“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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“AWAKE and AWARE: Get Your Easter On”….by Anne Stewart Helton

As children, my family loved Holy Week. Not only did it signal the holiest time of the Christian religion, especially in the Catholic Church, but it also meant the end to whatever we had “given up” for Lent. Our sacrifices usually meant giving up candy or Television in my era. We took it very seriously, probably too seriously but it did build self-discipline, which meant a lot in those pre-’60’s years.

As I contemplate this Holy Thursday evening of Holy Week, as well as Passover of 2017 for my Jewish friends, I reflect on the years I thought that I was totally connected to God. I practiced all the required and embedded religious practices and went along side my Parents for all the traditional ceremonies. I loved the smell of the candles, the sounds of the bells and symbols of Christ. They helped me to visually connect with God.

They. Brought. Stability. Tradition.

Washing the Priests’ feet on Holy Thursday was always a special portion of Jesus’ Last Supper, especially the delivery of the message of humility as HE washed his followers feet, even The One who would betray him. How in the world was HE able to follow through on that message of forgiveness!

With eyes wide open, and I do mean wide open, I realized a few years ago I had not been awake and aware enough over many years of religion, even to the point of judging others who talked about a special relationship with Jesus and HIS walk on Earth. I especially realize the importance now as I want only real relationships with others just as Jesus demonstrated to us. Maybe like you, most of my enlightenment or denouement moments have come during difficult, painful storms of life. Just like a Holy Week. That’s when we learn to grow.

About a decade ago, I found myself in one of those dark times as I was away from my life mate and alone. It had a happy ending but it was exactly where God wanted me at the time as the only thing I could do was reach up to HIM, so I did. Sometimes that’s how HE reaches us. I desperately wanted to know that someone really cared about me and would carry me through the pain I was feeling. This often happens during a health crisis or death of a loved one. I bought many inspirational books to read and I went to every Church in town! I would find prayers to say from my computer, all the while crying on the keyboard.

I had never believed that I could actually talk personally with Jesus.

It seemed that it was at night-time, especially about 4 am, that was always the worse for me. It was probably like that in the Garden of Gethsemane. I have heard others in pain say the same about that time of the morning. Once, while praying for solace, I asked God to show me he was there. Now don’t judge me, but deep down inside I heard these two words: “I AM”

I sat straight up in bed and looked around. I was still alone.

Still trying to learn more about the Bible then, I had no idea what the words meant. I called my brother-in-law Dr. Mark, an Old and New Testament Scholar, the next day and he explained how in Exodus 3:14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you”

My brother-in-law was floored about what I heard in my heart also and then he humbly asked me, “What did God sound like??”  I loved this because it made it even more real to me.

“Well”, I said, “HE sounded like…well,…HE sounded like God!!”

It was then that I knew, that I knew, that I knew that God was real and he was with me.

(art work by Baron & Barbara Bissett)

I knew HE must have a plan for the pit I was in, I just didn’t know yet how I would get out or what the plan would or could possibly be!! BUT.GOD.DID. And he does for You.

In the storms of your life, whether its’ health, relationships, addictions, sin, finances, loneliness or whatever…Get Your Easter On. It may feel like a sad, somber Friday but Sunday is coming. You will be stronger after your life storms and find great purpose from them.

And You will be AWAKE and AWARE!

 

Happy Jesus Nurse: Heart Lessons – Book Page

 

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“Begorah St. Pat” by Anne Stewart Helton

Shamrocks, Parades and Green hats…oh my! You have no idea what you did St. Patrick!!

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Those of us who are of Irish descent, and those who claim to be, go crazy this time of year. March 17 is our day to celebrate you, St. Patrick, and we do it up big. We have Parades, we wear green, or get pinched, we put a little brogue in our speech and we think lovely, magical, leprechaun, gnome, thoughts. You bring out the Spring in us, you bring out some family heritage, you cause us to remember our ancestors who struggled to come to an exciting America and you even bring out some spiritual sayings and family rosaries. You cause us to long for our roots, our home, our Baile. You help us remember the importance of our connections and friendships with one another, our Cara. Perhaps that is why everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s day. We long for that friendship.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot…you bring out many a pint in the pubs for those who want an excuse to toast! Unfortunately that aspect has perpetuated many a stereotype…o’ those Irish! We are wistful, romantic, feisty and brave people and we love our words, toasts and stories. One of our favorites is: “May you be in heaven a full half hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.” We hold strong to traditions and legends, even when we know they maaaay not be true! But, of course, we know there are no real leprechauns but, oh my, don’t ask us not to tell the stories of the wee-ones to sleepy bed heads of children. And, of course we know that you didn’t drive the snakes out of Ireland as there were no snakes in Ireland but you know what??… that devil can be a snake and you sure stood up to him!! We know you weren’t actually born in Ireland but most of us claiming to be Irish weren’t either! Also, we know there are no pots o’ Gold at the end of a rainbow but, you know what??… many a beautiful field or home is at the end of a Rainbow.

