Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What is Reality?

Reality is the last statement in the last blog: I rest in the reality that God is always with me. The knowledge of God's faithful, loving, merciful, compassionate care for me as His child is the reality that defines my life.

Reality is hearing that the CA125 number has inched up into the forties and that the scans reveal more cancer than was present when pictures were taken six months ago.

It is seeing the doctor shake his head, "No," when I said, "We're not going to get rid of this things, are we?"

Those realities leave me wondering if the cancer is more real than the life I live as a wife and care partner, a mother and grandmother, a friend and a Minister of Word and Sacrament. Is one more real or more important than another?

I cannot escape the reality of the cancer. I embrace the realities of family, friendship and the ministry God has given. God will show me a balance in all of this.

Treatment is again a reality--a new treatment that offers more hope than some. There has been some noted success for patients (I hate that word, so let's just say "people") w/ recurring ovarian cancer who are given Avastin. It is not a chemotherapy drug in that it doesn't kill off cells; it works on the blood vessels that feed tumors. Please understand, that is my interpretation of it, not a scientific description. As with everything, there are some possible side effects, some can be serious or life threatening, but then, cancer is both of those things. The drug is to be given in conjucntion with a chemo drug, again with possible side effects, but I will be closely monitored. It will be a schedule of one a week for three weeks, then off a week. That's as far as we got in the discussion. I failed to ask how many sets of treatment. The main thing was to get going and discover how "real" it will prove to be in my case. I sort of get the impression that if it is successful in reducing cancer cells, it will be come like the disease, chronic as in "hanging around." It is not a cure; it could offer a controlling effect.

More than anything, I hate what this does to Tom and our children. They always are realistic, supportive and take things in stride. The realities where they are concerned are two-fold: the depth of their love and concern they have for me and my desire to protect them. Those are hard for me to balance.

The question now is: how will I--how will we--respond to this reality of cancer, treatment and this wonderful life we've been given?

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The weekend is here; the Bulldogs are playing LSU on TV and at this point are ahead by one. It's too early in the game to tell much, and of course, the rain that has been drenching parts of the South for the last couple of weeks is making its presence known on the playing field. If we're still on top at the end of the game, many will be surprised, including me.

It has been another busy week with ministry responsibilities and opportunities. I moderated the Humboldt Session Monday night and attended a Stewardship Campaign committee meeting Wednesday before supper. I can't say I've never preached a stewardship sermon because I believe that stewardship is a way of life, not confined to a season, so there have been stewardship themes when appropriate to the text. However, I've never fashioned a whole month of messages around stewardship. I find myself really excited about the work the committee has done and looking forward to sharing God's word on the subject. A lady asked me the other night why ministers don't preach tithing anymore. Good question! It's not a popular topic and I think some people don't want to face criticism for preaching what people don't want to hear. Please pray that, in all ways, I will be faithful to the word of God.

As a representative of the Older Adult Task Force at our local church I went to visit one of our Friend at Home couples this week. We had actually met the couple at a Parkinson's support group, not at church. She, the one with PD, is a retired piano professor and he is a retired band professor. God uses the experiences in our lives to help us with ministry and my visit with them was no exception. I have missed visiting with people, sharing the fellowship of the Body of Christ.

One afternoon I went over to Tommy's to sit with the two sleeping little girls while he went to get Jacob from school. About ten minutes after he left I heard little feet and here came Meredith with her "night night" into the den. She climbed up in my lap and tried so hard to keep her eyes open, but couldn't. Holding her, rocking her and looking down at her cherubic features made me reflect on words in Psalms 127 and 128. In the first, the psalmist writes of our children being a heritage and reward from the Lord and in the second he writes of blessings that come to the one who fears the Lord. The next to the last verse says: May you live to see your children's children. Meredith, remembering the psalms, remembering where we have been evoked prayers of gratitude. Pray without ceasing for your children and grandchildren. As the psalmist said, they are one of life's rewards.

