These days alone, together, at the lake are a sweet time for Molly and me. It is September, and very much a changing time, even within one day.
We're arranging to see people dear to us. The McFarlanes who accompanied us to Africa three times over the years. Our two ministers, good and faithful servants of the Lord, and their people. Joanie Metcalf's daughter Gayle, for our annual lunch to talk ministry and much more. A wonderful dinner out with our tender-hearted environmentalist friend, Blair. So fulfilling.
Molly is very busy with "closing up," but also with writing a "Prayer Journey" for our President Jim who heads back to Rwanda, Uganda, everywhere. Jim is greatly gifted in opening the way for Jesus' healing touch to reach deep into their hearts. What wondrous work this is, that God gave us to do, exactly 25 years ago. There'll be a big celebration of that milestone in early November. Hope you can come. You're invited.
I walk our road - a little way - to keep the old bod "a-movin'." Today I was hailed by a couple five or six houses down. They came on to the road to greet me. We had not met before. "Oh, our daughters love to run down to the water's edge to answer your yodels when you paddle by!" My dear little unknown friends. Actually, generations of them.
Writing is a healing, expanding thing for me, so after my walk I sat on the deck, looking down through the trees to the lake, and wrote letters to a few of Colonial's Prayer Chain people to offer a little love in their struggles for health. And, this letter to you.
Presently clouds lifted, and wind died, and the lake with a later afternoon sun just beginning to set, offered a calm I could not resist. So I changed into canoe clothes and launched my canoe onto calm waters, with beloved mountains all around, and headed east across our cove toward Pine River's mouth, where no hint of breeze was, and where I would be alone in that little lost world to paddle, a hundred strokes to a turn in the river I call the Beaver Pond - for it once was theirs, with two lodges and their busy life before the party boats and pontoon cruises and other craft invaded for the summer. They had none of it until Labor Day when the people all departed. The river this late afternoon was all mine. I found two of my scarlet cardinal flowers brilliantly present, yet already shrinking within themselves as summer ends. Oh, I hate to see them go. I had waited so long for them to come, in late July. They were a blessing to me.
I came out and paddled back to our beach by 5:00, my promised return time. And suddenly, there - again, to help me - came Wayne, my new summer friend, who lifted out my bow-balancing rock, steadied the canoe while I got out, and with assurances that he "knew" the drill, hauled the canoe to the white sand, and with one of the new owners of our neighboring trailer camp next door, turned it over and all was done.
They made it all light work. We talked a few minutes by way of thanks, and I headed up the path to supper.
It was apparently visiting night, for already there was a neighbor from down the beach who had grown up with our children and we talked of his plans to buy a neighbor's house up the road for his year-round home.
When he left, Molly dished up supper. And before long another knock came on the porch door, and another neighbor of the same generation stopped in in her bear hunting suit to set a day in the coming week when one of her brothers, struggling with early Alzheimer's, could be brought up from Boston for an annual visit which means much to her, and much to me.
And so it goes: a different day, of unexpected surprises, this early Saturday of sweet September on Ossipee Shores.
God fills so many days with surprises. His plan. His miracle plan, for sure. It's part of what makes September together, so sweet here.
Love you all.
A lot of the struggle to defend yourself and figure out your place in the world of family, friends, former colleagues, and the still fast-moving world around you, when you are old, I think is the question of identity. We cling to who we imagine ourselves to be. Many people are trying to help, with mostly, good heart, though some inadvertently overstep.
"You oughta' get a cane!" some say. I resist. Because I know each little assist you take on sends a message to those around you. That, you are infirm. Not what you want to be. So, they won't ask you to do some of the things you love. They don't pay the same attention when they come into your space. You fear you are no longer a significant player.
You find you are struggling with your own ego. "Who am I now?" you ask yourself. "Can't I be part of my world anymore?"
It's really a God question. "Who am I with God? What does He have me here for? What's my role? How can it be different, yet be right, and useful, and fulfilling in God's sight, and in His plan? How can I get focused on what is important to Him?"
Gradually, it dawns on you that He really has plans for you that fit the foundation of your whole life that are exciting and fulfilling. You do have a meaningful place in this world God loves and for which He is still reaching. And, in that setting you are still sent, you still have a mission - particularly in relation to people. As a friend. As an "elder," as the Indians have it in their tradition. You do know some things. You can be an encourager, an affirmer, a needed person in the world around you.