For a Saint, who wasn’t even officially canonized by Rome, you sure caused a lot of commotion.

There was so much more to you, St. Patrick, than all the green fun we have on March 17th. You have become a cracked mirror for how we would like to live. Perhaps it’s because you lived an adventurous, spiritual life but with great purpose and legacy. Being born in Britain and then captured by Irish Pirates as a Teenager, you would hold up to any Johnny Depp movie, especially as you ended up as a slave, herding sheep in a land of pagans! Perhaps it’s because you knew what it was like to be held down or held back but you continued to fight the good fight between good and evil, paying attention to a dream from God, escaping from the Irish slaveholders and going back to your homeland. But, perhaps it is mostly because even after much adversity you remained humble and followed the vision of returning to Ireland as you heard the voices crying from the people: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”  You sought to focus on God, to go and help the people of Ireland, using the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity, and arriving back in Ireland in 433. Some say you were smart politically in your methods however you lived a humble life converting Ireland as you built Churches and taught others to do the same.

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We thank you, oh mighty spiritual patron Saint of Ireland for giving our ancestors Hope and for still being around for all of us in this day of cynicism. For our protection, faith and trust in God, help us to always keep the poem attributed to you, “The Breastplate”,  in our hearts and homes.

“….Christ be within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ inquired, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friends and stranger….”

And then join with us in spirit St. Pat, on our silly, fun-loving day of March 17th as we wear green, lest we get pinched, and we smile a little bigger with the luck o’ the Irish on our side! We Irish still have sayings for everything. So, then at midnight on March 17th, I’m sure if my Gaelic speaking Grandmother, Mary Catherine O’Gallagher,  from County Mayo, Ireland was still alive, she would give thanks to God and to you and say something like :

Mol an latha math mu oidhche”….“Praise the good day at the close of it”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“I’m your Nurse, I Will Hold Your Hand” by Anne Stewart Helton

“I know you are in there, I know you hear me. I’m your Nurse and I will hold your hand through this.” I whispered to the pale, puffy, 50 something middle-aged man in obvious pain as he tried to breathe. Our eyes met briefly and the connection was verified.

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It had been a cold, busy early ’80’s January night when the traffic fought me as I attempted to get to my Intensive Care Unit (ICU) shift on time. Got my Stethoscope. Got my scissors and pens. Got my midnight lunch, and even kept my own blood pressure cuff tucked away in my car!

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We actually wore nursing caps back then so I pinned mine on and was ready to hit the hospital floor running. There were no iPhones, so I had my little black spiral calendar tablet in my lab coat pocket for phone numbers, notes and basic apothecary formulas for prescriptions. We calculated everything ourselves over 30 years ago and even mixed most Intravenous (IV) medications. It was a world of stand on your feet, run and go, lift and turn, senses assaulting, brain calculating, empathy draining, relentless shift of work. And. I. loved. it.

I could feel my heart beating faster and my adrenaline flowing as I rushed to the 3rd floor Intensive Care Unit (ICU)  for a 12 hour shift. I loved the science and the art of Nursing and loved wearing my mostly new University of Texas Nursing School pin with the little star attached to represent Houston and I couldn’t wait to meet the new patients admitted to the hospital in need of care.

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Most of our patients were admitted in pain and shock from the Emergency Room or directly from life saving surgery for Post Operative Intensive Care but some were also more long-term intensive care patients and thus their families and histories were well-known to staff. The ICU Staff functioned as a family of sorts, albeit at times dysfunctional!! But we all worked as a Team to make sick people healthy again.

I went into the nightly cave of ICU where the secrets of wires, beeps and instruments were stored, where the codes for medicinal mixes were housed and where private phone numbers to reach physicians in the middle of the night were guarded. At that time ICU’s were mostly off-limits for families and thus a primordial bond was created between patients and staff. We were their lifelines and we earnestly absorbed our duty deep into our persona. We often became the “keeper of the keys”. However, Registered Nurses were also known to frequently sneak husbands, wives, parents and children into ICU’s to hug patients far beyond any established hospital visiting time rules.

This would be one of those nights for me.

My recently admitted Mr. Man Patient lay on his back, exposed to me, arms flayed as if on a cross and he was connected to tubing leading to bottled fluids in order to bring his heart rate down, his blood pressure up, his pain level down and his consciousness up. We had him on a roller coaster to keep him alive after he had suffered a major myocardial infarction, MI, or heart attack that had effectively killed most of his heart muscle. His mid- sized, only 58-year-old body had been found by his teenage son on the floor of their garage when his son came home from school. Mr. Man Patient had been cleaning the garage all by himself, which was after he had mowed his yard and cleaned out the gutters around the house. And all of it was done while sneaking a cigarette in between chores. Yes, a classic Type A!

