Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thirty-Five Years!

Frank and I have now been married for thirty-five years!

We celebrated yesterday!  And may I tell you - I barely feel like I've lived thirty-five years much less could be old enough to have been married for thirty-five years!

Life Flies Quickly!

I recently heard this sage bit of truth:  "When your children are young the days drag and the years fly!" 

Frank took me out last night for a lovely dinner at a historic restaurant in Tampa called The Columbia.  Then (brace yourself, ladies) we went to see the Broadway musical, Phantom of the Opera!

Resplendent, resplendent indeed!  (Two resplendents in one post!  I know!  But it was just that special!)

The evening was jam-packed with nearly all the elements I enjoy most: 
  • Copious quantities of people watching at the restaurant and theater.  
  • Lots of hand-holding, reminiscing, laughing.  
  • Both of us all dressed up and smelling good.
  • Delicious and unusual food.
  • Two new friends - Michael, our waiter and the theater patron sitting next to me who was unfamiliar with Phantom and needed a quick tutorial.
  • MUSIC!  Oh, such spectacular music!
I could go on but you get the idea.  

Over dinner, Frank and I each told three things from our lives together that we never would have imagined standing at that altar in Pensacola so many years ago.  On my facebook page I posted a wedding picture of those two kids, alongside one of us now.

(Well, I tried.  What I ended up with was a collage of repeated pictures.  Oh, my techie-challenged self!)

Under the pictures I wrote, "Thirty-five years ago, we chose.  Since then - Children, Churches, Challenges, cheering, crying, celebrating.  Conclusion?  Best Choice Ever!"

And it was.  Frank and I have proven to be good partners on this journey called life.  (Much to the surprise of a few nay-sayers.)

Together we're perfect.... ("Wow, Sheri!  It's unlike you to make such a bold statement."  Read on....) we're perfect examples of how the Grace and Mercy of God can take two totally imperfect, broken people and make something good.

Our marriage is a beacon of HOPE for all marriages.  That's why we enjoy doing marriage retreats so much.

We were such dreamy-eyed, naive babies on our wedding day.

Frank thinking, "She's going to be beautiful and smile and cook and clean for me everyday for the rest of our lives!"  Me thinking, "He's going to adore me and protect me and think I'm brilliant everyday for the rest of our lives!"

A train-wreck in the making!

Add in to that self-centered thinking a few other relational road blocks like:
  • both head-strong, stubborn first-borns
  • both accustomed to leading
  • both carrying some serious baggage we didn't understand
  • both with distorted views of what "healthy marriage" looks like
There is a phrase in Psalms that aptly describes our life - "....if the Lord had not been on my side..."

Our life journey has included all the normal trials, struggles and difficulties that everyone else experiences.  That's just life.  We live in a broken world.

Sadly, Frank and I have also traveled through some real troubles we brought on our selves.  (Mostly as a result of being focused on.........OURSELVES!)

But we've had a third person in our marriage.  Our dearest Friend, the Lord Jesus.

He has listened patiently when we've come to Him complaining about one another.  He has "called us out" when we're selfish.  He has healed our hurts; forgiven our offenses; reminded us to love as He does; challenged us to be lavish in forgiving one another.  

Yes, our marriage is a perfect portrait showing how grace and mercy serve to"airbrush" experiences.  His love is the ultimate "photo shop app" covering a multitude of mistakes.

Because of God's work in our lives, Frank and I were able to sit at dinner last night and look back over the last thirty-five years with joy.  God's work continuing in us, helps us look forward with hope!  (Believe me, He's not finished with us just yet.  There's a lot more to be done!)

Maybe you wonder why I gave such a raw, honest look behind the curtain of our lives.

Because on this last day of 2014, I believe someone needs to look forward with HOPE!  Someone needs to know that not everyday is beautiful; there are no perfect fairy tales.  But there is hope!

To that "someone" I want to say, "Hang on!  Don't give up!  Life has more wonderful moments than tragic ones.  And if you'll lean in close to the heavenly Father, listen for the comfort and instructions He'll give, you too will experience JOY!"

The prophet, Zechariah used a phrase I've loved ever since it first came to my attention years ago, "....Prisoner of Hope..."  Isn't that powerful?! 

I want to live as a Prisoner of Hope!  Always believing that the best is yet to come.  Always expecting that God is using today's difficulty to work something wonderful in my life.  Always anticipating the next blessing that's on its way!

Oh dear friend,  the Father sees your struggle.  And He calls to us, "Choose to identify yourself as a Prisoner of Hope.  Watch what I can do with a heart that anticipates JOY!"

No, there are no perfect marriages to celebrate.  But the good news today is this, there is a heavenly Father who is perfectly capable of helping imperfect people become prisoners of hope and experience all the joy that follows!

So from one "prisoner" to another - keep believing.  Joy comes to those who hope!    

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Teach the Tree

Calling all moms, dads, grandparents and other responsible persons!

I urge you........Teach the Tree!

("Wow, Sheri has finally lost it!  Teach the Tree?!  Just how confused IS she?")

Not confused at all; just incredibly aware that we must be intentional in our teaching.  Christmas is one of the most natural and powerful teaching moments we encounter all year long.

Please, don't waste it!

I picked up a magazine this past week that's written for parents.  It offers all sorts of wonderful, creative ideas for helping the average family have fun.  Useful, especially for parents with small children and smaller budgets.

As I flipped through the pages of this well-written circular, I became somewhat alarmed.  The December issue had not one single solitary reference which identified Christmas as a religious holiday.

Not one!

Thinking that surely I had missed it, I slowly turned each page for a second time.  Surely I would find an article, a listing, an advertisement.......something to address the truth that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Christ.

But there was nothing!

I stopped and read one advertisement that used the phrase, "Joy to the World."  But the ad only showed children eating cookies.  An empty call for joy to the whole world!

There wasn't even so much as an innuendo about angels being the ones who first proclaimed "Joy to the World" from the skies over Bethlehem.

Angels came to sing about a baby born to save the world - not about a cookie!

I sat in stunned silence for several moments pondering the implications of my discovery.  Christmas is so much more than Santa, Frosty and Rudolph.  (Although I enjoy a rousing rendition of "Frosty the Snowman" just as much as the next guy!)

Those in charge of the spiritual education of children can definitely use help with creative ideas for most matters.  But we don't need help explaining Christmas.

The most wonderful time of the year practically teaches itself, if we take the time to express what we see. We are their first teachers.  Our words and the things we highlight will take on importance for them.

No need to be preachy.  This classroom requires no desks.  And there's no final exam.

"Look at that wreath, sweetheart.  It's just like God - no beginning and no ending."  (This simple statement is made while helping the child re-create the circle, round and round.)  "The Bible says, ' the beginning God was.  And of His kingdom there will never be an end.'"

"Do you see the red berries on this holly tree?  Their color reminds us that Jesus shed His blood for us, doesn't it?"

Placing the manger and Christ child into the pudgy hands of your toddler........  "Isn't it wonderful that Jesus came to earth as a baby?  He wanted to experience everything about growing up here on earth that you experience.  That way, He can help you when you need help."

"Oh, do you see the beautiful flower on this Christmas cactus?  It blooms out of this old cactus plant to remind us that beauty can come out of ugly things; just like real life.  Isn't it neat that God designed them to bloom right at Christmas time?"

It doesn't matter if they're too young to fully understand; trust me, they're hearing you and processing.  Eventually, the repetition will become so natural to them that they won't have any trouble embracing your words as truth when the light of understanding does dawn!

One of our favorite teaching tools is our Christmas tree:
         Covered in lights - Jesus is the Light of the World
         Evergreen boughs - Jesus brings life everlasting
         Tree itself - Trees stand tall to point our attention toward Heaven
                          - A tree was used to create the cross Jesus died on
         Star ornaments - A star led the wise men to Baby Jesus
         Red beaded garland - Jesus came to shed His blood for our sins
         Apple/fruit ornaments - We want the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives
         Instruments - He plays a symphony with our lives if we make Him director
         Bells - Ring loudly to announce God's Love on Christmas Day
         The Angel - Proclaimed the good news of Jesus' birth!

Keep it natural; light; fun.

One of my life-time friends (Martha) taught me the importance of this lesson.  I watched her make Kristin laugh by patting her baby hand in her own to tap out "Jesus Loves Me."

Please don't miss the opportunity to train your impressionable little ones while the annual object lesson from Heaven is going on all around you.  

  • Google the words to two of your favorite carols and race to see who can memorize them first.  (Christmas carols are chock full of scripture truth!)  
  • Do you know the story behind "The Twelve Days of Christmas"?  Let your pre-teen read it aloud for the family then everyone sing together. 
  • Act out the song "Drummer Boy" with two spoons and a coffee can.
  • Purchase a nativity scene the children can touch; play with them.
  • Before the frenzy of sharing gifts, remind everyone that three astronomers (wise men) started that tradition by bringing gifts to a Baby King.
  • Re-inact the account in Luke 2 as a family.  (They'll love dad being the donkey!)
  • Play charades using titles of Christmas carols
  • Sit down together and watch "It's a Wonderful Life!"
  • Find recipes that illustrate scriptural truth.
  • Create an Advent Wreath for your own home.
Years ago, Frank and I discovered that the most profound, yet succinct, parenting guide is found in Deuteronomy 6.  Keep it simple, " about (Christ) as you walk along; when you wake up; when you lie down to sleep......"

