Monday, January 24, 2022

FL Snow Days

I find it hard to believe we are in the FOURTH week of January already!  Really?!

How ever did this happen?  And trust me, my shock is not because I've been sleeping like Rumplestiltskin.  It's more like I've been running wide open and haven't had time to register the dates of the days as I've slashed them off my calendar.  Oh, well.

You will cheer with me over a choice I made this past Saturday.  I woke up tired and sluggish so by 10 AM, I knew productivity was not in the cards for my day.  While scrolling through some of your pictures on facebook, I decided to give myself a snow day and suddenly felt much better.  

Listen, we lived in NC for 25 years.  I know all about the wonderful mental health break opportunities hidden under the title Snow Day.  We loved those.  You know, a little surprise day off since it wasn't smart to be out and about on the slick roads but you still felt well enough to get a few things done and watch an entire movie, just because?  Snow Days . . . those were just the best.

The only equivalent we have here in FL would be hurricane days (monster storms) that are downgraded to tropical depression days (serious rain event.)  And those come with a whole lot of tension because you aren't sure if your roof will blow off or if you'll be without air conditioning for days and days in the middle of summer.  Not really the same at all.

Temperatures did drop to unusually low points last night.  This was the beauty that greeted us this morning.


And here is one more through my husband's artistic lens:

No, that isn't snow in central FL but it is frost and we enjoyed it immensely.  Seeing our breath is another novelty in these parts.  The kids especially love it.

Speaking of kids.  We're trying to be more purposeful in spending time with our grands, especially the older five.  Over Christmas, we realized that we most often are around them in large groups because we don't want anyone to feel left out.  

So beginning this semester, I'm back to picking them up after school.  Only this time, it's just one child who then spends a few hours with Noni and Papa doing nothing special.  The kids got very excited about the idea and so far it seems to be going well.

Today is Noah's day since we went by age.  

The afternoon Spencer came over, he and I ran errands.  This is him sitting in a gaming chair at Sam's Club.  Apparently, these chairs are a dream item on every guys' list.  Most of his time was spent playing with a football in our huge backyard while I cheered for his amazing throws. 

Then on Abby's day, I taught her to make a sour cream pound cake the same way her great grandma taught me.  My mom would have been proud of the final outcome.

Next on the agenda was a couple of rounds with Papa playing Chutes and Ladders.

Bottom line is this, these visits are more about time together than about gifts or entertainment.  We made that clear from the beginning and they hopped right on board.  Besides, when you are part of a family with nine grandbabies, one on one time is a rare commodity in itself.  Papa and I are loving it, too.

We began our year just as we always have with a time of dedicated fasting and prayer.  The sweetness of my "one on one" time with Jesus was enhanced because of this new experience with the grands.  I gained a fresh appreciation for what it's like to talk quietly and to listen intently.  

Don't get me wrong, we love the loud and rambunctious times when we're all together.  But there's also something special about walking slowly, holding hands and hearing entire thought processes with a child.

That's how it is with our Heavenly Father.  He loves when we all come together with our church families worshipping, singing, celebrating but He also responds to alone time with us.  Listening to our heartaches and fears, our joys and dreams then responding in ways that make the journey better.

Have you been carving out time for that this year?  If not, let me encourage you to start.  It will be the best "mental health exercise" you've ever tried.    

How about you?  Do you get to enjoy snow days as an adult?  What are some memories you have of time spent with your grandparents?  We'd love to hear about your experiences in the comment box below. . .

Friday, December 31, 2021

New Year Joys!

Trusting your Christmas was more blessed than you could have imagined.  And I'm watching with you for a New Year filled with JOY!

There have been so many adjustments for us all during 2021.  I don't want to elaborate on this.  We all know what our own adjustments have been and to be honest, many of us are limping into 2022.  

With that in mind, I think it best to simply offer some encouragement and happy thoughts for my final post of the year.  

I'll start with one of my favorite pictures from our Christmas Day.  Many of you remember that Kristin, Cody and Parker are still living with us until their house is ready.  That's why Papa had the opportunity to put together a basketball goal with the three year old engineer.  So Precious!

