Sources of Strength


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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I neglected to tell you in the last post about the activities that helped me turn the corner from the down swing.  I had to clean out more of the storage area in the basement to prepared for getting the new furnace on Tuesday.  Physical labor and progress in cleaning certainly are attitude changers.

A trip to PT’s where I was greeted warmly by a few of the folks there didn’t hurt. A good cup of coffee from there is always helpful.

Then most importantly, I spent some time first reading an article from the latest issue of Weavings, the Spirituality Journal that I find very nurturing.  There was some comfort to be found in the reminder that the Lord’s presence and His love is as close as our next breath (a favorite theme of mine too).

Following that, I started a thought provoking writing by Thomas Merton.  It is in a book of his writings that is titled Love and Living.  His writing is often intense and concentrated — as in frozen orange juice concentrate.  There is more there than the number of words on the page would suggest.  The message is always strong and meaningful and worth adding time to ponder.  It gets tastier as the time and pondering dilute the concentrate.

Not so grumpy tonight.

Mary Ann and I were invited to a Kansas City Chiefs football game after we had been at the church in the KC area for a while.  Neither of us had been to a professional football game before.  When we first entered the stadium (brand new at that time) it was as if we had entered a different world entirely.  The colors, the crowd, the sounds, the excitement, the energy, the beer and nachos.  We both were caught up in it.

Sometimes tickets were given to us.  Often for the December games.  We went.  We wrapped ourselves in plastic garbage bags and cheered the team on.  At first Mary Ann would ask about the basics, “what is this ten yard business?”  Soon she could name the quarterbacks and the stars on many of the teams.  A few times members took us with them to one of the suites at the stadium with free food and drinks.  During that time she remembered her years in Aurora and routing for the Bears.  That settled it.  The Bears it would be.  There were a number of other favorites, but always the Bears.  We had Bears’ posters and Bears’ Calendars, a Bears’ license plate frame (still on the van) and a six and a half foot tall free standing cardboard cutout of a Bears’ player. 

The ministry began with an emphasis on the Youth of the congregation.  There was a New Orleans gathering of 25,000 Lutheran Youth and Counselors.  Busloads traveled there in the August heat.  The Superdome had just opened.  The room I used to lead one of the programs was not finished yet.  I had to wait until the second day to do my sectional. 

The Youth work was not Mary Ann’s favorite.  It was not that she had a role in it.  I made sure that the Youth ministry did not encroach on our personal life.  It was more the time and energy, the attention I gave the Youth that she did not particularly appreciate.   It was not a bone of contention between us.  She knew it was my job. 

The Youth ministry flourished, especially in the first ten years or so.  The centerpiece was the annual trek in three unairconditioned school busses across all of Kansas and the flat and hot half of Colorado to Lutheran Valley Retreat [LVR] fifty miles northwest of Colorado Springs, well into the mountains.  A cluster of us wrote the program and we spent a full week immersed in faith building and community building in one of the most beautiful settings I have ever seen in my life. 

The air was dry and thin and crisp.  Cool nights and hot days, the smell the pines, the rustle of the wind through them brought a calm and peace that was wonderful to experience.  We climbed a steep hill and sat on an outcropping of rocks, watching falling stars, opening ourselves to one another, sharing our deepest struggles and finding hope in a Lord’s love of us. 

There would be as many as eight or nine people playing (or learning to play) the guitar, sitting on the front edge of the platform by the upper fire ring.  We sang songs that lifted our spirits.  We came to know them so well that we sang parts, improvised, added words and phrases, sometimes actions to them.  Every year at the major evening worship every person there was included in and experienced what it means to experience community with others — no one was left out.  There was a powerful experience of the unconditional love of a Lord who could see past our flaws.  For adolescents in search of an identity and acceptance of themselves at a time of such change physically and emotionally, it was a chance to find something powerful enough to help them through it.    

In the years I was at that congregation, I participated in thirteen trips to LVR.  That trip impacted the faith and the life of many of us over the years.  Each time when I returned, physically and emotionally drained, I knew that I needed to be careful not to be too enthusiastic in sharing the experience.  Mary Ann had just had a week by herself with the kids trying to deal with all that comes in the first week out of school in the summer. 

