Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy New Year . . .

It seems like just yesterday that we were bidding farewell to 2011 and suddenly 2012 is on its way to the history books.  I've never been much of one for New Year's Eve celebrations and this year is no exception.  I'm sure we'll have lots of food and several friends and their children to come.  The children have especially loved having their own fireworks display, since we live in the country and they aren't illegal out here.  I enjoy one big "aah" show of color and that's enough.  My fun comes in watching the little ones and listening to their squeals of delight.  So, we'll eat too much--again--watch a few fireworks and wake up to watch Mississippi State play Northwestern in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day--with more food. 

We ate Christmas Dinner with weather sirens going off, rain pouring down and tornadoes all around.  Actually, we were in an area between two areas that had devastating winds.  I was busy with last minute preparations when the first siren sounded and my phone scrolled a message to take cover.  Before another warning comes I must find a safe spot in my house. 

The days since then have been mostly sunny and cool and the children have had a good time playing outside.  Jacob has gone with the Petal High School Band to march in the Macy's Parade in Orlando on January 1.  If you are into parades, watch for them.  I've enjoyed a less busy week with plenty of time to knit and watch football.  It's also been fun to read back through Christmas cards and letters and to think of dear friends.  Too soon it will be time to get back into a routine.

Tonight I attempted to check in for a cruise I'm taking beginning next Saturday.  Would you believe that they had spelled Margaret wrong so I have to wait until someone is in the office to find out how to change that?  The trip was put together by a fellow knitter at the shop here in Petal; I invited my two knitter friends from Tennessee, who recruited two others so we have nine going as a group.  All except one (a lady's husband) will be working on projects during our days at sea.  Now, if I can just get signed in and find summer clothes to pack, I'll be fine. 

From time to time I mention books that I am reading and tonight I want to tell you about four particular ones that have been especially good.  Most of you know that I have my favorites--among them Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Augustine, Andrew Purves and Eugene Peterson.  This past year I have read new books, but have also pulled out old favorites to reread and have learned from them all over again.  One such book is Peterson's Leap Over a Wall, probably one of the most influential books on my spiritual growth.  It was a required "text" in a seminary course on Biblical Spirituality and it was during that first reading that I began thinking about wilderness experiences. Those thoughts have served me well over the years.  My friend, Peggy, sent me two books of the four I write about tonight.  The first was Billy Graham's Nearing Home.  My shelves are full of books on aging and I've read most of them, but found that Dr. Graham's insights on growing older were very helpful, both to me as I continue to "dabble" in the aging area and to me as I age.  The second book Peggy sent was The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel, a young pastor in Oklahoma.  It's an intriguing title, don't you think?  It is directed to those of us who profess to believe in God, but act as if we don't.  It is very convicting!  Currently, I'm reading another Peterson book entitled, Eat This Book, a reference to Revelation where the angel gives that instruction.  It's a bit heavier to read that the others, but promises to refocus your reading of the Scripture.  I love having the time to pour over the Scripture in the morning and then be taught by Christian writers as I read their books.  It's not a matter of finding the time; it's all about taking that time. 

This will be a busy week with a holiday and getting ready for the cruise and going to Jackson one day for a doctor's appointment.  Every day is a new day.  Years ago my college piano teacher would quote the beginning of a poem to me--I have never forgotten her or her wisdom.  It begain:  Thank God every day that you have something to do today that must be done. . . Often we don't know what that something is, but God does and promises to be with us each day, in every circumstance.  I am grateful for God's faithfulness.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas . . . and a belated Happy Thanksgiving

All is well here - now.  I hadn't realized how long it had been since my last blog until I pulled up the site to write tonight.  When I was almost through with the message, I hit the wrong key and everything disappeared.  I'm beginning to wonder if someone is trying to tell me something.  Am I really supposed to be typing away instead of getting a good night's sleep because I have drive to a neighboring town to preach in the morning?  Maybe I was too wordy and the computer was slapping my hands.  A pastor who has been a mentor for several years was quick to remind me:  "economy of words." 

I'll briefly bring you up to date.  I spent Thanksgiving in Memphis with my cousin Joan.  We had a wonderful time together, doing as little as possible.  Still we managed to have a delicious dinner with turkey, ham and all the trimmings.  Too many trimmings, if the truth be told.  Meanwhile back at the compound, Tommy and Liz hosted her parents, her brothers, their wives and children.  In the midst of their preparation Tommy and Liz came down with the flu, followed by three of the five children.  It was a pretty miserable day for them.  I was glad to have been safely away from the germs and did fine until a couple of weeks later.

I was visited by some strange stomach ailment that kept me out of commission for about two weeks.  Who knows what that was?  By the time I was up and going again, I was behind with the schedule I had made for myself.  As of today, most of the baking is done, with a few things waiting to be baked on Christmas Eve.  I finished the shopping yesterday--just have to finish wrapping.

More and more I am aware of age and the inevitable--life, as we know it, comes to an end.  I have been deeply saddened by the deaths this year of Bob and Jan Stone, John Marlin and my very special Aunt May.  There have been others as well, but I have so many memories of times spent with those four.  I can see Tom doubled over laughing at yet another Bob Stone joke.  Often I didn't get the joke, but got my kick from watching Tom laugh.  The great comfort comes in knowing that I will see them again and that they are already experiencing what heaven has in store for believers--with my precious Tom.

A special highlight of 2012 was reuniting with college friends at our 50th reunion.  The years between 1962 and 2012 seemed to fade away as we remembered together, told of our children and grandchildren and shared retirement stories.  I also have reconnected with a high school friend who, incidentally, was in the band at Mississippi State with Tom.  I'm looking forward to a face to face visit with her after the first of the year. 

The oncologist reports that the cancer is stable, no increase and no decrease.  I never tire of praising God for His care and the provision He has made of good doctors, caring nurses and the advances in medicine that make the stable report possible.  Friends who stand in the gap with me are special! Cataract surgery in October was successful and I see better than I have in a long time--all except for reading.  Glasses correct that. 

Tomorrow I'm preaching in Lucedale, about 60 miles from here, in the church of a college classmate.  I am excited about sharing the Christmas message and grateful for insights that have been prompted by some of the excellent books I've been reading.  My anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Christ has been heightened this year by intentionally reading the prophets this fall.  I continue to be amazed at the work of the Holy Spirit as I read and study God's word. 

May God's richest blessings rest on you and may you experience the joy that only life in Christ can bring!
Love and blessings,
Pastor Margaret

Friday, November 09, 2012

Obvious to some, but not to all . . .

At some times, I have been considered dense or called a slow learner.  I cannot count the times I have laughed at a joke just because others thought it funny, while, in fact, I hadn't a clue why they were laughing.  This month has been another occasion when I didn't get it at first. 

November 1 came and I began seeing Face Book posts that began "Day 1," then the consecutive days were numbered in like manner.  People wrote things for which they were thankful and have continued.  Suddenly, it dawned on me and I put 2 and 2 together:  this is the month we celebrate Thanksgiving.  What a neat idea to share day by day some of God's blessings that give you pause to give thanks.  So, tonight I thought I'd record a few of the many things for which I am thankful.

1.  I'm thankful that I am a child of God and for all the things that means.
2.  I'm thankful for Tom, the love of my life, for his unconditional love and the years we shared.
3.  I'm thankful for our children and that they continue to be loving and supportive of their crazy mom.
4.  Those two children have given me eight very special grandchildren and I'm thankful for the joy they bring.
5.  I'm thankful for friends--don't know what I'd do without them!
6.  I'm thankful for family, especially for cousins who are more like siblings.
7.  I'm thankful for a place to call home; ten acres where we can spread out and the grandchildren can
     experience "country living."  For me it's "Sweet Home Mississippi."
8.  I'm thankful for books to read and plenty of time to read them.
9.  I'm thankful for all the wonderful ministry opportunities God has put in my life:  past, present and future.
10. I'm thankful for health, for doctors, for medicine.  Most of all I'm thankful that God continues to sustain
      me and to give me all these extra days.

Of course, there are many more things that could be recorded and there are multiple blessings contained in one single statement in the list above.  It gives me great joy to drive through the countryside, see the beautiful fall colors, livestock in the fields, crops in the field and to say "thank you."  All are gifts from God, never to be taken for granted.  I'll never forget one day when Tommy was in junior high and he came home telling about a fellow student who had gotten a couple of licks from the paddle that day in Bible class.  I was not happy and really unhappy when I learned why.  The teacher that day requested that the students pray aloud.  Some had never prayed aloud, some didn't hear their parents pray aloud and others weren't sure how to go about talking to God.  All three were probably true of this particular boy, but when it was his turn, he thanked God for the green grass.  The teacher heard his words, but not his heart, thought he was being "smart" and gave him a paddling.  I have often thought of that and wondered if that boy ever prayed aloud again.  Point:  God delights in our simple prayers.  Our simple thanks are a way of acknowledging our love and trust in God. 

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Good News . . .

Cataracts on both eyes have been removed and the results are astounding.  I guess that the clouding is so gradual that you don't realize the haze that covers everything - sort of like teeth turning yellow with age.  I have remembered Paul's words:  "Now I see through a glass darkly, but then face to face . . . "  One day the haze will be gone and we'll see God and understand things that once were not fully seen or understood.  For now, things are crisper, sharper, brighter; I'll have to wait on seeing "face to face."  I have a check up with the eye surgeon next week, see the optometrist the next week and I'm all done.  Good news!

The "good news" to share from the Petal High School Marching Band is that they marched in four different competions in October, ending with the State Competion this past Saturday.  They won first place in the 6A division.  Jacob is the section leader for the alto saxes and is pretty proud.  The football team has one more regular season game and then begins play-off games next week. 

Last night our church had its first Trunk or Treat event following potluck supper.  It was well attended by our membership and some moms and their children from the Christian Women's Job Corps.  Not only did the children have a great time, but adults of all ages joined in the fun by decorating their vehicles, dressing in costume and distributing goodies.  It's "good news" to witness a body of believers being family.  It says that people take seriously the baptismal promise made to nurture the Children of the Covenant. 

The news of Sandy visiting the eastern seaboard has not been good at all.  What has been "good news" to hear was the immediate response of area residents and utility workers who went to help.  When you live in areas prone to different types of natural disaster, you at least think you know what to expect and what emergency measures to take.  Even then, effects of storms can be devastating.  We are a nation divided on political issues, religious beliefs, morality questions, etc.  It took a  storm to erase some of those dividing lines as people put their differences behind and reached out to help.  That, indeed, is "good news."

Where would we be without the "good news of the gospel?"  Where would we be without God's grace?  Paul admonishes us not to let that grace go to waste.  In the midst of our personal news that is good, let us never forget the best news of all.  Let us remember to share God's good news in our words and our actions, not as humanitarians, but as people who have been saved by grace and who are intent on sharing God's Good News. 

Pastor Margaret

Monday, October 22, 2012

Advice for the day- or any day for that matter . . .

Never, never, never take loved ones for granted, not spouses, family or friends.  Especially, don't take asking for God's direction and help to be a thing to be taken lightly.  I learned last week that I needed cataract surgery.  It didn't need to be done right away, but since I've met my Medicare deductible for the year and I really am tired of guessing exactly what the word in the Bible is and also tired of guessing words and numbers scrolling on the TV, I decided to go ahead and schedule.  Then came the problem of coordinating it with the Avastin infusions given by the oncologist.  I worked out the earliest time availble, which was next Thursday, Nov. 1.  When I told my friend, the eye doctor who had referred me to the surgery clinic, she said, "Let me see what I can do."  It gets a bit involved, but the bottom line is, she called, made a switch, talked to Tommy who will have to take me and stay while I'm there, and I'm now going at 7:15 in the morning.  Problems solved.

A few things remembered or learned:  your spouse is your partner, your helpmeet, but he/she is not always there .  Be thankful for them and tell them.  A family sticks together.  God puts us in families, not of our choosing, but His.  I was concerned for Tommy's schedule; he was concerned that I be cared for and as soon as possible.  (All he wants from me is lemon ice box pie which won't ever adequately express how grateful I am for children who care.)  Friends come alongside in many ways. Accept what they give, say
"thank you" and be ready to be a friend to others. 

Above all, remember that God cares about every detail in our lives.  My focus in praying about this was for God to be present in my cancer cells during the time I would have to be off medication.  I was confident that He would.  Meanwhile, God was intervening through the actions of my friend and my family to get things done right away.  Never doubt for a minute that God is in control, God is faithful and God reveals such love in ways we can not even imagine. 

Pastor Margaret

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Believe it or not . . .

There were many folks at the class reunion who had gray/white hair, a wrinkle here and there and a few pounds to spare.  Most had aged extrememly well!  Only one person looked at me several times, then at my name tag and then told me who I am.  Not a problem--I wasn't sure who she was either.  It was gratifying to visit with each other, catch up on the intervening years and experience the sincere concern each felt for the other.  For the most part, everyone was real.  It was good to hear of families, careers, etc. Some have retired; some have not. 

We had already been saddened early in 2012 to learn of the passing of a classmate from cancer and then shortly before the reunion we learned of another classmate being killed in a wreck.  We learned the first night we were together that Alma Bennett, who had planned to be present, was put in hospice care just this past week.  Still others have lost spouses (Linda Dawn Burnett, who was married to Erwin Wright, also in our class, lost him to a brain tumor in the mid nineties; Annie Ruth Pipkins Thigpen was widowed several years ago; Sandra Trest Sisson lost her husband not quite a year ago.) Carol Neal Fleming and her husband, Jimmy had two children with Cystic Fybrosis who would have been 35-45 years old had they survived their childhoods.  Remembering that always makes me sad. 

Dr. Lamar Neal came from some distance, I might add and he shared some of his Belhaven memories.  He told the group that he didn't give many A's and never an A+ but once--to Polly Bullard Woods.  No one was surprised by that. Dr. Morton Smith sent an e-mail that was read to the group. Mrs. Bewey Bowden, former speech teacher, always a beautiful woman was there and looked the same as when she taught us. (I had the special privilege of having her teach six weeks in my seminary homiletics class.) She told us that she was 29 when she began at Belhaven which means she has to be in her early eighties now.  Wow!  She has taken up painting and the college had a display of some of her works set up in the Alumni House.  We all laughed when she confessed to going to the Dean of Students and calling him a "pompous idiot."  Just think.  It took fifty years to learn that professors and students shared many of the same thoughts.

Many things at Belhaven have changed, buildings particularly.  Some have been refurbished, some replaced and new construction continues.  It was exciting to hear of the plans for the future and the ways God has blessed the college--now university.  But much remains the same:  Christ-centered education, dedicated, caring teachers and people!!  My life has been so blessed by friends made there, the church affiliation I had, and, of course, the education received.  Those of us who were there came away with a committment to get together more often to celebrate our lives and our friendships.

I was invited to have the opening prayer and blessing at our dinner Friday evening.  As I thought about what would be included in that prayer I decided on closing with the benediction that my pastor uses on Sundays:  in the name of the Father who has made us, the Son who has set us free and the Holy Spirit who makes us one.  Throughout the weekend, as we shared memories, spoke of joys and sorrows and talked of families, I was more and more aware of just why there was such love and concern present.  It is the Holy Spirit who makes us one.  Praise God for such a place as Belhaven and for friendships which had their beginnings on the "dear green hill."

Pastor Margaret

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Once again . . . I have been negligent and dropped out of sight.  The retreat in which I participated was exactly what I needed for renewal and healing.  Finally, I realized just how angry I have been about Tom's illness and passing.  He was such a good man!  The anger wasn't directed at God, but at the circumstances and ultimately God.  I have not feared for my health in a long time; I am content where I am physically, with the care I am receiving and have no doubts that I am in God's hands.  But, I was drowning in the sadness and the loneliness and knew I had to reconcile my feelings with what I believe to be true about an ever caring God.  Praise God.  The anger is gone and I am at peace.  Yes, I will always miss Tom and there will be periods of sadness, but God is greater than my emotions.

It took all week to rest from the retreat.  When I got home Sunday evening I was both mentally and physically exhausted.  My crazy cat woke me several mornings with her explorations and her attempts to get me up.  She doesn't really want me for anything and ususally goes back to sleep when I give in to her.  Getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 makes for a long day!  I think I'll inquire about ADD or hyperactivity medicine for animals.

This week I have two preparations:  women's circle on Tuesday and a visitation orientation for the Deacons next Sunday.  I'm looking forward to both, but especially the Bible study on Tuesday.  My Sunday school class is studying a Tim Kelly book which has a pretty good bit of homework each week, but fortunately we don't cover a whole lesson each week.  Again, the best part of retirement is having lots of time to read and study.

At the end of the week I head to Jackson for the 50th reunion of my college class.  At first I was excited about going, then not so much when my former roommate for two years couldn't come and I began thinking of all the memories of Tom being there would bring to mind.  Now, I am once again looking forward to going.  I wonder if those I haven't seen will even recognize me with all this gray/white hair, many wrinkles and even more extra pounds than wrinkles.  Funny how that would have mattered earlier in life.  Outward appearance was so important and even more important was keeping the inner self out of sight.  I used to believe that if people really knew me, they wouldn't like me.  Through the years and by God's grace, I care more about the inside than appearance.  About twenty or so years ago I took a class on clowning at a recreation conference.  Because of self consciousness, I was hesitant to relax in front of other people and was terrified when asked to be in a skit or perform.  I thought clowning was the thing for me because I could hide behind the makeup and no one would recognize me.  Boy, was I wrong!  Clown makeup is thick white stuff that accentuates any and all wrinkles and flaws.  It was very revealing.  Clowning did teach me to let go and to try in some small way to make others smile.  I won't wear clown makeup this weekend, but I will let people know who I really am, who I have become as a child of God.  After all, that's what is really important.

