Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Candlelight Service - WITH Babies!


I just realized a moment ago (while enjoying the sunrise) that for some who read Embrace the Grace, Christmas Day is almost over.  So I wanted to write quickly and send Christmas greetings to YOU, too.

The Hawley house has changed considerably.  It's already 8:00 AM and it's still pretty quiet.  The Schreck portion of our family will join us for dinner around 5:00 PM; tomorrow they leave for NY.  And the Smith portion is being squeezed in NC.

But my heart is full of gratitude this morning! 

I'm thankful for the glorious gift of the Father.  I'm thankful for the sacrifice of Jesus.  I'm thankful for the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  (And that's all the preaching I'll do in this post - promise.)

Last night was a first.  It was the first time that Spencer and Abby sat through an entire service with Noni on the front row.   (We forgot to set up a nursery for Christmas Eve service.)

We managed just fine.  Thanks to juice cups.  Lots of Christmas carols.  Mints in Noni's purse.  An unlit candle which doubled nicely as a sword.  And my phone.

Not sure what country she called, what app he added, what photos were deleted............all I know is it helped them sit quietly!

At one point in the service while Poppa was speaking, Spencer (who never misses a thing) noticed that Poppa was adding long pauses after each phrase.

Naturally Spencer thought these were places where the congregation should repeat - loudly.  So being on the front row and having the Leader Gene from both Mom and Dad, he led out.....

Poppa:  "He came as a babe."

Spencer:  "He came a baby."

Poppa:  "He took on flesh."

Spencer:  "He tooked on fyesh."

Poppa:   "He was wrapped in swaddling cloths..."

Spencer:  "He wapped in (quick look up at Noni) clothes."  Massive smile.

So it went until Pastor Poppa changed his cadence.

Abby thoroughly enjoyed shouting, "AMEN!" just a half second after the congregation.  Which caused those who heard her to break out in laughter.

At one point, Spencer thought someone was moving around too much.  So he stared in their direction, extended his little arm its full length and began working his fingers trying his best to snap just like his daddy does.  Thankfully, chubby fingers don't snap very loudly!

Abby spent a considerable amount of time working with the red bow Joy had carefully positioned in that sea of curls on her head.  Fiddle.  Fiddle.  Fiddle.  Look up with a smile at Noni.  Fiddle.  Fiddle.

I didn't even attempt to move her hand.  I figured with a head band or without a head band she was still adorable!

Just as they were getting done (which unfortunately was about ten minutes before the service concluded) a friend came to the rescue.  She bribed Spencer with the privilege of holding her lit candle during the final song.

Abby just wanted to snuggle.  I didn't need a candle this year.  I needed the snuggle more. 

Meagan had called yesterday to say that Noah smiled when he heard a message I left on her voice mail.  That made Noni's heart just light up!

Yep, Christmas has morphed for us yet again.  But that's okay.  The central truth never changes.  Today we celebrate the birth of our Savior.  And for the joy that He has brought into our human existence I know no other phrase that expresses my thoughts better........

"Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth, Peace Goodwill Toward Men!"


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Wells

My husband, Frank, experienced many quintessential, Norman Rockwell sort of Christmases as a child.

His small hometown, in the heart of North Carolina, personified every wonderful element of all the best Christmas songs.  Lights.  Trees.  Shoppers.  Smiles.  Carolers.  Hugs.  Family.  Snow.  Santa.  FOOD! 

I've been there.  And I'm pretty sure that the stories he tells are completely accurate............according to the eyes of a little boy.

It's no wonder that when Christmas time rolls around each year, he reminisces with great fondness.   Sometimes that fondness turns to longing.  He (just like many others) longs for the excitement, joy and anticipation he experienced as a result of all those elements blending perfectly together.

There have even been a few times through the years when I've overheard him say, "It just doesn't feel like Christmas this year."

But we tend to forget that TIME uses a huge airbrush on our memories.  Thankfully, we most often reach for the memories of joy. 

Trying to recreate the best of those can be a frustrating experience.

I was talking recently with a beautiful young lady about this very thing.  She misses her college days.  That was a wonderful time for her.  Friends.  Fun.  Learning.  Excitement.  Love Found.

Now life is different.  Work schedules.  Babies.  Bills.  Repairs.  A marriage to grow.

As we talked, the Lord gave me a wonderful word picture to share.

Reaching back; longing to recreate perfect times is like visiting a well that has already dried up.  We reach into the well remembering the clear, cool water of by-gone days.  We anticipate being refreshed.

Instead, the bucket comes up dusty and dry.  We walk away thirsty.  Disappointed.

Joyful memories of yesterday are time sensitive.  That moment was a gift for that specific time.   The memories serve us best when we appreciate what was and are grateful.

But those times can not be repeated.  Memories can not refresh.

For that, we must visit the wells of Today.  We must intentionally lower our bucket into the joy of this moment.  This moment is not the same as our memories of yesterday.  But only the well of Today can provide fresh, satisfying joy.

Funny story:

Spencer and Abby are fully engaged with Christmas this year.  Last night they were each given a gift by a friend.

Spencer sat in the floor and tore away the wrapping on his package to discover a new jacket.  He quickly said thank you.  (Because he's pretty much a perfect kid!)  Then dropped it off with Dad.

John said, "Come here.  Let Daddy put it on you."

Spencer looked up with a puzzled expression on his face.  "But I have a shirt on," he said.

It took us a minute to understand.  This is a Florida kid.  He seldom ever wears a coat! He couldn't understand why Dad wanted to put a second shirt on him.

Abby's gift was in a big bag topped with lots of tissue paper.  Joy put the package on the floor beside Abby and said, "Okay, you can open it."

Abby pulled one piece of tissue from the bag, squealed with delight and toddled away.

We all laughed because she hadn't even seen the gift.  She was content with the little bit of excitement created by one piece of colorful paper.

But oh the smile when she came back; taking time to uncover the real gift.  A soft pink blanket and teddy bear.

She walked around showing each of us.  She stroked the bear's face and cooed, "Oooooh!  Ooooh!"  Her smile was huge!

Don't get short-changed this Christmas season; settling for just one little scrap of tissue.  Don't leave the empty well of yesterday thirsty and disappointed.

Choose to visit the well of Today.  It has refreshing gifts yet to be uncovered.

My smile is huge just thinking of it!  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Naked Tree

Yes, it's true!

My Christmas tree sits naked and forlorn in the corner of my living room. 

It's joined by an entire Christmas village boxed and crowded onto one couch.  Nativity sets UN-arranged and strewn from entertainment center to buffet.  Three extra large, completely full tupperware containers stacked in the middle of the floor.  And a wreath leaning sadly against a chair.

(For musical types: you could sing that last sentence using the partridge in a pear tree line from Twelve Days of Christmas.  "....and a wreath leaning sadly on a chair!")

I've seen your pictures on facebook. 

Perfectly coiffed trees; glowing mystically.  Mantles decorated using this season's brightest green ribbons.  One friend has an elf making appearances all over her house; much to the delight of her small children.  And the quintessential Christmas photos are just now beginning.

Between events yesterday, Frank and I tried to snag a picture with the grandbabies.  Everyone was dressed nicely for church.  Everyone was fed, dry, content. (The children were happy, too.)  The church tree is stunning. 

Perfection called to me.

"Quick!" I implored.  "Someone grab your camera phone and snap a picture.  Please!"

Kristin slowed down long enough to take seven pictures.  In one of those seven, we all looked at the camera at the same time.  And kinda smiled.  (Poppa held Noah who slept through it all.)

In most of them, someone was trying to escape.  So we have one shot of Spencer with his legs dangling off Noni's lap and my arm around his chest holding on for dear life. 

Then we tried standing the older ones in a chair for the fun of the forbidden. 

No good.  Three shots show Abby's progressing determination. 
  • Eyeing the escape route.  
  • Kneeling forward.  
  • Arms up in the air with one brother and two grandparents reaching for her.
Actually, my favorite isn't even the one of us all looking at the camera.  Kristin caught one moment - just before a leap - where everyone is looking at one another, reaching out to stop the escapee.  Even Noah is flailing a tiny arm. 

All five photographic subjects fully engaged - completely unaware of the camera.

It's not about perfection.  It's about participation.

At some point this week, my tree will be dressed.  My creches lovingly arranged.  My village set in order.  My wreath hung.  My mantel adorned.  (No, wait.  We don't have a fireplace.  But you get the idea.)

I know this because we have company coming this weekend.

But I'm sure I'll stop a dozen times to look at the slightly imperfect picture of life on my camera phone.  And I'll smile at the frowns and flailing arms that signal "Participation!"

Monday, December 2, 2013

Together Forever

I haven't looked forward to today.  Today marks five years since my mom moved to Heaven.

There are literally dozens of ways I could describe her to you.  But probably the two best would be:
  •  Loved Jesus Passionately!
  •  Life of Every Party!
Anyone who knew her well is smiling right now saying, "That's the truth!  If Alice wasn't throwing the party, she was keeping it fun."

I pondered several ways to write today.  She must be commemorated.  But she wouldn't want me to be somber and tearful in my writing.  Not Mom!

And when I woke today, the thing to share with you came to me clearly.  I had forgotten until this morning when it is most significant.  Most needed.

Mom had me memorize a lot of scripture.  We spent lots of time working on lengthy passages together; especially before I started attending school.  (No siblings until I was seven allowed for a lot of one on one.)

The very first passage she had me memorize was John 14:1-3.  And I had to smile this morning because it starts out, "Let not your hearts be troubled....."  (Appropriate for today.)

Jesus then went on to tell those listening that His Father was preparing a place where everyone could live together forever.........Heaven.

Because of her relationship with Christ, I KNOW that's where Mom is today. 

She's very much alive.  She's most likely a  member of the "Welcoming Committee."  And she's cheering for us to stay faithful and one day join her.

Certainly she had no idea that instilling those words in her four year old would have such impact for that little girl fifty-one years later.

No, I haven't looked forward to today.  But I CAN look forward to the day we'll all be together, forever in Heaven.

Thanks, Mom!   I love you!


Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Good Read

It's pretty rare for me to write a post about a particular scripture.  There's a reason for that.

(Confession time right here!) 

When I'm reading for enjoyment or encouragement, I usually skip over any (okay, almost ALL) scriptures that are written out.  It's a real act of discipline for me to stop and read through whatever passage the writer has quoted.

Nope, there is no quirky truth attached to that confession.  Not a single wonderful illustration to be gleaned.  It's just a character flaw I'm addressing.

But I've exposed the truth about myself because I want to implore you to NOT follow my example right now.

Early this morning, I came across an incredible scripture.  It was one of those "jump off the page" passages.  It gave me such encouragement I've pondered all day long how to share it with you.

It happens to be the last verse of the longest chapter in the Bible.  And since this happens to be the last day of November, I decided to just put it out there.

Please don't skip a single, solitary word!   Here goes:

"I have strayed like a lost sheep.  Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands."  
Psalm 119:176 New International Version

What hope I found in this scripture!

You see, the past few weeks have been rather difficult for me in many ways.  All the spiritual disciplines that normally restore my joy weren't working.  Heaven seemed very quiet when I prayed. My Father seemed far away.

Now as a minister, I would normally have read Psalm 119:176 and thought of those who haven't met Christ yet.  I would have characterized them, in my thinking, as the lost sheep.  I would have paused to pray for them.

But the next phrase, seek your servant, caused me to halt in my reading.  And in that moment I saw.........myself.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed with gratitude to know that when a weary heart calls out to the Creator of this vast universe, "Father, find me."  He comes searching.

(Anytime I've felt that God was quiet or distant, it was usually because He wanted me to come closer to Him.  Closer in my thinking.  Closer in my attitude.  Closer in my actions.)

Right now Spencer loves playing Hide 'n Seek.  His favorite spot to hide is in the tiny closet holding my washer and dryer.  He squeezes in.   Manipulates the folding door to close.  Then calls out in his little sing song voice, "Noni, I hiding.  Find me."

I know right where he is all along.

But with great fanfare I call out,  "Where is Spencer?  Has anyone seen him?"  Then I run to the closet door throw it open wide and sweep his precious frame into my hungry arms.  I kiss his angelic face as he squeals with delight. 

Perhaps you need to hear that the Heavenly Father knows exactly where you are!

If you will simply whisper "Father, find me!" with a genuine heart, He will sweep you into His waiting arms.  And you, my friend, will know true delight.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Choosing Thanksgiving

Blessings for your day!

For many readers of Embrace the Grace, this is a normal Thursday just like any other.  But for us in the U.S., it's a day of celebration and gratitude.  (The original significance of this holiday has morphed, certainly.  But aren't special days what we make them?  An international truth!)

And I suppose that's the line of thinking running through my little brunette head this morning.  After coming to the kitchen at 5:00 to make sure the turkeys were thawed, I had ample time to sit and reflect.

(Yes, I did say turkeys plural.  John wanted to try his hand at frying a big bird this year.  Some want a traditional roasted turkey.  Hence, TWO gobblers for our table.)

Before the sun rose, I wrote in my journal:  "Thank you, Father for instituting holidays!  Only You could understand the NEED of human beings for celebration.  Our need to 'look forward' to something.  Our need to reflect and appreciate.  Our need to stand still; change the rhythm; express gratitude; embrace loved ones.  Thank You for teaching us through the original festivals that holidays serve an important role in living."

Recently, I found this statement by John Schindler.  (The rescuer of  hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust.)  "Life can be one satisfaction after another if we let it."  Powerful, right?!

For someone reading this, you're anxious about your holiday celebration.  (Or maybe you're reading this after everyone has left and you're sorting through emotions.)  What if the meal doesn't turn out right?  What if Aunt Sally arrives in a foul mood?  What if I haven't planned adequately?  What if some of my guests just don't show up?  What if someone gets angry?  What if......  What if.....  What if.........

May I just say from one worrier to another?  LET life be satisfying!

Glitches happen.  Recipes flop.  Dishes break.  Babies cry.  Siblings argue.

Choose to laugh!  Embrace the joy!  Set the tone!  Allow satisfaction to rule!

"Easy for you to say, Sheri!  Most of your family will gather at your table today.  And it sounds like everyone gets along just fine."

True.  But never judge someone strictly by what you see on the surface.

Several imperfections threaten my sunny skies today, too.  The thing pressing my heart most is an anniversary of loss.  Thanksgiving five years ago was the last opportunity I had to hug my precious mom.  She moved to heaven five days later.    

But shortly my house will fill with loved ones and friends.  I'll hear little voices yelling, "NONI!  Let's play!"  There will be hugs and laughter and fragrances and food!

I'm going to choose thanksgiving!  I'm the only one who can determine my attitude; outlook; emotions.  And for today - I'm choosing thanksgiving!

(Case in point - I completed this post at 8 AM -  just in time for my battery to die.  Then I discovered that I'd left the charger at my office!  Nathan picked it up but posting had to wait until our meal was over.  Perfect illustration!  Smiling!)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Should I?

Several phrases have guided my decision making through the years.  One of them is:

"Just  because I CAN doesn't mean I SHOULD!"

Just because I can jump off this roof doesn't mean I should!

Just because I can give you all the information doesn't mean I should!

Just because I can squeeze into spandex leggings does not mean I should!

Well, you get the idea.

I'm aware that lately my writing has been sparse - it truly feels like I just now decided to go to El Salvador.  But we've gone; worked hard; been back for almost a month and life has rolled on.  Very Quickly!

Noah hits six weeks today!

At any rate,  it felt very important to share this one thought with someone today.  "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

Freedom is one side of a coin.  Responsibility backs it.  The two together create balance.

I've wanted to write a post for some time now about a phrase I've come to dislike.

I usually hear it coming from women who've bid farewell to their twenties and find themselves frustrated about something.  It sounds like this:

"Well, I've come to the age now that I just don't care what anyone thinks!  I just say it; whether they like it or not!"

Again, may I say?  "Just because I can doesn't mean I should!"

With age should come some additional - Wisdom.  Grace.  Patience.  Discernment.  Understanding.   Compassion.

I'd much rather hear someone say:  "Well, I've come to the age that I realize we all have a story!  Life has felt like a steam roller for many.  When I think of something that may encourage someone, I just say it; whether they asked for it or not."  

Another writer I enjoy reading said, "I consider others more important than myself; for the purpose of encouraging them."

That's my thought, anyway.

And fear not!  The only spandex I own is of the foundational variety.  It serves to squish, squeeze and hopefully smooth.  But it will NEVER see the light of day outside my dressing area!

Whoa!  Mercy goodness, NO!

Sunday, November 10, 2013


So this post has one objective only - to talk about Grandchildren!

There's your warning.  But I can also promise that before you finish reading, you'll most likely smile.  And maybe even involuntarily emit a little, "AAWWWW!"

Let's go in order from youngest to oldest.

So first off, news of the young prince, NOAH SMITH!  Noah is growing and glowing. (Although Meagan wishes he would do a little more night time sleeping too.)  Fortunately, she has a couple more weeks of maternity leave.

It seems so odd to be talking about my baby's baby. Who, by the way, is one month old today!

Noah looks mostly like his dad, Nathan.  (Thank heavens Nathan is a handsome guy!)  But he does have Meagan's perfect, pouty lips.  And when those eyes lock on you......well, you're just sunk!  He has that same effect on the other ladies of our church.  So that's not just "Noni Talk"!

Last week I was holding Noah and quietly started singing a little song I sang for him while he was riding around in Mommy's tummy.  He turned that perfect blond head toward my face and did his "eye-lock thing."  It was hard to keep singing around the lump in my throat!

It's wonderful watching Nathan and Meagan as they bond with Noah; making their own precious family!  Deep Contented Sigh!

Next in the line up is the beautiful, ABBY GRACE!  While Poppa and I were in El Salvador, Abby got glasses.  And she wears them with panache!

We're thankful to an optometrist's assistant in our church (Beth) who helped get Abby an appointment with a pediatric specialist.  It was determined that she does indeed need to wear glasses.  So in her typical style, Joy chose the most adorable pair of pink plastic frames that the indestructible section offered.

I wish we had been there to witness it.  But Joy said that when she slipped the completed glasses on, Abby began to look around in amazement!  It was apparent that she was seeing many things for the very first time.

And once we got home, I nearly cried with delight watching her study my face for the first time while wearing the glasses.  It was a connection moment I won't forget.

Some of you may wonder how Joy and John manage to keep glasses on a sixteen month old.  They don't have to, she loves having them on!  The only exception is while they're riding in a car.  She pulls them off and holds them until they get to where ever they're headed.

Her light brown hair has gotten very curly and long enough for Joy to create all manner of adorable dos!  One look at Abby Grace and you gotta smile!  Just can't help yourself!

Finally, the original young prince - SPENCER MATTHEW!  He has just become the little man of the group and he knows his place as "first born!"  He gives instruction to anyone trying to touch Noah without permission.  He makes sure everyone greets Abby too.  He even did a little backseat driving with his Noni last night.

Our big fall festival wrapped up around 8:30.  So I took the Schreck babies home for baths/bedtime while everyone else was cleaning up.  (Obviously, an assignment I didn't mind.)  But it was the first time Noni had driven Mom's car with both Spencer and Abby on board.  The First Born was a bit concerned.

I heard his little voice as he looked out the window, "We're yost!  Oh, no.  Not again.  We're yost!"  (Which being interpreted means he thought we were LOST.)

I tried to comfort my two and a half year old navigator.  But he was certain that Noni didn't know the way to their house.  Even when I arrived safely in the driveway, he continued to give instruction about how to park and where Mommy puts things and how they get baths...........

Last Friday Joy brought them by to see us for a few minutes.  Poppa wasn't feeling his best but Spencer is convinced that a little time with the "frih-bee"  (Frisbee) makes everything better.  So Poppa was trying to muster enough strength to stand in the yard for a while.

Spencer walked around holding the plastic lid of a coffee container; which serves as his frih-bee at our house.  "Ready?"  "Let's play some frih-bee."

Finally I said, "Come on, Spence.  Let's play."

He studied me with all the understanding of a two and a half year old.  "But Noni, you don't feel good."

"I feel well enough to play with you,"  I managed to smile while struggling to get up from the couch.

Spencer tapped his short leg with the makeshift Frisbee.  "You're a good sport, Noni."

That pesky lump showed up in my throat again almost immediately.

And that's the view from the Noni chair.  Thankful I am!


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Follow the Leader

(Frank and I were back in the office last Wednesday morning.  By Friday, both of us were sick.  Our bodies said, "You didn't hear that I'm tired?!  NOW you'll rest!"  Consequently, we've been limping along; trying to get well since then.  That's why I'm just now writing.  Thanks for youR patience!)

"Too many leaders!  Not enough workers!"

That was Buffy's mental summation of our missions team after spending only a few hours with us.

Buffy is a Nazarene pastor's wife from Ohio.  Her mom, Terri, wanted to go to El Salvador with us and asked that Buffy come along too.  It seemed like a great opportunity to spend time with her mom as well as spread God's love.  Buffy made the arrangements and arrived with high expectations.

But she quickly became anxious about the dynamic of our team once we were all gathered in Orlando. 

"I've never seen so many people on one team that were 'in charge' kind of people," she said.  "I knew we were in trouble.  This was NOT going to be a pleasant trip!"

When traveling overseas there's an interesting element called "flexibility" that is essential to the success of any trip.  But this is especially true in third world countries where the only certainty is that there are no certainties.

Even one person on a team who suffers from "inflexibility" or "do it my way-itis" can put the entire mission at risk.  Buffy's past experiences caused her to smell imminent disaster brewing with this GGC team.

And it's true that every individual on that 21 member team leads something.

Pastors, business owners, department managers, lead sales people, office administrators, student leaders, teachers,...........    Everything except a president.

That's a lot of people accustomed to giving direction.

Cram them all together in unfamiliar territory.  Deprive them of sleep, hot showers and comfort foods. Change plans - frequently.  Look uncertain for a moment.

Perhaps now you begin to smell the same potential for disaster as Buffy!

But the Holy Spirit served as the 22nd member of our team.  And that power helped us all keep moving in the same direction.

At the end of the trip, Buffy said she had never been so glad to be so wrong.

It really boiled down to three important keys:
  • Our trip leaders (the Buccafurnis) are incredible planners who expect the unexpected.
  • Our pastor modeled that the best leaders are also excellent followers.
  • Our entire team chose each day to remember that we were there for the El Salvadoran children - not for ourselves.
(As Anna said during last year's trip, "Just remember this, 'It's not about ME!'  Then get over it!!"  We were still quoting her during this trip.)
The Lord showed me a beautiful passage in Isaiah that perfectly illustrated our team.  "I'll bring all these trees together.  I'll plant them in an area that is not their natural habitat.  I'll cause them to flourish so that everyone may marvel at God's greatness."

I guess that's what happens when we all choose to follow THE LEADER! 

Thursday, October 31, 2013


"Beans for Breakfast?!  Again?!!"

That's not the title of a song.  It's the cry that went up as we entered the cafeteria in Santa Ana, El Salvador.

I wish I could tell you it came from some immature teenager on our team.  But it didn't!  Nope.  Those were the thoughts rolling around in my very own brown-haired head!

(Sometimes the truth is shocking!)

Yes, we had beans for breakfast.  Occasionally for lunch.  Oh and we also had beans for dinner.  Not every day.  And usually they tasted great.  Especially after we had worked hard in the heat.  But beans for breakfast really stretched me.

Let me not rush ahead..........

Shall I tell you of the treacherous bus rides to and from camp?  Or perhaps you'd like to hear of our harrowing trips up and down a rutted mountain road - all standing in the back of a cattle truck?  Maybe you'd be more interested in the bathroom conditions: some water most days; warm shower water - seldom.

Actually, I'd rather tell you about the beautiful El Salvadoran people.  Of hospitality extended even in the most primitive home.  About the inexpressible joy bursting out on the faces of children over a balloon animal or a single matchbox car handed to them.

Those are the memories warming my heart as I write this post!

This was our second trip to work with King's Castle Ministries.  It's a ministry led by lifetime missionaries, Don and Terri Triplett.  The focus of this powerful couple is simple - reach these children for God before the gangs can reach them for death.

In Central America (where the Tripletts have lived and worked for over thirty years) it's the children of poverty that find this their only choice.  Don and Terri have made it their life's work to reach those children with the Good News of God's love.

What an honor to work with them toward that goal!

While we served there last year, we came to love the pastors and congregation of Potrerllios Church.  This active fellowship sits (literally) on the side of a steep mountain.  Many of the members walk an hour or more for any church function they attend.

Their dedication challenged me at the core!

I'll have several stories to share with you during the next few days.  (My heart is overflowing right now.)  But suffice to say for now, I'm so very thankful I was privileged to join this years' team. 

This post opened with the truth of how often our team was served beans.

But the title is actually meant to serve as an acrostic describing the people we met, more than the food we ate.  We found the El Salvadorans to be:
                   B - Beautiful
                   E - Eager
                   A - Appreicative
                   N - Neighborly
                   S - Sincere

And I have many more adjectives I could use but "beans" is a short word!

Isn't it amazing how we North Americans travel the world expecting to teach/help others and they end up teaching/helping us?!

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Tomorrow I leave for a nine day missions adventure in El Salvador!

I've carefully packed and weighed and repacked and reweighed my single suitcase several times.  My back pack is ready to take over for my purse.  Passports are safely tucked in Frank's bag and copies are on file with the trip director as well as the church office.

It's seldom that I write about anything happening "tomorrow" because my life is rather unpredictable.

Case in point - this trip.

This time last week, I had no thought of going to El Salvador.  The plan was to simply help pray over the team; give Frank a good-bye kiss; wave farewell from the parking lot.  Now, I'll be in the church van headed to Orlando International with twenty others.

Must admit that after processing the information; praying for an answer; calling Meagan to make sure she'd be okay; then deciding, I actually started getting excited.

When we left El Salvador in May of 2012, I knew we'd go back some day.  It felt important to finish the work we began.  Especially the work we helped with in a little church located literally on the side of a mountain.

The Portreallas church was blessed with a dedicated pastoral family, lots of local children and little else.  The pastors shared that the days our team spent with them were like a kiss from heaven.  Their facility was an open air building with the very real problem of an inferior retaining wall.

Each heavy rain brought a bit more of the mountain sliding down onto their entry area.  Some days, the mud had to be shoveled out the front door before the congregation could begin church.  It was becoming a safety issue.  And most of the church members are barely able to scrape a living out of the mountainside.

When our 2012 team came back to FL and shared the dilemma being faced by the Portreallas church, GGC jumped in with both feet.  ( A true Southern-ism: meaning we started looking for ways to help.)

Within four months of launching a fund-raiser, we saw over $10,000.00 come in for the total rebuilding of the wall.  And the funds didn't just mean a new wall.  This also meant work for laborers on the mountain.  And encouragement for families; help for children.

