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