Monday, December 13, 2010

Catching Up Again

Wow, it has been a long time since I have posted something on this blog. Leaves were in bright color and the days were warm. As you can see from the picture of the farm house and surrounding grounds, it is now cold and snowy. The last few mornings have been 12 degrees at 7 am. When I went running the other day my legs were multi-layered:  silk long underwear, wool long underwear, fleece, and then a nylon shell. My top was similarly clad. I was able to run comfortably in 20 degrees with a ripping 20 mph wind.  I am glad to know I can run through the winter cold.

The last time I wrote was back at the end of October. As I was getting on one of our green horses, she reared up and bolted. The hard pommel of the western saddle cracked me under the chin. It snapped my head back and I tumbled off the rear of the horse. The hooves were frightfully near. The gravel road came up hard on my elbow and back. I was quite surprised and a little peeved by the whole thing. The horse roared around like an idiot for a while. When she settled down, I gathered her up. My dad always taught me that if you are thrown from a horse you need to get right back up. And I always have.

With the reins gathered in my left hand, I put my left foot in the stirrup. The mare stood quiet and calm. As I threw my right leg over her rump, she bolted again. I had no chance to hang on and was immediately in the air and then hard on the ground. At least this time I landed on the grass and did not hit my head. I was so mad! I was also confused. I did not know why the horse threw me. And I felt a little scared. Ok, more than a little. But I evaluated my body and felt shaken and banged, but otherwise intact. To be thrown twice was a real blow to my confidence as a rider. I later found out that I had the wrong type of bridle for that horse and that I had the wrong horse! The one that threw me had never been ridden.

The next day I was very sleepy and lethargic so we went to the ER. Unfortunately, it was six months to the day that dad died on the way to that same emergency room. As I walked into the ER I surreally remembered that awful day. I walked through the same hallway in which my mother in response to my desperate question, "Where is dad?", said quietly, "He is dead." I walked past the room where his corpse had laid on the gurney looking so unlike my living father.  I walked past the room where we gathered and cried and made telephone calls. How dreadful to be back in that same  place six months to the day.

They determined that I had a concussion. We left feeling emotionally battered by the memory of dad's death and I felt dazed and somewhat confused by the concussion. The days ahead were difficult. It was hard to think clearly. If I was in a conversation, a thought would come but then it was an effort to make my lips speak the words. It was scary. The thought came, "What if this continues?" But after two weeks I got much better to my and all our relief. And after three weeks I was completely well.

But the whole experience left me feeling very vulnerable. I was no match for that powerful young horse as she chose to toss me onto the ground. The shaking my brain took left me weak, dizzy, physically clumsy, and slow thinking. For two weeks I really could not do anything. I'd sleep or sit and read or watch tv.

During those weeks I thought a lot about my dad's death. I think because I was forced to be inactive I was forced to sit with my feelings.  I had a hard time for several weeks as the weight of my loss just seemed to hold me down. As though my bones were too heavy to move. I felt grief, but I could not cry. I wanted to feel the relief of tears, and yet none would come. Have any of you experienced that nature of mourning?

In spite of my training and experience, I found it very hard to give myself permission to feel affected by my father's death. Do you know what I mean? I would say harshly to myself, "Why are you so sad? People lose loved ones all the time and they get on fine." The ironic thing is that I would never say that to anyone else. I would encourage them to accept their feelings and feel what they feel. Debbie fought my unhealthy thinking. She would counter me saying loving things like, "It is your father that died. Of course you are sad. You have every right to be sad." She helped me to accept my pain filled feelings.

I read some books in those weeks of forced inactivity that were helpful in my grief. Two of the best were written by Philip Yancey. The first is "Where is God when it Hurts?", and the second is "Disappointed with God." They helped me to wrestle with my own pain and loss. I am finding that the whole grieving experience is much more confusing and painful than I had expected.

Kenneth Hauk, the founder of Stephen Ministries writes, "Be patient with yourself. Treat yourself as though you were in intensive care. It takes time to heal. Don't let anyone rush you and don't rush yourself. Give yourself time and let yourself grieve." How true his words are.

Our entire family was together in the farm house for Thanksgiving. It was wonderful and chaotic and healing and a little bit crazy as twenty people from all over the country lived together for three days. Debbie oversaw the meal planning and execution. She was a champ! My brother and I went turkey hunting in a heavy rain. We did not see a turkey, but we did witness the beauty of a big red coyote lope through the woods unaware of our presence.

Here is Debbie telling you how she has been:

Hi everybody! We miss you a lot.  I have, in general, been great.  Much improved over the last two years.  I did, unfortunately, have about 3-4 weeks of mania starting in mid-November, the day after I had my first appointment with a psychiatrist out here.  Phew!  He put me on a drug I had never tried before, and it seems to work pretty well.  I am feeling pretty normal now.  I am working on a book about what it is like to be bipolar, and I would especially like to write one for Henry, because all of this is very hard for him to understand, of course.  In the meantime, I am getting used to Ohio and enjoying living here with Charlie (who I see a lot of. Yay!), Henry, and Beth.  I do long for the Northwest, however.  But at the same time I can honestly say that the cold winter weather is great and it is so beautiful.  Bye for now.  Merry Christmas.

Henry is happy and thriving. And yet he is undergoing a difficult medical condition. Last July he had numerous small growths called polyps removed from his large intestine. It involved several doctor visits and a long surgery at Children's Hospital in Seattle. Well, we just underwent the same thing this week at Children's in Columbus. To our disappointment they found a bunch again. The question is whether they are ones that were missed in July, or whether they are ones that grew since then. Biopsies were taken for which we are anxiously waiting on the results of the lab tests. And he has to go back in January to have it done again and then again this coming summer. It is all very hard. Please pray that all goes well and that Henry will be troubled as little as possible by this.

On the up side, Henry is singing in the Christmas pageant at church and enjoying it. And today we will go sledding on the hills because school has been cancelled due to snow! Yippee!

Love to you all, Charlie

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Musk Melon Queen

Perched upon a presumed wood and paper mache slice of melon, the queen look poised and regal. She drove all the way from Milan, Ohio to join her sister queens for the Fall Festival of Leaves parade in Bainbridge. That is 168 miles! I asked another royal personage (Queen of the Feast of the Flowering Moon) which was more exhausting to maintain for the length of the parade - the wave or the smile. She said they were both about as tiring, while the Coal Queen said the wave was definately the worst.

Henry loved the parade. This was the first one of his life, and it lived up to his expectations. He paid no attention to the smokers sitting on his right and left but held his orange "Corcoran for State Representative" bag eagerly the entire time. Political hopefuls rode on trucks, cars, 4-wheel drive vehicles while their  t-shirted volunteers tossed candy to the kids, I liked the poster this volunteer held. So hopeful and incredulous.

But there were more than policiticans and queens. Tractors and horses and marching bands roared, clopped, or tooted past. My favorites were the bands. Having played at festivals in the Chillicothe Cavalier Marching band I remember with fondness these small town parades. These bands were not as polished as ours was yet they were extemely enthusiastic.

But Henry like the tractors better. They looked to me like the toys that I and he had.

All and all it was a wonderful festival. We ate too much decadent food (deep fried dough, cotton candy, corn dogs, italian sausage, and the like) and happily groaned over it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Go Back to the Car, Dad!"

Over the last weeks I have been training Henry to walk to his class without my assistance. Or so I thought.

Before classes started, Debbie and I went with Henry to orientation. We all walked around his classroom and saw his table with his name on his spot. He like the room, as did we. On the first day of school Henry and I walked together through the double set of outside doors, through the entrance area, took a right turn into the long hallway which led to his classroom, and together journeyed to his classroom door, walked through and into his room. Henry held my hand tightly all the way. He insisted that I go into the classroom with him.

The second day  he was a little clingy. He held my leg as we entered the class. I had to peel him off of me. The day after that was better. We walked holding hands all the way down the hall to the door to his class, and I stopped just before we entered.  (You can see the door-frame in the picture. It is in the middle on the right.) He went in by himself without a problem. The next day we walked beside each other without holding hands. Each day after that I would stop farther from his class.

About a week ago he and I parted at the all important turn into the long hallway. I'd stay at that corner and watch him stride off with happy deliberation. Only once in 7 days did he turn to look back. I felt joy observing him at peace in his new world

Today he took a big step in his maturation and independence. Just as we passed through the double set of outside doors, Henry turned to me and said, "Go back to the car, Dad!" I replied, "O.K. Henry." He marched off confident in his ability to negotiate and navigate the world of school all by himself.

I laughed to myself. Here I thought I was teaching him to go by himself to school, and in the end he taught me to let go. What a great morning!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Living near the Mennonites

Henry and I were in Bainbridge (the town a mile from the farm) yesterday to get something at the hardware store. We waited in line behind a family that was dressed like it was Germany in the 1800's. The three females were dressed identically in homemade purple dresses, black bonnets, and black shoes. Two were girls (8 and 12 I guessed) and the other was their grandmother. The only difference in their apparel was that the girls had on black Sketchers basketball shoes, while their elder word tie-up leather shoes. The girls' father was quite gregarious joking with the store owner. He wore black button-up pants, blue button up shirt, and a straw hat. They drove into town in a black buggy parked a few blocks from the store. 

Life in Lancaster County Pennsylvania has become too congested for many Mennonites. Some there must feel like Daniel Boone who said that when you can see the smoke from your neighbor's cabin, it is time to move. About 15 years ago a few brave families left the familiar and sought emptier lands out west. West in this case was southern Ohio. They liked what they found. After they were established, other families came to join them. Today there is a large Mennonite community in the hills and valley south west of us. If you are motivated to take a long run -- say 7 miles or so -- you can get deliscious fresh pretzels served by polite young women speaking English with a distinctive German accent.

We have gotten to know one Mennonite family fairly well. They have the formentioned bakery and horse shoeing business. Both thrive. Dad was very good to the family when any of the kids had dental problems. He checked on one of their baby's when his  mother was concerned about his teeth. One Sunday dad took one of their older boys into his office to fix his teeth when two were knocked out. Dad loved knowing someone who gave him a window into that community. For if you are "English" (as they call non-Mennonites) it is rather tough have opportunities to make friends with them. They took the carriage 5 miles into town to pay their respects at dad's calling hours.

Saturday we took a drive out to their part of the county to buy cinnamon bread at their bakery and to see if we could see the old-fashioned harvesting. We saw men working a team of horses to cut and bale hay.

The horses are so beautiful. I felt a little self-conscious taking photos. For these are not people in "Ye Olde Dayes" theme park, but regular people living out their lives. We'd try to stop the car non-obtrusively and quickly take a picture or two. Or at least try to be non-obtrusive. The next picture was of a fabulous team driving right towards us. Aren't they magnificent!
We drove up to a little town called Cynthiana. Before the whites took over it was a Shawnee town. What follows is the picture of a gassy horse, or a horse in need of gas. And you thought they were powered by oats!

It was a great day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Catching Up

Hi Friends! I promised to write a blog about our life on the farm. I am glad to say that our plans are coming to fruition. The hope was that being in Ohio would enable us to serve my mother in her first year of grief, give Henry the opportunity to experience farm life, allow us a rare chance to slow down and enjoy each other, and give both Debbie and me space to write. All those things are happening. For that I give thanks to God!

The journey here was grueling. Exhausted by the dying and death of my father and preparations to lease our house and leave for the year, we limped across the country to Michigan. It is a good thing the mini-van ran on gas and not our energy, or we wouldn't have made it across the Cascades. But God's grace provided where we were lacking and our chariot arrived at the lake.