I worked together with the Youth Leaders of a number of congregations but especially one other congregation, much bigger than ours.  In many ways it was a joint ministry.  The Youth of the two churches met together every Wednesday evening for many years. 

When I first arrived, I trained groups of Adults who then taught classes in the Bethel Bible Series.  That provided an Adult connection.  I preached once every three Sundays for most of the time at that church.  Since I was especailly interested in worship and liturgy, the Senior Pastor and I worked together in planning worship services.

As an Assistant and then Associate Pastor, I did not have an opportunity to preach on any of the major festivals in the year.  The one exception was a service I started at 11pm on Christmas Eve.  It became a focal point in the year for me.  I began, sometimes as early as late summer, thinking about what I would say in that service.  I started the tradition of having instrumentalists introduce each carol we sang.  Some years we ended up with a small orchestra.  We had the best of the musicians in the congregation, sometimes with the addition of others they knew who were willing to play.  There were often soloists, one in particular who sang Gesu Bambino beautifully each year.  It grew into one of the major services in the year. 

One ministry that grew quietly was counseling.  It did not have as high a profile as the others, but became one of the most time consuming and satisfying of the ministries in which I participated.  There was, of course, lots to be done with the Youth.  It expanded to include marriage counseling, individual counseling, support for those who had gone through a divorce or the death of a loved one or problems with their children.  Since I had double majored including Psychology as one of the majors both at college and the Seminary and had done supervised Counseling, I knew enough to realize when I should do the Counseling myself and when I should refer them to someone who was a Phd Psychologist.  On occasion I teamed with a Psychologist when it was requested. 

The years in that church included a growing Early Childhood program.  That program was my responsibility.  Seeing the need and the opportunity to touch many families as well as raise the congregation’s visibility in the community, I supported the Early Childhood Staff as we worked together to determine how and when to expand the ministry.  We added a Mother’s Day Out program.  Then we constructed a School-age Child Care program.  At one point there were 150 children involved.  We had to rent the church across the street to accomodate one of the programs. 

There was a need to organize the community ministries.  We developed a group of people who had a heart for those in need.  That team developed numbers of ministries or connected with existing ones, serving the needs of many in the KC area.  The people on the team were creative and energetic.  If there was a need, they found a way to meet it. 

During the last five years of those ministries, I entered a Doctor of Ministry Program.  I began it around 1981 and completed it in 1986.  It took so long because those ministries to children in the community that were were the subject of my doctoral thesis took so much time to plan and implement. 

The ministries thrived, but the national church controversy finally had a direct impact on the congregation.   That is a painful part of the story of that congregation and the ministry there.   That chapter comes next.

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.

There must have been a lot of prayers going to the Lord on my behalf this morning.  The service seemed to go very well — and my emotions stayed at an appropriate level.  That was a gift from the Lord.  Yesterday had not been a very good day in terms of the presence of the pain.  It lay just beneath the surface of my interactions and conversations. 

This morning my apprehensions about what might bubble to the surface during the service were strong.  I had a moment by myself in the van on the way to picking up Joy who would be playing in the service.  As I drove the purpose of the service came into focus again, to affirm the Lord and the witness of Mary Ann’s life.  It was not to demonstrate my grief or display it or garner attention for myself.  Accomplishing those goals was no longer in my hands, but the Lord’s hands. 

That peace that comes sometimes when there is an encounter with the powerful love and Grace of the Lord settled as I drove.  It freed me to release the nervousness.  Lot’s of times I ask for the Lord’s help.  This time it was clear that I could not do this myself.  I don’t have control over my feelings.  They have a life of their own.  Making it through the service was a gift, not an accomplishment. 

The result was that I benefitted from the service more than anyone else.  It really did feel good to have the service at the place where Mary Ann and I both made many of the important transitions in our lives.  It helped provide perspective on her death.  It became part of a continuity, beginning, middle, end, new beginning. 

Most of the people gathered were people who knew Mary Ann when she was a child, a young adult, long before the Parkinson’s.  Their connection with her was longstanding.  It felt good to me in that way to be present again with the Mary Ann I knew from the beginning of our life together.

It was good to have a connection with the congregation from which I retired through Julianna who now lives in Chicago.  She is a Director of Christian Education at a congregation there.  Her Mother serves as the Director of Children’s Ministry at the parish from which I retired. 

It was very meaningful to me that Daughter Lisa, Denis, Abigail and Ashlyn, and Son Micah, Becky and Chloe drove so far just to be part of this community and to give me support.  The family doily that has been popping up in presents or suitcases or any number of places over the years, appeared on the lectern when I came to the front to lead the service (thanks to Becky and Lisa). 

What followed with the lunch and memory sharing time was profoundly healing to me.  It took a long time to get rolling, but the stories and impressions began coming out more and more.  I have always spent about an hour and a half with families a day or two before the funeral of their Loved One, doing what we did this afternoon.  I ask for stories from the person’s life, memories that reveal something of who they were.  I now realize that may have been the single most beneficial part of the ministry to those who are dealing with a death. 

At the moment, it feels as if I have actually regained some of the good feelings that came with having Mary Ann as a part of my life, being a part of hers.  Talking with, spending time with members of her family, nephews and nieces, sisters-in-law seemed to bring me closer to her.  Listening to her three closest friends, Joy, Terry and Cherri, brought me back to our first days together and times we all spent with one another, as well as pictures of her from before I knew her personally. 

Later in the evening, a small group gathered at my Sister’s home.  That group included all five siblings in my family.  The other four range in age from 81 to 72.  I am 6 and 1/2 years younger than my closest sibling.  We are three boys and two girls.  There were lots of memories shared.  We have different sets of memories from our growing up years.  This was a chance to connect the dots on some of them.   We all love each other and enjoy each others company.  We do not necessarily always agree on everything, but we are family.  That time was also very healing to me. 

I have absolutely no idea if the sensation of being healed of some of the pain will last hours, days, weeks or months.  I know that there will be lots of painful times to come.  At least for the moment, a sense of wholeness has returned.  Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers. 

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.

Mary Ann, Lisa and I spent two summers at Camp Beaumont outside of Ashtabula, Ohio.  We packed up enough of our belongings in a U Haul trailor to live in a one bedroom log cabin for each of two summers.  Milt was one of three of us on the faculty who hung out together.  Milt was the art teacher.  He went on to become the head of the Art Department of a college in Nebraska.  Milt was also active in Scouts.  He convinced me to take a summer job as the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish chaplain of a large Scout Camp of some 1200 acres, with 36 sites for troops.

There was a little ring of six or eight cabins for the staff of the camp.  Mary Ann and Lisa hung out with the other families while I ate with the troops, explaining the Religious Awards.  Almost every meal was hot dogs and beans, except for the Jewish troops, who served Kosher hot dogs and beans.

The second summer I bought a bicycle for $3 at a garage sale and road it all summer long.  I had calves of steel that summer.  Poor Lisa got poison Ivy once from the socks I wore with the Scout shorts.  The cabins were simple and very rustic.  It really was a very pleasant setting.  Since we were so close, we made it to Niagara Falls for a visit.  There was a classmate there who took us out to a nice Seafood restaurant to have a leisurely paced meal at a very nice restaurant.  We visited a mushroom farm which was really fascinating.  We ate or put in the freezer package after package of white button mushrooms.

When we were visiting our families in Aurora the Christmas of 1971, driving to my parents house, some smoke came from under the dash.  We never found out what it was, but it was a little unsettling.  After we got to my parents’ house where we had been staying, Mary Ann started feeling badly.  In fact, she began to become rigid as in a mild seizure.

I took her to the Emergency Room in a small nearby hospital.  The doctor had a thick German accent and was about as arrogant and rude a person as we had ever encountered.  He simply decided that we had been arguing and she had gotten so upset that she reacted physically.  It was not so, but he did not believe us and looked for no other explanation.  The next day we went to the doctor we had both grown up with in Aurora.  He put Mary Ann on an anti-seizure medicine as a precaution.  We later discovered that at that time Mary Ann was in the first weeks of being pregnant with our Son.  I guessed that somehow that triggered it, but I have often wondered if that event could have triggered the Parkinson’s.  The literature on Parkinson’s would allow a brain trauma of some sort as a triggering event.

