ERASED MEMORIES by Anne Stewart Helton

What does one do when someone erases you? What does one do when the history of your life is distorted or recreated by someone else? Someone you love? Someone you thought loved you, someone you raised? Someone you birthed? I have avoided being specific about this issue and how it has impacted me but perhaps my thoughts and experiences will help others with this growing problem.

I’m not talking about memories being gone from Alzheimer Disease, dementia, head injury or stroke; I’m talking about deliberate, take you out of their heads and hearts type of memory erasing or the rearranging of history type erasing. It sounds crazy, right? But it happens around us everyday, and mostly, I have come to realize, there is nothing that can be done about it unless both sides want to fix it. So, Parents, stop beating yourselves up!

What is this curse? It’s the pain of family estrangement and all the characters in this type of family drama know their lines well, they play their chosen roles, they enter and exit stage left with a smile or a tear and they can even construct plot points one and two and completely turn the drama around…especially if they have a Greek chorus, an audience, to take sides, root for them, and cheer and cry at the twists and turns.

With any estrangement there is never and always a reason for the estrangement, depending on who is doing the talking but especially when the players grip tightly to their grudge ropes and hang on. Especially if any of the parties stay stuck in the “and then he said this and then she did that” mode of life but most especially if secondary gains are received for the act of estranging. For me, my adult child has decided that he had a bad childhood. His Father and I know its’ not true but it took us awhile to get to a place of peace about it. We know that we raised him, beginning as teenage parents, with all the love we had in our hearts, with all the time, nurturing, work, money and devotion possible, giving him guidance and educational experiences well into adulthood. We had fun with him, cheering him on as he played sports, excelled in school, developed his many gifts, especially his sense of humor! Even when he became an adult and went through some bumps in his life, we were always there for him. Mistakes made? Yes, but wouldn’t everyone love to turn back time as Wisdom is gained?

But our son has decided that his reality is different from ours thus, like many estranged parents, we have finally realized there is nothing we can say, do or ask to change that. So much time lost. Through the years, we have “taken the high road” when his words have hurt us, like when we stayed up late at night just to hear his voice on the radio speaking about his new writings or accomplishments only to hear him eventually blame any troubles or poor decisions on us, his parents. We have anonymously gone to book signings, standing in the back, to see and hear him speak and support him but then left when he took a negative turn. Most recently we watched him on C-Span talk about his latest book and he was really interesting and we loved his passion and heart but then we heard him describe that he had a bad childhood and that reading books helped him escape from it; he actually laughed as the narrator prompted and validated the response from him! He had a choice to recant but he smirked as he verbally threw us under the bus again and effectively ran over us and the interviewer didn’t even blink! But you know what?? I felt sorry for him that he couldn’t or wouldn’t at least remember the many times he was on my lap being read to as a child, being taught to read and write, being listened to and encouraged to help others, study and seek higher education or the deep discussions he had with his father over many, many books and movies, especially on their long-distance runs and adventures.  It has made me question stories people tell about their childhood or when I read so-called memoirs, even those described as fictionalized. It has made me wonder what students are being taught in schools…is it to avoid responsibility and to blame others? Thus, with some wide-awake, righteous anger tears on my computer keyboard and to set the record straight before I am too old…I write this to estranged parents everywhere.

We all have our filtered memories but they’re best explored for insight and self-correction not as justification for hurting others or especially not in the name of “truth-telling”. Friends have told us perhaps we should seek legal action or actually confront interviewers about spoken distortions but we realize that it could just add fuel to our son’s displaced anger toward us. Additionally, we have noted that our son’s writings are negative toward many people he has met in his journey of life, so we pray for his heart to soften. We believe that deep down he has a good heart. Like many Parents in our situation, we have tried everything possible to change the relationship with him…letters, cards, gifts, apologies for whatever… but he has used the bad parent platform to surround himself with supporters, write and sell books, do book readings, radio programs and television, and tell others, all evidence to the contrary, that we raised him with a bad childhood…

AND noting this is when I frequently say out loud “Help Me Jesus”!

Estrangement is often started by a sort of self-induced filter of many defense mechanisms about past mistakes by everyone in the drama. As in any memory, strong feelings may add more significance to an event, even some with seemingly small issues. What a Parent may feel is minor is remembered forever by some children and vise versa. But then the memory can take on a life of its own with stories and excuses that are embedded in the travails of the brains’ synapses leading to deep ruts of revised or reflective memories, real or exaggerated.  Some family members stay stranded in certain decades or time periods, or even on certain political issues and they never move forward. Some may repeat the same worn-out stories that by now they firmly believe. Yes, sometimes estrangement is definitely due to less than perfect parenting, or to outside forces (drugs, alcohol, mental illness), to shame, guilt, or bad decisions of selfishness, like we hear about when parents abandon or abuse their children or when adult children are addicted and abuse their parents. But mostly estrangement is actually a choice, a choice made by the adult child to disengage emotionally and physically from a relationship with a Parent or other family members. It’s a choice. It offers some sort of psychological safe-space, a corner in the mind with a feigned apathy, which becomes increasingly difficult to crawl out of…and crawl is what must be done….for all of us. If we do cross those created boundaries of estrangement it takes crawling out from under pride with humility, empathy, forgiveness and GRACE. But if those  boundaries are crossed, the parable of the Prodigal Son can change the Script and GRACE abounds.

Other than actual illness and death of a child, estrangement from an adult child is the most painful arrow in the heart for parents. It creates an active bleeding then a slow-drip wound that doesn’t go away. It is a rejection that can’t be described, only felt and anyone who helps or enables the process is contributing to that pain. It can be band-aided but without the medicine of acknowledgement, empathy, forgiveness and GRACE it never heals. To reconcile, old issues don’t have to be re-hashed and all parties must agree to “let-go” but that also means behaviors must change not just words.

With estrangement, when others ask normal questions, like “how’s your son?” or “have you heard from your daughter“,  Estranged Parents come up with responses like “It’s complicated” or “We don’t get to see him/her much” but then we often see the questioners’ downward glances intimating “Wonder what they did wrong to their child?“. Then we blame ourselves more. It is like a death without a funeral because no one really wants to hear constant parental pain and you can’t blame them! Mostly other people just pretend your adult child doesn’t exist.

Over and over this problem of estrangement is growing in many homes and actually being encouraged at times by “professionals” and media programs or self-help and trendy groups. Adult children are encouraged to “get more space” from Parents; explore their own needs and sadly, not to worry about senior Parents as they age or become ill. Self absorption is rewarded in our social media age. Certainly Parents can’t be emotionally dependent on their children but they do have the right to expect friendship and respect! I suppose estrangement started increasing as families were ripped apart by changes in societal norms or also as parents were ridiculed on television and in the movies. In fact, currently parents are often portrayed as dummies, bigots, and uncool as family traditions or morals are mocked.  Instead of adult children, siblings, parents, cousins…being encouraged to talk, maybe even argue, through a problem or issue, with help if needed, people are often encouraged to not rock the boat, to disengage, estrange, ‘ghost’ or even gaslight family members, and the problems never get resolved. We also see Parents who enable abusive adult children because they are so fearful of being estranged by them! These Parents often develop physical and psychological illnesses. They are hurt constantly by their “bully” adult children and ride a roller coaster of pain with them. They never put up real boundaries because they are emotionally blackmailed by the potential loss of grandchildren or being left alone. With estrangement, excuses are bountiful…Parents are blamed for every problem or labeled ‘toxic’, other family members may listen, gossip and even offer encouragement to the estranged child, never once confronting them to say “you know what…I knew your parents, your mother, your father and they were pretty good folks”... thus the problem grows and the gulf between parent and child becomes too wide as time marches on and the bridge that is needed is washed away by tears.

And then, suddenly, you wake up and realize that as parents you have effectively estranged from your adult child. The difference though is empathy….your door is still open, albeit with a weak chain-lock on it before you open-wide trust again. You haven’t cut the adult child off and you want them to have peace and love, however you now have “let go” of trying, constantly reaching out and waiting for a real phone call from them just to check on you or to hear your voice. You have been desperately wanting them to want to talk with you! You then realize that you want to hear their voice…however they don’t want to hear yours. You realize that all along you were believing in reconciliation through your own filtered memories of love.

As all parents do, we only want the best for our son and we have to let go, pray and hope he finds some moments of gratefulness for our parenting. We will always be his Parents, that can’t be erased.

As a Nurse, do I have a Prescription, a RX for Estranged Parents?? Well, there is no particular one, there is no magic pill and Parents will be at different stages. We have learned it is a Grief Process and its’ much like any of the Recovery Steps.

We call it a Benign Detachment.

  1. Surrender your feelings to God. He knows you love your child, that you did your best and He loves you and you are His child.
  2. Surround yourself with others who care for you, make new friends, even if you have to find strangers everyday to give you a smile.
  3. Seek and Share ways to help others as much as possible. You will encourage someone else and renew your self-worth.

 

4. Stay grounded in health, fun and prayer.

5. Stop thinking and living in the past or blaming and beating yourself up. Trust me, your estranged adult child does enough of that about you!!

6. Self deprecate…It may take awhile but try to laugh at yourself through your tears. (Sometimes it is pretty funny now for us as we see ourselves getting jerked around by estrangement control games, like the no relationship allowed “one-text only response” game from our son or the passive aggressive “pretend I didn’t get your phone call” game by his spouse or the “block parents on all social media” game.

7. Stay away from enablers when you can, especially the passive-aggressive kind who say they “don’t want to take sides” (Parents don’t want sides but when someone says that to you, trust me, they are betrayers and have already taken a side and it’s not yours!)

8. Scrutinize your own heart as much as possible. Don’t make decisions out of spite or revenge…I’m not saying I haven’t done this, just advising that it doesn’t usually work out!

9. Schedule down time for yourself…Rest, read, pray, exercise…you ARE worth it!

10. SCREAM if needed….but then SING. You’re a survivor, and as my well-known Preacher says all the time: “Be a victor not a victim”.

Excerpt from soon to come new book “Recovery Room” @ by Anne Stewart Helton

 

 

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Name Your Storm…by Anne Stewart Helton

PERTURBED…PREPARED…PRAYERFUL…PANICKED…PARALYZED… PETRIFIED….PESSIMISTIC…PERSISTENT….PASSIVE…No words can really describe the actions and feelings one has when information hits social media or the airwaves about a coming weather storm. The Meteorologists, for the most part, become your best friends!

For some, a coming storm, conjures up memories of past storms, denial of the potential hurt, feelings of piling on to existing problems, shock about what to do or perhaps going into a control mode of preparation, attack and craziness! When there is time to anticipate a Storm in life, it seems like people go into a grief process and once the shock of what is coming hits the reality of what needs to be done, they move quickly forward to manage and get through it…sometimes leaving their feelings trailing on a leash by necessity.

All normal. All explainable. All part of the Storms of life.

The recent 2017 Hurricanes, Harvey in Houston and Irma in Florida, brought out many feelings, actions, desperate situations, shock, denial, scapegoating, leadership traits, mobilization, heroes, supporters, workers, bonding situations and forever changes. These storms brought out mostly all of the good in people, even when some tried to focus on any bad. The people spoke. The people showed up with…”we don’t have time for negative“. We have to get ‘boots on the ground’ and fix this situation and help each other. We are forever changed.

Yes. Forever. Changed.

In Houston, as I still watch my City and friends struggle with the pain of rebuilding their homes, jobs and lives after Hurricane Harvey’s flooding (many of them having flooded several times recently), I realize they are forever changed. How could it be possible to not be changed whenever we go through a major Storm in life? In Houston, many remember Hurricane Carla from the 60’s, in New Orleans, we remember Hurricane Katrina, in Beaumont we remember Rita, in the North East we remember Sandy, and now in Florida and the Caribbean, we remember Irma. We learn from these named Storms and all the life events that surround them.

With a named Storm, we can put the experiences, the pain, the good, the feelings, the lessons, the new friends and the grief and loss in a box and name it. It’s not to minimize the situation but we can ‘time stamp’ the Storm. And it allows us to put these named Storm boxes on shelves in our brain and have some control over them, bringing them out when we want. We can tell stories from them, we can remember lessons, we can help others learn from our experiences and we can cry on our pillow about them, if needed. We can reach back and compare new situations to them and we can learn to feel stronger because we went through them. Think of the stories we have heard of the past storms…usually named by locations. My grand-father spoke of the “Great Storm of 1900 in Galveston”, and my Mother often remembered the Long Beach Earthquake, scaring us to death about jumping over cracks in sidewalks! Currently, residents are describing the fear surrounding the La Tuna Canyon or Montana Fires. In the Gulf Coast we even named the floods in Houston of the past few years: the Memorial Day Flood and the Tax Day Flood, both for the dates they occurred. And when people speak of moving from New Orleans the word Hurricane doesn’t even have to be mentioned, just the word Katrina says it all. And now as Hurricane Irma has devastated parts of Florida and the Caribbean, her name will define the entire event just as Harvey will define the great flood of Houston, 2017.

We grow from these stormy situations and we bond with each other, we reach out and help, we learn new skills, we move on to new places and we reach up, yes, reach up to God. Sometimes the washing of flooding waters brings new spirituality, life and hope.

So, I propose that we name all the Storms of our lives. They are already in our memories so let’s package them and define them. We can put our arms around them and put them on shelves with the memories, the lessons, and then move forward. For instance, name the storm of your divorce, your miscarriage, your lost child, your job loss, bankruptcy, flooded house, automobile wreck, health issue, emotional crisis, etc., etc.

Yes, name your Storm….names like: Hurricane Cancer of 2016. The Flood of Tears when the baby died. The Overdose Fire when the brother was in ICU. The Poverty Wind when a bankruptcy took the home. The Terror Tornado when the car was hijacked. The Boyfriend Quake when a heart was broken or the Mommie Tsunami we went through when my Mom died.

Even when our Storms are named, we will still hurt when we recall them but we can talk about them a little more objectively and place the Storm in the past tense. We can describe the event, the lessons learned and realize how strong we were / are, knowing we survived them. Perhaps we can move forward more readily and know that as it is written in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

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“The Empty Rocker”…by Anne Stewart Helton

How many times have you held loving arms in your arms? How many babies’ cries have you heard sighed to sleep? How many eyes have you helped close? And how many waiting hearts have you soothed?
Oh, Empty Rocker of Mine.

In a year when my Mother has died, the empty arms hurt more, especially at this time of year when we honor a Mothers’ love. Yes, it’s the good ‘ol Hallmark branded ads on TV…all the time… just to make you cry and buy time of year….it’s Mothers Day.  So, if you are a Mother give yourself a Break AND if you have or had a Mother, and everyone did, give her a Break!

My Mother, Geraldine A. Stewart, was a loving Mom. She sat in my Rocker many times and even cradled my own grandchildren in it. She had a full heart and alas, it was her heart that failed her but only physically. She always wanted everyone to get along, sometimes to a fault, but that’s how Mothers are wired. We want our families, communities, employees, preachers, politicians and animals to all get along. Also, mothering doesn’t have to always involve having children, it can be a trait, a nurturing of others, a behavior of encouragement, kindness, or loving protection and loyalty for a friend.

For some people, their mothering wasn’t special and loving. But Mothers can’t be blamed, just understood. Not all people or Mothers were mothered correctly, sad choices may have been made and just like babies in the wild, those traits can be passed on. And as a community, we can step up and mother those who are ‘lost in the wild’, but it’s important, particularly for our own hearts, to give Mothers everywhere a break. Especially if we ever find ourselves blaming our Mothers for our own life choices or judging them for their lives.We must try to let go of blaming and judging and look in the mirror….and wish our Mothers thanks, happiness and love.

However it was that you came into the world, you did have a Mom.

She may have carried you for nine months, gone from zero centimeters dilation to ten centimeters with twenty hours of pushing to get you in her arms; or she chose you after years of searching from an adoption agency or foster care; or she stepped up and took over a family members’ role to raise abandoned or orphaned children or she’s was a brave step-parent, blending with a new family or she was a Grandma raising Grandchildren, or she volunteered at a mission or shelter to read to children who needed an extra Mom or maybe she was the fun, crazy, Aunt/Mom.

Whoever….You had a Mom!

Being a Mother is hard; it’s not like rocket science…it’s much harder!  Motherhood provides moments of pure joy and love…smiles and tears at those first steps, silly songs, playground fun, recitals, art work brought home, scholarly accomplishments, first dances, weddings and dinner table holidays but Motherhood also involves sacrifice and down right humiliation, with a smile….from defending a child to a teacher at school but finding out later you were so wrong; to screaming at a baseball game for your child to run faster only to have them turn around and scream “MOOOMMM stop”;  to  cleaning up vomit in a mattress;  to picking out lice from hair follicles; to walking the halls at night in worn pajamas holding the fretting child with 104 degree fever; or to refinancing loans to pay for sports leagues, clothes, cars, camps or college. Being a Mom may involve seeing your child ignore you or roll his or her eyes at a comment you’ve made; or perhaps it involves caring for a special needs child, with no one around who understands, so you cry into your pillow at night; or praying unceasingly for the brave military child not seen in years; or having a chronically ill adult child to care for or walking the streets to find a child in a shelter because of their problems or choices; or having to watch them face hard consequences for those choices and then maybe hearing in later years all the things Mom “did wrong”…some true… but most not so true.

It’s tough, just plain tough being a Mom. We will never know everything our own Mothers went through to have us, keep us, help us, and love us. Maybe our Mothers never felt real love themselves. Maybe they were scared. Maybe they had dreams and hopes that were interrupted. Maybe they gave up everything for us. Maybe Moms don’t have all the answers and just need God to help children know their Moms better, have more empathy and return love to their Moms.

Maybe we should actually thank our Mothers for having the courage to even claim they were our Mothers!!!

The only way to get through the Motherhood thing is with a lot of prayers and humor. My Mother had both and I thank God for that. She had to, she had TEN children, to which her famous line was always: “Someday, I want to talk to the Pope about this.

Oh, what a Mom she was.

So, when I see you Dear Empty Rocker on this Mothers Day, 2017 , I am thankful for my Mothers’ humor, so I keep ‘Minnie Mouse’ in your arms.

I also think about the last time she rocked me.

And sadly, but with Heavenly joy, I think about the last time I tried to rock her before she was swept up to be rocked by HIM.   Happy Mothers Day Mom!    I love you!

 

 

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“ALL WHO ARE WEARY….” by Anne Stewart Helton

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

He seemed always weary back then. He worked so hard and out of necessity he mostly had a middle of the night, sometimes in dangerous neighborhoods, sometimes freezing cold or rainy, newspaper route!!

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So many men and women work and labor at several jobs just to make ends meet. My man did and still does at times. I think God must love the Worker. Every Man. Every Woman. There are many references to work throughout the Bible. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Colossians, 3:23. We easily forget those words of Wisdom sometimes. I remember the Nuns would tell us in Catholic School when we had some hard work to do “offer it up to God”Yea….right Sister! We would think. But, you know what? It is true.

