The “Campfire” scented candle burning in our Great Room today fills my head with thoughts of summer camping, but the 20 degrees of mercury on our outdoor thermometer reminds me we’re actually in the dead of winter. Writing while in a window-wrapped room, I’m hoping that snow will dance in on this cold stage, but if the forecast is to be believed, there will be no such luck.
We wakened yesterday in Riverside, California, on the final day of a 16-day west coast tour, in temps over three times what it is today here, and we marvel at the difference a 5-hour west-to-east-coast plane trip makes!
It’s good to be home.
2019 has rushed in and it catches me by surprise that January is almost out of days. That went fast!!
It’s been a month of much travel, many people, and extreme emotions that run across the spectrum from great sorrow to great joys. Highs and lows.
After returning from Grand Rapids on Jan. 3, we had a lovely visit from our “chosen family” friend of over 40 years, Helen Belden Challener. We interviewed Helen for a position on the CBS summer staff of 1978 and that was the beginning of a long and treasured friendship. She served during the summers of 1978 and 1980 and over the past four decades, we’ve “done” life together: through the thick and thin, joys and sorrows, births and deaths, laughter and tears. Time with Helen is always full of laughter as she is naturally a very funny person, but it’s also full of doing whatever needs to be done, which this time included “mariekondoing” our house without ever having heard of “Marie Kondo.” (Obviously I have since heard of her!) In spite of several successful gathering trips to my favorite thrift store, we did manage to donate more than we collected, so it was a net gain by being a net loss. We also visited “Anthem Church” (a new local church plant that we attended with friends) and we saw the new “Mary Poppins” film (which we loved). It was a great visit.
We happily marked my mom’s 89th birthday (Jan. 7) from afar, celebrating her continued good health and spirits. Counseling and “catching up” filled the days up until Jan. 12, when we drove to Camden, Maine, where we spent the afternoon meeting with their elders and the evening with a sold-out “Date Night” crowd at Chestnut Street Baptist Church. Organized by Dan and Candy Smiley, and supported by senior pastor Adam (and Leah) Kohlstrom, it was a powerful first event of 2019. Adam and Leah had come to our Engaged Discovery in 1998 and graciously let us know how much that weekend has impacted their marriage. So thankful!! The Smileys were involved with us at Grace Chapel back in the mid-nineties and it had been years since we had seen them, so it was a sweet night of reconnecting.
We were supposed to speak at the church services Sunday morning, but they graciously adjusted to our desire/need to fly to California to attend Mikey Kullman’s memorial service that day, so we drove from Camden at 9:30 pm, in 8-degree weather, to Logan Airport, arriving at 1:30 am, where we checked in to the Airport Hilton for a couple of hours prior to catching a non-stop flight to San Francisco. The service was at 3 pm Sunday afternoon in Arroyo Grande, which is a 3.5 hour drive from San Francisco, so everything HAD to go perfectly in order for us to make it.
And it did. So very grateful for so many details that worked like clockwork, with a few extra bonuses thrown in (like getting upgraded to first class and having “beds” to sleep in from Boston to SFO): our flight landed early, we got the rental car without a hitch, and we had no traffic out of SF (which was a miracle). We rolled in to the parking lot of Grace Baptist Church at 2:30, with hearts of deep grief framed in great thanksgiving.
Mikey was part of a “clan” who came to family camp at CBS for 13-15 years. The grandparents, their four children and spouses and kids, and two other “adopted” families came every summer together until camps were ended. The last time we saw all of them was the summer of 2016, when Mikey was heading into his freshman year of college. He was halfway through his junior year at Cal Poly San Louis Obispo, when he passed away at the young age of 20, and there really are no words to describe the pain that his death has caused. In spite of a grief deeper than can be expressed, his memorial service was truly one of the most “heaven touched” experiences we have had. Over 1,000 people gathered to honor his life. All 27 of his “immediate” family spoke of him: of his brilliant life, both artistically and academically, of his down to earth faith, of his caring, kind life, and of his genuine love for Jesus, his family, and his many friends. Another group of about 12 guys (“The Muddy Brudders”) each spoke of his character, his heart, and his life-changing fingerprints on each of their lives. There were plenty of tears, yes, but there was also joy-filled worship, affirming the goodness of God and the hope of eternity.
It was both a beautiful and gut-wrenching 3-hour service, followed by a dinner reception prepared by their church community. The Body of Christ. Weeping together. Rejoicing together. Communing together. We were so deeply grateful to be there.
On to San Diego we drove, arriving at 1:30 am Monday to spend a few days with my mom. Such a joy to have these sweet moments with her. We are so blessed to still have her ongoing wisdom and love in our lives. Though we had a few exciting “field trips” (to Costco, for one!), there was a profound sadness during this visit when we made the decision that it was time for her beloved mini-daschund Saylor to be put to sleep. Saylor had been given to my dad in the early stages of his dementia almost 16 years ago, and she was ever faithful to him. After his death five years ago, Saylor became my mom’s little buddy, so making this decision was very hard, though right. We were so thankful to be with my mom during this loss, even though it ripped our hearts out.
Up to Spokane, Washington, on Thursday, January 17th we flew, after weather complications caused multiple changes to our pre-set plans. The greatest disappointment was missing out on Thursday evening with the pastors from Moses Lake Alliance Church, brainstorming ideas on building into marriages and families in their church and community, but having to fly from San Diego to Denver to Spokane caused us to miss that event. We were thankful to make it to the retreat that weekend! On the way, we met up with Tori Copley for a coffee break and were once again so encouraged by her love for Jesus and her influence on her campus.
How fun it was to return to Clearwater Lodge at Camp Spalding in Newport, Washington, to speak for the third out of four years at the MLAC marriage conference, making this about the 9th conference we’ve done for them in the past 14 or so years. We’ve connected deeply with quite a few of these couples through the years and love the heart and vision of this marriage ministry team. The attendees of this sold-out event were so enthusiastic to be there and very responsive to the teaching. Worship was rich, meals were yummy, and the fellowship was sweet. We are so honored to be partners with this alive church and have already said “yes” to returning in 2020.
Sunday early afternoon, we flew from Spokane to Denver to Los Angeles for our next commitment: hanging out with our grandchildren in Santa Clarita while Kari and Gabe were on their pastors’ retreat. Lisa held it together until we arrived (early Monday am), at which time we converted to man-to-man defense. Many delights of being together followed, highlighted by going to UCLA to watch their women’s gymnastics team compete. Very inspiring! Lisa left us there and Papa and Gigi managed to hold down the fort until the parents returned Tuesday afternoon. These times make us long for the days when families lived close enough to be involved in one another’s lives regularly, but we are very thankful for the times we have.
Thanks to the generosity of a friend who works for Disneyland, we were guests at the Magic Kingdom on Wednesday the 23rd. All of the Garcias (except Gabe) and Paul and I put in a very good day at that magical place and managed to put 22,000 steps on my Fitbit in the process. There’s nothing quite like seeing Mickey Mouse through the eyes of a 2.5 year old, who is convinced he is real, or watching our granddaughter Ana’s eyes, wide with belief, chatting with Anna from “Frozen.” There is something really special about that place and we made the most of it. Blessed.
Three Orange County events rounded out our speaking tour, beginning on Friday night when we did two talks for “Date Night” at Calvary Community Church in Brea. This is the church that commissioned Paul into ministry in 1972 when he went on staff with IVCF’s 2100 multi-media traveling show. Pastor John Tebay was the lead pastor then and has been succeeded by his son David. That night was incredibly meaningful to us as we reconnected with friends from so many different seasons of our life: some who over forty years ago were at this same church and who came to our wedding, a bunch of CBS family campers who we’ve painfully missed the past two and a half years, one of the couples we married in July, and even some family members (including Lisa who totally surprised us by showing up!). We were so humbled by the many who came out and by their responsiveness and sweet affirmations. Brent and Melissa Slezak did a great job putting the evening together.
Saturday night, after driving back up to Santa Clarita to watch Brandon play basketball at 9 am Saturday morning, we spoke for the Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills date night. Hosted by Michael and Amber Descalzo, guests were treated to light appetizers and desserts as they sat around round tables and heard two talks. Once again, a number of attendees were CBS family campers (including one of the young couples we married last October) and were high energy and very engaged. With all the discouraging news about marriage these days, it gives us such great joy to encourage and affirm God’s good news about marriage.
We spent late Saturday night with our dear friend Wendy Turney before returning to the Rock Community Church Sunday morning where we had the privilege of speaking on relationships to the junior/senior high Sunday school class. We were very impressed with the attentiveness and participation of the students as we shared with them the very counter-culture message of the gospel regarding relationships. In the midst of so many distortions and so much confusion, they seemed to appreciate the straightforward presentation of Biblical truth. We loved being with them.
After having lunch with our dear friends, the Bushnells, we were off to Riverside, where we spent our last 21 hours in California with daughter Lisa. A hike, pedicures, and a lesson using her new Insta-Pot filled our time, which is never enough, and we were off to LAX in the early morning. Saying good-bye to Lisa is always a low.
As hard as some of the moments of this month have been, it is so good to know that He is with us in the lows as well as the highs.