Relationship Issues


In a former post I reflected on the power of the word “Hospice.”  When the neurologist suggested it, we pursued that option.  It fit our intentions for how we would travel the last leg of our journey together.  Enrolling in Hospice and then seeing her looking almost comatose one Sunday morning after an increase in the Seroquel (in an attempt to manage the hallucinations) combined to finally break the dam on the tears, a dam that had been holding them back for years.  I sat in the car at the Lake on that cold morning, listening to Celtic Woman Lisa Kelly sing, weeping loudly and long.  

It had finally sunk in.  There was a part of me that somehow thought we would just keep death at bay for years to come.  Mary Ann had bounced back from so many hits, any one of which would have taken a person with less grit and strength of will.  That morning, the denial was breeched.  That denial had allowed us to live a fairly normal existence in very difficult circumstances.  The truth is that Mary Ann never let go of the denial until she chose to stop eating and drinking.  I returned to that denial, comforting myself with the knowledge that some in the Lewy Body Dementia Spouse Caregivers online support group had been in hospice for as many as three years (maybe longer).   My denial didn’t begin to crumble again until the same time as Mary Ann’s.  Of course, I knew intellectually what was afoot, but my gut was not influenced by what I knew in my mind. 

Sending out the word that Mary Ann was now enrolled in Hospice, had the effect of moving friends to come and spend time with her.  Some of our Kansas City Crew of close friends came by and spent the better part of a day.  We have decades of history together, and stories to tell from that history.  As always we had a good time together. 

Friends Trudy and Coleman with whom we shared a similar history, came by and spent hours with us.  Trudy and Mary Ann had developed a special connection over the years.  It was a comforting few hours.  Mary Ann surprised us with her sharpness at one point when she remembered a name that the rest of us could not bring to mind.

Niece Diana and her Daughter Rachel came by from Northern Illinois for a couple of days.  When we were married, Diana was old enough to be a bridesmaid in our wedding.  That visit was especially meaningful to Mary Ann since geography and circumstances had made it hard for her to keep those family connections active.  Mary Ann could no longer write letters; she could not manage the computer to email; her voice was not strong enough nor did the words flow freely enough for her to talk on the phone.  That visit sort of filled an empty place that had developed in her life since travel had become so difficult for us, preventing much family contact.

Then there was the visit of the Three Friends from the North, Joy, Terry and Cherri.  That was the most wonderful gift she could have received before her journey here ended.  I have written often about them and the raucous times when the four of them got together.  It was no different this time.  They have hung out together since they were all in about the Fifth or Sixth Grade.  The old feisty Mary Ann emerged as the stories flew by.  It was a marvel to see. 

All those visits provided a fitting conclusion to Mary Ann’s life here.  There were many Volunteers who enjoyed time with her in the final months.  Those relationships had come to be very meaningful to her.  Then when the end finally came, all of us in her immediate family surrounded her, ministering to her and expressing our love for her.  While none of us would have chosen for her to leave so soon, the last leg of the trip was filled with good and satisfying times.  Her departure was peaceful, and I have no doubt her arrival at her next destination was filled with joy and wonder and happy reunions. 

In spite of the onslaught of the Parkinson’s and the other physical assaults on Mary Ann, in spite of the struggles we both had trying to negotiate all that was thrown our way, there are some gifts that came to us and those around us.  In fact some of those gifts came because of what we went through.  In subsequent posts I will describe some of those gifts.  I described them in the words that I shared at Mary Ann’s Memorial Service in Northern Illinois.  I need to describe them again and celebrate them.

Less than a year ago, Sunday, October 25th, we got into the van and headed out on our last adventure traveling together.  Our first stop was the 60th birthday party of friend John in the Oklahoma City area.  I had not given any indication that we might be coming, so it was a complete surprise.  He had not seen Mary Ann in fourteen years.  We stayed for a few hours, had a great time, and then headed for a motel that was on the way to our next stop.

That stop was a three night, four day stay at what I have no doubt is one of the very best Bed and Breakfast’s in the nation.  It has been featured in Midwest Living and easily measures up to the PR on it.  The name is Lookout Point, Lakeside Inn, located in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  (www.lookoutpointinn.com)  I have described it more than once in earlier posts. 

