As I sit here at my desk writing to you, it is June 1st, a day that will forever be in the forefront of my mind and heart as the day my younger sister Shari was escorted into the very presence of Jesus as her life was brutally taken at the hands of a murderer at only 17 years old. I did not post anything on social media yesterday or today acknowledging this anniversary as I have traditionally done, simply because I didn't want the attention that always comes with those posts. Kind, wonderful remembrances are always sent in response, but today, I just felt the need to be quiet, reflective, as I go about my normal work day.
Last week my family enjoyed a wonderful vacation at Myrtle Beach, SC thanks to the kindness and generosity of Buddy Lindsay, Managing Partner and Tom Moore, General Manager of the beautiful Hampton Inn & Suites Oceanfront Resort. This property is owned and managed by wonderful Christian businessmen, and the staff is equally as warm and welcoming. We love it there! If you are looking for a family-friendly place to take your family, I highly recommend them.
Our family has not been able to go together on vacation for several years now, as schedule conflicts, Hannah and Clayton being in college, everyone's jobs, my nephew being in school, etc. Although we missed Ross and Brianna terribly as they live and work in Denver and could not come, Robert, his wife Elizabeth, my nephew James Michael, Hannah, Clayton and I shared a full week together making memories that will be cherished for a lifetime. I'm finding my eyes getting a little misty even now...
As I drove home on Sunday, I began to cry...yes, sad that it was over, as I had looked so forward to sitting on the beach, eating seafood, playing card games, looking for shark's teeth, having no schedule or demands on our time, spending an entire week together in one place, going to sleep and waking up together. You see, my love language is quality time. So time with my favorite people on the planet is my very favorite thing in life. But my tears were not only out of sadness, but out of a deep-seated sense of gratitude for all that God did and is doing in the lives of my beloved family members.
You see, when Shari was taken, though I was 21, Robert was only 15, and looking back, I think her death and the aftermath was much more difficult for him than it was for me in many aspects. I went back to college, went back to my life away from home, while he was still at home, with two parents that were grieving so deeply that he oftentimes was on his own as a young man trying to walk out such dark tragedy. Although today marks 32 years since Shari's kidnapping and subsequent murder, many of those years, especially the earlier ones, were filled with pain, despair, fear, anger, unforgiveness, and struggling faiths. For years I have prayed that my brother would surrender his life completely over to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and in the last year especially, I have seen the fruit of him doing just that. As I drove home, I cried tears of thankfulness for all God has done over the last 3+ decades. Today Robert and his family are very involved in Newspring Church Spartanburg, SC. Each morning at the beach after breakfast, he led his family in a morning devotional, as he, Elizabeth, and James Michael started their day praying together. That is one of my most treasured times of this last week, glory to God, as we all 6 sat together, including Hannah, Clayton and me, and witnessed this work of God in my precious brother's life. I am so proud of him, and so grateful to call him my brother and dear friend. He is seeking to be the godly husband and father God has called him to be, and this big sister rejoices in witnessing this firsthand.
Hannah and Clayton had to leave on Wednesday to head back to Charleston to serve in their ministries in their home church as Hannah is one of the worship leaders for Newspring Church Charleston's Fuse, and Clayton serves in the sound/media ministry. They came back Thursday, then had to leave again on Saturday to get back to serve again on Sunday in their ministries.
Oh how my heart is full seeing God at work in my beloved's lives. When I texted a sweet sister friend of mine that I was struggling driving home, tearful, with a heavy heart that our week together was over and I was heading back to a home where I now only live with my dog and cat, she said that when she struggles with the same feelings at the end of a family vacation, she always reminds herself of this: "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."
I think that is a perfect thought for today...I won't cry because our vacation is over, but smile because we had the best time we have had in a very long time, and God allowed me to see answered prayers. And I won't cry today because our sister is no longer with us, I will instead smile because for 17 years God allowed Robert and me to have a sister that we loved dearly, that we will see again when Jesus calls us home, as well. "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Ministry at a Glance:
This past month I was blessed to have been in some wonderful churches and meet some sweet brothers and sisters in Christ. I want to thank the following churches for hosting me this past month. The ladies of the Smokey Mountain Women's Retreat who held their retreat in Ridgecrest, NC. Midland Park United Methodist Church in North Charleston, SC; Crosspoint Baptist Church in Sumter, SC and Fellowship Baptist Church in Lexington, SC.
