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.