Friday, December 31, 2010

Count Down

Happy New Year!!

Actually, I'm writing this on New Year's Eve. It's after 9:00 P.M. and I'm still functioning. This will surely be a year of miracles! Smile.

Frank and I had several options for the evening. We could have seen the Rogaine's perform at Sharky's. (Not making that up - promise! With the average age in this community hitting 76, there are ripple effects. Smile.)

We checked on dinner at Carney's but they didn't start serving until 8:00. I'm not yet 76 but I don't like eating that late intentionally.

Finally, we spotted a quaint cafe that had tables available outdoors. Jackets made an outdoor dinner possible and brought back thoughts of missions trips we've taken. We savored a delicious meal and rehearsed delightful memories made over the past thirty-one years together.

An after dinner stroll through the historic district capped off the evening. New memories!

But the main message I wanted to share this last night of 2010 involves beginnings more than memories.

Several years ago I read a great story Beth Moore related about cleaning the room of her daughter. As she gathered multiple notebooks from various corners, she realized that they each represented yet one more false start for her scholastically challenged daughter.

Fuming and frustrated, she questioned aloud when this child would finally follow through. "I just don't know if she'll ever get things together and move forward, Lord! What is the problem?!"

Beth Moore quieted herself long enough to hear the whisper from heaven, "How many fresh starts have I allowed you, Beth?"

The message struck her heart! And mine.

So as 2011 rolls in, step up to the new challenges without fear. The Father ordering our steps allows unlimited fresh starts. And who knows but what this is the year for you and the dreams He has for you!!

Again - Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010


I'm living in the lap of "generosity"!

(I know, I know. The saying actually goes, "living in the lap of luxury" but generosity describes my situation better. Smile.)

Today marks thirty-one years that Frank and I have enjoyed marital bliss. Granted, some days more blissful than

But after thirty-one years, we're still together, still like each other, still sit on the love seat and snuggle more than we don't. In today's world, that's a WIN!!

On Tuesday, I met "Generosity" head-on and started pondering what a large role it plays in my life. For instance:
  • Tuesday AM, Shirley called to see if I would be attending the ladies' luncheon which she oversees monthly for our church. I hesitated just a moment and said (to be read with a southern, sing-song, drawl) "Ummm, nooooooo? I just hadn't planned on it this time." Immediately Shirley responded, "I don't blame you one bit. Glad you're getting some rest. See you Sunday." No guilt. No loud disappointed sigh. Not even a moment of silence. GENEROSITY!!
  • Later, friends from NC called to say they had driven to Orlando to watch NC State play WV in the play-off. They wanted to see us but understood about rare vacation days for us. "Hey, why don't we just drive over there?" they offered gladly. (Now bear in mind, these people had already driven TEN HOURS the day before.) "No problem! We'll meet you at a restaurant later today." And bonus - when the check came, they insisted on paying for our meals too. GENEROSITY!!
  • Today, Frank and I will travel to a lovely little beach town and spend two days focusing on each other. Our accommodations provided free of charge by a church that maintains a house for the escaping of ministers and missionaries. GENEROSITY!!
  • We will enjoy several meals out using gift cards which dear friends have slipped into our hands during Christmas. GENEROSITY!!
  • We will marvel together over God's lavish gifts of grace and forgiveness that have enabled us to stay happily married these many years. GENEROSITY!!
See what I'm talking about?

Yep, I'm definitely living in the lap of GENEROSITY! Sure hope you see yourself there too!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hawley Randomness

WE MADE IT! Christmas 2010 is passed and everyone has navigated the passage rather joyfully. (Don't I sound a bit like Charles Dickens? Smile.)

This was the first time in 23 years that the Hawley family has celebrated Christmas by ourselves. With extended family living so far away, we've always traveled to them or hosted them. Except for the year Meagan was born.

She arrived December 20, 1987; obviously we couldn't travel. Her premature birth caught everyone by surprise and so none of the family was prepared to come to Asheville (where we lived.)

This Christmas spent alone was different.

With all adult children, our family dynamic has taken a definite shift. We waited until 10:30 to share a big breakfast. Present-opening finally commenced around 11:30. We all moved at the pace of a tortoise and LOVED IT! Smile.

Everyone helped with the dinner feast AND the clean up afterward. "Many hands make light work!" Yes, a lovely time was had by all!!

One of the most delicious parts of Christmas this year? The office is closed for five days!!

(Thank heavens for cell phones which keep us in touch with whomever might need to contact their pastors. Now we can enjoy a few days of real "breathe time". Ahhhh.)

The snow storm north of us brought a beautiful blanket of frost to our yard this morning. Gracie and Bella were in shock!

Bella begged to be let back inside immediately following her........ummm, deposit. And Gracie wandered the patio several moments searching for the least icy spot available for her little princess paws.

Resolution and full kidneys caused her to plunge head-long into the "frozen tundra", tinkle quickly and dash back to the door! Bella is now contentedly curled at my feet and Gracie is backed up to me as closely as she can possibly get without taking over the laptop spot. So funny!

Guess that's probably more generic information about the Hawley household than anyone ever wanted to know. I'll try to have something more significant to post tomorrow. Smile.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Blessed Christmas Greetings

On such a wonderful day, "Hi, Ya'll!" just doesn't have the appropriate ring. Hence, "Blessed Christmas Greetings.........Ya'll!" Smile.

I'm aware that I've been extremely negligent with my writing this past week and for that I apologize. But those of you who know me well will be pleased to learn that I made a diligent effort at pacing myself this week.

(The fact that I chose to leave off the baking of a pound cake for today's dinner is real evidence! Time was slipping by and the pound cake - which I dearly love - would have cost me time with family so......the traditional Christmas pound cake will be New Year's pound cake this year. Are you proud of me?! Smile.)

We took quite a bit of time laying out a "flexible-plan-to-be-unplanned-at-any-moment" plan on Thursday. Just something to kind of keep us all headed in the same general direction today.

It got funny as everyone hesitantly gave their opinion then backed up and said, "....only if that's what everyone else would like to do!" The final decision gave John and Joy time at their house together; then everyone gathers at our house for presents and CHRISTMAS DINNER.

Our plans also include the task of developing new traditions for a predominantly adult family. After the Christmas Eve service last night, Joy announced to John that their new tradition would be Christmas morning IHOP! Smile.

I'm sure that each of us is probably facing some situations we wish we weren't this special day: loss of a loved one, perhaps a job, missing family that couldn't join us. But there are also countless blessings in each of our lives that beg to be marked.

As you gather at a table with whatever portion of your family is available. And as you attempt to keep the type A family members from stressing the type B family members (smile); just take a moment and breathe in this truth:

God's gift to us is still the most amazing part of Christmas;
Emmanuel - God with us!

Merry Christmas, dear friends!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Sunday

Whew! Our final EVENTS of the 2010 Christmas season took place yesterday.

The children's presentation in the morning service and the leadership party at our home last night. Both were such fun. You can't miss with children on stage. And parties with real friends are especially nice.

As always, two little guys stole the morning. Donovan (4) really had to go potty after the second song and he could not understand why his mom - who was looking right at him and smiling - kept shaking her head "No!"

Baccarius was on the second row and couldn't make up his mind if he wanted to stand next to his sister (stage right) or his big brother (stage left). So he simply divided his time equally, transitioning with each song then turning to flash a huge smile at the audience! So cute!

We avoided the classic "nose-picking" and "panty-flashing" which seem to always accompany children's Christmas productions. But only because this presentation was abbreviated, I'm sure. Smile.

Then we dashed home for the final whirlwind of preparations, making ready for our leadership teams to come over. I was so very thankful for the extra help of a couple of young friends and Kristin.

Our friends caught the loose ends; Kristin and Frank decorated. I mostly stood in the middle of the kitchen turning in circles and barking orders that made little to no sense.

It's one thing to love having people into your home. It's another thing entirely to be organized enough not to panic just before they arrive! (Regular readers understand my serious lack of organizational skills. That's why we called in reinforcements. Smile.)

Frank's hometown newspaper closes nearly every "society report" with this phrase, "And a lovely time was had by all." That pretty well sums up our party with the staff and church board!

I did find myself caught off-guard by a couple of exceptionally big waves of grief on Saturday.

Meagan and I were on a dual mission that morning. Time-sensitive Christmas gifts needed to be purchased along with the final food items for our party. (Others might say we "went shopping" but for both of us - it was a mission! We're not big pleasure shoppers. Smile.)

We had split up in Wal-mart, maximizing our time. I pushed my cart with purpose while fumbling through my purse to snag the list. Glancing to the left, I caught sight of a top hanging in the women's section and thought, "Oh, Mom would love that. It looks just like her!"

My heart lurched and before I could swallow and check them, tears began flowing.

I took the deep cleansing breath we all employ when crying insists on pushing its way to the surface. But it was no use. For one brief moment, I considered abandoning my cart and making a dash for the parking lot.

But this was the time slot allotted for the "Wal-mart Run" and hiding in the car would only impede our progress. So, I took the one course of action remaining. I found a gently used tissue in my purse and pressed on - wiping at tears and scanning shelves.

I'm sure several people wondered about the crazy lady crying in the frozen food section.

I must say it was a great improvement being able to cry in Frank's arms later while using Mom's recipe for the sausage balls she baked for every holiday party. Sigh.

Joy and sorrow. Tears and laughter. Two equally important sides of the coin called life.

Hope your coin is heavy on the joyful side today!

One final note. Today is the twenty-third birthday of our precious Meagan Elizabeth! We can't believe that much time has flown by. And we find ourselves more amazed every day at the beautiful, confident woman our "little girl" has become. Happy Day, Meagan!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Family Photo

The Christmas photo cards have begun arriving and I am thrilled!

Don't you love them, too?! Especially the cards from friends and family who live far away. It's such a fun thing to open the envelope and be greeted with the smiling faces of people we've not seen in a long time.

I'm also a big fan of the "family newsletter" which allows us to catch up with major events. But there's nothing quite like that first glimpse of the newest addition, the family on vacation, the prodigious pets, the coordinated Christmas outfits..........

"Oooohh!" "Look how cute they are!!" "Good grief, those kids have really grown this year!" "Mmmmm, I don't look too much older than her." (Oh wait, did I write that thought? Smile.)

I've always loved these so much that right after Kristin was born, I launched an attempt to organize what I thought would surely be an annual event enjoyed by the entire extended family - the taking of the official Christmas Photo!

Both my brother and sister were still living at home and I thought the toughest part of these proceedings would be to get an appointment at a studio during the brief period Frank, Kristin and I could be there.

Oh the hardships of the young and naive! Smile.

I'll spare you the horrors of trying to:
  • line up everyone's schedules;
  • encourage the selection of clothing that didn't clash;
  • ignore snide remarks about pointless pictures;
  • endure the long ride with a screaming baby.
The real excitement began when we arrived at the studio and discovered that a "fill-in" photographer was on duty. Apparently her training amounted to snapshots taken of high school friends for the year book fun page!

She didn't know how to reposition the camera for a larger group. Bear in mind there were only six adults and one tiny, crying baby. The photographer (and I use that term loosely) squished us together in an area designed for four children - max.

When our pictures were mailed to us three weeks later, I tore into the package, caught a glimpse of the first pose and gasped. Not in delight but in disbelief!

My tall dad was asked to bend down slightly in order to keep his head in the shot. Mom sat in the center attempting to comfort the baby and appeared to be wearing Kristin like a medallion on her chest. My brother's eyes were partially closed in every shot; giving him the appearance of a teen alcoholic. Vonnie and I sported painfully fixed smiles. Only Frank appeared somewhat normal. Sigh!

Two years later, we tried it again. The pictures were much better. But the tsunami of difficulty that proceeded our arrival at the studio caused me to promise never to attempt an extended family photo again! E.V.E.R.!!

(My brilliant friend, Becky Smith, captures and adds fabulous family pictures to all her blog posts. She is my hero!)

There was also the surreptitious photo session I attempted with Kristin and Joy one Christmas for a portrait to hang in Frank's office. Kristin was three; Joy was twelve months. And they immediately picked up on my anxiety level.

We finally got an acceptable shot. But it does not tell the story of what happens when two little girls decide they DON'T want their picture taken!

(How interesting that Kristin has actually become the photo-journalist for our family. I guess we didn't scar her too badly. Smile.)

So when you open the next Christmas card that contains any sort of group picture, I'd like to encourage you to pause. Take a moment to be duly appreciative of the effort behind said photo. Reverently place it on your refrigerator. Then call your friend/family member and ask the simple question, "What did it take to get such a great shot?"

Prepare to be entertained!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Best Celebrations!

Last night was the kind of evening I love best!

We celebrated Meagan's 23rd birthday and our house was alive with activity. Now, please understand that her birthday is actually next Monday. But because a certain young man (let's just call him a "person of interest") will be flying home on that special day - we had to scramble and find another time that the whole family could congregate.

Several phone calls and one canceled party at the Schreck home later, we had it! A night when all the family (birthed, adopted, married, interested in marrying) could rendezvous at Misty Morning Drive all at the exact same time. Marvelous!

Joy (now great with child) helped me prepare the meal Meagan had requested. Actually, chicken parmigiana is Joy's specialty; soooo mostly I helped her! Ah, the joys of adult children. Smile.

Kristin and Amanda decorated the table with help from Ashley (another adopted one). The guys watched football and tried to NOT hover over the stove asking, "How much longer?" "Can I have just a taste?!"

We finally served the beautiful meal; Dad prayed a birthday blessing for the guest of honor; we ate; we laughed; we all told funny "Meagan" stories; we girls tried not to cry over our memories. Resplendent! Dare I say it again? Absolutely resplendent!! Smile.

As I sat quietly at the same table this morning, rehearsing the evening, smiling, being thankful - I found it interesting that the word "squandered" kept coming to mind. (Believe it or not, I do pray over what to write. It's always my hope that something will be a challenge or encouragement.)

"Why the word 'squandered', Lord?" I thought in my little ole head.

Then it was almost as if I could see other times that I had missed the wonder of such a simple evening with longing for what "wasn't". You know:
  • we were all together but it wasn't her actual birthday.
  • there were a couple of gifts but they weren't all we would have liked to give.
  • the table was nice but it wasn't china and crystal.
  • there was one pregnant lady but no little children to hug and pamper.
  • we managed to squeeze around our table but there isn't a dining room for such
See what I mean?

I sat looking out and asking the Lord to forgive me for the times I've squandered the joy He meant for the moment. I also determined to renew my commitment of living right now; appreciating the current joys; savoring instead of squandering.

Therein, lies the best delight for any special time!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Let It Snow!

Thank heaven for a real Friday off!

Well, what I meant to say was thank heaven for a Friday that doesn't involve any scheduled church activity. Now I can focus on cleaning the house for upcoming church gatherings and Frank can reclaim the yard.

We've lost quite a few plants to this unseasonable freeze. His layered look this morning seemed totally inappropriate for the global warming we are supposedly experiencing. Smile.

I thought it might be fun to share some of our favorite Christmas memories with you over the next few days. We've actually had several Christmas "miracles" take place through the years. And every time we tell these stories, people seem to be encouraged.

Here's a favorite.

When we moved from Asheville, NC to the coast (near Myrtle Beach, SC) to pioneer a church, our girls were very little. Meagan was only five.

The church, which started with thirteen people, was still in the infancy stage our first Christmas in Ocean Isle Beach. Money was extremely tight and everyone was a bit sad for various reasons.

We had lived in the mountains for about twelve years; the girls were all born in Asheville. So not only were we missing friends that felt like family, we were also missing the landscape and we knew there would certainly be no snow that close to the ocean.

Frank and I tried our best to be upbeat and keep everyone in good spirits. In fact, that was the year we came up with the "Dollar Store Christmas" idea. It worked like this.

Because we home schooled at the time, we chose a weekday and had a special breakfast all together. Then Dad and I ceremoniously presented each daughter with five dollars. This seemed an exorbitant sum to our little girls.

We piled into the van and drove to town. Of course, Christmas carols were chosen and performed by all as we drove. Great entertainment!

Once we arrived at the dollar store, the real fun began. Kristin, Joy and Meagan grabbed individual baskets then started thoughtfully casing the aisles for potential gift selections.

The store was relatively small so Frank and I kept an eye on them from a distance. This only added to their feeling of independence. They would settle on a gift item then run to Mom or Dad to find out if we agreed on the appropriateness of said item.

"Don't look, Joy!"
"Turn your head, Kristin!"
"Meagan, stay where you are!"
I can hear their little girl voices ringing through the store even now and it makes me smile.

Check-out at the single register was carefully orchestrated in order to avoid even Mom and Dad seeing what treasures the girls had selected. We headed home and they scattered to hiding places throughout the house in order to wrap their presents then place them under the tree.

Dinner that night was more joyful than any we'd had in a while. The girls' excitement level was contagious. And because we would be traveling to Pensacola for Christmas Day, it was determined that our own Christmas would take place that coming Friday. Squeals of delight!

Friday finally arrived and amazingly, it was cold enough for a real fire in the hearth. Frank had it blazing by the time the girls finished breakfast and we ooo'd and ahhh'd over it's beauty.

Just as we began our normal Christmas morning traditions, it happened. A gentle snow began to fall. Snow at the beach!

We could hardly believe our eyes.

The girls ran outside, laughing and shrieking with joy! It took a while but we finally got them back in to open the few gifts we had purchased. And their eyes twinkled as the "Dollar Store Treasures" were unwrapped. You would have thought we had all shopped at Neiman Marcus!

As the last gift was opened and the paper was being gathered up, Frank noticed the snow subsiding.

"Look," one of the girls said. "The Lord knows what a tough time we've all been having and He sent snow just to make our Christmas more special. He really loves us doesn't He, Daddy?!"

Tears sprang to our eyes as Frank and I looked at one another over the tops of their little blond heads.

We spent five more winters in Ocean Isle and it never snowed another day.

That's why our family marks it as a miracle to be remembered. A special kiss sent from heaven just to say, "I know right where you are. And I'll suspend the laws of nature, if necessary, to tell you of my love."

A Christmas Miracle indeed. And be reminded, dear reader, He loves you just that much too!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

An Apology

Thank you for your patience!

No, my computer did NOT crash, catch a virus, convulse nor otherwise concede to a non-working status. I just have NOT had time to sit down and put two thoughts together. (Which may not seem necessary when writing a blog post but it certainly helps! Smile.)

Christmas in FL has an added time element we didn't budget for while living in NC. As November draws to a close here, the temperature drops well into the 70's or lower. (Collective gasp!)

It's the first time in months that we're able to get outdoors to walk, bike, garden or do any other outdoorsey type activities without running the risk of collapsing from heat stroke.

This time of year in NC found me bundling up; dashing from store to store; rushing home with the proverbial packages; putting on a pot of soup, chili, or other steaming sustenance; wrapping up in a blanket; watching the latest Hallmark movie and calling it an evening.

While living in the mountains, we would often have the delight of a "snow day". These not only meant no school for the kids; it also meant rest, reflect, regroup day for Mom. Ahhhh, the memories.

Time off in FL during the Christmas season requires all the regular shopping; dashing; rushing. But it also is the perfect time to finally be outdoors catching up on the Vitamin D you couldn't get in September because of the HEAT! (I know, it's terribly convoluted.)

Frank and I have also made it a ministry habit to "load" early December with as many activities (parties, socials, events) as possible in order to leave the last two weeks for family. This year is no different. And that, dear readers, is why I've been negligent in the area of writing.

Yep, more information than you ever needed or wanted! Smile.

We finally squeezed our traditional tree decorating evening into an hour on Tuesday. It was a little bitter sweet as Joy and John opted out this year. They needed to deck their own halls, you know.

Frank and I are acutely aware that soon it will be back to just he and I adorning the tree. We'll gingerly position each hand-crafted, school-glued ornamental treasure. We will sigh, smile, and brush stray tears.

Because whether celebrated in the drifting snow or beside waving palm trees - Christmas is a season of the heart! The real issue here isn't climate, gifts, choirs or meals. It's the love shared - period. And that takes off a lot of pressure.

Hope you are sharing love, taking time and finding joy in your celebrating!

P.S. Funny side-note. I just proofed this post and realized that I have nine "lists" in just twelve paragraphs. Don't know exactly what sparked such a conundrum of continuation - but there you have it! Smile.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Perfect Evening

You'll be happy to know that the Christmas parade was a smashing success!

I'm aware that they did not feel compelled to make the Auburndale Christmas Parade a lead story on the national news, so I'm just letting you know.

It just so happens that this year, Centerstate Bank (where Joy works) was chosen as Grand Marshall. So our very own daughter, Alicia Joy Hawley Schreck - and "Baby Schreck"- led the parade atop an antique fire engine. She did an excellent job of throwing candy, looking lovely, greeting the crowd with the traditional princess wave.

We are even enjoying a serious cold snap here which gave us the opportunity to wear coats, sweatshirts, scarves and drink hot chocolate. Doesn't get much better than that.

John had his picture made sitting in the middle of Havendale Bvld. (The six lane boulevard that the city closed for the parade. Yes, six lanes. I told you this was big stuff! Smile.)

Afterward, everyone came to our house for a bowl of homemade vegetable soup. My brother's family joined us and we all sat around the table laughing, telling stories, teasing. By that time, I was too tired to contribute; but I did sit back with a big silly grin on my face - just loving the moment.

It was completely impromptu. Unplanned. Unscripted. Uncomplicated.

My house was messy, I didn't have saltines or soda, the glasses didn't match, we passed out paper towels for napkins and had to use a couple of folding chairs.....but Martha Stewart has never hosted a more completely perfect evening.

This morning I read the classic verses which detail the benchmarks of perfect love found in I John 4:
  • "This is love; not that we loved God but that He loved us."
  • "...since God loved us, we also ought to love one another."
  • "There is no fear in love...perfect love drives out fear."
  • "We love because He first loved us"
  • "...let us love one another for love comes from God."
And I thought about how so many people are sad during this time of year. (Oddly enough statistics support this as being an extremely depressing time for many.)

We tend to set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others. When things don't follow our "script" or when perfection eludes us, it's easy to become disappointed, frustrated or even depressed.

But the kind of love found in I John sets us free from unrealistic expectations. It also drives out fears, like:
  • fear of being overlooked
  • fear of being taken for granted
  • fear of being judged
  • fear of being taken advantage of; and so on.
Through the years, I've heard it said that fear is the opposite of faith. But after pondering these things this morning, I tend to believe that fear is the opposite of LOVE. And only pure, simple love - the kind that is dispensed by the Father - can defeat fear in our lives.

You, dear reader, are loved this day with a perfect, unrelenting love! Wrap yourself in the warmth of that truth and march into this Christmas season knowing that you can afford to love lavishly because He first loved us!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I have been guilty of seeing vultures instead of eagles!

It's true. Because of the lakes and a nearby landfill, we see huge black birds flying overhead all the time - vultures. And I despise them! Of all the birds God created, I think vultures must top the list of "Despicable Creations". (Not sure if there really is such a list but there should be! Smile.)

Each time I would see them circling, glaring, foraging, fighting - doing what gross, horrid vultures do - I would cringe, make a face and loudly declare, "I hate vultures!"

Several weeks ago, I was working in the back yard when I spotted another of the nasty scavengers. I looked up and prepared to make my declaration to no one in particular when suddenly I took a closer look.

The bird slowly circling overhead was not a vulture - it was a bald eagle! My disgust immediately changed to delight over the sighting of such a rare and majestic creature soaring on the wind current directly over our home.

A few days later, Frank spotted another one and as we compared notes, we realized that there had to be nest nearby. We began searching the skies daily, hoping to spot one of the beautiful eagles.

We also began to glean information about the eagle population in this area. (I had no idea that the little community of "Eagle Lake" near us had been named such because of a large population nesting there years ago. Duh.)

It appears that there is actually a nest due east of us. Just after sunrise, you can often catch about three of the adults flying off to the southwest (to hunt, I suppose). And if we're home, we've been privileged to spot them returning just before sunset.

Frank has always had a love for eagles and all they represent. Some of his most prized possessions are figurines, pictures and books depicting these marvelous creatures. Knowing they are around us in such abundance right now has brought us both great joy!

Now, here's the kicker.

Eagle Lake is about five miles west of us; it's been there ever since we moved here. There is also a county landfill about five miles east of us. It's been there ever since we moved here.

Apparently, Eagle Lake has been drawing eagles to its shores for decades; the landfill has been drawing vultures for just about as long.

I didn't know about the eagles but I did know about the vultures. In my mind, spotting an eagle wasn't even a possibility. So every time I saw a large winged creature in the sky, I was immediately repulsed and compelled to launch into my declaration of disgust.

Now I know that very often I was actually seeing eagles; mis-identifying them; being disgusted; and completely missing out on a moment of joy God had intended for me.

(Do you see the sermon illustration here? Smile.)

Very often God has beauty circling all around us but because we don't think that kind of joy is possible for us, we completely miss it! What a waste!

Yes, I confess to you dear reader that I have been guilty of seeing only the "vultures" and missing the "eagles" both literally and figuratively. But now that I'm better informed, I can promise you - I'm determined to watch for eagles! Join me, won't you?!

P.S. Special thanks for all the words of love and encouragement on this day of remembering. Your kindness helps me keep looking up! Smile.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It's Christmas Time

Have you put up your Christmas lights?

We just completed ours at the church yesterday. Frank actually spent several hours putting on the finishing touches; he has such a great eye for details.

The tree in our foyer must be ten feet tall and we are all about abundance. It took three ladies over an hour to get the plethora of ornaments in just the right nooks, crannies, branches, bare spots...........

I do NOT have a good eye for decorating details. So I just unpack everything, hand it out to the ones waiting, then come along and say, "OOOOOO!!" "AHHHHH!!" "Beautiful!" "Well Done!!"

Yes, I'm one of the official "Oooo" "Ahhh 'ers" in the Body of Christ!

What?! You've never before heard of this important position? I'm shocked!

Surely you're mindful of the particular people in your family or church who are naturally talented with all things decorative and creative. You know, the women who can take a milk carton, two rolls of duct tape, one Bedazzler and some twine; twenty minutes later they come back with a Tiffany Lamp?

Yeah, well. I'm NOT one of those.

But I AM able to come along; observe the effort; appreciate the creativity; acknowledge the hard work; affirm the artist! I'm an official "Oooo" "Ahhh 'er". And without my gift, the creative people have no real reason or motivation to continue.............well, creating!

It takes us all, friends! (Smile.)

We hope to make the official decorative transition of our home for the Christmas season this weekend. If you hear of an unprecedented power surge in the southeast, don't be alarmed. It will just be us - plugging in our lights!!


Monday, November 29, 2010

Tougher Than I Expected

I promise you that there will be more funny stories to come! Humor will always be part of my life and therefore, part of this blog.

But December 2nd will mark two years for us since Mom changed her address permanently. Naturally, my heart has trouble thinking of anything else right now.

Warning: today's post will be lengthy (about six minutes) and I needed a hankie while writing!

We had moved Mom to a nursing facility closer to Dad over Thanksgiving that year and thought we were settling in for a six to nine month season. Thankfully, I took time to speak to the therapist who had been working with her.

She pulled me into an office, closed the door and asked if she could speak to me as a daughter, not a nurse. I braced myself but nothing could have prepared me for what she said.

"I've worked with your mom a lot these three weeks. Her condition is deteriorating rapidly and I don't honestly think you have months. You should probably prepare yourself for her to be gone before Christmas."

That was on Friday - Mom died the following Tuesday. We will always be thankful that God put that amazing therapist in our path. Otherwise, there would have been no warning at all!

The following is the email I sent to friends and family telling about Mom's last hours here:

It's hard to believe that just two short weeks ago we received the call from Dad saying Mom "had a bad night" and suddenly I was driving as fast as possible to north FL.

For all the rest of my life I will be thankful that Frank pushed me out of the office. "Don't wait, Sheri. Go now!"

I talked with Dad by cell phone while traveling and we thought she had just run into a problem with her sugar. Some insulin and better communication with food services would surely straighten things out.

She was able to eat some lunch and Dad said that she acknowledged a young pastor (one they had mentored) who visited around 4:00. So I fully expected her to rebound.

I arrived at the nursing facility just after 6:00 and found that she wasn't responding. As I stepped to the bedside and started stroking her hair, I realized that things were coming to a close. Quickly.

I wish I could tell you that I was brave and strong. But tears dripped from my eyes as I leaned over her sweet face. "Mom, please hold on until Vonnie (my sister) can get here. She's on her way. We'll all celebrate together then, Mom. Please try to hold on just a little while." It was important that she know we wouldn't try to keep her here if the Lord was calling.

The Thompson's (District Pastors) "just happened" to stop by around 6:45. After some time, Sis. Thompson asked if it would be okay to sing for Mom. She started with "Beulah Land" and as we all sang, Mom's breathing changed ever so slightly.

I must admit to selfishly thinking, "Oh, please don't sing that. Mom will hear Heaven and she'll want to go right now."

"Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus" was next and as we sang the second verse of "Great is Thy Faithfulness", Mom just stopped breathing.

No struggle. Not even a crease in her brow. She just quit breathing here and started breathing Heaven's air.

It was truly a sacred moment that I'll never forget. She was there for my first breath and I was privileged to be there for her last.

Even as she was leaving this world, Mom was used of the Lord to minister to someone else. The Hospice nurse, chosen "randomly" to attend Mom, had a troubled teenage son. He was going the next day to some rehabilitation program called Teen Challenge and she was scared about what he would experience. (Mom and Dad worked two years for Teen Challenge and supported the ministry over forty years.)

Dad was able to spend the afternoon explaining the program and assuring this mother that her son was going to the best help available.

After Mom passed, the nurse slipped over to Sis. Thompson and said, "That was the most beautiful death I've ever experienced. You could tell that the Lord Himself came in to take her home."

Her memorial service was perfect, thanks to the congregation of Carmel Assembly of God. Pastor Tommy and his team cared for us, watching over every detail. Frank and Chris both spoke. The girls sang "My Tribute/How Great Thou Art", John played piano and Frank sang "It Is Well". Rev. Thompson concluded the service with a message of hope.

Our theology with this final story is a bit questionable - but bear with me. If you knew Mom, you'll fully agree with our thinking.

The burial site Dad had chosen was in a rural area right next to a large pasture. As we feared, the curious cows in that pasture lined the fence to check out all the "visitors".

They observed in perfect silence until the pastor said his final, "Amen." At that exact moment, one cow came into agreement with a LOUD "Mooooooooo!"

We all looked up, startled, and began to laugh just the way Mom would have!

That evening our family decided that Mom had probably convinced some poor, unsuspecting angel to kick the cow at just the right moment. The kids wondered if God has a "time out" corner in Heaven.

Yep, I told you the theology is questionable. But that would be just like my little mama who loved laughter so much. Her philosophy was that laughter trumps tears every time.

And so it does, Mom. So it does.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A (Real) Family Portrait

Family is a messy experiment - even the BEST ones!

I know that you may have expected a lovely little treatise on the joy and wonder of celebrating the picturesque "Norman Rockwell" Thanksgiving. But our family is composed of PEOPLE. And we are people that Norman Rockwell never met! Smile.

Holidays (for us) have never looked quite like the pictures that he and Currier & Ives made popular in the American mindset. And our gatherings as adults have never seemed to really measure up to the memories we've immortalized from our own childhoods.

I see you smiling - you've attended that same family celebration. The celebration that finds you getting back in the car with your spouse and saying, "We are the only normal ones in this whole bunch!" Smile.

Yep, that's family!

I once saw a plaque with the simple statement, "Friends are our chosen family." But I strongly disagree with that premise.

Please understand, Frank and I believe in the power and importance of friendships. We have invested heavily in developing lifetime friends that have stood by us through thick and thin. But in all of those relationships, there is the possibility of "stepping back" periodically; giving one another space.

With family - there's no stepping back. You gotta deal with your mess! (That's a southern phrase and I'm not real sure how to translate it to other dialects. But I think you get my drift.)

And honestly, I think this is part of God's design for us all.

Right now we are staying with our brother Terry and his wife Pam. Our family invaded their NC home Tuesday night and they are stuck with us until Friday.

Their girls (Ashley and Kayley) have been displaced, exchanging their bedrooms for a couch and a pallet. We've seriously interrupted their schedule, dirtied their linens, crowded their driveway, overrun their entertainment plans.

But that's family at Thanksgiving!

"Where ARE you going with this, Sheri?"

I believe that God created family to help us become like His son.

See, none of my natural tendencies are like Jesus. I can be quite selfish and often act on that selfishness. But walking with family helps me recognize this problem and forces me to deal with it.

When selfishness dies, a giving heart grows!

I'm just addressing generalities in an attempt to say, "It's okay if your family isn't perfect - neither is mine. But we're all working on loving one another anyway!!"

Peter gave me great encouragement regarding this. He says -
  • live in harmony
  • be sympathetic
  • love as brothers
  • be compassionate and humble so that-
You may inherit blessing!!
(I Peter 3:8-9)

Now there's something to be giving thanks about! Smile.

Hopefully, you'll get a moment to quiet your own heart and ponder this truth today. And in the midst of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, boisterous nieces and nephews you'll be encouraged to know, "We may not look like Norman Rockwell's clan. But we all come from the same DNA thread and we're loving each other in spite of ourselves. And that's REAL!"

Blessings to you and yours on this Thanksgiving Day!

Monday, November 22, 2010

True Story

Thanksgiving is DEFINITELY in the air - I'm sure that I smell turkey already!

(If you've ever lived near a poultry farm, that statement brings to mind a w-h-o-l-e different smell, I know! One poultry farmer told us that he stepped out on his porch every morning, breathed in a deep whiff of the "fowl" air - pun totally intended - and said to himself, "Smell that money!!" Smile.)

I'm talking about the fragrance of an oven-roasted, perfectly seasoned, beautifully browned bird sitting on a holiday platter surrounded by green celery leaves and cranberries or crab apples......... Yummmmm!

Tomorrow we leave for North Carolina; we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving with Frank's family. Mom Hawley is the quintessential southern belle - in every sense of the phrase - and she makes a turkey that is unbelievable! (No pressure, Mom!)

Today, however, I must tell you a funny story from this weekend.

Joyce Meyer was in Tampa and a few of us pooled our resources in order to stay there and attend the conference. It was truly an amazing three days packed with teaching that I needed to hear. She spoke on fear, guilt, worry and insecurity. Powerful Instruction!!

If you've never attended one of her conferences, you should make the effort to do so. You'll definitely come away encouraged.

This particular conference was held in the St. Pete Times Forum which is actually an ice hockey arena. Let me tell you, hot flashes were NOT a problem there. After the first service, we were packing blankets along with our Bibles and notebooks!

Because I'm not an avid sports fan, I was unprepared for just how CLOSE those seats are. Joyce Meyer's conference was free but I guess that when hockey fans are willing to pay big money to sit in each of those seats, the designers feel it best to really pack 'em in there.

Even the people sitting behind and in front of us were only inches away. Do you get the feeling I'm telling you it was crowded?

Well, shortly before the service began, I became aware that the woman sitting behind me was having serious trouble with her foot.

"How did you know that, Sheri?"

I know it because her sizable extremity was resting on the back of my arena chair!!

I couldn't glance over my right shoulder without being accosted with the sight of her rather long toe nails! Now, I've already confessed that I'm not a regular attender of sporting events. But I'm pretty sure that utilizing your neighbor's chair as a foot rest is bad sportsmanship not to mention poor etiquette! Smile.

Well, I wish I could tell you that this affront was the worst of the situation - but oh no! There's more!!

It seems that people in such settings talk more loudly because of the arena noise and tend to forget that those sitting nearby are forced to become part of the conversation whether they wish to or NOT!

This poor woman has apparently suffered greatly because of her Sasquatch-like condition! Finding shoes that fit is hard enough but finding ones that also offer support is apparently impossible.

(At this point in her story, she engaged in vigorous massaging of said foot which occasionally caused her to brush the back of my hair with her hand!)

I tried shifting in my seat to draw her attention to the fact that she was not in the arena ALONE!!

Unfortunately, she mistook my movement to indicate that perhaps I was interested in her situation and would appreciate further information. So she raised her voice and launched into a detailed description of the various orthotics she has attempted to use in her quest for podiatry comfort! (Can you say, enough already?! Smile.)

I now know more about Dr. Scholl's and his associates than any consumer ever should!!

"Please, tell us that's all," you may be saying!

Oh, no. There's more!

The crowning moment came when mid-massage the lady realized that it had been a while since her last pedicure.............

She proceeded to clean her toe nail while holding it mere inches from my head!!

Well, that was it for me! I jumped up and only barely managed to avoid the reflex action of brushing off the back of my hair!! EEEWWWWWW!!!

(You can not make up stuff this funny - no matter how hard you may try! Smile.)

My conference buddies found the whole situation hilarious and offered no sympathy at all!

(Just how many exclamation points can one use in a single blog post?!!! Smile.)

Fortunately for me, the woman became engrossed in the service and finally suspended all foot-focused activity!

Other than that - it was a great evening! LOL

Hope my experience has brought you a smile; and perhaps even some important orthodic information!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Is it this difficult for any other families to plan for Thanksgiving and Christmas?!

Frank and I have always lived far away from family. When we first married we were ten hours from mine and six from his. Yes, this was tough but it was part of God's plan forcing he and I to become a family of our own. (That's why we are so careful to give Joy and John space; tightrope walking for sure. Smile.)

Holidays then were pretty simple. Thanksgiving with the Hawleys, Christmas with the Burkes. Next year, switch. When my sister married, her family set up the same pattern so we were always able to be together for at least one of the two.

Now? Not so simple!

Frank and I have added relatives in New York (the Schrecks.) All of our children now have their own job schedules that must be considered. Vonnie and Chris' children are growing up. Travel isn't as easy as it used to be when you we just threw kids in the back of the car, gave them snacks, a new coloring book, their pillow and blanket, and the promise that when they woke up we'd be with Mema and Papaw!

While Frank and I and the girls traveled as evangelists, we tried to collect traditions/ideas that helped other families navigate the difficult waters of "Long Distance Family-ing".

I'd love to hear your ideas and solutions on this topic! I fully believe that there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors! Smile.

Also, a big thank you to each of you who have so graciously commented on facebook or here concerning my recent posts about Mom. "Joy shared is multiplied. Sorrow shared is divided." Totally true!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Memory Day

I had mentioned that I would probably feel compelled to share some thoughts with you about the season of my life just before losing Mom. This is one of those days.

Mom had been sick for twelve years with multiple myloma and there had been many rough patches through those years trying to adjust her treatment meds. But we were totally unprepared two years ago when Mom suddenly became confused and somewhat incoherent.

We got her checked in to the hospital in Pensacola for observation and were given a diagnosis of 6-9 months. Unfortunately, the diagnosis was wrong. Mom passed away four short weeks later! Shock I can't describe.

The following is part of an email I sent out to family and friends (Nov., 2008) just after receiving confirmation that she had four inoperable brain tumors. While this was a devastating time, as you can imagine, there was still humor to be found:

Dad was released from the hospital last Wednesday the 12th and decided to just stay in Mom's room sleeping on a cot. I flew back to Pensacola on Saturday morning and had a precious time with Mom by myself while Dad and my brother went to a church service Sunday.

The Lord gave me two scriptures in Isaiah 42 that assured me He is fully aware of Mom and her needs. I spent the week praying over her - "This is my servant, my anointed one" and "I will make the rough places smooth before her. I will not forsake her."

Every time that I would bend close to Mom and read these two verses, she would nod and smile and even give an "Amen" or an "um hmmmmm." Her ability to communicate is diminishing. It's so hard to have my articulate, wordsmith mother reduced to "Uh Huh" (yes) and "Un uh" (no).

Moving her from the hospital to the rehab center was much harder than we had anticipated. Although we did our best to explain the move to Mom, it was apparent from the look in her eyes that she was frightened and didn't fully understand.

Dad wept openly because he realized that sleeping in her room on the cot was the last evening they would spend together. And although the EMS workers tried to be empathetic, no one ever treats your mom the way you would.

Of course, Mom's gift to us has always been humor and right in the middle of all this we experienced a funny story. I called last night to speak to Mom and a nurse graciously ran to her room to hold the phone to Mom's ear.

We "talked" briefly, I prayed, then said good-bye rather loudly so the nurse would know I was finished. But I could still hear Mom breathing.

"Mom, you're still there aren't you?"
"Uh Huh."
"The nurse doesn't know we're finished, does she?"
"Un Uh."
"You're laughing at her, aren't you?!"
"Uh Huh!!" (Which was said with such energy that I knew Mom really WAS laughing in her heart.)

God proves His faithfulness. He made the rough places smooth for her. May the same be true for you today, dear reader!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Chance


This morning it is too cool in Florida for me to sit outside on my shaded patio! So, I've opted to open the sliding glass door in the dining room and enjoy the refreshing breezes from a more sheltered spot.

But while I was outside, assessing the possibility of being on the the patio, I discovered a kiss from heaven. I've kept a beautiful Christmas cactus that was sent to us for Mom's service by Helen. It has flourished incredibly, even under my dubious care.

Months ago, an incredible wind-burst knocked it off the table I've had it on all this time. The main plant was unharmed but a small piece had broken off. I couldn't bring myself to throw it away; so I placed it in water hoping for...........well, I don't really know for what.

The pitiful piece of cactus which was really quite unattractive, "graced" my kitchen counter for weeks. I wish I had a dime for every time I considered throwing it out. Smile.

After some time, I noticed that the piece broken from the Christmas cactus had sprouted roots. Soooo I took a chance and planted it. This time I didn't expect anything!

Sticking the piece in soil was simply a delay tactic - Frank handles the tossing of all non-growing, brownish dead plants around our place. Throwing it away would become his job and I would be absolved.

But much to our surprise, it continued to stay green and actually seemed to grow a little over the summer.

This morning when I went out to check on our plants and flowers, a breath caught in my throat. That little piece of worthless cactus is doing its best to produce flowers!

In fact, it appears that it will beat the main cactus in the race of heralding this Christmas season FIRST with the gorgeous red blossoms unique to these plants. (If you're unfamiliar with this type of plant, please google it. Really quite fabulous!)

What should have gone in the trash a long time ago, will now add beauty to our lives because we took a moment and gave it a chance!

Hmmmmmmm! Any broken pieces or people around you today? Maybe we should all take a moment in the coming rush of Thanksgiving and Christmas to give someone another chance. Who knows what beauty they will bring to our lives one day!

Just a thought!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Invisible Evidence

Most readers for Embrace the Grace know that although I am an ordained minister, I seldom ever use this venue for "sermonesque" writing. However............... What I read this morning gave me such encouragement that I couldn't possibly keep it just for myself!

For personal devotions I like to use assigned reading like a One Year Bible or the Chronological Bible. That way when I happen to read a timely scripture that applies to my situation right now, I know it's from the Lord and not a message I've fabricated. Anyway........

This morning I read: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." And my first response was - "Yeah, I know. And I'm trying, Lord. I'm really trying!" (Thank you for not being shocked nor appalled by this confession of faithlessness. Smile.)

Out of habit I read on through Hebrews 11. And slowly I began to be aware of how many times "sight" and "visible" and "looking" and "saw" and other such words are used in those few short verses.

That's when I thought of all those crime scene shows that are so popular now. ("What?! Where is she going?" you ask. Stick with me, this is good stuff!) I can't watch those shows because they're just too realistic for me. But Frank and the girls tell me about different episodes all the time.

It seems that a crime takes place and this team swoops in to investigate and you (the viewer) are carried along vicariously with them over the next hour as they solve the seemingly unsolvable mystery of how the crime was committed. (Long sentence - short synopsis. Smile.)

I've been told that the best shows are those with star characters who have an uncanny ability to spot the evidence that everyone else overlooks. (Personally, I've always thought Colombo was the very best at this - right by himself and without a team. I couldn't understand why Peter Falk was never given a series. But what do I know, I'm 52?!)

So, the key point with these shows is that success comes to those with eyes to see evidence that is invisible to everyone else! (Are you starting to s.e.e. the sermon here?)

The answer is there right from the start of the show, they just haven't seen it yet.

So actually, the format for C.S.I. comes straight from the life of Abraham: he started walking toward his "answer" even though at the start, he couldn't begin to see where he was going nor how he would get there.

I took a moment to list major categories of miracles we've experienced in our own family. Miracles involving everything from health to clothing to vehicles to housing! The list was extensive!! And with each miracle that I recounted, my faith grew some more regarding the issue that currently seems impossible in my life.

While writing to you today, I see absolutely no clues indicating a way for this miracle to take place - the solution is currently invisible. But God knew that I needed to choose to look with eyes that see. I need to review evidence that points to the truth - He is faithful; I can trust Him!

My miracle answer is here; I just haven't seen it yet.

(This is where a lot of church people would be tempted to shout out, "AMEN!" Smile.)

I'd love to hear about your "Miracle List" once you've compiled it. Hope you have a wonderful day looking around with eyes that see the evidence that is invisible to everyone else!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Musical Memory

Frank and I were treated to a marvelous gift on Saturday evening. A young man in our church gave us tickets for an event called "Symphony and Sunset" held at Bok Tower and Gardens in Lake Wales.

Hundreds of people annually converge on this beautiful garden spot bringing all their favorite picnic items. They then enjoy a fabulous concert presentation by the Orlando Symphony with the added bonus of music performed on the Bok Tower Carillon. An absolutely resplendent event!

This was our first time to attend and I hope it won't be our last. We packed a lovely dinner in our special Longaberger picnic basket. (A gift from the choir I directed in Smithfield, NC.) Frank wisely packed a blanket and some sweatshirts because he was a boy scout and thinks of these things. He even made sure we had a thermos of hot tea and each of our favorite china cups! (Collective "Awwww!")

Because it is so cold in FL right now (not that anyone is complaining, mind you) it ended up being a great night to pull our lawn chairs close together, snuggle under the blanket, hold hands and listen to fabulous music! (Maybe I should have saved the collective awwww for here.) (And what's up with all these parenthesis side notes today?! Smile.)

However, the concert wasn't my main thought for today. Actually, several pieces of music performed Saturday night were ones Mom had introduced to me - she loved all sorts of music. When they played the theme from "Love Story," it brought back a very funny memory.

While I was growing up, our particular church group frowned on attending movies of any sort. This was kind of rough on Mom because her childhood had revolved around attending the new releases every single Saturday in downtown Pensacola. She knew all the great actors, actresses, their spouses, their children, their top roles.........

She always cooperated with the unwritten policy but once in a while it caused a real struggle in her heart - like this time:

When the highly acclaimed movie "Love Story" finally was to be shown on television, Mom was terribly disappointed to discover that it would be shown on a Sunday night not on Friday night. We always had church on Sunday night. So even though she had waited patiently for it to come to TV, she was still going to miss it because what pastor's wife can skip service just to watch television?! AGGGHHHH!!!

I was fourteen at the time and pleaded with her to let me stay home just this once so I could experience the wonder of learning why "love means never having to say you're sorry!" (For all you young readers, that's a quote from the movie.)

Finally, Mom looked at me with her big brown eyes that knew all things, "Are you telling me you don't feel well?"

"No Ma'am. I feel okay. I just want to stay home and watch the movie, Puh-leeeeaaase!"

She leveled her gaze at me again and slowly repeated, "Sheri, aren't you telling me you need to stay home because you don't feel so good?!!!"

Finally the light dawned!

"Oh! Oh, yeah! Yes ma'am, I would like to stay home because I don't feel so good." Wink. Wink.

Mom continued, "Alright. I'll let you stay home this time. And I hope you don't get scared here. All alone! By yourself! With no one around; at all!!"

My eyes grew wide. "Mom, if I did get scared what would you want me to do?"

She pondered this for all of a split second. "I suppose that if you really got frightened, you could always call the church and ask the usher to come get me. Then I would have to come home to see about you."

All my family left for church and I was home alone. Surprisingly, at about the same time the ushers would have gone to the church office to count offering, our dogs started barking at some noise. I felt it best to call and ask that Mom come home right away. Which she did.

You know the rest.

Mom and I snuggled on the old couch in the den, ate popcorn, giggled about our "wicked scheme" and prayed fervently that service would run long so we wouldn't miss the end of the movie! (Was that a conflict of interest?! Smile.)

And even at fourteen I knew the really big deal wasn't the movie, it was the memory Mom and I were making that mattered. (I seldom ever hear that theme music without thinking back to that night and smiling to myself.)

Just as the final credits began to roll, we saw headlights turning in the drive. I dashed to my bedroom to avoid any questions; Mom flipped off the TV and headed to the kitchen to make a sandwich for Dad. Food was always a great distraction.

Yep, that was my mama. I told you she was a wild one! Smile.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pet Peeve - Powerful Promise

Don't you just hate taking the time to clean off a counter or dresser only to turn around and discover that someone used your newly cleaned-off area for depositing their keys and wallet or their computer bag or (insult to injury) their dirty socks?!!! (Those would be on the dresser of course.)

Yeah, it's one of my pet peeves. My entire family could complete this sentence, "I did NOT clear this off just for you to clutter it again!" (Usually said with copious amounts of exaggerated sighing and occasionally even some spitting. Smile.)

We heard a speaker last night say that living with clutter will take two years off your life. No joke. Of course, he also said that being married adds nine years and being a woman adds ten! Mark one up for married women.

So why a tirade on clean counters this morning?

Because while I was clearing my dresser yesterday, Ah-gain; the Lord took that moment to whisper a truth to me.

Many of us work diligently to clear spiritual clutter from our lives: unforgiveness, selfishness, bitterness,........... We step back from the place of prayer and sigh contentedly, "Ah, all clear. Thank you, Lord. This feels wonderful!"

Then before we know it, we discover that wonderfully clear spot has been filled ah-gain! Someone hurts our feelings, we get overlooked, a wound is reopened, a disappointment parks on the open place in our heart. We've all experienced it.

In our lives, we can't just clear that spot - we have to intentionally replace the clutter with something better.

I love the story of Obed (Old Testament, obviously). King David needed a temporary storage place for the Ark of the Covenant. Obed and his family made room and the Ark was dropped off at their home. (Side note: the Ark always represented the Presence of God.) They cleared a place in their tiny home for this huge "box".

The result? Blessings started pouring out on their entire family! They had intentionally cleared room for God in their lives. And He filled that place with His Presence. Object lesson, extraordinaire!

Okay, I get the message. I'm cleaning some spiritual clutter today and making room for His Presence. This powerful promise is too perfect to miss!

Just a little something for you and I to ponder this weekend as we stand guard over our clean counters and dressers! Smile.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Two Posts

Today will actually have two posts in one. Two topics, that is.

Topic One: Anticipation

I woke up yesterday with an unusually heightened sense of anticipation and excitement. (Rest assured, this is not a normal state of being on Mondays. I don't care how many sunrises one may enjoy. Smile.)

Around lunch time, a friend dropped by our offices with a most precious presentation: a piece of jewelry and an intricate silver box. She explained that the two items had been passed to her from her grandmother and her great-grandmother and that now she wanted to give them to us!

Just exactly how does one merit such a lavish display of love?

Frank and I were completely overwhelmed! Trinkets and treasures are great but nothing compares to a gift that has sentimental value. Our tears (shed after the friend left) were the only way we could process this "Gift of the Magi".

I thought perhaps her visit was the reason for my feeling of anticipation. But, no. There was more to come.

You see, another friend of ours has been going through an especially horrendous time of difficulty. She has worked extremely hard keeping: her faith alive; her outlook positive; her family together....... In fact, I told one person that this lady has been moving a mountain one teaspoonful at a time! And that's the truth.

She recently shared with me that no matter how she worked (and she has been working) she just couldn't make ends meet. Her budget showed a definite shortfall occurring every month. We began to pray for a miracle.

On Sunday, I found out about something that could change her situation to not only make ends meet - they would occasionally overlap! It wasn't possible for us to get together then because (you guessed it) she was working. So I had to wait almost all day for her to come by the office and hear our idea.

The closer time got to our appointment, the more excited I became. This was going to be an answer to prayer and I could hardly wait to see her face. At one point I just had to do a quiet little squeal and tap my feet under my desk.

It was at that moment I felt the Lord whisper to my heart, "Imagine how excited I get knowing blessings are just around the corner for each of my children!"

Here we are (His children) plodding along, able to see only the circumstances; often overwhelmed with the difficulty itself. And the whole time God is saying, "I know the plans I have for you. Don't grow weary of doing the right thing! Reward is coming!! Look up! I have this under control!!!"

Can you see me smiling down here in central FL?!

Needless to say, when my friend came by and I shared the idea with her, she was ecstatic! It was a truly resplendent moment!!

Now, I said to you that this is a two-topic post. So....

Topic Two: Journey

Today marks twenty-three months since my precious mom went to Heaven. In many ways it seems like twenty-three days. And I find myself concerned because typically people move away from marking things by months after the two year period.

But the truth is, I think of Mom every day. And the loss is still very tangible; I just don't voice it as often. Her vacancy will never be filled. Just......never. And tears still come pretty easily. I don't want to stop marking her passing. Kind of vulnerable here.

Yet, I also know that time travels on and I have no choice but to keep up with the journey. God orders our footsteps for several reasons. (Sad smile.)

So if you dear readers will indulge me, I'll probably include a few mentions of her going-home time this month. Believe it or not, a few of the stories will actually be pretty funny. Mom and I shared the same warped sense of humor! Besides, she would thoroughly enjoy knowing that her name is recurring on the World Wide Web.

Hope your journey is including some joyful anticipation!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fabulous Fall!

Oh my goodness, how we miss fall, living in Florida!

Don't get me wrong, Florida has its seasons too:
  • There's love bug season - the three weeks during which small black bugs fly around in massive swarms causing serious nastiness by splattering themselves on car windshields and grills. This actually occurs twice annually; oh joy!
  • Then we have a rainy season. Nearly every afternoon at 4:00 you know to reach for your umbrella. (Only to remember that you left it where you were yesterday at four o'clock!)
  • We have a hot season of course. And once that subsides, there is a hotter season!
  • And don't forget the all important tourist season! We're told that for every 85 tourists who visit FL, one job is created. So, to all our tourist friends I'd like to say, "Come on down!" Smile.
Yes, we have seasons; they just aren't exactly like the ones we enjoyed while living in North Carolina. And this morning I'm very thankful that it's a little cooler because this is the time of year that Frank seems to miss his home state the most.

When you spend the first eighteen years of your life experiencing crisp, cool air in October and all the fun activities that accompany fall, I guess your biological adjusters are adjusted to accept such as acceptable and anything else feels......well, unacceptable! (Did you understand all that highly technical, scientific jargon?! Smile.)

We've always had special places where we love taking walks; no matter where we've lived. And while in the mountains, that place was a short trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you've ever been privileged to travel the Parkway, you know how beautiful it is. Fall had to be our favorite time for being outdoors.

All the reds, golds, yellows looked like a patchwork quilt blanketing the mountainsides. And invariably someone would be burning leaves. We'd snuggle into the warmth of our jackets. We would savor the bright red of our little girls' cheeks and rub their tiny, cold fingers against our own faces.

Fall signaled the time for hot apple cider with Mullins seasoning, chili, and vegetable beef soup. Wardrobe switches - which took an entire weekend when the girls were little; involving hired help! Hay rides, trips through the corn maze and always a visit to Bellamy farms for "Heritage Weekend".

Joy brought back leaves for us when she and John visited family in New York a few weeks ago. My favorite leaves are still the red maples. (We've planted a FL red maple in our yard but it isn't quite the same. Sigh.)

I suppose that all this fall musing must surely bring me back to a scripture I've pondered a lot through the years: "Godliness with contentment brings great gain."

No sense being unhappy about not getting to experience fall firsthand this year. Life is full of "seasons" too and each one must be embraced by choice.

Yep, I miss NC fall weather - no two ways around it! But contentment is my choice today. (And this little "cold snap" certainly does help.)

If you happen to be a reader who is blessed to be smack in the middle of fabulous fall weather this weekend, take a moment to step outside and enjoy some for Frank and me. Thanks!

We'll be sure to return the favor in January. Smile.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Outfit Doesn't Matter

Such a shocking reality check took place this afternoon - and I'm sure you will enjoy it!

Meagan (our youngest daughter) teaches K-4 at a pre-school here in Winter Haven. Today, I ran by to borrow her car for a while. She was on the playground with her class when I arrived and she called me to come over. So I quickly headed across the parking lot to meet her little ones.

Now, most of you will remember the horrors I've periodically described about my life as a fashion-challenged woman. But I actually felt pretty good about what I had worn to work today.

(The problem reached epic proportions last week at the conference where I was the guest speaker. They had a great t-shirt designed specifically for their event and the leadership decided to wear the shirts with jeans for the final meeting. I worked in my hotel room for almost an hour trying to create an outfit composed of jeans and a t-shirt that made me feel:
  • confident enough to speak;
  • camouflaged enough to not jiggle;
  • conformed to the chosen uniform.
I failed miserably and finally fell exhausted into bed after determining to just wear what the girls had originally selected for me. Sigh.)

Back to the original story.

When Meagan called, I proceeded to crisply "priss" (southern term meaning: to walk as though you think you are cuter than you probably actually are) across the parking lot. I was wearing brown capris, a green top and little sandals that just brought the whole thing together. It's an outfit that makes me feel quite young and contemporary; if I do say so. That's when it happened.

(Cue scripture quotation: "Pride goes before a fall!" Smile.)

An adorable little guy with huge blue eyes and a brunette bowl cut stood pulling on the chain link fence. He spotted me coming across the parking lot and his face lit up like Christmas which of course made my heart soar. He started waving excitedly and calling out-

(Wait for it.............)


I stopped dead in my tracks. The tiny guy thought I looked like his grandmother!!

Yes, I know that technically I am already a grandma since Joy and John are now six months pregnant. But don't you get an adjustment period for becoming accustomed to the position of aged maternal figure - especially one recognized as such by the general public at large?!!!

I'm just saying! Thanks for listening.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Guest Writer

Dear Readers,

Occasionally people come into our lives and offer challenge and encouragement at the same time. The following post which I’m delighted to share with you is actually written by our Young Adults Pastor, Amanda Bock. Though very young, she is both wise and insightful, which will become apparent to you as you read this post from her blog, “Fragments.” (I know, I know. Another run-on sentence. I’m working on it. Smile.)


As I write this, the clock just turned from 12:59 to 1:00 am. Sleep is evading me tonight. My overactive and generally restless mind just won’t stop. Many of us have brains like this and they function a bit like toddlers: it’s best to keep them occupied with sensible things or they will inevitably bring unimaginable destruction and havoc.

Tonight, my mind is occupied with surveying the horizon for what God is doing. What is He doing in the world? In the Church? In our church? In me…?

There is one element that I know for certain: He is calling His people to a new level of depth and spiritual reality. Nearly every person I know who is “out on the edge” of the move of God is (and has been) sensing this. It has happened in waves all throughout history and I firmly believe we are standing at the surging of the next wave. God is cranking open the spirits of those who make Him their first priority. He is making room for more faith, more expectation, more growth…more sacrifice. And the Church as a whole is growing discontent (a very good thing). We are crying out for “more”.

Today, though, I realized something very important through a very practical situation…

My apartment is 600 square feet. It’s small. But it’s all I need. It’s just me here. (And the occasional group of 15 or so young adults huddled in my living room.) But, when I returned from Arizona after my grandmother passed away, I moved my TV from the living room to my bedroom because I was having trouble sleeping. I needed some “white noise” to drown out my thoughts long enough for me to nod off.

However, somehow, the rest of my activities followed and my bedroom became the “hub” of my house. The chair in my room was now my prayer chair, dinner table, phone booth and the seat of honor for my guests. And in the last two and half months, my apartment went from 600 to 100 square feet.

For the first time in 18 months, my apartment felt small. And I didn’t know why! I didn’t realize I was living in my bedroom! These past two weeks, I started asking the Lord when I would be able to move into a house. I even browsed local “For Sale” homes! I had no idea why the sudden urge to have “more”. Until today, when I became so convicted about not using all the space I have.

And then, the spiritual correlation hit home. I’ve been asking, “God, enlarge my territory.” “God, use me more!” “God show me more of You!” “God, give me more to give away!” “God…” “God…” “God…”

But, am I really using all the space I have? All the resources I have? Walking in the knowledge I already have of Him? Using all the gifts I have? To the fullest?...Or have I become so familiar with all of those (and so tired of using things like “patience” or “long-suffering” or “sacrificial love”) that I want something new for novelty sake?

God’s not interested in my amusement. He’s interested in my faithfulness and obedience. He’s watching to see what I do with what I’m given. And, to be honest, at times I can be enough of a selfish brat to behave as if I have “nothing”.

I once saw a documentary on lottery winners. Did you know that the vast majority of these people suffer immense devastation in their lives after the big win? Divorce, drug addiction, financial ruin, death. Because they didn’t know how to manage “little” before “much” was dumped into their lives.

As I stand at the edge of what God is doing, I pray that I am found faithful with “little”. I want to be a workman trusted and approved, handling even the “smallest” things with great care and integrity. Making use of every resource He gives me.

He will enlarge our territory. He will bring more. For His beloved people, He always has. He has given His Word to those who rejected it. Extended His love to those who mocked Him. Provided richly for those who squandered. The “more” of Him will come. I must get busy with the “now” before this moment has passed…

“Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people). Making the most of the time [buying up every opportunity], because the days are evil. Therefore do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is.” Eph. 5:15-17 AMP

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thank Heaven for Puffs

Being sick really stinks, doesn't it?!

