Monday, October 9, 2017

"She's Where?!"

We're overdue for a bit of humor at Embrace the Grace.  So, I asked permission to share this story from Meagan's baby file.

Actually since she was only five months old when it happened, the embarrassment is all mine - not hers.  But we've made it a rule in our family to never tell stories without permission.

You see, I grew up as a preacher's kid, too.  The most dreaded sentence to hear from my father was, "The other day at our house....."  My siblings and I would immediately freeze then start sweating profusely until we knew what story he was telling.  Whew!

Frank and I made a pact with our crew that we wouldn't do that to them.

It was the spring of 1988.  We were in the midst of our annual Easter production with our home church in Asheville, NC.  Our cast and crew, more than 200 volunteers, all gave hundreds of hours each year.  And with ten performances over two weeks, we celebrated the greatest story ever told with thousands in attendance.

Needless to say, it was equal parts exhilaration and exhaustion.

We had an amazing team led by Rita and Darlene ministering to the babies and children of the cast.  (Lots of young families participating in any church event means lots of opportunities for childcare. Amen?!)  They worked long hours right alongside the rest of us and we were SO appreciative.

As directors, Frank and I encouraged everyone to be considerate of the nursery/children's workers by promptly collecting their children after performances and during breaks.  We also tried to model that with our own tribe of girls.

Kristin (5) was actually in the play.  Joy (2 1/2) and Meagan just knew it as a time of being squeezed and loved on by surrogate moms.  Because I was still nursing, Meagan would often accompany me to meetings.

She contentedly endured many "meals" with her head covered and her mom talking fast.  "Wide Open" best describes our lives during those Easter seasons.

The team meal served between performances had just ended along with a quick meeting with our lighting crew.  Before heading into our pre-service prayer time I wanted to stop by the nursery and check on Meagan.

Of course, you NEVER let your nursery child actually SEE you peeking through the half-door entry.  Even babies contentedly playing will automatically melt into wailing if they spot mom, dad or a grandparent peeking at the door.

(Can I get an "AMEN!" from the nursery workers reading this?)

So I carefully stood back and surveyed all the bouncey chairs and cribs but didn't spot my baby.  It took only a moment to catch the eye of the vigilant nursery attendant.  I smiled and mouthed, "Where's Meagan?"  She gave a startled look my way then erupted in her signature laugh, "Oh, Sheri!  You're so funny!"

I stepped back further into the hallway, surprised by her response.  But then it dawned on me, they had obviously taken Meagan to the section where her sisters were being cared for.  Even as a five year old, Kristin had a great way of calming her baby sister. 

A glance at my watch told me to hurry.  Not much time to get all the way downstairs; check on my babies; then make it back in order to lead the prayer time.

Hurrying down the staircase. I was distracted by greeting arriving guests and responding to other cast members dashing by.  When I hit the doorway of the older children's play area, I wasn't as concerned about being discreet.  I just needed to confirm that Meagan was settled near her sister then get back upstairs.

My eyes swept the room.

Okay good, there's Joy.  And there's Kristin.  But Meagan was NO WHERE to be seen.  I checked the arms of each worker.  I looked into each corner but my baby was not there!

One of the workers glanced up and I called across the room rather intensely, "I don't see Meagan!  You guys don't have her?!" I asked hoping against hope.

The worker gave me the same puzzled expression as the nursery attendant, "Sheri, you're such a cut up!"  Her response made no sense at all.  Obviously, these people had been serving too long.  I turned and rushed back out the door.

One thing was for sure, my baby was missing and we were getting ready to lock down the entire church facility until I could locate her.

My heart was pounding and my high heels clicked loudly on the tiles as I started running toward the stairs.  My mind whirled with possibilities - none of them pleasing.

Frank would know what to do.  I ran a little faster.

Just as I reached the first landing, the worker who had been calling my name and running after me, grabbed my arm.  I whirled around to confront this lady who was trying to slow me down.

"Let me go!  I've got to find Meagan!"  Panic was setting in and my eyes had filled with tears.

"SHERI!" she was yelling now.  "Sheri stop!  Meagan is On Your HIP!"

"She's where?"  My voice trailed off as I looked down and realized, I had indeed been running all over the church while Meagan contentedly bobbed along beside me.

I know!  I KNOW!

I can hear you howling with laughter and cackling with disbelief, "No Way!  You did not lose your baby on your own hip!  That's impossible!"

Wait!

Before you judge me too harshly, please consider this.....all my little girls were born before the oldest turned 5.  I had lived for five years with some baby almost perpetually riding around on my left hip.  That way my right hand was free for stirring spaghetti, holding the telephone, grabbing siblings before they could fall.......

(If you're left-handed, your baby most likely rode on your right hip.  Women all around the world are nodding with agreement and understanding.)

For many years, this true story has been my inroad for the hearts of women attending conferences where I speak.  I open by telling about losing my child on my own hip and suddenly women love me.

I know their line of thinking. "I left so many things undone before coming to this retreat.  I've been feeling like an absolute failure as a mom.  But at least I never lost one of my kids on my own hip!"

It's okay.  I'm happy to be a measure against which they can be encouraged about their own parenting - it is the toughest job in the world, you know.

That was the end of this story until last month......

Most of you know Meagan is now a wonderful little mommy with two of my six perfect grandchildren.  She also nannies for two infants.  Her life is full and she is constantly on the move caring for her charges.

She called one evening recently and said, "Well, mom!  You'll be glad to hear that history has repeated itself."

"What are you talking about?"  I asked, settling in to hear her story.

It seems she and Joy had met for lunch.  They were loading all the children into their carseats when suddenly Meagan couldn't find Madi.  She started panicking because she just knew Madi had most likely stepped back out into the busy parking lot.

"Joy!" she screamed.  "Where's Madison?!"

Joy started laughing and said, "Well, 'Mom!'  She's on your hip!"

Meagan looked down and sure enough, Madi was looking back at her with the innocent expression of total contentment.

The two sisters stood in the parking lot and laughed until they cried!

I have no spiritual conclusion for this except the scripture promise that our Heavenly Father will never lose or forget us - our names are engraved on His hands.  I'm thankful for that, aren't you?!



(Any stories from your own parenting/baby days that would make us smile?  We'd love to hear about them in the comment section.)



















Wednesday, October 4, 2017

WHY??!!

It's the one syllable question being asked by millions, "Why?!"  And I have a response.

This horrific loss of innocent life at the hands of another human being is beyond our ability to comprehend.  Why would someone intentionally commit such an atrocity?

I'm referring, of course, to the unimaginable massacre of 59 souls in Las Vegas, Nevada on Sunday.  Well over 500 husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, cousins, friends, co-workers were deliberately injured by the methodical plotting of a madman.

And the cry of sorrow has rolled out over our nation and around the world.  We're all calling over the catch in our throats that one word, "WHY?!"

There still is no known motive behind the actions of this evil and there will never be a reason.

My purpose is not to dignify this atrocity with some attempt at explanation.  But I do want to continue to ask the question, "Why?"

WHY - did a young husband make a split-second assessment of the danger then react by throwing his own body over his wife becoming a human shield?

WHY - did another man stop while fleeing the carnage in order to help others over a fence before leaping to safety himself?

WHY - did a lady intentionally pull her car to the edge of the danger and urge strangers to throw their bleeding bodies into her pristine vehicle so she could drive them to a hospital?

WHY - did scores of first responders rush toward the open area where death was raining down?

WHY - did a man with family risk his life in order to knock down a door, knowing full well the shooter was garrisoned behind it?

WHY - did countless others react with valiant heroism while one coward worked toward destruction?

My response may perplex some.

Those who chose valor on Sunday night did not do so because we're all basically good at our core.  Quite the opposite is true.  We all have the potential for evil to rule in our hearts.

That's why actions of darkness are so terrifying.  Each one is like a mirror offering a faint glimmer of what we can be if not properly governed.  (Don't stop reading, there's hope ahead.)

Here's the good news -  while one man had no appreciation for human life, thousands of others sensed the divine spark in those around them and worked to preserve what they recognized and valued.  They chose life and offered their own frightened, quivering hands as an assist to others desperate to live.

A writer I often read had the experience of watching with sorrow as his dearest friend offered himself, a human shield to save others.  He wrote about the experience like this, "Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for a friend."

Beautifully said, don't you think?

There is so much uncertainty in this world.  Our children and grandchildren are growing up in a society our grandparents could never have fathomed.  Who can be sure of anything?

But in all the chaos there are still a few anchoring truths:

  • I'm SURE - Love wins out over hatred in every face-off!
  • I'm SURE - My own choices/actions matter!  Choosing to serve others keeps the evil of selfishness at bay in my life and makes me, instead, a carrier of hope.
  • I'm SURE -  Life is a gift which needs to be enjoyed and lived fully...not fearfully!
  • I'm SURE - Real life is found in the actions of that One hero from 2000 years ago.  The One who laid down His life in exchange for yours and mine, dear friend.

One short hour before darkness exploded out the windows on that 32nd floor, the crowd gathered below was awash in light.  22,000 people held up the lights on their cell phones waving them and singing in unison,  "God Bless America." 

Such irony.  And yet, how fitting.

For all our differences and disagreements as countrymen, we know deep in our hearts, God is the singular Hope for our nation and our world.  It's His divine spark breathed into us that calls us each to a higher level of living.  He alone can shield us from the death brought on by selfishness (sin).

As Frank and I sat silently watching the first reports roll out, we were too dumbstruck for words.  After the first story of a hero who stepped up to help another, I turned to my husband and quietly whispered, "You're that kind of man.  You would help others in a situation like that."

He whispered back, "I would certainly hope so."  

We all wonder how we would react.  But I'm confident of how Frank would respond because it's his habit.  I've watched for 38 years as he has put selfishness aside and offered himself to help others over the fences of impossibility.

WHY?

Simply put, he doesn't belong to himself.  Many years ago he chose to live the life offered by the Greatest Friend and that choice has made all the difference.

Do you know that to be true of yourself, dear reader?  Have you chosen LIFE?  Have you decided to be a carrier of HOPE as you journey forward?

It's my desire to offer a spot of joy today in this sea of sadness.  After reading, I hope you'll do the same.

God bless us, every one.






















Saturday, September 23, 2017

Irma (Conclusion)

So, I promised a storm related story you could use to encourage others.  Here you go......

One of the first hurricanes Frank and I experienced together was actually while we were living in Ocean Isle Beach, NC.  The islands along the coast of NC jut out into the Atlantic Ocean and end up catching wild weather more often than you would think.

We lived in a rural area with more pine trees than people.  It had been an especially rainy summer. So, by the time that hurricane made landfall with its torrential downpours and winds topping 80 MPH, we had trouble on our hands.

After the storm passed us, we were left with hundreds of fallen trees littering the coastal areas.  A couple of days later, we took the girls walking on a golf course so they could see some of the damage from the safety of the cart paths.

Huge oaks and pines alike lay stacked askew on one another.  Aerial views showed something looking like a giant game of pixie sticks covering what had been carefully manicured lawns and golf courses.

The most fascinating thing to us was how the root beds of these trees remained in tact; many towering 8-10 feet high.  Everyone knows tall trees must have a huge root system of support. But to see that circular pad exposed was rather awe inspiring.

Several months later, I was preaching in another church and used those massive root beds as an illustration for my sermon.  I talked about the importance of developing a personal root system for life.  One built on truth that will help us stay standing during the storms of life.

After service, the pastor (who had formerly been a farmer for many years) clued me in on "the rest of the story."

During years with lots of rain, water is abundant and trees will typically grow roots outward; just below the surface to collect it.  But during times of drought, trees are required to put their energy toward growing a single tap root deep into the earth.  Only then can they find the water they need to survive. Very little growth is visible above ground during those times, but the tap root keeps the tree alive.

When storms come, trees that have primarily developed only surface roots have nothing to anchor them.  Toppling happens easily.

But trees that have survived the harshest droughts have a deep root system to hold them steady.  They may bend and some branches will likely break off but when the storm passes, they'll still be standing.

Do you see the similarity between the trees and us as people?  (I have tears in my eyes writing this.)

We all go through times of drought and difficulty.  It seems everything takes so much more effort than it should.  But during those times, we grow.

If we're wise, we grow deeper in the truths God has for us.  We spend more time in prayer and reading the Word; along with books of encouragement.  We don't try to figure it out on our own, we search out wise counsel to help us decipher what we're experiencing.

Then, when the storms come (and they surely will) we discover that the season of drought helped us develop a deep root system that keeps us standing until the winds subside.  We may have to bend a little and we may come out of the storm looking a little different but we WILL Come Through!

The tap root of TRUTH will hold us steady.

My friend's experience as a farmer cultivating crops became wise counsel to me as someone who cultivates people.  I hope this is encouraging to you, as well.

Blessings for your Sabbath!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Irma (Part 2)

What do 100 mile per hour winds sound like?

They sound like a freight train throbbing all around you.  And during a hurricane, there's also a lower sounding "growl" competing for attention which hovers just above the freight train.  When the 100 mph winds take a breath, you hear the terrifying growl.

There is no mistaking their intensity.

We met with about 30 of our church last Sunday morning.  As usual, there were lots of warm hugs, words of encouragement and sincere smiles being shared.  But there were no greeters; no announcements; no band; no sermon.

We were there to ride out Hurricane Irma together.  Some had been forced to evacuate others just didn't want to be alone.  Two older couples had never experienced a hurricane before.

Our "service" that day consisted of simple acoustic songs of worship.  Songs that reminded us just how great God is and how faithful He is to His people.  Frank shared a well-thought out word of encouragement.  He described the dual pegs of Hope and Peace on which we could hang our worries.

John's love language is food.  So he and Joy prepared a wonderful lunch of pork, beans and rice.  We all added the food items we'd brought; then shared a make-shift feast as the rains began in earnest.

Babies were put down on pallets and pack-n-play cribs for a nap.  Some of us rested; others read or quietly played games.

Around 5 PM the rain started coming in discernible bands.  The sign on the business across from us began blowing perpendicular to the ground.  Tree branches started waving and the palms were flailing.  The howling and whistling of the winds grew in volume while rain literally poured over the roof.

Then the sun set.  Darkness makes everything more intimidating.

Thankfully, we didn't lose power until after 11PM - well after babies had been put to bed.  Six little angels fell asleep with the comfort of routine Bible stories, music and night time prayers with mom and dad. All they knew was that they were getting to share a campout adventure with their cousins in the room where they usually have kids' services.

It was later reported we had over 10 inches of rain in that twenty-four hour period.  For our friends up north, I'm told you can safely multiply that by 5 and liken it to  50 inches of snow.  Weather is a powerful force.

Our own hefty church church sign began to blow sideways and sway.  About that same time, the rain went perpendicular, too.  We maintained news coverage long enough to know the storm had weakened and the eye was coming directly over our county.

I tried to lie down around 11:30 but just couldn't get comfortable on the air mattress we've used many times.  It was more comforting to sit in the kitchen area with the others who were still awake.  There wasn't much conversation.  We just drew strength from one another's presence.

We watched the fireworks display as transformers around us began to "blow."  Much like a mini explosion temporarily illuminating the darkness with bright blue light.

When our power went out, we fired up a generator to keep the refrigerator and a couple of lamps going.  Several stretched out on chairs in the auditorium.  One or two sat in the foyer.  Six or seven of us paced or sat in the kitchen - waiting.

Irma reached her zenith over us between 12:30 and 3 AM.  The sign across the street tore off completely.  We started losing branches and whole trees (at the edge of our property) toppled over, exposing massive root systems. Pebbles from our roof constantly pinged against the glass doors and windows.

And, of course, the wind!  That ever present howling, screaming, terrain-altering wind.

Our church has a covered walkway about four feet wide but it offered little protection from the fury of those winds.  By 1:30, the rain was being driven in between the double glass doors of our foyer and kitchen areas.  It literally soaked the carpeting almost five feet in.  We sat watching as the doors "breathed" and prayed they wouldn't give way.

At long last, Irma churned on toward the north.  Winds remained strong but the worst of it had marched beyond us.  We all fell exhausted onto pallets, chairs and mattresses trying to doze for at least a couple of hours.  There would be plenty to do at daybreak.

At first light, we started collecting our belongings.  Everyone was eager to get home and survey their damage.  We stopped to spend time together offering prayers of thanksgiving; shared a hasty breakfast and hugged our fellow storm warriors farewell.  Our hearts will forever be knit together by our shared experience.

Irma is no longer impacting our weather but her effects will be felt by our peninsula for months to come.  A pastor we know has a family business providing frozen foods to larger outlets.  They babysat generators for days trying to keep the freezers going.

Although the change in trajectory spared many of our coastal cities, the torrential rains devastated our interior farms and groves.  Vegetables and citrus that were only weeks from harvesting were stripped from trees or now lie rotting in fields due to the unrelenting heat.

Farming is Florida's second industry behind tourism.  We'll likely all feel the impact of Irma's devastation when we begin buying imported vegetables this fall.

Today, we're collecting non-perishables for shipment this afternoon to our sister churches in the Keys. They have water, we were told but are having very real problems obtaining canned meats and other food items.

Some of our church family just got power back yesterday while others are still waiting.  We've been amazed by the strangers helping strangers.  Power workers who have streamed in from other states to help us.  First responders who stay steady in service even when many of their own homes have been damaged or destroyed.

Frank, John and Joe cleaned up all around the outside of our church on Wednesday.  Kristin and I covered the indoors and contacted members to confirm they were safe.  Our Sunday service yesterday was one of celebration and felt like Thanksgiving in September!

A couple of closing thoughts for today:

  • No matter how big the storms, they all eventually pass.
  • Relationships matter much more than things.
  • Our hope is built on the sure foundation of God's Love.
  • After the rain, we always look for the rainbow.
Thanks for stopping by today, dear reader.  If you happen to be living through a storm of your own,  I encourage you to ponder those closing thoughts again.  Let them soak into your heart.  God is faithful; you can trust Him!   



(My next post will have a great story you can use to encourage others!  Watch for it later this week.)












  



Friday, September 15, 2017

Irma (Part I)

For the first time in over a week, my morning feels a bit normal.  I have a hot cup of tea, a quiet house and a message of joy to share.

There just aren't words to describe how VERY Grateful I am today!  (My eighth grade english teacher said to never use the word "very" when writing.  This time it's necessary.)

Hurricane Irma was slated to be the biggest in Florida's history.  Visuals showed Andrew (which decimated Homestead, FL 25 years ago) easily fitting within Irma.

The storm bands for this hurricane were 500 miles across. That wasn't hype, that was fact.  The peninsula of Florida is only about 150 miles across and 350 miles long.  Irma was clearly predicted to swallow us.

Allow me to give you a few interesting facts I Lived this week:
  • Hurricane wind speeds are measured by incredibly brave people who literally fly a plane into the eye (calm center) of storms.  No!  I do not want that job.
  • Category 5 hurricanes have sustained winds over 157 mph  For three days (prior to landfall) Irma maintained a category 5 status, with winds often reaching 185 mph.  
  • Our governor started urging people in flood prone areas to evacuate early last week.  6.3 million people heeded his warning making it potentially the largest evacuation in history and clogging our two major interstate highways heading north for days.

  • Everyone was grateful to learn that Irma's winds speeds dropped when making landfall - only 135 mph.  (Everything is relative.)   

  • On Monday morning it was reported that approximately 5.8 million people in Florida had no power.  Many were also without water, including John, Joy and their four little ones.
All those facts would be just that, facts about nameless, faceless people you don't know.  Except we were right in the middle of it all and we became the "nameless, faceless" people you DO know through this blog.  Thank you for praying!

I want to tell you about the personal stories from our experience in the next post.  But for today let me skip ahead and say, everyone is safe.  All our houses made it with minimal damage.  Between us our family will need to replace:
  • a roof 
  • several fences 
  • a few trees 
  • a couple of appliances
  • lots of refrigerated/frozen food items
You know, the normal things one loses when one experiences a hurricane, its power outages and the subsequent power surges.  

One of the sad losses for Frank and me was the little playground we'd worked so hard to buy and build for our grandbabies.  The sturdy wooden beams were literally torn to pieces and the seven foot high tower was thrown onto its side landing some ten feet from where it had been built. 

But roofs and playgrounds and appliances can all be replaced.  

I spent most of Wednesday and Thursday calling to speak directly with as many of our church members as I could reach.  We served as a connector for those offering help and those needing it.  A few just wanted to know we were still praying for them.  Some needed a listening ear.  Others quietly wept as they told their own harrowing stories about the unwelcome visitor, Irma.  

Our extended church family includes first responders and power workers who are the heroes of every hurricane story.  One senior member was the victim of looting and one new baby was born this week. We have many who are still without power.  

We've shared generators, gasoline, spare bedrooms, ice, meals, showers, washers/dryers and air conditioning with anyone who wanted to come by.  Our bible study Wednesday night was unusually somber; a time of hugging one another and expressing gratitude to God.

I'll leave you with a powerful report from one of our local stations.  

(One more fact helps explain the story: hurricanes feed on warm, open waters; it's their fuel so to speak.  The Gulf of Mexico readily supplies this fuel to any storm that makes it across the outer islands.....Bahamas, Cuba, Keys)

But on Sunday night just as this monster storm turned to make landfall as a category 5 hurricane,  a mysterious dry wind started blowing from the west.  This dry wind successfully broke into the lower part of Irma's swirling and began to breech the concentrated, well-formed eye.  Within a very short time, Irma started losing power and came on the mainland as a category 2 instead of a 5.  

ABC weather meteorologist Denis Phillips reported, "There is no way to explain how this storm has diminished so quickly, except that a lot of prayers have gone up.  Twenty-four hours ago we were looking at the worst storm in history.  Now it's lessening and the eye has collapsed.  We are in a much better position."

Even the winds and waves obey HIS voice!

Don't get me wrong, we're totally aware of the devastation to the south of us.  Some of the islands report 95% devastation of homes and businesses.  We are heartbroken by the 23 deaths reported so far.  And we're well aware that the recovery efforts for Hurricane Harvey in Texas and for this storm will go on for many months.

But I don't want to miss an opportunity to express my gratitude before I start helping others pick up the pieces.  I also want to thank each of you who called, texted, emailed and messaged us with words of encouragement, letting us know you were praying too.  

Be sure to stop by next week.  The story will get more personal as I tell how it felt to sit and watch 100 mph wind gusts blow rain in through the center of our glass doors at church, wondering if they would hold.......





Saturday, September 9, 2017

Preparing

I managed to get to my prayer chair for this post but it took some navigating.  All our patio furniture is carefully stacked well, crammed is a more accurate word.....into our dining room.  The garage is full as well with all our potted plants, recycling bins, trash cans and lawn ornaments.

Our water and non-perishable food items are in place.  We've located flashlights and batteries.  We cleaned out the refrigerator.  Important papers are secured.  All the laundry is clean.  I even bathed the dog and vacuumed.

Frank and I came home around 5 today and I prepared a wonderful hot meal.  We may not be privileged to enjoy many of those for the next few days.

Yes, Hurricane Irma is slowly churning toward us.  And we've done our best to be prepared.

Hurricanes are part of living in FL.  If you live in New York, you know blizzards.  If you live in California, you know earthquakes.  If you live in Kansas, you know tornadoes.  If you live in Arizona you know haboobs.  (Ha-whats??!  That's what they call dust storms. Yeah, caught me off guard the first time, too.)

In Florida, you just know all the lovely sunshine will eventually give way to the wind, rain, tornadoes and flooding associated with hurricanes at some point.  So you do your very best to be prepared.

But our Governor, Rick Scott, has made abundantly clear that Irma isn't your average, run of the mill storm.  If fact, it's been called the most massive storm Florida has ever encountered.

Driving home today I saw something that immediately struck a note with me.  A board of plywood was hanging from one corner and providing absolutely NO protection for the window it should have covered.

The home looked deserted so it was unlikely anyone would be coming back to fix the problem. Whoever attached the plywood must have rushed not doing the job thoroughly and it took only a small steady breeze to knock the wood loose.

It was especially disturbing for me because we weren't able to obtain any plywood for our windows. By the time we finished taking care of all that needed to be done for the church, there wasn't any more available.

Well, I take that back.  Frank found a few sheets of plywood but the individual was selling them for three times the normal price.  No Thanks!

As we drove on, I pondered that lovely piece of now useless plywood just hanging there.

Someone went to great effort to purchase and deliver the needed protection for their home.  (May I just add here, there's only one way to fully protect your windows during a hurricane and that's to cover them completely.)

What the homeowner needs was provided but it won't do them any good at all because it hasn't been put in place.  The answer for the coming storm is right there and it can't help at all.

Truth is, that's just like your life and mine, dear friend.  This is a broken world full of storms and uncertainties.  But there is help for us.

The One who made us, has gone to great effort to provide the answer we need.  He's provided a wonderful form of protection.  All we have to do is accept the work He has done; covering us completely.  (May I add, there's only One who gave His life for us.  Following Christ is the only way to be fully protected in this life.)

After the storm, that homeowner will undoubtedly think, "Why didn't I follow up on this?!  I thought I was prepared.  The protection for my home was sitting right there but it wasn't properly applied!"

Tomorrow morning, Frank and I will drive over to our church where we'll stay for the duration of this storm.  We have several church members who needed a safe place away from potential flooding and manufactured homes.  So, we'll make a memory together.

All of us here in Florida would appreciate your prayers, dear friends.  And please take a moment to consider my story about being prepared for the storms we all face.  The help you need is available, just ask the One who cares most.




Monday, September 4, 2017

A Secret

May I share one of my lesser-known character flaws with you?  (If you’d prefer not to know, I understand.  Just click out quickly because I’m getting ready to reveal it now.)

When life gets overwhelming for me, I can easily slip on the banana peel of procrastination.  And suddenly I feel like the worst procrastinator in the world.  The WORST, I tell you!

Many who know me may be thinking, “I find that hard to believe, Sheri.  You have something going almost every minute of the day.”  But I promise it’s true, dear friend; totally true.

As a younger woman, I tried diligently to hide my tendency toward procrastination. 

I had all sorts of responses ready when Frank would come home and find the mountain of laundry still not put away.  (Some days it wasn’t even folded; much less put away!)

When the choir I directed would question why the new music hadn’t yet come in, I dodged their puzzled expressions.  And said, “Let’s revise this wonderful old song we all know and love so well!”  I didn’t want them to know the new music hadn’t even been ordered yet.

My girls looked to me to have home school essentials organized and ready to start the end of August.  But many times, I was still scrambling to find the math curriculum I KNEW we had…….somewhere! 

It was easier to respond, “I am waiting for you to get your rooms organized.  THEN we can start.  Now, get to it!”

Even in high school and college, when term papers were due I would make a mad dash to the library just as time was nearly expired.  “I do better work when I’m under pressure to finish!”  It sounded plausible to my roommate but in my heart, I knew it wasn’t true.

Yep!  Classic expressions of the practiced procrastinator.

It was a huge, ugly monster that lurked under my bed at night taunting me with reminders of:
·      work I could have done!
·      work to be done!
·      work I should have done! 

Pat, the Procrastination Monster, made sleep difficult and sometimes impossible.  The resulting exhaustion would give me one more excuse for not beginning whatever task awaited me.  “I’m just too tired!”

Pat was also cunning with his accusations, “I bet Cindy has her laundry done; her lesson plans complete; her choir music in; her house organized; her…….”  You fill it in. 

So I would find myself sitting.  Frozen.  Staring.  Feeling massive amounts of guilt.  Incapable of moving forward because the mountain of what had to be done was Just.....Too......DAUNTING!

Freedom came for me when I talked with a friend I greatly admired.  “I’m such a terrible procrastinator,” I confessed.  "You wouldn’t believe how things overwhelm me to the point that I can’t do ANYTHING!"

“Oh, Sheri.”  My friend slipped an arm around my shoulder for comfort.  “I struggle with procrastination, too.” 

My head snapped up and I stared at her in total shock.  This gal was the organization queen of my universe.   How could it be that Pat the Monster was sleeping under her bed, too?

“Really?!”

“Yes,” she assured me.  “Getting overwhelmed happens more than anyone likes to admit.  I had a meltdown just last week about work I couldn’t seem to manage.”

Well, when you feel like that, what do you do?”  I still wasn’t convinced she wrestled with the same size monster as mine.

“I stop blaming everyone and everything else around me.  I ask the Lord for help.  I pull one tiny thread on the mountain of tangled issues and then I just Get Started.  She paused to let the ‘get started’ part sink in.   “Seems like once I take even the smallest step toward action, things begin falling into place.”

It was about that same time I discovered my Tennis Shoe Technique. 

As a mom working from home, I needed something to signal the start and ending of my work days.  The solution was in my tennis shoes.

When I took off my bedroom slippers and laced up my sneakers each morning it meant, “Game On!”  The starting gun had sounded (in my mind) and we were off like a shot. 

As soon as the last little one was tucked into bed each night, my sneakers came off and I exchanged them for tattered bedroom slippers that cradled my feet.  “Day is done,” they whispered.  “You’ve run your leg of the marathon well.  Now sit down and rest a while.”

Through practicing those two simple techniques on a daily basis, I began to battle procrastination more successfully.  After some time, I was finally able to reduce Pat the Monster down to Pat the Dust Bunny. 

His voice had once been the terrifying  boom of a thunder clap warning of impending disaster.  It slowly morphed into a squeaky mouse-like sound that I could more easily silence.

(Frank recently started using a third technique to produce movement on dreaded tasks.  He envisions a rocket being launched and reproduces the countdown to greatness, “Five, four, three, two, one……..MOVE!”   Feel free to adopt it as your own.)

I still struggle from time to time with feeling overwhelmed and under prepared.  But I’ve learned the value of starting.  And forward movement can soon become the freight train of accomplishment once again. 

 Remember friend,  the dreading is almost always worse than the doing.  And you aren't the only  Procrastinator out there!



I’d love to hear about techniques you’ve used to battle procrastination.   Tell us about it in the comment section, won’t you? 


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Monday, August 28, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

Oh my, how we're all praying for the people of eastern Texas!

Hurricane Harvey has hit that region with incredible force.  The images of people being rescued, homes and businesses destroyed....it's almost unbelievable and just so sad.

I was listening to the news when a reporter said, "We haven't seen anything like this since 2004 when Charley hit Florida."  His words were a jolt for me because we went through Hurricane Charley.  We didn't move here until 2005 but we were in Winter Haven when Charley barreled across FL.

The circumstances surrounding that experience were so bizarre.

We were still evangelists at the time.  It was August and we had to get Kristin and Joy back in school. We brought our RV down and actually parked behind what's now our church.

The plan was for me to stay with the girls getting them settled.  Frank would fly to NC on Friday for the service we had scheduled then back to us on Monday.  Perfect.

Well, perfect until Charley came knocking.

We hadn't watched the news and had no idea people were evacuating Tampa as we were driving toward the airport. We were completely oblivious.  Later we learned, his was the final flight out that day.

Frank called as soon as he landed in Raleigh to say he was renting a car to drive back.  "There's no need,"  I told him.  "Wait until it passes over and then you'll know what supplies to bring with you."

Please remember, I grew up in FL.  The routine of preparing for and "riding out" hurricanes has been part of my life since childhood.  Collect food supplies, fill the bathtub with water, prepare to lose power and phone service.  Mom and Dad always stayed calm so I developed that attitude too, I guess.

But I'd never experienced anything like Hurricane Charley!

We had only hours to get ready and I had two other girls with us for the weekend.  So it was five young ladies ages 15-20; two silly dogs and me.

I contacted one of the board members and got permission to stay with the girls in the church.  We cleared debris from around the RV.   Tree limbs and loose boards become projectiles during a hurricane.

The girls helped cook what I had in our tiny freezer while I dashed to the store for batteries, bottled water, milk, bread and peanut butter.  (PBJ sandwiches and milk make everything better!)

Not knowing how long we'd be without water and power, I urged everyone to get a quick shower.  We closed up the RV and headed into the church just as the wind and rains started getting serious.

I won't bore you with all the details of that harrowing night spent sitting against the wall of the interior hallway.  We prayed.  We encouraged each other.  We prayed some more.

At one point, I stepped into the foyer just long enough to see a row of trees bent almost perpendicular to the ground by the ferocious wind.  It was too dangerous to stay there because of all the glass doors and windows.

As the eye of the storm passed over us, we all stepped outside to take a quick look at the devastation right around the church.  Such an eerie scene.  I was grateful to find our RV in an upright position but knew the backside of the storm was still to come.

We were already without power, so as the rain started again it was a little more difficult to take shelter in the darkened hallway.  Those five young ladies were troopers!

Obviously, we made it through safely.  RV's all around us were thrown on their sides like matchbox toys.  But ours sustained only minor damage.

There was no power in our area for five days.   Friends graciously invited us into their home in Lakeland.  We camped in grand style; sharing our food and water with them.

Frank made it back to us and I gladly handed the cloak of "Family Protector" right back to the shoulders that carry it best.

I took a moment this morning and wrote a note of thanks to the family that housed us during that natural disaster.  Yes, it was thirteen years ago but the appreciation for their kindness and generosity is still strong.

We've used many illustrations from that experience in sermons through the years.  I'll leave you with what's probably my favorite story.

Everyone is aware that looting becomes a big problem after catastrophic storms.  We knew as six women in a church building containing thousands of dollars in electronics, supplies and such.......that we were sitting ducks.  Prayer for protection was a big one.

Around two in the morning, it happened.

We heard looters moving around outside, talking, rattling door handles, trying to find a way to get in.

I'm not exactly sure WHAT I thought I was going to do.  I had no way to protect us from robbers. But I reached for my most intimidating teacher voice and yelled out through the locked door, "Who are you?!  What do you want?!"

A split second of frozen silence......

"It's the police!  Are you alright in there?"

That's when my confident-acting knees finally went wobbly.  I opened the door and I'm pretty sure I startled the first officer by grabbing him in a big hug.

Yes, we know to keep praying for the people of Texas.  For the first-responders; utilities workers; even military coming in and working tirelessly to care for those affected.  We may not be able to offer our homes but we can pray.



How about you?  Have you ever been through a natural disaster in your area?  I'd love to hear about your experience in the comment section below.  










    








Monday, August 21, 2017

Historic Event

"First in our lifetime! Very likely the only time."

"Nothing like it in modern history."

"A truly remarkable event!"

Am I quoting references to the total solar eclipse we'll experience today across the United States of America?

No!  Something much more unbelievable!

These are statements made after it was learned that on Saturday, Aug. 18th, in the year of Our Lord 2017, all by herself, one Sharon L. Hawley..........  ............MOWED HER ENTIRE 1/2 ACRE YARD!!

(Yes, I hear your gasps of disbelief and wonder.  Stunning news, right?!)

Frank was totally shocked.  He's pretty particular about our yard.  (Actually, that's an understatement. The man claims he can hear the grass growing while we're trying to enjoy our morning coffee on mowing day.)

But this week he was leading a prayer retreat for the men of our board and staff.  The grass was already pretty tall and I knew he wouldn't be home in time to get it done AND finish his sermon for Sunday.

So at 10AM Eastern time I made a bold decision in my perky little optimistic unexperienced head. "I'm going to mow the yard for him!'

My thinking process went like this - "I've been driving different vehicles for over 40 years.  Driving a riding mower is surely just like driving a car.  What could possibly go wrong?"

Ah, famous last words........

First off, I realized I had no idea how to even get the mower out of the garage.  If I called one of my sons to get it out they would simply brush me aside and say, "I'll do it, Mom!"  But I didn't want to interrupt their Saturday with our yard work.

