Thursday, March 26, 2020

One Little Step

What an absolutely CRAZY time we find ourselves experiencing.  Right?!  The emotional pressure (no matter what type work you normally do) is extreme.  Every decision feels bigger than life and harder than ever before.  Some people find themselves frozen in place; totally overwhelmed with all the adjustments needed.

So, I wanted to share with you some pictures of our little people.  Hopefully their smiles will give you some simple, joyful thoughts for focusing on today.  For example, this trio of cutie-pies.  Now why do you suppose Walmart offered these little dresses in Florida instead of in Michigan?

'Orange' you glad to see me?
What about this adorable diva?  Ava will turn three this summer and she already has all the personality that can be packed into one tiny human.  She came running in my office last week, gave me a big hug, flashed an angelic smile and said, "Noni, I have a mint?"  You know I gave it to her.

Ava Quinn, Personality Plus

Ava, Abby Spencer and Zach are staying with Noni and Papa this week.  Joy and John had planned a massive home improvement project for Spring Break which would include wall removal, paint, new flooring and all the dust that goes with such.

Their plan was perfect.  Weeks ago, John lined up men at church to help at different stages.  His dad and grandad were flying down from New York.  Together, they would easily knock it out in one week.  Frank and I would be in El Salvador on a missions trip so the Schrecks would house-sit for us.  No Fumes.  No Mess.  No Problem.

All that was before Covid 19 came onto the scene.  Coronavirus took all their well thought out plans and threw them to the wind.  No flights.  No missions trip.  No help available.  Pull the plug, right?One small problem - they had already knocked out the wall and ripped up the flooring.  No where to go but forward.  So forward we went.

Frank has been filling in when able, helping John as best he can.  Joy and I are holding down the fort trying our best to think of fun activities that don't involve technology.  One afternoon, we even raked leaves.

Noah, Spencer and Zach

The kids did their best to make that time entertaining.  Spencer and Abby lamented the fact that there was no representative of Guiness' World Records to see the largest leaf pile in history.  They made "leaf angels," the best substitute in FL for snow angels.  They raced to see who could bag faster and gave instruction to the younger ones.  The other side of the yard still needs some work but a lovely time was had by all.

Parker McGhee, AKA "Gangsta"

It seems Parker has taken up rap singing, during this time of self-entertainment.  We'll have to wait and see if he has the king of talent that can propel him beyond singing for his family in their living room.  Based on the "cuteness" factor, we expect ticket sales to go through the roof!

Four Generations: Mother, Son, Mother, Son
The youngest little Smith is Andrew Ryder.  We can hardly believe he's already sitting up, smiling, responding to his name and all the other things a baby usually does.  What a treasured picture this is for us.  I especially love that Mom Hawley is looking over at her own son. Baby boys soon become grown men with families of their own.  Life moves very quickly, friends.  We should all live accordingly.

As pastors, we've had to try and think of new ways to stay connected with our church family.  Kristin and I spent an afternoon creating a chart for phone connection.  Every family is connected to one of our many capable leaders.  The entire congregation can be contacted within a matter of minutes should information need to go out or should plans change.  (We also use email and Facebook but nothing beats the sound of a familiar voice asking how you're doing.)

We changed our mid-week dinner to a "Drive-Thru" and provided a packet with sermon notes for Sunday's live stream.  

We also offered prayer
This was our first attempt to live-stream our church service.  Our tech team did an amazing job morphing in order to accommodate our needs.  We had a full worship team, an object lesson for children and a great sermon of comfort.  This is our family worshipping together in a new way.  (Yes, we told them to move back from the television right after snapping this.)

"New Sunday Service"
(You can join us by going to Garden Grove Church on Facebook.  Wednesdays are at 6PM and Sundays are at 10AM.)

Laughter is vitally important for us all.  So, last week Frank and I enjoyed a lovely time with friends, Gene and Carol Kent.  Because here in Florida we're experiencing some shortages, we took a little gift for them.  

Yes, we DID gift them toilet paper

I'm trusting at least one of these made you smile.  Or maybe even laugh out loud.

A little laughter is good medicine in times of uncertainty.  I think anxiety, tension and fear are fueled by that one word, uncertainty.  Since the introduction of coronavirus just weeks ago, we've all found ourselves with more questions than answers.  And such a high level of uncertainty naturally creates negative feelings.  They can even cause us to freeze in our tracks.

My word of encouragement for you is this: when life seems to be out of control (like now) it's the little steps that matter most.  We can't afford to stay frozen by fear.  And it often takes only one little step forward to break out of that grip.  Let me encourage you - take one step, today.  Don't try to grapple with ALL that is going on, just make one small change.

We can actually add to the struggle when we expect too much of ourselves.  I've seen the list many friends are touting for this time of self-isolation:
  • Clean and sanitize all cupboards, cabinets and closets.  
  • Read all those books stacked beside my nightstand.
  • Write a book!
  • Write a letter to every relative I've ever known.
  • Train my children in all areas of social etiquette.  
Dear friends, please give yourself a break!  Just for today, you might want to choose an activity from this list instead:
  • Turn off the television.  
  • Step outside and get a deep breath of fresh air.  
  • Send a text.  
  • Take a nap.
  • Remember a funny joke and let yourself laugh.
  • Listen to calming music.
  • Light a candle and read a devotional.
Then tell yourself, "This is precisely what I need to be doing at this moment.  It's the one little thing I've chosen."  Then allow yourself to enjoy the moment.  It truly is the little steps that can break the grip of fear and remind us, we serve a BIG God who hasn't forgotten about us at all.  

With that said, Grayson Smith asked if he could be the one to sign off today -

"See ya later, alligator!"

What is one little step you plan to take today?  Would you please share it in the comment section?  Your comment may encourage a wave of peace flooding the hearts of other readers.  Thank You!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Focusing on Peace

In my living room, we have a large sign with these letters: P.E.A.C.E.

You don't have to read many of these blogs to quickly understand, I Love Words!  But I especially love words that have significance.  So I have quite a few signs scattered around my house with sayings, quotes and single words for impact.

The sign with PEACE is strategically positioned on a self right above our TV.  As I sit writing this post, I have only to glance up in order to be reminded.  PEACE is as near as my focus. 

This week, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus to be a pandemic, having impacted the entire world.  We are experiencing some unprecedented actions on the part of our government leaders as well as local officials. 

For Frank and I, this week has brought a lot of tension due to big decisions that needed to be made rather quickly based on less than perfect information.  Fortunately, we're part of a Great team that worked alongside us in making those decisions.

One of the most disappointing decisions was to postpone our upcoming trip to El Salvador.  A team of fifteen was scheduled to depart next Saturday. We have been going there for eight years.  We take teams and supplies for the purpose of doing humanitarian work. 

Working with a local church, we've helped build a vocational center and supplied dozens of sewing machines to be used by the women training there.  There is also a weekly feeding program where children come to find a healthy meal and real encouragement.  We've provided outreach materials for two schools and scores of individuals in the remote mountain area.

A part of our hearts stay behind every time we visit this beautiful place.  We even have a young lady from our church who has given two years of her life to helping the people there full time.  So, we spent many hours anguishing over whether or not we should go.  Our final decision was confirmed when the president of El Salvador closed their borders to all foreign visitors. 

We've met with medical professionals in our area searching out the most accurate information to share with our own church family.  We've also had to determine how much of our regular schedule to maintain.  (This church is always doing something!)

In the end, we realized the best plan for us was to focus on Faith, not Fear.  To be diligent with using common sense.  Wash your hands.  Rest.  Sanitize.  Remain calm.  And pray for those being directly impacted.

This morning I read a great idea posted by a friend who currently lives in central Europe.  "Every time you watch a news report, follow it up by reading a Psalm from the Bible."  What a great practice!  Stay informed but also stay encouraged.  What good does it do us to keep our bodies healthy if our souls are sick with fear?

