“Johnny Come Lately”

When I was young, say 40 years ago, I did a good bit of public speaking.  I even partially paid for grad school by speaking (preaching) at churches on the weekends.  Somehow, as I got older, that gift of speaking got channeled in different ways, mainly in the classroom and in the public performances by my students. “Preaching” took a backseat as music and teaching became the main avenues for helping support my family.

Recently, however, I was given the opportunity to preach at my church.  So, several decades after I learned how to do this, I found myself in the pulpit on Father’s Day.  The text for the morning was from Mark 4.  Here is that sermon text:


One of the first things I remember learning about the Bible as a young child was that Jesus talked in parables. He told stories! A parable, I was told, was an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. I have been bumping into parables my entire life and only in recent years has the full significance of this type of teaching really made sense to me. As a teacher myself, I discovered that my young students often were more attentive to information given via a story than by any other means, even technology! And so it was when Jesus told his stories – simple, yet complex parables/stories that extend far beyond the story into the middle of Life itself.

My Dad was a master storyteller too. Another of my earliest memories is of sitting on my Dad’s lap or hanging over his shoulder with my other siblings while he regaled us with stories of B’rer Rabbit or Uncle Wiggly or Uncle Remus. Dad introduced us to Dr. Seuss…he discovered “The Cat in the Hat” the very first week it arrived on our public library shelves. Dad was forever telling us stories, entertaining us with his vocal and facial expressions, teaching us – albeit indirectly – how to be family for each other!

We learned many lessons from those stories Dad told or read to us – lessons about life, about morals, about relationships…but I realize now that the most significant lessons were inherent in the very act of telling those stories. Jesus, too, understood the power of a good story. He used that power to capture the attention and imagination of his listeners, imbedding in those stories some of the essence of God’s Presence. Perhaps I can get at this best by telling you a story!

When our younger son, Joel, married Maria, she brought with her a young son, Samuel. We were delighted with this “instant” grandchild, but our chances to really get to know him were severely hampered by the fact that Joel and Maria moved to Chicago. A few short visits a year were all we could manage at first. Sammy seemed like a stranger, and I wondered if we would ever have those special grandparent feelings I had heard so much about.

Then, one summer, Joel suggested that we go camping with them.   So we loaded up our cars with everything, including the kitchen sink (!) and headed for the mountains of West Virginia. There was the normal chaos of setting up camp, followed by days of cooking over open camp fires, searching for tree frogs after dark, photographing mushrooms and bugs, hiking in the woods, riding horses, throwing the Frisbee, playing board games, napping in the hammock … all those things that were part and parcel of a Spencer camping trip.

We were beginning to forge some family bonds with our young grand son, but the real clincher happened on the night a storm was brewing. As we listened to the approaching thunder, and felt the wind begin to blow, little Sammy crawled into my lap, curled up under a blanket, and said, “Grandma, can you tell me the story of the day my daddy was born?”

And so, the family stories began.   In the following days, we relived many details of Joel’s childhood, laughing over long forgotten antics, growing closer, becoming family as the stories unfolded. In that one short week, we, Sammy and Ed and I, became family for good.

Jesus apparently understood that stories helped draw people together. He recognized that his listeners would come the closest to understanding his message if he couched that message in stories. He began many of his own stories, or parables, with the words, “The kingdom of God is like…” In today’s gospel we get a glimpse of two such parables, but the verses that most caught my attention are the last two (verses 33 and 34): “Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach people as much as they could understand. In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables.”

Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant when He talked about the Kingdom of God? The focus of much of Jesus’ teaching was the Kingdom of God. In fact, that Kingdom was Jesus’ central message. He wanted to make certain that his listeners understood as much as possible about living in God’s Presence. “The Kingdom of God” happens in one’s life when that person learns to become aware of God’s Presence always.

When is the last time you were personally aware of God’s immediate Presence? When you knew God was present, working in your midst as surely as that friend now sitting next to you? Do you believe it is even possible to sense God’s presence, to catch God in the act of working out details on your behalf? God is involved in the details of our lives. God is constantly at work in our lives, pulling together events in such a way that one cannot possibly believe it is coincidence.

Let me tell you another true “dad” story to illustrate: In the spring of 2005, I was working in my classroom after the students had left for the day. Normally, I worked in silence – welcomed it after the noise that was inherent in the music room! For some odd reason that day, I flipped on the radio, tuning into NPR just in time to hear about a new venture called “Story Corp.” A mobile recording booth had been constructed in Grand Central Station. People were encouraged to bring loved ones in to record special family stories. The recordings were made and archived in the Library of Congress as a record of everyday American life. The main idea behind these interviews was that listening is an act of love.

 Somehow, as I first heard that report on NPR, I knew I had to get my Dad into one of those recording booths. Several mobile units were beginning to travel around the nation as part of the project. One was coming close to Martinsville, with stops in Charlottesville Virginia, and another in Charleston, West Virginia. By some miracle, my busy teaching schedule “just happened” to offer a short window of down time at exactly the time the phone line was opened for taking reservations for recording time. I was fortunate enough to secure one of those limited and highly-coveted appointments. Our recording date was only a few days after Dad turned 85.

