Losing Our Easter Booth (and Our “P.I.G.” Status)

When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go. –Alexandra Stoddard

Never, EVER, did I think I would be writing about a midwest BBQ chain and Easter Sunday.  Yet, here I am.  This goes to show two things…first, that the cliché holds true (again):  Never say never.  And second. that convenient, tasty, family style BBQ is perfectly acceptable as a go-to meal for ANY holiday or celebration (and in our family’s case, especially religious ones!)

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Easter Lunch 2013

For the past six years we have “dined” at Famous Dave’s on Easter Sunday.  Okay, I know it’s not fine dining.  Yes, I am aware that they are a paper napkin establishment (gasp!) And I understand that French fries are not typical Easter dinner fare.  (Glad we got all that out of the way 🙂 )  Still, I think Famous Dave’s is just as good a place as any to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.  It’s a Spencer family tradition that’s often met with puzzling looks, stammering comments and even a little pity.  But that’s okay.  We like Famous Dave’s and we especially like the reason we ended up there in the first place (insert sappy background music here….)

In 2009, my husband was called to lead what I will politely label a “broken” church.  You see the pastor had decided to leave our denomination and he additionally took the congregation with him.  For whatever reasons, all that was left were about a dozen people, loads of tech equipment and a lot of questions.  This clearly would not be easy.  And, did I mention this was Steve’s first senior pastor appointment?  Despite the best efforts of many, the prayers of many more and the sheer broken-heartedness of the situation, a decision was made to close down the church.  All of this took place in a matter of weeks.  It was one of the saddest things I have ever witnessed.  So here’s the worst part…the last worship celebration for this now defunct church would be on Easter Sunday.  (I can hardly type these words!)  CLOSING A CHURCH ON EASTER.  (There really should be a law against such a thing!)  I could barely stomach the idea.  I thought of the church members who stayed behind.  Those who wanted to restructure and carry on.  And all those who put their heart and soul into trying to make this church a healthy, functioning place of worship.  But it wasn’t meant to be.

Much work went into that final worship celebration.  First, there was the cleaning.  Since worship would be held in the church’s youth building, couches had to be moved, chairs brought in and EVERYTHING had to be wiped down.  The sound system was reconfigured, light bulbs were replaced and a small room was readied to serve as a nursery.  A sweet woman who had hoped for a different outcome for her church set aside her sorrow and assembled Easter baskets for any children who would arrive on Sunday morning.  With just a few musicians, songs were selected to praise a newly risen King.  My husband crafted a sermon of hope and promise…in the midst of all of the responsibilities of closing a church.  It was a sad and rainy morning.  I felt like God was weeping right along with us.

But if you know how the Easter story ends…then you know that there are no limits to what our Great Creator can do!  As worship came to a close, the sun and the SON broke through!  The rain moved out and although we closed the doors on that final worship celebration, what we didn’t know was that God was already opening another.  It was almost three o’clock in the afternoon when we left the church parking lot that day.  Our children, ages 7 and 4 at the time, were tired and hungry.  In the midst of all that was going on we neglected to make lunch plans…and that’s how we ended up at Famous Dave’s.

The restaurant was practically empty.  The lunch crowd was gone, the wait staff looked spent and here walks in this family of four…dressed in now wrinkled Easter wear, tired and clearly saddened.  We crawled into what would be called our Easter booth…to be honest, while we always sat in a booth on these occasions it wasn’t the same booth every time–and that was okay.  Steve ordered ribs, I ordered the baked potato with chili and the kiddos put in their request for chicken strips and fries.  Then we waited.  Not just for food, but for everything.  We honestly didn’t know where we would land…although we knew it would be another church, most likely in another town.  And yet somehow, in that little booth our spirits lifted.  The children made us laugh and we counted our blessings.  We were together and life was in fact GOOD!  There was safety and warmth in those comfy, red seats.  The little kids’ menus reminded us that at Famous Dave’s we’re all P.I.G.s…Pretty Important Guests!  I liked the thought of that and when the meal arrived, we prayed.  The food tasted extra delicious that day, too–satisfying in a way that I cannot explain.  An afternoon at Famous Dave’s was just what we needed.

Obviously, we kept going back.  Steve was appointed to a new church in a nearby suburb and our Easter lunch plans practically wrote themselves.  After a busy Holy Week and all its activities, we found a sanctuary at the east side’s Famous Dave’s restaurant.  The pig-themed decorations, the fishing signs and decals, and those red colored booths–we loved it all!  I have several photos of our kids in their cute, little Easter outfits posing with their Daddy for our annual Easter pic.  Good times.  Blessed times.  Necessary times…but as you can guess, “the times they are a-changing” (thanks, Bob Dylan.)  Famous Dave’s closed this past fall…and the Spencer family DID NOT find out about it until January 😦

Holy Week has arrived again and the question on everyone’s mind is “where are we going to eat Easter lunch?”  I don’t have any answers.  I have tried to coordinate just how long it will take us to drive to the nearest Famous Dave’s (too long unfortunately.)  I’ve looked into dining at other BBQ establishments.  I’ve tried to sell myself on the idea of having Mexican food on Easter (it’s not working.)  I’ve even thought about preparing and cooking a meal myself (and if you know me, then you know this is a desperate thought!)  The reality is we’ve lost our Easter booth, but we certainly haven’t lost Easter and all its promises.  So tonight as I type this, I still have no clue what we will be doing for lunch.  Somehow, though, I’ve gone past worry and fret to a place of “wait and see.”  Not a flippant, inactive state, but rather an active, hopeful resolve.  My husband and kids are not with me in this place.  They want answers and our P.I.G. status back!  But please, don’t feel bad for us…because I so clearly remember a gray, downcast day not so long ago when the sun and the SON came out.  It’s Easter, everyone, and we KNOW how the story ends.  I’m not sure if the booths will be red, but I know that wherever we end up we’ll be fed (in more ways than one)…and it WILL certainly be good!

Praying that the Holy Spirit moves you to worship this Easter Sunday and that you experience the hope and renewal that Christ Jesus offers to us each and every day.  Amen. 

 

 

Ohhh, Christmas Tree!

The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!—Charles Barnard

THE Christmas tree:  Symbol of that oh so special holiday, proudly displayed each and every year in a place of prominence, carefully adorned with treasured and sentimental ornaments.  A recognized hallmark of the Christmas season and the BANE of my Decembers. As our family always opts for the “real” variety (instead of the plastic trees of my childhood,) it seems that somewhere along the way a war has been waged between the Spencer family and THE tree.  A battle that never fails to entertain and frustrate at the same time.  This year proved no different.

So may I present to you our annual Christmas tree adventure–in song form!  Oh yes, this year’s tree had us fooled…we REALLY thought this was THE perfect tree 🙂  Each family member convinced that we could avoid the typical end of the year evergreen hijinks.  Fools we were, this tree had our number from Day 1.

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THE tree on January 4, 2015.  A little scraggly....

THE tree on January 4, 2015. A little scraggly, still standing!

Still standing!  We made it through December and into 2015.  Sure, it’s a sight to be seen and my son is already begging me to “please, take it DOWN.”  No, son, not yet.  I promised my daughter I would try to have it down by the time her birthday rolls around (mid-January.)  In the meantime, I will sip coffee and watch our once majestic tree transform into a scraggly shrub, daily picking up the ornaments (aided in their fall by the dog no less,) placing lights back onto the branches and taking bets on just how crooked it will get before it tips over (again)…and then, maybe then, I will take it down.  I’m in no hurry.  The whole ordeal has practically become its own Christmas tradition…a tradition I secretly wouldn’t trade for anything in the world!  Ohhh, Christmas tree 🙂

Don’t measure the height of your Christmas tree.  Measure the abundance of the love present in your heart!  Have a blessed Christmas!–author unknown

“B” Christmas…or My Very Own Charlie Brown Christmas Special (starring ME!)

Bells will be ringing—the glad, glad news…oh what a Christmas to have the blues….

ASomething has been askew this Christmas.  I was sort of afraid to admit it until now since I proclaim this to be my favorite time of year.  It’s not that I’m without a loved one, it’s not that I have an insurmountable list of problems, worries or fears.  I’ve been trying to tell myself that it’s just the weather, but it sort of snowed the other day and that didn’t squelch the icky feeling.

I think if I’m really honest, I’ve missed Christmas–not in the “longing for” sense of the word, but more the “missed out” connotation of the word.  It’s a horrible feeling since Christmas is still two days away.  The dreadful feeling gave itself a name today–“B” Christmas, as in plan B.  (Remember that feeling in high school when you felt compelled to choose a B school, just in case you didn’t get into your college of choice or the time when you had to settle for your second favorite prom dress because your “friend” already snagged the one you were eyeballing!)  You know it’s not a bad thing…but it doesn’t feel all that great either.

I’ve been trying to hash out what went wrong…you know, analyze the variables and figure out what was different this year than in Christmas’ past.  Nerdy, but that’s how I work.  So, here’s what I’ve come up with:  the season actually began too early with Christmas cookies in October, followed by an unusually busy baking season, Halloween (the unofficial start to Christmas) came and went too quickly (and I didn’t take the kids trick-or-treating nor did we visit any pumpkin patches), outside commitments were plentiful, time-consuming and pressing (basketball practices, extra long soccer season, music concerts and church obligations), Thanksgiving was very structured and passed in a blink (I was super intentional this year about being grateful and in the moment…maybe too focused?), I planned too many homemade/handmade gift projects and of course, the mother of all sins…I stayed up way too late trying to make it all PERFECT!  I am guilty of trying to cram 48 hours into 24 hour days…but who isn’t?

In the end I paid for all of it.  I was tired, irritable, a time tyrant.  I spent all my waking hours in the kitchen and/or at the computer.  I planned each day out for maximum productivity and left out any creative and spontaneous time for fun.  Look, I’m not completely crazy…I had moments of being an on-the-ball mother, wife, church volunteer, and baker.  There were occasional moments to pause, but not enough moments to reflect or savor.  There were too many times I thought I wouldn’t get it all done, panic-stricken times when I was certain it wouldn’t come together, and way too many instances where I wondered why I had taken on so much followed by numerous vows to NEVER do any of this again!  I hate that the most.  The cold, hard fact is that I created this problem for myself.  If I had the Christmas blues I was the one standing there with sapphire color paint under my nails, smeared across my cheek and splotched all over my clothes.

In this “smurf-like” state I didn’t have many options–so I did what people with the blues generally do, I cried.  And wouldn’t you know it, I finally felt better.  It reminded me so much of the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  It’s filled with good intentions, projects and purpose.  Linus even recites scripture to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.  Charlie Brown wants to be the director, the leader that the Peanuts gang is looking for.  He wants to be the guy who’s going to make this Christmas special.  He doesn’t just take on this project for the benefit of those in the Christmas program, he takes it on to better himself…because he believes this venture will raise his Christmas spirit.  Yet, despite his best efforts we all remember the part where Charlie Brown walks out–dejected, sad, depressed and dispirited after he is ridiculed for choosing a tiny, sad excuse for a tree.

But here’s the best part:  It seems like out of nowhere everyone seems to get it.  The Peanuts gang suddenly see the tree in a new light!  They find that part of themselves that connects with the heart of Christmas.  It happens in a blink and without reason and in that cheesy-manner that only comes from 1960’s Christmas specials, but it happens.  I don’t know if the show’s creators would ever say it, but I think that’s the moment when God stepped in.  And in my very own Charlie Brown Christmas special (starring ME!) after those sad, blues-filled tears fell, God stepped in for me as well.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a 1960’s Christmas special by any stretch of the imagination.  It didn’t happen in an instant, but it did happen.  Slowly the heart of Christmas filled my spirit and the holy day that I love so much, the season I call my favorite…started to come back to me.

As I finish up this blog it’s now the day after Christmas.  My eyes tear up at the thought of this joyous Christmas 2012 that I almost missed out on.  I thank God for the opportunity to worship and celebrate His Son’s birth on Christmas Eve with an unburdened heart.  I rejoice in spending Christmas day with my husband and children and without any agenda…in fact, we all stayed in our pajamas ALL DAY.  I am overjoyed to say that I consider this Christmas a blessing.  And while my house is a disaster, the pine needles are piling up under the tree like sand, and I’m staring down at least several days worth of Christmas decor to put away, I finally feel content.  I’m still listening to Christmas music.  My husband asked me how long I planned to keep playing it and I didn’t have an answer–I still have a lot of Christmas to make up for.

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.” ― Peg Bracken