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Susan Wanderer has worked with families in kids ministry for 20 years, with the last ten years serving as Kids Minister at Mount Ararat Church in Stafford. Susan and her husband Ed reside in Fredericksburg and have three amazing kids who joined their family in 2011 and who fill their days with adventure. Come join the conversation over at www.susanwanderer.com 

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My Stomping Grounds

What will you do with this One Crazy Life you've been given?

I met Darlene O’Brien eleven years ago. It was during the reception the Church had for me when I first came on staff at Mount Ararat Church in Stafford, Virginia. Darlene arrived at the very end of the reception while running into the Narthex, dressed as Bokay the Clown. “Hi. I’m Darlene! It is so great to meet you!”

She had just arrived after doing ministry with kids in Fredericksburg. She was excited and happy and in full Bokay The Clown fashion.

I quickly learned Darlene’s passions:
Her Family
Her Church
Ministry with kids
Jesus

Fill Up The Carpet Squares!

Darlene and Jerry were storytellers with our elementary ministry when I first arrived at Mount Ararat. Our elementary groups met in the fellowship hall and had lots of carpet squares for kids to sit all over the tiled floor.

Darlene began praying every single week that God would fill those carpet squares up with kids.

On Sundays, I would find her and Jerry holding hands and praying for their morning. Their relationship was lovely. A partnership.

After a couple of years, we moved our Kids Ministry into a brand new adjoining building. On the first Sunday we opened, we were bursting with kiddos and families in both of our elementary teaching theaters and preschool environment.

I saw Darlene touring around the facility. She locked eyes with me and a lump was in my throat. Her eyes teared up.

She hugged me tight and whispered in my ear, ‘God filled the carpet squares to overflowing!’

Two years ago, we began our second campus at Mount Ararat.

One Sunday Darlene came to me and said, “I’m going to Courthouse Campus with you.”
I knew that Darlene’s health had not been the best.
I asked her “Are you sure, Ms. Darlene?”

She boldly said “Susan, we are given this one crazy life to make much of Jesus. It’s time for me to start praying for kids to come and fill up carpet squares over on that campus and serve there.”

The first Sunday arrived on Courthouse Campus and she came flying into her Small Group room. She had puppets, snacks, toys and all things a kid would love. As she entered the large group area, she was greeted with enormous bright yellow carpet rectangles for the kids to sit on in the cafeteria of Colonial Forget High School . The bright carpets stopped her in her tracks. “Susan! More Carpet Squares to pray over.”

Over the next year, every Sunday at Courthouse Campus, she was in her element.

Honor Your Family, Leave a Legacy

Another beautiful lesson I learned from Darlene: honor your family and leave a legacy.

Anyone who spent any amount of time with Darlene knows she adored her family. Stories of Jerry, her kids, grandkids or great grandkids were always on the tip of her tongue. She honored them and she loved them.

Three of her grandchildren were usually with her on Sunday mornings, Lizzy, Tommy and Emily.

They received an incredible gift from their grandmother. She taught them how to serve.

All three grandkids volunteer on Sunday mornings. They don’t sit by and watch what needs to be done. They actively learned how important it is to serve others.

As soon as Tommy was in fifth grade he began talking about volunteering. And sure enough, middle school arrived, he got his name tag and was immediately serving, just like his grandmother.

Darlene left a deep legacy of service.

Teach One More

I’ve been in Kids Ministry for over 20 years. I sincerely know that Darlene was one of the most passionate Kids Ministry people I’ve ever met.

She used whatever method she could use to explain to kids how deep Jesus loved them and the great plan He had for their life.

Her energy and smile alone were captivating. She brought the gospel alive every single week. Her love for Jesus and for kids was beautiful and contagious.

She would do anything to teach one more child about the gospel message of Jesus.

Her Life Had Impact

I believe the effects of Darlene’s faithfulness will be experienced for generations to come.

Anytime I think of Darlene, the first thoughts immediately come to my mind:
1. Let’s fill those carpet squares!
2. And... “Susan, we are given this one crazy life to live to make much of Jesus...”

She challenged me while she was here on earth and she is challenging me now in her death. Darlene left this earth about a month ago. Sadness and grief were heavy.

In her death, she causes me to reflect: What will I do with this one crazy life I’ve been given?

Ms. Darlene used her one crazy life to:
make much of Jesus
minister to Kids
faithfully love her husband and her family

And we are all better people because of her faithfulness.

