Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Full Circle

I'm well aware that Disney feels they have the corner on understanding the "Circle of Life". But I assure you, they do not.

Over the past thirty-six hours, I've experienced the true circle of life and it is a God-ordained, miraculous thing!

On Sunday, I had the delightful pleasure of holding Jayden Brackett for the first time. Her mom and dad worked with us during their college days and a little beyond. (Nicki served as worship leader for three years and Fred Alex helped with youth.)

They now live in Alabama but their brand new baby girl needed to meet Nicki's family. Fortunately, they live in Orlando. So everyone came to Garden Grove for Sunday service. A marvelous surprise since that also drew our former administrative assistant, Jeremy and his sweet wife Liz. A joyful family reunion!

I got to hold Jayden throughout the opening of service. She dozed contentedly in my arms while we sang and worshiped God together. Of course, Frank had to hold her up for the congregation to see. (Huge Smile Inserted Here.)

All the attention didn't phase her in the least. Tiny fingers, precious nose, sweet lips, gorgeous eyes. Perfection. God's message that the world goes on. And she just slept through it all.

After service, they honored us by asking that Frank do her dedication service sometime in the near future. "You married her mom and dad," Nicki said. "We figured it only natural that you would dedicate her."

That will go on the calendar this week!

Then Monday, we received the call that came as no surprise. Our dear friend, Hilda, was extremely close to Heaven's door. Frank told the family we'd be right over.

As we stepped into the house, we knew Hilda would be going home soon. Her long and painful struggle with Alzheimer's was almost over.

The hospital bed took center stage in the living room. Open windows allowed breezes to play through the room. And the patio fountain she loved, served as soothing background music.

We spoke with the family and with the nurse who has become part of the family during Hilda's illness. Then we stepped to the bed to talk with Hilda. I say "talk" although we expected no response as Hilda had been unresponsive for almost two weeks.

The picture just over her head on the fireplace mantle revealed the beauty Ralph had fallen in love with during high school days. They celebrated 69 wedding anniversaries together! Truly a miracle in today's society.

Another picture showed the dashing fighter pilot and stunning officer's wife attending a military ball. Such a handsome couple! Approaching their 90's left them with very different "exteriors" but their spirits have remained strong and completely alive.

During one of our visits several weeks ago, Hilda lit up like Christmas as Frank and I started singing her favorite hymn. I was so overcome by the sacredness of the moment that I momentarily forgot the words. Her thin lips prompted me with the next line!

Needless to say, stepping to that bedside Monday was bitter sweet for us. Her frail body labored to breathe and there were no signs of the beautiful, vibrant woman she had been. We spoke to her of our love while her daughter-in-law stoked the gaunt brow.

Then Frank began to pray a simple prayer. He thanked God for her life; well-lived, following Christ. She led her two sons to know Him as well. Frank asked that God would grant Hilda peace and that He would draw her close.

Hilda's breathing became less labored.

Frank also prayed that her family would be comforted with the knowledge that we will see her again. Then once again, that peace would be hers.

Suddenly, Hilda flashed a huge smile. (The only response in days.) And as the smile faded, she breathed her last.

We all stood motionless; utterly amazed at what we had just witnessed. Our vantage point put us as close to the doorway of heaven as mortals are allowed. Glorious!

The two brothers composed themselves and went into Ralph's room to wake him with the news. He struggled to her bedside in the wheelchair that now takes the place of the planes he once commanded.

Ralph patted Hilda's arm and quietly said, "Good-bye, Darling. I'll see you in Heaven."

We all swiped at tears escaping our eyes.

Frank and I lingered with the family a while then dashed to Publix to gather dinner items for them. Finally we headed home for our own family dinner.

After eating, I drank in the opportunity to squeeze Spencer. (Carefully avoiding those powerful casts.) We talked, "clapped", read a couple of books. I even felt Abigail Grace move for the first time as I rubbed Joy's pregnant belly.

Yes, life does have a full circle.

But trust me, while Disney may have coined a description - it was God who created the circle! The Circle of Life!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Free Checked Bags!

Great concept. Grateful patrons. Unfortunately, "free checked bags" does not necessarily equal "bags checked free from trouble"!

Frank and I love to travel. We also love to preach. So to be able to travel in order to preach and teach? Well, it just doesn't get any better than that for us.

When you travel, you know you will be without certain things. You'll have to manage:
  • without your favorite coffee cup
  • without your own bed
  • without your normal routine
  • without your remote control! (Threw that one in for the fellas.)
Well the list could go on and on but you get the idea.

This past weekend, we were to speak for a couple's retreat in NC. The added bonus? Our hosts for this event were our dear friends and newly acquired family, Steve and Becky Smith. What Joy!