Molly and I learned in our reconciliation work in Africa following the genocide, that Africans love their old people. They make a ready place for them. They are not cast off. They are preserved and valued.
So now, in this new time for us, we can remember the lessons from the Africans, and the Indians - and, of course, from scripture, itself.
Daniel was 90 years old when he was thrown to the lions. And the king who had been tricked by jealous counsellors into putting him there was the first to run to the lion's den next morning to cry out: Daniel, are you all right? Has your God saved you?
Daniel's God had saved him and the king praised that God. That is the same only true God Who has also saved us. He will bring us through. He will show us how to live, and how to play our part in the world. And, most of all, to not be afraid.
News is out that two singers in Christian bands have recently renounced their Christian faith, one even adding that he felt no loss in his life from the turning away from Jesus.
Another Christian singer calls for a return to Biblical truth as a high priority in the "Christian music world" and for the church itself to reach its commitment to God's Word spoken in the Bible.
Many evangelical churches have forsaken the organ and the great traditions of Christian hymnody that has helped congregations sing out their faith together. Christian hymnody itself is founded on Biblical texts and encourages Christians to lift up their voices in song directly out of the Psalms and words of Jesus.
The popular thing has been to form a praise band, to be up front in church and sing, not so much hymns as "praise songs," written by these song leaders and expressing their feelings of faith. Many churches and congregations have come to understand music and praise songs as constituting the "Worship" part of the service, and understanding scripture reading and sermon as "Teaching." A division in Christian services that has subtly undermined historical understanding of the whole service - prayers, scripture, preaching, and singing as all being essentially worship.
The motive has been to support church growth, to appeal to people young and old. One colleague of mine, founder of a fast-growing church in Arizona, came to realize that what his church was offering was really entertainment, whereas the church's business was to call people to become disciples. A subtle but profound difference.
These changes have tended to lend to feelings as the source of inspiration in the modern church rather than faith. "Spiritual songs" have come out of personal feelings of the young singers, and often not so much from grounded faith in Jesus, built on Biblical faith and understanding.
These changes have come with our hardly noticing the shift in emphasis. Without realizing it, we have let sentimental feeling form our expressions of faith, leaving our Biblical foundation behind.
Our own sentimentality has created the Christian singer source of inspiration, allowing a drift away from "the sure foundation" the scripture gave us. A shallowness has created a personal sentimental base for "Christian music" that has made slipping away from faith much easier, and so these public departures from faith and betrayal of the faith they had once professed.
Surely a call for all of us to look to our foundations, and to find our way back to "standing in the presence " of God - given us so deeply in Biblical faith.
In our Pilgrim Center work around reconciliation between people who have hated each other, and allowed their rage to ride to the point of planning and carrying out the killing of other people, we have found the reality of forgiveness to be a profound instrument toward healing and change in the human spirit.
It was, in our experience of conducting healing retreats among people who had been perpetrators or victims in the Rwanda genocide of April through July of 1994, the key factor in changing the deep heart of those terribly wounded or wounding people, and that their lives took a dramatic change from fury to friendship, from destruction to sacrificial service in mending the actual havoc they had wrought. People with deep enmity and hurt between them came together in a whole, new, positive relationship as friends.
We witnessed this miracle of deep spiritual change many times. The impetus for that stunning change was clearly the forgiveness factor.
In the early years of our Center's work, 25 years ago, we learned of some others in America who had begun to take seriously the possibility that forgiveness could become a new positive instrument for social change.
Professor Robert Enright, teaching Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, was experimenting with forgiveness and its possibilities at first to the dismay and ridicule of colleagues in his profession. He apparently went on to help found the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. He and Rick Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania are telling us that our President has "made a number of sensible recommendations to address violence and mass murders in the United States." While acknowledging "He has been criticized for not calling for stricter gun controls" but insist "his words went to the heart of this crisis of hatred and violence."
They quote the President as saying "We must recognize that the internet has provided a dangerous avenue to radicalize disturbed minds and perform demented acts. We must shine light on the dark recesses of the internet, and stop mass murders before they start..."
