I have the honor of being a volunteer chaplain at the Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore. This facility is not only first-class quality in every way but it is filled with some of the most wonderful people on earth. I am constantly meeting new residents and I love sitting around and talking with them. This is a very large facility that is designated to giving excellent long-term assistance to veterans that need constant medical care. There are 5 separate units and each one has their own nursing stations and cafeterias. The units are Eisenhower, Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington, and Roosevelt. I currently minister in the Eisenhower unit on Wednesdays and Jefferson unit every Friday morning and also have clearance to have one-on-one meetings with anyone anywhere in the facility. What a treasure house of blessings to listen to these great men and women share their stories and an honor to help serve them in the name of the Lord.
Mr. Dwyer is a quiet and very nice gentleman who also happens to be one of the very few survivors of the Normandy invasion. He is 98 years old but can still remember many of the details of his combat experiences. He has shown me all of his medals and is extremely proud to have served his Country and we truly appreciate his service.
Herbert is an exceptional person! I always enjoy a stimulating conversation about his life, the Lord, politics, and his worldviews every time I visit.. I realize I do not need to tell you by this picture, but this young man has a wonderful attitude about life and is overflowing with positive energy. His mind is sharp as a razor and can walk and feels good which in my opinion is doing wonderfully at any age (ha!). He is 97 and I still find it hard to believe! He has some problems with his eyes but all in all he is doing VERY good for his age. He watches CNN constantly and is always ready to share a delightful, intelligent conversation anytime – anywhere. He said that he and his wife used to play music together – he played the fiddle while his wife played guitar. He lives in a different unit, but faithfully comes every Friday to our gathering and is one of my “star” students when we play Bible trivia. He is so smart and has such a quick mind that no one else hardly has a chance to answer the questions. He also offers excellent spiritual insight into the Bible study discussions. I love and appreciate you, Herbert!
This is Ruth and she has been a faithful volunteer for many years. This is not unusual in itself but given the fact that she is 90 years old puts everything in a different perspective. She drives, attends church, shops and does whatever she wants and says she feels great! When I was talking to her it was like talking with a 30-year-old and I stand in awe at how intelligent, caring and sweet she is. She said her husband lived in this facility for 7 years before he passed away and she became so familiar with the place, she just did not want to stop being a part of it. May the Lord continue to bless her as she has a heart to serve Jesus and give back to the community.
Now, I want you to meet a special young man and one of the most popular residents at Thomson Hood. Sgt. Jessie Donald Baker (love that hat) and let me say that when I minister in his unit each week, Donnie is the one that makes me laugh, brightens my day and encourages me in the Lord. He is so funny and filled with joy, it is like he glows with God’s presence. This brother is loved by everyone for many reasons but especially because he is always upbeat and positive. He is quick to remind anyone he meets that Jesus is Lord and that anything is possible with God. (He wanted me to take a picture of his “guns” and to remind everyone that he is still in his fighting shape, ha!). He is my “amen” leader when I teach God’s Word and he sings with all of his heart when I play the old hymns. He loves Jesus with all of his heart and has lived at THVC since 1992. He is widely known for snapping his fingers whenever anyone makes a comment and saying, “and then some!” I have talked to many people in the community that know him and we all laugh about it.
I am very excited to be creating powerpoint presentations to use by telling Bible stories! These are going to be a wonderful addition to the morning services. Everybody loves a story and to have these images come to life on the screen will quickly become a favorite. It is a challenge to keep the services interesting as many of the residents cannot hear as well as they used to. Hopefully, with these images being displayed on a giant screen the folks can see and enjoy them. I have been learning a new collection of hymns lately and I can honestly say they all love the music very much. It is a blessing to be a part of a group that loves the Lord and appreciates His Word. I love the staff and most of the time they also grab a chair and sit in with us. This past week I really felt the presence of God very strong and I know that He loves being with His children wherever they are and whatever they are going through.
