It is hard to leave. The lake is still. The misty morning fog hangs mysteriously in the trees. We rush to do the last things of closing our symmetrical, beautiful house "that Elton built." Our friend did it all with craftsmanly touch - and heart. He is gone now, tragically suffering through two years in hospital. Were he wealthy and powerful, he could have sued. But he was quiet, soft-spoken, in his New Hampshire way. He simply served, doing beautiful things his hands erected. And gave them to us.
For our life, in this north country land of lakes and mountains he dearly loved. We love it too, where four generations of us have had our eyes lifted, and our souls touched, and our lives formed.
We go back now, this painful, parting day, to the land of the Great River, where our work was formed and fashioned, in church, and hospital, and homes, and cemeteries, and in a remarkable community, of leaders and so many friends so dear, who walked with us many miles, in faith.
There, we crossed America, and oceans, and continents and learned, in dark places, the deepest pain of the human heart. Precious friends are still there from the years of serving and launching into "journeys out." Journeys of the heart.
Now, others go for us, and deep work goes on. The work God gave us. Precious gift.
And we are old. We have driven today, down out of the mountains, crossing the Connecticut River into Vermont, and down into Connecticut state - land of Molly's birth - and then the Hudson, into New York. We faced the sun this morning, we follow it this afternoon, all the while our Kristen driving.
Starbucks was a stop in Keene. Tonight we rest in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, near my mother's girlhood and her lovely paddles on the Susquehanna.
There's a dining spot we've come to love: The Inn at Turkey Hill. The elegant, gently sophisticated Giles will be our host and waiter, in his apron, and genteel flourishes.
We sleep in the Hampton Inn, then tomorrow cross "The Wilds" of Pennsylvania. Then out into Ohio and the middle west, stopping beyond Chicago, then home to Minnesota and the year that waits - almost at our doorstep: business with Laury, lunch with missionary Deb, eager church with Daniel and Colonial, followed by Friendship Village worship to preach at friend Mary Marcoux' invitation, followed by Pilgrim Center retreats, 25-year celebration, and whatever else God has in store.
All things we love, which lessens the pain of summer's end. Will there be another summer? Can we move gently into the newest of the last decades. Doctors will tell us. And Someone far greater will sustain us. It still comes down to one step at a time. Day by day, by day, by day. All of it in God's hands. The One Who knows and will let us know.
We are eager to see you all - so dear to us. To sit, and eat, and talk, and pray - about the deepest of things, and the most wondrous of truths. Bless you. Love you.
Last blog from Ossipee -
The days of this last week by the lake I love, are stunningly beautiful. Our forest home, with great, ancient pine trees beside the house, and soft Tamaracks, swamp maples, and birches in the meadow that frame the lake beyond, is its own paradise, in a way preparing our hearts for heaven. How truly "the beauty of the earth."
I had to drive to Wolfesboro today, a half-hour away, to test my blood at the local hospital. Too thin, it turns out. A reminder of the fragility of the body. Especially old ones. And the fact of mortality.
On the way, there was coming color in the trees. And above, deep blue in the sky. Oh, autumn. Crisp air, stirring waves on Ossipee all day.
But our days here, surprisingly, most about people. The new friends next door, practicing neighborliness - determinedly. A particular joy in my summer. God has so beautifully given me, this sedentary summer, life's wondrous future, in people.
Today came another reminder of that reality, as a young couple came to visit us. I had married them in the Ossipee mountains at "Castle in the Woods" 15 years ago. They, with his parents and a brother, had traveled with us to Africa, as Pilgrim Center retreat leaders, loving healers of the so many Rwandans, wounded by the demonic terrors of the genocide.
These two had been happy-go-lucky, yet deeply sensitive in spirit. They were eager learners, solidly stable in their own lives and always ready to touch the hearts of others.
And now, wonderfully, they are experienced missionaries. They, and their four young children, went to Fiji, to work especially with men and women in prison, countering the culture of abuse that lies hidden behind the reputation of islands of sand, beneath swaying palms, surrounded by blue ocean.
They loved the work. Their children loved the life. And now, in two weeks' time, they are going back, for a longer stay, and deeper work.
They said, as they bounded into our home, "we're 40" and they are anointed by the Spirit. We talked of life, and family, and their joy in the life God has given them so far from home.
They've been home in Tennessee for a year. Built a home on Look-Out Mountain. Done successful work in the family motel business. But, they're leaving all that for they know not how long. Yet, they are eager to go, and so are their children.
Remarkable. Deeply moving for Molly and me. These beautiful young adventurers for Christ - about to be "on the road again," going back to people they've learned to love.
They are, in a sense, children of the Pilgrim Center, carrying with them deep things from the healing ministry, and carrying them carefully into the lives they love across the world.
Molly and I cannot go on those high adventures of the heart anymore, but, what a privilege to bend in a circle of prayer with them before they left, and then to yodel them on their way (as is our Ossipee custom as dear ones leave us here.)
Such a reminder that people are the best in this life God has given us. They light up our days. Their own love touches us and blesses us, and fill our days with meaning.
Especially these last Ossipee days. For we don't know whether there will be another one for us. We say, "God willing," when people say good-bye, and "see you next summer!" It is in God's hands. These days, and all our days. And yours. Catch the wonder. Bless you dearly. We'll see you in Minnesota soon.
I have been trying to write a sermon on Making Peace to give in just a few days' time, at an old folks' home.
It was a great privilege to be asked. But the time is so short - to write a sermon in the September sun, on my New Hampshire deck, in only a couple of hours' time. And a short sermon, at that.
It's not like the old days when I was a parish minister. Each sermon then, for those 32 years, was an agonizing process, that took a week. A task I loved. But, it took research, and long thought, and waiting for the Spirit's move.
This time, with this assignment, was intense. It had to be personal. It had to come from the heart. And, from my experience.
It was for people I love. And it had to be true. It was on loving your enemy. Jesus' radical call to set aside the niceties of life. The traditional. The expected. And be a conversation with people like me, about what we all know, and then hold it up to the Light, and pray Jesus will take it, and speak through it, for truth, and the hope of life, to people who are in the last years of their life. Like me.
But it came. As a call to go against the voices of our time, that calls us to hate, to be against those people who aren't like "us." Who are different. Even of whom we disapprove. And, to love them anyway. In all their differences, all their unlikeness to us, all that we find it so easy to avoid, to dismiss, to shun.
Somehow, under the constraints of old age, and not enough time, you call to Jesus to take these thoughts, these words. Make them real, authentic. And fling them out there. Offer what you have. Put your heart in it. Ask Jesus to take it, and make it His. And touch the hearts that will hear. And speak to their need, and lift their hopes of living in a new way - love's way. The way that makes peace possible through the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.
Pray for those who struggle to preach. And ask God to take the deep things of your heart, and dare to speak them yourself, in the ways that are peculiarly and wonderfully your own.
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.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES