Chapter 6 – Poems for Nursing Home Ministry


Introduction to Poems for Nursing Home Ministry

Sometimes poetry paints pictures of things you cannot see with words you are familiar with and other times poetry paints pictures of things you are familiar with in words that give you a fresh, new perspective.  Poetry is metaphor, simile, illustration, comparison and concentrated, highly condensed, packed observation.  Poetry is a painting using the infinite, subtle colors of human imagination, emotion, feeling and experience.  Poetry helps you look at concepts and realities you may not be willing or able to look at if it is presented any other way.  Poetry lets the author express things they may not be able to express any other way.

God likes poetry:  one of the major forms of literature in our Holy Bible is poetry.  Like all art with a message, we as the spectator or reader must add patient, thoughtful consideration to get the most out of the message; for, good poetry, like all good art sometimes layers the obvious on top of the profound.  As a Christian volunteer in nursing home ministry, you can use poetry to help your residents look at very important godly concepts and principles with new perspective and depth.  If the Biblical authors knew this about poetry and used it liberally, then why shouldn’t we?

Sometimes the artist uses poetry to be cute.  Sometimes they are trying to startle you to get your attention.  Sometimes the artist is expressing something that we are all familiar with, but in terms that are fresh and lively.  Often the poet is struggling with the limitations of our human language in an attempt to express things that are beyond words. 

Poetry can be nice and neat with predictable rhythms and pleasant rhymes.  Poetry can be soothing, friendly, comforting and sympathetic sometimes.  Poetry can also be harsh and abstract and unfamiliar, even bordering on offensive and confrontational.  It all depends on the nature of the picture that the poet feels compelled to paint.  Look at the difference between the poems in the Psalms and the poems in the Prophetic writings in the Bible!   

The following works of art include tools for use in “Church Services” or activities.  Some are appropriate for volunteer recruitment events, some are good for residents, and some are there just for your reflection and the enrichment of your residents.  Please use them liberally, and as you see fit.

When you share the poems, we encourage you to read them aloud.  Practice, if you need to, so that you will not sound sing-songy, mispronounce words or misinterpret the meaning of a line.  For best results, your reading should reflect the care the author originally put in the poem’s composition.

Needless to say, this compilation is by no means comprehensive. You will find great poetry in old hymnbooks. Sometimes, reading a hymn will help bring out the meaning behind the wonderful, familiar tune. Though far too few, in our opinion, you may find Christian poetry books in your local Christian bookstore or online.  A good source online for Christian poetry is Christart

Also, please remember this: some care facility residents are people of high educational backgrounds with an excellent, wholesome, informed taste for poetry. These residents would love to hear great poetry they read and studied in the past. There are vast amounts of classic Christian inspirational poetry to be found in most general poetry anthologies. Of course, the exercise of good judgement and discretion is a must.



Little Ones of the Master

by Jerry Johnson

I had the honor of getting to know a dear sweet lady a few years ago.  Though a precious, weathered saint of God, she never preached great flowery sermons; never won a city full of heathens to Jesus; she never impressed anyone that I know of with being all that spiritually mighty.  But what I learned from knowing her was God’s perspective of His little children.  He doesn’t keep score the way we do…He’s looking on the heart.  No one took note as she faithfully read her little devotional book and bowed on her knees to the Lord Jesus beside her bed most every morning for fifty years to ask God to somehow get her through each day.  She was never the Bible teacher at church; she always went to learn.  But the Lord gave me the honor of seeing into this magnanimous soul.  There I found a rare, solid-iron, death-defying faith in her Savior.  The time came for me to stand, shocked, beside what I knew to be her deathbed.  I asked God what I could say.  I felt He didn’t want ME to say anything.  I asked HIM what HE wanted to say.  He replied in His tender way to my heart, “Suffer my little child to come unto me.”  I wrote this poem that night.

They’re precious, innocent, trusting, sublime:

Little ones of the Master,

Unaged by the passing of time.

Believing beyond any hope of reason:

Little ones of the Master,

Warmed from within, this winter season.

 Passing their mem’ries, their faults and cares,

Little ones of the Master

Feel pain only their Father shares.

A moment’s suffering a lifetime long,

Little Ones of the Master

Bear their cross with a silent song.

Touching everyone, holding no one firm,

Little ones of the Master

Lean on Him their hopes to confirm.

Wordless, they defy the doubts of mankind:

Little ones of the Master

Are a shout of eternal rhyme!

Bold at the threshold of Destiny’s door:

Little ones of the Master,

Childlike, embark from mortal shore;

For they, most clearly, hear the call from across the sea

To the little ones of the Master:

“Suffer My little children to come unto me.”


A Dear Old Dame

Adapted by the late Herm Haakenson
of The Sonshine Society – Author Unknown

In yesteryear when things moved slow

And life was simple here below,

There lived nearby a country town

A dear old dame named Betty Brown.

She had not much, but anyhow

She got along, she and her cow,

This bovine beast could oft annoy

But still was Betty’s pride and joy.

On Sundays it was off to town

In feathered hat and finest gown,

She loved God’s word and naught would do

But Sunday find her in her pew.

She loved to hear the pastor preach

And listened breathless when he’d teach

But the thing that really made her day

Was when she’d hear her pastor pray.

His words of warning and earnest pleas

Could bring a sinner to his knees

But the crowning moment of Betty’s day

Was when the pastor said, “Let’s pray.”

When strangers she would chance to meet

While walking down her hometown street

She’d smile, greet them, and always say,

“Come, hear my pastor preach and pray.”

One wild and windy winter night

Poor Betty’s heart was filled with fright.

Her cow got tangled in her rope,

Almost strangled, little hope!

She called her pastor, the good man came

Wishing to please this dear old dame.

He viewed the scene that before him lay,

While Betty pleaded, “Pastor, pray!”

Now Pastor knew not what to do,

Praying for cows was something new,

But as she put him to the test

He promised her he’d do his best.

He closed his eyes and bent his head

And these are the words the pastor said:

“You poor old beast, you look so bad

And your poor old Mrs. looks so sad.

If you live, you live; if you die, you do,

And that will be the end of you.”

The pastor left, the cow got well

And ever after Betty would tell

Of that winter night, explaining how

Her pastor’s prayer had saved that cow.

Time marched on and then one day

No pastor at church – to Betty’s dismay!

He had an abscess, very bad,

Poor old Betty, felt so sad.

She made her way to Pastor’s house,

Where she was met by Pastor’s spouse,

Who led the way to Pastor’s bed

Where Betty grasped his hand and said,

“Oh, Pastor, I remember now

When I needed you for my sick cow,

I never really learned to pray

But I learned the words you said that day.

“They worked for my cow and saw her thru

I’d like to say them now for you.”

She cleared her throat and bent her head

And these are the words that Betty said,

“You poor old beast, you look so bad

Your poor old Mrs. looks so sad.

If you live, you live – if you die, you do,

And that will be the end of you!”

A chuckle started in his belly

His whole frame shook like a bowl of jelly.

He laughed until he thought he’d choke

And all at once his abscess broke!

Betty left – Pastor got well

And ever after he would tell

How in his hour of pain and strife

Betty’s prayer had saved his life!


A Young Girl Still Dwells

Copied from Focus On The Family magazine, Sep. 1985.

This poem was written by a woman who died in the geriatric ward of Ashludie Hospital near Dunde, England.  It was found among her possessions and so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.  It is addressed to the nurses who surrounded the woman in her last days.  But because it cries for recognition of a common humanity, it could have been written to all of us.

What do you see, nurse, what do you see?

Are you thinking when you look at me –

A crabbed old woman, not very wise,

Uncertain of habit with far away eyes,

Who dribbles her food and makes no reply

When you say in a loud voice – “I do wish you’d try.”

Who seems not to notice the things that you do

And forever is losing a stocking or shoe,

Who resisting or not, lets you do as you will

With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.

Is that what you’re thinking, is that what you see?

Then open your eyes, nurse. You’re not looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still.

As I move at your bidding, eat at your will.

I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother,

Brothers and sisters who love one another;

A young girl of sixteen with wings on her feet.