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It’s Labor Day weekend and when I watched my hubby taking a well deserved nap yesterday, at almost 72 years old now, I couldn’t help but remember the years and years he fell asleep for short spurts after his middle of the night paper routes or long shifts of loading trucks or studying homework in night school or worrying about keeping his appraisal business going for those who depended on him. He was never hesitant to work and would help people complete a task or buy something for them without being asked. He never complained about it, he just did it. Just as his Father had done, his Grandfather had done and on and on back to his Cherokee roots. Just like all good workers, I see his determination to finish a job well done and I see it now in our own children’s bloodline and now our grandchildren. Even in their play, creative endeavors, or parenting, they do their work well and completely. My son-in-law Larry even “works” on Fathers Day cooking barbecue for Priests to show appreciation to them for working as earthly spiritual Fathers!

While out walking this Sunday morning, the day before Labor Day, I stopped to talk to this smiling worker. He was getting his job done before the day heated up. We laughed about the weather and then he asked if I knew anyone who needed their yards mowed. Oh, how my Dad would have loved that!

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My husbands’ own Father would “work” while reading the morning paper. He would make notes about what needed to be done for the day or plan projects. I remember when little “Baby Jessica” fell into a well over 20 years ago and my father-in-law read the story in the Houston Chronicle. He was so upset and then designed an entire method, with drawings, on how to retrieve the little one from the well. He “worked” in spirit right alongside those rescuers. He beamed with pride too, cried and cheered when they retrieved her life filled body. My Mother always worked in the home like many Moms and she raised ten children. I remember that she always had one toddler on her hip while pouring milk into a baby bottle with her other hand. That’s how MY Mom got tennis elbow!!

It’s not to say that some people don’t work hard now but the respect for labor, for work, seems different. It’s probably just the normal changes of time but somehow it seems to be tied more to the money involved or the fame or recognition achieved. Somehow the web of need and appreciation for all types of workers has lost it’s luster and the desire to be recognized has surpassed the desire to just do a good job. Can some jobs just be done right, just for the good of doing them right? My Dad always said if we didn’t have any work to do or we were finished with our work, then “pick up a broom and quietly sweep the floor”…and we did! WE didn’t expect a Blue Ribbon for just doing our job!

One of our favorite Worker men in our area is Luis. We get our newspaper from him sometimes but mostly we just visit. Even with an obvious right-sided mobility issue, he works hard on his extra job mainly for his family, he is there in all kinds of weather only to then catch the bus to his full-time job at a grocery store. He always proclaims gratefulness and something positive about the day. We are blessed when our stop light allows us to visit with Luis.

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When I walk our neighborhood I often watch the rough work of yard men or utility workers, the constable patrol police officers, the mothers gathering their children and the Teachers getting to class on time. I marvel at all of their consistency and planning. They always have the right cars, backpacks, tools, water jugs, lunches, hats and gloves for protection and they pace themselves. Smart workers! But I am always especially indebted to the Mail Carriers. I really love the mail carriers…I bake them cookies, I give them ice tea, I talk life with them.

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Being a Community Health Nurse I recognize the importance of the mail carriers as it seems to me they are the last vestige of real community workers who knit neighborhoods together. They always know what’s going on, they know who is moving, divorcing, multiplying, hurting, indebted, struggling or rejoicing. They do welfare checks on people without being heroic or videoing themselves for social media and they watch for “bad guys” circling our streets. I love the mail men and my husband was even one for a while years ago. Mail carriers take daily long walks and have to watch their backs for dogs but my smart hubby mailman carried dog biscuits with him to make friends with any errant Fidos. Such a great idea! But one day a huge, sneaky, bully German shepherd jumped over the top of a fence and bit him in the back, with blood pouring down his back, he chased him down but then couldn’t hurt him, realizing he was just doing his job too. But you know what?…that dog never bothered him again!!