His son was horrified and tried to shake his dad awake, then remembered his minimal Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) skills and he went into gear… He knew his Dad had major heart problems already and did manage to get him breathing again. So, he held on to his father as the Ambulance crew arrived and brought him eventually to our waiting arms.

After receiving my report from the RN on the shift before me, I reviewed my guys’ chart and did my usual nursing assessment. I introduced myself but did not get a response so I stroked my patients’ shoulder, gently watching him stir just a bit. I could feel the beads of perspiration and recognized he was still reacting to his terrible MI.

Vital signs: check.

IV fluids: check.

Skin turgor and color: check.

Consciousness: ? Consciousness: ? No, he was not responding to my voice or touch except to moan a bit.

I looked out through the glass window by his bed and saw a fifty something, lovely woman with caring, terrified eyes looking straight at me. I knew it was his wife without being introduced. She pleaded with me and words were not necessary. Just as suddenly, a Staff member drew the curtain and she could no longer be seen. Now I had a family face in my head and could see more depth into my patient. It always made it harder. I knew from report that the Cardiologist did not expect him to survive and that this was a classic widow maker type heart attack. We didn’t always rush folks to the Cardiac Catheterization lab back then, in fact most places didn’t have one.

I continued with the physician orders for the shift and as I went in and out of his room, mostly staying in, and I tried to pray every time I was next to him…out loud. “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” I patted his hand and rubbed his shoulders between the necessary technical tasks. My stomach told me I was hungry but for some reason I didn’t feel like leaving him for a night shift lunch break, so I sipped on coffee. When I was holding his hand for an IV check I noticed he still had on his scratched, thin gold wedding band. Usually we try to get those removed in the emergency room but his was still there. He stirred and moaned as I felt the ring. So, I tried to rub it and turn it more to arouse him. He moaned louder and seemed to try to talk. I moved his oxygen mask a little and I said “I know you’re in there.” He opened his eyes a little. “I know you hear me.”

I continued to turn his wedding ring and he mouthed to me “my wife”.  I said, “Yes, Your wife is here”.

He shook his head “No” and I said “Yes, she is right outside.” He seemed a bit agitated and then mouthed “My ring”. It hit me…“You want your wife to have your ring?” He squeezed my hand and our eyes met in the connected way that one can only have when one person is pleading for help while the other person finds a way to help. “Please” he said. I patted his hand and said “Okay”.

I quickly got up and walked out of his room and there she was, still standing behind the curtain, she hadn’t moved and she was holding his jacket and burying her face in it. She was crying and taking deep breaths, she seemed to be trying to smell him on his jacket. It was gut wrenching. I placed my arm around her and guided her into his room, to his bedside. She fell over him and he tried to hold her. I knew it was stressing him but he had so little time. He stroked her hair and said “I will love you forever. Take my ring.” Her eyes widened with fear as she saw all the tubes and wires and I said “I’ll help you.”

In a moment of time that seemed like a wedding, with chime-like music of a heart monitor and the percussion of oxygen and a suction machine, I took his ring off and she held out her 3rd finger, left hand and I placed it on. She cried and he smiled. They kissed and he closed his eyes. He was tired.

As I ushered her out and hugged her, soon afterwards his heart monitor went off again and his last Code started. The CPR team worked extra, extra hard to bring back this man and I saw briefly his wife holding her teenage son in her arms as the Staff drew the curtain one last time to his room.

When the Head Physician called the Code and pronounced him dead and the expert Team left the room, as his Nurse, it was my honored privilege to clean him up a bit and bring his wife and son in to see him and to say goodbye. I felt his Spirit still in the room, his desire not to leave and I could sense his love and persistent connection to his little family on earth. As I disconnected the IV lines and wiped the markings of the CPR Code from his body and combed his hair, I rubbed his cooling, ring less left hand and whispered to my patient on this cold January night: “I know you’re in here…I know you hear me. You were a good husband to her; Godspeed my patient…Godspeed. I will say prayers for your family and I may ask you to spiritually hold my hand some day too…”

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“MOTHER, May I?” by Anne Stewart Helton

It’s May…Mother’s Day month and I am remembering when even our childhood games asked for our Mother’s permission. Can you imagine….?

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In childhood days of the past, before texting, twitter or Facebook, sometimes we would place our Mom in a chair, outside in the front yard, and we would gather up neighborhood friends and line up in front of Mom. We played the game “Mother, May I?”, facing her, so she could actually watch us doing whatever she sometimes mischievously commanded us to do!

