The One with the Hammock Hazards

And now for the real life tales of real life hilarity. 
All of which took place on the wonderfully peaceful retreat of which I have just written. 
One afternoon while spending hours drinking tea, 
lounging in the heaven-sent lounge chairs 
(seriously, I have GOT to get me some of those!)
reading good books, and dozing occasionally, 
Melanie decided to try out the appealing looking hammock. 
Who doesn’t love some good hammock time, after all. 
So she sat down quite strategically. 
Working hard to place herself precisely in the center of the swinging rope bed. 
She was giggling a bit along the way, knowing her tendencies for uncoordination. 
Right when she was feeling confident in the placement of her rear end, 
she lifted her feet off the ground and swung abruptly backwards. 
FLIP! 
Melanie found herself perfectly perpendicular to the cement. 
Feet in the air.
Hands grasping desparately to hold her on. 
Laughter escaping her mouth with every breath. 
It was hilarious.
And what was Kevin doing?
Why, he was laughing at his wife, of course!  
After a few moments of “help” being interspersed with the giggles, 
Kevin got up and pulled her to safety. 
Little did either of them know–the older pastor staying in the Manor was in the kitchen at the time. 
Watching–and enjoying–the whole thing transpire. 
—-
The other cool story actually occurred earlier that same day. 
Kevin suggested the two play some pool.
It had been at least 4 years since Melanie had touched a pool stick, and nearly as long for Kevin. 
Neither of them had ever been any good, 
but Melanie was particularly terrible. 
She always liked to think she was a pool shark because her dad’s awesome, 
but knowing how to play a game does NOT mean you’re good at it. 
So the two of them grabbed a cue, and started taking their turns. 
After a few rounds, Kevin announced, 
“I do NOT remember you being this good!”
Grinning from ear to ear, Melanie replied, “Thank you!
and…I wasn’t!” :)
The same thing happened later that night during the ping pong tournament. 
Seriously, there wasn’t a return Melanie couldn’t make. 
It was as if some ultra talent bestowed itself upon her–if for a only a round.
And then promptly disappeared.

The One with the Innkeepers

What a blessed stay we had at Innkeeper Ministries
It was exactly the rest and retreat we needed in order to transition from full time camp ministry combined with youth ministry, to “jumping in to the new school year head first” youth ministry. 
We were tired. 
In need of a definitive shift from one to the other. 
Simply put, we needed a vacation. 
But not a vacation that is all about site seeing and going going going. 
One that is filled with no schedule, 
lots of books, 
comfortable beds, 
and good conversation. 
Thankfully, one of my wonderful blog friends, Jenilee, shared her personal experience at Innkeepers with me. 
It seemed like a dream–one that wouldn’t quite come true. 
But then the plans fell into place so easily.

I called Jan at Innkeepers and they had an opening.

Perfect. 
We packed, 
threw some food in a cooler, 
made the three hour drive,
and pulled into our new home for the week. 
The Eagles Wing Manor was AMAZING. 
Every room was exquisitely decorated and so inviting. 
I felt like I had come “home.”
As if we were staying in a friends house–where we could kick off our shoes, 
make ourselves at home, 
help ourselves to the snacks, 
and yet never to have any sort of schedule or obligation. 
Perfection. 
So that’s what we did. 
We sunk our toes into the plush carpet. 
Stretched out on the pillow top king sized bed. 
Lounged on the back porch. 
Gazed out our setting room picture window at creation. 
Took walks around the many ponds.
Watched movies on the big screen tv. 
Played ping pong and pool. 
Snacked on way too many pretzel m&ms.
Drank tea as we listened to nature awaken for the day. 
Had some seriously necessary deep conversation.
Read countless pages in our favorite books.
Perfection.  

::the back of the Manor::
notice the beautiful picture window on the 2nd floor–it was ours!
and the lounge chairs on the back porch–we used them for hours!

::the bridge through the woods, 
over the creek from the Eagles Wing Manor to the Prayer Chapel and Chesed Inn

::Jenilee and I meeting in person::
She’s just as wonderful as I thought!
Her church leaders had a meeting at the Inn on Tuesday evening. 
We met for the first time–but in reality it felt like we’d met long ago. 
::dinner out at Olive Garden::
Thanks to Somerset Beach for the gift card I won at a mid-summer staff party!
::saying goodbye–refreshed but sad to leave!::

And we truly look forward to returning time and time again.
Thank you, Lord, for the Hartenstein’s obedient ministry to your ministers.

The One with a Brief Hiatus

I know I’ve been a bit lacking in the blog posting department lately. 
Sorry. 
It’s not you.
It’s me. 
I can’t wait to get back to regularly scheduled programming. 
But for now, you’re going to have to put me on pause again. 
Or I’m putting me on pause. 
I don’t know. I’ve used so many cliche comments I’m confused. 
All those words to say Kevin and I are going to be taking a much needed ministry/personal/spiritual retreat. 
We’ll be back home Thursday.
Both of us are looking forward to unplugging. 
Rebooting. 
Recharging. 
And having all systems running full force just in time for the school year to begin. 
Pray for us while we’re gone. 
And in the mean time, you might revisit some past favorites. 

The One with the Life Saving Overnighter

I may or may not have gone to bed at 9pm Thursday night.
And even 9 felt much too late.
I had been exhausted since 3pm or so.
I think.
(Scratch that–I know I have been on the verge of passing out since then.)
But it was all for a great cause. 
Our most recent youth group overnighter. 
Yes, that’s right. 
Three days after getting home from camp, we host an all night party. 
Some people call us crazy. 
Some people think us weird. 
But it’s exactly where God has wants us. 
This was the perfect time for a big, awesome event like this. 
Just before the start of school.
And right after the To Save a Life movie came out on dvd. 
You may have heard of this movie sweeping America’s theaters. 
Changing lives.
Making people realize that what they do (or fail to do) has an affect on the lives of others.
We have the power to break down a person. 
Tear them apart limb for limb.
Whether it’s physically fighting them or treating them like they’re lesser human beings or not standing up for them in front of our peers or simply ignoring them. 
Day after day. 
We–and our teens–have the power to destroy life
or foster a rich life.
How hard would you fight?
How far would you go? 
How much would you risk?
To save a life.
Those were the questions this poignant film posed to our riveted teenagers. 
Each student was gripped throughout each scene.
Some moments were funny, 
most were “intense” (in their words.) 
Deep, frightening teenage issues were addressed. 
Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Dating. Gossip. Cutting. Divorce. Pregnancy. Abortion. Suicide. 
These are real life issues
And our youth deal with them each day at school.
Many said they were moved to tears. 
Prayerfully, most of them recognized the good or evil their words and actions (or lack thereof) can have on others. 
And before and after the soul searching film, there were hours of fun.
Enormous amounts of a good fun. 
Crazy games of “ninja.”
Girls giggling, screaming, running through our halls. 
Boys playing video games on the projector screen and frisbee first thing in the morning.
No, there was not much sleep. 
But there was great fun.
Delicious cinnamon rolls. 
And a gathering of teenagers–many of whom would not darken the doors of a church. 
What an honor, a high responsibility we have.

The One with the End of Camp

My mother just informed me that it had been three days since I last posted. 
I know when my mom–the woman who would rather not be ushered into the technological realm–points out that my blog needs to be updated, well, then, gosh darn it, it needs to be updated. 
(No, mom, I was not actually offended by this comment. 
I just thought it was funny.)
Saturday was my last shift at Somerset Beach. 
I had originally planned on working through Labor Day. 
And sure, the paychecks would have been nice.
But ever since we had our teens spend the week with us for Family Camp, my heart needed to be back home–with those whipper snappers. 
Being away from the weekly youth group duties made me realize more and more that my passion lies with those teenagers.
While we did get to have youth group every Sunday, it just wasn’t the same and the weekly commute was not all it was cracked up to be. 
My boss understood and agreed to let me go as soon as Kevin was done with youth camps. 
So we said our goodbyes, 
packed up our teensy car with all of our belongings, 
put the cat somewhere among the luggage, 
and hit the road. 
The poor kitty started crying and freaking out immediately.
He was not happy. 
And he was probably a bit demoralized thanks to his litter box being the only space for him to sit. 
It worked out alright because he had pooed within 10 minutes. 
And five minutes after that he threw up everywhere. 
It was so heartbreaking.
And disgusting. 
But at least he didn’t poop on me like he did on the trip out to camp. 
He quieted down after that.
I stroked his soft little head for the remaining hour in the car. 
And he seemed to resign himself to the situation. 
It wasn’t until Monday morning–or Sunday night really–that the change seemed real.
I mean, we always head home on Saturdays. 
We always did church and youth group.
But when I got to put on my pajamas after youth group, 
and wake up at home on Monday morning, 
that’s when I realized we were back for good. 
It was bittersweet. 
Mostly because I’ll miss the people I worked with.
And being close to half of our family.
Monday afternoon I said to Kevin, “I should call Somerset just to talk to Debbie.” 
I love that girl. 
We had so much in common. 
A young marriage. 
A cat. 
A love for blogging. 
A desire to live healthfully.
An identical wardrobe size.
A mom who fought breast cancer. 
(Debbie just completed the 60 mile Breast Cancer 3 Day Walk in honor of her mom, Anna.)
An appreciation for quiet evenings home with a book over crazy evenings out with people.
A passion for God. 
We had many deep talks, Deborah and I.
We shared secrets, 
gave advice, 
laughed at hilarious moments, 
complained about certain frustrating scenarios, 
and enjoyed the silence. 
She’s a great friend and I’m going to miss her. 