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I especially think and say a prayer for the hard workers when I hear a Police or Fire siren in the middle of the night, and then I think about the Physician, Preacher or Rabbi who will be called into action after that siren, often saying a little prayer for them too. I try to give a little smile of thanks when I see the workers gathering shopping baskets left afar in grocery store parking lots, to the wait staff in restaurants cleaning up after messy eaters in restaurants, to nursing attendants pushing gurneys of suffering people in hospitals, to shopping mall sales people trying to smile at the complaining customer, to brave people driving heavy trucks around goofy texting drivers and I pray for those skilled pilots flying planes overhead full of anxious travelers. I feel thankful that we still have workers who want to do a good job and get us all through our everyday lives, especially those who work 24/7 and don’t have Labor Day off. It’s the everyday people, going to work, everyday, doing their job without earthly glory who keep our society healthy. Work is tied to our self-esteem and our purpose in life and without purpose it is difficult to have good self-esteem. It’s really pretty simple!

So, when you drink your coffee and read your newspaper this Labor Day, realize that Labor Day is more than the political season or Labor Day Sales thus, ….

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….tip your hat to the Worker at all levels of labor. Tip your hat to yourself. We are all in this together folks. We should all have each others backs. So, let’s do our work and labor as Sister taught years ago and “offer it all up to God“. Then at the end of a very long day, we will hear, as is described in the amplified Bible: “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful and trustworthy over a little, I will put you in charge of many things; share in the joy of your master.’ “ Mathew 25:21.

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“A Walk In The Desert” by Anne Stewart Helton

It can be hot, dusty, lonely, gritty and scary in the desert.
It can be cool,breezy,bright, open, and expansive in the desert.

I. Always. Felt. So. Very. In-Between.

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It’s halfway through the Lenten season and I was questioning myself. Was I doing this Lent thing right?
It had been part of my spiritual ritual all my life. It was eliminated off and on at times but in some form it was always present during the 40 days before Easter. We attended Stations of the Cross on Friday nights, followed by fish-fries, or lots of Cream Tuna on Toast, we tried to go to Mass more often and we always gave up something we liked.  As a child at St. Rose of Lima School in Houston it was the most important season in our hearts and souls. We all carefully decided what we would give up for Lent, we even saved some of the goodies, like candy or comic books, for distribution after Easter for ourselves or the poor!

AnnelittleEverything was always compared to “the poor” in those days. Funny, because I realized later in life that my early family days qualified us for that title! Anyway, during Lent if we gave up candy, we also saved any candy we received and ate it on Sundays, because Sundays were deemed free days from Lent sacrifices by the Church. It may seem silly for people who didn’t grow up Catholic but looking back it seems to have been a great way to build some sort of self-discipline and a sense of connectivity to others.

It was a different time.

We had many rituals in the Church in those days and I suppose they kept us on track. Lent is a Church season beginning with Ash Wednesday, in which the Priest uses ashes from burned, old blessed palms, and places them on the forehead of the faithful in the shape of a cross. Many Churches participate in this practice now. It is to remind us all of our mortality and the resurrection from Jesus’ dying on the cross and it signals the beginning of the 40 days of Lent. A form of Lent is seen in most all Faiths and even in the non-religious in some ways. It is found in yoga and other mind-body-spiritual behaviors of fasting and quietness, or for body cleansing or for spiritual enlightenment and/or for forgiveness rites of passage. In the Christian faith Lent is in preparation for celebrating salvation found via Jesus Christs’ giving his life for the souls of all humanity. Now, that is a heavy thought for people and should shake our very foundation and throw us to our knees with humility and gratitude…but, alas, sometimes it takes a long walk in the desert to do just that. And that’s how Lent can help.

In Matthew 4:1 we are told that Jesus went into the wilderness, the desert, and prayed and fasted for 40 days and nights. He was tempted mightily by evil, but resisted and emerged stronger and was propelled into his ministry on earth. Lent is our time to be more focused and to find our inner strength too.

MyRefugeAndSalvationCross  Artwork by Baron & Barbara Bissett

So, here I am in the middle of Lent, three weeks from Good Friday and Easter and I am pondering my own walk on the hot, sandy road. I did give up a few things for Lent just like I did so long ago but they are more inner character traits like:  feeling negative or comparing myself to others or ruminating over regrets and old anger. Sometimes, my thoughts are muddled with familiar “I don’t understand” issues. You know, those thoughts that can start with “But why me God?” Sometimes my desert is filled with struggles of overwork and trying to fix situations or people or sometimes I go real deep in the desert and question my faith overall. Thankfully, I do a better job of turning my troubles over to God. It takes intentional energy though and then I feel the connection to Jesus, the trials that HE must have had in the desert too. And then I realize, HE was encountering the old devil himself…In person!  Yikes!

The pathetic devil uses many tools of deception in life. Maybe its’ actually a shame that evil isn’t presented to us in the natural world as an actual skinny gnome with horns and a tail, jumping up and down on our front porch and ringing our door bell….that would be easier to identify and reject! No…evil comes at us in many forms. Temptations that can come up during Lent are self-righteousness and judging others, or feeling that it is only “up to us” to do everything by ourselves and that we don’t need  God. The sin of Pride is usually pulsating during Lent like a neon sign! And more than anything, this devil guy loves to see us feeling discouraged about our improvements in life, even if just baby steps. He will lie to us through our own thoughts just to try to make us give up! He even offered Jesus the world while in the desert but waited until Jesus was hungry and struggling from His fast. This is how evil attacks us too…when we are tired, vulnerable, scared, alone, sad, angry, rejected…in a desert. And just as Jesus wept in the Garden of Gethsemane, another desert of sorts, tears can flow when walking through the desert of Lent. The tears are not wasted though, they are not forgotten. Just as it happened many years ago and was recorded in Psalm 56:8, “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll-are they not in your record?”. Even today, unique bottles or wine skins from thousands of years ago that were called tear catchers,  have been found by archaeologists. Families would store tears as messages and proof of love and pain. Those tears were not shed in vain. Today we may have tears when in our own deserts and they are not in vain, they bring new life, they soothe and soften our hearts.

Tears that can drip on a keyboard. Tears that pool up like a tidal pool. Tears that overcome like a wave. And Tears that build like a flood.

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Tears of family grief. Tears of illness. Tears of comfort to others. Tears of revelation and tears of JOY!

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What do these watering tears in any desert bring? Sometimes they bring what is described colloquially as a “Super Bloom”. In the deepest of deserts, the years of nothingness, among the parched bones and burned up cacti, there are dry, rich, strong seeds scattered everywhere…waiting…waiting….some for years. They are seeds of life, seeds of beauty, seeds of struggle, seeds of power, seeds of survival. And when an abundance of water flows through the desert at just the right time, the seeds EXPLODE.

The desert  GLOWS. The desert is covered with a super bloom of life and resurrection. It is a perfect circle designed by the Perfect One. The One who has felt all of our sacrifices, our struggles, our journey, our tears and our deserts too. The Perfect One who went through the walk in the desert just like us and bloomed with love from tears.

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What is happening in your life right now, even if you are in a desert? How do you see that desert…open, bright, expansive and waiting or hot, dry, dead and scary? Even when you are sometimes in-between, like me, what do you choose to see? If you choose brightness, look upward and go inward, you will see how you are not alone on your walk. You will see your walk change from that sandy, dry road to a green, alive road. And when you are at the end of the road on your life’s journey, the end of your Lent, and you walk by a large opening in a wall, you will see that it is empty behind that opening and that you were never alone in the desert…Because HE IS RISEN and walked with you through it all.

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“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.

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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!

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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.

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