August 23rd, 2017 – and New Beginnings

Today, Wednesday  August 23rd, was a good morning in the McCarthy household, and a start to what turned out to be a very good day. It was my son Luke’s first day of school, his first day as a fifth grader. I got up and made him pancakes for breakfast , which was a pre- stroke routine for us during past school years. My ability to resume this role and having the balance to do it while standing  and the ability to do it with my one good arm probably meant as much to me as to the boy who scarfed down 5 good size pancakes and fed the sixth one to our dog. His mom then was able to walk with him and his dog down to the bus stop.


Also on Wednesday, I used the local para – transit bus service for the first time and went to meet with Marie a case manager from the Office of Vocational Rehab. We were able to speak about resources that would be available to me, including some assisstive technology as I strive  to resume my call as a provider of pastoral care and ministry and to carry out my vows of preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments. She listened very well and had some great ideas, some of which will have to wait until she obtains medical and rehab records; yet others can be followed up upon immediately- which I am doing. I think I will enjoy working with her and it will be of great benefit.


So I am blessed and thankful for these new beginnings for Luke and myself on August 23rd, 2017. I am emphasizing the date because it is just about 1 year 3months and one week since my stroke on May 17th, 2016. I’ve often wondered if I am overly or pathologically obsessive  about the date of my stroke and marking the time that  has passed since it occurred. But it has occurred to me that many of us hold on to and treasure specific dates, birthdays, anniversaries, or even the date of a loved one’s death or the date of a traumatic event or life change. Indeed I have held on to dates in this way throughout my entire life, Even if I forget to follow through and wish a friend  or family member ”Happy Birthday or ”Happy Anniversary” .


The other reason I have held on so strongly to the date of my stroke is that I had that date in my mind for about 8 months prior. I will share my story of that day since I do not believe  I’ve shared it in this blog yet. I was scheduled to preach at our worship and meeting for Lutheran Pastors in the Hanover PA or “Conference” on that date since September of 2015, since we  sign up for preaching or leading the worship for the coming year at our first meeting in September. Even though It is a little intimidating to preach in front of esteemed colleagues- 90% of whom  have more experience than I do and in front of mentors and representatives of the Bishop’s office; I enjoy preaching so  I had the date in mind for all that time and was looking forward to it.


The worship and the preaching I shared went very well. It was a day where I felt quite strong- I did not have any notable fatigue or tremulousness or double vision or tingling through my legs  that I had begun to associate with my still fairly recent diagnosis of  MS.  Several of my colleagues and I had a great lunch at my favorite place in town and then I remember having a fairly productive day at the office. Afterwards when I returned home, we turned right around and headed to my son’s baseball game.  We were sitting right behind home plate as he usually was a catcher for at least a couple of innings.  It was a bit of a chilly evening for May and I had a throw wrapped around me but it had been a great day and there was no other place  in the world I would have rather been.


My son was in front of us up at bat, when I felt a strong  grabbing sensation through my left side that I’ve never been able to describe  but that felt different than the tingling and pricklies I often felt on a daily basis in my feet and legs. I remember being out of it enough that I did not keep track of Luke’s balls and strikes which I always do. Luke was walked and when the ump yelled “ball 4- take your base” I snapped out of it, and without thinking started to shout encouragement to Luke on the bases. “Luke you’re a weapon on the bases, remember you can be a weapon” After I did that, I turned to my wife Susan who was sitting next to me and asked her if that sounded right because somehow the words didn’t sound right to my own ear. She said they didn’t and that something was wrong with my face. It was then that I drew some attention and discovered I could not stand or lift my left arm. So that was the beginning of it all. On a lighter note I was told later on, that what I said to Luke actually came out as  “Luke you’re a  woman, remember you’re a woman out there”  😊


I recall all of this because there have been a lot of times, too many in fact to recall, between May 17, 2016 and August 23rd, 2017 when I did not think there would be any new beginnings, but I was reminded today that there can be new beginnings and even ones that include the resumption of previous roles and abilities.


May God bless you on your days of transition and loss and on the days where you begin again!


Standing Under Our Losses

In my about section  blog for this,  I listed some of the losses that I have experienced over the past 15 months since my stroke. to avoid redundancy I won’t repeat them. After I listed them I stated ” I’m not listing these to garner sympathy but to come to a recognition or greater awareness of my losses” . Over the past few days  I have been reflecting on the value  of recognizing and naming one’s losses even if simply to one’s self.

I think its a choice we can make to name and become increasingly aware of the losses we have undergone and that we may be undergoing and to  take a moments to simply sit with them. what this can look like depends on each person. For some it can be crying through them or it maybe shouting or cussing through them or sharing them with a loved one or professional or just taking the time to be silent by one’s self or while clutching the hand of another. for many of us , it is probably some  combination of all of these.

Although the title of this blog is forward moving and some times it is thought to move ahead   that we have to “get over”  what ever has happened to us:

  • a trauma
  • a loss,certainty of some type
  • am unexpected limitation

I am proposing that we do not need to  get over our losses but to take the moments to stand under them  and then we can carry them with us as we move forward in our journey and perhaps at times we gain understanding.

I believe that pausing to  stand under and develop a greater awareness of our losses  is a choice because we have other alternatives, that , may not be healthy or helpful.  I think of some of the classic defense mechanisms you may have learned learned about in Psych 101.

  • Denial
  • Projection – projecting or putting your anger or anxiety upon someone elset hats not directly related (for example, I am nervous about this appointment, so i fly off the handle at my spouse about something in the house)
  • Suppression-we stuff our feelings and our losses so deep within ourselves that we cause damage in the long run to our physical , emotional and spiritual health

And while these and other defense mechanisms, are things we all engage in from time to time to rely solely on one or several of them for prolonged periods of time  is not healthy for ourselves, our relationships and our ability to function among others.  To be honest,  I am the king of denial; “I say I am simply not this impaired or don’t need any help with this task- when I clearly do “ Because these and other mechanisms kick in so automatically for us as human beings it is not easy to recognize and to become deeply aware of   one’s losses or limitations, which involve a loss of our own expectations.

I fell on Wednesday.  I did not injure myself although its a pain for me and those I live with  because I  do not have the strength to pull myself up and always need help to stand up.   I did some thing I’ve done thousands of times successfully  since I returned home last fall and something  I’ve done many times in the days since.  I bent down to pick up an empty packet from the floor that didn’t make into the trash can and when I rose up my left – my impaired leg just gave out and I fell on my bum to the left. Between May and July – I fell once in about 10 weeks,  but in the second week of July I fell twice, so with this fall I have fallen three times in 30 days.  For me the loss that I am beginning to recognize is that with my MS or because of the type of stroke I had -who knows; my “recovery” is not going to be a steady progression but a series of periods of strength and progression intermixed inconsistently with periods of decline, where I do not do as well physically which for me effects everything else. This reality or loss for me has been one that I have tried to deny  and one that has been especially difficult for me to  name, to stand under and to carry with me.

May God bless each of you as you take the time to name and stand under your losses and as you carry them together with your gifts and strengths and look to move forward

Your friend, Terry

Changes and Companionship

In the first months after my stroke at the age of 49 a little over a year ago, I found myself looking back at other difficult transitions and periods in my life, and in retrospect these periods of intense distress, uncertainty and transition were just “slivers of time” in comparison to the 50 years of my life to that point. Whether it was financial problems, or the divorce from my first wife or when I left the Catholic seminary community after  my first year of college after knowing that it was not a fit for me; these were times in my life of great distress and transition, but life went on; together with the help of others I either worked through it or new opportunities came up or  I  simply let go of expectations.  Often it was a combination of all three.

I began to see my rehabilitation from my stroke as yet another “Sliver of time”. And it was an incredibly consoling concept, that one day I  would look upon these dark difficult challenging days as I looked with hindsight upon the 6-7 months surrounding my separation and divorce from my first wife more than 20 years before- as simply a sliver of time in the chronology of my life. I believed that like on those other occasions, although things would be different, that after several months or a year or more of rehabilitation, my life would resume, that I would be able to engage life fully -professionally, emotionally, spiritually and socially.

However over the past few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that this perspective was not realistic and therefore was not helpful to me.  The aftermath of this stroke together with my MS changed me irrevocably: physically, cognitively, professionally, emotionally. and it has profoundly affected and interfered with the relationships that matter the most to me. IT will not be sadly a “sliver of time”,as i had hoped, instead it is a life change. 

The best metaphor that i can think of, is of puberty – believe it or not! In puberty each of us experience  hormonal changes governed ultimately by a growing and developing brain. These changes affect us as we develop and grow in every possible way; bringing about  physical, emotional and cognitive changes which effect our  abilities,   and our relationships. Puberty is a life change and those changes can not be undone. Speaking only for myself, I have come to realize that together the aftermath of my stroke and my  MS has also constituted a life change, one that I am unable to turn back and  one that i can ignore only at my own peril.

The difference of course, is that puberty is a set of normal developmental changes. My life change is the result of a gaping hole in my brain from my stroke and from scarring   along vital nerve tissue in my brain and spinal cord,  all of which I can see in an MRI. There have been blessings however in  the midst of this life change, I have been accompanied and blessed by beloved family and friends.  New friendships have blossomed and old friendships and family connections have been renewed and strengthened and for all of these I am eternally grateful.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that God gave me a stroke and ms , so that I might receive these blessings or somehow be a better or stronger person because of them. This  is not the beloved God I worship. I also do not agree at all with the saying that “God does not “give us more than we can handle”; because I certainly could not and still can not “handle” all of this! I believe God accompanies each of us through the randomness and losses of this life; just as God the father did not abandon Jesus his son on the cross but raised him from death to new life.

The good news is that as I have said I have been blessed  to not move forward  alone.  I am accompanied and at times literally carried by professionals and beloved family and friends. The holy scriptures both the hebrew scriptures and the christian scriptures, (often referred to as the old and new testament respectively). lift up in too many places to possibly mention in the idea of us as human beings accompanying one another as we move forward on challenging journeys. In the second creation story, God creates all the creatures hoping for a partner for his child of the soil-adam and  when none of those work out. God gives life to Eve. When God tells Abram to venture from his home and  all he knows, he is accompanied by his wife, Sarai by his nephew Lot and by all of their hpuseholds.

In the christian gospels, Jesus does not send the disciples out to teach and heal by themselves but always in pairs. After the death of Jesus when the disciples walked to Emmaus, they did not go home alone but there were two of them together when the risen lord joined their journey and listened to their story. I am sure the concept of accompanying one another is present in the religous texts and teachings of other faith traditions as well!

I have been blessed and accompanied these past 15 months in  ways  that Icould never expect or imagine.  A couple of  women battling cancer and one mourning the loss of her young spouse have inspired me by sharing their stories of loss and of courage and of moving forward .  I mention their names because they all publish public blogs about all thet have faced. they are Elspeth Lucas, Diane Fiore and Kate Davidson. look them up! They all write wonderfully, far better than I do.  I have also been able to meet new friends and renew an old frienship with several younger victims of stroke or a brain insult. In fact I am the oldest of the group. I sarted a facebook group called folks with strokes under 50.  Its been a while since there have been posts, and for me it has grown into an exchange of individual messages with now treasured friends. But if anyone wants to join our group on facebook just leave your name in the comments and  I will friend you on facebook or get in touch with me on facebook.

Well that is far more than enough for now. Until later Peace and be well,

Your friend, Terry

“This has been in the works”

I have thought about writing  this blog since shortly after my stroke on May 17th, 2016. in the initial weeks and months afterwards, it seemed my brain was racing  with ideas for devotions, or simply reflections.  I remember at one point in the first month after my CVA wanting to write down these 8 or 9 different ideas I  had in my head  along with corresponding scriptures. I am not even sure know if I wrote them down and lost the list or they just slowly left my mind as I engaged in the long process of the struggle for rehabilitation.

So this indeed has long been in the works and here I am more than a year later putting some thoughts down on paper, something that has never come easily to me. I am far more comfortable with verbal expression than written communication. It is one of the reasons that as a pastor, I never wrote out my sermons in a manuscript.  I found it was far more natural and authentic to talk through the sermon just as it had percolated in my brain throughout the previous week as I walked, as I drove and as I cared for our son and our home.

So, please  don’t expect literary brilliance, I am sure in fact you will find many typos and  a great deal of incorrect punctuation and run on sentences. My goal is simply to write something that is readable. I do want to share some of my reflections not necessarily of what I’ve been through but of  who I am and who I am becoming. so here is the deal.

  • I am Terrence  McCarthy,
  •   An incredibly flawed yet blessed child of God
  • A husband and father-blessed by love.
  • An ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  •  At 51 years of age, I am struggling with disability and the loss of my profession, resulting from a stroke that has pretty much paralyzed my left side.
  • Along with a diagnosis of  MS that I received in January of 2016, I have lived with visual changes, depression, problems with memory and attention, tremors and incontinence.  All of which have gotten worse since my stroke.
  • Yet I continue to move forward, a friend told me years ago, the road ahead is hardly ever straight but you can always go forward.

So I have a lot more I can write about and that I  hope to write about but I will save some of it for another time.   Until then peace to you and your beloved as you continue to move forward