The One with the Preferences

Confession:
I am territorial. 
I don’t get mean and catty about it, but I am definitely particular about my areas. 
Examples include the following:
my desk at work. 
(though I got over that one. 
Just needed time to get comfortable at all of the desks.)
my pew at church. 
(though that’s more out of habit than anything. 
but please don’t try to steal it.)
my shower at camp.
(it took me quite some time to find the shower perfect for my liking. 
but I found it.
and I love it. 
and this morning–my last morning at camp–someone was using MY shower.
I know, can you believe it?!)
I’m not sure why I’m all territorial like some sort of wild animal.
But I guess it says I’m loyal. 
I’m a creature of habit. 
I like predictability. 
And comfort.  
It’s kind of embarrassing admitting such trivial selfishness to you all. 
But it’s a freeing experience as well. 
Assuming the whole world doesn’t start mocking me over this. 
I have sensitive feelings, you know. 

The One with What She’s Learned This Summer

::It’s okay to say “no.” In fact, it’s even healthy. I don’t have to do everything in order to know I’m loved, appreciated, or valued.
::It’s okay to admit when I’m tired and weary and need a break. Who knew I just couldn’t do it all?
::Carving quality husband-wife time into my day is so important to our relationship. 
::Quality does not necessarily mean quantity. 
::Though, for me, quantity time is pretty high on my love language list. 
::Taking special notice of the extra efforts my husband makes to show me how much he loves me even when our schedules are busy equals a contented wife who is confident of her husband’s love. (Rather than brushing past those little random love acts and demanding more.)  
::I really love our teens. I miss them when I’m only around them one night a week as opposed to the normal 3 or 4. 
::I have been increasingly convinced that we have followed God’s call into this full time ministry.
::God provides. Always. 
::I can run 6 miles. No problem. I might just shoot for the half marathon. 
::Having to wander to the bathhouse in the middle the night is not my idea of a good time. Heck, I don’t like walking down my carpeted hall at home let alone down a campground road. 
::I’m not 19 anymore.  Though I may look it, my life’s stage is already far removed from the college life.
::I get annoyed and frustrated too easily.
::I really miss my bed. and my shower. and my back porch. and my kitchen. and…
::Living in an 18 foot camper for 3 months proves how few possessions life really requires. 
::Reading is an amazing use of time. Now if only I can keep my eyes from shutting so quickly.    
::Spending some serious (as in intimately intense) time with God each morning equals amazing results. I have been learning what it means to “be joyful always.” 

The One with the Prison Break

I’ll be honest.
I love our cat.
Butterscotch.
Reginald.
Baby.
He answers to all three.
And I know I love him because I clean his litter box.
Something you may remember me saying I would never do.
We have our little routines with him.
We expect certain behaviors from him,
he expects us to reciprocate.
For instance, every night within five minutes of climbing into bed,
Butterscotch hops up with us.
Sometimes he plops down contentedly.
Other times he likes to walk all over us,
pushing his feet rhythmically into our ribcages, until we feel like moving him.
When I’m finally settled, he typically comes up and lays on my belly.
It’s nice, this snuggle time of ours.
And typically, during the night, I sense him walking around a bit.
And around 5 or 6 am he likes to meander up to the head of the bed where he promptly sticks his nose in my face.
WAKE UP, MOM!
This morning, as I rolled out of bed, I instantly realized something was wrong.
There was not kitty at the food of our bed.
Odd.
I began calling him, searching in all of his usual hiding places.
Being the small camper that it is, I quickly exhausted his options.
Butterscotch was no where to be found,
and I was panicking. 
“KEVIN! WAKE UP! I CAN’T FIND THE CAT!”
Groaning, Kevin crawled out of bed, trying to reassure him. 
“What if he got out?” I said, as I remembered the door creeping open late last night before we went to bed. 
“He’ll be fine. He knows this is his home; he wouldn’t go far,” Kevin calmly replied.
“But he’s never be outside!!” I shrieked. 
I threw on my clothes and ran outside. 
Calling his name left and right, keeping an eye out for a large mass of butter fur. 
Nothing. 
Then, from underneath our makeshift porch (which is probably 3 or 4 inches high), my baby appeared. 
He walked inside like nothing had happened. 
“Don’t you EVER do that to me again, you hear me!” I chided him. 
Tears were welling up in my eyes. 
“I’m the worst mom ever!”
“No, you’re not,” Kevin said. “He’s perfectly fine, he had an adventure. And I think he rather enjoyed himself.”
We both agreed it would appear even Butterscotch is ready to go home.
I guess Debbie was right. 
I should have had tags made for him. 
You know, in case he escaped at camp. 
[For a more thought-provoking, heart-examining post, check this one from earlier today or this one from last night.]

The One with the Fragility

Remember when I mentioned this:
“It’s okay to say ‘no.’ In fact, it’s even healthy. I don’t have to do everything in order to know I’m loved, appreciated, or valued. And it’s okay to admit when I’m tired and weary and need a break. Who knew I just couldn’t do it all?”
It was just last evening, so the thought was on the forefront of my mind. 
This morning, while reading my daily dose of Jesus Calling, I glanced ahead at tomorrow’s message. 
(How rebellious of me!)
It was perfectly suited for my thoughts on admitting my shortcomings, my needs. 
Jesus says, 
“Come to Me when you are weak and weary. Rest snugly in My everlasting arms. I do not despise your weakness, My child. Actually, it draws Me closer to you, because weakness stirs up My compassion–My yearning to help. Accept yourself in your weariness, knowing that I understand how difficult your journey has been.
Do not compare yourself with others, who seem to skip along their life-paths with ease. Their journeys have been different from yours, and I have gifted them with abundant energy. I have gifted you with fragility, providing opportunities for your spirit to blossom in My Presence. Accept this gift as a sacred treasure:  delicate, yet glowing with brilliant Light. Rather than struggling to disguise or deny your weakness, allow Me to bless you richly through it.”  
It’s so easy to believe I am sub-par when I compare myself with those around me.
“Well if they can do this and that and the other thing, then darn it I should be able to do the same–
and even better!”
Or “Compared to them, it doesn’t seem like I’m at the right point for this stage of my life. 
I should be further along, better off, more prepared, etc etc etc.”
I’m sure no one else struggles with fighting off those voices from the Enemy–
the ones trying to convince us that we are to govern our lives and keep up with the Joneses along the way. 
NO. 
We are not to be in control of our days. 
We are to relinquish control. 
To draw near to God. 
It doesn’t take much effort. 
In fact “it is more like ceasing to resist the magnetic pull of [Jesus’] Love.”
And that includes being fully confident that His plan for me and my family are uniquely ours–
perfectly suited, perfectly timed–
for HIS glory. 

The One that’s Slow to Speak

I love it when I make people laugh. 
And when they’re laughing at what I intentionally said or did. 
Not just because I did something totally lame and ridiculous and “Melanie-esque” which evoked the laughter. 
That just upsets me. 
But that’s another story entirely.
This story is about my love of quick wit.
No, I’m not typically classified as the class clown. 
I’m not always the main event. 
Most people who know me probably wouldn’t peg me as such. 
I do, however, enjoy my (occasionally impressive) quick wit. 
When I can come up with a snappy comeback in a split second and the crowd reacts, I feel pretty darn good about myself. 
But after my devotional reading the other day, 
I suddenly realized what that quick wit implied. 
I am boldly ignoring the commandment given in James 1:9.
Everyone should be quick to listen, 
slow to speak, 
and slow to become angry
ouch.
I’m not that professional at any of those things. 
Quick wit is valued in our culture. 
And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with humor.
In fact, I think God thoroughly enjoys our laughter and our senses of humor. 
But…
I know there have been plenty of times that I’ve responded in haste (in order to be funny) and immediately regretted the words that had left my mouth. 
But alas, once spoken, words cannot be taken back. 
Sure, I can apologize, but if I would act out the James command of thinking first I would save the listener some heartache and myself some extreme shame and embarrassment. 
Jesus really does know what is best for us. 
He’s looking out for our hearts. 
And by doing so we will glorify Him, in all we do and say–
including the humor!