Expanding One’s Horizons

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I have been mulling over horizons, the past few days.  Specifically, I’ve been thinking about our three dogs, Paco, Shelly and BB, and how they’ve each been dealing with their own newly expanded horizons.

Their former backyard was pretty much totally fenced, as you can see in this picture:  20170630_112218There was a world beyond it the dogs could not imagine.  Anything that made noise beyond the fence was an immediate cause for barking.  Though the garbage truck was always their biggest nemesis, our neighbor’s cat was a close second.  The cat would slowly prowl along the fence, entertaining himself with their perpetual barking.

Moving to our new place must have been rather dog-mind blowing.  Our yard is fenced, but it doesn’t impede their vision.  There is a massive lawn behind us, with dwellings of various sorts built much of the way around it.  And there’s lots of birds and rabbits for the three dogs to keep track of!

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Of course, by now the dogs have gotten used to things.  They’ve gotten used to their new space and the smells and bells of things.  In a sense, you might say their minds have grown, as they’ve adjusted to all that space.  I guess they’ve come to realize that everything’s big in Texas!

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How often it seems that we are limited by our own understandings.  There is comfort, I suppose, in knowing one’s horizons.  But horizons were never meant to confine us, and they are always changing.  Indeed, the events happening in our country, and in the world are constantly redefining our horizons.  There was a time when one could hunker down, and ignore the world around us.  But like our dogs, unexpected changes in our lives clamor for our attention.  Even so, there are both risks and rewards, in expanding one’s horizons.

Like most things in life, dementia can limit one’s horizons.  Indeed, there are things I can no longer do, that I’ve had to say goodbye to.  But the dementia has also resulted in my  expanding my horizons, in new and different ways.  My ministry has changed, not ended; to understand the gifts that dementia brings.  Gifts like grace, and the knowledge that despite our differences, we still have the power and ability to grow in our relationship with God.  No disease has the power to change this, even though on the surface, one’s horizon may seem limited.Snoopy

As I watch our dogs happily cavorting in their new yard (minus the thistles, I might add!), and growing into their new surroundings, I pray that God will continue to widen your own horizons.  Like pioneers of yesteryear, we must seek the far horizons.  It may not always be an easy thing, as you seek the living water.  But when your travels  end, you’ll look back and see the marks of progress on your journey.  I wish you well, and may God bless you with new insights on the paths that you have chosen.

Blessings,

Fr Dave

Wedding Thoughts From Wisconsin

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This past Friday, I had the honor of escorting my lovely daughter Chana down the aisle, and presenting her to wonderful husband, Michael.  Though we’d been joking a bit, as we started walking, I look a wee bit serious in this shot a bit farther up the aisle!  I’m sure you dads out there can understand the feeling.  It isn’t everyday a guy gives away his daughter–not to mention gaining an awesome son-in-law!

Both the wedding and reception were held at the Capital City Brewery, in Middleton, Wisconsin.  It was a gorgeous day, autumn in Wisconsin at its best.  We had a great time visiting with both families and friends.  Of course, I had to spend some special time with Will and Ari, our awesome grandkids.  Will and I got to share a guy thing; a freight train went right by the Brewery picnic area, and it was really loud! But it didn’t faze either one of us, though my muscles ached a bit from holding on to Will!

On Saturday morning, we went to Chana’s mom’s house (Colleen) to watch Mike and Chana open their wedding gifts. FB_IMG_1507068332023 (3)

Well, that’s not totally accurate….the Wisconsin Badgers were on the tube, playing those pesky Northwestern Huskies.  We guys may have looked at the gifts during the commercials.  It’s tough to compete with football in Wisconsin on Saturdays and Sundays.  Even the hotel Cookie and I stayed at was filled with bright red Badger jerseys!  But Colleen and her crew fed us well, despite our inattention.  A big thanks to Colleen and her crew, for such great hospitality!

After the party ended, Cookie and I decided to visit the City of Madison’s Olbrich Botanical Gardens.  It was the place where Cookie and I were married twenty-five years ago.  As always, the Gardens are a perennial favorite wedding site; we encountered a couple of wedding parties there doing pictures.  We laughed a bit, remembering my Dad taking photos at our wedding.  He had a penchant for posing pictures under large trees no longer living!  With good memories we walked into the park and looked for the beautiful spacious Rose Garden of our memories, that place we said our vows.

There was a problem though; we couldn’t find it.  It had been big enough, that it would have been hard to miss it.  We walked into the Park Building and found one of the employees.  We told her we’d been married there a quarter century ago, but the Rose Garden had vanished into thin air.

The employee was about my daughter Chana’s age, and had worked there several years.  She said, “You know, several people here have told me there used to be a Rose Garden here.  But they evidently removed it, to create a more attractive wedding venue.”

I took this news in a couple different ways.  First, I was glad my not finding the Rose Garden wasn’t a result of my Dementia!  Because, if it was, it meant Cookie had also come down with it, and that would mean it is contagious!  One person in the family having dementia is sooo much more than adequate.

On the other hand, I was glad that my memories of the Rose Garden are a relatively long-term memory.  Dementia attacks those older memories last of all; that means I will have the lovely images of our wedding there with me, as Cookie and I continue to grow older.  And, it also occurred to me that sometimes, I need to take the time to stop and count my blessings.  I hope y’all will do the same, for I must confess, I count you all as blessings.

God’s peace,

Fr. Dave

 

The Resilience of Weeds

After several weeks of no energy, thanks to Mr. H Pylori, the antibiotics I’m taking finally seem to be working.  I’m actually feeling somewhat human again!  I’m looking forward to seeing some other humans besides my most excellent nurse, Cookie!  I’ve been keeping a low profile for the past several weeks, since H Pylori is considered to be so highly contagious.  After all I went through the last couple of weeks, I didn’t want anyone else catching the bug; they might come looking for paybackye might  and come looking for some payback!

Since I’m feeling better, the last few days I’ve been doing some weeding.  Our backyard is host to a variety of weeds, most of which I usually ignore.  But there is one weed that is both prolific and nasty, and it has quickly spread all over our yard.  There’s very few things I dislike about West Texas, but this particular weed is at the top of my list.  I don’t know what the botanists call it, but I have a name for it; let’s just say its unprintable, and leave it at that.

A few weeks ago, we noticed there were miniature landmines appearing on the carpet.  They were burrs, brought in by characters like this:

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After incurring several burrs in our feet,  we quickly learned that walking barefoot on the carpet was no longer an option.  It was time to declare war!

Like all wars, the costs have been high.  There’s been many casualties incurred on both sides.  My hands have been pierced so many times, they feel just like pin cushions.  But the battle continues, and I’m happy to say that I’m making some progress.  Or at least I was until the heavy rainfall moved in.  I had regained large swaths of the lawn from the prickly invaders, and had greatly reduced the burrs coming into our house.  But the heavy rain has given new life to the wily invaders, and I’m beginning to think the momentum of the battle has turned.

Looking at things from the view of the weeds, I suppose they think that we’re the invaders.  After all, they were here long before we arrived.  And, you can’t fault them for being defensive; they’re just being a weed.  They have long memories of humans bent on their total eradication, though none of those attempts have been even remotely successful.  Simply put, they have us totally outnumbered.  Even Jesus told his disciples not to mess with the rascals, because the wheat would just go go down with the weeds.

So, what are we do do when weeds enter into our life?  Well, whatever we choose to do, it probably won’t matter.  The weeds will be here until the sun goes nova and scorches the earth.  And, I’m willing to bet you that some weeds will survive.  They’ll be the ones that regenerate the earth,  so that they can annoy a whole new species of farmers.  They can’t help themselves, their weedy DNA is just programmed that way

Weeds: We can cut them, pull them, freeze them, burn them, and douse them with the nastiest poisons known to humans.  And all the weeds have to say to us is: “Is that all that you got?”  Not to mention, in doing so, we’re poisoning ourselves.  Jesus was right on when he told his disciples not to mess with the weeds.  Jesus knew that with that kind of resilience, they’d be around for a while.  Perhaps you might think about it this way:            Instead of “Weed-be Gone”, it’ll be “We-be Gone”.  Don’t know about y’all, but I’m putting my money down on the weeds.

Blessings,

Fr Dave

Winter in Paradise

Dementia is a very strange animal, when it comes to memory.  I can forget what Cookie says to me in a matter of minutes, but I can remember old memories as clear as a bell. I was thinking about this as I had my coffee on the patio this morning, surrounded by dogs.  I was musing about my first year of college at Lake Superior State College in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  The year was 1969, and the world was my oyster.

I had finished high school with a grade point average that lacked much of a pulse.  I had already been turned down by a couple of colleges.  I bore them no resentment, I wouldn’t have admitted me either.  I searched on with some desperation, hoping for a school that I could get into.  And then I remembered Lake Superior State.  The school had been a branch campus of Michigan Tech, but in 1969 it finally achieved independence.  They were hungry for students, even slackers like me.  And to sweeten the pot, they had bargain basement tuition and board rates, as an added enticement.  I was familiar with the area, as my parents had some lakefront just an hour away.  I filled out the app and lo and behold, I was quickly accepted.

I experienced a number of firsts in my freshmen year.  I saw my first “Snowmobile 500”, while standing in two feet of snow.  I experienced the most frigid winter of my life, including an entire week where the temp never made it above 0.  Despite the glacial conditions, students there still strolled around campus, and many even made the hike into into town.  And, I attended my very first protest march; more on that later.

Lake Superior State had been built on the top of a very large hill, with a magnificent view. One could see all the across the St. Mary’s River, into Sault Ste Marie, Canada. There were many Canadian students there, and they all seemed to play hockey. Our dorm was the former Fort Brady, remodeled to accommodate members of the Womens’ Air Corp (WACS) in the 1930’s.  (See photos below).  Our dorm rooms were heated with ancient steam radiators, which could peel the paint right off the walls.  There was no need for air conditioning, opening the windows could easily induce frostbite.

It was there that I found myself in the fall of 1969, a young lad of 17.  I celebrated my 18th birthday in October, and registered for the draft in a funky old bring building in Sault Ste Marie.  I received my draft card with a student exemption, postponing my chances of going to war.  As Charlie Daniels wrote so eloquently, “a rich man goes to college and a poor man goes to work.”  My family wasn’t exactly rich, as Mr. Daniels might have described it; however we did have the means to afford college with a low interest student loan package.

The Fall of 1969 was filled with protest marches against the war in Vietnam.  There were rallies across the nation, including sleepy little places like Sault Ste Marie, Michigan.  I was curious about such things, and decided to participate.  We had a crowd of a hundred or so marchers, with the customary protest signs.  We had barely begun to march, when the first beer bottle was thrown into the crowd.  As we walked, the beer bottles continued to fly, as well as rocks, bricks and anything else the onlookers could find.    Several students were injured by the projectiles, some rather seriously.  Though not injured, I had a couple of near misses, with a bottle parting the hair on my head.  I still remember thinking to myself, that if there is this kind of reaction in little Sault Saint Marie, it was going to affect the whole country.

Looking back, the event was a watershed for me, in learning how to deal with crowds, anger and violence.  It eventually lead me to a career in policing where I worked a lot with various sorts of political demonstrations.  Our goal was to have the different sides engage in constructive discussion, but sometimes the anger and violence got in the way.  I learned the finer points of crowd psychology the hard way, watching what seemed a peaceful crowd suddenly turn violent.  There were almost always some folks in the crowds who excelled in the incitement of violence; we even had a guy plow his car through a block full of marchers.

Some of those things you never forget, even with the onset of Dementia.  Sometimes they even push their way into dreams.  I truly enjoyed my career as an officer, but some things are still really hard to forget.  There are triggers that awaken old memories.  But my memories are nothing, compared to our Vets.  Sadly, they don’t always get the treatment that’s needed.  It is unforgivable, after the sacrifices they’ve made for our country.

I  was flipping through the channels a few days ago, and happened on Ken Burns’ PBS Vietnam saga.  I wondered how many Vietnam Vets will actually watch it, having seen it first hand.  I will be praying for all of them, most especially those suffering with PTSD.  And I will be praying for all our veterans who have gone forth in battle.  Only they know fully the price of their sacrifice, and for just that, it’s the least I can do.  Whatever your politics, I hope you will join me and pray for them too.

Blessings,

Fr Dave

 

 

Learning From Life’s Lessons

On my better days, I consider all things that come into my life to be gifts from God.  I also believe God sends these gifts because there is something to be learned from them.  These gifts include Dementia and H Pylori.  Not that I asked for them, but they have come into my life and that means there are things to be learned from them.

In my last blog, I mentioned having to take my antibiotics for 28 days.  I have since learned that it is actually 28 doses, taken twice a day.  I am now on my fifth day, and thus far I’ve been spared the digestive woes that are a common side effect of the antibiotics.  Unfortunately, I have not been spared from the total exhaustion that H Pylori excels at.  I had thought my exhaustion was part of my Dementia, and some of it may be, but most of it is due to H Pylori.

I cannot fathom how people without access to antibiotics live with this disease.  It is debilitating, and left untreated, can cause nasty stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.  Perhaps a lesson to be learned is how fortunate I am to be in a place where such medicines are readily available.  Such is not the case in many third world countries, where H Pylori holds sway.  And so, the question needs to be asked over and over again; why not?

Perhaps it’s a matter of seeing.  If we build a wall, we can’t see those on the other that are suffering.  We can pretend they’re not there.  There all kinds of walls we use, so we can’t see them.  Walls of paper, of red tape and yes, paranoia.  Fear is sold through our media, just like a commodity.  Never mind that domestic violence, drug addiction and easy access to weapons do far more damage than those we call terrorists.  Compared to the cost of just those three factors, terrorism in the United States is hardly a blip.  And yet, the best we can come up with is building a wall?

Yes, there are lessons to be learned from all things that occur in one’s life.  And though I would have preferred not to have H Pylori, it has taught me things I wouldn’t otherwise have known.  Like the pain of saying goodbye to my good friend and mentor, Cecil Preas.

Cecil was the Senior Warden, when I was called to St. Nicholas Church in Midland.  In the Episcopal Church, the Senior Warden is the lay leader.  Cecil was a gentle man, with a wry sense of humor.  He mentored me, in my time at St. Nicholas, not to mention helping me adjust to the West Texas culture and climate.  He was a devoted Christian, generous and always willing to help.  With his lovely wife Cynthia, daughter Holly, and the rest of his family, he made West Texas a more compassionate place.

Perhaps the most important thing that Cecil taught me was that all things in life were meant to be lessons.  One could learn from both both one’s triumphs and mistakes.  Therein lies the gift of forgiveness, learning from both one’s achievements and mistakes. Cookie and I were blessed to come to know Cecil and his family.  And though H Pylori keep us from attending his funeral, Cecil, you will always be present with me in my heart.

Blessings,

Fr Dave

 

 

 

A Self Portrait of What My Body Feels Like…..

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Cookie and I said goodbye to the grandkids last Friday, and now, the silence is deafening.  Did I really have that much energy when I was a child?  I suppose my parents house was even louder, with five boys, and a collie to boot.  Our house was small, with three bedrooms that could fit in many modern day bathrooms.  My parents must have been saints.

Having Ari and Will with us put our unpacking on hold for two weeks.  I have been slowly taking care of things, one at a time.  This week’s project was to complete my retirement papers for  the Episcopal Church Pension Fund.  It was quite an adventure, doing so with dementia.  I’m quite sure it wasn’t the neatest application package they’ve ever received; they’re probably scratching their heads over it as I write this.  I even lost a few of the pages from the packet they sent, and had to have them send me some new ones!

To complicate matters, I’ve been dealing with a very low energy level.  Just taking a shower wears me out.  Just a few months ago I was working out three or four times a week, and doing an hour on a Exercycle.  The past month, about all I’ve been able to manage is to walk through the house.  This strikes me as odd, as the folks with dementia I’ve known have all loved to walk.

Last week I had a lot of stomach discomfort, similar to an episode I had this past June, while up in Michigan.  That resulted in two days in the hospital, but I’d been fine ever since.  This past week I’ve had a number of tests, trying to figure out what the problem is.  Turns out I have an H Pylori stomach infection which likely also caused my first episode in June.  This morning I started taking a couple antibiotics twice a day, along with Lanoprazole, all three a four week regime.  I had no idea what H Pylori was, but we’re quickly becoming better acquainted.

Since H Pylori is highly contagious, I’ve had to notify family and friends.  I have no idea how I got it, but I’ve got lots of company; 50% of people worldwide carry it in their stomachs.  The majority of people carry it without being symptomatic, but then there’s folks like me.  More meds to deal with, but hopefully it will remedy my current shortage of energy.

I’ve heard it said that my Dementia probably won’t kill me; the progression of the disease for most folks is long.  But it sure makes me feel like that house in the picture above, worn out, creaky, leaky and old.  I suppose you could think of me a handyman special, no warranty left, but still standing with my support beams intact.  As Jesus was fond of saying, “The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.”  May your own homes each be built on rock, because the storms will surely come.

Blessings,

Fr Dave

 

 

 

 

The Origins of No!

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We’re now in Week 2 of watching our grandkids, Ari (4) and Will (2).  Jen is still working in the FEMA command center in Denton, and still working twelve hour shifts.  Perhaps our first week could be summed  up by this conversation I had with Cookie a few days ago:  Cookie:  “I can’t figure out why Will is eating so much food!  He wasn’t eating that much at his parents’ house.”  Me:  “Well, he’s a big two year old, and he likes to eat.”   Cookie:  He keeps asking for more helpings…ohhhh wait…, he’s been feeding the three dogs under the table.”

Needless to say, we’re dusting off those old parenting brain cells, or at least Cookie is, since I’m the one with dementia.  This week, Will has ramped up his use of the word, “No!”  Believe it or not, he is trying to set limits on grandma and grandpa!  He and his sister are teenagers in training!

With a two year old, you don’t get selective responses.  Do you want to go outside? No!  Do you want to play inside? No!  I do believe we are witnessing the early development of that curious phenomena we call Americus Teensaynotous, i.e. the American Teenager!  Of course he lacks the refinement of the post puberty period, unable to discern yet when his heartfelt “no” will push the old parenting buttons; I have to admit, he’s kind of cute.

To be truthful, all of us carry the “No!” deep inside us.  We all know there’s things we shouldn’t be doing, eating, and drinking, etc, but to those rules we say “No!”  We all carry that teenager inside of us.  Hopefully, we learn to use him or her judiciously, but sometimes we don’t.  There’s a rebellious spirit that dwells in everyone of us.

In Christianity, we sometimes call it the fall, or eating the forbidden fruit, or whatever, but let’s just call it what it really is.  It’s telling God “No!”  And, not with the innocence of a two year old’s mimicking, but with the knowledge that what we’re doing is wrong.  You’ve been there, I’ve been there, and its because at various times in our lives, we think we know everything!

Thankfully, we have a God who understands the trials and tribulations of parenting.  To be an effective parent, one must have great patience.  One must be supple, to bend with the wind of one’s misdirection.  Jesus was so good at providing direction, and so gentle but firm,with those who really needed direction.  As the old saying goes, Jesus disliked sin, but he always loved the sinner.  It’s something we might reflect on, if it seemed to work so well for Jesus.