Name That Tune

“All of her days have gone soft and cloudy, all of her dreams have gone dry.
All of her nights have gone sad and shady. She’s getting ready to fly.
Fly away, fly away, fly away, fly away. Where are my days, where are my nights? Where is the Spring? I wanna fly, I wanna fly…”
(1975) “Fly Away” – Recorded By: John Denver & Olivia Newton-John Composer: John Denver

Photo: Singing in Buffalo, NY (2005)

Music has been my life. It’s been my joy, my friend, my tool of praise, my vocation. I fell in love with music before I could speak, so I’ve been told. And it’s no wonder.

Music is an incredible creation. You will not find it listed among the created items in the beginning of Genesis, during the six day event we know as creation. Do you know why? Because music belongs to eternity past, prior to the universe display. Simply, it’s a Divine attribute. It belongs to God Himself.

Music has immense, long-lasting power. The human, and animal minds are its slave. The music staff, when filled, literally navigates the brain. Indeed, music has the strength to change a life, a wavelength, a thought. Even its soundwaves can destroy a glass, a wall, a notion. It is even a giant in the realm of therapy, to build up.

You might have bought a hamburger due to, “You deserve a great today, so get up and get away to McDonalds.” You might have purchased insurance due to hearing, “Wherever you’re driving, and wherever you’re bound, like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Do you still smell chicken in the air if I reminded you of, “… Goodbye ho-hum. Say hello to your family. Come on everyone. At Kentucky Fried Chicken, have a barrel of fun.” All written by, Barry Manilow during his hungry years.

Who could forget the TV theme song as Dick Van Dyke trips over the ottoman? If I wrote the lyrics, “Now come listen to a story about a man named Jed…”, would you suddenly see Buddy Ebsen shootin’ at some food? And if I mentioned, Andy Griffith and Ron Howard walking toward a pond with fishing poles, could you immediately hear the whistle of the theme song? I bet you’re hearing it right now. Am I right? If not, you are now.

That’s the long arm of a couple of bars of carefully crafted music notes within a time signature. Tones and arithmetic together can be called, magical.

Recently, it became an urgency to move my mom into our home. Her dementia cognitive levels are causing her personal leaves to fall. Over the past year, it became very clear she could no longer live by herself. She officially moved in with my wife and I the week of Thanksgiving of 2021. Although I watched her be a 24/7 caregiver to her mom, for about 13 years, it is so vastly different to actually BE the caregiver. There is a great learning curve to it all. We also have learned a lot about ourselves. We even learned how we must guard our marriage very carefully during the turmoil of caring for a dementia patient.

I am grateful my mom still has much of her mind still intact with some precious memories which have yet to let go of their branches. Still, names, places, and simple words go missing in the fog of cognitive struggles. However, there remains one large leaf clutching its branch with a strong grip, much like a boat’s anchor on a rope.

When my mom feels the time is right to take her walker to her bedroom for preparations on laying her head on the pillow for the night, I can always count on one thing. My wife follows her there each night as she faithfully assists in bed prep. As I began to do the same on the other side of the house, soon two lovely voices are adrift in the air, reaching my awaiting ears.

My mom looks forward each night to singing a selected hymn from her days gone by. She was, and still is, a terrific soprano. In fact, as I was growing up, she was a much sought after vocalist wherever we lived, singing mainly for churches, weddings and funerals. When I was about 9 years of age, we began doing duo work.

Photo: My mom & I. April 1963.

Nightly, the two of them agree on a hymn, and ring out a duo as my wife tucks her in. (A footnote here. My wife was raised Nazarene, and my mom was raised Baptist. Often, the two denominations did not share hymnals. The two of them decide which hymns to sing, Therefore, many are found to be unknown to my wife, as well as my mom, but they both can read music and have great ears.) At times, I will hear a hymn coming from her room I haven’t heard in five decades, or longer. But each time, I can still recall the melody, harmonies, and most of the lyrics. Music does that. I hate to “spiritualize” everything, but I will say, especially sacred music. Yes, there’s a God-thing going on.

My talents come from my mom, and her mom’s side of the family. They were an artsy clan. My mom has invited me to come make a trio out of the late night serenades, and maybe soon I will. But for now, I enjoy the smile it brings to my face whenever the familiar vocal, which once calmed this child, comes dancing through the air in search of my ear.

I know what you are thinking, and it’s okay. Just know that I know, these bittersweet days are precious. There is a song in her heart because she is simply preparing to fly away.

Your song of the heart can be found in fuel for the race.

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

Losing Faith?

“I will be here for you,
Somewhere in the night.
Somewhere in the night.
I’ll shine a light for you,
Somewhere in the night.
I’ll be standing by,
I will be here for you”
(1992) “I Will Be Here For You” Recorded By: Michael W. Smith Composer: Michael W. Smith

It was late. I had been up since 3am. I traveled for 70 miles in a heavy downpour from a Texas autumn storm to reach a hospital in Greenville, Texas. I spent all day in a plastic chair in a small recovery room with three walls and a curtain. My plan was to drive back home that night, but Glaucoma has wrecked my night vision. Although I didn’t want to, I reserved a nearby hotel room. It was cheap, and on many levels, it should stay cheap.

The night didn’t go well at all. My mind and heart remained in that tiny recovery room at the hospital down the interstate. The last thing I heard, as my head hit the pillow, was a vacuum cleaner at work in the hallway at 10:21pm! I’ll spare you from the profanity which echoed off the concrete walls.