Oh dear friend, I challenge you over the next few days - Teach the Tree! 

(I'd love to hear about the object lessons your family has incorporated over the years.  Post it below so we can all benefit from your idea.  Thanks!)



Monday, December 15, 2014


So Christmas is all about surprises, right?

  • Children's eyes lighting up with joy when they discover the bike they hoped for.  
  • Aged parents answering the doorbell and finding the children they thought couldn't come, standing on the threshold.
  • The perfect silence of an unexpected snowfall.
  • The look of shock on the face of a husband or wife when they unwrap the very item they had pondered all year long.
And oh the delight for the heart of the "giver" of such surprise gifts!

Well, yesterday our entire church experienced that kind of delight!

For weeks there had been a considerable amount of secrecy going on in our office.  At one point, I stepped into the front office and declared to John and the others, "You aren't very discreet.  I want to know what's going on."

John never even looked up from the computer screen.  "You know what time of year it is!  Just don't ask! You'll find out eventually."

And with that, I was banished to the waiting room of the UN-informed!

Even the children had more information than Frank and I did.  At our board and staff party Friday night, a twelve year old looked up at one of the board members.  She gave a cagey smile, started nodding her head and said with meaning, "See you on SUNDAY!"

Oh, the agony of being in the dark!

Saturday night I finally approached Frank about it.  "Do YOU know what they're up to?"

"Nope!"  And with that, he kept right on getting his things ready for our early morning departure.  He didn't even seem to be bothered by the fact that we had NO FACTS!

My sigh of exasperation didn't phase him either.  Although I did catch a little smile peeking from under his calm facade.

(I'm too excited about this news to drag the story out any more;  here you go! )

Between services, we were told there would be a brief reception so everyone could enjoy connecting for Christmas.  Okay.

The reception took only moments and suddenly everyone started moving back to the sanctuary.  Okay.

They called us to the stage almost immediately and one of our dear board members read a prepared statement.  He used gracious terms to explain that we have served Garden Grove Church for almost ten years.  The board and staff wanted to mark this (in conjunction with Christmas) in an extra special way.

A table containing nine gift bags (all numbered) sat to our left.  And gift ten, a beautifully wrapped box, sat in front of us.  Frank and I were instructed to open each gift bag in order, then hold up the items.  The congregation laughed at our puzzled expressions and applauded with each gift........
  1. Febreeze  air freshener
  2. Hand sanitizer
  3. Mints
  4. Soap container
  5. Toothbrush/toothpaste
And so on.......

Bag number nine contained an extremely nice passport wallet.  Frank and I exchanged quick looks and smiles.  But we never could have imagined what was about to happen.

"Now, open the big box."

We moved forward and removed the wrapping paper.  Inside was a small duffel bag with a note attached.  "Look inside!"

Two envelopes.

One marked, "Pastor Sheri, read this one first."  Which I did and promptly began to cry.  More kind words about our service to our precious congregation finished with  "......because of this, we are sending you both to......"

Second envelope to be opened by Pastor Frank.

He pulled out a card that set me squealing and jumping around like I did over my Barbie doll house when I was nine years old.

Frank didn't even have time to read it all.  Because the words were written over................a flag of Israel! 

In 2015, our church will send us on the trip of our dreams.  We will go to Israel!

(I'm grinning like something silly even as I type those words!)

We would never have dared to anticipate something so grand; so generous; so impossible for a church our size.  Yet, they made it happen!  SURPRISE!!

And we couldn't be more grateful and excited!

There's more to this story, of course.  So I'll try to get part two out there tomorrow.  Just thought you might like something this Monday morning to smile about, too!

I'd love to hear about your favorite Christmas Surprise! Please click the response button and let us know.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Cheer!

You Can Do It!

(Can you hear me cheering for you from my quiet place here in FL?)

I know exactly how crazy the Christmas season can become!  But I've come along today with a little word of encouragement.

Don't throw your hands into the air; giving up.  Hang in there!  Keep spreading the cheer!  You can do it!  And your gift of cheer may make a bigger difference than you know.

Last week we made a hospital visit to Beth, a dear member of our congregation.

She is the cheerleader for so many different people that I can't complete the list here.  Suffice to say, lots of people were praying for her.

And even though she had gone through major knee replacement surgery, we were all celebrating!

"Celebrating knee replacement?!"

What you have to know is the background of Beth's story.  She has been widowed for six years now and lives on a pretty tight budget.  And although she's needed this replacement surgery for quite some time, the funds just were not there.

Her brother (who works for a delivery company) was one of many people concerned about Beth's deteriorating condition.  Several weeks ago, he made a routine delivery.  The home-owner, who usually met him at the door in a wheelchair surprised him by walking to the door unassisted.

He took time from his rushed schedule to congratulate the customer and cheer with her.  Turns out, she had just completed therapy for a knee-replacement of her own.

"My sister needs that surgery so badly, " he said.  "I sure wish there was a way for her to get it."

The customer quickly responded, "Wait right here!"  Then walked away from her front door.

I'm not sure if you know this about delivery companies - but they aren't especially family friendly during the holidays.  The route must be completed!  And if you still have packages at 5 PM - too bad for you.  You're not going home until the last item is delivered!

So for Beth's brother to wait at the lady's door was a true act of generosity.........spreading holiday cheer.

The customer returned just a moment later waving a colorful brochure.

Turns out that the very hospital where her surgery took place, offers a huge gift to the community each Christmas.  They screen potential patients who don't have adequate insurance.  And of those dozens screened, they select five to receive the surgery........Absolutely Free of Charge! 

You guessed it!
  • Those few moments of cheering with a long-time customer 
  • ......turned into information 
  • ......which connected Beth with the people 
  • .......who chose her to be one of five recipients 
  • .......for an all-expense paid surgery 
  • .......which she so desperately needed
  • ........and had no way of providing for herself!
God never wastes anything!  (One of Frank's favorite lines.)

You just never know what far-reaching purpose God has planned for the bit of holiday cheer you choose to spread.  Be generous, dear friend!  Spread the Cheer - and watch for the outcome!

Friday, December 5, 2014


"What in the world can I give them for Christmas?!"

It's a popular line of thinking right now.  And the stores eagerly push to assist us in the decision of where to spend our hard-earned money! 

My mailbox spills over with glossy ads.  Each store clamoring over the other to declare that they have the very BEST purchase price on any and everything the wisest shoppers could ever hope to purchase! (As well as a few things we didn't even know we needed!)


I've never been a recreational shopper.  The phrase "retail therapy" is wasted on my kind.   There haven't been many stages in my life where finances allowed for that.

Shopping for me has been more like a hunting trip where I try to sniff out the best bargain on the single item most desired.  Then pounce on it; armed with my trusty 20%-off coupon!

As a family, we have MANY Christmas miracle stories.  Times when our sweet little girls would look up from some ad with wide innocent eyes and say, "Oh, Daddy!  I want THIS for Christmas!"

Frank and I would know that we didn't have the money to buy it for them.  That's when we would turn to our "Daddy" and plead, "Oh, Heavenly Father!  You see our desire to provide a few simple gifts for our girls this Christmas.  Please, help!"

And somehow, He always did!

It may not have been the top seller; nor the flashiest model.  But the squeals of delight as gifts were opened Christmas morning made us know, nothing could have been appreciated more!

This past Wednesday night, Abby (2 1/2 now) climbed up on my lap to share a bag of chips I was holding.  She ate one, flashed her trademark smile and said, "Noni, I hab one fo' Budder?"

Spencer (aka - "Budder" / Brother) wasn't even near us.  He was busy playing ball.  But in her thinking, the gold mine of chips she had discovered had to be shared!  She jumped down from my lap and looked up expectantly.

I reached into the bag.  "Here's another one for you, Abby.  And here's one for Spencer."

The big blue eyes twinkled and her response was totally sincere, "Thank you fo' my chip, Noni.  I not eat Buddder's!"  And off she ran on fat little legs; curly blonde hair bouncing behind. Raspy, little girl voice calling out "Budder!  Budder!"

To share what she had seemed perfectly natural.  And though the "gift" was only a single chip, Abigail reaped the full joy of being a "giver." 

One of my favorite scriptures reminds us that the best life is a simple one.  "Why do you worry so about what you'll eat or wear?  (Or what you'll give as gifts this Christmas?) Your Heavenly Father dresses the flowers of the field.  And He cares MUCH more about you!"

Taking this one thought to the stores will probably help me much more than my 20%-off coupon!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hello / Good-bye

(May I just say how thankful I am for the blog nudging friends in my life?!  When I can't seem to find words I want to release to the internet, invariably someone texts or emails and says, "Hey!  What about a post?!"  Makes my heart smile.........and gets my fingers typing once again.)

Happy Fall, Y'all! 
(Oh, wait!  That greeting is past its time.)

Happy Thanksgiving! 
(Um, that one too!  Last week!)

(Might as well skip ahead and get on track, right?!)

The title of today's post just about sums up my life for the past two months!  My mouth has been full to overflowing with "Hello's!" and "Good-bye's!!"

