June 6, 2013

An Interview with Nancy Spender

We are overdue for a Rabbit Trail excursion… so today I am eager to share with you Nancy Spender. Joy in her life, a clear soprano voice for the song in her heart, and true love for others well describe my friend. We chatted up as she convalesced after her recent surgery, and I knew you all would be blessed to hear from her why she has such joy. To get her to agree, we bartered some services, and I came out ahead by getting an interview with her. (Being married to my husband of 27 years is rubbing off on me….)  Instead of probing questions, lyrics of hymn songs  would gently drift through my mind as I prepped for the interview...  songs that resonate of her life, like “In My Heart There Rings a Melody,” perfectly describing Nancy.

Chatter comes easily when with Nancy… and we started before turning on the recorder.  Occasionally, I may have to fill you in on earlier references.  So it’s time for you to grab your favorite comfort drink and be refreshed as you read the excerpts from our conversation. Oh, you may need a spare tissue.

Let’s jump in on the conversation, and Nancy will catch us up as she tells a bit about herself and her musical family heritage….

Nancy* - I am a child of God first and foremost, and a dear friend of Karen – I adore her and her family. My hobbies… I love to just listen to music. I love to sing. I love to play with my great-grandbaby Zoey; she is my latest and dearest hobby.  I like to camp;  I have a trailer – comfy!
k* - That’s the kind of camping I would do.
Nancy* - Yes, with a queen size bed! Lol! I don’t get to do that too much now that I’m widowed.  My beloved husband was called home in January 2010, but I rejoice because I know where he is. Even though it’s lonely and I miss him, he was my good friend, my beloved.
I worked for years at NIPSCO retiring in 1999, so I’ve enjoyed being home for quite a few years now. I also was a hairdresser.
k* -  You have gorgeous nails :o)
Nancy* - My mom and my grandma also had really beautiful nails, always. You and I talked about my grandma a little while ago before we started the interview. In the evenings my grandma with her apron on, would stand by her dining room table with her hymn book laying open, and would sing her hymns.
k*  - Just on Sundays?
Nancy* - No, every day.  Every day.  She would stand there, sing for a while and just praise God. She was not a real good singer, but she loved to sing; she loved to praise God. That was a joy for her.

