Friday, July 25, 2014

He Remembers!

Last Saturday, I spent the day in Venice!

Now, I've spent a Saturday in Venice, FL.  I've spent time in Florence, SC and even Rome, GA.

But this was the real, the original.  The gondola gliding, Basilica boasting, floating city of Venice, Italy!

"Impossible!" My mind still shouts it.

But I'm telling you the truth.  And the story I'm going to share with you about that "impossibility" will leave you shaking your head and possibly swiping at a stray tear.

In yesterday's post, I told you about the grueling schedule that we kept while working with the children.

International Christian Fellowship of Padova ( a city older than Rome) sponsors the camp we worked with.  They are now in their sixth year of ministry to immigrant children.  Mixing English classes, with games, crafts and stories about the love of Jesus.

It's an ingenious method of serving the community (eight different nationalities were there our week) while communicating the greater truth of God's love.  And we felt honored to be a part of that ministry.

We gave it our all Sunday through Friday.  Then on Saturday, our team was to enjoy a day off touring Venice.

With such tired bodies, we weren't prepared for the heat or the crowds.  To top that off, it just happened to be a national holiday which draws unusually large crowds to Venice for the fireworks show!

The sea of humanity made Fourth of July in Disney seem tame by comparison.  By the time we hit our designated spot for lunch, I wasn't sure if I could "enjoy" much more.

But how often is one in Venice, Italy?!

Actually, this was my second visit.  I worked as part of another missions team right after I graduated from college. (Spring, 1979) We were to serve children in Greece for six weeks.  Our team was small and the professor leading our group had been to Europe many times.

Dr. Ferrell suggested we fly into Frankfurt, Germany four days early.  We rented a car and drove like wild people through Europe, "sleeping" in the car, hitting the main attractions along the way.  It was a marvelous experience I've drawn from again and again.

We recently saw Dr. Ferrell at a minister's meeting.  He surprised us by congratulating Frank for encouraging me to go on that trip in 1979 even though we were newly engaged.

Our GGC team directors, Dom and Molly, had planned a great restaurant near the fish market for lunch.  This led us through the shopping district and brought us back around to the spot for our..................gondola ride!!

So convenient.  Well planned.  Perfectly timed.

Our gondolier, Giorgio, regaled us with stories as we passed the home of Marco Polo and the bachelor pad of Casanova.  The gilded vessel glided silently through the canals just as it has since Giorgio's grandfather manned the helm.

My history-loving soul neared the saturation point!

We snapped a few final pictures with Giorgio, wishing him well.  The gondola ride actually eased my headache.  And as I strolled along, hand in hand with Frank, I thought nothing could possibly top the moment.

But our Heavenly Father delights in blessing His children with the unexpected!

Our next stop on the tour was the Piazza of San Marco.  We would visit the Basilica; share a little gelato; watch the sunset; then meander back to the train station.

Imagine our disappointment when we discovered that the Basilica had closed for tours just an hour earlier!  One of the members of our team (Christina) had studied architecture in college and spent an entire week on the Basilica of San Marco.

Of course, Frank did his best to work some magic with those guarding the entrance.  But they weren't swayed by the Dunn Charm and we were turned away.

As we moved away from the massive doors, it happened.

I stopped dead in my tracks.  A memory came flooding back.  Tears immediately sprang to my eyes (even as they are now.)

During the whirlwind trip in 1979, I had stood in that exact spot.  And for some reason, the beauty of the piazza, the majesty of the Basilica, the richness of the history, the power of the architecture had all blended together to wash over the young girl from Northwest Florida like a tidal wave.

I was overwhelmed with the gift God was giving to me.  And in the midst of my quiet expression of gratitude, I also whispered, "Lord, please let me come back here someday with Frank.  He would love this place, too."

A whispered request that I had completely forgotten.......until that moment.

But HE heard.  HE never forgot!

And in this, our thirty-fifth year of marriage, I found myself standing in the middle of the Piazza San Marco.  Surrounded by a scene that had not changed one little bit.  Holding the hand of the man I love now more than I did in 1979.  Sensing the smile of my Father in Heaven.

I wept.  I'm weeping now again.

Let me tell you, dear friend.  There is a God in Heaven who listens to every whispered prayer of his little ones.

Don't give up.  Stay close to His heart.  Continue to believe.  It may take thirty-five years (or longer.)  It may not look exactly like we would have scripted.  But He will answer!

Hagar of the Old Testament said, "You are the God who sees...."

I can't wait to meet Hagar someday and say, "He not only sees.  He also remembers!"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Arrivederci, Italia!

We're home from Italy!

Such an amazing adventure of ministry, new friends, experiences, stories (lots of stories!), and most importantly - children coming to know Christ!

I'll try to use wisdom and not inundate you with Italian material.  But several of the things that happened, you'll want to know!

God always manages to set things up to exceed all that we can think or even imagine.  (Borrowed that from another writer!)  This trip was a perfect example of that truth.

Originally, it was just Kristin going with the team.  Then we decided I should try to go as well.  Just as plans were finalized, someone had to drop out and the team decided it wouldn't be the same without Pastor Frank. 

The daily schedule proved a bit intense:
  • We left the hostel at 7:15 each morning.  
  • Walked briskly in order to arrive at the church for 7:45 prayer.  
  • Spent the mornings doing Vacation Bible School.  
  • Ate bag lunches with the children.  
  • English classes all afternoon.  
  • Recap meeting at 5:00.  
  • Walked less briskly to dinner somewhere around 7.  
  • Dragged ourselves to the piazza for gelato.  
  • Limped slowly back to the hostel by 10:30 or 11:00.  
  • Fell onto our bunk beds.  
  • Tried to sleep through the mosquitoes and heat.  
  • Rolled out at 6 AM to start again.

