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!