Sources of Strength


This afternoon, I went to see Manheim Steamroller’s Christmas Tour performance at the Performing Arts Center here in town.  The Season of Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years’s is already beginning.  The Christmas Music is arranged in accord with their usual stylized form of light jazz/New Age music. 

It is the first Christmas activity in the new configuration of this season of the year, without Mary Ann.  I already don’t like it, but that is just the way it is.  The performance made use of every imagineable sort of sound that can be produced by both unplugged and electronic instruments.  The volume was powerful but not painful.  The visuals on the screen behind the performers sometimes included actors and dancers dressed in period costumes providing a visual story to go along with the music being played.  Sometimes it was hard to tell what were previously recorded sounds and what was coming from the people on the stage.  They were perfectly coordinated. 

Since music has the ability to bypass my defenses, for a time it was pretty emotional.  I let the feelings have there way, but they never broke through to water running down my face — close , but not quite.  I can tell that this season will just not be very easy to negotiate.  I remember that it was already pretty tough last Christmas.  In fact, since retirement, there has been a part of me that just wished we could skip December and go right into January. 

It was helpful that after the concert there was a gathering of the folks from the Hospice Grief Support Group at the home of one of the members.  While we did not talk about the challenges of dealing with the holidays since it was just a social get-together, being around folks who are in similar circumstances was comforting.  Going to an empty house after the concert would have been pretty difficult.  

Before the Parkinson’s moved into the later stages, Mary Ann was a master at doing Christmas.  She had to learn to manage without much help from me since it was the busiest time of the year as a Pastor.  She started buying gifts some time early in September.  By the middle of November, she already had a full complement of gifts.  In fact, sometimes she would forget all that she had gotten and keep getting presents after there were already plenty in the closet.  Every once in a while, we had to do an inventory of presents to be sure that the numbers and size balanced out for each of the Kids and Grandchildren. 

I was a spoiled sport relative to outdoor decorations.  She would have loved them, but I just never could get into it since there was so much going on at work (at least that was my excuse).  She always did a nice job decorating the inside of the house.  Her Christmas quilt was always hung in our bedroom, replacing the one with the basket pattern in each block.  The Manger Scene came out with the wise men placed away from the manger until Epiphany came. 

We would often get a Charlie Brown Christmas tree (the Kids always made fun of the trees we picked out).  In early years we went out and cut it down.  Then later we got trees from a Christmas Tree lot (still Charlie Brown trees).  Only in recent years did we finally get an artificial Christmas Tree.  Then came the ornaments, an eclectic variety.  Some years there was a theme in terms of color, but most often there was a wonderful variety of styles and sizes and shapes.  There is the sleigh that my Grandfather made — the cards go in that. 

She loved Christmas so much.  Last year was difficult since she had started the decline.  We were pretty limited in what we could do.  We did manage to get the tree up.  I don’t know yet what I will do this year.  It is hard to imagine bringing the tree up from the storage room, putting it together and decorating it.  I can understand why those who have lost a Loved One struggle so at this time of the year.  So much of what usually is done seems sort of pointless.  The center of the season, the core message remains powerful and meaningful.  The decorations are pretty, but they are not the center.  

The goal will be to focus on the unconditional love of our Creator and the new life offered through the One who joined us in our human journey bringing hope in the face of whatever comes.

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That is a reality that Caregiver’s often simply refuse to accept.  I think one of the things that allowed me to survive and resulted in a better life for Mary Ann was that I didn’t waste much time on things I couldn’t fix.  My goal was to try as hard as possible to figure out what we could actually do that would make a difference for good in whatever new symptom or return of old one or change in the effect of a medicine or loss of ability was impacting her. 

When a Caregiver does not accept the reality that he/she cannot fix his Loved One, the frustration becomes almost unbearable.  The illusion that the Caregiver can fix his/her Loved One is often worst in folks who seek to get their world under control, folks who tend to take charge, just the sort of folks you want among your close and trusted friends, since they are not shy about saying what they think.  In a group, they are the ones that organize activities, the ones who actually get the work done.  The trouble with that view of the world is that it is an illusion.  None of us controls the world around us, really.  We might be able to keep hold of a small corner of it for a while, but sooner or later (usually sooner) something or someone messes up our orderly world. 

