It’s been a long time since my fingers have found this keyboard to update our lives via this blog but finally, with 14 hours of flying ahead, here we go!
Crazy busyness marked the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the first two weeks of 2015 have rather idyllically been spent in Hawaii: a vacation around speaking at a marriage conference. Tough gig, but someone has to do it. Though fully intending to write this before the new year launched, the mesmerizing tranquility of the island trade winds and nirvana-esque existence framing each day drained me of all motivation to get anything done that was unrelated to discovering the beauty of God’s creation in the sea and on the land.
So here we are, flying to the frigid northeast after spending two weeks in daily temps of 80 degrees. The adjustment might be brutal—unless there’s snow to play in. Only then is cold redeemed. :)
Very briefly recapping, Thanksgiving was spent with my mom and siblings in San Diego at sister Sue’s house. Lisa, Paul, and I drove down for the day since Lisa had to be back for UCLA vs. Nebraska on Friday, but it was a sweet day. Holidays, especially the “firsts” without a loved one, seem to stir deep emotions and that was certainly true for us as we had our first Thanksgiving without our beloved father. Many happy memories of Thanksgivings past surfaced, and though tinged with the sadness of his absence, our focus was gratitude for the richness of our many years together.
|A fair representation of the Collins family line gathered at my sister Sue’s home for Thanksgiving.|
The balance of the weekend was full of fun moments: the UCLA women’s basketball game, which we lost but we loved seeing in person; Black Friday fabric shopping deals (and a few other deals as well!); the Garcias, who returned early from Sacramento making it possible to have a Thanksgiving celebration with them and Lisa in Santa Clarita on the first Sunday of Advent.
|Coach Cori Close inspires her team, though their efforts fell short vs Nebraska.|
|Brandon and Auntie Lili at our Thanksgiving-on-1st-Advent-Sunday celebration|
enjoying their “name card cookies."
It all ended too quickly and suddenly we were on our way to Orlando, Florida, to speak at the Christian Conference and Camping Association (CCCA) national conference. Formerly known as CCI, we were quite involved with them in our early years of running CBS, but it had been 20 years since we had been at one of their conferences. What a joyful reunion!!! We love the work of CCCA. Back in the day, it was so life-giving for us to attend these conferences and rub shoulders with those in like-profession with similar challenges and mutual understanding. It was as though no time had passed, honestly. Some of our long time camping cronies were there and conversations revealed that we still understand each other and the challenges and delights of camping ministry.
Our two workshops were well attended (packed and overflowing) and we’ve received very positive feedback, including a tentative invite to speak at next year’s conference. We spoke on marriage and family issues in the camping context and there was high interest in the sessions.
But the highlight of the conference was connecting with Gabe and Rosemary Valencia, who direct Mile High Pines Camp in Angeles Oaks, California. Gabe seemed exceptionally thrilled to meet us when he found out we were from Campus by the Sea and then he explained that he had come to CBS in the early 80’s with Father Norm Supenchek and there had met Christ. He said he had always wanted to relate his story to those responsible for the work there and finally was able to do that upon meeting us. He and his wife have raised 5 great kids at their camp and have had a significant impact on the Kingdom, all beginning with his surrender to Christ at CBS in ’80’s. What a gift for us to hear his story!!! God is so faithful and good.
|Gabe and Rosemary Valencia encourage us with their story|
at at the CCCA Conference in Orlando.
We spent a couple of days in Vero Beach following the conference, writing and working on curriculum. Though the somewhat stormy weather did not cooperate with helping us get a head start on our tans for Hawaii, we had long walks on the beach twice daily anyway. Great time. Home on the 9th of December, it suddenly didn’t seem that wise that we spent those days in Vero as I counted only 7 days between then and when the Johnsons would arrive from Uganda. We returned to a home still decorated for fall and uncut flannel for Christmas jammies—and a schedule full of counseling and Patriots events, as well as a few houseguests along the line.
No time for eating bonbons. Start your engines. We were off and running.
Cutting out flannel. Sewing. Sending packages. Baking gingerbread houses. Decorating. Making ornaments. Last minute shopping. More packages. Caramel corn. Jam. Welcoming a brief but wonderful visit with Elsa Stanley, who was in town for a teachers’ conference. Picking the Johnsons up at Logan—oh, happy day!—and seeing our house and its perils through the eyes of a 16-month-old adorable and curious explorer.
|Elsa Stanley, whose dad Mark we’ve known since we were students at SDSU,|
graced us with a sweet visit upon our return from Florida.
In the midst of super-productivity, we wisely took some time to enjoy the season. A small group of Patriots accompanied us to the Highrock Church Christmas Concert, which ranks among the top musical celebrations of the season we’ve ever experienced. Plan to attend next December if you want to be exhilarated by exceptional talent and unmitigated passion expressed by the choir. We also had a lovely evening out with our dear friends Doug and Julie Macrae, whose presence we miss greatly since they moved to Florida. My dear friend Helen spend several days with us, serving as my "right hand elf” in wrapping, packing, sewing bows on jammies, etc. She willingly did whatever needed to be done, and without her, I really wouldn’t have accomplished my scaled down “to do” list. Friends who are willing to serve in the midst of their own frenzy are so rare and such gifts.
Besides all the preparations for Christmas, we did many hours of counseling and wrapped up our Patriots women’s study as well as our couples’ study. We are so thankful for such a high level of interest and participation in both studies this fall. The women really “got into” the book Mended by Angie Smith, which promoted a lot of good discussion. We closed out our season together by making cinnamon rolls and having a goofy gift exchange. I really miss meeting with the ladies.
|Just before Thanksgiving, we made apple pies from scratch at the Patriots women’s study.|
|At our last meeting, after making cinnamon rolls, we exchange goofy gifts,|
some of which are displayed.
For the final couples’ study, we invited David Swaim (lead pastor of Highrock Church in Arlington, Massachusetts) to speak, and he did a great job. There was a lot of great interaction with a large group of couples all fall; we continue to pray for eternal fruit.
|Our final Patriots couples’ study night . . . missing four couples who had come all season.|
It was a great group.
UCLA gave us a Christmas present by scheduling a game against UConn women on Dec. 21. We had 25 UCLA fans join us at the game . . . though we barely put a dent in the crowd of 9,000 UConn crazies. :) After a tough loss, we got to take Lisa home with us for Christmas! Such joy.
|"Go Bruins” was lost in the huge crowd of UConn fans, but we were there!!|
Our 5 days together for Christmas were full of delight. The girls were game to decorate the traditional gingerbread houses, finish up baking, make deliveries, wrap, etc. We had the loveliest Christmas Eve celebration, starting with church at Highrock, followed by dinner at our home with Paul and Dawn Amico and their three great kids. Nathan loved having some kids to play with and all enjoyed our Happy Birthday Jesus cake, served with homemade peppermint ice cream.
|Hadden, Lucy, and Wiley join Papa and Nathan in singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.|
Christmas Day, though not “white,” was full of precious moments and celebration. Nathan was pretty excited about his Little Tikes basketball hoop and entertained all of us for hours as he shot hoops. We moved slowly through the day, savoring the Christ Child and each other. Opening gifts provided everything from the hilarious to the poignant and, as always, produced repeatable sound bites. Hank Bazigian joined us for dinner, continuing that loved tradition, and we eventually closed the books on Christmas 2014. Lisa left very early the next morning to return to her duties at UCLA.
|This little boy is all about balls! Christmas morning fun.|
|Paul, Lisa, Julie, and Hank strike a natural pose for the photographer.|
We had a few more happily exhausting days with Derek, Julie, and Nathan, and then WE were off to Hawaii (Dec. 30.) It was so hard to leave before Johnsons left, but our schedule is so packed between now and this coming September, that we had to grab some renewing vacation time before our life ramps up this weekend.
And that’s what we got. A dear friend loaned us her condo on the Big Island and we spent 9 days there, exploring, snorkeling, hiking, swimming, discovering, and relaxing. It was everything and more than we had hoped for. Beautiful weather. Lots of turtles and fishes. Great pineapples, papayas, and bananas. Beautiful sunrises and spectacular sunsets. We were even fortunate to cross paths with Linda Bartel Dismukes, (she went to SDSU with me and has been involved with CBS since college), who is serving at YWAM Kona currently, and with our nephew Mark Herbst and his wife, Angie, who were vacationing on the same island at the same time. Every day was pretty amazing, and the beauty and diversity of creation continually pointed us to Creator God.
|Linda Bartel Dismukes joined us for coffee in downtown Kona.|
|We spent a great evening with Mark and Angie Herbst (Mark is our nephew.)|
On to Kauai we flew on Friday, Jan 9. We spoke at a marriage conference sponsored by Global Algae Innovations, a cutting edge company founded by our friends, Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck. Long time family campers at CBS, they had a vision for encouraging and strengthening the marriages of their employees and included the local churches in the opportunity. Kalaheo Missionary Church hosted the conference Friday night and Saturday and everyone seemed pleased with the event. The second annual conference is already in the works.
|Church Sunday morning with Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck and John and Marilyn Nugent.|
Our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent decided to plan their annual trip to Hawaii around our conference, so we spent the last 5 days on Kauai with them. It’s no challenge to find great things to do and beautiful things to see in Kauai, so we spent the days exploring, thrilling to see whales breaching, spouting, or waving a fluke, as well as watching graceful swimming sea turtles en masse. We could never tire of experiencing the wonder of our Father’s world and are coming home refreshed, renewed, and overflowing with gratitude and wonder.
|We walked endlessly along the coasts of these Hawaiian islands . . .|
|. . . and at points, came upon sleeping turtles . . .|
|. . . or swimming turtles. Any kind of turtles worked for us.|
We landed back in Boston just hours ago and entered a wintery landscape. We’re not in Hawaii anymore!! We head out tomorrow to speak at West Point, so we’re off and running, but we do so feeling energized and ready to get back in the saddle. This has been a very good time of rest and recreation for us and we are deeply grateful for the time and the generosity of those who helped make this happen in a variety of ways.
In the midst of all this loveliness and extravagance from God, we are aware that many are living with great sadness, pain, and brokenness. We continue to read every word Kara Tippetts pens on her blog Mundane Faithfulness and we have not stopped praying for God to do a miraculous intervention of healing for her as cancer ravages her body. Our hearts are heavy for her, her husband Jason, and their 4 beautiful (and young) children who are walking this very dark valley now. Our hearts and prayers are constantly also with Steve and Sharol Hayner, as Steve’s health declines and hospice is invited in. Two very godly people who seem far too young to die, and yet whose journeys are teaching us that dying well is as important as living well.
And so we take the broken with the beautiful and get a more accurate picture that He alone is our hope and that true beauty exists only because of and in Him. That which is broken is mended through His healing presence. On the brink of this new year, we’re reminded that our souls will only truly find rest and contentment in Him. Reinforced for whatever lies ahead, we submit to Him with confidence that He’s got 2015 in His hands.