It can't be May already! [Part 2]

And so off to the Gold Coast of California we flew the morning of April 27.  Since we flew into San Francisco airport in order to facilitate our return trip 2.5 weeks later, we enjoyed the 2.5 hour drive through familiar territories en route to Arroyo Grande ("AG"), stopping in San Luis Obispo ("SLO") for bbq tri-tip at Firestones and frozen yogurt at Bali's (two of our favorite haunts from the years Julie and Lisa lived in SLO.)  Ah...the simple pleasures in life.

Grace Bible Church of AG hosted us for the second year in a row to do a parenting conference on Saturday.  Though the turnout was not what they had hoped for, those who came were delightfully engaged and we trust encouraged and fortified for the long, demanding, sanctifying journey of parenting.  We were also privileged to teach at the two services on Sunday.  Grace Bible is a healthy, vital church, lead by Paul and Charlotte Bubar who are seasoned, faithful people of God.  We truly love having the opportunity to rub shoulders with them.  
Paul and Charlotte Bubar faithfully lead the congregation
at Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, CA.
Up the coast just a bit, we drove to spend Sunday evening with Tim and Susie Theule and the family at Grace Church of SLO.  This was the home church for our girls during their years in SLO and through the years we've come to deeply respect and appreciate Tim and Susie - their ministry, their family, their lives.  So it's always an honor to spend time with them and their people.  That evening we addressed issues pertaining to parenting teens.  It struck us that though there are unique challenges to this age and stage, the principles are still largely consistent with parenting younger children:  authenticity, availability, consistency.  Especially regarding faith issues, teens need to see the reality of Christ in the home and be convinced that He is making a difference in how life is lived.  Teens are not fooled by walk that doesn't match talk.  We loved interacting on this subject with such proactive parents.  The talk continued afterwards with Tim and Susie over more tri-tip at Firestones.  :)
Tim and Susie Theule, along with CBS family campers Mary and David Hazlebeck, made our time at Grace Church SLO very meaningful.

Continuing up the coast, we stopped in Monterey to reconnect with our dear friends, Johnny and Lori Potter.  We shared our years together at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary from 1991-1994 and have been cherished friends ever since.  Johnny pastors Stone Harbor Church in downtown Monterey.  As is always true, we enjoyed every minute of our too short time together and then we were off to San Francisco, where we met up with more very dear friends, John and Marilyn Nugent.  How we love to spend time with these guys!  Taking a brisk 6-mile walk through downtown SF, we chatted the whole way about life and ministry and family.  The fact that we could chat  throughout the walk is a very good sign.  :)  It's always very inspiring to be with John and Marilyn.  We love their hearts for God and their very active role in making a difference for the kingdom through the use of their talents and resources.  We got another early morning walk in the next day before heading east for Sacramento.

Two hours later, our reunion with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon was very sweet.  As thankful as we are for being able to "FaceTime" with them regularly from afar, there's nothing that beats receiving an enthusiastic embrace from our little 20-month-old grandson.  The changes happen so rapidly during this phase of life, that though we had just seen him a month earlier, we were amazed at his growth and development.  He is full of life and has a very engaging personality.  What joy to spend days with them!  Twice-daily treks to the park, the reward for the two-mile walk preceding arriving there, delight Brandon and provide a lot of outdoor exercise and fun.   
Papa and Brandon enjoy the animals at the Folsom Zoo.  

Papa, Gigi, and Brandon on the "little train that could" at the Folsom Zoo.

Bathtime . . . devotions, meals together, playing cars and ball . . . hanging out.
Such sweet moments with our little "BooBoo."

Papa and Brandon . . . hand in hand.

Though visiting with them would be reason enough to be in Sacramento, we were brought there to be a part of the 7th annual THRIVE conference hosted by Bayside Church of Granite Bay.  We love being a part of this conference, which never lacks for enthusiasm, energy, and inspiration.  We presented two workshops, one on marriage and one on parenting, and both were full and overflowing.  Lots of great interaction and feedback.  We personally benefitted from hearing great speakers at the plenary sessions, and one of the highlights was spending a bit of time with Wess Stafford (president of Compassion Int'l).  We have great respect for him and how he's spent his life.  Over 2 million easily forgotten children in the world have hope because of the work of Compassion, which has been driven by Wess's passion and compassion. 
Wess Stafford,Victor, and Paul share a moment during THRIVE.

THRIVE ended Saturday afternoon, May 5, and we drove up to Sebastopol to speak for a couples' date night.  This was our second year in a row with Sebastopol Christian Church and John and Debbie Briones once again put together a really nice event.  Particularly heartening to us was a young couple who had come last year, separated, and were back this year reconciled.  They expressed great appreciation for the encouragement they had received from our teaching.  Praise Him!!!  Paul also preached at the two Sunday services, as well as the Saturday night service (which happened before the couples event.)  We so appreciate the senior pastor, Jesse Bradley, and his heart for his congregation.  

The other highlight of our time in Sebastopol was spending the night with Garth and Rosemary Dougan, our long time mentors and friends.  Garth will be 90 in October, but you'd never know it.  They are so "green with sap" proclaiming the mercies of God.  We cherish every moment with them.  
Dinner with the Welches and Garth and Rosemary Dougan was a highlight of our time in Santa Rosa.

We closed out our time in that area with a wonderful time of food and fellowship with Carter and Tracy Welch and their sons, Owen, Baker, and Turner.  New Englanders transplanted to Santa Rosa and dear friends and ministry partners with Home Improvement Ministries, we loved reconnecting with them and seeing God at work in this very intentional family.  On that high note, we drove back to Sacramento.

Between the weekends, we had some special days doing life with Brandon and his parents, and I had some special days with my folks in San Diego.  My dear mom, who has always been "healthy as a horse" was felled with a very serious virus around April 1 and was just returning to health during my visit.  She gave us quite a scare when the virus settled in her ears, causing near deafness.  Her severe reaction made us all aware of how run down she is for the years of caring for my dad (who has dementia) and more care is now in place to help ease her load.  I was really thankful for the days I was able to be with them, which included a day-before-Mother's-Day brunch with my three sisters who live in San Diego.  
My sisters Lucy, Sue, and Melissa honored my mom with a pre-Mother's Day brunch and my dad was very happy to be included. 

Paul and I spoke on Mother's Day at Peninsula Covenant Church (Redwood City), whose lead pastor, Gary Gaddini, is a prized friend and partner.  What a joy to be with his congregation for both morning services.  My biggest Mother's Day gift arrived in the form of Brandon, Gabe, and Kari, who drove out from Sacramento to surprise me just as the first service ended.  Need I say more?  :)
My surprise Mother's Day present . . . brought smiles all around.

The beautiful Gaddini family . . .  They are true gifts in our life.

After a lovely picnic at a park with the Garcias and the Nugents, a brisk walk through the windy hilly streets of SF, and dinner out with the Nugents, we were on our way back to New England after a full and varied ministry tour.
The grand finale: lunch in the park with the Nugents and Garcias.  Very fun!

It's aways good to be home.  Really.  Lots to catch up on, of course, and mail to sort, but it's good.  Our first week back was dominated by wedding festivities as Paul married Sarah Hathaway and Jason Welch on Sunday, May 20.   Having known Sarah for the past 15 years, it was so good to celebrate this very special day with her and to affirm her and Jason's commitment to honoring God with their lives.  The shower Wednesday night, the rehearsal Friday night, and the wedding Sunday were all celebrations of joy.  
The very happy Hathaway family celebrates the marriage of Sarah to Jason Welch.

Quite a bit of counseling filled several days and some speaking, too.  We spoke in Springfield, MA, at the Evangelical Covenant Church on Monday, the 21st, to a group of parents on "how to keep your marriage alive while raising children."  Great question!!!!  It doesn't happen naturally, that we know.  It was a great evening, organized by long time friends Mark and Caroline Funchion, and we most enjoyed reconnecting with them after many years.  I mentored Caroline as a single women long before she met Mark!  They're now on the cusp of their 11th anniversary and have 2 adorable and lively little boys.  God is faithful!

I'll wrap up with our annual Memorial Day Family Tenting trip, which happened last weekend.  Twenty-five families, 103 campers, perfect weather, great food, and greater fellowship.  Despite missing having any children with us (our tent seemed very large suddenly) and making our first camping trip without our precious dog Baker (who had been with us the previous 18 Memorial Day weekends), we had a spectacular weekend.  Jim and Sue Martis did a great job organizing and executing dinner each night and Paul delivered on family devotions each night around the campfire.  Keith and Amy Hinrich came through as worship leaders and Thora Eames made a guest appearance as our oldest and most inspiring camper ever.  At 94, she delighted all with her joyful worship and her childlike enjoyment of a messy, gooey s'more.  Our annual Memorial Day parade was rag tag but meaningful.  Veteran Glen Franks once again served as our Grand Marshall.
Thora delighting in her beautiful garden.

S'mores are enjoyed by all ages.

Let the Memorial Day parade begin!  Mount your steeds . . .

. . .  and we're off, with Grand Marshall Glenn Franks leading the way.

And so another Memorial Day camping trip is in the annals of time, having accomplished the purpose of providing a community building experience for families committed to being encouraged by the body of Christ by doing life together.  

I'm writing from West Cornwall, CT, as Paul and I spend the fifth year in a row encouraging the pastoral staff at Avon Community Baptist Church.  These days are like a slice of heaven, really.  A beautiful retreat center, surrounded by a healthy church staff, lead by two of our favorite ministry couples:  Tim and Sharon Ponzani and Jay and Liz Abramson.  It really doesn't get much better than this.  Oh wait!  It does!  Our daughter Lisa has joined us here!  Last night she spoke on the blessings and challenges of being raised in a pastor's family and she knocked it out of the park.  Wow.

Around the world, Derek and Julie are into their 10th month of marriage and spent 10 days recently on their "real" honeymoon in Mauritius.  Their days were relaxing, renewing, and celebratory of all that is good in marriage.  We are so thankful for their life together in Uganda and look forward to joining them there in late August.
Derek and Julie in a self-portrait from Mauritius.

Shockingly, in a few hours, the days of May will expire and we'll be in June.  I'm trying to catch up with the quickly moving calendar days, but don't have much hope of that happening.  Mostly praying that we'll allow the Holy Spirit to direct our days and rest in knowing that we've done what He's called us to do.