Sunday, December 30, 2007

We have all overdosed on football and the SEC has just begun to play! Yesterday afternoon we gathered at Tommy's with Mississippi State cheese, crackers, chips and dip to watch our beloved bulldogs win the Liberty Bowl! Go Dawgs! Hail, Dear Ole State! Whatever. As one sports writer kindly put it, "State has had a dormant football program for the last several years" and it's been fun to watch a new coach come in and build a team. Needless to say, our plans for the next few days involve lots more football--and, of course, lots more food.

My sweet husband has had a hard week. He began the week being tired and has gone downhill from there. On Wednesday he lost his balance and fell over backwards. I tried once to help him off the floor, but was afraid I'd get him half way up and he'd fall again because he couldn't help himself. Being around the corner from family helped once again since Tommy was here within minutes when I called him. Tom was just lying on the floor grinning and telling us that he would have been able to get up eventually. The next day we went in the garage to get laundry detergent, he bent over slightly and his back went out. When that happens he does back exercises, rests and just waits for it to get better. This time, however, it seems the getting better is taking longer than it should. It's a good thing we're retired and have nothing to do this week but watch football.

We did have good news right before Christmas and I forgot to report. I guess I thought everyone everywhere heard me shout "Hallelujah" when I talked to the nurse at the cancer clinic. The blood test that is a marker for cancer activity, the CA125, went down from 52 before my first treatment to 27.8 the day of my second one. We are praying that it will continue to go down and praising God that the chemo is doing its job.

I preached this morning in the neighboring town where I was the first Sunday of the month. This time, however, I was on time. In fact, I was there early enough to show a choir member how to copy something from her hymnal. I love being able to lead God's people in worship! The pastor at this little church is a dear friend and I have now preached for him three times so I'm beginning to learn people's names and something about some of them. Being with them reminds me of how much I miss the parish ministry.

It's late and my helper comes early in the morning. Mainly I wanted to bring you up to date on Tom and share the good news about the blood work. Please continue to pray for Tom and praise God, along with us, for all His mighty works.

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's two days after Christmas and our house is quiet and still. Only the low volume on the TV and the ticking of the grandfather clock can be heard. Tom got up at seven, took his medicine and went back to bed. He needs the rest.

I don't know whether we are adjusting to the new medications or if his symptoms are becoming more troublesome. He seems to be fatigued more and generally doesn't feel good. Days surrounding Christmas Day were full of both normal and holiday activities. We had our family and Liz's parents for dinner Christmas Eve and he thoroughly enjoyed himself. That afternoon we had celebrated Meredith's second birthday--a few days late because she wasn't up to her ususal perky self. By Christmas morning Tom was too tired and after spending about thirty minutes watching the grandchildren open gifts I had to bring him home so he could go back to bed. Sleep helped. Yesterday he fell and felt the effects of the fall for the rest of the day. I hope he can rest well today.

In spite of the interruptions caused by health concerns our Christmas has been memorable. It is our second in our "new" home, but it feels more like the first because last year we were still trying to get unpacked and organized. It's been challenging to try to find all the decorations, fun to use old treasures in new places and exciting to blend new activities with old traditions.

Friday night the grandchildren came to decorate our tree--just like our children did with their grandparents. The ornaments brought back warm memories of family, friends and Christmases past, providing lots of conversation for the adults in the room. The tree was/is the prettiest one we've ever had--I say that every year. It certainly is the most uniquely decorated. Never have we had a section dedicated solely to blue balls. Drew honed in on the blue balls and hung them where he could reach the best--toward the bottom on one side. Yes, it truly is the best tree ever--until next year.

Missing from our sepcial celebration were Marty and her family. "Little Bird," as they call him, is due in four weeks and traveling now is not an option. We look forward to having them all with us next year. The pitter patter of all the grandchildren will drown out the sound of Santa's reindeer on the roof. I can hardly wait!

Enjoy the rest of your holidays.

Pastor Margaret

Friday, December 21, 2007

When sleep doesn't come, I think and when thoughts start coming, I can't sleep. Earlier in the week someone told me a story that prompted tonight's thoughts. It seems that some well meaning folks included the name of a cancer patient on a Christmas tree that is usually associated with children at risk, children of those incarcerated--in other words people who might be considered "down and out." A gift was delivered to the patient and he was properly grateful--just a bit puzzled how/why his name was on the tree. No explanation was given. The thought was sincere, but the gesture came across as pity.

Pity is the last thing a cancer patient needs! I remember cancer #1. For every loving, thoughtful person there was at least one more who stumbled over their conversations with me. Some stayed away and said nothing. Others spoke in whispers or changed the subject when I approached the group. It was almost as if I had leprosy. I was forging ahead trying to keep our lives as normal as possible and I didn't need pity. I did and continue to need the prayers and the presence of our family and friends.

In fact, if you ask me, prayer and presence are two of the greatest gifts you can share with a cancer patient.

We are sustained and uplifted by the prayers offered in our behalf. I believe so emphatically that God works through the prayers of His people and have gained strength both physically and emotionally as God has answered prayer requests. I also believe in praying specifically. If you don't know what those specifics are, ask the person how you can pray for them. Or, if you are so inclined, ask if you can pray with them. (You don't have to be a minister to pray aloud.) Just remember that prayer is not a magic potion. People do not always get better; side effects of chemo are unpleasant to say the least. For myself, I pray that if the cancer is not to be taken away that He will give me His all sufficient grace to keep going. As a pastor, that is always my prayer when visiting with a person who is terminally ill.

I have spoken many times about the ministry of presence. Words are not always necessary, but your physical presence means more than anyone can say. I have two really special friends who have prayed and been present with me during all four of my cancer occurences, They know when to talk and when to listen. They have laughed and cried with me. They would do anything to make me cancer free and I know it. Their presence in my life has assured me of it. They never expressed pity. They helped me keep my life "normal" by feeding us, helping with our children, running errands and by treating me as a person, not a victim. In the other episodes of illness we have lived miles apart--for a while over 2000 and most recently almost 300. I continue to experience their presence by phone calls, notes and visits. There are many ways we can be present in someone's life.

If you're the patient, be humble enough to accept help and the love and concern that prompts it. If you're the friend, pray specifically and find creative new ways to be present. God will bless your efforts and your friend will have a better day.

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Today is a special day in our family. It is Tommy and Liz's fourteenth anniversary. I remember their courtship and wedding as if it were yesterday. They married on a sunny December afternoon at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Natchez, MS, one of several buildings in town on the National Register of Historic Places. The church was beautiful with its simple, but traditional Christmas decorations. Tourists were abundant both inside the church before the ceremony and in horse drawn carriages riding past waving at the wedding party. The bride was beautiful in white and the bridesmaids outstanding in their Christmas red velvet dresses. Liz was and is the wife for whom we prayed--a perfect complement to our son. We were so happy that day to welcome her into our family, but even more so today as we have gotten to know her better and to love her more. It seems like yesterday, but when I see them with their five children I know it's been much longer. The joy of December 18 fourteen years ago has been multiplied many times over.

Yesterday morning we got the bad news that the heating element in our heating unit was cracked and the gas needed to be turned off immediately. Fortunately, the temperature reached fifty and it got a little higher today. Warmer temperatures along with gas logs in the den have kept us warm the past two days. Tomorrow we get a new unit--not exactly what we wanted for Christmas, but necessary.

This week has brought cards and letters from friends and family and I have learned of more folks out there in cyber space who read this blog. Thanks for your kind words and encouragement. I'll write as long as someone reads. I hope you can spend this week before Christmas reflecting on God's graciousness. God always knows exactly what we need and has freely given. Thanks be to God all our gifts and most especially for His Christmas Gift to us!

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Our week has been full of "highlights," blessings that have come in various forms. I am reminded of the statements a minister friend often opened with: "God is good all the time. All the time God is good." So true. Here are our highlights, not neccessarily in order or significance.

The annual Christmas pageant was held at the church Wednesday night. We have a relatively new music director and though he's been in his profession more than twenty years, I'm not sure he"get's it." Our pageant was a worship service that included Scripture readings, choir anthems, congregational hymns and children cast in the roles of Mary, Joseph, angels, etc. You may be thinking that I have described the pattern for most pageants, but there were definitely some variations in the theme. Our grandson, Jacob, thought he was to be a shepherd, but his dad who had put together the order of service, told us ahead of time that the music guy wasn't having shepherds. So when it came time for the shepherds to "abide in the field," there was neither field nor shepherds. We did have lovely angels, Sarah Beth among them, but we never saw her again after she processed down the aisle. The choir surrounded the manger set and was hard to see from the pews. Finally, the kings came. (The script followed tradition, not the accuracey of Scripture.) Down the aisle they came--one taller king, carrying two gifts, and a shorter king whose crown seemed to be held up by his glasses. What a sight! Jacob, the taller, and Drew, the short king knelt before the manger, which, by the way, contained Sarah's life life baby doll as the Christ child. She was happier with the part her doll played than she was about being an angel.

Friends were the source of more than one highlight--long time friends, more recent ones and a new friend too. Tuesday long time friends from Mississippi came and spent several hours with us. The roundtrip drive is more than twice as long as the time they can spend with us, but they come anyway and we take advantage of every minute of their visits. Tommy, Liz and the two younger children joined us for lunch. I love it when friendships span the generations and we are blessed to have some that do just that. Their visit was a real gift. The mail, Fed Ex and UPS have brought greetings and happies from friends accross the country. How wonderful it is to hear from them and to receive expressions of their friendship and thoughtfulness! Yesterday a friend from our church here gave us her day and drove us to Corinth for my treatment. Her doing that for us means even more when I remember that she and her husband are hosting a brunch for our Sunday school class at their house this morning. When I acknowledge that God has given us far more than we have asked or even thought, I am acknowledging that our friends are truly gifts from God and the best friends possible.

Our trip to the neurologist on Monday was productive. Tom gave his take on what's been happening and then it was my turn. The doctor listened. He assured me that the symptoms are not unusal for Tom's illness and that we have not run out of options. We had a thorough discussion of medication--what is appropriate for Tom, what is not. There are different categories of medication for Parkinson's and Tom has been on two categories for some time. A third was added this week and some of those worrysome symptoms have subsided. Dr. M also gave Tom a sleeping tablet that is non-habit forming. That pill, along with the other med has helped us both get hours of uninterrupted sleep this week. I confess I had gotten pretty discouraged with Tom's condition and impatient living with it 24/7. As the week has progressed my focus has been on thankfulness for what can be done rather than complaining about what I see as impossibilities. (I need to go back and read a blog I posted months ago on God being bigger than any impossibility.)

Finally, yesterday I had my second chemo treatment and an appointment with my oncologist. How, you might ask, could that be a highlight? I went in with a few questions, a speech about wanting to know everything and with a throat/chest condition that was similiar to the beginning of the pneumonia of 2006. I learned that my CA125 had doubled between October and November, not unexpected, but not welcome news. And to my questions: "What exactly are we hoping to accomplish with these treatments and what is going on with this cancer? Is the treatment just holding it at bay?" He replied that "holding it at bay" is a good way to put it. Because the cancer has returned they know it is incurable--or as the nurse puts it, "chronic."
Again, he stressed my response to one particular drug and is hopeful/optimistic about my being put back into remission. For how long or how many times, no one knows. The anti-nausea drugs are working better and I was given meds for my throat problem. It's already better this morning. As for me and my reaction to "incurable" and "chronic," I think I'll choose "chronic" over "incurable." Neither what Tom has or what I have is curable--both hang around and both are terminal. I can either choose to live with a chronic illness or die with a terminal one. I choose to live and to live every day to the fullest, enjoying family and friends and witnessing to the faithfulness, the grace and the love of God.

Thanks for sharing our highlights. But I saved the best til last. Knowing that the Light of the World is Jesus puts Light and Life in all our weeks.

