Thanksgiving greetings to all! We’re back in California as we write, having flown here to celebrate this holiday weekend with our west coast family before flying to Orlando to speak at a camping conference. It was pure joy to be gleefully met by Brandon and Ana this afternoon.
What a month it’s been!! I last wrote as we were landing in California to speak at the Salvation Army’s Regional Officers Marriage Conference, October 27-28, which was preceded by several days of visit with my mom.
That turned out to be code for “we’re going to launch Virginia’s 60th birthday celebration with surprises at every turn” and we were off and running. Paul and the girls had brilliantly master-minded an unexpected (to me) intimate gathering of friends who “bumped into me” on Orange Street in Coronado as we walked towards the Lamb’s Players Theater to watch “Les Miserables.” And that was only the beginning of many wonderful celebrations, which made turning 60 something I wished I had done sooner. :) I can’t remember a time that I have felt more loved, known, and affirmed than I have been this past month, and if you were part of the never-ending-celebration in any way, from posts on my Facebook wall, to beautiful bouquets of flowers delivered, to showing up at or creating any of the amazing surprises along the way, thank you again from the bottom of my heart.
|The “Les Miserable” surprise theater group, sans Gabe and Kari, who rushed to my mom’s house after the show to prepare a fabulous Mexican feast.|
I am truly much more comfortable being on the giving end of such honor. I love to plan the ways to love and surprise others for their special milestones. When Paul and the girls asked me months ago how I wanted to celebrate my 60th, I was very clear that I didn’t want a big party. I’m truthfully not wild about being the center of attention in such settings.
Semi-apologetically, after the first of two big surprise parties, they confessed that they couldn’t NOT have the parties because so many people wanted to be a part of something. They said, “We’d rather have you temporarily mad at us than make everyone else mad!” And they were accurately confident that I wouldn’t be “mad” long. And so I’ve been the recipient of kind words, thoughtful gifts, sacrificial travel, and great efforts by many to help usher me not just painlessly, but joyfully into the 7th decade of my life.
I have been more than humbled by all the expressions of BIG love. I have spent much of the past month feeling overwhelmed in an off-the-charts-delightful sort of way. I have been genuinely surprised more than I’ve ever been in my life, and hence have officially retired the long-held belief I’ve had that it was near impossible to surprise me.
HUGE accolades to Paul and the girls for planning clandestinely each celebration. They worked overtime….and dusted off their “effective lying” skills to pull the wool over my eyes time and again. They thoughtfully put together events and experiences that would be most meaningful to me. They sacrificed much to pull together unforgettable moments. Especially meaningful to me is that all of my siblings and my mom, as well as almost all my in-law siblings, were part of the celebrations. Julie and Derek’s desire to join the festivities was thwarted by living in Uganda, but they will be home in 3 weeks and we’ll get the party on with them then.
|The Garcias worked so hard behind the scenes to insure success on every level.|
|Sisters Sue, Lucy, and Melissa with my amazing mom at the west coast gala.|
|The Friesen side of the family represented at the west coast gala.|
|Four generations of our family . . . so blessed!|
|Julie and Derek were at the east coast celebration . . . via FaceTime. Here we are conversing in the midst of a room full of people. I was undone.|
|Kari and Lisa give public tribute at the east coast surprise party.|
I will treasure the memories of all of these expressions forever.
That will be made possible in part by the gift of two beautiful books full of words of affirmation collected and produced by Kari. A big thank you to any and all who contributed to that treasured project. Very thoughtfully, my sister Laura even submitted several letters from my dad’s pen, written in the late 70’s and early 80’s, so even my precious father is on the pages of this incredible gift. They will be thumbed through and absorbed over and again in the years ahead, as a gift that will keep on giving.
I have been the recipient of extreme generosity in so many ways—well beyond material goods (though those have been present). The generosity that has touched me the most has come through beautiful words written with a high rate of inflation—and I’ve had two prevailing thoughts. One has been grace . . . so much grace!! I’m not unaware of my faults and short-comings, and you’re not either . . . so the extraordinary affirmations which have come my way are framed in grace and love. The other has been “I hope these wonderful people will pray that I become all that they think I am.” (That thought was inspired by Elisabeth Elliot.)
My hopes and prayers for this next decade are wrapped up in becoming. I want to press towards becoming more and more Christlike, more and more in love with my Savior. I know that will be the best use of whatever days I have left.
My real birthday, November 5, was celebrated from morning ’til night, starting with breakfast in bed from my above-and-beyond husband. Lunch with a really special friend was followed by dinner and theater in Boston by several more very dear friends. Every part of it was delightful.
|Paul, aka “Chauffeur Goober”, made sure that we got downtown for dinner and opening night of “Annie” on my birthday. If he quits his day job . . .|
Kari and Lisa flew in that weekend for more partying, starting with whisking me away to a darling cottage in Ogunquit, Maine, where I was surprised by a small gathering that included two of my sisters and a few other “chosen” sisters. Long walks on the beach, great meals, and lots of talking and laughter filled the next 48 hours in a most unforgettable weekend. That was capped by a large surprise party hosted by the Ploskers and the seemingly unending string of surprises came to a close. After open mic times at both west coast and east coast parties, I said I felt I had been at my own funeral. There’s something to that. It’s life giving and motivating to be encouraged and affirmed generously.
|Kari and Lisa flew in from California for more birthday surprises.|
|Decked out and ready to join the 60’s club.|
|And finally: the brother! I was deeply touched by the efforts made by all my siblings to join in the celebration. My brother Frank and and my sister Francene both traveled from VA to surprise me.|
In the midst of this epic milestone celebration, we have been doing ministry. Back to the Salvation Army, we spent two incredible days with the officers from the Greater Los Angeles area looking at God’s design for marriage and ministry. We fell in love with this very special group of ministers. They are committed to living sacrificially for the Kingdom to a degree we seldom see. Their focus is to come alongside the most broken in our world, and give them “soap, soup, and salvation.” Their thrift stores support their drug rehab program, which boasts a 28% success rate for those who go through the (free) program. We had great interaction with them as they wrestle with balancing the demands of ministry (endless) and their families (also endless.) Several weeks after the conference, Major Ian Robinson wrote:
"People are still talking about the retreat and how it impacted their lives and marriages.”
Several other officers have booked us to speak for their locales, and others have written to let us know that the retreat was rather life-changing. Thank you, faithful God!! We’re not confused about Who changes lives.
We are so thankful to have had this opportunity and encourage you to contribute to the red kettles manned by those very hard-working Salvation Army bell-ringers during this Christmas season.
|Part of the Salvation Army officers who attended the marriage conference|
at their retreat center, Mt. Crags, in Malibu Canyon.
|Colonel Doug and Colleen Riley were instrumental in the success of the conference.|
We flew back to Boston as soon as the conference ended late Tuesday, and were in the saddle for the Patriots women's study onWednesday morning, Oct. 29, and for counseling that afternoon and evening. We repeated that on Thursday, with counseling in the morning and the Pats couples’ study that evening. We are so thankful for a high level of interest in both studies. God is doing something among this special group.
Home just long enough to exchange California appropriate clothing for St. Louis garb, we flew to Missouri early Friday morning for our annual visit with the Williams family. Usually made in December, we took advantage of an unscheduled weekend (Halloween eclipses marriage conferences it seems!) for our celebration of chosen family with this precious crew. Those little girls have turned into very tall, grown-up ladies and we were heartened again by their hearts for the Lord and their healthy life choices. Great time!!
|Grant is the offensive line coach for Westminster Academy, the Christian high school the girls attend, and this photo follows a play-off win.|
|So thankful for Grant and Emily’s commitment to their marriage, family, and ministry.|
We love every minute with them!
Life returned to “normal” after all the celebrations ended, and the following weekend, Nov. 15, H.I.M. sponsored a one-day marriage seminar featuring Gordon and Gail MacDonald, who spoke on “Soul Care for Your Soul Mate.” True sages, Gordon and Gail held the audience mesmerized by their living room conversation we were invited to overhear. Married now 53 years, and each having logged 75 years on this earth, all who attended would agree that they brought something rare and sacred to the table. Having been very intentional throughout their life together, they presented a picture not of perfection, but of hope and redemption. One person wrote on their evaluation, "On a scale of 1-10, today was off the charts . . . way over 100!!!”
|So much wisdom was “overheard” as Gordon and Gail conversed with one another|
as though none of us were there.
|Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield opened their doors for this one-of-a-kind event|
and once again extended incredible hospitality and warmth to all.
I wrote to Gordon and Gail the following day:
"We couldn’t be more thankful than we are for the day. You and Gordon gave us all a gift we’ll never forget. A look not only into your living room, but also into your kitchen, your family room, and even your bedroom. You let us overhear your conversations about real life, which included failures as well as successes, the journey from a lack of understanding to understanding, selfish tendencies transformed by humble repentance producing unselfishness.
You showed us how to communicate, how to honor one another, how to love. And armed with the credibility of 53 years of marriage, you were most convincing because of the very nature of where your marriage is in 2014: tender, thoughtful, sensitive, growing, vital."
As we hear from attendees, it’s clear that God did an amazing work that day and is continuing to use it. All praise is His!!
Gordon and Gail MacDonald have had a mentoring role in our lives for thirty years now.
What a gift to us!
|Douglas Gerber conducts the choir at his father’s memorial service while his mom,|
Nancy, sings (far right, front row)
We spent Sunday with a precious congregation in Swansea, Massachusetts: Bethany Gospel Chapel. We love this group! They heavily support H.I.M. events as well as the ministry, and we’re thrilled to partner with them. Paul preached and then we spent the afternoon in the home of Jim and Mary Klink, fellowshipping with many congregants over yummy homemade soup and salad.
|A portion of Bethany Gospel Chapel’s congregation who stopped by for soup and salad at the home of Jim and Mary Klink (back row, far right)|
Just before leaving on this trip, we had an Engagement Matters weekend. Sadly, we “lost our lease” on the home we’ve held this conference in for the past 8 years (or more truthfully, the Macraes sold their home in Weston), but happily the Bilazarians offered their beautiful Victorian home in Andover center for the event. We had a great crowd, which very soulfully invested themselves in the weekend. Besides us doing the plenary sessions, Ryan and Kelly Plosker did a session on their “Top Ten Tips for Marriage” and Seth and Melanie shared about their journey. Lots of positive feedback at the end of the weekend. One young man said he had come with high expectations, but the weekend had way surpassed those expectations. So thankful.
|Most of those attending Engagement Matters this past weekend.|
That brings us up to date. It’s been a rich, full month of celebration and sages. May your experience include both of these as well.