Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Immigration Just Won't Go Away

spira arts / flickr

Back in early December I wrote a piece about immigration and linked it with no room in the inn when Jesus was born. On Christmas Eve this article was published in The Greenville News (SC). I had several positive responses to what  said--but one reader was not so happy with what I had to say. I include his email to me and my respond. I have left his name out on purpose.

The Letter to me...

"Roger Lovette’s column asking us to make room for all of the illegal immigrants in this country is instructional, but for exactly the opposite reasons he argues. He exposes the failure of liberalism (or “Progressivism” as they now call it). Does he literally follow his own advice, giving illegals “his room”? If not, he is a hypocrite and guilty of more NIMBY behavior. But even if he does, he does not realize that doing such a thing hurts the very people he is trying to help!  

Of course immigrants are welcome here, but in an orderly fashion that ensures their own well being and fairness to all. But to do it in the reckless way Obama allows just condemns these people to poverty, legal problems, dissolved families and increased debt and security problems for our country. It is very instructional to note that infant Jesus and Mary and Joseph’s dilemma was caused by a government edict (travelling for the census) that was imposed on the people without regard for their own well being, much less practicality. Jesus’s plight did not improve until he returned to Nazareth, with his parents, and where his father had a job and could support his family. Government can not legislate prosperity. It must be created. "

My response:

                                             --RogerLovette /

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Hope is More than a Bird with Feathers

photo by h.kopp delaney / flickr

If Christmas is anything it is hope. I love Emily Dickinson--but hope is much, much more than even the feathered bird she envisioned. Unfortunately for many of us today hope is a bucket with a hole in it. I think this is certainly true of the United States today. My prayer is that we can all rediscover hope. The President... Mr. McConnell.. Mr. Boehner... Harry Reid...Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin--though that really is a stretch. Speaking of stretches maybe I also ought to include Ted Cruz. I would throw in immigrants, scared and frightened this holy season. Those without a job and many wasting away in some nursing home. I'd leave nobody out--which means I would also include all the churches where the poor preachers are hanging on by their fingernails hoping they can endure all the pleas for praise bands and blue-jeaned preachers that say "Dude" constantly.  But more I would corral up all the atheists and say they need, like the rest of us some sealer to put in their hope buckets too. The whole wide crazy, crazy world. Even the "Dude" preachers too.

Want to read a splendid article check out Jim Wallis and what he has to say this Christmas Eve about hope. I recommend this hopeful piece to all. God bless us all. And--good luck with the bucket.

                                                  --RogerLovette /

Christmas--Remembering the Stable

I really can't say Christmas better than this. "On one night of all nights Christ did it, coming down the stairs of heaven with a child in his arms."
                                                     --Paul Scherer, Love is a Spendthrift


"Almighty God, who now in thy Son art ever ready to bestow upon us thy very life, give us grace so to receive thy gift that we may bear in our own hearts that immemorial pain which is thy yearning for all humankind. Through him that is born Jesus, the Christ and our Lord. Amen."
--Paul Scherer

--RogerLovette /

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas--Where's the Star?

High up on our Christmas tree, near the top, if you look closely you may see it. If you don’t squint your eyes and look carefully you’ll probably miss it entirely. I’m talking about the star.

It may be the tiniest ornament on the tree. The little star is probably an inch and a half in diameter. The star was made in the church kitchen by a little girl and her Sunday school teacher over forty years ago in Southside Virginia.

Every year, without fail she breezes into the house with her own two daughters. After lugging in suitcases, pillows and presents she always moves toward the Christmas tree in the corner. She asks the same question year after year. “Where’s the star?” Christmas would not be Christmas without that star. I used to think it was a foolish request hanging on to that old homemade star. But I have changed my mind.

We all need some ties to back there. We need some stack pole of remembering that sends us back, back toward yesterday and the past and our roots. What’s your star? Probably not a paste ornament. What is it that calls you back to what used to be with a tug and a pull that is almost magic? I have a buddy who keeps high on a shelf an old threadbare teddy bear. Some of the stuffing is missing and one eye has been lost. His Daddy bought it for him at the fair one time. They stood there looking at the wonderful stuffed animals and he pointed and his Daddy shook his head. The little boy burst into tears and snubbed and snubbed. Finally the Father sighed took out his billfold and handed the clerk the money. His Daddy has been dead for more than thirty years, yet that teddy bare are one of his most precious possessions.

