Monday, November 11, 2013

Apprehensive and doubtful . . .

are two of the words I felt after seeing Dr. Thigpen two weeks ago.  How could eliminating one drug and changing the administration of the other make a marked difference in the way I would feel?  I had a real "wait and see" approach to things.  Now, I wonder, why do I doubt the expert?  Carboplatinum is difficult on the bone marrow so taking it away should help with the side effects. It has.  Stretching out administration of the Taxol to three hours instead of one should help with the neuropathy.  I'm not sure about that.  I just know that after treatment last Thursday, I don't feel as wiped out as I usually do.  Yea!  Welcome change!!  I should never question.  I have the expert and his prodigy overseeing my care, but most especially, I have the One who has promised to never leave nor forsake me!

Today is a big day for Elisa.  After six weeks, the doctor is removing the cast from her arm.  She has been a real trooper, only complaining about the arm itching, though dressing and bath time have been challenging. 

It is also Veterans' Day, a day that causes us to remember the ones in our family and circle of friends who have fought for our continued freedom.  I think of an uncle who was awarded four purple hearts for service in WWII, not a distinction to be desired, and who retired after 33 years of active service, his son, another uncle, my brother-in-law and especially, Tom.  I always greeted him the morning of November 11, with a thank you and a big hug.  And, I always remember the Sunday closest to Veterans' Day at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church when veterans were honored, so many of them that there was hardly room down front for all of them. 

Freedom is precious and it comes with a price.  You know the saying, "Freedom is not free."  Men and women sacrifice so that others can enjoy the freedoms we have come to enjoy--and expect.  Jesus gave his life so that we can be free from the guilt and consequences of sin.  It's a different kind of freedom; it costs us nothing; it cost Jesus everything.  Freedom.  Today I am free to go to church where I choose, live according to my means where I choose, come and go, determine the size of my family, vote and have voice in the way I am governed.  I say I am thankful for those freedoms, but don't always exercise them.  The same is true with freedom that is mine in Jesus.  I may loudly proclaim my gratitude for what Jesus has done for me, but continue living as if it doesn't matter.  I don't relish God's grace as I should.  Earlier in the year, as I read Galatians, I read also Traveling Light, by Eugene Peterson.  In it, he writes about living out the freedom and living in the freedom we have been given (my words).  I see two important words here:  "given" and "living."  I don't have to earn anything, but the gift should be ovbious in my life.  It's what I call a "point to ponder." 

Have a great week and remember to live like the free person in Christ that you are!

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The fat lady is still silent . . .

It's not over.  Monday was a long day; a good day; tiring; not conclusive; and not completely what we wanted to hear.  Never mind the ridiculous schedule and that we were there from 9:45 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  The great news is that the scan shows no disease and the tumor marker is consistent with the scan.  The disappointing news is that maintenance, which I fully anticipated, sounds almost as strenuous as the regimen just completed.

Honestly, by the time the doctor finally saw us, my brain had retired for the day.  It was hard to hear all he had to say and put it together in logical order.  I was to return to my Hattiesburg oncologist tomorrow and get started again with treatment, but that appointment has been changed until next Thursday instead.  The short version of the report is that I will continue with one of the two drugs I have been taking, but the administration of it will be slower:  what has been a one hour infusion will become and three hour infusion.  That is supposed to be easier on the body and help with the neuropathy in my hands and feet.  It's the same three weeks on, one week off schedule and I return to Jackson for another scan the end of January. 

I have prayed for grace and believe so completely that God is ever present and faithful that I was not afraid of the test results. I felt "high as a kite" hearing results, but hit the ground hard when learned the maintenance plan.  All the plans I had for resuming life as I had come to expect before chemo started again in May, suddenly crashed.  This past cycle has been harder than others, maybe because of the flu shot and everything in me screamed, "I'm tired and I'm tired of being tired."  Disappointment and discouragement oozed from every pore. 

Today is another day!  My quiet time this morning began with Jesus Calling that started with the words: I am with you; I am with you; I am with you, using the imagery of Jesus being our Shepherd.  Imagine being cared for by a shepherd.  When the sheep is weak, unable to care for itself, the shepherd carries it in his arms.  That image opened my closed mind.  I am the weakened sheep, Jesus is the Shepherd and He is carrying me.  Facing more treatment continues to be diaappointing, but the discouragment has been lifted.  Praise God for His constant and amazing care!

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Finally . . .

For several months I have been counting the days until now, October 28, to be exact.  That's the day I head to Jackson for a Pet/CT Scan to evaluate my progress and learn what the next step will be.  The tumor marker remains within the normal range and I am slowly beginning to regain some energy, just in time for cooler weather.  I look forward to sitting outside with my morning coffee. 

Though there are things I have missed, I have also learned plenty (both mentioned in last week's blog).  For the first time in almost 73 years, things have slowed down and I don't feel guilty when I need to rest.  It seems that so much of my life has been spent thinking of what comes next:  when I go to college, when I graduate, when/if I marry, have children, when they grow up . . .   You know what I mean.  As I look back, many of those experiences seem as if they happened yesterday.  I remember dreading the time when our nest would be empty and then realizing how good years those were.  We anticipated retirement and the promise of travel and leisure days.  All the days of anticipation seemed to have gone by in a flash.  Now, I wonder, "How did I get to this stage of life so quickly?"  It is not at all what I anticipated or planned.  But, life is good.

Once more, I ask for your prayers for my checkup on Monday.  Pray for God's all sufficient grace.  I think "grace" covers everything: that in God's grace I might be healed; that in God's grace I will accept whatever the news.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

You'd think I'd know better . . .

. . . after lots of treatment over several years, what to expect.  I guess I was so excited to realize last Thursday that I was at the end of the planned treatments that I fully expected to feel like the usual me by Friday. That did not happen!  Lack of energy and extreme fatigue, beginning Monday, made me really happy that a third treatment had not been scheduled.  By today I have begun to turn the corner and can hardly wait to resume life as I know it.

Things I have missed are:
*being in worship with my church family on Sunday;
*buying my own groceries;
*getting a pedicure;
*knitting with friends on Friday mornings;
BUT, in spite of what I have missed, I am incredibly grateful for what I have gained.

 Quiet times in the mornings mean more than they ever have, maybe because I am not so caught up with what I need to be doing.  God has been teaching me through Scripture, prayer and selected readings to draw closer to Him.  I have time to reflect on what I read, to study, to consider what it truly means to "practice the presence" of God.  I don't have to reflect in order to interpret for anyone else; my study is just that, mine. I don't have to prepare to teach others. I can settle down, rest, in the knowledge that God is faithful to His promise to never leave me.  He will be with me always. 

I look forward to better days ahead and I KNOW they will be better.  I just need to be patient, dependent and accepting.  God is good all the time; all the time, God is good.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Just sayin' . . .

Friends and family know me to be opinionated.  I trust that, through the years, they have noticed that those opinions are tempered with a little more patience and compassion than they once were.  I can be quite dogmatic, stubborn and independent.  Sometimes that works to an advantage; sometimes not.  I would also trust that folks have witnessed a growing dependence on a faithful God and a willingness and need to share that with others.  This morning I am struck with opinions that compel me to write. 

Each morning I begin my quiet time with the daily reading from Jesus Calling.  This morning I felt absolutely terrible, maybe one of the worst  days since this leg of the journey began.  Last week's treatment shouldn't have hit me so hard; it was the first in the cycle and is usually tolerated well, but adding a flu shot to the mix delivered a double whammy.  I opened my eyes and wondered if I could make coffee, fix a bowl of cereal and get on with the day.  I felt terrible and I complained about it.  Then came the words for today written just for me:  You have been on a long, uphill journey, and your energy is almost spent. . . . I am pleased with your desire to stay close to Me.  There is one thing, however, that displeases Me:  your tendency to complain.. . . I understand better than anyone else the stresses and strains that have afflicted you. . . . Complaining to others is another matter altogether.  It opens the door to deadly sins such as self-pity and rage.  Whenever you are tempted to grumble, come to Me and talk it out.  As you open up to Me, I will put My thoughts in your mind and My song in your heart. 

I try not to complain, keep a stiff upper lip.  I may fool some of the people some of the time, but God knows my heart.  God knows my limitations and is ready to supply me with His strength.  My prayer is one of thanksgiving for pointing out my shortcomings and one of petition that I might not let the complaints rob me of God's song in my heart.

This, as you know, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  As a survivor and as one who is keenly aware of how this particular disease has touched the lives of many of my friends and family, I am glad to see the attention paid to awareness, but the presence of all the pink offends me--not sure why, but it does.  Just like seeing women in clothing that leaves nothing to the imagination and flaunts big bosoms.  Too many carry the scars of having a breast--or two--removed; too many live with the inconvenience of a prosthesis.  Most of them will wear their bras on October 13, because going without is uncomfortable and a nuisance.  So, what can you do?

*Start by reading my daughter's blog @ where she writes about her experience with her best friend's cancer.  I particularly like her suggestion to talk about "life," not "cancer."  Her words are appropriate not just for breast cancer, but other cancers as well.
*When you contribute to breast cancer research, be sure that most of your contribution goes to actual research, not administration and publicity. 
*Inform family members of their medical history.  I learned after the diagnosis process had begun, that my maternal grandmother had had breast cancer, certainly a fact that needed to be shared. 
*Be aware and stay informed.  Treatment has come a long way since my grandmother had it over sixty years ago or even since I was diagnosed in 1981.

The other thing that has gotten to me recently is Michael J. Fox's new "comedy."  Don't get me wrong.  I applaud the work he has done to raise both money and awareness for Parkinson's Disease.  I have read his autobiography.  I know having someone of his notoriety speak out has raised millions for PD research.  Because I admire him, I tuned in to watch the new show.  Maybe the whole PD experience is still too fresh; maybe remembering the decline of the love of your life is too painful, but I was offended by what I believed to be insensitivity toward those affected by the disease.  Mr. Fox's experience is that of one man; not any two PD experiences are the same.  Some people respond and continue living productive lives; others cannot.  Needless to say, I didn't watch again.  Poking fun at disability is not comedy. 

I pray that as I seek to have a "God listening heart," I will confess my complaints to the One who already knows them and will provide; that I would be tolerant and not indignant when my opinions are in the minority; that I would make concerns about cancer, PD, all illness, a matter of prayer.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Back again . . .

Life is full of excuses.  One of the main ones in my life lately is the problem I have with communication.  The computer continues to do as it pleases, when it pleases.  Several times I have gotten ready to post and I couldn't bring up the right page or it wouldn't take my password.  What's up with that?  Most often I do Facebook on my Kindle Fire, but last night it froze, wouldn't do anything.  In the night the battery died, but fortunately when I plugged it into charge, it worked and is happily charging away.  I still prefer phone calls and snail mail if face to face isn't possible.  Saying that reminds me of just how wide my circle of friends has grown through the years.  Seeing all of you face to face is not possible.  We remain connected by wire, mail, cyberspace and best of all the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. 

Let me tell you what's been happening.  Thursday, October 3, I saw my Hattiesburg oncologist and began the sixth cycle of treatment.  He laughed when we met and said that he wasn't even scheduling but two treatments in this cycle since I hadn't made it to the third one but once anyway. That means I have one more this coming Thursday, then go to Jackson for scans on October 28.  Words cannot express how glad I'll be to change the routine! 

Because of circumstances I missed a reunion with some friends who started to college together in 1958.  Some of us have remained in close touch, some not so much; some have seen each other, some haven't since we graduated in 1962.  A friend from South Carolina messaged me and volunteered to come by here, pick me up and take me, but I reluctantly decided that was not best.  So, when the gathering broke up on Sunday, she came to Petal and spent the night.  We had not seen each other in 19 years--had lost of catching up to do.  It was such a treat!  We stayed up entirely too late talking, but it was medicine for my soul. 

Just before Alyce, the above mentioned friend, arrived Tommy calmly walked in my door to say he  was still planning to cook supper, but he had to leave then because Elisa had just broken her arm.  His demeanor is not always so calm, but at that moment, he sounded like his dad.  Off they went to get the arm set!  Needless to say, we had leftovers to eat and he went to the grocery for me when he returned at ten.  Elisa is doing fine, doesn't complain. 

In other news . . . the racoon seems to have disappeared, though we did not trap it.  It is suspected that all the clearing in the 16th section land next to us disturbed its habitat and it left.  One of the two roosters got progressively more aggressive and mean and had to be eliminated.  Giovanni is now resting in the freezer waiting to be cooked and devoured.  Maggie, our Great Pyrenees, is amazing.  She, instinctively, herds and protects the chickens, having had no instruction from Tommy.  I have not had opportunity to witness her firsthand, but get reports a couple of times a week on her actions. 
She is doing what she was created by God to do! 

Two quiet time points to ponder:  One is not so new; I just don't practice it and it has to do with prayer for the world, our nation, community, our families.  It is easy to recite the problems, as we see them, say a prayer and move on to something else, but how often do we see ourselves as part of the problems and pray specifically for God to change us, use us?  For instance, we might pray for the people being oppressed in third world countries, but fail to recognize how we could be oppressing the people in our employment.  "Please care for the people who don't have  enough to eat or live on," while we ignore the living conditions of those next door.  We have had a ridiculous political situation right here in Hattiesburg.  At first, I stayed on the outside, looking in since we live in the county more closely associated with Petal.  The details are not necessary, but it has to do with a mayoral election and corruption surrounding it. Then there is now the stand off in our national government.  People are being adversely affected in several ways, while officials continue holding onto their opinions, whether they are right or wrong.  I fear that we pray rather flippantly for God to do something, instead of praying for the elimination of evil and corruption, for the absence of greed and for God to raise up God fearing individuals to lead.  Could it be that God might be calling one of us?

The other point is closely associated and comes from one of my Bible readings this morning.  I was reading about the reign of King Solomon and came to the place where God asked Solomon what he wanted from Him.  The Message translation in I Kings 3:9 says Solomon asked for " . . . a God listening heart. . . "  What difference would such a prayer make in our daily lives?  Today I need energy and cessation of nausea; it was on my prayer list.  But, focus on God, His provision, His promises, His grace is what has sustained me and it never ends.  The focus wavers and grows weary.  A "God listening heart" helps keep the focus.  That will head my prayer list from now on. 

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Same song . . .

. . .  another verse.  Today was day #15 of cycle 5 and my neutriphils were too low for me to be treated.  The good news is that I seem to be responding well to treatment even though I keep missing the final one in the cycle and I will have an extra week off to rebuild cells.  I am literally counting the days until I am finished and on the road to Jackson for scans - 38 to be exact. 

In spite of lowered counts, I am spending more and more time in my chair rather than on the bed.  What an improvement from how things were at the beginning and into the summer!  Still, I plan to do more than I actually can get accomplished.  If I'm honest, I have to admit that has always been a fault of mine.  Tom told me often how unrealistic the lists of "to dos" were.  I also have to admit that God is teaching me not to be so wrapped up in what I can do!

God bless you for reading, for caring and for praying.
Pastor Margaret

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Some days . . .

*are too dull and monotonous to notice.
*getting out of bed is a struggle.
*the smile is forced.
*I actually rejoice in the presence of God.

Honestly, I am sick to death of fatigue!  I am tired of being confined!  I miss seeing friends!  I miss being able to worship with others! 

Some have such kind, encouraging words to say about how  "I handle" things.  The reality is I can't "handle" anything.  I have to pray constantly to accept and be patient.  Trust in God is not the issue.  How could I not trust the amazing I AM?  God's faithfulness is most abundant, very real.  I just get bogged down with the monotony, the fatigue, the blah, the confinement. 

This past week, more than ever, I have focused on God's presence.  I have prayed for balance, for patience and to accept circumstances.  On the days when I have been especially fatigued, I have prayed for God's strength to infuse me.  When I felt particularly cut off from the rest of the world, I prayed and four friends I haven't talked to in a while, called.  Someone came out for a visit; messages came over the internet.  It is not silly to pray for the everyday things that brighten our days.  God cares! 

The little girls keep me laughing.  They have been thinking (a lot) about Halloween and their costumes. I'm not sure why costumes at Halloween are such a big deal to them since dress up is one of their favorite things to do almost every day.  Elisa prefaced a question to me with: "If you're still alive at Halloween . . ." I was too astounded with the preface to remember the question.  After I came from treatment Thursday, she told me that I did look a little older.

I have written the things above to say that dealing with this cancer, the treatment and the side effects of both does not come without struggle.  It is tempting to just not care.  It is tempting to wonder why should I care.  Satan stands ready to steal my focus.  There continues to be that nagging question of "what should I be doing?"  And I am reminded of the words:  "Be still and know that I am God."  Being still gives time to really meditate on God's word, to consider what it means to "have no other gods before Me."  Being still is part of my continuing journey. 

Pastor Margaret

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Believe it or not . . .

. . . Just after I finished posting the last blog I picked up my knitting and proceeded to knit.  Much to my surprise, I noticed I had a stitch out of place that was affecting the pattern.  My example had hit home!  Unfortunately, I've had to take out several rows to try to make the correction and that particular project has sat idle for several days.  One mistake yields consequences.  The good news, however, is that in life with Christ that mistake is forgiven and we are put right with God.  As I stare at the mass of red stitches, trying to get every stitch back in place and turned the right way, I am reminded once more of the pattern of God's Law I am to follow. 

The first time I really studied the Ten Commandments was in college years ago.  Since then I have studied them over and over, taught and preached on them and I'm still fascinated at the way God uses them in our lives.  Another first for me in college was learning about the Sovereignty of God so plainly taught in the Scripture.  That knowledge has kept me grounded and given me hope.  As I contemplated the Sovereignty of God and the the first commandment:  "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," I realized that if God, and if such a God as He is, really is first and foremost in our very being, then we wouldn't need the other nine commandments.  Thus began a lifelong process of trying to put no one, no thing ahead of God in my life.  How I have failed! Yet, the mistakes continue to be forgiven, to be made right and to help me move ahead.  Our God is a great God!  He is the great I AM. 

One of Elisa's newest words is "obsessed," an interesting word for a five year old.  Last week she told me that her daddy said I was obsessed with salt.  That has long been a sore subject.  I do consume too much and was made keenly aware of it when my blood pressure was giving me problems.  In her own way, Elisa was entering the salt discussion by suggesting I might be obsessed with it.  Whether or not that is true, there is one thing about which I could easily obsess:  good blood! 

On Friday, the 30th of August, I spent several hours at the Cancer Center receiving two units of packed red cells.  Within 24 hours I felt better.  As the days progressed I felt more and more like myself.  I did laundry, ran the vaccuum, cooked a little.  I began to look forward to the end of October when we hope these treatments will be modified.  I could easily and completely become obsessed with good blood! 

Treatment cycle five began this past Thursday and already I'm droopy.  The end, though, is in sight.  I do not have to rely on my own strength.  My God will supply--and does--my every need.

Pastor Margaret

Friday, August 30, 2013

Around the compound . . .

. . . Maggie (the dog) has begun to exhibit signs of innate breeding--herding chickens and protecting her people.
. . . Thinning of 16th Section Land is going on right next to us.  In fact machinery noises make the work sound as if it's right on our driveway.
. . . School is in full swing. Sarah has chair tryouts in band today; Petal High plays its second football game tonight; Drew is fascinated by some rubberband device and from experience I've warned him that school officials don't look kindly at such; even the 2nd grader and kindergarner have homework.
. . . We are still stalking the raccoon and it is still outsmarting us.  Tommy has a trap on his back porch that he baits almost nightly.  Said raccoon enjoys the bait, sometimes springs the trap, but is never caught.
. . . I feel more like myself this week than I have in several months, enjoying extra energy and eagerly anticipating finishing two more rounds of chemo. 

On Facebook yesterday I posted about the "shrimp run" Tommy made to the coast.  Today I am happy to add that all the shrimp is in the freezer, a little over a gallon of shrimp stock was made from the heads, oysters are ready and waiting for grilling, as is the snapper.  I cooked pot roast and vegetables for dinner last night and was rewarded with: "Mom, you haven't forgotten how to cook."  I have missed the kitchen! 

My knitting needles have been busy working on various projects and I feel a sense of accomplishment that I have done those things I hate like weaving in loose ends, sewing on buttons, etc.  One recent project is a shrug I'm making for Sarah and as I've knit I've thought of how following the pattern illustrates following God's pattern for living.  It seems as if modern day Christians stress freedom we have in Christ, sometimes to the exclusion of that which God requires of us --otherwise know as the Law.  In reality, there needs to be a balance.  Paul wrote in Galatians about Christ setting us free from the Law, but he never said that we are to ignore it.  Law was given to teach God's people how to live as His children and how to live in community with others.  It was to be kept perfectly.  When it wasn't, God was displeased and there were consequences.  Thus came about the elaborate, exact sacrificial system of the Old Testament. I'm grateful we live because of God's grace and the righteousness of Christ.  

Back to "balance."  The Ten Commandments continue to be a pattern for living.  They are not just some document to be posted in public places and to be upset about when opposition arises.  They are to be studied and observed as our pattern for knowing what God requires of us and how we are to live with others ( a reminder from the Children's Catechism).  Sarah's shrug is made of one four row pattern that repeats itself until the desired length is reached.  At first I had the pattern right next to me as I knit to keep me on track, but soon it was firmly established in my head and I need not keep referring to it.  If I made a mistake, the entire pattern was thrown off and I'd have to rip out and correct--consequences of not following the pattern.  As I learned the pattern by knitting it over and over, I realized counting stitches was no longer necessary.  The stitches were clear and I could see what needed to be done next.  God's law, or pattern, is given for our instruction.  As we thank God for the sacrifice of His Son so that we may have freedom to live, may we also ask for God's guidiance in understanding the Law and how we are to follow it today.

Pastor Margaret 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day 15 - Cycle 4 . . . 

. . . brought no real surprises.  I knew counts had dropped because of being short of breath and not being able to stand up much.  The only surprise came  in learning that both red and white counts were too low for treatment and platelets had dropped  too low as well.  Usually, it's one or the other or so it seems.  All that means no treatment today and an eight o'clock appointment in the morning to get two units of packed red cells which should give me a jump start to feeling more energized.

This past winter a friend gave me a copy of Jesus Calling, a daily devotional book by Sarah Young.  What a gift!  This past week's entries have been especially meaningful as I anticipated today's scheduled treatment.  I was torn between hoping I might skip today so as to avoid further fatigue and begin a much needed rest and wanted to complete the cycle in hopes of increasing the effectiveness of the meds.  Some words from August 17 and 18 reminded me to keep my focus on God where it needs to stay.  On August 17 I read:  Accept each day just as it comes to you.  Do not waste your time and energy wishing for a different set of circumstances.  Instead, trust Me enough to yield to My design and purposes.  Remember that nothing can separate you from My loving Presence; you are Mine.  For me that means to accept the fatigue and not waste time wishing things were different.  I already know that being in treatment until the end of October will mean having to miss a get together of college friends, going to football games to see Jacob march, to say nothing of the other usual Fall activities I love so much.  I can moan and groan, focus on the negatives or I can trust, be anxious for nothing and take each day as given, believing that God truly will supply my daily bread each day.

The second reading is taken from the August 18 entry:  Anticipate coming face-to-face with impossibilities:  situations totally beyond your ability to handle.  This awareness of your inadequacy is not something you should try to evade.  It is precisely where I want you--the best place to encounter Me in "My Glory and Power."  When you see armies of problems marching toward you,  cry out to Me!  Allow Me to fight for you.  Watch Me working on your behalf, as you "rest in the shadow of My Almighty Presence."  The list of "impossibilities" in my life is longer than I would like.  Just when I think I have been disciplined and taught enough, here comes another one.  But . . . they never come without the promise of God's presence and blessing.  Just think of the Glory I would have missed without them!  Tom's being diagnosed with Parkinson's as I was finishing the first round of chemo for this cancer, seemed to be the final blow.  What would I ever do without him?  Who would care for him if I didn't survive?  Believe me, I had big questions.  My independence, my stubbornness and absolute need to be in charge was difficult to stifle.  Tom lived another eight years and we both had to come face to face with our inadequacies.  He would never get better, only worse.  I would live with a chronic disease that demanded constant attention to keep it under control.  Here I am eleven years beyond diagnosis, still trusting, knowing that it is God who has worked on my behalf.  It has been  a journey worth taking!

Both paragraphs helped me prepare for today's verdict.  No treatment.  God had something else planned.

Pastor Margaret

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday, Monday . . .

. . . started like so many days of late have started: cloudy.  Now it's the middle of the day and the sun is shining brightly.  There have been lots of cloudy, rainy days lately and weather often is a big topic on the nightly news.  Why are some areas dry, others flooding?  Is man responsible for the freakish weather we have had the past few years?  Better brains than mine will have to answer those questions.  I just need not to complain.  

My level of energy is not quite the same as last week this time.  Blood counts were down some when I went for treatment last Thursday and with that added treatment, they must be down some more.  Oh well, there are plenty of things I can do while seated--some expected, some not.  For instance, I got ready to pay a credit card bill and noticed ( not for the first time) a charge for some sort of insurance and called the credit card folks to inquire.  Then, I had to call another credit card company to cancel my card when Tommy called to say he lost his wallet right after filling my car with gas using that card.  Finally, it was necessary to call a company in Tennessee to ask about a charge I am just now getting for Tom's last hospital stay two and a half years ago.  Those three calls took some time!  Mostly waiting. The morning was gone in no time.  Fortunately, all three women on the other end of the line were pleasant and helpful.  I think I'm done with the unexpected.

Knitting projects have kept me busy, both new ones and ones that have needed finishing touches.  Truth be told, I'm bad about putting off the finishing.  Weaving in  yarn tails, sewing on buttons, blocking are not my favorite things.  I began knitting sweaters for the two little girls two years ago and they still need to be finished.  Yesterday afternoon I found all the parts and have tackled them again.  Going into the guest room, rooting through yarn and unfinished projects has made me think of my mother, Honey. 

Honey was an accomplished seamstress who made practically every stitch I wore until she could no longer see to sew.  When I had to start buying clothes, I realized just how fortunate I was to have original clothes that fit perfectly.  I was spoiled!  She loved fabric and spent leisure time in fabric shops looking at patterns, planning and buying the perfect material.  If I needed or wanted something, I could just go "shop" in her cedar chest.  My daughter, Marty, inherited Honey's love for fabric and when I see her built in shelves filled with fabric, I know my mother is smiling.  I don't sew anymore so my tendency is to stockpile yarn and have enough potential projects to keep me busy for months to come. 

Thoughts of  Honey have made me chuckle and they have made me a little sad.  I'm sorry she didn't live to see all these grandchildren or to take satisfaction in watching Marty sew.  In her latter years our roles reversed.  I became the care provider - the parent- and she became the child.  I'm sorry I took that role so seriously that I often forgot and was too much care provider and not enough daughter.  When I was younger and even more independent than I am now, I wanted to stand apart from her and declare that she had taught me nothing.  How foolish!  Today I cannot begin to tell you what all she taught me.  Her faith and complete trust in God was both spoken and modeled.  She worked hard, quietly making me understand the value and necessity.  Probably, no one rolled with the punches better than she did.  At age 93, after recovering from a broken hip, when I told her that we had accepted a call to a church in California, her response was:  I never thought I'd want to live in California.  She adapted.  We definitely had our differences, but I loved and admired her.

Possibly, I have thought much about Honey because I realize how similar our circumstances have become.  The past few months I have had to be almost completely dependent on family and friends.  She was trapped by her inability to see and knees that limited her mobility, neither of which would improve.  I am confined because of cancer treatment and its side effects, but there is bright hope that my condition will improve when this round of treatment is done.  Who knows what I will be able to do when all this is over?  For now, life is about living in the present.  It's about who God wants me to be, not what I feel I must do. 

Monday, Monday, the start of a new week.  It's a brand new day, another day to Glorify God and to (continue to) enjoy Him forever. 

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Woman vs. Machine . . .

. . . Machine is winning.  Twice in the last few weeks I have written a blog post, only to have it refuse to publish and then disappear.  It happened yesterday.  Women have been called unpredictable, fickle, prone to change their minds and designated with other unflattering adjectives.  Today, I hereby take the stand that women have nothing on computers.  This blasted laptop is definitely unpredictable, certainly fickle and not only changes its mind, but also seems to take great delight in changing what I want it to do into what it would rather do.  I am getting more and more frustrated!!!

Today is a treatment day so there is no time to reconstruct what I wrote yesterday.  Let me just say that it has been a good week.  I have pushed myself to be up and semi-active.  Monday I made a pot of soup to put into individual servings for the freezer, a project that took two days to complete.  On Wednesday I put together a casserole recipe I had seen on the Food Network, doubling the recipe so we'd have one for dinner and one for the freezer.  What the recipe said would take 30 or so minutes took much longer because I had to stop and rest a lot.  But, I did it and we all decided it was a "keeper."  It feels so good to be back in the kitchen even if it is on a limited basis. 

Early in the week I checked tumor marker results on my clinic website and found the numberr to be the lowest it's been at least since January.  Different oncologists that have treated me for this particular cancer have different opinions about the significance of the number.  All agree that the "normal" range is from 1 to 35.  One wanted it under 20; another under 35 and another doesn't put such great emphasis on the number, but weighs it along with other facts.  Regardless, it's going down, it's within the "normal" range and added to the improved scan report, it's a good number for sure! 

Quiet time readings and reflections direct me to study and meditate on some familiar words: trust, peace, grace, freedom, wilderness.  How I wish I could organize my thoughts so that they might make sense!  I know I could not have lived this long without complete trust in God.  Such trust results in a peace that passes all understanding.  But then I think on Paul's greeting in many of his letteers and a common greeting in worship:  The grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  Can there really be peace without grace?  Do they not come hand in hand?  Grace comes first; only then can there be peace. 

I am currently studying Eugene Peterson's book on Galatians, Traveling Light.  It's all about freedom, the freedom we have in Jesus.  Today he wrote that the wilderness is a place to be free.  Ever since my assignment to focus on "Through the Wilderness" for the women's retreat in 2006, I have been drawn to the idea of wilderness.  Too often we think of it in negative terms, but, if God has taught me anything in the past seven years, it is that wilderness can often be a place of beauty, a place of rest, discipline and instruction.  What I might once have thought of as something to be endured, has become respite and a place of affirmation and encouragement.  I'd so like to know your thoughts.

Treatment appointment calls. One more down, seven to go . . .

Pastor Margaret

Friday, August 09, 2013

Good news . . .

Statements, phrases, experiences tend to bring different songs to mind.  When Dr. Thigpen came in Tuesday and said he had "good news," I immediately thought:  Good news, chariots a' coming, Coming for to carry me home, but that didn't quite fit if we believe the "home" of the song is our ultimate home in heaven.  It does fit, however, if we think of "home" as the place God has created for us here of earth.  For "home" is where I am and where I plan to be for the foreseable future.

The areas of disease had shrunk from "several large" to "two small."  Though the CA125 result was not availble, we know that it has continued to go down.  I'd call that "good news" for sure!  Tommy went with questions to ask about the side effects of the chemo, but he said when he saw the smiles on both my face and the doctor's, he kept quiet.  We had hoped that if the news was good that the chemo regimen would be changed.  Unfortunately, I have to have three more cycles of three treatments each and will return to Jackson for another pet/ct scan the end of October.  Yes, I was disappointed, but then I don't do this in my strength.  Yesterday, Thursday, began day 1 of the first cycle in what we hope will be the final set. 

During my resting time I have enjoyed being up more and doing more things for myself.  My Hattiesburg oncologist reminded me yesterday that two really important things to remember are good nutrition and activity.  Good nutrition was a problem at the beginning because I was still trying to recover from the abdominal problems that plagued me in the winter and spring.  Those are fine now.  Being active is the hard part for me since the medicine zaps my blood counts.  Again, I cannot and must not rely on my own strength!

Everyboday is at school today.  Tommy just walked over and said how weird it seems. Friday has always been his day off, but he's always had at least one child at home or one he's had to take to pre-school.  Elisa, the last one, started kindergarten today.  The last two years she has spent a lot of time with me on the days she wasn't in pre-school and I will miss her!! 

Besides the activity involved with my appointments this week, we have had lots going on with the chickens.  One night Jacob went down to the barn one last time and found a dead hen.  She had gotten her head caught in the feeder somehow.  While they were trying to get her out, Jacob noticed a snake slithering along the side of the barn. He killed it and upon further investigation they discovered it to be a Copperhead.  That prompted Tommy to look more closely at the dead hen for fang marks. In telling me the story later, he remarked that it was strange trying to do an autopsy on a chicken.  Still, the question remains: did the hen strangle herself or did the snake bite her?  We do know that we have a problem with a racoon who hides in the fig tree and wanders up on the porch at night to try to find chicken feed. (I did learn that my cat scares the racoon away.  Some nights Smokey sleeps in a chair on the porch and the coon won't snoop if Smokey is there.) The night after the hen/snake incident we heard another hen squawking close to the house.  I had gotten up about midnight to let the cat out and saw Jacob walking home from my house.  He has been finishing up a project for school over here and I called to him to see if he was through for the night.  About that time we heard the squawking and Jacob went running to see what was wrong and why there was a chicken out of the coop.  He found it in the dog yard next to their house where the fig tree is, gathered her up in his arms and took her back to her nest.  Meanwhile, Tommy comes out with his gun, looking for the racoon.  It remains elusive.  Never a dull moment!!

It has been an eventful week, but a blessed one!  Good news from the oncologist, children back to school here in Mississippi and children in North Carolina getting ready, chickens keeping things hopping and our first watermelon brought in from the garden.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Issues abound . .
 . . . or so it may seem.  Pretty aggressive chemo has created plenty of issues for me this summer and the computer continues to have issues of its own.  I seem to spend more time trying to locate things or reinvent them on the laptop than I do actually using it for its intended purpose.  Add my non-technological brain to the one created by medication that makes me foggy and you have one big issue.  If you are in the class of folks who think modern technology makes life easier, I might persuade you to think again.  However, if medication and technology are the only issues in my life, I need to count my blessings!

The new chemo regimen began again on May 16.  It was to have been three sets of three treatments each with a week of rest between the sets.  Honestly, I was not prepared for my body's reaction.  After all, I had had these drugs before and was able to continue working, etc.  What I failed to acknowledge is the amount of chemo I've had since 2002, or the fact that I have aged.  Consequently, I have observed the summer from my perch in the bed where I have spent the majority of my time.  Each set of treatments got harder, actually making me have to skip the third treatment in the last two sets.  Not being able to function has been ONE BIG ISSUE!  I continue to pray for healing and pray especially for clear scans when progress is checked with scans next week in Jackson. 

The computer issue may never be resolved.

Two issues, but MANY blessings!  Marty and the three children came for a week in June.  It was wonderful to have them here--just too short a time.  I have heard from friends from both near and far on facebook, in cards and letters, on the phone, by visits, texts--guess technology is a good thing.  I know, without a doubt, that friendship is one of God's greatest blessings.  Every member of the family across the pool has stepped up to help in ways too numerous to name.  There has been time for lots of reading, Words with Friends, knitting and resting.  Now, I'm ready to resume my life.

I have missed our first venture into gardening, tending the herbs outside my door, playing in the pool with the children, cooking, driving, church.  I've even missed dusting and running the vacuum--never thought I'd say that.  Even so, I know God has a plan.  Verses or parts of verses remind me:  Be still and know that I am God; I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength; I will never leave you, nor forsake you; Trust in me with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding; Greater is he who is within than the cancer that threatens (obviously my paraphrase); Great is God's faithfulness.

It is not the issues which abound.   BLESSINGS ABOUND!  Great is God's faithfulness.

Pastor Margaret

Friday, June 07, 2013

One down . . .

Yesterday marked the official beginning of my week off.  I completed three treatments of cycle one a week ago Thursday, I'm resting this week and will begin again next Thursday, the 13th.  It feels good to have a set behind me!  Things haven't gone as well as I had hoped, but, I did start in a very weakened condition after all the stomach problems.  Fortunately, my appetite has improved and it seems I gain a little more strength each day. 

Tuesday night I was sitting in the shower shampooing my hair when I realized I was beginning to have as much in my hands as I did on my head or so it seemed.  Liz asked what I wanted to do and I didn't hesitate to tell her, "Let's get rid of it."  We decided to take advantage of the situation and explain to the children what was happening and invite them to watch.  The two youngest girls were sad, particularly Meredith, but the more their dad shaved the more they grinned and told me that I looked like their dad.  (They have never seen him with hair.)  Honestly, it was freeing to shave it off.  It's one of those things that you know is probably coming because the medicine destroys cells--both good and bad.  Losing your hair is a definite sign that cells are being destroyed.  I have promised the girls that we'll have a wig try on session and we have that to look forward to. 

This was to be the summer that we took full advantage of being in the country and having space around us, but of course, I changed that plan a bit.  We have talked about the best place for a garden, what to plant and how we'd take care of it.  It had been decided that we'd begin with a couple of raised beds and start gradually.  So, we have tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers growing in the beds and herbs that I had already planted in pots around my patio door. 

The chickens are thriving--all thirty of them and all of them will probably be laying before summer is over.  How nice to have farm fresh eggs from free range chickens.  We did discover, however, that a couple of roosters got included in the last batch and haven't decided exactly what we'll do with them.  About six weeks ago we lost three chicks when something got in the coop through a hole in the fence and something like a hawk or fox got one of the hens.  One solution was to get a dog to help protect the chickens, the property and family members.  Jacob researched and found that a Great Pyrenees was what we needed.  Two weeks ago he and Tommy drove to north Georgia to purchase the cutest ball of fur you have ever seen!  She is adapting well to us and her surroundings.  I do love a big dog!

Produce has begun to come in in the local markets and our "Paw Paw's Garden Market" down the road shows lots of promise.  We have already had new potatoes, yellow squash and green beans.  In fact, last Saturday Liz came home with BAGS of beans--she has some deal going  to trade eggs for veggies or at least get a reduced price.  Neither Tommy nor Liz had ever canned in a pressure cooker before so I walked and talked them through the process the first time and by the third cooking they were doing it on their own.  There are 18 quarts of fresh snap beans sitting on my counter waiting to be stored for winter. Yum!  One of the fun facts is that the pressure cooker is the one my mother used in the early forties, she gave it to Tom and me, we replaced the gasket and ordered a new manual and now a third generation is using it again. 

I hope this week to feel strong enough to walk out to see the garden and putter around the kitchen some.  Marty and her boys are coming the next week and a grandmother wants to be ready.  My prayer is always for healing, but on a moment by moment basis, I pray for strength.  Fatigue plagues me.  Right after I let folks know what was going on I received a Facebook post from Chris Patterson that simply stated Philippians 4:13.  It was a powerful reminder and one that I say to myself every morning, along with a "thank you" for Chris's presence in my life. 

Enough "farm talk" for now.  As always, I am grateful for your prayers and continued concern.

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, May 23, 2013

And now, it is May . . .

Actually I never intended to be away from my blog for this many weeks.  Thank you to all who have sent cards and letters or called asking about my absence.  To put it simply in the words I told a couple of friends the first of January:  I encountered a couple of bumps in the road. And, as I added to one of those friends just tonight, some of those bumps became potholes.  All the details are not necessary.  I'll just say that a kidney problem developed, the tumor marker began to rise and the oncologist began talking about having to change the treatment regimen.  Meanwhile, I had a few bouts of severe stomach pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting that increased in regularity and duration.  Those culminated in my inability to keep anything down, dehydration, two hospital stays, a failed attempt to insert a stent to improve kidney function, discussion with a surgeon about a solution and a kink causing a blockage in my small intestine.  I asked for specific prayers regarding my problems and, God who is always and ever faithful answered almost immediately.  After several more uncomfortable days, the blockage was gone.  The road back to "normalcy" has been steep and tiring as I have tried to resume eating and trying to gain strength for daily activities.  Then Thursday, May 16, on my son's birthday, a more intensive chemotherapy was restarted.  I am treated on day 1, day 8, day 15, rest a week, then begin another cycle.  This past week we have spent wondering if my body was strong enough yet to take the drugs. Fortunately, my oncologist in Jackson made arrangements for me to treated at the Cancer Center in Hattiesburg and associated a former student of his to care for me here.   I went today, found that my blood counts are holding steady and was given the second installment.  It is indeed God's strength that is carrying me!  

Once more family and friends are helping is every way possible.  As from the beginning, these dear ones anticipate every need and are lovingly and thoughtfully caring for me.  God has given me the best family and friends anywhere!  I do admit how much I miss Tom right now, but rather than be sad that he's not here holding my hand, I think of all the times he was ever present as he loved and encouraged me.  The ONE CONSTANT is the presence of God.  I have never been more certain of God's care, his absolute power over this cancer.  I continue to trust that care, that power and that grace. 

Pastor Margaret

Monday, March 04, 2013

February . . .

. . . came in with a whisper.  It's always been an eventful month in our house - a month much anticipated and lots of celebrations.   I was gone most of January, arriving home on the 31st, ready for the new month.  This year the month took on all sorts of new looks with the whisper, growing to yells before it ended.

The days of celebration were good and I enjoyed the happy memories they brought:  the anniversary of our engagement and wedding five days later.  Especially celebrated was Marty's 40th birthday.  What fun it was to reflect on her life and all the joy she has given Tom and me.

Added to important events of the month are the anniversaries of Tom's death and memorial service.  Those, too, were days of "celebration" as I gave thanks for the life we had together and for the beautiful, worship service that witnessed to his faith.

We will always remember February 10 as the "day of the tornado."  Many lives have been turned upside down since that afternoon!  Our church, Westminster Presbyterian in Hattiesburg, was heavily damaged and it will be a long time before we are "home again."  For now we have been graciously offered a place for worship, Sunday School and other meetings at the Methodist church up the street.  Theirs was only one of several invitations from churches in the area.  People have come from both near and far to assist us.  We've had people of many denominations and other faiths:  Jewish and Muslim.  All praise God that not one life was lost!  It has been so encouraging to see the way people continue to help each other and the positive attitudes exhibited.  Something I read last fall keeps coming back:  "Change can be a catalyst for growth."  That, coupled with some powerful words in Eugene Peterson's autobiography, has made me see "church" more clearly.  We have no physical place that is ours right now, but are we any less a church?  God's presence continues to be in our midst; we continue to be Christ's followers; we continue to be Westminster.  My prayer is that we will be known not as the people whose church was destroyed or even the church that has been quick to help others, but that we will be known as those who show forth the life of Christ that is within us. We don't need bricks and mortar to do that.  We need the Holy Spirit.

February has also been a month of wondering, where my health is concerned.  The first week in January I learned that I had some sort of kidney problem and the oncologist sent me to have a workup by the urologist.  All I really knew was that there was "something" pressing on my right uretha which was causing a problem.  Two weeks ago I went for a renal scan which didn't identify the "somthing," but it showed that the right kidney is working at 11% and will eventually stop working and die.  The good news is that the left one is fine.  The question remains: is it scar tissue or is in a tumor?  That brings another question:  what, if antything, will be done?  Tomorrow, I see the oncologist and look forward to answers that clarify.  I trust that I will always be able to say with Paul that I am content in whatsoever place I find myself (very loosely translated). 

So, I'm glad it's March!  Spring keeps trying to come.  There are daffodils on the roadsides, the fruit trees are blooming, robins are hopping all over the place, the roadside stands are advertising Louisiana strawberries and I know for a fact that crawfish season has started.  One day soon, Spring will come and not look back.

Pastor Margaret

Monday, February 11, 2013

Not what I intented . . .

You know I have been traveling - first on the cruise I wrote about and then on to Raleigh to celebrate the birthdays of two grandchildren.  Before and after those trips I have been busy visiting doctors for first one thing and then another.  Then came the the tornado!  Tonight as I write, I have different things on my mind than what I had originally intended to share.  If you have been tuned into the news, you no doubt know that Hattiesburg and Petal, MS were hit hard by tornadoes last evening.  We worship in Hattiesburg and live about four or five miles outside Petal.  Our lives were definitely affected! 

Westminster Presbyterian Church, where my son Tommy works and where we worship, was pretty much destroyed.  At first we heard that windows had been blown out in the sanctuary and that some of the roof was gone.  That didn't sound too bad, but as time passed and people were able to get there to assess the damage last night, word came that the damage was pretty extensive.  In the light of day it was learned that we have major problems and we are waiting to learn whether we can rebuild or if what is left needs to be razed and a completely new structure be erected.  In addition to the church itself, built in 1954, the property included three buildings that had originally been residences, but had been converted to other uses.  One housed our youth ministry, another the Presbytery of Mississippi office and the third was home to the Christian Women's Job Corp in Hattiesburg.  Those three buildings were destroyed.  It has been a sad day for members and friends of the church.  This afternoon my five year old granddaughter frowned as she said to me:  "I'm so sad that my church is broken." 

I wonder if that is how the Israelites felt about the temple in Jerusalem.  When they returned to rebuild the temple, were they sad when they remembered what had been?  Just Saturday I began reading Ezra in my morning readings.  How appropriate!  How thought provoking!  In those days the temple was central in the worship of God.  Do we have the same regard for our place of worship today?  Does it matter whether or not we worship in a beautifully designed structure or in an auditorium look alike?  Is God not present everywhere?  Does our "temple of today" express our adoration for the God who made us and who redeemed us?

A dear church member called this morning to pass along some information and in our conversation she expressed her sadness at the loss of property and said that she knew we were not to be attached to "things."
My response was that worship should be central in the life of the Christian and that where we worship becomes a part of the whole experience.  It is natural for us to grieve for that place where we gather with other believers to bring our worship, our praise and our gifts to God.  Ezra believed that rebuildring the temple was vital to the spiritual lives of the Israelites and committed to rebuild not only the temple, but also the spritual lives of the Israelites.  God blessed his efforts and led him every step of the way.

God will bless our efforts as we rebuild, as we bring what we have and who we are to honor and glorify Him. 

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Here today - gone tomorrow . . .

We returned from the Caribbean cruise on Saturday only to find almost as much water on the ground as was in the sea.  Yes, that is an exaggeration, but it seems as if the rain will never stop.  North of us, in sunny Mississippi, are freezing conditions, making the roads slick and dangerous and the power lines heavy with ice.  I didn't realize just how wonderful the warm temperatures were last week.  Our cruise took us to Cozumel, Grand Caymen and Jamiaca.  What a contrast in countries!  The Grand Caymens was my favorite port for several reasons, but the attitudes of the people and the absence of in your face poverty made quite an impression.  Jamaica was just plain depressing.  On one stretch of beach you would see plush hotels across from unfinished houses and tiny shacks.  We were told emphatically where to go and even more emphatically where not to go.  The waters were beautiful, the sun warm and the people with whom we cam in contact were friendly and helpful.  On the ship, service was the name of the game and we enjoyed visiting with crew from all over the world.  I am glad to be an American!

At my last visit with the oncologist I was given some news that could be nothing or something.  My CA125 is higher than it has ever been and the scan showed something pressing that should not be.  I have been referred to a urologist to be checked and will return to the oncologist the first Monday in February.  There may be a change in medication; there may not. I'll just have to wait and see. I am so grateful to have a faithful God who is completely in control of whatever is going on!!! 

I will spend the night in Jackson, then fly to Raleigh Thursday afternoon to spend a couple of weeks with Marty and family.  Colin will be three on the 24th, Christopher will be five on the 26th so I'm going to spend birthdays with little boys.  They are growing up so fast!

As always, I covet your prayers.  I have been sustained by them through the Holy Spirit for a long time.  I don't take this cancer lightly, but rest in the assurance that God is the Great Physician and that with God, all things are possible.  Til I'm home again . . .

Pastor Margaret