Butterfly Song

The blog posts I never finished . . .

Happy Veterans’ Day 2015

Since last writing, we’ve spent a good amount of time in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, helping Julie and Derek get settled in their new home. What fun it is to see this “house”—which is so right for them—becoming their home.  God has provided so generously!

And today, we not only honor those to whom we owe an un-repayable debt of gratitude for serving and protecting our country, but we rejoice in the birth of our fourth grandchild! Julie gave birth to Rachel Ann at 9:36 this morning, after a stellar job of laboring and a hasty job of delivering. Rachel weighs in at 7#10 oz and is 20” long. She looks a lot like her brother Nathan at this point. We are all so very thankful for a healthy and safe delivery and child. At the invitation of Derek and Julie, I was privileged to be a part of the birthing team and I treasured every moment of participating in that very sacred event. Paul and I are so thankful to be able to love on Nathan and to support Derek and Julie during this wonderful transition.
Derek, Julie and Nathan welcome baby Rachel to their family.

Happy Thanksgiving 2015!!

Whoops! Didn’t quite get this done and posted on Veteran’s Day, so here we find ourselves flying west to celebrate Thanksgiving with the California girls!  Soon after Rachel’s birth, we did steal away for about 30 hours to Schenectady, NY, to speak for the First Presbyterian Church’s marriage conference. It’s always an honor to be invited anywhere to speak once, but it certainly is a double honor to be invited back. We were with this group  in 2012 and it was a joy to reunite with them. Re-visits always provide opportunities to go deeper relationally and that was certainly true this weekend. God was with us and we were most grateful. 

Al and Bonnie Magill and Bill and Helen Challener were part of the marriage conference leadership team for First Pres Schenectady.
It was a special joy to be with these four.

We returned to Derek and Julie’s for a few days before touching home base, primarily for counseling and the Patriot studies.  Our pre-Thanksgiving women’s study focuses on making apple pies from scratch and we had a great time producing many beautiful (and tasty) pies.   

Hard at work, working together . . . many hands make many pies.


We also were privileged to speak at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom while we were home. Reconnecting with dear friends and ministry partners is always a highlight of speaking at Grace.

Connie Lawrence and Joy Coonradt have faithfully served Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel for years now.  So good to reconnect with them!

We’re spending Thanksgiving in California, and it’s been a wonderful week. One of the perks of Lisa being a professor at California Baptist University is that she has this whole week off. It’s been such a delight to have her with us: visiting my mom, “Grammie Essie,” for a few days, catching up with several treasured friends, watching UCLA women play JMU women (Lisa has served as Athletic Trainer for both of these teams!), spending two days in Pixley with Paul’s family who gathered at the family farm, and enjoying Thanksgiving with the Garcias. We also happily connected with some of our dearest CBS friends while out west. It was a great trip.

Lisa, Paul, and I walk the Coronado Beach at sunset.
Does it get any better than this?

The Garcias hosted the Dreves for a Saturday brunch . . .
and fun was truly had by all.

We were thrilled to share a lunch with our dear friends and ministry partners, Bob and Carol Kraning—especially after Bob’s near death heart attack episode this fall. These are “salt of the earth” people and we’re so thankful they’re in our life.
On our bucket list has been seeing Austin Tebay on the stage, and we were fortunate to see him perform in “Beauty and the Beast” while out west this trip. We didn’t get to shake his hand, but we did get to deliver specially made cookies to his parents, David and Carrie Tebay, also dear friends and ministry partners.
A couple of days in San Diego with my mom and siblings . . .
We were happy to be there to celebrate my sister Melissa’s birthday with a cinnamon-roll-centered brunch.
And since we were in the neighborhood, we squeezed in a short but sweet visit with our dear friends, Danny and Stacia Woodhead, and their now three children. What fun to meet little Maisy and to catch up with our ex-Pats-turned-Chargers. My mom, a rabid Charger fan, was happy to talk shop with Danny.
Our Thanksgiving table.  We were delighted to have my second cousins, Madeline and Abby Shiell, and LeeLee Jackson, a mentee of Gabe and Kari’s, join the gathering.

Our two days on the family farm in Pixley went far too quickly, but we did manage to get the annual family football game in: east vs. west.
I think we tied, though the west may disagree.  :)  

One last event before we flew home: it was a joy to attend stage manager Kelsey O’Keeffe’s production of “A Christmas Memory” and to sit with her parents, our dear friends, Dawn and Jim.

Happy December and Merry Christmas 2015

Well, this obviously didn’t get posted in November, so here we go!

We returned to Boston just after Thanksgiving, in time for more Patriot studies, counseling, and Engagement Matters!  We were delighted to have a critical mass show up for EM which we recognize is held during a tough time of the year.  Hosted again by the Bilazarians, we had a dynamic, interactive, lively group that pondered facets of marriage in thought-provoking ways. We were aided by Carl and Cathy Blatchley and Peter and Lois Blatchley, each couple taking one day to assist Melanie Bilazarian in the kitchen.  Ryan Plosker joined us to present his and Kelly’s talk “The Top Ten Things” (Kelly was out of town attending her grandmother’s funeral, unfortunately) and he did a great job flying solo.

We were especially pleased to have Derek, Julie, Nathan, and Rachel with us for several days during this week as Derek had business in the area. We are loving having these guys so close!!

We thoroughly enjoyed speaking in to the lives of these couples considering marriage at Engagement Matters.

