This month, I interview Diana Rhodes Cook, a relative of mine who lives in New York. I see her pretty often at reunions and I enjoy spending time with her daughters.
- Tell me about your childhood.
My childhood was blessed – amazing memories.
My dad was in the Air Force, so from the time I was born throughout my childhood, our family lived in a variety of different places. That reality made my childhood a rollercoaster of adventure and emotion – my mom always said I wore my heart on my sleeve. I never wanted to move – and often cried my heart out when we did move – but we learned to make friends quickly. It was always so difficult to move because I always loved the people and experiences along the way.
In my memory of family fun…. There were camping trips, and overnight family visits with aunts, uncles and cousins in upstate New York where my parents met. We’d visit my dad’s hometown of Salamanca, New York, where we also lived when he was stationed in Saudi Arabia and Vietnam – each time for a year.
When I was very young, a baby, we lived in Texas, which I don’t remember. We lived near Washington DC after that and I do remember being taken to the Air Force base after John F. Kennedy was shot – to meet the First Lady coming back on the plane – her dress covered in blood and all the adults crying as she appeared from the plane.
The brightest memory of young childhood was living in England for three years in a small English village called Woodbridge. This is where I found my first connection with faith and spiritual support.
At age seven I was walking by myself for a few blocks to the Catholic church every morning. I felt so connected to my heart, soul, God, and insight towards people and the world in that chapel, I believe I found ‘grace’ at an early age. Recognizing my interest, the priest ‘broke the rules’ for 1967 and allowed me to prepare the church altar, and act as ‘altar boy’ at the early morning service, ringing the bells, bringing the chalice and helping to serve communion. He also swore all the little old ladies attending mass to secrecy.
I attended a private school in the village called St. Anne’s and was the only girl in a class with 9 boys. The local theater company came looking for me too – an American little girl – to play the part of Dagmar in an American play, “I Remember Mama”. Because I had developed an English accent at the private school, I had to learn to ‘speak with an American accent’ to be in the show.
When we returned to the States and my dad went to Vietnam, I had lots of friends who loved my English accent and walked me home from school every day. As my accent disappeared, so did they – except for my first real best friend, Jody. I loved to read and write. She loved to draw. We began writing stories together – which also jumpstarted my life-long love of writing.
- How did you meet your husband Steve?
I actually FIRST met my husband Steve when I was living in Virginia Beach, working and taking college classes, when he and some friends came to pick up me and some friends to go to the movies. We met again a short time later when my apartment building was sold and I had to quickly find a place to live. One of my high school friends, also in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area, rented a house with two other guys. Bill and Steve were stationed with a Naval submarine, the USS Flying Fish, and they invited me to move in. When I did move in, Steve moved out of the second bedroom and into the attic, which had very little flooring, so I didn’t have to navigate and sleep up there. It made sense since he and Bill were in and out of port for days, weeks, months at a time…. But it was also kind of chivalrous. Over the next year we became good friends and eventually more than that.
- What evidence can you give for God’s existence?
While I truly WANT to believe in the Science of evidence or tangible proof, I also truly feel that people interpret evidence or proof differently. Some people want to ‘see a physical form of God’ and others recognize that this ‘physical form’ is all around us, in the nature of plants, weather, geology and people and animals, and really exists as the soul, or an energy – and something difficult to tangibly measure. Some people prefer to focus on ‘evolution’ as a scientific process, occurring on its own, and as the only element in play for how the plants, people, lands, seas, world, solar system, universe developed. I can’t look at all those elements and NOT see their development and intricately amazing integration as evidence of God’s existence – not believing that this could have all happened without divine intervention and direction. I don’t disbelieve ‘evolution’, for example, but just feel the story is much more complex – that we, as humans, don’t have the ability to understand, nor any way to ‘prove’ it all one way or another at the same time. Some things do come down to faith. One of my favorite personal philosophies – related to people’s belief systems about God, his existence, nature, evolution and religion – is “What if it’s all true?” Beyond that, personal evidence includes answer to prayer, hindsight related to God’s perfect timing and protection, a real sense of God’s spiritual presence and love all around me, and faith affirmed in moments when God’s intervention was truly needed.
- What ways do you feel God has helped you?
God began guiding my life right away when I was born, by uniting me with the family that adopted me – which set a path for my life. Being a part of that family lead to an amazing extended family and friends of all nationalities and colors, abilities, genders, religions and spiritual experiences which solidified my faith – the foundation of what allows God to help me.
I don’t really believe in coincidence. God has helped me many many many times in carrying my burdens, be they physical, emotional, financial or spiritual. This often means relinquishing control, putting a situation in God’s hands, and keeping faith that everything to happen will happen in God’s perfect will and timing. For example, after my first daughter was born and had hydrocephalus, which required complex dosing of medication at changing intervals through the day and night with no guarantee that it would resolve the problem, it was overwhelming. It wasn’t until I went into meditative prayer and visualized actually putting her in God’s arms that I was able to let go of the anxiety. And I knew at my core that I would know when she was healed. It was after the doctors released her from checkups and care, two years later, that I had a dream in which Jesus appeared and handed her back to me. Or take the very simple miracle that when my husband was driving to work in an ice storm, and a tree came crashing down and landed on his car, it hit the hood and bounced over the roof, leaving him untouched and alive. I can’t even begin to list the ways I know of when God intervened in helping me, much less the many ways he may have helped, and I never had any idea those loving powers were at work in my life.
God has also put me in places, and situations, with various people in which I’ve felt strong purpose. Most of those circumstances allow me to use my talents, personality, passions and experiences to help and grow with others, providing insight, hope and connections essential to the path we share, as we all progress on our personal spiritual paths. I am very mission-driven and I believe God helps me and guides those large and small missions each and every day.