Monday, October 7, 2019

Quiet

Normally my posts are filled with the stories that make up life for Frank and me.  Most are humorous.  Many cause tears.  More often they simply create a reminder that life is both rainbows and rain clouds.  We determine which we will make our focus.

Today, I'm taking a cue from my many friends who have found the joys associated with solitude and silence.  (Well, total silence isn't really an option as long as my cell phone stays charged. But the alliteration was too good to pass up.)

Last Thursday morning, I left with five other ladies heading to Daytona Beach for a women's retreat.  There we connected with another friend of our church and moved into a veritable sea composed of 1800 other women from across peninsular Florida.  We had all converged on the Ocean Way Convention Center for the sole purpose of connecting with one another and with God.

Those three days were equal parts memory making, marvelous services and a bit of mayhem.  I mean, just think of trying to navigate restaurants or the hotel elevators when almost two thousand other people are moving at about the same time as you.

I would have chosen the hotel stairs a couple times but our room was on the 14th floor.  Perfect for stellar views, all wrong for step counting.  Taking the stairs would have left me needing oxygen I'm sure.  So, our group exercised patience instead and made new friends from other churches while waiting.

Our state women's director, Deanna Shrodes, is an organizing genius.  She kept things moving at a steady clip, kept trouble mitigated, kept women smiling and kept showing up looking like she had never had a problem in all her lovely life.  I know better!  Where there are that many women, there are almost as many problems to solve.  But Deanna and her team handled it all and kept us moving forward like a well-oiled machine.

Our group made the most of our time choosing early mornings and late nights.  One of our ladies had only been to the ocean one other time in her life.  Of course, she had to make time for a long walk on the beach and some wave jumping.  We actually had two birthdays in our small group.  And one lady had just transitioned from being the major care-giver for her 93 year old mother.  We were all looking forward to the time away for different reasons.

We got back to Winter Haven around 5:30 on Saturday and I was at church around 7:30 Sunday morning.  We hosted a baby shower for a precious young couple Sunday following service.  Then I came home, ate a salad and went to bed for a nap.  Deserved and Delicious!

Frank and I ended up talking with several neighbors as we walked Sunday night.  (One even stopped by our house around 8:30.)  By the time this morning dawned, I was ready for Quiet.

Because I work from home on Mondays, I was able to create a quieter than normal atmosphere for myself.  It's been overcast and a bit rainy all day.  Believe you me, I have delighted in it.  Even the phone calls, emails and appointments that needed attention have left me with time to quiet my heart in between.

I've been meditating on a song we sang at the conference. The chorus says, "Way Maker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper, Light in the Darkness, My God that is who you are."  Just about any solution you or I may need can be found in one of those.

I've also been pondering a favorite promise from Philippians "His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."

Don't you love both of those?  I'll be back with a story soon.  But for this moment, I'm going to enjoy the quiet as much as I've enjoyed the excitement.  I'll lean in to the One I love most and let Him guard my heart and mind with His peace.

Blessings!





Monday, September 30, 2019

Can You Believe It?!

Look what we've FINALLY accomplished!

Yes, you are looking at the first ever photo to be included on Embrace the Grace!  Of course, I would choose a picture of our tribe because they are the reason I write; they are the ones I write about; they are the ones who encourage my writing; they give my writing life.

Regular readers will immediately note this picture is inaccurate.  It was taken Thanksgiving, 2018 before anyone had even a clue Andrew Ryder would be joining us in 2019.




Last week, Becky Smith (of Smithellaneous fame and mentor to many writers like myself) was visiting the newest baby we co-grandparent (that would be Andrew.)  She sat down with Frank and I one morning to show that it would only take five minutes to teach us how to add pictures to the blog.



Well, things like adding photos to a blog site are easy if you have a good tech foundation.  When you're icon-dependent (like me) it's a different matter.  That explanation session actually took more like an hour.  Then I opened my site today and couldn't remember any of her clear and simple instructions.

So, I waited for my hero to come home and work at it with me again.  After another tedious hour of trial and error and trial again . . .Viola!  He did it.  Frank managed to find, edit, drag and click our way into the 21st century of blogging.

I have no earth-shattering news to report.  I have no thought-provoking illustration to share.  I have no story to weave for your enjoyment.

What I DO have . . . is a photo.  And I couldn't be more excited!



I'd love to hear about something new you've tried that took effort.  Would you do us the honor of sharing in the comment box?  

Monday, September 16, 2019

Mama and Ms. Anne

So the two ladies in my title never met one another.  They were very much the same and completely different all at the same time.  Their love for me and my love for them - absolutely certain.  Their lives intersected this afternoon.  Allow me to explain . . .

My morning had a routine start.  Some reading; emails; a couple phone calls.  Then it was off to the imaging center for a mammogram I had put off too long.  Oh, Joy!  I took two Tylenol and was out the door by 10 AM.

(Oddly, I could NOT find my car keys and after a desperate search, I gave up and used the spare.  When I came out of the imaging center and reached into my purse,  the keys floated right to the surface from a pocket where they'd been hiding all along.  Perhaps my subconscious mind just refused to see them hoping to avoid the procedure all together.  Sigh!)

I decided to make a quick stop at a consignment shop and one other store before heading back home for lunch.  Many of my friends call this "Retail Therapy" but if I spend too much time shopping, I need therapy when I've finished.

The consignment store yielded an item Meagan needs for baby Andrew.  And as I had suspected, the other store had a couple of sections marked 75% off.  My kind of section!  I'm traveling to Pennsylvania this week to do a women's conference and to speak for a church.  If a new outfit happened to be on the 75% off rack, it would certainly merit investigating.

Unfortunately, the two dresses I tried on both left me less than thrilled.  But there was this pair of pj's that had caught my eye.  I must admit, pajamas are a special delight for me at this point in my life.  These were soft and snuggly.  The bottoms were just long enough to cover my feet and the top had short sleeves which I especially like.  One problem, the top button was missing.

I took the pj's to the register and asked if they were reduced any more because of the missing button.  It may surprise you that I would ask given the pj's were already 75% off.  But I happened to know this store is great with customer service.  The manager came over, paused a moment then asked me, "Would another 20% be okay?"  "Absolutely!  Thank you," was my prompt reply.

When I got home, I decided to look for a button to sew on right away.  I was afraid that waiting would allow me settle for a safety pin and that would never do for such a cute top.  Now please bear in mind, I'm no seamstress!  But I do keep a Tupperware box under my bed which had belonged to my friend, Ms. Anne.  It was among the many things she gave to me before she died.

There were a few buttons in the box but none that would fit.  I started scrambling to find a button.  (Some of you will be appalled to learn that I typically toss spare buttons because I so seldom need them.  It's my attempt to keep clutter at bay.)

Finally, I spotted a tiny ziplock bag in the corner of my jewelry box.  The bag held one earring and a tiny blue button.  I knew immediately, Mama had given me the bag.  She had found the earring at her house and thought it was mine.  The button had such a lovely pearl look she had saved that for me, too . . . just because.

I used the needle and thread Ms. Anne had given me to sew on the little pearl button Mama had given me and got tears in my eyes thinking how they'll both be remembered every time I wear my new pj's.

Don't you find yourself hoping you do things that will cause people to think fondly of you even when you aren't around?  Mama moved to Heaven almost eleven years ago.  Ms. Anne moved there last year.  But today, both ladies felt very near because of small acts of love they probably considered insignificant at the time.  (Yes, I'm crying again in case you're wondering.)

Mama and Ms. Anne . . . feisty, funny and forever etched in my heart.  They didn't meet here but I look forward to introducing them some day in Heaven.  When I tell them the story of the button, they will both make fun of me for being so sentimental, I feel certain!


Monday, September 9, 2019

Passion for Produce

Yes, I do love fresh fruits and vegetables!  Ask any of my family or close friends.

However, this post is about something totally unrelated to what you could find in a supermarket.

I was recently talking with a friend who has lived a life full of adventure.  After experiencing the heartbreak of being abandoned by her husband, she decided to go back to school . . . in her 50's!  She finished her nursing degree, added a counseling degree and accepted a position as an English teacher/school nurse . . . in Korea! After more than two decades alone, she married a wonderful man whom she met . . . on line!  Nope, not making this up at all.

She is a hero of sorts, in my book.  Her tenacious faith in God and fierce love for her family are benchmarks I'm reaching for, as well.  Susan (not her real name because I didn't get to ask permission to share) is still incredibly active even though well past her 80th birthday.  Her vivacious spirit and undaunted love for people inspire me.

While we were talking, I felt prompted to have her pray for me.  (Frank and I have always been careful about who we ask to pray over us.  We make sure they are living a life we want to emulate.)  She, her husband and I formed a little prayer circle that became a sanctuary right there in the middle of people swirling all around.  She prayed the most tender but direct prayer I've heard in a long while.

Just as we prepared to part ways, she looked me dead in the eye and said, "Keep Producing!"  I was a little taken aback and I'm sure my face reflected my puzzled thoughts.

"Keep producing at least a little something every day," she explained.  "That way, when God opens the door you'll have material and stories to draw from.  He WILL open the door in due time.  Make sure you're ready."

No way to misunderstand that message!

Her words took me back to a moment when I was a young mother.  My life was on the fast track.  I had three little girls under the age of 6.  My husband was working far too many hours and had us involved in multiple projects that seemed to require extra effort at least every other month.  I was doing my best to keep up but it was a stretch that had me close to the snapping point.

A lady I respected walked up to me one Sunday evening and said, "Sheri, the Lord wanted me to share this scripture with you."  She gave me the passage written on a scrap of paper and left.  When I finally got time to read it the next day, this is what I found . . .
               Isaiah 46:4
               I will be your God throughout your lifetime -- until your hair is white with age.  I made you,  and I will care for you.  I will carry you along and save you.

Now many of you will think this a lovely little promise that could be made into a cross stitch and framed.  But my response was that of an exhausted mom and immature christian.  "Carry Me?!  Why does she think I need a scripture about being carried?  I'm doing just FINE, thank you!"

Yes, God is gracious and patient and I did eventually learn the bigger truth of this promise.  I believe He wanted me to understand that no matter where we are on this journey, we're never alone.  He promises in another passage to never forsake us; never to leave us.

Here's how I feel I should blend these two concepts today.  If we just stay faithful at doing the task directly in front of us, He will stay faithful in supporting us.  My job is to maintain passion for producing at least some small contribution every day.  His promise is to maintain passion for His child (that's you/me) and carry us along as we lean into His rich love.  Pretty generous exchange on God's part, I think.

So, for one more day I will understand the importance of producing.  And I will trust Him with the outcome.  Anyone game to join me in developing a passion for produce?

Blessings!


How about you?  Is there a word of encouragement someone gave you years ago (or recently) that has impacted your life?  We'd love to hear about it in the comment section below . . .



    


Thursday, August 22, 2019

Faithful Companion

Gracie Marie is, indeed, my abiding friend.

I don't write about her often but today she deserves a shout out.  You see, Gracie is our silly little black and white K9 companion.  We reference her with several other names, too. Such as:  The Princess; Goat Dog; The Vacuum; Aggravating Mutt and believe me, she has earned each of these monikers.

Some days she looks up at us with genuine distain if we dare to suggest she should move from her place on the couch.  She has been seen eating some truly disgusting things and we can always count on her to glean any food the grands may drop under our table.  She chooses the most inopportune times to not come back to me after going outdoors; sometimes making me late for the office.

Gracie is not a large dog but she is almost 13 years old.  So being 91 in doggie years, I guess she has earned the right to be a bit stubborn, rather grouchy and most definitely set in her ways. Today, however, I have only good to tell of the four-legged, fur baby entrusted to us.

What a comfort this little companion provides.  She often helps me feel I'm not alone.  Even though we both work for the church, Frank is away from home more than I with additional meetings and such.  But I never have to feel alone because Gracie is here to study me with her coal black eyes and smile at me with her crooked under bite.  (Oh yes, we also call her the Elvis Dog for that reason.)

She's smart as a whip. 

  • She knows that my tennis shoes going on after dinner mean a walk is imminent.  She starts running back and forth from the door to the couch.  
  • She knows our suitcases mean we're going away for awhile.  So she sits with her head on her paws looking up at us like we're traitors.  
  • She knows that when the grandchildren come her safest refuge is our bedroom so she runs to that door and paws to be let in.  
  • She knows that if she comes back in promptly when I'm leaving, she'll earn a treat.  (This she trained ME to do.)


I've spent the past two days trying to get over a terrible something that knocked me flat on my back.  Part of our family was diagnosed with strep and with school starting back there were already several runny noses.  Sleep had been evading me for over a week so I was a prime candidate for whatever this was.

Unfortunately, this is absolutely the worst time I could be sick.  Meagan is due to go into labor at any moment. (In fact, she and Nathan spent 5 hours in triage Tuesday night.  Frank had to go stay with the babies because Noni was fevered.)  John was out with strep.  Joy has gone back to school and needed help.  We have 5 grands in school this year.  (Noah came home from his first full day of kindergarten reporting all that had happened.  Then he paused and said, "Mommy it's just so loooong!" And promptly burst into tears.  Poor boy!  Only 12 more years, Noah.)

All this happening around me and I'm no help whatsoever.  Yesterday, for me, was literally spent moving from the bed to the couch to the recliner and back to the bed.  I usually hate NyQuil but I've chugged it down as though it were the nectar of the gods.  I knew it would help me sleep deeply and that's what I needed most.

Today, I seem to be improving but I'm well aware I must get fully recovered and back on my feet asap.  So, I stayed home from the office one more day to keep resting and to avoid spreading whatever germs are germinating in my nasal system.  (Frank has carried around the Lysol can every minute he's home.)

When I woke this morning, Gracie was there right on my side of the bed.  I had slept well past her normal time for going out but she had waited patiently.  Frank had long been awake and could have let her out but she was waiting for me.  She never whined or barked for me to get up; never even pawed at my covers.  She just waited.

Both days I've been aware that she moves from spot to spot with me.  If I'm lying on the couch, she's lying under the coffee table near my head.  If I'm in the recliner, she jumps up beside me.  If I get up to go to the bathroom, she's immediately alert and watching.  Even now as I'm writing in the dining room,  she's sprawled out on the rug beside me.

Gracie has been with us a long time and I know that she won't outlive me.  Someday, I'll have to bid farewell to this faithful companion.  But for today, I'll scratch her ears the way she likes and give her an extra treat for no particular reason at all.  Hopefully, she'll feel as loved as she makes me feel.  I'll finish with the "prayer" we've all seen from time to time. . .

"Lord, please make me the person my dog things I am!"


Monday, August 12, 2019

Morning News

Recently I've become fascinated with this bit of poetry:

"Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love;
    for I have put my trust in you.
     Show me the way I should go,
       for to you I entrust my life."  (Ps. 143:8 NIV)
It was written by one of my favorites, David, King of Israel. His writings are always so descriptive and make it easy to relate to his circumstances at the time.  For instance, these four lines are tucked away in a longer passage where David is describing the enemies who have been chasing him.  He is calling out to God for help; hoping he hasn't been forgotten in the grand scheme of the universe.  

While busy describing the horrible situation he finds himself in, David can't see anything good.  Then, as he often does, he intentionally turns his attention to the God he serves.  Looking at God's goodness requires looking away from the darkness of the situation.  Sure, the situation is a true nightmare.  But the light of God's faithfulness dissipates any of the shadows where fear can hide.

This has been a month that has leant itself to making me choose my focus.  Will I focus on circumstances or on the faithfulness of God?  Will I believe the report of disappointment or will I believe all things are possible with God?  Will I rehearse curses over the lives of other people or will I rehearse words of blessing?  The choice has been mine.   And although the choice has been clear, it has not always been easy.

Our church did a great series by Andy Stanley, "What Makes You Happy?"  (It's free if you'd like to watch it on Youtube.)  He makes clear that "No Thing makes you happy.  Happiness always involves a Who or Two."  Great, right?

As I studied to share one of the lessons, i was really struck with this premise he taught.  Everyone wants to experience pleasure, that desire is built into our DNA.  But if we dedicate our lives to pursuing pleasure only, that choice will eventually cost us our happiness.  Pleasure is temporary.  But genuine happiness associated with those around us and fulfilling work will carry us throughout life.

I'm just like everyone else.  I would prefer to always be experiencing pleasure; never encountering tears or struggle or defending myself from enemies.  But that isn't reality.  All of life is a struggle of some sort.

Today, my precious friend - Becky - made public a difficult diagnosis she was given last week.  Becky and I have been walking together through life for over 20 years.  We have laughed, cried, encouraged, prayed and listened.  (Actually, lots of listening to one another has gone into our friendship.  What a gift!)  We share grand babies.  We share ministry as pastor's wives.  We share a deep love for God.

Last week I listened as Becky shared a really unsettling prognosis.  My heart was jolted to the core by the numbers and evaluations she was sharing.  But the entire time, I kept remembering other times my precious friend has received negative reports.  Some physical, some emotional.  

With each new wave of trouble, my friend has steadied herself by focusing on promises from God's word.  I've watched her straighten her sagging shoulders; purse her lips with a determined air and march forward.  Her steps seemed to say, "Not giving up today!  Nope, I still believe!"

Because I've seen God be faithful to this amazing lady so many times, I fully expect to write again soon and share the medical intervention that was discovered.  I know there will come a moment where I'm able to report that she is WELL!   

That isn't today.  So along with King David I cry out on behalf of my friend, "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love!"  

