Refueling #FridayFaves

On this Friday afternoon, I am finding joy in the little things. I’m an easy-to-please type of girl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss out on opportunities to be appreciative of those moments. Blessings came come in so many shapes and sizes–a friendship, the light from the window, a kitty’s nuzzle, hand written notes. 
new shoes. yes they’re strange looking, but they’re an effort to run the way my body was created to run, without layers and layers of padding between me and the road. I have been out with them just once since they arrived last week (trying to take it slow like the directions say), but it was enjoyable. My calves were tired, but I felt good. Looking forward to the next opportunity. 
a fan club. on my 10 mile run this morning with Sheryl, we passed by our friend, Debbie’s, house and she was out on the front porch clapping, and cheering us on. It felt so good to hear that encouragement. 
extra-snuggly cat. our little Willow has been on my lap at every opportunity this past week and it’s been pretty wonderful. She has also learned the art of pillow-hogging. Which is not so wonderful. 
Aldi’s Infuse/2. I love the pricetag ($0.69), the great taste, and the low calories (80 for 32 fluid ounces) of Aldi’s version of Gatorade. It’s perfect for post run electrolytes. 
pancakes with my husband. I love when we can afford to really take a day off together. Fridays are our official off day, and we try to spend it wisely. Relaxing and enjoying an extra-special, indulgent breakfast is just plain good for the soul. 
Between the post-run refueling and the Sabbath-rest my husband I have together, I am blessed. 

What are you thankful for today? 
friday favorite things | finding joy 
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Girls Getaway

My dear friend, Sheryl, has birthday coming up and I decided to do something extra special for her. With the help of her husband (mostly his agreement to watch the 4 kids for 48 hours straight), I arranged a Girls Getaway Weekend for the two of us. Our friendship is so special to me, and I was looking forward to having this quality time together. But even beyond that, Sheryl has spent the last 8 months taking care of everyone, working tirelessly to tend to the needs of her children, her husband, her mother-in-law. I was hoping she would be able to relax and rest and rejuvenate in a unique way that wouldn’t be possible in her own home. (You know how it is, ladies? Resting at home is so hard when the laundry is screaming your name, the kids are bickering, meals need to be made.)

And so, at 4:00 on Thursday afternoon we hit the NY thruway for our trip west–my parents’ house. They graciously opened their home to us, took us out to eat, spoiled us with special goodies, let us sleep in. Sheryl and I were not only able to visit with my parents and both of my grandparents (including a few rousing games of Farkle!), but we laid on the beach of Lake Erie for almost 3 hours, slumber-partied-it-up in our shared double bed late into the evening, giggled like school girls when the exhaustion got to us, shopped in Erie and had a nice lunch together at Hoss’s. And for all those days our well of conversation never seemed to run dry.

Thankful for sweet friendship, appreciative of the gift of time together, and wishing Sheryl a happy birthday (on Monday.)  

Exchanging Sleep for Youth Min

People who choose to work with teenagers are a special breed.

People who claim to love their work with teenagers? Well that’s just unbelievable to most.

And people who love working with teenagers and do it for FREE? Well, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. 
I am cross-my-heart-honest when I say I am one of those crazies. I love teenagers, specifically of the female  variety. My heart connects with theirs. They trust me. We laugh a lot. We act completely ridiculous and become the recipients of many a raised-eyebrow by adults who are much more cultured than I. 
But I’m ok with all of that.
Overnighters are one of the inevitable events that crops up after the teens are comfortable enough to WANT to spend the night with their friends with YOU in charge. It just screams group bonding!! and is a good time waiting to happen. 
But I’ve got to be honest–sleepovers are my least favorite part of youth ministry. Why? Well, mostly the lack of sleep. I function off of a full 8 hours and nothing less, and I can all but promise you there won’t be 8 hours of sleep to be had when you get a bunch of teenage girls in a room with tons of snack foods, nail polish, and the ever-present girl talk
And yet, I chose to arrange this sleepover…yes ME. I was hoping and praying the bonding and laughing and girl talking that would go on would far outweigh the lack of sleep and the overeating
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I was right. A whole gaggle of girls ages 12-17 filled the youth room and we had a wonderful time together. Only 5 of the 13 hours together were spent sleeping, but that was ok. I had time to nap for 2 hours later in the day. 
Relationships with these girls is worth the sacrifice of sleep. 

A Lifestyle of Togetherness

I have decided–I’m better suited to host or plan things last minute. This avoids the days or weeks of planning and dreading and building up of stress. It makes the event more life style togetherness” and not as much “this is a super special once in a lifetime opportunity.” I feel we shouldn’t put off being together for the sake of perfect evenings with pristine hostessing. We should just BE together. No pretenses, no expectations. 

Come, as you are, into my house, as it is, and eat my food, whatever it may be

I am the type to get easily worked up and stressed out of every little detail. Even a casual invitation to someone’s house might bring anxiety into my heart. So I’ve been being intentionally spontaneous lately. I know, that doesn’t make any sense–it’s actually more of an oxymoron. But it’s what I need to do. 
And it’s been working! Sunday morning I thought, “We should have steak and mashed potatoes for lunch. Yum. Ooh. We have a gigantic sirloin strip steak that we should share with someone. Wait, though, I didn’t plan ahead to invite anyone or have food ready to go! Oh, I’ll just go for it.”  And so, after church, I invited the LeBaron clan of 6 over for steak, hotdogs, green beans, and mashed potatoes. Everything turned out well, we enjoyed one another’s company, and it was a pretty darn easy “event.” Love that! 
This morning, I went to a friend’s house for coffee and banana bread at 7:30am. It was a nice treat, a wonderful way to start my day. 
We should all do these little things more often–live a lifestyle of togetherness

The One with the Longest Run Yet

The long run.

It’s a newer venture for me as I am training for the Mighty Niagara Half Marathon (for hospice) on September 22nd. Eight years ago when I began this running thing, I never imagined I would ever in a million years be able to run 13.1 miles straight–let alone in a race. But after today, I see the destination and it’s just a short mile away. 

For the past many weeks, I’ve been building my weekly mileage with a weekend long run. I started with 6 miles, as that was a pretty routine long run for me, and built from there. Today, I completed twelve miles! And let me tell you, running all but three of them along with my friend, Sheryl, makes them so much more attainable. (In case you don’t know, it takes 2 or more hours to finish that many miles, and that’s a long time to be out by yourself. Having someone to chat with makes it infinitely happier.) 
The crazy part of long runs for me is that around mile 6 I get a second wind. I feel happier, more alert, in a groove, like I could keep going and going for miles.

Running seems to be almost entirely a mental sport.
If you think you should be out of breath, you will be.
If you think you can’t keep going, you won’t.
If you think, the pain is too bad, you’ll give up.
If you think the distance is overwhelming, it is.

But the great part is, the reverse is true as well.
If want to keep going, you will.
If you decide to settle in for the long haul, you’ll do it.
If you don’t think about how many miles are ahead of you, you won’t get psyched out.

It’s a beautiful thing when you can control your mind by taking every thought captive

Running is a beautiful metaphor for the Christian faith. All of those mental games cross over into the faith arena as well, especially for these long runs. If you prepare your mind, your heart and your body for a long journey, you will most certainly overcome the obstacles–be they physical or spiritual–that are thrown in your way. In those moments when you recognize the throbbing knees, the tired heart, the sore muscles, the labored breathing, you might be tempted to give up and collapse, but if you embrace the pain as part of the journey you might even come to consider them joy, because you know this testing develops perseverance, which leads to maturity and completion. Victory in crossing the finish line.

And most importantly, if you run the race marked out for you NOT ON YOUR OWN but with Christ alongside you, the journey is much more peaceful.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who, for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3

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The One with a Moments of Motherly Advice

I’m convinced. No matter how old you get or how much experience you attain, there will always come a time when you just need your mom. The growing-up thing means she probably won’t always be able to be there beside you, holding your head in her lap, stroking your back and whispering words of peace. But she will always be there. And you’ll never be too old to need her.  

The One with 5 Minutes [Connect]

Five Minute Friday

Today over at Lisa-Jo’s blog, the Five Minute Friday prompt is Connect. My mind went all sort of places before hitting the “start” button on my timer, but I’m so thankful I rested with this topic. It’s been resonanting with me all week, as I’ve received call after call, email after email, and welcomed in many new students to my fall schedule of piano lessons. I am blessed. And I’m seeing the connection.

Here goes:

——

I never thought that all those years of piano lessons would connect to any other part of my life–besides my love of music and the occassional “special” for the church offering. But here I am, after 13 years of weekly piano lessons, having cried multiple times over failures, having heard the needed criticisms, having messed up the song I had “perfectly” in front of the recital audience…and I am teaching piano lessons. Me?! Yes, Melanie, YOU. 
Because not all of those 30 minute lessons were grievous. No, in fact, they were exciting, constructive, and life transforming. Both of my teachers spoke into my life as a mentor and spiritual role model. They encouraged me and pushed me toward the full capacity of my abilities which they knew God has planted within me. 
I know my parents never would have thought that their financial commitment to my piano lessons would ever result in a source of income for me, a joyous livelihood. But I am so thankful, mom and dad, for making me go to lessons all of those years, for making me practice when I hated it, for continually encouraging me to keep on, believing I would achieve something. 
And now, I see how it’s all connected. God was preparing me musically and spiritually to be a teacher to many students just like me. He has gifted me and filled me with his Spirit and I am thankful to be investing in the lives of my students. And something must have clicked–because my students LOVE to practice! Can you believe it?!

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The One with the 75th Surprises and a Reunion

This past weekend I got to spend lots of quality time with family members from all over the country–Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and more! My husband didn’t get to come with me because of church responsibilities, but I am thankful that he was willing to let me go on my own for the 3 nights. 
I left town at 7:40am Thursday morning and arrived to my mom and dad’s house by 10:45am. Mom and I had lots of catching up to do and managed to squeeze in time for her to try on all the clothes I brought her from the LeBaron’s yard sale. By 12:30 we were starving and excited to meet up with Grams and Chuck at Steak ‘N Shake (the usual!) along with my Aunt Wendy, whom they had just picked up from the airport. Our meal arrived very slowly, but we enjoyed laughter and fellowship for quite some time. 
Mom and I stopped to see Grandma Mary for a while and by the time we got home, Aunt Linda had arrived from Pennsylvania. For the next few days, it was 5 Marr women (Grandma, her three daughters, and one granddaughter) ripping the roads together, talking over each other, laughing hysterically, and eating far too many sweets. Perfect, right? :)

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We had all come together for our Kister Family Reunion (my great grandmother and her siblings’ families), but my aunts and uncle had also planned to surprise Grandma and Chuck with a 75th birthday party including friends from church along with immediate family. Since her birthday was in March and his is in September, they didn’t suspect a thing!
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Three Generations–Each the Oldest Child. Dangerous, eh?
(We don’t look related, do we?) 
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this beautiful cake was filled with strawberries and custard. yes, for real.
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HAPPY 75TH BIRTHDAYS!
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Grandma Marr and her 4 kids:
Scott, Karen (my mom), Wendy, Linda
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Proud to be their daughter
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Cousins! Ryan and Kalie are my Uncle Scott’s kids. 
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Enjoying the Party
My Aunt Wendy and I got to spend the most quality time together this weekend, setting up for the party while the others occupied Grandma, shopping for party paraphernalia, and going on multiple walks together (to work off all that food!). She even supported me on my 10 mile training run early Saturday morning by biking alongside me. Having her there for company and encouragement made the run truly enjoyable. I just wish she and I lived closer together!
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What’s a party without 14 pounds of M&M’s???!!!
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Looking through old family photos
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Kids Game Time by Brandy
(I always loved the egg toss when I was little.)
While the kids played kids inside, many of us grown ups played Corn Hole outside. Dad and I played against Mom and Aunt Wendy, and we lost big time. (It came as a surprise to us all. :D)  I was terrible, let’s just leave it at that. My mom, on the other hand, had an extreme case of awesome as she got a “hole in one” almost every time. She wow-ed us all
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Erin and Melanie: cousins and classmates 

Another person I was happy to see was my cousin, Erin. She and I graduated from high school together and shared many classes and experiences during our 4 years at ESHS–and we hadn’t seen each other since graduation in 2004!! We didn’t realize until 11th grade that we were related, even though we had both been at many family reunions as young kids. I’m not sure how to put this in technical genealogy terms (can someone help?), but her great grandpa and my great grandma were siblings

So the generations looks like this: 
Earl Kister      –    Mildred Kister 
Barb Kray       –     Marilyn Marr 
Julie Kray-Cook     –     Karen Fish
Erin Cook      –      Melanie Eccles
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Grandma and her husband, Chuck, brother Norman and sister Phyllis
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My Grams and me
I love that I was able to spend all this quality time with my family, both intermediate and extended. It was a wonderful, wild, exhausting, worth-it weekend. 

The House Tour [1 Year Later]

Just 4 days after we moved into our new (rental) home in New York, I decided it would be a brilliant idea to post pictures documenting the settling process. Things didn’t look too shabby at that point. Actually, I’m a little impressed with how quickly I settled in (but let’s be honest…I had the help of my husband, my mom, my mother-in-law, my father-in-law, and my brother-in-law. So I’m not really all that awesome.)  
Here we are a year later and not too much has changed. Some furniture has been added, removed, or rearranged (multiple times! I think I get stir crazy!) and walls are filled with personal touches–mostly pictures of friends and family. I heart pictures. (If you want to make me super happy, you can get me a new picture frame. It’s like you gave me a diamond ring.) I haven’t done any painting but that’s in the back of my mind at the moment. We’ll see. (In fact, if you have any color inspiration for me, let me know in a comment.)
And without further adieu, I give you
The House Tour: One Year Later
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Living Room
(Note the new green love seat and the newly-placed recliner)
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Living Room: View 2
(Note the lovely shelf by the front door with hooks to hang your coat.
Thanks to Dad E for anchoring it. ;))

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The Piano Studio/Melanie’s Office
(The door to this room is located right by the coat hooks/front door)
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My newly arranged office in the Piano Studio
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The teaching portion of the Studio

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Dining Room
(Love having my grandma’s table and chairs and buffet)
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Kitchen
(Note the shelving unit –from Aldi–on the right filled with pantry items)
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Kevin’s Office
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He’s got a little tv in there and a beautiful fish tank, not shown
(which is great for me when I want to watch a tv and hang out in his space)

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The Library portion of his office


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Our kitty loves the office chair

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From the Top of the Stairs
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Top of the Stairs
(bookcase, spare bedroom/Mel’s closet room, and bathroom)
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Our bedroom
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The dresser on the left is our “linen closet”

And that, my friends, is our home–cat hair, dust mites, love and all! 

The One with our Full Year Here

I just can’t believe it, but it is most definitely true. Today marks our one year anniversary since moving to Western New York! With tears we said goodbye to our teens and our friends in Michigan, and with the help of those same people as well as our family we loaded a UHaul and drove 7 hours east to a part of New York State that is closer to the Midwest than it is to the city. 
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All those days ago sometimes feel like a lifetime–mostly because we’ve been warmly embraced here, settled comfortably and intimately into our little village, connecting to more people (in and out of the church) than we can count. We’ve been taken care of in so many ways by our friends here, and we are eternally grateful for the love they’ve poured on us and that they opened their lives so willingly to us. God is so good. 
And most of the time we forget we got here because of Seminary. It’s pretty awesome to see the steps God used to pull us to this place, when we thought the whole point was an MDiv. If it were up to us, we’d had lived near campus and found who knows what jobs. But God is so much cooler than that. He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us

Kevin’s grad school is a very important reason we’re in New York, of course. He’s loving his classes, his professors, his shelves and shelves of rich literature. But our lives are centered around our church, the people, in this little town–his studies in action, really. His responsibilities go well beyond the confines of the youth room, but a passion working with teenagers is one of those things we can’t seem to shake. And now, a year later, we feel confident that we’re getting somewhere (somewhere good) with these students. It takes a while to build a strong foundation of a relationship, but it’s worth it. 
Who would’ve guessed what the past 365 days would bring for me? 
building a strong piano studio (that has provided income, relationships, and community connections).
traveling to Seattle with a wonderful group of Bible Quizzers. 
blowing my personal best race time out of the water with my second race
going on a family vacation with Sheryl and her siblings and their kids.
And now we look ahead, with eager expectation, knowing that God will continue to do more than we can ask or imagine. Amen.