Publisher’s note: Today marks one year since the death of Michael Spencer. Michael was the founder of the Internet Monk, but more than that, he was the husband of Denise and the father of Clay and Noel. This is a remembrance of Michael’s life and passion by Denise. We ask that you pray for Denise at this time, the one year anniversary of her husband’s death.
In cleaning out the shed recently, I came across an old suitcase. Inside the suitcase were several items from long past, including this photo of Michael (on the right) and his boyhood friend, Jeff (no, not Dunn). Their common passion was playing Daniel Boone, and they are depicted here in all their imaginative glory. You might think, by virtue of the fact that Michael’s wearing the hat, that he was the leader. Ah, sadly, no. Michael complained into his middle-aged years that Jeff always had to be Daniel Boone. Michael, it seems, was relegated to the part of “Yadkin,” I believe it was. It seems that Yadkin was Daniel’s sidekickâ€¦or second cousin thrice removedâ€¦or something. Whoever Yadkin was, he wasn’t “Dan’l,” and Michael always felt a bit cheated.
Yet play they did, in their coonskin caps and buckskin jackets, armed with long rifles and powderhorns. The old neighborhood became the wilderness in their fantasies, and they took on any danger that came their way. It was high adventure, to hear Michael tell it.
“Adventurous” is most likely not a word that would jump to mind if you knew Michael, but in his heart of hearts he was. He followed the space program and watched the news coverage of rocket launches, space walks and shuttle landings. He also loved all those make-believe space adventures: Star Trek, Star Wars and other star-spun stories. It makes sense, doesn’t it? “Space: the final frontier,” began the Star Trek episodes. Outer space was the perfect playground for a grown-up “Booner” of days gone by.
In real life, however, Michael generally played it safe. He had almost drowned at age 12, and wouldn’t go near a swimming pool because of it. Once or twice when he served as a youth minister he went spelunking with some teenage guys, but that was about the extent of his grownup quests. He didn’t go rock climbing or skydiving or any such thing. Instead, Michael’s adult adventures were of the intellectual variety. He explored religion and philosophy, doctrines and ideas. He was an avid reader, and his choices were seldom fiction.
I don’t know much about Daniel Boone, but the man did a lot of different things. He was both a trailblazer and a settler. He fought Native Americans, yet was adopted by the Shawnee. He served in the Virginia General Assembly, and later became a surveyor and merchant. Did he have a restless spirit? I’d bet “yes,” at least somewhat.
Michael, too, was a man of many interests. He kept that early love of history through the years. He enjoyed a wide variety of music. He watched all sorts of movies. If you knew him at all, then you know he loved baseball and food, including baseball food.
Was he restless? I’d say “yes,” at least somewhat. Michael was given to different phases, fads and hobbies, and the kids and I often got caught up in them as well. Perhaps the most memorable was The Wrestling Phase. I don’t even know how it started, but “Mankind,” “Edge,” “Triple H” and “The Rock” became household names. We watched these guys faithfully every Monday night. We invited friends over for “Wrestlemania” pay-per-views. I halfway thought my husband had lost his mind, but hey! It was fun, and great bonding time with the kids. Eventually The Wrestling Phase ended as mysteriously as it began and Michael found something else to occupy his recreational time.
He was also a man who was not afraid to question his beliefs and to occasionally change his political or doctrinal position, again usually taking me along for the ride. I sometimes complained that he stayed in a phase just long enough to win me over before switching loyalties. About the time Michael turned me into a Democrat he began listening to Rush Limbaugh. When I at last followed him into Calvinism he started finding fault with some of those doctrines. And so it went. At least he kept life interesting.
Throughout his entire adult life, though, Michael had one gift that never changed. He loved to preach and was an extremely gifted preacher. Very closely related were his gifts of writing and teaching. But it was his love for preaching that burned in his heart. Michael had grown up under the preaching of his uncle, Rev. W. O. Spencer, whom he greatly looked up to. Saved at age 15, Michael was called to preach at age 17. At least that’s how he interpreted the call. Today he would more likely feel called to the ministry in a broader sense. But back then in that Southern Baptist culture, a fellow called to the ministry was “called to preach.” Pastors weren’t called “Pastor So-And-So,” but “Preacher.” So young preacher-boy Michael set off to blaze his trail as a pastor, little knowing that God had something different in mind.
