Chaplain’s Corner: Smile

By Sarah Sexton | Publish Date March 12, 2024

By the time you read this, I will have been the chaplain at Kirkwood for a bit over a month. One of the things I have noticed about the residents and staff is that we all are usually smiling. Now I know, smiling all the time is probably somewhat artificial. No one is in a constant state of giddiness. But I sense a difference here. I believe that the folks I see at Kirkwood are genuinely happy.

Seeing the smiles at Kirkwood reminds me of a woman who was a member of one of the congregations I served as pastor. I had only been there a short time, and I was still rather anxious about what I was doing. Sunday mornings, before, during and after worship, were difficult. I felt a great deal of pressure to “perform” as I lead the service and preached. When I think back on that time, I realize that I was focused on what I was doing or trying to do. I was concentrating.

On this particular Sunday, I was walking down the aisle to the door to greet the congregation as they exited the sanctuary at the end of worship. When I was about three rows from the door, a woman stepped out into the aisle in front of me. I stopped and looked up at her (because I had been looking down as I walked – concentrating, focused, serious). She was standing close to me. In what I heard as a stern voice she said, “Would it kill you to smile?”

I was so shocked that my one-word reply was, “No.” I stepped around her and proceeded to the door. This happened at least twenty years ago. Obviously, it stuck with me.

With the passage of time, I probably do smile more easily. I know one reason is that I am less anxious than I used to be. The reason I tell people that being the chaplain at Kirkwood is the best job in the world is because the main task of this job is to listen to you. To my way of thinking, what could be better? This is my favorite part of ministry. I like to preach, and I like leading Bible studies, but the reason is because I experience those as relational. I want Bible studies to be conversational. I know it is difficult for most of us to think about worship as a conversation between the preacher and the congregation. The way I think about it is that conversation happens before Thursdays in the chapel. The more I hear you on the other days of the week, the better you hear me on Thursdays.




For reflection:

What do you notice happens when you smile? How do you feel? How does your demeanor shift?

What are obstacles you experience preventing you from smiling? Are you anxious? How can we hand our anxieties over to God?

What makes you happy?


The Residents

Our residents come from different backgrounds and bring their unique qualities, talents, and life experiences to complete the Kirkwood community. Here are just a few reflections from some individuals who call Kirkwood their home.

My time at Kirkwood was spectacular; they taught me how to walk again. The staff was outstanding, and the care was beyond reproach. When I arrived, I had a long way to go. I was very sick. The first night, they had to lift me as I could not move by myself. When I left, they were chasing me down the hallway. They taught me how to perform the activities of daily living again. It was the best care I could have prayed for, and on top of that, the food was spectacular.

Eli Gold Past Resident

I fell in love with the cottage and the view from my back porch. I am excited to have a yard for Ginger, my poodle, to play in and my own garage, all within an established retirement community!

Charlotte Hamilton Current Resident

My husband and I looked at a number of places when deciding to move to a retirement community. For the most part, we found communities that said, ‘We’re going to take care of you.’ But Kirkwood was different. It wasn’t just about taking care of us. It was also about having fun, having friends, and living life to the fullest. The attitude at Kirkwood was positive and the atmosphere was comforting. We simply couldn’t resist. Without a doubt, the location was ideal. The Cahaba Room that overlooks the river, the mountains, the trails – there were just so many things about life. The community was lively. It was alive.

Alice Brooks Current Resident

We realized we were approaching an age where we might need more assistance than what just downsizing could provide. Knowing we have my sons nearby and the levels of care should we need it is comforting, and the beautiful hillside, river, and the woods makes it that much more appealing. We don’t know of any other community that has the woods, the various levels of care, and so many different amenities.

Phyllis and John Guschke Current Residents

We were moving my parents down from the Cleveland area to be near us. I looked at almost every retirement place in the Birmingham area. The second I turned into Kirkwood’s drive and drove up the hill, I knew that I’d found the perfect place for my parents to live in Alabama. In the six years that my parents have been at Kirkwood, I have always felt nothing but love and helpfulness from every staff member. Everyone is always helpful with a pleasant attitude. You can truly see and feel the family atmosphere. I’m happy that my parents can call Kirkwood their home.

Brenda Sheehan Kirkwood family member

When we learned that Cedar Ridge was being developed, that seemed to fit our needs very well. It is the ideal place for the next phase of our retirement.

Carol and Arthur Stephens Current Residents

One thing that we feel is very important here at Kirkwood by the River is the relationship that we have between the staff and the residents. They are dedicated to making our life here as safe and secure and pleasurable as possible. That goes a long way.

Fred Rogers Current Resident

The community's cottage living surrounded by a wooded, natural environment with access to future healthcare services is what attracted us to Kirkwood!

Rick and Jane Ricketts Current Residents