Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas Truth

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  All in one!

First, some good news - the camel and Joseph did find their way back to the plastic nativity set before Christmas Eve.  However, I also discovered a Palm Tree went missing after our evening with the bigger grandchildren.  No amount of creative searching seemed to reveal its whereabouts.

Until today.......

The Palm Tree turned up.  It was literally turned upside down and the branches of my Christmas Tree!  Ohhh!  Life with little boys!  I'm learning!

So once again the nativity is complete.  Waiting patiently for the excitement we'll share on our Christmas day - January 16th.  Everyone will finally be home.  Of course, my Christmas shopping is almost over and I'm now wondering if I'll be able to wait for them to open the gifts we've purchased!

Since my last post we've lived a lot of Christmas Joy:

  • Hosted a Church Christmas party for 120 complete with a community jazz band.
  • Enjoyed our first ever school Christmas play with Spencer. (Directed by Meagan and Kristin)
  • Celebrated with a friend whose battle with cancer is succeeding! 
  • Hosted the staff and church board at our home.
  • Helped Meagan and Nathan get on the road to NC.  (Realized just as they were leaving that Meagan had not colored my hair!  Oh well, too late now!)
  • Marked Meagan's birthday long distance.
  • Helped get Joy and John on the road to NY.
  • Enjoyed a fabulous Christmas Eve service.
  • Left for NC at 6 AM Christmas morning.  Four lovely days with family.
  • Impossibly long drive back home.
  • Celebrated 36 years of marriage to my sweetheart just yesterday.
Is it any wonder that we're choosing to move slowly today and tomorrow?

However, finding the palm tree (not sure if it was placed there intentionally or simply lodged there after some little guy launched it) brought a thought to mind.

The Truth of Christmas is this:  It's never been about Perfection.

A virgin carried the Christ child?  (Please remember that the angel only appeared to Mary and Joseph explaining that this was God's plan.  Not to her parents.  Not to his parents.  Not to the village gossips.)  The King of Glory was born in a stinky stableShepherds (the lowest of that society) were first to visit him?  His first lullabies were accompanied by the bleating of sheep?  God Almighty was in the Middle of it all?

That picture is anything BUT perfect!

Yet we know from the hundreds of prophecies fulfilled in that one picture that everything about it was intentional.  And for this little grandmother gazing on the brightly colored, plastic creche a truth comes in to focus.  I realize that even God's method of sending His son into this world was meant to instruct us.

Life has never been about Perfection!

Life is filled with struggle.  Disappointments.  Betrayals.  Loss.  Pain.  Some circumstances really stink, just like that stable.  But in the middle of all that imperfection we find the quiet peace of knowing God has not left us alone.   God Almighty is right in the middle of it all - with us!

Emmanuel, God With Us!

Somehow, accepting this truth - that life is imperfect but He is with us in it, brings Hope!  It calms my heart and allows me to breathe in Peace.  Suddenly Joy becomes my focus instead of fear or sorrow.  I'm free to love; genuinely!

As you mark the dawning of yet another new year, may I encourage you to embrace this truth?  Life is not perfect - but a perfect heavenly Father has promised to walk through life with us.  He is simply waiting for your invitation.

Make a conscious choice to invite Him on your journey through 2016.  I can assure you that the imperfect parts of your life will make a little more sense.  And the truly perfect parts of your life will  suddenly have an added richness you could never have imagined.

My prayer for you?  May you be blessed with the Truth, Joy, and Peace of a Perfectly Imperfect walk this year! 


Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas (New) Traditions

Only four short weeks until Christmas Day!  Isn't it exciting?!!

(Some of you just glanced up at the posting date to see if this is from last year.  Some of you simply shook your head in a pitying sort of way, "She's finally lost it!"  And others had to go back and read the opening line again to see what I'm talking about.)

"It's Eleven Days, Sheri!  December 25th is only eleven days away!"

You're right.  But Christmas Day for the Hawley/Schreck/Smith/McGhee Clan will take place four weeks from now on January 16th.  That's when we'll finally have everyone back in town and nothing on the church calendar.

Odd, I know.  But it's just how we manage the chaos of our lives.  Smiths in North Carolina.  Schrecks in New York.  McGhees making the rounds in Polk County.

Usually, I'm just fine with that.  But this year, we have grandchildren who know a lot more about what's going on.  Being around them is like celebrating Christmas for the very first time.

That's why Frank and I decided to try out a New Christmas Tradition.  (I realize that it takes a few years for an activity to actually qualify for "tradition," but ya gotta start somewhere!)

It has fallen my lot to come up with many of the activities we now call "Tradition."  Through the years, I've pitched my ideas to Frank and he (the more creative one) has helped them become reality. 

Some of those ideas we had to let fall by the wayside because they proved pretty much impossible to implement. But don't let failure stop you from trying new things with your family.  If it turns into a fiasco, slap the title "Made a Memory" on that photo and roll on to the next idea!

(There is a marvelous book by Gloria Gaither entitled Making Memories.  A great resource for those of us who want tradition but didn't inherit it or aren't so creative.  Don't have an idea?  Borrow one!)

So, back to our new tradition testing.

My dear friend, Deborah Stephens, had shared an idea with me years ago when her grandson was just three.  She chose a favorite kids' movie and made an evening of it with pizza and  popcorn and pj's and hot chocolate. 

I wanted to adopt her idea but I knew our oldest three would never sit still long enough for an entire movie.  (Spencer is 4; Abby is 3; Noah is 2)  So I pulled in the creative part of our marriage for help.

My little dream quickly escalated with Frank's help.  We chose a shorter video, added some outside time,  a craft and food.  The parents were notified of our plan.  And on the designated day, Noni and Poppa prepared by...........taking a nap!

We had everything in place before we drove to pick them up at John and Joy's house.  The evening was open only to Noni, Poppa and the three oldest babies.  Must confess, I was so excited!

Poppa directed the outdoor part (sidewalk chalk on our driveway) while I put pizza in the oven.  You'll be happy to know that oranges and grapes rounded out my menu.

They came inside to eat and that's when I first caught on to what I had gotten myself into.  The two boys spotted the nativity set we'd positioned on the coffee table.  Made for chubby hands.  Hard plastic to weather lots of rearranging.  Bright colors for interest.

Please remember that I did not raise little boys.  I raised three, mostly passive, little girls.

I didn't know that anything in the hands of a little boy, immediately becomes a weapon.  From the kitchen I could hear Spencer and Noah bombing the stable by using the camel, and two of the wise men.  At first I just reminded myself that this set is made for children to play with. 

But when they began backing up from the table and trying to see who could hit Baby Jesus with the angel, I couldn't take it anymore.  "Okay, boys!  Let's stop that and come wash your hands. Noah, put the donkey and cart back on the table.  No, Abby.  You can't ride on the toy cart.  Yes, I see that your toe fits.  But you still can't ride it.  Spencer, Joseph isn't in an airplane.  He walked to Bethlehem."

