I Can Still Taste the Caramel Apples (aka Why I LOVE Halloween!)

Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. —Ellen Goodman

10690117_715990488490123_92735026534026743_nWhen it comes to holidays, I like to go full-out! I love traditions…the habits and rituals that create memories (both good and bad, but especially MEANINGFUL) and serve to connect families and friends to the past, present and the future.  Equally as important, I enjoy sharing where, why and how the traditions came about.  So for the last month, my family has endured all of my favorite stories about Halloweens past.  I share these little gems, not just for myself (okay, maybe just for myself) but also as a way to join together my childhood experiences, a little history, some faith/religion and finally…to secretly instill some expectations and wisdom upon my kiddos.  And you thought I just hung out in my kitchen baking cookies all day 🙂

Seriously, I think one of the most effective tools in parenting (and a number of other categories) is the personal testimony.  That’s why I like telling Sean and Casey all about my Halloween adventures–successes and epic fails (age appropriate, of course.)  Everything from what costumes we donned (not ashamed to admit that I was Bat Girl more than once) to trick or treating in the neighborhood to visiting my great grandmother’s house (for peanuts and apples) to haunted houses and everything in between.  We compare and contrast classroom parties, popular candy (then and now), real (and not so real) ghost stories all while asking questions and googling Halloween history.  Together we’ve learned a lot!  And the payoff comes when the kiddos are just as invested in the traditions as I am 🙂

10616209_716894205066418_4160538980628630829_nI would say that I get my love of Halloween from my Dad.  He was the first adult (outside of teachers) that I can remember dressing up for Halloween on a regular basis.  Dad likes his costumes to be scary, and while that’s not my cup of tea, I have many memories of his gory masks and spooky get-ups.  He would help us carve pumpkins and Mom would work on roasting the pumpkin seeds.  At the time, pumpkin patches weren’t a part of our Halloween experience…but we looked forward to the carving nonetheless.  We didn’t use fancy stencils or patterns and our primitive carving tools could have easily sent one of us to the ER (fortunately it never came to that!)  Today, my family looks forward to our annual trip to “the patch” (which my son tells me doesn’t sound quite right) and choosing our own pumpkins from a giant field of orange and green.  Over the years, I have amassed a great deal of pumpkin carving supplies and we make an event out of the whole thing…complete with spooky music courtesy of Pandora.  This year we added hot dogs and s’mores to the occasion.  It’s one of my favorite days of the year (and someday I will master those pumpkin seeds, too!)

The traditions go way beyond the pumpkin patch and the carving.  We decorate the house, reminisce over old Halloween photos and spend countless hours discussing, shopping and creating Halloween costumes.  The costumes have become one of our best-loved parts of the season.  Fortunately, my kids aren’t into scary and with a little imagination and planning, they’ve managed to come up with some pretty creative costumes over the years.  And while I’ve quietly lobbied for the “family” costume, I am afraid that ship has sailed.  For some years, however, I was able to finagle the kiddos into coordinated costumes, but my luck eventually ran out there, too :(.  Oh well.  There’s plenty of fun in sharing stories about past costumes, who we went trick or treating with (family or friends,) where we were living at the time and surprisingly no one ever seems to mention the candy.

Typically we watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” once (sometimes twice) each October and I marvel at the questions the kids come up with.  When they were younger, they needed help with the character’s names and who was related to whom.  Now they ask why Lucy is so mean, how come Charlie Brown can’t get a break, and what Snoopy’s role as the Red Baron is really all about.  This year I had to explain that bobbing for apples was a real thing and we discussed some of the reasons why that tradition didn’t carry on (gross.)  We marvel at Schroeder’s piano playing skills, discuss party invite etiquette and basically feel bad for Linus.

As the children have grown older, Halloween has included a faith dialogue as well.  We talk about the early history of the holiday…a time when pagan superstitions and overall fear fueled the observance.  Picture a people who warily watched the seasons change and anxiously retreated into a time of the year when no crops grew, the weather was particularly harsh and their survival depended upon the work that had been done in the warmer months.  Harvest really was a reason to celebrate as they prepared for months of cold and uncertainty.  Can you imagine how they were compelled to turn to a number of gods for protection and provision?  Warding off evil lent itself to carving scary faces on gourds and trees and displaying these items on their doorsteps.  And what about trick or treating?  A custom that spans ancient beliefs, religious practices and morphed into a “pseudo-war” between the haves and have-nots before becoming the family friendly outing that we now know.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-history-of-trick-or-treating-is-weirder-than-you-thought-79408373/?no-ist

10700574_718765481545957_3257901382160519510_oIt’s November 1st and  costumes lie crumpled up on the floor, candy wrappers dot the tabletops, and tired looking eyes stare up at me.  And while the whole Halloween adventure culminates in one day, I realize that it’s not the holiday itself that means so much to me–it’s actually the whole season.  We’ve been gearing up, preparing for, talking about and making plans for a whole month.  Through it all we’ve carved out special (additional!) time together…outside of mealtimes and the occasional quiet evening.  We’ve cooked and baked together.  We’ve shopped together.  We’ve attended school parties together.  We’ve enjoyed nature together.  And it feels good.  I know these seasons are fleeting.  Before long, their Halloween plans won’t include me.  The kids are growing up so fast and that probably scares me more than any creepy costume on Halloween.  For now I hold onto the imagination and creativity of the season.  I look forward to the cooler temperatures and the rustling of leaves and my mind wanders (unafraid) to the approaching season that seems to draw us closer (even if it only is for warmth 🙂 )  The traditions abound and yes, I can still taste the caramel apples that sweeten this already favored season.

There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch. ~Robert Brault

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Flood of Thoughts (aka Back to School Panic Attack)

Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.  Proverbs 23:12

Back to School 2015

Back to School 2015

I have a LOVE/HATE relationship with the whole “back to school” thing. I LOVE that my kids have the opportunity to grow and learn under the guidance of some pretty amazing teachers. I HATE that summer break is over.  I LOVE that my kiddos are social butterflies…it’s good for them to be with their friends in the classroom and it takes the pressure off my role as “entertainment director.”  I HATE that we have to wake up early.  I LOVE having the house to myself for a few hours a day…and I HATE having the house to myself a few hours a day…you get the picture.  So this morning as my daughter was packing up for her first day of 5th grade…something tripped my panic button hard–this wasn’t just the first day of 5th grade…no…, this was the first day of her last year in elementary school!  I HATE the panic button 😦

As luck would have it (I’m saying this sarcastically,) we walked to school this morning…thus giving me plenty of time to think and let the panic button go to work.  Was she prepared?  Was she nervous?  Would this be a good year?  What really makes a school year good?  It wasn’t long before my panic attack became a full blown list of “did I tell her….?”  So for my sanity (because this “back to school” thing is all about me,) I’ve come up with a few thoughts to share with her (after school, of course.)

  1. School is about learning.  Sure you go there to learn the “school” stuff, but you will learn so much more. You’ll learn about yourself.  Each day you’ll grow in discovering who you are, what you stand for, and all that you’re capable of accomplishing.  You’ll find out what you like and what you don’t like (and you just might be surprised how the categories break down!)
  2. No one said you have to know everything…so give yourself a break.  Some things will come easily.  Other things will make you work (hard.)  Both are good.
  3. Relationships are tough, but worthwhile.  Getting to know a new teacher will take time.  Building friendships take time.  Discovering who to avoid…well, that takes time, too.  Not everyone will like you and you probably won’t like everyone.  Either way, be kind.  You never know what someone else is going through. If you want a friend, be a friend.  It is far better to be remembered for being a “good guy” than a total jerk.
  4. Pay attention.  Learning requires focus.  Don’t assume anything.  Ask questions.  It’s okay not to get it the first time.  Practice, preparation and performance are related.  Don’t get behind.  If you need help, say something.
  5. Trust your instincts.  God gives us that little voice for a reason.  Tune your ears and your heart to it.  Remember that peer pressure can be a trap.  Comparing yourself to others is never a good idea.
  6. Think before you speak.  Words can hurt.  Offer grace and understanding at every turn.  Compassion for others goes a long way.  Be a helper.
  7. Even good kids make mistakes.  You’re not perfect, none of us are.  Making mistakes goes beyond the classroom.  You know where I stand on drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.  Likewise, you should realize that lying, cheating, and disrespect will also not be tolerated.  At the same time, I love you and together we can work through anything.
  8. It’s okay to pray at school.  I’m not telling you to get on the loud speaker and lead a revival, but don’t be afraid to ask God to guide you throughout your day.
  9. School is your job right now.  As your mother, I will be on you to do your homework, study for tests and remind you not to take short cuts.  This is important for you now and in the future, but school performance is not the sum of your worth.
  10. Attitude is everything.  You get what you give.  You will have bad days.  Life is unfair.  How you navigate through the good and the bad says a lot about your character.  You can do this.  I believe in you no matter what.

So my LOVE/HATE relationship with this time of year continues.  I LOVE that I have the opportunity to share these thoughts with my daughter.  I HATE that she’s growing up so fast.  I LOVE watching my kiddos move forward on this journey toward adulthood.  I HATE that tomorrow morning my son will have his first day of eighth grade.  I can hear the panic button gearing up now….

Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

 

June Bugs in May (A Horror Story)

Insects are my secret fear. That’s what terrifies me more than anything – insects.  —Michael O’Donoghue

This will probably only make sense to those who know me best: I HATE June bugs!  I don’t remember when my phobia began, but I’m pretty sure that it’s hereditary since I have early childhood memories of my mom, my aunts, my cousins and my sister shrieking in terror when one would come around on a warm spring/summer night.  By the time I was in junior high, the phobia was in full force…as my good friend, Joy, and I would part ways at the street light halfway between our houses.  Under this light it would seem that June bugs gathered by the thousands…just looking for young girls with long hair to attack.  Of course, we played it cool…walking to the street light, quickly saying our goodbyes and running like maniacs back to our houses screaming all the way!  I think it’s their large bodies, hard shells, sticky limbs, drunken flight patterns and the sheer noisiness of the little beasts that send me into a tizzy.  YUCK!

June bug memeTurns out that up until now, my fear of June bugs was strictly theoretical.  You see all that time I spent dodging them and screaming about them and running from them was merely child’s play.  I had never actually had one land on me.  I’ve never had to pull one from my hair.  Mostly, when I saw one I ran the other direction and if I came across one on the ground well, I stepped on it and tried not to throw up (it’s that body crushing sound that makes me want to hurl.)  This system was my response to these scary critters and while it may not sound like a great plan, it had always worked…that is up until last night….

While sitting around a warm campfire, preparing s’mores on an especially beautiful night I met my fear head on (so to speak, ) but let me back up just a bit–I should probably set this up a little.  My kiddos were having friends over and with all the comings and goings I left the outdoor lights on.  I wanted parents and kids arriving at our house to have a little light…especially since the bulb in the lamp-post that lights the sidewalk had burned out.  This meant the flood light that illuminates the patio and basketball goal was on…for HOURS!  It was during this time that a swarm of June bugs made their way to our house.  There were so many that my son and his friend took to trying to exterminate the problem by clubbing them with sticks (probably a boy thing) and stepping on them.  This was all well and good (or so I thought) because 1.  it gave them something to do while they were waiting for every one to arrive and 2. they were killing the June bugs!  By the time we were ready to get started I foolishly believed that the June bugs were no longer and issue and that any remaining little beasts would simply move on to someone else’s yard once we turned out the lights.  But, NO.

The only good June bug--a dead one!

The only good June bug–a dead one!

Throughout the campfire we could HEAR the June bugs lurking.  Much of the noise came from June bugs running into the garage wall where the light had once been.  There was even a loud popping noise when the less brilliant bugs sizzled up in the fire–much to the amusement of the kids.  And finally there was the crackling noise of the June bugs beneath MY feet as I moved about helping the kiddos make their s’mores.  Each crunchy moment made me want to lose my dinner and I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to stomach eating a s’more myself.  After about 20 minutes my thoughts drifted away from these horrible bugs and on to the silly ghosts stories that were being told.  But wouldn’t you know it…just when I finally got past the situation enough to put together my own ooey gooey, delicious s’more I felt something.  No it wasn’t in my hair or on my arm…no the sinister little beast was crawling up my pant leg–ON THE INSIDE!

