms, I thought, because people had to actually move away from standing in front of the bathroom door for someone to enter.

She also said that we “might” be allowed to go to lunch before being called into the courtroom for voir-dire, which is to speak the truth under questioning before being chosen. She explained that the Jury door could be opened from the inside, if we needed to get out (think escape) but would not open from the outside without her key, so she would have to let us back in, if that happened. Tight quarters!

As soon as the Deputy left the room, we all just stared at each other and as usual in a group the ‘talker” and the “comedian” emerged. Oh my, did the comedian emerge! He proceeded to describe his job, his life, his ability to not take anything seriously and also every aspect of how to fool the Judge and Lawyers and get out of Jury Duty. There was that topic again! He talked about how if you just said the classic statements  “Everyone must be guilty or they wouldn’t be arrested” and/or “All cops are wrong”, that you would immediately get to go home. He then told us his name but that where he worked there were two guys with the same name so they had nicknames for them, which he loudly announced to all. The names were clearly inappropriate but they brought guffaws just as he planned and required from the group. So, we’ll just say his nickname was “skippy“.  The “talker” was a very nice person so they proceeded to get into discussions about a variety of things, while others tried to talk quietly about the likelihood of being chosen according to our Jury numbers. Mr. Comedian had know-it-all answers to all their questions. Suddenly, the phone rang in the room and Mr. Comedian picked it up and it was the Judge saying it would be a little longer. He proceeded to joke with the Judge too. A few minutes later the door opened widely and there HE was in all his Robe and Glory, Judge Larry Standley himself, the Judge of Criminal Court #6. This man took the bench as a Judge in Harris County in 1999 and presided over various cases, such as driving while intoxicated, domestic violence, illegal possession of drugs, criminal pollution and theft. Just imagine…sixteen years of serious justice!

We all just stared at him, he smiled and the first thing he said was, “Sorry, but because we still pay homage to some dead Kings, I have to wear this robe, so it gets hot and I keep it real cold in my courtroom but I have a few blankets for you. You can go to lunch now but be back in 30 minutes and we will get started.” Mr. Comedian asked the Judge for a restaurant referral and the Judge wisely picked up on him quickly and refused but said “let me know where you go and give me a referral”.

They had met each others match!

As Groups do, people paired off or gathered up. After only one hour we already found our compadres.

When we returned we were waiting again and before we were led to the courtroom the Deputy shuffled our Juror numbers again, saying the Attorneys requested it…obviously a tactic!  Finally we were led into the Courtroom where it was quiet. Sitting at the Defense table was a very young, slight, Caucasian male dressed in slacks and a dress shirt. He had two defense attorneys and there were two prosecutors across from him at the other table. They all stood as we entered. I couldn’t imagine what in the world this young ‘boy’ had done to end up in Criminal Court.

Mr. Comedian said something like “let the games begin” but no one seem to hear. We all took our respective places on the benches, holding onto our juror numbers as instructed and the Judge was right, it was really cold in there. As is the custom, the Prosecutor began to go first in voir-dire but this Court was clearly being run by Judge Justice. This was his domain and he rode it like a wave. He proceeded to describe the possibility of us being in a Trial that would be about ‘driving under the influence’ and that it wasn’t a Felony trial and no one was injured or we would be in another court. He also said he only needed 6 Jurors….wait? what? we are in a Criminal Court with a boy who is charged with DUI and no one is hurt? This seemed like overkill to me.

The Judge commanded the Courtroom and we all stood to take the Oath which was said with old-fashioned respect…even by Mr. Comedian.

The Judge talked and talked and talked about the court system, the problems of today, the issues of being truthful, fair and unbiased and then he described, almost verbatim what “some” people may have said to say in order to get out of Jury Duty. He then clearly asked us all. “Who is the joker in the group?” Quickly, everyone pointed to Mr. Comedian and the Judge said, “And do you have a nickname sir?”.

We all looked around at each other wondering if the phone had been open in the Jury room!! This Judge knew how to pick, point and prod at a group for sure. It was fascinating to watch him work. He quoted the Law and told us he wanted us to be honest with all of our responses to the Attorneys. He described how important it was for any witnesses we may hear in the trial to stay on task in their discussions when they testified and how sometimes he may have to bring them back on track. Then he would proceed to go off track himself telling us his stories. But then he would change course and seriously ask a question, “Juror # 6, what was I just talking about?” To which the response was, “Uh, staying on track, Your Honor”, which brought chuckles from the group!

