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Friday, December 10, 2010

God in a Nursing Home

My small group of maybe 18 people from church stepped into the entryway of a nursing home a couple of nights ago. The leader of the group handed out a set of lyrics and we paired up to share them. Our nervous laughter probably told the residents, who were sitting nearby watching TV, we had no idea what we were doing. But it was time.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
'Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Don we now our gay apparel,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
Troll the ancient Yule tide carol,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Some of the fa la las were just a little too high for me to hit, so I exercised my right to remain silent in those moments. A few people clapped, including a woman who appeared to be a nurse. Later, I learned we had some competition. One of the people in my group told me a Victoria's Secret ad was on TV while we were singing "Deck the Halls" and some of the male residents weren't exactly paying attention to us.

We moved down one of the hallways, where some of the residents live, and we were just about to launch into "Jingle Bells" when a woman who lives in the facility approached us in her bathrobe.

"Thank you so much for coming," she said, clapping her hands. "Can I sing with you?"

"Of course!"
Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way
Bells on bobtails ring
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to laugh and sing
A sleighing song tonight!
It was a holy moment – seeing the joy in the woman's face as she sang with us. Our group of 18 became 19. She stayed with us for the remainder of our visit.

Doors began to open, residents peeking out. I kept wondering if we were interrupting somebody's favorite TV show, but other than during the brief Victoria's Secret ad, we seemed to have everyone's attention. As doors opened, residents began to wave at us. We waved back and kept singing as we migrated down the next hall.
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace
A door creaked opened behind the woman and I who were sharing a song sheet. At first, I thought one of us leaned against it and caused it to open, but it was another curious resident. He waited until we were finished singing and then thanked us. Another holy moment. The power of music was literally opening doors and causing strangers to acknowledge one another.

The resident who joined us from the previous hallway said, "Let's go upstairs! I have the code." Our leader nodded, saying her contact at the facility told us we could go up there. The woman punched in the code and away we went. She punched in another code at the top of the stairs and we began to fill the second floor hallway. Before all of us made it, an alarm went off. Apparently the door could only stay open for so long. The alarm went off a few more times before we all finally made it.

Surely, an angry resident would storm out of his or her room at any moment and tell us to keep it down or to go away. But that didn't happen.
The first Noel the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep:
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.
"Thank you, thank you for coming," a man said from his room. He sat facing us in a wheelchair. "Merry Christmas to all of you."
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
And a Happy New Year.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Somebody from down the hall told us we couldn't go any further on that floor because residents were sleeping. So, it seemed as if the Lord brought us to the second floor for the man in the wheelchair. Another holy moment.

And, as is so often the case, a funny moment followed the holy moment. We had to figure out how to get through the door without setting off the alarm over and over. The resident with the code punched in the numbers and six or seven of us at a time filtered through the door, shutting it before the alarm went off. When it went off toward the end of the line, we groaned in unison, but at least we improved.

We repeated a couple of the songs as we headed back to the main entryway, toward the front door. We stopped in the entryway and sang "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" to the same residents we serenaded when we first entered the building. In God's providence (my attempt at church humor) the Victoria's Secret ad was no longer playing, so we had the full attention of all the residents seated around the TV.

The man who was closest to us sat in his wheelchair and clapped along as we sang. When we finished, he smiled and applauded, along with the other residents. Another holy moment. Residents wished us a Merry Christmas and we wished them the same. Their wish has already come true in my life. My Christmas is already merry because of what God did among us that night.


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