Monday, December 31, 2012

Perfection!

December 30th marked 33years of marriage for the Reverends Hawley!

And oddly enough, we were married on a Sunday afternoon at 3:00 PM central time.  All through the day yesterday, I couldn't help but think about that wonderful wedding day - thirty-three years ago. 

Frank, the handsome groom.  Sheri, the nervous bride.  Gowns.  Tuxes.  Flowers.  Friends.  Family.  Perfection!

Because music was such a huge part of both our lives, Frank wrote a song for the ceremony.  His college room mate helped compose a beautiful number using phrases from Proverbs 31. 

Robert, such a good friend, agreed to cut his Christmas vacation short in order to be at the wedding.  He accompanied Frank on the acoustic guitar. 

When the doors to the sanctuary swung open, Frank began singing to me as I came down the aisle.  The melody was haunting.  His voice filled the room.  Hankies were being passed around.  I was mesmerized. 

As in our courtship, Frank literally drew me toward him!  Still makes me smile to remember.

One anniversary, as we listened to the recording of our ceremony, I realized that the intro was repeated.  "Why did Robert repeat the introduction?"  I asked. I knew they had practiced until the piece was perfect. 

Frank smiled and dropped his head like an embarrassed school boy.  "When the doors opened and I caught my first glimpse of you, I was so blown away that I forgot to start singing."  

Well, who can complain about imperfection with an answer like that?!  Certainly not me!

And here we are, thirty-three years later, still in love. 

Complimentary tickets afforded us the privilege of visiting Sea World yesterday.  Along with Shamu, sharks and dolphins, there were several excellent Christmas shows.  Each performance was just filled with great music. 

One of the numbers we heard was "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."  That's what Frank and I chose for our wedding recessional.  Our first steps as husband and wife were taken with a musical foundation declaring our love, adoration and dependence on Christ Jesus.

Some might read that statement and think it a bit cheesy.  But even in our naive state as young 20-somethings, we somehow sensed that marital success would only come from such a foundation.

All these years later, we no longer sense it..............we KNOW it!

Last night certainly wasn't perfect.  The park was jam-packed with everyone trying to use their season tickets just one more time before 2013.  We were told that five thousand people crowded into one of the shows we saw.  Almost 20,000 were in the park!

And it was unbelievably cold for FL!  Especially sitting in outside theaters.  Waiting over an hour for each show to start.  On metal bleachers. With wind blowing like monsoon season.

And THEN, Shamu had the audacity to S.P.L.A.S.H. the area where we were sitting!  I threw my coat up over our faces just in time to shield us from the worst of it! 

We probably should have given up and gone home.  But how often does imperfection yield such a funny story that we'll tell for years to come?! 

And after the shock, the laughter was rich.  The show went on.  The stunts were breath-taking.  The trouble was soon forgotten.  Overcome by the next great song; the next marvelous moment.

So we stayed right there until the fireworks display that took place well after my normal bedtime.  Impractical?  Yes!  But I'm so glad we chose to stay!  The fireworks show was worth every bit of inconvenience!

And just in case you wonder, our marriage hasn't been perfect either!

We've slogged our way through some difficult times.  Times when we loved each other.  We were committed to each other.  But we sure didn't LIKE each other very much! 

(Brutally honest!  Totally truthful!)

Selfishness.  Pride.  Unforgiveness.  Stubbornness.  They've had the audacity to splash over our marital joy. 

Sometimes, it's been tempting to "give up and go home." 

But after the storm, after forgiveness, the relationship is much richer.  Life goes on.  The miracle moments are breath-taking.  The trouble is soon overcome by the next marvelous adventure.

And truth be known, I wouldn't want to miss out on experiencing the fireworks show for anything!  The good times are always worth any "inconvenience" we experienced getting there!  I'm always so glad we chose to stay with it.

Frank often says, "God is Faithful and you can Trust Him!"

I guess that homespun wisdom comes from a journey of experience.  We have walked many miles together.  Much of our journey has been over incredibly imperfect terrain. And we're totally aware that two imperfect people are the ones walking.

But our travel Companion is not only Faithful and Trust-worthy, He's also a perfect foundation making a good marriage possible!

Happy Anniversary, Honey!  Yes, I'd marry you again in a heart beat!!



Friday, December 28, 2012

Laziness and Snow

LAZY!

I have officially achieved my goal for the day and it's only 11:30 in the morning!  I've waited all year to tap the LAZY button on my calendar and today is the day.

I'm sitting in the recliner, favorite lap quilt, cup of tea, Christmas music playing.  Gracie flanks me on the right, tucked as tightly as a little Shih Tzu possibly can.  Bella has flopped down to warm my feet; occasionally rolling over for a belly scratch.  Vegetable soup is ready to warm up; the washer and dryer are humming in harmony.

I AM EXPERIENCING - LAZINESS!  And it is indeed delicious!

While Christmas plans were being made, we knew that a visit to Mom and Dad Hawley was a non-negotiable. But I just didn't have one more road trip in me this year.  So Frank flew.

And although I hate not having time with my dear family in NC and although all our children are traveling or working and although I'm rarely alone like this.......I'm doing just fine.

A dear friend of ours once said he didn't feel like he was truly on vacation until he hit the point were he was bored.  Well Bill, I'm not bored but I do feel wonderfully lazy!

I had promised you another Christmas Miracle story from the Hawley Archives.  Because so many of you are experiencing snow storms right now, this one seemed most appropriate -

Christmas Kiss from Heaven

In June of 1993, we left Asheville, NC (our home of twelve years) and moved to Brunswick County to pioneer a church.  The fledgling congregation of twelve people had contacted our state office and asked that someone be sent to oversee the work.  

It took a lot of courage and a definite call to uproot our family and move to that rural community on the coast.  When friends would ask where Ocean Isle Beach was we responded truthfully, "Go to the edge of the earth and take a left!"  

We left behind the team we'd been part of for nine years.  All three girls had been born in Asheville.  We loved the city, the people, the mountains, the weather, the events, the church family!  

So why move?  Because we sensed God's quiet whisper that the next chapter of our life story was to be written six hours away from what had become our safety net.  

So we moved.

We included the girls in our plans from the earliest possible moment.  (Kristin, who was only ten, actually knew first and kept it a secret for a month!  Not many adults can claim that level of confidence keeping.)

Our senior pastor supported the move.   He facilitated lavish encouragement given by the congregation we'd served for nine years.  After parties and dinners and play-dates and a massive reception, we tearfully bade farewell.

(The greatest comfort afforded us was the incredible act of courage displayed by two dear friends.  The Sheppards quit their jobs and moved with us to help launch this pioneer effort!  A year later they moved on to Nashville, TN.  But those twelve months kept us on course!  Without their help, the church probably wouldn't have made it.  I know I wouldn't have!)

The girls worked hard at adapting.  They too left behind friends, a great school, a church that offered the very BEST in children's ministry.  People that had known and loved them since they were first born.  We were thankful that they had one another!

Frank went to work growing a congregation; I went to work trying to learn how to home school.  We all had to work at being okay with the barest of necessities!  

There was no guaranteed salary with this pioneer work.  Church bills came first, of course.  Then a stipend for the pastor if anything was left over.  

Don't you have parts of your life where you look back and think, "HOW in the world did we make it?!"  

Yep, us too!

But with God's grace, many unexpected offerings in the mail and a great knowledge of how to prepare tuna, we kept afloat.

As that first Christmas rolled around, we found ourselves lonely and discouraged.  The church had only grown to about sixty people.  We felt very isolated.  We knew the parties and plays and festivities we were missing in Asheville.  And mostly, it was just too warm at the beach for Christmas.  

Meagan was only five and worried aloud about how it would ever snow in this place.  "Well, Sweetheart, it doesn't snow here.  Remember, we talked about that before we moved?  But we get to enjoy the beach any time we want."       

"Mama!" Her little girl voice held the sound of a reprimand. "The beach is where you take a vacation.  It isn't where you LIVE!"  (Meagan has never had trouble expressing her mind!)

 "Well, Baby, it's where we live now."  I couldn't come up with anything more eloquent that the plain 'ol facts.  

December 25th rapidly approached and our hearts grew heavier with each passing day.  Resources were so limited!  The girls would have had almost NO Christmas that year if it hadn't been for a wonderful group of ladies in New Bern, NC.  

Those church ladies "adopted" our precious girls and sent two boxes loaded with school supplies and treats. Frank and I quickly wrapped each item and placed them all under the tree.  Such an answer to prayer!

Our Christmas would take place about three days early as we were traveling to my parents' home that year. So on the appointed evening, we marked Christmas Eve with all our regular traditions.  Each girl opened one preselected gift, we sang, we told stories, we watched a Christmas movie, then put our angels to bed. 

Frank and I stepped out on to the porch for a minute.  The overcast skies foretold that our Christmas morning would probably be a rainy one. 

"Well, great!"  I thought.  "Now they won't even be able to enjoy being outside tomorrow!  No snow, no friends, no play time!  Just rain!  Lord, do you remember that YOU sent us here?!"  

I didn't really expect a response.

Three tousled heads peeked into our room very early the next morning.  "Merry Christmas!!!"  The drizzling outside didn't dampen their spirits. There were presents to unwrap and they were ready to get to it!  