Saturday my throat started talking to me (which I thought was odd.) Sunday morning I sounded like a famous bass singer with a southern gospel group. By Monday mid-morning I was carrying around a box of tissues! Finally I gave up and came home to try and recover.

May I say to the creators of Nyquil that I appreciate the necessity of the alcohol level in their product but couldn't they have made it taste a little bit better and burn a little less?!!!!

And don't you hate how when you're sick every move requires twice the energy while yielding half the results?

There are no brilliant, creative nor otherwise post-worthy thoughts running through my congested, drug-dribbled (see, I told you) head!

So, instead of trying to write today I'm going to opt to give in to this sickness; slather my bulbous red nose with vaseline; cuddle up to my Puffs tissue box; take one more monster vitamin C pill; fall back over sideways on the couch for a little while and hopefully leave you dear readers with a smile.

Here's to quick recoveries and good-natured laughter at another's expense!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Quite Simply - A Miracle

(Warning: this is a very looooong post and will be best enjoyed with a leisurely cup of hot tea or coffee.)

Our family has been blessed to experience many "Red Sea" moments. You know, times when the impossible situation you are facing can only be remedied by divine intervention. This is a recording of one such miracle; only this one was not just for the Hawley family - it involved an entire church!

In 2007, Frank was driving an older model station wagon which we affectionately referred to as "the green hornet". Now, this car had been provided for us at a much needed moment and we were grateful. But the nursing along that it required was reaching epic proportions.

That summer Meagan came to me in the kitchen one day and said, "Mom, I think we should mention to the board that Dad really needs a newer car to drive. If they knew how bad the green hornet is getting, they would want to do something. Pastor appreciation day would be a great time." (I've spoken often of the wonderful people we serve and our leadership are indeed people of lavish care!)

"Oh goodness no, Honey!" I was surprised by Meagan's boldness. "God would have to lay that on someone's heart. It wouldn't be right for US to present such an idea."

"Well then, I'm gonna pray!" (Somehow the babies in most families aren't hampered in their thinking by conventional protocol.)

I smiled the older, wiser smile of experience and responded, "Okay, Honey. You do that."

[Insert extra information: We have had the privilege of talking with others involved in this miracle story and gleaned a basic time line from multiple perspectives.]

Fast forward several weeks to the kitchen of a family in our church. Don came down the stairs and said to his wife Sharon, "I had the funniest dream last night."

Because he seldom ever remembered dreams, Sharon was all ears.

"I dreamed that we gave the Hawleys a new vehicle."

"Wouldn't that be wonderful. But it certainly would have to be a God-thing; heaven knows we don't have such resources!" Sharon was amused then went on with breakfast preparations; dream forgotten.

But Don couldn't get the dream off his mind. So, he shared it with a couple of our board members next time they were together.

Some conversation ensued and the dream became a spark. The spark caught some Holy Spirit oxygen and became a flame. The board as a whole got excited about the possibility of doing something that big and made a decision - they would present it to the congregation and see what happened.

[Insert Info: Our congregation is not large, nor do we have any wealthy families. They are simply honest, hard-working people with very large hearts! Pastor Appreciation Day was always acknowledged - but this was on a whole new level.]

The next Sunday, our family was asked to not come into the auditorium until we were called for. Odd, but okay.

We had no idea what was going on but God was about to add kerosene to the flame. The board asked Don to share his dream and idea. Each individual was asked to prayerfully consider what they could contribute to the amount the board was hoping to raise. And suddenly the flickering flame became a raging fire of possibility!

Twice more over the next few weeks, we were asked to wait in the offices until called for. By this time we knew something was afoot but no one was volunteering any information. None of the leadership, none of our staff, not one teenager, not a child slipped even once! It was as though everyone would leave the service and simply forget what was happening.

But behind the scenes, God was orchestrating a truly incredible miracle!

We were later told that no one family gave a large offering. It was simply a pulling together of the resources of every single person in the church. People began to receive unexpected income; several pledged; a few sold things they hadn't been able to sell; and so on. But the money began to slowly be gathered

Two weeks before Pastor Appreciation Day, one of our board members spotted a potential vehicle on a lot in town. When he approached the salesman with the story of what was taking place, the salesman was amused but knew this vehicle was no where near what the church was raising.

Bill asked him to pitch it to the manager anyway - just in case. To everyone's surprise, the manager agreed to drop the price of the vehicle by $8,000 in order to match what the church now had. Several came to check out the car and it was decided that this was indeed the one they wanted!

By this time, people all over our community were hearing of the miracle that was taking place at Garden Grove Church.

One member was even approached in Wal-mart by a stranger. "I'm sorry to bother you," she said. "I couldn't help but overhear your phone conversation." (The member had been excitedly giving an update report to her sister over the phone.) "I think what you folks are doing for your pastor is just wonderful. It gives me hope about church people."

On the morning of Pastor Appreciation Day, our church was packed to the point of standing room only and the air in the auditorium was electric!

Frank preached but we had already been warned that no one would really hear what he was saying. They were all awaiting the end of the service when a special presentation would be made.

The board had asked Don to serve as spokesman. Our staff was recognized and blessed. Then we were called to the platform and presented with a lovely card containing a Wal-mart gift card for $300.00.

"You all are on the road all the time and we wanted to help with some of your gas expenses," we were told. "Oh, thank you. Thank you so much," it really was a generous gift in our thinking. Time for lunch.

Don looked out at the sea of beaming faces and said simply, "Alright Garden Grove. You know what to do."

Without a single word or whisper; no back ground music at all; the entire congregation quickly vacated the room and left us standing on the platform looking at the empty chairs!

In just a minute a signal came from the foyer and Don said, "Okay, Hawley family. Let's go."

We followed obediently and were led to the parking lot where the entire congregation was gathered. When we came through the doors, they parted to reveal a beautiful Chevy Tahoe adorned with a huge red velvet bow!

Tears were flowing, cameras were clicking, applause and shouts of praise to the Lord were heard all around.

We were standing together in a MIRACLE MOMENT!!

And truth be known, it wasn't even about the pastors or our family or any one individual. It was really about God showing His darling people what happens when everyone pulls together and believes for the impossible to become possible.

It was quite simply one of the most amazing moments of our lives! We were all in shock as the keys were handed over and we climbed in for a look at our beautiful new vehicle. This was truly beyond our wildest imaginings.

One member was videoing the proceedings and on the tape you can hear someone still sobbing once everyone had moved into the fellowship hall for lunch.

It was Meagan.

She slipped up behind me in the line and whispered through choking tears, "Mama, I prayed for a Tahoe! I asked God to give Daddy a Tahoe!!"

Ah dear readers, never underestimate the power of prayer nor the ability of God to fulfill your dreams! Even your wildest ones!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Appreciating Any and All Appreciation!

October is celebrated by many as "Minister Appreciation Month".

(It was first introduced just as Pastor Appreciation. But thankfully people began to remember that many churches need a whole team of people to lead. So now most congregations acknowledge all their associate ministers as well.)

Frank and I have already started receiving special cards and extra hugs - we serve the most amazing people! So, I thought you might enjoy an Inside Edition look at why this month of affirmation is so..........well, so appreciated! Smile.

In my Bible I have a particular passage in Psalms highlighted. "He choose David his servant....he brought him to be the shepherd of his people......and David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them."

Beside those verses I've written this short prayer, "Father, make us shepherds like this."

Truth be known, nearly every pastor longs to serve their congregation as a man or woman of integrity. The vast majority don't care if their service is ever recognized. In fact, most are extremely uncomfortable with applause or accolades of any sort. We just consider it a privilege and take very seriously the responsibilities that accompany the office of "Pastor".

(Tomorrow I hope to write the story of a miracle that took place for us and our church three years ago during this celebration. So be sure to tune in then for a heaping helping of heart-warming happiness. Sorry, rabbit trail moment! Smile.)

As pastors, we are also acutely aware that this old adage is true:
You may please all of the people some of the time;
And you may please some of the people most of the time;
But you can NEVER please all of the people all of the time!

Yep, it's true - but we don't let that stand in our way of giving it the 'ol college try!! (Trying to please everyone that is.)

Consequently, every so often, you may find the shoulders sagging on a pastor or two. And that's precisely why your encouragement is needed. Your affirmation of things done right really matters more than you could ever know.

And don't succumb to the erroneous thought that your idea for affirmation is somehow insignificant! Heaven forbid!! Do you know how many masterpieces of artwork have graced my husband's office that have been created with coloring crayons?! Smile.

So here's a little nudge.

Send that card, offer a hug, make the call, bake their favorite cake (or cornbread), offer an evening of free babysitting, invite them to your home for dinner..............
(If you need other ideas, just request them in the comment section. I'd love to help you get creative.)

Your pastor is striving to do the very best job he/she can to meet your spiritual needs - take a moment to let them know it matters!

You may be surprised by how tall they are able to stand after talking with you! Smile.