A Different Summer

Returning from Ethiopia on May 22, we were very thankful to have several days at home before heading to California for a couple of weeks. It was especially good in light of the fact that Paul was “under the weather” with a gastro-intestinal bug that hopped on board his system the previous Friday while in Ethiopia. Thankfully “Cipro” knocked it out of him fairly quickly and he was none the worse for the wear a day later.

We flew to California on Friday, May 26, to speak at the Sacramento Joni & Friends Marriage Conference, held at Zephyr Point on Lake Tahoe. We were thrilled to partner with Dan and Melynda Adranga, directors of this ministry, but quite honestly, when we said yes to speaking for this conference well over a year ago, we had no idea of how powerful the weekend would be—for all of us.

The thirty-five couples who attended all face much greater challenges on a daily basis than most couples. Day in and day out, they are beset with the demands of living with a disability in one or more members of their family.  Every area of their life is affected by their realities and it’s therefore not surprising that data reveals that 85% of couples who experience life with the disability or death of a child end up divorced.  

Just getting away for the weekend was a monumental task for most of them. Procuring safe and reliable child/adult childcare is an obstacle that prevents many of these couples from ever getting away. We were so thankful for the 35 couples who managed to pull this off and therefore were able to be loved on and pampered this weekend. For some it was life-changing, and for most it was hope-giving and renewing.  

God met us all in a big way.

We taught at four plenary sessions and did about 12 hours of counseling in the course of the weekend. It was our privilege to see God meet couples in various ways throughout this very prayed-over, thoughtfully-planned retreat.  From the moment the couples arrived and were royally greeted by the planning team, the weekend unfolded with generous goodie bags, heartfelt times of worship, community experienced around the tables as yummy meals were consumed, natural therapy received from the gorgeous setting on Lake Tahoe, camaraderie among couples who understood one another’s life, and perfect weather . . . to the closing session, held outdoors on the lake edge . . . taking communion, and having a recommitment-to-the-marriage ceremony (as Danny Oertli sang “Will you marry me again?” in the background, thanks to modern technology) . . . it was a truly unforgettable weekend.  

We were so privileged to be a part of it. We have nothing but admiration and respect for these couples who are committed to fighting through the difficulties of their circumstances to honor their marriage vows.  

 Lake Tahoe was strikingly beautiful, as the record-setting winter of snowfall continues to provide gorgeous vistas as well as spring/summer skiing.

Lake Tahoe was strikingly beautiful, as the record-setting winter of snowfall continues to provide gorgeous vistas as well as spring/summer skiing.

 Dan and Melynda Adranga provide great leadership for the Sacramento chapter of Joni and Friends and invested tremendously to make this weekend exceptional.

Dan and Melynda Adranga provide great leadership for the Sacramento chapter of Joni and Friends and invested tremendously to make this weekend exceptional.

 So blessed by having Dave and Diana Watts (far right) host our book table, shown here with their dear friends.

So blessed by having Dave and Diana Watts (far right) host our book table, shown here with their dear friends.

 The couples were so blessed to be freed from their daily responsibilities, allowing time for them to focus on each other.

The couples were so blessed to be freed from their daily responsibilities, allowing time for them to focus on each other.

Besides the joy of the conference, we were blessed to have reunions with a number of very dear friends while at Lake Tahoe. We rendezvoused with Randy and Joy Hitchcock and sons Cooper and Chad; with Bill and Christi Bachman and sons Andrew and Nathan; with Bill and Kristen Smith with Macy and West; with John and Marilyn Nugent (who actually attended the conference, as John serves as Chairman of the Board for Joni and Friends); and Kim Hayes and her fiancé. Ken. We were SO blessed by these reconnections, especially since all of them are CBS family campers (except the Nugents) whom we’ll sadly not share a week with this summer on the island.  

 Randy, Joy, Cooper and Chad Hitchcock have been coming to CBS since the boys were little and we are so thankful they’re in our life!

Randy, Joy, Cooper and Chad Hitchcock have been coming to CBS since the boys were little and we are so thankful they’re in our life!

 The Bachmans and the Nugents . . . more chosen family friends.

The Bachmans and the Nugents . . . more chosen family friends.

 Two great families who bring great encouragement to us.

Two great families who bring great encouragement to us.