That something different was youth ministry. Michael was great with teenagers, and they loved him. Yet his frustration grew as years rolled on and instead of pastoring, God led him from one youth ministry position to another. Finally he pastored one church before being called to become a campus minister. At last he had a ministry that seemed tailor-made just for him. He could preach to his heart’s content, and his primary audience was young people.
I will tell you a secret. At times Michael struggled with the concept of success. Remember Yadkin? Grownup Michael still wanted to be Daniel Boone. He sometimes looked at pastors of big city churches driving luxury cars and wearing suits and wondered where he’d missed the boat. I hated it when those feelings overtook him, because I could see what a huge success he was in the Kingdom — in God’s Kingdom, and success by God’s standards. For some reason the Lord kept us in humble circumstances while always meeting our needs.
Though Michael loved his opportunity to preach and teach and touch the lives of teens, it wasn’t too long before that restlessness set in again, coupled with the desire to preach to adults. Several stints as interim pastor brought him a level of satisfaction, but still he longed for more. So Michael began to write. That’s where most of you enter the picture. You knew and loved him as the Internet Monk. Thank you for being his audience, his online congregation. He needed you, you needed him and it was a good match.
As I have slowly gone through Michael’s belongings I have repeatedly found little folded pieces of paper in books and pockets. Only occasionally might one be a grocery list. They are almost always jottings of sermon notes or lesson plans. Preaching, teaching and communicating about God — these are the gifts that most defined Michael. He seldom went anywhere without one of his beloved MoleskinesÂ® and a pen. The ideas were always flowing, and he needed to put them to paper when they surfaced.
Sometimes I stand alone holding one of those crumpled notes and ask God, “Why? This was his life! All he wanted to do was tell people about You! So why couldn’t he stay here longer?” It is ironic that Michael died just when he was, perhaps, about to finally move up the ladder of success. A highly popular web site, his first book nearly in printâ€¦maybe he could at last play the part of Daniel. But like Yadkin, it seemed Michael could only rise so high.
And he has now set out on the greatest exploit of his life. For once, I cannot follow. Sometimes I want to search for him, and it seems he should be close by. Is he right over yonder mountain? Or maybe just past that bright star?
One thing I’m sure of: Michael has crossed the final frontier. And this adventure will last forever.
58 thoughts on “Denise Spencer: The Forever Frontier”
Thank you. Though I never had the chance to meet him in person, Michael was a mentor and role model for me. He walked the Way of the Cross with humility and love, and I can only hope to emulate him as I attempt to walk the same old trod path.
My heart and prayers go out to you and yours.
Man, oh man.
Thank you, Denise.
Thank you and may God’s peace be with you and reign in your heart and mind today and everyday, Denise.
Suzi, I love you dearly. We lost two giants in Gary and Michael — two men who LIVED their Christianity daily. I hope you are well. I saw you only briefly at Michael’s memorial. I regretted that I was unable to say more than a passing, “Hello.” I was pulled two different directions by my daughter and my husband, who was going through his own health crisis at the time. I’ll never forget all the wonderful hugs from Mr. Garrett and all the motherly loving given as only you could give. I hope you are healing. I miss you.
I stumbled across the IM last year, I remember reading Michael’s post on Mental Illness. It was refreshing. You see I had a friend who I since lost (becuase of how I treated him when he got his girlfriend pregnant) and we would fight over the issue of taking medication for depression. My friend led worship, and was evangelical and also struggled with depression. The doctor put him on medicine for it, he would be criticized by other Christians saying he needed to have faith in Jesus; he would stop the medciine and I would fight with him. “What are you doing?!? There’s nothing wrong with taking medicine” I was brainwashed as a fundgelcial but on issues like that I saw it from a medical perspective. That was in 2007, 2008 I guess…but the issue of how fundegelicals treated mental health issues bothered me. I stumbled on Michael’s post and found it refreshing.
So much changed in me from 2007 until today. I was burned by evangelicalism, was hurt by several Pharises, overwhelmed by doubt about God. I saw parallels between modern day evangeliclasim and what I saw as when I was in Mormonism when I was younger. I felt sick to my stomach about going to church or hanging around my friends. I more or less became agnostic, and threw out a good chunk of my Christian material before i saw the IM.
I really like what I’ve encountered here. It’s quite a community, I’m able to discuss things I couldn’t discuss in chruch amd I’ve realized others have been burned by evangelicalism. I’m not the only one whihc for some strange reason give me so much comfort.
I’m still trying to figure out a way out of this mess but I’m so grateful for this blog and Michael Spencer’s wise words. I read Mere Churchianity last year…I couldn’t put it down. Kind of like Barna’s UnChristian which I read in one night also….
I’ll get a card off to you but remember you are lot alone!!
Awwwwwwwwwwwww…this is what I hate about the internet…I can’t give you a hug!!! I wish I could!!
I got off work at midnight last night, I’ve been working nights which is why I haven’t been able to post, my body schedule is all out of whack. So I got out of work in DC at midnight and commutted home to the Virginia suburbs. I was (and still am sick as a dog…) and I needed to grab dinner so I went into this 24 hour cafe and ordered some chicken noodle soup for dinner. As I was eating it I heard the following song on the radio, it gave me pause, I hadn’t heard it in years. It’s called The Living Years, the parts about crumpled bits of paper caught my ear, but I do love the message.
Big hug from Washington, D.C.!!!!
Very touching tribute. I’m rather new to imonk, but have really appreciated Michael’s book and the daily post. You were blessed to have had such a great husband and father. May God continue to grant you His grace and peace as you remember today.
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing this. May your Abba continue to hold you in his arms and comfort you as only he can.
I never met Michael. I feel like I knew him though through the influence of his writing. I grieved when he died very selfishly for the loss of someone who helped to put into words what I was feeling in many ways and who helped me to know that I was not the only one out there who had the questions and the views that he expressed.
My eyes teared again today reading this. Michael was more than a voice in the wilderness. He was a husband, a father, a teacher and someone who I wish I’d had the privilege to sit across the table from in a pub talking about theology or baseball.
Thank you Denise for sharing these personal memories and some of the things that make Michael’s memory more human and down to earth. I don’t presume to know why things happen in the time and way that they do. I don’t believe God takes people in the sense that some sometimes use the phrase. I prefer to rest in the grace and goodness of God and believe that there’s a mystery to these things that is more than God snatching someone away before the time we hoped they’d have.
My prayers are with you today and your family. My selfish missing of Michael’s writing pales in comparison to your loss.
blessings to you and your children.
Thank you, Denise, for such a beautiful outpouring from your heart. You know your whole family holds a very special place in my heart. I cannot even BEGIN to imagine what you are going through right now. My husband is sick, but I still HAVE him. The rough year I experienced last year cannot compare to what you went through.
I still find myself wondering about the “Spencer perspective” on so many topics. But, there’s also the “Denise Spencer” perspective that you so eloquently presented in this post. You have much to say and much ministering to do, too. Please don’t forget that. It’s ok to come out from behind the shadow of the Internet Monk. I am certain the Monk himself would approve — and I KNOW God would!
Oh, and I don’t think I ever knew Michael went through a “Democrat” phase! He was a Limbaugh follower by the time I met you guys! I wish I had known that. How I could have teased and tormented him!
Thank you Denise. And may the Lord bless you.
I miss Michael too. I am surprised that I feel so strongly for someone I never met. But in his writing I have. And I am the better for it. Thanks be to God for Michael.
Thank you, Denise, and God bless you and your family. Through his writing, Michael has brought all of you a little closer to us (even if we have never met face-to-face, and most probably never will), and we are grateful for that. Although I very much miss his voice, only Jesus can fill the void he left amidst you.
Peace and grace from Brazil,
Thank you Denise. Michael’s writings changed my life, and came at a time when I needed them more than I then-knew.
Thanks to so many who have commented. It’s a blessing to me to hear you speak from the heart, and a precious reminder of how many lives Michael touched.
Thank you for that window into Michael’s life. I stumbled onto this website a few years ago (I am a late 40’s guy and not much of a blogger) and was impressed by the intelligence, the honesty and vulnerablility in his words. I quickly read much of the essays in the archives and was intrigued by the quality of the blogging. For me Michael provided a window into Evangelicalism that I did not get elsewhere. As a devout Catholic who has great interest in other theologies and expressions, Michael’s writings gave me an understanding about evangelical realities as oppose to ideologies. And it was interesting to see his desire to be more universal, his appreciation of Church history and his respect for my faith tradition even if he did not agree wilth all its tenets or have a desire to swim the Tiber.