 The Johnsons get a family walk in as night falls.

Off to St. Louis we flew on the 11th of December for our annual visit with Grant and Emily Williams and their daughters.  How we love this family! They started the Patriot’s couples’ study 16 years ago, and we’ve been deeply involved with them since. We love seeing how the Lord continues to work out His purposes for this precious family. As first-generation Christians, they are committed to establishing a Godly legacy from this generation forward. We loved doing life with them for a few days—we always leave inspired.

The tradition continues: our annual visit with Grant and Emily Williams and their daughters 

An added bonus of our St. Louis visit was catching up with Wes and Anna Welker and meeting their precious 4-month-old twins.

We got home just in time to make a boatload of cinnamon rolls for our final Patriots women’s study. Our group was so large this year (about 20 usually attended) that we couldn’t make the rolls together as we have in the past. So I baked 20 pans of rolls at our home after getting back in town early afternoon on the 15th, and had them ready for our study on the 16th. That’s a lot of dough.  :)  So fun!

The first ones who arrived to our final study got a sneak preview of the cinnamon rolls they would take home.

Our study has bonded in a deeper way this year for several reasons, but the biggest is that we’ve come alongside our friend and Patriots wife, Lexi Solder, whose 3-month-old son was diagnosed with kidney cancer in October. When asked in one of our early studies what our greatest fear was, every mother in the group said, “That something would happen to my child/ren."  We were all beyond shocked and deeply grieved when Lexi shared about Hudson’s battle. The prognosis is good, though the journey is excruciating, and we have all tried to rally around Nate and Lexi as they walk through this dark valley. Though relatively young in Christ, Nate and Lexi’s faith and confidence in the Lord has been so heartening. The situation has challenged all of us to evaluate our faith and our beliefs and much growth has happened as a result. Please pray for this dear family. Hudson has recently begun his third round of chemotherapy as the doctors attempt to shrink the tumors in both his kidneys to an operable size.  

Pictured are some of the women who attended the Wednesday study all fall. Lexi is holding Hudson in the center back of the photo.

The following night we wrapped up the Couples Study with a sweet time of sharing what the gospel means in every day life. We’ll miss meeting with this group again ’til next fall.  

Many of the couples who attended the couples study this fall.  Our hearts for them are so deep.

Gasp!  Christmas is right around the corner!  And as you can read, we haven’t been home much to get ready. Five days after our final Pats study, our home will be filled with children and grandchildren: everyone’s coming home for a White Christmas . . . or at least for Christmas. Lots to do, and so little time to do it in, but here goes.

Sewing jammies.  Wrapping presents. Mailing packages. Preparing food and menus. Readying the house. Making ornaments. Gingerbread house dough. Cookies. Raspberry jam. Crossing off items on the list. Trying not to add to the list. And in the end, being okay with what was and wasn’t done.

What a joy to have all 11 of us in Bedford for the holidays. Though the adults outnumbered the kids (7 to 4), it didn’t seem like it very often. Two 2-year-olds amplify everything: activity, noise, mischief—I mean, curiosity—happiness, sadness, and delight. What a difference three more "littles" make, the increase since our last all-family Christmas reunion in 2011.  

Christmas Eve unfolded traditionally: church followed by dinner (shared with our chosen family friends Paul and Dawn Amico and their three), and the Happy Birthday Jesus party.  It was a “couldn’t have gone better” evening together as we celebrated friendship, food, and of course, Jesus. After the Amicos left, we opened our new jammies (so we’d look presentable for Christmas morning photos) and our kids-turned-parents were tasked with wrapping their kids gifts and filling their stockings.  

Happy Birthday, Jesus!
The “fam” on Christmas Eve

The Amicos with the gingerbread house we made for them.
Ready for bed in new Christmas jammies…

The littlest “little,” modeling her matching jammies

Christmas morning seemed like days gone by, as 5-year-old Brandon and 2-year-olds Ana and Nathan discovered the Baby in the manger, the stockings full and overflowing, and presents under the tree. Shouts of glee and unmitigated joy underscored the delight of Christmas as gifts were ripped open and identified as “This is just what I wanted!" Unlike days gone by, gifts unwrapped included Star Wars action figures, light sabers, Lego sets, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. On the other hand, Ana’s dolls, princess jewelry, and a pink tent seemed very familiar. We managed to not rush through the time, savoring the moments and the blessing of being together.

Ana is ready for Christmas breakfast.

Out-of-the-park delight with her new Olaf slippers.

“Just what I wanted!

Brandon’s light saber makes it into Nathan’s hands and he’s mesmerized.

Brief but sweet afternoon visit with Patty and Kimmie Benes . . .
more chosen family

We welcomed Paul and Christie Borthwick, Felicia Collazzo, and Hank Bazigian to our Christmas dinner, continuing a tradition that has happened for years now whenever we’re in town for Christmas. We all love these guys who just expand our family that day.  After yummy food, great fellowship, overwhelming generosity, and farewells, at the end of the non-white, 60-degree Christmas Day, we were full and overflowing with gratitude, joy, and exhaustion.

Christmas dinner

The celebration continued on the 26th with a morning visit from our well-loved John and Marilyn Nugent. Always love to have these guys back in town. Traditions now fulfilled, we turned our attention to packing and getting on the road. The next four nights would be spent on Newfound Lake, at Birchaven, a cabin made available to us by friends for the continuation of our reunion.

The morning after, with John and Marilyn Nugent.

We truly couldn’t have had better days. A spacious cabin, with good space for each family unit, a great dinner meal prepared daily by a different family each night, and an 8” snowfall—fulfilling our dreams of at least a white post-Christmas and providing hours of fun sledding and mock snow-boarding. We relaxed and had nothing to do except enjoy being together. As fun as Christmas was, I think we’d all agree that the days at the cabin were the best.

The “littles” are checking to see if the Gigi Cakes
(aka cinnamon chip scones) are ready yet.

Family devotions, doing the Butterfly Song.  Everyone’s favorite!

Family walk in light rain, the day before the snow.

Nathan wasn’t quite sure what to think of this cold white stuff
(a first for him) but everyone else loved it.

Papa and Brandon had a blast sledding tandem.

Of course! Snow ice cream!! Another first for the next generation.

All too quickly our long-awaited, thoroughly enjoyed family reunion came to an end. We celebrated our final night together with dinner out while the Sweeneys kept the children. It was the perfect ending to a happily memorable time.

Happy New Year 2016!!

Finally!!  The first 3.5 weeks of 2016 have been a mixture of work and play. Believe it or not, we were pretty exhausted by the time we sent our kids off from our reunion, so we took advantage of an invitation to speak in Kauai Jan. 15-16 and flew to the Big Island on the 4th to grab some R & R. Thanks to the generosity of one of our dearest friends, we had a condo to stay in and we spent 7 days frolicking in Hawaii. We hiked, swam, snorkeled; watched turtles, sunsets, and whales; we rested, recreated, and were renewed.  It was just what we needed to decompressed from 2015 and to prepare for a very full 2016. What a gift!!

Overlooking the Wai’pi’o Valley on the northern shore of Kona, just before we hiked 1 mile straight down. Fortunately, we made it back up!

On to Kauai for the conference, we went 2 days early so we could do more of the same there.  Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck, of Global Algae Innovations (and long time friends from Campus by the Sea), sponsored and hosted the conference, and we thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with them for the days prior to the conference. The second annual conference, held Friday night and Saturday, and focused on both marriage and parenting, was well attended and well received. The attendance more than doubled from last year and the third annual conference is already in the works. God met us in very significant ways as follow-up conversations revealed that many experienced healing and hope for their marriage and family.

On to Kauai, we hike the first 4 miles of the NaPali Trail, to this magnificent waterfall, and then walked the 4 miles back.
It was challenging and glorious.

Yes, that’s your man Paul standing under the waterfall.
Someone had to take the photo, so I sacrificed getting in that 55-degree water to be the photographer.  

We drove to Waimea Canyon on Kauai,
the Grand Canyon of the Islands. Magnificent.
After most had left, we grabbed this photo of a very small but delightful remnant of the conference attendees.
Sunset, crashing surf, and a great model.

We hopped a red-eye to Los Angeles soon after the Kauai conference ended so we could care for Brandon and Ana while their parents attended a pastors’ retreat with their church. The bonus was having Lisa with us Sunday and Monday, too, and we had great fun without the parents.  :) Because Lisa was with us and could help with the kids, we did manage to schedule some counseling, as well as a mentoring evening with our mentors John and Grace Tebay. The Tebays have been influencing Paul since 1968 and the two of us together since they helped marry us in 1976. We count every minute with them sacred. At 80 and 82, they have slowed down a bit physically, but not in any other way. Their wisdom and Christ-likeness inspires and instructs us. What a gift they are!

And speaking of gifts, we were gifted admission to Disneyland on Tuesday, the 19th, by a dear friend and Disney employee.  Just the 4 of us.  From 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. we took the parks by storm, enjoying perfect overcast-but-not-cold weather and light crowds.  23,000 steps later (on my Fitbit), we trudged to our car, leaving the Magic Kingdom in our rear view mirror (but taking it in our hearts). In Brandon’s words, “It was the Best. Day. Ever.”  We have to agree!!

The “littles” with the Mouse.
Eleven hours and 23K steps later, we leave the park.
Guess you could say we made a day of it. 

On to Arroyo Grande for the weekend to speak for a conference emphasizing family relationships in marriage and parenting.  We’ve partnered with Grace Bible Church for about a decade now and we love this church. Since we were there last year, a new pastor has been installed and we so enjoyed connecting with him and his wife, Jason and Andrea Whalen. A much larger than expected crowd showed up at each section of the conference, which is a nice problem to have.  We are so excited about the vision Jason has for the church and for building in to marriage and families. It was a privilege to continue the partnership.

Tom and Betsy Newell were instrumental in running the conference in Arroyo Grande . . .

. . . as were Paul and Sherri Masters, who treated us to a fabulous home-cooked meal of freshly caught fish. Yum!!

Though back home for only 48 hours, we flew to Boston Sunday during the AFC Championship game and were heartbroken for our team to learn of our loss to the Broncos when we landed—but life moves on. New England Patriots fans have been indulged great success for 15 years now and though we fell short of our goal this year, we’re very proud of our team that pushed beyond tremendous adversity and injuries to make it to the “final four.” And the 2016 season is just around the corner. Go Pats!!

Okay. I’m going to press with this overdue, too-long blog, with a commitment to not let this happen again. No more unfinished blogs in 2016.

May God draw each of us more deeply in to His heart in this new year.

One of the Best

The sun sets on another summer at Campus by the Sea.

