Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Glad Announcement!

Wonderful News!

Joyous Declaration!

Delightful Report!

Baby Smith has been identified........... (drum roll please!)

A BOY!  

Meagan knew it in her heart.  Nathan hoped for it.  We're all cheering it!

In October, the Nathan Smith Family will become three with the addition of.............(second drum roll please!)

Mr. Noah Jacksen Smith, Esq.  

(Noni added the esquire part because it just sounds even more dramatic!)

Nathan's smile had no equal as they pulled us together for the great announcement.  Meagan already had the maternal, protective look.  Our cheering and exuberance raised the roof - so to speak.

Both Smiths had made arrangements to go into work late Tuesday so the ultrasound could take place first thing.  They planned to call as they left the doctor's office so we could all congregate and hear the news together.

Texts began flying back and forth when they discovered that a mistake had been made in the scheduling department.  "Ultrasound rescheduled for June 13th!  So disappointed!"  Sad report!

Everyone replied to the mass text with appropriate sentiments of similar disappointment.

Then came another text.  "Doctor wasn't pleased with their mistake.  Ultrasound happening - now!"

I must admit, anticipation built all over again!  We all kept working, waiting for the call.

It's become our habit that the out of state family gets the first call with all life-changing news.  (The Schrecks started this years ago.)  So as soon as they left the office, Meg and Nate were on the phone to NC.

We heard the low rumble of joyful celebration coming from the Outer Banks region!

I almost missed our announcement rendezvous because I was still at the office.  Ten crazy minutes of announcing and cheering and hugging and celebrating.  Then we all scattered like ants returning to work.

Just in case you wondered if my spell check missed the "e" in Jacksen, it didn't.  Meagan and Nathan intentionally chose to spell it with an e.  Spelled with an "o" the name simply means "son of Jack" which, of course, did not meet Smith approval.

They carefully chose Noah Jacksen's name because of it's full meaning:

Noah - Peaceful; Long-lived Comforter.  And Jacksen - God is Gracious.

Meagan explained that the meaning of Noah perfectly represents Nathan's personality to her.  And Nate's middle name (Andrew) also means "God is Gracious."

So while he won't be Nathan Andrew Smith II, he will carry his father's character and heritage in his name.

Words will be a big part of Noah's life.
  • Correction, comfort, consistence will be the words he associates with his parents.  
  • Cuddling, cooing and chocolate will be grandparent words.  
  • Cajoling, climbing and coercing will be the cousin words.  
  • Aunts and uncles will surely add cars, crafts, and cooking to his vocabulary.   
  • While his church family will help congratulate and cheer for each new step
 AND we're all hoping for some curly, blond hair!

Other than that, Noah Jacksen Smith is already perfect in our eyes!

Thanks for celebrating with us!

For great pictures and the Other Grandma view, click here:

Thursday, May 23, 2013


(Long story but a good one.  Especially for all the teachers who read Embrace the Grace!)

This past week at our conference, I had lunch with a lovely young pastor's wife named Candy.

Candy and her family have been missionaries to Austria for over twelve years.  In 2012 they moved to Ft. Lauderdale to accept a new pastoral role.

And in the service where we ordain new ministers, I was especially excited to watch another young lady, Londa, being recognized for her call into ministry.

What's the connection?  I served as English teacher for both women - many years ago.  (Disclaimer: I was but a mere baby myself!)

Seeing them and celebrating their advancements set me pondering the period of my life where I was known as "Mrs. Hawley" English/Social Studies teacher.  And, of course, it brought back to mind a story I thought you'd enjoy.

My first year teaching was literally a dream come true.  I had hoped for nothing else since the age of fourteen when my own English teacher, Mrs. Myers, put the idea in my head.

My own chalk board!  My own classroom!  My own bulletin boards!  (Must admit, I didn't love doing bulletin boards.)

My. Own. STUDENTS!  They were the real prize.

I worked hard to obtain a degree just for the privilege of interacting with scores of teen-aged students.  (Yes, it's true.  You must be half called and half crazy to want to work with that age group!  But I loved it!)  Now finally, at twenty-one, I was getting the chance.

That first year was a whirlwind of lesson plans, creating tests, grading papers, establishing boundaries, staff meetings, parent meetings, laughter, tears...............TEACHING!

As spring rolled around, the English chair told me that we would be leading the students through the process of writing a term paper.

Now, I had a lot of experience with writing my own lengthy research papers.  But I soon learned that's totally different from training someone else to do the same thing.

One of my classes was made up primarily of students who weren't really writers - at all!  The entire year had been a challenge of finding ways to help that group want to learn anything.  And in the class, there was one handsome kid named "Mike" who had more attitude than aptitude.

He had no intention of writing a term paper.

"Just give me the F right now, Mrs. Hawley.  I'm not doing that!"  Mike set his jaw and starred defiantly into my incredulous brown eyes.

"We'll discuss that today in detention!"  I didn't tolerate disrespect; even from the coolest kids.

After school, Mike shuffled into my classroom and plopped down into a desk.  He flipped open his notebook and started his homework.  We'd been through detention together before.

Just before the hour ended, I slipped over to the desk beside Mike.  With no other students around, he lost the attitude and became the young man I knew his mother loved.

We talked for several minutes about other things before I brought up the term paper.  "Mike, just give it a try,"  I said.  "I'll walk you through every single step.  You can do this!  I know you can!"

I briefly explained the process.  I broke it down into the steps that would be required.  He sat up a little straighter and began tracking with me.  Before he left, we had a plan in place.   And Mike had committed to try.

I was ecstatic!

The next six weeks flew by.  I did my very best to walk all my students through the challenge of their first paper.  The topic choice.   The research.  The note taking.  The rough draft.  Revisions.  The final draft.

Frank and I were newlyweds and he lived it with us!  The Research Paper Unit required long hours outside the classroom for Mrs. Hawley.  We were all relieved when the turn in date finally arrived.

Mike had a huge grin on his face when he walked up to my desk and placed that completed paper on the stack.  It felt like an accomplishment for us both.

Although I WISH that was the end of the story - it isn't.

As the English chair and I began the laborious task of reading through hundreds of pages of "research," it soon became evident that some students had cheated.  The dreaded word plagiarism had to be written across several title pages. And those students had to be failed.

The grading process became gut-wrenching for me.  And my inexperience as a teacher didn't help.

"I've graded your writing all year long,"  I told one complaining student.  "You copied this right out of the book, didn't you?"  She dropped her head in admission.

One mother stood in front of my desk angrily waving her son's paper at me.  "I have worked too hard on this for you to give him an F!" she yelled.  "He had better pass or I'm going to the board about you!!"  (Can't make that up, folks!)

I stayed pretty strong until Mike came by to discuss his paper.  His shoulders were slumped and he had once again cloaked himself in the "No-care Attitude" - "I'm Too Cool for This" cape.

We looked over each element and I tried to encourage Mike that he could make corrections.  Try again.  But we both knew he wouldn't.

There was no one screaming demands on his behalf.  There was no past experience of success to make him want to try.  He was accustomed to academic failure. 

Mike shuffled out of my classroom.  In that moment, his defeat became my own!

For years afterward, when spring would roll around, I would think of Mike and once again sense the sharp pain of regret for how I'd handled his research paper.

My own heart accused, tried and convicted me!

Such embarrassment.  Such concern for how he was doing as an adult.  Why hadn't I done a better job of helping him taste success?!  Why hadn't I caught the problem sooner?!  Why hadn't I been a better teacher for Mike?! 

The voice came to accuse me at some point almost every spring.

Years later, I found myself once again teaching the difficult process of research paper writing.  This time, the students were my own girls.

The typical frustrations built and finally, I called a halt to school for the day.  (Which you can do occasionally with homeschooling.)   The teacher went for a walk.

My feet followed a familiar path through a wooded area and the accusing voice joined me once again.  "You aren't really much of a teacher, are you?  Remember Mike?!  That poor kid tried and you failed him!"

Tears began to flow.  I could see Mike's defeated posture clearly.  I began to agree with the negative thoughts.

As I pondered just giving up, another Voice broke in.  "Why don't you use these thoughts as a trigger reminding you to pray for Mike instead of always feeling ashamed of yourself and sorry for him?"

I stopped in my tracks and looked around, wiping tears from my cheeks.

"Really?"  I'd never considered that before.  It made much better sense than my old habit of beating myself up every time I remembered Mike.

So I started walking again and this time, I began praying out loud for my former student.  I prayed for him personally.   I prayed over his relationship with God.

As the cloud of shame lifted, I got excited and began to pray for his family.  His children.  His career.  I asked for favor and blessing to rest on Mike.

By the time the path had turned toward home,  I felt much more encouraged than I had in days.  And believe you me, Heaven had received an earful about Mike!

When I shared my experience with Frank, he celebrated with me.  I had hidden my agony for many years, he was thrilled to see me releasing it.

Every spring after that, when the accusing voice brought Mike to my mind - I would PRAY!  Probably no other student (other than my girls) has been the object of so many of my prayers.  Mike has been well covered through the years.

I have no idea where he landed or what he chose to become.  But God does!  And my prayers for him have mattered!

God's gracious redemption of a poor decision has been great comfort to this teacher!!

Do you have a decision you regret or rehearse with disappointment?  Turn it around!  Pray for the ones involved!  Ask God to redeem it for you - the way He has for me!  


Friday, May 17, 2013

Catch Up!

Abby’s casts are history!

On Wednesday, John, Joy and Abigail Grace made the journey back to Shriner’s hospital in Tampa.  Cast removal is a bit scary for little ones because of the loud saw used. 

But the nurses are always so careful and tender.  The doctors understand that they are dealing with a tiny person.  And Joy said the look on Abby’s face as they massaged her legs for the first time was one of utter ecstasy!

(Most of you will remember that three weeks ago Abby had an extra toe removed from each foot.  The three weeks have flown for us but not for Joy and Abby.) 

When they got home the night after surgery, Abby flashed her trademark smile (albeit a bit drunk looking from the pain meds).  She immediately set about the task of learning how to crawl again.  This time with casts covering both legs - from toes to thighs.

She even mastered her own unique version of stop, drop, and roll.  Sitting all day was not an option for this mobile ten month old. 

So she learned to lean as far to the left as her chubby little frame would allow.  Then in an incredible display of strength and dexterity, she would fling her right leg toward the left and flip her entire body landing on her belly.

After that, “crawling” was a simple maneuver that resembled a soldier on some undercover reconnaissance mission.  But she took it all in stride (pun totally intended) and never quit smiling at all.

By the time they headed back to Tampa, she had nearly worn a hole in the knees of her massive leg covers.   Oh, the resilience of children!

In other news, Frank and I have been away for three days.  We represented our church at the annual state conference.  Such a privilege!

When we first moved here eight years ago, the conference was a bit lonely.  We had been part of the NC conference for twenty-five years.  We knew almost everyone there; in FL we were the newcomers.   

But it never takes Frank long to make friends.  And I guess I’ve acquired his habits.  My sister often teases when I introduce her to people.  “Oh, I met one of Sheri’s thousand best friends today!”  

What can I say?  When you love people – a lot – it shows!

My dad has come for a visit.  He’ll be speaking this Sunday at our church as we mark Pentecost Sunday.  (The year is flying by!)  We’re expecting friends from NC and GA this weekend too.

And before too many more days, SUMMER will arrive.  Game on from there!

Right now, I’m savoring a few quite moments on the patio.

Listening to the wind chimes and the trickle of our koi pond.  A great breeze keeps the bugs confused enough that they aren’t landing.  And the air is full of fragrance from the gardenia and jasmine bushes. 

Ten minutes more and I head out for Noni duty!  No sorrow in that task, I assure you.

So to my “thousand best friends” at Embrace the Grace let me offer a simple, “Happy Spring!  Hope your Pentecost weekend is blessed!”

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ode to Mommies

Mother's Day!

It's right around the corner and I can't let it pass without cheering for every mom out there!

When our daughters were babies, I thought it must surely be the craziest time there could ever be! I prayed hard for wisdom, grace, patience.  And thought that when I got through this season, things would get easier -
  • Then we started homeschooling.  
  • Then we became evangelists and lived in a fifth-wheel camper.  
  • Then they started going off to India and college and getting married. 
  • Then they started making us grandparents.
Moms, learn to pray now.  You won't ever stop, I can assure you!!

Kristin (our first-born) was only four when Meagan (the final) was born.  So the years of diapers and teething and crying and ear aches and runny noses and NO SLEEP carved deep trenches in my life.   Today those trenches contain rivers of compassion for every young mom I meet!

During the early years, Frank and I lived ten hours from my family and six hours from his.  We wouldn't have made it without help given by our wonderful church family.  I still pray blessing from time to time when I think of Rita and Ann and Darlene and Amy and Brenda, Marilyn, Teresa........

They (along with many others) offered help and we accepted - gladly!

Recently, I saw on facebook a post by a young mom who has a toddler and a younger set of twins.  She was connected somehow with a horrible website.  It spouted condemnation for every young mom whose children weren't magazine-cover-ready every minute of the day.

May I just say, people writing such as that aren't really raising children!

When our girls were little, I seldom ever reached the accomplishment level I set for myself.  And feeling condemned about it was counter-productive!

Yes, they got into the dog food.  But they never ate the entire bowl.  WIN!