On the Road Again:
Sunday, June 4
Hopewell Baptist Church
Saturday, June 10
St. Stephens Lutheran Church
Sunday, June 11
Autryville New Life Church of God
Sunday, June 11
Cedar Creek Baptist Church
Thursday, June 15
Little Mountain Presbyterian Church
Ladies' Day Out
Sunday, June 18
Tranquil United Methodist Church
Looking way ahead, I will be speaking in October at the Sister Circle Girlfriend Getaway weekend in North Charleston, SC. Registration is open and I would love for you to join me there! You can register here http://www.lesliehowardministries.com/
Available Piggy-back dates:
* July 28-30 I will be in the Hilton Head Island, SC area, and I am available for a 5th Sunday night concert on the 30th.
* August 26-27 I will be in Suwanee, GA, and have that Sunday night, August 27th open.
**For these dates, there would be no travel expenses, simply a love offering and a place to lay my head. Message me if this would be a blessing for your church.
*Summer Love-Offering Concert Series now being scheduled*
Friends, pastors, worship pastors, and women's ministry leaders, as you are looking at planning your church's special events, I would love to come to your church. In the slower summer months, I offer my Summer Love-Offering Concert Series, a worship service for the whole family. All I ask is for travel (mileage) and a love-offering. Every Sunday in June, July and August are available on this basis, so contact me today before they all get spoken for, as the calendar has already started filling up! I always look forward to the summer concert series, sharing my story, original music, hymns, worship songs, even something special for the children. It's a great way to reach out to your community with the love of Jesus.
Available Sundays are:
June 4th (evening- in Seneca, SC morning)
June 18th (evening- in Greenwood, SC morning)
June 25 (morning and evening)
July 2 (evening- in Columbia, SC morning)
July 9th (evening - in Midland, NC morning)
July 23rd (evening- in Charlotte, NC morning)
July 30th (evening- in Daufuskie Island, SC morning)
August 6th (evening- in Hopkins, SC morning)
August 13th (evening- in Lexington, SC morning)
August 20th (evening- in East Aurora, NY morning)
August 27th (evening- in Suwanee, GA morning)
Hannah and I ran our 2nd race together, the Governor's Cup 5K and had a blast together. We are looking at continuing this newfound journey of running together. NEVER. SAY. NEVER. I am running and actually having fun at the same time!
My wonderful music students presented two beautiful recitals in two assisted living facilities in May and I am so proud of them. My teaching schedule will slow down a bit over the summer months, and after teaching 34 students last year, I welcome the reprieve before we kick back up in full force again before you know it.
The week of June 20-24 I will once again be attending the Miss South Carolina Pageant here in Columbia at the Township Auditorium, always a highlight of my summer getting to reconnect with my Miss SC Sisters and cheer on the ladies competing each night. I am scheduled to sing on Saturday night for the final competition, and would love for you to join us, SC friends.
Happy June to you and your family...may it be filled with family, fun, sun, sand, pool time, ice cream, and popsicles!
Love to you and yours,
Funnies from the Road:
As I checked out at Bi-Lo last week, the cashier did a double-take and said in a whispered tone, "You're Dawn Smith, aren't you? I'm your Facebook friend." I love meeting my Facebook friends when I am out and about. Should you happen to come to one of my ministry events, or see me in Wal-Mart, it is really ok to say hello. :) We are not just Facebook friends, we are brothers and sisters, family. I love being a part of the family of God, don't you?
A Note from Allison
My oldest, Abby, is currently learning the fruits of the spirit in her Children's church services on Sunday mornings. As we have been discussing what a fruit of the spirit is, reviewing them, talking about what each one means, etc I have been looking for opportunities to praise her when she exhibits one and correct her when she doesn't. But here's the really hard part...I find myself struggling with them too. Do I always use self-control? No! Am I gentle, especially with my husband or children? No! What about allowing God's peace to rule my thoughts? Not always! And let's not even talk about patience!!! So when I point out to her a way she didn't use self-control, my own short comings are running across my mind like a giant billboard with flashing lights. Or how I was unkind in my words (or Lord help my thoughts) and the way I talked to someone. As I help Abby learn how to grow in the spirit so that the fruit is evident to those around her, I am challenging myself too; praying I can exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control and that she can see them modeled in me. I am so grateful that God gives us more grace than we give ourselves and that He uses even our children to convict our hearts and help us grow in Him.