Teen Birthday? Whatever, You’ll Always Be My Baby

I’m one of those moms who tends to go overboard with my kids’ birthdays.  Elaborate cakes, carefully planned parties, and that oh-so-perfect gift.  That being said, I had a little epiphany today–today being my son’s birthday.  As the memories came flooding back of the day he was born and the tear drops started forming, my left brain made a striking realization.  Turns out that my “overboard” approach to celebrating these special days, has a lot to do with my own personal fear of my children growing up.  So, to borrow a phrase from my mommy handbook…”you may not understand now, but I have my reasons.”

My little boy came bouncing into this world three weeks early after a healthy pregnancy turned troublesome.  I was so ready following a month of bed rest, a week of being repeatedly induced, and swelling that made me practically unrecognizable.  Our little bundle was gorgeous and perfect in every way.  And despite some post-pregnancy bumps, we finally settled into parenthood and the real fun (work?) began.

Sean was an easy baby except where sleep was concerned.  That kid hated to sleep and when he finally did fall asleep, it was never, EVER for long (a phenomenon that still holds true.)  His saving grace was his sweet little brown eyes that sparkled in the most amazing way.  Excuse my “mom-gush”, but that boy’s eyes “smile.”  Even to this day, he will be as ornery as any boy can be and follow it up with this look that could melt just about anything…especially my heart.  (Let it be noted that while these smiling eyes occasionally get him OUT of trouble, it’s the same smiling eyes that serve as his TELL when he’s trying to put one over on me.)

Like most kids, Sean has inherited qualities from both my husband and myself.  He has a terrific sense of humor like his Dad.  He’s such a funny kid with a quick wit and the ability to turn a phrase…especially when you least expect it!  Fortunately, he’s a good student like his Mom and manages to keep his clownishness at a reasonable level and not get into trouble at school.  Sean is a huge sports fan like his Dad and has enough good sense to choose the Kansas Jayhawks over every other team (like his Mom.)  Sean loves to build things and has a knack for figuring things out sans instruction booklets…that’s a Dad thing.  At the same time, he likes to watch ridiculous comedies (Kicking & Screaming, Even Stevens Movie or Christmas with the Kranks) over and over like his Mom.

So here’s where it comes full circle.  I don’t just love my son.  I really, truly like him, too…and thus, the overboard birthday parties.  I enjoy baking him extra special chocolate birthday cakes, I like creating and planning parties that reflect his favorite things, and I put a lot of thought into his gifts…all to purposefully mark the day when God blessed me with his precious child, a child who despite my objections, continues to grow up.  Let’s face it, time is ticking.  And while I am perpetually celebrating my 22nd birthday (lol), my little boy is racking up the birthday candles and moving ever closer to birthdays that I won’t be able to plan.  And it’s all coming too quickly.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with a gift more wonderful than anything I could have asked for.  Happy birthday, Sean.  I love you.  You are my sonshine…cheesy, but true.

Son, you outgrew my lap, but never my heart.  ~Author Unknown

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 11

Golden State of mind.  –author unknown

There are moments where time simply stands still.  In those moments a solid memory is formed…and that’s where the next song on the list comes in.  “Someday” by the group Sugar Ray (released in 1999) was the soundtrack to an absolutely perfect space in time for me.  As a transplant to California, I quickly learned that there’s a learning curve to navigating the Golden State lifestyle.  First, practically everyone is beautiful.  People dress differently in Cali and carry themselves with a lot of confidence.  Next, most things costs way too much, really.  And finally, driving there is a sport.  Still, after a few months, I finally felt like I was finding my way.  This was home.It’s hard not to love California…amazing scenery and that salty, ocean smell.  I recall driving on the 101, windows rolled down, the rolling hills of Marin County in the background when this song came on the radio.  A song about having no regrets, a song about believing in the choices you have made, basically a song about contentment.  And that’s exactly what I felt in that moment.  For whatever reason, whatever my destiny was, however my purpose on this planet worked out–I wholeheartedly knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that particular place in time.  I’ve never forgotten that feeling.

Lead singer, Mark McGrath has said in interview that the group was about having fun and seeing just how far they could go.  While Sugar Ray actually played a wide variety of music styles…it was their pop rock, upbeat stuff that launched the group to fame.  “Someday” was a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Modern Rock Tracks, Hot 100 Airplay and on the Canadian charts, as well.  The band enjoyed great success with their trademark southern California vibe.

Whenever I hear the song, I’m transplanted back to that time (I can even smell the ocean!)  My life has changed a great deal since them.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have had other experiences like the one that day.  Today, I refer to them as “God-moments,”  little assurances where I know I’m in just the right place, and I am so grateful.

UP NEXT:  Song 12…”run, run lost boy….”

 

 

 

Rated “M” for Mature (Or Maybe Just “O” for Old)

We age not by years, but by stories. ― Maza-Dohta

There’s a big difference between “growing up” and “growing old.”  Each process garnering its own tension (and with any luck,) eventually leading to some sense of solace and peace.  Still it seems that in today’s culture, “growing old” is definitely the greater evil.  In fact, I listened to a podcast recently that basically laid out just how taboo aging has become (I realize the mere mention of the word “podcast” clearly ages me as well!)  Let’s face it, at 40something I’m way past the “growing up” stuff.  So I guess this just leaves me mired in the murkiness of “growing old.”  Sigh.

Honestly though, I’m finding more happiness than heartbreak with each passing year.  It’s not necessarily fun watching the wrinkles and the gray hairs appear, but mentally and spiritually I feel like I’m in a good space.  A place I wouldn’t trade for being a teenager again (I’m still apologizing to my mother.)  And as tempting as it sounds, going back to my college years just doesn’t appeal to me as much as it used to.  They say you’re only as young/old as you feel.  And as a self-proclaimed “old soul,” I figure I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Still, crossing onto the other side of the BIG 4-0, I strongly believe I’ve gained some insight.  While I haven’t exactly reached curmudgeon status (I’m working on it,) I certainly classify myself as “old enough to know better,” “wise enough not to fall for that” (again,) and filled with enough “I told you so” stories to write a “how-NOT-to guide.”  Hopefully this makes me “M” for Mature, but more realistically, most would just rate me “O” for Old.  Still, I will not be deterred.  So whether you asked for it or not, let me drop a little wisdom here…because I just might know something.  Perhaps even something worth sharing….

  1. There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed.  As a kid, I hated going to sleep.  I thought it was a huge waste of time.  Add to that my overactive imagination, frequent nightmares, and night owl tendencies…and it becomes clear that sleep was not high on my priority list–EVER.  Still, I have really come to value the power of a good night’s sleep.  I especially appreciate sleeping in my own bed.  To be honest, I have a really hard time sleeping anywhere else.  Something about MY pillows and MY blankets.  This is a safe haven.  No TV in the bedroom. No scrolling through Facebook or watching Netflix in bed for me.  When my head hits the pillow, I’m out.  Beautiful, peaceful and restorative slumber…in my own bed.  I’m all about it!
  2. Moisturizer is your best friend.  I have always made it a priority to take care of my skin.  Never EVER sleeping in make-up (especially mascara!)  Always wearing sunscreen (something I had to learn the hard way after acquiring a horrible sunburn while working a car wash fundraiser in high school.  Ewww…blisters.)  I’m a Noxema girl and a sucker for its eucalyptus scent.  A family member suggested wearing night cream as well as day cream after college graduation.  Great advice…I am eternally grateful (so is my skin.)
  3. “Respond more.  React less.”  Not my quote, but a great little ditty nonetheless.  Basically, the idea is that we take a moment to process a situation, instead of just going off on someone.  In a world where every feeling is justified for its mere existence, there is something to be said about thoughtfulness.  Look, I’m not talking about being a spineless, doormat…instead let’s hash out our feelings before we broadcast them.  It could save face and maybe even some stress and heartache.  “When we respond, rather than react, we actually communicate from our highest principles and deepest desires.  Reactions on the other hand, come straight from our most shallow anxieties and fears.”  –Hal Runkel
  4. Be generous.  It’s such a human tendency to want to keep things for ourselves.  Some of us do it out of greed or maybe even fear.  Others can’t let go of things because of guilt.  We all have our own reasons, but I have found that generosity is its own reward.  And it’s important to remember that giving isn’t necessarily limited to money either.  Being generous is about a willingness to offer time, energy, attention, advice…the list could go on and on.  Putting others above yourself is Biblical and a little goes along way!
  5. Seek out healing people and places.  There’s no substitute for peace.  As a twenty something I remember meeting a woman who absolutely made the hairs on my arm stand on end!  She was an older woman, polite and wonderful with kids, so when this gut feeling struck…I had no real explanation for it.  In fact, I felt guilty every time the feeling came on.  After some time, I was able to figure out exactly what was going on.  She had an energy that just didn’t jibe with mine.  Her jumpy, antsy disposition made me feel anxious.  Her energy level actually drained mine.  It wasn’t about judgement, we remained friendly, however it was just a gentle reminder for me (all of us) to seek out people who lift us up, people who help us to be our best self, and whose company is soothing to the soul.  You don’t have to be BFFs with everyone on the planet.
  6. Look deeply.  This is a new one for me.  An idea that has just become very important to me in the last year or so.  You see, my kids are growing so fast.  As hard as it is to believe, they actually change in some ways every single day.  This is exciting and completely terrifying!  They say “don’t blink” and wow, that has never been more true.  The idea of looking deeply extends past my children, too.  Sometimes I walk in my front door and just stare at my living room (piles of kid shoes, backpacks everywhere, bulky baseball/softball bags, etc.) and realize I am blessed.  Sometimes I chase down the “deer moon” on a summer night (ask my kids about that one!)  Often, I take photographs of seemingly mundane things just because I don’t want to forget the moment.  If you catching me staring at you…please consider it a compliment!
  7. The grass is never greener.  I know that’s not exactly how the idiom goes, but it’s the truth.  I cannot think of one time when this has EVER panned out.  I’m not into comparing myself to others.  I don’t want what you have, I’m too busy to play that game.  It’s not healthy and it will get you absolutely no where.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a tough one.  The green-eyed envy monster is for real.  And it will wreck your day (and even your life) if you let it.
  8. You can say “no.”  They never tell you this.  From the time we’re babies, people are always telling us “no.”  “No” you can’t have that, “no” you can’t touch that, “no” can’t do that either.  But no one ever tells us that we can say “no,” too.  “No” I don’t have to go along for the ride.  “No” I don’t have to sacrifice my well-being and happiness just to appease you.  “No” your choices don’t have to be my choices.  You get the picture.
  9. Laugh often.  I love sitcoms and comedies.  I honesty live to laugh.  I also have a strange sense of humor and value sarcasm.  Just a look or an odd phrase will have me in giggles.  “Smiling really is my favorite” (ELF.)  It probably helps that I’m easily amused.  Life really is too short not to spend a good chunk of it laughing.  It’s a funny world we live in…seek out your own joy.  And when you can’t find anything to laugh about…laugh at yourself.  It’s humbling and good for the soul.
  10. God is everywhere.  “Life in real-time is messy.  The fingerprints of God are often invisible until you look at them in the rearview mirror.”  Levi Lusko is the author of this quote and it has really shaped how I view the world.  At 42, I already know that God is all around us…what a blessing it is to purposefully seek out His presence on a daily basis.  It sounds lofty and maybe even hard to do, but it’s possible and so incredibly rewarding.  The more we tune our spirit into seeking out His hand, the easier it becomes to discern His handiwork.

None of us can turn back time (although I’m willing to spend a small fortune trying-lol!)  And while the world is telling us that 40 is the new 30, I’m not so sure I buy it…at least not wholeheartedly.  I can’t help but think of so many who exemplify aging gracefully and I just pray that I can grab a little bit of that for myself…all labels aside (especially “O.”)

Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.  Proverbs 16:31 

Open the Door

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.  –John Barrymore

If the title sounds like a command, I think you’re right. If you have any guesses as to how this pertains to my life…I’d love it if you’d clue me in!  On its face “open the door” seems pretty straightforward, but since I got this word from the Holy Spirit, I know it has to be a little more (okay, a lot more) nuanced than that.

The message came to me a little more than a year ago.  That’s a long time to ponder its exact meaning!  At that moment, I thought it was a word of encouragement.  You see my introverted nature is constantly trying to balance the fact that I live with three extroverts.  So, I figured this was an assuring message about hospitality…a way to move me forward and out of my comfort zone.  Satisfied with that, I went about my business and learned to better carve out some “introvert recharging time” for myself while welcoming the kiddos’ friends with open arms.  And it worked.  Our home is basically a mini version of Grand Central Station and (believe it or not) I’m actually good with it.  My kids have really great friends…tweens/teens that I enjoy having at our house, kids who are positive influences for my babies and are all around good people.  Score, right?  That’s what I thought, too!

Still, the command wasn’t satisfied.  Hmmm…what now?  I tried to push it to the back of my mind.  If it was really important, the answer would reveal itself.  Nope.  So, after much more consideration, I arrived at a new conclusion.  It wasn’t so much about letting someone/something IN…it was about letting someone/something OUT.  I was holding my children back.  That had to be it.  I was “s-mothering” them!  (That’s smothering and mothering at the same time!)  Of course.  I’m a little overprotective, a little too available, a little too quick to solve their problems.  I’ll admit it, I am my own “afterschool special.”  To remedy the situation I tried to take a step back (just a little.)  I understand that independence is an important part of growing up.  Maybe I didn’t need to be fully enmeshed, just engaged.  Yes, that’s it-ENGAGED.  Mystery solved.  (Feel free to start laughing at me now.)

Wrong again, I tried to push this edict away.  Burdensome, that’s what this was.  I had no idea what the answer could be and honestly, I didn’t want to be bothered by it anymore.  We were busy.  We were overscheduled.  I was tired.  It was summer and the days were hot, long and full.  I didn’t have time for this.  I’d already given the subject so much thought and prayer.  The answer was not coming and I began to doubt the message.  Surely, I had heard it wrong.  If this was for me, then there was obviously something that I was missing.  So I put it on a “spiritual shelf.”  I’d deal with it in the fall….

Fall came and went.  We rolled into winter and the message remained the same.  From the “spiritual shelf,” I could still hear it calling me.  And I still had no idea how to respond.  It wasn’t until after the holidays that a (or another) new thought occurred to me.  Perhaps, this was more personal.  Maybe, I needed to go “outside?”  Take a chance?  What if there was something that I personally needed to take care of?  Could this message be calling me to open the door and step out in faith?

I thought about a job search, looking into starting some sort of side business, and even going back to school to earn a master’s degree.  I stepped back from some volunteer commitments and ventured into new volunteer opportunities.  In the past, this type of itch has been satisfied through creativity…so I began baking up a storm, photographing everything in sight, playing the piano, sewing, daydreaming, reading, writing, etc.  And…nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.

