“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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“Seeking Shells of Shelter” by Anne Stewart Helton

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It is often while walking on the sands of a Beach where I truly comprehend my smallness in the universe. Just as the shells that wash up as noticeable gifts for me, I explore how my life in the natural is nothing but a fleeting gift from God…a breath of wind blowing by in all of it’s different velocities and directions. When I see the sea shells that were somehow sheltered on their journey to become sand, I feel protected too. I feel connected.

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Anne walks Galveston Beach

It’s a juxtaposition. It is all free when I walk on a beach and yet I become rich. Oh, I expend energy to pay for the walk but it is a homeostasis energy that is equaled by what I gain. My heart and soul fill up with fuel, my lungs expand with salty oxygen, my hair blows in time with the gusts, my muscles ebb and flow like the tides and my smile widens with sunny joy. The skimming beach birds skip alongside me and share their space, always keeping a wing flap ahead of me, as we look together toward the timeless waves and foam working toward the shore.

I imagine great wonders under the waters and look with creative eyes toward rising fins of sharks, dolphins and strutting jaws of pelican. I watch the diving birds pick up their fleeing prey and whisper a prayer for both as the circle of life spins. I see clumps of Sargassum seaweed full of shells and fish rolling toward me and imagine pirates of old grabbing it with hooks and nets for fuel, medicine, food or hidden treasure.

My walk on the beach zig-zags toward sheltered shells in trapped tidal pools and I carefully observe them for unbroken shells and especially for the commerce of mostly whole sand dollars. Finding an unbroken sand dollar is rich, it’s empowering, it’s a blessing. I wonder how far the shells have traveled and I look at their majestic design and shining, gentle colors…all different, all with perfect purpose. Most collected shells end up in a display bucket but some are maneuvered by a glue gun as a crafty gift.

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Beach shells……………………………Become Wreaths

My heart is full of the beauty around me and my connection to it all and I hope that everyone can experience the cleansing feelings of a walk on the beach. I picture friends and family I know who are old, lonely or sick and I pray for them to see the healing beach in person again or in their sweet dreams.

Most of my memories of beach trips from the past were activity driven…let’s get there fast, let’s hurry, let’s jump in the water, let’s go,go,go! As a child it was more about gathering stuff to take to the beach rather than getting something from the beach. Now, I ponder the design of it all and am amazed that I missed it in my younger days but I know that my thoughts are in a different season and relevancy now. It is glorious to ponder that the gulf sea around me has secrets, gifts and routes leading to deeper imagined thoughts and adventures. As I walk, I wonder if my parents wondered too…so many years ago when they packed us ten children into a station wagon, with towels and toys so we could roast hot dogs on the beach and play in this same sand? Did they look out at the sea and wonder what was below?

BeachDaysMomDadEmmett & Gerrie Stewart circa 1960

The blue sky above me is searching also. It has fingernail scratch marks as if the clouds are trying to see what is beyond them too. Even the jet airplanes get into the act as they make their mark trying to help the clouds push through the boundaries of the sky and beyond. The merging of the forever sky and sea brings hope to my own heart as I think about growing closer to both.

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Cloud “Sky Scratches”……………..”Jet Scratches” too!

Without a doubt, in a storm, trembling waves of the sea could caress or rock you to peril and the shell covered sea floor could slip and shift, with rip tides possibly carrying you where you never wanted to go. But a gentle walk is just mostly a connection that allows for appreciated boundaries of shelter…even before a storm. A stormy sea is predictable nowadays with our radar scanning news and people by the sea can prepare with vigor as the fear and excitement of an impending storm looms. But just as in life, storms can hit when they are least expected, like a thief in the night. As I wrote in “Happy Jesus Nurse: Heart Lessons”, http://bit.ly/HappyJesusNurse , “Storms can come in all forms…a phone call, a diagnosis, a betrayal, an estrangement, discovery, a lie, a revelation, a confession, a death-even an actual meteorological storm. Storms of life are tests, revelations, and building blocks of our inner strength-and yes, often much good can come out of a storm, just like a real storm has rainbows. It is in adversity that we meet ourselves and learn or change our character.”

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Anne & John at the Sea

So, when I am in a stormy mood or period of life, a testing time of my strength, I go to the sea. I take my hubby John and we picture the timeless waves, tides, birds, and fish and seek the reminder of protection from the strong sheltered shells…the shells that have weathered so much to be at my feet and offer themselves as gifts. I am then reminded of the designer of the shells and sand and the ultimate protector from stormy seas of life, as described in Luke 8:24- “And they came to him, and awoke him saying, Master, Master, we perish. Then He arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm” (KJV)

With those words, I allow trust and peace to come in to my heart like a gentle wave. I scoop up the shells in my hands; I look to the sea and I smile.

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