This past weekend marked the twenty-second time we have done our event in Tampa, Florida to benefit The Angelus.
Now, I know most of you folks have no idea what The Angelus is, and although I don't feel capable of covering the scope of love, compassion, devotion and care that goes on there, let me at least give it a try.
The sign on the front entrance says "A place to live, a place to love, a place to learn" and believe me it is all of that and much, much more. The Angelus is a home where a little over 30 of what I call "my precious ones” do indeed live, love and learn, surrounded by a compassionate staff who care for their every need, every day, 24/7.
One thing all of the residents of The Angelus have in common is that they are all in wheel chairs, and from there the similarities are differing and diverse. Some are perfectly cognizant and can carry on a totally rational conversation. Some can't speak at all. Although their minds are perfectly capable of doing so, their lack of motor skills deny it.
It's a touching experience to see someone want to express themselves so badly but just can't make the words come out.
Some are in a constant state of semi-consciousness sitting in their wheelchairs, heads bowed, lost in some netherworld only they can see.
A few have the dexterity to operate a battery-powered wheelchair, but most have to be pushed any time they're moved.
All have to be assisted to one degree or another with their sanitary and hygienic needs, some completely dependent on the caring staff for even the most basic needs.
Now, I know that what the bare facts describe sounds like a drab, colorless place where the indigent are kept, out of public sight, institutionalized and forgotten, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
I only wish that every facility for the handicapped could be like The Angelus, where God's love shines through the employees, the surroundings and the very atmosphere of the place.
The event we do every year is the high point of their year, beginning with front row seats, or wheelchairs, at the concert, where they stay until the last note is played and ending with a church service on Sunday morning where some of the musical artists sing hymns and Christmas songs, and mingle with the kids.
When I made my regular Thursday morning visit this year, the kids - this is actually not correct, since some of them are in their thirties and forties, but my precious ones are all kids to me – anyway, Thursday morning all the kids were together painting Christmas cards.
The cards start off as folded pieces of white heavy gauge paper, and the kids dab their brushes in different colors and put it to the paper as best they can, some haltingly, straining in the effort that the rest of us take for granted. One girl was having paint applied to the bottoms of her feet and pressed down on the cards.
The result is surprisingly pleasing to the eye, and the Angelus ties them in bundles and sells them to raise funds.
I wish the world could see them at a concert, smiling from ear to ear and swaying around in their wheelchairs, loving every minute of it.
There is one girl who sits beside me at church service every year. I hold her hand, and she hums along to the music and is very reverent during the prayers and message. It is the high point of the event for me.
When the service was over, it signaled the end of the most exciting weekend of their year, and the attendants started wheeling the kids out, but my little friend who sat with me lingered behind a little longer. I hugged her and told her goodbye for another year and went on my way to the travel, work and excitement that makes up my life, and she wheeled away to the limited and monotonous routine that makes up hers.
No matter what kind of hand life has dealt you, if you can walk and talk and live any semblance of a normal life you have been blessed beyond measure.
I had no shoes and complained until I saw a man who had no feet.