Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Olivia Rae is Here!

At long last, I'm able to share pictures with you of our newest princess - Olivia Rae McGhee!!






Is she not absolutely beautiful?  As you can see, her big brother (Parker) is totally smitten with his baby.  At four years of age, he takes her wailing and constant need for attention in stride.  On Tuesday, Olivia will be six weeks old.  We can hardly believe it but time goes quickly, doesn't it?




Kristin explained that she has delayed sharing pictures online because life has been a bit more than she anticipated.  Every mom with more than one child certainly understands!

Here are a couple of extra pictures just because you've waited so patiently.  


Don't you just want to squish those cheeks????








Photo Credit: Smithplicity  aka Auntie Meagan.  Yes, Meagan did this family shoot for them and managed to get amazing, creative pictures in under an hour.  Beautiful work from a mommie of four who knows, "You better grab all the pictures you can while the babies are happy and smiling because that's a small window!"  


Olivia does have a breathing issue they are trying to identify.  Insurance hasn't made it easy for them to get her to a specialist but they're pushing forward and hope to have some answers soon.  

In addition to Olivia's arrival, many of you have been aware of Joy's journey with thyroid cancer.  Her surgery was this past Friday and the surgeon believes all went well although they did remove extra lymph nodes that were questionable.   When praying for her please pray the recovery and balancing of her medications will go smoothly.  Please also pray for their precious little family who are walking through this illness together.




More Smithplicity Photos


So, I couldn't do an entire post of grand baby pictures and not include my Smiths.  So here are a couple of candid shots from a recent visit we made to Sams.  As you can see, the creative gene is strong in the Smith children.  

Are you bored by shopping with Noni?  Make up your own game called "New Ways to Ride in the Cart!"




As summer comes to a close and children start back to school, may I encourage you to "see" your children and grands?  It was my own little girls riding in the cart just yesterday.  Now, they're all grown up with families and trials of their own.  

I'm so thankful for the moments I have tucked away in my heart.  Little photos in my memory book that make me smile every time I thumb through the album.  I don't remember who said this but it surely was true for me while raising children.  "The days are long and the years are short; take it all in."

Blessings for your holiday weekend.  And thanks for celebrating Olivia's arrival with us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

My Hope and Help

I told you we have a lot of birthdays in July - now add one more.  Olivia Rae made her debut on the morning of July 12th.  And she is absolutely PERFECT!  Thank the Lord.  (Mommie is recovering well.  Now, we pray for extra sleep for them both.)  No close up pictures just yet.  

This month we've celebrated John, Zachariah, Grayson, Noni, Olivia's birth and the wedding anniversary for Nathan and Meagan.  Eleven years they've been married; time is flying.  

On my birthday, the girls brought all ten of the practically perfect grands to sing Happy Birthday to Noni.  They also brought peanut butter jelly sandwiches, chips and juice which gave us the opportunity to share a gourmet lunch together.  

Are those precious faces, or what?!  Yes, you are correct - that question was facetious.  

Madi and Ava are hugging.  Noah is holding Andrew with Zach squeezed into the open spot.  I'm holding Olivia and her brother, Parker, is close at hand to help. Then comes Abby beside Spencer who's holding Grayson.  Of course there had to be balloons because no child can imagine celebrating a birthday (even when you're "old") without balloons.  

The most contented smile is Noni's!

I wish we were only busy marking celebrations but everyone we know has life happening, don't they?  The past two months have been unusually tough for our family.  We've been introduced to severe illnesses, we've had frightening moments of loss, shocking news and moments that have literally taken our breath away.  

If you knew the details, you would know I'm not exaggerating one little bit.  This is a tough time.

In the middle of all the upheaval, I found myself holding my breath - often.  My watch would vibrate and I would glance down to find this message, "Even a few moments of deep breathing can help your outlook."  Right!  I would gladly take deep breaths if I wasn't subconsciously waiting for the next bit of bad news.

Still, there was a church to care for and meetings to attend and deadlines to meet.  So, one deep breath leads to another then another and we find ourselves able to move.  Of course, praying is another almost subconscious action as well.  But it never hurts to be reminded.

So, when Frank asked me to share the sermon this past Sunday, it was easy for me to prepare the message from the very scriptures and truths that have been carrying me.  The simple title was My Hope and My Help.  

John told about the Holy Spirit who is our helper or in Greek, our "parakletos." (Jn. 16:7) And I found this example that explains the term John used.

It seems Greek soldiers (in the time of Christ) were sent out to battle in pairs.  That way, when the enemy attacked them they could stand back to back and cover each other's blind side.  Your battle partner was called your "paraclete."  

By choosing that word, John was explaining to his readers that the precious Spirit of God wants to cover our blind spots.  He wants to be our helper in tough times; all we have to do is ask.  Could you use some of that help today, like me?!

I also shared from Paul's writings that "... this hope [in God] will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us..."  (Romans 5:5)

That's comfort I can lean into during this time of feeling overwhelmed!

Frank and I pray almost daily that our children and grandchildren will follow Christ every day they have breath.  Maybe another birthday is the perfect time to remind ourselves that He wants to partner with us on this life journey.  He wants to be our Hope and our Help.  I think I'll let Him - how about you?


How do you celebrate birthdays in your family?  Do you have a month with multiple celebrations?  Would you share one of your favorite comfort scriptures with us?  Thanks for leaving comments, they're such an encouragement.  



Thursday, June 30, 2022

Little Moments

Today is a special day for our family. . . Abigail Grace Schreck turns TEN years old.  She is our first granddaughter, one smart cookie, beautiful like her mommie, a nurturer, an honor student, a worshipper, a baker and a great soccer player.    

Here is a picture of the sour cream pound cake Abby and I baked recently.  My mom (an excellent cook) made these often and Abby was excited to have that connection.  It did taste delicious, if you're wondering.


The Schrecks and Smiths do birthday parties for the major birthdays: one, five, ten and so on.  Otherwise, they explained to us, we would be celebrating a birthday every other month.  (They have four children each and when Olivia is born, we will be a family of Eighteen people!  Yes, Christmas and the other celebrations are indeed loud, chaotic, amazing events for us.)

We'll be celebrating Abigail's birthday in grand fashion on Saturday evening.  She asked that the decorations be cat related as she's trying to talk her parents into giving her a kitten.  Unfortunately, two-thirds of our family are allergic to cats so that probably won't be happening.

This picture is from our birthday lunch with her when she was five.  She had her choice of any restaurant in town and she chose Chick-Fil-A.  They still had a playground open at the time and when you combine that with a chocolate dipped ice cream cone from DQ, you come out looking like amazing grandparents. 


Looking back like this is good for us all because it reminds us of the importance of little steps.  There's nothing so big about taking two hours to bake a sour cream pound cake.  It takes even less planning to share lunch utilizing a playground and some ice cream for entertainment.  But Abby enjoyed both little adventures.

I've met lots of people who think life is all about big, grand moments.  The trip to Disney.  The cruise to the Bahamas.  The new car at sixteen.

Those are great. Nothing wrong with them if you can afford them.  But I think many people who are waiting for the big moments run the risk of missing life that's also found in the small things.   

Abby is blessed because both sets of her grandparents value the small moment investments.  She talks with her grandparents in NY almost every week.  And little packages arrive in the mail frequently.  When Grandma and Grandpa visit, the children are lavished with undivided attention.  They know they are loved.

This final picture is from Abby's first birthday.  I remember taking this picture (and the half dozen others I also took trying to get one good picture with her holding still and looking at the camera. LOL)


The point is, it feels like I took this picture yesterday.  Time flies, friends.  Scroll back up and see how quickly.  Same sweet eyes.  Same infectious smile.  But 3,650 days have passed between them.  

We have shared a few big moments but more important have been the dozens of little ones.  Little moments listening to her jabber on about things I didn't really understand.  Little moments making eye contact that communicated, "You are important!"  Little moments singing "Baby Shark" together at the top of our lungs.  Little moments sitting beside one another, squeezing her hand before she ran off to play with her cousins.   

Those moments may not seem like much when they happen but I assure you, life is richest when woven of countless little threads that offer strength and warmth against the cold, harsh days.  

Make time for the little moments, friends.  Those are the greatest gifts you can offer anyone you love.  

Happy Birthday, Abby Grace!  May the your love for the Heavenly Father grow even stronger during the next decade of your life.  Noni and Papa pray so daily and love you more than we have words to tell.

 
How about you?  Do you only mark the main birthdays?  How many grandchildren do you have?  Can you share one great "little moment" idea that would help the rest of us?  Please leave your comment in the section below.  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

One Friend

Sometimes your next step forward comes through a major life change.  Something big and jolting takes place then you are forced to make a step of transition.  

Sometimes the next step forward comes as a result of a gentle nudge from someone who cares.  that friendly nudge arrived in my email yesterday from Becky, "Just want you to know someone out here is missing your blog." 

That one sentence from just one friend was the encouragement I needed to get back in gear and make a post happen.  Today!





This picture was taken just about two hours ago.  Frank has had health issues since the first of the year and today should be the final procedure moving him back to full health.  Can you see the smile behind our masks?

We are grateful for nurses and doctors who are incredibly knowledgeable.  But on a day like this, we’re also thankful for those who remember that their workplace is intimidating, cold, overwhelming and downright frightening for the rest of us.

Gloria, Kelly, Stephanie and Dr. Brown filled the bill beautifully for us this morning.  Patiently answering questions, meeting needs, anticipating requests and offering genuine kindness.  Thanks to all of you in the medical field who read Embrace the Grace.

This picture is also part of the reason I haven’t been writing.  Our family has been experiencing an unusual amount of medical issues.  (Of course, when your “family” is comprised of eight adults -one of which is pregnant- and nine little people, some ER and doctor visits are to be expected, I guess.) But in six months we’ve had three surgeries, two biopsies, multiple MRI’s and CAT scans and another surgery on the horizon.  That really is a lot for a family that’s typically healthy.

Today I want to focus on the importance of ONE.  

Many of you may feel like I have lately, a bit overwhelmed by life.  Pretty sure I have nothing of value to offer anyone else at this moment.  Thinking my contribution isn’t being missed by anyone and that it’s so much easier to move to the back of the room and sit silently.

But all it took for me to shake my head and re-engage was one email from one friend saying, “Those thoughts are not true. I miss you!”  

Are you supposed to be the ONE in the life of your friend today?

May I encourage you, don’t keep sitting silently in the back of the room.  Shake yourself.  Send that email; write that card; make that call.  Someone needs your ONE word of encouragement and you don’t even know how badly they need it.

Be the ONE in the life of another.  I can promise that every seed of encouragement you sow into the heart of someone else, will eventually bloom and come back to supply you when you need it most.  

The wisest man who ever lived (Solomon) put it this way, "The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed." Proverbs 11:25 NLT

Thanks, Becky.  You’re ONE refreshing friend!

Monday, May 9, 2022

A True Lady!

Happy Mother's Day to every mom, grandma, step-mom, mother-in-law and spiritual mother stopping by to read today! I hope you felt loved on Mother's Day whether it was a homemade card or the finest Hallmark can offer - each is special when given from the heart. 

So thankful for these three beauties who made me a mom.


As you can see, Kristin is very pregnant with Olivia who is due to arrive somewhere around July 16th.  Joy has been on a health challenge with John and is looking very slim.  Meagan and I find ourselves somewhere in the middle.  Such fun and such a gift to all be in church together yesterday.  I do not take that for granted.

Here are the pictures we grabbed of the second generation.  (Parker wasn't able to be with us for these.) In this picture, we're all buttoned up and looking at the camera.  Angelic smiles wreath each face.  Are they not so precious?!


And here you have the more realistic version of our tribe trying to gather for any family photo.


Look familiar to any of you?  I thought it might. 

We've found that if we promise a silly picture and actually take it, they are more likely to work together helping us get one good shot that we had envisioned when we started this mammoth task.  Yes, it is like herding cats but we're up for the challenge.

I had the privilege of bringing the message yesterday which is always one of my favorite times to preach.  Women need encouragement as they do their best to follow Christ in today's world.  It's important that we watch for opportunities to encourage one another.

How well I remember my own days as a young mom with three little girls looking to me for direction.  Each  day seemed to have major struggles or difficulty and it was up to me to frame our life in a positive way.  (I recently heard someone say we can't always choose our feelings but we can choose our words, so let them be encouraging.)

Here's a special Olan Mills presentation of our three angels during the time I'm talking about.  This would have been around 1989.  No wonder our grandchildren are so adorable, right?!



One of the scriptures I held to as a young mom was Psalm 121: 1-2.  David was experiencing difficulty as he wrote this psalm. He describes for us how he goes out and looks up at the hills around him.  He then ponders if this is where his help comes from?  He answers his own question with determination, "My help comes from the Lord. The maker of heaven and earth."

When our girls were little, we lived in the mountains and I would often follow David's example literally.  I would go outside and look at those massive mountains.  I would think about how secure and unmovable they were.  Then I would say out loud for my own heart to hear, "My help is even greater than these mountains. My help comes from the Lord who made these mountains!"

Somehow saying it out loud always helped recalibrate my soul and gave me strength to address whatever that day might hold.  (Feel free to try this method wherever you find yourself today.)

My message of encouragement to the congregation yesterday was simple.  Based on the scripture, my title was "Look Up, Dear Lady.  Look Up!"  I took the word lady and made an acrostic elaborating on each point.  

Dear Lady, you are:

LOVED more than you know.

ADDING VALUE to the world around you. 

DAUGHTER of the KING and your

YEARNINGS are KNOWN by God.

I wrapped it up by reminding the ladies how important it is for us to spend time with the Lord.  We can talk to Him about the struggles we face and we should express gratitude for the joys we experience.  

At the end, we all met at the altar for a time of doing just that.  The men of the congregation gathered behind the ladies and prayed blessing for them all.  It was a special service, indeed.

I want to close with this picture.


This is one of the last pictures we had made of my Grandma Miller and her precious Kissy.  Grandma was born in Liberty, Indiana on May 7, 1902.  That means this year was the 120th anniversary of her birth.  There are a hundred stories I could tell about this woman who impacted my life.  But the main thing I want you to know is that she exemplified, to me, all the qualities of a true lady.  