And so it went!

I found out that Noah will NOT eat warm pizza.  It has to be room temperature.  Abby will stuff her mouth completely full if you don't cut the pieces just right.  And Spencer only likes the cheese.  He doesn't care for pizza crust.  At all!

Fortunately, they cleaned out both bowls of fruit without chocking.  So, I counted it a win and we moved on. 

Next on the agenda was gingerbread house decorating.  (Because Poppa and I didn't trust our own skills, we assembled all four houses the night before.  Assembly included one decorated house so the kids knew the objective.)

The squeals of delight as we poured all the brightly colored candies on the table were magnificent! 

Abby decorated her house systematically.  Collecting all the items she planned to use, then commencing to embellish the small brown house.  Spencer took the "More is More" approach.  He covered nearly every inch of his personal real estate.  Noah mostly ate everything we tried adding to his humble abode. 

After hands and mouths were scrubbed clean, we put them on the couch and announced we had an early present for each one.  More squealing!  More grinning by Noni and Poppa!

On our signal, they tore into the wrapped packages and quickly discovered that each had a new pair of Christmas pajamas inside.  A big moose on Noah's pjs said, "Merry Chrismoose!"  Pink and sparkly pjs (of course) for Abby. Red and black checked "big boy" pjs for Spencer.

Noah danced around a minute then starting pulling at his clothes wanting to change.  Just as we hoped!  Soon all three were sporting their new Christmas pajamas.  By this time, the sugar had hit and we needed a counter for it quickly.

Poppa got the cartoon ready and I delivered big bowls of popcorn and cups of decaffeinated hot tea for everyone.  They sat for almost the entire video.  Snuggled up with either Poppa or Noni.  Munching the popcorn.  "Accidentally" dropping pieces for Gracie.

By the time the video ended, we were ready to pack them up and take them back to John and Joy's house.  Locating shoes and bears and passies for all three was a chore.  Wrangling little bodies while attempting to put on the shoes was exhausting!  And WHO created the latches on those car seats?!  A rocket scientist??!!

Frank and I drove home in relative silence.  I straightened the nativity only to discover that Joseph and the camel are A.W.O.L.  The gingerbread houses will be on display tonight for family dinner but probably aren't edible any longer. 

I think we may have a new tradition.  And the evening definitely merited our benchmark phrase, "A lovely time was had by all!"

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas Sparkle

Christmas seems best symbolized by the sparkle in a child's eye.

You know, that wonderful expression when the tree is first lit.  The moment a baby spots tinsel or a gleaming ornament.  The gasp of surprise when they notice lights on a neighbor's home.

When the girls were little, Christmas morning included lots of squealing.  Loud.  Sometimes continuous.  Occasionally competitive squealing.  We always started with the lesser gifts and ended with one "BIGGIE" that was usually the most longed for item.

Squealing had to be monitored because we knew it would escalate right along with their level of surprise and excitement.

Then there were the gifts that (once opened) would render the girls totally speechless.  That moment of stunned silence signaling to Mom and Dad that the gift truly exceeded the child's greatest hopes.  And of course, tears would follow for us.

One year (while we were pioneering the church in Ocean Isle, NC) the BIGGIE wasn't a gift the girls were receiving at all.  It was a gift they had lovingly sacrificed and schemed to give Dad and Mom.

Frank and I had no idea.  We knew that our Christmas celebration bubbled with extra excitement that morning.  We noticed that the girls kept sneaking glances at one another.  We felt they rushed a little through the opening of their own gifts; even though there was still lots of hugging, giggling, some squealing, many expressions of gratitude.

A lone box remained under the tree once their gifts had all been opened.  But their enthusiasm hadn't waned at all.  Quite the opposite!  The anticipation swirled all around our living room.

I can't remember the exact sequence.  One daughter retrieved the tenderly wrapped package.  One daughter instructed Frank and I to sit together and hold the box until their signal.  There was a short introduction by another daughter and then all three together shouted, "Now, open!"

Once we had removed the lid from the medium-sized shirt box, we were confused.  Carefully taped to the tissue paper inside the box were five twenty dollar bills.  We looked up to see three beaming faces; each one sparkling with tears on their precious cheeks.

As their explanation unfolded, tears began to flow down our faces as well.

The sisters had talked earlier in the season about how hard Dad and Mom were both working to make ends meet.   It bothered them that we hadn't celebrated our December 30th wedding anniversary for several years.  (Never any money left after Christmas for anniversary dinners or gifts.)  And our "dates" through out the year usually consisted of a long walk on the trail near our home.

They decided together that this year would be different!

They researched the cost for a nice meal and a movie in Myrtle Beach.  Baby-sitting money, allowance and even some birthday money was stashed away for weeks.  One of the ladies in our church was approached secretly and they secured a complimentary room for us at the local beachfront hotel.  They even made arrangements for themselves to stay at the home of a friend.

And their greatest Christmas joy that year was not in receiving a gift they wanted.  But in giving! Giving of themselves and their own limited resources to provide a lavish anniversary celebration for Mom and Dad.

I cringed this morning as I watched a news report about a woman who routinely buys at least eighty-five gifts for each of her children.  She had posted a picture on social media of her Christmas tree - almost completely obscured by a mountain of presents.  Seems to me she's missed the point.  And I fear her children will never comprehend the real delight of this season.

Christmas Joy is best experienced in simplicity and self-sacrifice.  Not in extravagance and greed.  After all, simplicity and self-sacrifice were the benchmarks for that first Christmas; weren't they?

Not yet in the festive mood?  Find a toddler.  Watch their eyes as you hand them a shiny toy from the dollar store.  Offer some coins for them to drop in the bucket of a Christmas charity collection.  Listen to their squeal of delight as you make a silly face.  Inhale the sweet fragrance of their Christmas-cookie breath.

Remind yourself that Christmas is best experienced not in receiving but in giving!  Then get busy.  Create some Joy for someone else and mark the Christmas Sparkle that awakens in your own heart!

Merry Christmas to You!!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Christmas Trades

Except for the whir of the washer and dryer, my house is totally quiet.

It's a bit of a miracle considering that right now, under my very roof, I have sleeping a five month old, a two year old, a three year old AND a four year old!  I say "sleeping" because that's what I fervently hope they're doing!

Meagan had an appointment that required Joy's presence.  So Noni gladly accepted the role of "nap director" for the afternoon.  (Please note:  I did offer to keep Zachariah and Joy's other charge, Tyce - six months old.  But they thought that might be pushing our luck.)

Children make a definite impact - everywhere they travel.

The wall in my hallway has the signs of Noah's artistic bent.  I have lost more than one piece of shrubbery to Spencer's enthusiastic Frisbee playing, "Throw it to me, Dad!  I'm open!"  I find Abby's hand prints on my patio door after nearly every visit.  The corners of my dining room are chipped substantially due to high volumes of high chair traffic.

And last night, as I dropped my exhausted body into bed, I felt tiny crumbs congregating in various areas on my freshly laundered sheets.  The reason?  Three toddlers just knew there wasn't a better spot in the house for viewing a Christmas movie than on Noni's Big Bed!

"Oh my, Sheri!  Did you get up and change the sheets?"


"Did you get up and brush the crumbs into a dust pan?"


"On to the floor?"


I rearranged my position and went sound to sleep; bed crumbs and all!  Morning is a fine time for dealing with crumbs.

If you don't want messy, then don't have family!

But please understand, it's a trade off.  Those little jam hands also grab my face for kisses when my heart is heavy!  The loud shrieks mean that the game of chase around my kitchen cart is going splendidly! Walls with chipped paint mean LIFE is happening here!

So what if my landscaping is a bit lopsided.  The art work isn't on an easel.  The tablecloth must be washed after each visit.  Crumbs fill a bed.  My ears ring from baby squeals and wails.  All those situations are temporary.  I'm involved in eternal matters.  We get to be part of a life that will live forever.  I don't want to waste time nit-picking about walls and fabric and windows.  They all wash!

On Friday night, I experienced my very first parade float ride.  (No, I wasn't eligible for the beauty-queen car in high school.)  But this trip down main street beat the daylights out of any convertible ride I may have missed as a teen-ager.

Our church put a float in the largest Christmas parade in our area.  We packed over 2,000 bags of candy to give away to the crowd.  Each bag complete with a sticker saying, "Merry Christmas from Garden Grove Church!"  And for almost two hours I sat between Spencer and Abby shouting, "Merry Christmas!  God bless you!"

It was windy and quite cool by central FL standards.  At one point, I tucked a blanket around Abby's little legs.  She looked up and yelled to me over the music, "Why ahr we doowin' dis?"  I smiled into her big blue eyes and pointed her attention out to the rows of waving, smiling people.

"Because, Precious!  We want to tell all these people that Jesus loves them."  Just then, she spotted a little girl about her age and squealed excitedly, "Yook, Noni!  A yittle girl yike me!"  She forgot how cold she was and waved enthusiastically at the other little girl in the crowd.  "Merwy Chwismus!!"

A trade-off!  And one well worth any inconvenience!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ode to Cleaning

Warning:  If you enjoy meticulous house cleaning practices - Do Not Read This Post!!  It will cause you great alarm and might even make you lose sleep due to its graphic descriptions!  On second thought, if you are like my Kristin (a cleaning whirlwind) read on.  It will probably serve to delight you with your own abilities by comparison!

Happy Thanksgiving!! 

(If you're reading from another country or culture, please ignore that opening!)

I'm aware that I should probably write a lovely post about gratitude and counting our blessings and choosing to be thankful.  Hopefully, you're already doing all of these as part of preparing for the Christmas season.   But that's not today's topic.

Today I would like to confess to you that I hate cleaning my bathroom!

There.  I said it.  Plain and simple.  I've always hated cleaning my bathroom.

I've worked multiple jobs that required me to clean the bathrooms of others.  A restaurant bathroom.  And even a public bathroom once.  (Cleaning the church bathroom occasionally is just part of being in church leadership.) Those tasks never really bothered me.

But cleaning my own bathroom takes the determination of a Himalayan mountain climber!  You've set out to conquer this monster and conquer it you will!

Now, some of you may be envisioning a large en suite sporting double sinks, a garden tub and perhaps even a bedette.  Nope.

The bathroom I'm referencing is rather small by American standards.  One sink, one toilet, one stand-up shower.  More like the English-style water closet.  Not much square footage at all.  And it took me an hour and a half to clean it today!

During those ninety minutes of grueling effort, I made a few discoveries.  (If you are squeamish, please remember that I tried to warn you!)

Bathroom Discoveries:

1.  The counter is two shades lighter than I thought.  It only appeared that dark because of the thick layers of hair spray accumulated there.

2.  The grout in my shower is white, not gray.

3.  The shower door does NOT have a decorative, cloudy effect as I had supposed.

4.  The rubber stripping is light gray, not dark gray.  And when you use a cloth to wipe away that much mold, the cloth is rendered useless and must be thrown into the trash.

5.  The "shadow" under my bathroom cabinet was actually a pair of dust bunnies hopping around joyfully anytime the door opened or closed.

6.  My toilet has multiple nooks and crannies that can only be conquered by a cleaner's willingness to assume the "hugging" position.

7.  Hairspray also compromises the cleanliness of the wall and floor tiles directly opposite the mirror.  "Swiping" with a clean cloth isn't sufficient - scraping is necessary for its removal.

8.  Speaking of hair.......  I kept finding and kept finding and kept finding strands of my dark brown locks.  So much hair that I'm sure it would have qualified for a small wig!  I couldn't see the gray hairs but I could sense them mocking me as they lurked just beyond the brown ones.

9.  The shower stall is a place I only ever "see" without appropriate eye wear.  Who wears glasses or contact lenses in the shower?  Not me!  (Refer back to point 2.)

10.  It's a miracle that spontaneous combustion had not already taken place due to the excessive amounts of dust clinging to the coverings of my light bulbs.

Because some of you are empathetic, you're thinking, "Oh, Sheri!  It couldn't have been that bad."  It was worse!

A couple of readers are shaking their heads in total disbelief.  Believe it, my friend!

Some of you (who love to clean) are just aching for an opportunity to come teach me the finer art of "staying ahead" of the project.  Won't work!

I've read countless articles and books.  Compiled extensive check lists. Even created a "cleaning box" filled with 3X5 cards that rotated projects monthly in an effort to keep the uninspired cleaner interested.  Lost the box!

The only consolation of the day is this - the bathroom should hopefully stay clean long enough for my dad and his wife to come for a visit this week.  And that causes a deep sigh of contentment.

Of course, I gleaned several object lessons while working on my project today.

1.  Proper evaluation takes place only when we see the situation clearly!  I look at my shower and counters multiple times each day.  But without the help of my glasses, everything appeared just fine to me.  We all need the help of an objective friend from time to time.  Or a clear look through the perspective of Scripture occasionally.  Those who think they need no help are probably a couple of shades from true.

2.  No one likes exposing their faults!  I would much rather tell you I learned these lessons while gardening or while caring for my practically perfect grandchildren.  Having to admit that I don't clean my bathroom as often as I should is humbling; embarrassing.  I don't mind admitting that I even feel a little vulnerable.  But if honestly admitting my faults encourages someone else to get up and try again, then it's worth my discomfort.  Others relate more easily to our failures than to our successes. 

3.  After we "address our issues" there comes a wonderful flood of peace and contentment.  I always waste energy dreading the day that my bathroom must be attacked with scrub brush and cleansers.  But once tackled, it seldom ever is as difficult as I imagined.  And when the task is finished, I feel such relief and accomplishment. Mary Poppins says, "The job begun is half done!"  Is there a task that you've been dreading?  May I encourage you to get to it?!  Clean that clutter.  Make that phone call.  Offer that forgiveness.  Then sit back and wait for the flood of contentment that surely follows.

Well, I have a Christmas tree lying in my living room floor.  Ornament boxes litter every open space.  And a half dozen nativity scenes need unpacking.

With company due to arrive tomorrow, I'd better get to it!  Whew!  Sure glad I've already cleaned the bathroom!



Monday, November 16, 2015

Village of Missionaries

Twenty-four hours!

That's all it takes for a phone call; a bit of news; a choice; a life change!  Just twenty-four short hours!

Last week, that's about what happened in our family village.  On Tuesday evening, we got the call that a member of our church missions team was no longer able to make the upcoming trip.  We needed a replacement - quickly!

Details?  The trip was for ten days to work with our sister church in El Salvador.  We needed someone with a passport; strength and inclination to work hard; a flexible spirit and the ability to decide right now.

As I headed out the door for another meeting, I passed by Nathan.  "Hey, Nathan!  Want to go to El Salvador?"  My question dripped with sarcasm.

"You mean the trip starting Thursday morning?!"  He chuckled.

"That's the one,"  I answered.  "They leave in a little over twenty-four hours and we've just had someone drop out."

"What would it cost?"  His curiosity got the better of him.

"Nothing.  It's already been paid for.  These trips are set up on such a tight budget that everyone knows their trip is transferable but not refundable."  I reached for the door, then casually added, "If you think you'd be interested call me right away.  We're working to compile a short list of people who might be able to make it happen."

That's how it started.

And in just over twenty-four hours, Meagan and Nathan were standing in the predawn darkness with all the other team members and their families as Pastor prayed over them.

However, that certainly isn't all the story.

Nathan had a serious desire to go and work with the team.  Actually, he and Meagan have prayed about him going for a couple of years now.  It just never seemed to be the right time - what with pregnancies and deliveries and such.  Massively important moments for dads not to miss!

Meagan was well aware that this trip was a heart desire for her husband.  And although she had one little boy hanging onto her leg and one little girl clinging to her shoulder as they discussed it, Meagan knew this wasn't something to pass over lightly.

The financial expense of the trip was covered.  But that isn't all that's involved in travel.  They had to look realistically at what it would cost them in time and schedule changes and missed events.

Meagan and Kristin teach music at their school, too.  The first big performance will take place while Nathan is away.  There was a fall festival.  Nathan plays drums for church.  A little boy looks for Daddy to play 'frih-bee' every afternoon.

They started making calls to his work, cancelling appointments, re-arranging commitments - all the while praying the pieces would fall in to place.

"Sure, that's totally possible!"  Work.

"No problem!  I'll be happy to do that in your place."  Brothers.

"Yes, I'll cover for you and help Meagan with the children."  Sisters.

"We can switch our schedule around and help with delivery, pick-up and play time." Grandparents

Meagan shed some tears as Nathan drove away Thursday morning.  But he left with her complete backing.  He also had the assurance that an entire village of "home missionaries" are carrying on with his little family in his absence.

The work Nathan and the team are doing in El Salvador is demanding both physically and emotionally.  I know, I've been there.  A totally different culture and schedule.  Unusual foods, primitive living conditions, inability to communicate.

It can get overwhelming rather quickly if you don't keep the end result in mind.  Our team is there to help equip our sister church in sharing God's love with children who need to know Someone cares!

Meagan and the rest of us are serving here at home to make it possible for them to be there.  (In fact, I'll send Frank off to join them tomorrow.)  Other missionaries of the village gave financially so the team could be there to equip the church in sharing God's love.

As we've watched reports about the horrors in Paris this week.  It's given us greater resolve.  I guess some might say we're radical.  But our mission brings life!  

When our team leaves El Salvador on Saturday, people will be sad to say good-bye.  And the community will be left richer than when they first arrived.   Our intention is to Give; not to Take.  Our Heavenly Father loves and cares for each precious child the world overlooks!

And when you put Nathan's trip into that picture frame, it's easier to see why Meagan said, "Yes!  You go.  We'll be fine until you get home!"

Proud of Nathan!  Proud of the village of home missionaries supporting him!  Thankful that we have such Good News and so much Love to share with our world!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Daily Direction

"Noni, what was your fahvrot paht of the festibol?"  Spencer, Abby and I were walking down the hallway at church yesterday morning.  He already has the confident stride of his dad; just with shorter legs.

He was monitoring Abby's progress; pushing open doors; casually conversing like any forty-year-old would have.  How did you like the fall festival we all worked so diligently to provide for our community yesterday?  What was your favorite part?  Did you meet anyone new?  Me?  Oh, I loved the bounce house myself!

These kids absolutely amaze me.  And their parents amaze me even more! When did they all become so intuitive; so smart; so kind; so.....    Oh, wait a minute.  Someone just experienced a full-blown toddler melt down; reality remains.  But they still amaze me!

I was remembering the conversation with Spencer this morning and a huge smile came on my face.  What a sweet way to begin my work!  And joy was needed for the tasks I had mapped out.

First on the list was to work on a vine that's gotten out of control.  We have a lovely passion flower growing on our new trellis that I wrote about several weeks ago.  (Yes, things are still growing in central FL.  In fact, while the rest of the country is enjoying cold snaps and sipping hot chocolate, we're sweltering with temperatures well into the 90's.)

Frank started training the vine as soon as he planted it.  Carefully weaving new growth in and out on the cross bars of the trellis.  Lack of rain and lack of time to water it had slowed the growth.  I only noticed last night that several shoots were waving about in an unruly manner.  Note to self: take care of that first thing in the morning.

The passion vine produces a lovely flower with various petals that have been used since the 1500's to illustrate the crucifixion of Christ. In some regions, it grows as a wild vine.

It was my mom who first introduced me to the fragrant beauty.  The one she carefully cultivated in her flower box nearest the front door was greatly prized.  It brought her joy just in its existence.

As I worked with our vine on the trellis, I quickly realized how ingeniously it's designed for wandering.  Tendrils shoot out reaching for a new location.  Equipped with a slightly sticky residue, they tap a new spot and immediately begin forming a tight coil. 

This works great until we miss a few days of training and allow them to grow any way they want.

Some of the tendrils had to be broken off.  One large portion of the vine had even been "captured" by a downward tendril and was actually growing back toward the ground!  The more I tugged, snapped and re-positioned the vine, the more I realized this work needs to be done almost daily!

It would have been much easier if I hadn't waited so long.

And in that moment, I thought again of my precious Spencer, Abby, Noah.  Those babies are in a critical training stage of life.  Just like the passion flower, they bring great joy just by being here.  But training is still vital.

Children are ingeniously designed for growth and exploration.  It's in their DNA!  They reach out testing first one experience then another.  And just like the tendrils on my vine, things often "stick" to our children before we realize it.

One of my favorite stories is about the frazzled mom who had hustled around all day preparing her home and a meal for several dinner guests.  When everyone (including the guests) had finally been seated around the table, the mom invited her five year old to say grace.

"I'm not sure what to say," the little boy responded with wide eyes.

"Just say what you've heard mom pray, Sweetheart."  Mom patted her darling and everyone bowed their heads.

They all smiled as the angelic voice began softly at first but finished strong, "Dear Lord............ WHY DID I INVITE ALL THESE PEOPLE TO DINNER?!" 

Don't be fooled; the little ones around you hear and see everything!

Changes come to them so quickly that the easiest way to direct their growth is to work with them daily.  How easily a life can be turned in the wrong direction if we aren't keeping a diligent eye open!  How easily children get coiled into relationships or behaviors that never would have had a chance if only someone had caught it early!  They need daily direction.

My vine will quickly change into a wandering weed without proper training and intervention.  But given careful and intentional cultivation, it will produce fragrant blooms that we'll enjoy for years to come.

May that be so of our children and yours as well!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Needed Friendship

So, Frank and I are making new friends today.  In a location where we’d rather not be.  But a place where friends are desperately needed and greatly appreciated, just the same.

He’s having a rather lengthy medical test done which requires lots of waiting.  We arrived well before dawn but will still be sitting here through lunch we've been told.  As we sit patiently in the waiting area, people come and go. 

We’re hapless victims forced to listen to one of those constantly cycling news programs on the television in the corner.  (I honestly think I could quote some of the reports now.)

But the people-watching opportunities are limitless!

Oddly, one of the first people we met was another pastor of our area.  She was here to pray with church members coming in for a similar test.  We chatted for a while; then she prayed and left.

We’ve become friends with the technician who was here when we first arrived.  He has taken special care to make sure Frank is well informed with every step.  The nurses and even the desk staff are smiling and offering polite conversation now. 

Because many people are already fleeing the colder weather up north, an abundance of different accents swirl around our ears.  The air conditioning in this part of the clinic has to stay nearly frigid because of the special equipment.  A stack of blankets waits for the inevitable cold patients experience. 

Varying ages, styles of dress, reading interests, reading implements and even dispositions.  It’s a “people-watching” smorgasbord. 

Some have family or friends waiting with them.  One gentleman is obviously sight and hearing impaired.  It’s quite clear that his attendant is being paid for his services.  Very little patience and certainly none of the tenderness or attentiveness a family member would offer.

An older couple keeps sneaking nervous glances at one another.  When they get caught, they smile reassuringly, pat hands lovingly,  then go back to their reading material. Their mutual concern for one another is touching.

Several older men are waiting alone.  I can’t help but wonder if they’re widowed.  Some have a practiced appearance of nonchalance.  But each one has responded quickly when their name has been called.  Anticipation can’t be camouflaged.

I’ve only spotted two ladies waiting alone.   Women tend to be creatures of community.

We’ve even moved to the step of exchanging names with two other patients.  “George” is a military veteran and well traveled.  “Teresa” has never lived outside this county.  Both interesting people.

The one over-riding element among all these people in the waiting area?  A palpable sense of tension.  

“Tests” create a universal condition – uncertainty.  If we already had answers we’d be on a different floor receiving treatment.  This waiting area is reserved for those of us with questions.  Lots of unanswered questions.

Sitting here – totally helpless to make changes or to make things move any faster – I’m aware that at our core, we human beings are all very much the same. 

Take away the masks we chose to wear.  Put us in drafty hospital gowns.  Ask us to lie on cold gurneys.  And suddenly, we crave comfort – reassuring touch, understanding looks, meaningful whispers – comfort.

Please note, the comfort needed in this place has nothing to do with finances, physical appearance or social status. Whispers are free and often fleeting but are absolutely priceless for a frightened heart.  Touches may come from an unattractive hand but the warmth provided is all the same.  A look that says, “I see you!” can steady even the most tremulous soul. 

George must have been nervous because he was very talkative.  It didn’t take many comment exchanges for us to get straight to the heart of things.  “I know some people don’t believe.  But I DO believe in God!”  George's voice wavered slightly.  He expected a response.

“So do I, George!  And more importantly, He believes in you!”  I whispered my encouragement.  George rubbed his nose nervously; pretty sure he swiped at a tear.

Just then, the technician called his name.  George bolted up as quickly as his eighty-year-old limbs would allow.  He looked back briefly and smiled.  That smile of gratitude made me glad I had listened so patiently. 

Of course, I came today for Frank.  But I think, just maybe, God used my presence in this uncertain place to create a needed friendship for George, too. 

Comfort is welcome in every corner of this world.  Feel free to share some today.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Just Walking

We've lived in this house for almost ten years.  That's a real record for us.  The next most lengthy occupation was eight years in Asheville, NC.

Our home is modest by most standards.  We're situated in a small grouping of homes with our very own cul-de-sac at the end.  Our little association opens into a larger community of "neighborly" people.

For nine years, I've been walking down our street, out to the larger community, looping around and back home.  Almost always the same route in the mornings and a bit different trek in the evenings.

My walking habits have varied through the years.  Intensity and frequency depends largely on how close I might be to a wedding or reunion.

Oddly, I seldom ever take Gracie with me.  "Tho' she be small, she thinks she be mighty!"  And she has no hesitation picking fights with larger dogs lounging on their own piece of lawn.

Over the years, the girls and Frank have teased about my habit of waving or chatting with neighbors as I've passed by.  Truth is, they've been ruthless in their teasing based on a "greeting gone wrong" experience.

It happened while we still lived in NC.  I was urging them all (once again) to say hello when they spotted neighbors outside their homes.  At that very moment a teaching opportunity arose.  A man we seldom ever saw, stepped out onto his back porch.

I nodded at my little family with the all knowing mother nod that says, "Alright!  Watch and learn."

The man next door reached over for his newspaper then stood up and looked directly at us.  He paused for a split second.  Perfect!

In my sweetest, most cheery southern-esque drawl I loudly chirped, "Good Morning!  How are y'all doing?" (More mother-knows-best nodding ensued as we awaited his response.)

Imagine my shock when the fella scowled, growled something unintelligible, and shuffled back into his house.  The dismissive slam of his porch door sent a clear message, "Leave me alone, you nosy lady!"

We all stood with eyes wide in disbelief.  Suddenly, Frank and the girls burst into gales of uncontrollable laughter.  He pulled my forlorn self into a comforting bear hug.  

That one incident continues to lead to family members waving randomly at walls or fences and crooning, "How are y'all doing?!" Then everyone bursts into laughter.

Okay, I get it.  Not everyone wants to be friendly.  But I haven't let that one little obstacle stand in my way!  My calling is clear - greet the neighbors and let them know you want to connect.

So as I walk, I wave and talk to those showing any interest whatsoever.

But I also pray.  I pray over the homes of people I don't even know.  I figure that if the Lord brings the house to my attention, there's a reason.  The occupants may need courage or hope.  Their marriage may be in trouble or their children may be struggling.  He knows. 

Believe it or not, when I say hello, some neighbors still give a response similar to that of the guy in Asheville.  Some people hear me but turn and walk in the other direction.  Some wave in return but quickly look away indicating to me, "Don't talk to me!"

I inadvertently called one neighbor "Steve" for a while.  He stopped me one day and snapped, "KEITH!"

"What did you say?" I asked with my biggest, engaging smile.

"My name is KEITH!  Not Steve."  He glared at me.

"Oh, I'm so sorry.  Um, I'll try to remember for next time I see you, Keith.  Thanks."  I walked away a little hurt and started repeating for myself, "Keith with teeth.  Keith with teeth."

Word association games help me remember names.  "Keith with teeth" worked beautifully.  And about six months later, my short chats and quick hellos yielded a great opportunity.  "Keith with teeth" had a serious family need.  (Apparently all our nearest neighbors refer to Frank as "The Preacher.")  Keith asked that Frank and I pray for his family.

We stopped and prayed right there in the driveway! 

One of the "look away" fellas finally waved last year.  I considered that as another major break-through.  Then about six months ago, we learned his mother had died and that he felt totally alone.

It hasn't led to dinner yet (he turned that invitation down.) But he does greet us first now.  Some of our Sunday evening strolls have turned into lengthy conversations about hunting or fishing or travel; whatever is on his mind.  And he even went so far as to tease a little recently.

I have a list on my refrigerator of all the neighbors I can name.  It reminds me to pray for them.

Faith is a special needs student I met on an early morning walk.   Extremely shy, it was hard for her to look at me the first few times I said hello.

But eventually, I would round the corner and find her waving eagerly and calling out,  "Hello!  Hello!  How are you?"  She would almost bubble.  Faith and her family moved away this summer.  I find myself still praying for her as I pass her former home.

Who knew that just walking could yield so many opportunities to let people know they matter?  Oh, wait.  I think there was Someone else who discovered this form of ministry long before me.  Like 2000 years ago.

Try taking a look around your own "neighborhood" with new eyes.   It doesn't matter whether you're more comfortable with Hello!  Hi Y'all!  Howdy!  or a simple Good Morning!  The important thing is that you just walk......and find a way to let others know you care.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Listening and Learning

Is it possible that we're entering the final quarter of the year?!

Christmas carols are playing in our office already!  I don't think I'm ready just yet.  But ready or not - here we go!  Life around these parts is moving quickly.  Once school started, we were "Game On!"

Since I haven't had time to write a special blog post, I've just included another story from the book I'm working on.  This chapter talks about the importance of being a person who listens carefully to others.  Hope you enjoy the story:

Dear friends, some of us only communicate one way. We need to be listening more than we’re speaking.

Right after college, I shared an apartment with a great young lady named Tricia.  Tricia knew the power of silence. Tricia was a gift to me that I didn’t like.

You see, I was very out going and bubbly.  I was also very bad about saying what everyone else in the circle was thinking. You know those people? Everybody is standing around, talking and suddenly there’s this hesitant pause.  Invariably, someone jumps in with, “Blah, blah, blah!”

Everyone else, embarrassed, begins looking around with a shocked expression.  A few giggle nervously.  Some cover their mouths.

The blatant one announces, “What?!  You were all thinking it but you just didn’t have the nerve to say it!"

Well that was me! Until Tricia…...

Tricia taught me that in situations like that, everyone else had enough sense to keep their mouth shut. But not me!  Oh, no! I had to just say it right out. I felt compelled to say it. What I had marked as bravery, Tricia explained was stupidity!

One day, I went to Tricia and was telling her about a plan I had. “I think it would be smart for me to……blah, blah, blah!”  (I can’t even remember the details of the plan now.)

Tricia just stood and looked at me, with this sweet smile.  Not fake, it was a sweet smile but because she didn’t say, “Uh huh!  That’s a great idea!”,  I felt compelled to help her understand the value of this wonderful plan.

Really, it wasn’t a great plan but I just wanted her to agree and help me move forward in it.  So I persisted, “And this is what I want to do.”  

Trish just kept looking at me. Which started to aggravate the daylights out of me. I mean even if you don’t agree, just say, “Ok!” and go on.

No, no, no… Trish was helping me. And I didn’t want to be helped.   

I babbled all over myself trying to convince her about my idea.  But she understood the power of silence.  She patiently listened until I talked myself out of a potentially disastrous situation.

Tricia, a lifetime friend, taught me the important lesson that listeners learn.

Scripture has a little something to say about this too.  

1Thessalonians 4:11, “And make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business.” Boy that’s pretty direct isn’t it?  “Mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you.”

In another version that first part reads, "Study to be QUIET!"  (Emphasis mine.)
Some days, I have to literally lay a finger over my lips to keep myself from speaking too quickly.  But oh the things I've learned over the years by simply listening more than I talk.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Right Season

Dear Friends,

I have not fallen off the face of the earth!  But I HAVE been talking with a knowledgeable person about a book.  As in, writing one.  As in, being a published author.  As in, having my face and name on the cover.  As in......  Well, you get the idea.

These conversations have been interesting/informative.  But this month they got a little scarey; they wanted to see some material.  That meant I had to hustle to transcribe a sermon and polish it up a bit.  After multiple days of long hours, I finally hit the "Send" button.

That small act felt a lot like hitting the post button for this blog the first time.  "What will people think?  Will they enjoy reading what I've written?  Will it benefit anyone?"  And the worst thought of all, "Will they say it's nice only to keep from hurting my feelings?!"  Sigh!

Putting your thoughts on paper and handing them to others for consideration can be frightening!

The story below is one I used to illustrate a point in the sermon transcription I sent the publisher.  Let me know what you think.  And thank you for continuing to check in on Embrace the Grace! 

(Please remember this is from a sermon I preached.  The story explains why I believe that life is a journey with many twists, turns and decisions to be made along the way.)
This journey is also full of seasons.  In Galatians 6:9 we read, Do not become weary in doing good, you will reap in due season if you do not give up.”

You will reap.  Some of you need to jot that down.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season.”

