Category: essay

A Gift For The Holidays

| 14 December, 2017 22:14

Welcome to my holiday gift blog entrance. The story below was my first foray into E-publishing. I hope that next year, will be my official book launching.. and then I'll have y'all pay ;-) . For now, I'm planting a seed, as it were. Here's my short story with the accurate title "The Heart Tree: A Surprizingly True Short Story." Now, I'm giving it away here for free. It tells the TOTALLY TRUE (I said it was an accurate title) story of how, after the darkest night of my life,  one question  -- and how God met me in the answer -- changing the course of my life forever!  Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, and happy EVERY other holiday there is out there!  Here it is. I hope you enjoy.


By  Radene Marie Cook


The Heart Tree --

A Surprisingly True Short Tale

by -- Radene Marie Cook

Published by Radene Marie Cook at Smashwords

COPYRIGHT 2013 Radene Marie Cook with Aniwaya Artistry

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



I had walked by that tree over one thousand times... but until my Dark Night came, I couldn't see the wonder that it truly was!

Let me introduce myself:  I'm no one special... just your average middle aged, middle class American woman with enough of the little things that make each of us unique.  I am fortunate enough to be married to my soul mate which does seem a rarity these days.  Otherwise, I'm the same as everyone else you know. The reason I'm telling you this is to state that this very true little story could happen to everyone. This story tells of the darkest times I'd ever known and how one little request changed my outlook forever.

The adventure started on March 16, 2000. My career as an airborne reporter at a Los Angeles news station came to a screeching halt. My aircraft had been hit by an especially violent wind shear event with winds blowing straight down at hurricane speeds. The microburst slapped us toward the ground like a train rear ending a bouncy house. The accident left me with injuries to my back, neck and head.  But the lasting damage came through the horrible tests and treatments the Worker's Compensation insurance system made me take and retake, against my doctor's warnings.

 In under 5 years, my back injury had become a spinal cord injury called adhesive arachnoiditis which is a fancy way of saying the nerves are stuck to the wall and tear every day, all day long.  Central pain syndrome set in next and then the pain diseases just began adding themselves to the list.  My pain was constant, severe and devastating. Though none of my conditions were officially fatal, the pain was killing me. To add insult to injury, I had not been able to sit since two weeks after the accident.  I was hanging on by one thin thread and it was fraying by the nano-second.

The last thread snapped one fall day in 2004 when the treatment I had been holding out hope for was denied by Worker's Compensation. I was out of options and the hopefulness I had tied to their answer.  What was left for me besides a derelict life of agony? Is my family doomed to sit by and watch as I disintegrate before their eyes and they go broke trying to help? I can't do that to them. Contemplating suicide is one thing; planning it is another thing entirely.  I saw my suicide as the only way to spare my family and set me free from the pain.  


Jesus in The Garden of Gethsemane, Washington’s Valley Forge... The "Dark Night of the Soul".  It has had many different names, but the meaning is always the same.  You have no more fight left in you. You are at your wits’ end.  Your heart is broken, often your body as well. You have been hit from every side of life and some sides you didn’t even know existed. There is nothing left to hang on to.  You couldn’t possibly feel more alone even when you are surrounded by people.  Every tenet of your life has been shaken to the core and many have fallen away.  It’s you... standing before your God and the universe feeling completely stripped. I don’t just mean stripped naked, I mean stripped of any flesh, any covering… ANYTHING that could defend against the blackness surrounding you and trying to devour you.  The world you knew has crumbled into ashes and you are clueless as to how to put it together again.  This, my friends, is the Dark Night of the Soul. After 4 years of being systematically ripped apart piece by bloody piece, my Dark Night had arrived.

There are two truths I now know about the Dark Night of the Soul:

It will happen to everyone at some point or another.

There’s NO going around it.  You either press through and win or you go around and confront it again.  Believe me; you only want to deal with this ONE TIME.  So give it your all. Once you’ve passed it, purpose in your heart and settle it in your mind that you will never - NEVER -return this way again.

I questioned the sanity of living at all. But the falsehood of the "freedom from it all" notion of suicide got smacked down with the cold reality of how selfish an act that would be for my family. Suicide is a lie that helps no one. So NOW what?!?  If I'm going to continue to live this life, I need some HELP!!!! I was about to have the most real conversation with God (or the Universe or whomever was in charge) that I had ever had and I was NOT going to stand on principal. I had decided I couldn't leave -- so, again, NOW WHAT?!?!

 I determined to cry, scream, rage, plead whatever I had to do to get an answer for my life. I marched around my kitchen table doing all those things including praying, moaning a lot and screaming with all my might and soul not letting one sound leak out for fear of waking anyone and not getting through this night.  I couldn't tell you one thing I really said in those hours but my purpose was firm: I was pleading before what I knew as my Creator. I needed help so I had to know if the entity I believed in was really was there or if I was all alone. 

The climax came when out of the fray I stopped dead in my tracks and shouted words unbidden by myself in any way without any warning: "I WILL LIVE AND NOT DIE AND I WILL TELL OF THE GLORY OF GOD!"* I was pretty sure it was a scripture from my childhood. I hadn't remembered it in years. Hmm... "Well, THAT was unexpected." I thought as I continued to stand. Then it happened again. "I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME!"** Once again I was shocked because I knew my head hadn't chose to say that at all. It had to come from someplace deep inside me and for reasons I still don't quite understand, it was exactly what was needed. The heaviness on me broke. I felt as if I could breathe again and somehow, I'd get through. 

That DID NOT mean all was "hunky-dory" but...better.  "Ok." I said aloud "I'm staying here and I'll fight for my life. But I need to know I'm going to have some help. I'm human! I need to see something that confirms to me I'm not just nuts, that tonight really DID happen and it somehow means You are going to help! Help my eyes to really SEE it. That is my deal." Apparently I also deemed I was negotiating some contract.  At least it no longer felt like Asia Minor was on my back and I could get some sleep.

The next morning started as usual. I awoke after not enough sleep to my service dog Raja at my feet waiting for some breakfast and the first walk of the day. After negotiating "UP" with my assorted pains jockeying for position, our walk began. Since my first surgery, walking around one or two blocks in my neighborhood was part of my recovery and Raja and I had done it ever since. I walked almost every day around my block first before deciding if we could go farther. Counting from a few weeks after my first surgery, I'd say we had rounded the far corner of my block 1050 times.

 On this day, Raja stopped when we rounded the corner and caused me to look up. The sight of the tree at the block's end sucked the breath right out of my body. There stood a tree with deep red leaves that was completely, totally and undeniable heart shaped. I mean it almost didn't look like a tree it was so heart shaped! As soon as that image really hit my mind, every inch of me heard what sounded like a voice with many parts all screaming out loud, in unison, and right to me:  "YOU ARE LOVED!!!! AND YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!!!!" 

I didn't move.  I couldn't move. I just stood there as the message continued to wash over me seemingly covering with love every part of me that had felt stripped away for so long. I did that laugh/cry thing that one often does when you are happy and amazed at the same time.  I asked for a sign and I got a 20 foot heart-shaped tree that I seriously do not know how I missed for 3 years prior! How did I do that?!? I really had been given the eyes to see that life would be worth it and to keep fighting. I didn't know what life had in store later but God did.  As you know, the good thing about "bottom" is you can only go up from there.

During the months that followed, hearts began popping up everywhere!  A new weed grew in my yard called "Shepherd's Purse". I know the name because I had to search for it by the heart shaped seed pods it had.  Batches of early growing Morning Glory vines took over two places in my yard. Leaves: very heart shaped. Cards, envelopes, food... so many different things kept arriving at the house with something heart shaped on it and that would make my family giggle with a delight generally reserved for 6 year olds. At this same time, I found a new phrase in one of my medical files where a consulting doctor said I had "intractable pain." I began research on this pain type and it described me to a "T." I wrote to one of the main doctors researching this pain type to tell him how much his articles meant to me and those like me. To my surprise, he had read the letter and was coming out of retirement and wanted me to come see him. I was his first patient when he came back to practice in my own state.

It has been eight years since the message of the Heart Tree came flooding into my life. Since then my life has been saved in every way possible. The intractable pain specialist confirmed that the pain WAS indeed killing me and that my body was close to death. He devised an appropriate treatment for me involving  some unconventional means that brought my pain to a controlled, manageable level though it took about one and a half years to reverse the danger to my vital systems. Every year since the pain came under control, some other area of my physical condition (thyroid, adrenal glands & hypothalamus function JUST to name a few)- seemingly unrelated to pain - has gotten better or healed completely. My husband and I now advocate nationwide for chronic pain awareness, treatment and research. I still can't sit and my body is still broken but my spirit soars with faith, hope and so much love!

I tell this story when I can to show how help can often come when we least expect it, from sources we could never imagine, but always when we need it the most. Do NOT give up, no matter what your circumstance because no matter what name you call Him by, the Spirit of Love who made you is watching and waiting to show you amazing things that may be right in front of you. We just have to keep going and ask to see the road signs along the way.

  This is the Heart Tree as I saw it that fall day.

These are the pods from the "Shepherds Purse" weed/wildflower that arrived the next spring.


Even food that wasn't meant to be heart-shaped started joining in.

NOTES: *Psalms 118:17 (reference), **Philippians 4:13


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Radene Marie Cook had a 16 year career in radio as an on air personality. Radio coincided with her 20+ year career as an entertainer - (actress, singer and dancer) THE HEART TREE tells some of what happened to Radene after her accident in 2000. She now works out of home as a freelance artist/ writer and chronic pain advocate when her body cooperates. Radene lives in Southern California with her husband Doug, her mother Marj and a string of Akitas. Radene has a large, loving extended family spread nationwide happily joined through love, faith and a wicked sense of humor. Though many of her loved ones can be spotted thru their dominant Mayan or Choctaw characteristics, even those who aren't connected through "blood" are still kin.  Radene and family hold tightly to a principle oft spoken of thru her Native American heritage - "ALL are my relations." This story is lovingly dedicated to every one of them and the healers who helped me along the way.

Connect with Me Online:

Radene Marie Cook's artwork can be found at and various other web based pain art exhibits