Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ruby Anniversary

Frank and I have been married FORTY YEARS!

I can't believe I'm old enough to have forty years of memories.  Much less old enough to have been married to this great guy for that long.  But it's true.  On December 30, 1979 we committed our lives to one another at Bellview Church in Pensacola, FL.  And it's been an adventure ever since.

We were blessed to be surrounded by family and some of the dearest friends you could ever imagine.  College and even high school friends came in from NC, AL, SC, OH, PA, and IN.  Our ceremony was the longest in history; 55 minutes with all the music and pledging and charging.  But for us, it seemed just right.

Here are a couple more of my favorite pictures taken just after the ceremony:

If you think these pictures show expressions of equal parts joy and relief, you're right.

Our wedding, was planned by people hundreds of miles apart.  I was teaching in Lakeland.  Frank was working and finishing college there.  My mom was living 45 miles west of my hometown (Pensacola), where we wanted to get married.  Frank's mom lived in NC.  The tux shop was in Pensacola where NONE of our groomsmen or ushers lived.  (Oh, the florist and photographer were there, too.)  My bridesmaids lived in two different time zones.  Getting our special day planned and carried out meant a LOT of time on the phone.  It was a Herculean effort by my sweet mom who played wedding co-ordinator extraordinaire!

It all came together at 3 p.m. on that Sunday afternoon.  The double doors opened for an ecstatic bride.  The handsome groom caught his breath, regrouped and began singing the beautiful song he had written just for that moment.  The chorus was: "Come with me forever.  We'll live our lives hand in hand.  Now in His name I surrender my love to you...."

Who could resist saying YES to such a romantic, dedicated guy as that?  Not I.

And here we are all these years later.  Some of you are probably wondering how we celebrated such a huge milestone. A Trip?  Special Dinner?  Cruise?  Party?   Oh, we had plans alright.  We started by taking an extra day at Christmas to visit the church where we were married and spent a night at Pensacola Beach just like we did so long ago.
We came out these doors as Mr. & Mrs.

My Hometown

But yesterday, on the actual big day, we celebrated by living out our vows.

Sunday night, I started feeling badly.  We scraped our evening plans and just watched a movie.  As I got ready for bed, my pain increased and suddenly we knew this was serious.  I had contacted some sort of stomach bug which caused my tummy to start rejecting everything I had eaten during all of the entire Christmas season.

Every hour on the hour until well after two a.m., Frank was up changing the liner in the little trash can stationed on my side of the bed.  He put a blanket in the dryer then wrapped my feet to help with the chills.  He kept wringing out washcloths for the back of my neck.  He patted my back so I could doze off.  He prayed.

When I finally came back to the land of the living around 6 a.m., I found him in the other bathroom.  The bug had leapt from me to him.  Time to reverse caregiving roles.  Of course, neither of us felt like moving . . . at all.  So, we each chose a couch and just laid around all day long.  (Please note I've spared you any pictures from that unpleasant scene. LOL)

Kristin literally ran in around noon and right back out delivering sprite, soup, gatorade and cream of wheat.  It was a less than stellar day.

Happy Anniversary!!  Of course, don't most vows include something about, "In sickness and in health..."?  Yep, lived it out.

As I write this post, Frank has started the task of De-decorating our home.  The big nativity has already disappeared and we'll start the tree as soon as I'm finished. We've decided to move our special dinner plans to tomorrow.  After all, it's not the exact date that makes it special, right?  Thanks for taking a trip down memory lane with me today.

I pray blessings for each of us as we step into this new decade.  May we each come closer to the Savior who loves us most and may we find courage to step out in new ways that honor Him.  Thanks again for making Embrace the Grace part of your reading schedule!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Children, Christmas and China

For most of us, Christmas 2019 has already passed.

However if your family is like ours, you may still be planning.  Many of you know we've celebrated the birth of our Savior as early as December 15th and as late as January 10th.  This year, it was December 21st.  The DATE matters precious little.  It's the people and the food and the laughter that make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year.

With that in mind,  you may find my post shocking or even a bit hypocritical unless you read to the very end.  This is the picture I put on Facebook the morning we were to celebrate.  I entitled it, "Calm Before the Party!"  Once our troop rolls in, the noise level increases greatly.  Frank and I try to be intentional about sitting quietly a moment or two before the first family arrives.  It seems to help the entire visit go more smoothly if Papa and Noni can operate from a place of calm soul.

A couple of weeks before our Christmas Day, Kristin had called with the all important question of tableware.  (I highly value her decorating skills.  She's one of those people who can turn a plastic milk jug and twine into a lovely centerpiece others rave over for years.  I, on the other hand, do not have those skills.)

It was Kristin's suggestion that we might want to use paper plates this year as the babies are still so little and also so mobile.  Breakage of finer tableware would almost be a guarantee.

Let me give you some background information.  The dinner table was always important during my growing up years.  We carried that into our own little family as Frank and I assigned great significance to our time sitting around our dinner table.  (Studies show this is a key element for any strong family.  Communication happens in an unrushed, non-threatening way and children pick up important life skills.)

We didn't own any china until after our first visit to England where you can buy seconds at a fraction of the cost for china here in the U.S.  Over the years, I've managed to collect enough Country Roses to feed our entire tribe and the "someday" spouses of nine grandchildren.  I also have a more limited collection of Christmas china.  These dishes just make my heart smile.

I chose this pattern because, in my humble opinion, they work just as nicely for a winter table.  So between the two patterns, one could potentially enjoy the beauty of dining from fine china year round.  Bear in mind, I've waited decades to obtain these porcelain pretties.  Needless to say, they have a rather special place in my heart.

Can you imagine my shock when I received this photo suggestion from Kristin?  Because she knows me, she included this message:  "Mom what would you think of using paper plates for our dinner this Christmas?  It would make things so much easier . . . and safer.  I think these are pretty."

Well, they WERE pretty.  In fact, I liked them very much.  And it was true they would make things much easier.  Also, no grandchild has ever been cut by shards of a paper plate.

But they weren't CHINA!  I had waited all year to get out my lovely pattern with the rich colors of the cardinal and winter bluebird.  So, I did what every grandmother knows I did . . . I stomped my foot, got a whine in my voice, explained my reasoning and Resisted.  (Bet you didn't see that coming.)

The week before our special day, the menu was all set.  Side dishes were assigned and my portion of Christmas was already tucked safely in the freezer.  Still the issue of which dishes we would use had not yet been settled.  One evening, Joy (our middle daughter) called on her way home from class.

"Mom,  let's talk about dinner."  I knew what was coming and braced to give her my argument.  "We all understand why you enjoy serving us on china; it really is lovely.  But you always say for us to tell you the truth.  Here it is, eating on paper plates would make the meal far less stressful for me."  

She spoke with genuine tenderness in her voice knowing the conflict going on in the heart of her Southern mama.  Joy went on to describe how she and her sisters knew that if a dish broke it wouldn't matter to me (they're seconds) but it would matter to them.  She ended with asking me to please consider it.

Wow, who knew tableware could rank so high on the "take a stand" scale of discussion?  Yet, there I was, feeling frustrated and disappointed and even a bit irritated.

After all, everyone was coming to MY house, weren't they?  Wasn't it MY right to set the table in the way that made ME most happy? Didn't MY feelings count in this scenario?  And that's when it hit me . . . the plates didn't matter - the People did!

At least they were all coming to my house.  At least they cared what would make me happy, too.  At least they were expressing their concerns in kind tones trying to avoid hurting my feelings.  "Besides," I thought, "when did this become all about ME anyway?"

Now before you jump to judgement about my selfish attitude, may I ask you a question?  Have you found yourself falling to this temptation at some point during the Christmas season?  It's easy to do, isn't it?  It's very easy to feel like everyone around is only focused on their own interests while you're expected to give; Give; GIVE.

Be careful, friend.  Personal preference on plates helped me discover once again just what a slippery slope self-focus can be.  Scripture says ugly selfishness is in us all.  We must daily chose to keep our hearts open to God and His goodness. In the end, that's the only way to stay loving and content.

So, I went out the next day and bought paper plates.  Lovely, Christmas plates that echoed the decorations through out our home.  Special napkins and smaller dessert plates substituted for the china and linens languishing in my cabinets.  Kristin and Meagan looked a bit stunned when they arrived.

There will be a time when we'll all enjoy the Christmas china Noni so meticulously collected.  But that time isn't right now.

An hour or so later, we all sang "Happy Birthday, Jesus" and Papa read from Luke chapter 2.  The older children led us in a couple of carols while the younger ones were repeatedly told not to touch the packages spilling out from under the tree.  We prayed together thanking God for the gift of sending his only son to earth for our salvation.  We also asked that the blessing of the Father would rest on each person present.

We relished every minute of distributing and opening the gifts so carefully chosen.  We watched one another's faces with delight.  When I opened my final gift, the waterworks threatened to breech the dam.  I found this picture.  The girls and their precious husbands had spent an entire Saturday morning trying to capture the nativity I wanted using all our own little angels and wisemen.  (Andrew was able to fit in the make-shift manger.)

They also recorded a cd of all my favorite Christmas carols.  (The girls sang harmonies, John played keys, Nathan played drums, Cody covered the editing.)  The final element of the package was a video clip of the bigger children singing their songs from various Christmas programs.  My heart was ready to burst with joy.

From left to right: Zach - 4; Madi - 4; Abby - 7; Spencer - 8 1/2; Andrew - 4m; Ava - 2; Noah - 6; Parker - 18m and our Star of Bethlehem was played by Grayson - 17m.  (I definitely hope you're able to zoom in and see their precious faces.)  It was the most amazing Christmas gift any Noni could hope for.

As I've looked back on that picture a hundred times already, I've reminded myself how silly it would have been to "stand my ground" about anything so insignificant as dishes.  These sweet faces are the stuff of eternity.  The hearts of my girls and "sons" are the only things that will matter once this life is over.

Maybe a tear has slipped from your eye while reading of my dilemma.  Perhaps you experienced a similar moment of selfishness this season.  Don't waste a single minute, dear friend.  Reach out to the one you love and let them know you missed it.  Tell them they matter so much more to you than any selfish desire of your own.

Take it from a converted person of self-centeredness. Christmas is ultimately about relationships; some just built and some being restored.  Join me in practicing the line of thinking presented in a quote I love, "Will it matter a hundred years from now?  If not, it's probably not that important after all."

Blessings on us all as we live with Eternity in Mind!

We'd all love to hear your thoughts.  Or perhaps you have a suggestion that can become a new tradition for some of us.  Please stop by the comment section below . . .

This picture didn't fit with the narrative, but it was just too cute not to share.  Call it a bonus.

Madi and Noah helping decorate

Monday, December 23, 2019

It's Really Here!

I just completed the last thing on my Pre-Christmas activity list but I'm not slowing down.  Putting a post online has been a serious longing this entire month.  While I can't navigate the labyrinth of photo complexities today, I do want to offer some words.

This month rolled in like a major cruise ship and swept me up for the ride. If I've stopped to take a break, I've found myself napping.  So Frank and I have combated that problem by standing until time to be done each day.  Hard to fall asleep while on your feet.

We usually plan our Christmas events to be spread out and paced a bit more slowly.  But somehow this year got the better of me.  That's why I'm finally doing my first post for December one week and a day before the END of December.

Since my last post I had a delightful time with lots of different groups.

  • We shared a Christmas party with 90 parishioners.
  • We enjoyed a dinner with 100 other ministers in the area.
  • We attended a concert at our alma mater.
  • We celebrated a wedding.
And that list was only the first week of December.  I won't belabor the point.  I'm pretty sure your holiday calendar has been full, too.  Suffice to say, blogging has not just been in the back seat; it has been stored in the trunk with the plethora of gifts begin hidden from thieves and nosey family members.

Deep Cleansing Breath!

As I take in the lights on our pre-lit Douglas fir, I can hardly believe Christmas is two days away.  Or two days ago if you're part of the Hawley, Schreck, Smith, McGhee clan  Our group celebrated this past Saturday.  We decided to name the 21st Christmas in order to accommodate travel plans for everyone. 

Working together, we managed another delightful, un-rushed time.  Everyone brought food and gifts and laughter and all of us focused on helping the nine perfect grandchildren grow better acquainted with the purpose of all the celebrating. 

  • We read the Christmas Story from Luke 2.  
  • The grands created a nativity picture that elicits a smile from the saddest faces.
  • The older ones led us in multiple Christmas carols before and after dinner.
  • We all sang "Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus" for the little ones.
  • And spoke words of blessing over each person.

A Lovely Time was had by ALL!

I have some precious pictures to share from decorating and programs and our Christmas day.  Hopefully, I can get those on tomorrow. Mostly, I wanted to send you a quick greeting before all your festivities reach their zenith.

Merry Christmas to All and God Bless Us Every One!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Talking Turkey

When I was a kid, if an adult said it was time to "talk turkey" they meant the conversation was about to get serious.  That's not what I mean by the title of this post.  Not At All.

Please zoom in to see Nathan's expression and Spencer's reaction
This post is my opportunity to share some of my favorite pictures from our resplendent Thanksgiving Day celebration.  Please note I didn't say it was perfect because we were missing the McGhee portion of our family.  And let's be honest, has there ever really been a perfect family gathering?  But all those present had a wonderful time.

There were the Noni and the Papa.  Along with the middle daughter and son, our own Schrecks.  As well as the youngest daughter and son, our part of the Smith clan.  Eight of our nine perfect grandchildren completed the lunch/dinner party.

Usually, we try to eat early in order to accommodate nap time for babies.  That means everyone enjoys themselves as much as possible before the magical hour of 2PM at which point all small people are rushed to the front door, loaded in carseats and whisked home before they can turn into little monsters.  This year, they were given the opportunity to stay as long as everyone remained pleasant. There were no meltdowns so they all stayed until after 6PM  It was marvelous.

There was a lot of porch-sitting and baby holding.  Some rolling down a hill and even some tree climbing.

Papa and Zach
Andrew, Ava and Madi
Andrew graciously put up with the most squeezing because at three months what can you do but scream a complaint?  And if you do, then everyone clamors to be the first to rock you back to a peaceful state.  Looking at it from his perspective, it's a no win situation.

Noni and Abby
Auntie Joy and Andrew
 (I have a terrific picture of four guys in an oak tree but I have spent fifteen frustrating minutes trying to make them stay in this spot.  The photo has taken a mind of its own and keeps jumping to various places all over the post.  I was forced to exercise an editorial decision and remove it.  Hopefully, you'll see our climbers in a future post.)
 Then there was the problem of the lost shoe.  The big boys played a lot of football and frisbee in our backyard.  At one point, Noah was going to kick the ball and his tennis shoe came right off, spun in the air and came to rest in our crepe myrtle tree.  Do you see it?  Fortunately, Grayson was coming on the scene to help retrieve the shoe if needed.
(If you zoom in you can find the red tennis shoe sitting proudly in the tree top.)

Meagan - Always the Teacher

Of course, after everyone had eaten their fill of turkey and all the accompanying side dishes it was time for some football watching and even a bit of napping.  While the fellas and babies did that, Aunt Meagan held a craft session with the middle-aged babies.  Noni will soon be the owner of a train made of popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners.  It has written across the top "Grand Central Station" and will frame pictures of. . . you guessed it, grandchildren.

Sorry about the glare - you get the idea.

Parker Franklin BEFORE Traffic     

At the time of finishing this post, our McGhee family is caught in traffic on their way home from GA.  If you've ever been stuck in the gridlock known as I-4 through Orlando, you have empathy for them.  (Even post gridlock you empathize.  I-4 is a never to be forgotten experience.)

I do hope your Thanksgiving Day was also a picture of "Perfect Imperfection."  That's what all family experiences are, right?  Not at all what the Hallmark movies would portray.  Real family gatherings more often involve lots of loudly opinionated, extremely intense, differently minded, overly sensitive individuals.  They all love one another enough to come together anyway.  And that's the richness of family.

Frank and I used to love reminding people of this truth when doing family conferences.  He would share in a humorous way, "Be aware that at the end of every large family gathering each individual family gets into their car and drives away saying, 'We are the only normal ones in the entire clan!' "

If you're blessed with real family that Talks Turkey, I'll bet you laughed out loud!

We'd love to hear about your holiday experiences.  Please stop by the comment box below.  It's our favorite part of any blog.   

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Joyful Morphing

If you are visiting Embrace the Grace from your comfortable living room in the United States, I wish you Happy Thanksgiving!  (If you're visiting from another country, I wish you Happy Day!)  Here's a little something to give you a smile wherever you find yourself today.

My post is about this average-looking basket of laundry.  Sitting on an average dining room table.

Those who have read this blog for many years know our family started with just Frank, Sheri and three precious daughters.  Those daughters grew up (as children will do) and they went off to college and ended up marrying three wonderful men.  That took our family of five to a family of eight.

Fast forward another few years and those precious young couples decided to add children of their own.  (Oh, Happy Day!)  Our family of eight has at this point added nine grandchildren taking us to a family of (wait, let me take off my shoes to help count) . . . SEVENTEEN!

Yep, seventeen.  We have morphed from an average-sized family into a full-blown Tribe.

When we first moved to Florida, it was agreed we would all meet for dinner once a week.  Monday night was the time set aside and we all held it as a rather sacred time.  Through the adding of two new sons and five grandchildren, this schedule continued to work.

When our third son came on the scene, he already had a similar arrangement with his family who live locally. . . time to morph a bit.  We went to every other Monday night.  This gave them the opportunity to alternate with us and everyone adapted.

We used that arrangement for almost five years.  Even while adding more grandchildren, we all kept meeting twice a month for family dinner.

Then came 2019 and one daughter went back to school with classes on Monday-Thursday.

HMMMM, what to do?  The original five Hawleys met for breakfast and discussed many options.  Finally, we decided to morph again.  Family Dinner has now become Family Breakfast one Saturday per month.

Now some will wonder, "Don't you miss having the time together every Monday night?"  Well, of course we do.  But all of life is about compromise and change.  I can embrace that or fight it.  Believe me, embracing is the better choice.

The bonus has been our impromptu dinners.  Like last Sunday.

The Schrecks had planned to have left-overs for lunch after church.  They invited the Smiths because they had so much food.  The McGhees overheard their plans, so they invited them, too.  That's when I got a phone call.

"Mom, everyone is coming to our house for lunch.  It's just left-overs but would you and dad like to come, too?"

Let's think about this.  All nine of our grandchildren in one location?  All six of our adult children there as well?  I don't have to cook?  "ABSOLUTELY!  What can we bring?"

We stopped at the grocery store and picked up a couple items to add to the party.  Then headed to the joy of an impromptu family dinner.  Our weather has finally started cooling off a bit so we can be outside.

The big kids were playing basketball.  The littles were playing on the pirate ship.  Someone was on the trampoline.  Kitty (the great dane puppy) was doing laps in her pen. And the adults all sat around talking while the oven heated the food which had suddenly become secondary.  The connecting was the priority.

When you see the next two pictures, try and guess what we enjoyed for a main dish . . .

Parker Franklin McGhee (18 months)

Ava Quinn Schreck  (2 1/2)

 If you guessed SPAGHETTI, you win!  (No prizes available today, simply bragging rights.)  We also had grilled chicken, veggies, rolls and corn on our eclectic menu.  But no one was complaining.

We all knew this was a brilliant moment to be savored.  Yes, there was some loud arguing.  There were a couple of mishaps with solo cups.  Even a plate ended up flipping and needed to be refilled.

Still we chose to enjoy the morphing instead of resisting it.   What does all this have to do with a basket of laundry?  Perhaps a couple of additional pictures will help explain.  (As you know, I'm still learning how to post pictures.  I added these but couldn't figure out how to put in a closing paragraph.  Feel free to finish the post in the comment section.)

Can you see the Joy?  Look a little closer . . .

Our very own newest member of the tribe - Andrew Ryder Smith (3 months)

Monday, November 11, 2019

A TRUE Fairytale

I have for you today a delightful fairytale that happens to be completely true.

It begins (as most fairytales) with a journey.  A journey involving these three little girls and these three little boys.

There was a lovely mommy who needed a full morning to complete an assignment for school.  The daddy was not available to care for the precious children because he was completing a work assignment.  Enter the grandmother and aunt who fully believe in the childcare mantra "Divide and Conquer!"

It was decided that the three little girls would take their giggles and wiggles for a visit to Grandma's house.  The boys with their rough and tumble ways would go home with Aunt Memeh and Uncle Nathan for slaying dragons and such.

Arrangements were settled.  Seat belts were buckled.  Radios were set to play music the little pilgrims could sing along with.  And off they all went.

The three amigos had a splendid time being outdoors with Uncle Nathan.  Their time involved moat jumping (trampoline time) and rock hurling (basketball) and even some crusading (baseball at a park.)  Kudos to Sir Nathan!

But the little girls were in for quite a different experience.

You see, Grandmother had recently stumbled upon three frilly frocks at a yard sale.  She gladly spent the $9 required to purchase princess dresses replete with satin and tulle and sparkles and all manner of princess-y material.  She had then tucked them away for just such a moment of adventure.

Once the little girl travelers arrived, Grandmother announced her plans for their morning.  The house echoed with squealing and giggling and cheering.  The lovely gowns were donned post haste by the trio of lasses.

(In case you're concerned, the grandfather was safely hidden away in his office at church finishing his sermon.)

Here we see the result of ordinary little girls being transformed into extraordinary, lovely princesses.

You're right, that's a LOT of pink.  But they were each delighted with the dress that best fit them.  And have you ever seen such genuine smiles?

Fortunately the eldest, Princess Abigail, had remembered to bring her travel kit containing some blush, a bit of clear lipstick and nail polish.  Every lady knows these to be key elements for dressing well.

Grandmother felt it best to move the poofing and pampering activities outdoors.  Fresh air is SO vital for the formation of healthy lungs, rosy cheeks and for the safe painting of tiny nails.  Please notice the intensity with which these sojourners worked.  Nothing could be left to chance.  

Noni - uh, I mean Grandmother - did eventually come on the scene to aid in the final application of nail polish.  That way only nails would be pink, not entire fingers.

As the day was cool, the damsels requested moving their party to the tower (aka playground.)  The motion was seconded and they quickly took over the "tower, carriage and moat swings."

Princess Madison Riley directing the tower.
Princess Abigail Grace joining her for a carriage ride.
Princess Ava Quinn conquered the moat swing.
Naturally, the refreshments for this day of travel included hot tea and biscuits.  These damsels are well acquainted with fairytale fare.  We carried on with pretending and even some photographing as such journeys are so rare these days.  

All too soon, the time allotted for travel had come to an end and it was time for the Grandmother to release the lovely ladies to the dads who love them best.  That's when an idea hit the Grandmother and she begged them to tarry one minute longer.

She wanted to capture the modern equivalent of a picture from long ago.  You see, these little princess girls are the daughters of an original trio.
The Original Trio

 The Trio of Today

Do you recognize the matching eyes of sweetness?  (Please bear in mind that all nine of our grandchildren look just like their fathers.  Any sign of our daughters' features is a moment of celebration I assure you.)

Needless to say, the Grandmother kissed each precious head tenderly before sending them off on the second leg of their day-long journey.  While doing so, she remembered kissing her original trio only yesterday it seemed.  

The transporting dad rolled down the windows of the departing carriage (aka Dodge Ram) and Grandmother echoed the Princesses as they called out their customary farewells.  "See you later alligator."  "After while crocodile."  This went on until the carriage exhaust drowned out the echoes.

The tired Grandmother walked slowly back into the castle.  She swiped at a stray tear then plopped on her couch . . . contentedly. 

The End

Monday, November 4, 2019

Fake Flannel and Flipflops

Ah, the joys of living in Florida!  Our famous tropical climate and tourist attractions draw people from all over the world.  But this is the time of year when every full time FL resident envies the rest of our country.

We see your pictures of colorful leaves, brilliant reds and yellows.  We follow as you drive along country roads taking in the gorgeous fall scenery.  We imagine the crisp air that startles your lungs causing you to begin wearing cute jackets and boots.  We drool over your lovely scarves and perky hats.  We long to enjoy the laughter and camaraderie that accompany warming your cold hands over a toasty fire.  Sipping hot chocolate and roasting marshmallows with friends.  Fall as it should be.

Back in Florida?  It was 92 degrees here last week!  92!!  Factor in the humidity and you'd think it was still summer, not fall.  Please remember, I lived in North Carolina for over 25 years.  I know what the change of seasons feels like.  This ain't it!

So, how do we Floridians compensate for our lack of cool weather?  We fake it.  Yep, faking is totally allowed in certain situations and this is one of them.  For instance, this picture . . .

This was taken Saturday at a local fall festival.  Colorful leaves . . . Fake.  Hay bales . . . bought them.  Scarecrow . . . on a stick.

Frank and I are both in shirts that look just like ones we would be wearing in NC, only they aren't.  Mine is fake flannel.  It looks like flannel but it's really cotton, so is Frank's.  You'll notice he's wearing shorts.  You can't see my flip flops but I'm wearing them.  And if you look closely, we're both sweating! Not just perspiring, Sweating.

We rendezvous'd with Kristin and Meagan to enjoy some festival time with the babies.  (Unfortunately, the Schrecks were sick and couldn't attend.)
Riding the Train with Smiths
Grayson needed a close up

Why yes, that IS a narrow train

Many of the people we saw were making an effort to wear fall colors.  However, stores don't typically sell shorts in the rich hues of autumn.  I was wearing jeans but we've already established how HOT I was in them. 
Cody's department planned this fun event

The festival was scheduled for 10-2  which is the best time for people to walk around without experiencing heat exhaustion.  We rode the train.  I dared the teacups.  (Only because Madi and Noah really wanted to ride.)  We watched the cloggers dancing.  We snapped pictures and listened to music.  We bought water - definitely not hot chocolate.

I especially loved this picture of Frank holding Grayson and Parker.  It looks like the three of them are sharing a secret.

Papa and his boys
As soon as I got home, I peeled off my fake flannel shirt and jeans opting for a lighter sleeveless number and shorts.  Whew!  Did I mention we're topping out with record heat indexes?

I can hear some of you now.  "Whine!  Whine!  Whine!  Sheri, you'll be thankful for those temperatures in January."

And you're right!  I will be grateful.  I have gotten spoiled with our ability to be outdoors during winter months.  I am grateful for the lower humidity that keeps the air from enveloping my face like clear plastic wrap every time we step outside.  I'm glad we can turn the air conditioning off for most of January and February.

Believe me, I do count my blessings.  But every so often, I miss cold weather.  And when I can't make a trip to NC or TN, I make the air conditioning colder, break out my fake flannel shirt and sip hot tea in front of my fake fireplace.  It's the next best thing to being there.

Hope you're enjoying a fabulous fall in your neck of the woods!

How about you?  Have you lived in multiple locations and had to adjust to different types of weather?  What signals "fall" at your house?  Are you enjoying snow already?  We'd love to hear about your experience in the comment section.

Monday, October 28, 2019

A Really Big Deal

I promised a post describing a realization I had this month that is a Really Big Deal.  Here goes.

Several weeks ago, we received the same advertisement we always receive in September.  Shiny graphics and photos heralded the soon-to-be Homecoming Celebrations for our alma mater, Southeastern University. 

Dear Friends, Deb and Phil Stephens

Frank and I have only attended Homecoming sporadically since moving back to central Florida.  Our calendar is usually filled with family or church events for the same weekend.  While reading the brochure this September, I suddenly had a realization.  Homecoming 2019 would be more significant for me.
Here's the Really Big Deal.  I didn't graduate from college in 2009.  Not in 1999.  Nor in 1989.  I walked across the stage to receive my B.A. in Secondary Education and Bible in the year of our Lord 1979.  FORTY YEARS AGO!! Told ya, really big deal.

Dear Friends, I barely feel forty years old now.  How can it be that I've been out of college for that many decades?  My days of living in Bethany Hall seem too clear to have been that far back in my personal history.  Granted, I did graduate a year early.  But still,  Forty Years?!


As I sat shaking my head at the impossibility of it all, I began realizing just how significant the year 1979 was for me.  Graduation from college was only the beginning.

Two weeks after graduation, Frank took me out for a very fancy celebration dinner. He knew the significant mile-stone it was.  I was the first college grad on either side of my family.  I wanted desperately to be a teacher and finally the training was mine.  It was time to celebrate.

We both dressed to the nines and headed for Orlando.  We drove to Disney where he had made reservations for us to dine at The Top of the World restaurant.  It was a dream come true spot.

The restaurant sat atop the famous A-frame hotel which still operates at Disney.  The circular room boasted no exterior walls, only windows making it impossible to miss the twinkling lights below.  Each table had a private waiter wearing a tux and even white gloves.  Mel Torme was crooning love songs as his pianist played along.

For us, two young kids who grew up in more modest settings, the atmosphere was truly magical.  Just as dessert arrived Frank looked at me and said, "Sheri, will you spend the rest of your life with me?  Will you marry me?"

The question startled us both.

Frank really had intended the dinner to simply be in celebration of my graduation.  I had seen how nervous he was and sensed he wanted to say something but had no idea marriage was rolling around in his head.  There was no advance thought. There was no ring.  He just went with the emotion of the moment.

"I'll have to think about that, Frank."  It was my honest reaction.

So, 1979 brought college graduation in April and a marriage proposal in May.  I eventually said yes to the proposal and we determined we would get married the next spring.  Really Big Deal.

In June, I left for the trip I'd been planning since August, 1978.  I was part of a team of student volunteers for a mission in Athens, Greece.  The professor leading our team had been to Europe many times and suggested we go early to experience a few highlights.

Professor James Ferrell who led our team
We landed in Frankfurt, Germany where we rented a car and started driving.  In four days we hit five countries and many of the places one only dreams of visiting.  We then worked for five weeks helping promote missions efforts in Athens and Porto Rafti, Greece.  Really big deal.

The night I arrived home Frank picked me up at the airport and announced, you have an interview with Mr. Friar tomorrow morning.  The principal of the prestigious school where I so longed to teach had contacted Frank.  They were considering me for a position they had in middle school.

At 7AM I donned the least wrinkled outfit in my suitcase and hurried to the school office.  They offered me the position that very afternoon.  So, in August of 1979, I realized the dream that had been in my heart since I was fourteen years old.  I became a teacher.  Really Big Deal.

That same week, my dear friend Tricia and I settled on an apartment to share. I moved into grown-up life full-force with a car payment, insurance, rent and utilities.  Good thing I had a job.  Really Big Deal.

At the end of August, Frank came up with another proposal.  Why should we wait until the following spring to get married?  I had two weeks off for Christmas.  He could easily arrange time off, too.  He wanted to get married in December.

So on December 30, 1979, I donned a lovely white gown and beautiful veil.  I walked down the aisle of a church in Pensacola, FL to stand at the altar with the man of my dreams.  Really, the Biggest Deal of All.

Yep, 1979 was a whirlwind of dreams fulfilled for that twenty-one year old girl.  Actually, we're still living out all the dreams that were launched that year.  And even though my knees are a bit stiffer and my hair is a little thinner and my eye-sight has grown worse, I'm still a grateful girl.

Birthday Lunch in Winter Haven
Thanks for running down memory lane with me today.  Your friendship is a really big deal, too.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Looking Back and Ahead

So, today I'm excited to announce Embrace the Grace crossed a major threshold.

We've now had over half a million views!!  (Definitely merits two exclamation marks!)

While that is a tame number for more experienced bloggers and media personalities, it's definitely encouraging for me.

That means at some point over the past ten years, almost 50,000 people annually have clicked on here to see what's happening in our lives.  Now, I fully understand that probably many of those were accidental visitors.  My husband and girls have stopped by a few thousand times.  And friends are the go-to team for blog reading.  

But I've also had people visit from such far away places as Ukraine, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Fiji and Thailand.  I've always enjoyed traveling in order to share hope, encouragement and Good News.  Who knew I could do that from the comfort of my very own prayer chair located in my dining room beside the big windows looking onto our back yard?  Who knew, indeed!

I remember discreetly asking Amanda Bock (now Hoggard) to help me get set up.  She created the graphic, chose my font, instructed me on how to save, edit and post. Becky Smith was the mentor whose writing I still emulate.  And my family (much smaller then) cheered loudly, urging me almost daily, "Press the publish button.  Put it out there.  You never know until you try!"

Amazing, isn't it?  How one decision leads to another which then opens the door to possibilities you never could have imagined.  That first year of attempting to always write something of value, humor or encouragement involved a LOT of failure.  But I kept trying and now the "publish" button on my computer is not nearly as scary as it was in 2009.

So, that's looking back.  What's ahead for Embrace the Grace?

I want to become proficient in posting pictures which I believe really add to the quality and experience for you, the reader.  Besides, with NINE adorable grandchildren, I have a bounty of fun pictures to share.  Doubtless one for every topic one might chose to feature.

Also, I've been working the past few months on becoming more consistent again; I want to post more often.  The key lies in not waiting for the lightening bolt thought to hit me, rather writing and hoping the words will be powerful for those reading.

Today, that meant coming home from work and making myself finish this post before anything else, including dinner.  Not glamorous but definitely productive.

So for each of you who have been making time in your hectic lives to read Embrace the Grace, I pray blessings, courage and joy in abundance.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for those who have gone so far as to comment, some even a year later.  Your visits and expressions tell me this blog matters.  And I'm Grateful.

PS:  Last Friday, I had a wild revelation about how big a deal this year really is in my life.  Stop by soon for the full story.  

How about you?  Is there a milestone you're celebrating this year?  Does it cause you to look back and ahead, as well?  We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Monday, October 7, 2019


Normally my posts are filled with the stories that make up life for Frank and me.  Most are humorous.  Many cause tears.  More often they simply create a reminder that life is both rainbows and rain clouds.  We determine which we will make our focus.

Today, I'm taking a cue from my many friends who have found the joys associated with solitude and silence.  (Well, total silence isn't really an option as long as my cell phone stays charged. But the alliteration was too good to pass up.)

Last Thursday morning, I left with five other ladies heading to Daytona Beach for a women's retreat.  There we connected with another friend of our church and moved into a veritable sea composed of 1800 other women from across peninsular Florida.  We had all converged on the Ocean Way Convention Center for the sole purpose of connecting with one another and with God.

GGC Ladies Always have Fun
Those three days were equal parts memory making, marvelous services and a bit of mayhem.  I mean, just think of trying to navigate restaurants or the hotel elevators when almost two thousand other people are moving at about the same time as you.

I would have chosen the hotel stairs a couple times but our room was on the 14th floor.  Perfect for stellar views, all wrong for step counting.  Taking the stairs would have left me needing oxygen I'm sure.  So, our group exercised patience instead and made new friends from other churches while waiting.

Our state women's director, Deanna Shrodes, is an organizing genius.  She kept things moving at a steady clip, kept trouble mitigated, kept women smiling and kept showing up looking like she had never had a problem in all her lovely life.  I know better!  Where there are that many women, there are almost as many problems to solve.  But Deanna and her team handled it all and kept us moving forward like a well-oiled machine.

Our group made the most of our time choosing early mornings and late nights.  One of our ladies had only been to the ocean one other time in her life.  Of course, she had to make time for a long walk on the beach and some wave jumping.  We actually had two birthdays in our small group.  And one lady had just transitioned from being the major care-giver for her 93 year old mother.  We were all looking forward to the time away for different reasons.

We got back to Winter Haven around 5:30 on Saturday and I was at church around 7:30 Sunday morning.  We hosted a baby shower for a precious young couple Sunday following service.  Then I came home, ate a salad and went to bed for a nap.  Deserved and Delicious!

Frank and I ended up talking with several neighbors as we walked Sunday night.  (One even stopped by our house around 8:30.)  By the time this morning dawned, I was ready for Quiet.

Because I work from home on Mondays, I was able to create a quieter than normal atmosphere for myself.  It's been overcast and a bit rainy all day.  Believe you me, I have delighted in it.  Even the phone calls, emails and appointments that needed attention have left me with time to quiet my heart in between.

I've been meditating on a song we sang at the conference. The chorus says, "Way Maker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper, Light in the Darkness, My God that is who you are."  Just about any solution you or I may need can be found in one of those.

I've also been pondering a favorite promise from Philippians "His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."

Don't you love both of those?  I'll be back with a story soon.  But for this moment, I'm going to enjoy the quiet as much as I've enjoyed the excitement.  I'll lean in to the One I love most and let Him guard my heart and mind with His peace.