This assembly project was a little less joyful.  But you gotta take the good with the bad and eventually, Papa had a fully functioning racetrack built.

After our Christmas Eve service and the final Sunday service of the year, Frank and I took a couple of days to celebrate our 42nd anniversary.  We've been blessed by friends to stay at their little place on the coast.  My favorite part of visiting their getaway spot is a screened porch overlooking a canal.  It's the best spot for resting and recovering.

We went to dinner at a fun Greek restaurant in the nearby town of Tarpon Springs.  It was such fun sitting beside an open window and watching people walk along.  The sidewalk was busy well after 8PM.  

A young lady who was walking by noticed Frank and I trying to snap a selfie that would include the interior of the restaurant.  She stepped up and said, "Would you like for me to take it for you?"  

"Well, umm sure."  I answered a bit hesitantly because if she had decided to take off with Frank's phone, there would be nothing we could do.  Fortunately, our faith in human kindness paid off with this fun shot.

Our meal was a delicious reminder of the time we spent in Greece as newlyweds.  No, we didn't honeymoon there.  We had the honor of doing a short term missions work about six months after our we were married.  

The missionary I worked with the summer before invited us to come as a couple and do vacation Bible school for children.  It actually became an adventure filled with unexpected twists and turns but we navigated it well and actually bonded even more as a ministry team.  Did I hear someone whisper "Baptism by Fire"?

Frank snapped this picture as we shared a dessert and coffee.  (Decafe for me, of course.)

Let me close this post with a scripture I've had on my refrigerator for several months:    "I pray that God the source of Hope will fill you completely with Joy and Peace because you trust in Him.  Then you will overflow with confident Hope through the Power of the Holy Spirit."  Romans 15:13 esv

May HOPE be yours as we move forward into the new year.  There will certainly be some disappointments in 2022 but if we watch, there will also be JOY.  And most of us know from experience that choosing to focus on Joy is the best way to travel.  

God Bless Your New Year, Dear Friends!  

Monday, December 20, 2021

Eat the Train

It's Christmas and I think you should Eat the Train.  Eat all of it, Quickly!

No, I haven't lost my senses.  In fact, this may be one of my more enlightening posts this year.  

For regular readers, I do apologize for the long time of silence.  I've just been walking through a tough place and writing always opens the door to my more vulnerable self.  That kind of ugly was better shared over coffee with a trusted friend.  But I'm back and I thank you for your patience.

So, why am I urging you to consume some mode of transportation - and a rather large one at that?!  Perhaps this photo will help.

This is the artwork representing an afternoon of frazzled fun.  Six grandchildren came straight to Noni and Papa's house after a morning of celebrating and parties and sugar and excitement as school dismissed for Christmas break.  (Probably should have thought more carefully about that timing.)

We ate pizza for lunch then commenced making a gingerbread castle (girls) and a train (boys).  Let me tell you, those small creations in the picture in no way represent the mammoth task of encouraging six children to make room for one another, stop eating the materials, keep working as a team, and stop bossing one another.  

Many of you remember that we are a family of first borns.  With the exception of Joy and Meagan, every other adult is a first born and there are even a couple of only children in that mix.  It seems the firstborn traits of leadership have been passed on to the grandchildren, too.  Talk about headstrong - we've got that covered.

I don't have any pictures of the gingerbread decorating process because . . . well, refer back to the earlier paragraph.  But I did capture this moment as Papa helped Ava glue pom poms to her Christmas ornament. 

A couple of years ago, I bought a two foot tree for the babies.  Last year we bought ornaments with each of their names.  This year, I couldn't find the ornaments anywhere!  How frustrating.  So, we made new ones.  

Here is our Christmas treasure gathered around the tree they decorated.  No, they aren't all looking in the same direction and you have to look closely to see a couple of the faces but they're all represented.

"Okay Sheri," I can almost hear someone in MN saying.  "You pulled us into this post with the title urging us to eat a train.  What's that about?"

I'm glad you asked.

Our entire family came back on Saturday morning to celebrate our Christmas.  Yes, a week early but adult children have other family to visit and crazy work schedules.  So, we determined a long time ago that holidays can be any date we designate.  