Drained of energy, I checked out around 8:30 the following morning. The rain had stopped, but the parking lot was littered with puddles to avoid. My heart was heavy, and my soul was dry. Somehow I felt I was on an internal cruise control as I opened the door to my parked SUV. My head hit the steering wheel as I placed the key in the ignition. There was no ignoring the craving for answers, the thirst for wisdom, and the starvation for comfort.

Not long ago, I wrote you a brutally honest post concerning my 77 year old mom who recently had been handed a diagnosis of dementia. Since I live in the Dallas area, and she lives in Greenville, we speak on the phone every day, sometime’s more than once. Over the past year or so, I have seen her begin to stumble on word processing during sentences over the phone. Just a few months ago she clearly began to experience hallucinations. When she began to forget the names of her granddaughters, I knew it was getting serious. She holds her cards close to her chest, so I am rarely aware of any specific assistance she needs. Slowly I have learned she can no longer do math, count money, or write well at all, etc. Stubborn and independent as the day is long, she slugs it out with life’s battles alone in her childhood home, the one she inherited from her deceased parents. Tough like a Texas oak tree, a woman made of steel, she raised me as a single mom through poverty, pain, and perseverance during the 60’s and 70’s. Not one CEO of any top 100 corporation could compare to her work ethic and drive to make a living.

The two of us in 1962.

And now…now, she is fading quickly. I’ve heard it said that it is like a great thriving tree losing its leaves in the fall, one by one. So true.

It’s not like my wife and I haven’t spoken to her about the need to sell the house and consider assisted living. She poops it right out of her noggin when the subject is presented. She’ll say, “No, I’m not near ready for that. I’m feeling much better today.”

Many hours have been spent wrestling just how I might be able to convince her to turn this page in her life, without her being forced. I walk a balancing wire because I do all I can to keep from upsetting her, or have her turn angry with me personally for pushing her too hard. My belief is she dreams to live long enough in that special house until she dies in her sleep in bed.

A little over a week ago, when I asked how her day was going, she was hesitant and sheepish. Her voice sounded tired and foggy. It took a few minutes to get her to confess that she had been sick at her stomach for a few days. There were a coup[e of phone conversations interrupted because she had to rush to the bathroom to throw-up. But then the next day she would tell me how well she felt, and how it must have just been a flu bug. Pressing her I could tell she wasn’t back to norms. On the 5th morning from the day she told me of her sickness, she confessed that she wasn’t better after all. My bootstraps were pulled up as I spoke to her like a parent, telling her she must go to a clinic, or ER. She barked at me saying some over-the-counter meds would do the trick, etc. I knew better. No bait was taken. I called her doctor, but she couldn’t see her for several days. I called my cousin, who lives just 5 minutes from her, and told him he needs to take her to get checked out. In the end, it was necessary.

A couple of hours rolled by when I received a call from my cousin who handed me over to a nurse in the ER. Tests were being run. Later in the afternoon, a surgeon called me. He informed me she had a concerning hernia near her navel. He mentioned there was trapped bowel material in the hernia, as well as, a traffic back-up in her GI track. Emergency surgery needed to be done within that very hour. I approved it over the phone. She would be in the hospital for at least 5 days as they attack the blocked GI track. All went well with the surgery. I arrived to be with her the next morning.

That was 8 days ago, as I write this post. Although the procedure went well, and the draining of her bowels was completed yesterday, she remains very weak and in need of rehab. My “Iron Lady” has quickly become frail and needy.

In recovery

I wondered why she wouldn’t let me in the house when I would come for a visit throughout the last few years. I am her only child, just 16 years younger than she, and our relationship has been good. While she was in the hosp[ital, I was able to get into her house as I needed to retrieve her ID and documentations. The word “gasp” would fall short of what I walked into. Without getting into the horrific scenes I saw and walked through, I will just say, she has been living in filth and squalor, seemingly for a long time. My heart broke seeing and smelling the realities of how far my dear mom had spiraled. A dumpster will need to be delivered in order for us to clear and clean. That’s how bad it really is.

Life has been very tough. Without my life-long Christian-based faith, I know where I would be by now, and it wouldn’t be a place where you would want to be. In fact, I know of a few times suicidal thoughts were at play during some personal tragedies in my past. With that said, more than a plethora of times, God Himself reassured me of who I am in Him, and without Him I would be on skid-row, or worse several times over. Honestly, and you know this if you are a long-time reader of my blog, there have been near miraculous moments in my life, where in the darkened corners I found myself in, I was brought to my feet. It grieves me to type the next two words…AND YET, I still have faltered in my faith, even though God showed me His hand through the wind and waves. “AND YET”…don’t you just hate those words?

With my head on the steering wheel, along with waning droplets on the windshield from the night before, I felt spiritually empty. My “worry wart” was getting bigger as I sat there pondering what needed to be done. My mom is ill, and can never live alone again without assistance. Where will she go? My wife and I don’t have room for her, not to mention, she will need more care than what we will be able to do. Even now, she thinks she is going back home to live as she was living. I fear looking into her aged eyes to tell her she can no longer be alone. Frankly, I don’t know how to break it to her without crushing her spirit. I’ve already been taking over her finances. A Power Of Attorney will need to established on her behalf. The herculean job of tackling the house, cleaning, moving her out, selling furniture, then selling the house….arg! Sitting there in my vehicle, I only had less than a quarter of a tank left in my spiritual reserve. The tears began to flow with the current of loneliness taking me downstream to where I shouldn’t be.

My prayer-life has been eaten away, practically. Ashamed to say it, but it’s true. The realization of my forehead hitting the the steering wheel brought me to a place where I needed to scream-out to God. That’s exactly what I did. No dogma involved, no Christianese spoken, no pretense whatsoever was present. With a good old fashioned yelling, in concert with my belly-crying, I called out to God in despair.

Before I go any further, let me caution you on something. If you have not accepted God’s grace and mercy through what His son, Jesus did on the cross for our redemption, you may not get what I am about to write. Please, forgive me if I am describing you. Nevertheless, what I am about to proclaim is factual, even biblical. If you are a Jesus follower, and think of prayer as quietly spoken, laced with a “thee & thou” because it is your habit, or because you believe your prayer would not make it out of the room if not practiced in this way, you might find what I am about to advise somewhat sacrilegious. If you use ritualistic phrases in your prayers, often repeating them several times for punctuation, you may not like what I am about to suggest whatsoever. When in the cave, the belly of the great fish, or at hell’s gate itself, God wants to hear YOU, YOUR HEART, YOUR GUT-WRENCHING SOUL! Scream out to Him in your suffering, in your neediness, in your emptiness. He’s a BIG GOD, He can and will handle what you need to say. Maybe the words might not be so pretty, or elegant, that’s okay. In fact, that’s what He wants from you. In a personal relationship, that’s what you do in tense times. Reveal your passion of the moment to Him. My experience has been, when I do that, I hear from Him, strongly, directly, and timely.

During my prayer, through pouring tears, I reminded God of how much of a servant my mom has been in her faith-walk all of her life. My verbal slideshow to Him consisted of how faithful she has been to Him and His words. The pulse of her deep faith was so evident in her song, her servanthood, her sacrifices. Brutal honesty rolled out of my mouth as I fessed-up to God that I am helpless in facing this giant of an issue. He heard how I felt alone in this task, weak and feckless. In my yelling out to Him, I ended it by confessing how I needed Him to show-up. I admitted that I am clueless on just how to begin all that needs to be done, all that needs to be said, all that needs strength that I don’t seem to have anymore. My sincerity was brutal and blunt when I screamed out, “Lord God, I need to know you are with me! Not tomorrow, or even the next day, but today!”

At that moment, I cleared the drops from my eyes, reach out to turn the key in the ignition, and the radio was on my favorite classic hits station.

The very first sound coming out of my speakers as the engine turned over was…

“When you’re weary,
Feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes,
I’ll dry them all.
I’m on your side…”

In that very moment of my darkened frame, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” began to air. Slotted at that precised juncture in time, not 5 mins before, or 10 minutes after, but right then and there, out of their 600+ songs in rotation, sprinkled in with news, weather, and traffic, the lyrics met me like a subway at the station. I spent about 30 years in radio and radio programming, and I can tell you, this just doesn’t happen at the whim of a programming clock with its categories of rotating songs, separation slots involving artists, titles, and production types. There is a true science to what you hear on the air. I recognized it as a, “God Thing”.

Recently, my wife and I read through a book on odds, the law of averages, chances, and frequencies of events. This would be a good study on the odds of this happening as a coincidence, happenstance, etc. Based upon the book we recently read, I can tell you that the odds are against me hearing the first verse of that song, programmed at the right hour, at the right minute, at the right second after my prayer.

Suddenly, I wept again, but for a different reason. My faith was bolstered as in times past. Because I was shouting out my guts to God in faith that He would hear my pleas, He responded using a medium so very precious to me and my life…music. He arranged all roads to converge at that moment to prove to me that indeed, He is there, and will be there.

When reaching out for God’s grip, look no further than fuel for the race.

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:12-13 (NAS)

A Wonderful Distraction

“When you feel down and out, Sing a song (it’ll make your day).

For you, here’s the time to shout Sing a song (It’ll make a way).

Sometimes it’s hard to care, Sing a song (It’ll make your day).

A smile is so hard to bear, Sing a song (It’ll make a way)…”

(1975) Recorded By: Earth, Wind & Fire Composers: Maurice White/Al McKay

Can I be real frank with you, yet remaining to be Alan at the same time? Okay, I take it that’s a “Yes”.

Over the summer, death has taken a few friends and acquaintances, including one family member, and almost lost another. The losses have been almost on a weekly basis. I have been fighting depression concerning my dementia patient mom who is declining much faster than expected. She still lives alone some 60 miles from me. I am facing mountains of decisions in this arena. My health is slowly headed further south. My wife has been faced with health issues herself, and heavy emotional family issues on her side. I feel like I am going under with my hand stretched out above the surface of a deep, dark ocean. I have needed a distraction…big-time.

It seems I have some new readers which may not know about one of my favorite topics, my middle daughter, Megan. Although I recently posted about her wedding over the summer, here I am again with something new and exciting.

Megan with her band, Grosh
Megan shooting a music video

Megan is a bit of a verified rock star in Western New York. Articles and reviews list her as part of Buffalo, New York’s “rock royalty”, and she’s only 31.

Recently, she was asked to audition to perform the National Anthem at the home opener at the Buffalo Sabres game. She, and her band mate, Grace Lougen from their band, Grosh, (Grace is a superb guitar player.), she recently played for me at Megan’s wedding reception, took the plunge with an audition. BOOM! Before you could say, Ice Capades, she got the call. As it turned out, she needed to learn the Canadian Anthem as well, due to the fact the opposing team was the Montreal Canadiens, (Yeah, that’s how they spell it.)

Although, me being in Dallas Stars’ territory, no outlet was carrying the game, with the exception of ESPN+, which my oldest daughter, Tabitha subscribes to. Thankfully, she shot a cell phone video of the performance, which I posted on my Facebook page. (You can see it there. Search for, Alan Brown Carrollton, Texas. That should do it.)

