Life History

The last dozen years could have been spent cloistered at home, a prisoner to Parkinson’s.  We chose instead to live to the limits of our physical ability, maybe a little beyond.  It was Mary Ann’s resilience and our resolve that allowed a quality of life that was satisfying and fulfilling. 

In 1999, the Kansas City Crew, including the two of us decided that a trip to Alaska was in order.  It was John and Carol’s 35th Wedding Anniversary.  Gary knew someone who had been a travel agent and still had access to the last minute cheaper fares on the Princess Cruise Line.  Marlene was impacted by ALS as Mary Ann was by the Parkinson’s.  We just did it.  It was a wonderful, memorable trip.  We flew to Anchorage, enjoyed a Farmers’ Market there, drove to a lodge outside of Denali, where we sat on a deck in the bright sunshine at 11pm.  We bussed through Denali, seeing the spectacular sights, Mt. McKinley, Moose, Dahl Sheep and Bear Scat.  That is as close as we got to spotting a Grizzly Bear — okay with me.

There was the obligatory stop at Talkeetna.  We walked the street and marveled at the size of the flowers.  We made one stop that provided a scene that doubled us over in laughter.  There was a huge statue of a Grizzly Bear.  From the back, his stance looked exactly like a huge guy standing there relieving himself.  There is a picture of the four of us (the guys) from the back as we lined up on either side of that bear and mimiced his stance.  No, I am not going to post that picture.  There are former parishioners who read this blog.  The KC Crew threatened to send a copy to the church when the pictures came back. 

We drove to Seward and boarded the ship.  Glacier Bay was breathtaking.  The aqua blue eminating from the cracks, the snapping of the glacier as it moved, the rumble of the calving, a seal sitting on an ice floe, a bright day with a crisp chill in the air made that part of the trip the most vivid in my memory.  We traveled the train the gold miners used at Skagway, the White Pass Excursion Train.  It is impossible to describe the expansiveness of the views.  Everything in Alaska is huge! 

We saw the Mendenhall Glacier, already then having retreated a mile or two from the observation building that at one time was at the edge of the glacier.  We ate our fill of grilled salmon fillets covered with a sweet brown sugar glaze.  There was fresh Haibut — who knew it could have so much flavor when fresh from the ocean. 

The Cruise Ship, as always, fed us huge gourmet meals multiple times a day.  One of the KC Crew is fluent in Spanish, since she is from Puerto Rico.  At one of our first dinners, Maria spoke in Spanish with one of our waiters.  It was not long before it was clear what she had said.   That meal and every meal after that ended with my receiving a large chocolate dessert, at least one, no matter what else was served as the regular dessert. 

Charlie and Marlene, Mary Ann and I hung together since on account of the wheel chairs, we moved at about the same pace.  The ship was accommodating, and most of the places we wanted to see were accessible. 

Near the end of the trip we watched the Eagles in great numbers hanging around the salmon canneries in Ketchikan.  We ended the trip, sitting at a restaurant on Puget Sound enjoying one of the best views of the trip.  We made some wonderful memories as we ventured to Alaska and back. 

That was our biggest and most dramatic adventure during the Parkinson’s years.  There were many smaller trips sprinkled throughout the last ten or twelve years.  I will spend some time in the next post or two describing some of them.  I need to savor the good times we had.  Thoughts of how debilitated Mary Ann became can be overwhelming at times.  Remembering the ventures out somehow seem to provide a bit of salve for the still open wound created by her death.  It helps to remember that we made the best of a difficult situation and chose not to allow the Parkinson’s to rule.

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That January, Mary Ann could simply no longer care for herself.  I didn’t know what to do.  I needed to work to support us (60-70 hours per week as a Pastor).  We couldn’t afford that many hours of paid help.  It would cost more than my salary. The options simply weren’t there.

Then Margaret came to the rescue.  Margaret was (still is) the Parish Nurse at the congregation I was then serving.  She just started phoning people and before I knew it, there were Volunteers from the church staying with Mary Ann when I was away from the house at work.