Once at our cabin, we were embraced by our extended family. How wonderful the love of aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings can be! My talented brother created a pottery urn and fired it Japanese style in a kiln on the porch of his bath house. We drank whisky and smoked cigars as he plunged it redhot at midnight into a can of dried leaves, sticks, and feathers in order to give it a smoky, silvery finish. I entertained all with terrifying stories of climbing Rainier. We buried dad's remains in a moving ceremony attended by about 50 family members. Struggling to keep my sorrow from obliterating my ability to say the words which I wanted to say, I lead it (barely). God gave a sense of closure through that worship.

After a month, we headed south to the farm. The four of us (Mom, Debbie, Henry, and I) have rather quickly made the adjustments needed to meld two families into one. We have done a good job of listening to each other whenever we cross the unwritten lines that everybody has about how you run a household. We love and support each other in our own separate yet linked paths of grief and health. It has taken longer to unpack all our stuff and make the farm physically feel like our place as well as mom's. But we finished that up last week. It is good to know where your things are instead of saying, "Those pants are probably in one of those boxes in the corner."

Henry is having a wonderful time. His school started a few days after we arrived. We were frankly surprised at how every element of his school experience has been positive. He has a gifted teacher who loves the children and quietly maintains peaceful discipline while leading them on the amazing adventure of reading.  Henry is enthralled by reading. He wants to make leaps and bounds and sometimes is frustrated that you must walk the path and sometimes even stop to review whence you came. In addition to the academic sphere, Henry is very comfortable within the society of schoolchildren. He is making friends readily. When we ask him what is the best part of school he replies, "Everything. I love it!"

I asked Henry, "What is best about living on the farm?"He replied, "The dogs, daddy." He is also in love with combines. "There is one!" he'll call out as we drive down the road. This week our fields will be harvested so hopefully he will get to ride in the big machine. If so I'll take a picture and post it. He likes going to mom's church. Two kids from his kindergarten class attend which is nice for him. At an apple festival he had his face painted like India, his stuffed Tiger. He is drawn to the horses and is getting to be comfortable on a saddle. The "Fall Festival of Leaves" is coming up with a parade. Henry has never seen a parade. Henry also went to a small traveling circus where the highlight was a performing camel and Joey the Clown.

Rather than speak for Debbie, I asked her this question, "What is it like living on the farm?"
"Mostly great. Only in the last week have I felt that I live on the farm. Before that I felt like I was renting a room and running errands and unpacking boxes and sweating. It was 90-100 degrees from the day we arrived until 2 days ago. The best part of my day, unquestionably, is picking up Henry at his school. I don't ride the horses but they are pretty. The sunsets are magnificent. The dogs want to eat Simon (our cat) and Beth is helping us to eat healthfully. Charlie and I discovered the "Country Music Jamboree". It is a country music and gospel review every Saturday night in a hundred year old brick theater next to the Dairy Queen. I love that.

I asked my mom, "What is it like having us live with you?"
"It is wonderful! Fun, cozy, and comforting, and happy all punctuated by Henry's ebullience over school, dogs, kite flying, riding toy tractor, and everything."

I set up my computer and began to write the day we drove up to the 180 year old white clapboard house. I find that creative writing can be rather addictive. I have started a short story, but mostly I'm writing reflections on the experience of losing my father. That is not to say that I have "found my calling". Not serving as a minister, I feel how much I relish it. Writing is good, but I am an extrovert. (Would any of you doubt that?) I miss preaching, leading a group, teaching, bringing comfort to someone in the hospital, chatting with the staff, conversing with members, ... I miss pastoring my church.

And I am loving this special year. It is so neat to have the chance to do something different knowing you will return to the usual. For instance Debbie and I went to a mega-church Saturday night in Columbus (Vineyard) and were moved to tears by the fantastic cuttting-edge worship band. Sunday morning we were in mom's loving village church where the emphasis is on relationships and enthusiasm. That night mom and I drove windy country roads to hear a second cousin of my dad's speak about African mission work in community church in the hills where the mid 19th Century revival hymns sounded fresh and lively accompanied by a gospel band which included a piano, keyboard, slide guitar, dobro, mandolin, bass, drums, and 3 guitars. Earlier in the day a friend of my dad's showed me how to work a green horse by applying pressure through eye contact! It is quite a year.