The Portreallas church has launched a feeding program that draws 75 children from all over the area.  After the meal, they offer an afternoon of games, puppets, music and Bible stories.  Many of the children who attend have accepted Christ as Savior.

Next Saturday, I'll get to be part of that outreach.  I can hardly wait!  Smiling, hugging, dancing, acting silly.  These things break all  language barriers.  And when you reach out in genuine love, people know it.

So tomorrow I'll get on a plane, fly to South America and spend nine short days offering to live as a servant so more people can hear that God cares that much about THEM!

Aren't we all thankful that someone took the time to tell us?

While there, we'll be engaged in a few other projects:
  • Painting the entire church building and parsonage
  • Launching a sewing ministry to employ local women
  • Some basic repairs
  • Dispersing lots of soccer equipment and jerseys
  • Helping in the medical clinic
  • Outreaches in multiple areas
Frank is especially excited about participating in the dedication of the new wall!  All prayers appreciated! 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mommie and Daddy

He’s Here!

The Young Prince has arrived and he is PERFECTION wrapped in wrinkly skin!

It’s taken me a while to get my feet back on the ground.  Everything became a scramble for a few days.  But today I can write finally.

Noah Jacksen has already won all our hearts. 

Introducing him to his cousins was a precious moment.  You must visit, the blog site of Noah’s other grandmother, to see the fantastic picture Becky captured.  (I’m forever in the debt of her photographic genius self!)

Spencer had been “talking” to Noah for months because he understood that his baby cousin was growing in Aunt MehMeh’s tummy.  So when Meagan came down the hall with Noah in her arms, Spencer just stared with a confused expression for some time. 

It took no time for Abby to open her little mouth into a joyful oval; start patting her hands ecstatically and reaching to touch Noah. 

Meagan knelt down in front of them and quietly explained that we must be gentle with Noah.  “Touch him on the foot, gently.  Good job!  Yes, you may kiss the back of his head.  Just be really careful."

First Spencer then Abby placed the most delicate of angel kisses on the back of Noah's tiny, platinum blonde head.  Abby wheeled around to face us all with a look of sheer ecstasy!

Meagan was BORN to be a mother!  All three of our girls dragged around baby dolls until after their tenth birthdays.  And they all have great nurturing skills.

But Meagan became known as "The Baby Whisperer" before her teen years.  Crying children melt and grow quiet when Meagan works her magic.

Whether in a check out line, a restaurant, a new church, even overseas - children have been drawn to Meagan.  We've watched in amazement through the years.  And have always celebrated the fact that when her own children were born, they would be loved, nurtured and cared for by a pro.

Nathan had the opportunity to experience Real Baby Life during the year that the Smiths shared a home with the Schrecks.  So Noah's miniature self doesn't intimidate his daddy at all.

In fact, there was a moment in the delivery room about an hour after Noah's birth that brought tears to my eyes and will live forever in my memory.

We had just stepped in to meet Noah for the very first time.  Meagan was propped up on pillows looking like her labor had been no big deal at all.  (Unbelievable!)  And Nathan, standing over to the side, was actually the one holding the young prince.

Noah, swaddled tightly, seemed to fit perfectly in the crook of Nathan's strong arm.  As we slipped over to kiss Meagan, Noah gave a little whimper.  Nathan looked into the tiny eyes, began to jiggle his son gently and with great conviction whispered, "It's okay, Daddy's here.  Daddy's right here, little guy.  It's okay."

With Meagan for a Mommie and Nathan for a Daddy, I tend to believe that everything will be just as he said.  A Okay! 

On a side note.  Frank has been planning to accompany a team of 21 from our church on a missions trip to El Salvador for some time.  His participation depended, of course, on the projection that Noah would most likely arrive early.  Check!

Around 2 PM yesterday, we got word that one of our team members had dropped out and the vacancy needed to be filled.   SOOOOOO.......

I've been chosen to take that spot and must now do in three days what I did in four months last year.  We leave Sunday!  Yes, I could really use your prayers!  Asking for Peace and Super-sonic Packing Skills!  Can't just SAY you love missions and not put action to the words.  So here we go!  

Prayers Appreciated!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Guess What?!

Hear Ye!  Hear Ye!

Let it be known that at 9:35 PM; the tenth day of October; in the year of our Lord 2013,

one  NOAH JACKSEN SMYTHE (I mean Smith)

Did finally arrive on this earth for the express purpose of bringing pleasure and joy to the grandparents - Smith and Hawley (therefore dubbed "Smalley" by Grandpa Smith)!

And so far, he's doing a splendid job!  (Of bringing pleasure and joy, that is.)

Let me answer a few immediate questions:
  • 7 pounds 12 ounces
  • 19 inches in length
  • Natural delivery (the doctor rushed in to catch him.)
  • Perfectly healthy.
  • He looks mostly like Nathan; incredibly blond hair.
  • He has Meagan's exquisite lips.
  • Yes, that's 11 days before his due date.
  • No, we did not have prior warning.
  • No, the Smiths weren't here.
  • Yes, they have all now arrived; driving 15 hours.
  • Yes, Meagan did teach the entire day of his birth.
  • No, Nathan did not miss one minute.
  • Yes, we took over the waiting area for an impromptu prayer mtg/ party.
  • No, we could not possibly be more delighted!
Now, I realize that for the intrepid male readers of Embrace the Grace - that's all the information you need.  And you actually appreciate that I provided the info using a bullet point format for once!

But for all the women in the audience who prefer squeezing every detail from every moment of life - the bullet point list will NEVER do!

I do have stories just aching to be told.  But they will have to start tomorrow.  Right now, we're headed to the Smith home for dinner. 

  • Yes, John will be cooking.
  • No, we won't stay very long.
  • Yes, Becky and I will share nicely.
  • No,  I can't imagine life being any better than this!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Just a Hug

It's amazing how much curative power resides in a single, heartfelt HUG!

Sleep has been an elusive friend lately and I find myself awake at odd hours; like now.  When I gave up lying in bed (hoping to doze back off,) I slipped quietly into the hallway.  Standing right at the door, waiting for me was Bella.  And just beyond her, Gracie gave a lazy stretch and a half smile.

Usually, Bella's attentiveness is reserved for her Lord and Master - Frank.  But something in her canine acuity signaled that the Lady of the House needed some affection this morning.  She has pressed up against me constantly for the past half hour!

Big brown eyes have searched my face for some explanation as to why I'm awake in the middle of the night.  Her massive tail thumps out a steady rhythm as I move around.  (It's important to stay away from cabinets and bedroom walls.  That sound could surely wake the dead!)

But I must admit, having her lumber over and plop down near my feet is comforting.  And that feeling is doubled as Gracie squishes her irritating self next to my leg here on the couch.

The gift of nearness.

I suppose it's a lesson the Lord is teaching me right now.  Yesterday I dashed over to Chik-fila for a salad and some chicken nuggets.  As I sat in the drive through line, my phone began ringing.

Joy's voice said, "Mom, be careful what you order!  I'm looking at you."

She and the babies had met Kristin and Harrison (the little fella she nannies) for lunch.  Spencer, who was facing the window, caught sight of Poppa's car and alerted the rest of them.  "Noni!  Yook, it's Noni!"

So we waved like crazy people.  You'd think we hadn't seen each other in a year.  Then I did what every busy woman must do.

I completed my order.  Drove through the line.  Collected my food.  Found a parking space.  Left my food in the car and went inside for a HUG!

Let the chicken nuggets get cold - some things are more important than food!

I grabbed a chair and squeezed in next to Abby.  Her face lit up.  Her mouth opened in the most precious oval.  Her little voice shouted, "NONO!"  (She's getting there.)  And she immediately reached out a chubby little hand to offer a tiny piece of chicken.

With only ten minutes to spare, my stop was quick.  But effective!  I drove back to the office rejuvenated and wearing a huge smile.

Last week we made an unplanned trip to North Florida to visit with my dad.  He needed a hug.  So my wise and generous husband rearranged his schedule to take me there.

Joy, not only a great mother and daughter, loves her Papaw too.  So she packed up her little angels and we flew in some sunshine.  Nothing earth shaking.  Just the gift of nearness.

Dad has sounded much better since that visit.

Next week, it's pretty sure that I'll finally get to hold Noah.  Each time I'm near Meagan, I rub her rounded frame and "talk" to him; telling him how excited we are about his soon arrival.

I even sing the signature Noni Greeting for him:
 "I love you.
  A bushel and a peck.
  A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.
  A hug around the neck and a bushel and a peck.
  And that's how I love you!  Boop. Boop.  Boo-boopey-do!" 
(Noah's great, great grandma sang this to his Noni.  And his great grandma sang it to his mommie.  I'm certain the "Greats" are watching from the edge of Heaven.) 

If you've been feeling a bit discouraged for any reason, find someone to hug.  (Preferably someone you know already!)

I can pretty well assure you that they'll thank you!  You'll feel richer!  And your day will improve greatly - with just a hug!


