Corrie, Barry, & Amy in new pjsKids at ChristmasAs Christmas arrives, I am reminded of so many Christmases from the past. As a kid, I think the earliest memory I have of Christmas was the big celebration we always had when decorating the tree. The day we decorated the tree became a family party. We made snacks and played Christmas music. We sang Christmas carols, laughed, and munched. We always had a real tree in those days, because artificial trees didn’t exist, as far as I know. That meant that the first part of the evening was spent with my dad cutting the trunk of the tree to remove any unneeded height. The fragrance of the spruce tree filled the air. It was an incredible scent, and one that I still love to this day. The real tree lives in the past for my family now, and I can’t say that I’m totally sorry about that, because they are messy, and a fire hazard. I will take the trade off, and the fragrance of the spruce tree will have to live in my memory files.

Christmas eve was another family night, with singing, and of course, the one gift that we Alaskan ornament 2Alaskan ornament 1got to open that night…our new pajamas. I’m sure that was to add a nice fresh touch to the Christmas morning pictures, but it didn’t matter, because we loved getting those pajamas…and the excitement if opening just one gift on Christmas Eve was what it was all about anyway. These days with my children grown up, I’m not the one to give pajamas, although, we did it when our girls were little. Now they always know that at Grandma’s house, they will receive an ornament, so what is the mystery in that. Well, it is what kind of ornament, of course. I try very hard to be creative with those, and I think I did great this year. We had gone to Alaska on a cruise this past summer, and the kids all received an Alaskan ornament. I was so excited about those, that I had to get one of my own.

Christmas day always brought excitement and awe. It didn’t matter what you got, it was just so exciting to open the long anticipated gifts to see what you got. It always seemed that at this time of year, people were listening carefully so they could hear what you wanted, and then they headed out to get it and surprise you with it. 000_0016000_0031My favorite years were the ones where we got something extra special for my parents. It was amazing to surprise them with something they never expected that we could afford…like the toaster we got them when I was the only one with a job. The rest of the gifts were hand made. They were so shocked. Then there was the year that we were sending them on an Alaskan cruise for their 50th wedding anniversary. We got them a video camera for the trip. They were so excited. Yep, I think the best Christmases are the ones where you give amazing gifts. It is about giving rather than receiving. I guess that was how God felt too. After all, He gave us the greatest gift of all…Jesus. And that is the greatest Throwback Christmas of them all. Merry Christmas everyone and may the greatest blessings God has to offer be yours this Christmas and all year long.

Caryn Sue Spencer abt June 1956 editedCheryl getting ready to kiss CarynToday is my birthday. The last few days, I have been reflecting on my birthday, and my dad’s birthday just two days before mine, and how much I miss him, and what my parents mean to me. Your parents give you so much, as a baby. They supply everything you need, like food clothing, warmth, love…eveything. But before that, there was something more they did. It was something even greater…the greatest gift. They gave you life. How do you thank them for that? Oh, I know, my parents had me and my sisters, because they wanted a family, but it was their desire for a family that gave me life. It was likely something they gave little thought to…that this was a gift to me, but that is exactly what if feels like to me. The greatest gift.
Grandpa, Grandma, Caryn, Allen, and Cheryl_editedCollene, Cheryl, Hattie, Caryn, and George
When I arrived I was nurtured by my mom and dad. When I came home, I met my sister Cheryl, who loved me very much. Like me, she had been given the greatest gift our parents could give us…the gift of life. Because we lived so far away from my mom’s family then, my grandparents made the trip from Casper, Wyoming to Superior, Wisconsin to visit us, and share in the joy of our growing little family. Cheryl and I felt so blessed to have the happiest life there could possibly be. She and I played in our little world, mostly just the two of us, but also with our cousin, Pam, for the next three years in Superior, Wisconsin.

Our family moved back to Casper, where my sister, Caryl was added to our family, 3 years Caryn Schulenberg, Alena Stevens, Caryn Reed, Cheryl Masterson, Collene Spencer, Allyn Hadlock, Allen Spencerafter I was born. Then two years later, Alena, and two years after that, Allyn. Each of us had been given the same greatest gift from our parents. And along with that greatest gift, they had also given us another second greatest gift…the gift of siblings. My parents and my sisters have always been so dear to me. Our family has always been very close, and as it continues to grow, more and more blessings are added. With each new family member, by birth or by marriage, the greatest gift, keeps on giving. So today, on the anniversary of my birth, I want to thank my parents for giving me life. Your gift was so precious and loving…the greatest gift…ever.


Dad and LizIf there is one thing I can say about my niece, Liz, it is that she loves sports. In fact, there was a time she considered becoming a sportscaster. And she would have been a great one too, because I don’t know of anyone who knows more about their teams than Liz. And, I’m pretty sure she she keeps up with all the other teams too. Liz was a big sports fan, when everyone thought girls didn’t like sports…or was it just that girls were closet sports fans.

Liz is a fan of the Denver Broncos, which was something she was proud to share with her grandpa, my dad. Of course he wasn’t the only one who shared her love of the Broncos, but he was the one who was the most important to Liz. They shared a love of the Denver Broncos and the New York Yankees. It created a special kind of bond between them that no one else had. When the subject came around to either team and they were both in the room, it was their conversation, and no one else’s. That was never something any of us were jealous about. We all thought it was wonderful that Dad had someone who was so knowledgeable about sports to talk sports with. It was heartwarming to watch that, because as the dad of daughters and only 4 grandsons, there weren’t a lot of sports minded people around him. Liz was one person who understood the games, and could talk intelligently about it with my dad, and that was a greater gift than Liz can possibly know.
I know that I certainly couldn’t do that, because until the Broncos went to their first Super Bowl, I liked the Broncos, but only in passing. And while I watch the Super Bowl every year, and I’m still a Die Hard Broncos Fan, I don’t watch much football on a weekly basis. Liz on the other hand watches the Denver Broncos, The Denver Nuggets, the New York Yankees, the Wyoming Cowboys, and of course, every game that Kelly Walsh plays…and those were just the ones I know of. There are many ways to describe Liz, but none so well as Grandpa’s Favorite Sports Fan. Today is Liz’s birthday. Happy birthday Liz!! Have a wonderful day!! We love you!!

My sister-in-law, Brenda has been a part of my life since she was 10 years old, and my sister-in-law since she was 11 years old. She has always been a sweet girl, who was kind and loving. Her loyalty to those she loves is unsurpassed. During the time that her parents have been ill, she has been someone we can count on to be there to help in any way she can. She is one of our village, and she is invaluable. She has dealt with some pretty tough things, and she knows how hard it is on a person.

Brenda is more than just a sister-in-law to me…she is a friend. She cares about me. Recently, when we had a birthday party for me, my daughter Corrie said that part of my gift was to go to lunch at Mongolian Grill. With the events lately concerning my in-laws, I was not really sure when we might be able to go to lunch. A little more than a week had passed, and I was too busy to think about the planned lunch date with my daughter. Brenda, however, didn’t forget. She was going to take a couple of days vacation, and she planned the daily lunchtime duties into her vacation days, in order to allow me time to go with Corrie. It was such an incredible thing to do…and one I will not forget!! Sometimes my days are very full with caregiver duties, and it makes me feel very loved when someone steps up and does something so nice for me. Brenda is the kind of person who looks for ways to help out and make life easier.

In some families, the longer you are part of the family, the more distant people become. They move away, and come home once every 5 years, or they live in the same town and you hardly see them, but not so with Brenda. She has stuck with the village during some of the toughest times we have gone through. She can always be counted on to do whatever she is able to make our journey a success. We are up against health issues and of course, time. We know that at some point the journey will end. All we can do is try our very hardest to hold that day at bay for as long as possible. Team members like Brenda are extremely important to that goal.

Today is Brenda’s birthday. I want to wish her the very best birthday she has ever had. She has been so good to me, and I can’t tell her how much that means. Happy birthday Brenda!! We love you very much!! Have a wonderful day!!

Bob and I had always felt that our kids didn’t really need a phone in their room, and for the early years, they didn’t have one. But, when our girls reached the pre-teen years, we decided that since the phone was always for them, and having them talk, talk, talking in the living room made it really hard to watch television, maybe having a phone in their rooms wasn’t such a horrible idea after all. The constant chatter and loud laughter was hard to ignore…not to mention having the girls constantly telling everyone not to listen!!

So, along about the time they were 11 or 12, we decided that Christmas would bring a rather unexpected gift for our girls. We were going to get them phones for their rooms. Of course, there would not be a separate line, but there would be some peace and quiet in the living room. For the most part it brought peace to our home…sort of. There were times when one or the other of the girls took too long in their turn on the phone, and then we would have a few fights. Still, the moments of fighting were a small sacrifice compared to the hours of peace that fell in between. I will never forget the look on my girls’ faces that Christmas morning. They couldn’t believe that they could talk in their bedrooms and not have everyone listening to every word they said.

Much has changed since those days. Pretty much every child has their own cell phone these days…and their own phone number…and it is more important than many people would like to think. A cell phone can be a life line if their car breaks down, or they missed their bus, etc. I know of many parents who don’t think their child needs a cell phone, and that they are a distraction. In some ways, that is right…especially if they are using it during class, but a child walking home alone, who gets lost or is being followed…needs a phone…now!!

I am grateful that my girls have continued the tradition and that their children each have a cell phone. It’s nice to be able to get a hold of my grandchildren whenever I want to. Of course, today things are different. Phones are used in a completely different way…texting. And if you want to keep up, you have to be able to text. I personally like texting, because it allows you to go on doing what you were doing while you are waiting to hear back. And cameras on the phone can be fun and functional too.

Yes, much has changed since my girls’ first phones, but kids haven’t changed. They still get excited about that new phone, and just the fact that it is theirs. They still want the latest and the greatest technology. And what is cool today, will be old news tomorrow. As excited as my girls were with their new phones that Christmas morning so many years ago, today they would wonder if I had lost my mind, because I would be giving them an antique that would be viewed as worthless.

I was thinking about something my Aunt Sandy said to me a while back about talking to my mom about the old stories before it is too late…before she forgets them, or before she were to go home to be with the Lord. Then I was listening to some tapes by Jesse Duplantis, while on a long drive to and from Denver for a class these past couple of days. Jesse Duplantis talks about a minister, or evangelist being a gift from God placed in your life to be a blessing…to get God’s word out to you. That got me thinking abut the other gifts in our lives…our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Early in our lives these people nurture us, teach us how to grow up, take care of our physical needs, and our emotional needs. They might babysit us, or later, let us spend the night. They are role models for us, to teach us right from wrong, and social etiquette. We learn our early sense of style from them…at least until we are old enough to want our own style. We get our early religious training from them, whether it is to go to church or not, it usually comes from the adults around us. There are so many characteristics, that can be traced back for our parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

They do all these things for us and yet all too often we think of them as outdated, behind the times…especially in technological matters, annoying, interfering, and…well, anything but a gift. And yet, that is exactly what they are, and we get to have them for a very short time…too short. Just ask anyone who has lost their parent or parents, and see how they feel about them now. Do they regret that they didn’t spend enough time with them? Yes, because no matter how much time you spent, it wasn’t enough. If I could spend one more day with my Dad, would I do it? Absolutely, and I would treasure it…you have no idea how much I would treasure it, but I can’t. That gift is no longer here, but sometimes in thinking about the gift I have lost, I forget to see the gifts that are still in front of me. Sometimes, I see them as more of a job than a gift. Most of you know that I am a caregiver for my mom and my mother and father-in-law. Sometimes, I let myself lose site of the purpose of that caregiving…which is to keep the gifts in my life, in my life for a little longer. Do yourself a favor, and see the gifts in your life…cherish them…and as my Aunt Sandy would tell you talk to them about all the stories of their past…your heritage, that only they can tell you, and once they are gone, the stories are gone too. Whatever you do in life…cherish the gifts you have been given.

For Mother’s Day, my mom often asks us to do the projects she has planned on over the year. It is a great way to get things done that she would otherwise have to pay someone to do. So, we pick out a weekend, and get the plans made, and on the chosen weekend, we all descend on Mom’s house.

This year’s projects consisted of spring cleaning her bedroom, re-painting trim on the house, planting her flowers and cleaning the yard, and building a deck. Seventeen people showed up to help, a pretty good crew. We have been doing this for several years now, but it always amazes me that that so many people can have a general plan, but no true foreman, and yet the as the jobs are laid out everyone steps up and gets started.

At first, it looks like total chaos, then maybe organized chaos, but then suddenly, the different projects begin to come together, and before you know it something amazing has happened. Seventeen people who don’t normally do this kind of work…who are everything from mechanics to teachers, students to insurance agents, in the medical field to police officers to those in the legal field…and yet today we were painters, gardeners, carpenters, housekeepers, and cooks, and that worked for us.

So, why do we do this and how is it that it works for us. Well, love can produce a multitude of talents that we didn’t really know existed. My mom wanted nothing more than to have her children all together. It wasn’t just about the projects, although those were important to her too, but she has always liked it when her children are together. The projects turned out great. And while we are not quite finished, we will be tomorrow, and for another year, we probably won’t all work on a big project. But Mother’s Day will roll around again, and new projects will be dreamed up.  And once again, we will all become weekend warriors, ready to tackle the jobs she needs done. It’s not a bad Mother’s Day gift, after all. And in reality, to her, it is the best gift ever. Having her children all together showing their love for her.

One day after the birth of my first grandchild, my life was again blessed with my second, a little girl named Shai. She was born on Leap Day, so she really doesn’t have a birthday this year…exactly. I tell her that in the nano-second between 11:59pm and 12:00am, between February 28th and March 1st, her birthday happens. My boss and hers, Jim, says she will need to “party fast” so she doesn’t miss it. Yes, Shai is a Leap Day baby. She gets a birthday only once every four years. Her brother and cousins used to tease her that they were already older than she was. And she hated that until I told her that it was true that they are “older” than she is, but she will get to drive when she is 4 and they will have to wait until they are 16. Another really cool fact concerning being a Leap Day baby that I’m sure she hasn’t considered yet, but every woman who thinks about it will appreciate…she won’t really be 15 until she is 60, and seriously…what 60 year old woman wouldn’t want to be 15.

When Amy told me that she was going to name her daughter Shai after a little girl she to take care of at the day care she was working at, I was…well less than excited about it. I worried that the name Shai, pronounced shy, would get her teased. So I suggested some “variations” on the name. They were quickly rejected, and Shai it would be. Now that I know her, the name just fits her so very well, even though she isn’t one bit shy, and when you add the fact that the name Shai means “gift” in Hebrew, well I’m sold, because that is what she has been. Being the only granddaughter we have, she most certainly is a gift to us.

Shai is very much the grown up young lady and a girly girl. She loves to shop, get manicures/pedicures, and she is a boy magnet. Her love of shopping came early, when at around the age of 4, she wanted to go to Target. When her mom said that she didn’t have enough money to go shopping that day, Shai simply said, “Well, charge it!!!” All kidding aside, I feel very blessed that she is also a very responsible girl and does an awesome job at work.

Her responsible ways came very early on, when at the age of 10, when my parents were both quite ill, and unable to care for themselves, she stepped up. Thankfully it was during the summer, because, my sister suggested that Shai come during the day and be with them. Like a little trooper, she stepped up and cared for them for more than a month, giving them their meds, getting them food and drinks, and every other job a nurse would do. We were very proud, and most grateful to her, and always will be. Happy Birthday Shai!! We love you very much!!

The waiting is over. My friend, Evelyn has gone home. For us here on earth, death seems like a thief that comes in and takes away those we love, but for those in Heaven, it is a joyous day. The day that humans were made for. The Bible says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Psalms 116:15. So today is a precious day to the Lord.

For Evelyn, today is the day that her existance exploded into the most amazing joy ever felt by humans. She is free from pain and earthly limitations. She is with our Lord Jesus and she has seen God’s face, a privilege saved for those good and faithful servants who have been made the righteousness of God through the death of Jesus on the cross. She is among the justified, as are those of us who have chosen Jesus, but now she knows true joy. The kind of joy that can only come from being in the presence of God.

So, why is it that we have such a hard time feeling even the smallest hint of that joy when we, who are left behind, think of our loved one. Humans fight to stay alive. Fight to keep our loved ones alive. Fight to win the battle against illness. But for what? Our earthly travels are filled with troubles. And yet, our very existance is a gift from God. I guess it really is about the circle of life. Every life has its beginning, its middle, and its end, which is really a new beginning, with no middle and no end. Eternity with God is an amazing day that never ends, in which we never tire, and darkness doesn’t exist. Is there anything better than that?