Thursday, November 30, 2017

Most Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This tradition is one of our Most Important.

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

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

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

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

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

The video link is here.....

Hope it speaks to your heart as it did mine.   

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Broad Strokes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a trigger for this soapbox post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Heavenly Father uses a big paint brush, too.

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Too Wonderful!

It was a celebration for the history books!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He couldn't have been happier!

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

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

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

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

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

(Deep Contented Sigh)

Monday, November 6, 2017

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

Today is the 80th birthday of my dad!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Daddy, is anyone helping you?!"

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

A pause while he "looks around."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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