Friday, June 27, 2008

There seems to be an enormous sink hole in our neighborhood. Tommy and his family have gone to Atlanta to visit friends and pick up Jacob who has been there since last Saturday. Don't get me wrong. We're glad they went. They need a break and I know well how it feeds the soul to visit with good friends. Still, we'll be happy to see them when they come home Sunday.

I'm looking forward to a break myself! Several weeks ago Marty asked if I would go with her to a conference in San Francisco. For a brief second I was thinking how ridiculous that was and then, bingo, it hit me: San Francisco is about two hours from Sacramento. Not only would I be able to spend some good mother-daughter-grandson time with Marty and Christopher, I would be able to visit Fair Oaks friends! What a special treat!

My friend and former assistant, Mary, is taking up where we left off a year and a half ago when we moved. She is organizing my schedule and helping me plan my time in Sacramento. I can't wait to be there and to see folks--only wish it could be a longer visit and that I could see everybody. As I type that, I think of many who have passed in the months we've been gone: Tom, Mary Margaret, Shirley, Florence, Ileone, Donna and others. I will miss them, but, in my mind will see them in familiar places at the church and thank God for the gifts they have been to me.

Tom won't make this trip. It's really a mother-daughter getaway and I'm not sure he's up to it right now anyway. Tommy will spend the nights at our house with him and our helper will come to help him with breakfast and lunch. There is a part of me that is most reluctant to leave him, but I know I have to practice what I preach: the caregiver or care-partner (as I prefer) needs time away to regroup and refresh.

Our schedule is full in the days before the trip. We both have eye appointments next week and a visit with our new primary care physician. I have a morning of work scheduled at the church on the next step toward organizing an older adult ministry. One day we'll drive to Corinth for the monthly blood check and the day before I leave, I preach and baptize Elisa. It's good to be busy.

This morning I started reading Job, the account of one who enjoyed great wealth and a big family. One day he "had it all" and the next, he had nothing or so it seemed. I know the story; I know that it was the devil who afflicted Job; I know that one of Job's friend is the shortest man in the Bible--Bildad, the Shuhite (sorry, couldn't resist); but today the message I received as I read and meditated on the words, was that in the midst of the worst of things, God is still in control. I even know that, but today I needed to hear it again. That knowledge is priceless as I learn of actions being taken by the General Assembly of the PC(USA), as I hear news of violence and abuse and as we live and manage personal afflictions.

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sometimes I am moved to climb on a soapbox to sound off about concerns--though what concerns me may not concern anyone else or they may be things that one squeaky voice cannot change.

Yesterday morning I read the Jackson, MS newspaper online, as I do most mornings, and my attention was drawn to two different articles, both concerning food and the economy. The first informed the readers of the decline in the catfish industry in the Mississippi Delta. Some years back when the government declared how much cotton could and could not be grown, many Delta planters converted some of their acreage to catfish ponds. I had never particularly had a taste for the old style river catfish, bottom feeders as they are, but pond raised catfish is quite tasty. Catfish began to show up on the classiest of menus and their production provided jobs for many who had lost out to more mechanized farming techniques. Now, both jobs and the supply of catfish is threatened because the farmers have to sell their product for less than what it costs to produce it--a fact I'm sure can be repeated in many areas of the country about many products.
Too many big businesses are making too much money at the expense of too many "little guys."

The second article was about the hard time shrimpers are having in the Gulf of Mexico. To me gulf shrimp are absolutely the best! And they are harder and harder to find!! They are nowhere to be found in Jackson, TN, but I did see some in a fish counter in Raleigh, NC. Here, I have to settle for farm raised shrimp from Ecuador. Do you realize how many of our food products are being imported, not because we can't or don't produce them, but because of lower costs? The article I read told of one shrimper who has a boat with a 2500 gallon tank which he fills with diesel at $4 a gallon, a whopping $10,000 worth of fuel--and we thought a trip to the pump with our vehicles was bad. That much fuel lasts twenty days. He gets shrimp, but the market isn't as good as it once was because of the lower cost of imported, mass produced shrimp. A big wholesaler on the coast suggested that the consumer go straight to the boats to buy (not exactly convenient for those who don't live closeby) and ask when get ready to order shrimp in a restaurant if they serve Gulf shrimp.

For you readers in California, the Gulf shrimp concern is not an issue, but it is representative of many of the food products grown in your state. When I lived there I used to shop and see fruit from South America, citrus from Florida or Texas, other products from Mexico and wonder, "Why would I want to buy something not grown locally? The flavor is usually better, it's fresher and it supports the local economy." Our West Tennessee Farmers' Market has a section that sells only products grown in the state and occasionally I ask where something was grown just to be sure. (I have to go to another section to find Mississippi sweet potatoes, simply the best.) I can buy strawberries in the grocery store from Watsonville, CA that look just like the ones I bought when I lived in California. They look the same, but they don't taste the same--picked too early so they could be packaged and shipped elsewhere.

So, where am I headed and what's the point of this rambling? What can we do? Eat more catfish and help stamp out poverty. Seriously, many folks on the Welfare rolls would rather not be there and would not be if they had jobs to support themselves and their families. Buy from local sources when you can. Let restaurants and other food providers know you prefer American grown food. We have better regulations on our foodstuffs and the wherewithal to trace tainted or contaminated food. Our consumption of American grown and made products is good for our economy and the provision of jobs to the unemployed goes a long way in making a better, stronger country.

Today I may sound more like a politician than a pastor. That's not my intention. To be pastoral is to care for others, have their best interests at heart. Jesus fed the hungry. He helped the fishermen. He taught us to live simply, relying on the abundance that comes from God and He warned against greed. Knowing that pushes me up on my soapbox.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, I remember saying out loud, "I love my bed." We got home yesterday afternoon after a wonderful week with Marty and family. The trip was long, there was construction that delayed us in the mountains of North Carolina, our car was loaded with the usual stuff and all the extra things from my shopping excursions while there and it had to be unloaded and brought inside the house. Whew! I was a bit more tired than I wanted to admit! But, as a furniture dealer in a neighboring town says in his TV commercials, "It's worth the drive!" We had a memorable time, to say the least.

Late yesterday afternoon we went to eat supper with Liz and the grandchildren. Tommy and Jacob, the oldest, are at a middle school church conference all week. Liz cooked vegetables from the Farmers' Market and I now feel as if summer is officially here even if it doesn't begin until Friday. Sarah looked taller and pretty as ever. Drew had a ballgame, so we didn't get to see him but a few minutes. Meredith talked non-stop in her own language, but fortunately it's okay when you don't understand her to just nod and she's content to continue. Elisa smiled when she saw us like she was glad to see us and shared the new noises she has learned since we've been away. I can't wait to get Christopher in the midst of his cousins and watch them play together!
Being a grandmother definitely falls in the category of God's abundant blessings!

Sunday I had the privilege of baptizing Christopher. I cannot tell you just how special it is to hold your grandchild, a child of the covenant, and administer that sacrament. (I have baptized Drew, Meredith, Christopher and look forward to baptizing Elisa in a few weeks.) In the days prior to the baptism I was thinking, as I always do, about why we baptize infants, the significance of it and how to share those thoughts with the congregation. Not everyone understands the whys and whats of infant baptism and being an educator at heart, I sieze the teachable moment. Let me tell you how I understand whys and whats:

1. Jesus told His followers to go into the world, make disciples and baptize;

2. Scripture tells us that baptism in the early church was for entire families, not just believers and it was tied to God's covenant promise to Abraham.

3. Ours is a covenant theology, a faith that has its roots in the sovereignty of God and God's faithful promises to His people.

4. Children of believers are a part of the covenant promise God made to Abraham: "I will be your God; you will be my people." Infant baptism is the outward sign and seal of this covenant promise.

5. Baptism is not about what the individual does or does not do. It is about God and what God does. Even in believer's baptism, it is God who has initiated the salvation. God is the one who saves, who calls. God acts. We respond because of the irresistable pull of the Holy Spirit.

6. The child's parents, extended family and church family promise to teach the child who God is and the essentials of the Christian faith so that the child can know and understand a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and make his/her own profession of faith and discipleship.

Often when I look at our grandchildren, especially the ones I've been privileged to baptize, I ponder #6 above. How am I carrying out the promise I have made? Will they remember me as a child of God? And last week, before Christopher's baptism, I centered on God's promise. #4 above is life itself! I realized that I can summarize my life within God's promise. I have trusted God's promise of salvation, I rely on God's faithfulness, I bask in the blessings of God's grace and I am sustained day by day by God's mercy and compassion. I am a child of the promise. To teach our children what that means is life's greatest responsibility and opportunity.

Pastor Margaret

Friday, June 13, 2008

We're in Raleigh--too busy to post--too laid back to move. That's contradictory, but that's how it is! The busy-ness is in playing with Christopher and, of course, he takes priority. The being laid back is in not really having anything we absolutely have to do. The trip over was pretty easy and not too tiring. I did my usual "getting lost around Raleigh" bit and had to call and say, "I know where I am, but how do I get to you?" You'd think after living in Sacramento I'd be ready for the big city, but apparently I'm not. I'm a small town gal at heart!

But, there are some things that are scarce in small towns and I usually arrive here with a list. This time I had an item from Tommy--lobster base--not something I'd buy, but whatever he cooks with it, I'll eat. (It's on my shopping list for today.) One other thing listed for today is a box of jumbo pasta shells--or maybe several boxes. It's rather tedious to stuff small ones and I love shrimp stuffed shells and another dish I make regularlly when I can find jumbo shells. Raleigh, actually Cary, has a Trader Joe's, a California tradition to be sure. We made that trip yesterday and I stocked up on the trail mix Tom loves, Joe's O's, my favorite granola and other good stuff.

I saved the best to last--finding quilted containers for stemware at a fraction of the original cost. After forty plus years of marriage and storing all the German crystal Tom bought when he was stationed in Munich in their original boxes, I decided to bite the bullet and store it in something that would keep it clean and ready to use at a moment's notice. Until now I'd have to find the right box, unwrap the crystal, wash and dry it, use it, wash and dry it, rewrap and put it back in the box--not exactly conducive to using it much. At check out, watching the register I noticed the clerk rang up $23 for what I thought was one container. When I questioned her, calling her attention to the $14.95 price tag, she said, "No, this is a special price. You're getting six containers for $23." Folks, that's a bargain in any size town!! I can use the savings to help fill the gas tank for the trip home.

Indulge me with one more shopping story. Last week Tom and I went to Germantown (east Memphis community) for me to attend a meeting. For me, going to Germantown involves a trip to the Penzey Spice store and while there I casually asked if they knew where I could buy sausage casings. Tommy makes sausage and thus far, he's had to make it into patties for lack of the availability of casings. The saleslady called a neighborhood Italian deli, put me on the phone and we ended up at the deli for lunch. The owner was really nice, interested in why I wanted the casings and graciously offered to give me what I wanted. In return, I'm to take him some of Tommy's andouille the next time I go to Germantown. The funny part was the casings were put into a sandwich size plastic bag, salted and handed to me, free of charge, with my promise to return with Tommy's sausage. I had to stop at a service station, purchase a cooler and a bag of ice to keep them fresh for the drive back to Jackson. Free casings traveled home in a $9 cooler with ice. The man and his deli made my day! I can't wait to go back.

I heard on the news that an area close to Sacramento is experiencing wild fires and the temperature for today is to reach 100. Know that you are in my prayers! And always in my heart!!!

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Realities fall into lots of categories; some are welcome; some are not; some bring untold joy; some bring tears and disappointment. Some realities are interesting and sort of comical. Take, for instance, the writing and reading of blogs. I took over this blog from my children who were doing a great job of keeping friends and family informed of some rather serious health problems we were having. It has been a way that I can stay in touch with lots of special people who care about us and I share thoughts that God lays on my heart. The reality that there are those who care is why I write, but the comical and disappointing reality is anyone with access to the internet can read what I write and some who could care less about us read our words for ulterior motives. It makes me feel like I felt at one point in my life when we caught a peeping Tom at our window.

The stomach bug has been a reality in Tommy and Liz's house lately and she is the latest victim. Fortunately, it may prove to be a 24 hr. bug for her, but today she felt really bad. She called us about 7:30 a.m. to see if we could keep Elisa. Silly question! Of course, we could and would. We knew we had missed her since school has been out, but were struck with the reality today of just how much! Someone sent an e-mail about mothers not long ago that included a statement that said something like: "Anyone who asks a mother if she can love the fifth child as much as she loved the first never had five children." It reminded me of Liz and how she has this unending love that she pours our on their children. As a grandmother I know that as the grandchildren keep coming, God keeps giving us additional capacity to love each one. That's a welcome reality.

An unwelcome and disappointing reality came today with the report of the blood work I had done yesterday. The CA125 is inching up again. It's only up a point since last month, but the three previous ones each showed fractional increases. Besides the reality being unwelcome and disappointing, there is something else. I have become a student of ovarian cancer and I know the signs, what they mean and the usual prognosis. Those things are too real! "But God," as the apostle Paul would say, is the reality in my life. I know He is a God of miracles, a God of mercy, grace and compassion. The realities of the blessings in our marriage and our lives as followers of Jesus are too numerous to name.

I have been reading The Last Lecture, the book written by Randy Pausch, Carnegie-Mellon professor given months to live with pancreatic cancer. It is not a Christian testimony, but a wonderful read for anyone living with chronic illness. He writes (talking to his wife when they are in Houston for a follow-up appointment): Whatever news we get about the scans, I'm not going to die when I hear it. I won't die the next day, or the day after that. So today, right now, well this is a wonderful day. And I want you to know how much I'm enjoying it.

Today is reality. It is what we have. We ask God for today's needs and God not only provides, but provides abundantly. This is the greatest reality of my life--it is welcome and it brings joy beyond measure.

Pastor Margaret