We had just finished making some major changes to our home, knocking out a wall, putting in a new floor, decorating it creatively.  Mary Ann’s sense of color and elegant simplicity was reflected in the results.

Realizing what was coming with Mary Ann’s condition, I had concluded that I would finish out my ministry in OKC and care for Mary Ann there.  The parish was a comfortable fit for me on account of the warmth and graciousness of the people.   The congregation’s place in the polity of the church and my views were a good match.

Then came the contact from Kansas.  It came without warning.  My attitude was that I did not refuse an overture before there was a formal request (Call, in our jargon) to come and serve there.  My understanding of the process was that if it was from God, it would be foolish to sabotage the process.  If it was not, that would become clear soon enough.

There was a phone interview.  Rather than the on site interview that usually followed as the next step, there was a formal Call to come and serve the congregation in East Central Kansas (between KState and KU — of great significance in Kansas).

It was the end of 1995, Christmas coming.  The decision could not be processed meaningfully in the intensity of that season of the year.  I asked for time to think; it was granted.

There are no definitive steps that carry a person to an obvious decision.  The process includes all sorts of elements, including family considerations.  The center of the process, however, is discerning which direction the One in charge of such things is tugging.

Of course the various practical elements needed to be identified and weighed as to their significant.  There were pros and cons to be listed.  I have never found that list to provide a clear answer to the question, which way should I go.  The congregation in Kansas was twice the size with the same size staff we had in OKC.  I had not served in a larger congregation although I did grow up in one that size.  There was a school.  The congregation I served on my Internship (Vicarage) had a school.  We had chosen to send our children to Parochial Schools and valued their experiences there.  The Kansas congregation knew of Mary Ann’s situation but seemed not to hesitate in spite of that awareness.  The Kansas congregation was only a little more than an hour from KU Med Center, the only place we had found anyone who seemed to be capable of handling Mary Ann’s complex version of Early Onset Parkinson’s.  Our children by that time were done with college, so they would not be impacted one way or another by our staying or going.

The ministry in Oklahoma City had been intense, culminating in the OKC Bombing and the loss of Member Lee.  We had just begun a very successful midweek program called Logos.  We had a new and very talented Director of Christian Education, Chris.  We had variety in worship, with wonderful musicians for both traditional and contemporary liturgies.  The Early Childhood programs were thriving.  I had grown close to the membership especially through so many opportunities for doing Pastoral Care.  Actually, I had grown close to some of the Youth, who made a poignant “good-bye Pastor Pete” video that touched my heart.  There was some frustration that the congregation was not growing, but slowly declining.  I was concerned that what I brought to the congregation seemed not to be changing that pattern, even though we had a thriving ministry.

It was a very difficult decision, but finally it seemed as if rather than looking at concluding my ministry in OKC, there was a tugging to the Kansas congregation.  The fit there was also very good.  It felt as if I had been in training over my career up to that point for precisely what the Kansas congregation was asking me to do.

It was right at that point that Mary Ann took a turn for the worse and ended up in the inpatient program in Tulsa, as the new Neurologist tried to find the right combination of medications.

For Mary Ann, the move back to Kansas seemed to have a little of the feel of coming home.  We had both fallen in love with Kansas City.  It felt good to be close again.

There was one dynamic in particular that also made living only a little over an hour away from Kansas City seem like coming home.  When we first moved to Kansas City in 1972 to serve the parish there, we connected with a group of folks who had babies the same year.  Three other couples had boy babies, as well as having an older girl.  They had known one another from college and before.  One couple went to school together as children.  That group graciously included us and ultimately we felt almost like family.  While we were in OKC we vacationed together with that KC Crew in Texas (when I was able to reveal to them Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s diagnosis).  We had gone on a cruise in the Caribbean with one of the couples.  We celebrated birthdays together.

That group was expanded by a number of folks from that congregation with whom we had developed a friendship that continued after we left Kansas City, a friendship that transcended the role as Pastor.  There is a whole community of folks from there whom we value, with whom we have a loving and caring relationship.  Mary Ann was deeply loved by many.  Serving the new parish, we were close enough to allow those relationships to continue and to grow.

