Saturday, January 28, 2012

It's Real

You must read this book!

I seldom make demanding statements in this blog and I can't remember ever doing a book review. But I'm currently reading a book that is such an encouragement to me, I just had to share.

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo is a must read for every Christian. And especially for every Christian who has lost a loved one. The book is the story of the Burpo's son, Colton.......well, they say it best. "A little boy's astounding story of his trip to Heaven and back."

When Colton was three, doctors misdiagnosed a burst appendix and the little boy had a death-like experience. He was able to give complete and accurate details about things he had no way of knowing if his claim of going to Heaven wasn't true.

The simplicity of the writing makes it an easy read. The powerful truth revealed; the many sign posts pointing to a literal after-life; the confirmation of all I've believed and hoped about Heaven; makes the story profound.

Mom's birthday, last Monday, brought a lot of reflection. It's so true that no matter what your relationship may have been with your parent, you will miss them when they're gone. And I was told that you always will. I'm beginning to believe that, too.

So this little book is quite timely for me.

Over the course of a couple of years, Colton matter-of-factually reported many elements of the "trip" he experienced. Jesus was the first person he saw. (Frank has always told the grieving, "When a believer closes their eyes to this world, they open them to the face of Jesus.")

No one was old. It never gets dark in Heaven. John the Baptist was nice. Jesus died on the cross so everyone could come see His Dad in Heaven.

After reading a few more chapters the other night, I went into the garage where Frank was working and just laid my head on his shoulder to cry a bit.

Mom is experiencing so many amazing things! She has gotten there ahead of us and is more alive now than she's ever been. I wouldn't ask for her to come back for anything. But I still miss her being here with us.

Reality, bitter sweet at best.

The good news? The baby we lost years ago is waiting for us. The baby John and Joy lost just after Mom died is probably hanging out with "Mema". And best of all, this Jesus we've trusted and lived for will be there to greet us when we get to our eternal home.

Now that's a hope that will carry you into Sunday!

PS - Special thanks to Sue G for her endearing comments on the post about Frank's b-day. It's amazing how "connected" we all feel through this medium of blogging. I'm honored to have the privilege of inviting you to journey with us. Can't wait to meet each one personally, even if it is in our "Heavenly Home"! Blessings!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Double Nickles

Fifty-five years ago today, a miracle happened!

A baby named John Franklin came into the world. Weighing just over ten pounds; first born; first grandchild; a SON; surely all of heaven rejoiced. Or at least, that's what his mom thought. And trust me, she still thinks that way all these years later.

That baby boy grew up to become the man who captured my heart. And today we celebrate him!

Norman Rockwell; Carlyle, PA; all things patriotic; all things family oriented; these describe Frank. And topping it off is his innate love of people! Guess that's what makes him such a great pastor.

There are lots of funny stories from his childhood, like the time he rode his tricycle toward a busy intersection. Peddling like the wind with Mom running behind him, screaming for him to stop.

Thankfully she beat him to the stop sign. And as was customary in those days, she beat him back to the house! Just to help him remember never to repeat that particular exercise.

Mischief found Frank all through his growing up years. Typical small-town pranks like doggie deposits collected in a brown paper bag. A doorbell would ring, boys would run, the home owner would open the door to find a paper bag on fire.

Stomping out the fire (natural response) would ruin the home owner's shoe and leave the boys rolling in laughter on the other side of the hedge . (Disclaimer: Do NOT try this at home!)

Mom enrolled Frank in Boy Scouts early on, attempting to channel some of that energy in a positive direction. He excelled, of course and still quotes to us frequently, "Leave the campsite better than you found it!"

Another of my favorite growing up in Dunn stories took place during high school. One of his teachers really didn't want to teach and seldom paid attention to the students. On a dare, Frank waited until the teacher got absorbed in writing on the blackboard and he climbed out the window.

But simple escape wasn't enough for our young hero. No, he had to take it a step further. Frank came around to the door of the classroom and knocked. When the teacher opened the door, Frank asked for himself. The disengaged educator scanned the room and said, "He must be absent today!" Not making it up, dear readers.

I'll forever be grateful for Sandra Bass Palmer who said to me, "You should go out with Frank Hawley. He's really a great guy!" Sandra was the proctor of my hall at Southeastern College and I pretty much took everything she said as Gospel.

So the next time he asked me out, I made sure I went! Even though I had to ask another young man to bring me back to the dorm earlier than planned so I could go out with Frank. No, I did not feel it necessary to make either young man aware of the full story at that time! Besides, Frank had another "special" friend then too.

When Frank left home to attend Southeastern College, his mom urged him to become friends with lots of girls and not date just one. He was always an obedient son!

But in the end, it was Sheri Burke that won his heart. And I've endeavored to keep winning it over these past three decades.

I've turned over all the many things I could write about this wonderful fellow who has today gained membership into the "Double Nickle Club".

The one I finally settled on offers hope to all men who read this post.

I've been amazed through the years at what a wonderful father Frank is to these three daughters God put in his world. That's more estrogen than any one man should have to navigate.

He knew everyone's favorite snacks, drinks and TV shows. He kept up with dolls, curlers, hair bows and heartthrobs. He even knew where to find pantyhose and other girlie things in any grocery store!

Frank worked hard to understand the delicate balance of important issues: Discipline and hugs. Prayer and laughter. A little indulgence and a lot of love.

In fact, God used Frank's relationship with our girls to bring healing to a few issues in my own "Little Girl Heart". Through him, I've caught a much better perspective of how our Heavenly Father loves each of us.

He didn't have the benefit of a consistent father figure in his formative years. His dad went off in search of greener pastures when Frank was eight. He adored his granddad; but polio had left him almost incapacitated. And Dad Hawley (a wonderful step dad) didn't come on the scene until Frank's teens.

No, Frank didn't inherit his loving father heart; he asked God to develop it!

He diligently watched other men who had good relationships with their own children. He read constantly; listened to hours of James Dobson teaching; repented when he missed it and prayed. He prayed like his life depended on it!

And so it has.

A dear friend delivered fresh collard greens and hot corn bread to the office yesterday in honor of Pastor Frank's birthday. The man's eyes lit up like a pin-ball machine! (Southern born; Southern bred.)

Tonight his family - a wife, three daughters, two "sons", and a perfect grandson - will gather around the dinner table to celebrate him. He'll read his cards with a frog in his throat. A few tears will escape. We'll hold our sides with laughter. And as the accolades are shared, he'll genuinely be surprised by what is said.

Heroes seldom recognize themselves as such. But I'm here to testify that John Franklin Hawley can wear the badge!

Happy Birthday, Honey! So very proud of you...........

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Oh, the power of words!

Parables were one of the primary teaching tools of Jesus. I've experienced the transformation that can take place in the middle of an explosive or difficult situation. A well expressed word picture can make an immediate difference. It's quite amazing!

For example:

This week end, Frank and I had an awesome privilege. A young man in our church blessed us with complimentary tickets to hear the Florida Symphony perform. And the theme of the evening? Love Songs.

Frank and I RELISH good music! And to sit in a theater surrounded by the waves of flawlessly performed orchestral pieces........well, it was delicious.

At one point Frank whispered, "I think we're the youngest people in here."

I stifled a giggle then scanned the sea of silver and white heads. It did indeed appear that we were most likely well below the median age.

So many cute, older couples. Refined ladies, beautifully manicured. Gentlemen sitting tall and handsome. They epitomized grace and culture.

And it was then that I caught sight of him.

In a room filled with people sitting shoulder to shoulder; many holding hands; several men with arms draped over the seat of their "sweetheart"........he stood out like a sore thumb.

A man obviously handsome in his younger days. Time, work, life in general had aged him. He sat with his open palms resting casually on his knees. He drank in the music as it rolled across the room.

My heart caught. He sat alone. "Why?" I wondered. Scenarios began to play out in my mind.
  • His wife was unable to make the concert at the last minute and he hated to waste the tickets.
  • Perhaps a distant family member had arrived as an unexpected guest.
  • Maybe she wasn't feeling well and had insisted that he go on alone.

Then my mind went to what I thought must surely be the obvious:

  • His wife had recently passed away; and he had determined to attend the performance in her honor!

My throat constricted and tears sprang to my eyes. Here I sat, snuggled next to the man I love, listening to some of the greatest love songs of all time.

I whispered, "Oh honey, look. That gentleman in front of us. He's alone!" (The worst state of being that I could imagine at that moment!)

Frank read my mind. He knew exactly where my vivid imagination had taken me.

"Honey," his head bent close to my ear. "his wife is probably in the orchestra."

A smile broke across my strained brow. Like magic, the word picture Frank suggested transformed the moment. It made perfect sense. His brighter story idea saved our evening.

Oh, the power of a word picture. That was all it took:

A lovely time was had by all!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Call

Gotta say, There's just nothing else quite as intense, exciting and surprising as ministry!

The funny stories leave you gasping for air. The opportunities to encourage and challenge others have no equal. The tears with those suffering come unbidden.

I've had many different "jobs" in my lifetime but the work I do as a pastor is so much more fulfilling than any other.

For example, you'll never believe what my pastoral calling led to on Monday night.

At 7:55 p.m., I dialed a long distance number that put me on a conference line. As soon as I connected, the host said, "Welcome to the program!"

After a song and a short prayer time, the host introduced me to the "audience" as Shirley Holly. (We straightened that out later.) For the next forty-five minutes I shared my testimony with truck drivers from all over the country.

Yep, I "preached" into the darkness with no one to nod their head or respond in any way.

I used a text I've loved since childhood; told a couple of funny stories; shared a personal illustration; prayed for those listening; and brought it home for a landing at exactly the time they'd asked.

My greatest fear? Every preacher tends to put part of the congregation to sleep occasionally. I really hoped that wouldn't happen this time!

They asked a few questions at the end and even invited me back. One of the co-hosts looked up my blog while we were doing the show. (Obviously, he wasn't driving.)

It stretched me w.a.y. out of my comfort zone. But I'm so thankful I had the opportunity!

I've done my fair share of nursing home services, side-walk Sunday Schools and such. But the Trucker's Chapel reminded me of some of the other more unusual venues I've had for sharing the Good News.

The Drive-In Church probably tops the list. Frank and I sang and preached for them a couple of times many years ago.

The pastors did indeed say things like, "If you want to amen, just honk your horn!" "Don't forget to secure the speaker on your window." "If you haven't given your offering yet, just turn on your windshield wipers and the ushers will come by."

And when it was time for the congregants to respond to the call for prayer we heard, "Yes. I see those headlights!" Can't make this up!

I've spoken at chapel services on the beach.

Several hundred people carrying their own lawn chairs. Some sitting on beer coolers. A few with umbrellas.

We've experienced open air meetings in India. Aglow meetings in England. And we've even taught Vacation Bible School on a veranda in Greece.

The common denominator? No matter how unusual the venue, there were people quieting themselves because they wanted to hear an encouraging word from God.

I can't think of another job I would rather have than this one!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Quite Right

I love all things English!

English tea. English literature. English gardens. English movies. English humour. (Spelled with a "u" because it's English, of course.)

Yesterday provided me an opportunity to experience delightfully decadent doses of English-ness.

We were privileged to host Dr. Alex Mitala of Uganda for the weekend. A powerful influence for God in his nation, Dr. Mitala oversees some 20,000 churches. Most of these he has helped launch.

Because Uganda was a British protectorate until recent years, Dr. Mitala also speaks perfect English. His thick British accent caused us to say, "Pardon me?" rather often. But spending time with him was a special treat.

He spoke for our Sunday morning service - powerful message. Then "Team Hawley" jumped into high gear to make lunch happen at our house.

(Special thanks to Ashley who dashed home making SURE I hadn't started a grease fire with the chicken in the oven. And to Amanda K. who quietly created Greek salad while the lunch preparation tornado swirled all around her.)

Dr. Mitala graciously answered every question ever conceived by Americans wanting information about Ugandan culture and church planting. (Inquisitive people.) Then he prayed blessing over our home and families.

Serving hot tea in my Country Roses teapot ranked right up there with the other highlights. After everything had been washed, dried, put away, the girls and I enjoyed one more cup of tea sitting around the table. (Yes, I'm still fasting tea; so I drank water. Vicarious living falls painfully short. I'm looking forward to next Sunday when the fast ends!)

Once everyone departed, I plopped on the loveseat and flipped to the PBS channel. When what to my wondering eyes should appear but Sense and Sensibility, oh my dear!

I seldom ever sit still long enough to watch an entire movie. But this had only ninety minutes left and I knew I'd fall asleep.

Instead, I watched every single, soul-stirring moment of the tangled web surrounding Eleanor, Mary Ann, Willoughby (the cad!), Edward (the handsome), and the Colonel (so long-suffering). Deep contented sigh.

Frank made it home from transporting Dr. Mitala to his next ministry spot. So we snuggled on the couch while he caught highlights from the days' football games.

After learning the scores, Frank did something incredible. Something selfless and noble. Something one would only expect from the romantic hero of a Jane Austin novel.

He turned the TV back to PBS and voluntarily watched Downton Abbey with me! Not asleep; fully engaged and asking questions about the plot. No wonder I keep falling in love with this guy!

As our English friends would say, "Brilliant! Quite Brilliant!"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I'm attempting to write the fastest blog I've ever produced.

Daphne Gray-Grant says, "Just type. Don't stop and edit. Just keep typing until the thought is done. Then you can correct."

Truth be known, I think editing does slow me down. (And causes great aching in my fore-arm from all the back spacing necessary to correct the plethora of errors!)

So today, because I've not been writing much due to serious time constraints, I shall write as quickly as possible before my next appointment in an attempt to create something worth reading in under two hours! (I think that was probably a pretty substantial run-on sentence but I can't stop to find out. Must. Keep. Writing!)

When we think about doing things in a rapid fashion, our family always laughs because of a sermon fauxpas made by Frank in our early ministry years.

Did I mention that we were VERY young when this error occurred? Early twenties; had only been pastoring about three years; still trying to get the flow of thinking, editing thoughts, preaching thoughts so others can grasp them.

So Frank was presenting a great message on how personal God is. God cares about the issues of our lives and hears our prayers. Frank wanted to convey the truth that God is able to make changes occur in a split second.

He had already said that God comes on the scene in a rapid fashion. But as most great preachers, he needed to re-iterate the truth. So his mind quickly scanned his personal thesaurus.

"Faster than rapid. More rapid? No. Rapider? No! What's a word meaning faster than rapid?" His thoughts flew!

And his mouth said, "God comes on the scene with great......... With great............ RAPISSCITY!!"

Just as quickly as his mouth uttered this split-second-old word, he knew it was most assuredly not the word he'd been looking for!

Several of us had the "Jaw Drop/Gasp" reaction.

One dear saint dropped her head to begin praying for her pastor.

And one honest guy in the very back simply burst out laughing and literally fell to his knees. (That's one way to get the whole congregation praying. I guess.)

So while it was indeed my intention to write this post in a fashion faster than rapid, I'm not quite sure I got to the "rapisscity" level! (How odd. My computer keeps underlining that word for some reason.)

Here's hoping the heavenly Father comes onto the scene of your personal situation today with great.................... With great...................... Certainty!

Yep, I'm a chicken!

Monday, January 9, 2012


And the year begins!

Here it is the 9th of January and I already feel a little behind. But because that's a common stance for me, I guess it works.

I did get to enjoy breakfast with a lifetime friend, Debbie Brown (Asheville, NC) on Saturday. She and her family were vacationing in Orlando so we met half-way at Cracker Barrel. Such a special treat.

Debbie and I served together as young (I mean really young) pastor's wives in Asheville. She and Mike were the senior pastors; Frank headed evangelism; I did the music; Wade and Brenda were the youth pastors; Bill and Edith covered finances.

Oh, what a team we were!

All in our late twenties/early thirties. Except Bill and Edith who brought wisdom and balance to our lives. (I'll never forget the day I accidentally knocked the front bumper off the church van while driving it. Frank took the bumper into Bill's office. Laid it on his desk. Opened his check book and sighed, "How much is this gonna cost me?!")

For nine years we all worked side by side.

It felt so odd to see the daughters we'd held as newborns now sitting at the breakfast table Saturday all grown up; starting families of their own. Of course, Debbie and I haven't aged a day. And we told one another that, repeatedly!

So much water under the bridge. So many lives impacted. So many memories made.

Two years ago when Bill and Edith's son (Andy) died unexpectedly, there was never a question of IF Frank and I would go. The discussion centered only around how quickly we could make the trip.

When Lindsey was undecided about college six years ago, she came to FL and attended SEU with Joy until she could settle on a direction. Lindsey was the only "friend" in Joy's wedding.

Wade and Frank have stayed in close contact even though we left Asheville almost twenty years ago. Too many youth camps. Too many hospital visits. Too many hilarious stories - which all translate to blackmail material.

I try to tell our young ministry students the importance of maintaining friendships; not burning bridges; keeping communication going. Some get it; others do not.

Me? I think it's incredibly satisfying to pick up the phone and start talking with someone you haven't heard from in over a year and have that feeling like you've just talked yesterday! Huge Sigh.

That's how it felt with Debbie on Saturday. Just like the years that have flown by were nothing.

Can you imagine what Heaven will be? I'll be busy the first thousand years just "meeting and greeting!"

I came home and sent a card I'd been meaning to send for quite some time. Maintaining friendships takes effort - sometimes a lot of it. But oh, the rewards! Oh, the rewards!!

Monday, January 2, 2012

All Things New

Happy New Year to YOU!

Aren't fresh starts a wonderful part of life? I love that God implemented the concept. The old year passes away and, viola - new beginning!

If only we allowed ourselves the blessing of "starting over" the way He does.

Our church begins each year with a corporate time of fasting and special prayer. Frank never dictates what anyone should fast. (We even encourage technology fasts for our under thirty folks. Skipping Facebook, X-Box, or television creates a lot of extra time for prayer!)

And this year we decided to meet whoever wants to join us for an old fashioned prayer meeting from 6:30-7:30 A.M. That would be in the early morning time! (Did I miss the staff meeting when that time was set?!)

Frank isn't pushing us beyond human limits. This prayer meeting runs Tuesday through Friday of the first week only.

Most congregants typically agree in prayer from their homes.

So this morning Kristin and I opted for jeans, sweatshirts, tennis shoes and no makeup. God looks on the heart, right?

Can you imagine my great surprise when we wheeled into the parking lot to discover multiple cars? Almost fifteen people had gathered in the auditorium; ready to meet with The Maker!

(Oh me, of little faith!)

I usually walk and pray; helps me stay focused. As I slowly traced the familiar path, I couldn't help expressing my thankfulness. Such dear friends who had denied themselves extra sleep so they could join us in seeking heaven for the coming year.

The whisper came to my heart quietly but very clear, "Starting well is so important!"

Not one person there had a guarantee they would be able to attend every single morning. All of us knew that if we hoped to fast anything for the full twenty-one days, we would need divine assistance. No one prayed exactly like anyone else. But we were there. We had made a start of it.

I over-complicate and worry about things so often.
  • I worry about doing things perfectly.
  • I worry about the outcome.
  • I even worry about how long I'll be able to keep going.
  • But I should.............Just START!

New beginnings somehow bring their own incredible energy. Pushing us toward accomplishment.

I dare say there are untold dreams swirling in your heart as you read this post.

Let 2012 be the year!

Throw caution to the wind! Stop worrying. Pondering. Reasoning. Making excuses. Just Start!

I feel sure that the One who created the concept of fresh beginnings is just waiting for you (and me) to launch out into the unknown. And He provides Divine Assistance we never could have accounted for.

Can't wait to hear what exciting new beginning you've chosen!