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?






Monday, July 17, 2017

One Brave Lady

I've recently reconnected with a writer/speaker I greatly admire named Carol Kent.  And I just returned yesterday from attending the conference she puts on annually called Speak Up.  (More on that later.)

Today, I want to write about why I've always thought Carol was such an awesome lady.

In January of 1996, Frank and I started meeting with our NC state women's director, Sandra Bass, to help polish the upcoming fall conference.  This one was going to blow the roof off!

We took the theme developed by her committee and started dreaming outside every box that had ever contained the event.  Together, we set a bold goal of recruiting 1000 women to attend.  Average attendance had been growing each year but this was 25% more than ever before.

(Frank has always had a knack for seeing the vision of another and cheering them forward to even greater things.  It's a gift.)

We visited the conference location together.  We helped think through decorations, surprises for the ladies, menus, room assignments for the break out sessions, vendor booth locations.  Every detail down to the number of balloons needed for a maximum impact balloon drop on the last night.

Sandra had even received permission to bring in a popular speaker who wasn't part of our denomination.  This lady had written several books and was appearing regularly on Christian television and radio.  Her name - Carol Kent.  This was going to be BIG!

Everything fell into place beautifully!

On the Monday before the retreat was to begin on Thursday, we drove to Raleigh.  My sister and her husband were taking care of our girls while we worked the event.

That's when we first got news of a major storm developing off the coast of FL.

We prayed for those people because we knew well the devastation a hurricane can cause.  This one was huge and we even started getting some rain from it all the way up in the Carolinas.

Within hours it became apparent that this hurricane, gaining in strength, would bypass FL.  It was moving directly toward the coast of NC.

Sandra started getting calls from our coastal churches.  Their ladies wouldn't be able to leave home with the storm coming toward them.

We met her at the retreat center early Wednesday morning to start setting up.  Should we cancel? Could we cancel?  The financial repercussions for pulling the plug would be extreme; but safety was most important.

NC is a big state and at last (with the help of her team) she decided we should carry on in spite of losing our coastal ladies. But we faced yet another problem.  Many of the women had signed up for the conference just because Carol Kent was our promised speaker.

Was this lady from Michigan, where they never have hurricanes, going to fly into Charlotte with the storm threatening?  Sandra placed the call to find out if she was still willing to come and serve as our keynote speaker.

That's when we found out just how intrepid and committed Carol Kent is.  Her response was, "Absolutely!  Let's do this!"

The rest is history.

Hurricane Fran did make landfall on the NC coast.  But the winds continued with tropical force traveling almost 150 miles inland.

We were getting rain in Charlotte but our girls were experiencing the brunt of the storm in Raleigh!  My sister did a great job keeping them all calm even when the power went out.

Thankfully, we never lost power at our conference venue in Charlotte.  The storm was so massive however, that only about half the registered number of ladies were able to travel to us.

But we carried on.  Carol used some humor to calm skittish nerves then challenged the women during each message she was set to deliver.  And by the time we left on Saturday, the skies had returned to their famous Carolina blue.

I was just starting out as a teacher/speaker at that time.  Carol told us about a conference she had launched to train speakers for ministry called "Speak Up."  I remember wishing I could attend such a conference.

Carol's fearlessness and servant heart impacted me in a big way during our 1996 fall retreat.  She may have been shaking in her cute, black leather boots, but we never saw it.  She encouraged Sandra (her hostess) and spoke life to the ladies who did come.  

Who knew we would end up living within 30 miles of one another?  Who knew I'd have the chance to attend her conference in Michigan, 21 years later?  And who knew she would once again be speaking into my life?

Well, I guess the answer is obvious - the Father knew!  He hears all our whispered prayers and His memory is much better than ours.

I'm thankful for the opportunity He gave me to observe Carol during that potentially frightening experience.  Bravery shows up in some of the most unexpected places but it will always challenge others to stand tall too.

Be that Brave Leader today, dear friend.  I can promise, someone is watching YOU and only the Father knows how your bravery will impact their life!





Saturday, July 8, 2017

Same Coin

"You are the best thing since sliced bread and peanut butter!"

"You are the biggest disappointment since the death of my cat!"

"You are her favorite teacher of all time!"

"You are her worst nightmare of a teacher!"

"Your message and card were perfect for how I'm feeling; thank you!"

"Your message on that card sounded like you think I'm not doing my job; thanks a lot!"

At some point in each of our lives we encounter the "cousins" I've illustrated with these quotes. We've all experienced moments of praise from others.  And if you haven't experienced some criticism I wonder if you're paying attention.

Many years ago, I was sharing with a mentor how perplexed I was by the ability of some to extol our work but then turn right around and also express severe disappointment.  I went on to tell that it was easy to believe the good things they shared but oh so painful to hear the criticism.

My friend listened patiently until I could totally unpack my rather large suitcase of emotional struggles.  Then came some of the most simple yet profound advice I've ever received.

"Sheri, flattery and criticism are cousins; two sides of the same coin. Be cautious of both."  She paused for me to make a note.   "You're never really quite as wonderful as some want to say.  But you're also never quite as horrible as others want you to believe." 

For almost thirty years now I've been reminding myself of this truth.

Something in each of us longs to be seen at our best.  We want people to perceive us as smart, kind, creative, loyal......  you can add your own adjectives.  And when someone recognizes a good deed we've done or an encouraging word we've shared, it makes us glad.

Nothing wrong with accepting someone's genuine gratitude.  Thank you should be a phrase we all use and hear with liberality.

The problem comes when we begin to need those words of praise in order to feel good about who we are.  Ask yourself this question, "Can I serve even if no one sees or acknowledges what I've done?" HMMMM!  Tough one.

By the same token, we can not allow the disappointment and frustration of others to shape or define who we are.  Remember, you're never quite as horrible as they want to make you feel.

And no one is in charge of your feelings except YOU.

My mentor went on to explain, "There is almost always an element of truth in both praise and criticism.  You must learn to sift through all the fluff,  recognize the kernel of truth and take that to heart."  A pause for more note taking.  "Acknowledge there are things you can/should change; then work on them.  And feel free to enjoy a moment of encouragement; then tuck it away and move on."

Not real sure why it felt important to share this truth with you today.  But hopefully it will be a help for you as it has been for me.

Praise and Criticism; Same Coin.  Find the kernel of truth; tuck it away; move on.

In other news:

  • Today our little Zachariah Avery Schreck is two years old!  How can that be?!  His huge eyes and dimpled smile melt every heart around him.  He giggles and laughs more than he cries. And although the term "tiny tank" comes to mind when thinking of him, he's extremely tender with baby Ava.  
  • Kristin had her first experience with stitches last night.  While helping friends unpack in their new home,  the knife she was using slipped and gouged a deep opening on the side of her hand. Five stitches; an invitation to church for the doctor (new to our area) and another bonding moment with her dear husband.  
  • Frank will get to fly a plane today for the first time ever.  (This will be a post all its own next week.)  As part of his 60th birthday, I bought an hour lesson/experience that was offered at our local airport.  The instructor will show him what to do then hand the controls over to Frank! We're both pretty excited.
Blessings for you and all those you love this weekend!














Friday, June 30, 2017

Birthday Five

Abigail Grace turned the magic 5 today!  We're so proud of the sweet little girl she has become.

My mom, her great grandma, would say she's full of vim, vigor and vitality!  And if you throw in a dash of "pink spah-kul" you'll have a perfect description of our Abby.  (Pink is her favorite color and everything she chooses needs at least a little bit of sparkle.)

Papa and I invited her for birthday lunch and told her she could choose anywhere she wanted to go. She paused only for a moment and shouted into the phone, "Chick-Fila!"  

Please bear in mind that Spencer, her older brother, has chosen Chili's for each of his birthday lunches.  (We start the celebrating at four when potty training and potential choking are well behind us.  No pun intended.)

So at the appointed time, I rendezvoused with Mom and Dad to collect our sparkly princess.  She was literally beaming.  Her running monologue began as soon as I closed my car door.

"Everybody keeps calling me the 'Birthday Gurhl', Noni!  I talked to Grandma this morning and Grandpa was already at work.  Sometime before bedtime he'll call and sing for me.  We had donuts for breakfast.  Spencer already gave me his present.  Aunt MehMeh brought me balloons and an Elsa puzzle."

She joyfully shared her life for the full fifteen minute drive only interrupting herself to announce that she needed a potty - NOW!  Thank heavens we were near my hairdresser's shop.

We met up with Papa and headed straight for the Chick-Fila.  Abby asked for a grown up lunch of 8-count nuggets and a Sprite and french fries - All. Her. Own!  Gotta love those middle kids who have to share everything.

Even though ice cream was available there, we had to leave and drive to Dairy Queen.  She wanted vanilla ice cream with a cone in a cup and two cherries.  Papa thrilled her by asking the attendant for FIVE cherries - one to mark each year of the birthday girl.

We had to go straight home then because tonight was the conclusion of Vacation Bible School.  It's been such a great week for the children that Abby never even complained that her birthday lunch had to be cut short. Big hugs.  Sincere thank you's.  Up the stairs to bed.

I'm sure many of you are also in the middle of Vacation Bible School season either preparing or concluding.  Allow me to share one closing wrinkle to this simple post.

Some wonder if children really register what's done for them or how much truly sticks with those so young. Especially when you consider how much effort is required for parties, cards, Sunday school, special phone calls, VBS.  Do they really retain any of it?

As I drove home from the office this week, I called my sweet mother-in-law.  We chatted about several general things and then she asked about our plans for Bible school.

"Yes, it begins tomorrow," I said.  "We've worked hard and we're very excited about loving on the children of our neighborhood."

"Sheri, I still remember going to Vacation Bible School when I was a little girl.  I went to the one at First Baptist Church and it was wonderful!"  My 82-year old mom began describing in great detail all the elements of her experiences.  I listened as she painted the vivid picture.

Her closing statement struck me most, "I promise you, Sheri, I can close my eyes and still smell that church building.  I want to visit there sometime and see if it's still the same as I remember."

Every part of her VBS experience from 75 years before was vividly burned into her mind.

So, ask again - does it mater?  Absolutely, dear volunteer.  Give it your best effort and know that the memories you help create for children may well out live you!




Saturday, June 24, 2017

Memory-making & Celebrations

June remains (traditionally) the month of celebrations.  Graduations, Father's Day, vacations and weddings.

Last Sunday we planned to celebrate the guy who serves as the key foundational figure of our growing tribe:  Frank Hawley!
  • He was the ideal daddy for our three little girls.  
  • He loved them lavishly through their teen years.  
  • He encouraged their early flights from our nest. 
  • He cheers them as adults. 
  • He walks tall as the embracing "father" to our "sons."   
  • As pastor, he has given countless daddy hugs.
  • He has listened as surrogate father to more struggles than can be counted.  

Father's Day was designed with men like him in mind!

So, of course, we wanted to make a memory by giving him the perfect celebration expressing how much we appreciate all he does.

Plans were made days in advance. (The young dads are celebrated by their own families during Sunday lunch.  Daddy/Papa is honored during the evening meal.) The menu was set on Wednesday.   Kristin came by to decorate Saturday afternoon.  I started cooking Saturday morning. Meagan and Joy prepared their dishes around naps and baby bedtimes.

Can't you just hear the angelic chorus rising in five-part harmony as Dad walks into the dining room?

Only, that's not how it happened!

We're a close family.  We all love one another dearly.  We all had the same objective - honoring Dad. But we are also - ALL HUMAN BEINGS!

There were a LOT of obstacles that came up as we gathered for our memory-making event:

  • My huge platter of Greek chicken and potatoes didn't cook as quickly as I'd hoped.  So when everyone arrived, the oven was still going strong.  It's Florida, folks.  Once a house gets hot and you add twelve more bodies, the temperature just keeps climbing.
  • One aunt was accidentally whacked in the back of the head by one of my perfect grandchildren who was joyfully waving around a tall box.
  • Little boys don't always close the door entirely as they dash through on their way to the back yard.  (Did I mention the house was already hot?)
  • A rather loud discussion was taking place between the sons.  Who each know they're right on nearly every subject you bring up.  They have only to convince the other two.
  • One daughter was opening and closing cabinets trying to find the right dish for serving her sides.
  • I hadn't finished wrapping my gift for Frank so I kept trying to slip off to the spare bedroom discreetly.  (Refer back to point three about little boys who also like to explore.)
  • Ava woke up just as we got ready to pray and she was HUNGRY.  Or WET.  Or BOTH. Babies intuitively know they aren't expected to be patient yet, so she told us.  Loudly!
By the time I took my seat and looked down our long, cramped table to catch sight of Frank seated at the other end, I was concerned.  What if he felt disappointed by the chaos we were calling his celebration?  But the smile on his face dispelled any questions I had.

Frank understands, it's the imperfections that make each family gathering so wonderful.  He saw me looking and gave me a wink.  I relaxed.

Tell the truth, isn't it most often the "disasters" you remember and laugh about with friends and family?  The camping trip that was rained out.  The wedding bouquet that was tossed over everyone's head.  The stumble while walking in the graduation line.  The suitcases that took a different flight. The keynote speaker who called in sick.  The list goes on but you get the idea.

Our Father's Day celebration could have taken a bad turn at any moment had we all expected it to be flawless.  But when you study the most beautiful fabrics, you quickly discover they're lovely because of the various flaws not in spite of them.  

As you approach your own celebrations this summer, try not to be frustrated with the imperfections. Instead, watch for the beautiful fabric that will result from all the imperfect humans participating. Relax.  You're making memories!

We'd all love to hear about one of your favorite "imperfect memory moments."  Just click the comment button below and share it with us.




Monday, June 12, 2017

Entitled or Entrusted?

Have you ever worked with someone who had an "Entitlement" mindset?  Someone who feels everyone around "owes" them something?  Dealing with people like that can be very frustrating!

During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at college, I worked a rather challenging job.  Somehow (they must have been desperate for dependable workers) I was hired to work at one of the most prestigious clothing stores in Pensacola - Sam's Style Shop.

Yes, this severely "fashion-challenged" student was hired to suggest what other women should wear! (Honestly, I can't decide whether to laugh or cringe as I tell you this.  Most of you already know I don't even attempt to dress myself anymore.  The girls put all my outfits together and Frank nods yea or nay.)

Because I was never late and because I never complained about whatever lowly task was assigned, I soon became a favorite with the manager.  Her name was Lu and she was both a fashionista and a bright business woman.

Many times she would whisk me into the office before allowing me on to the sales floor.  A belt added here, a jacket or scarf there.  Once the improved ensemble was created, she would turn me around; nod approval; then shove her "salvaged clothing design" out to sell!

This store catered to wealthy clients.  Those ready to spend some serious money for quality clothing. One lady came in while I was working and purchased an entire wardrobe for her daughter who had just been accepted to Harvard as a law student.

Naturally, all sales associates worked on commission.  We were paid an hourly wage ($2.20 in those days) but the real money for us was in selling entire outfits to the customers.

If they looked at a skirt, we quickly produced the matching jacket and a separate blouse.  If they came in searching for a more casual look, we suggested multiple colors, prints and even accessories. (Fortunately for me, these were usually grouped together making it almost fool proof.)

Our job was to set up each potential buyer in one of the plush dressing rooms then not let them leave that mirrored room until they had settled on an outfit....or two.  Many days my little high heels covered several miles as I ran back and forth to get the different sizes, colors and styles the ladies wanted to try.

This job was not for the faint of heart.

Apparently, I was friendly enough to pull in a few customers.  And like I said, the manager was kind to me. But there was one lady who had worked there for years.  (I can't even remember her name; we'll call her Mary. )

Mary quickly established that I was NOT to approach any of her regulars. I understood and her boundary lines were fine with me.  Only she spent most of her time sitting in the break area and I had no idea which ladies were her patrons.

There were countless times that I would work with a customer, running back and forth; finally bring them right to the point of a sale only to have Mary swoop in and say, "Thanks, Sheri!  This lady has been coming in here for years.  I'll take it from here."

