Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The last six days have been pretty incredible. Thursday of last week Liz asked if I would like to go with her for a sonogram and for an electrocardiogram of the baby. What an experience that was. My babies were born before any such modern technology and I'd only seen pictures of sonograms of my other grandchildren--never actually seen the real thing. The technician's job was to measure the baby and when she learned that this was my first time, she carefully explained what all she was doing and what we were seeing. Liz knew--mamas know things, but I had to be told lots of times. It was amazing. I thought of Psalm 139. God has been knitting that precious life together and He knows her well. Then the doctor came for the electrocardiogram and pronounced that everything is "beautifully normal."

Friday we left mid-afternoon for family camp, driving through some beautiful rolling green hills and lots of farmland to arrive at NaCoMe somewhere in middle Tennessee. This church has been going there for a weekend of family camp for about forty years and there were people there who go that far back. Others grew up in the church and continue to go and take their families. There is something extremely heartwarming about watching people of all ages come together to learn, to worship, to play and to laugh together. It was a great way to get to know folks. There were a couple of down sides--both originating with us. The real change in routine for Tom and the extremes of temperature (really hot outside and pretty cool inside the cabin) caused stress for him. Walking on rocks and uneven ground made my feet tender and sore and they are still trying to recover, but they will eventually.

When we arrived home Sunday afternoon we had a message from California friends , Walt and Pam, who had planned to "come by" on Tuesday. They were continuing a trip that had already taken them to Wisconsin and were on their way to Arkansas--we're glad they thought West Tennessee was on the way. They were ahead of schedule and wanted to come on Monday. Fine with us. It was sooooo good to just sit and visit and to have them here with us. I didn't want to let them go. Their visit took me back to many visits that Pam and I made to shut-ins to serve communion. I've never known anyone who invests herself more in the lives of those she visits. She could teach us pastors a thing or two--in fact she did teach this pastor.

Today another dear friend, Cheryl, came over from Nashville and brought her daughter in law. They are there with their husbands for a business meeting. Cheryl and I got to be friends when she served as an elder on the Congregational Care Commission with me. She and I share Southern roots and a love for the Lord that exhibits itself in the way we feel about our families. For us, she is the "go to person" when godly wisdom is needed in a situation. We didn't want to let her go either.

These six days have been all about family and friends--seeing a new grandchild and hearing her heartbeat; spending time with part of our new church family; savoring every minute of our visits with dear, dear friends from miles away. Though our friends had to go, to continue on their journeys, they never leave our hearts. My cup overflows.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Today I took another step toward "foot freedom." After my appointment with the orthopedist I walked out of the office wearing two tennis shoes, but with a lace up support on my right ankle. It reminds me of those old fashion lace up leather shoes our grandmothers wore. I'm sure I have a button hook hidden somewhere in Mom's things. We've come a long way since those boots and since I fell two months ago. I still have to wear the boot at times when more support is necessary, but I can drive again and that is wonderful news. We all like our independence.

This weekend is the annual Family Camp for our church and our grandchildren have been talking about it for months. They are so excited especially because friends of theirs who moved to Atlanta during the Christmas holidays will be at camp with us. The camp site is about two hours from here and it actually is a camp that Tom and I both have attended before we were married. He went as a teenager and I went when I worked with Presbytery youth in the early sixties. We are told that lots has changed in forty years--like air conditioned cabins with real beds. I'm excited about that change. I've been asked to speak and I'm excited about that too. As much as I like to preach I really like to do teaching in informal type settings like camps and retreats. I hope our son won't be embarassed by his crazy mom.

I'll be sharing about the Christian disciplines of Bible study, meditation and prayer--the disciplines that God used to nudge me toward ordination and to enrich my Christian walk. Please pray that my words will touch hearts and change lives. There is such a difference in knowing about God and establishing a close relationship with Him. I want everyone to have that relationship. I remember a friend's words years ago when he was teaching one of the gospels for our Sunday school class. He said something like: "You cannot scientifically prove the existence of God or how He has worked in your life, but you can tell your experience with God. No one can deny your experience." I am not a scholar or a theologian, but I know what God has done for me, how He has touched me and used me, unworthy as I am. He has healed me from breast cancer, two bouts with ovarian cancer and pneumonia which came close to ending my life. He has given me an incredible family and special friends. I know the blessings of my life; I know how He changed me from a bitter, proud, insecure woman to be a vessel of His grace. God alone is worthy of praise and that is behind my talks this weekend. I haven't been so excited about teaching since I was asked to do "Through the Wilderness" for the FOPC Women's Retreat in 2006. God used that retreat in my life that I can't begin to tell.

Tom is asleep. He is tired. We let the medicine get a little off this afternoon then went to supper at the church. It was too much for him. He tries; I try; we try together. Still, we make mistakes and he suffers, but doesn't complain to me. I don't know what I'd do without him.

Thanks to all of you who keep up with us. Please keep up your prayers for our friend Susan, for our camp this weekend and for the Church around the world. God hears and God answers.

Pastor Margaret

Friday, July 20, 2007

There is a familiar face staring back at me in the mirror. The fuzzy, tight white curls are gone and I have a new short "do." Such a sight prompted me to share what I'll call "my hair chronicles."

I came into the world with nary a hair on my head. Not that I remember, but I've seen pictures of a chubby bald baby with big dark eyes staring at the camera. When it finally did come, it was wavy and my mother tortured me by rolling it in finger curls and around kid curlers. Until I was eight years old I had long curls and wore a bow in the top of my head. It wasn't my idea of cute. Once, when my mother was away for a few days, my daddy took me and had all that hair cut into the stylish "bob of the day." Boy was my mother mad. I loved it.

Growing up I had good, strong dark hair, sometimes long and sometimes short. A very definite gray patch took root during my college days and the gray continued to grow until I had salt and pepper hair in my early thirties. I kept it short, my only request to the stylist being, cut it so it will be easy care. Then in my early forties I underwent chemotherapy for breast cancer. My greatest concern during treatment was if the doctor thought I'd lose all my hair. I look back and shutter at my vanity.

At this point I must tell you an amazing "hair story." The chemo did not make my hair immediately come out, but a gradual thinning began. My hair dresser was aware of my treatments and knew my hair very well so he would cut it to disguise where it was thinning. It had begun to come out by hands full when I was in the shower so I asked a friend to go with me to buy a wig just in case. She was really busy that week and we made a date to go the next week. That was in May. I had begun treatments on February 1 and was scheduled through September. One morning during the week I waited for my friend I was in the shower seeing hair go down the drain and the Lord reminded me of the Philippians verses that tell us to pray, giving thanks in all things and of the gospel verses that tell us that God cares so much about us that He even know how many hairs we have on our heads. Right then and there I asked God to do something about my hair loss. I told Him that I knew He knew how many more I could stand to lose and I'd like not to lose any more. After I prayed I remember thinking how presumptious I was to be so bold. God had better things to do than to answer such a prayer prompted by my vanity. What happened is what makes this an amazing hair story. No more hair came out and when I went for my next hair cut the hair dresser told me that not only was it not coming out, but that I had new growth all in my scalp. Since that day I have never doubted God's care about the small insignificant things in my life.

In 2002 with my second experience with chemotherapy, my hair story was much different. I lost all hair, even my eyelashes. I had two wigs ready and waiting for baldness. One was the color of my hair; the other was sort of red and I had a wonderful time wearing it and watching people's reactions. A friend knit me caps to wear at night to keep my head warm and during the day when I went out without a wig, I wore a baseball cap--something I can't do when I have hair because it's too thick. When my hair grew back it was like a Brillo pad: tight, coarse curls. The texture was like a permanent gone wrong when the solution is left on too long. It took a year for it to get back to normal.

When chemo began a third time in 2006, hair began coming out almost as soon as I left the infusion center so we got the scissors, cut it and the next day I had someone shave my head. I spent a lot of time in the hospital last fall and many people saw me with no wig, no baseball cap, no nothing. I was so glad to live another day and see people that I didn't care about the lack of hair. This time it came in curly again, but not as thick on top and a completely different texture. I have had no idea what to do with it. A lady from our church came yesterday and cut it for me. My instructions were to get rid of the curls and it had to be pretty short for that to happen.

You may be wondering my point in these "hair chronicles." Do you remember the advice to always put your best foot forward so you can make a good impression? For me, my best foot was my hair. I was taught to "look good" meant everything. I bought it, but I hated it. My "hair chronicles" have taught me first of all of God's amazing care. They have also taught me that it's what's inside that counts, that the impression I make comes from who I am and in my case who I am as a child of God. I don't need hair. The truth is you can get dressed a whole quicker if you only have to slap a wig on your head.

Hair today, gone tomorrow seems to fit me. I'm glad to look like me again, but I suspect my image is not as much about hair as I once thought.

Pastor Margaret

Monday, July 16, 2007

Simple things make me smile.

Like yesterday when the children came down front for the children's sermon at church and my two grandchildren, ages 5 & 7, saw me standing in the pulpit. Both grinned, waved and mouthed, "Hi, MawMaw." Naturally, I grinned and waved back.

I smiled inwardly and outwardly as I led worship and preached for the first time in over a year.

Watching Tom clean his plate when it's full of fresh summer vegetables makes me smile. I'll smile even more when the scale indicates weight gain instead of loss.

Just being with Tom makes me happier than I can ever say. Our life at this stage is certainly not the way we imagined it would be, but we are together and that's what matters to us. We celebrate the good moments, share memories, talk about the realities of his decline and I try to explain business matters that arise. That, in itself, makes me smile. It's such role reversal. We adjust a little more each day to the way things have to be. I smile because I'm here and well and can take care of him.

Though I still have a boot on my broken ankle--which is healing nicely--and until a few days ago had a tacky, uncomfortable sandal on my broken foot, I was told I could get in the shower if I was very careful. So I did it. I stood in the shower and it was wonderful. If I had drowned it would have been because I was smiling and swallowing water. Getting to sleep with both feet free--wiggling my toes--being able to turn over without fear of crushing Tom with my boot are such simple things, but they make me smile.

Life, family, friends make me smile--not that fake "say cheese" smile put on for the photographer, but a smile that comes from way down deep inside me. Life is good. Our family is growing, especially the expectant moms and friends keep in touch.

I have lots to keep me smiling.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It seems like I haven't written in days and it looks like that too. The fact is I spent a couple of hours last Saturday sharing some verses from Psalm 56 that were especially meaningful to me. For some reason the "blog editor" didn't like my punctuation and when I tried to change it, I lost everything I had written. What a bummer.

I taught Sunday school and stayed for church on Sunday. When I got home my feet and legs were exhausted. It was my first outing without the walker and I sat all that time with my feet on the floor. Though I was tired, I was glad I had stayed for Church. Tommy preached the best sermon I've heard him preach and God was glorified. This Sunday I preach and am so glad to have the opportunity. It will be my maiden sermon at the church where Tom and I now worship.

We've been enjoying West Tennessee vegetables--pink eyed purple hull peas, baby limas, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant. And I have enjoyed getting back into the kitchen to cook. Our new church family has been better than good in bringing us meals, stopping by the store, going to the farmers' market and taking us to the doctor when Tommy cannot. Being the independent soul that I am, however, it makes me feel as if I'm on the road to recovery when I can begin to do a few things for myself. I'm learning to do more and more things sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter or in a chair at the table. Tomorrow I get to try a tennis shoe on my left foot and we're hoping that will work and make my legs level.

We've also become reaccquainted with scattered thunderstorms on an almost daily basis. The rain is welcome, both because the farmers need it and because our yard is thirsty, but the humidity is oppressive. Last night Tom asked if I'd like to go sit on the porch for a while after supper, but when he opened the door he said, "You'd better check out this air." It was like a sauna--we opted for inside air conditioning. We have been spoiled by the cool California nights and the Delta breeze.

The verses from Psalm 56 on which I commented and then lost last Saturday are 12-13: I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. As I read those words I was reminded of two different sets of vows I have made to God: my marriage vows and my ordination vows. I know that it is God who has delivered me from death, not once, but four times. Literally, my feet have stumbled, but God has protected me. Why? So that I might "walk before God in the light of life." I do not understand "whys" of life, but God does and is not finished with me yet as a wife or a minister. I do not understand the healing of God that I have experienced, but I am grateful and rest completely in God. I do know that I have received His gracious blessings so that "I may walk before God in the light of life." Those were holy words to read in a week that I had once again received the "cancer free" phrase from the oncologist. The morning I read Psalm 56 I came away with renewed assurance and a fresh determination to indeed walk before my God in the light of life He continues to give me.

Tom and I are blessed and grateful that we have one another and that we have family and friends who walk with us.

God bless you,
Pastor Margaret

Monday, July 02, 2007

This week we are celebrating freedom. I can't wait for the food and to watch the 4th of July Concert broadcast from Washington. I get goosebumps when I hear the patriotic music and then see the fireworks at the end. (I only like fireworks from a distance.) I'll be remembering past celebrations and thinking of extended family having a grand reunion in Southeast Georgia with the best food in the world. I'm grateful to live in the "home of the brave and the land of the free" and pray that more and more of us will be brave and that all might be free. Happy Birthday, America!

As Christians we are free! As Moses freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Jesus freed us from sin. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. But there is more to Christian freedom. We are free to be called the sons and daughters of God; we are free to be all that God intended for us to be. I am free to be me--you are free to be you as we are guided by God's word. This, above all, is the freedom I hold most dear.

Today we visited with my oncologist who uttered two words we wanted to hear: "cancer free." My CA125 is within normal range and the scans taken two weeks ago are, in his words, "better than okay." Freedom from cancer is an undeserved, unexplained gift from God. We celebrate this gift everyday.

Countless people have worked, given their lives so that our country could be free. The freedoms that we enjoy here did not come without cost. The freedom we have in Jesus only cost him; for us it was free. As the words of the Christmas sentiment say: He came to pay the price for a debt He did not owe. Freedom from cancer is an unanticipated miracle. We co-mingle our celebrations with our grateful hearts.

This week, count your freedoms, not sheep.

Pastor Margaret