Monday is test day in Memphis. I have blood work, scans and an appointment with the oncologist. If feeling is any indication of state of health, mine is excellent. The return of energy has been welcomed with more things to do with it. We expect a good report, but take nothing for granted. Please pray for continued remission or be bold and pray for healing like we do. I rest in God's faithful promises to always be with me!

Pastor Margaret

Monday, September 21, 2009

Good Morning America just announced the start of fall at 5:19 a.m. tomorrow, September 22. When I was younger, fall was my favorite time of year. I love the same things today that I loved then, but as life moves forward, I'm more appreciative of each day, each season, not wishing away today for tomorrow. I love the smells, the changing colors, the way the sun casts different patterns of shadows. I love football, the excitement of a new school year beginning, cooler weather (or at least the prospects). I love the anticipation of the coming holidays. Officially, fall begins tomorrow. Realistically, it's still summer here--lots of rain and stifling humidity. Would the real fall please hurry? We're ready!

Are there little things that irritate you? Things that start small, grow and become like the proverbial burr under the saddle? In my experience, fitted sheets wear out first, leaving you with mismatched flat sheets. Knowing that, I had stocked up on extra fitted sheets, buying them when available. Recently, I noticed that the flat sheet from a set whose fitted counterpart has already found its way to the rag bag, is wearing thin on the edges. That observation has started a search for a couple of extra flat sheets and I can find nothing but sheets in sets. I'm convinced that it's a marketing conspiracy, an effort to get consumers to buy two of something when you only need one.

Along the same lines is pre-packaged produce in the grocery store. I have always been bothered by going to buy grapes and finding them in little bags. Two people don't need a big bag of grapes. Maybe that's a practice common to grocery stores in the South. I have finally gotten over the guilt of standing in front of the display and emptying a bag of produce until it's the size I want. Wouldn't it just be easier to let folks choose how many they want or whether they need one or two sheets?

What about drivers who fly past on rain slicked highways, thinking one should drive the speed limit even when it's unsafe? Recently, I called to get a replacement newspaper for one that was too wet to read. The replacement came, but on the next day. Who wants to read yesterday's news? Today's is bad enough!

I know where to register my complaint about the newspaper--though Tom advised me to cool off before I made the contact, but who do I tell about the produce and the sheets? Will it matter? Am I the only one who with a beef? Am I whistling in the wind?

Thinking of things like being happy that it's fall again is probably more productive than dwelling on things that are irritating. I'm beginning to sound like the Israelites who grumbled in the desert: "what we had to eat as slaves in Egypt is better than what we have out here;" "we would rather have died back there than out here." Oh yes, another little irritant: people who complain.

Hope your day is full of good things!

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What a busy week this has been! It's been full of all the things I did before I retired--a lunch meeting with area pastors on Monday, a lunch meeting Tuesday with an older adult task force at the Jackson church, mid-week supper and Bible study on Wednesday in Humboldt and a committee meeting in Germantown (East Memphis) today. I'm looking forward to a slower Friday and Saturday.

Tom had two falls last week that have literally knocked his feet out from under him. He fell on the porch last Tuesday afternoon, bruised and scraped his right arm and then Thursday night he fell across the arm of a chair and has a bruised rib. Consequently, I made the Memphis trip without him today. The falls have slowed him down a little, but he keeps looking forward with his amazing faith.

I still marvel at the way God brought us together so many years ago and how the love and respect continue to grow. If the love we had at the start had not grown, if honor were not a part of our relationship, if we did not respect each other and share the values we have, our days would be difficult to say the least. The dashing, svelte, young man in the uniform was replaced with a dignified lawyer in a three piece suit and regimental tie. Now, in the place of those two images is a tender, loving grandfather who has time and newfound energy to keep up with his grandchildren. His shoulders are slumped, unlike his military and lawyer postures; his speech is slower and sometimes slurred, also unlike the clipped military voice or the one used to try cases in court. I remember his years of leadership in the church and the presence he had in front of people. I also remember the years he spent sitting on the floor with pre-schoolers showing them and telling them about the love of God. The stately presence is only a memory; the tender, caring Tom is ever present. I cannot imagine life without him.