The concept of “seasons” is especially true for women.  I’ve always enjoyed working with women.  Teaching Bible studies; leading prayer groups; planning events; speaking for conferences and retreats.  I love it all!

As a very young pastor’s wife, our state women’s director took me under her wing and began to train me.  She added me to her team of leaders and I blossomed! 

When you combine my work ethic, my delight in helping others and her need for youthful excitement on her team – well, you get the picture.  It was meant to be a great situation.  But when you allow giftings to get out of balance, they become a train wreck in the making.

I began spending longer and longer hours working on the various projects.  Juggling here and there to create time.  Sometimes the events required that I be away from home for several days.  Frank helped when he could. But most often, I stole time for these efforts from my girls. 

“Don’t bother me right now, Sweetie.  Mom’s making calls about the next meeting.”  “I’ll take care of that later.  There’s a deadline for this!”  “You just watch this one short movie and I’ll be finished.”

And that was mild.  More often, I simply had no reserve energy left for being patient with the most important gifts God had given to me.   I smiled and taught and listened to everyone else.  I worked to meet the needs of everyone else before offering those same attentions to my family.   

After a few years of this, there came a season change.  God began gently speaking to me about resigning my spot on the leadership team.  I knew His voice.  I recognized His nudge. 

But instead of obeying, I negotiated.  “I’ll ask to be cut back on my responsibilities.  The director won’t mind that.  I love being part of this team, Lord!  It’s a great ministry outlet for me.  Surely, YOU meant for me to serve here.  You made me a leader by nature.  YOU provided this opportunity!”

And so it went.  But God saw much further down the road than I could see.  He heard my deepest prayer – to have a healthy family.  And He knew I couldn’t achieve that on the path I was traveling.

Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel looked a lot like what I was experiencing as I tried to find a compromise point.

“Lord, please!  Don’t ask me to give this up.  This opportunity may never come my way again.”

Finally, a friend dropped by to visit me one afternoon.  I stopped everything in order to give her my full attention.  The visit was so unexpected. I knew she must have some serious need that would require my best advice and most intense prayer!

She wasted no time in getting right to the point.  “Sheri,” she looked me right in the eye.  “I’ve been sent here by the Lord to tell you something.”

It wasn’t exactly the opening I’d imagined; but she had my attention.

“There is something you’re supposed to give up.  And it’s important that you do it right away.  He hasn’t told me what it is.  I just know this is urgent.  That’s why I had to see you today.”

Tears sprang to my eyes and began to roll onto my blushing cheeks. 

She reached for my hand, afraid she had offended me.  “Are you okay?”

“I know exactly what I have to give up, Diane.  I’ve been struggling with it because I don’t want to.  But this helps me know I must obey.  Thank you for taking the risk of talking with me like this.”

My friend prayed for me, then left.  I picked up the phone right away and called the women’s director to resign my post.  Peace flooded my heart.   

For about seven years, I had nothing to do with women’s ministry.  It was a quiet; dormant time for me.  Not easy at all.  But I knew my choice had been the right one.

I didn’t understand about seasons then.  I thought I would never serve in that capacity ever again.  But remember, obedience to God is always rewarded! 

I have now travelled all over this country and to many foreign nations preaching and teaching.  I’ve worked with larger groups and experienced so much more as a leader than I could ever have imagined then.   

Obedience in that season brought a more bountiful harvest in this season! 

(Hope you found some encouragement in this story.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thoughts of Israel

Over the past few days, several things have happened that blended perfectly and sent my heart right back to Israel!

Although our trip took place over four months ago, I doubt I will ever be the same.  The sights, sounds, people, landscape, historical locations.  It all lives in me now.  So much more than a trip; Israel is an experience.

And thanks to our wonderful congregation, Frank and I experienced it together!

I had started reading a biography of Elie Wiesel, the great voice for those who survived the Holocaust.  "My goal," he wrote "is always the same: to invoke the past as a shield for the future..."

Banished to Auschwitz as a fifteen year old boy, Wiesel miraculously survived the horrors.  He went on to travel the world; warning of the extreme evil lurking in man's heart when unchecked by a true moral compass.

While reading, I found myself spellbound by the descriptions of Jewish life, traditions and faith.  As the author wrote about Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I could clearly see the places they mentioned.  Vivid memories of our own experiences washed over me.

Then a family friend came to visit over the weekend.  Chad is a bright young man who studies people and politics.  It's always fun talking with him; getting a peek into the thought processes of a young, twenty-something.

His first questions for me were about our trip to Israel.  He plans to experience the Holy Land himself some day.  So we spent over an hour excitedly discussing the April pilgrimage.

Aware that most people can only absorb so much of my enthusiasm, I would end each story with, "Okay!  That's enough.  I don't mean to bore you."

Then Chad would ask another question sending me off into "just one more story!"

The final marker was Frank's sermon on Sunday morning.  He talked of David who dared to take on the giant, Goliath.  It took all my "pastor's wife discipline" to keep tracking with the sermon.

In a split second, I was transported back to the hillside where Frank and I stood looking down on the Valley of Elah - the very location where the story took place.  I felt the breeze and heard the birds chirping.  Frank's voice rang clearly (in my mind) as he read the Hebrew/English version of "Hashiem's Divine Intervention." 

Perhaps it's time for me to share some stories of those marvelous memories here.  Brace yourself - I fear the dam of restraint may have broken!   

Friday, August 28, 2015

Two Smiles

Life has such sharp contrast some days.

Yesterday was one of those for me.

Madison did NOT want to sit in her cute little bouncy seat while dad finished getting Noah dressed.  So Noni rescued her and became the bouncy seat substitute.

I sat contentedly on the back porch; all the while, patting the object of my affection.  Singing.  Talking.  Listening to the traffic.  Praying.  Kissing the sweet bald head.   Making eye contact with Dad as he peeked in to make sure we were okay.

And just before she had to move on to her next appointment, Madi rewarded my patience with a HUGE smile!  She looked me right in the eyes.......and Smiled!

The kind of smile that melts the hearts of all grandparents.  The kind of smile that sends you scrambling for your money and asking,  "What does this angel need that I can provide?!"  The kind of smile that brings tears to the eyes of the recipient.

Deep contented sigh!  And the day rolled on.

About two hours later found me sitting by the bedside of one of our much loved church members.  We had received the call Wednesday after Bible study that Rev. Mulvaney had taken a turn for the worse.  Frank went right to the nursing home to be with the family.

Rev. Mulvaney and his wife retired many years ago from pastoral ministry.  They had even served as pastors at Garden Grove Church temporarily; long before we came on the scene.  Two of the finest people you'd ever want to meet.  So of course, we wanted to be there.

But Thursday, Frank had to be out of town for a conference.  And the family had stayed until late into the night.  So no one was there when I slipped into the darkened room of our dear friend.