You can imagine how this is going to enhance the teaching of God’s Word. I am in the early stages of preparing several other Bible Stories and pray that the residents (and staff) will remember these stories from their youth. These may seem simple, but as we remember the miracles of God, our faith is stirred and we are reminded of God’s never failing love and unlimited power. The imagination is endless to what can be accomplished through these stories and there are so many awesome images that are available to be used to enhance God’s Kingdom and encourage His people. May He receive all glory!
Here I am in the Eisenhower unit getting ready to present a Bible story on powerpoint and according to the staff – the guys really seemed to enjoy it. I am trying to keep things interesting with using music, teaching and now the powerpoint presentations. This is the Alzheimer’s unit and with this disease, it is common to have good days and bad days. Sometimes the guys are very interactive and enthused and some days they are quiet but we always have a good time together.
They really love the hymns and one of the brothers always whistles along with the songs and I love it. He said he used to play harmonica and I encouraged him to whistle anytime he wants. One of my star students in this group is such a blessing to me and I always enjoy his participation. He is a small man with a large brain as he spent his life traveling around the world as a nuclear chemist. He has had such an interesting and much of it he says he is still not allowed to talk about. He was raised Catholic and is excited about learning more about God’s Word.
Larry is such a special person! I call him “Larry the singer” because he will take off on a song at the drop of a hat. I always let him sing during my Bible studies and he is such a blessing. I am often called to come in the middle of the night when a resident is not doing well, and this particular night I ran into Larry. The halls were quiet and no one was around and I was feeling a little down. Larry said, let me sing you a song, and he began singing, “His eye is on the sparrow” and I could feel the Holy Spirit filling the atmosphere. A tear rolled down my cheek as I thought about how God can use us whenever we are not ashamed and ready to give Him glory. I left that night filled with peace and hope and very grateful to God for Larry.
This beautiful lady is Inez Wilson and within a few minutes of being with her, you will realize just what a special person she is. You can just sense her vibrant energy as she always projects an upbeat attitude and enthusiastic personality. Every time I see her she has something positive to say. I love to hear her laugh and she has such a lovely smile. She is one of 11 female residents and is proud to have served her country in the armed forces. She paints me pictures and gives me little gifts from time to time and I do cherish her friendship.
Today I caught her painting some of her beautiful gourds in the craft room. She is always happy and active and very talented. She was a staff sergeant with the U.S. Army and served much of her 14 years of active duty in Japan.
Robert (below) is an Air Force man and one of my more serious Bible Study participators. I found him in the craft room staying busy and building an awesome birdhouse. When I have my time of ministry, this young fellow brings his Bible and checks out every passage just like being in church. He always has very good comments and reminds me of every service that we need to preach the gospel because people need to be saved. He reminds me of a pastor but said that he was always just a faithful member and loved going to church his entire life. He gave me a wonderful comment the other day after our service by telling me that I was conducting church like the old time way and that he felt the Holy Spirit and really enjoyed it.
I have always enjoyed Mr. Boley because he is so nice and caring. Even though a stroke has left him with some speech problems, I have been around him long enough that I can understand most of what he says. He is very smart and is good at trivia. As most of you know, I am a newspaper columnist and one day I was showing the group my column in the local newspaper. Mr. Boley started waving his hands and when I asked him what he wanted to say, he said he worked for a newspaper for 40 years! Wow, I had never known that. Come to find out, he was was a typesetter for the Sarasota Tribune which by the way is still operating. Computers came along and now there is no need to do what he used to do. He said it was also difficult to remove the ink from his hands every day. Now, not only are we Christian brothers but we also have the bond of being involved together with newspapers!
These saints were raised with the old time religion and that is what they feel comfortable with. If a person came in with modern songs and a new modern translation they would all just sit and stare at them because they relate to what they know. You see, I have learned, it is not about what I like or what I want to do. It is trying to be all things to all people so the ministry of Jesus can be a blessing instead of a performance that the flesh is trying to perform. I have learned many of the old hymns and have discovered while trying to give them what they want – I have been truly blessed and encouraged by the Holy Spirit. Just because the songs have some age does not mean they have lost their power. It is not about style but rather about the message and these songs are filled with awesome truth and God is still receiving glory from them. Amen!
James is new to the facility and is trying to make the adjustments to the transition. I love talking to him and we have had some very wonderful conversations. James is quite an intelligent fellow as he has been a medical doctor (are you ready for this?) AND an attorney. He had a stroke a few years ago and this has been very frustrating but he puts his trust in God and believes that Jesus has never stopped blessing Him. He is very vocal in our Bible study and is such an inspiration to all of us.
Last week I presented 15 Bible trivia questions and included this with my regular program and they all absolutely loved it! I was so proud of them as they all clapped whenever someone would guess the right answer. They all wanted to do it again so I think I have found something they really enjoy.
Here I am back in the Eisenhower Unit getting ready to start the Bible study and let me say this is such a great group of guys. This is the second week I have introduced the Bible trivia and once again it is a huge success! They love playing any type of game and this really gets their mental wheels rolling. Sometimes their answers are hilarious and we all laugh but it is a great time of learning and having fun at the same time. Even the staff gets in on the action and now we all look forward to it every week.
I was leading my regular Bible study the other day and one of the staff said that one of the residents wanted me to pray for him when I was finished. He would have come to our meeting but was just too sick to get out of bed. After our service, I walked down the hall and came into His room and I was taken back by the appearance. His legs had huge growths and lesions all over them and recently he had surgery on his foot that had removed half of his foot leaving him with just two toes. I would not take any photos of this person out of the honor and dignity that he so very well deserved. He went on to tell me cancer has now spread to his groin area and prostate. I knelt beside his bed and cried. I stumbled with my attempt to pray and all I remember was asking Jesus to please bring His mercy. As I walked back down the hall, I thought that if not for the grace of God where would any of us be? Please remember this brother in your prayers. He is alone and afraid.
There is much suffering in this world and we do not need to look far to find it. The more I am exposed to the needs and hurts of people, the more I want to help. But many will ask, what can I do? It seems the reality is that it is not what we CAN do – it is what we are WILLING to do. There is much we could accomplish if we really wanted to but sadly most try to “avoid” coming face to face with challenging situations. We can start by asking the Lord to give us a burden. And then He will show us how we can help. Just visiting and praying with the forgotten’s is a huge ministry because we are actually visiting Christ Himself. The Lord knew this could mean more than we can ever imagine and is a part of our responsibility as a Christian. Many that are alone just want the comfort and peace of knowing that someone cares and is interceding for them. Sometimes this is all we can do.
Recently I came home from one of the meetings and was thinking about how many people live in these places. These are valuable people have lived awesome lives and have done extraordinary things. I just sat down at the computer and this is what I wrote.
THE FORGOTTEN ONES
Such a large beautiful structure, the bricks and steel of a refuge provided to give back to those whose season has now turned to winter. How stately, the architecture, how impressive the manicured grounds and down the long and well-lit hallways where wheelchairs roll and greetings are exchanged, there is an aura of distinction and dignity. The libraries and the lush green gardens created to honor those who believed then and now that liberty is worth dying for. The marble floors and crystal chandeliers listen quietly to the stories of times past when fearless men and women were called upon to defend against terror with the sincerity of innocence. Yes, behind these walls of gratitude are the precious souls that represent courage that most will never understand. We think about these lovely shelters and impressive facilities that house the elderly that act as “waiting rooms” for the glorious freedom of the next life and there is nothing wrong with this, but many times we fail to remember they still have desires, hopes, and needs today.
We admire the commendation medals and ribbons but cannot fathom what they have been through or what they are contemplating now. It is said that war is a glimpse of hell but we also realize that life itself has its own share of fierce battles with a real enemy, live ammo, suffering, victories and defeats, wounds, scars and broken hearts. The world may remember individuals for what they accomplished but those that really know them will always recall the person more than the achievement. We are observed carefully by everyone and how we treat others along with our determination to do what is right will be our legacy no matter how many awards are bestowed upon us. Respect is the admiration for a person that did the best they could, who got back up when they were knocked down and did not compromise their convictions or allow adversity to conquer them. Just because we grow old and cannot take care of ourselves does not mean our lives have lost meaning or that we have become less valuable. How lonely and sad it must be to be recognized as doing something – instead of being someone.
When we begin to focus on others instead of ourselves, we are being drawn into the divine reality of spiritual love. Sadly, it seems that our modern day avalanche of information is slowly drowning out our awareness of others and most importantly the awareness of God. How terrible to allow our sensitivity to become calloused where we are more interested in fictional television programs or romance novels than we are with our destiny or another person’s “real” life. When we step into one of the rooms and pull up a chair beside the bed of one that has been worn down by the years, we can give the most valuable gift called listening. Yes, of course, we can pray and help make them comfortable, but will we take the time and care enough to be attentive to their astonishing stories and browse through the photo albums and see the memories that long to be explained once more? Such joy it must be to be able to express a lifetime of events to someone who is sincerely interested in who we are.
Multitudes pass by each day and never consider who abides within these walls or to consider the thousands of years of accumulated living that are still trying to enjoy what time they have left. God said the measure that we sow is the same measure we shall reap and if we live long enough we will all long to feel loved, appreciated and remembered. What would it be like to be neglected, alone and forgotten after having an exciting, adventurous, fulfilled and blessed life? Each individual life is a fascinating biography that would amuse and amaze even the most charismatic movie producer and at the least definitely deserves our attention. These are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts that were at one time loved and admired as treasures within their families. Friends, neighbors, co-workers, leaders, mentors, people of integrity and highly respected movers and shakers of their communities and even the world. But when battle-worn soldiers come to the end of their mission and their minds and bodies are breaking down, they are often avoided because visitation has now become awkward and uncomfortable. They have very little contribution to offer anyone except the love and wisdom they have experienced which may the most important gift they could have ever given. Memories of long ago are still cherished by the younger ones but the reality of the present is evaded because the world goes on and the cycle of life continues. May we ponder the depths and meanings of life and embrace what is truly valuable. “Lord, comfort the forgotten ones and give them peace in knowing that since your eyes are on the sparrow, you will always watch over them and never forget them. Amen”
Here are two of my friends and I caught them in action in the cafeteria! Brother Paul is on the left and is looking sharp all decked out in “BIG BLUE” and he has a new pair of tinted glasses on that he said made him look “cool.” William is on the right and after asking for a banana several times – he finally got one! Both of these men are in their mid-nineties and still going strong. William always wants to tell me about the day when he shot down 4 Japanese bombers in one combat mission. He was a machine gunner on a fighter plane and says that he actually shot down many more planes during his time in the military but never 4 in one mission. He says the Admiral watched this battle from the deck of the aircraft carrier and when his plane landed, he was mobbed by everyone as they hailed him as a hero! He gets a sparkle in his eye every time he tells this story and proudly proclaims this was one of the best days of his life. He has a box of medals but he gets more pleasure in knowing that he was able to destroy those potential bombs that no doubt saved the lives of many. William deserves a seat next to John Wayne when we are talking about courage and grit – truly a mans man!
I actually wrote a newspaper article called, “Remembering those who have been forgotten” about those who live in these nursing homes and told the story about Bill being a war hero. I brought him the paper so that he could see it and it really seemed to mean a lot to him. He kept thanking me and I was so glad that I had the chance to do it. He has outlived most everyone that knew about his accomplishments and he believes that if he passes away the world may forget what he did. When he originally told me the story he squeezed my arm and said, please do not forget and I hope that his legacy will always be remembered.