No, I do not subscribe to people having former lifetimes in other times in history.  Last evening I spent some time back in a part of my life that seems a distant memory even though it ended only sixteen months ago.  It is as if my forty years of ministry exists in a former lifetime.  There were feeling swirling around throughout the evening.

The fire happened three years ago.  I got a distressing phone call from the Rector of the Episcopal church, St. David’s, across the intersection from the church of which at that time I was the Senior Pastor.  I called Mary, who was willing and able to come over and stay with Mary Ann freeing me to rush over to check out our church and give Fr. Don some moral support.

It was arson.  The damage was extensive.  It was painful to see such an important place in the hearts and minds of so many people rendered uninhabitable in a few hours.  The vision of an elegant organ console charred and pipes melted, in a heap on the floor beneath the balcony is almost unbearable to those who have sung to that organ, whose spirits have been lifted by it for numbers of years.  I did not go in and see it.  I am remembering from the comments of some who did.

I had the privilege of being able on behalf of our congregation to offer support, a place to hold the first worship on the Sunday following the fire.  I will never forget that worship Service early in the afternoon, after our three morning services were concluded.  The church was packed with the members and friends of St. David’s Congregation.  There was a bond created that day that has since brought continuing joy to both our faith communities. The pattern of worship and the visual style of the worship rooms of the Lutheran and Episcopal traditions are virtually identical.  They felt at home in the worship space and we felt at home with the liturgy they used.

Last evening was three years later to the day in a journey that began in ashes and ended in celebration of an elegant and functional space for a faith community to live out their call to service.

When I arrived, the Nave was full.  There was space in a multipurpose room outfitted to allow us to participate fully in the service, though in a place far from the central worship space.  The feellings swirled.  There were some feelings at first, ones of which I am not proud, feelings that I was now relegated to a place far on the periphery of what had shared with my family a central place in my life.  I am grateful that my feelings moved away from feeling a loss of worth and value, to recognizing what the evening was about.  A community of people had taked a powerful hit and come out stronger that ever.  I got to touch their lives for a moment three years ago.  The night was about them and what had been and would be accomplished through them by the One we both serve.

Later in the evening there were some words of thanks that touched me deeply as Fr. Don acknowledged by name those people and faith communities who had supported them after the fire.

The contrast between the world in which I live now and the world in which I lived sixteen months ago is stark.  It was moving to be back in a liturgical setting with a large number of worshipers gathered, listening to and singing with a pipe organ, instrumentalists and choir producing powerful sounds, singing loudly in the midst of the congregation.  The moment was a poignant one for me as the forty years of ministry with its hopes and intentions and dreams broke into my awareness.  Current circumstances in my life and the needs of the congregation from which I retired have converged to provide a clear separation from my former life in the ministry.

What settled in my mind and heart last night is that my goal has been to impact those I served in a positive way as our lives intersected for a time. Whether or not it is remembered is quite secondary.  My hope is that my ministry had a positive effect on most of those I served in the three parishes and the high school these last four decades.

Now my goal is to make a difference for good in the life of someone I love deeply, even though I don’t always show that love as clearly as I should.  So that I could attend St. David’s new building dedication last night I arranged for a person from Home Instead an agency that provides people trained to do Companion Care.  It will cost between $60 and $70 for that care for Mary Ann, but I felt I needed to be there for my own sake and to provide a formal presence for my former parish. Needless to say, it is not feasible to use agency care very often.  I am grateful to have an income at all in this economy, but a fixed income does demand care in how and when that income is used.

Mary Ann has been up for most of the day today.  Last night did not start out too well, but after a while, she settled and slept soundly.  She has had a reasonably good day.  She ate with only occasional help needed.  She napped in the morning for a couple of hours, but has been awake and sitting up most of the day.  There were two Volunteers here at different times.

She went to bed around 7pm (less than an hour from this writing), and she is awake now watching her beloved NCIS repeat episodes.  It would be a wonderful experience to have a sleep-filled night tonight.  Time will reveal whether or not that comes to be.

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Last night when sharing our history with our hosts at dinner, the look back opened a process that has continued today.  I asked Mary Ann if she was comfortable or uncomfortable with the conversation last evening.  The questions of her were direct and personal.  She said that she did feel comfortable. 

As I mentioned in last night’s post, Mary Ann was candid about her feelings.  She was clear that she was not resentful toward God for her situation, but she was resentful toward me for moving the family from what had been home for fifteen years.   

When we moved from Kansas City to Oklahoma City, I moved five months sooner than Mary Ann and the kids.  They needed to finish school (Lisa, her Senior Year in high School and Micah, his Eighth Grade year at a Kindergarten through 8th Grade school).   

It was shortly after I moved to OKC that Mary Ann phoned from Kansas City with the news that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  Her memory of the move is colored by the pain of that diagnosis, having to deal with her feelings without my presence for support.  She had the whole load of the family while trying to process that news. 

What, in my estimation, made it more painful was that Mary Ann was adamant about keeping the diagnosis a secret.  That secret was kept through the move and on into our new life in OKC for a full five years. 

With little stamina for involvement with others since she also worked part time at first and then close to full time for the last six of our nine years there, it was hard for her to develop close friendships from which she could draw support. 

It was during that time that we experienced very poor medical care from Neurologists who had little knowledge of Parkinson’s other than the very basic medication addressing only the motor symptoms.  Since she has the early onset variety, there are more complexities than presented when it is diagnosed later in life. 

We managed to get to the annual Parkinson’s Symposium at the University of Kansas Medical Center most years while we were in OKC.  As a result, we had access to the latest and best information on Parkonson’s Disease and its treatment.  We seemed to have more information than any of the Neurologists to whom Mary Ann went during those nine years in OKC.  One Neurologist had little to say in each appointment (ten minutes, sitting across from us at his desk).  He seemed mostly to be asking us how often we thought we should be taking the one basic medicine.  The next Neurologist questioned whether or not Mary Ann had Parkinson’s and concluded that the fact that the medication for Parkinson’s seemed to be working was all in her head.  He made the gesture folks use to indicate that someone is crazy.  Then at the end of the nine years, Mary Ann was hospitalized in Tulsa in a new Parkinson’s program.  The point of the stay was to work out the medicine regimen.  The staff administering the medication missed the timing of doses, the Neurologist dismissed a basic concern for timing the medicine away from meals high in protein (regularly reaffirmed in the literature and the presentations at the Parkinson’s Symposia).  Mary Ann ended up with a complex combination of regular and timed release versions of the one basic medicine.  The new regimen simply did not work.  She became very debilitated quickly. 

It was at that time that the move to the parish here in Kansas came.  Mary Ann commented last evening that the move back to Kansas, even though not back to Kansas City itself felt good to her.  She liked being close again to our friends in Kansas City.  Mary Ann is not the sentimental sort.  For her to say that was a very significant affirmation of that friendship. 

When we moved to here, Mary Ann went to KU Med Center and some of her best years followed.  She was willing to be open about the diagnosis.  The latest of the medications that help the basic one work more effectively worked well at controlling her symptoms.  She did not work any longer and had time to get to know people here.  When finally the Volunteers were needed and began coming, friendships grew at a rapid rate, many of them. 

As I look back, I suspect that Mary Ann’s resentment of me for taking her from KC was more a function of the struggle with Parkinson’s than anything else.  The people in OKC were as warm and loving and accepting as anyone could have hoped for.  Through my ministry, I developed some of the most meaningful relationships I have ever had and still cherish them.  Busyness while doing full time ministry here did not allow for much contact, but the feelings remain.  Mary Ann and I did spend some time together with other couples in the OKC congregation whose friendship we valued very much.  We remember them fondly even though circumstances have not allowed interactions since then. 

It continues to seem that since retiring, past relationships, those that have a long history are coming into focus to a greater extent than while I was busy with the day to day challenges of ministry.   I suppose it is mostly the obvious, that there is more time to think about the past.  I am sure it is also a way of filling the validation gap created by having days empty of the multiple tasks with potential for external affirmation, measureable successes and failures.  It is a time to process the impact of relationships, as well as look through the layers of meaning to be found in past experiences. 

It is clear that Mary Ann’s assessment of the journey and my assessment are much different.  Mary Ann has the Parkinson’s, I see it and live in close proximity to it.  She more than I, but we are both impacted by the consequences of the Disease.  However our experiences of it differ, we are living through it together, one day at a time.   

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.