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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 

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My Stomping Grounds

7 Things To Make The New Year Better

1. Say No To Sugar.

Hi, my name is Susan and I haven’t had a gram of sugar for 6 days. My last encounter with sugar was during Christmas and it involved chocolate and cake and all-things carby. In these six-sugar-free-days I am reminded what sanity feels like again. If you’ve read any of my earlier posts, you know I am on Weight Watchers.  My de-boarding of the sugar-train was part of this process.

As a sugar addict I will say it loud loud loud: SUGAR IS MY ADDICTIVE DRUG! (pardon the screaming)

Sugar makes me irrational, cloudy, cranky, sore and crampy… then it leaves me wanting more of its goodness.Which often comes wrapped in a warm, gooey package with yet more calories. Yet I want it.

And more.

And more.

And more.

Then I feel like a rabid woman foaming at the mouth for anything sweet, carby or breaded.

My hope in 2017: less sugar, more sanity.


2. Say Yes to Friends

Last night we went to our weekly home group from church.  The kids were in the basement, the adults in the living room. Two hours of laughter, listening and friendship.  My tank was again full. Friendships are life-giving. I need more of this in 2017.


3. Order Groceries Online.

I kissed the foreheads of my three cherubs this morning and scooted them out the door. I sat on my couch, sipped my coffee and proceeded to do my grocery shopping.

I dashed between the aisles of dairy and produce and frozen foods with the quick click of my computer keys. I entered promo codes, I got good deals and I never left my house. Thirty minutes later, my groceries were ordered. There was no schlepping through the aisles or bribing my girls to keep their junk together for just a bit longer. Nope. This Mama added at least three hours to her week.  I then pulled up in a designated parking space, watched a nice college student load the groceries in my car and headed home. I spent those three hours with kids and hubs around the dinner table instead of in a crowded grocery store. Mom. Win.


4. Hold Sacred the Hours of 6pm-9pm.

My Goal: Create a Charging Station and limit screen time in the evenings.

Each year as my children get older, screens become more and more of an issue. However, my kids are not the only ones with screen addiction. I have an attention problem with my devices as well. Meaning, when one is in my hand, nothing else gets my attention.

In 2017, I want to hold sacred the hours of 6pm-9pm.  That’s when the magic (or crazy) happens. That’s when mamas and daddies all over the globe get to hear about their child’s day. We listen to the highs and the lows. We get to be engaged while they shovel food in their bellies, do homework or shoot a three pointer during basketball practice.

I personally need to regain focus in our family during those hours. Our screens need to be located in a charging station away from all of the Wanderer-screen-zombie-eyes.


5. Move for 30 Minutes Each Day.

No matter how tired I may feel… for thirty minutes each evening (or morning), go on a walk, swing a kettle bell or jump on the trampoline with the kids. The adrenaline is magic and the health benefits are glorious.


6. Be Kind.

2016 was an insane year of rude.  Anger and arrogance seemed to be the chief operating officers of these United States. The political arena seemed to drive people to irrational behavior. Let’s make the new year different.  For the sake of the upcoming generation that's watching us, let’s be extravagant with our kindness in 2017.


7. Use the Crockpot More Often.

Because who doesn’t like to walk home to a yummy smelling house with dinner already done and prepared? Amen and Hallelujah.

(If you are an Instant Pot Person, more power to you. I can’t fit one more appliance in my already full cupboards).


Happy New Year, friends! 

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The most important gift for your child this Christmas!

The most important gift for your child this Christmas

It's almost CHRISTMAS EVE! It’s the time of year when moms all over the world are feeling the crunch of Christmas-Memory-Making-Mode.

Each year, right about this time, I think: I only have a few days left to make this Christmas a memorable one!

I immediately feel like I am missing something:

Did they drink enough hot cocoa by the fire? 

Did I get the right cozy pajamas?

Are the Christmas presents going to bring forth the joy?

And the Happy Birthday Jesus Cake… I need to get to the grocery story!

I sat down this morning to sip my coffee in my Christmas mug and make my final countdown list til Christmas Day. 

I searched my thoughts to remember my favorite parts of my own Christmas as a child.  A delightful nostalgia filled the corners of mind. 

My father was a third generation apple farmer and my mother a preschool teacher.  My parents like to see someone’s face light up with joy more than just about anything else in this world.

As a child, every Christmas Eve, our clan of three would pile up in my dad’s pickup truck and embark upon a day of gifting. Our truck bed was full of bushels of apples and a few gifts. My mom’s hands held the list of the recipients.

I felt like I was sitting between Santa and Mrs. Claus and I couldn’t wait for our first stop.  Our list held names of senior adults, sick people, pastors, UVA coaches, homeless shelters, neighbors, and anyone else my parents had added to our schedule of surprises.  

Off we went! I was the one who rang the doorbell… such a treat! My nervous six-year-old finger shook with a bit of excitement as I pressed the button.  After a few seconds of waiting, a curious, beautiful grandmother greeted us with a smile that filled her doorway. 

My dad’s big booming voice roared behind me: "Merry Christmas! We thought we’d bring you some Christmas cheer!"

Then I was squished between the warm embrace of a dear grandmother and my mom.

After we visited a little while, dad gave her a hug, offered to pick her up for the Christmas Eve service at church, and then informed her we had several more stops, so we had better get moving.   

The woman’s shaky voice still can be heard in my ears: "You have just made my Christmas! Thank you for remembering me!"

And just like that, we were off to the next stop.

We heard statements all day long:

I was just sitting here hoping to see someone today!

You are the gift to me!

What have I done to receive such a present?

My goodness, what a wonderful Christmas surprise!

We also made a special stop to our apple farm to deliver gifts to the workers and families that lived there.  Dad sat down, read the Christmas story from the Bible, prayed and then handed out presents. Squeals filled the room as they ripped open their presents.

As an adult, I now realize the apples nor the gifts were the actual gift of this day.

My parents were teaching me the importance of making people feel seen. They showed me that serving others is a more cherished memory-maker than all the packages under the tree.

Somewhere between the matching Christmas pj's and the twinkly lights I need to be reminded that the most important part of Christmas is making room for people, showing them they are valuable & reminding them they are loved by a very faithful God who sent us love wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Serving others, that's the greatest memory-maker I can give my kids this Christmas.

So, after this cup of coffee is complete, I’m packing my kids up, going to the nearest bakery, grabbing a few pies (apple, of course) and we will make our own list of deliveries.

And today, we will make people feel seen and loved.

Merry Christmas, friends!

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I have worked vocationally in kids ministry for twenty years. The majority of the days I absolutely adore my job.  Then there are some days, where I take a deep breath and hope tomorrow will be better. Any time you are in a profession that involves working with people, life is both fabulous and frustrating. Humans. We are a wonderful and worrisome bunch, aren't we? Yet, the fabulous far outweighs the frustrating. Sounds a lot like parenting, huh?

My world seems to be filtered through one primary lens: ministry. Ministry to other families and ministry to my own family. I confess, there are seasons I fear I do not do as well pouring into my own tribe of people. That plagues me a bit.

I interact with many moms and dads who are in the thick of parent-ing, spouse-ing and life-ing. They know both the weeds and the flowers of modern day family life. This life can be both messy and lovely. Throw a few kiddos in the mix and a beautiful bouquet of weeds and flowers is formed.

I see these parents with hopes and goals for their clans. My gosh, how divine and sacred it is to hear them dream of what could-be or reflect upon what-is.  Their eyes dance with wonder and awe while they talk of how their children are growing and maturing.

Then I see the dance collide with real life. 


Kid makes poor decisions.

Mom and dad regret their reactions.

Doors slam.

Feet stomp.

Tears are cried.

Silence fills the hallways of their home.


Mom begins to whisper “I’m doing the best I can.”

Dad tries to comfort.

Mom-Guilt feels stronger than her husband’s arms.


In those real-life moments, defeat feels like a beast, shaking a bony finger in the face of parents across the globe.


“See, I told you. You are a failure of a mom. You don't know what you are doing at all.”


While I have been in vocational kids ministry for 20 years, I have only been parenting for five and a half of those years. My tenure in parenthood is not long.

In these five short years I've embraced the moments of comforting, correcting, loving, snuggling, laughing, and guiding my kiddos in the weeds and the flowers of our family life.  Some days are glorious and other days are just gross. 

Christmas is a reminder to me that God sent Jesus to be in the messy and lovely parts of this life. It is a season of refreshment and of restoration. It’s a tender season of hope. It’s the season of Emmanuel, which means God with us.  

God with us. God with my family. God with my kids. God with my spouse. God with all of us.

This seasons restores my perspective and refreshes my joy.

Please allow this Kids Minister/Rookie Mom to offer a bit of hope this Christmas season in the midst of your weeds and flowers of parenting:  Sit near the twinkly lights of your tree, soak in the wonder and awe of this season and know that Emmanuel has come, God is with us.

Merry Christmas,



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Top 5 Things This Fat Girl Will Enjoy Most In Skinnyhood

5 things this fat girl will enjoy most in skinnyhood

So a few weeks ago my hubs and I began an adventure of Weight Watchers.  I wrote about it here. The first week was stellar. Between the two of us, we lost 20 pounds. I cried, I cheered, I seriously COULD NOT STOP SMILING during the entire meeting. What a grand feeling it was. 

Then Thanksgiving arrived. The turkey, the cranberry salad, the lumpy mashed potatoes, the bread, the sweets… but I digress.  We chose not to weigh-in that week. For obvious reasons. Those pilgrims knew how to throw a darn good tasty party.

We are mostly back on track (last night we went out with some co-workers for a Christmas dinner at our favorite uncle’s restaurant in Woodbridge… Uncle Julio makes the best salsa and chips, so of COURSE we had to partake… insert eyeroll).

So last night, after our Feliz Navidad Christmas Outing, I went home and created a list of the things I would enjoy the most when I arrive in my new neighborhood called, Healthyhood. (My list actually says Skinnyhood… but so many of you send me notes of “You don’t need to be skinny you need to be healthy” that I chose the softer phrase for fear of an email rebellion.)

If you are on a weight loss journey, perhaps these might make your list too. If so, we can be neighbors in our new hood… whether you call it skinny or healthy.

1. Flying on an airplane.

If you are a skinny, you don’t even know this dreaded scene.  I want to fit comfortably in an airplane seat, arm-rests down, no flopping over into the other seat and without a flight attendant running coming to my aid using their loud voice “Ma'am, would you like an extender?” I softly proclaim:  I would NOT like an extender, thank you very much, I’ll be just fine in my tourniquet over here.

During the entire flight I’m begging God for no turbulence, because the seatbelt is being held together only by a large inhaled breath and a prayer. If it should pop open, no way would it go back together. And my fear of loud-voiced-Lucy arriving to my aid in mid-flight, “Ma’am, let me get you that extender” would come true.

2. No Picture Taking Protruding Chin.

It will be lovely to not hold my chin high up in the air during a quick fun Instagram picture of a group outing.  In each photo I look like I’m staring at a skyscraper. The fear of the dreaded double or triple chin during pictures produces chin-pointing-problems in fat girls. It’s a real thing. Side Note: I always pick the tallest person to take the group photo… if they take the picture from high up, less chin protrusion is needed.

Also, no cropping will be a beautiful neighbor in my new hood. Because right now - cropping is a must... bust up only, please! 

3. Amusement Parks.

Similar to flying on a plane… but with no offering of an extender… just “Get off. You don’t fit.” I want to say the difference is that flight attendants are more adulty with their extender offerings than amusement parks teens who don’t understand how to accommodate awkward situations. However, the reality, fat people don’t fit on roller coasters. One day, I will fit on a roller coaster properly without having my insides squirting out between the tourniquet-type seatbelts. And my kids and I will squeal our heads off with happiness.

4. Hiking or Running a 5K.

I simply want to be able to go hiking or running with my family without the need of an oxygen tank strapped to my fat back.

5. Clothing Options.

Yes, I am aware that there are fat stores that sell fat girl clothes that don’t look AARPish.  However, I want to go into a store and shop in the section that doesn’t require me to go to an employee and whisper “Where is your Women’s Section?" As if I am not already standing in a section of women’s clothing… they all just happened to be size 2-10.  Really “Women’s Section” is code for “ Fat Girls' Area… where all the X’s live.”

The good news… these five things are so attainable. And with Weight Watchers, we are trying to get there day by day. The holidays were not the greatest time to start this journey because, well, holiday food is EVERYWHERE, lurking around every corner. Perhaps, though, this was the best time to begin.

On the way to the restroom there are WALLS of holiday breads and chocolates in the office break room. Those yummies are calling/squealing/cheering out and being so festive: “Seriously Susan, it’s Christmas, come partake!”

However, I want to enjoy my new digs in Skinnyhood more than I want those Yuletide Yummies! 

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Be an Arm-Linker and Not a Finger-Pointer

This is not right, I ordered NO cheese on this sandwich!

If they plant one more bush closer to our line of the yard I am going to call the HOA and complain!

That was MY parking place, lady!  I had my blinker on!

You just have NO IDEA how rude my co-worker is, I do not think I can live like this one more day! I am going to HR and complain.

Little moments throughout the day.  Irritants. Frustrations. Small annoyances we would classify as a common trending topic of First World Problems. We all experience them. Everyday. Moments that make us breathe deep and exhale long. My kids pick up on this and ask questions.

Instead of living in the frustration of how life has been unfair to me at that moment, I so want to teach my children to see each situation, each incident, each irritation as little moments given to us to infuse kindness & point people towards grace.

Order messed up? 

Difficult neighbors?

Irritating co-workers?

Parking place stolen?

With each of these situations, I have been given a moment in time to show my kids that we have no idea what the other person is going through. 

Is the cook going through a hard time in their family? How can we bless them during our perceived cheese-fiasco?

Instead of complaining about property rights with my neighbors, perhaps serving them in the midst of their anger would make a greater impact.

Figuring out a way to bless an irritating co-worker could change the story completely.

And the stolen parking place… seriously, we could all use a few more steps on our Fitbits.  Find another spot that doesn’t come with a dose of entitlement.

In weaving through the hard parts of our journey, I want to show my kids the importance of linking arms instead of pointing fingers.

Arm-Linking, grace and kindness equals a more empathetic, loving and decent humanity.

And we can all use a bit more decency and humanity these days. 

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