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.