There have been years in which Labor Day weekend signals an abrupt end to summer as the crisp to cold winds of fall arrive as if in a hurry.
Not this year. “Dog days” describe most of the month of September and the beginning of October, as summery temps belie the calendar dates, and pools buttoned up for the season seem “missing in action” as the endless summer unfolds.
Our summer ended with huge exclamation points. Invited by our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent to share their rental cottage with them in Ogunquit, Maine, we enjoyed the unusually warm ocean (67 degrees), fresh lobster off the fishing boats, and miles of walking on the Marginal Way and on the Ogunquit Beach. It was the perfect beach holiday, and we hated to see it come to an end.
Except . . . another exclamation point was in the offing. My youngest sister, Laura (who survived a brain aneurysm a year ago), and her husband spent three days with us in Bedford and we had an absolute blast. Walden Pond, Dairy Joy, the Cape, and a couple of good yard sales made the time quite unforgettable and it was the perfect second ending to the summer.
Counseling and the Patriots’ studies resumed the week of September 13 and 14, and getting back in the saddle felt good. Alyssa Cannon is hosting the women’s study on Wednesday mornings and we are doing a league-wide study on the book of Colossians. We’re averaging about 14 women each week who seem very engaged in the study. I love this time with them. They are a teachable, enthusiastic collection of lovely women. Matthew and Shahrzad Slater are hosting the couples’ study on Thursday nights again and we’re focusing on Biblical solutions to marriage issues. Their warm hospitality sets the stage for safe conversations about really important subjects. It’s great to be back together.
We weren’t home for long, however, before we flew to London, England, to perform the 10 year renewal-of-vows ceremony for Sonny and Christy Vu. Friday, Sept. 14, we were off on a red-eye, and we landed at Stansted Airport about 7 hours later. Train, Tube, and foot later, we checked in to our hotel in the Kensington district, dropped our bags, and were off by foot to the theater district. We scored two great seats for the matinee performance of “Les Miserables,” and our London holiday was off and running. We both agreed it was the best “Jean Val Jean” performer we’d ever seen in the 15 or so times we’ve seen this remarkably profound play. Souls touched, tear ducts cleansed, and tiredness setting in, we walked back to our hotel, got some groceries at the conveniently located grocery store (right next to the hotel), and called it a great day.
Sunday was also delightfully full. Off on foot again, we walked to the “London Eye” where we caught the Thames River Cruise. The previous sentence grossly misrepresents the crazy, maddening experience we had trying to get to the right place to catch the cruise, which ended up costing us our 10:10 departure, which had a domino effect on the whole day, striking “leisurely” out of any part of the day, but three weeks later as I write this, the angst is gone and we did, in fact, catch the Thames River Cruise that day. :)
And a lovely cruise it was!! The weather cooperated beautifully the whole time we were in England, making us feel very blessed indeed. We were able to get off the cruise in Greenwich for a speed-dial type of tour, and though we loved what we saw, we resolved to return at some point to do that beautiful town justice.
The highlight of the cruise was not what we saw but who we saw. The day before, our two seats at “Les Mis” were next to a lovely English woman who was in the city for a holiday weekend. We hit it off immediately and thoroughly enjoyed watching the play together. Imagine our surprise when we returned to the cruise vessel after our brief tour of Greenwich and made our way to the top deck to see HER sitting alone in a row! We were all delighted and spent the entire cruise back to the “Eye” happily chatting and getting to know one another. As we departed, she threw her arms around me in a very non-English way and said, “Meeting you was the highlight of my weekend.” We felt similarly. I hope our paths cross again.
Off to Westminster Abbey for “Evensong,” a worship service, where we sat pretty close to where the bride and groom have stood in every royal wedding we’ve seen on TV. Very cool. Cooler yet, though, we met up with Dick and Becky (Pippert) Molenhouse, friends and ministry partners of over 40 years. Becky and Paul came on staff with IVCF together in 1972 and we’ve been fast friends ever since. Becky is internationally known for her work in evangelism (www.saltshaker.org) and they were in England for a three week ministry tour. We spent six hours together, moving between three restaurants, catching up with one another—and we could’ve spent days. God is using their ministry in such a powerful way, especially in Europe, and we are so grateful for their faithfulness to spread the gospel on this largely gospel-less continent.
Monday we walked more. :) 35K steps was our one-day record and it certainly allowed us to experience London is a very personal way. We (a little more of “me”) find this the best way to get to know a city, and that we did. Down to the theater district again, this time to procure tickets for “Wicked.” To our surprise, our “senior” status scored us half-price tickets for fabulous seats. Nice!! We walked back to the hotel (this is another major distortion of what actually happened—we walked 1.5 miles in the wrong direction of our hotel before asking for help and getting turned around. Hence our 35K-step day) and took the Tube back to the play that evening.
Very bravely, Paul rented a car the next morning for our drive to Bath. It wasn’t his first time driving on the “wrong side of the road,” but it’s still very unnatural. Thankfully, the car came equipped with an “it-saved-our-lives” GPS which handily directed us to Bath. Though we thoroughly enjoyed walking through this adorably charming town, the highlight was meeting up with our dear friend Vita Stagno, a pediatric neurosurgeon with whom we connected years ago through CURE. Vita did some of her training at the CURE Hospital in Mbale, Uganda, under Dr. Benjamin Warf and Dr. John Mugamba, when Julie and Derek were at the hospital. She subsequently did some training in Boston, again under Dr. Warf, and she lived with us that fall. Six years have passed, and she is practicing medicine in Bristol, England, and recently married. We spent three wonderful hours catching up with her, which was another surprise gift of this trip.
From Bath, we had an at-times harrowing drive to Bourton-on-the-Water, a Cotswold village north of Bath.
Oh. My. Goodness. We have discovered a place that redefines “quaint” and injects “charming" with steroids.
This delightful area of England is home to dozens of small villages, all built with “Cotswold stone” and set among sheep pastureland. Waterways and water wheels, cobblestone paths, and carefully tended flower gardens welcome you as though you belong there. I had to keep reminding myself that we were not touring either a Hollywood set or a Disney attraction. We loved every minute of our too-short visit.
But leave we must, and on to Oxford we drove to step into the festivities surrounding the purpose of the trip: the 10th anniversary renewal of vows.
Oxford!! Prior to Sept. 19, it was only legendary, but suddenly it was real. And, overwhelming, with its stately rock edifices which house so much history, so many great minds, and launched so many difference-makers. There aren’t words, as anyone who has been to Oxford would undoubtedly echo. We were deeply moved, especially when we entered the University Cathedral where the renewal would take place the next day, and stood where C. S. Lewis delivered “The Weight of Glory” half a century ago.
Most of our time in Oxford (less than 48 hours) was spent either preparing for or celebrating the renewal service and reception. Again, the highlight was surely our time with Sonny and Christy and a very small handful of their friends, as we celebrated the hope of the gospel as it shapes marriage. It was a beautiful event, imbued with deep meaning, reflecting backwards (they had been married there 10 years earlier, wearing the same wedding clothes!), and looking towards a hopeful future. It was a great privilege to be a part of this.
And just like that, we checked out of the “Old Bank Hotel” at soon after midnight and drove in the pouring rain to Gatwick Airport, some 2 hours away. (Another statement of gross distortion . . . it was a harrowing ride, to say the least, but we thankfully made it safely in plenty of time). Our flight took off at 5:30 am, and at 9:30 am, we landed at LAX. Yes. You read that right. It was a lovely 11-hour flight, during which we both got some good sleep, which was a very good thing since we had a full weekend of ministry ahead.
Rental car procured, we drove to Santa Clarita for a “refueling stop” which included doing a load of wash and spending a couple of hours with our sweet little Garcia family. We stayed long enough to surprise Brandon and Ana when they got out of school and then treat the three Littles at 7/11 in honor of “Slurpee Friday.” And just like that, we were off to Visalia, where Parkside Chapel’s first marriage conference commenced at 6 pm.
Our long time friends and ministry partners, Kent and Staci Copley (who had hosted us at Moses Lake Alliance Church for many years), assumed a position at this Visalia church a year ago and we were happy to be invited to speak in this new venue. Not surprisingly, we walked into a beautifully decorated fellowship hall/sanctuary which featured a delicious spread of home-baked goodies, including fresh peach pies and carrot cakes. Classic “Central Valley” church hospitality!
And the conference began!! It was held Friday night and Saturday until early afternoon, and Kent was really pleased with the turn-out and the responsiveness of those who attended. We thoroughly enjoyed being introduced to a new congregation.
The balance of Saturday was spent first with Wayne and Sandy Clark (Paul’s oldest sister) and Ryder (their grandson), who surprised us by showing up to take us out to lunch, and then with Keith and Kristen Hopper and Kent and Staci, who hosted an out-of-this-world smoked tri-tip dinner at their home. The six of us had such a wonderful time catching up with one another (we’ve all spent years together at family camp) and solving the world’s problems. We hated to see the evening end.
Sunday Paul preached at the morning services, and later in the day, after a short but sweet visit with our nephew Randy Clark and his family, we fielded parenting questions at a “round table” event. Finally, we spoke to their youth group on purity in the evening and then called it a day. All of the pieces of the weekend were well thought out and executed. We loved partnering with the Copleys again!!
We hung out with Kent and Staci on Monday to cap off the weekend: walking, getting coffee, and enjoying one another’s fellowship before driving back to LAX to catch another . . . you got it, red-eye home. :) We flew home so very thankful for an 11-day journey that took us 3K miles east and then 6K miles west, and finally 3K miles back home in the east. So many great moments experienced, so many unforgettable moments burned into our memories. Overflowing with gratitude, we unpacked in Bedford . . . for a few days.
Counseling and Patriots’ studies filled Wednesday and Thursday, with the added bonus of an unexpected trip to Fenway Park! Our dear friends (and ministry partners) Bob and Letty Balian, came to town (from California) and invited us to join them for a Red Sox game. That seemed worth some rescheduling, so a couple of calls later, we had cleared a space and drove into Boston to see a game. The company exceeded the enjoyment of the game, but it sure was a great place to catch up with valued friends.
Friday we headed north to Concord, New Hampshire, to speak at the third annual marriage conference for Oasis Christian Church. Skip and Avonne Jarvis put their heart and soul into this event each year and this year added the creative twist of a Dance Date Night at the local Holiday Inn, “in celebration of marriage.” Complete with Martinelli’s sparking cider and a DJ with a great playlist, fun was had by all who attended. For Paul, it was a supreme act of sacrificial love, since dancing has never been on his list of “things I like to do.” But dance he did and I think even he would say it was a very fun night.
The marriage conference was held Saturday, Sept 29, from 8:30 am to 2 pm. We were especially glad that the senior pastor, John (Rose) and his wife Samantha were part of the audience. It’s always good for a congregation to have it modeled from the top down that investing in your marriage is a really good use of time. A great spirit among the attendees was palpable and we felt God met us.
We zoomed out of the conference in order to make it to Gillette Stadium for the New England Hall of Fame induction of Matt Light. Matt and Susie were part of the couples’ study the whole time he played for the Pats (and which amazingly we’re in the 20th season of leading!) and we’ve continued the journey with them since. We were very honored when they invited us to be part of their very special day and very thankful that Skip and Avonne adjusted the conference schedule a bit to accommodate that. As cool as it was to see the five Lombardi trophies, and to see Matt honored as he joined this very elite group, we’re most thankful that Matt and Susie are very clear on what’s most important.
Back to Oasis for Sunday, where we taught at both services, and then joined the Jarvis family for pizza and apple picking. We had a blast, delighting in one of the most enjoyable seasonal features of life in New England. With the Jarvis’s youngest son Isaac hitting 6’5” (at 14 years old), Paul did not have to hoist anyone on his shoulders to get those apples in the far reaches of the trees. That was a relief (for both of us, as I would’ve been the one on his shoulders)!
Before we headed west again, we had the joy of a visit with our dear friend Helen and her sister-in-law Nancy, who was in town for a medical conference. We also connected with another dear friend, Jen Granger, who was also in town for a conference. We were so happy to be in town for these visits!!
And then, we were off . . . again. There is a pattern emerging, yes? This time we spent several days with my mom before Paul officiated at a wedding in Orange County, California. The days with my mom were so lovely. How grateful we are to be able to hang out with her on so many of our trips to California. We had the added fun of spending a day at Legoland with Lisa and Kari and Gabe and family.
The wedding of Adam White and Rebecca Haseltine was a celebration of all that is good. Rebecca “grew up” at family camp and she and Adam both have deep hearts for the Lord. Their wedding was a beautiful affirmation of the goodness of God’s design for marriage. Held in Trabuco Canyon under a canopy of trees, it was “Pinterest Perfect” as we say these days. Not a single detail was left undone, which made it spectacularly beautiful—but even more importantly, it was a Christ-centered proclamation of the gospel. We were so honored to be a part of it, and extra thankful that Lisa (who had for years helped mentor Rebecca at camp) was with us.
Before we left California, we spent Monday with some very important people in our lives. Wendy Turney hosted us for our last two nights in California, and being with her is always good for our souls. We then spent three hours over lunch with John and Grace Tebay, who are both in their 80’s now and have had a significant role in our lives since John helped marry us 42.5 years ago. Bob and Carol Kraning were next and we shared coffee with them for a couple of hours. Spending time with both of these “salt of the earth” couples was pure gift. We feel so blessed to have their fingerprints on our lives and we continue to learn so much from them. We are deeply grateful that they continue to invest in us.
Our final stop on Monday was visiting “Gami Jo”—the 91-year-old mother of one of my best and longest friends, Wendy Offield. Wendy’s son Calen and his family also joined the “party” and it was a sacred time when a spontaneous hymn-sing transpired. “Gami” has always loved sacred music and has a beautiful voice. Though she is struggling with memory issues now, she sang every word of every hymn we sang. There weren’t many dry eyes in the room as we watched her face light up with joy while singing. For me, it was very reminiscent of my father’s last years. He also loved sacred music and though dementia robbed him of most of his memory, it didn’t get his “music center.” It was such a sweet time.
Off to LAX Tuesday morning with one last stop to see my nephew Alex who is fighting osteosarcoma. We ended up having a nice visit with his mother since he was sleeping and we didn’t want to interrupt that. He’s soldiering through the challenging treatments with confidence and managing the awful side-effects with grace. Keep praying for him!!
The "dog days" are almost gone it appears, and we’re more than ready for beautiful fall leaves and crisp air to be ushered in. Bring it on.