Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year End Encouragement

Depending on where you are in the world this may already be 2018.  So, just in case...


Actually, I'm aware this post will make it online just under the wire to be counted with the 2017 posts.  But I did promise an encouraging story to end on.  You will love this.  I share it with permission.

I was recently talking with a dear lady who's part of our congregation.  She and her husband are newly retired from the business world and from many years in education.  Their four adult children are raising healthy families of their own in locations all around the U.S.

Mary and her husband travel frequently these days; making memories with all the grandchildren.  She lights up when talking about them.

Their most recent journey was to visit their oldest son and his family in Arizona.  He serves as a worship pastor for a church of over 10,000 members.  This is a position he accepted after many years on the road with an internationally known band.

He and his wife follow the Lord closely while leading their children in the same way.  With good reason, mom and dad celebrate the choices their son has made over the years.

But things were not always so idyllic.

You see, this particular son was an inquisitive child.  Always on the move.  Always learning.  Always searching the world around him.

Keeping up with him was a full-time job for mom.  By the time he hit kindergarten, it was obvious he was also extremely intelligent.

But his first teacher was more concerned with maintaining an "orderly" classroom than with developing the different learning styles of the children entrusted to her.  Her declared objective was to teach this five year old boy to sit still in a desk so she could teach uninterrupted.

(Simple note: Little boys are designed to climb, explore, ask questions, touch icky bugs and run.  Seldom ever do they enjoy sitting still for long periods of time.)

Mary and her husband were very intentional about teaching discipline and respect to their children.  So they tried to support the teacher.  But for their active son, this classroom became a miserable experience.

Mary said that she began watching the light go out in her son's eyes ever so slowly.  He became quiet and withdrawn, even at home.  He started having stomach aches on a regular basis.  Getting ready for school was a time they both dreaded each day.

And almost every afternoon the teacher would meet Mary in the car line with this phrase, "Another bad day, Mrs. Arnold.  He had another bad day!"  

Just remembering caused Mary to drop her head ever so slightly as she told me about it.  The words still piercing all these years later.

Day after day the scene was repeated.She would manage to get her precious boy to school each morning only to get the same disappointing report each afternoon, "Another bad day, Mrs. Arnold.  Another bad day."

They survived the year but knew serious changes would have to take place before the next school year began.  So they searched and found a different school that was better equipped to develop the learning style of their child.

Still, through the years, the words of that first teacher often rang in her ears, "Another bad day, Mrs. Arnold.  Another bad day!"

Eventually, their son grew into a fine man who completed high school and college with honors.  His love of music led him to connect with three other young men and they developed an unconventional Christian band.

Their objective as musicians was to reach a young audience using songs with strong moral messages, including the Gospel.  They rose quickly in popularity and began playing in huge venues around the world.

At one of these concerts, Mary and her husband were given box seats.  They relished every moment watching their dear son sing to the packed house.  Each original song had some message of hope; pointing the listeners to Christ.

His parents were beaming.

The crowd loved the music, too. They applauded wildly after each number.  In fact when the concert concluded, the crowd rose to their feet calling out for an encore.

The band came back out on stage to sing one last song.  The applause was thunderous as the final notes faded.  Mary's son took another bow expressing his appreciation for the crowd.

That's when it happened.

He looked up into the box where his beloved parents were seated.  He pointed to his mother and said, "Another GOOD day, Mrs. Arnold.  Another good day!"

His words meant nothing to the crowd.  But with those two sentences, he erased all the discouraging declarations of that first teacher.  All the self-judgments of that young mother were washed away.

Mary and I cried together as she told me of the incredible moment.

Don't give up, dear reader.  No matter what the obstacles were in 2017, a new year is beginning.  No matter how many times you've heard a similar report of discouragement, don't give up.

Your "Good Day" is just around the corner, I'm sure.  Just keep moving forward.

Scripture puts it like this, "Weeping may last for the night.  But JOY comes in the morning."

Isn't that a great story of hope?!

May 2018 bring great blessing for you and all those you love!


Saturday, December 30, 2017

It's COLD!

"Baby, it's COLD outside!"  And I live in a state that's considered tropical.

When I see that people from Minnesota, Alaska and Ukraine are reading this blog, it makes me embarrassed to admit it - but I'm COLD!

Of course, we also just spent several days in North Carolina where the temperatures were below freezing.  They say your blood doesn't "thin out" when you move to warmer climates but I disagree. We lived in the mountains for twelve years.  We endured numerous blizzards and smaller snow storms.  We made chairs in the snow and ate ice cream, for Heaven's sake! 

But I just don't think I could do that so easily now.

John and Joy are visiting his family in New York where the temperatures are hovering in single digits daily.  Honestly, those of you who work and play in these conditions for four or five months each year.... my hat is off to you!

(Please, don't take off your hat as you'll immediately start losing precious body heat!)

This post isn't about the cold weather, although I had to mention it.  This post will be eclectic in nature as I've been so negligent in writing this month.

I must start out by wishing my darling husband -- Happy Anniversary!  We committed our lives to one another 38 years ago today.

Ours has not been a made-for-movies sort of love story.  But we are happy to report that in spite of all the normal ups and downs of living in an imperfect world, we arrive at this day still liking each other and looking forward to many more years together.

And for that, we're thankful!

Now an explanation of why I haven't been posting.  December 2017 felt like someone hit the nuclear reactor button on the 2nd and it just quit firing yesterday.

Don't get me wrong.  Most of the events were ones we planned and I thoroughly enjoyed every single one!  But today is the first truly quiet day I've had all month.  Well, here's a little synopsis:

  • Gingerbread houses with grands
  • Church Christmas Party
  • Family Communion (2 nights)
  • One Lovely Wedding
  • One Vow Renewal (10 Year)
  • Area Ministers' Banquet
  • Board/Staff Dinner (We cooked)
  • Grandparents' Day @ School
  • Shopping Adventures
  • Progressive Dinner
  • Several special lunch dates/coffees
  • Christmas Eve Service
We took a deep breath, then Frank and I got into our little red car at 5:30 A.M., drove 10 hours north and made it to NC in time to have dinner with his sweet mom.  Her big smile and warm hug made the trip worth every long mile.

Mom's new apartment is too small to accommodate her large family.  And all the siblings went back to work on the 27th.  So each of our meetings was at a restaurant in the area.  The waitresses laughed at us when we came in the last day.

Oh, I almost forgot.  While in Carolina, we drove another hour north to meet up with Amanda and Webb (adopted family.)  We needed to squeeze their newest little one which we hadn't met.  Also, my sister and brother-in-law drove over from Charlotte for a lunch date before we left.

I hear some of you saying, "Are you guys NUTS?!"  Believe me, we ask ourselves that all the time.  But no one ever accuses us of wasting opportunities to connect, either.

Our own Christmas was celebrated on December 23rd.  The children decided on a breakfast this year instead of Christmas dinner.  So we changed the time and menu to accommodate six tiny people who are more pleasant during morning hours.

What a time we had!

So much laughter.  So many smiles and hugs.  Such great surprises.  A few gag gifts.  Huge eyes and a couple of happy tears.

I think my favorite moment was after breakfast while we were still at the table.  As a family, we celebrated with our own advent wreath.  (Children love lighting candles and blowing them out.  Perfect way to capture everyone's attention.)

Frank assigned each of the young husbands an advent scripture.  Then one member of each family lit a candle and we all repeated aloud the identity of that candle.  Such delight to hear the blending of baby voices with more mature ones as together we declared,  "Jesus came to bring light, peace, joy and hope."  

Don't get me wrong.  It wasn't quiet or what you would usually consider "reverent" around our table.  We're a normal, loud family.  We have two budding drummer boys who think utensils are perfect substitute drum sticks.  One baby needed to nurse - NOW.  Two little girls were giggling.  And all the bigger ones were aware that beautiful gifts were waiting........just in the other room.

Our perfectly imperfect moment closed as we sang "Oh, come let us adore Him...."  Even with all its "blemishes," I think a new tradition was born that morning.

As your own Christmas season comes to a close, I pray you'll feel the warmth of Christ's Love wrapping you closely.

As you make your way through icy conditions, may His Peace serve to keep your heart un-frozen and beating with tenderness.

As the lights are packed away for another year, may His Joy flood your soul and brighten every corner.

As the new year begins, may His Hope keep you anticipating great days of blessing ahead.

It may be cold outside but may all our hearts and homes be a different story because of God's wonderful Grace!

(During one of our friend encounters this month I heard a story that will surely become part of my repertoire.  I immediately asked permission to share it here and have been saving it for the final day of the year.  Please check back tomorrow.  You won't be disappointed, I promise.)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Celebrating Vs. Surviving

Just LOOK at what I read this morning.....

"Mercy, Peace and Love be yours in abundance."  Jude 1:2

Simple.  Powerful.  Longed for.  Offered.

I sat and pondered this scripture for a long time this morning.  Then I immediately set about trying to memorize it.  Those eight lovely words were exactly what my heart needed for today. That small passage offers in Abundance so much of what we hope for at Christmas:
  • LOVE
It really holds such an important Christmas message.  Sometimes this season can quickly move from being a time we celebrate to being a time where we simply hang on and try our best to survive.  I don't think that's what the Architect of the Christmas story had in mind.

Most likely your Christmas celebrations are in full swing just like ours.  Looking over my calendar has been daunting during these three weeks following Thanksgiving.  

Since Nov. 26th we've.... 
  • Held a dinner for Southeastern University students. 
  • Hosted our five oldest grands for dinner and gingerbread house building.
  • Hosted the all-church Christmas party.  
  • Spent two full nights sharing communion with individual church families.
  • All while keeping pretty regular office hours.
This weekend we have a wedding.  And on Sunday I'll prepare/serve a meal for our board members and ministry staff families.  

Now you understand why (in the last post) I encouraged you to select and schedule your Most Important celebrations early.

Our Most Important - time with the grand babies - was marvelous indeed.

Frank and I spent most of that morning preparing.  Although there were a few extra errands mid-day that threatened to derail us, the prep time paid off.  When they started arriving, we were ready!

It's still lovely, outside weather here in central FL.  So Papa and babies spent a good half hour on the swings while Noni got the pizzas and fruit ready.  (Yes, real fruit to keep mommies happy.)

After dinner, we painted ornaments.  Oh, what a glorious mess!

Then came the main attraction: Ginger Bread Houses!!

"How wonderful!  You baked authentic gingerbread?"  

Are you kidding?!  Not a chance.

Why do you think they invented Gingerbread House KITS?  And why do you think I would need to re-invent the wheel?  Besides if we had to wait for me to do all that baking, we'd have to miss the experience all together.

Some corners are okay to cut.

There were five children ages 6, 5, 4, and two 2 year olds all trying to capture Noni and Papa's attention at the same time.  It was chaotic to say the least.

We had pre-made each house on Friday.  When it was finally time to start decorating, Frank and I were both twirling frosting guns like the original cake boss. 

Unbelievable mounds of candy completely hid the center of the work table we had lowered to a kid-friendly height.  And everyone was talking at the same time - Loudly!

After about ten minutes of leaning over the table helping first this one then the next, I glanced at Zachariah's little house.  It had almost nothing on it.  I straightened up (slowly) and looked around to find him.

"Frank, where's Zach?  There's nothing on his house."  (We've already established in an earlier post that I have been known to lose a child. Please don't judge.)

At that precise moment, Zach brought his chubby little two and a half year old self around the corner from the playroom.

"There you are!"  I scooped him up, kissed his sweet face and he flashed his signature grin.  "Let's get going on your house."

His huge blue eyes widened and he pointed while saying his best version of "My Howsh?!"

"Yes, your house.  Do you want these skittles on the windows?"  He answered with another big smile and a serious nod.  So I started gluing skittles.

It didn't take long to get distracted by someone's need for green frosting on their Bugle chip tree.  And Zach went missing again.  This time, Papa knew exactly where he was.

"Don't say anything to him.  Just watch," Frank whispered to me as Zach strolled back up to the work table.

Our brown-haired boy glanced first at his sister's colorful house, then at Noah's.  His nonchalance was epic as he reached up and silently filled both little fists full of candy.  A slow, casual turn and he was on his way back to the playroom; candy-laden hands by his sides.

Frank and I both followed him around the corner just in time to see the second fistful of colored sugar being crammed into his mouth.  We struggled to stifle our laughter.

"Zach!" When I said his name, he wheeled around.  Can't you just see the little chipmunk cheeks packed to capacity and the wide-eyed innocent stare he gave me?  "Come on, let's put some candy on your house."

It was a stellar and memorable evening for sure.

Perhaps your calendar isn't as full this year as usual.  Maybe you're dealing with sickness or some life event that has altered your normal Christmas activities.

Dear friend, may I challenge you to still choose Celebrating over Surviving this season?  With the help promised us all in Jude 1:2, you can do it.  Even in the midst of difficulty, the Father longs to shower you with:

  • Mercy
  • Peace
  • Love

Knowing that the Creator of the Universe sees and cares for each of us is abundant comfort indeed.

Blessings on you and those you love as we move toward Christmas finding something to celebrate each step of the way.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Most Important

When I was a little girl watching one of the three channels available on our television, we were often startled by a serious, commanding voice that would say, "We interrupt this program to bring you the following news bulletin....."

Everything would stop while we listened intently for the urgent news announcement.  It was always something of great importance that merited our full attention.  You could be sure everyone would be discussing it for days to come; so my parents wanted to hear every word.

I'd like to interrupt your life and make such an announcement right now........

Christmas is less than 30 days away.  It's vitally urgent that you identify and establish your "Most Important" for the 2017 Christmas season, if you've not already done so.

"Sheri, what in the world are you talking about?!"

I happen to know how critical it is that we intentionally chose the "Most Important" thing each season.  Otherwise, we'll come to January, 2018 and have to sadly acknowledge that we completely missed the one thing we really wanted to make happen before year's end.

Hopefully, this little post will push you toward getting your "Most Important" on the calendar right now.
  • Call that friend.  
  • Write that letter.  
  • Set up that lunch appointment.  
  • Get those pictures taken. 
  • Share that cake/pie.  
  • Spend time with that grandchild.  
Don't wait until the season's crush has rushed you right past your golden opportunity.

Several weeks ago, I watched a video illustrating the responsibility we all have of directing our lives.  It addresses how vital it is that we choose to give the "Most Important" elements priority.  It's entitled "The Empty Pickle Jar - A Lesson on Life."

(A link for the video is at the conclusion of this post.  I sincerely hope you'll take a few minutes to watch.)

Frank and I LOVE a new tradition we started three years ago.  It's the Papa and Noni Christmas night:  Pizza.  A Craft. Gingerbread Houses.  New Pajamas.  A Christmas Cartoon.   All with NO parents allowed.

(This year, Zach and Madi are old enough to join us.  I plan to rest the day before!)

We put that on the calendar for the very first weekend of December.  Once Frank and I agreed on a date, we sent an invitation to all five grands.  They responded with much cheering and squealing, their mommies reported.

This tradition is one of our Most Important.

It took a couple of weeks and a lot of back and forth to settle on another.  But at long last the Hawley/Schreck/Smith/McGhee family Christmas is also on the calendar.  Our adult children asked for a Christmas breakfast this year instead of dinner.  The menu matters not to me.  We'll start bright and early then celebrate until everyone falls exhausted into their vehicles to head home.

We also have plans to celebrate with different groups in our church family.  And our Christmas Eve service plans (a favorite) are well underway.

Bottom line dear reader, is this:  The season marking our Savior's Birth is well worth stopping to embrace.  It is undoubtedly one of the most important moments in human history and merits our full attention.  You can be sure people will be discussing Christmas far into the new year.

Some people I've encountered have already started with the "Bah!  Humbug!" attitude.  "Too much to do!  Too many people to please!  Too much commercialism!"

Well, I encourage you to take charge.  Choose to make this Christmas season intentional.  Establish what's "Most Important" first, then add whatever else you have time/money/room for.

The video link is here.....

Hope it speaks to your heart as it did mine.   

We'd love to hear about your "Most Important" choice for the season.  Tell us about it in the comment section below.....

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Broad Strokes

(This may sound like a bit of a soapbox post although that's not my intent at all.  Hugs to you all in advance.)

"Different strokes for different folks!"  It was a favorite statement for my mom.

Most often she would shake her head as she said it indicating she didn't really understand the reasoning behind someone's actions or words.  But she wanted us to appreciate the right/privilege of others to think differently than we did.

She seemed to be on a perpetual quest for truth and for better understanding of people and their perspectives.  (Now in an effort to be totally honest, Mom would be the first to admit she was sometimes just plain nosey.  :-)  But more often she was trying to understand.)

"Don't judge people, Sheri, until you've walked a day in their shoes!" - excerpt from Mom's Book of Common Quotes.

As a result, her example gave me the desire to understand others as well.  If someone was behaving in a way that made no sense to me, instead of automatically passing judgement I tried to ask questions:
  • "I've known you for many years but what you're doing now doesn't make sense based on how I've seen you behave before.  What is this about?"
  • "Why are you laughing at that statement?  Don't you know how hurtful it is to the other person?"
  • "You don't seem like an angry person most of the time, where are those harsh, caustic words coming from?"
Imagine how much more pleasant our personal circles (and our world as a whole) would be if we all adopted Mom's advice.  Find out their WHY before judging someone.

When we get to the bottom of most problems we can usually find a root of unwillingness to consider the perspective of another.  In simpler terms - selfishness.  And selfishness will never lead us to better understanding.

There was a trigger for this soapbox post.

I read a blog last week written by a former classmate.  As a young man, this fellow was someone I admired greatly.  He was brilliant, extremely talented, had a dry sense of humor and a genuine caring heart for those around him.  

We didn't really move in the same social circles.  It was more often our mutual love for music that gave me the opportunity to be around him.  As with most classmates, we lost contact and only recently did I find his blog postings.

His writings have made it apparent that we chose two totally different paths for our lives.  For forty-something years we've journeyed in opposite directions with our thinking and life choices. 

But he is an excellent writer.  And because I'd seen him as a "fair" person while in school together, I've read his posts in an effort to better understand his perspectives.

But imagine my shock when his most recent post called me heartless, racist, intolerant, greedy, entitled.......the list went on and on.  Some adjectives were too offending to share here.  I felt as though I'd been slapped in the face.

Let me back up.  He didn't name me personally.  But his post was a rant about the "horrors of evangelicals" and their "twisted conservative perspectives."  I'm evangelical.  I'm conservative.

So, in essence, he was talking about me.  He was talking about my dear husband; all my children; my closest friends.

Now, if he and I had the opportunity to sit down over coffee and talk face to face, I feel sure he would never apply those terms to me directly.  I'm sure he still has too much class, too much compassion to insult another so harshly.

But sitting alone in his office, typing words onto a blank screen, he began painting a picture of his frustrations by using a huge verbal paint brush.  He painted eloquently without ever pausing to envision a particular individual who would be impacted by his accusations.  He used broad, generalized strokes to paint a picture of a people group as he sees them; as he wants others to perceive them.

