Carter Boggs (front) and Luv-Em-Up Ministries' Bobby Yates
By Fred Dickey Nov. 4, 2013
On this evening, in the whole world, you will not find a gathering of 100 people more pure of heart than these.
Among their number, there is no lust, no greed, no hate, no envy. They are in God’s house, and they feel right at home.
A Christian rock band is playing on stage, and the 100 are dancing with right-angle movements a beat awry from the melody, but with wide smiles and body language that is in tune. Though most have a reduced awareness, it doesn’t prevent them from being in the thick of this communion of joy.
I see a man in his 70s bouncing with the glee of a kid at a carnival. Then there is a kid, a boy with a hunch back, shuffling with the music like an old man. A girl is led in by an older woman’s hand. You don’t know what she realizes, but someone cared to bring her here, so there must be meaning to it.
They are at the Monday night services of Pastor Bobby Yates’ Luv-Em-Up Ministries held for the disabled of East County at The Rock Church in El Cajon. Among them are persons of all ages and afflictions, but mainly mental. These are worshippers who don’t fit fully into regular church services, so Yates’ purpose is to bring the gospel home to where they think and feel.
Off to the side is an older man watching and smiling. His eyes are more alert than some here, and I am told he has been a part of this group for the entire 10 years of its existence.
Yates identifies him as Carter Boggs, and says the name with pride. “Carter began as a guy who was scared stiff and didn’t know what to do. Now, he’s a man of God. Now, in his group home, he fills a role of leadership. The others all kind of follow him. He lets them know when they’re making bad choices.”
I walk over and extend my hand to the man named Carter Boggs. His handshake is firm and his expression open and curious. He accepts me without suspicion. A slight awkwardness of expression is a giveaway that his bearing is a few degrees off true north, but a shy smile more than compensates. His carriage is firm and erect. His hair is full and black with only a fringe of gray, and you can bet he doesn’t dye it. You have to listen carefully to his enunciation, but his thoughts are clear. This is an average man — almost.
Until adulthood, he knew nothing of the viciousness that others were capable of, and which would descend on him.
Carter was born drastically premature and weighed only 4 pounds. That unfortunate circumstance made him mentally disabled and set the course for his entire 62 years.
Carter views the misfortune of his birth matter-of-factly. “Well, I was born with mild brain damage. I also have schizophrenia; depression, too. But, actually, the schizophrenia is mild. The depression’s very mild.
“When I was first born, they didn’t — well, in 1952 they didn’t have the technology like now. So I was about 2 years old when my mom noticed I was slowing down. So they did some tests on me, you know, the brain thing, and they found I had a mild case of disable. Now, the doctors in those days, they told my mom, ‘Well, you (should) lock him up. He’ll be a vegetable.’”
Fortunately, she did not. Carter lived at home and was raised in Oregon and Southern California, where he graduated from Whittier High School’s special-education program. He had a girlfriend in high school — the only one he’s ever had — who was actually more of a buddy. He says he’s never thought of the opposite sex for any other reason.
“My only girlfriend was Leslie Zimmerman in high school. She was disabled. She drove. She had a car. She’d pick me up and take me out for movies. We’d go out to IHOP for breakfast.”
Carter eventually moved out of his family home, and in his mid-20s tried sharing an apartment in Clairemont with another man whose disability was seizures. Carter says the man also had a bad drinking problem, but that wasn’t all. He sexually abused Carter and threatened him.
“He said, ‘If you tell anybody, I’ll give you, I’ll knock your block off.’ He had a really horrible drinking problem. It was horrible. Worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”
His mother moved him into a studio apartment in East County where he tried to live on his own. “But I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. The cooking thing.”
When routine tasks proved overwhelming, his mother helped him find the home where he has lived for 32 years — the Baum Family Care Home in El Cajon.
Cheryl Baum, the owner, says Carter is the leader of the other five disabled residents. “He tells the others what’s right and wrong, and sets the behavior standard that the others follow,” she says.
She also says Carter closely follows politics and sports, and is something of a savant in his knowledge of baseball and football statistics.
