Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Smiling Post

There have been so many unusual occurrences in our world lately that I decided today's post needs to elicit laughter.  I pulled this great one from two years ago just before Kristin's wedding.  (Third daughter to marry; final wedding for the Hawley clan.)  It still makes me laugh.  Hope you'll enjoy it. too! 

The Derriere Dilemma

Warning #1 - This is a total "GIRL" post.  Men won't enjoy it at all.

Warning #2 - This is strictly from the humorous file!  Not a single, spiritually-significant point to be found.  Unless you count "laughter is good medicine."

I found my mother-of-the-bride dress back in May.  A bit of a miracle really.  We were searching for possible bridesmaids' dresses when I spotted it.  Someone else had already determined it to be the perfect dress for their special event and had it on hold near the register.

It's that ambiguous taupe/gold/neutral color that I've never thought I could wear well.  But I wanted to just try it on and see.  The young sales lady agreed; so I slipped into an adjoining dressing room.

When I came out, the girls all had a fit!  (Which is southern for "became visibly excited!")  Although it would need some alterations, it truly was a stunning dress.  Turns out I can wear that color after all.

They grabbed a camera phone and snapped a couple of pictures.

Did I mention that it was marked down - 75% off the regular price?!!  More attractive still!

"Well if this lady doesn't come back, please call me."  I gave the sales lady my cell number.

"I certainly will!  You need that dress for your daughter's wedding!  I'll keep my fingers crossed."  The young lady helping us had gotten excited with us.  My sister says it's an affliction we have - drawing other people into our vortex of life.  I prefer to call it a gift!

Long story short - the other lady did NOT come back.  Adriana (the sales specialist) called right away to excitedly report that the dress was mine for the taking!

I got it home and immediately started working to lose a few pounds.  I am, after all, a pastor's wife.  Just because I can zip something, doesn't necessarily mean I should wear it!

Walking toward everyone, the dress looked perfectly modest in every way.  But when I turned sideways or walked away?  My "derriere dilemma" became immediately apparent.

Most women have an area of their body they would change if they could.  And for most of my life, the part I would gladly change (by diminishing it), followed me everywhere I went!

Mom made most of my clothes during the growing up years.  There was always a noticeable dip in the hem to compensate for the extra distance the back of my skirts had to travel.

(This became a real problem for my younger sister when she got my hand-me-downs.  She didn't have a derriere at all, it seemed.  Consequently, when she wore my clothes, it looked like Mom had made a terrible mistake with the hem which hung forlornly in the back.)

I spent a lot of time standing next to walls and sitting as a teenager.  Dress patterns and fabrics were chosen based on their ability to slenderize and camouflage body flaws.  Industrial strength pantyhose kept everything contained on Sundays.  

Fortunately, I married a man who saw my derriere dilemma as a positive, not a negative trait at all!  He could always spot me on campus he said, because my skirts did a cute little flip when I walked.   

A few years ago, while watching a fun movie with the girls, I discovered that I was simply ahead of my time.  The lovely female star was walking away from the camera and the vent on her stylish trench coat was pulled open badly because of her own derriere dilemma.

I was mortified on behalf of my newly found derriere dilemma buddy.  "Why in heaven's name didn't the costuming department check that before they sent her out to be filmed?" I asked the girls.  "Just look!  She must have been so embarrassed when she saw that they didn't fit that properly!" 

The girls looked at one another then burst into laughter.

"Mom!  That's her claim to fame," they explained.  "She's known for the junk in her trunk."

"The junk in what trunk?" I asked, bewildered.   I'd never heard the expression before.

"She has a nice bootie and she shows it off whenever she can." (My girls have always enjoyed educating Mom!)

So here I am at 57, having chosen a dress that's truly lovely; but still a little concerned about how it will look as I walk past people to take my place at the front of the church on October 24th.


As you age, things shift.  Well, they actually start to droop.  And in most cases, that's not such happy news.

Short Aside:  WHY do clothing designers highlight this?  They intentionally choose names like - Sag Harbor and New Dimensions!  There's even an entire clothing store known as Dress BARN!  "Barn" brings to my mind large, lumbering animals like cows and pigs!  REALLY?!  End of rant; return to post.

Compensating for the droop demands a return to industrial strength foundational garments.  And an entire evening wearing such garments can cause discomfort, breathlessness or even fainting.  (Thankfully, I haven't experienced that!)

 I'm getting to the GREAT NEWS.......

For those of us who've struggled through the years with too much "junk in our proverbial trunks" the age shift actually brings us to the proportions enjoyed by the other two-thirds of the female population!

Oh, Happy Day!  Thanks to the ten pounds I've sweated off and the alterations adjustments and the all-important age shift.........I won't need any breath-suppressing under-garments at all for the wedding!

My Derriere Dilemma has been dodged, yet again!

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Frank and I slept on a mattress on the living room floor last night.

No, it wasn't an attempt at romance or camping and there wasn't even storm damage to blame.  Although we were in survival mode.  Meagan and Nathan's recent move into their own home has left our home looking rather barren and may I add, far too quiet for my taste.  But that's another post.

Before their move, I had snagged new carpet from a sub-contractor at a ridiculously low price.  Our house is about 60% carpet and we were still living with the original from 13 years ago.  Carpet cleaners can only do so much with flooring as well lived on as ours was.  So the plan was out with the old, in with the new after the big transition.

Only, we ran into a time crunch. Thanksgiving is less than one week away.  My dad and his wife will be arriving on Tuesday.  Other guests will be joining us for the wonderful turkey feast on Thursday.

The fella we found to install the new carpet had to do it this weekend or wait until after Christmas.  With all the company we have planned for the next four weeks, the old carpet would never do.  Consequently, "Calvin the Carpet Guy" became our new best friend.

He nonchalantly swiped at dust bunnies and spider webs I had no idea existed within my walls.  Chipped paint and peanut butter hand prints have been my primary decorating look for so long that it made me a little sad to start scrubbing them away.

Calvin was only able to complete the living room and master bedroom on Friday.  The remainder of the house had to wait until Saturday.  Ever the resourceful one, my boy scout husband set up the television and our king size mattress (complete with proper bed linens) in the living room.  The finishing touch was Gracie's bed at the right corner, where she usually sleeps in our bedroom.

Every other stick of furniture and article of clothing loomed rather menacingly in the kitchen and dining room.  But we just didn't look over that way.  Instead, we settled in for a movie and hot tea. I can't say how the movie ended because we both fell sound asleep.  But we made another memory and laughed about how odd Calvin would think us if he should arrive to start work earlier than expected.

I'm happy to report that every square inch of flooring that should be covered with toe-tickling fibers now is and most furniture has been returned to its appropriate location.  The new padding makes it feel like walking on cushions.  And there isn't a juice or coffee stain to be found - anywhere in the entire house!  WooHoo!

I had promised myself that no matter what else happened,  I would write today.  So here I am a little fuzzy headed and hoping to encounter a hot tub shortly.  But I came across a great line I wanted to share with all the savvy readers of Embrace the Grace.

"Gratitude makes what I have more than enough!"  WOW!

Don't you love that?  It certainly spoke to my heart.  And it applies so beautifully to almost any circumstance you can think of.  Especially when life is topsy turvy, gratitude can make the chaos more manageable.

Here's hoping your Sunday will be blessed with church going, song singing, Bible exploring and friend hugging.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Choose H.O.P.E.

Happy Fall Y'all!

I see the temperatures dipping.  I see pictures of fireplaces roaring.  I hear friends getting their jackets and sweatshirts out of storage.

Here in FL, we're just thankful for the reduction in humidity!  Very grateful indeed.

As soon as the temperatures fluttered here last week, our local stores rolled out the boots in hopes of selling a few pairs, at least.  We buy them ( I confess I have two pair) because we are people of hope. We know that flip flops and sandals are going to be comfortable footwear right through November.

But we eagerly watch for the two or three days when the forecaster promises nothing above 75 degrees.  That's when you'll hear the shouts of, "Break out your boots and scarves.  There's a cold front coming!!"

Yes, we are people of hope.

However speaking seriously, the world around us has gotten extremely tangled and fearful lately.  Our church sign this week reads, "Hope is the only thing stronger than fear."   It's an attitude choice; a decision of where we'll focus, isn't it?

I prepared a message to share with our church family about the importance of taking steps to invite hope into all our lives.  It's a simple acrostic using H.O.P.E.  The highlights are given below.  I hope you enjoy it.

H - Hands Out
      I prefer to live with my hands out toward others in a posture to give.  A hopeful person can afford to live generously toward others.  Our girls have always been especially generous souls.  But since they usually worked two part-time jobs and took classes full-time, people would often say to them, "You can't afford to do this."  One daughter finally started answering,  "It's okay.  I have all the money in the world!"

     She certainly didn't have much money at all but she understood the power of generosity.  There's always something we can give.  And giving is the best antidote for selfishness which manages to suck the joy right out of life.  

Ps. 112:5 puts it this way, "Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely."

O - Open Arms
      Those who go through life with an "arms crossed" attitude are seldom ever satisfied and usually unhappy.  I've not always had what I wanted in every relationship but I do try to offer open arms to those around me.
     We're seldom given the opportunity to control how blessing comes into our lives.  More often, we stumble into the most wonderful relationships and friendships by offering open arms to whoever is around.

Proverbs 18:24 in the King James Version says, "A man that hath friends must show himself friendly."

     And besides, when I consider all Christ has given to me I clearly understand, "I can afford to be generous!"

P - Peace-filled Countenance
     There is a woman written about in Proverbs 31.  This lady is a super-hero that all women can aspire to emulate.  But I especially love this description of her, "She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come."

     A simple smile is powerful.  Did you know that psychologists have done studies proving if you give someone a smile it will trick your body into feeling better?  True story!  Just try it for yourself.
      Proverbs 1:33 says, "...but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm."  That's a promise able to create a feeling of genuine peace.  And that feeling will creep right up to your face breaking out into a smile every time.

E- Expectant Heart
     God is faithful and you can trust Him!  It's a phrase Frank has shared with each congregation we've served.  When I believe this, I'm able to live with an expectation of good things.

     In fact, Paul wrote to his friends in Rome and urged them to expect good not evil.  He also told his friends in Corinth, "Since we have such hope, we are very bold."

     How we choose to live our lives really does matter.  Others are watching us and usually, they could use some HOPE as well.

I finished my sermon by reminding people of this, "What you look for, you will find."

I'm a person choosing to live life filled with HOPE.  How about you?

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Home Again!

Last month was an historic first for "Embrace the Grace."  And I sincerely hope, a last!

It was the first time in over five years of writing that I missed an entire month.  No post for over thirty days.  My journal bears the same stigma - entry dates are August 31 followed by October 2.  I hope to never again repeat this.

But Frank and I were able to go to England!!  (Please insert here large quantities of joyful shouting and some serious jumping up and down.)  It had been seven years since our last pilgrimage to Great Britain and we were thrilled to finally go back.

Fourteen days visiting the U.K. would have been wonderful enough but we also went for a purpose greater than tourism.  Frank and I were invited to preach for several churches and even a women's conference.  It was brilliant!

Our dear friends, the Parsons, served as hosts and organized the speaking itinerary.  The women's conference was the catalyst for our trip. But because we've ministered there four times over the past 18 years, we were given the fantastic invitation to preach for several other groups/churches, as well.

Of course, there's never really a quiet season here at our wonderful home church.  So our original plan was to fly out following Sunday services.  Which also followed the beautiful wedding (on Saturday) of a couple whose parents serve as board members.  This was all planned.

But then we lost a dear friend just days before the wedding.  Her memorial service took place Friday morning before the wedding rehearsal Friday evening.  Joyce was one of our founding members; my close personal friend.  Her unexpected home-going surprised us all but her Godly life was easy to celebrate.

I was incredibly thankful for the amazing people all around us.  Wedding plans had been set well in advance and our part in the ceremony was all printed and waiting in a stately-looking folder the week before. Kristin and Meagan volunteered two hours to help me plan my clothes for speaking and touring the Monday before departure.  Joyce Demo's team of marvelous workers covered every detail of the funeral meal for over 100 people.  John, Joy, Cody and Nathan all stepped into various roles from preaching to tech to photography to singing in order to make things run smoothly.

By the time Frank and I actually boarded the plane Sunday evening, we were exhausted but confident we had left the church in good hands.  He sent one final text as the engines whined and our phones stayed in airplane mode for the next two weeks.

We saw the English Channel for the first time.  (I'll write about that experience on another day.  It was a God-moment for sure.)  We visited Exeter, the hometown of our host.  We spent three days in the beautiful, wild region known as Cornwall.  (Those of you who watch British programs on PBS would recognize the names Poldark and Doc Martin both shows filmed in that region.)

Then it was on to Stoke-on-Trent for ministry times in several different locations over the following days.  Frank and I aren't the typical tourists.  We prefer long walks, fish and chips, hot tea, Yorkshire pudding, watching sunsets in the garden and just experiencing local life that many miss.  Our friends know this about us, so they planned accordingly.

We came home with bags full of happy memories.  Acquaintances renewed.  New friendships formed.  One lady gave her heart to Christ on Sunday morning following Frank's sermon.  She came to the altar bedraggled and weary; her story was one of betrayal, abuse and alcoholism.  When she returned that night and the next week for the conference, she looked like a totally different individual. We were dumb-struck by how beautiful the transformation was.  (Please keep praying with us for this dear soul as she begins her walk with Christ.)

Shortly after we returned to Winter Haven,  I flew to Tennessee to speak for another women's conference being held in Pigeon Forge.  My lifetime friend, Brenda, was able to join me for part of that event.  I came home with my sides aching from the wonderful tears and laughter shared with over one hundred pastor's wives.  Such an honor, believe me!

Needless to say, I'll have many stories to share with you in the days ahead.  Thank you for continuing to check in here even though new material was absent.  And thank you for coming back today.

I sat down to write this afternoon and to be perfectly honest, I was flooded with feelings of shame because of being absent so long.  The thought came, "You don't really have anything useful to say. Why bother writing at all?"  Sometimes negative thoughts are so articulate and loud.

But then I glanced up to see the statement made by my sweet little Mama just days before her home-going.  (One of the girls here copied and framed it.)

"With the help of the Lord, I Will!"  

So, with the help of the Lord,  I just started typing.  Joyce Meyer has a great quote that I rehearse often, "Never let your yesterday determine your tomorrow!"  Why would I miss out on sharing with you the wonders we experienced during September just because the blog won't have a September date?

One generation telling the next of God's goodness is NOT time sensitive!  Aren't you glad?!

Don't be robbed of doing what you set out to do, dear friend.  It may seem late by your estimation, but it may also be right on time by Heaven's!  Hugs to you ALL and a warm "Cheerio!"


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Love and Fear

While preparing to teach a marriage conference years ago, Frank and I came across a powerful story.  It illustrates an incredible truth about the difference between love and fear.

After a whirlwind courtship, Sarah agreed to marry Thomas.  He was attentive to every detail of her life and watched over her in such a protective way.  But soon after their wedding, Sarah began to notice subtle signs of a controlling nature in Thomas. 

He wanted to know whom she talked with on the phone.  He planned their weekends then told her what they would do.  Before long, he even began to dictate what she should do during her free time. 

Things slowly escalated until finally the lists began to appear.  Sarah would arrive home from work and discover a to do list on the kitchen counter.  “Please take care of this before I get home,” wrote Thomas. 

At first, Sarah took them as suggestions and did her best to complete what she could.  But Thomas’ displeasure over any items left undone soon turned to anger then rage.  Sarah became fearful of not completing each and every item on the list.  They became the taskmasters ruling her life.  She feared Thomas and hated his lists.

Sarah became more proficient at anticipating and then completing the items he enumerated.  But her love for Thomas dulled and she trudged through every day with a sense of duty rather than the delight she had once imagined.

After several years, Thomas died.  The liberation Sarah felt knew no bounds.  She was finally free from domination, mental abuse and from the dreaded lists.  Fear was broken and her joy slowly began to return.

Sarah eventually married again.  Her new husband, Jonathan, certainly wasn’t perfect but he had no need to control and their love for one another blossomed.

One Saturday afternoon Sarah sat absent-mindedly cleaning out an old purse.  In the back zippered pocket she discovered a crumpled piece of paper.  As she unfolded it her stomach lurched; it was a list written in Thomas’ distinctive handwriting.

Tears began to sting Sarah’s eyes as she read down through the old list.  The yellowed piece of paper contained a to do list that perfectly matched all the things she had spent her Saturday doing.  But instead of doing them out of fear or duty, she realized this time she had completed each item out of love.  And her love for Jonathan made any type of list completely unnecessary.

We are told in I John 4:18,  “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out all fear.”  (NIV)  A truth well illustrated by Sarah’s poignant story.

Please remember today, our Heavenly Father is not at all like Thomas; although some characterize Him as such.  There is no list of rules, no checklist of demands for us to follow.  In fact, Jesus' disciples asked him one day, "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?"

(Funny isn't it?  Human nature asks for a list we can check off in order to measure our "goodness."  I guess these disciples wanted to skip to the front of the line by just obeying the single most important one.)

Jesus quickly responded, "Love God with all your heart, mind and soul.  Then love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Everything hangs on these two commands." (Matthew 22: 37-40 Sheri's Paraphrase)

Dear Friend, God is Love.  It's just that simple.  And Love drives out all fear.  Don't you want to embrace the Heavenly Father who is able to drive out all fear from your life?  The choice for love allows us to serve Him out of our well filled with bubbling, joyful waters; not out of the dry, dusty bank vault of fear.  

Let me encourage you today, choose LOVE!  It's a much better way to live.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Voice of Cheer

Writing is a very personal, exposing of one's soul.  At least that's the case with writing that moves us to action.  And because writing tends to leave the writer feeling vulnerable, I find it difficult to record  some things until the raw edges have healed a bit.

That's why I've waited until now to post about a recent funeral.  Many people look at my life and suppose that the joke I once heard is true.  "Preachers and their wives are for marryin' and buryin' and baptizin'.  Beyond that, there ain't much to 'em."

(Yes, someone did express that opinion to me when I was young in ministry.  Fortunately, Frank and I now serve a congregation filled with people who are much more thoughtful and observant.)

It's true that we're privileged to be right in the middle of all sorts of joy.

We have a front row seat to the tender look in a groom's eyes as he pledges his forever love to his bride.  We usually have the privilege of holding newborn congregants within hours of their arrival on this earth. We sense the utter joy of new converts being baptized.  And the freedom that comes when someone prays to make Christ Lord of their life.

These times are like the jet fuel that keeps us moving at the pace necessary for our life-style. Frank and I always feel so honored to be invited in to those intimate life moments with others.  It's truly a privilege we respect and appreciate.

But there are also the sorrowing times of people's lives when all we can offer is a shoulder to lean on and a strong hug reassuring them of our love for them and that God has not forgotten them.  We often walk back to our car, after sharing in sorrow moments, close the door and weep.  We genuinely love the people we serve and their pain becomes our own.

That's how it was for me when we got the call saying Jasmyne was in the hospital and not doing well.  Just 31, Jasmyne had been extremely ill for over a year.  A car accident eleven years earlier nearly took her life but Jasmyne made a valiant come back after three weeks in a coma.  And went on to become a phlebotomist in our local hospital.

Unfortunately, the trauma took a real toll on her body.  At 30, she went back into the hospital with pneumonia and just never recovered.  But she maintained her positive outlook and her fierce love for family and friends.  An email.  A text.  A phone call.  A message on Facebook.  Jasmyne was always reaching out to encourage; always acting as a voice of cheer.

Frank went to the hospital as soon as we got the call on Friday.  I went up Saturday morning and quickly realized Jasmyne wouldn't be with us much longer.  The stroke left her unable to talk or even open her eyes but she let me know by raising and lower her eyebrows, she heard me.  Later that afternoon, Jasmyne slipped into the waiting arms of her Savior.  I closed my door and wept.

She had only been a member of our congregation for a couple of years.  And she wasn't able to attend at all for the second year.  But she stayed engaged through our online services; generously expressing her appreciation for every point of contact.

The funeral was incredibly moving.  Not just because she was so young.  And not just because her life had been such a struggle.  But because of the broad spectrum of people Jasmyne had touched.

See, Jasmyne was African-American.  And this is the deep south were racial prejudice is supposed to have clearly delineated boundaries which keep people separated.  But Jasmyne just didn't acknowledge those boundaries and we all discovered the depth of her beauty at her funeral.

Frank was very honored to be asked by her family to bring the eulogy.  The team from our church provided and served the lunch for all the family.  Our skin color made us stand out a bit among the richness of Jasmyne's family and 300 closest friends.  But no one that day was concerned with color or culture or even protocol - we had all gathered to celebrate the short life that had touched us in long-lasting ways.

Each person there had a story to tell of how this young lady had impacted them; challenged them; encouraged them.

"Jasmyne is the reason my boys are respectful and on the right track today," told one.

"She encouraged me to get my degree," expressed another.

"That sweet girl had a smile and a hug for me each time I saw her," shared her grandmother.

"Jasmyne was always the same friend with everyone," said a high school classmate.

"Jasmyne told me about Jesus.  Now I know I'll see her again," testified a cousin.

When her uncle stood to introduce Frank, he asked a simple question.  "I'd like to know where all the media is today?  All the ones saying that we can't love one another and care about people who look different from us. Look around you today.  Listen to the words that have been spoken.  Shouldn't they be here to report on this?"  His piercing, dark eyes reached to every corner of the packed auditorium.  Loud "Amens!" rang out all around me.

And he was right.  There were no divisions of color or age or gender there.  Jasmyne's love for everyone covered each soul equally and that was the blanket comforting all our grieving hearts.

I, too, look forward to embracing Jasmyne again when I exchange my earthly address for a heavenly one.  What a day that will be!

But until that time, I hope my life will more closely reflect the influence she had on me.  I'm praying to live in such a way that my own funeral will be a blending of so many different hues and ages and backgrounds that you won't be able to tell where one group ends and another begins.

It's unlikely that the media will report on my passing either. But I do hope there will be some who can testify that my life encouraged, challenged, or impacted them in a profound way for good things.  We each matter on this journey; there is someone who needs your smile and touch.  May I encourage you to pick up the torch Jasmyne laid down?

Decide to be the voice of cheer for another today.  You'll be ever so glad you did.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Simple Truth

Frank shared the essence of this story with me quite some time ago.  I've written what I could remember.  Simple truth is often the most profound.........

There is a fable about a king who owned an amazingly beautiful ring.  All who lived in his kingdom knew the intricate designs of the gorgeous piece of jewelry.  Such an amazing statement piece needed a proper inscription.

The king called for his most trusted advisor, a man known to be of outstanding wit and wisdom.  “This ring must be inscribed with a sentiment unlike any other; something totally awe inspiring.  I want you to find a statement that at the same time brings sorrow to the heart of the one rejoicing and joy to the heart of the sorrowful,” declared the sovereign. 

For days the wise man labored under his assignment until at last the perfect words came together for him.  He asked for an audience with the king and it was granted immediately.

Everyone in the throne room waited silently; they leaned forward with anticipation of what the sage would say to the royal.  “Sire, your request was indeed a difficult one to fulfill.  I’m not sure there has ever before been such a statement as the one you desired for the inscription your ring will bear.  However, I do believe I finally have struck upon it.”

“Well, speak up, man!  Don’t keep me waiting, “ the king’s excitement couldn’t be hidden.

“The phrase that will simultaneously bring sorrow to the joyful and joy to the sorrowful is this, O King…… ‘And it came to pass’.”  The words hung in the silent expanse and the sage bowed low waiting for the king to ponder them.

“And it came to pass…, “ whispered the monarch as he stroked his beard pensively.  “Yes,” his weathered face nodded slowly. “Those five words will indeed simultaneously bring sorrow for the joyful and joy for the sorrowful.  ‘And it came to pass.’ 

Indeed the one constant is that everything in life changes.  Even moments of greatest joy eventually fade into tomorrow.  The anticipation of that change would cause the one rejoicing to have great sorrow.  And so it is with the one who finds himself in a time of sorrow.  Eventually the day of newness dawns and sorrow is finished.  The hope of that day gives the sorrowful great joy.  Well done, my friend.  Well done!”

The words of the sage ring true still today for each and every season of our life journey.   
“And it came to pass….”