So there I was with my marshmallow stick in one hand and my fixin’s in the other when I could feel something moving up my leg (darn those wide leg, boot cut jeans.)  Okay, I thought, be calm…we have company.  We don’t want to panic the children.  I’ll just crush it up against my leg and then it will fall out, right?  (As I type this I can’t believe those words crossed my mind!)  So I quickly transferred everything to one hand and smacked my knee with the other.  I heard and felt the crunch.  I shook out my pant leg, but nothing fell out.  Surely, I had killed the thing!  I mean, I hit it pretty hard.  I shook my pant leg even more, stepping out of my sandal and using the moonlight to search out the area.  NOTHING.  Alright, maybe it fell out and I just didn’t see it.  Yeah, that sounds good.  I’ll go with that.  Thinking that the issue had resolved itself, I went back to the task at hand and set out to assemble my s’more.  As soon as I bit into that little square of goodness that same feeling returned to my leg.  This time I couldn’t help but react.  I jumped, squirmed and announced, “There’s a bug in my pants!”  You can imagine the giggles and fits of laughter.  Great.  So again I smacked my knee as hard as I could and this time I knew without a doubt that I had succeeded in killing that thing.  You can’t deny BUG JUICE! (Excuse me now while I once again try NOT to throw up!)

What I realized last night is that somewhere along the way, I must have grown up.  While I still wholeheartedly claim AND proclaim my June bug phobia–somehow I got through that moment.  In the past a trauma like this would have completely ruined my night, but not this time.  Instead, I shook out my pant leg (again) and what was left of the bug fell out (of course, I immediately stepped on it for good measure.) Then I moved past it.  We finished up our s’mores and Steve and I enjoyed chatting by the fire until nothing was left but smoldering embers.  It was so peaceful.  Obviously, I didn’t want to discover another bug up my leg, but I wasn’t afraid to let my feet rest on the same slab of concrete where the incident occurred.  Call me crazy, but this is BIG GIRL stuff!  I felt so good and proud of myself (especially after that squishy spot dried on my pant leg.)  Sometimes it truly is the little victories…”sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug”…and sometimes you just get over it and move on as dignified as possible…BUG JUICE and all!

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.  Proverbs 31:25

 

My Purse Keeps Getting Bigger (and Not for the Right Reasons)

As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled. –Victor Hugo

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My briefcase-sized purse…easily weighs 8-10 pounds.

Remember the good ol’ days?  Footloose and fancy free?  Not a care in the world?  I do…and what I remember most about them was that everything that I truly NEEDED fit into the palm of my hand.  Gone are the days of tucking cherry-flavored Chapstick into my pocket and heading out the door.  No more securing a dollar bill to the inside of my sock…you know,  just in case.  Forget about making room in your shoe to save that last piece of gum for later (seriously, forget about that–it’s a bad idea.)  All of these good times ended at about age 16…the year where freedom (a.k.a. driving) meant that you had to carry proof that you were indeed legal behind the wheel!  Thus one enters the era of THE PURSE….

At first, having a purse made me feel all grown up.  My purse contained nothing but the necessities, right?  This is sorta funny because at the time I remember searching my room frantically for items to fill my purse.  You know–a comb, lipstick, gum/candy/breath mints (sometimes ALL three), a pen. perfume (I know…I’m sorry,) a stylish journal (for all my important thoughts) and of course a wallet for money…plus that prized driver’s license (the reason I desperately needed a purse in the first place.)  In the beginning the purse was pretty small…always messenger style so I could wear it across my body.  This is important, because when you’re new to carrying around a purse you need one that you can’t lose…just saying.  The purse and I became sympatico and a love/hate relationship was established.

By the time college came around I had to re-evaluate the whole purse thing.  Life was changing–big time!  I found that college life required a backpack and not necessarily a little messenger purse.  The school that I attended was situated on top of a hill, so a lot of walking was a given.  Fortunately, I found an item that I refer to as a wallet-keychain. This nifty little gadget became my best friend for four years.  It tucked nicely into the backpack, held the bare essentials (license, student ID, money, and bank card) and was attached to my keys!  Genius.  I wished I had discovered it in high school.  This would make everything better…or so I thought.  But the purse would eventually have its revenge.

After graduation I ventured into a career path that required some “primping” to say the least (I am only slightly embarrassed to say that I wanted to be the next Connie Chung 🙂 )  Carrying a make-up bag, a brush and comb, etc. was just the norm for this girl with big dreams.  Add onto that the things I needed for work:  a pen (a back up pen,) a notebook, tapes (and back up tapes,) and HAIRSPRAY!  Then there were the snacks (you wondered when I would get to this point?)  You see, when your lunch hour varies (or doesn’t necessarily exist) you need more than gum to sustain yourself.  Small packages of crackers, cookies and even instant coffee started entering the picture and filling my (now bigger) purse.  My shoulder aches just thinking about those days.

