The Perfect Place at the Right Time!

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Prior to last Monday, I’d never heard of the First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dumfries, VA or its Small Groups Ministry Director Stephanie Craddock. We met at the Faith United Against Alzheimer’s Coalition Round Table, part of the UsAgainstAlzheimer’s National Alzheimer’s Summit in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the Round Table was to mobilize faith communities around brain health and Alzheimer’s awareness. From the moment Stephanie and I met, we “connected”.

After the round table ended, Stephanie and I chatted briefly and she invited me to First Mount Zion yesterday to see the play Forget Me Not. I was excited because the play that’s been touring the country focuses on Alzheimer’s and its impact on the African-American family. By the end our next conversation I was added to the panel discussion that was to occur between the two acts of the play. I sent my bio and photo to Stephanie Craddock and to Stephanie Monroe, the Executive Director of  AfricanAmericansAgainstAlzheimer’s, UsAgainstAlzhimer’s. I was told that more than 1,700 people had already registered to see the play.

When I arrived at First Mount Zion yesterday at 9am to help set up the African-AmericansAgainstAlzheimer’s table, I was just excited to see the play, and to participate in the panel. Then I met Deacon Michell Clark (the MC for the day and one of the Founding Members of African-Americans Against Alzheimer’s), who offered to give me a tour of the multi-level church. The tour can only be described as mind-blowing! The church has incredible facilities and more services and programs than I’d ever seen. I’ve been in churches that had a small gym and even a basketball court, but certainly not a gym called Fit By God with a room filled with extraordinary equipment, as well as a sauna, steam room AND a trainer who designs fitness programs for church members. The huge basketball court has a full scoreboard and a full track in the balcony over the court. There is also a Kid’s Kingdom, that has themed classrooms and areas designed with kids in mind. There is a full service cafeteria with a commercial kitchen that provides meals for the dozens of First Mount Zion group meetings. There is a child care center, a barber shop, a beauty salon, a bookstore, a clothing store that serves the community, a computer lab, a huge crying room with glass windows that overlooks the sanctuary for parents with fidgety kids. They have more meeting rooms (several with capabilities for streaming the services) than some actual conference centers I’ve been in. And these are just SOME of the highlights!!

During and after the tour I met church ushers, members of the parking ministry and leaders of many groups. I had great fellowship with the wonderful people who lead the church’s Alzheimer’s Support Group. By the time we finished setup for the resource table with information on Alzheimer’s I was totally spirit-filled and ready to meet the many people who would enter the church doors to receive information, to laugh and to cry. The sanctuary doors opened at 11, but many people were already gathering by 10:30. People rushed over to the table to talk to me and Stephanie Monroe and to take home all of the information we had to offer. Some had been dealing with Alzheimer’s for a long time, while others had just recently been impacted by the disease. We talked and shared information right up until the play started at noon. It’s been a long time since I’d hugged that many people! I spoke with one eleven year old boy who was brought to the event by his grandmother because he wanted to learn everything he could to help his grandfather whom he said was his best friend.

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The play, which is offered to the community for free, was excellent and much more emotional than I thought it would be. It was certainly funny in parts, but deadly serious in others. During the panel discussion led by Stephanie Monroe, it was amazing to actually sit on the set of the play as we told our stories and answered questions. As I looked out over the audience I was stunned by the rapt attention everyone was paying to the panelists, as they seemed to hang on every word that was said during the short discussion! I was tremendously proud to be in a room where almost 2,000 mostly African-American souls were listening and talking about Alzheimer’s disease. During the intermission and after the play, people rushed out to purchase a DVD of the play which I helped to sell and copies of my books. I sold almost every book I had with me.

After the play ended and the last person had left, I helped to get all of the remaining Alzheimer’s informational material repacked into boxes ready to be shipped to the play’s next location. With each box I packed, I felt like I was playing a part and doing God’s work in continuing to spread awareness about this disease across this country. Many of you know that I’m a cradle Episcopalian, but I don’t believe our chosen denomination matters at all in this work. I believe its a matter of being like Jesus and reaching out to those who need and want information and supporting each other with unconditional love, patience and understanding. I’m more energized than ever about this work and I’m especially focused on learning more about providing dementia-friendly services to those suffering with this disease and their caregivers. The best thing by far that happened to me this week was meeting Stephanie Craddock and having the opportunity to spend the day at First Mount Zion Baptist Church. I’m thankful that last Monday I was in the Perfect Place at the Right Time!

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The Weekend That Was Meant to Be!

I was supposed to spend Labor Day Weekend in Orlando at a huge African-American event participating in a panel on Alzheimer’s disease and signing my books. But more than a month ago, I was bumped from the event by a famous actor (there are worse things in life). I was told I could still attend the event but would have to pay my own way, but I declined. Then I tried to make camping reservations for me and JOY, but by then all the campgrounds within a comfortable driving distance were booked. Turns out, it was Meant to Be for me to stay home this weekend.

On Friday afternoon, instead of driving to a campground and being out in nature which I love, I was sitting in a room in an upscale assisted living facility visiting our beloved friend Mrs. Adams. She and Mom have been best friends since forever! I was terrified a few months ago when I called to set up our next get together, and learned that her phone had been disconnected. She had to be removed by protective services from her home of 65 years for her own safety. Then in June she suffered a traumatic brain injury. The woman who had been my rock since my Mom was diagnosed in 2006, is now in virtually the same condition as my Mom. Struggling for words, getting frustrated when she can’t find them, and YET still having a smile that could light up a room. This visit was simply Meant to Be!! It meant that I wasn’t going to let not knowing where she was stop me from upholding a decades long tradition of celebrating our birthdays together. After I found her, though she couldn’t remember my name, when I asked why she was removed from my home she told me the story of her conflict with her son, a story she had yet to share with anyone else according to the staff at the facility and the two other friends who were in her room when I arrived. I thank God that she’s in a great place and is safe!

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Then on Sunday, I took my Mom to church for the first time since last year. Earlier in the week, a friend who will soon become an Episcopal priest shared the research she’d done on the “best spiritual care interventions across the stages of dementia”. I loved her findings and because I know my Mom Spirituality is still very strong, I decided to take her to church in spite of her habit of constant humming which began about 9 months ago. As soon as we got out of the car at church, people rushed up to her. Some of them only know my Mom from Facebook, but they greeted her as if they’d known her all of her life. She hugged them, they hugged her! During the service Mom did well. She couldn’t follow the service, but passed the Peace and took communion. When her humming got too loud, I took her into our amazing chapel where she could hum and I could still hear the service. It was the absolute BEST of both worlds. Of course I now wish I had taken her to church more in the past. One of the things Mom says more than any other is “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”… in between the humming, she must have said it 40 times as we sat in that chapel. I’m so grateful for our Rector Michele, who stopped what she was doing and hugged and welcomed Mom, and for all of the parishioners, some who are friends and some who are not, who rushed up to greet us. For a while there was even a line to say hello to Mom. Truly an incredible morning for me…. I thank God for sending us to church and allowing Mom to be surrounded by love, which I believe she felt. The trip to church was simply Meant to Be!

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Having Mom with me all day yesterday was beautiful. As we sat in my RV named JOY we had lunch, we colored in what I hope will be my next published work, and we flipped through several magazines. We even went for a ride in JOY!! She’s still so aware at times, because as I buckled her into JOY for our ride she said “you can’t drive away in your house!” I was hysterical!! Being with her over the Labor Day Weekend was fitting… She labored so hard during her life to keep clothes on our backs and food on our table! I think she understands somewhere in her mind that I now LABOR for her in any and everything that I do.

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If this weekend had unfolded the way it was originally planned, I’d be writing this from Orlando. BUT, I would have been busy, rushed, chatting with people and signing books. I wouldn’t have spent time with my Mom’s best friend whom I’ve known my entire life, or watched my Rector and my fellow parishioners gush over my Mom before and after service or had a simple lunch with Mom that we giggled through for no reason at all. I didn’t know what was coming this weekend, but I knew it would be something special because I wasn’t even upset when my gig was cancelled. Turns out this weekend brought me peace, and it was simply Meant to Be!! Happy Labor Day from Mom and me!