From my perspective he was a great asset and voice to those in the evangelical wilderness and his writings will surely be missed. We do share a kindred spirit for Merton and the appreciation for a good Monastic retreat once in a while.
In some ways Denise he did become Daniel Boone… at least in this portion of the Blogosphere.
Warm regards from Pittsburgh,
Denise – A wonderful tribute and memories of Michael. I don’t know that anymore could be added other than what many above have already said along with you – that we miss him and the always nagging question of WHY? I agree with you that Internet Monk and all of us who read him and knew him in this venue were really the congregation that he always wanted, that he needed and the friend, pastor in many senses, that we needed. They (whoever “they” are) say time heals and makes eaiser…… well….. I sometimes I don’t know that that’s a completely true statement as this brings to mind recent losses – one from last December and others in the recent and distant past yet each one can, and many times is, played out in my memories and even dreams sometimes and the pain still remains though somewhat eaiser to deal with in a sense.
Thank you again for sharing these memories and for allowing so many of use to share in the life of the man that we knew as The Internet Monk – the impact on my life and the lives of so many here will never be forgotten and indeed many have been brought to a better understanding of and closer walk with our creator with the God whose presence Michael is in this moment.
Miss you bro…… Peace.
Thank you for writing this, Denise. Michael had a bigger impact on me than any pastor I’ve known, and I never even met him. This post really speaks to me where I’m at right now with success. Glad you wrote it.
Thank you for the wonderful post about Michael. May God continue to richly bless you and your family.
Thank you so much for sharing this. Michael was and is the reason I am still a Christian.
Denise, thank you for sharing this. Michael’s life touches more people than either of you will ever know. Michael is the kind of person whose life moves me to reverent silence for its goodness. Peace and love be with him, you, your family, and everyone here at iMonk.
Dear Denise, I think of you often, wonder how you are doing and continue to pray for strength, healing and consolation in your life. What a sweet article you have written again today.
God bless you, be with you
“He is near the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit’ Ps 34:18
Paige (Beaverton, Oregon)
Thank you, Denise, for the bittersweet story you share with us this day. May the Lord be with you and your family during this Lenten season.
Denise, thank you for this. I think of you and pray for you and your kids often.
Dearest Denise- This morning when I awoke, I realized the it had been a year since my friend Michael had gone to be with Jesus. I read your post through tear-filled eyes. Mike and my Gary had been such good friends and Gary had gone to Heaven just 4 months earlier. I was upset when God went Michael had to go, too. Mike had been the one I turned to with most problems when it was something deeper than anything that Gary and I could work out., my Father Confessor. He had helped me through our son’s divorce and my mom coming to live with us, as well as having to observe our daughter’s healing from a terrible horse back riding accident from several states away.
When Gary died. Michael had become too ill for me to expect to see him for a while. When I finally gathered up my courage to visit Mike, I was shocked at how physically weak he seemed and yet- his Faith was stronger than ever. I went because I was concerned about him and the entire time I was there, he worked on assuring me that life would go on even though Gary was gone, that at least I knew where Gary and who he was with. By the time I left I almost felt good, for the first time in months, and it made me feel guilty because I knew what was ahead for you.
Mike influenced our lives so much and so many young people at OBI. When I talk with students from there, even now, so many talk about learning something every time he preached, be it at the church, or in the chapel. And many have told me that they are reading the book.
Thank you for sharing Michael with us for all those years. I miss him (and you). Peace
Denise, I probably haven’t commented on this blog since Michael died (though I still read it daily). I’ve very often wondered how you and your children (and their spouses) are doing. Can’t seem to find words right now; just “thank you” will have to do. Peace be with you.
Thank you for sharing your story! I had just finished reading Mere Churchianity and was saddened to read of Michael’s passing. Then, I thought, well what is the purpose of this life? To draw near to our Lord. Michael is near to Him now and I look so forward to meeting him in heaven. I pray for comfort for you and your family.
Denise, thank you for this wonderful piece of writing, for sharing your grief, and the story about the man you love.
My heart weeps.
My first grandchild was born 2 days before Michael died. Her middle name is Grace, and she is a product of pure grace. Michael would have appreciated that. Last night, driving back from the celebration, I got to think about Michael and the effect his writings and thoughts still have on me. As have all of the people who’ve been spiritual mentors to me, “..like all shamans, he disappeared into the sky.”
Blessings to you and your family Denise.
There are so many things I want to say about Michael–how important he was to so many people; how much he was loved and appreciated by people who never met him; how much he is missed—but I can’t find words enough. Thank you, Denise, and your family, for sharing him with us.
Thanks for your heart-felt post; cried as I neared the end. I found imonk just 2 months before he went to heaven, and it radically changed me, my life, and even my children–great dialogue–but more than than, heart examination every day. I know it was only the Lord that had me ‘stumble’ upon Michael Spencer. I have bought several of his book for others…I loved it.
If it’s any help at all, I believe that it is what we leave behind that says who we were/are.
Jesus left 12 disciples here to turn the world upside down.
Your husband has done the same….a lasting, far-reaching, life-changing impact on more than you (or any of us)
will ever know. He’s still preaching.
A wonderful and fitting tribute to Michael as only a loving spouse could do. I was heart-broken when Michael died, and I miss him (even though we never met in person). My prayer for you and your family this day is that your are comforted, that your memories of Michael bring a smile, and that each of find peace as you move through life without him.
Denise, you are gracious and generous to share your husband for so many years and now your memories of him. Thank you.
Thanks for sharing that Ted. I read the lyrics and cried. Must just be one of those days.
The words I want to say keep getting stuck in my throat, as I weep over your great loss…
I love the picture and the story you paint with words here, helps me to know your dear sweet man in another light.
I got so tore up inside when I read your other words on God’s (seemingly) silence when Michael was dying. That stuck with me, so you come to mind often in my prayers as I ask the Lord to bathe you in His presence as you grieve.
I don’t know if this is the appropriate place to tell you about how Michael’s writings literally saved me from throwing in the towel, throwing out my war torn belief in Jesus, but his writings did that for me, (one essay in particular) I found this essay 5 months before he died. And I am grateful. Your words are beautiful. In His Love, Gail
Rebekah, what you and Denise are saying about scraps of paper reminds me of a song entitled “Scraps of Paper” by Eric Bogle, a tear-jerker about his father who had been a stranger to him until after his death. After finding the scraps he sings,
My father died in summer, and all he left behind
Were little scraps of paper, little scraps of rhyme
But the man who wrote his heart into those rhymes
I know he could have been a good friend of mine
Here’s the link to the lyrics. I couldn’t find it on youtube, and amazon only has a tiny audio clip of it. If you find it, have some kleenex handy.
Click to access scrapsofpaper.pdf
Thank you Denise, for sharing your heart with us today.
Tears came as I was finishing up your post and I will tell you why……
My dad and his wife stayed with me last night and I took them to the airport this morning.
He is a pastor, a preacher; having been called at age 18. He will turn 73 later this year.
At 42 years of age, I have held many issues in regards to my dad, though I pray for help and strength to let go, they carry on. Or rather I carry them on. With white knuckles at times.
He is never without a scrap or 20 of papers with scribbly notes, something all us kids joke with him about. He always has his notebook and pen too. You just never know when a good illustration will come to you. Ha!
As I was driving home from the airport. Car now empty. The astounding and beautiful snow capped Rocky Mountains of Colorado in front of me, I felt a twinge of sadness. You never really know how long you have someone with you. I should learn to enjoy him with less of my baggage.
Then I read how you come across folded pieces of paper that Micheal scribbled on and my heart goes out to you as my tears come and my throat burns, in a way that I myself will relate to at some point in my future.
The irony? My Bible and my folder are filled with scraps of paper, sections ripped off of a tablet, writing down something profound I have come across that I don’t want to forget. Some of them having come from this very website. And Micheal. I’m so very much like my own dad.
Thank you again Denise. My prayers are for you and anyone else dealing with the loss of a loved one. May we celebrate their life and their newfound Home they now know. With clarity.
Thank you, Denise, for sharing this–once again unselfishly sharing your husband with us, his readers.
I miss Michael’s voice. The loss is so hard. I’m thankfful for the folks who have kept his website going.
May God comfort you and your children on this sad anniversary.
Adrienne, thank you so much for your words. Seven years? I can’t imagine being seven years without Michael, but I most likely will get there…and beyond. I’m just beginning to realize how changed and broken I am now. Thank you, and may God bless you as your continue your journey.
Denise– you share MIchael’s gift of a transparent heart. Thank you for this. I do miss my friend terribly, but you’ve reminded me again of why– and of his legacy in my heart. (btw– when I was cleaning out my dad’s house, I found my old coonskin hat just like that one!) Grace and peace…
Thank you for sharing your memories with us on this anniversary, Denise. Although we all of course miss Michael, it cannot compare to how you and his children miss him.
Michael did a lot for us all in different ways, and this community is one of his legacies. “Requiem Ã¦ternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.”
Dear Denise, “for once I cannot follow.” How well I know that awful separation. When Sam died here at home I actually “felt” as if someone took him through some door or curtain and gently closed it again and I could not go with him. How could that be? Searching is a big part of grieving. I “looked” for Sam everywhere for awhile. In parking lots, pick-up trucks ( he drove one), sunsets. I wouldn’t open his closet door for fear of losing his scent that was still there for awhile. Agonizing. Now, 7 years later, he is comfortably with me in some way I cannot explain. Michael left such a legacy as our lives have been touched and changed by his writings. I know that, right now, that matters to you and it doesn’t. You want him back…period. Yet you know that cannot be. Give yourself lots of time. Don’t let anyone tell you how or how long to grieve. It is very personal. The one year thing is nice but wrong. I attended a “Grief Share” group at my church and, except for the wonderful friends I gained from it, I wish I hadn’t. Grief is not a process, it is raw and painful beyond description.and it leaves you changed. Broken. Which is part of the mysterious gift. Thank you for sharing Michael with us all the past years and in toda’ys blog. Maybe he got to meet ol’ Dan’l in heaven??
Amen. Thank you, Denise.
Thank you for sharing this. May God comfort and sustain you.
In the end, it’s the nice guys in second place who usually have the most important role. Thank you for sharing your husband with us, Denise. We miss him.
Thank you Denise. Thank you.
Thank you, may God bless you, and I thank God for the life and preaching of Michael
I LOVE the photo of young Michael with the coonskin cap. I remember the post he wrote about playing Daniel Boone and friend. Thanks, Denise, and thank you for being the supportive partner that you were to Michael.
Thank you for writing this, Denise. It can’t have been easy, and yet it’s lovely to read. You’ve made him real to me.
What a beautiful tribute to your husband. He touched the hearts and lives of so many people and his memory and the impact of his life will live on.
I just recently moved from the USA to S. Korea. “Mere Churchianity” is one of the few books I brought with me. What a treasure!
My prayers are with you and your family especially at this time.
I wept the morning I read of your husband’s passing Denise, and tears welled up again in my eyes reading your post. This past year I’ve shed a few tears just wishing he was still here. His writing had a profound impact on me at a time I needed it and his notes to me shortly before the startling news are some I will cherish till I see him again. I still tune in and listen to a podcast from time to time just to hear his voice (and get a kick out of his special way of poking fun at himself and everything else), used to look forward all week to the day he’d post his latest dispatches from his reserved seats high above the evangelical circus. Michael took the time to encourage me in my writing, and encouraged countless others in whatever way they sensed they were following Jesus as well.
But what I miss most about Michael was his unwavering trust in the grace of God.
Earlier tonight I closed my laptop and started reading his book again (gave away my first copy my girlfriend bought me, but after some explaining she understood) – I’d only gotten through the 1st chapter. I bumped into a hurting young man traveling from Vail Colorado to Texas in the airport several months back who was the lucky recipient. He had lost his father the evening before, a Baptist preacher he hadn’t been on speaking terms with for some time – thought the book would be perfect for him hearing him speak of some resentments and his mentioning not being in church for years.
I share that to say this, Michael may have left us, but his writing and passion for Jesus live on. Thank you and your children for sharing him with me and so many others.
Michael was and is a success in every way that’s truly important. God bless you, Denise, and your family. Thanks for sharing him with us.
Beautiful indeed. Hardly a day goes by when I do not miss his insights, wisdom, and grace.
Requiescat in pace.
Beautiful and very touching. Thank you Denise.