I'm told the burgers are ready so I'll walk across the carport and eat my supper.  There are times when it's nice to be served!

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Busy Day, Busy Weekend . . .

 Today is "Paint the Town Red" in Petal.  One of the big time football rivalries between Petal and Oak Grove is being played tonight on our field.  I'm told that ESPN is coming to town and that it is being televised, sponsored by C-Spire, a Mississippi based telecommunications company.  Big game!  So big, that the schools are being dismissed at noon.  Not only are the SEC and the Univ. of Southern Mississippi big around here, but so is high school football.  You can be sure there will a packed house!

However, I won't be in attendance.  Beginning tonight and going through Sunday afternoon there is a spiritual development (for lack of something to call it) retreat being held at a retreat center close to Jackson and I am going.  The Presbytery puts on two a year, but I have resisted going until now.  My prayer is that being on retreat will help me chase away some of the blues I've been feeling lately.  The changes that have taken place since Tom died have been a hard adjustment and the loss of MANY friends and Aunt May during this time keeps me in a fog of sadness.  Even the announcement of the death of Andy Williams yesterday caused sorrow because of all the memories associated with him.  Everything stopped at the Suttle Senior house when Andy's show came on the air.  Everywhere I look, everywhere I turn, I see Tom.  My college 50 year reunion is in a couple of weeks and I am beginning to dread going instead of looking forward as I was for a long time.  Tom and I met and began to date while I was a student there.  The memories are sweet and painful at the same time.  Standing to sing in church Sunday next to Jacob was almost like being next to Tom, especially when I heard this bass voice coming from Jacob.  The good part of all the memories is that the memory of how devastated his body was at the end is fading.  I have fought letting this get me down, but lately I've been slipping lower and lower.  It will be good to be with people who experience the joy of Christ and want to share.  I never want to sound ungrateful, but I have. 

I've also been thinking about my brother a lot and have wondered about him.  It's a long story that doesn't need laying out, but he and I have not had a relationship since we were very young.  I last saw him the year Tom was in Vietnam in 1967-68, but have spoken with him on the phone mainly to keep him in touch with my mother.  After she died in 2003 we lost touch and I have wondered about him.  The source of much information, the computer, revealed when I searched that he died in 2009.  I really didn't know him, but we did have the same parents.  My thoughts have been crowded with "what if's" and a little guilt because I made no effort to contact him on my own. 

When you answer the phone and the person on the other end begins with "Are you sitting down?" you're ususally in for big news.  My brother-in-law and his wife called yesterday to alert me to the fact that it looks like we have a problem with the IRS over Dad Suttle's estate.  The IRS claims that we owe back taxes and I'm standing firm on advice we received and the integrity of Tom!  Papers from a CPA they hired are enroute to both me and my CPA and I'll know more then.  It was hard to contain my anger as I thought of the man Tom hired to be the executor of Dad's estate since we were in California, not Mississippi.  That lawyer mad a big mess of things and the estate itself was not even settled for eight years.  You would think, with all this fuss, that there were millions of dollars involved.  Not so!!!  When nature called about 3:30 this morning, I began thinking about the huge amount of money we aapparently owe and the thoughts ended my sleep.

Later, as I was praying for a sick person on my prayer list, I thought about fear and the verse, "Perfect love casts out fear," suddenly came to mind.  Heretofore, I've focused on my love for God, but after thinking on that, I realized that the verse speaks to God's love for us.  My love in no way is perfect; it wavers; it stumps its toe; falls flat on its face.  But God's love is unconditional, unchanging and eternal.  God's love never depends on what I do or don't do.  God's love is perfect - - - and God who loves me perfectly sent the fear I have of the IRS on its way.  Duh!  I need so many reminders. 

I covet your prayers this weekend.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My favorite time of year . . . has arrived.  At least, it's been my favorite for most of my life.  I like the changing colors in the landscape, the relief from the oppressive heat and humidity, football, getting ready for holiday seasons.  The older I get, however, I am learning to love all seasons equally.  God's handiwork is no less beautiful in the Spring when azaleas bloom, daffodils nod their heads and little chilcren shine in their fresh new Easter clothes.  Summer brings produce, seafood from the gulf, excitement from children at VBS and delightful sounds coming from fun in the pool.  Even sitting around outside, battling mosquitoes, under a porch fan is nice.  (Winter pays us little attention here.) I do not like some of the weather that comes, but one learns to manage!  Even though it is fall, the weather is still hot and will remain so up into November; so will hurricance season. 

Last Monday was another trying day at the cancer clinic.  Many of the problems get pushed off onto the new computer system, but I silently protest that the system is only as good as the people who operate it and I've encountered incompetence once or twice.  After unraveling all the problems, I had a good visit with the doctor who tells me that the scans are stable--still no concern about the elevated CA125 at this point.  The blood pressure continues to be high which results in their having to take it several times per visit and that is a bother.  I'll be sure to discuss it with my primary care doctor when I have a routine visit in about six weeks. 

In August a couplce of friends and I started a sewing group at the church.  One of them crochets, the other does needlepoint.  Since our initial meeting, much has developed and several have decided to join our efforts to  use our interests and abilities to beautify our worship space and to reach out to others.  This afternoon is our second time together and I'm anxious to see who comes and what the next step will be.  There will be some crochet instruction for those who want and I may sit in on that just so I can learn how to "finish" the edges of some of my knit pieces.  As "Piecemakers" we are an intergenerational group, formed for service and fellowship.

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I purchased a new phone this past week.  It was time for me to upgrade both my phone and my technical abilities.  Good luck with that!  My new Smartphone provides a larger screen and keypad, which help greatly.  All the features seem a bit of a luxury for a retired person, but I am already enjoying getting e-mails and FB posts on it.  Now, if I could figure out how to answer when it rings! 

Reading in Hebrews 6 yesterday prompted me to consider once again the necessity of daily feasting on God's word.  The writer tells of the promise made to Abraham, the importance of the promise and the fact that it is God who guarantees the promise.  I thought:  "I know that."  However reading the promise, reflecting on how it affects me, and clinging to the knowledge that God guarantees it was like feasting at a table spread with all my favorite foods.  Just as we need food to nourish us for our physical journey, so much more is there a need for spiritual food for life in Christ.  That nourishment comes from regularly reading and meditating on God's word.  Food is not a one time intake--not for the body and not for the spirit.  Feasting on God's promises provides what we need to live and thrive in this journey called life. 

Pastor Margaret

Friday, September 14, 2012

Struggling forward . . .

When I reflect on the week of August 27 it is easy to be a bit overwhelmed.  The trip to the doctor, high blood pressure, watching two whole days of nothing but the Weather Channel, learning of Aunt May's passing, spending hours on the phone trying to find a flight that would get me to Georgia in time for her service, dealing with the sore throat and cough all added up to a crowded, frustrating few days.  I had to reconcile myself with the fact that Aunt May's service would go on without me, but, bless Marty; she and her whole family packed up and drove down to be there.  The "virus" I had got worse by the day and I finally went to my primary care doc last week.  He prescribed the usual Z Pack and some high powered cough medicine.  Throat is better, but still is sore and I only take the cough medicine when coughing keeps me up at night.  The narcotic in it makes me have wierd dreams and saps my already depleted energy. 

The really bright spot of the last two weeks was preaching in a small church about an hour away from Hattiesburg.  What a beautiful place of worship!  It reminded my of the Lutheran church I attended with Aunt May and family and when I went to Sunday dinner with family of friends who took me over there, I was reminded of Aunt May again.  The table was spread with Southern summer favorites:  baked ham, corn pudding, butter beans with okra cooked on top, fried okra, candied sweet potatoes, deviled eggs, grape salad, cornbread and at least a half dozen desserts.  Worshiping there, being with new friends around the table was a vivd reminder that we are family in the Body of Christ. 

When I returned to Jackson the day after Labor Day to try again for a treatment, my blood pressure remained high and there was again some question about whether I could be treated.  After waiting and retaking it three times, it was declared safe.  Of course, one is supposed to relax between takes in hopes the pressure will decrease, but sitting only serves to stewing over how high or low it will be on the next take.  I am scheduled to go again Monday for scans, a doctor visit and another treatment.  In times like this, I call to mind Paul's statement about the sufficiency of God.  I can do nothing in my own strength!

I have been rereading Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation.   It's one of those books from my "backporch" quiet times that God used to lead me to seminary and beyond.  Merton writes, in chpter three, of the circumtances, the events, large or small that are but seeds planted by God.  Whether or not they grow and bear fruit for the kingdom depends on how they are nourished--at least that's my interpretation of his writing.  We are quick to say, "Everything happens for a reason," but how often do we use those "things," how often do we commit them to God and ask that He might use them to grow us and use us?  Use doesn't necessarily follow.  Use depends on our relationship with God. 

Recently, some special new friends received a cancer diagnosis for the husband.  We were all saddened by the news and frightened for them as they faced tests, results, treatment options, etc.  I don't have the latest report at this writing, but do know that preliminary findings are good.  God has used "illness seeds" planted in my life as a patient and as a caregiver to respond to others.  In this particular instance I asked God how to respond as a friend to their specific needs.  The answer was almost instantaneous:  Be the "friend" like so many of yours have been through the years.  Often, I thank God for faithful friends and the ways they have lightened our load, for their prayers, for their sacrifices for us.  This week my prayer has been that I might learn to be such a friend to others.  Make me more like Jesus, every day, in every way. 

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The longest days . . .

Is it really just Thursday?  Every day this week has seemed like a week in itself!  We got ready for "our company," he finally arrived, slowly moved inland and has left the reminders of his visit all over the region.  He wasn't what everyone thought he would be and people made the usual mistake of comparisons.  In my recollection, we first referred to Camille in 1969, then Katrina seven years ago.  In fact, Isaac came calling seven years to the day after Katrina and, incidentally, on the tenth anniversary of my last cancer surgery.  People believed the storm wouldn't be so bad because it was "only a category one," but didn't take its size into consideration.  Yesterday the TV reports were all about New Orleans, Plaquemine Parish and areas of our coast.  Today there was more focus on the flooding and tornados throughout Mississippi.  I expect that tomorrow there will be more on the flooding.  This has definitely been an Isaac who I would just as soon have missed. 

People are resilient, expressing gratitude for life and for help received.  Most, if not all who have been interviewed, state with conviction that they will rebuild.  On usual days there is no place like the Mississippi Gulf Coast, with its great seafood, peaceful beaches and hospitable people.  The church where I preached the first Sunday in July sits very near the beach in one of the hardest hit towns on the coast.  They were spared during Katrina and I pray that they have been this time.

Today is a day of deep sorrow, but also a day when I have especially thanked God for the gift of Aunt May.  She was my mother's youngest sister and the last remaining member of that generation in the Carter family.  This afternoon she went to sleep and woke up in the arms of Jesus.  When my parents divorced, Aunt May and Uncle Barnard took me to be part of their family and were the first people who really demonstrated unconditional love to me.  Aunt May was small in statue, but large in faith and conviction.  She and Uncle Barnard taught me about family loyalty and shared everything they had with me.  It was Aunt May who wrote encouraging notes to me when cancer first struck in 1981; she was the one who emphasized the importance of never giving up.  She taught me to face life as it is, believing and trusting in the God who made me and who is in charge.  She is gone, but will never be forgotten.

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Isaacs I have known - well sort of . . .

First of all there is Isaac, son of Abraham who, as a young man, was obedient and submissive.  I have always wondered if he was quiet or full of questions as Abraham led him to be sacrificed.  Where are we going?  How much further? Why? Why? Why?  I can relate to that.  Honestly, though, I can't think of much more about him other than his marriage to Rebecca and his interaction with sons, Jacob and Esau. 

Thomas Isaac was a favorite combination of names in my father-in-law's ancestory.  He was quick to point out that none of them lived past 22 years of age so he wasn't too hopeful of having a long life.  He joked about the name. His parents did not burden him with that combination and instead named him Thomas Henry.  Unlike his ancestors, he lived to be 94.  I wonder if omitting Isaac from his name helped.

Then, of course, there is Isaac, the hurricane, downgraded to tropical storm and now, once again, a category one hurricane.  There is almost too much information in the media about him!  Katrina taught people to BE PREPARED!  After church on Sunday we set about just that.  We each had an assignment.  .  Liz's was to buy water, flashlights and batteries.  The Walmarts were sold out.  My assignment was to get basic information on a portable generator and try to find one.  Though I learned what I needed to know from making a call to a cousin, I had no luck locating one locally. Tommy heard of a few being sent to the Hattiesburg Lowe's Monday morning and was there early to purchase one.  Its tank holds six gallons of gas and runs for about eleven hours.  We had only one gas can.  There were no cans to buy in Petal.  I went to Jackson to the doctor, taking my list of needs with me.  A friend went out and bought us four gallons of water, I bought four five gallon cans, batteries and went to a full service gas station to have them filled. and loaded into my car.  School let out early today is cancelled until the storm passes. 

So, what do I know at this point about Isaac?  He's been upgraded to a hurricane and is aimed at the tip of Louisiana, not the "landmass between Mobile and New Orleans," as some have designated us.  What that means is that we lie in the northeast quadrant of the storm, not a good place to be.  We already have wind gusts and rain, but no tornado warnings yet.  I am settled in for the duration!  I wrote last week of God who stands in the midst of the storms in Scripture.  I count on Him, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!

Interesting trrip to the doctor yesterday!  I didn't feel good because of fighting a sore throat for about two weeks, I had storm preparations on my mind and most of all I had my Aunt May in my heart and prayers.  She is 94, in the hospital and we've been told that there is nothing else that can be done.  Aunt May has often been mentioned in my blogs because of the special person she is, how she loved and nurtured me when my daddy left my mother.  She literally poured her strength and faith into me at crucial times.  I want to be there with her in South Georgia right now.  My blood pressure was high when they first checked my vitals, so the doctor had them recheck after my visit with him and before he would okay a treatment.  Every ten minutes for four more times, they checked.  It fluctuated, but wouldn't go down sufficiently.  The doctor thought possibly the upper respiratory problem was the culprit of the high pressure, but I'm sure there were some other contributing factors.  Other than that, things are stable. 

Until the storm passes . . . .
Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Think on these words . . .

God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains.  (Psalm 46:1-2)

"Step out of the traffic! Takle a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything." (Psalm 46:10)

More familiar might be the words:  "God is our refuge and strength . . ."  The psalmist goes on to express his belief that God is as a rock, unshakeable, immovable, our refuge in times of trouble.  In my first year of ordained ministry I was given the task to officiate at a memorial service for a young woman that I did not know.  She had been an addict, trying to put her life back together; she was a single mother of a four year old and had committed suicide.  Her family had brought her to church a couple of times, but nothing was known about her personal belief.  It was hard not to judge her.  I had only heard about the depths of addiction.  I didn't know what demons were present in her, but I did believe that leaving a small child motherless was selfish.  I wasn't about to stand in the pulpit and speak of "a better place" or say that "one day you'll see her again."  As I prayed for direction, I turned to Psalm 46.  Friends and family would be present and they needed to be assured of God's goodness in the face of tragedy.  I knew little or nothing about the woman, but I knew the truth about God. 

There are days in our lives when we might want to pull the covers up over our heads and not have to be present in the world.  We want to hide.  The psalmist doesn't advocate avoiding the day or the troubles that prompt our desire to hide under the covers.  Instead, he begins by saying that God is a safe place to hide.  Other places we read that God keeps us safe under the shelter of his wing and we visualize a mother hen protecting her chicks beneath her wing.  Or, we are warmed by memories of children or grandchildren who seek the comfort of your lap and loving arms.  I see God that way--with open arms, waiting to enfold and comfort me. 

But, that's not all.  Because of the refuge we have and the strengh that empowers us, we can be fearless in the face of anything that threatens our lives.  I have never been in a storm at sea, but have seen vivid portrayals of destruction brought about by such storms.  Remember Jonah?  He was in a storm so devastating that cargo was being thrown overboard in an effort to "right" the ship.  In my mind I see people clinging for dear life to something stable in order not to slip into the deadly waters.  Yet, the image the psalmist gives is one who is able to stand in such a storm.  I had to be told that we had had an earthquake one day when we lived in California, but many can relate to the terror associated with earthquakes.  You are utterly helpless--the earth beneath may swallow you and the structures above might crush you as they fall.  The imagery is frightening.  Life is uncertain; suffering is a given.  How can we endure without God as our refuge?

The psalm has three stanzas, each closing with these words:  Jacob-wrestling god fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.  THAT is assurance!  If the imagery above is frightening, this one is more certain.

Last week I wrote of drowning in a sea of words.  This week my exasperation came in the form of a telephone survey regarding political things.  Usually I very quickly tell the caller that I do not wish to participate and hang up.  This particular afternoon I didn't.  Maybe I was curious because the caller's English was so broken that I had trouble understanding her or because of her interesting manner.  At the beginning, I missed who exactly was conducting the survey and was not told how it would be used.  After answering her questions as best I could, I asked if she could tell me who was originating the survey.  She replied that she would have to ask her supervisor.  I waited a couple of minutes for her to return to the line, only to be told that she could not answer my question.  Politely, I said that, in the future, I would be sure to know that before I answered any questions.  Dumb me.  I should have been more careful.  Since then I have wondered:  what political party was gathering information? what good were my answers? who really cares?
Mainly I have been irked by the deception! 

The upcoming election is frustrating to me.  Neither candidate, nor party meets with my approval.  Literally, it has become a war of words.  Too many politicians saying what they think they need to say to get elected, not to be of service, but to satisfy some inner ambition for personal gain.  Would that we all would ask, like Solomon, for God's wisdom in all things!

And then, this morning I read Psalm 46 and saw:  "Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything." 

Amen and amen!
Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Just saying . . .

No doubt you are familiar with the "Cat and Mouse Game," but have you ever had occasion to witness one?  Saturday afternoon I was reclined in my chair with my feet a good fifteen or so inches off the floor when here came Smokey galloping through the house.  I was a bit suspicious because she had just spent the past ten or so minutes staring under the stove.  Sure enough, there was a mouse running for its life right in front of her.  I said to Tommy, "Smokey is after a mouse."  She chased that mouse back and forth a couple of times, then took it under the bed in the guest room where no one could get to them.  When the mouse managed to get away, she caught it again and took it to my room under the bed.  All this time, my feet are still safely off the floor and Tommy has begun to try to get the mouse from the cat.  Finally, he grabbed it with a paper towel, finished off the kill and threw it away.  How like the cat we are at times--chasing after something that has caught our attention and then not know what to do with it when we catch it.  Or, we're like the mouse, running for dear life, looking over our shoulder, hoping not to get caught.

Saturday night I had the wonderful opportunity to visit with friends not seen in over twelve years.  Mary Sue and I roomed together the first year we were out of college and made every day an adventure.  We knew we would be fast friends when we discovered that we were born on the very same day.  She left after that year to return to graduate school, got married and settled down in North Carolina.  Later, we renewed our friendship when our husbands were in law school at Ole Miss together.  On our night out, we talked until we were hoarse and had a wonderful time! 

I have been saddened by news of Bob Stone's death.  He and Jan, Nan and Bob Bohn and Tom and I had such fun times together.  Bob and Jan provided all kinds of support for us when I went through treatment after surgery and helped me in countless ways as I cared for Tom.  What great friends they both were and I miss them. 

Do you ever get tired of words or feel as if you are drowning in a sea of words?  Actually, I love words and love to study them.  Word study was so much a part of Greek and Hebrew translation and that same study impacts what comes from Scripture to the heart and to the mouth.  But, lately I have been sick to death of so much of what I hear and read.  Freedom of speech allows us to say "whatever," no matter who it hurts or whether or not the words are accurate.  My mother's admonition keeps ringing in my ears: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."  I wonder how such advice would affect our political campaigns.  Also, I remember being taught good manners and respect for my elders and those in authority.  Those seem to be extinct values.  People have a right to their opinions, as do I, but just because we differ doesn't mean we need to attack each other.  It seems that we need to pay extreme attention to The Word, abide in the Living Word and pay less attention to the war of words coming over the internet and in the media. 

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Another week . . .

in the life; another week in the country, trying to stay cool and rested.  I watched the American women run 26 laps around the track yesterday and was embarassed by how tired I was after pushing the grocery cart through Wal-Mart earlier in the week.  How true the saying: "The mind is willing, but the body is weak!"  The answer is probably in learning to accept, as Paul said:  "I have learned to be content in whatever state." 

The chickens have begun laying and the little girls are beyond excited!  The eggs aren't large, but they're coming on a consistent basis.  It's a good opportunity to get everybody hyped about eating eggs.  Elisa announced that she had tried grits and liked them.  Hooray!  She's not the best eater in the world--unless it's sweet and covered with sprinkles. 

Tomorrow I have been asked to preach in a small African American church in Hattiesburg.  I've been there once before this spring and loved being in their fellowship.  Since the pastor has been leading a series on prayer, I'm preaching one of my favorite texts to preach/teach: Jonah 2.  The passage is an obvious reminder that indeed, we cannot hide from God and that God is faithful to hear our prayers, no matter how low we have sunk.  Jonah was blatantly disobedient; he tried to run away; he put others in danger; he dared to question God's compassion on people who were different from him.  Still, and from d-e-e-p within the belly of the fish, God heard and saved Jonah.  It's been difficult to finish up the sermon from stopping to consider how like Jonah I am.  Then I see God's compassion shining through; I see God reaching down to find me wherever I am hiding and I find myself safe and sound, counting my blessings.  Communion will be part of tomorrow's service and I hope I don't turn over grape juice on the white cloth like I did the last time I was there. 

Monday I'm off to Jackson for the monthly check-up and hopefully a treatment.  This month is the tenth anniversary of my diagnosis and surgery.  It's hard to believe!  Tom would be grinning from ear to ear--I can picture him now.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wilderness Wanderings . . .

In the spring of 2005 I was asked by Louise Wallis and Kathy Hightower to be the speaker for the 2006 Women's Retreat.  The theme was to be "Through the Wilderness" and I was thought to be somewhat qualified to speak on the topic.  Preparation and the event itself remain one of the highpoints in my life!  The fact of the matter was/is/and will always be that GOD IS FAITHFUL!  Going into that weekend, I knew that there was the possibility that the ovarian cancer, in remission for three years, was once again present.  God used that retreat to prepare me for what was ahead. 

I walked away from that weekend overflowing with spiritual blessings and most grateful that God had put us in such a fulfilling ministry.  Little by little Tom and I were adjusting to his Parkinson's and planning changes in our living arrangements that would help our situation.  Just a few weeks after the retreat everything suddenly changed!!  The returnn of cancer was confirmed, I was given a prognosis no one wants to hear, the stress took a toll on Tom, we were advised to retire and move close to family.  It was not only wilderness, but exile, up close and personal.  The next few months presented more challenges.  As I appeared to be getting worse, Tom did too.  In the midst of all the problems, the saints of Fair Oaks nurtured and cared for us and got us moved to Jackson, TN.  We went there to die.  BUT GOD, in His mercy gave us life. 

My condition has improved.  I am no longer "incurable," but have a "chronic" illness that is being maintained by the grace of God and through medication.  Tom's condition steadily went downhill, but we were together, caring for one another and making the most of every day.  God gave us a cloud and a pillar of fire to guide our steps and manna from heaven to sustain us day to day.  Then, Tom died.  I wondered then and wonder now how I can possibly live without him, but I can and I do. 

I still wander in the wilderness--the wilderness of loneliness, of rejection, of uncertainty.  But, in this wilderness God is teaching  and healing.  I have time to devote to private Bible study and prayer.  I have time to read both for spiritual growth and for pleasure.  Last Sunday Tommy preached right to me in his sermon entitled, "Meet Him in the Wilderness."  The lectionary sequence spoke volumns to him.  We had been in Mark with Jesus busy, busy teaching and performing miracles and the logical next texts were the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on water, but it skipped right over those "biggies" and went to Jesus trying to get away to wilderness to pray and spend time with his Father. 

When we meet God in the wilderness, life is not about doing, it is not about service and mission, it is not about what must be done, but what we must be.  In the wilderness we take time to be with God.  We can focus on our dependence on God.  We are informed by the wilderness experience of the Israelites, how David was refreshed and kept safe in the wilderness and how Jesus, himself, took advantage of being in the wilderness with God.  It is not inactivity for the sake of inactivity, it is being still and knowing God. 

I have been frustrated with what I should be doing and have been reminded that for the child of God, it is a matter of who we are and whose we are. When we are "settled into being," instead of wondering "what I should be doing," God directs our steps.  The wilderness is that place where we meet God and are led step by step to the land "flowing with milk and honey."

Thanks again to Louise and Kathy for starting this process.

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, July 19, 2012

All Things Considered . . .

Blogger's new look is a pain!  Maybe if I visited more often, I wouldn't have such a hard time with it and again, maybe if the new look wasn't such a pain, I would visit more often!  It seems that many techinal "aids" designed to enhance or help the user do just the opposite.  I'm not sure it's worth the effort to post anymore.  I get little feedback, virtually no comments, so who reads? Who cares?  But, just in case one of you who have wondered where I am is reading today, here are a few thoughts.

Today is grandson Drew's tenth birthday.  He has requested a chocolate cake with white frosting, a simple request that takes me back to days when my children were still at home and a recipe I used then.  He also put sauteed snow peas and peppers on the menu, also easy enough to do.  The effort comes in going out in the rain to buy the peas.  We have purple peppers growing in pots outside the door and they will replace the usual red bell peppers I use.  The wonder is: where have these last ten years gone?  How did he grow so quickly?

School opening is just around the corner.  Liz has been at her new school all morning, meeting with teachers and setting up her room.  Jacob started band camp this week--two days of meeting with new freshmen members and then today the whole band came to start learning the fall show.  Rain has kept them inside.  Next week Sarah goes to the "Great Escape," a middle school church conference.  Too soon they will all be back in the routine, while Elisa waits at home to start preschool.  She'll be lonely. 

I have spent many of my hours this summer reading and knitting.  In June I began reading through the Bible again using the Message, I finished the John Calvin devotional book I had been using and started reading and rereading books in my library.  I went back to Nouwen's With Open Hands and Brother Lawrence's Practicing the Presence of God.  Both had provided nourishment and given me much on which to pray and meditate.  Presently, I'm reading a Eugene Peterson book on the ministry of the pastor.  Such reading raises several questions since I don't pastor a congregation.  Who are "my people?" What does God want of me?  I've always believed that the only retirees are in heaven, but . . . ? 

In addition to the reading mentioned above, I have kept my Kindle full and visited the Petal Library almost weekly.  I go, both for myself and to take the grandchildren.  Recently I read a book by Lucimarian Roberts, a lady I've long admired.  She and her late husband, Col. Larry Roberts were very active in our Presbytery and in their communities, she, as an educator and Col. Roberts as retired Air Force and former Tuskegee Airman.  (Their daughter, Robin, is one of the Good Morning America hosts.) Lucimarian told of her faith story in My Story, My Song.  Just after I finished the book I preached on the Gulf Coast in her church and had the opportunity to visit with her.  What an inspiring woman!  She would say, as did Corrie Ten Boom, when some commented on her amazing faith.  No, I have an amazing God.

After months of keeping my knitting needles packed away, I got them out and rejoined the Friday group.  My two knitting friends from Tennessee and I are going with the Petal knitters on a cruise in January.  I didn't get too excited about the idea, but when Liz suggested I call my friends, they jumped at the idea.  It will be fun and give me an opportunity to get to know the ladies here better. 

The oncologist reports that my health remains stable and I celebrate every time he reports.  It's certainly not something I take for granted.  Each day is a gift from God.  Often, as I knit I count blessings or thank God for people He has so graciously put in my life--two very special children, their spouses, eight super grandchilren, my aunt who remains an inspiration, cousins who are more like siblings, countless friends in many places.  I have come to realize in new ways how prayer keeps us connected to those we do not see and how it bonds us to one another.  The silence around me has truly be nourishing for my soul as I have felt God's presence in it.  I am never alone.

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Life continues . . .

That's neither a "ho hum" heading, nor a fact I take for granted.  Being retired, living in the country, enjoying summer has given more time to contemplate, meditate and pray.  I constantly am amazed at how blessed my life has been and continues to be.  Seemingly ordinary things prompt prayers of thanksgiving.  Watching the peanuts and cotton growing up the road from our house gives pleasure and brings memories.  As a little girl I loved traveling with my daddy to the Mississippi Delta towns where the drug company he represented had customers.  The roads we traveled were surrounded by cotton fields.  Watching the different stages of growth always fascinated me--still does.  The peanuts remind me of Tom.  How he loved them!  He liked them parched and boiled and craved peanut brittle.  Often he would stop by the side of the road to buy boiled peanuts from the back of a pick up truck.  I even sent canned boiled ones to him in Vietnam.  He said they weren't the same as fresh, but were a fine taste of home. 

One amazing blessing that continues to give me pause for thanks is the way God has cared for me through the ups and downs of my health.  Yes, I do get tired the the endless routine of bloodwork, scans, doctors' visits, driving back and forth, and all the waiting at the Cancer Clinic.  Tom and I concluded one day that if we had a nickel for every hour we had waited in a health care place, we would have been far too wealthy for our own good.  My first oncology appoint this month was frustrating, to say the least.  Computer problems prevented proper procedure and I left the clinic knowing very little.  Later that week I received a call from the nurse who said that the complicatins that have been keeping me from getting Avastin had been cleared up for now and that the doctor wanted me to come the next week for treatment.  A thirty minute drip was accompanied by a four hour round trip and two hour wait for things to commence. 

A couple of days later a fund-raising letter arrived from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a place we have contributed since my breast cancer in the early eighties.  I was about to throw the letter away, when I looked on the back page and there was an encouraging paragraph concerning the positive results of using Avastin with ovarian cancer patients along with chemotherapy.  The letter stated that this advace in treating ovarian cancer "represents an important step toward the day when it can be managed and treated as a chronic disease."  I am grateful to be a "guinea pig" and have been considering my disease as chronic, not incurable for many months.  Please pray that the complications will stay away so that I can take this drug on a more consistent basis. 

After finishing a devotional book, Day by Day with John Calvin, I went to the shelf and pulled a book I read twelve years ago:  With Open Hands by Henri Nouwen.  His writings have done much to influence my spiritual life and rereading this particular book was just what I needed at this time.  I was especially drawn to the chapter on Prayer and Silence and I thought about silence and the way it affects me.  I thought of the impact of silence after the house has been full of children.  It's rather bittersweet.  When I had to take my cat to be spayed and she was gone for 24 hours, I realized how much noise one little kitty can make.  I thought how necessary it is to be silent as we wait for God.  I was sad as I thought of the silence without Tom.  That's painful silence.  Then, God brought to my mind that He is always in the silence.  I am never alone. Blessings continue.

Life is good because God is good.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ah . . . Summertime

It's hot, humid and laid back.  Summer produce is abundant, Gulf seafood is plentiful and we have plenty of folks to partake of all the abundance.  For instance: a favorite family from our church came out to swim this afternoon and brought food to put with what we have.  Jeff, being from New Orleans, has cooking in his blood!  In fact, he's the chef for the crawfish boils.  He and Tommy are pooling resources and cooking up a treat of bar-b-qued shrimp, something with crawfish and some leftover trout filets.  I can hardly wait.  Earlier in the week I froze a bushel of butterbeans and will put up another bushel of something else in a few days.  I am reminded of a verse in psalms that says:  "Enjoy God.  Cheer when you see Him."  I cheer inwardly every time I enjoy all the fresh abundance of our state!

A new computer system at the University Medical Center made for a long day Monday.  I waited over two and a half hours for lab results so I could be given dye for a scan.  The most annoying part was that they had called to ask me to come early, which I did.  Several people thanked me for my patience and I had to confess that I really wasn't all that patient.  Two days later a nurse called to report that the scan is stable and that the Avastin is being restarted.  That means another trip to Jackson this week for treatment--four hours on the road for a 30 minute infusion--a 30 minute infusion that keeps this nasty disease under control.  I'm not complaining. 

So many good things took place during the week!  Two different days I had lunch with friends, I met with the small group I started, took four of the children to the library on two different days, got back to my knitting group at the shop and visited with an old friend of Tommy's who I haven't seen in over ten years.  Tonight Jacob returns from a week long mission trip in Jamaica and tomorrow we celebrate his 16th birthday (a couple of days late).  This afternoon I feel so blessed and somewhat overwhelmed by God's gracious gifts.

On a sad note, we said goodbye to John Marlin this week.  We will miss him, but rejoice with Connie that he has been healed and is at rest in the arms of Jesus. 

"Enjoy God.  Cheer when you see Him."

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Is it worth it?

It seems as if every time I get ready to post something, the blogger folks have changed the format and it's difficult for me to figure out how to post.  Am I really that technically deficient?  Facebook is the same.  Where did all those pictures at the top of the page come from?  I'm supposed to mark my "best friends."  Reminds me of my six year old granddaughter who designates almost everyone in her class as her "best friend."  It makes me wonder:  who exactly is a "best" friend?  All my friends are BEST--the best in all the world!  When I encounter all these changes, I am tempted to quit posting.  Then, when least expected, I run into someone who says:  "I read your blog."  So, I'll keep on for now.

I spent several days last week in Memphis with my cousin and had such a good time.  We talked into the wee hours, went through knitting patterns and yarn, ate at favorite places and just enjoyed being together.  Our church has had Vacation Bible School this week and the children came home with lots of new songs and verses they had learrned every day.  It will be fun in the morning to see their final program in the morning worship.  This afternoon T & E hosted a crawfish boil--the second of the season for the softball team and the young adult Sunday School class. The weather has been threatening all day, so much so that an older adult outing was postponed, but it cleared off this afternoon and lots of people came.  The pool was full of children and the carport was full of adults eating crawfish and all the trimmings.  If I were a bit more computer savvy, I would post picture for you to see.  Maybe next time.

The best part of the week for me was getting reinvolved with older adult ministry in a "hands on" kind of way.  I began a small group study one afternoon and did some home visits a couple of afternoons.  I can't tell you how it warms my heart to be involved!  I know that I am an example of what God does in the life of one who makes themself available.  Visiting used to scare my socks off!  It's sort of like Peter who kept falling all over himself until the Holy Spirit took over and made him bold and on fire to speak God's Word. 
God has given me a special love and concern for His oldest children and I love to be with them.  Never say never.  God can and will use you if you are open to His leading!!

Have a great day of worship tomorrow! 

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Simple Reminder . . .

  In my quiet time this morning, I was hit with a simple, but oh, so powerful, reminder.  GOD IS IN CHARGE.  A couple of days ago I decided to pray through the psalms, using my prayer list.  Originally, I wanted to use the psalms as ways of adoring God in my prayers, but quickly discovered something more.  There are countless words and phrases that speak about the majesty, the completeness, the goodness of God.  But, the psalms also reveal the inner thoughts of people, the occasions in which they were written and their desperate need of God.  Always, there is the reminder of God's everlasting presence.   

A few weeks ago I was putting together material for an order of worship in which I was preaching.  When I asked for a portion of Psalm 9 to be used as the Call to Worship, the other pastor who was participating questioned the appropriateness.  The psalm is written by one who has been surrounded by his enemies and, in one place, strongly condemns them for their wickedness.  The pastor read the psalm and saw warfare; I read the psalm and saw deliverance and the power of God.  It fit with the Old Testament passage I was preaching and I believe it fits in our lives as we face "enemy" every day. 

Again, reading from The Message, we find these words in Psalm 9:  You took over and made everything right; when I needed you, you were there, taking charge . . . God's a safe-house for the battered, a sanctuary druing bad times.  The moment you arrive, you relax; you're never sorry you knocked.  In Psalm 11:  But God hasn't moved to the mountains;; his holy address hasn't changed. 

As I looked at my prayer list, full of requests:  healing for several friends with cancer, friends mourning the passing of spouses, selling our houses in Tennessee, my family, my own health needs, I remembered and prayed each prayer with, "God is in charge."  Knowing, believing those four words gave a peace I cannot describe.  Knowing, believing those words enables one to be strong in the face of circumstances beyond our control, simply because GOD IN IN CHARGE! 

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Merry Month of May . . .

It was a month of celebrations, most of which featured food.  Now, it's time to think about simple things and a smaller waistline!  Fortunately, it's just about time for fresh tomatoes and all the other treats of summer.  All ready Paw Paw's garden stand down the road is open for business, selling squash (lots of squash), cucumbers and green beans, which we missed. 

We began the month by celebrating our friend John's birthday.  It was so many meals ago I can't remember what we served, but I do remember making caramel cake.  Mother's Day Tommy cooked red snapper with a crawfish cream sauce, risotto, salad and chocolate chess pie.  That was followed by his birthday and I prepared a veal dish from some "fancy, smancy" book, spinach fettucine w/ an herb sauce (from my herb garden) and German chocolate cake.  For the end of school, Tommy made a new shrimp dish from a Louisiana cookbook I gave him for his birthday; we celebrated Sarah's birthday w/ grilled steaks; and last night we had venison backstrap with sweet potatoes, green beans almondine and chocolate chip cheesecake for dessert (Sarah's birthday cake choice).  I am stuffed and we're all needing to get back to simple fare. 

Two weeks ago Elisa and I made a visit to the animal shelter so I could adopt a cat.  We decided on a little gray kitten and named her Smokey.  So far, she has been a delightful addidion to my household, but doesn't even blink when I hear mice.  She must have missed the "cats don't like mice" lesson in Kitty Behavior 101.  And, speaking of mice, all out war has been declared!!!  Tommy and Liz have discovered their presence in their laundry room. Their terrier has caught one, Tommy got one in a trap and two have sprung traps and gotten away.  He's been researching on the internet and today is making some contraption to put in the basement under my house.  A good bit of what he was found focused on "humane ways to get rid of mice."  It's too late for that.  I WANT THEM GONE AND WILL GO TO ANY MEANS TO SEND THEM PACKING! 

On the 17th, I preached at the opening worship for our spring Presbytery meeting.  It's always a little daunting to preach for your peers, but the day was a little more difficult because the agenda included dismissing five churches and three ministers to another denomination.  Separation is always hard.  Even in churches, it has feelings of divorce.  Who goes where?  Who gets what?  Who gets the friends?  How do we both adjust to new ways of being?  Several weeks before the meeting, I was sitting in church pondering some of those questions during the organ prelude. Several thoughts came to me:
  • Though the Scripture says: "God so loved the world . . ." we are in a one on one relationship with God.
  •  In the "Lamb's Book of Life," the name of my church is not listed.  My name is there.  I am an individual child of God, not just a member of some earthly boday of people.
  • When we pose the question:  "What will ministry look like apart from these with whom I am accustomed to working?"  we have to respond individually.
  • Just as our relationship, our salvation is personal, so is our obedience and our service. 
  • Yes, we decide as a congregation what we will do about denminational issues, but we are responsible as individuals to God.
I have seen friends and families divided over church issues.  I have seen the decline of ministry of the Church as people have focused on issues, to the exclusion of focusing on Almighty God and striving to follow His wisdom and direction.  It's very sad!  It's also sad when a denomination spends most of its time trying to administrate rather than making disciples, when a people of God are more interested in relevancy than truth.  We have separated ourselves by issues so much that we have neglected to unite as believers in Christ.  Am I pleased with the direction of things?  No, not now, nor have I been for a very long time, but I am determined to stand firm in what I believe God's Word teaches and to be obedient, by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Monday we observe Memorial Day.  Remember to thank a service person for the sacrifice made so that we might remain free.  Have a good one.

Pastor Margaret

Monday, May 14, 2012

It's a Good Thing to Hope for Help from God . . .

That's the heading for Lamentation 3: 19-32 in The Message.  If you have been a blog follower over the last few years or if you have known me over even more years, you know that Lamentations 3:22-23 have long been special verses to me.  I believe them to be true in every situation.  God's faithfulness never fails and it is what sustains me.  I'll always be indebted to my friend, Helen Sloop Martin, who introduced them to me while we students at Belhaven.  Recently, as I was reading Lamentations I discovered other verses in that chapter that really spoke to my heart.  Let me share the passage with you.

I'll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I've swallowed.
I remember it all--oh, how well I remember--the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there's one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope.

God's loyal love couldn't have run out, his merciful love couldn't have dried up.
They're created new every morning.  How great your faithfulness!
I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over).  He's all I've got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks.
It;s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God.
It's a good thing when your'e young to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself.  Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer.  Don't ask questions: Wait for hope to appear.
Don't run from trouble.  Take it full-face.  The "worst" is never the worst.

Why?  Because the Master won't ever walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense. 

Who among us has never experienced utter lostness or who cannot remember the feeling of hitting the bottom?  Those feelings of loneliness, despair, grief, pain--whatever they are--cannot compare to the amazing fact of God's love and faithfulness.  Sitting quietly and patiently does not come easy for me.  I want to be "doing" something, searching for a solution, but we are told to enter the silence, bow in prayer and wait for hope to appear.  Such words never cease to reassure me! 

The Presbytery of Mississippi meets Thursday and on the agenda are the petitions of four churches to withdraw from the denomination.  We have a gaping wound in the church and not just in my denomination.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, we have lost our focus.  We are no longer a church united, but a church torn apart by deep divisions.  Still, God is faithful to those who call upon Him, just as God remained faithful to the Israelites in spite of their turning away.  Pray for the Church of Christ around the world.  Pray for me as I bring the message at Morning Worship. 

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Drought Has Ended . . .

It has been so many weeks since I have visited this page that I almost feel as if I need to reintroduce myself.  These have been days and weeks of reflection; days spent in re-evaluation of the past the present and the future.  They have also been days full of activitiy. 
  • Early in April I attended a luncheon at my college alma mater for those who had graduated 50 or more years ago.  Several of my classmates came from both near and far, to reminence about the "good old days."  Now we are eagerly looking forward to Homecoming in October. 
  • I spent some much needed time with the financial advisor who has taken care of us for many years.  He did much to ease my mind.  He had answers for all my questions and simple suggestions to things that had taken up far too much of my brain power.
  • One Wednesday two Jackson friends and I went to New Orleans for the day and had the Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters.  What a treat!!  The company was excellent, the food delicious and the weather perfect.  One can not always say that about New Orleans weather.  More often than not the humidity is oppressive--even for those of us who know humidity up close and personal. 
  • There have been "end of the year" band concerts and pre-school programs.
  • Now, it's May and things are headed quicly toward summer. 
One big issue that took much of my attention is not new.  It's called:  cancer, what I know about it and how it affects me.  In my last blog I mentioned that I had been to the doctor and that it was a so-so visit.  It wasn't particularly encouraging, but it wasn't completely discouraging either.  I have been concerned for months about results of a blood test that measures tumor activity.  My marker has consistently risen.  What I've learned, after having three different oncologists treating me, that different doctors view the results of the test from different perspectives.  Reluctantly, I have accepted that.  For instance, the original oncologist never wanted to see a result over 20; the second doctor was content for it to be under 35, the point at which disease is expected to be present; and my current doctor has a different opinion altogether.  He is not so alarmed at rising numbers by themselves, but factors in scan results and the patients overall condition.  Un
fortunately, I'm programmed by doctor #1 who wanted it under 20 and mine hasn't seen that number in months!  I can't even remember the last time it was under 20 except in December, 2006 when we were surprised to learn that it had dropped to 14.  (Long introduction to an amazing discovery.)  The Friday after I had been in the office and had the "so-so" report the nurse called to rearrange my appointment for May.  Since she had me on the phone I decided to ask her the results of the blood work earlier in the week and she said:  "Mrs. Suttle, the test is normal - 12.5."  Silence, as I picked myself up off the floor.  I could only stutter and ask how that low number could be possible.  Was she sure she had my chart?  Then I said to her: "If that's true, it's a miracle."  She responded, "This is a weekend of miracles."  It was Good Friday. 
Since that conversation, I have thanked God, questioned Him, considered what I know about the disease and finally decided that I'd take it at face value and declare myself cancer free, at least for now.  It is not remission, but the low number is definitely encouraging!

