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The Sentimental Journeys of "When Swing Was King"

Dear friends of Vital Signs,                                                         April 2013

I was holding Greta’s hands after a "When Swing Was King" presentation, our very first at this facility.  (It won't be our last one, though.  We were asked by the activities director to please consider adding them to our monthly schedule.  And we said yes. So our “absolute limit” of ten programs a month has now been stretched to thirteen! Imagine, 13 “sentimental journeys” that we provide free of charge to residents of nursing homes and other senior living facilities every single month. Cool.)

But back to my story…Greta wanted to chat a bit with me because, as she put it, “you are very interesting and your hands are so warm.” Greta (not her real name, by the way) is 97-years old. She is physically fragile and cannot see much, but her mind and spirit are active, her smile infectious, and she chuckles frequently as she talks.  She was very enthusiastic about our program. "Oh, the music was so lovely and even though I couldn't see the pictures, the things you talked about were so interesting. I just love music and I have ever since my family got a piano. This was so nice to listen to today. Thank you so much for bringing it to us."

But Greta did have a request. "Is it possible you could play some music that isn't so modern? Maybe some music from the old days?" I couldn’t help but laugh.  After all, the songs we play are mostly from the 1930s and 1940s. "Something not so modern, huh?  Like ragtime? Or Paul Whiteman and Rudy Vallee?”  No, that wasn't exactly it, she said.  I tried again. "Do you mean songs like ‘Sweet Adeline’ or ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon?’" She squeezed my hands and sat up straight. "There you are! Oh, that music would be wonderful to hear again!" But then, with a gracious sense of courtesy, she reassured me, "But I loved the music you played today so very much too. So anything you have to bring along, I know it will be just perfect!"

Another very touching moment came that day when I stopped to talk with Del and his daughter who had stopped in to visit him. We learned later that Del doesn't communicate much. In fact, he usually doesn’t seem connected to what's going on around him. But, boy, did the music trigger something in him that afternoon!  In fact, the music had taken Del back to the days of World War II. And, as I bent down besides him, he struggled to tell me about being a mechanic on P-38 fighter planes while stationed in the Aleutian Islands during the war.  I let him know how impressed and grateful I was for his service to our country and how honored I was to meet him.

I explained to him, "Del, the boys of my generation understood very well that the P-38 was one of the planes that won the war. So when we looked for model kits to put together, it was the P-38, the P-51 and the B-17 that were the most cherished. And now, here I am with one of the guys who put those P-38s in the air and kept them flying! I'm thrilled to shake your hand." There was a broad smile and then a couple of tears.  In fact, Claire told me later that there were tears from the activities director who had never seen Del open up like that.  The power of music. The power of respect. The power of love.

When we created "When Swing Was King" (not quite 3 years ago), our purpose was to entertain my Mom and her fellow residents at Life Care Center. That was it. We had no idea that it would spread so far (and so fast) into other nursing homes and senior living facilities. Indeed, the impact has been somewhat startling…but really wonderful. Because as terrific as the shows are (22 different volumes, each volume featuring 12 songs and hundreds of photos), “When Swing Was King” is so much more. It is a winsome example of Christian pro-life advocates being concerned about the elderly and infirm as well as preborn children. “When Swing Was King” has made a lot of fans, that’s for sure, but more important, it has made a lot of friends. And that means ongoing ministry opportunities with residents, family, staff and even people who hear about it. Vital Signs Ministries has had an outreach into nursing homes ever since our beginnings (remember the many years at Mercy Care Center?), but we have never had anything as purposeful, as powerful, and as popular as this remarkable outreach. 

The only thing missing? You! Well, a few of you anyhow, willing to come along to visit with the residents and develop friendships of your own. Claire and I can’t spend quality time with everyone. So, consider this a personal invitation to come join us. Moms and Dads, are you looking for family-oriented ministry? How about you retirees, shift workers, teenagers who talk about “making a difference in the world,” home-school kids, anybody and everybody -- would you like to really light up someone’s day? The monthly schedule for “When Swing Was King” is always posted on the Vital Signs Ministries web page and there’s a few evening performances each month as well as the afternoon ones. We would all (residents, staff, and Claire and I) love to have you.

 Okay, let’s move on. I could probably fill up several LifeSharer letters with “When Swing Was King” stories but, of course, that’s only part of what Vital Signs Ministries is about. For instance, since last month’s letter, here’s a few of the other things that have kept us busy: Vital Signs Blog and cross-posting onto other sites; the VSM web page and our two other internet blogs; presentations to two groups of AWANA kids; helping judge a home-school speech contest; a pro-life presentation to a group of med students at UNMC; hosting a table for the AAA Center for Pregnancy Counseling banquet; a morning meeting about pro-life matters with Congressman Lee Terry; writing letters and brief articles; our regular 4 mornings a month in front of the abortion clinic; networking activities with other pro-life advocates; hosting the quarterly Vital Signs Board meeting; individual visits with elderly friends; and preparing the sermons for the small inner-city church I preach at on Sunday mornings.  Swirling in and out of these things this month were doctor visits and medical tests for Claire. And there was also the intensity surrounding the terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon. Claire Nicole, Claire’s niece who is still living with us for the semester, ran in the race, finishing just 20 minutes before the blast. (I’m happy to say that both Claires are healthy and safe.) 

In looking at this very busy month, I’m hoping that you can forgive me for getting it out so late. Next month (May) I’ll get it out a lot sooner. I promise! Blessings to all and thanks for your ongoing prayers and financial support of Vital Signs Ministries.