The rhythmic sound of the tide coming and going over the rolling rocks has been replaced by early morning loons calling from the placid waters of Newfound Lake, and we know we’re not at Campus by the Sea this week. Just like that, seven weeks of living at “a little piece of heaven by the sea” is history and we’re off and running at Berea for two weeks of Family Camp.  

We begin these weeks at Berea with hearts overflowing with gratitude for the incredible ways God met us and showed His faithfulness at CBS. The summer theme of “Living to the praise of His glory” taken from Ephesians 1 set the bar. That theme was woven through the curriculum, the worship, and the devotions. We challenged our staff (and ourselves) to process all decisions, thoughts, and actions through the rubric of “Will this help me live to the praise of His glory?” It showed. Consistently the staff chose to serve whole-heartedly, to embrace the opportunities unique to an “off the grid” discipleship community, and to live honorably in the community by submitting to the community standards. It was a delightfully productive, drama-free summer, marked by deep solidarity and growth. Nothing but gratitude.

We served together, learned together, grew together, played together, hiked together, laughed together, cried together. We chose to honor one another by loving well, encouraging each other, and helping each other grow.  As masks came off during our 49-day community experience, we chose to accept idiosyncrasies and challenge ungodliness. We learned to love those we found hard to love. We rediscovered how good it was to have real time conversations face-to-face, and we regained oodles of hours normally eaten up by Facebook, video games, texting, etc.  We helped each other “live to the praise of His glory.”  It was a rich, growth-producing summer.

Since a “picture paints a thousand words,” I’m posting numerous photos representing staff life, Summer 2015.

The entire staff team: facilities, program, and year-round staff.
The program staff.

The “staff only” annual shore hike . . . pausing at Frog Rock.

For the first time in a long while, the 4th of July fell on Saturday,
so we rented the "Blanche W” and took the staff in to watch the fireworks in Avalon Harbor, followed by a flying fish tour.  Such a fun night!

Every Saturday night the staff enjoyed Paul’s freshly baked
chocolate chip cookies—much to their delight.
The annual tea party for staff women was delightful.

In a most unusual twist, Family Camp 5 arrived in RAIN, and in order to keep our campers as dry as possible, the our staff cheerfully got drenched.

The annual staff-only hike to Lone Tree took place during Family Camp 5,
and though it didn’t draw a large crowd, those who went had a great time.
The “Staff Coffeehouse” was resurrected this summer, featuring some great acts as well as some great desserts.  “Pavlova” a la Vonny was the biggest hit.

Into town for our “staff appreciation dinner” to celebrate our seven weeks of serving together.

Dave and Vonny were our “right hand people” serving as the “deans” of the staff cove,
Little Gallagher’s, as well as leading the college group.
Vonny also directed the elementary program.  So thankful for them!

All six weeks of family camp were full of great teaching, incredible fellowship, and numerous moments of being showered by God’s grace. Decisions were made for Christ. Hope was given to struggling marriages. Baptisms were celebrated. Parents and children were encouraged to work together as a team. Milk jug boats were entered in the “Annual Boat Race.” Square dancing on the basketball court was repeated six times, but was never tired of. The game show, “Go for the glory,” was wildly popular. Worship under the stars, around the campfire ring, followed by s’mores . . . unbeatable.  

The host and hostess of “Go For the Glory” . . . stylin’!!

We were also beyond thankful to have our whole immediate family at camp, as well as many of our extended family.  What a joy to have our grandchildren loving the program, singing the “Butterfly Song”, and hanging out with Papa and Gigi.  This feels like it’s coming full circle.

The “fam” minus Gabe, who had returned to the mainland to lead 
the college missions trip from his church.

Nathan helps Papa ring the bell for announcements.

A bunch of Friesens, Herbsts, Rottschafers, Clarks, Oertlis, Millers, and Stucks.
So fun to have them all at camp!

The original 3: Kari, Julie, and Lisa.

Some big changes within our family happened during these seven weeks. Julie, Derek, and Nathan have moved stateside from Uganda, settling near Lemoyne, PA (outside of Harrisburg), to spend the foreseeable future working at the CURE headquarters. Derek’s new role will be in development and long-term sustainability. Though it was very hard to leave all they love in Uganda, they are looking forward to their new life in Pennsylvania, especially as they await the birth of their second child in early November.

Lisa has resigned her position as head athletic trainer for UCLA women’s basketball and on Aug. 17 will assume the position of Associate Professor at California Baptist University (CBU) located in Riverside, CA.  She’ll teach two undergrad and two master’s level athletic training courses and is looking forward to a more normal schedule, with improved work/life balance.  She’ll leave a large portion of her heart at UCLA with the student athletes she has served and loved so well, as well with her athletic training colleagues. We’ll continue to follow the Lady Bruins with support and love.

We’re still finding it hard to believe that our summer at CBS is over . . . but it will surely go down in history as one of the best.

We Must Stop Blinking

It happened again. We blinked. And suddenly we’re on opening day of orientation for summer staff at Campus by the Sea. Really???  Did’t we just wrap up the summer of 2014?  We must stop blinking.

So here we are, on a plane to Los Angeles, where we’ll be met by daughter Lisa who will deliver us to the boat terminal. There we’ll meet up with several dozen eager/anxious summer staff who will begin the exciting/challenging process of becoming a community in seven weeks or less.

This never gets old.

We’re (obviously) getting older…but this never gets old. We love Campus by the Sea and we love family camp. An unbeatable combination.