One recent week-end became a microcosm of my entire life.  It went something like this...........
                Friday - Planning meeting for GGC (Yes, it is normally our day off.  But it's easier to have long meetings when no one thinks you're in the office.)
                Friday Evening - Dinner with our dear friends from England, Phil and Sue.  (Of course it ended with a brilliant cup of tea!)
                Saturday Morning - Worked on organizing our house and garage in preparation for Smith Move-in Day.
                Saturday Lunch - Meet missionaries from El Salvador to discuss their vision.
                Saturday Afternoon - Stop by the fund-raiser event at the school where Meagan and Kristin teach.  Help John and Joy for an hour while they serve mouth-watering BBQ to the crowd!
                Saturday Dinner - Celebrate with one of the most precious groups of GGC - Anna Ministry.  (These ladies may be widowed but they are ALL vibrant, fun-loving and a delight to be around!)
                Sunday Morning -  Two services with the best congregation anywhere!
                Sunday Lunch - Attend a "Gender Reveal Party" for one of our young couples.  (Tim and Kelly are expecting their first baby.  When the obstetrician discovered the gender of their child through ultra-sound, the expectant parents had the information sealed in an envelope.  They invited a crowd of friends and family to their home for lunch and we all found out at the same time mom and dad did.......It's a GIRL!!!  Such Fun!)

When we finally made it home that Sunday evening, we made another cup of tea and sat together (almost comatose)  on the couch watching a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Hallmark Christmas movies require no discernible brain power at all!  Great retreat!

Since that week-end, we've managed to say "Good-bye" to our wonderful Labrador, Bella.  She just moved across town into the ever-shrinking, one bedroom apartment that Kristin and Cody call home. They report that Bella has adjusted well and now thinks she is the reigning queen!

(Gracie always ran the show around here.  Although Bella outweighed her by forty pounds, Gracie thought herself the senior member because she got here first.  Amazing how one so little can rule another so much bigger.)

The Big Hello has been for the incoming Smith Family!

Meagan and Nathan did an excellent job of condensing, packing, labeling, giving away and just plain tossing the rest.  When moving day dawned, they operated like a well-oiled machine.

True to form for Frank and I, we had a 70-Mile bike ride scheduled for the same day.  It's purpose was to help the youth department raise money for missions; which they did.  Almost $3000.00!!

Not too sure about the wisdom of the scheduling, however. 

And let me clarify, that doesn't mean that FRANK AND I rode bikes for 70 miles.  Frank's knee doctor wouldn't clear him for this ride. Although he has ridden over 100 miles for this mission several times. And I ride my bike slowly..........for pleasurable exercise purposes only!

Our job that day was to operate as sustenance-support for the sincere cyclists.  And as baby-sitter for the youth pastor's fabulous children.  (Who just happen to be my grand babies; so no problem there!)

My dad surprised us and came for Thanksgiving week.  A wonderful hello; kinda sad good-bye.

We've said hello to a bit of chaos;  extra furniture; a baby that occasionally cries; and two extra adults.  We've said good-bye to a bit of our privacy; any pinch of extra space anywhere in the entire house; and to Gracie's self-proclaimed throne.

"There's a new 'Shortie' on the scene, pardners!"

We've also said hello to pj-clad snuggles; precious noises from the converted nursery; walks around our yard seeing things from the perspective of a one year old.  Good-bye to any element of loneliness; boredom; or seclusion.

Good trade, I say!  It's a good trade!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What Will Be

If I were given to melancholy, this would be the perfect time for it!

No one likes change.  Don't kid yourself.  It doesn't matter what they say -  NO ONE likes change.  

I see the benefits of change.  I understand the necessity of change.  I even have sermons encouraging the listeners to embrace change!  But none of that means I have to LIKE it!

And here I sit, living through a season of the journey where the word transition might as well be tattooed across my forehead.  (Now wouldn't that be lovely!)

It feels like my tidy little basket has been picked up and shaken.  No, wait.  Shak-en is past tense and would mistakenly indicate that the shaking has concluded.

Not Even!

Sleep continues to be a "hit or miss" proposition during all this "life-style altering."  So 5 AM found me wandering into Kristin's room after letting Bella and Gracie have a run around the back yard. 

It's long been a habit for Frank and me to stand at our children's doors and pray for them if we couldn't sleep.  We call everyone by name - even after they've moved out.

Kristin's bed and chest and night stand have been gone since the week after the wedding. 

(She and Cody are making a valiant effort to combine all her years of household collecting with his one-bedroom apartment.  Not an easy task, I assure you.  This girl could have used a storage container-sized hope chest!)

But her clothes closet and jewelry and pictures have all stayed exactly the same.  Until, yesterday. 

Apparently, she came by after teaching (while we were at the office) and emptied her closet.  My breath caught when I opened the door. 

She had called to say she was going by the house to pick up her clothes.  But I didn't register that she meant all her clothes. 

Stepping into the closet, I picked up a bag and found her veil.  Carefully smoothing it out and placing it over a lone velvet hanger that remained, somehow gave me comfort.  The crystal-edged tulle swayed slightly.  The single item hanging on what had been a completely full rod.

She's always been the organizer in our clan, so the chaos of boxes and stacks of.......stacks of.......stuff looks completely out of place behind her bedroom door.  Standing there looking around the room, I was hit with an unexpected wave of the transition tsunami. 

Kristin's wedding - our last daughter to marry - has firmly closed the door on what was

It's my job to take a deep breath, steady myself, and open the door on what will be.  Standing around missing the "what was" too much, can be dangerous.

As I sit here in my prayer chair (with Gracie squeezed in beside me and Bella warming my feet) the sun is rising on a brand new day.  There are opportunities for joy on the horizon.......if I watch for them.

Meagan and Nathan want to save for a home of their own.  So during Thanksgiving, they will be moving in with us for a while.  Noah will bring his own sunshine with him!

And next summer, Noah will become a BIG BROTHER!  Yes, grand baby number four is on the way!  We are all thrilled!

Because Meagan is allergic to Bella, our loyal lab has to be relocated.  But Cody and Kristin have decided she can live with them.  So we know she'll get lots of attention and love.

Joy and John continue to amaze us as they work with the youth and music and young families of our church.  All the while, raising two adorable children that make my heart turn upside down with their smiles and hugs and precocious comments.

Yes,  it's pretty much a tidal wave........all this change.  And controlling it is out of the question.  But determining my perspective on it?  Well, that's completely my call.

Tears have to be swiped away a bit more often these days.  I may be doing a lot of deep, ragged sighing.  And you can see some pronounced circles under my eyes from time spent sorting things out in the middle of the night.

But as I study the soft hues of dawn, I rehearse what I know to be truth - change is for the good.  Only I can choose the healthy path of "Moving Forward" as opposed to sitting dejectedly by the road called "What Was." 

So I'll arm myself with some encouraging scriptures of hope (and a box of tissues.)  I'll reach for the door marked FUTURE!  And I'll walk through to what WILL BE.

Join me?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Great Wedding Slip

Two Weeks!

Yes, it was two weeks ago (yesterday, actually) that our first born daughter became Mrs. Cody McGhee.

"So why have you not written before now?!" Some may be asking.

To those who have checked this site for wedding news I want to say, "Thank you for your patience!"

Writing is a rather emotional thing for me.  I've mentioned before that it's like sitting down in my living room with a cup of tea and pouring out my heart for the encouragement of a friend; for the purpose of laughter; for........evaluation.

The only hold back is, all this vulnerability is posted on the internet for consumption by any and all who stop by!

So, it took me a couple of weeks to get my emotional equilibrium back to normal after all the excitement of the wedding.  Again, thanks for your patience.

Wedding Story One:

Six weeks before the wedding, John (Joy's husband/Kristin's "brother") created a booklet that became a marvelous help for each wedding participator.  It was a complete and accurate guide to all things wedding-esque!   Dates, vendors, tasks to be completed, people to help, things to be rented, etc, etc.

At three weeks out, John and Kristin re-vamped the booklet and put every last detail they could imagine that anyone involved in any capacity could possibly need.  It literally read like a well-written stage play.

The final draft was 36 pages long!  We Were READY!

The wonderful morning dawned clear and cool.  Bridesmaids began arriving at our house around 8 AM.  We had planned a lovely breakfast they could enjoy while getting hair and make-up done in a leisurely fashion.

So much giggling.  So many pictures.  So many emotions.

I consulted the booklet at 11 AM and started the work of helping everyone wrap up what they were doing.   Departure time was 12 sharp; putting us at the church no later than 12:30.  Pictures would begin at 1:15.

Kristin loves pictures and has always planned to have enough taken that her heart would be warmed by the album for the next fifty years at least.  But she has also hated the thought of causing her guests to wait a long time between the ceremony and the cake reception.

Solution?  Take wedding party pictures BEFORE the ceremony! Yes, unorthodox.  I know.  But wait before you pass judgment.

She and Cody planned a private meeting time with no one else around (except the photographer, of course.)  They were able to spend a few precious moments alone.  Talking, drinking in the beauty of the day.  They prayed together.
  • The all important "walk down the aisle" was saved until the appropriate time in the ceremony.
  • The initial gush of tears was experienced and make-up was repaired.  
  • Pictures that normally take forever were completed.  
  • And we made it back to the church well before guests began arriving.  
  • Even a snack had been carefully scheduled in.
Ah, the Dreamer's Perfect World!

(Your jaw just clenched, right?  You see it coming....)