Another problem with the illusion of control is that Caregivers often become depressed themselves, feeling guilty that they are not doing enough.  If they were doing enough their Loved Ones would get better, they think, or more importantly, they feel.  There are frantic attempts to make things perfect for their Loved Ones so that they will be completely insulated from the consequences of the disease.  Sometimes Loved Ones, especially if they are in denial about their disease, feed into the expectations that their Caregivers should make their world work again.  I remember how often Mary Ann, when asked about meal preparation, would say without hesitation, “They won’t let me in the kitchen.”  I, her Caregiver, was “they.” 

The truth is, Caregivers don’t own responsibility for their Loved One’s sickness.  Caregivers cannot fix what they have no power to control.  Caregivers can be empathetic and caring and loving and sensitive to the needs of their Loved Ones.  Caregivers can be Advocates for their Loved Ones, especially with all those who are responsible for their medical care.  Caregivers can and should learn as much as possible about the disease so that they can be more effective as Advocates.  Caregivers cannot remove the consequences of the progression of the disease, or the debilitating side effects that come from the medications or treatments.  That is just the way it is.  Knowing that can eliminate a lot of wasted energy.  Knowing that can reduce some of the frustration, some of the feelings of failure, feelings of guilt that plague most Caregivers. 

In the moments of pain at what Mary Ann suffered, it helps to remember that I couldn’t fix her.  If I could have made her better, I would have.  I didn’t have the power to stop the ravages of the Parkinson’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.  She often refused to accept that there were consequences to the Disease, consequences that neither of us could remove.  While at times that caused problems in trying to keep her safe and secure from hurting herself, it was her way of coping with an impossible situation.  She needed to deny part of her reality to keep from crumbling under the weight of it. 

Her coping mechanisms worked.  She never crumbled, not even close.  Spending 24/7 with someone results in getting to know one another very intimately.  It would be virtually impossible to keep up some sort of false front.  While we went toe to toe sometimes as we confronted a difficulty of substantial proportions, she never faltered.  She moved through whatever it was, no matter how impossible, with a calm spirit, like a ship securely anchored in a violent storm.  The times that was not so happened in hospital stays.  It is why we both hated them so.  A sort of psychosis would emerge as the days went by.  In the last months, the flair ups of the Lewy Body Dementia took her to very strange places where the equilibrium was inaccessible. 

While I did not have the power to fix her, I did what I had the power to do.  She remained strong, and when the time came, she left here to find healing and wholeness.  This is one of those times I lament that tears do not easily come.  They lay just behind my eyes.  It is a sadness that I cherish.

Whatever else I did or didn’t do, I knew enough never to say that!  I never said it for one thing, because it would be silly to claim I was doing the Lord’s work if I was not fulfilling my Call as Husband and Father.  Being a Husband and a Father is doing the Lord’s work.  Working for the church is just the way I chose to live out my Vocation, no more or less important than anyone else’s Vocation.  Every Christian is Called to live his/her Christianity in every dimension of their life and work. 

Another reason for not saying those words, “But Mary Ann, I’m Doing the Lord’s Work,” is that, assuming they were spoken to suggest my stuff was more important than her stuff, the Mizel wit would cut me down to size with a sharp blade. There was no room for pretense with Mary Ann.  I was her husband, she was my wife.  My job happened to be to serve as a Pastor of a congregation.  She kept me from becoming self-important.  The result was that I was more genuine in the way I did Ministry.  My relationship with people was more real on account of pretense being an unacceptable option. 

That is a gift Mary Ann gave me that impacted my work.  The battle with Parkinson’s had a powerful impact on the way I did ministry and how that ministry was received.   Certainly, there was an impact on my time and energy.  I had to delegate, accept help, find efficient ways to accomplish the ministry so that the Congregation got from me the job they had Called me to do.  Being up multiple times during the night, pretty much every night, for the last eight or so years in the Ministry, had an impact.  The Leadership of the Congregation insisted on my taking care of myself to keep functioning effectively.  The Staff helped in every way possible.  

One gift was that we had to function as a team, each helping the other be as effective as possible.  Members seemed more willing to take on tasks, realizing that the help was very much needed.  As time went by, the challenge of the Parkinson’s resulted in a structure at work that could remain functional and healthy even when Mary Ann was in the hospital and I needed to be there full time day and night.  That actually turned out to be a strength as we dealt with vacant Staff positions at various times during those years. 

I am inferring from observations mostly and occasional comments, another gift our situation gave to my ministry.  There was an authenticity when I was preaching and doing Pastoral Care that seemed to come from the awareness that we were living through very difficult times.  Whether or not others perceived it, I felt freer to talk more boldly about people dealing with challenges since what I said (at least in my mind) could not be easily dismissed as shallow platitudes.  Even if no one else was aware of it, I felt more deeply than in years past the weight of what message of the day had to say to real life situations. 

