Monday, February 18, 2019

Israel, Here We Come!

We're going to Israel on Wednesday!!  Want to come?!

Just typing those words feels a bit surreal.  It's rather like, "We're going to the mall on Wednesday.  Want to join us?"  Or maybe, "We're going to eat at a new restaurant Wednesday.  Can you come, too?"

My inside self is anxious and excited all at the same time.  Anxious because this will be the first time in many years we've led a group of people on an overseas trip.  I hear someone say, "But Sheri, you guys travel overseas all the time."

Yes, we travel with teams from our church often.  But those trips are organized and led by our amazing missions directors, the Buccafurnis.  All I have to do then is be the best team member of all time.

Being in charge, knowing everyone is counting on you to know what you're doing when sometimes you know you don't know exactly WHAT you're doing, is most definitely different!

The first leg of our journey begins Wednesday morning at 4:45 in the A.M.  We drive from Winter Haven to Miami International and must arrive 2 hours before our flight which departs at 12:45.  Once we have all the luggage through security and get everyone safely to the gate on time, I plan to take a Deep Cleansing Breath!

Thankfully, our group is rather small with only 10 travelers.  That will make it nice for the overall tour. The Holy sites in Israel are always crowded and the lines can get very long.  10 people should be able to make it into and out of those locations so much more quickly.

10 Pilgrims.  10 Days.  10 Different Views.  10 Open Hearts.

All the preparations have kept me rather busy.  That's why I'm just now posting in the middle of February.  And I'm not sure I'll be able to post while away.  Although, I'll certainly give it the ol' college try!

Our first trip to the Holy Land was three years ago this April.  We had never visited Israel before and my cup was full to overflowing!  It was a life-long dream for me.  Our church sent us as a gift, marking our tenth year as their pastors.  (Just realized that's a lot of 10's in this post. LOL)

It was a gift topped only by the secrecy and joy that surrounded the time they presented us with a vehicle!  Yes, as a matter of fact we DO pastor the most amazing congregation anywhere.

Frank and I traveled alone that time.  We met up with three other intrepid souls in Tel Aviv.  A couple from Canada and a lady from South Africa.  We five made up the first tour group zipping in and out of all sorts of sites with our guide, Alex.  After three days, Alex took us to Jerusalem where we were blended into another group of eleven bringing our total to sixteen.  Elijah took us on from there.

The final day of that trip, we were picked up at our hotel by a tour guide, Benjamin, who spent the entire day with just Frank and I.  We visited numerous off-the-beaten-path sorts of sites.  Enjoyed a relaxing lunch at his favorite restaurant.  Drove to the top of a hill overlooking the Valley of Elah. (David and Goliath.)  Enjoyed the sunshine and breezes as Frank read aloud the story of their famous encounter.  Stood for some time imagining that scene.

Finally, Frank turned to the young man and said, "This was the perfect finish.  I'm ready to go home now."

As Benjamin drove us the remaining hour and a half to Ben Gurion Airport, he told us of the recent loss of his much loved father.  I sat quietly praying in the back seat as Frank worked his people skills magic and conversed with Benjamin.  He was roughly the same age as our sons.

When we pulled in to the airport, Benjamin got out of the car and asked Frank if he would mind giving him a hug.  Frank gladly obliged and Benjamin held on for a long time, weeping in the comforting arms of a father sent from far away to remind the young man he was still loved.

I'm not sure who we are going to Israel to encounter this time.  But we're eagerly watching for them.  Will you pray for us as we go?  Safety and open eyes!

Next time we go, you should plan to come with us.  Shalom!

(How about you?  Have you visited the Holy Land?  What was your experience like?  We'd love to read about it in the comment section.)

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Seldom As It Seems

Can you believe we're wrapping up the first month of 2019?!

I've been looking forward to this year with great anticipation for several reasons.  So, today I'm in shock that an entire month has passed already.

In looking over my calendar once again and shaking my head in disbelief, I was suddenly struck with this truth:  Life is SELDOM as it Seems.  And trust me, that's true for every human being.

For example, my calendar preference.  I still prefer a hard copy format with a single square for each day.   I know.  I know!  On-line linking and sinking is THE way to go.  My little black calendar that travels with me everywhere is an antiquated relic.  But it's what works best for me.

I have stepped into the 21st century with at least one foot.  I've exchanged my rolodex for a directory IN my phone.  I've learned to text.  I appreciate the many methods of connectedness afforded by my I-Phone. I can even Facetime my grandchildren.  But still I cling to the one old-fashioned office element I most love . . . my slimline, At-A-Glance calendar. 

If we were sitting in an airport and you happened to notice my MacBook Air computer, you might conclude I'm very tech-savvy.  However, those who really know me understand nothing could be farther from the truth.

This computer was a gift.  I work across the hall from a patient son-in-law who set it up for me and then slowly explained each pretty icon and it's function.  I live with a patient husband who can help me find my way back to the page of lovely icons when I lose my way while working at home. 

It seems like I should be able to accomplish much more with this state of the art piece of equipment than I actually can.  Life is Seldom as it Seems.

Another example can be found in pictures.  I have many friends whose pictures make them appear to be flawlessly beautiful, living magical lives and working completely care-free jobs.  But for those of us who know them well, we also see the price of a smile offered in spite of serious pain and disappointment.

I've had a fascination with beautiful front doors ever since I was a child.  Mom told me (as an adult) how I would comment routinely on the many lovely doors I would see as she and I drove around my hometown of Pensacola, FL.  She must have become concerned that my vivd imagination was creating an unrealistic world all associated with magnificent front doors. 

So one day she tried to bring correction.  We were driving along downtown when I said excitedly, "Look, Mama! That door is absolutely Beautiful!" 

Her response was sharp; intense even, "Sheri, there's sorrow behind those doors!" 

It was such an odd, out of place statement that I laughed out loud.  "What in the world do you mean, Mom?" 

Her timing was a little off and her declaration a bit extreme but she had her reasons.  Mom wanted me to understand the simple truth I'm sharing with you today:  Life is Seldom as it Seems. . . for anyone! 
Maybe I'm writing to someone today who has been wondering why everyone else is living a life of near perfection while your own life seems such a mess.  You scroll through social media, listen to friends talking or read blog after blog and think, "When will my situation get better?"

While I can't answer that question, I can assure you Life is Seldom as it Seems for any of those "Perfect Life People," either.  Take time to get to know them better.  Listen as they talk, really listen.  Slow down long enough to look beneath the surface.  I'm pretty sure you'll discover more to the story than you knew.

And when we know one another better, it makes us kinder toward one another.  When we stop complaining about our own situation long enough to listen to someone else's story, we suddenly find compassion we didn't know we had.

I once read an illustration about perspective and complaining.  It went like this:

"After patiently listening to them all, the Wise Man helped everyone pack their personal troubles into large see-through bags.  Then each person in the group brought their bag to the circle in the center of the room.  Some bags were small and were easily delivered to the circle.  Other people had to have assistance in dragging their massive bag of troubles to the center of the room.  When they had all been collected, the Wise Man gave them these instructions, 'Walk slowly around the circle.  Take a good look at each bag and the troubles contained in it.  Once you've carefully looked at each bag, you are to choose the one you wish to take as yours.'  The people moved hesitantly toward the circle following the instructions of the Wise Man.  Quietly and without fanfare, each one reached for their own, original bag.  After looking at what the others were coping with, their own bag of troubles seemed like much less of a problem than they had before."

Dear Friend, Life is Seldom as it Seems.  Perhaps that little mantra will be a help for you this year. 

Blessings!  And please stay warm!!

What about you?  Have you ever been surprised to discover the REAL story behind a perfect life?  Do you have a favorite saying that helps you with perspective?  We'd love to hear about it. . .


Monday, January 28, 2019

Joyful! Joyful!

I have such JOYFUL news to share today.....

Meagan and Nathan are having another precious baby!!  Yes, that makes Four for the Smiths.

Madi (3 1/2) and Noah (5) are over the moon excited!  Grayson (6mos.) has no idea what's going on.  The brave parents are just now coming out of their shock but they're wrapping their heads around it.

The news had to be shared with grandparents here and in NC via video call this time.  They got us on the phone with the premise that Nathan had gotten one more Christmas gift for Meagan . . . something new for their house.  Aren't they clever?!

Of course, we were surprised as well.  But every life entrusted to us is a gift from God, isn't it?  This newest blessing will bring our number of grands to Nine.  We are so grateful!

Some of you will remember that Meagan's pregnancy with Grayson had its difficult points.  She was in the hospital multiple times before he was born.  But someone told me yesterday that the hardest pregnancies are often the first and third.  So, we're praying and believing that God will give Meagan the strength she needs for baby four.

We're proud of Nathan and Meagan for how they protect their marriage; parent their little tribe and find ways to serve Christ.  They've mentioned several times how thankful they are to live near family so they'll have help.  There is much to celebrate.

In other news,  Frank and I are under the 30-day mark for our trip to Israel.  We are looking forward to this adventure with great anticipation.  I mentioned last year that we would be leading a group this time. 

Our group is small but all are thrilled to be going to the Holy Land.   One young lady will fly in from Ohio to join us.  On Wednesday, Feb. 20th at 5 AM we'll gather 10 brave souls and leave Winter Haven.  We'll drive to Miami and board a plane; enjoying a direct flight to Tel Aviv.  Can you hear the joy bubbling in my heart?!

One couple on our tour visited Israel in 1983.  Because there have been so many new discoveries since then, they feel like they're going to a brand new place.  Most in our group are viewing this as a pilgrimage of sorts.  We've been reading through the Gospels together and meeting to build anticipation.

Frank and I met with our travel company on Friday to pick up the tickets and finish up final business.  (Imagine Tours and Travels out of Lakeland, FL has been a great company to work with.  Give them a call if you're planning something big for overseas.)

Well, I guess that's enough news for me to share today.  I hope you're all finding ways to stay warm and entertained during this season of Deep Freeze.  Believe it or not, Frank and I just learned that we enjoy playing Yahtzee together.  Who Knew?!


We'd love to hear your story of surprising news.  Be sure to stop by the comment section below. . . 


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Finally Beginning

How is it possible that we're in the third week of 2019 - ALREADY?!

I hope your new year is off to a wonderful start.  Don't you just love fresh beginnings?  I find such comfort in the reminder from Lamentations that God's mercies are new every morning.  (He must be very much a fan of new beginnings.)

We've been blessed to start this year off with our dear friends from England, the Parsons.  We were delighted to spend two weeks with them last September.  That's when Frank and I were privileged to minister for the St. Austell Baptist Church in Cornwall.  Such a dear congregation and now our new friends.

Of course, we've been close with the Parsons for over 20 years now.  They were the pastors first used by God to encourage us to travel as evangelists.  What started out as a simple, one month missions assignment in England blossomed into 6 years of ministry taking us all over the U.S. and a few other foreign countries.

Three teenaged daughters, a mom a dad and all those SHOES!  A Resplendent Season, Indeed! We were once interviewed by a reporter with the BBC.  Because we sang together as a family, he introduced us as "The Hawleys Von Trapp!"

2019 will be another adventure for us with our own congregation here in Florida.  We've spent the past six months preparing for a new season as a church family.  For over a decade, we've focused on providing numerous events/outreaches each year for our congregation and community.  But halfway through last year, we felt this would be a time to pause from those activities.

We spent a lot of time in prayer and in talking with our other leaders.  After much consideration, it was determined this truly was the direction for Garden Grove Church.  So we've suspended all events outside our Sunday and Wednesday services/classes.  We chose the word PURSUE as our key.  We're Pursuing God; Pursuing One Another; Pursuing Our Neighbors.

All our preaching and teaching are focused on discipleship and personally growing closer to God.  We're urging our own church family to pursue relationship; make an effort to meet someone new.  (Get to know the people they smile at every Sunday but have no clue what their name might be.)  The third element is to pursue those around us who are far from God.

It sounds basic.  Simplistic.  But the change has been major for us all.

We're accustomed to planning and executing on a bi-weekly basis.  This business of focusing solely on discipleship and relationship-building has required a shift of thinking as well as action.  However, we're already seeing good fruit from our efforts.  Obedience ALWAYS brings reward.  Even if we don't fully see where we're going, following the whispers of Heaven is the best way to walk.

Today would have been my mom's 82nd birthday.  I miss her in so many ways after a decade of being without her.  I'm sure I always will.  But then I also think how excited she would be to hear about the new direction our church is taking.  Mom loved new beginnings.  Maybe that's why her oldest daughter finds delight in them as well.

Blessings to you all!

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Pooping Pup and Other Afflictions

So, I read back over my first post for this last day of 2018 and it sounded rather idyllic.  Perhaps a little "too Perfect" to reflect reality.  I decided an additional list would be appropriate.  All I'm reporting to you has happened in the span of about six hours.  No poetic licensing was taken in the writing of this post.  It has been SOME kind of day!

  • Kitty, the Schreck's Great Dane puppy we're dog-sitting, is NOT house trained.  Kitty is NOT kennel trained.  Kitty is seriously Un-Trained in all areas related to dog training.  Since we picked her up yesterday, she has filled her kennel about six times.  (She only eats four cups of carefully measured food each day.  I mean, WHERE is all this stuff coming from?!)
  • I'm still recovering from a pretty serious cold that started on Christmas day.  All the nasal issues have now morphed into a nasty cough.  The medicine is almost as bad because it makes me so sleepy.  My get up and go has gotten up and gone.  I was getting ready at the speed of someone moving through drying cement.
  • While I was getting ready to go to lunch, Frank called.  He calmly reported that our car was broken down on the side of the road.  He and Steve had been on their way to brunch and smoke started coming out from under the hood.  Fortunately, we have one free tow each year; glad we waited until today to use it.
  • He said I should go on to lunch with Becky.  So I finished brushing my hair, grabbed my purse and hurried out of our bedroom.  That's when I discovered fiasco number three.  It seems the sheets had all bunched together in the dryer which put the dryer off balance which caused serious vibration which threw my container of liquid detergent onto the hall carpet with such force that the lid popped off and detergent SOAKED said carpet.  Why, yes!  As a matter of fact, I HAD just purchased the detergent which usually lasts me about three months.
  • I managed to salvage a small bit of the bright blue liquid, threw a towel over the mess for addressing later and headed toward the door.  That's when I saw the tow truck carrying our little red car coming up the road.  I waited so Frank and Steve could just drop me off and go on to their brunch turned lunch.  They regaled me with stories of the foul-mouthed tow truck driver who seemed to be applying for his own spot on a reality TV show with the unbelievable tales he told during their drive.
  • Becky is a patient friend who said she enjoyed the half hour she had to wait for me.  SIGH!  Her sweet smile was kind but seriously, who wants to wait for anyone that long?  We enjoyed our meal and our time together (as always) then she brought me home. 
  • On the ride home, I received a text from a friend who realized in all our holiday hurriedness, Frank and I had neglected to register for our ministerial licenses.  We had until end of business day to tackle that problem or pay a substantial fine.  Frank took the call like a champ.  "I'll handle it, Honey."   
  • As Becky and I pulled into the driveway, I discovered I had given my house key to Frank.  We've since locked the window I used for climbing in last time I was locked out.  Fortunately, there is a tiny (I do mean TINY) window beside our bed.  There was no other option so I crammed my pleasingly plump self through that 18" opening like a professional contortionist.
  • Relief at being inside flooded my heart as I slowly uncurled my 60-year-old back.  But my joy was short-lived as I realized the air was FILLED with a decidedly unpleasant odor.  I rushed into the dining room to discover that our grand dog had yet AGAIN filled her kennel.  But apparently all that excreting had caused her to want to dance with relief herself.  She had spun round and round in her kennel several times.  So many times, in fact, that she had not only spread everything around every open inch of the kennel, it had also splashed out onto the floor and I even found some on the wall beside her kennel.  Can Not Make This Up! 
  • Being careful where I stepped with the cute little red shoes I wore to lunch, I drug the kennel (with the dog still in it) onto our outside patio.  The hose was waiting.  I reached in carefully and grabbed Kitty's collar planning to secure her on the outside leash while washing the kennel.  Did I mention that Kitty is a very playful and loving dog?  Did I mention that even though a puppy, her paws easily rest on my shoulders she's so big?  Happy to be free, Kitty bounded out of the kennel and started jumping up onto Noni with those huge, poopie paws.  My cute little lunch outfit was quickly covered with unpleasantness!  
Right now, Frank is working with the shop vac trying to get up all the liquid detergent slung far and wide in our hallway.  My seriously soiled lunch outfit is washing. He managed to get us registered for another year of ministry.  We have a plan in place for getting our car to a dealership.  I'm watching Kitty rest while I type - no she has NOT gone to the bathroom again since being outside. And I need to prepare something for our New Year's Eve dinner.  At this point, it may just be chicken soup and a scrambled egg sandwich.  

This post is purely for the purpose of giving you a little chuckle and for letting you know that No One has a perfect life.  We all have our maladies to face.  May yours be few this coming year and much smaller than great danes that poop and prance and paw their Nonis.  

Happy New Year, Friend!

Merry New Year!

I guess it's okay to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year all at once.  I do hope your Christmas season was abundantly blessed.  And I'm believing for a year full of opportunity and favor from God for us all in 2019.

There are so many stories and tidbits I want to share on this final day of 2018.  My head is rather like a log-jam with thoughts blocking one another.  I'm thinking more in terms of a letter than a post.  Perhaps a list would be the best way to proceed:

  • We managed to see both of our parents over this holiday season.  We were with Mom Hawley in November.  The entire family gathered for our niece's wedding.  Our Thanksgiving dinner was held at a local restaurant where the service was slow and our laughter was loud. It was great being together!  Thanks to our adopted children (Hoggards) who opened their home to us the three days we were in NC. 
  • We traveled to N FL to visit my dad and his wife, Christeen on December 26th..  After many years, my sister and I were finally able to co-ordinate visits.  It was great fun sharing another Christmas with that part of our family.
  • The Hawley Clan celebrated Christmas the Saturday before.  It was a resplendent day that started with all the children and grands showing up on our doorstep an hour early.  Frank and I were scurrying to finish breakfast preparations when he stopped and said, "Someone is singing!"  They were all loudly wishing us a merry Christmas to announce their arrival.  Such Fun!
  • This was the first Christmas for Parker Franklin McGhee and for Grayson Oliver Smith.  Of course, Papa and I had to see to it that their Christmas pj's included "First Christmas" on the shirt.  The picture of all eight grands was great fun as the girls' pj's had little tutus and the big boys' said, "Never Naughty.  Always Nice."  Parents rolled their eyes at us when those were unwrapped.
  • One dark spot was the day last week when Abby came down a slide head first. She landed squarely on her delicate wrist and fractured the bone.  Their trip to the ER left them wondering if surgery would be needed and if they would have to cancel their trip to NY.  Fortunately, the orthopedic specialist assured them only a cast was required.  Off they went the next day for a 20-hour drive with four small children.  Brave Parents!
  • We were able to attend Christmas programs for Spencer, Abby and Noah.  They all did such great jobs.  They stood straight, sang loudly and smiled broadly!  What more could grandparents ask?  This was Noah's first performance as he is in K-4.  You can never miss with little ones sharing the Christmas story!
  • Frank and I spent yesterday reminiscing as it was the 39th anniversary of our wedding day.  It was all the more special to me because we were married on December 30, 1979 which happened to fall on a Sunday.  We made plans to have dinner at the place we ate our first meal as husband and wife, Church's Fried Chicken!  (Receptions in our day consisted of cake and punch.  We added mixed nuts to take it up a notch.  But I was Hungry when we left so the local drive-thru worked just fine.) 
  • Right now, we're dog-sitting our new grand dog.  Some of you may remember that John and Joy's dog, JJ, died unexpectedly this fall.  The entire family was heart-broken as JJ had been part of their family over 10 years.  A new dog was soon located.  Please bear in mind, John and Joy are both tall people.  They have four growing children and a small backyard.  So they bought the most practical dog you could imagine. . . a Great Dane.  Yes, you read that correctly.  And they named her, "Kitty!"  She will blend right in with their full-tilt family.
  • Another sad spot in our holiday season was the marking of 10 years since my mom's passing.  It seems surreal still.  There are still days that I think to call her and share some bit of good news.  I miss her hugs and her laughter.  My sister and I went to a florist together and selected a new arrangement to place on her grave.  The flowers gave us joy and we both know she would have loved the polka dot bow the florist chose for the lavender arrangement.   
  • Today, I get to have lunch with my dear friend, Becky Smith.  It's always a bonus when they come to FL to visit Meagan and Nathan.  Nathan hasn't had much vacation time as they had to use it all for Grayson's arrival in July.  I feel a little selfish but always thankful when we get time with our co-grandparents, the Smiths.
Well, speaking of which, I need to start getting ready.  But I do pray the Lord's blessings on each of you as we move into the new year.  May you sense Him especially near and may we all move to obey His whispered instructions for 2019.  

Blessings, Dear Readers!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Throw the Water!

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the year!!

Christmas and everything surrounding it has long been my favorite time of year.

  • Favorite movies - Christmas.  
  • Favorite plays - Christmas.
  • Favorite music - Christmas.
  • Favorite memories - Christmas.
  • Favorite life surprises - Christmas.
Frank and I started dating just before our Christmas break from college 40 years ago.  I have ornaments and a stuffed dog named Snoopy dressed as Santa which he gave me as gifts in 1978.  We got married just one year later on December 30, 1979.  Meagan (our youngest) was born December 20, 1987.  Our family has countless stories of wonder from our own Christmases while the girls were growing up. 

Well, you get the idea. 

Please take note of one important fact, I said I LOVE Christmas.  However, Christmas isn't always a perfect nor is it an easy time.  Many of my Christmas memories are also filled with sadness and great struggle.

Some of you reading this post have lost a loved one and there will be a massive empty spot this season where that person should be.  Each happy carol, lighted candle or special candy causes another wave of grief to roll over you.

Some have never experienced pure Joy during Christmas.  One's living standard has nothing to do with this part.  Joy is something we determine to embrace; not something we buy.  I've seen both mansions and hovels equally devoid of true Joy.  (Of course, the opposite is also true.)

I'm aware that some readers are in the midst of crisis or great struggle they never saw coming.  To be going through such a time of sorrow is made even more difficult when everyone around you is singing and skipping and kissing and hugging one another.  

Furthermore, Christmas has a tendency to throw us into close proximity to people we otherwise manage to avoid throughout the year.  That can be anyone from co-workers to friends of a spouse or even extended family.  People we would just rather stay away from if at all possible!  (Don't worry.  I won't make you raise your hand or confess or anything.)

The only encouragement I can offer about the first three struggle points is this, I've experienced them all.  There is comfort to be found, dear friend.  Sometimes, we have to make extra effort to find comfort in healthy ways but it's available.  Trust me.

But if you find yourself thrown into a conversation, a party or perhaps even a week-long celebration with people you don't normally enjoy, take courage!  I have a message of HOPE for your situation.

My quick word of encouragement comes from a sermon I heard years ago.  A friend was speaking on the struggles we face when dealing with difficult people.  How do you handle situations that have the potential to blow sky high?  What can you do when too many people are too passionately tied to too many emotions and words start getting heated?  How can you respond when those heated words threaten to spontaneously combust?

The speaker challenged us all to imagine ourselves standing in front of the situation, arms stretched out from our sides.  We were to envision ourselves each holding two completely full water pails.  And the pails we were straining to hold were indeed filled with a solution.  One contained the clear, cooling water you would expect; while the other pail was filled with gasoline. 

Can you see yourself doing the same thing? 

The choice is ours.  We evaluate the situation and quickly make a determination.  Will we throw water on the escalating words and bring peace?  Or will we throw gasoline on it adding fuel to the fire?  It seems like an easy answer.  But when the words are painful for you or someone you love, what then?  

I hear you calling to me, "Throw the water!  Squelch the fire!  Bring peace to the situation!"

Oh, Friend!  How I long to say I've always chosen that route.  Unfortunately, I can't.  It wouldn't be true.  Many times, I've let my emotions draw me right into the middle of the foray and before I could stop myself SLOSH went my pail of gasoline.  (Come to think of it, that's probably why my eyebrows are so thin.)

Sometimes, I have chosen to throw water.  I've held my tongue and kept my own emotions from boiling to the surface.  I've chosen to help bring peace.  Those times are the ones I remember with joy.   

Christmas truly is a wonderful time of year.  But we still are all a bunch of imperfect, broken people sharing this season together.  I don't imagine for a minute that every element of this Christmas time will be perfect.  Yours probably won't be either. But imagine yourself holding those two pails.  And rehearse for yourself, "I'm holding the solution that will bring peace to this moment."

Throw the water, my Friend!  Choose to be the catalyst for Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men.

Your eyebrows will thank you!