The rain did bring in some colder air, at least, making a fire in the fireplace possible.  Everyone got quiet while Frank read the Christmas Story from Luke 2 one more time.  We thanked the Lord for the gift of His Son, for our fireplace, for the gifts the women's group had sent and for the great cinnamon buns we had waiting.  (Children are thankful for all sorts of things.)

And that's when it happened.  

"LOOK!!" Frank startled me with his loud command.  "Girls, look outside!  Quick!  Everybody grab a jacket!!  Hurry, it won't last long!!" 

Instead of the rain, huge white flakes were pouring down in our front yard! We all rushed outside with our mouths hanging open in surprise.  The girls squealing with delight!  Our dog jumping and barking! 

It was snowing at the beach!  

The ground soon looked like powdered sugar.  And the flakes were big enough to be caught on little tongues of excited little girls.

Now it really felt like Christmas!

We hustled back in to the living room to open the packages under the tree.  More squealing and laughter!  We drank apple cider and ate cinnamon buns.  And just as our festivities concluded, the snow stopped.  

Someone immediately said, "Look how much God loves us!  He sent snow to the beach just for us!  Just for our Christmas!"

I couldn't testify to that in a court of law.  But the facts are as follows:
  • My babies were really missing their mountain home that Christmas.
  • It really did snow at the beach on the morning we were celebrating.
  • It really didn't snow another time during our six years in Ocean Isle.
  • God really does love all His children just that much.
I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions!  




 








   




Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Joy

"Here we come a caroling among the (something something) so green!"

Just realized that although that tune plays often in my head at Christmas time, I don't think I've ever known the words!  (If you haven't watched the movie Little Women, you simply must!  Maybe you'll be able to pick up the lyrics and help me.)

Let me say - MERRRRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

I certainly hope that your home and hearth and hearts are experiencing more of the true joy to be found in this season.

We've already had our Hawley/Schreck/Smith Christmas to accommodate travel plans for the marrieds.  Spencer's enthusiasm over both toys AND boxes was simply delicious!

The last of the Christmas parties took place Wednesday. 

Our final outreach was last Saturday.  (We had the privilege of hosting over 700 children while their parents "shopped" among gifts provided by area churches and businesses.) 

The Smiths were safely delivered to the airport yesterday and are even now being squeezed until their eyes bulge by their NC family. 

The final decorating project will be tomorrow in preparation for Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve. 

Only one more shopping run takes place today after which, the last presents will be wrapped and placed under the tree.

I feel the sigh of relief and contentment building in my weary little chest!

Of course, there will be a shadow of sadness for us all this year as we pray for the families of Newtown!  With no sense to be made of such horror and tragedy, prayer is our most effect show of empathy!

And for the others among us who have lost loved ones, we offer hugs and words of support.  That void is felt most keenly as we walk through the traditions and family gatherings they enjoyed with us.

On the day that marked four years since Mom's passing, I was busy hosting widows from our church for a Christmas brunch.  Such a privilege! 

While putting away the dishes and swiping at tears, I sensed that Mom would have been so very pleased.  No better way to honor her memory than by loving on other ladies just as she would have!

And I guess that's probably my theme.  Henri Nouwen put it well, "Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day."

I have another wonderful Christmas miracle story to share in my next post. (Thanks for so many encouraging comments on the Christmas Cookie story.  One lady even copied it and put it in her greeting cards.)  But today it felt important to quickly jump on line and send out a blog post hug.

In the marvelous words of Tiny Tim - "God bless us, every one!!"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Salvage

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

We sang that several ways at our house last night.  We had balloons, cake, confetti, streamers, candles..........all the trappings of a proper birthday party.

Who was born on December 10th?  None of my family!

(And no, it wasn't a birthday party for Jesus either.  Although we will have a cake when we do our celebration to help Spencer grasp the meaning of Christmas.)

So why a birthday party?!

Well, lest you become discouraged about your own mistakes, mess ups, missed opportunities - I've come to offer you hope and encouragement today!

Last night we were finally having the birthday celebration for:
  • John whose birthday is July 2nd!  
  • Joy - born on August 8th!  
  • Nathan - born September 18th!  
  • And Meagan - born December 20th!

Yes, it's true.  The year 2012 was almost remembered as my year of epic failure serving in the capacity of  -  Leader of All Things Celebratory!! 

"Good grief, Sheri!  Aren't these your own children?!" you ask with shock and dismay.

Yes, as a matter of fact they are! 

"Did you forget?  Were you incapacitated?  Were you at least out of the country when these birthdays occurred?!" 

Nope, none of the above!

I stand before you today as a woman without excuse!  

The simple truth?  When life rolls this fast, some things inevitably get pushed to the back burner.  And sad to say, in our family for the year 2012, that was every single birthday after February!

And in an attempt at full disclosure - every birthday would have been skipped entirely had it not been for Kristin who said, "This tradition must be salvaged!  We can not finish the year without marking days of birth!"  So........

  • She set the date for happy hooraying.
  • She delegated menu selections.
  • She uncovered birthday wishes.
  • She purchased final gifts.  (Some we've had in our closet since before their special days.  I didn't forget entirely.)
  • She wrapped said items.
  • She decorated the dining room.
  • She placed the candle numbers "1.0.4." on the cake Meagan baked.  (The total of their birthday ages.)
My part?  I made tacos and held babies and smiled a lot and tried not to feel guilty!

We ended the night by going around the living room giving words of blessing/affirmation.  (A tradition we picked up from another family.  Each celebrator present shares a word or phrase expressing a characteristic they appreciate about the birthday celebra-tee.  It's become something we all look forward to!)

Just as things were concluding someone said, "Hey, wait a minute!  We never got to celebrate Mom's birthday this year either!"

(Frank had taken care of that with a special dinner in Orlando and the most marvelous gift of dance lessons! Which we look forward to taking in January.)

Right there, on the spot, my precious family forgave my epic failure as Leader of All Things Celebratory and lavished words of encouragement on me too!

(So, if I miss your birthday, please don't be offended.  Perhaps the greater surprise should be if I remember!)

And if a family tradition you love and value has to morph this year in order to be accomplished?  Morph away, my friend!  Salvage tradition any way you can! 

Some day your little one will be an adult.  And they will pick up your "tradition slack" and salvage what might have otherwise been lost.
    
That's why they call it TRADITION!  (Can't you just hear that marvelous tune from "Fiddler on the Roof" right now?!)

Be absolved from all guilt in the matters of tradition failure!  Go forth with renewed zeal!  And if you stumble along the path, simply rehearse this new mantra for yourself - "Well, at least I didn't miss my own child's birthday this year like Sheri did!" 

If my epic failure serves as a benchmark of encouragement, then it won't have been such an epic fail after all! 

Ah, yes!  All things work together for good...............

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Faces of Christmas!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

It's here!  Christmas time is finally here!  (Or is it still Christmas from 2011?  Things roll so quickly these days that I sometimes wonder.)

Our decorations are back in place; three parties are completed; family communion at GGC tonight and tomorrow night; already feeling guilty about Christmas cards that haven't been mailed; "It's a Wonderful Life" has been viewed; we're humming White Christmas even though it's 81 degrees here.................  Yep, Christmas Central in full swing!

Frank and I looooooovvvve Christmas!

We started dating just before Christmas.  We married the following December 30th, decorating with Christmas trees and poinsettias.  Meagan was born December 20th eight years later.  We have multiple Christmas Miracles that are part of our family story.  Most of our traditions revolve around Christmas - ornaments, foods, movies and music.

Christmas is MAJOR at the Hawley house! 

With all that emphasis on Christmas you would think December 25th would be kinda sacred for us.  But we've seldom ever opened gifts with our children in our home on that date.  For most of our lives we've lived far away from our extended families. Road trips have almost always been part of the plan. 

And now over half our immediate family also need to be with family in eastern North Carolina and central New York!  Consequently, Christmas Day for us is unlikely to ever fall on December 25th.  Our children will either be with extended family or on their way to extended family or celebrating with their own little family.  

And that's okay with us.

We've celebrated as early as December 18th and as late as January 10th.  We've read the Christmas story together in Florida, North Carolina, and even West Virginia. 

Christmas has nothing to do with the date or location.  It has everything to do with the heart!

I read in Hosea this morning how intentional God has been about relationship with us.  Relationship is His focus, His delight, His work, His reward.  So, I take my cue from the One who initiated this marvelous season.

He put His very best effort into building a bridge of relationship with us.  He sent His Son to a humble stable, to a woman embroiled in controversy, to a world that largely ignored the Gift.  Marked the moment with a star, a choir of angels and some terrified shepherds.   He gave lavishly to show that His heart is for us.

How can I do anything less?

I know of people who suffer and struggle and strangle relationships by demanding that a certain date and a singular location be the one and only opportunity to celebrate Christmas properly.  Christmas, for them, must resemble a Norman Rockwell painting with all participants in perfect order or else all is lost.

Today I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people..........

If Christmas originated in a sheep stall far from Mary's hometown with a questionable cast of characters, perhaps God was sending a message that would resonate with the transient, imperfect people groups of the 21st Century.   (Yes, I know - run-on sentence extraordinaire!)

Leave the perfect painting for the wall!  And embrace your cast of characters in the many locations and on whatever dates He may provide.  Therein lies peace for all men; I promise!


(Wow, this post took a totally different turn from the road I first started on.  Just have to trust that someone needed the message.  I'm also mindful that right now, all our kids live near us.  We call it frosting time as we never expected to have that opportunity.  We mark the bonus and gladly share them any available opportunity with the Smiths and Schrecks!  Blessings on your celebration plans!) 

  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Of Thankful Hearts and Harps

Thank you for so many kind, encouraging words about the 300th post - The Christmas Cookies!

God's miracles really do need to be rehearsed and celebrated, don't they?  Maybe that story will encourage you to jot down a few of your own family miracles.  We all have them to tell!  And our children need to know about God's faithfulness.  His personal involvement in the life of their family!

My hope is to record one such miracle every month for the coming year.  Our family has spent A LOT of time in the "miracle zone" through the years.

Your response to the cookie story made me realize how much our miracles need to be shared.  So be watching for those in the coming weeks.  (There.  It's in print and I'm now accountable to you!)

I certainly hope everyone found some special joys during their Thanksgiving week!

We all converged on my dad's home place.  My family complete with three adult children, two additional spouses, two perfect grandchildren.  My sister's family with two teenagers and a ten year old.  Can you say, crowded?!

This was Nathan's first visit there. Along with Spencer and Abby, of course.  (It's much easier for Papaw to drive to Winter Haven than for Winter Haven to drive to Papaw.)

We were especially thankful to be in Florida so that everyone could ramble and roam the entire ten acres.  My sister's three children were fascinated with Spencer and Abby.

Spencer had his own personal transportation team for all things boyish: running, yelling, throwing, even rough-housing.  He was in Heaven!  And Abby got plenty of attention, too!

Dad's house is rather small.  It started out as a fishing cabin some thirty years ago.  Then in 2006, he and mom decided to move there permanently.  They added two large bedrooms down one side and a dining room/sun room across the back.

We are ALL thankful that Mom insisted on a second bathroom!

And did I mention that FL weather makes the outdoors accessible for most of the year?!  Thankful for that too!!

It was a crowded, crunching, toe-stepping, forgiving time.  But we were all glad for the opportunity to be together.

One funny story that I have to share -

It's our tradition to go around the table at Thanksgiving and share what we are thankful for from the past year.  Even little ones are prompted and encouraged to give thanks to God.

As we circled the table, two things became apparent about 2012:  God had been faithful to all our family and we were all missing Mom.   (She moved to Heaven four years ago.  Unbelievable!)

Dad had the final word for the day.  He took a deep breath and began to share his heart as we listened carefully.  Words of blessing and affirmation have been awkward for my dad through the years.  Since Mom's passing, we've all come to understand the importance of saying what we wish we could TODAY.  Tomorrow isn't guaranteed.

Dad talked for some time about how thankful he was we were all together.  How proud he is of each one.  He choked up as he talked of God's faithfulness to us as a family.  And he wrapped up his comments by saying, "I attribute most of this to the one who isn't here today!"   (Meaning Mom.)

He bowed his head as tears dripped onto his plate.  Everyone around the table was touched; many of us swiping at our own eyes.

And then it happened -

A sound.  An unfamiliar sound.  My sister and I shot quizzical looks at one another from across the table.  Was that........wasn't that.......were we hearing........a harp sound?  Really?!  Yes, ummm.  Definitely a harp!  Everyone could hear it but no one knew what to say.

Finally realization hit me and a huge smile spread across my face.  Here's what happened. 

My phone was on a counter in the kitchen.  We have very little reception inside my dad's house so we don't pay much attention to our cell phones until checking messages.   It just so happened that this one time, my phone was close enough for us to hear the text message alert when it sounded.

My alert sound?  You guessed it - a harp!
 
Mom would have absolutely rolled with laughter!  And who knows, maybe she did!





  


Monday, November 19, 2012

300 and Counting!

Welcome to the 300th post of Embrace the Grace!

(Cue: balloons, confetti and celebratory song by the brass ensemble.)

This new posting system gave me the information just this week.  And I must admit that I was a bit surprised.  Three hundred times over the past three years I've sat down to an empty page and poured my heart out to whomever might want to read my ramblings. 

And graciously, you've read!  You've commented!  You've even encouraged me to keep writing!!

So because this is a rather auspicious occasion for me, I wanted to write something a little more special.  After thinking on it quite some time, I decided to record for you one of our all time favorite stories of God's faithfulness in our lives.  A Hawley Family Miracle Moment! 

This will be a little longer than the normal three minute read most blog instructors encourage.  So, grab a cup of tea.  AND I have to thank a couple of people for pushing me on this blog journey.
  • Of course, Frank and the girls who have spent their lives cheering each new venture!
  • Becky Smith, of Smithellaneous fame.  It's great to have a friend who knows exactly how to direct you through something you know nothing about.  What a teacher!
  • Amanda Bock Hoggard who created the beautiful layout for this blog (twice); showed me the publish button; and insisted I push it!
  • Deanna Shrodes for continuing to say, "You DO have time to do this!"
  • Oddly, the movie Julie and Julia. The basic plot involves a young lady who blogs about cooking through a Julia Child cookbook. That movie laid down a challenge for me.  Couldn't I write about life, laughter, family, tears, ministry and grandbabies instead?
That's how Embrace the Grace was born.  Thanks for checking in periodically.  Thanks for reading, cheering, commenting.  You make the effort worthwhile!  



THE CHRISTMAS COOKIES

In the fall of 1981, Frank and I became pastors of our first little congregation in the mountains of NC.  

We were young, naive, exuberant, sincere, thrilled.  (That's a lot of energy to thrust upon an established congregation of thirty settled souls!)  

Our first opportunity at outreach presented itself with Christmas, which was right around the corner.  Frank announced that the youth group would come to our house to bake cookies.  We would then go to the local nursing home for carols and cookie distribution for the residents. 

Small glitch.  There was no "Cookie Outreach" section in the church budget.  So, it became my mission to squirrel away enough money from our personal grocery budget to purchase the needed baking ingredients.  This was quite a feat as our weekly list included a lot of tuna, pasta and potatoes!  

Did I mention we were young and poor?

The Saturday morning before Christmas I bundled up, made the drive to Bi-Lo Grocery and scoured the aisles for the best buys on flour, sugar, vanilla, milk, butter and baking soda.  My tight little fist opened reluctantly at the register to relinquish the dollars so carefully saved.  

I sang carols on the drive home and arrived with a huge grin.  Putting away the precious commodities was such fun.  Donald Trump had no greater joy than mine!  

We had everything in place for a great afternoon and evening with the youth and retirees.  I loved this pastoring thing!

Within the hour, a knock came at the back door of our little home.  I peeked out the window and saw that it was another "interstate visitor."        

Now, our church sat just off the main highway.  And the parsonage (where we lived) sat just beyond the parking lot.  People in need of gas and groceries knocked on our back door rather frequently.  Frank and I dubbed them our "interstate visitors."

Although the church itself had no benevolence budget, we tried to help as many as possible.  We had quickly learned that this extra giving was the means God was using to keep our own pantry filled.  "Give and it shall be given......."

As my handsome, young husband started for the door, I gave him a dire warning.  "We can help this one a little bit.  But DON'T offer the flour, sugar or anything else I just bought for those cookies!" 

A brisk nod let me know he understood our situation.

In just a couple of minutes, Frank appeared in the living room doorway.  "Honey, you'll never believe this!"  My stomach sensed what was coming.  "This fellow didn't ask for money."  (Good thing.  We didn't have any!)

Frank took a deep breath and plunged ahead, "He asked for sugar, milk, eggs, butter and flour!  Can you believe that, Honey?"  

I sat dumbfounded!  All the staples for our cookie outreach.  

My immediate reply?  "NO!  I'll put together a bag of canned goods and other things.  But he can't have the sugar cookie ingredients."  Christmas cheer did NOT reign in my heart!

I trudged obediently toward the kitchen where I shook open a brown paper bag and began filling it with items from our own sparse supplies.  Looking out the window, I caught a glimpse of the old sedan.  It sat filling our backyard with blue smoke.  The man's wife, children and apparently a grandmother sat huddled together against the cold.  

I added some apple sauce to the bag for the children.

Frank invited the man to step in where it was warm but he declined.  As he stood just outside the door, I could see him shuffle from one foot to the other, stomping worn shoes and working a frayed hat around and around in his hands.  He hadn't shaved for days; he looked exhausted and concerned.

I added another can of green beans to the bag for the grandmother.

Frank stepped over to where I was working and spoke in a low tone, "Honey, I started to turn him away.  But just as I closed the door I felt the Lord whisper to me, 'Frank, you may be entertaining angels unaware!'  We need to give him the sugar and flour, Sheri. "

Huge tears pooled in my eyes; but I knew it was decided.  I opened another bag and quickly gathered the milk, eggs, butter, sugar, and flour before reason could kick in.

I couldn't stay and watch.  Frank handed over the groceries and prayed for the gentleman while I headed for the living room and plopped down on the couch.   I didn't feel generous or festive!  My heart looked a lot more like Scrooge just then.
 
Frank's smile preceded him into the living room.  

He bounded over to the couch, gathered me into his strong arms and said with confidence,  "Wasn't that amazing that he asked for the very items you just bought?!"  My sour expression had no effect.  "Don't worry, Honey!  The Lord won't forget us!"

I wasn't so sure!  

There was no back up plan.  At 5:00 eastern time, eight teenagers would be staring at me waiting for instructions and ingredients for baking cookies.  How was I going to do that without any flour?!  All I knew to do was finish cleaning the house.  And pray!

About an hour later, Frank came out of his study and grabbed his coat.  "Come with me, Baby.  Edna wants to see us."

The day had just gone from bad to worse!

You must understand, Edna was the meanest woman in the world!  At least, she was the meanest woman I had ever met.  

She didn't like Frank.  In fact, she didn't like men in general; including her own husband and son.  She didn't especially like me since I was married to Frank.  And although I had tried to befriend her, she wasn't having it!

Edna was the last person I wanted to visit today!

We stood on her porch just moments later.  In response to our knock, she yanked open the door and shoved an empty box at Frank.  

"Here!  Follow me!" she ordered.  Then headed down the stairs toward her basement.

Frank and I had only a split second to exchange a puzzled glance, then follow.

Indignation filled me.  "If she thinks for one minute that we're going to help her clean out her basement, she has another thought coming!"  My frustration bubbled and threatened to boil over at any moment!

We stepped onto the cold cement floor and paused while our eyes adjusted to the dim light.  Edna strode across the room and pulled open the lid of a chest freezer that sat against the far wall.

She wheeled around and without explanation waved her arm across the contents.  "Here!" she ordered.  "Get some meat!"  Her scowl didn't look inviting.  The impatient tapping of her foot confused us.  Was this some sort of test?  

The headline flashed through my mind, "PASTOR ACCUSED OF STEALING FROZEN FOOD FROM PARISHONER!"

Edna motioned to us again.  "Come on!"

We stepped cautiously to the side of the freezer and picked up a couple of packages of hamburger while murmuring our thanks.  

"Oh, good grief!  Move over!"  Edna pushed me aside and began to pull out cuts of meat we hadn't seen in quite some time.  A roast!  Beef tips!  Steaks!  My jaw dropped open as the frozen meat thudded against the box.

When the box was half full, she turned toward the shelving that housed her canned goods.  Not Green Giant canned goods.  No, this was the bounty from her own summer garden.  Green beans she had grown, gathered, snapped, canned and stored for winter.  

She finished filling the box with jars containing colorful vegetables of all varieties.

Frank and I followed Edna back up the stairs in stunned silence.  

She paused briefly in her kitchen and leveled her gaze at us.  "Aren't you having the youth over to your house tonight?!"  It sounded more like an accusation than a question.

Frank answered cautiously, "Yes.  Yes, we are."

"Well, here!  I suppose you'll need this too!"  Edna snatched another box from the counter and opened her refrigerator door.  Butter, eggs, milk.  Her pantry swung open.  Sugar.  Flour.  

Tears brimmed over the edge of my eyes and spilled onto her floor.

Everything I had just given to our interstate visitor and more.  So MUCH more went into the second box!

Edna brushed away our words of appreciation and took quick steps toward the front door.  She never smiled.  She never said, "You're welcome."  She simply slammed the door shut as soon as we exited.

Truth was, Frank and I were back in our car, pulling out of the drive before we could begin to process what had just taken place.  Our tears of gratitude flowed.

At 5:00 eastern time, the youth piled into our kitchen with all the laughter, teasing and loudness one would expect.  We baked cookies. Loaded everyone in vehicles. Drove to the nursing home.  Sang carols.  Hugged frail bodies.  Shook trembling hands.  Distributed sugar cookies they probably couldn't eat.

Our first outreach was deemed a huge success!

We pastored that small, mountain church for almost two years.  And you can believe it or not, but I never had to buy another bag of flour the entire time we lived there.  

Just as my supply would start to dwindle, someone would drop a bag of groceries by our house.  In addition to everything else, it would contain flour.  A friend would hit a "two for one" sale - on flour!  Someone would have an extra bag sitting in their pantry.  The flour never ran out! 

Our Heavenly Father used that moment of obedience to teach us an object lesson about His faithfulness that would last us a lifetime.  The story feels as fresh as it did the Christmas it occurred!  We've told the story to our children, to friends and family, to other congregations and even large conferences. 

And I feel pretty sure that our children's children will tell about Poppa and Noni's Miracle of the Christmas Cookies!









Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Friends and Family

"Friends are the family we choose for ourselves!"

What a seemingly warm sentiment to calligraphy or cross stitch and give to someone.

But as I've aged, I've come to strongly disagree with this statement. In fact, I find it highly suspect and suspiciously hyped!  (Try saying that three times quickly.)

Now, most of you already know how I feel about friendship.  True friendship is a rare treasure meriting:           
  • copious investment
  • prose of appreciation
  • self-abandonment
  • loyalty bordering on ridiculous
  • and GRATITUDE!  Lots and Lots of gratitude!        
But to think that we can chose our family or disown our family in favor of friendships makes my breath catch in my throat!

I don't spend much time working on friendships that give me nothing in return.  Do you?  Most of my friends think I'm witty, enriching, creative, a great speaker and lovely.  (Well, I added the lovely part myself.)

The point?  Healthy friendships should be a balance of give and take.  But we seldom maintain friendships that don't benefit us. 

Most friendship arrangements go something like this:
  • You make me smile?  I'll keep you around!
  • You aggravate me?  I'll dump you!
  • You encourage or even flatter me?  I'll watch your cat for a month!
  • You refuse to jump through this hoop?  Don't call me anymore!
See, friendships can come and go based on how they make us feel.  I'm pretty sure that "B.F.F." (Best Friends Forever) was coined by high school girls who think an entire month is almost forever. 

In today's world, we like things nice and tidy; comfortable; matching our vision of perfection.  Friendship makes all that possible!  The control of whether you stay in my life or go, rests completely with ME!

Family?  You're stuck with family!  And that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Several years ago, Frank and I read a book by Gary Thomas entitled Sacred Marriage.  The premise of the book focused on God's ultimate purpose for marriage.  It's not about making me feel good or even about meeting my needs.  Marriage should make me more like Christ! 

And I don't become more like Christ when I'm surrounded by people who are there simply to appease, applaud and please me!  OUCH!!

Truth hurts but helps too.
  • The sibling that insists on reminding you of your most embarrassing middle school moments?  Shaving off some pride! 
  • The parent that perpetually tells you how THEY would raise your children?  Keeping you on your knees!  (How do they forget that they raised you?  That never made sense to me!)
  • The uncle that monopolizes every conversation at every family gathering?  Reminding us how unattractive self-focus is!
This list could go on but it's probably more beneficial for you to fill in your own family member that causes you to say, "Are THEY going to be there this year?  Oh, give me grace!"

Yep, God's sand paper in disguise!

We can not run away from family.  Somehow or other they keep showing up at every holiday, every wedding, every baby dedication.  And they bring their annoying, irritating, demanding ways with them.

Which means I don't get MY way!  Which means I have to learn to accommodate others!  Which means I'm putting them first!  Which means...................becoming more like Christ.

Just a thought as you prepare to head over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's House for Thanksgiving!

Blessings!






Thursday, November 8, 2012

Optimist's Opinion

"Sheri, you are an eternal optimist!"

My life-time friend, Brenda, made the statement years ago with a disbelieving shake of her head.  Her tone made me wonder if it was a compliment or not.

I do prefer to try and look at the "UP" side of most situations:
  • Traffic jam?  Probably helped us miss a potential accident!
  • Low funds?  Perfect opportunity for creativity!
  • Rain?  The flowers need it!
  • Sun?   Self explanatory!
  • Long sermon?  No line at the restaurant!
  • Trip cancelled?  Great time to stay home!
  • Unexpected trip?  Life is never boring!
You get the idea.

However, I must admit to you that the eternal optimist hit a wall yesterday.  Frank and I avoid verbalizing our support for one candidate or another during election season,.  But we are quite intense with our personal opinions/views.  And he has threatened to fire anyone who doesn't vote! 

The 2012 election held some stark contrasts for me in regards to matters of life; whether elderly, unborn, or disabled.  And I chose candidates accordingly.

Disappointment settled on me like a cloud when I woke to the reports Tuesday morning.  Seems like one of the most dangerous places in America today is a mother's womb.  (Sorry if that sounds harsh.  But adoption is such a marvelous part of our family story  We are pretty passionate in this area.) 

We've weathered the political season many years; we know all the appropriate responses.  "God is ultimately in control."  "This will be the church's finest hour!"  "We look to God as our source, not to man."  Facebook is full of them right now.

Bottom line?  The wall I hit loomed rather large in front of me.  I have grandchildren to consider now!

So this morning as I watered my flowers, the Lord and I were having a little conversation.  (When I don't understand, it seems smart to go to the One who knows everything for my answers.)

On Friday, Frank and I hit a great clearance sale in the garden section of Lowe's.  It was the last stop before the trash for a cart filled with dying plants.  I carefully examined them all searching for signs of life.  Then I checked out with a terrific variety; all for only seven dollars! 

Saturday morning found us clipping, planting, fertilizing, watering and hoping that at least some of them would survive.

This morning I discovered, with great delight, that not only have they all survived - they are flourishing!  Mums that were mute have mutated.  Greenery and geraniums have grown.  Sad looking blooms now sparkle.  And formerly wilted  foliage looks wonderful!  Such a great surprise!

Those blooms that had been ready for the compost pile on Friday now comprise my fall flower bed.

In a split second, my heavenly Father opened my eyes to the importance of believing.  Even if something looks impossible; seems to have no life left; shows no promise - still, we hope!  Because time, effort and faith mixed together bring a great surprise.

It seldom looks like I would have originally scripted but faith is a powerful element in all our lives!

My favorite quote so far?  "It's not about a donkey.  It's not about an elephant.  It's about a LAMB!"

And that's the opinion of this optimist today!  

   

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

HUP

So, maybe just one more post about Spencer this month!

I try not to insist that everyone love my grandchildren just as much as I do.  (Although, I don't know anyone who can resist their precious smiles!)

But I did get to tell this to Linda first; so I think it's okay to hit the "share all" button on it.

Spencer has a new favorite word: "Hup!"

He uses it quite often these days making me roar with laughter and squeezing my heart all at the same time.

Seems his mama has taught him that "Hup!" is an important word for every little man-in-training.  Have you guessed the meaning of "Hup!" yet?

Well, let me share with you how I first heard it. 

Spencer and Poppa were walking down the sidewalk at church, side by side.  Poppa was carrying something in a plastic bag from Wal-mart.  The second handle blew free and Spencer reached up his tiny hand to grab it.  They took a couple of steps together; both holding the bag.

Spencer looked up at Poppa and with great conviction announced, "Hup!"

Poppa looked around surprised and responded, "Yes, you are helping Poppa!  What a good helper you are!!"   

Spencer beamed!  He loves being identified as a Helper!

One of the best things I read as a young mom was written by Dr. James Dobson.  He explained that every child needs to know they are valued and that they contribute in their family.  (Much the way children contributed on the family farm decades ago.)  It develops the child's self-worth.

Apparently, Linda Schreck read the same Dobson book because both of Spencer's parents are already instilling an appreciation for good work and helping others.  At twenty months, Spencer wants to Hup!

Sigh - filled with joy!

In other matters, someone asked recently why my name has changed from Nana to Noni. 

I thought through the matter of my grandma name well before Spencer was born.  I consulted other grandmothers.  I talked at length with Frank and each of the girls.  I stood at the back door and yelled several possibilities into the backyard.  (Mom always said that was the foolproof way to choose a good name.  Yell it out the door three times.  If you still liked it after that, it was a winner.)

Nana became my name of choice!  It sounded respectful enough to be a true grandma but cute enough to be a young grandma.  It passed the back door yelling test with flying colors.  I even have a picture frame with Nana scrolled across the top. 

So, why the change?

Well, one evening several months back everyone arrived at our house for dinner all at the same time.  It was chaos at the front door.  I stood at the kitchen sink with a perfect view into the mayhem.  Joy had Abigail in her arms and John sat Spencer down just as they crossed the threshold.

In all that confusion, at the very same moment, Spencer and I made eye contact.  He threw both arms in the air and yelled, "NONI!!"

Noni it is!  Noni it shall be!!

Take Spencer's advice and find someone to HUP.  It'll make you feel great, he promises!


Friday, October 26, 2012

A Battle

Frogs have invaded my wind chime!

Dozens of beady-eyed amphibians have somehow managed to cram their green bodies into the tubes comprising my wind chime.  And I am NOT Pleased!

We thought we took care of our croaking neighbors last year.  (A friend warned that if one frog had babies in our koi pond, all the babies would return to also procreate and we would have a real problem.)

Frank acted promptly and decisively.  Each time one of those little free-loaders tried to set up house keeping on our wall, we captured him and sent him on to his eternal reward.  We even posted a warning sign- "No Procreating Allowed".  Apparently they can't read.

It appears that despite our most diligent efforts, a Kermit Wannabe slipped through.  And this summer we've experienced a frog infestation rivaling that from the banks of the Nile.

Do NOT coo and say to your screen, "Oh, Sheri!  How bad can it be to have a couple of cute little frogs singing joyfully around your decorative pond.  They catch mosquitoes, don't they?!"

That was my naive thought when we first started this battle! 

But I've now discovered the truth.  While one tiny tadpole may be cute, they never travel alone!  I'm convinced that you only see them one at a time because the rest of the platoon hide off to the side and send in the most adorable of the group to catch you off guard.

You spot him and think, "Oh, he's not so bad.  What harm can one little jumping frog do?"  You are unaware that you're being watched from the bushes by the best of Frog Intelligence.

"Suspect has evaluated the drone and allowed it to live, Sir.  We're in!"

Once they establish a beach head - you're done for! One intruder tolerated opens the door for a full-on invasion!

What does all this have to do with the wind chimes?  Well apparently, these cunning creatures also have a team that scouts out housing options.  (What happened to the mosquito eaters, I ask?)

Some daring frog-soldier made the precarious climb all the way up my porch post, across the ceiling, over to the hook holding the chimes.  He leaped (which they're famous for) onto a chime tube, then squished, squirmed and squiggled his way into the "safety" of the tube.  Sending word back to operations that housing had been secured.

And that's where we discovered them.  (The discovery story will have to wait.)  Not just one or even two per tube - Frank extracted FOUR from a single tube!

Can you hear my frustration?

Adding insult to injury is the fact that these are the very chimes I waited two years to purchase.  Most of you know how much I love being outdoors when possible.  The breeze, the sunrise/sunset, the fragrant flowers, water trickling over the rocks of our pond.........resplendent.

Imagine my delight when I finally located a set of wind chimes that perfectly completed this setting.  Not only were they rich sounding; not only were they the specific brand I'd been searching for; not only were they half price; they also came to my attention just after I'd received an honorarium from a speaking engagement!  Oh, happy day!

The melodious sound has enriched my soul many mornings!

Until now.......

Crammed full of frog bodies, the chimes sound wooden and  unnatural.  My chimes are completely incapable of singing the way they were created to sing.  So sad!

And, of course, I caught a glimpse of my real self in all this.

When I tolerate even the smallest amount of unforgivenss, self-pity, or bitterness, it clogs my heart.  (No matter how innocent it may seem.)  It establishes a beach head and rapidly multiplies while I'm not watching. 

Soon my song of praise becomes wooden, unnatural.  I no longer sound like a grateful pilgrim; I sound whine-y and dull.  Completely incapable of living or loving with full, joyful expression.

So sad!

Today, Frank plans a major cleaning out of all things amphibious.  He will extract, extricate and even exterminate all unwelcome creatures.  By evening our chimes should be able to sing again - just as they were created to do.

Perhaps I'll spend some quiet time cleaning out my heart, too.  Killing off any vestige of the things that try to steal my song.  No corner of my heart left unexamined, unrepentant.  This is a battle I'm willing to fight.

By evening, I want to sing - just as I was created to do!

   




Thursday, October 18, 2012

Encourager

Who functions as "Cheerleader" in your life?  Are you counted as an "Encourager" for someone else?

Important questions in a world like ours.  As the political season reaches its zenith, we hear much about cheering for someone.  Even those who are simply cheering against someone!  Hmmm.

Frank and I have done a lot of behind the scenes type work in our lifetime.  So I guess that's part of what has made us so aware of those who step in as encouragers for us.

Today, I just want to utilize this platform to express how very important that is.  How delightful and refreshing are the words "Thank You!"  One word of encouragement can often be the difference between someone's choice to "press on" or "throw in the towel."

I've had times where a simple hug and smile offered in a casual or off-handed way resulted in a card of appreciation from the recipient.  Who knew that something so small could have such a big impact?!

But haven't you experienced that too?  A hug, a smile, a hand squeeze, a card, a single positive expression that came to you at just the most needed moment and suddenly your entire perspective changed for the better.

At this point in my life, I'm surrounded by many people who serve as encouragers.  My family, my church family, friends from hither and yon.  But because I share a different relationship with all my "Blog-Reading Family," there is a name I must share with you.

Guerrina Waters.

Guerrina lives in New England.  She has read my blog almost since the earliest post three years ago.  Her son's family moved to a city near us and when she came to visit them, we met face to face. 

I was very touched that she made time for that meeting.

Sad to say, if I only had six days to spend with Spencer and Abby after traveling 1,500 miles to get to them, I don't think I'd share a moment of that time with ANYONE!  (Selfish, I know.)

But Guerrina graciously shared time with me at the coffee shop nearest her son's home. And if you read Embrace the Grace very often, you'll notice that Guerrina also takes time to comment pretty regularly.  (Comments are like the protein that keeps each blog writer going!)

Several weeks ago, I hit a wall with my writing.  The blank page laughed at me each time I opened it.  My thoughts seemed scattered and uninspiring. But finally, I mustered up enough courage to write what I considered a rather weak, rambling post. 

In no time at all, Guerrina showed up - complete with pom poms and cheers of affirmation.

Not gonna lie, she made me cry.