So, we would just start talking to him, like we were in his living room. He told us we would be with him until the evening and would maybe get hungry and then after many more stories, he announced, “I have never done this in my years on the Bench but I have ordered Pizza for all of you and it has been delivered. Deputy, bring out the Pizza and soft drinks.” We were all a bit stunned.

So, we found ourselves sitting in his courtroom, wrapped in blankets and eating Pizza. We wondered what was next.

The Prosecutor finally started asking all of us the typical voire-dire questions only to be interrupted frequently by the Judge. The other Prosecutor just stared at us with a funny smile but he made notes as he watched our fidgeting body language and reactions to comments. Then it was the Defense attorney’s turn. Even the defendant sat up straighter, it was his time. The Attorney was nice and funny. He wanted us to get to know him so he moved the large TV screens around for us to see and started a power point show. The first slide was of himself taking a selfie in a Jury room two weeks ago…in other words, “I’m just like you”. Of course, as he noted, no Jury would ever pick him. Then his next slide was his history, schools, scouts, sports, etc. and the Judge stopped him: “You brought a slide show about your life??!” Quickly the Prosecutor stood and objected also, which brought an end to that whole show. But no one got offended, in fact the Defense attorney just smiled. He knew this Judge well. He then proceeded to ask very pointed questions of us. The first question out of the box to a juror was “What did you think when you first walked in the room and saw the defendant?”

I knew what I thought but couldn’t believe what the selected Juror said next, “Well, should I say honestly?'” And Judge Justice jumped in with a long story of the importance of telling your real feelings and not being afraid. So, she proceeded, “Well, I thought this young guy couldn’t be charged with DUI, I don’t believe it. Now, Murder, that I would believe, but not DUI.” Well, even the Defendant almost fell over to that remark!

So, the honesty remarks continued with people talking to the Judge about strong opinions, work issues, coming babies to be born and child care needs. There were people talking privately to the Judge at the Bench over their personal issues and/or pain with alcohol, drugs, drunk driving, family members and police experiences, and then people with potential bias started being dismissed…even Mr. Comedian. All were given a respectful “thank you” from the Judge.

I had decided I wasn’t going to say anything if asked but the Judge began to describe his own wife and how much he respected her and then he told us a story of his daughter who had fought and won a battle with Leukemia as a young child and how he was privileged to donate blood to her. He talked about how important children were to him and how he wished some of the young people who came into his Courtroom had the confidence of some of the women in our Jury pool and how he tried to help them turn their lives around. Even the Defendant listened intently. He talked about wanting to make people more comfortable in his court and how damaged some of the people were who showed up in Court. Then he stopped….and looked at us all and said, “I have one shot at them when they come in here. One shot.”

The enormity of his felt responsibility hit me between the eyes. He could be a community force of Justice but also be a scapegoat for those who failed in families, schools, communities and life. He would even be judged himself by his decisions. I looked at the Defendant and at all of us as we had finished off our Pizza and thought how we were just there for one day. We had come together for a moment in time, however, this was or could be a pivotal turning point in this young mans’ life and this Judge realized it. He was allowing the process to play out but more deeply he was allowing a Play of sorts for the Defendant to watch to possibly see how reasonable and just life could be or should be.

The Defense attorney saw the emotions on my face and my body language and asked me about my feelings about DUI, alcohol, drugs, police…Quickly the words just rolled off my tongue and they were hard to stop. “I have to say Your Honor, if it is okay…?”   To which the Judge smiled and nodded “okay”.

“Well, I have to say I have never seen anything like this. I mean, I feel that I am on a Reality TV show and I’m waiting for the cameras to pop out. Here we are, in a Courtroom, all eating Pizza, but the Defendant isn’t. I feel we have already discussed the Trial and all of our feelings and you still don’t have a Jury”.  And then I described how much I respected law enforcement but also had seen the damage from alcohol and drugs. I described how I believed in enforcing the law to protect others but in recovery and help for people too, so I didn’t see why we couldn’t just all discuss this young man’s issues and come to an agreement over this case?” I stopped short of providing too much information on forgiveness, mercy and amazing grace!

Uh-Oh…now why did all that come out of me?