Almost as soon as the older children arrived, they started asking, "Noni, can we eat the train?"  My answer?  "No, let's wait until your parents see what an awesome job you did."

Several more times through the day one or more of them would come up to me and say, "Now?  Noni, can we eat the train now?  Mom and Dad already saw it."  Each time I would say, "No, let's wait."   My answer was disappointing to them but they waited patiently.

As I straightened the kitchen again this morning, I had to move the castle and train around several times.  Suddenly, I stopped and asked myself out loud, "Sheri, what were you waiting for?!  Why didn't you break that train apart and let them eat it?"

To be honest, friends, I didn't want the evidence of all our hard work to be gone in a flash. Selfish but true.

And now, we won't all be together again until after Christmas.  Selfishness on my part caused us to miss a fun moment (gingerbread is meant to the eaten) and created an added burden (where to store them) all in one fell swoop.  Who knew a candy train and castle could serve as such powerful spotlights of revelatory self-examination?

Consequently, I'm calling out to you today - Eat the Train!  Don't waste energy on choices that feed selfishness this week of Christmas.  We can afford to be generous with far more than gifts.  We can be generous with our attitudes, our actions, our choices.  After all, look how generous God was with us. He sent His only son to make a way for us to be together.  

I'll leave you with a couple of final pictures from our church Christmas party.  We called it PJ's and Pancakes.  It was a great evening where everyone wore Christmas pajamas and we served breakfast as the meal.  Games, prizes, singing of carols, lots of fun and lots of laughter.  (Our grands had pajamas that looked a bit rough so we opened their traditional gift of pjs early. If you click on the picture, you'll see it more clearly.)

I'll try to post again for Christmas Day but for now, here's my challenge for us all.  

Don't fret the small stuff, Friends.  Don't overspend and over extend yourself physically.  Do the simple things that will make this a memorable time for the special ones in your life.  Prepare a favorite dish.  Write a card. Call a friend.  Offer a smile or a prayer.  

Making a memory may also be as simple as . . . eating the train.  

What choices have you made this year or in years past creating precious memories?  We'd love to hear about them in the comment section.  Who knows?  You may even help others to create a new tradition in their family...


Monday, November 15, 2021

Heart Weary

Are you enjoying the magnificent color changes and brisk temperatures of fall? I hope so. 

For us here in central FL, our color changes happen more subtly and require multiple visits to Hobby Lobby. New sofa pillows, putting out the fall comforter again on our bed and adding pumpkin spice creamer to our refrigerator. You make it happen the best way you can, right? 

We have enjoyed a few cooler days and I even turned on the fireplace for a while. Then the air conditioning kicked back on and I knew the fireplace had to go for a while longer. 

Change has also come for us in a couple of other forms. Kristin and Cody (our oldest daughter/husband) were shocked by how quickly their starter home sold last month. With no other home in sight, they moved their little family of three in with Mom and Dad until one can be secured. 

It's rather funny because Cody is our only son-in-law who had not lived with us in order to save for a home. Now all three "brothers" will be able to make jokes at our expense about the trials of living with Mom and Dad. 

The second change was that Frank has gone back to school. This is a huge yippee, hurray and even a hallelujah!! He has wanted to get his master's degree ever since his first attempt in 1988. 

This summer we had lunch with friends who teach at one of our premier theological seminaries. They talked about the struggles of taking the seminary to an online format due to covid last year. 

I casually asked, "Is anyone able to attend now that it's all online?" "Absolutely!" said our friend. They have students from all over the world. While the seminary is based in the Philippines, many of the professors also had to return to their home countries during the pandemic.  Long story short - we saw a window of opportunity and wasted no time enrolling. 

However, that was just the beginning. We still lead an amazing team of people who work just as hard as we do and keep us on our toes. We still pastor a wonderful congregation of kind people. (They have always been incredibly thoughtful about making sure we have a life outside just pastoring and we love them all the more for that.)  But some things can only be done by the lead pastor. 

Then you add in the fact that there is a twelve hour time difference between FL and the Philippines. This means Frank is usually beginning class just about the time we would normally be going to bed. Some are even later, like chapel that begins at 11:30 PM. We were incredibly relieved to learn he could watch that weekly service on the following day and write a short report. Whew! 

