Monday, June 29, 2009

Brave Heart

As I walk towards the door of the nursing home I feel a mixture of apprehension and anticipation. How will my father be today? Will he be able to greet me and participate in the conversation? Will he be in bed, so still and stiff that only his eyes move and he can barely form words? Will he be bent over in his wheelchair, drooling and shaking, unable to move and temporarily forgotten by the busy staff? Twenty-three years of Parkinson's disease has taken its toll, leaving him with very little dignity or quality of life, and I foolishly continue to ask "why?" 

Nobody deserves this fate, and I'm biased enough to think that my father deserves it least of all.  A United Methodist minister's son, who lost his mother when he was 12, he  chose to go to medical school with the goal of becoming a medical missionary, and as soon as his training was complete he and my mother packed up the family and moved to Liberia for 11 years. He devoted his time to learning the local language, working at the small, rustic hospital, and traveling days into the rain forest by foot to reach those who couldn't come to him. His passion became public health and he strove to prevent diseases and conditions that were avoidable with proper care and education. Upon returning to the United States he worked in state public health and eventually became Director of Public Health of New Hampshire, then Commissioner of Public Health of West Virginia. And through it all he was focused on making the lives of others better by making health care available and sharing his faith.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease at age 50, and he and my mother have fought this terrible disease ever since. The disease will not kill you but it will slowly, cruelly, take all function away, leaving a shell of a person, sometimes with complete awareness, sometimes with dementia, sometimes with hallucinations and psychosis. And yet I still see joy and strong faith in him - when he is functioning well he can still laugh and crack jokes, share poems he wrote in his healthier days, serve the nursing home residence council, and share Bible study with other residents. He considers his time in the nursing home as a ministry and his faith has never wavered. He is still the strong pillar of our family that he was when I was a child, and although his body is fragile and wasting away he bravely continues to model his faith and show us how to meet adversity through faith. His name is William Wallace and he truly has and is a "Brave Heart".

Friday, June 12, 2009


I've never been very good at waiting.  Amusement park lines seem pointless to me - the ride is never worth the wait (or course I ride very few rides, but that is another story).  Waiting for a table at a restaurant, getting caught in a traffic jam, and waiting for a slow internet link all drive me crazy.  I can't sit still or stand still, I fidget and pace.  Maybe that's why this move has been so difficult - it has been an exercise in patience.  Since we have moved in there has been a long list of things we are waiting for including but not limited to: a water conditioner (we have rust and sulphur in our well water), long distance, internet, cable, and the second bathroom to be finished.  All of these things seem trivial when you look at the big picture but, like raindrops, they add up to a flood of frustration. Who needs a second bathroom, right?  True, but when you have come from three it is a major adjustment.  We should all be able to live without TV for a short time, if not for good.  But when everything in your life is new and different it is nice to be able to escape into familiar shows, even if it is just House Hunters or a rerun of The Big Bang Theory. And how can we be missing the tragic drama of Jon and Kate Plus Eight? As for the internet, yes, I admit it, I am addicted. Between Facebook, email, several favorite sites, and now my blog, I hate to be without it for more than a few days. As for the other issues, there's always bottled water and cell phones (oh yeah, no cell phone reception at the new house!) So we're in a holding pattern and, you know what, it's not so bad. We spend more time together as a family, and being temporarily cut off from the world has been kind of peaceful, restful for the nervous system. Slowly things are getting done and soon we will be back in the world with schedules and busy days. Maybe waiting isn't so bad. In fact, I have it on the greatest authority that "those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Heartbreak comes in many forms.  For us, it came when I found our 13 year old son curled up on the floor of his empty room in our empty house.  We were doing our last walk through the house before leaving for good, and he locked himself in his room and said he wasn't leaving!  He wouldn't let me hold him, and nothing I said made any difference to him.  As a parent we expect to be able to fix our children's problems, but this was beyond me - a very helpless feeling.  All I could do was tell him that he had a right to feel that way and and sympathize with him - I couldn't change the situation at all.  So we called his father and they had a "man to man" talk - then our son slowly and resolutely walked through every room of the house, around the yard, around the church, and then quietly got into the car.  He grew up a little that day; there was nothing Mom or Dad could do to help him - he had to cope by himself and he did.  Fifteen minutes into the trip he was already joking about his "meltdown", and he has coped with the move amazingly well ever since. We are so proud of him, and we will never forget his despair and how he rose above it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Music Therapy

"out of the mouths of Babes." Isn't that what they say? Well, my baby is 13, and I'm always getting wisdom from him (or wise guy comments). He's the one who has dreaded the day when we would have to move. As a Methodist pastor's son he knew it was inevidable but hoped it wouldn't happen anyway. We had a good run - 14 years in one place, his whole life so far. When we got the news he was very angry, and started off with "I hate this", "this is stupid", "you can't make me move" etc. But he quickly adjusted to the idea and has had a pretty laid back reaction to the months of chaos and transition, typical of his cheerful, mellow disposition. We didn't realize what was going on in his mind until he told us what song he wanted playing while we drove away for the last time: "Let's See How Far We've Come" by Matchbox 20. An upbeat song with a pretty positive message, we thought, until we listened to it again. So here's what he's really thinking:

I'm waking up at the start of the end of the world,
But its feeling just like every other morning before,
Now i wonder what my life is going to mean if it's gone,
The cars are moving like a half a mile an hour if that
And I started staring at the passengers who're waving goodbye
Can you tell me what was ever really special about me all this time?

But i believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh well i guess we're gonna find out
Let's see how far we've come Let's see how far we've come
Well I, believe, it all, is coming to an end
Oh well, i guess, we're gonna pretend,
Let's see how far we've come Let's see how far we've come

I think it turned ten o'clock but i don't really know
Then i can't remember caring for an hour or so
Started crying and i couldn't stop myself
I started running but there's no where to run to
I sat down on the street and took a look at myself
Said where you going man you know the world is headed for hell
Say your goodbyes if you've got someone you can say goodbye to

I believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh well i guess we're gonna find out
Let's see how far we've come Let's see how far we've come
Well I, believe, it all, is coming to an end
Oh well, i guess, we're gonna pretend,
Let's see how far we've come Let's see how far we've come

Its gone gone baby its all gone
There is no one on the corner and there's no one at home
It was cool cool, it was just all cool
Now it's over for me and it's over for you

But i believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh well i guess we're gonna find out
Let's see how far we've comeLet's see how far we've come
Well I, believe, it all, is coming to an end
Oh well, i guess, we're gonna pretend,
Let's see how far we've come [X9]

So we will blast this song as we are driving out of town, and we'll listen to Rob Thomas sing the grief and fear that we can't express. And then maybe we will play praise songs the rest of the way as we drive into the future that God has prepared for us.