Monday, September 29, 2008

This week will be dull compared to last. We had phone conversations with three California friends, two from Mississippi and visits from two couples who were on road trips from California. A lady from our church here stopped by one day and the children were free enough from sniffles that we were able to share two meals with them at their house. What a week! The presence of friends and family, whether in person or by phone, brings indescribable joy. (It's all a part of the fellowship of believers for us.)

The Witts came Thursday after spending a couple of days in Memphis enjoying ribs at the Rondeveaux--the world's best rib place--and taking in the sights. We had lunch at home, showed them a little of Jackson, dined on catfish for supper and talked and talked and talked. Sunday the Mittlers stopped by for a couple of hours and brought us lots of CDs of services and Bible studies fom Fair Oaks. Those visits will live on in our hearts for a long time.

More and more I am convinced that one of this life's greatest gifts is grandchildren! Christopher has learned to crawl and has joined that group of little ones known as the "Now You See Me, Now You Don't" crowd. Having Elisa crawling around our house makes me more diligent in keeping things off the floor. I'm convinced that all those months babies sit looking around and cooing before they reach the crawling stage, they are really casing the place so they'll know exactly where to explore. I think Marty agrees, now that Christopher is off and going. He has big sister Mallory wrapped around his little finger. Elisa's latest accomplishment is to say "No, No." Meredith has added "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" to her nursery rhyme repetoire, but I think "Humpty, Humpty" is still her favorite. That's the one we hear the most. Jacob, Sarah and Drew are busy with the usual school activities and fun to be around. I love to hear what they are doing in school, to hear Jacob play new notes on his saxophone, to see Sarah do the crab crawl and to get pictures from Drew and see his school work. I bet he's a fun little boy to have in class.

I love this time of year. It has always been my favorite, a time when the weather gets cooler, the leaves change color, the cotton fields stand ready for picking, delicious smells from the kitchen fill the house, football takes over the weekends, basketball begins and families begin dusting off favorite holiday traditions and planning new ones. There is something in the air that prompts both a calm excitement about the present and a warm nostalgia about falls past.

The visits from our friends and the most recent grandchildren stories and accomplishments will be added to the fall memory bank of 2008. All of us are making memories every day, really every minute and we will be remembered by those who know us. The content of those memories is up to us. Think about it.

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My start in Older Adult Ministry years ago was prompted by a couple in our church whose maiden aunt had come from another town to live in an apartment behind their house. She was legally blind and had some mobility problems as well. The couple wanted the aunt to be involved in the church, but there were few ways that she could. I asked what the aunt missed most about not being able to attend and participate the way she had when she was younger and I was told that she "missed the fellowship." Consideration of that statement has been one of the foundational pillars of Older Adult Ministry for me. Not only have I pondered what "missing the fellowship" means, but I have also continued to ask how to extend the "fellowship of believers" to those who can no longer regularly attend.

Today I have a personal understanding of "missing the fellowship." The Church has been an integral part of both Tom's life and mine since we were born. The Church has nurtured us and taught us; it has celebrated our joys and grieved with us in our losses. Worship services and other church events and activities have been our priority. They have gone on our calendar first, other things were secondary. Granted, part of this is habit, one instilled in us by our parents, for which I am glad. My dear mother-in-law taught me the value of good habits. Not being in worship on Sundays, not being actively involved is a hard habit to break!

Greater than the "habit" is the need to be connected to fellowship of believers. Worshiping together introduces us to the "Sweet, sweet Spirit in this place;" studying together provides opportunity for growth; praying with and for one another is encouraging and affirming; serving together unites our lives in a common purpose. So, is the "fellowship of believers" portable? Do we have to go somewhere to enjoy it? Can it extend beyond the boundaries of the church building? The question I've asked in ministry about others has come home to roost, so to speak.

Tom's increased nervousness limits the time I can spend away from him and my lowered white count prevents my being in crowds. (Translation: don't go to church or other such gatherings.)
As a result, I've missed some opportunities to teach and preach and have had to miss a couple of presbytery meetings lately. Now I pull up my chair on Sunday morning and tune in to 2nd Presbyterian, Memphis. It's only a thirty minute service, beginning with a short anthem, reading of God's Word and the message. Currently, the minister is preaching through II Corinthians and his insights are remarkable. I am becoming a part of the fellowship of believers in a congregation that doesn't even know it. They are sharing their worship with many across the mid-South and extending their fellowship to TV viewers.

