Returning to the Light – My Journey, Chapter 2

My life started over after those once again traumatic moments in 1993.  I had hit bottom and things have been improving ever since.  As my step-daughter, Kim, lived with my wife, LouAnn, I moved out of the house when I was asked to do so.  This didn’t come without hurt, without pain, without a realization that my odds of ever returning to live there were small.  Some of those around me recommended that I make LouAnn move as this was her idea, but it seemed like the right thing to do as Kim might have been forced to change schools again if I had done things differently.  I continued to talk with LouAnn for several months, trying to get her to see that we did need to get back together again.  I was making little, if any, headway.  I did get to see Kim, she spent weekends with me on a regular basis, which was also good for me.

I was fortunate to have some very dear friends that were living in Kalamazoo.  I had met Mike during my first day on the job at Commercial National Bank in Peoria back in my college days.  He was my best friend in those days and we remain close yet today.  His wife, Tina, worked for the same bank as LouAnn did and they moved to Kalamazoo several months after we did.  He and his wife, Tina, invited me to stay at their place while I found an apartment.  This wasn’t the first time Mike and Tina had done this for me as they have supported me through all my difficult years with alcohol.  Their home is still a place where I feel almost as comfortable as I do in my own house and we still stay there whenever we are in Kalamazoo.  Seeing them is my only real reason to return to Kalamazoo.  But I am getting ahead of myself again.

        One Sunday morning, I woke up and decided I was going to church, something they normally did not do and something I had not done of my own volition for many years.  I told them I was going to go, picked up the phonebook and chose a Church from the Methodist listings there because my initial roots were Evangelical United Brethren which merged with the Methodist church in the 60’s.  Oakwood United Methodist Church, a couple of miles from their house, was my selection.  They promptly told me there was a United Methodist Church about 3 blocks from their house, suggesting I should go there.  I believe, to this day that God helped me to choose to go to Oakwood that day.  This was one of the first nudges from God that I received and acted on during this critical point in my life but I certainly did not recognize this until well after the fact.

        Oakwood was a small neighborhood church, with a small group of regular, mostly older attendees.  In those days, I wore cowboy boots almost everywhere and I’m sure people noticed.  On the other hand, one of the people working to become a leader in the church was a large younger man, Steve, with a Mohawk haircut, so there was some diversity and acceptance of diversity here.  Truthfully, I was looking for answers.  I wanted to get back together with LouAnn and was hoping that God might help me to do so.  I don’t remember much about the service, I can’t recall if the band played that Sunday or not, but there was a great deal of music, which is very important to me.  God didn’t waste any time before hitting me right between the eyes during the sermon.  Pastor Bud Buchner worked a reference to a country song, Alan Jackson’s “Tonight I Climbed the Wall”, into the sermon.  I don’t even recall what his sermon topic was and hence what made him tie the song into the topic, but this was the sign that I needed to know that God had noticed that I was back and that he had a plan for me.  The song is written from the perspective of a man in a relationship that isn’t working too well.  He decides that rather than to let the relationship fail, he will make the effort to work it out.  Parts of the verses stress more of the physical aspects of the encounter than I remember but it was the chorus that struck me.  Here are those words:

Tonight I climbed the wall
And took her by the hand
We’d come too far to fall
Couldn’t stand to see it end
So tonight I climbed the wall

I was sure these words meant that I needed to go back to LouAnn, tell her how much I loved her, that I had quit drinking and that God would make life turn out fine after all.  I was right…kind of.

I did go back and make the effort to “climb the wall”.  I tried hard to convince LouAnn to change her mind.  In truth, she had had enough.  She was determined to get a divorce and move on.  That’s just what she did. In addition to going to church and talking to Pastor Bud about my life challenges, I saw a Psychologist a few times during that time.  I was trying to be sure I was thinking clearly and making good overall decisions.  The part of ‘climbing the wall’ that I got right was that I did need to go back.  Not because God was going to make that effort successful but so that I knew in my heart of hearts that there was no going back and no getting back together.  It was time to move on, so I did.

For the next year, life was full of change.  I had no idea what was in store for me.  I found an apartment, kept it organized and clean.  I started to attend Oakwood regularly and got involved with the church band and choir, singing and playing trumpet.  I became reacquainted with my extensive stamp collection, played quite a bit of pool and golf (without drinking, I was truly great at testing my willpower in those days), and signed up for a fall college course on the Civil War, another area of intense interest for me.

I started to look for another job, interviewing and getting an offer from a hospital in Grand Rapids, MI.  I turned it down due to concerns about the management there combined with a one hour commute each way.

The fourth quarter of 1993 proved to be an important and incredible time for me.  I had my first date with Jan in October.  We’ve now been married 12 years.  She is truly one of the greatest gifts that God has given me in my life.  I tell her this on a regular basis and I am so fortunate to recognize her for the angel that she is.  You’ll hear lots more about my life with Jan as my journey continues. 

Another significant thing happened in that time frame.  I was walking out of my Civil War class one night and saw one of the nurses I knew from the hospital , Marie, coming out of a classroom. She was a user of some of the Information Technology (IT) systems and data that I worked on and I had done some assignments for her.  She said she was learning to speak Russian and was going back to Russia in December.  She and her husband were associated with Kalamazoo’s sister city efforts with the city of Pushkin, near St. Petersburg, Russia.  We talked for about half an hour and before the conversation was finished, she asked me to come on the trip.  Of course, I turned her down.  I had a hundred reasons why I couldn’t go, including the fact that I was more or less broke and going through a divorce.

I called her the next morning, saying that all the reasons I couldn’t go were also the reasons that there might never be a better time for me to go.  I had credit cards and could pay for the trip when I got back.  I didn’t have the necessary shots, a passport or visa but somehow she helped me get everything ready in about a month.   The trip was awesome, full of sights and stories that were new and incredible, at least to me.  One of my most amazing memories of that trip occurred when Marie and I trudged about half a mile though several inches of newly fallen snow before sunrise to attend mass at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Pushkin.  This building had been used as an ammunition dump by the Germans attempting to capture St. Petersburg in World War II.  The building was ransacked and gutted when they left town. Major parts of it were just starting to be restored in 1993.  Obviously the service was Russian Orthodox, in a language I couldn’t speak, incense was utilized and people moved from place to place in no apparent pattern, lighting candles at treasured icons affixed to temporary walls during the Mass.  I understood almost nothing and yet I could feel the overwhelming presence of God in that place.  I took no pictures inside the cathedral out of respect for the service so the memories must always come from within my mind.  I purchased some crucifixes and a Russian Bible there in the Sanctuary to support the restoration.  I still have them and they too bring the memories of that place flooding back.  I arranged for roses to be sent to Jan while I was gone.  This trip led Jan and me to an intensified and incredible love of travel.  We have visited many domestic and several international destinations together so far.  She and I are planning to combine that love of travel with doing the work of God in the near future.

Life continued to move at a frenetic pace for quite some time and God continued to help me work to improve myself and my situation.  The divorce was finalized.  Our attendance and involvement at Oakwood UMC increased.  While our time there ended up being relatively short, church life and activities soon became a part of who Jan and I were, as a couple.  She grew up Catholic so there were significant changes that she, at times, struggled with.  All in all, times were good at Oakwood.  I vividly remember playing a trumpet fanfare in the chilly morning fog at a nearby lake during a particularly moving Easter sunrise service,.  

Jan and I moved in together sometime in the first half of that year.  Her sixteen year old son, Jeremy came to live with us for the summer of 1994.  Fortunately he and I get along very well together and always have.  I was asked to join the finance team at Oakwood and did so…just in time for another big change.

An Information Technology headhunter, someone who is hired to find personnel for companies, called me at work one day, probably in June 1994.  This was normal, occurring several times a week at the hospital where I worked as there were a great many dissatisfied people working there at that time.  The hospital had a reputation as a sweatshop and the reputation was well-deserved in my opinion.  His first question was ‘Would you like to move to Minnesota?’.   I promptly and curtly said ‘NO’.  His next question was “What if I said Mayo Clinic?’.  I said ‘You have my attention.’.   And he did.  I had read “The Doctors Mayo” as a grade school student and in spite of being a college dropout; I take pride in my work and always dreamed of working for a company that strived to be the best.  Mayo is certainly such a company.  It turned out that they were looking for skills that matched mine almost exactly.  They were looking to fill a spot that was two levels below my Lead Analyst Programmer position but the money was slightly better.  I flew to the interview alone, wondering what the future held for me.  The interview went well and I started to worry, because I knew I was going to accept the offer.  Jan and I had only been dating for about eight months.  She is originally from Michigan and was already considered a bit of a black sheep because she didn’t live in her hometown of Traverse City like most of her remaining immediate family did.  Truthfully, I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to happen.  I don’t recall now if my relationship with God was mature enough at that time for me to have prayed about it seriously as I would today.  Still, it is obvious that God was watching over me.  Jan and I decided to visit Rochester together and her son Jeremy came along too.  That visit also went very well.  Rochester is a wonderful town.  Fortunately for me, Jan took the decision out of my hands almost immediately by announcing that she was coming with me.  The lease at the apartment wasn’t up until late summer and Jeremy was obligated to work at one of the Kalamazoo Meijer’s stores for the summer.  He also worked at one of the Meijer’s stores in Traverse City during the rest of the year, so getting on in Kalamazoo for the summer had been relatively easy. 

My start date at Mayo was July 11, 1994.  Jan moved to Rochester in August.  We put most of our stuff in storage and moved into an apartment while we shopped for a house.  We moved into our current home in November of that year.  We started church shopping almost immediately, eventually choosing to settle at one of the United Methodist churches in Rochester, probably sometime in 1995.  Bruce Buller was the pastor there at that time.  Bruce comes from a family of Methodist preachers.  He is a wonderful preacher, full of optimism and energy with a big baritone voice that carries throughout any enclosed space without a microphone.  He has the ability to find God at work in virtually any situation, and uses that ability constantly.  Thanks to observing Bruce for all these years, I have started to recognize God’s works in places that I never would have previously.  I still miss hearing Bruce preach.  He was and is a model for openness and acceptance of all people as children of God, no matter who they are or where they are in life.  We joined the choir there when Jan got comfortable doing so but got involved more slowly than I had at Oakwood. 

The next several years went by, my relationship with Jan continued to be strong and we continued to attend services regularly at that church.  Although it took her a while, Jan was ready for marriage before I was.  I wanted to be sure it was right.  During this time, I started to go to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) with a friend from Mayo, Ron.  There I found another place where I could and easily did get in touch with God.  I don’t think I have missed a year since, having gone between one and three times a year with Ron and/or with people from church groups.  In the BWCAW, I recharge and refresh, getting back in touch with myself and with God while leaving the cares of the world behind.  Over the past few years, the importance of these trips as a means of improving my relationship with God has increased.

1998 was another significant year for Jan and me.  I had finally convinced myself that getting married again was the right thing.  Please don’t misunderstand, I had known since 1994 that Jan was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, I was just scared that this marriage would end like all the rest and I would once again be alone and hurting.

We attended counseling sessions with Bruce, where we were open about how and why we were here.  We celebrated our marriage on June 18th, 1998 in Rochester with friends and family members.  Bruce retired and left that church shortly thereafter.  Jan’s father passed away in November of that year, joining her mother who had passed away a few months before she and I met.  His death led to our most recent change in churches.  After attending church there for several years and singing in the choir for a couple of years, no one from that church even sent a condolence card, in contrast to the folks at her job of two weeks who sent flowers and cards.  We decided that we were looking for a church where we could truly be part of the church  family.  It was time to move on and we did.

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