Saturday, September 28, 2013


(For regular readers, this post has nothing to do with Meagan's upcoming delivery!  She and Nathan have one baby coming - Noah.) 

Renovation - the word for the day!

After several years of dreaming.  After multiple pictures pulled from magazines.  After measuring and re-measuring.  After having the job quoted three times.  (Thanks, Raymond!)  After talking it nearly to DEATH...................we've entered in to a renovation project.

Scary territory to say the least!

I've talked about closing in the back patio for years.  First, I wanted a sun room.  Like the one I sat on in Indiana.  (The speaker's cabin had a lovely sun room complete with a wicker swing in the corner.  The view?  Why the lake, of course!)

Then, I pondered making it a screened room to simply avoid the bugs.  Fay helped talk me out of that.  "Just put in windows from the beginning" she said.  "You'll be glad you did."

Finally it hit me one night at family dinner.  We needed to turn the patio into a DINING ROOM!!!

I nurtured that dream for many months until it faded to only a whisper in my heart.  "Probably never going to actually happen," I told myself.  "But it was a great thought."

That's when I stumbled on my special kiss from heaven.

While waiting for a sales person to help us with a purchase for the church, I wandered over to the discount area.  Tucked back away from view I found The Twins.  Two BEAUTIFUL, top of the line, double insulated, windows.  The original cost was $300.00 for each.  Because the order hadn't been picked up they were marked down to $60.48!

"You WILL have your room, Sheri."  It was like the Lord stood there whispering to me.  "These windows are just the beginning!"

The twins sat in our garage for almost a year. A little sign of promise.  A little encouragement to keep dreaming.

Then my dad came for a visit and caught sight of my dream, "Close in the patio.  I'll help."  (Actually, I think he got squished while trying to enjoy family dinner with us all crowded around the table.  Sometimes a visual is a great thing!)

My dream had included the hope of a small bay window over-looking our koi pond.  But when Raymond came to look at the situation, he suggested a much bigger bay window for one entire side of the patio.  That way I'll have a window seat ready for sunrise watching and grandbaby seating.

Finally, my dining room table that seats eight could stay open all the time.  (That table is itself an answered prayer.  All the years we lived in an RV, Frank sat on a folding stool at the head of our little table.  I started then praying for a table that would seat our entire family and the three sons who would eventually join us.)

Then Ed came.  We started drawing up specific plans.  We talked about ALL the elements needed to make this happen.  (Many more than just the twins!)

Frank and I spent an entire day searching out good prices on flooring and another door.  I'm gonna tell you right now - America has entirely too many choices available for the decorating challenged among us!  That would be me.

I've gleaned advice from long-time renovators and decorators like Lynn and Paul, Judy and Bill, Wendy.  Truth is, I've pretty much talked to everyone who visited; excluding the mailman.

Just now as I sat enjoying the low humidity and birds singing and colors swimming across the sky, I suddenly got afraid.

"When you close this in, you won't feel the breeze like you do now.  When that wall goes up, you won't see your gardenia bush or the neighbor's crepe myrtle trees blooming.  You're going to have to view the sunrise through blinds on windows.  Did you think of all that?"

Isn't it interesting how boldly darkness comes to trouble our thoughts and diminish our dreams?

It's true that I will have to release those pleasures.  And I'll miss them, no doubt about it.

Putting The Twins in place will definitely change things.  And I'll be sad to lose the use of our patio. But the change will add value.  This change will add more than it will take away. 

And then I rehearsed for the 100th time how adorable all our grandbabies will be when we push that big table over to the bay window and cram their little selves together on "Noni's Special Seat."

I listened with my heart for the laughter that will surely roll through the room.  I visualized smiles and tears and stories and dreams to be shared over irrelevant meals.  I felt the warmth of hands grasping for the prayer of thanks. 

In order to embrace the dream, I must release the past.  Even the good things of the past.
Great lesson from a set of twins on a bright Saturday morning.

*All the people mentioned are dear friends from our church family!  What a gift!



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Teaching and Learning


In the blogging world, I'm sure that writing my opening statement all in caps is equivalent to yelling from a mountaintop.  But when I finish a teaching or when I complete a sermon - that's exactly what I feel like doing.

Teaching.  Communicating a thought.  Sharing lessons learned.  Bringing enlightenment or clarity.  Using words in ways that encourage; elicit tears; cause laughter; reveal.  It's simply - Resplendent!

(Can you tell that I just participated in a conference?!)

This past weekend Frank and I were privileged to teach workshops at the EXPERIENCE Conference for Peninsular Florida.

My topic title was: Dealing with Difficult People!  And judging from the attendance for both of my sessions, there are a LOT of difficult people involved in church work!

Having been part of church my entire life, I've had a bit of experience in this area.  That's why it  was such fun to help those in the classes look candidly at the elements of conflict.
Such as:
  • personality styles
  • non-verbal communication
  • timing issues
  • root causes/attitudes
  • evaluating motives
We laughed a lot!  (Mary Poppins was a great philosopher, "A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down!")  Some swiped at a few stray tears.  There were lots of "Amens" and "Uh Huhs."

And although it wasn't part of my original notes, I ended both classes with a miracle story about why we NEVER burn bridges in the midst of conflict.

Frank and I were so very young when we started pastoring.  And the second church we worked with voted for us to resign after just two years.  They determined we were the reason that growth had been slow.

We were devastated!  To us, their vote declared that we just weren't very good at what we thought God had called us to do.

 Following that business meeting, Frank regrouped and decided to have a final meeting with the official board.  By the time they started moving toward his office, he was "loaded for bear!"  Fully intent on "setting them straight!" 

But a trusted friend intercepted and quietly whispered,  "Don't ever burn your bridges, Pastor Frank!"  Bob looked at him steadily.  "You may need to cross back over that bridge some day."

Although young, my husband was wise and teachable.  He decided to heed the advice of his friend.  The final board meeting was succinct and civil.  

We left without a negative word.  And within a short time, God opened another door for us at Crossroads Assembly in Asheville, NC.  We formed friendships there that are dear to us still.

A few families from the first church ended up attending Crossroads.  Even one of the original board members and his family.

Fast forward nine years.

We had so enjoyed working with Pastor Mike Brown and the entire team.  But that year we accepted the call to pioneer a church on the coast of NC. 

One small problem - no funds for moving.  We needed a miracle.  

After service our last Sunday in Asheville, Frank said that the couple who had served on the board in our other church wanted to meet with us.  I immediately became nervous.  

Did they want to tell us what a poor job we'd done before?  Did they want to urge us to abandon our plans?  My stomach churned as we moved into Frank's office.

We closed the door, had prayer and the husband began speaking.  Within a few short sentences he relayed details about the other church we had never known.  

The church fell on hard financial times after we left.  In an attempt to keep it afloat, the board members went together and purchased the building.  Unfortunately, their best efforts couldn't keep things going.  The church disbanded and eventually the building was sold.  The board members made a pact to never use the profit personally.  It was left to each member's discretion what ministry would be blessed with their portion of the money. 

The story, though interesting, seemed to have no relevance.  I anxiously waited; listening for the real purpose of our meeting.

"When we heard that you would be starting a new church, Frank and Sheri, we knew you would need funds.  So we determined that the profit remaining in our account would go toward this pioneer work."  

With that quiet statement, the former board member crossed back over the bridge Frank had refused to burn so many years before.  And he handed us a check for $900.00!  More than enough to cover the moving expenses for both our family and the couple moving with us.

We all deal with difficult people from time to time.  Sometimes the encounters are painful and make no sense.  But the important lesson to learn and teach is this:  Never Burn Bridges.

God uses bridges for transporting some incredible miracles!


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Watermelon

As many Mondays as possible, we try to all get together and share a family dinner.

This week provided a story that will be told for years to come, I feel certain.

Everyone had finally arrived and was moving toward the kitchen. I bustled around trying to get all the final items dished up and on the table.

I happened to tune in just in time to hear Spencer's little voice saying, "Go, Poppa."

And Joy responding, "Not yet.  Everyone isn't sitting down yet."

Chairs scrapping.  Lots of conversations flowing around one another. Tea pouring into glasses.  Serving spoons being added to dishes.

"Go, Poppa!"

"Not yet.  Let everybody get to the table, Spencer."

I came to the table last and took my place.  Spencer watched my every move with huge eyes.  My thought?  "How precious to be adored by a little one!"

As soon as my chair stopped moving he spoke a bit more loudly and added a wave of his hand, "Go, Poppa!"

He wanted Poppa to ask the blessing for the food.  But his urgency wasn't spiritually motivated. And he wasn't watching Noni because he loved her.

It seems that as I placed the different serving dishes on the table I had put a bowl of lovely, red watermelon right in front of the toddler.  Naturally, he reached out to help himself.

But Mom quickly admonished, "You have to wait until Poppa asks the blessing!"

Joy said he eyed the bowl the way a starving man would!  And repeatedly asked that Poppa go ahead with the prayer.  Relief only came when he heard, "AMEN!"

And it seems Abby shares her brother's love for "wahermewon"!  The two of them are capable of stuffing HUGE pieces of the juicy, red fruit into their tiny mouths.