Dad had always been the paragon of good health. He only went to the hospitals for the birth of his six children, but never was he a patient himself! Yet, less than 2 weeks after our interview, he came down with such severe pneumonia that he was hospitalized. Ten days later, he was gone! That very evening, someone working the Story Corps booth called us to be certain our interview experience was successful! From that phone call, our story became part of the national fund raising efforts by the Story Corp team.

The recording of our Story Corps interview was a remarkable gift that shaped not only the celebration of Dad’s life, but also fixed in our memories the sound of his voice and much of the essence of who Dad was. I found myself, much like Moses and the burning bush… standing on sacred ground in the Presence of God! There is no other way to explain how perfectly the logistics of that entire event fit together! Such timing to me is always a mark of God’s Presence, as uniquely recognizable as a thumbprint. The Kingdom of God is at work just as surely now as it was when Jesus spoke in parables!

I was always Dad’s little girl. I was the only girl in the middle of four brothers, and Dad did many things for me, seemingly little stuff at the time, but that had huge significance later. I have many warm memories of time we spent together… gardening, shopping, making book runs to the public library. I learned that all routes to our home led past Krispy Kreme, especially if the “Hot off the line” sign was lit!

One of my favorite memories was searching for agates along the banks of the Mississippi River near the lake in Minnesota where we vacationed every summer. Over the years, I filled a glass jar with those layered red and orange gemstones. Every year that jar went with me on the long trip from Tennessee to Minnesota; the rest of the year, it had a prized place on a shelf in my closet.

When my parents downsized from the large home where they raised 6 children, I went looking for my agate jar… and couldn’t find it anywhere! I assumed those rocks had been assimilated into the family’s large agate collection, but I was sorry they were no longer in my jar.

Not too many years passed before my mother realized that keeping up the house by herself was too much of a burden. She decided to enter an assisted living facility, so we began the process of shutting down her home. I was with her one weekend and she suggested I make one last trip to the basement. “There might be something down there in all the junk that you might want.” She said.

So, I bleakly rummaged through the piles of ancient tools, boxes of rocks from family rock-hounding days, moldy camping gear, listening to the echoes of years gone by, grieving that such days were over and done. And then, I stumbled upon a small, innocuous plastic box. The contents took my breath away! In a flash, I vividly remembered a conversation with Dad on a weekend visit home from college, some 40 years before. He had offered to tumble polish my agates in his lapidary. I gave him the entire jar, carefully pointing out a few favorites that I wanted left in their natural state, because I loved their texture and color. There in the plastic box was my entire agate collection carefully tumble polished, …and those most special favorites were there too, left in their natural form, just as I had requested! Forty years hence, and years after my Dad died, I felt as if he was standing beside me. I could hear his voice almost audibly, feel his breath on my hair as he hugged me close. In those brief moments, I experienced again the depth of my Father’s love for me. The surprise was that such love could reach beyond the grave and rock my emotions so intensely! In that same instant, I was aware that God was there, giving me exactly what I needed during a difficult time of transition.

The Kingdom of God! It’s as simple as it is complex! As I researched for today’s sermon, I ran across a blog called “From His Presence…because your life can be Heaven on Earth”. It is written by a young woman named Jamie Rohrbach. She writes from the premise that Jesus himself taught us to pray, asking “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus himself taught us to ask explicitly for God’s Kingdom! We ask for it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer!

Just what is the Kingdom of God? The arrival of the Kingdom of God was Jesus’ central message. “The Kingdom,” Jamie Rohrbach writes in her blog, “––happens in your life when you learn to become aware of God’s Presence always.” Miss Rohrbach believes intensely that we can and should regularly experience the presence of God in our everyday lives.

God’s Presence for me is a constant reality. Sometimes I am more attuned to that Presence than others. Thankfully, God doesn’t base that Presence on our awareness! God comes not as an audible, disembodied voice, but rather in the midst of life, often in a sequence of events, so carefully choreographed, so perfectly timed that there is no way it could be mere coincidence. Most fascinating to me is that God seems to work in similar ways with others. God’s Fingerprints – in the form of a tiny boy and an approaching thunder storm, or in preparation for the death of a loved one, or in finding a long lost treasure … The more one takes time to slow down, listen and look for God’s presence, the more one can discover God is there in the midst! That still small voice speaks as eloquently today as it did 2000 years ago.

And so, I ask again … when is the last time you were personally aware of God’s immediate Presence? When you knew God was working in your midst just as surely as that friend sitting next to you? What stories do you have to tell about these experiences? Have you shared those stories with friends or loved ones? There are many ways to talk about God, about what we do here at church, about how much God loves us. But one of the most effective ways is direct, immediate, personal experience with God’s Presence!