What’s that? You say you wish you could see some pictures? Really? Well, allow me. Let me grab my slide projector.

Megan (R) with Grace (L) prior to the game.

Megan & Grace at work on the Sabres’ ice.

Megan & Grace remembering the lyrics to “Oh, Canada”
.
Singing without a COVID mask is refreshing for a New Yorker!

It does a dad’s heart some good to find several camera angles for different perspectives from fans in attendance, as well as, those viewing from Canadian networks. (The version on my Facebook page is from the ESPN+ broadcast.) I needed to be ushered away from heavy sorrows and raking worries. It served as an inward reboot button. Thank you, Megan.

Although, with live gigs averaging several times a week, with 19,000+ in the arena that night, plus who knows how many in the television and radio audience, I would say it was her largest audience to date. Yeppers, I was one proud dad. Moreover, I was one distracted dad.

Recently I became aware that the Puritans often used a quote I have used before as a performer through the decades. I had always thought the origin of the quote came from Soren Kierkegaard. Nevertheless, it’s a dandy.

“AN AUDIENCE OF ONE”

Sometime in my mid 20’s, when I became a serious Bible student, anytime I performed a song, a theatrical script, or while on radio and audio commercials, I trained myself to imagine performing to He Who sits on the eternal throne, God Himself. It was a process. Prior to that time, I just focused on the audience of humanity in the seats. That’s all well and good, but it can feel shallow. Laser-focusing on the One Who created talents can bring the performance from the head to the heart rapidly, as if He is the only set of eyes and ears in the room. This is what I taught Megan while she was a child actress back in the day. My hope is that every now and then, she might recall the idea.

When needing a good distraction, find it easily in fuel for the race.

“Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” – Psalm 96:1-2 (NAS)

When Stars Fly

“Good morning starshine.
The earth says hello.
You twinkle above us,
We twinkle below…”
(1969) “Good Morning Starshine” Recorded By:: Oliver Composers: Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni, James Rado

It happened at 3:33am, Thursday morning, April 29. I will describe it as it was explained to me.

North Texas had been visited by a swath of severe thunderstorms overnight. As these huge thunderstorms do, spread out far and wide, delivered hail, winds, rain, thunder and lightning, but not everyone gets all of it. A couple of miles north of my street, hail beat on some windows, but not at my place. A tornado was spotted moving across the northern neighborhoods of my town, but not my neck of the woods. High straight-line winds blew down some wooden fences down the street, but not in my backyard. Oh, sure, I’ve had storm damage before, but not this time. Yet, it was enough to lose some sleep due to all the atmospheric activity. By 6:00am, all was wet, calm, with a bit of drizzle.

A couple of hours later, I called my mom, who lives a bit over an hour away, to see how she survived the April application. In case you are a visitor to my blog, I feel the need to explain what you are about to read. My mom lives alone, with her dog, in the house she grew up in. It was built in the mid 1840’s with very thin, non-insulated walls, along with single pane windows. Let me tell you, it needs mounds of work. Not long ago I wrote of her beginning struggles with cognitive issues. Thus far, she is able to care for herself, and others in her town she cares for, but her memory, and the ability to put the right words together in a sentence, is beginning to show.

When she answered the phone she had a strange edge to her voice. After the “Good morning.” and “How are you?“, she asked me if I was calling her to inquire about what took place in her area at 3:33am. I thought to myself, “Oh, no. They had another tornado.” She survived a tornado a couple of years ago which brought down two of her giant trees onto her roof.

Photo: My mom’s house after a tornado blew over her house. A cousin and friend were first on the scene to help.

When I asked what had occurred, she told me the following.

She told me it was something that she had ever experienced before. The severe thunderstorm was loud…very loud. She has an antique aluminum roof which can drown out any conversation you’re having whenever there’s a heavy rain. She also went on to describe the roar of the winds rattling her bedroom window sashes.

Then, as she and her dog, Charlie, tried to go back to sleep, the entire bedroom suddenly illuminated. It was so bright she noticed it with her eyes closed. The radiance, filling the bedroom, was not like filaments from a light bulb. She described the glow was strange, with a tint of a dull yellow. Charlie jumped off the bed and ran out of the room as if he had seen a lion. Out of the corner of her eye, hovering in midair, she observed what she called “a little star.” Instantly, I thought hallucinations may have been at play due to her mild cognitive condition. Hesitant to ask her to repeat what she just said, I asked her to describe it as best she could. She observed a little white “star”, with a bit of yellow to it, floating in the air, very slowly moving toward the other side of the room like “it had somewhere to go”, as she put it. By this time, I was scratching my noggin in dismay. She then stated that as it slowly moved toward the other side of the room, another “smaller star” came up behind it and almost “bumped into the bigger one because it didn’t want the bigger one to feel lonely”. By this addition to the story, I felt sure it was a dream she was having. But then, I remembered how Charlie high-tailed it out of the room, and stayed gone. I asked her what happened next. She said without any warning whatsoever, she witnessed an ear-zapping explosion which shook the walls of the house and lifted her off the mattress. It caused the two stars to burst into several mini stars and vanished. The picture she characterized began to come into focus. I asked her if the “explosion” was thunder. She said, “Yes, I believe that’s probably the proper word people would use”. She went on to say a few minutes later, there were people in the street talking loudly with big trucks, (probably the fire department).

Later, after discussing the scene with my wife, she reminded me of a lightning rod which sits on the edge of the roof just above her curtain-covered bedroom windows. My late uncle had installed it decades ago for my grandparents. No doubt in my mind, with the particles charged in the air, a lightning bolt was about to zoom in and strike the rod about eight feet from her bed. It’s clear that there was an arching of some kind which traveled through her window, or wall, giving her a brilliant light show. It’s a miracle there wasn’t a fire, or electrocution.

Photo by Fabiano Rodrigues on Pexels.com

My mom has always been a selfless, servanthood champion of a person. She has cared for many an elderly person out of love and concern, including being a 24/7 caregiver for her aging parents when they were still with us. Her focus has always been comforting and assisting someone other than herself. She always looked for the “least of these”. I must say, I cannot count the multiple times this woman of faith has been protected from clear and present dangers at her doorstep, whether from would-be attackers, would-be thieves, flying bullets, car crashes, hail, tornadoes, and now lightning strikes. Until very recently her health has been phenomenal, considering she never took good physical care of herself, for the most part. A great example: When she moved in with her parents, when it became necessary to care of them, she did so for 12+ years, completely sick-free! What are the odds? Not even a common cold for that length of time. Amazing!

So many of late are living in fear because of the “charged air” we find ourselves in. Have you felt a bit of it? Racial tensions, wholesale racial accusations, political unrest, a horrific southern border crisis, rumblings of faulty foreign relations and war, COVID, mask shaming, high taxes, trillions of projected dollars being deducted from your income, riots, looting, arson, shootings…..ect. It seems we are all just waiting for the stars to explode.

When I was a little boy, I always watched for the Allstate Insurance TV commercials. In the 1960’s, when it came time to deliver the words…

“You’re in good hands with Allstate.”

It would show a set of a man’s hands, not a drawing, with palms up, cupped together as if catching rain pouring off a gutter. According to my mom, I would tell her that was God’s hands. She would chuckle, and agree with me. I bet Allstate had no idea they were creating a Sunday school lesson for little ones.

Still, in the middle all things chaotic, which fluctuates and hovers in the air for a time, one truth remains, a Solid Rock many ignore, but shouldn’t. The particles in the air may flare up and even ignite, but I also know all things are sifted through the hands of the Great I AM of Genesis. We are, my mom is, in good hands.

Never drive into a raging storm without a tank full of fuel for the race.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘You are my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly plague. He will cover you with His feathers; under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the calamity that destroys at noon. Though a thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, no harm will come near you.” Psalm 91:1-7 (Berean Study Bible)

Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number

“Rikki don’t lose that number
You don’t want to call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
Rikki don’t lose that number
It’s the only one you own
You might use it if you feel better
When you get home”
– (1974) “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number” Recorded By: Steely Dan Composers: Walter Becker and Donald Fagen

On my Facebook page I decided to have a little fun with an age old question for old rock consumers. The question was: “Did Rikki ever lose that number?” Considering the song was recorded in 1973, along with the reveal that Rikki was an old college girlfriend of Donald Fagen from Steely Dan, it could be Rikki is in her early 70’s now. If Rikki has already experienced cognitive issues, maybe Rikki no longer has knowledge of where that number may be.

Rikki Don't Lose That Number - Steely Dan.jpg
Photo: Wikipedia

While counting down the hours to Thanksgiving this year, I watched a news feature on the growth of Dementia and Alzheimer’s in our country. Because Alzheimer’s runs through the maternal side of my family, I was glued to the report. Contrary to popular belief, Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not one and the same. The “plaque” which appears in the brain seems to be the main monkey wrench in the gears of the mind. Also, there can be shrinkage of the brain matter itself. Dementia is a general term for a slip in mental abilities which gets in the way of everyday life. Dementia is NOT a disease, but considered a brain disorder. There are various kinds of Dementia, as well. Trust me, it’s complicated and a bit over my lay-person’s head. However, if one has Dementia, the symptoms can mean troubles in connecting names of loved ones, or others. One can find it more difficult to follow driving directions, communication skills and focus, the spelling of words, and losing items like…(wait for it)…phone numbers. In the days of yesteryear, it often was referred to as “senior moments.”

Not long ago I mentioned on this platform the fact that my 76 year old mom is now wrestling with a minor form of Dementia. It does appear to be a fading of figuring out how to use her cell phone, remembering names and places on the fly, and losing train of thought in conversation. It’s difficult for me in that she has always been a sharp person with an incredible skill of trouble-shooting and memory. Before spellcheck software, she was my spellcheck. Now, she’s almost given up on texting words. And yes, she’s very much aware of the cognitive decline. It is very concerning.

Photo: My mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown

It was a bittersweet privilege to watch her be a selfless 24/7 caregiver for my grandparents. My granddad had Dementia issues, and my grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s Disease. There was a great deal I learned from her just observing how she handled the frustration of seeing her parents traveling downhill with this issue. The main lesson i gleaned from her was how to speak to an Alzheimer’s victim. I learned to never correct the victim when they speak inaccuracies. Gently agree, or placate on a subject. Never show anger if the victim made a mess in the kitchen, or bathroom, or soiled their clothing. It’s best to approach them as you would a toddler. (In many cases, the victim almost “youthens” in their reasoning.) Most of all, we must treat them with compassion, and deliver the highest respect, even when at wits end. Remember, your Dementia or Alzheimer’s victim once was a doctor, a pastor, a teacher, a cop, or a quality control inspector, etc. Most of all, they were once loving parents in the majority of cases.

Remember, someday, it could be you needing the comfort of a champion caregiver.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

It would be a crime to suddenly think less of a loved one, suffering from this disorder or disease, who once knew how to care and love you without compromise. Certainly there are exceptions in every relationship. It could be you were a child of an abusive parent who now needs your love and care in the dark years of cognitive failure. It would be a treasure to know Jesus spoke about you…

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:7) KJV

An accurate Greek translation from the original text reads like this…

“Happy are the kind – – because they shall find kindness.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:7) YLT

So, Rikki, if you did lose that number, it’s okay. Maybe you ‘sent it off in a letter to yourself’. Come on, I’ll help you find it.

I am full, due to the fact God remembers the count of the hairs on my head. I found out while topping my tank with fuel for the race.

Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” – GOD From Isaiah 49:15 (NAS)

When Mom Fades

This was not the post I was planning for upload today.  Literally, I sat down at my desk to construct a post I’ve mulled over for three weeks now, when suddenly I remembered to try again to reach my mom on the phone.  It would be the fourth attempt today.  This time it worked.  She answered.  We spoke.  Afterward I felt the sliding of my emotions which tends to be the norm of late.

In the past, on Mother’s Day weekend, I have told her story.  Each year I gained morsels of bravery to shed more light on our tapestry.  It’s a unique, heroic recounting of a strong, courageous single mom.

Mom 1962 Grandmother's Kitchen

At 15, she found herself fighting off, or attempted to fight off, her rapist.  I was the product of that violent attack.  Being out of her crushed mind, heart, and spirit, she attempted suicide twice while pregnant with me, but survived.  She was unaware God had His plans of destiny beyond the messy road she was on.  I told this story with a great amount of reveals a year ago.  I invite you to look at May’s archives from last year to get a sharper camera angle of her torn life. (“If I Were…” From May 10, 2019)

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

In the last 20 years she took-on the role of caregiver for her parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Nancy Reagan called this disease, “The Long Good-bye”.  She was right.  My mom retired as early as she could to move-in with her ailing parents, giving up her life to hold them up, as best as she could, as they faced the monster of this disease.  My granddad passed away first with complications of dementia in 2008.  My grandmother had full-blown Alzheimer’s, struggling with it for about 14 years before she passed.

My mom aged quickly while being a soldier for her folks.  It was difficult to see her own physical health decline during those years of tremendous servanthood.  I was never more proud of her battling away in those times.

Around 2014, her oldest brother, 4 years older than her, began to show signs of the same disease.  Today, he is deep in the jaws of the struggle, rendering him to a shell of a man, vacant in many ways.  A couple of years ago, my mom’s other brother, 2 years her senior, began to mentally deteriorate with the same invader of the body.  Trust me, it is no respecter of persons, or brilliance.

My mom is only 16 years older than I.  (I’m turning 60 in a few short days.)  Over the last 2 years, I became aware my mom was changing, and not for the better.  She lives alone about 70 minutes from me in the house she grew-up in.  At first, I felt the changes I observed were simple gaffs of the aging process.  Our communication often left me scratching my head.  There were occasions where she got lost while traveling to our part of the Dallas Metroplex, a way she knows like the back of her hand.  About 2 years ago we were to meet at a halfway point, as we have done many times before.  Her sense of direction was totally absent.  She had to call me for help to walk her through which way to turn at each intersection.  When I instructed her to turn left, she would turn right, not understanding the mistake.  It was on that day I realized she…we had a problem.  It would be a problem that would grow.

Recently, almost overnight, she found herself unable to spell the simplest words.  Her cell phone texts became more difficult to read as the days rolled on.  She began having issues with sentence construction and word retrieval during our conversations.  Items would come up missing in her house.  She blames it on her dog.  Asking if I can help is a loss.  She no longer allows me in the house.  Her excuse is it’s too messy for company.  In the last few months, she has had losing battles in operating her cell phone, including prompts, icons, and modes.  Today, in our telephone exchange, she expressed an urge to give it up and order a simple landline phone.  I hope it helps because she has trouble answering the phone these days.

There are also other health issues of concern I recognize as side symptoms of dementia.  She is a proud, independent woman, and holds these cards close to her chest as I attempt to decipher how her daily life is changing.

Frankly, I know where this is going.  As she shrugs it off as amusing, even humorous, I am accepting the fact that my mom is fading before my eyes.

Somewhere in the thicket of my mind, I knew this day was coming.  Although there was a 20 year span as my grandparents experienced massive declining health, there were also wonderful times of mysterious joy in the midst of it all.  I must remember this as I tend to my mom’s needs today and tomorrow.  Currently, I just don’t know how, or where to begin.

Mom salon

So, what’s the purpose of this particular post?  Unaware of the true answer, all I can do is display brutal honesty of how I feel on this Mother’s Day weekend.  Because I didn’t have a dad around, most of the time in my life, I saw her as my touchstone.  I liken it to a small child in a swimming pool, with an inflatable tube around his/her torso.  He/she feels much safer holding on to the side of the pool with his/her waterlogged wrinkled hand grasping tightly to the concrete edge.

I’m turning 60 years old now.  It’s time to let go of the concrete edge.  Scripture tells us not to hold too tightly to this world, especially what we deem as “concrete”.  Even concrete crumbles.

As the concrete crumbles in my grasp, I am reminded once again, God is the life-saving tube around my torso.

My days are filled with the reminder that I need to top off my tank every day with fuel for the race.