There are too many wonderful promises in God's word to list here.  But Psalm 91 is a powerful,  promise-filled message to each of us.  "I will say of the Lord, he is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."  

The important thing is for us to look up and choose to focus on the P.E.A.C.E. available. 

Saturday, February 29, 2020


Usually, we're glad to experience EXTRA.

Like today.  February 29 is an EXTRA day.  Leap year only occurs once every four years.  But here we are in a leap year and we're blessed with an extra day in February.

(I'm especially thankful because I've had an unusually busy month.  This extra day means I can have at least two posts for February of 2020.  In this case, EXTRA is a blessing.)

We also enjoy EXTRA when we find it attached to words like:

  • Savings
  • Toppings
  • Time
  • Money
  • . . . feel free to fill in your favorite Extra.

Our family has been extra blessed to have Mom Hawley visiting us for two weeks.  We think the last time she came was when Kristin and Cody were married in 2015.  This is the first time she has come to stay with us for such a long time.

We've tried to get her here for years reminding her how many of her friends would LOVE to visit family in FL during the winter months.  This was the year.  It's been a little colder than normal so we teased and said she brought the cold weather with her.  But she's having a great time.

We've been able to watch Noah play t-ball.  (A new adventure for our entire family.)  We've introduced her to catfish which she discovered she likes.  She's been with us for a couple of baby-sitting adventures.  She went to have her hair done by Joy at school.  And she was the star guest at a McGhee family s'more party.

Our church family is also loving on her in big ways.  One lady, Burnette, heard how much Mom likes her special Christmas fruitcake.  So what did Burnette do but make one for Mom?!  What an Extra special gift.  She has been given jars of home made jam.  Everyone has lined up to give her a hug.  And she's heard story after story of how this church loves her son, their pastor.  EXTRA!

Frank and I have also experienced some of the EXTRA's you don't typically enjoy.  For example:
  • Charge
  • Sick
  • Slow
  • . . .again, feel free to add your own word.
A small tickle in Frank's throat on Tuesday turned into a full blown extra special cold.  He was totally out of commission for two days.  Which meant I had to jump into high gear  in order to teach the Bible study on Wednesday and visit the hospital on Thursday.  John and Kristin helped cover the other empty spots.  

Then Friday, I gave in to the same bug and ended up sleeping most of the day.  EXTRA rest was required and I acquiesced.  Hopefully, tomorrow everyone will be back on track, healthy and whole.

So here is my hope for you today, Dear Reader.

May you and those you love be EXTRA blessed.  
May you feel EXTRA loved by our Heavenly Father.
May you stumble upon EXTRA opportunities.
May you offer EXTRA hugs and forgiveness to those around you.
May you find that forgiveness coming back to you in EXTRA measures.

Blessings to you all!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Radio Silence Broken

It feels like I've been on radio silence since the first of February.  But I promise, there was a legitimate reason.  Several legitimate reasons, in fact.

First off, Frank and I flew to North Carolina to speak for a couples' retreat.  Our lifetime friends, Pastors Buddy and Cheryl Denton were hosting the event for their church in Askewville, NC.  We stayed together at the beautiful river home of a friend in their congregation.  The cold weather was a treat for these FL hearts.

We really do enjoy participating in marriage retreats because we see such wonderful fruit.  We share stories that help couples laugh together and finally realize, "Hey!  We're not the only ones who struggle with these questions." 

Of course, every speaker worth their salt knows, you teach best out of your own experiences/ victories.  And there never ever has been a victory without a struggle.  Which means, your own marriage is going to be tested before you're allowed to teach others.  Are you tracking with me? 

Yep.  We love speaking for marriage retreats but we're well aware of the price that must be paid for that privilege.  No matter, the fruit is always worth the effort.

Teaching at the Retreat
Lifetime Friend, Cheryl Denton
We left early on Monday morning to drive two hours south to Dunn.  Why?  Because when you're that close to your mom, you make the extra effort to see her. Even if it only means a quick lunch together and a few extra hugs.  Mamas are special like that.

Frank and Mom Hawley

We enjoyed the bonus of getting to see our adopted daughter, Amanda there too.  She spun her own crazy schedule into high gear and met us at the local diner with two of her three precious boys.  After lunch, Frank and I drove the hour back to Raleigh to catch our flight home. 

Adopted Daughter, Amanda

Teaching 8 times in 3 days made for weary travelers

Then February is birthday month in a BIG way with our family.  First off, it was the NINTH birthday for this guy - none other than Spencer Matthew Schreck!  He is the one who MADE us grandparents.  What a treasure this kid is to us all.

Spencer gave me a hug on the Sunday before his special day and announced, "Noni, you will have a nine year old grandson in just three days!"

I returned the squeeze and lovingly corrected him, "Yes, your birthday is just around the corner.  Papa and I are so excited.  But you're turning 8, Sweetheart, not 9."  (Silly little fella trying to rush it.)

He looked me almost directly in the eye (he will be taller than me soon) and set things straight.  "Noni, I'm 8 right now.  I'll be 9 on Wednesday!"

It almost took my breath away to realize he was right!  Oh, my how time flies.

Then, five days later it was time to celebrate the girl who made us parents.  Kristin made her appearance during the middle of a snow storm when we lived in the Asheville, NC area.  We've always been thankful for the semi-truck that slowly plowed the way for us to make it the 30 miles to the hospital.  We were the only two vehicles we saw on the road that night.  What a gift!

Kristin, Cody and Parker

Kristin is now a happy mommie taking care of her own little family.  She serves alongside us at Garden Grove Church helping with everything from music to toddlers to administrative details.  Frank and I aren't real sure how we were chosen to enjoy all our children and grandchildren living in the same location.  But we know it is an unusual GIFT.  And we grow more grateful every day.

Finally, today is the birthday of the lady who made me a sister.  Vonnie turns double nickels today and is still the cutest blonde around.  This picture was taken during our first ever "sister getaway" this past summer.  It may have been the first but we certainly hope it won't be the last.

Mom always called us "Chocolate & Vanilla"

In between all this travel and celebrating, we've started new connect groups at our church.  We've held multiple meetings, attended the funeral of a dear friend, made hospital visits, gotten our house ready for a special visitor.  And tonight we'll marry a lovely couple and attend their wedding dinner.

Life is never boring, that's for sure!

I want to leave you with a scripture that has become especially powerful for Frank and for me.  This particular promise is recorded in The Passion Translation.  Psalm 139:5  "You've gone into my future to prepare the way and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past.  With your hand of love upon my life, you impart a blessing to me."

Isn't that a splendid thought?  As we choose the path God has laid out for us, He goes ahead of us preparing the way.  He protects us from the past and His hand of blessing is resting on us.

I hope this verse speaks to you as it has to me.  Have a Blessed weekend!

How about you? Is there a particular month that has lots more birthdays for your family?  Have you been caught off-guard by the birthday of a grandchild?  We'd love to hear about it in the comment section below.....

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Grand Days

Today I want to share with you two special topics.

The first is that Monday was the birthday of my favorite person in all the world.  (That's BIG because I love a Lot of people.)  John Franklin Hawley celebrated his 63rd birthday.

All teasing aside, I love this man more than I have words to describe.  He swept me off my feet over forty years ago and continues to amaze me with his faithfulness and determination to grow.  I recently heard a friend say, "If we keep learning, we won't become conceited about what we've already learned."

That describes Frank perfectly.

I chose to pray his birthday blessing when we had his family party on Saturday.  Tears caused me to stumble a little as I said, "God, please continue to bless Frank, who is without a doubt the most wealthy man I know.  He chose a path for his life as a young man of sixteen and could never have imagined then what joy You would bring to him.  As his family, we honor him and thank You, dear Lord!"

Frank was sixteen when he chose to make Christ his Savior.  That choice really did change the trajectory of his life and as a result, all of our lives as well.  I'm one grateful lady.  We snapped this picture with the nine grands after an impromptu bonfire last week.

Sitting in our pot of gold

But I also promised pictures from our recent foray into full time grandparent duty.  I mentioned that John and Joy went away to celebrate their twelfth wedding anniversary.  The Smiths, McGhees and Hawleys all jumped into service dividing the care of their four babies between us.

Kristin took the first shift.  Friday morning until dinner (which included but was not limited to) all school runs, naps and lunches.

Meagan collected them just after lunch on Saturday which meant she had EIGHT children to corral until John and Joy returned home around bedtime.
Here my counter reveals how four little people get ready for bed.
Noni and Papa took the longer shift which commenced Friday before dinner and concluded just before nap time Saturday.  I didn't get very many pictures because I was up to my eyeballs with answering the perpetual conversational musing of four very verbal children.

Papa had taken a couple of hours in the middle of the night to put together a race track we had purchased.  (Boys and Girls take turns getting special treats from Noni and Papa; mostly items we find on clearance or at yard sales.  Although these aren't expensive, the children keep close tabs on whose turn it happens to be!)  So, he was a bit tired.

If this exchange happened once ("Noni?"  "Yes, Baby.") it must have happened 500 times during those 10 hours.

Here are some of the pictures I was able to snag:

A few sheets turned the fort into a spy house.

Fortunately, we had several spies ready to move in!

Of course, all spies need special spy snacks

We ate avocados then planted the seeds

Papa was in charge of keeping all hydration equally dispersed.

Noni stayed busy trying to keep everyone fed!!

I had Plenty of Help . . .
. . . help that looked like this
Ava knew exactly how to clean up after spaghetti

(Sadly,  my computer won't let me add anymore text below the final picture.  Still learning you know.)
When Aunt Meagan came to pick them up, Papa and I were blessed with some extra snuggle time that looked like this . . .

(Grayson, Parker and Madi.  Taken on another day.)
A picture I'll treasure for Always!

Andrew Ryder Smith hanging on Papa's every word!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Elementary History Lessons

Today (in the USA) we're marking the life of a great man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He was an outstanding preacher who challenged our nation to live above prejudice at a pivotal moment in our history.  I especially like his quote, "I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear."

His life was cut short when he was tragically assassinated.  Although he was an imperfect person (like us all) God placed him on the public stage at a key time to deliver a clarion call, "....judge people by the content of their character not by the color of their skin."

Our schools teach children about the key elements of that difficult time in our nation's history.  Apparently, our three oldest grandchildren had just had a lesson on this issue last week.  The circumstances surrounding Dr. King's death were fresh on their minds while riding home from school.

Kristin routinely picks up our three oldest a couple of days each week.  The ramblings of these three loquacious elementary students sometimes gets overlooked by the mommies who hear them all day every day.  But we're thrilled that Aunt KK tuned in just in time to hear this little exchange taking place in the back of her van last week.

(Conversation between Spencer - 8, Abby - 7, and Noah - 6.  I'm going to warn you, this is funny. Very Funny!)

Noah: We talked about Martin Luther King today.  Did you know he was killed?

Spencer: Noah, do you know another word for killed?  Assassinated!  Martin Luther King was assassinated.  He was standing on a balcony preaching to a lot of people.

Noah: 5,000!

Spencer: No, that was Jesus.  (Spencer went on to give out more information with all the superior understanding a third grader can muster.  He ended with this. . .)
He was preaching and someone came in his house and shot him.

Abby:  From behind?

Spencer:  Yes.

Abby:  Then he just fell to the ground.

Spencer:  KK, you know there were other people who got assassinated?  Abraham Lincoln.  John F. Kennedy

Abby:  Abraham Lincoln was shot in a theatre.  How was John F. Kennedy killed?

KK: In a parade.

They proceeded to start talking over the top of one another.  Each one needed to explain some additional element they had learned surrounding that time and the topic.  Can't make this stuff up!

Here's a shout out to the teachers helping our little ones sift through the realities of history.  And to the parents who make sure their babies can discuss the Bible as well as historical matters with the same certainty.

The next time I post, I want to share some fun pictures with you from our grandparent adventure this weekend.  John and Joy went out of town for two days to celebrate their twelfth wedding anniversary.  We split up care of the children with the other two sisters.  Frank and I took the supper / bedtime/ lunch shift.  Can't wait to share what a grand time we enjoyed.

Here's a teaser picture:

And just one more:

Trust me, there are stories attached to these two pictures that will make you smile at the very least and if you have a healthy funny bone, they may make you laugh out loud!

Hoping your week is Great!

Saturday, January 11, 2020


Welcome to the New Month.  The New Year.  The New Decade!

WOW, that is a LOT of newness all in one spot.  And yet, here we are at this point in history.  You and I are the ones who were born for this moment in time.  Do you feel the excitement as I do?

I've always been a fan of New.  I'm not sure if it started with my first pair of new shiny black patent leather shoes or with my first box of marvelous smelling Crayola crayons.  (Pretty sure my first box was only 24 as Mom didn't see the need for the full 48 and 64 was just a waste of money, in her thinking.)

As I've aged, I've become especially grateful for New beginnings.  If I didn't get it accomplished last year, here is a chance to try again.  If the old habit isn't yet broken, I have a brand new day to exercise discipline and see it gone.  Haven't experienced the answer to my prayers yet?  Maybe this is the season for my miracle.

There has just always been something exhilarating for me when a new beginning becomes visible on the horizon.  Remember the night before a new school year began?  New classes.  New friends.  New opportunities.

I grew up like many of my friends with a life bordering on the average.  (Of course, Grandma always made me feel extra special; isn't that the calling of every grandparent?)  But as each new year began, amid the normal feelings of anxiety and uncertainty I also had a wave of hope.  Hope that this year would be different.  I started feeling that every January 1st, as well.

New Beginnings!

Now, some people have let discouragements and disappointments "temper" their enthusiasm for new.  I've heard them managing their expectations with phrases like, "Aww, it's just like any other day."  "Why get all worked up about a new year?  We still have the same problems we had last year."  "We've started and failed at this so many times!  What makes this time different?"

Doesn't it make you sad just reading those thoughts?  While they may have an element of truth, they certainly don't leave room for possibility.  And I'm all about Possibility!  Especially the possibilities that come with each new day.  Each new year.  Each new decade.

While spending some time in reflection and prayer, I realized this past decade brought a literal population explosion to our family.  John and Joy had already married.  But Meagan married Nathan last decade and Kristin married Cody.  Between them all six, they then blessed us with NINE grandchildren.  That's exponential growth for any organization but especially for one family.

Sitting in my prayer place on January 1, 2010, I could never have envisioned so much JOY.  But I knew Frank and I were hoping for additional sons and for the gift of grandchildren.

Have we also had struggles?  Oh my YES!  Are there things we still haven't achieved?  Absolutely, quite a few to be honest.  Everyone's life is made up of difficulties and disappointments that make the victories even sweeter, if we allow them.

The choice lies in choosing to see what is possible in spite of disappointment.  That choice beckons us to embrace and celebrate the NEW.

Here are a few of my favorite reminders from the Bible:
  • Revelation 21:5  "He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'"
  • Isaiah 43:18 "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!"
  • Lamentations 3:23 "...his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning..."
  • Psalm 40:3 "He put a new song in my mouth..."
Ah, Friend!  Don't squander the opportunity to look forward to the new possibilities coming your way.  Watch the horizon, NEW is upon us!

How about you?  Are you someone who also enjoys the idea of NEW?  What things happened in the past decade that were a surprise to you?  Please take a moment to share with us in the comment section.