Every Day . . . a Gift

With visions of Yosemite’s matchless beauty still dancing in our heads, we flew east in time to do laundry and repack suitcases with appropriate gear for speaking at Park Street Church’s family camp held at Camp Laurel in Readfield, ME (central Maine) the weekend of August 25-27. It was the perfect ending to an incredibly paradoxical summer. Though we have partnered for years with Kris Perkins (Park Street Church’s pastor to families/marriages) by speaking at various workshops and seminars at the church, this was our first experience with their annual family camp. And we loved it.

  Sunset over Echo Lake

Sunset over Echo Lake

Almost 300 "Park Streeters” attended the camp and we were delighted to discover several dozen of them were friends and acquaintances we’ve “collected” over the past 26 years we’ve lived in New England. We successfully leveraged each mealtime as opportunities to catch up with folks we don’t see often but for whom we have affectionate hearts. That was a bonus gift of the weekend.

  Baptism in the lake for several provided a very meaningful gathering for the community. 

Baptism in the lake for several provided a very meaningful gathering for the community. 

We spoke to a subset of family camp: a somewhat eclectic but very delightful group of all singles beyond college age, and all married couples without children. It seemed daunting initially be assigned speaking to this group which appeared so diverse in terms of age and stage, but God met us and them and it was a very fruitful time. Especially meaningful were the contributions made by many of them reflecting their ideas for bridging the gaps that so often divide the generations, and identifying some of the distortions which contribute to isolating them from one another. We were deeply encouraged by their hearts’ desires to “be the church” inter-generationally and their vision for helping to make that happen.

  Nate and Katie Fennel are some of the friends we enjoyed reconnecting with during the Park Street Church Family Camp.

Nate and Katie Fennel are some of the friends we enjoyed reconnecting with during the Park Street Church Family Camp.

Everything else about the weekend was just as energizing for us. The setting on beautiful Echo Lake, the opportunities for taking in the beauty of God’s world through outdoor games, sports, and other activities, the yummy food and time for fellowship around tables, an amazing outdoor night concert by the talented band that led worship for the camp, and the culminating session Sunday morning during which all family campers gathered for worship and teaching. It’s hard to imagine a better time and we were so grateful to be a part of it.

  Paul leads a family devotional at the final session for Park Street’s Family Camp.

Paul leads a family devotional at the final session for Park Street’s Family Camp.

We landed at home in Bedford late Sunday night, Aug. 27, for a 4-day period, which was the longest we’d been home since mid-June. Though we were absent from home all summer, mail delivery, spiders, and dust mites were not, so we had our work cut out for us as we settled back in. Counseling, welcoming new babies, and celebrating Paul’s birthday filled the next few days leading up to Labor Day.

The sadness of not having Labor Day Family Camp at CBS was mitigated in part by the gift of spending the weekend in Ogunquit, Maine, with our “chosen family” friends, John and Marilyn Nugent, who invited us to join us at their month-long rental in Perkins’ Cove. We had a truly renewing, refreshing, and joyful time with them as we enjoyed beautiful beach weather (except a very rainy Sunday, which worked fine with church, early dinner guests, and an evening concert back at church). We endlessly walked the Marginal Way and the beach, we floated down the "Lazy Ogunquit River” in freezing cold ocean water, and we ate a good bit of lobster. It was a true vacation, and the perfect way to end summer.

  Nothing quite like fresh “lobsta” right off the lobster boat . . . and fresh corn right out of Hannaford’s bins.

Nothing quite like fresh “lobsta” right off the lobster boat . . . and fresh corn right out of Hannaford’s bins.

  Sunrise over Ogunquit

Sunrise over Ogunquit

  A farewell shot before we part ways with John and Marilyn after a wonderful four day vacation.

A farewell shot before we part ways with John and Marilyn after a wonderful four day vacation.

The only “distraction” of the weekend was the very unexpected health development in the life of my “baby” sister, Laura, who after being sidelined for a week with what she thought was a flu virus, was diagnosed with a brain aneurism which had bled the week before (presenting with symptoms consistent with the flu). She had a craniotomy Saturday morning, Sept. 2, in which the neurosurgeon “clipped” the offending blood vessel and pronounced her "good to go.” The bottom line statement I’ve just made of this very scary experience vastly understates everything about it. We’re all very aware that many people don’t survive aneurisms, so our hearts are overflowing with gratitude for God’s grace and kindness in sparing her life. I’m thankful to report that she is doing very well in recovery. It was a gift to be able to be with her in the hospital after she was stepped down from ICU to CCU, and amazingly, 11 days after surgery, she was released to go home. Happily I was there for that, too, and it is hard to put into words how thankful I am that I could be with them during this challenging time. 

Her days in the hospital were full of tests, blood draws, medical visits, monitoring, surgery, post-surgical care, etc., but I was most impressed with how she so naturally used her hospitalization missionally. She treated each medical professional as well as housekeeping personnel with honor and appreciation and they all “fell in love with her.” By the end of her 11-day stay, she knew about their families, cared about their load, and had invited many of them to church and/or to stay involved in her life. Everyone who visited was queried about their health and things going on in their life. She wrote birthday and anniversary cards from her hospital bed…less than a week after surgery. Consistently “other directed”, she continued loving people well even in the midst of her own traumatic journey. It’s been no surprise, therefore, that she (and David) have been the recipients of dozens of cards, floral arrangements, meals, gifts, calls, texts, and prayers. As is said, “What goes around comes around!” It’s been a privilege to witness true community in this exchange of servant-hearted love.

