Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Looking Up Today

I certainly hope your Thanksgiving celebrations were memorable.  (For all the right reasons!)

We have a few "memorable" Thanksgivings that make us laugh every time they come up because of some fiasco that took place.  Maybe not our favorite, but definitely ones we'll never forget.

Since my last post, we have made a five day trip to NC that included 26 hours of drive time round trip.  As well as a four hour round-trip drive to Treasure Island, FL for Thanksgiving with our children.   Frank and I both enjoy traveling - good thing.  However, I AM standing up to type this post.  That's no joke.

The wedding of our niece and her new husband was just lovely.  She and her parents planned for every detail that could make it an enjoyable evening.  The wedding and reception were held in a castle that was built 15 years ago for the purpose of hosting such events.  Everything from turrets, to fountains, to flagstone pavers, to twinkling lights.  The dream location for many brides.

The most beautiful moment for me was when Frank and I went in to pray with Ashley before the ceremony began.  She was stunning, of course.  No longer the little girl running around our living room.  Now a confident young lady ready to move forward with her life partner.  We held hands, bowed our heads and thanked God for His Grace and Love in all our lives.

I was especially taken with the handsome minister who conducted the ceremony.  So much so that when he left the reception early, I went out and got into his car with him. Away we went to Ocean Isle Beach where we pastored from 1993-1999.  We arrived around midnight; slept fast and were ready for the chapel service by 9 AM.

It's always a treat to minister there.  We were also invited to speak that evening for the church we pioneered.  But my mom had a great saying that is appropriate here.  "My get up and go had already got up and gone!"  

So Frank and I simply took Sunday evening and Monday to rest.  We walked long distances on the beautiful shore.  We took in two sunsets and a sunrise.  We read and talked and sat quietly just listening to the waves.  It was a resplendent respite indeed.

I'll write later about the great adventure we had with our children and grands for Thanksgiving.

The title of this post is, "Looking Up Today."  And there's a special reason for that.

It was ten years ago, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, that my mom departed this life and began her new life in Heaven.  That exact date was December 2, 2008.  So, I've been preparing myself mentally to mark this decade anniversary on Sunday.

We have a lot going on at church this Sunday with regular services and our annual Christmas party Sunday evening.  I knew I would be extremely busy and anticipated how I would deal with a little sadness.

What I wasn't prepared for was the full-on wash of grief that hit me this morning.  Apparently, my inner heart connected more with the actual day which followed the holiday more than with the calendar date. I'm not often given to tears but they've flooded my cheeks all day long.

After our first meeting this morning, I gave up and came home.  We have a rather special dinner planned with dear friends of our church this evening.  So, I'll pull myself together and go enjoy their hospitality and hugs.

I've let myself remember.  I've allowed myself the luxury of weeping and laughing about my wonderful mom. I've quieted myself so God could wrap me in His rich love.  I ate another serving of pumpkin pie.

Grieving is something very personal, I've discovered.  Everyone walks it in their own way.  But a few things I know for sure:

  • I'm thankful for the years I had with my mom.
  • I'm thankful she loved me richly and taught me about Christ.
  • I'm thankful she taught me to pray and to laugh.
  • I'm thankful she loved Frank and my girls.  (She would have loved my sons and grandchildren, too!)
  • I'm thankful I'll see her again some day.
So my choice on this day when tears keep flowing unbidden, is to look up.  This world was not the forever home of my mama.  It isn't my forever home either.  

I look up and express my gratitude for God's rich love and free salvation.







Monday, November 12, 2018

Dressing the Part

So this coming weekend we will be in eastern NC for the wedding of our precious niece, Ashley.  She'll change her last name from Hawley to Bell and the excitement surrounding their big day is REAL!

They asked Uncle Frank to officiate and Aunt Sheri will be part of the cake serving team.  (Hopefully, I'm helping start the process and the actual servers will take over.  Otherwise, my inexperience with official cake slicing might leave us without enough cake to go around.  That would never do!)

This morning, between phone calls and emails, I've been trying on dresses to see what I have that might work.  The wedding is early evening so the attire will be on the dressier side; a little bling will definitely be in order.

As usual, I've taken photos of each outfit to send for evaluation by my daughters.  A couple were definite "NO's" but I took the pictures anyway because the look made me chuckle.  (One made me laugh out loud.  No sense groaning, right?!)

Based on how I'm feeling today, my preference would be to add some rhinestones to my favorite lounging pants and pair them with a billowy top.  But that's not happening.

I must admit I enjoyed pulling the dresses and skirts from the back of my guest closet.  Each one brought with it a sweet memory.  The burgundy, portrait collar top with a velvet belt is what I wore for Joy and John's wedding.

As I put it back on the hanger, I was lamenting aloud to myself that I should have gone with the larger size when I bought it because it would still fit well.  Upon checking the tag, I started laughing out loud because it appears I DID buy the larger size ten years ago as a point of comfort.  Oh well!

There's the dress the Hollis family bought for me when I was ordained into ministry.  A lovely navy blue number with just the right amount of dark sequins off-setting the front of the jacket.  Elegant and still understated.  I've cared for this dress and worn it for multiple events over the last eighteen years.

Disclaimer:  It's also a great "camouflage" style dress that has allowed for the ebbs and ummm, "flows" of my figure.

The dresses I wore for Meagan's and Kristin's weddings would not be warm enough.  And the thoughts of pairing them with my little purple hooded rain jacket for the evening didn't seem quite appropriate.

SIGH!

I'll probably just stick with the navy lace dress I've been wearing most lately.  It's structured but not at all form-fitting which fits my current situation quite well.  If you know what I mean.

So I've come away from my walk down the memory lane of clothing with a couple of thoughts:

  • Every decision has a consequence.  Every time I've disciplined myself with exercise and healthy eating, those same zippers have moved more easily.  Excusing myself has had the opposite and equal consequence.
  • I miss my mama.  I miss her today just as much as I did when she died ten years ago.  Putting on the ordination dress took me right back to her hugging me and telling me how proud she was.  Thankfully, I know I'll see her again some day and we'll never say another good-bye.
  • Taking care of what you DO have is important.  It's really not necessary for me to run out and spend money we don't have budgeted for a new dress when I already have just what I need tucked away in my own closet.  Traditional pieces you love and care for never go out of style.  (That truth goes for relationships as well!)
  • The REAL focus is important to remember.  This is a marvelous family celebration that will center on the joy of Ashley and her beloved, Cody.  Keeping that thought the focus, helps me choose from what I have and maintain a happy heart.  Hopefully, I'll have time to stand up tall and hold my breath for whatever picture they snap with the cake serving team.
I'll be sure to let you know what the girls decide to dress me in and how lovely the wedding was in a future post.


What about you?  Will you be attending a fall wedding?  Do you have favorite articles of clothing that stir memories? We'd love to hear about them in the comment section below.....






Monday, November 5, 2018

Need a Smile?

I dare you to read this post and not smile, chuckle or perhaps burst right out with a genuine, "BaHaHa!"  As usual, the funny came in the middle of some dark clouds.

Grayson Oliver Smith (newest member of our tribe) was in the hospital for three days last week.  The poor little guy kept having moments where he would choke and completely stop breathing from some unexplained blockage.

Doctors eventually concluded his breathing problems were stemming from an extremely severe form of acid reflux called "gerd."  Treatment steps are in place and he is already improving, thank Heaven.

Needless to say, Meagan and Nathan needed to focus solely on him.  So Noni and Papa stepped in to monitor the lives of Madison and Noah.  Now, please note my carefully chosen phrasing.  Noni and Papa weren't directing these two, we were on the scene to monitor and care for only.

Madison Riley is now 3.  She could have taken care of them both herself if only she were tall enough to reach the buttons on the microwave.  We were also considered helpful for the driving thing.  She can't reach those pedals yet either.

Noah is 5 and even as a first born, he's pretty content to go with the flow.  Madi, however, has a plan for everything and an opinion about everyone!  Frank says she's like me but I know the truth.  Her headstrong nature is a perfect blending of the determined natures found in both her parents.  (Notice how gracefully I dodged that bullet?!)

The first night, I went into their "sleep over" room (a.k.a. our guest room) around 9:30 to confirm both angels were sleeping.  I found Madison sitting up straight as an arrow having a conversation with her imaginary friends, Emily and Jemily.

She seemed completely alert. Noni, on the other hand, was already yawning, groggy and ready for her pillow.  What to do?

"Madi!"  I spoke in a strong, staccato whisper so as not to wake Noah. "Why are you still awake?"

(Why, oh why, do we ask silly questions at a time like this?  Is it because we adults can't evaluate the situation quickly enough?  Are we perhaps buying time for our tired brains to concoct a consequence?)

Madison sighed at my lack of understanding then responded in her matter-of-fact voice,  "I not sweepy, Noni!"  Well, yeah.  I guess that was obvious.

