While viewing the football bowl games last week, I noted that the ABC television network was promoting some new series for their Monday night lineup with the phrase, “Putting the Fun Back in Romance.” The promo clips for these shows indicated to me that network has a rather narrow and distorted view of romance, of love and of fun.
In contrast, I have during the past month witnessed several acts of real love. And while they did not produce great “fun,” they resulted in deep joy.
One was the creation of a warm, clean and serviceable living space for a man who was virtually homeless.
Over the years the antebellum house where Dean lived had deteriorated. Now in his 80s and living alone, he had come to be very much a recluse.
D.D., an area radio personality, noticed that Dean was sleeping most nights in his pickup truck alongside the old house. He began stopping on his way home to visit with the old man. As he gained his confidence, D. D. became able to take him to town to buy food, horse feed and other things that he needed.
With cold weather coming D. D. encouraged Dean, a veteran, to move to the area V.A. hospital. He even offered to feed Dean’s horse, Prince, until spring.
Dean refused. Apparently, he feared that the old family items in the house would be carried off. He also refused to let anyone go into the old house and rehab a part of it as a shelter for the winter.
Many would have “washed their hands” of this cantankerous old man. But D. D. turned to the area Baptist association for help. It was proposed that the association obtain a portable building to be placed beside the old house and prepare it for Dean to live in.
So on a recent Friday and Saturday a total of more than 30 craftsmen, several taking time off from work, made a 14-by-24 portable building in to a small apartment-like dwelling. A shower stall for a handicapped person, a hot water heater, a chair, a TV and a sink were among things donated by area businesses.
The building was plumbed, insulated, paneled, electrified and prepared for Dean to move into. In addition a small shed was built, where the feed for his horse could be stored. The total cost came to about $6,000, which is being provided by neighbors, churches and the association.
Old Dean continues to be a difficult person. He does not seem to understand that this work was done for him as an expression of Christian love. Some nights he migrates back to the pickup truck. He is not eating right. He continues to be both a subject of prayer and an object of ministry.
Frankly, loving Dean has not been a lot of fun. But it seems that most of the 50 or so persons who have worked on this project have experienced the deep joy that comes from sacrificial love.
We do not know if Dean will live through the winter. We do not know if he will ever say “thank you” to any of us. We do know, however, that we have done what Jesus commanded us to do. For most, that seems to be enough.
Elsewhere in our area the wife of one of our pastors was in hospice care during December. Diane had suffered for many years from MS. For the past 12 years she had not been able to take a step. In spite, or because, of her illness she and Randy have raised two wonderful teenage children.
When it became apparent that Diane would soon die, the women of the family’s home church, Flatwoods, and of the church husband Randy pastors, Hebron, volunteered to cook for the family and relieve them during the day of many of their care-giver responsibilities. Combined these churches will have only a little more than 100 total in worship on a good Sunday.
And when Randy, who is bivocational and works for the city of Northport, Ala., ran out of vacation time, his fellow employees donated some of their vacation days to him so that he might continue to care for Diane as her death drew ever nearer.
The love of these women who ministered to Diane was gratefully recognized by Diane, Randy and the children. They knew that their efforts were greatly appreciated.
None of them has expressed to me anything about having “fun” as they assisted this family in a hard time. But all of them to whom I have spoken expressed something of the “deep joy” they had experienced by joining in this hard, life-interrupting work.
For them loving has been about giving and caring, not getting or exploiting.
Diane’s memorial service was celebrative. Pastors Jack and Tommy understood the moment and bathed it in the truth of the gospel. Sadness was there, but it seemed to be swallowed up in deep joy.
I suspect that one day some historians will look at our age here in America and note that our culture was consumed by the subject of love, but that most of us operated with an erroneous understanding of love.
But for now, those of us who are fortunate enough to live among loving folk, those who understand what Jesus taught about love, should be grateful.
And as this little essay tries to do, we need to help others see what love truly means as it is embodied by Christian folk.
Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.