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!