I'm not refuting his life experiences.  I'm not denying his right to express his frustration with the individuals who have behaved this way on his journey.

I AM asking that we all THINK before we use our platforms of influence to spout hurtful, generalized words without considering where they will land.

His writing reminded me of someone who would pick up a gun and begin firing randomly into a crowd without knowing or caring who would be hit.  We've lived this nightmare too many times in our country.  We soundly denounce anyone who would ever consider such behavior.

But MOST of us have sprayed others with careless, thoughtless words many times in our lives.  Some even make it a habit and then justify their behavior.

It's unlikely this individual will read my blog post.  Although, I have tried to consider him as I've written.  I've wished for the opportunity to ask, "Why are you so angry?  What has happened in your life to make you feel so disillusioned?  How can I pray for restoration in your life?"

Our Heavenly Father uses a big paint brush, too.

Not so sure?  Read Hebrews 11.  That chapter of the Bible is known as a listing of the Heroes of Faith.  God's Hall of Fame. 

Included in that list are murderers, liars, prostitutes, adulterers, cheaters..... harsh adjectives, indeed.  It's not a list most would consider noteworthy.  But because of their faith in God (not themselves) and because of repentant hearts, they are given a brighter ending for their life story.

Faith in God makes us all eligible to come under the broad strokes of GRACE; not judgement.  I for one, want (and desperately need) those broad strokes applied to my life.  How about you?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post.  Feel free to leave comments (both agreeing and disagreeing) in the box below.  Let's dialogue a bit....

Monday, November 13, 2017

Too Wonderful!

It was a celebration for the history books!

As a family, we just concluded three days of spectacular merry-making in honor of our dad's eightieth birthday.  We missed my brother's family.  But this was the first time in over four years so many of us have been together.  The entire weekend was amazing.

(I'm not gonna lie - we are all completely Exhausted!  But it's that contented, job well done kind of exhaustion.  You know, the kind of weary from fun you wouldn't have missed for the world but couldn't repeat right now if your life depended on it?  Yeah, that kind of tired.)

At the time of this posting, my sister and her family have flown home to NC.  My dad and his wife are pulling into their North FL driveway.  Frank is taking a power nap.  And the girls' families are in various stages of recovery.  How grateful I am for my little crew.

Dad heard multiple versions of the Happy Birthday song.  They were performed each time he was presented with one of his eight gifts. (One for each decade.)  We even sang the hysterical Smith family version,  "Happy, happy birthday.  We know this song is short."  (That's it.  The entire song.  Just two lines.) 

We planned far too many activities.  We ate too much food - both the healthy and the decadent, unhealthy kinds.  We laughed too loudly.  Slept too little.  And started missing each other far too much before we even began our "good-byes."

But Dad left this three day party knowing, he is important in all of our lives.

There was the opening taco dinner together on Friday.  A huge fish fry and BBQ lunch on Saturday.  Frisbee, Spike ball, conversation, and corn hole competitions ran throughout the afternoon. 

Uncle Chris delighted the bigger babies by coloring with them in the play room.  Noah and Spencer fell in love with their second cousins Seth and Robbie.  Aunt Vonnie squeezed babies to her heart's content. 

Of course, we concluded the day with a bonfire and s'mores.  (Until it started raining; then we all ran for the house.)

Frank even invited Dad to preach for our congregation on Sunday.  Our church family is so loving and gracious.  They provided the staccato responses of "Amen!" and "That's right!"   While Dad provided a rousing sermon entitled "Crossing the Finish Line!"  It was a lovely service.

A photographer in our church was on the ready following service and worked almost thirty minutes trying to capture a single family photo.  Thirty minutes might seem extreme until you realize this was a group of 20 people:

  • one infant
  • two toddlers
  • three small children 
  • one teenager
  • two keenagers 
  • and eleven regular adults all trying to keep looking forward in spite of adorable baby sounds and  hysterical jokes all around them.
Our poor photographer had his work cut out for him!

After nap time (which we all needed by Sunday afternoon,) we came back to church for a dinner of leftovers.  We gathered in the sanctuary, turned on the video recorder and enjoyed an ol' fashioned singing, led by Dad who absolutely loves to sing.  

He couldn't have been happier!

John played keys; Nathan played drums, Cody ran sound and Dad directed the proceedings. At some point, everyone present made it on stage.  (Except Cody.  Sound doesn't run itself.)  Our girls even did an impromptu rendition of "This is My Story."  Nothing so lovely as family harmony.

Before babies could get cranky, we gathered around Dad and Christeen to pray blessing for them.  What an honor after all the times Dad has prayed for us.  

Then just like that - our year of planning came to a close and we hugged one another several times before finally climbing into vehicles and heading to different homes for the night.  (My hero husband got up at 3:00 AM to get my sister and her family to the airport for their predawn flight.  Love that man o' mine!)
After a big breakfast, Dad and Christeen hit the road around 8 AM.  I spent the remainder of my day quietly doing laundry, cleaning floors and bathrooms, washing dishes, returning furniture to its proper place.   

One of my favorite lines from the entire weekend came from my sister.  She looped her arm through mine as we walked, leaned her head close to mine and said, "Mama would be proud of how we've celebrated Daddy!"  

My voice caught with emotion as I answered, "I think you're right."

(Deep Contented Sigh)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Today is the 80th birthday of my dad!

I realize how blessed we are to still have him around.  But this isn't your average 80 year old.  He's a lot more than just "around."  No cane or recliner for this guy.

(Well, he does sit in a recliner twice a day.  Once in the morning for the news and once in the afternoon for Andy Griffith and a nap, if possible.)

He still cares for over ten acres of property adjacent to the home where he grew up as a boy.  He's spent years carefully cultivating the land.  Planting fruit tress, grape vines, blueberry bushes and each spring, a small vegetable garden.  He tends a dozen cows, a donkey, chickens, cats and a favorite dog.

We finally convinced him only a couple of years ago that it wasn't safe for him to climb on his roof any longer.  He still loves to hunt and fish and does both regularly.  If some household repair is needed, he's more likely to do it himself than to call for a technician.

He managed the best he could without Mom for over six years after her passing.  Then two years ago he married a fine lady who grew up in the same community he did.  We're grateful for the joy Christeen now adds to his life.

Over 50 years of pastoring and he's still at that, too.  The little congregation at Sunny Hills was so thankful when Bro. Burke came along and agreed to help keep open their doors.  He preaches every Sunday.  Leads Bible study on Wednesday and does all his own hospital visits.

He sounded out of breath when I called early last week.  It surprised me and I asked rather anxiously, "Daddy, are you okay?  What are you doing?"  

"Oh, Baby.  I'm just trying to get a roll of hay loaded so I can take it down for my ol' cows."

"Daddy, is anyone helping you?!"

"Well, let me see....."

A pause while he "looks around."

"Nope, I don't see anybody else.  So I guess it's up to me."  (His version of humor.  Which elicits a serious eye roll from me.)

As I write this post to honor my dad, I realize that particular phrase has been his lifetime theme.  "I guess it's up to me."

As a twelve year old boy, he watched his father leave their family.  His older three brothers were away in the military.  Two older sisters had also moved away.  But there were still four sisters younger than himself and a mom who needed help.

So I've heard the stories of how he quietly became "man of the house" when other boys his age were still playing games and enjoying life.  The Great Depression was a fading memory for most in our country at that point.  But not in rural north Florida.  Many of those people were still living in great poverty.

My grandmother was left with nothing but a tin roof over their heads and the land around them.  She began to lean heavily on her twelve year old son.  Helping his family was up to him.

I've heard how he adjusted the man-sized straps on the old plow harness to fit his own slender shoulders.  The plow was hitched to a mule but had to be guided and "man-handled" in order to make any progress.

Many afternoons, he would come home from school and work with the mule until dark trying to till a garden for his mom. Hunting and fishing were no longer "fun" activities for that young teen-ager; they became the means of feeding his family.

Once during his high school years, my grandma let him know they really had no more food.  Dad walked several miles into town.  He bravely approached the local grocer and asked to open an account so his mother would at least have flour and meal to feed them.

He pledged to the grocer that he would be personally responsible for the bill.

It took over a year to pay back the credit loaned them for that dire season.  But my dad still gets a look of steely-eyed pride when telling about being able to make the final payment to the grocer.  Grandma had no financial resources, it was up to him.

He moved to Pensacola after high school, looking for work.  His first visit to a nearby church was where he met the beautiful brown-eyed girl he would later marry.  (What a joy it was to celebrate Mom and Dad's fiftieth wedding anniversary the year before she died.)

My sister, brother and I grew up in Pensacola.  Our story is exactly like many of yours.  We didn't have much in the way of finances but we never really knew we were poor.  Mom and Dad always found a way to get whatever we truly needed.  Providing was up to him.

Daddy often worked two or even three jobs at a time when necessary.  He completed building projects at every church he pastored.  He willingly drove long hours to get to my sister or me when we needed his help.  His church members all have great stories of their pastor who cared well for them and their families.

These days, Daddy does stand up a little slower.  And he listens to the television pretty loudly.  (Not that he has a hearing problem or anything.)

But his face still breaks into a smile when he sees any of his children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.  His hugs are just as tight.  And the catch in his voice when he says, "I love you too, Honey!" warms all our hearts.

My dad came from a generation of men who knew a good reputation was important and that maintaining it was strictly up to them.  Ask anyone who knows my dad and they'll give you a glowing report of how he helped them or encouraged them at some point in their journey.

He passed on an appreciation for that concept to his family.  I married a man who understands both the importance and blessing of standing as the one who takes responsibility.  (I'm glad to report my daughters have followed suite with their husbands, as well.)

Today marks eight decades of Lavon "Pete" Burke walking on this earth.  I'm proud of the man he became and the life he has lived.  I'm glad to be his daughter.

"Happy Birthday, Daddy!  I love you, too!"

How about you?  Are you blessed to still have parents living 80 years or beyond?  Do they live near you or far away?  We'd love to hear your stories in the comment section......

Monday, October 30, 2017

Weather / Whether

It's COLD!!  And we're ecstatic!

I realize that this time of year, "cold" is a relative term.  But the past two days here in central FL have been absolutely Brilliant with their blustery coolness.  Please remember, any day in FL without humidity is Huge.

So, here's the real benchmark - our air conditioning unit which runs almost continually from March through December has been off 48 hours!  Yep, it's just that wonderful.

It was entirely too cold to sit out on the porch for devotions this morning. As I write, there's a blanket on my feet and my third cup of hot tea sitting beside me.  It's marvelous!  Completely marvelous!!

Fall hit the northeast weeks ago but not here.  Many of you are already experiencing your first snow.  We've still been using sunscreen.

I checked the temps this morning in two of my favorite places - Tel Aviv and London.  (60's and 40's.)  I knew friends there would be happy for us to be breathing a little easier in these parts.

Talk about a "Breath of Fresh Air.....!!"

Some may think it silly to be so bubbly about the weather. But my 25 years in North Carolina gave me a true appreciation for changing seasons.   Piling on the layers.  Snuggling under blankets.  Watching a fire roar to life; listening to its distinctive crackle.

Kristin and Cody have a real fire place in their little house.  So they will be hosting family dinner tonight.  We'll all enjoy servings of our official "cold weather foods" - Grandma Schreck's goulash, Meagan's taco soup and bread.   We'll pile into their living room and listen as the children relish the mysteries of a live fire.

You've probably caught on by now, it doesn't take much for us to celebrate.

Yesterday was a celebration day for Ava Quinn.  Her parents joined other parents of our church in dedicating their children to God.  Always such a special time.  Can you believe Ava is already five months old?

Not sure who told me this first but it's so true:  "When children are small the days seem to drag and the years seem to fly!"  

We also marked Cody's birthday last week which falls two days after their wedding anniversary each October.  They've now been married 3 years and Cody hit the Big 30!  Next week, we'll celebrate my Dad's 80th birthday together.  Great plans for that.

There have been other tidbits of news but I won't take time to share them today. Instead I'd just like to reference the title of this post by saying: Whether your weather be warm or wonderful; whether your children be under foot or over corporations; whether your celebrations be great or small, I pray you LIVE  LIFE to the FULL this week!


Monday, October 23, 2017

Pot O' Gold

This may actually qualify as an addendum to the "Hospitality" post.

We just said good-bye to guests who turned my house upside down and inside out.  They were LOUD, persistent and kept insisting on our full attention.  One gentleman even went to the bathroom with the door wide open!

But these visitors also gave the best snuggles and kisses we've ever had.  So although I'm exhausted and still waiting for someone to pick up a rather mangy-looking teddy bear before bedtime, I couldn't be happier for their visit.

You've most likely guessed that we played the "Noni and Papa" role tonight.  I'm a bit ashamed to admit..........we only had the three big ones for dinner and games.  We lacked the courage necessary to tackle all six on a Monday night.

I kept the menu simple - TACOS!

Upon arrival, Abby found the "mach-kurs" and began coloring right away.  Papa helped make paper airplanes for the boys who immediately began challenging one another to see whose aviary accomplishment would fly farthest.

Noah (4) volunteered to pray for our meal.  He thanked the Lord profusely for Noni and Papa having them over.

Spencer finished every bite.  He's six and knew all the right moves for grown up dining.  "No, we have to sit and wait for everyone to finish."  

Abby (5) requested seconds of the chips but not the meat.  Fine with Noni!  Nutrition is no longer my responsibility.

Papa cleaned the kitchen while I helped with coloring projects and organized puzzle pieces.  (Can't do that with the two year olds around.)

Once everything was put away, someone announced, "Time for hot tea!"  So we produced everyone's special cups and moved to the screened porch to share our tea. Each of them chose books for Noni to read while we sat and listened to the rain.

Abby and Spencer have spirit week at school which means costumes for each day.  Today was pajama day.  Easy enough, except Spencer left home with shoes, socks, pajamas and ONLY Pajamas!  Daddy had to make a quick trip back home for that must have additional "under" layer.

Tomorrow is "book character" day.  So Abby will be a make believe princess and Spence will be Mark Twain.  Abby said Mommy has her costume all set except the jewels.  Then she flashed that adorable, dimpled grin in my direction.  I didn't exactly run to my jewelry box but it didn't take long to get there.

Needless to say, her blue eyes lit up when she saw herself in the mirror once Noni had finished outfitting her with "jewels"!

Just that fast, the evening was winding down and it was time to transport our treasures back home for bedtime.  Hugs.  Kisses.  Thank you's in abundance.  A flurry of collecting socks, shoes, airplanes, books.  One desperate dash to the potty.  Seat belts buckled and "I love you's" yelled over the drizzling rain.

Tail lights exiting the drive signaled I could safely plop down on the couch with a sigh of relief.  Joy and Meagan are truly my heroes!

"Sheri, what about the title of the post?" you may be thinking.

During dinner I happened to mention that Papa and I had seen a rainbow right over our neighbor's house this morning.  It was unexpected because it hadn't rained yet.  Spencer spoke up and said, "I'd sure love to find that pot of gold!"

Faster than a leprechaun could leap a four-leaf clover I looked at him with a serious expression and said,  "Papa and I have three pots of gold right here!"

Spencer's eyes went wide.  Abby looked up from her plate.  Noah asked first, "Wehar, Noni!  Wehar's de goald?"

"Why, it's right here and here and here!"  I pointed slowly to each child.  Noah got that far away puzzled expression he gets when processing what he's heard.

When realization dawned, he broke out in a huge grin, "Noni, I not a pot o goald."  

"Yes you are, sweet boy!  You and Spencer and Abby are BETTER than any pot of gold to Papa and Noni!" 

They all three beamed.

How about you?  What's your favorite memory from visiting your grandparents?  Any funny stories from your own visiting treasures?  Comments are always welcome!

Friday, October 20, 2017


Oh, how VERY glad I am to have my husband home!

He and 15 others from our church just completed a short term mission assignment in El Salvador.  They came home exhausted and exuberant!  The vocational building project we started some six years ago is almost complete.

While he was away, I had the joy of hosting several people in our home for various reasons.

During our first trip to El Salvador in 2011, our original team assignment had to be scraped.  We were quickly re-assigned to work with a struggling little church positioned literally on the side of a mountain.

Within just a few days, our hearts were knit for eternity with the young pastors, their children and the beautiful people of that mountain community.  There was no government assistance for the families trying to scratch a living from the uncooperative soil.  That meant no water lines, no sewer system and sparse electrical service.

Yet in spite of the harsh living conditions, we found them to be some of the most hospitable people we'd ever met.  "Mi casa, es su casa!"   (Thanks to Margret Register, my eighth grade Spanish teacher, for that line.)

We tend to hear that popular phrase and imagine some sprawling hacienda with Antonio Banderas waving to us from the grand staircase of the entryway, "My home is your home!"  But on the mountain of Portellious it has a different connotation.

"Welcome!  Would you like a glass of rain water collected by my cistern?" 

"Have a tortilla, won't you?  She's frying another one on that stone in the lean-to kitchen now." 

"That's a long walk up the mountain.  Sit with me a while on this wooden bench.  My husband built it."  

"Oh, you need a toilet?  Yes, my outhouse is over there." 

"Mi casa es su casa!"

You get the idea.

During one of our hikes up the mountain, we experienced a torrential downpour.  The rain started just after we'd arrived at the home of one of the church members.  They gladly made room for our team to join them.  We crowded together onto the narrowly covered areas outside their sleeping room and the shelter that served as a kitchen.

They spoke no English and we knew only a few phrases in Spanish.  But we all smiled and sang for one another while their baby slept and the chickens clucked and the storm roared.  I left there feeling I had been hosted like royalty.

It gave me a new view on hospitality!

I grew up living in a house that was open to strangers and friends alike almost all the time.  Mom never worried much about her carpet or curtains or special dishes.  She just wanted people to feel welcome.  And they did!

Over the years, I somehow began to focus more on appearance than on atmosphere when entertaining.  And that subtle shift caused me to stop inviting people to our home at random times.

They could only come when I'd had plenty of notice.  Prepared a full meal.  Sanitized the guest bath.  Touched up the living room paint job.  The list went on and on.

But this year, Frank and I made a decision to change that.  Now granted, with just the two of us living here it is much easier to keep things tidy.  And I must be honest, we also have more room to hide a mess quickly when necessary.

Even so, we've decided to keep the priority on enjoying the company instead of impressing the company.  It makes for a much more relaxed visit.

There was a season in my life when I would hand guests a set of clean sheets and say, "These are for the bed you'll be sleeping on in that room.  Welcome!"  I don't have to do that anymore.  But I don't rush for the paintbrush, either.

And we've discovered there's a hidden secret about hospitality that our friends in El Salvador know well.  When you open your heart and home to visitors, it breaks you out of the ugly prison of selfishness and moves you into the beauty of kindness.  That is a move worth pursuing!

Hope you find a little something to ponder for yourself as we approach the 2017 Season of Celebrating.

What about you?  Did you grow up living in the house that was open to all the neighbor kids?  Do you enjoy hosting surprise guests?  Or do you prefer more notice?  I'd love to hear your take on hospitality in the comment section below.  


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!"


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


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.


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


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?


“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?