After it became clear that she could not do the scheduling task and still continue her work as Parish Nurse, Carol stepped in.  For over six years, Carol scheduled Volunteers for weekdays while I was at work, evenings while I attended meetings and did Counseling, Friday evenings and Saturdays for weddings and retreats, Sunday mornings (I had paid help for the early morning hours), even emergency Calls when there was a serious illness or a death.  At one point there were at least 65 different Volunteers.  Some days had as many as five different people filling two or three hour slots.  I have never figured out how one person could manage all that.  I have nominated Carol for Sainthood.

By February, we had gotten back to KU Med Center, the Parkinson’s Clinic. They had transitioned to a new Neurologist, Dr. Pahwa.  He was able to put together a new regimen of meds that allowed Mary Ann to return to a significantly higher level of functionality.  The bathroom needs and the falling would still not allow her to stay by herself for any length of time.

After a year or so, we entered the two years from Hell.  Mary Ann had often complained of heartburn, since she was taking so many pills (I think 30-40).  At least that is what I thought.  It has always been hard for me to accept that I didn’t pick up sooner on the possibility that it might have been more than heartburn.

On June 30 of 2003, Mary Ann was admitted to the hospital through Emergency with a case of Congestive Heart Failure that came within a hair’s breadth of putting her on a Ventilator.  It was discovered that she had had a number of silent heart attacks.  Two of the three main arteries on her heart were completely blocked.  The surgeon was able to stent a branch of one of the arteries, but that was all.  She had another MI (heart attack) while in the hospital.

Mary Ann always moved into a hospital psychosis when hospitalized, hallucinations, agitation, inability to sleep, trying to get out of bed, pulling at tubes.  I stayed all night every night since the Parkinson’s meds were so complex, the various shift changes made it necessary for me to track what was going on.  The staff needed my help to manage her reactions, day and night.  I had to be there when the various doctors came to check on her or report the results of the endless tests and procedures.

By the end of those eight days, after an entire night of Mary Ann repeating “help me” over and over again, for the second time in my adult life, I broke down in tears.  Gratefully, Son Micah was there to hold me.  When she was released and came home, it was one of the lowest times in our life together.  Everywhere I turned to come up with a solution to how we could go on came up empty — except for Carol and the Volunteers.  They are the only reason I was able to continue in the ministry and we were able to survive.

Almost exactly one month later, she was back in the hospital with another MI and another unsuccessful attempt and getting through one of the blockages.  It was a shorter stay.  She came home again.

For a while after that she was doing better.  We returned to a reasonable quality of life.  It would take more than a little heart trouble to stop Mary Ann.  After a year and a half we even risked going on a week long trip by plane from Kansas to Tucson, Arizona for a retreat for older adults.  We had decided that we were not going to just sit at home and feel sorry for ourselves.  We chose to live as fully as possible given the circumstances.

I still blame the air quality on the plane.  Mary Ann was fine when we left the Kansas City airport but had some congestion when we arrived in Tucson.  By then we were using a wheelchair most of the time.  We joined in the activities, got to visit a wildlife center outside of Tucson.  As the week wore on, she was having some labored breathing.  It was March 10 of 2005. I called an ambulance to take her to the nearest hospital.  On the way, the dyskinetic movements that come with the Parkinson’s medicine were so bad that the tech in the back with her could not keep an IV in her arm.  Mary Ann was flailing around and almost flying off the gurney.

They sedated her when we got to the Emergency Room.  Then they took an X-ray.  When the ER doctor returned he said that all he could see what white where her lungs were supposed to be.  By that time she was completely unresponsive.  When I asked if I should call our children to fly into Tucson, he said yes.  The ER nurse confirmed that — so I did.  I will never forget the feelings I had as I sat alone in that ER room, knowing no one there, having been told she might not survive the night.  Mary Ann had been taken for some other test.  I am now living what I feared that night.

The Kids came, Lisa with baby Ashlyn in tow.  Mary Ann was so agitated that even with me there, they provided a hospital sitter to be in the room also.  Four days later, Mary Ann and I were on a plane home.  She had bounced back from that flirtation with death.