By quietly moving a chair close to the hospital bed, I was able to touch his arm.  His once vibrant and mischievous blue eyes were open only a tiny bit; not moving or blinking.  His breathing was steady but shallow.   No response as I greeted him.

Research has proven that people nearing the end of their earthly journey lose their hearing last of all.  So Frank has taught me to sing or read scripture when we visit, even if the dying person can't acknowledge you.  They still hear you.

And so I sat contentedly, patting the arm of my friend.  Singing.  Talking.  Listening to the traffic in the hallway.  Praying.  I even put a kiss on his sweet bald head.  Making eye contact with nurses as they peeked in to make sure we were okay.

During one song, his chin moved ever so slightly; right in rhythm.  I knew he was singing the old hymn with me.  And I did see one eyebrow raise slightly; like an "Amen!" as I finished quoting Psalm 23.

But the most marvelous moment came just before I had to leave.

I began to rehearse aloud the joys that wait for us when we finally reach Heaven as believers.  The delight and awe we will surely feel when we meet Christ Jesus.   The majesty and wonder and gratitude that will mark those first moments.  How marvelous to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

And that's when it happened.

Rev. Mulvaney had laid perfectly still for nearly an hour.  His only movements were almost imperceptible.  But just then, his eyes shot open wide.  His mouth formed an "Oh!"  And he gasped. There was the slightest hint of a smile. 

His gaze was fixed on something far beyond me.  The air was electric!  I don't mind telling you, I feel sure he was being given a glimpse of the great joy waiting for all those who die in Christ.

Such a holy experience!

It was over almost as quickly as it began.

Once again the eyes were still; the breathing shallow.  But tears stung my own eyes and the lump in my throat made it difficult to sing the next song.  His reaction to that glimpse, burned forever in my memory.

We just got the call an hour ago that our dear friend has gone to be with his Savior.  It's sad for us.  But we are delighted for him.  No longer sick.  No longer afraid.  

Two smiles.

One brand new.  One aged by many miles of life.  Yet both powerful in their own way.

Ah, the contrast in a day!   May you be blessed to experience life fully - Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Yard Work

Frank and I have spent most of our day working in the yard.

We've planted two trailing vines, an aloe and a few low shrubs.  (All snagged from the clearance bin in the garden center.)  We re-potted two plants for the entryway, trimmed multiple crepe myrtles and dug up a small tree that has refused to grow for six years now.   I painted a trellis to help waterproof it and Frank mowed the yard.

Doesn't it sound like a lovely, even romantic sort of day?

Don't you envision two people joyfully chatting away while they work together to beautify their home?  The workers - clad in crisp cotton shorts, garden gloves and floppy hats - smile at one another when they pause to sip glasses of water.

Perhaps you can even imagine a mint leaf floating in one of the ice cubes.

Yeah, well!

This is a blog written by a real person; not someone writing an ad for a gardening magazine.

Allow me to begin again -

Frank and I have spent most of our day working in the yard.

Even now, Frank is working feverishly on the final touches; racing a rain cloud that threatens to break open at any moment.  I'm typing with dirt so far under my fingernails it may be next week before they're normal again. 

We haven't been able to get to this job for weeks because of a crazy, busy schedule and because of unseasonable amounts of rain!

We're both displaying a few of the more minor symptoms of heatstroke.  It is August in Florida, you know. 

My feet are stinging from the ant bites I sustained while battling Antman's family for custody of my geranium pots.  And I'm not sure if I'll be able to accurately proof-read this because of the fumes I breathed while weather-proofing the seven foot tall trellis.

Top off all that excitement with the real truth of our oh-so-romantic gardening efforts......  Please remember that Frank and I are both pretty headstrong, leader-type people.  We both have a plan for almost any and all activities we share.

Those plans are seldom ever the same!

We started arguing about ten minutes in to our first task.

"Honey, I thought you went to Lowe's to buy post-hole diggers.  It would have made this so much easier for you,"  said the concerned wife.

"No.  The shovel was cheaper."  Frugal husband's response.  "Where do you want these vines?"

"Well, I thought you'd want to move the trellis from here so we can waterproof it first.  And won't that make it easier to plant the vines?"  Testy wife.

"Fine.  Just tell me what you want them and I'll do it."  Frustrated husband.

"Why are you putting the vine a foot away from the trellis, honey?  We want it to grow on the trellis, right?"  Snippy wife.

"Show me where you think the vine should go!"  Aggravated husband.

Frank and I managed to argue about each of the tasks I listed above.

 "Now, Sheri!  Surely you didn't argue over each and every one of the jobs!"

Yes, I'm here to confess to you, dear reader that we managed to find something we disagreed about with each one of the many yard-esque responsibilities needing completion.

Just how deeply do you place plants being re-potted?

Do you begin painting at the top inside or top outside of a trellis?

Is that plant already dead or simply dormant from lack of attention?

Is it really necessary to trim crepe myrtles completely to the branch?

Should one wash off the driveway or sweep the driveway?

And oh, my word!  The discussion we had about whether or not to give the uncooperative tree another year!  I'll leave that for your imagination.

But when I drug my hot, nasty self inside to get a shower, I remembered another gardening project.  And that memory melted all the frustration.

I remembered how my prized flower garden was lost in a freeze six years ago.  The loss was felt keenly because it happened the month after my mom passed away.

Then two weeks later, I made a trip to Pensacola for the funeral of a beloved friend.  My grief quotient was nearing its limit.

But when I got home, I discovered that the man who always seems to have a plan different from mine, also knows what speaks to my heart.

While I was away, he enlisted the help of a friend at church.  He spent far too much money and time.  But when I stepped out the back door, I discovered a brand new flower garden......complete with a lovely little fountain and garden chimes.

Bright colors and joyful sounds breathed hope back into my weary soul.  And I felt loved.

Isn't it wonderful when joyful memories overtake mundane life?  I think I'll choose to use the paintbrush of grace to cover the bickering of today.  Experience has taught me that marriages grow better that way.

Yep, Frank and I have spent most of our day working in the yard.  And we have good things to show for it.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Shortest Post - Longest Title

"Don't cry because it's ending.......Smile because it happened!"  -Anonymous

Isn't that a great quote?!  I just read it today at a key moment.

Frank and I saw a full day off approaching on the calendar.  I found a coupon on line and we made a quick dash for our favorite beach spot here in FL. 

We managed to dodge the rain drops.  Sat by the ocean, read, watched the waves and clouds. Ate a hot dog for lunch.  Drank a malted milkshake after dinner. 

As I realized the all too short "breather" was drawing to a close, I just happened to spot this quote on a plaque in a window.

"Don't cry because it's ending.....Smile because it happened!"

It immediately shifted my perspective and improved my attitude.

Thought perhaps someone else might need that little boost for their weekend as well.  Pretty sure this is the shortest post I've ever put on line.

Bless You!