Dreaming that soon a love she’ll meet;

A bride at twenty, my heart gives a leap,

Remembering the vows that I promised to keep;

At twenty-five now I have young of my own

Who need me to build a secure, happy home.

A woman of thirty, my young now grow fast,

Bound together with ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons have grown up and gone,

But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn.

At fifty once more babies play round my knee –

Again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead.

I look at the future, I shudder with dread.

For my young are all rearing young of their own,

And I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.

I’m an old woman now and nature is cruel,

’Tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.

The body it crumbles, grace and vigor depart.

There is a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,

And now again my bittered heart swells.

I remember the joys, I remember the pain

And I’m loving and living life over again.

I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast,

And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, nurse, open and see

Not a crabbed old woman,

Look closer – see me!


You Say I Have No Choices?

by Jerry Johnson

A few years ago I attended a meeting related to care facility work, and the young speaker made the comment that she had no intention of ever living in a nursing home.  Her reasoning was that all of a person’s choices are taken away when they go through the doors of the facility.  At that moment, a vision burst into my mind of so many of the nursing home residents whom I have come to know and love in the course of my ministry.  They feel all of their losses deeply, but they maintain their high character and grace, even in the worst of circumstances.  Invariably, I find that their strength lies in the many years they have labored faithfully for the Lord.  As the speaker made her point, the first few lines of this poem began to flow in my mind.  While she continued her speech, I quickly penned this poem to honor these sweet, faithful Christians.

It is the cry of my heart to see the Christian community . . . all Christians . . . take up their responsibility and do their part to encourage and strengthen the hands of these precious saints now living in care facilities, often forgotten by the religious public.

I don’t set my own alarm clock,

Haven’t seen it for many days.

The open curtain at my window

Lets in unwanted rays.

I guess my roommate is a sweetie

But she sure does have her ways.

I’ve forgotten my dear home address:

Good memories now a haze.

A lotta neat people pop in to visit

But no one ever stays.

No need to fuss about the noise at night,

I found it never pays;

And the rigmarole to get my prune juice

Is a daily, tangled maze.

Oh yes! I let go of many things:

Choices . . . and control of my own fate!

But there’s choices I won’t surrender

In this lonely, forgotten state:

I choose to keep my smiling face:

Won’t let depression take my heart.

I’ll pray for the crying souls at night:

While nurses struggle I can do my part.

When my children call, I’ll make small talk

When they don’t have much to say;

I’ll make them laugh and giggle;

I’ll understand when they cannot stay.

I’ll choose to keep my patience

When the shower is too cold.

I’ll not complain or grumble

When the burger’s three days old.

I’ll talk to poor Miss Sally in the hall

Though she never talks to me.

I’ll wait with a real sweet smile for that nurse

Who comes so grudgingly.

And, so don’t you see . . . . . ?

I still have my choices!

This power you cannot take.

My attitude is still mine to mold . . .

And I’ll mold it for Heaven’s Sake


The Morning is Still Dawning Now

by Jerry Johnson

I stand, quivering child, and peer

Into this sea of loss and fear

To strain my eye, “Oh, are You near?”

Your voice would soothe my longing ear:

Strength to my doubt, a blot to my tear.

’Tis stronger than life this loss that I feel

Though no open wound, no less to me real.

How I need Your touch this deep pain to heal!

For death crept in, my loved one’s life to steal!

Look! I can see You, coming…there!

I hear Your comfort, I feel Your care…

…As my friend bows with me in prayer

My tear, my loss, my wound to share.

Thus, I know You feel the pain I bear:

A dear friend’s love has made it clear:

You, too, know the loss of One held dear:

You lost Your Son when He was here.

But, though gone He did not stay away.

You raised Him up on that third day.

And in my heart I can see somehow,

That resurrection morning is still dawning now;

For my hope is resting solid in You

That my loss now is but temporary, too!


Blessings

by Nelta Brock

I knelt to pray when day was done

And prayed, “O Lord, bless everyone,

Lift from each saddened heart the pain

And let the sick be well again.”

And then I woke another day

And carelessly went upon my way,

The whole day long I did not try

To wipe a tear from any eye.