Enright and Fitzgibbons go on "Below are our proposals for aspects of a comprehensive federal plan consistent with the President's ideas. They are based on our combined 70 years of experience in research, education, and clinical work in uncovering and initiating treatment protocols in schools and in mental health treatment for excessive anger..."
They offer "our book, Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, published by the American Psychological Association, can be one such training tool for mental health professionals. Forgiveness has been empirically verified to reduce unhealthy anger."
Other books by Dr. Enright are Forgiveness is a Choice, The Forgiving Life, and 8 Keys to Forgiveness.
Our Pilgrim Center's book, Forgiveness: The Road to Reconciliation, could also be helpful. Published by iUniverse, it is available on Amazon.
Forgiveness is, of course, the way Jesus gave us to bring healing to our lives and relationships. We live in times that call us to be serious about these issues, and God's wonderful answers.
The nights here in the New Hampshire north country are cold now, but the days are still warm. I managed a very slow paddle up Pine River today, a little after high noon.
Two more family members left today, a daughter and her son. Our middle daughter remains a few more days.
Autumn is in the air. Soon it will be just the two of us. Last night our little group of five went out to dinner to celebrate the wonder of long years together - 69 of them. What high adventure a marriage is. How many places God has taken us, even into "the heart of darkness," in Rwanda where the Africans have taught us so much. It has been all blessing.
We think back to so much. Even some painful memories. But what they have taught us, and how we have been enriched. There are regrets, of course. But, "we would do it again."
Marriage is such a treasured relationship: two people, teaching each other, growing in faith, learning the depths of love. And becoming even more sure it has all come from God.
Our children need our prayers, even as we so gratefully receive theirs. Indeed, so many of our years have been a true gift from our children. And really, from so many others. The many beloved along the way.
Grateful are we, so privileged to still be alive - together.
As summer's heat gives way to August's clarity and September's cool, it has suddenly seemed a wonderful turning of the year. Part of it is the air. The blue ridge lines of the mountains. The deep blue of the sky and water.
But, events have had their turning, too. The late-August preaching at Mirror Lake Church was a high time for me. So long anticipated and prayed for. The many people, the folks who asked for prayer. The subject, "What Ministry Means," stirred much inside my soul.
And then, next day, a paddle up Pine River through the late morning quiet with no one else on the water. And, those cardinal flowers, scarlet red on their solitary stalks among the rushes and the ferns.
While it was a little depleting, in long, slow strokes, it was restful for my spirit. When I reached our own shore, Lizzie was on the raft, and as I touched the beach, there suddenly, was my new friend from North Carolina, from our neighboring trailer camp, in camouflage shorts and deep tan, running over to pull up my canoe and steady with his hand this 90-year-old neighbor. He and Lizzie and I chatted on the beach. "I just love this guy," he explained to my daughter.
A friend. Wanting to help. He watches for me every day to interrupt my unsteady struggle to launch or beach my canoe. At first I resisted, and he insisted. And now, like old friends, we watch for each other.
It was a highlight of the day, the exchange with Wayne, who emerged from the next door beach chairs to care for me. He's a new retiree, with four months of summer to share our beloved lake. What a wonder.
It made me realize something wonderful had happened. This summer of busy days, welcoming and sending off numerous combinations of family, preaching time, receiving our leader, Dr Jim, for a Pilgrim Center "New Hampshire week of ministry," with a deep one-day retreat with staff of our church's White Horse Addiction Center, Jim's preaching at our lifetime church, our hotel Dinner for Friends (with double the usual number there despite a Bernie Sanders Rally on the hotel's back lawn), a number of lifetime friends showing up - some traveling several hours from Maine, with poignant moments in the evening, another training and retreat for Jim, a little "lunch without end" with Jim and Annette, and our 69th wedding anniversary yet to come - had now brought me back to simple things: new friendship, peace on the water, a call to "31 Days of Prayer" with our church here, through August.
It feels like God's hand, moving me along, showing me important things, preparing me for the year ahead. I just felt full of life, so glad to be alive. And so close to the One Who - so long ago - gave me life.
Is this, in some seasonal, spiritual way, a turn-around time for you? A time of change, and of seeing God's hand in it all?
As we drove from Ossipee to Mirror Lake in the early morning of Sunday the 18th, my forthright wife from her seat behind the wheel said, "You know, Arthur, this could be your swan song at Mirror Lake Church. You'd better thank them for the ride."