“So I said: ‘Do not take me away, my God, in the midst of my days; your years go on through all generations.  In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded.  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.'”  – Psalm 102: 24-27 (NIV)

 

 

 

If I were…

“She was just sixteen and all alone when I came to be.  So we grew up together…mama-child and me.  Now things were bad and she was scared, but whenever I would cry, she’d calm my fear and dry my tears with a rock and toll lullaby…” (1972) Rock And Roll Lullaby.  Recorded by:  B.J. Thomas.  Composers:  Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil.

With age, I have learned that…

If I were the teen who fought through a sexual assault, then carried an unwanted pregnancy, debating the heart’s choices, then allowing life to grow, I would be a spectacular teenager wise beyond my years.

If I were a parent who protected my newborn from assault and murder at the hands of the father, with a sacrificial unselfish front, I would be a medal of honor recipient.

If I were to end an abusive marriage, to defend and shield my innocent toddler, knowing there would be no child support, I would be a heroine authors would write about.

If I were a single parent constantly contending with the voices of psychological demons, chanting accusations of worthlessness, depreciation, and shame, all the while rising above it all to raise my child, I would be the dragon-slayer described in countless novels.

If I were to defeat my fear by moving into an uncharted world, away from family, to make a life for my young child, I would be a courageous warrior with monuments anointing the landscape.

If I were one who taught my toddler the true value of the gift of grandparents, I would be a brilliant educator with my name on the walls of universities.

If I were to faithfully read scripture to my young child each night, combined with the simplicity of personal prayer and church attendance, I would be a righteousness seeker with my statue erected by the world’s cathedrals.

If I were to seek out the finest pre-schools and kindergartens, in the attempt to assure my only child got a leg up, I would be a proactive parent to be noticed.

If I were to be rejected for loans and credit, due to being a single parent in the 1960’s, only to exercise faith while tackling a life of poverty with my head held high, I would be a fearless champion in my child’s eyes.

If I were to knock on every door to find a job waiting tables, or struggle with an overnight shift on an assembly line, I would be a humble workhorse of a provider for others to impersonate.

If I were to give away the opportunity to have a brilliant singing & recording career, just to be home with my child at the end of a hard night’s work, I would be self-sacrificing, worthy of a screenwriter’s time.

If I were to provide for my child after several lay-offs, by way of two or three jobs, I would be Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman combined, never being poor in spirit.

If I were to train my child well enough to leave him alone overnight, in order to work the graveyard shifts, I would be an example of a strong tower of faith.

If I were to work overtime to aid in the development of my elementary age child with raw musical abilities, by paying for piano, violin, guitar, and voice lessons, my portrait would hang in Carnegie Hall.

If I were to be a staunch, independent single parent, refusing financial aid from my parents, I would be wealthy of heart.

Mom & Me Granddad's Coin Box

From my granddad’s cedar coin box.  The two of us from 1969.

If I were to resist the temptation of suicide, while being beaten down by company lay-offs, Green Stamp submissions, and accepting government blocks of cheese, I would be a brave ferocious fighter for my child’s future.

If I were to support my teen’s sports and musical interests, which differ from mine, I would be a liberally devoted parent of love and understanding.

If I were to tirelessly stand up to my rebellious teenager, with the possibility of damaging our relationship, I would have attributes resembling the God of the Bible.

If I were to sit all alone in a church pew watching my child wed, I would have earned the vision of a soldier adorned in glistening armor after a long battle.

If I were to bless my grandchildren with my physical presence, my mind, as well as my heart, I would be worth my weight in gold.

Mom & Megan 1992ish

My mom with my middle daughter, Megan. (1992)

If I were to deny myself, for the betterment of my child, to the point of self-injury, while killing my own pursuits, and avoiding life’s trinkets that shine in the night, I would be Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Anne Sullivan, and Rosa Parks rolled into one.

If I were to be an example for my adult child, by being the caretaker of my aging parents, suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia, along with other elderly ones in my community, I would reflect what I have always been…a mountain of love, compassion, and selflessness.

If I were to describe a fictitious character from my own dreams, they could not come close to the one I have held in my heart for my entire life.

I don’t have to write the words “If I WERE…”  The reason being, I simply could never measure up.  The one described above is my mom, Carolyn Atherton-Brown.

Mom salon

I am her portrait.  I am her monument.  I am her novel.  I am her screenplay.  I am her statue.  I am her champion.  I am her armored soldier.  I am the medal of honor.

To be gracefully broken, brilliantly strengthened, and beautifully poised is to be one who drinks deeply from the well of fuel for the race.

“…As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord.  For his whole life he will be given to the Lord…” – The words of Hannah –   I Samuel 1:26b-28a (NIV)

 

 

The Fall of Life

Painting by:  My father-in-law, the late Bob Niles.  The Cimarron River, Oklahoma.

“The falling leaves drift by the window.  The autumn leaves of red and gold…And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song.  But I miss you most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall.” –  “Autumn Leaves” – recorded by many, including Nat King Cole.  English lyric version written by:  Johnny Mercer – Capitol Records, with music for the English by:  Joseph Kosma.  (Adopted from a French song, “Les Feuilles Mortes”, French lyrics composed by: Jacques Prevert.)

To say, the majority of our Texas trees are just now releasing their leaves, will be comical to my friends and family to the north.  Yes, Texas trees turn late in the year when so many are bare in points north on the map.  Although I love my Texas, I do wish the foliage was as brilliant as they are elsewhere.  However, I’ll take what we can get.

In the immediate neighborhood, I enjoy the tree across the street from my front porch the most.

Autumn Tree(Pictures from my phone never do the colors justice.  Don’t ya hate that?)

Here in north-central Texas, grab your camera while you have the time.  The leaves turn and drop really quickly.  In no time at all, they are on the ground, ready for the rake.

