Monday, March 11, 2019

Ode to Routine

Routine may seem an odd thing to laud but that's my exact intent for today's post.  Let me explain.....

When our girls were little, I worked very hard as a stay-at-home-mom.  I also kept up with Frank's schedule of church events, led our choir and produced musicals for the Christian school the girls attended.  But my number one job was that of Mommie!

When Meagan was first born, we only had one vehicle.  Even though Frank's office was a short 10 minute drive away, this still meant I spent many days at home with three little girls.  It was not unusual for me to be home with them for two or three days in a row.

Let me just step away from the main theme for a moment and cheer for ALL stay-at-home-parents!  Those days will be forever etched in my memory.  Some days were wonderful and some days were the pits.  Can't lie. But that season passed far more quickly than I could ever have imagined.

A dear friend shared this wonderful line with me, "Sheri, the days drag and the years fly.  Enjoy them while you can."  True Words!

As I was thinking back on that time this morning, I thought of the daily routine I established for us.  With so little that changed from morning to night (little children seem to be in a constant state of need) I soon realized I needed something to signal the start and end of my "working" hours.  That signal would help me transition and offer some sanity to my crazy days.

For me the signal was . . . Tennis Shoes.

Yep, when I put on those tennis shoes each morning they became the signal to my internal self that my "work day" had begun.  I may or may not have time for a shower.  I may or may not get to eat breakfast.  I may or may not speak to another adult during those first hours.  But the tennis shoes meant I was in "Go Mode" and there would be no slowing down until nap time.

There also came a definitive moment each evening after dinner when I would ceremoniously remove the tennis shoes.  I would joyfully replace them with my well-worn bedroom slippers.  Those shoes also sent an important signal to my desperately tired internal self, "It's okay to take a deep cleansing breath now.  Every single girl made it safely through the day.  Good Job, Mommmie! Time to wind down."

Simplistic, perhaps.  But it was a routine that served me well for over 20 years of being a full-time Mom.  There were a couple of other routine staples for me during those early days.  Sesame Street was the only tv time each morning.  Then, I would listen to the radio until two teaching shows came on each Monday through Friday.  I listened faithfully to Chuck Swindoll and then to Focus on the Family.  Both radio shows made me feel less isolated and kept me learning; vitally important.

I also took the girls for a walk everyday that we could manage with the cold mountain weather.  This meant I loaded all three little blondes into a stroller built for one child.  Kristin would sit in the actual seat and hold baby Meagan, who I strapped in.  Then Joy would stand on the frame behind them holding onto the handles going up beside her.

It was no easy task pushing those girls uphill, over two more city blocks, past the local pharmacy,  back downhill toward our home.  But the routine of those daily walks became important.  It meant we were getting fresh air, looking at something besides our tiny house and often praying for people or pets we encountered along the way.

I wish I had a specific story to share from one of those walks, but I can't remember even one.  The point was that we made the trek so often, not that we rehearsed any of the single moments.  And I guess that's the entire point about routines.

Whatever your routines may look like, don't forget to celebrate them.  They have purpose.  They serve as anchors, keeping the rest of life stable.

My life has been totally devoid of any semblance of routine for several weeks now.  Getting ready for Israel; traveling 7000 miles from home; experiencing a new culture; new climate; new people; new food; coming home and trying to reacclimate.   Travel is definitely NOT for the faint of heart.  I guess that's what triggered my Ode to Routine today.  There are some things we don't miss until they're no longer available in our lives.  Those are my rambling thoughts for this routine Monday . . . .

I'd love to hear about the routines in your life.  Especially routines you recognize as being beneficial.
Please tell us about them in the comment section below.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Shalom! We're Home!

Israel Was Resplendent!

It seems impossible that we've already gone and returned home - but time slows for no one.  Our ten days were full to the absolute brim with walking and sight-seeing and laughter and tears.  Such a RICH experience on so many levels.

We landed back in Miami around 8:30 Friday morning.  We made it home to Winter Haven around 3PM.  I'm working diligently to get myself on local time. Keep moving even though all you want to do is go to bed. One short nap Saturday. Lots of water consumption. Light meals.  Keep Moving!  Finally fall into bed around 9.  Even though we've been home three days, I'm risking heavy eyelids to sit still and write this post.

I'll probably write about experiences over the next couple of weeks but I wanted to quickly share a few of my favorites today.

  • Boat Ride on the Sea of Galilee - Last time we visited, the weather was too bad and our boat ride was cancelled.  This time, we went early in the morning and it was phenomenal.  Our captain just happens to be a Messianic Jew.  (Meaning he has accepted Christ as Savior.)  We glided across the sea while Daniel led us in worship songs.  Frank read the passage about Peter walking on the water - that very water.  I looked over at the mountainous terrain and realized Jesus would have seen those same hills.  My tears fell freely!
  • Prayer Time in Gethsemane - Our tour guide was extremely thoughtful about setting up special moments.  He made an appointment for our group to have the prayer garden all to ourselves for 50 minutes.  They literally locked us in so we wouldn't be disturbed.  We started out together as Frank read the passage from Luke; then we dispersed, each finding a quiet place to pray among the ancient olive trees.  It was a holy time.
  • Dinner with Amanda - We have a friend named Amanda who works in Jerusalem.  She was just a teen-ager when we first became acquainted with her family during our evangelist days.  Since she lives 7,000 miles away now, we definitely needed to connect with her.  We offered to bring things from the States for her but the only items she requested were peppermint gum and organic peanut butter. :-)  It was a delight to introduce her to our team, share stories and even close the evening with prayer.  When you open your arms to offer a hug, the world becomes a brighter place.
  • Broken-down Bus - The power steering went out on our tour bus and it ended up being one of my favorite moments.  Of course, there's more to it than that.  I wanted a group shot before we left Tiberius so I asked our guide if we could turn into an overlook.  It "just happened" there was one at the next light.  As we made the u-turn, our steering went out.  But fortunately, we were all set with a fabulous view of the sea and a blue, cloudless sky.  Our jackets made the cool breeze bearable.  So while our tour guide and driver scrambled to make new arrangements, we held an impromptu Sunday service overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  We sang and Frank shared a devotion.  We prayed together and spent some time journaling.  Only later did we realize our guide and driver were relieved by our response to the trouble.  God never wastes anything.
I guess I'll let those do it for now.  My eyelids a drooping and that's dangerous.  Time to get up and start moving again.  I trust your week will hold surprise blessings hiding among the troubles! 

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!