An encounter with God

As I pulled hard on the buckthorn tree that was hung up in the branches of another tree, a pain suddenly went through my jaw as if it were being squeezed in a vice.  Surprised by the intense pain, I released the tree and started walking toward the house when lightheadedness started coming over me.  I made it into the house and flopped into my chair while calling to my wife Judy, “Something is wrong!  I’m dizzy and my arms are tingling.”

Then the pain came. 

The most intense pain I had ever experienced spread from my chest through my whole body, a searing, tearing pain that felt like my body was being torn apart.

I didn’t know if Judy heard me or saw me or responded, but I couldn’t call again.  The pain was so intense that nothing else in my body would work.  I curled up in pain and prayed aloud, “Jesus help me!” over and over.  I didn’t care what the help would be; I just knew that I needed help.  If this was my time to go to the Father, I needed Jesus with me to help and support me.  If I was to stay here on earth, I needed help to bear the pain and to work through whatever was going to be needed for recovering.  Whatever happened, I needed help and I was pleading for it.

Meanwhile, Judy had heard me and was responding with speed and clarity.  My pleas to Jesus for help were coming through to her loud and clear.  She called 911 and had an ambulance on the way as quickly as possible.  Next, she called our children who all live nearby and let them know what happened.  While she was still on the phone, the ambulance and one of our sons arrived at the house at almost the same time.

During this frantic time, Jesus helped me by letting me fade out of consciousness.  The first thing I was aware of after pleading for help was the face of a stranger looking at me and apparently talking to me.  Then I realized that Judy, my son and his wife were there and a police officer as well.  The pain was gone and I was confused but I knew something bad had happened and the concern in the faces of everyone around me reinforced that idea.

The stranger was one of the EMT’s who had come to bring me to the hospital.  On seeing that I was awake, he asked me if I could get up and step over to the gurney that they would use to transport me.  With one of them holding each of my arms, I tried to stand up but my legs immediately buckled.   So they moved the furniture around, got the gurney next to me and hoisted my limp body onto it.  

Apparently I was drifting in and out of consciousness.  I remember the EMT asking which hospital I wanted and suggesting that Fairview Southdale would be a good choice if I was having a heart attack.  I assume I agreed since the next thing I remember is being taken from the ambulance to the emergency room at Southdale and seeing several of my family members already there. 

I have no recollection of the emergency room or any of the activities there.  The next thing I remember is lying in a bed in a regular hospital room with several of my family around the bed.  Everyone was assuming that I had a heart attack and they were waiting for the results of the blood test for confirmation.  Then a doctor came in and said the tests were negative.  My symptoms all said heart attack but the blood tests showed there was no heart attack. 

The doctor said they would keep me overnight for observation and that I would probably be going home in the morning.   Father Wilson had come and given me the sacrament of the sick.  It seemed that everything had settled down and the entire incident would soon be in the past.   I ordered food for my dinner and the family decided to go out for something to eat and then return before going home for the night.

When Judy had called All Saints church to get one of the priests for me, that call alerted all of the prayer warriors to my situation.  Just moments after her call I had dozens of people praying for me and the army grew as the news spread.  All of the daily mass people, the Emmaus men, several  mens and womens groups and all of my friends at All Saints as well as the Emmaus men from St John Neumann were praying for me.  In just a day I had hundreds of people asking God to watch over me and care for me.

Now those prayers were being answered.  My room was dark, too dark for the time of day, and there seemed to be a number of people there but I couldn’t identify anyone.  There was a tray of hospital food on the stand next to my bed, untouched.  As I lay there wondering where I was and what was happening a man clad in bright yellow, almost glowing, walked through all of the dark forms and came to the bedside.

“Hello, I am Adam.” He said to me as his only introduction.  “I would like to listen to your heart if that’s all right.”

I don’t remember responding but I must have given him the ok.  He was moving his stethoscope around on my chest, stopping several times to listen intently.  

After a moment or two, he stopped, “I think you will be fine but I would like to get a CAT scan, just in case.”

I said that would be fine and a moment later there was a gurney next to my bed and a couple of people lifting me on to it.  They wheeled me to the room where the scans are done and transferred me to the platform of the scanning machine.   The platform moved into the tube and the machine began humming and clunking.  I was slowly moved in and out of the tube twice.

When I came out the second time the room was filled with people.  I was immediately moved onto a gurney and, almost running, they took me to an operating room.  The room was already buzzing with activity as they prepared for an emergency surgery.

A face appeared next to me, completely surrounded with operating room protective covering.  I could only see a small circle of a face with the eyes, nose and mouth visible.  “I am Doctor Kelly.  You need an operation that has high risk but must be done immediately.  We have a highly skilled team here and I think it will go well for you but I must not minimize the risk.  It is a serious and high risk procedure.”

I think she said more but I don’t remember what it was.  I drifted off into unconsciousness as the anesthetic took effect.  This was about six PM on a Saturday afternoon.

The surgery was in progress long into the night ending at about three AM Sunday.  During this time, my family gathered in the hospital meditation room and prayed the chaplet of divine mercy with one of my grandsons leading the prayers.  I later found out that more than ten people were there praying for me that night.

Sometime on Monday (as I was told later) I awoke slightly and briefly.  I vaguely recall seeing Judy and others from my family standing at the end of the bed looking at me.  As I was lying there, I had the most wonderful feeling of peace and joy.  I had a vague memory, almost more of a feeling, of having been in a beautiful, peaceful and joyful place. 

Tuesday I awoke enough to begin responding to the world around me and recovering from the surgery.  I had survived an aortic dissection, something that kills four out of five people who have one before they can reach medical help.  

 I could have easily ignored the initial pain in my jaw since it only lasted a few seconds.  In which case, I probably would not have made it into the house and Judy would have later found me dead in the yard.  As it was, I only made ten or twelve steps into the house before I was completely debilitated by pain. 

And then, Judy could have been away shopping or visiting with someone.   When she returned, she wouldn’t have seen me unless she came into the living room.  If that was some hours later, it would have been too late.

I could have been taken to Fairview Ridges which is the nearest hospital to my house.   They would have had the same result of the blood tests for heart attack and would probably come to the same conclusion – keep me overnight for observation.  But Doctor Adam would not be there to correctly diagnose my problem.   Perhaps they could have had someone on staff who was able to diagnose it but then I would have needed a transfer to Southdale for treatment.  The delay and the additional transporting would probably have been too much for me to survive.

Adam, that is Dr Adam May, should not have been there since he was substituting for another cardiologist.  He was not a member of the hospital staff or the University of Minnesota Physicians group.  He had very recently completed a training seminar on diagnosing aortic dissection.  If he had not been there to correctly diagnose my condition, I would have been found dead in my hospital bed that night.

The surgeon, Dr. Kelly, should not have been there; she is the department head and happened to be on call that weekend.  I should have had a less experienced and skilled surgeon, increasing the risk that I would not have survived the operation.

So, why did I suffer an aortic dissection and with all of the reasons why I should not have survived it, how is it possible that I am still alive? 

God has a purpose for everything and my experience was a part of His plan.  While I certainly don’t know God’s plans, I believe a person can sometimes understand His intent by prayerfully looking back at what has happened and trying to see the results.  Some results may not be seen for a very long time but some become apparent quickly. 

In my case, clearly it was not God’s will that I should die at that time; there is still some reason that He wants me to remain here for a while.  But there was some reason why the event needed to occur at all.

One of the quickly visible results of this incident is that my faith in the effectiveness of prayer was greatly strengthened.   I prayed for help from Jesus but I didn’t try to tell him what I wanted Him to do.  Whatever God wanted is what I wanted but I knew I needed help to do it and I prayed for whatever help was needed.

When I prayed for that help, the pain ended almost immediately and it never came back!  I had no pain as the ambulance bumped and jolted over the roads.  There was no pain when I was moved to the emergency room or with any of the other moves that I had before surgery.

After the surgery, I had no pain.  That was partly due to the amazing medical technology we have today but even the best technology does not completely eliminate pain.  They had oxycodone ready for me but I declined it because I had no pain other than a slight ache in my back.   I took the Tylenol they offered so I would be able to sleep but I declined even that after a couple of days because it was not needed; I simply had no need for pain treatment.  I was not being the “macho man” and toughing it out to show the world I could take it.  Truly I felt no pain even though my body had been shut down and my chest had been split open and the doctor cut away crucially important parts, attached an artificial pipe to my heart and wired my rib cage back together.  I had Jesus to thank for that amazing blessing.

My amazingly fast recovery has also demonstrated the power of prayers.  When the physical therapist came to the house to help me get moving, she saw what I was doing and told me to keep it up.  She wouldn’t be coming back since I was already doing great.  WIthin a month of the surgery I was nearly back to normal.  I have to thank the army of prayer warriors for that blessing.

There is another result that I have not seen yet but I know is coming.  During the time I was disconnected from the world under deep anesthesia, I was with God.  I remember waking with a deep and long lasting feeling of spiritual consolation.  Saint Ignatius described spiritual consolation as “some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord”.  God gives us consolation because He loves us but also to draw us closer to Him and to strengthen us in our faith.

That  wonderful feeling of peace and joy is still with me ten weeks after the surgery.  That consolation had to come from God; peace and joy are usually not the result of medical emergencies and surgery.  When I have received a consolation as strong as this, I can only assume that God has something important for me to do and is preparing me for the task.

I am ready Lord!  Whatever it is that You want me to do, with Your help I will do it.

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Is is easy to be a good person?

I just read a news story stating that 60% of the people of the United States (based on a PEW survey) believe that people can be good without religion.  Of course, this survey is done in a time when participation in religion is decreasing.   So, is religion really needed for people to be good?

Well, let’s look at our current social environment.  Religious participation is decreasing and there is a steady increase in the number of people who consider themselves to be atheists.  At the same time, suicides among youth are at the highest levels since records have been kept.  More than half of marriages end in divorce.  Violent crime is increasing.  Drug use is a continuing disaster across our nation.  Sexual offenses are rising in all areas of society.  Movies are a constant stream of violence.  Television has become a mindless stream of inane trivia spiced up with sex and violence.

The list of these negative changes could go on but people have become accustomed to them and accept them with a shrug and say, “that’s life”.

I would propose that today, the idea of people being good without religion is based on lowering the standard of good.  It seems that the measure of “good” is how much fun I get from something and “bad” is anything that I don’t like.    Suicide is good, it releases people from bad situations – as long as it is not me or anyone I care for.  Divorce is good, why force people to live in an uncomfortable situation – as long is it’s not in my family.   You might even find someone who says murder is good as long as I am the murderer rather than the murdered.

I pray that people can think beyond their own desires long enough to understand the importance of religion in human society.


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#notmypresident – really?

It seems people across the country are out in the streets protesting the election results.    It is perfectly reasonable to be unhappy or happy with the results of an election, but to deny the result without any claim of fraud or impropriety in the election is denying the American public their right to vote.

Neither of the major parties were able to get a majority of the votes so it is clear that neither candidate was seen as good by most people.  I think it is fair to say that most voters saw both candidates as very bad choices and voted for one primarily to ensure the other one did not get in.

In any case, the election was held properly and the winner was Trump.  He is now our president elect and protests won’t change that.  I did not vote for him (I did a write in for a new startup party) but I will recognize him as my president and respect the office if not the person.  Had Clinton won, I would have had to do the same.

It’s time to be Americans rather than partisan democrats or republicans or libertarians or whatever other party it may be.

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Making Rhubarb wine

My garden produced a bumper crop of rhubarb this year.  After using all we could and giving away as much as we could, there is still a small forest of rhubarb.  Because I hate to waste anything, I searched the internet for ideas and found that rhubarb and elderberries make a good wine.  I have some elderberries left from last fall so I decided to give it a try.  I have equipment for making wine but only in 5 gallon batches.  This will a big trial.

Step 1 – gather the materials

 I went out to the garden to get the 15 pounds of rhubarb I needed.  I picked as much as I could carry, trimmed off the leaves and the bottoms, and brought the stems in.  Just to be sure that I had picked enough, I weighed them – just over 4 pounds.  I was going to need three more piles as big as this one. 

Back to the garden and pick more, much more, rhubarb.  Finally with 15 pounds of trimmed and washed rhubarb, I started cutting it into ¼ inch slices.  Now this pile of rhubarb would be about a tenth of a mile laid end to end.  Clearly, this will be a lot of slicing – approaching 25,000 slices.  About two hours later I put the last bag of slices into the freezer.  I am now ready to start step 2.

More tomorrow –

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#Truth in Politics

I’m not sure where I first read this but it seems like it was written for the election  this year.

To me, truth is not some vague, foggy notion. Truth is real. And at the same time, unreal.  Fiction and fact and everything in between, plus some things I can’t remember, all rolled into one big ‘thing’.  This is truth, to me.”

Unfortunately this bit of wisdom applies as much to the voters as the candidates.

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Thank God Someone is Honest

The big news story yesterday was Pope Francis and Donald Trump in a “war of words”.

After reading the background to the glaring headlines I must say, “Thank you Pope Frances for being a person to call a spade a spade!”

The headlines blared that Pope Francis said Donald Trump was not a Christian.  However, the exact quote, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian”,  never included his name, only the actions Mr. Trump said he would take if elected.   “Admonish the sinner” is one of the spiritual works of mercy that ALL Christians are called to do.  This is an act of love and mercy, not a condemnation.  Mr. Trump should thank Pope Francis for the loving guidance he offered.

It saddens me deeply that so many Americans see the plans of Donald Trump as being good for America.  Every Christian in this country should let Mr. Trump know that they do not believe he is ready to be the leader of a country.

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Finally, after 2 months of fermenting and racking and waiting, I bottled my wine.

In my last post, I described a first racking.  A couple of weeks after that, I racked again and added four ounces of medium roasted American oak cubes.  This then sat for a month undisturbed.  Today was the day to transfer it to bottles.

Now, putting the wine into the bottle is easy enough but corking the bottle is quite a process.  I bought a two handed corker that gave me a lot of leverage to drive the cork into the neck of the bottle, but…

I filled the first bottle, put a cork into the device, set it on top of the bottle and gently pushed down on the handles.  Nothing happened.  It felt like I was pushing against a solid piece of wood.  I pushed harder, a lot harder.  The handles moved ever so slightly but it looked the cork didn’t move.  I set the bottle on the floor, grabbed both handles and put my full 220 pounds on them.  The cork sloooowly slid into the bottle and stopped.

Thinking the cork was all the way in, I lifted the corker up and the bottle came with it.  The cork was about half way into the bottle and half in the corker, locking them together.  I set them back down, grabbed the handles and began bouncing on them.  Each bounce moved the handles a little further, driving the stubborn cork down millimeter by millimeter.

After several bounces the corker clicked and felt loose.  I lifted it up and there in front of me was my first finished bottle of wine.

The process was repeated 21 more times before the remaining wine was almost down to the lees.  With less than a bottle left, I decided to fill a glass and try my new wine.  Everything I read said the brand new wine will not be good yet but I had to try.

The wine looked just a little cloudy but it had come just off the top of the lees so I wasn’t worried about that.  It had a unique aroma, pleasant like a grape wine but not exactly a cabernet or rioja.  So I took a sip expecting it to be sour and bitter.

It was good, dry but not sour, full of fruity goodness and with just a hint of oak.  So I sat down and admired all of those bottles of wine while I sipped my first glass.  I think I will call this project a success.

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Making #wine – fermentation

I did all of my research, gathered the fruit, prepared everything and dropped in the yeast.  Now it’s time to sit back and wait, almost.

There are two stages of fermentation according to the recipe I am following.  The first stage has all of the fruit in the must and the second stage is just the wine.  So I have a large plastic bucket of fermenting wine with a big bag of fruit, stems and seeds in it and in a few days I need to transfer just the wine into a five gallon container with an airlock.  Easy, right?

Well, the instructions indicated that it would ferment vigorously and heat up in the process and peaking at about 80 degrees.  The day after I started the fermentation, I checked on it and I got a little worried.  When my beer ferments vigorously I have to use a large hose going into a bucket of water for an airlock because the fermentation blows all of the water out of a regular airlock.  The wine however, was very still and had just a trace of foam around the edge of the bucket and the temperature was 64 degrees, the air temperature of the basement where it is fermenting.

Is something wrong?  Did the yeast die?  When I prepared the yeast I followed the instructions that said I should start the yeast in a small container of warm  (100º F) water and let it sit for several minutes before adding it to the juice.  But it also said that if the temperature of the juice was less than 60° to let the yeast sit on the top of the juice to adapt to the cooler temperature.  My juice was about 65° so I poured in the yeast and stirred it in.  Or maybe I didn’t wait long enough after adding the potassium metabisulfite and I killed all of my good yeast.  Or maybe everything is fine.  I would just have to wait to find out.  So I stirred the must covered it and left it until evening.

That evening I went down to stir the must again and I saw that the bag of fruit had inflated like a balloon and was up above the top of the bucket.   It looks like there is some fermentation happening.  However, the must was still just room temperature.  I squeezed the air out of the bag, stirred the must and left it until tomorrow.

For the next three days I stirred the must twice a day and every time the bag was full of air.  It looks like it’s fine but with the extreme amount of sugar in the mix it seemed that the yeast would never convert it all.  I guess I won’t know for sure until it’s finished.  Oh Lord give me patience.  And do it now!


Tomorrow – transfer the wine





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Making #wine – starting the process

On my last post I described the convoluted process I went through to get enough fruit.  It had to be all wild fruit, nothing from the store, I know it’s silly but I am doing this for fun as much as for the end product.

So, now I have my fruit.  I had frozen the elderberries as I picked them and the grapes I was using fresh from the picking.  I found a tip that if you covered the fresh grapes in water and heated it up to boiling. the grape skins would split and crushing them would be easy.  It worked!  I just hope that heating the grapes up won’t affect the quality of the wine.

I bought a big filter bag, large enough to hold all of the fruit and put it into a six gallon bucket that I use for making beer (yeah, I make beer too).  Then I put the frozen berries into the bag and poured the hot grapes, stems and water on top of the frozen berries.  I tied up the top of the bag and added water to nearly 6 gallons assuming that taking the stems and seeds in the bag out of the wine would bring it back down to about 5 gallons.

I then followed my recipe carefully and added the pectic enzyme to the juice, stirred it in and covered it up.  According to what I had read, this was necessary to ensure that my lovely juice didn’t turn into jelly before it fermented.  Later I added the potassium metabisulfate and stirred it in.  Again the recipe said that this was necessary to kill any wild yeast that might be on the fruit before it ruined my wine. Now I had to leave it sit undisturbed until tomorrow.

Early the next day, I went back to the winemaking.  Using a hydrometer, I tested the juice for sugar content.  I used the calculation I had found for determining how much sugar I needed to make the perfect wine.  The juice measured 8 on the scale and I needed to get it to 24.  Using the calculation it indicated that I needed eight more pounds of sugar!

Wow!  Eight pounds of sugar added to fruit that naturally had sugar in it seemed impossible.  So I put in just four pounds, stirred it in and let it sit for a while.  I measured it again and the reading was up to 14.  It looks like I need even more than another four pounds to get to 24.  I added four more pounds and tested again.  Now it was 22.  I read that the measurement can change if it sits overnight so I covered it up and left.