Would you please take a moment to pray that with me?  Thank you!  May the morning also bring you news of God's faithfulness.  May you experience His goodness in an amazing way today.  

Blessings!





Monday, July 15, 2019

Both True

I took part in an event this past Saturday that could only be described as:

  • Ridiculously HOT
  • Buggy
  • Exhausting
  • Nerve-Trying
  • LOUD
  • Sweaty/Stinky
  • Did I already say - Exhausting?

But that's not completely true.  The event could also be described as:

  • Hilarious
  • Eye-opening
  • Bonding
  • Heart-warming
  • Joy-Filled
  • Laughter-Filled
  • Delightful
  • Memory Making 


So which list is actually the truth, you may ask?  Well, I must honestly say - BOTH.  

Last weekend, Frank and I were in charge of the four Schreck grands for about 24 hours.  Spencer-8; Abby-6; Zach-4; Ava-2.  Yes!  We lived to tell about it.  Some of you host your grandchildren for full weeks at a time.  You hold amazing "Grandparent Camps."  I've seen your pictures on facebook and I applaud you.  

Frank and I approached our 24 hour assignment with the same intensity of focus used by navy seals for a covert operation.  We carefully laid out our plan of containment.  We discussed multiple entertainment options.  We evaluated our own strength and compared it to the fortitude of the four we were overseeing.  By Friday, we were ready!

Bedtime was a no brainer.  On my second visit to bedrooms filled with wiggly giggly children I put on my best teacher voice and said, "Noni does not want to be stern but rest is important for your body.  You must go to sleep if we're going to enjoy tomorrow together.  So now, I'm getting stern!  Go to sleep right away, please.  No more talking!"

Can you tell I had practiced?  How did it sound to you?  

For those of you who think I was over the top, please consider the following.  I love snuggling with my grandbabies.  I'm all about ice cream and later bedtimes than usual.  But Frank and I only have two laps between us.  The Schreck children are four energetic, highly motivated children who each have a plan of action at all times and who will each grow up to run something sizable someday.  My speech was somewhat motivated by fear that we could be overrun at any moment.  

I'm teasing, of course.  But we DID want to create a fun memory with these babies who rapidly grow every time we turn away then look back at them.  Spencer was the two-year old mastermind just yesterday.  Now, he's excited to be almost as tall as my shoulder.  Time Flies, friends!

We opted for a local entertainment option, Bok Tower Gardens.  It was the perfect choice.  They've recently opened a children's exploration area which is Amazing!  (We'll be taking the Smith children next week sometime.)  Frank and I were both pleasantly surprised by the fore-sight and planning that had gone into this creative exhibit designed just for children.

The oppressive FL heat was still a factor so we moved slowly from one section to the next.  But the magnificent canopy of trees offered shade.  And each exhibit offered such interesting,  hands-on activities that the participants forgot the heat momentarily. 

The walk to the center of the gardens was a bit taxing.  We had to keep promising the view would be worth it.  And just as hope was waning, we broke into a clearing and could see the massive tower constructed of pinkish marble.  Breath-taking, even for a four year old.  "Yook, Noni!  You see?!" Zach was awestruck.

The highlight wasn't the tower, of course.  It was the fifty-cents we spent on fish food for the swarming koi in the moat surrounding the tower.  The well-fed fish looked monstrous to two-year old Ava.  And Spencer kept warning everyone, "Don't stand so close!  You could fall in!"  Abby wanted to bring home a couple of them.  

Papa dutifully pushed the stroller we had packed down with items for our picnic lunch.  Then he gladly carried children too tired to walk any longer.  We seized on short teaching moments through out the day.  And yes of course, we ended our time with ice cream and even shared a peach milkshake.  Fruit and dairy are such important elements for every diet, don't you agree?

John and Joy had made arrangements for us to trade out with a sitter for baths and bedtime the second night so Frank and I could be ready for Sunday morning.  When he and I pulled into our driveway after handing them off, we just sat quietly for several minutes.  Then we smiled at one another with satisfaction.  We had made it.  

We had already invited nine guests for Sunday lunch and I still had a lot of prep work to do.  But I did Nothing!  I sat on the couch until bedtime then put on PJ's and fell onto my own pillow with a sigh of contentment.  

Frank's hometown paper used to end the local news section with this, "A Lovely Time was had by ALL!"  I believe that's true of our stinky, splendid, HOT, joy-filled adventure.


How about you?  Have you spent time with your grandchildren or perhaps have special memories of time with your own grandparents?  Please share with us in the comment section.












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