“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…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.

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“A WINDOW TO THE SOUL THANKSGIVING” by Anne Stewart Helton

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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.

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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!

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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!”

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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