Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Never Burn a Bridge



 I apologize for the “radio silence” of the past couple weeks.  It’s been a wide-open time.

We had such a wonderful visit in England.  If you missed my story about using the wrong word to communicate a major point in one of my sermons, you should pull up the last post.  You’ll smile, I promise.

Believe it or not, I’ve made another trip since returning home.  This one was to Daytona Beach for our annual ladies’ retreat. We were a group of eleven ladies and two infants who joined the other 1,200 conference attenders from across Florida. 

Our state women’s director, Deanna Shrodes, did an amazing job putting together the event called THRIVE, 2018.  We spent three days laughing; sharing meals; hearing fantastic sermons; encountering God; experiencing sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean.  Simply Resplendent.

Right now, I’m preparing for the final installment of my birthday celebrations. I’m getting ready to meet a group of girlfriends in Asheville, NC. Some of us haven’t seen one another in over seven years. 

I’m beyond ecstatic.

Some of you may remember we pastored in the Asheville area our first twelve years of ministry.  In fact, all three girls were born in the same hospital there.  We formed many strong friendships during those years. 

Frank knows how much I value and appreciate all the friendships we’ve made over the years.  So when these ladies contacted him about planning a surprise for my 60th birthday, he quickly jumped on board. 

That guy is such a gem!

I’m still not sure what all they have planned but a few things are certain.  There will be too much food; lots of laughter; hysterical stories; a few tears and even some prayer time.  Having friends who share your faith and passions makes life richer.

We moved away from that region over 25 years ago.  But no matter how sporadic, we’ve made the effort to stay in touch.  I’m most thankful.  These are ladies who add value.  They can hold a confidence.  They know how to pray.  They’ve watched my girls change into young ladies and now celebrate them as moms. 

One of the first churches we pastored in that area wasn’t an easy situation.  We were young and inexperienced.  The church leadership had a strong idea of how things should go.  Eventually, it became apparent a change was imminent.

While trying to prepare to leave, Frank talked honestly with a trusted friend.  “I can hardly wait to leave this place and burn the bridge behind me!”

Up until that statement, Bob had listened patiently.  But he suddenly put up his hand and broke into Frank’s tirade. In that moment of vulnerability, Bob taught us a lesson we’ve never forgotten.

“Frank, you never want to be the one who burns a bridge.  If you do, you almost always find yourself needing to cross back over at some point in life.  It seldom comes quickly, but that moment will come, trust me.”

Frank may have been young and inexperienced but he has always been teachable.  So, he prayed over the challenge and decided to heed Bob’s advice.  Frank led the final meeting in a civil manner.  He offered respect and honor instead of acting on his original emotions. 

He chose to leave our side of the bridge standing.

We went on to work with another congregation which was a much better fit for us.  We enjoyed nine wonderful years with the new group.  The friends gathering this week became connected during those years.  We seldom thought of our pain from the past assignment.

In 1993, we were called to leave the mountain community we’d come to love and move to pioneer a church on the coast of NC.  This was a Faith Adventure.  With only thirteen congregants committed to the work, there were NO funds available for the move.

Faith Adventures will always improve your prayer life.  We began to pray diligently.

That’s when Bob’s admonition took form.  Two weeks before we were to move, we received a call from one of our former church members.  They wanted to meet with us as soon as possible.  My stomach was in knots!

We met in Frank’s office and they got right to the point.  “We never felt things finished well at the other church.  We’ve received a financial blessing that God wants us to share with you to help with the new church plant.”

They slid a check across his desk.  The amount was more than enough to completely cover our moving expenses!  Needless to say, I began to weep with gratitude. 

On the way home Frank quoted Bob’s wise words, “Never be the one to burn a bridge.  You’ll need to cross back over it someday.”



Sunday, September 30, 2018

Home Again

England Was BRILLIANT!

We just returned Friday evening and the jet lag hit me hard yesterday.  I was grumpy and tired and foggy brained all day. I even broke the lid for my sugar bowl while trying to make coffee.  What a mess.

But the trip itself was well worth all the jet lag.  This evening I'm scrambling to take care of several "end of the month" matters as well as to get a blog post online.  Thank you for checking in while we were away.

Earlier in the year, I was invited to speak for the women's conference which would be hosted by St. Austell Baptist church.  Frank was to speak for their Sunday service.  He also spoke for a men's gathering while I shared again for their regular ladies Bible study.

Each time we spoke, the people were so very gracious and receptive. They had paved the way with much prayer and it felt like Heaven just opened up to meet with us.  (Of course, in typical British fashion, the heaven's did open up literally to pour cold, liquid sunshine all day Saturday.  But the ladies came anyway.)

We met so many new friends.  They shared stories which reminded us God cares greatly for all His children.   And if the story of a girl from Florida will best encourage a girl in Cornwall, He can arrange for them to connect.

Sue Cox, the women's director for St. Austell, made the bold move of setting things in motion after meeting a mutual friend I've written about before, Sue Parsons.  Those two started communicating in 2017 and that's how it all came to be.

Frank and I have ministered in England several times over the past 18 years.  We love the people, the countryside, the customs, the cathedrals......  I could go on but I won't.

On our first visit, it was Frank who made a serious verbal blunder.  (Even though we technically speak the same language, American English and British English have some stark differences.) 

This trip, it was my turn to "Make a Memory!"

I was speaking for the Tuesday evening Bible study.  We were joined by additional ladies from other churches who had heard what a great day we had together on Saturday.

As part of the message that night, I wanted to draw the ladies in with the illustration of how every little girl dreams of her wedding day.  I wanted them to see the picture of little girls who might tie a sheer curtain under their chins like a wedding veil.