We watched, mesmerized as fat little fists would close around pieces an adult man would eat with caution.

Then the stuffing would commence.  Cheeks pressed to the maximum capacity reminded us of chipmunks preparing for a long Winter. 

Once the stuffing concluded, the "chewing" (and I use that term loosely) began.  Juice flowed from perfect bow lips and dripped off chubby elbows onto Noni's freshly mopped floor.

Who cares?!  That's why they sell mops!
Our entertainment for the evening was a $6.00 watermelon (probably the last of the season.)  Broadway tickets at any cost could never have equaled the laughter, the joy, the marvelous experience of family dinner and that watermelon!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I've never been one to consider rest as a spiritual activity.

Until Now!

We just came back from a deliciously marvelous ten day vacation! We drank deeply from the peace offered us each and every day!

Some will find it incredible that we got into the car, left Florida and traveled ten hours in order to vacation at..............the BEACH!  But that's exactly what we did.  Why would you leave the vacation capital of the world?  Why leave a peninsula surrounded by some of the most magnificent beaches known to man?

Well, here it is.  Mom and Dad Hawley still live in NC.   Dad was to have a pace-maker replaced on that Wednesday.  (Certainly not life threatening; but a procedure we wanted to be there for, if possible.)

It comforted our hearts to pull into the driveway and see for ourselves that he was sitting up watching a favorite show that very evening.

We were able to laugh and talk and cheer his great recovery progress in person for a change.  And we liked that!

Frank's brother, Terry and his wife Pam graciously allowed us to crash for the night at their house.  (They've managed to find room for the wandering part of the Hawleys for many years now.)

Mom went with us to "Sherry's Bakery: the Sweetest Corner in Dunn" for breakfast on Thursday.  We sat around talking with Frank's Aunt Mary. (She and her husband started the bakery over thirty years ago.)  Then other relatives began dropping by as it often happens in small towns.

In fact, if you sit at the front table of Sherry's Bakery looking out at Wilson St., you can almost convince yourself that you're in an episode of the Andy Griffith Show.  Dunn has the same feel as Mayberry in many ways.  I've always loved that!

Then after spending more time with Dad, we headed the Tahoe toward Ocean Isle Beach!  We could almost feel the weights falling off as we drove.

Now, don't get me wrong.  We LOVE our lives here in FL!  We LOVE our church family!  We LOVE the gift of having adult children all around us!  We especially LOVE having perfect grandchildren close enough to hug and kiss at random moments in the week!

But sometimes it's important to just make time for the Original Twosome!

Frank did a great job of only checking his phone each evening while we were away.  I must admit, I checked mine a little more frequently.  Work in progress!

"What did you do?!"  "What did you go see?!"  "Where did you shop?!"  "What museum/landmark did you visit?!"  I can hear your questions - the same questions I ask friends returning from vacation.

The answer is simple: NOTHING!  We did absolutely nothing!  And as was stated earlier, it was deliciously marvelous!

Frank and I have discovered the wonder of - the Beach Umbrella!  This one colorful contraption allowed us to sit for hours at a time engaged in our favorite vacation activities: 
  • Listening to waves splash on shore.  
  • Watching people.  
  • Feeling the wind rush all around.  
  • Squishing warm sand between our toes.  
  • Hearing birds cry and babies giggle.  
  • Drinking in the soothing rays of sun.  (After significant slathering of spf50 sunscreen!) 
  • Holding hands.
  • And READING!  We both read to our hearts' content.
I finished a book I'd been working on for some time then dove headfirst into the sequel.  The second novel concluded with a bang on the next to the last day.

Deliciously Glorious!

We did see a few friends (totally necessary when you're a people person!)  We did preach for three different services on Sunday morning.  And Frank even baptized a man who had driven from KY to be baptized in the ocean.

Other than that, we slowly ate at a few favorite restaurants.  We drove by places we'd known while living in OIB.  We took in a show.  Napped.  Watched the sun rise over the ocean nearly every morning.  And then read some more.

Boring by the standards of some.  But deliciously glorious for two tired preachers who needed to reconnect with the Father and with one another.

That's why I've been a little slow about writing.  But I did think of an acrostic to describe our time away:





After much conversation on the topic, Frank and I are planning to engage in a little more of the Required Effective Spiritual Training next year!

(I'd love to read your acrostic version of the word REST!)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Power of Silence

She just kept starring at me!

No nod of affirmation.  No scowl of disapproval.

Just a steady, unflinching gaze that unnerved me more with every passing second.

I was twenty-one years old and trying to express to my trusted friend a plan I'd formulated.  Within the first five sentences, I knew the plan that had seemed so reasonable as I turned it over and over in my head...........SOUNDED wrong.  Completely wrong!

Tricia knew it too and that's why she was starring at me.  Not with a look of disbelief or judgment.  Just listening - intently.

I should have sighed deeply and given up on the plan.  But NO!

I was already emotionally invested in this plan and I had to see it through!  Getting Tricia to agree with me was the first step that would send me on down the course I'd mentally plotted.

She continued to stand there like some sentinel guarding the truth.  And the longer she remained silent, the more I babbled.  Even revealing points of the plan I had no intention of revealing to anyone!  EVER!!

After several minutes of my impassioned plea, Tricia quietly asked one very pointed question.  It was the final shot that brought down my poorly conceived balloon.  And I knew I had to chose a different course of action.  Unbelievable! 

For most of my life words and their power have been a natural gifting for me.  But that day, I learned a valuable lesson about the power of SILENCE!

Tricia served as a trusted friend who knew what meant most to me.  This plan was wrong!  She confidently held to the rudder of truth while my boat of thinking bounced around on the rapids of decision.

She knew that her opinion wasn't the important issue.  She trusted that I was smart enough to come to the right conclusion.  She prayed while listening.

I recognized the power her silence had exercised over me and began to study how to implement it in my own life.  When words are your natural gifting, you have to practice silence!

You know how you can be standing with someone and their hurtful comment stings badly?  You get into your car and immediately the most awesome retort hits your brain.  I mean the perfect zinger that would cause everyone to step back in awe?!

"Man, I wish I'd thought to say..........."

Yeah well, I was the kind of person who didn't have to wait until getting into my car.

Zingers.  One liners.  Verbal slaps.  I was never at a loss for words!

And while usually everyone roared with laughter ( I'm not mean at heart), many times I felt badly and wished I could take back a statement. 

Perhaps that's why Tricia's example of silence had such impact on me.

It took years of intentional practice!

At one point in my life, the Lord had me rehearse over and over this one phrase:
                                           STUDY TO BE QUIET!

For almost eighteen months when I would begin my devotional time, that phrase would come without bidding to my heart.  And I would repeat it again and again.

When I would get into my car and begin a quick trip to the store, "Study to be Quiet!" 

While cooking dinner.  Organizing home school books.  Feeding the dog.  Sweeping the floor.  "Study to be Quiet!"

(Perhaps I'm not the quick study I thought myself to be!)

Then I came across a great adage that I began teaching the girls:
                                     "Only a fool tells all that he knows!"

That one phrase became a benchmark for my little girls as they grew up in a pastor's home.  It gave them the tool they needed in order to not feel they were hiding something or lying if someone asked probing questions they couldn't answer.

(Granted, church people shouldn't ask the pastor's young children probing questions.  But we don't live in a perfect world, do we?)

Now, as adults charged with holding confidences and maintaining trusts, this is a habit for them.   A natural part of life and character.  "Only a fool tells all that he knows!"

I'm so very thankful the Lord challenged me to learn the power of silence.  It did not come easily!

Even today, if you watch carefully, you can sometimes catch me placing a finger over my lips while listening.  That's not just a reflective position.

It's an attempt to capture the words pounding against my lips; demanding expression!

Ah, I can see from your smile that you know exactly what I mean!

Perhaps we would all benefit from a little more listening and a lot less talking.

There's power in that silence!  Wield it carefully!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Love Letter

I love a good sunrise!

There's just nothing else like it.  (Unless, of course, it's a good sunset!)

This morning I made my coffee and pulled back the curtains on a dark, gloomy vista.  The sky, heavy with clouds, promising rain.  As I opened the door for Bella and Gracie to stampede, the steamy tropical air seemed to close in.

This is central FL and it is August. 

At first it seemed rather pointless to sit in my favorite chair on the patio.  No sunrise to entertain me this morning!

But as my needy eyes continued to scour the horizon, suddenly I caught sight of it.  One tiny little sliver of pale pink accented on either side by the blackness.  The billowy clouds of night actually served to highlight the tiny thread of color.

So I took my customary seat for The Show.

Patience has its reward.  As I sipped coffee; patted Gracie; swatted mosquitoes and watched hopefully, the most beautiful colors finally began to appear.

And I was amazed by the grandness of God - all over again.

Nothing I would watch on morning TV could possibly refresh my heart the way a sunrise does.  Nothing I would listen to on Pandora could renew my outlook for the day as do the colors of a morning sky.

Perhaps I'm easily entertained.  But as those pinks, purples and oranges begin their dance I am reminded of larger purposes for life.

