Monday, February 27, 2023

Look Both Ways

"Look both ways!!"  It's the word of caution we yelled to our children before they crossed any road.  It's also what I hear my own girls yelling at their children now. 

But as I write today, I find myself "looking both ways" with a different purpose in mind.  I find myself at a crossroads that requires me to look back and forward at the same time.  It's not easy but if I'm going to fully embrace this moment, it's what i need to do.

You see, there are MAJOR changes happening in our immediate family: 

  1. This Friday, Cody will have surgery for thyroid cancer.  He and Kristin will be out of commission for at least two weeks. 
  2. Next Wednesday, Frank and I will leave to spend 30 days with school,  ministry and sabbatical in the Philippines.  (Why, yes!  That IS exactly halfway around the world.)
  3. On March 23rd, Meagan and Nathan will close on the sale of their house and prepare for their move to NC.  Which very likely will happen while we are in the Philippines.  (Did I mention that's halfway around the world?)
  4. Also on March 23rd, Joy will receive an iodine treatment to kill off any lingering cancer cells in her body.  The toughest part of this is the required isolation for 5 days.  They have four young children.  John will be covering our positions as well as taking care of his family.  Who's going to help them while we're .......halfway around the world?!
Not the easiest of times.  

But when our Smiths called last week to say the house was under contract, I found the peace of Christ especially near.  Meagan asked how we were doing and I responded with what must have been inspired of heaven because it was too profound to be my own thought. "We're good, Sweetheart.  God will provide grace and the only way we won't have grace is if we refuse what He's offering." 

So, in order to exercise embracing the grace we're being offered, I find myself looking both backward and forward many times each day.  Here's how it works.

1. We're looking back and rehearsing that although "cancer" is a frightening word, God carried Joy through this last summer.  In fact, the same surgeon who operated on her will be operating on Cody.  Moffitt is one of the best cancer centers in the country.  So, we look forward to a good outcome.

2. Although it's been many years since we traveled overseas for such a long time, I'm looking back and realizing those were fruitful times of ministry.  They also gave Frank and I opportunity to reconnect which is much needed after all his hard work on this graduate degree.  So, I'm also looking forward to writing and pondering and ministry times in a nation I've never before visited.  New Adventures Ahead.

3. I look back on the many miracles that occurred in order for Meagan and Nathan to be able to purchase their beautiful home.  I thank God for His abundant provision and it gives me reason to look forward to what He surely must have in store for such obedient followers of His.  I look back at the army of friends who helped them pack and move two short years ago, many of them are still here and will help in our absence. 

4. John and Joy have been so good about blessing others around them.  I look back on all the kindness they've sown and I have an assurance that they will reap abundantly in return.  Someone will be there to offer food and childcare and encouragement - all the things they've lavishly given to others. 

Yesterday was our final family meal together for this season.  When we first moved here eighteen years ago, the girls determined we would have a meal together at least once a week.  Monday night became the designated time when no one scheduled work, classes or dates.  Monday was Family Meal night.  As they married and our original five morphed into an amazing eighteen, the day and frequency had to change.  But we've still try to get together at  least once a month.

The girls requested one of our family favorites - Greek chicken.  (Which I learned to cook while serving for six weeks in Greece over forty years ago.)

Frank understood how important it was for me, so he made time Sunday morning to help set the table with full china and stemware.  Everyone but the youngest three ate on English bone china for lunch.  I looked back on the missions trip when we visited the "seconds" shop and bought all these dishes for a fraction of their market price.  And I smiled looking forward to someday when those grandbabies will tell about eating Sunday dinner on Noni and Papa's pretty country rose plates.  

It was a resplendent afternoon.  

There was lots of laughter, many stories, great food, kids running and playing, a few pictures, and ending with prayer.  Yes, I made it through without becoming a blubbery mess.  The moment was just too marvelous for tears.  

We've been blessed to live near one another for the past seventeen years.  We've been together for each courtship and wedding.  We've worked hard packing and unpacking boxes for a total of twelve moves.  We've held each of the ten grandbabies within minutes of them being born.  We've wept and rejoiced together over the big things and the small.  