Then, there came the inevitable term paper. Fortunately, every beginning master's student is required to take a research class that teaches the requirements for papers submitted to their professors. That meant Frank only had to generate one term paper which will be graded first by the research professor then by the New Testament professor. 

Although Frank has spent the last forty years preparing literally thousands of sermons and Bible studies, none of these had to be formatted in the standard Turabian style. Footnotes, citings and journal entries were not part of our everyday vernacular. . . until now. 

This initial research paper has been a BEAR!! And finally, just this very day, with only a few hours to spare . . . we Sent The PAPER! May the name of the Lord be Praised. I made his favorite dinner (chicken and dumplings) so we can celebrate. 

So what does all this celebrating have to do with the title of today's post? "Heart Weary." 

That's a phrase my mom used to say when she was growing extra tired in any season of life. I can almost see her brushing back the dark curls from around her face and lifting those big brown eyes that seemed a bit misty as she explained to me, "I don't know what's going on, Baby.  I'm just heart weary right now." 

All my life, Mom laughed more than she cried and to see her in a low moment emotionally was somewhat unsettling. But as I grew older, I came to realize Mom needed a bigger hug, some extra prayer and sometimes a listening ear. Things would eventually turn around and she would be smiling again. 

Today, I sat a long time in my prayer chair and looked out at the bright sunshine. My heart was weary. I sighed deeply and reached for my devotional Bible. Just like Mama, I knew it was time to come close to the Rock that is my Secure Foundation. 

The first scripture my eyes fell on had been underlined before. "So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees." Hebrews 12:12 NLT (Can't make it up, Friends!) 

My own brown eyes grew misty in the same way Mama's used to, only my tears spilled over. I read the verse out loud and a little more slowly drinking in the intimacy of His message to me. "Sheri, take a new grip with your tired hands. I'm right here to help." (Why, yes. I am crying again as I share this moment with you.) 

Maybe you find yourself in a "Heart Weary" spot right now, Dear Reader. Don't despair. Sit for a moment with the One who loves you most. He'll help you take a new grip on life even though your hands are tired. I've seen it work for decades now. He is Near to those who are Heart Weary. 

If you ever need prayer, please don't hesitate to send a message. If you've seen God be faithful when life was difficult.  We'd also love for you to share your own words of encouragement in the comment section below.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Five Dollar Faith

This past weekend, was our first statewide event for women in two years.  Let me tell you, when more than twelve hundred women gather for a time of preaching, prayer and FUN it's pretty amazing!

Our state director, Deanna Shrodes (along with her assistant, Judi Cotignola) does such a stellar job leading this ministry.  I had enough work just getting our fourteen ladies organized and set up.  I can't even imagine the work that Deanna and her team did in order to make the event seamless for us.  WHEW!

About three weeks ago, Deanna asked if I would be responsible to receive the offering on Friday night.  Those offerings are a key part of funding all the other work they do through the year.  So, I prayed about what to say.  Almost immediately I knew this story from our early days of ministry was the thing to share.  

God used this moment to mark us with the importance of always participating in what He is doing.  We have a part to play in every miracle.  So, here you go.  Hope it builds your faith as it has continued to build ours all these years.

Sharing at the THRIVE Conference

As young twenty-somethings, the Lord sent us to our first pastoral position.  We were given the opportunity to love on thirty settled souls in the mountains of NC.  And although the salary was small, we were so happy to be serving that we didn't realize we were rather poor.

Frank decided to make the first Sunday of February our missions emphasis which meant we would be receiving a cash offering for a special missions endeavor.  We were excited until we looked at our own budget and realized we would have No Personal Cash to give.  

We've never asked our congregations to do what we weren't willing to do because you can not lead from behind.  So, the young pastor and his wife went to prayer asking God to provide us with cash for this special offering.

On the Saturday before missions Sunday, I was cleaning house and praying again about our need.  Imagine my joy when I opened a particular box and discovered a five dollar bill.  Our missions offering!  

Now, this was five dollars I had tucked away in early December for the purpose of adding to Frank's Christmas present. I hid it so well that I promptly forgot about it, until that Saturday morning of discovery.  