A friend of a friend contacted me by e-mail after being introduced to my blog. He shared his story and the paper he had written for his doctoral dissertation. By so doing, he reached out and ministered to me through cyber space, thus sharing the fellowship of the Spirit, the golden thread that ties believers together.

After all these years the one question remains, but the answers to it are growing day by day.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ike brought crisp, cooler days, a little rain and wind gusts that cleared some limbs out of the trees. It's good porch sitting weather! We know, however, not to get too used to it. Fall is always hot in this part of the country. I am once again anticipating the turning of the ghinko trees downtown around the courthouse. The seasons come and go, but I never tire of the beauty of each one.

I learned Monday that the tumor marker has lost its way--it's going up instead of down. Of course, the nurse, in her brightest voice, reminded me how many treatments I had had and that I shouldn't be discouraged. "Discouragement" is not the word; it is "disappointment." We want that count to go down and the white count to come up. Pretty typical of human nature. We're seldom satisfied with what we have, always wanting more. The apostle Paul said that he had learned to be content in any state. That's an expression of all -out trust in an unchanging, faithful God and I want to be able to echo Paul's statement. "Discouragement" does not belong in my vocabulary.

I have been drawn to a lovely lady in our congregation who has caregiving responsibilities for her husband. He is a former mayor of the city and until a stroke disabled him, he was active, vital, very much involved in the church and community. The other day she told me that one of her friends saw her at church and commented that she had never seen her look prettier, then added: "Stress must agree with you." We laughed and said that if that's the case she would be the world's most beautiful lady.

If asked, I imagine she would say that her life has not taken the path she thought it would. I never imagined the circumstances we face day to day. Life is fragile. It can--and does--change in an instant. An outwardly healthy person can be felled by a stroke or heart attack in an instant; a doctor's diagnosis can change everything; an accident may rearrange your lifestyle; a broken relationship may hurt you deeply. Life is full of change. It is inevitable. The old cliche, "two things never change--death and taxes," holds no comfort, is no help. The comfort lies in the knowledge that God, alone, is unchanging in all He is and in all His works. While our circumstances will surely change, our lives take unknown, unwanted paths, we trust in an unchanging God who makes it possible for us to be "content" along with Paul.

Pastor Margaret

Friday, September 12, 2008

Does prayer change things?

There is a popular, oft repeated statement among believers that says "Prayer changes things." My response has always been: "Prayer does not change things. God does." Then I go on to explain what I mean. Once in a confirmation class I gave my view and was criticized by a mother who was attending with her daughter. Though I don't think she completely understood what I was saying, her criticism had some merit and did make me think. I went back the next week and began the class with some hopefully clarifying statements.

You, my readers, may not agree with me and might call me a "nick picker." Prayer is a powerful, yet intimate Christian discipline. In prayer we grow in our knowledge of God and closer in our relationship with Him. Our closest human relationships are those where there is trust and open communication. A close relationship with God requires the same. So, when I approach God in prayer, I approach in awe of who He is, in humility because of His mercy and grace, somewhat in surprise that He cares for me and what concerns me and in the absolute knowledge that He hears and He answers. Only with those approaches does my knowlege and relationship with God grow.

Maybe you have heard someone say when a prayer has not been answered the way we prefer that we haven't prayed enough. It's as if the length or the number of our prayers make the difference. For me, those things demonstrate the quality of our communication with God and the trust we have, not only that God does answer, but in the answer itself. I have been blessed and am being blessed by the prayers of God's people! My dear friend, Peggy, reminded me not long ago about the constant, fervent prayer support Tom and I both had when we were at FOPC. And her comment reminded me of how much I rested, knowing that God was working in both our lives and in their lives as well. I need that now.

Here are some requests: 1) Tom has gotten his meds mixed up two days in a row, making me know that he can no longer be left to take them on his own. Every dose will have to be monitored. He and I went alone for my treatment today and he was a real trooper and as much "in charge" as he could be these days. We got home about 3:30 p.m. and he immediately crashed. For the next six hours he has been nervous as a "cat on a hot tin roof" and needed assistance with everything. I have not been able to rest for having to tend to him. Please pray for the stress to be taken from him and that I will be patient as I care for him.

