Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thankfulness as a discipline . . .

. . . is a new concept.  Today's reading in Jesus Calling is about thankfulness; it's not the first time the writer has encouraged thankfulness, but the first time she has called it a discipline.  She writes:  "Practice My Presence by practicing the discipline of thankfulness" and exhorts the reader to: "See how many times you can thank Me daily; this will awaken your awareness to a multitude of blessings."  I began to think of why/how to think of this concept.  In other writings she has urged the reader to replace complaints and grumblings with thanksgiving.  Certainly rings a Biblical bell with me!  "Be anxious for nothing, but in all things, give thanks."  That, for me, takes discipline.  How much easier it is to complain!  Throughout today I have tried to really see how many things for which I can thank God. 

Here go a few:
  • I'm thankful for the insights shared by Sarah Young in Jesus Calling.  What a terrific blessing they continue to be!
  • I'm thankful for July 24 and Kevin and Marty's anniversary and for all they mean to each other.  I'm thankful for the three grandchildren they have added to my life.
  • I'm thankful for the care Tommy takes of me.  Discipline plays a big part on this one because he tends to be somewhat "overprotective" and I tend to be somewhat "independent." 
  • I'm thankful for Tommy and Liz and the five children that round out their family.
  • I'm thankful for the unique personalities and gifts of each of those eight grandchildren and I am especially thankful for all the time Meredith and Elisa spend with me.  Sometimes I forget to be thankful when I'm busy being quiet and they come bouncing in the door full of silliness and giggles.  It takes discipline to be thankful and not out of sorts.
  •  I'm thankful for memories of my mother that have been dormant for a long, long time.  They were brought to mind a couple of weeks ago when Elisa brought two books of children's poetry off my bookcase.  One had a variety of poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, Ogden Nash and others.  The other was A Child's Garden of Verses, by Stevenson. As I read, I was transported back in time to the hours I sat as my mother read to me about Mr. Nobody, my shadow, the games played on  the counterpane.  I realized how much of our conversations had references to those entertaining poems and the values I learned through them.  I'm thankful to be able to remember those special times with my mother.
  • I'm thankful for friends who take time to stay in touch by letters, phone calls, e-mail and Facebook.
  • I'm thankful for social media used appropriately.  Many friends (Lynn, Susie, Melanie, Gwen)have posted beautiful pictures that bring thankfulness for their sharing and for God's creation.  Some friends have shared pictures and descriptions of places they have visited this summer.  I think particularly of my "superhero of a friend," Jan, who has taken me on a mission trip with her, a tour of Switzerland with both her and husband Mike, and just last week on a hiking trip in Peru.  My days of traveling are probably over so I especially am thankful for those who take the time to share. 
That's just the beginning of an endless list of things that bring thanksgiving to my heart.  Two verses come to mind:  "Celebrate God," and Paul's verse I wrote of earlier: "Be anxious for nothing and in all things give thanks." Thanksgiving beats complaining any day!

Blessings,
Pastor Margaret

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Drew . . .

. . . is twelve years old today.  How can that even be possible?  He is named for his dad, his granddad and his great granddad - Andrew Thomas.  I think his mom and dad just liked the name, Andrew, and they had already decided that three Thomas Henrys was quite enough.  Actually, there are at least two other Andrews:  one a beloved professor of Agronomy at Mississippi State and his son, Drew, who was a physicist who did cancer research.  Both were brilliant men.  Our Drew is a gifted student with a natural sense of rhythm and a love for baseball.  Today Elisa, Meredith and I have made fruit kabobs and created a special red velvet cake to celebrate.  It has a chocolate ganache filling, buttercream frosting, covered with chopped nuts, all to his specification. 

Drew was the first of our grandchildren that I was privileged to baptize.  I finished the first regimen of chemo for the ovarian cancer in April; Tom had been diagnosed with Parkinson's and we were anxious to come home to Mississippi for some R & Rand to meet 10 month old Drew.  What a humbling experience to hold a grandchild and welcome him into the family of God, to hear the professions of faith from his parents, the promise of support from his church family and to realize what I, as his grandmother and a pastor, am professing.  Being privileged to baptize five of our eight grandchildren has made my daily prayers for them even more real. 

Children today are faced with so much more evil than their parents were and certainly more than their grandparents.  I often wonder what goes through children's minds when they learn of school shootings.  Do they wonder if the same could happen at their schools?  Do they feel safe?  I think of parents in the middle of the crisis in Israel and the Gaza Strip and wonder if I could put my little ones on a bus, send them off to school, not knowing if they would make it to school.  One of my daily prayers for my own grandchildren is for them to be kept safe:  safe from the threat of violence, safe from drugs, safe from sexual predators.  Those prayers are no different from parents around the world; I just live in a safer place.  As I am convicted to pray for children in my family, I am also convicted to pray just as earnestly for children around the world, particularly those in the Middle East and the Ukraine; the young girls in Africa who were kidnapped; the children on the streets in Brazil.  Instead of lamenting how terrible the situation is, I urge you to pray for all these children as if they were your own. 

Blessings,
Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

As usual . . .

. . . the days have slipped away.  The two weeks surrounding infusions are "down" days, not necessarily because I feel bad, but the body and brain don't function at full capacity.  The two weeks off are filled with as much energy and activity as I can muster.  When days are "down," I spend a lot of time thinking about what I will do when I'm "up."  Crazy, isn't it? 

Summer is in full bloom.  We've had fresh vegetables from Paw Paw's Garden Market: corn, snap beans, cucumbers, squash and finally tomatoes.  The children have had Vacation Bible School, been to the lake for a couple of days to see Mimi and Pop, Drew has been to baseball camp, Sarah, in addition to her week of mallet camp, and Jacob are going to band practice once a week and in between they spend lots of time in the pool.  This weekend Sarah, Jacob and their dad go to Puerto Rico  a mission trip.  I love the tastes and sounds of summer.  Grandchildren in Raleigh are pretty much doing the same things--just too far away for me. 

Meredith and Elisa spent the night Friday night.  We had been talking about it for days--where they would sleep, what we'd do, what I'd fix for breakfast.  Bags were packed early in the day and brought over with pillows and blankets right after lunch.  Sleeping arrangements didn't quite work out the way they planned; both ended up with me in my bed.  It was a little crowded, but worth every minute.  I was reminded of all the nights Marty went to spend the night with my mother and their making muffins for breakfast.  Marty always seemed excited to go and now I know, her excitement didn't even touch what my mother felt! 

In my younger, more foolish years I was not shy about expressing my opinion.  As I've aged, I have become less vocal, probably just as opinionated, but quieter, and more tolerant of others.  I don't have to be right; I don't have to win every contest.  However, I want to go on record right now and let it be known that I am not now, nor have I ever been a liberal Democrat!  I have no liberal persuasions, theologically or politically.  I have family and good friends who don't share my conservative beliefs, but, so far as I know, they don't condemn me, nor do I condemn them.  For the most part, my opinion on the Republican Primary this summer has not been shared except with family and a few close friends, though many things have angered me.  Last night was the final straw.  Enough said! 

The last time I was in the infusion room there were several patients around me who were anticipating their final treatment. Lots of you know the relief and excitement that brings.  One lady who was just getting started, asked how many more treatments I had left.  I fumbled as I tried to think of a positive, encouraging way to tell her that treatment for me is indefinite.  I don't remember exactly what I said, but I do remember the look that seemed to indicate, "I'm sorry I asked."  Still trying to be encouraging, I told her that my cancer history was long, huge advances had been made in treatment and that the fact that I was standing there talking to her made indefinite treatments worthwhile.  Since then, I have had a change in vocabulary.  From now on, I will define my regimen as "maintenance," not indefinite treatments.  Sometimes, a word makes a difference. 

Til the next time . . .

Blessings,
Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My new friend . . .

. . . from the infusion room last week has given me lots of food for thought.  Theologically, her story underscores my Calvinistic  beliefs.  Practically, her sweet, gentle spirit affirms the fact of promised peace when our eyes "are stayed on God."  I hope she will be at the Cancer Center when I return this Thursday.  The message I received from her is not new.  It was a reminder of God's irresistible grace; a reminder of the importance of planting seeds; a reminder that someone plants, someone waters, someone nurtures, but God, alone, gives the increase. 

"D" told me that she had been involved in an abusive relationship, that the man abusing her was also the one who got her hooked on drugs.  She had wanted a loving relationship with husband and children, but instead has young adult children and no husband.  Now, she has cancer and is in treatment.  I don't know her prognosis, but I know she trusts God completely.  Usually, I listen, allowing people to tell me what they want, but Thursday I asked if she would tell me how she got out of her addiction.  She said she was preparing to "shoot up," had the needle in her arm, when she said to herself:  "I don't want to live apart from God.  I want to be with Him and I can't do that and be on drugs."  She pulled the needle from her arm and stopped then and there.  That had to be hard for her to do.  Sometime, in some place, some person or persons told her about God and the life available to her if she put her trust in Him.  It could have been in Vacation Bible School when she was a child, it could have been a parent or grandparent, it could have been a word spoken in passing.  But, the Word had been planted and God used that Word to turn her around.  Today, she professes that trust and is planting seeds herself. 

How easy it is for us to slip into retirement, wondering what purpose there is left for our years.  How natural it is for us to think that our usefulness to God is based on our productivity!  I needed to be reminded that God can and does use us when we are led by His Spirit.  "D" touched my life last week; made me remember . . .

Blessings,
Pastor Margaret 

Friday, June 06, 2014

TBT might mean . . .

. . . Think Back Thursday in addition to the original Throw Back Thursday.  As it is tonight, it's not even Thursday anymore; it's early Friday morning or Too Blasted Late to Think, changing it to TBLT.  Network problems required several minutes of attention, plus I got started late. So, in keeping with the last post, my "throw backs" are word pictures, not photos.  The memories keep coming. 

One reason for the lateness of the hour is a project I've been working on the last couple of days with Sarah.  She plays flute in band and is a new member of the Petal High School Marching Band.  One of the band directors asked her to participate in "mallet camp" this week to learn marimba for Indoor Percussion.  She knows and plays scales well on the flute, but learning to play them on a marimba when you have never played a keyboard instrument is very different.  My "throw back" is to a little blue staff book that my high school piano teacher, Miss Eason, had me write all major and minor scales, arpeggios and I, IV, V, V7 chord progressions.  I can still see her neat illustrations in that book, but most of all I remember that basic instruction and how it literally carried me in college freshman theory.  Helping Sarah has made me want to get back to the keyboard myself. 

My morning Bible readings have been in Deuteronomy, one of my favorite books.  It is a book of remembering.  As I am trying to adjust to this "chemo indefinitely" schedule, remembering is vital.  The tendency is to complain, think about what I can't do, how chemo affects my life.  That's not good!  Like the Israelites needed to remember where they were, the fix they were in, where they are currently, all because of God' faithfulness to the promises He made, I need to remember where I was, the nature of the cancer, where I am today, all because of God's faithfulness to the promises He has made to me.  A thankful heart is so much healthier than a grumpy, complaining heart.  Moses didn't merely summarize the Israelite's journey, he reminded them, in detail, of both the good steps and the bad.  Remembering the journey is a "throw back" for every day, not just Thursday. 

A different bedspread on my bed provides a warm memory, no pun intended.  In 1936, pregnant with my older brother, my mother began crocheting a spread out of twine.  It is a beautiful popcorn, diamond pattern that Meredith tells me has 90 knots or popcorns to a pattern. After his birth, she rested from crocheting until pregnant with me four years later.  My birth stopped her work again and it wasn't until the mid 1970s, after her retirement, that she resumed work on the spread.  By that time the twine had yellowed with age, the same or a comparable kind was hard to find and it needed to fit a queen rather than a double bed.  My mother persevered, completed the spread and gave it to me.  It is a real treasure, but not terribly comfortable to lie on its top , too hot to lie under and too heavy on your feet.  You might say beautiful, but not practical.  I have found a way to make it work.  Seeing it on my bed, viewing it up close, I am reminded of my mother's determination to complete what she had started, a trait in her that was obvious in most of what she did.  I am reminded of her giving nature, knowing that the spread was special to her, but she wanted Tom and me to have it.  As I throw it back when I get in bed at night, I remember my mother.  

Yesterday, Thursday of this week, was a doctor day and day #1 of another chemo cycle.  Counts were good, so I was told, though I am always anxious to see for myself, and I made a new friend.  At first I thought it would be quiet in my area:  the man on my right had on headphones and was engrossed in his I-pad; the lady on my left was asleep.  I read, got out my lunch and as I was eating my pound cake, the lady commented on the cake and asked if the chemo affected my taste for food.  That opened the door for conversation.  She has endured an abusive relation, drug addiction, colon cancer and expressed how God has brought her through all the problems in her life.  Her spirit is beautiful; her heart is grateful; her trust in God is complete.  I was glad she awoke and saw my cake!

I have begun to look forward to seeing my friend, Cindy, who I met several months ago in the infusion room.  I had not seen her since April because of scheduling conflicts in May, so I especially looked forward to today when we should be back on the same schedule.  Her attitude and her countenance have been encouraging, not just to me, but to all who sit near her.  Not long before I finished treatment, I saw her come in and one look told me she wasn't feeling well.  She has done well thus far, but the last treatment has not been kind to her.  Please pray for her to be able to keep down food and liquids.  Hydration is vital and it is frustrating not to be able to keep anything down.  Even as she brought me up to date on her status, she was anticipating feeling better and getting us together with other women we have met there. 

It is way past my bedtime, so I will say goodnight.  Remember God; remember what He has done for you and be ready to share.

Blessings,
Pastor Margaret

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throw Back Thursday . . .

. . . appeared in my Facebook feed a few weeks ago and I had no clue what TBT meant.  I still don't know how it originated, but have laughed more than once when seeing old photos.  It's mostly true: "A picture is worth a thousand words," however, being a word person, myself, and not knowing how to pass along pictures via the internet, I thought I'd use today's post for a TBT edition peculiar to me. 

Thursdays are BIG days at my house.  Two Thursdays out of every month are designated as treatment days.  Treatments haven't always been on Thursdays though.  In the early eighties, when I had my first series of chemo treatments, Monday was the day--and I was adamant about the day, allowing nothing to change the schedule.  I was focused; had life planned and did not like interruptions.  Boy, was I na├»ve!  In California, when it became necessary to be treated again, everything was different, including the day.  This time it was on a Friday, again, according to my planned schedule.  Treatment in Tennessee was bumped around depending on when the doctor was in the clinic, but I was still in charge, or so I thought.  You may be wondering what this has to do with TBT and it's this:  As I understand the point, the photos are to help take us back to earlier times, hopefully to remind us of times gone by that cheered us or helped us along our life's journey.  Leading the way in the cheering section, for me, have been the incredible nurses who care more than you would think possible.  As I focus on Thursdays in my life now, I am more aware than ever that I am not now, nor have ever been in charge.  It is by God's grace that I am even here to have Thursdays.  I have finally come to accept Paul's words in Philippians where he talks about being content whatever the circumstances. 

Last week brought back lots of mental pictures of times gone by, especially birthdays celebrated for Tommy, III through the years.  Elizabeth, Tommy and I planned his birthday dinner early in the week and I paced myself so I'd have energy to get it made.  He wanted lasagna and German chocolate cake.  Being in the kitchen, cooking what is requested is one of life's greatest pleasures for me.  As I measure and mix, sift and stir, I "throw back" to all the times I have done these things before. 

I never make German chocolate cake that I don't remember the first time I made it.  Tom, Jr. raved about the cake he  and an army buddy of his enjoyed in Munich.  The friend and his new wife were paying us a visit in Oxford, I was eight months pregnant and had never before made such a cake.  I remember sitting on a stool, stirring the icing, hardly reaching the stove.  Tom's friend took one bite, turns to Tom and says:  "This is a lot better than the Sara Lee cake we bought in the commissary." If looks could kill. . . !  Then there was the time I made German chocolate for Tommy's birthday and left the layers, covered on the counter, to cool overnight.  I discovered the next morning that one layer had mysteriously sunk through the rack, making repairs necessary.  As we were enjoying cake and ice cream with some of Tommy's friends, one asked if I had been told he had put his elbow through the layer.  We still refer to German chocolate, at times, as "elbow cake."  Good memories of good friends sharing good food together. 

This afternoon, on this TBT, I have been watching baseball and snapping beans, remembering all the summer Saturday afternoons I shelled peas and watched baseball.  The differences today being beans instead of peas and the game has been the SEC tournament instead of the Braves. 

Keep posting your pictures.  I love to see you, your families and the things that bring you joy.  One day I might join this century and learn to post pictures too.  Til then, you'll have to put up with my words.

Blessings,
Pastor Margaret

Friday, May 09, 2014

Margaret & Tom's Blog: Preview ""

Margaret & Tom's Blog: Preview ""
Overwhelmed Again and Again. . .

 . . . Often after a mountaintop experience one plunges into the valley.  The week after Easter was full of terrific opportunities: renewed energy, projects accomplished around the house, my first time back to COM after an absence of a year.  Simply put, I felt like my life was finally resuming.  Little did I know that the following week, beginning with the scan trip to Jackson would see that plunge into the valley.  But, God has reminded me day after day of His overwhelming Presence, that it is not the circumstance that gets the focus, but the God who is in the midst of the circumstance. I'll bring you up to date.

We arrived at the UMMC Cancer Center at 7:30 a.m., right of time, and started the boring process.  On our way up, we kept track of the storms in the northwestern part of the state that were coming our way.  While we were anxious to learn the results of our visit, we were more anxious to get finished and on our way home before the storms caught up with us.  Things went well, even though I did have to wait an extra hour to see the doctor.  I could have written his script: "The scans are stable, so we'll continue with the regimen of two treatments a month."  I had my script ready: "Could we possibly reduce the amount of chemo? Could we spread out the time between treatments?"  He was ready with the answers.  Bottom line: chemo continues indefinitely and I am at peace with that decision.

Instead of enjoying a nice lunch as we usually do, we headed home, stopping only at Sonic for food to eat in the care and got home by 2 p.m. ahead of the storm.  About 3 p.m., Tommy texted for me to turn on the Weather Channel that there were live shots of Yazoo City (where I lived and worked 4 yrs. after college) as tornadoes were approaching.  For the rest of the afternoon I watched as tornadoes ripped through the rest of the state, crossed into Alabama.  Lousiville, MS saw the worst of it, with two tornadoes touching down there.  We have Suttle family and I have a friend from high school and her husband who live there.  They were not injured, but the hospital where my cousin is on staff received much damage.  I monitored storms and prayed until a little after midnight when things were calm enough for local stations to go back to normal programming.  I had been awake since 4:15 a.m. and was ready for sleep.

Tuesday was beautiful, but not for long.  Molly Maids came to clean--always a happy day--the sun was shining, there was a gentle breeze.  Imagine my surprise when I read on FB that Petal Schools were having early dismissal because of impending storms.  Gray skies replaced the sunshine, stronger winds replaced the breeze.  The bright spot was a clean house left by Molly Maids.  The storms of the day before that came within 25-50 miles of us were replaced by more that were approaching from the south and south west.  It was another day of monitoring and destruction. We had tornado watches and warnings for several hours, along with flash flood warnings, which we see a lot in this area.  I was glad I had bought flood insurance this Spring, even happier it wasn't needed. 

It had been a rough couple of days, but nothing compared to what came next.  Thursday morning, Tommy appeared at my door with a look of shock on his face.  He had received a text from a long time friend telling him of a tragedy that occurred in our Jackson church family. A husband had shot and killed his wife the night before.  The couple had been our good friends for years: he was an elder in the church, our eye doctor, a talented musician, a kind, gentle man who was dedicated to his wife and family. (They had three sons, ten grandchildren.)  She was the personification of a Southern Lady; gracious, loving, very active in the church as a gifted musician (choir member, Handbell Choir Director, children's choirs, youth musicals) women's ministries, flower committee, grew beautiful roses and shared with everyone, did beautiful needlework, painted, a special friend who was devoted to her husband, their three sons and ten grandchildren and so happy to have three daughters-in-law. 

My thoughts and emotions have run the gamut.  There is the grief of losing them and the overwhelming grief felt for their family, friends and the church community. Initially, there was shock, disbelief which, in reality, led to the deepest valley of all.  You see, the husband had Parkinson's and exhibited many of the same symptoms that Tom did. As I have followed the news stories and read many really hurtful FB comments, I have wanted to react and not respond with the gracious comments made by other friends and family. No, I have experienced outrage at the ignorance and the insensitivity of people.  I have revisited the years with Tom and how the disease affected him and wondered about the things I should have done differently. 

As long as Tom lived, I was his advocate. It was especially true when it came to medication, the patient's lifeline.  The couple of times he was hospitalized and the month he spent in the nursing home a year before his death, it was especially true.  Personnel do not know the particulars of every illness of every patient; institutional pharmacies distribute medications at their convenience, not at the specific instructions of the prescribing physician.  After a month at the nursing home, I realized that Tom would not survive if he stayed there.  Advocacy is vital for PD patients.  So, who is my doctor friend's advocate? Is he receiving his meds and in the prescribed way? Thus far, only his attorney has been allowed to see him.

And, what about stress?  That was a biggie for Tom. Remembering the things that set him off, how he reacted when I was not with him or when he thought I was in distress of any kind, is painful.  I was concerned for his physical decline, the hallucinations, other symptoms, but was most concerned about what stress did to him.  He was used to being in charge, most often solving  "problems" and then announcing the solution which we should all accept.  My health contributed to much of his stress--couldn't be helped.  We are all grateful to God for my bonus years that allowed me to care for him.
If the doctor remembers anything, if he wonders why he is alone, how is that stress affecting him?  I can only imagine.

I am living proof of the advances in treating ovarian cancer.  People seem to know about cancer, even if misconceptions exist.  Awareness is present; money is raised for research; resources are abundant.
Not so with Parkinson's!  Trembling hands, poor balance, slumped shoulders, expressionless faces seem to characterize the disease. No one talks about the cognitive problems, the hallucinations, the paranoia.  Not every symptom affects every patient--part of the problem.  Embarrassment of family members, often disguised as protection, serves no purpose.  It's time to speak up! I have been reminded by this "too close to home" tragedy that awareness is key.  Who better to advocate, to raise awareness than family and friends who have been touched deeply by this terrible disease?

As usual, two little girls have cheered me.  One day Meredith came in and said, "Maw Maw, I'm sorry about your friend. But, remember she's in here," as she rested her hand on my heart.  Yesterday Elisa, little Miss Chatterbox, was going on about Easter etc.  She told me she believed in Santa Claus, but she wasn't so sure about the Easter bunny.  In a couple of minutes, she continued: "I know where the Easter bunny lives."  Naturally, I ask where. "China." I asked how she knows that. She replies: "Well, my Easter basket had a toy in it that said 'Made in China.'"  How's that for logic?

Though I have been overwhelmed by grief, rage, even depression, I am more overwhelmed by God's Presence, His patience when I let the circumstances be the focus. The indefinite regimen of treatments began again yesterday, another way that God reminds me that He is taking care of me at this time, in this place.

Blessings,
Pastor Margaret