The place it seemed to me to make the most difference was in hospital visitations and counseling situations.  Those who were suffering from medical problems seemed to talk with me and listen to me as someone having a common experience with which we were both struggling, both finding strength from our faith.  Again, there was an authenticity in our communication that was rooted in the fact that we were all in the same sort of circumstances.  The words I came to say spoke to me as well as to them.  Those who were struggling with painful relationship issues or bouts of depression, could not easily dismiss my counsel, since it came from personal experience in dealing with issues that could be depressing and destroy a relationship.  It was not easy for people to just feel sorry for themselves in front of me and tell me that I didn’t understand what they were going through. 

Of course, I also learned to be far more understanding when folks were going through tough times struggling to survive.  Having seen the boundaries of my capacity to cope with our situation, I could empathize with those living on the edge.  I knew what it felt like.  I knew what it was like to need help and be forced to accept that I could not make it without reaching out to others, accepting their help. 

Now that the Parkinson’s and its allies have done their worst and taken Mary Ann from life here, from those who knew her and loved her, from our Children and Grandchildren, from me, there is another gift that has come.  It is a tough one to accept, but I have no choice.  I now understand just how hard it is to lose a Spouse after decades of marriage.  I understand what it feels like to have a heart broken by losing the one who filled life with meaning and purpose, the one the Lord called me to love and care for these many years.

I also know more clearly than ever that there is healing and new life for her that is now more than she has ever known before.  I  know, not just intellectually, but experientially that because she has new life, I am free to live again, to start a new life.  I am free to incorporate into my life the impact she has had on me in the 48 years I have loved her, along with the unconditional love of a Lord who refuses to give up on me, plus the impact of so many who have touched my life in the years in the Ministry — I am free to say yes to the Call to Live.   Only a Lord who brought Resurrection out of suffering and death could bring out of twenty-three and a half years of battling a disease, so many good gifts.

The package was pretty ugly — Parkinson’s Disease, but the gift was beautiful.  Actually, God gave the gift.  Actually the gift was already there, Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s provided a tool for opening the package, pulling out the gift and letting people see it. 

Sometimes harsh judgments are made about churches and church folks.  There are the caricatures of people who attend church regularly as hypocrites and self-righteous, harsh, judgmental and unloving people.  Of course all those things are true to a certain extent, just as they are true of the general population, whether they happen to go to church or not. 

What actually has been so in my experience with congregations, ones I have served in forty years of ministry and many I have heard about from fellow clergy is exactly the opposite.  I have seen true community in action in my years in the ministry.  By true community, I mean people who are connected in a way that frees them to express that connection in action — people who help one another. 

Community was expressed in a former congregation by surrounding a handicapped member with support in every way, functioning as family for her.  When the bombing in Oklahoma City took one of the members of that congregation, her husband was surrounded with loving and caring actions.  When the bombing happened, I saw first hand an entire city express community, as crime ceased for a time, people came together to support one another, doing anything and everything they could to help those suffering, to support the ones who were doing the hands on rescue work.

The congregation I served the last twelve and a half years in my role as Pastor of a congregation had always expressed community in one way or another.  People visited and cared for those who were going through difficult times, especially due to health or aging.  The gift that came with Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s was an opportunity, an opportunity to go public with those expressions of community. 

Mary Ann’s circumstances provided some very clearly identifiable needs.  The needs were concrete.  I could not continue to serve as Pastor of the congregation without those needs being filled.  The response was a natural one for people who understood and lived in community with one another, quietly going about the business of supporting one another in times of need.  My vantage point may have skewed my view of reality, but it seemed to me that Mary Ann’s and my needs, so public, and the response to them, helped crystallize the self-image of the congregation.  What had always been so gained a higher profile and became visible.   That visibility became a witness to the poeple in the congregation and others who learned about it. 