2) Today I saw an older lady and her adult daugther who have been in the office the last three or four times we have been there. The older lady is the patient and it is obvious by her actions and by some of what I've heard her daughter say that the lady is fiercely independent and quite a fighter. She won't even let her daughter go in with her to see the doctor. This morning the lady had on a makeshift sling and was there to get a shot--our doctor wasn't in today. The receptionist asked the daughter about the sling, the daughter told about some pain the lady was having and said she had hoped to ask the doctor. She was sent across the street to have the arm x-rayed. As I was leaving I noticed the lady and her daughter were back. Something told me to stop and talk to the lady and Someone put some words in my mouth. She told me that the source of pain is a tumor in her upper arm, pushing on the bone and threatening to break it. Now, after completing twenty something radiation treatments, she has to begin again to try to shrink the tumor. With that, she began to cry. At that moment I was no longer another patient, but Pastor Margaret. I simply said to her that I have learned that God is greater than any tumor or disease that has threatened me and I know He is greater than her current tumor. I asked her name and said, "Elvie, I'll pray for you." Will you pray for her as well? I went to the car and thanked God for that pastoral opportunity.

3) I believed that the blood drawn this morning would reveal really low red counts that were causing extreme fatigue. The draw revealed really low counts, but not red, white. The red is low, but not so low as to be a problem yet. Medicine itself is causing the fatigue. Low white counts started my crisis two years ago when I spent ten days in the hospital because I was neutropenic and highly suceptible to infection. They did go ahead with the treatment and gave me six pages of information of what I can and cannot do--including no raw foods and avoiding crowds and those with colds etc. Wouldn't you know that Elisa has a fever virus and I can't see her this weekend? Please pray that my body will respond positively to this drug and that the white count will have a miraculous recovery.

4) Join me in thanking God for the love and support of family and friends. Both of my children know how to encourage me in their own special ways. Liz and Tommy keep us fed when I don't feel up to cooking and fit us into an already busy schedule. Marty and I stay close by phone and her voice and the baby sounds of Christopher in the background put a smile on my face. What a wonderful family we have!

Maybe prayer does change things. It has changed my heart. It has drawn me closer to God and to God's people through whom He blesses me.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What a day!

Sometime around 2 a.m. I awoke with a tickle in my throat and got up to get a cough drop. I was almost back to sleep when some tiny, yippy dogs over our back fence started barking--though I'm not sure I can justify calling their noise "barking." (Tom and I like BIG dogs.) At any rate, I was up from then until 6:15 a.m. The next thing I remember was Tom standing by the bed telling me that he sure had some funny looking pills to take this morning. That woke me up to be sure! I asked him to bring the pill case so I could see what he had taken and he had taken the pills we keep in the extra partition--extra pills. So, instead of his regular medication he took a hydrocodone, a xanax and two supplemental sinemet pills. I encouraged him to get back in bed and I got up. He slept until 11. After my night and his messed up meds, we have not done much but sit around--makes me feel useless.

I had planned to make pear honey. The cupboard is bare--haven't made any since my last trip to Apple Hill. Tommy and I found pears at the Farmers' Market Saturday but I haven't had time nor energy to cook them. Pear honey is one of my sweetest childhood memories from my grandmother. The family likes for me to make it because they know I think it tastes best on homemade biscuits. Tomorrow is the designated day to cook the pears and maybe make biscuits for the freezer.

Last night we went to Tommy and Liz's for a little bit of child care. Both of them had meetings and we were happy to be pressed into service. Meredith is going to play school two mornings a week at the church and yesterday was her third time to go. She couldn't wait to tell anyone who would listen about "Humpty, Humpty" who sat on the wall and Jack and Jill who went up the hill to get a pail of water--maybe they were learning the "up and down" concept. I asked what happened to them and she told me Jack hit his head on a rock. Mer Mer didn't get all the words right, but I was amazed that she had gotten as much as she did the first time. She loves to cuddle and I had a good time holding her in one arm while giving Elisa a bottle with the other.

I also got to pick up Sarah from dance. She's having a great time and is very limber--not a trait she inherited from this grandmother. Maybe it's a Heard trait. She looks so cute in her tights and leotard. Watch out Mom and Dad! The boys will be calling before you know it.

Drew and Jake couldn't wait to eat their supper and get outside to play before dark. Jake showed me the trees he's been climbing. He's fortunate to have a few friends in the neighborhood he can play with on the weekends. He is in beginner band this year and we think doing well--playing alto saxophone as his dad and granddad did before him.