With a second child on the way, we realized that the little house we were  renting would not be big enough for four of us.  We started looking for a house to buy.  We decided to consider a duplex in hopes that the rent from the second unit would help pay for it.

On a Tuesday in April we put $500 down as earnest money on a duplex.  It was the Friday of that week, Mary Ann four months pregnant, a contract out on our first house that Principal Gunther (Gint) asked for an appointment.

Here is how he said it.  We need a new head of the Religion Department and you are not yet ready for that.  We will not be renewing your contract next year.  You need to start seeking a Call (job offer) someplace else.

It was as if the floor had just dropped away, and there was nothing there on which to stand.  (Why do I resonate to that description again now?)  I had to go home and tell Mary Ann that once more, she was pregnant and I had no job.  I called the realtor, who, gratefully, was able to get the $500 check back.

I can only guess that Mary Ann was probably wondering again what she had gotten herself into when she married me.  She had the decency not to say it out loud to me.

When I had left the Principal’s office I went to talk with the other of the three of us who hung out together, Jack.  Jack taught English, but his passion was Drama.  He went on to the English/Drama department at a College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

I have no memory of that weekend and the beginning of that next week.  I do, however, have vivid memories of what started that next Wednesday.

Enough of that for today.

I am now writing from Louisville, Kentucky.  I have been here since Friday evening.  It is good be with Lisa and the Girls and Denis.  It was painful to leave the house Friday morning.  I usually love getting on the road and driving somewhere.  There has been an exhilaration, a freedom I have always felt out on the open road.  I had no such feelings.  It seemed as if I was leaving her behind.  Someone who had lost a spouse recently said that she doesn’t like being away from the house and gets anxious to be home, and then she doesn’t want to be at home when she gets there.  I understand.

It felt very different to be traveling without the constant apprehension about needing to find a bathroom and dealing with taking her into the women’s rest room.  Ironically, the rest area I stopped at in southern Indiana, had a Unisex bathroom.  Now I don’t need it.

It has been good here to be with the Kids and Grandkids.  It is easier not to be dealing with the challenges of stairs and bathrooms and wheelchairs, but I would do it in a minute if I had the chance to have her back.

Yesterday I stopped at Walgreen’s to get a birthday card for Lisa, whose birthday is today, the Fourth of July.  Do you have any idea how many “to Daughter” cards there are that say “from Mother?”  It caught my insides as I tried to pick out a card — something we would have done together.  I picked one that was from both of us.

Yesterday evening was a party that Lisa and Denis had arranged with many of their friends.  Some of them had already met Mary Ann and me in the past.  Lisa and Denis have a wonderful group of friends that function sort of as a local family.  I enjoyed the evening since conversation is a helpful   to me.  There were Kids playing everywhere.  It was entertaining to watch.

Today, Sunday, it was clear from the moment that I woke up, that it would be an uncomfortable day.  I didn’t realize how much I would struggle to keep it together later.  I find the worship services at Lisa and Denis’s church to be very meaningful.  They do a full liturgy, but in a relaxed and welcoming way, rather than a formal way .

Todd who does the music is a real gem.  His work at the keyboard is reverent and accessible.  There may be jazz, classical, or any number of different styles, always perfectly done.  Pastor Paul preaches using lots of visuals, mostly images of great art pieces.  The service is on a large video screen at the front of the church.

Today the service and message were on healing.  The wording of almost everything was not only very compatible with my current need, it spoke almost directly to it.  In many traditions anointing with oil is a liturgical practice intended to bring an awareness of God’s healing into a person’s consciousness.  Today, just before the end of the service the option of going to the rear of the Nave to receive a bit of oil on one’s forehead and a prayer by one or both of those at the station.  It is not done in a magical way but in a way that draws to together the pain and the healing presence of the Lord’s love.

I decided to take advantage of that opportunity.  By the time I returned to my seat, tears were streaming down my cheeks.  I worked hard at trying to keep it from being too obvious and distracting to others.  Lisa was crying quietly when she returned too.  The girls were watching us as attentively.

I was able to talk with folks again after the service.  There were some good conversations with some very interesting people.  During the rest of the day, we did some shopping, had coffee, ate out, sang happy birthday and came home to rest.