I'm reminded of new beginnings.  I'm reminded that God is in control - not me.  I'm reminded of His grandness and great love.  I'm reminded that each day brings its own measure of mercy.

I'm reminded that the darkest hour truly is just before the dawn.  I'm reminded that if we watch for  Him, He will be found.  I'm reminded that God has resources I know nothing of.  I'm reminded that His thoughts and ways and purposes are higher than mine.

I'm reminded that while I am but dust, the God of the heavens uses that very canvas to send me a message of His love every day!

And I patiently watch the unfolding.  With a hungry heart, I read His love letter.  My own words inadequate to respond to such magnificence.

I'm left to simply bow my head before His grandeur and whisper, "I love you, too my Father!  I love you, too!" 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Oval Office and A Coach

(Rather long.  Really encouraging!)

I absolutely LOVE when our Father sends "kisses from Heaven"!

You know:
  • A special scripture answering the question you pondered this morning.  
  • A hug or phone call when you need it most.  
  • A song on the radio that brings a flood of encouragement.
  • A miracle moment you could never orchestrate for yourself!
A "kiss from heaven" that seems to say, "I know where you are!  I haven't forgotten my promises!  I love you more than you could ever know!"

I'm going to tell you about two such kisses that took place for our family in just the past seven days.

Near the top of Frank's Bucket List (things he hopes to do before moving to Heaven) is this item:
                      Stand in the Oval Office of the President of the United States

(Yes, he does dream big!  And that's one of the reasons I love him so!)

We've visited Washington, D.C. several times.  We've toured the White House.  We've shaken hands with people who have stood in that office.  We've seen the office on television.  We've stood in replicas of said office.

But Frank has yet to fulfill the actual item on his list of standing in the Oval Office.  Sigh.

This week, Frank is in Los Angeles, California with Ted, the men's director of GGC.  They've worked at the Dream Center.  (An amazing eight story ministry center located right in the heart of the city.)  They've toured the headquarters of Ted's business.  They've seen two ball games.  And today, they got to lead TEN PEOPLE to faith in Christ!

It's turning out to be a monumental trip.

("Sheri, Los Angeles is a long way from Washington, DC."  I know, just stick with me a minute.)

Last night when Frank called, his voice was tight with emotion and excitement.  He instructed me to have our family pray.  He was about to experience something amazing!

My history buff husband had convinced Ted to take a drive down Azusa Street which is a significant landmark for Pentecostal believers.  On Azusa Street sits an historical site known as the Bonnie Brae House.

It was here, in 1903, that a young African American man named William Seymour sought God until there came a powerful revival impacting Los Angeles and eventually all of North America.  Rev. Seymour was known as a man of prayer; spending six to eight hours a day shut away in a tiny room calling out to God.

He routinely preached with an orange crate over his head because his face often glowed and he didn't want any attention drawn to himself.  All attention had to focus on Christ alone.  We've known about and admired Rev. Seymour's passion for many years.

Last night as they walked past the Bonnie Brae house on Azusa Street, Frank noticed that although the gate by the sidewalk was locked, the door to the house was open.  So, in typical North Carolina fashion, he stood by the gate and began calling to whomever might be inside.  "Hello!  Hello!"

Long story short, within minutes, Frank and Ted were being given a private tour of the historical house.  And his ecstatic phone call was to involve us in a significant moment.

The care taker had granted permission for Frank to have a few minutes praying in the very room where William Seymour spent so much time alone with God.

 It was a powerful encounter!

Not because of the room itself.  There was no power in the tiny 8 X 8 cubicle with wood floors and undecorated walls.  But men had gone into that room hungry to experience the presence of God.  And His promise is that if we seek Him......He will be found!

As I journaled about this wonderful moment this morning, the Father whispered to me, "Frank has wanted to stand in the Oval Office - a room of authority and power.  I gave him that experience.  But this was a room of heavenly authority and power!"


And the Coach?  What's that about?

Well at our General Council last week, there was a special event for minister's wives.  A lovely reception planned for nine hundred women.  Kristin and I volunteered to help the team decorating

We worked quickly putting out the gifts provided for each guest along with several pamphlets.  Kristin was her normal meticulous self.  Placing each item with care; hoping to make the ladies feel even more special.

The women's director had said it would be fine for Kristin to get a ticket and attend the event.  So at 1:00, we hurried back to the hall.  We wanted to be there when the other ladies began arriving.

The air was electric.  And I was having the time of my life welcoming minister's wives, helping them find friends and locate seats.  The noise level rose quickly from all the voices as the hall filled with precious servants of God.

Kristin and I met the national director, Kerry Clarensau, last spring.  Such a warm and encouraging person.  We were thrilled for her that the event (which had been her dream) was such an obvious success.

Halfway through the program, the planning committee was introduced.  Each one stepped to the microphone and told a little about herself.  She then drew the name of someone attending and presented that lady with a door prize specially chosen by the committee member.

When Kerry took the microphone and held up her door prize, it was a purse.  She loves purses and had chosen one to give away to some lucky lady. 

Kristin shares that love.  I have a picture of her as a two year old with her arm straight in the air, the strap of my big purse over her shoulder, bag dragging along behind her.

"And my purse goes to.........Kristin Harvey!"  Kerry announced.  Everyone began applauding and looking around.

"No, wait.  That's Kristin Hawley!!" 

Our table erupted in squeals and cheers and exclamations of disbelief as Kristin headed to the front.  She beamed as Kerry embraced her. Out of 900 names, she had drawn Kristin's!

And you see, it wasn't just any purse.  It wasn't Kristin's normal bargain purse.  It was a genuine COACH!  (Which I've learned, is a very nice purse indeed!)  A purse Kristin's only ever dreamed of owning.

Reminds me of another scripture, "God does exceedingly, abundantly above all we can ask or even think!"

Kisses from Heaven in the form of an office visit and a purse.

He knows where we all are! He remembers His promises!  He loves us all more than we could ever know!


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ballet Shoe Shuffle

Did you know that as we age, there is one part of our body guaranteed to loose weight?

Not the arms.

No, that's the part that continues to hail a cab long after the cab has already pulled to the curb.

Not the posterior.

No, that's the part that feels obligated to pad all sitting for the rest of the days of our lives and therefore collects all the extra fat available.

Not the stomach.

No, that's the all important "Nana-Roll Region."  Our bodies reason that it would be unfair to short change grand babies by subjecting them to pokey ribs.  "Store all necessary padding," our brains say.

But it has been scientifically proven that as we age we can count on the fact that any and all fat will most assuredly disappear from the area of.........................our feet!

For someone who has worked diligently my entire adult life to keep weight from ballooning out of control, you'd think I'd be excited to learn about guaranteed weight loss.

But I'm not!

Instead I want to look into the heavens and loudly implore, "WHY?!  Of all the weighty areas you could choose, why would you choose to make us loose weight in our feet?  And just at the very time of life I could USE extra padding on my poor, abused tootsies!"

Yep, that would be my question.

I alluded to this problem in a post last year when I told about discovering Mr. Clark.  (My new favorite shoes that offer comfort and a bit of style.)

But General Council 2013 (the biennial gathering of all U.S. Assemblies of God ministers) was the first that I've had to face this dilemma head on.

Each year before when we've gathered with thousands of other missionaries, pastors and wives from all around the country I've used the "Ballet Shoe Shuffle" quite effectively.

What?  You aren't familiar with the "Ballet Shoe Shuffle" you say?

Well, it's like this.

Many years ago I discovered that my little black Dearfoam bedroom shoes were made just like ballet slippers.  They also fit perfectly into a pocket inside Frank's dress coat.  Each coat he wears has a similar pocket.  I think the pocket is actually designed for papers and such but I called dibs!

When we would leave our hotel and begin the hike toward the convention center, I would don the little black Dearfoams (with their handy-dandy, thin rubber sole) and walk contentedly the entire distance.

Once we hit the main artery of pastoral traffic, I'd quickly switch the Dearfoams for my high heels. Shuffling them into Frank's waiting pocket.  (Sole sides together, of course!  I'm thoughtful like that!)

This worked well for many hikes to and from the huge convention centers all around the country.

But not this year!

I've now hit that auspicious season of life where the scientific studies are proving true.  The wonderful fatty padding for my well-used feet has almost completely disappeared.

The farthest I routinely walk in high heels now is from the car to my office.  (About twenty feet.)  I quickly remove them and slip on the bedroom shoes always waiting under my desk.

When it's time for service, I walk from my office to the sanctuary.  (About a hundred feet.)

As soon as I can get to my spot on the front row, I slip them off and stand bare-footed until time to greet people.

The one exception to all this shoe shuffling is when I'm speaking.  Somehow, the Father has seen fit to allow a special dispensation of some sort and my feet never hurt during sermons.  

Now, I am well aware of my limitations.  So each outfit I packed for use at General Council 2013 began with the shoes.

If Kristin (my resident fashion consultant) couldn't identify a comfortable pair of sandals, slides, wedges or flats to co-ordinate with an outfit, it didn't matter how cute it was or how skinny it made me look - it didn't make the cut!

