Advice I Would Have Given Myself 5 Years Ago…

6 06 2013

As graduation season strikes us with its full fury–how many times this month have you seen “Honk if U LUV Class of 2013!” written on someone’s car?–I find myself thinking back to my own college graduation.

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years already. I feel like I’m still in college, most of the time. Until I catch sight of college students and realize how babyish they look. And recall that I no longer get carded at restaurants and bars anymore.

I started thinking recently about the advice I’d give my starry-eyed college-graduate self if I could speak to her now, as the five-years-out-of-college version of me.

Here’s some of the sage advice I would have given myself five years ago:

You’ll never have much money. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be happy.

As someone who grew up never knowing want, I was horrified when I graduated from college and found myself living at the poverty level with my first job as a church work intern. In what seemed like a never-ending four years of my dear husband going to graduate school, we struggled daily with our finances. Trying to support two people on a salary smaller than a janitor’s salary (and truly at the local poverty level) meant a total restructuring of my lifestyle. I had to learn how to shop at Goodwill. I had to learn to decorate an apartment on a shoestring budget. I had to ration my gas and plan out my trips around town. On several occasions, we couldn’t even afford to do laundry–so we took to hand washing our clothes in our bathtub and draping them all over the apartment to dry.

I had plenty of freak-out moments in desperate fear that we couldn’t pay our electric bill or that we couldn’t afford to buy two gallons of milk at the same time…including one memorable incident when I started crying in the middle of the grocery store, realizing that I was destined to use coupons to buy food for the rest of my life. “We’ll never be able to afford name-brand cereal!” is one phrase I remember wailing in misery.

In the last five years, I’ve come to grips with the fact that, as church workers, my husband and I won’t ever have much money. But in terms of happiness and contentedness? In terms of knowing how to live simply and enjoy friends, family, and our dogs without worrying about accumulating material objects or planning lavish vacations? We’re blessed.

Don’t buy cheap towels or cheap shampoo.

As much as it tempts you to buy drug store shampoo on sale, it’s not worth the dull-looking locks. Same goes for those brightly colored towels that lure you in like a moth to a flame. They just cover your laundry machine in a fine dusting of miniscule lint–albeit a nice brightly colored lint–and they will never actually absorb water well. Ever.

With my husband, Tyler, at our college graduation from Concordia University in Irvine, California...

With my husband, Tyler, at our college graduation from Concordia University in Irvine, California…

Learn how to say “no”.

This is still a lesson I’m learning the hard way, although I realize its importance. You’d think having so much do that you can’t even escape for a break during the day would occasionally slow me down…but it doesn’t. I have the horrible proclivity to say “yes” to everything asked of me, and it’s in saying “no” to many of those things that the secret to a healthier, happier, and more balanced life lays.

Don’t give up what makes you happy. 

In the rush of my busy life, I’ve given up too many of the things I truly love doing: painting. Writing poetry. Walking in the woods with my dogs. Arranging flowers. Find the things that make you happy, and hold onto them–even if the time you have to enjoy these pleasures may be brief. Sometimes you might have to fight against people who’ll push you to give up what you think is happy, in favor of their personal values. For years, I was pushed to give up writing this blog by employers who told me not to be so candid, and then who used my own words against me to grade my job performance. I clung to the simple belief that I love to write, and that people appreciate my literary frankness. Incidentally, the year that I was pushed out of writing my blog the most was the year I received the WordPress “Freshly Pressed” award–twice, incredibly.

Laugh more and take life less seriously.

Worry is deadly, and stress runs high when you’re an adult and have to provide for yourself. And things are always the worst at night, for some reason. So many issues–whether real or imagined–can be lessened by having an optimistic attitude and by chuckling about it. Not that I do, all of the time. But I see the value of it now, more than I ever have.

Don’t cut your own bangs.

Pony up the extra $10 and go to a real salon. Not a strip mall chop-shop, and certainly not that beauty school that has cut-rate stylings from students who are still learning the ropes. Your bangs are the window to your soul, after all. Oh wait…maybe that’s eyes. Ok, but no one can see your eyes when your bangs are too long…so it’s pretty much the same thing.

Realize the power of being a mentor.

