“EVEN BROKEN WINGS CAN FLY” by Anne Stewart Helton

It was just a Bird. Well, actually a tropical Mexican falcon.
I was watching him in his cage at a small Zoo as he sat on his perch and kept turning around, as if to show me his right wing. He was a beautiful creature of God’s making, with tenacity, strength and nobleness. Falcons are raptors, like Hawks and they can be ferocious to other creatures! They are birds of prey with strong, sharp talons, keen eyesight and hooked beaks used for their hunting skills. As I watched him I realized the right wing looked different than the other one and it seemed to hang down a bit. It looked to have been damaged, maybe even broken at one time.

If one ponders on all the travails a Falcon could encounter, it’s not difficult to imagine a wing being damaged or clipped. Texas is awash with different types of birds, particularly Hawks, as they winter in our fields and cities, soaring high over buildings or perching in our many pine trees to swoop up a field mouse, rabbit or snake! It never fails when I hear the birds in our neighborhood squawking loud warning sounds that it’s usually because a Falcon or Hawk is flying overhead or one has already managed to pick up a fledgling bird. The neighborhood cats become wary also!

Birds can do funny things with their wings, besides during their mating rituals, they can use their wings as protection. Just like I picture my Guardian Angel does for me when needed!

Once, when out for a walk when living in the Texas Hill Country, we saw a large momma Quail in the brush. The chubby Quail had a nest for her baby quails and when she saw us she started “dragging” one wing dramatically on the ground and scurrying away from her nest. She served her purpose of distraction as we watched her instead of going to look at her nest. Such a smart design God!

But the Zoo Falcon I was now watching was standing tall, hopping around on his perch and adapting quite well when another, larger bird pen-mate jumped closer to him and took over his perch. I watched their pecking order ritual and then suddenly saw my broken wing bird start to fall and wiggle on his stick. The other bird stayed strong, didn’t help at all by moving over. Definitely a bird with boundaries!
My broken wing buddy, fluffed his feathers, looked tenuous and then suddenly picked up and stretched both wings, albeit one being crooked, and flew to the other side of the cage. He landed safely and balanced, turned his swivel head around and looked at me. Well, you can fly old bird, I thought.

Such a symbol of experience, adaptation and strength this guy was. The injured Falcon in all it’s glory was made of good stock but mindful of it’s surroundings and limits and ready to learn as well as move from harm if challenged or threatened. So much like me, so much like us all, it seems.

Life lessons abound around us, all the time. We don’t always pay attention or at least I don’t. Lessons that can comfort, heal, protect us and allow us to have peace and enjoy life. Like the importance of “staying focused” in life and not becoming distracted by extraneous social noise or other birds.  Or lessons like, “staying mindful” and appreciative of God’s gifts by living in present moments, listening to what matters in one’s own environment and not another birds‘. Or lessons of “paying attention to one’s instincts“, or feelings, to gain wisdom and truths about ourselves to know when or how quickly to move to another perch!  And one of the best lessons, “being proud of our own feathers, color, and wing span in life”.  Who knows, some of us may turn out to be the prettiest of them all, like the pinky Flamingo-like, Spoonbill bird who represents love and fun in the human flock but looks so different growing up in the bird world!


When my daughter Missy was little she bemoaned her very curly hair. She didn’t understand why she had to have curly hair when all her friends had straight surfer-girl hair. She conditioned her curly hair. She put straightener on her hair. She wet her hair and wore a tight knit hat on her head to school. She even ironed her hair. But it always stayed curly. As she moved into different seasons of her life, the times caught up to her hair. Soon, everyone wanted curly hair and put potions on their straight hair. Missy beamed with her natural look. She became a proud and beautiful curly feathered bird!

God gives us all different feathers and wings. Sometimes we use our wings to preen too proudly, to cover ourselves in old shame, to comfort ourselves, to protect others or sometimes we use our wings to distract a dangerous foe. Sometimes our wings get broken along with our hearts and we feel we will sadly limp along for the rest of our future. No…remember my feathered Falcon friend who was able to fly when needed. We may have to rest, be comforted, nurtured and then heal for a season or two but most of the time, ‘even broken wings can fly’.

In life, we are protected by Wings, both spiritually and earthly. God covers us with protection and gives us Grace when we least deserve it. The Holy Spirit moves us and Jesus teaches us how to fly. And those people who love us on Earth cover us with sweet supportive Wings made of downy feathers of understanding, encouragement and loyalty. Some of our earthly friends will even distract foes for us by showing strong spread-out Wings of warning. And some of us are still learning life’s lessons and are growing our own Wings to help cover and protect others and it’s just like the phrase in the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life”…”everytime a bell rings, an Angel get’s it’s Wings”.

So, stretch out…Accept your own color of feathers, use your own Wing span to help others…Ask God to help you, then spread your Wings, feel the wind under you and soar like the Eagles.





“Following The Light” by Anne Stewart Helton

It was such a busy, rushing, late December night…dark and misty…with bumper car traffic.

I was on my way to the Galleria, Houston’s famous mega-mall for shopping and was just going to finish up buying a few more gifts for Christmas. Thinking of how I could navigate in and out of the traffic with secretly known short cuts and parking areas, I was in my own little world as I planned my route and my timing before the stores closed. The radio was playing “Blue Christmas” by Elvis. My heart was thumping the same words, “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you….”,  not for anyone specific but just that down feeling called nostalgia that sometimes hits with the holiday times.
I turned off Westheimer Rd. and onto Post Oak Blvd to be met by a long sparkle of trees lined on each side of the street. It took my breath away for a few seconds because it was so spectacular and special. Thank you Houston.


I waited for the traffic light to change and soaked in the joy of the Christmas lights. He popped out rather quickly in front of me because, after all, I was probably only driving 2 miles per hour at that point. He had a full smile on his face, a cup in his hand and a jolly belly. He wore a roughed up Santa hat and I heard him yell through my window, “I just need a cup of coffee”.

Heck…now why did I need to hear that? I could relate to that statement!

Then I heard the car horns blaring at the chubby man in the street as I looked in my rear view mirror. He was dodging cars but managed to still look eye to eye at me. C’mon, that’s no fair, I thought! I drove a little further and made the u-turn. After all, what could it hurt to give the guy some coffee money at Christmas time? Post Oak Blvd. is not a street to stop a car on so I pulled into the shopping center driveway close to the Santa Man to hand him a dollar. He had followed my car with his eyes so he saw me and ran over to the car. He was much older than I thought and I felt safe because I was also stopped right under one of the trees lit up with lots of light. Still, my husbands’ words when I left the house, “Be careful” echoed in my head, so I barely put my window down to hand the money out.


Santa Man had the kindest face imaginable and his eyes were translucent. He looked familiar. I tried to just hand him the money so I could move on but he said loudly, “Don’t you just love the lights on this street? You can’t help but slow down, can you??”

I just smiled and said, “I know. Well here’s some money for coffee. I’m on my way to shop before the stores close.” and I handed him the dollar. He put his head back, laughed and then pointed to the Starbucks on the corner and said, “Have you ever bought coffee in there for one dollar?” I quickly saw his point and gave him a few more. He thanked me and said, “So, how is your Christmas going? Will you be with family this year?” 

He wanted to talk. Ugh! I’m a sucker for “reality relationships”.

“Well, yes, I will be with family…well, some of the family…sorta…It’s complicated.” I said. I wanted to l.e.a.v.e. He smiled and said back, “Of course, it’s complicated. It’s meant to be difficult. The storms make you stronger, you know!” 

I thought, thanks a lot God. Of all the men asking for something on the streets, I get the philosopher. “What about you?” I changed the subject. He relaxed and said,“Well, This is as good as it gets for me now. I connect with a stranger, they help me, I help them. Then we both go on our merry way but we both remember the seeds of kindness. It works that way.”

Wait! What? You help them? I rolled the window down a little more and turned off the motor.

So, what about your family?” I asked.

“Now, that really is complicated.” he laughed. “Ha, my family? Let’s seeI didn’t mean to but I messed up my own life. I think they call it “issues” nowadays and my family moved on. Isn’t that what they call it now…moving on? Taking care of yourself? I think I just disappeared to them. I became a ghost. I asked them for forgiveness and I tried to reconnect but they couldn’t handle it. Pride is hard to let go of. But, you know what…I forgave them and I made a little family of my own on the streets. My blood family will have to deal with their own choices and I pray they are all okay…I pray every day”

I just stared at him. He continued…

He looked up at the well lit tree next to us and said, “There really is only one light we need to focus on, you know, and then pass that light on to others in big or small ways.” He held up the few dollars. “that’s what the message of Christmas is and what Jesus is trying to tell us over 2,000 years later. Do you not think HIS life on Earth was just a little complicated??!!” He grinned really big,”In fact people still complicate HIM!”

“Well, of course you’re right. His life was extremely complicated.”, I said.

He continued again…”And do you think that maybe that’s why He came as a baby and walked on Earth to teach us that we can make it through all the complications too…if we walk with HIM and live like HIM. When you think about it, it’s really pretty simple and not complicated at all.”  His face was really soft now.

I said, “Maybe you’re not a ghost to your family, maybe you’re an Angel. You’re really pretty smart you know…my brother was like you…kinda like a homeless wise man.” we both laughed.

“Well, you’re the one traveling with gifts.” he smiled. “And I just got mine, right here, under the lights of Post Oak.” 

My eyes were moist now. “I will pray your family reconnects with you. You’re a special man.” I whispered.

He looked up and said, “Thanks, but I pray they reconnect with HIM”. He backed away and patted my car door and pointed to Starbucks. “Well, I’m off to get my coffee now. Merry Christmas. I hope I didn’t detain you too long and I hope your stores are still open.” He tipped his Santa hat and with a wink of his eye, I swear, wrinkled and tapped his nose and patted his belly as he walked out of site.

I sat in my car a minute, then started it back up. I drove out onto Post Oak Blvd. and smiled at the lights. Tomorrow, I thought. I’ll come back. I turned around toward HOME.

As I drove up to my 1950’s style driveway and likewise Christmas decorations, I saw the lights on my bench more clearly. Then another song came on my radio, the best Christmas song of all by Downhere was playing clearly to my now more open ears. I left the motor running, the door open and turned the radio up loudly for all to hear over my neighborhood’s still night. I walked to look closely at the lights on my decorated bench and smiled as the song played out, as if on cue….“Follow the star to a place unexpected, …How many Kings step down from their thrones? …to romance a world that is torn all apart…All for me…All for you..”

A new type of king, in the most humble of places, was born to teach us all to follow the light and give from the heart.





Well, It’s that time again. Thanksgiving and my first thought is usually YUM!!

To be proper, perhaps, one has to start with giving thanks to Sarah Hale, a passionate writer born in 1788.  Sarah was steadfast in her efforts to make a Day of Thanksgiving into a national holiday in the United States to try to help heal the wounds of the Civil War. She was a “behind the scenes” woman for her day and believed in promoting good to fight evil. She may be best known for writing “Mary Had a Little Lamb“, a lasting poem, but her letter to Abraham Lincoln requesting the Thanksgiving Holiday may be just as lasting. She convinced him to establish a Thanksgiving Day in 1863…and subsequently all the turkeys ran for cover!

Sarah was 75 years old when she saw her dream of Thanksgiving come to fruition and she was 90 years old when she died in 1879. This year, on Thanksgiving in 2015, when we do our usual “say what you are thankful for” at our great Table of Food, I will definitely add Sarah Hale. When I think about her being age 75 and continuing to be active in promoting good changes in the world, it is encouraging. Especially lately as I have been examining relevance in life. I was brought up to realize everyone is relevant in life, from the newspaper and mail carriers to the CEO’s of companies, Nurses, Physicians and Lawyers. My Parents always taught us that we were “all God’s children” and no one was better than another, rich or poor, young or old.

I wrote about relevance in “Happy Jesus Nurse: Heart Lessons”,  especially as it related to aging and our culture and the treatment of seniors. http://bit.ly/HappyJesusNurse  So, an example of a 75 year old woman starting a National Holiday is inspiring to say the least thus I decided to work with my 89 year old Mother, Gerrie Stewart, to get her thoughts on the issue of giving Thanks this year. She immediately told me her memory was failing and she wasn’t sure about her ability to write since she had been very shaky ever since my Father had died several years earlier. She also said who “would care what I wrote“…there’s that relevance issue again. But slowly we started our project and moved forward to get some of her thoughts of Thanks on paper…thoughts that are universal, hopeful and relevant for all, even as she approaches age 90.

I got the idea of doing this exercise with Mom from a book I was reading and I was going to journal in myself. A favorite writer, Ann Voskamp, wrote the book “One Thousand Gifts” and she also wrote a loving Devotional Journal for her book.


Voskamp’s book gently describes her own thankful stories and inspires the reader to chronicle their own thoughts of thanks in the blank pages that follow. For me, it offered a wonderful private, peaceful, dreamy time, especially with a cup of hot hibiscus tea and a quiet fireplace heated room. However, when I decided to help my Mom write her own words of thanks, I realized the setting would be very different but adaptation has always been my strong suit…and hers too! She lives with my sweet sister Julie now in a house that buzzes with activity and people, so having a quiet setting was out and Mom’s favorite place to go when I take her out is Molina’s Mexican Restaurant, so that pretty much took care of any private time to write! But…write she did. I would read her the sweet stories written by Voskamp and then we would talk about them and she would write. One day at a time…one setting at a time…one sentence at a time!


Starting on November 1, 2015, Mom reached into her soul and she wrote. She wrote at Molinas’ Restaurant, she wrote in our car, she wrote on my porch and she wrote in her chair by her window. She started much like one would expect any Mother would: “First my thanks for my family of (ten) healthy children and my wonderful husband. My own health and their good health also!” Followed by: “I’m thankful for all of my grand and great grandchildren and their health and happiness.” Mom then proceeded to carefully and squiggly write something about all of her children. They were words that could have been written about any family and could be a model for others who want to get their Parents’ words on paper. She mixed up some facts but the love came through. This took several days but she persisted and began to really enjoy it! She didn’t always remember when I showed her the book and handed her the pen but one day she said “Oh yes, I remember, I have homework again!”


With no prompting on November 2, 2015 she wrote these short Thanks to her grown children:

“Karen and David- who both continued to keep S & N Pump company (Dad’s business) in good condition and for their kindness. To Richard and Susan for keeping the loving humor going in the family. To Walter for working so hard all over the “world” and helping others. To Steve for his kindness and softness to all who came by him! To Cathy and Bobby for help and always creating fun things to do, such as golf, etc. To Julie and Mark for their love and care for me and for “Fun”. To Mary and Hank for helping me to organize things and kindness in all they do! To Jimmy and Monica for their hard work, laughter and humor. To Billy and Laura for always coming through for help and “where’s my car”? (a running joke as she hasn’t driven for years and had given Billy her car). She thanked me, Anne, for being with her through the good and bad in hers’ and Dad’s lives and “bringing her the new Book to write in” and for Bob, who she wrote “was always at her side and rubbed her feet too.” She wrote “all of my grandchildren are fun but that Missy really makes me laugh”!

In mid November she wrote “Here I am writing from a beautiful room at my daughter Julie’s house. I have leaned on her and her husband so often. I am thankful for staying at this place and not having to live alone. I feel I may stay for a long time. Some days are long but I’m helped through it by reading through my writings now and learning through them also. I also have good friends, Joyce and Brenda who come by to help me and Ophelia too”.

With intention and mindfulness Mom looked carefully around her room and wrote: “Today I am thinking about my beautiful bedroom and my picture on the shelf of my husband Emmett and me. It makes me happy and sad. I’m thankful for ALL of my memories, my good memories and not so good ones. That’s just how life is!”


Her humor always came through in her writings. As we approached actual Thanksgiving day, Mom wrote about her grand-daughter: “I really have had a good life as it is but Chloe’s little dog keeps bothering me and now this is such a messy letter!” She laughed as she wrote this and petted the friendly dog.


We ended up at the restaurant again and Mom wrote carefully, staying in the moment to bridge to her memories: “I’m thankful I’m having something to eat at the Mexican restaurant where Emmett and I used to come. It was always a treat to come here at the restaurant with Anne and Bob. The pralines at Molinas’ we loved, Oh, how I remember. It was also President Bush’s favorite restaurant!”

On November 24, 2015, my World War II, Red Cross Volunteer Momma had been watching the news about terror attacks and thus she time stamped this entry with these words: “The World has been good to me…The freedom in our World is very special.We have always thought we deserved what we have but it really is a gift from God. We are so very lucky. Another year will be passing soon and I’m hoping the troubles will be little. I want to give a message to my Grandchildren and great-grand-Children…My message to all is to stay close to God and family. Times may look hard for our Country, so we have to Be Alert and Be Strong just as Gramps and I had to be during our lives. Happy Thanksgiving and I love all of you.”

As she began to look tired, I asked her if she wanted to stop for the day and she said, “No…one more thing”. And she wrote…she wrote a message of Hope to us all:

“I’m looking forward to Christmas. It’s on its’ way and shopping is finished. For me Christmas is memories of family and the Birth of Jesus. I am very lucky to have Him in my life.”

Her words pierced my soul.

Mom stopped writing then and looked up at me. She saw the tears in my eyes as I read all her words for the day and she handed me one of her favorite pralines.


I thought about what Mom had said to me when we started this journal, “who would care what I wrote?“. Well, who could not care Mom? I thought about the relevance of her life, her leaving home at a young age, following my Father through his Navy days and starting a new business far away from her California family in a place called Houston and raising ten children. She was the brave foundation of this country and her wise words and love were worth standing up for and saying Thanks for, just as Sarah Hale knew a permanent Day of Thanksgiving would be for the United States in 1863. I knew exactly what I would say I was thankful for this year at the great Thanksgiving Table of Food…where I would thank God for this window of time with my Mom and the Thanksgiving words from the window of my Mothers’ soul. This woman, my Mom, was like Sarah Hale who believed in quietly and steadfastly doing good and always appreciating the little blessings of life…like good pralines!



“judge justice” by Anne Stewart Helton



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”.

JuryPamphlet JurySummons

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!



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.










“Seeking Shells of Shelter” by Anne Stewart Helton

Back Camera

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.


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.


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.


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.”

Back Camera

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.