Way to THRIVE!

Home from Denver for not quite three days, we managed to do 10 hours of counseling and have a H.I.M. Board meeting before flying to California on May 6. The board met on the Cinco de Mayo, so we celebrated Mexico’s Independence Day by serving a Mexican feast to the board members prior to the meeting. Yum! Most of them have by now been converted to loving Paul’s homemade salsa, which we consider a victory for the south.

Off we flew to Sacramento on Friday to begin a nine-day ministry tour . . .  and a grandson-visitation trip.  :) We feel extremely blessed to have seen Brandon as much as we have during the first 8 months of his life.  He changes so much between visits! As is evidenced by this photo, he is a very smiley little guy—and he has an amazingly laid back disposition.  It was a joy to share the house with him and his parents while we were in Sacramento.

Happy 1st Mother’s and Grandmother’s Day, Mama and “Gigi.”  Love, Brandon

On Mother’s Day weekend we were privileged to teach at all five of Bayside Church’s services, starting with two on Saturday. Bayside is a happening place.  Senior pastor Ray Johnston has more energy, creativity, and vision than dozens of pastors combined, and we always feel reinvigorated when we’re on his turf.  The congregation is highly responsive, eager, and teachable. Our talk, A Legacy Worth Leaving, seemed to both inspire and challenge many, and Paul and I both had many personal conversations which affirmed that the Holy Spirit had been faithful to take our inadequate words and make them His words. (A video of the service is available here.)

We love partnering with Bayside for many reasons: we love Ray and his incredible giftedness; we love hanging out with his family and many other friends cultivated at Bayside through the years; we love seeing a church that’s doing so many things well; we love hearing Lincoln Brewster leading worship (and on this particular Sunday, hearing his new song, “Real Life,” enough times to have it memorized); and we love hearing stories of transformation as a result of this ministry.  Though physically tired by the end of those five services, we were pumped by the hope and expectation that courses through this church.   

Julie, who sat through 3 services on Mother’s Day, caught us on film during one service.

After five services teaching at Bayside, we closed up the church with a mini-reunion of the Johnstons and the Shaulls.
Auntie Julie enjoys a smiley moment with her favorite nephew, Brandon.

It was a gift to celebrate Kari’s first Mother’s Day with her on Sunday, May 8, and to have two of our three daughters with me.  Jules flew up from San Diego for the weekend to join the festivities, and Lisa was there in heart. Gabe, Paul, and Julie all contributed to making it a very special day for the mothers (which eventually included Gabe’s mom, Debbie, who arrived with Dan for dessert late that afternoon.)   We’re loving watching Gabe and Kari parent their little guy with loving wisdom and great delight.  Babies are such hope-giving reminders that Creator God hasn’t given up on us.

Brandon and his mom, Kari, celebrate Mother’s Day.

The next three days in Sacramento included several counseling appointments, errand running, taking walks with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon, celebrating the 22nd birthday of Alton (aka “Biggie”), hearing Gabe preach at “Remix,” and preparing for the Thrive conference.  We also had a sweet visit with our dear friend and mentor of our daughters, Christina Swanson, who lives in a neighboring town.  It was a gift to catch up with this great lady who has been such an important part of our lives for almost 30 years.

Brandon wishes his big brother Alton a happy 22nd!

Christina spent the morning with us catching up and quickly made friends with Brandon.

The 7th annual Thrive Conference started Thursday, May 12th, and we were honored to be on the teaching staff for the 7th time.  This conference is energizing, encouraging, instructive, inspiring, and tons of fun.  It’s great for networking, but maybe more importantly, it ministers to the ministers.  Great speakers, great times of worship, hysterical moments of craziness, and free goodies tossed out during plenary sessions and during breaks.  What more could a church leader want??  Our two seminars went well and were fairly well attended, in spite of them being held in a conference room in outer Siberia (really only 1/4 mile from the sanctuary—but that’s a long walk for most!)  :) 

Though there were many great moments during the conference, the highlight for us was the plenary session during which Ray interviewed Louis Zamperini, the 94-year-old World War ll veteran and an Olympic runner, whose life and marriage were at great risk of survival in the years following the war’s end due to alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder.  And then Billy Graham came to Los Angeles in 1949 and the very resistant Louie was coerced by his wife into going with her.  On the third night, he surrendered his life to Christ and his transformation was immediate.  From that point on, he has been faithfully serving the Lord.  He is in a league of his own and held the entire crowd in rapt attention as he answered Ray’s questions with crystal clear clarity and detail.  His story was recently published in the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, which I couldn’t put down once I started reading it.  I highly recommend it.  

Listening to “Louie” recount his crash landing at sea, followed by 47 days of floating on two life rafts with the other 2 survivors of the crash, fighting off sharks, Japanese bombers, starvation, and dehydration, and 2,000 miles later landing in the Japanese controlled Marshall Islands, only to spend the next 2.5 years as a prisoner of war enduring unbelievably brutal treatment, was mind-boggling.  He said, “Tom Brokaw has named us the ‘greatest generation ever’ but I’m not sure that’s how I’d label us.  I think of us as a hearty generation of overcomers.  We had to overcome many obstacles if we were going to make it, and we did.”  I’ve thought a lot about that statement since, with plenty of self-evaluation.  It’s challenged me as I recognize in me a tendency to default to what’s comfortable or that which seems to cause the least amount of pain.  While I marvel at what Louie endured, I concurrently believe that I would not have survived what he survived.  This has given me lots to ponder.

We were also really challenged by speaker Christine Caine, an Australian woman who has started the ministry, The A21 Campaign, whose focus is to stop human trafficking.  She cited that there are 27 million slaves worldwide today, far more slaves than at any other time in history, and that a huge percentage of them are sex slaves.  She was compassionate and compelling and raised our awareness to the growing problem of this horrific “industry.”  Check out her website and prepare to have righteous indignation stirred to a boiling point. 

Gabe, Kari, and Brandon attended Thrive with three of their interns: Lamar, Alton, and Danielle.
Pastor Ray Johnston holds Brandon, whom he affectionately refers to as “Baby Raymond.”  :)
The dust had barely settled on Thrive before we made our way to Sebastopol, California, to speak at a Couples’ Date Night at Sebastopol Christian Church.  John and Debbie Briones, long time friends from Campus by the Sea, put together a lovely evening during which we spoke twice and they served dessert in the middle.  It’s the first date night we’ve spoken for that had a chocolate fountain for dessert, and it was duly enjoyed and consumed.  There was a great spirit in the night; people everywhere seem to be looking for “booster shots” of hope for their marriages.  We were especially thrilled to have Carter and Tracey Welch (transplants from New England to Santa Rosa) attend with several other couples, as well as a good number of long-time CBS family campers.
We went “home” that night with Garth and Rosemary Dougan, some of our most treasured mentors and friends.  Garth is now 88 years young, and Rosemary 86, and they still don’t act anywhere near their age.  They are remarkable!  We so love their example of marriage (over 60 years and going strong!), of faith, of commitment to family, of servant-heartedness.  We brought them a copy of Unbroken, but before we gave it to them, we asked Garth if the name “Louis Zamperini” meant anything to him.  Immediately, he said, “Track star Lou?  The great runner of the ‘40’s.  Fastest man on the track.  War hero.  Why, the only thing I ever had against Lou was that he went to USC!”  :)  He was thrilled to receive the book and we were astounded to think that within days, we had been in the company of two great men of faith and of patriotism —two men of the “greatest generation ever.”  Two men, who at 88 and 94, are sharp as tacks, physically able, and serving their Lord.  Wow!

Sebastopol Christian Church’s senior pastor, Jesse Bradley, kindly invited Paul to preach on Sunday, and both services went well, thankfully.  The bonus for us was developing a connection with Jesse and Laurie Bradley.  We felt very in sync with them and hope our paths cross often in the future.  It was also greatly encouraging to be with the Briones family and hear more of their journey, which is very hope-giving.  John and Debbie have started a new legacy with their three daughters, as a result of God getting a hold of them as adults.  Their daughters are very blessed by the faithful commitment of their parents to honor God in their home.

The Briones family arranged for us to speak at their church in Sebastopol.  
After church on Sunday, Gary and Patty LeDonne (long time IVCF and CBS friends), Garth and Rosemary Dougan, and John and Debbie Briones took us out for Mexican food.

Back to Sacramento we drove, in order to get one last night with Brandon and his parents, and then flew back to Boston on Monday.  We had so much more than Mexican food to digest as we flew home.  God stirred our hearts at Thrive, and we’re praying about how to respond to the despicable practice of sex trafficking.  God challenged us with the lives of Garth, Rosemary, and Louie—and the question we’re turning over in our mind is what course correction do we need to make now in order to finish strong and well.  We were moved by the Briones’ testimony of God’s transforming work in their lives—and now their daughter’s lives—which gives great hope to those who don’t have the benefit of a Christian heritage.  They reminded us that their years at family camp at CBS had filled in many of the gaps for them in terms of God’s design for family and marriage, and we were humbled.

And we were so blessed to have spent time with the most important people in our lives —our own progeny.  As Julie prepares for marriage, and as Gabe and Kari seek God for direction for the next chapter of their lives, and as Lisa prepares for her missions trip to Israel with FCA, and as Brandon grows in the greenhouse of his parents’ love and training, we are thinking a lot about legacy.  We’re more aware than ever that at the end of the day, there is much less that we can control than what we can’t—and that our confidence must grow deeper in the truth that He is enough.  Just as He was enough for Louie Zamperini, He will be enough for Brandon.  And us.  In that truth, we will thrive.