Denis and I went shopping at Best Buy and I ended up buying a laptop computer so that when I am traveling I can continue writing.    By the way, I am continuing to work on the thank you notes.  They have all been written, but they now need to be addressed, sealed and stamped.

I stayed back from the trip to see fireworks tonight so that I could get a head start on writing.  Now, I need to get some rest. (Too tired to edit the post, it is gong out as is.)

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While I did manage to get an A on my Internship, the Seminary realized that Pastor Harold should never have a Vicar again.  Actually, he went to another parish a month before I left, so I got my congregation back.

Since it was now my last year of school, the preventative measures were stopped and a little new person started developing.  When I phoned my Mother with the news, in a very matter of fact voice she said, “It’s about time.”  It would be her twelfth Grandchild.

While that was wonderful, I managed to complicate our lives hopelessly.  The view of the Parish Ministry (being pastor of a church) from Vicarage was very distasteful.  I could not imagine heading out to some God-forsaken place like Kansas or Nebraska to pastor a little congregation.  That would be the norm for a new Graduate.  What complicated it even more is that I was in the midst of a terrible crisis of faith.  What I had learned about the heart of the message didn’t match what people who called themselves Christians seemed to be doing and saying.  For a time, I threw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say, and I struggled with this whole God business.

The result is that I told the Seminary that I would not be interested in receiving a Call, when Call day came in the spring.  I would have no job.  I had just finished spending 8 years of my life training for something I was not going to do.

I suspect Mary Ann had some regrets at that time about hooking up with this crazy man.  I did not tell her about the faith crisis until decades later.   Call Day came, Graduation came, the baby kept developing inside Mary Ann.  It was a terribly difficult time for both of us.  By this time, Mary Ann was working in the Medical Records department of St. Mary’s Hospital.  Her supervisor was Sister Mary Antona, who became fond of Mary Ann, just as we became fond of her.   Years later we visited her in Baraboo Wisconsin (Home of the Circus Museum) where she was a hospital Administrator.  I have wondered what happened to her.  I just Googled her and discovered that she had a distinguished career and was an activist in the Civil Rights’ Movement.  We knew she was someone special.

I continued to work at Clark-Peeper Office Supplies, part time during classes and full time in the summer.  They offered me a job when I graduated.  I interviewed for other jobs, insurance, sales rep.  It was mightily depressing to be starting from scratch again.

What brought joy to Mary Ann and me that summer was the birth of Lisa on the Fourth of July.  The Obstetrician was a Lutheran who would not charge any Seminarian for delivering their child.  I had the privilege of putting on scrubs and joining the doctor and Mary Ann in the delivery room.  Many have said it before me, but what looks unappetizing when seen in a video is one of the most beautiful experiences imaginable.

One of the Professors at the Seminary had become friends with both Mary Ann and me.  On the East Coast at that time it was not unusual to refer to a Lutheran Pastor as “Father.”  He was referred to as Father John.  His Mother had come to live with him.  She visited Mary Ann in the hospital and told the Staff that she was her Mother.  She was a character.

While Mary Ann was busy giving birth to Lisa, little Suzette, the poodle we had gotten from Roger and Jan, was busy ripping up the apartment.  I mentioned that she was grumpy.  Suzy liked no one but Mary Ann.  She tolerated me.  Suzy tore the bottom sheet on the bed.  She scratched at one of those bedspreads with the thread pattern on top until all the threads were in a huge clump in the middle.  She ate part of a decorative candle we had brought back from our trip to Europe, and she chewed up a hand carved horse we had purchased in Oberammergau.  It is fair to say she was very annoyed that Mary Ann had left her.  I now understand how she felt.

Two weeks after Lisa was born, she was baptized in a beautiful Baptistry on the first floor of the Seminary Tower.  Fr. John did the Baptism and used water he had brought from the Jordan River. One day shortly after that, I remember sitting in a chair, holding Lisa, wondering what her life would be like as I watched that first step on to the moon.  It was July of 1969.

During those months, I talked with one Professor in particular, Walt Bartling.  In the course our conversations, he did a couple of very important things.  One is that he stole from my questions and doubts the power to take away my faith.  Then came the key that opened me to a faith far more resilient and stronger than anything I had had before.   Walt essentially said that God was busy loving me, while I was busy doubting God.  My doubts had no impact on God.  That kernel of truth revealed in all its raw power, the meaning of the Gospel, God’s unconditional love for me. The power of the Gospel transformed my faith into something that has filled my life with meaning every moment of every day.

That was all well and good, but Call day had long since passed by the time my faith was regaining ground, and I had no job.  Fr. John came to our rescue.  What will follow is a story that I still can hardly believe, and I was there, we lived it.  Mary Ann must have wondered what on earth she had gotten herself into when she married me.

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.

No, this will not be one of those “too much information” posts.

That first year at the Seminary, I was singing in a very good choir made up of students from the Seminary and singers from some of the Lutheran churches in St. Louis.  There were probably sixty or a hundred Lutheran churches in St. Louis at that time.  A radio station in Holland had tried to get St. Olaf’s choir to come for a Heinrich Schuetz festival there.  Somehow, they got hold of a tape of our choir and offered to pay us 30.000 Guilder to come to their radio station studio to sing and make recordings.

Mary Ann was not singing in the choir.  She had started working full time at a bank so that we could continue to survive while I went to school.  I continued to work part time during the school year and full time during the summer at Clark-Peeper Office Supplies in Clayton.  Even with the promised 30,000 guilder covering a portion of the cost of the trip, each of us had to pay a portion also.  I don’t remember how much.  I do remember that we could take non-member spouses along for about $750.

We knew we might never get a chance like that again.  We had enough savings in the bank to cover the cost for me and for her, enough for a little spending money on the trip, leaving $100 in the bank for when we returned.  That would be enough to pay the next month’s rent, with nothing left over.  Mary Ann’s bank said that they would not have a job waiting for her when we returned.  We decided to do it!

We flew to Washington, D.C. and on to London.  We spent four days there, visiting cathedrals, riding the Underground (subway).  We sang at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.  The trip there was harrowing.  The tour bus driver was nuts!  Of course he was driving on the wrong side of the road, that was to be understood, it was England.  However, when a blind curve was approaching while on that two lane road, he moved right out to pass a car.  He was traveling at a frighteningly high rate of speed. Our worst fear was realized when a car appeared coming toward us from the other direction on that curve – traveling at an equally frightening rate of speed.  We passed three abreast on that two lane road.  It took hours to clean the seats on the bus — okay, it almost scared us that much.

We drank warm, bitter beer and ate beef and kidney pie.  That was about as bad as it sounds.  We saw all the usual sights.  Both of us decided that we wanted to return some time.  That never happened.  We were right about the once in a lifetime opportunity.

Then we flew into Amsterdam and drove to Noordwijk-Aan-Zee, a small resort town on the North Sea.  There we stayed in a boarding house while we went back and forth to the radio station in a larger town nearby.  I remember riding bikes together to the laundromat.  I remember that the wash water was scaldingly hot.  Someone in there managed to warn us about that even though they spoke only Dutch and we spoke none.  I knew a few German words, but we were told that it would be far better to stick with English than to use any German.  Our bus was picketed at one point because we had a German bus driver.  The war was still fresh in people’s minds.

The weather was too cold for swimming, but we rode to the beach of the North Sea just to see it.  The breakfasts were cold cuts and cheese and breads.  For all the meals, all five days, we had the very same cloth napkin kept in a plastic holder at our place at the table.  We had fried chicken one night.  As a somewhat compulsive hand washer, it was a horrifying experience!

After recording for the Heinrich Schuetz festival, we headed on to Germany.  Only West Germany was accessible at that time.  We saw the huge Cologne Cathedral, Frankfort, Munich.  We visited castles, Linderhof, Neuschwanstein (where from the balcony of the throne room we saw one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen, a lake nestled in between wooded mountains).  We saw what was left of the Heidelberg Castle boasting the largest wine barrel ever filled with wine, so large that it had a dance floor on top.  We did a concert in a cathedral in which there was a full five seconds of reverberation after stopping the final chord. (We heard tell of one castle that had a seven seconds of reverberation.) It was a powerfully moving experience to sing in those churches.  We sang a total of 8 times in three weeks.  The rest of the time we traveled and saw so many beautiful sights.

Classmate Louie (nickname) and Elise had moved their wedding date to just days before the trip so that they could be together on it.  In Muenster, it happened that they were assigned to stay in separate places.  There were tears flowing.  Since by then we were an old married couple of six months, we offered to stay in separate places so that they could stay together.

In Muenster we stayed in homes for two nights since one of the members of the choir was recently from Germany.  We sang at her home church in Muenster.  Mary Ann stayed with a family that spoke English.  I did not stay with such a family.  Actually, I ended up in a boarding house run by a family from church.  The first night was fine.  One of the other boarders was Franz von den Ohden Rhein (Frank from the Old Rhine), who spoke English.  The second night Franz was gone.  I sat at the supper table with six or eight people who could speak no English, not a word.  I knew my one sentence in German, the one that revealed that my Mother was born in Germany.  That was it.  The good news was that after a few bottles of wine, we seemed to be able to communicate without much trouble (at least that is how I remember it — what I remember of it).

The adventure continues tomorrow.  (Can you say “Bobby Kennedy??”)

Today was a better day.  The morning walk was reassuring in that again, I actually enjoyed the sights and sounds.  The pain allowed me room for that.  After I got cleaned up, I got a cup of coffee at PT’s and was greeted by Sara and Kelsey.  They are barista’s who have been very thoughtful and welcoming to me.  I taught Kelsey in Confirmation Class and Confirmed her a number of years ago. She is very newly married.  She had some very thoughtful and affirming words.  It warmed my spirit.  A good way to start a day.

I wrote some thank you notes and then headed to Paisano’s for the monthly lunch with Jimmy.  He lost his wife many years ago and understood very well what I am going through.  After that I stopped for a moment to drop something off at church.  There I spent a few moments with Linda and Marilyn who were part of my support system for many years, whether they realized it or not.  They knew.

When I went to the Wild Bird House to stock up on feed for the birds, I was greeted very warmly by Melody and Todd, who had only a day or two before discovered that Mary Ann had died (still very hard to write or say).  Todd came over and put his arm around me to comfort me.  We have just talked on occasion over the last few months, mostly about birds.  I would stop there most weeks while Mary Ann was in her Tuesday morning Bible Study.  It helps so much to have people around who seem to care, trying to provide comfort and understanding.

I spent the middle of the afternoon writing thank you notes.  They brought me close to tears more than once as I thought about what Mary Ann went through.  I was also overwhelmed in a good way with the realization of all that so many people did for us.  The hours that people spent here are far beyond counting.  It is not even remotely possible for me to repay what was given.  Those who came usually enjoyed Mary Ann, but they were sometimes scared that she would pop up and then fall, maybe hurting herself.  I think people felt good that they were really helping us, making a substantial difference in our lives.  I think many felt that they were doing a ministry for Faith by freeing me to continue to serve Faith while Mary Ann could not be left alone.

It is also clear that Mary Ann ministered to those who came.  So many have been struck by her courage and unwavering faith in the face of all she went through.  She did not complain.   People could talk with her and know that it would not be shared with the next visitor.  I still marvel that she just took the next hit whatever it was and went on as if nothing had happened.

This afternoon, friend and former parishioner Mark came over to talk and listen.  He has been through this.  He phoned Sunday afternoon, knowing that it would be a terribly painful time for me.  We set this time then.  Mark brings with him a strong and vivid faith along with some counseling experience, as well as having lost his wife whom he loved just as I loved Mary Ann.  He walked me through a Psalm that was especially meaningful to him at the time of his grieving.  The content of our conversation will remain between us.  It is enough to say that it was a helpful, meaningful and comforting time for me, immersed in the Grace of God, and the healing God provides.

It has not been an easy day.  Easy is no longer an option, at least for now.  It was a better day.  The pain was clear and identifiable, always ready to pop back fully into view.  It did not express itself as often or with as much intensity as it has in the last days.  I am not so naive as to think it will not come back with full intensity whenever it chooses.  It was just helpful to have a day in which it did not rule.

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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