Monday, May 26, 2008

Yesterday I heard what falls into the category of "skyscraper sermons." That's a sermon that contains story after story. Often there is not much more to the sermon than stories--lots of illustrations, not much content. The text was Matthew 6:25-34, part of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus is exhorting his listeners not to worry and He calls their attention to the birds and how they are "arrayed" and the flowers of the field and their beauty. My mind went to the beautiful yellow flowers that came up in a bed planted by previous owners of our house and to the birds that frequent our back porch to eat the seed we put out for them. Both remind me of our Creator and His provisions, not only for them, but for us as well.

The sermon was entitled, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," the title of a song several years ago and not a title I would have chosen. Neither would I have chosen the direction the sermon took. In fact, I came away wishing the preacher had dug a little deeper. I wished he had talked about the difference in being happy and being joyful. I wanted him to talk about happiness being a product of external things and joy being a result of trusting God. I am not happy these days with the knowledge that Tom has Parkinson's or that I have cancer. But, I do have joy because I trust God for His provision and try to obey another teaching of Jesus: "Fear not." Apparently Tommy's thoughts were paralleling mine because he wrote me a couple of notes during the sermon and we talked afterwards. I said to him: "Here's the thing. We're here to worship God and the sermon isn't always on target. Mine certainly aren't. But, God's timing is perfect and I needed to be directed to that Scripture today."

Lately I've been consumed with thoughts of things I need to do to get all of our affairs in order--or all the things I think I need to do. Last week I read a novel by a favorite author and it was about a woman whose cancer returned with a venegance and she was dead within two days of finding out. It was a sobering read. Sometimes I forget the realities of the faithfulness of God and the sufficiency of God's grace.

Even a bad sermon can be used to remind us of God's truths. I need to be less critical and more open to learning from God's word.

Pastor Margaret

Monday, May 19, 2008

My computer has been idle for the last several days. We've been very busy and one entire day last week I had trouble with my wireless connection. Wouldn't you know it was the day I had planned to be online?

The end of the school year has affected this retired couple's activities though it's been years since we've had children in school. Now we get to follow what goes on with the grandchildren. Last Tuesday we attended an honors program for Jacob's school and swelled with pride when he received academic awards for one of the best grade averages in his homeroom and for making all A's this year. Tomorrow morning Drew graduates from kindergarten but we'll have to miss that because of a doctor's appointment.

Tommy and his family were in south Mississippi over the weekend to participate in the wedding of friends who had been in youth groups with whom he had worked--one in McComb and another in Laurel. We haven't gotten the full report yet, but the initial report is they had a great time seeing old friends.

We had friends from Iowa come for a short visit. They are both teachers now and were able to get away at the end of their school year and before the summer session begins. We met the Marlins when we lived in California and they moved from there to Iowa about six months after we came to Tennessee. It was fun seeing them, catching up on each other's news and trying to expose them to good ole' Southern hospitality and cooking. I won't have to eat again for days!

This week we look forward to celebrating both Tommy's birthday and Sarah's. His was last Friday and hers is this Saturday. Birthdays always make me wonder where all the years have gone and strive to be more intentional about savoring every day with all of our family. Someone once gave the advice not to put off til tomorrow what can be done today. When I see our grown children and watch their children growing up so quickly, I can only say "Amen and Amen."

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Last week the oncologist described my cancer as "smoldering." A quick look at the chairside dictionary defines smolder as 1) "burn with little smoke and no flame" or 2) "exist in latent or suppressed state." Either definition works with chronic cancer. It's there but not so apparent as to be symptomatic; it's hopefully dormant; and a "suppressed state" might indicate remission. I remember smoldering embers in a fireplace that might flare up with little or no provocation. I see red hot coals in the grill, smoldering and perfect for cooking. The definitions seem to be a bit more hopeful than memories of coals in the fireplace or the grill.

After each visit with the doctor there is a time for processing, both what has been said and what has not. All of us want guarantees: guarantees of cure; guarantees of long life; of happy times. You would think that by now I would have learned that doctors have no guarantees to give. Some can be rather blunt and give you the worse case scenario; others can be tight lipped, leaving you to draw your own conclusions. I've had both kinds and both provoke thoughts that smolder and flare when I should be sleeping.

Early in the week I talked with a friend and she told me of a mutual friend who is busy working on his "bucket list." He has been given just months to live and is trying to get certain things accomplished before he kicks the bucket. I suspect his list is full of things to do for others, places to go and people to see. It's time for me to take the smoldering thoughts and make my own "bucket list."

It's time for me to quit talking about identifying family "treasures" and get it done. Writing my story for my children and grandchildren needs to come sooner rather than later. Years ago when I had my first experience with cancer, a special friend told me not to worry about things. If something happened to me, she would hurry over to our house and straighten my closets. That's a real friend. While I suspect the offer still holds, my clutter has gotten worse and shouldn't be offered to my worst enemy, let alone a special friend. I must attack the closets and the boxes I've put aside to explore some time in the future. Most importantly, I need to get things in place for Tom's care.

Other smoldering thoughts concern a project the parish associate at our church asked me to consider: writing devotional booklets for Advent and Lent. So, in the last week or so, I've been reading the lectionary scriptures for Advent. They reveal the condition of Israel, their need and the hope the promise of the Messiah brought. The Israelites anticipated the first coming of Christ; we anticipate His second coming. In the meantime we celebrate the arrival of the Prince of Peace, Immanuel and have peace in our lives because God is truly with us. Because of God's Promise and His promises we have guarantees.

It's interesting how smoldering thoughts, like smoldering coals merge together.

Pastor Margaret

Friday, May 02, 2008

Today has been a stormy day! In fact, the storms just keep coming. The weather map on TV looks more like a multi colored quilt or Joseph's coat than it does a map. There have been numerous watches and warnings, both in our area and in the part of Mississippi where we went for my doctor's appointment today. Fortunately, we got home and in the house before the worst of it here. We'll have to spend some time in the next few days cleaning up storm debris in our back yard. Many in eastern Arkansas have nothing left but debris. We are grateful to be safe.

We hear a lot about the "storms of life." Periods of life are compared to storms--times of sunshine and joy; strong winds of crisis that threaten to destroy us or those we love; calms winds that bring peace. I've always loved to see the vibrant green of the grass and leaves following storms or heavy rains. I like what follows the storm, not the experience itself. I'm sitting here now with the constant chatter of the weather people and the rain hitting on the window next to my chair. Just when we think we're out of one warning or watch, here comes another.

Think about how that parallels life. Different areas of the world, different climates produce different types of storms. Before we lived in California we had a hard time understanding why anyone would live in an earthquake prone area. Friends in California couldn't understand why we would live in "tornado alley." Something you consider a storm in your life isn't necessarily like the storms in our life. Some have to deal with broken relationships, drugs or other addictions, estranged family members; we deal with disease. A diagnosis might bring a strong wind of crisis; successful treatment mimics the calm winds of peace, but sunshine and joy can be present in the midst of the crisis and the peace.

The scans I had on Wednesday still show the presence of disease, but it is not progressing--just "smoldering," as the doctor put it. Medically, there are two things in my favor: the CA125 is a good indicator of disease in my case; and my cancer is sensitive to a particular chemo drug. We were praying for complete remission, but are not discouraged with what we heard. I will always have hope because I know an amazing God. Tomorrow the yard will be alive with that vibrant green. I will feel safe and confident knowing the storm has past. That's the way of the cancer. Tonight I think about all the possibilities, all the "what ifs," wonder a bit about the future of our family, but when morning comes I'll see the vibrant green of life and be grateful that I am safe.

The storm of Parkinson's is another matter. A Memphis TV station carried news of the tornadoes that ripped through eastern Arkansas. One family lived in a large doublewide with several bedrooms and three baths. After the storm passed, nothing was left. The reporter emphasized that no bathroom fixtures could be found. They, along with everything else, were completely blown away. Parkinson's does that to the people it attacks, maybe not as quickly as a tornado, but every bit as devastating.

When Tom was in Vietnam I began every morning with the words of Lamentations 3:22-23. "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness." Good words to remember in the storms that surround and threaten to undo us!