By 11:30, the make-up artist was finished, girls streamed out of the house and began loading in cars.  Frank and I had carefully wrapped the wedding gown in a sheet and placed it meticulously in our car.

No wrinkles or spots would be tolerated on THIS day!

Kristin's wedding gown was the style one would expect for a girl who has waited her turn so patiently.  A huge ball gown type dress with a rather long train and sparkles designed specifically for the purpose of accenting her tiny waist.  The sweetheart neckline featured pleating that perfected the look.

In order for the dress to fit properly, it required a rather massive under slip.  She opted to borrow the one from Joy's wedding and save that money.  We had steamed the huge crinoline and had it hanging beside Kristin's gown in the spare bedroom along with her veil and shoes. 
There was a momentary flurry of loud communicating while we made certain we had every last item needed for the church.  "Whew!  I almost forgot my shoes!  Can you imagine what a mess that would have been?!"  Kristin giggled.

We all laughed; relieved that disaster had been averted.  The church where they married requires a solid twenty minute drive from our house.  That would have thrown us completely off the booklet's time-table.

As Frank opened the door for Kristin to step into the car, she stopped for a hug and allowed a few tears.

This was her last time to leave home as Kristin Hawley.  She would next stand on the driveway as a visitor, named Mrs. McGhee.  Did I mention - so many emotions?

We arrived at the church within ten minutes of the what the booklet had instructed and began getting wedding clothes on everyone.  Cody and his men were gathered in another room nearby.  The excitement was palpable!

Smiles.  Squeals.  Clamoring.  Babies.  Photographers.  Beautiful Ladies.  Handsome Men.  Right on schedule, until.........

"Alright, Kristin.  Let's get you into your dress!"  I had a tissue on standby.  I knew that seeing her in the dress and veil with hair beautifully coiffed and make-up perfectly crafted would push me over the edge.

"Ummmm," Joy spotted the trouble first.  "Where's the slip?"

"What?  It must still be in the car.  Find Dad!"  I sounded calm but my stomach sank to my feet.  I already knew the truth.  The slip was still hanging in the spare bedroom.  My one hope was that Frank would have enough calm to carry us all!

It took several minutes to locate Frank in the big church.  When I saw him walking down the long hallway toward me, my tears sprang to the surface.  "We left her slip!"

His shoulders sank.  But he regrouped,  gave me a quick reassuring hug, stepped into the ready room with Kristin and announced with great authority, "Everything will be fine.  I'll be right back with the slip!"

And that, my friend, is the role of the Daddy on wedding day!   Rock of Gibraltar - whether he feels like it or not!

The decision was made that the rest of the wedding party would go on to the location downtown chosen weeks before as the most perfect location for pictures.  We would bring Kristin as soon as Dad returned.

"So what did Kristin do?" you ask.  "I'll bet the water-works really started then!"

Kristin said good-bye to everyone and took a deep breath.  She wrapped herself in the sheet we'd used to cover her gown and...........she started cleaning!

Yep, the bride cleaned up the ready room behind her bridesmaids.  That's what Kristin has always done when worried or overwhelmed or needing to think.

I just fell in beside her and helped tidy up.  I found some instrumental hymns to bathe the room in peaceful music.  And then we sat together quietly; waiting for the slip.

Now, obviously Dad made it back - after breaking only a few speeding limits. And we got Kristin dressed.  And pictures were made.  And we got back on track with the clearly delineated wedding schedule.  And a lovely time was had by all.

But I will never forget the blessing of Frank being so calm; his strong hug telling me everything would be okay.

And a lump still forms in my throat as I think of those few minutes Kristin and I had sitting together, all alone.  Talking in quiet tones about nothing in particular.  Slipping comfortably into the role of mother and child one final time before the child walked away to become a wife.

It was a disastrous slip-up in the day from a scheduling perspective.

But for me, the "great wedding slip" ending up becoming a memory I'll treasure always.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mr. & Mrs.

Mr. and Mrs. Cody McGhee are currently enjoying their honeymoon in Charleston, SC.

It was a truly RESPLENDENT (you knew my favorite word was coming, right?) wedding in every way!
Kristin walked the aisle with a smile that defies description.  Cody tried to look stoic but it was a lost effort when those doors opened, revealing his beautiful bride on the arm of her father.

So many details to record.  So many fun and poignant stories to share.  Trust me, I'll try my best to tell them all.  But today weariness has set in and emotions are running too high to uncork the bottle.

Frank and I made plans to leave town for a few days after the wedding.  We'll be going with Phil and Sue, our dear friends from England, to finish this week at Daytona Beach.

One quick snapshot: You may remember that Frank and I took a dance lesson in preparation for the big day.  We managed to master the "Box Step" and we were off and running. 

Did you know you can do the box step to almost any song?  Slow box step.  Fast box step.  Big steps.  Tiny steps.  By the time we added a little side-to-side rocking step and a simple twirl, we were ready for the dance floor!

Frank's dance with Kristin was so lovely.  They talked and box stepped and laughed.  Near the end of the special song ("My Girl!"), the sisters joined them.  They all four did "The Egyptian Walk" like they've done since they were tiny girls following their daddy around the living room.

Someone suggested that I join them.  "No, this has been their special Daddy-Daughter dance for years.  My part is to watch and clap."  Which I did!

Later in the evening, Frank and I had another opportunity to demonstrate our Box Stepping Skills.  I turned and saw my precious mother-in-law sitting patiently at the family table. 

Knowing how much she has always loved dancing, I whispered to Frank that he should go invite her to the floor. 

"What about you?" he asked.

"I'll ask Daddy to dance with me," I declared boldly.  Frank looked doubtful.

Those who know about my growing up years, understand that such an invitation for my dad is really unthinkable.  Dancing was grounds for immediate dismissal from any pastoral position back in his day.

But I asked anyway.

And to my great surprise, after very little urging, my dad backed his chair from the table and followed me back to the dance floor.

"I don't even know what I'm doing," he protested weakly.

"It's okay,"  I tried to sound confident.  "Just rock back and forth.  We'll look great!"

Daddy and I "danced" for the second half of the song.  My sister caught my eye and we gave each other the raised-eyebrow, total-shock look.

Neither of us had ever seen our dad dance.  But he did. 

And those few moments created a memory I'll cherish for the rest of my life.  

Kristin and Cody sent a text to let us know they arrived safely.  Yesterday she posted a picture showing them as relaxed and totally enjoying their time together.

Thank you for all the extra prayers and well-wishes!   Their wedding day was one kissed by the Father Himself!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Week of Finals

When we were in college, finals week was notorious for being difficult.

Life became a vacillating whirlwind of both activity and focus.

One minute found us rushing, dashing, getting loose ends tied up with professors, work, and other students.  (Because as soon as finals ended, we were heading HOME!)

The next minute found us totally focused; surrounded by the books and notes from class.  Nothing else mattered right then except making certain we had it all covered.

That whirlwind of activity and focus is being repeated for me this, the last week before the wedding.

Rushing, dashing, tying up loose ends.  STOP - Webb and Amanda just arrived.  And they brought LUKE!  (Luke is the newest member of our "family" which we hadn't met yet.  Absolutely squish-ably marvelous!)  Time to focus.

Hey, hurry up.  Out the door!  Time to meet the wedding party!

You get the idea.

Yesterday morning, the word "finals" meant something a little different for me.

We all get up very early on Sunday mornings around here.  It's the biggest day of the week for the  Hawley clan - and all extended members.   Ritual and routine are the friends that keep us on track.

Frank makes the coffee and I make hot tea.  Once the tea has brewed, I usually take a cup to Kristin and find out if she's riding with me or with her dad to church.  It's been a nice catch up time, if she's available. 

I didn't sleep well at all on Saturday night so I more or less stumbled into the kitchen once the smell of coffee wafted to the bedroom.  After a few sips, I  started the hot tea and located favorite cups.  (Did I mention we're big on ritual and routine?)

As I poured the milk into her cup, truth hit me like a sharp slap - this was the final time I'd take hot tea to Kristin on a Sunday morning.  Next Sunday, she'll be on her honeymoon.  And when she and Cody return, her address will be different.

I had to stop a moment and gather myself.  Sunday morning is no time for a major melt-down.  And stray tears would have only made Kristin sad.  No point in us both feeling that way.

Her door was opened slightly.  So I took in the steaming tea cup as I've done a hundred other Sundays.  Said the standard good mornings.  Got my information and went out to my prayer chair for a moment.

Sitting in the darkness, I pondered what's in store for us all once the celebration on Friday is complete.

Well meaning people say things like, "Oh, you'll be so glad to have all your girls married."  "Third wedding?  This must be old hat to you!"  "Wow, I'll bet you're going to be relieved."

Not one of those statements is true.

I'm just like most moms.  There are days that I'd gladly rush right back to the Sundays when all three girls were tiny with huge bows clipped into their curly hair.  Twirling in ruffled dresses that came from dear friends at C&K Clothing in MO.  Red tights and fat feet stuffed into black patent leather shoes.

It's easy to close my eyes and see them standing in front of me.  (All except Joy who would be in the other room playing until the last possible moment.)

Time has marched on.  There have been some finals weeks that I didn't recognize as "finals."

But this week, I know it.

And sitting in my chair Sunday morning, the finality of it all threatened to over turn my emotional rowboat.

That's when the Father used a simple chair to whisper comfort to my heart.

We have a beautiful, little antique chair sitting in the corner of our new dining room.  It matches absolutely nothing and really isn't sturdy enough for the boys.

But the design of the chair is so lovely that we keep it anyway.  Intricate cut outs and curves, turned legs, a cane bottom, delicate unexpected designs.

I stared absent-mindedly at the chair while my thoughts swirled.  Final cup of hot tea.  Final good-night hugs.  Final wardrobe corrections for mom.  Final..........and ever so gently the Father broke in.

"Sheri, look at the chair."  It's simple beauty made me smile a bit.  "When you look at that chair, what do you see that makes you enjoy it so?"

I thought for a moment.  "Mostly it's unusual carved pieces," my heart answered His question.

"Someone had to cut away part of the original wood to create those designs.  Do you focus on what's missing when you look at it?"

"No, Lord.  That would be silly," I thought.

"Exactly!"  That's when He painted a perspective picture of comfort for me.

"You appreciate what IS there.  You don't focus at all on what's missing.  And that's why you're able to enjoy the chair.   Too many people miss the joy of what IS by focusing only on the missing or changed parts of life.  Choose to SEE what's good in the change, Sheri.  Then you can enjoy the beauty created by the change."

Such a gentle whisper that I might have missed it if I wasn't in the habit of listening.

"You're right, Lord,"  my heart responded.   "Good things are coming for her once Kristin changes her name to Mrs. Cody McGhee.  If I let myself get bogged down in all the "finals" of this week, I'll risk missing the joy!"

I dropped my head and asked for His help in choosing to focus on what IS instead of feeling sorry for myself about what feels like things cut away from me.

He is indeed the God of all comfort.

Five more days of "finals" for this mama.  Then the sun will rise on the wedding day bringing years of firsts.

That's where I'm focusing!


Friday, October 17, 2014


A week from Friday!

For years people have looked at Kristin and casually said, "So, Kristin.  When will YOU be getting married?"  (Like somehow they thought they were the first to ask that question.)

Eventually, she came up with a response that she rattled off a thousand times even though she wasn't dating anyone, "Oh, a week from Friday!" 

Today that is literally the truth.  A week from Friday!

That's when the dreams Kristin has nurtured for years will be walked out.  In a single day, all those dreams will become memories that warm her heart for a lifetime.

Cody is such a fine young man.  He loves God.  He treats his parents and grandparents with great respect.  (One of Frank's benchmark measurements through the years.)  He lights up when he sees Kristin and responds lovingly to her.

They surprised us when they revealed they've both been praying that as a result of the wedding ceremony they've planned, someone will choose to make Christ the Lord of their life, too.  What more could we ask?

John (our first son-in-law) is the ultimate organizer.  So on Wednesday after church, we all worked on a "Wedding Day Play Book."  I had to bail out around midnight; since my normal bedtime is 9:30.  Kristin, John and Cody worked on until 2:45.

The result was a 36-page detailed description of schedules, point people, lists, job descriptions, set-up/clean-up instructions, sound, lights, music.  Every single element from Wednesday morning to Friday night is COVERED!

It brings a lot of comfort and peace to know that we've thought it through to the best of our ability.  Now when the glitches come up, someone else can look at the book and make a decision on our behalf.  All we have to do is focus on the bride, the groom, and the joy of the moment.

Today Frank and I take a little trip to do a couple's retreat for a church three hours north.  Perhaps a crazy decision to accept the invitation for the week-end before the wedding; but we had our reasons.

The first of our wedding guests arrive tomorrow.  Let the celebrating begin!

I read such a timely scripture this morning from the writings of Jeremiah - "I have loved you with an everlasting love....."  May that be the testimony of these two precious young people - beginning a week from Friday! 

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Wedding update - We're now under the two week mark!!

Final meetings.  Final fittings.  Bridal portraits.  Final purchases.  Final counts.  Dance lessons.  Finishing touches.

WAIT!  Back up!  Did you say "Dance Lessons?"

YES!!  Frank and I finally created time to take the dance lesson he purchased for my birthday over a year ago.  And it was SO MUCH FUN!!

Kristin and Cody joined us.  Teresa (the instructor) met us at her studio after hours to minimize the embarrassment factor.  We stumbled; tripped; stopped; started.  Tried again.  Did I mention that it was so much fun?!

Frank and Cody are truly GOOD men to willingly step out of their comfort zone in order to bring such joy to the women they love!

At one point, Teresa had me close my eyes in order to just focus on following Frank's lead.  (I had to follow without thinking.  He had to be decisive in leading.  There's an illustration for our next couple's retreat in that, right?! )

With my eyes closed, the "box step" I was attempting made better sense.  We had gone several measures into the song when it hit me.......I was dancing!  And I couldn't help it, I began to cry.

Frank knew he had hit a "husband home run" and his smile lit up the room.

The lesson actually became a pretty accurate measure of where we are as a couple.

It was a pleasant surprise for the two strong-willed leaders to discover that the wife (that would be me) was able to quickly step into the role of follower.  Making it much easier for the husband (that would be Frank) to direct our steps and keep us moving safely in the right direction.

The dance required two separate people.  We both had an important part to play.  But in order to accomplish our common goal, we had to move as one.  That's when our "working together" became something beautiful.  And we thoroughly enjoyed the results!

Yep, dancing is definitely a great sermon illustration! 

Some people wouldn't understand the significance of this gift Frank gave to me.  But Frank has known me for over 35 years now.  There aren't many corners of my heart he doesn't know.  My dreams, my needs, even a few wants are totally on his radar.  And I'm thankful!

Kristin and Cody spent the last part of the lesson working on the first dance they'll share as husband and wife.  Kristin (who has always loved to dance) never stopped smiling.  Cody (who could live his entire life without ever dancing) saw her smile and kept twirling.   

Smart man to follow the lead of his new father-in-law.  Smart man to create another reason for his new mother-in-law to love him.

Have to admit, my arms, hips, knees and feet are not experiencing the warm glow of joy this morning.  But that's why we have Aleve, right? 

And they better get used to it.  Because now that I know I can........there will be more dancing in my future.  (We briefly contemplated removing all the living room furniture but decided against it.)

Time to get moving again.  Our precious church family has chosen today for blessing Kristin and Cody with gifts for the home they'll create together.  Everyone is excited.

I'm hoping your day is a lovely dance with the Father as He leads and you follow!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


I took a trip on a pirate ship last night.

No, it wasn't a bad dream - more like a dream come true.  Wait, let me back up and explain.

If you're a regular here, you know that my life moves pretty fast.  This past week it seemed to hit warp speed and started moving faster than ever, even by my estimation.

We're now 17 days out from the wedding!   Yes.  Yes, that IS less than three weeks.  Thanks for calculating it with me.

We've enjoyed two lovely showers and the biggest is coming this Saturday at church.  We've moved to the "Must be completed!" section of the planning booklet.  We're experiencing the "Okay, if we haven't gotten this by tomorrow, we'll just go in a different direction" phase.  It's crunch time, baby!

I think we heard the gears shifting after we attended two other weddings this past Friday and Saturday.  (Oh, and did I mention that we threw a yard sale in there Saturday morning just because it HAD to happen before the wedding and that was the only window available?  My husband is a saint!)

Yep, warp speed!

A frequent question these days is, "How ya doin'?"  This is asked as we screech to a halt and stare intently at the person we're questioning.  We listen closely.  They speak in short sentences.

Then we squeeze a hand.  Pat a shoulder.  Offer a hug and dash on.

Last night, it was Abby who looked deeply into Noni's eyes and in her own way asked "How ya doin'?"  To the casual observer it sounded more like, "Noni, you wanna do da puzchel?"

But I knew what she meant. 

John and Joy offered to share left overs for an easy family dinner last night.  Everyone jumped on it.  Even left overs at their house is a great meal.   (We brought the ham and field peas a dear church member had prepared for her frazzled pastors.  It immediately became a Feast!)

Frank and I finally arrived and I flopped wearily on the living room couch.  After smiling at Spencer, Abby and Poppa working a huge puzzle in the floor, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes.

It only took a few minutes for Abby to notice that I wasn't engaged.  She came and leaned on the arm of the couch,  just staring at me.  I kept my eyes partially closed and tried not to smile as her big blue eyes searched my face.

A pudgy little hand stroked mine and that's when the raspy whisper came.  "Noni.  Noni!" I opened my eyes a bit more.

The wise two year old flashed her trademark smile and bobbed her head while looking directly at me.  "You wanna do da puzchel?"

Which being interpreted means, "It's gonna be okay, Noni.  You always smile when you play with us.  Come play.  It'll make you feel better, I know!"  And she was right.

We played.  We ate.  We laughed as Noah made clear that his parents weren't feeding him fast enough.

Abby generously offered to taste the "chi-chen" on my plate.  She made sure I had ham "jush yike me!"  Spencer leaned in, put his hand to his mouth and whispered his invitation to go sailing after dinner.

The sparkle in his beautiful eyes and the dimpled cheeks were irresistible.

So as soon as we cleaned up the kitchen, Noni moved to the play room.  I did an unattractive, commando-style crawl into the only "Noni-sized" space under their pirate ship.  Somehow, both babies squeezed their bodies in around mine.  We huddled and whispered and giggled.

