It is a season of weddings, funerals, and falling leaves. Of football, pumpkins, and sweaters. Of hot soup, warm bread, and apple cider. Of Patriots Bible studies, marriage conferences, and counseling. Of birthdays, anniversaries, and memories.
This year, it is also a season of hurricanes, floods, fires, and shootings.
Sorrow and joy always seem to walk together. Cynthia Heald, in her book A Woman’s Journey to the Heart of God, drives home the truth that one can never really experience true joy without also experiencing deep sorrow.
As such, our hearts have had a roller-coaster-like ride these past couple of months as we have wept with the many who have experienced tremendous loss and pain in the wake of natural and man-made disasters, and we have rejoiced in healed marriages, celebrations of anniversaries, weddings, and new births, and in the beauty of the ever-changing fall landscape. Nothing is potentially more effective in quelling complaining and whining, and increasing gratitude, than seeing the tragic circumstances so many are experiencing around us. These are very challenging times.
Thankfully, in the midst of a lot of bad news, there is plenty of good news (though it’s hard to be convinced of that due to our media’s obsession with darkness.)
We spent the last weekend of September in Vero Beach, Florida, celebrating Doug and Julie Macrae’s 20th anniversary. Such milestones are increasingly rare in our age of short-term, seemingly disposable marriages, so it’s good to make a “proper fuss” over them. It was great to affirm the goodness of God’s design for marriage as easily seen in the way Doug and Julie invest in one another and strive to love each other in a Christ-like way. All who gathered to honor them have been personally impacted and invested in by the Macraes, multiplying their influence exponentially. It was a celebration of so much goodness and we were honored to be a part of it.
We then flew from Vero Beach to Northern Virginia to spend two more days with my sister Laura as she continues to recover from her brain aneurism. Her husband, David, had a pastors’ retreat on Monday and Tuesday (October 2–3) and we were so happy to be able to keep her company during his absence. Thankfully, she is doing really well, but still rebuilding her stamina and strength. We are so aware of how blessed we are that she will bear no long term effects from this, save a fading incision scar hidden in her hairline. What great grace!!
The Patriots studies keep us in town on Wednesdays (women’s) and Thursdays (couples’) and both are going really well. Large enthusiastic groups attend each study and we sense that God is doing something very special among us. Please join us in praying for fruit. Counseling fills out the balance of those two days so we’re not left with time on our hands. :)
The first weekend of October we flew to St Louis to attend the wedding of Elizabeth Pippert and Ian Larson. Elizabeth’s mother (Becky Manley Pippert Molenhouse, author of Out of the Saltshaker) and Paul both joined the staff of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in 1972 and have been fast friends ever since. I joined the “party” in 1976 and since then we’ve closely journeyed through life together. We were delighted to be able to attend Elizabeth’s wedding and to have time with Becky and Dick the following day. Their ministry (www.Saltshaker.org) has been mightily used by God, largely but not exclusively in Europe during this past decade, though Becky is a regularly sought-after evangelist all around the world. It’s always inspiring and encouraging to have time with these two, especially in the context of this very happy occasion.
Grant and Emily Williams (retired NFL) hosted us while we were in St Louis and it’s always good to have time with them. It was a treat that their oldest daughter, Meegan, was home from college on fall break, and that Madeline and Sarah Elizabeth had a volleyball match we could attend. As chosen-by-them “surrogate” parents and grandparents for this precious family, we are so encouraged that each of them are committed to honoring and serving the Lord. How refreshing is that!!
In the midst of these celebrations came the very sad news that our lifelong friend, Amy Fletcher, had passed away at 46 years of age. The Fletcher family has been involved with the Friesen family since the early 60’s, when Betty Ann Fletcher was the administrative assistant for Campus by the Sea and her son Paul was a young boy growing up there with “our” Paul (and family) during the summers. And so began a relationship that now spans six decades. Paul Fletcher grew up and married Tonia, and they had Rod and Amy, whom they brought to family camp every summer until the kids were old enough to serve on staff—which they both did. Many of the summers during the past two decades, there have been three generations of Fletchers at family camp as Rod and Heather and their three sons, accompanied by Paul and Tonia and Amy, have continued the tradition. The Fletchers are chosen family.
The news of Amy’s death, therefore, hit us very hard. We grieve for her parents, for her brother and his family, and for her husband, Mike, especially. But we also grieve for all of us who knew and loved Amy. Beautiful, talented, and gifted, her premature death from heart failure seems harsh and surely like she “left the party early” (in the words of Kara Tippetts). But we are all comforted in knowing she rests safely in the arms of her Heavenly Father, with whom she had a personal relationship. Oh, the hope of Heaven! Without it we would surely be filled with despair.
One of the Patriots wives observed that each week this fall, as we have gathered for our study, we’re carrying the weight of yet another tragedy. Hurricane Harvey. Followed by Irma. And Maria. The Las Vegas slaughter. And now the California fires. Mixed in between are stories of those fighting cancer, dealing with death, being divided by controversy, and struggling with marriage and/or children.
The world is a very messy place. Though some tragedies are the direct result of evil, sinful choices, some are not . . . though in the end, the brokenness of the human condition is at the root of all pain and sorrow.
The love of God, as reflected so tangibly in the death and resurrection of Jesus, carries us through. “Who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross . . .”
Joy and sorrow. They’ll always journey together in this broken world. Thankfully we know that for those who surrender control of their life to Jesus, joy triumphs eternally and sorrow will be left behind.
That’s good news, the best news amongst the bad.