Stiff-Necked and Rebellious

Sometimes I try to fool myself to think that I, with all that theological education and service, have outlived my ability to sin. Ha!Ha! Ha! I’d like to believe it, but I can’t ’cause it just ain’t true. Even at my ripe old age, I am still a broken old sinner.

To my shame, everyday reminds me of my sinfulness. I have gotten much, much better and more kind in my speech than I was back after the 2016 election. I was angry. My wife cried for two days. I was sure the world was going to hell in a hand basket. I responded to posts with a lack of grace that was just not like me. It was if something had taken over my mind, heart and speech. I said many things I should never have said, and I lost some good friends. My whole family is on the other side of the issue and we finally had to agree not to talk about it.

And so I pray for forgiveness when I am a stiff-necked rebellious old sinner, more passionate about how life used to be than about who Jesus is right now. There are still days when I am cranky and complain about insignificant things.

Lord, forgive me, your elderly child. Hear my earnest prayer of confession. Cover me in your grace, and help me daily to live in that grace as I continue to grow up and walk in your likeness. Amen.

Miracle of Medicines

Plastic brown and white cylinders fill my “Pill” bag. Prescription medications with hard-to-pronounce names and untold side effects. They provide (hopefully) a better quality of life; at least that is what some of the commercials say… if you can get past all the stuff they can cause.

Take twice a day. Once in the morning. Four times a day. Every eight hours. Every twelve hours. Take only one-half a pill on Mondays. Take thirty-minutes before the other meds each Monday. Take with food. Take on empty stomach. It is a good thing I have all this stuff written down.

One is for blood pressure. To keep heart rate slow. To keep my heart in rhythm. Rid me of fluid retention. Gout. Keep potassium at the proper level. Anxiety. (Boy, I need that one). Cholesterol. A couple to help my heart pump better. After a while it seems to all run together. I take ten in the morning, two at four pm., two at six pm., two at nine pm., and only five at bedtime.

It seems strange that my world revolves around pills and capsules. Some I must take to stay alive. When I was young and we were packing for vacation, the first thing in the car was my golf clubs. Now the first thing is my “Pill” bag.

I have found that more than the greatest miracles of modern medicine is the miracle of God’s love. God has placed immeasurable value on my life – not because I deserve it but because of who God is. It is good for me to know and affirm that the Great Physician’s will for my life is wellness and restoration. It sure does help me for God to give me a daily heavy dose of humor to ease the anxiety and pain.

And so, I pray: Lord, supply me with the balm of encouragement that overcomes fatigue. Help me to respond to you and others in prayer and praise. Above all, help me to keep my eyes on You, the Healer of broken lives and timeworn bodies. Amen.

Everyday Ordinary Days

There is a slow, steady rhythm to everyday ordinary days. Uneventful kind of days that follow a simple routine of meals, medications, and favorite television shows seem very welcomed at my age. I remember Arlene Smith who would tell me: “Now Preacher, don’t plan any meetings while Wheel of Fortune is on ’cause I won’t be there til it goes off.” And she was true to her word.

It is during this time that empty squares march across the calendar. One day seems to feel just like the next. The truth is I like those days which are uninterrupted by crisis or sudden change. Flashing lights of an ambulance outside my front door usually doesn’t bring happy news. I am thankful for the repetition of the ordinary. I am happy that my computer tells me the date, time, and day of the week. It is where we go to to see what is happening in this ordinary day. Is it ordinary or will it be different?

Seems like it is easy to get lost in the monotony of the day, especially when we feel drained of energy and not all that interested in much of anything. I think one of the reasons I have started writing again is to save me from the emptiness that comes with too much time to think and too little to do. It has become fertile soil for negative thoughts to grow.

And so I pray: Lord, help me rediscover the abundant blessings in my life. I look through the pictures we have taken and give thanks for the stories of my life. I will pray for my loved ones, calling each by name. Remind me of Mrs. Gamble who had pictures on her bulletin board at the kitchen desk of all those she prayed for each day. My family’s picture was up there and I knew she was praying everyday. Lord, show me the extraordinary joy in ordinary days and help me be more like her. Amen.

Community Around the Table

Back in the day when I was still serving as the pastor of a church, I remember the privilege I had to share a meal with a very sweet lady, Lois Inzetta, in the Friend’s Home dinning room. I sat at a table with some of her new friends. As we ate and talked she relayed to me the story of how it was at the home and what she had observed.

Above the muffled conversation, there is a gentle clattering of rolling carts and ice in glasses. It is lunchtime, and she says she is grateful for this time of fellowship and food.

Once strangers, now friends, we sit around the table, bringing different tastes acquired over decades of life experiences. Too much pepper. Not enough. Too sweet. Too sour. Just right.

Around the table, we are community, where relationships are more important than food. It is here that we exchange bragging rights about our grandchildren, their new job or a nephew’s latest award. Here we share laughter and stories, aches and pains.

Some of us wear these oversized bibs around our necks, a practical solution to spills and such. We are Methodist, Baptist, Quakers, Catholics and evangelicals, and some have rarely darkened the doors of a church. But around the table, no one is impressed by denominational platitudes. We are simply sojourners together through this life. The table is a place of connectedness where someone notices and cares if you are not there.

I pray, O God, you have made us a people who crave relationship. You have made us hungry for love and respect, no matter our age. And you have given us a holy appetite for you. Fill us up Lord, fill us up. Amen.

A Good Night’s Sleep

It’s been a long, long day… a very long day of seeing two doctors, a blood test, and an iron infusion. I feel very much in need of that iron right now… all used up and all wrung out. Some use to say: “I feel like a horse that was rode hard and put up wet.” Or I’m just like a limp old, wet dish cloth.

Night time is here, and by that I have come to mean (at my age) the sun is going down. I struggle to get my covers together. Even changing into my night sweats has become an ordeal. I head for my recliner (which since the 1980’s has become by bed that keeps my head lifted so I can breath better) with my blankie and fall into my chair.

I intend to watch a little television but it better be REALLY interesting or I don’t make it through. On nights like this I want to shake my fist and cry out to God, “Why is growing old so hard?” The sun is barely down, Wheel has just gone off, and I long for a night of good rest. Some night that is very difficult with my three trips to the bathroom during the night.

I pray, Lord, wrap me in your calming presence. Refresh this old body and mind with hours of uninterrupted sleep. As my eyes close tonight, let my mind and soul rest in you. Come, sweet, sweet sleep. Amen.

My Little Pity Party

Ever thrown yourself a pity party… complete with cake, balloons, tears and sorrows… the whole fancy catered pity party? We all might find ourselves in that situation from time to time.

Sometimes we just have to tear up the invitation ’cause the party has been canceled. No pity party today we say, even though we are hurting from head to toe… even though we look like the Pillsbury Doughboy and walk like Tim Conway’s “Little Old Man.” We had the party set for today and it was going to be a big splash, only to come to the realization that is not going to happen today. I am going to push through my desire (conscious or unconscious) for people to know just how bad I feel.

I look at the news and find people in much worse conditions than me. I see people in the hallways at the hospitals and doctor’s offices who make my condition seem like a walk in the park. If I am honest with myself I have to scrap the plans for the old party and celebrate who I am and where I am and what I am going through. Easier said than done, but it is needed.

I pray that God will keep me from chronically feeling sorry for myself. I don’t want to be a drain on another’s deep well of compassion. Help me to accept my afflictions, knowing a better day is coming. Turn my self-pity into small acts of service for a neighbor. Let my hug be someone’s comfort, my gentle words lift another’s spirit. Help me to count my endless blessings, one by one, until pity melts into gratitude. In all that I do, use my life to give others a glimpse into (as a dear friend use to say) the heavenly country. This, I know, is my purpose each and every day. Amen

You’ve Got Mail

Each day I love to hear when the “Bill” man goes up the street ’cause that means he will be coming back down on our side bringing us news for today. We have nicknamed him “Bill” because that is mostly what he brings to our house. We tried naming him “Check” man but that just didn’t work. No matter how hard we wished it to be so, it never was.

Then we hear it, the little truck pulls up next door and he walks to our box and we hear the slamming of that door. It is music to our ears: “You’ve Got Mail.” Wonder what we will have today… bills (of course) letters from friends, cards, slick ads for stuff we don’t need or can’t afford. We mostly get mail for our border “occupant.” He gets more mail that we do.

I can almost always count on the “Angel Gang” from Pleasant Garden UMC sending me those special home-made thinking of you – praying for you cards. They have been doing that for years and it makes me all warm inside as I remember those ladies gathering each week to make sure the sick are cared for in a special way. I hope they know how much they mean to all of us who don’t get out much anymore. They are a constant blessing.

I am a little disappointed when the box is empty. But I shouldn’t be. Those folks who care still care even if there is no word today. I am reminded that scripture written for me to read… love letters, if you will… words of wisdom, encouragement and hope are always there for me to just pick up and jump in. So if there is only junk mail from “Bill” in the box today, I know God is sending me words every single day.

My prayer is that I want to live my life as more than an occupant. I want to live so that others might see Christ in me. When my life seems insignificant, remind me that I still have value. Today I will send a card or email or make that phone call to a neighbor who is going through some ruff times… something to just say Hey, I am thinking about you today and it is really postmarked God’s Blessings. Amen

Give God Your Best Wow

My wife, Shirley, has brand-new clothes she seems to be saving for a special day. Some she has been saving for quite a while. Clothes still sealed in the plastic wrap. Dresses with the price tags hanging from the sleeves. Some were gifts; others were bargains she just couldn’t pass up. All of them are waiting for a special-enough kind of day.

I must admit she brings me home shirts, shorts, pants and bargains. I wear them when I go out and I appreciate her doing that. But, you know, I have some old stuff I just love to wear. She calls them rags; I call them clothes with character. One is an old Duke sweatshirt that has holes in it and is frayed around the collar and cuffs. It is so worn you can almost see through it. But it is sooooo comfortable and reminds me of my Duke days.

I saw a cartoon on Facebook the other day which asks: One guy asks his friend: Why don’t you get as excited at church as you do here at the football game? The other guy answers: I did once and they asked me not to come back. Why did they do that? I guess they didn’t appreciate me dumping Gatorade on the preacher after the sermon?

I wonder why we hold back? Could it be how we were raised… our religious tradition? I think that may have something to do with it. I do believe that you can worship in quiet dignity as well as hand-clapping, dancing in the aisles worship. But the important thing is that however we praise God… don’t forget to do it without holding back. Give God all you’ve got.

I am reminded of the six-year-old autistic boy attending the symphony for the first time. He had never spoken a word. When the final downbeat ended the concert – in the respectful quietness of the hall we heard that little boy say “WOW!”

O God, help us to experience the wow moments of life where we speak our first words because you have touched our souls. Amen.

The Wonderful Joy of Grandchildren

I must admit – I am proud to boast that we have the greatest grandkids in the world. We were so very fortunate to be able to keep them when they were infants til they started middle school. Even then we would wait in the car line to pick them up every day. They have been a wonderful joy in our lives – bright and shinning stars.

Not so long ago Noah would sing with his mechanical leopard “Wild Thing, You Make My Heart Sing.” Little Abby would put on her cowboy hat and I am sure she thought she was Taylor Swift. They would arrive early in the morning and didn’t have to leave until after five each day. We got hugs and giggles and even a spaghetti bowl on the head of one. They were smart, inquisitive, creative loving brother and sister. They brought us unbelievable joy – and still do.

I once held them by the hand to guide them safely through the day. Now they steady me as I sometimes stumble (a little) next to them. It is so humbling to accept help, especially from these two who always waited for me to come home at lunch and fall in love all over again as I got in the floor with them and played whatever they had in mind.

God, where are you when the generational tables turn, when the young look after the old? If they get in the floor with me now it is because I have fallen and can’t get up. Is it your plan, O God, that we learn to serve each other and accept being served? Give me the grace to surrender my pride, to delight in my grandchildren’s compassion. In this curious season where old and young intersect, may we look in each other’s eyes and see the eyes of Christ peering back. Amen.

Worry, Worry, Worry

Every now and then, I think in my weak moments, I become a worrywart. Ever been there? Isn’t it a fun place to be? I worry about the flu shot – did they really give me the old people’s shot – the stronger one? Why did the waiter bring me sweet tea when I ordered unsweet. Whoever thought that extra lemon for that unsweet tea equals one more slice? Can I really be mistaken for the Pillsbury Doughboy?

Which is going to give out first: Heart, kidneys, liver? Here is the good one: With a defibrillator and a pacemaker implant, if my heart stops will I seem like a freshly caught fish on the dock… jumping up repeatedly? I think that would be funny if it were not happening to me.

Will my retention of fluid and my kidney function numbers remain at the right ratio or will we continue to play this game of more fluid, more medication every few weeks? And then cut back on the meds because the ratio is out of wack?

Sometimes I just worry too much… and I know better. Why is it so hard to turn all this “Stuff” over to God? I’ve studied scripture and I know we are to cast all our cares on God. I give them and then I take them back as if God can’t be trusted to do the right thing.

And so I pray: O God, show me how to release each worry heavenward. In the big problems of the world and in the small details of my life, you are there. You, who spun the galaxies into space, hold my worry filled heart and give me peace. Amen.

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