I only have two feet.  And even at 55, I'm hoping they'll transport me for many years to come.  That could be thousands of miles yet.

So it has become comfort over cuteness.

And I'll continue to pamper my thinning feet.  You can count on it!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Jam Packed

Life is never dull!

I think that's pretty much true for everyone I know.

Whether they live in a city or in the country.  Parents of small children, teenagers, adult children or no children.  Big family or small family.  It matters not whether they work days, nights or both.  Take extra classes or don't.  Work two jobs or one.  Use internet or don't.

We're a bunch of busy people!

Frank and I just concluded an extremely wild week. When we finally sat down last night, all we could do was sit beside one another and stare straight ahead.  We were too tired to even watch a video or read.

Now that's too tired!

I won't bore you with a blow by blow description.  But all our planning did lead to a whirlwind 36 hours that included-but was not limited to-the following: a mission outreach for the men, a baby shower for Meg and Nate, dinner at a Sweet 16 party, laundry and packing for our national conference, hosting a Sunday morning guest speaker, a leadership luncheon following church,  mentoring time for Frank and myself, as well as a couple of hospital visits squeezed in between.

Nope, you'll never hear me complain about being bored!

But I also know that life is short. 

So in the middle of all that excitement, I made sure I got a few minutes with Spencer and Abby.  I patted Meagan's belly and said hello to Noah.  I rubbed Frank's head, talked with my dad, hugged Kristin and Joy, told John and Nathan how amazing I think they are.  AND had brunch with my dear friend, Becky Smith!

This week is the biennial gathering of our fellowship (the Assemblies of God) in Orlando.  Beginning with registration this afternoon, we'll be on the run until next Friday. 

We'll sit in services with amazing speakers, prayerfully participate in business meetings, attend late night reunions and early morning memorials. 

One of the most exciting parts of this General Council is that one of our very own GGC students, Kendall Katina, made it to nationals with her presentation for Fine Arts.  (Fine Arts is a program giving A/G teenagers a great competitive venue for expressing creative gifts.  Over 10,000 students will participate in Orlando this week.) 

So of course we'll skip whatever the adults are doing when it's time for her to go on stage!

And rest assured there will be intentional lunches, coffees or even sitting in service with dear friends from all over the country that we haven't seen since the last General Council.  Those hugs and snatches of catching up are the recharge needed by this "Energizer Bunny"!

Yep, life is jam packed.  But we all know that jam makes dry toast a treat! 

May the Lord give us all eyes to see our busy lives as the "treat" they truly are!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


On the 25th of July, I hit the auspicious mark of "Double Nickles!"

Half-way to 60!

Waaaaay over the hill!  (If you're under thirty.)

A spring chicken! (If you're over 80.)

I turned 55 years old.  (Not nearly as exciting as the first time I marked a 5 in my life.)

But I wouldn't want to trade any of the wonderful life I've been living in order to go back.  No sir, not for one little minute!

Who in their right mind would want to repeat zits and spankings and first dates and falling off the monkey bars and gym class and...........?  Well, you get the idea.

On the 25th, I was treated to lunch at my favorite tea room by dear friends who serve as part of our church board.  Much laughter, precious cards, thought-filled gifts!

Frank took me out to dinner that night.  Then he and I strolled around the very same lake we circled on our first date over thirty-four years ago!   (I'll tell you about his gift to me in another post soon.)

The entire family blessed me with a beautiful Sunday lunch, cards, gifts, hugs and even some kisses!

The GGC family showered me with lovely cards and words of love they had carefully written.  (Which of course I greatly enjoyed - being a word person myself!)

It's late this final day of July.  I've worked hard all day.  I've squeezed my grandbabies and "patted" Noah.  I've enjoyed a great Bible study; led by my own dedicated husband.  Had a time of prayer with dear friends of GGC.  Talked with my girls and even some extended family.

But reflecting just a moment with you, faithful reader, felt important before moving on to August. When pondering just what to say, I thought I should share with you a poem that had impact on my life as a young teen-aged girl.

 The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Resplendent Roast

"This roast is as tough as shoe leather!!"

Grandma Miller (Mom's mother) said this nearly every Sunday afternoon until I was about twelve.

She frequently threw in, "Those green beans are so stringy!  I don't even know how we'll eat them."  And, "Yes, I baked some rolls.  But they're a sorry excuse for yeast rolls if you ask me!"

Mom would begin reassuring Grandma. "It's going to be fine, Mama.  You're worst roast is always better than anyone else's!"  (That was no exaggeration!)  "These green beans are beautiful!  I don't see any strings at all."  "The rolls look like they're ready to float away!"

I could count on her diatribe each time we ate Sunday lunch at Grandma's.  (Unless, of course, we went to Blanche's Boarding House in downtown Pensacola!)

A steady stream of complaints would begin emanating from her tiny kitchen just as each platter or bowl of steamy deliciousness arrived at the dining room table.  She stopped the negative reports only long enough for Dad to ask the blessing.

Then it would start again until every plate was filled to the edges with her "inferior" cooking.

As our forks sliced through the roast like hot butter and ice cubes clinked in the frosty tea glasses and yeast rolls began melting in our mouths, all you could hear were sighs of culinary contentment!

Then compliments would begin rolling in from every corner!  We each offered reassurance for Grandma that we found every item on the table to be truly delicious!

Grandma Miller had learned to cook while growing up on a farm in Indiana.  She knew exactly what she was doing!  Both with her cooking and her complaining.

There are two measures for a roast dinner in my adult life:
  1. Did I use an "Aunt Dorothy" roast?  (A cut of meat just a bit more expensive.   Mom's perception was that Aunt Dorothy was the only one in our extended family able to afford such meat.)
  2. Does it smell like a "Grandma Miller" roast?  (That magnificent fragrance that wafts heavenward when the lid is removed for the first time! Causing your mouth to water and your heart to be thankful for taste buds!)
Last Monday night as I prepared family dinner, both criteria dovetailed beautifully.  The two roasts in the oven were good cuts, well-marbled.  And it smelled divine all the way out to the drive.   I could hardly wait for everyone to arrive.

But when I lifted the first roast from the pan to begin slicing, panic hit!

Normally, I have to use a second meat fork and sort of scoop the meat on to the platter because it just falls apart in tender morsels.  Not Monday!

I stuck the first fork into my beautiful "Aunt Dorothy" roast and held up the entire thing like a........  Well, like a huge piece of brown shoe leather!

Before anyone could see the horror, I dropped it back into the roaster.  It took some effort but I managed to extricate the fork from said piece of meat and tried to skewer the other roast; hoping against hope for a better result.


By this time, Joy had slipped over to assist.  (She's the real Rachel Ray in our family.)

"What happened?" she asked.  Somehow managing not to laugh out loud as she attempted her own version of "Stab the Rubber Roast." 

"I don't know,"  I really was dumbstruck.

Then it hit me.  After dashing in from work to hurriedly get dinner started,  I had put the oven on 350 degrees out of habit.  You can not cook a tender roast on such a high temperature!

"What will we do?"  Now Kristin was whispering with us.  "I can run to Publix and get some chicken."  When all else fails, serve the Gospel Bird!

My frustration was mounting!  "Let me get the electric knife.  We should be able to slice it thinly and pour on the au jus for camouflage."

I'm sure I saw a wisp of smoke coming from the straining motor as the electric knife attempted to saw through the unyielding bovine bounty.  The girls and I looked at one another in shock.

Part of me wanted to burst out laughing.  But the other part was hurt and embarrassed that my beautiful dinner was ruined.  And how long have I been cooking?  Um, let's see.........over thirty years!! 

Who can't make a decent roast dinner after thirty years of practice?!!!

Fortunately, I had some left overs in the refrigerator.  So we snatched those out and scrambled to get them reheated.

Joy grabbed a sharper knife and once again attacked the edges of both roasts.  It required some serious elbow grease, but she started the salvage process with a few slices from each one.

I began dishing up the vegetables, potatoes and bread.  Moving around the kitchen like someone in a daze.

We quickly placed every possible option on the table then called for the fellas and babies to join us.  The dining table is in our kitchen.  Getting all the high chairs, daughters, sons and sometimes a couple of guests squeezed in around it takes some Jedi maneuvering.

Finally we were settled.  We reached to join hands for the blessing and that's when it happened.

To the surprise of every adult at that table, Spencer called out, "I pray!"

We looked to Poppa at the head of the table.  Frank smiled and said, "Okay, you pray buddy."

Heads bowed as the two and a half year old said reverently and sincerely, "Fahver Jeshush.  Tank you for a food!  AMEN!"

And with those eight simple words, Spencer turned "Shoe Leather Disaster" into "Resplendent Roast Dinner" for me! 

We did laugh til our sides ached when the unsuspecting Meagan (who didn't know about the electric knife failure) tried to cut her first piece of roast.

And the platter of left over ribs and chicken cleared out pretty quickly.

No matter.

A sign hangs over our patio door that reads, "We may not have it all together.  But together we have it all!"

Shoe leather roast, stringy green beans,  failed yeast rolls...........and family laughter.  Who could ask for more?