I was young and didn't like correcting anyone older than me; especially not right in front of the buyer. How was I to combat Mary's smooth technique?

Finally, one evening while helping close up, I sheepishly addressed the problem with Lu.  "Aw, Sheri! Mary feels entitled to those sales because she's been here so long.  No, she doesn't do the work.  But her attitude is that she paid her dues years ago and now she expects you to do the leg work and let her coast.  I know it's not fair but she does have seniority.  Just try to avoid getting into it with her."

Fortunately for me, I knew my time working there was only temporary.  But the lesson was one I've carried through life.

When we married, I watched Frank live out the opposite of entitlement thinking. His philosophy has been to never ask anyone to do a task he wasn't willing to do himself.  Even when training someone. You do the work.  You do the work with them.  Let them do the work; you assist and cheer.

Then just this past week as I prepared a sermon about the blessings of God in our lives, I hit on the perfect antidote for living with an attitude of entitlement.

We aren't Entitled - we're Entrusted!

We aren't entitled to all the blessings of a life with Christ.  But incredible blessings have been entrusted to us (His children)  because of His grace and abundant love for us.

He also trusts us to be generous with those blessings and to deal compassionately with others in turn. Understanding God's lavish love causes us to respond with a sense of profound gratitude.  (No room for selfishness there.)

God owes me nothing.  My husband owes me nothing.  My family and friends owe me nothing.  But the love I've been given is generous and I'm a very thankful woman!

Hopefully, Mary had someone that eventually helped her come to understand the great chasm between Entitled and Entrusted.   But you and I can certainly grasp this truth now.

Live today knowing that every relationship and every thing in your life has been entrusted to you.  I promise this perspective will cause your gratitude meter to soar!

Blessings, Entrusted Ones!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Grand Babies

It's graduation time again!

So much joy and laughter, excitement mixed with a few tears.  And always a bit of anxiety for those launching into a "Next Chapter" season of their journey.  But our graduations have only been from K5 and K4 so thankfully, no anxiety for our little graduates.

Spencer walked in his cap and gown on May 23.  (Which just happened to be the same day Noni graduated from high school.......41 years earlier!)  His day of celebration was enhanced because Grandma and Grandpa Schreck were in town to meet baby sister, Ava.

We all arrived early enough to take over the back row with our purses and diaper bags and baby seats and cousins.  There were five lively cousins.  Four grandparents with IPhones.  Three bouncy balloons. Two parents beaming.  And a kindergarten student standing tall.  (Yes, that was a play on 12 Days of Christmas. Read back over it with the song in mind.  It'll make you smile.)

When they called "Spencer Schreck", there was a rather uninhibited cheer that rose loudly from the back row.  (Uncles Nathan and Cody congratulated themselves on causing heads to turn on behalf of their nephew.)

When it was Spencer's turn to take the mic and share his assigned part, he quoted all of John 14:6     without missing a beat.  Linda and I nodded at one another with big grandma tears and concurred that surely our grandson was the most amazing student on that stage!

Last week it was Abby's turn for the spot light.  She sang songs along with her K4 classmates, quoted scriptures and even counted to 100 by fives on her own.

We could hear her raspy little voice above the others when they got to one of her favorite songs, "I am a Pwomis.  I am a pastabilwity.  I am a pwomis wif a capitahl P.  I am a gweat big bunduhl of Potenshealwity."  (Translation: I am a promise.  I am a possibility.  I am a promise with a capital P.  I am a great big bundle of potentiality!)

Abby has no problem attacking words that shouldn't be part of her vocabulary for another few years. She doesn't let pronunciation slow her down one little bit.  I, for one, applaud her fierce bravery.

Several weeks ago, we all had the rare opportunity to eat together at a local restaurant.  As soon as the waiter looked in her direction, Abby piped up, "I'll have a stwahberwy lemalaide, please."  She made eye contact with him and pushed her pink glasses up on her nose for added emphasis.

He graciously stifled a chuckle and answered, "As long as you keep asking so politely, I'll keep them coming for you, little lady!"  And he did.

Zach and Madi have both been up in the middle of all our excitement.  But it's Noah that has one more adorable word story you must hear.

With so much activity and so little time, I joined the girls who had decided to grab a quick lunch before putting the babies down for their naps.  Loading all those precious behinds in carseats is a task not to be taken on by the faint of heart.

While the gathering and loading was taking place I called out over all the babble to the girls, "Hey, why don't we go to Zaxby's or Wendy's today?"

Noah was barreling down the sidewalk in order to answer the summons of his mom before she could reach the discipline point.  But when he heard my suggestion, he wheeled around on his three year old heels, put his little hand in the air with palm facing his own blond head, then waved it with each syllable for emphasis, "But, Noni. Ina go to chikferay!!"  (Translation:  But, Noni!  I want to go to Chick-Fil-a!)

He looked just like a miniature Italian mob boss waving that hand which caused me to burst out laughing.   As soon as I could catch my breath I responded to him,  "Well of course we need to eat at Chick-Fil-a!  Where else would we go?!"

Probably the take away for today's post would be this:  Don't bow to the master of perfection. Celebrate what you can do.  Try a few things that seem over your head.  Your potentiality may surprise even you.

And of course,  you'll need to celebrate with a Stwahberwy Lemalaide of your own!








Friday, May 26, 2017

Together

Every year, about this same time, if you watch the treetops you'll see an amazing thing.  It begins happening in the spring and sometimes goes into early summer.  Every year I know it's surely coming and every year I find myself fascinated, amazed, cheering yet again.

Sheri, what in the world are you going on about?

It's the Power of Together!

You must be watching for it but if you are, you'll witness this phenomenon repeating itself again and again.  I'm talking about the way birds work together to protect their young.  

I've seen it thousands of times and I bet you have, too.  A large, hungry bird swoops in to snatch eggs or even babies from the nest of smaller birds.  But he almost always gets something more than he bargained for.....Fierce Togetherness! 

You see, those smaller parents aren't willing to give up their young without a fight!  I've seen them attack a bird many times their size in order to beat back the threatening predator.  They screech and peck at the monster trying to steal their prized possessions.  

And they attack in tandem.  First the male then the female then the male again. Swirling, diving, pecking, clawing using every resource at their disposal to drive away the thief.

The unsuspecting enemy is first startled then confused.  It seems there's no getting away.  Where did all these other birds come from?  

There aren't other birds.  It's just the power of two working in perfect harmony with a laser sharp focus - "Get the Enemy AWAY from our Young!"  It's a dangerous approach; the smaller birds flinging themselves again and again at the giant bird.  But their offspring are worth the risk!

Besides, he is working alone and they are working TOGETHER!  

I've never seen one of the larger birds swoop back toward the nest. Usually,  it beats a path for the clearest way of escape.  It goes in search of an easier lunch at some nest less diligently defended.

You see, the enemy (in this case) is simply fighting with hunger.  The defenders are fighting with Heart.  They have more at stake and are therefore not afraid to fight with fierce abandon.

I watched a video just yesterday of two birds attacking a grown man standing on a bridge.  He unwittingly walked too close to the nest and they went after him again and again with no apparent concern for their own safety.

AMAZING!

There is a scripture that explains this fascinating practice: 
      "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor;
          If either of them falls down, one can help the other up."  
                   (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

 How wonderful it would be if we humans would adopt the principle of TOGETHER!  
  • Fighting together for our children!
  • Standing together for our marriages!
  • Applauding together for our extended families!
  • Cheering together for those who choose right!
  • Praying together for our nations and world!
"Two are better than one...."

It seems our world today champions the individual more and more.  "You did it all on your own!"  "You took the prize!"  "I sure did!  Look at ME!"

But the wisdom of the ages says, "Don't go life alone.  It's better to face the struggles together with another.  Then if you fall down (or even lose heart),  there's someone to help." 

You may see some giant ominously approaching on the horizon.  Don't despair!  Grab a friend, hit your knees and attack TOGETHER in prayer.  

Maybe your thought is, "That's a great concept, Sheri.  But I literally have no one who can fight with me."

Then may I encourage you to find a scripture addressing your particular battle point and begin reading it aloud every time you are concerned.  Who better to fight with you than the Creator of the Universe?

Every time we pray His words (scripture), we're declaring that we stand with Him.  God stood with David against Goliath; with Moses against Pharaoh; with Esther against her enemy, Haman.  The list goes on but you get the idea.

Scripture describes our Heavenly Father as a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  I know that to be true from personal experience.    

You may have to be fierce in your approach but remember your objective.  Some of you are battling for your children, some for your marriage,  others for health issues or work concerns.  Keep fighting! Don't forget for a minute that your prayers are creating confusion for the enemy you face.  

And as you employ the tactic of "together," the promise is, "[together] you have a good return for your labor." 

Believing with you today.  Push back that enemy......TOGETHER!


Monday, May 22, 2017

Clear Direction

In 2015, I experienced a true Miracle!

I needed direction about a potential missions trip and God gave it to me.  This morning a picture came up on Facebook to remind me of just how miraculous that was.  Let me tell you about it.......

Many of you know how our wonderful church family decided for Christmas of 2014 to bless us with the surprise of a trip to Israel (for the following spring.)  It was a lifetime dream of ours to visit the Holy Land and our joy was uncontainable while preparing.

By January (2015,)  it was decided Frank and I would leave for Israel in April, right after Easter.   Every time I remember it, a bit of excitement still rumbles up from my tummy and bursts out as a big, silly grin on my face.  I'm telling you, getting to go to Israel was one of the highlights of my life. (And yes, we do hope to return some day.)

So in late January, I got a message from a dear missionary friend in Spain.  "Sheri, would you consider coming to speak for our women's retreat in May?  We would also like for you to preach for our international church and do other Bible studies, etc. while here.  Could you do that?"

Could I do that?  Let's think about this:

  • I love to preach anywhere/anytime!
  • She had mentioned this possibility the year before.
  • I had immediately wanted to go.
  • SPAIN??!!!
Any other time it would have been a "No Brainer!" as my kids often say.  But the fact that this retreat followed so closely on the heels of our trip to Israel made it seem impossible.

I wrote back to Brandi explaining our dilemma and asked if the dates for her retreat were flexible. She responded right away that they could push it to the end of May but no later because of the camp facilities where it was held.

Frank (who's always up for an adventure) said, "Absolutely you should go.  What's to think about?" But still I wrestled with what would be the wise choice.  It's long been my philosophy in many matters, "Just because I can doesn't automatically mean I should!"

  • Just because I can squeeze into this dress, doesn't mean I should.
  • Just because I can hit that high note, doesn't mean I should.
  • Just because I can tell you off, doesn't mean I should.
Not a bad philosophy to adopt, right?

So fast forward to the end of February, 2015.  It's crunch time for deciding about Spain.  "Lord, I need a definite word of direction from You on this.  I just can't seem to decide.  Please, help me!" It was my constant prayer for about a week.

In the pre-dawn darkness of Sunday morning, I was doing a quick devotion.  A soft light shown on these words in my Bible, "I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain......Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem.....so after I have completed this....I will go to Spain."  (Romans 15:23-28)

I was speechless!

I walked into the bedroom as Frank was putting on his coat to leave.  "Honey, look what I just read." I handed over my Bible, still in shock.

He read it then looked up with his characteristic grin, "Told you you should go.  Can't get much clearer than that, Sheri."

So that very day we set the wheels in motion.  Other miracles took place along the way making it even more apparent that this was God's plan all along.  

It just so happens that this morning I am again wrestling with a decision about opportunities in front of me.  "What is the wise choice, Lord?  Direct me, please."  And it just so happened that my scheduled reading was again Romans 15.  Then it just so happened that I opened Facebook to find this picture from our miracle trip to Spain.  Wow!  

In case you aren't sure, let me remind you of something,  The Heavenly Father loves YOU just as much as He loves me and He WILL direct you, too if you ask.  Watch for it.  It will be different with each of us.  But His promise is this - when we call, He will answer!  

Clear Direction is available for us all.  Just ask.....

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ava Quinn

Our own little Ava Quinn has arrived!!  Mother and baby are healthy and happy, Thank the Lord!

Joy was convinced she would be the smallest of all their children because she's gained so little weight with Ava.  Nope!  At 21.5 inches long and 9 pounds 5 ounces, she surpassed them all.

She looks just like the others.  Still no features like our side of the family - none.  But the rich dark hair and almond shaped eyes won our hearts immediately whether they looked like us or not.

Her name means, "Life of Wisdom."  Isn't that a wonderful thing to call a child every single day? "Come here, 'Life of Wisdom.'  It's time to clean your room."

Of course, her name also connects her to Abby (both starting with A) who feels Ava is her own personal baby doll.  Abby has been over-the-moon excited about having a baby sister ever since we found out Ava was a girl.  We captured a precious video of Abby quietly singing "Jesus Loves Me" to Ava when they first met at the hospital.

Spencer fills the role of Biggest Brother so well.  He held her like a pro and kept giving us reports on her special coos and grunts.  Even Zach reached out timidly to put his hand on Ava's dark hair. He mostly wanted to sit snuggled close to Mommie while she held Baby Ava.

John and Joy now have four children.  A big family by today's national average of 1.75 children per household. But it's been Joy's declaration since she was a little girl.  "I'll have two children or four. But I will NOT have three." (Guess being the middle child had a real impact on her.)  And yes, it's boy, girl, boy, girl.  Spencer - 6; Abby - almost 5; Zach - almost 2; Ava - three days.

Joy really is the hero of the day in the thinking of all who know her.  Even with contractions that had her doubling over the last couple of weeks before delivery, she kept rolling along.  There were lunches to pack, youth activities to attend, Mother's Day to celebrate.  She even managed to keep the house together while Frank and Nathan helped John paint most of their downstairs this month.

Of course with her knack for all that wise mothering, she also knew how to unhook and completely focus on Ava once she arrived.  All four births have been by caesarean section which means: newborn baby, return to nursing, mothering three others AND recovering from major surgery.  Yep, we call her Wonder Woman!

Sadly, John came down with strep throat and had to leave the hospital.  But when you have a family this big all around you who knows how to juggle - you manage.  Every wife would prefer her husband be there to care for her after the birth of a baby and Joy is no different.  But I must admit, being with her those two days at the hospital became a treasured memory I'll long hold dear.

Everyone had an assigned task to complete.  Kristin and Cody spent the nights and deposited the oldest at school then headed off to their jobs.  Meagan took the day shift wrangling her own two along with Zach, Abby, then Spencer.  Papa kept Joy supplied with new snacks each evening.  Uncle Nathan even took Noah and Madi home the night Meagan had to stay at the hospital with Joy. Whew!

It's been a crazy ride this week but then, that's our life.  We don't live every day as though we're all wise.  But with Ava Quinn around to remind us, I'll bet there will be more wise days than foolish.

 


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Gold, Real Gold

Mom and I were watching a western movie on TV one rainy, Saturday afternoon when I was just a teenager.  Halfway through, the hero of the movie was being encouraged to abandon the mine where he and others had been working.  "It's hopeless," said the villain.  "Give it up!  You'll never find anything anyway."

At that very moment an old man, weathered and leathery-looking, came hobbling out of the saloon. He had heard the conversation and knew it looked hopeless but he also knew that with hard work, success was possible.  (Apparently, the villain just wanted the mine for himself.)  The old fella declared boldly in a pinched, uneducated voice, "Thar's gold in them thar hills!!"  His statement (so funny sounding) immediately became a by-line for Mom and me.

If I faced something that required more work than I originally thought but the reward would be great, Mom would look at me, wink one eye and in her best imitation of the old miner she'd say, "Thar's gold in them thar hills, Sheri!"  (In other words, keep working.  Don't give up now!)

If I found Mom quietly crying because of some disappointment, I would slide up beside her, give her my best daughter hug and whisper, "Thar's gold in them thar hills, Mama."  She would start chuckling even if the tears weren't quite finished.  "Well I sure hope I find some soon," she often answered.

I hadn't thought of our little inside joke for a long time, until this morning when I struck gold.  I'll have to back up a bit to explain.

We purchased our current home eleven years ago.  We had just become pastors in FL after serving as evangelists for six years.  During the evangelist years, we lived in a forty-foot RV.  I can assure you that living as a family in 400 square feet helps you know what household items are important and which ones you can live without.

Moving from the RV back to a full-sized home left me with quite a few vacant spots.  We needed everything from beds and bedding, to living room furniture, lamps, decorations, even a shower curtain.  Needless to say, I was constantly on the look out for inexpensive ways to fill our household.

The young man we bought our house from was a bachelor engaged to be married.  The house had been, for him, simply an investment so his furnishings were rather sparse as well.  At the walk through, I noticed a lovely set of dishes he had just sitting against one wall.

"Those are beautiful," I commented.

"One of the ladies in my church gave them to me," he said.  "We won't use them.  Would you like them?"

Although dishes weren't actually on my list, I really liked the look of them and answered, "Sure!"  It was a complete service for eight and FREE.  If I didn't use them, one of the girls probably would. The dishes promptly went into storage in the garage.

Fast forward to my season of purging and reorganizing - that would be now.  The dishes I've been using for everyday ware are lovely but after five years of constant service they were showing their age.  I decided to sell them in the yard sale we had and start looking around for a replacement set.

That's when I remembered the dishes in storage.

They would do just fine as my temporary set.  Only problem, our family has grown to 13 and we would need more dishes.  I went online to search out where to pick up a few more pieces.  That's when the discovery was made.

The simple blue and white plates, cups, saucers and such that had been sitting in dark storage bins for eleven years are actually a fine grade of willow ware made in Stafforshire, England.  It's known as the Winston Churchill collection.

The meat platter alone cost over $300!  I was in total shock.  I had no idea such exquisite and expensive beauty had been hidden away in my garage, serving no one all these years.

This morning as I carefully unpacked, washed and shelved the Winston Churchill collection,  my mind whirled with so many unanswered thoughts:

  • Who was the original owner?
  • Was it a set slowly collected or perhaps wedding dishes for some young bride?
  • Were they often used or seldom?
  • Was there laughter around their table, too?
  • Why did the lady give them to the bachelor?
  • Was no one in her family interested in them?
  • Did no one appreciate their value?
As always, the Lord used my ponderings to whisper a truth to my heart.  "Sheri, there are pockets of gold hidden all around you.  You must have eyes to see it and a willingness to work at mining the gold.  Appreciate what I've placed in your hands."

For me, that translates to:
  • Watch for the people around you who are pure gold.  They may be quiet and you may have to mine their gifts.  But appreciate them; see them!
  • Watch for the moments of gold.  A pat on the face from tiny jam hands.  A tender kiss good-bye.  A hug from a true friend.  A casual, "Love you, Mom!"
  • Watch for the golden life lessons.  Hardships that made you stronger.  Lonely times that push you toward friends.  Answered prayers that remind you of God's faithfulness.  
All this from a revived set of dishes.  

I wish Mom were here this Mother's Day to marvel with me over this amazing story.  I wish she and I could share some coffee using the finely crafted cups.  I wish I could eat one of her wonderful meals served on the rich blue and white pattern.  That can't happen.  

But I can imagine the twinkle in her eye and the wink as she would surely look sideways at me and say,  "Never stop looking, Sheri.  Thar's gold in them thar hills!"

Here's praying you'll find the gold waiting to be discovered in your own life!










Sunday, April 30, 2017

Favorite of all Time

April is, without a doubt, my favorite month!

The past 30 days have been, without a doubt, my least favorite April in many years.

However, when you are an optimist by nature and you see you're at the final day of your favorite month and you would truly like to finish said month on a high note, you reach for the rainbow to record. (Longest run-on sentence in the world.  If any of my former students are reading, I apologize.)

So I thought I'd share with you a few moments from this month where I sensed joy and fulfillment. With such a big family, it's not difficult to find "smile moments."  We just need to be careful to notice and record them so they don't slip away like a wisp of wind.

Noah got a new style hair cut for Easter and is very pleased with how grown up he looks.  At three and a half, he's quite the little man.  "Noni!  Noni, do you yike my heya?"  Huge grin followed by a coy turn of the chin to maximize Noni's viewing of the special, new style.

"I like it very much," and I reach to touch his white blond head.  He suddenly bobs and weaves like a boxer while shouting, "No, don't tosh it, Noni!  It will mesh up."  Then he squeezes me tightly around the knees and runs off to catch his cousins.

It was my privilege this past week to be part of John and Joy's bedtime ritual with their children.  (Joy needed an extra set of hands for bedtime as John was working late and Ava takes up a lot more energy these days.)  Joy directed while Noni helped change a diaper, locate pjs, monitor teeth being brushed and so on.  I even got to read the Bible story.

My favorite part was "Thankfuls."  Just before prayers, everyone says what they're thankful for from the day.  "I'm thankful I gotted to go on my feeld twip!" (Abby- 4) "I'm thankful Ava stayed put one more day." (Joy - 38 weeks pregnant)  "I'm thankful we got to play outside."  (Spencer - 6)  "I'm thankful I got to be with you tonight."  (Noni - 110 in childhood's eyes)

The children were so quick with their responses and totally natural.  It was easy to tell this is part of every bedtime for them.  What a wonderful habit it would be for us all as we wrap up each day.  To purposefully shift focus from ourselves and to remember that no matter what the day held, there was something to be grateful for.

One of my favorite moments from this month actually happened at the memorial service for Dad Hawley.  Grandma had asked our girls to sing like they did for Grandaddy while he was in the hospital.  So they put together a hymn medley and practiced while driving to NC.

Cody, Kristin's husband, drove while the girls sang, slept and shared funny memories.  By the time they arrived, he felt like he knew everyone even though it was his first visit to Dunn.  (The other two husbands stayed home, worked their jobs and took care of the children in order to make the trip easier for their wives.  Good men all around!)

The medley was a lovely arrangement of three hymns and during the sound check everyone's voice was strong and clear.  But when they started to sing for the memorial, Joy realized they all had cried at some point except Kristin.  She had been too busy taking care of everyone else.

They sang all the way through Great Is Thy Faithfulness with rich tones.  But just as Kristin started the lead of, "We shall behold Him..." her own tears began to flow.  Meagan had stepped away from the microphone to sign that portion of the song.  Joy had already started with the harmony notes.

Without missing a beat, sitting in the pew right behind me, Cody started softly singing Kristin's part.  It was almost as if he was willing her to have the strength to carry on.

You have to understand that Cody doesn't normally sing.  He's the tech guy.  The one who puts words on the screen; balances the microphones; creates graphics.  He doesn't sing.

It was his heart rushing to the side of his bride in her moment of need.  He couldn't physically stand beside her but he could whisper the words and timidly catch matching notes while reaching to encourage the one he loves.  And sure enough, after two or three lines, Kristin was able to step back to the mic and continue.

The girls finished strong.  Words and melodies from time-honored hymns bringing comfort to the hearts of all those present. And this mama had yet another reason for loving her newest son.

It's true.  2017 didn't bring my favorite April of all time but there were moments in it for me to rehearse with gratitude.  And so these are my Thankfuls!






Monday, April 24, 2017

Promises and Potential

I really wanted to come up with a doozie of a humorous post for you today.  Seems I've written so much about sorrow and sadness lately; although, that's our life right now.

While sitting quietly this morning and asking God to give me a funny story to share, I was reminded that sorrow is the contrast for humor and you can't genuinely have one without the other.  So, no funny for today.

But I did (once again) stumble across a powerful reminder of why I write.

It's a promise I highlighted for myself three years ago.  Do you underline favorite scriptures in your Bible?  I certainly do.  I'm not sure a Bible is well read until it has highlight markings, a few tear stains and copious amounts of chicken-scratch handwriting.

Marked up Bibles become treasure pieces for those who read them in later years.  As a young minister, Frank asked my dad to save one of his preaching Bibles for him and it started a tradition of sorts.  Dad has now preached from three Bibles for at least ten years each; one to be given to each family of his three children.  A Treasure!

I love reading back through the Bible my mom carried in her purse for the years I was a teen-ager and beyond.  She included sermon notes and key dates in various margins as well as underlining important scriptures of personal promise.  It's faith building for me to read things she was praying about diligently and to be able to look back on the answers that eventually came.

Journals are great.  They help me sort through muddled thoughts and I've had many of them - both journals and muddled thoughts.  But my marked up Bibles are the things I hope my children will cherish most.

So, the scripture I read again today is found in Psalms 92.  At the top of the page I had written, "This passage is why I can START writing @ age 55."  And here's the promise:  "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree....They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, 'The Lord is upright, he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.'"

Beside the scripture, I have the date this promise first jumped out at me - 2014.  Below it I wrote, "My Message."

While we were in NC, one of Mom Hawley's lifetime friends came by the house for a visit.  While there, she told how much she enjoys reading Embrace the Grace.  Then her sister said, "Becky got me reading your blog.  I really like it."

I was so touched that Becky not only takes time to read but that she shares it with her sister and others, she said. Every writer longs to impact their readers.  And my greatest desire is to use some personal story or illustration to remind whoever may read:

  • God is upright
  • He sees us each one
  • He promises to be our Rock
  • He is not wicked - He is LOVE
  • His promises are true
  • He wants us to fulfill the potential within us
If I can use this blog to stay fresh and green; bearing fruit into old age then I will have fulfilled the potential He placed in me.  End of sermon, I promise!

What is one of your favorite scripture promises?  Do you write in your Bibles?  Do you have one passed on to you that has special memories?  I'd love to hear from you today.  Blessings!  





Friday, April 21, 2017

Dad Hawley

On Monday April 10th, Joseph Odell Hawley transitioned to his Heavenly home.  We know we'll see Dad again some day; but for now, our loss is keenly felt and we weep often.

Mom Hawley and two daughters were by his side at the moment of his passing.  We were all so glad he wasn't alone.  Someone of the family had been with him around the clock for over three weeks. Nurses and doctors all commented about how much he was loved.

He was loved.  Deeply!

Frank and I left for NC before dawn on Tuesday.  All three of our girls and Kristin's husband, Cody, left Tuesday afternoon.  They broke the drive up because Joy is within four weeks of delivery.

John and Nathan stayed in FL to juggle children, jobs and home; making it possible for their wives to be at Grandpa's funeral. Have you heard me mention how amazing our sons are?!  Good Good Men Indeed!

Some of you will remember that Frank is part of a "blended" family; a yours, mine and ours group. Dad had two children, Dexter and Marsha from his first marriage.  Mom had Frank.  Then Mom and Dad had Kirk and Terry.  If there ever was a study in how to do blended family well, it's their family.

Almost right away, Frank became extremely close to Dexter who was two years older than him.  Marsha found her spot as the only girl.  And everyone doted on the younger brothers who served to cement the family.  With them, there were no "steps" or "halves."  Everyone was Family.

Sadly, Dexter was killed in a car accident the month before Frank and I were married.  Kirk and Terry were only 7 and 9 at that time.  Frank determined in his heart to be as involved in their lives as an older sibling can possibly be.  Christmas, birthdays, graduations, then weddings and their own children were big cheering points for us.

I've always been impressed with how those three brothers can be away from one another for months at a time then pick right back up laughing, teasing, encouraging one another just as if they'd been together last week.  It's exactly what Frank had most desired even though we've lived far away most of their lives.

There are many funny stories to tell and several poignant ones.  But I decided to simply share the points Frank gave at the funeral.  Sharing at a parent's memorial service is always difficult.  I was especially proud of how Frank carefully wove a rich tapestry using words of comfort, sorrow and humor to blanket the hurting hearts of those present.

Mom and Dad's pastor gave the actual sermon.  Frank wanted to only serve that day as a son telling others about the dad he loved.  These were his main points:

  • Dad wasn't educated but he was very wise.  He had to leave school after the eighth grade in order to work on the farm.  His work ethic was the example for his children.  We're all hard workers and we all went to him for advice.
  • Dad wasn't rich but he was extremely wealthy.  Look around you, the people gathered here are the testimony of his wealth.
  • Dad was tough but he also had a tender side.  He could put us boys in our place, even in our teen years.  His massive hands were weathered and calloused; his handshake could crush a weaker man. But our favorite picture is of him holding our grandson Noah at about two months.  The two are locked in a stare and smiling at one another.  Dad has one huge hand cradling Noah's infant head, the other laid protectively over Noah's tiny chest.  
  • Dad loved us all fiercely and he made sure we knew it.
Our girls sang a precious medley of favorite hymns then the pastor brought a touching message. The graveside service was brief.  The presentation of the flag from his coffin was most moving.  We cried together, hugged one another, laughed at funny memories and shared a beautiful meal prepared by their home church.  (It felt rather odd to be served and to not help clean up.)

We were shocked when we looked up to see our dear friends, Steve and Becky (Nathan's parents) in the hallway of the chapel.  They had just closed their Easter drama with a final performance the night before; drug their exhausted bodies out of bed before dawn; then drove the three hours to be with us by 10:30. We were overwhelmed by such an act of love and Meagan just burst into tears. 

Our own church and several individual families sent beautiful flowers.  The little hometown florist was especially impressed that she had received an order from New York.  Our precious friends John and Linda (John's parents) were there in spirit, too by way of their lovely arrangement.
I'll close today's post with a rather long passage of scripture Frank read at the memorial.  It's written by an older man (Paul) to his apprentice (Timothy).  What I'm using is from a more modern translation which I enjoy.  Please take time to read over it slowly.  And may our hearts be both encouraged and challenged:

 "And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don't want you in the dark any longer.  First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word.  Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.
And then this:  We can tell you with complete confidence - we have the Master's word on it - that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind.  In actual fact, they'll be ahead of us.  The Master himself will give the command.  Archangel thunder!  God's trumpet blast!  He'll come down from heaven and the the dead in Christ will rise - they'll go first.  Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master.  Oh, we'll be walking on air!  And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master.  So reassure one another with these words."








Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Curtains

There is such a thin curtain between our world and eternity.

Thanks to many prayers, some caffeine, a few phone calls and lots of good music I made the ten hour drive to NC safely.  Then it was straight to the hospital where the truth of that opening statement began to sink into my heart all over again.

Dad Hawley has rallied some but everyone continues to take turns staying with him through the night.  Mom Hawley takes the day shift, arriving at dawn and leaving just before dark.  (We all know she can't keep up this schedule but prying her away right now would be impossible.)

He sleeps quite a bit even though they've pulled back on the pain meds.  His vital signs remain weak but steady.  And he talks occasionally.  Yesterday he informed Frank's youngest brother that everyone had left him up there without any money at all.  Terry put a $10 bill in the pocket of his hospital gown.

Then there was the midnight "conversation" Dad had with his own mother who passed away over 30 years ago.  Frank sat silently in the dark; just listening.  Not daring to interrupt as he knows so well about the "thin curtain" fluttering between our world and eternity.  We've observed many loved ones catching glimpses of Heaven as they approach the threshold.

I think Dad is a little bit like Paul the apostle who said, "I want to go on to Heaven because I know the joys waiting for me there.  But I also want to be here for you.  Such a dilemma!"

Kristin and I were able to put finishing touches on Mom's little apartment.  (Actually, Kristin worked tirelessly to unpack, sort, and arrange what everyone had spent days packing.  I just came on the scene in time for the fun stuff.)

We dashed around town all day Thursday comparing prices and collecting necessary odds and ends. Frank came by long enough to put nails in the walls for us.  Pictures were hung, rugs and throw pillows arranged, kitchen/closets/bath organized.  The finishing touch was, of course, curtains hung at the windows. They provided the pop of color and polish needed to complete each room.

When Mom had left that morning, she had to carefully wind her way through a maze of chaos. Boxes stacked high against each wall; bits and pieces of stuff everywhere.  She was so frustrated and anxious; she told Kristin, "This will NEVER feel like home!"

Thursday evening she stepped into a totally organized and decorated haven of peace.  She stopped at the door and began to cry.  "It looks just like a picture in a magazine," she whispered.

Mom was totally surprised.  She had no idea what joy and loveliness was waiting for her as she stepped through the doorway that evening. We couldn't have been happier and may have shed a few tears, as well.

Lorrie (another sister-in-law) was simultaneously trying to help move Mom Hawley and her newlywed daughter.  Getting Mom settled will be a huge relief to all our family there in the town. Now everyone can focus on Dad's care.

In the middle of it all, we received news that a dear member of our church named Bonnie had unexpectedly taken a turn for the worse and in a matter of hours stepped through the curtain from this world into eternity. We were in total shock as I had just spent time with her before coming up and thought she was doing better.

As the Lord would have it, Frank just happened to be on the phone with her family when she transitioned.  They put him on speaker phone and he was able to pray with them.

We will be heading back to FL for her memorial.  It won't be easy to leave our family here but knowing the truth about the "thin curtain" gives us comfort:


  • We will see Bonnie again! 
  • When Dad steps through, he too will be more alive at that moment than he ever has been here.
  • Christ made this assurance possible for all of us who simply believe.
  • Living well here (forgiving, loving, releasing things) prepares us for our future there.
  • Like Mom, we have no idea what joys are waiting for us all on the other side of the curtain called Life.
  • Walking with Christ as our guide is the ONLY way to fully live in this world!

As I sit writing, a cool breeze is fluttering the curtains I can see. I hear the gentle song of wind chimes in the distance.  I'm aware there is so much I can't see or even begin to comprehend.  But in our moments of uncertainty, we look up to our Savior and sing with the saints of old, "Many things about tomorrow I don't seem to understand.  But I know who holds tomorrow and I know He holds my hand."  









Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Perfect Peace

We're facing another one of those moments you know is coming but are never fully prepared to navigate.  Frank's father is extremely ill.  Last week was Spring break here so all the girls made it to NC to visit Grandpa.  We were already scheduled to go Thursday of this week.

After surgery last Thursday morning, Dad Hawley had a serious respiratory reaction.  Kristin (who was at the hospital) called and said, "Mom!  Get Daddy on a plane as soon as possible."  We did.

(Weeks ago a friend had seen down the road of Dad's illness and had insisted that I promise to call if we needed a plane ticket at some point.  What a Blessing!)

Decisions came quickly, the phone call was made, a bag was packed and he was at the gate in less than three hours. Pretty good since we're a full hour from the airport. Because things were so unstable with Dad, it was decided that Frank would fly; I would cover the service this weekend then drive to NC.

Fortunately, I was already scheduled to preach Sunday after teaching workshops at a conference Friday and Saturday.  Because John and Joy made it back Saturday and because our leadership team was supporting him in prayer and because I had the details covered, he was able to be fully there once he hit the hospital door.

One leader had prayed over him, "Father, help Pastor to disengage from FL and know it's okay to be a SON for this moment."  What a powerful prayer.  Frank took in the message and has mentioned it to me again several times during our short phone conversations.  Simple words can be powerful.

Dad Hawley is still holding his own but is most often confused due to the extreme pain and large doses of morphine.  Someone from the family is with him around the clock.

In addition to Dad's health crisis, the NC family have been trying to get Mom Hawley relocated to a small apartment where she can have help if she needs it. (That's why Frank and I were originally going up this week.) But imagine the mammoth task of sorting through 30 years of memories with a dear grandma who has a story attached to each piece of paper and every article of clothing.

Frank and Kristin have worked ten and twelve hour days with her trying to lift the load for his brothers and their families.  Everyone is shuffling work and school schedules in order to be available. It's times like this you're thankful for BIG FAMILIES!

I leave tomorrow for the first ten hour road trip I've done alone in a long time.  Listening to books and music and podcasts should help the time pass as quickly as the miles.  (Yes, there will probably be a few phone calls in there, too.)

My mind is racing to find the thread that will tie all this into a tidy package of encouragement for you, dear readers.  I guess that thread would be the one that keeps me tied together during all the crisis moments of life.  Those moments when you know snap decisions will have long lasting consequences.  Those moments when you lean into the arms of One stronger than yourself.

"You will keep him (her) in perfect peace because his (her) mind is focused on YOU!" 


 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Zip, Shoot, Scoot

I was fortunate to have both of my grandmothers while growing up.

My dad's mother lived almost her entire life in a small, rural community about 100 miles east of Pensacola, FL.  She modeled what it meant to stay strong in the face of adversity.  She loved God and her family.  Life wasn't easy for Grandma Burke but I remember her biscuits, her laugh and her hugs.

My mom's mother lived nearest to us and influenced my life in so many wonderful ways.  Grandma Miller had grown up on a farm in Indiana.  She and her brother, Martin, had amazing stories of adventure that would invariably leave us all in stitches as they recounted their childhood.

Uncle Martin continued to live in Indiana while Grandma married a young man and moved to FL. They saw one another sporadically but when they did get together, you could see the love and admiration they had for one another.

Their shared stories of remembrance seldom turned to the darker experiences of their lives: abandoned by their father; raised by a lonely mother; shunned by the local community; required to leave school after fourth grade in order to help with whatever work they could find.  No, those stories were never talked about.  They chose instead to focus on the rich love of their mother; the good work ethic she taught them; the laughter they enjoyed during humble meals.

Grandma worked many different jobs through the years.  So I always knew her as a working woman. She drove a cute little tan VW bug for many of those years and she liked to drive fast.  (I'm sure "fast" is a relative term.  We are talking about my grandma after all and I was never with her when she got the speeding tickets.)

There were three words I often heard Grandma use when she was driving.  Zip.  Shoot.  Scoot.  She would say something like, "Hold on now, Sheri.  I like to ZIP around the corner so people behind me can make the light, too."  Other times she would say, "I'm going to SHOOT over to the grocery store. Do you want to go with me?"   Then we would hear, "Alice Marie, let's SCOOT down to the sub shop and grab a sandwich."

Grandma was always on the move and she didn't like wasting time!

I believe her desire to work hard and to keep moving was mostly a result of those growing up years. But Grandma's genuine love for life, her ready smile and infectious laughter were the hallmarks that have stayed with me.  As I drove home from my office recently in my only little red compact, I was reminded of the three words I so often heard her use and I had to smile.

This post is rather short but I've waited a long time to say:

  • I hope you'll zip through all your difficult moments this week.
  • Thanks for shooting over here to read.
  • Be sure to scoot back by next week for a fresh look at basic thoughts.
Blessings to you and yours! 




Friday, March 10, 2017

Wonder Words

I can not describe how HAPPY I am to be back on line with this blog!

All your kind comments have added to my joy - thank you!

For six long weeks Embrace the Grace has been silent because I didn't act quickly enough on a warning I received.  What could have been dealt with in just an hour or so became a HUGE ordeal requiring days of time invested and weeks of anxious concern.

Ben Franklin tried to warn me, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  Wonder Words that (if heeded) would have saved Cody, Frank, John, Amanda, Becky, Jeremy and me so much time. (Yes, as a matter of fact, I DID go crying to all those people begging for help.  Thanks to each of you for the help you gave.)

In the end, it was my own Prince Charming who discovered the solution.  Everyone contributed in one way or another but it was Frank who finally found the pathway to freedom for my long-silenced blog site.  In other words, he got me up and running.

Wednesday night after Bible study, he calmly told me, "Honey, check your computer in the morning.  I'm pretty sure your blog is working again."  We've thought it was working several times over the past weeks, so I didn't react then.

But the entire office heard my squealing yesterday morning when I made the discovery that Mr. Wonderful had once again come to my rescue.  I love that Man!

I pondered what to share in this first post after six weeks of silence.  Finally, I knew WORDS and their importance seemed the appropriate topic.

If you stop by routinely, you know how intense I am about watching over our words; especially words spoken to others.  "The power of life and death are in the tongue..." is a favorite scripture for me.

Our entire family has been fascinated by Madi who developed a language all her own since she hasn't quite mastered English yet.  She's a quick kid and observed that older siblings, cousins and adults speak in long full sentences with lots of different voice inflections then wait for a response from the listener.

So, around 14 months she grabbed the six or seven words she COULD say and began stringing them together with "full sentences" that go something like this, "Mama, slkafdj wieioei lkaskjox adskkj sj aks  No-wah!"  (That sentence routinely comes after brother Noah offends her somehow and she needs Mom to fix the problem.)

"JJ, zios asldkfj asd asiie dakjl asdklj asdi adfkasjdl asdio?" Then she turns her head slightly, pierces Aunt Joy with those big blue eyes and waits for an expected response. We have all found ourselves complying and answering, even though we have No Idea what our little Wonder Word Smith has asked.

She even patted my hand the other day as she launched into a full paragraph of words that made perfect sense to her but were unintelligible to Noni.  I found myself nodding and thanking her for the blessing before she toddled off on her skinny little legs.

Madi has discovered the wonder of words and she's chosen to not stop talking just because she has such a limited vocabulary.  Imperfection should never keep us from attempting what we long to do! 
(Those are great words of encouragement; totally worth the read today.)

I'll never be able to express my heart perfectly but that doesn't stop me from trying.  Some may remember that I first started blogging after watching a movie about a woman who took a year of her life to work her way through a cook book by Julia Child and blog about it.

While watching that movie years ago I felt the little nudge, "You have so many more things to talk about that would encourage people.  No, it won't be perfect.  But you can at least attempt writing.  TRY!"  

Those were Wonder Words of challenge for me.  And here I am over 450 posts later, grateful that I didn't allow the certainty of imperfection to keep me from diving in to the wonder of word crafting.

I read again just this morning in the book of John how God used words to create the heavens and the earth.  Then in chapter 3, He used words to affirm Jesus, "The Father loves the Son extravagantly!"

After reading, I sat quietly pondering the power of words.  The joy on Madi's little face when her stumbling "sentences" bring a smile and response from those she's speaking to.  I rehearsed the ecstasy experienced by Zach, Noah, Abby and Spencer as they share words with Noni and Papa.

"PahPah!  PahPah..." Zach beams and claps pudgy hands indicating it's time to play "patty cake, patty cake, baker's man..."

"Noni, I wen two (stops to hold up two fingers) two poopsh in de potty!!" Noah is about to conquer the first mountain of toddlerhood and move into Big Boy territory.  He haltingly reports; we cheer!

"Noni, we lurhned a new shong today.  Wanna heaur it?"  Abby is excited about all of life.  Her beautiful words remind us to celebrate each new moment.

"Papa, listen to my new Bible verse...." Spencer has left behind the precious toddler sound but still loves words and their ability to connect us to one another.  We look straight at him and listen until he is completely finished.  He smiles with his sense of accomplishment and victory; feelings brought to him by words.

So the question for today is this.....what words of wonder are waiting to be delivered by YOU?  Who needs you to look directly at them, listen carefully, then cheer wildly?  Who needs to hear of your love for them?  Who needs the lesson you recently learned?  Who is waiting for your WORDS?

I wonder........


Thanks for being excited with me that the blog is working again.  And brace yourself, all these words have been bottled up for a long time.  I think I know exactly how Madi must feel.














Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Testing! Testing!

So I'm testing to see how many of you are able to access this new site.

Cody (our third son-in-law) has worked all month to get Embrace the Grace back up and running.  He finally said this should get me back on line, just not under sherihawley.com.

So, my hope is that I haven't lost my opportunity to connect with you through blogging.  There's been a real void for me these past thirty days.  (I started to say what the problem was but in reality, I didn't understand it enough to offer an explanation.)

What I do know is this - there's been a lot of important life I've had to let rush past without so much as a "Look what happened..." to the Embrace the Grace family.  Here's a quick list of a few:


  • Frank's 60th Birthday!  
    • I spent the six days leading up to his actual birthday providing a "decade specific" gift.  (The first gift was a slinky, candy and tennis shoes.) The best part, he said, was the card I wrote for each decade.   
  • Spencer's 6th Birthday!
    • He requested a superhero party; we gladly worked with his parents to make it happen.  He and Papa celebrated together as Spider Man (Spence) and Captain America (Papa).  
  • A fun wedding at church.
  • A conference with GREAT speakers who made me laugh, cry and ponder.
  • Our 2017 Missions Week 
  • A Fabulous birthday surprise for Kristin.  
    • Her precious husband started planning almost six months ahead just because he wanted her to experience a surprise.  He was royally successful!
  • A Terrible disappointment due to the flu.  (This one merits its own post!)
  • A marvelous visit from my dear friend of over thirty years.  She just needed to come sit on my porch for a couple of days; I gladly sat with her.
So here's the deal, if you were able to access this post I need to hear from you.  Perhaps it would be more effective to quote Abby Grace the four year old,  "PUH-LEEZE!  Hope the gurhl!"  

I look forward to seeing your comments.  It really would help this girl.  

Blessings! 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Life and Joy and Legacy

On January 23, 1937 a woman left her ten children at home and walked some distance through the bitter cold to an abandoned service station.  Freezing winds whipped through the building; mocking the burlap sacks attached to windows as a barrier.

In that lonely place, the woman valiantly wrestled the excruciating pain in her body as an eleventh child was being born.  Hidden in a rural corner of south Alabama, no one would hear or acknowledge her cries of pain.  Childbirth is never easy.  It requires focus and fortitude and a tightly held vision of the joy to come.  She labored alone.

Experience had taught her all the right steps and compassion moved her to clamp the umbilical cord allowing the baby girl to live.  But there was no joy for the woman.  The child was labeled illegitimate and therefore unwanted.

At this point, details surrounding the baby's birth grow more sketchy.  Somehow a local judge was contacted and the baby was handed over to him.  He called a woman in Pensacola, Florida who he knew was looking for a child to adopt.  There were no attorneys called; no paperwork was needed. The child was simply classified as abandoned.

But Cora's joy overflowed as she made her way to the judge's home. She dressed and bundled her new found treasure cradling the baby in her arms the ninety miles home. Unable to have children of her own, Cora was 35 years old when she chose the name Alice Marie for this miracle child that would be her one and only.

This isn't the opening for some "made for TV" movie.  It isn't a fabricated story to promote adoption. It's the record of my own mother's birth; a birth we still consider miraculous.

Mom's growing up years weren't necessarily easy as her father left and there were many years of uncertainty.  But she made the choice pretty early to dedicate herself to Christ; doing her best to follow His leadings.

And it must have also been in those early days when she took on the attitude that became her trademark:  "In life you're either going to laugh or cry - I choose to laugh!"  When she went home to Heaven eight years ago, that's how everyone remembered her.

"Alice brought the party with her!"

My sister, brother, dad and I never had to wonder if we were loved; Mama told us and showed us routinely.  She put dad's needs ahead of her own and made sure he knew he had first place in her heart.  She ran a tight ship in the area of discipline making sure we knew what was expected and that disobedience brought swift consequences.

There was always an abundance of hugs and kisses.  I especially remember the hours spent rocking in an old red platform rocker that threatened to topple over if we pushed back too hard.  Mama rocked and sang to me when I was sick, which was often as a kid.  Her arms comforted and her voice encouraged during the drama of teen years.  She cheered and bragged on my own little family making sure my girls knew they were her treasure.  It was the same for my sister and brother.

There are too many stories to tell.  Too many lives she touched to mention them all here.  Too many friends that still feel the void of her home-going.  But this one thing seems important to record on what would have been her eightieth birthday, Mama embraced life and people and fiercely loved everything about being part of this world.

Tonight I'll gather with my family and we'll celebrate the legacy of Alice Marie.  We'll all tell stories about "Mema" which will make us laugh and cry.  We'll try our best to explain to her great-grandchildren what an amazing woman she was and how much she would have loved them. Together, we'll thank God that she urged us all to follow Christ and that we'll see her again some day in heaven.

Bottom line is this, the "unwanted/abandoned" baby girl grew up and made the most of the years given her on this earth. Her influence outlives her!  I'm so very grateful to have been known as her child and I want that to be the story of my life as well.

Happy 80th Birthday, Mama!  I'm sure you and the angels have planned a celebration that could never be matched here!




Followers