The Little White House on the Left

One of my first blogs published here at “trippin” was a story of a man I met in Hanover, Pennsylvania who cared for both his ailing wife and mother in law without help in his home near the hospital where Lisa worked.  We met quite by chance while I played basketball at a church near his home waiting for Lisa to get off from work.  One day he walked over to introduce himself and we soon became friends.  As I wrote then – one never knows what is going on in the houses we pass everyday of our lives nor do we realize the daily hardships some people must endure.  His story reminded me of that truth.

This morning I was reminded of another similar story.  Jean McCarty passed away on Friday, September 26, 2014.  I read her obituary in our local paper on-line and thought back to our first meeting thirty years ago during the summer of 1984.  She had a remarkable story and lived an extraordinary life and I was fortunate enough to have known her.  The story of her life and how she cared for her severely handicapped children is one of the most inspiring stories of a mother’s love you will ever hear.

Soon after graduating college in 1984, I was hired by (what was then) the Green River Comprehensive Care Center in the Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities Department.  Our program provided assistance to adults with mental retardation both those residing in assisted living situations and those living at home with their families.  Providing in home support to families was necessary in assuring their children could remain at home and live as normally as possible.  Respite, personal care and in-home habilitation was part of our services and made life a little easier for the family care givers.  During my first summer I conducted home visits to all the families we served and was shocked to realize how many homes I passed on a daily basis where families cared for severely handicapped children.  Many of the homes had been re-modeled to accommodate wheelchairs and other necessary equipment.  But, aside from an outside ramp, one would never know the daily struggle going on behind those doors.  These families were committed to keeping their children at home but needed our help to avoid forcing them to be institutionalized.

But of all the families I met that summer and would work with for the next nine years, none made an impression quite like Jean McCarty.  I remember riding along with my good friend and co-worker, Nancy Whitmer, for my first meeting with the McCarty’s and was surprised to know their home was a little, white house on the left of a particularly busy highway that was experiencing major commercial development at the time.  Theirs was one of the last remaining residences along that stretch of road and Mrs.McCarty greeted us at the door with her high energy enthusiasm that I immediately took a liking to.  She welcomed us inside and started talking non-stop as, I would learn, was part of her personality as we made our way into her kitchen where we sat down.  The older farmhouse was clean and well-kept but I noticed a sort of medical smell – much like a nursing home permeating the spaces but was more taken by Mrs. McCarty to pay much attention.  She was a small, thin woman but wore a huge smile almost non-stop as she asked me questions about myself and my background.  I would learn over time that she was somewhat starved for visitors and conversation since her world was confined exclusively to the little home she lived in and to the children she cared for.  Over the next nine years I spent many hours sitting at that kitchen table talking to Mrs. McCarty about everything going on in the world – as if I was her only source for news.  It became a service that I could provide.

Soon the conversation turned to her twin children, John and Paula, and she then invited us to their bedroom for a visit.  What I saw next made my knees buckle.  The small bedroom contained two hospital beds – one on each side of the room where her two twin children stayed twenty-four hours a day – for most of the twenty-two years of their lives. (if my memory serves me correctly – a third child, also handicapped, had died previously.)  John and Paula had profound mental retardation and physical handicaps.  Mrs. McCarty introduced me to them like any proud mother would of her children and told me they were happy on that day and in a good mood.  I would learn over time to understand their moods but this first meeting was nothing but confused shock.  Never in my sheltered life had I seen a situation like this.  I had no idea people were living with such hardships.  And I thought my problems were bad.

I would learn later of another fascinating part of Mrs. McCarty’s story.  Before our program had become involved with helping her family, very few people knew she had this situation in her home.  It was told to me that one day while at church a nun overheard Mrs. McCarty, a devout Catholic, praying for her two children.  From that came a referral to our program to provide her with assistance.  Apparently, the McCarty’s believed their children and their condition was their responsibility alone and to that point had never asked for help.  Over time the hardship became too great a burden and our help was finally accepted.  Of all the families we served none seemed as grateful as hers did for the services we provided.  It really was an answered prayer.  For twenty plus years Mrs. McCarty cared for these two alone – waking every night to turn them over in their beds every few hours to prevent bed sores and every meal feeding them with a turkey baster.  Every night – every day – for twenty plus years.

I left Green River Comp Care in 1993 and lost contact with many of these amazing families as our lives took different directions.  I noticed many years later that ‘the little, white house on the left’ had finally been swallowed up by the advanced commercial development and often wondered what happened to Mrs. McCarty and her two amazing children.  Today I learned that Mrs. McCarty had passed away at the age of eighty-six.  Her obituary stated that her husband and all her children preceded her in death.

I look back on my time those many years ago and wonder what good I really did for those families.  My role was more of case management than actual hands-on services.  I suppose making arrangements for assistance was important – it just didn’t always feel important.  The truth is people like Mrs. McCarty did more for me than I ever did for them.

God – if ever I get to the point of thinking in my life that things are so bad I can’t go on or if I bitch and moan about things not going my way – please remind me of Jean McCarty and her two children inside that little, white house on the left.  And remind me, Lord, that Jean McCarty never stopped smiling.

Love – Steve and Lisa

 

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A New Season

The fog lays heavy on the eastern Ohio hills as the sun slowly rises upon another day here in Cambridge.  Lisa and I notice the smoky drift of clouds during our morning commute to her work at Southeastern Medical.  This morning on this first day of Autumn, we woke to temperatures in the mid forties and noticed for the first time, the change of seasons.  Many people say Autumn is their favorite time of year.  I agree.  But with every changing season comes a sad sense that life is passing far too quickly.  Traveling has served to heighten that sad awareness and being away from home as one season morphs into the next only magnifies the truth of how long we have been away.  It does not help that my birthday falls during the final days of summer and this morning I woke up to not only a new season but an added number to my age.  Lisa and I left home for Ohio in the spring and now it is nearing October.  Where did all our summers go?

Our pool is now covered and closed for the winter here at our campground and the lush trees surrounding us are just starting to turn colors.  The seasonal campers are beginning to close down their campsites and move back home or to some other (probably warmer) climate.  There remains a good possibility that we will be here through the winter and getting ready for that is on our minds as the temperatures begin their descent.  RV living is nice and comfortable for most of the year, but we have discovered managing during freezing temperatures and snow requires daily attention and a good deal of preparation.  It is comforting to know we have made friends here that can be relied upon for help if need arises.

Friends.  Something about the changing season makes me appreciate friends more than ever.  Perhaps there is some primal instinct that kicks in during the ‘Fall’ that urges us to gather with others – to connect into a community as we brace for the winter.  Maybe that is why communities all over America celebrate with fall festivals, apple festivals, harvest festivals, and other gatherings.  Winter is just not a time to be alone and without a community to depend upon.  We need each other and somebody needs us.  Two very important people in our lives visited us this past weekend and the bond we have established is all about that support and dependence.  When Lisa and I were discussing the possibility of traveling with her job and venturing into RV living, Steve and Michelle Luck had similar ideas.  Lisa and I knew Steve from my job at Owensboro Middle School and had just come to know his new wife, Michelle, when we learned of our common interest in purchasing an RV.  (We also share a common love of Disney World but that is another story for another day).  Taking the bold step to travel full-time is a scary proposition.  Lisa and I were scared – Steve and Michelle were scared.  After we learned of that commonality – we got scared together.  And scared together is far better than scared alone.  Over time we both hit the road but I’m not sure that would have been nearly as easy had we not known personally a couple of people doing the same thing.  I am sure they will echo that sentiment.  Many times I find myself calling them for advice about one thing or another and they will call us from time to time for the same reason.  We are glad to know there are people as crazy as we are.  Our travels have taken us in opposite directions most of the past two plus years – that is, until this past weekend when we finally came together at the same campground at the same time.  It was good to share our war stories of RV living.  It was good to be with our friends again.

So here comes a new season in all our lives and with it the anticipation of both good times and challenges.  Though, for me, season changes seem a little sad.  There is also great hope in what is to come.  How colorful will all the trees be?  How blue will be the sky?

And what friends will we have to share it with?

Love, Steve and Lisa

 

Jesus – Take The Wheel!

Lisa and I are back in Ohio after spending the weekend driving home and then to Atlanta for training Lisa is required to have for her registry.  It was good being back at Stone Mountain where we lived for eight weeks earlier in the year.  The landscape was far greener and trees much fuller than we remember them being in January and February but one thing that has not changed is the driving conditions in Atlanta.

Her training was in the “Buckhead” area of Atlanta and required navigating rush hour traffic taking her to and from the hotel.  I have chronicled our experience with driving in Atlanta in previous posts but had to share one very funny story about our most recent driving blessing.

On our way one morning to her training, we had managed to survive the interstate and had begun the final leg of our journey toward her hotel.  On this part of the trip we traveled on a road that was six lanes but not quite as manic as the interstate since the speed limit was only 45 mph winding through both residential and business sections of “Buckhead”.  At one of the major intersections we were forced to stop (though we had the green light) while traffic slowly moved along in various directions.  To block the intersection during this brief delay would have been a deadly mistake as drivers in the early morning do not take kindly to being cut off or blocked off from their destinations.  Besides that – it is illegal.  While we waited for the traffic to clear, we noticed a young lady trying to turn left in front of our vehicle and watched as she moved across the intersection in an attempt to see the oncoming traffic.  As I mentioned this was a six lane road and the three lanes she was trying to cross was packed with cars making it impossible for her to know when it was clear to make her move.  Lisa and I almost did not want to watch as she continued to inch her vehicle as far forward as possible.  Finally, she decided to just go for it and (I promise this is true) she turned her head away slightly so as not to see what may be coming toward her and literally took her hands off her steering wheel and gunned it.  We both sort of held our breath and listened for squealing tires and ripping metal – but, apparently, she made it safely across and continued on her way.

We laughed for the next two days and are still laughing at that image.  I have to wonder if the poor woman experienced that thrill every morning on her way to work and could almost hear her shouting, “Jesus – take the wheel!”

Having experienced Atlanta driving ourselves I think Jesus may have said, “Lady, I’m sorry. But even I can’t drive in this town. You are on your own.”

Have a great day!  Steve and Lisa

Kentucky is South, Y’all

Lisa and I consider ourselves southerners.  Being from Kentucky may create some debate in that discussion since our home state is more middle America than north or south.  Other known qualifiers such as a states allegiance during the Civil War will also not help here since the “Bluegrass” remained neutral in terms of official declaration during that great conflict in US history.  All we really have to go on in determining our “southern-ness” is what other people think about us and here in Ohio (as was the case in Pennsylvania, Arizona and California) we are definitely from the south.

The only place we have lived where people did not seem offended by the way we talk was in Atlanta.  Although a true Georgian may not think of Kentucky as southern, we felt more at home there in terms of our dialect and mannerisms.  (Plus – they eat grits and a lot of fried foods.)

There are times that Lisa and I feel like foreigners in a strange land.  When our southern hospitality clashes with the ‘cut and dried – to the point’ way of people here in Ohio – we feel sympathy for people from other countries.  Recently, while ordering a hamburger at a local fast-food restaurant here in Cambridge, I asked that my burger be “dressed”.  The man behind the counter leaned closer to me and turned his ear as if he did not hear me correctly.  “What did you say? Dressed?”  “Yes Sir!” I explained.  “You know, through the garden – with everything.”  He looked at me like I had two noses and informed me that in all his years he had never heard of a “dressed” hamburger.  I have to wonder what image was going through his head at that moment.  Did he think of a burger wrapped in paper?  Or was there an image of a sandwich with clothes on?  I wish I had responded with, “You know – put a little shirt on it and make sure it’s shoes are tied.”  The man never lost the confused expression on his face even after my explanation and I think it may have messed with his entire shift behind the counter.  I did tell him, “I’m so sorry!”  Which leads me to the next point.

More than phrases and wording, southerners are put off by the abruptness and unfriendly manner of people from the north (or I should say – non-southerners).  Recently I was having lunch at an outdoor deli (notice all my examples have something to do with food?) and before I ordered I laid my backpack at one of the tables to reserve my spot.  A man watched me do this and said, “We already reserved that table.”, and he pointed out a little box that had been placed on the table.  I actually thought it was part of the condiments sitting in the center but apologized and moved to a table inside.  The man offered no “Thank-you” or no “I’m sorry!” And certainly he never considered a, “Go ahead and sit there – it is fine.”  At that moment another side of my “southern-ness” kicked in.  That ‘other’ side is – I will be nice and I will be cordial and giving – to a point but if you push me too far – I will fight back.  Nothing in the southern code of conduct manual is more irritating to a southerner than doing something nice and not getting, at least, a ‘Thank-you’ or ‘I’m sorry’ in return. I fought the urge to stuff him into the trash can next to the table he (so-called) reserved.

It was not until Lisa and I started traveling and living in an area for several months that we became aware of how we talk to people.  When we are home in Kentucky we talk like everybody else at home in Kentucky.  Interestingly, our ‘southern’ way has been endearing to most people and all of our “Thank-you”, “Bless-you”, and “I’m sorry” statements have been surprising to some but, I think, appreciated.  Lisa has been extended in all of her assignments to date in large part because she is really good at her job.  But, had she never said, “Thank you so much” or “Bless your heart” with that southern drawl everyone teases her about – I’m not sure they would care too much if she stayed or not.  They like her work ethic but they love her mannerisms.  We both have learned to never lose or try to hide that part of who we are.  In fact, we have now made it a point to always say when we arrive -“How y’all doin?” and when we leave – “See y’all later!” – even throwing in a little extra twang to the “y’all” just for good measure.

But people here in Ohio better start saying “thank-you” to Lisa and I now and then or they may find themselves head first inside a trash can – bless their hearts!

See Y’all Later!  Steve and Lisa

 

Upon This Rock

Sundays have been different and difficult for Lisa and I during our travels.  In most cases Lisa has been off work and the off day is always a relief.  But in our lives, Sundays were always about going to church at Bellevue Baptist in Owensboro, Kentucky and there meeting up with family and friends while experiencing life with people who love God and one another.  We have desperately missed that.  In different places we have experienced welcoming congregations and warm, sincere believers more than glad we were in attendance.  But, when a church has shaped life to the extent that Bellevue has shaped ours – nothing can compare.  That is not to say ours is the best church.  It is not.  But, it is our church – and that will never change.