(I know, some of you are shaking your heads in disbelief.  "How can you hide money then totally forget about it, Sheri?!"  But other readers are nodding and saying, "Yep!  I've done that very same thing."  Whichever camp is yours, I'm just glad you read Embrace the Grace.)

No one could match the smiles on our faces as we placed our paltry five dollars in the offering basket that Sunday morning. God had heard our cry and answered in what we considered to be a miraculous way and we were ecstatic.  What a great story.

But life is seldom so neat and tidy, right?

On the following Wednesday, we had another little crisis come up.  I reached into our pantry to pull out the potatoes I was using to make potato soup for supper.  (My Mama had taught me how to live on a frugal budget and had helped me develop a terrific recipe for potato soup.  Tasty and Filling.)

I was startled to realize this would be the last of the potatoes and the last food in our house as well.  Not one can of tuna.  Not one package of hamburger.  Not even a loaf of bread.  Nothing.  And we wouldn't be paid again until Sunday.

Tearfully, I explained my grocery miscalculation to Frank who hugged me and assured me that the Lord had not forgotten us.  Everything would be alright.  We were tempted to regret having given the entire five dollars on Sunday but we reminded each other what a miracle it was that I had even found it and again thanked the Lord for the privilege He had given us to participate.

The next morning while getting ready for work, I decided to call my parents and ask them to wire money so we would be able to eat the rest of the week.  As the phone was ringing, I felt a clear nudge from the Holy Spirit, "Do not tell them what you need."

The thought was so distinct that it was almost startling.  My dad answered with his customary, "Nnnyello!"  And it came to me again, "Don't tell him.  Trust Me."

We talked briefly before Dad asked, "Why did you call, Sweetheart?  Are y'all okay?"  I took a deep breath trying to remove any quiver from my voice.  "Yessir, we're fine.  Just wanted to say I love you, Daddy.  You and Mama pray for us.  Gotta run, bye!"

Hanging up from the call, I swiped at the stray tears landing on my cheeks.  

My position as a substitute teacher at the local high school was next on the agenda that morning. While driving, I thought maybe there would be a special basket delivery that day. Many in our dear congregation realized how tight our budget was and often dropped by with grocery items or canned goods as their way of helping out.

When I returned home and searched Frank's face, I knew immediately there had been no such delivery that day.  Being the woman of faith that I was at the time, I went into our bedroom, threw myself across the bed and cried myself to sleep.  There was no dinner to prepare so sleep seemed appropriate.

About forty-five minutes later, Frank burst into the room and starting shaking me awake while simultaneously talking about some miracle.  "Look, Sheri!  It's a miracle.  Look what the Lord has done for us!"

I rubbed my eyes and saw he was waving an envelope.  The mailman ran late that Thursday but the letter he delivered arrived right on time.  In the letter postmarked New Orleans, Louisiana was a check written for support of Frank and Sheri.  

It hadn't arrived on Wednesday because that was too early.  And it didn't arrive on Friday because that would have been too late.  Our heavenly Father had it delivered on the very day we needed it most.

You see, we had a dear friend in New Orleans who had promised to pray for us as we started our adventure as pastors.  Mama Terri told us her side of the story when we called to thank her.  

She seldom ever left her home on Monday mornings as that was her time to be quiet and recover from the weekend.  But this particular Monday, she felt the Lord urging her.  "Get to the post office and mail a check to those kids!" was how she described it to us.

We all laughed then cried and thanked the Lord together for His attention to detail.  What a Faithful God!

Frank and I dashed to the bank so we could cash the check then we enjoyed what was our favorite meal at the time, Kentucky Fried Chicken.

For decades now, Frank and I have been able to refer back to this moment as encouragement for ourselves as well as others.  How thankful we were that we gave all that was in our hands to give.  We participated by planting our little five dollar bill in the missions offering.  And God responded by bringing a great harvest.  

Oh, I forgot to tell how much Mama Terri felt prompted to send us.  Hold onto your hat.  The check that arrived in our mailbox on exactly the right day was for five hundred dollars.  One hundred times what we gave, by faith.  (You can't make these things up, dear reader.)    