Within one day of a month later, the Ambulance came to out house in Kansas to take her to the hospital again.  She had had a stroke. It was April 9 of 2005. At first her speech was gone and her right arm was virtually useless.  It was not a bleed or a large clot, but a cluster stroke, plaque from her carotid artery broken into tiny pieces, lodged in a cluster in one part of her brain.  With a few weeks in the hospital, rehab, followed by outpatient therapy, she regained almost everything.  She was left with some spatial issues that reduced the control of her right hand making feeding herself more of an issue.

Mary Ann refused to give up.  We continued to have a reasonably good quality of existence in spite of the limitations.  The Volunteers and Mary Ann’s strength of will, kept our life on course.  Also by that time I had come to know a great deal about the diseases that had assaulted her and the medications used to treat them.  I was able to make helpful recommendations to the doctors and monitor her condition daily.  I think my advocacy for her with the medical professionals helped the quality of her life, until finally in the last weeks, nothing I did could stop the inevitable.

Before that inevitable day two months ago came, there was more of life to be lived.  That will come next.

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I think it was around 3am when the phone rang.  It was Roger.  Then he said it, “We just lost Wendy.”  All I could say was “What?!”  She was only in her 30’s with three young boys.  There had been no warning — heart related.  Wendy was uniquely gifted.  She could do many things and all of them well.  She was in the thick of the life of the congregation.  She taught part time at the Parochial school sponsored by our congregation and two others. 

I, of course, went to the hospital for a while to provide some support for Roger.  First thing in the morning I went to the school to help in any way I could with the Staff and Students.  The boys went to school there (the older two).   I remember as I was walking out of the office at the school, someone said something about a plane hitting a building in New York City.  I thought little of it since our attention was on what had happened here, on that September 11, 2001 morning.

I think it is fair to describe the next few days as surreal.  It was hard to get our minds around what was happening.  The magnitude of the 9-11 terrorist attack and the intensity of the grief over the loss of Wendy converged on our congregation.  It was hard to pull apart the various elements of what we were feeling.  One compounded the other.  In some odd, irrational way, it almost seemed as if Wendy had been one of the casualties of the attack. 

We had a service that evening to provide a place for people to come together in the face a national tragedy.  The experience in Oklahoma City after the bombing there helped inform what we did in response to 9-11.  Again, I urged that contacts be made with the homebound who were only seeing the television and not the world outside their house, the one that was still standing.  There were resources for families and children and teachers in the education programs at church as well as at the school.

Wendy’s funeral filled the church upstairs and downstairs.  In the face of two tragedies of such significance, the message of the church became clearer and more important.  The year that the congregation reached an average attendance of 650, was the calendar year following 9-11. 

It was during those years that Mary Ann had a dramatic decline.  After four years of controlled symptoms, our Medical Insurance carrier insisted that we switch from the KU Med Center clinic to a new local Neurologist if we expected them to cover her visits.  The new Neurologist had spent time training with the KU Clinic.  She was caring and competent.  She tried her best, but Mary Ann’s expression of Parkinson’s demanded more than she was able to give.   Oddly, the doctor admitted to Mary Ann at one point that she suspected she might have Parkinson’s herself.   By January of that year, Mary Ann was no longer able even to feed herself.  I think that was also in 2001. 

We decided that we would go back to KU Med Center even if we had to pay out of network costs.  The local Neurologist at the very same time wrote a referral to KU Med Center, realizing that she did could not find the right mix of meds to deal with Mary Ann’s symptoms.  Also at that moment, the Medical Insurance changed, again allowing the use of KU Med Center’s Parkinson’s clinic.

Mary Ann was not only unable to feed herself at that time, but she could not manage the bathroom without help.  She also struggled to keep from falling.  She could not be at home by herself.  I had a full time 60-70 hour per week job.  I was to young to be able to survive were I to retire.  We did not have enough income to be able to add paid Caregivers to cover the hours I worked.  The options dissipated like the morning dew when the sun comes out. 

After all the obvious options were gone, a new one emerged.   That is for the next post to this blog. 

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There was never any doubt.  Use all the resources at our disposal to intersect with peoples’ lives in a way that brings healing — healing at the very core of their being, where their lives connect with the One Who breathes life into them and loves them powerfully enough to make them new every day, up to and including their last day.