When Noah joined us, he directed things with the one word I've heard him say, "Chehtsch!"  It's a command, really.  And he's typically holding a ball or some other pint-sized flinging object when he barks it out.  (His first birthday is FRIDAY!  I know, unbelievable isn't it?!)

"Chehtsch!"  He's so intent that you just know if he could only figure out how to balance on one foot, he would be stomping the other.  Heaven help you if you aren't watching when he launches said object.

For the next little while, Captain Spencer steered our ship through two storms.  We searched for "buried trejure."  First-mate Abby, brought imaginary dinner.  Somehow Noni got hit in the nose with a make-shift sword. And Noah flung various "supplies" toward the ship to assist us on our journey.

By the time I finally began to uncurl my aching limbs and inch my way out of the too-tiny spot I'd taken over, we'd made a great memory.  A great memory for Noni, at least.

And as I bid farewell to the ship's crew (collecting kisses and hugs from each one)  Spencer called out, "Noni. Say, say, say 'Good-bye, Captain!'"

My heart swelled, "Good-bye, Captain!"  I gave a little salute.  "Thanks for a great voyage!"

The captain and first-mate looked at each other - both very pleased with themselves for pretending so well.

And Noni went home knowing she had just enjoyed a dream come true evening. 

Even if you live a frenzied life, be sure to "chehtsch" the important moments!  Those are the real treasure chests hidden away for our life-time bank accounts.


Monday, September 29, 2014

The Derriere Dilemma

Warning #1 - This is a total "GIRL" post.  Men won't enjoy it at all.

Warning #2 - This is strictly from the humorous file!  Not a single, spiritually-significant point to be found.  Unless you count "laughter is good medicine."

I found my mother-of-the-bride dress back in May.  A bit of a miracle really.  We were searching for possible bridesmaids' dresses when I spotted it.  Someone else had already determined it to be the perfect dress for their special event and had it on hold near the register.

It's that ambiguous taupe/gold/neutral color that I've never thought I could wear well.  But I wanted to just try it on and see.  The young sales lady agreed; so I slipped into an adjoining dressing room.

When I came out, the girls all had a fit!  (Which is southern for "became visibly excited!")  Although it would need some alterations, it truly was a stunning dress.  Turns out I can wear that color after all.

They grabbed a camera phone and snapped a couple of pictures.

Did I mention that it was marked down - 75% off the regular price?!!  More attractive still!

"Well if this lady doesn't come back, please call me."  I gave the sales lady my cell number.

"I certainly will!  You need that dress for your daughter's wedding!  I'll keep my fingers crossed."  The young lady helping us had gotten excited with us.  My sister says it's an affliction we have - drawing other people into our vortex of life.  I prefer to call it a gift!

Long story short - the other lady did NOT come back.  Adriana (the sales specialist) called right away to excitedly report that the dress was mine for the taking!

I got it home and immediately started working to lose a few pounds.  I am, after all, a pastor's wife.  Just because I can zip something, doesn't necessarily mean I should wear it!

Walking toward everyone, the dress looked perfectly modest in every way.  But when I turned sideways or walked away?  My "derriere dilemma" became immediately apparent.

Most women have an area of their body they would change if they could.  And for most of my life, the part I would gladly change (by diminishing it), followed me everywhere I went!

Mom made most of my clothes during the growing up years.  There was always a noticeable dip in the hem to compensate for the extra distance the back of my skirts had to travel.

(This became a real problem for my younger sister when she got my hand-me-downs.  She didn't have a derriere at all, it seemed.  Consequently, when she wore my clothes, it looked like Mom had made a terrible mistake with the hem which hung forlornly in the back.)

I spent a lot of time standing next to walls and sitting as a teenager.  Dress patterns and fabrics were chosen based on their ability to slenderize and camouflage body flaws.  Industrial strength pantyhose kept everything contained on Sundays.  

Fortunately, I married a man who saw my derriere dilemma as a positive, not a negative trait at all!  He could always spot me on campus he said, because my skirts did a cute little flip when I walked.   

A few years ago, while watching a fun movie with the girls, I discovered that I was simply ahead of my time.  The lovely female star was walking away from the camera and the vent on her stylish trench coat was pulled open badly because of her own derriere dilemma.

I was mortified on behalf of my newly found derriere dilemma buddy.  "Why in heaven's name didn't the costuming department check that before they sent her out to be filmed?" I asked the girls.  "Just look!  She must have been so embarrassed when she saw that they didn't fit that properly!" 

The girls looked at one another then burst into laughter.

"Mom!  That's her claim to fame," they explained.  "She's known for the junk in her trunk."

"The junk in what trunk?" I asked, bewildered.   I'd never heard the expression before.

"She has a nice bootie and she shows it off whenever she can." (My girls have always enjoyed educating Mom!)

So here I am at 57, having chosen a dress that's truly lovely; but still a little concerned about how it will look as I walk past people to take my place at the front of the church on October 24th.


As you age, things shift.  Well, they actually start to droop.  And in most cases, that's not such happy news.

Short Aside:  WHY do clothing designers highlight this?  They intentionally choose names like - Sag Harbor and New Dimensions!  There's even an entire clothing store known as Dress BARN!  "Barn" brings to my mind large, lumbering animals like cows and pigs!  REALLY?!  End of rant; return to post.

Compensating for the droop demands a return to industrial strength foundational garments.  And an entire evening wearing such garments can cause discomfort, breathlessness or even fainting.  (Thankfully, I haven't experienced that!)

 I'm getting to the GREAT NEWS.......

For those of us who've struggled through the years with too much "junk in our proverbial trunks" the age shift actually brings us to the proportions enjoyed by the other two-thirds of the female population!

Oh, Happy Day!  Thanks to the ten pounds I've sweated off and the alterations adjustments and the all-important age shift.........I won't need any breath-suppressing under-garments at all for the wedding!

My Derriere Dilemma has been dodged, yet again!

Just thought you'd enjoy smiling with me on this Monday! 




Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wedding Countdown!

THIRTY DAYS!!  That's Four Short Weeks!  (If I enjoyed math even a little bit, I would give you the hours!)

That's all we have until The Wedding! 

I'm intentionally staying very calm.  Working to maintain a perpetual smile.  Nodding my head more often than shaking my head.  Not raising my voice.  (Although I realize that writing in all caps - "THIRTY DAYS!!" - was the blogger equivalent of yelling.  Sorry.)

We really are starting to enjoy the process more than stress about it.  What a blessing!

The bridesmaids dresses all arrived right on time.  The girls tried them on and they are beautiful.  Dresses and girls!

Even more exciting was the day last week when we tried on Kristin's gown!  Well, SHE tried it on. WE reacted when she swept out of the dressing room. 

Squealing, tears, deep contented sighing.......  Her shining face elicited all those responses!

I won't give away anything.  But "Simple; Elegant; Stunning" are descriptive words that come to mind.

Frank was fitted for his suit yesterday between office hours and hospital visits.  Must say that even after thirty-five years, the man still looks good when he's all gussied up!

Flowers are coming together.  Decorations are almost all gathered.  We haven't been able to locate the right shade of deep plum napkins yet.  But they're out there and we will find them.  RSVP's arrive via mail or internet almost daily.  Showers and parties begin this week-end.  Travel arrangements for friends and family are nearly complete.

It's Game On!!

Nothing symbolic or lesson-worthy in today's post.  It's just that as a reader/member of the Embrace the Grace family you're automatically inducted into the Hawley Family Vortex, too.  And as an honorary member of that group - I thought you'd like to know.......


Monday, September 22, 2014

Even a Child

"Even a child is known by his doings!"

The twenty-eight second graders quoted the Proverb clearly and in unison.

I was working as a teacher's assistant during my senior year of high school.  Part of my job (at the Christian school I attended) was to help the students rehearse their "alphabet memory verses."  When we got to the letter E, this was the scripture they would recite.

Oddly enough, I don't remember the others; but this one stuck with me.  I guess it's because the children were so wide-eyed and sincere.  As the "mature" senior, I often smiled at their intensity.  But the truth of the Proverb etched itself into my heart.

When I became a mom, I had my own children memorize Proverbs 20:11.  "People will determine who you are by the way you behave," I explained. "Your choices are important.  For even a child....  The things you do when you think no one is watching can affect your future."

The scripture re-surfaced, for me, in a big way Meagan's senior year of college.  

That's when she declared that Nathan Smith was the only fella she had ever really cared for.  (They had dated briefly in high school but found a long distance relationship too hard to maintain once she went away to college.)

Her first three years were full with classes, tour teams, and friends.  But none of the "guy friends" who asked her out ever measured up to Nathan, she often told me.

So we waited.

While praying for Meagan one day during that senior year, I was reminded of a story Nathan's mom once told me.  (Becky Smith of Smithellaneous fame.  We've been family friends with the Smiths for many years.) 

Their daughter, Sarah, was diagnosed with cancer at age six and given only a twenty per cent chance of survival.  Thankfully, the diagnosis was incorrect for her.  She just graduated from high school with honors!

Those were dark days.  And we tried to check on our friends often; phone calls, cards and even visits when we were scheduled near them.  During one visit, I asked Becky how Nathan (little more than a child himself) was handling all the struggle.