Of course, our first love is serving as pastors of Garden Grove Church in Winter Haven, FL! This precious congregation is our calling.

But they graciously send us out about once a month to preach other places. And as long as we always find our way home, it works.

So back to the free checked bags.

When you travel frequently, it's best to approach each trip with the savvy of a hurricane preparedness coach.

Frank went so far as to long ago make it a hard and fast rule, "ALWAYS keep your sermon notes in the carry on bag! If it's pertinent to the message, keep it on your person at all times!"

So when we finally reached Norfolk, VA (the closest airport to the Smith's home in Manteo, NC) we didn't panic at the news that our second "free checked bag" had not arrived with us.

Inconvenient, yes. But not insurmountable.

We left the Smith's address with the apologetic attendant and went on our merry way. Fully confident that the wayward bag would be delivered to our door shortly.

That's how it's supposed to work!

We enjoyed the drive to Manteo with the Smiths. We relished every moment of touring their new home, reconnecting with Sarah, laughing together, eating Becky's beautifully prepared meal.

We even learned that the newlyweds Hoggard, (Webb and Amanda) would be at the retreat. Better all the time!

But shortly after dinner, Frank became engaged in the battle to reclaim our lost bag. This included but was not limited to: EIGHT phone calls; TEN different representatives; TWO separate agencies; FIVE hours; and ONE very perturbed pastor!

Each conversation left him with new and more disturbing information about the whereabouts and projected delivery time of our suitcase.

So Steve, Becky and Sarah jumped into action. In the midst of their own packing and preparation for our 9 AM departure time, they scurried around locating extra toiletries, hair brushes and a blow dryer. (That Becky Smith is the Hostess with the Mostest!)

Frank and I collapsed into bed; delighted to find pillows of the non-lumpy variety. And promptly fell asleep.

However, the airline wasn't resting.

At MIDNIGHT our phone rang. Frank fumbled around, found the phone and manged to say hello. An overly cheerful agent announced, "Mr. Hawley, we've located your luggage. We'll be happy to deliver it to you...................the day after tomorrow."

"That's great," he mumbled. "But we'll be back in FL by then so just keep it at the airport!" My first thought? "Thank heavens you can wear jeans several times before they have to be washed."

Here's another travel truth we've learned: The difficulty of the trip is directly proportionate to miracles associated with the ministry time.

So our part is to stay calm! Ride the wave of whatever challenges are thrown our way. And watch for the miracles to come.

Friday morning, we left for the retreat equipped with borrowed toiletries and other essentials of life. No time for frustration, fuming or even fussing. We fully expected an incredible marriage retreat!

Miraculously, our little lost bag found its way to us about an hour later.

And the retreat itself? True to form - amazing! Twenty couples with twenty different life-stories. Twenty couples that went home knowing their marriages are worth fighting for!

Frank and I were able to fly back in to Orlando late Saturday night without any extra baggage of guilt or embarrassment. We had ridden the waves of trouble without yelling, demanding or even belittling the misinformed baggage agents.

And the ministry miracles were waiting, just beyond the difficulty.

Some things it's good to be without!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Daddy Knows

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Spencer made it through his first surgery quite well and has even found his precious laugh again.

Last Thursday brought a swirl of emotions that I didn't really know how to navigate. It's been our habit, in times like that, to put our heads down, turn into the wind and press forward. And that's pretty much what we all did.

Frank and I met the little family at Shriner's Hospital just after sunrise. The waiting area was deserted and everyone spoke in soft tones.

Of course, Spencer had no idea what lay ahead. So he greeted each person with his customary enthusiasm. Smiling. Squealing. Clapping. Waving. Giving hugs........

One of the first nurses squeezed his precious arm and sighed, "You knew we needed a happy baby today, didn't you?" They work with sick, frightened children day in and day out. I can't imagine the strain it must be trying to care for the most innocent ones in our world.

John and Joy stayed incredibly calm and that peace transferred directly to Spencer. Everyone was amazed. They didn't even give him the pre-surgery calming medicine that had been planned, he didn't need it.

When it came time, the pre-op nurse came back into the holding room; gave Spencer a big smile; clapped her hands toward him; and he went right to her. Oh the advantages of having a "church baby".

The medical team did an excellent job of keeping John and Joy informed throughout the next four hours of surgery. Frank and I kept them supplied with food, hugs, distractions, blankets, walks, and quiet hand-holding when needed. The rest of our family and friends kept them close in prayer.

At long last, the surgeon came out to report that his part was finished. "They're putting on the casts now," he said casually. "You'll be able to go back when he starts waking up."

Collective Deep Breath.

The casts are rather massive on that little body. His hands are completely encased (like with mittens) and the bright blue mesh reaches up almost to his shoulders.

A slight bend at each elbow prevents him from hitting himself. But it didn't take long for him to "deck" a couple of us. We've quickly learned the best evasive maneuvers for when he starts joyfully swinging those things!

(John completely removed their glass topped coffee table. THAT would have been a story!)

While we sat waiting, I couldn't help but think what a beautiful picture Spencer had painted. Everything was new and unusual. Strangers all around pulling, prodding, probing. But at each juncture he would simply look up at his dad or mom. If they smiled, he smiled.

"It's okay," they kept reassuring him.

And because they said it, that was enough for him. They knew exactly what was coming. They knew this wouldn't be easy. But it was for Spencer's best.

How very like our relationship with Jesus.

Life gets pretty bumpy some days and there's a lot that I don't understand. But if I can just stop long enough to look up into HIS face, He'll remind me that it's okay. The next few steps might not be easy but they haven't caught my "Daddy" off-guard. He's still in control.

Spencer doesn't understand why these huge casts are on both his arms. He can't feed himself. He can't crawl. He can't grasp his toys. And sometimes those big blue eyes look up with questions we can't answer.

But the capstone moment came two days ago when Aunt Kristin watched him lay that tired little head on his daddy's big, capable shoulder. Spencer whimpered ever so quietly. And John patted his back; offering comfort.

"I know. I know. It's gonna be okay, Spence."

Then John whispered in his son's ear, "I'm proud of you, Buddy."

(Brings tears to my eyes, too.)

The child doesn't understand. The child can't see the whole picture. But the daddy knows. He does see the whole picture. The daddy knows this is for the child's best. And he comforts the child in the midst of it all.

Thank you so much for continuing to pray with us for a speedy recovery. With another baby coming the first of July, John and Joy hope to have Spencer's second surgery behind them before that time.

Our Daddy Knows!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What Distance?

Did you know that it takes only ONE SECOND to get from NY to FL these days?!

No, really; I witnessed it on Sunday. The most amazing baby boy reached his first birthday - in FL. And Grandma Linda and Grandpa John were present - in NY!

You may be asking, "How can this be?"

It's called SKYPE!

And although it doesn't allow for squeezes, kisses and other tactile communication, it DOES allow the baby boy to know that his NY grandparents are very much present and involved. Their "grandparental doting" flowed like a river through the computer screen.

Even with only twelve months of living under his belt, Spencer felt it. He kept crawling toward the screen making big eyes and flashing that heart-stopping smile of his. (John and Joy skype with John and Linda regularly. Technology, such a gift!)

But Sunday was extra special. Grandma Linda went all out creating their own little party scene in the NY dining room where she and Grandpa sat with the computer on the table. They each wore a great party hat, there was a cupcake with a candle, and even a huge banner declaring "Happy Birthday!" to serve as their backdrop.

What a Grandma!

I stood back in the crowd of family and friends who pressed into Joy and John's dining room watching Spencer dive into his personal birthday cake. (Linda and John "sat" on the front row via laptop.)

Spencer first looked puzzled at being allowed to smash the squishy frosting with his pudgy little hands.
He looked up at John - "Dad's smiling."
Then at Joy - "Mom's smiling and nodding."
Then his own hands - "I'm going for it!!"

We all hooted and howled as he wasted no time showing that cake who was boss!

And I thanked the Lord that Linda and John had refused to let 1000 miles keep them from being "present" for the festivities. I know of parents, grandparents, siblings, family members of all makes and models who won't drive across town to visit one another.

"If they want to see me, they know where I live." How selfish and foolish!

We cost ourselves so much joy when we refuse to look outside the box for opportunities to connect. Martha Anderson (lifetime friend) modeled long-distance love for me as a young mom. And she taught this student valuable lessons.

It takes effort. It won't look like you may have expected. Keep an open mind. Don't get offended. Keep working at it. Utilize pictures, mail, phone calls, whatever is available. Just stay in touch!

Simple Genius.

My parents and Frank's parents lived hundreds of miles from us through the years. But Martha's homespun wisdom helped our children know and love those grandparents just as if they'd grown up in their backyards.

The same is proving true for Spencer.

"Ain't no mountain high enough. Ain't no valley low enough. Ain't no river wide enough. To keep me from gettin' to you, Babe!"

Maybe Linda's efforts can encourage some of you to drive across town; make a phone call; send an email to that special someone. It matters, believe me!

PS - Spencer goes to Shriner's hospital on Thursday for his first hand surgery. We would greatly appreciate any and all of you who could be "present" with us in prayer. Thanks in advance!