Mary Ann’s health, as well as the weight of a large congregation has not allowed the freedom to return to OKC to celebrate those relationships.  Since Mary Ann’s and my families are in Northern Illinois, any time and energy for travel took us north rather than south.  Travel was never easy and got harder as the years went by.  It is my hope that I will now be able to renew and celebrate the connection to so many people I value who were in the congregation when I was serving it there.  I still remember the tears streaming down my cheeks the last Sunday I served Communion to them, saying each name as my emotions would allow.  The organist, Shelbie, was playing her improvisation on “When in our Music God is Glorified” and leading the congregation in singing that hymn during that time.

Life has brought many separations.  The feelings of pain that come with those separations are signs of the deep value and meaning of the relationships that emerged.  On that account I embrace the pain and celebrate it.

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Mary Ann insisted that her diagnosis remain secret for the first five years in Oklahoma City.  Some of it may have been her unwillingness to accept that it was so.  Certainly, much of it was that she didn’t want people looking at her and treating her as if there was something wrong with her.

It was very difficult to keep that information in since it had such a powerful presence in our lives.  Recently, Daughter Lisa told me how difficult those years were for her, not having permission to talk about it openly.  Mary Ann gave me permission to reveal it to a couple of people so that I would have someone to talk with about its impact on our lives.  If I wanted to add anyone to the list, I asked for permission from Mary Ann before telling him/her.

The secret became especially difficult to keep when the symptoms began to become more visible.  She would not let me tell our best friends from KC with whom we even vacationed at times.  I can remember the evening she gave me permission to tell them.  We were vacationing together in New Braunfels, Texas.  Mary Ann stayed at the condo since she was tired.  The rest of us went to a Beer Garden in nearby Gruene.  We sat together at a table and I finally told them what they already knew, that she was sick.  I told them it was Parkinson’s.

It was helpful to be free to talk about it with folks in the congregation when finally Mary Ann gave permission to reveal what it was.  All of them were loving and caring to us as we tried to deal with it.

Mary Ann had worked with a couple of Temp Agencies when we first arrived.  After about three years of that, one of the companies to which she had been assigned, Jack Cooper Transport, hired her from the Agency.  She worked something short of full time for the next six years there.  The people she worked with became her friends and support group.

Mary Ann could not be involved much in the life of the congregation since work took all the stamina she could muster.  There was certainly no chance to have the energy to do anything in the evenings, and little left on weekends.  I took Fridays off and tried to keep up with the house cleaning.  I was not terribly conscientious at it, but I tried to get the bathrooms and the vacuuming done and the beds changed so that we could spend time on Saturday together.

We made friends as a couple with some of the families in the congregation and visited, ate together, enjoyed each other’s company at various times.  The people in Oklahoma are some of the most gracious folks we have met.  The attitude there seems to be that people are accepted until they prove themselves unacceptable.  Folks don’t wait until people have somehow proven themselves to be worthy before accepting them.

Finding a Neurologist who knew enough about Parkinson’s to deal with the complexities of Mary Ann’s early onset variety was a challenge.  We never found one!  We started with a fellow who was pleasant to talk with.  He prescribed the basic beginning dose of the standard medication, Sinamet.  It helped some, but each time we met with him, we sat in his office across from him as he sat at his desk.  He asked if we thought the dosage should be changed in any way (yes, he asked us).

Immediately after the diagnosis, we began going to the Parkinson’s Symposia done at KU Med Center in Kansas City.  They have a Parkinson’s Clinic with a national reputation.  We would drive up there, at first without telling anyone why we were going to KC.  As a result, we had access to the latest and best information about Parkinson’s treatments.  It seemed clear very quickly, that the Neurologist we were using just did not have more than a very basic understanding of Parkinson’s and the available treatments.