"He's doing such a great job being a big brother," she said.  And then told me this story.

"Last week, Sarah and I were able to be home for a few days.  I woke up one morning absolutely panicked.  The exhaustion had hit me and I slept through one of Sarah's night-time doses of medicine.  When I came running in to check on her, she was just fine.  Nathan had gotten up with her in the middle of the night because she was throwing up.  After he helped her get settled back in bed, he realized it was time for her medicine.  He had watched me so much that he knew exactly how to administer the precise dosage needed.  I thanked him and started to flush the IV line - a critical part of the process.  He stopped me, saying there was no need.  He had taken care of that, too!"

We both swiped at a couple of stray tears; shaking our heads that one so young would choose to behave so responsibly.  Most kids would have gone back to sleep or gone up to get mom.  Nathan knew his mom desperately needed to rest and this was one episode he could handle for her.

Fast forward almost ten years.  I'm aware that my daughter, now grown, is considering this Nathan Smith fella as life-time material.  And I find myself wondering if they will truly be a good match.

The Lord so gently brought back the story and the scripture at the same time.  "Even a child is known by his doings."  Quiet peace swept over my heart.

This past week, Nathan turned twenty-five.

Now he's the daddy with a fine son who brings sunshine everywhere he toddles!  Meagan and Nathan celebrated their third wedding anniversary this summer.  His care for his wife, his attention to her needs, his protective nature over his little family are all matters for gratitude as far as this mama is concerned.

I'm grateful to know that all our "sons" (John and Cody, too) made choices as children that set them on a good path.  And they had mamas that helped correct their not-so-good choices in order to keep them on a good path.

If you're called on today to give correction to a little one.  Don't despair.  Bravely remind them, "I'm helping you with your choices because, 'Even a child is known by his doings!' "


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Connected Corners

I truly enjoy feeling connected with different corners of the world through this blog!

There is an icon that leads me to the "Stats" page for Embrace the Grace.  I click on there two or three times a week.  It's a veritable font of information.

The number of people that have read in the last twenty-four hours.  The posts chosen most recently.  And I especially enjoy clicking the "audience" button.  Once there, it shows me the various nations that have logged on in the past week.

Indonesia.  Russia.  Poland.  France.  Even China.

One nation stays in the top numbers often and it makes my heart glad.......Ukraine!

You see, Frank and I both try diligently to stay aware of the world around us.  We're all connected, no matter what part of the globe we call home.  Once you've visited places as distant as India and China, this truth is especially real.

When we read about nations we've ministered in, that place is no longer just a spot on some map.  We remember faces and rehearse names of friends we've met there. 

Although we've not been privileged to visit Ukraine, we pray often for that region.  In fact, I just led our congregation in prayer Sunday for Ukraine, Iran, and West Africa.

Because we follow Christ, it makes us acutely aware of "family members" in all these different places.  I may not get to meet them before Heaven.  But I do believe that my prayers for them are important.

Late this afternoon, I pondered this while driving home from a hospital visit.  Hazel, a precious member of our congregation, had knee surgery yesterday.  She's in a good amount of pain.  But those blue eyes brightened when I stepped into her room.

I went to pray and comfort her.  But as usual, she immediately started sharing words of encouragement with me.

Each nurse had be told that I was her pastor.

"We're blessed with two wonderful pastors at our church," she said enthusiastically.  "Actually, four!  And oh, they have the most precious grandchildren."

She would briefly educate the newest nurse, then she would turn toward me and croon, "It's true, Baby!  We are so blessed and thankful!"  Her hand gripped mine and her infectious smile lit the room.

Hazel and Johnny have several children, scores of grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.  Their family picture requires a poster!  For the few moments of that visit, I knew what her family must feel like every time they come into Hazel's presence. 

And driving home it hit me.  I am Hazel's family.  Just like I'm family with my brothers and sisters in Ukraine, Italy, Latin America, West Africa.  That's how it is for Christ followers.

Becoming part of this family is simple - faith in Christ.  Then one day, we'll all meet together in Heaven.  What a marvelous family reunion that will be!  (Don't you wish you had the contract for printing those t-shirts?!)

Until then, we stay aware of one another.  We pray when prompted.  We cheer and encourage when we can.  We believe for the best!

And we remind ourselves that in every corner of this globe, there is a person bearing our family resemblance.  A person connected to my heart!

This post is simply me sending a big old Southern "Hi Y'all!" to all my "overseas internet family" who take the time to read.  Blessings!!

Friday, September 12, 2014


It's the fast track now!

For what?  The wedding, of course.  Six short schedule-slammed sunrises & sunsets!  We'll be walking down the aisle!  (I should have just said "Fridays" but that would have ruined the alliteration.  And you know how I love alliteration!) 

I do apologize for the never-ending discussion of wedding and wedding plans.  But this is our last one.  Kristin's only one.  A monumental shift in life for Frank and me.  Thanks for your patience.

Actually, I want to share with you today about a powerful moment that took place for me this week in the middle of all the wedding excitement.

Please remember that Frank and I haven't taken any time off from our own work.  Helping Kristin and Cody plan for their big day happens after hours.

Garden Grove Church is an active, growing congregation with something "extra" happening almost every other day.  We have great teams that lead these "extras."  But we're still in the middle of it all.  Plus sermons and phone calls and meetings and emails and visits..... well, you get the picture.

A veritable whirlwind.

After a full office day yesterday, we had dinner with some folks to discuss GGC missions plans for 2015.  It made my third twelve hour day in a row.

I finally pulled into the driveway at 8:45 and stumbled a little walking up to the door.  (If  neighbors were looking, they may have wondered if I drank more than water with my meal.  Nope, trying to lose weight for the wedding!)

Although I was physically tired, my heart was light.  Why?  Because I had a great encounter with my dearest friend yesterday morning.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week each brought some sort of mini-crisis that had to be addressed.  (Oddly enough, I'm teaching a workshop at a conference next week and my assigned topic?  "Conflict  Resolution"  Can't make that up!)

By the time I threw back the covers at 5:00 AM to face Thursday, I needed some encouragement.  Desperately!  It's bad to feel close to tears as soon as you get out of bed.  But that's where I was.

I headed for the coffee pot which Frank had already prepared.  (All I had to do was push the "Start" button.  He's the original Good, Good Man!)

As I stood waiting for a cup to brew, I felt a strong impression that I should skip my own devotions and watch the Joyce Meyer program.

"How silly!"  I thought.  "Her TV program is the bonus after your own devotions!  Besides, I really need a peaceful morning.  Not another challenge."  (Which is usually what I get when watching her program.)

But the impression turned to an urging.  And I know enough to pay attention when the Lord prompts me that strongly.

So I cuddled my cup of coffee and ambled over to the sofa.  Joyce Meyer was already preaching to a packed auditorium as I tuned in.  Her first words?  "This life is a whirlwind and you need peace!  You can have the peace that Jesus died for you to have!"

Okay, I'm listening!

She went on to preach a wonderful message and I jotted notes on a piece of scrap paper I found lying near me.  These are some of the encouraging phrases I recorded:
  • Peace is a power position.
  • HOLD your peace. (Pursue, Crave, Want Peace)
  • Peace requires - trust, humility, forgiveness
  • Don't spend your life trying to change what you can never change.
  • Let peace be the umpire.
  • What I make happen for others, God will make happen for me.
  • The only thing I can change is ME!
Her message was so life-giving and timely that I tuned in a second time to hear it again.

While getting ready for the office and while driving, I kept rehearsing some of the key phrases.  Pondering the central truth: Christ left His peace for our help.  It's up to us to lean on that peace.

In my bedroom chair sits a pillow that Mom cross-stitched when she was first diagnosed with cancer.  Three simple but profound words call to me (as they did to her) every time I look at it.


Mom discovered that in this whirlwind we call life, Jesus quietly calls.  "Come to me.  I'll give you peace."

And although the storm keeps raging, we stand strong because our hearts are wrapped in His loving arms.

I'm choosing to put myself there today.  How about you? 


Monday, September 8, 2014

Wedding Invitational

When our middle daughter (Joy) married the man of her dreams in 2008, we had one full year to plan.  We subjected every single detail to great scrutiny!

And when she finally walked down the aisle thirteen months after John's proposal, we knew this wedding would fulfill almost all their combined dreams.  Such a beautiful afternoon ceremony and celebration.  A lovely time was had by all!

When our third daughter (Meagan) married her beloved in 2011, we had only five short months from proposal to ceremony.  Yes, I'm completely serious!

Fortunately, Nathan comes from a small family.  Meagan had suspected a proposal for several months.

Once the ring appeared, planning kicked into high gear.  That morning in July, Meagan walked down the aisle to a song she and Becky (Nathan's mom) had co-written and recorded.  Every desired detail in place.  A lovely time was had by all!

Now, it's Kristin's turn.

First child.  Last to marry.  Thirty-one years of dreaming; planning; hoping; praying.

Cody proposed on Easter Sunday.   Kristin tried on her first bridal gown the following Tuesday.

It took a couple of weeks to choose the date; October 24th.  (Yes, a Friday.  Kristin wanted everyone to "recover" before church on Sunday.)

We were all pleasantly surprised by the proposal. But that meant no foundation of prior planning.  Consequently, not one spare moment has been wasted, I assure you.

After a dress, a date, and a venue, the invitations became priority #1.