Yes, they fell and scraped their knees.  But they still have both knees.  WIN!

Yes, they frequently wore mismatched socks.  But they thought it was a fashion statement.  WIN!

Yes, their mother yelled.  But they came to believe a whisper was even more serious.  WIN!

Yes, they argued.  But they had to hug each other afterward.  WIN!

Bottom line is this - I want to offer encouragement to EVERY mother reading.  You have such great influence, no matter what age your children may be.

But I'm especially cheering today for the moms of pre-schoolers!   The little moms trying to potty train.  The mom who hasn't slept in three nights because of a baby's cold.  The mom who has TWO in diapers at the same time.  The mom trying desperately to find something their child will eat besides chicken nuggets and peanut butter jelly sandwiches!

You, my dear, are the hero of the day!  You are influencing our future!  Your job is more important than Warren Buffet's.  Your wealth is greater than Bill Gates'! 

There's an amazing quote that is seldom rehearsed these days.  But its impact remains true:
"The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world!"

The little girls that I worked so hard to keep clean and teach good values may not step into roles of world prominence.  But I will tell you this - they are each impacting their own world in very prominent ways!  And I couldn't be more proud.

Hang in there, kiddo!  Love Jesus in front of your children.  Live as honestly as you can.  Accept help.  Model forgiveness by giving and receiving it.  Watch VeggieTales with them.  Have a picnic on the living room floor.  TAKE A NAP!

Your children will survive your imperfect parenting and you will someday look back on these days as the precious gift they are.  Be present - it goes quickly!

And know that there is an older mom in FL who thinks YOU ARE AWESOME!!

Happy Mother's Day!    

Monday, May 6, 2013

Short Spencer Story

This is just one short story that BEGGED to be recorded.

It's about grandson Spencer Matthew.  So if you're overdosed on cute grandkid stories, feel free to click out now.  But you'll love this one - promise!

We usually share family dinner together on Monday nights and don't eat together much otherwise.  But this weekend, John was with family in NY for his brother's college graduation.  (Phil, the brother, leaves on Tuesday for ALASKA where he will serve as a missionary!  Dedicated men, those Schrecks!)

Since John was out of town, Joy and the babies came to our house for Sunday lunch.  Pretty uneventful.  Your average, run-of-the-mill Sunday roast and potatoes from the crock pot.

Average, until I presented a little outfit I'd picked up for Abby.

We tend to make a big deal out of the most mundane things.  So in characteristically, overly-dramatic fashion, I said to Joy, "Close your eyes!  I have a new outfit for Abby.  Keep them closed!!" 

I retrieved the tiny dress and matching bloomers.  "NO PEEKING!!" 

I placed them in front of Joy on the table.  Then called out, "OPEN!"

The normal squealing and ohhh-ing and ahhh-ing resulted.  (It really is the most adorable, pale pink, summery outfit!)

But what followed was the precious part.

Spencer, seated in his high chair next to Poppa, had carefully observed all the excitement.

As the squealing subsided, he began to call out, "Eyes Closed!  EYES CLOSED!!"

I glanced over to see him sitting up straight as an arrow with his own little eyes squeezed tightly shut.


He wanted to join in on the fun and be surprised, too.

"Okay,  Okay.  Keep them closed!  No peeking!"  I frantically searched the kitchen to see what I could possibly place on that tray to merit the excitement building in the heart of that expectant little one.

"Eyes Closed, Noni!"  He declared it again.  Feet swinging with anticipation.

"Good boy.  No Peeking!"  I responded.

Just then, my eyes fell on one of his prized possessions.  His passee!  (That would be pacifier for everyone else.)

I scooped it up and dashed over to stand in front of the upturned, unseeing face.

"Okay," I said in the sing-song voice required by the moment.  "OPEN!!"

Big blue eyes shot open then looked down to see the treasured passee cradled in Noni's hands.   His face registered both surprise and delight.

"PASSEE!!!"  He was ecstatic!  Hands clapping, face beaming, feet stomping.

We all cheered and immediately, tears formed in my eyes.

"Don't you dare cry, Mom!"  Aunt Kristin already sounded choked-up.

"I can't help it!"  And in my heart I wondered,  "Is this how our Father feels when He surprises us with a special kiss from Heaven?"

Oh, may my responses ever be as gratifying to Him!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Plan B

“Mom, WRITE!” 

The command came to me this morning from Meagan on her way to work. 

“I’ve read the same post about five times now and I need something new to read!”

Okay!  Okay!