There are twelve rooms and a condo from which to choose.  Every room has a balcony or patio overlooking a quiet bay of Lake Hamilton.  There is a secuded feel to it because of how it is situated at the edge of the bay.  The gardens are unbelievable, lush, full of color in both spring and fall, with a large fountain feeding a stream and waterfalls that run through the gardens down to the lake.  One of the rooms is fully handicapped accessible.  We had stayed there a time or two before this. 

The breakfast is always a gourmet meal and the 4pm wine, cheese and freshly baked goods are always a treat, especially on Chocolate Wednesday.  There is original art work everywhere.  Hot Springs is one of the top ranked small cities in the nation in the fine arts.  Owners, Ray and Kristie are gracious hosts.  Kristie is an Ordained Pastor in the United Methodist Church who remains active doing weddings and retreats among other things.  The library there includes a section on Spiritual Formation.  By the way, the library, a separate reading room with a fireplace and a huge sunroom, along with the dining room and large patio eating area fill out the areas available for relaxation and renewal. 

Mary Ann was doing well during our time there.  We got out for ice cream at least once.  We toured some of the first class Art Galleries in the downtown area.  We drove up a winding road right in town, a road that took us up to an overlook providing a breathtaking view extending many miles.  Our last evening was spent sitting in a protected area of the outdoor patio enjoying a gentle rain. 

On our previous trip to Lookout Point, Mary Ann decided that we should head to a place she thought was nearby at which people can search for diamonds and keep what they find.  It was very hot when we were there last.  Mary Ann used the wheel chair almost exclusively.  I was picturing trying to dig around in the hot sun while at the same time having to move the wheel chair through gravel.  When Kristie told us how far away it was, I was much relieved that it would be too far to manage. 

Unfortunately, Kristie mentioned an alternative.  It was a quartz mine in easy driving distance.  It was not long before Mary Ann was sitting in her wheel chair next to a huge mound of mud, while I dug out promising hunks for her to look at and trying to find quartz crystals.  Mary Ann baked in the sun and I sweated in the mud until we managed to find a few little crystals and one big one.  Finally, Mary Ann said she needed to get out of the sun and we called our quartz crystal mining operation to an end.  We brought back a bag of chunks of mud that have crystals in them.  That was almost two years ago, and the bag of hardened hunks of mud is still in the garage waiting to be cleaned. 

On this trip, gratefully,  Mary Ann did not ask to go to the quartz mine.  I think she had baked long enough the last time.  The weather would not have allowed it anyway this time.  It was just a good trip, even with the rain.  We both enjoyed  it in spite of the physical challenges.

On the way back home, we stopped overnight in Eureka Springs.  By the time we arrived at the motel there, the gentle rain had become not so gentle, just about washing Arkansas away.  It poured longer and harder than I can ever remember experiencing before.  In the morning, we discovered that the breakfast that came with the room was being served in a separate building in the lower level.  There was no elevator and a huge flight of cement stairs between us and the food.  I went down to check on the breakfast to see if it would be worth the effort to try to get Mary Ann to it.  There was a very large dining area with long tables laden with all sorts of  breakfast foods, including hot out of the oven Quiches of various kinds. 

It was too good a layout to just try to bring up a couple of morsels to the motel room.  We decided to  try to get Mary Ann down the stairs and into the dining room.  She stood up at the top of the first section of stairs while I moved the wheelchair to the first landing.  Then I went back up and held her tightly as we moved down the stairs.  Remember, people with Parkinson’s can negotiate stairs better than level areas.  The problem, of course, was the issue of the Orthostatic Hypotension that caused her to faint after a time of standing or walking.  Since the last visit to my Brother’s home, Mary Ann had been walking without fainting.  We had increased a medicine (Midodrine) that helped keep her blood pressure up, but often way above safe levels. 

We made the first landing, where she sat for a bit.  Then she stood up, I carried the wheelchair to the bottom of the next section of stairs, came back up and held her tightly again as we completed the descent.  We both ate well, but I kept thinking about how foolish it might have been to come down the steps, since there would have to be a return trip.  Finally, we were the last, and the lady in charge needed to close things up.  While we would have made it back up those stairs one way or another, the lady in charge took us through the kitchen and out another door to the bottom of a steep drive for delivery trucks. 

The drive was so steep it was almost impossible for me to keep my footing and push the chair up to the top.  God is good!  A delivery person arrived just at that time.  Between the two of us, we managed to push her to the top of the drive.  When it came to food, there was not much that would stop us. 

We headed back home.  Mary Ann continued to do well.  That evening, October 30, Mary Ann was fine.  We got up the next morning and she seemed all right.  Later in the day, after she had a long nap, we headed out in the car.  I stopped for coffee.  When I got back to the car, she was not feeling well.  I gave her a nitro pill and headed for the next stop at the store while the pill had a chance to work.  After I got out of the store, she still did not feel well.  She described the feeling as a heaviness in her chest.  That was all I needed to hear.  We stopped at the house to get a couple of things, and I took her right to the Emergency Room.  As suspected, it was congestive heart failure. 

She recieved wonderful care, but the decline was dramatic.  She was there only a few days, but she never regained the ground she lost.  It was the beginning of the last leg of her journey here, our time together.  That journey is recounted in great detail in the posts written almost every day from then until the end.  I am not ready or able to review those months in detail yet. 

We did the best with what we had.  Mary Ann squeezed the most she could out of every day.  She never gave up until she decided it was time to leave.  Then she just stopped eating food and drinking any liquids.  For 23.5 years she pushed to the very edge of the limits the Parkinson’s put on her and then stepped over those limits, beyond what could reasonably be expected of her.  I did everything I could think of and was able to do to provide the best care, the best quality of life within my power to give.   I think we both dealt with what came our way, yes imperfectly, but with dignity and courage, living every day with meaning and purpose.  The strength to do so did not come from us, but the One who made us and never gave up on us.  The One who sits at table with Mary Ann now.   I miss her more than words can say.

It was a little less than a year ago that we headed off for a major trip again.  This one was to Kentucky to visit Daughter Lisa, Denis, Abigail and Ashlyn.  When we had done it in one day, it usually took us about eleven hours to get there.  This time, we stopped at a motel at about the halfway point.  We got plentyof rest, had a leisurely morning, and headed on to Louisville around noon.  Mornings always were extended by the time it took for each step in preparation for getting ready to go anywhere.  It was just a part of our reality. 

On other occasions we had stayed in the downstairs at Lisa’s.  Mary Ann’s Orthostatic Hypotension made that a challenge.  When she stood, her blood pressure would drop making her susceptible to fainting.  It was almost comical to see us help Mary Ann up the stairs.  One odd characteristic of Parkinson’s is that while feet may freeze on the level, stairs are no problem to negotiate.  The challenge was to get her up the stairs before the low blood pressure no longer provided an adequate blood supply to her brain to keep her from fainting. With one of us beside her and one in back, we raced up the stairs to a waiting chair.  On some of our visits, every time we arrived at the chair, she would faint.  On some visits she had less difficulty with it.  There was nothing we could come up with that explained why some times were better than others.

By this time last year, the OH was bad enough that it was no longer an option to stay in the downstairs.  We chose to stay in an extended stay motel.  It worked out well.  We took whatever time we needed in the morning at the motel, and ended up at Lisa’s house around noon.  We spent time with the family as long as Mary Ann’s stamina held out, and then headed back to the motel. 

We headed out in the car with the family, often to visit Huber’s winery and garden produce market and bakery (and ice cream parlor) in Southern Indiana near Denis’s family, with whom we visited.  Usually there was a trip to a restaurant.  There was lots of time watching Abigail and Ashlyn doing a variety of things.  There were many hugs, lots of pictures drawn and colored.  We had a good visit.

When we left, rather than coming straight home, we made the relatively short drive to Columbus, Indiana, to visit Brother Dick, Dee and the family.  Dick is a retired Pastor, fourteen years my senior.  We are almost from different generations, but have come to know and love each other as the years have gone by, as has been so with Dave, Gayle and Tish, our other siblings. 

I have described the setting at Dick and Dee’s place a couple of times before.  They live on a five acre plot with trees and ponds and gardens everywhere.  There are bees that provide honey, fish to be caught, vegetables to be picked from the garden and either eaten right away or canned to be eaten later.  Freshly baked bread and home made granola are mainstays.  There are birds constantly at the feeders attached to the rail or sitting on the deck right outside the floor to ceiling windows. 

We enjoyed a wonderful meal.  Then came the miracle.  Mary Ann had declined to the extent that walking more than a few steps had pretty much ceased to be an option — we thought.  When she tried to walk, many times the blood pressure would drop and so would she.  When we arrived at Dick and Dee’s, it was a little challenging to get the wheel chair where it needed to be.  Mary Ann just got up and walked the length of a long hall to the living room.  Then when we looked around the house, she walked and did not fall.  Later, we went over to see the magnificent house their Daughter Jill (our Niece) and her husband had built to house their three boys, by then in junior high and high school.  The house was perfectly outfitted for the boys having friends over to hang out together. 

Dick drove Mary Ann over in the golf cart he and Dee use to get around on the acreage.  We didn’t take the wheel chair.  Mary Ann toured the main floor of that huge house on foot, never falling once.  I could hardly believe what I was seeing.  After spending the night in a nearby motel, we headed back home the next day.  This time we made  the trip in one day.  For some reason, going home always seemed to go faster.  Part of that sensation was due to the fact that we crossed a time zone creating the illusion that we had taken less time. 

After we got home, the walking continued for weeks.  Before we left, I would jump up every time Mary Ann got up so that I would be ready to catch her before she fell.  I would, of course, try to convince her not to get up without warning me so that I could come and help.  After we returned, I relaxed and stopped jumping up when she stood.  That change made our days much less stressful.  That miracle made our last fall together a pleasant one. 

In the next post on this sight I will describe the subsequent trip to a Bed & Breakfast in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the one that would be our last trip. 

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“How is retirement going?”  the Pastor asked as we were leaving after worshiping at the evening service at  a Lutheran Church in Kansas City a few months into retirement.  I told him that it seemed to be going pretty well, better than I had expected it to be going.  When we got in the car after that interaction, Mary Ann said, “Let’s be honest.  This is not working.  We are both bored silly!” 

First of all, it was a shock to me that so many words came out so clearly.  Mary Ann was never very forthcoming with conversation and especially by that time in the disease process.  She just blurted it out.  By that time I had begun to feel as if things actually were going pretty well.  What I inferred (rightly or wrongly) from what she said was that it was not working for her and she was bored silly.  In fairness, she may have been assuming that I was bored with our situation after moving from many hours away from home working at my job to being at the house pretty much all day long every day. 

It certainly was boring for her.  She couldn’t do any of the things she had done in the past for entertainment other than watch television.  We had been heading out in the car very often to do one thing or the other so that we would not be cloistered in the house, but apparently that was not doing the job.  Since we were together all the time, there was no news to share that the other didn’t already know. 

At first, it sort of hurt my feelings that having just retired early to do full time care of Mary Ann, there seemed to be no appreciation.   For one thing, I needed to accept the fact that I could not fix the situation — I could not do enough to replace all that she was missing.  One thought that came to mind  was trying to increase the visits from Volunteers so that Mary Ann would have someone other than me to talk with (listen to) more often during the week. 

It happened that there were enough of the working folks who could only Volunteer evenings that Scheduler Mary was able to accommodate that need.  We added two evenings a week as options when Volunteers were available.  The Volunteers brought with them their presence and their experiences and their stories.  Sometimes (especially on NCIS days) there was a lot of just sitting together and watching television.  Often Volunteers shared what was going on at work or in their family or extended family, thereby enlarging Mary Ann’s world. 

Sometimes a Volunteer (daytime or evening) would read to her from a novel they brought out each time she visited.  There were occasional outings by Volunteers who happened to be willing and physically able to help Mary Ann in and out of the car as well as handling the wheelchair.  There were trips to Ensley Gardens, a world class garden on the other side of town.  Volunteers would sometimes do food preparation, bringing Mary Ann into the kitchen with them.  In earlier years, Mary Ann had often challenged Volunteers to a game of Scrabble.  She played well and showed no mercy. 

I suppose the greatest challenge was trying to keep Mary Ann’s environment a stimulating one for her.  I felt inadequate to the task.  I didn’t have the creativity or the stamina to do it myself, but with the help of the Volunteers, she had a reasonably good quality of life within the limits placed by the Parkinson’s Disease.  Until the last few months, we got out as often as I could think of  something to do that we could manage, if only to the Library or the grocery store.  Right up until the last hospitalization last October 31st, we were often on the road.  We had just returned from our last major trip the day before, October 30th. 

Descriptions of the last two major trips with come in subsequent posts.

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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.

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.

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!”

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.

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.

When the hands were counted and the decision made, one third of the hundred fifty or so people in the Nave, stood up and walked out.  Most never came back.  Churches are like families.  The bond is personal.  People’s histories are interwoven with the history of the church during their time there.

The controversy simmered and sometimes boiled at the national level.  Unfortunately, church folks can be at least as nasty as anyone.  Part of the reason is that deep feelings are involved.  What happened at the national level ultimately resulted in what happened at the parish I was serving when that vote was taken.

