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!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Memory-making & Celebrations

June remains (traditionally) the month of celebrations.  Graduations, Father's Day, vacations and weddings.

Last Sunday we planned to celebrate the guy who serves as the key foundational figure of our growing tribe:  Frank Hawley!
  • He was the ideal daddy for our three little girls.  
  • He loved them lavishly through their teen years.  
  • He encouraged their early flights from our nest. 
  • He cheers them as adults. 
  • He walks tall as the embracing "father" to our "sons."   
  • As pastor, he has given countless daddy hugs.
  • He has listened as surrogate father to more struggles than can be counted.  

Father's Day was designed with men like him in mind!

So, of course, we wanted to make a memory by giving him the perfect celebration expressing how much we appreciate all he does.

Plans were made days in advance. (The young dads are celebrated by their own families during Sunday lunch.  Daddy/Papa is honored during the evening meal.) The menu was set on Wednesday.   Kristin came by to decorate Saturday afternoon.  I started cooking Saturday morning. Meagan and Joy prepared their dishes around naps and baby bedtimes.

Can't you just hear the angelic chorus rising in five-part harmony as Dad walks into the dining room?

Only, that's not how it happened!

We're a close family.  We all love one another dearly.  We all had the same objective - honoring Dad. But we are also - ALL HUMAN BEINGS!

There were a LOT of obstacles that came up as we gathered for our memory-making event:

  • My huge platter of Greek chicken and potatoes didn't cook as quickly as I'd hoped.  So when everyone arrived, the oven was still going strong.  It's Florida, folks.  Once a house gets hot and you add twelve more bodies, the temperature just keeps climbing.
  • One aunt was accidentally whacked in the back of the head by one of my perfect grandchildren who was joyfully waving around a tall box.
  • Little boys don't always close the door entirely as they dash through on their way to the back yard.  (Did I mention the house was already hot?)
  • A rather loud discussion was taking place between the sons.  Who each know they're right on nearly every subject you bring up.  They have only to convince the other two.
  • One daughter was opening and closing cabinets trying to find the right dish for serving her sides.
  • I hadn't finished wrapping my gift for Frank so I kept trying to slip off to the spare bedroom discreetly.  (Refer back to point three about little boys who also like to explore.)
  • Ava woke up just as we got ready to pray and she was HUNGRY.  Or WET.  Or BOTH. Babies intuitively know they aren't expected to be patient yet, so she told us.  Loudly!
By the time I took my seat and looked down our long, cramped table to catch sight of Frank seated at the other end, I was concerned.  What if he felt disappointed by the chaos we were calling his celebration?  But the smile on his face dispelled any questions I had.

Frank understands, it's the imperfections that make each family gathering so wonderful.  He saw me looking and gave me a wink.  I relaxed.

Tell the truth, isn't it most often the "disasters" you remember and laugh about with friends and family?  The camping trip that was rained out.  The wedding bouquet that was tossed over everyone's head.  The stumble while walking in the graduation line.  The suitcases that took a different flight. The keynote speaker who called in sick.  The list goes on but you get the idea.

Our Father's Day celebration could have taken a bad turn at any moment had we all expected it to be flawless.  But when you study the most beautiful fabrics, you quickly discover they're lovely because of the various flaws not in spite of them.  

As you approach your own celebrations this summer, try not to be frustrated with the imperfections. Instead, watch for the beautiful fabric that will result from all the imperfect humans participating. Relax.  You're making memories!

We'd all love to hear about one of your favorite "imperfect memory moments."  Just click the comment button below and share it with us.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Entitled or Entrusted?

Have you ever worked with someone who had an "Entitlement" mindset?  Someone who feels everyone around "owes" them something?  Dealing with people like that can be very frustrating!

During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at college, I worked a rather challenging job.  Somehow (they must have been desperate for dependable workers) I was hired to work at one of the most prestigious clothing stores in Pensacola - Sam's Style Shop.

Yes, this severely "fashion-challenged" student was hired to suggest what other women should wear! (Honestly, I can't decide whether to laugh or cringe as I tell you this.  Most of you already know I don't even attempt to dress myself anymore.  The girls put all my outfits together and Frank nods yea or nay.)

Because I was never late and because I never complained about whatever lowly task was assigned, I soon became a favorite with the manager.  Her name was Lu and she was both a fashionista and a bright business woman.

Many times she would whisk me into the office before allowing me on to the sales floor.  A belt added here, a jacket or scarf there.  Once the improved ensemble was created, she would turn me around; nod approval; then shove her "salvaged clothing design" out to sell!

This store catered to wealthy clients.  Those ready to spend some serious money for quality clothing. One lady came in while I was working and purchased an entire wardrobe for her daughter who had just been accepted to Harvard as a law student.

Naturally, all sales associates worked on commission.  We were paid an hourly wage ($2.20 in those days) but the real money for us was in selling entire outfits to the customers.

If they looked at a skirt, we quickly produced the matching jacket and a separate blouse.  If they came in searching for a more casual look, we suggested multiple colors, prints and even accessories. (Fortunately for me, these were usually grouped together making it almost fool proof.)

Our job was to set up each potential buyer in one of the plush dressing rooms then not let them leave that mirrored room until they had settled on an outfit....or two.  Many days my little high heels covered several miles as I ran back and forth to get the different sizes, colors and styles the ladies wanted to try.

This job was not for the faint of heart.

Apparently, I was friendly enough to pull in a few customers.  And like I said, the manager was kind to me. But there was one lady who had worked there for years.  (I can't even remember her name; we'll call her Mary. )

Mary quickly established that I was NOT to approach any of her regulars. I understood and her boundary lines were fine with me.  Only she spent most of her time sitting in the break area and I had no idea which ladies were her patrons.

There were countless times that I would work with a customer, running back and forth; finally bring them right to the point of a sale only to have Mary swoop in and say, "Thanks, Sheri!  This lady has been coming in here for years.  I'll take it from here."

I was young and didn't like correcting anyone older than me; especially not right in front of the buyer. How was I to combat Mary's smooth technique?

Finally, one evening while helping close up, I sheepishly addressed the problem with Lu.  "Aw, Sheri! Mary feels entitled to those sales because she's been here so long.  No, she doesn't do the work.  But her attitude is that she paid her dues years ago and now she expects you to do the leg work and let her coast.  I know it's not fair but she does have seniority.  Just try to avoid getting into it with her."

Fortunately for me, I knew my time working there was only temporary.  But the lesson was one I've carried through life.

When we married, I watched Frank live out the opposite of entitlement thinking. His philosophy has been to never ask anyone to do a task he wasn't willing to do himself.  Even when training someone. You do the work.  You do the work with them.  Let them do the work; you assist and cheer.

Then just this past week as I prepared a sermon about the blessings of God in our lives, I hit on the perfect antidote for living with an attitude of entitlement.

We aren't Entitled - we're Entrusted!

We aren't entitled to all the blessings of a life with Christ.  But incredible blessings have been entrusted to us (His children)  because of His grace and abundant love for us.

He also trusts us to be generous with those blessings and to deal compassionately with others in turn. Understanding God's lavish love causes us to respond with a sense of profound gratitude.  (No room for selfishness there.)

God owes me nothing.  My husband owes me nothing.  My family and friends owe me nothing.  But the love I've been given is generous and I'm a very thankful woman!

Hopefully, Mary had someone that eventually helped her come to understand the great chasm between Entitled and Entrusted.   But you and I can certainly grasp this truth now.

Live today knowing that every relationship and every thing in your life has been entrusted to you.  I promise this perspective will cause your gratitude meter to soar!

Blessings, Entrusted Ones!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Grand Babies

It's graduation time again!

So much joy and laughter, excitement mixed with a few tears.  And always a bit of anxiety for those launching into a "Next Chapter" season of their journey.  But our graduations have only been from K5 and K4 so thankfully, no anxiety for our little graduates.

Spencer walked in his cap and gown on May 23.  (Which just happened to be the same day Noni graduated from high school.......41 years earlier!)  His day of celebration was enhanced because Grandma and Grandpa Schreck were in town to meet baby sister, Ava.

We all arrived early enough to take over the back row with our purses and diaper bags and baby seats and cousins.  There were five lively cousins.  Four grandparents with IPhones.  Three bouncy balloons. Two parents beaming.  And a kindergarten student standing tall.  (Yes, that was a play on 12 Days of Christmas. Read back over it with the song in mind.  It'll make you smile.)

When they called "Spencer Schreck", there was a rather uninhibited cheer that rose loudly from the back row.  (Uncles Nathan and Cody congratulated themselves on causing heads to turn on behalf of their nephew.)

When it was Spencer's turn to take the mic and share his assigned part, he quoted all of John 14:6     without missing a beat.  Linda and I nodded at one another with big grandma tears and concurred that surely our grandson was the most amazing student on that stage!

Last week it was Abby's turn for the spot light.  She sang songs along with her K4 classmates, quoted scriptures and even counted to 100 by fives on her own.

We could hear her raspy little voice above the others when they got to one of her favorite songs, "I am a Pwomis.  I am a pastabilwity.  I am a pwomis wif a capitahl P.  I am a gweat big bunduhl of Potenshealwity."  (Translation: I am a promise.  I am a possibility.  I am a promise with a capital P.  I am a great big bundle of potentiality!)

Abby has no problem attacking words that shouldn't be part of her vocabulary for another few years. She doesn't let pronunciation slow her down one little bit.  I, for one, applaud her fierce bravery.

Several weeks ago, we all had the rare opportunity to eat together at a local restaurant.  As soon as the waiter looked in her direction, Abby piped up, "I'll have a stwahberwy lemalaide, please."  She made eye contact with him and pushed her pink glasses up on her nose for added emphasis.

He graciously stifled a chuckle and answered, "As long as you keep asking so politely, I'll keep them coming for you, little lady!"  And he did.

Zach and Madi have both been up in the middle of all our excitement.  But it's Noah that has one more adorable word story you must hear.

With so much activity and so little time, I joined the girls who had decided to grab a quick lunch before putting the babies down for their naps.  Loading all those precious behinds in carseats is a task not to be taken on by the faint of heart.

While the gathering and loading was taking place I called out over all the babble to the girls, "Hey, why don't we go to Zaxby's or Wendy's today?"

Noah was barreling down the sidewalk in order to answer the summons of his mom before she could reach the discipline point.  But when he heard my suggestion, he wheeled around on his three year old heels, put his little hand in the air with palm facing his own blond head, then waved it with each syllable for emphasis, "But, Noni. Ina go to chikferay!!"  (Translation:  But, Noni!  I want to go to Chick-Fil-a!)

He looked just like a miniature Italian mob boss waving that hand which caused me to burst out laughing.   As soon as I could catch my breath I responded to him,  "Well of course we need to eat at Chick-Fil-a!  Where else would we go?!"

Probably the take away for today's post would be this:  Don't bow to the master of perfection. Celebrate what you can do.  Try a few things that seem over your head.  Your potentiality may surprise even you.

And of course,  you'll need to celebrate with a Stwahberwy Lemalaide of your own!