30 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: H is for #History

I love history! Almost anything historic will pique my curiosity, and a historical marker will almost always interrupt my trip if I see it in time. Back when I was geocaching regularly, historic locations were always my favorite.

Military history is especially fascinating to me! Being from the South, I have a particular interest in all things War, Civil. As a kid, I made several trips to Shiloh National Military Park, walking among (not “amongst,” wink to my lovely wife) the old trees and dirt pathways, reconstructed rail fences and spiked cannon. I’ve walked the hills of Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield where Confederate General Joseph. E. Johnston defeated Union Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in June 1864; hiked the lonely railroad cut at Allatoona where CSA Major General Samuel G. French failed to dislodge the railroad defenders under command of Union Brig. Gen. John M. Corse in October of that same year; climbed the rudimentary fortifications of Fort Pillow, and viewed the site of Parker’s Crossroads, where CSA Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, finding himself pinned between two Union Forces under the command of Union Cols. Cyrus L. Dunham and John W. Fuller, supposedly commanded his troops to “split in two and charge ‘em both ways.”

Moving out west, I don’t encounter much War Between the States material, though there is a former Confederate Colonel named Leonidas Willis, who rode with Forrest, buried in Pioneer Cemetery in Salem, and an apochryphal story of a small group of (six?) Confederate raiders who attempted to steal some Yankee gold and were chased into the Willamette River.  Exploration and Native American lore are the common bill of fare out here. Lewis and Clark are mentioned more often than Lee and Grant, and the remnants of mills, camps, and small forts dot the landscape that would be marked by Napoleons and timbers. Sometimes looking across the ranging hills I can imagine what it was like for the Corps of Discovery, who had the firm belief that they would cross one mountain peak and find a gentle slope to the Pacific Ocean a couple of miles away, to have topped a hill to find… another freakin hill. -_-

Salem itself was founded along “Mill Creek” (so named for the sawmills and grist mills established upstream to the southeast in the 1830s) in the 1840s by Methodist missionary Jason Lee, in an area traditionally inhabited by the Kalapuya tribe, who called the are “Chemeketa,” or “meeting (resting) place.” European fur traders venturing out from Astoria were first noted in the area around 1812, the year, you may recognize, of some momentous events back east. Lee established the “Oregon Mission” about 10 miles north of present day Salem, near the Wheatland Ferry crossing of the Willamette. The enthusiastic but unskilled missionaries struggled to erect sheltering cabins, prompting Lee to remark that “Men never worked harder or performed less.”

 By 1840, Lee had returned from a stint in New England with a group of 50 recruits, many of whom were the skilled craftsmen and tradesmen needed to get the struggling mission off the ground. Like many white settlements, unwittingly transmitted diseases decimated the helpless immune systems of the local population, and extensive flooding in 1841 forced the operation to move south, into what is now Salem, where the first plats were filed in 1850-51, and the town became the capital of the Oregon Territory. The city was incorporated in 1857, and became the state capital upon Oregon’s admission to the Union as the 33rd state on Valentine’s Day, 1859. By far the largest employer in town is the State government, employing over 21,000 people; four times as many as the next highest entity (Salem-Keizer School District, roughly 4,000). Salem became my home (although West Tennessee will always be “home”) in 2007 when I moved here to take a job with a local bank. Salem is okay, but I much prefer living in Dallas, the small town where I now live with my new wife and stepchildren. The proximity of the beach (an hour west) and the mountains (two hours east) make the geography unbeatable! I’m happy here. I wish my kids were closer, but I have found love and peace in a place where I can make my own little contribution to history.

But someday, I’d still like to walk the fields of West Tennessee again. And venture back into the mountains of north Georgia, or up into the virgin (to me) battlefields of Virginia. Maybe into Revolutionary War territory in New England. Perhaps one day I’ll even see Blenheim Palace, the white cliffs of Dover, the beaches of Normandy, the forests of Bastogne, the Carpathian Mountains and the Borgo Pass, the Steppes of Asia, and the Holy Land.

What’s your favorite period of mankind’s story? Got some favorite historical sites near and dear to your heart?  What do you think of the following quotes?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

“You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”

26 October 2013

New Life, New Name

We interrupt this "Favorite Things" theme to bring you a special bulletin: I am in the process of changing my name everywhere it appears online from "Spencersb" to "SteveSpencer824."  Having not had to foresight to snatch up "SteveSpencer" eons ago, my new name nevertheless reflects the new me, as I married my wonderful wife on 8/24/13.  I haven't been "Spencersb" since the "B" left five years ago.  I just never had a reason before to make the change.  My dream spouse has litterally turned my life around, and the new name reflects that.  I'll be phasing out the use of "Spencersb" everywhere it's found and dropping my ownership of Spencersb (dot) com when it's set to renew.  Gmail's good enough, so I won't waste the money on "SteveSpencer824."  The "contact me" button now reflects my Gmail address and I'm now "SteveSpencer824" on Twitter, the two most common places to find me.

We now return you to your usually scheduled life, already in progress.

21 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: G is for #God

I am a Christian. I believe in the existence of an eternal, preexistent, transcendent God as described in the Bible. I believe in the message of the Gospel found therein, and believe He has, according to His Word, paid for the sins that separated me from Him. I have accepted His free offer of Salvation in the Person of Jesus Christ, a gift I do not deserve, cannot earn, and sometimes don’t act like I appreciate. I trust that, because I have believed (or perhaps I have believed because…), I am saved and will spend eternity in a perfected, bodily form in a place described in the Bible as Heaven, living eternally in the presence of and fellowship with this same, real, personal God. I believe His existence is the explanation and consummation of existence, the essence of reality, and that this reality exists completely independent of my thoughts or beliefs. I am redeemed.

That’s not to say I’m perfect. In fact, it’s the foremost expression that I’m not. And anyone who knows me (most notably my wife, who knows more of the real me than any person ever has) can vouch for that.

Our pastor recently preached on the subject of authenticity; taking off the mask; living life authentically, warts, struggles and all, in the context of the church fellowship. It’s so common it’s funny, or would be, if it wasn’t so true.

You’re late getting out of the house to go to church Saturday night because you have to frantically microwave something for the kids to eat in the car because they’re suddenly starving when you’ve been nagging them to eat something since 2 o’clock. Or Sunday morning, they’re not dressed despite the fact you started trying to get them out of bed an hour and a half ago.

“Honey, where’s my belt?”

“Right where you left it, darling.”

“Have you seen my red shoes?”

“Which red shoes? You have four pair.”

“I do not, I have one pair. The others are crimson, rose, and blush.”

“Has anyone walked the dog?”

“No, you cannot take that frog to church! No, he doesn’t need to hear the Gospel, frog’s don’t go to heaven. Yes, I know I told you Fluffy is there, just put the frog back in the flower bed.”

“Stop tailgating that car!”

“He’s doing 35 in a 45!”

Pulling into the parking lot, you have to wait for a family of 14 to walk down the middle of the traffic lane, and park a mile away. You’re secretly convinced that there were only 4 cars in the parking lot thirty seconds ago, and that you wouldn’t be hiking in from the South 40 if (insert one or more family members here) hadn’t made you late. Thirty feet from the front door, you pass into The Neutral Zone; the place where you have to drop the scowl and put on your “church face” for the door greeter.

“Welcome to church, how are you?” extending a glad-hand. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/glad-hand

“Fine! Fine! How are you?”

“Great, thank you!” sun igniting a starburst from their Pepsodent smile.

Guess what? You’re not fine. And they’re probably not great, either. In fact, you may be literally dying inside.

(Clarification: I’m not talking about me, here. I’m a very happy newlywed, very much in love with my wife and totally into being a stepdad. I’m going for cliché, here, not exposé).

You never have enough hours in the day at work. You’re responsible for everything but have authority over nothing.

You have an offering check in your pocket, but you’re debating whether or not to drop it in the bucket. “If they deposit it before Tuesday…”

You glance sideways at your spouse, haunted by something he or she said during a “discussion” last night, or wondering if he/she is the one that’s haunted by something you wish you hadn’t said, wanting to apologize, but either feeling stubbornly justified or too ashamed to bring it up, hoping they’ll just forget about it.

You’re grateful that the music is still going, the lights are down, but hoping they’ve already passed the “greeting.”

You’re smiling.

But you feel like screaming.
Plastic Jesus
It's really easy to fake it. We put on emotional costumes and masks. We wear them to hide our true self. We masquerade by putting our best foot forward and letting people see only our best side.” – John Fehlen

Pastor John spoke about wanting church to be a place where we can be “real,” the fourth of our core values.

Now I am talking about me.

What if this is the real me?

What if I struggle with contradictory emotions?

What if I really do find it hard to express myself spontaneously?

What if I’m introverted & slow to speak, not because I’m disengaged or uncaring, but because I really can’t slow my brain down enough to form coherent sentences without great effort and a little time? What if I the first thing that pops into my head would be the exact wrong thing to say?

What if, when I ask an acquaintance or a stranger, “How are you?” I really don’t want an authentic answer? I want to hear, “Fine, how are you?” So I can say, “Fine,” and we can both move on?

What if I’m afraid to be me because I think you won’t accept me, because I wouldn’t, either?

What if this is just... who I am?

I know God accepts me. I know my wife accepts me. I know my kids accept me. I know I have many friends who accept me. But I sometimes don’t even want to ask myself “How are you?” Because I just want to say “fine” and move on, and I know I can’t.

”You may find that the first person you must be the most critical with, as being the greatest fraud you have ever known, is yourself.” – J. I. Packer, Knowing God

14 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: F is for #Football

I’ve been a football fan since I was about 8 or 9, throwing a fake pigskin with the dad across the street, pretending to be Roger Staubach  or Golden Richards. His family (what few went to college) had gone to Ole Miss and at the time, Archie Manning was quarterback of the hapless New Orleans Saints, running for his life behind a make-shift offensive line while receivers, who couldn’t get open if the defense left the field, would sometimes just stand and watch after running their routes. Manning had starred at Ole Miss and was one of the best quarterbacks in the league… on absolutely the worst team. So it came to be that yours truly became an Ole Miss fan, and a Saints fan and carried that love/shame relationship into adulthood. Football has always been my favorite sport, although I enjoy hockey, and to a lesser extent baseball, too. I don’t watch much TV at all, but the only thing I ask of my lovely wife in return for watching America's Next Top Model or Project Runway with her is that I be allowed to watch the Saints for the four measly games they’re on TV on the west coast each year (and hopefully a few post-season games, too).

I even tried out for the football team in 7th grade.  Our school was so small, I would have "made the team," but I only made it through one grueling, mid-July-in-Memphis practice and couldn't walk the next day.  I still feel like if I had exercised a little discipline and done what I should have (got my butt out of bed and worked through the soreness), I would be a person with more drive and determination.

When I was younger and less responsible (poor), we used to go to New Orleans at least once a year for a home game in the Louisiana (now “Mercedes-Benz”) Superdome. This was many years pre-Katrina, mind you, and the place was showing its age. But once, I actually got to venture out onto the “Mardi-Grass,” the actual playing surface (which looked hard as a rock) due to locker room renovations. The Saints have never lost a home game with me in the ‘Dome, and that included a couple of years when they only won one or two games that year! I offered Tom Benson a deal once; for, say, $50K a year and season tickets, I’d attend all the home games and guarantee 8 wins a year. I never heard from him, but he seems to have taken the longer, more expensive route to building a winner, and that’s just fine with me! I remember well a few years ago, watching Garrett Hartley nail a game-winner against Minnesota to advance the team to their first Super Bowl.

And a couple of weeks later seeing Tracy Porter pick-off Peyton Manning to seal the only Super Bowl win in Saints history (so far)!

 This year looks good, though, and I hope to be reaping Model/Runway dividends deep into February!

Got a football story to share? Who’s your favorite team and why?

07 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: E is for Education


I’m blessed to have gotten a lot of, and reasonably good quality, education. I went to public school for first & second grade, then was caught up in the forced desegregation and busing of the early 1970s in third grade. In September, my dad decided to move us to West Palm Beach, Florida, where I attended the first half of third grade. Our stint as Floridians didn’t last, and by January we were back in Memphis and I was enrolled at Thrifthaven Baptist Academy. I absolutely hated it. The strict, legalistic Independent Baptist philosophy was harder to recognize as a kids, but I knew I didn’t like the myriad rules, and the work was harder. My handwriting sucks to this day because those kids had been writing in cursive for a year and I’d never even seen it, so I had to learn hard and fast and didn’t learn to do it correctly. Later in life, I would recognize the value of the solid foundational education I received there, and they did give me a basic conception of the existence and nature of God, albeit a rigid, retributional one.

In 1979, I again made a mid-year move to Immokalee (a Seminole word meaning “my home”), Florida (Dad always had a bit of wanderlust and a love/hate relationship with the State of Florida), attending Immokalee Middle School for the second half of eighth grade, and Immokalee High School for the first half of ninth grade. Yep, you guessed it: another mid-year move back to Memphis. Returning to private school (such as it was), I attended First Christian Assembly Academy for the remainder of ninth grade. In the summer of 1980, one of the hottest on record in Memphis, we moved to Raleigh and I attended RaleighEgypt High School until I graduated in May, 1983.

I never liked school up to that point, but I didn’t really hate it until third grade. Once I graduated, I had no plans to go to college, content at that time to work for Kroger (supermarket, same parent company as Fred Meyer) for a while, but in the summer of 1984 I decided I wasn’t going very far without college, so I began what would eventually become a 24 year college career at then-MemphisState University with an 8:00 English class. I had in mind to be a computer systems analyst, just because it sounded cool and had money-making potential, but got interested in politics and changed my major to political science. That lasted all of a semester when college started to look expensive (seems funny saying that when at the time I was paying about $200 a class) and a four-year degree looked a long way away, so I transferred to the-State Tech (now Southwest Tennessee Community College). I augmented my major to fit their programs, graduating with an Associate’s Degree in December, 1987.

By then, I was working at a bank and making more money than I could have made starting over as a bookkeeper, and hard work led to a series of unfocused but progressively more lucrative (relatively speaking) advancements. I took a couple of classes at UofM, but not seriously pursuing a degree with any sort of timeline in mind. Over the next few years, I dropped college altogether, just working and spending money. In the mid-90s, I took a few online courses at Trinity College of the Bible and spent a couple of semesters (two classes) commuting to Blue Mountain College in northwest Mississippi one night a week. By the late 90s, I realized that if I would just stick with it, I could graduate UofM with a bachelor’s degree eventually, and in May 2008, I finally did just that, a mere 24 years after that first 8AM English class.

Over the years, I went to school with a lot of different people, I dare say more than your typical college student because my unfocused goals led to taking a lot more classes than might have strictly speaking been necessary. I saw a lot of stupid people buying degrees without (I was convinced) sense enough to succeed in life or business. I’m sure some of them said the same about me, but I’ve managed to cobble together a pretty fair career out of bits and pieces of education, hard work, and a little luck. I still regret that I didn’t take a straighter path and get a degree when I was younger with fewer family responsibilities. I carry a hefty student loan debt I wouldn’t have incurred if I had finished up when it was so much cheaper. I missed a lot of opportunities over the years because my resume lacked a college degree. Still, I’m happy where I am and with the wife and children I have now, and I don’t think I’d jeopardize that for any amount of “what-ifs.” Along the way, I took classes I hated (statistics, any sort of math), classes I loved (physics, astronomy, and history), and a lot of classes I considered virtually worthless (philosophy, sociology, and a “health and wellness” class, the instructor of which was convinced I was dead due to my poor diet/exercise habits). There’s no utility to getting a master’s degree at this point in my career, but if I could do it just for fun, I’d love to take some history courses. One of my favorite courses in all my years of school was a history class. For the whole semester, I never saw the professor (a stereotypical long-haired, spor-tcoated type) bring so much as a piece of paper to class. If we studied the book, I can’t recall it (though I’m sure I shelled out over $100 for it). He just came in and told us stories for an hour and a half. He just <i>knew</i> that stuff! It was fun! It was interesting! Although about all I recall (this was 20 years ago, mind you) was that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand precipitated World War I. That class was also to occasion of my most memorable bit of schoolwork; a paper exploring the interelational asepcts of the alliances of World War II among Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, written as a running commentary of a professional wrestling match between Churchill & Roosevelt and Hitler & Stalin (highlights include Douglas MacArthur, completely uninvolved in the match, leaving ringside vowing to return; Lady Nancy Astor heckling Churchill from the front row; Hitler turning on Stalin but being “snowed in” by crumbling ceiling tiles in the even-at-that-time decrepit Mid-South Coliseum. I don’t recall my grade, but I got an “A” in the class, so it must not have been too abysmal.

How important do you think a college education is? Is it worth the exorbitant and ever-increasing cost? This graphic from Time Magazine doesn’t indicate that it is.

03 October 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: D is for Dad

Being a Dad

My highest calling, I’m privileged to be the father of five great kids! They are as different as night and day and I love each of them in their uniqueness.

My oldest son, Tim, as a few longtime readers will recall, has Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Delay. Having a special needs child brings a unique set of challenges and joys to parenthood. On the one hand, Tim being my first, I didn’t know what to expect and thus didn’t spot his unique difficulties right away. But over the years, he’s taught me so much about the essential simplicity of life.

Arriving a couple of years later, I became that most blessed of fathers; the dad of a daughter. Elizabeth is almost grown up now at age 18, but she is and always will be my little girl. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her, or to anyone that hurts her.

Chronologically, that brings us to my son Toby, whom I consider as much mine as Tim & Elizabeth, although I’m not his biological dad. I count it among my highest honors to be able to fill that role in the lives of my wife’s two children. I can’t go back in time and be their father genetically (how I wish I’d met my wife twenty years ago!), but I can nevertheless be a “dad” to Toby, and I’m gonna do my best to do just that

Switching branches on the family oak again, we arrive at my son William; age 10. My little buddy, he’s my video game partner, canoeing buddy (though we didn’t get to go this year), and my hope for carrying on my branch of the Spencer name.

I am blessed by my daughter Staci through my marriage to Suzi, and she adds the rainbows and unicorns to my world! She’s cinnamon raisin toast and sequined sweaters and little jars of water in the freezer.

Being a father is great, but being Dad is awesome! Tell me about your little one(s)! What makes them unique? What’s your favorite “dad” thing to do?