I also once mentioned to you that as I was growing up in my home, when dishes were being cleaned and dried, we would sing.  That’s when learning harmony developed, especially with my sister Lynn and me who are the closest in age. I also sang Sunday School solos. When I was five years old, I sang my first “Away in the Manger” solo. Lol! Lynn and I started singing together in church when I was seven, so she must have been about five. Then the harmony kept developing as we got older. From the time I was twelve and she was ten, we sang quite often in churches all over.  At least two or three Sundays each month we sang at a different church. And that continued until we were… old! Lol! Probably fifteen years ago was the last time we sang together, and that’s because she moved away to Fort Wayne.
k* - Did your dad accompany you?
Nancy* -  No. He played a lot of instruments, though he never took any lessons.  He played the French horn in his high school band – first chair – and never took lessons. The school gave him the horn, and he taught himself.
k*  - They probably needed a French horn player.
Nancy* - Yes.  He played trumpet, too.  Again, he just picked it up and started playing it. That’s how he did piano and organ as well. He knew some songs and memorized them.  He could read music, but he didn't play a lot, and he wasn't comfortable playing for others; he played for his own enjoyment. He composed a few songs (I should give you one to play sometime). Then he was a piano tuner after he retired from being a car salesman. 
k* - He’s the one who found that piano for me and refurbished it… I loved that piano because it made me sound good!
Nancy* - Yes.  He was the main reason we enjoyed music.  And he was encouraging… but critical.  If it wasn't just right, he would not hesitate to say, “It was good; except that you could have gone from this chord to that chord, making it more effective. And in this line, on this chord, your note was off.”
k* -  I like that, though!
Nancy* - Exactly! Then you knew!  So he had a real ear for music. His dad was a church organist, who did show my dad how to read music. Everyone called him “Pa”.  Sweet little old man.  So my love of music goes back generations.
k* -  You are known, especially at church, for  always having a song in your heart.  It’s neat to see it’s been developed in you for such a long time ago – you were surrounded by it.
Nancy* - I was blessed to be surrounded by it because it’s such a long and wonderful gift. I know I’ve taken it for granted because I tended to think everyone has that gift, but as I got older I realized, no, not everyone.  People can have a joy for music; Cal [Nancy’s husband] had a joy for music. As he sang he would always say, “I will make a joyful noise!”, and that Someday he would sing like crazy.  And I said, “Yeah, I know, and Someday I’ll sound like Sandi Patty, too!”  Lol!   Now I realize that people can have a joy for music – not necessarily have an ear for it or the wonderful gift to sing.  And so I’m totally thankful to the Lord for that talent, because that brings extra joy to my life. That’s a precious gift.  And I appreciate it.
k* - Preparing  interview questions for you was unique, because instead of questions arising, hymn songs came to my mind. For instance, as I thought of you,In My Heart There Rings a Melody started playing in my head; that is just who you are, what is inside of you. Now considering how music surrounded you when you grew up, I’m recalling a song from Psalms, “I Will Sing Unto the Lord As Long As I Live” [insert *here* my lame attempt to sing it] And that verse reminds me of you, because singing to the Lord has long been a part of your life.
Nancy* - Yes. "In My Heart There Rings a Melody" is what I sang whenever I was upset because I had to clean the bathrooms. Lol! So, singing that song would bring the joy back into my life as I was scrubbing the floor or cleaning up the toilet bowl. And I find now that using music to get me through difficulties is a big part of my life and a big part of who I am. It’s a good tool to make myself happy or get through a bad situation, or to bring me comfort.  There are a lot of songs, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine, O What a Foretaste of Glory Divine”, for those days that are a little bleak.  And “I love To Tell the Story.” That was one of Cal’s favorites.
What we bartered!  Here is a photo of five beautiful generations of women who fear the Lord.
Nancy is at the top.  I love their smiles!
"I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; with my mouth I will make
known your faithfulness through all generations." - Psalm 89
k* - How did you get to know Jesus?
Nancy* - You know, I can’t ever remember not knowing Him. I think it’s when parents say, “Can you say mama? Can you say dada? Can you say Jesus?”  Never, ever, did I not have Him in my life.  He’s always been there; and He’s always there.  You know?  And that’s a blessing.  Sometimes I think, why was I chosen to be so blessed?  Then the next question comes, why can’t I keep that melody in my heart?  Why don’t I keep that joy going, for I’ve been given a wonderful life in Christ, and I have my Heavenly Father Who takes care of me now when I’m alone. Although, I’m not alone; I still have a Husband in Heaven, my Father. You know how sometimes you’d like to chat back and forth about a decision with your human husband?  I have asked questions of God, My heavenly Father, as my husband.  “Should I do this? Is this a good decision?”  And it’s amazing; I get an answer with a peace in my heart or with an uneasy feeling.  And so He fills that void in my life now as being my spiritual husband, not having a physical husband. And it’s so amazing that it takes your breath away. It takes your voice away.  Wow! He’s so real! 
k* -  Tell us, then, about hearing from God by reading His Word. There are some of us who are new in knowing God, and there are some of us who are at a life-weary point in life and are just struggling to keep up with the day-to-day things.  How do you read your Bible?  How would you go about it if someone came to you and said, “How do you stay in the Word? Where should I start?”
Nancy* - If you’re just starting out, I would say… sit down with your Bible, and you pray, “Lord, show me whatever You want me to read today, because I know nothing; I don’t know where to begin. Show me where to begin.”  You open the Word, and you start to read.  And if you’re thinking that you’re not getting anything, flip a page.  Go back and forth, and read again.  Sometimes it’s takes four, five, six times – and I even do this now – and sometimes I’ll read a whole chapter and say, “Oh, that was interesting but not exactly what I think I need…,”  and I flip again.  Then I start reading more. And all of a sudden, I say, “Thank you, Lord; this is what I needed today!”  And He’ll show you what He wants you to know, what He wants you to feel, where He wants you to be today. 

I also have some study books that I use. I have some devotionals that some friends have given to me,  and I’ll go through those. One of them is for women regarding strength, courage, joy, help, contentment; because a lot of time, women find themselves very discontented in this world. Other times I’ll pick a book of the Bible and just read it from start to finish, and when I get finished with it, sometimes I start it over right away and read through it again.  It’s amazing how you can read that same one passage before, but after this time you read it, it’s alive!  So read it right over again, without going on to another one. You get a different thought each time. Sometimes I read the same Scriptures over three or four times, but I don’t move on until I think I’m quite finished reading there.
k* - We  don’t want to breeze by God’s Word only to forget it.
Nancy* - (Nods) When Cal was sick, I read through Habakkuk about six or seven times, over and over.  There are just some passages in there that blew me away.  Fig trees!
k* - “The fig tree shall not blossom?” I know that passage from a song!
Nancy* - Exactly.  So there are songs when you need to be uplifted or just need to be reminded to praise.
k* - As with the words from Amazing Grace, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come…,”  you have had to walk through a lot of these storms yourself in the past few years.
Nancy* - Yes.
k* - And in the end, you still have joy. And you still trust God. And you can still say, “It is well with my soul.”  How can that be?
Nancy* - God’s grace is….    You know how there is amazing grace?  It is beyond amazing.  It is so….  There’s not a word on earth that can describe His grace. There’s just not.  It overcomes you.  It sustains you.  It pulls you through. It leads you through. It holds you up. It’s just… I can’t even find a word that can give you what grace means. I just can’t!
I think back to when we found out that Tina [Nancy’s younger daughter] had learning-disabilities. Here was this baby, and I knew there was a problem at three months old, yet the doctor said I was only comparing her older sister Jennifer, who was so advanced, to this child who was just a little smaller, a little slower.  I said, “No, I know!” I remember telling him, “God is giving me insight into what this child needs, and you need to help me to get to those physical needs before it’s too late.”  She wasn’t developing, she wasn’t growing.  He said no, it was ok.  But I knew it wasn’t.  Finally at nine months the doctors thought there was a problem. Then at a year, they knew there was a problem.  And during all that time, God gave me that grace and that understanding way beforehand to help me prepare. Afterward, we struggled to know what to do with her and how to handle her.  We prayed for knowledge, for what she needed.  God was always there. The knowledge was there.  It was a mother’s instinct – but who gives you that!! Lol!  He did.  He’s there.  So, was that my first real tragedy in life? No, it was a blessing in life.

Hands that span five generations- faithful to pray without ceasing to our loving Father,
and to serve Him always with gladness.
k* - Praying through trials recalls another song, “What a friend we have in Jesus! All our sins and grief to bear… Take it to the Lord in prayer.”  Have you found with your love for singing that prayer time and singing start melding into one? Sometimes you can start singing, and the next thing you know you realize you are praying to God.  Or you start with prayer and end up singing?
Nancy* - Absolutely.  It’s both ways.  Sometimes, especially after Wayne [Nancy’s married son with two young children] was killed, there was anger. I remember sitting in the chair in the middle of the night, and crying so hard.  It was almost hatred to God for taking my son. I remember crying so hard I was actually fist-hitting myself in the chest with such anger. It only lasted a few minutes before I exclaimed, “Oh, My Lord!” Then I thought, “My Father, what am I doing? What am I doing?  This is such selfish anger and grief.”
Then I thought, “Jesus, Your mom went through the same thing.  How Mary hurt! And why did You die? For me!”  All these thoughts just kept coming through to me how Mary lost her son for me! And the thoughts went on, “Christ, You did that for ME so that my son could be with YOU! Oh, my! Praise God!"
And it was beautiful; I still get goose bumps! It was such a moment of complete release of that grief, that anger, that why Lord, why me?  Why NOT me – because He did it for me!  I prayed, “You put Your mom through that – for me and for my son. Thank You for loving him so much You took him home to You.” How could you NOT love a God and Savior who did that for you?  So awesome, I know!  But it’s beyond awesome.

And then my dad, you know.  Such a great man. Such a man of God. Such faith.
 k* - I admired him.
Nancy* - Such spiritual wisdom. And in the middle of his lunch, he goes out to stoke a burn pile so that the neighbor doesn’t get smoke in his house.  Then he just lays down on the ground to die and go to heaven. In a moment. In a twinkling of an eye.  With his hands over his chest, like that, he’s gone.

God declared His ways to His people, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. From Psalm 78

When my husband Cal knew he had cancer, he would say, “I’m on a win-win. If I beat the cancer, I win because I get to stay here with you (whom I adore and love) along with our children, and our family, and everyone.  And if I don’t, then I win the Big One! I get the prize of seeing my Heaven and all that goes with it. ” When I found out before he did that it was terminal, I told him, “Hon, you have about three months left.” He was in the hospital, and he looked out the window and said, “Nan! I guess I win the Big One!”  Soon.  And I said, “Yeah.”  And every day he would wake up and say, “This is the day that the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it!”  Then he would say, “Q&A One today!”  Lol! That’s Question and Answer One of the Heidelberg Catechism: My only comfort in life and in death…
[…is that I am not my own, but belong - body and soul, in life and in death - to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.]
k* - What an amazing answer!
Nancy* - So I’ve been blessed with great men in my life.
k* -  I can only sit back and soak this in… oh, my goodness!
Nancy* - See, that’s the reason I say, why wouldn’t I have joy in my heart and a song in my heart, Karen? Even though I have losses, look at the blessings I have received in each one of those deaths.  Something great has been given back to me:  realizations of how awesome God is; grace beyond all measure. They were great people to have around me in my life; examples, strength, and unconditional love of my little boy. But in their deaths, I receive a heart full of God’s grace, comfort, and joy so that it’s just there. I sometimes feel sorry for people that haven’t had that something in their life – that they don’t receive that grace, because they’re missing out on the backside of it, that joy that comes with God’s grace.
k*  - My soul is so full!  
Nancy* -  Lol!
k* - But for one question.
Nancy* -  Ok.
k* - And it’s… so, when are you singing in church next?
Nancy* - (sigh!)
k* - Am I a stinker?
Nancy* - Yeah! (Hesitates…)  I should, but I don’t always think my voice is so good to sing anymore. You get an old lady warble going, you know? 
k* - So you’re saying it needs some exercise?
Nancy* - Yes, some exercise.
k* - OK, so we’ll get you on an exercise program, lol!

So I’m thinking Nancy should return to her roots, don an apron, stand beside her dining table every evening with her hymn book open… and sing!  Perfect vocal chord exercise program, don’t you think?  

Thank you, Readers, for stopping by.  I know our hearts are refreshed by Nancy’s chat with us.  I’m so grateful, Nancy, that you opened your home and your heart to us so we can hear of God’s faithfulness and love.

If you have any questions or comments for Nancy, please “make yourself at home” and leave a note below. 


  1. Such a beautiful interview - I was crying throught the reading of it - I felt the LOVE - I wish you would say under the family photo instead of they fear our Lord - saying they LOVE our Lord - no one can fear love you know ;) - Thank you !!!

  2. Whenever I think of a prayer warrior, Nan's name comes to mind. I admire her and only wish that my faith was as evident, but reading the interview is a real encouragement.

  3. I just love Nana....she has such faith and grace. She has always been such an example to me on being a strong women of faith and courage. She truly loves the Lord with all her heart!!! Thank you Karen for posting this interview...what an encouragement to us all!!


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