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stairs and pride seem to go together. You know. Pride goes before a fall. Stairs have previously been my "downfall" (no pun intended).

There is danger of my breaking an arm, patting myself on the back this afternoon. Picture a stately Southern mansion with a large staircase in the center of the entrance hall that goes to a landing, turning both to the right and the left at the top. Such is the staircase in the former mansion that houses the church offices, some rooms used for classes and others for receptions. I haven't been to the second floor in at least two years. The stairs were impossible for me to navigate. Shorter flights have been taken one step at a time, leaving me winded at the top. Today when we arrived at the church for Bible study I had something that needed to go to one of the secretaries on the second floor and I thought, "I can do this." And, I did. I walked up those stairs like a normal person, not one stair at a time, and wasn't winded at the top. Seriously, friends, that's an answer to prayer for energy and renewed strength!!

My excitement and enthusiasm for teaching and preaching continue to grow. There are some Sundays that I can't wait until the next one because I'm so excited about the series we're in. Next month I being teaching Joshua in a women's circle in our Jackson church and I'm really looking forward to that. I've also started writing daily Advent devotionals again, the ones this year based on Advent and Christmas hymns. We covet your prayers as we live each day at a time, trusting God for provision.

Life is lived one step (or stair) at a time. I would have wasted a lot less time in my life, had I embraced that fact at an earlier age.

Pastor Margaret

Monday, September 07, 2009

There is an addition to the Saturday story. The doorbell rang during the afternoon and I went, expecting to see the mail carrier. Instead, standing on our front porch was my new friend , holding her husband's hand and smiling sweetly. Her whole countenance had changed from the morning. All the fear had been replaced with an adoring look at her husband. He introduced himself, apologized for any inconvenience from the morning and thanked me for being here. Together they handed me a pot of mums full of buds. She invited me to come visit her sometime. When I told Tom the difference in her expression, he said, "Well, she had her rock this afternoon." It was reassuring and very tender to see them together.

This afternoon two of our granddaughters came to play. I love to witness their imaginations at work. They asked for a new pack of sidewalk chalk and took it to design and draw a "playhouse" all over our drive and parking area in the back. At one point they came in and said something about fixing a snack for their imaginary family and suddenly I was taken back sixty years to playing house in the backyard with my cousin Julia. We had an imaginary kitchen next to the smokehouse and Aunt May would let us get cornmeal/grits from the barrel in the pantry to stir into our mudpies. We had such fun. I hadn't thought of that in years, but smiled with the memories of those special days. Later the girls came inside and I showed them a drawer where I had been collecting dress up things for them. I can just imagine the look on their great grandmothers' faces if they could see them playing in perfectly good kid gloves!

I'm freezing cinnamon ice cream and getting ready to make apple cobbler. This morning I made Julia Child's potato and leek soup. It's one of my favorite kinds of days. I hope yours has been restful and fun.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, September 05, 2009

About ten this morning I was standing at the sink washing dishes when I heard the back door knob turn. I looked, expecting to see a grandchild, but instead an unfamiliar woman was opening the door and entering the house. At first I thought she had come to the wrong house and she would turn around when she saw that she didn't know me. Then I saw the expression of fear on her face and she began to mumble something about a man in her house who was trying to hurt her--she had escaped. I have seen that confused, fearful look in another's face and I recognized the signs of dementia. She begged me to close and lock my back door and to get somewhere the man couldn't see us or he would hurt me too.

