How is this for a retreat: Pay $50 for a couple to attend and then discover a $100 dollar bill in one of your notebooks.  I am not making this up.  I had never heard of these retreats when the mailing came.  It was pretty much too good to be true.  When I got the letter, I did not know about the $100 bill that would be in the notebook I received that first evening, but the rest of what was described in the letter was already too good to be true.  It actually was true, it was as good as it was too good to be — even better!

The location for the retreat was Big Cedar Lodge owned by the Bass Pro Shops.  It is located on Table Rock Lake, south of Branson, Missouri.  It is advertised as a Luxurious vacation spot.  They are not lying!   Remember the $50 registration fee?  The retreat was five nights and six days long, April 7-12, 2002.  When we finally drove in, we couldn’t believe our eyes.  Rolling hills spread out in front of us for hundreds of acres at the edge of the lake where all sorts of rustic buildings surrounded by gardens nestled among the trees and carefully arranged landscaping greeted us.  We registered and got our keys.  It took us a long time to find our room — ROOM? – it was a free standing cabin.  Inside was a large living area (with a large fire place), dining area (a large basket of fruit and packaged foods greeted us), full kitchen, king-sized bed, a bath area the size of the living room in our current townhome (of course with a huge jacuzzi tube).  The cabin had a deck area with chairs and a gas grill for outdoor cooking (not that we would have to do any).  The little card on the back of the door listed the room rate as $350 per night.  Clearly, there had been a much better rate negotiated.   

The retreats are called Grace Place Retreats.  They were begun by Dr. John Eckrich (M.D.).  He had been treating Lutheran Professional Church Workers in his practice for many years.  It struck him how stressed so many were.  He had a concern for the health of the church and realized that healthy church workers would be important for the church to remain healthy.  He decided to do something about it.  When the Lutheran Deaconness Hospital was sold some years before that, the proceeds became a benevolent fund that could be approached with grant proposals.  The front of the brochure we received in 2002 describes the Grace Place Retreats as: “A Retreat and Lifestyle Program Offering Integrated Health Skills to Lutheran Pastors and Spouses.”  It has expanded since then to all flavors of church workers.  Almost all of the costs of the retreat were underwritten by the Grant and donations to the Grace Place Program.

Then there was the food!  Big Cedar had five restaurants.  Our meals were catered in the area where our sessions were held.  There was not an ordinary meal to be eaten.  We were never disappointed, always impressed with the quality of the fare.  When we opened our notebooks and discovered the $100 bill, we were instructed to use it while we were there to treat ourselves.  Who are we not to follow instructions?  Mary Ann got a spa treatment of some sort and I got a massage.  Mary Ann was using a wheelchair at the time, and was always accommodated by the staff and the other participants on the retreat.  It was a good experience for her. 

Each morning there was a prayer, meditation, exercise time before the sessions started.  It was called Lutherans in Movement and Meditation.  After breakfast we always practiced Lectio Divina as a group.  That discipline involves reading the same Scripture passage two or three times listening differently each time with silence afterward to let the message settle in and take hold.  One of the days we held a juice fast, followed by breaking the fast with a light meal of bread and fruit.  Evenings included Faith Exploration activities.   One evening we went to a local church for Evening Prayer. 

Sessions focused on a variety of topics aimed at promoting good physical and mental health.  Some were on dealing with stress, looking at our various roles in life.  There was a very pointed session that addressed our marital health and habits.  The four themes addressed were: the priority of marriage, the permanence of marriage, the oneness of marriage, and the openness of marriage.  We were paired with another couple for the retreat so that we could have small group discussions on the various topics.  There was one afternoon that we were to take a sheet of instructions and spend the entire time in silent meditation.  That was the day of the juice fast.  One of the sessions had a leader from our national church body who talked about money management and planning for the future. 

One evening included heading into Branson to see the Jim Stafford show.  We both enjoyed the show (to our surprise).  One afternoon we had a tour of Dogwood Canyon.  It is a sort of private wildlife preserve that was very impressive.  We rode a wagon along a creek filled with visible trout (it was crystal clear) and through an area where buffalo and elk were out in the open.  In a sense, they were the observers and we were the mammals inside a protected area (the wagon).  Some of them came over very close to check us out.  They were huge!   On the afternoon for recreational activities, a few of us rented a pontoon boat and toured the lake on our own. 

