What's there not to celebrate?

A picture’s worth a thousand words: Matthew expresses well the joy of a gorgeous fall day, perfect for apple picking.
Is there a better time in New England than Fall?  Daily, for weeks now, we’ve been served up a kaleidoscope of color in an ever-changing landscape and we have delighted in every moment of it.  Fall is such an energizing time of year — even as it ushers in the (sometimes) bleak winter months, which occupy about four times as much calendar space as does the autumn.  Still, the joys of this time of year re-charge our batteries and launch us into the coming season fully satiated and more deeply aware of the majesty of God as seen in creation.

In celebration of Matthew’s birthday, we managed to carry on the tradition of apple picking for the 20th Fall in a row.  The perfect day for one of our favorite fall activities included picnicking in the pumpkin patch, picking lots of apples, interacting with small farm animals, playing in the hay maze, and indulging in fresh apple crisp a la mode to wrap up in the festivities.  Definitely a quintessential New England autumn day.

Fun was had by all . . .
Our plans to fly to Arizona after our apple picking venture on Oct. 8 were changed when the church which had booked us to do a conference canceled just over a week before the event.  Ouch!  We were very disappointed, but they felt they had to postpone the conference due to low registrations.  But suddenly, we had a weekend “off” and since that doesn’t happen very often, we decided to  “make lemonade” and use the flexibility creatively.  We started the weekend with a date with our dear friends and ministry partners, Guy and Barbara Steele.  It had been way too long since we had been able to just relax with them so it became a gift to ourselves to have dinner together that Friday night.  We are SO thankful for them — we couldn’t do half of what we do without them — and that night reminded us that we love hanging out with them even when we're not partnering on a project for H.I.M.  Great time.

Saturday was a combination of more of our (my) favorite things:  yard-saling with a very dear friend, continuing the cleaning/sorting/purging process in our house, and having a good long visit with another very dear friend, Patty Benes, who was back in the hospital.  Though we hated to see her there, it was great to catch up with her.

Sunday, we went to church!!  We love to go to church and seldom “get” to go sit in the pews.  It was good to be “fed” and to connect with many dear friends.  As we entered church, we were followed by an elderly woman whose face I recognized, but was so out of context it took me a few moments to identify.  Suddenly overwhelmed, I realized I was face to face with Elisabeth Elliot Gren, one of my long time mentors (primarily through her writing, but through several personal encounters over the years as well).  There are few women for whom I have greater respect than Elisabeth Elliot, nor whose life has had a greater impact on mine.  I remember reading Through the Gates of Splendor and In the Shadow of the Almighty as a young bride 34 years ago and was convinced then I wanted Elisabeth’s life to help shape mine.  

Since I’ve followed her ministry all these years, I was aware that Alzheimer’s disease was slowly but surely overtaking her brain and decreasing her mobility, so I had given up hope of ever seeing her again this side of glory.  It was therefore a gift straight from heaven that we would be standing inches from one another, in the same church, at the same time, on the Sunday we were supposed to be in Arizona.

For me, it was a holy moment.  After the service ended, I met her granddaughter who is in college in the area and several other family members.  I then offered to sit with Elisabeth while they went down for coffee.  Amazingly, they agreed.  Though no intelligible words were exchanged between us, I knew I was sharing a sacred moment with a woman “after God's own heart.”  From her days at Wheaton College; through her long courtship with Jim Elliot; to her brief marriage to Jim which ended when he (and 4 others) were murdered by the Auca Indians in Ecuador (leaving her a widow with a less-than-2-year-old daughter); through her decision to remain with the Auca tribe to continue the work started by her late husband; through opportunities worldwide to influence this world for Christ by her extensive writing and speaking ministry; through the cancer death of her second husband; and until the past few years, still ministering faithfully with her husband Lars Gren — she has been faithful and her character has been consistent with one whose goal in life is Christlikeness.

She was so at peace sitting in that sanctuary.  She was safe and “at home.”  It was no surprise then when her family came back to take her home, she at first resisted.  I’ve seen the same kind of “hunkering down” in holy places by my dad, who also has Alzheimer’s.  My father is most alive when were playing hymns on the piano and he is belting out the words of those sacred songs he’s sung for over 80 years.  A failing memory cannot dislodge the deeply spiritual which has been forged by years in the crucible of living life for Christ.

I can’t put words around how deeply impacted I was by this God-arranged encounter with one of the true heroines of Christendom — but I left church with a deeper desire to be more surrendered to Him and to not miss the important due to the urgent.

Monday we got away for our own mini-marriage retreat in Newport, RI, and en route we had a lovely lunch visit with our precious friend, Thora Eames.  Amazing to have back to back days with two different women who have had such a positive spiritual impact on my life.  Dear Thora . . . almost 93! Our visit fell on the eve of her 70th wedding anniversary which she would mark alone having been widowed for 3 years now.  Still living by herself (in an in-law unit at her son's house), she tends her own garden, cleans her own house, cooks her own meals, and in between all that, checks emails on her desktop computer.  And praise is continually on her lips.  Though she no longer drives, desperately misses her beloved Eliot, lives an hour away from where she spent 50 years, and suffers a variety of aches and pains associated by “overuse,” Thora doesn’t complain.  “What do I have to complain about?” she proclaims . . . and she means it.

Though she insists that our visit was a huge blessing to her, we left knowing that the greater blessing was ours.  Really.  Her genuine heart for the Lord and the way she has lived her life is as uncommon as is her name.
Visiting Thora . . . a truly remarkable lady!
On to Newport, we continued to check out a hotel for possible future use by H.I.M. for a marriage or family conference.  We had a lovely evening, got a good night's sleep, and after meeting with the conference planner over breakfast Tuesday, we walked all 7 miles of the Cliff Walk (round trip). It was a gorgeous day and we drank it in.  We returned to Bedford late afternoon refreshed and ready for full days ahead.

The day was perfect for walking the Cliff Walk in Newport, RI.
Wednesdays and Thursdays are consistent this fall: on Wednesday mornings, I lead the Patriot Women’s Bible Study, and then join Paul for counseling from early afternoon until 9:30 pm.  Thursday, we counsel from 8 am through 2 pm, and then head down to Foxboro for the Patriot's Couples Bible Study from which we usually return around 10:30 pm.  Friday mornings, we head out for our weekend conference, returning late Tuesday — and begin again.

October 15, we flew to California to partner with Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, CA, as keynote speakers for their Healthy Sexuality Conference.  What church do you know of that dedicates a whole weekend to dealing with the issue of sexuality from God’s perspective?  We are SO impressed with Grace Baptist's commitment to equipping their congregation with information and perspective on a subject long neglected by the church.  Neglect, in this case, has contributed greatly to many distortions and much evil connected with the potent and dynamic dimension of our sexuality.  We applaud this church's leadership for tackling this important but delicate subject.

There were many facets to the weekend.  Friday night, after being delayed significantly by traffic, we spent the evening with the pastoral staff team talking about marriage, ministry, and morality.  The dinner was beautifully hostessed by George and Janice, who graciously opened their homes and worked overtime to pamper this hard-working group of ministers and their spouses.  We fell in love with them.

Paul spoke for a men’s breakfast the next morning, challenging them to be “men of standing” with pure hearts and minds. That evening after church (at which we were interviewed about the Sunday afternoon conference), we spoke at two separate workshops on singleness and sexuality.  We had good interaction in both sessions which were attended by singles from 18 years old to much older singles.  No matter what their age, singles in our culture today who understand God's design for purity are in a very, very small minority.  We encouraged them to trust Creator God, confident that His plan is good and right.

Sunday, after attending both morning services, we spoke for 3 hours at the actual Healthy Sexuality Conference.  We often include a 45-60 minute session on marital sexuality during a weekend marriage conference, but we loved having 3 hours to develop with more depth God’s design, Satan’s destruction, and the Delights and Hope in biblical healthy sexuality.  We felt very met by God in the afternoon and pray that each who came were also met.  We did another workshop that evening, and then, rather spent, we drove to north San Diego with our daughter Julie who had joined us in Santa Clarita for the weekend.

The next day, we received this email from the Care Pastor who helped coordinate the conference:
Paul and Virginia,
We are thrilled with the work of Christ and His Spirit in and through you.
Our good and beautiful God poured out His love, grace and truth through you unto us as a healing oil. 
I want to express our gratitude, respect, love, and appreciation for you.  
The marriage you are making is a masterpiece. 
Your love for each other is inspiring and gently challenging to us. 
I pray you rest well, refill, and draw enjoyment from one another as you pause between our house of worship and your next place of serving.
(Luke 5:16)
Love and respect,
May His kingdom purposes be affected by the weekend!

At conference end, Paul and I share a moment with David and Cherylyn Hegg (lead pastor) and Doug and Julie Macrae (H.I.M. board members.)

On to San Diego to celebrate Julie’s “White Coat Ceremony” at Physical Therapy School Monday night.  We were SO thankful for the timing of this special event in her educational pursuit of a doctor of physical therapy degree!  After taking the Hippocratic Oath, she received her “White Coat” as a rite of passage to her first internship, which will begin November 1 in Fairfax, VA.  It was gratifying to be there, to meet her professors and some of her classmates, and to mark this important milestone in her degree program.  She'll be done with four of seven “trimesters” at the conclusion of this seven-week internship.

A high moment — and a reprieve of sorts from the rigors of studying: Julie receives her “White Coat.”
We also managed to sneak a quick visit in with my folks in San Diego while Julie was in class on Monday.  It was great to spend even a couple of hours with them.

The last part of our trip was a scheduled five-hour layover in Sacramento to check in on our grandson, Brandon, who is already seven weeks old.  In the five weeks since we've seen him, he has grown so much!!!  Every moment of the five hours was magical, though fleeting...

We are very grateful for even five hours.

Brandon’s Red Sox shirts have been replaced with Giants shirts, much to the delight of his dad, who has been a lifelong Giants fan.

It’s been so good to celebrate both ends of life these weeks.  Elisabeth Elliot Gren, Thora Eames, and my folks all reflect lives lived for His glory . . . and as their earthly lives wind down, their anticipation of the eternal celebration with Jesus comforts and strengthens them even as their bodies and minds break down.

At the other end of the spectrum, Brandon’s new life exudes hope, delight, purity, and the miracle of birth.  And God is over all — the beginning and the end.  He goes before us, and behind us, and holds all things together.  It can’t get any better than that.