Her example is one I follow even now as I'm trying to create memories with my grandchildren.  And who knows?  Maybe in another 60-70 years one of them will be able to show a picture of me and honestly say, "My Noni was a True Lady."  Thanks what I'm hoping for, anyway.  



How did you mark Mother's Day?  Was your life greatly impacted by a grandmother?  Are you blessed to still have your mother living?  We'd love to read your comments in the box below.     

 


  

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Finding Gold

Frank and I just returned from a wonderful week at a pastor's retreat sponsored by the Billy Graham Training Center.  It was just what the doctor ordered after Easter.

I wanted to get another post on for April so I reached back a few years for this beauty.  It inspired me again as I read it.  Certainly hope you find it encouraging, too.


One rainy Saturday afternoon, Mom and I were watching a western movie on TV.  At the time, I was just a teenager.  Halfway through, the hero of the movie was being encouraged to abandon the mine where he and others had been working.  "It's hopeless," said the villain.  "Give it up!  You'll never find anything anyway."

At that very moment an old man, weathered and leathery-looking, came hobbling out of the saloon. He had heard the conversation and knew it looked hopeless but he also knew that with hard work, success was possible.  (Apparently, the villain just wanted the mine for himself.)  The old fella declared boldly in a pinched, uneducated voice, "Thar's gold in them thar hills!!"  His statement (so funny sounding) immediately became a by-line for Mom and me.

If I faced something that required more work than I originally thought but the reward would be great, Mom would look at me, wink one eye and in her best imitation of the old miner she'd say, "Thar's gold in them thar hills, Sheri!"  (In other words, keep working.  Don't give up now!)

If I found Mom quietly crying because of some disappointment, I would slide up beside her, give her my best daughter hug and whisper, "Thar's gold in them thar hills, Mama."  She would start chuckling even if the tears weren't quite finished.  "Well I sure hope I find some soon," she often answered.

I hadn't thought of our little inside joke for a long time, until this morning when I struck gold.  I'll have to back up a bit to explain.

We purchased our current home eleven years ago.  We had just become pastors in FL after serving as evangelists for six years.  During the evangelist years, we lived in a forty-foot RV.  I can assure you that living as a family in 400 square feet helps you know what household items are important and which ones you can live without.

Moving from the RV back to a full-sized home left me with quite a few vacant spots.  We needed everything from beds and bedding, to living room furniture, lamps, decorations, even a shower curtain.  Needless to say, I was constantly on the look out for inexpensive ways to fill our household.

The young man we bought our house from was a bachelor engaged to be married.  The house had been, for him, simply an investment so his furnishings were rather sparse as well.  At the walk through, I noticed a lovely set of dishes he had just sitting against one wall.

"Those are beautiful," I commented.

"One of the ladies in my church gave them to me," he said.  "We won't use them.  Would you like them?"

Although dishes weren't actually on my list, I really liked the look of them and answered, "Sure!"  It was a complete service for eight and FREE.  If I didn't use them, one of the girls probably would. The dishes promptly went into storage in the garage.

Fast forward to my season of purging and reorganizing - that would be now.  The dishes I've been using for everyday ware are lovely but after five years of constant service they were showing their age.  I decided to sell them in the yard sale we had and start looking around for a replacement set.

That's when I remembered the dishes in storage.

They would do just fine as my temporary set.  Only problem, our family has grown to 13 and we would need more dishes.  I went online to search out where to pick up a few more pieces.  That's when the discovery was made.

The simple blue and white plates, cups, saucers and such that had been sitting in dark storage bins for eleven years are actually a fine grade of willow ware made in Stafforshire, England.  It's known as the Winston Churchill collection.

The meat platter alone cost over $300!  I was in total shock.  I had no idea such exquisite and expensive beauty had been hidden away in my garage, serving no one all these years.

This morning as I carefully unpacked, washed and shelved the Winston Churchill collection,  my mind whirled with so many unanswered thoughts:

  • Who was the original owner?
  • Was it a set slowly collected or perhaps wedding dishes for some young bride?
  • Were they often used or seldom?
  • Was there laughter around their table, too?
  • Why did the lady give them to the bachelor?
  • Was no one in her family interested in them?
  • Did no one appreciate their value?
As always, the Lord used my ponderings to whisper a truth to my heart.  "Sheri, there are pockets of gold hidden all around you.  You must have eyes to see it and a willingness to work at mining the gold.  Appreciate what I've placed in your hands."

For me, that translates to:
  • Watch for the people around you who are pure gold.  They may be quiet and you may have to mine their gifts.  But appreciate them; see them!
  • Watch for the moments of gold.  A pat on the face from tiny jam hands.  A tender kiss good-bye.  A hug from a true friend.  A casual, "Love you, Mom!"
  • Watch for the golden life lessons.  Hardships that made you stronger.  Lonely times that push you toward friends.  Answered prayers that remind you of God's faithfulness.  
All this from a revived set of dishes.  

I wish Mom were here this Mother's Day to marvel with me over this amazing story.  I wish she and I could share some coffee using the finely crafted cups.  I wish I could eat one of her wonderful meals served on the rich blue and white pattern.  That can't happen.  

But I can imagine the twinkle in her eye and the wink as she would surely look sideways at me and say,  "Never stop looking, Sheri.  Thar's gold in them thar hills!"

Here's praying you'll find the gold waiting to be discovered in your own life! 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Is it Still Easter?

 He Is Risen!  He Is Risen, INDEED!!

As followers of Christ, that's our greeting for Easter.  I didn't actually learn that until a couple of decades ago but that doesn't stop me from using it liberally now.  How about you?

Here's my favorite picture from the day - 


Are those not some of the most adorable grandbabies you ever saw?!  (Yes, that was indeed a rhetorical question.) 

The back row is L to R: Noah Smith 8, Abby Schreck 9, Spencer Schreck 11, Andrew Smith 2 and Madi Smith 5.  You can't see her but Meagan is actually hiding and holding up Andrew because he had had enough of picture taking by the time we did this one.  

The front row L to R: Zach Schreck 5, Grayson Smith 3, Parker McGhee 3 and Ava Schreck 4. Spencer just had his birthday in February but seven summer birthdays are on the horizon.  What a Crew!!

The weeks leading up to Easter 2022 were (for our family) full of joy, sickness, unexpected emergencies and even a couple of surgeries.  Needless to say, my spring decorations appeared in a very limited form two days before our Easter dinner. 

Some of you readers will remember that I've always declared April to be my favorite month of the year.  Christmas is my favorite season and Easter is my favorite holiday.  (Do you get the idea that I just enjoy looking for opportunities to celebrate?)

But this was the first Easter of the past 37 that Frank and I haven't enjoyed a private sunrise service with our girls.  Yes, it was a bit sad for me.  He and I began this tradition when Kristin was a toddler and Joy was only eight months old.  Meagan had not yet made her appearance.

Our plan was simply to make the day about more than just new dresses, Easter baskets and egg hunts.  We wanted to do something that brought the day alive for our girls.  

We figured reading the Bible account of the women going to the tomb at dawn while experiencing their own sunrise would do just that.  After the reading, we sang resurrection songs with croaky morning voices and prayed together thanking God for the gift of salvation. Then it was on to breakfast which always included orange cinnamon rolls.

We've morphed and adapted our tradition many times through the years.  But last year, the girls talked with me afterward explaining that it was just too much for them to get their children up and out the door for us to share a sunrise service together anymore.  

It wasn't easy but it was something I needed to understand in order to keep our relationship strong.  

So,  I chose to be okay.

Frank is a good husband who read the timeless story with just he and I on the back porch Easter morning.  He even attempted a song but I couldn't sing and cry at the same time.  Vocal chords are funny that way. 

Here's the picture of us later in the morning.  Isn't he handsome?  (Again, rhetorical.)



I'm smiling genuinely because once we arrived at church (around 6:30 and 7:00) we were immediately reminded how fortunate we are.  John and his team had been working since 5:30.  Our auditorium wouldn't hold everyone for Easter so we were meeting under a tent.  Lots of fun for those who arrived just before service but LOTS of work for our tech team.  

And arrive they did!  

We offered breakfast for the early birds and a free family photo.  (Scarlette Photography.  Jamie does amazing work.  Did you notice that all those grandbaby eyes were OPEN?!)

As the people gathered, the joy and energy were electric.  Everyone was so thankful to be together.  There was laughter, conversation, hugs and handshakes all around.  

The worship was absolutely powerful and Frank did a wonderful job recounting once again the most important story in all of history: the Death, Burial and Resurrection of Christ. 

There was a holy hush on the crowd when he asked this pointed question, "Now, what will you do with the gift that has been provided for you?"  No need to pound the pulpit or coerce anyone.  He spoke it tenderly as a father would to his children.  We all felt the weight of such a question and decision.

We're sure many were challenged to follow Christ.

After the service, we got our pictures with the grands and each family did their own individual shot.  There was so much happening, we never managed to get one all together but you'll enjoy these, I'm sure. 

In order, The McGhees.  Kristin, Cody, Parker and Olivia who will make her appearance this July. 


  

Next would be the Schrecks. Spencer, Zach, John, Joy, Ava and Abby.  (Abby had eye surgery three weeks ago and is still recovering; although, the surgeon said it went well.)



  

Finally, the Smiths.  Madi, Nathan, Grayson, Andrew, Meagan and Noah.  (They literally drove back to FL on Saturday after being in NC for the funeral of his precious Grandma Smith.)  




Who could be anything but joyful after scanning these beautiful smiles?  We opted for an Easter dinner get together this year and when it started raining we chose to hide the Easter eggs in the house.  Man oh man, was that search ever LOUD!  We ended with a time of sharing the timeless story once more in a way the children could help explain and prayed together thanking Jesus for his sacrifice.  

Yes, I ended the day exhausted but content.

Just in case you didn't smile yet, here's one more picture:


Please look closely at Frank's feet.  If you're reading in California, his feet look perfectly normal.  But his mother in NC is yelling, "Did that boy not wear socks on Easter Sunday?!!"  She is shaking her head with embarrassment, I assure you.

Actually, you can tell I'm laughing because he did forget his socks.  (The men all came to church in work clothes then changed.)  After our slotted photo time, I made a mad dash to the nearest CVS pharmacy and spent too much money on the last pack of dress socks they had available.  Certainly glad Jamie captured this for posterity.

I opened this post with the question, "Is it still Easter?"  

I'm well aware that many of you marked your Easter with massive changes from years gone by.  All I had to deal with was a change of tradition.  But you may have lost a family member during the past year.  Others have a friend they've lost contact with or a child who won't return their calls.  

My heart aches for you!

For you, the question is literal.  Your heart cries out, "Is the resurrection of Christ still applicable?  Does God even care about my pain today?" 

And for you, my friend, there is a literal answer - YES!  

I know from personal experience that the Bible writer was accurate when he told us that Jesus is very near the broken-hearted.  Your pain, caused by this broken world we live in, is the very reason He gave His life.  He died to restore relationship to God the Father for you and I.  That relationship is the only perfect one and the only one that provides HOPE in every moment of question.

Is it still Easter?  

Because he lives, I hope your answer is the same as mine, Yes!  Every day I live knowing His love is Easter.


Thursday, March 31, 2022

Simple Challenge

 Hello Dear Friends!

I want to share with you a challenge we were given a couple of Sundays ago.  John (our first son-in-law) preached the morning message.  We've been doing a series called "This I Believe."

His part of the series was to explain why our church puts such a high priority on our children and youth departments.  Bottom line: we want our church to be a living, vibrant place of worship and HOPE.  

Nothing speaks of hope and future like toddlers running around, bumping into peoples' legs, looking up to see a smile, then responding with squeals of delight.  It's really just the best.

Pastor John challenged us all to put down technology for three days.  We were to only use our phones for calls and our computers for actual work.  Otherwise, we were unplugging all games and unnecessary communication for those 72 hours.  

Then we were to use the time we "gleaned" by being more intentionally present with family, with prayer or even exercise just to name three options he offered. Sounds simple enough - but it wasn't.  

In fact, I'm putting the same challenge out to you today.  I'd love to hear about your experience if you try it.

During my three days of technology fasting, I realized how often I look at my phone unnecessarily.  The two biggest time stealers for me?  Facebook and Solitaire.  


I use these when I'm waiting for other people or as a signal of "down time" when I'm stressed.  Apparently, I'm a stressed waiter often!

When I did go back to play a game of solitaire on my phone, it started me thinking.  Here's what I got from my silly game.

I almost always select the medium difficulty level for play.  The easy level has little challenge. And while I can do the hardest level, I don't like the idea that many of those games have no solution.  

The manufacturer of the game on my phone assures players that for the medium level there IS a solution; and I like that assurance. I play as though I believe what the manufacturer has promised.  

Please understand, I have worked on some of those games for days at a time.  There is this annoying little sound once you make the final move and it appears there is no way to solve the game.  But I am armed with the information from the manufacturer saying there IS indeed a solution.  I just have to back up and try again to find it.  And that's precisely what I do.

Many times, I've had to take my phone to Frank (who is considerably better at solitaire than me) and implore him to help.  Typically, he finds the answer within just a few attempts.  But one way or the other, I keep at it until I find the solution.  I'm a little embarrassed to admit to you - I've played and won a couple thousand games in the years I've owned this particular phone.  (Yep, time thief.)

I thought of the people around me who find themselves in puzzling situations.  They hear all the annoying signals that seem to say, "There is no solution to this problem." 

But friend, I want to remind you that the Manufacturer of Life has sent us a message.  He has clearly indicated that there IS a solution to all life's puzzling problems.  We have only to spend time with Him and He will help us move toward that solution.  After leaning in to hear Him, we move forward again living as though we believe His promise.

Isn't that Encouraging?!  It was for me.

I'll close with this assurance from the Manufacturer of Life:

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV) 

There is a solution to your puzzling situation.  Don't give up.  Come close to this loving Father and He will help you find the solution.


Monday, February 28, 2022

Short Month; Long Days

We are all in prayer for the nation of Ukraine and I will have a post about my connection there later.  Today, I simply hope to help you smile.


Did anyone else catch this saying when your children were young?  The years fly and the days drag.  Try to enjoy them all.

I thought that would only be true while I was a mom with toddlers.  Seems it's still true 40 years later.

During this, the shortest month of the year, I've walked some long uncertain days involving hospitals and ERs and doctor's offices.  But I can finally say, I'm thankful everyone seems to be on the road to recovery.  

No one had a single illness, seems when my family get sick they do it up right.  Frank started the month with a serious infection that morphed into a UTI as well as a serious cough.  Then, we got the call that my dad and his wife were admitted to the hospital with covid.  (Dad added pneumonia, a UTI and extreme confusion, as well.)  We finished the month with Meagan and Nathan both having covid.  However, Meagan then developed bronchitis and pneumonia. 

See what I mean?!  A crazy four weeks, indeed.

I don't want to go much further without a picture so I'll share this new classic with you.  It's been years since my brother, sister and I were all together in the same spot.  We intentionally overlapped our time helping care for Dad so we could have a couple of days together.


My brother and his precious wife recently moved to the little community where dad grew up and now lives again. What a comfort to know someone is close by when emergencies happen like this.  Buddy was able to go to the hospital and although he couldn't visit, they knew he was stopping by each day.  

I also have to commend the nurses and doctors who took care of them.  Dad and Christeen were taken to a small, rural hospital but they received excellent care and the team made themselves available to answer our questions each time I called.  (Yes, I did call multiple times each day but never during shift change. LOL)

We all four managed to get in this shot.  We're all laughing because someone had to pose us then run to jump into the picture just before the camera clicked.  Running and jumping are not on the list of our regular, daily activities.  Can I get an Amen?! 

Frank was improving just as Buddy called me to say the hospital was ready to discharge Dad but someone would need to stay with him 24/7 for a while.  I packed quickly Saturday night then jumped in the car just after dawn  Sunday morning in order to drive the seven hours and relieve my brother.  Vonnie flew in on Tuesday to finish out the week.  Dad will be 85 this fall and I wonder if he really knows just how much his kids love him.  But when it's your parents, you just do, right?

Here's a fun shot of the three Burke offspring.  (Not sure what I was trying to do. HMMMM.)  We intentionally stood in front of this huge camellia bush.  Mom planted it right after she and Dad moved back to the country. She loved how they bloom even in winter.

Dad slept - a lot.  So there was time for long, easy conversations and lots of good meals prepared for the purpose of tempting appetites and healing bodies.  Dad was gaining ground by the time I left Thursday morning. Here's one more selfie with just Dad, my sister and me.


A few quiet days and then the Smiths found themselves in trouble.  I say "in trouble" because when you have two sick adults and four active little children who aren't sick, the parents are in trouble.  The fact that none of us could take the children made it even more difficult. Covid is not a team sport.  

Of course, we did come alongside by preparing meals and offering encouragement over the phone.  Even some from our church family did, as well.  There may even have been a few treats thrown in for good measure.

Being the troopers they are, Meagan and Nathan stepped into tag team parenting.  One would sleep and the other would handle the children.  "Tag, you're it!" took on a whole new meaning at the Smith house.  Here's a close up of the fort they built in the living room while the family watched church on the big screen yesterday.


 

Needless to say, these days of illness have seemed long and stressful and difficult.  But the good news is, God has been with us for each of them.  He provided knowledgeable doctors to care for Frank, my dad and stepmom.  He provided the medications everyone needed and the courage to keep pressing forward.  (We're still waiting for one more report for Frank so we would appreciate your prayers for that.)

Here's my closing thought.  If your days have been long lately, I encourage you to look to scripture for the help and courage you need.  Psalm 124:2 has been a favorite for me through the years.  "What if the Lord had not been on our side..." NLT  I mean, really!  What if we were trying to walk through short months of long days without the help HE provides?

Whew!  I can't even imagine.  I am so very grateful to know that He keeps the promise given to Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:6-8  "The Lord goes before you.  He will never leave you or forsake you..." - especially during long, hard days.  

Be encouraged, dear friend. Blessings as we all "March into Spring."  :-)


Do you have a prayer need?  Or perhaps a story of encouragement you'd like to share?  Leave it in the comment section here.  We would all be happy to share with whatever your days have been looking like.



Monday, January 31, 2022

This Guy!

 



My wonderful husband turned 65 just this month.  Happy Birthday, Sweetheart!  (He's rockin' that bowtie, isn't he?)

We celebrated him the Sunday before his birthday because we already had a church dinner on the calendar.  Party, anyone?  We multitask every chance we get.

Then our family celebration took place at our house last night. His favorite meal was on docket - chicken and dumplings finished off with peach cobbler for dessert.  This is a picture of the beautiful table Kristin created for us. It's not easy to create such loveliness that will accommodate little hands, too.  Somehow, she and her sisters always do.

The tables have black tablecloths to represent Frank's classy side.  The table runner is of camouflage because he has battled faithfully for our family as spiritual head.  The silver candle holders speak of his wisdom.  And words describing him are scattered all around.  Words like: faithful, kind, strong, fun and so on.  This family loves their Papa! 


When our crew all get together it is a loud, loving, laughter-filled evening.  Our new neighbors are getting used to us, slowly but surely.  It's unusually cold right now in central FL so the grandchildren asked for a fire and smores to close out the party.  Of course, we had a lovely bonfire and smores as per their request.  


The little guys had a great time running and playing in our backyard while parents sat around the fire talking and teasing with one another.  After having prepared all the food, my only job was to sit and take in all the joy.  


 

I love the art piece a friend created for me several Christmases ago.  It says: "Noni and Papa's house. Where cousins go to become best friends."  This picture (which the boys asked me to take) seems to prove that adage. Are these not the cutest cousins you ever saw?


 

My gift to Frank this year (in addition to new walking shoes) was a compilation video which Cody helped put together.  I reached out to many of the younger ministers/couples we've had opportunity to work with since arriving here in FL.  Each of the ones I contacted, graciously responded and their messages to Frank were incredibly touching.  I think he was encouraged.  

This is the scripture I used to describe Frank earlier this year, "Have you seen a man diligent in his work?  He will stand before kings...." (Prov. 22:29 NLT)

And here's one more scripture that fits him perfectly, "God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before him....God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes." (Psalm 18:20, 24 Message)

As my Grandma Miller often said, He's a Keeper!  


How about you?  Are birthday celebrations big in your family?  We'd love to hear about your traditions in the comment box.    

Monday, January 24, 2022

FL Snow Days

I find it hard to believe we are in the FOURTH week of January already!  Really?!

How ever did this happen?  And trust me, my shock is not because I've been sleeping like Rumplestiltskin.  It's more like I've been running wide open and haven't had time to register the dates of the days as I've slashed them off my calendar.  Oh, well.

You will cheer with me over a choice I made this past Saturday.  I woke up tired and sluggish so by 10 AM, I knew productivity was not in the cards for my day.  While scrolling through some of your pictures on facebook, I decided to give myself a snow day and suddenly felt much better.  

Listen, we lived in NC for 25 years.  I know all about the wonderful mental health break opportunities hidden under the title Snow Day.  We loved those.  You know, a little surprise day off since it wasn't smart to be out and about on the slick roads but you still felt well enough to get a few things done and watch an entire movie, just because?  Snow Days . . . those were just the best.

The only equivalent we have here in FL would be hurricane days (monster storms) that are downgraded to tropical depression days (serious rain event.)  And those come with a whole lot of tension because you aren't sure if your roof will blow off or if you'll be without air conditioning for days and days in the middle of summer.  Not really the same at all.

Temperatures did drop to unusually low points last night.  This was the beauty that greeted us this morning.


  

And here is one more through my husband's artistic lens:


No, that isn't snow in central FL but it is frost and we enjoyed it immensely.  Seeing our breath is another novelty in these parts.  The kids especially love it.

Speaking of kids.  We're trying to be more purposeful in spending time with our grands, especially the older five.  Over Christmas, we realized that we most often are around them in large groups because we don't want anyone to feel left out.  

So beginning this semester, I'm back to picking them up after school.  Only this time, it's just one child who then spends a few hours with Noni and Papa doing nothing special.  The kids got very excited about the idea and so far it seems to be going well.

Today is Noah's day since we went by age.  

The afternoon Spencer came over, he and I ran errands.  This is him sitting in a gaming chair at Sam's Club.  Apparently, these chairs are a dream item on every guys' list.  Most of his time was spent playing with a football in our huge backyard while I cheered for his amazing throws. 


Then on Abby's day, I taught her to make a sour cream pound cake the same way her great grandma taught me.  My mom would have been proud of the final outcome.

Next on the agenda was a couple of rounds with Papa playing Chutes and Ladders.


Bottom line is this, these visits are more about time together than about gifts or entertainment.  We made that clear from the beginning and they hopped right on board.  Besides, when you are part of a family with nine grandbabies, one on one time is a rare commodity in itself.  Papa and I are loving it, too.

We began our year just as we always have with a time of dedicated fasting and prayer.  The sweetness of my "one on one" time with Jesus was enhanced because of this new experience with the grands.  I gained a fresh appreciation for what it's like to talk quietly and to listen intently.  

Don't get me wrong, we love the loud and rambunctious times when we're all together.  But there's also something special about walking slowly, holding hands and hearing entire thought processes with a child.

That's how it is with our Heavenly Father.  He loves when we all come together with our church families worshipping, singing, celebrating but He also responds to alone time with us.  Listening to our heartaches and fears, our joys and dreams then responding in ways that make the journey better.

Have you been carving out time for that this year?  If not, let me encourage you to start.  It will be the best "mental health exercise" you've ever tried.    


How about you?  Do you get to enjoy snow days as an adult?  What are some memories you have of time spent with your grandparents?  We'd love to hear about your experiences in the comment box below. . .



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