Three young women are my "handlers" during this three-week "Home Care" period following my pneumonia week in the hospital. One is Paige the nurse, who draws blood, to check my INR numbers in the battle against clots. Another is Paige #2, an Occupational Therapist, who gives me exercises toward the slow return of strength. The third is Amy, the salty Physical Therapist, whose interest is in my stability. "Take your time," she says, "slow down, conserve your energy." She helps me map out next steps for getting to the Flagship in Eden Prairie, making it from the parking lot to the front desk, and to my rowing machine, and the shower.
There have been doctors, too: at dermatology, at pulmonology, my generalist, and my dentist to complete the dreaded root canal procedure. The care contract has allowed me to go to church, and to a lunch with a dear Rwanda colleague who has worked with us 25 years in healing retreats in his country.
It's all to make me slow down, restore strength, and "get back into life." To stay alive and do whatever it is God yet has for me to do.
When a sudden cold seemed to overtake me one day last week, even my grown children said, "Dad, we need you still. God has more for you to do."
In my inner soul, I feel that's so. Not only Advent Bible Study at the Hilltop, and preaching one last time on Christmas morning, but being in the audience for choral concerts of my grandchildren, and perhaps a summer or two more at Ossipee, paddling my canoe, and even preaching there as well (to tiny congregation at Wonalancet Chapel of 10 people and a dog).
And just being present here to sit over coffee with the five or 10 people who've already asked for time together to talk and pray of life and faith. Maybe mostly to be a friend to those who need me, and encourage others in their journey through, with Jesus. Such a small thing, but so important to them and me.
And, still and always the family, dear Molly, and each grown child, and grandchildren who face such a strange world to live in.
And maybe, just sitting at home, writing about things I care about, the Christian life, for others to think about. Perhaps helping them, having done all, to stand - with the Lord and His people.
That's some of what I pray for...
I don't get to read Mercatornet.com very often. But my friends pass me things of interest occasionally that are a great encouragement. Good things come from surprising sources sometimes.
Recently a speech was quoted from the Attorney General of the United States about the need for religion in our national life.
He goes back to the founding fathers, acknowledging that they wisely understood humankind's penchant for selfishness. They took a traditional Christian view of human nature, understanding that while we had great potential for doing good, humans were also capable of evil. There needed to be some form of restraint. But, it should not be the government.
So, the Founders decided on a "great experiment." They would place their trust in the self-discipline of the people. They believed in the ability, in Madison's words, "of each of us to govern ourselves." Quoting John Adams, "our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other."
They put huge trust in the Americans as people of faith. They assumed Americans would be looking to Almighty God to guide them in their personal lives and in their national life.
It was a daring choice to make. They wanted the Church to have a voice in the market place of ideas, through the individual people.
They assumed a high calling to us all. They expected God to be a living factor in the lives of individual Americans.
These assumptions go back to the humble trust in God of the Pilgrim generation with their vision of America itself to be "a city on a hill with the eyes of the world upon us."
It was a large and faithful vision. It was articulated first by our Pilgrim ancestors and picked up again by the nation's later founding generation.
That is the call to us in our time, to reclaim that faith in God for our personal need and for the sake of our nation.
The real "New Year" seems clearly to me to be late September and early October. Because I find myself back in a new-old world, of many memories, of my own life divided by decades, of long-held cherished friendships, and the sudden awareness of people I'd come to love here in our senior residence, who've died in the course of the summer. Gentle people, old, kind people who worked hard to cheer others.
And I myself am a bit disoriented. My canoe is stored for the winter. I don't look up from my stern seat, stopped momentarily out by Pine River's mouth to gaze at the ranges of mountains that frame Ossipee Lake, all the way north to mighty Mt. Washington and its Presidential Range, and down along the eastern side our nearest Freedom Hills. There is no peace of the river that so welcomed, and settled, and healed me those 30 or so times I paddled those quiet miles this summer.
Sitting by the fireside with Molly and various others of our family those summer evenings of reading or quiet talk.
Suddenly now I listen to doctors telling me why my breath is short, and my swollen legs weep, and my INR blood count is erratic. There are reasons for everything. My doctor's had a baby, my eye guy is retiring after keeping me seeing these last 30 years. My new dermatologist, whom I really don't know yet, will zap the little pre-cancerous spots on my forehead. The front door valet at the Park-Nicollet Clinic gives me an assist. "Oh, it's all right ma'am, I've seen him here for years. I know Arthur. I'm Kenny."
I just have to get used to it all. To being 90, and feeling fragile, and not quite strong, and having to sort of feel my way in this somewhat strange new year.
When I'm occasionally still asked in public places, "Are you still Arthur?" the answer still is, "Yes."
"I'm Arthur, and I remember you, and I love you, sit down and talk." And, if no one comes along, I'll write a blog, like today, speaking up, out of my heart.
An evening or two ago, a white-haired long-retired college professor asked me if I'd seen lately my "biographer." "Not recently," I said, "but he's written to say he's begun writing."
That's a new experience for me. It would be quite exciting. I'll have to wait and see.. But, I think about it. Judd has written from Baltimore quoting a great German theologian of a century ago, who said, "In the beginning was the sermon."
So, my young friend is reading all my sermons of the two decades when he sat in the balcony at the "old Colonial," and heard them all, and realized they told the story. Perhaps we shall see.
So, the new year - so many years later - begins.
When church comes up, and the differing traditions that still exist in America, I try to answer that "I am a Pilgrim. I am of the Puritan tradition that saw temptations of a number of European traditions to gain influence and authority in society through linking their life with that of the government, until they became official, "State Churches." So today the state church of England is the Episcopal Church. Scotland's official church became those of Presbyterial order.
One group in England protested against state authority by declaring themselves "Independent," separate from the state church. They soon were persecuted and so held their gatherings as congregations in secret, in defiance of the state with its sheriffs and bishops.
In the early 1600s, they fled first to Holland and finally to America. Their "Puritan" branch stayed behind, hoping to purify the English church from within. The younger more radical group decided to separate themselves and follow their dream by heading in 1620 to the new world, there to work out, in freedom, their vision of a church ready to follow Christ alone, and become an example of people claiming freedom from state authority in order to obey "Christ alone." They believed if they met together asking Jesus to lead them that He would do that, and be their guide in all things.
They settled in Plimoth and built their first plantation there. Their compatriots found their lives untenable in England and so followed the separatists to "New" England and founded the Puritan Colony of Boston.
The Pilgrims of Plimoth decided to write a Covenant by which they would live together by faith, in freedom. Each of their churches fashioned their own covenant, stating, "We covenant with the Lord, and one with another, declaring to live together as two or three gathered together in Jesus' name according as He is pleased to reveal Himself unto us in His blessed word of truth."
Our church in Edina committed back in 1946 to live together in the way, following Jesus, and gathering themselves together periodically in "Church Meeting," trusting Jesus to keep His promise to be with them and guide them.
The sign of Jesus' presence and leadership, was the degree to which they were able to achieve or come almost to unanimity. That enabled the earlier generations to report of their church meeting, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us."
There are wonderful joys in living together, following Jesus, and finding His presence near, and His guidance alone, and right, and good.
But, in these fast moving days it is easy to grow impatient with the Church Meeting, and to want to take shortcuts in decision making, and to dispense with a process that involves all the people together, and say "let's have a few wise and faithful people make the decisions - let's not have boards and committees. Let's have staff and our council do the deciding."
It may seem more efficient, but actually many people who want to work for the church, who want to undertake projects, and meet needs, and witness to the wonders of life with Jesus, can feel cut off, left out of the joy of serving that really calls them.
People want to be sent out, want to be under orders to serve, want to be workers for the Kingdom. Let them out with their visions rising, and their call consistent. Open the doors and "go into all the world, and preach the Gospel, and heal the sick, and announce the Kingdom." It's time.
Love you all.
At mid-morning today I answered a firm knock on our door. Molly had left for a doctor's appointment. I was not really dressed, and struggling with shirt cuff buttons in the bathroom.
I opened the door in my underwear. The unexpected visitor was one of the young Home Care people Medicare was providing. I was standing there in my underwear, confessing my surprise, my unpreparedness, and worse - the fact that I had forgotten she would be coming today at all.
Confusion is exactly what they were looking for, and I played right into it. I was soon pelted with questions of what day and month it was, did I know where I was, followed by brief memory tests.
The young woman was gracious and forgiving. We got through the interview, ending with me taking a trial run down the hall, seeing if I could push a wheelchair in a straight line before me. Was I out of breath? Light-headed? I was nervous, out of breath, and quickly exhausted.
Like most Americans, I wanted to be in control, surprisingly fit, and well on the road to recovery.
The reality was I'd been through a weakening week in hospital, with pneumonia, sepsis, and an illness I must respect, faced with a battle I must fight very carefully, with frequent rests, and above all, a willingness to honestly admit my weakness.
The battle for health demands setting aside foolish pride, taking every help that is offered, and the acknowledgement that it will be a long way back. That what I had experienced was major, a narrow brush with life's last breath. I must pay attention. I must be faithful enough to be humble. To let my nearest and dearest in life help me. And, of all things trust in the Lord to Whom I had long given my life.
It was a new kind of struggle. My body had borne a whole set of complicated things. I could only win by losing. By laying aside self-serving defenses and justification, and flinging myself upon the One Who loves me, Who gave me life, and would show me how to recover it.
I had to think differently about myself, about who I am, and about my strength. Paul said, "In my weakness is my strength." Lord, give me eyes to see that. To cling to You, and follow You in this time of uncertainty and debilitation.
So, relief comes. Peace is there. I am ready to face this strange, unexpected, and overtaking challenge.
How I need your prayers. How we all need to be praying for each other. "I pray for you every morning, Arthur," my hairdresser said after she cut my hair today. "Seriously?" Oh yes. Let's be serious together about the deepest things of the journey with Jesus.
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.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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