Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Christmas Chaos

(Please note, for some reason I was unable to create proper paragraphs for this post. SIGH! Just keep learning, right?! To all my English teacher readers I want to say, thanks for your patience.) Does this picture speak to you more of Chritmas? Or of Chaos?
If you answered Christmas, I would bet that you too are part of a large family. These are the nine practically perfect grandchildren I talk about all the time. Oldest to youngest they are: Spencer, Abby, Noah, Madi, Zachariah, Ava, Parker, Grayson and Andrew. You'll notice the last three are boys and trust me, they are ALL boy! This next picture is a bit calmer. They're all sporting their Christmas PJs. When there were only three grands old enough to join us for making gingerbread houses, we made unwrapping Christmas pajamas part of the excitement. That little tradition rocked along nicely for several years. Now, it's become a major thing trying to find NINE pairs of matching PJs that don't requre the sale of a kidney to purchase.
I literally broke out in a sweat standing in the aisle of SAMS this year trying to select proper sizes for all six boys. (One of which requires a men's size Small now! :-( They do tend to grow, don't they?) One lady kept trying to elbow her way into the small space alotted for the single remaining box of flannel pajamas. I was undaunted. My boys needed pajamas and there was a limited number of the sizes they had to have. I behaved in a decidely unsouthern, unladylike manner. But on Christmas morning, my grandsons all had proper sizes that matched! Unfortuantely, SAMS did not offer feminine pajamas. Consequently, I had to make friends with a lady in India via internet in order to secure the coupon code I had been promised when I first went to the Carter's website. She probably couldn't have cared less about my need for tutu pajamas; still, she helped walk me through the proces of ordering three pairs of red and white girly pjs. The coupon code made them more econically feasible and caused me to do the happy dance! Perhaps I went a little overboard with the tutu theme this year. These are the dresses we bought for all three girls. (The boys were given matching jogging suits. Much better choice for them.) The girls wore their dresses Sunday morning. I had snagged camoflage backpacks for the big boys. They looked like little soldiers marching into class wearing their backpacks. My grin was massive.
This final picture was taken just before everyone arrived at our house on Christmas morning. If you've read Embrace the Grace very long you already know Christmas, for us, can be almost anyday other than December 25th. We have sons with family in the next county, North Carolina and even New York. In order to acommodate their traditions and travel, we've celebrated as early as December 15th and as late as January 9th. This year, we were together on December 26th. A new record, I think. Tomorrow, this guy and I will celebrate 41 years of marriage. I can hardly believe it's been that long. The happy news is this, we still like each other. Isn't that just the Best?!
Whether your Christmas was more of the quiet or chaotic variety, I hope it was filled with a few lovely memories. And more than anything, I hope you sensed the Presence of the Christ-child we were celebrating. He came for the purpose of bringing salvation to the whole world. Glory to God in the Highest! Thank you for honoring me with your time by stopping by to look at a picture or read a story. I have another post for the 31st. See you then.... How about you? Does your family wear matching pajamas or special Christmas clothing? When do you celebrate together?

Friday, November 27, 2020

Old Places; New Faces

Can you guess where this picture was taken?
How about this one?
Okay, one more guess...
I just heard someone in Minnesota yell, "Charleston, SC?!" You're Right! You win the unidentified prize for today. (Please be sure to leave your name in the comment section and we'll cheer your astute geographic ascertaining.) :-) Frank and I were to leave last Thursday for a visit to his mom in NC. We were then to go on to Ocean Isle to preach on Sunday. On the Wednesday before, we learned that a hurricane would be crossing our path so we had to make a quick adjustment to our plans. We obviously couldn't drive through the hurricane so we would need to stop overnight. Kristin and Cody got busy and found a hotel for us in SC. Imagine my delight when they told us it was in Charleston, SC. I've wanted to visit that city for many years. They topped off our joy by blessing us with the room. Kids are the Best! It did rain pretty badly just as we were arriving in Charleston. So we decided to check in and call it a night. Frank took on the role of "hunter/gatherer" in order to find a bit of dinner. He hit it out of the park when we brought back fish and chips from a delightful English pub he discovered a couple of blocks from our hotel. He took me by there the next day so I could take a peak at their unusual wallpaper.
Yes, those are dollar bills - literally thousands of real dollar bills stapled to every square inch of exposed drywall. Years ago, some tourist came up with the idea of signing their name to a dollar bill then stapling it to the wall. Soon others followed their lead. Eventually, thousands of bills were layered all around the restaurant. I know it's thousands because the owner told Frank they used part of the money to pay their servers during the shutdown earlier this year. He and the co-owner spent hours carefully removing staples from each bill in order to retreive it from the wall. They cleared only one section and were able to give their employees over $12,000!! That's a LOT of souvenir dollar bills. We took the next morning to play tourists ourselves. After checking out of our hotel, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at another historic spot. The decision was made to get the official tour of Charleston by way of a carriage ride. Tickets were purchased and we waited patiently on a bench in the sunshine for our assigned time. When they loaded us onto the carriage with the other patrons, Frank and I were sitting seperately. Now usually, I'm a pretty co-operative tourist. But did I mention I had wanted to visit Charleston for many years? And that I had long imagined us touring the city by horse and buggy? In none of my imagining did I see us sitting on seperate benches with me looking at the back of Frank's head. So, I boldly asked the attendant if we could wait for the next carriage. He obliged. And although it meant a delay, I was much happier snuggled next to my favorite travel buddy listening to the tour guide and whispering to each other about the lovely sights. Sometimes, it's better to speak up.
Next stop - North Carolina. . . by car, not carriage. Frank did get an entire day with Mom. They enjoyed lunch at her favorite barbeque spot. They ran a few errands, helping Mom stock up. They rode around town, just the two of them revisiting all the homes they had lived in together. They laughed together and swiped at a few tears. What a team they've been all these years. We're so thankful for Frank's two younger brothers and their families who do such a great job of taking care of Mom. We all say she's a 16 year old girl trapped in an 86 year old body! She still loves life and is totally independent. We're proud of her for staying young in her thinking.
We preached on Sunday and (as usual) met new friends. Barry and Chris moved to Ocean Isle two years ago. They invited us to join them for a lovely pre-Thanksgiving turkey dinner at their home. Their little dog, Gabriel, was there and announced our arrival. (Comical play on the name totally intended by Barry.) We laughed and talked and prayed together going long past our intended time. What a delight.
Of course, we also checked in with old friends who live there, as well. But most of this trip was given to quiet times of prayer and reflection. Long walks on the beach. (Bundled up, of course. We're totally Floridians now.) Lots of reading and even a bit of writing. Being early risers allowed us to enjoy both the sunrise and sunset each day. This sunrise was particularly brilliant; it looked like the sky was on fire.
But no matter how far we roam, there's no place like home. This smile, along with eight others just as precious were here to greet us when we returned.
I have stories and pictures about our Thanksgiving to share but I'll save them for the next post. I don't know whether your Thanksgiving was quiet or loud; many or few; bountiful or slim. I'm not sure if you ate togheter in old places or if perhaps you were joined by some new faces. HOwever you celebrated, my prayer for you today is that you may approach this season filled with peace and a quiet assurance that God is with us in it all. A heart of Gratitude will Always be Filled!

Monday, November 9, 2020

Too Much?!

How often are we tempted to throw up our hands in frustration and declare to whomever may happen to be standing near enough to hear, "This is just TOO Much!"?

That phrase is often accompanied by, "I simply cannot believe this!" And the ever popular, "What were they thinking?!" 

I've been tempted to fly headlong down that pathway many times.  But especially this past week with all the election chaos going on I found myself asking, "Just exactly how much is TOO much?" 

Let me start out with a picture of this adorable kid, which will help you smile in the evaluating . . .

This was taken of Andrew Ryder who turned 1 year old in August.  Isn't he just squish-ably delightful?!  (That was, of course, a rhetorical question.) 

Andrew is number four on the Smith lineup of children.  He is the bonus blessing which Meagan and Nathan joyfully welcomed into their little tribe.  People often react with shocked expressions when told they have four children and that the last two boys are only 13 months apart.  

Sometimes people even respond, "Wow!  I don't know how you do it.  That would be Too Much for me." And yet somehow with God's grace, Meagan and Nathan carry on; usually choosing joy and smiles.  

The Smith Family

Now, please don't misunderstand.  They are both very hard working individuals.  Nathan works long hours for the Publix Corporation in Lakeland.  Meagan is a stay-at-home mom who also nannies and runs a business on the side. They both volunteer in several areas of our church.  Their life is one of constant motion.

The above picture was snapped a few weeks ago.  It happened very quickly before everyone broke free and took their loud selves dashing off in four different directions.   This picture gives you a better glimpse of their current reality . . .  

Date night - 2020

Last night, Frank and I offered to stay with the children after they were in bed so Nathan and Meagan could take a little ride.  We had started a movie and they both sat down to watch with us a few minutes before leaving.  This was the state of things after about 20 minutes.  (Made me smile, too.)

Meagan asked me last week why I thought she was feeling so overwhelmed.  I almost laughed out loud before I realized she was totally serious.  So I took a moment and ran down the quick list of why I thought "overwhelmed" might be a legitimate feeling for her.

Sold their home.  Bought a home.  Glitches of a new build. Moved in to two bedrooms [with parents] while waiting for house to be completed.  Babies kept waking each other up sharing the bedroom with Meg and Nathan. No sleep for anyone.  Noah sent home from school as a classmate had Covid.  Oh, wait!  School became virtual for two weeks, so he had to be kept on task while she simultaneously wrangled three little boys 2 and under.  All the while making decisions about what to purchase for the new home . . . on a tight budget.

Whew! Now, that would be too much for my plate.  However, their unsettled life seems to be a perfect picture of the things we're all currently facing.  

As I've talked with different friends, many have been asking, "Why do I feel so overwhelmed? Why does everything just feel like it's Too Much?!"  Maybe you're wondering the same thing.  (You may also be wondering what my point of encouragement is today.)

I think it's found in a simple truth Frank often rehearses for me.  When we start feeling overwhelmed by life, we must remember God's promise to provide Grace equal to or greater than the trouble. 

Years ago, we read a story from the life of Corrie ten Boom whose family hid Jews during the years of the holocaust.  The Nazis did eventually discover their attempts and arrested them all.  Corrie was the only one of her family to survive the concentration camp where they were sent. 

In the story, Corrie told of expressing her anxious thoughts to her father during the earliest days of their work. She was afraid it was all just too much.

"Papa, I don't think I have the courage I need if they come for us." Her heart was seeking comfort from her father.  His profound answer to her has carried us many times.

"Corrie, when we travel on the train when do I give your ticket to you?"

"Just as we get on the train, Papa."

"You don't need the ticket before we get on the train, do you?"

"No, Papa."

"That's how it is with God's grace.  When you need the courage, He will give it to you.  You don't have it today because you don't need it yet.  So don't worry, little one.  When you need the grace and courage, He will give it to you."

Don't you think that truth is appropriate for you and I today? Life right now (especially here in the United States) could be overwhelming.  A Pandemic.  Lockdowns. An Election.  Great Uncertainty. But there is also GRACE available for us if we will simply lean in to the One who so lavishly provides.

May I echo the words of Corrie's wise father for you today, Dear Reader?  When you need the courage to speak up or to remain silent, you will have it.  When you need the grace to keep moving forward, it will be available.

Don't give way to worry, fear or anxious thoughts.  This moment in history is not Too Much for you and I to navigate, if we are trusting in Christ.  We were born at this time for a purpose. Let's choose to Embrace the Grace available and step into the roles assigned to us.  

Grace to match and exceed every need?  Now, that is just Too Much, isn't it?

If you'd like the Embrace the Grace family to pray with you during this time, just leave your name or a short request in the comment box.  We will gladly pray with you for the courage you need.



Saturday, October 31, 2020

Spiritual PPE

Three years ago, I met a wonderful lady named Dyann Shepherd. She lives in California and has such a tender heart for others. This is her blog entitled: Personal Parables. Her perspective is so refreshing that I asked if I could share with you here. She graciously said, YES! Enjoy . . . 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Make Room

Last Monday we were a household consisting of one husband, one wife and one settled shih tzu.

This Monday we are a household consisting of Two husbands, Two wives, one settled  shih tzu and FOUR rambunctious, joy-peddlers aged seven, five, three and one.  The FL Smiths have temporarily moved in with us.  

You may be wondering, "What's Happening?!"  Well, how fortunate I am to have a blog where I can share with friends, family and those mildly interested. :-)

Meagan and Nathan sold their first little starter home in August; within 48 hours of listing.  Oh, happy day!  The date for closing was set far in the future - Oct. 21st.  Thus, the real estate agent explained they would have ample time to locate their new home and close on both properties the same day.  

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men.  

Smiths did indeed find a home that will perfectly suit all their current needs.  It's a new build in an area that will be better located for them between school, work and church.  Being a new build means relief from the allergy issues that have plagued Meagan and Grayson in their older home.  No repair projects for Nathan.  A bedroom fit for one little princess growing up with three brothers.  And plenty of bike riding space for Noah.

One tiny glitch.  Their new house won't be ready for closing until mid to late November.  What to do?  Move in with Mom and Dad, of course. 

Yes, my head is still spinning a bit. But how thankful we are for the RV days that trained us.  If 400 square feet is big enough to house five adults and two dogs, 1500 square feet is MORE than enough to contain the Hawleys and Smiths for two months.

Noah came running out to my car on moving day, "Noni, guess what!  We're coming to have a LOT of sleep over nights with you and Papa!"  His bright eyes and beaming smile told the full story.  What could possibly be better than LOTS of sleep over nights with Noni and Papa?  Nothing, sweet boy.  Nothing!

Fortunately, Frank and I have spent this year moving toward a more minimalist household anyway.  Now all of the extra spaces we had opened up have become the very nooks and crannies into which we are stuffing the necessities for a family of six.  

In addition to that, Meagan is a brilliant mom.  She knows what constitutes a necessary item and what can be stored for two months.  Bunk beds and storage cubes were set up in the office/playroom.  Two cribs were configured into the decor of the guest room.  All decorations that tend to attract little hands have been put away or out of reach.  

Boxes are still everywhere and I literally climbed over two beds in order to reach my coffee maker Saturday morning.  But we're in!  We're all in and have slept two nights under the same roof.  

Frank and I typically drink our first coffee of the week sitting on the screened porch softly commenting on the weekend and the lovely dawn.  Gracie squeezes between us on the love seat and drifts back to sleep.  

Today, it was quite different.  

Noah (7) came out first.  Then Madi (5) found us.  They are both incredibly verbal children.  They also are certain that Noni and Papa want to hear each of the thoughts pinging around in their beautiful blond heads. Andrew (1) only wanted to snuggle.  Meagan found us all five squeezed onto the love seat with Madi and Noah at least taking turns while talking ninety to nothing.  Andrew was dozing and Gracie located an uninhabited corner where she could hide.  

Two adorable items will make you smile, too.

Madi: "So, Noni they took both cars and combined them into one that can fly."  (Note:  Noni totally missed the part of the story explaining who "they" are and why one of the cars had wings.  But backing tracking with questions is NOT a smart tactic, I 've learned.)  "Then when they got done, they. . .  (long pause while the precious princess pondered what could possibly be the opposite action of combining.)   . . . they un-binded them and they went back to normal."  Brilliant, don't you think?

Noah: "Noni, look at this tassel on your pillow.  It's a mustache.  Oh wait, now it's a rocket.  Now it's a bell; a doll wig; a flower; a firework; a....."  The list went on for about three minutes.  I was amazed at the imagination of this kid as he just kept turning and re-shaping the tassel to show me all the things his seven year old eyes could envision.  Brilliant, don't you think?

I can't do a caption for this and I HOPE it's the proper size.  (Still learning the new format.  Sigh!)  Frank and I try to do birthday lunch with each child but we had missed Zach and Madi's special days this summer.  So, we took all three on Saturday.  What a full, fun "lunch event" it was.

Frank knew that if we were going to get the Christmas village up this year, it had to happen before the Smiths moved in with us.  So Spencer came to lend a helping hand.  We snapped this picture of our very own "Elf on the Shelf."  

 Here's a picture of the finished product.

Meagan ran errands for a while so I could enjoy a quiet morning and get this post online.  The call just came that they are heading back this way for lunch and afternoon naps.  Better get up and get moving.  

One more thought in closing.  I mentioned that Frank and I had already been making room in our home although we had no idea why it would be needed.  If we had not done the work to make room, we wouldn't have been able to open our arms and have them filled with all this sweet love for the next six weeks.

Has this post brought a nudge to your own heart about making room?  Maybe it's your home and maybe it's your heart.  Let me encourage you, don't miss the blessing that you'll be able to embrace once the room has been made.  Just a thought for you today . . .

Blessings for your week!

How about you?  Have you shared your home with another family at some point?  What tips of wisdom can you offer?  Where would it do you good to make room?  Please share with us in the comment section.

Friday, September 25, 2020

A Tale of Two Neighbors

[Warning: Rather long post. Sweet story. Likely to cause some misty-eyed reading.  Grab a tissue, a cup of tea and join me, won't you?]

In 1981, two frightened young adults moved to the mountains of NC.  Their assignment was to pastor a little church of thirty settled souls tucked away in a valley called Hazelwood.  (Don't bother looking it up.  The town was eventually absorbed by the larger adjacent town when the last "old timer" passed away.)

The second Monday morning after their arrival, the pastor took his youthful zeal and single-handedly began a door-to-door campaign.  He was intent on letting the neighbors know this church was ready to meet their spiritual needs.  He returned home at lunch time with shoulders slumped and heart heavy having knocked on every door in the surrounding few blocks.  

Again and again he had encountered one of two responses.  "That's a church?!  We thought it was a masonic lodge."  Or "Yeah, that's the church where the pastor ran away with the secretary."  Never mind the huge cross on the front of the building.  Never mind that the aforementioned incident had occured 25 years before.  

But the young couple knew how to encourage themselves in the Lord. Sunday after Sunday they trudged on.  They sang from the restrictive list of ten songs most comfortable for the inexperienced pianist. They coaxed the dying furnace into heating the building one more time.  They greeted; hosted; sang; preached; cleaned and smiled at even the most surly of members.  Week after week they worked to build relationships with the people entrusted to their care.  

Most of the congregation were at or near retirement age and the few younger women found the pastor's wife a bit odd.  She was a little too bubbly for their liking.  They deemed it unnecessary to include her in their circle of friendship.  So she became more and more isolated.  

The couple had been given the use of a rather ramshackle home on the church property.  To their left lived a single lady who frequently complained about the barking of their little dog.  Mrs. Sally Thomas* was very involved with her own church.  She made perfectly clear that she strongly disagreed with the doctrine held by the church the young couple pastored.  She was a formidable lady, indeed.

One morning an unexpected knock came on the front door.  Another older neighbor, with sparkling blue eyes and curly red hair met the pastor's wife with a smile.

"Hello," her voice was gentle and her accent told of having lived in that area her entire life.  "My name is Nell Cagle.  I live in that house across the road.  I've baked an apple pie for you."  She brushed off the appreciation of the young girl and declined her offer to come in for a visit.  After only a few more sentences exchanged, Mrs. Cagle turned and walked back across the street.

Over the next few months, Mrs. Cagle would periodically reach out to the couple.  "I've made beans and greens for dinner.  Would you like some?"  "My son came for a visit and we couldn't eat all this cake.  I brought you a couple of pieces."  When she found out that peach was the young pastor's favorite fruit, she suddenly began making peach preserves, peach pies and of course, peach cobbler.

The couple became as comfortable in her tiny living room and kitchen as they were in the homes of their own parents who lived hundreds of miles away.  Mrs. Cagle was a poet and an excellent seamstress.  Her creative handiwork was the livelihood for the dear lady who had been abandoned by her husband and left to raise a son alone.  Despite all the pain of her life, she held tightly to her joy and peace.

Eventually, the young pastors received an answer to their prayers for a child.  The wife hurried across the street to tell Mrs. Cagle their happy news.  The next week, their neighbor was on the porch with a big white box wrapped with a huge bow.  The wife carefully unwrapped the box.  She squealed with delight when she pulled out a stunning, custom made maternity dress.  Crafted of light blue fabric sprinkled with delicate white flowers, it fit her perfectly of course.

When the pastors finally brought home their baby girl from the hospital, Mrs. Cagle was one of the first invited to hold her.  She beamed with delighted as though the baby was her own grandchild. And of course, she brought over dinner.

The couple pastored that church for nineteen months then moved on to another assignment.  Saying farewell to Mrs. Cagle brought more tears than any other farewell with their move.  Through the years when they would go back to that little valley, they made it a point to stop and visit with Mrs. Cagle.  She always had a warm hug and a big smile for them.

Just this week, the couple returned to visit Mrs. Cagle.  It had been five years since they had been in that area.  A new neighbor gave them the sad news that she had passed away two years ago.  Frank and I got back into our car and swiped at the tears stinging our eyes.  

Yes, we were the couple who moved to Hazelwood as 22 and 24 year olds.  Of all the relationships we worked so hard to develop and maintain, it was dear Mrs. Cagle we stayed in touch with the longest.  She was the one person who reached out first, never asked for anything and always offered a word of encouragement.

I never again saw Mrs. Thomas* after we moved away.  But my sense of loss at the passing of Nell Cagle was deep, genuine.  Few people in the world ever knew her name.  She viewed herself as rather small and insignificant.  But her kindness impacted us for a lifetime. 

Perhaps you are one of many reading this post who view yourself as Mrs. Cagle saw herself.  Unknown, insignificant.  Maybe you wonder if your life and contributions make a difference at all. 

The answer is, YES!  You are probably impacting people in ways you could never fathom.  Keep caring.  Keep offering friendship and kindness. Keep looking for the best in others.  You will find what you look for and you will reap what you sow.

Mrs. Cagle could never have imagined her story encouraging more than a few dozen people at best. But here she is still impacting people even after her passing.  All because she wanted to be a good neighbor.  

May I encourage you to stop waiting to do something grand.  Choose to do the little things well and watch what God will do with your efforts.  

Did Mrs. Cagle's story resonate with you?  Do you have a similar story?  We'd love to read about it in the comment section.

*Sally Thomas in not her real name.  

Monday, September 14, 2020

Ungrateful Grouch

 (Warning: Honest look behind the facade.)


I have BEAUTIFUL pictures to show you of the reno work my husband has done on our kitchen.  Unfortunately, they've foisted a new format on me for the blogging site I use.  I'm totally dumbfounded as to how to add the pictures with this new set up.  (Deep Sigh of DIS-contentment.)  Back to school I go.

But since I've already launched into this confession, I might as well complete it; even though helpful pictures aren't unavailable at the moment.

The work we've been doing for almost three months is nearly complete.  (Cue cheering friends accompanied by loud marching band music and poppers filled with confetti.)  I could not be happier with the outcome.

Frank even tackled the installation for the decorative tile I had chosen as a border.  He did a Great job! Because the extra cabinets are on the opposite wall, I wanted something to tie the room together.  This bit of tile does it beautifully, in my opinion.  (And since I'm the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, that opinion matters very much.)

In the middle of it all, we've tried for several weeks to take a day trip to the beach.  This FL native needs to dip her toes in the water, walk on the sand and smell salt air occasionally to feel rejuvenated.  But each time we've had it planned, a complication has come up or we've opted to work on the next phase of the kitchen, instead.  

This actually ended up being a good choice because we finished the bulk of it just in time to welcome surprise guests this past weekend. Whew, was I ever thankful.

The countertops are spectacular.  The new lighting over my sink and under the additional cabinets is spectacular.  We have to demonstrate the lighting to each newcomer.  That's when you know someone is genuinely excited about a renovation project.  The dimmer switches provide lovely ambiance and make me feel "grown up."

So, how can someone with so much "marvelousness" that they've waited/saved/worked years to experience be even remotely close to acting like an ungrateful grouch?  I was wondering the same thing when I realized my attitude this morning was moving in that direction.

Let me explain.  I've always been a frugal person.  Some might even call me a tightwad. But that's okay because it's been a blessing with the life-style we've chosen to lead.  

Our life is full of amazing people and miraculous provision and unbelievable opportunities.  (Notice that list does not mention huge financial prosperity.)  That's why it's good I've always been frugal.  God has graced me to stay content with the things we COULD have not bothering to compare or focus on things I knew were only wants and not necessities.

One of my favorite scriptures has long been, "Godliness with contentment is great gain." I Timothy 6:6.

However, it seems we all get tempted in areas of life we think we've mastered. A caution to the wise here.  I hit just such a temptation this very weekend.

Missionary friends were going to meet me for lunch in a different part of town.  Being unfamiliar with the area and not wanting to be late, I left early and actually arrived with 30 extra minutes.  What to do?

I had noticed signs for an estate sale going on near there so I decided to run in for a minute.  Estate sales are always interesting and I hoped to snag a piece of my elusive Willow Ware dishes.  

Imagine my shock and awe upon walking into the massive home that was being sold for more than five times the value of my own.  It was an architectural masterpiece everywhere you looked.  The architect had carefully created each room to enjoy a view of the lake. I tried not to leave my mouth hanging open.

The entryway led directly to a living room area with large pieces of surprisingly comfortable furniture.  The baby grand player piano provided joyous renditions of Christmas music to boost each buyers' mood.  

My breath caught in my throat when I realized the living room furniture, which looked like furniture Frank and I like, did not have a sold sticker.  In fact, it was reasonably priced for the quality and condition of the three pieces offered.

Suddenly, I WANTED that living room set.

I could see it gracing my own living room.  I could envision our children and grandchildren sprawled out on the pieces laughing, talking.  Of course, the music made it easy to imagine Christmas morning with presents and wrapping paper and people scattered everywhere. 

Now, I NEEDED that living room set.

It was time to meet my friends so I dashed out to my car but not before snapping a couple of pictures to show Frank.  I also asked if anyone else had enquired about the set.  The salesman said some were looking but there were no holds.     

I managed to calmly enjoy my time with our friends.  Then connected with Frank.  

We got back to the sale as soon as we could go together.  You already know the next part - yes, it had sold.  Yes, I was disappointed.

Frank chatted with the salesman (because that's what Frank does) and discovered the sale was truly sad.  The couple who built the home and moved in with such joy were divorcing and moving to different cities.  So sad.

The rest of the story hit this morning.  I had slept well and woke at my normal time.  But even after breakfast and my devotion time, I felt agitated. I was even short with Frank as he was getting ready to leave for the office.

"Sheri!  What is wrong with you?!" I wondered aloud to Gracie.  She had no helpful response.  I pondered my attitude while starting the laundry and cleaning the shower.  

Suddenly it dawned on me.  I was in a foul mood for no other reason than that I had WANTED that living room set and it was Gone!  

Yes, I'm embarrassed to admit this to you, Dear Reader.  But it's never a good thing to put ourselves or another on any sort of pedestal.  We ALWAYS fall.  And this morning, I took a royal tumble.

This is embarrassing for several reasons:

    1. I already have so many new elements to be thankful for in my kitchen.

    2. The last sermon I preached highlighted the importance of Appreciation.

    3. The living room set was a THING, not a person to merit that much emotional energy.

    4. It totally surprised me that I could be so greedy.  (We're usually the last to know about character       flaws, aren't we?)

Ah, Friend.  If you're shocked or appalled, don't be.  I'm working through the journey just like everyone else.  And for those who would offer excuses on my behalf, please don't.  I know how dangerous a small root of greed (or any other vice) can be if not dealt with quickly and harshly.  

So, I'm calling myself out right here on Embrace the Grace.  I started the day as a Greedy Grouch - because of a couch.  (I couldn't resist the rhyme.  It was sitting right there.)  With confession and prayer, I hope to end the day differently.

Thank you for reading to the end.  Thank you for loving me in spite of myself.  Thank you for being an honest sojourner right along with me.  

Blessings for your week!

How about you?  Any recent realizations about your own heart that surprised you?  We'd love to pray for one another and find encouragement together if you want to share in the comment section.

Monday, August 31, 2020

A Mess Exchanged

Can you believe that tomorrow is the first day of September, 2020?  This year has gone nothing like any of us expected.  In fact, some of it has been a real MESS!

Take for example the scene I found in my very own dining room this morning:

Who Did This??!!

Can you imagine stumbling out of your bedroom, slippers scrapping, nasty breath proceeding, bed hair waving and finding that someone attacked your kitchen in the middle of the night leaving you this MESS??!!  You rub your eyes a couple more times in disbelief and suddenly remember, "Oh, wait a minute.  I made this mess."

No, I wasn't sleep walking when this disaster occurred.  What you see here is the contents of almost all my cabinets.  Frank bravely took on the challenge of removing our old counter tops before the new ones were to arrive.

The first two little counters were a breeze once he located the screws holding them in place.  He waited to remove the counter over our sink because it meant my kitchen would be completely useless once he cut the power and uninstalled the sink itself.  Hence, the contents cautiously corralled on our dining room table.

Here's the final result of countertop removal by my own handsome handy dandy handy man.

Is it still a kitchen if it has no sink?

I've been washing any dishes we might dirty in our bathroom sink.  (Deep DIS-contented sigh!)  Fortunately, our friend Ed who has been helping us with this remodel (and several others) had the foresight to place a temporary board over our new set of cabinets.  That way, they were at least useful.  Here you see our make-shift coffee bar.  (Please don't judge.  Martha Stewart I'm NOT.)

Cream?  Sugar?  Power drill?
I've dreamed of this kitchen transformation for quite a number of years. My dreaming has a way of eventually working itself into reality and Frank is gracious to dream with me.  Take for example the dining room which was originally our back patio.  Two windows I stumbled upon at Lowe's started that journey.  Someone had refused order so they were 80% off.  What woman can pass up an 80% off sticker?  Certainly not me!

Those sat in our garage for 2 years while we saved and dreamed about different possibilities.  Finally, our dear friend Ed stepped up and said, "Time to stop dreaming and start creating!"

Now, we have plenty of room for family dinners with all seventeen of us around a couple of tables.  We can invite friends from church and spread out comfortably.  We've even hosted neighbors with plenty of space for all. Voila!

When we received an unexpected financial gift this year, Frank knew exactly what was coming.  "Honey, if we add this to our other savings, we'll have just enough to do those new counters in the kitchen."

Game On!  How I love that man!

Can't you see my face giddy with joy when the knock came on the door this morning?  "We're here to install you new counters, Ma'am."  They were much earlier than I had been told but no matter, my dream was happening.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could tell you it all went off without a hitch?  Well, that wouldn't be normal life then, would it?

The three young men were very polite and started carrying in the heavy pieces of granite.  Suddenly everything came to a screeching halt.  The sink was NOT what I had ordered.  Frank had graciously opted to remove the counters himself which saved us enough money to secure one of their sinks.  But instead of sending the sink with the large side on the right and the smaller side on the left, they sent the complete opposite.

The leader of the install team remained calm.  "Let me see if they've already cut the granite for this sink.  Maybe they cut it for the opposite."  I held my breath.

Antonio came right back in, "I'm sorry, Ma'am.  It's already cut for this sink."  What to do??!!

Frank was on a hospital visit.  (Which actually means a parking lot visit with the person going in for surgery because we still aren't allowed to go inside the hospital.)

I caught him on the phone and he said call the salesman.  Paul was very apologetic.  He never tried to make it my fault in any way; a willingness to take responsibility for one's mistakes goes a long way with me.  "Let me see what we can do."  And the waiting began.

Eventually, Frank was able to swing back home and look over the situation with me.  Paul offered a couple of options that would have corrected the problem but would have also left me without a working kitchen for a week to ten days.  He even offered to remove the cost of the sink if that would help me like it better.

I wrestled with the options for a long time.  The kitchen is the heart of every home and I didn't want to dislike this sink every time I looked at it.  Paul assured me they wanted to make it right.  That is called excellent customer service.

Together, Frank and I decided to go with the sink they had sent so we could move toward wrapping up this project. I feel confident that I'll be able to like it just fine.  Staying calm also gave us the opportunity to pray for the installers (Antonio, Raymond and Gabriel) before they left.  We've found that people seldom refuse our offer to pray blessing for them these days.  Try it sometime.  You'll probably be surprised, too.

So, here are a couple of pictures at the close of day.

Such a Lovely Flow

Beautiful, Blank Palette

My table is still covered with everything to restock these cabinets. There is touch up painting to do as well as some electrical work for extra lights.  But I know that by Christmas, all the MESS will be exchanged for a kitchen that welcomes the many guests we look forward to hosting.

Eventually this year will shift as all things do.  May I encourage you to remind yourself of this.  The Mess will be Exchanged for what we can shape into a better day.  I'm still holding to Romans 15:13 "I pray that God, the source of hope will fill you completely with all Joy and Peace because you trust in Him.  Then you will overflow with confident Hope through the power of the Holy Spirit."

May that be your exchange as well, dear Reader.  Blessings!

How about you?  Have you successfully navigated the MESS that proceeds every home improvement?  Tell us about it in the comment section.

Monday, August 10, 2020


The Five Oldest & Watermelon

Doesn't this picture just epitomize summer?  The screened porch.  Papa totally relaxed.  Watermelon juice dribbling on the chins of small people.  Humidity, humming bees, heavy flower fragrances and happy voices.

(Insert Deep Contented Sigh!)

There has been so much negative to read and see lately that I wanted to share a little joy with you today.  I hope you can take a minute and "refresh" with me.

Last weekend, Meagan and Nathan traveled to NC for the memorial of his beloved grandfather, Ken Smith.  Grandpa Smith was such a stabilizing person for Nathan during the time that his family dealt with the life-threatening illness of his younger sister, Sarah.  (She recovered, thank God and continues to flourish as a young adult.)  

Nathan's love for him is deep.  Meagan, who has been part of the family for over a decade now, also grew to love and respect Grandpa.  So John and Joy took on the four Smith babies while our Smiths flew to join the other Smiths in Charlotte to celebrate the life of this dear man.  

[Side Note:  Ava Schreck fell on the trampoline and broke her leg last Monday.  Kristin and I were gearing up to take the Smiths when Joy said, "Why?!"  She explained that as soon as Ava's leg was cast, the tough part would be over.  (Joy's perspective, not mine!) So, of course the Smith children should stay with her four as well as the two extras she nannies during the day.  Yes, Joy IS Superwoman!]

On Saturday, Frank and I invited the five oldest grands to our house for lunch and some play time.  It also provided a break for John and Joy.  The picture on our back porch was taken after lunch.  Watermelon was the reward for no arguing and prompt obedience during our time together.  Then there was the Lincoln Log building....

Papa and Madison's Cabin

Abby and Noah built first

The Lincoln Log kit we brought right after Spencer was born has become a popular item when the little babies aren't around.  (Yes, we DID buy it eight years ago.  No, he wasn't big enough to play with it then.  But if you're a grandparent, you understand.)

Papa helped Abby and Noah build a cabin first.  Then Madi needed her own.  The next picture won't make sense unless you have little boys in your world.  It's certainly not an experience I ever had while raising our three little girls.  (Oh, No!  It won't download.)

Well, imagine all five grandchildren filling their fat fists full of the tiniest blocks.  Then hear them counting down, "Five, Four, Three, Two, One!!"  Now cue your imagination to hear blocks whistle through the air and crash squarely against the newly constructed cabin.  Yes, as soon as it was built, they threw blocks at it until it was demolished.  

Who knew destroying was half the fun of constructing?

Kitty Loves her Papa
This picture of refreshing is included for those of you who are pet lovers.  (Like us.)  While the Schrecks were on vacation a few weeks ago, Noni and Papa took care of their great dane who happens to be named, Kitty.  (Yes, my children have an odd sense of humor like their mother.)

Every morning when Frank went by to let her out of her kennel, she was pretty eager to get outdoors.  But in the evenings it was a different story.  She would make a mad dash for the house, galloping in like the monster puppy she is.  She would then circle the living room and dining room several times with her massive tail beating against any furniture, cabinets or human legs that got in her way.

At that point she would plop down beside the couch and look up at us with those huge chocolate eyes as if to say, "Please love on me, now."  Papa and I just couldn't resist.  So, every evening we had to allow extra time to pet and talk to our monster grand dog, Kitty.  There's research that shows petting an animal is a restoring action.  You don't have to convince me.  

Also, I just realized Frank is wearing the same t-shirt in those three pictures.  Trust me, he has others.  But like most men, he hits phases where one shirt and a particular pair of shorts are his favorites.  He says it saves time not having to decide what to wear.  My job is just keeping them clean. (Insert serious eye roll here.)

Here's another picture of refreshing even though everyone in the picture is sweating and working hard.  

Help When You Need it Most
I've long dreamed of adding another bank of cabinets in our kitchen.  A few weeks ago, I found some online that had been removed from an upscale home in Orlando.  Imagine my delight at finding cabinets with nearly the same finish as the originals that would fit perfectly on the open wall all at only a fraction of the normal cost.

Ed Collins is a dear friend who helps Frank with all sorts of renovation jobs around our house.  He scheduled an entire day to come put the cabinets on the wall.  I woke early that morning and realized we would be covering the only electrical outlet on that side.  Panic!  

Frank called our neighbor, Richard who said he'd be happy to come put in a couple of outlets ahead of the cabinets going in.  Richard got so involved, he ended up staying until the job was completed.  Isn't such generosity of time refreshing?

Finally, I want to share this picture with you.

Together Again
Many of you may not know but I have only one sister.  She lives near Charlotte, NC and we only get to see one another once or twice a year.  (We also have a brother we love who lives near Atlanta.)  With all the craziness, I got an overwhelming urge to go see Vonnie.  So I donned a mask, hopped on a plane and flew up to Charlotte last month.  

We laughed and cried and ate good food (she is an amazing cook) and stayed up too late and and took long walks and talked until we needed naps.  It was a resplendent visit, indeed.  (My favorite word is reserved for most impact.  This visit was definitely resplendent.)

The first picture was taken in the gardens of the Billy Graham museum.  I've wanted to visit there so we made that part of our itinerary.  If you get to that part of the country, it's a wonderful and encouraging museum to tour.  

Only Sisters!
We laughed when we got home and took off our shoes.  Can you guess why?  My foot is on the left and hers is on the right.  Although we had gotten pedicures 500 miles apart, we had chosen almost the exact same color polish.  Sisters!

I have more pictures and stories to share from that visit but I'll save them for another post.

My objective today was to give you a smile and a bit of encouragement in the middle of all the crazy.  So, let me close with a scripture that has taken on new significance for me.  Paul wrote to some of his friends who were living in Rome.  They were experiencing a difficult time similar to the one we're living through.

Here's what he said to them, "I pray that God, the source of hope will fill you completely with Joy and Peace because you trust in Him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit."

I've written this out and put it on my refrigerator as a reminder.  Our only source for truly refreshing Hope is God but He is more than able to fill us with joy and peace when we trust in Him.  This is my prayer for you today, Dear Reader. 

May your heart be refreshed!  Blessings!

Have you experienced a moment of refreshing this summer?  We'd love to hear about it.  Perhaps some reader can relate or even recreate the moment for themselves.  Please share in the comment section below.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Rule Your Spirit

I'm so excited to share with you today a guest blog post.
Amanda Bock Hoggard is one of my adopted children.  (Her husband Webb is too; but by marriage, of course.)  She is a brilliant young lady who once served as part of our team here at Garden Grove Church.  Now, a lead pastor herself, Amanda wrote this fantastic piece that so perfectly speaks to where we are today.
I called and asked if I could share it with you, Dear Readers.  Let me know if it speaks to your heart as it did mine.
The precious little boy in the picture is the middle son of Amanda and Webb.  His name is Jude and he is just as squish-ably adorable as he looks in the picture.  His two brothers Luke and Graham are also pretty amazing kids. 

Jude and His Mom

Amanda Writes - 
Some of my best memories as a young adult were chaperoning kids to our annual summer camps. Hot, sticky, and messy, but seeing little lives changed and called into kingdom living, nothing like it.
I learned a lesson from another chaperone one year that has stayed with me for two decades. One of the little girls who came with us was experiencing high-stakes homesickness, and no natter how nurturing and compassionate I tried to be, she always ended up in heaving sobs, gagging and crying. We knew we’d have to call her parents to make the three hour drive that night and pick her up.
Until this chaperone stepped into the situation. I was outside the chapel trying to comfort and reassure this little girl, when she came over and, with a peaceful but firm amount of spiritual authority, she knelt a little, cupped the girl’s face in her hands, and quietly said, “Honey, rule your spirit. Only you can control how you feel right now.”
What happened after that was unreal. This baby girl straightened up that moment and enjoyed the rest of camp with a joyful heart. I had never seen anything like it. This lady was the “camper whisperer.” It was like baby girl gathered confidence and strength from those words, and it finally occurred to her that she had a choice in this matter. She got to choose to whom she’d submit.
Today, the Holy Spirit is your chaperone at this wild camp none of us really signed up for. There are people grappling for control of many things, but it seems the least of those is control of their own thoughts, emotions, reactions, and interactions.
Feel the Holy Spirit gently hold your face today and admonish, “Rule your spirit, child.”
You’re not obligated to indulge every feeling or thought that comes to you. And only you get to decide - will those around you get a heavy dose of you, your thoughts, and your attitude? Or the peace and authority that only comes through submission to the Holy Spirit?
Choose today who you’ll serve - feelings and fears, or a faithful God.

Fantastic reminder, right?  Amanda will be checking back here periodically. It would be a GREAT encouragement to this young mom if you wanted to leave a comment for her in the box below expressing how her piece impacted you.  Thanks!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Catch Up

How is it even possible that today is July 20th and I haven't posted even ONCE this month?

I was in total shock when I realized my error.  But it takes only a quick glance over the past 19 days of my calendar to arrive at a conclusive reason.

Since my last post I have:

  • Celebrated no less than 3 birthdays with 3 more upcoming
  • Attended 1 high school graduation celebration
  • Hosted 2 sets of Smiths - Steve Smith followed by Cindy Smith
  • Embarked on a major over-haul of our home both inside and out (See last point)
  • Attended (virtually) Speak Up a writer's conference which I LOVE
  • Flown to NC for a 3-day whirlwind visit with my sister
  • Prepared and delivered 1 full sermon
  • Prepared/participated in 2 other Bible studies
  • Cared for 1 husband suffering from regular flu (NOT Covid, thank Heavens)
Please note, I did not include all the "normal" things that are part of everyone's life.  Like office hours, church services, phone calls, Noni privileges and such.

Last week, it was John who brought the message for our church.  At one point in his sermon, he paused briefly then asked this question, "Are we standing on the Rock (Christ Jesus)?  Or are we standing on shifting sand and only talking about the Rock?"

After the way this month began, I'm glad to be standing firmly on the Rock!

(Of course, John was referring to the story found in the Gospel of Matthew 7: 24-27.  A wise man built his house on a solid rock while the foolish man built his house on sand.  Storms came and beat on both houses.  The house built on sand crumbled.  The one built on rock stood firm.  Excellent word picture, don't you think?)

Speaking of pictures, I have several GREAT ones to share with you.  Unfortunately, my tired brain can not seem to wrap around the process for posting this evening.  So, this will have to do for my (how embarrassing to admit) first post of the month.  

Blessings to each of you, patient friends!  May your feet also be planted firmly on the only Rock that will help us to withstand the storms of life.

How about your summer?  Is it flying by?  Have you hosted friends or family?  We'd also love to hear how you're managing with all the changes?  Leave your comment below....

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Pools, Predators and Protectors

Well, it seems this was the month to get several different family experiences on the books.

We visited my dad the end of May and took our two oldest grandsons along for the first time.  Such a GREAT experience.

Then early June brought the tea party of the ages.  Madison Riley turned 5 and needed a special event for such an important birthday.  We had wonderful time treating Madi and her cousins (Abby and Ava) to a high tea at "Franco's Tea Room."  They caught the humor immediately and loved it.

Franco's Tea Room

Celebrators and Papa (Madi @center)

Last weekend, we made a quick weekend trip to Orlando as a family.  Please remember when we say "family" we're talking about 17 people and that's just grandparents, parents and children.  We now officially qualify as a tribe, I think.

Yes, that's ALL one family

We went to the pool several times.  I can not explain to you how hot it was while we were there.  The humidity threatened to melt all our plans.  But this is a hardy lot.  We pressed on and the pool gave us the refreshing playtimes we needed.

I dare you to look at this picture and not smile
Ava and Noni

Our time at the local zoo was truly eye-opening.  The boys were a bit disappointed that there weren't any lions but the snake displays more than made up for it.  We kept finding our little ones pressed as close to the windows as possible.
Noah and Abigail

Spencer, Madi and the Snake

As we viewed all the different creatures, we reminded the children how creative God is.  "Look at how amazing this rhinoceros is with all his protective armor.  God created him with exactly what he needs for where he lives."

When we got to the exotic bird displays, one of the girls commented on all the different colors.  "God made them extra beautiful!"  All creation tells of the majesty of God.  You can definitely see His handiwork when you visit a zoo.

River Otter Show

I could go on with several stories within the weekend story but I wanted to save time to share the next great picture.  Abigail Grace Schreck turned 8 today which seems impossible.  She is such a natural nurturer and smart student that Noni and Papa can't help but be proud of her.

We took her for her birthday lunch and Spencer joined us because his was overdue.  They chose the restaurant and we had a great time laughing and hearing stories.  The waitresses even gathered around and sang Happy Birthday to her.  She blushed.

The best moment was when a group of young servicemen started to leave.  The children noticed them earlier so Papa had talked about how we should honor men and women willing to defend our country and protect our freedom.

As the young men started to pass our table, Frank spoke up thanking them all for their service.  That's when we got the surprise gift.  The first soldier asked whose birthday we were celebrating.  Abby piped up, "Me!"  He knelt beside her and peeled the flag badge off the shoulder of his uniform.  "Do you know why this seems to be backwards?" he asked.  "No, Sir."

He patiently explained that the flag would be flying that way if they were carrying it into battle.  "So, we wear them on our uniforms this way to remind ourselves that we always run toward the battle, never away from it."  He then produced a similar badge giving one to Abby and the other to Spencer. Later, when we got into the car, Abby Grace looked at her flag and said, "I will never forget this as long as I live."

New Friends

If it looks like the children are beaming, they are. When we asked for a picture, the sergeant quietly instructed the other men, "Surround them."  The simple directive brought tears to our eyes.  We know that these (and others like them) serve as protectors every day for those we love.

The picture reminds me of a favorite bit of scripture.  Psalm 125:2 says, "As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever."

Now THAT'S a Gift!

How about you?  Do you have a favorite summertime memory from your childhood?  Has your family been able to find a creative way to gather in spite of the current restrictions?  We'd love to read your experiences in the comment section.....