God With Us

The sun sets on Thanksgiving Day.

“I’m looking forward to your next blog entry” was a not-so-subtle reminder in a recent email from our dear friend Gertrud, who lives in Stuttgart, Germany, that I am blog-delinquent. I was stunned to discover that over six weeks have elapsed since I last wrote. Yikes!

I’m writing today as we fly. While flying to some is an ordeal, to me it’s a gift of uninterrupted time in which to do things like blog or catch up on writing thank-you notes. During the past six weeks, we’ve flown very little as most of our ministry opportunities and engagements have been local.

Backing up to Sunday, Oct. 26, we partnered in ministry with Immanuel Church in Chelmsford by teaching an adult Sunday School class, followed by Paul preaching. It was a joy to see many familiar faces and to sense the work of God in that place.

Tuesday, the 28th, we had the privilege of speaking to the seminary wives and their spouses at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. This annual event is a highlight for us as we interact with couples committed to the ministry and to their marriage, wrestling with how to honor both and hurt neither. A great Q-and-A time followed our presentation which gave the couples a forum for discussing their real issues and concerns. The ever gracious Lita Schuelter hosted the evening and was warmly supportive of our efforts.

Thursday, the 30th, we partnered with Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom ministry which we always consider a delight. Speaking on parenting as one of the workshop options, we had a great time interacting with a roomful of eager moms. We are so thrilled for Linda Anderson, founder and leader of Mom to Mom Ministries, that this strategic ministry continues to grow throughout the country.

Saturday, Nov. 1, we teamed up with Trinity Church in Nashua, New Hampshire, to add a real live personal dimension to the “Fireproof” simulcast which was beamed in from Georgia. We started the day with a talk on marriage and then launched the afternoon session with a period of questions and answers. In between, we joined the attendees in watching the well-done simulcast which featured Dr. Gary Smalley, Dr. Les Parrott, and several others. We were impressed with the creativity of Matt and Beth Ide, who put the day together for their home church.

And so began November, which seems to have evaporated.

The November 4th election was pretty tough for us, with seemingly few bright spots. We continue to pray for our nation and its leaders, and are reminded that 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and heal their land.” It’s a pretty clear charge to those who follow Christ and who want to experience God’s best for our nation to pray, seek Him, and repent.

We canceled our plans to be in Vero Beach on a writing holiday for 10 days in the first half of November in order to be present for our dear friend Patty, who had major surgery on Nov. 10. Before her surgery, I made a quick trip down to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to watch Lisa run a half-marathon. It was so inspiring to watch her cross the finish line in 1 hour, 53 minutes, that I actually agreed to train for it next year.

Lisa celebrates her half-marathon finish with a taste of New England, much to her delight.

I returned in time for Patty’s nine-hour, successful surgery, which was just the beginning of 25 days in the hospital as she recovered. She was finally able to come home last week. I spent a fair bit of time at the hospital, including two “sleep-overs” during her stay, and was so thankful to be able to do so. It’s good to see her progressing to full health.

Back at Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel on November 13, we spoke on marriage at the large group meeting. Though we much prefer speaking to couples on marriage, these ladies were very open to hearing what they as wives could do to help make their marriages more vital. It was a refreshing time.

That night we were at the sidelines of the Patriots-Jets match-up and joined Patriots fans everywhere who went from the ecstasy of a tie game at the end of regulation, to the depths of disappointment when the Jets won the toss in OT and kicked a field goal, winning the game. :( It was really exciting to see Matt Cassel lead our team in the game-tying drive with less than two minutes to play, and we continue to be impressed with Matt, who with his wife Lauren faithfully comes to the Patriots couples’ studies we speak at on Thursday evenings during the season.

Paul spoke at a men’s event in Halifax, Massachusetts, Friday night and was really impressed with this consortium of men’s groups from churches in the area. He loves challenging men to be Christ-like in their marriages and families.

Another very creative event of the fall was held at Nashoba Grace Community Church. Mike Lynch, with his very evangelistic heart, put together an outreach for the community, offering a parenting seminar and kid-friendly event. For the kids, he brought in a naturalist who showed off a small menagerie and presented a gospel-laced message of Creator God. Popcorn, balloons, hot dogs, and animal crackers added to the festive atmosphere. Concurrently, Paul and I gave an hour-long parenting presentation. All who attended received a gift bag containing a parenting book as well as several gospel pieces. It was a joy to work with Mike and his team and to see the sincere effort they’re making to impact their area for Christ.

Mike Lynch is all smiles about the outreach held mid-November at Nashoba Grace Community Church.

Our last weekend conference of the fall was the fourth annual scrapbooking conference, hostessed by Barbara Becker, once again at the Sea Pines Inn in Brewster. Very focused scrapbooking dominated the 48-hour girls-only party, though most at least tried to look interested during the three talks I gave on Matthew 6:19: “For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” The most interest was given when Lisa and Julie made a guest appearance and spoke on the challenge of storing up eternal treasures in a culture that constantly puts up counterfeits. “As the needle follows the sundial, and the sunflower follows the sun, so the heart follows its treasure.”

Lisa and Julie made a big hit with the women at the scrapbooking conference.

It was a wonderful weekend on all levels, thanks to Barbara and her support team (husband Gordon and son Kyle) who once again pampered the attendees with surprises and treats at every turn.

Paul flew to California during that weekend to honor our dear friend John Turney and his family at John’s memorial service. As recorded in our last blog entry, we had a wonderful “last” visit with John in early October, and one month later, he breathed his last on earth. Death is so hard. We’re reminded with each such loss that we weren’t designed for death and that’s why it’s so painful. Paul said the memorial service was phenomenally honoring to both the Lord and to John.

Throughout November, we also spent one day a week counseling and each Thursday night with the Patriots couples at Bible Study. We also had a Trinidad Family Missions Trip reunion with Ashoke Bashew, who was stateside for a missions conference. As always, it was a joy to be with Ashoke, who led us in a discussion on how to better encourage families and marriages to live Biblically. He expressed his discouragement at the attitude towards Biblical authority he detected in the American audiences he and his group had ministered to on their recent Steel Pan Band tour. The discussion was stimulating about a subject so near and dear to our hearts.

The Collins gang gathers on Thanksgiving Day in Burke, Virginia.

Our Thanksgiving was celebrated with the Collins side of the family in Alexandria, Virginia. Kari and Gabe flew in from California, Lisa drove up from Harrisonburg, Virginia, and we drove down for a great time of reconnecting with family. Fun, fellowship, food, football, and finding deals filled the five days. We included a day trip to Harrisonburg on Saturday to see Lisa’s new world and to watch “her” JMU football team knock off their opponent in the first round of play-offs. Over-the-top fun, especially since Aunt Laura and Uncle David joined us for the day.

Happy JMU fans at the end of their first play-off game. Chrissie Musacchio (far left) and Aunt Laura and Uncle David Leach join our gang for the game.

And then it was December. Wow! That came fast. It started pretty fast with a full day of counseling 24 hours after our return from Virginia. Another night at Brigham and Women’s with Patty followed counseling. Her condition was much improved. Though not your ordinary “girls sleepover”, it was a joy to spend that time with my dear friend. Another dear friend, Helen Challener, flew in from Pittsburgh that evening for a life-giving five-day visit.

Patty comes home from the hospital and welcomes a visit from Helen, Julie, and me.
My relationship with Helen goes back 30 years, when she came as a graduate student to work at Campus by the Sea as a dining room hostess. She is definitely “chosen family.” She loves to serve and I seem to have plenty of opportunities for her to do just that. It’s not all work and no play, though. We shopped a bit, laughed a ton, and made it in to the Wang Theater to see the delightful “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

“Mister Paul” bakes chocolate chip cookies with Madeline, Sarah Elizabeth, and Meegan Williams.
We’ve just returned from our annual sojourn to St. Louis, where we spent several delightful days with Grant and Emily Williams and their three precious daughters. We are always encouraged by our time with the Williamses, who are so sincerely living their lives and training their children for Christ. A highlight of our time was experiencing the “Journey to Bethlehem” presented by a local church. On a clear, full-moon lit night, it was a stirring reminder of God’s orchestration of people and places to accomplish His plan of redemption for us.

After the “Journey to Bethlehem,” we warm up with the Williamses inside the church.

Which is what this season is all about. For our nation, these weeks have been unsettled, confusing, disappointing, and anxiety-producing. The election and the recession have caused more than a little panic leading to reflection and re-calibration. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We are so thankful to know personally that the greatest treasure of all came in the form of the Christ Child. O come let us adore Him! Only He can bring peace to our souls, as well as peace on earth. And that is our prayer for each of you today.