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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This would be one of those nights for me.

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

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

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

Vital signs: check.

IV fluids: check.

Skin turgor and color: check.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“MOTHER, May I?” by Anne Stewart Helton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“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?

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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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“My Funny Valentine” by Anne Stewart Helton

Happy Valentines Day….I don’t love you!

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Well, what I mean is, we have used the word LOVE so readily in our culture that the Annie Hall movie quote, I lurve you is actually necessary now. Thus, to my honey I say, I don’t JUST love you, I lurve you! And now it’s almost time for everyone to prove Love again, Valentines’ Day! Grocery stores are setting up tents for the harvested flowers, greeting cards are in place and dinner reservations are being made. Some lovers are timing engagements and weddings for this special cupid-day. And for some couples there is so much pressure to do and say a special thing, it can even become competitive!

My hubby of over 50 years does the usual Valentine gift thing but he also does sweet and funny things all year to show he is thinking of me. He has a great sense of humor and uses it well. For instance, he knows I like to snack on dry cheerios so sometimes when I’m speaking or teaching classes I may reach into my pocket and find a handful of cheerios and our thoughts connect. Or once I forgot my lunch at the clinic and he brought me a large paper bag but inside was a beautiful lunch on a china plate, wrapped in foil and special paper, with silver utensils and a bottle of fresh orange juice to drink in a crystal champagne glass. Also, when we were early married and living in a very cold shotgun house in the Heights, I was pregnant and up and down most of the night going to a freezing bathroom. He would put warm towels on the toilet seat so it wasn’t so uncomfortable for me! All sweet reminders of Love. Along with the traditional sweet gifts of Love to him, unfortunately, I do more torturous and funny reminders also…like mixing up his sock drawer with his underwear, rearranging his very organized desk or putting a rubber lizard in his shoe or his toothbrush under his pillow. I know, it sounds kind of mean but he laughs!

I like the rhythm of the many seasonal holidays we have, like Valentines Day. As children we usually made our own cards for friends and families and in fact I still have some cards my children made for me. My favorite was daughter Missy’s famous misquote on a card “Love means never saying you’re sorry” or son little Bobby’s drawing of Mickey Mouse with a heart! In schools today, the fear of being left out is rampant thus children are mandated to bring “cloned” type cards for everyone or, sadly, some schools are trying to ban Valentines Day, along with other long held traditions of our country. However, these special days are important for children. They offer connecting points for people, fun with creativity, volunteer moments, the making of traditions, celebrations and memories, and of course opportunities for marketing and making money! Valentines Day is one of those traditions with spiritual, legendary and fun holiday rituals. Sometimes Valentines Day even plays out like a Romeo and Juliet saga, offering all the drama, intrigue and choices made by passionate people in love. Couples wait with anticipation to see who will give them flowers or cards, who will call with sweet nothings, or who will take them to dinner. The holiday can sometimes become a huge test for young couples in love. Also, drama and pathos may occur should someone forget to acknowledge the day, or worse, send the wrong bauble to the wrong person causing a Valentines’ Day massacre of sorts to ensue!

Spiritually, St. Valentine is said to be one of the earliest martyrs for his faith. Pope Gelasius in 498 AD declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day but it’s still unclear who he really was. In fact, it’s thought that there were perhaps three saints named Valentinus and all were martyrs…they were killed for Love…their love of Jesus. A sad sentencing we see played out even today in some parts of the world.  It is written that one of the St.Valentines was in prison and before his death he fell in love with a guards’ daughter who visited him in prison. He allegedly wrote the first love letter, signing “from your Valentine”…and, as we say, the rest is history, albeit sketchy! Anyhow, the holiday took off and became the expression of love and kindness we have today. It was in the 1840’s when Valentine Cards began to be produced.

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What is noticed and has become more prevalent today is the use of the word LOVE for almost every situation. Oh, we all say: I love pizza or, I love coffee or, I love to ski or I love whatever but when we say I love you to people it seems to be thrown around more without real thought. When I was young it was a special word reserved for deep feelings of attachments and relationships with people. In fact the definition of Love is a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. Nowadays, saying I love you seems as common as “Hello” or “Goodbye”. Recently, on the news a poor spouse was interviewed about the death of her husband and was crying because she forgot to say “I love you” before he died. Although, they seemed to have a great relationship and she obviously loved him, she was beating her self up for not saying those three words!

It has also become easy to say I love you, without having to attach any loving behavior or even a relationship behind the words. Last week I was in a grocery store and heard a shopper tell the checker thanks, I love you. I thought, Really?…hmmm?, you don’t even know her! This isn’t to say we shouldn’t show kindness and Love to fellow humans. However, it seems to me that the dichotomy between saying I love you with no actions behind the words can sometimes let us off the hook of actually living Love. It minimizes Love and also allows for rationalizing behaviors that can be hurtful or harmful. How many times has someone written I love you or even said it, with a smile, but without any nice behaviors attached to their words?  It begs for the old phrase that our grandparents taught us: actions speak louder than words.

Perhaps the best written description for us of the types of Love is from C. S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”. Lewis gives us four categories of Love: affection, friendship, eros and charity; based on four Greek words for Love: storge, philia, eros and agape.

Affection-an empathy bond being the storge (greek) type love which is fondness through familiarity, family, parent/child, relatives. It’s a natural type love but vulnerable to forces of inattention or jealousy.

Friendship-friend bond being the philia (greek) type of love between friends sharing common values, interests, groups and activities. It’s an important type love but vulnerable to cliqueyness and pride.

Eros– (greek)- erotic bond of being in love in the sense of ‘loving’ someone. Lewis saw it not in just the sexual sense but as man being a rational animal when in love. He also saw the potential for torment and fury in eros and for the potential for eros to become a god in and of itself.

UnconditionalCharity Love– God’s love- or agape (greek) love. This is the Love that serves others, the love that puts your lovers’ needs first. This is the Love that doesn’t change regardless of circumstances. This is the Love God has for us and the Love we strive to have for others.

Love is special. Love is a choice. Love is also an action word. We make love. We are in love. We love someone. In 1 John 4:8 we read that whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. And John 15:12 actually commands us to love!  And also in John 15:13 we are told Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Our greatest friend, Jesus, did just that for us!

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The words in the verse: God is love are well understood but the reality is, God created love. God created all feelings and God loves us. The words of Love in the Bible are mostly attached to showing love: God’s love for us, Our love for God and the need for us to Love fellow humans. What sometimes appears to be happening in our society today is the word LOVE is replacing the verse God is Love. In some cases, it is even replacing God.  People seem to Love and adore Love, as C. S. Lewis warned. People seem to Love everything, even if they disagree with it, perhaps because it may be politically incorrect not to Love everything!  This direction is slippery as it slowly minimizes the power of God who is the origin of Love. Focusing only on Love, without direction toward God, can actually deflect us from God and the behaviors of Love. It can become prideful and thus it becomes easy to say I love you, without having to demonstrate any loving behavior, forgiveness, or mercy behind the words.

God designed and created Love. God has unfailing love for us…Psalm 6:4. God shows us love...Exodus 20:6. And God outlined the actions of Love for us in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5- Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Also, for me, Love is an act of endless forgiveness towards all. Including myself!

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So, let’s put our Love in action this Valentines Day and everyday…Pick up some flowers and candy for your honey and perhaps for someone who may be without a honey, bake a cake, go out to dinner, bring on the balloons, find thoughtful ways to express your feelings of Love, even if it’s cheerios in a pocket! Read the verses of Love in the Bible to someone, remembering that God loves us unconditionally and wants us to return that Love to others, just as He commanded.

And to my honey, I still say: I don’t just love you…

I. LURVE. YOU.

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“EVEN BROKEN WINGS CAN FLY” by Anne Stewart Helton

It was just a Bird. Well, actually a tropical Mexican falcon.
I was watching him in his cage at a small Zoo as he sat on his perch and kept turning around, as if to show me his right wing. He was a beautiful creature of God’s making, with tenacity, strength and nobleness. Falcons are raptors, like Hawks and they can be ferocious to other creatures! They are birds of prey with strong, sharp talons, keen eyesight and hooked beaks used for their hunting skills. As I watched him I realized the right wing looked different than the other one and it seemed to hang down a bit. It looked to have been damaged, maybe even broken at one time.

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If one ponders on all the travails a Falcon could encounter, it’s not difficult to imagine a wing being damaged or clipped. Texas is awash with different types of birds, particularly Hawks, as they winter in our fields and cities, soaring high over buildings or perching in our many pine trees to swoop up a field mouse, rabbit or snake! It never fails when I hear the birds in our neighborhood squawking loud warning sounds that it’s usually because a Falcon or Hawk is flying overhead or one has already managed to pick up a fledgling bird. The neighborhood cats become wary also!

Birds can do funny things with their wings, besides during their mating rituals, they can use their wings as protection. Just like I picture my Guardian Angel does for me when needed!

Once, when out for a walk when living in the Texas Hill Country, we saw a large momma Quail in the brush. The chubby Quail had a nest for her baby quails and when she saw us she started “dragging” one wing dramatically on the ground and scurrying away from her nest. She served her purpose of distraction as we watched her instead of going to look at her nest. Such a smart design God!

But the Zoo Falcon I was now watching was standing tall, hopping around on his perch and adapting quite well when another, larger bird pen-mate jumped closer to him and took over his perch. I watched their pecking order ritual and then suddenly saw my broken wing bird start to fall and wiggle on his stick. The other bird stayed strong, didn’t help at all by moving over. Definitely a bird with boundaries!
My broken wing buddy, fluffed his feathers, looked tenuous and then suddenly picked up and stretched both wings, albeit one being crooked, and flew to the other side of the cage. He landed safely and balanced, turned his swivel head around and looked at me. Well, you can fly old bird, I thought.

Such a symbol of experience, adaptation and strength this guy was. The injured Falcon in all it’s glory was made of good stock but mindful of it’s surroundings and limits and ready to learn as well as move from harm if challenged or threatened. So much like me, so much like us all, it seems.

Life lessons abound around us, all the time. We don’t always pay attention or at least I don’t. Lessons that can comfort, heal, protect us and allow us to have peace and enjoy life. Like the importance of “staying focused” in life and not becoming distracted by extraneous social noise or other birds.  Or lessons like, “staying mindful” and appreciative of God’s gifts by living in present moments, listening to what matters in one’s own environment and not another birds‘. Or lessons of “paying attention to one’s instincts“, or feelings, to gain wisdom and truths about ourselves to know when or how quickly to move to another perch!  And one of the best lessons, “being proud of our own feathers, color, and wing span in life”.  Who knows, some of us may turn out to be the prettiest of them all, like the pinky Flamingo-like, Spoonbill bird who represents love and fun in the human flock but looks so different growing up in the bird world!

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When my daughter Missy was little she bemoaned her very curly hair. She didn’t understand why she had to have curly hair when all her friends had straight surfer-girl hair. She conditioned her curly hair. She put straightener on her hair. She wet her hair and wore a tight knit hat on her head to school. She even ironed her hair. But it always stayed curly. As she moved into different seasons of her life, the times caught up to her hair. Soon, everyone wanted curly hair and put potions on their straight hair. Missy beamed with her natural look. She became a proud and beautiful curly feathered bird!

God gives us all different feathers and wings. Sometimes we use our wings to preen too proudly, to cover ourselves in old shame, to comfort ourselves, to protect others or sometimes we use our wings to distract a dangerous foe. Sometimes our wings get broken along with our hearts and we feel we will sadly limp along for the rest of our future. No…remember my feathered Falcon friend who was able to fly when needed. We may have to rest, be comforted, nurtured and then heal for a season or two but most of the time, ‘even broken wings can fly’.

In life, we are protected by Wings, both spiritually and earthly. God covers us with protection and gives us Grace when we least deserve it. The Holy Spirit moves us and Jesus teaches us how to fly. And those people who love us on Earth cover us with sweet supportive Wings made of downy feathers of understanding, encouragement and loyalty. Some of our earthly friends will even distract foes for us by showing strong spread-out Wings of warning. And some of us are still learning life’s lessons and are growing our own Wings to help cover and protect others and it’s just like the phrase in the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life”…”everytime a bell rings, an Angel get’s it’s Wings”.

So, stretch out…Accept your own color of feathers, use your own Wing span to help others…Ask God to help you, then spread your Wings, feel the wind under you and soar like the Eagles.

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“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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