Friday, December 31, 2021

New Year Joys!

Trusting your Christmas was more blessed than you could have imagined.  And I'm watching with you for a New Year filled with JOY!

There have been so many adjustments for us all during 2021.  I don't want to elaborate on this.  We all know what our own adjustments have been and to be honest, many of us are limping into 2022.  

With that in mind, I think it best to simply offer some encouragement and happy thoughts for my final post of the year.  

I'll start with one of my favorite pictures from our Christmas Day.  Many of you remember that Kristin, Cody and Parker are still living with us until their house is ready.  That's why Papa had the opportunity to put together a basketball goal with the three year old engineer.  So Precious!

This assembly project was a little less joyful.  But you gotta take the good with the bad and eventually, Papa had a fully functioning racetrack built.

After our Christmas Eve service and the final Sunday service of the year, Frank and I took a couple of days to celebrate our 42nd anniversary.  We've been blessed by friends to stay at their little place on the coast.  My favorite part of visiting their getaway spot is a screened porch overlooking a canal.  It's the best spot for resting and recovering.

We went to dinner at a fun Greek restaurant in the nearby town of Tarpon Springs.  It was such fun sitting beside an open window and watching people walk along.  The sidewalk was busy well after 8PM.  

A young lady who was walking by noticed Frank and I trying to snap a selfie that would include the interior of the restaurant.  She stepped up and said, "Would you like for me to take it for you?"  

"Well, umm sure."  I answered a bit hesitantly because if she had decided to take off with Frank's phone, there would be nothing we could do.  Fortunately, our faith in human kindness paid off with this fun shot.

Our meal was a delicious reminder of the time we spent in Greece as newlyweds.  No, we didn't honeymoon there.  We had the honor of doing a short term missions work about six months after our we were married.  

The missionary I worked with the summer before invited us to come as a couple and do vacation Bible school for children.  It actually became an adventure filled with unexpected twists and turns but we navigated it well and actually bonded even more as a ministry team.  Did I hear someone whisper "Baptism by Fire"?

Frank snapped this picture as we shared a dessert and coffee.  (Decafe for me, of course.)

Let me close this post with a scripture I've had on my refrigerator for several months:    "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."  Romans 15:13 esv

May HOPE be yours as we move forward into the new year.  There will certainly be some disappointments in 2022 but if we watch, there will also be JOY.  And most of us know from experience that choosing to focus on Joy is the best way to travel.  

God Bless Your New Year, Dear Friends!  

Monday, December 20, 2021

Eat the Train

It's Christmas and I think you should Eat the Train.  Eat all of it, Quickly!

No, I haven't lost my senses.  In fact, this may be one of my more enlightening posts this year.  

For regular readers, I do apologize for the long time of silence.  I've just been walking through a tough place and writing always opens the door to my more vulnerable self.  That kind of ugly was better shared over coffee with a trusted friend.  But I'm back and I thank you for your patience.

So, why am I urging you to consume some mode of transportation - and a rather large one at that?!  Perhaps this photo will help.

This is the artwork representing an afternoon of frazzled fun.  Six grandchildren came straight to Noni and Papa's house after a morning of celebrating and parties and sugar and excitement as school dismissed for Christmas break.  (Probably should have thought more carefully about that timing.)

We ate pizza for lunch then commenced making a gingerbread castle (girls) and a train (boys).  Let me tell you, those small creations in the picture in no way represent the mammoth task of encouraging six children to make room for one another, stop eating the materials, keep working as a team, and stop bossing one another.  

Many of you remember that we are a family of first borns.  With the exception of Joy and Meagan, every other adult is a first born and there are even a couple of only children in that mix.  It seems the firstborn traits of leadership have been passed on to the grandchildren, too.  Talk about headstrong - we've got that covered.

I don't have any pictures of the gingerbread decorating process because . . . well, refer back to the earlier paragraph.  But I did capture this moment as Papa helped Ava glue pom poms to her Christmas ornament. 

A couple of years ago, I bought a two foot tree for the babies.  Last year we bought ornaments with each of their names.  This year, I couldn't find the ornaments anywhere!  How frustrating.  So, we made new ones.  

Here is our Christmas treasure gathered around the tree they decorated.  No, they aren't all looking in the same direction and you have to look closely to see a couple of the faces but they're all represented.

"Okay Sheri," I can almost hear someone in MN saying.  "You pulled us into this post with the title urging us to eat a train.  What's that about?"

I'm glad you asked.

Our entire family came back on Saturday morning to celebrate our Christmas.  Yes, a week early but adult children have other family to visit and crazy work schedules.  So, we determined a long time ago that holidays can be any date we designate.  

Almost as soon as the older children arrived, they started asking, "Noni, can we eat the train?"  My answer?  "No, let's wait until your parents see what an awesome job you did."

Several more times through the day one or more of them would come up to me and say, "Now?  Noni, can we eat the train now?  Mom and Dad already saw it."  Each time I would say, "No, let's wait."   My answer was disappointing to them but they waited patiently.

As I straightened the kitchen again this morning, I had to move the castle and train around several times.  Suddenly, I stopped and asked myself out loud, "Sheri, what were you waiting for?!  Why didn't you break that train apart and let them eat it?"

To be honest, friends, I didn't want the evidence of all our hard work to be gone in a flash. Selfish but true.

And now, we won't all be together again until after Christmas.  Selfishness on my part caused us to miss a fun moment (gingerbread is meant to the eaten) and created an added burden (where to store them) all in one fell swoop.  Who knew a candy train and castle could serve as such powerful spotlights of revelatory self-examination?

Consequently, I'm calling out to you today - Eat the Train!  Don't waste energy on choices that feed selfishness this week of Christmas.  We can afford to be generous with far more than gifts.  We can be generous with our attitudes, our actions, our choices.  After all, look how generous God was with us. He sent His only son to make a way for us to be together.  

I'll leave you with a couple of final pictures from our church Christmas party.  We called it PJ's and Pancakes.  It was a great evening where everyone wore Christmas pajamas and we served breakfast as the meal.  Games, prizes, singing of carols, lots of fun and lots of laughter.  (Our grands had pajamas that looked a bit rough so we opened their traditional gift of pjs early. If you click on the picture, you'll see it more clearly.)

I'll try to post again for Christmas Day but for now, here's my challenge for us all.  

Don't fret the small stuff, Friends.  Don't overspend and over extend yourself physically.  Do the simple things that will make this a memorable time for the special ones in your life.  Prepare a favorite dish.  Write a card. Call a friend.  Offer a smile or a prayer.  

Making a memory may also be as simple as . . . eating the train.  

What choices have you made this year or in years past creating precious memories?  We'd love to hear about them in the comment section.  Who knows?  You may even help others to create a new tradition in their family...


Monday, November 15, 2021

Heart Weary

Are you enjoying the magnificent color changes and brisk temperatures of fall? I hope so. 

For us here in central FL, our color changes happen more subtly and require multiple visits to Hobby Lobby. New sofa pillows, putting out the fall comforter again on our bed and adding pumpkin spice creamer to our refrigerator. You make it happen the best way you can, right? 

We have enjoyed a few cooler days and I even turned on the fireplace for a while. Then the air conditioning kicked back on and I knew the fireplace had to go for a while longer. 

Change has also come for us in a couple of other forms. Kristin and Cody (our oldest daughter/husband) were shocked by how quickly their starter home sold last month. With no other home in sight, they moved their little family of three in with Mom and Dad until one can be secured. 

It's rather funny because Cody is our only son-in-law who had not lived with us in order to save for a home. Now all three "brothers" will be able to make jokes at our expense about the trials of living with Mom and Dad. 

The second change was that Frank has gone back to school. This is a huge yippee, hurray and even a hallelujah!! He has wanted to get his master's degree ever since his first attempt in 1988. 

This summer we had lunch with friends who teach at one of our premier theological seminaries. They talked about the struggles of taking the seminary to an online format due to covid last year. 

I casually asked, "Is anyone able to attend now that it's all online?" "Absolutely!" said our friend. They have students from all over the world. While the seminary is based in the Philippines, many of the professors also had to return to their home countries during the pandemic.  Long story short - we saw a window of opportunity and wasted no time enrolling. 

However, that was just the beginning. We still lead an amazing team of people who work just as hard as we do and keep us on our toes. We still pastor a wonderful congregation of kind people. (They have always been incredibly thoughtful about making sure we have a life outside just pastoring and we love them all the more for that.)  But some things can only be done by the lead pastor. 

Then you add in the fact that there is a twelve hour time difference between FL and the Philippines. This means Frank is usually beginning class just about the time we would normally be going to bed. Some are even later, like chapel that begins at 11:30 PM. We were incredibly relieved to learn he could watch that weekly service on the following day and write a short report. Whew! 

Then, there came the inevitable term paper. Fortunately, every beginning master's student is required to take a research class that teaches the requirements for papers submitted to their professors. That meant Frank only had to generate one term paper which will be graded first by the research professor then by the New Testament professor. 

Although Frank has spent the last forty years preparing literally thousands of sermons and Bible studies, none of these had to be formatted in the standard Turabian style. Footnotes, citings and journal entries were not part of our everyday vernacular. . . until now. 

This initial research paper has been a BEAR!! And finally, just this very day, with only a few hours to spare . . . we Sent The PAPER! May the name of the Lord be Praised. I made his favorite dinner (chicken and dumplings) so we can celebrate. 

So what does all this celebrating have to do with the title of today's post? "Heart Weary." 

That's a phrase my mom used to say when she was growing extra tired in any season of life. I can almost see her brushing back the dark curls from around her face and lifting those big brown eyes that seemed a bit misty as she explained to me, "I don't know what's going on, Baby.  I'm just heart weary right now." 

All my life, Mom laughed more than she cried and to see her in a low moment emotionally was somewhat unsettling. But as I grew older, I came to realize Mom needed a bigger hug, some extra prayer and sometimes a listening ear. Things would eventually turn around and she would be smiling again. 

Today, I sat a long time in my prayer chair and looked out at the bright sunshine. My heart was weary. I sighed deeply and reached for my devotional Bible. Just like Mama, I knew it was time to come close to the Rock that is my Secure Foundation. 

The first scripture my eyes fell on had been underlined before. "So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees." Hebrews 12:12 NLT (Can't make it up, Friends!) 

My own brown eyes grew misty in the same way Mama's used to, only my tears spilled over. I read the verse out loud and a little more slowly drinking in the intimacy of His message to me. "Sheri, take a new grip with your tired hands. I'm right here to help." (Why, yes. I am crying again as I share this moment with you.) 

Maybe you find yourself in a "Heart Weary" spot right now, Dear Reader. Don't despair. Sit for a moment with the One who loves you most. He'll help you take a new grip on life even though your hands are tired. I've seen it work for decades now. He is Near to those who are Heart Weary. 

If you ever need prayer, please don't hesitate to send a message. If you've seen God be faithful when life was difficult.  We'd also love for you to share your own words of encouragement in the comment section below.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Five Dollar Faith

This past weekend, was our first statewide event for women in two years.  Let me tell you, when more than twelve hundred women gather for a time of preaching, prayer and FUN it's pretty amazing!

Our state director, Deanna Shrodes (along with her assistant, Judi Cotignola) does such a stellar job leading this ministry.  I had enough work just getting our fourteen ladies organized and set up.  I can't even imagine the work that Deanna and her team did in order to make the event seamless for us.  WHEW!

About three weeks ago, Deanna asked if I would be responsible to receive the offering on Friday night.  Those offerings are a key part of funding all the other work they do through the year.  So, I prayed about what to say.  Almost immediately I knew this story from our early days of ministry was the thing to share.  

God used this moment to mark us with the importance of always participating in what He is doing.  We have a part to play in every miracle.  So, here you go.  Hope it builds your faith as it has continued to build ours all these years.

Sharing at the THRIVE Conference

As young twenty-somethings, the Lord sent us to our first pastoral position.  We were given the opportunity to love on thirty settled souls in the mountains of NC.  And although the salary was small, we were so happy to be serving that we didn't realize we were rather poor.

Frank decided to make the first Sunday of February our missions emphasis which meant we would be receiving a cash offering for a special missions endeavor.  We were excited until we looked at our own budget and realized we would have No Personal Cash to give.  

We've never asked our congregations to do what we weren't willing to do because you can not lead from behind.  So, the young pastor and his wife went to prayer asking God to provide us with cash for this special offering.

On the Saturday before missions Sunday, I was cleaning house and praying again about our need.  Imagine my joy when I opened a particular box and discovered a five dollar bill.  Our missions offering!  

Now, this was five dollars I had tucked away in early December for the purpose of adding to Frank's Christmas present. I hid it so well that I promptly forgot about it, until that Saturday morning of discovery.  

(I know, some of you are shaking your heads in disbelief.  "How can you hide money then totally forget about it, Sheri?!"  But other readers are nodding and saying, "Yep!  I've done that very same thing."  Whichever camp is yours, I'm just glad you read Embrace the Grace.)

No one could match the smiles on our faces as we placed our paltry five dollars in the offering basket that Sunday morning. God had heard our cry and answered in what we considered to be a miraculous way and we were ecstatic.  What a great story.

But life is seldom so neat and tidy, right?

On the following Wednesday, we had another little crisis come up.  I reached into our pantry to pull out the potatoes I was using to make potato soup for supper.  (My Mama had taught me how to live on a frugal budget and had helped me develop a terrific recipe for potato soup.  Tasty and Filling.)

I was startled to realize this would be the last of the potatoes and the last food in our house as well.  Not one can of tuna.  Not one package of hamburger.  Not even a loaf of bread.  Nothing.  And we wouldn't be paid again until Sunday.

Tearfully, I explained my grocery miscalculation to Frank who hugged me and assured me that the Lord had not forgotten us.  Everything would be alright.  We were tempted to regret having given the entire five dollars on Sunday but we reminded each other what a miracle it was that I had even found it and again thanked the Lord for the privilege He had given us to participate.

The next morning while getting ready for work, I decided to call my parents and ask them to wire money so we would be able to eat the rest of the week.  As the phone was ringing, I felt a clear nudge from the Holy Spirit, "Do not tell them what you need."

The thought was so distinct that it was almost startling.  My dad answered with his customary, "Nnnyello!"  And it came to me again, "Don't tell him.  Trust Me."

We talked briefly before Dad asked, "Why did you call, Sweetheart?  Are y'all okay?"  I took a deep breath trying to remove any quiver from my voice.  "Yessir, we're fine.  Just wanted to say I love you, Daddy.  You and Mama pray for us.  Gotta run, bye!"

Hanging up from the call, I swiped at the stray tears landing on my cheeks.  

My position as a substitute teacher at the local high school was next on the agenda that morning. While driving, I thought maybe there would be a special basket delivery that day. Many in our dear congregation realized how tight our budget was and often dropped by with grocery items or canned goods as their way of helping out.

When I returned home and searched Frank's face, I knew immediately there had been no such delivery that day.  Being the woman of faith that I was at the time, I went into our bedroom, threw myself across the bed and cried myself to sleep.  There was no dinner to prepare so sleep seemed appropriate.

About forty-five minutes later, Frank burst into the room and starting shaking me awake while simultaneously talking about some miracle.  "Look, Sheri!  It's a miracle.  Look what the Lord has done for us!"

I rubbed my eyes and saw he was waving an envelope.  The mailman ran late that Thursday but the letter he delivered arrived right on time.  In the letter postmarked New Orleans, Louisiana was a check written for support of Frank and Sheri.  

It hadn't arrived on Wednesday because that was too early.  And it didn't arrive on Friday because that would have been too late.  Our heavenly Father had it delivered on the very day we needed it most.

You see, we had a dear friend in New Orleans who had promised to pray for us as we started our adventure as pastors.  Mama Terri told us her side of the story when we called to thank her.  

She seldom ever left her home on Monday mornings as that was her time to be quiet and recover from the weekend.  But this particular Monday, she felt the Lord urging her.  "Get to the post office and mail a check to those kids!" was how she described it to us.

We all laughed then cried and thanked the Lord together for His attention to detail.  What a Faithful God!

Frank and I dashed to the bank so we could cash the check then we enjoyed what was our favorite meal at the time, Kentucky Fried Chicken.

For decades now, Frank and I have been able to refer back to this moment as encouragement for ourselves as well as others.  How thankful we were that we gave all that was in our hands to give.  We participated by planting our little five dollar bill in the missions offering.  And God responded by bringing a great harvest.  

Oh, I forgot to tell how much Mama Terri felt prompted to send us.  Hold onto your hat.  The check that arrived in our mailbox on exactly the right day was for five hundred dollars.  One hundred times what we gave, by faith.  (You can't make these things up, dear reader.)    

So, I ask you:  How can you participate in the miracle you need to see take place? What is in your hand/heart to share? Have you sown seed into good soil so you can watch for a harvest?

Let me encourage you to pray and ask God for the seed you need.  He loves to surprise us with answers to honest prayers.  What you have to offer may seem insufficient to you, give it anyway.  You never know what He will do even with just five dollars of faith.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

"Pardners" for Life


Is this not the most adorable picture ever?!  Doesn't it make you want to wave a stetson and yell, "Howdy, Folks!" and "YeeHaw!" for everyone to hear?  Care to guess where this cowgirl and her sheriff were?  

I heard someone in Texarkana call out the answer.  Yep, we were celebrating our year of Partnering Together for Missions!  (Bet the readers in Miami didn't see that coming. LOL)

The missions directors for our church are simply amazing.  Dominic and Molly Buccafuni came to us from Ohio about a year after we became pastors.  It quickly became evident that we all had a genuine passion for missions.  Home missions.  Foreign missions.  Trips, Offerings, Missionaries . . . we loved it all!

This year, our special guest was Teresa Kemp of Hope Ranch.  That's how it came about that our entire church showed up Sunday dressed just like we would for a rodeo at the OK Corral.  It was a fun day of celebrating all we've accomplished in 2021 by simply "Pardnerin' Together" to help spread the Good News of God's Love and Life.

Couldn't close this part of the post without Ava Quinn's smile.  Looks like she's ready for a ride in the surrey with the fringe on top!  (Any other Oklahoma fans out there?  I mean the musical not necessarily the teams.)

In other news, my "Life Pardner" and I made a quick road trip to pick up our new baby.  Yes, you heard that right.  We've been empty nesters a long while and decided there's definitely enough love around these here parts for us to share.

Please welcome our newest family member, Missy Grace:

What a precious face, right?  Her full name is from a Hebrew word, Mishayel which means "Who is like our God?"  I'll share the story behind our new baby and the selection of her name soon.  A friend of mine suggested she should have been named Freckles, instead.  But when you read the full explanation, you'll agree she is our Missy.

These next few pictures will give you an idea of what life has been like for us the past few weeks.

See that beauty standing second from the right?  Abby Grace has taken up soccer and she is a natural!  When she handles the defense, the coach leaves her to cover the field all by herself.  She's also great at passing and has scored a couple of goals already.

Then there are her brothers.  Spencer and Zachariah.  They are playing baseball and t-ball for the first time.  Again, both naturals.  Spencer had never played organized baseball but all the years playing catch with his dad have payed off.  He's been tapped to pitch several times.

Take a look at the knees of this uniform.  Can you tell what Zach's favorite part of t-ball might be?  Yep, the kid loves to slide.  Joy said he can't even walk through the kitchen anymore without sliding into the island.  He's also found his voice when cheering for his big brother.  He paces up and down the fence yelling, "Come on, Spencer.  You got this!"

Then, with seventeen family members and only twelve months each year, you can do the math and just imagine how many birthdays we celebrate.  (Not to mention anniversaries, promotions, regular holidays and so forth.)

Oh, dear!

I also have precious pictures from Noah's 8th birthday celebration that took place Saturday.  However, I've been trying to get this post online for two days and my window for doing it today is quickly closing.  I'll include pictures of the Smith tribe and McGhees next time.  

Needless to say, my hope for you today is that you have "Pardners" in your circle who also cheer for you and speak Life over your circumstances.  If not, find some!  "Pardners for Life" are necessary for us all!

Do you have family members involved in ball?  How does that impact your weekly scheduling?  We'd love to hear about your experiences in the comment section  . . .

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Life has been rather hectic for us lately.  (You, too??!!)  I've had a couple of writing deadlines and I'm working with my friend, Becky of Smithellaneous fame, trying to send, edit, retrieve then email several pieces.  Nerve-racking is an understatement!  So I reached back to a post from two years ago that has a strong, timeless message.  I hope you enjoy it!

Regular readers of Embrace the Grace are already aware - we are a BIG family!

We started out as a medium-sized tribe.  One dad.  One mom.  Three daughters.  That was the nucleus for a couple of decades.

Then husbands started being added.  Because our daughters were beautiful, brilliant and bubbly, we KNEW husbands would show up, eventually.  We had no idea they would each be such amazing men who would love our girls so richly.  Bonus!  Family gatherings picked up a bit in both volume and in fun.

After about three years, the greatest bounty began arriving - Grandchildren! First came Spencer Matthew.  Sixteen months later was Abby Grace. The next year brought Noah Jacksen.  About eighteen months later came Madison Riley and Zachariah Avery.  Ava Quinn slipped in two years later.  Then last year Parker Franklin and Grayson Oliver made their appearances.  Now we're patiently awaiting Smith Baby #4.

As you can imagine, our family dinners are no longer calm opportunities for adults to linger and connect.  We are sixteen all together and our meals resemble something more like loud, controlled chaos.  We still pause to pray together.  We still sit together at one very long table extending from the dining room into the kitchen.  (Well actually, it's two tables put together to look like one long table.)  Once someone says, "Amen!" it immediately gets LOUD again.

But we love being a BIG family.

A friend made a plaque for me last year which explains our dynamic well.  "Noni and Papa's - Where Cousins go to become Friends!"  When Madi had her birthday last month, she had the choice of inviting one friend to join her for the day.  Her choice was Abby, of course.  Spencer and Noah love being together.

Frank and I took the three oldest out this weekend to celebrate the end of their school year.  They looked out for one another and shared popcorn and laughed and enjoyed every minute.  Frank and I enjoyed being with them and watching how close they are.

We never in a million years would have guessed this would be our story for this season of life.  Our girls had traveled the country and had even visited foreign countries.  My heart was prepared for them to go away to college.  Graduate.  Meet and marry the love of their life.  Then move to the far flung corners of the world.

It worked just like that until time for each of them to make a home with their husband.  Each couple, by turn, made the surprising decision to settle in this area.  So, Frank and I lovingly refer to this season as "Frosting Time!"  To be able to live near our children and their children is a gift we do NOT take lightly.  Trust me - we know to be grateful.

A couple of weeks ago, we were sitting out on the screened porch after dinner.  The rest of the family was spread all over our house.  Some still in the kitchen.  The young dad's playing frisbee in the backyard.  Some babies in the playroom and a couple sitting with Noni and Papa on the porch.

That's when the profound question was put to us.  Spencer (8) looked over at me and asked, "Noni, what do you and Papa DO when we're not here?"

His sincerity and puzzled expression made me smile.  He couldn't imagine our house without all the people, voices and accompanying mayhem we were experiencing right then.  For the first time in his young life, he realized that Noni and Papa didn't just sleep until the next time our tribe congregated.  With that realization came honest curiosity.

His innocent question told me two things:
1.  We're all so closely woven that he had never considered us apart from himself.
2.  He's growing into a bright, thoughtful young man.

I ran down the list of things that occupy our evening hours and weekends.  Cleaning, cooking, cards, tv, reading, phone calls, more cleaning.   He was satisfied by my answer but still looked pensive.  I've thought about his question a lot, too.

It's a classic, really.  Every maturing child at some point looks into the eyes of their mentor and asks a similar question,  "Who are you when I'm not around?"  If we aren't paying attention, we can brush off their curiosity or give some glib answer.

Bottom line is this, I want to be the same person ALL the time.  Whether I'm at work or the grocery store. Meeting a friend or having lunch with a co-worker.  With my children or not.  Being watched by my grandchildren or not.  I want to behave in such a way that whoever is near will see me the same way every time they see me.

That was most important to me when Frank and I first talked about marriage.  He had prepared to be in ministry and I knew many pastoral families.  I knew the pressure for children and the fishbowl feeling that life tends to create.  So Frank and I made a solemn promise to one another.  We would endeavor always to be the same people at home that we were at church.

An overly simplistic goal for some, I know.  But for us, it worked and continues to work.

So, I'll ask you the same sort of question Spencer asked us.  "Whatcha' Doin'?"   What do you choose to do when no one else is around?  Are you the same person all the time?  Really?

I no longer take tests at school but this was an important evaluation for me, nonetheless.  Out of the mouths of babes come some of the most profound statements.  May God grace us all to be the same people at all times and in all circumstances.

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!  


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!