I think the truth of the matter is that people in community with one another find much satisfaction in helping each other if they can figure out what to do that will actually help.  People surrounded our household with the basic needs of companionship for Mary Ann with all that demanded in terms of help with personal needs and whatever came up.  There was sometimes food brought over, grocery shopping done when we were homebound or Mary Ann was hospitalized.  There were sometimes basic household needs covered, chores done, ironing done.  Margaret, Carol (single-handedly for over six years), Mary, Edie, Daughter Lisa, all who coordinated  clusters of Volunteers, gave them instructions on what to do, answered their questions.  A free online scheduler just for that purpose helped organize times and tasks.  It is available at no charge to any individual who needs it: www.lotsahelpinghands.com

The specific gift Mary Ann gave the congregation was opening herself to allowing people into her life to help her.  Community can’t be experienced fully without people’s willingness to allow themselves to become vulnerable to others.  There is a risk when allowing people to help.  Will you become indebted to them?  How will you pay them back?  If you don’t pay them back, will they somehow own a little piece of you?  We simply had no choice.  There was so much help that there was no way we could ever repay all the people.  We occasionally made small symbolic efforts and saying thank you.  Mary Ann enjoyed doing an open house every once in a while, Volunteers helping with it.  She sometimes made or designed token gifts intended to say thank you.  There was just no way to do enough.  We simply had to allow the help with no possibility of ever repaying or saying enough thank you’s. 

The good news is that people helped because they chose to do so.  They helped because they have been wired by their Creator to do so.  They helped because there was meaning and satisfaction and fulfillment in doing so.  By helping, they actually had a part in the Pastoral ministry to the congregation.   Because they were doing what they were doing I could do what I was Called to do as my part in the community. 

Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s freed the true community that already existed to float to the surface and become more visible, defining the congregation in its own eyes and the eyes of those who heard about it.   

By making these observations about the gifts that came into our lives and the lives of many others on account of the Parkinson’s, I am in no way lessening the horror of what Mary Ann went through.  We would not wish that struggle on anyone.  It was not a good thing.  It was a very ugly disease that stole from Mary Ann everything she had enjoyed doing with her hands and her sharp, creative mind.  In spite of that, God brought some good gifts to her, to me, to a congregation and to our family.  More about that in later posts.

Pastor Mike began by barging right into that question.   It has to be asked.   That issue stirred in Mike’s gut as he prepared for his message at Mary Ann’s funeral here.  I started the Memorial message in Aurora that way also.  Mike immediately reviewed the common answers, all seeming to diminish the sheer horror of what she went through.  The popular answers sometimes make God seem very arbitrary and callous to human pain — as if He were just playing with us, or teaching us lessons. 

“Jesus wept.”  Remember that passage, the shortest verse in the Bible?  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!”  Apparently, God understands human pain fully, experientially.  Jesus’ tears and His scream at God were not pretense.  What Mary Ann went through cannot be diminished by any of the answers we give to that question, “why.” 

The question is a search for whom to blame.  Some suggest that everything that happens is God’s will.  If that were the case, the Biblical concept of Sin would not exist.  Things happen that do not please God.  That is what the Cross was about, addressing the painful reality that God’s will is not done.  The Good News is that the pain and suffering that comes to good and bad alike, do not have to be the last word.  The Cross has trumped it.

For Mary Ann and me, that meant that we did not have to waste our precious days arguing with God, blaming God, obsessed with answering the question, “why.”  Instead we could draw strength from the One who stole from the pain and suffering its power to destroy us.  God has the last word.  That word is life.  In spite of the horror of what she was going through, we could engage life fully. 

Because we had access to a quality of life that transcends the struggles, that has no arbitrary limit placed on it by death, it is possible now to look back and celebrate the gifts that came in spite of and even on account of the struggles Mary Ann went through. 

I was convinced when we were going through our days. and I am still convinced that we were living life with an intensity and awareness and quality that exceeded any other time in our lives.  Nothing we did was trivial.   It was about human survival.  Lots of time was spent dealing with the most basic of human needs.  It was as if daily life ceased to be background music that we barely noticed as the hours went by.  Life became the music and we were the instrumentalists.  We were not watching life go by, we were living it.  What a profound gift! 

One reason that I am now so intent on living every day fully and with meaning, engaging life actively as a participant rather than a spectator is that we lived the last almost twenty-four years of our lives doing something of fundamental value, beyond measure.  At one of our recent Grief Support group meetings a couple of us who had done full time care of our Loved Ones observed that it was very difficult for us to find something worth doing now that the care-giving was done, something that measured up to what we had had the privilege of doing with our Spouses for months or years before they died. 

The gift that was given to us is a vivid awareness of the value of every moment of life, every day that is being given to us, when it is being given.  Mary Ann had always understood better than I, that the moment we are in is the one we need to experience fully.  I was  a slow learner, but in the end, I caught on.  I lament how often I hesitated to join in the life-filled moment’s activity.  There was always something else more important coming next.  Then life would be full.  Mary Ann and the harsh onslaught of the Parkinson’s taught me, gave me a gift that I am only now unwrapping fully — the Present. 

Enough for now.  There is more to come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum:

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

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