Only a very few days into the new year, we said good-bye to one of the best gifts to us from the years we served on the staff of Grace Chapel. Claude Cole, 94-years-old, was released from his suffering body as he breathed his last on earth. Though it wasn't "hard" to accept his death (as it is with early or tragic deaths), we experienced a profound sense of loss accompanying our deep gratitude to the Lord for allowing our lives to intersect on such a personal level with such a great man.
At Claude's 90th birthday celebration, he and Forestine are flanked by four of their great fans: John and Marilyn Nugent and us.
Claude was a faithful man of God, who, along with his wife, Forestine, joined forces with four other couples back in 1948 and prayed and sacrificed to birth Grace Chapel. As recounted by his daughter Claudia at his funeral, he was a man of extraordinary faith whose belief in God's power and presence was unshakeable.
Though many things endeared us to Claude, at the top of the list (behind his faith) was his commitment to and love for his precious Forestine. His love for her not only never wavered, but seemed to grow stronger when the effects of her dementia became impossible to ignore. Statistically, when a man is afflicted with Alzheimers Disease, 70% of their wives stay with them and care for them. When a wife is so afflicted, only 30% of their husbands stay with them and care for them. We knew Claude was in the cream of the crop long before Forestine began losing her mind, but through the years of caring for her until her death, Claude demonstrated over and over the stuff he was made of. He was deeply in love with her all his days. He set the bar.
So 2012 was ushered in with Claude's farewell, and Paul did a beautiful job of tributing him at his funeral. We were so thankful that our whole family was able to attend the funeral the morning prior to Derek catching his flight to Uganda and Gabe, Kari, and Brandon catching their flight to Sacramento. Our desire to meet up with Thora Eames (who along with her husband Elliot was one of the five GC-founding couples) was also fulfilled that day, as she came up from Duxbury to pay tribute to Claude. (The Cole and Eames families were best friends for many years.) We were all so happy to catch up with this dear friend whose "full speed ahead" life at 94 inspires us!!!
After Claude's funeral, we caught up with our beloved Thora.
Lisa continued south to Harrisonburg as Julie and I returned to New England on Sunday, Jan. 8. It was great to get home to a de-Christmased home (thank you, Paul!) and to spend a few days regrouping following our wonderful two-week Christmas vacation with our kids. Especially fun was having Julie with us for the month as she continued preparing for her PT boards. Counseling resumed, we had a H.I.M. Board meeting, and we were quickly back in the saddle.
Fifteen families gathered at the Boxborough Holiday Inn over Martin Luther King's holiday weekend for our annual Family Mid-Winter Getaway, and the balmy weather departed just in time for a cold weekend, making the indoor swimming pool even more appreciated. It's a very low-key weekend with minimal programming, and lots of time for hanging out, enjoying community. We were especially impressed with the teens, who fully integrated with the younger kids and made it a very fun weekend for all. They give us great hope for the next generation.
Brian Dietz once again lead worship for the Family Mid-Winter Getaway and had enthusiastic support for the "Butterfly Song" from all ages.
The family groups circle up for discussion during the "program" time of the weekend.
We hit the road the next weekend, after a month's hiatus from airports. Off to Rome and Athens (in Georgia!) we went, after flying in to Atlanta. It was such a joy to be picked up at the airport by Nate and Jeannie King, and to have many hours with them throughout the weekend as they served as our personal chauffeurs. Our speaking engagement was with the 1st Presbyterian Church of Rome, and their annual marriage conference was held in the Brasstown Resort. It was such an upscale place that the rain all weekend didn't really dampen anyone's experience! This was the second year in a row we've done their marriage conference, so we felt very connected with the group. We had a great weekend.
As soon as the conference ended on Sunday, the Kings whisked us up to Athens, GA, where we had a very important date with the TV to watch the AFC playoff game. :) We had the privilege of watching it with Kevin "Chappie" and Mikki Hynes, who serve with FCA at University of Georgia. Mikki's brother is Coach Mark Richt, head coach of Georgia football and the one who honored James David Eunice (our 17-year-old friend who died a year ago in a duck hunting accident) with a Georgia jersey at his funeral. Small world. "Chappie" lacks no enthusiasm for football so we held nothing back in that nail-biter of a game against the Ravens. Whew!!
Minutes after the Patriots defeated the Ravens, we pose for a celebratory shot with the Hynes family, Nate and Jeannie King, and Jill Perry. Go Pats!!
With our hearts still racing and our adrenaline still pumping, we drove with Chappie and Jill Perry, also on FCA staff, to the campus to speak to the FCA meeting that night. What fun! To a room packed full of Division I athletes, we talked relationships and God's design. It was very energizing for us and thought-provoking for them, which spawned many conversations long after the talk ended. We loved it. We were so encouraged by what's happening through FCA at UGA.
After most of the attendees had dispersed, we gathered the remnant for this shot after the FCA meeting at UGA.
Interacting with a very responsive crowd, we felt right at home at the FCA meeting.
A shot into the crowd . . . athletes from football, basketball, gymnastics, tennis, track and field, etc., gathered to talk about relationships.
Jill Perry wrote the following day: "It was a wonderful night. The students I meet with for weekly discipleship have shared with me how much it deeply impacted them. We had a huge turnout! What a blessing!”
I can assure you, the blessing was ours. We love to interact with students who are leaning in to a godly view of relationship rather than a cultural view. As we said to them, our great sadness for their generation is that they've been lied to since they were little about their sexuality and the nature and purpose of relationships. For many of them, gaining a Biblical perspective is relatively new. What a joy to be part of that process.
We flew back to Boston on Monday (after getting at least a couple of hours with the four precious King children) and we made the most of the 24 hours we were home to help Julie with her final preparations for moving to Uganda as soon as her boards were taken on Monday, Jan. 30. We did a few errands, some baking, a bit of sewing - but mostly we marveled at how much work she had done and how well organized and prepared she was for this major transition. We squeezed everything we could out of those brief hours and then boarded a plane for Spokane, WA, to partner for the 4th time in 5 years with the Moses Lake Alliance Church (MLAC). We have very deep hearts for this congregation and are so honored to return.
Though short, we had a sweet morning with the King children before leaving GA for home.
Kent (executive pastor of MLAC) and Staci Copley picked us up and we picked up with one another as good friends do. We really do love hanging with these guys and their daughters, Tori and Britni. We are terribly amused by one another on one hand, but also have deep and significant conversations, so we always enjoy being with them. We not only admire their ministry hearts, but we respect them greatly as parents. Their daughters reflect the best of parenting as they are well behaved and respectful as well as being tons of fun. It's a joy to stay in their home.
Kent and Staci Copley with their daughters Britni and Tori are always a delight to hang with.
Not that we were there much! We arrived in time Wednesday to go directly to church to speak on relationships to both the middle schoolers and the high school group. Both groups were receptive and interactive and it was clear that the families and the staff at MLAC have a strong commitment to teaching Biblical design to their kids. Refreshing!
Thursday morning, we spoke to a group of women on parenting and marriage. Caryn Bowser, the lead pastor's wife, served up a lovely brunch at the church (and explained to me, "I want them to feel as though they're coming to our home!".) She accomplished that! It was a sweet time. Paul baked cookies with the girls in the afternoon and then we were off to speak to a very cool event that evening. The "Ministerial Association" of Moses Lake invited to us to speak for a special night out for the local pastors. A phenomenal dinner was served by the local country club (seriously good steak!) and after some time of worship, we spoke on balancing ministry and marriage. It was very encouraging for us to see pastors and wives from about 15 different churches in Moses Lake communing with one another rather than competing with each other. They are clearly committed to working together for the Kingdom which can only be good for the people of Moses Lake! Walking shoulder to shoulder in unity is so consistent with the heart of the gospel. We loved being a part of that.
Friday we drove up to Clearwater Lodge in Newport, WA, and began the marriage conference. It was like a family reunion of sorts, as this is the 4th conference we've done for them and we have deep hearts for these folks. Lots of laughter and fun interaction throughout the weekend, along with rapt attention during the times of teaching. It was especially meaningful to us that Jody (lead pastor) and Caryn Bowser were there. It makes a bit statement to a congregation when pastoral staff prioritize a marriage conference. And they weren't "just" there. Jody led worship and played songs we haven't heard since the 70's. (When was the last time you heard "Blind Man"?) It was fun to actually know all the songs! A definite advantage of having a more "mature" worship leader. :)
Jody and Caryn Bowswer and Kent and Staci Copley are providing Godly leadership for the congregation at Moses Lake Alliance Church.
The conferees at the MLAC marriage retreat. We have grown to deeply love this group.
The long anticipated Boards came and went on Monday, and hours later, Julie and I flew to London. Why not? Julie's husband, Derek, flew up from Uganda to get some dental work done, and more importantly, to retrieve his wife. We've spent the last three days enjoying London, the highlights of which were staying in the lovely Ashburton Bed and Breakfast in Chorleywood (owned and operated by Nick and Olive Vale, whose daughter, Tiffany, lives in Mbale volunteering for an NGO there), seeing the stage play "Les Miserables", spending a day with our lifelong friend, Kelsey Offield, and eating some great meals. Of course the highest light was hanging out with Derek and Julie. As I fly back to Boston today, they are on a plane taking them the opposite direction to Uganda, and so their life will begin as a married couple as medical missionaries in this developing country.
I'll admit that since their engagement 15 months ago, it has seemed to easy to think of Julie living in Africa. It's so consistent with her long-held desire to serve underserved children in Africa. And how can you argue with the divine orchestration of God bringing her and Derek to one another, serving children in Africa. I've said countless times, "I'd rather have her in Africa where she feels she's exactly where God wants her than near us where we would love to have her."
I didn't feel that as convincingly this morning as we tearfully hugged good-bye at Heathrow six hours ago. It all of a sudden feels like she's very far away, and in a curious way, she seemed awfully young and vulnerable as she waved good-bye.
Of course she's not. Her 27th birthday is just ahead and she’s married to one of the finest men of God we've ever met. And we all believe they're where God wants them to be for now.
Though my feelings are real and valid, they're not stronger than what I know is true. Our good-bye this morning allows her to say "hello" to her new life, which is full of hope and promise, love and adventure, challenge and accomplishment.
And God is over all and in all. That's most comforting of all.
Our early morning farewell at the Ashburton B and B, with innkeeper Nick Vale sending us off.