It is too soon to be sure, but being here by myself in this house is beginning to feel like being home.  This hasn’t felt like home since Mary Ann died almost a year ago now.  Even when I returned from the big two month trip to New Zealand and Australia (still can’t believe I actually did it), I did not feel at home.  I made a trip to Kentucky to visit the Kids there, but I don’t remember feeling at home yet when I returned.  This time, when I returned from four days (including travel) with my Brothers and Sisters, participating in my Brother-in-Law’s Funeral, walking in the door, I felt as if this place is home again. 

The moment I entered the house, I had to rush to unload some of the things in the car, change clothes and go to Emily and David’s wedding.  I was late, but I got there.  It was important for me to be there not only because I feel close to Emily’s family (Jim is a very good friend with whom I worked for a number of years), but because Emily did something that has come to mean a great deal to me.  When she was entering the Fifth Grade, starting the Confirmation program at the church of which I was Senior Pastor, beginning Communion Preparation classes, Emily asked Mary Ann to be her Mentor.  Mary Ann was already quite debilitated physically, but still sharp mentally.  Mary Ann had not done that sort of thing before.  It surprised her when Emily asked her.  It surprised me that Mary Ann said yes — not because of Emily, but because Mary Ann didn’t feel herself to be qualified for such a role.  Mary Ann was also a person of few words, so the task was intimidating to her.  She had always liked Emily, but grew in her appreciation of her. 

The next day I had the treat of serving as the Runner for my Son Micah and his friend Jason who had entered a BBQ competition here in town (an hour from Micah’s home).  At half hour intervals the Runner takes one of the four meat entries (chicken, ribs, pulled pork and brisket) to the booth where they are delivered for the judges to sample.  This is no casual activity.  It gets very intense especially those last minutes before each sample has been properly prepared for the judges.  While Big Iron BBQ did not do as well as they had hoped, it was a good day.  Micah had offered to cook extra meat so that I could invite a few folks to come and eat as a thank you to them for the help they had been to us and to me in preparation for the big trip.  The time together with so many good people made it a very good day. 

That same evening, I went to the annual cook out at Zach and Erin’s place.  There were more good people to be enjoyed.  I had exclusively eaten meat at the BBQ competition, so I exlusively ate veggies and dessert (lots of dessert) at the cook out.  There was one element of the experience at the cookout that was exceedingly meaningful to me.  I guess because I worked with Youth for so much of my ministry, I value relationships with them.  At 68 years of age, it is not an expectation that young people will still be open to relationship, even to conversation.  Last evening I sat with a family I have come to like very much.  Soon to be a Freshman in high school, Makena, talked with me about a recent experience that was very meaningful to her.  I was struck with her maturity as she processed what she had experienced.  I was even more pleased that she was willing to talk with me about it.  We both had a moment texting on our respective phones during the conversation.  I am new to texting and very slow at it, but I felt sort of “with it” as I was texting along with her.  I still can barely figure out how to answer the phone, but I texted (replied to Son Micah).   After that conversation, Gretchen came over, then Jon, then Zach who invited me to tour the house (Zach and Erin’s).  After a while Erin joined us.  All these people are very young by my standards.  The five of us spent time together touring the house and talking with one another.  Again, I marveled that they included this Geezer in such a natural and relaxed way.  All four of them are people of great character, people anyone would be proud to call friends.  It is hard for me to explain just how meaningful that time in conversation was to me. 

These recent experiences seem to indicate to me that my identity separate from my roles is beginning to emerge.   I want to be respected as a Pastor, for my role as the Senior Pastor at Faith Lutheran church and Our Savior before that and Associate Pastor at Zion before that — having earned a Doctor of Ministry — Pastor and Teacher at Concordia Lutheran High School before all that.  I celebrate having had the privilege of being Husband to Mary Ann and then Husband and Caregiver to her to the very end.  I cherish being Father to Lisa and Micah, Grandfather to Chloe, Abigail and Ashlyn.  Now that I am retired and Mary Ann has died, I am forced to reframe my identity.  All those things are still so about me, but they are not entirely who I am.  Just as is so for all of us, we are not the roles we have in life; we are each a Someone filling those roles.  It is easy to become so wrapped up in the roles that we lose track of our own identity separate from them. 

Whatever I am learning, I am certain that the grieving will remain a part of my identity in some form or other from now on.  As I was making the nine or ten hour drive to Northern Illinois, at one point I put in the Celtic Woman “New Journey” CD.  When Lisa Kelly sang the song “Blessing,” my mind went to Mary Ann, and my insides followed.  Here is a video of Lisa Kelly singing the song:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAhgMtTOtEU  While the words are not an exact fit, the combination of the music and the words sparked strong feelings of love for her re-emerging as I drove.  Those feelings are always accompanied by regrets for not expressing that love often enough and clearly enough throughout our years together.  Both the love and the regrets are a part of who I am.   They will remain a part of my life as I am responding to the Call to Live.

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