Kristin did the Bible lesson each day.  The rest of us rotated between: crafts; snack/indoor games; and outdoor games.  Too many stories to tell in a single post.  But each one amazing!

We worked with dedicated people.  Steve and Patti Gray have been missionaries to Padova for over 25 years!  The entire program is their vision for reaching out to the many immigrant children there.  We had eight different nationalities represented this week.

Kay was doing her third VBS season and is an amazing children's pastor year round.  (Kay also grew up in Pensacola, FL - like me.  So we had an immediate bond!)  Nick and Jessica recently moved with their two small children to Padova as missionary associates.  Interns had raised their own finances in order to come to Italy and work hard all summer: Spencer, Randy, Anna. 

We quickly grew to admire and love each of these people!

Like I said, there are stories just waiting to be told some hilarious some more poignant.  But the first one I'll share is very personal.  A kiss from Heaven arriving at a moment I needed it the most. 

Just let me give you this little teaser - God hears our every prayer and He always answers!  Always!

By the time we were scrambling to load suitcases into taxis Monday morning, we knew that we had been entrusted with a sacred assignment.  We fulfilled it to the best of our abilities.  But we also left with a greater desire to pray for the children and families of the beautiful nation - Italy!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Scared to LIFE!

The more common phrase we hear is, "Scared to Death!"

Well, we recently had a major scare.  But we've chosen that it will scare us to life - not death.

This little "episode" in our journey has caused major re-evaluation in our way of living.  It is proving to be one of those crossroads moments we all encounter.  And we've taken a definite turn.

"Sheri, what on earth are you talking about?"

Several weeks ago, we had two families move within just a few days of one another.  Of course, Frank and John were there to help pack the moving trucks.  And Frank ended up with a pulled muscle in his chest.

He nursed it along for a couple of weeks then made an appointment with his doctor to confirm that it was just a muscle issue.

The doctor did an EKG and scheduled a stress test.  All routine.  Frank sailed through both.

The next day, he got a call requesting that he come in to discuss the results.  We finished our lunch appointment with a new church family and I decided to ride with him.  An errand in that part of town made it a wise choice, we thought.

We walked in to the doctor's office and took our seats.  (Frank's regular physician was out of town so we met with his associate.)  The new doctor came in, shook our hands, flipped open Frank's chart.

Without emotion he said, "Mr. Hawley, I'm sending you directly to the hospital for a heart cathiterization."

Time froze.  We both stared with blank expressions.  Our minds swirled trying to process his words.

"Excuse me, what?"  Frank regained his voice first.

"Based on these results," continued the doctor. "I'm sending you straight over to the hospital.  I don't even want you to go home and pack anything.  I'm hoping they can do the procedure this afternoon."

Frank's last hospitalization was 36 years ago.  For appendicitis.

He has walked the halls of the finest hospitals and medical training facilities in the southeast - as pastor and as chaplain.  Never as a patient.

It took us a few moments to regroup and wrap our heads around what this doctor was telling us.

"Of course, the choice is totally up to you.  But if you leave here and wait for Dr. Vasquez to return, I can tell you I don't feel comfortable with that.  There was a change in the EKG and your stress test showed some points of real concern.  The wise choice is to have this surgical procedure right away.  Let them look at your arteries and put in a stint if necessary."  The doctor looked up from the chart with a patient but determined expression.

Frank and I looked at one another then nodded in agreement.

Within an hour, they had whisked us through the checked in.  An IV was in Frank's arm.  Monitors were beeping.  The frustrating hospital gown had been donned.  We moved like people in a dream.

The girls, the church board and our parents were called.  We filled out forms; answered questions; silently wondered what lay ahead.

The procedure actually took place first thing the next morning.  In half an hour it was over and I was talking with the surgeon.  There is blockage but only about 20%.  They did another test to rule out blood clots in his lungs.  That was clear.

Our own doctor went over the results of everything with us.  "You didn't require a stint," he said.  "But you must respect what we've discovered.  Exercise 45 minutes a day, four times a week.  Low carbs.  Red meat no more than once a week.  Only two servings of caffeine a day.  A new medication to lower cholesterol."

"Don't ignore this, Frank."  Dr. Vasquez leveled his gaze directly at us.  "This is a serious matter that requires serious life-style changes."

And we're making those changes.  Calmly.  Quietly.  No fanfare.  Just changing.

Because of a missions trip (we leave today to work with a church in Padova, Italy) we had talked of cancelling a few days of vacation we had scheduled.  We took those days - and rested.

Frank now starts at the gym four mornings a week then goes directly to his prayer room.

We cancelled another conference we were to attend in August.  And we're replacing it with a few more days of vacation.

We're eating so much fruit, fish and chicken that I think I found a pin feather on my arm yesterday.  And I'm certain I'm swimming better.

 A few take-aways for me:
  • When you're scared, it's comforting to see faces of those you love.  (Thanks for driving twenty miles to "drop by" and be with us, dear ones.)
  • Nurses are important people!
  • Right choices have lifetime consequences.  I'm so thankful Frank made that appointment!
  • Change is often for the good - if we see it that way.
This scared us.  No doubt about it.  But we've chosen to let it scare us to LIFE!

Is there something you've been meaning to follow up on?  Do it today.  Right choices have lifetime consequences.  

PS - Kristin, Frank and I will be part of a ten-person team ministering to children in Italy for the next ten days.  Steve and Patti Gray are our missionaries in Padova.  They target immigrant children from dozens of different nations and share the Gospel through VBS/tutoring programs.  They asked last fall that we bring a team to help this summer.  We're so thankful to be part of this powerful ministry.

Please pray for us as we go.  We've asked that God give us the hearts of many children (and parents).