Saturday, September 29, 2007

It was just one short year ago that the papers were signed for us to purchase the house where we now live. We were miles away--literally and figuratively. We were in California, living moment to moment; our son and his wife were in Tennessee taking care of business for us. I was in ICU on the ventilator; Tom was so stressed he couldn't function. We were both in another world, so to speak. Those days and the ones that immediately followed were probably the worst days of my life. But this is today--one year later and I feel as if this past year has been a special gift--a bonus.

As I was declared cancer free last December and regained my strength, Tom's stress level lowered and he improved some. We have no medical guarantees that the cancer will stay in remission or away completely, but we are hopeful. With Tom and the Parkinson's, there is no remission and no hope that the disease will disappear. There are times when I get really frustrated when he's particularly helpless or I have to explain things again. He gets exasperrated with me when I have to ask him to repeat himself more than once because I can't hear him. Then we remind each other how short life really is--too short to get irritated about things that can't be helped.

We spent parts of several days this week and a good bit of this morning cleaning things out of our garage and participating in the city/county wide disposal day at the fairgrounds. When we moved in last December we found lots of stuff left by the painters and others who had worked on the house. There were old light fixtures, a garbage disposal that had been removed at our request, at least two dozen paint cans and other miscellaneous building materials. We had gotten rid of some of it but were waiting for a designated disposal day so we could clear out everything else. Now the junk that's in the garage is all ours. Oh, joy.

Cleaning out the garage is such an every day thing--maybe not one of our favorite things to do, but necessary and just plain ordinary. It's one of those chores homeowners take for granted. I always have. Not any more. Even a chore like cleaning the garage is part of the bonus time we've been given. I'm glad I'm here to do it. I'm glad we both can budget our energy and take care of things. Who knew what a difference a year would make? Will there be another bonus year for us?

The words to a Christian song that was popular several years ago say it well. They go something like, "I do not know what the future holds; I only know Who holds the future." That's why we both have hope.

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Once there were two friends--different as daylight and dark. We'll call them Sunny and Honey. Their friendship began a little over twenty years ago and though they have only lived in the same town about six of those years, the friendship has remained true and grows stronger every day.

Sunny went to private school; Honey went to public. One went to one church; one went to another--though church is how they met each other. (Presbyterian connectionalism at work) Sunny is a musician; Honey is a scientist. They are different. But they have a solid, beautiful friendship.

They have always been honest with one another. Never has there been, "I can't tell you what I really think or you won't like me." Neither has judged the other in times of crisis. When one needs support, the other is there. Some "friends" come and go; some are tongue tied in the face of illness; some just plain don't take the time and energy to stay connected. Not so with Sunny and Honey.

Right now Honey is fighting for life and Sunny is with her all the way--not physically because they live four hours apart--but in every other way. Honey is 34 years old, is married with two little boys under age four, one of them not quite a year and she has inflammatory breast cancer. You may not know what that is. I didn't and don't fully understand it now. What I do know is that it doesn't present like other types of breast cancer and it is fast acting and seems to be more fatal than some other types. It can be more difficult to detect and not much research money is allocated to it because of its "low cure rate."

Honey is amazing. She remains positive, active as possible and totally involved in the lives of her family. Her hair is gone--her smile is not. After the cheomotherapy she faces a mastectomy, but she knows what many of us know. She is not defined by her body parts. They do not make her who she is.

Sunny is on a soap box to get the word out about IBC and I don't mean the root beer or the ballent competion held in my home town. She's telling all who would listen about this breast cancer hoping to raise awareness, hoping to encourage others to do the same. You know what they say about a squeaky wheel. Sunny, too, is amazing.

You can help. Pray for Honey. Pray for her family and friends that they will know how to support her. Pray for Sunny. Pray for her as she tries to spread the word and still grieves for her friend who is in crisis. Inform yourself and others about IBC. Ask questions of your doctor. When you raise money or make a donation to the Breast Cancer Foundation, designate it for research for this particular form of cancer.

I wish you all a friendship like that of Sunny and Honey. Theirs touches my heart.

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Last night at Wednesday night supper our program was given by a church member who spoke on spiritual disciplines. It was an unusually good talk and not at all the direction I go when asked to talk on the same topic. I'm more of a "how to" and "here are some suggestions to get you started" speaker. Her approach was along the lines of "here are some spiritual disciplines" and here are the benefits of following any or several of them.

Just last week I was reminded of how I began and wrote of that beginning in my last post. As the lady spoke last night I was reminded over and over of the benefits and how we have been over mountains, in the valleys and the wilderness especially in the last several years. The journey has had lots of road blocks and detours, but always God has been faithful to us. I would not know that if I just read my Bible now and then, here and there. God knew what was ahead for us and He prepared me.

She spoke of "living in the present," and how, even in the Bible, people were always waiting for something. She certainly described how I've lived most of my life--waiting to grow up and leave home, have my own family, have enough money to not worry about our next meal, to see my children grow up, marry and be happy. You know what I mean. Then, suddenly, I'm facing the winter of my life and I wonder what there is left for me to await. Is God finished with me just because I have no installed position, no official call? What I have is the present. Today. It is a day that God has given. I will, as the psalmist exhorts, rejoice and be glad in it.

My biggest problem is not waiting for the future, but in dwelling in the past. I will probably always miss the ministry God gave me in California. I know I will always miss the people. Their faces and lives are written on my heart. But God, in His infinite wisdom and goodness, has put us here. We are close to family and I am beginning to be busier than I ever thought possible. God is good. And God continues to teach me as I continue to read and meditate on His word.

On a lighter note--Our grandchildren usually let us know on Wednesday nights that they are glad to see us. Drew, the kindergartener, grabbed me around the knees and proudly announced that he is still on purple. That's the best conduct color he can achieve and one he works hard to have. Jacob, the oldest and sweetest, came to kiss us goodbye with blue green lips he acquired by eating some candy concoction. Sarah ran by the table to say hello and give us a hug, but Meredith, the youngest, got my goat. She has been saying "Paw Paw" for months, but usually runs to me. I open my arms and scoop her up. Last night she spotted us, came running, I opened my arms and she intentionally sidestepped me and went straight for Paw Paw. He is still grinning.

We are definitely living in the present and loving it.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, September 15, 2007

This is the kind of day that makes me remember how much and why I loved Fall when I was growing up. The air is cool--or cooler than it has been--in the low to middle seventies. Pine straw litters the ground and I don't even care that it's there because of the drought we've been having. It's still a sign of Fall. Early this morning I read our hometown paper on-line, especially to find the high school football scores. Our team won. It's a perfect day for football today, perfect for tailgating. My favorite college team has a game on TV beginning about fifteen minutes from now and you can be sure we'll be tuned in. We rarely win, but we are all "die hard" fans. I had planned to cook a big pot of red beans and rice today. It's a perfect day for them, but forgot to soak the beans overnight. Silly me. How could I forget something so basic? That means soak them tonight and put them on to cook when we come from church tomorrow. Eat them on Monday 'cause they're always best the second day the Cajun cook expert in my family says. I wish you could experience this beautiful day with us. It's perfect.

In my Bible reading this morning I began reading Proverbs again. As I read the verses and all the notes in the margin of my Bible I was taken back to a sermon about twenty years ago. The pastor of the church had said in a sermon that if a person wanted to grow spiritually, he/she should read a chapter of Proverbs every day. I had heard that before, but I had not heard his second instruction which was to also read five psalms every day to grow in knowledge of God. Joe was and is the most humble man I know; godly in every way; a servant leader who exemplies Christ of Philippians 2. If this pattern of Bible reading contributed to his attitude and life, I couldn't wait to start it. Thus began my journey.

I don't have words to express how the practice of that reading pattern influenced and informed my life. Proverbs have taught me that God is wisdom personified and that through the conditions, promises, commands and results I have learned--and continue to learn--to have confidence--complete trust in God. Reading Psalms teaches the most beautiful, descriptive words about God and His creation. I am urged to remember God's mighty acts in my life as I read of the psalmist urging the Israelites to remember God's might acts in their lives. I followed that pattern monthly for several years. Now I only do it a few times a year.

Those readings changed the course of my journey. They showed me a protected path--a path reminescent of a drive way or walk way under a canopy of oak trees--like Oak Alley in Louisiana. Though the path has taken many turns, through the wilderness, into the fertile valleys, over mountains, down into the depths, the certainty of the constant presence and protection of God is always with me.

Some words of a song from "The King and I" say: "You've got to be carefully taught." Isn't that the truth? Immersing oneself in the truths of Psalms and Proverbs carefully teaches.

Try the reading pattern and have a wonderful journey.

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, September 13, 2007

We're still dealing with "things." Life would be a lot simpler if we did without them. Probably fifty years ago the aunt for whom I am named gave me her doll collection to add to the few I had. As long as we lived in the house we built in Mississippi I had some of them displayed, but since then there hasn't been that luxury of space and they have been in boxes deteriorating with age, dust and heat extremes. During the last week I have been going through them, getting some out to put in a lighted cabinet and other miscellaneous places around the house. Some I threw away, some I rewrapped for storage and others I put in a special drawer for the granddaughters to play with. I'll enjoy watching them most of all.

Yesterday was the second meeting of the Bible study I'm teaching this fall. My Fair Oaks ladies really spoiled me to teach for anyone else. They were always so responsive and ready to discuss things. This is a much smaller group and pretty quiet. I wasn't sure they would come back after the first week. We're looking at the book of Acts using all the words that begin with the letter "P"--i.e. people, places, purpose, persecution, preaching, prayer. Since the book is actually about the acts of the Holy Spirit we began with the Person, the place and the power of the Holy Spirit. Since the study immediately preceeds Wednesday night supper, I call it "Peas for Dinner." It's fun for me to be studying and teaching again.

Sunday I've been asked to preach in a small church about thirty miles south of here. They don't have an installed pastor and their stated supply is not available this week. We're looking forward to going and have two sets of directions to find the church. If not, we can always look for the Baptist church and ask them like the last time.

News came last night of the passing of a dear lady in our California church. She was always so affirming and encouraging, kept a smile on her face and when she wasn't at a gathering I missed her. Her passing really saddened me and made me realize once again how difficult it is to be away from those we hold dear and how much we have been blessed by the relationships that were made at Fair Oaks.

Thanks to all of you who read and have let me know.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

You know someone is reading when several days go by without a new post and people e-mail or call to see if you're okay. That is both reassuring and reaffirming. We are as fine as we can be--maybe even a little better than that--and have worked a little each day on organizing our office and going through things in the garage. My family all accuse me of being a pack rat and I now admit it with no apologies. I come from that generation born of those who lived through the Depression so I keep things, just in case I might need them again.

Things. Who needs them? Have I not wisely and smugly proclaimed that "People are more important than things?" Have I not glowlingly spoken of the memories we keep that no one can take from us? So, why do I need pieces of paper to remind me of by-gone recitals or programs? Just last week Tom brought me an envelope with six or so 8 1/2 x 10 glossies of him and different girls at this or that college dance. I had no trouble disposing of them. Will I be so willing when we uncover pictures I have kept?

I should be more like Marty. A few weeks ago her ex-mother-in-law had a lawyer contact her to find out what she would like done with several boxes stored with them. Marty had forgotten all about the boxes. She called and we tried to remember what was in them--maybe this, maybe that; is it worth it to have them shipped? The final decision was to send one small box that could be mailed and dispose of the others--without even remembering what was in them.
If you don't remember, then how could you possibly miss what's inside?

More times than I can count, I have wished for my former assistant and forever friend Mary. I need her to organize me in my office. She tried for all the years we worked together and I was not always a willing "organizee." Now I'm finding hard copies of many saved files and wonder why in the world I have saved them. If I reuse an outline I have to change the dates and usually change some of the material. My paper files are going to shrink--that's a promise.

In the garage we have opened some barrels that have been packed and stored for the past three years. There are dishes I put away because I knew I wouldn't need them; I found a piece of glassware that belonged to my mother that I thought the movers had stolen; and there is linen from both my mother and Tom's mother. The problem is that I don't know which is which. Who cares? Some may not last to be handed down to children and grandchildren. I'll just use it and be happy to have it--because it was theirs.

Don't get me wrong. I cherish the things that belonged to our parents--the furniture I remember from my childhood, the pieces that Tom's dad so lovingly refinished, the dishes that have little stickers on them so we won't forget who ate what and when. One of my favorite things is a corn pottery pitcher my aunt took from her china cabinet and gave me because she knew I had started a collection. It always reminds me of the special times I spent living with her. Things often evoke memories and memories are nurturing and satisfying.

Some of my favorite passages in the Bible center around remembering. Throughout the book of Psalms the Israelites are encouraged to "remember" God, His mighty acts, all that He has done. The focus of Deuteronomy is "remembering." There, when the Israelites are told to "remember," it is to do so in such a way that action is required. "God did this for you, so remember and obey God. Remember and honor God. Remember and be thankful. "

In the midst of the clutter in our house, we remember our family as we discover things that transport us to times past. In the midst of the clutter of our lives, we remember our God and His provision for us in every way.

Though I've been "up to my neck" in things lately, I've been enjoying the memories they have prompted.

Pastor Margaret