So I texted our young neighbors across the street for help.

Richard came right over.  He backed the mower out expertly and gave me a hand climbing up into the seat.  I'm pretty sure he bit his lip tensely when I said, "Thanks!  Now, how do I get it started?"

Richard should probably consider a second career in education.  His tutorial was patient and thorough.  He put his hand behind me just in case I fell off when the mower jerked forward the first time.

He quickly saw I couldn't reach the brake.  A rather important element when dealing with a machine designed solely to twirl sharp blades of steel at a high rate of speed.  You want to be able to hit the brake!

So Richard helped me off the mower again and adjusted the seat forward.  So many moving parts on a riding mower.  The brake.  The mower deck.  The speed control thingy.  And one other lever I just didn't touch.

I had no idea!

(And that's what had him a little concerned.  He told Nathan later in the day, "I kept going to our front window to check on your mom every few minutes."  I think he was relieved when the task was finally finished.)

I donned Frank's wide brimmed hat, some good tennis shoes, proper sunscreen and I was off like lightening. Well, actually more like a turtle because I wanted to get used to what I was doing before I revved the engine to 3 (with 6 being the fastest.)

Several lessons came from my experience:

  1. Always hit the brake before shifting to a higher speed.
  2. If you miss a section on this pass, you can always come back again.
  3. Those straight lines Frank creates so easily - aren't easy!
  4. Yes, there's a cup holder that works well.  However, all the water sloshes out of the cup.
  5. Look forward, not backward, at all times!
  6. Lawn ornaments can be shoved aside by big mowers, small trees can not.
  7. Lawn ornaments can be replaced.
  8. Mowing in FL is as hot as I suspected.
  9. Heat stroke is real, occurs quickly and takes a while for recovery.
  10. Biggest lesson of the day - if you hit a root from an oak tree while traveling at the speed of 3, your mower blades WILL make a horrific noise; the mower WILL jolt to an immediate stop; you may go flying forward and the seat will be wet when you land back on it.  Just saying!
Frank had to do a small bit of modifying when he got home.  (Mostly straightening the line we share with our neighbor and some edging.)  But he let me know he was proud of my efforts and gave me a quick kiss in that "Oh, you're just so cute" kind of way.

So, you guys go ahead and make a big deal out of that once in a 100 years total solar eclipse today. The bigger news on Misty Morning Drive is that SHERI MOWED AND NO ONE WAS HURT!!

Let me leave you with this perfect and timely statement from King David: 
"The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky abovea proclaims his handiwork."  (Ps. 19:1)



















Friday, August 18, 2017

Las Ramblas

I have walked on Las Ramblas.

My feet have traversed the location in Barcelona, Spain where evil struck again most recently.  Las Ramblas is not just some far off, unrelated destination for me.  It's a place I know.

I've pressed through the masses crowding that sidewalk.  My eyes have swept over the buildings, the art work, the abundant colors.  My ears have processed and tried to decipher the blaring noises as well as the flutter of leaves on the numerous trees.  My nose has been delighted by the countless fragrances of foods provided by street vendors and restaurants lining the way.  I've handled delicate scarves and heavy post cards at the tourist shops.  I even selected a pearl ring at a shop on Las Ramblas.

When Frank called down to my office yesterday and told me of the most recent terror attack, my mind saw faces, not a dot on a map.

I traveled to Barcelona two summers ago with a teaching team.  We had been invited by friends who pastor an amazing international church right in the heart of the city.  (International Church Barcelona.)  Our main purpose was to bring encouragement to the ladies of their congregation by teaching at a retreat.

But we also shared at Bible studies, home groups, luncheons, the main church service and even once in a park.  One of my more memorable opportunities involved a short taxi ride to a winding alley where we walked for twenty minutes then climbed five flights of stairs to meet with the three couples waiting for us.  Whew!  Not for the faint of heart but definitely rewarding.

Our experience in Barcelona left us with friends we'll cherish for years to come and memories that will take a long time to fade.  The pastor said that we added value to the lives we encountered.  Our message brought hope and peace.  While we challenged them to walk close to the Father in obedience, we also reminded them of His perfect love for each individual as well as the world.

Following religion or man made rules can kill.  But relationship with Christ brings LIFE - Abundant Life!

One of my favorite passages seems so timely today:

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly!"  John 10:10 (ESV)

Yes, let's pray for the individuals and families impacted by this tragedy but put action to your prayers.  Find someone who needs a word of encouragement.  Offer forgiveness or a gift of joy.  Reach out with a hand of hope to a person who crosses your path.

It's a proven fact, when you add value to another you actually enrich your own life.

I choose to add LIFE today.  I'm watching for an opportunity to add value somewhere.  Join me, won't you?

I'd love to hear about your experience.










Monday, July 31, 2017

Brand (Old) New

I'm writing this post from a brand new location.  A place I've never written from before.

The newness of this space has me smiling and feeling very inspired!  The colors. The furnishings. The artwork/decor.  It's all so inviting! I wish you were here with me right now, enjoying a cup of hot tea.

"Sheri, where is this fantastic new place?  It sounds rather exotic."

I'm glad you asked.

The new location offering such energy for writing is none other than............(drum roll please)........my newly created guest room!

"Aw, Sheri!  We thought you were going to tell about some fantastic, far-away island.  A corner of the world providing gentle breezes, panoramic views and sounds of peace."

Well, in a way, that's exactly what I'm telling you about.

We've lived here twelve years now and this front bedroom has had many personalities.  It was formerly known as, Meg and Nate's room/Kristin's room/Joy and John's room/Kristin and Meagan's room/Amanda's room.   You get the picture; it has served a lot of family members.

When Meg, Nathan and the babies moved into their lovely home last fall, our little house suddenly felt cavernous.  I thought I'd never be able to fill the roughly 300 square feet they had been occupying. (Yes, that does include the bathroom.)

Frank and I also needed a while just to adapt to being empty nesters for the first time in over thirty years.  For a long while, I left everything as it had been, only empty and sad.  The doors remained closed most of the time.

Then we got the call that friends from NC would be in the area for a couple of days and I suddenly knew, it's time for change.  So Frank and I kicked things into high gear.

Gazing around this room now is a literal feast for the eyes.  And I'm happy to report that other than one gallon of paint, a dust ruffle and a $7 spray of flowers, I spent nothing to create this lovely oasis.

We had the bed.  The dresser was my birthday present from Grandma when I turned 13. (No, it has NOT rotted with age!)  We used a beautiful red, black and ivory STAR quilt made by a friend. Another friend had given us an old Singer treadle sewing machine just like the one used by my paternal grandmother.

Bits of lace serving as doilies are from a widow in our church.  I had recently salvaged a lovely picture of three little girls sitting together looking at a huge book.  And two hats (worn by Frank's beloved grandfather) sit jauntily atop the refinished Singer.

Frank painted for two days.  Pat taught me some easy refinishing steps and Kristin came over to pull together the various elements.  Our guests had no idea about the flurry of activity their visit caused. But sitting here now makes me smile!

I had no idea the potential for so much loveliness was hiding behind that carefully closed door.

Our guests slept well and felt cared for; exactly as we hoped.  But this brand new room also gave me a couple of great lessons.


  • Choosing to see the room with fresh eyes brought it back to life.
  • All the pieces were sitting around me, just waiting for me to take action.  Now they're pulled into service as originally designed, instead of languishing unused in the garage.
  • While I delayed, nothing happened.  It took a decision to move forward.
  • Frank hates to paint, put it only took one coat because he used quality products.
  • Yes, it took a lot of effort.  And not everything fell into place on the first attempt.  But we kept at it and the result is well worth all the work.
  • Now we have another way to bless others!
Dear friend, what project in your life is waiting for action?  Is there a door you've left closed far too long?  It could be something as simple as a junk drawer or laundry area that needs cleaning before the end of summer.  

Or perhaps you're like me.......  

That closed door represented some emotional matters I needed to clean out.  While preparing the guest room, the Lord spoke to me about cleaning out some rooms in my heart I've preferred to not see.  But with fresh eyes of prayer and a simple decision, I'm moving forward. 

It already feels like brand new space in my old heart. I'm so grateful His grace is more than sufficient to cover me with only one coat.  And His mercies are new every morning once we decide to let Him pull together the pieces of our lives.

Cleaning out emotional clutter; disappointment; frustration will take effort.  But just think of the people you'll bless with your lovely new attitude!  Personal refreshing allows us to become like an oasis for others instead of a dry, lifeless desert.  You'll be so glad you took a step forward.

What about you?  Any Brand (Old) New projects for you lately?  i'd love to hear about them! 



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Resplendent, Indeed!

Regular readers know I save my very favorite word (Resplendent) for the Most Special of Moments. Please note, it's the title for today's post.

Resplendent is the only word sufficient for describing the Speak Up Conference I experienced last week in Grand Rapids, MI.  (You don't just "attend" Speak Up.  It truly is an experience!)

The team planners and faculty were on pointe even before the first person arrived.  Emails flew back and forth letting us know what to expect; how to be prepared; where to go and what to do.

Two weeks out, I received an email asking about any personal requests I might have for the prayer team.  They were already lifting each participant, by name, to the Father!

Lavish preparation, indeed!

Of course, there was an added layer of excitement for me in this story which bordered on the side of possible fiasco.  My connecting flight out of Chicago was seriously delayed and my first appointment at the conference was set for 2:00.

But I didn't panic because I had picked up an hour by flying into the Central Time Zone.

Were you aware that although Chicago is on central time, Grand Rapids, Michigan is NOT?

Yeah, neither was I until I arrived there.  I kept looking at the clocks in the Grand Rapids airport thinking, "Why didn't they already change those?  The time change was weeks ago!"  

While walking to the baggage claim, my little brain finally caught it......"You just lost that hour you thought you had gained!" 

Time to panic a bit!  (Depending on your music preferences I would like to suggest Flight of the Bumble Bee or the theme song for The Lone Ranger as the background music at this point.)

My comfortable, yet cute, Clarks clicked faster on the tile.  I actually beat the luggage handlers to the baggage carousel.  But alas, I soon discovered there really wasn't a need to rush in retrieving my suitcase.

It was still in Orlando with the sky cap I had tipped so handsomely at 5:45 AM!!

I'll spare you all the details and emotions that swirled once I finally connected with the shuttle driver I had also missed. (A fine young man named Matthew starting his senior year at Calvin College.  Oh, right.  No details)

Matthew and I made it to the Prince Center at 1:55.  I went running into the room where my first speaking critique was to begin at 2:00.  I tried my best to pant quietly and to not focus on how wild my hair must surely look.

"Smile, Sheri," I instructed myself.  "Just eat that mint, open your notes and smile!"

By 3:00, the critique was finished.  I had reported it all to Frank; found my room and taken a deep cleansing breath.  Never mind that I would wear the same outfit for fifteen hours.  I had successfully jumped over the hurdle of frustration and the reward was amazing.

For the next three days I was immersed in the most generous, openhanded sharing of information I've ever experienced.

Writers and speakers from 29 states and 2 Canadian provinces had all gathered with the same objective, "How can I do this better for the Kingdom of God?"

Carol Kent and her team drew the best trainers available today.  They clearly communicated the end goal, "Build this team of people.  Let's teach them exactly what we do and how they can do it, too."  

Why?

Why would you intentionally train others to step into the market place alongside you and become your competition?  It makes no sense!

But speaker Cindy Bultema articulated the end goal beautifully in one of our devotion times.  "We're all ONE team," she declared.  "And it's all about making Jesus famous."  

Because of this conference, I met new friends.  I was challenged and cheered.  I pushed past some wrong perspectives I've been holding and I set some clear goals for myself.

2 Corinthians 6 has been a focus passage for me this summer.  But one verse in particular is resonating with me since the Speak Up Conference.  "Please don't squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us." (Message)

Thanks to those who made this wonderful experience possible, I'm moving forward; not squandering one minute!

I'd love to hear about your summer adventures.  Stop by the comment section, won't you?






Followers