Endless Fall

Brandon welcomes you to his “GiGi”’s blog.  How could I not start this post with this photo??

I have to look at the calendar to know that today is Nov. 10—or look at the address to know we're not in California.  After several days of temperatures which have warranted wearing capris and short-sleeves, the fall leaves and harvest decorations seem to be out of place in this very late Indian summer period.  And this, following an unprecedented N'oreaster 11 days ago that terrorized this region with snow and high winds, devastating trees everywhere.  Crazy!

Most of October was spent in California, where weather is generally more predictable and even.

After being home for only 48 hours earlier in the month, we flew back to the west coast on Oct. 14 for a 12-day ministry tour which began in Lancaster/Palmdale, California.  We first ministered with this church last February when we spoke for their marriage conference, and our hearts connected immediately with David and Nancy Parker who provide leadership for the Desert Vineyard.  We were honored when they invited us to partner with them at their church for this October weekend and eagerly accepted.  We love to hang out with folks like the Parkers, who have faithfully served the underserved and underprivileged in this high desert community east of Los Angeles for 18 years. Their congregation of 5,000 includes many who are struggling with addictions, poverty, broken homes, gangs, unemployment, etc., and the Parkers have poured their heart and soul into this community.  They are humble, authentic, very gifted people of God and it was truly a privilege to serve with them.

We spent Friday evening with their staff, talking about ministry and marriage.  Hosted by the Parkers in their home, we all enjoyed a Mexican feast before our time of teaching.  It was a good evening.  Saturday morning we did a half-day parenting seminar and were warmly received by the relatively small group that gathered.  Before doing the evening service, we spent the afternoon hanging out with Tom and April Garcia and their beautiful family, who are long-time Campus by the Sea family campers.  We were truly inspired to be with three of their teenagers, who are all in love with Jesus and are standing for Him in their secular schools and workplaces.  The evening service went well, and we were exhausted but thankful by day’s end. We taught at both of the services on Sunday and were energized by the congregation's interaction.  What an amazing way God is working in that place!

At Desert Vineyard, we grabbed a photo with Tom and April, Brean, Marina, and Tommy Garcia.

Julie and Derek drove up to hear us teach and to drive us down to San Diego after church on Sunday.  What a treat!  We feel so blessed to have these moments with them, knowing they'll be fewer and farther between once they're settled in Uganda early in 2012.  En route to San Diego, we met the newest member of the Friesen family,  Colson Rottschafter, and had a brief but wonderful visit with extended family gathered at their home.

Ron and Joyce (Friesen) Rottschafer holding Wylan and Brenton, and baby brother Colson (in my arms) next to their mother Donna (married to our nephew Brian Rottschafer who was serving at church and therefore not in the photo), and Derek and Julie.

Spending three days in San Diego with my parents was a highlight of this trip.  My mother is remarkable as she continues to care for my father, whose dementia increases while his abilities decrease.  What a very, very tough journey.  Sixty-three years together in marriage, their love for one another and their commitment to one another is more evident than ever.  This passage of their life together is definitely a test of “in sickness and in health . . .  ’til death do us part.”  We're always grateful for time spent with them.

My parents and Paul always enjoy having time together.

The second part of the trip took us north, about 500 miles, to Sacramento.  Sacrificially, we saved Bayside Church (which hosted our coming) money on hotel and restaurant costs and stayed with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon.  :)  Oh my!  What a difference two months makes in the life of a one-year-old! Since Julie’s wedding on  August 21 (the last time we saw Brandon), he has sprouted 4 teeth and become a walker.  We had an absolute ball discovering him anew.  We were thankful to have prepared well for our weekend teaching sessions before we arrived because it would've been quite impossible to have done so after arriving.  Derek and Julie flew up to join the party, which made it an almost family reunion.  We all lamented that Lisa’s work prevented her from joining us.  :(

Friday night, a packed-out crowd came out to Bayside for Couples’ Dessert/Date Night.  What a fun night!  Lincoln Brewster did a few special songs, Curt Harlowe did a comedy routine, and then we spoke to an eager crowd.  We love teaching at Bayside.  The congregation is always so responsive and receptive.  It was a great evening.

The sold-out date night crowd waits for the doors to open for the evening’s festivities.

The “booksellers” man the table after the couples’ dessert/date night.  :)

We taught at all five weekend services held that Saturday and Sunday, and have had some very profound interactions with some since.  We really sensed God’s spirit working among us throughout the weekend and were so thankful.   We were moved to receive this email shortly after the weekend:

“For those of you who might have missed it, our friends, Paul & Virginia Friesen spoke at Bayside this past weekend. The message on Sat/Sunday about marriage, ‘When It’s Good, It’s Really Good,’ is the best marriage message Rose and I have ever heard and it’s directly from Ephesians 5.”

We were also challenged by an email from a dear man who has struggled with the difficulties mental illness has visited upon his marriage and who needed a word of hope.  We enlisted the help of several ministry colleagues who have walked that path very personally and God did an amazing work through the networking which ensued.  We are still in awe of His faithfulness and grace in using the “this isn't what I signed up for” journey of two truly Godly men to come alongside this man with wisdom and truth which God used to knead hope into the heart of this hurting man.  To be “spectators” of this was faith-confirming and expanding for us.

Each service at Bayside was full of energy and responsiveness.  What a joy to minister there!

In between serving at Bayside, we had some great moments with Alton and Danielle Green and Alton’s girlfriend, Jeronica, over a meal at the Garcia home, and with a number of others who are being mentored by Gabe and Kari.  We also had time for walks, swinging at the park, shopping (Kari and Julie helped spruce up my predictable wardrobe!), playing “Nickel,” and hanging out.  But truth be told, most of the time we just enjoyed Brandon.  He is incredibly entertaining and the question did surface of what we did for entertainment before he was born.  I must also mention that Brandon had his first chocolate chip cookie baking lesson from the master, his very own “Papa.”

 Brandon enjoys a moment with his big brother, Alton, and Alton’s girlfriend, Jeronica.

“Papa” took advantage of time alone with Brandon to give him his first chocolate chip cookie baking lesson.  

Uncle Derek and Aunt Julie took advantage of time with Brandon (and his parents) throughout the weekend.

Tuesday, October 25, we pulled ourselves away from the Garcias’ cozy home and made our way to the newly-remodeled Sacramento Airport to return to Boston.  We were so very thankful for every part of the trip and spent much of the flight home reflecting on how God had met us and the glimpses we had into how He had met those we had been privileged to teach.  We were struck with both the vast differences between the congregations at Desert Vineyard and Bayside Church—socioeconomically, professionally, lifestyle, etc.—and yet the profound similarities between what challenges their marriages and families.  Good communication, genuine intimacy, commitment to the covenant, family solidarity, priorities, spiritual growth . . . all seem elusive, whether you have a lot or a little.  At the end of it all, the hope for all of us is bound up in Him—not in things, status, or perceived success.

So we returned to New England energized and exhausted.  Fortunately we didn't have anything until . . . the next morning!  More on that later.

The calendar said Oct. 23 when we resumed residence at our official address, and by that late date, usually 90% of the glorious fall color has “fallen.”  So we were surprised and ecstatic to see that the trees were still almost fully “clothed” and the brilliance of fall was just peaking.  That was an unexpected gift which brought great visual delight over the days to come.

I love this seemingly endless fall.

But I love this precious little face even more.  :)