We looked until we found another Neurologist in OKC.  That was our worst experience.  He is the one who came into the exam room without ever looking at either of us.  He sat at a little table just inside the door, looking down at the chart.  When he talked to us, he never looked up.  It was actually very weird.  By this time, Mary Ann had been on the basic med for treating Parkinson’s for a few years.  It worked reasonably well, as is usual in the first stages of Parkinson’s.

The last time we went to him was more than I could tolerate.  He suggested that Mary Ann might not actually have Parkinson’s, but have had a mild stroke impacting the left side of her body.  When I asked why then the Parkinson’s medicine seemed to be controlling the problem, he made a circle around his ear with his finger, indicating that improvement was in her head.  By the way, any Neurologist who knows Parkinson’s at all is aware that one of ways of confirming the diagnosis is to use Sinamet.  If the symptoms improve, it is most likely to be Parkinson’s.  Even I knew that.

By this time, Mary Ann’s symptoms were becoming more obvious.  After about eight years of taking Sinamet, the side effect of dyskinetic movements becomes a problem.  Those movements are the wavy ones that are often visible when Michael J. Fox is in the spotlight.  Mary Ann never had tremors, the fast movements in a hand or fingers.  Tremors are often a symptom of Parkinson’s, but not always.  She did have the dyskinesias that come from many years of using the Sinamet.

One time when she was at work, she just slipped off her desk chair on account of those movements.  She hit her side on the corner of a two drawer file and broke some small ribs.  There was nothing other than pain medication that could be done until they just healed on their own.  Mary Ann’s co-workers at Jack Cooper were caring and supportive, always watching out for her.

After the horrible experience with the last Neurologist, we were at a loss as to what to do.  Somehow, I became aware of an attempt by a hospital in Tulsa to develop a Parkinson’s program.  It was brand new.  A local Neurologist was developing a team approach.  We applied and Mary Ann, of course, qualified.

She was scheduled for three weeks of in-patient care as they would try to come up with a medication regimen that would work for her.  Tulsa is 90 miles from OKC.  I was doing full time ministry, trying to go back and forth.  Mary Ann hated being there, and I hated having her there.  What was especially frustrating was seeing how haphazard the treatment was.  Pills were often not given at the scheduled times. (the doctor’s schedule).  The Staff seemed unaware that the timing of Parkinson’s meds is crucial to their effectiveness.  Having been to enough of the KU Med Center Symposia, I knew that protein in the stomach at the same time the Sinamet  competed with its absorption and reduced its effectiveness.  That meant there was a need for low protein meals early in the day when the Sinamet was taken and the ability to move was most crucial.  I mentioned that the Neurologist in charge of the program.  She did not consider it an issue of any importance.

The medicine regimen that Mary Ann ended up with was a fairly complex combination of regular and time release Sinamet.  A problem was that the time release version of Sinamet exacerbates the side effect of dyskinetic movements.  That was Mary Ann’s most difficult problem.

Mary Ann just could not stand staying there the whole three weeks.  She managed two weeks.  When she returned to OKC, it was apparent that she would not be able to handle returning to work.  She was on temporary disability from her work, but it was at that time that we moved, since I had been called to a congregation here in Kansas.

During the years in OKC, the Parkinson’s grew in its impact on Mary Ann and on our lives.  We never found our way to anyone there who seemed able to handle the complexities of Mary Ann’s early onset variety of Parkinson’s.

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.

The timing in Mary Ann’s life for this move impacted how she felt about it.  She had just been pulled out of a fifteen year in the making nest in Kansas City.  It coincided with a devastating diagnosis, followed almost immediately by the departure from her entire support system.  The truth is, no matter where we went, or if we stayed in Kansas City, the harsh reality of what was to come would not have changed.

I was not there when it happened.  She denied it when Daughter Lisa reminded her of it.  I have no doubt it happened.  One evening, from the window of a motel in Oklahoma City, the moon that shone out over the city from that window was named Mary Ann.  She wasn’t very talkative, but she had a way of illustrating how she felt.

Please understand, it had nothing to do with Oklahoma City.  It was simply that OKC happened to be the place to which I took her after pulling her out of that safe and comfortable nest in KC.

The house we found was spacious and comfortable.  We had looked at 39 houses and she said that when we bought it, it wasn’t even the one she thought we had picked.  As the years went by, Mary Ann’s skill at decorating resulted in a home that could have made the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.

We both ended up enjoying the expansiveness of the Oklahoma sky.  We would sometimes sit in the front yard together and watch the storms build.  We had grown up with tornadoes in Northern Illinois, so that was not really an issue — other than the fact that our house and most houses didn’t have a basement. One night when Mary Ann’s Mom was visiting, the wind knocked down our back fence.  That night at Lake Hefner, about a mile and a half from our house, the wind was clocked at 104 miles per hour.

Mary Ann was not at all thrilled with the little beast that startled her by jumping in front of her when she took the lid off the garbage can in the garage.  Actually it was not so little.  It was a very large Tarantula, whose legs formed a circle about four inches in diameter.  I wasn’t there, but Lisa was.  She managed to get it into an institutional-sized pickle jar.  We tried feeding it for a while, but it didn’t survive.

Lisa went off to college the fall of our first year in OKC.  That was tough on Mary Ann.  She and Lisa were best buds (BFF’s).  It was a striking change from Mary Ann’s experience with her Mother.  They were at odds most of the time, especially in her high school years.  The day Lisa left for college (nine hours drive away), I had a wedding that had been scheduled eight months before when I had no idea it would be the weekend Lisa needed to get to school.  I will never forget pacing around the house by myself (Micah was away from the house that day — school may have started).  That was the second time in my adult life that I cried.  A gracious member of the congregation rode with them so that Mary Ann would not have to drive back by herself.

Micah settled in pretty well, but I remember him telling me that summer, “Don’t ever do this to me again!”  He began in the last year of a Junior High (9th Grade).  It was a challenge since all the groups were set, sports teams were in their third year with players established.

I was tuned into managing money carefully.  I got that trait from my Dad.  The euphemism is frugal, a less flattering synonym is tight.  The result is that I insisted that the Kids put 50% of everything they earned into savings.  Before that, 10% came off the top for church.  That left them with 40% of their earnings available for discretionary spending.  That is a whole lot higher percent than is available as adults.  The kids knew that they would not be given a car.  They would have to buy it for themselves.

Micah had saved $250 and managed to find a truck to buy for that amount.  It had to be towed to the house.  He didn’t yet have his license, but by the time he obtained it, he had the truck running.  There was, of course, the time when I was first teaching him to drive it that he turned the key before pushing in the clutch.  It was a well built truck — no damage to the truck — moved the laundry room wall about three inches into the room.

Lisa did well in college and ended up getting a Master’s Degree in a discipline with a track in Nursing Home Administration.  Her internship gave us excuse to go to Santa Barbara, CA for a few days to visit her.  What a beautiful place.

Micah continued playing soccer through high school.  His gift for writing blossomed in his Senior year in a writing class with a wonderfully affirming teacher who caught sight of his ability.  He went on to college and got a degree (in three years) in communication.  He was the Editor of the Pitt State newspaper, resulting in a journalism emphasis in the degree.  Micah and Becky married after his second year in college.  The timing was not my favorite idea, but they have been wonderful together.  I couldn’t love Becky more.  And, of course, there is Granddaughter Chloe.  They did very well!  (Yes, Becky, I forgot to sign the license before I sent it in!)

As promised: During the years at the church in the OKC area, I officiated at  many marriage ceremonies.  A young man from the congregation was dating a young lady named Kathy.  They asked me to do the wedding.  We could not use the church of which I was Pastor, since it would only seat 200 to 250 at the very most.  This wedding would have over 800 guests.  Kathy was the Daughter of the then coach of the Oklahoma University football team.

Barry obtained the use of a large Methodist church building in Norman, OK and we were able to seat all 800.  There were six video cameras.  I called Barry aside and told him that I needed for the videographers to stay put — no wandering.  He said, “Whatever you say, Pastor Pete.”  I do not think he was always that agreeable with his players — but they certainly played well.  (Sorry, Nebraska fans — I remember that infamous Thanksgiving Day game.)  That was the largest wedding I ever did.

Enough for tonight.

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Everywhere we looked, there were Moms with large bellies growing.   Mary Ann felt right at home.  It could not have been the water.  She had come from Ft. Wayne already pregnant.  Whatever it was, the babies popped out one after another, mostly boys.  The day before Micah was born, we had just come from the doctor’s office.  He said that she was already dilated some and would have the baby any time.  I was driving toward home, when to my horror, the engine stopped running.  We had run out of gas.  I don’t remember what Mary Ann said, but some things are better not to know.   Micah arrived the next day, September 7.   I have to admit that I was mightily irritated when I was told that I would have to leave now and go to the waiting room — and awful place with magazines from the 50’s.  I had been in the Delivery room when Lisa was born.  At Research Hospital, the rules changed concerning that issue two weeks after Micah was born.  I can remember taking Lisa with me to the street outside the hospital so that she could wave to her Mom.  She was a little over three years old at the time.  Mary Ann often lamented the timing of having both kids in the heat of summer in hot climates.  It just dawned on me, she may have been blaming me for that!

Then there was the house.  We looked mostly on the Kansas side, in Johnson County, since that was where the church was located.  After a while, nothing seemed to ring our chimes.  There was one possibility, but it was a little over the range that had been suggested to us based on my salary.  Then the realtor said, “We can look at the old house on the Missouri side.” 

Understand that the Missouri side meant a school system that had a typically bad reputation for quality as a city school district.  The Missouri side was more varied racially.  Johnson County was much less varied ethnically.   Both of us appreciated the older feel and ethnic variety of the Missouri side, but mostly, we just fell in love with the house the first time we saw it.   We bought it in 1972 for $22,500.

We had both grown up in older homes.  The “Old House” as she called it, was a two story shake sided house built in 1926.  The developer built to match the topography, leaving trees, curving streets around the hill.  The trees were all tall and stately.  There was a large bed of irises in full bloom.  The lilac bush was hanging with heavy clusters of blossoms filling the air with their scent.  There was the largest pussy willow bush/tree I have ever seen.  There was a spectacular Silver Weeping Birch in the front yard.  Each house in the neighborhood differed from the rest. 

There was a 25 foot long living room with a fire place — french doors to a side porch.  The dining room had a huge hand painted scene that blended with the wallpaper.  It was just an outline and was muted enough not to be distracting.  The Master bedroom was 18 feet long.  with a full bath and walk-in closet.  There were two other bedrooms, much smaller.  The house had a second full bath upstairs and a half bath in the breakfast room downstairs.  The kitchen was quaint, but there was barely room for the fridge.  There was a detached garage with a basketball hoop on the front of it.  Mary Ann loved that there was a basketball hoop out there.   There was something about being able to shoot hoops that she liked. 

The old stone basement had a little water in it at times, but it was no major problem.  There were some very entertaining camel back or cave crickets in the basement.  The house was solid as a rock.  It had shifted as much as it was going to shift decades earlier.  The plaster in a couple of ceilings was in bad shape, but both were repaired for about a hundred dollars.

Early on we remodeled the kitchen just a little, taking the wall to the breakfast room out, putting in sliding glass doors and adding a deck.  Those changes allowed much more space in the kitchen area.  We removed five layers of wallpaper from the walls, patched and sanded.  The walls were in almost perfect shape.  We heard about a fellow who would refinish wood floors.  We tore up the wall to wall carpets and found a beautiful white oak floor with red oak stairs. 

We enclosed the side porch into a multipurpose space.  A parishioner who was very skilled as a carpenter did much of the work, trading labor with me.  Dick did the carpentry for me and I helped him on his Mother’s farm.  At that time his labor would have been $16 an hour, and farm hand more like $3 an hour labor.  It sounds like a good deal at first glance.  Have you ever put up hay in 94 degree weather?  If you have, you know whereof I speak.  I almost died!  Well, maybe not quite that bad. 

Mary Ann made curtains and always had an eye for color.  The house was wonderful.  We felt very much at home there.  Mary Ann put in a little garden near the garage and used branches from the pussy willow for stakes at the ends of the rows.  The garden did not do well, the stakes thrived.  We had little pussy willows growing at the end of each row.   There was a tiny oak tree sapling that sprouted in that garden a few feet from the garage.  Mary Ann refused to let me pull it out.  I carefully explained that it was too close to the garage.  We drove by that house a couple of years ago.  In the intervening thirty some years it has grown into a tall and perfectly shaped oak tree.  The Silver Maple saplings we planted in the front yard had grown from the seeds of the neighbor’s tree.  When we went by that same time, they were huge trees.  The Monkey Grass we brought from Ron and June’s front yard in Memphis decades ago is still covering the terrace. 

I remember Jack, next door.  He was a Great Dane who was so tall that when he got curious and jumped up, his head would be above the top of the six foot privacy fence.  When he went back down the air would catch his ears and they would fly up, looking very silly.  Of course, I fed the birds and squirrels there just as I do now.  If I dared to sit out on the deck too long, interfering with the squirrels eating the olives from the Russian olive tree, one of the squirrels would find a branch right over my head and drop squirrel turds on me.  His aim was remarkable.  We had brought ferns and Jack-in-the-pulpit and wild phlox plants from my folk’s place in the country in Northern Illinois and planted them on the north side of the house in the back yard.  They thrived there for all fifteen years. 

Near the end of the fifteen years there, Mary Ann and I spent three weeks painting the outside of that shake sided house.  We scraped, primed, put on two coats of paint in three colors on that two story house.  Mary Ann did the lower story and I did the upper story.  I also scraped, primed and painted the 22 windows (all 6 panes over one). 

I thought I would tell the story of that house in one post before going on to our lives during that time.  By the way, that house for which we paid $22,500 in 1972 was on the market in 2007 or 8, listing for $310,000 — location, location, location.  

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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.

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They laughed and laughed, and then they laughed some more.  The worst one of them was 94 years old.  She told the raciest jokes.  I loved going in there to talk with them.  They were just a couple of doors away from my “office” which was some sort of storage room in the basement of the church.  We used the quilt they gave us when we left until it was worn through and in tatters.  Mary Ann salvaged parts of it and made a vest, a number of place mats and lots of Christmas tree ornaments in the shape of little stockings.  When we cleaned out the closet ten days ago, we found a piece of it in a plastic bag hanging from a hanger.

My salary that year (1967-8) was $250 per month with a $25 auto allowance.  We managed to live on that and save Mary Ann’s entire salary at the bank for the last year of school (1968-9).

We, of course, immediately located the best ice cream place in town, Atz’s.  Actually, I had already discovered it a couple of years earlier when I attended Concordia Senior College there before entering the Seminary.  I remember the Sundae having three scoops of chocolate mint chip ice cream, with lava flows of hot fudge running down each scoop, heaped on top with nuts, whipped cream and a cherry.  I remember it being called a turtle sundae.  I wish Mary Ann was still here to help me remember that accurately.  Suffice it to say, we made very regular trips to Atz’s.

The Saturday before my very first time in public, leading worship, Mary Ann gave me a hair cut so that I would make a good first impression.  I am not sure what caused it to happen, but her hand slipped or I moved my head.  The electric clippers cut a swath from my temple to my ear, down to the skin.  I had a lot of hair, so the contrasting pink skin on the side of my head stood out in comparison to the dark, thick hair.  The solution?? An eyebrow pencil, of course.  She drew in the hair that was missing.  That worked when my face was turned to the side, but the notch was clear when looking at my face from straight on.

My first impression became irrelevant since the Pastor I was serving went into the hospital for tests the following Tuesday and remained there for a month.  I preached, made 75 hospital calls, attended all the meetings, ministered to the dying, taught classes.  In fact, I remember very clearly how irritated I was when he returned and took over my congregation.  It was a wonderful baptism of fire.  I had no time to be scared.  I just had to do whatever needed to be done.

The Vicarage (Internship) from hell part is harder to explain.  The Pastor was obsessive compulsive about record keeping and monthly reporting to the Elders, down to how many pieces of incoming mail and outgoing mail we processed and how many incoming and outgoing phone calls we made.  The Pastor was hopelessly racist and talked often in ways that were intolerable.  By the way, the grade he would give me counted for twelve hours of credit and would make or break the option of graduating.  He admitted that the congregation didn’t like him.  I actually provided a sort of therapeutic setting for him when we met to talk.  His approach to ministry seemed completely empty of what I understood Christianity to be about.  In fact, my experience there convinced me that it would be a waste of time to serve a congregation since there was no evidence that the message we were about was expressed in any way that I could see there. That is the part that ended up impacting Mary Ann and me later.

That was a year when Star Trek hit the airwaves.  Not only did I get caught up in it, but another Vicar (Intern) assigned to Ft. Wayne, Lyle, did too.  Mary Ann just laughed at us as we sat at the kitchen table and meticulously glued together our respective models of the Enterprise.

One of my worst moments came that year.  It only happened once, but it happened.  A student from the Senior College who played the organ for us that year came over.  We splurged and ate out.  There was a Manhattan before dinner, wine with dinner, a Liqueur after dinner.  Then after taking Mary Ann home, Paul wanted to take me to a favorite bar to have some sort of Martini made with a chocolate liqueur, I think.  Then he bought me a Rusty Nail.  My taste buds were so numb, I drank it down like a soft drink.  When we got home, I remember needing to stay very close to the wall as I walked in.  We have one of the best photographs I have ever taken of Paul sitting on the couch next to Mary Ann.  I have absolutely no memory of taking that picture.  I do remember the next few hours hugging a large white porcelain repository into which large quantities of the contents of my stomach were deposited — seemingly much more than I had consumed.  Did I mention that Mary Ann’s Mother was visiting us at that time?  I found out some time, that since I was camping out next to that porcelain receptacle with the door to the bathroom locked, she had to pee in a tin can.  We are none of us perfect!!

That Christmas we were not going to get a tree, but finally, we just had to get one.  We found one for 50 cents that we put on the top of a round book shelf that was Mary Ann’s table sitting next to her until days before the end when she could no longer sit up.  That tree helped establish our tradition of finding the most pitiful tree we could get and decorating it for Christmas (a Charlie Brown Tree).  Our kids gave us much grief over the years at our choice of Christmas Trees.

That is the year we got to know Roger and Jan.  Roger was another Vicar assigned to a church in Ft. Wayne.  They ended up the next year becoming Lisa’s Godparents. Roger and Jan loved dogs, especially Poodles.   There little Poodle, Happy, gave birth to a litter of pups, all who were registered and soon had their papers.  Mary Ann fell in love with one of the little puppies.  We named her MAT’s Happy Suzette. She was a ball of fur with stubby little legs who became the grumpiest Poodle on the planet.  She will be a central character in a post to come about the birth of our first child, Lisa.

One ironic note on the congregation I served from July 1967 to June 1968.  There was an old fellow, Ralph, who came around often.  I got to know him well.  He was great at dart ball (underhanded darts played competitively between church men’s groups).  Ralph had Parkinson’s Disease.  His huge lower lip hung down so that his gums showed and the drool ran and his dentures rattled.  On that account he could not talk very clearly.  He shuffled along and came by often.  I was never unkind to him.  We got along well, but I was grossed out by how he looked.  When I got the phone call that Mary Ann had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the vision of Ralph came immediately to mind.  In all her years with Parkinson’s, Mary Ann always remained pretty.  I found her as desirable at the end as I found her at the beginning of our relationship.  The soft kisses that we savored when standing in front of the fridge only a few weeks ago were as sweet as any we shared in all our years.  I miss her terribly.

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.