In an attempt to use a term they would readily understand I said, "As a child, I would tie my mother's old kitchen sheers under my chin and walk up and down our hallway while humming the wedding march."  

Of course, in my enthusiasm I had to parade up and down in front of the podium they'd provided in an attempt to imitate my five year old self.

The sudden buzz of whispers and puzzled expressions caught me off guard.  They weren't following me.

My lifetime friend Sue Parsons spoke up, "Whatever do you mean?"

I began using larger gestures to help them envision my point.  "I would tie one of Mom's old kitchen sheers under my chin."  (Please see me bent forward slightly at the waist in order to make my chin stick out a little further.  Arms bent at the elbows while my entire lower arm made the tying motion.)

Still no connection.

They looked puzzled and I just stood up perplexed.

At long last someone called out, "Do you mean a net curtain?!"

I quickly looked over to Sue for help.  "I don't know.  Do I mean a net curtain?"

The room erupted into gales of laughter.

You see, what I said was 'kitchen sheers' a term they would never use.  What they all heard and tried their best to envision was a child tying a set of kitchen SHEARS (American version: scissors) under her chin.  They tried to see that same child parading up and down her hallway while humming the wedding march.

"We couldn't understand why your mother would allow you to tie SHEARS under your chin!"

Well, when you put it that way, neither can I!

Some of you will want to know how I handled such a huge blunder.  I chose the response Frank and I have found best at such awkward times. 

I laughed right along with them.

Overseas travel will quickly teach you to never take yourself too seriously.  Embarrassment is just part of the experience.  Enjoy the laugh and move on.  (Except I feel sure this faux pas will follow me for years to come.)

Hopefully, I've given you a little smile tonight as well.

Blessings for you all as together we welcome October!



How about you?  Any embarrassing moments while trying to communicate in a foreign culture?  We'd love to hear about your favorites in the comment section.......







Monday, September 10, 2018

Feisty, Faithful Friendships

So for today, I want to talk about Friendships.

My sister (who is more introverted than I and quite happy being so) has often accused me of having 1000 best friends.  Of course, no one can have that many closest, dearest friends.  But I DO love a lot of people.

Fortunately for me, interacting with people is actually part of my job.  I remember the disappointment on my dad's face when I told him I could never see myself locked behind a desk all day.  Some people prefer working in solitude. I would be most miserable!

Imagining your smiling faces is the only thing that helps me stay seated the hour or so it takes to compose a good post.  I write Embrace the Grace for many "friends" I may never meet.  But I imagine you clearly.

My first task today was checking on a few friends who live on or near the coast of NC.  Hurricane Florence is predicted to have a major impact when it makes landfall.  Living in FL makes me acutely aware of all the stress associated with being in the path of any hurricane.

I was relieved to hear that Becky (of Smithellaneous fame) will be evacuating with her husband and her little dog Toto, too.  Umm, wait.  Wrong storm.  Her dog Summer will accompany them to a much safer area.

Please join me in praying God's protection and grace over all those in the path of this monster storm.  Many of you were so faithful to pray for Florida last year when we were facing a potential category 5 hurricane.  It's a wonderful gift to live on a coastline.  But flooding and hurricanes and tornadoes are no small matter.

I want to also say, "Thank you" to so many faithful friends who have encouraged me with my new venture into Facebook Live.  If you had been in my office last week, you would have burst out laughing, I'm sure.

Meagan gave me another brief tutorial as I prepared to go live.  "Tap this button, then that one.  Stand up.  Sit down.  Hop on your left foot.  Hold your right hand over your heart and hope for the best...."  That's not exactly what she said but I was so nervous, I could hardly process all she was telling me.

Proper angle on the camera?  Check.  Props ready?  Check.  Notes visible?  Check.  Okay . . . reach over and hit the START button.  Long moment of hesitation.  Umm, let's go over the check list again.

I reached out about four different times to try and start the video.  Each time, my courage would fail.  I would draw back my hand and go directly into the nervous habit of pulling at my right eyebrow.  (It's a wonder I have any eyebrows left on that side.  Thank heavens for an eyebrow pencil that fills the gaps.)

It took almost ten minutes of this back and forth behavior before I finally hit the button.  START!  Nothing happened. START!  Still nothing.  Finally it dawned on me that tapping my computer screen was NOT going to start the video.  That requires the clicking of a mouse.  (Sigh.)

Friends were there right away to cheer my terrifying attempt.  How thankful am I?

In the title I mentioned not only faithful friends but feisty ones, too.  Feisty is the best word to describe my friend Anne.  She just moved to Heaven last Wednesday and my heart misses her terribly.

Anne had grown up in New Jersey.    Always a bit frail, her 92 year old body had wasted away to less than 100 pounds.  But her blue eyes were piercing and her mind was still sharp right up to the end.

Frank and I had the privilege of singing to her and praying with her the few minutes before her passing.  I say privilege because Anne had no blood relatives around her.  Garden Grove Church was carrying that role.  Along with a dear neighbor who became like a son.

Friendships really matter in our lives.  Choose wisely.

My feisty friend, Anne loved God with all her heart.  She would tell anyone who would stand still about her relationship with Christ.  She even told her doctor, "I'm old.  I'm dying.  You can't fix me.  But I've already paid to see you so let's talk about Jesus."  He would sit and listen while she talked.

Now my feisty friend, Anne is with her dearest friend, Jesus.  He's my friend too so one day I'll see Anne again.  I'll see my mom and my Grandma (whom Anne reminded me of.)

I guess that would be the best place to close this post.  A simple reminder . . .

Whether you consider yourself more faithful or more feisty, make sure your friendships are ones you'll enjoy for all of eternity.  Those of us who know Christ as Savior will never have to bid farewell permanently.