I waited for the admonition but should have realized that this was what Judge Justice produced.  He then smiled at me and asked me to talk more about why I felt that way…so I did. And then he asked me and the Courtroom “Have I been professional? Have I been fair?”

Of course, the only answer was a resounding Yes”.mallet,jpg

It seemed very soon after that it was almost 6pm and the Judge announced that they had a Jury of Six. We waited. Quickly, the names of six people, who hadn’t seemed to talk much throughout the day were called. They moved to the real Jury box and stood. Our Judge had them sworn in as we all watched and then he had us stand respectfully as the six of them left the Courtroom. Almost as quickly, the Judge dismissed us with a smile, collected the blankets and said “Thank you” and that we would soon receive a check in the mail for $6.00 which was followed by smiling groans. Then the Jury band of strangers, who had come together for this time, disbanded to go our separate ways. Somehow we knew justice would be done.

As I walked out of the Courtroom I thought about the Judges’ comment, “I have one shot at them” and I realized he had one shot at us too. Among his rambling but deliberate stories and questions this man, and his Attorney players, had taken serious aim at us too. Judge Justice had delivered a shot that carried a constitutional message about our system, flawed that it may be at times, but one that can work so well when strangers, “a jury of our peers” are in a mix and become one with a system attempting to produce Justice.

Days after, I did receive that $6.00 check. And with a smile, I bought a slice of Pizza in honor of Judge Larry Standley.

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“Seeking Shells of Shelter” by Anne Stewart Helton

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Back Camera

It is often while walking on the sands of a Beach where I truly comprehend my smallness in the universe. Just as the shells that wash up as noticeable gifts for me, I explore how my life in the natural is nothing but a fleeting gift from God…a breath of wind blowing by in all of it’s different velocities and directions. When I see the sea shells that were somehow sheltered on their journey to become sand, I feel protected too. I feel connected.

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Anne walks Galveston Beach

It’s a juxtaposition. It is all free when I walk on a beach and yet I become rich. Oh, I expend energy to pay for the walk but it is a homeostasis energy that is equaled by what I gain. My heart and soul fill up with fuel, my lungs expand with salty oxygen, my hair blows in time with the gusts, my muscles ebb and flow like the tides and my smile widens with sunny joy. The skimming beach birds skip alongside me and share their space, always keeping a wing flap ahead of me, as we look together toward the timeless waves and foam working toward the shore.

I imagine great wonders under the waters and look with creative eyes toward rising fins of sharks, dolphins and strutting jaws of pelican. I watch the diving birds pick up their fleeing prey and whisper a prayer for both as the circle of life spins. I see clumps of Sargassum seaweed full of shells and fish rolling toward me and imagine pirates of old grabbing it with hooks and nets for fuel, medicine, food or hidden treasure.

My walk on the beach zig-zags toward sheltered shells in trapped tidal pools and I carefully observe them for unbroken shells and especially for the commerce of mostly whole sand dollars. Finding an unbroken sand dollar is rich, it’s empowering, it’s a blessing. I wonder how far the shells have traveled and I look at their majestic design and shining, gentle colors…all different, all with perfect purpose. Most collected shells end up in a display bucket but some are maneuvered by a glue gun as a crafty gift.

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Beach shells……………………………Become Wreaths

My heart is full of the beauty around me and my connection to it all and I hope that everyone can experience the cleansing feelings of a walk on the beach. I picture friends and family I know who are old, lonely or sick and I pray for them to see the healing beach in person again or in their sweet dreams.

Most of my memories of beach trips from the past were activity driven…let’s get there fast, let’s hurry, let’s jump in the water, let’s go,go,go! As a child it was more about gathering stuff to take to the beach rather than getting something from the beach. Now, I ponder the design of it all and am amazed that I missed it in my younger days but I know that my thoughts are in a different season and relevancy now. It is glorious to ponder that the gulf sea around me has secrets, gifts and routes leading to deeper imagined thoughts and adventures. As I walk, I wonder if my parents wondered too…so many years ago when they packed us ten children into a station wagon, with towels and toys so we could roast hot dogs on the beach and play in this same sand? Did they look out at the sea and wonder what was below?

BeachDaysMomDadEmmett & Gerrie Stewart circa 1960

The blue sky above me is searching also. It has fingernail scratch marks as if the clouds are trying to see what is beyond them too. Even the jet airplanes get into the act as they make their mark trying to help the clouds push through the boundaries of the sky and beyond. The merging of the forever sky and sea brings hope to my own heart as I think about growing closer to both.

