Mixed Metaphors

Though "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas," I begin this blog, as promised, with a photo of the "Shark from Heaven," in living color.  Please forgive me for mixing my metaphors.  Still it's hard to believe that only 5 weeks have passed since this photo was snapped. Though it is obviously out of step with the season we are now in, I couldn't exactly omit this adorable photo of Brandon and his California grandparents enjoying his $1.41 shark costume (read the previous blog post for the back story).  Pretty cute shark, yes?

Grandpa Dan and Grandma Debbie flank Brandon the Shark, who is ready for trick-or-treating.

We continue to be so grateful for what God is doing in the lives of our immediate family.  This season of grandparenting has more delights than imaginable.  We feel exceedingly blessed as we observe Gabe and Kari teaching Brandon about our faithful, loving, heavenly Father.

They're also teaching him other life skills: Kari and Brandon have a mentoring session over cookie dough . . .

. . . and then enjoying the results.

Paul was the featured speaker at Camp Berea's “Man Camp” the first weekend of November.  He felt God really met him through his four plenary talks as well as his two seminar sessions.  He had some very meaningful interactions with a number of men who expressed to Paul that the weekend was a turning point for them.  Pray for decisions made that weekend, that they will be honored and fruit-producing.  No pictures from this event . . . :)

While Paul was away, the female mice played.  Daughter Lisa flew in, and dear friend Helen drove in to join Dr. Vita (the Sicilian neurosurgeon who lived with us for six weeks this fall) and me for a "girlfriends’ weekend" in celebration of my birthday.  And what a great time was had by all!!  We exploited the delights of late fall in New England, buying lobster off the boats in Gloucester, driving up the coast of Maine, overnighting in York in a great “Priceline”’d hotel on the beach, walking the shoreline, and having the bonus of an extra hour, to boot (since Daylight Savings Time expired while we were off galavanting)!  It could only have been better if two more daughters had been able to fly in, but even as such, my heart was filled with gratitude and delight for having such a special time.

Vita, Helen, Lisa, and me, just before sitting down to a New England lobster feast.  Yum!!!

Beautiful weather made walking to Cape Neddick a perfect choice.

In early November, we made our annual pilgrimage to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to speak to the seminary wives and their spouses for "couples night."  It's such an honor to partner with Lita Schleuter for this evening.  We love the opportunity to speak into the lives of those preparing for full-time ministry.  The group seemed very appreciative of our sharing from our 37 years of married ministry wisdom with them.  

 A small portion of those who attended Couples Night for Seminary Wives at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary hung out long after we stopped speaking.

That weekend we drove to upstate New York to speak for the First Presbyterian Church's marriage conference.  Held at a hotel in Glens Falls, everything about the weekend fulfilled the several years' long dream of two couples to make this happen.  The Challeners and the Magills worked hard to pull this off and they did a great job.  We fell in love with their congregation, who were so open, receptive, and eager.  The conference ended Saturday late afternoon and was followed by a delightful evening with the two planning couples as well as the senior pastor and his wife, Dr. Larry and Betty Roff.  A more animated evening would be hard to find!  A great ending to a great conference.

Paul preached at their church in Schenectady and we both taught Sunday School for their combined adult classes.  Great time.  Before driving back to Bedford on Monday afternoon, we enjoyed the company of our dear friends, Bill and Helen, in their lovely home.

Al and Bonnie Magill and Bill and Helen Challener invested greatly in making the marriage conference happen successfully.

The Patriots’ women's study took a different tack on Wednesday, the 14th, as we held our annual pie making workshop, just in time for the holidays.  It was a ton of fun to work with 16 women around a granite island, with dough, flour, pie pans, and rolling pins everywhere.  They did a GREAT job and everyone left either with a completed pie, or with the ingredients to complete one in their own kitchen.  Several of them texted me photos of their finished product during Thanksgiving.  :)  

The Pats' women show their wares, with well-earned pride.

Our final pre-Thanksgiving event was the H.I.M./Trinity Church (Nashua) Marriage Conference, held Saturday, Nov. 17.  We were pleased with a great turn-out, especially after it looked like it would be an intimate gathering on the Monday prior to the event.  We more than doubled in size between Monday and Friday and were thankful for a wonderfully warm, responsive group.  One attender wrote:  
Thanks for such wonderful teaching.  It was a great reminder to me of how I am called to show my love to my husband.  You two manage to teach with such wisdom, while simultaneously sharing your own struggles in a way we can all relate and laugh with.  I appreciated that you backed up everything you said with scripture—and your stories made the meaning come alive in new ways.
It was a gift to partner with Trinity Church Nashua, and particularly with Matt and Beth Ide, who worked as the liaisons with the church.  They partnered with us beautifully, as affirmed by Sue Martis' comment, when all was said and done: "Putting on this conference was flawless!"

Paul mingles with the crowd over a great lunch, catered by MJM Catering.

The servant-hearted workers who made the conference a success.  We’re so grateful for them.

We wrapped up that very long day with a wonderful evening spent at the home of Dr. Ben and Cindy Warf.  Dr. Warf is the neurosurgeon who launched the CURE Mbale hospital in 2001, along with his wife Cindy and their six children.  He is now at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard, and Vita was able to intern under him during her stay here.  The evening was so inspiring!  Ben and Cindy have such deep hearts for the Lord and for all of His children, and are using their immense gifts to make a significant difference in the world of children's health.  It was truly one of the highlights of Vita's time in Boston to be in the "dust" of this rabbi.  A lovely evening indeed.

Dr. Vita, Dr. Ben, and Cindy Warf at the end of a wonderful evening.

We were off early the next morning for California for Thanksgiving, where we divided time between Gabe, Kari, and Brandon in Granite Bay, and my folks and siblings in San Diego.  Lisa joined us on this adventure, and many laughs and lots of talking transpired along the way.  Such a contrast of experiences between the north and the south, swinging from the hope and vitality of Brandon's 27-month-long life....to the obvious decline and diminishing vitality of the 85-year-old life of my dear Dad.  Amazingly, we treasured both ends of the spectrum and different aspects of life were experienced fully in each venue.  Parks, toys, races, Elmo, and early morning reveille in the form of a bouncing happy little guy filled our time in the north, while quieter dialogues, foot massages, repetition and reassurances, and spontaneously singing hymns and other long-time favorite songs highlighted our time in the south.  We are truly grateful that the generations of our family  are so connected and that we are blessed by both the burgeoning and the failing life.  

Brandon and Papa enjoy Elmo together.  Such precious moments!

I'll wrap this up for now because there is a lot to do to make it "look a lot like Christmas" around here.  Right now, it looks more like an explosion in a mattress factory . . . and, as always, there's much to do and not enough time to do it.  

My prayer is that we'll invest in what matters most during this season, and that whether the "list" gets done or not, our joy will not be diminished by such temporal things.  Gabe, Kari, and Brandon visited my folks in San Diego recently, and Kari said that as his great-grandpa lay on the sofa, in and out of sleepiness and awareness, Brandon would randomly stop whatever he was doing to walk over and kiss him on the head.  

That's a picture of how I want this month to unfold.  That in the midst of the busyness—and demands—and distractions, I'll stop randomly to adore the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who shows up this month in the form of a Babe.  

Brandon kisses his Great-Grandpa Collins as he snoozes on the couch. (photo courtesy of my sister Laura)