KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Days of Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 6

Sometimes the best vacation is a staycation.  –author unknown

I love the movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” for many reasons…but especially for the line,”there’s no place like home.”  It’s just so true.  Of course, one never knows just how much they love home until they move away.  At least that’s how it was for me.  That’s why this next song made my summer music playlist.  I can remember coming home to visit my parents and my dad blasting this song on repeat FOR HOURS AND HOURS in the garage.  The funniest thing was that no one complained.  In fact, there were many times that I caught family members singing along!

“Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys came out in the summer of 2004.  I was in my late 20s, married with one child…and I was pretty much anything but hip.  But there’s something about this song that just makes you feel cool–regardless of age.  “Heaven,” written by a trio of brothers from Texas, captures a laid back summer vibe with its infectious chorus.  Peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard Top 100, the tune went on to No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts for 16 weeks.  Interestingly enough, the song also registered on the country music charts, too.  The song eventually led to two Grammy nominations and one win in 2005.  Their biggest hit to date, this song set the tone for so many that summer.

It doesn’t take much for me to remember that afternoon at my parent’s house.  It’s always a party when we visit!  Lots of family, food and laughter.  I can still see my son (a toddler at the time) working his dance moves outside in the garage with my dad.  Whenever I hear “Heaven” it puts a smile on my face and I am grateful for both summer and a place to call home!

Up Next:  SONG 7…”That’s when I had most of my fun….”

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Days of Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 5

I could never in a hundred summers get tired of this.  –Susan Branch

“Steal My Sunshine” by Len hit the airwaves during my first summer as a resident of sunny California.  The song was all things Golden State–feel good, shiny, pop-inspired, retro and contemporary fun–imagine how surprised I was to find out that it was the product of a Canadian group!  This little goodie hit the pop charts in 1999 but takes some of its great music flavor from both the 70s and the 80s. Besides all that, who doesn’t love a song whose music video features an orange moped posse?

While crawling through my Bay Area commute, I recall scanning my radio presets only to discover this song playing simultaneously on two stations!  Whaaaat? Both the pop and the alternative station spinning the same tune, whoa–this song must be special!  So I turned it up and quickly added another song to my list of favorites.  “Steal My Sunshine” was inspired by a night at a rave, helped reunite an estranged brother and sister, and almost didn’t make it make it onto the group’s CD (fortunately it was retrieved from its hiding place…under the cowriter’s bed!)  All of this makes for quite the story behind a song that landed in Billboard 100’s top ten and on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “Best Summer Songs of All Time.”

This catchy song was still receiving plenty of airplay when I finally had an opportunity to visit Los Angeles that same fall.  It was the perfect background music for a trip to Venice Beach, celebrity sight-seeing and soaking up all things California.  Today you can still find it on a number of summer playlists…including mine.  All the more reason to love a song that enjoys elite “one-hit wonder” status as it “perfectly captured that warm, lazy feeling you get when late summer still seems like it could last forever,” at least according to Stylus Magazine (2007.)  And I think they’re right on.

Up next:  SONG 6…how far is heaven?

Why I STILL Make My Kids’ Beds

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.  –Admiral William H. McRaven

I am the mother of two kiddos…a tween girl and a teen boy and I STILL make their beds. Not every day (as if that makes the whole thing better,) but practically every day.  This revelation is something that I rarely talk about and a topic that makes me a little uncomfortable sharing.  At first glance, it probably sounds like I’m some sort of Martha Stewart control freak or worse yet–a mother who coddles her kids too much.  I can hear it now, “She STILL makes their beds?  Really?  Wow.  How old are they?”  On more than one occasion I’ve been accused of not letting them grow up, trying to make them permanent dependents, permitting/encouraging laziness and impeding their emotional development.  Ouch!  An unmade bed is a pet peeve for a lot of people.  I get it.  Honestly, I know it’s a little (or a lot) quirky, but I really don’t plan on stopping anytime soon…and I have my reasons.

I’m a creature of habit.  When the children were little, I would use the time that I spent in their bedrooms as an opportunity to pray for them.  Nothing fancy or formal…just a few quick words.  Praises for the good days and prayers for strength on the tough ones.  And while we have prayed with the kiddos at bedtime ever since they were teeny tiny, I quickly discovered how much I think about my children when they’re away from home.  When my son went off to school I missed him terribly.  It was just preschool and just a few hours a day, but I wondered how he was doing?  What he was doing?  If he was okay? And on and on.  Instead of spinning in this cycle of worry, I decided to get pro-active and purposefully pray for his day while I made his bed.  And I never stopped.  When my daughter came along, I added her to the daily ritual.  In the five minutes it takes to make a bed I would pray for his/her well-being, his/her character, his/her faith development, those in their classrooms, their teachers, their circle of friends, etc.  I prayed offensively and defensively.  Some days I give thanks and other times I find myself on my knees (things sure get complicated as they grow up!)  But most importantly, I pray regularly.

After so many years, this daily practice hasn’t changed much.  Some days I sing hymns as I go about straightening up their rooms.  I mostly pray silently, but occasionally I pray out loud.  The family dog even gets in on the action.  She frequently comes into the room and guards the door…she knows the routine and has become something of a prayer partner.  This past week I have been in earnest prayer for one of my kiddos and decided to write about my prayer pattern.  What’s been reinforced to me lately is that praying includes a lot of listening, too.  And I am grateful for that.  What started out as a personal antidote to worry and stress has proven itself time and time again as a recipe for peace and assurance…and I thought it was worth sharing with my fellow parents in the trenches.

Someday my kids will make their own beds (and in case you’re wondering, YES, they know how.)  But for the time being, I’m happy to straighten sheets, tidy up pillows and simply pray.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16

 

I Have So Much to Tell You….

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Used to be that if you found an interesting news article, you’d clip it out of the newspaper/magazine and store it in a safe place.  Sometimes, if it was particularly moving or important, you’d haul yourself down to a Kinko’s or something and make copies.  If one deemed it EXTRA pertinent, you might purchase a stamp and mail it to someone.  In today’s “copy and paste” world, news nerds like myself are one click away from sharing various news links…or in my case, SAVING, interesting articles.

FullSizeRenderI have several dozens saved.  I won’t give you an exact number…as it might be used against me as a measurement of my nerdiness.  You can probably imagine that several of these saved articles fall into the faith and family categories.  What can I say other than that I’m fairly predictable and in some regards, very old school.  I tried sharing a SAVED article with my son recently…via a link in a text message…to which I received a sullen reply and an interesting emoticon followed by the words “you know, I’m not reading this.”  Sure, I’ve been known to send him (and my daughter) preachy sorts of things, but in my defense this was actually a sports article and a good one at that.  But my kids are too wise and know their mother too well…the warning lights start flashing, “SHE’S TRYING TO TELL US SOMETHING.”  And, yes, they’re right.

Lately, my SAVED files have been focused on one subject–SUBSTANCE ABUSE.  I have countless, tragic articles on teens dying as a result of drinking games, drunk driving accidents, and every type of drug overdose.  It’s morbid, I know.  Some of these news links have photos…sweet, smiling photos of adolescents who have become victims and horrible, graphic photos of teenagers lost too soon.  These are the kinds of things that break my heart.  In the sweet smiling photos I see my own babies…innocent and full of promise.  In the horrible, graphic photos I feel my eyes well up with tears and my throat tighten at what I can only imagine is a mother’s worst nightmare.

The researcher in me keeps hitting the “save” button and then I pour over the article looking for what went wrong and scanning the account for early warning signs and prevention strategies.  The mother bear in me keeps hitting the “save” button, vowing that I will protect my children from drugs and alcohol at all costs.  The realist in me keeps hitting the “save” button knowing that these sorts of things are happening NOW, in our schools and in our community.  I do these things all the while praying…for an angel to watch over my kiddos, for good role models and friends for them, and that I might be the kind of parent that can love them through anything.  I do this because I am not naïve, families (like mine and like yours) have been hit over the head and completely broken by these sorts of tragedies.  If my research has proven anything, it’s that no one is immune.

no hope with dope

Saved by the Bell. Season 3, Episode 21. 1991

But the news nerd in me says, “Tell them, show them” as I compile my montage of anecdotes and news links about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.  I play out in my head conversations about how to handle alcohol and what responsible drinking looks like and then, oftentimes following beer commercials (while watching sports on TV,) we talk about it.  I remind the kids that alcoholism has taken the lives of family members.  We talk about some of the science behind addiction.  I quote my mantra (courtesy of the Saved by the Bell television show,) THERE’S NO HOPE WITH DOPE.  (I have actually told my children that I would foot the bill for that tattoo!)  I scrunch up my nose every time some one tries to convince me that recreational marijuana is a good idea…and then I talk about it with my kids.  I tell them that while I worked as a reporter that I met a woman who was my age (22 at the time) and addicted to meth.  She looked gaunt with leathery skin.  She slurred her words because she had lost so many teeth as a result of her addiction.  Her hair was falling out and she was in jail.  I remember this so clearly because in talking with her we discovered that we had similar backgrounds…middle class upbringing, two parent household, grew up in a small town, etc.  And yet our lives were so different.  When I share these things, I’m bold enough to tell them, “This is NOT for YOU.”  And then I pray some more.

So here’s what I want them to know….

  • With one “hit,” they can drastically change their life.
  • Drinking games are not games.
  • Underage drinking and drug use is dumb (you’re destroying brain cells) and dangerous.
  • Being “under the influence” of anything will cause you to make horrible decisions.
  • Be on guard.  Today strangers (and so-called friends) can put drugs/alcohol in your drinks and food.
  • Bad guys will prey upon girls (and boys) who are under the influence.
  • There will be photographs and I will find out.

And here’s what I also want to tell them….

  • I love you.  I will help you and care for you first…but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences or a lecture for bad choices.
  • A bad day, date, break-up does not determine your worth.  Don’t add to your heartache by throwing drugs and alcohol into the mix.
  • Peer pressure sucks.  I taught you to the difference between right and wrong.  Be strong.  It won’t be easy, but I believe it is in you to say “No,” in fact I’ve heard you say it a thousand times already.
  • I’m going to ask you where you’re going and who you’re with.  This is for both of us.  It makes you accountable and helps me gauge just how much I should worry about you and whether or not I should just NOT let you go.
  • And finally, don’t die doing something stupid!

I’m sick of people glamorizing drugs and alcohol…in music, television and social media.  It turns my stomach to see celebrities practically endorsing this kind of lifestyle.  It’s gut wrenching to see so many young people, full of hope and promise, end up broken or dead…and for what?  I wish I didn’t have a SAVE list full of these horror stories, but I do.  So listen up, kiddos, I will continue to tell you (and your friends) all about them.  I will even share the photos.  Know that I’m adding to my arsenal of articles everyday…because you are loved and I truly do have so much more to tell you.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.  Proverbs 1:8

 

 

 

 

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

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go….  –Meredith Willson

You know the Christmas trees you see at the store?  The pretty ones that they put in the windows and on display for everyone to gawk at and fawn over.  The perfect ones that force you to stop in your tracks and make your mind ponder (just for a moment) if perhaps you’re really ready for a “grown-up” tree.  The kind of tree that screams I have style AND taste.  Yeah, I’ve seen those trees, too….

Mom's Christmas tree 2015

My Mom’s Christmas tree display 2015.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of them.  Not just at the stores, but on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (the social media list goes on and on) and even in the homes of family members and friends.  It seems to me that everyone has one of these beautifully accessorized trees.  And this sort of thing stands out to me, not because I’m envious or jealous but more from a place of sheer admiration.  You see, I LOVE Christmas trees…all kinds (and especially the Charlie Brown one,) but in my heart of hearts I always imagined that I, too, would have one of these special Christmas trees…a “magazine ready,” picture perfect tree.

My Mom has that kind of Christmas tree.  I can remember the red apple tree, the blue and silver bulb tree, and the crystal snowflake tree, among others.  I always assumed that would be my destiny–like mother, like daughter.  In fact, I tried really hard to have one many moons ago.  When I met my husband he had a Christmas tree in his living room…in May.  Granted it was a mini TV top tree, but he had it on display for Memorial Day, I guess (oh, and a plush Thanksgiving turkey was placed next to it, too, probably to welcome the summer season.)  I took this as a sign that he wasn’t much into decorating and eventually I filed it away as proof that I would be in charge of all holiday décor.  So when we graduated from tiny, dorm apartment living and moved to a home in  Salina, I figured this was my big break.  I was going to do Christmas my way.  I remember telling my Mom that I was going for a blue/white/silver snowman theme.  She purchased ornaments to get me started and I began to gather all the “right” accessories as well.  Our son, Sean, was just over a year old, and after photos with Santa one night, we came home to decorate the tree.  And while I was strategizing and putting a final game plan together, Steve and Sean were already placing ornaments on the tree.  What?