My doctor repeated the number when I saw him on Monday.  It was not a mistake.  Next month I will have the periodic scan, plus the usual blood tests.  We're praying for repeated good results.  Oh, and in addition to that, my blood pressure is lower than it has been in several months.  I cannot thank God enough for this new development.  All I can say is:  To God Be the Glory!!

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Honesty in all things . . .

Why is that so hard? It seems to me that we spend a lot of time in our lives living in denial. Or, maybe it only seems that way. I, like many, have put my head in the sand, ignored someone or a situation, and pretended they or it would go away. Then, with sand in my mouth and burning my eyes, I would look around and the problem would still be there. It hadn't moved at all. I was accused of that several times during Tom's illness. It wasn't true. I knew only too well the reality of the disease and I had a front row seat in observing what it was doing to him. Pride stood in the way of letting others see too much. Possibly, those who accused had denial mixed up with hope. He and I always hoped for a better tomorrow, knowing that when the best tomorrow came we would no longer be together on this earth. Hope is one of God's gifts, though the awarding of it comes in a variety of ways. Hope sustained during the difficult days of watching Tom decline, during the days when I was the only one saying anything. I never knew if he heard me reading the Scripture, praying with him or singing favorite hymns and children's Sunday School songs. Yet, I hoped.

Today, I hope for friends who are facing illness and loss of loved ones and I wonder: which is more painful, reality or denial? It's difficult for the strongest person, even the strongest Christian, to face the reality of finality. As bright as hope looms, there is always sadness trying to push itself to the forefront. We find ourselves trying to hang on for just one more day. My heart aches for those who face difficult times and for those who are trying to heal from loss. Daily, I face the reality of life without my partner, my soulmate, the one who loved me so completely and who helped me become the person I am today. It isn't easy. Now, I hope for the day that Tom and I will be reunited, when I will know the reality of what he now knows.

While I was never in denial about Tom's illness, I have had to face the fact that I may have let some of that creep into what I know about my own health. My visit with the doctor yesterday was not discouraging, but it was not encouraging either. I am still being kept from the drug that seems to have worked the best in keeping cancer activity at its lowest because of possible serious damage to my kidneys. I was told that another problem I have could be the result of the medications or the disease itself. The denial has come in my putting off some things that need to be done. I never want my children to go through the nighmare they went through a few years back when information that would have helped them was held back. I want them to be informed. Also, being the control freak that I am, I want to be in charge of my life and my passing. Away with denial! I owe my family the gift of planning and organization. Everything needs to be decent and in order, just the way Tom would have things if he was the one to remain.

As I drove home in a driving rain yesterday, I thought about many things and made some determinations.

  • I will not deny the reality of this dumb cancer.

  • It will not control me, nor my lifestyle.

  • It is what it is and I recommit myself to live with it.

  • I will not deny the realities of things I cannot change.

  • I will allow God to be in charge.

  • I will enjoy today and hope for tomorrow!


Pastor Margaret

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Where does the time go?

It's been said that the older we get the faster the days, weeks, months and years pass, but nobody said they would race at break neck speed. For a child, a few minutes seems like and eternity, but for those of us who are in the "older" group, we blink and the week is gone. As I drank my morning coffee, listened to the birds and felt the sunshine streaming into the room, I was reminded of making a commitment long ago to savor every moment of every day. Today is what we have. It is a gift not be be taken for granted. My college piano teacher would often begin a quote: "Thank God every day that you have something to do today that must be done." God gives the day; He gives the "something;" it's our job to discover and do it. So, this morning I made a list of what I thought most important for the day--I seem to work better from lists.

The children are outside, anxious to get in the pool. Instead, they are dangling their feet and sunbathing. The weather is certainly warm enough, but the pool water needs to be tested. It's amazing to see how wet they can get without ever getting all the way in the water. I'm tempted to join them, but then my list of "to dos" would suffer.

This afternoon the chickens will have their very own home. Tommy and a friend are constructing the coop and putting in the hay/pine straw. I haven't seen them in a week, but reports are that they are really growing. One sickly one died last week--now there are 13. My question remains: when will they lay eggs?

Herbs I planted before my trip are flourishing. I have started trimming bushes in the front and pulling weeds--a never ending job. Jacob and I put out some things I brought back from South Georgia and a little border grass that came originally from the house we built in Jackson. I had given my cousin some several years ago, so she gave some back to me. If I only had a green thumb like she has. I told Liz this morning that Julia could put her finger in the dirt and it would grow. She gets that from our Grandmother Carter.

It's been a good week, full and busy. My income tax stuff is just about ready to put in the mail and the IRS finally responded to my inquiry about someone using Tom's SSN last year and sent me my refund check. That only took 10 months! The office is shaping up; I found something that would clean the floors and not leave smears and streaks; decluttering continues. Chicken is cooked and ready to be made into pot pie and a strawberry cake is waiting to be baked. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians that he had learned to be content in any state. I agree. My "state" is good and I am content.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Home Again . . .

The week went by far too quickly! I spent two nights with my friend, Dot and her husband, Jim, in Montgomery and we talked non-stop while we were awake. One highlight of my visit with her was hearing about the new church she and Jim have joined and then attending a church supper while I was there. There was absolutely no friction present, no cliques, just a group of committed Christians intent on being Christ like. How refreshing!

My time in Southeast Georgia brought healing to my soul. Even the drive through the heart of peach growing country was therapeutic! I have always loved the country, seeing all the crops and the rich dirt ready for planting. The peach trees were in bloom and were almost as pretty as almond orchards when they bloom--almost, but not quite. The night I arrived a 75th birthday supper was being given for my cousin's husband and I got there right in time for "low country boil," fried fish, hushpuppies and cold slaw. It was a treat! On Sunday I worshiped with Aunt May and Julia at the Lutheran church I attended as a little girl living with them. It brought back memories of Sunday School in a one room church, heated by a wood stove. Much of what I learned in Sunday School came from there. In the church service I couldn't remember all the places to stand and sit, but that was okay.

Aunt May is remarkable--still! She always has been remarkable to me. Other than a little patch of gray over her ears, her hair remains dark blonde at age 94. Obviously, I didn't inherit the genes from that side of my family. She said that the people in the retirement home where she lives can't believe she is 94; she doesn't look it, but then I wonder, what does 94 look like anyway? She represents home, faith, family, unconditional love and has made a profound impression on my life. Her care for my uncle as they struggled through Alztheimer's together was amazing and I remembered that care when our circumstances turned me into a caregiver.

Julia, who is more sister than cousin, and I had fun together. She took me to see the old familiar places and to introduce me to some new ones; we went to Savannah one day. There is no more beautiful city anywhere!!! I saw other cousins and was especially happy when one drove up with his wife from Jesup just to eat supper one night. One night Carsie, Julia's husband, took us out to eat, but mainly we stayed close to home and just enjoyed being together. I have a most wonderful family!

The chickens have "come to roost." While I was gone Liz got 14 baby chicks; I forget the kinds, but I remember there are four each of three kinds and then two little yellow chicks. They're cute now, but I don't know how long the cuteness will last. All I can say, is: "Bring on the eggs."

It's good to be home and I'm anxious to get on with the projects I have outlined for myself. In my time away I had much time to reflect on the past and consider the present and the future. How easy it is to get bogged down in things, as I have. God has been so good to me. I have terrific friends, a wonderful family and the memories of an extra special husband. Most of all I am a child of God. What more could I ask?

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, March 08, 2012


The SEC basketball tournament has begun; State plays next - may be too late for me to watch. This has always been one of our favorite times of the year.

Marty, Christopher and Colin came for a week and I was so glad to see them. They arrived a couple of days after I fell on my knee, so unfortunately, I had to sit a lot. She was a big help to me, helping me think through some things and making me see some things about myself that needed to be seen. While it is true that I have grieved the loss of Tom, I have also been grieving the loss of home and it has been difficult to let go of things, both tangible and intangible. I have a new resolve to "declutter" and get on with life as it is now. For me, the week was over too quickly!

Tomorrow I leave for Southeast Georgia to visit my cousin and family. It has been a while since I've been there and I'm really excited to get back to roots! On the way I am stopping to visit with a long time friend from elementary school and college. It going to be a fun trip!!

Monday was doctor day in Jackson--another long day, but the news made up for the length and discomfort of the day. The tumor marker has gone down a few points and the scan was stable. The only bad thing is that the protein level is high again so I was not able to get the infusion. Maybe next month. Other than stiff and creaky joints, I feel great!

Conversation with Meredith one day this week:
Mer: Where did you get these new stickers?
Me: My friend Peggy in California sent them for you.
Mer: (With surprised expression on her face), Does she speak English or California?
And you thought I talked funny! I assured her that Peggy does speak English!

I'll post again after I return next week. Remember, Lent is a time to refocus on Jesus. I'd love to know what new truths you learn during this special season.

Pastor Margaret