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.....

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

It's Generational

Happy Father's Day to all the men who dare to follow Embrace the Grace!

I'm so very grateful for the male gender that perfectly offsets and compliments the female gender.  God certainly knew what He was doing, didn't He?!

I've adopted a great concept I read recently, "Men and women look at things differently.  Not wrong.  Not better.  Just Differently."  (Frank would like for me to keep rehearsing this concept.)

Last month, Frank and I attempted a new adventure.  We took a three day trip to visit my dad (not new) with our two oldest grandsons along (definitely new.) You may be wondering, "What's the big deal with that?  Our grandkids spend the night with us all the time."

Please remember with so many grands who are incredibly aware of fair treatment, it's a bit unusual for them to spend the night with Noni and Papa.  They come for the afternoon.  We enjoy all sorts of group activities.  But traveling with two of them and no parents was brand new territory.

Fortunately, they are just as perfect as we suspected! Spencer and Noah were great traveling buddies during the seven hours of drive time.  They are accustomed to much longer road trips having grandparents in New York and North Carolina.  So they thought seven hours was a piece of cake.

We arrived early in the afternoon and they were delighted by all the outdoor barns and equipment Papaw had open for exploration.  My dad maintains the home he and Mom shared her final years.  It's on property where he grew up as a boy and has access to the pond where he learned to fish.  A true country setting.

Learning about Papaw's boat.

At one point, I noticed Noah doing a little dance and asked if he needed to go potty.  "Umm, yes.  But I don't want to stop investigating."  Isn't that adorable?  I assured him everything would still be available for investigation once he came back outside.

There was the urgent need for a fishing trip.  So, off they went the next morning.

Waiting.  A.K.A. Fishing

I think this picture is one of my favorites.

Classic Summer Picture, Right?!

Frank told of all the loud yelling and running and rock throwing and fishing pole tangling that went into the day.  Not the best way to sneak up on fish.  But they managed to catch a few anyway.  (I think the Lord was gracious and knew my dad really HAD gone to catch fish.)

Noah was proud of his fish but didn't want to touch it.

Look at those smiles.

Final Product

I think the fishing trip may have re-sparked something in my dad because he made a change after our visit.  After years of talking about it, he finally called someone to come and build a proper dock on his part of the pond. You can't really see it but he's beaming in this picture.  I'm so happy for him to have a place to sit, relax and contemplate.  Oh, and to fish, of course.

Daddy has always been a patient teacher when someone expresses interest in learning to fish.  I'm glad he got a chance to fish with a couple of his great-grandsons.  Together, they made a memory that won't soon be forgotten.  And who knows but what they may have created a new tradition that will be generational in its passage. 

When we were young parents, Frank and I received good advice from our mentors, Bob and Martha.  They encouraged us that sharing our faith in Christ needed to be a natural part of life in order for our children to take it as their own. They said we needed to be intentional and patient if we wanted our children to love Christ the way we do.

Their wonderful advice was based on a scripture passage from Deuteronomy 6.  "Impress them [these commandments] on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."  You can also talk about your own love for Jesus while fishing.

I'm so very grateful that the men of our family are all Christ followers.  They each came to a point in their journey where they chose to give Jesus priority.  Their choices tell me that generational relationship and instruction is indeed the best way to go.

Frank and our "Sons"

How about you?  Is fishing part of your family's traditions?  How did you mark Father's Day?  Please share with us in the comment section..... 

Friday, June 5, 2020

When Silence is NOT Golden

(Warning:  This is a post sharing my heartfelt emotions about a tragic issue.)

I am horrified by the murder of George Floyd.

Now please understand, I grew up in a culture that would urge me to not make such a statement.  From an early age it was drilled into my head.   "Silence is Golden."  "You shouldn't be so outspoken about things." "Children are to be seen and not heard." "Keep your opinion to yourself."  

But in this instance, I can not keep silent.

It's true that I do not know all the circumstances surrounding this murder.  I do not know the history of the men involved.  I know nothing about their life choices nor their character.  Those facts are irrelevant to what I have seen and read was acted out.