I'm well aware that most people never get to experience anything like this and believe me - I Am Grateful!  I've also been careful to ask the Lord for help in holding this marvelous season with open hands.  Now that the steps He has ordered require such massive shifting, I must chose to look back on His kindness in letting us have this season. Then immediately chose to look forward knowing He will be with us in the new season, as well.  

He hasn't run out of blessings.  They will just look different.  (How would you say I'm doing with embracing the grace I need?) Tears come as I write,  and I have more questions than answers for our new season.  But I have only to look back on the faithfulness of God in order to have courage to look forward with faith for tomorrow.

How about you?  We'd love to hear about the changes that have occurred in your family and how you've navigated them.  Click on the comment box below and share them with us, please.  


Tuesday, January 31, 2023


Frank and I just finished eating leftovers while sitting on our back porch and watching the sun set.  What's so newsworthy about that, you may ask? Well, I served our bit of dinner on my beautiful Winter Greetings china by Lenox.  

"China on the back porch?!  Who does that?"

We did.

Here's the 'why' behind our dinner upgrade.

Last Sunday we were privileged to dedicate Olivia Rae McGhee back to the Lord in our morning church service.  There were two other precious babies, many parents, grandparents and a loving congregation that were also part of the moving ceremony.  It was simply precious.

But our children have told us that Olivia is most likely our final grandchild.  We appreciate their warning and have taken it seriously.  After all, how many Nonis have TEN perfect grandchildren?  Frank and I are acutely aware of just how blessed we are.  

So ever since the announcement that Kristin and Cody were pregnant,  we have been savoring every moment.  Actually, our entire family has been marking the gift.

Olivia wore the dedication dress I made eleven years ago.  Almost forty years ago, my mom made a lovely dedication dress from white eyelet that each of our girls wore and I wanted to carry on the special tradition.  

I'm not much of a seamstress so I recruited the help of an expert in our church.  Her name is Pat and she helped me create an exquisite gown.  We intentionally wove ribbons that could be replaced with different colors to suit the taste of each mom.  (Joy chose pale pink for her girls and Kristin asked for a dusty lavender.)

Abby wore it first.  Five years later it was Ava's turn.  When Madi was to be dedicated, we couldn't locate the dress, so she wore the original which her own mom had worn.  Can you tell we love tradition around here?

Sunday morning, Joy sent a picture to me that pulled everything into sharp focus.  She had just come across a picture of Abby Grace sitting in the middle of a table at church when she was not much older than Olivia is now.  It made me catch my breath with the realization of just how quickly time is flying.  For those wondering, the answer is yes, I cried.

To listen as parents promised to point Olivia back to Christ, her Maker.  To watch Olivia smile at her mom and dad.  To observe our congregation stand and pray over the young families giving their lives and children to God for His purposes.  Well, it was another defining moment for me.

Parker (Olivia's four-year-old brother) carefully touched her delicate white dress then whispered to Kristin, "Mom, is Owivia getting marhweed?"  "No, sweet boy.  She's being dedicated to Jesus just like you were."

He nodded his head as if he remembered it all.

"Sheri, that sounds like it was a beautiful time.  But what does it have to do with a story about your china and the back porch."

Here's the point for us all - we only have today.  I only have today to really SEE and SAVOR the joys of my grandchildren.  In just five more years, we will have grands with drivers licenses giving them permission to operate gas powered motor vehicles on major roadways.  How can that be?!

All too soon, there will be no more holding or rocking them.  Cuddling, tickling and hand holding will be drastically reduced.  Today.  Today is my only opportunity to indulge in these activities that will become the memories I treasure and rehearse in all my tomorrows.

That's why I served our leftovers on China today because today was my opportunity to make a memory for tomorrow.  Too many days have already passed with me waiting for a better moment to plan and host the special event requiring china.  Today is what I have.  Today.

I can almost hear someone thinking, "That dish could have broken on the cement floor." Yes but it's just a dish.  And even if it had, the memory would have only been richer and funnier.

So, here's my question for you, Dear Reader, "What have you not been seeing, not putting to use as you wait for a more perfect moment?"  Today is the most perfect moment I can imagine.

