Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Grandma Miller's Purse

Did your grandmother have a magical purse, too? My Grandma Miller certainly did and how thankful I am! Here is a picture of the lady I absolutely adored: Grandma Miller and her dog, Kissy.

My mom's mother attended the same church we did on the east side of Pensacola. I grew up during the era when children attended all three weekly services: Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. We had never heard of "children's church." If the service was quiet, so were we. If the preacher got loud, so did we. If the sermon went long, we slept on the pew. 

Flannelgraph stories and songs that interested children were reserved for Sunday School, the hour before Sunday morning service. Otherwise, we operated on the premise that children were to be seen and not heard. 

Mom told the following story many times. It seems one Sunday night, my grandfather (no longer married to grandma) had come to visit our church. He asked if I could sit with him and his new wife. (Those two sentences speak of an entirely different post. I won't be dealing with that here. LOL) 

 Halfway through the pastor's first point, my three year old self must have gotten offended by something Grandpa said or did. Without reason or explanation, I stuck out my lips, crossed my arms resolvedly and stomped my black patent leather shoes right across the front of the church to go sit with Mama. 

 She and my dad were mortified but everyone else found it adorable so I dodged retribution - that time. But there were other Sunday nights that were incredibly long and for a little girl and incredibly boring. During those services, I would get ancy, probably get too loud and refuse to sit still. Those evenings ended with me taking the long walk of shame. 

 Mom and I would have to walk all the way back down the aisle while everyone stared at disobedient little Sheri knowing full well that Mom was taking me to the basement where she would discipline me sternly then return me to our pew. Not a great experience, I assure you! 

Enter Grandma Miller and the magical purse. My grandma, while not educated past fourth grade, had always worked some type of job to support herself. She regaled me with stories of leaving the family farm and moving to the big city of Indianapolis when she was just seventeen years old. 

Grandma started out in 1919 as a waitress in an elegant Greek restaurant right downtown. I guess that's where she determined to never live in complete poverty again. She went on to become a business woman, working beside her husband to run a tourist court (early version of a hotel) for many years. When he abandoned her, she transformed the business into small apartments and rented those by the month. So resourceful! 

I well remember Grandma's collection of shoes and purses. She stored them carefully in a cedar chifferobe which now sits in my office/guest room. The shoes remained in their original boxes and were stacked neatly. The matching purses were placed individually in dust envelopes for protection and stored on top of the chiffarobe. 

Sounds a bit prim and proper as I describe them here. But oh the wonders those purses would hold when taken down and prepared for use at church. If it had only been Grandma, each purse would have been restricted to carrying tissues, her glasses case, car keys, a black Papermate ballpoint pen and a small pad for taking notes. 

But Grandma hated seeing me take the walk of shame. So she devised a plan. Every Sunday she would fill her magical handbag with items that could help any child stay entertained through even the longest of services. 

There was the Papermate pen that I was allowed to click but only when the pastor raised his voice. Grandma and I would exchange knowing smiles of satisfaction if I managed to get in three or four clicks. There was the note paper that became my personal sketch pad along with the cutest tiny pencils carefully sharpened for my use. 

Grandma also stocked the purse with food. Cheese crackers with peanut butter seemed to be her favorite. But sometimes she would select the Nekot cookies and peanut butter combo instead. Oh, so delectable. Ever the wise grandma, I would then be given a single breath mint, Certs with the gold foil wrapper. This was to cover up any evidence of snacking in church which would have been frowned upon by my mom and dad. 

This picture shows me with Grandma and Mama my first Christmas home from college. How I loved these women!
I had to smile recently when Zach asked me if he could have a mint. Since my grandbabies were old enough to handle one without choking, I've kept my own purse stocked. Madi's favorite flavor has been "wintourgween" aka wintergreen. Ava has made clear she prefers "spehramint" aka spearmint. 

At first, I would ask for a hug or kiss. Now I just hand them over for a please and thank you. I guess Spencer has gotten too old for the mint game so Zach asked for two. "One for me and one for Brudder." 

My takeaway is this, everyone should have someone in their life who loves them unconditionally. 

I'm so thankful our girls and sons have taken on the disciplining of our perfect grandchildren and have left the spoiling to us. What a Gift! 

Will my grandchildren remember Noni's purse as "magical"? Probably not. But my hope is that they will know they were loved fully and unconditionally. And hopefully, they'll remember a time or two that we ran interference for them, as well. 


How about you? Do you have fond memories of a grandparent sparing you the "walk of shame" at any point? Did they spoil you? Did your grandparents live far away? We'd love to hear a story from you in the comment section. Blessings!

Monday, August 16, 2021

Step Wisely

 

Why in heaven's name would I open a blog post with a picture of my foot?!

There is a reason, I can promise you.  

This is a picture that Parker took of Noni's foot during a recent "photo shoot" he was doing.  (Please be reminded Parker is three years old and things have a different perspective from the vantage point of being 2 1/2 feet tall.)

Here's the picture he snapped of his mom who was finishing her makeup in Noni's office.  Great composition with his use of the door, don't you think?  He must have his dad's eye for photography.

As I scrolled back through pictures and wondered what I could use to encourage you today, I laughed aloud when I saw the picture of my foot.  We were trying to entertain Parker until time for his class that Sunday morning.  He grabbed my phone and proceeded to snap over twenty pictures in and around my office.  I will spare you wading through the rest but some were hysterical.  Ah, the eyes of a child.

Looking at his pictures brought back to mind a little song I learned when I was myself a three year old child.  Perhaps you learned it as well.  One of the verses went like this, "Oh be careful little feet where you go. Oh be careful little feet where you go.  For the Father up above is looking down in love so be careful little feet where you go."  

I spent several minutes pondering the truth of that simple line from the perspective of my own life.  

Although I've experienced quite a few detours and missed exits on my life journey, I've always tried to keep a mindset that my steps mattered. I've prayed to know direction about everything from lunch dates to a life mate.  I just always wanted my steps to be appropriate and God honoring.

Never in a million years could I ever have guessed that stepping toward Frank as my life mate would lead to three precious daughters, three amazing sons (in-law) and now NINE practically perfect grandchildren.  And all those people have been watching to see if I choose steps walking me toward God's will.

Is this not the most honest picture ever?!



Two weeks ago, Frank and I had the privilege to attend a denominational conference which brought ministers from all over the nation to Orlando.  Since we've been part of this organization for decades, the conference is always like a huge family reunion. We love seeing friends from college days, others we've pastored near and even many spiritual children who have served with us at different times. 

We especially enjoy reconnecting with many of our missionary friends who happen to be in the States for the event.  Frank and I were even invited to attend a luncheon where there would be a report on a missions organization we currently support.

I sent a text to our friend who is the director and offered to help in any way since we live in the area.  She responded quickly asking if we would be willing to arrive early and serve as greeters for the other guests.  

Now, some people might have been offended by such a request.  "Hold the door and give directions?  Are you kidding?  Don't they know who we are?"  But Frank and I were delighted to serve as the welcoming committee.  We love people and greeting is as natural for us as breathing.

Little did I suspect that the Lord had prepared a divine appointment for me on that path of service.  

We did arrive before anyone else and stationed ourselves at the entrance of the restaurant. We welcomed several couples, always introducing ourselves then moving them on toward the banquet area. But the next couple caught me completely by surprise.  

Before I could offer my name the young lady said,  "You're Sheri Hawley, aren't you?!"  I checked my name tag and jokingly assured her I was.  She went on, "Of course I know you.  You spoke for a conference I was attending almost twenty years ago.  While listening to you, the Lord confirmed a call He had for my life."

My mouth dropped open a bit and tears stung my eyes almost immediately.  She reached to give me a huge, warm hug and I tried not to drip tears on her shoulder.  It was humbling and exhilarating all at the same time.  How often do we find out in such a literal way that our footsteps have created a pathway for someone else to follow?  

Crystal and I captured a quick photo together


"Oh, be careful little feet where you go."  

I'm so glad I didn't miss the opportunity to meet Crystal because I was too proud to hold open a door. Choosing to walk with gratitude on a short pathway of service led to a most joyful moment.

Psalm 34:8 was a perfect description of that moment for me.  "Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!" 

Be encouraged, Dear Reader.  Your steps do matter.  Someone is watching, contemplating and most likely following in the pathway you've forged.  Be careful to step wisely!

 








Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Tenacious Toddler


This little guy is Amazing!  His birthday was Monday and he turned three.

I know that may seem like a biased statement and I would have to agree with you.  But if you knew Grayson Oliver Smith, like I know Grayson you would say it's true.

Typically, if you read about a "tenacious toddler" it would bring to mind images of temper tantrums and unruly children running around stores being chased by frazzled mothers yelling unrealistic threats.  

In my desire to be transparent, I have to say I have witnessed a couple of less than stellar moments with young Mr. Smith's temper and his mother has indeed been frazzled from time to time.  (Although I can assure you that she has never uttered a threat she wasn't willing to follow through on.  His mama is one tough cookie.)

But this post describes a different kind of tenacity.  

As part of all the July birthday and anniversary celebrating, Frank and I got to go to Bok Tower Gardens yesterday.  We were part of an adventure involving all NINE grandchildren and the most capable child directors available - Joy and Kristin.  

Side Note: Meagan and Nathan had saved/planned over a year to go away for their 10th wedding anniversary.  However, those celebrations are best shared with only the bride and groom.  What to do with four rambunctious offspring?  Call your sister, of course.  Joy managed her own version of boot camp so the Smiths could go away.  Wrangling her four plus the Smiths' four plus Parker meant she had NINE children most of Monday through Saturday!  If you'd like to applaud for her,  feel free to leave a comment in the box below.)

It wasn't my brightest idea that we take them all to Bok Tower.  The temperature topped out around 95 degrees and the famous Florida humidity felt like we were breathing through plastic wrap.  The park was offering one of two FREE days to the public, so it was jam packed.  

But we were on an adventure!  So off we went with two kiddie wagons, a picnic lunch for 13 and a cooler filled to the brim with juices and water. 

There were too many hilarious moments to record here.  You'll have to ask Joy about her telling me to lower my voice when I started yelling because I thought one of the children was missing.  Turns out, he was simply standing behind Papa and I couldn't see him.  Oh well.

Bok Tower Gardens also has a lovely spot designed specifically for youngsters.  Places to climb, make music,  sing on a stage, draw and even play in water.  The best part of the children's park is that everything is covered by lovely old oak trees offering at least a five degree drop in the temperature.  You know where we parked the wagons, right under those trees.

One of the many playstations is a large balance beam that twists and turns four times while also offering the challenge of a steady incline.  While all the children took a stab at completing the course, it was Grayson who saw the challenge as a personal issue.

If you zoom in on this picture, you can almost feel the determination in that little three year old body.  I stayed with him long after the other children zipped through or tired of the challenge.  They went on to other stations but not Grayson.  He continued to carefully ease his way along the beam, concentrating like Nick Wallenda only to fall off again after several steps.  I offered my hand for support but he declined.  This had to be done on his own.

It took me a while to realize what was happening but Grayson had made up his mind . . . he was going to keep at it until he conquered the challenge.  Again and again he walked that first beam.  Each time his tiny foot slipped off, it meant he had to go back to the start.  He usually had to wait then for other children who were then in line ahead of him.  But he waited.

Try again.  Get a bit farther.  Fall off.  Run back to the start.  Wait in line.  Begin again.

At one point, when I could see his frustration mounting, I tried to encourage him to just start again where he fell off.  Nope!  He was having none of it.  This had to be conquered.  And the only way for him to conquer was to walk successfully every step from the very beginning to the end.

I found myself amazed that this three year old was pushing himself so hard to accomplish this feat in such a systematic way but that's our Grayson.

Over half way.  Fall off.  Run back to the start.  Wait in a longer line.  Begin again.

I'm not sure if the Lord finally sent an angel to balance him but at long last, after dozens of failed attempts, Grayson Oliver Smith made it to the end.


 

The look on his tired, sweaty little face was priceless!  He was so very pleased with himself and rightly so.  His effort had finally paid off. That much effort deserved one more close up, don't you think?


Is there really an Olympian from any country as proud as that kid is right there?  I think not.  (No, I'm not crying . . . you're crying.)

For our trip home, the three little boys were buckled in to the van Papa was driving.  The tired, stinky toddlers fell asleep almost immediately.  Joy had loaded her four in their van and left just before us.  Madi and Noah were with Kristin and me in my car. Their magpie chattering eventually tapered off and in the quiet, I pondered Grayson's determination.  

I thanked the Lord for helping him stick with it until he finished.  I was grateful I had been watching and didn't miss that amazing little smile of victory.  Mostly, I prayed that Grayson's tenacity would serve him well for his future.

How about you, Dear Reader?  Is there something you need to keep pushing yourself to accomplish?  Is there a goal you set for yourself but you keep falling off the beam, so to speak?  

Take a lesson from our Tenacious Toddler. Don't give up!  Keep pressing for the prize.  It may be taking more effort than you first imagined but if it's a worthwhile goal, keep going. The joy you'll feel when it's finally accomplished will certainly outweigh the frustrations you've felt while trying and failing and trying again.

I hope someday, when he's all grown up, Grayson will read this post and maybe even remember how excited he was in that moment.  It would be wonderful if I could once again say, "Keep giving it all you've got, Grayson.  Noni is proud of you!"





Friday, July 23, 2021

Celebrating BIG!

 July is always a time of celebration around here.

Within 30 days we celebrate FIVE birthdays and a wedding anniversary.  Abby Schreck (June 30),  John Schreck, Zachariah Schreck, Noni and finally Grayson Smith.  The anniversary celebration is for Meagan and Nathan.  (Three of the five birthday people are in this picture.)


If you look to our extended family, you find two more birthdays and three more anniversaries.  Now you know the real reason behind all those fireworks at the beginning of the month.


Here is the group we gathered with for fireworks on the 4th of July.  Cody (parks director for Auburndale) directs a huge display over one of the lakes in our area.  John's parents were down from NY and we had a great time.  (Included here are also the Butler, Scanlan and Rees families.)



By the time we throw in a couple of camps, conferences and maybe even a few vacation days in July we have a full schedule.

The biggest celebration this year is the 10th Wedding Anniversary of our very own Meagan and Nathan Smith!  Here they are ten years ago on the day of their wedding.  So much joy, victory and anticipation for their future . . .


Here we find the happy couple 10 years later.  Who could ever have predicted such abundance would be entrusted to those two young kids?  Looking at the second picture, I know the words: Joy, Victory and Anticipation are richer in their story but still just as applicable for Meagan and Nathan.   

 


They have indeed experienced great joy on their journey.  Noah, Madison, Grayson and Andrew top the Grateful List for them.  Professional growth, two home purchases, learning to reach out with encouragement for others and so much more.  

Together, Nathan and Meagan have stood strong through many difficult seasons. They've chosen to allow God to guide them through the valleys of disappointment and have given Him praise on each mountaintop of victory.  Those aren't just "church-ey" phrases.  They are attitude choices I've watched them make and how proud we are of the family they are crafting.  

Anticipation is the remaining word.  As we listen to them talk about their hopes and dreams for their future, we feel confident that the next decade will be one beyond what we could think or even imagine.  (Sounds just like a scripture promise, doesn't it?)

As I look back over the post for today, I see only smiling faces.  Please remember, every family has its own struggles.  For every smile there could easily be ten pictures with tears, sadness and harsh words that led to repentance and forgiveness.   That's just the story of all our lives, right?

(I mean think about it friends.  Ten years of diapers for all those kids?!!)

What I want to say is this, life is going to happen to us all and many days, the sorrow will seem to heavily outweigh the joy.  But the choice of focus is left completely to us.  What will I rehearse more, the joy or the sorrow?

Allow me to leave you with a thought from my precious mama who lived a boat load of both experiences.  She would often say to me, "Sheri, in this life you're either going to laugh or cry.  I choose to laugh, as often as possible!"

May that be your choice as well, my friend.  Find the joy and Celebrate BIG!  

Blessings!!




How about you?  Does your family have a particularly busy birthday month?  How have you celebrated summer?  We'd love to hear about your experience in the comment section.




 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A Simple Switch

 My paragraph formatting problem has been remedied! 

Yes, again but hopefully this time for good.  You see this time, Cody taught me how to make the change if the problem recurs.  Once we looked into it more closely, there was a simple switch that needed to be changed for my format. VIOLA, it was corrected!  

Don't you wish all the major problems of life could be remedied by simply flipping a switch?  Pushing the reset button?  Changing direction?  I want to share three such switches we flipped that have brought great peace to our lives.  As you read, I'll bet you'll think of many examples from your own life.


  1. Frank and I recently realized we needed to dial back even more of our morning tv.  Our morning routine used to consist of coffee, devotions, breakfast, at least one or two news reports, then off to work.  Unfortunately, the news reports would cause frustration which set a bad tone for the day. So, we Flipped the Switch.  Now we do coffee, devotions, breakfast, prayer together, then off to work.  Let me tell you the level of PEACE this has yielded is amazing.
  2. When our girls were little, I quickly became a yelling mom.  It made me unhappy with myself, it frightened the girls (and anyone standing around at the time), it sounded like I had lost control.  So, I Flipped a Switch.  Instead of yelling when the girls were misbehaving, I made myself whisper.  I was shocked by their response.  Lowering my voice caught their attention more quickly, it made me feel more loving, it sounded calmer to others around us.  The PEACE was measurable.  
  3. Lots of adults have fond memories of sleep overs and long vacations spent with their grandparents. But Frank and I didn't have that experience as children and our nine grandchildren all live right here.  We've had some sleep overs but when they get together all at one time, it's loud and chaotic.  In fact, I have a magnet that says, "Our family is one tent away from a full-blown circus!"  So, we Flipped a Switch.  Once the babies turn five, they are treated to a special annual birthday lunch at the restaurant of their choice.  They have Noni and Papa's undivided attention for the length of our meal.  That simple decision has brought us such PEACE. Here we are with two birthday girls just this week.


What I'm trying to say is that sometimes we get all worked up hoping to find a solution that seems impossibly difficult and completely beyond our reach.  Then suddenly we discover that all we really need to improve the situation is to flip a simple switch and viola, Peace!  

Please don't misunderstand.  Simple does not always equal easy.  But even if it's difficult and takes time, it will be 100% worth the effort.  So, flip the switch.  Do the work.  Enjoy the Peace.


Thanks again for stopping by today.  We would enjoy hearing the kind of simple switches you've flipped to improve your life.  Please tell us about it in the comment section below.  


Monday, June 7, 2021

A Deep Breath

I hope this picture shows up correctly. If it does, I can almost promise it will cause you to take a deep restful breath. This is the beach in NC where Frank and I lived for six years as we pioneered a church on the coast. Not every day proved to be a serene as this picture looks. In fact, each day at the beach has its own personality. Needless to say, this kind of day with blue skies, sunshine and a lovely breeze is always my favorite kind of beach day.
This lady (and her 86th birthday) was the primary reason for our trip this past week. Mom Hawley still lives in Dunn, NC where she was born, went to school, married, worked for decades, raised five children and eventually retired. In 86 years, she has never lived outside the city limits of her much-loved little town. In this century, that truly is an unusual situation especially given that we just met a couple who have lived in 34 different homes during thier 36 years of marriage. Talk about Contrast!
We took her with us to Ocean Isle Beach for the Memorial Day weekend and she thoroughly enjoyed herself. Frank and I preach for both the beach service and for the chapel service. Then we have the blessing of staying in a baech house they provide free of charge. What a gift! It's always such fun sharing with people from all over the country. Even though it was cold and threatening to rain Sunday morning there were still almost 200 people who brought their lawn chairs and coffee thermoses to hear a sermon. Frank usually has me do the beach service. This is a picture he snapped as I shared.
Now, the beach itself isn't Mom's cup of tea but the house we stay in has a lovely porch overlooking a large canal. She watched the boats, the fish jumping, she enjoyed the sunshine and salt air breezes that kept things cool. Of course, she also enjoyed the shopping and eating out we did each day. One day we picked up sub sandwiches then went to a spot where we could sit in the car and enjoy a clear view of the ocean. We put the windows down and let the wind blow through the car making it a proper picnic - minus any ants.
This was one of my favorite photos from our time together. Frank has always been a dedicated, loving son; it's part of what attracted me to him. My mom had taught me that the way a man treats his mom is usually the way he'll treat you. Good advice! Frank was Mom's firstborn and it was just the two of them for about three years after the divorce. So they share a special bond. (Sure glad she and I decided to be friends right away.)
We also got to meet the newest member of the Hawley family. Lynlee just turned one last weekend. She is the first grandbaby on both sides of her parent's families so I think the celebrating will continue for another week. Isn't she adorable?
In all honesty, this is my favorite way to experience the beach. Frank and I usually enjoy a cup of coffee together as we watch the sunrise and share our prayer time. Then after right breakfast, we change into swimsuits, pack snacks, chairs, sunscreen and an umbrella and head for the strand. Reading, stopping to gaze out at the beautiful waves, watching people and pondering for a while; hitting repeat. What more could one ask for?
During one of our missions trips to El Salvador, Frank forgot we had already purchased a hammock at the local market the year before so now we have THREE! Yep, three hammocks and no where to put them at our house. Consequently, we take them with us to Ocean Isle each year and at some point, I swing.
One evening after taking Mom back home, Frank and I went out to dinner at a favorite restaurant and reminisced about life at the beach when the girls were little. Inevitably, we always circle back to the same conclusion: God was incredibly kind and faithful during our years in Ocean Isle. Here's a final picture to close:
Now you can see why we enjoy the porch of our beach house, too. I hope you find opportunities to rest, reflect and regroup this summer. It's not an extravagance, you know; it's an investment in your health and well-being. Here's to many Deep Breaths all summer long. Blessings! What is your favorite summer get-away? We'd love to hear about it in the comment section.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Stingy Sparrow

(This is a story I posted several years ago. But I thoroughly enjoyed reading it again - I hope you will, too. Blessings on this Memorial Day!) My backyard bird feeders are a source of great Joy! We have three. Each carefully positioned to provide the birds safety and to give me maximum visibility. My favorite is shaped like a miniature porch swing. Tiny white, slat boards form the back, seat, and arm rests. Too precious! It's a favorite with the birds as well. My best mornings begin with a cup of coffee which I drink while sitting on the back screened porch; watching the sunrise and waiting for the birds to arrive. Frank knows how much I enjoy this ritual, so he's diligent about keeping the feeders stocked. Love that man o' mine! We originally hoped to draw doves, my mom's favorite birds. That happened rather quickly. This spring we've added sparrows, a couple of red birds, a fabulous little blue bird and even a dim-witted wood pecker. I say "dim-witted" because although the smaller feeder won't hold his weight, he forgets every time and wastes all sorts of energy trying to find a foothold. A few times I've witnessed him literally hang upside down for several seconds while he composes himself and starts again! It's futile - but he foolishly keeps trying. (A little side note: Psychologists tell us that insanity is doing the same thing over and over in exactly the same way while hoping for a different outcome. Food for thought.) In this part of Florida, we also have huge cranes that must surely have inspired the Muppet version of Big Bird. The adult cranes stand five feet tall and can be rather intimidating to small children and their grandmothers. They're majestic creatures and very protective of their family units. My feeders weren't meant for the cranes. We purchase seed specifically formulated for the smaller sized birds. But the cranes didn't mind. In fact, they found it quite convenient that our feeders were originally placed right at "chin" level for their dining pleasure. Those aggravating monsters would stand at the feeders and wipe out all the seed in a matter of minutes. We caught on to their game and moved the feeders higher up, post haste! Three days later, Frank watched with no small measure of delight as the puzzled cranes wandered around and around their former feeding troughs. They stretched and squawked and strutted. But we had taken care of the problem. No more seed for them! He said it took the aviary giants all of about ten minutes to figure out that if they bumped the bottom of the feeders with their beaks, delicious seeds would still fall to the ground. This they did, post haste! Do you KNOW how humbling it is to be bested by a BIRD?! There's a lesson to be learned everyday if we watch for it. And one of my most powerful lessons came last week from the tiniest visitor to our bird restaurant. I mentioned that sparrows have just discovered our sumptuous banquet this spring. Watching them flit about has been such fun. I had no idea that some varieties have slight coloring in their feathers. Then there are the joyful chirpings and songs they share. With each sighting, I'm reminded of what Jesus told his friends about the sparrows. "Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without my Father knowing it. How much more valuable are YOU?!" (Emphasis mine.) Frank had re-filled the swing just the day before. I watched and quietly sipped my steaming coffee as the visitors began to arrive. First the doves. They're typically the earliest birds. They ate and cooed and called out to others then went on their way. Next the red bird with his brilliant crest. Then his mate with more subtle coloring. A bluejay did a quick fly by. But he didn't stay long; wrong flavored seeds, I think. As my coffee disappeared, about a half-dozen sparrows came on the scene. They sang their gratitude flitting back and forth between the two feeders. I lingered just long enough to witness a real life lesson. A final sparrow flew in and went immediately to the large swing, still laden with seed. A different sparrow pecked contentedly at the other end. When a third tiny guest landed on the back of the feeder, the first one suddenly took ownership of what didn't belong to him. The sparrow became aggressive, flying at the other two while scolding them loudly. He didn't want to share with the bird at the far end and he definitely had no intentions of making room for the one who had just landed. I watched in amazement as the little pontiff paced up and down the foot long feeder, daring any other bird to come near. He even flew at the birds on the circular feeder. Then quickly returned to protect his territory on the larger swing. His anger and frustration knew no bounds, it appeared. And having laid claim to this new stash, he had no intentions of sharing. None! The other birds had already been there a while. So after a few more attempts, they flew off for friendlier skies. (Pun totally intended!) What happened next struck me to the core! The stingy sparrow watched triumphantly as the others flew away then turned to fill his selfish little gut. Only he couldn't eat in peace. He was too busy watching. Too startled by every noise, thinking the others were returning. He literally paced the feeder, screeching at any would-be intruders. But the other birds were long gone. There was no reason for the sparrow's behavior! He had what he wanted. But it immediately became a burden instead of the blessing we had intended. The lesson was clear. That sparrow had done nothing to obtain the stash he was guarding so pathetically. He hadn't built the feeder he paced. He hadn't milled the seed. He hadn't even created the wings he used to beat the others away. But he was trapped by his greed! And so it is with us when we forget that every good and perfect gift in our lives has been given us freely by our heavenly father. It's so easy to allow ourselves to lose perspective. To think we've done it all and therefore we must protect it all. Greed can take hold quickly and can impact us for a lifetime. We can become stingy, unpleasant people; chasing away all who would joyfully share life with us if we'd only allow them. After watching the little bird a few moments longer, I bowed my head and asked God to show me any part of greed in my life. I've lived long enough to know that gratitude breaks the grip of stinginess. So, I lingered quite a while telling my heavenly father how grateful I am for every wonderful gift of provision He has placed in my world. The stingy sparrow did serve one good purpose that day. He reminded me to be generous with all I have and lavish with my gratitude toward the Father. Lesson Marked!

Monday, May 3, 2021

Good Pain

I count it a real GIFT that you read Embrace the Grace. Truly! That you would take time out of your busy schedule to scan my ponderings and musings is something I don't take lightly. Because of feeling it's an honor to write for your consideration, I usually pray over my topic for each post. Today's topic was immediately clear to me.
For fourteen years, this little shih tzu has been my faithful companion. Gracie Marie earned many other names for herself like "Gracie the Goat Dog" and "Aggravating Mutt" and even "Little Pill." These were the result of both her stubborn personality and her propensity to eat whatever might present itself. She vacumed everything that fell from the children's highchair trays and anything dropped during meal prep as well as dirty socks. Such a discerning palette! Her most heralded acheivement was accomplished during a visit with John and Joy while Frank and I were away on vacation. After everyone had gone upstairs to bed, Gracie managed to climb up on their dining room table. She then proceeded to unzip the children's backpacks (resting in the center of the table) and forage through their snack bags which had been carefully prepared for the purpose of saving time the next morning. My, oh my! What chaos ensued when her deed was discovered. Needless to say, Gracie was not invited back to the Schrecks after that.
In spite of her bad habits and frustrating ways, we all loved her but no one as much as me. Gracie felt compelled to accompany me everywhere. Her little bed fit perfectly under the chair on my side of our bed. She had her own spot (squeezed in beside me)in my prayer chair until she couldn't jump up any longer. Many mornings, I just picked her up. If I was cleaning, she moved from room to room with me. These next two pictures made me laugh because they highlight how attentive she's been. I often send pictures of outfits to Kristin for a quick critique. Notice who is sitting beside me in both.
Gracie Marie! You can imagine the pain we felt when she started failing two weeks after Christmas. Our vet worked with us but we knew the inevitable was fast approaching. At 1 in the morning on January 24th, Frank and I rushed her to an emergency clinic. Her loyal heart was just giving out and so we held her and talked to her while the kind vet ended her suffering. We wept like children and told only a few people beyond family at church later that morning. The pain was just too fresh; too intense. We buried her little body in a spot she loved beside our house. (And yes, I'm crying again as I write this. She was such a faithful companion.) Fast forward to this past Saturday when we ran into a couple from our church at a local store. We stopped to chat and greeted Ipod their dog (who was riding in the shopping cart) right along with them. The first bit of conversation was the news they were facing about their much loved companion, Ipod. "The vet says he has cancer. We've brought him home to love on but he won't be with us much longer, we know." Frank and I were immmediately able to share our concern in ways that affirmed their pain. Our own ache had created a deep well in our hearts from which we drew compassion for the purpose of comforting our friends. It was a tender moment in the middle of that busy store. Later, the wife sent a text thanking us for understanding their hurt. As I pondered this morning I realized that's the ultimate purpose of pain in all our lives. Any pain I experience should create in me a sensitivity to the pain of others. Compassion and empathy both stem from having walked through similar hurt and trials. Once healing begins for me, I'm able to comfort others with the same comfort I've received. Notice, it's not for the purpose of drawing attention to myself or my loss but rather for wrapping my arms around another and saying honestly, "Your pain matters to me. I care." Frank often says God never wastes anything. And in this instance, I can even see where pain could be described as "good" if I allow it to generate tenderness for others around me. Does that speak to your heart, too? I certainly hope so.
Gracie Marie's unconditional love was a gift from my Heavenly Father and I'm grateful. Her absence has left me with a big void but if the pain of her loss can be used to make me more tender toward others, then it's good and I'll be grateful in the growing. Thanks for pondering with me today. How about you? Was there a special pet in your life that you had to release? Were there any lessons you gleaned that we could all apply? Please share with us in the comment section.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Catching Up and Moving On

I am hoping with all my heart that this will post properly! The post from early April looked great on the preview then mushed together in a MOST unpleasant fashion. I also was not able to go back and make corrections. So here is the information I originally had at the top of the post entitled, "Angel Driver". This was an article I wrote and submitted for consideration by an editor creating a compilation of stories just like ours. If it's selected, I will definitely let you know! So here we are again. I'm hoping that all these letters and numbers and symbols I see (which make no sense in their current form) will actually post as the most precious picture of Spencer Matthew and me taken Easter Sunday Morning.
I'm also hoping you'll be able to see this picture of the "three little boys" as we call them in our family. They are the three youngest of our nine but someday they will be tall men like their daddies. At that point, I'm sure we won't be calling them the littles any longer.
This next one is so full of sass and sweetness that I can't even think of an appropriate caption to add. Our family had once again gathered for a photo shoot that would include Andrew Smith. (He was not yet born during our last family photo foray so I'll be most happy to finally have all nine grands on my wall at home.) The girls work hard to make this endeavor as pleasant as possible for everyone. The fellas tolerate it well until we overshoot the time alottment. And we always do the shoot outdoors so the children can run and play to their hearts' content. This is a candid shot of Noni and her girls.
We've also done a bit more baby-sitting this month than is usual. Meagan and Nathan flew to NC to spend a long weekend with the extended Smith family. They wanted to have a quick visit with his sister and her fiance before the big wedding weekend. (Also, Sarah has been experiencing substantial medical issues and they really needed to see their sister for themselves. Sometimes, video chat just isn't enough!) Then John performed a wedding which meant Joy needed to be available to attend the rehearsal dinner and pre-wedding festivities with him. Way more baby-sitting needed than normal so enter Papa and Noni. We met up with Kristin (who had the two smallest Smith boys) and all spent a morning at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales. I'll show more of those pictures later but I love this shot of Noah and Madi.
No one else seems to make adventures both safe and fun like Papa. I'm sure that wall seem very tall to those boys. But holding Papa's hand gave them the courage they needed to walk all the way to the end. I love this guy!
The next weekend when we were in charge of the Schreck crew, we enjoyed pizza at one location and snowcones at another. That meant some travel time; didn't we have a handsome driver?! I'm sure this picture will show up in a high school or college graduation slide show.
Well, I'm not 100% sure how this will all post. If it's a MUSH again, I apologize profusely. If it posts properly, you'll hear me cheering from central FL. Fingers crossed. I pray blessings for your week and creativity for your heart!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Our Angel Driver

A lovely blanketing snow began falling that afternoon just like the others we had been enjoying that winter. Nothing unusual about a heavy snow storm in early February. As long as my husband and I had homemade soup, firewood and each other, it would make for a peaceful couple of days. Unfortunately, there was nothing peaceful about the contractions I started experiencing. My due date wasn’t for another month but earlier that week, the doctor had said I was probably going to deliver early. This was the first baby for us and we really had no idea what to expect. Frank and I kept swinging back and forth between fascination and fear – learning all we could about pregnancy and childbirth. Whenever my time came, it would be just the two of us going to the hospital. Our families lived hundreds of miles away from the picturesque mountain town we now called home. We had relocated to North Carolina from Florida just over a year earlier. It was there that a small church tucked away in the valley needed a pastor and we were young pastors needing a church that would let us learn. That’s how we found ourselves living in the beautiful Smoky Mountains. Just as Catherine Marshall described in her book Christy, mountain people don’t always take to strangers too quickly. Oh, they welcomed and loved us in their own way but most of our congregation had large families and friendships that had developed over decades. Frank and I often felt lonely and isolated. When we discovered we were having a baby, the sadness lifted and we began preparing to start our family with great joy. We had chosen a wonderful obstetric group in Asheville. The thirty-mile trip into town each month had been a treat for us. After doctor visits, we ate dinner at a favorite fast food place in the local mall. People-watching was a favorite pastime for us. As newlyweds on a tight budget, we had quickly learned entertainment doesn’t have to be expensive. Dr. Wilson, our favorite of the obstetric team, happened to be on call that Thursday evening. When the contractions stayed at five minutes apart for an hour, Frank called to see what we should do. I could see the concern in his eyes as he reported, “Dr. Wilson wants us to come to the hospital now. She’s pretty sure you’re in active labor.” My young husband didn’t have to voice his fears. I already knew. He was anxious about our car which was older and not the most reliable. The snow, now falling as steadily as my contractions, was no joking matter. The ice under the snow could wreak havoc with our tires. We had no chains. None of the regular preparations for this trip were in place because we thought we still had a month to go. First babies are notorious for late arrivals, right? That obviously would not be our story. We jumped into action. The sun was setting and the snow was becoming more treacherous with every passing moment. Frank made quick calls to our families and board members while I packed a bag for us and for the baby. I had long ago chosen the special outfit for bringing our precious bundle home: a warm, one-piece jumper in pale green with yellow trim. Ultrasounds weren’t conclusive in 1983 so we had no idea if we were having a boy or a girl. I paused for one brief moment placing the soft fabric against my face as I breathed in the smell of baby detergent I’d used to launder the piece. “God, we need your help. Please, Lord keep all three of us safe.” In less than thirty minutes, we were set to go. Frank warmed the car, loaded the bags, then helped me ease my cumbersome, aching body in to the front seat. The cold air was like a slap but the snow fell all around us without sound. No one else was stirring on such a dangerous night. Frank moved our old sedan slowly but steadily toward the highway. The windshield wipers slapped a perfect rhythm and the headlights did their best to show a path through the heavy snowflakes. Another contraction hit and I tried to hide the fact that I was having to pant through the pain. Frank glanced over at me and I flashed an unconvincing smile his way, “I’m fine, Sweetheart. You focus on the road and I’ll focus on the contractions.” His hands tightened on the steering wheel. We made it to the highway but snow was already drifting badly. The plows wouldn’t be coming out until morning. There wasn’t another vehicle on any of the four lanes. We inched along in silence, all the while calling out to heaven from the depths of our hearts. And that’s when it happened. Out of nowhere, an eighteen-wheeler came from behind us. The driver carefully passed us then moved in the center of the eastbound lanes. Frank recognized the truck as our answer to prayer—our own personal plow. He quickly directed our car up and over the small snowbank created by the truck’s tires and into the newly created trough. Although the driver could have gone much faster and still been safe, he maintained a slow steady pace that allowed us to follow right behind him. When we realized he must be going all the way to Asheville, we began referring to him as the Angel Driver. We were the only two vehicles we saw the entire thirty-mile trip. We made it safely to the exit for the hospital and Frank flashed his headlights at the driver, a universal sign of thanks. Slowly we made our way the last few miles to the hospital where the ER team whisked me upstairs to a birthing room. Within hours, our precious baby girl Kristin Nicole was born. With blond curls and big blue eyes, she studied our faces just as we studied hers. Complications during the delivery confirmed we had made the right choice in coming straight to the hospital but what a trip it had been. Later that next morning while looking out the window, I thanked God again for sending the Angel Driver. Psalm 91:11 came to me, “For He will give His angels charge concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” The truth of that scripture became literal for us. I wished I could let the driver know what a miracle his help had been. Somehow, I sensed he did know. When St. Peter put out a call for an angel who would help two young parents make it safely to the hospital, our angel put on a trucker’s cap and volunteered. And I think that as he drove on into the snowy night, he wore a knowing smile under that cap.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Problems and Promises

The PROBLEMS have been many.  But as with most problems, mine were only temporary.  I am literally "over the moon" excited to be back online with Embrace the Grace!

Thank you for not forgetting that this site exists.  It has literally been weeks of frustration trying to figure out what was going on with the different formatting.  Suffice to say, Kristin's husband Cody eventually found the solution and my gratitude could not be deeper!

While we were on radio silence, there were several developments.  

  • Joy passed all her state board exams to become a licensed cosmetologist!!  (So, her BA in ministry and her minor in business will combine to make her the best stylist of all time.)  
  • I found a loveseat at a consignment store that was exactly what I had in mind for our living room.
  • We sold my adorable little convertible.  (It just so "happened" that Stella was also be the grandmother's name of the lady who bought her. Can't make it up.)
  • We've been a one car family for weeks while I've searched for a replacement.
And perhaps the biggest personal change was this:

Yep, I took the plunge and went back to a short haircut.  I'm still getting used to the styling part.  And occasionally, I startle myself when I first glance in a mirror.  But Joy did a great job talking me through the decision.  Did I mention how much her ministry degree will be utilized in her salon work?

As I mentioned earlier, Frank and I are still on the hunt for the ideal used car to meet my needs while also accommodating some of my biggest desires. So, I need to wrap up today and be ready to leave when he gets home.

Because you've waited so very long and have been so incredibly patient, I thought I'd include a few extra pictures to make you smile today.


Noah and Madi spent an afternoon with us recently while Meagan was out of town.  Dad gave permission for lunch at McDonald's and every kid needs an frozen drink now and again, don't you think?  This is the two of them finishing their drinks while pondering the deeper things of life - like how to avoid a brain freeze.


John and Spencer went on a camping trip to celebrate his 10th birthday.  (Our first double digit grandchild!)  So Noni and Papa made dinner for Joy and the three youngest.  Abby, Zach and Ava also needed some DQ so off we went in search of chocolate dipped in chocolate cones.  Obviously, I was in the back with plenty of napkins.


This picture is just for the purpose of providing the McGhee family with a picture, too.  This was taken in my office before the great haircut of 2021.  Parker's face just makes me smile all the time!

Frank and I actually took time for a little date last week.  For our anniversary this year, we bought an annual pass for Bok Tower Gardens.  It's the highest spot above sea level in Florida. A beautiful pink marble tower stands as the centerpiece amid acres of native flowering plants and hidden parks which delight children and adults as well.

Bok Tower Gardens was one of our first dates as a couple.  We strolled the walkways; admired the flora and fauna; sat at the overlooks and sneaked a kiss here and there.  How fun to return after 41 years of marriage.  The tower itself also houses one of the greatest carillons in the world.  Concerts are given daily at 1 and 3pm.  You should check it out if you ever come to the area. 

This picture is taken where we sat to take in the concert.


Frank knows that when taking a photo of his over fifty wife, the higher the camera the better the picture.  Typically.  Here he is trying to get the best possible angle...



We're nothing if not dramatic!

So many more wonderful things to share but I'll close for now. I've chosen a few pictures taken of flowers growing in our yard.  The first is an orchid that has only bloomed a couple times in the many years I've owned it.  The last big blooming took place for Kristin's 30th birthday.  She was waiting to meet her husband and we took it as a promise since orchids are her favorite flower.




This plant is now a huge bush that blooms every spring.  A church member, who is now gardening in Heaven, gave me a small cutting almost twelve years ago.  It was a favorite flower for his own mother.  He explained that it's referred to as an I Love You Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow bush.  The flowers first bloom purple, then turn lavender and finally turn white before dying.  Such a beautiful promise of love to me...



The final photo is one Frank and I snapped during one of our many car shopping expeditions.  We had driven all the way to Orlando after work.  It meant battling the horrible 5PM traffic during rain only to be disappointed by the vehicle we found.  When we stopped for a bite to eat as we left the dealership, this is what we saw...



Did you find the full rainbow?  Yet another reminder that God's promises can be trusted.  An orchid to remind a young lady that love would blossom in due season.  A bush reminding us that love is for always: yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Finally, a rainbow that spoke to two discouraged people searching for a needed item, I see you and I'm aware of your needs.

Hopefully, all these pictures have given you a smile.  

Hopefully, the main message has encouraged your heart.  Problems may be many but they are only temporary.  Promises are what last forever and can be trusted completely.  

Thank you So Much for being a reader of Embrace the Grace!  Blessings!


How about you? Have you encountered problems that were temporary and promises that proved to be forever?  We'd love to read about your experience in the comment section.


Saturday, January 30, 2021

Testing

I've still been having difficulty with formating my paragraphs on this new set up.

Consequently, this is simply a test. (Not a test of the American Broadcast System, as we so often hear.) Rather a test to see if my blog site allows for the paragraph changes to I'm so attached. If they don't have breaks, I will be taking this down post haste!

Many things to share so please stay tuned.

I'll be back up and running as soon as possible.

One thing I've discovered as a blogger, I enjoy communicating with those of you who stop by. 

Consequently, the challenges must be overcome and a way must be found. Otherwise, the messages I want to share with you will be for me like the messages of the Old Testament prophet, like fire shut up in my bones. :-)

Here we go..... Changed my mind about deleating this. But I do have help coming to my aide.

Thanks for checking back.



Monday, January 18, 2021

A Single Word

(The format has changed - AGAIN! This time, I can't seem to figure out how to do paragraph breaks. So sorry! That's why I kept it short. Thanks for extending grace - AGAIN! Blessings!) I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to write words of encouragement on this platform. The fact that you stop by to check in from time to time is something I consider a true honor. So with that in mind, I want to offer a single word for your consideration today. It's this promise I came across a couple of weeks ago. "The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who trust in Him." Nahum 1:7 Good one, don't you think? While looking a little deeper for the underlying meaning, I came across a couple of strong thoughts. 1. The writer inspired to pen this was named Nahum. His very name means "Comfort." 2. Another translation assures us that not only does our Father know us, He also cares for us. 3. Stronghold means "refuge" or "hiding place" for those days of trouble or serious difficulty. Aren't those great messages to ponder? I've gone back to this promise again and again during the past few days. While writing this post, I was reminded of a directive my daddy used to give when I was a little girl. "Sheri," he would sternly say. "I only intend to tell you ONE time. You need to obey right away on that single word." My dad was doing his best to train me and I now know he had my best interest in mind. But I'm always grateful that when my Heavenly Father gives a single word, it's usually one of tender comfort. He intends for me to go back and hear His word to me again and again. The Father gives a single word making it easier for us to cling to the message gleaning hope and courage. The circumstances in our world seem very unsteady, right now. But I know the One who spun everything into orbit is still watching over those who trust in Him. (That's you and I.) He is also tenderly stabilizing our hearts in the middle of the shaking. For this, I am grateful. Yes, I'll be rehearsing this promise more in the days to come. Although it was written a couple thousand years ago, it feels fresh and relavent to my grown up, little girl heart. I hope sharing it will encourage your heart, as well. Sometimes, all it takes is a single word. The right word can indeed carry us a long, long way. How about you? Is there a particular promise that's significant for you right now? Please flood the comment section with hope. Your promise may be just the word needed by another reader. Thank you, in advance!

Followers