We flew down to San Diego after the conference for a short but sweet two-day visit with my mom. She is always such a delight to be with. I’m taking notes of how to age gracefully as she has done/is doing. Lisa joined us there and we cherished the intergenerational richness of being together. We also made sure my mom’s dog Saylor got some good walks in.

 Saylor, checking out the San Diego harbor, and enjoying the view. Such a dog’s life!

Saylor, checking out the San Diego harbor, and enjoying the view. Such a dog’s life!

It was then our privilege to spend the next 9 days hanging out in Santa Clarita with Lisa and our three west coast grandchildren while their parents celebrated their 10th anniversary in Italy. Their other grandparents, Dan and Debbie Garcia, kept watch the first week and passed the baton to us for the anchor leg.

We had a blast.  

Granted, we had a 3-on-3 advantage, so we could “play” man-to-man defense, but it truly was a gift to us to have so much time with this precious crew of Littles. Brandon was in his last week of kindergarten so we were privy to great end-of-the-year special events, like park day, dance night, and The Last Day. We loved getting to peak inside his life as a kindergartner: the year that will set the trajectory for his school career.  Thankfully, he had an incredible experience, largely due to a teacher who represents the very best a teacher has to offer. “Mrs. Abramsa” is the kind of teacher every child should have: very loving, very devoted, very competent, very clear in expectations. What a gift for Brandon to be so positively launched educationally!

Ana and Micah kept us hopping while Brandon was in school, as trips to the park, games, and crafts at home filled our time. We were reminded why the Lord gives children to young parents, as we fell exhausted into bed each night . . . at 9 p.m.  :)  Lisa came into the week with expectations of making a t-shirt quilt “you know, at night after the kids are sleeping.” We laughed at her very unrealistic expectations as she packed the unmade quilt components back into the box at week’s end. We considered it a great success that the children were healthy and unscathed and that the house was still standing and relatively clean when Gabe and Kari glowingly returned from Italy on June 9. A happy reunion was had by all.

 We only managed two trips by car with the whole gang during our stay with the kids, and this was one of them . . . to church!

We only managed two trips by car with the whole gang during our stay with the kids, and this was one of them . . . to church!

 Micah and Papa were best buds, affirming Paul’s well-deserved label as the “Kid Magnet."

Micah and Papa were best buds, affirming Paul’s well-deserved label as the “Kid Magnet."

 Gigi and Ana made cake pops…very successfully, I might add, thanks to the great “Cake Pops” book we got at a yard sale.

Gigi and Ana made cake pops…very successfully, I might add, thanks to the great “Cake Pops” book we got at a yard sale.

 What a great year Brandon had at kindergarten, as evidence by his sorrow that it was “over."

What a great year Brandon had at kindergarten, as evidence by his sorrow that it was “over."

 Everyone was glad when Gabe and Kari returned from Italy!!

Everyone was glad when Gabe and Kari returned from Italy!!

Before we flew back to Boston, we spent a late afternoon and evening with our beloved Chelsea Paskvan.  Chelsea and her family started coming to camp over twenty years ago and we love having her in our chosen family circle.

 Walking the beach in Santa Monica with Chelsea . . . great place, great company.

Walking the beach in Santa Monica with Chelsea . . . great place, great company.

Home on June 11th for a few days, during which time we did about 10 hours of counseling, bought a love seat off Craigslist, watched Needham High School (starring Maeve Barker) win the state semi-final women’s lacrosse title (they went on to take the state title days later), had dinner guests, had a sweet two-day visit from a dear friend and then had a set of overnight guests. Packing it in, as usual. We also managed to steal away to Walden Pond for several later afternoon walk/swim workouts. We enjoyed every minutes of it!! And though it was super strange to be “home” during this time of year where for the past 42 years we’ve been at Campus by the Sea, we were thankful for all the ways God met us through people and events.

Off to Avon, Connecticut, we drove June 16th to speak at Valley Community Baptist Church’s marriage conference.  How we love this church and staff! We’ve spoken numerous times at their staff retreats over the years and always welcome any opportunity to partner with them. We adore their senior pastor, Jay Abramson, and his wife, Liz, along with their executive pastor Tim Ponzani, and his wife, Sharon. It was a joy to be with them again. The conference went really well: great attendance of very responsive couples. Delightful in every way.

 Valley Community Baptist Church—an authentic gathering of receptive couples.

Valley Community Baptist Church—an authentic gathering of receptive couples.

 The Abramsons and the Ponzanis provide godly leadership for this vital church, and we are blessed to have both couples as not just ministry partners, but dear friends as well.

The Abramsons and the Ponzanis provide godly leadership for this vital church, and we are blessed to have both couples as not just ministry partners, but dear friends as well.

 Paul and Lyss Gandy spent a night with us, which warranted a trip to Bedford Farms. Yum!!

Paul and Lyss Gandy spent a night with us, which warranted a trip to Bedford Farms. Yum!!

A quick trip to California the weekend of June 23-25 enabled us to officiate the wedding of Stephanie Schick and Reese Feist. It was a true joy to celebrate this couples’ commitment to having a God-honoring courtship and marriage. We loved having them attend Engagement Matters last December, we loved doing premarital counseling with them, and we loved seeing their hearts for the Lord and for each other. It was a grand celebration of all that is good and we’re so thankful we were chosen to help facilitate their covenant ceremony.

 Dr. and Mrs. Reese and Stephanie Feist - beautiful in every way.

Dr. and Mrs. Reese and Stephanie Feist - beautiful in every way.

Home for two days (it should surprise no one that Paul will log his 1 millionth mile with United this week), which were filled with cleaning, packing, and doing errands in preparation for the next month which will have us on the road/in the air. And then we were off, driving to Pennsylvania first to attend the Sight and Sound Theater’s production of “Jonah.”  One of our dear friends (Phil Northingon) is in the production, which made it very special for us to see. Phil also grew up at CBS and served on staff for a couple of summers. It’s been such a treat to watch him develop his passion and gifting as a dancer and singer, along with his passion for the Lord, through the years. It was a bonus to have dinner afterwards with him and his girlfriend, Danielle, and to hear firsthand what his life is like as a professional performing artist.  

 After seeing “Jonah” at the Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, we had dinner with Phil and Danielle, and Betty Ann and Barbara (who were the focus of this great adventure as we celebrated their 60th birthdays belatedly). Fun was really had by all. 

After seeing “Jonah” at the Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster, we had dinner with Phil and Danielle, and Betty Ann and Barbara (who were the focus of this great adventure as we celebrated their 60th birthdays belatedly). Fun was really had by all. 

As great as the show was (and it really was great: if you haven’t been to the Sight and Sound Theater, you should go!), the real highlight was hanging with the Johnsons in Mechanicsburg (only an hour from the theater) that night and the next day. Can’t get enough of these Littles!  Almost-four-year-old Nathan, and 18-month-old Rachel are very entertaining to be with. The time went way too fast.

 Rachel cools off in the backyard blow-up pool center.

Rachel cools off in the backyard blow-up pool center.

 Nathan and Gigi raced on the “plasma cars”, and you can clearly see who won.

Nathan and Gigi raced on the “plasma cars”, and you can clearly see who won.

 Rachel and Papa share a sweet moment.

Rachel and Papa share a sweet moment.

 Papa and Nathan spent about 2.5 hours in the “pool,” filling the air with laughter and splashes.

Papa and Nathan spent about 2.5 hours in the “pool,” filling the air with laughter and splashes.

Friday morning, we (Paul, Lisa, and I) will fly to Israel with Fellowship of Christian Athletes to minister in Bethlehem and Amman, Jordan. Paul and I will do some teaching on marriage in both places, as well as pitch in where needed at the outreach sports camps. Since we’ve never been to Israel before, we don’t have any idea of what to expect, except to be met by God.  We feel very blessed by this unusual opportunity. Please pray for us specifically for this trip June 30-July 15.

This season has been very, very difficult for us personally as we’ve continued to grieve the decision made by IVCF to discontinue family camps and our ministry there, but our faith and our hope have not wavered because they are rooted not in circumstances or people, but in our Holy, living, personal God. Our emotions run the gamut of deep sadness to eager expectation as we wonder how God will work redemptively in this. We are humbled by the incredible amount of support we’ve received on an ongoing basis from so many of you who have taken the time to write, call, text, or be with us in person. Though our hearts are broken as we consider the losses of this summer—the conversations unspoken, the reunions missed, the interruption of tradition, the missed opportunities to experience the uncommon, set-apart community unique to CBS—we are comforted in knowing that God will not just sort all of this out, but He will meet each of us this summer in ways that only He can.

All praise is His!!!