I'm home - so glad, after my 12 days in isolation. Molly watches over me, and helps me be better.
And, little notes and long letters come, helping me be together with friends on the journey who are dear to me. They tell me where their hearts are, and about their prayers. What an honor.
They are words on paper in their own "hand." So many of them so distinctive. The words come from deep places. Out of shared memories -- some from very long ago. Memories that have been treasured, and are now offered to me, as something precious that they want me to know.
They are a kind of sacred exchange. Sometimes they tell me mine to them have been long saved. I too, try to hold on to theirs, to read and re-read. They are among the most treasured things I possess.
In some ways these exchanges of notes and letters have come into a new day among people who care about each other. We are, for now, a slow-down society. We look at each other in new ways. Many of us cannot even see each other for now. So faces come from those words on paper. We find new - though very old - ways of appreciating each other, and communicating. And letters, so old-fashioned, have a new importance.
We can hold them in our hands. We can see in our hearts the faces behind the handwriting. We're more ready to take time for that. These "things" we hold, paper with handwriting on it, have a new value, in this new day.
Perhaps we're learning something important, we could continue in the post-pandemic that will follow this strange transitional time. Maybe we will write more, in the future. Maybe we will remember more, and reflect more, and value more.
And so, we may find ourselves better, richer, deeper, renewed people - better for all we're going through.
A great joy in life is remembering people. Is giving thanks for them, thanking God for them. Good habits for us human beings. A lesson the Lord is teaching us.
So, God love you. He does, dearly and deeply. As His children, we are the beloved. Be glad.
Love you all.
Your friend, Arthur
It's not every day one gets to be twenty-four. My assignment in our grandparently life, from "Mama Molly," is to write a birthday letter to each child or grandchild when that day of special remembrance comes around. It's a tradition for us, if not for all in the family.
On Sunday a grandson hit 24. Such a sweet boy, steady and strong, a friend to many. Instead of church, we drove to his family home to park in their driveway and wave a cheer for 24, passing the letter of love and a laugh-producing gift from the grandmother. So glad for the sight of him, even while we kept our distance.
We learned in Africa that the Africans don't make a big thing of birthdays, often not even knowing when their birthday is. All this despite their high value on relationship.
But - what a good excuse for saying what you see in the life of a young person growing up - or even an adult growing old. A time to say, "This is what we see in you: your loving heart, your steady spirit, your vision for yourself, your affection for others, your ready smile, the light in your life, your courage." Maybe such a word can help a young person see him or herself, and be aware, and be glad for who they are.
Sense of self is important: knowing who you are, and why you're here - and, most of all, "Whose you are" who your Lord is, and Whose life you are trying to emulate.
My model was my New Testament teacher, under whom I studied in Scotland. James Stewart was a Professor of Divinity at New College Edinburgh. He was also Chaplain to the Queen in Scotland. He loved Jesus, and proclaimed Him with lyrical Scottish voice when he often preached as an interim at Palmerston Place Church. Jamie Stewart was a small man, utterly humble, who mounted diffidently the pulpit steps, but once there, wrapped his robes around him and declared, like a song, that Jesus Christ, Son of God, was "KING FOREVER."
This man of faith was a wonderful example to me, of the heart of the Christian life, and the deep belief of the Christian way. He, of course, was not the only one. How could I forget my mother, that faithful, selfless, earnest Baptist. And my father, who was nurtured in faith by the Omaha YMCA, and went to college and seminary to build a foundation of faith that gave his deep beliefs a framework that served his teaching and preaching in three churches?
There were others, all through my own life, countless many of them, whose very lives were to me, an invitation to follow, "follow the gleam."
Remember that the world is watching each one of us who call ourselves "Jesus' people." We all have influences, all of us who walk the Pilgrim road.
I wish joy to you, as you journey on.
Your friend, Arthur
When I went off to hospital again, two weeks ago, I was bundled into an ambulance, with barely all my clothes on: As Molly said later "with no books, no Bible, no pens, no paper." And of course, no access to family visitors who were not even allowed in the hospital.
My life was in a quarantine section, where nurses and doctors came in with face masks, shields, hoods, gloves, gowns to do the necessities, fleeing as soon as their tasks were accomplished. It felt like visitors from another world - Mars, or beyond.
I'm one who thinks through his writing. So, thinking itself was hard work - resulting in too much television, too much day-dreaming, probably even too much sleep. Though that part was good, in the dark of the night.
I was there for returning pneumonia, but I walked into the cornavirus lockdown, which changed everything: no walks in the halls, no casual conversations with staff. But rather, the inward-turning of self reflection, including, in various ways, death itself.
When doctors brought up NO RESUSCITATION wishes, my answer was certain and sure: "I want to live, as long as I can, and still be useful. I'm not ready to have you let me go."
Perhaps I was too quick to claim life. After all, I'm not Caleb, or Abraham. And Jesus Himself had only 30 years of His life and work on earth!
I cling to the dear wife and family God has given me. But, I cling to Jesus, too, and know I am in His hands - as is Molly, and each of our children. And, a host of friends in Christ, dear companions on the Great Journey Road with Him.
Gradually, I see the self-centeredness of that, and try as I can to let go, and give my life totally to my Lord, for what ever He has for me.
I love life, and people, and the surprises God gives every day. I am grateful for the love of God, and the love of so many who are my companions on the Way.
I was given a virus test early on in my hospital stay, but, as days passed it became probable that, likely having been sent to Utah, it could have been lost. Finally, they gave me a second test, which proved negative. Doctors and nurses were glad to aid and abet my departure, which allowed me to resume a 4-week treatment program at the Invasion Center, where I sit for some hours receiving steroid treatment, aimed to send my old age chronic leukemia back into remission. The side effects got to me, but I pray to be stronger for the next rounds. Such wonders the good doctors have for me. I am so grateful. And for the healing touch of Jesus, the Great Physician.
And you know, so goes life in the last chapter. So much we don't know about what waits for us just ahead. The challenges are new, and all unexpected. It is a kind of "far country," where rivers bend, and hills are steep, and friends are ever dearer, and days are more beautiful, and we learn to hope.
Something sent to our hearts to help us through these pandemic days of distancing, washing hands and cleaning surfaces, and living close at home and distant outside.
Hugs will return, along with hope, and life, better than ever, will go on. We grow together. Bless you all.
The young serious doctor was giving us an option. A different treatment than the $2,600 per month recommended chemical treatment. Something involving steroids, and two-hour, four day infusions.
Dear Molly was standing by, with an appointment of her own to keep, with her miracle-working eye doctor. And, Kristen the minster. The oldest daughter. Listening. Taking notes.
Looking us in the eye, listing the possibilities and outcomes, the doctor concluded, "And then, there's 90." Meaning, after all, you'e outlived all sorts of people already, you are older and more vulnerable.
It's all for a quiescent leukemia that has broken out and affected my lymph system.
The young doctor is earnest, knowledgeable, patient, and encouraging. We trust him. He wants to give us life for as long as he can. So, we will take the new set of two or three pills, drink lots of water, and show up for the early morning week of "Infusions." (except for Thursday when he let me go to my Bible Study, which is joy to me - a gift of God to be "my work" for this season of Lent).
We gather at the Hilltop, have our coffee and muffins, introduce ourselves adding things that are in our hearts to report and encourage others, and read 'round the room our scripture message for the day, receive a small dissertation from me on what it means to be "A Praying People," finally pray and bless each other on our way.
I love the time with these 20 or more wonderfully believing people who love to be with each other - a diverse, motley, and wonderfully winsome early morning crowd.
They help me, in my heart and spirit, as we walk along the great journey of life together. I am deeply grateful for them all.
On the home front my lovely, dearly loving Molly watches over me, transports me when needed, smiles at me, holds my hand, reads me scripture, is our family pray-er, and quietly, kindly works at keeping me alive. She talks with the children, who care so much, and surprise us with their stop-bys.
We gather together for birthday "dinners out," laughing, and catching up. "And then, there is 90" also means there are a host of friends who pray, who write, and who wonderfully encourage.
I've become increasingly aware that one person can "make" a whole day, by the shining light of their lives. They have an instinctive spirit about their "presence" that makes the whole day glow. They are the wondrous good side of even, these latest unexpected health "issues."
That's something that we long for, and rejoice in, about "Church" - the company of believers who love each other, help each other, give hope to each other, creating a mystical "place" and "people of love." Made so, by Jesus, their Lord and Savior. And mine too.
So much is so good in these very different "getting ready" days. Yay!
Arthur, your friend on the journey.
Written on Saturday, February 29:
O, the bright sun of this last Saturday in February! And, how deep the blue of the skies. The warmer air brings even the sound of melting where snow lies in patches around us. The earth is turning. The sun is slanting its rays even into the early evening.
The soul stirs. Our human hearts long for spring. Our hope is for our own renewal. For our own bodies to be restored. For our eyes to look up, and our limbs to gather strength, for our lungs to breathe fresh air. We long for our very lives to be renewed.
This wonderful world God gave us does have intimate ties with our human bodies and spirits. We are all part of the one creation that made the miracle of our turning earth, and our growing, thinking, acting, working, beautiful bodies. Our souls are stirred by God, our Father. Our minds are touched by His dreams for us. We are wonderfully connected with God above, and the earth below.
But, we are also connected with other people. So much so that I have come to think that what makes a "good day" for me, is people: sometimes many, often, only one.
Lent began this week. We went to Ash Wednesday service - in fact two: morning chapel at Covenant Village, and the evening service at Colonial Church. I have long felt Ash Wednesday is a wonderful time for a commitment service.
A woman wrote me this week that the service at our church was the 46th anniversary of her hearing the call of Jesus and walking forward to kneel and commit her life to Jesus - a commitment that has never left her, but kept her true to Jesus her Lord.
The next morning began my own annual early morning Breakfast Bible Studies - six of them - at Edina's Hilltop Restaurant.
My friend Bruce had picked me up at 6:40 am in the pre-dawn light, to drive me from Golden Valley to Edina. Six or seven cars were already waiting for the 7:00 am opening of the doors for us. Suddenly, at three minutes of, all the car doors began opening and out poured my friends and into the Hilltop, to take seats at a horseshoe table set just for us, before the fireplace. Half a dozen were new. Among them Confirmation students from my early years, there, just to be together. One who has worked in politics, another a grade school teacher. Later, a smiling airline attendant, just in from far places. Along came Dan, world-traveler and publisher of Christian books.
Then a handful of folks all the way from the northwest suburbs: Forest, an early "confo kid," with his wife, and a doctor-friend, both having been mentored by a couple who claimed them as sons. The dad was with them, the mother now an angel to us all, in heaven.
A couple of hockey players came, too, and a young UCC minister, and a retired lawyer who's turned to preaching. Twenty-nine of us, gathered as the sun slowly rose, for prayer, and then introduction and personal stories round the room. A surprisingly diverse and lovely crowd - just to talk about what it is to be "believing people." They let me open the Bible and tell them what I thought it was saying to us about that kind of life in this kind of day.
Somehow, these motley gatherings, are a lot like the Pilgrim Center's healing retreats, here, and across Africa: JESUS ALWAYS COMES. He comes in these remarkable people, who speak of Him out of their own lives.
These ever-different groups are always a gift to me, lifting up my spirit, encouraging me as I sit among them.
The Africans have a saying: "WE ARE TOGETHER." So true for us - just loving Jesus, and each other, and going away lifted and loved, and energized for the day. And indeed, for all the days to come.
And, although this was our largest gathering of our years together, I should say "there is always room for one more." What a sweet, good way to start any one of these Pilgrim Days of Lent.
Arthur, with love.
I read the Prayer Corner each week, when it comes from church. So many names I know, but not all. I underline special ones for whom I feel called to pray. And I ask God to meet the need of each one as I put a mark beside, or underline their name.
It is always a great joy when I hear that someone is doing better, or is home from the hospital, or has been blessed with healing.
I have always believed in the power of prayer for healing. I know that, for many and many a person, stunning direct healing has come when we have asked, believing.
I never left a hospital bedside, in my pastoral days, without laying a hand on the one in bed, and asking for their healing from God Who loves them.
There have been times when I needed healing. One vivid time was when Molly and I were driving to Rochester's Mayo Clinic to see their eye specialist, Dr. Brubaker. My numbers had soared from 11-12 to the low 20's - a bad sign for those of us with glaucoma. I knew a little group of praying women had gathered back at church to hold me up in prayer. I had been told that the way glaucoma was going I could be blind at 60 years of age.
To this day I do not know who all of the women were who had gathered to pray for me. When we reached Dr. Brubaker's office in the mid-afternoon, and my eyes were tested, the numbers had dropped from the over-20's to 11 and 13 and in all the years since, they have never risen again! While I did eventually lose the sight in my right eye, my left eye kept its low number and my vision, when last measured was at a perfect 20/20 .
There are other wonderful answers to prayer along the way. When boils on my left leg were examined by my beloved dermatologist, a strange blood spot was noticed on my left foot. "You have a melanoma there," he said.
A young surgeon received the news with grim face, but excised the melanoma, took skin from elsewhere to cover it, and finally went up my left leg to the groin, taking out two ranks of lymph nodes, finding the third rank clean. That was all of 20 years ago. I am so grateful, and praise God the Great Healer. So many prayers!
In recent years, CLL or chronic leukemia has been discovered in my blood. "We'll just watch it," another young specialist counseled. "These low-level things sometimes go on many years, with no problem." But now a set of swellings in the upper lymph system have appeared, a PET scan taken, and a biopsy. While I wonder, without any word back yet, I have been led to great thanksgiving for my life, and these long years. Of course I feel there "is more for me to do." Prayer is still my great help. And hope.
Molly has helped me to find peace as I await further knowledge. I am eager to live my life at a new level, doing my Bible Study for now, reading books of good news for me, exercising as I can and working to be ready for that great going home that awaits all of us who love Jesus and believe His promises of heaven.
Should you pray for me, I ask your help in all these mysterious things, that I may be faithful, and have joy, and be "ready, ready, ready, when the time comes."
You are all so dear to me. Thank you for our continuing partnership in the great Journey with Jesus.
Most of us, especially in the early years of life, take for granted the bodies we live in. They are the "housing" of our young lives. As we grow into them as children, young teenagers, and as 20- or 30-something young adults, our bodies, for so many of us, are serving us well.
We have remarkable strength, and even various agilities, which we rather assume about life. We climb stairs with generally, "the greatest of ease." We walk. We run. We breathe. We lift. We leap out of chairs. We carry things. All abilities that we largely assume.
But, as we age, things change. Especially to do with our bodies. We break things - like an arm or leg. And, for the most part, quickly heal. We find we need adjustments, and seek doctors and therapists to help us. We need glasses, or knee braces, or pills to ease pain.
When I was not yet a teenager, a great joy to me was climbing the mountains that were the "hills of home" to me. I swam daily during long summers. I paddled canoes, and rowed rowboats.
In secondary school I "went out" for crew, and became a captain of my school team. I went to college, and did the same. I loved the pull of the oars of eight boys, then four, as we learned how to make a rowing shell move, and eventually, to defeat others down the course, at Cornell on Lake Cayuga, and in Syracuse on Lake Onondaga, and Princeton, and Pennsylvania, and the Navy at Annapolis.
I later was to row in the 1952 Olympic Trials on Lake Quinsigamond. Even Scotland, while studying theology there, had rowing challenges, and victories.
Now, so many decades later, I paddle alone on Lake Ossipee's waters, both in my single shell, and in my canoe.
But these days, of my ninth decade, I am limited to a rowing machine at the Flagship Athletic Club in Eden Prairie.
And something has happened to make me think differently, about this body God gives me. It has suddenly changed, actually shrinking. I walk slowly, and not far. Mercifully, I can still row.
But now, I wonder about this amazing machine I was given at my birth. Things happen to it - inside, that I cannot see. But, I can feel the changes: swellings in various places. I am re-introduced to the lymph system, hardly knowing, even yet, what it is. It carries fluid through my body, to various places of swelling, and I think a lymph node. I am being scanned and biopsied toward understanding the mystery of it.
And today, in the midst of the gloom of having to postpone the biopsy till my blood count lowers, a great word of scripture has come to mind, to remind me of the greater reality, that like King David's discovery of hundreds of years ago, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made!" This body is a miracle, and has been for almost 91 years.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
How that beautiful outcry turns it all around for us, as we behold our wrinkled hands, and sagging middles, and spindly legs.
Our bodes are a beautiful time machine. Into what wonderful experiences they have carried us. What visions they have shown us. And how they comfort us.
God knows my days and the number of them. And I can stop so foolishly speculating on how many more there may be. It is enough that I am His, and that, by His grace, I can fill those days with the thoughts and acts He has planned for me.
God brings each day, and fulfills them as He wills. For me it is "not to worry." How about you?
I sat at Rotary Lunch today beside a man who is retiring. He owns a Hospice business. A young minister, very gifted as a pastor, will succeed him. I observed that letting your work go, and "passing the torch" to another, is hard to do. "Oh, you're right," he said, "My successor can't possibly love my people as much as I have."
There it was, the admission that his work was about loving the people, not the money. It is tempting to feel that nobody could come along and love the people as much as he had. He doesn't know that it will be different - that people in need will learn to love the new guy, while still loving the old man.
Sometimes, people come along, at least in a church, who open up doors, who want to hear the story, the history.
It is easy for successors, new and young, to come to a church, and say, "I don't want to hear the story. Don't tell me about the pain or the problems. We'll just begin all over, right here, without worrying about the past."
Many decades ago, a great black preacher came straight out of the racial stirrings in the South, and spoke to the secondary school where I was a student. I remember one great word he spoke. He said, "I am what I am because I stand upon the shoulders of an infinite number of yesterdays." He was not only a poet and a preacher, but he knew it was important to be a historian. You need to know what's gone before. You need to acknowledge history, and build upon its lessons of the past.
That same preacher came to our church here to preach and teach us for three weeks in the summer. It was an honor to have him, and learn from his wisdom.
Just this week, a new staff member came to Colonial Church. He wanted to sit by the fireplace at Covenant Village and learn what he could about our history, including those tumultuous decades of the 1960's and 1970's, which were so hard - and so wonderful.
He too, has a historian's heart. He wants to learn "how it was." I think he has hopes of being part of building on those foundations of the decades past, on so many good things that have gone before. Maybe many will join in to do together the things of God's plan that He has ahead.
In letting go, God has a great chance to build in our lives and institutions the things that are in His mind and heart for the future, that have long been His plans.
Bless you as you still work at the facture of your life, "letting go" so that God's plan can emerge.
Waiting. Waiting. Wanting others to move quickly, to help you. Thinking about yourself. About your life. And current things in your life.
Getting nervous. Not quite in control. Not quite your old self. Because there's something important about your life that you don't know. But a young hematology oncologist does know. He's read your PET scan of four days ago. He knows what those strange photos in the Nuclear Department of the hospital have shown about what your blood is doing. You know that the quiescent period of several years of this new health adventure is over, and that the sudden swellings in your neck and armpits declare that the lymph system is under attack.
The young, likable doctor knows now lots about you that you don't know. He doesn't realize how much you want to know it, too, and to find out the treatment and get on with it.
He has other patients to think about, and care about. Sicker than you. Maybe more gravely threatened than you.
You're getting selfish. You're putting yourself forward as #1, the way 21st Century American culture teaches you to do.
It's time for second thoughts. For slowing down and stepping back. And remembering who you are, and WHOSE you are. That you're in your Creator's hands. That He loves you and won't let you go.
And, would you believe it? Just as that thought comes, just as you take that step back and remember who you are and that Christian humility calls you to be patient, and to wait, the phone rings. It may not be "Godot." Better than that, you know it's the Lord Who loves you and holds your life in the hollow of His hands. He is on the phone under the guise of a woman named Betsy, the young doctor's nurse. She's heard my phone message. She knows I'm waiting and so wanting answers. "The doctor's out today. We hope he'll give us information tomorrow for us to send to you, to let you know the news."
The Angel Betsy was letting me know all she could. Between the lines she was saying, "Peace Arthur, be still. We care about you. Don't worry."
I thanked her. And when I said instinctively, "Bless you," there was a catch in her breath - a blessing back to me.
So, I wait. Not for "Godot." but for the good God Himself to let me know, and lead me on, in peace.
How swiftly the messages come, in life. How sure are the Hands that hold us. How safe we are in His good grip.
Bless you, friends.
We were on the way home from the hospital when I finally said to my dear wife, "Happy Valentine's Day, Molly." She laughed and said, "You are my dearest Valentine."
She had spent the day helping me get ready for our appointment at the Nuclear Medical Center at Methodist Hospital, where I was to have a PET Scan. I was apprehensive. I didn't quite know what that was, except that they would take deep pictures of my blood. Pictures of things X-rays could not see.
A young, cheery cancer doctor in internal medicine had been watching my blood for two or three years. "You have a low-grade CLL - a form of leukemia. That's why your energy is low and you feel tired. Sometimes it just lies there for years without doing anything. We hope it will stay that way. Of course, one day it could explode into something new."
But now a change had come. I discovered a swelling just above my right collarbone. It was very tender. Then I found a smaller swelling above my left collarbone along with a swelling under each armpit. The left one had grown larger and began to hurt by the time I saw my young specialist. "Your CLL has broken out and affected your lymph glands. We have new medicines to treat it, just one pill a day. The PET scan will tell us a lot."
So, I was apprehensive on the day of the PET scan. But my Molly was being my Valentine, and easing the way, at every step. So now it's wait and pray through the weekend.
I found there is lots of waiting and praying as you get into the "old-old" years. For dear friends all around you. For your grown children who need you more than you or they expected. For church. For country. For the world where viruses are running wild. In fact, prayer is the one sure thing in this whole uncertain world. We learn again and again that Jesus is the One we can count on. FOR ALL THINGS.
So much to pray for. And prayer, believe it or not, is real power. You can join me in prayer, and help me as I work to keep at it. But claim the whole world, too. God is so ready to answer. Let's make this season of Lent - soon to be upon us - a whole time of renewed prayer. We all need it. Thank you. Bless you.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES