Friday, February 9, 2018

Alpha and Omega

Spencer Matthew Schreck, our very first grandchild, turned 7 years old this week!

I can hardly believe we've been on this Journey of Joy as grandparents for seven whole years.  We celebrated the crown prince on Monday.

When they arrived at Noni and Papa's for dinner, he and the five other grands were ecstatic.  Parties and children just go together like Christmas and snow; Valentines and chocolate; Super Bowl and.......well, you get the idea.

Even the "Littles" (Zach and Madi are 2 1/2 now) came in singing "Happy Burtday, Penchur!" before they saw the first ballon or party favor.  Aunt Kristin came early to decorate my dining room in the requested super hero motif.

It seems Spencer is very taken with The Flash right now.  He and Flash both run really fast.  :-)

There was an added layer of joy because John and Linda (NY grandparents) joined us for the unwrapping of presents via Skype.  The senior Schrecks have done an amazing job of staying connected with all their grandchildren who are spread out over Florida and Missouri.

Grandma and Grandpa Schreck are extremely creative; not allowing distance to make them feel distant.  All our lives are enriched because of their diligent efforts to stay engaged.  (That'll preach in several ways, won't it?!)

After dinner, Frank and I sat back enjoying the controlled chaos.

Gift bags were lined up and the opening began.  Clothes.  Shoes.  A game.  As each gift was opened, Spencer stopped, made eye contact with the giver and thanked them, un-prompted. (John and Joy are great parents!)

Abby (now 5) had written a "cahd" for Spencer all on her own.  In her note, she told him he helped her and she loved him "vewy," "vewy" much.  Definitely a keeper.

There was even a mini scavenger hunt for clues to the Smith's gift.  Meagan had placed clues all over the house and even one on the playground outside.  The search party formed a little train that chugged along in tandem all over.  As each clue was located, the train halted and went silent long enough for Spencer to read it, getting direction for the next stop; then they were off again! Toot, Toot!

The drumroll moment happened at the very end.  Spencer's biggest hope was for a new bicycle and helmet.  (Schrecks are tall people who grow quickly in the early years and his former training wheel bike was just too small.)  The bigger bike was a joint gift from parents and both sets of grandparents.

The moment of revealing was absolutely PRECIOUS!

Joy placed the birthday boy in front of our fireplace facing the family and covered his eyes.  It was easy to see he was electric with anticipation.  (I'm grinning like something silly just remembering the sweet smile on his half covered face.)

Everyone kept calling out, "No Peeking!  No Peeking!" while John carefully rolled the new bike into position in front of him.  We made noise to cover the click of the kick stand.  Can you hear all the squealing and shushing?

"OPEN!" came the simultaneous command from Mom and Dad.

Huge blue eyes popped open and the number one fan of the Flash froze for a split second.  Then all the jumping and whooping and cheering one would expect from a seven year old boy began to erupt.

He put on the helmet right away and started moving the bike toward the front door for a test run.  Dad had to stop him because our driveway was full of aunt's and uncle's vehicles.

"Look, Papa!  NO Training Wheels!"  His face beamed with pride as Papa acknowledged how grown up our little guy has gotten.

The title of this post may seem a bit unrelated until I share with  you the other part of my week.  Before the party, I had just flown back in from doing the funeral of a DEAR friend in Missouri.  Martha and her husband Bob have been part of our lives for over 35 years.

Her passing was so painful.  A huge loss, indeed.  I'll write more about this amazing lady in my next post, I'm sure.

But for just a moment as I sat watching Spencer, I was reminded of the bookends of life.  Beginnings.  Endings.  How quickly it all passes.  How important it is that we make effort to stay connected; to capture moments of joy; to mark life as it happens.

Our Heavenly Father is referred to as Alpha and Omega; Beginning and End.  Solomon highlighted that there are times for everything.  To laugh, to cry.  To rejoice, to mourn.  To live, to die.

I guess my main thought for you today is this - Live while you can, dear friend.

Don't allow distance or discouragement or difficulty to keep you from experiencing the joy that can be squeezed from this moment in time.  The choice of focus is yours alone.

My friend, Martha, demonstrated this valuable lesson for me time and again.

Her decades-long struggle with severe rheumatoid arthritis did not stop her from living a full, exhilarating life.  Pictures at her memorial showed a woman who hiked and picnic-ed and swam and celebrated family.

She had to pace herself and work within the limitations of her debilitating pain.....but she kept going!  And without exception everyone gathered for the memorial remembered her infectious laughter, her kind heart, her generous spirit. 

I want to be a person who lives life while I can.  I don't want difficulty to rob me of what we were meant to enjoy.  I want to take off the training wheels and live today fully; making a difference for someone's tomorrow 

We're all living within the bookends called beginning and ending - Alpha and Omega.  Let's spend our time wisely, Dear Friends!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Tough Love

Talking with Joy or Meagan on the phone these days guarantees the listener will end the call with a huge smile, some quiet chuckles and an appreciation for toddler moms who work from home.

Not only do they have the care of their own little broods (Joy-4 and Meagan-2), they also both care for two additional "littles" for added income.  Hectic is an understatement and that's on a normal day.

This week-end everyone has felt a little sick.  There have been a couple of fevers, some vomiting, a few colorful diapers and general lethargy for all involved.

I called Joy earlier to ask how things were at her house.  The following is how many of our conversations go:

Hi Sweetie, it's Mom.  Are you guys feeling better?

Hi, Mom!  Yes, we're doing fine.  Don't shove your brother.  Say you're sorry right now.  Yes, we're doing fine.  Son, why are you throwing those chips?  Don't waste those.  Can you pick those up for your brother?  Are you listening to me?!  Hi, Mom.  Wait.  Mom, I'll call you right back!  I think she's getting ready to throw up. to the bathroom!

I've heard some great lines while talking to these "Heroes of Home-Making!"

  • Come Here!  Why are you naked?
  • Did you just get that out of the trash?  No!  You can't have that!
  • Don't put her foot in your mouth!
  • Are you bleeding?  No?  Then you're okay, stop crying!
  • Get off the back of that couch - you'll fall and hurt yourself!
  • Get off that shelf - you'll fall and hurt yourself!
  • Get off that table - you'll fall and hurt yourself!
I well remember trying to have an intelligent conversation with someone while my own toddlers were underfoot.  My babies are now mommies themselves and it's so much fun being around them.  

It's also fun watching as they pass on the baton of faith to our grandchildren.  There is a scripture that has become one of my favorites for this season.  "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." 3 John 1:4

Because these grand babies are more important than any other aspect of life, I sometimes want to step in and help.  I find myself offering suggestions that are actually strong requests wrapped in politeness.  It's hard not to say, "You should do this the way I did."

But during this season of life, it's more important that I stand back and serve as cheerleader for these young mommies.  It's tough to love this way but it's best.  

I read an article today that beautifully articulated my feelings.  I'm not sure who wrote it or I would give credit for this statement, "To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes, but to allow others to affect their own outcomes."  


The writer went on to offer a quote of Amy Carmichael, "Choose if your loved ones are to know all that I [God] can be to them, or if they are to miss the best because they have you instead."

Double Ouch!!

It's the kind of quote I'll have to ponder for a long time to come.  But one that I also hope will become a part of the tapestry of my life story.  I want to offer this kind of love in all my relationships.

Each of us wants the best for those we love.  It's hard to think what we have to offer may not be the best for them.  But I encourage you to step back with me and take an honest evaluation after reading the quote a couple more times.  

Perhaps your prayer will sound a little like mine:
Lord, help me recognize when I'm struggling with poorly veiled issues of control.  Help me let go and simply enjoy the gift of having family and friends.  

So often the Heavenly Father gives me help in the form of Tough Love.  One thing is for certain, whatever the form, His love is always best!  


Friday, January 19, 2018

The Right Stuff

So, may I state the obvious?


I'm not sure who left the freezer door open between Canada and Michigan but can someone please close that thing???

And you're absolutely right - I have nothing to whine about.

At the time of this writing, we are experiencing our third week with evening temperatures below the freezing mark.  It's cold here but at least we're in the double digits. 

Most everyone I know is shoveling snow, missing work, avoiding ice, struggling just to keep their fingers and toes from falling off.  I know; I can't really complain.

Still, I'm sitting in front of my fake fireplace as often as possible.  Drinking hot tea by the gallon. Using the seat warmer in my car, daily.  Rotating my three winter outfits to match the only pair of boots I haven't ruined by holding my toes too close to the space heater under my desk.

I'm a WHIMP!  I admit it!

For all you dear readers who know you won't see the ground until April I have one thought, "Come On Down!!"  At least by the middle of next week we'll be getting close to our normal again.

You won't be able to swim in our lakes like the silly ads claim.  But you won't have to break ice cycles off your eyelashes either.   Whew!

Believe it or not, I HAVE done true winters.  Frank and I started our life journey in the mountains of NC.  All three girls were born in Asheville.  Most winters we had plenty of snow and even a few blizzards during our twelve years in that region.

But the girl who grew up in Florida has now fully re-acclimated to Florida.  I no longer own any of the right stuff for winter.  Yes, I own boots and a couple of turtlenecks.  But they're strictly ornamental.

I can't find my gloves and I only have two pair of real socks. My "coat" is designed to lightly cover me during rain storms; not keep me warm. And don't get me started on pajamas.

We've resorted to throwing a couple of blankets into the dryer just before we hop in bed each night.  Last night we broke the cardinal rule and allowed Gracie to sleep on the foot of the bed.  It was a benefit to us all three, believe me, and I don't think any of us moved all night long.

To top it off, we just happened to chose the coldest week in history for early prayer.  Consequently, Frank and I have been rolling out of bed between 4:30 and 5:00 each morning.  He's been at church by 5:45 to turn on some heat and lovely altar music.

As brave members of our congregation have gathered between 6-8 AM, their loving pastor has been right there to greet them.  Their whimpy pastor's wife, on the other hand, has huddled in the back right corner bundled under multiple layers and cradling a steaming cup of tea.

My aura has been less than welcoming, I guess.  Only a few folks ventured to wave at me or even make eye contact across the auditorium until the sun appeared each morning.

Obviously, I'm exaggerating things a bit.  Hopefully, it's helped you smile to think of someone totally unprepared and ill-equipped trying to cope with all this cold weather.

Truth is when we take time to gather the right tools and equip ourselves, most anything becomes more manageable.

Which is exactly why we set aside the first few days of each year to fast and pray together as a church.  We've discovered that this time quiets our hearts and refocuses our perspective.  We take time to equip ourselves for the year ahead; making whatever we may face much more manageable.

This scripture has become a key meditation point for me.  "Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance."  Jude 1:2  Another version says, "Mercy, peace and love be multiplied to you."

I like both.

This short passage has become my key prayer for 2018.  Feel free to adopt it as your own, I think that's what Jude had in mind.  And as we lean in to hear the heart beat of Jesus, we quickly discover that He has mercy, peace and love enough to warm each of us.

Blessings!  Stay bundled up!

Do you have a scripture or favorite thought you're pondering for the year ahead?  Please share in the comment box, someone else may need it too.


Friday, January 12, 2018

Decade of Love

Ten years ago this very day, the weather here in central FL was absolute perfection!

The skies were clear and sunny.  The afternoon air was a delightful 72 degrees.  White, puffy clouds danced slowly just beyond the green tops of waving palm trees.

"Sheri, wait!  Are you making that up?   How can you possibly remember what the weather was like on this particular day ten years ago?!"

I remember so vividly because on this day ten years ago, our middle daughter became our first to walk down the aisle as a bride.  Alicia Joy was set to wed the man of her dreams, John Andrew Schreck.  And they could not have had a more picture perfect day.

Weather this time of year is always dicey in most of the country.  Why in the world would you ever choose January as a wedding month?  What were the chances people could even get flights?

But John and Joy had honored parent's wishes delaying their wedding until after college. Graduation was in December, 2007.  They wanted to marry the first available weekend in January.  John isn't one to delay when he knows the direction he's headed.

So, January 12, 2008 it was!

Joy had been on spring tour for the university in 2006.  She called home and wasted no time with small talk.  "Daddy, do you remember meeting the keyboard player for our choir?  His name is John Schreck.  Well, he's going to call you and ask if he can date me.  Please say yes.  I really like him."

Now some of you may find it surprising that a college student would have a young man call her father before agreeing to date him.  Let me give you some background information.

We birthed three daughters.  They were beautiful children with delightful personalities.   It was obvious they would become teenagers at some point.  We knew young men would notice their beauty and want to date them.


So before anyone was old enough to start thinking about boys, we began developing a plan.  We talked about it often with our girls, laughing together and establishing the "Why" of our plan.

Here's what we came up with - together:

  • When a young man asked to call or date one of our daughters, the automatic reply was to be, "You'll have to call and ask permission from my Daddy first."  
  • The reasoning for this was simple (and discussed often.)  Any young man "worth his salt," would recognize the privilege of talking to one of our daughters as well worth the effort.
  • The daughter being pursued would then let Daddy know if she was or wasn't interested in the fella.  
  • If she had no interest, Daddy was the one who said "No!" taking her off the hook.  
  • If she was interested, Daddy could take enough time with his conversation to set some clear boundaries and start to know the fella.
  • First dates were fun meals at our dinner table.
  • Please note our daughters were completely involved in every part of the process.  
  • They fully understood this to be a plan of action set in motion to protect them; not for controlling them.
Our little family action plan worked well all through their high school years.  We thought it would wrap up when the girls transitioned to college 500 miles away.  

Can you imagine our surprise when that first phone call came?  

"Daddy, I met this fella in my 8 AM class.  He wants to take me out next week.  I told him he needs to call you.  Let me know if he does, will you?"

Walking his first daughter down the aisle that January day wasn't easy.  But Frank did it confidently because he knew the man waiting to marry our beloved Joy was a man "worth his salt!"  

We dropped our anniversary card by their house earlier today.  Our visit was perfectly timed giving us the chance to squeeze all the grands.  Four brilliant little people.  Smart like their dad and attractive like their mom.  

Tonight John and Joy will celebrate with a quiet dinner all alone. (Thanks to wonderful baby-sitters and gift cards.)  They'll talk of all the highs and lows they've walked these past ten years.  Together they'll spin dreams for the days ahead.  

We couldn't be more thankful for the marriage they're continuing to build with Christ as the center.  

And who knows, one day soon it may be John looking straight into the blue eyes of his own beauties saying, "Any fella who wants to date you has to call ME first.  It didn't hurt me any calling your Papa to get permission to date your mom.  If he's worth his salt, he won't mind calling your daddy."  

Who knows.

(Did you have a dating plan that worked well with your family?  Any tips or funny stories to share with other families of teens?  We always enjoy hearing from you.....)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Happy News!

What a wonderful way to start the New Year - with Happy News!

2018 will bring TWO perfect little miracles into our family circle.  You'll remember that Kristin and Cody are expecting their first child this May.  Parker Franklin McGhee will take our grandchild count to 7.

But during all the Christmas celebrations we received the most marvelous gift of all - news that grand baby number 8 is also on the way...........

In August the SMITHS will become a party of 5!!

We are so very happy for Meagan, Nathan, Noah and Madi.  The little ones are over the moon with joy about having a baby come their way.

I'm afraid the parentals may wish they hadn't told Noah and Madi so soon.  Meagan says they ask every single day, multiple times, "Is the baby coming out of your tummy today?!"  "No not today, sweetheart.  It's a long time away."

Of course, we older ones know that August is just around the corner.  Meagan is trying to gear up for the joys and challenges of having another little one to care for full-time.  She's working as nanny for a newborn, so that's been good practice.

She and Nathan chose the most fun way to tell us the news.  They caught us ALL completely off guard.

While Nathan's family was down for Christmas, we had planned a big gathering of both the Hawley and Smith clans.  Please bear in mind, the Smith clan totals 7.  The Hawley clan totals 14.  Needless to say, it's an effort on both our parts.

The Smiths gear up for the noise/chaos level, which tops out around 10 on the scale.  The Hawleys/Schrecks/McGhees try desperately to tone it down using only inside voices while we're together.

Our reunions truly bring JOY to all involved.

Meagan and Nathan had planned a round of "Secret Santa" where everyone draws a number then chooses a gift from the center pile.  Once your gift is opened, you may exchange with someone in an attempt to get the gift you'd most like to have.

Only this time, the game was rigged.  All the Hawley sisters and husbands were in on it.

We weren't allowed to unwrap our gift.  It was simply a package exchange.  We still had the 60 second mad dash at the end where everyone is running like crazy trying to exchange their packages.

I totally missed that at the end of that minute, the four grandparents were holding packages wrapped in matching paper.

The six younger children all unwrapped their dollar store treasures at the same time.  Much cheering.

Then came the gifts for the adult children.  More Cheering.

Then the grandparents.....with instruction.  Unwrap your gift but don't open the package.


Steve, Becky, Frank and I try to be co-operative when being bossed around by our adult children.  So we did as they asked while everyone looked on.

"Now, look at the back of your box to make sure your name is on it."

A little more switching of packages.  I was feeling like I was part of some magic trick.  How did she know the four of us would end up with these exact boxes?

I concluded that Meagan and Nathan had taken family pictures and we were all opening our copies together.  Oh, naive mother that I am!

Final instruction:  "Okay, open your boxes."

We each pulled out lovely, soft t-shirts with writing on the front.  Silence hung in the room for a brief moment as the four of us read the message.  Frank and I saw:
                               "Grandchildren My 8 Favorite Reasons to Bragg"

I think I was the first to scream when the realization hit.  "Are you Expecting another baby??!!"  Meagan nodded acknowledgement; Nathan stood with his arm around her beaming.


It was a priceless moment that I'll remember fondly for a long time.  So special to share it with our friends and co-grandparents, Steve and Becky.  (Their shirts announced 3 grandchildren, of course.)

I remember glancing over to see Steve shake his son's hand then embrace him in a big bear hug.  Pretty sure Becky and I swiped at tears.  Sarah (Nathan's sister) was also kept in the dark.  They wanted her to enjoy being surprised right along with us.  Her smile lit the room!

Hugs; Smiles; Congratulations all around as we celebrated the news.

On the car ride home, Frank and I reflected on how thankful we were.  We also talked about how Meagan's birth (our third child) brought balance to our family.

When we finally held her in our arms the night she was born, we were immediately struck with how quickly children grow and time passes.  I distinctly remember looking up at Frank and whispering, "Kristin (almost 5) and Joy (2) were just this little yesterday!"

Because of that delivery room epiphany, we slowly started making changes that continue to impact our lives today.  Babies really do change everything, as the song says.

So there's my Happy News for today:  our third baby is having a third baby in the same year that our first baby is having her first baby!

And with the delight of John and Joy's four angels enriching our lives, truly.......My cup runneth over!!

(Here is the link for Becky's blog which contains lots of fun pictures from the evening's announcement.  Enjoy!!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year End Encouragement

Depending on where you are in the world this may already be 2018.  So, just in case...


Actually, I'm aware this post will make it online just under the wire to be counted with the 2017 posts.  But I did promise an encouraging story to end on.  You will love this.  I share it with permission.

I was recently talking with a dear lady who's part of our congregation.  She and her husband are newly retired from the business world and from many years in education.  Their four adult children are raising healthy families of their own in locations all around the U.S.

Mary and her husband travel frequently these days; making memories with all the grandchildren.  She lights up when talking about them.

Their most recent journey was to visit their oldest son and his family in Arizona.  He serves as a worship pastor for a church of over 10,000 members.  This is a position he accepted after many years on the road with an internationally known band.

He and his wife follow the Lord closely while leading their children in the same way.  With good reason, mom and dad celebrate the choices their son has made over the years.

But things were not always so idyllic.

You see, this particular son was an inquisitive child.  Always on the move.  Always learning.  Always searching the world around him.

Keeping up with him was a full-time job for mom.  By the time he hit kindergarten, it was obvious he was also extremely intelligent.

But his first teacher was more concerned with maintaining an "orderly" classroom than with developing the different learning styles of the children entrusted to her.  Her declared objective was to teach this five year old boy to sit still in a desk so she could teach uninterrupted.

(Simple note: Little boys are designed to climb, explore, ask questions, touch icky bugs and run.  Seldom ever do they enjoy sitting still for long periods of time.)

Mary and her husband were very intentional about teaching discipline and respect to their children.  So they tried to support the teacher.  But for their active son, this classroom became a miserable experience.

Mary said that she began watching the light go out in her son's eyes ever so slowly.  He became quiet and withdrawn, even at home.  He started having stomach aches on a regular basis.  Getting ready for school was a time they both dreaded each day.

And almost every afternoon the teacher would meet Mary in the car line with this phrase, "Another bad day, Mrs. Arnold.  He had another bad day!"  

Just remembering caused Mary to drop her head ever so slightly as she told me about it.  The words still piercing all these years later.

Day after day the scene was repeated.She would manage to get her precious boy to school each morning only to get the same disappointing report each afternoon, "Another bad day, Mrs. Arnold.  Another bad day."

They survived the year but knew serious changes would have to take place before the next school year began.  So they searched and found a different school that was better equipped to develop the learning style of their child.

Still, through the years, the words of that first teacher often rang in her ears, "Another bad day, Mrs. Arnold.  Another bad day!"

Eventually, their son grew into a fine man who completed high school and college with honors.  His love of music led him to connect with three other young men and they developed an unconventional Christian band.

Their objective as musicians was to reach a young audience using songs with strong moral messages, including the Gospel.  They rose quickly in popularity and began playing in huge venues around the world.

At one of these concerts, Mary and her husband were given box seats.  They relished every moment watching their dear son sing to the packed house.  Each original song had some message of hope; pointing the listeners to Christ.

His parents were beaming.

The crowd loved the music, too. They applauded wildly after each number.  In fact when the concert concluded, the crowd rose to their feet calling out for an encore.

The band came back out on stage to sing one last song.  The applause was thunderous as the final notes faded.  Mary's son took another bow expressing his appreciation for the crowd.

That's when it happened.

He looked up into the box where his beloved parents were seated.  He pointed to his mother and said, "Another GOOD day, Mrs. Arnold.  Another good day!"

His words meant nothing to the crowd.  But with those two sentences, he erased all the discouraging declarations of that first teacher.  All the self-judgments of that young mother were washed away.

Mary and I cried together as she told me of the incredible moment.

Don't give up, dear reader.  No matter what the obstacles were in 2017, a new year is beginning.  No matter how many times you've heard a similar report of discouragement, don't give up.

Your "Good Day" is just around the corner, I'm sure.  Just keep moving forward.

Scripture puts it like this, "Weeping may last for the night.  But JOY comes in the morning."

Isn't that a great story of hope?!

May 2018 bring great blessing for you and all those you love!


Saturday, December 30, 2017

It's COLD!

"Baby, it's COLD outside!"  And I live in a state that's considered tropical.

When I see that people from Minnesota, Alaska and Ukraine are reading this blog, it makes me embarrassed to admit it - but I'm COLD!

Of course, we also just spent several days in North Carolina where the temperatures were below freezing.  They say your blood doesn't "thin out" when you move to warmer climates but I disagree. We lived in the mountains for twelve years.  We endured numerous blizzards and smaller snow storms.  We made chairs in the snow and ate ice cream, for Heaven's sake! 

But I just don't think I could do that so easily now.

John and Joy are visiting his family in New York where the temperatures are hovering in single digits daily.  Honestly, those of you who work and play in these conditions for four or five months each year.... my hat is off to you!

(Please, don't take off your hat as you'll immediately start losing precious body heat!)

This post isn't about the cold weather, although I had to mention it.  This post will be eclectic in nature as I've been so negligent in writing this month.

I must start out by wishing my darling husband -- Happy Anniversary!  We committed our lives to one another 38 years ago today.

Ours has not been a made-for-movies sort of love story.  But we are happy to report that in spite of all the normal ups and downs of living in an imperfect world, we arrive at this day still liking each other and looking forward to many more years together.

And for that, we're thankful!

Now an explanation of why I haven't been posting.  December 2017 felt like someone hit the nuclear reactor button on the 2nd and it just quit firing yesterday.

Don't get me wrong.  Most of the events were ones we planned and I thoroughly enjoyed every single one!  But today is the first truly quiet day I've had all month.  Well, here's a little synopsis:

  • Gingerbread houses with grands
  • Church Christmas Party
  • Family Communion (2 nights)
  • One Lovely Wedding
  • One Vow Renewal (10 Year)
  • Area Ministers' Banquet
  • Board/Staff Dinner (We cooked)
  • Grandparents' Day @ School
  • Shopping Adventures
  • Progressive Dinner
  • Several special lunch dates/coffees
  • Christmas Eve Service
We took a deep breath, then Frank and I got into our little red car at 5:30 A.M., drove 10 hours north and made it to NC in time to have dinner with his sweet mom.  Her big smile and warm hug made the trip worth every long mile.

Mom's new apartment is too small to accommodate her large family.  And all the siblings went back to work on the 27th.  So each of our meetings was at a restaurant in the area.  The waitresses laughed at us when we came in the last day.

Oh, I almost forgot.  While in Carolina, we drove another hour north to meet up with Amanda and Webb (adopted family.)  We needed to squeeze their newest little one which we hadn't met.  Also, my sister and brother-in-law drove over from Charlotte for a lunch date before we left.

I hear some of you saying, "Are you guys NUTS?!"  Believe me, we ask ourselves that all the time.  But no one ever accuses us of wasting opportunities to connect, either.

Our own Christmas was celebrated on December 23rd.  The children decided on a breakfast this year instead of Christmas dinner.  So we changed the time and menu to accommodate six tiny people who are more pleasant during morning hours.

What a time we had!

So much laughter.  So many smiles and hugs.  Such great surprises.  A few gag gifts.  Huge eyes and a couple of happy tears.

I think my favorite moment was after breakfast while we were still at the table.  As a family, we celebrated with our own advent wreath.  (Children love lighting candles and blowing them out.  Perfect way to capture everyone's attention.)

Frank assigned each of the young husbands an advent scripture.  Then one member of each family lit a candle and we all repeated aloud the identity of that candle.  Such delight to hear the blending of baby voices with more mature ones as together we declared,  "Jesus came to bring light, peace, joy and hope."  

Don't get me wrong.  It wasn't quiet or what you would usually consider "reverent" around our table.  We're a normal, loud family.  We have two budding drummer boys who think utensils are perfect substitute drum sticks.  One baby needed to nurse - NOW.  Two little girls were giggling.  And all the bigger ones were aware that beautiful gifts were waiting........just in the other room.

Our perfectly imperfect moment closed as we sang "Oh, come let us adore Him...."  Even with all its "blemishes," I think a new tradition was born that morning.

As your own Christmas season comes to a close, I pray you'll feel the warmth of Christ's Love wrapping you closely.

As you make your way through icy conditions, may His Peace serve to keep your heart un-frozen and beating with tenderness.

As the lights are packed away for another year, may His Joy flood your soul and brighten every corner.

As the new year begins, may His Hope keep you anticipating great days of blessing ahead.

It may be cold outside but may all our hearts and homes be a different story because of God's wonderful Grace!

(During one of our friend encounters this month I heard a story that will surely become part of my repertoire.  I immediately asked permission to share it here and have been saving it for the final day of the year.  Please check back tomorrow.  You won't be disappointed, I promise.)