So, it was wonderful being home this past Labor Day weekend and stepping through the doors of Bellevue once again – just like old times.  As I have written before, Bellevue is the orbit in which our lives have rotated since Lisa and I first met there thirty-one years ago.  At Bellevue our children were taught scriptural truths from their first weeks on earth and it is a place where now our grandson will follow the same path.

One of the first people we met up with was a dear matriarch of our church family, Jean Howard, who taught both our children at different times and places in their lives and Lisa and I hugged her as she sat on the back row of our sanctuary.  Age has, perhaps, limited her mobility but her spirit and dedication to the church have never wavered.  People like Jean have helped sustain the tradition of Bellevue for nearly sixty years and Lisa and I cannot begin to thank people like her who have been steady and steadfast in their love of Christ and His church.  Whatever good things come out of our lives or the lives of our children, is in large part a credit to the people of Bellevue.

When Lisa and I walk into Bellevue we feel like we are home.  It is not the house we live in or the streets we drive on – it is, for us, the church we worship in.  I know that the church is much larger than the local body of believers in which one may be associated and it is true we have had wonderful experiences visiting churches of different denominations and worship styles.  But walking into Bellevue is like walking into a living scrapbook of our lives.  We spent thirty minutes after the service hugging old friends who genuinely care about us – these are the people who celebrated with us many, many good times – and these are the people who held us up during tragedies.  These people decorated the church for our wedding day and prepared meals when we lost family members.  For me personally, Bellevue gave me confidence.  It chose me to serve as a deacon in 1985 and allowed me to be part of many important decisions that not only moved our church forward, but me personally.  Not only did Bellevue grow me spiritually, it grew me as a man.  Men like George Thompson, John Worth, Kenny Baughn, and Paul Daniel are just a few who were part of that “great cloud of witnesses” in my life who showed me how to lead my family and lead that church.

Lisa and I made our way to our seats and began singing along with the others in attendance.  I immediately began looking for my good friend, Tim Hicks, on stage playing his guitar – unfortunately Tim had the day off.  I looked at the choir and missed being a part of the music ministry that had been so important to me for so many years.  I marveled at the stage lighting and backdrop that Alicia Berry, a talented young lady who we love dearly, designed.  We sang and smiled and clapped – I even whistled on a couple of occasions.  We were so happy to be back – it was impossible to contain the joy.

Our pastor, Greg Faulls, then stepped up to share his message and I could not help but feel proud remembering I was part of the committee that recruited him to Bellevue some sixteen years ago.  He and I (along with hundreds of others) worked very closely to relocate our church and we served side by side for many years as pastor and deacon.  Beyond his preaching skills and leadership, I sat there most proud of him for never making me regret that decision.  I miss serving with him.

Like many churches Bellevue members enjoy hanging out together and I said before Lisa and I hung around between the services to greet friends we had missed, share a laugh, take a few pictures, hug a lot of necks and shake a lot of hands.  We really felt like we were home.

And here is a shock – Bellevue is not perfect.  As a matter of fact there have been times that the church angered me beyond what I care to admit.  Not to compare myself with Christ – but I know a little of the emotion behind His charging into the money-changers in the temple.  I have had my table flipping moments through the years and have damaged relationships with other members in the process.  There are struggles in being the community of faith just as there are struggles being any other type of organization.  Where there are people – there will be conflicts.  And the truth is Bellevue is like all other churches – full of failed human beings who can be petty and selfish and mean and – well, human.  Some say the music is too loud, the sanctuary too dark, the sermon too long, the parking lot too small, the seats too hard, and the air conditioner too high.  We expect the church to be all things to all people.

Scripture calls the church the Body of Christ.  That is true.  But, at times, it feels more like a zoo.  Every zoo I have been through includes fascinating animals that are beautiful and exotic and draw people to them.  And then there are those strange animals that look funny.  Zoos house animals that are bizarre looking and act crazy.  We move past those quickly and gather at the cage where the animals are more interesting and appealing.  The challenge for Bellevue and all churches is to embrace all the animals – including the unappealing ones.  The church is a zoo and Bellevue is no exception.  But though Bellevue is flawed – it is also an amazing place.  Those strange animals of the church have been the greatest asset in our lives, our marriage and our home.  We miss Bellevue and all those wonderful animals inside – even the strange ones.

Lisa and I are now back in Cambridge Ohio and will be for at least the next two months.  We will continue to attend different churches around Cambridge and Guernsey County and I know there are good people here that would do anything for us – we have already met many.  But six hours from here in western Kentucky is another church that we will be thinking about.  And like every Sunday – we will, again, wish we were home.

Love, Steve and Lisa