Call your parents.  Hug your children.  Attend your grandchild's ballgame.  Take the pictures.  Eat on the good dishes.  Plan that trip.  Don't wait for tomorrow, time is flying past too quickly.  Grasp today and make the best memories you can. 

If you do, I can almost promise . . . you'll thank me tomorrow.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Happy New Year!

As you read this, I would imagine the new year of 2022 has already been dismissed and 2023 has been welcomed.  So I'm simply stopping by to wish you and yours great blessings for the year ahead.

We had one especially amazing event that marked 2022 for us - Olivia Rae McGhee made her debut in July.  We are grateful for God's protection over baby Olivia and Mama Kristin.  While she started with a troublesome breathing issue, that seems to have gotten much better.  We seldom hear the gasping sound she used to make and trust me, we mark it with gratitude.

Thanks be to God, Joy's cancer surgery went well.  She had sixteen malignant lymph nodes out of the nineteen they removed so there will be follow up this spring to assure no additional growth of malignant cells.  And while she suffered several months with shoulder and neck pain post-surgery, she is now working with a pain management specialist at Moffitt.  One more point of gratitude.

Our Smith tribe is celebrating a recent job change for Nathan.  After seven years with the Publix corporation, he has transitioned into working as an independent contractor serving Duke energy.  This was also the launching of a home school program for the Smith children.  They are loving the freedom and creativity.

We've had several surgical procedures.  Processed a serious hospitalization of my dad; a heart issue with Mom Hawley; numerous health trials for our church members; and the unexpected passing of two members.  Truthfully, it began to feel like each month brought its own trouble.  But we made it to December 31 and we continue to whisper, "Thank You, Lord."

I certainly didn't want to miss the opportunity to also say Thank You for faithfully stopping by for little visits with Embrace the Grace.  You have kept me writing this year although in a more limited way.  I pray each of you has someone who periodically stops by to encourage your dreams, too.

Today, I read of a great plan you might like, as well.  One of my friends has identified an empty mason jar as her Gratitude Jar.  She cut strips of colorful paper and secured a special pen.  Her plan involves a quiet moment at the end of each week during this coming year.  She plans to record a highlight, blessing or miracle from that week on one of the slips of paper then add it to the Gratitude Jar.  Next New Year's Eve, she will spend time reading back over the 52 miracles she may have otherwise forgotten.   

I'm looking for a suitable jar, how about you?

One thing I know of life - Grateful people are Happier people.  We don't have to be overly optimistic and we don't have to ignore reality.  But choosing to turn the diamond and see the blessing even in the difficulty is a worthwhile choice.  

Let me stop with my rambling.  I thank you for reading.  I pray blessings for your coming year.  I am grateful to be a small part of your life.  

Happy New Year, Friends!  Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Listening with Love

 I wish with all my heart that I could get this picture to upload.  Actually, I have several I want to share with you from Thanksgiving.  But there is just one that drew it all together for me.

Please be patient as I try to describe the back story.  

This summer, we started dreaming about making a family trip to the mountains for Thanksgiving.  The idea gained traction and before long, family vacation at Banner Elk, NC 2022 was on the roll.  Each family would be able to have their own little cabin.  (Space is important when you have ten children and eight adults who all have different sleep schedules.)

We were able to break up the long drive by meeting first in SC. Then on Monday, we drove together to see Grandmother Hawley.  All eighteen of us congregated at Mom's favorite restaurant.  (Yes, we called the day before to let them know we were coming.)

They were able to seat us right away.  But that had to wait for all the hugging and squeezing that comes when family hasn't seen one another for a long time. This was also Grandmother's first time to meet Olivia Rae McGhee.  It was a special moment.

We got pictures.  Lots of pictures.  But it wasn't until later in the afternoon that I found my favorite.  It's one of those moments you didn't even realize would strike you so strongly.

Madi Smith is probably one of our quietest grands.  Make no mistake, she has plenty to say.  She just doesn't talk until she's sure you're listening.  In this picture, Grandmother is looking directly into Madi's eyes.  Even with all the chaos swirling around them, it's clear that Madi has Great Grandmother's undivided attention.  And she's talking.