What goals or dreams do you have for yourself? For this church family? What does the Presence of God look like right here at Starling Avenue? In many ways, we are family for each other here in this place. Yes, we have stories to share. Hopefully, we have dreams to share as well. As we move into the future, may God’s immediate Presence – His Kingdom – be immediately upon each of us, sharing beyond ourselves with a broken world the reality of God’s love – of God’s Kingdom in this time, in this place! Amen”





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Arm teachers!?!? Have we lost what’s left of our collective minds?!! The day I was required to keep a gun in my classroom would be the day I would walk out! And don’t think I’m a loser…. I am National Board Certified and was a Teacher of the Year. Gun ownership is a personal issue and I would no more want gun possession forced on me than many of you out there would welcome giving up your rights to gun ownership.

So, what is the solution? First, would someone please tell me that owning a rapid fire, automatic rifle actually SAVED a life! I mean, a normal, everyday person….sort of like those normal victims who now inhabit cold graves. Have you saved someone’s life with your own rifle?

Second, I cannot believe the authors of a constitutional amendment would have included weapons of war in their writings if such weaponry had existed. Those weapons have a place…in the hands of our military and police…NOT in the possession of the general public. Why do we insist that kids wait until they are 21 to drink alcohol, but allow them to handle and purchase lethal weapons? Common sense would say that children are not ready to handle such weighty responsibility.

Third, we have in our hands the technology to establish a nationwide data base to track and manage gun purchase. We are already tracked through medical, financial, and tax data bases. Surely, having a similar data base to ensure safe gun ownership would help more than it hurt! Surely, saving someone’s life would be worth the freedom gun owners might have to give up…

Finally, at least some responsibility also rests on the heads of…well, of ALL of us. I was constantly surprised by the “harmless” violent rhetoric and actions I often saw in some of my young students. I have also been dismayed at the tech addiction that is sweeping our society. I believe young children have a difficult time separating the fictional violence of these games from the reality of living in community with other people. (Wonder if this same violence addiction has anything to do with road rage…?). Perhaps we all need to take a collective breath and determine to live peaceably, without malice, dealing fairly and respectfully with our neighbors, and walking humbly, give up our obsession with power (i.e. Gun ownership?) and intimidation, seeking out the best in others, rather than provoking their worst.

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Moving Day

Ten years ago, I was blithely ignorant. About my future. About people with disabilities. About the hidden benefits that came with my teaching position. About Parkinson’s disease. Unaware of the dramatic turn that was about to take place in my existence.

Ten years ago, a doctor asked innocuously about the slight tremor in my right leg. I was only vaguely aware of it…..could make the twitching stop just by thinking about it. He sent me for an appointment with the local neurologist …. An appointment I put off because of big (brave??) plans to drive my mother and her younger sister (both were seasoned octogenarians….) north into Minnesota to their stomping grounds at a cabin on a lake north of the twin cities.

I was aware of some strange details: while swimming the traditional half mile across Sugar Lake, I struggled to stay on course, pulling dramatically to the left as I swam. At the organ bench, it was getting harder to play “clean.” I found myself tripping over notes in favorite hymns that I had played for years. Handwriting was growing difficult as well…my once beautiful script was turning into inelegant scrawl… In my naivete, it never occurred to me that all these little irritants were part of a much larger issue….

Dad's Peace Rose

Dad’s Peace Rose

Ed and I had just moved into a wonderful space on Pine Road, and I was eager to begin landscaping our 2.5 acres. We planted a rose garden, and began planning the landscaping for the front of our new home. As I photographed the first rose blooms with my new DSLR camera, I could not know how precious those developing camera skills would become. Nor did I realize then just how valuable the “all on one level” layout of our new home would be.

I eventually kept that neurology appointment, going as a “lamb led to the slaughter.” The doctor’s diagnosis ( “I’m 99% certain you have Parkinson’s Disease.”) introduced me to the reality of panic attacks, and the horrifying realization that nothing would ever be the same. In the coming months, as I researched, read, asked questions, and made the rounds of an ever-growing list of doctors and specialists, I learned that there was nothing that could cure me. Nothing that could stop the progression. Nothing to prevent this interloper from gradually, ruthlessly stripping from me many things that I enjoyed doing.

Ten years ago, I took on a new mantle, unwittingly and unwillingly, without any choice. This new journey brought with it an all-important decision; one that has to be reconsidered nearly every day: Is the proverbial glass as half empty or half full? Is it a stop light or a go light? Do I dwell on what is lost, or look for new perspectives, maybe even savoring new ideas or opportunities? Does Parkinson’s define who I am? Or does it serve as a catalyst, prompting me to think outside my own proverbial box?

Let me be honest here: I am not superhuman! Not an angel nor a saint. Sometimes, I am afraid. Sometimes, angry at what I have lost. Sometimes, overwhelmed by grief. I miss my classroom and my students.   I miss playing the pipe organ and singing…I can no longer physically make music. I ache to perform again and am repeatedly devastated with the realization that it just is not going to happen…ever! With each fall, each setback, each loss, I sense the growing concern and protectiveness of loved ones. I loathe what this illness is doing to all of us.

Ten years, the first decade of this “decades long” diagnosis. I am different:  older, wiser, less-stressed. I have explored new artistic avenues (things that may have never entered my mind before), enjoyed successful competitions in photography, learned to make teddy bears from old fur coats. I’ve learned to think my way out of a “blue funk” as I color extravagantly detailed pictures, go for walks, try new exercises. I have met new friends and found fulfillment as I work to make life easier for others with serious medical issues. I have been very fortunate during most of the journey, reaping the rewards of countless benefactors…those Parkinson’s patients who have gone before me, testing new drugs and procedures. And the brilliant doctors, neurologists, movement specialists, and scientists who have passionately searched for answers and solutions. And there are the untold thousands of friends, neighbors and fellow citizens who have generously given to fund the research.

So now, as I enjoy the wealth of research…as I obediently take the drug regimen custom fit for me….as the Boston Scientific brain stimulator works silently inside my head, canceling the tremors and much of the rigidity….well, now it’s my turn to give back. Fund raising is not my usual forte, yet it is a challenge that I cannot ignore. It will culminate in what is called “Parkinson’s Moving Day.” the annual national fund raiser for the Parkinson’s Foundation. One of the events will be held in Winston-Salem, not too far from my home. Even many of the medical care providers (who, incidentally, have become like a second family to me) will be involved. On Saturday, April 28, we will gather as a community from 9:00 to 12:00 for a morning of walking, moving, learning, playing – as we raise awareness and gather funds to help the next generation of Parkinson’s patients.

SO what happens in the two months between now and then? I need to build a team who will commit to a Saturday morning in April immersed in the PD community, who can meet with me at least once for some initial planning early in March, who are willing to share by any and all means possible the absolute necessity of funding continuing research. I need team members who can help me get past my own personal hesitancy to ask for money….Who are willing to join the “Spunky Spencers” in a quest for $1500 for Parkinson’s.

Will you join me? Any donation will be most welcome. New team members are welcome too! You can register, join my team and/or make donations by going to this web address: https://movingdaywalk.org/event/moving-day-winston-salem/participant/1704584/

Thanks to all who have been part of this incredible journey.  Thanks for your encouragement, your presence, your patience, your understanding.  For those of you who have already volunteered, don’t forget to officially sign up as a team member at our website.


Posted in Ministry, Parkinson's Disease, Photography | 2 Comments

Snow Days

(Written a few days ago, during the first snow of this season.)

WInter Post

It’s 5-ish in the morning. A “snow day.” A surprising slow-down in the midst of Advent, preparing for the coming Christmas celebration. The activities of this day will be a bit different from those planned on the calendar! Perhaps we will complete the decorating, actually putting up our Christmas tree together. And toting the boxes, now empty of their stored decorations, back to the garage. We will prepare meals together – no sense in trying the normal “eating out on the run” scenario.

The only things missing are the normal “warm factor” commodities such as kids and grandkids, and a fire in the fireplace. The firewood has finally been depleted and the chimney sweep is coming in a few days – all in preparation for the installation of gas logs. Such logs were in place when we moved into this house (was it really 10 years ago this week!!?). As we set up house keeping in this new home,I adamantly had those fakes removed (“We will be using the real things! Thank you very much!” I thought.). For ten years, we have stacked firewood, hauled logs into the house, swept up over and over … and enjoyed the warmth and smell of real wood fires. Almost like sitting around the campfire,


Ah, but this pleasure is about to bite the dust, much as the “real” Christmas tree did after our children flew the nest. Hauling logs is no longer easy. Even bending down to build and light the fire has become an issue. (Old age has it perks, but this is not one of them!). In fact, decorating and Christmas baking have been scaled back, in direct proportion to my current energy.

Of course, the fruitcake recipe is lying out on the counter with the growing collection of ingreIMG_1057dients necessary for concocting the “George Rodgers” recipe (Thanks, Dad!). There are plans for a couple of our traditional coffee rings as well,but who knows if they will actually come to fruition. There actually won’t be any baking today – lacking some ingredients and heavy snow means possible power outages. So, like so many of our plans and traditions, many of today’s activities are in a dynamic state of “hold until things are stable again.”

So, what to do with today? With the power still intact, I can fire up the sewing machine to finish a couple of Christmas projects. I can complete my gift list by shopping on line. I can be totally lazy in my recliner, reading and dozing the day away. I can dig out the camera and try to capture the beauty just outside my window. Lots of possibilities. Limited mainly by soreness from an automobile wreck 5 weeks ago (Who knew it would take so loooooooong to get over that trauma?).

Whatever this or any future days may bring, I face them with a strange mix of sobriety and mirth. I was “lucky” five weeks ago. Or “blessed” or something. There is much healing left to do, in both body and spirit, but at least I am here. The events in recent weeks have confirmed much of what I already knew: Live each day to the fullest, because it may be your last. Family and friends – relationships are by far the most valuable “thing” in life. “Wasted” time is   not necessarily lost time. Savoring one’s life, just like savoring hot, home-made soup, is highly important, for it nourishes our very souls.

Cedar iin White.jpgI am giddy with the possibilities that life still holds, yet sobered with the realities that things change as I age. I still have the same choices as when I was a young adult: will I allow the negative forces to surround me, holding me captive in an ever- restrictive web, or will I continue to follow dreams? Will I rest on my laurels, or will I keep following the “road less traveled by”?   Much to contemplate. Good thing I am moving slower, so I have time to think!

I love snow days!



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Sixty Five

I’ve been a lot of things in my life, but never 65. Until today. As with previous birthdays, I don’t feel any older than yesterday, yet there are some odd realizations that seem to go with this prodigious milestone. Medicare is one (sorry, I am not willing to go there here!). The official ending of a career is a larger one. Yes, I’ve been on disability for 3 years, but today, retirement is official.

I’ve been mulling some things over for quite a while… What’s next? Does retirement mean the end of my effectiveness? Am I being sent “out to pasture?” Do I get to sit back and rest “on my laurels,” content to watch the world go by? This is supposed to be a time of resting, relaxing, and enjoying the good life, right? I will admit, the proverbial rocking chair does look pretty good sometimes.

Ever since brain surgery almost exactly 3 years ago, I’ve been in some sort of holdingWake at Daybreak #4 pattern, waiting to see what the next big adventure might be. After all, isn’t there supposed to be an open window when the current door slams shut? It still seems odd to have been sidelined on disability just after deep brain stimulation seemed to give me back so much! For all its miracles, DBS could not restore my ability to play the pipe organ, nor could it stop the deterioration of my voice. With balance an ongoing issue, and the increasing inability to multi-task, I could not return to my beloved classroom… so “waiting” has become a way of life, a huge question mark stamped on my existence as I try to make sense of how I got here anyway! What in heaven’s name I’m supposed to do now!??

Interestingly, recent events, some seemingly innocuous and quite ordinary, are converging into what I recognize as a Thumbprint, characteristic of other hallmark events down through the years. From a sermon Sunday at Elevation Church through a retreat for a Parkinson’s Support Group yesterday to a ministry-related hospital visit this morning, there seems to be a remarkable answer to my query.

First, Sunday’s sermon about waiting: Whether you believe i,n God’s activity on our behalf or not, there were several observations that ring true: (1) How you wait impacts who you become. (2) A waiting season is not necessarily a wasted season. (3) Waiting may be more about the journey than the destination.

Translation: Perhaps it’s quite all right to let go of constant goal orientation. Career aspirations seem to feed on our culture’s unspoken yet very real insistence that success is measured only in one’s advancement up the ladder. Waiting for “the next step” can be quite active, but it still is the antithesis of goal-oriented being and doing..  Finally, what if, all along, the journey – the experiences we’ve had, the memories we’ve made, the relationships we’ve cherished – have really been what was most important?!

A retreat with my Parkinson’s buddies yesterday helped the picture come more into focus. We shared frustrations, concerns, experiences, and even a surprise birthday cake together during the course of that day. I was asked to lead some drum circles … odd, because I can no longer keep a steady beat on my own. That didn’t seem to be an issue as these friends immediately understood the value of the drum as an expression of things even more basic than “steady beat.” It wasn’t my skill (or lack thereof) that made it work. It was the connection of kindred spirits who joined together, strengthening the bond that was already formed.

An activity later in the day “by chance” brought a book to my awareness. Peace In His Presence is exactly the sort of book I’ve been wondering if I could write! There it was, in my hands – proof that not only is such a book possible, but there might even be a niche for it. Combining nature photography and perceptive writing, Sarah Young’s book both touched my soul and sparked my imagination. Now, some real waiting and listening begins as I seek Direction for combining passions for photography and for writing into something bigger than I am…

The divine Thumbprint cemented itself, yet again, in my psyche today during a visit with long-time friends who are in the middle of a health crisis. This tale begins with Howard #9a love of teddy bears. I make them from non-traditional materials such as old fur coats, upholstery material, and blue jeans. In the last three years, my sewing machine has increasingly become a tool for designing everything from minister’s stoles to purses to teddy bears. Previously, I thought it was only for sewing clothing and mending…never fully comprehended its availability as an artistic tool! Certainly not as a tool for ministry! Wonders never cease …this special friend has been looking for someone who could make a teddy bear for her sister…from her recently deceased father’s sweatshirt!

Today IsSo tonight, as I contemplate a birthday chock full of friends, good wishes, family, food, and fellowship, I am aware yet again that these three years of “waiting” have most definitely not been wasted. The activities used to occupy my mind and hands while I have waited have become the Next Step.   I embrace “65” with thanksgiving. This retirement pasture is still green, calling me out, giving rest, joy, relationship, and continued belief in a God who is still intimately involved in the details!






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Occasionally, I get things right! When I learned that my long time friend and colleague, Gerry Robinson, was retiring from Hatcher Memorial Baptist in Richmond, I determined to attend the celebrations in his honor. Today, I experienced a wonderful “final” service, led by Gerry, and then an amazing Concert, lovingly prepared and presented by the church family that called him away from us 8 ½ years ago.

Gerry and I worked together for many years at Starling Avenue Baptist Church, he as Minister of Music (+++) and I as organist. During one of the early choir rehearsals with him, I stumbled over a direction, and remarked, “Give me time…I will learn to read your mind!” I did not fully realize then that as musicians, we would both soon be able to sense much of what the other needed, nor did I know what a special friend he would become.

Over the years, Gerry took special care of his parishioners, including me. He was forever surprising me: he often put my music in order before adult choir rehearsal began. When he learned that my back bothered me by the end of most rehearsals, he ordered a special rehearsal chair to replace the piano bench in the choir room. Soon afterwards, I discovered a back rail had also been added to the organ bench in the sanctuary.

He understood the complexities of the pipe organ and did ever so many things to make that job easier like putting together notebooks for special services with all of the dialogue and music in order. He knew how to fix out-of-tune pipes and ciphers (how many times did we rummage through the pipe chambers just before services began?!…)

There was a surprise birthday party at their home on my fortieth birthday (he turned 42 the same day…!). And, there was a wonderful worship service in my honor as I turned 50…a remarkable, much appreciated affirmation of my life in ministry.  He was quicker than most in understanding God‘s claim on me as minister…

Gerry also introduced me to the work of music educator Carl Orff, helping me to attend local workshops and even several national conventions. Neither of us had any idea that God was preparing me for a wonderful position as Music Specialist at Leaksville-Spray Elementary School in Eden, NC.

One of the most significant gifts Gerry has  given my family was to travel back to Martinsville on a Sunday afternoon to officiate the wedding of our son, Joel, with Maria.  It was an emergency intervention; our pastor lost a family member  only two days before the wedding so, at the last minute, we had no one to officiate the wedding. Gerry (who was very instrumental in Joel’s musical upbringing) stepped in for us and did a remarkable job.  He knew Joel so well that he was able to step in. speaking directly to our son with specifics that only he could know. We could not have planned anything better!

In 2008, I began working on National Board Certification through the school system. I was already aware that my deteriorating handwriting could become a problem that could influence my testing for the Boards. Little did I realize that was just the tip of the proverbial ice burg! I was also experiencing a growing inability to play a hymn “cleanly”. Such things as trills and scalar runs were becoming increasingly difficult. I could not add appropriate weight to fingers to bring out the melody on piano pieces.   My right foot seemed to have a mind of its own as pedaling at both the organ and piano became more and more uncoordinated. In August of that year, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Telling my co-ministers at church was only the beginning of the agony of letting go…

I took the first two months of 2009 off from my church position, in order to finish writing for National Boards.   The fall had been a zoo as I adjusted to new meds and regimens; unfortunately, I didn’t even begin to suspect that my beloved friend was about to leave. Sometime during those two months “off,” Gerry came to Eden with the news that he was leaving for a church in Richmond.   I honestly thought that my world was falling apart and God was growing silent…

It has been 8 ½ years since that day, and I believe I’ve been angry with God for most of that time! How could He call my friend away when we all needed him so much? Many things have changed in the intervening years. I have lost my ability to play the organ, the piano, to sing, to teach, to handwrite a letter. (If I dwell on what is lost, I find myself looking into a dark abyss…)   Suffice it to say, life has gone on, just not quite the way I had imagined.

One of the up sides to this disability/retirement existence is that I have freedom to come and go as never before. Hence, the trip to Richmond in support of this special friend. I went for him today… yet I received a rich blessing in return. The obvious deep love of the Hatcher family for Gerry and Betty has helped me finally understand that God knew exactly what He was doing in sending them to that place. Gerry has been their Minister during some very difficult years for the church family. I honestly believe he may have been the “Glue” that held them together as they struggled with their identity and mission in the 21st century. And, that church family embraced both Gerry and Betty, calling out the very best in them during these 8 ½ years.

The fullness of time – that is most certainly how God works. At times when God seems most silent, God is still at work, still loving us, still carrying us until the time is exactly right and we can hear God’s voice again, until we can see God’s larger plan and how we fit into it.

I’ve been at this “Out of work/Disability/Retirement” thing for nearly three years. I never planned to be here, never thought of myself as disabled. I seem to have floundered my way through these first “empty” years, trying to figure out how to structure wide-open days and weeks with “meaningful” activity.  Sometimes, I just feel old and gray and invisible. But I have returned to my home this day with a renewed sense of hope that God is not done with me yet. There is still a future for me, for all of us, even if we have to rest more, or move more slowly. Even if we cannot keep up with the latest technology. Even if we have to give up life long identities and activities. Even through the inevitable changes that are part and parcel of growing older.

Grace, mercy, peace, and rest, Gerry and Betty! Thanks, Hatcher Memorial folks, for loving my friends, for calling out the best in them, for sending them off with style and grace.

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It’s true, folks.   It really does take a Village. To raise a child. To build a family. To stay healthy.  To thrive, even (especially!) in the face of a progressive illness.

Today, we have been celebrating my husband’s birthday.  It began oddly enough, with a regular 6 month appointment with my neurologist and the good folks at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital who have played such a significant role in my life for the last 4 years.  In some ways it felt like a visit home as we caught up on events of the last 6 months. 

Today’s visit was remarkable for several reasons.  Even with the recent progression of Parkinson’s maladies, I scored just about the best ever on the neurological tests.  Apparently, the new regimen of an hour a day in the Silver Sneakers exercise classes (plus Yoga and Tai Chi) is working.  Not only am I getting stronger, but my moodiness is getting better.  Ditto, balance and coordination. I never expected to be addicted to exercise, but it is happening!

Equally remarkable today was the Neurologist’s magic touch with the computer/ deep brain stimulation.  With a few “tweaks”  he calmed the rigid muscles in my legs and evened my gait. As the day has progressed, I also realize that I’m smiling again.  With a few hours of practice, I’ve just about relearned what normal walking feels like. Somehow, I feel less old and gray.  It’s as if someone oiled my joints! I am so blessed to have found a medical team, headed by a physician who knows not only what questions to ask, but how to interpret my answers.  Who seems to have taken his skills to a brilliant, artistic level, using cutting edge technology to create real quality of life.  

We left the medical complex, heading for the mountains for some birthday R & R.  Our route took us around Pilot Mountain, a prominent local landmark.  Many years ago, the Native Americans called this place “Jomeokee”,  which means Great Guide.  It rises more than 2000 feet above the valley floor, highly visible for miles. We have climbed this mountain, driven past it more times than we counted, even stayed several times at a wonderful Bed and Breakfast at its base.

I am, it seems, surrounded by greatness. By ordinary people, who rise above the valley of normalcy to live creatively, finding ways to make life better for the village.  It is a joy to live in this place.  It is an honor to be part of such a Village.

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Nostalgia: [no-stal-juh, -jee-uh, nuh-] noun

  1. A wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time

Nostalgia is truly a mixed emotion. It was on my mind a good bit a few weeks ago as I lingered for several days in my childhood “stomping grounds.” One day, I took my 90-year-old Mom out for lunch. Her mobility is impaired, so we decided to just go for a ride after lunch. Driving through the countryside to “see what there is to see” was one of my Dad’s favorite pastimes, especially on Sunday afternoons.

The hour ride took us beyond the bounds of current time and place to years gone by. First, we drove past the site where my Dad’s remains were buried. It is a beautifully kept cemetery, but my only memories of that place are shrouded with great sadness. The visit did not help. The gravestone was quite easy to read: “RODGERS George Farris Rodgers 6/21/20 – 7/31/2005.” A gentle nudge from Mom prompted me to read the rest: “Louise Mitchell Rodgers 4/27/26.” She very matter-of-factly stated, “They are supposed to add the last line….”

We left that place in silence, pondering a reality looming closer than either of us could discuss. (Wonder if they arrest drivers for speeding in a cemetery …)

Our mood lightened as we drove under the interstate and turned onto the parallel road between it and my high school. I remember watching the construction of Interstate 81 from the entrance of the school. Little did I realize that it would become a well-worn path between my past and adulthood!

Meandering down the country lane where my school bus had once labored, we found our way past a dam and a dry lakebed, musing at the length of years since either of us had been there. Not far away was the little house my Grandparents bought when they left the bitter winters of Minnesota to live near my mother, their oldest daughter. Memories, vivid with sensory experiences, poured into my present conscience, rich and warm as Rodgers Clan coffee.

We rambled past the house that was home during my grade school years. And then, last but definitely not least, we ascended the ridge to the “big house” where all of us lived into adulthood. Nostalgia transported us back 50 years to the “early days” when my parents’ dream home was under construction. I could still see my youngest brother standing on newly broken ground, “supervising” the construction, chewing on a stick, much as our Granddad chewed on his cigars. I could feel the strain of the bags as Dad and I harvested apples for home-made apple pie … taste the warm sweetness of cherry tomatoes from Dad’s garden … smell the vinegar from his efforts at making bread and butter pickles … The memories piled in on top of each other as we drove down the hill towards Mom’s apartment at the assisted living facility. The rest drive was quiet, both of us contemplating a generation of life.

Life moves on. Change is inevitable. There is a finality about selling homes, downsizing, losing loved ones. I acknowledge the odd reality that I am next. My generation is aging with empty nests, graying hair, bodies less and less willing to do our bidding. This week, I joined my peers on Medicare … I am face to face with the reality that life doesn’t last forever.

So, I stand on the brink of whatever is next, and nostalgia vibrates like a bass drum in my head.   I’m one of the fortunate ones; life has been largely good for me. But, there is much yet to see, to do, to create. Inside, I’m still young, but my body betrays me. Setting priorities takes on more importance. All those “someday” dreams are fair game now. Perhaps I should begin with the reality of a growing new generation. With the process of giving a new generation wings and roots.

Today, I got my “Silver Sneakers.” Look out world, here I come!

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The King’s New Clothes

In recent weeks and months, the children’s story about the emporer’s new clothes has often come to mind. I love the diversity that IS this nation. I cherish the freedom we each have to say what we think. I prefer to refrain from pointing fingers and name-calling, but common sense somehow puts me in the proverbial role of the child who broke the silence of his community as he verbalized the thoughts of many: “Look! The king has no clothes…”

I wonder if this is one of those times when we need to be “wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves”…

Is anyone else as bumfuzzled as I?  While ideas currently “in vogue” (in power?) may have their bases in some areas of reality, surely, SURELY there are better ways to deal with the issues than to stoop to the basest parts of humanity, running rough-shod over dissenting voices or different perspectives!

Try as I might, I cannot keep my head buried in the sand. Watching this evening’s news, I am reminded that the system of checks and balances built into the fabric of this great nation – these systems put in place by people far more savvy than I – are still at work, still providing a voice of reason, still helping knit us together as a truly great nation.

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The Art of Giving

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. Some are bought. Some are handcrafted. Some are purchased in a flurry of shopping while others are planned, researched, purchased long before the celebratory event. Whatever one’s gift-giving style, there is, at the very least, a modicum of thought about the recipient of one’s gift. It’s that thought process that I wish to address here.

When I was a child, young enough to eagerly anticipate my birthday, but just old enough to understand gift-giver intent, I received a gift that would alter my life. It was a simple one, really, wrapped in brown paper, tied with my Grandmother’s characteristic white string and scrawling handwritten address. She had mailed it from her home in Minnesota, making certain that it arrived in time for her eldest granddaughter’s special day.

A few months before this day, we were vacationing at Grandmother and Granddad’s summer cottage on a lake in rural Minnesota (“Lake Wobegone” territory, for my “Prairie Home Companion” friends). One afternoon, Grandmother brought out a bowl full of individually wrapped Brach’s candy. That was the day I discovered jelly nougats – a soft, creamy cube inlaid with red and yellow bits of jelly beans. Confection perfection!! I was an instant addict. Unbeknownst to me, an ever-vigilant grandmother was quietly taking note.

So, my birthday finally arrived, and with it, Grandmother’s carefully-wrapped, mail-bedraggled package. Following family tradition, the package was to be unwrapped at the breakfast table, even on school days. So I opened eagerly, lifting the lid of the box. In the center was another small box that contained a piece of jewelry. But what left me speechless were the dozens of jelly nougats that carefully lined the rest of the larger box! In a moment of brilliant clarity, I realized that Grandmother had been listening and watching and planning that gift for months. She was thinking about Me. Loving Me. Caring for Me. 

In that moment, my perspective on birthdays and gifts was radically changed, for I realized the real gift was thoughtful intent. Careful listening. Intentional choosing. Vigilant, loving awareness. And, I realized the wisdom of the old adage: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” I have grown to love this gift-giving process, watching, planning, buying throughout the year. I love the exclamation, “This is exactly what I wanted/needed/wished for! How did you know?…”


Joel’s Quad Player

I am still humbled by gifts that come my way, chosen with the care of someone who loves me. This holiday season, there were several special gifts that I will treasure long past the season. One, thirteen years in the making, was a nutcracker, painted in traditional Carolina Crown Drum Corp uniform, sporting four drums. I have collected nutcrackers with drums for 25 years, but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest. For, you see, my son, who played quads with the drum and bugle corps for two summers, made this nutcracker just for me. He has carried this creature everywhere for thirteen years, waiting to find just the right materials to complete it. That loving intent, spanning more than a decade, is the real gift!

There were wonderful gifts of travel and time spent together, intangible, yet sacred as we shared family stories and world perspectives over a cup of coffee or a meal. Gifts don’t always have to be materials, wrapped in paper with bows! I often yearn for family time far more than for more stuff.


Anniversary Sunrise

One very special gift came as my husband and I celebrated 38 years of marriage a few days after Christmas. We stole away to the beach to rest and relax a bit after the craziness of the holidays. This annual retreat is our anniversary gift to each other – has been so for most of those 38 years.   But Ed’s most meaningful gift to me was an early morning wakeup call. He realized that daylight was approaching, and, sensing a photo moment in the making, wakened me in time to watch and photograph a gorgeous sunrise. We spent a chilly yet strangely warm hour together on our hotel balcony, watching the miracle of a new day beginning.

My husband’s role as caregiver grows with each passing year. He is more aware than most of what I have lost. He is becoming a master at finding ways to help my creative spirit to soar.   Our annual trip became an opportunity for him to encourage this camera bug, looking for, creating opportunities, insisting that I dive in to something I can do fairly well. So, I was the grateful recipient of another sacred gift: His careful listening. Intentional choosing. Vigilant, loving awareness: Intangible, yet very real gifts that stand the test of passing years, aging bodies, changing times, evolving roles. For all my independent spirit, I discover that I stand much taller on the shoulders of gift givers who share their spirit with me. I am better because these loved ones choose to walk a mile in my shoes and then offer reminders about what life is really all about.

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