One doesn't like to think that one might die before next summer comes around. Or, that maybe that wonderful congregation to whom I've preached for probably 35 to 40 summers might say this time, "Well, we enjoy Arthur, but he is 90 now, maybe we should not bother to invite him in the years ahead."
As we walked slowly from the new parking area behind the church around to the front door, there on the wall above the coffee table were colorful festive letters spelling out, "Happy Birthday." That added some mystery to the day.
A number of people greeted us as friends. The bell rang. The service began with a welcome from one of the lay committee, who speculated on the number of years Molly and I had been coming to speak to them. 1985 was the year they had on their books. It had been a long time. We were close to a number of the people.
Molly gave a beautiful word about our ministry in Rwanda and Burundi. I gave my sermon on the "Meaning of Ministry" from Romans 10, "How shall they hear without a preacher?"
It was the great ministry text from Romans by my New Testament teacher in Scotland back in 1952. He had meant everything to me. That great cry of Paul to the Romans was the watchword for James Stewart. And in that year it became mine, too.
We had loved the Mirror Lake Church - and a number of other small New Hampshire churches that had welcomed us over the years.
And what a privilege it was for me to preach about "ministry" to those people who cared as much about their church.
Of course I hope it won't be the last time. But - "you never know." Life is full of surprises. And, the great surprise is each day that God gives us to live. Molly and I both felt privileged to be there- in Jesus' name - that beautiful August Sunday.
We sang, "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder." I gave the benediction. I offered to pray for anyone who wanted it. Six or seven people lined up to ask for prayer. It was a deep time.
Then they said, "We want you outside for coffee." As we rounded the corner, they all sang, "Happy Birthday!" Such a surprise. Many kindly words of affirmation and encouragement.
All joy for us. Just wanted you to know.
This summer I begin my days beside a little nebulizer machine, breathing in the aerated fumes of a lung-cleansing medicine for fifteen or twenty minutes. Then wait a half hour. Then 15 or 20 minutes more on the fumes from sodium chloride. After that I don a vest with buckles and connect myself by two hoses to a large machine that pumps erratic air into the vest to pummel by lungs with air to break up any mucous that may be hardening in my bronchial tubes. That's another half hour. Then I snort a rinse that goes into my sinuses to cleanse them and help my breathing.
That's a couple hours morning and night. It's tedious work. But Molly had a wonderful answer, "Here are some books I've gotten from the library for you to read - during your daily double treatments."
I am nearly astounded by the number of very thick books I have been able to read while on the nebulizer and the "jiggle machine."
Long ago in college days, I was an American History major, and then in seminary in New York, I concentrated on American Church History.
The first book was "Hamilton," the actual inspiration for the wildly popular stage play about the life of the brilliant Alexander Hamilton, who as a very young man, exerted huge influence on the forming of some of America's most important public institutions. A very thick book.
I had already made an exchange with my son John, and read "American Ulysses." a wonderful "Life" of Ulysses Grant. That was actually the first thick book.
Then came two books on George Washington; one about the General who became our first president and the second about the two Washingtons, George and Martha together, called simply "The Washingtons."
A fascinating change of pace came with a two-novel book by Louis L'Amour - fascinating western stories from a part of Arizona called Louis L'Amour country, through which I once had a wonderful horseback ride with my friend and brother in the Lord, Jim Peterson.
Another 4-novel book of L'Amour novels - all about strong men of the west who were lone gunmen of strong beliefs of right and wrong, of home and family, of justice and mercy. I loved them all.
Then came the story of "The Most Famous Man in America," Henry Ward Beecher, and his colorful life leading up to 25 years of ministry in the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn, New York.
My father was a Brooklyn minister, and I once preached myself in that great ark of a church in Brooklyn Heights. It was a long, deep, uncomfortable tale about the rise and fall of that brilliant preacher and flawed public man of America's 19th century.
I'm reading now Stephen Ambrose's "Citizen Soldiers." I've been learning lots, on an adventure I've really never had before. The joy of "summer reading!"
A common theme among summer folks here in New Hampshire when they see each other at church, is "Where has the summer gone?" "It's flown so fast. July 4th seems like just yesterday, and now, suddenly, it's mid-August."
It's a season we don't want to end. We waited so long for it, through the never-ending winter. But now it is full August, and many of the things we'd intended to do, we haven't done. Family and other visitors have come and gone, and now it's just us. That sweet time of re-creation is almost gone. The boating, the swimming, the wading, the writing we haven't done as we'd thought we'd do. The various goals we'd had in our minds have not been achieved. It will be all over, and all too soon.
The sense of regret comes all too easily. The beginnings of that painful sense of loss. Of mountains to climb, of people to see, of important things to write, of daily, consciously drinking in the wonders of the lake, the hills, the cabin, the quiet.
But, as these days I have lived, pass by before my eyes, I realize there's something else that is the opposite of a season's fading, of expectations not fulfilled, of endings.
And that is, strangely and wonderfully, the realization of fulfillment, of depth, of color, and richness, and quality.
The long look down our pathway to the lake, I am aware of something wonderful that comes with August. It is a clearing of the air. It is the bluing of the sky and of the water, and the deep greening of the Freedom Hills across the lake.
As I sit here on the deck just now, I was approached tentatively, by my beautiful, grown-up, now married granddaughter - my erstwhile traveling companion on my last journey to Africa. "I know you're missing your canoe, and that you're not to paddle yet because of the little injury to your hand, but would you be willing to be a passenger in the canoe this afternoon, and let me be the paddler? I know it wouldn't be the same, but it's a way we could be together on the lake and river you love, and to enjoy the splendor of this day..."
So sweet. Such a kindly offer, that would be a treasured time for me, and maybe for her. "Of course," I said, "I would love such an excursion with you." So in an hour so so, we'll do it.
There it was, right before me, wonder of wonders - time together with one of the most precious people on earth to me. I can point out the mountain peaks, and on the river show her the sudden stands of brilliant, scarlet cardinal flowers that have just come out in several spots along the river bank.
We can talk out loud, of important things between us, a 90-year-old grandfather and a 25-year-old granddaughter.
And who knows what else? A hundred things of more than passing importance on this deep and stunningly beautiful August day.
Why write a letter? Because it will mean a lot to the one who receives it. I write "just for the heck of it" to people who come to mind. People whose paths I've crossed. People whose heart I know. People who've written me, and pulled back just a little bit of the curtain of their lives.
My responses to them are not profound. They are always true, as much as I can make them be. I try to be true to myself, as they have tried to be true to me in what they've written, or said to me. In fact, my writing a letter still is simply to respond to something someone else has revealed about him or her self.
When we arrived at Ossipee, and went to church the next Sunday, a tall, quiet, sweet woman, now a widow, said at the church: "I've been looking through George's things the year since he died, and found his Bible. He had in it a note I had sent him, but there in the front, was a letter he had saved from you. It had meant a lot to him. And does to me, now that George is gone." She's told me twice this summer, about that letter. Such a little thing.
It helps to know that George was a general handyman, particularly good as a carpenter. He effected a somewhat Garrison Keillor look, with prominent suspenders, and above his broad, placid, smiling face, a flat broad-brimmed straw hat. He loved to talk, and carried a deeply-held Christian faith in his heart.
He also built for us one summer a connecting section joining two parts of our summer house, that we call Tamarack Lodge. George's section we call "The Gallery." It connects the main sections of the house to each other, but also with a broad deck on the lake side of the house, and at the other end a lovely summer porch which is at one end of the "farmer's porch" which faces toward the road that serves all the Hodsdon Shore lakeside cottages.
George and his theology was an interesting presence to have around. I tried to thank him for his presence among our family that year. And so, my letter.
Another man, in his sixties, has written me several letters this past half year. One, responding to a blog on my arthurrounerministries.com website, "We love what you do." A little word of encouragement to me. So, why not a note back, of thanks?
When I first went as pastor to Colonial Church, an eager salesman-type man, who had been a deacon, a trustee, and most everything in the church, had me out to lunch at a grand Minneapolis country club. Among other things he said, "When you have a lunch or meeting with someone, always write a note of appreciation afterward to whomever was your host."
I've tried to do that ever since. And, I include people who've stopped to talk with me after church. It has actually been a little reconciliation piece with some of those people after we've met.
God uses the few words we offer, in surprising ways, through His Holy Spirit. You might try it sometime. You'll be surprised.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES