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.
Written on August 5, 2019
Today would have been my brother's birthday, August 5th. He's been gone 10 years, dying at 75. I miss him.
We were always at Ossipee when his birthday came around. When he was five, he was given five quarts of milk. He was such a lover of milk. It helped him grow to 6' 6" in height.
Today is clean and lovely - like many of our August days. I tried to get on the lake early, before the wind came up. I paddled my canoe up Pine River to Rte 25 to Portland, and back. About a three mile round trip. So good for my soul today. So quiet. Why not? The sun rose higher. The birds were still. Only a few sang. No beaver about. A few passers-by, in kayaks spoke - "What a day!" was their word.
And mine, too. After beaching my canoe, three miles later, I ambled up the path, dusted my feet off in the backyard and made a cursory lunch. Then made phone calls for our Pilgrim Center "Dinner for Friends," mid-week.
For an hour or so, since then, I've just been sitting, looking, on our broad deck - down through the trees to the lake, finding myself, just being, and looking.
The air's been clearing. The lake is a deep blue. Power boats pass each other in the far distance. A soft breeze blows. And the lowering sun slants through the trees of our little "forest." All is dappled. The branches of pine and maples and birch. The tall, growing ferns have been dappled, too.
It is a peaceful world - in this place. I am so glad.
The ministers and leadership of our summer church here in the White Mountains of New Hampshire are challenging us of the congregation to 31 days of prayer. Not just daily devotions, or prayer over meals, but serious praying, as a whole people, for our congregation, and all the people in it, for the church's witness for Jesus in this small village in upper Appalachia, for America and its witness in the world, for our president and all leaders, and for deep change in all of our lives.
They want new boldness. They want daring, they want honest, daily, courageous calling out to God to come and walk with these people in His Holy Spirit, so that new power can be here, that Biblical signs and wonder of God's presence can be seen and experienced.
I mean, they are SERIOUS. They are not kidding. They want to get beyond the old formalities, the traditional personal pleas for help, to a daily "walk with God," resulting in the changes of heart and spirit that come out of deep friendship with a real person whose power and love changes your life the way the disciples' lives were changed by walking with Jesus in the friendship that is full of the love that changes everything.
My first thought was, "I'm on vacation. I'm not sure I can muster the time and concentration that this journey demands."
But then I began to think, "No, I need this. I may be 90, with 65 years as an ordained minister, and hundreds of personal experiences of deepened faith, and a wonderful partnership with a woman of faith who loves and prays for me daily, but I still could go beyond my daily discipline of the faith, my erratic prayers, my deep believing. I could join these comrades of mine in a new commitment to prayer in all kinds of ways that I have not daily practiced - though I do deeply, and dearly, believe."
But, this church in New Hampshire goes back, in my life, to my childhood. Several of their pastors were among the finest I know. This time, under this challenge, I want not to be among the missing. I want to be among the present. I want to be an encourager. And, I want to be encouraged.
Surely, the challenge is from God. He is waiting to reach out toward everyone who responds. I want to be among them. I want to say "yes," though I am afraid of not measuring up. What I need to do is sign up. I need to say yes. I need to join in with others. I need to play the game, and see what happens.
Maybe some of you, out there in internet land, are also ready - to take a chance, and let God do what He wants so much to do, in you. Will you join me, and Him?
God love you, friends.
Molly and I went on a preaching mission today. In a small pristine New England Meeting House, facing a lovely upland meadow, with Mt. Whiteface of the Sandwich Range, rising high behind it.
The almost invisible town is Wonalancet, named for a chief among the Ossipee Indians, who long ago was a great peacemaker between the Indian people and the encroaching white settlers. It is also the name of our last and dearest dog, a handsome Sheltie, who climbed many a mountain trail with our family, and then alone with me when our children had grown through their teen years and were only visitors in Ossipee summers. So "Wonalancet" is an honored name with us.
I came as a child to Wonalancet Chapel when my father preached there on his summer circuit, just as my children came with me when I got to preach there on occasional summer Sundays.
Now, Molly and I do it together. She stands up, early in the service and tells the story of our call from God to the healing work of reconciliation in the dark and wounded countries of Africa, following the demonic hatred of the Rwanda genocide which led neighbors to kill neighbors in the four months of blood-letting from April through July of 1994.
It was just when we left parish ministry, ourselves wounded, and sent by World Vision with whom our Edina churches worked to fight the East African famine in the early 1980's.
When she arrived in Rwanda, she asked God why He had brought her there. His answer came loud and clear. "I have brought you here to ask their forgiveness for what you, and your people of the West, did to divide them from each other."
She took that seriously. In the retreats, and my visits to churches there, she said, "I am sent to ask your forgiveness, for what we westerners did to divide you from each other. I am going to my knees here. I ask you to pray for my forgiveness." It was a stunning experience for the Rwandans. Over and over they said, "We have never seen anything like this." That act became the mark of our ministry. That ministry on our knees became the sign to them that we were authentic, for real, and made our whole deep ministry of healing and reconciliation possible.
For my part today I tried to speak of "Your Life of Power," reminding them of Dr. Luke's word to Theophilus in Acts, of Jesus promising His disciples that they were to be baptized by the Holy Spirit, and receive power to proclaim His love to all the world through His death and resurrection.
It was a word to say we who follow Jesus are the Spirit people with the gift of power through the Spirit to tell the story of Jesus' miraculous and transforming love.
Simple, I hope, and straightforward, calling this little company of ten people to receive the Spirit and trust His power to help them do what they were probably afraid to do: to "tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love."
No one walked out or grumped about the message. Perhaps being 90 and 88 as two old people telling what they know, helped. We held hands as a sign of our love for the benediction at the end.
People greeted us amicably enough at the door. One woman, our host said, "We'll see you next summer."
Who knows what happens in the human heart? Molly and I love the privilege of that little chapel and it's tiny congregation. There will be one more at the Mirror Lakes Church in Wolfeboro in August.
It is just as challenging as the years at Colonial Church, and before that at our country church in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, and our city church in Newton, Massachusetts. It is the same high call, the same challenge to speak true to whomever will stop and listen at these high times.
The result, the change, is in God's hands, not mine. I am just so grateful for the opportunity, and that now, in our old age, Molly and I can do it together.
Oh, the privilege of small things, at the end of life.
Here in New Hampshire we've just come through our end of what's been a memorable heat wave across the country. Many cities were identified as achieving temperatures well over 100 degrees - like 111 or so.
It didn't get that hot by our mountain lake, but the air was oppressive. Somehow not good for breathing, especially if you're a "senior" person. Mercifully we'd been urged to install an air conditioner last summer in our bedroom. And last weekend it ran three full days.
The TV showed us high wires in other places sparking and then burning. Of course, there were fires. We perspired. And joined in the general conversation about "the weath-uh."
When the weather changes you go from Out to In - or, the other way - at a moment's notice. You seek shelter, and comfort.
I've been reading about the desperate conditions in which America's Revolutionary War was waged by both British Red Coats and our own Continental Army. About Benedict Arnold leading his part of the "northern gang" across 283 miles of trudging through Maine to reach Canada and Quebec, there to stay through mosquito-infested swamps, waist-deep in slimy water and mud. Disease was rampant with small pox in both armies, miserable conditions wet and cold, with more dying from sickness than from gunshots.
We have little idea what a generation of 200 years ago went through, over eight years, to defeat the world's mightiest empire in battle, to win the freedom and liberty we in our time take so for granted.
I enjoy the inside days when they come. For me, they are study days to read scripture, to write prayers, and prepare sermons for the two little summer churches that grant Molly and me the privilege of their pulpits in the summer. In fact, for one of them more times, by quite a bit, annually, than the 32 years I preached at Colonial Church.
Of course, I write too, about other things: things which I like to think the Holy Spirit gives me to notice, and reflect upon, and better understand - in the world around me. In my life and these times. About people. About our country, our president, and other leaders giving of themselves.
But then, the sun comes out, as is happening this day as I write after the great heat wave. I see out my study window the sky turning blue again, beyond the pines and maples that guard the pathway to the beach, and the ever-inviting lake. Today I must head for the post office with this message, and then get gas for my car which is running low. But tomorrow it may be another early morning "paddle of the Pine," and perhaps a quiet, short swim in the sunshine.
Back and forth, the rhythm of summer days. What a gift they are, for me, and I hope, for you. From God.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES