It is about 11:30am and Mary Ann is still sleeping.  She got up last evening long enough to eat some ice cream and apple crisp.  Then she took her pills, went back to bed and slept the entire night.  This morning, there was a commode trip at about 7am, then at about 8:30am she got up long enough to have juice (with Miralax) and yogurt.  Then she decided she wanted to go back to bed.

The good news about this is that when she has been up, she has been able to interact verbally and has not been picking up threads that are not there, nor has she acted as if she was hallucinating.  Her head is no longer hanging down on her chest.  Needless to say, those are encouraging signs. She is still unable able to eat without assistance.  I fed her last night and this morning, even putting her pills in her mouth.  She did manage to lift the cup and drink most of the juice by herself.

Yesterday, I chose not to awaken her for medications.  Most of her meds are intended to help her when she is up and about.  Most of them have a short half life.  They help when they are in her system, but are not necessarily maintaining a constant level of medicine 24/7.  Missing one dose of the meds seemed to me to be acceptable. I concluded that the rest was more important.  She did take her night time meds, so there has been no interruption in them.  She took the morning pills today, and while she was lying in bed, I changed the Exelon patch she had worn for two days.  That is a med that needs not to be stopped for long.  It is pretty powerful and when initiating the patch, it takes a month on a lower dose to keep from creating the unpleasant side effect of pretty bad nausea — been there, done that.  I am also going to wake her up for the meds that come every two hours during the day.  My goal is to return to and maintain a normal schedule in hopes that will help us return to the pre-hospital norm.

The other parallel recuperation activity needed includes intestinal activity.  There has been some activity, this morning during the 7am trip to the commode.  Then before going to back to bed after breakfast (the yogurt, juice and pills) there was a little more substantial activity.  At the risk of being indelicate (there is nothing delicate about being a Caregiver), it is still at the stage where manual help is needed.  With that lovely image in mind, you can appreciate my excitement when things come out on their own and Dr. Oz’s S appears.  We are not yet back to that wonderful normal.  At this point I am hopeful that in a couple of days we will be there.

Of course I cannot know where this will go, but my intention is to methodically do all the things we have normally done in the past as they are possible.  My hope is that by Tuesday, a week from leaving the hospital, normal will have returned.  Whatever is so by then will probably need to be established as our new norm.

My need to establish a norm of some sort, any sort, comes from the way I am wired.  When I get a set of expectations in mind, it is tough for me to incorporate changes very quickly.  Since retirement, the rewiring is in progress.  By removing almost all commitments, there is space and time to adapt to whatever changes come without the added stress of failing to meet those commitments.  When we went to the hospital, there were a few appointments (dentist, doctor, among them) to be changed, but nothing for which I had to find substitutes or burden others to do for me.

Even though things can change dramatically at any moment (as in Saturday’s entrance into the hospital), the norm is where my pivot foot rests when I turn to meet the unplanned, unexpected.  Unlike Michael Jordan in his best days, I cannot hang in the air for very long without a place to stand.

In a moment of devotional time last evening, I read this prayer.  I receive a weekly email from the National Catholic Reporter web site with a devotion by Fr. Ed Hayes.  (Yes, they allow Lutheran Pastors on their site.)  I have appreciated his writings for decades, and I had the privilege of doing a marriage ceremony with him many years ago.

I need prayers for flexibility!

A Psalm of Flexibility

By Ed Hays
Created Nov 06, 2009

O spirit of God’s eternal springtime heart,
grant me the virtue of elasticity.

Make my heart as boundless as my Beloved’s heart,
which at this moment is creating
new galaxies and infant suns.

Make me pliable and playful with your Spirit
as you teach me the alchemist’s recipe
of how to keep my heart’s skin
like baby’s skin, ever-expansive,
able to hold the wildest of wines.

Stir my mind well with your sacred spoon
to awaken the fermentation of ideas
stilled by the ten thousand little compromises
required of me by the stiffness
of the old leathered skins of society and religion.

Gift me with elastic frontiers of heart and mind,
so I can see before my eyes,
both in the heavens and on earth,
how old and ever-new are those partners
passionately dancing together
in the perpetual birthing of your universe.

From Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Ed Hays

The Spiritual support I receive through Ed’s writings, through the Taize Music from their site, from Weavings, a spirituality journal, through Scripture, corporate worship and the Spiritual Formation Group that meets at our house weekly, helps provide the source strength that has allowed survival so far.

There are many wonderful folks who give personal support to our household.  Yesterday afternoon, John called and asked to come over for a time to talk.  John has been a support for very many years.  Mary, our friend who schedules Volunteers, had let him know that things were getting a little hard to handle at our house.  Yesterday, Edie, the leader of our Spiritual Formation group emailed about the possibility of bringing dinner over.  Don and Edie came over and we feasted on lasagna, salad, gourmet bread, some Shiraz red wine, topped off with apple crisp and vanilla ice cream.  Mary Ann slept through supper, but ate a big bowl of apple crisp and ice cream later in the evening.

It is now about 1:30pm and Mary Ann is still sleeping soundly.  She has had two rounds of the meds that come at two hour intervals during the day.  To administer the meds, I put my hand under the pillow, lift her head, put them in her mouth, hold a straw to her mouth and she drinks until the pill(s) are down.  Often, when I give her the pill(s), she gets up from napping.  The last few days when I let her head back down, she just goes back to sleep.  It has not been unusual in the past for her to continue to sleep, just not so many times in a row.

She finally got up and dressed around 2:30pm.  She ate a little more, then provided some unaided intestinal activity worthy celebration.  She went back to bed at about 5pm.  It is 9:30pm now.  She is still sleeping.  We will see how the night goes.

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.

Who am I?  I am dirt and water.  That is no metaphor.  It is a simple fact.  The human body is made of approximately 70percent water and 30percent dirt (carbon and minerals).  That answer may sound silly and irrelevant, but it is exactly what gives me my identity.  It is what allows me to remain a unique self-aware individual who knows who he is separate from the various roles he has had during his lifetime.  It is what allows me not to disappear into any of the roles and identities that are defined by others in my life.

Being clear about who I am at the most basic level, has allowed me to be a better child, parent, husband, Caregiver and whatever else has defined me over the years — and, for that matter, whatever else is to come.

By knowing who I am at the most basic level I can incorporate all that I have learned from the various roles I have had, the various ways I have been identified throughout my lifetime up to now.

By knowing who I am at the most basic level, I can have successes without wrapping my worth in them and I can have failures without losing my sense of value because of them.

Now, what’s with the water and dirt?

When I was growing up, we had a Sunday afternoon tradition.  We went for a ride in the country.  The purpose of that ride was for one thing to enjoy the scenery, see the sights and, in farm country, smell the smells.  I learned to distinguish the smell of pig farms from the smell of the farm on which cattle were raised.  Dad showed me the difference between timothy grass, alfalfa, wheat and oats.

After I was old enough to understand what was going on, I discovered that there was an underlying purpose to our drives in the country.  Dad was looking for property.  He had grown up on a farm, but worked his entire adult life in an office. He wanted to get back to his roots in the country.

I remember when he first described the place they had found.  Before I had seen it, Dad found the place he wanted.  It sounded like a dream.  Twenty-six acres, mostly woods and hills, with a creek separating the larger section from a smaller area of about six acres of flat and fertile land suitable for crops.

When Dad and Mom bought what we called the Farm, my life changed dramatically.  Almost every night of the week during the growing season when school was out Dad and I headed out to the Farm to work in the garden.  All day long on Saturday and Sunday afternoons after church we planted, cultivated, weeded, gathered and destroyed potato bugs and tomato worms, fought against cabbage worms, we picked strawberries, rhubarb, corn, tomatoes, and dug potatoes.

From where did the all that produce come?  It came from the combination of dirt and water.  How did it happen?  How did the dirt and water become transformed into tomatoes and potatoes, green beans and corn?  Yes, the sun was added to the mix, but the sun can shine on dirt and water all day long and produce nothing but warm dirt and warm water.  There was added to the dirt and water a spark of life.

That spark of life was contained somewhere in the germ of the seeds that were planted.  They were also made of dirt and water that had been formed into a seed containing a germ containing a detailed plan wound into a genetic code.  Something triggered the code that sparked the plan into motion.  Molecules of dirt and water were drawn together to build a factory powered by the sun, using a manufacturing process called photosynthesis.

The reason that the dirt and water became the plants that produced fruit made of the same stuff is that the spark of life was added somehow to the mix.  How and why did that happen?

Who am I?  I am 115 pounds of water and 50 pounds of dirt combined with the spark of life.  The result, a sensient being.  I am a somebody separate from every other somebody in the universe.  I am self-aware.  I can ponder from where I came and why.  I can wonder about who I am and seek to discover the root of my being.

That may all sound very remote and esoteric, words having no relationship with ordinary life.  I beg to differ.  What I do hour by hour, day by day, no matter what it is and with whom, happens because this puddle of water and pile of dirt has been sparked to be someone.  It is who I am.  I find it very reassuring to know the truth about who and what I am.  No one can take that away from me.  I may change what I do or how others perceive me, but I am who I am.

Now comes the inevitable question: Why?  For me, the reason I am a self-aware somebody rather than a pile of dirt and a puddle of water is that there is a Someone who has chosen to spark the life that grew me out of those basic compounds.  There is a Someone who wants me to exist.  That Someone has revealed the truth about human existence in an account of the history of God’s activity in lives of ordinary folks during a very specific few centuries of human existence.  The account of that history reveals a truth that cannot be inferred from the physical world we live in or any study of it, no matter how detailed and accurate that study is.  That truth is the unconditional love of the Someone who has sparked in us life, made us human, living beings, self-aware and wired to live in community with one another.  The pinnacle of that revelation came in a person called Jesus, designated the Christ, a real Somebody, who lived in the same stream of history of which we are a part.

Now, what about those of you who do not share my particular understanding of reality as I have described it?  Let’s go back to the dirt and water.  Whatever understanding of reality you have, whether with or without a spiritual dimension, the facts are the same.  Our self-aware humanity has emerged from a spark of life setting off a genetic code forming the molecules into our body and mind, thinking and feeling.  You are a unique somebody, different from every other somebody in the universe.  You have an identity separate from what you have done or do now.  You can draw strength from that.

The question remains, “Why am I who I am?”  If I believe God made me, why did he make me?  The answer to that lies in the mind of God. I cannot know why.  I can think about it, posit answers of one sort or another. I cannot know why God made me.  I am left only to praise and thank God and celebrate the life I have been given.

For those who do not accept the existence of a spiritual dimension to reality, the same is so.  We can postulate our reason for being.  We can recognize that we are simply a part of a process of mysterious origin.  We cannot know for certain why the particular substance of our bodies has been formed and sparked with life.  We are left to celebrate who and what we are.  We can seek to become more fully human.  We can seek to live in community, just as we are constructed to do by that genetic code.

In either case, our identity lies deep within us, beneath the things we have done, are doing and will do.  Knowing that allows us to be effective Caregivers, imperfect, but committed to our Loved Ones.  We retain our identity without despairing that our lives have disappeared into someone else’s needs.  You and I are dirt and water sparked to life.  We are a unique somebody of worth and value, and no one can take that away.

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.

Less than a year ago, I was Pastor Pete. Who am I now?

I liked being Pastor Pete.  In our tradition, as with most religious traditions, when a person is ordained into the ministry, it is for life.  I am still Pastor Pete.  There are a wealth of experiences folded into that identity.  I have been there when people have died, I have been there soon after people were born.  I have accompanied people through marriage problems, family crises.  I have ministered to people through a disaster, the Oklahoma City bombing.  I have done funerals for premature little ones the size of my hand.  I have done funerals for teenagers, young adults in their prime leaving children behind.  I have preached and done liturgies before hundreds.  I have gone through good times and painful times with congregations.  There is not enough space here to describe the variety of challenging and meaningful experiences that have shaped my identity as Pastor Pete.

That identity has not been my only identity, however.  Any who reads this post could list all sorts of identities they have had in their lifetime.  I have been a little boy, a son, a little brother, a kid whose identity was shaped by going to school, playing down at the swamp, jumping into piles of raked leaves, catching bugs, heading to the vacant lot for a game of Bounce or Fly, getting penicillin shots and taking those awful red penicillin pills, supposedly avoiding exertion on account of the Rheumatic Fever. That identity has come and gone.  I grew up and got well.

Then there was the identity as a singer.  That began when Mom claimed she heard me singing the melody of “We Three Kings” while I was lying in the crib at eight months of age after my brother had been practicing for singing at the Christmas Program that year.  I took voice lessons, sang in choirs, served as president and student conductor of five choirs from Junior High through graduating from college. I sang in a semi-professional choir earlier in my working years. That identity has come and gone.  I haven’t sung much for years.

I am a father.  We have two children.  There is an odd shift in identity that comes with children.  After children, I may have been Pastor Pete to some, Pete to others, but I became Dad to two, and Lisa and Micah’s Dad to many others.  It happens to most of us.  With children, our identity moves away from who we happen to be as an individual to who we are in relationship to someone else.  From the time the little ones head off for preschool and/or daycare, we become our children’s Dad or Mom.  Whenever we get full of ourselves in any other arena of life, coming home to children, going to school activities, getting them ready for bed or ready for school, feeding them, picking up after them, listening to their arguments with one another, dealing with behavior issues, serving in our role as parent will quickly burst our bubble and bring us back to reality. The role of parent has changed as our children have grown up, but I am still Dad and Mary Ann is still Mom.

There has been a new identity added to our reality in the last decade.  I am Grandpa.  Mary Ann is Grandma.  It is who we are now.  By the way, it is really cool!  That identity will stick with us from now on.

We all have multiple identities during our lifetime. While those identities all help shape us into the somebody we have become, some of them come and go.  Some of them stick.  The kid I was has come and gone but in some sense still lives in me.  My parents are both gone, but having been son to a Mom and a Dad still impacts how I think and feel.  I am still a little brother to four other people even though I am now sixty-six years old.  By the way, when those four are getting out of hand, I just observe that Mom and Dad kept trying until they got it right.  (You can imagine how far that gets me with them.)

Singing is still a part of who I am, even though I seldom do it.  It lives in my insides.  Music stimulates my soul and touches my heart.  I am a parent and take great comfort in the relationships with our two children.  I cherish my identity as Grandpa.

The identity as Pastor has molded and shaped my sense of self profoundly in the forty years of doing ministry.  While I am still by ordination a Pastor, I am not pastor to a congregation of people.  While being a pastor is part of who I am, my identity, it is no longer in a public setting.

There is an identity that became primary for me when Mary Ann and I married.  I am a husband, the husband of Mary Ann.  That identity has defined me for over forty-three years now.  Mary Ann and I have retained our individuality.  We have not disappeared into each other, but our lives are completely intertwined.

There is now a new identity born of necessity and grown into the center of who I am.  I am a Caregiver.  That identity cannot and should not be differentiated from my identity as husband. The Caregiving happens to be what being husband to Mary Ann includes at this time in our lives together.  When we commit to one another in marriage, it is not conditioned on health or wealth.  We marry a person, whatever that brings.  We don’t marry some ideal of what a husband or wife should be.  We marry a real person, who will grow and change with time and experience, as will we.  What comes, comes. I am now a husband and a Caregiver.

Who am I?  Am I what I do?  Am I a kid, a brother, a husband, a father, a Pastor, a Grandfather, a Caregiver, or am I something in addition to those things, something more than those things?  For me this is an exceedingly important matter. What sustains me is that I have an identity beyond what I do.

Let me say it plainly.  Mary Ann and I have no idea how long we will live.  No one does.  What if she dies before I do?  If my identity is solely husband and Caregiver, who will I be then?  Mary Ann has a very strong sense of herself.  She has a strong presence.  If I die before her, she will be Mary Ann.  She has never defined herself solely as a spouse.

My identity is rooted somewhere far beneath my various roles.  I am convinced that all of us need an identity that is not wrapped solely in one of the various roles we have had throughout our lifetime.  I am no longer a kid.  I don’t sing any more.  Our children are grown and on their own,  Our grandchildren do not live with us.  My brothers and sisters live six hundred miles from here.  I am no longer pastor of a congregation. If who I am is solely what I do, I am in a world of hurt.

For now, let me say this: The first answer to the question of who I am is, I am water and dirt.  I, like you, am made up of about 70 percent water and 30 percent dirt (carbon, minerals, etc.).  The final answer (as they say in The Millionaire) to the question who am I, lies in the answer to the question, Why am I a living, breathing, self-aware human somebody, rather than a fifty pound pile of dirt and a hundred and fifteen pound puddle of water?  My answer to that question will come in another post.  Stay tuned.

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.