Number One

The first time you do something, you don’t have hindsight. You can read every book you can find on the subject and research and study. Or you can talk to others who have done it and ask about their experiences but in the end, you just have to do it. And only then do you know if you can do it.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I was both ecstatic and terrified. Most women turn to their mother for guidance but mine had died many years before. So I turned to books for answers. I also asked my sisters and some female friends who had given birth and I quickly learned that everyone has their own journey and they have plenty of advice to give and horror stories to share. I was determined to do it according to the book because that’s who I am.

My pregnancy went well. In fact, I felt better and healthier and happier than I had many years prior. I glowed, inside and out. I am not a tall person, so as the baby grew so did my girth. By the time I was eight months along, my co-workers were concerned I was going to have the baby in the office. I assured them that wouldn’t happen but they weren’t as confident as I was.

I had planned on working right up until the moment of my first contraction but about three weeks before my due date I started getting overly tired. My doctor was concerned that I would go into labor and be too tired to deliver the baby. I hadn’t even thought of that! So I started working half days and that helped. Then my manager (a mother herself) suggested that maybe it was time for me to go on leave. I was making everyone too nervous. So we agreed my last day in the office would be Friday, September 13, even though my due date wasn’t for another week. When that final work day came, I was ready to be done. But the project I was working on still needed a couple more days of work so we agreed I would work two days at home, turning in the last of the work on Wednesday morning. And that’s exactly what I did.

When I stepped into the office to deliver my finished work on Wednesday, September 18, 1985, people were happy to see me but eager to get me out of there before anything happened. Everyone wanted to know how I was feeling. It was a sticky, humid, muggy day and I was miserable being out and about. I felt tired and I was frustrated with a kink in my back that had been pestering me since the night before when I had gone to a meeting and had sat on a very uncomfortable metal chair for a few hours. I knew nothing about back labor, but my coworkers knew all about it. Once I said I had a kink in my back, they practically pushed me out the door.

My husband usually worked the second shift but that day he had to go in earlier for a meeting so when I got back home, there was no one there. I was exhausted, so I laid down to rest. I was watching TV but didn’t fall asleep. At 2:30, the first pain came. I had experienced a lot of false labor so I didn’t get too excited, but I couldn’t overlook the fact that this pain was different from any of the others. This was my first baby and everyone had insisted that I would be in labor for a long time, probably eight hours or more. So I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere and since this was my first, I had no experience (or hindsight) to tell me to hurry along. Fifteen minutes later the pains were intense and paced at five minutes apart. I remember thinking things were going a little faster than I had expected but because of all the false labor I just wasn’t convinced. By 3:00 the contractions were even stronger and three minutes apart. With the consistency, I decided this was the real thing and I called my husband at work. We agreed I would call the clinic to see if I should come in and get checked.

It was Wednesday, my doctor’s day off, so they scheduled me for a 4:00 appointment with another doctor. I called my husband back and gave him the news. He wouldn’t be able to make his commute back home in time to get me to the appointment, so we decided I would call a family friend for a ride. I did and he said he’d pick me up in fifteen minutes. There were several things I wanted to do but it took me all of that time just to get clothes on. I had to stop every time a contraction hit. But I did finally get dressed and our friend arrived and off we went.

The family friend was so nervous. He was driving super fast and I had to tell him to slow down a couple of times because he was making me nervous. When we got to the clinic, the doctor examined me and said I was indeed in labor but I wasn’t dilated very much so it was going to be a while. He suggested I might want to go home and spend a few hours there before being admitted to the hospital, but I didn’t want to do that since I would be home alone. I called my husband again to tell him it was the real deal. He left work and our family friend said he’d stay with me until my husband arrived.

By 4:30 I was prepped and in bed with a fetal monitor wrapped around my belly. The nurse said that even though I was having contractions I wasn’t progressing much and would probably be sent home when my husband arrived. I was so disappointed. At 4:45 my husband walked into my hospital room just as I felt warm liquid between my legs. I thought my water had broke but I had only lost the mucus plug. The nurse said that was progression and they would not be sending me home after all but she insisted it would be several hours of labor before the baby would arrive. I felt nauseous and I felt a little bit of panic. I had been so tired the last few days. Would I have the stamina to go through many hours of labor and deliver this baby?

Around 5:00 the nurse came in and told me she had called my doctor to let him know I was being admitted. He was headed to a church dinner and said he’d come by later when that was over, to check on me. He agreed with the nurse that it would be several hours, so he figured he’d come by about 10:00 and would be around to deliver the baby.

Since everyone was telling me that I was going to be in labor for several hours, I told myself I needed to relax and focus on my breathing exercises. I kept thinking I would need to pace myself since the labor would last most of the night. Basically I had three different breathing techniques and I wanted to stay with the first one for as long as I could, saving the other two for the really bad stuff to come. Contractions stayed steady at two minutes apart and they would last about a minute each. By 7:15 I felt the urge to push. The nurse checked me and again told me I still had a very long way to go. Fifteen minutes later I had to go to the bathroom. My husband and I argued about it. He didn’t want me to get out of the bed. The nurse came in and said it wouldn’t be a problem at all and helped me get to the toilet. As I sat there, I was overcome with an urge to push. I had to groan to keep from pushing and the sound that came out of my mouth was unlike any sound I had ever heard before. The nurse literally pulled me off the toilet and she and my husband carried me back to the bed. She wanted to check to see what was going on and took one look and said, “Oh my God!” and ran out of the room. I had no idea what her panic was all about, but I found out later that the bag of waters had not broken and so the baby was inside it and my body was pushing all of that. The bag was black in color, so the nurse must have seen a frightening sight.

So I was back in the bed and the nurse had run out of the room. I didn’t have time to think or react to being abandoned because the mother of all contractions slammed into me. I had no choice but to move onto my second breathing technique and even that was ugly. I truly was terrified that I wouldn’t endure a full night of labor, especially when another contraction came right on top of the other one. And then another one of those animal-sounding groans came out of my mouth and another doctor, who was a couple doors down checking on one of his patients, heard it and came running. He knew exactly what that sound was and he came into the room yelling at nurses to break down the bed and get ready to deliver a baby. Not a single one of the nurses was ready.

At that point everything became a blur. Relief swept through to my soul that I was not going to have to endure that kind of pain for several more hours. Nurses worked in a flurry getting the doctor what he needed. My husband was curious and he wanted to see the baby being born, but instead he saw the black amniotic sac stuck to the baby’s head as it was coming through the birthing canal. The doctor slit open the amniotic sac and a ton of fluids gushed out and the baby was sucked up into the bag. A baby’s head gets misshapen as it comes through the canal, so all my husband saw was a black lizard head. I couldn’t see anything, but I could see my husband’s expression and it wasn’t good. And my panic went up ten notches when he quickly moved away from watching the baby being born and came and stood right by my shoulders. Then the doctor was yelling at me to not push. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but then someone said the doctor needed to get the cord free of the baby’s neck, so I did everything I could (which wasn’t much since nature was in control) to stop pushing. And then my first baby, a daughter, was born, at 8:11 p.m.

In the end it wasn’t anything like what I had prepared for and nothing like what I had read in the books. It was a birth none of us would forget. According to the nurse, I dilated from zero to ten in a span of fifteen minutes, something she had never known was possible. From start to finish my labor and delivery lasted less than six hours. We were the talk of everyone in the hospital, including other mothers who hadn’t been so fortunate and who had endured several hours of labor. My doctor arrived about a half hour or so after the baby was born and examined us both, declaring my baby perfect. He had had no idea my labor would go that fast and he told me then that if I had any more children I should expect the labors to be quick. Little did he know…

Later that evening my husband left to go celebrate and spread the good news, so it was just my precious daughter and me. She was wide awake, studying me as I held her, so I began a conversation. I told her of our home and her dad and a little about me. I promised her I would do my best to give her what she needed. And I talked about my hopes and dreams for her, and why I wanted to bring her into this world. I remember the moment clearly. And I get to cherish that memory forever.

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Number Four

September 12, 1993. I was the mother to three children (the oldest was one week shy of eight years old), with another baby expected any day. All girls. My husband worked the overnight shift, which caused the majority of parenting responsibilities to fall on me. A normal day saw him getting home from work about five in the morning, so he slept until about one in the afternoon. By then my day was half over and the younger kids were down for naps. Supper was always at six, and my husband headed back to work at seven-thirty. By that time each day I was exhausted. I’d put the kids to bed and go to bed myself. This day had been like all the others before it.

Asleep in my bed, something wakes me up about one-thirty in the morning. I roll over and watch my cat pacing back and forth across the foot of my bed. This is odd. Still getting the sleep out of my brain, I start to ask myself why the cat is doing that and before I can finish the thought I have the answer. I’m in labor. Except I have no pains. There are no signs of imminent birth. I’m just fine. But Millie Cat and I have a history. I know her and she knows me. If she says I’m in labor, I’m not going to stick around to argue the point.

With my husband at work, I pick up the phone and call my sister who lives five minutes away. She asks me how far apart my contractions are. I tell her I don’t have any yet, but to just trust me. (She hates cats and I wasn’t going to tell her the cat is telling me to go to the hospital.) I get out of bed and get dressed, choosing clothes carefully since I know I’ll be taking them off in a bit. About ten minutes later I’m at the front door with my bag, waiting for my sister to arrive. My first contraction hits. It’s not awful, but it has strength and endurance. Silently it’s telling me our time is limited.

My sister’s husband pulls the car up the small hill in our front yard and parks it right outside our front door. My sister’s teenage son comes in the house (he’s the sitter for my three sleeping children), wishes me luck, and I head out. My sister grabs my bag and her husband helps me into the back seat of the car. Immediately I lay down on my left side.

And we’re off. On a normal night it’s a twenty-minute drive to the hospital. My sister asks about my contractions. I tell her they’re regular and strong. She completely understands the silence between my words and knows we cannot waste any time. Laying down, I have no idea what the night is like. So I’m frustrated and unnerved when my sister tells me we’re going to make a stop at the fire hall. Her husband is a volunteer firefighter and he wants to have a radio in the car with us. I don’t understand and want to argue but a contraction slams me into silence. My sister hears my groan, and tells me it’s a super foggy night and we need the radio. I won’t argue.

The stop at the fire hall lasts only a minute or so, but I can hear the ticking of my belly bomb and anxiety sets in. Another contraction slams hard and I’m afraid we aren’t going to make it in time. With my brother-in-law back in the car, we take off again, but at a slower speed than I want. My brain is in full labor fog now and my sister explains the intensity of the fog in the air. I want to shout out to hurry, go faster, but instead I take control of my breathing as another contraction slams me. I barely catch my breath and another one comes.

I hear my brother-in-law call on the radio, informing the sheriff’s department of who he’s bringing to the hospital. It’s a small community. This isn’t my first rodeo and they all know me by name. Police on night patrol position their cars at intersections so that we have clear passage when we come through. Still laying down, I have no sense of where we are and how much longer we’re going to be. I grow impatient with worry that we won’t make it in time. My sister reads my mind, and tells me it’s really hard to tell where we are because of the dense fog. I know the route we’re driving and I tell myself I cannot allow myself any fear about the wildlife that shares the road in the night. We reach a place where there is a farm house and barn right next to the road with a strong flood light. My sister has her bearings now and she tells me where we are. I can picture it in my mind’s eye and my worry becomes real. Contractions are less than two minutes apart now and we have another eight minutes or more to get to the hospital.

I force myself to get into my zone and I focus solely on my breathing. My sister tries to talk to me but I do not answer. I cannot. As we approach the city, more landmarks expose themselves amidst the fog and my sister offers encouragement. The police radio squawks updates of our progress on our journey as different officers report our passing by. My sister tells me the hospital has a gurney in the emergency bay waiting for us. Laying on the seat I begin to see city lights and I get my bearings. We are so close. I can do this!

Our car squeals to a stop in the emergency room bay and both doors to the back seat are thrown open. Good fortune in that very moment puts me between contractions, so I pour myself out of the car and climb aboard the waiting gurney, with no time to spare as another contraction slams into me. A nurse at my head and another at my feet start running, pushing the gurney at break-neck speed through the hospital corridors, and I hang on as best I can as we maneuver around corners, all while working through an intense contraction. The gurney comes to a stop outside the birthing room, and again good fortune gives my belly a pause.

I jump off the gurney and peel off my clothes, uncaring about any witnesses. I climb aboard the birthing bed completely aware that another contraction is coming and I’m not disappointed. A nurse I’ve never met stands at the foot of the bed, patiently waiting for the contraction to end. When it does she tells me that she needs to check me before I can push. Not a chance, I tell her. The contractions have just changed and now nature is taking over and there is no holding back. She begins to argue with me just as a pushing contraction takes hold. I focus on my breathing, trying desperately not to push, and I hear my doctor come in the room. He tells the nurse that there’s no need to check me. If I say I’m ready to push, I’m ready. Relief floods my mind and body. One push and the baby is born. The record shows she came into the world five minutes after our car pulled into the emergency entrance bay, forty minutes after Millie Cat woke me, on Monday, September 13, 1993, at 2:10 in the morning.

My fourth daughter. Healthy. Beautiful. Precious. Still is, twenty-four years later.

Inner Voice

Call it intuition, or conscience, or knowing, or being in touch with the Universe. The fact is, many people hear an inner voice. Of those who do, some consider it a gift while others call it a curse. For some people the voice is loud and can’t be turned off. Others struggle to hear it because it is so quiet.

I’ve been aware of my inner voice for as long as I can remember. At times it’s been loud but mostly it’s been quiet and subtle. I have to strain sometimes to hear it and even then I don’t always interpret the message accurately. When I was younger the voice scared me. No one in my life ever talked about having an inner voice and I was afraid to say anything about mine out of fear that it would confirm my worst fear—that I was crazy. Over time I learned to trust my inner voice, understanding it was trying to guide me. I also discovered that I cannot will it to speak. On my darkest days I would call upon it to tell me what to do but the voice would be silent. It only spoke when it wanted to speak. I guess that’s the curse of my inner voice.

At times I’ve found it quite a struggle to interpret my inner voice’s message. Some messages made no sense at all so I would ask for more details only to be met with silence. Some messages were very clear but completely illogical and not anything I would ever consider acting upon. Once in a while I’d hit the jackpot and get a clearly communicated message that gave me the guidance I needed so that I could take action and find myself in a better place. Those moments are affirmation that I need to continue to listen and trust. And there have been enough of them to prove my inner voice is not just a coincidence and not a whimsy message being tugged through my brain like an ad being pulled through the air by a small plane. And so there’s the rub. My inner voice has been proven. It’s not one hundred percent accurate—or perhaps it’s more correct to say my interpretations are not always accurate—but it’s been correct enough times that it cannot be discarded nor ignored. So I’ve learned to hear and interpret the message to the best of my ability and take appropriate action.

For the last several weeks my inner voice has repeatedly told me I need to clean house, as in declutter and get rid of all the extra stuff sitting around. We have a big house and there’s a lot of extra stuff. It embarrasses me tremendously to admit it, but there are about one hundred boxes in our basement that haven’t been touched since the day we moved in ten years ago. Many of them are files from my husband’s career, correspondence and other papers, some of which have value. The only one who can really determine the valuable papers from those that need to go in the trash is my husband, and unfortunately he’s not too thrilled with my Decluttering Project. Other boxes contain a lot of knick-knacks and household goods that were extras and duplicates from having blended two households. These are easy for me to go through, but it still takes time. And I know some of these items are things my daughters will want. So I’m being careful to go through everything with them in mind. It’s a big project and it’s going to take a while. But I’ve started it, and I’ll keep working at it. The message was loud and clear: Just do it!

Needless to say there is a humungous mess in my basement that can’t be hidden from my family and some of them have been asking me questions. One of my daughters understands the concept of an inner voice and I believe she hears one as well. So it was easy to explain to her that I’m doing it because my inner voice told me to. She doesn’t question that. But my other daughters and my husband don’t believe in inner voices and they have become alarmed and want to know the Why. And that’s a problem because I don’t know why, other than I am feeling a very strong “demand” that I do this now and to get it done quickly. I have speculated about the Why and a couple of possible answers scare me (and my husband as well) so I’m going to ignore them. Instead I’ve done my best to placate my family by explaining this is long overdue and I’m tired of tripping over boxes. While that reasoning isn’t necessarily a lie, I know I don’t believe it so why should they. And they don’t. So I’ve taken another approach, and that’s answering a question with an even more important question.

Why does any household need eight extra sets of sheets, three wine decanter sets, five different sets of wine glasses (along with an assortment of matching sets of twos and threes), two punch bowl sets, eighteen flower vases, three dozen mismatched coffee mugs, thirteen kitchen aprons, and two room-sized rugs unrolled for ten years?

It’s the last item that gets them distracted and they forget about the Why. “You’ve been hiding not one but two room-sized rugs? What do they look like? How big are they? Can I have one?”

Kate Needs (and gets) a Miracle

I started writing this blog and had gotten part way through writing exactly why my daughter Kate needed a miracle, when Kate called to tell me she got it! If it was so easy to get, it couldn’t have been a miracle, right? Wrong. It was a miracle because it wasn’t so easy to get.

Over the course of the last month or so, Kate has been opening up to me about the degree of stress she’s been dealing with for the last several months—no, make that years. I’ve been waiting a long time for her to initiate this discussion, so I’m glad she finally did. But at the same time, the fact that she’s finally talking underscores how desperate she has become to find a solution for each of the many problems she is dealing with.

The most pressing problem she is facing is the physical and mental health of her husband, John. Ever since John was about nine years old, he’s had major problems with his knees. He’s had several surgeries and each has brought him some relief from intense pain but only for a few months. Nearly all of his life he’s suffered extreme pain and has just learned to accept it. Oh, and take several doses of ibuprofen each day, which has now rotted his stomach. Essentially John needs to have his knee joints replaced. But he is only thirty years old and doctors and insurance companies don’t like to replace knee joints in someone so young.

About eighteen months ago, John was in so much pain that he couldn’t even walk. After several appointments with a specialist, John ended up back on the operating table. The doctor couldn’t see anything in an MRI and had no idea what he would find. Turns out, John’s ACL was nonexistent. It was completely gone. No idea where it went. So they stopped the surgery and made plans to build a new ACL from John’s hamstring. So a couple of months later, another surgery and an extremely painful and long recovery. Almost eight months later and he’s still not better. The specialist cannot explain why there continues to be so much pain, and John was handed a bottle of Percocet and told to deal with it. John’s been “dealing” with it far longer than anyone should have to and he’s become hopeless about the situation to the point that Kate and John’s family are concerned about his safety.

A little more than a month ago Kate called me to tell me they had put their house up for sale. It’s a small house, split level, sitting on about five acres about 15 minutes from the nearest small town. It only has two bedrooms but it’s a nice house and, being out in the middle of nowhere, there are no comparable properties. So it makes it difficult to sell. Kate told me that John had reached such a low point with despair that she didn’t feel they had any choice. They must sell the house and get into a smaller house with less upkeep and no stairs. Already at 30 John needs single-level living. I was surprised that there were houses without steps located in the middle of nowhere. They found one and put in an offer but lost out to a higher bidder. They found another and again lost out to a higher bidder. The third time was the charm and their offer was accepted. But their purchase agreement was contingent upon selling their current house. And that was the challenge. The seller was willing to hold their offer for about three weeks. We all started praying for a miracle.

Kate and John were lucky in that they had several showings for their house, but no one put in an offer. It was frustrating since so many houses were being sold just days after listing. Their house sat. And sat. And with each passing day, John grew more depressed and Kate grew more frustrated. About a week ago, John’s siblings and parents did a little intervention because they were scared John was so depressed he would be harmful to himself. It was all too much for Kate. So while John’s family was trying to counsel him, I was trying to support Kate and keep her thinking positively.

Two days ago Kate was in tears. She loves John and cannot stand to see him suffer. She feels the “world” is against her because all she wants to do is save her husband and her family and have a simple life. I want that for her too, but I am not in a financial position to help them. I felt helpless and incompetent as a parent. All I could do was continue to pray. Yesterday morning Kate called to say one of her students had killed himself and their school was in mourning. It was the last straw for Kate and I could hear her emotions shutting down as we talked. She was tucking away her feelings under lock and key, putting herself into survival mode. She too was without hope that they would sell their house, even though there was one more showing scheduled for the inconvenient supper hour. It was a long day at school dealing with the tragedy and the last thing Kate and John felt like doing was taking their kids out to dinner.

I wasn’t with them, so I can’t speak to the mood. I can guess both parents were short on patience. If they talked, it would have been in short, clipped sentences. I can imagine both young kids had lots of energy and didn’t want to sit still and only ate half of their meal. The showing time had ended so they returned home and began their nightly ritual.

It was about that time that I found myself sitting at my computer, trying to deal with my own feelings of helplessness. I needed to write about it, to reassure myself that it isn’t my job to financially support my adult daughter and so I don’t need to take on any guilt or shame because I can’t. I needed to process my thoughts and start thinking about how to support Kate in the next steps, whatever those steps would be.

As I began to draft the story of Kate’s need for a miracle, she called. The couple who had scheduled the showing during the supper hour had put in an offer. It wasn’t the full amount that Kate and John wanted, but it was doable. Kate was ecstatic! As the parent, it was so good to hear emotion in Kate’s voice. I got off the phone and immediately said prayers of thanks.

An offer is just that, so the days ahead will be critical. I will continue to pray that all the paperwork gets filed in a timely manner and that everything goes smoothly. Kate sees this as the only way to save her husband’s life. I see the miracle of restoring hope and preserving a family.

When the Pastor Dies

About a week ago the calls and Facebook messages went out: Pastor Andy had died. It was a shock to everyone and yet, it should not have been a surprise. Andy was only 64 but he didn’t watch what he ate, didn’t exercise, and had been dealing with a few health issues for several years. His face often turned beet red during his sermons or when he enthusiastically sang a hymn. He made light of his weight often and admitted frequently that his doctor (and his wife) wanted him to slow down. Yet, he was driven in a way few of us completely understood. I wonder now if he knew he had to make the most of every minute because there weren’t enough minutes left.

I first met Pastor Andy in the mid-1990s. Our church membership had grown and the load was too much for our pastor, so Andy was brought in to help out mostly with the youth. I like my religion on the traditional side and Pastor Andy was anything but ordinary. Life was not black and white to him. It was every color of the rainbow, and he loved it all. He was exuberant no matter the task, always on the go like an Energizer bunny, and always singing, laughing, or telling a joke. Andy was always trying to make a buck, always trying to sell something, always full of more ideas than any of us could keep up with. He thought outside the box many times a day, so it’s not incorrect to say he “flew by the seat of his pants.” And it was all too unconventional for me.

My oldest daughter was around 10 or so when Pastor Andy joined our church. He was too much for her, even though I tried hard not to let my bias show. My second daughter understood Pastor Andy’s humor and she admired his can-do and nonconformist attitude. My other two daughters never really “took” to Andy, but they didn’t dislike him either. Rather, they were indifferent about him. And yet, when I broke the news to my daughters that Pastor Andy had died, each one’s response was the same. “How sad.”

All those years ago, Pastor Andy hadn’t been at the church very long when he did something that stirred my anger. In fact, it was the only time I’ve ever formally complained to the church. It was Easter Sunday and Pastor Andy was giving the sermon. My four young children were listening as Pastor Andy read a children’s book about Easter and when he got to the end of the story he loudly and firmly declared there was no Easter Bunny! I was stunned. I didn’t feel it was his place to break that particular news to my children. I looked around the church to see if other parents were upset, but it didn’t look like it. To this day, I have no idea if I was the only one who complained but I suspect I probably was. It was a moment I never forgot, and it created a wall between Pastor Andy and I. Over the years we grew to respect each other, but there was never a lot of love between us.

As time went on, bits and pieces of Andy’s childhood made their way into his sermons and I came to understand more about the boy who grew to be a man who became a pastor. His childhood wasn’t easy. And he carried an enormous amount of emotional baggage every single day of his life. He spent his lifetime trying to do good, to make everyone around him happy. He always had a smile on the outside, but I suspect many times he was crying on the inside.

On that fateful day last week, Andy was struck down by a massive heart attack. He never regained consciousness, but he lived a couple more days, just long enough for his family to all gather at his side and for the congregation to deal with the shock of his loss.

It is absolutely striking to read the tributes posted to honor him on Facebook. This man, despite his emotional scars and unorthodox ways, touched hundreds, if not thousands, of people. He didn’t just walk in their lives as their pastor, he was involved in their daily struggles, often knocking on the front door unannounced at the moment when these people needed him the most. He brought groceries to young families in need. He gave rides to senior citizens who couldn’t find a way to see the doctor. He helped parents mend relationships with teenagers. He counseled couples struggling with their marriage. He was anywhere and everywhere all at the same time. And all those things he was selling to make a buck, were merely a means to money to give to others or help others in myriad ways.

Despite all the demands on his time, he still made time for his wife and four children and several grandchildren. His devotion to his wife could be the gold standard for all men to follow. His two sons were so influenced by him that they too became ministers. The greatest gift his family gave was in sharing Pastor Andy with the world.

Indeed, Pastor Andy lived life to the fullest. And over the last few days as I’ve read the stories others have shared, I’ve discovered I really didn’t know this man at all. While I preferred traditional religion and planning events ahead of time, Pastor Andy, flying by the seat of his pants, had untold determination and something much more powerful. Faith. He never doubted that God would be there for him, providing whatever was needed in any given moment for any of the countless members of his flock. And he also had not one tiny iota of doubt about whether he would be welcomed in heaven. Andy knew God would be waiting with open arms. And remarkably all members of the congregation, despite the enormous void that has just opened in their lives, are celebrating this man’s passing into eternal life. The only point for discussion they have is what song Pastor Andy was singing as he passed through the pearly gates.

I am blessed for having known Pastor Andy. It is my loss that I didn’t understand him and instead placed a wall between us. Even in death, he is still teaching.

“The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

My Billboard from God

About six months ago, I was given a gift from God—a new job. It had taken more than a year to land it but when I did, I knew without a doubt it was God’s will. Prior to getting the job offer, I had had many hundreds of conversations with God, asking him to help get me out of the miserable job I was in. I told God regularly that I was “blind and cannot see” and that I would need signs the size of a billboard to know which job was the one he intended for me. The sign he sent then was in the form of a cardinal. Even so, I saw it and understood this was the job I was supposed to take. Only one other time in my life have I felt God’s will so completely.

Now that I am at the end of this particular day, I can look back to this morning and understand that the first test of whether I have accepted God’s will about this new job came when Krissy—who’s been in her job about a month—came over to my desk to complain about how the rest of the team decided to work at home today and why can’t she work at home that often and how come there isn’t any work and why does she feel like our team is about to implode? I’ve had those same thoughts occasionally over the last six months but I’ve never voiced them at work. To Krissy I suggested that we have to earn the privilege of working from home and (even though I too feel our small team is about to go down the drain) I tried to offer reassurance that everything will be okay. With each passing day I believe that less and less, but I felt Krissy needed solace not angst. A few minutes later Krissy was satisfied from venting and she went back to her desk.

An hour later we had a conference call meeting with about half our team, each calling in from their off-site locations. In that call, Ethan, our boss, asked me to take on some work and to divide it with Krissy. I’m a wordsmith and Krissy knows numbers. It was clear to me how to divide the work, but I wasn’t sure if Krissy would know all of the tasks she would have to do since she’s so new on the job.  So while we were all still on the call I asked Krissy if she understood what Ethan was asking us to do. She mumbled something about not being able to hear, so Ethan briefly highlighted the process steps that Krissy would have to follow to complete the numbers work. He asked if she had any questions and she said, “No, I got it.” But just as soon as the call was done, Krissy was back at my desk. “I don’t know what Ethan is asking me to do.” I bit my tongue and then tried my best to explain what Krissy would need to do. She went back to her desk and I started playing with words to complete my part of the assigned work.

Right after lunch our team once again gathered on a conference call for our weekly team meeting. Ethan discussed several things and then with great pomp announced that Krissy and Kayla were being awarded for outstanding work on a project they completed a couple of weeks ago. I was stunned. Krissy has been on the job one month and she’s had one project and she’s getting an award for it? And Kayla despises Ethan, regularly berates him in meetings, and tells anyone who will listen that he is a horrible manager. In fact, she’s had five interviews in the last ten days for other jobs. At that moment, a pity pot opened up and I fell in. A few moments later that conference call ended and I just sat at my desk and stared at nothing. A multitude of thoughts raced through my head and not a single one could be labeled pretty. And while I sat stewing, Krissy once again appeared at my desk. This was the second test of my acceptance of God’s will.

I congratulated Krissy on her award and she smiled from ear to ear. “I’m just one lucky girl, I guess!” Must be luck because it sure isn’t skills, I thought. I asked Krissy if she had completed her tasks for the project that had been assigned to us earlier in the day. She confidently told me she had completed her quality check and there were no errors. What she didn’t know is that I had finished my part of the work before lunch and having no other work, decided to take a stab at Krissy’s half of the work myself. And in the process, I found several errors in the data. Just to be sure, I explained to Krissy that in the course of doing my work I noticed a couple of errors in the numbers. She was caught off guard, then agreed that indeed there were some errors. She said she’d take another look at the material, but that right then she had another conference call she had to join.

As she walked away, I remembered the pity pot I had fallen into and instantly I was full of anger. Actually, I was somewhat surprised that I could be so angry so fast about something so silly. And that’s when I understood the events of the day had hit a core hurt of mine—not being acknowledged or appreciated. As I type this now I feel so silly. But the truth is this is an enormous core hurt that I’ve fought my entire life. Blame it on the fact that I’m the youngest child of eight kids or that I was sexually abused at the age of twelve and an orphan by the time I was sixteen. I could list fifty other reasons to justify this core hurt. It’s real. I know it. And I deal with it. And in that moment, as I sat stewing at my desk, I knew the day wasn’t going to get any better. Quitting time for me was still a half hour away. The rest of the team was on a conference call and would be for another ninety minutes. I bolted.

In the time it took me to ride the express elevator down from the fifteenth floor, I had an entire day-long argument transpire in my head. I was so angry at myself for being jealous that Krissy and Kayla had been rewarded for their efforts. I was mortified that I had the gall to question God’s will whether this really was the right job for me. And I despised myself for falling into the pity pot. When I reached the lobby, I was an emotional mess. All I could think about was going home and soaking in a hot bath. I walked to the bus stop and leaned against the building and waited, still berating myself. I looked down the street, hoping the next bus would be in my sights. It wasn’t. Instead, I saw God’s billboard.

In the horrible job that I left six months ago, I worked with Liz, who is the sister of the company’s owner. Liz understood the struggles I had with my then-boss, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. Her brother owned the company and he was going to make all the decisions. A few months before I left the company, Liz suddenly quit. She went on vacation and never came back. She even sent her daughter in to collect her personal items. For a time we all thought perhaps Liz had taken ill, but over time we learned she had just had enough. Clearly I could relate. I was just as desperate to get out of that awful situation.

So the third test of my acceptance of God’s will came as I stood leaning up against the building at the bus stop and watched as Liz came walking down the sidewalk. At first she didn’t see me but as she came closer, the emotional war I had been battling was instantly gone for I knew Liz represented God’s Billboard. Clearly she was the visual reminder that I needed in that moment to remind me of all the bad stuff I had left behind in my previous job and all the good things that had entered my life since taking my new job. By the time Liz threw her arms around me in a hug, the scowl on my face had turned into a smile. Truly, God works in mysterious ways.

The Mercy Year

Libraries sometimes have a special offer when you can return overdue books, no matter how long they’ve been out, free of charge. It’s a forgiveness that I’ve never been able to take part in because I always return my library books. Maybe they’ve been late once in a while, but I always pay the fine. Life is good.

Lately I’ve been contemplating whether the Catholic Church, in this Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has proclaimed, would be willing to make a similar deal. No matter how long it’s been since my last confession and no matter how many sins I’ve committed, would a priest be willing to sit down and hear my story and help me find a clean slate?

I have no way of knowing for certain, but I’m guessing my last confession took place more than forty-five years ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge. I was a naïve eleven year old, somewhat spoiled, mostly sheltered from all the bad things in life. The worst sin I committed was likely calling my brother a name or not getting home on time for supper.

Then along came an overheard conversation about how my mom had cancer and I had to look up the word in a dictionary to find out what was going on. Even in her last days when she was in a coma my family could not be honest with me and tell me she was going to die. They wouldn’t let me see her to say good-bye. Two years later cancer took my father too. By that time I was an angry adolescent strung out on love deprivation.

How I managed to maneuver high school and college (miracles on their own) by not ending up in jail or rehab or pregnant is beyond my comprehension. Truly, I credit divine intervention. I didn’t have one guardian angel; I had a whole team. God knows, I tried my best to mess up my life and my future. But somehow I always seemed to end up okay. Maybe a few battle scars but generally unscathed.

Still, sins were committed. And I’ve reached a point in my life where I am not proud of those things and I feel the need to tell my story. I don’t want to sit in a confessional booth and go through the list, one at a time. I want a face-to-face conversation, a telling of my story, a purging of all the bad intermingled with the good things I’ve done. I want to tell my story, good and bad, and in the end find a reasonable penance.

Some might argue I’ve paid penance already in my life and yes, I agree I have. Some anyway. People might say that because I am consciously choosing to admit my sins and through confession I seek forgiveness, it shall be granted. I agree with that as well. But to me it’s not the act of confessing, it’s the complete story that I need to unleash. Why it has become so heavy to carry at this point in my life is not an answer I have. I only know it is so. I’d rather do the lion’s share of my penance while I still have time on Earth.

I know if I look hard enough I’ll likely find a priest willing to sit with me, one-on-one, and hear my story. I would hope that he would listen to everything and help me come up with a meaningful plan of action that doesn’t feel trite or insignificant, like Fr. Schultz’s “Say one Our Father and Three Hail Marys and help your mother with the dishes the rest of the week.”

I am not afraid of penance. I am not afraid of priests. But I have been away from the church for far too long, and I have not and still do not agree with some of the decisions made by church leaders. I am saddened by the bad things that have happened. I am frustrated with the greed and annoyed by the attitudes of some church leaders. Forgive me Father for I have sinned, but the church has sinned as well. I want a conversation that encompasses all of that, and more.

Pope Francis smiles and hugs and reaches out. He communicates without words. He makes the Church look so accessible. I seek a cleansing, a purging, some pain, healing, forgiveness and mercy. Is the Church capable?