And so today, I say thank you!  Thank you to all those who chose to cheer lead for others in their lives.  Thank you for each spark of encouragement, whether large or small.  Thank you for words, hugs, smiles, touches, remembrances.  Thank you for choosing to be a refreshing spring instead of a drain!  (Saw that on a church sign.  Isn't it great?!)

Thanks especially to Guerrina! 


This week end, Frank and I get to minister together at a conference.  Sure looking forward to it!  We'd appreciate your prayers if we come to your mind.  Thanks, in advance!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Peas and Tanks

What could those two possibly have in common?  Peas and Tanks?!

Well, I'm glad you asked.

It's been quite some time since I regaled you with a post about our precious little treasures - Spencer Matthew and Abigail Grace.  Today is the day!!

Contrary to what one might imagine, I don't get to spend every single day cuddling, cooing, exploring and playing.  (Although, I would love to make a living at that!)

This weekend was our women's fall break away.  Some 1,500 women from central and southern FL gathered in Orlando to hear Lisa Bevere.  An amazing time!  But it was also the week end for the Century Ride - Frank and John's 100 mile bike ride raising money for missions.

Obviously, it was much easier for us to take the two babies to our conference than for John and Frank to each strap a child to their back packs.  The only difficulty?  Spencer and Abigail are so adorable that every woman at the conference wanted to squeeze them!

Joy had capable assistants in the form of aunties: MeaMea and KK.  Spencer's favorite nursery grandma, Joyce.  Playmates, Cuddlers, Rule Ignorers, Cartoon Voice Imitators, Special Food Providers.......and those were just the twenty-two ladies from Garden Grove Church!! 

Needless to say, Spencer and Abigail were not lacking for entertainment, attention or love this weekend.

At one point, I circled around the back of the auditorium to step outside and Spence spotted me coming toward him.  Before Joy could grab him, he took off running toward me on his chubby little legs.  Eyes lit up like Christmas; arms reaching; tiny voice yelling.  Over the sound of 1,500 women singing all I could hear was, "Nonni!  Nonni!"

I stopped in my tracks and bent down to hug the most precious little boy on earth!

As we walked down the long corridors, people would routinely be taken in by Abby's big blue eyes or Spencer's wide smile.  They would slow down to say something and Spencer would beat them to it by waving and saying loudly, "HI!"

He has become extremely verbal, especially in the past few weeks.

He went into Frank's office last Sunday and when Frank said out of habit, "Spencer!  How are you?"  Spencer replied right on cue, "GOOD!"

"Did you hear that?!"  Frank yelled in surprise.  "I certainly did," I replied. "He's brilliant!"  Spencer looked around as if to say, "What's the big deal?"

We are southern people living in a southern culture where it's still preferable that children respond to adults with ma'am and sir.  So, Joy has been working with him already.  "Do you want another bite of chicken?"  "Esss Mum!"  "Do you want to ride with Daddy?"  "Ess Hur!"

(I have a huge, silly grin on my face right now as I write this for you!)

After staff meeting last week, John played a video that Joy had just text to him.  Spencer looked straight into the phone camera and said, "Hi, Dad!  I wuv ooo!"  We stopped playing it back once everyone in the office had enjoyed it at least twice.

I won't overwhelm you with illustrations using all his vocabulary that now exceeds 75 words. (Wait, did that sound slightly braggadocios?  Sorry.)   But now you'll understand where I'm going with the peas and tanks.

A while back, Spencer was wanting something that Joy didn't intend to give him.  After waiting a while, he came back to her, looked up with those huge round eyes and earnestly said, "Peas, Tanks, Ooo Elcome!"
He pulled out all the politeness he had in his arsenal. 

Of course, Joy caved immediately!  What's the use of being consistent if you can't opt out occasionally?

His tiny voice has reminded me of when his aunts were my babies.  Aunt Kristin who said, "I Yove Louu!"  Aunt Meagan who frantically screamed, "Boop On!  Boop On!"  until we realized that she was trying to get us to beep the horn while driving through a tunnel.  

I'd love to hear about the favorite phrases and quotes of your little ones.  Even if they're now adults with their own babies.  

Peas have a blessed Sunday.  And Tanks for taking time to read today!









Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Preaching. Planning. Praying.

I often wonder who I am at my very core!  Don't you?

What would we say or do if we weren't able to keep our "Polite 'n Proper Mask" tightly fitted?

My grandmother didn't accept Christ as Savior until her late thirties.  By that time, Grandma Miller had lived a lot of life; not all of it pristine!  She had been one saucy lady!

But she came to love Jesus even more passionately and set a new course for her descendants.  (One of which was me.)

In her later years, Alzheimer's began to steal the Grandma we knew.   Her behavior changed; especially toward my mom.  Caring for Grandma became a ministry of sheer love and determination that my mom, an only child, gave gladly.

One funny moment we all remember took place when Frank, the girls and I came home for a visit from NC.

Grandma always called Frank "Jeff" because that was the name of the last boyfriend she could recall.  (Mine, not hers.)  Frank would graciously respond and never took offense.  After all he got the girl, not Jeff!

The morning after we arrived for our visit, Frank met Grandma coming toward him in the hallway and she reached up to pat his face.  He stopped to let the precious, wrinkled and pillowy hands embrace his cheeks.  "Good morning, Grandma."

She looked into his eyes, gave a warm smile and tenderly crooned, "Jeff, you are the sweetest little Son of a Gun I ever saw!"  (Except she didn't say Gun!)

Yep, that would be MY grandma without her "Polite 'n Proper Mask."

Fortunately, we had all grown up hearing Grandma talk candidly to Jesus.  We had seen her acts of kindness.  We had observed her as she chose to forgive others.  We witnessed her generosity.  We knew Grandma - and that wasn't really her!

When my friend, Lisa, sat with Hospice two weeks ago she faced the question on behalf of her husband. 

"Your husband has tumors on his brain," the nurse said.  "As he nears the end, you should expect that he will likely say things you aren't accustomed to hearing.  Just remember it's not him, it's the illness causing him to talk like that."

Brent has pastored for many years!  Talking was part of what he did for a living!  He was known as an encourager of anyone he came into contact with!  Words!  Powerful Words!  Intentional Words!

Lisa said she knew that Brent would be mortified if his final words were hurtful or inappropriate!

The last night before Brent was moved to the Hospice facility, the pain became intolerable.  Lisa requested a nurse come to their home.

With the nurse's help, they finally got the pain to a more manageable level.  And then Lisa said an amazing thing happened.

Brent's core took over! 

He started preaching.  He preached for several minutes to what must have been a crowd of angels. 

Then he abruptly switched to planning.

Lisa said she listened to his one-sided conversation as he gave directions, "Yes, we need to take care of that right away.  Let's get moving on it now.  Great!  I can see about that tomorrow."  And on it went.

Next, he began to pray.  His prayer covered many things.  He talked with God just as he had almost all his life.

Suddenly he went back to preaching.  Then planning.  Then praying.  The cycle continued for some time.

At one point the nurse interrupted, "Brent!  Are you aware that it's one in the morning?!" 

Lisa said Brent stopped mid-sentence, looked up at the nurse and said, "You have lovely eyebrows!  Doesn't she, Lisa?  Look at her eyebrows!"

Preaching.  Planning.  Praying.  Encouraging.

Brent's final words were too personal to share on a public platform such as this.  But let me assure you, they brought tears to our eyes as Lisa relayed them to us.

Preaching.  Planning.  Praying.  Encouraging.

Brent Page finished as he lived!  What a testimony!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tribute

Brent Page, our lifetime friend, went to Heaven yesterday.

At only 49, it seems far too early for us that God would call him home.  But ironically, during my devotion time this morning, I read Isaiah's words in chapter 55, "My thoughts are not your thoughts.  My ways are not your ways." 

We've known the Pages since our youthful pastoring days in the mountains of NC. Their four children came along just about the same time as our little tribe.  Frank and Brenton even looked a lot alike.  They honestly could have passed for brothers.

Same build.  Dark hair.  Beard and mustache.  Same stride.  Wide smiles. 

People at conferences where I had spoken, routinely approached Brenton saying, "Oh, your wife did such a great job!"  Eventually, he quit trying to explain that he wasn't Frank Hawley and just responded, "Thanks!"

At one state event we attended, a lady kept coming up to Frank saying, "I have that air conditioner for you."
Frank thought she was just confused; we didn't know anything about an air conditioner.  Only after she became totally frustrated and threatened to leave it in the church foyer did we realize the truth.  She saw Frank and thought she was talking to Brent!

To make it more confusing, Lisa and I were both ministers, too.  Had several precious little children in tow.  And for a while, both had dark hair!

Last year, I spoke for a conference Lisa directed for the women of Ohio - where they now pastor.  (Lisa directs women's ministry for that state and Brent has been the men's director for quite some time.)  Frank went with me.  He and Brent enjoyed three great days together!

The Pages have been the quintessential example of wonderful, long distance friends. 

Sometimes we went a couple of years without hearing from one another.  But when we finally got together, it was like no time had elapsed at all.  Conversation came easily; laughter abounded!  And a mutual appreciation for the friendship we treasured always served as the connective tissue.    

When Lisa contacted us this summer to say Brent was sick, we began to pray.  Brent had beaten cancer in his twenties.  We loved sitting around their farmhouse table, rehearsing that testimony!  And we fully expected that God would use this opportunity to once again show that He performs miracles.

This cancer became aggressive - very quickly.  And one afternoon we found ourselves on the phone with Lisa as they rushed Brent to the hospital; he had become too weak to walk!

Frank felt an urgency to get to his friend!

A couple in our church learned of the situation and approached me in the foyer.  "We want to pay for Pastor AND you to go to Ohio.  Go, love on your friends."  Oh, what a church we serve!

When we announced the next week that we would be flying to OH, our precious congregation took up a generous collection to help with the medical expenses the Pages faced.  (The cancer from earlier left Brent un-insurable.) 

Brent came home from the hospital and we flew to Columbus.  As soon as we dropped off our bags at the hotel, we called to say we were on our way to their house.

When we turned into their driveway, we saw them.  Brent and Lisa were standing, arm in arm, on the wrap around porch.  Now we know the effort it took for Brent to meet Frank there!

The two, brawny preachers grabbed each other in a bear hug that lasted for a very long time.

The traditional clap on the back (which seems to signal the end of all men's hugs) was followed by surreptitious swiping at eyes that had become misty.  And we followed them into the living room. 

For two and a half marvelous days we sat together.  Sometimes laughing; sometimes quiet.  Praying!  Always Praying!

I did whisk Lisa away for a visit to Starbucks.  But mostly we sat all together; drawing strength; celebrating life; rehearsing God's greatness. 

Frank has such an innate sensitivity for times like this.  (Probably part of what makes him such a compassionate pastor.)  He seems to always know when to be silent, when to speak and what words will bring encouragement to all involved.  I followed his lead.

When it came time for us to head back to the airport, we gathered around Brent's chair.  Frank led in prayer just as scripture mandates.  We bowed our heads and asked our heavenly Father for a miracle! 

The miracle has come but not in the way we thought.  Today, Brent is completely free of cancer.  He feels no pain at all and has the strength of his youth.  Scripture tells us that he is looking on the face of his Savior!  He has heard those marvelous words, "Well done, faithful servant!"   We are so glad for him!

But our hearts break for Lisa, Lindsay, Garrett, Taylor and his wife, Brooks and his.  We also grieve with the loving church family he left behind.

A mentor of ours (Martha Tennison) says that while we never question God's authority, we do ALL have questions!  So true for me today.

How appropriate that the Lord sent me to Isaiah this morning.  He also reminded me of the three amazing young men that Brent has raised to follow in his footsteps.  I see Lisa preaching before their church and Lindsay directing everything from behind the scenes.  I know they will go forward.

And in my heart I hear the whisper, "We don't grieve as those who have no hope.  We will see Brent again!"

Until then...........









Sunday, September 23, 2012

Learning!

Do we get credit for the learning that we STUMBLE upon?!

I think we should!

Experts tell us that in order to stay mentally alert, we need to keep learning.  I'm fine with that.  But all this technology that I'm forced to deal with brings me to, what I consider, this totally relevant question:  Do we get credit for stumbling on information?

(I see all the educators in the audience shaking their heads with disbelief.  "She's 54 years old and still checking on extra credit?!"  Yes, it's true.  I was an overachiever in school!  And I had a zit on my temple last week.  So?) 

Actually, the dilemma involves both this blog and my phone.

My blog format has changed dramatically. It has me completely stumped. No one came on line to show me what to click and where to scroll the way Amanda did when she set me up.  It took me almost twenty minutes to figure out how to make a simple correction on my last post.  SIGH!

But I'm choosing to persevere!

And during vacation, my phone started acting up.  I don't know how to describe to you what it was doing exactly.

It created a three way call that I didn't request. When trying to find a number, the contacts list began rolling maniacally.  It called random people without my knowledge.  It frequently chose to mute itself in the middle of conversations.  This action left me yelling,  "I'm still here!  Please hold on!"  Pressing buttons.   Shaking the stupid thing.  Accosting strangers to beg for their help.  "Do you know how to un-mute this thing?!"

As soon as we got home, Frank took me directly to the phone store for a replacement.  I hate going to the phone store because I'm so far removed from any vestige of understanding.  As the sales person gives their pitch, I'm left to nod with the same glazed expression I had all during high school Geometry!

I nod.  Then I look at Frank.  Back at the sales person.  They recognize the lack of comprehension.  Look at Frank.  Finally asking me, "What color cover would you like, little girl?"  That's an exaggeration, of course. But only a slight one!

Reuben gave a brilliant sales pitch and convinced me (Frank) that it was time to upgrade to an I Phone.

Now, I may not understand when they talk about giggling bites, magnanimous pixies, blue teeth, why fly, otter locks and eye clouds.  But I DO understand that if I'm happy with an I Phone 4 and I Phone 5 will be coming out in just a few days, they will lower the price of 4!

(Have I mentioned that I'm FRUGAL?!)

I knew there would be MUCH to learn with such a dramatic transition.  But it also made sense. And besides, the learning would guarantee increased brain activity!  Right?

So, I limped along two more weeks with the sorely inadequate phone I had carried for almost three years.  And on Friday, after everyone else had clamored to purchase their very own I Phone 5, we swooped in to purchase a 4.

At Half Price!

And in case anyone is curious...........I chose a sparkly silver cover.  Just so you know.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Moving Day

  • Boxes packed.  Identified.  Stacked.
  • Cleaning supplies purchased.
  • Utilities and deposits - paid.  (Ouch!)
  • Help recruited.
  • Trucks requisitioned.
  • Keys in hand.
  • READY!  SET!!  GO!!!
Moving Day is here!    For Meagan and Nathan, that is.

Today they will set up house-keeping in their very first apartment.  "So, where have they been up until this point?" you may wonder.

For the past year, the wise young couple have been living with John and Joy.  Saving is high on Nathan's priority list.  (Go, Nathan!)  So when the Schreck's invited them to live with them for a while, they jumped on the opportunity.

Of course, they've contributed financially.  And having them around when Abigail was born proved to be a HUGE blessing! Spencer loves his "MeaMea" and Uncle "NayNay".  Meg and Nate kept things normal for him while mom and dad were busy having a new baby.

The newlyweds carved out a private retreat in the spare bedroom.  Both families set up and adhered to healthy "boundaries."  They quickly discussed any potentially toxic behaviors.  And forgave - DAILY.

That's how multiple families successfully share one home; just in case you wondered. 

But the time has finally arrived when the Smiths will establish their own house.  Meagan is ecstatic about putting out their wedding gifts.  Dishes, towels, blankets, pots and pans.  A wide assortment graces my entryway even as you read this post.

Of course, all things in our lives co-ordinate with the church calendar.  So before moving actually commences, all the fellows are currently engaged in the youth flag football game.  But there's also a method to the madness.

All flag football participants (mostly strong, healthy young men) will be invited to PIZZA and a moving party immediately following the game.  Brilliant, right?!

Joy is a little sad, oddly enough.  All those participating have either shared life full-time in a fifth wheel or they've lived with family before.  So, she knows there will be a huge hole where the Smiths have been. 

But life marches on!

It's moving day!



(If this post seems unusually short, that's because it is!  Last week I attended a class taught by Deanna Shrodes on maximizing our time.  In fact, she has a wonderful book just out entitled: JUGGLE, available on line.  Every single time I hear Deanna teach on organizing and time management, I'm challenged.  Today's short post is an effort to act on that challenge.  I gave myself thirty minutes!  That's all!  And I've already been interrupted three times.  But I'm within two minutes of my goal!!  Check out Deanna's book; you'll be impacted, I'm sure!)




Thursday, September 13, 2012

New Friend

Ah, the blank page!

I just finished tackling a blank page which needed to yield an entire teaching for this weekend.

So excited to be teaching a class for our district training event -the EXPERIENCE conference. Over a thousand leaders will be attending. And while my class will be for a limited number, it's always fun to be part of something like this.

But blank pages aren't the topic for my post today.

I wanted to tell you about a new guy that has come into my life. His name is Clark!

"Why is she writing about some new guy? I knew those dance lessons would lead to something crazy!" You thought that, didn't you?

Actually, Frank introduced me to Clark and practically insisted that we become friends. Clark has a special talent for massaging feet. And Frank gladly agreed to pay to have Clark begin massaging my feet on a regular basis!

"Is he a podiatrist?" you ask. No.

"Perhaps a giver of pedicures?" (Would that be a 'pedicurist,' I wonder?)

"Is he a masseuse?" Uh, NO!

None of the above.

Clark is actually my new shoe! Well, the maker of my new shoe. And I don't mind telling you that I'm in love!

All those years of standing in high heeled shoes have finally caught up to me. Some mornings my feet hurt so badly I don't want to stand on them. Not much choice there.

Last fall I went to see about a simple pain in my foot and ended up with a needle sticking through my foot! And believe it or not, that doctor dared to tell me it would feel better when it quit hurting! Oh, yes he did!!

So I've been on the hunt for comfy shoes that don't look like I'm already to the shuffling stage of life.

Enter my new friend.......CLARK! (Please hear the sounds of angelic, harp-type music and a hundred voice choir vocalizing a single, "AAHHHHH!!")