Cody is a graphic designer.  So naturally, he designed their wedding invitations.  After several different drafts, they settled on a creative lay out that reflects them both.

Of course, it involves pictures.  (Kristin has served as the family historian for years. Since Noah's birth, Meagan has discovered that she too has a great eye for photography.)  And words.  Cody is all about words!

Such joy as we sat surrounded by the envelopes, invitations, RSVP cards, stamps, etc.  We laughed and organized and checked and re-checked lists and stuffed and stamped.  At 9:00 PM last night we were finally finished.

Time to seal the envelopes and drive to the post office.  Victory was in sight!

Imagine our shock and horror as we dampened the first envelope and discovered that it would only partially seal.  The next one bubbled!  The third one refused to stay closed at all!!


Yep!  Of all the hundreds of thousands of heavy linen envelopes produced by the paper company used by our long-time printer, our two hundred envelopes have a faulty glue! 

The very envelopes that are already addressed to places as far away as Venezuela, England and the Philippines. Two hundred fully prepared envelopes that bear specially purchased "wedding" stamps.

I placed a call to our printer first thing this morning.  She's a friend who has done a lot of work for our church.  Lisa quickly offered to provide more envelopes free of charge.

That's the only time I raised my voice.  "Oh mercy, no!"

I regained my composure quickly.  "These are all stuffed, addressed and stamped.  They're completely ready for the post office.  I'm just calling so you can contact the supplier before we bring them in.  Hopefully, they will have a solution for us that involves a sealant nicer than Elmer's school glue." 

I offered a nervous chuckle to smooth the tension we both sensed.

As soon as I finish this post, Kristin and I will head to the printer's shop.  Please join us in crossing fingers.  Otherwise, the postal delivery people will be struggling with sticky fingers for days to come!

It's a road bump we didn't anticipate.  But we hope to have these beautiful bits of graphic artistry in the U.S. mail no later than 5 PM today!

Whew!  Stayed tuned as we Embrace the Grace for another fabulous wedding.  We anticipate that the report will again be, "A lovely time was had by all!"

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Every Day

"It's all in a day's work!"

Such a simple line that encompasses more variations than "you can shake a stick at!"

If the end of that last sentence brought a quizzical expression to your face - you have no idea what it means - neither do I.  It's just one of those great phrases my southern mom used all the time.  It made sense to her and her delivery made people laugh.  Win/Win!

Part of my "day's work" involves talking.  (Thank heavens there's gainful employment available for people who like to talk!)  The other part, of course, is listening.

I just got off the phone with one of the most beautiful women in our church.  Her name is Florence and she's been a widow for some years.  Her snow white hair frames delicate features that easily break into a smile anytime she sees you.

And Florence SEES everyone around her!

She's been out of church for several weeks.  First knee surgery and recovery.  Now, breathing problems that make the Florida heat unbearable without constant air conditioning. 

I've missed her ready smile, the sincere hug, and being SEEN by Florence.

The purpose of my phone call was to simply offer a few words of encouragement.  Let her know we're thinking of her and praying for her.

She caught me up on the happenings in her life.  I shared with her about the wonderful church services we've been enjoying.

Because she was home alone, I asked if I could just pray for her over the phone?  She eagerly accepted the offer.  My words were uncomplicated.  The requests to our Father, simple.  The time spent praying was actually rather short.  But her sweet voice popped with excitement as together we said, "Amen!"

"Ms. Florence, it felt like we were right in the Throne Room of Heaven as we prayed!" I said with a bit of surprise.

"There wasn't any static on that telephone line, now was there?!" she quipped.  It was easy to envision the beautiful smile.

During our VBS work this summer, the theme kept coming back around to the importance of prayer.  Not the kind of prayer that's intimidating and verbose.  Just the talking-with-a-friend kind of prayer.

The children got it right away.

Only grown-ups can complicate what was intended to be simple.

That brief moment of connection between Ms. Florence, myself, and our Heavenly Father refreshed me.  I'm ready to finish the day and to engage in the prayer service coming later.

The call was intended to be a help to her but I ended up being encouraged as well!

Ms. Florence wasn't lonely as I had suspected.  She had already been talking with the Dearest of Friends.  Getting in on their conversation was a bonus for my work day.

Take a little time and talk with this Friend right now.  I'll bet you'll find out like we did....there's no static on that line! 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Pretty Real

Summer is closing and many children will go back to school with great memories of time at camp.

When I was seven years old, Mom and I drove three hours to Marianna, FL for kids' camp. It was to be my first experience.

To say I was terrified would be an understatement!

I had stayed overnight a couple of times with my best friend.  But an entire week?  Without any one I knew?!!  Like most kids, I cried when she dropped me off.  And I'm certain she cried as she drove away.  But her camp experiences had been so powerful that she wanted that for me, too.

These camps were different.  They were church camps.  Filled with all the normal daily kid activities (swimming, games, bad food, clubs, etc.) our camps had an added element.  Each evening there was a service designed specifically for children.

In fact, that evening service was the central point of this camp!

Faithful volunteer counselors endured long days of rowdy kid nonsense.  The scorching FL heat.  Long nights with mosquitoes and tiny bunk beds.  All just for the opportunity to see scores of children meet Christ during those services.

Those volunteers already knew what I came to know.  Reach a CHILD with the Gospel and you impact them for life!  No price is too great for seeing that kind of harvest......even in one.

(That's why we responded to the call for help from our missionaries in Italy this summer.  They had 100 children from nine different nations gathered, just waiting to hear the Gospel.  We were honored to partner with them to share the Good News.)

Mom's hopes for her little girl were completely fulfilled.

I made friends with an older, more experienced camper.  Ivy was nine.  This was her third time!  She and I made the most of every fun activity.  But we also loved those services.

As a seven year old child, I had a powerful encounter with Christ that set the course for my life.

"Now, Sheri!  That's a rather bold statement.  You were only seven years old.  Do those 'emotional' experiences ever really stick? Just how 'real' could that have been?"

Well, as I was getting ready for work yesterday I started humming a tune that I didn't recognize right away.  I stopped to focus and realized it was the tune to a chorus I learned almost fifty years ago at that very camp.  

The words flowed easily from my memory as though I had learned them this week:

To be used of sing, to speak, to pray.
To be used of God to show someone the way.
I long so much to feel the touch of Your consuming fire.
To be used of my desire! 

My answer to that question?  Yes, it sticks.  And those encounters are obviously Pretty Real!

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Nine short weeks from tomorrow........

What happens then?  Frank will walk with his last single daughter down the aisle of a beautifully decorated church to meet the man who has captured her heart!

October 24th - Kristin and Cody begin their life together!

Cody brought a ring to the table (Literally!  Read Proposal 1 & 2) on Easter Sunday, and we went to work.

For three weeks, we focused on wedding during every spare minute.  Date.  Location.  Dinner reception.  THE DRESS!!!  Colors.  Wedding party selection.  Wedding party clothing.  Estimating numbers.  Estimating budget.

Then, it all had to go on hold.  Kristin had VBS. Cody had his busy season at work.  I had speaking engagements.  Church.  Frank and I did a couples retreat.  Church.  We all three had a missions trip to prepare for.

The plan was to meet back together in August and get it done.  Needless to say, our house is now Wedding Central!

The garage is covered with beautiful flowers waiting to be arranged.  Every nook and cranny of the spare bedroom is tightly stacked with candle holders and other table decorations.  Bride magazines and planners litter our reading areas.

Kristin warned everyone that after Italy, she would be talking of the wedding and nothing else. She's not been that bad - but it is on our minds, A LOT!

So funny to me that our three girls married "out of order."  Joy (the middle daughter) married John six years ago.  They brought us into The Club - The Grandparent Club - three years ago with Spencer.  Meagan (youngest) married her high school sweetheart, Nathan in 2011.  Abigail joined Spencer in 2012.  Then Noah came along last October.

Through all this family joy and excitement, Kristin has cheered for her sisters.  She has strung hundreds of yards of streamers.  Created scores of signs to be waved.  Drawn posters and banners.  Designed photo memory boards.  Cleaned houses for parties.  Helped with hair and make-up for special anniversary dates.  Baby-sat, changed diapers, wiped noses.

She has loved generously and rejoiced genuinely.  Now, it's her turn!

And everyone around her is delighted to be part of this moment.

I'm watching in amazement as wedding miracles are unfolding.  Favor with places that aren't normally available suddenly becoming available.  Services at half their normal cost.  Surprise guests we thought could never attend.  Desires that Kristin has only dared to whisper to her Heavenly Father, being fulfilled to the tiniest detail.

A truth from scripture came to mind that probably explains what she's experiencing, ".....the one who shares generously will experience generosity in return....."

For many years now the question has been before Kristin, "Do you choose to be generous?  Can you celebrate with others while waiting for your own dreams to be fulfilled?"

Her answer has been, "Yes, I DO!  I choose to be happy for them."

Now, all that sowing is becoming a harvest of epic proportions.   God's promise is this - put Me first, love others before yourself, and I'll add all the rest.  What He adds is beyond measure.

I'm taking a lesson from Kristin.  I'm finding someone today that I can cheer for!  I'm going to say, "I DO celebrate with you!"  And I'm going to trust that God will turn that seed of generosity into a harvest when I need it most.

How about you?