In the “Mother May I?” game, for instance, we would ask her “Mother May I ” take 5 steps forward…the winning objective was to get closest to her…first!  She could either “allow” us to do certain antics to get closer to her or tell us to take 10 steps backwards or jump like a frog, or take scissor-steps sideways, and so on.  If we forgot to ask for her permission or didn’t wait for her command of “You May” we had to start all over again. My Mom always tried to be over-fair so I can only imagine how she would play the game now, in today’s politically correct world of “no competition”.  We would probably all have to line up and walk in unison just to be at her side, like zombies! But also, I think it must have been so difficult for her to be involved with her ten children 24/7, and then be involved even when playing games, when she really just needed a break from kids. I imagine she probably wanted to say No you may not take 10 steps forward towards me, You may go run around the block 10 times and then take the bus downtown. Of course, a directive such as that today would get a poor Mom arrested! Sometimes Mom probably wanted to say “You may go take a walk at Brazos Bend State Park…” which, on second thought would have probably not been a good idea!

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Mothers of little humans aren’t given quick pregnancies or short childhood development periods nor are they given the instinctive ability to flip the little creatures from the nest. Human Moms have never ending years of caring…long months of gestational periods of the nines, sleepless nights with hours that never amount to nine and long years, where each year may seem like nine. And then the nines start over when the darlings move out or go to college. The nines change to maybe nine minutes free of not worrying about them, no matter what age!

When communicating with children, Mom’s are usually the Parent of the mundane…the laundry, the breakfast, the homework, the computer, the squabbles with friends, the sports schedules, the taxi service and the orthodontist appointments….And, granted in the early developmental years, the young humans usually do ask, albeit in different ways, “Mother May I?”, but it’s more like:

MOM, PLEEEEEEZE? Everyone else does it!!” And if the mom says No, you may not”,  it is often followed by long strings of arguing to exhaustion, debating the pros and cons of the requests and nowadays, as the offspring grow, it’s often, “Well, I’ll do it anyway!” or they just choose to never ask, they just do!! Whatever!

It makes one wonder if any rock singer asked her Mom, “Mother, may I twerk on stage?” or, “Hey Mom, can I go half naked and sing in this cool video where I wear a dog-collar? orMother, may I get a forehead tattoo of my new fav-boy band and pierce my tongue?”.

Of course, It’s doubtful children would ever ask “Mother May I?” to any of these requests but sadly, some Mothers desire desperately to be cool friends rather than guiding Moms to their kiddos and they may actually allow their children to compromise themselves just to try to keep up with peers.  And fame can be so intoxicating at times, that some Mothers may actually encourage their children to act-out to gain attention. When I see this played out in real life I think about what my old friend Lori used to say, “Where’s that kids’ Momma? ’cause they are acting a fool!”  But, in reality perhaps the Momma is doing some of the same stuff herself and the real question is Are there any grown-ups anymore!!”

When it seems overwhelming how some children lack honor, respect or obedience to their Mothers I remember that even Mother Mary had problems with her youngster Jesus over two thousand years ago. When Jesus was age twelve, Mary and Joseph were leaving a Passover Festival in Jerusalem to return home. Unbeknownst to them, Jesus stayed behind. Now that is something every busy and stressed out Mother can identify with!  When Jesus had been missing for three days they finally found him back in Jerusalem, in the Temple. In Luke 2:48-50, when Mary found Jesus, she asked him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Jesus replied “Why were you searching for me?”…. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Of course, they realized later He was starting his mission on Earth and subsequently He did become totally obedient to them. But, the point for me is even Mother Mary didn’t have total control and even Jesus didn’t ask “Mother May I?” when he stayed back in the Temple. Of course our children are far from being Jesus but He does dwell in them as the Holy Spirit!  So, Jesus’ own pre-teen rebellion can give a current day, frazzled Mother a little comfort that sometimes our offspring do have good plans and intentions in the behaviors they portray.

So, maybe No, we don’t really ask our Mom for permission anymore. Even in silly games.

But I still go to my Mother for wisdom and playful games.

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I took her to lunch recently and asked my over 90 yr old Mom what she thought about the “Mother May I?” game of long ago years that we used to play. She remembered playing it with her own Mother. And I asked her what she thought about children asking Mothers for permission and if she could write her thoughts in a journal we keep. As usual, she gave me some very wise words.

On asking Mothers for permission??…in a modern day version it was just like what Mother Mary found out, she wrote: “I think it’s very important! Listen to (my) mother, not the movies or T.V. and mainly listen to God.” Love Mom

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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.

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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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“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.

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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.

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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….kinda like a wise man.” we both laughed.

“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, would you believe after all we’ve projected…A Child in a manger?…How many Kings step down from their thrones? How many Lords abandoned their homes? …to romance a world that is torn all apart…All for me…All for you..”

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