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?  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Prepare to be Embarrassed

So....... You know how you cringe for someone when you see that she has walked confidently down the aisle, stepped briskly to the podium, smiled broadly, and started her presentation with no idea that a three foot piece of toilet paper is stuck to her shoe?

Or a sharply dressed teacher is introduced.  He springs toward the right side of the pulpit, deposits his Bible and Ipad while simultaneously striking a casual, non-threatening stance with one hand in his pants pocket.  You are the first to notice - his pants are unzipped. 

Yeah, you know the moment.  You're probably cringing right now just remembering the time it happened to you.

You're immediately conflicted about how you can possibly notify them of the problem without alerting the entire room.  How can you spare this poor soul the embarrassment that is sure to follow their discovery?!

Well, cover your faces.  Brace your caring hearts.  Prepare to be embarrassed on behalf of another poor soul.

It happened yesterday at lunch.  Frank and I were talking with dear friends after church.  As we neared the end of our meal together, he reached over to put his hand on my back.  And that's when it hit me.  My dress was unzipped!

What?!!  Yes, friends.  The pastor's wife attended church with her dress unzipped from the waist up.

Everyone continued talking around me.  But I did a quick mental run through of the previous six hours of my life.  And no one knew why I was suddenly blushing.

At 7:05 A.M., I had dashed into Kristin's room to borrow a shrug.  I'd intended to have her finish the zipping process then.  But somehow on the run from my room to hers, I forgot that small tidbit of information.

I threw on her shrug and out the door we went.

The hour and a half before first service begins is a flurry of activity for our team.  Everyone has their assignment and after we pray, it's all hands on deck!

I moved quickly to cover my tasks; all the while greeting, hugging, smiling, listening intently.  No wonder it didn't seem hot to me - I had plenty of ventilation! 

Surely someone in one of the two services looked at me standing there on the front row and wondered, "Why does the back of Sheri's dress look so odd?"

My tasks also involved going to the platform (not once, but twice) to lead in prayer, make a few announcements, call for the ushers to receive the offering.

The entire band and worship team had a perfect view of my back.  But they're pretty focused; they must not have noticed.  Or if they did notice, by the time service ended they had forgotten it.

And on I went, oblivious to the fact that I was single-handedly establishing a new clothing trend!

Aaaagggghhhhh!!!!  You gotta smile!  Nothing else to do.

As I thought back on it later, I was so thankful for the shrug that had served to cover my rather serious faux pas.  And I realized that the shrug perfectly represents God's grace in our lives.

Our mistakes can be pretty glaring at times.  But when we walk with the Father, He loving drapes us with His grace until we can deal with the problem.

Oh, what a good Friend He is!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Scarred for Life

People of the U.S. were shocked on Monday by news that actor Robin Williams had taken his own life.

Only 63 years of age.  Physically healthy.  Three children.  A loving wife.  Adoring fans.  All the money, fame, awards this world could possibly offer.

But he didn't have the hope it takes to make it through one more day.

So many have asked, "Why didn't someone help him?!"  "Why didn't he reach out or let someone know how depressed he was?!"   

As I listened to one news commentator, she made a statement that is haunting me.  "We find it distasteful to touch the scars life has given others."

Being a pastor puts me in a position of "touching life-scars" all the time.  I rejoice with those who rejoice.  (Baby dedications, graduations, weddings.)  But I also weep with those who weep.  (Loss, illnesses, deaths.)

I've grieved along with loved ones left behind after the suicide of a family member.  I've listened as they wrestle with the same questions.  All starting with "Why..."  All ending with no conclusive answer.

In the minds of some people, the haunting statement I heard is true.  We live in a world that worships perfection.  Some live with expectations that nothing bad should/will ever happen to them.  Sorrow is for that family down the street - not us.

When painful things occur, these people choose to look the other way.  They can't risk coming close enough to touch the life-scars of someone else.  That sorrow may rub off on them.

But this is a broken world.

It wasn't made that way.  God did create a perfect world.  The first man and woman gave darkness an open invitation.  And life-scars have been forming ever since.

Years later, Christ came on the scene.  His mission? "To bring life and make it an abundant life...."

In order to provide this abundant life, Jesus became scarred.  He was beaten then nailed to a cross.  All this pain was for the purpose of providing life for us.

After His resurrection, one of His own disciples questioned the validity of Christ's proposal.

That's when Jesus looked lovingly at Thomas and said simply, "Touch the scars for yourself. Here, put your hand into this wound in my side.  I endured this so you would know that I understand pain.  I have conquered the life-scars this broken world gives.  I have come so you may have abundant life!"

While in Italy, I spoke with a young man named Mossimo.  We were inviting people lounging in the piazza to join us for an informal church service later.  Mossimo quickly made clear that he did not believe in God.

I told him that was not a problem.  God still believes in him!

We talked for several minutes.  At one point, the young university student said he admires people who feel passionately about anything.   Especially about matters of faith.

That's when I asked Mossimo if I could pray for him.  He readily agreed and bowed his head.

Using simple, un-churchy terms I asked that God would show Mossimo how much He loves him.  I asked that in his search for truth, Mossimo would find the life and truth that only Christ can provide.  

I gave the young man a hearty hand-shake and we were both startled to see tears in the eyes of one another.  We smiled.   I promised to continue praying for him.  He thanked me.  We moved on.

There are two thoughts I'd like to leave with you:
  1. There are "Robins" and "Mossimos" all around us who need hope.  Scripture encourages those of us who believe to have an answer ready when people ask about the hope and life in us.  While the world is asking, "Why?"  prepare yourself to explain there is One who understands our pain.  One who isn't afraid of life-scars.  One who was Scarred for LIFE.
  2. If you still find yourself with more questions about life than answers, locate a Bible and read the book of John.     
There is Hope!  There is Life!  You just have to look in the right place to find it.  Real life is found in the Life-Scars of Christ!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

One Child

I can hardly believe that it's been a month since we left for our missions trip to Italy!

My, how this summer has flown!  I've been promising stories.  So here's one.

During the VBS days, we were divided into several teams and given assignments with the children.  Each morning found the students rotating between four time blocks: crafts, games, snack/game, and Bible time.

Kristin taught the Bible lesson each day and the remainder of the team took turns manning the other blocks.

(Side note:  Kristin was thrilled by how attentive the children were each day.  On the final day, she gave a very clear call to the children.  "Choosing to live for Christ is a serious matter," she said.  "Each person must decide for themselves.  Jesus chose to die for our sins. Do you choose to stand for Jesus?"  Some responded quickly; others deliberated carefully.  But with no further prompting, nearly every child stood!  Ultimate JOY!)

The first day it was raining. This meant game time would be moved indoors!  Have you ever tried to simultaneously keep a five year old safe and help him expend energy in a productive manner?!

Multiply that by 20.  Now factor in age ranges from 5-12.  Oh yes, not everyone speaks the same language. Now do that for three hours straight!

As the assignments were being made, I could tell no one really wanted to come up with indoor games.  So I volunteered.  And I immediately volunteered Cody Katina, the youngest man on our team!  (I may be slow, but I ain't stupid!)

We ran relays and played rousing versions of musical chairs.  We cheered like it was the Olympics.  We rehearsed the craze phrase, "No matter what I see, God has a plan for me!"

When we dismissed the final rotation, we breathed a prayer of thanksgiving!  We made it without a single casualty.

There was just enough time for a quick bag lunch.  Then it was off to our afternoon assignments.

The next three days I was assigned to crafts and snacks.  By Friday, the extreme heat was overwhelming Christina and Tom who had covered games for three days straight.  So again, I volunteered for games.  This time I was joined by Molly.

Now, you must understand that Molly and I are full of heart!  We love people passionately!  Even 5-12 year old, rowdy people!  But there is absolutely nothing athletic about either of us!  I mean NOTHING!

When I try to run, my girls cover their faces in shame!  It really is that bad.

But the two most un-athletic people put their heads together and quickly came up with the ultimate obstacle course for this, the final day of VBS!

We had spoons and ping pong balls,  jump ropes, and brooms for guiding beach balls.  We positioned hoops for navigating and balloons to be carried between knees - quickly!

Please remember that we had nine different nationalities with these students.  Vastly different levels of English comprehension.  So the best way to explain the obstacle course was to demonstrate the obstacle course.

Guess who took that task?

Yep, Ms. Sheri.  The highly dignified, quietly expressive, totally demur Southern Lady........ran, jumped, hopped and batted.  All the while explaining (through an interpreter) what I was attempting to do.

I reached the end of each demonstration completely winded and soaking with sweat!  (I know that's not a delicate picture but that's missions.)  It was a miracle that I didn't trip and fall flat on my face.

After watching my flailing and fumbling, each child rose with confidence knowing they could at least do better at this than Ms. Sheri!  We instructed them to cheer for their team mates!

"Ready! Set! Go!"

Two children exploded off the start line and twenty others began screaming enthusiastically!

Molly watched both sides carefully from the far end of the course making sure each obstacle was completed before clearing them to run back and tag the next participant.

An interpreter and I ran along with the children to make corrections or offer instruction.  It was mayhem!  But we were having a blast.

Just a few moments into the second game, something caught my attention from the side.  A policeman was talking with a very agitated woman who kept pointing in our direction.

The church we worked with shares a piazza with several businesses and an apartment building.  It seems the children had gotten too loud for a couple of the business owners.  They promptly called the police.

The missionary had told us that this sometimes happens.  The church does have the paperwork allowing them to use the piazza, but their "neighbors" don't share their vision for reaching children with the Good News.

Having uniformed officers watch over our proceedings with a wary eye made me nervous.  But if we stopped, the children wouldn't get to play.  So I ignored the waving arms of the business owners and the crossed arms of the police officers and lifted my own arms to cheer for the next runner.  And the next.

Once the children had celebrated for the winning team and congratulated everyone for a race well run, we rehearsed our craze phrase again.  Loudly.  Slowly.  Clearly.

In unison, the children's voices reached to every corner of the piazza, "No matter what I see, God has a plan for me!!"

Christianity is not welcomed in every part of our world; especially in Europe.  Today's news is full of stories illustrating hatred for those who follow Christ in the Middle East and other regions.

Religion shouldn't be encouraged; I totally agree with that.

But a relationship with Christ offers true freedom; genuine love; faithful guidance for life.

And if me traveling halfway around the world to run in the piazza like a crazy lady helps even one child decide on a relationship with Christ, I'll do it again and again.

That child is worth it to the Father and to me!

Friday, August 1, 2014


On Tuesday, I spent $13.92.

When I totaled the original prices on the items I had purchased, it added up to $665.00.......before tax! That's not stretching the truth one little bit.  Frank will verify.

For many years I've drooled over the catalogs put out by a clothing store known as Coldwater Creek. Somehow they had my address although I had never shopped there.  I would sit sipping a cup of tea, slowly turning the pages and finding one or more items on each page that I would dearly love to own.

They dearly loved their clothing line too!  The prices were exorbitant for my budget.  And I could never justify purchasing anything they offered.

Until.......I discovered the Coldwater Creek Outlet online.

At this online location, one could sometimes discover items for 75% off.  And twice a year, they offered free shipping.  Thus began my occasional indulgence.

One Mother's Day, my entire family chipped in to provide a gift card to the Drooling Store.  (Remember it was I who drooled, not the store!)

The girls went with me to spend the card and what a time we had!  We arrived just an hour before closing time.  The store was empty except for the workers.

By the time we left, both associates had gotten involved in the excitement of helping "MOM" try on and select items she wouldn't normally choose. They "located" a couple of extra coupons helping buy more than my gift card alone would have allowed.

Such a great memory!

Imagine my sadness when word got around that Coldwater Creek would be closing forever.

I went straight to the online outlet site but purchased nothing because they were now charging too much for shipping.  Sad Day!

Fast forward to Tuesday.  I had a meeting in Lakeland and actually arrived about twenty minutes early.  I'd heard it was the last day of existence for my drooling store.  Everything left would be marked 90% off.

I decided to swing by on my way to the meeting and just see what remained.  Four paltry racks of extremely tiny and extremely large sizes hung forlornly in the center of the store.

I thumbed through and saw only one item of possible interest.  After all, 90% off a hundred is still $10.00. 

Then a lady beside me said, "You know everything here is just $5.00, right?"

No, I did not know.  I started looking a little more closely.  Perhaps something had escaped my attention.

Just then, I spotted a friend.  "Amy, do you think this fits me?"  I had slipped on the black shrug.  "I think it looks fine."  She responded.

That's when it happened.

The associate behind the check out desk raised her voice announcing very clearly, "Alright ladies, everything is now $2.00!"

Amy and I looked at one another!  A shot of adrenaline hit our veins! We suddenly decided that the black shrug looked AH-MAZING!!

I reached for a dress I would never have considered paying $149.00 to purchase.  But for $2.00?!  If it even remotely fit, how could I leave it hanging there?

Emily (Amy's daughter) helped me zip it up over my clothes.  Her bargain-savvy, teen-aged eyes lit up.

"Cute!"  she proclaimed.

"Sold!" I shouted.

We diligently poured back over the racks of clothing that had looked so much less appealing at $5.00.

The few pieces of jewelry left had been marked to $1.00.  I showed Amy a necklace I had snagged.  We laughed when she held up its twin that she intended to buy.

"Great stocking stuffers," she said.

"Oh, Amy!"  I hadn't thought of that.  "Emily, will you run back over there and grab three more for my girls?"  She did actually run.

We were women on a mission and it was exhilarating!

Now, Frank often asked me through the years, "Why do women tell how little they pay for items?  I just don't understand!"  It's a mystery to him.

Lady One:  "Oh, I love those little red shoes you're wearing!"

Lady Two:  "Thanks!  I only paid $10.00 for these last week at the 'such-and-such' clearance sale!"

Lady One:  "No Way!  What a steal!"

Finally, I hit on an illustration to explain the mystery.

"Honey," in my most-patient-teacher-voice. "Do you know how men go hunting and they shoot a bear or deer or lion?  When they return from the trip, what do they do with the head of that animal?"

"They mount it on the wall." (He resisted saying "Of course!" but that's what he meant.)

Me:  "And why would you mount the head of a dead animal on your wall?!"

Frank:  "So people can see what a great hunter you are!"

Me:  "Exactly!  And that's why women tell what they spent for a bargain.  It's our way of showing what great hunters we are!!"

My $665.00 shopping spree that cost $13.92 will probably be remembered as The Great Safari of 2014!

Just thought it would make you smile today.  Have a blessed weekend!