 I have another friend, long gone now, that kept an old pouch of chewing tobacco pinned to the bookcase behind his desk.  He told me he grew up in this little tiny cotton mill village and smoke breaks were few and far between. Almost everybody then chewed tobacco in the mill.  The man has written a score of books. He taught hundreds of students. And he always kept a pouch of chewing tobacco as a reminder of how far he had come and how grateful he was. 

Several years ago I stopped by to see the old black lady that we would now call a Nanny. She kept my brother and me for years and loved us fiercely. As I started to leave she told me she wanted to show me something. She opened a dresser drawer and pulled out something wrapped in tissue paper. She unfolded the yellowing paper and held up a slip. “Miz Ruth give me this slip. She always give me the nicest presents.” She had never worn the slip but she kept it and remembered.

Christmas is a time for stirring memories.
"Silver Bells"
"Silent Night"
"Santa Claus is Coming to Town"
"I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas"
"O Come All Ye Faithful"

But this season is much, much more. The faces loom up before us. Names of those long dead get mixed up with fun-filled times from our crowded pasts. Christmas is a remembering time.

Some of us hang the symbols of our memories on a Christmas tree. Some pack them away in tissue paper. Some place these momentoes carefully in a jewelry box and open it up from time to time and just smile. Some of us just keep our treasures tucked away in our hearts.

“Where’s the star?” Good question. Unpack it gently. Hang it high in your own special way. And remember. Remember Remember.

(This one of my favorite stories and Christmas articles. It was first printed in The Birmingham News (AL) but I have included it in my blog writings almost every Christmas.)

                                       --RogerLovette /

Friday, December 19, 2014

Arts Under Attack--at Christmas??

photo by Randy Robertson / flickr

The headline in our local paper read:

   “Cost of Arts Funding Cuts

Just think what this will mean...

 more money for Benghazi investigations...
 more money to sue the president...
 more money to bring home the boys and girls in boxes...
 more money for tax breaks for millionaires...
 more money to dismantle health care for all...
 more money for drones...
 more money for planes and tanks we won’t use...
 more money for Homeland Security...
Just think what it will mean...

 no Christmas celebrations on PBS...
 no luxury items like The Messiah...
 no art programs for kids in poor counties...
 no Arts Commissions...
 no Symphonies...
 no theatres...
 no gatherings on Main Streets for Arts fairs...
 no “Best Christmas Ever” in local communities...
 no bands for football games...
 no Christmas wreaths lining the streets...
 no imagination and creativity...
 no new books for libraries...
 no scholarships for the gifted in arts.

T.S. Eliot may have had it right:

“And the wind will say:
 ‘Here were decent godless people
  Their only monument the asphalt road
  And a thousand lost golf balls.’”
   --T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock

photo by John 'K' / flickr

--RogerLovette /

(You might want to read Paul Hyde's telling article in The Greenville News about proposed cuts in the arts.)


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Centerpiece of Christmas

Slowly we discovered them like treasures from another time. In big dusty boxes not wrapped in swaddling clothes—but in old yellowing newspaper, which, if we had a mind to would take us back to all those places we have lived. Papers from Owensboro, Danville (VA) The Georgetown (KY).... the Clemson (SC) paper...somewhere along the way the New York Times and the Commercial Appeal in Memphis and in Birmingham, The News. Long after we are gone someone will riffle through these sagging boxes and spread out some of the old crumbling newspapers and say: “Look at this. Isn’t this funny.”

But I got diverted. For what really mattered as I dug through those boxes were the tiny little figures that I found deeply nestled in those dust-covered containers. There were the wonderful carvings of the Holy Family from Oberammergau. Mary, Joseph, the little baby perfectly carved and painted, one sheep and I think one shepherd. These figures were costly—and so we had to leave the rest of the Holy Family in Germany. Then there is one of my favorites. Years ago I visited San Antonio and saw this wonderful nativity set that some native in Mexico had fashioned. It was primitive but beautiful. The characters were all white trimmed in silver. But we got busy, never went back to the shop—and came home without the set. Months later I told my friend who was moving that way about that Nativity set and how I wished I had bought it.  The next Christmas there arrived a package at our house. Opening up the box there they were—the figures I had seen in the store window in Texas. Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, a Wise Man or two—a sheep and a goat—two angels—and at the center of it all a baby the size of my thumb. Made out of plaster of paris. Tiny halos around the heads of Mary and Joseph and the two angels. I carefully arrange them in a barn—with a tiny star on top.

There is another set from Switzerland. On a wooden platform there are the tiniest nativity figures you could imagine. There is also a paper foldout that we picked up somewhere in Europe. Opening it up—there they are—the holy family and animals and kings and shepherds and even an angel.

But my all-time favorite is those figures that come from our first church and first Christmas we were married. We picked them up at K-Mart. And I remember asking my wife, “Are these tacky?” And she said , “Maybe. Get them anyway.” So every year they too come out of some box and are carefully unwrapped. There is Mary with a hole in her back where our son played Captain Marvel with her as she sailed through the air. There is a Shepherd and a King. Where’s Joseph? We lost him somewhere along the way. Jesus and his manger were wrapped, not in swaddling clothes but in a foldout page of the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer. Jesus, of course is the centerpiece but showing the wear and tear of the years. One time our little Dachshund got hold of   Jesus’ foot and one toe is missing—but the rest of him is intact.

Why do we, year after year, go through the same motions? Dig the boxes out; carefully unwrap the holy family over and over. The history of our family’s life can be seen
in those tiny figures and in the newspaper in which they are wrapped. Why do we keep doing this?

Robert McAfee Brown once told that every Christmas his family came home from all over the country. And every Christmas Eve he said they gathered around a tiny cr├Ęche of Mary and Joseph and a baby and others, too. And he said: We do this to remember this is the centerpiece of it all—quiet, peaceful, loving, faithful. Outside our doors, he said is a wild, cold crazy world. But around the manger we remember we are not alone really. We remember that the light really did—and does—shine in the darkness and nothing—no thing can put it out. Maybe this is why, all over our house you will bump into Mary and Joseph and a baby.  

                                        --RogerLovette /

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I'm Dreaming of a Real Christmas

photo by Randy Wright

By this time of the year most of us have inundated by Christmas stuff. I see these houses with so many lights and do-dads that you can hardly get in the front door. I don’t think even Santa will be able to navigate through all those lights. Christmas is not presents nor cakes nor chestnuts roasting on an open fire or even family members coming from all over. Christmas is no even church services where we all go to enormous lengths to say: Ta-Dah to this holy time. I love all these things...but they aren’t the real Christmas.

Christmas is mystery at its heart. An angel coming to a sixteen-year-old girl. A virgin of all people. A baby born in a barn to poor peasants. In Bethlehem? Shepherds having their lives turned inside out. Wise Men from Iraq or Afghanistan standing that windy starry night open-mouthed at what they saw. It’s leaving that tired woman wiping that counter at the Waffle House a hundred dollar bill. It’s standing by a piano in a nursing home and having a little tiny woman who knows nobody or even where she is—singing clear and sure every word of Silent Night. Christmas is mystery—never predictable. It is out of our control and the wonder of it all just sneaks up on us.

It really is a partridge in a pear tree... and two turtledoves... and three French hens... and golden rings... and swans...and jumping ladies and lords. Crazy stuff.

Once in the Christmas doldrums I told a counselor I was having a hard time with this season. He told me we expect too much and when we don’t get the big OK...whatever that is...we are just disappointed yet another time and we shuffle toward yet another year with little wonder. Same old. Same old. The wise man told me to take one small moment and build my whole Christmas around that. Forget all the frantic stuff.  He told me to keep your eyes open that the real Christmas might find me instead of the reverse.

I thought it was strange advice until Christmas Eve, standing in the balcony of a crowded candle-lit church—my sermon in hand and hoping none of the candles lining the pews would topple over or catch fire to someone’s sleeve, worry that the Advent candles might not all burn—it all faded away. Out of the silence a little boy in a choir robe moved down the long aisle quietly singing: “This little light of mine...” And Christmas came. At the center of it all was God.

So let us keep our eyes wide open. Let us be surprised by the tiniest and most important of things. Discovering mystery—however it comes—now that is Christmas.

                                                     --Roger Lovette /

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Happy Birthday--Sisters

Gayle and her twin sister, Gwyn had a birthday today. I can't say how many but if I did...I would be in the dog house permanently. They have this great relationship--always have. Close as two sisters could be.

Why they have been known to pick out the same birthday cards for their Mother--chose the same blouse or skirt or pants--even though they lived 500 plus miles apart. 

Their parents were so shocked that had twins that the newborns didn't even get middle names.My wife's sister lives out West and they don't get to see each other as they would like--but they burn up the telephone for long conversations at let once a week. Here are some of their pictures. Happy Birthday--Gayle and Gwyn!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Immigration and Christmas

"What child is this who laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping..."
--Christmas Carol

Every once in a while I find myself thinking, “I wish Jesus had not said that.”  Some of his commands seem impossible. Love your enemies? Forgive seventy times seven. Turn the other cheek. Walk two miles when your enemy forces you to walk one mile.

A whole lot of church folk tiptoe around a great deal that Jesus said. We all have a selective understanding. But there is no selectivity in Jesus’ words.  Take for example the outsider. He talked about welcoming the stranger. He talked about loving others—not just our own kind. He made heroes out of the strangest characters: a woman at the well, a despised tax collector, Samaritans, little children, Judas and even a thief on the cross.

Could we possibly put down some of Jesus’ words beside this growing population of the undocumented? There are 11 million people we call illegal living in our country. These folk are everywhere. Building houses, cleaning homes, doing yard work, keeping the chicken factories going. Many of our farmers would be hard pressed if we sent many of their workers back home.  Reckon the Innkeeper’s story in Bethlehem has anything to do with all the people who have found their way into our country?

Their plight reminds me of another crowded time that we keep coming back to every Christmas season.  A young boy volunteered to be in his church’s Christmas pageant. The Director wondered what to do with this squirmy boy that had never been in any pageant. Little and inexperienced, they finally gave him the part of the Innkeeper. Over and over he rehearsed his lines: “There is no room in the inn.” The Director instructed him: "Don't be afraid. Just speak loud and distinctly. You'll be great." Finally on the night of the play the Organist began to play: “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” This was the cue for the shepherds to come clunking down the aisle in their bathrobes. Next three small kings came forward with their jars of Merle Norman, Mary Kaye and Old Spice. Then a little girl, wrapped in blue walked down the aisle, another bath-robed character held her hand. Joseph helped little Mary up the risers. Then he knocked on the door of a makeshift inn. The door opened and he asked the Innkeeper for a room. Tiny Joseph explained they had come a long way and that his weary wife was expecting a baby any time. The little boy who had practiced diligently for weeks said his part perfectly, “There is no room in the inn.”  The couple said nothing but turned and walked down the risers and moved toward the back door. The boy-inn-keeper was dumbfounded. Before the couple could leave the room he yelled, “Come back. Come back. You can have my room!”

Can we move over and give these people who have come to America a place to be? That’s the painful question.  They have real faces and real needs. Forget politics—we’ve shuffled these people around like a football. Most came here looking for a better life. Many encountered all sorts of obstacles just to get here. Some desperate families, afraid for their children paid more money than they could afford to send their little ones to safety.

A great many matters Jesus talked about complicates our lives. But to find ways to take these strangers in we may just discover the most unlikely of surprises.  When we reach out to the stranger we just might see the face of Jesus. Not only at Christmas but all the days that follow. I keep remembering the words of the little boy in the pageant, “Come back---you can have my room.” One thing Jesus did say was this: a little child shall lead them. I think he was right.

Advent Prayer

Almighty God, who now in thy Son art ever ready to bestow upon us thy very life, give us grace so to receive thy gift that we may bear in our own hearts that immemorial pain which is thy yearning for all mankind. Through him that is born Jesus, the Christ and our Lord. Amen.
                                                                        --Paul Scherer

Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent: Jesus is Coming!!

photo by code poet / flickr
It took we Baptists quite awhile before we discovered Advent. Maybe we’re just slow. There were first glimmers of Advent in Antioch in the middle of the second century. But Constantine in the Fourth Century legalized the term and crammed it down everybody’s throats. But it was at the Council of Tours in 567 that this season began to come into its own. At first the focus was on the birth of Jesus but it really was a winter Lent. They encouraged fasting before Christmas. And in fasting they hoped to better understand this mystery of mysteries.

But maybe the South revolted once again—with our love of food—how in the world could we fast at Christmas? We love our Coconut and our Lane cakes and those fruitcakes laced with bourbon—even  the tee-totalers. I want even get into the meat selections.

When this holy season became full blown—we discovered some of what those early believers had in mind. For the word Advent comes from the Latin, adventus when means Parousia. Which translated can mean arrival or coming.

So we began to read that dark text in Matthew 25 about the moon turning to blood and all sorts of scary things happening when Jesus comes back. We read again that parable of the wise and foolish virgins. And even though Jesus said nobody knows the day nor the hour we pigeon-holed his words there (and other places) and concentrated on those virgins that had little oil were locked outside the gates to weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Before we Baptists started trying to adopt some kind of Advent liturgy we knew about Matthew 25. We knew about wise and foolish virgins. We also knew about the Second Coming. And so sermons everywhere scared the daylights out of children and adults. Jesus was coming soon. And we were told when Eisenhower was President—Jesus was about to come back. There were Communists running all over the country—Jesus was about to come back. There were wars and rumors of wars—The Second World War, Korea, Viet Nam and now the longest war in our history: Afghanistan, Iraq and all that terrible unrest. Jesus was about to come back. Remember when we turned over the calendar to another millennium—from 1900 something to 2000 something everybody thought surely this would be end. Surely this time Jesus would come back.

Some days when I see the boys and girls coming home from the war crippled and wounded—I wish Jesus would come back and wrap up this whole crazy thing. When I see us still fighting the race battle and a zillion other issues that I thought were finished I sometimes whisper: Come Lord Jesus. And when I keep standing by some grave site and say goodbye to somebody I love I find myself turning to the Psalm: “How long, O Lord.”

When Jesus does come back I don’t think it will be Ta-Dah time. People left behind and all the borned-again pious believers snatched up in the air. I think our Lord will probably come like it did that cold Bethlehem night when only a handful knew what was happening. And this is why I think we keep bumping into the word: Watch. Be prepared.

Until the big day—I think it means that every day we have a chance to see the Lord and some of his handiwork. Jesus told his disciples in his last appearance: Quit looking up into the heavens...look around you. And his words still ring true.

With cards and presents and trying to make sure some Christmas tree does not lean--not to speak of the heartbreaking headlines—it will be so easy for us to miss Christ and the gifts God has for us this season.

And so we have another Advent—even we Baptists. It means to open our eyes and watch and wait. Every day of our lives this quiet man from Nazareth walks down all our streets and stops at every door. Don’t be scared of the moon turning to blood and not having exactly the right amount of oil in your lamp—chances are when that does happen he will catch most of us doing a whole lot of things that we are ashamed of. Never mind. Jesus knows us through and through and loves us anyway. I don’t think any of his children will be left behind—leave that to Hollywood and the fundamentalists.

But Jesus is coming—we still see it on road signs and huge rocks. I still tremble a bit when I see those words. And yet—really after all these years—and discovering something of the real live Advent—I know this coming today, tomorrow or a thousand years brings great joy to me and to the whole wide world.

So let’s light our candles. Sing the Carols. Turn to Luke and Matthew and even old Isaiah’s “Comfort ye...comfort ye.” Listen to the majesty of The Messiah. And open up not only our eyes but also our hearts because Jesus is coming soon. Sooner than we realized. And none of us need be left behind this year.

photo from flickr

Advent Prayer

"O God, who in thy Son didst come among us, and in him wilt come again, of thy mercy grant us not to shrink from thy presence, but to rejoice in it. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."
                                                 --Paul Scherer

                                     RogerLovette /

Monday, December 1, 2014


  photo by Jaz Marsh / flickr
"I don't believe anybody could fly and if they could it sure wouldn't be nobody from Dayton."
   --local response to Wright Brothers 1st flight

Years ago I led a group of Senior adults. We met once a month and had a potluck and caught up on the gossip and local doings. One week it had been announced on TV, newspapers and everywhere that Neil Armstrong had just walked on the moon. There was much celebrating around the country and world. A man had literally walked on the moon! Around our dinner table with my Senior Adults almost all agreed that the story was bunk. “Nobody can walk on the moon,” they said and one by one they nodded their heads. “It’s just a soap opera cooked up by Washington. There’s no truth to it at all.”

One of the most disturbing things about our time is that people will not believe serious reports on all sorts of matters—even when the facts and investigations nail down the truth. A good illustration is the important report on Benghazi that came out just before Thanksgiving. That report which was headed by Republican Mike Rogers, a Congressman from Michigan. The House Intelligence Committee set up this investigation. This two-year study has come to the conclusion that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. The report further said that there was no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

photo  by will21629 / flickr
I have seen little about this report in the news—maybe it got lost in Thanksgiving.  But we need to remember that this was the eighth investigation on this matter. Millions of dollars have been spent. There have been six previous Congressional investigations on this matter. There was also a State Department report.  Now there is yet another Committee appointed—number nine headed by Congressman Trey Gowdy (SC) who is diligently at work hoping to shed new light on this matter. Even more money and more energy.

Reading this report and listening to the responses of so many who will not believe these facts—reminds me of that time years ago when those Senior Adults could not believe people could walk on the moon. I would like to know how much money we have spent on trying to ferret out lies and deceit behind our present Administration.

When truth is as clear as the noses on our faces—it is scary when folk, led by some of our elected officials, refuse to let this matter drop. There's a whole lot of screaming and posturing today which is simply a diversion from dealing with the hard problems of this country.

                          --RogerLovette /

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Advent--Looking For A Home

photo by Fleur-Ange Lamothe / Flickr

It’s Advent time. Early the Church set aside four Sundays to get us ready for the birth of Jesus. They realized it took some time and preparation for us in our crowded calendars to understand the mystery of mysteries. God coming to us in flesh.

This Advent I’m going to focus on homecoming. I keep remembering the Prodigal story. The boy who lost everything and wondered in his misery if he might go home. Thomas Mann said of great literature: “It is...however much we say it was.” So the Prodigal is everybody’s story. We all wander far away from what we intended back there. Somewhere along the way most of us got lost. And, like the Prodigal we long to go home.

The old man in the nursing home tugged at my sleeve, “Take me home...I want to go home.” It is a universal longing. In our dreams we keep going back. To that place where it all started. Even now you can probably remember what was in every room. Where your bed was. Where you kept your clothes. How the kitchen looked. You can describe, even after all these years, that special place.

Frederick, Buechner has said that: “I believe that what we long for most in the home we knew is the peace and charity that, if we were lucky, we first came to experience there, and I believe that it is that same peace and charity we dream of finding once again in the home that the tide of time draws us toward.”

Spend some time thinking of that tiny place most of the world never knew existed back there. A manger and a star and a mother and father and at the center of it all the one who makes it all possible.

I don’t think this is just wishful thinking, putting our heads in the sand and ignoring the convulsions of our time. Ferguson. All those frightened immigrants. The grief that seems to be everywhere. The pushing, shoving and desperation of shoppers this season. The soldier in Iraq. The family in their shell of a house in Afghanistan. And up and down the streets where we live—there is a whole lot of pain.

It was that kind of a world that Jesus first came into. And those Shepherds that traveled from afar...found at the end of their journey more than they ever dreamed. And maybe, just maybe this Christmas we, like the boy in the story or the scruffy shepherds, might arise and shake away the clutter of all our too-muchness and go to our Father. The Prodigal dreamed of a homecoming. And so do we all.  

photo from St.James Church / / flickr

Prayer for the First Sunday in Advent

"O God, thou who art 'untamed and perilous,' who dost 'deal in every form of danger, and many modes of death', strip us of our pretensions and vanities; expose to the strong his weakness, and to the wise his folly but set in our hearts an unconquerable hope, and in thine own way fulfill it. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."                           --Paul Scherer

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Alzheimer's--and Birthday Time

Yesterday was her birthday. She was 88. You wouldn’t know it to look at her. Teeth pearly white. Skin smooth thanks to a lifetime of Merle Norman. She maintains at her age almost her girlish figure. She is in a Nursing Home. She has no idea where she is. She recognizes no one except my wife and me. Every time we come in, she smiles the biggest smile. And when she speaks it is only mumbling and you don’t know what she is saying. All the nurses tell us that she is always cheerful. Always smiling. She gives no one any trouble. In fact, she is a favorite of all those that work there.

When her husband died five years ago—she started drifting away. The changes were subtle but we knew something was going on. Little by little we had to make decisions. We had to take her driver’s license away. We got someone to come in the daytime and prepare meals. Then we had sitters for eight hours, then twelve—finally around the clock.

She had to leave her home and move to Birmingham. We were left with the sad business of disposing of all her treasures. Cleaning everything out. Getting her house for sale and moving her fifty miles to where we lived.

At first she hated the move. She wanted to go home. More than once she was caught, pocketbook in hand, walking down a street looking for home. We moved her five times. Each time she escaped we had to transfer her to another facility.

When we moved to South Carolina from Alabama—we brought her with us. We were scared about driving her so far—but she made the trip probably better than we did. She is two miles from our house—and it is easy to check on her.

Sometimes she mumbles, “Where Mama? Have you seen Daddy?” Not very often she looks up at us with the saddest of eyes and says, “Would you take me home?” It’s a hard journey this winding rocky road. It’s like watching someone slowly slip away on an iceberg—and you call and call but there is no turning back.

We kept asking each other, “What do you give someone who has Alzheimer’s?” The clothes we bought her are long gone—either she gave them to someone else—or just disappeared. Shoes, too. She lost her glasses over and over. We never did find them the last time. What could we possibly give her? She loved flowers so we went to the florist and got this beautiful bouquet of flowers. We drove by the facility, went through the locked doors some aide had to open. She was in the Dining Room. She had not touched her food. Her eyes were closed. She was asleep. “Dorothy, wake up. It’s your birthday.” She never opened her eyes. She kept them shut tight. We never could wake her up. We left the flowers in her room. We hope she noticed them.

The Doctor says she is in the last stages of dementia. She doesn’t eat. It is hard to swallow. Hospice begins this week. She is in a fine place. The care she gets is excellent. She sleeps most of the time.

We keep going by. When she is awake she always knows us. That is all. And so on her eighty-eightieth birthday she keeps her eyes tightly shut. I don’t blame her. Eyes wide open—there is so little to see these cold winter days. What do you give someone with Alzheimer’s? You give them love. You give them the best care you can. You talk to her—mentioning her sisters and brothers long gone. You tell her about the dog she used to have—and the house someone else now lives in over two hundred miles away. You riffle through her photograph albums—and she recognizes no one.  And you give her flowers. Maybe flowers she will never recognize. And you pray to God that her journey will soon end and she will be a peace. Happy Birthday, Dorothy. The old promise she hung on to as long as she remembered was, “I will be with you.” Deep in our hearts we hope those old words are still true for our dear friend even though now she does not know. 

(The Healing Angel stands in front of the Nursing School at Samford University, Birmingham, Al.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

It's Thanksgiving--and the Room is Filled with Faces

On this Thanksgiving Day
the room is filled with faces.
Much like that scene in the book where
   there are just too many to number.
And yet I remember. Some at least.
Most have slipped away somewhere—
 But the delight they brought—those unremembered
  and remembered ones—
  the doors they opened—the fun we had—
  all those shining times when the sun really did stand still.
These remain embedded deep in my heart.
That’s why I need a Thanksgiving.
To open the door and see here and there
   those that have cheered me on—and others too.

On this Thanksgiving Day
the room is filled with faces.
The old book says we are all surrounded by a sea of witnesses...
  and this is true.
The woman who birthed me and named me
  and held me close to her breast her whole life long.
The church with its tall white columns and stained glass windows
and its picture of Jesus—
But more—all those who made faith so possible that after 79 years
  I am amazed to discover that old ragged “I will be with you” is true after all.
The schools...the books...the fun...
But more: classmates and authors and teachers
   who did more than they could possibly know.
And all those friends who walked into my life
  wherever I’ve gone.
They accepted, and affirmed and did not judge—
  they let me be--most days.

On this Thanksgiving Day
The room is filled with faces.
Dating her under a harvest day...
  seeing her walk down that aisle.
And children—my two red-heads
  and my two grand girls.
And so many more too.
The old book is right.
On this Thanksgiving Day 
The room is filled with faces.