Being a mentor to several wonderful young people has changed my life. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve seen God at work in incredible ways through these very special relationships. Recognizing the impact of mentoring has given me a new seriousness about modeling my faith, and training up a new generation to find its place in this world. If I do nothing else with my life, I know that I’ve loved every moment of mentoring and I’m excited to see what God does through His children. Our world sure needs it.

Darkness and light can be found in the most unexpected places.

Just because you’re in church work, doesn’t mean everyone is forgiving and filled with grace. Some of the most hurtful, angry people I’ve ever encountered in my life have been connected to churches–whether on staff or in the congregation. I’ve realized that often, people take their problems out on others–it’s not always personal. That being said, however, I’ve been attacked and bullied and targeted and pushed around more in the last five years in church work than the rest of my life combined. Sometimes it feels like I’ll be facing a life of continual hazing. But in so many ways, I’ve seen God at work in the most unexpected places–through seemingly horrible and painful situations and hurt and wounded people. And seeing the Holy Spirit so powerfully at work–even in the midst of anger, unforgiveness, denial, and pain–is breathtaking.

Be real.

I know, it sounds so cliché. But it’s so easy to wear a mask in church work, and as a Christian: say the right words, don’t admit what you’re really feeling or thinking, smile and put your best foot forward all the time. But…isn’t the whole point of our faith to admit how broken we are? How messed up we are, how we stumble along the path, how we lose our temper, and try to do things our way, and screw up royally? I might have a degree in theology, but I sure don’t have all the answers. I question, I doubt, I worry, I freak out, I lose faith, I forget.

In short, I’m a mess.

But to me, the most beautiful thing about my God is that He meets me where I am. He kneels in the dirty mud puddle of my life, lifts my chin up, and kisses my tear-stained face. I don’t deserve it. But His love is overwhelming.

So why pretend to anyone else that I deserve it, when I know I don’t?

After all, when we take off that mask, it’s so much easier to see the Holy Spirit shining through us, isn’t it?

Now, we’ll just have to wait and see what sort of advice I’d give myself in the next five years or so…


On Being a “Yankee” in the Heart of Texas.

6 05 2013

I’ve been called a “Yankee” many times since moving to Texas about 9 months ago.

A few weeks ago, I was called a Yankee 8 times in just a few days. I found  it slightly disconcerting to be so obviously an outsider in the state I now claim as my home. Growing up in Illinois and Minnesota and then attending to college in California failed to prepare me for the reality of the “glorious South”, I guess.

With my husband at the Texas State Capitol in Austin...

With my husband at the Texas State Capitol in Austin…

Which means I’m pursuing my Texas education in my own way, as a an intrepid and bespectacled scholar might study a native tribe in the wilds of Madagascar.

Do they have native tribes there? I don’t know. I don’t have time to consult Wikipedia on this one, so just go with me on it.

Without further ado, here it is…

Various Things this Yankee has Learned from Living in Texas:

  • Everyone really does say “bless your heart” and “y’all” and “fixin’ to”.
  • Yes, I have to be instructed on how to use a bootjack. And what the heck it is.
  • I’m open-minded when it comes to barbecue. I’m not ready to stab someone with a pitchfork when they claim that my homemade BBQ might not be the best they’ve ever tasted.
  • No, I don’t have a clue what “pearl snaps” are (to the rest of the world, it’s a complicated name for what appears to be fake pearl buttons on a western-style shirt).
  • Everyone has handled guns from a young age, and pretty much everyone owns one. And it’s not unusual to keep yours in your vehicle–even at church.
  • People dawdle on roadways, usually driving a few miles under the speed limit no matter if it’s 55 or 80. I wonder if it’s a holdover from galloping horses over the trails?
  • Two-stepping? I thought maybe it was a move you did to step over a rattlesnake.
  • Speaking of rattlesnakes, every single person in this state has had a close call with one…at some point. Supposedly.
  • The state capitol is holy. Even the grass, I’ve been told.
  • High school football is possibly even more holy than the state capitol.
  • I didn’t know what they did to the horses and bulls to make them so angry at the rodeos. Yes, I had to ask. The answer made me blush.
  • It’s apparently normal to have dinner at someone’s house and then spend the dessert hour perusing their gun collection.
  • People know livestock here. Even the city “folks”. Who knew how many people could factually instruct me on the finer points of a longhorn?
  • It’s socially unacceptable for a woman to drive a large pickup truck. My first vehicle was a pickup truck. Gulp.
  • There’s no such thing as a universal salsa or queso dip anywhere. Every restaurant and/or household has its own unique concoction, and each one is proud to proclaim their creation as the best.
  • Texans are serious about being a republic, and if this country ever falls apart, I’m pretty sure they’ll go back to defending it as such.
  • They consider it chilly when it hits below 70. And it’s incomprehensible to them that that used to be a nice summer day for me as a Minnesotan.
  • Hot sauce is served universally at every single restaurant.
  • Water moccasins do inhabit every lake, and they do swim towards your boat. And yes, it’s terrifying when you’re  alone in a kayak.
  • Everyone does own cowboy boots, regardless of age, race, or gender.
  • In the summer, the streets are devoid of life. Except for fire ants. They rule every inch of sod in this state all summer long.

However, there are some uniquely Texan claims that I must (somewhat begrudgingly) admit are true…and better yet, I actually enjoy…

Surprisingly True Things About Texas that I Love:

  • Spring in Texas–particularly the fields of gorgeous wildflowers dotting the landscape– is indeed the most beautiful thing in the world.
  • Without a doubt, the best ice cream in the country is here. And it is Blue Bell.
  • Men are more chivalrous. I don’t think I’ve ever opened a door on my own when I’ve been with a man.
  • Prickly pear juice is real–and delicious.
  • Children are incredibly well-mannered (“Good morning, Ms. Cassie” and “Yes ma’am” are phrases I’m still getting used to hearing on a daily basis)
  • Food is spicier, but a thousand times more delicious than any other state I’ve lived in.
  • The Texas state flag does indeed fly as high as the national flag. And it’s treated just as reverently.
  • It’s normal to eat tacos for breakfast. And every gas station and fast food joint has its own style of taco.
  • People love it when you play the banjo and/or harmonica in church.
  • There’s more fierce pride in Texans than any other state I’ve ever lived in. And it’s well-earned, when you manage to survive summer here.

As for what I’ll learn in the next few years? Well…I guess you’ll just have to wait and see how countrified this “Yankee” will end up being.

Bless your purdy lil’ heart…

REAL Holy Week…As Told Honestly by Your Pastor & DCE.

26 04 2013

Get enough complaints about not blogging, and guess what?

You get back into it pretty quick.

Suffice it to say it’s been an extremely busy couple of months for me. I’d bore even myself trying to recount everything that’s been going on, so I’ll stick to one humorous reality I faced for the first time this year: Holy Week with as a church work duo.

We’re both church workers at the same church this year, for the first time–my husband as a pastor, and me as a Director of Christian Education.

What does this mean during the average week? We’re co-workers, and live and breathe church at work and at home. In fact, if we didn’t have two dogs to care for, we might occasionally forget we have a home away from church.

It also means we’re pretty well-prepared in jumping in to do mostly anything at church. Watering flowers? Rearranging furniture? Running registration tables? Creating dessert trays? Dusting shelves? Running screens? Organizing files? Trimming poinsettias? Making coffee? Guiding campus tours? Cleaning bathrooms? Serving meals? Leading chapel? Making hospital visits? Writing or leading devotions, lessons, or Bible studies at a moment’s notice? We got it covered, no sweat.

Holy Week, however, is a different beast entirely.

What might seem like a cheerful holiday for most–yellow bunnies! pink marshmallows! foil-wrapped chocolate!–is nothing short of laborious torture for those of us in church work.

Picture this: seven church services in eight days.

That means bulletins, flowers, communion set up, musicians, announcement slides, song lyrics, lights, candles, service order, sermons, readings, ushers, banners and paraments, food and coffee–times SEVEN.

This year, my husband and I started a new tradition to commemorate our first year in church work–our Real Holy Week picture diary, capturing how we felt at the end of each day. And rest assured, friends, those were some long days we worked–along with our dedicated staff–to prepare for Holy Week 2013.

So here’s a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in the lives of two brave church workers during Holy Week:Photo 1

Day 1 (Palm Sunday)

Cassie: Optimistic

Tyler: God save us…(We’re Gonna Need It)

Day 2 (Monday)

Cassie: Seriously? It’s only Monday?!

Tyler: The calm before the storm…

Day 3 (Tuesday)

Cassie: And we thought tax season was stressful…

Tyler: Kickin’ it into high gear!

Day 4 (Wednesday)

Cassie: I just got home…it’s MIDNIGHT…but holy cow, I love my church!

Tyler: Zzzzz……

Photo 2

Day 5 (Maundy Thursday)

Cassie: Holy  Guacamole!

Tyler: Bringin’ it, Maundy style!

Day 6 (Good Friday)

Cassie: I love the most depressing service of the year!

Tyler: And He saw that it was GOOD.

Day 7 (Saturday)

Cassie: I. am. so. tired.

Tyler: This. Is. It.

Day 8 (Easter Sunday)

Cassie: Hallelujah! We survived Holy Week 2013!

Tyler: Thank you God!

And now….you know the real story behind Holy Week.

Next time you ask us why we look tired after Easter, you’ll know exactly why.

6 Countries, 16 States, and 13,648 Miles Traveled…in 6 Weeks.

5 12 2012

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I’ve had several people in the last few weeks ask me what I did all summer. Why this topic is coming up in December is a mystery to me, but perhaps it’s a warm-up question used by my friends to gear them up for similar inquiries to seldom-sighted relatives sitting across from them around the Christmas tree.

I’ll tell you exactly what I did all summer–I asked myself the same question nearly every week:

“Where am I again?”

You see, my husband and I traveled through 6 different countries, 16 states, and logged a total of 13,648 miles traveled (over 4,000 of which we drove) this summer.

Were we on tour, as my bank thought?


Oh, then we must be writing a travel book, as strangers asked me?


We’re simply intrepid young souls, gallivanting around the world on a delayed honeymoon…and visiting our families at two opposite ends of the country…and moving to Texas…all in the course of a month and a half.

Ambitious? Or suicidal? You be the judge.

Of the hundreds of humorous and maddeningly frustrating little adventures we had over the summer, several important insights about travel emerged. I’d like to share what little wisdom I’ve gleaned with you, my friends. You never know when it might be useful in your own travels–be it to your grandma’s home over the river, or your cousin’s mansion through the woods.

Tip #1: Pack light & get yo’self some wheels.

We seem to have  a strange condition when we travel to our parents’ homes in Minnesota and Florida: we always come back with a packed car, even if we only bring 1 suitcase and a dog crate with us. There’s probably a scientific name for this–but for the sake of this article, we’ll just call it “Delayed Parental Unloading of the Junkitis”.

Follow our advice and bring as little with you as you can when you go vacationing. Save room for the antique swords, football helmets, old yearbooks, and plethora of American Girl dolls your parents are sure to unload on you.

And when you’re venturing out of the country? Think wheels. Thank goodness we had friends who insisted we borrow their small rolling suitcases for our trip to Europe. I thought we’d have to replace those little wheels, they spun around so much.

Oh, and don’t pack dumbbells in your luggage. Rookie mistake.

Tip #2: When lost, let the female beg for directions.

This tip works best in Paris, according to my inexact scientific calculations. City of Love, my foot. More like “City of Confusing and Inadequately Marked Transportation and Historical Site Signs”.

Well…I guess they can’t fit that on their little French-only travel brochures, can they?

People usually responded with more warmth when I (usually frantically) asked for directions. Perhaps it was my charm…or my worried expression…or the fact that I took French in high school and only butchered half of the words in my request…who knows? Ce la vie.

Tip #3: Don’t talk to people on trains.

They don’t like you. Especially if you’re an American, traveling through Europe. That’s all there is to it.

The Swiss especially hate you. I’ll never feel comfortable drinking “Swiss Miss” hot cocoa in the same manner again.

And if you’re in America? Don’t worry…hardly anyone rides the train here.

Tip #4: Always bring bottled water.

We spent our entire summer lugging around plastic water bottles with us and using them for everything–hydration for our dogs, water for brushing our teeth in the car, and distracting toys to make little swirling tornadoes as we conquered the asphalt.

After nearly passing out at the exorbitant prices of liquids in Venice (where you can enjoy a nice $8 cola or a $10 bottled water), we pooled our rapidly-decreasing euros and bought a giant 2-liter bottled water that we lugged with us the rest of the trip. It was too big to fit in my purse, so we took turns hefting it around like the Midwest hoosiers the Europeans probably thought we were. We refilled it at public fountains all day long, and even snuck it with us into restaurants, taking secret swigs from it as our waiters turned their backs on us.

My husband, filling up our infamous water bottle in Florence, Italy.

My husband, filling up our infamous water bottle in Florence, Italy.

Tip #5: Don’t read travel books and blogs at length.

I never realized how many things there were to do in the city I grew up in until I started researching it online and in travel blogs. Suddenly, it was as if a whole new world opened up to me–the possibilities for fun were endless! We could spend years in just one city, squeezing every possible experience out of endless combinations of sites and events! It was so exciting!

Yeah…until I started making lists of all the things I wanted to do in all the cities and countries we visited. Suddenly, my summer turned into pages and pages and pages of destinations. It’s a mathematical impossibility to squeeze everything out of a city when you’re on vacation. Researching it so thoroughly beforehand only made me regret all the things we couldn’t do.

Tip #6: Flip flops are the universal vacation shoe.

I spent my entire summer in the same trusty pair of Rainbow flip-flops. After I researched long-lasting, comfortable, and durable footwear for a summer filled with walking several miles a day in Europe, as well as time spent on beaches, in hills and woods, and in cool and hot climates.

Months of meticulous research on travel and shoe forums. Weeks of walking laps around my apartment to test out pair after pair of shoes. Dozens of blisters and band-aids. It came down to 2 carefully-chosen pairs of winners and a last-minute decision to toss in the flip-flops for the Europe trip. I spent only half a day in one pair of shoes, walking miles through France, before switching to the flip flops…and never taking them off again for the rest of the summer.

And my feet never felt better.

There you have it, friends. Six travel tips that will change your vacationing life.

Now, to daydream about our next vacation….

A 21st Century Guide to Survival in the Wilderness.

9 11 2012

Trees, ferns, and woods–we go way back.

But how I navigate the wilderness now has changed dramatically in the last 20 years.

I spent a large portion of my childhood living in the woods of Central Illinois, where most of my free time was spent wandering around in undisturbed acres of forest with my massive dog, Bomber.

I would venture off with a book in one hand (and sometimes some marshmallow Peeps that I would split with my furry guardian) and, after blissfully dipping my feet in a small creek or picking a bouquet of sweetly scented wildflowers, I’d sit down on a mossy log and read for hours.

I carefully researched plants and bugs, and listened with rapt attention to my grandmother–who had also grown up in the woods–as she pointed out edible plants and flowers and explained various uses for them. I also read books about explorers and adventurers, filing away useful information about how to build fires, forts, and skin animals. I even went through a phase where I carried around a knife everywhere with me, carving messages into trees for miles.

I’ve since traded in my muddy tennis shoes for more urban living environments, but I’ve always loved getting out into nature as much as possible. A few weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to return to a hallowed nature preserve that’s been a part of my life since I was a child and flex my wilderness survival skills once more.

We made a trek to The Cabin.

No, it’s not the name of a creepy novel, though that may be valid when you consider that The Cabin has no electricity or running water, so the only place you can use for a restroom is a neglected outhouse that’s been sinking slowly into the same spot for nearly 80 years.

The Cabin is a log home my great-grandparents built by themselves in the 1930s in northern Minnesota, sitting on a beautiful lake in what’s now a protected national forest. My great-grandparents lived at The Cabin for years, and our family has many happy memories of it. My brother and I used to visit often in the summer, and we’d wander through trails in the woods that my great-grandpa set up with little plastic critters lurking in trees and under logs, pick blueberries and make pancakes with my grandma, dig up clay from the lakebed and make statues, and learn how to whittle walking sticks.

The idyllic picture of The Cabin you just conjured up, though, is not entirely accurate.

The Cabin, in its full splendor.

The Cabin also a place of raw terror–the place where we laid in our bug-infested beds, wide-eyed and scared over the animals thrashing around in the woods behind us. It’s where we got lost in the woods at night, had to clean fish while combating thousands of buzzing horseflies, and ended up with aggressive leeches all over our legs every time we went swimming. We once spent an afternoon cleaning out a beaver dam, and ended up walking through a tick colony. You think you know horror? No, you don’t.

And, we had to drink warm cream soda every time we were at the cabin, to boot.

While at The Cabin a few weeks ago, however, our experience was remarkably different–probably because my cousins and brother and sister-in-law and I are all of the Millennial generation and tackle survival in the remote wilderness a bit differently than our parents and grandparents.

Here’s how a 21st century twenty-something survives a trip to the woods:

1) We always have an iPhone on hand.

Need a flashlight? Two clicks, and the flashlight app’s open. Grandma is trying to give complicated directions to the church fish fry? Record it as a video and play it back as you’re driving. Spot an interesting tree behind the cabin? Snap a picture and look it up online. Fact-checking someone’s tall tales? Search Wikipedia to find out the truth. Bored on the desolate ride out to The Cabin? That’s why they invented “Angry Birds”. Making a note on your next family vacation? It’s a cinch with your iPhone’s notepad feature.

2) No electricity? No problem.

Our vehicles are all equipped with electrical outlets. And just in case we happen to end up in an older model car, we have adapters that plug into the cigarette lighter. So we play our iPhone jams recklessly. And we can even plug in a crock pot full of wild rice soup, if we need to…and double-check the reheating instructions on Pinterest.

3) Forget living off the land–we have a supply of vacuum-sealed snacks.

Forget scavenging for berries and roots, or trying to shoot our own game. We may have grown up learning how to catch and prepare our own fish, but now we have coolers and containers full of delicious drinks, organic granola bars, and peach rings ready to tickle our tummies.

4) Hand sanitizer is our best friend.

Dig around in the woods, and then try to clean our hands before eating? No problem. Most people our age carry around at least one small bottle of hand sanitizer at all times–sometimes even clipped to our purses or man-bags. And it comes in such mouth-watering flavors, like sun-kissed raspberry and vanilla cupcake. You almost want to get dirty just to smell the heavenly scent of cleanliness on your palms. Almost. We don’t really like to get dirty, anyway.

5) Skip the “Kumbaya” and get to the s’mores.

We’re not like those darn hippy parents we have–we don’t like to sing by the campfire. Just give us some roasting sticks, a bag of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate. That’s our feel-good bonding time together. And don’t worry, we know how to build a solid campfire…we’ve seen it done on shows like “Survivorman” and “Man Vs. Wild” plenty of times.

5) Cleaning up’s a breeze.

Collecting trash isn’t a problem for our generation. Since we all carry our own personal (and usually expensive) water bottles, made of hardy repurposed plastic, we don’t have to collect soda cans or clip plastic rings to save the eagles or turtles or whatever gets caught up in discarded waste. And we usually have a stash of large reusable grocery bags in our cars, which means we don’t have to chase down flimsy plastic bags that are flying around because we neatly carry all of our junk. Besides, we secretly like carrying around a stylin’ trash bag on our shoulder.

6) We share the experience in real time.

We’re the generation that overshares everything, and has absolutely no boundaries on our personal lives–as a labor and delivery nurse I was chatting with grotesquely reminded me on the last flight I took. On our visits to the wilderness, we carry our smart phones with us on canoes, into tree tops, and into caves…and our 700 Facebook and Twitter friends can keep up with our adventures as they’re happening. Not sure if that’s a grizzly bear chasing you through the woods? Tweet a description of that dark mass howling behind you and let your friends google the information for you as you sprint through the forest. And then post a picture (edited through a fancy filter in Instagram) of your lacerated torso and no doubt a few dozen people will comment on how you can dress your wounds properly.

7) We’ll either blog about the experience or get a tattoo to commemorate it.

I think you know what my choice was, friends.

The Summary of My 26th Year…

12 10 2012

It was my birthday last week.

I’m coming to grips that I’m officially “over the hill” in my twenties and, at 27, closer to 30 than I’d like to think.

I perpetually have that same astonished feeling as I did eight years ago, when my father called me out of the blue as I was on my way to class in sunny California. I said hello, and without any sort of pleasantries, my dad blurted out, “In eleven years, you’re going to be THIRTY!”

I woke up before everyone else this morning and dared not open my eyes, for fear my dogs would seize upon my wakefulness and attack with slobbery kisses. It gave me time to think about this last year, as it’s been quite an eventful one.

Here are some highlights from the last year of my life:

  • I joined a great team of people on a resource team at a fledgling ministry, giving me the chance to work with dear friends on a regular basis
  • I led a large confirmation retreat in central Illinois with a wild small group, and watched as my former students–now upperclassmen in high school–became formidable leaders with a younger generation that now looks up to them as role models
  • I co-led a confirmation group that existed of some of the craziest junior high girls I’ve ever met, but I loved every one of them (even when I had to look up creative ways to discipline them)
  • I was asked to keynote a youth conference in Canada in the middle of winter, and learned that Canadians teach their students valuable survival skills at such events–so I now know how to properly build a fire in the middle of a snowstorm
  • I learned that not only do I have famous Lutheran ancestors on my grandmother’s side of the family, am a direct descendent of Myles Standish and had Thomas Jefferson as the family lawyer back in the early days of America, but that my grandfather’s side of the family goes back to a famous medieval family who’s mentioned in the epic Beowulf as magical blacksmiths
  • I watched my wonderful little brother get married to his college sweetheart on a perfect fall day in the vineyards of southern California, and have loved having a new “sister” to roam the corridors of Mall of America with, whenever I visit
  • I caught mono and experienced the joy of balancing a demanding full-time job with a sickness that made me feel like I wanted put my head on my keyboard and sleep all day
  • I pulled some epic pranks on my co-workers, including one in which we covered every square inch of an office with poinsettias
  • I went through the pastoral call process with my dear husband, trudging through snow in heels and a suit as we interviewed with churches all over the country
  • I facilitated a Missouri District youth leadership training with some of the most talented pastors and DCEs I know, and watched our largest group ever come to recognize their calling to serve their peers
  • I discovered that my husband had been requested as a pastor by six different churches all over the Midwest and East Coast, and ultimately was given an exclusive call by the Texas District which landed us in Cedar Park at a wonderful church
  • I watched the joy of our middle school students as they came up with creative ways to serve people in our community on a weekly basis–everything from making dog treats for animal shelters to creating “appreciation baskets” of candy for our local schools
  • I moved out of a third-story apartment, with the help of a bunch of middle school kids as my drug-dealing neighbor lounged on his front porch and told us, “Yeah, it’s time to move out of this joint–the whole place is bad news”
  • I left my job in a church that I loved, saying goodbye to people that had become like family to me
  • In the six weeks of freedom that our summer afforded us, I traveled through 6 different countries in Europe, 16 states in the US, and logged a total of 13,648 miles traveled (over 4,000 of which we drove)

    In the heart of Rome, on a blissful 98-degree day in the middle of this summer…

  • I watched my husband get ordained in his home church in Florida–the same church in which he was confirmed and married–as the pastors and DCE who mentored him from a young age presided over the tearful service that ordained the first “son of the congregation” into the pastoral office as they celebrated their church’s 100-year anniversary, and as friends and family from all over the country flew in for the milestone day
  • I moved into a beautiful new apartment in Texas, with the help of an ambitious team of adults who managed to empty our storage unit in a staggering 15 minutes
  • I started a new job doing lifespan ministry, overseeing Christian education in every age and every capacity at my new church, and meeting a whole host of new friends and church workers in a new state
  • I joined a team of wildly talented people who are orchestrating the next National Youth Gathering and am seeing just how much work and dedication go into these amazing events

It’s hard to believe that so much has happened in one year. I wonder what the next year of my life will bring?

Rest assured, I’ll be sharing it with you.

The Tale of the Sneaky Squirrel and the Baffled Businessman

13 09 2012

I live a pretty ordinary life, but my ability to observe the world around me at all times with acute awareness has given me an arsenal of unique stories to tell.

Some might say I’m hyper-aware of what’s going on around me at all times. That’s true.

For instance, I was once shopping with my best friend in high school, when a blaring siren went off in the department store where we were checking out. I looked up to see a man drop a giant trash bag full of stolen designer purses and sprint out through the parking lot. When security arrived a few moments later, they grilled the clerk who was checking us out, asking about a physical description. My friend and the store clerk could remember nothing. I was able to give a complete physical description, accurately giving details about his height, weight, the color of his shirt, pants, shoes, hat, and what row he ran down in the parking lot.

Trust me, with the level of attention I pay to the people around me in public, you definitely don’t want to see me in airports.

I’ll often observe something going on in daily life that others haven’t noticed. I once noticed Elijah Wood, famous Hollywood hobbit-extraordinaire, as he walked through Disneyland in disguise. Without cluing anyone else in on who he was, my friend and I managed to sneak behind him onto multiple rides and overheard his private conversation with his pals. Another time, I saw a disguised Tom Selleck in LA, and locked eyes with him and smiled and winked. He smiled back at me, as crowds of people swarmed by with shopping bags.

Last week, though, I observed one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time.

I was eating a late lunch at Chick-fil-A with my husband, and was aware of two well-dressed men having a business meeting a few tables over. One of the men had his laptop out and they were intently discussing some sort of important business deal. Suddenly, one man’s phone rang and he looked at it. “Excuse me,” he offered up as he stepped away.

Not far enough away that I couldn’t hear him, mind you. Because what I heard was classic comedic fodder–even though I could only hear one side.

“Hello?” the man said into his phone.

“Wait, wait…hold on. Say that again.”

“Um………………..are you sure?”

“How did that happen?”

“Wait, he’s in the house?”

“How did he get in the house?! Get him out!”

“What do you mean, he’s been in my office? Seriously?”

“Honey, get him out!”

“Well, I don’t know how. There’s gotta be a way.”

“But……….I’m in a meeting right now. I can’t.”

“Honey, he’s not going to hurt you. He’s probably just scared.”

“Listen, I’m not mad at you. I don’t really understand how this happened. Just get him out of there.”

“Baby, no. No. Don’t even open the door again.”

“Fine. I’m sorry. Just….I don’t know. Try looking it up on the internet.”

“I love you too. Good luck.”

The businessman hung up his phone and trudged back to the table with a somber expression. My mind was racing as he went to sit down. What could that strange conversation possibly be about? An intruder broke into his house? An angry client forced his way into his office and stole his files? His wife let a crazed circus clown in the front door, and now he was busy painting tears on his face in the bathroom?

As the man sat down, the other man looked up from his notes and said, “Everything ok?”

“Yeah,” replied the man. “My wife called.”

He hesitated, obviously quite conflicted about admitting what was going on. I awaited his explanation with bated breath.

“She…uh…she told me a squirrel somehow got into the house. And he got into my office and tore up a bunch of stuff. And now she can’t figure out how to get him out of the house before the kids get home from school, because she’s afraid he’ll attack the kids.”

I hid my smile in my sandwich, listening to him relay this saga.

Plotting….always plotting….

The man started packing up his stuff, regretfully explaining that he was going home to chase this marauding squirrel out of his domicile. Suddenly, his phone rang again. He zipped away, and came back in just a few moments.

“Never mind!” he said almost gleefully to his associate. “My wife just called and said my father-in-law is coming over to get rid of the squirrel. I can finish up with you here.”

The other man settled his papers and asked the question I would’ve asked, too: “Are you sure your wife doesn’t need you at home?”

“Nah,” said the man. “It’s just a squirrel.”

“I wonder if he’ll be saying that when he gets home and finds his office torn to shreds,” I thought to myself.

Although I have no closure to the Tale of the Sneaky Squirrel and the Baffled Businessman, I can tell you this: I’m always watching. I’m always observing. It’s just a matter of time until I see something else that makes me chuckle.

Until then, carry on, my friends.

Just keep an eye out for the hilarity hiding all around you, in thin disguise.