I love the picture because it shows Mom Hawley doing what she did so often when my own girls were little.  We would finally arrive after our long road trip and all the hugging would commence.  We would unload the car then Frank and I would promptly say our good nights and head for bed. 

But not Mom.  She would sit at the kitchen table and listen just as long as our three girls would keep talking.  Sometimes they stayed awake until the early hours of the morning.  The girls laughing, telling stories and all the while Grandmother listening intently to each one, asking questions, laughing with them.  

I vividly remember many times falling asleep with a smile on my face because their sweet voices were drifting down the hallway.  I was thankful for the experience my girls were enjoying.

To capture that picture with one more generation "being heard" was incredibly special.

My question for you today is this:  who in your life needs to be heard? Who has information ready to share if they could just sense someone was really listening?  May I encourage you, be the one to ask the questions.  Let them know you care by offering your undivided attention.

It may not seem so important at the moment but then again, you may be making a memory that will live on long after you.  My girls will never forget sitting with Grandmother at her kitchen table.  They felt heard and even more, they felt loved.

Don't miss your opportunity to listen and share love this Christmas season.

Monday, October 31, 2022

What Do YOU Love?

What do you really love to do?

It's a question we ask young adults often.  We follow up with advice like, "Find a way to do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life."  Which sounds like wisdom but isn't completely accurate.  

Even what we love doing will have its days that require disciplined focus and consistency.  Some days will push us to the limit because we love our work.  It's just the reality of life.

Perhaps we should not reserve that question for addressing only young adults.  Someone recently asked me, "Sheri, what is it that you really love doing?"   Without a moment's hesitation I answered, "Encouraging!" 

Whether it's teaching a class, listening to a younger minister, being excited with a grandchild or writing.  I find that my own heart is more satisfied when I am able to encourage someone else.

This past month I had a great time teaching a connect group at our church. It was a mixed group of men and women: some married and some single.  The topic was the wonderful book by Gary Chapman entitled, The Five Love Languages. 

Dr. Chapman takes the complicated subject of how to best communicate love and appreciation; making it a more manageable objective.  I spent long hours preparing for my fifty minute class.  There were handouts to prepare and material I needed to study in more detail if I was going to explain it clearly.  

And of course, it would be impossible to cover all the fantastic material in three short classes.  So, I had to carefully determine what to  highlight and what to exclude.  In the end, we laughed together, cried a bit and learned a lot about ourselves and those around us.  

For me, the win came when several in the group described how it encouraged them to work harder at the important relationships in their lives.  SCORE!

Another friend asked me today, "Why haven't you been writing as much?  I love reading your blog, it always encourages me."  So, here I am.  working on the "consistency" part of what I love doing.

It's not a lengthy, earth-shaking treatise.  But hopefully it will cause you to stop for just a moment and ask yourself, "What do I love doing?"  If you've gotten slack with discipline or focus, let me encourage you - get to it.  

Someone is waiting for the gift you bring to the world.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Olivia Rae is Here!

At long last, I'm able to share pictures with you of our newest princess - Olivia Rae McGhee!!

Is she not absolutely beautiful?  As you can see, her big brother (Parker) is totally smitten with his baby.  At four years of age, he takes her wailing and constant need for attention in stride.  On Tuesday, Olivia will be six weeks old.  We can hardly believe it but time goes quickly, doesn't it?

Kristin explained that she has delayed sharing pictures online because life has been a bit more than she anticipated.  Every mom with more than one child certainly understands!

Here are a couple of extra pictures just because you've waited so patiently.  

Don't you just want to squish those cheeks????

Photo Credit: Smithplicity  aka Auntie Meagan.  Yes, Meagan did this family shoot for them and managed to get amazing, creative pictures in under an hour.  Beautiful work from a mommie of four who knows, "You better grab all the pictures you can while the babies are happy and smiling because that's a small window!"  

Olivia does have a breathing issue they are trying to identify.  Insurance hasn't made it easy for them to get her to a specialist but they're pushing forward and hope to have some answers soon.  

In addition to Olivia's arrival, many of you have been aware of Joy's journey with thyroid cancer.  Her surgery was this past Friday and the surgeon believes all went well although they did remove extra lymph nodes that were questionable.   When praying for her please pray the recovery and balancing of her medications will go smoothly.  Please also pray for their precious little family who are walking through this illness together.