Then there was the last evening’s reception and banquet.  We were treated like royalty to a multi-course meal in a banquet room that had the look of an Elizabethan castle banquet room.  There were gourmet appetizers, a lavish meal, each course accompanied by the appropriate libations. 

Dr. John accomplished the goal of giving us a refreshing moment of being affirmed and appreciated for who we were and what we were doing.  We felt valued.  The sessions brought attention to our self-care, physically and spiritually, and sent us away with tools for incorporating better habits into our patterns of living.  Mary Ann and I certainly gained from it.  Our life together was challenging with the Parkinson’s taking its toll on us.  That week lifted our spirits and brought a wonderful respite from the press of daily struggles.  I am very grateful to Dr. John and the Grace Place Retreats for caring enough to commit time an energy and resources to such a nurturing ministry.  It has provided a memory worth keeping.   

 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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This morning’s walk was dangerous!  I don’t know what I did.  I have gone around those bushes many times, once on my first pass.  This happened on the second pass.  The chirps did no damage, but the little winged attackers came mighty close.  I think they were tree swallows.  Otherwise the walk was again a pleasant way to become energized for the day.  One of my favorite sights is a field of round bales of grass/hay.  The field at Cedarcrest is in the process of being cut, rows of cut grass formed by a tetter, and a baler rolling the grass into the huge round bales, each apparently weighing around 2000 pounds. 

Today was furnace day.  I am now the proud owner of a 95.5% efficient furnace.  They should pay me to use it.  The installation demanded having the AC off all day.  The heat index was probably pushing 110 degrees.   I was happy to have reason to be out of the house a couple of times during the day.

This was the first actual exercise day.  There are parts of my body that I clearly have not used very much, since I was unaware that they existed.  I wonder what I will feel like tomorrow.  I feel very good about walking and working out as grief therapy.  I felt good after completing both today. 

I went to another support group this afternoon.  There must have been fifteen or sixteen people by the time all had arrived.  The Leader had told me that there would be ten or twelve when I called.  I think she was surprised too.  This group had many first timers who had lost a loved one just weeks before, mostly Spouses, two had lost their Mothers. 

There were lots of tears as well as some laughter.  Of course the most beneficial element is the freedom to speak openly and freely to people who understand without explanation the nature of the pain.  Some there had lost a spouse two or more years before.  They had lots to share about what was helpful to them in the healing process.  They were reassuring that survival is possible, that the pain does become much more manageable with time. 

I don’t suppose there was anything I heard that I didn’ t already know intellectually.  In years past I have told people who were grieving those same things.  It was helpful for me to hear them again from the mouths of others, now that my attention has been captured fully.  The people there confirmed the value of some of the choices I have made, writing, exercising, getting to support groups.  They helped me try to get some perspective an uncomfortable experience in the recent past. 

When I returned home, I always check the front door on the outside chance someone has sent something.  There was a box with a soft sided cooler in it, containing fifteen or twenty different packages of Mrs. Field’s snack-sized cookies and brownies.  Wow!!  What a treat!  The note was signed simply, “COME SEE US.”  It is from some wonderful, caring friends from KC who now live in a beautiful spot on a picturesque inlet of a large lake in Oklahoma.  I will do as they ask. 

Tonight some of the tasty food from the freezer (brought by former parishioners and neighbors around the time of Mary Ann’s death (I have to keep saying that until I get used to it) was added to lots of veggies, sweet corn, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, bread from the Farmer’s Market.  Were it not for the quantities that I consume, I would be pretty healthy, slim and trim.  Well, there was the dish of ice cream with some of the snack cookies. 

I just returned from a spontaneous trip to look at the most remarkable show in the evening sky.  I walked outside to look at the legs of a huge rainbow melting into a reddish cloudy center.  Opposite that rainbow, which was resting against a deep, dark grey background, was a bright red and turquoise sky separated horizontally (bright turquoise on the bottom and equally bright red on the top) by a bank of cloud, smooth and dark.  To the right of that was a jumbled puffy strip of dark clouds hanging just above the horizon.  Some of what I am describing I saw while standing in the street in front of my house.  As I stood in the street, there was some bright cloud to cloud lightning followed in a fraction of a second  by an ear-splitting crash of thunder that sent me back to the house.  It seemed far too close for comfort.  Then I realized I was free to hop in the car and go to my favorite spot to look at the sky with an unobstructed view.  Some of what I described above is what I saw from that hilltop.  I debated about even trying to describe what I saw.  If someone were to paint the scene, critics would probably say it was a contrived mix of elements that could not be so at the same time in the same sky.  I am not a skilled enough writer to describe it with the elegance and clarity it deserves, but it was too remarkable not at least to make an attempt.

I think I will stop with one post tonight.  I still hope to make the new blog domain name simple and accessible enough to begin separating out these posts from the continuing story of Mary Ann’s and my marriage.  These posts are intended to describe the beginning of my attempt to build a new life.  The continuing story of our marriage is the therapeutic reclamation of a history of a full and meaningful life with someone I love deeply.  The love has not died.  It is still as strong as ever.  That and the memories, I get to keep.

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.

It popped into my mind and it just seemed right.  There is some technical work to do to get it to this blog account, but the new blog name will be “thecalltolive.com.”  Do not try to click on it yet.  I realized that yesterday and today, I felt alive again.  I may not feel that way tomorrow, but it is the call to live, not yet a done deal.

Living is a choice.  I am choosing life.  I am not going to wait for it to just happen by itself.  The good news is that it has actually happened.  That was God’s choice.  My choice is to trust his choice and live it to the full.

I suspect the last two paragraphs reveal that the signs are pointing toward healing.  I am not so naive as to think that because I felt good today, tomorrow or the next day or the one after that will feel good too.  The pain of a loss like this will remain with me until the day I die and get to see her again.  It will come at unexpected times.  It will always be accessible.  My hope is that the pain will ultimately help increase the depth, the strength and the resilience of the life that lives in me. The life that lives in me is no more or less alive than the life that lives in you.  Somehow, when I say it that way, it sounds dumb, silly.  Nonetheless it is so.  Each of us is as full of life as the next.  It looks, feels, tastes, smells different, but the source and the power are the same.  What we do with it is a matter of choice.

Now, to the day.  I got up late, but managed to walk the two miles at Cedarcrest before it got unbearably hot.  That came a little later in the day.  Tomorrow will be worse (110 heat index).

After showering, changing the bed, throwing in a load of wash, I responded to phone messages, emails, and got busy on the list.  The list is insidious.  For every one thing I check off, three more mysteriously appear.  A couple of lunches and an evening activity are in the works.

I did it!  I have now paid for it, so I can’t get out of it.  The first session will measure my body fat.  Who the heck needs to measure it.  It is right out there for everyone to see!  I am now committed to eleven sessions (two per week) of exercise with a trainer.  What have I done??????  I even bought a pair of running shorts (there will be no running) for the walking and exercising.  What kind of fool am I?  (Is that a song?)

I ran into a young person I know at the coffee shop whose husband died suddenly a few years ago.  We took the time to counsel one another.  I think it was helpful for both of us.

After that the last ten days mail was delivered.  No bills!!! That was a treat.  There was a huge stack of cards from folks who have just found out about Mary Ann’s death (still hard to write — always will be, I suspect).  I continue to be overwhelmed by the number of people who care about us.  The words of comfort, the thoughts and prayers of so many have buoyed us up over the years.  Many of those responding have sent lengthy notes recalling past experiences when we were together.

It continues to be an odd sensation to be on the other side of this ministry business.  So many have had helpful bits of wisdom to share from their experience.  I am humbled by their insights — and I thought I was the one with the fitting words to say.

I am going to continue the story of Mary Ann’s and my life together.  It has been very therapeutic to move through those years we shared.  The Mary Ann I have known and loved is coming back into full view.  It helps to spend that time together again, if only in words and memories.  What I am writing is intended to focus mostly on Mary Ann and our time together.  To make sense of it I am including the Cliff Notes version of my ministry.

Ironically, the church controversy that I have been mentioning as a tease of things to come, is not over in our national church body.  Elections at the National Convention this week are stirring the pot.  That is for someone else’s blog, not mine.

As I am continuing our story in thecaregivercalling.com, as soon as it is ready, I will also write posts like tonight’s in thecalltolive.com.  Don’t click on the new one yet!

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.

I think it was Friend Jack, whom I had told on Friday, who mentioned it to some of his students on the next Tuesday.  I am not sure about that.  Later the Principal accused me of spreading the news.  I didn’t, but I didn’t deny it.  Did he think this would all happen in secret with no one finding out  what had occurred?

Apparently, the news spread like wildfire.  I suspect  was something like: “Did you hear that they fired Pastor Pete?”  The first time I realized just how far the news had spread was the next morning, Wednesday.  It was my turn to do chapel. The bell rang, the kids all gathered in the bleachers.  I walked out to begin the service.

I won’t ever forget that moment.  As I walked out, the kids started clapping and gave me a long standing ovation — 800-900 kids can make a lot of noise.  I can’t begin to describe the impact of that experience.

I have no idea what I said that day, other than the message I sought to give every time I stood there, that they are loved deeply just the way they are.  They are forgiven, filled with the transforming power of His love, able to grow into more than they ever thought possible.

One thing I figured out quickly was that I did not want to become the excuse for some sort of rebellious behavior by the students.  Remember, this was the early 70’s.  The volatile 1960’s were fresh in our memories. I was very proud of the way the Kids responded.  The Student Council set up a table in the hallway outside the office.  They had paper, envelops and stamps along with a list of the School Board members. There were no sit-ins.

It was discovered quickly, that the Principal had acted unilaterally in making the decision.  He had not consulted the Personnel Committee.  He and one of the influential members of the Board had collaborated on the decision.  That member of the Board, oddly, had asked to come to my classroom one day to show some slides and make a presentation to a class of Seniors.  It was the first day of a semester.  The classroom had 39 students in it.  Since the classroom was remodeled for a seminar approach, the chairs were not in straight rows with each one sitting with hands folded.  While the approach had provided some stimulating learning experiences, I can only guess that the room was not orderly enough for him.  The school had actually been structured as an all male military academy when that School Board Member had gone through it many years before.

The Board finally met and invited me to come in.  There were questions of all sorts.  There was nothing said that indicated anything that I had said or done that was not acceptable.  The Board did ultimately vote to renew my contract.

Before the decision was made to renew my contract, the kids at school gathered names on a petition totaling 688 of the 800-900 students.  Six area Pastors came in to meet with the Principal and/or the Board asking that the decision be reconsidered.  Apparently one very elderly retired Pastor had heard about the Communion Service with the Passing of the Peace in it and decided that there had been “hugging and kissing and rolling on the floor.”  There certainly was some hugging, but I did not see any kissing or rolling on the floor.

All this while, Mary Ann was taking care of Lisa, dealing with a pregnancy, wondering what would happen to us when the salary stopped and I had no job.

I was offered a contract for the next year.  The Principal had a long list of conditions, such as having my lesson plans in advance for him to review.  The list contained nothing other than things that seemed intended to make teaching much more tedious in hopes that I would just leave.

In the mean time, a congregation sent me a letter asking me to come and interview for the position of Assistant Pastor with responsibilities primarily in the area of Youth and Education.

Do you remember that terribly unfair judgment the students made about Kansas and Nebraska when Call day came, when I had refused to take a Call?   The return address on the envelop said, “Prairie Village, Kansas.”  What popped in my mind was an arid, flat, virtual desert with a little old rural town in it.  That is not what I found.

I flew into the downtown Kansas City, Missouri airport in the spring of 1972.  The Senior Pastor picked me up and drove me down Ward Parkway to the church.  Ward Parkway in spring in Kansas City is one of the prettiest places to be found.  The crabapple trees and redbud trees were in full bloom.  There were blooming flowers filling the boulevard areas.  We had passed through the Spanish Architecture of the Plaza.  The trees and hills were so lush that they dominated the view.

Johnson County, Kansas, the county in which the church was located had been ranked the first or second most affluent county in the nation the two years before.  More than that.  When I met with a room of about 35 leaders of the congregation, the tone, the attitude and the words made clear that these people actually had caught sight of the heart of the message of the Gospel.  The were not just about the institution, but about making a difference in the lives of real people.  I was shocked and surprised after my last experience with the parish.

Now came the dilemma.  Do I leave the high school and abandon the Kids who had gone to bat for me?   What I was being Called to in Prairie Village seemed to be a perfect fit.  I had not been prepared to teach, but I had been prepared to be a Pastor in a church.  I decided that my presence at the high school would simply be a lightning rod, providing a distraction from the problems that needed work.  It seemed to me that I would be more effective in the parish.  I could deal with the Kids while also being able to know and minister to their parents.

I accepted the Call to Prairie Village.  Finishing out the year turned out to be quite an experience.  At Graduation, the Salutatorian’s speech was an affirmation of my ministry.  Jenny spoke in a way that must have irritated the Principal and those who wanted me gone.  Her words warmed my heart.  Then, Tom, the Valedictorian included remarks affirming the effectiveness of my ministry at the high school.  Those two had a great deal of courage to dare to speak so boldly.  I have never forgotten.

Those weeks the roller coaster moved down and up at breakneck speed.  I went from the low of being fired, deeply concerned about how Mary Ann and Lisa and the new baby would survive, feeling like a failure as a husband and father —  to being affirmed so powerfully, that I could hardly believe what I was hearing.  I have always felt grateful to those Kids for what they did.  They nurtured my personal faith and gave me much more than I had given them.

The next step bought us to some of the best years together.  It was not long before the volatile nature of some disagreements in our national church body intruded into the parish life.  Life was never boring in our years together.

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.

Plans are in place.  There will first be a memorial service at 11am on Saturday, July 10, in the Krentz Chapel at Our Savior Lutheran church, 420 Downer Place in Aurora.  The street in front is being repaired.  At the back of the church, accessed from the street that runs behind the church (parallel to Downer) is parking.  There are many stairs to the chapel from the back parking.  Those who cannot do stairs should be dropped off at the front of the church and park in back.  I am sure we can find folks who would be willing to park the car for you if need be.

Following the service, we will drive to Reuland’s to eat (serving begins at noon) and share Mary Ann stories.  I hope everyone will come to that meal and sharing time.  Let Gayle Marshall, Diana Zajicek or Joy Miller Kratsch know that you plan to come to Reuland’s.  If you don’t know one of those three, just let me know via Face Book or the Comment section of this blog that you are coming. It would please Mary Ann and will please me for you to come.  The address of Reuland’s is: 115 Oak Avenue, Aurora, IL 60506.

Krentz Chapel is named in memory of Pastor Paul Krentz.  Pastor Krentz Baptized  us as infants and Confirmed both Mary Ann and me around the age of fourteen.  Pastor Paul and Ruth Krentz were Mary Ann’s Godparents.  Pastor Krentz married Mary Ann and me.  He ordained me into the ministry. I am named after his Son Pete Krentz.  The chapel is located within feet of the chancel in which all those ceremonies were held.

I will bring the DVD of aobut 40 pictures of Mary Ann over the years to be shown at Reuland’s.  Tonight I realized that one of the tracks on the CD of the funeral here contains all three of the solos that were sung.  I listened to that section of the service with two of the readings and the solos.  The tears came.  This morning, I felt so good as to think I had turned a corner in the grieving.  I may have turned a corner, but there were tears to be found around that corner.

I will also bring that CD so that we can hear the solos in the service.  Two of the solos are sung by Kristen Watson who grew up in the congregation I served before I retired.  She has a blossoming career, singing in a variety of venues, including serving as a soloist on occasion for the Boston Pops.  She has a classical lyric soprano voice, but is very versatile, able to perform in musicals as well.  I have not heard a more beautiful soprano voice.

I just realized something a few minutes ago.  I preached at the funeral of Mary Ann’s Brother Roger.  I preached at the funeral of Mary Ann’s Brother Tom.  I preached at the memorial service held in Aurora for Mary Ann’s Mom, Lois.  Now I am leading Mary Ann’s Memorial Service.  Yesterday I looked at the picture taken at our wedding of Mary Ann and me in a line with both our sets of parents.  I remember when that picture was given to my Mom at her 90th birthday party.  She cried, realizing that she was the only one left of the four parents in that picture.  I preached at my Mom’s funeral.  It hit me that I am now the only one left of all six people in that picture.  I Have I mentioned yet that I don’t like this?

I had a great morning today.  The Spiritual Formation Group met on the deck in perfect weather, with the birds entertaining us and the sound of the waterfall calming us.  The conversation was helpful to me at this point in my Spiritual journey.  I walked at Cedarcrest, feeling energized by the exercise and exhilirated by the setting.  I enjoyed a lunch with a good friend who brings both wisdom and a listening ear to our time together.  I enjoyed an afternoon coffee time with a former parishioner who gave me some food for thought.

Two or three times today I mentioned that it seemed as if in the last two days I had turned a corner in the grieving process to a place in which the pain had become more manageable, had found a place that freed me to be okay again.  Every time I said it, I qualified it with the observation that the pain could come back at any time without warning.  That observation was prophetic.  I could feel it creeping back into my conscious awareness as the afternoon wore on.  By this evening, it broke through.  It is far from the intensity of last Sunday.  I am grateful for that.  The tears and this writing have allowed it to calm for the moment.

I intend to write more tonight on the story of Mary Ann’s and my life together, so I will end this now and get to the next chapter in that story.  Tomorrow morning very early, Pastor Jim and I will spend a couple of hours doing some birding in the area.  I had better start of the next post so that I can get to bed soon.

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.

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Tough day.  Sunday afternoons — I knew it, I remembered from when I was at college missing Mary Ann on Sunday afternoons.  I found out today, that apparently what I am going through has some similarity to turning 13.  I went to a musical titled “13” this afternoon.  It was written by kids and performed by kids.  It was a wonderful distraction until I realized that what the kids were saying at the end fit not only the crazy change that comes at 13, but a change that has come with the end of one life as I have known it, and the beginning of a future about which I have no clue.  Here are some excerpts from the lyrics of a couple of songs that came at the climax:

If that’s what it is
Then that’s what it is
You’re probably right to just forget it
Lets face it you’ve worked so hard and now you’re scarred
And free of any hope
I guess you should mope
Forget what you’ve planned
Hey, I understand

If that’s what it is
Then that’s what it is
Though that’s not the way I choose to see it
I have my own view that works with all these jerks and unenlightened fools
I make my own rules, I do what I can
If I hit the wall then maybe its all a part of the plan
Tomorrow will come, today will be gone
And so I put one foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
And just keep walking on
[from “If That’s What It Is”]

Day turns, today turns, today turns, today turns, today turns, today
And I’m a little bit older
A little bit faster
A little bit closer
A little bit
Day turns, today turns, today turns, today turns, today
And the sky goes blue
And the sky goes black
And no matter what you do
You can’t go back
You go day into day into day
[from “A Little More Homework”]

The message hit home since I am exceedingly vulnerable a the moment.  The main character is a Jewish boy preparing for his Bar Mitzvah.  God plays a role in his thinking.  The message is not unlike the core of the message of the Christian Gospel.

The pain reached a new level of intensity for a while this afternoon.  The harsh reality that what is, is, and I can’t change it keeps trumping all my attempts at doing all the proper things to get through these days.  No matter what I do to make it better, it doesn’t get better.  That is exactly what I have to come to terms with.  I have to do this to make my way through it to the freedom to live with joy again.  And yes, that will mean just putting one foot in front of the other.

The morning went well.  I did make it to the 8am worship service.  I did spend time talking with folks I have known for many years and come to love.  I hung around as long as I could, but finally, I had to head home again.  Then I did the usual chores, fed the birds, watered lots of plantings around the house, did a couple of thank yous, read and responded to a couple of emails.

I was grateful to have the option of the musical available.  Being alone would not have been a good thing.  I sat behind the parents of one of the actors, all who are members of the church I served for so many years.  I enjoyed talking with them and watching Caitlyn sing and dance.

The kids did a great job in every respect.  As the climax came and brought resolution and discovery, what I heard seeped into what I am experiencing.  I was able to keep from revealing in any way what I was feeling, but it took every ounce of my resolve to accomplish that.

After leaving there, I did not want to go home to that damnable empty house — even with it’s waterfall (for which I continue to be very grateful).  I drove over to the local university Art Gallery, to discover that it had closed ten minutes earlier.  I just got gasoline, a coffee refill and headed home.

There was a phone message from a former parishioner and friend who has been through what I have just gone through.  After supper, I phoned him and had a very helpful conversation.  He is coming over in a couple of days for me to do some venting with someone who understands without my needing to try to explain the intensity of what is going on.

At various times through email or phone calls, three lunches and an afternoon coffee are now on the calendar in the next three days.  I am grateful for all the help that is being offered and am not too proud to accept it.  It is hard to have been a Caregiver in both the Ministry at churches for forty years and with Mary Ann for most of the the twenty-three years of her illness, and now be in the role of accepting help from others.  I have felt it a privilege in the past to have people let me into their lives to minister to them.  Now I get to give others that same privilege.

A theme in the song “A Little More Homework” is:

If you stand here behind me
And you call me a man
And you’re counting on me to come through
You should know that I’ll give you the best that I can
But we all have a little more homework to do

I certainly have a lot to learn.  I have a lot of homework to do, like it or not — and I don’t!!  I would like to claim that I am going through this so intensely because I have chosen to learn from it.  That would be a lie.  I am going through it so intensely because I have no choice.  It is what it is.  I hope to find new levels of understanding through this experience.  In some odd way, the pain is a gift from God, to break open my heart so that He and those I care about will have greater access.  Now, I am just longing for healing.

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.