Family


We had just finished making some major changes to our home, knocking out a wall, putting in a new floor, decorating it creatively.  Mary Ann’s sense of color and elegant simplicity was reflected in the results.

Realizing what was coming with Mary Ann’s condition, I had concluded that I would finish out my ministry in OKC and care for Mary Ann there.  The parish was a comfortable fit for me on account of the warmth and graciousness of the people.   The congregation’s place in the polity of the church and my views were a good match.

Then came the contact from Kansas.  It came without warning.  My attitude was that I did not refuse an overture before there was a formal request (Call, in our jargon) to come and serve there.  My understanding of the process was that if it was from God, it would be foolish to sabotage the process.  If it was not, that would become clear soon enough.

There was a phone interview.  Rather than the on site interview that usually followed as the next step, there was a formal Call to come and serve the congregation in East Central Kansas (between KState and KU — of great significance in Kansas).

It was the end of 1995, Christmas coming.  The decision could not be processed meaningfully in the intensity of that season of the year.  I asked for time to think; it was granted.

There are no definitive steps that carry a person to an obvious decision.  The process includes all sorts of elements, including family considerations.  The center of the process, however, is discerning which direction the One in charge of such things is tugging.

Of course the various practical elements needed to be identified and weighed as to their significant.  There were pros and cons to be listed.  I have never found that list to provide a clear answer to the question, which way should I go.  The congregation in Kansas was twice the size with the same size staff we had in OKC.  I had not served in a larger congregation although I did grow up in one that size.  There was a school.  The congregation I served on my Internship (Vicarage) had a school.  We had chosen to send our children to Parochial Schools and valued their experiences there.  The Kansas congregation knew of Mary Ann’s situation but seemed not to hesitate in spite of that awareness.  The Kansas congregation was only a little more than an hour from KU Med Center, the only place we had found anyone who seemed to be capable of handling Mary Ann’s complex version of Early Onset Parkinson’s.  Our children by that time were done with college, so they would not be impacted one way or another by our staying or going.

The ministry in Oklahoma City had been intense, culminating in the OKC Bombing and the loss of Member Lee.  We had just begun a very successful midweek program called Logos.  We had a new and very talented Director of Christian Education, Chris.  We had variety in worship, with wonderful musicians for both traditional and contemporary liturgies.  The Early Childhood programs were thriving.  I had grown close to the membership especially through so many opportunities for doing Pastoral Care.  Actually, I had grown close to some of the Youth, who made a poignant “good-bye Pastor Pete” video that touched my heart.  There was some frustration that the congregation was not growing, but slowly declining.  I was concerned that what I brought to the congregation seemed not to be changing that pattern, even though we had a thriving ministry.

It was a very difficult decision, but finally it seemed as if rather than looking at concluding my ministry in OKC, there was a tugging to the Kansas congregation.  The fit there was also very good.  It felt as if I had been in training over my career up to that point for precisely what the Kansas congregation was asking me to do.

It was right at that point that Mary Ann took a turn for the worse and ended up in the inpatient program in Tulsa, as the new Neurologist tried to find the right combination of medications.

For Mary Ann, the move back to Kansas seemed to have a little of the feel of coming home.  We had both fallen in love with Kansas City.  It felt good to be close again.

There was one dynamic in particular that also made living only a little over an hour away from Kansas City seem like coming home.  When we first moved to Kansas City in 1972 to serve the parish there, we connected with a group of folks who had babies the same year.  Three other couples had boy babies, as well as having an older girl.  They had known one another from college and before.  One couple went to school together as children.  That group graciously included us and ultimately we felt almost like family.  While we were in OKC we vacationed together with that KC Crew in Texas (when I was able to reveal to them Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s diagnosis).  We had gone on a cruise in the Caribbean with one of the couples.  We celebrated birthdays together.

That group was expanded by a number of folks from that congregation with whom we had developed a friendship that continued after we left Kansas City, a friendship that transcended the role as Pastor.  There is a whole community of folks from there whom we value, with whom we have a loving and caring relationship.  Mary Ann was deeply loved by many.  Serving the new parish, we were close enough to allow those relationships to continue and to grow.

Mary Ann’s health, as well as the weight of a large congregation has not allowed the freedom to return to OKC to celebrate those relationships.  Since Mary Ann’s and my families are in Northern Illinois, any time and energy for travel took us north rather than south.  Travel was never easy and got harder as the years went by.  It is my hope that I will now be able to renew and celebrate the connection to so many people I value who were in the congregation when I was serving it there.  I still remember the tears streaming down my cheeks the last Sunday I served Communion to them, saying each name as my emotions would allow.  The organist, Shelbie, was playing her improvisation on “When in our Music God is Glorified” and leading the congregation in singing that hymn during that time.

Life has brought many separations.  The feelings of pain that come with those separations are signs of the deep value and meaning of the relationships that emerged.  On that account I embrace the pain and celebrate it.

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It was called Roman Nose State Park, named after an Indian Chief who had a Roman nose. I didn’t make that up.  Below you will find a bio on Henry Roman Nose.

I call it a rescue.  That is probably a little dramatic, but there is some truth in it.  Just days after I arrived in OKC to begin serving the parish in a suburb, the funerals started.  A number of the leading members of the congregation during my first few weeks there died.  The intense Pastoral care began.  That congregation taught me about Christian community, actually caring for others.  I did funerals for older adults, teen agers, babies, some via natural causes, some accidents, some violent deaths.  I still cherish a Pastoral stole given to me by a family who lost little Hillary just before she was due.

Doing Pastoral Care demands being on call 24/7 year round.  It was the most taxing and the most satisfying of the ministries in my portfolio.  One year there were a cluster of four funerals and a wedding in the span of two weeks including Christmas and New Year’s Day (the Groom chose that day so that he could remember their anniversary).  Without the addition of those Pastoral Care tasks, the Christmas season stretches most Pastors right up to the limit of their strength and stamina.

The combination of work demands and concern for what Mary Ann had to deal with took a toll.  Here is where Roman Nose comes into the picture.  One October, a Pastors’ Conference was approaching.  In the Oklahoma District the clergy were generally a pretty relaxed and congenial crew.  There would be time to relax and enjoy the Park, Roman Nose State Park.  The need for Pastoral Care intervened as a family lost a Loved One.  My hope was always to provide a healing presence to the degree possible.

Realizing that I would miss the break at the conference, I called to see if I could still get the group rate and just go on a Personal Retreat during the two days following the Conference.  The congregation Leadership fully supported that option.  I spent two days walking and reading and sitting and climbing and sitting and walking and reading all over the hills and valleys and bluffs of Roman Nose State Park.  I climbed over fences and through tangled brush in gullies.  I checked out the “healing tree” inside a protective fenced area, a place sacred to the Cheyenne who had lived there.

The place was a place of healing for me.  I can still picture the view as I sat at the very top of one of the taller hills, overlooking two small lakes.  A powerful Oklahoma wind was blowing in my face.  The sun was bright, the sky was crystal clear, the air crisp and fresh.  I felt what I would come to feel many times thereafter as I continued to go on Personal Retreats, relishing the solitude.  I felt whole, an intentional creation of a Someone who was providing me at that moment with the breath of life.  There was no distance between me and that Someone.

I had found great strength in Spiritual Formation activities during the years in the Kansas City area.  The Rescue at Roman Nose opened a new chapter in that Spiritual Formation.

Then came an experience that drew John and I together, finding strength in a regular time of Spiritual partnering and prayer as he ministered to his wife Sherrie through the last leg of her journey here.  I talked about Mary Ann and my journey and he talked about his and Sherrie’s.  The strength and courage of Sherrie became a source of strength for an entire congregation.  When I visited her, there would be a circle of three or four, maybe six or eight people in their living room.  She gave infinitely more than she received from all of us who gathered.  My ministry was profoundly impacted by Sherrie and John.

I can’t remember how I found out about it, but I am grateful that I did.  When we began taking Youth on Confirmation Retreats, DCE John and I took them a place called St. Francis of the Woods.  I have described it in great detail in earlier posts.  It has become a place of respite and Spiritual Renewal for me.  When I first went on a Personal Retreat there, the suggested contribution for a day and night’s stay in a two bedroom fully furnished cabin was $6.  There would be a loaf of home made bread waiting each time I arrived for a retreat.

Most of the times I went, I stayed two nights and walked for part of one day, a full day and part of a third day.  I read and walked and sat and did all the things I had done at Roman Nose.  The Orthodox Chapel, the woods and fields, 500 acres of working farm provided a rich environment for Spiritual Renewal.  Each time went I encountered that same healing recognition of being the intentional creation of Someone who chooses that I exist.

During my last two years in ministry in the OKC area, I attended two Spiritual Formation Groups (one each year) that followed the Shalem format.  The series was led by a local Pastor and Counselor who had been trained in the approach.  It involved a time of silent meditation, a time of journaling, and time for each person to share as they felt appropriate.

The Oklahoma years were an important time in providing a lab for learning to do Pastoral Care in a meaningful way, and providing a pattern of Spiritual Formation that provided the resources necessary to deal with the Bombing and Lee’s death as well as all that life had yet in store for Mary Ann and me.

Addendum:

Chief Roman Nose lived in this rugged canyon from 1887 until he died there in 1917. He was born in 1856 and given the name Woquini meaning “Hook Nose”. He grew to manhood within a hostile environment involving many Cheyenne raiding parties. In 1875 all warring Cheyennes returned to the agency at Darlington. Here he was arrested and sent to Ft. Marion in St. Augustine, Florida where he learned to speak, read and write the English language. He was then moved to an Institute in Virginia. Here he accepted the Christian faith and was baptized Henry Caruthers Roman Nose. His name Henry came from Richard Henry Pratt, the commander of the fort in St. Augustine. His name Caruthers came from Mrs. Horace Caruthers, his devoted teacher and friend in Florida. He learned tinsmith at a boarding school in Pennsylvania before returning to his homeland in 1881. Roman Nose discovered much had changed during the six years he had been away. Traditional Indian ways were almost nonexistent. White domination permeated all aspects of Indian life. Slowly he became disillusioned with what the whites offered. Roman Nose eventually spurned the white society. He left the agency and took his family to live in what is now Roman Nose State Park.

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I kept moving to be sure there was no confusion about my still being alive.  I did not want to be mistaken for road kill.  At first I saw them off in the distance sitting on the newly mown field next to me as I walked the path at Cedarcrest.  I thought they were regular wild turkeys.  Then I saw them take off.  They were Turkey Vultures.

On the wing, Turkey Vultures are elegant birds.  Their wingspan is almost that of an American Bald Eagle.  When the sun hits them a certain way, the feathers on their wings seem translucent.  They float effortlessly, wings in a V shape, circling and soaring. Once a couple of years ago, one came over me so closely that I could hear the swish of its wings.  As long as a person is far enough away that he/she cannot see the ugly heads, they appear beautiful.

It was very impressive to see so many in the air at the same time.  Later in the walk, a Green Heron landed on a nearly pier as I passed one of the large ponds there.  The morning walk continues to be helpful.  At the moment, I think I actually need it to help keep my healing on course.

Wednesday morning (today is Friday) had been a good one since the Spiritual Formation group continues to provide a rich environment for processing what has gone on or is now going on in our lives in a way that reveals God’s hand, loving and supporting us.   There was a lunch with a good friend including some great conversation, very refreshing.

The afternoon included the second day of exercising.  The muscles that were getting sore, were worked enough to help relieve the discomfort for the moment. Then I headed to the mall to try to get a gift for Granddaughter Ashlyn’s upcoming birthday. I ended up walking the circumference of the mall on both levels, probably adding up to almost as much distance as I do in the morning.  I decided to try to add a mall walk on the hot afternoons.

I ended up at a couple of other places to get the gift.  Even with all that activity, the pain of Mary Ann’s death emerged, staying with me the rest of the day.  Oddly, yesterday a neighbor who lost her husband a couple of years ago, called to see how I was doing and revealed that she had had a bad day on Wednesday also.  Must be something in the air.

Yesterday was some better.  The walk in the morning was followed by a visit from a member and his daughter.  Ed is helping with a bit a caulk repair in the bathroom. They were both fun to talk with.  Later in the day a former member had asked me to to help her process something, a role that feels comfortable for me after so many years in the ministry.  That also was an enjoyable time.

I went directly to the third different support group meeting this week.  While there is a little overlap, they are all different groups.  It is remarkable just how helpful it is to be in a setting in which there is complete understanding and the freedom to laugh or cry without hesitance.  Talking so freely there makes it easier not to talk about the loss with others who will soon tire of hearing about how much it hurts.

The groups also help temper the fears that the pain is still so strong and hasn’t let go yet. It is apparent that those who have experienced a death as recently as have I are struggling at least as much as am I.  Those for whom the death was a couple of years ago, still have access to the pain, but they are not disabled by it.  They are able to enjoy life again.  The groups provide a helpful perspective.

After spending some time with vultures this morning, I got some more organizing done at the house.  I decided to buy flowers in memory of Mary Ann and for myself. I did as I had done before when getting them for her.  I asked the folks at Flowers by Bill for ten dollars worth of colorful flowers.  I was given a large bouquet with varied colors, from pastels to deep, dark colors to bright and cheery colors.  That bouquet now adorns the dining room table.

There was another walk at the mall.  After that I went home and read a very small book called Good Grief by Granger Westberg.  Daughter Lisa had asked about it in a phone call.  She saw it on a Hospice list of recommended books.  That little book was very helpful since it nailed very many of the struggles I have been having and named them as stages in the process.  They are different from the stages of grief traditionally listed.  The book confirmed that feeling each stage fully is a way to get through the grief, incorporating it into the new person who is emerging.  Not everyone will, of course, grieve in exactly the same way, but what he described seems to be the most common experience.

The evening ended with a very enjoyable dinner out with former parishioners.  We came back to the house and talked for a while about a variety of things.  I felt almost healthy again.

A couple of days ago, as I was making one of the rounds in the mall, something very obvious found its way into my awareness.  While Mary Ann has died, I have not.  It doesn’t seem fair that I should be alive and she is not.  Fair or not, it is so.  I am actually alive.  I do not need to feel guilty about that or apologize for it.  I am free to go on with life.  Recognizing that does not make it easy, just possible.

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The timing in Mary Ann’s life for this move impacted how she felt about it.  She had just been pulled out of a fifteen year in the making nest in Kansas City.  It coincided with a devastating diagnosis, followed almost immediately by the departure from her entire support system.  The truth is, no matter where we went, or if we stayed in Kansas City, the harsh reality of what was to come would not have changed.

I was not there when it happened.  She denied it when Daughter Lisa reminded her of it.  I have no doubt it happened.  One evening, from the window of a motel in Oklahoma City, the moon that shone out over the city from that window was named Mary Ann.  She wasn’t very talkative, but she had a way of illustrating how she felt.

Please understand, it had nothing to do with Oklahoma City.  It was simply that OKC happened to be the place to which I took her after pulling her out of that safe and comfortable nest in KC.

The house we found was spacious and comfortable.  We had looked at 39 houses and she said that when we bought it, it wasn’t even the one she thought we had picked.  As the years went by, Mary Ann’s skill at decorating resulted in a home that could have made the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.

We both ended up enjoying the expansiveness of the Oklahoma sky.  We would sometimes sit in the front yard together and watch the storms build.  We had grown up with tornadoes in Northern Illinois, so that was not really an issue — other than the fact that our house and most houses didn’t have a basement. One night when Mary Ann’s Mom was visiting, the wind knocked down our back fence.  That night at Lake Hefner, about a mile and a half from our house, the wind was clocked at 104 miles per hour.

Mary Ann was not at all thrilled with the little beast that startled her by jumping in front of her when she took the lid off the garbage can in the garage.  Actually it was not so little.  It was a very large Tarantula, whose legs formed a circle about four inches in diameter.  I wasn’t there, but Lisa was.  She managed to get it into an institutional-sized pickle jar.  We tried feeding it for a while, but it didn’t survive.

Lisa went off to college the fall of our first year in OKC.  That was tough on Mary Ann.  She and Lisa were best buds (BFF’s).  It was a striking change from Mary Ann’s experience with her Mother.  They were at odds most of the time, especially in her high school years.  The day Lisa left for college (nine hours drive away), I had a wedding that had been scheduled eight months before when I had no idea it would be the weekend Lisa needed to get to school.  I will never forget pacing around the house by myself (Micah was away from the house that day — school may have started).  That was the second time in my adult life that I cried.  A gracious member of the congregation rode with them so that Mary Ann would not have to drive back by herself.

Micah settled in pretty well, but I remember him telling me that summer, “Don’t ever do this to me again!”  He began in the last year of a Junior High (9th Grade).  It was a challenge since all the groups were set, sports teams were in their third year with players established.

I was tuned into managing money carefully.  I got that trait from my Dad.  The euphemism is frugal, a less flattering synonym is tight.  The result is that I insisted that the Kids put 50% of everything they earned into savings.  Before that, 10% came off the top for church.  That left them with 40% of their earnings available for discretionary spending.  That is a whole lot higher percent than is available as adults.  The kids knew that they would not be given a car.  They would have to buy it for themselves.

Micah had saved $250 and managed to find a truck to buy for that amount.  It had to be towed to the house.  He didn’t yet have his license, but by the time he obtained it, he had the truck running.  There was, of course, the time when I was first teaching him to drive it that he turned the key before pushing in the clutch.  It was a well built truck — no damage to the truck — moved the laundry room wall about three inches into the room.

Lisa did well in college and ended up getting a Master’s Degree in a discipline with a track in Nursing Home Administration.  Her internship gave us excuse to go to Santa Barbara, CA for a few days to visit her.  What a beautiful place.

Micah continued playing soccer through high school.  His gift for writing blossomed in his Senior year in a writing class with a wonderfully affirming teacher who caught sight of his ability.  He went on to college and got a degree (in three years) in communication.  He was the Editor of the Pitt State newspaper, resulting in a journalism emphasis in the degree.  Micah and Becky married after his second year in college.  The timing was not my favorite idea, but they have been wonderful together.  I couldn’t love Becky more.  And, of course, there is Granddaughter Chloe.  They did very well!  (Yes, Becky, I forgot to sign the license before I sent it in!)

As promised: During the years at the church in the OKC area, I officiated at  many marriage ceremonies.  A young man from the congregation was dating a young lady named Kathy.  They asked me to do the wedding.  We could not use the church of which I was Pastor, since it would only seat 200 to 250 at the very most.  This wedding would have over 800 guests.  Kathy was the Daughter of the then coach of the Oklahoma University football team.

Barry obtained the use of a large Methodist church building in Norman, OK and we were able to seat all 800.  There were six video cameras.  I called Barry aside and told him that I needed for the videographers to stay put — no wandering.  He said, “Whatever you say, Pastor Pete.”  I do not think he was always that agreeable with his players — but they certainly played well.  (Sorry, Nebraska fans — I remember that infamous Thanksgiving Day game.)  That was the largest wedding I ever did.

Enough for tonight.

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The old roller coaster was named “Living with Parkinson’s.”  This one is named “Living with Grief.”  I was too tired and grumpy last night to write a post.  The new roller coaster ride took a dip last night and earlier today.  I think it is past the bottom of this dip and on its way back up.

Yesterday began with an early walk at Cedarcrest.  That always seems to get the day off to a good start.  There were moments of the video of recent events, but they passed quickly.

Then I spent an exhilarating hour or so at the local Farmer’s Market.  It is a bustle of activity.  The moment I entered the area, I heard a “Pastor Pete!”  It was a couple of sisters who had been members of my former congregation for a time and who are back in town.  They are young folks who have learning issues, and have just returned to town to a environment served by their former Foster Parents (if I understood correctly).

There were fresh vegetables everywhere, zucchini, tomatoes (hooray!), new potatoes, freshly picked cabbage (no worms), blueberries.  That is just what I bought.  There was about anything a person could want.  I bought a loaf of herb bread that has turned out to be very tasty. Then there was the PT’s coffee at their booth.  Pleasant conversation there.

I had an enjoyable conversation with the fellow who grew the tomatoes.  He told me in detail how he went about starting the seed and growing the plants.  That is the sort of conversation I find very entertaining.  I talked at length to another vendor selling outdoor furniture he had made — about how he finishes it.  He had had a stroke and was in a wheel chair.

There were some neighbors, more former parishioners/friends.  Don told me what he was going to do with the Jalapeños — sun-pickled if I understood correctly, an intriguing process.  One of the booths was run by a former parishioner.

Then just as I was leaving, I ran into Charlotte, who had stayed with Mary Ann in earlier years.  She lost her husband to Alzheimer’s about nine months ago.  We had touched base a few times during our parallel journeys.  It was very therapeutic to talk about the grief we have both experience, mine, of course, very fresh.  She is a Nurse and has dealt with many who struggled with issues such as ours.  I suppose some of the reason that I appreciated that conversation was that both of us have the same understanding of the grieving process.  Neither of us wants to wallow in it, but we both recognize that we need to embrace it when it comes, give it its due and not try to run away from it.

I was reveling in all the social interaction and the conversations, but I had a date in KC with Son Micah and crew, so I headed on.  Micah and Granddaughter Chloe (Daughter-in-Law Becky had an appointment) took me to a wonderful local dive in the bottoms of Kansas City, among old brick buildings and architectural salvage places, surrounded by so much construction we had to use and alley to get there.  The breakfast was out of the ordinary, Italian sausage, Italian bread toasted, perfectly cooked over easy fried eggs with tasty salsa, and crispy hashed brown potatoes.  If I can ever find it again, I will eat there when next I get the chance.

Next we went shopping for some accessories to my new laptop.  That part was good, the parking lot was not.  We were both backing out at exactly the same time directly behind one another.  The bump could barely be felt, but the entire wrap around fiberglass bumper will need to be replaced.  Arrrrgh! I am grateful for Collision Insurance and a relatively low deductible.  Oh well, in the grand scheme of things it is wonderfully minor.

We spent some time at Micah/Becky’s.  I now have Skype on my new laptop.  I hope I can manage to Skype my Granddaughters in Kentucky!  After that we went together to Mass (yes a good Lutheran can go to church in other brands).  I appreciate a liturgical service that is well done.  The new priest is a good preacher, who could probably pass for a Lutheran.  As Communion was proceeding, I saw two ladies, one in a wheel chair, the other pushing it, waiting to participate.  It is interesting how quickly a sight or sound or smell can trigger the grief that lives in a person’s gut after experiencing the loss of someone very close.  The feelings were not overwhelming, but fully present.

After that I headed to a birthday party for a KC friend.  We had a tasty meal in a pleasant new little area in South Johnson County.

It was a long day and by the time it was done, the roller coaster had sunk to a low dip.  Then and this morning, the loneliness was palpable.  I slept very late, since I was so tired.  I knew today that I did not want to be sociable.  I just needed to feel sorry for myself for a while and face the reality that I will need to do this on my own.  No one, no matter how well-intentioned can do it for me.  That is something Charlotte and I also agree on.  I cannot reclaim a past that exists now only in memories.  I still don’t like it!

If I were counseling myself, I would say with firmness, “It’s only been a month!”

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Not one, but two murders in this post — but let me begin with the Call to the church in the Oklahoma City area.  The Call came a while before Christmas.  I asked for extra time so that I could consider it without Christmas looming.  There is no time to think when things are coming at such a frenetic pace during those weeks.

Even weighing the strong connection to the KC area and love for the people, it was time to move to a full Pastoral Ministry.  Lisa was a Senior in high school at the Lutheran High, Micah was in the 8th Grade at St. Peter’s Catholic school.  I could not take them out of school mid-year.

I accepted the Call and headed for Oklahoma City in February.  Mary Ann stayed in KC so that the Kids could finish at their respective schools.  Next to this last month, that was the most difficult five months in my life, and, I think, Mary Ann and the kids would say the same.

My last Sunday was January 18, 1987.  The Sunday happened to be a rare convergence of dated festivals and a Sunday.  It was the day designated as the Confession of St. Peter. I preached that day.  There was a farewell dinner scheduled shortly before that.  There were over 200 who indicated they would be there.  One of the worst snowstorms in the fifteen years hit that evening.  Almost 200 people came out for the farewell.

Leaving a congregation is excruciatingly painful.  I didn’t realize just how painful it would be.  I seem to be pretty naive when it comes to anticipating the intensity of pain.  I seem to be using the word “pain” an awful lot in this post, and in recent weeks.  What compouned the pain is that I made the choice to leave.  I have never doubted that it was the right choice, but one with consequences that are not all pleasant.

I lived with a family that became my family during that time.  John and Sherrie were truly brother and sister in Christ to me.  They are/were (Sherrie died later in my years there) the most Spiritual people I have ever known.  They lived and breathed the love of the Lord without ever presenting a hint of “holier than thou.”  They were warm and accepting to me.  They understood how hard the transition was for me, and they knew they could not do anything about that.

It was during that time that I discovered must how much I loved Mary Ann, Lisa and Micah.  One weekend, they flew to OKC for a visit.  I can still remember vividly standing in the airport by some chairs in a waiting area, watching the plane they were on take off to head back to KC.  I had then the same feeling I have had in my gut this month.  The thought of the possibility of losing them was intolerable.

A few weeks before the decision was made and I left for OKC, Lisa was on a trip to Florida, spending time with my Sister and Brother-in-Law at their condominium right on the beach on the Gulf side.  She had spent the last three and a half years with a group at the Lutheran High in Kansas City.  That group were the sort of friends who went out together in a cluster, enjoying each other’s company — all good kids.  At that time, her best friend was the Principal’s Daughter.  He had become a sort of extra Dad to Lisa while she was going to school there.

It happened while Lisa was in Florida.  Principal George was stabbed to death just outside the doors of the school.  Lisa came back to be with his Daughter, her best friend, their friends and classmates so that she could be a part of the community as together they dealt with the tragedy.  That story is more complex than appropriate for public sharing.  Lot’s of questions remain.

Then after I moved to Oklahoma City, separated from family, feeling very alone, in spite of the wonderful family with whom I was staying, it happened again.  I had bought an alarm clock from Skaggs, a Walgreen’s/CVS sort of place, just a few blocks from the church.  It was February 7.  I would be preaching my first sermon there the next day, February 8.

When I got home, I discovered that the alarm clock was faulty.  I went back to the Skaggs to return it.  As I stood at the counter just inside the doors to the store talking with the clerk, I heard a strange sound.  The doors opened and someone ran in right in front of me and hid behind the counter.  I smelled the gunpowder.  An estranged husband had just shot in the face his ex-wife right outside those doors.

I walked by to get to my car as she was dying in the arms of an EMT in the parking lot.  The estranged Husband was found some time later at a nearby lake, having taken his own life.

That was the beginning of my ministry in the Oklahoma City area.  I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

Lisa was working at a Dinner Playhouse in the Waldo area in Kansas City as her part time job while going to school.  She will have to correct my remembering about the cut.  I think it was a broken plate that caused the cut on her hand.  She had to go to the Emergency Room to get a number of stitches.  It was difficult for Lisa and hard on Mary Ann who had to deal with it by herself, while I was in OKC trying to focus on my ministry there.

Mary Ann had some tightness and pain in her left shoulder the fall before this.  It moved down her left arm to her hand.  The tests began.  One of them would be outlawed were it used as an interrogation tool.  It is called an EMG [Electromyography].  At that time (maybe still) there was a needle (or needles) stuck in her arm with electrical current going through them, testing the nerve activity.  She described it as torture.

There were other tests, all that came back negative.  She also was having some balance issues.  It was by a process of elimination that a clinical diagnosis was made.  There is no test that would give a definitive diagnosis.

I was in Oklahoma City, she was in Kansas City.  She phoned me.  The diagnosis was Parkinson’s Disease.  The vision of the old fellow shuffling along in the hallway outside my basement office years before when on my Vicarage (Internship) with a handkerchief in one hand catching the drool — that vision popped into my mind.  I never told Mary Ann about that vision.  Mary Ann needed me to be with her.  I needed to be with her.  The Kids needed for me to be there.  I was not.

This has been a difficult post to write.  Any one of those events would have been enough to make the transition very tough.  All of them together made it almost impossible to bear. I remember my feelings all to well as I was helpless to comfort the people I loved most.

All the while this was going on, I was in the midst of an exciting new beginning at a place filled with some of the most nurturing and affirming people I have ever known.  Everyone should have a chance to live in the heart of Oklahoma.  It is one of the best kept secrets in the nation.

Next will come the ministry at the church in the OKC area and our lives there.  I need a break for a post or two or three before the tragic event in Oklahoma City that had direct impact on our little congregation.  Barry Switzer comes first.  Google him if you don’t already know who he is.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

After so many years as an Associate Pastor, it became apparent that I needed to decide if I would continue at that parish indefinitely in that role.  I had spent eight years after high school learning to be a Pastor.  I had yet to realize that goal, since much of what a Pastor traditionally does was not in my portfolio as an Associate in a congregation too small to support two people doing the same thing. 