So, I ask you:  How can you participate in the miracle you need to see take place? What is in your hand/heart to share? Have you sown seed into good soil so you can watch for a harvest?

Let me encourage you to pray and ask God for the seed you need.  He loves to surprise us with answers to honest prayers.  What you have to offer may seem insufficient to you, give it anyway.  You never know what He will do even with just five dollars of faith.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

"Pardners" for Life


Is this not the most adorable picture ever?!  Doesn't it make you want to wave a stetson and yell, "Howdy, Folks!" and "YeeHaw!" for everyone to hear?  Care to guess where this cowgirl and her sheriff were?  

I heard someone in Texarkana call out the answer.  Yep, we were celebrating our year of Partnering Together for Missions!  (Bet the readers in Miami didn't see that coming. LOL)

The missions directors for our church are simply amazing.  Dominic and Molly Buccafuni came to us from Ohio about a year after we became pastors.  It quickly became evident that we all had a genuine passion for missions.  Home missions.  Foreign missions.  Trips, Offerings, Missionaries . . . we loved it all!

This year, our special guest was Teresa Kemp of Hope Ranch.  That's how it came about that our entire church showed up Sunday dressed just like we would for a rodeo at the OK Corral.  It was a fun day of celebrating all we've accomplished in 2021 by simply "Pardnerin' Together" to help spread the Good News of God's Love and Life.

Couldn't close this part of the post without Ava Quinn's smile.  Looks like she's ready for a ride in the surrey with the fringe on top!  (Any other Oklahoma fans out there?  I mean the musical not necessarily the teams.)

In other news, my "Life Pardner" and I made a quick road trip to pick up our new baby.  Yes, you heard that right.  We've been empty nesters a long while and decided there's definitely enough love around these here parts for us to share.

Please welcome our newest family member, Missy Grace:

What a precious face, right?  Her full name is from a Hebrew word, Mishayel which means "Who is like our God?"  I'll share the story behind our new baby and the selection of her name soon.  A friend of mine suggested she should have been named Freckles, instead.  But when you read the full explanation, you'll agree she is our Missy.

These next few pictures will give you an idea of what life has been like for us the past few weeks.

See that beauty standing second from the right?  Abby Grace has taken up soccer and she is a natural!  When she handles the defense, the coach leaves her to cover the field all by herself.  She's also great at passing and has scored a couple of goals already.

Then there are her brothers.  Spencer and Zachariah.  They are playing baseball and t-ball for the first time.  Again, both naturals.  Spencer had never played organized baseball but all the years playing catch with his dad have payed off.  He's been tapped to pitch several times.

Take a look at the knees of this uniform.  Can you tell what Zach's favorite part of t-ball might be?  Yep, the kid loves to slide.  Joy said he can't even walk through the kitchen anymore without sliding into the island.  He's also found his voice when cheering for his big brother.  He paces up and down the fence yelling, "Come on, Spencer.  You got this!"

Then, with seventeen family members and only twelve months each year, you can do the math and just imagine how many birthdays we celebrate.  (Not to mention anniversaries, promotions, regular holidays and so forth.)

Oh, dear!

I also have precious pictures from Noah's 8th birthday celebration that took place Saturday.  However, I've been trying to get this post online for two days and my window for doing it today is quickly closing.  I'll include pictures of the Smith tribe and McGhees next time.  

Needless to say, my hope for you today is that you have "Pardners" in your circle who also cheer for you and speak Life over your circumstances.  If not, find some!  "Pardners for Life" are necessary for us all!

Do you have family members involved in ball?  How does that impact your weekly scheduling?  We'd love to hear about your experiences in the comment section  . . .

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Life has been rather hectic for us lately.  (You, too??!!)  I've had a couple of writing deadlines and I'm working with my friend, Becky of Smithellaneous fame, trying to send, edit, retrieve then email several pieces.  Nerve-racking is an understatement!  So I reached back to a post from two years ago that has a strong, timeless message.  I hope you enjoy it!

Regular readers of Embrace the Grace are already aware - we are a BIG family!

We started out as a medium-sized tribe.  One dad.  One mom.  Three daughters.  That was the nucleus for a couple of decades.