I responded to her rationale in my stern whisper, "Well, well, you just better lay down and go to sleep anyway."  Oh, that was brilliant.  Who else could ever have thought up with such a witty and compelling come back?

Fortunately for us, Nathan and Meagan are strong, no-nonsense parents when it comes to training their children to be obedient.  Madi laid down as I'd requested and that was that.  (Thank goodness.)

There were a few more times over the three days that Noah or Madi would "test the water" with Noni or Papa.  But each time we would quickly remind them we expected obedience just like Mom or Dad would say.  Once we established the same boundaries they have at home, everyone settled into a peaceful routine.

The one word that came back to me from my own days with toddlers was: CONSTANT.  The talking, the needing, the bickering, the exploring are constantly happening; simultaneously; at all points in the home; without ceasing.

Caring for multiple little ones does not afford the care-giver a break.  Ever!  Nap times and bedtimes are not breaks.  Those short hours are solely for the purpose of recharging the battery of the care-giver.

Usually, the littles wake up and immediately have some dream or some crisis which they need to describe to the care-giver . . . slowly; in great verbal detail.  And trust me, they know if you aren't really listening.  They will call you on it every time.

Without a doubt, one of my favorite moments happened as we lunched at Noah's restaurant of choice, Chick-fer-Ray.

He was pointing to the letters on his placemat and quoting corresponding scriptures he's been taught:
"A - All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Romans 3:23"  
"D - Depart from evil and do good. Psalm 34:14"

Madi did not intend to be left out.  She straightened up in her high chair then called out loud and clear in her sweet baby voice,
"A - If you ahr in twouble, dial 9 1 1!"

Can't make it up, friends.  Several people at the tables nearest us began to chuckle.  At first, she was offended then she flashed her biggest smile.  "Isn't she cute?!"  "How old is she?" 

I'll leave you with one more smile.

First, the background:  You may remember John and Joy recently had a loss in their family.  JJ, the dog who had been with them over ten years, passed away suddenly.  She had been a wonderful pet and it was a heart-wrenching time.

Because they are dog people, they soon began discussing what type dog they would next add to their family.  After much research, it was decided . . . a Great Dane!  Yep.  My daughter who has four children and works as care-giver for two others wanted a great dane.

They finally found the perfect puppy through a local breeder so they could meet the parents and have now added a great dane puppy to their household.  Are you ready for her name?  "KITTY."  Katherine the Great Dane will be referred to as Kitty.

Joy can hardly wait to be in a dog park or at a boat ramp and watch people's faces when she calls, "Here, Kitty!" and a monster great dane comes bounding in response.  That's my tribe for you.

Certainly hope this post gave you a smile or two.

Two important reminders today:
  1.   If you're in the U.S., be sure to prayerfully exercise your right to vote on November 6th.   
  2.   Our registration for the trip to Israel closes this week.  Let us know if you'd like more information.






Monday, October 29, 2018

Passion to Stand

When you are passionate about something or someone, you will naturally make your feelings known.

When Frank asked me to be his wife, I was ecstatic and let everyone around me know about our plan to wed.  (Actually, I think he may have told more people at the beginning than I did but that's another post.)  My love for this man has grown so much richer over the subsequent 39 years.  There is simply no doubt how much I value and respect him.  My passion for our relationship can not be hidden.

So it is with my love for the people and nation of Israel.  Having the privilege to travel there three years ago was the fulfilling of a decades long desire.  Even people who mark themselves as having "No Faith" will tell you there is something deeply spiritual and moving about walking in that land.

Today my heart aches for the families of the eleven unsuspecting Jewish people who were targeted and murdered in their house of worship this past week.  Evil exploding in a place of trust.  There is a reason the meeting rooms in churches are often referred to as "the sanctuary."  These are supposed to be places of total safety.

It's quite easy for me to identify with those eleven people of faith.  My passion links me to the 26 Texans killed while worshipping on a Sunday morning last year.  I also feel connected with the nine people murdered 2 years ago while attending a prayer meeting in SC.  They were all doing what I've done countless times. . . celebrating Life as given us by God.

Even while praying for the families of those lost this week, I was reminded of a favorite bit of scripture.  "Where sin (darkness/evil) increased, grace (God's love) overflowed much more."  This is from a letter Paul wrote to his friends in Rome.

Some mistakenly think times have never been worse than they are now.  But evil was definitely present when Paul wrote those words.  In fact, he was in prison just because of his faith.  Interesting, isn't it, how passionate (in a negative sense) darkness came become toward people of faith?

But here's a simple truth - darkness will never have the upper hand over light!  We can hold to that truth, can't we?

As a child, I grew up knowing the storms that so often boiled out of the Gulf of Mexico.  During those fearful times, my mom would remind me of the power found in a single candle.  Light one in any darkened room and immediately the atmosphere will change.  Total darkness must yield when even the faintest bit of light can be detected.

So it is in our world today.  We don't have to be the boldest or the brightest of all passionate believers.  We simply must be willing to stand.  Some things we have no control over.  But we all have the power to let God's grace and love flow through us. 

Today I do what my passion demands.  I make declaration that I stand with Israel and with the Jewish people.

Some have asked if Frank and I still intent to lead a team to Israel next February.  Absolutely!  What better time than now to let our passion shine?  We feel it's a moment of destiny our team will mark together.

Under normal circumstances, I post some sort of warning when I share my personal opinions so freely on this blog.  But this feels like an "opinion" more of us should share.  Perhaps our world would feel less frightening if we did.

Thanks for taking time to read all the way through.  Let's open a dialogue, shall we?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Blessings!


(Also, we have a couple of spots open still with our Israel trip.  Drop a note in the comment box if you'd like more information.)   






Saturday, October 27, 2018

Fresh Eyes

How awesome to have friends!  Even better are friendships that span decades.

That statement may be a bit problematic for millennial readers but you get the idea.  :-)

I've just returned from spending a wonderful time with friends who connected with one another during the 20's and 30's of our life journeys.  We've walked together through so many different life experiences.  Weddings.  Births.  Financial growth and downturns.  Home renovations and construction.  Moves across town, across state, across country.  Deaths of siblings, parents and even a spouse. 

Through it all, we've stayed in touch.  Even with all the changes and the hundreds of miles separating us, our faith has kept us connected.  Praying for one another and with one another was the key.  For several of us there would be no communication for months at a time.  But when the call went out for prayer, we were there.

Our few hours together provided a memory we'll all cherish for years to come.  Of course there were the hugs, laughter, conversations, meals and joy we expected.  The unexpected bonus time came when we were able to stop and pray together on the spot for whatever need was being shared.

"My child is struggling with........."  "Then let's pray over that right now."

"We need wisdom about a decision coming up."  "God is able to provide that wisdom.  Let's ask."

"We can't seem to move beyond......"   "Father, we know you see and can help in this situation."

One morning we just sat around the piano singing praise songs together.  That moved to a devotion and prayer.  We ultimately spent several hours just praying for various needs and offering thanks for all God has already done in our lives.

I've never really experienced a "Girls' Weekend" like that before.  But it was powerful!

When we first started arriving at the home of our wonderful hosts (the Biddix family) we sensed it would be a special time.  We hadn't all been together in over seven years.  Most of the group had come to FL for Meagan and Nathan's wedding in July, 2011.

I think marking my 60th birthday was just a good excuse for a reunion.  Who's complaining?  Certainly not me!

We all came away from our time so refreshed.  Blocking out the days with NO agenda meant we didn't have to rush.  There were no expectations. There was no schedule to keep.  We moved at a slow pace listening to one another and to our heavenly Father.

One of the ladies who is rather techie has set up a communication group for us.  Hopefully, we'll be able to stay connected more easily.  We also determined that we can't wait another seven years for a repeat reunion.  Time moves too quickly and friendships are too precious to squander on the altar of "we'll do that tomorrow, when it's more convenient." 

I'm so grateful for my husband who understood the importance of such an investment.

Of course, this concludes all the 60th celebrating.  I mean, my actual birthday was the end of July. I've managed to mark it with family, friends, our church family, kind acquaintances on FB, even with Barbara, our Chinese houseguest.  Eventually, everyone has to take off their party hat, right?!

Thanks to Frank and so many others, I'm entering this next season of my life with fresh eyes. 

I'm taking my cue from a favorite lady in the Bible named, Anna.  She dedicated the second half of her life to constantly watching for the promise of God.  She wasn't disappointed.  Anna was privileged to hold the infant, Christ.  I'm just simple enough to believe I will hold His promises to our family as well.

A wonderful truth is available to us in Deuteronomy 4:29, "If. . . you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him."  Let's move into this beautiful fall season with fresh eyes.  Eyes watching to see what God wants to show us.



What are you watching for in your life?  Have you enjoyed a reunion with friends recently?  We'd love to hear about it in the comment section...... 

  




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.









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