Every act of love is a work of peace, no matter how small.”  —Mother Teresa

  My sister Laura, eleven days after her craniotomy, heads home. SO thankful to even have this photo.

My sister Laura, eleven days after her craniotomy, heads home. SO thankful to even have this photo.

I did return to New England late Tuesday night, Sept 12, in order to launch the NE Patriots wives/girlfriends study. We’re going through Matt Chandler’s book To Live is Christ and we had 21 eager women out the morning of the 13th. We have great expectations for the study this fall. The Patriots couples’ study started Thursday night and we had 31 out for that, making the room not just full of people, but full of a lot of enthusiastic buzz. We can’t believe this is the 19th season we’ve been a part of this study and are praying as always that there will be much fruit from it. These studies, along with counseling, will dominate the fall.

We welcomed Derek and Julie and our two east coast grandchildren, Nathan and Rachel, for the weekend of the 15th-18th, and enjoyed parks, the beach, a few yard sales, and babysitting the kids while the parents went out. We’re very thankful for the gift of every moment we share with our kids and grandkids. 

  Rachel enjoying Singing Beach in her Sunday finest.

Rachel enjoying Singing Beach in her Sunday finest.

  Papa and Nathan at Singing Beach

Papa and Nathan at Singing Beach

  Papa and Rachel walk back to the car from the beach. Not sure when her shoes came off, but she enjoyed the barefoot walk.

Papa and Rachel walk back to the car from the beach.
Not sure when her shoes came off, but she enjoyed the barefoot walk.

The autumnal equinox happened a couple of days ago as I flew to northern Virginia to spend five more days with my little sister (and her devoted husband) during her recovery. Amplifying the grace of her improving health has been the recent death of Nabeel Qureshi, the young 34-year-old author of the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. I was deeply moved by his book when I read it three years ago, which chronicled his journey to Christ from his Islamic heritage, and have followed his ministry with Ravi Zacharias since. An incredibly gifted man (Nabeel was a global speaker and holds degrees in medicine from Eastern Virginia Medical School, Christian apologetics from Biola University, and religion from Duke University), Nabeel was also a young husband to Michelle and father of little Ayah. Since his diagnosis of stage 4 stomach cancer in August of 2016, Nabeel fought the “enemy” of cancer with everything he had and then more, and he (and Michelle) believed with all their hearts that God would heal him on earth. He believed that until his last breath, even reminding us that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.

I was heartbroken when news of his death was posted last Saturday, Sept 16, by his closer-than-a-brother friend David Woods, who had roomed with him at Duke and been instrumental in leading him to Christ. I, too, believed that God’s purposes would best be served by healing him, miraculously, in a way only attributable to Him. After all, Nabeel forsook everything in order to follow Him. Wouldn’t this be the perfect way for God to affirm to the nay-sayers that He is Lord? The great Physician? The One who said, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you’ll be able to move mountains?” (Matthew 17:20) I, too, believed with all my heart that Nabeel would not be destroyed by the dark invader called cancer.

But God had other plans. And as one who believes in a Sovereign God, I submit to Him with confidence because He is a “good, good Father” and He is in all and over all. I don’t pretend to understand, and I still grieve because I am human and death will always be hard, but thankfully I don’t grieve as one without hope. I know Nabeel believed the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians, “To live is Christ, to die is gain” and that his death ended his earthly suffering and transferred him from this sin-scarred world into the arms of his loving Heavenly Father. He was healed, just not on this side of heaven.

During this same period of time, Paul and I attended the memorial service honoring Dr. Haddon Robinson, held at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on Sept. 7. Haddon was another whose life has impacted us greatly. He and his beautiful wife, Bonnie, landed at GCTS in 1991, concurrent with our arrival, and over the years we were privileged to sit under his teaching many times. We were fortunate to become personal friends with the Robinsons and some of our sweetest memories with them are in their home. Haddon will be remembered by hundreds of thousands as one of the most gifted preachers of this century, and by others as one of the most influential professors who brilliantly trained many generations of preachers, but by us, he’ll best be remembered for the devoted love he had for Bonnie and their two children, Torrey and Vickie. Haddon and Bonnie are truly humble people of God, lovers of His Word, and difference makers in a world desperate to see authentic Christ followers. 

It was so moving to hear tribute after tribute affirm Haddon’s exemplary life, which could’ve unfolded so differently given his beginnings as a gang member on the streets of Harlem. He lost his Mom when he was 10 and eventually found his way to church in order to play basketball. The only catch was in order to play on the church team, he had to go to Sunday School 3 times a month, and it was there he was introduced to Christ. At age 16, he gave his first sermon to a group of prisoners and the altar call given was responded to by 20 inmates. Afterwards Haddon was informed by the church members that no one had come forward in the past twenty-five years. Clearly, Haddon’s gifting as a preacher were noted then.

  With Bonnie Robinson at Haddon’s memorial service.

With Bonnie Robinson at Haddon’s memorial service.

Life is a series of losses and gains. Expected and unexpected. Hopes fulfilled and hope deferred. Delight and sorrow. Laughter and tears.

But every day . . . a gift.