Southern Gospel Times Feature Article

Lessons from the Heart - Mary Anne Oglesby Sutherly


We have heard many times about the coat of many colors. Dolly Parton wrote a song, a book, and even made a movie about it—which by the way was absolutely amazing. Dolly loved her coat so much. She didn’t care what anyone else said, her coat was a special gift—a gift of love.

There are many times in my ministry the Lord allows my heart to hear His voice. I heard His voice loud and clear this week. Although my coat story is quite different than Dolly’s, it still centered around a coat, a coat wrapped in love.

The Bible says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I know this Scripture isn’t written about a coat, but it is written about the love God gives us for our friends. It’s a kind of love that allows us to look past our worldly possessions. In this particular story it’s a kind of love that helped one of our Veranda volunteers look past the value of a piece of fabric for the love of a friend—a friend who had just gone into a place you and I would not understand unless we had dementia.

I have wrestled on how to even write what happened, but this story is so poignant and powerful it has to be shared. My special friend was taken to a deeper place of mental fear. We “healthy minded” people will never understand. A paralyzing fear gripped her very being. She in an instant was taken to a new part of a journey she knows will be her demise. Have you ever thought about waking up in the morning and not knowing who you are, where you are, what day it is, or what time it is? My sweet friend lives it every day. She will say please remember that for me. I am having trouble. What day is this? Where is my car? Who brought me here? Where am I? The next day it starts all over again. That’s where she was. The fear of wearing those awful “diapers” everyone talks about became a reality. It was hers that day. She knew by what had happened that she had slipped a little. She was crying, shaking holding on to me. I cried with her. My heart was broke too. Truth was, one of her fears was coming to pass. She knew it and I knew it.

She had wet her pants. For the first time she had no control over it. Worst of all, her friends knew it. We were there and saw it happen. Did it bother us? No, not for the reason she was thinking. It bothered us because it was one step further into her journey deeper into dementia. You see true friends empathize and feel each other’s pain. True friends lift each other up. True friends will talk about how they themselves have wet their pants. True friends laugh it off and most of all true friends find a way to lessen the pain. As true friends we did just that.

God prepares us for our journey. That day He sent a message to her friend about a coat….a simple new coat. Made of fabric, thread, zippers and a few buttons. That special coat was used for a divine purpose. You see one of The Veranda volunteers put that coat on the seat of her car because my special friend refused to get in the car with her wet pants and ruin her seats. No greater love has a friend who will sacrifice something of her own for someone in great need. With my own eyes and ears I watched and listened to a friend and wonderful volunteer of The Veranda say, “You can sit on my coat on the way home. Oh, don’t you worry about my coat. It was going to the cleaners in the morning any way. Just sit right down on it.”

Guess what? My special friend did just that. Hopped right up in that car and sat down on that coat. Did it change what had happened? No, but it did show a sacrifice—a sacrifice of love—someone loved a friend more than a worldly object. Someone who realized people and their feelings are far more important than “stuff.” This is love at its finest moment. A love from the heart of a caring friend and a love that transcends a disease called Alzheimer’s. God’s Word is true. Nothing can separate us from His love, not even a tangled brain ravaged with Alzheimer’s.

I spoke with my volunteer later that day to see how everything went after she got our special friend settled back to her home. She said it was good. If you don’t read anything else I have written, please pay attention to this: My special friend said,” Thank you so much for letting me use your coat. I don’t know what I would do with you or Mary Anne.”

You see that’s why we do what we do. That thank you money can’t buy. That thank you took courage. That thank you was an admission that she had reached another place in her journey—one that leads her closer home. Is she scared? Yes, but not of death—just scared of the journey.

If I could beg I would, let me just leave you with this. As Christians and as members of the church of Jesus Christ, we must learn to lay down our coats to help those who can’t help themselves. Why? Because as Mother Teresa so beautifully said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Let us learn to love more. Let us learn to be a better friend. One who will lay down their coat for others.

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Mary Anne Oglesby Sutherly About Mary Anne Oglesby Sutherly
An Arkansas native, Mary Anne Oglesby lives in Nashville, TN, and is the founder of Veranda Ministries, a program dedicated to the well-being of the senior adult population. In addition to her nearly 20 years in senior care and health care industries, Mary Anne has spent a majority of her life singing Gospel music. She is a private vocal coach and staff member of the Steve Hurst School of Music.

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