Christmas blessings,
Pastor Margaret

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tom's symptoms are getting worse. He knows it. I know it. Our children know it. Fortunately he has a doctor who responds immediately when we call. We have an appointment this morning. For months that are stretching into years I have held onto the possibility that a change in medication and/or dosing would make him almost good as new. And for the months, now year, that we have been here and have been seeing this neurologist Tom's condition has been helped by changes in medication. Now I wonder if he has reached the point all Parkinson's families dread when medicine begins to lose its effectiveness and increases are necessary. It's hard to watch him struggle and it's hard to live with so much uncertainty.

We went to bed Saturday night planning to go to Sunday school and church yesterday. It didn't happen. Most of the time when "he can't make it" I dress and go to one or the other and leave him here. Yesterday was different. He needed so much help getting up and down, in and out of the bed etc. that I couldn't leave him. By late morning he was better and by late afternoon felt like going to the church to help Tommy serve the Session and new elders supper. He did one simple task and froze in his tracks so I helped him sit down, gave him a pill and he sat for about forty five minutes til he got better again. Watching him help me run the dishwasher and clean the kitchen you would never have known how frozen he was just an hour earlier.

The good part of the evening was dinner: Cajun chicken served over cheese grits with sauteed asparagus and cherry tomatoes, salad and biscuits and working with our son and grandson. Jacob is finishing up hours for community service needed for a school project. It's fun to see the reactions of people who eat Tommy's cooking. Some know of his kitchen skills; others don't. I only made the dessert, but received praise right alongside Tommy though I didn't work nearly as hard as he did.

Tomorrow we have good friends coming for the day from Mississippi and we are excited about seeing them. Wednesday evening we hope to go for the children's Christmas pageant at the church and Thursday we plan to go for brown bag Bible study. We never know until the last minute if we'll make it for the Wednesday or Thursday things. Friday is treatment day in Corinth. I'm praying for a turn around in Tom's condition before then. He won't even talk about not going with me. We have a busy week and we need your prayers.

May you experience the blessings of God as you make your preparations for the celebration of Christ's birth. He truly is the Reason for the Season.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

We are spending a cozy night at home. The gas logs are burning and there's an SEC basketball game on TV. This morning we went out to run a few errands and it was beautiful and sunny--almost too warm for the jacket I was wearing. Right after lunch I looked out and it was overcast, the wind was blowing and the temperature was dropping. What we used to say about Mississippi weather can be said about Tennessee weather as well. "If you're not pleased with the weather, wait five minutes and it will change." It did!

Drew got his glasses yesterday and his mom brought him by on their way home so we could see him. He looks very studious. We were at his house when he came from school today and I watched as he took them off and very carefully took the cleaning cloth out of the case and cleaned the lens. I could learn from Drew.

Sunday I lived out every preacher's nightmare--or at least one of them. I was late to the service. I allowed myself plenty of time to drive the fifteen or twenty miles to the church and thought I was arriving early so I could familiarize myself with the bulletin before the service. As I turned off the highway I spotted the sign out front which stated that the Sunday worship time is 10:30 a.m. It was already 10:35. A man was waiting by the door to help me in, give me the lapel mike, the organist was doodling and the choir was marking time waiting to process. Everyone was very gracious in spite of my mistake.

Once again our house looks like we're either moving in or out. Tom went in the attic this afternoon to get down all our Christmas stuff. It's amazing how much we have accumulated. It looks like we have saved every decoration we have ever had. We never use everything we have, but I can't bear to recycle or thow any thing away. Tom can be unusually patient with my silliness.

Right before dinner I read my daughter's latest blog and I was touched by the depth of her emotion and her understanding of a cancer patient's mind. She had been linked to a blogger who wrote of "living with a terminal illness" and commented on that blog in relation to her dear friend who has inflammatory breast cancer and her mom who can't seem to outrun cancer cells. It makes my life so much easier to know that my children "get it," but don't dwell on the negatives. They let me live, encourage me by their attitudes and plan for tomorrow like there will be lots and lots of them.

In this season that reminds us of the hope and peace that Jesus brings, it is my special prayer that you will know that Hope and share in the Peace that guarantees joy and blessing.

Pastor Margaret