The next morning I checked it again and the reading was now 23 so I added just half a pound of sugar and stirred it in.  Then I couldn’t resist any longer,  The juice looked exactly like a beautiful clear red rioja wine so I took a sample and tasted it.  Yikes!  It was sweeter than Kool Aid.  It was so sweet that the sugary sweetness completely overpowered the taste of the fruit.

I find it hard to believe that the yeast will be able to convert all of that sugar to alcohol and make a nice wine from sugary sweetness.  But I can only wait until the yeast has finished it’s job to see if it worked.  With a resigned sigh, I added the yeast, covered the must (It’s called must after the yeast has been added to the juice) and left.


Next – fermentation



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Making #wine – the Berry Hunt

In my last post, I described how I got started with this wine making craziness.  Now, after all of my careful preparation, I discovered that I would not have nearly enough elderberries for a five gallon batch of wine.  Instead of 30 pounds from my bushes, I will only get 5 or 6 pounds and it will require 3 1/2 to 5 pounds of berries per gallon.  I need to find a LOT of elderberries.  For those who are not familiar with elderberries, they are about the size of a BB.  I need millions and billions of them, well, thousands at least.

So, I set out on a search for elderberry bushes.  These bushes grow wild in open areas along the edges of woods and along fence lines.  They are everywhere; I should have no problem finding another 15 pounds, right?  Wrong!  After searching a large wild area near my home I found a couple of bushes but the clusters of berries were even sparser than mine.  Some clusters had only five or six berries left.  Time to go back to Google to see why there are so few berries.

It turns out that elderberries primarily spread through their roots, the seeds in the berries count for just a small portion of new growth.  The bushes don’t need to produce the massive number of berries they would get if all of the blossoms developed into berries.  So, if the fertility of the soil is a little low or the sunlight is a little less than ideal, they compensate by dropping the berries to a number they can maintain.  They also have shallow root systems and they don’t compete well with weeds.  Most wild bushes, it seems, produce big showy blossom clusters but just a few berries.

So now I focused my search on open areas where the bushes would get a lot of sun.  However, we were well into the ripening season and lots of birds just love elderberries.  So, the bushes were big and healthy but the berry clusters were heavily picked over with some clusters completely bare.  But the birds took the easy pickings and left the hidden clusters alone.  With some searching and some fighting with nettles, I filled my collecting bag and headed home smiling with satisfaction.

I guessed that I had about 6 pounds of berries from my bushes already and I thought my bag full of beautiful dark berries would finish it off.  There had to be at least 15 pounds of berries there.  Unfortunately, I developed my weight guessing skills as a fisherman.  After removing all of the stems I weighed my treasured berries and found I had collected only about five pounds on that trip and the berries from my bushes came to just 2 pounds.  I made another trip to the best area with my daughter.  That made it a good day even if we didn’t find any berries.  But we did find another 2 pounds.  But even with that,  I had only half the berries that I needed!

Back to Google!  I didn’t want to expand my search for elderberry bushes so I started searching for alternatives.  It seems that the wild grape that grows everywhere in the north country can make a pretty good wine when mixed with elderberries.  I already had 9 pounds of elderberries so I could pick 10 or 12 pounds of grapes and make elderberry/grape wine.  I had wild grape vines growing at home so I thought I could just pick them and start my wine.

I never really looked closely at the wild grapes before but now I saw that the clusters are small – about 10 to 20 grapes in a cluster and the grapes are small.  I picked every grape I could find and they weighed in at just over six pounds including the stems and I am guessing the stems are a third of the weight.  I am still short by at least another 7 or 8  pounds.  But the grapes were easy to find in the wooded areas and I quickly picked another 8 1/2 pounds.

I now have enough fruit to start making wine.  I can see it now, sitting on my deck with some cheese and crackers and a nice glass of elderberry/grape wine, mmmmm.

Tomorrow – start the winemaking

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