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Cloud “Sky Scratches”……………..”Jet Scratches” too!

Without a doubt, in a storm, trembling waves of the sea could caress or rock you to peril and the shell covered sea floor could slip and shift, with rip tides possibly carrying you where you never wanted to go. But a gentle walk is just mostly a connection that allows for appreciated boundaries of shelter…even before a storm. A stormy sea is predictable nowadays with our radar scanning news and people by the sea can prepare with vigor as the fear and excitement of an impending storm looms. But just as in life, storms can hit when they are least expected, like a thief in the night. As I wrote in “Happy Jesus Nurse: Heart Lessons”, http://bit.ly/HappyJesusNurse , “Storms can come in all forms…a phone call, a diagnosis, a betrayal, an estrangement, discovery, a lie, a revelation, a confession, a death-even an actual meteorological storm. Storms of life are tests, revelations, and building blocks of our inner strength-and yes, often much good can come out of a storm, just like a real storm has rainbows. It is in adversity that we meet ourselves and learn or change our character.”

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Anne & John at the Sea

So, when I am in a stormy mood or period of life, a testing time of my strength, I go to the sea. I take my hubby John and we picture the timeless waves, tides, birds, and fish and seek the reminder of protection from the strong sheltered shells…the shells that have weathered so much to be at my feet and offer themselves as gifts. I am then reminded of the designer of the shells and sand and the ultimate protector from stormy seas of life, as described in Luke 8:24- “And they came to him, and awoke him saying, Master, Master, we perish. Then He arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm” (KJV)

With those words, I allow trust and peace to come in to my heart like a gentle wave. I scoop up the shells in my hands; I look to the sea and I smile.

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“Texas Treasures Tried and True” by Anne Stewart Helton

Don’t ya’ll just love Texas?

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Yes, it took us awhile to decide but good ol’ Texas, the Lone Star State, became the 28th State of the United States in 1845 and our Flag is similar to the U. S. flag in the Red, White and Blue….red for bravery, white for strength and blue for loyalty. All true stuff. We even have a song slogan we believe in: “God Bless Texas”.

I really love the way we say “ya’ll” in Texas…it’s just our shortened word for ‘you all” or an extended, inclusive version of ‘you’.

It’s the same as when people say “youz guys” in the Northeast, or “you guys” in the West or even “yawl” in New Orleans. In this amalgamated country we live in it is refreshing to hear the different dialects and see the many customs and character differences in all of our wonderful States. In Texas, we love to wave at people, in the polite way, when we let you in traffic, so please wave back. You will be double blessed if our wave is with a “tip” of the hat! We may also make friends with visitors in a grocery line check out, so don’t think we are weird. We still say “Yes Mam” and Yes Sir”, no matter your age. We believe it’s a way of communicating respect.

We especially like to say “Ya’ll come” to Texas. It just feels nice. It is nice. But one thing, when you do come, all we ask is…Don’t try to change TexasPlease. We aren’t bragging folks…we just know how good we are already. We aren’t perfect by any means but let me just say, we think Heaven isn’t a long distance phone call when you’re in Texas!

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Bissett Family Horses

In Texas we are known for being friendly and strong, proud and polite, bold and comforting, spiritual and tolerant. You don’t have to be born here to be a Texan but you do have to claim the title! We really do have it all here. We have the mountains in the West and Big Bend Park, where it would be difficult to look at the vast star-filled skies and not ponder a benevolent design for our universe. Our State has ghost towns with desert tumbleweeds and cacti, plains and fields of cotton, spring fed lakes and creeks lined with cedar and cypress trees in our France-like Texas Hill Country. We enjoy the spreading blue bonnet wildflower fields in the Blue Bell Ice Cream country of Brenham, the swamp gas and legends from the Piney Woods and marshy thickets of East Texas, the easy Island living in Galveston and the feel of the Bahamas from the white sand dunes of Corpus Christi and Padre Island. We have the culture, music, food, shopping and family love from our neighbors in Mexico and most of us speak some Spanish, or think we do! We love to ski in our self-claimed west-west Texas towns of Ruidoso and Taos, New Mexico and we have the best Medical Centers and health care in Houston and Dallas, where Kings, Queens and the famous are healed alongside anyone in need. Thanks to well-known Rice University we have the most beautiful and interesting architectural buildings in Texas and their graduates are spreading designs throughout the world!

Our Texas cities have welcomed people from all the continents and now they have shared their worldly cultural and culinary experiences with us from places like VietNam, China, India, Mexico, and Africa. And for sure, we absolutely make fashion in Texas from the Dallas Market to Neiman Marcus as well as from Tomball and Llano. Also, People come to Texas for a weekend just to dine on amazing food from the best and trendiest food sources, like the experimenting sous-chefs of Montrose to the truffle and wine Chefs of Tony’s in the metropolitan city of Houston, or just to eat the sausage and kolaches in New Braunfels, or for the tender flavor from the barbeque masters at Goode Company or just to eat with friends at a backyard or tailgate party! And, we absolutely ARE the only State with good Tex-Mex food, just ask New Yorker’s!

Texans work extra hard to keep our capital Austin beautiful, musical, trendy and weird and to enjoy the flavor, history, beauty and spirit of the river walk in San Antonio and we explore and appreciate all the cities and towns in between the big cities. We especially cherish our small towns and love to say the names of some cities like, Cut n ‘Shoot, Bedias, or Lukenbach, Texas and we even have a Beer named after its own town in Shiner, Texas.

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John in Anderson, Texas

Thanks to a former First Lady, our own Texas Lady Bird Johnson, visitors are greeted to our State by fields and fields of wildflowers on every highway. And thanks to our other Texas First Ladies, Barbara and Laura Bush, Books are more prevalent than ever and even being handed out to children in health clinics. We don’t discriminate in Texas politics, we vote more for the person than the party, and sometimes it’s difficult to discern who is in what party!

We have Churches, Synagogues, Temples and Home-made worship centers on almost every corner and we build neighborhoods, schools, golf courses, parks and Friday night football games around them. We love our beliefs and we support each others’ rights to worship or not…just don’t tread on our beliefs and we won’t tread on tolerance! We can agree to disagree with a smile, if needed. Our Religions and sometimes Faiths intermingle, we believe that’s what Heaven will look like! For instance, it’s not unusual to see a Baptist Church sharing it’s building with another religious denomination that is having a hard time, financially or maybe due to damage from one of our famous floods or tornadoes. We donate to causes all over the country and world, we like to share, but are especially prone to helping our bordering neighbors, like the Louisiana folks after Hurricane Katrina who were welcomed with open arms by Texans.

We do keep our arms open with hands full of donated food from Food Banks and Community groups thanks to generous corporate and individual donors and we also believe in helping folks get a “leg up” with a job. We help people move up to care for themselves and their families so they can move up to be a blessing to others. We believe that’s the Texas way and there’s always a Texan fixin to help you.  We actually have so many people volunteering to feed the homeless that we have to have committees and coalitions to regulate them! Our hearts are open but we don’t like to be scammed, so “fool us once shame on you but fool us twice shame on Texans”.

 

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Molly cooks for Homeless

It’s true…we do like things BIG in Texas. We are sometimes even made fun of for women with “big hair” but the thing is we know, that we know, that we know it’s big hair…so the jokes on everyone else! It’s just that we are thankful for our bigness…We are proud of our big open skies, our big hearts and our big square miles, after all we have 261,914 square miles of Texas pride.

We even have the largest Church in the country at Lakewood Church in Houston and it still houses the spiritual heart of Champions left there from the Rockets’ Basketball Team when it was the old Summit. And our State also has some of the greatest small Cowboy Churches where folks wear their boots, sit on bales of hay and sing with their guitars to the Lord.

We have the best Universities and honor them with a “Howdy” and a thumbs-up at A & M or with Horns out and a Hookem’ at University of Texas!

 

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Anne & Aggie Jack                         UT Sisters: Melissa & Anne

We love our Rice Owls, University of Houston Cougars, Texas State Bobcats, Texas Tech Red Raiders and Baylor Bears so don’t bother us during Football season or when the Astros or Rangers go into Post Season Baseball or when the Rockets or Spurs are playing in town and especially, as my father in law Bill used to say, NEVER bother us when the Dallas Cowboys are playing. The Houston Texans break our hearts yearly but we love them because we love teams that play with heart! And yes, we know how to keep kids safe playing football with plenty of water, good helmets and gear during Friday night lights.

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We have a great Island in Texas to live on or visit and it has all types of birds for watching, yummy seafood restaurants to relax in and gentle beaches to walk and collect shells on, unless a Hurricane is brewing! It’s a laid back place with a song of its own by Glenn Campbell… “Galveston”, it has super great fishing Piers, with good-looking guides and many an executive from Houston may be seen fishing for red fish off the Piers. We throw back caught sharks and for adventures we have Brazos Bend Park close by where we walk carefully on beautiful park trails through alligators!

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Brazos Bend State Park                 Matt Catches Shark in Galveston

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John walks on Beach and Casey Guides on a Galveston Pier

A visitor can explore the ages of time in Texas from dinosaur tracks in Glen Rose to the open future in space in Clear Lake City at Johnson Space Center. We have Rodeo’s that will take you back to Cowboy and Cowgirl days as well as let you praise school children working in Future Farmers of America, FFA, as they proudly show their carefully raised calves, sheep or rabbits! And watch out for traffic jams in Harris County on Go Texan Day, which is usually on a wet cold day in February, as the Trail Riders enter Houston from all angles and head for Memorial Park to rest and get ready for the Rodeo Parade and Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. We bond with our animals and it’s not unusual see an old Cowboy cry as he has to put down his older dog or horse. And,Yes, we still have Horses in Texas and we ride them too. They are well-respected, have fancy stalls and nowadays are often seen on a few acres next to the family swimming pool.

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Ocean Blue Pools: http://www.obpi.com        Brandi walks her Horse!

We play and work hard in Texas and we aren’t afraid to get our hands dirty from supplying oil and food to the rest of the country, to helping a neighbor in need. We like work and we have a lot of jobs for those who feel the same. Financially we stay pretty sound because of our firmness about low taxes and we are known for staying out of “people” trouble like sometimes seen in other cities because we like to get along with our neighbors, no matter the demographic, relationship, gender or origin. We honor our heritage, we learn from our history and incorporate it with inclusion, redemption and forgiveness not blame. From the American-Indians, to Spaniards, Anglos, African-Americans, Mexicans and onward…..WE. ARE.TEXAS. We like to “live and let live here” and our joke is: we don’t have time for fighting each other or having riots because we all have to get up and go to work the next day! So don’t try to bait us into a fight, ever, we don’t take kindly to that kind of stuff. We also actually LIVE community policing and the police or constables are usually neighborhood buds who will bring a pit or a pie to your next barbeque!

It is so much fun and inspiring to slowly drive the back roads of Texas, see the beautiful rivers, creeks and topography and meet the friendly, hard-working families in towns and cities like Beaumont, Tyler, La Grange, Fredericksburg, San Marcos, Wimberley, Killeen, Brownwood, Waxahachie, Paris (not that Paris!), Weatherford, Ennis, Nacogdoches, Wichita Falls, Abilene, Amarillo, Lubbock, Fort Stockton, Odessa, Pecos, El Paso, Alpine, Marfa, Del Rio, Laredo, McAllen, Corpus Christi, Lake Jackson  and Navasota.

So many wonderful historical names, so many miles and so much history and beauty. In fact, you can circle the unique shape of Texas from our New York Top Hat in Dalhart, by our Oklahoma neighbors, all the way down to our Italy type boot in Brownsville, by Port Isabelle and Mexico, and you will feel as if you traveled around the World.

So, like I said, “ya’ll come”. We will tip our hat to you, wave you into a traffic lane, give you directions, feed you or say Howdy. We ask only one thing…“just don’t try to change us.”

You see, we believe in our revised slogan, which now says in a firm past tense, “God Blessed Texas”!

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“Unbeknownst To Me” by Anne Stewart Helton

Have you ever thought about what a funny word unbeknownst is?

I ponder on thoughts like that sometimes. Unbeknownst means existing or occurring without someone’s knowledge, which has been a process that has happened to me forever in my life.

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It seems I have always bumped into or created those unbeknownst situations. Many years ago I was working as a “way too involved” child advocate and wanted to record a certain discussion I was going to have for a background interview with a longstanding government foe who was known for lying. I know, I know, I shouldn’t have thought about doing that at all…but I felt she might not tell the truth about our conversation and I wanted to protect the abused child and I liked playing detective. So, I thought I would outsmart her and record it, just in case. So, unbeknownst to her I put a little old fashioned tape recorder in my purse and proceeded to start the conversation. I had turned the recorder on the highest volume because it was in my purse and thinking that would make it pick up her voice better.  I coyly just s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d my arms and then reached inside my purse to push the record button but unbeknownst to me I pushed the PLAY button instead and the loudest voice ever on a prerecorded tape came screaming from my purse. Needless to say we were both shocked but I knew what was happening, she didn’t.

But that’s the whole point of unbeknownst.

Someone on one side of an equation knows what is happening and the other person or persons doesn’t. It’s from the phrase “unknown to” and somehow, through the years it became unbeknown and then the st was added. The word unbeknownst is having a comeback of sorts and now it’s heard on television programs or seen in tweets!

It seems perhaps that we are grappling with the fact now that even with all the information being pounded into us through social media, airwaves, sound waves, blogs, 24 hour cable, reality programs and on and on…we still have much that is unbeknownst to us. Much as I may try to think I can know all there is to know or control events around me I will never have all the information that the advertisers tell me the recent smart phone or newest apps can provide. What started as information gathering in the information age then became who could gather it the fastest, or which phone service or computer could deliver it to us the quickest and how many social networks we could connect with, or how many  likes or re-tweets we could achieve…even if they were from people unbeknownst to us!

Thus, the game of quickly gathering information has become more of a chase the tail game of trying to absorb all that is out there, with the premise being ingrained in us that the more information we have, on a world-wide scale no less, the better off we will become. We are bombarded about foods that can hurt us, politicians who are in trouble, scandals, traffic congestion on the way to work and on the way home from work, crime scenes in our city and weather reports EVERYWHERE, just so we might be safer, wiser and thus protected from any mistakes to be made.

IT. IS. EXHAUSTING.

In reality, isn’t everything really mostly unbeknownst to us? We can’t possibly know everything that has happened or will happen or what someone else has done or has going on in their mind or their past. However, it’s funny when we use the word, we seem to always say unbeknownst as if it were a huge surprise, which it usually is, BUT...we often say it with guilt, as if we somehow should have known whatever was unbeknownst to us!!

Listen to how I have used it….

“Well, I walked into the restaurant and there were some of my family members seated at a table, having a party. However, unbeknownst to me I wasn’t invited to my own sister’s birthday party!”

Now how in the world could I have known that would happen but somehow I felt as if I intruded on them!

Or…

“I can’t believe this happened to me. I was all set to give my speech at the women’s center and I ran quickly to the restroom first. When I came out I felt a direct cool wind on my back side and unbeknownst to me I had tucked my dress into my pantyhose (you remember those) and now my rear end was visible to all as I walked into the room.”

Or…

“Once I packed up our car with an ice chest full of food, comfy sleeping bags, our suitcases and books for an exciting family camping trip but unbeknownst to me when my son had driven the car the night before he left it with a flat tire for discovery in the morning!”

Or…

“I was driving home from work and I stopped at a red light. When I looked to the right side I saw a senior aged woman sitting on a bus stop bench and suddenly she fell over to the ground. I pulled my car over and jumped out to her side, she mouthed “help”, which I did, but unbeknownst to her I was a Registered Nurse on my way home from my emergency room shift and I could actually give her aid.”

The point being that life is going to be full of unbeknownsts…the physical, fix-it types, the hurt feeling types, the embarrassing moments types and the miracle types and there is just not a whole lot we can do about that.

Even back in Biblical days, Jesus would walk through a village unbeknownst to people and perform healing miracles on the sick, teach the multitudes or pray with the poor.

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Just imagine that…Jesus Himself right there in their midst and people just carried on in their daily manner, they went to work, they gathered their sheep, they cared for children and elders, they broke bread with family and friends.

Hmmmmm!? Maybe there’s a timeless message here…

We will never get all the cyber information we desire, at faster and faster paces. Also, we can’t know every situation, funny or tragic that we will bump into in life, we can’t know everything that is in the hearts of others, if they desire to hurt us and we can’t always be prepared for those interruptions of life, like flat tires. But we can walk through life living our purpose knowing that what is not unbeknownst to us it that Jesus walks with us, twenty-four/seven, that He is at our side and thus He will protect us in the most unknown ways from what is unbeknownst to us.

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Artwork used by permission-“My Refuge and Salvation” by Baron & Barbara Bissett

Anne Stewart Helton,RN,BSN,MS #HappyJesusNursebook http://bit.ly/HappyJesusNurse

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