I wish I could say that changing career paths meant less stuff and a smaller purse.  It didn’t…and mostly because I moved to California.  You’re probably wondering why that matters, but it does matter and maybe not for the reasons you might think.  It wasn’t that I needed a big purse so that I could keep up with the Kardashians, but rather I needed a purse filled with survival supplies.  While California is amazingly beautiful, it’s also a jungle!  And jungle life meant that you had to be ready for your 11 mile commute to take as long as two hours.  If you had to cross a bridge, someone else’s fender bender might have you looking at a 3 hour delay.  Traffic is ridiculous there and so you had to pack ridiculous things in your purse.  Water was just as big a deal then as it is now.  Carrying around water bottles was not only in vogue, but it could save your life on a warm, Cali day if the traffic was particularly uncooperative (especially when you AC goes out!)  Food in your purse was a must, but because this was the Golden State you felt obligated to have “healthy” food.  Fruit, nuts, cheese and crackers were the standards–and “fresh” food meant carrying a cold-pak, too.  I pity the person who got busted stuffing their face with Cheetos on the California freeway!  (Really, you should know better!)

But never was the purse’s revenge as terrible as the day I become a mother.  It’s like I could hear the purse saying, “You will never, EVER go back!”  I tried making my purse into a diaper bag and when that didn’t work I asked the diaper bag to do double duty as a baby-things-carry-all and a purse.  Either way you look at it, I was carrying around a bunch of nonsense.  Okay, you’re thinking…”Well, your kids weren’t toddlers forever, right?  Eventually you went back to carrying around a plain old purse.”  Well, yes AND no.  Now that I was a mom I discovered this unwritten rule where you are forced to carry things for your kiddos.  This form of servanthood is sneaky, even to the most savvy mother.  So many times I have told my children that if they brought it, they had to carry it…only to find my purse a little heavier and their book, toy, or gadget safety tucked inside while my child proceeded to run and do hand stands all over the place with their newfound freedom.

My migration to the extra-large purse didn’t end with just the kids’ stuff.  My purse also doubles as a medicine cabinet.  Bandages, Neosporin, allergy medicine, etc.  all make their home here as well.  I am the keeper of Kleenex, keys and bubble gum (of various flavors nonetheless.)  My purse houses accessories for cleaning glasses, and extra contact lenses as well as a portable hair salon equipped with fashionable hair-ties for my daughter.  Need to write something down?  I have pencils, pens and SHARPIES (assorted colors) in my bag!  Not to mention lotion, hand sanitizer, post-its and a small magnifying glass (BTW I’m aging and my eyes were the first things to go.)  I have ear buds, sunglasses and occasionally pizza crumbs (don’t ask.)  These are just the staples, I could go on (and on….)

So why am I telling you all this?  Because I want it to stop.  REALLY.  I am over the purse thing.  I want to be the kind of person who just goes with the flow (sans the “luggage.”)  The kind of person who doesn’t need a million accessories just to go to the grocery store or to watch my kiddos play ball. I want to go back to the days when everything I NEEDED fit into the palm of my hand.  I am craving simplicity and I think the reason all of this has to come to a head is because physically AND spiritually the purse is weighing me down.  Stop.  I know that’s a pretty big leap, but hear me out.  I finally understand the reason I carry around the equivalent of  a briefcase everywhere I go, 365 days a year.  It’s because of fear and control.  Every time a situation has come up in the last 20+ years and I DIDN’T have the tools I needed to handle it, another “something” was added to the purse.  This is a pretty big revelation for me.  While feigning having it all together, what was really going on was a lack of trust.  I didn’t trust myself, I didn’t trust life and in someway I was also saying that I didn’t trust God (at least not completely.)

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My new wristlet…smaller than a paperback book!

After so many years, it’s going to be hard to change this pattern…to fight the urge to cover all the bases, at all times–EVERY time.  The desire to be superwoman, superwife, supermom, etc.  is so very strong.  Listen, I know this isn’t the biggest problem on the planet, but I feel convicted to make a change.  I want to trust more…to put myself out there.  In some suburban-housewife-kind-of-way…this is my next faith test.  So here’s where I am–I purchased a wristlet (which just may be the grown-up version of the wallet-keychain that I loved so much in college.)  Full disclosure–right now the wristlet resides in my purse (along side a million other items,) but I am making a plan to downsize to this little dandy.  Just the NECESSITIES!  Those of you who know me, know that this is a tall order!  I think I’m up to the challenge.  Don’t worry, I’m not going cold turkey…I will still have a large bag (NOT a purse) for sporting events, kid-related activities and church projects.  So what if I don’t have a bandage for every boo-boo or a just the right flavor of gum for my kiddos?  I have a funny feeling (and a whole lot of FAITH) that we will survive…and it just might save my shoulders, too!

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”  “Nothing,” they answered.  Luke 22:35

 

 

 

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….”

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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.

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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.

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.

tree poem

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

Summer’s Last Hurrah! (My Top 10–This Just Got Real)

Vacation Flashback: S'mores with Aunt Tricia

Vacation Flashback: S’mores with Aunt Tricia

Every summer has a story.  –Unknown

Summer never looks so good as it does on the last day of school!  Like a brand new penny, summertime is all shiny, a token of possibilities just waiting to be spent 🙂  Back in May, we anxiously awaited days of unscheduled fun and endless adventure (not to mention the joy of “forgetting” to set the alarm clock!)  In so many ways I was more excited about summer than my kids…the monotony of pick up/drop off and the constant scheduling/rescheduling of  team practices, medical appointments, school projects, etc….  And while it’s not my favorite season of the year, summer was sure sounding pretty good!  In theory, I was willing to overlook the scorching temperatures, bugs and the chaos that is the spontaneity of summer.  I planned (funny, huh?) on enjoying it all and loosening the reins of my control freak lifestyle.  Feel free to laugh at me….

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Oh yeah…THE SNOW CONE!

Now that the end of July has rolled around (and the school supplies have debuted at the local stores,) I realize that this summer has been anything but the relaxing, carefree season I imagined.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m NOT complaining.  I spent the better part of the summer watching my children grow and learn on the baseball/softball diamond.  We’ve squeezed in sleepovers, sports camps, swim lessons, and Vacation Bible School.  My “Camp MOM” program has netted the children a few prizes while propelling (okay, FORCING) them to look at Scripture in a new and exciting (?) way.  We’ve easily eaten our weight in Dairy Queen ice cream and discovered the addiction that is THE SNOW CONE!  We’ve managed to eke out a little pool time (NEVER enough for my kids.)  And we made our way to Grandma and Grandpa’s for a little family visit.  All very good things!  Still, I feel a little incomplete.  The busyness of summer has me feeling like we missed out on the lazy, less hurried parts of the season.  Frankly, we’re running out of days and there’s still more on my list.

So here and now, I’m putting out for all to see MY Summer Wish List…because summer break is all about the parents, right?  Forget about the kids (not really!)  Here goes nothing:

1.  Catch fireflies in a pickle jar.  Might as well be specific 🙂 Don’t worry, catch and RELEASE!

2.  Stargazing.  My opportunity to impress my kiddos with my vast knowledge of constellations.  Yeah, right.

3.  Drive in movie.  This is a tough one because I don’t really like sitting through movies…it’s a huge time investment.  Equally problematic is that I’m REALLY picky about the movies that I watch.  Cross your fingers.

4.  Road trip.  Okay, if you know us…then you’re already aware that we’ve been on the road for baseball tournaments this summer.  Those don’t count.  I want to go see nature…(I can’t believe I uttered those words!)  I’m thinking State Park adventure 🙂

5.  S’mores.  Enough said.  Throw in a couple of campfire songs and we just might call this one EPIC!

6.  Eat outside.  I don’t know why, but I love to picnic.  It goes against my ant phobia, but it’s really true.  I enjoy dining outdoors.

7.  Professional baseball game.  This is already in the works!  Hooray 🙂

8.  Read three GOOD books.  I’m sort of a nonfiction junky…and those are typically long reads.  Managing to get through three would be heavenly.  I’m still on book one.

9.  Visit Lawrence, Kansas.  Stroll down memory lane while reminding my kids that they can choose any college they want (as long as I approve of it.)

10.  Go to the zoo.  Because it’s fun and I like Orangutans (a lot.)

Okay, people.  There it is.  And since time stops for no one, I needed to get started on this list YESTERDAY.  Because while summer technically goes through September, my kiddos start school in mid-August.

