It has been long enough since my last blog posting that I don't even recognize the formatting for creating this. It has changed -- A LOT! I am earnestly hoping that I don't lose what I am putting together.
Another truly new aspect of all this is that what you are reading is a combination of my typing on the keyboard and voice dictation using Dragon, Naturally Speaking. Today marks the first time I have used a computer keyboard since 19 January. More about that in a bit. I purchased and installed "Dragon" about a week ago and am still learning the nuances of the program. I must say, this is one really cool program! I plan to use it with some regularity even as I regain the use of my right hand and arm over the coming weeks. I highly recommend looking into this product.
I have been a priest and theologian for 34 years, so one might expect to read what I am about to write. However, I will preface by stating that, a year ago, I might not have been able to write what you are about to read with the depth of sincerity and love with which is will emerge from inside me to the printed page. It is phenomenal.
My retirement from active parochial ministry is the result of a journey that I no longer rehearse -- even in my own head. It had several twists, turns and experiences that were both joy-filled and deeply painful. I had not originally planned to retire prior to age 63, but that didn't happen. I was not yet 61 on 30 June 2011 -- the day of my actual retirement. I tell folks that now the Church pays me to stay home. I am truly thankful to my wife, my spiritual director, my colleagues and friends for timely counsel and loving hearts.
Home is where the heart is, and the heart moved quite a bit. Retirement did not originally include even the possibility of a move. That possibility emerged literally two weeks prior to my last day as Rector of St. Andrew's, Kansas City, MO. What began as an investigation into a condo (already built) ended as a contract on a not-yet-built townhome in a condo development in the south part of Sarasota, FL. The contract was signed on 27 July 2011. The construction of the building in which our townhome is located began in mid-September. Our Lee's Summit home went on the market for sale on 4 August. I began having trouble with my right shoulder around that same time. All three of these journeys intertwined and demanded attention over the next 8 months. Oh, and our younger daughter finalized plans for a 23 June 2012 wedding during last summer.
I am a guy who works very well under pressure and can multi-task with a fair amount of ease. I am generally not intimidated by complex and rapid changes during a typical work period. The U.S. Navy Submarine Corps prepared me well for fast paces. The eight+ months between the end of July and 8 April (Easter Day) happened, and I am here writing about it. This is where Grace, love, friendship and trust come into confluence.
One cannot rehearse a spiritual transition. It simply must be experienced. One cannot adequately relate the experience. It simple presents itself in the moment. None of us are the same persons we were this time last year. Suffice it to say, the shift for me has been both surprising and large-scale. Here's a synopsis of the timeline:
1. Both my wife and I are native Floridians....multi-generational natives. Both of us were raised with the Gulf of Mexico as a big focus of family life. For both of us, its waters have always seemed somehow medicinal. Neither of us considered coming back to Florida when we left at the end of 1992 for me to become the Dean of St. James Cathedral, South Bend, IN.
2. When we signed a contract (much to our emergent surprise) for a townhome in Sarasota on 27 July 2011, we knew that, for its purchase to happen, we would have to sell our Lee's Summit home BEFORE closing on our townhome. Everyone knows that the housing markets are very tight, and sales of homes are slow. Even our agent cautioned us not to anticipate a timely sale. Our house was (is) in great shape and very marketable; but the economy is what it is. Thus, we began this journey with some trepidation.
3. Both our selling agent and the folks handling the purchase of our townhome are wonderful folks. we literally fell into warm, helpful, courteous and truly dedicated professionals in real estate, marketing, financing, construction and advisory specialties.
4. As I entered retirement, I regained my old and familiar contemplative mode of prayer and daily Regula (Rule of Life). It was enhanced by experiences with the Oneness Blessing Community and some strong, insightful spiritual direction. Insights and deepening came in ways I did not expect...but which blessed me deeply.
5. I had undergone a total replacement of my right shoulder on 6 October 2010. The orthopedic surgeon in Kansas City that did this work is one of the best. I would go to him again in a heartbeat. I recovered quickly and did much better than expected in physical therapy and final mobility. I was a "star patient" according to my KC surgeon. I was happily moving on with my new titanium shoulder joint when I began having pain and loss of mobility in early August 2011. Well, I was doing a lot in the house and yard to get us and keep us ready for a buyer....lots of heavy work. Even slowing a bit did not decrease the pain. In fact, it continued to increase.
6. October 2011: Banner month. One early morning in mid-October, I was quietly and deeply centered in contemplative space. It was sometime in the early dawn of the day. From somewhere (not my own ego) came the absolute assurance that our house would sell by mid-January 2012. Like Bill Cosby in his comedy routine about Noah and the Ark, my response was, "Yeah, riiight." Not a graceful reponse, but truthful (and that WAS my ego). The next week, I saw my orthopedic surgeon. This began a month of scans, xrays, tissue aspirations and conversations to determine why my shoulder joint tissues were deteriorating and the implant failing.
7. November 2011: The fluid aspirations that have been carefully cultured produce no bacterial activity. My surgeon is stymied by this...as are the colleagues with whom he consulted. He and I have two after-hour conversations. The concerns are grim. Am I allergic to the titanium....or the material used to enhance the bone's attachment to the implant parts. Whatever is going on, the muscles and bones of the joint area are being compromised. It looks like the socket implant device is coming loose from its place in the glenoid process. My KC surgeon wanted to send me to Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN to see the orthopedic surgeon considered to be the best shoulder surgeon in the country. I concur...now really concerned.
8. December 2011: I'm in! Dr. John Sperling's office at Mayo Clinic surprises me with a call. He wants to see me. Can I be there on 5 and 6 December. You bet! I go! It was two days of intense testing, deep tissue aspiration and evaluation. Our house still hasn't closed. We get weekly photos of the progress of the building in which our future home will be. Nervous? Not as much as one would expect. I insist the house will sell. Folks around me? 'Sure, someday.' Monday before Christmas: A call comes from Dr. Sperling himself at Mayo. The cultures came back positive. I have a rare bacterial infection that happens in less than 1 in 1000 shoulder replacements. It is illusive and lies deep within the tissues. Yet, it does slow, steady and utter damage. Surgery must happen and a complicated regimen of treatment must begin. Surgery is scheduled for 20 January 2012. GREAT! (Not!) Our family is gathering for Christmas out of town (my first Christmas trip in 35 years). Our house is showing but no offers are coming in. We might hit it lucky with weather in Florida. The completion date changed from mid-March to early April 2012. What the hell....we'll take the 20 day gift.
9. MIRACLE....January 2012: On January 7, a couple looks at our house. It's the nineteenth showing since coming on the market. Typical of the rest, they see it, we are told they might be interested. Nothing comes of it until 12 January. The couple wants to see it again and bring their two children. They see it at 3pm. My agent calls us at 7:15pm. They made an offer!! Be calm. We receive the offer by email and hunker down at our breakfast nook table. Looks okay, but we need to respond with some needs of our own. We fire a counter-offer to our agent at 9:10pm by email. She tells us she will present it to their agent in the morning. Friday: nothing all day. Maybe they don't like our counter. This could go on a while; or they could simply back out. Be calm. 6:30pm Friday evening, our agent calls. They want the house and completely accept our counter offer!!! Holy Moly!!! Be calm. We need to see a contract, which won't be ready until the next morning. Saturday: The contract arrives by email attachment. We read it, annotate it and have an attorney friend look it over. It is in order. We sign. They sign. THE DEAL IS SEALED! Our house sold on Saturday, 14 January. THE MIDDLE OF JANUARY! Was I not given this insight in mid-October? It is good to trust the Spirit.
10. Six days after the contract, we are at the primary hospital of Mayo Clinic. I am prepped for surgery. It is a long day of waiting as Dr. Sperling is delayed with two complicated procedures in front of me. My surgery begins at 5:45pm and is completed around 8:25pm. The news is tough to take: The inside of my shoulder is a wreck from the infection. My rotators are shot (his words) and irreparable. The bones of both the glenoid and humerus are compromised and weakened. The implants were removed .... the glenoid socket implant simply lifted out by hand -- it was that loose. Spacers are inserted to hold the areas of implant. They have an additional purpose. They are specially designed with an antibiotic that will slow-release over 4 weeks. Plus, a PICC line was inserted in my left upper arm. I will have to have a daily vascular infusion of another antibiotic for six weeks. My Lenten discipline begins a full month prior to the actual season of Lent.
11. February 2012: A whole month at home. Outside contact is minimal. I wear a stabilizing sling to keep the shoulder joint quiet. What the hell. I couldn't move it anyway...no joint structural support. St. Luke's home health visits twice a week.... once with the person who delivers my weeklysupply of infusing syringes filled with antibiotic, and once with an RN who checks the PICC line, changes the external tubing and checks my surgical incision. I run a small fever and my iron count is low. All part of the game of fighting infection. I now want to forget February. Oh, we got a date for closing on our sold house: 8 March. I got a date for the second surgery at Mayo: 20 March. We got a date for closing on our new townhome in Sarasota: 3 April. Say, can you make that any tighter?
12. February Addendum: My work this month was to get all the details worked out for March and April. I spend LOTS of time on the phones. Mortgage writers, contractor, moving and storage, where we will live between 6 March and 4 April (the first date is when the move out is scheduled; the second date is the planned move into our new home).
13. March: Fast .... REALLY fast month. All systems somehow fall into place without a hitch. This is, again, Grace at work. The PICC line comes out on Friday, 2 March. Yes!! Packers arrive just as planned on 5 March. We are packed that day and loaded on 6 March. Our stay with friends in Lee's Summit begins on 5 March. This is truly a gift of love for us. Keeps us right where we need to do business and keep the engines of the journey working. 8 March, 9:00am: We sign all the closing documents and go eat breakfast. 10:00am: they sign the same documents to close the purchase of our house. No longer our house. 11:00am: we pick up the check that will allow us to close on our new home and get it in the bank....Quick!! Done. Praise God and thanks for all the prayers that have ascended!
14. 19 March: Day of preparation for surgery at Mayo Clinic. A number of appointments and pre-op work. Surgeon is ready. 20 March: I am at the main hospital again...I go into the operating room around 3pm. Surgery is over at around 5:30pm. Dr. Sperling talks to my wife. The news is mixed. A special reverse implant system is in place successfully. My shoulder is truly a wreck...among the worst he has seen (that's saying a lot for his level of work and international reputation. He designed the reverse implant I now have). His words are stern: In order for this to work, the shoulder must be immobile for six full weeks. My elbow must also be immobile. My hand must be restricted. I can put nothing in that hand heavier than a sheet of paper. If the implant materials do not graft to the bone in this six week period, there will nothing he or anyone can do further. My shoulder will be useless. Damn!!!! Hard, hard words.
15. Prophecy: We return to Lee's Summit on Friday, 23 March. Our host, my dear friend Don, has just returned from a month of special retreat. He is a man of deep prayer and mysticism. His wife has been our hostess since 5 March, as we stayed at their home. Don has been working in his basement office all morning. Taking a break, he finds me sitting on their back deck. I am in some pain, snugged up in this damned uncomfortable immobilizer sling. Sullen and still suffering the affects of surgical medications and anesthesia. Don is my brother by choice....older, wise and quiet. He tells me he has some words for me: This next seven weeks will be a journey of true significance. It will be holy work I must do, for Spirit wants me to learn during this time. He doesn't know what. It is my job to ask and discover. That's it. I MUST be obedient to this process. Don's look is stern but full of love. He means what he says, but he is simply the vessel of words. A prophet speaks.
16. Last days: A two day trip to Panama City Beach, Florida begins on 25 March. We stay with my wife's brother for six days. The recovery is beginning. Pain is less. I level off and begin decreasing the prescribed dosages of pain medication. I hate what narcotics do to my ability to think and interact with my environment. My head begins to clear. I take charge of making arrangements for the next visit to Mayo...now firmly scheduled for 9 May. We leave Panama City Beach on 1 April and complete a seven hour drive to Sarasota....our new "home town." The next three days are a blur. Monday of Holy Week: tour of our townhome, now complete and ready for occupancy...an orientation to the development and resources. Our guide and mentor, Roberto, is a true professional.
Tuesday of Holy Week: We close at 11am at an office in Venice, FL....about 20 minutes south of Sarasota. We are again homeowners!! Wednesday of Holy Week: United Van Lines truck arrives at the pre-agreed time of 8:30am. Our household goods have been in storage in Sarasota since 8 March. They are delivered and placed where we want them. Not a scratch. Nothing broken. Everything in very good order. Our first night as full residents of our home in our new town is this day. No window treatments (they had been ordered and were on the way), so I look out our second story bedroom window at the sky. I know some of these stars by name. I watch them move placidly across the night sky. My friends from times in the Black Hills of South Dakota with my Lakota friends. Mitakuye Oyasin: We are all connected!
Next: "How It Will Be"