Thursday, April 26, 2007

Monday, April 23, was to have been a mostly unplanned day--that is until Sunday night when I learned that our youngest granddaughter, Meredith, was running a little temperature and couldn't go to day care on Monday. My "unplanned day" meant running a few errands, doing laundry and continuing to make order out of the chaos in our office. I was only too happy to be a grandmomma instead and spend time with Meredith. All the other stuff could wait.

As I started my quiet time routine that Monday morning I read the entry for the day in Henri Nouwen' s book, Bread for the Journey. His comment was based on John 17:18: As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. Nouwen says: "We seldom realize fully that we are sent to fulfill God -given tasks. We act as if we have to choose how, where, and with whom to live. We act as if we were simply dropped down in creation and have to decide how to entertain ourselves until we die; But we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do."

During the day I really chewed on those words. Would Nouwen really say that staying with a sick grandchild is a "God-given task?" I used to be able to say with certainty where God had sent me; I could verbalize my call. Then, all of a sudden or so it seemed, we were sent to another place, with no call and no clear reason for being here. I have questioned God's reason for uprooting us again. I have wondered what it is I'm supposed to be doing. A little child led me Monday. As I looked into her eyes I knew what my "God-given task" was for that day and I felt a great sense of satisfaction and affirmation. When Meredith was not quite a month old, I had the privilege of baptizing her , just as I had one of her older brothers a couple of years earlier. I look at them and see two beautiful grandchildren, but I also see two covenant children and am struck by the responsibility I have to help teach them the things of God. Throughout the day while she sat in my lap, I thanked God for her and prayed for her future, remembering just how important it is to pray for our children and grandchildren.

The tasks we are given are often not seen by others; they are seldom monumental in the eyes of the world. For just a while I forgot. Just as God sent me out into the world, God brought me home to help nurture my family. I am blessed to have been given such a task.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

It looks like Spring; it feels like Spring, but, of course, it was only two weeks ago that we had about three nights of below freezing temperatures. Those nights did a "number" on budding and blooming plants and trees. We did a quick look this afternoon to see if things are beginning to green at the base. Fortunately, most things are trying to grow again. Unfortunately, the weeds are doing the same. Yesterday one of our grandsons said that our next door neighbor offered to give us the name of his yardman if we hadn't found one. Could that be a hint that our grass needs attention? Honestly, I look forward to getting outside to snip and prune and get my hands in the dirt, but I don't do grass.

Tom and I both visited our primary care doctor early in the week. I am officially discharged from any breathing help or treatments. Yea! I had quit with them a few months ago anyway. The doctor's concern for us was Tom's weight loss and my weight gain--pretty typical. Thursday afternoon we got a call from the neurologist's office just to let us know that all the results of all the tests ordered on Tom were in and would be discussed with us when we return the first week in May. The nurse asked how Tom was doing with the medication changes, spoke to the doctor about my observations and put him back on the original dose of one of the pills. The change started this morning, but I think I already notice an improvement. We are so grateful for all the medical care we are receiving and I, especially, am grateful for the neurologist!

The week has been full of many emotions. The older adult ministry network with which I have been associated for twenty years had the annual conference at Lake Tahoe and I wanted so much to be there. Being there would have also meant a side trip to Sacramento and I really missed that. The horror at Virgina Tech saddened me like it did thousands of others, but I was especially concerned for a dear friend and her husband who teaches there. A quick phone call to her at noon on Monday assured me of their safety. The murder trial of the "preacher's wife" took place in a neighboring county and much media attention has been directed there. I hope that as a result of revelations made in the trial that awareness of abuse will be raised and that people will come to understand that it happens in the "best of families." Neither side won.

There were also some great moments this week. We talked to several friends from California and had such a good time catching up and hearing their news. The mail also brought cards, notes and news from the church. Tommy needed a substitute to teach his Bible study on Thursday and "mom" was happy to be asked. I thought I missed teaching--now I'm sure I do! Yesterday Tommy cooked salmon on our back porch and the children played in the backyard. Such simple things, but such fun! Cooking with him has always been one of my favorite things. Today Liz and I went to lunch. I thought we both needed a break from routine. Marty and her family spent several days in the DC area visiting friends and seeing the sights. Their week was marred my at least one case of the stomach bug. That was not such a great thing. Our thanks to those of you readers who provided some of this week's great moments for us.

Tomorrow is Sunday, the Lord's Day. Both Tom and I grew up in homes where there was never a question about what you did on Sunday. There has never been a question in the home we established together. Today things are different. We can't always be in church worshiping God with God's people and that is hard for us both. We need to be there. I miss being an active participant. God's word tells us not to forsake assembling together. It says "enter into the gates with thanksgiving." It's not about what we get, but what we give in our worship of God. The most meaningful definition of "worship" to me came from a seminary professor: Worship is the adoration of God by the people of God. I hope we all have that opportunity to worship tomorrow.

Pastor Margaret

Monday, April 16, 2007

Have you ever wondered why the neighbors never seem to hear their dogs who are waking you up with their barking? Yesterday they barked early and non-stop until it was time for normal folks to be awake. I confess that I, a dog lover, had evil thoughts about those dogs! It's not that I don't like to BE up early, it's that I don't like to GET UP. How I am awakened affects my whole day. My mother used to say that if God handed out jobs in heaven she certainly hoped her job would not be to awaken people. Perhaps my distaste for annoying wakeups comes from one of her favorite tactics. She was a nurse and often worked the night shift so I would have to get myself up in time to practice the piano, dress and have breakfast before going to school. In those days not many radio stations were on all night so she would set the radio on a station due to come on between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m., turn the volume up to his highest and I would be awakened by "The Star Spangled Banner" BLARING through the house as the station signed on for the day. It's a wonder I can still listen to that song. If Tom's nature were like mine, he'd be out of sorts a lot of days. His sleep--or lack of it--used to be one of our biggest complaints. Then, it got better. Within the last few days it has been troublesome again--"Dr. Margaret" thinks it's medication.

Both Tom and I have said for a long time that we believed that when his medications were regulated or when the exact amounts and/or combinations were found for his symptoms, things would stabilize and be more tolerable. Experience, reading and hearing from friends who have also had Parkinson's affect a loved one have now convinced me that pretty constant changes in medication are the norm. It's frustrating! If you take too much, that's bad and if you take too little, that's bad too. It seems to be an impossible situation!

Early rising has its advantages. I can concentrate on reading the Bible, meditating on it and other books I'm reading, writing in my journal and just being with God. Late last week I read this statement about Nehemiah in Oswald Sander's book, Spiritual Leadership,: "He built up their (the Israelites) faith by redirecting focus away from 'the impossible' toward the greatness of God." Then Sanders adds: "Faith builds faith. Pessimism dismantles faith." Those are sobering words. In what affects my health and in the wilderness areas of my life, I know they are not about me and what I do, but about the faithfulness of God. Maybe that got lost in the move. Sander's words caused an "aha moment." My faith in God and His goodness comes when I quit focusing on the impossibilities of Parkinson's and dedirect that focus toward the greatness of God. My pessimism brought about by the changes in Tom and the futility of the desease eats away at my faith. It's not that I don't believe--it's that I resign myself to the medical facts. They cannot be disregarded, but there has to be a balance between those facts and the greatness, the faithfulness of God. Therein lies our hope.

Life is a matter of focus. Today I will not focus on impossibilities, but on God who alone is great and faithful.

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Parkinson's disease continues to mystify us. Say the word "Parkinson's" to me and I immediately think "tremor." Tom doesn't have tremor and never has. His motor skills are certainly not the same as his softball playing days that he gave up only seven years ago when we moved to California, but for a person who has been diagnosed as long as he has, his motor skills are good. If only his mind could keep up! Monday we drove to Nashville to be there for an 8 a.m. appointment at the Vanderbilt Neurology Clinic. We met with a resident for about 30 or 45 minutes while he took yet another medical history and did the basic tests. The express reason for the consultation was to determine whether or not Tom is a candidate for Deep Brain Stimulation. When the resident returned with his supervising doctor we were told that Tom is not a candidate because of his mental state. If one has even the slightest memory problem, they are immediately disqualified for the procedure. When the doctors asked Tom's biggest complaint, he said the hallucinations bother him most of all. They are a result of the disease itself and some medications. That translates into another medication modification. My reading and research has taught me that changes in medication are to be expected and are the norm. Cutting some pills in half is a real challenge.

Tomorrow Tom is scheduled for an additional blood test and two CAT scans: lungs and abdomen. He had gained back about twenty pounds, but in the last few weeks has begun to lose again. If you pray for us, please pray that this is a problem that can be easily corrected. Appointments continue almost weekly until the second week in May.

Our trip to Nashville , in spite of the reason, was fun for us. We have stayed close to home since we've been here except for doctor visits to north Mississippi and it was good to be on the "open road" with all the trucks. There is an historic restaurant on the outskirts of Nashville that has been one of our favorites for years. Their speciality when they opened for business in the fifties was country ham and bacon--two foods Tom cannot get enough of. That and fried chicken and biscuits was how they got started. It wasn't until recently that you could get anything but breakfast items, with country ham, sausage or bacon naturally, and fried chicken. I've been told that they have the best fried chicken anywhere and except for my aunt May's I'd have to agree.
We had not been there in several years so looked forward to a wonderful meal on our way out of town. We were not disappointed. When in Nashville, include the Loveless Cafe in your stops.

I am reminded of a couple of lessons I learned from my mother and my Aunt May. Look for humor in everything and always look on the bright side. Things could be worse. In other words, don't grouse, but count your blessings always. For Tom and me to go to the Loveless brought back lots of great memories. Singing along with the Kingston Trio while driving was fun. Not long after we got home Liz, Jake and Sarah came by after school and we were greeted with big smiles and hugs as if we'd been gone for days, not just 24 hours. As I was unpacking and putting things away, I realized I was smiling for no obvious reason. Today the reason was written in an e-mail forwarded to me by a friend: "Everyday, every minute, every breath truly is a gift from God." Tom and I are truly blessed and grateful for God's gifts.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, April 07, 2007

In my last post I mentioned two reasons I like Spring: March Madness and the signs of new life. That was several days ago. Championship games have been played, victories have been celebrated, players have announced decisions to stay in school or declare for "the draft." Yes, I cheered for the champs in both the men's and the women's finals--both were SEC teams. I'll almost always choose an SEC team over another conference, but that's not why I cheered for the Tennessee Lady Vols. I cheer for them because of their coach, Pat Summitt.

In 2004 Coach Summitt appeared as a speaker for the annual Willow Creek Leadership Conference that is simulcast all over the country and in some areas abroad. She impressed me with, among other things, her honesty, her ability to get her message across and the sincere interest she expressed in the young women who go through her program. I was even more impressed and inspired when I read her book, Reach for the Summit, the Definite Dozen System for Succeeding at Whatever You Do. Her system works for basketball and it works in life. Take a look and see if you don't agree.

My other favorite thing about Spring, "signs of new life," has been struggling a bit the last couple of days. Just when we had begun to think that not another thing could bloom any more and any prettier, a cold front came and folks have had to cover tender plants and blooming shrubs at night. Last night our yard looked like squatty Halloween ghosts had arrived at the back porch. One azalea we covered doesn't look so good today and I'm afraid the wind stripped it of its costume.

Nonetheless, it has been a beautiful Spring! For us it has been especially fun to see what would bloom in our yard since we had no idea what had been planted. The dogwood in the front was a sight to see--in fact I couldn't begin to count all the dogwoods in the neighborhood. One afternoon our oldest grandson brought in a blossom for me to see. He was interested in the scars on the petals and I told him my version of the legend of the dogwood.

Of course the most wonderful "sign of new life" of all is Easter itself! We are happy this year to be able to spend Easter with part of our family. Yesterday three of the grandchildren came to dye eggs, something I hadn't done in several years. It was fun to watch their creative juices flow. We have also heard from many friends during the past week and we are reminded of how much friends mean to us. Easter is a time for family and friends. Easter is a time to celebrate! It's always been a mystery to me why we put so much emphasis on the birth of Christ and not so much on the resurrection of Christ. Without it there would be no life; there would be no hope.

May your Easter be filled with the hope that only Jesus brings and the joy of knowing that you have new life in him!

Pastor Margaret

Monday, April 02, 2007

Spring is one of my favorite times of year: March Madness takes center stage and signs of new life are everywhere. March Madness means a steady diet of college basketball all during the month, culminating with championship games early in April. Our favorite team played and won its way to the Final Four of the NIT, with us bemoaning the fact that we weren't physically present at the games being played about two hours from here. Tonight and tomorrow night we'll be glued to the TV watching the championship games for men and women in the NCAA. Then, no more basketball until November. College basketball takes a back seat for fans, but not for players and coaches.

Players are encouraged to learn from their failures and successes. The coach continues to drill the team on the fundamentals of the game, to practice hard and to aim for March of the next year. To reach the goal, to win a championship, no team can afford have a "pity party" when they lose and no team can "rest on their laurels" when they win. What a parallel for life! Life is not perfect--we are not always at our best. We don't make all the shots, we miss the easy lay-ups, we foul unnecessarily, we make stupid mistakes, we forget fundamentals. If we are too pleased with how good things are, how well WE have done we get soft, out of practice and don't make good judgements.

Both the basketball team and life have goals. While the team aims for March of the next year, we, in life, aim for what the apostle Paul called the prize, the high calling of God. The team is led by the coach to remember fundamentals and put them into practice. The individual is led by his/her Coach to remember fundamentals and make them a part of life. James wrote that it wasn't enough to hear the word, we are to do what it says. Fundamentals plus listening to the coach plus practice makes for an exciting March Madness. Fundamentals plus listening to the Coach plus putting the fundamentals into practice makes for a meaningful life.

Enjoy the games. I hope your team wins.

Pastor Margaret