Summertime is always the best of what might be. -Charles Bowden

UPDATE 8/2014:  Completed 9 out of the 10.  Not bad 🙂

Summer List Pic

 

Don’t Know About You, But I’m Feeling 22

Fav Baby Photo

Everyone is the age of their heart.  ~Guatemalan Proverb

I didn’t do anything as gaudy as send myself a birthday bouquet but I am about to break a few social mores.  That’s right, I’m saying it, “Happy birthday, to ME!” and I’m going to post photos of ME, and I’m writing a blog about ME 🙂  But I hope you’ll give me a pass…mostly because I AM the birthday girl.

Okay, to be clear, I’m not trying to solicit birthday wishes and/or gifts…but I just had to share a few thoughts about turning “the year before THE year.”  What????  Doesn’t make any sense?  Well, check this out:  Most of us know that turning 40 it’s a pretty big deal…as in it’s a pivotal moment (and not necessarily in a good way.)  And while I won’t be 40 until next year (2015), I did have a friend tell me that (NEWSFLASH)  turning “the year before THE year” is actually a pretty big deal, too!  I had no clue.  39 is a BIG thing…really?  Since when?  I guess…since now.

39 has been called the “creepy-creeper” birthday.  This connotation suggests that 39 is both undesirable and sneaky? Maybe even a little scary?  Sort of like you’re walking along…minding your own business…when this dreadful number jumps out from behind the bushes and boldly states, “Warning.  You’re about to cross over into old age!”  Or something like that.  Supposedly, at 39 this is the last year that I can be considered somewhat “young.”  I’ve been told that I’ve now entered the final months where it’s even somewhat socially acceptable to wear my hair long, paint my fingernails any color other than matronly mauve, or wear jet black mascara (among a great big list of other taboo items.)  If there is a distinction in adulthood, apparently 40 is the line for women and so I’m left with this one little year in which to kick up my heels and behave accordingly.  365 measly days left to be young!  I can hardly believe it…it all went so fast!  Actually, I find all this to be pretty funny.  Funny for two reasons:  1) because I think when I was in my 20s that I actually believed these rules and 2) especially funny because in my heart of hearts the first number that pops into my mind whenever someone asks me how old I am has ALWAYS been 22!

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Birthday gathering with friends 🙂

Yes, I know.  It’s been a long, LONG time since I was 22, but you have to hear me out about this.  So when you’re a kid, you can’t wait to be in double digits.  10 is a BIG deal.  The next milestone age is 13, right?  Because now you’re a teenager.  Followed by 16…the year you can get your driver’s license.  The next biggie is 18…no curfew, you can vote, live on your own, etc.  And finally 21.  The BIG ONE.  That’s right…all the sudden you’re able to do all the things you’ve been told REAL grown-ups do. (?)  I know, we all know…most of them are very OVERRATED.  So when 22 rolls around you figure, okay…that’s it.  Nothing to see here people and I guess I just stopped counting after that.  Ridiculous, right?  I know…but that’s the house that I’ve been living in.  Sure it’s a crazy house, but it’s still MY house.

At this point, I’m sure you’re laughing at me and I’m actually laughing at myself, too.  It’s been ages since I’ve been carded, had a night life, or gone on any adventures that don’t involve having my two kids in tow.  I’m not up on the newest trends, nor do I drive a hot car, or keep up with the latest movies or music.  I don’t really do any of the things that would lump myself in a category with anyone who is actually 22, yet that’s still the number that sticks in my head.  I always imagined that someday I’d graduate to a new birthday number, but it just never happened.  So now that I’m turning “the year before THE year,” I thought I’d better do a little research and see what the hubbub surrounding the number 40 is really all about…I mean, since I don’t want to be caught off guard (again) and I’m headed in that direction anyway.

It appears that there really are a lot of resources out there concerning the Big 4-0.  Countless books, websites, blogs and articles about embracing the “new and improved” you.  As I enter “the year before THE year,” it might behoove me to start reading up on some of these expectations and societal norms.  Here’s what I’ve gathered from the headlines so far:  40 is magical.  40 has attitude…it’s called “fortytude.”  There’s also a rumor that 40 can be fabulous (but I caution you, there are a lot of caveats to this one.)  40 is the first year a woman can qualify as a “cougar.”  40 is something that needs to be figured out and faced…it also makes you fierce and a force to be reckoned with (don’t you love all the alliteration that comes with 40!)  You can also be fit and forty at the same time (who knew?)  For those who truly believe in stressing themselves out about the number 40, there are a few websites that offer up 40 things you should accomplish by the time you reach 40.  And, by the way… in case you haven’t heard, forty is the new “F” word.

That’s a lot for one girl to take in.

All of this aside, here’s where I’m at.  It’s MY birthday and all I really want to do is thank God for another day, another year, and another reason to celebrate life (while eating Dairy Queen cake, of course.)  I don’t really get wrapped up in all this aging stuff.  I’m sure the day will come when the wrinkles and the gray hairs will win out, when my body doesn’t cooperate like it used to, when people stop asking me just how old I really am (and just start assuming I’m OLD!)  Until then, I’m just going to keep chugging along…making up nonsensical songs with my daughter, teasing my son by repeating hip phrases that sound anything but hip when I say them, wearing my hair as long as I want to, and sporting nice, bright nail polish as the mood strikes.  I’m not going to worry about figuring out or facing 40 or even reading up on the 40 things to do before you reach this supposed milestone.  While society might find my lack of alarm annoying or unheard of,  I think the psychological term is called “self differentiated.”  That’s right…who says you can’t teach an “old dog” new words.  And by the way, I’m going to stick with the age 22 for the time being (especially since Taylor Swift makes it sound so fun!)  Sure I’m a long way from it (and you really couldn’t pay me to go back,) but mostly just because it’s a nice number and like I said before… I still have a house there.  (Sure it’s a crazy house, but it’s MY house.)

Here’s to 365 days of “the year before THE year!”

I’m not 40, I’m eighteen with 22 years experience.   Author unknown

February…How Do I LOVE Thee? (Song 9 in the Countdown)

Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 9

Love is…unselfishly handing over the last piece of chocolate (and smiling when you do.)

One of the most quoted scriptures in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) begins with these words, “Love is patient, love is kind….” Often read aloud at weddings this verse is actually not an ode to romantic love, but rather a call to love one another and to live in a spirit of cooperation and mutuality. In this type of existence, men and women would equally look out for one another without reservation, sharing and giving wholeheartedly. When I think of that kind of love, song 9this song by Jason Mraz comes to mind. In an interview Mraz says that these lyrics speak to “giving yourself or your time to someone else.” As we near Valentine’s Day (and the pressure to find the perfect gift mounts)—I can’t help but wonder if today’s definition of love centers around quantity or quality?  How many of us would happily accept an hour of uninterrupted time with a loved one (romantic or otherwise) over a box of chocolates or a dozen roses? In so many instances giving a gift is the easy thing to do while giving yourself is what really matters most.  In this Valentine season, will you be a giver or a taker?

Coming Up: Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 10

***This post is part of an ongoing series. As part of my cup half full approach to loving the month of February, I vow to jump in with both feet and embrace the whole Valentine thing with my own custom list of Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul. Ambitious? Yes! Bold? Absolutely! Crazy? You betcha! Pointless? On just about every level. Regardless, let’s give it a go—I mean it’s February and how else am I going to get through the coldest, bleakest, cloudiest, shortest (and longest at the same time) month on the calendar. Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day begin! I (gritting teeth) LOVE February, how about YOU?

February…How Do I LOVE Thee? (Song 8 in the Countdown)

Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 8

Love is…laughing before the punch line (but the joke-teller doesn’t mind) because you both already know where this exchange is going.

What is love without laughter? Personally, I LOVE to laugh. It really is my favorite thing 🙂  This song made the list because it shows love from a yin and yang point of view. Keely Smith with her beautiful, sophisticated voice paired song 8up with Louis Prima and his talented, yet cut-up, vocal abilities. It’s the kind of duality that I can appreciate. I mean, I really think there’s something to this whole opposites attract theory. And as a more serious type, I love (and NEED) to be around others who can let loose and appreciate the lighter side of life. They keep me grounded. So maybe it’s not so much that opposites attract as it is that opposites complement and interconnect with one another. And when it comes to love, this dynamic just might be a good thing.

Coming Up: Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul: Song 9

***This post is part of an ongoing series. As part of my cup half full approach to loving the month of February, I vow to jump in with both feet and embrace the whole Valentine thing with my own custom list of Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul. Ambitious? Yes! Bold? Absolutely! Crazy? You betcha! Pointless? On just about every level. Regardless, let’s give it a go—I mean it’s February and how else am I going to get through the coldest, bleakest, cloudiest, shortest (and longest at the same time) month on the calendar. Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day begin! I (gritting teeth) LOVE February, how about YOU?