George Floyd was a human being killed by another human being who had pledged to protect life.  His life was ended while additional human beings looked on but did nothing to intervene.

This murder shocked and sickens me the same way I'm sickened by the 3,000 murders of unborn babies that will take place in America today.  [CDC estimate]  My heart breaks for the elderly human beings who will be marginalized and even considered better off if euthanized.  I grow weary praying for the thousands of women and young men trapped in sexual slavery in the U.S. and abroad. 

When did life become so cheap?  When did selfishness overtake self-sacrifice as an acceptable behavior?  When did we, as human beings, fall into this deep pit?

Actually, this level of depravity isn't the result of a slow decline.  It's not a new condition in our world.  We fell into the pit of sin when Adam and Eve chose self-satisfaction over self-denial, obedience and self-discipline.

Many like to believe we have evolved; we're now enlightened citizens living in the 21st century.  But every time we choose self over service to others, we once again sentence ourselves and our children to remaining in that nasty pit.

Only a heart filled with genuine compassion for others can equip us to see the way out.  Only a life trusting in the saving power of Christ can experience enough hope to keep pointing others toward freedom.

I am so very grateful for the countless men and women who faithfully serve on the front lines.  We benefit daily from those (unlike the four in MN) who put their lives on the line to protect, even when faced with rioting mobs.  We have all been thankful for the sacrifice of health professionals and first-responders during this unbelievable pandemic.  We can not overstate our gratitude for these public servants.

Frank and I sat with an African-American family this week talking honestly about this tragedy.  It was their son, a 20 year old college sophomore, who summed up the situation best.  "This isn't a matter of color, Pastor Frank."  He looked at us resolutely and said,"It's a matter of the heart!"

Amen and Amen!

This post is perhaps one of the most controversial I've ever written.  It certainly is uncomfortable, to say the least.  But I want to use my voice (and any platform I'm given) to declare this basic truth: Life is Precious!  Disregard for human life is WRONG.

I also want to be faithful to remind us all that our help and hope will never be found in other people.

We must acknowledge that no matter our color, culture, or current zip code, we (as human beings) are all broken and ALL in need of a Savior who can hear our cry for help.  This verse took on new significance for me this week.

"But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I cried to my God for help.  He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry reached his ears."  2 Samuel 22:7

Others are watching to see how you will respond to the wrongs of this world.  May I urge you, don't remain silent.  I want all these children to grow up knowing that their voice matters.

Future World Changers

Use your words to pour the contents of your broken heart into the loving hands of our Heavenly Father.  Ask the Spirit of God to align your perspective to His.  Then open your mouth and believe the promise found in 2 Samuel 23:3 "The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me, his words are upon my tongue."

Isn't that the kind of enlightenment we all need in this 21st century?

Thank you each one for taking time to read this post.  I invite your reflections (whether you agree or disagree) in the comment section below.  Dialogue helps direct our thinking.  

Monday, May 18, 2020

Celebrating Differently!

Although social distancing and quarantine and masks and gloves will continue to be part of our lives during this season, Covid-19 can NOT stop the celebrations.  Weddings, birthdays, graduations.  They all go on - they just look different.

The Hawley family just entered our biggest season of continual celebrating.  It began with Mother's Day which we worked out to be a family only gathering at the Schrek's home.  John and Joy wanted to host but John didn't want Joy to do any of the work.  He prepared the meal and even surprised her by setting up long tables complete with linens, china and stemware.  It was beautiful!

(All the other fellas jumped in to help clean up since John had cooked and set up.)

These are the Beauties who made me a Mama

These are the "grand girls"- Madi, Ava, Abby #richnoni

The girls and I enjoyed a lovely, carefree meal topped off with cards and gifts.

Then we moved to Birthday Celebrating.

This guy turned two!  We can hardly believe it to be honest.  Parker is quite the little athlete.  He loves playing soccer with his dad and he throws balls with his left hand almost every time.  He is SO smart!

He has been "talking" for quite some time; we just haven't been able to understand anything he was saying.  As I think back, I seem to remember ALL our grandchildren doing that.  I guess when you're born into a verbal family, you jump in at the deep end and start doggie paddling until Your words start making sense to everyone else.

Parker Franklin McGhee (& Noni)
He is also a snuggle bear still.  So, I smoosh him every chance I get.  I know all too well, this season passes quickly.

Singing HIS song

Our next celebration was for this little doll baby.  Ava is now officially three years old and boy does she know how to use those adorable dimples to their best advantage.  I watched the other day as her mom (Joy) asked about Ava's participation in a particular untimely incident.  Ava pondered a split second then looked up at her mom and flashed the biggest, sweetest smile you ever saw.  I had to turn my head so Ava wouldn't see Noni caving to her cuteness.  Mama wasn't swayed and Ava was disciplined.  But Man!  I don't know how Joy stays so strong. 
Ava Quinn Schreck
Ava loves playing with dolls and swimming and her trampoline and her brothers and sister.  She runs most everywhere she goes and has a hug and smile on the ready for everyone she encounters.  (Yes, John and Joy have curtailed her hugging during this time.)  I've used the next picture before but it shows her personality in such a perfect way.

Ms. Congeniality

Today I'm cleaning our house to get ready for the next celebration.  We will all attend the outdoor graduation of this fine fella this evening.  (If the rains hold off.)

Noah Jacksen Smith - Kindergarten Grad

It doesn't seem possible that Noah has now completed his first step in the educational ladder.  Meagan says he had a great year in spite of the interruptions.  (Fortunately, our girls are already educators so they stepped into home schooling armed with a bit more experience than others.)

Noah played t-ball for the first time this year and discovered he's really good at it.  All that running and jumping he's been doing since he learned how to walk came in very handy.  He is such a hard worker and is truly kind to his sister and younger brothers.  We couldn't be more proud.  

Smith Fam (See how cool he is?)
I suddenly realized this post includes a picture of most of the grands.  So here is one more just for good measure and to make you smile.  I especially love how Zach is hugging Parker on the left.  

Mama's Treasure
I'm aware that so many of you have been unable to gather with family during this pandemic.  I'm sending you a virtual hug right now!  And hopefully, these pictures will bring a smile.  (Many were taken well before the outbreak.)  

As a family, we've also been mindful of the recommended guidelines.  We've discussed our meeting times and carefully measured our options.  We've kept them shorter and much fewer.  As essential workers, our situation is unusual - Frank and I work with Kristin and John.  Then Meagan works as nanny for Kristin.  Hard to avoid one another with a situation like ours.

It's off to Sams now for the pizza and drinks and fruit (as per Noah's request) we will need for our quick party this evening.  

Blessings to you and those around you!  Keep safe, Keep smiling and Keep looking up!

How about you?  How has the pandemic affected your family gatherings and celebrations?  Please share with us in the comment box below....

Monday, April 27, 2020

New From the Old

There are so many NEW things in my life right now I hardly know where to begin.

First off is the NEW look of the blog.  Do you love it?  I'm so happy that it reflects this new season in my life.  Cody McGhee (aka son-in-law #3) designed it and helped update all the information.  He worked with another marketing genius, Ashley Scanlan.  I think they did a superb job.  I can't wait to hear your thoughts.  (Special thanks to Amanda Bock Hoggard for my original design.  I loved it so much I hadn't changed it for 10 years.  Well done!)

There are several NEW things I want to share with you today.  They seem to have all come about while we are in the middle of a New way of living.  And while I'm writing about many new things, they really are New things simply coming from many Old things.

Let me back up and explain.

Sunday Coffee with GGC

This picture represents the NEW way we're "doing church."  Frank and I serve as lead pastors for the most amazing congregation in the history of forever, Garden Grove Church.  They love us and one another as ardently as we love them.  For us to be socially distanced from one another is genuinely painful.

Fortunately, our fantastic associate (John Schreck, aka son-in-law #1) and the media team he has developed were able to help us with the disconnection part.  They stepped up to the challenge and were able to help us begin broadcasting our services online from the very first week.  (If you zoom into this picture, you'll see Frank on the TV screen behind the cups.)  We tape our entire service on Saturday mornings then air them at our normal time, 10 am, on Sundays.

Sunday Worship Service in our Living Room

This is very new for us.  But fortunately the services and relationships and truth shared were all familiar elements.  We've spent fifteen years learning together and developing our mutual love for God's Word and for one another.  So the new approach didn't rock us, it simply breathed New life on what was already an Old, well-established fire.

Feel free to join us before or after your own Sunday services.  Go to: and it will lead you to our Facebook page.  Services can also be viewed after the fact.

Then there's this New thing:

My Newly Created Professional Page

I now have my own professional page or author page.  Cody and Ashley also worked on this for us.  Together they created this beautiful page to highlight my work as a speaker and writer.  Doesn't it look so very official?

It looks so official because well, it IS official.  I have this other New thing to share on my new author page.

I'm a Published Author!!

Can you hear the high-pitched squealing that's happening here in central Florida?!  Believe me it will be louder when my copies arrive on my doorstep.  No, my name isn't listed on the cover because this is a compilation of works.  Some twenty women came together to share their personal stories of God's amazing grace.  Grace that is as old as time itself.  (Once again, New from the Old.)

I have dreamed of becoming a published author since first learning to read.  That magical draw of words pulling us into stories both truth and fiction has had a hold on me for decades.  The dream of offering my own words for readers to enjoy is rather old.  But I find myself in a wonderful new season where the old dream is taking shape in new venues.  And I'm thrilled!

(Special thanks to Becky Smith for once again editing my work so that the publishers made almost no changes.  You're the BEST!)

So what does all this new springing from the old have to do with you?  Had you wondered that?  Well, let me turn the question back to you.

What in your life is New from the Old during this time of upheaval?

During our trip to Israel last year, our tour guide Eli taught us an amazing truth.  "How is it that we can say this olive tree is over 2000 years old?"   He asked the question as we stood in the Garden of Gethsemane looking at trees that would have sheltered Jesus as He prayed.

"The answer is found in the way an olive tree grows," Eli motioned us forward to better observe the tree.  "Do you see how the new shoots are growing inside the bark of the tree?"  He pointed to the tender shoots as he went on to explain.  The older parts of an olive tree actually expand making room for young shoots to form.  This way the youngest shoots are protected from external elements and have the best chance to flourish. 

An Olive Tree in Israel

New from the Old.

The ancient olive trees never really die because they continue to provide room and nurture new growth.  I cried standing in that public place listening to Eli explain the process.  I cried because I knew two things were certain:

  1. I need to never bury a dream no matter how old.  That dream is the incubator serving as a safe place for the new things in my life to spring forth.
  2. I must watch for those around me who need the nurturing protection of my life experiences in order to be encouraged toward their own dreams being realized.  
That's a lot to ponder on a Monday afternoon.  But for someone, it's a timely question.  Spend some time thinking about your own experience during this pandemic.  What is New that is springing to life from the Old for you?

I'd love to hear about your observations in the comment section below.  And please take a moment to visit my new author page.  If you would, please click the like button.  Blessings! 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

A Tale of Two Trees

I want to tell you a little story of two trees.

These are trees I pass routinely when I take my main route to work.  (There are several different routes we can take to get to work/church.  I vary them often . . . just because.  "Variety is the spice of life!" was one of my mom's favorite sayings.)

So, back to the two trees.

The first tree is barren and rather sad looking.  Scraggly, uninviting, down-right ugly.  If not for the crisp blue of the sky I captured in this picture, there would be no indication of life.  In fact while driving by, I've often wondered if the owners shouldn't just cut it down.  Honestly, what purpose does it serve?

Tree #1

The second tree is the complete opposite.  It is absolutely bursting with vibrant color.  Delicate, bloom laden branches wave gracefully in the morning and afternoon breezes.  The lavender blossoms and green leaves backed by the brilliant blues of the sky create a breath-taking scene.  I find myself anxious to round the corner and experience the thrill of spotting this tree twice each day.

Tree #2  
Quite the difference, don't you agree?  So tell the truth.  When you compare what the two trees offer, wouldn't you agree with me that the first one would serve better as firewood?  I mean, really!

Except, look again.  A little more closely this time.  Can you see what I'm talking about?

These are not two different trees.  These are actually pictures of the same tree just taken at two different times.  Surprised?

The first picture was taken in January.  That day was cold and nasty. Rain clouds are just outside the frame.  Actually,  it was rather bleak by Florida standards.  The second picture was taken week before last.  The day was warm and spring was literally"bursting out all over," to quote Rogers and Hammerstein.

The first picture was taken with this blog post in mind.

I knew I would have to wait patiently for several weeks to write it.  But because I've been passing this tree for over five years, I knew it was just a matter of time.  Eventually, the ugly branches would begin to bloom, supporting the fabulous lavender flowers and tender, pale green leaves as they pushed their way into the sunlight.

If we're honest, there are times when all we can see are the barren, ugly, scraggly parts of our lives.  We hope for beauty but there is none to be seen.  We long to see purpose but it's hidden from view.  We feel we have nothing of value to offer.

In those times, it's vitally important that we exercise patience.  Don't Give Up!

The first picture is not the whole story.  And if you're in an ugly season of life, please hear me calling to you, "This moment is NOT the whole story."

I've lived through those times, too.  Times like now when everything around us feels shrouded with uncertainty and ugliness.  We're hoping for things to return to normal.  We long to see at least a small semblance of what we can embrace.

But this moment in time isn't the whole story.  If we exercise patience and faith, we can eventually see fruitfulness begin to bloom from our barrenness.

Isaiah 55:8-9 has long been a favorite Bible passage for me:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

    neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Beautiful, right?!

Dear Reader, please understand that God created that tree to respond to the seasons.  In just a few weeks, the delightful lavender blooms will all drop away and the leaves will push to the forefront.  The tree will spend the better part of this year serving as a magnificent shade tree.  (Much needed here in FL.)

I didn't create the tree.  So the first year I saw it, I didn't understand the barren branches would only be like that for a short while.  Imagine my utter joy when I first rounded the corner on my way to work and realized it had become such a show-stopper of beauty.

God created you and I with the ability to respond to the seasons, as well.  Just because you don't see beauty and fruitfulness in your life right now doesn't mean it isn't there.  

Don't give up, Dear Reader.   God has thoughts and plans for you that are so much higher.  Your season of service will come.  Be patient.  And watch for the beauty that will soon bring delight to all who observe it!

How about you?  Have you been feeling more like the first tree, lately?  Does it seem like your season of barren living has gone on too long?  Or maybe you've started seeing a few blooms of hope.  We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.......

Thursday, March 26, 2020

One Little Step

What an absolutely CRAZY time we find ourselves experiencing.  Right?!  The emotional pressure (no matter what type work you normally do) is extreme.  Every decision feels bigger than life and harder than ever before.  Some people find themselves frozen in place; totally overwhelmed with all the adjustments needed.

So, I wanted to share with you some pictures of our little people.  Hopefully their smiles will give you some simple, joyful thoughts for focusing on today.  For example, this trio of cutie-pies.  Now why do you suppose Walmart offered these little dresses in Florida instead of in Michigan?

'Orange' you glad to see me?
What about this adorable diva?  Ava will turn three this summer and she already has all the personality that can be packed into one tiny human.  She came running in my office last week, gave me a big hug, flashed an angelic smile and said, "Noni, I have a mint?"  You know I gave it to her.

Ava Quinn, Personality Plus

Ava, Abby Spencer and Zach are staying with Noni and Papa this week.  Joy and John had planned a massive home improvement project for Spring Break which would include wall removal, paint, new flooring and all the dust that goes with such.

Their plan was perfect.  Weeks ago, John lined up men at church to help at different stages.  His dad and grandad were flying down from New York.  Together, they would easily knock it out in one week.  Frank and I would be in El Salvador on a missions trip so the Schrecks would house-sit for us.  No Fumes.  No Mess.  No Problem.

All that was before Covid 19 came onto the scene.  Coronavirus took all their well thought out plans and threw them to the wind.  No flights.  No missions trip.  No help available.  Pull the plug, right?One small problem - they had already knocked out the wall and ripped up the flooring.  No where to go but forward.  So forward we went.

Frank has been filling in when able, helping John as best he can.  Joy and I are holding down the fort trying our best to think of fun activities that don't involve technology.  One afternoon, we even raked leaves.

Noah, Spencer and Zach

The kids did their best to make that time entertaining.  Spencer and Abby lamented the fact that there was no representative of Guiness' World Records to see the largest leaf pile in history.  They made "leaf angels," the best substitute in FL for snow angels.  They raced to see who could bag faster and gave instruction to the younger ones.  The other side of the yard still needs some work but a lovely time was had by all.

Parker McGhee, AKA "Gangsta"

It seems Parker has taken up rap singing, during this time of self-entertainment.  We'll have to wait and see if he has the king of talent that can propel him beyond singing for his family in their living room.  Based on the "cuteness" factor, we expect ticket sales to go through the roof!

Four Generations: Mother, Son, Mother, Son
The youngest little Smith is Andrew Ryder.  We can hardly believe he's already sitting up, smiling, responding to his name and all the other things a baby usually does.  What a treasured picture this is for us.  I especially love that Mom Hawley is looking over at her own son. Baby boys soon become grown men with families of their own.  Life moves very quickly, friends.  We should all live accordingly.

As pastors, we've had to try and think of new ways to stay connected with our church family.  Kristin and I spent an afternoon creating a chart for phone connection.  Every family is connected to one of our many capable leaders.  The entire congregation can be contacted within a matter of minutes should information need to go out or should plans change.  (We also use email and Facebook but nothing beats the sound of a familiar voice asking how you're doing.)

We changed our mid-week dinner to a "Drive-Thru" and provided a packet with sermon notes for Sunday's live stream.  

We also offered prayer
This was our first attempt to live-stream our church service.  Our tech team did an amazing job morphing in order to accommodate our needs.  We had a full worship team, an object lesson for children and a great sermon of comfort.  This is our family worshipping together in a new way.  (Yes, we told them to move back from the television right after snapping this.)

"New Sunday Service"
(You can join us by going to Garden Grove Church on Facebook.  Wednesdays are at 6PM and Sundays are at 10AM.)

Laughter is vitally important for us all.  So, last week Frank and I enjoyed a lovely time with friends, Gene and Carol Kent.  Because here in Florida we're experiencing some shortages, we took a little gift for them.  

Yes, we DID gift them toilet paper

I'm trusting at least one of these made you smile.  Or maybe even laugh out loud.

A little laughter is good medicine in times of uncertainty.  I think anxiety, tension and fear are fueled by that one word, uncertainty.  Since the introduction of coronavirus just weeks ago, we've all found ourselves with more questions than answers.  And such a high level of uncertainty naturally creates negative feelings.  They can even cause us to freeze in our tracks.

My word of encouragement for you is this: when life seems to be out of control (like now) it's the little steps that matter most.  We can't afford to stay frozen by fear.  And it often takes only one little step forward to break out of that grip.  Let me encourage you - take one step, today.  Don't try to grapple with ALL that is going on, just make one small change.

We can actually add to the struggle when we expect too much of ourselves.  I've seen the list many friends are touting for this time of self-isolation:
  • Clean and sanitize all cupboards, cabinets and closets.  
  • Read all those books stacked beside my nightstand.
  • Write a book!
  • Write a letter to every relative I've ever known.
  • Train my children in all areas of social etiquette.  
Dear friends, please give yourself a break!  Just for today, you might want to choose an activity from this list instead:
  • Turn off the television.  
  • Step outside and get a deep breath of fresh air.  
  • Send a text.  
  • Take a nap.
  • Remember a funny joke and let yourself laugh.
  • Listen to calming music.
  • Light a candle and read a devotional.
Then tell yourself, "This is precisely what I need to be doing at this moment.  It's the one little thing I've chosen."  Then allow yourself to enjoy the moment.  It truly is the little steps that can break the grip of fear and remind us, we serve a BIG God who hasn't forgotten about us at all.  

With that said, Grayson Smith asked if he could be the one to sign off today -

"See ya later, alligator!"

What is one little step you plan to take today?  Would you please share it in the comment section?  Your comment may encourage a wave of peace flooding the hearts of other readers.  Thank You!