More Smithplicity Photos

So, I couldn't do an entire post of grand baby pictures and not include my Smiths.  So here are a couple of candid shots from a recent visit we made to Sams.  As you can see, the creative gene is strong in the Smith children.  

Are you bored by shopping with Noni?  Make up your own game called "New Ways to Ride in the Cart!"

As summer comes to a close and children start back to school, may I encourage you to "see" your children and grands?  It was my own little girls riding in the cart just yesterday.  Now, they're all grown up with families and trials of their own.  

I'm so thankful for the moments I have tucked away in my heart.  Little photos in my memory book that make me smile every time I thumb through the album.  I don't remember who said this but it surely was true for me while raising children.  "The days are long and the years are short; take it all in."

Blessings for your holiday weekend.  And thanks for celebrating Olivia's arrival with us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

My Hope and Help

I told you we have a lot of birthdays in July - now add one more.  Olivia Rae made her debut on the morning of July 12th.  And she is absolutely PERFECT!  Thank the Lord.  (Mommie is recovering well.  Now, we pray for extra sleep for them both.)  No close up pictures just yet.  

This month we've celebrated John, Zachariah, Grayson, Noni, Olivia's birth and the wedding anniversary for Nathan and Meagan.  Eleven years they've been married; time is flying.  

On my birthday, the girls brought all ten of the practically perfect grands to sing Happy Birthday to Noni.  They also brought peanut butter jelly sandwiches, chips and juice which gave us the opportunity to share a gourmet lunch together.  

Are those precious faces, or what?!  Yes, you are correct - that question was facetious.  

Madi and Ava are hugging.  Noah is holding Andrew with Zach squeezed into the open spot.  I'm holding Olivia and her brother, Parker, is close at hand to help. Then comes Abby beside Spencer who's holding Grayson.  Of course there had to be balloons because no child can imagine celebrating a birthday (even when you're "old") without balloons.  

The most contented smile is Noni's!

I wish we were only busy marking celebrations but everyone we know has life happening, don't they?  The past two months have been unusually tough for our family.  We've been introduced to severe illnesses, we've had frightening moments of loss, shocking news and moments that have literally taken our breath away.  

If you knew the details, you would know I'm not exaggerating one little bit.  This is a tough time.

In the middle of all the upheaval, I found myself holding my breath - often.  My watch would vibrate and I would glance down to find this message, "Even a few moments of deep breathing can help your outlook."  Right!  I would gladly take deep breaths if I wasn't subconsciously waiting for the next bit of bad news.

Still, there was a church to care for and meetings to attend and deadlines to meet.  So, one deep breath leads to another then another and we find ourselves able to move.  Of course, praying is another almost subconscious action as well.  But it never hurts to be reminded.

So, when Frank asked me to share the sermon this past Sunday, it was easy for me to prepare the message from the very scriptures and truths that have been carrying me.  The simple title was My Hope and My Help.  

John told about the Holy Spirit who is our helper or in Greek, our "parakletos." (Jn. 16:7) And I found this example that explains the term John used.

It seems Greek soldiers (in the time of Christ) were sent out to battle in pairs.  That way, when the enemy attacked them they could stand back to back and cover each other's blind side.  Your battle partner was called your "paraclete."  

By choosing that word, John was explaining to his readers that the precious Spirit of God wants to cover our blind spots.  He wants to be our helper in tough times; all we have to do is ask.  Could you use some of that help today, like me?!

I also shared from Paul's writings that "... this hope [in God] will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us..."  (Romans 5:5)

That's comfort I can lean into during this time of feeling overwhelmed!

Frank and I pray almost daily that our children and grandchildren will follow Christ every day they have breath.  Maybe another birthday is the perfect time to remind ourselves that He wants to partner with us on this life journey.  He wants to be our Hope and our Help.  I think I'll let Him - how about you?

How do you celebrate birthdays in your family?  Do you have a month with multiple celebrations?  Would you share one of your favorite comfort scriptures with us?  Thanks for leaving comments, they're such an encouragement.