IMG_3328Turns out these ornaments were from Steve’s childhood along with a few others that his mother had passed down to us.  (I’m still not sure where this box came from.)  Sean looked thrilled as several of these ornaments were football related.  And I remember stopping in my tracks and thinking that 49er red really didn’t go with my snowman theme…at all.  Obviously, a “discussion” ensued.  That Christmas the tree was properly adorned with blue/white/silver snowman themed items and EVERY ornament my husband had ever owned in his life.  I figured I had lost the battle, but certainly not the war.  There was always next year, and the year after that, and the one after that.  The odds, however, were not in my favor.

Please don’t feel bad for me.  It really wasn’t a make or break deal.  I love Christmas and pretty much all things Christmas related.  So we moved on and it wasn’t until Sean was in preschool that I finally got on board with the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree.  When that sweet-faced little boy brought me his first homemade ornament from school and proceeded to put it on the tree…well, my heart melted.  He was so proud of himself.  A little man contributing to a holiday that I loved so much.  Sean would tell me in his tiny voice, “I made it for you.”  So naturally every scribbled on, wadded up, half-glued, misshapen ornament made its way onto the tree–as it should.  And when Casey came along, well her “contributions” went up right along side his.

ornamentsAs you can imagine, after more than a decade of “contributions” amassed from school AND church, we now have quite a collection going.  Add to it EVERY ornament we have ever received from relatives, friends, plus our church family, and it amounts to 7 boxes of Christmas knickknack goodies.  Every year the tree is quite full (this may be an important factor when you consider the number of times the tree has fallen over the years,) but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The Spencer Family Christmas tree is full of as many stories and memories as it is ornaments.  This year the kids asked me if we really had to hang every last trinket from the boxes.  I guess they thought that maybe the “bead ornament” (there really is no other name for it since it resembles absolutely NOTHING ever known to man) and the “paper Jesus candy cane” may have seen better days.  “If there’s room on the tree, then there’s room for it,” was my constant reply.  And while I think the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree has roots in my husband’s Christmas tradition, he is the one who announces every year that “it looks like Christmas threw up in here!”  At least he says it with a smile.

Merry Christmas 2015 wideOur tree is still up (it’s New Year’s Day,) it’s leaning to the side as is its custom during the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ornaments are taking themselves down (with a mini thud!)  The Christmas “spew” extends well beyond the tree to the fireplace mantel, hearth, the piano and into the dining room, and it will…for at least another week.  Yes, it STILL looks like Christmas in here and everywhere we go…even if it’s the regurgitated type.  Falalalala Lalalala!

I get obsessed with decorations and decorating the house.  I keep it tasteful outside, but when you get inside it is a bit like Blackpool illuminations, I go BONKERS!  –Johnny Vegas

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 3:  The Sticky Nativity

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

 

 

Repetition Wins (Mama’s Secret Weapon)

Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them.  P.J. O’Rourke

Repetition WinsI often wonder who’s going to write the next BIG parenting book?   It seems like every generation has its guru.  And with today’s parenting styles running the gamut–authoritative to permissive, supportive to absent, indulgent to neglectful–it’s hard to know who really has it figured out.  Throw in your favorite media platform and practically everyone’s an expert nowadays!  So, allow me to throw my hat in to the ring.  While you won’t find any fancy letters following my name, I do have a theory.  And for simplicity’s sake, I’ve narrowed it down to two words:  REPETITION WINS!  Genius, right…I know.

Basically I’ve been applying this strategy throughout my whole parenting career, I just didn’t know it until last election season.  (Stay with me here.) I just happened to be listening to a political strategist ramble on about the power of the message…more specifically the repetitive factor to a particular campaign slogan.  He pontificated that through a basic media blitz, they had managed to turn the tide in their favor…especially since today’s voters never bother to research the issues.  I equate this concept to the “beloved” brain worm–you know, the little song or ditty that invades your every waking thought!  Once it reaches your ears it then proceeds to swim around in your head for hours and if you’re (un)lucky even days.  Oh yeah, there’s power in the message!

So here’s where it comes full circle….  I have been known to be somewhat of a “rules” Mom, harping on my kids with suggestions about practically everything.  (I honestly prefer the word suggestions over rules, just saying.)  My handy little tidbits like, “Wash first,” “Make good choices,” and “No food in the bedrooms–EVER!” are expressions that I have uttered for years.  These phrases have become practically automatic after more than a decade of parenting, only now I hear my kids mumble them (and several other goodies) before I can even get the words out.  I’ll admit that sometimes they’re mumbled sarcastically, still I don’t mind claiming it as a tiny victory!

message 3I’m employing a similar approach with quirky sayings, inspirational quotes and Bible scripture spread across posters, white boards and post-it notes throughout the house.  I’ve got my fingers crossed that these, too, will make their way inside their heads (and hearts,) and if nothing else that they might gain some wisdom from my efforts.    I know I’m doing something right when I see their friends stop and check out the kitchen whiteboard and ask questions about the “Family Rules” poster on the fridge…and I’m just getting started!  Window markers allow me to write messages to my children on mirrors in their bedrooms and thanks to iPhone technology, I have several great memes saved and ready to send to my kiddos’ devices at a moment’s notice.   In my book, it all counts.  Still the master plan is worth nothing without the one message I utilize several times a day, “I love you.”  Out the door, when they come home, before they go to bed and at random times in between, “I love you.”  It’s the message I hope they remember most.

I tease my husband that we’ll find out soon enough whether the strategies we’ve employed will be labeled a success or a failure.  With a tween girl and a teenage boy, I feel like we’ve jumped out of one fox hole only to find ourselves in a whole new set of trenches.  It’s all good, though…because Mama’s got her secret weapon and she ain’t afraid to use it.  Pay heed, parents–REPETITION WINS (no book required.)

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

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

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

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Easter Lunch 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

He’s Not YOU and She’s Not ME (Oh, the Perils of Parenting!)

Don’t try to make children grow up to be like you, or they may do it. –Russell Baker

madhouseThe idea of being in charge of small people always seemed overwhelming to me.  Babies need constant care, toddlers keep you running, then come the tantrums…and all this during a child’s cutest phase!  And please, don’t be fooled by the false hope of the elementary school years…while the child is certainly capable of handling many tasks independently, elementary school is definitely a whirlwind all its own.  If questions and comments your child picked up from preschool friends had you blushing…just wait!  With a better vocabulary and dedicated lunch/recess time to “share,” your child is sure to come home with a couple of doozies!  I am just now treading into the tween and teen years of parenthood and I’m anticipating even more hurdles and embarrassing conversations.  I mean, these are the years they actually WARN us about 😦

In reality parenthood is everything they said it would be…good, bad, frustrating and rewarding.  We love our kiddos and I’m pretty sure the cycle of life isn’t going anywhere!  However, it’s come to my attention lately that dealing with my kids is getting a lot more complicated.  When they were little they exemplified typical “little” people behavior.  The moments of defiance and cuteness along with the awe of learning new things were just part of a normal day.  And newsflash–probably none of our children were truly exceptional at this point.  In fact, I’ve read several studies that suggest that most of our children all level out in kindergarten.  That means despite being the product of a stay-at-home mom, single-parent household, working parents, or daycare (home or otherwise,) all of our kiddos have reached the same milestones at this particular crossroad in life.  The differences become evident after our children enter school and not necessarily because of school itself.  It appears that a child’s personality begins to develop and solidify all within the first few years of elementary school (barring any huge life events, of course.)  I am not a psychologist, but I think the stats hold up.  An even-tempered child at age 6 likely maintains that even temper.  A selfish child at age 7 probably has selfish tendencies throughout life.  A sensitive demeanor at age 8 means the child has a good chance of maintaining that sensitivity well into adulthood.

So here’s where I stand with my now “complicated” kiddos.  As a 10 and 13-year-old, their personalities are well-developed and those same personalities are not afraid to go head to head with mine!  This is a good AND a bad thing.  As nature would have it, my kids and I have some similar personality traits.  For example, my son and I are suckers for comedies and enjoy wasting hours watching funny movies.  We laugh at the same dumb things and for the most part “speak the same language.”  My daughter and I both love organization, we approach problems very analytically, and LOVE to read and learn new things!  All three of us are artistic.  On the other hand, my kids are extremely social while I am an introvert.  Their constant need to be with friends and have friends over just blows me away!  They both enjoy sports while I threw out my hip playing kickball in my grandma’s front yard (no athletic ability here.)  They both love video games and I consider video games to be the ultimate waste of time.  None of this is a deal breaker, but we do spar over homework, practice time, and responsibility.  I wonder about their commitment level, attention to detail and their desire to work hard.  I have a tough time hearing them complain about problems that they can fix themselves, whine about situations that get a little difficult and sulk when things don’t go their way.  It’s in these things that I have to stop and remind myself, “He’s not you, and she’s not me.”

It’s not an easy thing to maneuver.  When I got into this parenting gig I never once contemplated the idea that these little beings could give me any problems or try my nerves.  In a naïve way, I imagined they would be some kind of “mini-me” and thus, they would be perfectly reasonable at all times (feel free to laugh out loud here!)  All any of us really have to go on when we enter parenthood are our own childhood experiences, the experiences of those closest to us, and maybe a couple of baby books.  So basically, we might as well go into this blind…because this is what I remember from my early days:

I’m pretty sure I was not your typical child.  In a lot of ways I was probably always a little bit of a grown up…or perhaps an old soul.  I was thoughtful in ways that most kids never think of…weighing the pros and cons of many decisions that others wouldn’t even consider.  I was very self-concerned and stubborn.  I worked hard.  By the time I was 8 I knew I wanted to go to college and I was driven to get there.  I was shy and serious.  I was afraid of failure.  I WAS BY NO MEANS PERFECT.  I put a lot of pressure on myself.  I hated making mistakes and vowed to learn from them.  I felt very safe and secure with my family.  I was creative.  I didn’t really care what other people thought of me.  I believed in a God who loved me and would never abandon me.  

This is how I “remember” my childhood, but this alone doesn’t garner enough information on how to raise a child…especially a child that in all likelihood would be very different from myself.  Oh, how I wish I had realized all this earlier!

Possessing an awareness that there are and will be differences is key to navigating my parenting responsibilities now and into the future.  This newfound credo of  “he’s not you, and she’s not me,” might be the saving grace that I need to get over this parenting hump.  Stepping back and realizing that we are all separate individuals and that our differences are okay (heck, we might even learn something from one another) could make these next years a growing experience for us all.  I know that the head to head battles will exist (there’s no way I’m going to let them grow up without a sense of accountability and purpose,) but hopefully the battles will also include some level of understanding.  I truly love these kiddos and I want to love them into being the people God called them to be…not a “mini-me” clone and certainly not the “ideal” person that lives in my imagination.  Most of us hope to raise children to be more than ourselves…we seek to give them not only the things that we had growing up but so much more.  We want them to have the benefit of all those who have come before them…us included.  The long-held belief that each generation should be better than the one before drives us in so many ways, but it’s also a belief that can cause us to “run-over” our own children.  A lack of understanding can stop them in their tracks before they’ve even had a chance to start…and we’ve all seen it happen far too many times.

My kids will not have a childhood experience that mirrors mine.  Their friendships and relationships will look different from the ones I knew 30+ years ago.  They will stumble and fall.  They will let me down and they will find a strength that I never knew they could possess.  These same kiddos will test the waters and sometimes they will get hurt.  They will succeed in areas where I’ve failed and they will thrive in places I would have been too afraid to venture into.  And really, the last thing the world needs is a “mini-me,” (because I am certainly not all that easy to deal with!)  In the end, when they finally reach adulthood, I pray that I would have loved them through all of it.  I know it will not be easy because I have high hopes and expectations (I’m still a mom after all!)  But these years–the tweens and teens, the “home-stretch” if you will, are far too valuable to just endure.  These are critical times.  Love your daughter.  Love your son.  And remember, “he’s not you and she’s not me…” it just might make all the difference.

Childhood is a short season.  –Helen Hayes