Aging Parents and Lent

•March 10, 2019 • 5 Comments


During this holy season of Lent, I am with my folks as they are in separate hospital rooms.

My folks have been married since 1981.  They have had a lot of fun over the years, as they have danced together, traveled together, and grown old together.

My stepmom is now 90.  She has been my mom longer than my mom was able to be my mom.  She has congestive heart failure, and has been in the hospital repeatedly over the past year.  The routine is the same.  She has difficulty breathing, goes to the hospital.  Takes lots of fluid medicine.  Gets better.  Goes home.  A few weeks later, she is back in.  She’s kind of tired of living, especially since she has always been a person who works hard, enjoys life, and has fun when she can.  Now that she can’t do those things, it is frustrating for her.  

And Dad.  Dad is now 95.  He also has congestive heart failure.  In addition, he has what appears to be a slow acting form of leukemia, along with anemia, possible prostate cancer.  And for the past few days he has had a catheter along with him as his friend.  It does not slow him down.  Having been an independent spirit all his life, he continues that spirit even when the hospital would like for him to conform to their rules, especially with respect to his safety.  

He has always been this way.  Living life on the edge of safety.  Putting up high scaffolds to stand on so that we can work on guttering.  And then when I dismantle it, I find that we have been standing on a wooden structure that is secured to the front porch railing with two large zip ties.  

In the hospital, he, along with many others, has an alarm on the bed that will alert the staff if a patient gets up in an unauthorized fashion.  Our dad pushes the limits of this unauthorizedness.  We had left for just a bit.  Bed alarm was set.  Rails were up on the sides.  When we came back, Dad was in a different room.  Close to the nurses’ station.  Apparently he needed to use the restroom.  So he was almost over the rails when the nurses got there, responding to the bed alarm.  Therefore the room change.  

My spouse says that our Dad is probably not going to die like any other 95 year old man.  I think she is right.  When you are a rule breaker, live life on the edge, and have little use for what you might consider to be useless regulations, then you are going to live life on your own terms!  And he does.  

Life has become more difficult for them over the past several years.  Between the diseases of the body and the mind, along with the accompanying pain and worry, their words have become less filtered, their actions less restrained.  They have both lived much longer than they ever anticipated.  They are both ready to go home, but their bodies have not let them go yet. And their minds are still wrestling with the concept that if they let this life go, what would happen to the other person.  It is a hard place they are in.  And it is hard as their family to see them in this place.  There will be a time when either the decision is made for them as their bodies surrender, or they make the intentional decision to receive only care that makes them comfortable until their bodies rest in a peaceful place.    

I don’t  write all this to have someone feel sorry for my folks nor for us as their family.  Even in just this one hospital where I write, there are perhaps a hundred patients and families who are in this same place in life.  I write this because today I am spending a little time in gratitude for my folks.  I know there will come a day, likely much sooner than I expect, when they will not be with us.  

During this season of Lent, as the Christian faith considers all kinds of reflections about the nature of life, of death, and of living life more fully, I note for myself and whoever else might listen, the appreciation of having family who push life to the limits.  And, in doing so, they bless and strengthen so many more lives.  Thanks be to God!



Markers on the Journey

•January 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Maybe I have been driving too much lately.  I feel like I have memorized the scenery from Wellston to Luther.  And from Luther to Wellston.  As well as from Wellston to Oklahoma City.  I can tell you how many miles it is from our house to almost every hospital in Oklahoma City.  I can tell you how many miles it is from our house to each of our grandkids’ homes.  I can tell you how many miles it is to each of our children’s homes, as well as how many miles it is to my Dad’s house in Arkansas.  I know how many miles it is from my dad’s house to the VA Hospital in North Little Rock as well as to the VA Hospital in Little Rock.  I know how far it is from the hospitals to Dad’s favorite eating place in Little Rock.

In a lot of ways I am glad these are predictable.  I know where I am by the scenery and by the mile markers.  I like predictable.  But things change.

We are in the season of Epiphany, a season which marks journeys.  The magi as they come to see Jesus, Jesus as he comes to be baptized by John, the disciples as they are called by Jesus to follow him to a new life.

My dad is now 94 years old.  I am 65.  Jeni and I have been married for 10 years.  Each day I am reminded that my body is showing both the miles and years I have put on it. And my retirement is just a few months away.

I know there will be some changes in the days and months to come.  That is the nature of journey, whether it is physical, spiritual, emotional, or other.  I’m letting go of the things that are less important to me.  While most of those are just objects, stuff which was important at one point, and now has the opportunity to be important to someone else, I am also learning to let go of the ministries I have enjoyed for so long and in so many places.  It’s both a good thing and a difficult one as well.

For so long, almost 46 years now, I have worked in the church in some way or another. My folks in my churches have listened to countless sermons, waded through Bible studies and committee meetings with me, and loved me.  I could not ask for more.

So what now?  We are beginning to collect boxes, go through all the stuff in the house.  Deciding what needs to move with us and what needs to find a new home.  Because life is more than stuff.  Life is the richness of relationships formed over the years.  Life is the joy of lying down on the floor with your granddaughter (even if she has to help you up.) Life is spending time with your spouse. Life is teaching your grandsons how to drive with a manual transmission.  Life is helping grandsons change the oil and put new brakes on their pickup.  Life is shopping with granddaughters.

These are the markers on my life’s journey.  I might not know exactly where I am, but I am enjoying it anyway!  2000px-Mile_Marker_1.svg

Thanks to the People called “Methodist”

•March 23, 2017 • 1 Comment

Today at one of my churches, the Wellston United Methodist Church, we said goodbye to one of our own.  She had been President of our United Methodist Women for more than 25 years, and occupied the same space in the pew of our sanctuary for as long as most folks could remember.

We loved her.  She was kind of a crusty saint, but she was one of ours.  So, early this morning, or perhaps even late last night, in kitchens all over this area, Methodists fixed food for the family to eat.  And this morning they brought it to the church – meat loaf, chicken, deviled eggs, potato salad, along with an infinite variety of dessert – cakes, pies, puddings.

This morning the Methodists were there early.  Because the service was at 10:00 a.m. with the meal for the family around 11 or so after they came back from the cemetery.

The funeral was lovely, and the meal even lovelier.  Because there is something that happens at a meal after a funeral.  Everyone gets a chance to catch up with one another, retell the family stories, and marvel at how old everyone has gotten.

At the meal, everyone was patient.  The family as they ate and visited with one another.  The folks who prepared the food and then were going to clean up afterward.  All took the time it needed.  Because that’s what you do when you say “Goodbye.”

And when the family left, the good folks called Methodists cleaned up the kitchen, took out the trash, went back to their jobs.  And the family went home to hopefully rest a bit.

Some of the same folks who so faithfully helped make all the magic happen today were back at the church this evening.  Almost 12 hours later.  And they practiced anthems for Sunday.  And you could see the fatigue on many of their faces.  It was an incredibly long day, but that’s what you do when you say “Goodbye.”  Especially if you’re a Methodist.

So tonight, at the end of this very long day, I am especially grateful for the people called “Methodists.”  Because each day they make a difference in the lives of the people of their community of faith.  And that influence, that love, that incredible grace, flows out to the communities in which they serve.

Thank you, kind folks, for your grace, your great love, and your untiring patience.  Jesus and John Wesley are proud of you tonight.  As am I. open_hearts_logo

Another Ash Wednesday

•February 27, 2017 • 2 Comments

I am not really sure why I am fascinated with Ash Wednesday.  I did not grow up in a faith tradition where we celebrated this important day in the life of the church.  I was introduced more fully to the meaning of this day when I began attending a img_0098United Methodist Church.

Every year, my thoughts are captivated by this day in the church’s life.  There are so many important symbols – our kneeling at the rail to receive the ashes, the prayers of repentance, the practices of Lent (either taking on or giving up something), and t
he consideration of our own mortality.  For me, it is the burning of the palm leaves from Palm Sunday of the year before which provokes my spirit.  There is just something so incredibly rhythmic about this cycle.  “Sunday’s Palms Are Wednesday’s Ashes” as the hymn title goes.

This year there have burn bans in Oklahoma.  And with the Oklahoma winds, we have to pick a day when there is little or no wind.  That in itself img_0099requires some planning.  This morning I burned those palm leaves out of the driveway of the United Methodist parsonage in Wellston.  In full view of the passersby on the highway.  With lots of smoke and flame and cars slowing down trying to figure out what I was doing – a grown man setting fire to something in an old baby bathtub, right in front of the house.

After all the leaves are burned and I move the old tub, there are always a few palm leaves which seem to escape the burning.  Maybe they are not quite ready to take their img_0101place in the greater scheme of things spiritual.

I know some folks like that.  Folks who cannot quite grasp the ultimate significance of the lives they are living on this earth.  Folks who are not aware of the depths to which the witness of their lives affects others.  Not quite ready to take their place in the greater scheme of things spiritual.  Folks like me.  Folks like you.

May this Ash Wednesday and this Lenten season move us closer to God.  May it move us closer to each other.

In The Midst of Advent

•December 17, 2016 • 1 Comment


We’ve had a lot going on in our life lately. Everyone does.  It can be seen in the faces of folks who are driving in the lanes next to you.  Or those who are checking you out at the grocery store.  Or those who will circle the parking lot six times to find a parking space closer to the entrance of the store.

You see it especially in the hospitals and the care facilities right now.  Especially in a season where everyone is looking to be joyful and bright, and you are just trying to figure out if your loved one will live the night, it’s tough.

I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals and care facilities lately.  Fortunately, I have managed to stay out of them as a patient, although at times it seems like it would not take much health change to put me there.  I see the stress in the faces of others, and I hear in their hushed voices in the hallways their concerns and worry for their loved ones.

I know some folks whose grief cannot adequately be expressed during this season.  Some have lost children to death this year, and now have had to say good bye to a parent as well.  Still others have seen their spouse go into the hospital time and time again, and worry if they will survive the year.

I know of others who are struggling to pay their bills. They are trying to be responsible budgeters, but the unexpected expenses of life are catching up to them.

I know of others who are struggling with their addictions, and trying to understand the consequences of their actions as they are caught in the grip of something that is greater than themselves.

Then, when you add car troubles, family troubles, relationship troubles, and cold weather, it can get exhausting.

It was into a time very much like this that Jesus came to us.  The government was in trouble, lives were unstable, and folks were tired. It was at a time like this when an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, who was trying to figure out his next move in life when his beloved announced to him that she was pregnant, and the child was not his.  And not only this, but this child was to be the Holy One of God who had come to save the world.  And the angel didn’t really tell Joseph what to do.  But the angel did say, “Don’t be afraid.”

Is that enough when folks are afraid?  To hear a divine voice tell us not to be afraid?  I know it is a central theme of our Holy Scriptures.  “Don’t be afraid.”  More than 100 times this phrase is used in our English translations.  And every time this phrase is used, there is a promise from God.  “I’ll help you.”  “I’m with you.”  “I’m here to save you.”  ‘It’s me.  Don’t be afraid.”

Consider how you can let your fear go during this time.  I am trying to do the same.  I am spending some time in prayer.  I’m listening to beautiful music.  I am reading books and stories that build up.  I’m baking bread for communion.  I’m practicing my part for the cantata.  I’m breathing as often as necessary.  And I’m giving thanks for all those people in my life – present, past, and even future – who will give meaning to my days.  It’s bringing me to a place of peace.

Making A Difference in Your Part of the World

•July 26, 2016 • 2 Comments

I’ve pretty much tried to stay off Facebook and Twitter during this presidential campaign, but most especially during the Republican and Democratic conventions.  I know that all of the rhetoric about each party / candidate is just part of the process, but truthfully, this year, I have a hard time with the meanness.

I am not interested in debating which candidate is best for the country.  I believe it is your right to vote for the candidate of your choice.  I plan on doing the same.  But I have realized that the openness of social media has allowed us the opportunity to bring out both our best and worst sides.

In times of national and world crises, or even local ones, this allows us the opportunity to get word out very quickly.  We can use this information to support folks who are in need, and genuinely be the hands and feet of Jesus when someone is hurting. But it seems like we want to blame someone, anyone.  Yet when that becomes our focus, our intent, then we likely end up doing more harm than good.  At the very least, we let ourselves off the hook.

I realize that I look at life very simply, and that the issues facing our country and our world are quite complex.  But what if we, especially in the midst of all the political rhetoric flying about, did something to make the world better?

If a student in your local school is having trouble reading, offer to listen to them, to help them learn to read.  If someone in your neighborhood is having trouble keeping their yard mowed, mow it for them.  If your neighbor is having a hard time, bring them a little food and a little compassion.  If your community is struggling, consider what you can do that will make things better.  If the sign welcoming folks to town is needing repainting, offer to your city office to repaint it.  If the elderly person on your block is needing groceries, offer to take them.  Or pick up for them.  If young parents are getting overwhelmed with all the responsibilities of taking care of their children, offer to help.  Maybe you can wash their dishes or clean their house or do their laundry.  Or sit and hold their newly crawling baby.

Every one of us has something we can do that will make the world better.  And if we can do something to make the world better, then we need to do it.  Today would be a good time to start.

Our Common Ashes

•February 9, 2016 • 1 Comment

They are in an old Hiland cottage cheese container.  So old that the lettering has worn off and the expiration date is many years past.  I use it to hold the ashes after they are burned each year. Since I tend to use a lot less ashes than the amount of palm leaves burned, there is a bit of a surplus each year.  So much so that the container now has the ashes from five different congregations from all over Oklahoma.

I know that I get a bit reflective during Lent, maybe a bit too much so.  I also know that most of us can use a little reflecting on the course of our life over the years.  As I get older, maybe I reflect a bit more.

So I thought a bit this morning as I burned the ashes for Wednesday night’s services.  I had to think fast because the winds have been pretty strong in Oklahoma these past couple of days, and I had to pay attention.

I thought about these past five congregations I have served:  First United Methodist, Edmond; First United Methodist, Cherokee; Newcastle United Methodist; and now Luther and Wellston United Methodist Churches.  Each congregation having had both joys and challenges.  In each of these places, there are folks who are dear to us.

Yet even with all the differences in locations, resources, needs, and gifts of each of these churches, we have a lot in common.  Not only does our faith and common heritage connect us, we also have similar concerns.  We all want to have lives of purpose, of strength, lives spilled over with so much love and memory that we can hardly catalog it all in our minds.

And it is symbolized for me in the mingling of all these ashes.  On Wednesday evening, I doubt that I, nor anyone else, will be able to tell which batch of ashes are placed on our heads.  That’s a good thing, a God thing, if you will.  Because during Lent we could all use a reminder of our common yearnings and our common heritage.

Blessings to you all during this holy time.   IMG_0524