“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!!

NewspaperRolled

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.

IMG_1732

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!

Smiling Worker

Smiling Worker, con permiso

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.

Luis PaperMan

Luis, con permiso

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.

mailTruck

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!!

DogSign

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, ….

LaborDayCoffeeAd

….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.

Standard

“Sizzlin’, Summer, Sun” by Anne Stewart Helton

The jazzy, buzzing, Spring June Bugs have stopped jumping in town and the cicadas are screeching.

It is Summertime. It is Texas.  And. It. Is. Hot.

HotSummerBanner

As it is written in Ecclesiastes 3- “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens” but every year when the seasonal calendar turns over to Summer, it seems we forget we live in Texas and we are surprised. Its’ like a light switch is turned on and overnight the temperature soars: 92-95-98-then the century mark countdown begins! Old-timers start reflecting on the hotter days of yesteryear, spouting copious stories that usually begin with, “You think this is Hot?? Well, we didn’t have air-conditioning in the summer of_____ (take your pick)”! I have to admit I remember talking about those old days too. As a child, we ate dripping popsicles on the porch, never stayed inside and opened our windows at night, yes, in Houston, Texas of all places. We left the Attic fan on all night long to allow a breeze through the windows until Dad would get up and turn it off to save electricity. Of course, we turned it back on and then the fan wars would begin only to have Mom settle it with Dad. We won!

I remember the perspiration on our pillows and hearing the sounds of the night through our screened windows and sometimes sneaking out to play with neighbors to run through lightning bug filled yards. Yes, in Summer, the Winter and Spring creatures step aside for the dragonflies whizzing by as Sunflowers stretch high while Texas cooks. As the Bible says there is a time for all Seasons, but it also says in Psalms 104:19 “He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.” So, we often say okay Sun, it’s HOT, you can go down a little now.

Dragonfly

Sunflower

Y’all need to know, that in Texas when we say HOT we mean devil-type-pitch-fork waving heat! We are known to say “Oh, it’s just the humidity that gets you” but that’s just to compete with our Nevada or Arizona compadres who have the oven type dry heat. But hot is hot . Our Texas heat is the all encompassing overall mirage of waves of heat soaring from concrete that make 98 degrees seem like you are in a desert and should have buzzards circling overhead. We are frequently proud and boastful to pretend Summer doesn’t bother us, after all we are tough Texans, but it is common to see families sneaking away for weeks to Colorado or Cozumel to escape the heat. They may say they are going on vacation but we know what is really going on.

We adapt and change our schedules in Summer….running or walking in early mornings or late evenings, avoiding crowded freeways filled with road-rage-squared drivers waving hot fists in the air and we LOVE our air-conditioning. After all, we did build the world famous, air-conditioned Houston Astrodome before it was fashionable to have indoor stadiums.  The Summer heat also is known to trigger bucket loads of rain drop surprise showers that fill up our bayous and creeks. The thunderstorms leave us with flooded roadways, overgrown elephant ear ditches and hoards of people hungry, whelp producing, skin itching, west nile and zika carrying virus mosquitoes! So, we spray ourselves like safari explorers before we go outside and we zap mosquitoes with every type of mosquito repellent or spray systems invented, most of which work like snake oil! Oh, and we have more snakes after the flooding rains and we even have heat-crazy alligators walking out of ditches and Rivers onto golf courses and into the roads! We also have three species of Copperhead snakes in Texas that show up in groups in the summer.

Yep, one has to be tough to survive Texas summers.