I asked Drew if he would like to ask the blessing last night. He said yes. When all the children say it together, they say the usual "God is great," but if one prays by him or herself, then that one prays a spontaneous prayer. Drew is six and I had never heard him pray on his own before last night. I know his heavenly father was pleased just as his grandmama was. When he was four he wanted a Bible for Christmas so I looked until I found an illustrated Bible, not a Bible storybook. He was glad to get it, but I hadn't seen him with it again until this past Sunday. He was reading it while we put the finishing touches on lunch and he told me he had gotten to page 28. Then he told me what he'd been reading. A couple of weeks ago at school he had something to contribute to his science class when the teacher taught on the stars, planets, etc. Our Sunday School is using the rotation method this year which means that the Bible story for the children is the same for several weeks, but they experience it through arts & crafts, storytelling, drama, music, even taste on different Sundays. It's a terrific educational method and the children have responded well. In Drew's school room during science, he raised his hand to tell the teacher he knew something else about the stars, then told about God's promise to Abraham and his decendants being more numerous than the stars in the sky. He got the message and isn't shy about spreading it! There's a lesson here for us grownups.

Friday is treatment day and, once again, we covet your prayers. I'll let you know how things go. The fridge is stocked, I have plenty to read and my helper is on tap to come twice next week. With family here to help, we are all set.

Pastor Margaret

Sunday, September 07, 2008

This past week has gone by quickly, but I can't tell you why. One day I spent a couple of hours at the church working on a project; one day Tom drove with me to Memphis for a meeting I had to attend; we kept Elisa for a couple of hours one morning; I spent a day going to the Farmers' Market, the grocery and then cooking Sunday lunch for the family. This morning my body reminded me that I don't have the energy I once had and I am tired. Twenty six years ago when I had chemo the first time, I determined that treatment would not alter my lifestyle. I vowed not to let it get the best of me and for the most part--and with the help of family and friends--it didn't. Now, having begun the fifth treatment schedule, the determination is not as strong. Oh, it's there in my mind, but my body can't keep up with what the mind tells it. The honest confession is that in 1982 pride motivated me; in 2008 I am secure in the knowing that I don't have to try so hard: God is giving me the grace and it's just fine to be tired. Whew! What a relief!

I'm excited to be working with the church on what I hope will be an intentional, comprehensive ministry by, for and with older adults here. A telephone survey was completed a couple of months ago, the surveys have been compiled and I'm ready to meet with staff to give them my opinions of what the surveys mean for ministry. My late friend and mentor, John Rhea, used to caution about the "gatekeeper" and how that particular person--the senior pastor, to be exact--held the key to whether or not the ministry would be accepted. So, I'm praying that the Holy Spirit will overrule the negative response I expect.

Though I am now officially retired, I remain on Presbytery's Committee on Ministry. We met at a church on the far eastern side of Memphis Thursday and Tom rode with me. Both discouraging and encouraging reports were on the agenda. This is an interesting presbytery. It includes churches in a strip of Arkansas close to the Mississippi River, the bootheel of Missouri, those in Memphis and in the rural section of West Tennessee. Memphis is obviously the largest city and has the most PC(USA) churches; Jackson is the next largest, but with only one PC(USA) church. A county south of us on the Mississippi border has eight PC(USA) churches and only one with an installed pastor. It's safe to say that the majority of churches in the rural areas in all three states have no installed pastors, however, some have interims or stated supplies. One minister on the committee spoke of the problems that exist in these small towns that result in pastors not choosing to accept calls to churches there. The problems are real, but I couldn't help but wonder if in today's world ministry is considered to be just another job rather than a calling. I wanted to be able to jump up and volunteer to serve in one of these places, but my situation at this time says otherwise. The encouraging report came from a 200-300 member church with a ministry to Korean students in a university town. A retired Korean PC(USA) minister met with our committee to request permission to "labor within our bounds" so as to provide leadership for the students. Here is a retired gentleman, willing to serve where God calls and a group of young adults, willing to welcome him as their leader and pastor. Our Korean brethren have an "all out" view of discipleship and servanthood, coupled with honor for older adults in their midst.

This morning my worship experiece was with 2nd Presbyterian, Memphis, via TV. We had planned to attend services in Humboldt where our friend Paul is the pastor. The fatigue mentioned earlier kept us home. I would really like to be at Fair Oaks celebrating the ministry of Henry Wells as he retires. He and his wife Debbie and their two daughters remain on my prayer list, but they are especially on my mind this weekend. It's not easy to retire from something that is life itself. As I wrote a message to be read at the service at Fair Oaks this morning, I had an "aha" realization. Your may retire from a position, but you never retire from ministry. Is that not true for every believer? Is this not what Scripture teaches? As followers of Christ, should our lives not always reflect Him? Should we not always live out the fact that the One Who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world? Henry will never retire from ministry and those who know him will continue to receive the blessing.

This has gone on long enough. We'll talk about the grandchildren on another day.

Pastor Margaret