Sunday, March 30, 2008

Today is what might be described as a dismal day. It has rained off and on all weekend, mostly at the most inopportune times. The temperature is supposed to reach the upper sixties, but I doubt if does. Tom doesn't feel too perky, the skies look gloomy and we're staying home this afternoon. We'll settle in by the gas logs and watch a little more basketball. I did go teach a Sunday School class this morning, but didn't stay for worship. On the way home I reflected on a brief conversation I had with someone and the weather.

We are such strange people--sometimes fickle, sometimes ungrateful. I am. Across the South we have been experiencing a drought, some areas worse than others. West Tennessee has not suffered as much as the Raleigh or Atlanta areas, but it has been extremely dry here. So dry, in fact, that butterbeans were scarce as hens' teeth at the farmers' market. We have needed rain! We have prayed for rain and now that we are getting it in abundance, we complain. It's as if we are saying: "Lord, please send rain, but send it when it's most convenient for us."

We ask God to show us what He wants us to do, to send us where we are to go. With much conviction, we profess to only want to be obedient to God's call. "Here I am, Lord. Send me." Then God does just that. We are sent, we accept a responsibility and sometimes become discouraged because things are hard or unpleasant. I know. This has been my story more than once. I prayed for direction, telling God that I would be obedient and I was led across the country, away from family, friends, out of my comfort zone. At first, I reminded God how obedient and open I had been to His call and suggested that I might be rewarded by a new call--one that would return us to family, friends and the familiar. When my immaturity and ungratefulness hit me, my prayers changed. The obedience brought more blessings than I could ever count. But, just when I was settled into the call, loving every minute of it and all the people involved, a new call came. It was a call into the unknown--no job, no visible ministry, no regular teaching or preaching, no visiting the sick, no hours of pastoral care. It has taken a while to quit questioning and to completely accept the ministry of "in sickness and in health" and being an up close and personal grandparent. These two experiences have affirmed a few things I've heard from those far wiser and far more experienced than I will ever be. 1) Don't ask God for something if you don't want an answer. 2) Know that the answer may not be what you want to hear. 3) Don't expect that being obedient produces hardships, but be prepared when it does. 4) Remember that God is a gracious God who "goes before you in triumphant procession." 5) Quit complaining to others and let God be in charge of your life and your situation.

When I complain, I'm denying the sovereignty of God in my life and in the world. I am implying that I know best and I know that's not so. My prayer is that God will teach me to replace my complaints with words of thanksgiving and praise.


Monday, March 24, 2008

The whole Easter weekend was wonderful! I hope it was for you as well. Liz and the children came home Thursday night and each child seemed to have grown several inches in the few days they had been gone. Jake had learned a new song on his guitar--not just chords; all of "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee." Sarah was excited to have a friend visiting from Kansas spend the night. Drew had a new guitar that played its own tune. Meredith ran from her room to the den and back again, happy to see her toys--and her daddy. Elisa smiled and we all smiled right back at her. We had stopped just to say hello after going to the Maundy Thursday service. Have I told you how good it is to be so close? Perfection would be being just as close to Marty and her family!

The Maundy Thursday service was simple: Scripture, hymns, choir selections. But it was a service of darkness and as candles were extinguished during the service, the lights in the sanctuary were dimmed until at the end only soft lights reflected on the organ pipes. The cross and the communion table were draped in black and the organ played "Were You There?" I have never particularly cared for that song, but sitting there in the darkness, listening to the plaintive melody, the question was penetrating and deeply personal. Yes, I was there. It is for me He died.

Friday was spent crossing all the "t's" and dotting all the "i's" on our income tax papers. Wouldn't you know there would be one document missing? So, instead of hunting Easter eggs, we've been hunting that all important document. I finally discovered it this morning. Tom has not lost his sense of detail and has spent a great deal of time working on files, putting things in order. He just has trouble remembering where he puts the files. Thankfully, forty plus years of togetherness help us know, at least partially, how the other one thinks.

Saturday was bright and sunny, a perfect day for being outside--except for the surprising cold air that moved in late in the afternoon. It came about the time the children got here on their scooters to play in the yard while their dad cooked pork for Sunday dinner and hamburgers for supper on the grill. (I challenge you to diagram that sentence.) Sunday services were crowded as they usually are on Easter. We ended up sitting in the balcony and even then couldn't fit the whole family on one pew.

As I sat in church I thought of Easters past. I remembered having real bunnies in our baskets when I was a pre-schooler. There were thoughts of brand new white shoes, not broken in, pinching my feet. (Of course, you had to be mindful of the rule: never white before Easter or after Labor Day.) I remembered sunrise services in the cemetary when I was a teenager. I visualized two particular crosses at Fair Oaks: one about a foot tall and made completely of nails on a table in the narthex and the other, the most beautiful I have ever seen. During Lent it stands in the front of the sanctuary, stark, a vivid reminder of its cruel punishment. It's draped on Maundy Thursday, but on Easter Sunday it is alive, covered with magnolia leaves and fresh calla lilies. Not only is it a sight to behold, the symbolism is powerful.

During the sermon I also thought of a minister commenting about the difficulty of preparing a fresh Easter sermon year after year. I wondered if our minister here would make the same comment. As he preached an image of a flower bud came to me. When we first hear the Easter message our minds/hearts are much like a bud, but as we hear the message over and over our minds open, grasp its meaning more and more. It is a message that never grows old and its meaning grows with us as we grow spiritually. The bud in my mind continues to open with understanding and I'm grateful for all of those who have nurtured it with the Easter message year after year. One day it will be fully open when I see the risen Lord face to face.

Mary was at the tomb that first Easter and mourned because she thought the body of Jesus had been stolen. Imagine her surprise when she heard His voice speaking to her! Imagine her saying, "I have seen the Lord!" She could not keep it to herself and she ran to tell others. May we all take a lesson from Mary! Does it make a difference that we have seen Him too? If so, run and tell others.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The silence is deafening in our house. The bouncy seat is still. There are no bottles by the sink. Elisa, her mom and her brothers and sisters are visiting Liz's parents this week and it's too quiet! We have loved having Tommy for supper since they've been gone, but the fun is not complete without the rest of his family. When I asked him earlier in the week when they were coming home, he said, "Not soon enough." My sentiments exactly!

It's Holy Week and we're about to remember the darkest day in the Church and then celebrate the most joyous day--the day of resurrection. I am reminded of Tony Campolo telling of a "preaching competition" he had with a seasoned African American minister. Campolo gave his sermon his all, felt really good about his message and sat down, thinking he had that competition in the bag. Then the other minister stood and preached a five word message: "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming." He began slowly and quietly and over and over he preached those words, getting louder and louder until he finished with all the thunder and emotion he could muster: "IT'S FRIDAY, BUT SUNDAY'S COMING." Therein lies our hope.

It's March Madness--basketball, basketball, basketball. Our Mississippi State Bulldogs have done well this year and are playing Friday night in the NCAA Tournament. You can be sure we'll be watching. We were tuned in last Friday watching them in the SEC Tournament when, at the end of an exciting game and in over time, a tornado hit the side of the arena where they were playing. That's surely a game no State fan will forget. Six SEC teams are in the "Big Dance," as TV folks like to call it so we'll have lots of games to watch. At least two other SEC teams are playing in the NIT so we'll be watching them too. Jackson has hosted the NAIA Women's Basketball Tournament for nineteen years and it, too, is being played this week. Not only is it a boost to the economy, but local folks get involved with hosting and sponsoring visiting teams and take advantage of watching some good basketball at the downtown arena. We're going with a group from our church tomorrow. I wonder if there is such a thing as basketball overload.

We have some new guests--at least I think they are still here. Yesterday at breakfast I was watching our bird friends eating from the containers on our back porch. I noticed a small bird with a twig in its mouth, sitting on the hummingbird feeder looking around. Then it darted into the beautiful, hand painted gourd hanging on the porch for a decoration. It really is a birdhouse, but I bought it because a special lady made it and for its artistic value. The little bird, a wren, was joined by a second wren and I watched them dart in and out with leaves and twigs in their beaks all morning. My initial thought was, "No, not in my birdhouse." My second thought was a question: "Why not my birdhouse?" After all, it is a birdhouse and hanging it suggested to the wrens that they were welcome in it. Why would I say by my action, "Come on in" and then be a bit concerned that they actually did? There's bound to be a sermon illustration in that. I haven't seen the wrens today. I hope they are taking cover from the thunderstorms and not feeling unwelcome.

These things and income tax are on my mind.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Some things never change. Have you noticed? For us earthlings and matters that surround us, that's not always a good thing. For God, it's a good thing. I take great comfort in knowing that none of the attributes, none of the characteristics of God ever change. You might say that because of the unchanging love, mercy, grace, wisdom, compassion and faithfulness of God I CAN change--change my attitudes and behavior; change my priorities and become more the person God created me to be. That's been on my mind a lot in the last several months. As an individual, a child of God, there is always room for change. As a body of believers, the Church (big and little "c"), there is always room for change, no matter what our denomination.

We've been trying to get back to Wednesday night supper and program at the church now that it's getting warmer. We have missed so many worship services and other things that people had begun to notice and wonder if we were all right. It is nice to be missed, but here's the funny thing and I have watched it happen in most churches. People will express "how glad they are to see you," but not really include you. While we were eating Wednesday night I told Tom that I didn't think I'd go to supper any more and he was surprised. I said, "Well, we don't come because of the food; we come for the fellowship and we could visit with one another a lot better sitting at our table, eating our food." Most nights at the church we eat at one of the tables for eight by ourselves--we aren't part of any of the groups at the other tables. I watched that happen to newcomers to the older adult lunch group in the last church where I served and never stopped trying to preach, "practice hospitality." What does unfriendliness, what does being exclusive say about our faith? Is this a place where a need for change is indicated?

During Lent the minister, the parish associate and the educator (our son) have taught a series based on Bible passages we might not ordinarily associate with Lent. Wednesday Tommy taught on the story of the lame man who was brought to Jesus by four friends and Mary washing Jesus's feet with perfume. In the first passage we talked about repentance and relationships and about Mary's unwavering love for Jesus in the second. Some of Tommy's teaching started me to think. If you notice in Mark 2, when the friends lower the man through the roof and Jesus sees them, He says "Your sins are forgiven." That's not really what they expected--they came for healing for their friend. And, it's because of their faith that the sins are forgiven. Usually, when we teach this passage, we point to Jesus's authority and ability to forgive sins because of who He is, but I've been thinking about the faith of the friends and the relationship between them and the lame man. The relationship was such that they shared their faith; they wanted so much for the man to have an encounter with Jesus that they were willing to go to great lengths to make in happen.

Mary, on the other hand, is all about Jesus. He is her focus and she is criticized for the expense to which she went to express her love for Him.

How do these passages and our experience at supper relate to one another? And where does change fit into the picture? I think we start with Mary and her focus. We need to not just say that we love Jesus. We need to live like we do, no matter what the cost. When we focus on Jesus, that attitude which was in Him will change our attitude to be the same as His. Then, we need to care about people. Know that we are the face of the Church. Hospitality is about receiving and caring about others. It's about sharing what we have--the best of what we have. If you come to my house for dinner, I'm going to go out of my way to see that you are comfortable and well fed. Why, then, would I not want to share Jesus, "the best that I have?"

Friends, change needs to take place in all of us and in all of our churches. We need to be like Mary and focus on the Lord of the Church and we need to be like the friends and share Jesus. A change in us can bring about a change in our world.

Thanks for reading and letting me speak my piece. If you care about change and want some practical, prayerful help, read Evelyn Christiansen's, Lord, Change Me. It's a good place to start.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Same song, second verse. This is my second try of the day to publish. The first got lost.

Meet Elisa, the sweet little one we keep on school days. The picture was taken about a month ago and she is smiling at her Paw Paw, something she does quite a lot. She looks much like her dad did at this age--now too, for that matter. In a couple of weeks she'll make her first trip to "the lake" with her other brothers and sisters to see her Mimi and Pop. They will be thrilled with her smiles too!

The weather man finally got it right with the prediction of frozen precipitation. It started snowing here yesterday about 2 p.m. and continued way past dark. It was beautiful coming down, "luminous with the moon shining on it" (Jacob's descriptive words), and beautiful when we awoke. By noon much of the backyard had melted. Leaves on the magnolia in our yard and others on our street made good surfaces for holding the snow; our dogwood looked as if it was blooming early with white tulip shaped blossoms; the nandina outside our back windows are bent double to the ground. Usually, with the slightest breeze their movement causes one of the lights on the corner of the house to come on, but they can't with their tops bowed to the ground. The three oldest grands came down to inspect our snow after they had played some at their house. They had a brief snowball fight, but spent most of their time inside snacking. They said they would be back, but I suspect after their mom gets them inside and dry, their plans will change. Snow is pretty, but it does make a mess and create more laundry.

The snow brings back memories of the first Christmas Tommy and Liz lived here. A few days before Christmas they were greeted with both snow and ice. We flew in from California and were stranded overnight in the Memphis airport. The next morning we rented a car, drove the eighty miles in three hours and literally slid into the driveway. Later that afternoon Tom was playing outside with the children and when Sarah's cardboard box sled got away from her, he went running to her rescue, but fell and cracked ribs on the curb. We spent some time in the ER Christmas Eve night. But, not as long as Linda, Liz's mom, spent there on Christmas day. They had arrived while Tom and I were seeing about him and the next morning we had a good time opening gifts and having a late breakfast. Linda and Frank returned to the hotel to rest a bit before dinner, she fell on the steps, broke her tailbone and off they went to the ER. They were there for hours. Not wanting them to miss dinner, Liz fixed their plates on the Christmas china and delivered it to the hospital. We chuckle a little bit when we talk about that Christmas, but it wasn't fun then.

We went to Corinth yesterday for my monthly visit with the doctor and for a treatment. The church friend who drove us spent most of her working life in Philadelphia and in the DC area so she wasn't threatened in the least by impending bad weather. All around us school districts were either closed or were letting out early. That didn't deter us and we were home before the snow started. The doctor was out with the flu the last time I went so we didn't get the official scan report from February until yesterday. They are improved since ones taken in November, 07, and the CA125 continues to drop--not a perfect report, but not bad. I will have the sixth and final treatment of this series the first Friday in April, wait three weeks to repeat the scans and he will re-evaluate where we are.

I was lying in bed this morning allowing my mind to wander and I realized I had not named this cancer. (I have a quirk about giving things names.) The breast cancer was called "Molly the Mass" and the first bout with ovarian cancer was dubbed "Tillie the Tumor," but these last two occurences are hard to name because there is no mass, nor tumor. I thought about "Ollie" for ovarian, but promptly dismissed that because one of the dearest people I know is called Ollie. Then "Pesky" came to me. I thought: this is like some people I know that corner you when you need to be somewhere or some that annoy you and you try to avoid them. A particular type comes to mind. Maybe you know the type; maybe not. Maybe I should be ashamed and duck my head into my clerical collar, but I don't own one. I have known some people I describe as "space invaders." They stand a little too close when they talk to you, they talk on and on and all the while I'm standing there smiling, nodding, trying to gracefully excuse myself. What a thought! This cancer fits the description. It has invaded my space and I'm doing whatever is medically possible to avoid it. Since it is chronic, it wants to go on and on while all the while I'm still smiling, nodding with hope and praying for a miracle. Though it is "pesky" and that name fits, "space invader" has a better ring to it. From now on this cancer will unaffectionately be known as "Space Invader."

