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.

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Ohhh, Christmas Tree!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

February…How Do I LOVE Thee? (Song 3 in the Countdown)

Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul:  Song 3

Love is…coming home to all my favorite things (people and pets included.)  -me

Home.  There’s no place like it.  It all comes back to that familiar quote—home is where the heart is.

Wherever and whatever you consider home…there’s nothing that compares to that feeling.  The familiarity, the comfort, the little things that make it “just right.”  I LOVE going home.  Home is where you can take your shoes off, where you can breathe, where you can find true peace.  And like the song says…”I wanna go home.”

There are three places that I personally consider “home.”  First, my hometown.  Although at this point in my life I’ve spent more time away from western Kansas that I actually spent growing up there, I still consider it home.  I know where (just about) everything is.  It’s where my old schools are, where great memories were made, and most importantly—it’s where most of my family still live.  Home.

song 3Second, is Lawrence, Kansas.  While attending college I had the opportunity to grow and spread my wings.  I learned to be self-reliant and develop character.  I found out my strengths and weaknesses.  I had my first taste of life on my own.  Still to this day, whenever I visit I am immediately transported back in time to a carefree existence where there was nothing but possibility and adventure at every turn.  Home.

Finally, my actual home…you know, where my stuff is at.  I think this one is more of an emotion  than an actual location.  Over the past 20+ years, I’ve moved a number of times and not just in the same town.  And, for as much as I hate packing, I actually don’t mind the moving all that much.  Wherever we can all be together that becomes my sanctuary and safe haven.  Home. 

Coming Up:  Love Songs to Melt Your Heart and Move Your Soul:  Song 4

***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?