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!









13 comments:

  1. What a delightful story written by one of the most delightful women I know. I am honored to be a small part of this blogging journey God has sent you on. Looking forward to hundreds more posts and stories about life and family and faithfulness and God . . . and even flour! Love you and am so proud of you and your fabulous gift with words.

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  2. Thank you for once again providing my devotion for Circle meeting! It always means so much more to me to be able to share "real" stories rather than just something I found in a book. Blessings, Susan in NC

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  3. Thank you soooo much for your wonderful blogs! This one especially reminds me that God always covers our needs and then some. Last Friday I was walking through our local Wal-Mart and came upon the Caring and Sharing Tree with names of children and elderly needing gifts this Christmas. First thought was, of course, I am here to buy groceries. No extra money for gifts for people I dont even know! But, I went forward and took two tags off of tree! Both happened to be two year old boys needing clothes and a toy! I had a blast picking out 2 outfits each, hats and mittens and a small toy for these children! I took them to the checkout and it was with great joy that I paid for them! I continued to buy my groceries and pay for them. Somehow I managed to have more groceries than usual and more than enough money to pay for them! God is soooooo GOOD! Totally made my day to help provide for those children!

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  4. Thank you for sharing that story! In the day-to-day-ness (new word) of life, I sometimes forget, or least don't keep at the forefront, the kindness and care and miracle working wonder of the God I serve. How many God-moments do I miss because I get so bogged down? Thank you for reminding me to change my focus and not doubt God's wisdom and plan.

    BTW,your writing and insights have been a blessing to me many times--thank you!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Love, Deb Mantik

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    1. Hmmm. I just now noticed we are able to reply to comments on Blogger. How cool is that? So I'm replying to you, Deb, to thank you for saying such encouraging words to my "sister from another mother." :-)

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  5. I so enjoyed that story ... and thankful for finding your blog to follow regularly. It was so uplifting... we need those reminders! Hugs to you this Holiday season! Enjoy your time with family!

    Regina Merrick :)

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  6. I've been reading for awhile Becky Smith sent me over.... many of your blogs have touched my heart, but this one has the most of any. we really do not know when we are entertaining angles unawares..... thanks for the wonderful story and the great reminder.... HAve a wonderful thanksgiving

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  7. Sheri, I'm so glad you make the time. :) It means so much, to me and to others. This story is so inspiring, as always. Thank you for your faithfulness. Love you

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  8. Oh Sheri, Thank you for taking the time to write and THANK YOU, once again, for the reminder and the inspiration! I tend to get caught up in the day to day stuff and I'm ashamed that I feel selfish and ungiving sometimes. This is just what my heart needed! Happy Holidays to you and your family!

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  9. May your blessings continue to be overflowing. Thanks for sharing this Sheri. I feel honored to have come to see your posts through Becky.
    Merry Christmas to you and your family.
    Hugs from Iowa,
    Marjie

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  10. YES, SHERI,

    i REALLY ENJOYED YOUR STORY...MY FAVORITE KIND OF STORY IS ALWAYS ENJOYABLE...The story of God giving back more that we can ever give...Thank you for all you write and do!

    I love you lots....in Jesus...fran in Texas...

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