I have to write about my trip to Mississippi.  (Does anyone else spell that by rehearsing the childhood memory technique?  “MISSISSIPPI:  M.  I.  Crooked letter.  Crooked letter.  I.  Crooked letter.  Crooked letter.  I.  Hump back.  Hump back.  I.”  Just wondering.)

This time last week, Kristin was finishing my wardrobe checklist.  (Most of you will remember that I’m rather fashion challenged and she sets up all my outfits when I travel.  It’s good to know your limitations and where to find help.)

“If you get there and it’s more casual, just wear this necklace instead of that one.  Only wear your black shoes with these two outfits.  And you can put heels with either of these if it’s dressier than you expected, Mom.  Mom!  Are you paying attention?”

Frank arranges everything for me and weighs the bag because he can organize better than anyone I know. 

And the entire time we’re packing, Gracie (the shih tzu) skulks around the bedroom; looking at me out of the top of her big brown eyes.  She doesn’t need words to express her total disgust with me for leaving her - again!

 This time I was headed for Columbus, MS; which has it’s own regional airport about twenty minutes from the hotel where I was staying. 

Plan A was for me to arrive there around 7:30.  Grab a bite of dinner with the hostess and turn in early so my body would be all adjusted to the time change.

Plan A crashed and burned!

Plan B consisted of a missed connection in Atlanta and a reroute into Birmingham, AL.  A lady from Tuscaloosa picked me up in Birmingham around 10:30 (which was actually 11:30 my time).  We drove for an hour and Loretta (the weekend hostess), Pastor Shane and Dana met us at a Chevrolet dealership somewhere.  We shuffled my suitcase, I hopped into their vehicle and we were off again.

Columbus, MS – here we come!

I finally hit my hotel room around 3:00 Saturday morning.  “Travelling is such a glamorous adventure!”  If you could have seen me stumbling toward the breakfast bar and coffee pot just four hours later, you would have seen the glamour!  And gasped!!

Fortunately, the banquet didn’t start until 5:30.  So I did get some rest before being handed a microphone.  My family only would have cringed a couple of times during the sermon had they been there.

We laughed a lot.  We cried some.  We felt closer to Jesus when the evening was over.  That’s always the objective!

The real kicker was when I woke up Sunday morning with a searing migraine headache.  Fortunately, it was still dark when I stumbled out to the car to go find some Aleve.  UN -fortunately, I bumped my head on the door getting into the car. 

“Don’t cry!”  I told myself.  “Crying only makes it hurt worse!”

I must have looked pretty rough because the worker at the breakfast bar found change in her own purse and bought the Aleve for me.  She waved away the dollar bill I offered her.

I love living in the South!  She kept crooning, “Oh, Honey!  Oh, Honey!  Those  ol’ headaches are so miserable!”

By the time church rolled around, I was able to stand without weaving.  And when I went to the platform to preach the morning message, I knew that lots of people had been praying.

Usually a migraine leaves me totally depleted.  But God had a message He wanted to deliver to the marvelous congregation gathered at THE POINT church in Columbus, MS.  I literally felt an infusion of strength.  I showed pictures of my family; told a funny story and it was game on!

The altar time at the end of the sermon was precious. 

Their church looks a lot like Heaven.  Even though it’s in the heart of the Deep South, the Gospel has united races.  A nearby college has a large group of international students and many of those attend THE POINT church, too.

It was wonderful to watch such diversity harmonizing as they all prayed to the same loving God.

 I finally got back home Sunday night around 11:30, instead of the scheduled 9:30.  And I was in Tampa instead of Orlando.  But my suitcase got there with me so I counted it a win.  I hugged Frank tightly, climbed into the Tahoe and relished the cup of hot tea he’d brought.

When Plan B over takes Plan A, we all wonder: WHY?

I met the WHY on the second leg of my journey, last Friday.  I’ll call her Tara. 

She was a beautiful, confident young lady in her 30’s.  Talking with her was easy.  She wasn’t supposed to be on that flight.  (Plan B for her, too.)  Yet here we were.  Seated by each other, sharing about our lives, when we weren’t even supposed to meet. 

I think it was a divinely orchestrated appointment!

There was a similar situation coming home.  “Jennifer” was a young mom sorting out life, marriage, children, and career.  It’s amazing how transparent you can become on a plane with a stranger when a loving heavenly Father sets it up.

It’s taken me almost this entire week to catch up while still carrying on with my regular office hours.  But the truth is – when Plan B brings about such wonderful results, I don’t mind it at all.

If Plan B wrecks your schedule this weekend, watch for the divine appointment.   I’ll bet you spot it right away!