Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thankfulness as a discipline . . .

. . . is a new concept.  Today's reading in Jesus Calling is about thankfulness; it's not the first time the writer has encouraged thankfulness, but the first time she has called it a discipline.  She writes:  "Practice My Presence by practicing the discipline of thankfulness" and exhorts the reader to: "See how many times you can thank Me daily; this will awaken your awareness to a multitude of blessings."  I began to think of why/how to think of this concept.  In other writings she has urged the reader to replace complaints and grumblings with thanksgiving.  Certainly rings a Biblical bell with me!  "Be anxious for nothing, but in all things, give thanks."  That, for me, takes discipline.  How much easier it is to complain!  Throughout today I have tried to really see how many things for which I can thank God. 

Here go a few:
  • I'm thankful for the insights shared by Sarah Young in Jesus Calling.  What a terrific blessing they continue to be!
  • I'm thankful for July 24 and Kevin and Marty's anniversary and for all they mean to each other.  I'm thankful for the three grandchildren they have added to my life.
  • I'm thankful for the care Tommy takes of me.  Discipline plays a big part on this one because he tends to be somewhat "overprotective" and I tend to be somewhat "independent." 
  • I'm thankful for Tommy and Liz and the five children that round out their family.
  • I'm thankful for the unique personalities and gifts of each of those eight grandchildren and I am especially thankful for all the time Meredith and Elisa spend with me.  Sometimes I forget to be thankful when I'm busy being quiet and they come bouncing in the door full of silliness and giggles.  It takes discipline to be thankful and not out of sorts.
  •  I'm thankful for memories of my mother that have been dormant for a long, long time.  They were brought to mind a couple of weeks ago when Elisa brought two books of children's poetry off my bookcase.  One had a variety of poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, Ogden Nash and others.  The other was A Child's Garden of Verses, by Stevenson. As I read, I was transported back in time to the hours I sat as my mother read to me about Mr. Nobody, my shadow, the games played on  the counterpane.  I realized how much of our conversations had references to those entertaining poems and the values I learned through them.  I'm thankful to be able to remember those special times with my mother.
  • I'm thankful for friends who take time to stay in touch by letters, phone calls, e-mail and Facebook.
  • I'm thankful for social media used appropriately.  Many friends (Lynn, Susie, Melanie, Gwen)have posted beautiful pictures that bring thankfulness for their sharing and for God's creation.  Some friends have shared pictures and descriptions of places they have visited this summer.  I think particularly of my "superhero of a friend," Jan, who has taken me on a mission trip with her, a tour of Switzerland with both her and husband Mike, and just last week on a hiking trip in Peru.  My days of traveling are probably over so I especially am thankful for those who take the time to share. 
That's just the beginning of an endless list of things that bring thanksgiving to my heart.  Two verses come to mind:  "Celebrate God," and Paul's verse I wrote of earlier: "Be anxious for nothing and in all things give thanks." Thanksgiving beats complaining any day!

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Drew . . .

. . . is twelve years old today.  How can that even be possible?  He is named for his dad, his granddad and his great granddad - Andrew Thomas.  I think his mom and dad just liked the name, Andrew, and they had already decided that three Thomas Henrys was quite enough.  Actually, there are at least two other Andrews:  one a beloved professor of Agronomy at Mississippi State and his son, Drew, who was a physicist who did cancer research.  Both were brilliant men.  Our Drew is a gifted student with a natural sense of rhythm and a love for baseball.  Today Elisa, Meredith and I have made fruit kabobs and created a special red velvet cake to celebrate.  It has a chocolate ganache filling, buttercream frosting, covered with chopped nuts, all to his specification. 

Drew was the first of our grandchildren that I was privileged to baptize.  I finished the first regimen of chemo for the ovarian cancer in April; Tom had been diagnosed with Parkinson's and we were anxious to come home to Mississippi for some R & Rand to meet 10 month old Drew.  What a humbling experience to hold a grandchild and welcome him into the family of God, to hear the professions of faith from his parents, the promise of support from his church family and to realize what I, as his grandmother and a pastor, am professing.  Being privileged to baptize five of our eight grandchildren has made my daily prayers for them even more real. 

Children today are faced with so much more evil than their parents were and certainly more than their grandparents.  I often wonder what goes through children's minds when they learn of school shootings.  Do they wonder if the same could happen at their schools?  Do they feel safe?  I think of parents in the middle of the crisis in Israel and the Gaza Strip and wonder if I could put my little ones on a bus, send them off to school, not knowing if they would make it to school.  One of my daily prayers for my own grandchildren is for them to be kept safe:  safe from the threat of violence, safe from drugs, safe from sexual predators.  Those prayers are no different from parents around the world; I just live in a safer place.  As I am convicted to pray for children in my family, I am also convicted to pray just as earnestly for children around the world, particularly those in the Middle East and the Ukraine; the young girls in Africa who were kidnapped; the children on the streets in Brazil.  Instead of lamenting how terrible the situation is, I urge you to pray for all these children as if they were your own. 

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

As usual . . .

. . . the days have slipped away.  The two weeks surrounding infusions are "down" days, not necessarily because I feel bad, but the body and brain don't function at full capacity.  The two weeks off are filled with as much energy and activity as I can muster.  When days are "down," I spend a lot of time thinking about what I will do when I'm "up."  Crazy, isn't it? 

Summer is in full bloom.  We've had fresh vegetables from Paw Paw's Garden Market: corn, snap beans, cucumbers, squash and finally tomatoes.  The children have had Vacation Bible School, been to the lake for a couple of days to see Mimi and Pop, Drew has been to baseball camp, Sarah, in addition to her week of mallet camp, and Jacob are going to band practice once a week and in between they spend lots of time in the pool.  This weekend Sarah, Jacob and their dad go to Puerto Rico  a mission trip.  I love the tastes and sounds of summer.  Grandchildren in Raleigh are pretty much doing the same things--just too far away for me. 

Meredith and Elisa spent the night Friday night.  We had been talking about it for days--where they would sleep, what we'd do, what I'd fix for breakfast.  Bags were packed early in the day and brought over with pillows and blankets right after lunch.  Sleeping arrangements didn't quite work out the way they planned; both ended up with me in my bed.  It was a little crowded, but worth every minute.  I was reminded of all the nights Marty went to spend the night with my mother and their making muffins for breakfast.  Marty always seemed excited to go and now I know, her excitement didn't even touch what my mother felt! 

In my younger, more foolish years I was not shy about expressing my opinion.  As I've aged, I have become less vocal, probably just as opinionated, but quieter, and more tolerant of others.  I don't have to be right; I don't have to win every contest.  However, I want to go on record right now and let it be known that I am not now, nor have I ever been a liberal Democrat!  I have no liberal persuasions, theologically or politically.  I have family and good friends who don't share my conservative beliefs, but, so far as I know, they don't condemn me, nor do I condemn them.  For the most part, my opinion on the Republican Primary this summer has not been shared except with family and a few close friends, though many things have angered me.  Last night was the final straw.  Enough said! 

The last time I was in the infusion room there were several patients around me who were anticipating their final treatment. Lots of you know the relief and excitement that brings.  One lady who was just getting started, asked how many more treatments I had left.  I fumbled as I tried to think of a positive, encouraging way to tell her that treatment for me is indefinite.  I don't remember exactly what I said, but I do remember the look that seemed to indicate, "I'm sorry I asked."  Still trying to be encouraging, I told her that my cancer history was long, huge advances had been made in treatment and that the fact that I was standing there talking to her made indefinite treatments worthwhile.  Since then, I have had a change in vocabulary.  From now on, I will define my regimen as "maintenance," not indefinite treatments.  Sometimes, a word makes a difference. 

Til the next time . . .

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My new friend . . .

. . . from the infusion room last week has given me lots of food for thought.  Theologically, her story underscores my Calvinistic  beliefs.  Practically, her sweet, gentle spirit affirms the fact of promised peace when our eyes "are stayed on God."  I hope she will be at the Cancer Center when I return this Thursday.  The message I received from her is not new.  It was a reminder of God's irresistible grace; a reminder of the importance of planting seeds; a reminder that someone plants, someone waters, someone nurtures, but God, alone, gives the increase. 

"D" told me that she had been involved in an abusive relationship, that the man abusing her was also the one who got her hooked on drugs.  She had wanted a loving relationship with husband and children, but instead has young adult children and no husband.  Now, she has cancer and is in treatment.  I don't know her prognosis, but I know she trusts God completely.  Usually, I listen, allowing people to tell me what they want, but Thursday I asked if she would tell me how she got out of her addiction.  She said she was preparing to "shoot up," had the needle in her arm, when she said to herself:  "I don't want to live apart from God.  I want to be with Him and I can't do that and be on drugs."  She pulled the needle from her arm and stopped then and there.  That had to be hard for her to do.  Sometime, in some place, some person or persons told her about God and the life available to her if she put her trust in Him.  It could have been in Vacation Bible School when she was a child, it could have been a parent or grandparent, it could have been a word spoken in passing.  But, the Word had been planted and God used that Word to turn her around.  Today, she professes that trust and is planting seeds herself. 

How easy it is for us to slip into retirement, wondering what purpose there is left for our years.  How natural it is for us to think that our usefulness to God is based on our productivity!  I needed to be reminded that God can and does use us when we are led by His Spirit.  "D" touched my life last week; made me remember . . .

Pastor Margaret 

Friday, June 06, 2014

TBT might mean . . .

. . . Think Back Thursday in addition to the original Throw Back Thursday.  As it is tonight, it's not even Thursday anymore; it's early Friday morning or Too Blasted Late to Think, changing it to TBLT.  Network problems required several minutes of attention, plus I got started late. So, in keeping with the last post, my "throw backs" are word pictures, not photos.  The memories keep coming. 

One reason for the lateness of the hour is a project I've been working on the last couple of days with Sarah.  She plays flute in band and is a new member of the Petal High School Marching Band.  One of the band directors asked her to participate in "mallet camp" this week to learn marimba for Indoor Percussion.  She knows and plays scales well on the flute, but learning to play them on a marimba when you have never played a keyboard instrument is very different.  My "throw back" is to a little blue staff book that my high school piano teacher, Miss Eason, had me write all major and minor scales, arpeggios and I, IV, V, V7 chord progressions.  I can still see her neat illustrations in that book, but most of all I remember that basic instruction and how it literally carried me in college freshman theory.  Helping Sarah has made me want to get back to the keyboard myself. 

My morning Bible readings have been in Deuteronomy, one of my favorite books.  It is a book of remembering.  As I am trying to adjust to this "chemo indefinitely" schedule, remembering is vital.  The tendency is to complain, think about what I can't do, how chemo affects my life.  That's not good!  Like the Israelites needed to remember where they were, the fix they were in, where they are currently, all because of God' faithfulness to the promises He made, I need to remember where I was, the nature of the cancer, where I am today, all because of God's faithfulness to the promises He has made to me.  A thankful heart is so much healthier than a grumpy, complaining heart.  Moses didn't merely summarize the Israelite's journey, he reminded them, in detail, of both the good steps and the bad.  Remembering the journey is a "throw back" for every day, not just Thursday. 

A different bedspread on my bed provides a warm memory, no pun intended.  In 1936, pregnant with my older brother, my mother began crocheting a spread out of twine.  It is a beautiful popcorn, diamond pattern that Meredith tells me has 90 knots or popcorns to a pattern. After his birth, she rested from crocheting until pregnant with me four years later.  My birth stopped her work again and it wasn't until the mid 1970s, after her retirement, that she resumed work on the spread.  By that time the twine had yellowed with age, the same or a comparable kind was hard to find and it needed to fit a queen rather than a double bed.  My mother persevered, completed the spread and gave it to me.  It is a real treasure, but not terribly comfortable to lie on its top , too hot to lie under and too heavy on your feet.  You might say beautiful, but not practical.  I have found a way to make it work.  Seeing it on my bed, viewing it up close, I am reminded of my mother's determination to complete what she had started, a trait in her that was obvious in most of what she did.  I am reminded of her giving nature, knowing that the spread was special to her, but she wanted Tom and me to have it.  As I throw it back when I get in bed at night, I remember my mother.  

Yesterday, Thursday of this week, was a doctor day and day #1 of another chemo cycle.  Counts were good, so I was told, though I am always anxious to see for myself, and I made a new friend.  At first I thought it would be quiet in my area:  the man on my right had on headphones and was engrossed in his I-pad; the lady on my left was asleep.  I read, got out my lunch and as I was eating my pound cake, the lady commented on the cake and asked if the chemo affected my taste for food.  That opened the door for conversation.  She has endured an abusive relation, drug addiction, colon cancer and expressed how God has brought her through all the problems in her life.  Her spirit is beautiful; her heart is grateful; her trust in God is complete.  I was glad she awoke and saw my cake!

I have begun to look forward to seeing my friend, Cindy, who I met several months ago in the infusion room.  I had not seen her since April because of scheduling conflicts in May, so I especially looked forward to today when we should be back on the same schedule.  Her attitude and her countenance have been encouraging, not just to me, but to all who sit near her.  Not long before I finished treatment, I saw her come in and one look told me she wasn't feeling well.  She has done well thus far, but the last treatment has not been kind to her.  Please pray for her to be able to keep down food and liquids.  Hydration is vital and it is frustrating not to be able to keep anything down.  Even as she brought me up to date on her status, she was anticipating feeling better and getting us together with other women we have met there. 

It is way past my bedtime, so I will say goodnight.  Remember God; remember what He has done for you and be ready to share.

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Throw Back Thursday . . .

. . . appeared in my Facebook feed a few weeks ago and I had no clue what TBT meant.  I still don't know how it originated, but have laughed more than once when seeing old photos.  It's mostly true: "A picture is worth a thousand words," however, being a word person, myself, and not knowing how to pass along pictures via the internet, I thought I'd use today's post for a TBT edition peculiar to me. 

Thursdays are BIG days at my house.  Two Thursdays out of every month are designated as treatment days.  Treatments haven't always been on Thursdays though.  In the early eighties, when I had my first series of chemo treatments, Monday was the day--and I was adamant about the day, allowing nothing to change the schedule.  I was focused; had life planned and did not like interruptions.  Boy, was I na├»ve!  In California, when it became necessary to be treated again, everything was different, including the day.  This time it was on a Friday, again, according to my planned schedule.  Treatment in Tennessee was bumped around depending on when the doctor was in the clinic, but I was still in charge, or so I thought.  You may be wondering what this has to do with TBT and it's this:  As I understand the point, the photos are to help take us back to earlier times, hopefully to remind us of times gone by that cheered us or helped us along our life's journey.  Leading the way in the cheering section, for me, have been the incredible nurses who care more than you would think possible.  As I focus on Thursdays in my life now, I am more aware than ever that I am not now, nor have ever been in charge.  It is by God's grace that I am even here to have Thursdays.  I have finally come to accept Paul's words in Philippians where he talks about being content whatever the circumstances. 

Last week brought back lots of mental pictures of times gone by, especially birthdays celebrated for Tommy, III through the years.  Elizabeth, Tommy and I planned his birthday dinner early in the week and I paced myself so I'd have energy to get it made.  He wanted lasagna and German chocolate cake.  Being in the kitchen, cooking what is requested is one of life's greatest pleasures for me.  As I measure and mix, sift and stir, I "throw back" to all the times I have done these things before. 

I never make German chocolate cake that I don't remember the first time I made it.  Tom, Jr. raved about the cake he  and an army buddy of his enjoyed in Munich.  The friend and his new wife were paying us a visit in Oxford, I was eight months pregnant and had never before made such a cake.  I remember sitting on a stool, stirring the icing, hardly reaching the stove.  Tom's friend took one bite, turns to Tom and says:  "This is a lot better than the Sara Lee cake we bought in the commissary." If looks could kill. . . !  Then there was the time I made German chocolate for Tommy's birthday and left the layers, covered on the counter, to cool overnight.  I discovered the next morning that one layer had mysteriously sunk through the rack, making repairs necessary.  As we were enjoying cake and ice cream with some of Tommy's friends, one asked if I had been told he had put his elbow through the layer.  We still refer to German chocolate, at times, as "elbow cake."  Good memories of good friends sharing good food together. 

This afternoon, on this TBT, I have been watching baseball and snapping beans, remembering all the summer Saturday afternoons I shelled peas and watched baseball.  The differences today being beans instead of peas and the game has been the SEC tournament instead of the Braves. 

Keep posting your pictures.  I love to see you, your families and the things that bring you joy.  One day I might join this century and learn to post pictures too.  Til then, you'll have to put up with my words.

Pastor Margaret

Friday, May 09, 2014

Margaret & Tom's Blog: Preview ""

Margaret & Tom's Blog: Preview ""
Overwhelmed Again and Again. . .

 . . . Often after a mountaintop experience one plunges into the valley.  The week after Easter was full of terrific opportunities: renewed energy, projects accomplished around the house, my first time back to COM after an absence of a year.  Simply put, I felt like my life was finally resuming.  Little did I know that the following week, beginning with the scan trip to Jackson would see that plunge into the valley.  But, God has reminded me day after day of His overwhelming Presence, that it is not the circumstance that gets the focus, but the God who is in the midst of the circumstance. I'll bring you up to date.

We arrived at the UMMC Cancer Center at 7:30 a.m., right of time, and started the boring process.  On our way up, we kept track of the storms in the northwestern part of the state that were coming our way.  While we were anxious to learn the results of our visit, we were more anxious to get finished and on our way home before the storms caught up with us.  Things went well, even though I did have to wait an extra hour to see the doctor.  I could have written his script: "The scans are stable, so we'll continue with the regimen of two treatments a month."  I had my script ready: "Could we possibly reduce the amount of chemo? Could we spread out the time between treatments?"  He was ready with the answers.  Bottom line: chemo continues indefinitely and I am at peace with that decision.

Instead of enjoying a nice lunch as we usually do, we headed home, stopping only at Sonic for food to eat in the care and got home by 2 p.m. ahead of the storm.  About 3 p.m., Tommy texted for me to turn on the Weather Channel that there were live shots of Yazoo City (where I lived and worked 4 yrs. after college) as tornadoes were approaching.  For the rest of the afternoon I watched as tornadoes ripped through the rest of the state, crossed into Alabama.  Lousiville, MS saw the worst of it, with two tornadoes touching down there.  We have Suttle family and I have a friend from high school and her husband who live there.  They were not injured, but the hospital where my cousin is on staff received much damage.  I monitored storms and prayed until a little after midnight when things were calm enough for local stations to go back to normal programming.  I had been awake since 4:15 a.m. and was ready for sleep.

Tuesday was beautiful, but not for long.  Molly Maids came to clean--always a happy day--the sun was shining, there was a gentle breeze.  Imagine my surprise when I read on FB that Petal Schools were having early dismissal because of impending storms.  Gray skies replaced the sunshine, stronger winds replaced the breeze.  The bright spot was a clean house left by Molly Maids.  The storms of the day before that came within 25-50 miles of us were replaced by more that were approaching from the south and south west.  It was another day of monitoring and destruction. We had tornado watches and warnings for several hours, along with flash flood warnings, which we see a lot in this area.  I was glad I had bought flood insurance this Spring, even happier it wasn't needed. 

It had been a rough couple of days, but nothing compared to what came next.  Thursday morning, Tommy appeared at my door with a look of shock on his face.  He had received a text from a long time friend telling him of a tragedy that occurred in our Jackson church family. A husband had shot and killed his wife the night before.  The couple had been our good friends for years: he was an elder in the church, our eye doctor, a talented musician, a kind, gentle man who was dedicated to his wife and family. (They had three sons, ten grandchildren.)  She was the personification of a Southern Lady; gracious, loving, very active in the church as a gifted musician (choir member, Handbell Choir Director, children's choirs, youth musicals) women's ministries, flower committee, grew beautiful roses and shared with everyone, did beautiful needlework, painted, a special friend who was devoted to her husband, their three sons and ten grandchildren and so happy to have three daughters-in-law. 

My thoughts and emotions have run the gamut.  There is the grief of losing them and the overwhelming grief felt for their family, friends and the church community. Initially, there was shock, disbelief which, in reality, led to the deepest valley of all.  You see, the husband had Parkinson's and exhibited many of the same symptoms that Tom did. As I have followed the news stories and read many really hurtful FB comments, I have wanted to react and not respond with the gracious comments made by other friends and family. No, I have experienced outrage at the ignorance and the insensitivity of people.  I have revisited the years with Tom and how the disease affected him and wondered about the things I should have done differently. 

As long as Tom lived, I was his advocate. It was especially true when it came to medication, the patient's lifeline.  The couple of times he was hospitalized and the month he spent in the nursing home a year before his death, it was especially true.  Personnel do not know the particulars of every illness of every patient; institutional pharmacies distribute medications at their convenience, not at the specific instructions of the prescribing physician.  After a month at the nursing home, I realized that Tom would not survive if he stayed there.  Advocacy is vital for PD patients.  So, who is my doctor friend's advocate? Is he receiving his meds and in the prescribed way? Thus far, only his attorney has been allowed to see him.

And, what about stress?  That was a biggie for Tom. Remembering the things that set him off, how he reacted when I was not with him or when he thought I was in distress of any kind, is painful.  I was concerned for his physical decline, the hallucinations, other symptoms, but was most concerned about what stress did to him.  He was used to being in charge, most often solving  "problems" and then announcing the solution which we should all accept.  My health contributed to much of his stress--couldn't be helped.  We are all grateful to God for my bonus years that allowed me to care for him.
If the doctor remembers anything, if he wonders why he is alone, how is that stress affecting him?  I can only imagine.

I am living proof of the advances in treating ovarian cancer.  People seem to know about cancer, even if misconceptions exist.  Awareness is present; money is raised for research; resources are abundant.
Not so with Parkinson's!  Trembling hands, poor balance, slumped shoulders, expressionless faces seem to characterize the disease. No one talks about the cognitive problems, the hallucinations, the paranoia.  Not every symptom affects every patient--part of the problem.  Embarrassment of family members, often disguised as protection, serves no purpose.  It's time to speak up! I have been reminded by this "too close to home" tragedy that awareness is key.  Who better to advocate, to raise awareness than family and friends who have been touched deeply by this terrible disease?

As usual, two little girls have cheered me.  One day Meredith came in and said, "Maw Maw, I'm sorry about your friend. But, remember she's in here," as she rested her hand on my heart.  Yesterday Elisa, little Miss Chatterbox, was going on about Easter etc.  She told me she believed in Santa Claus, but she wasn't so sure about the Easter bunny.  In a couple of minutes, she continued: "I know where the Easter bunny lives."  Naturally, I ask where. "China." I asked how she knows that. She replies: "Well, my Easter basket had a toy in it that said 'Made in China.'"  How's that for logic?

Though I have been overwhelmed by grief, rage, even depression, I am more overwhelmed by God's Presence, His patience when I let the circumstances be the focus. The indefinite regimen of treatments began again yesterday, another way that God reminds me that He is taking care of me at this time, in this place.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Almost three weeks . . .

have passed since my last post. Things have been busy and I have fought fatigue.  Usual pursuits continue:  reading, studying, cooking, knitting, resting and trying to get out of the house more.  The weather has been both gorgeous and stormy at times.  I don't do well with storms.  Lightening struck electrical wires leading into our house when I was four and I have hated thunder storms ever since.  Spring has emerged with a profusion of blossoms and a hefty amount of pollen has dusted all exposed surfaces.  The blossoms are to be enjoyed and the pollen endured.  Welcome, Spring!  It's time to get the garden started. 

Last Thursday was the end of scheduled chemo treatments that began the middle of May last year.  Monday we travel to Jackson for PET/CT scans, a visit with the doctor and to have a frank discussion about what comes next.  On the one hand, this has been a hard year, one I do not wish to repeat.  But, on the other hand, the confinement has afforded me much needed time to grow spiritually, to reflect on my life--past, present and future.  God has dealt sternly and gently with me.  He has increased my trust, assured me of His Presence and given me peace when all I really wanted was to have my own way.  I expect no surprises when I see the doctor next week.  Tests to this point have been good.  One would expect to be able to eliminate treatment, but I'm told that with my history of this disease that has been declared "incurable," if/when it returns, it will be harder to control.  I covet your prayers as the decision is made concerning the next step. 

On Good Friday my Bible reading took me to the account of Abraham, Sarah and the Covenant in Genesis.  As familiar as it is, this is a story that never ceases to stir my soul.  Beginning in chapter 17, it says:  When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God showed up and said to him, "I am The Strong God, live entirely before me, live to the hilt! I'll make a covenant between us and I'll give you a huge family."  Overwhelmed, Abram fell flat on his face. (The Message)

We know what has come earlier:  Abram had been promised an heir, but Sarai had not conceived.  Impatiently taking things into her own hands she gave her husband Hagar so that a son might come from that union.  Ishmael was born, but was not the promised heir.  Now, both Abram and Sarai are old, well beyond childbearing years, but God promises again, proclaiming Who He is, demanding obedience and trust.  Abram was overwhelmed, so much so he fell on his face. 

I had to stop, ask myself: "Am I overwhelmed by God?  Have I ever been?"  In the everyday experiences of life, do I live and depend on the promises of God?  Do I accept that He is "The Strong God?" Do I "live entirely before God?" Do I live "to the hilt?" Does God's promise to never leave me or forsake me overwhelm  me? 

It was Good Friday, another day acknowledged during Holy Week.  Again, there were questions.  This is the day we remember the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for us--for ME.  Does that not give one pause to think of God's overwhelming love? And then to realize, "It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming," only added to the sense of being overwhelmed.  I can only praise God for I am truly blessed. 

Overwhelmed is a word that has been much on my mind this week.  It describes how I feel about what God has done for me, what God is doing now and what God has planned for my future.

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, April 03, 2014

It must be Spring . . .

The crawfish are plentiful!  Sunday afternoon we hosted a crawfish boil for Tommy's Sunday School class (including their children), younger singles and the youth of the church.  A fine time was had by all! The official cook used a new recipe and it was proclaimed a winner.  Tables in the carport are piled high with crawfish, corn on the cob, potatoes and sausage and people stand around special tables to peel and eat.  The tables are actually big pieces of plywood that have been treated and varnished (so as to be easy to clean) and have holes cut in them.  The wood is set on large, lined trash receptacles that have been placed under the holes.  That makes it easy for people to peel, drop the shells in the holes and eat. The downside is there isn't much meat in one crawfish so you spend more time peeling than you do eating.  I like the social aspect, but prefer what Tommy concocts with the leftover meat. 

It has also warmed up just enough for us to pot new herbs and arrange all the plants outside my door.  Though our winter was colder than usual, we did have several things left from last summer.  I am impatient for tomatoes!  After a week of feeling wrung out, I rebounded and went with Liz to the nursery on Saturday.  It was great to be out and to wander around looking at bedding plants in the greenhouses. 

Tommy took Maggie, our Great Pyrenees, to be spayed this week.  She is ONE UNHAPPY DOG.  If only someone would invent something to replace those cones the vets use to prevent the dogs from gnawing at their stitches.  Hers looks like a big lampshade, bumps into everything and makes it really difficult to walk down the steps when she needs to go outside.  I am praying for a speedy recovery.

For a while now, I have been thinking of blogging about prayer--specifically the importance of praying for our children and grandchildren.  In the opening verses of II Timothy, Paul tells Timothy how he prays for him and gives thanks for him and his faith.  Next, Paul mentions Timothy's mother and grandmother and the  "rich faith they handed down to him."  We know that faith is personal, that one cannot rely on the faith of another.  We also know that our faith is shared by the way we live and by what we say.  Sharing our faith is an inheritance we leave family and friends.  As I read and meditated on these opening verses, I thought about my own two children and eight grandchildren and began to pray more specifically and diligently for them, thanking God that another grandmother also prays daily for them.  I found it relatively easy to be specific in my prayers for those who live just across the pool, but was not satisfied with how I was praying for those miles away.  I asked Marty to send me a schedule of activities and other basics about Mallory and the boys.  Now, I can be more specific about them and even though I can't see them as often as I'd like, I feel more involved in their lives.

My prayers include asking for guidance, wisdom in how I relate to them.  This week something special happened.  Meredith, the second grader, is very creative, sensitive, loves her friends, but is somewhat shy and unsure of herself.  She has mentioned from time to time a problem with one of her "BFFs" at school, but the problem has escalated and has made Meredith most unhappy.  Saturday afternoon when she was here by herself, I asked her what was going on with the friend and she told me.  Instead of giving her the usual, "that's the way things happen at your age, etc.," I told her that I prayed for her every morning and that I would begin on Monday to pray specifically for the other girl, how they got along and that she, Meredith, would know how to be a friend and do the right thing, regardless of how she was treated.  Furthermore, I would follow up to see how things went that day.  That was my promise to her.  Every day this week she has come straight over when she got home from school, asked me if I prayed and told me about her day.  Yesterday, she said, "Did you pray this morning?"  I said that I did and she said, "Well, praying works. Things are much better," and went on to tell me about her day.

I am thankful for lessons both of us learned, for prayers answered for Meredith and her problem and for answered prayer to how I can better relate to each of the grands.  We cannot give our faith to our children and grandchildren, but we can surely share it! 

Pastor Margaret

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Finally, I got to the computer . . .

. . . to write a word or two.  It has been an interesting and busy few days for someone who has limited exposure to the outside world.  Last Thursday was a treatment day and what a good day it was!  My counts were a bit down, but not so much that I couldn't be treated.  Since the treatment my body has let me know that they have continued their downward turn.  I have been foggy, listless, fatigued and good for nothing.  Okay, that's natural for me, but lately, more than usual.  In the infusion room, I met and visited with three new folks, something I always enjoy. One was a gentleman, about my age and a fellow Presbyterian.  Another was the husband of a lady being treated for a "second time around" cancer and he was noticeably nervous and anxious for her.  The third was a beautiful young woman, thirty-three years old, married with two children, being treated for breast cancer.  It was encouraging to witness her attitude, her trust and her determination.  I also took a prayer shawl to leave for a man I met about a month ago and a fuzzy chemo hat for another friend I have made there.  Making friends, sharing stories, being able to tell of God's goodness make trips to the cancer center good days.

The last few days the  devotionals in Jesus Calling have emphasized trust more than usual--or maybe it just seems that way since trust needs underscoring in my life.  Getting close to the end of this year long regiment of chemo, I tend to get anxious, look ahead and plan what I can do next.  I know I drive my son crazy, complaining about being confined,  not being able to drive, go where I want to go.  This morning the devotional reminded the reader to be thankful, not complain.  Let God be in control of our circumstances. 

I really do complain a lot!  Instead of thanking God for gifts of sunshine and rain, plants and flowers, I complain about the weather that's not to my liking.  Instead of thanking God for the care my son provides, willingly, for me, I complain when I think he's overprotective.  Instead of thanking God for the wonderful life He has given me, I complain, complain, complain.  What I'm really doing is denying the Presence and the Peace of God.  I am putting my trust in myself, when I know full well that Peace only comes with His Presence!  Excuses are not acceptable, but I will say that the fatigue, the foggy brain, the listlessness all contribute to the complaints.  We must be alert, aware of God's faithfulness, God's unchanging love, care, healing; God's Presence. 

Give God the glory in all things!
Pastor Margaret

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A big  clap of thunder . . .

awoke me this morning about 4 a.m. We had had a steady rain most of the night, then came the thunder storms rolling through the area.  What started out to be nasty weather changed to a fairly nice day.  To say we are all ready for Spring is definitely an understatement!  Though it's not officially Spring until later in the week, the schools around here had Spring Break this past week.  Liz and the children got to spend a couple of days with her parents, Sarah went to Destin with a friend for a few days and we got some pruning and clean up done around the property.  I watched lots of SEC basketball and now look forward to the NCAA Tournament. 

Thursday also brought a checkup with the doctor and the start of the next to the last cycle of treatment in this regimen.  I seem to be tolerating things better and the tumor count is holding steady.  Our hope and prayer is that soon I will be able to take less medicine. 

I still have issues with technology.  One day this past week I spent a long time carefully putting my thoughts into words, only to hit publish and lose the blog.  I have no idea what happened.  I have been rereading Paul and the Self, a text required for a course in the Pauline Epistles in seminary.  The second time around is better than the first.  At times I feel as if I am staring at myself in the mirror, especially as I read about the sin of pride and I do not like what I see.  How many people have been hurt by my selfishness, my determination to be right, my opinions?  I wish I could go back, beg forgiveness, undo the things I've done, the words I've said that hurt--all those words and deeds that have not brought glory to God.  Thankfully, God is a God of forgiveness and second chances.  God never gives up on us.  Some give things up during Lent.  What better to give up than pride! What better focus can we have than to acknowledge the life, the freedom we have as believers in Christ! 

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The day dawned . . .

. . . sunny and warm after beginning the previous two days to temps in the upper twenties.  With days like today and the presence of budding tulip trees and pretty yellow daffodils, it's hard not to try to hurry Spring.  Understand, I'm not complaining.  Too many people across the country are suffering with the bizarre weather we've had this winter.  Liz and I have tried to get herbs, but the nurseries are just now getting them planted themselves.  Our parsley, rosemary, oregano, mint and chives all survived being moved about, covered, etc. and are "happy" to be back outside enjoying the sun.  We have new baby chicks here, as does Marty in North Carolina.  I still chuckle to myself when I think of both my city grown children enjoying an aspect of country life.  Of course, having fresh eggs is nothing to chuckle about! 

I'm on a hiatus from chemo until March 13 when I see the doctor and begin the next to the last cycle of this regimen.  It's good to have energy!  Today, with the hint of Spring, I had to remind myself to not do too much.  I, who hate cleaning, even enjoyed the small amount of Spring cleaning I did. 

About two weeks ago I started reading the last two books of the Bible to complete this "read through:" I and II Chronicles.  They are the last two because of the system I've been using this time, but I also have to say that I have been only too happy to read them last, even though one of my favorite passages is in I Chronicles 29 where David addresses God.  Otherwise,  I find lists of names and numbers tedious to read, but know they have a place.  I remember the words of a favorite Old Testament professor reminding us often that there is theology in every passage and I reminded myself as I began Chronicles of his words.  That, coupled with Solomon's prayer asking for a "God listening heart," has made Chronicles come alive this time through and I am aware of how God is speaking to me at this time in my life.  If I live to be a hundred, I will continue to be amazed at the way God uses His Word in our lives. 

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, February 22, 2014

They had no idea . . .

It has been a week of unexpected blessings; things that brought smiles and warm feelings; things that remind me that I am loved.  Because February is a month of remembering, it could easily become sad, full of tears and loneliness, but it's anything but.  One morning, as Tommy was taking me to the doctor, we had the usual talk show on the radio.  The hosts were going on and on about Valentine's Day, ways to celebrate, etc. when an older woman called into the show and complained.  She told them that they should be more sensitive to the listeners who were alone and would have no one sending them cards or candy,  It seems she had been widowed for seven years and all she could think about were the "alone" years.  At first, the hosts tried to determine if the woman had children or grandchildren and when that got them nowhere, they asked about other friends who were also widows. She ignored suggestion after suggestion, insisting on talking about how insensitive they were and how lonely she was.  Finally, they got her off the phone.  I wanted to reach into the radio, give her a good shake and share some advice a wise woman gave me when Tom died.  She said, "Life is full of choices.  When my husband died, I thought, 'I can either choose to be controlled by my sadness and loneliness or I can choose to remember good times and the joy we shared.  I chose joy and I've never been sorry.'" Those words needed to be heard by the woman on the radio, though I suspect they would have been wasted.  They took with me. 

Sunday I attended worship with my Westminster family for the first time since last April.  Though I avoided the crowd, sat in the balcony and slipped out as the service was ending, it was so good to actually be present in worship, surrounded by family.

Tuesday would have been our 47th wedding anniversary and I relived that day over and over as I sat here knitting.  Late in the afternoon, Meredith and Elisa burst into the house, telling me they had a surprise.  Each had hidden behind their backs a yellow daffodil.  I didn't even know we had any, but they had seen them and brought them to me.  They weren't as large as the King Alfred ones that were in my wedding bouquet, but they were a happy reminder.  The girls had no idea; an unexpected blessing. 

In the midst of an extraordinarily busy day, there came an unexpected e-mail from Marty, saying that she had been thinking about me all day.  She remembered.  A friend from Jackson called just to say hello.  She had no idea; I didn't tell her, but talking to her that particular day reminded me of all the good times we had shared as couples. 

February has one more big event for our family and the daily "remembering" will be tucked away until next year.  Marty celebrates a birthday Monday.  She is such a blessing to me!  I will have a good day remembering and celebrating her!! 

Tom always talked about the glass being "half full," never "half empty."  He was right.  It was his way of saying to be thankful for all that we do have, instead of complaining about what we do not have.  Especially, this February I chose joy, not sadness and I have been richly blessed. 

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sunshine was a welcome sight . . .

. . . after days of rain and cold temperatures.  Then I think of all those suffering with blizzard conditions, no power, flooding and those who need rain so desperately.  We are never satisfied with what we have.  I need to remember to be thankful for what I have instead of complaining.  The weather people say we are having a warming trend this week which could, of course, mean severe weather warnings.  See?  There's a hint of complaint in that statement. 

Thursday was a doctor day and the start of another treatment cycle.  Everything went well, though the day was extremely long.  The infusion room was so crowded that I had to wait several minutes to even get an empty chair.  When I did, I was seated between two first timers, both of whom were being treated for breast cancer.  I am usually not very chatty, staying busy with my knitting or a book, but these women wanted to talk, ask questions.  It was good to listen to their stories, share my journey and speak of our faithful God.  Please pray that I will be faithful to give God the glory for what He has done.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, February 08, 2014

End of Life Decisions . . .

. . . should never be put off, no matter what your age or circumstances. Our affairs had been in order, but an update has been needed.  Tom and I depended on each other to carry out the details, but when you are alone, all the details may not be known.  Thus, these end of life decisions have been weighing heavily on my mind lately.  At my age and with my health issues, I have known I needed to get my affairs in order, sooner, rather than later.  My "first thing in the morning" routine on Thursday was used in a mighty way to assure, remind and provide new insight.

Thursday was the second anniversary of Susan's passing.  She was Marty's oldest and dearest friend; wife, mother, daughter, sister, a nuclear physicist who worked for NASA. A couple of months after the birth of their second child, inflammatory breast cancer, a cancer that is aggressive and deadly, was discovered.  As a tribute to Susan on that anniversary, some friends posted a recording of "His Eye is on the Sparrow," arranged and sung by Marty at Susan's memorial service.  It was the first thing I saw and heard on Facebook that day.  "Why should I be discouraged? . . . Why should my heart be lonely, when Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is He? . . . I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free. His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me."  That was Susan's conviction, the way she lived the few short years after diagnosis.  Almighty God who created the heavens and the earth, who is sovereign over all His creation, cares for the most insignificant sparrow and I KNOW He cares for me.  Wonderful assurance!

The reminder came in the first chapter of II Timothy. Paul is writing to his friend and co-worker, Timothy.  It's obvious from the beginning verses that Paul cares deeply for Timothy, he is grateful for him and gently, but firmly, instructs him on ministry matters.  Paul is grateful for Timothy's rich faith that was "handed down to him by his grandmother and mother, Eunice."  They were used by God to instruct Timothy by their nurture, their teaching of God's word and by their very lives to instill in him a deep and rich faith.  I have been concerned that Tom's wishes to help with our grandchildren's education be carried out to the letter.  That has been uppermost in my mind as I update my will.  Do what Tom wanted; make some provision for the grandchildren!  A few simple words in II Timothy reminded me that even more important than a few dollars for education is that I am faithful to God's word in my words and actions.  To help guide the children in their faith is the best I can do.  As someone posted on FB this morning, I need to be the person I want my children/grandchildren to be.

I often think about life and death, not just my own, but that of others, as well.  Why do some live extraordinarily long lives and others don't?  Why is one life sustained, another cut short?  Why did such a exceptional person like Susan die so young? Why was Tom stricken with Parkinson's? Why have I been given bonus years?  Most of us have questions. Have you ever said: "I have read that passage many times, but not until now did I notice __________?" ( You fill in the blank.)  That happened Thursday.  R.C. Sproul has written outlines for the books of the Bible for the New Geneva Study Bible that are concise and a good accompaniment to daily reading.  Dr. Sproul, in writing on the characteristics of and the themes in II Timothy, says that Paul's situation is bleak. He is in prison, he has been abandoned by friends and he could no longer  "look forward to fruitful ministry." Yet, Paul remained faithful and confident.  He knew that the One who had provided for him, rescuing him FROM death, would also rescue him THROUGH death.  Susan and Tom had been rescued, just as I will be . . . and you and you and you.  Susan had suffered a lot of physical pain; Tom suffered the loss of physical and cognitive function; health crises have been a part of my life.  Our decisions to LIVE by God's grace is something the three of us held in common. We knew God was rescuing us FROM death and that in His time, He would rescue us from pain and loss THROUGH death.  New insight from II Timothy. 

Susan's family and friends miss her no less and will always remember the anniversary of her rescue; Tom' family and friends miss him no less and will always remember the anniversary (2-7-11) of  his rescue; my family and friends continue to pray for my rescue from death.  Being rescued through death is yet to come.  Til then, I will remember and praise God for His eye being on me and I will ask God to show me how to share the best gift of all, belief in Him.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, February 01, 2014

What a week . . .

Very early morning on Monday we were on the road to Jackson for a 7:30 appointment.  It was a little foggy, misting rain, we missed a turn which delayed us, made us encounter bad traffic right outside Jackson, thus making me an hour late getting started. I always dread the process, knowing that it never runs smoothly.  But, seeing the doctor, hearing his evaluation is usually worth the wait and the frustration.  Monday was no exception. He reported that the scans (PET/CAT) showed no evidence of disease.  He was also quick to say that seeing nothing does not mean there is no disease present, but that it has definitely responded to treatment.  We discussed the immediate future and I agreed to continue treatment, as is, for three more months.  Scans are scheduled for the end of April, he will re-evaluate, and determine further treatment.  Great news! I am so grateful!!!

By the time we were on the road again, the temperature was dropping and the winter storm which had been forecast to begin Tuesday midday was changed to begin about six in the morning.  We were a little concerned for our friends, Marge and Ken from Tennessee, who we were expecting to arrive Tuesday afternoon.  They were coming to see us on their way home from Florida, traveling in their motor home.  They called before we got home, inquiring about the forecast and we encouraged them to come on Monday night, which they did.  Good thing.  We awoke Tuesday morning to sleet and snow with a coat of ice forming on the roads.  I've seen worse in the South, but not this far south.  The snow was minimal and crunchy, not soft, but the children made the most of it and had great fun sliding down a hill on cardboard boxes.  Marge and I watched from inside, visited and knit, Ken entertained children in the motor home, did things on my "to do" list and helped Tommy with various projects.  It was both a terrible time and a wonderful time for them to be here.

Today begins the month that is characterized by special "beginning" events and the saddest one of all:  Tom and I married in February, Marty was born and he ended his earthly journey this month, three years ago.  The memories are sweet; they make me smile; they make me cry.  Most of all, they make me thankful that God brought us together, gave us two wonderful children and many years together.  They give me joy.

It seems appropriate that I read the book of Philippians this morning, a book that can be described as a book of joy.  Reading it makes me smile from the inside out.  Paul rejoices in the friendship of the Philippian church members.  I rejoice in friends who know me well, but love me all the same; friends who "stick closer than a brother." Paul tells of Jesus who became a man, who set aside his divinity, took on the burden of our sins so that we could become sons and daughters of God.  Knowing that makes my heart sing!  Many verses in Philippians are in my memory bank, but these two are sources of joy:  Phil. 3:10 and 4:13.  I had not thought of connecting them until this morning.  The King James says in 3:10 something  like ". . .. that I may know him and the power of his resurrection" and 4:13 is that familiar "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  I was first introduced to 3:10 at a Westminster Fellowship retreat years ago in college.  Think about getting to know Christ, a resurrected Christ and the awesome, incredible power it took to raise him.  That same power that God used to raise Christ is the power Christ uses to strengthen us.  When you personalize those verses, the joy they bring is overwhelming.  I can really know Christ.  I can know the power of his resurrection.  My strength comes from that resurrection power!  Paul's joy did not come from his circumstances, nor does ours.  It comes from a vital relationship with God, through His Son. 

Honestly, I'm not too happy with some of my circumstances.  I hate this cancer and I surely hate life on earth without Tom.  Still there is joy because of the presence of God; there is joy in getting to know Christ more and more; there is joy that results from trusting in God's amazing power and joy, knowing I am strengthened by that same power. 

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Back in the saddle again . . .

are the words that came to mind as I prepared to regroup, remount and continue writing about my journey.  I have been reminded by three readers that I hadn't posted since November 11, raising questions about my health and what is happening.  Today's post  brings family updates, a plan to continue writing, a health report and an honest assessment of how I see things. 

We have celebrated three major holidays since I last wrote:  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's.  Thanksgiving brought Elizabeth's mom and dad, her two brothers and their families, a favorite aunt, her husband, their four grown children and families, our friend John and his son.  That made forty folks, 19 of them children.  It was a lively day.  Fortunately, the weather was warm and sunny so the children played outside, visited the chickens and several people opted to eat outside in the sunshine.  It was a good day.  Christmas was a different story.  Liz's dad was a bit under the weather, so didn't come and I got some bug that kept me in bed for several days.  It took a while for me to get back on my feet. 

The children are growing up too fast.  It's so gratifying to watch them develop, both physically and mentally.  This weekend birthdays are being celebrated for Marty's two boys.  Colin was four yesterday and Christopher will be six tomorrow.  Yesterday morning I was about to call Colin to wish him happy birthday when my phone rang and there he was calling me. It seems that overnight he went from one word answers to questions I asked to carrying the conversation himself.  Both boys are in karate and doing well; Colin got his green belt last night.  Mallory is a senior in high school, going through that exciting, but stressful time of deciding where she'll go to college in the fall.  Jacob stays really busy with band and other school activities.  He attended an honor band clinic last weekend and both he and Sarah will participate in a district clinic next weekend.  Drew, a sixth grader, has begun band and is a percussionist.  I envy his natural sense of rhythm. The little girls come over almost every day to visit and play after school. They are wonderful company and entertainment.  Elisa, who had just had her cast removed when I last posted, broke the same arm again three weeks later, but is now out of the second cast and in a brace. 

I have completed the ninth out of the projected twelve cycles of chemotherapy. The original plan was three treatments in a cycle, but only once has my blood count allowed those three treatments.  In November, the doctor just quit scheduling three, meaning I go two weeks in a row, rest two weeks then start again.  When I was sick at Christmas, I got an extra two weeks off and now am scheduled for scans on January 27 in Jackson. 

The whole process has been frustrating and not at all the way I thought it would be.  I expected fatigue and the usual side effects, but I did not expect to be confined because of "noodle legs," lack of mental and physical energy and a compromised immune system.  In all the times I've had to be on chemo in the past, I determined that I would not let it get me down and that I would be in charge.  Chemo would not define my life!  Well, this time it has been different.  It has gotten me down and it has pretty well defined how I am living my life.  I have had a difficult time accepting the way things are and responding honestly instead of in a way I think others expect of me. 

During all this time, God remains faithful, compassionate and so understanding. My morning quiet times have enriched in ways I cannot begin to tell you.  I have been given a new awareness of God's Presence, a renewed trust in God's promises and real Peace about today and tomorrow.  God creates each one of us uniquely, with a specific purpose, a definite way to bring glory to Him.  Just because  life is not how it was or how we expect it to be, does not mean we can ignore our purpose or our "chief end," to glorify God. 

In the future, I will be intentional in weekly posts, keeping you updated so you can pray specifically and sharing some of the things God lays on my heart.  Thank you for your patience and your love.

Pastor Margaret