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!