It is 9:00pm on December 31, 2009, and I am sitting here at the computer with the last of the Asti Spumanti sitting next to me.  We partied wildly eating crackers and chex mix until we could eat no more – four crackers and one handful after another (that is two handfuls) of chex mix.  We drank that half-bottle of Martini-Rossi Asti Spumanti until there was no more to drink (other than the glass sitting next to me now).  If I slur my words while keying in this post, you will know why.  Mary Ann has crashed – well, she is lying in bed watching the Mentalist.  I think she likes the blond guy.

We toasted the new year shortly after 8pm. That means we celebrated the New Year with South Georgia & The South Sandwich Islands.  I suspect that South Georgia is not the one with Savannah in it.  In a moment of madness (probably not the Asti Spumonti, the glass is still sitting there), I emailed South Georgia and The South Sandwich Islands to wish them well in 2010.  By the way, the contact page on their web site said they would not send souvenirs nor can people fly there.  Visiting can only be done by cruise ship.

This was not Mary Ann’s best day in terms of alertness.  She seemed to have difficulty connecting with any attempts at communicating verbally.  It took a very long time to determine what would be acceptable for lunch.  We got Glory Days’ pizza slices for her. She napped for a couple of hours late this afternoon and woke thinking it was morning.  Later in the evening she seemed to begin to become a little more alert.  She is having trouble going to sleep and commented that she slept too much today.

This afternoon, just as she lay down for the nap, I got a phone call asking if I might stop by the hospital to visit a young couple whose baby came about five weeks early.  The couple are some of my favorite people.  They have been ministered to very effectively by the Deacons at the congregation. The couple have been on the roller coaster ride that comes with all the unknowns in such a situation.  Everything seems to be on course for a healthy little one to be heading home in a couple of weeks or so, but it is always a scary ride, especially the first few days.  I was affirmed that my visit was requested.  I made sure all was in order with the parish, since retired pastors need to handle any ministry to former members very carefully so that all is done appropriately.

It felt good to be in that role again, if only for a short time. The nature of my role here with Mary Ann does not readily accommodate such ministry activities.  That has been good for the new Pastor (currently out of town), giving him a chance to do what he was called to do.  I was able to leave the house and head to the hospital for a time, since the baby’s Grandmother is one of Mary Ann’s Volunteers.  She was, of course, willing to stay at the house with Mary Ann (who slept during the time I was gone).

While writing this post, a greeting came through Facebook from one of the Youth in my first congregation, the one I began serving in 1972.  Sara is no longer a Youth, but I will not venture a guess at her age.  She is taller than I am and could hurt me.  Actually, one of the other Youth from those years just turned 50!  How is that for scary!

In my remembering the Teen and Young Adult years in the online Ignatian retreat I am doing, I made reference in last night’s post to the volatile years at the high school at which I taught.  Those three years came just before the move to the parish in Prairie Village, Kansas (the Kansas City area).

I had come to the high school from the Seminary, having become completely disillusioned with the institutional church.  I had concluded that it was not reasonable to expect the institutional church made up of flawed human beings to be any better place than any other human institution.  It turned out to be a very healthy discovery.  Ultimately, I came to appreciate the one major difference between the institutional church and most other institutions, the freedom to speak openly without censure the heart of the message revealed in Scripture in all its powerful transformational truth.

In that last very long sentence (I had four years of Latin in high school – blame Cicero) I used the word “Ultimately.”  There was much that filled the space between the beginning of the disillusionment of the institutional church and that “ultimately” healthy understanding of it. The students at Concordia Lutheran High School touched my life powerfully in those three years.  There came a transformation of my faith from one filled with pain and struggle to one filled with hope and joy.

The Cliff Notes version is this:  I came to teach with no preparation in how to teach.  I had a lot of information in my head, but no training in how to communicate that information to high school students in a classroom.  The courses I taught had only titles, no textbooks, no curriculum.  The titles were Old Testament (Freshman Religion), New Testament (Sophomore Religion), and Doctrine and Life (Senior Religion).  The students had been in required religion classes since Kindergarten.  You understand my dilemma.  The moment I quoted a Bible passage or used the religious code words they had heard for ten or twelve years by then, their eyes glazed over.

I chose to avoid the jargon and teach the message behind the jargon.  The relationship and the trust that grew between the kids and me was something I could not have anticipated.  When the inevitable time came that the Principal called me into the office to tell me that my contract would not be renewed for the next year (the Friday after the Tuesday we had put Earnest money down on a house, with Mary Ann four months pregnant with our second child), the response of the students was more meaningful to me than there are words to say.  Without doing anything improper (no sit-ins) they came to my defense.

In the end, I was offered a contract for the next year.  By that time I had received a Call to serve the parish in Prairie Village.  I realized that at CLHS I would be a lightning rod and a scapegoat for the administration.  I also accepted the fact that my abilities fit the parish better than the classroom.  Those young people touched me deeply with the intensity of their faith, their understanding of Christian community, their courage, and their willingness to put themselves on the line for me.  I will never forget them.

The years working with Youth in the Kansas City area nurtured what had begun at the high school in Ft. Wayne.  The immediacy of the presence of God in the lives of young people is a marvel to behold.  During those years, I got to be an accessible Adult who said all the same things their parents were saying to them with the advantage of my not being their parent.  I gained far more than I gave those young people.

What emerged as my purpose in relating to young people who came through so quickly and headed on with their lives, going off to work or college, was to have a positive impact, however small it might be, on their faith, their understanding of themselves and their ability to relate to others.

Over the years, that understanding of my purpose has expanded.  None of us can control, shape, manipulate anyone else into becoming who we have decided he/she should be.  Whether it is Mary Ann, our Children, our Grandchildren, the people we serve in whatever job we have, for me the ministry to so many I came to care about, our role is have as positive an impact as possible on them as they come through our lives and we theirs. The times I have heard from people whose lives intersected mine in the past often lift my spirit.

I just went in and gave Mary Ann a New Year’s kiss as the fireworks are announcing that the New Year has just begun here also, after beginning four hours ago in South Georgia and The South Sandwich Islands.  I think it is time to bring this post to an end.

Happy New Year!  May you keep your hopes and dreams alive in 2010!

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 am at a computer in the business center at a LaQuinta motel in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  We put on CD’s of short stories.  They were a little strange, but kept our attention as we traveled.  It is a clear shot to Oklahoma City on an excellent Interstate with minimal traffic.  The Flint Hills remain a spectacular sight.  

The rest area at which we stopped had family bathrooms available.  What a Godsend!  My stress level plummets to nothing when I see that we have a family bathroom available rather than trying to find someone to guard the door to a busy women’s restroom while I help Mary Ann. 

It was wonderful to surprise good friend John by appearing at this door for the birthday open house on the occasion of his sixtieth.  I had sent the return comment card ahead in the mail since I wasn’t sure that this would all work out, and I wanted to mislead them into assuming that we would not be there for the open house.  Packing the car the night before actually worked.  We got off at a reasonable hour and made to his home within minutes of the start time of the open house. 

By the way, we were able to include a stop at the Braum’s Dairy Store in Blackwell, OK.   Mary Ann got two scoops of Butter Pecan — there is none better.   I had a two scoop Hot Fudge Sundae covered with salted pecans!  Just to make clear that we know the ice cream decorum — it was after twelve noon (by minutes).   All is well with the world!

It was a treat to see Peggy and reconnect after thirteen years.   I had the joy of being one of three pastors who officiated in their wedding.  After having such a clergy presence, they are assured of being stuck with one another for many years to come.  Somehow, I think they are okay with that!

A special treat was getting to see and talk with John’s Daughter, Hope.  Since I lived in their home for the first few months of my ministry in Bethany, Oklahoma (an inner suburb of OKC), I got to know Hope and Joel during their early years.  Hope was fiesty!  That, my friends, is an understatement.  She was always intriguing and someone to be reckoned with even as a child.  The energy and intelligence and drive were apparent from the outset.  She has turned into an engaging adult who is realizing all that potential — of which the pinnacle is about as cute and pleasant little twenty-one month old little boy as could be imagined.

There was one surprise for me.  After a time, Peggy came out with what was obviously a Christmas present, wrapped nicely, topped with a flat bow that was covered with dust, as in a well-aged bottle of vintage wine.  It turned out to be a Christmas present that they had gotten for me, wrapped and marked with my name in 1996!  By the time it was ready to be given, we had already moved away.  It just never found its way to me — until now.  It was a nicely framed wedding picture of John and Peggy, looking young and excited as they began a new life together.  The picture, of course included the three clergy who joined forces to set them on the right path.

While the folks who attended were from John and Peggy’s life after we moved away, one blast from the past was visiting with Barry, a fellow pastor — who is the consummate smart aleck.  What great fun to see him again and pick up with the bantering as if no time at all had passed.  Barry lost his wife only months ago after a long and very hard battle with diabetes.  This particular experession of the disease did its worst for almost as long as Mary Ann has been dealing with the Parkinson’s.  Pat lost her sight (for the most part) pretty early on.   Barry also has spent many years doing full time ministry and full time caregiving.  There is an instant connection among those who fully understand the dynamics of caregiving from the Caregiver’s perspective. 

After a stop at a Denny’s, eating too much food packed with unhealthy carbs, we have settled in at the motel.  Shawnee is about an hour closer to Hot Springs than John and Peggy’s home in Edmond.  We will not have to drive in any of the OKC city traffic tomorrow.  The balance of the trip should be pretty manageable — although I would not presume to predict how well tomorrow will go.  I am just grateful that we have made the first day without serious problems. 

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.