Carter manages his own income, which comes from state and federal programs. He pays the state-prescribed $1,000 per month for room and board. He has a mother and sister in Oregon with whom he tries to stay in touch. His father died 10 years ago in an auto accident at age 94.
He happily remembers an incident almost a quarter-century past. “Now, my dad — I’ve got a story to tell you about my dad. This is very funny. One year in 1991 my dad showed up and he says, ‘Is my son, Carter, here?’ Me and my dad went to the mall, had a soda and then he went back to Oregon.”
Carter works several hours per week for a public agency that involves him in volunteer activities and also pays him a nominal sum for small jobs in the community, to develop his sense of usefulness.
“We go out and do jobs. We go out and do tables. Like today I did Burger King in Lakeside. The pay is not much, but I’m happy with it.”
Have you been told at what level you function?
“I have different levels. I’m pretty good at reading. Third-grade level. Reading, I’m very good at, but math and spelling I’m not very good at. I know easy math like, 1, 2, 2, but the harder ones like subtraction and multiplication, I have more trouble with.”
What would you like to do in your life that you haven’t done?
“I’ve done most everything in my life. I’ve been to Hawaii with Cheryl and Ron. He’s her husband. I’ve been to Grand Canyon and Yosemite with Cheryl and Ron.
“A couple years ago, Cheryl took me and the guys to Las Vegas for (her granddaughter’s) dance competition. Her name is Kelly.”
Did you gamble?
“Yeah, I gambled. I play the penny machines. Cheryl doesn’t like the nickel because it takes your money so fast. She likes the penny machines. I put $4 in the slot machines and I won $117, so I treated everyone to breakfast.”
Are you on any medications?
“Yeah, I’m on medication. I have cholesterol, high blood pressure, and for my depressive schizophrenia.”
What frightens you?
“Nothing frightens me.”
That’s good. What makes you depressed?
“Actually, I’m doing really good on not being depressed.”
When you used to get depressed, what happened?
“Sometimes I talk to myself as part of the schizophrenia. When I wasn’t on the meds, I’d talk about dead people. I would talk about Marilyn Monroe. Things like that.”
You’d talk about what?
“Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe — the actress, you know, the one that committed suicide in 1962. You’ve never heard of Marilyn Monroe?”
Why Marilyn Monroe?
“I don’t know. It’s just a sad thing. But I’m healthy. I’m very healthy. But the reason I take it is because with my medication, I do mall walking around the mall (Westfield Parkway in El Cajon).”
What do you mean?
“No, actually, the kind of medication that I’m on, you have to exercise with it. So I do my mall walking at the mall on Saturday and Sunday. Not every day, Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes I walk around four times. I love the mall. Cheryl drops us off.
“They have a place called Towers Bakery, and you can get a small mixed yogurt, kind of like ice cream, for $1.50. And then they have small cakes for $2.
“Sometimes, I — oh, have you heard? There’s a new ice cream place going in the mall. It’s from Baltimore. It’s called Baltimore, ice cream called Baltimore. They say it was really popular in Baltimore. So the owner is trying — it’s open today. I want to go and try some. The new place is open.”
What does The Rock Church mean to you?
“The Rock Church. I love (Pastor) Miles McPherson. I love Bobby (Yates) and Miles McPherson. I love God. You know what I do every night before I go to bed? I kneel down and say a prayer. I pray for me and my mom, my sister. I pray for all Cheryl’s kids, too, when I rename them. I pray for Bobby and sometimes I pray for Miles, too.”
What do you pray for yourself?
“I pray for myself that when it’s my time to go that I’m gonna go straight to heaven.”
Do you sometimes wish you weren’t disabled?
“No, not really. I can’t really change that. I’m happy. I’m glad I have the life I have.”
I once heard a statement that sounded like a cliché. It goes: “I am not handicapped, I am differently abled.” That sounded rather trite at the time; however, the transition from cliché to wisdom travels over a bridge called awareness and ends at understanding.
In some important areas of life, we should remove the “dis” from Carter Boggs’ adjective.
Fred Dickey’s home page is freddickey.net [email protected]