When something weighs heavily on your heart, it’s really hard to put it “away.”  I know I’m not the only one who’s ever been here.  There’s a reason why we can’t “run” from our problems.  The Bible speaks to it (just ask Jonah) and we all probably have countless personal anecdotes about trying to “run” when things get sticky or uncomfortable.  And I wholeheartedly believe that there’s a reason God has whispered (and occasionally shouted) this command to me.  I just wish I knew what it was.

In the meantime, I’m actively waiting.  Understanding that prayer is answered with YES, NO, GROW and my least favorite–WAIT.  I know that I have nothing to complain about.  Life is good.  We are well.  God is with us.  In this waiting season (yes, I’m learning to better practice patience,) I’m trying hard to be fully present.  This is more difficult than it sounds as I waiver between feeling apathetic and restless to energized and eager.  It’s a situation that I’m not used to and one that I’m certainly not prepared for.  I didn’t ask for change…and maybe that’s what this is all about.  Yet, I know and trust that there is a purpose.  Knock.  Knock.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Matthew 7:7-8

 

 

 

 

Dollar Store Jesus

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24

The Holy Spirit spoke to me while putting away Christmas decorations last year.  “Leave this one out,” it urged, “Place it some place where you will see it.  Leave it some where so you won’t forget.”  This Divine nudge prompted me to leave the Dollar Store Jesus on the shelf in the dining room.

dollar-tree-jesusAt first, it felt odd.  Really odd.  Not a lick of glittery, sparkly Christmas décor around and there sat the clumsily painted baby Jesus.  A gift to my son from several years back.  A tradition really, as I always try to purchase a little something for the kiddos to remind them of the true Reason for the season.  Mostly I buy ornaments, but when the children were very young I wanted them to have a “hands on” experience with Jesus.  The Dollar Store is perfect for gifts like this…it was a cost-effective way to teach the children to be careful with breakables while allowing them to touch, feel, and hold an item so precious.  If it broke, no problem.  We would carefully glue it back together or (as is prone to happen with little boys) we would sweep up the pieces.  I wanted them to know that Jesus was always within reach and as a result various Dollar Store Jesus figurines would live among other toys, on their bedroom night stands or carried in a backpack to preschool show-and-tell…all December long.  The collection grew larger each year with a few duplicates after Casey was born (whatever Sean had, Casey had to have, too) and then back in the box they would go.  Until now….

Over the past year, this Dollar Store Jesus has lived among various other holiday decorations, next to the kiddos’ photographs, by the clock, near the plants, and on the piano.  I laugh to myself every time I place Him in a new “home.”  Will anyone notice?  (They did.) Will anyone care?  (This is yet to be determined.)  Regardless, I know He’s there…reminding me.  EVERY DAY JESUS.

Peace on earth will come to stay, when we live Christmas every day.  -Helen Steiner Rice

A Lesson in Ponytails

“I am not a perfect mother and I will never be. You are not a perfect daughter and you will never be. But put us together and we will be the best mother and daughter we would ever be.” – Zoraida Pesante

Lately, I’ve been marveling at my daughter.  It’s not that she’s doing anything special really…it’s just that she’s growing up and I’m trying to take it all in.  I get like this sometimes with my kiddos…making an extra effort to be super present, wondering what they’re thinking and how their brains work…basically just staring at them (sometimes they catch me–that’s a teeny bit awkward!)  The funny thing is, that while she may not actually be getting any taller (she’s doomed to be short like her mother,) I can see all kinds of other changes…in her maturity, her personality, and the way she carries herself.  She’s really becoming her own person and as a consequence separating from me…at least as much as any 11-year-old should be allowed to do.  So when I came across this article titled What Your Ponytail Says About You on the Man Repeller website, it really caught my eye.

You see, Casey and I both LOVE long hair.  I would say about ninety percent of the time we both choose to wear our hair down, but we are not strangers to ponytails.  As soon as Casey’s hair was long enough, I would put it in pig tails or a nice high pony.  I loved fixing her toddler hair and adorning it with those cutesy little girl bows!  Then came Disney Channel and it wasn’t long before she boycotted wearing her hair up and started favoring long locks carefully styled with a head band (a la “Gabriella Montez.”)  No more funny “fountain” ponytails on the top of her head!  low and parted CaseyRecently, however, after years of only wearing ponytails to play sports, she has decided that the pony is in style again…only now it’s on her terms.  This is what made the ponytail article stand out.  No longer would she settle for my favorite style (the high pony,) but rather she preferred the low and parted ponytail–and she could style it all by herself, thank you very much.  The low and parted ponytail, the one the Man Repeller article labeled the “champagne” of ponytails for its elegant and timeless look.  The description basically screamed “Casey.”  It went on to say that this was the look of someone who is “making a knowing decision to look put together.”  Yes, that’s my girl.

The "High Ponytail."So, out of curiosity of course, I had to look up the hidden meaning to my go-to ponytail look–the HIGH pony (a look I’ve been sporting for practically my whole life!)  Turns out it’s the preferred style of those who exercise (what?) and it’s also great for “signaling that you don’t give a what!”  Apparently this is a very versatile look and its meaning depends upon the method in which it is executed (combed and smoothed, tousled and messy…that’s a lot to read in to a ponytail!)  It goes on to say that the “high ponies are the maxi dress of their kind,” suggesting that the look is only for some and definitely NOT for all!  This made me giggle.  Here I am a forty-year old wife and mother, and the high pony has always been my go to updo.  Yes, I like the “fountain” as my daughter so affectionately calls it (did I mention that she’s pretty well versed in sarcasm these days?) The high pony is my all-time favorite!

All fun aside, this was just a cute reminder that while we have so many mother-daughter similarities, my girl is certainly growing up and developing her own thoughts and ideas.  It’s causing both a swelling of pride and quite a bit of anxiety as well.  In a matter of months, we’ll be talking about locker décor and what table she landed at for lunch in the middle school cafeteria.  We’ve already had numerous conversations (or was it disagreements) about clothes and shoes…not to mention what’s in and what’s definitely OUT!  Occasionally, I get to be labeled “cool,” but mostly I “just don’t know anything.”  Still, I’m the first person she comes running to on a bad day, when she doesn’t understand something, or gets herself into a jam.    Which just goes to show that what goes around, comes around.  My own mother probably has loads of stories about my tween/teen years and the occasional ups and downs of our relationship back then.  And I know that when I talk with fellow mothers today, it seems we’re all in some kind of yo-yo territory with our own girls at one time or another…a reality of growing up.

So, I may not be fixing her ponytails anymore…and that’s okay because every girl has to learn to style her own hair.  It’s all just part of the process.  And while I learned through curling iron burns, crazy perms and tons of AquaNet…it’s fun to watch her develop her own sense of style.  (And in some ways I think she’s  got the advantage–we didn’t have YouTube tutorials back in the day!)

May your ponytail be high (or low) and your mother/daughter relationship blessed 🙂

Hair doesn’t make the woman, but it definitely helps!  –Unknown

 

 

 

Christmas Trilogy, Part 3: The Sticky Nativity

The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence.  –Unknown

I’m just CRAZY about Christmas!  I always have been.  And somehow, I have managed to let both the secular and the sacred share space in my heart (with the tie going to the sacred, of course!) during this magical time of year.  As a kid, I remember Christmas Eve worship and how I especially loved the nativity at my Mom’s house.  I can recall that it was tucked away each year in its original box, every piece finding its place in the foam packaging.  When my mother set it out…baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the gang all hung out in a miniature stable that my grandpa made.  Examining each piece, I can still see the beautiful face of Mary and the baby Jesus…surrounded by hay…looking so heavenly and angelic.  Both a baby and a Savior.  The little set symbolizing an extraordinary and miraculous moment in time.  Joseph looking so noble…the epitome of honor and faithfulness.  There were farm animals, an angel, a shepherd boy, and the three wise men, of course.   It was pretty wonderful.

So, it sort of surprises me that I never had a nativity of my own.  Not when I went away to college, not when I took my first job in Arkansas, not when I moved to California, and not when I got married.  In fact, I didn’t have a nativity until after my son, Sean, was a year old.  It all happened in another magical moment at Hobby Lobby (seems that this store is the scene for many Spencer Family Christmas memories!)

After moving halfway across the country from California to Kansas, my mother-in-law, Sean and I found ourselves in the Hobby Lobby in Salina…for what I remember was a brief and snack-filled trip to do a little Christmas shopping (by the way, Cheez-Its make for great toddler payola…just saying!)  Strolling through a craft warehouse with a 1 year old BOY is no easy task!  So when it looked like Sean was going to leap out of the cart at any moment, Karen suggested that Sean help us pick out a nativity for our home.  This was a genius idea because it gave my toddler a sense of purpose and I was just thrilled with the thought of having a nativity of my own.  In record time, my excitement turned to worry as I remembered that something as fragile as a porcelain nativity probably wouldn’t last but a second in our house.  Sean was just so hands-on about everything!  In the back of my mind I had planned to buy him a Fisher Price Little People nativity set for Christmas.  It was important to me that he understand the Christmas story…and at an age appropriate level.  He already had a few Little People collections…the train set and the airport.  Still, it couldn’t hurt to look at the nativities on display at the store.

FullSizeRender (5)It was pretty amazing…an entire aisle with nativities in every shape and size imaginable.  My thoughts were racing…where would we put such a fragile item?  Karen must have heard the wheels grinding in my head.  After explaining my thoughts, she said, “Sean will pick out the one that he likes best…and we will teach him to care for it and look after it.”  My heart was touched as I watched her talk with Sean about picking out a baby Jesus to take to his house.  She reminded him that he would have to take extra special care of it!  And asked him if he was ready to choose one.  Sean beamed!  From an early age, Sean could tell a story with his eyebrows (a talent he inherited from Grandma Karen.)  One second the eyebrows would be arched high as he caught a glimpse of something intriguing.  The next minute the eyebrows would be furrowed as he inspected his options.  Sometimes just one eyebrow would lift as if he was thinking really hard.  It was a wonderful little dance.  When he finally picked one, all three of us knew this was the nativity for us.  It was perfect.  A chunky little wooden nativity…not too big and not too small.  Sean touched each piece and seemed very delighted with the farm animals in this set.  Since all the nativities were technically “on display” we found a store worker who immediately set out to find us a boxed set from the storage room.  However, when she came back, she wasn’t carrying a box.  Uh-oh.  She explained that they hadn’t ordered many of this set and that they were sold out.  She had also checked to see if getting one before Christmas was a possibility.  It was not.

IMG_3354Karen is always cool as a cucumber in these sorts of situations.  Clearly, THIS was the set that Sean wanted.  She didn’t want to disappoint her grandson so she did what ANY grandmother would do.  She asked if we could buy this very set.  The store worker said that in any other situation she would love to sell it to us, except that this set had been GLUED to the foam board it rested upon.  She pulled off one of the wise men to demonstrate.  Stuck to his base was loads of navy blue paper and foam.  Both Karen and the worker tried to pull it off.  It was no easy task.  Even if we pulled each piece from the board we would then have to pull off loads of paper scraps.  The lady said that the pieces might not even stand correctly given the amount of glue left on the base.  She obviously didn’t know who she was dealing with…Karen said she would work all that out later if we could just buy this nativity set.  And so, it was settled.

Sean held the wise man in his hot little hands as we arranged the foam board and the glued down pieces across the shopping cart basket.  There were quite a few stares, but we managed to check out and make it to the car.  From the moment we got home Karen worked on releasing each character from the foam…carefully pulling off paper and glue.  Her beautifully manicured nails probably got the raw end of the deal that day as she scraped and scraped.  Each time she finished a piece she handed it to Sean.  His eyebrows went to work again…doing their little dance as he checked out each one.  He would show it to me and then go and show his Dad and then show me again.  I think Sean had already had a bath and was tucked into bed before Karen had finished them all.  It was truly a labor of love.

IMG_2682Sean played with the nativity all December long.  Each day he would rearrange them and make sure the animals were “fed.”  Since our set didn’t come in a box, we lovingly packed them away in an oversized shoe box after the holidays, unpacking them with great delight the next year and the year after that.  Sean never seemed to tire of “playing” with the set.  When Casey came along (and was old enough to follow her brother everywhere,) he explained the cast of characters to her.  “This is baby Jesus…His mom’s name is Mary and His dad’s name is Joseph…,” and on down the line.  These are the moments that live in a mother’s heart for eternity.

Today, the nativity makes its home in front of the fireplace each Christmas and it serves as the centerpiece of our Christmas Eve dinner table.  I still love taking it out of the shoe box each and every year…a flood of memories spilling out with each “sticky” piece.

Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love Divine,

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and Angels gave the sign.

–Christina Rossetti

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Trilogy, Episode 1: THOSE Christmas Aprons

Memories are timeless treasures of the heart.  -Unknown

Sometimes I think that we open some of our very best Christmas presents long before the big day arrives.  For me, there’s something special about unpacking all the Christmas décor, ornaments, and trinkets that I’ve collected through the years.  Every December we lug the boxes upstairs and like little kids open each with a sense of excitement–kind of like running in to an old friend or finding something that was once lost.  My kids (even as a tween and teen) exclaim, “Remember this!” Or they’ll question me, “Why did you save that?” and “How long has this been in the family?”  One of the things that touches my heart most are the tales behind these treasured keepsakes which leads me to my favorite comment, “Tell me the story about this one!”  Then I get to share the story behind baby ornaments, school crafts from days gone by, or the Hallmark Yoda figurine that adorns the tree every year.  It was actually this ornament (and all the hub bub about the recently released Star Wars movie) that led me to write this post as I chronicle three of my favorite Spencer Family Christmas stories.

Casey wearing one of THOSE Christmas aprons before cookie baking in 2012.
Casey wearing one of THOSE Christmas aprons before cookie baking in 2012.

Let me begin with the FACT that my mother-in-law is far more popular than I could ever hope to be.  I think even complete strangers would nominate her homecoming queen should we ever find ourselves in high school again (despite the fact that we graduated in different decades and states!)  From hello, people just love her.  Actually, you don’t even have to speak to her to like her…I’ve witnessed countless strangers ask her for directions, information, and just start chatting with her without any prompting whatsoever.  She just has one of those faces that says, “Let’s be lifelong friends.”  It’s a rare gift (my husband has the same one,) and I just can’t help but sit back and marvel.  This sort of thing comes in handy when you shop at Hobby Lobby…or at least that’s what I’ve concluded whenever Karen is around.  And Hobby Lobby is the scene for this Christmas memory.

My daughter Casey was just a little, bitty thing at the time…probably 3 or 4ish.  She didn’t mind sitting in shopping carts especially if grandma was “driving.”  While I can’t recall why we went into Hobby Lobby that day (although I don’t think one has to have a specific reason for going into Hobby Lobby because who doesn’t LOVE that store?)  There we were in the fabric section when my mother-in-law spotted these cute, matching, mother/daughter gingerbread aprons.  Displayed on mannequins for all to see, they were just perfect for Casey and I.  Karen pointed them out to me…suggesting that we really needed to have THOSE Christmas aprons.  I agreed, but didn’t think much of it because the Christmas apron pattern was situated in such a way as to suggest that you had to make the aprons yourself (this is a craft store after all.)  I believe Karen’s response was, “Nonsense,” as she took them off the mannequin and put them in the cart.  We continued our shopping and eventually landed at the check out.

I have to admit that it was pretty funny watching the cashier search the aprons for the price tag, but what was even better was the look on her face when Karen explained how she got the aprons.  I imagine that it’s a pretty rare occurrence when someone takes a sample product off a mannequin and then proceeds to try to purchase it.  The cashier explained that sample items are not for sale…they are SAMPLE items.  Karen wasn’t deterred in the least.  She asked the cashier to get someone from the fabric section to come to the check out stand so we could discuss the purchase of THOSE aprons further.  I’m pretty sure at this point we were holding up the check out line, but still we waited.  Finally, someone came up.  She agreed with the cashier that the aprons were samples and not for sale which led to a conversation about what actually happens to the samples at Hobby Lobby when they are no longer needed.  It was interesting…typically the items are returned to the person who made them, stowed away for display at a later date, or just given away to someone who works at the store.  Karen reiterated that she would like to purchase them as a Christmas gift for me and my daughter…telling about her visit to Kansas from California, my love for baking, and Casey’s fondness for Rachael Ray (but that’s another blog.)  Clearly, Karen had won over the woman from the sewing department and a few seconds later we were exchanging phone numbers and my mother-in-law had arranged for the store to call me (after Christmas) to pick up the aprons when they were no longer needed.  They agreed the aprons could be purchased for $5 each and all I had to do was keep a hold of this little piece of paper until the pick up date arrived.  SCORE!

Grandma Karen and Casey wearing THOSE Christmas aprons while making holiday rice krispy treats!
Grandma Karen and Casey wearing THOSE Christmas aprons while making holiday rice krispy treats!

In the back of my mind, I wondered if they would really call.  I mean, Karen had already returned to California, no money had changed hands at that point, and the note from the store (scrawled on the back of a receipt) hardly seemed like a binding contract.  Yet, there it was…a few days after Christmas…a message on the phone from Hobby Lobby saying that I could come and pick up the aprons from the sewing counter in the store.  Well, Casey and I hot-footed it over there and sure enough, THOSE Christmas aprons were right there waiting.  They were even cuter than I remembered and Casey was so excited!  We proceeded to the check out full of smiles…and then….

The cashier (the same one from our previous visit to the store with Karen,) looked at the aprons and frowned.  FROWNED.  She looked at me said, “You can’t have these.”  I was taken aback as she explained that she couldn’t possibly sell these aprons to me because the sweetest woman from California had come to the store before Christmas and she wanted to buy them for her granddaughter and daughter-in-law.  She repeated the whole encounter to me and I couldn’t help but laugh…which threw her off a bit.  I pulled out the little note and told her that I was with Karen that day.  I wish I could have captured her smile!  She was so delighted that we were going to have THOSE aprons after all!  She said she remembered my mother-in-law very well and although she didn’t recognize me (surprise?) she didn’t think she had the heart to sell them to anybody else after meeting Karen that December day.  Karen had used her “gift” to secure a truly, special gift for Casey and I.

Every year at Christmas time we pull THOSE aprons out–our cookie baking wouldn’t be the same without them!  This year when Casey put hers on we realized just how tiny the apron really is.  Casey is 10 now and while the apron still fits it’s clear to see that she’s not a preschooler any more, but that same sweet smile spreads across her face when she wears it.  THOSE Christmas aprons have become a part of our family’s Christmas tradition and I love to tell the story.

It is in the kitchen where the warmth of shared memories, laughter and life create a recipe that spans the generations.  -unknown

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 2:  Deck the Halls with Christmas Spew, Falalalala Lalalala

 

 

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!)

892282_429208840501624_1389435202_o
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. 

 

 

Beyond Grateful (A Slice of Ministry Life)

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.  Acts 20:24

“Just because you go to seminary doesn’t mean you have to be a pastor.”  I’m sure those words have been uttered by other seminarians (?) but the first time I heard these words they were coming out of the mouth of my husband.  Although I knew he would become a Pastor, he wasn’t absolutely convinced at the time.  Silly guy.  Called is CALLED…am I right?  Needless to say, all these many years later, we are a clergy family–growing spiritually and serving in ministry–and I am beyond grateful for this call upon ALL of our lives!  It wasn’t something that I expected or even considered a possibility.  In fact, you just might file this experience right up there with “things that make you go hmmmm….”

SpencerFamily2014

As a pastor’s wife I’ve seen a lot of stuff.  Interesting stuff. Far too much to include here, but one of the things that always stops me dead in my tracks is the way people respond to this vocation.  People (churchgoing and non-churchgoing) seem to have a preconceived notion about our life and us.  My all-time favorite reaction to this calling occurred at a local restaurant a few years back on our anniversary.  While waiting for a table we struck up a conversation (or should I say, Steve struck up a conversation…he’s the talker) with another couple.  We were making small talk when the exchange drifted from “what brings you out tonight?” to “California wineries.”  (Steve is from the San Francisco Bay Area and we lived there for a few years together early in our marriage.)  This was a favorite vacation spot for our new friends and we compared notes about some of our best-loved places in the region.  All was right in the world when suddenly the man asked my husband what he did for a living.  (Insert screech sound effect here.)  Let’s just say in a record amount of time we had gone from potential “besties” to complete zeroes.  The guy actually turned away from us.  I, of course, can’t help but chuckle when I recall the experience (yes, I have a strange sense of humor!)

Unfortunately, it’s not the first time we’ve seen this reaction.  And, I’m okay with that.  I only tell this story because time and time again I hear people comment that it must be “hard” to be a clergy family.  They feel bad for our children because they wear the “PK” label.  The general impression is that we operate outside of “ordinary” life.  For some the word “clergy” is quickly linked with judgemental, hypocritical, strict and even boring.  Hey, we’re all entitled to our own opinions!  But for me, it’s just another addendum to that file I mentioned earlier–you know the one titled “things that make you go hmmmm….”  So, I would like to state for the record that we’re just about as ordinary as people get.  You don’t have to feel bad for us or think that we live this horrible, sheltered, recluse life.  We actually laugh (a lot,) disagree occasionally, hang out at places outside of the church, and sometimes we even have interesting things to say (and it’s not always about church!)  Being a clergy family really isn’t all that awful…in fact, it might actually be AWESOME.  And that’s really what I wanted to share with you today.

IMG_3770

So while every vocation comes with its own share of good and bad…ministry comes with an amazingly huge amount of AWESOME!  Not just the parking-angels-smiled-on-me-today or I-found-an-extra-$20-in-my-pocket kind of awesome, but the kind of AWESOME that only God can provide.  Working in a church and being a part of a community of believers comes with a lot of God-moments.  These are the kind of things regularly lifted up as part of Sunday morning worship, in prayer chains and sprinkled in conversations all over the church.  These are the incidents where the impossible becomes possible.  The times where generosity and grace exude from every direction and you just know you’re in the midst of something amazing and special.  And the greatest part is that these AWESOME moments are not confined to the walls of the church building.  This is the part of our life that I wish I could just wrap up and share with everyone…because it’s not exclusive to clergy families.  It is ready and available to everyone.  God’s desire for creation is that we live with our eyes and hearts open to the AWESOME moments.  Saying YES to Jesus is saying YES to life.  Taking nothing for granted, grateful for the good things and seeking out the unexpected.  This is what God can do!

Throughout Steve’s ministry we have been blessed time and time again.  Please do not receive this sentence as boastful.  I type it in the most humble manner possible.  As a kid I remember feeling God’s presence and the comfort and security only He can offer.  Today, as I’ve grown in my own faith, I feel God’s presence not only with the promise of comfort and security, but alongside the assurance of joy and hope!  Our life isn’t easy.  No life is easy.  We all struggle, we all worry, we all fall short, but I am so glad that I never go through anything, good or bad, alone.  NEVER.  Outside of a loving relationship with our Creator and Savior, I think fellowship among believers is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.   Have you seen the good that a church body can do?  I can tell you that this kind of support and encouragement cannot be matched.  When people say “church family” the key word is family!  I cannot imagine life without these treasured friends and we’ve been privileged to be a part of many church families that remain near and dear to our hearts despite the miles.

So, what spurred this post?  (Yes, I actually had a point when I started writing today!)  Our family has recently been the recipient of something so kind and generous I cannot even begin to tell you how astonished we felt in receiving this gift.  It came out of the blue and when we least expected it.  It was an answer to a prayer that we might not have even fully realized yet.  I would gladly share the details, but we received this gift anonymously and I believe in honoring the giver’s intention.  However, I will tell you that this is the sort of thing that qualifies as amazingly AWESOME.  We are a witness to God’s love through the hands of his followers.  This is the “blessed to be a blessing,” that Steve talks about all the time.  This sort of generosity is the kind of thing we practice and diligently try to teach our kids (they’re still learning, by the way.)  And I am beyond grateful.  Not just for this timely gift, but also for so many other things that God has placed in our lives.  To Him belongs the glory.  We do not understand, we cannot explain, we do not deserve God’s marvelous love and grace..and yet it’s my favorite thing to file under “things that make you go hmmmm….”

God is good all the time.  And all the time…God is good.