The task was to assess the resources and become the catalyst for the energies of many gifted people combining to fulfill that purpose.  All the pieces were in place.  Pastor John before me had seen to that.  He steered the congregation through the years of national controversy, kept eyes clearly on the purpose.  He affirmed the strengths of those he served, encouraged them to grow and build ministries.  When it came time to let go of folks so that another location could serve still more people with the same singleness of purpose in a mission congregation, it happened with his blessing.  He led the way as the room made by those who left was filled again by others.  He led the congregation through a major building program that released a dimension of the worshiping community that had been limited by space.  A large open area provided space for people to connect and engage with one another, build each other up as they sought out those who were not yet connected with the healing power. 

My Call was to build on the groundwork that had been laid.  Pastor John had health issues that led him to conclude that it was time for someone else to build on what he had accomplished in almost thirty years of ministry.  It was a joy to follow someone so much respected.  It helps the person who follows, when there is a respect for the role.  The elements of the task had been made clear to me before I came: build a Staff to meet the needs of a congregation of that size, build on the relational style of ministry that the building project made possible, build the financial base so that the number of lives touched with healing could increase. 

As the years went by, we increased the options for worship from two morning services to three morning servics and one evening service.  Education time expanded from one session to two on Sunday morning, and soon after, a thriving Wednesday education program.  We moved from two Lead Staff to four Lead Staff.  The Support Staff of Sharon and Carolyn provided the infrastructure of the place, solid and competent and committed to the same singleness of purpose.  Linda M added remarkable gifts to the mix.  Rebecca could do anything and do it well.  Linda L. expanded the music ministry to the extent that it exceeded any reasonable expectations for choir, vocal and instrumental ensembles made up of Volunteers.  The average attendance grew from 450 in 1995 or 1996 to 650 in the year 2002.  While I am grateful to have been the Senior Pastor during that time, I do not take responsibility for the growth.  Hopefully, my ministry helped rather than hindered growth, but many other circumstances played into it.  Pastor John had left a healthy congregation of people who were willing take leadership, who said “Why not?” when new ideas emerged.  When I arrived, Director of Christian Education Jim was doing a yeoman’s job of keeping the congregation healthy.  He was recognized as one of the best in the nation serving in the role of DCE.  There was a state of the art Youth ministry.  Director of Children’s Ministry Marilyn moved into a full time position providing consistently high quality programming, bringing out the best in Volunteers.  There was a state of the art Children’s Ministry.  Pastor Nate brought a smile and a level of competence that impressed all of us from the moment he arrived.  He shaped the Contemporary worship and the small group ministry of the congregation.  Administrator Chris had such a remarkable combination of skills that it was almost scary.   Pastor Nate was followed by Pastor Dave who brought his gifts to the same singleminded purpose.  DCE Audrey came after Jim left, bringing with her a presence and a competence unparalleled anywhere in the nation.  Young added her Worship and Music leadership to the life of the congregation.  After Chris left, Don brought with him to the Administrative position the respect of everyone in the congregation, leadership in many arenas and the wisdom to handle all of it with grace, as well as a work ethic beyond belief. 

Three congregations grew in our effectiveness working together to provide a full, Kindergarten through Eighth Grade Parochial School.  Music and Sports and Academics were done exceedingly well, with the message of God’s healing love in Christ laced through it all.  Early childhood in a program connected with the school as well as a program at the church thrived.   

I could never have imagined that I would have the privilege of serving in such a remarkable place.  It has been a remarkable place not on account of anything other than that singleness of purpose.  The resource of the building was multiplied by using space more than once a week, for multiple purposes.  The Staff actually functioned as a team, not just in name.  We all stayed on the same page and supported one another, not simply working independently each in our silo, but working together to seek the common goal of bringing that deep healing to people very much in need of it. 

There were certainly struggles along the way.  Nothing is easy to do.  We were not afraid of the struggles.  We jumped right in and worked through whatever it was.  We always came out stronger on the other side.  We tended to deal with things rather than let them fester and wait until they boiled over.  I suppose I may just want to have been a part of an effective ministry, but by the Grace of God, it appeared to work. 

The next post on this blog will describe the morning that changed a nation, a morning that included a deeply personal loss to that congregation. 

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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.


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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No, she did not.  After so many days of waiting, there reached a point that we would not have wanted her to be suffering in the rubble all that time.  Who could have imagined such a thing happening?  The Pastors in the area were all at a conference about an hour and a half away.

When we first heard that there had been an explosion at the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, none of us imagined the magnitude of it.  As we drove back, listening to the radio, we began to realize how serious it was.  Then we started trying to figure out if we had anyone in our congregation who worked in the building.  We phoned the office as we were traveling back and were reminded that Lee Sells worked in the building. When we arrived in OKC, I headed over to the Sells house right away.

Let me tell you about Roy and Lee.  They had been at the congregation almost since the very beginning.  In earlier years they were Youth Leaders.  They sang in the choir for over thirty years.  Unlike many Lutheran Churches, the choir pews were in the front of the church on one side in full view of the congregation every Sunday.

The Sunday I was Installed as Pastor at that church, in the afternoon at the reception, she informed me that she did not like facial hair on men.  I, of course, came with a beard.  Lee was not shy about voicing her opinion.

In their thirty some years of marriage, Roy and Lee had missed only five home or away Oklahoma University football games.  She was originally from Nebraska, but she became a fanatic OU fan.  In fact, if I remember correctly, one service (must have been an evening one during basketball season) as she was sitting in the choir pews in the front of the church in full view of the congregation, she had the telltale ear piece from her Walkman in her ear.

Roy and Lee were in the very center of the life of that congregation.  When I went to Roy’s house that terrible day, he had just returned from downtown having been turned away by the police.  He wanted to look for Lee.  People started gathering had their small house right away — relatives, neighbors, friends, many church people.

At first all eyes were glued to the television, hoping to hear some reporter say that she had been found.  Roy and the rest of us were freed from the television when someone from HUD phoned to assure Roy that he would hear from HUD long before there was any public news of finding her, or her remains.

People came and went through the open door of the Sells’ house for many days.  On Wednesday evening, a class of young children who were part of a program at church made cards and brought them over, each member of the class getting a hug from Roy.

The very first night of the day of the bombing, we had a spontaneous worship service at the church.  The attendance was about as many as came on Sundays, even though it was only by word of mouth that people found out about it.  That was one of the most powerful services I have ever experienced.  My message was short and to the point. The prayers spoken out loud by folks in the congregation (very unLutheran — we were at that time a very reserved group) were thoughtful, right up to prayers for the Perpetrator(s).  That was well before Timothy McVeigh had been stopped and arrested.

Immediately the first Sunday afterward, we began having two Child Psychologists available to help parents deal with their children.  Remember, a Day Care full of children was destroyed.  We had spent time with the teachers about how to bring the children out through drawings to get them talking about their potential fears.

I conducted a class for all who wanted to process their feelings for the next few weeks.  Some who had lost a spouse up to twenty years before, relived their grief.  Some worked on unresolved grief from the past.  Marriage Counseling immediately increased.  Those who had been suffering from Mental Illness already had flairups.  One of those who was schizophrenic and had often come to me for Pastoral Counseling as well as her Psychologist, decided that she was the cause of the bombing. A Firefighter in the congregation was overwhelmed with feelings when he saw the famous picture from the bombing, the Firefighter carrying out a limp little boy.  The Firefighter in our class had a son just about that child’s age.

One of the things that I insisted on was that the members of the congregation who were for any reason homebound receive a phone call to check on them.  After being glued to the television for so long at Roy’s house, I realized that those who have only the television to occupy their time might be getting terrified.  I wanted them to be encouraged to walk out of the door of their home and look around as a reality check.  The world was still going on even in the face of such a tragedy.  Their neighbors homes were still all there, the sun was shining, the trees and the grass were still budding out, some even blossoming.

There were training meetings for Pastors, as national level trainers came in to help.  The entire city came together as a close knit family, supporting one another.  Crime ceased entirely for the first few days.  Food was provided for any of the Volunteers, for all the meetings we had. Church folks from different brands who sometimes don’t get along, worked together.

The waiting at Roy’s house went on for ten days, until finally the call came for Roy and those of us who were supporting him to come downtown for the meeting each family had when their Loved One had been identified.  We sat in a large circle as the news was presented.  It was, of course, no surprise.  We had all just been anxious for it to be over.

That was one of the two largest funerals ever during my tenure. at that congregation.  We needed to work out closed circuit television for our Fellowship Hall so that the couple of hundred people in that room could be a part of what was going on.

The loss was terrible, but our congregation and a whole city discovered what it means to actually live in community with one another, giving and receiving support whenever needed — even if it was only for a relatively short period of time.  The residual benefit is the realization that such community can exist at all.  It provides reason to hope.

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Mary Ann insisted that her diagnosis remain secret for the first five years in Oklahoma City.  Some of it may have been her unwillingness to accept that it was so.  Certainly, much of it was that she didn’t want people looking at her and treating her as if there was something wrong with her.

It was very difficult to keep that information in since it had such a powerful presence in our lives.  Recently, Daughter Lisa told me how difficult those years were for her, not having permission to talk about it openly.  Mary Ann gave me permission to reveal it to a couple of people so that I would have someone to talk with about its impact on our lives.  If I wanted to add anyone to the list, I asked for permission from Mary Ann before telling him/her.

The secret became especially difficult to keep when the symptoms began to become more visible.  She would not let me tell our best friends from KC with whom we even vacationed at times.  I can remember the evening she gave me permission to tell them.  We were vacationing together in New Braunfels, Texas.  Mary Ann stayed at the condo since she was tired.  The rest of us went to a Beer Garden in nearby Gruene.  We sat together at a table and I finally told them what they already knew, that she was sick.  I told them it was Parkinson’s.

It was helpful to be free to talk about it with folks in the congregation when finally Mary Ann gave permission to reveal what it was.  All of them were loving and caring to us as we tried to deal with it.

Mary Ann had worked with a couple of Temp Agencies when we first arrived.  After about three years of that, one of the companies to which she had been assigned, Jack Cooper Transport, hired her from the Agency.  She worked something short of full time for the next six years there.  The people she worked with became her friends and support group.

Mary Ann could not be involved much in the life of the congregation since work took all the stamina she could muster.  There was certainly no chance to have the energy to do anything in the evenings, and little left on weekends.  I took Fridays off and tried to keep up with the house cleaning.  I was not terribly conscientious at it, but I tried to get the bathrooms and the vacuuming done and the beds changed so that we could spend time on Saturday together.

We made friends as a couple with some of the families in the congregation and visited, ate together, enjoyed each other’s company at various times.  The people in Oklahoma are some of the most gracious folks we have met.  The attitude there seems to be that people are accepted until they prove themselves unacceptable.  Folks don’t wait until people have somehow proven themselves to be worthy before accepting them.

Finding a Neurologist who knew enough about Parkinson’s to deal with the complexities of Mary Ann’s early onset variety was a challenge.  We never found one!  We started with a fellow who was pleasant to talk with.  He prescribed the basic beginning dose of the standard medication, Sinamet.  It helped some, but each time we met with him, we sat in his office across from him as he sat at his desk.  He asked if we thought the dosage should be changed in any way (yes, he asked us).

Immediately after the diagnosis, we began going to the Parkinson’s Symposia done at KU Med Center in Kansas City.  They have a Parkinson’s Clinic with a national reputation.  We would drive up there, at first without telling anyone why we were going to KC.  As a result, we had access to the latest and best information about Parkinson’s treatments.  It seemed clear very quickly, that the Neurologist we were using just did not have more than a very basic understanding of Parkinson’s and the available treatments.

We looked until we found another Neurologist in OKC.  That was our worst experience.  He is the one who came into the exam room without ever looking at either of us.  He sat at a little table just inside the door, looking down at the chart.  When he talked to us, he never looked up.  It was actually very weird.  By this time, Mary Ann had been on the basic med for treating Parkinson’s for a few years.  It worked reasonably well, as is usual in the first stages of Parkinson’s.

The last time we went to him was more than I could tolerate.  He suggested that Mary Ann might not actually have Parkinson’s, but have had a mild stroke impacting the left side of her body.  When I asked why then the Parkinson’s medicine seemed to be controlling the problem, he made a circle around his ear with his finger, indicating that improvement was in her head.  By the way, any Neurologist who knows Parkinson’s at all is aware that one of ways of confirming the diagnosis is to use Sinamet.  If the symptoms improve, it is most likely to be Parkinson’s.  Even I knew that.

By this time, Mary Ann’s symptoms were becoming more obvious.  After about eight years of taking Sinamet, the side effect of dyskinetic movements becomes a problem.  Those movements are the wavy ones that are often visible when Michael J. Fox is in the spotlight.  Mary Ann never had tremors, the fast movements in a hand or fingers.  Tremors are often a symptom of Parkinson’s, but not always.  She did have the dyskinesias that come from many years of using the Sinamet.

One time when she was at work, she just slipped off her desk chair on account of those movements.  She hit her side on the corner of a two drawer file and broke some small ribs.  There was nothing other than pain medication that could be done until they just healed on their own.  Mary Ann’s co-workers at Jack Cooper were caring and supportive, always watching out for her.

After the horrible experience with the last Neurologist, we were at a loss as to what to do.  Somehow, I became aware of an attempt by a hospital in Tulsa to develop a Parkinson’s program.  It was brand new.  A local Neurologist was developing a team approach.  We applied and Mary Ann, of course, qualified.

She was scheduled for three weeks of in-patient care as they would try to come up with a medication regimen that would work for her.  Tulsa is 90 miles from OKC.  I was doing full time ministry, trying to go back and forth.  Mary Ann hated being there, and I hated having her there.  What was especially frustrating was seeing how haphazard the treatment was.  Pills were often not given at the scheduled times. (the doctor’s schedule).  The Staff seemed unaware that the timing of Parkinson’s meds is crucial to their effectiveness.  Having been to enough of the KU Med Center Symposia, I knew that protein in the stomach at the same time the Sinamet  competed with its absorption and reduced its effectiveness.  That meant there was a need for low protein meals early in the day when the Sinamet was taken and the ability to move was most crucial.  I mentioned that the Neurologist in charge of the program.  She did not consider it an issue of any importance.

The medicine regimen that Mary Ann ended up with was a fairly complex combination of regular and time release Sinamet.  A problem was that the time release version of Sinamet exacerbates the side effect of dyskinetic movements.  That was Mary Ann’s most difficult problem.

Mary Ann just could not stand staying there the whole three weeks.  She managed two weeks.  When she returned to OKC, it was apparent that she would not be able to handle returning to work.  She was on temporary disability from her work, but it was at that time that we moved, since I had been called to a congregation here in Kansas.

During the years in OKC, the Parkinson’s grew in its impact on Mary Ann and on our lives.  We never found our way to anyone there who seemed able to handle the complexities of Mary Ann’s early onset variety of Parkinson’s.

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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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It would be impossible to be the Pastor of that congregation in the OKC area without feeling loved and appreciated.  They know how to celebrate a person in a way that lifts the spirit.

When I got the Call to serve that congregation, I accepted it long enough before starting there to give me time to do the best thing I could have done in preparation for serving a new congregation.  What drove me to do it is my terrible memory, my inability to remember peoples’ names.  I knew if I went there cold, I would be lost for many months.

I asked for a pictorial directory from the congregation.  Then I made a copy of each page and turned every family picture into a flash card with the picture on one side and the names on the other.  I carried them with me constantly, going over and over and over them.  The first Sunday I attended church there, as I was walking from the car to the door, a woman was walking out after the Earlier Service.  As she approached, I said, “You must be Marie.”  She looked at me for a moment and then said, “You’ve already heard about me?”  Marie is a character.  Everyone should have a Marie in their life.

I don’t know what Sunday it was, but my greatest moment was the morning a young family with a number of children lined up in front of me, and I said their names before they told me who they were.  I mispronounced a name or two, mixed up a couple of the kids, but I did it!  It was the custom there that the Pastor would say each person’s first name when distributing Communion.  I did that from the very first Communion Sunday I led the service.

Learning all those names was good news and bad news.  The good news was that since people very much appreciate being called by name, it won me some points.  The bad news was, it raised people’s expectations about my learning names.  I still had (and have) a very tough time remembering names.  That meant that when new people came, I had to work like crazy to get their names firmly fixed in my mind.

I knew the ministry there would be a good time, when at the end of the first sermon I preached, John stood in back with with a card (as in the Olympics) with a 10 on it.  If I remember correctly, there was a 9 on the other side of it.  Needless to say, John became a good friend.  There were a a couple more folks there named John who became good friends.

The music was a special treat there.  The congregation had purchased a Tracker Action Organ, made and installed by Martin Ott of St. Louis.  The organist at that time helped design it as a classical instrument with a Baroque sort of voicing.  One result of having a Tracker Action organ was that only very accomplished organists could play it.  I remember the time a family insisted that their Aunt could play the organ.  That Aunt came to practice the organ in preparation, sat down and the keyboard and was complete baffled.  She had no idea what to do.  Gratefully our organist was able to schedule the wedding.

There was the Bagpipe that played Amazing Grace during Communion one Sunday.  Do not under any circumstances remain in a comparatively small space when a Bagpipe starts playing.  I was busy with the tasks at hand during the service and forgot the Bagpipe would start playing.  He was only a few feet from me when that ugly deep groan started as the sound grew quickly to a glass shattering volume, again only feet from behind me.  I thought we would all be killed by whatever disaster was happening.  It is good that I was not distributing the wine from the chalice or someone would have been bathed in Mogen David.

The Staff was wonderful there.  John, the DCE, was very irritating.  He was better than me at everything — talk about annoying.  I could sing, but he got paid for it, singing and playing the guitar with a professional Christian group that sang at regional and national conferences all over the country.  He did not read a note of music, but not only did he play the guitar, but he wrote songs.  He could play the piano by ear.  He was an excellent artist, drawing, sculpting (a beautiful chalice of clay on a Confirmation Retreat).  John was an excellent Administrator, who was a strong support to the Leadership of the congregation.  John also preached annoyingly well.  He was the consummate Youth Leader and Educator.  If that is not enough, he was our computer nerd.  He also became a good friend.

Then there was Secretary Cindra.  There was no doubt she actually ran the place.  She started when I started, but she was a very quick study.  One week, I gave her the notes for the Sunday Service, the hymns along with other items.  My brain had skipped two hymnals back in my history with the church, and, as a result, I put in the wrong hymn number — only a number, no name.  She determined that the hymn in the current hymnal with that number did not fit that spot in the service.  She found her way to the hymn I had actually intended for that spot.  Her only clue was knowing enough about worship to know what fit in that spot.  I certainly was spoiled.

There were some of the best Early Childhood Teachers I have ever encountered.  The organist who came while I was there brought such a level of skill in music that she got multiple degrees, the last in choral conducting, a Doctorate (if I have it straight in my mind).  She did remarkable things in that congregation and more in another.

The celebrations were the most memorable.  On the third anniversary of the beginning of my ministry there was a celebration (surprise).  On the fifth anniversary of the beginning of my ministry was a celebration (another surprise).  They celebrated my twenty-fifth anniversary in the ministry.  One of those first two celebrations (the 3rd or 5th anniversaries) was celebrated with a full week of surprises.  Every day beginning with the Sunday was a surprise.  There was a huge gathering between services that Sunday.  It was a little unnerving to realize that they could pull that off without my having a clue.  Each day someone, or some group surprised me with something.  When finally I thought it must be over there was one more.  Mary Ann was in on the last one.  We regularly went to a local breakfast place on Saturdays.  She encouraged us to go that Saturday.  When we walked in, there were thirty or so people from church there, and John played and sang a lovely song he had written, the saga of Randy the Pig, whom he claimed I had raised in my childhood (no such thing).

Next will come a sketch of the ministry there and something of our family life.  Yes, Barry Switzer is a character in this story.

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