God’s artistry is, well…simply divine, so to speak.  Where I live, He paints the leaves in mid-late November in various golds, yellows and maroons, depending upon the species.  The nutrients dry-up, choking-off the green chloroplasts in the leaves, while dashing them with hues only a painter could conjure on canvas.  Then, by mid December, the Season-Holder sends the winds to do their job.  Yet, there are exceptions in Texas.  Not every tree belongs around Dallas/Ft Worth.

In my neighbor’s backyard, just on the other side of the fence, is a rather tall exotic tree, native of Indonesia with large leaves.  It looms mainly over our garage, driveway, and side-yard.  Misbehaving, due to not realizing its no longer in Indonesia, it sheds its leaves overnight if the winds can muster-up moving a flag.  When it does, we wake up to shin deep leaves in the driveway.

Wednesday, during prep for Thanksgiving at our house, as we were expecting a few family members, I tackled the job of raking the platter-sized leaves from the driveway.  Don’t get me wrong, I needed the exercise, but it was a lengthy activity without a leaf blower.  We have a compost pile in the far corner of our backyard.  Seeing how many leaves there were, as well as the ginormous size of each, I knew full well it would fill the designated compost section.  And I was right.

Autumn Compost Pile I must admit, the little boy came out in me as I enjoyed hearing the loud crunching sound beneath my shoes.  After awhile, it wasn’t such a novelty any longer.  It took many trips from the driveway, across the front lawn, around the side of the house, across the backyard, down to the back forty to the compost pile.  There they rested, all dead, in the falling-leaf cemetery.  Sad, isn’t it?  All unwanted, as if they were no longer needed, no longer pleasing to the eye, or of any shading value.

Yesterday, being the day after our Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S., I visited my oldest uncle.  My precious, Uncle Bob is my mom’s eldest brother.  At 79 years old, he is in the 2nd stage of Alzheimer’s.  I’m old enough now to have seen the dreaded disease a few times in my family, going back a few generations.  My mom’s other brother has dementia, on the foothills of the big “A”, as well.  In fact, my mom wonders if she is experiencing some early warning signs herself.

My visit was mainly with his wife, my Aunt Ellen, and her son, Bobby Jr.  I watched my uncle, a man I have admired since I was a toddler, an intelligent man of mechanical and electrical engineering, sit in his recliner while playing with a blanket like an 18 month old child.  There’s no question concerning his inability to recognize me, and that was okay.  Through the years I learned how to interact with other family members who have suffered from this “long-goodbye” disease.  He shook my hand with a nice grip, smiled, and told me he felt good, after I had told him he looked good.  It won’t be too much longer when he will not interact at all.  How I wish I could wrap my magical arms around him, holding the progression back from changing him any further.  Yet, it’s not the nature of the monster to obey our commands.

Too often a society will see the diseased, or dying, as throw-away items.  Many years ago, my dad told me he had stopped seeing about his mother, overtaken by Alzheimer’s.  When I inquired about his remark, he said, “Well, she’s not the same mother I once knew.  She is no longer useful to me.”  I froze.  It’s astonishing.  Some 34 years have flown by since I heard his explanation and it still astounds me to this very day.  For him, even though sorrow was involved, she was a throw-away item to him.

Allow me to be sarcastic for a moment, with a pinch of anger.

You have seen some “throw-aways”, I’m sure.  For some, it might be the guy at the Thanksgiving table who only makes minimum wage  Or it’s the guy at the table who is of wealth.  For others, it might be the single-mom, working 10 hour shifts as a waitress at a diner, with a pencil behind her ear.  When leaving the eatery, after tipping her as little as possible, it’s common to be approached by a homeless man in the parking lot.  After a well rehearsed sob story, he asks for bus fare, when it’s probably a scam to purchase another bottle of cheap Scotch.  Is it possible there is a neighbor with a heavy accent from another part of the world, or another part of the state?  There might be a co-worker who has a brother, stricken with AIDS, who is no longer claimed as family.  Maybe it has to do with a few hundred people living in the low-rent apartments from the other side of the tracks, not to mention anyone who resides in a mobile home from a trailer park.  It may simply be an individual with an obnoxious nervous tic.  Lately, it seems, the “throw-away” nearby is an outspoken Democrat or Republican, and certainly anyone under a red cap who attends political rallies full of cheering presidential fans.  Where does the list stop?  Seriously.  Do we stop with the elderly, the babies, the ill, the poor, the odd, the mentally handicapped, the black, the brown, the red, the Asian, the blue-eyed, the brown-eyed, the blind, the atheist, the person of faith, the vegetarians???  Before you know it, there are thoughts, coming from those without blemish or issues, surrounding the “raking-up” of these “throw-away” segments of citizenry, appointed for the societal compost where they can pile-up and wither away together.  After all, they are no longer pleasing to the eye, no longer useful or needed.  They are usually noticed when they get in our way of sight, or too loud under our shoes.  Hum, where have we seen that before?

“Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father, as well as the soul of the son is mine…”   – God –  Ezekiel 18:4 (ESV)

The truth is, we ALL fall down, one way or the other.  The universal truth is, we ALL fall short of perfection, the perfect standard.  You know it, and I know it.  The eternal caliper is immovable, uncompromising, and righteous.  Honestly, which one of us can ever measure-up?  Only one did, and He wasn’t you or me.

In God’s undying outreach of love toward us “throw-aways”, GRACE (unearned favor) is offered.  It’s an offer from the spout of fuel for the race.

2 Peter 3:9 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.


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