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!