Monday, August 21, 2017

Historic Event

"First in our lifetime! Very likely the only time."

"Nothing like it in modern history."

"A truly remarkable event!"

Am I quoting references to the total solar eclipse we'll experience today across the United States of America?

No!  Something much more unbelievable!

These are statements made after it was learned that on Saturday, Aug. 18th, in the year of Our Lord 2017, all by herself, one Sharon L. Hawley..........  ............MOWED HER ENTIRE 1/2 ACRE YARD!!

(Yes, I hear your gasps of disbelief and wonder.  Stunning news, right?!)

Frank was totally shocked.  He's pretty particular about our yard.  (Actually, that's an understatement. The man claims he can hear the grass growing while we're trying to enjoy our morning coffee on mowing day.)

But this week he was leading a prayer retreat for the men of our board and staff.  The grass was already pretty tall and I knew he wouldn't be home in time to get it done AND finish his sermon for Sunday.

So at 10AM Eastern time I made a bold decision in my perky little optimistic unexperienced head. "I'm going to mow the yard for him!'

My thinking process went like this - "I've been driving different vehicles for over 40 years.  Driving a riding mower is surely just like driving a car.  What could possibly go wrong?"

Ah, famous last words........

First off, I realized I had no idea how to even get the mower out of the garage.  If I called one of my sons to get it out they would simply brush me aside and say, "I'll do it, Mom!"  But I didn't want to interrupt their Saturday with our yard work.

So I texted our young neighbors across the street for help.

Richard came right over.  He backed the mower out expertly and gave me a hand climbing up into the seat.  I'm pretty sure he bit his lip tensely when I said, "Thanks!  Now, how do I get it started?"

Richard should probably consider a second career in education.  His tutorial was patient and thorough.  He put his hand behind me just in case I fell off when the mower jerked forward the first time.

He quickly saw I couldn't reach the brake.  A rather important element when dealing with a machine designed solely to twirl sharp blades of steel at a high rate of speed.  You want to be able to hit the brake!

So Richard helped me off the mower again and adjusted the seat forward.  So many moving parts on a riding mower.  The brake.  The mower deck.  The speed control thingy.  And one other lever I just didn't touch.

I had no idea!

(And that's what had him a little concerned.  He told Nathan later in the day, "I kept going to our front window to check on your mom every few minutes."  I think he was relieved when the task was finally finished.)

I donned Frank's wide brimmed hat, some good tennis shoes, proper sunscreen and I was off like lightening. Well, actually more like a turtle because I wanted to get used to what I was doing before I revved the engine to 3 (with 6 being the fastest.)

Several lessons came from my experience:

  1. Always hit the brake before shifting to a higher speed.
  2. If you miss a section on this pass, you can always come back again.
  3. Those straight lines Frank creates so easily - aren't easy!
  4. Yes, there's a cup holder that works well.  However, all the water sloshes out of the cup.
  5. Look forward, not backward, at all times!
  6. Lawn ornaments can be shoved aside by big mowers, small trees can not.
  7. Lawn ornaments can be replaced.
  8. Mowing in FL is as hot as I suspected.
  9. Heat stroke is real, occurs quickly and takes a while for recovery.
  10. Biggest lesson of the day - if you hit a root from an oak tree while traveling at the speed of 3, your mower blades WILL make a horrific noise; the mower WILL jolt to an immediate stop; you may go flying forward and the seat will be wet when you land back on it.  Just saying!
Frank had to do a small bit of modifying when he got home.  (Mostly straightening the line we share with our neighbor and some edging.)  But he let me know he was proud of my efforts and gave me a quick kiss in that "Oh, you're just so cute" kind of way.

So, you guys go ahead and make a big deal out of that once in a 100 years total solar eclipse today. The bigger news on Misty Morning Drive is that SHERI MOWED AND NO ONE WAS HURT!!

Let me leave you with this perfect and timely statement from King David: 
"The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky abovea proclaims his handiwork."  (Ps. 19:1)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Las Ramblas

I have walked on Las Ramblas.

My feet have traversed the location in Barcelona, Spain where evil struck again most recently.  Las Ramblas is not just some far off, unrelated destination for me.  It's a place I know.

I've pressed through the masses crowding that sidewalk.  My eyes have swept over the buildings, the art work, the abundant colors.  My ears have processed and tried to decipher the blaring noises as well as the flutter of leaves on the numerous trees.  My nose has been delighted by the countless fragrances of foods provided by street vendors and restaurants lining the way.  I've handled delicate scarves and heavy post cards at the tourist shops.  I even selected a pearl ring at a shop on Las Ramblas.

When Frank called down to my office yesterday and told me of the most recent terror attack, my mind saw faces, not a dot on a map.

I traveled to Barcelona two summers ago with a teaching team.  We had been invited by friends who pastor an amazing international church right in the heart of the city.  (International Church Barcelona.)  Our main purpose was to bring encouragement to the ladies of their congregation by teaching at a retreat.

But we also shared at Bible studies, home groups, luncheons, the main church service and even once in a park.  One of my more memorable opportunities involved a short taxi ride to a winding alley where we walked for twenty minutes then climbed five flights of stairs to meet with the three couples waiting for us.  Whew!  Not for the faint of heart but definitely rewarding.

Our experience in Barcelona left us with friends we'll cherish for years to come and memories that will take a long time to fade.  The pastor said that we added value to the lives we encountered.  Our message brought hope and peace.  While we challenged them to walk close to the Father in obedience, we also reminded them of His perfect love for each individual as well as the world.

Following religion or man made rules can kill.  But relationship with Christ brings LIFE - Abundant Life!

One of my favorite passages seems so timely today:

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly!"  John 10:10 (ESV)

Yes, let's pray for the individuals and families impacted by this tragedy but put action to your prayers.  Find someone who needs a word of encouragement.  Offer forgiveness or a gift of joy.  Reach out with a hand of hope to a person who crosses your path.

It's a proven fact, when you add value to another you actually enrich your own life.

I choose to add LIFE today.  I'm watching for an opportunity to add value somewhere.  Join me, won't you?

I'd love to hear about your experience.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Brand (Old) New

I'm writing this post from a brand new location.  A place I've never written from before.

The newness of this space has me smiling and feeling very inspired!  The colors. The furnishings. The artwork/decor.  It's all so inviting! I wish you were here with me right now, enjoying a cup of hot tea.

"Sheri, where is this fantastic new place?  It sounds rather exotic."

I'm glad you asked.

The new location offering such energy for writing is none other than............(drum roll please) newly created guest room!

"Aw, Sheri!  We thought you were going to tell about some fantastic, far-away island.  A corner of the world providing gentle breezes, panoramic views and sounds of peace."

Well, in a way, that's exactly what I'm telling you about.

We've lived here twelve years now and this front bedroom has had many personalities.  It was formerly known as, Meg and Nate's room/Kristin's room/Joy and John's room/Kristin and Meagan's room/Amanda's room.   You get the picture; it has served a lot of family members.

When Meg, Nathan and the babies moved into their lovely home last fall, our little house suddenly felt cavernous.  I thought I'd never be able to fill the roughly 300 square feet they had been occupying. (Yes, that does include the bathroom.)

Frank and I also needed a while just to adapt to being empty nesters for the first time in over thirty years.  For a long while, I left everything as it had been, only empty and sad.  The doors remained closed most of the time.

Then we got the call that friends from NC would be in the area for a couple of days and I suddenly knew, it's time for change.  So Frank and I kicked things into high gear.

Gazing around this room now is a literal feast for the eyes.  And I'm happy to report that other than one gallon of paint, a dust ruffle and a $7 spray of flowers, I spent nothing to create this lovely oasis.

We had the bed.  The dresser was my birthday present from Grandma when I turned 13. (No, it has NOT rotted with age!)  We used a beautiful red, black and ivory STAR quilt made by a friend. Another friend had given us an old Singer treadle sewing machine just like the one used by my paternal grandmother.

Bits of lace serving as doilies are from a widow in our church.  I had recently salvaged a lovely picture of three little girls sitting together looking at a huge book.  And two hats (worn by Frank's beloved grandfather) sit jauntily atop the refinished Singer.

Frank painted for two days.  Pat taught me some easy refinishing steps and Kristin came over to pull together the various elements.  Our guests had no idea about the flurry of activity their visit caused. But sitting here now makes me smile!

I had no idea the potential for so much loveliness was hiding behind that carefully closed door.

Our guests slept well and felt cared for; exactly as we hoped.  But this brand new room also gave me a couple of great lessons.

  • Choosing to see the room with fresh eyes brought it back to life.
  • All the pieces were sitting around me, just waiting for me to take action.  Now they're pulled into service as originally designed, instead of languishing unused in the garage.
  • While I delayed, nothing happened.  It took a decision to move forward.
  • Frank hates to paint, put it only took one coat because he used quality products.
  • Yes, it took a lot of effort.  And not everything fell into place on the first attempt.  But we kept at it and the result is well worth all the work.
  • Now we have another way to bless others!
Dear friend, what project in your life is waiting for action?  Is there a door you've left closed far too long?  It could be something as simple as a junk drawer or laundry area that needs cleaning before the end of summer.  

Or perhaps you're like me.......  

That closed door represented some emotional matters I needed to clean out.  While preparing the guest room, the Lord spoke to me about cleaning out some rooms in my heart I've preferred to not see.  But with fresh eyes of prayer and a simple decision, I'm moving forward. 

It already feels like brand new space in my old heart. I'm so grateful His grace is more than sufficient to cover me with only one coat.  And His mercies are new every morning once we decide to let Him pull together the pieces of our lives.

Cleaning out emotional clutter; disappointment; frustration will take effort.  But just think of the people you'll bless with your lovely new attitude!  Personal refreshing allows us to become like an oasis for others instead of a dry, lifeless desert.  You'll be so glad you took a step forward.

What about you?  Any Brand (Old) New projects for you lately?  i'd love to hear about them! 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Resplendent, Indeed!

Regular readers know I save my very favorite word (Resplendent) for the Most Special of Moments. Please note, it's the title for today's post.

Resplendent is the only word sufficient for describing the Speak Up Conference I experienced last week in Grand Rapids, MI.  (You don't just "attend" Speak Up.  It truly is an experience!)

The team planners and faculty were on pointe even before the first person arrived.  Emails flew back and forth letting us know what to expect; how to be prepared; where to go and what to do.

Two weeks out, I received an email asking about any personal requests I might have for the prayer team.  They were already lifting each participant, by name, to the Father!

Lavish preparation, indeed!

Of course, there was an added layer of excitement for me in this story which bordered on the side of possible fiasco.  My connecting flight out of Chicago was seriously delayed and my first appointment at the conference was set for 2:00.

But I didn't panic because I had picked up an hour by flying into the Central Time Zone.

Were you aware that although Chicago is on central time, Grand Rapids, Michigan is NOT?

Yeah, neither was I until I arrived there.  I kept looking at the clocks in the Grand Rapids airport thinking, "Why didn't they already change those?  The time change was weeks ago!"  

While walking to the baggage claim, my little brain finally caught it......"You just lost that hour you thought you had gained!" 

Time to panic a bit!  (Depending on your music preferences I would like to suggest Flight of the Bumble Bee or the theme song for The Lone Ranger as the background music at this point.)

My comfortable, yet cute, Clarks clicked faster on the tile.  I actually beat the luggage handlers to the baggage carousel.  But alas, I soon discovered there really wasn't a need to rush in retrieving my suitcase.

It was still in Orlando with the sky cap I had tipped so handsomely at 5:45 AM!!

I'll spare you all the details and emotions that swirled once I finally connected with the shuttle driver I had also missed. (A fine young man named Matthew starting his senior year at Calvin College.  Oh, right.  No details)

Matthew and I made it to the Prince Center at 1:55.  I went running into the room where my first speaking critique was to begin at 2:00.  I tried my best to pant quietly and to not focus on how wild my hair must surely look.

"Smile, Sheri," I instructed myself.  "Just eat that mint, open your notes and smile!"

By 3:00, the critique was finished.  I had reported it all to Frank; found my room and taken a deep cleansing breath.  Never mind that I would wear the same outfit for fifteen hours.  I had successfully jumped over the hurdle of frustration and the reward was amazing.

For the next three days I was immersed in the most generous, openhanded sharing of information I've ever experienced.

Writers and speakers from 29 states and 2 Canadian provinces had all gathered with the same objective, "How can I do this better for the Kingdom of God?"

Carol Kent and her team drew the best trainers available today.  They clearly communicated the end goal, "Build this team of people.  Let's teach them exactly what we do and how they can do it, too."  


Why would you intentionally train others to step into the market place alongside you and become your competition?  It makes no sense!

But speaker Cindy Bultema articulated the end goal beautifully in one of our devotion times.  "We're all ONE team," she declared.  "And it's all about making Jesus famous."  

Because of this conference, I met new friends.  I was challenged and cheered.  I pushed past some wrong perspectives I've been holding and I set some clear goals for myself.

2 Corinthians 6 has been a focus passage for me this summer.  But one verse in particular is resonating with me since the Speak Up Conference.  "Please don't squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us." (Message)

Thanks to those who made this wonderful experience possible, I'm moving forward; not squandering one minute!

I'd love to hear about your summer adventures.  Stop by the comment section, won't you?

Monday, July 17, 2017

One Brave Lady

I've recently reconnected with a writer/speaker I greatly admire named Carol Kent.  And I just returned yesterday from attending the conference she puts on annually called Speak Up.  (More on that later.)

Today, I want to write about why I've always thought Carol was such an awesome lady.

In January of 1996, Frank and I started meeting with our NC state women's director, Sandra Bass, to help polish the upcoming fall conference.  This one was going to blow the roof off!

We took the theme developed by her committee and started dreaming outside every box that had ever contained the event.  Together, we set a bold goal of recruiting 1000 women to attend.  Average attendance had been growing each year but this was 25% more than ever before.

(Frank has always had a knack for seeing the vision of another and cheering them forward to even greater things.  It's a gift.)

We visited the conference location together.  We helped think through decorations, surprises for the ladies, menus, room assignments for the break out sessions, vendor booth locations.  Every detail down to the number of balloons needed for a maximum impact balloon drop on the last night.

Sandra had even received permission to bring in a popular speaker who wasn't part of our denomination.  This lady had written several books and was appearing regularly on Christian television and radio.  Her name - Carol Kent.  This was going to be BIG!

Everything fell into place beautifully!

On the Monday before the retreat was to begin on Thursday, we drove to Raleigh.  My sister and her husband were taking care of our girls while we worked the event.

That's when we first got news of a major storm developing off the coast of FL.

We prayed for those people because we knew well the devastation a hurricane can cause.  This one was huge and we even started getting some rain from it all the way up in the Carolinas.

Within hours it became apparent that this hurricane, gaining in strength, would bypass FL.  It was moving directly toward the coast of NC.

Sandra started getting calls from our coastal churches.  Their ladies wouldn't be able to leave home with the storm coming toward them.

We met her at the retreat center early Wednesday morning to start setting up.  Should we cancel? Could we cancel?  The financial repercussions for pulling the plug would be extreme; but safety was most important.

NC is a big state and at last (with the help of her team) she decided we should carry on in spite of losing our coastal ladies. But we faced yet another problem.  Many of the women had signed up for the conference just because Carol Kent was our promised speaker.

Was this lady from Michigan, where they never have hurricanes, going to fly into Charlotte with the storm threatening?  Sandra placed the call to find out if she was still willing to come and serve as our keynote speaker.

That's when we found out just how intrepid and committed Carol Kent is.  Her response was, "Absolutely!  Let's do this!"

The rest is history.

Hurricane Fran did make landfall on the NC coast.  But the winds continued with tropical force traveling almost 150 miles inland.

We were getting rain in Charlotte but our girls were experiencing the brunt of the storm in Raleigh!  My sister did a great job keeping them all calm even when the power went out.

Thankfully, we never lost power at our conference venue in Charlotte.  The storm was so massive however, that only about half the registered number of ladies were able to travel to us.

But we carried on.  Carol used some humor to calm skittish nerves then challenged the women during each message she was set to deliver.  And by the time we left on Saturday, the skies had returned to their famous Carolina blue.

I was just starting out as a teacher/speaker at that time.  Carol told us about a conference she had launched to train speakers for ministry called "Speak Up."  I remember wishing I could attend such a conference.

Carol's fearlessness and servant heart impacted me in a big way during our 1996 fall retreat.  She may have been shaking in her cute, black leather boots, but we never saw it.  She encouraged Sandra (her hostess) and spoke life to the ladies who did come.  

Who knew we would end up living within 30 miles of one another?  Who knew I'd have the chance to attend her conference in Michigan, 21 years later?  And who knew she would once again be speaking into my life?

Well, I guess the answer is obvious - the Father knew!  He hears all our whispered prayers and His memory is much better than ours.

I'm thankful for the opportunity He gave me to observe Carol during that potentially frightening experience.  Bravery shows up in some of the most unexpected places but it will always challenge others to stand tall too.

Be that Brave Leader today, dear friend.  I can promise, someone is watching YOU and only the Father knows how your bravery will impact their life!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Same Coin

"You are the best thing since sliced bread and peanut butter!"

"You are the biggest disappointment since the death of my cat!"

"You are her favorite teacher of all time!"

"You are her worst nightmare of a teacher!"

"Your message and card were perfect for how I'm feeling; thank you!"

"Your message on that card sounded like you think I'm not doing my job; thanks a lot!"

At some point in each of our lives we encounter the "cousins" I've illustrated with these quotes. We've all experienced moments of praise from others.  And if you haven't experienced some criticism I wonder if you're paying attention.

Many years ago, I was sharing with a mentor how perplexed I was by the ability of some to extol our work but then turn right around and also express severe disappointment.  I went on to tell that it was easy to believe the good things they shared but oh so painful to hear the criticism.

My friend listened patiently until I could totally unpack my rather large suitcase of emotional struggles.  Then came some of the most simple yet profound advice I've ever received.

"Sheri, flattery and criticism are cousins; two sides of the same coin. Be cautious of both."  She paused for me to make a note.   "You're never really quite as wonderful as some want to say.  But you're also never quite as horrible as others want you to believe." 

For almost thirty years now I've been reminding myself of this truth.

Something in each of us longs to be seen at our best.  We want people to perceive us as smart, kind, creative, loyal......  you can add your own adjectives.  And when someone recognizes a good deed we've done or an encouraging word we've shared, it makes us glad.

Nothing wrong with accepting someone's genuine gratitude.  Thank you should be a phrase we all use and hear with liberality.

The problem comes when we begin to need those words of praise in order to feel good about who we are.  Ask yourself this question, "Can I serve even if no one sees or acknowledges what I've done?" HMMMM!  Tough one.

By the same token, we can not allow the disappointment and frustration of others to shape or define who we are.  Remember, you're never quite as horrible as they want to make you feel.

And no one is in charge of your feelings except YOU.

My mentor went on to explain, "There is almost always an element of truth in both praise and criticism.  You must learn to sift through all the fluff,  recognize the kernel of truth and take that to heart."  A pause for more note taking.  "Acknowledge there are things you can/should change; then work on them.  And feel free to enjoy a moment of encouragement; then tuck it away and move on."

Not real sure why it felt important to share this truth with you today.  But hopefully it will be a help for you as it has been for me.

Praise and Criticism; Same Coin.  Find the kernel of truth; tuck it away; move on.

In other news:

  • Today our little Zachariah Avery Schreck is two years old!  How can that be?!  His huge eyes and dimpled smile melt every heart around him.  He giggles and laughs more than he cries. And although the term "tiny tank" comes to mind when thinking of him, he's extremely tender with baby Ava.  
  • Kristin had her first experience with stitches last night.  While helping friends unpack in their new home,  the knife she was using slipped and gouged a deep opening on the side of her hand. Five stitches; an invitation to church for the doctor (new to our area) and another bonding moment with her dear husband.  
  • Frank will get to fly a plane today for the first time ever.  (This will be a post all its own next week.)  As part of his 60th birthday, I bought an hour lesson/experience that was offered at our local airport.  The instructor will show him what to do then hand the controls over to Frank! We're both pretty excited.
Blessings for you and all those you love this weekend!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Birthday Five

Abigail Grace turned the magic 5 today!  We're so proud of the sweet little girl she has become.

My mom, her great grandma, would say she's full of vim, vigor and vitality!  And if you throw in a dash of "pink spah-kul" you'll have a perfect description of our Abby.  (Pink is her favorite color and everything she chooses needs at least a little bit of sparkle.)

Papa and I invited her for birthday lunch and told her she could choose anywhere she wanted to go. She paused only for a moment and shouted into the phone, "Chick-Fila!"  

Please bear in mind that Spencer, her older brother, has chosen Chili's for each of his birthday lunches.  (We start the celebrating at four when potty training and potential choking are well behind us.  No pun intended.)

So at the appointed time, I rendezvoused with Mom and Dad to collect our sparkly princess.  She was literally beaming.  Her running monologue began as soon as I closed my car door.

"Everybody keeps calling me the 'Birthday Gurhl', Noni!  I talked to Grandma this morning and Grandpa was already at work.  Sometime before bedtime he'll call and sing for me.  We had donuts for breakfast.  Spencer already gave me his present.  Aunt MehMeh brought me balloons and an Elsa puzzle."

She joyfully shared her life for the full fifteen minute drive only interrupting herself to announce that she needed a potty - NOW!  Thank heavens we were near my hairdresser's shop.

We met up with Papa and headed straight for the Chick-Fila.  Abby asked for a grown up lunch of 8-count nuggets and a Sprite and french fries - All. Her. Own!  Gotta love those middle kids who have to share everything.

Even though ice cream was available there, we had to leave and drive to Dairy Queen.  She wanted vanilla ice cream with a cone in a cup and two cherries.  Papa thrilled her by asking the attendant for FIVE cherries - one to mark each year of the birthday girl.

We had to go straight home then because tonight was the conclusion of Vacation Bible School.  It's been such a great week for the children that Abby never even complained that her birthday lunch had to be cut short. Big hugs.  Sincere thank you's.  Up the stairs to bed.

I'm sure many of you are also in the middle of Vacation Bible School season either preparing or concluding.  Allow me to share one closing wrinkle to this simple post.

Some wonder if children really register what's done for them or how much truly sticks with those so young. Especially when you consider how much effort is required for parties, cards, Sunday school, special phone calls, VBS.  Do they really retain any of it?

As I drove home from the office this week, I called my sweet mother-in-law.  We chatted about several general things and then she asked about our plans for Bible school.

"Yes, it begins tomorrow," I said.  "We've worked hard and we're very excited about loving on the children of our neighborhood."

"Sheri, I still remember going to Vacation Bible School when I was a little girl.  I went to the one at First Baptist Church and it was wonderful!"  My 82-year old mom began describing in great detail all the elements of her experiences.  I listened as she painted the vivid picture.

Her closing statement struck me most, "I promise you, Sheri, I can close my eyes and still smell that church building.  I want to visit there sometime and see if it's still the same as I remember."

Every part of her VBS experience from 75 years before was vividly burned into her mind.

So, ask again - does it mater?  Absolutely, dear volunteer.  Give it your best effort and know that the memories you help create for children may well out live you!