Then husbands started being added.  Because our daughters were beautiful, brilliant and bubbly, we KNEW husbands would show up, eventually.  We had no idea they would each be such amazing men who would love our girls so richly.  Bonus!  Family gatherings picked up a bit in both volume and in fun.

After about three years, the greatest bounty began arriving - Grandchildren! First came Spencer Matthew.  Sixteen months later was Abby Grace. The next year brought Noah Jacksen.  About eighteen months later came Madison Riley and Zachariah Avery.  Ava Quinn slipped in two years later.  Then last year Parker Franklin and Grayson Oliver made their appearances.  Now we're patiently awaiting Smith Baby #4.

As you can imagine, our family dinners are no longer calm opportunities for adults to linger and connect.  We are sixteen all together and our meals resemble something more like loud, controlled chaos.  We still pause to pray together.  We still sit together at one very long table extending from the dining room into the kitchen.  (Well actually, it's two tables put together to look like one long table.)  Once someone says, "Amen!" it immediately gets LOUD again.

But we love being a BIG family.

A friend made a plaque for me last year which explains our dynamic well.  "Noni and Papa's - Where Cousins go to become Friends!"  When Madi had her birthday last month, she had the choice of inviting one friend to join her for the day.  Her choice was Abby, of course.  Spencer and Noah love being together.

Frank and I took the three oldest out this weekend to celebrate the end of their school year.  They looked out for one another and shared popcorn and laughed and enjoyed every minute.  Frank and I enjoyed being with them and watching how close they are.

We never in a million years would have guessed this would be our story for this season of life.  Our girls had traveled the country and had even visited foreign countries.  My heart was prepared for them to go away to college.  Graduate.  Meet and marry the love of their life.  Then move to the far flung corners of the world.

It worked just like that until time for each of them to make a home with their husband.  Each couple, by turn, made the surprising decision to settle in this area.  So, Frank and I lovingly refer to this season as "Frosting Time!"  To be able to live near our children and their children is a gift we do NOT take lightly.  Trust me - we know to be grateful.

A couple of weeks ago, we were sitting out on the screened porch after dinner.  The rest of the family was spread all over our house.  Some still in the kitchen.  The young dad's playing frisbee in the backyard.  Some babies in the playroom and a couple sitting with Noni and Papa on the porch.

That's when the profound question was put to us.  Spencer (8) looked over at me and asked, "Noni, what do you and Papa DO when we're not here?"

His sincerity and puzzled expression made me smile.  He couldn't imagine our house without all the people, voices and accompanying mayhem we were experiencing right then.  For the first time in his young life, he realized that Noni and Papa didn't just sleep until the next time our tribe congregated.  With that realization came honest curiosity.

His innocent question told me two things:
1.  We're all so closely woven that he had never considered us apart from himself.
2.  He's growing into a bright, thoughtful young man.

I ran down the list of things that occupy our evening hours and weekends.  Cleaning, cooking, cards, tv, reading, phone calls, more cleaning.   He was satisfied by my answer but still looked pensive.  I've thought about his question a lot, too.

It's a classic, really.  Every maturing child at some point looks into the eyes of their mentor and asks a similar question,  "Who are you when I'm not around?"  If we aren't paying attention, we can brush off their curiosity or give some glib answer.

Bottom line is this, I want to be the same person ALL the time.  Whether I'm at work or the grocery store. Meeting a friend or having lunch with a co-worker.  With my children or not.  Being watched by my grandchildren or not.  I want to behave in such a way that whoever is near will see me the same way every time they see me.

That was most important to me when Frank and I first talked about marriage.  He had prepared to be in ministry and I knew many pastoral families.  I knew the pressure for children and the fishbowl feeling that life tends to create.  So Frank and I made a solemn promise to one another.  We would endeavor always to be the same people at home that we were at church.

An overly simplistic goal for some, I know.  But for us, it worked and continues to work.

So, I'll ask you the same sort of question Spencer asked us.  "Whatcha' Doin'?"   What do you choose to do when no one else is around?  Are you the same person all the time?  Really?

I no longer take tests at school but this was an important evaluation for me, nonetheless.  Out of the mouths of babes come some of the most profound statements.  May God grace us all to be the same people at all times and in all circumstances.