Comfortable sandals. Comfortable heels. Comfortable boots. Comfortable flats. Closed toes. Open toes. Straps. Sling-backs. And.........COLORS! Lots and lots of colors!!

I told Joy once that before they were born, I had a terrible shoe fetish. It mysteriously disappeared with six little girl feet to shod. But now that they all pay for their own podiatry needs? I feel the fetish returning with a vengeance!

Clark really thinks highly of the shoes they've created. They think women will pay any price for comfort combined with style. But they haven't met me. I have to experience comfort in both my feet and my pocket to know complete satisfaction.

Can you imagine my great joy when I caught not, one but two pairs of the heavenly footwear at more than seventy-five per cent OFF the original price?! (Cue angelic harps and singers!)

"Did you buy them both?" you ask.

Absolutely! Without even so much as a single moment of buyer's remorse!

So when I stand to teach this weekend, it will be without any consideration of how far I walked across the church campus to reach my designated teaching location. I will walk confidently, stylishly, and with economical soundness of mind.

Wonderful, indeed!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Stopping

(Explanation: This post was actually written early last week while I had no internet service available. When I finally reached an internet location, I had completely "unhooked" and it has taken me until today to get going again. I have another story to put on for tonight or tomorrow.)

How I’m wishing I had a birder book for this location!

I had never heard the term “birder” until talking with Allison who described herself and her husband as “avid birders.” Apparently, a birder is one who enjoys bird watching. Who knew? Well, Allison of course!

Anyway! I’m sitting on the porch of a lovely cabin provided by friends for the week. And I’m overwhelmed by the variety of birds flying all around. The hummingbirds I recognized right away.

Frank and I have watched them for two days now. We’ve identified a feisty one who battles (mid-air) to keep others away from the feeder she has claimed as her very own.

When I jokingly asked Frank what we should name this ferocious, mini-attack helicopter he immediately responded, “ATTILA!” I burst out laughing and said, “Attila it is!”

Being preachers, we naturally found a sermon illustration in that right away.

The little hummingbird didn’t put that feeder up. She has nothing to do with the life-giving nectar that’s freely available to her. She made no effort to obtain it.

And yet, she feels totally justified in trying to keep it all to herself.

Sounds like a lot of Christian people we’ve met.

They’ve received lavish doses of grace and mercy. They did nothing themselves to obtain it. It’s a free gift they’ve readily accepted. But they often point a judgmental finger at others, feeling totally justified in keeping the grace just for them. HMMM!

(Yeah, I know! Only preachers can watch a hummingbird and come away with a sermon illustration. Occupational hazard!)

A cardinal just visited the feeder behind us. And there are a host of other varieties. Tiny grey creatures, some with black caps. Gorgeous ones with yellow wings and chests. Beaks of orange and white. Red feet, black claws. Feathers of blue and even green. Such extravagance in the Father’s design!

The larger ones, like crows, aren’t as interested in the seeds we’ve made available. Too much effort, I suppose. (Sermon illustration in that; but I’ll save it for another time.)

I’m also intrigued by the incredible songs surrounding us. Technological silence makes way for a symphony of other sounds! Not a bad practice every now and again.

As you’ve probably surmised, we are on VACATION! And oh, how great is the joy of it!! I try to routinely stop at some point each day and appreciate the REAL world surrounding us. But knowing that I have almost two weeks to drink it in? Delicious indeed!

I’m not able to post this until we go into town later. (If we had a horse and buckboard wagon, you could start calling me Laura Ingles.) But post I shall.

And as my mind unwinds, I find I’m overrun with deeper thoughts I’d love to share. Points of encouragement I’d like to offer. Brace yourself, dear readers. After this STOP, I imagine I shall be full to over-flowing!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Such a Son (in-law)

My precious friend Becky, along with her family had to make a devastating decision last week. Most of you remember that Becky is also Nathan's mom.

Snowy, their little white poof of a dog, had aged beyond the help any veterinarian could offer. So last Wednesday, after Herculean efforts, they were forced to allow the vet to put him to sleep.

Snowy had been a part of the Smith family for over thirteen years. That little guy had done much more than his fair share of comforting, cuddling and laughter-creating! We know from personal experience.

He was part of the journey through Sarah's cancer treatments as well as Becky's. He shared their "Gypsy Lifestyle." (The Smiths were evangelists for sixteen years. Nathan and Sarah both were on the road within weeks of being born.) He accompanied them through three major moves. And assisted Nathan and Sarah as they braved the halls of new schools.

Having experienced a similar loss, my heart ached for Becky, Sarah and Steve. But it was Nathan that I was able to hug and listen to as he reminisced.

Nathan was actually the first Smith to request a dog, as I understand it. His level of loss became much clearer when I realized that Snowy became part of my son-in-law's life when Nate was only nine years old!

(When we look at grown men complete with facial hair, muscles and booming voices, we tend to forget that they were first little boys. Little boys with tender hearts.)

Snowy was Nathan's constant companion while the family focused on the battle for Sarah's life. He was the pest under Nathan's baseball cleats through high school. Whatever changes occurred once he went away to college, Nathan knew that nothing ever changed with Snowy.

I listened and watched his clear eyes become a bit cloudy as Nathan talked about the favorite, four-legged family member.

But his main focus made my heart cry. In typical Nathan-esque fashion he shared his perspective. "Yeah, this is tough. But I think the really hard part will come for Mom when Sarah goes off to college. She'll need something to nurture then for sure."

(The focus wasn't his own level of sadness but rather his concern for his mom and her future emotions.)

"I don't know. If it's not another dog it may be her writing or maybe even some new songs. Yeah, Mom's a nurturer!"

No, he isn't in his thirties. But I'll tell you what Nathan IS. He's a deep thinker and a man who understands the importance of feelings.

And that's probably why my youngest daughter is now known as Mrs. Smith!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Gift

Brace yourself!

This post will most assuredly disrupt your picture of the behavior deemed acceptable by middle aged pastors and their wives. The information I'm preparing to share will undoubtedly shock and at the very least surprise some of my readers. Feel free to click out now.

I want to tell you what my husband gave to me as a birthday gift. Never in a million years would you guess this on your own. Not if I gave you each a week to come up with an answer would you find the correct one. This gift ranks so far out of the box that I gasped and tears sprang to my eyes when I opened it. It has even been requested by other husbands that he not share the identity of this gift.

Are you braced? (Consider this your last and final warning!)

My husband of thirty-three years; my ordained minister husband; married to his ordained minister wife; father of three ministry daughters and two ministry sons (in-law); my ultra-conservative husband purchased, for us as a couple,................................

BALL ROOM DANCE LESSONS!!

Shocker, right?! I tried to tell you!

While some of you are surprised, others wonder why I'm making such a big deal of this. Please allow me to explain. (After all, isn't the explaining the main purpose of blogging?)

I've mentioned before that we are part of a conservative denomination. Dancing is usually frowned upon in these circles.

When I was five, my dad found me hidden in our kitchen pantry. The transistor radio blaring the sweet sounds of Elvis while I did my best impression of the Twist! Dad helped bring understanding to me very quickly. Dancing was not encouraged nor tolerated in our home.

(Of course, the fact that I had hidden in the pantry reveals that I already knew this - even at five.)

As a teen-ager, I attended a conservative private high school that provided a Jr.-Sr. Banquet experience instead of a prom. Dangers of dancing dodged, yet again.

When we became pastors and young brides planned dancing as part of the weddings we performed, we always slipped away before the DJ could get rolling.

But genetic rhythm will not be denied!

You see, Mom Hawley is an incredible dancer! And she taught her young son (who became my minister husband) all the great dances of the forties and fifties. At holiday gatherings, it's been such fun to watch the two of them jitterbug or swing through several of Mom's favorite songs.

So when Joy married John, she insisted on a father-daughter dance. Definitely out of the comfort box for my parents. But her face just beamed as Daddy twirled her to the strains of "My Girl!" Who could possibly be offended by that?

Then came Meagan - who has never fit into any sort of box! Without question, she and Dad would dance to Steven Curtis Chapman's song, "Dance with Cinderella." But she also requested that everyone come to the dance floor for almost an hour of fun, family-friendly dance songs.

I bravely joined my family on that dance floor. But due to the fact that I'm severely dance-challenged, I mostly swayed slowly from right to left. Frank attempted a couple of easy twirls while giving verbal cues through-out the dangerous exercise.

I can "put my right foot in" with the best of them. But my skills falter sharply when instruction stops.

Because music is lifeblood to her, Kristin has made no attempt to hide the fact that she plans on a full DJ experience for her wedding some day. So for years, I've bemoaned how embarrassed I'll be at her wedding. I mean, what if she marries into a family of dancing divas?

Can't you just see it? The entire wedding party, every guest, twirling and dipping and jiving and hopping and........... I don't know, what else do you do when you dance? And there I'll be. Sitting demurely on the sideline, clapping politely, smiling broadly, wishing I could join them.

Well, not any more!

At some point in the very near future, I will don my most comfortable Clark flats. I will stand close to the man I love most in all the world. And with professional instruction, I will finally live a dream I've had since I was five years old.

I will dance!




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