“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!