ElephantEarDitch

090

We learn Wisdom from these tough Texas Summer seasons. The June bugs teach us that what lies dormant in the ground as a grub all year has Hope and can emerge with joy and dancing. The little seed of the sunflowers show us how Patience grows with Faith into Glory from the Summer rains. The elephant ear filled waterways and bayous help slow and “still” the water down to feed the dragonflies, turtles, birds, frogs and even snakes, which are kept in balance by the alligators!! A large population of cicadas can be deafening but soothing as they sing us to sleep at night but beware…a flock of cicadas can be a meal and dessert all in one for Copperhead snakes. So be careful where you walk barefoot when you hear the cicadas screeching. The snakes of Summer teach us caution. Did you know that some Copperhead snakes have a little bit of a greenish-yellow color on the tip of their tail resembling a caterpillar? They coil up and stick their tail up, wiggling it to lure a frog or lizard, then they strike and gobble up their prey. It’s funny, this resembles the song “Smiling Faces” to me, where some people will lure us with fake smiles, pats on the back or pretty words only to strike and devour us too! Yes, the Copperhead snake teaches us caution, as everything may not always be what it seems!  As far as the mosquitoes???  Really Noah, you had to pick two of them too?  Well, I guess we can be grateful that they feed the birds, but as for a benefit to people?….all I can say is at least mosquitoes make us go inside, into our beloved air-conditioning!!

We will weather through this Summer season too and we will enjoy our steaming 4th of July fireworks, wave our wilted Flags, watch neighborhood parades and perspire at bar-b-ques. We will lie down on floats in swimming pools or close to sprinkler heads in our yards, if necessary. We will drive to Galveston Beaches or the Hill Country lakes and Rivers for cooling breezes and water sports. We will watch our flowers and gardens turn brown and scorch and we will watch and wait for possible Hurricanes that eventually may form in the bath-tub like heated water of the Gulf of Mexico. We will get through this Season with our own stories of the Summer of 2016 with a lesson of gratefulness that we have the Seasons, the weather, the creatures and the memories to carry in our hearts to pass on to others in our own stories that may start with: “You think you’re hot now?? Why, in 2016, our summer was…..(take your pick)!!”

AnneOnBeach

 

Standard

“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….?

MomBalloon

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!

090

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.

MomHug

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

MotherMay

 

 

 

Standard

“BLOOM. REACH. PLANT.” by Anne Stewart Helton

It sounds so simple.
Just blossom or do something wonderful in life, then get it out there, reach far, plant it and let it grow! I watch my wonderful Walking Iris plants do this every year. People can do this too, right?

IrisReaching

These Irises are beautiful wearing their purple vests against their white skirts, they bloom, sway, reach out and then plant themselves elsewhere and grow. It’s kinda spooky when you think about them moving around in my garden and it sounds pretty simple in it’s design…right?

Uh, well, I don’t think so!

I tried to watch the blooms for awhile this year, to check the process and I observed the flowers daily to see what was happening. The weight of the blooms became heavier and heavier with pollen, attracting me and the bees, as well as moisture. Then, when the March winds came to town, the blooms ebbed and flowed within the windy waves around my garden. Each gust allowed them to reach out more and then the rain storms actually weighted down the blooms with water and little sticks or debris blown down upon them. I was tempted once to remove the sticks until I realized they pushed the blooms closer to the ground to receive new life. While I wanted to keep the blooms unscathed, in their flawless purple glory, I left the sticks and water in the blooms, and watched and waited…

IrisPlanting

But I missed the real transition one rainy, stormy night. I had thought about protecting them from the predicted storm but I didn’t. So, when I went outside the next morning I saw that the Irises had already planted themselves firmly in the dirt. The storm had blown them all around, pushed them down and allowed the blooms to put down hardy tendrils to find new nourishment in the dirt in order to continue growing and to multiply. One Iris looked pretty beaten up but its’ bloom stood tall. Not only had it survived the loud thunderstorm but it had been tried and tested now and would live on to survive more storms.

My Honeysuckle Ivy is doing the same thing now too. It is blooming but it’s using a distraction of an intoxicating fragrance while it performs it’s slight of hands and wraps its reaching tentacles around my sweet little Orange Tree. I can let it go like this for awhile, as it is blooming and growing but eventually….chop, chop! You see, it’s a tricky little vine, not rooting itself but trying to survive off the life of something else!

