Saturday, February 25, 2012

February . . . a red letter month every year since the year we married. 2012 has been no exception. Truly it is a month that focuses on the cycle of life. We celebrate engagements, marriages, birthdays, other special occasions, passing from this life to the next, memorial services and this year we said goodbye to two more special people and the last living family member of my father-in-law. Then came the news of Baby Girl Bates, born within the last two weeks. God is good.

Yesterday was especially meaningful! It was Grandparents' Day at Elisa's playschool, a day we had anticipated for several weeks. She looked like a little angel, sang every song and knew the answers to ten of the first questions in the Children's Catechism. I was so pleased to hear those wonderful affirmations of who God is, what God made and what God does for us.

The second meaningful thing is having Marty and her two boys here for a visit. It has been years since we have celebrated her birthday in person--it was yesterday. So that all the cousins could be here for the celebration, we waited until late this afternoon to open presents and have ice cream and cake. Birthday dinner comes tomorrow--some redfish dish Tommy is creating. It warms a mother's heart to spend time with children and grandchildren, to watch them laugh and play together.

February 2012, especially the 24th, will be long remembered!!

Our weather can't decide whether it will hot or cold. After Marty and the boys arrived Tuesday, she had to go buy some short sets for playclothes. It had been snowing when they left Raleigh and shirtsleeve weather down here. Fortunately, it has cooled off some, but not for long. The only constant is the pollen--yellow dust everywhere and the allergy prone are miserable.

If you follow me on Facebook, you have read about my fall last weekend when I lost my balance, landed primarily on my left knee and flipped into the hot tub. That was one of our cold nights. I have been very stiff, sore and bruised, but am thankful to have been "rescued" quickly and to have not broken anything. I can hear Tom saying for me to be more careful, but what I know is it doesn't seem to be a matter of being careful or not. A beat up body; cancel that; a beat up, aging body "ain't what it used to be." Just call me the "Old Gray Mare."

We have begun the season of Lent, a time in the Christian church when we focus on God's grace and Christ's sacrifice. Some observe by "giving up something for Lent," others choose to make it be a time of prayer and penitence. I simply encourage you all to recognize the unconditional love bestowed on believers; to recognize how unworthy we are; and be thankful for God's grace. Think and pray on these things.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Petal is many things. I have no idea how its name came into being. It sounds strange and for people who are "not from around here," I usually spell it for them.

Petal is just northeast of Hattiesburg. Most people have heard of Hattiesburg, even those outside the area. Hattiesburg is home to the University of Southern Mississippi which has an outstanding music department, is a member of Conference USA. It is a Certified Retirement Community, whatever that means and may be best known as the home of Camp Shelby, a National Guard training facility and apparently a sometime stop when you're being deployed.
Hattiesburg has good medical facilities, lots of fast food/franchise eating establishments and is home to three restaurants owned and operated South Mississippi's version of Emeril Lagasse. Robert St. John has been a favorite of ours for a long time; I have several of his cookbooks, read his weekly newspaper coulumn religiously; and eat at one of his restaurants as often as possible. Hattiesburg is on the map; Petal is a well kept secret.

Petal, with its small town flavor, seven or eight stoplights, bosts a terrific seafood market and grill. It didn't take us long to discover The Wharf! Merchants are friendly and helpful. I even found a yarn shop, after having looked in Hattiesburg and finding none. The owner/instructor is a home grown person, as is her husband. They, like so many, have lived elsewhere in the military or other work, but have come back home. Petal has a boomerang effect on its own.

Petal is particularly proud of its school system--as well it should be. It is because of this system that we chose to move here. Liz wanted the children in the system and she wanted to teach here. Almost from the beginning, we noticed the obvious support of the community. Driving by the high school complex we saw immaculate sports fields, a separate performing arts center and a semi-trailer, painted with "Petal High School Band," to haul their equipment. Not bad for a sleepy little town in a state whose schools are repeatedly on the low end of the pole.

We are constantly amazed at the level of the music program in the schools. Jacob had started band in sixth grade in Tennessee, did well, but the overall program lacked excellence. He came here, joined the marching band and was asked to play baritone sax in the jazz band--as a ninth grader. After marching season tryouts were held for concert/symphonic bands: there are two concert bands and an symphonic band which is the highest level of ability. We attended a concert Thursday to hear those three, the jazz band and two "senior projects." I was a.m.a.z.e.d!! Tommy said, "They didn't sound like any high school band I've ever heard." My reply was that I am so happy for Jacob to have this opportunity, to which Tommy said, "Now that I've heard them in this setting, I am really glad." Jacob plays second chair alto sax in the Symphonic Band and, as mentioned, is in the Jazz Band. Sarah Beth began sixth grade band in the fall and plays flute. She is first chair out of 20 flutes. (Thank you for allowing this old grandma to brag.)

As one way to show appreciation and support for teachers and staff, many of Petal's businesses give a 10% discount when they show their identification badge. Liz's badge save me thirty dollars this week on a new tire. People care about their schools!

Petal is home. I would have never purposely chosen it; I would have never thought it was a possibility. God is good! I have no doubt that He brought us here. I love the church where I attend; I love the area in the county where we live. I love the educational opportunities being afforded each one of the children and the way they have adjusted. Honestly, a year ago this time, I was torn--not wanting to stay in Tennessee without family and not really wanting to come here. God said: "Go; trust me; I will provide and care for you." I can only repeat: "Great is His Faithfulness."

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another round of Phew . . .

This time the word originates with me--and I'm not done with it yet.

Phew - Elisa is sick again; a trip to the pediatrician last Thursday; a round of steroids; more breathing treatments; now antibiotics. The cough is better, but it's obvious she doesn't feel as well as she could. She's been home with me all week. She gets tired and fussy late in the day, takes a quick nap after breakfast, but there are still hints of perky, happy Elisa. Phew, we all hope she's back to normal soon.

Phew - I spent Friday at Presbytery and the first part of the annual leadership training event. A new minister was examined and accepted into the Presbytery. It was so refreshing to hear his thorough, sound answers in the examination, to hear him preach and to have him lead worship. I knew from listening to his sermon and his treatment of the Lord's Supper that he and I had studied under the same New Testament professor in seminary. While there are many things that are discouraging in our denomination, I am encouraged to hear ministers of his caliber. Tom's name was read as part of the necrology report, even though he didn't reside within these bounds, nor belong to a church here at the time of his death. He was essentially a man without a presbytery, so the Clerk listed him as having been Moderator of Presbytery in 1996. Then later in the day, a minister friend asked where "your better half is."

The leadership training event began within minutes after Presbytery adjourned. Our keynote speaker was, again, encouraging. The Rev. Dr. Steven Hayner, current President of Columia Seminary, and former professor of evangelism there gave an excellent talk, preached at worship on Saturday and then led a class on mission in the church. He gave so much food for thought that I felt as if I had been through a buffet line, filled my plate and returned time and again.
Following dinner on Friday night, the Chamber Choir from Mississippi College, where Marty graduated, presented a most glorious concert. Then on Saturday, I drove back to Laurel (about 25 miles from here) and attended the rest. Phew, I was tired when I got home.

Phew - Marty and the boys are coming next week, to be here a couple of weeks. I'm trying to get ready. This will be her first visit to our new place and I want it to be "just right." Who am I kiddning? My house is never in that kind of shape!

My mind continues to buzz with sermons and information received over the weekend. For instance, Dr. Hayner used as text on Saturday the 15th chapter of Luke. It is the chapter on lost things--a lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. He talked about knowing God through this passage and suggested we look at the verbs instead of adjectives to describe God. Think about it. I have done that briefly. For instance, God seeks the lost and never gives up. He rejoices when the lost are found. What a difference it would make in my life and what a difference it would make in the lives of individual churches if we approached discipleship the way God approaches finding the lost! What a difference it would make if our hearts were completely in tune with God's in our attitude of reaction! Do I truly rejoice as God does? Phew - it's a lot to think about.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son . . ." God bless us as we pattern our loving and giving after God's.

Pastor Mararet

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Life and death . . . qualify as heavy topics. My heart and my brain can attest to that fact. Often, I ask myself why.

  • Is it because too many friends have threatening illnesses or that even some of them have died?

  • Does it have something to do with age and stage of life?

  • Is it because we know too well that cancer and other disease respect neither age, nor place in life?

  • Have I reluctantly approaced the anniversary of Tom's death?

  • And, what about life? When is it really over?

  • What is the measure of one's life?

  • Does it matter how long or short?

  • Too many questions; one sure answer.

I love the opening statement in the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith: In life and in death, we belong to God. One sure answer. Hymn writers said it in words like: On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand; Great is Thy Faithfulness; There is a place of quiet rest, Near to the Heart of God, and so many others. Many of the writers wrote out of their own experiences and if we were more knowledgeable we might wonder at how they bared their souls so effectively. Instead, we often sing, without paying much attention to the words. Just today I read on a Caring Bridge site a quote of O, Love That Will Not Let Me Go. What assurance there is in that hymn! We may question, we may waver, but it is God's love that holds on to US.

Sunday, as Tommy and Liz were driving into town to a couple of church activities, Tommy got word that a good friend from grad school had died that afternoon. She was diagnosed with cancer about this time last year, treated, went into remission and then her husband called Thursday to say she was back in the hospital. She hadn't felt well for a couple of days and when she went in, they told the husband that it was just a matter of days. She was in her late thirties.

On my way to the oncologist in Jackson yesterday morning, I received the call from Marty that I had dreaded. Her longtime friend, Susan, died early that morning. She was first diagnosed with inflamatory breast cancer in 2007 when the younger of her two little boys was a few months old. Through all of her illness and treatment, she refused to let cancer define her. Instead she inspired many through her blogs, her tireless efforts to raise awareness of cancer, her continued work on NASA projects and most of all as wife, mother and friend. She was 38.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? What a waste! I cannot help but think that. Then, I return to: In life and in death we belong to God.

Not a day goes by that I don't mourn Tom's passing. His death left a huge hole in my heart that can never be filled, though I've tried with pep talks to myself and endless activities. They just don't work. A special California friend who lost his wife suddenly last month reminded me when I talked with him recently that God did not make us to live alone. Just hearing those words spoken did wonders for me. Hearing him say that made me realize, really, really know, that, in that case, God will heal the loneliness---if I'd but let Him. Today is the anniversary of Tom's death and it hasn't been a day worse than any other. In his honor, I made one of his favorite desserts for us to enjoy tonight. We will celebrate him.

Like so many cancer survivors, I look around and feel guilty that I'm still responding to treatment and living. I remind myself that Tom and I made that commitment together. We chose to live, not to sit around and let the illness take over our lives. If, in life, I truly belong to God, then live, I must, savoring every moment, responding to where the Holy Spirit leads.

It was appropriate yesterday to see so many signs of Spring on my trip to and from Jackson. They helped focus on life and not death. Trees are beginning to bud and show the hints of color, not quite like the pink haze on the almond trees in California that we loved so much, but deep rose colors. Tulip trees are blooming; patches of daffodils dot the roadsides. And, typical in Mississippi are the signs proclaiming roadside markets have boiled crawfish and Lousiana strawberries for sale. Seasons are changing--though we never experienced winter. To top it off, I saw a front yard full of fat robins as I turned into the driveway. As the teacher wrote in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything.--and it belongs to God


Pastor Margaret