I began to try to calm her fears and reassure her, knowing I was being logical and in her mind logic doesn't make sense anymore. Fortunately, she had a purse with her and I asked if she had a wallet that might tell me how I could call someone and let them know she was safe and with me. She gave me her checkbook that had both her name and address and the name of her daughter. I had determined that she was connected to the house just up the street on the corner, but that apparently was a part of her confusion. She wasn't sure where she lives now and there was a merging of the man she feared and her husband. I found her daughter in the phone book, called and identified myself,and gave a brief, but guarded, description of what was happening. I didn't want to say anything that would cause the woman not to trust me. The daughter arrived in about fifteen minutes to get her mother and demonstrated much love, kindness and patience as she helped her down the front steps and into her car. Apparently, the lady's husband had gone to the store, leaving his wife by herself and hallucinations became reality, forcing her to flee.

When I realized I was dealing with dementia, it took me back. Our mom was diagnosed with dementia in the early nineties and lived with it until Christmas of 1996. We witnessed confusion and frustration, experienced hallucinations and struggled with trying to know the best way to help both her and Dad. I never saw the extreme fear in Mom that the lady this morning had, but she seemed to confuse her knowledge of the Tom she loved so dearly and the Tom who was her care partner. All of those memories kicked in and were helpful--though the remembering was painful.

Mom was the smartest, most in control, kindest person and it was tough to watch her slip away. She was one of my staunchest supporters when I entered seminary and would have Dad get me on the phone in the afternoons so she could talk to me about the Greek and Hebrew I was taking. She had had a long career teaching Latin and Humanities and perked up when we'd discuss the languages. In the end, dementia destoyed her mind and her earthly body. The memories of Mom and of a special uncle who also died with dementia were overwhelming, but so useful when confronted with others who have similar illnesses and those who give them care.

The morning experience is a living illustration of how God provides for our needs. Tomorrow I'm beginning a series on leadership and the first topic is "Equipping the Chosen." After looking at how God equipped Jeremiah, Amos and the little boy with the lunch that fed 5000+ for their tasks, I plan to talk about how, as God's children, we are never called without being totally equipped. I believe that one of the ways we are made ready for what is immediately before us is to commit every minute of every day to God when the day begins. We never know who will be in the grocery checkout line with us or who will appear at our back door. We do know, however, that when we trust God, He will equip us.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

It is September! Hard to believe!! Bring on SEC football!!! Basketball won't be far behind. Yea!

Tom and I think and talk a lot about friends. This week that has been especially true. One night over this past weekend we talked with a younger attorney we haven't seen since leaving Mississippi. It was good to catch up with his family and to tell him about ours. It was good to talk about old times! He even remembered the name of the first band Marty had--Fellini's Raincoat. And, as so often is the case when I talk to someone who is Tom's friend, he told me what a mentor and friend Tom had been to him when he first began to practice.

Sunday the choir sang an arrangement of "Here I am, Lord." The text comes from the sixth chapter of Isaiah where Isaiah responds to God's call with those words. I was listening attentively as they sang, "I will go, Lord, if you need me. I will hold your people in my heart." It was if I was hearing those words for the first time, but not really. "I will go, Lord, if you need me" was my response ten years ago when we answered God's call to go to California. I'm not sure I answered as willingly as Isaiah did, but we went because we knew it was the right move for us. Almost every day since we headed West we have had more and more assurance that it indeed was the right move. At my stage in life there may not be much more "going," but there will always be answering and the people to whom God has called me will forever be held close in my heart. In my mind's eye I saw clearly the friends at Fair Oaks and joyful tears filled my eyes.

On Monday we feasted on good food brought by our Mississippi friends and good fellowship during a too short visit. We shared pictures and stories of grandchildren, caught up on what's going on with our children and talked about the church where we met years ago (they are all still active there). In addition to the lunch they brought, one came with Tom's favorite fudge squares from a landmark restaurant in Jackson (MS) and another brought homemade jam and scones for breakfast. I sent them home with apple butter we had made over the weekend and fried pies we had discovered in a downtown coffee shop. They spent about eight and a half hours in the car going and coming and not quite four hours here. We laugh a lot when we're together and shed a lot of tears when we wave goodbye. It was a grand visit!

If you are reading this as a friend, always remember this: we love you and hold you close, remembering with great warmth and gratitude the moments we have shared.

Pastor Margaret