I did not try to share the load

Of any brother on the road.

I did not even go to see

The sick man just next door to me.

Yet once again when day was done

I prayed, “O Lord, bless everyone.”

But as I prayed, into my ear

there came a voice that whispered clear,

“Pause now, my son, before you pray.

Whom have you tried to bless today?

God’s sweetest blessings always go

by hands that serve him here below.”

And then I hid my face and cried,

“Forgive me, God, I have not tired.

But let me live another day

and I will live the way I pray.”


Prescription For A Laugh

Author unknown

Just a line to say I’m living

That I’m not among the dead,

Though I’m getting more forgetful

And more mixed up in the head.

For sometimes I can’t remember

When I stand at the foot of the stairs

If I must go up for something,

Or I’ve just come down from there.

Standing before the frig’ so often

My poor mind is filled with doubt-

Have I just put food away, or

Have I come to take some out?

With my night cap on my head,

I don’t know if I am retiring

Or just getting out of bed.

So, if it is my turn to write you

There’s no need in getting sore.

I may think I’ve already written

And don’t want to be a bore.

So remember, I do love you

And I wish that you were here,

But now it’s nearly mail time,

So I must say “Goodbye, dear.”

There I stood beside the mailbox

With my face so very red

Instead of mailing you the letter,

I opened it instead.


The following ten poems are by the late Betty Jo Mathis. She ministered for many years in nursing homes, as a Bible teacher, a pastor’s wife, and matriarch for seven children and 22 grandchildren. Mrs. Mathis was the author of many booklets of articles, poems, and devotionals. Much of her work is included in materials published by The Sonshine Society to whom she contributed many poems and articles.  You will find more of her material on a facebook page posted by one of her children at: https://www.facebook.com/BettyJopoems/


Latest Update On Mom’s Will

By Betty Jo Mathis

I had hoped to leave you children

A tidy little sum of dough.

I’d hoped when I was dead and gone

That you could reap what I did sow.

I’d dreamed of futures bright for you-

Each one retiring in the south;

But I just got my dentist’s bill

And all your money’s in my mouth!

So, Jimmy gets my gold eye tooth

And Tedd receives my lower plate.

Bill will get my upper partial

My plat’num molar’s Scotty’s fate.

Your future’s looking bleak, my boys.

There’ll be no posh adventures;

But surely you won’t mind at all,

For you’ll really like my dentures!


Blessings

By Betty Jo Mathis

Oh, I’ve lots of blessings! Come and take a look.

‘Count them one by one’, it says in the Sunday hymnal book.

Where should I begin? I’ll start with home and friend,

Then I’ll mention lands and houses and the riches that I spend.

There are cars and cycles, pleasure boats and planes.

I overflow with blessings (thanks to beauty and to brains!)

I’m just full of blessings, running o’er the sides!

(Of course they’re not all paid for; But you know, ‘the Lord provides!’)

Blessings! Are they really? All these things I prize?

The things my hands can fondle, that bring pleasure to my eyes?

Glitter is not gold; it could go tomorrow.

The things I set my heart on may only bring me sorrow.

What if God should quickly take away my wealth,

Like Job the tried and tested, I’d also lose my health?

Would I still consider I was being blest?

What would I be thinking then? Could I handle such distress?

Joy and peace and inner strength; such blessings can’t be gleaned

From this old passing world. They’re neither touched nor seen.

The Blessing of the Lord stills that ‘inner itch’.

His blessing brings no sorrow; it alone can make one rich.


How Can I Sing?

By Betty Jo Mathis

How can I sing the Lord’s songs

In this confusing land?

How can I ever be on top

When nothing goes as planned?

How can I keep on going when

I simply want to quit?

How can I be at peace when in

This dark and awful pit?

Am I supposed to learn from this?

Are there lessons for my soul?

Is all this just a happenstance?

Who’s really in control?

Look up, dear one; He’s leaning down,

List’ning to your prayer

He’ll lift you from the miry clay;

He doesn’t want you there.

Look up! God has great plans for you.

Your cry He’ll never mock.

Don’t wallow in that awful pit!

He wants you on the Rock!

And once upon that Rock, you’ll see

A new and diff’rent view,

For then you’ll know it was His love

That taught and chastened you.

A brand new song you then will sing

‘tis praise to Him alone,

The One who planned each circumstance,

The One Who’s on the throne.

That Rock, who is our Savior, Christ,

A refuge strong will prove;

And though you tremble on the Rock,

That Rock will never move.


Four In The Fire

By Betty Jo Mathis

There were four in the fire – not three alone

When the Hebrew lads in the fire were thrown –

Those boys who refused to idols to turn,

And were cast in the cruel furnace to burn.

Four in the fire – and the fourth was no less

Than the Son of God – Who was there to bless

And protect His brethren from smoke and flame,

And bring them all forth to extol His name.

Yes, four in the fire, and when they returned

They smelled not of smoke, neither were they burned.

And all that they lost in that fiery blast,

Were the fetters that bound and held them fast.

Another’s in the flame, God’s child, with you

When the fiery trials you’re called to go thru’.

He’ll stay thru’ the heat, and then lead you out

With no hurt, no bonds, the vic’try to shout.


A Bit Of “Sonshine”

By Betty Jo Mathis

I see her in her tiny room

And taking notice of the gloom,

I call her name, but she hears not;

This lonely one who’s been forgot

By busy folks like you and me

Whose ears can hear, whose eyes can see.

But she’s dozing in her morning nap,

One withered hand within her lap;

Her useless foot just drooping there,

A lap robe tucked about her chair.

I hesitate this one to rouse,

Perhaps she’s dreaming of her spouse,

And days gone by with children young

When games were played and songs were sung,

When back was strong – hands were able,

Mind was clear and limbs were stable.

But then she wakens – bless her heart,

And finding me, she gives a start,

“It’s you!” she cries, “O friend of mine,

You’ve brought a bit of God’s sunshine!”

We chat a bit and reminisce.

(Why do I slight such times as this?)

She’s so delighted by my call

And shows me pictures on her wall

Of sons and daughters far away;

Like me, they’re thoughtless day by day,

Forgetting how the minutes drag,

The helplessness and sorrows nag.

We speak of Heaven, then we pray.

I rise to be upon my way.

She begs me soon to come again,

“You’ve brought sunshine – you are my friend!”

I cringe with shame. It cost me not

To cheer a lonely soul forgot.

In fact, the benefit was mine.

‘Twas me who needed her Sonshine!


The Trail’s Not Home

By Betty Jo Mathis

When settlers crossed this barren land

In covered wagons, band on band;

Behind them all their bridges burning –

To homes ahead their wheels were turning.

Upon the trail no spot was found

To sink their roots, to settle down –

A better place their hearts were yearning

And all the while the wheels kept turning.

The dusty trail was not to be

Their journey’s end, their destiny –

Home lay beyond the desert burning

So wagon wheels just kept on turning.

Tho’ marked by joy or scarred by fears,

Hallowed by graves or soaked by tears;

Our fathers knew what we’d be learning –

The trail’s not Home – wheels must keep turning.

So dry the tears and leave the grave

Nor revel in what fortune gave;

Our Home’s ahead – the trail we’re spurning –

Just passing thru’, the wheels keep turning.

And Pilgrim, when we’ve ceased to roam

And reached at last our Heavenly home,

No more the weary trail a-churning –

How glad we’ll be the wheels kept turning.


How Do You Tell A Gramma When You See One?

By Betty Jo Mathis

How do you know she’s a gramma?

She looks too young for that!

She hasn’t got a speck of gray

She’s not the least bit fat.

Oh, I know she’s a gramma, tho’

She doesn’t look the part

I can see it plainly in her ways

And know she’s one at heart.

Have you not heard her catch her breath

When little ones get spanked,

Or how she often overlooks

A childish lack of thanks?

She trims the bread in tidy squares

For one who can’t stand crusts,

And says it matters not a bit

When floors get tracked with dust.

She winks at lots of little pranks

Her own kids used to pull

That got them into trouble when

She held to stricter rule.

She never seems too busy now

To hear of youth-ful feats,

Nor does she seem to mind at all

If stories are repeats.

You can’t always tell the grammas

By looks or height or weight.

They’re known by smiles, not styles

And by the stuff they tolerate!


The Parent Becomes The Child

By Betty Jo Mathis

She knows his frame.

Mindful of his years;

She excuses spills,

Tousled hair,

Mis-matched sox.

Listens to grandiose, glowing plans,

Disciplines erratic behavior.

He’s nine.

He’ll grow up.

She understands.

She’s his mom.

He knows her frame.

Mindful of her years,

He excuses spills, unkempt hair,

Mis-matched clothes,

Listens to repeated fading memories,

Overlooks erratic behavior.

She’s ninety.

She’ll not grow up.

He understands.

He’s her son.


Bloom Where You’re Planted

By Betty Jo Mathis

“Bloom where you’re planted!”

That’s what I always sing

To transplants in my flower bed

When I’ve moved them in the spring.

They look so droopy and forlorn,

So fragile and forsaken;

Will they withstand the shocking change

As from the warmth they’re taken?

I leave them in their earthy nest

And I know it won’t be long.

In spite of setbacks for awhile,

Thirsty roots will grow quite strong.

“Bloom where you’re planted!”

Though it be dark or bright,

Some blossoms give their fragrance best

In the darkest hours of night.

“Bloom where you’re planted!”

Be strong, be not afraid.

The winds may blow and sun may beat

And your spirits droop and fade.

“Bloom where you’re planted!”

You will withstand the strain.

God’s life within will guarantee

That His plants will remain.


Watch The Signs, Stay In Your Lane!

By Betty Jo Mathis

I’m heading north on I-25,

Wanting to get home safe and alive.

Husband’s words are clear and plain:

“Go 55, stay in your lane.”

Hands on the wheel, knuckles turned white,

Semis on left, cars on the right;

Cycles ahead, pickups behind,

Strung way out, an impatient line.

Husband’s words, clear and plain,

“Go 55, stay in your lane.

“Drivers may glare and truckers jaw,

“But ‘twasn’t you who made the law.

“You’ll not get caught, you’ll pay no fines

“By keeping rules and watching signs.”

I clenched my teeth, looked straight ahead,

Glad not to know what truckers said:

“Watch that old gal in the Cadillac;

“She’s headin’ north and not lookin’ back”

Husband beside me kept me calm,

His presence there a soothing balm,

His words again, clear and plain,

“Go 55 and stay in your lane.”

I did just that, nor looked around

And got us home all safe and sound.

All God’s kids are headed ‘up there’

Midst folks who race, they know not where.

They whiz on past, some shake a fist

Or glare as they pass, groan and hiss,

“You hold us up- you slow us down.

You make us mad, you make us frown”.

But the Lord is there, beside, within;

We’ll not go wrong if we mind Him.

You want to get HOME safe and sound?

Then don’t be looking all around.

His signs are clear, His way is plain:

Look ahead and stay in His lane.

People may fret and think us fools,

But He’s the ONE who wrote the rules!


A Child’s Embrace

By Jerry Johnson

We hold our cup up

Our eyes upon the Lord.

Our hearts are filled with joy:

To the heights of heaven we have soared.

By His blood we are lifted

By His grace we take the wing.

Our hearts rise up to meet Him:

To His honor and praise we sing.

In our weakness He is strong

For He has won the war.

When He cried, “It is finished!”

Sin, He defeated forevermore!

When He rose up from the grave

He put our feet on heaven’s shore.

Today, by faith we stand.

 As His children born from above,

We embrace Him, our Creator,

He embraces us with everlasting love!


My Daily Creed

Author unknown

Let me be a little kinder,

Let me be a little blinder

To the faults of those about me;

Let me praise a little more;

Let me be, when I am weary,

Just a little bit more cheery;

Let me serve a little better

Those that I am striving for.

Let me be a little braver

When temptation bids me waver;

Let me strive a little harder

To be all that I should be;

Let me be a little meeker

With the brother that is weaker;

Let me think more of my neighbor

And a little less of me.