That's it for now. I wanted you to see Elisa, hear of our snow and the doctor's report. I surely do hope the post publishes this time. I'm not sure I can write it a third time. Have a wonderful, blessed weekend. Worship Almighty God wherever you are and you will, most assuredly, be blessed.

Pastor Margaret
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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Tom had his last speech therapy appointment yesterday and I can honestly say the time has been well spent. Parkinson's can affect one's speech in a couple of obvious ways: diminished volume and slurring of words. Tom thought he was speaking loud enough to be heard and he didn't realize he hurried some words and parts of sentences which caused the slurring. I was struggling at times to hear him and to understand the words I did hear. He interpreted things differently. The problems I identified could and have been helped. He speaks more slowly and clearly, listens to himself and self corrects when he realizes he has been hurrying. Unfortunately, the problem he recognized is just one more Parkinson's problem which has no resolution. The once articulate man who thought well on his feet, the person who was comfortable in front of people, whether it was in a courtroom, a pulpit or a group of friends now hesitates to find the right words. You can see him thinking, trying to remember what he wanted to say and how to say it.

Yesterday the therapist asked Tom to tell him about some of his most interesting trials. I knew before he started what the first one would be. I was right. He told about one of his earliest cases that involved a woman who said she found a fly in her beer can. I enjoyed hearing him tell about it though he didn't tell it with as much detail and fervor as he once did. Ask him what some legal term means or about a specific legal process and he explains either so that most of the time even I can understand. It's ordinary conversation that's the most problematic. How the brain works is such a mystery! How Parkinson's affects different aspects of the brain in different people is a mystery!

Elisa news of the week is she started eating a little cereal yesterday. It wasn't much and she let me know when she'd had enough--just clamped her little lips together and gave me one of those "no more" looks. She's one who understands Tom, her Paw Paw, quite well! Her eyes follow him when he comes into the room, she smiles at the sound of his voice, no matter the volume, and she grins really big when he says in a sing-song voice, "Elisa Leigh, Elisa Leigh, this is Paw Paw talking to you." Aren't children wonderful? They understand love and return it many times over.

Pastor Margaret

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Happy Birthday, Aunt May! Today she celebrated her 90th birthday with a family dinner at her daughter's house. At her request, there was no big party or acknowledgement of the day. That's typical of her--keep everything simple and don't make a fuss.

Ninety years--sounds like a lot and it is, but Aunt May is ninety years young, not old. Yes, she has slowed down, has some trouble getting around, doesn't drive at night and doesn't cook much, but her spirit is young and she keeps her mind active and vital with reading, crossword puzzles and more recently with computer solitaire. I have never seen anyone work as hard as she did, keeping house for my uncle and their four children (plus me); working alongside her husband on the farm; working in the church teaching, cleaning, cooking; catering, running a restaurant. When her parents were sick, she helped care for them. When her husband grew old before his time with a debilitating illness, she faithfully and tirelessly cared for him. Times were not always easy, but I never heard her complain, never saw her give into aches and pains. What a lady! Oh, to be like her!!

The four most influential women in my life were my mother, my college piano teacher, my mother-in-law and Aunt May--especially Aunt May. Often we learn best by being in the presence of someone who has a lot to give. When I lived with her I was too young to care about cooking or sewing or keeping house. But when I grew up and began doing those things for my own husband and family I remembered the ways she did things. I remembered her strength coupled with her gentleness, her sensitivity along side her sense of humor. She has shared her wisdom and advice and her love of life--those things never grow old and neither will she!

I missed the celebration, but I thought about her just the same and I heard her laughter.

Happy Birtday Aunt May. You are the greatest!

Pastor Margaret