I had never preached a sermon on Easter.  I rarely made hospital visits.  One of the most meaningful ministries is doing funerals.  That was not in my portfolio.  I did very few Baptisms, my Son and maybe a couple of others.  The harsh reality is that it is very difficult to have two pastors in a congregation of that size doing the same thing.  John and I were good friends and an effective team.  After fifteen years, we noted that we were probably one of the very few team ministries around that actually worked.  It was time for me to be a Pastor with the duties that normally go with the role. 

In such a tiny national church body, there were almost no other opportunities available to move into the role of Pastor of a congregation.  I mentioned in the last post that since we were so small, if there was some activity at some level in the country that was open to all Lutheran churches, there were few of us to choose from to represent the AELC.

The workshop was called Options.  It was actually intended for pastors who were preparing to change professions.  That was not my goal, but since I was in transition and I was invited to participate, I did.  It was almost a week long.  There were thirteen of us.  The Staff for the week was seven.   There were personality tests to be taken.  There were interviews, group discussions, as in the old encounter groups.  The goal was for each person to come out with an understanding of how they were wired, what sorts of things fit their abilities, gifts and interests — what they would most enjoy doing. 

Since I had always thought of myself as somewhat of an outsider in the role of pastor, feeling too much like a regular person to fit the role, I was surprised at the results of the week.  It was obvious by the time the week was over, that my future profession ought to be a Pastor.  

Now came the challenge.  How can I serve as a Pastor when there is no place to go to do so in this tiny branch of Lutheranism.  I began the process of becoming certified in the other two larger bodies, the LCA and the ALC.  I became eligible for Call in the LCA.   

At the same time this was going on, a fellow named Pastor George was President of the region of the LCMS I had been in before controversy took us out.    He made sure my name was not removed from the roster of the LCMS.  That meant that I remained eligible for Call in the LCMS. 

Those of us who were dual-rostered (LCMS and AELC) were a problem to the LCMS leadership.  One day I got a surprise phone call from a Vice President of the LCMS who wanted to schedule a meeting with me at the Kansas City airport.   He was on the other end of the spectrum of church practice from me.  However, I had had him in my first year in college many years before.  As a child he had played with my Brother-in-Law.  We had ended up with a personal connection. 

At our meeting, I was candid about the areas of disagreement.  My understanding of the Scripture was that Holy Communion was to be a welcoming and inclusive event.  My understanding of Scripture was that gender should not impact eligibility for any role in the church.  (There is not time or space to review the historical context and careful study that support those positions.)  He shared his understanding.   In the end, he respected me, and I him. 

Apparently, my name had come up in national level meetings of the Council of Presidents, regional Presidents who advise the National church President.  One of those regional Presidents who happened to be even farther on the other end of the spectrum from me also knew me personally.  I had sat and talked with him in the family room of that same Brother-in-Law.  We got along well. 

I do not know what was said in those meetings but not long after those conversations a couple of Calls came from LCMS congregations.   One was from another national level leader who had a huge parish in Texas.  That one clearly seemed to be the result of conversations at that level. 

The other Call was completely independent of any of the issues above.  The retired Pastor of a congregation in the Oklahoma City area was Cousin to the Pastor (and his wife, cousin to both of them) who served the Lutheran congregation where our children had gone to school for most of their Elementary school years.  He had been hospitalized for a time, and I chose to visit him as a colleague.  Mary Ann and I really enjoyed Arlen and Ardis. 

When retired Pastor Willy asked his Cousin Arlen to suggest names for the Call list in Oklahoma, Arlen remembered the hospital calls and gave him my name with a good recommendation.  A Call to serve as Pastor of that congregation soon came. 

The decision whether to serve the current Call or the Call just received is difficult beyond words.  There were fifteen years of relationships.   If it were only that to weigh, there would have been no move. 

One of the times, the Senior Pastor where I was in the KC area needed for me to cover his role while he was on vacation or at a conference,  I called on Esther.  She was in her nineties.  Any Pastor can tell stories about how much they received from those to whom they were supposed to be giving ministry.  Esther and I talked about favorite Psalms, what they meant to us.  Her faith and sincerety filled that little house.  At that moment, I realized what I had been missing.  My gut  knew that I needed to exercise a whole dimension of my training and interest and ability that lay outside the role where I was.   

Some of what comes next you may think I just made up to embellish the story.  I wish it were so. 

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

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