So, I ask you too, friend: what will you do with this one crazy life you’ve been given?

one crazy life

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I Thought I Loved My Husband

love husband

We stood hand in hand in front of 350 guests and vowed richer, poorer, sickness, health, til death do us part. Through the vows, the celebration, the cutting of the cake, the hours of dancing, I didn’t think I could ever love him deeper than that moment.

While love increased over time, like a slow, gradual, hand in hand walk up an inclined path, there were also moments where I specifically remember thinking: My gosh, I really love him differently today.

 

The day of my first miscarriage, I called Ed on the phone at work. A bit of panic had settled into my voice. A few moments later he was sitting beside me on the couch, holding me. The doctors insisted that over-the-counter pain meds would control my pain. Ed called the doctor and explained that ibuprofen would not be enough relief. He sternly, yet kindly said: “Where would you like to call in some stronger medicine?” My calm-natured husband was a strong-care-giver and I was wild about him.

That evening he never left my side. I loved him deeper that day.

 

The day I drove up in the driveway and he was holding our 80-year-old neighbor on her front lawn while she was so sick and throwing up in the grass. He gently rubbed her back while reassuring her, “It’s going to be okay Ms. Mary... the paramedics will be here soon.” Mary continued to apologize for getting sick on Ed. “Ms. Mary, these things can be washed. It’s going to be okay”. He motioned for our son to go get a blanket.

We covered her up, her head resting on Ed’s shoulder. The love I had for him seemed to grow deep roots.

 

The evening we had a massive argument. We were arguing over something nonsensical. Honestly, I can’t even recall the topic. Primarily my memory is blank because Ed’s reaction forced my focus off of the topic. “We will not go to bed angry. I love us too much for that.” And I begrudgingly sat and worked out our words and actions until after midnight.

After I finished my only-child-tantrum I came to the reality that his love for us was wide and deep. He fought for us. I loved him dearly for that fight.

 

The day my kids were being particularly siblingish in their interactions with each other. I was losing every ounce of my mind as my sweet kiddos were standing on the one final nerve I had remaining. Ed entered from work, placed his briefcase down and looked at the three of them and proclaimed, "Listen, we will not be known as Me-First people. We will be known for how we serve one another. Get yourselves under control right now. Go serve your siblings. Do you understand?"

I was wildly in love with him.

 

The day we arrived home from Ethiopia to a sea of family and friends. They cheered, cried and smooched all over the five of us. As we began to exit the International Arrivals area at Dulles and walk to our car, I saw the back of my husband, carrying an Adidas backpack on his back and our youngest child in his arms. My golly I wanted to jump up and give him the biggest, longest, most passionate kiss I’d ever laid on his lips. I could’ve blamed the emotion on 48 hours of travel and pure exhaustion. But I knew it was something else. He was now a Daddy. I had never known him with that title before. And it looked so lovely on him.

I was absolutely head over heels in love with my man.

 

Are all of our moments made for fairytales? No way. Far from it. There are seasons where we don’t jive as well. Arguing seems to overtake rational behavior.

As this September marks ten years of marriage, we know there is good, bad, hard, lovely, and ugly wrapped inside this package of matrimony.

Yet, all of it together creates this relationship that is ours alone.

The hard parts produce perseverance while the joyful parts breathe life.

I thought I loved my husband on Day One. The truth is, our love was in the diaper-wearing-infant stage. Cute and cuddly. Now, we are in real life. We still cuddle, but we have to be more strategic in those snuggle-sessions because life has a way of taking over. We wake up with morning breath to kids who need attention, jobs that need action, meals that need to be prepared and relationships that need to be cultivated.

I’m so grateful for the slow incline of love. It’s in the those daily, mundane moments that love grows and becomes ours. I’m also wildly thankful for the wow moments that stop me in my tracks and remind me over and over that love never fails.

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I Disagree With You

friends

I am human. So are you.

Similar and yet different.

We will agree on some issues while fully disagree on others.

Things I love about you:
Your jokes are funny.
Your storytelling is epic.
Your life is inspiring.
Your words spur me on to be a better Mama, Wife, Friend and Employee.
Your cooking creates a relationship-nurturing dining experience.
Your friendship brings fresh life to weary parts of my soul.

When did we forget these qualities about each other?

These qualities create and inspire relationships. They are life-giving. They are important. And relationships remind us we are better together.

I have never 100% agreed with my friends. Or family. Or co-workers. Or husband.

This can’t be a shock to anyone. When we examine our relationships we have to see that there are moments where people don’t land on the same sheet of music. There are moments where the dance of relationships is steady and beautiful and in step with one another. Then, the beat changes and the awkwardness arrives.

My first big disagreement I remember was in First Grade with my friend Sarah. We had matching Baby-Beth dolls. We could not agree on how to do beauty shop on our beloved dolls hair. She had a strategy called “The Formula” and I was more of a “let-it-flow-wild-and-free” type kid. Which explains my disorganization skills as an adult. “The Formula” was this complicated system of wash, condition, add mousse. It sounded too far fetched for my seven-year-old, curly-headed, non-organized personality to embrace. I didn’t even take that good care of my own hair. Why in the living world would I invest such time, care and energy on Baby-Beth? I understand now that Baby-Beth’s hair would have been less of a hot-mess had I given into Sarah’s formula.

Somehow, even though Sarah and I disagreed on how to be a fabulous stylist to our dolls, I still loved riding bikes with her after school to the 7-11 for a Slurpee, roller-skating through the neighborhood while tackling the legend-of-all-hills (and spraining my ankle) and enjoying summer afternoons playing in the creek behind our neighbor’s house.

I am aware that Baby-Beth’s hair is a distant problem than what adults disagree on in today’s modern culture.

However, I think the mantra is the same: We can disagree and still love each other.

Living in Northern Virginia, near the capital of our country, we enjoy a beautifully diverse area. On a daily basis, we rub elbows with people from every nation on our globe, as well as Republicans, Democrats, southerners, northerners, athletes, couch potatoes, gay, straight, married people, singles, tourists, bloggers, social-media lovers, government employees, homeless, suburb-dwellers, city-slickers and our military members.

With that large array of backgrounds, how in the world do we think we will agree on every single issue?

We won’t.

When exactly did we start believing the lie that we have to 100% agree on all-things in order to love each other well?

When we want to change someone’s mind on an issue, why do we think that anger, wrath and nastiness will win their heart?

We need more people in the modern day to stand up and say “I will not stop showing love to someone because they have differing opinions, viewpoints or lifestyles”.

Social media has given us the ability to publically shame and humiliate someone simply because we stand on two different beliefs.

If we want our kids to love and live well, then they need to watch us love and live well, despite our differences.

Friends, Love never fails.
“If we speak with human eloquence... but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)

We can do this, friends. We can be more than a creaky rusty gate. We can love others while we disagree.

We can remember that:
Your jokes are funny.
Your storytelling is epic.
Your life is inspiring.
Your words spur me on to be a better Mama, Wife, Friend and Employee.
Your cooking creates a relationship-nurturing dining experience.
Your friendship brings fresh life to weary parts of my soul.

Because love never gives up.

Go love well today, friends.

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Favorite Local Summer Day Camps!

archery

Summer is coming! We are just weeks away from the final bell ringing. I am so ready to be done with book reports, spelling words and science projects.  Bring on the hazy, lazy days of Summer.

With eleven (give or take two) weeks of Summer, many of you Mamas are also eager to enjoy a teeny break while your kiddos enjoy a week or so of camp.

Many of you have messaged me and asked for my annual list of our favorite Day Camps in Fredericksburg/Stafford/NOVA. 

Your wait is over. Here are the Wanderer's three favorite camp experiences, complete with links to register.

1 – Winshape Day Camp

www.winshapecamps.org, Completed Grades 1-8, July 17-21

This by far is our favorite day camp experience. My girls talk about this camp ALL. YEAR. LONG. It’s hosted by Chick-Fil-A and who doesn’t love some CFA yumminess! This year the camp is held in Stafford and the cost is $209 (although, financial aid is available).  This is an all day camp experience – pick up is at 5PM. My girls sleep well each evening after experiencing the fantastic daily adventure of Winshape! And on Friday – each family member gets a taste of the fun their child has had by attending Chick-Fil-A Friday Family Fun Day.  Yep, that’s right… every person who attends on Friday gets Free Chick-Fil-A Lunch… Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

2 – Christ Chapel DayCamp  

http://christchapelacademy.org/my-cca/summer-camp/, Completed Grades K-8

My girls adore this camp! They go on field trips and experience daily fun activities. The staff is amazing and my kids are eager to go each morning. New this year, lunch is included in the cost of camp! Which makes Mama-life a whole lot better! We love Christ Chapel Day Camp!

3 – Christian Youth Theater Camp (CYT)

https://www.cytfredericksburg.org/, Ages 4-18

If your child loves drama, singing or anything having to do with Fine Arts… this is the camp experience for them! During this week of camp your child will sing, dance and act their way through a fun filled week.  And on Friday – you get to watch their performance. So fun!

Summer is Coming, Mamas. Grab your sunglasses, laptop and favorite beverage and enjoy the sun and browsing through these fantastic Day Camp options!

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The Empathy of Sisterhood

sisters

Over two bowls of oatmeal, an argument erupted between two sisters. Insecurity had settled in and the early morning wake up call did not assist the sisters in thinking rationally.

“I know one thing… you are NOT cute.” said one sister cautiously, her eyes glancing sideways towards her mother. “Really?” – said the other sister, clearly hurt. “I don’t believe that.”

Thirty seconds of silence beckoned for a sentence of apology. “Neither do I. But I am SO angry with you. We are NOT going to speak for the rest of this day.” The determination was made.

“That is MINE! GIVE IT BACK!” shouted one sister. “NO WAY! You don’t even play with it anymore. Mom says we MUST share our things! Don’t you want to be a share-er?” said the other sister with hopefulness in her question.

Who knew a doll, who was at the bottom of the toy chest and had been forgotten for months, could create such havoc and loud-misery for two, little souls?

As an only child, I entered the parenting arena a bit ignorant on mothering sibling relationships. The depth and dimensions of sisterhood ebbs and flows in its' complexity. One sibling holds the fishing pole with a big, juicy worm of hurt and nasty words, while the other sibling, as if on cue, chomps down on that hook. The wrestling match of words, sideways glances, and very loud volume begins.

My girls also have this love for one another that takes the breath from my lungs.  In between the moments of frustration, they love each other so hard with no-strings-attached. They know, even in the midst of not-knowing, that they are a permanent in each others lives.

One moment, best friends: I-will-fight-for-you-to-the-end-of-life.
Next moment, complete enemies: I-will-fight-with-you-for-the-rest-of-my-life.

I spend my days pondering ways to help keep the peace. I have behavior charts where they can earn sticker after sticker for not arguing. I have dusty knees from begging God for wisdom and discernment.

And lets just be honest…I have, on occasions, a hoarse voice from “stop the madness” moments. I mean, there are only so many times a mama can remind her cherub-like-loves to “STOP ARGUING!” and also keep her own junk together.

Arguments over pony-tail holders, who gets the ‘good’ seat in the car, whose turn it is to pick the song, who will have their hair done first, who may help set the table, who will take the first shower… because, "I CALLED IT!" certainly must secure your spot at all of these tasks.

Every moment, every detail, every situation has the potential for a random act of arguing. I didn’t have this understanding as a child. I had no one to argue with, fight with, or race to the ‘good seat’ with.  I had no idea this complexity in life existed.

We only kids are a bit brat-ish like that. (I can say that, I am one)

In the middle of the sibling arguments, I whisper up prayers of "Help!" and "Give me words to navigate this". All of those prayers and pleas boil down to one hope. One wish. One desire.

I so want my loves to have empathy for one another and see each other for who they have been created to be…incredible image carriers of God. I know this is a vast-reaching and complex understanding for a child.  Yet, it is also so simple.

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy declares someone valuable, worthy, and loved. Weapon Words (as we call them in our home) declare others less-than and prove I’m all about me. I want more than that for a sisterhood I am trying to help cultivate in the soil of their childhood.

My hope is for my children to know they matter and then in return understand that everyone matters to God. How incredible for my kids to learn and then know that we treat others with respect and dignity, because Jesus modeled that for us. He treated everyone with honor and love…even when wrong had been done to Him.

This understanding reaches far deeper than my homemade behavior chart. It puts roots in their hearts to honor others more than themselves. It makes it less about behavior change and more about heart change.

Sisterhood can be a powerful relationship where two people become each other's cheerleader, confidant, spur-er-on-er, and hand holder through the hard and lovely parts of this life. Yet, as I type these words, I am convicted of authentic sisterhood community in my adult life. 

Do I have empathy for those around me?
Do I honor others more than myself?
Do I treat all people with respect and dignity because everyone matters to God?Am I a cheerleader, confidant, spur-er-on-er and hand holder in my adult friendships?
 

Instead of wondering about my girls, perhaps I need to check my own self, my own motives, my own actions. Here is my hope for my loves and myself...

 

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