HoneySuckleflowers IvyReaching

Whenever I bloom with…an idea, a song, a creation, a book…I tend to think like the Iris. Okay, I made it, I wrote it, it’s pretty good, now come on wind, just get it out there. Plant it. I’m done.  But life isn’t like that. If something or someone is to be well planted, sometimes it has to reach out and go through some storms or even get filled up with sticks and debris to grow. Sometimes we may create something but we need to bury it for something better to come out of it. Learning to let go is an art in gardening and life…knowing when to prune, weed or fertilize is all part of the planting.  Sometimes, perhaps, we have to do the same with people…to observe and wait, even with our blooming children or grandchildren, to see where they will land and grow. But they have to survive their own storms in order to be strong! Often, we just overthink life believing that we can catch that perfect moment of someone’s transition when reaching out and planting, just to make it go our own way.  As if… we are in control!

Or sometimes we may live like my Honeysuckle Ivy and latch on to someone or something else for support but we must be careful not to overwhelm or suffocate the support with our own growth. If the thing we latch onto is a toxic diversion we will grow off course, perhaps even for a long time until someone helps us cut free or we are blown free from it, usually deep within our own storms. Sometimes we won’t actually go anywhere with our beautiful blooms but that’s okay too because our roots will become really strong and deep and they will last as we keep blooming. And sometimes we will get blown away by the wind and land far, far away from where we wanted to be or should be and then, we may have to actually start over. That is really hard, especially if the soil we land in is rocky and dry and there is no one who cares to nurture us or helps us grow. That’s when it helps to know the ultimate Master Gardener and to know that it is all designed, purposefully and perfectly in the production. After all, even a vicious forest firestorm prepares the ground deep in the forest which then produces the strongest of seedlings. In nature and in life, the sooner the better for us that we realize that whatever happens is  “all God’s timing. And sometimes we are left in a stormy period for awhile to refine our character.” (From “Happy Jesus Nurse: Heart Lessons”)  http://bit.ly/HappyJesusNurse

And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and I will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God.”– Zechariah 13:9 (KJV)

I still continue to Bloom. Reach. and Plant in my life, even as the sun is lower on the horizon for me and my garden. I continue to wait with wonder at what survives, grows and multiplies around my life. I continue to work at being thankful for the Grace and Mercy that allows me to say ‘The Lord is my God’. And I remind myself daily to see His glory in the majesty of nature because it all belongs to God. I also know that prayer keeps me on that rich and fruitful garden path of life.

And…every now and then I light a candle for myself and for those I love, who may need a little extra light in their lives in order to Bloom, Reach, and Plant wherever it is that they are going and growing.

CandleLighting

 

 

Standard

“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.

IMG_3378IMG_3357

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.

Tears,Hand,Garden 002

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

Tears,Hand,Garden 004

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.

IMG_3371IMG_3382IMG_3361

 

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.

IMG_3390

 

Standard

“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.

BrokenWingEagle
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!

FlamingoWings

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.

AngelWingsGlassStMarys

 

 

Standard

“judge justice” by Anne Stewart Helton

 

courthouse

Harris County Criminal Courthouse

“Here’s how you get out of Jury duty”, my friend said to me as she proceeded to give me statements to say if selected that would make me sound totally biased or crazy to either the Prosecutor, the Defense or to the Judge!

“But I want to go to Jury duty” I replied sheepishly, as if it was something to be ashamed of, saying, “It could be my little chance to get things right in the world or to at least stamp “DONE” on my civic duty bucket list.”  A shaking of her head was all the reply I received. I guess I still believed in everyone doing their part and Leviticus 19:15- “Do not pervert Justice, do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly”.

JuryPamphlet JurySummons

Jury Pamphlet                                      Jury Summons

I have been to Jury Duty a lot in my life and was even on a real-life, grizzly and sad murder trial once; it was just like one of those Dateline TV shows. I did reschedule this Jury summons due to calendar conflicts but last week the jury date arrived and I awakened way too early, excited to go to “downtown”  Houston for my obligation in the Harris County Criminal Court System. The Harris County system is wonderfully organized with a new Jury building and charming Texas security workers and Deputies, so getting in and out of the Courts is seamless and helpful. And there’s nothing more geometrically beautiful than the downtown Houston skyline!

JuryBldg

SheriffHouston

When sitting in the large Jury room for hours, it seemed like I would just fulfill my day and go home without being called. However, when the very last chosen numbers were put on the screen, mine was in the mix. We were told to quickly line up against a wall because the Judge wanted his Jury!

“Here we go”, I said to a lady lined up next to me but she just stared at me and immediately got on her phone telling someone she had been chosen. There were 30 of us lined up against a wall. When the Bailiff came into the room to take us through the underground tunnels to the Courthouse, it suddenly felt serious, especially when I saw how the Sheriff had to waddle and hold his arms away from his body due to an uncountable number of items hanging from him…of course one was a BIG gun, but everything else just looked like tools that could be used if you got out of line…so I didn’t!

I should have realized it was going to be an unusual day when we arrived at the Courtroom and all thirty of us were quickly put into a 12 person Jury deliberation room. So, was this going to be musical chairs or what? Twelve people sat at the table and the 18 rest of us stood around them in a circle. Now, I have always loved to watch how “group process” unfolds and evolves especially as thirty strangers are put in a different setting, with serious intent and potential unintended consequences. We were quiet for a few moments as the Deputy explained to us that there was a phone if the Judge needed to call us and there were two bathrooms also in the room. No one would dare enter those bathrooms, I thought, because people had to actually move away from standing in front of the bathroom door for someone to enter.

She also said that we “might” be allowed to go to lunch before being called into the courtroom for voir-dire, which is to speak the truth under questioning before being chosen. She explained that the Jury door could be opened from the inside, if we needed to get out (think escape) but would not open from the outside without her key, so she would have to let us back in, if that happened. Tight quarters!

As soon as the Deputy left the room, we all just stared at each other and as usual in a group the ‘talker” and the “comedian” emerged. Oh my, did the comedian emerge! He proceeded to describe his job, his life, his ability to not take anything seriously and also every aspect of how to fool the Judge and Lawyers and get out of Jury Duty. There was that topic again! He talked about how if you just said the classic statements  “Everyone must be guilty or they wouldn’t be arrested” and/or “All cops are wrong”, that you would immediately get to go home. He then told us his name but that where he worked there were two guys with the same name so they had nicknames for them, which he loudly announced to all. The names were clearly inappropriate but they brought guffaws just as he planned and required from the group. So, we’ll just say his nickname was “skippy“.  The “talker” was a very nice person so they proceeded to get into discussions about a variety of things, while others tried to talk quietly about the likelihood of being chosen according to our Jury numbers. Mr. Comedian had know-it-all answers to all their questions. Suddenly, the phone rang in the room and Mr. Comedian picked it up and it was the Judge saying it would be a little longer. He proceeded to joke with the Judge too. A few minutes later the door opened widely and there HE was in all his Robe and Glory, Judge Larry Standley himself, the Judge of Criminal Court #6. This man took the bench as a Judge in Harris County in 1999 and presided over various cases, such as driving while intoxicated, domestic violence, illegal possession of drugs, criminal pollution and theft. Just imagine…sixteen years of serious justice!

We all just stared at him, he smiled and the first thing he said was, “Sorry, but because we still pay homage to some dead Kings, I have to wear this robe, so it gets hot and I keep it real cold in my courtroom but I have a few blankets for you. You can go to lunch now but be back in 30 minutes and we will get started.” Mr. Comedian asked the Judge for a restaurant referral and the Judge wisely picked up on him quickly and refused but said “let me know where you go and give me a referral”.

They had met each others match!

As Groups do, people paired off or gathered up. After only one hour we already found our compadres.

When we returned we were waiting again and before we were led to the courtroom the Deputy shuffled our Juror numbers again, saying the Attorneys requested it…obviously a tactic!  Finally we were led into the Courtroom where it was quiet. Sitting at the Defense table was a very young, slight, Caucasian male dressed in slacks and a dress shirt. He had two defense attorneys and there were two prosecutors across from him at the other table. They all stood as we entered. I couldn’t imagine what in the world this young ‘boy’ had done to end up in Criminal Court.

Mr. Comedian said something like “let the games begin” but no one seem to hear. We all took our respective places on the benches, holding onto our juror numbers as instructed and the Judge was right, it was really cold in there. As is the custom, the Prosecutor began to go first in voir-dire but this Court was clearly being run by Judge Justice. This was his domain and he rode it like a wave. He proceeded to describe the possibility of us being in a Trial that would be about ‘driving under the influence’ and that it wasn’t a Felony trial and no one was injured or we would be in another court. He also said he only needed 6 Jurors….wait? what? we are in a Criminal Court with a boy who is charged with DUI and no one is hurt? This seemed like overkill to me.

The Judge commanded the Courtroom and we all stood to take the Oath which was said with old-fashioned respect…even by Mr. Comedian.

The Judge talked and talked and talked about the court system, the problems of today, the issues of being truthful, fair and unbiased and then he described, almost verbatim what “some” people may have said to say in order to get out of Jury Duty. He then clearly asked us all. “Who is the joker in the group?” Quickly, everyone pointed to Mr. Comedian and the Judge said, “And do you have a nickname sir?”.

We all looked around at each other wondering if the phone had been open in the Jury room!! This Judge knew how to pick, point and prod at a group for sure. It was fascinating to watch him work. He quoted the Law and told us he wanted us to be honest with all of our responses to the Attorneys. He described how important it was for any witnesses we may hear in the trial to stay on task in their discussions when they testified and how sometimes he may have to bring them back on track. Then he would proceed to go off track himself telling us his stories. But then he would change course and seriously ask a question, “Juror # 6, what was I just talking about?” To which the response was, “Uh, staying on track, Your Honor”, which brought chuckles from the group!

So, we would just start talking to him, like we were in his living room. He told us we would be with him until the evening and would maybe get hungry and then after many more stories, he announced, “I have never done this in my years on the Bench but I have ordered Pizza for all of you and it has been delivered. Deputy, bring out the Pizza and soft drinks.” We were all a bit stunned.

So, we found ourselves sitting in his courtroom, wrapped in blankets and eating Pizza. We wondered what was next.

The Prosecutor finally started asking all of us the typical voire-dire questions only to be interrupted frequently by the Judge. The other Prosecutor just stared at us with a funny smile but he made notes as he watched our fidgeting body language and reactions to comments. Then it was the Defense attorney’s turn. Even the defendant sat up straighter, it was his time. The Attorney was nice and funny. He wanted us to get to know him so he moved the large TV screens around for us to see and started a power point show. The first slide was of himself taking a selfie in a Jury room two weeks ago…in other words, “I’m just like you”. Of course, as he noted, no Jury would ever pick him. Then his next slide was his history, schools, scouts, sports, etc. and the Judge stopped him: “You brought a slide show about your life??!” Quickly the Prosecutor stood and objected also, which brought an end to that whole show. But no one got offended, in fact the Defense attorney just smiled. He knew this Judge well. He then proceeded to ask very pointed questions of us. The first question out of the box to a juror was “What did you think when you first walked in the room and saw the defendant?”

I knew what I thought but couldn’t believe what the selected Juror said next, “Well, should I say honestly?'” And Judge Justice jumped in with a long story of the importance of telling your real feelings and not being afraid. So, she proceeded, “Well, I thought this young guy couldn’t be charged with DUI, I don’t believe it. Now, Murder, that I would believe, but not DUI.” Well, even the Defendant almost fell over to that remark!

So, the honesty remarks continued with people talking to the Judge about strong opinions, work issues, coming babies to be born and child care needs. There were people talking privately to the Judge at the Bench over their personal issues and/or pain with alcohol, drugs, drunk driving, family members and police experiences, and then people with potential bias started being dismissed…even Mr. Comedian. All were given a respectful “thank you” from the Judge.

I had decided I wasn’t going to say anything if asked but the Judge began to describe his own wife and how much he respected her and then he told us a story of his daughter who had fought and won a battle with Leukemia as a young child and how he was privileged to donate blood to her. He talked about how important children were to him and how he wished some of the young people who came into his Courtroom had the confidence of some of the women in our Jury pool and how he tried to help them turn their lives around. Even the Defendant listened intently. He talked about wanting to make people more comfortable in his court and how damaged some of the people were who showed up in Court. Then he stopped….and looked at us all and said, “I have one shot at them when they come in here. One shot.”

The enormity of his felt responsibility hit me between the eyes. He could be a community force of Justice but also be a scapegoat for those who failed in families, schools, communities and life. He would even be judged himself by his decisions. I looked at the Defendant and at all of us as we had finished off our Pizza and thought how we were just there for one day. We had come together for a moment in time, however, this was or could be a pivotal turning point in this young mans’ life and this Judge realized it. He was allowing the process to play out but more deeply he was allowing a Play of sorts for the Defendant to watch to possibly see how reasonable and just life could be or should be.

The Defense attorney saw the emotions on my face and my body language and asked me about my feelings about DUI, alcohol, drugs, police…Quickly the words just rolled off my tongue and they were hard to stop. “I have to say Your Honor, if it is okay…?”   To which the Judge smiled and nodded “okay”.

“Well, I have to say I have never seen anything like this. I mean, I feel that I am on a Reality TV show and I’m waiting for the cameras to pop out. Here we are, in a Courtroom, all eating Pizza, but the Defendant isn’t. I feel we have already discussed the Trial and all of our feelings and you still don’t have a Jury”.  And then I described how much I respected law enforcement but also had seen the damage from alcohol and drugs. I described how I believed in enforcing the law to protect others but in recovery and help for people too, so I didn’t see why we couldn’t just all discuss this young man’s issues and come to an agreement over this case?” I stopped short of providing too much information on forgiveness, mercy and amazing grace!

Uh-Oh…now why did all that come out of me?

I waited for the admonition but should have realized that this was what Judge Justice produced.  He then smiled at me and asked me to talk more about why I felt that way…so I did. And then he asked me and the Courtroom “Have I been professional? Have I been fair?”

Of course, the only answer was a resounding Yes”.mallet,jpg

It seemed very soon after that it was almost 6pm and the Judge announced that they had a Jury of Six. We waited. Quickly, the names of six people, who hadn’t seemed to talk much throughout the day were called. They moved to the real Jury box and stood. Our Judge had them sworn in as we all watched and then he had us stand respectfully as the six of them left the Courtroom. Almost as quickly, the Judge dismissed us with a smile, collected the blankets and said “Thank you” and that we would soon receive a check in the mail for $6.00 which was followed by smiling groans. Then the Jury band of strangers, who had come together for this time, disbanded to go our separate ways. Somehow we knew justice would be done.

As I walked out of the Courtroom I thought about the Judges’ comment, “I have one shot at them” and I realized he had one shot at us too. Among his rambling but deliberate stories and questions this man, and his Attorney players, had taken serious aim at us too. Judge Justice had delivered a shot that carried a constitutional message about our system, flawed that it may be at times, but one that can work so well when strangers, “a jury of our peers” are in a mix and become one with a system attempting to produce Justice.

Days after, I did receive that $6.00 check. And with a smile, I bought a slice of Pizza in honor of Judge Larry Standley.

JuryCheck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard