Monday, December 31, 2012

Traditions

     This Christmas season has given many moments to remember and many of them have been all about the traditions of this time of year. At the risk of creating a post too lengthy even for me I'll try and look back on the season concisely enough that 2013 doesn't arrive while I'm still writing!

    Our Christmas tree came right out of yard this year - really! Everyone always laughs when we've said that, but it's true. And no, it's not the top of the one that fell during Hurricane Sandy but another lovely Frazier Don had growing that fortunately didn't suffer any storm damage.

    
     Decorating the tree a weekend in December instead of the weekend of Thanksgiving broke with tradition, but it did give us a little less hectic time with Logan before he headed back to school and I'm thinking we might maintain that new schedule next year. Unless the decorating Nazis complain - we'll see!!

     If you have a dancer in your family or know a dancer, you probably know that Christmastime usually means the annual Nutcracker production. We've had that tradition in our family since our dancing daughter was 6 and because, for a variety of reasons there was no December show with our company this year, we had both some breathing room (lovely!) and some Nutcracker withdrawal (sigh). Katrina was asked by her choir director to create an accompanying ballet piece to one of their choral numbers and since I was on video cam, I have no still shots, but let me assure you, she was lovely and wonderful, atop satin pink pointe shoes in a snow blue and white tutu. The traditional Candlelight Concert brings our community to tears and bravos each year thanks to our choir director extraordinaire, Mr. Steve Mosser.

     Our annual Ritchie family Christmas party has been part of an earlier post this year and our gathering for 2012 did not disappoint. Aunts and uncles and cousins, food and folly and fun and some traditions that we maintain each year . . . 

      sharing of the Christmas socks . . .

    

    
singing of the Twelve Days of Christmas


from the Partridge in a Pear Tree








to 8 Maids a Milking

(yes, that's my 98 year old aunt

good naturedly being the cow!!) : )








          and my cousin Kathy, who used to lead the entire Dining Hall at camp in this song during Christmas Week, bringing in the 3 French hens on the left (my crowing Mom in the red standing) and the 4 Calling Birds on the right, who for some reason felt inclined to add stork like poses to the mafan! Yes, the season would not be the same without The Twelve Days of Christmas a la Ritchie party style!

     Christmas Eve is one of the few times of the year all 4 Shellenbergers can attend the same service, all together, in a row. I love it. Because we attend a large church with several services on Christmas Eve Eve and then on Christmas Eve, we both served and then attended the last service of the series.

  
        Logan donned the "Blizzard" mascot costume and greeted delighted children and adults alike (ok, he did make one child cry, but I think Mickey would have had the same effect!!) with a hug or a high 5 and a candy cane. He decided if this whole childrens/youth ministry thing doesn't work out, he'll head to Orlando . . .   : )

      

    The service was an amazing celebration with lights and music and fireworks and joy. It was not a traditional Silent Night Christmas Eve service, but our pastor reminded us that Jesus kind of turned the world upside down when He came and if we can celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and sporting events and everything else with great cheer and noise and excitement, then why not the greatest gift of all? So we did! Traditional, no. Wonderful - yes! And when we left church to head home, lo and behold, a light snow was falling. My favorite kind - just enough to create atmosphere, but not enough to make the roads dangerous or the walk needing a good shovel. It was so pretty and delighted even this I'm-really-not-a-winter-fan.

     Christmas morning's newer tradition since our kids are older and don't wake us at o'dark thirty let us all sleep in and then enjoy some overnight egg bake and sticky buns. That tradition we're happy to keep! Sharing presents and then dinner with my Mom and Dad (Don does the lion's share of the work taking care of the turkey, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes while I pick up all the other side dishes) made for a lovely day once again.

     And can I just say how much I've enjoyed having several days to do nothing? I mean, nothing other than sleeping in, reading, watching a marathon of Seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey (which my friend Kristen highly recommended and now I know why!!) and eating leftovers. : ) No early morning rush, no afternoon rehearsals, no evening dance classes - just down time to catch our breath and relax. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh . . . a tradition I could cling to!!

      We did head out one evening as a family to see Les Miserables, the movie. Oh my!! If you haven't had the chance to see this amazing musical on the big screen, please try and make the time to do so. I'd seen the stage production several years ago and told anyone who ever mentioned it that I felt it was the one musical everyone should see - such an amazing story of redemption! Truly one of those 'this is a movie experience you really don't want to miss' films. Truly.

     And a post about traditions would not be complete without the mention of one of our annual traditions. Don and I had our first date going down to the city to one of the landmarks of Philly - the department store that throughout my childhood and much of my early adulthood was known as Wanamakers. Since then it has changed hands a few times and now is a Macy's . . .  but they have maintained a light show in the store that spans the height of several floors (the second to the seventh if I count correctly) in their majestic central atrium or foyer area.

    
    There used to be these really beautiful dancing fountains at the base of it all but unfortunately, they were not part of the restoration. Every year as a kid we would get on the train and go 'into town' to see the light show, the Colonial Christmas Village at Lits, sometimes have lunch with Santa and enjoy all the gorgeous decorations and hustle bustle that is the city at Christmas time. Now Macy's, no Wanamakers, is full of families bringing their children or their grandchildren for this traditional treat. Is it high tech? No. But it's still delightful and people arrive early to stake out their spot on the first floor below or one of the other floors directly across from the show.

    
      The store also has a whimsical display of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol that we walk through each year. This year we got there while everyone else was watching the 2 o'clock light show and had the little lanes almost to ourselves.

       













     A visit to the Reading Terminal Market is part of this day and we broke tradition by having something other than a cheese steak (gasp!!) but of course visited Termini's Bakery for cannolis. Yum!

    Our final stop for the last several years has been Mummer Fest in the Convention Center. All the Mummers groups are adding their final touches and rehearsals for this year's New Years Day parade - a huge Philly tradition - and the Fancy Brigades do a Sneak Peek of their shows on Dec. 30. We love wandering around 'backstage' (if you can call the huge area behind the performance area backstage) to see the creativity and tremendous work behind their sets. We indulged in some photo ops and enjoyed seeing all the clubs' rehearse their shows, without costumes.

         
      And now we're looking at the last tradition of 2012 . . . seeing if we can stay up until midnight to ring in the New Year! Only the first post of 2013 will reveal how successful we are. : )

      Happy New Year everyone!!        

Monday, December 10, 2012

GLORIA!

          Our Christmas tree is up. It's a lovely Frazier fir, cut down right out of our own backyard. Don had planted it several years ago as a transplant from the farm where he and his Dad labored lovingly for years over soft and fragrant Douglas firs, pricky but great for heavy ornaments Blue Spruce and gorgeous silver backed Fraziers. We're a little late this year, as we usually put our tree up the Saturday after Thanksgiving and then spend the next day, well, probably more like the next week, adding the lights and the ornaments. Right now it's full of twinkling white lights. The ornaments will be added this weekend. We're waiting for all of us to be together to decorate the tree.

      Once upon a time a high energy, curly headed little boy used to skip happily around when the Christmas music would come on. Well, he would skip happily around for lots of reasons, but he always enjoyed music. Michael W Smith's Gloria would come on. One of my favorites. The majestic symphony orchestra surging. His voice praising God.

     And the unmistakable sound of joy from a toddler, crooning along . . . "Oreo! oh, Oreo!"
 

      That toddler is now a college junior, in the midst of finals, with a voice that has dropped into the lower octaves, but still with high energy, still with curls (although a much shorter version these days) and still loving music. And he'll be home in just a few days!! Oreo! I mean, Gloria! : )

       In a few short years, another high energy blonde would add her rendition along with it.

           "Oreo! oh, Oreo! It is Chelsea's Day - ay - o!"

                She would dance excitedly around the room and she pretty much hasn't stopped dancing since.

  
                                                                                    
 
                                                                                          
     And when our family goes to the Christmas Eve service, and the worship team breaks out the intro to Angels We Have Heard on High, you know of course, that we will quietly giggle and look at each other out of the corners of our eyes and while the congregation unites their hearts and voices in singing "Gloria in excelsis deo!", the Shellenbergers will be mouthing our own traditional lyrics, inspired by a cream filled chocolate cookie.

      And two tots who have grown up entirely too fast.

    

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

HODGE PODGE TIME!

I can't not find time to add some thoughts to a Christmas Hodge Podge from Joyce (the other Joyce as we say of each other!)  so here we go! 

1.  Share your traditions surrounding the Christmas stocking. 

      We hung stockings when we were kids even though we didn't have a real mantle. My Dad put this corragated brick paper around the card table the tree was set up on and we hung our stockings there. I often went to my stocking first and savored some chocolate treats before opening my gifts. : ) Today my fam has their stockings hanging from our mantle and traditionally find that year's ornament plus some other treats from Santa in their stocking.

2.  How many hours of sleep do you average at night?  Is it enough?
     Oh, I love to sleep late but alas, it is not to be. I average maybe 6 1/2 - 7 hrs. It's just about enough but not really. I do much better with 7 1/2 - 8  . . . . and I don't feel like I"m running on a full tank until closer to 9 a.m. most days, night owl that I am!

3.  If you had to give up one thing for the remainder of this year what would it be?


Hmmm . . . well, not Christmas cookies as I'm looking forward to baking and enjoying some of our favorites soon! Not sure what I'd choose - I"ve been  thinking more about what's nice to enjoy this season that we don't have all during the year.

4.  The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (or Wills and Kate as I like to call them) have announced they're expecting a baby. Do you follow news of the Royals? 
     I do follow it casually and am very happy for the young couple. They'll be followed so closely by the media it seems they won't have a chance at a normal 'life' and yet, I think we all hope they will be able to navigate that well somehow. And who will the baby look like with two good looking parents?? : )

5.  For me,  the sound of childhood is__________________.
     . . . . kids voices playing in my backyard.

6.  Fruit cake-yay or boo? What's your favorite dessert made with fruit?

I am really not a fruit cake lover . . .  although I appreciate all the work that goes into for those who take the time to create them. I don't know anyone who is wishy washy about fruitcake - you either love it or hate it, I'd say!My favorite dessert with fruit could possible be mango crisp warm out of the oven with vanilla ice cream. Of something raspberry and chocolate is always wonderful too!

7. What is one thing you want to accomplish before 2012 comes to an end?

             Oh maybe finishing going through all the varieties of clothes - kids, ours, etc. - and getting everything we really don't wear or keep on tap for costumes for shows bagged up and out to the Care Closet at our church. It's been an ongoing process that would be great to finish by the end of this year!

8.  Insert your own random thought here.
         Can we keep this unexpected warm weather a little longer? If I had my way, it would be fall (lovely fall, not cold drizzly or even freezing rain fall) up until December 24, then a day of cooler temps with some flurries for the atmosphere, then spring could come on December 26! Anyone else like that plan?? : )

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Welcome to Our World

      It started last year with some of the drama kids. You know that commercial for the insurance company with the catchy little jingle, "We are Farmers, bum bum dum bum, bum bum bum"? Well one of my actors, who played the Genie our production of Aladdin JR last year, changed it to "We are Thespians, bum bum dum dum bum bum bum" and we all put our hands together in a circle and unite in our love for all things drama while singing it, then end by flinging out hands up with a wooooooo! Everyone laughs and enjoys that moment of being part of a group, part of a team, part of something worth being part of. We relish the safety and joy of belonging to our little world.

    This year, the PA State Thespian Conference was not local like it was for us last year, so we packed our bags and took ten lucky drama kids and headed out for two nights and three days with close to 1,000 other theatre arts students from across the state. Yes, I actually spent that much time with my darling idiots and lived to tell the tale. And yes, they know I call them my darling idiots - they actually love that moniker and take great pride in it. I think they're even trying to figure how to work it into this year's Tshirt!

     How to describe what a three day drama conference is like? Perhaps you realize that drama kids are kind of a unique group. They are not exactly the shy, quiet type. (Although some of them actually are, until they get up on the stage and take on their character's persona.) They come to the conference exuberantly expecting to not just meet other students like themselves, but in being with them, having the freedom and joy of expressing themselves without any fear of criticism or harassment. They wear their fun, colorful outfits, hats and accessories and worry not about the teenage fashion police, all still back home in their look alike mall clothes. They break out into song and dance in the corners and hallways of the host school and no one shushes them. They embrace each other with welcome warmth and appreciation for their kindred spirits. Safety. Joy. Belonging. Our theatre world.

     In a group of mostly high school students, my middle schoolers were notably in awe. Only two of them had been to last year's conference, so this was indeed an exciting new adventure, especially for those who need to have their ducks in a row. It was a growing, stretching and wonderful time for all of us. We watched five full stage productions by other attending schools as well as several one acts and showcases, which were lineups of a variety show style - productions numbers from musicals, serious monologues and humorous comedy sketches. Everyone received thunderous applause simply for taking the stage - for this group knows exactly what that feels like - and the most superior performances were capped with standing ovations. The actors, the stage crews, the 'techies', the costumers, and the directors were all equally lauded, for again, this group gets that it's not just about the leading man or lady.

     Several of the productions that were performed were absolutely stellar. It was hard to believe that some of the talent on that stage was coming from mere high school students. My budding performers watched wide eyed, soaking it all up and aspiring to attain that level of performance some day. And it did my director's heart good when some of them would say, "Hey, Mrs. Shellenberger, you know how you tell us to . . . .  that's what they were doing and it made it so good!" : )

    I know it sounds like a recipe for insanity to spend that much time with kids, but we truly had an amazing time together. The kids we took to the conference are really great, well behaved kids and I loved seeing them experience their first overnight conference. Plus some of my former students were there with the high school group and it was a joy to get to hug them and catch up with them and see how they're learning and growing.

     A few of the productions tackled some pretty serious topics and I had some concerns about whether those shows would be appropriate for middle school students. Their parents had entrusted me with their babies, some of them going away overnight without family members for the first time. But we stayed for all of the performances and I think it was really good we did. This world these kids are growing up in is not the world I grew up in - even in the 60's and 70's with all the tumult those eras brought to idyllic baby boomer families.

     Back in our hotel, we gathered in one of the girls' rooms (the boys had their own space down the hall and there was no visiting each others' rooms, even with chaperones present) and I sprawled on the bed with them and listened to their responses to shows about drug use and alcoholism and suicide and cutting and AIDS. While my heart was desperately wishing that at this age, they could still just be enjoying listening to music and giggling over crushes, I was encouraged to hear that they were working on strategies for simple matters like choosing to not curse, even though lots of kids around them in school do or because it was part of the language of some of the shows. The infidelity of the characters in the fairy tale based 'Into the Woods' bothered them, rather than leading them to think it was an acceptable choice. Their hearts were broken for the characters who were so hopeless that turning to drugs or alcohol or cutting or suicide seemed their only choice. For some, it may have given them a greater understanding of why some of their peers act or choose what they do, or compassion for what struggles may drive them to their decisions or choices. The power of live theatre had shot its arrow straight to their hearts and while yes, it was depressing in ways, the pain and consequences of some choices was also driven home in a memorable way. My hope and prayer is that their earnest goals to resist the lure of all the temptations around them can be maintained throughout their teen and adult years!

     While I know that several of my kids come from Christian families and all are trying to make good choices because of the values they've been taught, as a public school employee I'm not really at liberty to bring the hope we can have in God into the picture during our discussions. And yet, my response during those performances dealing with some of the dark and difficult issues of our time was "Oh, my, how we need Jesus!" It was obvious from several of the shows, that everyone both on the stage and in the audience, was feeling the reality of the anguish of darkness and the quest for filling that void, finding an answer, discovering a strategy for coping . . .  or for recovering from not coping. And my heart broke for our broken world.

     Life is hard, no matter what age or season we find yourselves in. It's one of the reasons Christmas can be such a welcomed season, for it is rich with joy and hope in a dark and trying day.  We fill our December days with our favorite music and foods and decorations and movies and activities. It can be a wonderful celebration or it can be a desperate attempt to fill the void. As we enter the Advent season, my prayer is that something of this season will bring hope to your heart. It only takes watching one TV show, one Hallmark movie, one theatre performance . . . .  one look at our checkbook, one conversation with a neighbor or friend, one look into another's eyes to remember that we all have fears, struggles, worries, temptations and darkness that threaten to take our focus off the bottom line of this season. My prayer is that each one of us will open our hearts to whatever it is God is trying to say to us, to however He is trying to remind us of the amazingly, overwhelmingly great love that sent His Son to us. To our world. To each and every one of us.

So we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt, the safety and joy of belonging. To Him. The King of Kings.

 No matter what darkness we face.

 We need Jesus. Bum bum dum dum bum bum bum.

Welcome To Our World - YouTube

www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVwmdPHzA0U

Monday, November 26, 2012

GOBBLES of GRATITUDE

OK, I know that title sounds like it belongs on an elementary school bulletin board but sometimes that's just the way my mind works. : ) And can't you just see all the little handprint construction paper cut out turkeys modeling  phrases all carefully scripted or hastily scrawled attached to a board of orange or gold. (Actually red or green would be better, so as to be ready for next month's Christmas bulletin board!) I wish I had a good picture of my favorite Thanksgiving bulletin board with a wonderful cartoon style bird of the season in the center and the phrase, "Don't be a turkey, Be Thankful!" swirled around it. I know you can picture that too!

The other day in a moment of lightheartedness, I said I was thankful for a new dryer when asked to say what I was thankful for. And after hanging laundry for a period of time during both colder and warmer months, I really am thankful for a new dryer. I'm thankful I didn't grow up during the colonial times or the pioneer times or the Victorian times, as interesting as they are to study and as much as I think I'd like to be a "Williamsburg lady/tourguide" one of these days.  Daily life was pretty hard then and I'm thankful for electricity and indoor plumbing and as annoying as all the technology of today can be, I'm thankful for all the connections and reconnections it's given us. If you lost power during Hurricane Sandy, I'm thinking you're nodding your head in appreciation of those things too! Our house was built in 1740 and I often sit and look at the beams or the deep windowsills or the hearth and try to imagine what life was like for all those who lived in this house throughout the many seasons it has stood here. And I wonder what their Thanksgivings looked like and if they nabbed their turkey as he sauntered through what is now our backyard! : )

For me, there's just so much and I know I don't stop and express my gratitude often enough. I have a wonderful husband who works so hard and always loves me. I know he must have days when he simply shakes his head in an attempt to figure out once again who in the world did he end up marrying? : ) But he hangs in there with me and we laugh and we cry and we'd say "I do" all over again if we had to. Commitment in today's world is priceless and I'm thankful for him. God's blessed us with two great kids who have grown up entirely too fast (I kept pushing down on the tops of their heads but it just didn't seem to work) but I'm excited to see where God is going to take them and use them. My parents are both still alive and I'm thankful for them, to still have them with us, and for all they gave and continue to give with love. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with Shellenbergers and I'm looking forward to some great Christmas time with Kaisers - having family all within driving range for the holidays and not having to go near an airport for those get togethers is a gift as well!

And please don't groan, but I am thankful for Facebook. It has given me the opportunity to reconnect with friends and students and colleagues and campmates and people from all the different seasons of my life and I truly am thankful for that! It brings me great joy to have those connections again - some of them after as many as 30 plus years since we've been together! I love chatting with and seeing the pictures of colleagues I taught with both near and afar and of students who tucked their 5th grade knees under desks in PA and P.I. (the Philippines!), and hearing what they now doing in their adult lives, many who are now raising their own families with 5th graders of their own! (Not sure how that happens when I'm still 19 in my head!) Fellow "Chiefs" who I spent such memorable summers at camp with as well 'my girls' who I helped learn how to be good "Chiefs" themselves are scattered from Africa to Arizona, yet we've been given the gift of reconnecting all these many years later. A summer spent in Belgium as a summer missionary can be remembered with old pictures and stories brought back to life on Facebook so vividly I can almost still taste the Chocopasta! : ) From classmates from as far back as elementary school days to new friends just met at a church - each one is treasured and has been used by God to leave their handprint on my heart as He continues to weave throughout my life what I can learn from each one.

And for that, and so much more, I am truly thankful.











Tuesday, November 6, 2012

ELECTION DAY


     I just got back from voting. Expecting an incredibly long line similar to the Presidential Election four years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see a short, more manageable line. The temps were rather chilly this morning (I think it was just at 39 degrees when I got out of the car) so I was thankful I wouldn't be standing out in the cold for too long. I'd brought the new John Grisham novel I started this weekend, but left it in the car, knowing I'd not become that restless in this line.

     Kudos to all you early bird voters who start your day by making your voice officially heard but I wasn't going to get up at o'dark thirty this morning when I could sleep in a bit, so I'd decided to go around eleven to beat the lunch bunch. It wasn't long before I noticed a trend. There was a significant number of older citizens coming and going. Lots of canes and walkers and sensible shoes. One lady had this nifty little device that she was using as a cane but it was actually a fold up three legged seat in case she had to wait longer in line than she could stand. I heard very little complaining. This generation gets how important the right to vote is and they were mostly all smiling and many called out to greet others they knew from their neighborhood or church community. Two gentlemen who were both wearing their Navy hats greeted one another as fellow seamen and thanked each other for their service to our country. It was a heartwarming, slice of "this is America" that I loved watching unroll before my eyes.

    Then there were the young mothers. Any of us who raised children can remember those days when it was a major feat to get an infant and a toddler out the door for anything - errands, grocery shopping, visiting a friend. But I took note of several young Moms, most with a toddler by the hand and an infant hanging from a crooked elbow in a car seat/carrier. Ugh, my back hurts just remember hauling one of those things around! (The carrier, not the child!!) It would clang into your legs or the legs of the person you pass or the door you tried to gracefully pass through or the toddler clinging to your kneecaps. Remember Moms? But these young mothers made that extra effort to bundle everyone up on this chilly PA day so they could vote.

 So they could model for their children how important it is to not take voting for granted.

 So when they are older they could talk with them about the people in other countries who might dream of a land where voting isn't dangerous or rigged or only for certain portions of the population.

So when their children complain about having to study for a history test, they could remind them of those who gave their lives so we could live in a free country.

Yes, we've probably all moaned and groaned about what 'the other candidate' will do if he wins this election. Yes, there are plenty of legitimate concerns about the condition of our beloved United States of America.
Yes, this is going to be an extremely close Presidential race and half of the country is going to be upset and distressed that their candidate of choice lost, deciding that the country is now going to head in an even worse downward spiral.

The up side is that we still live in a republic where we have a voice, the opportunity to exercise our freedom and vote. There were free citizens using walkers and canes and the helping hand of a neighbor or friend to make their voice heard. There were weary young mothers who loaded up the mini van in the hopes of seeing a better tomorrow for their children.

Will it be better? Only time will tell. But that slice of America at the polls today reminded me that while our positions and preferences and politics will vary, we still treasure our freedom and value the liberty we enjoy. Now we sit back and wait for the results. Only God knows at this point who our next President will be.

Thankfully no matter who that is and what the next four years will bring, He will still be the King of Kings.




   

   

Friday, November 2, 2012

THANKFUL

      I'm so thankful. Somehow, in the midst of all those crazy winds that swept through Pennsylvania thanks to Hurricane Sandy, we never lost power. Amazing, especially when I see how many still are without it and continue to pray for them. We've not had school all week for there is still widespread damage, power outages and still so many impassable roads from downed trees holding potentially live power lines captive. The beloved Jersey Shore is devastated. The vibrant, never sleeping NYC has had an incredibly difficult week. So all of us who are in the pockets of safety with  power are so very, very thankful for the little things like being able to walk into a room and turn on a light switch, make a cup of tea in the morning, or take a hot shower.

    We came through the storm relatively unscathed . . . although we had a bit of a narrow escape from disaster Monday night. Our home is surrounded by some very tall, very old trees and we've been keeping an eye on several of them, wondering if the next storm might bring one of them down.




When we'd watched the news all day long, we finally decided to pull out a movie and had settled in for another viewing of the last Harry Potter. The wind was quite intense and quite fitting for the movie's sweeping saga. I don't remember having winds whip around our home like that before for an extended time. It really was scary. Our candles and flashlights were ready. But suddenly, we heard a crash outside - actually it was rather muffled from the volume of the wind! We peered through the front door, fully expecting to see our dear old maple but were greeted by evergreen branches. It was rather Narnia like.


     Now remember I'd been claiming those promises in Psalm 91, especially the one that says, "If you make the Most High your dwelling, then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent."

     Hmmm . . . . so, what's your definition of "near"???

    That tree was stretched out across the entire length of our house, branches reaching out menacingly for windows and gutters and doors, coming about as close, wait no, as near, to our house as it could come, but without actually bringing any disaster upon it!! OK, it brought down a good chunk of our gutter, wiped out a few solar lights in the front flower bed and blocked any easy exit. But had it fallen in a southwest to northeast direction instead of east to west, it would have landed right, smack, dab ON our house, crashing right through the roof and who knows how many windows? And that would certainly have been classified as closer to a disaster!

   Who can say why we were spared? I'm certainly not the only one who was praying, believing, trusting that God would protect us. I even remember thinking when I posted my last blog entry that perhaps I was asking for trouble, making such a public pronouncement of trust. Would God test my faith during the storm?


     Even after a bunch of the offending branches had been pruned back, it's still easy to see that this tree could have brought plenty of disaster near our tent. One friend commented on Facebook, "It's as if a hand guided it down . . . " and I agree. And we are so humbly thankful.
     I don't have easy answers for the big and agonizing questions about why God allows some to suffer and others to be spared. There's plenty of truth to be studied in His Word about it but I don't think the answers are simple or easy.  He is God and He is almighty and sometimes His ways are hard to understand.  My heart aches for those who have lost everything in flood or fire or wind. For those of us who came through the storm safely, it seems like an opportune time to count our blessings and open our hearts and hands to help as we are able.
     It also seems like a good time to remember that all that we are, all that have, all that we are blessed with are from His Hands. And maybe times like these are perfect times to make sure we don't ever take any of it for granted.
    

Monday, October 29, 2012

BATTENIN' DOWN THE HATCHES!

     For everyone who lives on the East Coast, you've probably already been living this theme. Hurricane Sandy is now about two hours away from landfall on the Jersey Shore and because it's such a huge storm, many of us are keeping an eye on her wild ways! I think I heard I heard one of the many weather persons chiming in state that Sandy is 1000 miles wide and 1500 miles long!! That's ALOT of storm!!

    So while we've been following the sound advice of stocking up in case of power outages, you know, having all the needed candles and flashlights and non perishable food (which includes chocolate chip cookies and Pop Tarts of course!!) I couldn't help but remember storm stories from the past. Hopefully a little story telling will take everyone's mind off of Sandy, even just for a bit. : )

    When I was a CIT at Camp Sandy Cove in North East MD, Hurricane Agnes decided to visit camp. Fortunately, it was still Training Week so the campers hadn't arrived yet. And a storm at camp just feels like an adventure. Plus when you're fifteen years old and don't have to worry about your home and your family, and you're at camp so you're not plastered in front of the weather channel 24/7, it's just not quite as ominous. Maybe ignorance IS bliss. Anyway, our little band of counselor wanna be's returned to our cabin after waiting out part of the storm in the Dining Hall (again, if I remember correctly) and found a huge tree had fallen right across the front steps of our cabin! Our empty cabin. Pshew!! Had it been the tree just a few feet to the right of it, that one would have fallen directly across my bunk. Again, it was empty but still. Pshew!! These storms have a way of reminding us that it's not a coincidence that the words Almighty and God go hand in hand. We relocated to Ichthus, the cabin full of bunks for counselors on their day off and had a grand old time. Seems there was something about a racoon while we were there, but that's part of the story I've forgotten somehow. Hey, c'mon, it was a long time ago! : )

    Then there was the Hurricane that struck the Harrisburg area while I was in college. Our class had braved the winds and rain to settle in for one of everyone's not so favorite Gen Ed classes - and then when we were dismissed, we were told classes were cancelled for the rest of the day because of flooding concerns. We gleefully skipped on down to the campus branch of the "Minnemingo" and were amazed at how much it had already overflown its banks. Of course, once again, life was still an adventure so I started pretending we were on a field trip and was announcing "OK, boys and girls, stay with your buddy and don't lose your bag lunch!" Suddenly I saw a large black umbrella turn around toward me and who was beneath it but my brand new professor/boss who I was just beginning to work for as his secretary. The look on his face was a cross between "who in the world is treating this like a field trip for children  and  oh my, look at this, it's my new student secreatary!!" He did get just the beginning of a slight grin so I knew all was well, but I'm sure he was also wondering what in the world he was getting into having the likes of someone like me handling his tests and papers and book he was writing!! Fortunately, Dr. Wittlinger was a kind and gracious man to work for - even on days when I lost my buddy or my bag lunch . . . 

     The other adventure that pops into my mind when storm flooding comes up is the time my dear roommate (when we were both teaching at Faith Academy in the Philippines), Beth, was leaving to return home to the States. We'd been up most of the night getting her packed, sorting what she would take home, what she would bequeath to me, what we'd pass on to others and the always nagging pile of justwhatintheworldshouldwedowiththisstuff? It had been raining for days, as it is apt to do during the beginning of the rainy season in June and we woke up the next morning to water lapping at our door. By the time we were to head to the airport, it was thigh high in the street and we were truly wondering how in the world we'd ever get to the airport! But our chauffeur, good friend Steve, drove in as far as he could, waded in the rest of the way and we waded back out with Beth's suitcases perched atop our heads! Yes, another adventure although as I recall our tearful goodbyes added to the wetness of the day!

    And now we wait for Sandy to bring her winds and wrath and wetness. Ugh! Fortunately we've all had lots of lead time to prepare but it just seems like there's going to be a ton of damage and loss when she's done passing through. I have to admit, as many storms as I've weathered, and adventures I've experienced, this one has me a bit concerned. We're home, we're hunkered down, we're as prepared as we can be - but there's definitely a need to trust that we will be taken care of, that Almighty God does indeed both command the winds and care for every detail of concern in my heart. I've turned to Psalm 91 once again. It was the Psalm we memorized when out on the Trail with the next generation of counselor wanna be's and I recently rememorized it with one of those wanna be's I've been delighted to reconnect with. It's just one of those go to Psalms that is quite fitting to claim at such a time as this.

            Psalm 91
 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of my Lord, He is my refuge, my fortress, my God in whom I trust.
 Surely He will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His feathers, under His wings you will find refuge, His faithfulness will be your
      shield and your rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night nor the arrow that flies by day
       nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
    You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling, even the Lord who is my refuge,
     no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.
For He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways
    They will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot upon a stone.
          (there's another story there, but I'll save that for another time!!)
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra, your will trample the great lion and the serpent.
   Because he loves me, says the Lord, I will rescue him
I will protect him for he ackowledges My Name
   He will call upon Me and I will answer him
I will deliver him and honor him
   With long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation.

     And as the power surges even as I type, may Almighty God keep disaster far from all our tents during this storm as we trust Him to be our refuge and our fortress!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

HODGE PODGE ONCE AGAIN

Even though this is just my second time trying the Hodge Podge, Joyce has been doing this for quite a while . . . this is number 99! Let's see what questions she has concocted this week!!

1. So, do you like beer?
          No, just not fond of the smell of it so haven't had the desire to give it a go.

2.  What's your least favorite repetitive task?
          Anything in the tidying or cleaning realm. It surely seems that as soon as I manage to get things straightened up really well or cleaned really well, it hardly lasts long enough to enjoy it!!

3.  When was the last time you rode a bus?  Where was it headed?
          I was going to say last year when we took our drama kids to a Theatre Festival/Competition . . . but I managed to finagle driving my own vehicle, you know, just in case we needed a car for an emergency. : ) I guess it might have been the last time we were in Colonial Williamsburg and rode the bus that takes you all around the Loop so you can see every corner of that wonderful step back in time world.

4.  What song from your childhood or from your own children's childhood could make a parent's nerves stand on end?
     Anyone remember "The Song That Never Ends" from Lambchop and Friends back in the early 90's? It's the gift that keeps on giving . . . and giving . . . and . . . For too long it was our son's favorite song and we had to sing it to get him to smile for an extended family portrait when he was an adorable, curly headed 18 month old with absolutely no interest in smiling or sitting still. Thank the Lord for brothers and sisters in law willing to sing along!

5.  The US Presidential election cycle is drawing to a close (can I get an AMEN??), and the third and final debate was held last night...what was the last thing you 'debated about'?
     My daughter is our choreographer for the middle school musical I direct and we debated quite strongly about a few casting decisions. And amen to the election escapades coming to a close as soon as possible!!

6.  Can a person make too much money?  How much is too much?
     Hmmm . . . good question Joyce! I guess it's only too much if you have no interest in sharing with others who have a need.

7.  Pop-soda-coke-something else...what's it called where you live?
     Oh definitely soda. Brought home in a bag, not a sack. And poured into a glass filled with lots of ice that was made from "water" (pronouced wood - er) that came out of the spigot!! : )
 
8.  Insert your own random thought here.
      I remember having the time of my life in 5th grade singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall coming home on the bus from the Safety Picnic at Lenape Park . . . . all the way home and all the way to 1 and my parents were quite surprised that I'd learned such a song!! : ) Their answer to question #1 would be a very emphatic no.

      Looking forward to Hodge Podge Number 100 next week Joyce!

Monday, October 22, 2012

WONDERFUL WEEKENDS

     My last two weekends have just been chock full of wonderfulness and it's about time I catch up on writing about them, don't you think? : )

     Last weekend was Fall Break for my son and I wanted to be sure we were well stocked with some of his favorites. Plenty of cereal and milk plus Kraft Mac and Cheese are the usual fare but some apple cider, a frosted donut with jimmies (sprinkles) from Landis Supermarket, some Herr's BBQ potato chips and at least one stop at Wawa fill out the local staples nicely.

    We hadn't seen Logan since Labor Day weekend and I love having him home to visit so we can catch up on how his classes are going, what's up on campus, how the jazz band is sounding this year, how his intramural sports team are playing and so on. He even shocked me by only bringing a small basket of laundry instead of the usual I'vebeensavingthis?loadstashforweeksnowMom mountain!What a nice surprise - and just so great to have Logan with us for the weekend.

    And because it was Homecoming week at the high school, he was soon giving his sister a little friendly advice before her Powder Puff Football game.

       Unfortunately, even after a hard and well fought game, the juniors lost . . . but I finally got a smile from behind the purple palmed face. Yes, my daughter is competitive and no, Nana, she did not get hurt playing football. : )
      Friday night brought another win for Pennridge at their Homecoming game and we continue to love the excellence and joy coming from the Marching Rams Band.

      Then it was on to Saturday night's Homecoming Dance. 
     OH my, oh my, oh my. . . when did my baby girl grow up??  Yes, Don is keeping the shotgun handy!!

     One of the things I miss when Logan is away at school is serving together in our family service at church, Family Fusion. So it was great that he was back up that Sunday, in his cast character of Marshall. I was producing so got to enjoy it all ringside and am so thankful that my boy has found joy in using his gifts to serve Jesus. : )











It was great to have one of his best friends home that weekend too. These guys have grown up together and I love seeing their friendship continue to be important to both of them.


      And then he was off to school and when we walked back into the house . . . yeah, it was just a little too quiet again . . .

     So how do you create another weekend that's not quiet? Get together with some of your favorite old friends from camp!!

A small group of us gathered this past weekend at our friend Sheila's house near Bethany Beach in Delaware and may I just say, it was not quiet. And that was a good thing - as we laughed and talked and laughed and talked and laughed and . . . oh yeah, we ate too.

 Sandy Cove Stew - OK, I know you're thinking it looks completely unappetizing, but you haven't lived until you've eaten some of this. Best made over a campfire of course, but this concoction of ground beef, bacon, onion, tomato sauce, potatoes, cheese and carrots is oh so yummy. We usually have it with dough boys wrapped around a stick and cooked over that same fire, but these yummy cheese biscuits were mighty fine too.



It didn't take us long at all to be catching up over games and puzzles, finding out how each other's families are doing, what's happening in each others' classrooms, and seeing who can still stay up past 11 p.m. on a Friday night!! : )

   A little shopping, lunch with a gorgeous view and some beach time makes for a fantastic Saturday.


 OK, it wasn't all about the food, but we certainly did enjoy some good meals together! And it was my first time eating lobster in the right out of the shell version. Lots of work, but pretty fun once I got the hang of it!

  Thank you Sheila, for sharing your beautiful beach house with us!


 Thank You Lord, for two wonderful weekends, and for wonderful family and friends to share them with.      

Monday, October 8, 2012

IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED . . . 

     The other day I noticed a young facebook friend posting about an upcoming field experience for an education class. Instantly I was transported back to the elementary school where I had both field experience and student teaching experience with a really wonderful cooperating teacher who let me try out any and all ideas I had. Some were actually successful and some weren't . . . and when those unsuccessful lesson plans would result in chaos or crash and burn scenarios, she would calmly say, "And sometimes these things just don't come out like we expect them to." She opened the door for me to not be afraid to try, to understand that we learn from our mistakes and from our failures. She wasn't afraid that I would ruin her class or set her back in her scope and sequence for the year but gave me plenty of room to spread my wings and fly - believing that there was plenty of good I would bring to her, well for ten weeks our, students, and that both teacher and pupil can benefit from believing that "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again". I loved having her as my mentor. I knew early on that I would love her when she gestured toward her desk which resembled my own - comfortably cluttered - and shared a mantra that I continue to live out to this day:

               "Creative minds are rarely tidy."

     I knew I'd found a kindred spirit in Marcia Pearl, at Shepherdstown Elementary School. : )

    The first time she walked down the hall and left me alone with our 25 5th graders for just a few minutes, they were returning from lunch recess. And another famous quote exploded before my eyes:

                "Boys will be boys."

     Ah, yes, the two Michaels. Rather than the primary solution of adding the first initial of your last name (Susan P., Jenny M., etc.) these two took their last names as their monikers at least from their classmates. From my earliest observations it was obvious there was no love lost between these two ten-year-olds. And all it took on this day was an off hand comment or look to continue whatever altercations had happened on the playground minutes earlier.

     Before I knew it they were circling each other, seeing who would take the first swing. Oh, please boys, not on the first time I'm alone in the classroom with you all! I remember moving toward them, calling out their shared name, "Michael." No response other than continued circling and boy glares. My heart starts beating faster, wondering if it would be better for my co-op to come and relieve me of dealing with this, or for me to be able to successfully break it up before she returned. I come closer and call out more firmly, "Michael!" Obviously, this tactic isn't working. Thankfully, neither had pounced on the other one . . . yet.

     Now I'm just about to them and the smaller has raised his little arm to take a swing at the larger one and eventhoughIwascommittedtonevercallingstudentsbytheirlastname I yell smaller boy's last name and reach in to grab his arm before it connects with the nose of said larger student.

     Both calm down, larger Michael retreats to his desk and I look down at smaller Michael and release his arm, saying, "You can't hit another student. And I'm sorry that I called you by your last name" (Yes, I hear you asking why I felt the need to apologize to the little troublemaker? And I'm hoping I also said something to him about how crazy it was to go after a kid bigger than him!) He looks up at me with a Dennis the Mennis grin and replies, "Oh, it's OK Miss Kaiser, everyone else calls me that."

    I have no memory of the consequences but that impish grin that endeared him to me from that moment on has never been forgotten. And I'm happy to report that there was never any need to break up any attempt of a fist fight in that classroom again. I suspect it was because of whatever Marcia said to them upon her return, not because of my unintentionally gained 'cool' factor earned from calling them by their last names. : )

    One of my early assignments the first week or two in the classroom was to help individual students edit their Science reports. Students had chosen an animal to research and were learning to take that info and put it into their own words for a three paragraph report. They would bring their work to me to help them check for spelling, grammar or other mistakes to fix before going on to their good, handwritten copy - a challenging task for some of the students who found school to be difficult. One such boy crept over with his report on snakes and I gave him a warm smile and started reading.

      By the second paragraph it was obvious he'd given up on his own words and had done the good-old-copy-it-right-out-of-the-encyclopedia-trick. I could feel his eyes on mine as I read over his smudged paper, hoping against hope that I didn't do much free reading about snakes. When I got to his final paragraph which he began with the phrase, "Hence, snakes are . . . " I had to cover my mouth to hide my smile. At first when gently questioned he denied the 5th grade plagarism. He knew he was busted though when he answered my query about the meaning of the word "Hence" with one last glimmer of hope in his brown eyes replying, "Ummmm, it's a kind of a snake?"

     You will be rewriting this report, dear. Let's see if I can help you remember how you do this again.

     I'm thankful today for one of many teachers who modeled master teaching for me, who knew the value of taking a risk and learning from whatever the outcome would be,who wasn't afraid of a little clutter, a little chaos, a little commotion if learning for both students and teachers was the end result. 

     In a world of rage and stress and fear, let's try and be gentle yet firm when we need to correct, patient when we need to explain . . . again . . . and discerning about unmet expectations with whoever God has placed in our hands to teach, to lead and to guide.

      Hence, we can be the hands and feet of the Master Teacher of all Master Teachers, who I also think isn't afraid of a little clutter, a little chaos or a little commotion along the way.

     

    

    

    

    

    

Monday, October 1, 2012

"NEXT!"

     It's audition time. It's exciting and nerve wracking and wonderful and terrible all rolled together in one adrenalin pumping package. I love this time and I hate this time. I love it because as a director I get a glimpse into the potential that will grace our middle school stage this year. I hate it because it's just so stressful and scary and I know that every decision, every list, every evaluation is going to make someone cry, fill someone's heart with such grave disappointment, convince someone that it's not worth the effort to try out, to take a risk, to put your best on the line only to have it not be good enough - at least not good enough to secure the part, the role, the coveted spot.

     I hate doing that to kids. We do everything we can to make auditions as encouraging and positive and calm as possible. I remind them that I think the fact that they walked into the auditorium and are willing to get up in front of us and some of their peers is half the battle and they show great character just by taking that risk. I assure them we will not yell, "Next!" when they are done but that every audition performance will receive applause because we all know how hard it is to do what they are doing. We smile and remind them that every single person in that room matters and that we truly do care about each one of them and that we know just how hard this whole process is.

   And all of that is true. But the hard fact remains that there's a big group of kids and a small number of lead roles. We gulped and swallowed and decided to take everyone who auditioned this year into the full cast - currently a group of over 70 kids. Are we crazy? Yes - but it's middle school and middle school should be about trying new activities and stretching your wings and having the opportunity to experience music and sports and drama without all the pressure and selectivity that high school will bring. We want to take all these kids and give them a safe place to do that with a group that can become a family, where they know they can walk in every day and belong. We laugh and learn and love on them big time. We teach them about the commitment and discipline and teamwork and respect and yes, even humility that drama requires.  But we still have to decide who will play the lead roles and who will be the dancers and who will be in the featured vocal group and have to create a call back list for those who are being considered for those coveted spots  . . . sigh. It's times like these when I'm tempted to just put all their names in a hat and toss the slips of paper down the stairs and the ones who make it to the bottom step win.

     So as we forge on through call backs in our middle school auditions, I can't help but think how many times in a day I can feel like I'm facing auditions of my own and not measuring up to making it. The state of my house is never anywhere near the beauty on the magazine cover that's on my coffee table - that is when I can see the magazine on the coffee table and it's not covered with mail or school papers or the empty Wawa cup from last night's smoothie treat on the way home from dance. The fitness level of my body is just not what it used to be - and once again today my good intentions of getting out to walk are thwarted, but today at least it's because it's raining and not because I listened to the call of other busy timetakers. I have friends who work full time, keep an immaculate house, walk the dog at o'darkthirty, have an organized weekly meal plan with an organized refrigerator, freezer and pantry with freshly ironed clothes hanging in the closets. They.are.amazing. And I'm in awe of their ability to juggle it all and juggle it so well. It's just something I have to keep working on, even though I'll never be amazing at it all. And when I compare myself to them, I know my name will not be on that particular call back list. Sigh. And it's so easy to compare ourselves to the ones we just know will make the list we'll never be on.

       This past week I learned of a girl who had been at a summer camp directed by a friend from college. She was 15 years old  and just a few days ago she decided to take her own life by jumping off a bridge. I still feel sick to my stomach thinking about her. Just a bit younger than my own daughter. The same age as the girls we would take out on the Trail at camp. And for whatever reason, she didn't think she could go on living. My heart is breaking for her parents, her family, her friends, everyone who knew her and had some kind of connection to her, and the surreal haze they are forcing their feet to stagger through one step at a time. I keep praying for all of them. I keep wondering what call back list she didn't think she would make.

     Ridiculously trivial or earth shattering, heart wrenchingly larger than life - we all have a call back list we long to find our name listed on. The one that tells us we matter. We belong. We have arrived and achieved. We are significant, successful, strong. That when the curtain rises, we will be on the stage, we will be in the spotlight, we will receive recognition and applause for how well we played the role we auditioned our way into.

    And yet I also know, and also tell my drama kids, that there is much to learn from this process itself, from getting out there and trying, from building on what you learned last year, from simply being part of the cast and the team and learning as much as you can - even if you didn't get the lead role you longed for. From discovering how much joy can be found in bringing your own unique God-given qualities and abilities and personality and linking them with the unique features of your fellow cast members, working together to bring a production to the audience that will entertain them, make them laugh, make them cry, make them think, make them wonder, make them so very glad they came. And making you glad you didn't quit just because you didn't get the part you wanted.

    Let's encourage one another to not quit, to not miss opportunities to learn and grow, to not let the inevitable evaluating call back lists of life rob us of our joy. For Jesus paid the price so I could be on His list, His Lamb's Book of Life. I am precious in His eyes. I am His own.

    I can't think of a better call back to get.

    
     

   

    

   

Monday, September 17, 2012

THE LITTLE THINGS

     Sometime it's just the little things, isn't it? Like sipping a hot cup of tea on a morning tinged with fall's impending arrival. Getting a big smile from the neighborhood kids whose profits just rose at their lemonade stand. The rumbling motor from the contented purring kitty in my lap.

     Then there's all the little things that happen throughout the day. The hold-the-door-for-the-next-person culture at Wawa.The brave annuals in the flowerbeds that continue to grace us with their color and cheer.  The laughter with the teens at pizza lunch yesterday. The email from a dearly loved friend just to say she's praying for me.

    And of course there's little things that can make my heart swell close to bursting or fill my soul with a very contented sigh.The smile my daughter turns to give me before she heads through the doors of high school in the morning. A text and picture from my husband just to share something he's enjoying while on the road - a wish you were here in one frame. Dinner with "old" friends who have shared college and careers and singleness and marriage and children and marriage of children and aging parents and who wouldn't mind all ending up in the same old folks home ourselves one day.  : )

    I remember one of our pastors starting a sermon one time by saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff. Point Two. It's all small stuff." We all chuckled but of course I immediately thought of things that I wasn't sure qualified as small stuff. The bills to be paid. The health concerns of family and friends. The fears and the worries that seem larger than life all around us. His point of course was that God has it all under control so we don't need to sweat it. A concept we spend a lifetime fully learning.

     It seems lately that God's been trying to remind me of the little things that are in actuality quite big. The things that we might have learned as a child or as an adult. Things that hold all the little pieces of our days together. The bottom line in a world that seems to grow shakier and darker and anything but something to not sweat over. I'm a pretty positive, optimistic person and I prefer to see the glass as half full. But on days when it's obvious the world my children must navigate today is far different from my teen and young adult years, when I cannot comprehend the pain some children bring with them to school and church, when the headlines would convince us that things could very easily get worse before they get better, I am increasingly grateful for the enduring truths my Heavenly Father has been whispering in my ear again and again.

     "Fear not."

     "I am with you."

     "I love you."

     "I will never leave you." 

     If you grew up in Sunday School, you probably sang a little song that goes like this:

             "Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.
                 Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so."

     It is the little things, isn't it?

     This song from Tenth Avenue North swirled out from the radio this morning to pour grace and comfort over my heart. I hope it does the same for you - whatever your small stuff to not sweat is. It's pretty much full of little things, that aren't quite so little after all.

                                         
 http://youtu.be/J95rAr0gOFU

     

    

Saturday, September 8, 2012

FRIDAY NIGHT FAITH

      Last night the high school football crowd was out despite the heat and humidity that were making us question both the calendar and our choice of attending. I do love the excitement of Friday night home games and when in just a few short weeks we'll be bundled up in layers with green and white spirit scarves wrapped around our necks, we will probably long for some of the heat we faced last night.
    But the weather didn't keep the home crowd from doing their respective things. The proud parents and faithful community supporters of the Rams were in place cheering on their favorite players and team. The marching band made its season debut and fortunately for them, they pared down to school T's and track pants while awaiting the arrival of new uniforms. While we no longer have a child in the band, we are both fans of and friends with this year's director and it was great to hear their renditions of Steely Dan from the field and those familiar fight songs from the stands. This director has a great educational philosophy of both high expectations of excellence and positively enjoying, relating to and caring about his students with honesty and integrity which resulted in great music and some very happy, confident kids. Let's just suffice it to say that the combination hasn't always been complete in the past and both students and parents are excited and relieved to find all those pieces of the puzzle in place this year. That phrase "the teacher makes the difference" couldn't be more true! Thanks Mr. B! You're the best!
     Have you ever sat at a football game and watched the bands of students rove? Yes, they came to a football game and yes, many will probably leave knowing the final score or at least whether we won or lost.  (And yes, I'm sad to report that we did lose in overtime when what we thought was the winning touchdown was revoked by the referees). But for many they know much more about who is now going out with who (or is that whom?), what two girls were in fashion crisis when they discovered they were wearing identical tops, and what guys have finally shot up and filled out enough to catch the attention of that group of girls who all apparently shop at the same store in the mall and wouldn't even look twice at said short, scrawny boys last year. And don't leave out which guy had his arm casually draped over which girl's shoulders, which senior girls are apparently already jockeying for Homecoming Queen position, which teachers have already been branded as the ones who try to crack jokes that really aren't funny or have already given entirely too much homework ("don't they know we have lives??"), and which girl's flirty little flip of the hair might lead to an eventual relationship status change on Facebook! : ) Teens are great and at some of their most socially interesting at a Friday night football game.
    For me, it was a good opportunity not only to catch up with other former or still faithfully enduring band parents, but also my drama kids who have now moved on to high school. How fun for me to have them scream my name and run to give me a hug! How wonderful to know they survived their first week as freshmen and that no one tried to send their trusting, gullible selves to the non-existent 4th floor. How rewarding to see both their excitement about new high school adventures and opportunities as well as their joy in the memories of our 'family' of thespians where it is safe to come knowing you will always be loved for just who you are. I also got to hang out with a couple of this year's returning, 8th grade drama kids and was pleasantly surprised to discover that some of last year's quietest students are in reality scoops of funny, talkative girls sprinkled with 'top of the heap' confidence. I was reminded once again of how important the task is of believing in kids and taking time to listen to them and am so thankful for the opportunities God continues to give me to make a difference in the lives of some really wonderful kids.
     Following the traditional after the game team huddle, a group of players gathered in a student led circle and knelt on the field to pray. We've had guys who do this every year and this year's group seems to have an especially large number. Their recognition of Who gives them the ability to play always makes me catch my breath and smile. It's a public school with plenty of kids who are all about the glory and the accolades and I love that these guys have committed to expressing their faith humbly in a public forum. I love that we're in a district that hasn't felt the need to squash this. I love that we have kids in classrooms and sports and drama and music and the countless other activities that capture teens' passions and heartbeats who are looking to Jesus to give them strength to face the tough world they must navigate day by day and to trust in and share His love with their friends and classmates and teammates.  
    
    And wouldn't you know that this morning I would read the following verses from Ephesians:

    "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know his love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
     Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

     Amen.