And for that I'm forever grateful!


How about You?  Do you have 1000 best friends?  Are you perhaps faithful and feisty?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below . . .

  










Friday, August 31, 2018

Ava's Lesson

Many of you will remember that Ava is the youngest daughter of Joy and John.  She is also currently our youngest grand daughter at just over fourteen months.

She's been content for her older brother and sister to carry her around; so walking didn't seem especially necessary.  Until now.  With two new "babies" in the mix, Ava has definitely stepped up her game.  Talking and walking have become priorities.

She is such a bright little girl and flashes the trademark Schreck Smile on the regular.  No one can resist her charm.  She also showed off her teaching skills this week.

Everyone came to our house for family dinner Monday and it immediately got LOUD,  as usual.  With eight adults and eight children ranging in age from 7 years to 6 weeks, our family just naturally makes noise.  A lot of noise!  Cody (who grew up as an only child and married Kristin) is still adapting.

Ava demonstrated her new talent of walking with unsteady steps for several different adults.  If anyone lost interest too quickly, she would grab the couch or coffee table, steady herself, throw up pudgy hands and cheer, "TaDa!"  I couldn't help smiling each time I saw the routine repeated.

Eventually, the older cousins all moved to the kitchen.  They were laughing and having fun.  I caught sight of Ava just as she started moving toward them.  Arms in the air as a counter balance.  Monumental effort. One uncertain step.  Now another.  Her eyes fixed on the group of older children which was her chosen destination.

Suddenly, Ava just stopped.  Then she dropped to all fours and took off crawling toward the kitchen at warp speed.

It was apparent that the new mode of transportation (walking) just wasn't moving her quickly enough.  She reverted to what was more familiar (crawling.)  I laughed at first, then realized she had just reminded me of a valuable lesson.

We all prefer to stick with what we know best.

Trying new things takes a lot of effort; courage even.  Sometimes, the new thing doesn't develop as easily or as quickly as we had expected.  At that moment, it just seems to make more sense for us to go back to what has always been familiar.  Ditch the new.  It's just too hard.

But practice is necessary in any new venture.  If we hope to improve, we must practice.  We must risk failure on our way to success.

Ava falls on her bottom routinely.  She is definitely restricted by trying to walk.  And don't forget, new is scarey! But everyone around her continues to cheer each faltering step she attempts because we know how wonderful walking will be when she finally masters it.

Ava's lesson was the final push I needed to try something new myself.

Some friends (and my family) had been urging me to try Facebook live.  People get on there all the time for a variety of reasons.  Some sell, some rant, some tell funny stories.  It costs nothing and provides instant access to everyone on your friend list.  (And beyond if others share.)

So, with the story of Ava (and it's implications) duly noted, I determined to give it a try.  You would have laughed out loud if you had seen how nervous I was.  I must have left my office four times while trying to work up my nerve.  Meagan had to give me a tutorial on how to "Go Live" then turn it back off.  (I promptly forgot that part and everyone got a good look up my nose while i searched for the "end" button.)

But I Did It! I took my first stumbling steps toward a live post.

I tried.  It certainly wasn't perfect.  I forgot several of the things I wanted to say.  I looked at the wrong spot the entire time.  I couldn't stop to acknowledge people saying Hello because I was so fearful of losing my train of thought.  But I told Ava's lesson on Facebook live.

The great part is that several people commented saying it really spoke to them.  Exactly what I'd hoped for most.  One friend wrote a private message expressing her thoughts and cheering with me for the brave new step.  Hearing from her made all my nerves worth it.

Many of you reading this have something new YOU should be stepping out to try.  But fear of the unknown has kept you from moving forward.  Try anyway!  You have something to share that will encourage others.  Make the effort.  So what if it's not perfect.  You very well may succeed and surprise yourself.

I promise that if you need encouragement, I'll be here to cheer with you, 'TA DA!!"



We would love to hear about the brave new thing you want to begin in the comment section.  Or perhaps you would share your favorite "learning to walk" story from children or grands.  









Monday, August 27, 2018

It's All in the Deciding

If you need a little encouragement and hope, today's post is specifically written with you in mind.

A precious bit of truth hit me in a fresh way while sitting on my porch this morning.  Part of the sky was already beginning to indicate the rich, pure tones of sunrise.  Clouds to the west were still dark, poorly defined and mysterious.  But when I looked east, there was one billowy column that almost glowed with its stark whiteness.

I hadn't moved from my chair.  Both cloud groupings were visible at the same time.  To the west, only shadowy blackness.  Looking to the east, morning had already burst onto the scene.  Color bounced off the cloud to my right.  Brilliant pinks and purples began flooding the sky behind the single white cloud.

A quick glance to the left confirmed that light had not yet reached that part of the heavens.  But because I'm now 60 years old I've experienced approximately 21,900 new days.  (Yes!  I certainly DID use my calculator to find out that information.)  After all those new day dawning experiences, I sat in my little chair knowing a few things were certain:
  1. Given time, the sun WOULD shine on the clouds in the west, too.  If I had decided about my day based on how the western clouds looked at that moment I would have expected a dark, stormy day indeed.  But my assessment would have been wrong.
  2. The magnificent colors painting the east last only a short time.  They must be experienced, appreciated and committed to memory quickly because (like many things in life) they are only available for a moment.
  3. Even if this day DIDN'T dawn nicely, another would be on the horizon in just 24-hours.  Consistency is the hallmark of God's creation.  Deciding my focus was left completely up to me.
I sat and prayed for so many friends who are walking through places of uncertainty and difficulty.  That's when I realized there was a message of hope being written for us in the very atmosphere.

1.  No matter how bleak the situation may look right now, JOY will come in due time.  The inky cloud formations in the west gave no indication that light would impact them.  Your situation may appear the same, right now.  You find yourself wondering, "Will this ever change?"  "Is there any possibility that hope can be renewed?"  My cry to you is, "YES!"  
     Give the God of this universe time to work on your behalf.  Difficulty is a part of every life.  Struggle and disappointment come to us all.  But scripture promises He knows what we need even before we call to Him.  God hasn't moved from His throne, He sees more than just this moment in your life.  Ask God to shape your perspective based on HIS vantage point. Decide to trust Him.

2.  Life moves very quickly.  (Was it Mark Twain who joked that life is like a roll of toilet tissue?  The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!  I know.  I'm shocked too that I took that rabbit trail. But humor is good medicine. LOL)  We're all given brilliant moments of hope and joy.  They tend to splash onto the scene then dissipate rather quickly.  
     We must value, appreciate and commit them to memory.  Those memories provide the encouraging warmth we need on days when life is harsh, cold or uncertain. Hope is available.  Decide to watch for it.
3.  God has never been late in answering my prayers but seldom, if ever, has He been early!  It's a lesson of consistency I've gleaned over these 21,900 days of living.  I love the truth I see repeated in scripture, God Listens.  He hears the cries of His people.  
     Here's my question for you....are you talking to HIM about your situation?  Is He the confidant you're running to or are you relying most heavily on the wisdom of friends?  Dear Reader, even the closest friend lacks the vantage point God has - He sees the beginning and the end.  Only He can whisper the most accurate advice.  He alone has a plan that will weave even the difficulties into a fabulous Life Tapestry, if you allow it.  Decide to take your struggles to God.

Most of my friends find my fascination with sunrises and sunsets to be a bit odd.  That's okay.  When one of my grand babies catches sight of a sunset and calls out, "Look, Noni!  God has painted the sky to tell us good-night and He loves us!"  I don't mind being odd.  

So I've come alongside today to offer a hug and to challenge you, take courage.  Decide to trust God's faithfulness.  Decide to watch for the whispers of hope sent your way.  Decide to talk with Him about your struggle.

Because life really is all in the deciding!



How about you? Do you enjoy lovely sunrises/sunsets in your part of the world?  What is your favorite reminder in nature of God's faithfulness?  

Monday, August 13, 2018

Make Your Bed

It's the simple things, done consistently, that make life Grand!

This is so true.  We all intuitively want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  We want to have maximum impact in our sphere of influence.  We want to make a difference.

But few understand that life is the sum total of thousands of small choices made consistently every single day.  That's why this post is titled, "Make Your Bed!"

Frank and I read excerpts from a book written by a military leader years ago.  One of his simplest instructions had great impact on his cadets and made perfect sense to us.

He urged his cadets to ALWAYS make their bed first thing each morning.  He said this simple act would reap great benefits:
  • A sense of accomplishment to start off the day.
  • A knowledge that good habits have purpose.
  • An act of self-discipline which would set the tone for each day.
  • A reminder that consistence makes a difference.
  • A gift at the end of each day.  (No matter how difficult/chaotic the day had been, the cadets finished that day with a sense of order if they returned to a bed that was made.)
Good advice, don't you think?

I marvel at people who don't understand the power of consistency.  Maybe this idea was planted deep inside me by the caverns we visited when I was just a child. My first year at summer camp included a trip to the Florida Caverns State Park.

Our group stepped out of the glaring sunlight and near 100 degree weather into a cool, shadowy wonderland.  A short walk down the gravel path found us in an underground cathedral created by stalactites and stalagmites.  Magnificent pillars of stone rose from the cavern floor to meet their twin which grew from the ceiling.

I was awe-struck.

The guide patiently answered the thousand or so questions asked by our elementary-aged group.  And at some point I was able to grasp the information about how these monstrous columns had formed.

"Actually," said the park ranger. "these are still growing.  They are formed as single drops of mineral rich water drip from the ceiling.  They grow one little drop at a time."  [I would encourage you to visit the website and see the incredible pictures.]

As a seven year old kid, I stood looking up at the majestic pillars.  I touched their cool sides and saw how impossible it would be to put my arms around even one of them, they were so huge.  Such magnificence created one single drop at a time!  The power of consistency became a seed firmly planted in my mind.

These monsters serve no real purpose.  They support nothing and are strictly ornamental.  But oh, the lesson they teach!

Another use for the word "pillar" refers to someone who is reliable.  As in, "She is a true pillar of the community."  That character trait is built and becomes visible one small drop of action at a time.  (Just like the stalactites and stalagmites)

We all want to be people of influence.  That desire to impact others is built into our DNA.  But the truth is, influence is earned. Over time.  By small, consistent acts which show an individual to be trust-worthy.

One little word of encouragement here.  A simple act of kindness there.  A confidence kept.  A hurt forgiven.  A promise remembered.  Consistent dependability.

These are the things that add value and build rich stabilizing character in us.  Over time, they create a heart people know they can trust.  You become like a well......known to always have a cool, refreshing drink for each weary passer-by.

People discover they can come to you for advice  You are consistent.  Their words won't be shared with anyone else. You've developed a reputation for reliability one small disciplined loving action at a time.

Please understand the opposite is equally true.  Watch the person who continues to be unreliable.  The one who complains.  The one who tears down instead of building up.  This person will also become known for their character.

Proverbs 20:11 reads this way in the KJV.  "Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right." 

Our world is desperate for people of reliable character to step forward and use their influence for good.  Will you accept the challenge?  Will you nurture the tiny seeds which grow consistent encouragement?  Will you be the reliable person always adding value?

Make your bed, friend!

That and a hundred other small actions will produce for you a massive harvest of influence you could never wrap your arms around, even if you tried.



Do you have a daily routine that has become a good/productive habit?  Have you observed consistency playing out in the life of someone you know; one small action at a time?  Leave us a comment and tell how these have impacted you.....

Friday, August 10, 2018

Visiting China

In addition to all that happened around these parts in July, I also visited China for three weeks.

"Wait!  Did I miss something?" I can hear your gasp and I see the puzzled expression on your face.

If you've followed Embrace the Grace for very long, you know I love to travel.  But you also know that the planning and anticipating are half the fun for me.  You've heard NOTHING about me visiting China before now. 

Well, as with most stories, there is one small puzzle piece missing.  I actually visited China by way of a lovely teacher from Shanghai who lived with us for three weeks. 

Ah, now you understand.

Her name is Barbara and she came to live with us through an organization called Education First.  This language learning program (based in Switzerland) facilitates world travel for students wanting to experience different cultures.

My friend became involved with EF at the beginning of this year and asked if we would consider hosting a child for three weeks.   "It would be a wonderful opportunity to impact their life.  Besides, you have so much travel experience." she said.

I knew the answer to her question before I even consulted Frank.  July, 2018  was going to be packed for us with one new grandbaby and another on the way.  Not to mention, Vacation Bible School and a missions group of 20 young people coming to our church to help with outreach.

"Thanks but No, Thanks!"  I figured this was a cultural experience someone else might want to enjoy.  No sense keeping all the fun to myself, right?

But then my friend came back with a request for us to host a course leader.
  • "A young lady," she said.   
  • "Most likely 30 years old. Just like one of your girls," she said.  
  • "It's an opportunity to share your faith in Christ," she said. 
And that's when I felt a familiar tug on my heart.  Frank and I talked about the gift it would be to experience China by inviting this young lady into our home.  Perhaps this would also be a divine appointment.  A missions trip without ever leaving our little abode.

So it was decided.

At the very last minute, the young lady we were to host became ill and couldn't travel.  The organization tapped "Barbara" to take her place.  The program was new to her.  She only had four days to prepare.  And she had never met the seventeen children that would be her charges for this trip halfway around the world.

But she had a passport and visa from a previous trip.  And (we came to learn) Barbara is fearless!

Not gonna lie, we were all three a bit nervous at first.  But we warmed up to one another quickly.  Fortunately, Barbara speaks English well.  And Frank's visit to China almost 30 years ago, gave us much to talk about.  By the end of the first weekend, I knew Barbara and I would be friends.

She was unfamiliar with our faith and had never attended a church nor read a Bible.  But being the fearless person she is and wanting to be gracious, she came right along with us.....to everything.  She even accepted the invitation to join Frank and me for evening devotions and prayer.

We never pushed.  We didn't have to.  Christ makes room for Himself in every searching heart.  We simply lived our normal lives.  Invited her to join us when she wanted and made time for her to ask questions about it all.

The grand babies loved her immediately and she them.  Madi summed up the situation first (hand on hip), "Noni, is Ms. Barbawah you new verwy bestest fwiend?"  We all looked at one another with big eyes while stifling laughter, "Why yes, Madi.  Ms. Barbawah is my new friend!"

Responsibilities kept Barbara occupied each day from 7:30AM until 5:30PM.  After our dinner, she spent long hours on the phone with the parents in China, responding to questions from the students, or facilitating understanding for the host families.  I marveled at her adeptness.

Because I was the transportation for Barbara, I spent the most time with her.  We did indeed become friends and talked easily about so many different things.  Culture.  Weddings.  Faith.  Children.  Shopping. Family.  Food.

One of my favorite lines came when several host families gathered for a picnic.  One of the "dads" was talking with Barbara.  He learned that her parents are owners of a family restaurant they have managed for decades.

"What type of food do they serve?"  he leaned in to be sure to catch her response.

Barbara hesitated for a split second then answered, "Chinese."

Everyone at their table burst out laughing!  Can't make up those kind of cultural exchanges.

The richest memory I'll rehearse from our "visit to China" was when we all tried to say good-bye.  Barbara and I both wept openly.  Frank had to swipe at tears and wait for his voice to get stable.  We hugged one another multiple times while whispering our farewells. 

How is it that your heart can become so entangled with other people in such a short amount of time?  Why even make the effort to connect with someone you may never see again?   I guess the answer is this:  you have to be open and you have to believe Every Connection Matters.

Many people live with closed hearts.  They don't want to risk being hurt or misunderstood or offended or rejected.  But my friend, the line from our childhood is still true.....  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Yes, it was awkward inviting a stranger to live with us for almost three weeks.  Yes, there were odd moments when we didn't understand one another.  Yes, it required time and energy during a month when both were in precious little supply.

But I'm so glad we chose to be open to this experience.

I will long remember Barbara's beautiful face, covered with tears as she leaned in one final time and whispered, "Thank you.  I will remember you always."

Our trip to China was wonderful!



How about you?  What was your favorite travel experience this summer?  Take a moment to leave a comment and let's see where all we've been.









Monday, July 30, 2018

Grayson Oliver Smith

He's here!  He's here!  And he is simply adorable!

Yes, our level of joy does require that many exclamation points.  Our third baby has given birth to her third baby and we are most grateful for his safe arrival.

Meagan and Nathan gave us an early morning call last Thursday to say they were on their way to the hospital.  She had been awake since 2:30 AM with serious labor pains.  This was no false alarm.  July 26th would be Grayson Oliver's birthday.

The siblings were quickly shuttled to Aunt Joy's house.  I dropped Barbara (my Chinese teacher) at her location then headed to Joy's to help.  Perhaps I should clarify who was at Joy's house and why she needed my help.  The list included:
  • Spencer 7 
  • Abby 6
  • Noah 4
  • Zach 3 
  • Madi 3 
  • Tyce 3 
  • Ava 1
  • Avery 10 months 
  • Parker 2 months  
That's why I headed to Joy's house to help.

Kristin had to leave Parker in order to close out the VBS we were doing at a local apartment complex.  She was teaching at an outdoor venue.  Frank was there but he had to grill more than 50 hotdogs and there were no extra hands.  Tyce and Avery are the two children Joy babysits three days a week.  Joy took in all nine children and never twitched an eye once.  Amazing!

Less than thirty minutes after I arrived, we got the text that Meagan was already 7 cm dilated.   I stood holding a hairbrush (getting ready to braid Abby's hair) and read the text to Joy who was feeding someone.  Grayson would definitely be arriving before the end of the business day.

"Mom, Go!"  she grabbed the brush from me.  "You know Meagan won't take long to have this baby. You have to go to the hospital right now!"

I hated leaving Joy with all those children.  But I also wanted to be able to run errands or make calls if Meagan and Nathan needed me.  Joy gave me a push toward the door and the decision was made.

At the hospital, I tapped on the door then quietly slipped into their room.  Meagan sat on a birthing ball while Nathan massaged her back countering the pressure of the labor pains. They worked together as a real team.  It was a sweet scene I've witnessed twice before with them.

The method is what they've found most effective for the way Meagan labors.  The nurse kept commenting on what an awesome job they were doing.  She even suggested at one point they should do an instructional birthing video.  Meagan just rolled those huge blue eyes as her response to the suggestion.

Of course the truth is that every birth experience is different and each arrival is perfect; however it happens.  Our other five grandchildren have been born by way of Caesarean section.

During the first couple hours, I stayed in the room with them.  Helping massage Meagan's back to give Nathan a break.  Stepping out at key moments.  Finding more ice chips.  Chasing down the nurse when Meagan's water broke.

Pretty soon after that, it was time for Noni to turn the waiting area into a prayer room.  Papa arrived and we took turns getting updates from Nathan.  [We are blessed with such wonderful sons-in-law.  We offer great respect for their role as husbands.  But they so graciously welcome us in to their lives when they're ready and we are most appreciative.]

About an hour later, Grayson was taking his first breaths and trying his best to figure out where he had landed.  With only a few loud cries, he marked his place in our hearts for always.  Nathan stepped out and let us know all was well.  We hugged and smiled and congratulated him and swiped at our tears of gratitude.

Everyone said Meagan delivered Grayson quickly.  In fact, Meagan had been in labor with this little boy for almost 10 weeks.  True, the final push was only a little over four hours but who's counting other than Meagan, right?

Later in the day, I took Noah and Madi to the hospital so they could meet their new baby brother.  I tuned into their never ending conversation just in time to hear Madi say, "I don't yike him.  I don't yike Gwayson."  My eyes went wide.  But I shouldn't have worried at all.

Sounding very grown up in spite of his four year old lisp, Noah instructed, "Now Madi, Gwayson is our budder.  You have to yove him."

A deep sigh of resignation came up from her toes and Madi responded, "Aw white! (Alright!)  I yove him.  I YOVE him!"

(Try to stifle that laugh while keeping your eyes on traffic.  No easy feat.)

Nathan's parents (who also happen to be our dear friends) will be arriving from NC in a couple of days.  We will all celebrate together the miracle of this little guy.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you....  Grayson Oliver means Wise Life.  Lord, grant it may it be so for our wonderful little grand baby number 8.



Do you have grandchildren?  How many?  Any funny sibling stories you can share?  We'd love to hear about your experience in the comment section.....













Thursday, July 19, 2018

Say Something

I watched as she swiped at the escaping tears.  With a pained expression, he rubbed his forehead a second time.  They sat looking straight ahead.  Neither of them able nor willing to see the other.

This isn't the beginning of some silly novel.  It's the real life action I observed early this morning while waiting at a traffic light. Always people watching, I happened to be in the perfect spot to catch the interaction taking place between a dad and his teen-aged daughter.

"Did you know these people?" you may be asking.  No, I didn't.

But after so many years of studying people and body language and relationships, a few suppositions were obvious.  The girl was too young to be his wife.  It was too early for a joy ride; he must have been taking her to a summer job. 

Remember, we also have a lot of experience riding in cars with teen-age daughters.  Even if those guesses were wrong, the tension was visible to anyone taking time to see.

When I see someone in traffic who appears to be in distress, I try to offer a short prayer for them.  Something like one of these. . .
  • "Father, let your peace come into that vehicle."  
  • "Dear Lord, give them grace to be forgiving."  
  • "Heavenly Father, may they sense your love right now."
It doesn't matter if I know them or not.  They're known by our Father and there may not be anyone else to lift them in prayer just at the moment they need it.   I look at it through the lens of Solomon's admonition in Ecclesiastes, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might."  I am the one who noticed them; I should pray.

For the two minutes that I was part of the struggle between this dad and daughter, I did pray.  But I also wanted to shout to the dad, "Say Something!"

Most likely he was thinking he didn't know what to say.  That's normal.  We seldom ever have the perfect words during a moment of disagreement.  Perfect words don't matter.  Shattering the barrier of silence does matter.

Professional counselors may have another perspective and that's fine.  I'm just a mom who has ridden in the Cone of Silence with a frustrated teen-ager many times.  And I can tell you this, silence hardens hearts. That's true between spouses and friends, as well.

Especially if you're dealing with a daughter, remember there is never a waking moment that a woman doesn't have words happening in her head.  If you leave that young woman to silently argue through the situation in her own thoughts, it only grows more negative with each passing moment.

Interrupt that train of destructive thought with some word of quiet reassurance:

  • "I do love you."
  • "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings."  
  • "I hope you believe I want what's best for you."  
  • "You don't feel like talking now but can we pray together before you leave?"
Do something to break that barrier.  Even if you have to take a step back when they unleash their frustration, it's important to keep communicating.  Silence can become an escape and eventually even a habit.

When our girls were little, we taught them a secret communication.  The first person would give the second three quick squeezes.  That meant, "I. Love. You."  The second person then responded with four little squeezes meaning, "I. Love. You. Too."  

No words were used but we had communicated with one another.  Their faces would light up.  And sometimes they were so excited participating in the secret code they would then announce it.  "Mom, I just told Daddy, I. Love. You.  He squeezed my hand and said, I. Love. You. Too!"  

Can you hear the giggles of joy that followed?

One afternoon, I had to discipline one of our daughters.  It had been a severe breaking of the rules and the punishment was equal to the offense.  When I went back into her bedroom later to talk over the situation, she refused to talk with me.  

After waiting a few minutes I said, "Okay, that's your choice.  You don't have to talk right now.  Just remember, we have to deal with this before you go to sleep tonight."  I reassured her of my love, stepped out and quietly closed her door.

The girls all knew our routine after any discipline.  We gave them time to think over their actions.  We went back to discuss the offense.  We made sure they understood the punishment, then prayed together.  

But bedtime was coming quickly and still no closure.  The silent daughter had already climbed into her bed when we gathered to read their Bible story and say nighttime prayers.  We couldn't let her go to sleep with the struggle unresolved but I was all too familiar with the resolute look on her face.

What was I to do?  I offered a quiet prayer while Dad read the story. 

That's when it hit me.  While someone else was praying, I reached over to the silent daughter and ever so gently squeezed her foot three times.  "I. Love. You."  

With only a slight hesitation, she gave my hand four distinct pats.  "I. Love. You. Too."  The silence was broken.

It was the next morning before we were able to have our follow-up discussion.  Our daughter still wasn't happy but her frustration level had dropped and we were able to talk calmly.

What's my message today?

Simply this: if you find yourself in a frustrating moment, don't go silent.  Say Something.  Pray for wisdom and speak up.  Don't use silence as a shield or as an excuse or as a wall.  That relationship is far to precious.

They can not read your mind, Dear Friend.  If you love them, say it.  If you're sorry, ask forgiveness.  If you regret the misunderstanding, express yourself better.

Paul gave a helpful warning to us in Ephesians 4.  "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry."  In other words, deal with the situation.  Don't go to bed silent and angry.  Say Something!

That's my word of encouragement for today and I'm sticking to it!  Blessings!



How about you?  Any experience in this area of struggle?  Any tips to share with our other readers?  We'd love to read your thoughts in the comment box below.














Monday, July 16, 2018

Still No Baby

Many of you have been checking in to see if Meagan and Nathan's third bundle of joy has arrived.  The title says it all, "Still No Baby!"  Without a doubt this is the most unusual of the eight pregnancies we've lived through with our girls.

Meagan's first two pregnancies were good experiences with small complications here and there.  Both babies came early; Madi required a bit of bedrest before arrival time. 

Noah was born around 9PM on a Thursday.  Meagan taught school all day; went for her check-up; moved to the hospital and birthed a little boy......all in time for us to be home before midnight.  It was like he processed it all then asked, "Is now an okay time to make my appearance?"  Such a thoughtful kid!

Don't get me wrong.  When she was in the hospital at 29 weeks with this little guy, we were all extremely concerned.  Every extra week this baby stays in place is a good week.  But Meagan has had so much pain and so many unexplainable problems since then, it's definitely been perplexing.

Still, she and Nathan keep finding reasons to smile and express gratitude. It's all about the Attitude! Thank you for your prayers.

In other news, we are honored to be hosting a lovely young lady from China for three weeks.  Her Chinese name is Wan Gind but she told us to call her "Barbara."  She also seems to like Audrey Hepburn but I think "Barbara" was easier for everyone to pronounce.

She is here as a course leader with a wonderful program called Education First.  It's an international group providing cultural learning opportunities for children and adults.  My friend, Janet, became a liaison for EF and asked if Frank and I would serve this month as a host home.  What better way to touch the nation of China than by offering a safe, loving environment for one of their visiting citizens?

Barbara is responsible for 17 students who call her at all hours to tell of everything from home-sickness, to great adventures, to injuries and such.  She speaks really good English (thank Heavens.)  I hear her switching back and forth easily between the languages as she talks with students and American host families.  I'm impressed!

We're all praying these students (ranging in age from 8 to 12) will have a positive experience while here in the United States.  So much going on.  So many moving parts.  And our July heat index has been topping out daily in the three digit range.

It's been nice for Frank to be able to share with Barbara his positive memories from visiting her country.  She was surprised when he said,  "I visited China many years ago and things have surely changed so much.  But the people were genuinely helpful and kind to me.  I loved being there."  

I don't mind saying I was rather nervous getting ready for her to arrive.  I mean, she's a stranger from half way around the world.  A culture totally different from anything I know.  Customs and habits completely different from my own.  Sharing our home for three weeks.  Apparently, she was a bit anxious as well.

We went to the grocery store her first full day so I could prepare food she could eat and enjoy.  We talked casually about many things.  After an hour or so, she looked directly at me and said, "I'm so glad you are happy," she hesitated, searching for the right words then put her hand on her heart.  "I wondered how you would be.  Thank you."

Two browned-eyed girls.  One older the other younger.  One American the other Chinese.  Both struggling with exactly the same questions and concerns.  More unites us than separates us in this world, Friends!

I'll close with a quick story about Noah, the 4 year old.  Last week, I met Meagan at the obstetrician's office to pick up Madi and Noah while Meg was being checked out.  Our wires had crossed about the time to meet and I was rather frazzled when I finally starting pulling out of the parking area.

Too sharp a turn and Meagan's unsecured tumbler fell over, lodging behind my back while dumping it's iced contents all over my bottom.  I jumped forward on the seat and pulled to the side of the road as quickly as possible all the while yelling, "Oh, No!  Oh, No!"  

As I opened the van door and hopped out, I remembered the babies were riding with me and started adding in, "It's okay!  Oh, no!  Oh, no!  It's okay!"  

It took a minute to get the tumbler back into a cupholder.  Fortunately, Meagan already had a towel on the passenger side seat.  I grabbed it and mopped up as much of the formerly free-flowing liquid as possible.  This included mopping Noni's backside as well as the driver's side seat all the while trying to reassure my little charges, "It's okay!  Oh, no!  Good heavens!  It's okay, really!  Everything is okay!"

Traffic continued to pass us.  Each driver craning their necks and trying to see what was going on with the lady on the side of the road.  That's when I heard Noah's little voice wafting from the back, "It's not the worst that's happened." 

I threw my head back and laughed out loud, "You're exactly right, sweet boy!  It's not the worst that's happened!"

So there you have it, dear reader.  Still no baby. A cultural exchange happening in my home.  Extreme heat of summer.  A baptized bottom.  But hey, it's not the worst that's happened.




Friday, July 6, 2018

Announcement!

My trip to Michigan this past week was simply amazing!

I was privileged to once again attend Speak Up, the speaker's/writer's conference sponsored by my friend, Carol Kent.  Several hundred women (and a few brave men) from 35 different states and three Canadian provinces came together for one fantastic time of learning, worshipping the Father and connecting.

My roommate, Dyann, was from California.  We met via email before hand and became quick friends as we shared our writing challenges and dreams. Simply Fantastic!

A publishing company held an advance contest then chose 21 articles to be included in an anthology entitled: Faith and Freedom.  The article I submitted was one of those chosen!  That was exciting and will now move me into the "Published" category.  Woo Hoo!  Thanks for being excited with me.

The best news is this - I came away with a contract for my new book!!

No.  No, I did not.

I did not come away with a book contract.  I came away encouraged about my book.  I came away with ideas for improvement.  I came away with renewed passion.  But the announcement of a contract will have to wait for another time.

Once I got home, life was rolling at full tilt.  It was four days before I could look at the comments sent to me by one of the agents I met with.  She had carefully reviewed my proposal and a sample chapter I'd emailed her before the conference.  Our actual meeting time was brief so her overview had to be succinct.

She encouraged me to keep working at it and highlighted a couple of points.  Needless to say, I was eager to get back home and read through her longer explanations.

But reading through her comments yesterday afternoon had the same effect on my enthusiasm as helium that's slowly leaking from a shiny balloon:

"I don't see anything unique here."  

"Same comment as above."

"This story is too long; where is your focus?"

"What do you want the reader to see in this section?"

"I've read three proposals this week on this same topic.  What's unique about your slant?"

"Same comment as above."

"Is there some other topic you're passionate about?  This is too broad; too common."

(Can you hear the squeaky, high-pitched sound of air leaving a balloon slowly?  Yep, that's what my heart sounded like as I read.)

I met Frank at home and gave him the cliff note version.  Then I cried.  Fortunately, we had company coming for dinner so I couldn't indulge in a full-blown pity party.  There was a meal to finish preparing and a table to set.

This morning, Frank just pulled me close and let me cry again for a little while.  He's a Good, GOOD man!

We talked some more about the review.  Then finally, I was able to paint a word picture to help him understand how I felt.

"Honey, this editor has taken my manuscript, which feels like a baby to me and she has looked it over very carefully.  These comments sound to me like she has said, 'Lady, your baby is ugly!  You can't fix ugly.  Maybe you should just try to have another one.' "  

He looked at me with such a startled expression that it struck me funny.  I reacted by doing the laugh/cry thing we women are so famous for.  I'll always believe laughter truly is the best medicine.

We prayed together and I ran on to do a hospital visit while he started cleaning our yard.  It's been an introspective kind of day for me.  When someone declares your baby is ugly, you have to take a step back and regroup.

Fortunately, I have company that stops by this blog site on a regular basis.  (That's YOU!)  A new post was overdue.  Still no time for a pity party.  Thanks, dear readers, for being the catalyst I needed to make me get busy and write again; right now.  Today!

Home-spun wisdom has always quoted the old cowboy.  "Horse bucked you off?  Grab those reins and get back on right now.  Best cure is to ride again!"

Eventually, I'll be able to report to you:  "I came away with a contract for my new book!"  That isn't for today; but eventually.

Until then, I'll just keep loving on this "ugly baby" until it grows out of the ugly stage and finds it's place in the printed world.  Who knows, there may even be a unique slant in that concept.

If you've been hit with some less than encouraging news this week, take a step back.  Allow yourself time to regroup.  Things are never quite as impossible (or ugly) as they first appear.

Choose to sing along with me the theme song from Lil' Orphan Annie, "The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow!"

Besides, we know the One who holds all our tomorrows in His loving hands.  Set backs are really more like set ups for a better outcome.

THAT truth is definitely worth an announcement!








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