I graduated from the Seminary in 1969.  The education matched or exceeded the best of any branch of Christianity at that time.  The faculty were people of strong faith who were scholars of note as well.  At that time it was hard to find folks of faith who found good scholarship to enhance rather than challenge faith.

The year I graduated there was a change in leadership at the national level.  The battles began.  After five years of fighting, in 1974, the President of the National church body fired the President of the Seminary.  Forty-five of the fifty faculty and most of the student body marched out in protest and support for the Seminary President.

The Seminary in Exile (Seminex) began.  The issues involved polarized people beyond reason.  The break did not heal.  The congregation I was serving during that time, under the leadership of the Senior Pastor, began to study the issues that seemed to be dividing the church.  There were papers written and studied.  There were speakers reflecting both sides of the issues.  There were small group discussions and large group discussions.

In the end, the leadership of the congregation recommended joining an organization called, Evangelical Lutherans in Mission (ELIM).  It was structured as a fellowship of congregations within the national church body who aligned themselves with the faculty and students who left the Seminary.

The national church body chose to remove those congregations from its roster.  Gratefully, there were level heads that worked out pension issues so that everyone was treated fairly.

During those years, while I was open about my position on the issues, the Senior Pastor got the brunt of the nasty letters and angry words, since he took the leadership in dealing with the issues.  My relationships with those on both sides of the issues seemed to stay in place.

When the vote was taken, the future of the congregation and my future, and, as a result, Mary Ann’s future seemed to be very uncertain.  The congregation could no longer sustain itself as simply the repository for those who happened to carry our national church brand.  The church body that formed was called the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, the AELC.  There were just a tiny number throughout the nation.

Some good came from the trauma.  The congregation became energized.  Creative ministries emerged.  There is a sense in which our little branch of Lutheranism became the mouse that roared.  During that time I was part of a little group who lovingly referred to ourselves as the “Ass Pastors.”  We were four pastors who were ASSistants or ASSociates in our respective parishes.  One of us was on the roster of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), one of us was on the roster of the American Lutheran Church (ALC), one of us was on the roster of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (the one from which we were separated), and I was from the AELC.

During that time I was privileged to serve as Celebrant for a huge ecumenical Lutheran Reformation Service held at the Redemptorist Father’s Roman Catholic Church in Kansas City.  It was a veritable happening as the former Diocesan Bishop and I embraced at the Altar during the Passing of the Peace.

The Metropolitan Inter-church agency for a time pulled together many brands to work to help the most vulnerable populations in the KC area. I was pleased to be a part in that group of servant leaders.   At the same time, since I was not part of one of the larger constituencies, I was able to chair the group that tried to pull together all the various Lutheran Agencies in the area so that we could each use our gifts more effectively.

It was such an odd time since many national organizations needed to have representatives from all four church bodies, the few of us in the AELC were in demand.  One of the perqs of being in that tiny crew was that one of the best Lutheran organists in the nation was a part of it.  Our little congregation did a workshop with Paul Manz as the leader.  The cost to us was minimal due to our common affiliation.

One of the less than pleasant side effects was that some of the pastors in the LCMS were not comfortable with the two of us in this new little group participating in worship with them.  My name had been suggested by some of the students to preach at the baccalaureate of the new Lutheran High, which Daughter Lisa was attending at the time.  The Pastoral Advisor would not allow that to happen.  My name was removed from consideration.

We were invited to participate with the ALC and LCA Youth in a national gathering of some 15,000 Youth and Counselors in Kansas city.  I served as the local arrangements manager.  It was a very demanding role.  At the next gathering, it became a paid position!

Those years were traumatic, exciting, energizing, scary, and most of all a powerful learning experience.  An odd side note is that the congregation that Mary Ann and I grew up in back in Northern Illinois also joined that little crew, the AELC.  Our home life was not impacted dramatically.  There was, however, a resulting time of transition that emerged when finally the AELC came to an end as the much larger church bodies came together into a newly formed group known now as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  Our little church body had become the catalyst for a huge change in the denominational landscape.  It is an alphabet soup of church names we have had in the last few decades.  That transition forced some decisions that effected dramatically my ministry and our future as a family.

…I am still trying to make the new blog name accessible.  I have made some progress, but so far it is still not easy enough to get to for me to begin using it.  In the meantime, this one will continue.  There is lots more to say!

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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