Before we land on the desert island later today, I’ll catch up with ourselves by reviewing the past month.  Right after returning from Pennsylvania late on May 17th, we had one day to get ourselves (and our home) together, one full day of counseling, and then we welcomed my sister Laura and her husband David for a brief but very sweet visit. In just over 24 hours, we met them in Ogunquit for lobster rolls with a dear friend of theirs, walked and talked miles and hours, and staged a small and very successful surprise party for Laura on her May 21st birthday. Loved every minute of it and hated to send them off mid-afternoon Thursday, but to quote my mom, “we’re thankful for every minute we get to spend with them.”  We always lament how sorry we are we’re not neighbors. 

Barbara Steele and Betty Ann Bleu joined us in surprising Laura on her birthday.  So fun!!

And just like that, it was Memorial Day Weekend and we were off to Cumberland Wilderness Retreat to launch their first family camp. Through the collaborative efforts of Nate and Jeannie King (with whom we’ve had a long relationship and partnership in ministry) and Keith and Marcia Thompson (long time friends of the Kings), we had the privilege of experiencing family camp for the first time with a group of 15 families.

Because family camp to us is more familiar and broken-in than a well-worn Rainbow Sandal, we can forget how unusual in the best sort of way this experience can be. For the 13 families for whom this was totally new, it rocked their world. And mind you, we were not in a highly developed, well-resourced conference center. Oh no. We were camping. Porta-potties, outdoor grill, a big sideless tent to meet under . . . on the ground. Yes, we were camping and everyone loved it. Just several hours in to it, a 6-year-old boy raised his hand enthusiastically and asked, “Are we going to get to tell you what we think of family camp?”  “Sure,” answered Nate King, who was emceeing.  “This is the BEST camp ever!!” he exclaimed.

And so it went.  We had all the normal components of family camp: adult small groups followed by teaching on family and marriage by us, a great kids program, lots of intergenerational interaction, worship, hiking, swimming, and s’mores at the end of the day—all working together to affirm the goodness of community, of family, of celebrating God’s generosity in nature, in relationships, and in life. It couldn’t have gone better, to be honest, and we were pleased to join ranks with the Thompsons and Kings in helping to make this happen.

“If I were a butterfly, I’d thank you Lord for giving me wings . . .”  These families joined the ranks of those who have wildly embraced the simple but profound truth of this song.

The outdoor kitchen: breakfast on a grill!

Fishing was a favorite pastime and all who got their lines wet were
handsomely rewarded with many fish . . .

. . . which fed the group on our last night.  Best fish fry ever.

Baptisms were done at the quarry lake and it was very inspiring to see
five young ones proclaim their desire to follow Christ.

The family camp photo!

Final moments of family camp, gathering around the Thompson family
as they move from the area so Keith can attend seminary.

The founding families: The Thompsons and the Kings,
after three exhausting days of serving everyone at camp. Tired but content.

Back to Boston Wednesday afternoon, with counseling on Thursday, then off to California on Friday, May 29.  No, we didn’t unpack completely. The purpose of the trip was to attend the Celebration of Life service honoring Garth Dougan, held in Santa Rosa on May 30.  We took advantage of the trip and spent 8 hours on Friday meeting with the interim director of Campus by the Sea, Ray and Diane Schnickels, and the veteran leaders of camp, Greg and Wendy Jones.  Our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent opened their home for our marathon meeting, providing a quiet, lovely setting in which to get lots done. We were thrilled to have time with this team, especially as we adjust to the transition from working under Dave and Kim Noble the past six summers. We consider them dear friends and will truly miss them, but are very thankful that Ray and Diane will serve in the interim. They have deep spiritual passion and will be used by God in a big way for however long they stay.

Saturday, May 30, was Garth’s service and it was beautifully orchestrated by his daughter Eileen. It was so good to be able to both grieve and celebrate together as those who loved Garth deeply.  Lisa joined us for the service, and I know her presence meant a lot to Rosemary.  We enjoyed reconnecting with many longtime CBS friends as well.  

Many of the CBS contingent who attended Garth’s Celebration of Life service in Santa Rosa.
Lisa and Rosemary sharing the love.

The last two weeks have been a blur of counseling, meetings, packing, cleaning, socializing, having houseguests, preparing for the summer, preparing our house to be used by friends in our absence, etc. They’ve zoomed by!  We’ve been thankful to have the time at home to get these things done before we begin our marathon summer of family camps.

So here we are.  We are in the midst of staff orientation this week and are beyond thankful for the great team the Lord has brought together.  Early indications from our program staff meetings are that we have a wonderful group of students who are passionate about loving and serving Jesus.  Our times in the Word have been rich and deep and we’re quickly becoming a cohesive group.  Our all-staff meetings (facilities and program) have also been marked by camaraderie and unity. We are anticipating a fruitful, growth-filled summer. Thanks in advance for praying for us.

We’re mostly “off the grid” for the summer, so our cell phones are off (no reception in this cove) and we’re avoiding Facebook. We’ll be online (email) in a limited fashion and I can’t say we’re sorry.  It is heavenly to be free from most distractions here in this sacred cove.

I know we’ll likely forget not to blink, and August 2 will be here and we’ll be heading to New England for family camps at Camp Berea. Just like that. Blessings on your summer.  May you find time and space in which to be refreshed and renewed.

First program staff meeting 2015.

First “selfie” with 18 staff who hiked Scar for the first of many times.

Welcoming Joe Yardley to the team on Wednesday, flying in from NC after orientation at UNC.

Good-bye and Hello

Only a very few days into the new year, we said good-bye to one of the best gifts to us from the years we served on the staff of Grace Chapel.  Claude Cole, 94-years-old, was released from his suffering body as he breathed his last on earth.  Though it wasn't "hard" to accept his death (as it is with early or tragic deaths), we experienced a profound sense of loss accompanying our deep gratitude to the Lord for allowing our lives to intersect on such a personal level with such a great man.

At Claude's 90th birthday celebration, he and Forestine are flanked by four of their great fans: John and Marilyn Nugent and us.

Claude was a faithful man of God, who, along with his wife, Forestine, joined forces with four other couples back in 1948 and prayed and sacrificed to birth Grace Chapel.  As recounted by his daughter Claudia at his funeral, he was a man of extraordinary faith whose belief in God's power and presence was unshakeable.

Though many things endeared us to Claude, at the top of the list (behind his faith) was his commitment to and love for his precious Forestine.  His love for her not only never wavered, but seemed to grow stronger when the effects of her dementia became impossible to ignore.  Statistically, when a man is afflicted with Alzheimers Disease, 70% of their wives stay with them and care for them.  When a wife is so afflicted, only 30% of their husbands stay with them and care for them.  We knew Claude was in the cream of the crop long before Forestine began losing her mind, but through the years of caring for her until her death, Claude demonstrated over and over the stuff he was made of.  He was deeply in love with her all his days.  He set the bar.

So 2012 was ushered in with Claude's farewell, and Paul did a beautiful job of tributing him at his funeral.  We were so thankful that our whole family was able to attend the funeral the morning prior to Derek catching his flight to Uganda and Gabe, Kari, and Brandon catching their flight to Sacramento.  Our desire to meet up with Thora Eames (who along with her husband Elliot was one of the five GC-founding couples) was also fulfilled that day, as she came up from Duxbury to pay tribute to Claude.  (The Cole and Eames families were best friends for many years.)  We were all so happy to catch up with this dear friend whose "full speed ahead" life at 94 inspires us!!!

After Claude's funeral, we caught up with our beloved Thora.

Julie, Lisa, and I drove down to southern Pennsylvania on Friday, Jan. 6, so Julie could attend a prep course for her Physical Therapy board exam.  Continuing to seize fleeting moments with influential elders, Lisa and I visited Barbara Boyd on Saturday while Julie was in class.  Barbara, now 88, was one of Paul's parents’ best friends and colleagues.  She retired from a lifelong career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship some years ago after faithfully investing in making disciples through the discipleship program she developed for IVCF, Bible and Life.  I was thrilled that Lisa was able to hear stories of her grandparents from one who knew them very well...and to hear the heart of a devoted woman of God whose life didn't go exactly as planned.  Barbara's fiance, Ralph Willoughby, a promising Christian leader and rising star, died 4 days after contracting an unidentified virus, and Barbara has never met a man she wanted to marry after him.... "yet!" she said with a twinkle and a smile.  Far from bitter, Barbara lights up as she speaks of the unmitigated joy she's had in serving her Lord by helping others discover the matchless riches of His Word.  Listening to her talk was sacred, to be honest.  What a privilege.  So now, only Kari hasn't met this remarkable lady and I'm praying that day will come.

Lisa continued south to Harrisonburg as Julie and I returned to New England on Sunday, Jan. 8.  It was great to get home to a de-Christmased home (thank you, Paul!) and to spend a few days regrouping following our wonderful two-week Christmas vacation with our kids.  Especially fun was having Julie with us for the month as she continued preparing for her PT boards.  Counseling resumed, we had a H.I.M. Board meeting, and we were quickly back in the saddle.

Fifteen families gathered at the Boxborough Holiday Inn over Martin Luther King's holiday weekend for our annual Family Mid-Winter Getaway, and the balmy weather departed just in time for a cold weekend, making the indoor swimming pool even more appreciated.  It's a very low-key weekend with minimal programming, and lots of time for hanging out, enjoying community.  We were especially impressed with the teens, who fully integrated with the younger kids and made it a very fun weekend for all. They give us great hope for the next generation.

Brian Dietz once again lead worship for the Family Mid-Winter Getaway and had enthusiastic support for the "Butterfly Song" from all ages.

The family groups circle up for discussion during the "program" time of the weekend.

It was also really nice to celebrate a big Patriots win over the Broncos that weekend.  The last two Family Mid-winter getaways have not produced such good results for our boys, so we all enjoyed the win.  However, we also agreed that we're all big Tebow fans, so we're sorry he had to lose in order for us to win that weekend.  Even so, there was plenty of Tebow talk throughout the weekend as we all could celebrate his incredible impact on the NFL world with the message of the gospel, which leaves all things temporal (even football) in the dust.  What a difference maker he is!!

We hit the road the next weekend, after a month's hiatus from airports.  Off to Rome and Athens (in Georgia!) we went, after flying in to Atlanta.  It was such a joy to be picked up at the airport by Nate and Jeannie King, and to have many hours with them throughout the weekend as they served as our personal chauffeurs.  Our speaking engagement was with the 1st Presbyterian Church of Rome, and their annual marriage conference was held in the Brasstown Resort.  It was such an upscale place that the rain all weekend didn't really dampen anyone's experience!  This was the second year in a row we've done their marriage conference, so we felt very connected with the group.  We had a great weekend.

As soon as the conference ended on Sunday, the Kings whisked us up to Athens, GA, where we had a very important date with the TV to watch the AFC playoff game.  :)  We had the privilege of watching it with Kevin "Chappie" and Mikki Hynes, who serve with FCA at University of Georgia.  Mikki's brother is Coach Mark Richt, head coach of Georgia football and the one who honored James David Eunice (our 17-year-old friend who died a year ago in a duck hunting accident) with a Georgia jersey at his funeral.   Small world.  "Chappie" lacks no enthusiasm for football so we held nothing back in that nail-biter of a game against the Ravens.  Whew!!

Minutes after the Patriots defeated the Ravens, we pose for a celebratory shot with the Hynes family, Nate and Jeannie King, and Jill Perry.  Go Pats!!

With our hearts still racing and our adrenaline still pumping, we drove with Chappie and Jill Perry, also on FCA staff, to the campus to speak to the FCA meeting that night.  What fun!  To a room packed full of Division I athletes, we talked relationships and God's design.  It was very energizing for us and thought-provoking for them, which spawned many conversations long after the talk ended.  We loved it.  We were so encouraged by what's happening through FCA at UGA.

After most of the attendees had dispersed, we gathered the remnant for this shot after the FCA meeting at UGA.

Interacting with a very responsive crowd, we felt right at home at the FCA meeting.

A shot into the crowd . . . athletes from football, basketball, gymnastics, tennis, track and field, etc., gathered to talk about relationships.

Jill Perry wrote the following day: "It was a wonderful night. The students I meet with for weekly discipleship have shared with me how much it deeply impacted them. We had a huge turnout! What a blessing!”

I can assure you, the blessing was ours.  We love to interact with students who are leaning in to a godly view of relationship rather than a cultural view.  As we said to them, our great sadness for their generation is that they've been lied to since they were little about their sexuality and the nature and purpose of relationships.  For many of them, gaining a Biblical perspective is relatively new.  What a joy to be part of that process.

We flew back to Boston on Monday (after getting at least a couple of hours with the four precious King children) and we made the most of the 24 hours we were home to help Julie with her final preparations for moving to Uganda as soon as her boards were taken on Monday, Jan. 30.  We did a few errands, some baking, a bit of sewing - but mostly we marveled at how much work she had done and how well organized and prepared she was for this major transition.  We squeezed everything we could out of those brief hours and then boarded a plane for Spokane, WA, to partner for the 4th time in 5 years with the Moses Lake Alliance Church (MLAC).  We have very deep hearts for this congregation and are so honored to return.

Though short, we had a sweet morning with the King children before leaving GA for home.

Kent (executive pastor of MLAC) and Staci Copley picked us up and we picked up with one another as good friends do.  We really do love hanging with these guys and their daughters, Tori and Britni.  We are terribly amused by one another on one hand, but also have deep and significant conversations, so we always enjoy being with them.  We not only admire their ministry hearts, but we respect them greatly as parents.  Their daughters reflect the best of parenting as they are well behaved and respectful as well as being tons of fun.  It's a joy to stay in their home.

Kent and Staci Copley with their daughters Britni and Tori are always a delight to hang with.

Not that we were there much!  We arrived in time Wednesday to go directly to church to speak on relationships to both the middle schoolers and the high school group.  Both groups were receptive and interactive and it was clear that the families and the staff at MLAC have a strong commitment to teaching Biblical design to their kids.  Refreshing!

Thursday morning, we spoke to a group of women on parenting and marriage.  Caryn Bowser, the lead pastor's wife, served up a lovely brunch at the church (and explained to me, "I want them to feel as though they're coming to our home!".)  She accomplished that!  It was a sweet time.  Paul baked cookies with the girls in the afternoon and then we were off to speak to a very cool event that evening.  The "Ministerial Association" of Moses Lake invited to us to speak for a special night out for the local pastors.  A phenomenal dinner was served by the local country club (seriously good steak!) and after some time of worship, we spoke on balancing ministry and marriage.  It was very encouraging for us to see pastors and wives from about 15 different churches in Moses Lake communing with one another rather than competing with each other.  They are clearly committed to working together for the Kingdom which can only be good for the people of Moses Lake!  Walking shoulder to shoulder in unity is so consistent with the heart of the gospel. We loved being a part of that.

Friday we drove up to Clearwater Lodge in Newport, WA, and began the marriage conference.  It was like a family reunion of sorts, as this is the 4th conference we've done for them and we have deep hearts for these folks.  Lots of laughter and fun interaction throughout the weekend, along with rapt attention during the times of teaching.  It was especially meaningful to us that Jody (lead pastor) and Caryn Bowser were there.  It makes a bit statement to a congregation when pastoral staff prioritize a marriage conference.  And they weren't "just" there.  Jody led worship and played songs we haven't heard since the 70's.  (When was the last time you heard "Blind Man"?)  It was fun to actually know all the songs!  A definite advantage of having a more "mature" worship leader.  :)

Jody and Caryn Bowswer and Kent and Staci Copley are providing Godly leadership for the congregation at Moses Lake Alliance Church.

The conferees at the MLAC marriage retreat.  We have grown to deeply love this group.

It was a great weekend and we were truly sorry when it came to a close.  Kent and Staci sped us off to the airport to catch an early afternoon flight so we could be home in time to take Julie to her Board exam in the morning.  Thankfully, there were no complications and we made it by the time the clock struck twelve midnight.

The long anticipated Boards came and went on Monday, and hours later, Julie and I flew to London.  Why not?  Julie's husband, Derek, flew up from Uganda to get some dental work done, and more importantly, to retrieve his wife.  We've spent the last three days enjoying London, the highlights of which were staying in the lovely Ashburton Bed and Breakfast in Chorleywood (owned and operated by Nick and Olive Vale, whose daughter, Tiffany, lives in Mbale volunteering for an NGO there), seeing the stage play "Les Miserables", spending a day with our lifelong friend, Kelsey Offield, and eating some great meals.  Of course the highest light was hanging out with Derek and Julie.  As I fly back to Boston today, they are on a plane taking them the opposite direction to Uganda, and so their life will begin as a married couple as medical missionaries in this  developing country.

I'll admit that since their engagement 15 months ago, it has seemed to easy to think of Julie living in Africa.  It's so consistent with her long-held desire to serve underserved children in Africa.  And how can you argue with the divine orchestration of God bringing her and Derek to one another, serving children in Africa.  I've said countless times, "I'd rather have her in Africa where she feels she's exactly where God wants her than near us where we would love to have her."

I didn't feel that as convincingly this morning as we tearfully hugged good-bye at Heathrow six hours ago.  It all of a sudden feels like she's very far away, and in a curious way, she seemed awfully young and vulnerable as she waved good-bye.

Of course she's not.  Her 27th birthday is just ahead and she’s married to one of the finest men of God we've ever met.  And we all believe they're where God wants them to be for now.

Though my feelings are real and valid, they're not stronger than what I know is true.  Our good-bye this morning allows her to say "hello" to her new life, which is full of hope and promise, love and adventure, challenge and accomplishment.

And God is over all and in all.  That's most comforting of all.

Our early morning farewell at the Ashburton B and B, with innkeeper Nick Vale sending us off.

We've crossed the finish line on the Summer of 2010

Paul and I are sitting at Manchester (NH) Airport, awaiting a delayed flight which will carry us Sacramento hopefully before August 23 is over, so I will happily seize these moments to reflect on the past two weeks of family camp.  As is true for most “finish line” crossings, we are very tired...but once again, happily so.  It’s been a great run overall and we will be processing a lot from these ten weeks for a long time to come.  It’s been a very full summer of experiencing God and of witnessing Him work in unmistakable ways.
A view of Camp Berea before the campers arrive . . . it’s not Campus by the Sea, but it’s so beautiful in a completely different way!

Assembling a full staff team was a bigger challenge than usual.  Many of our CBS staff began school early or had family plans, so we supplemented with some wonderful volunteers, a couple of whom said “yes” the morning before family camp began . . . and flew from California in time to drive to Camp Berea with the rest of the team!  In the end, the Lord provided so that every grade was well staffed and all needs were met.

Staff for the first week of family camp at Berea.

Megan Forbes and the worship team lead “The Butterfly Song” at the opening night, much to the delight of many veteran family campers.

Paul leads the children’s devotions and the two contestants practice self-control successfully, doubling their “take.”
Over forty families attended this sold out camp, many of whom have made family camp a tradition for many years.  This was our 14th family camp in New England and it delights us to see families as passionate about family camp here as they are at CBS. It’s like a huge family reunion!  Many of the families we’ve known since the parents attended Engagement Matters many years ago, and we’ve journeyed with them through their weddings, the births, and the dedications of their children.  What a gift!

David Swaim spoke to the first camp and he was terrific again this year.  Each day he spoke about different aspects of the Father’s Love and was used by God in some very powerful ways.  Since he spoke last summer, he and Michelle have doubled their family size by adopting three teen-agers from Uganda (originally from Congo, but orphaned and displaced to Uganda), and it was a joy to have all of them with us.

David Swaim not only preaches powerfully, he can dance up a storm.  Here he’s pictured with his daughter Angelina, who looks semi-petrified during most of David’s energetic swing moves . . .

 . . . but was all smiles when all was said and done.
On “change-of-pace day” (known as “hike day” at CBS), we spent the day relaxing: jumping at Sculptured Rocks, swimming, and eating ice cream.  It was a great “catch up” day on sleep, which we were all feeling the lack of.  It was a fun and low-keyed day.

Sculptured Rocks is a gorgeous spot not far from Camp Berea - great for picnicking, jumping off a 10 ft. rock into very cold water below, and relaxing.  We had a blast!

We topped off the day with a Shackett’s Ice Cream stop and it’s hard to beat that.
Family Camp 1 culminated with a baby dedication and several baptisms, followed by the banquet that evening.  Each baptism was such a wonderful expression of God’s work in individual lives, celebrated in the context of Christian community.  The celebration continued that evening as person after person shared at the banquet how God was working in their lives and had met them during family camp.  The sharing was deep and meaningful and filled our hearts with joy and gratitude.

Nate and Jeannie King, along with Andrew, Emily, and Camryn, bring Brady to be dedicated at the lake.

Paul baptizes Susie Hirtle, who has grown up at family camp and is now off to a Christian college in Texas.

Joe Yardley also chose to be baptized at camp this summer.  Here he stands with his family: parents Dan and Susan and siblings James, Liz, Tim, and Abbie.

Sam Potter, another long-time family camper, was baptized as well.  His family and both sets of grandparents stand with him.

And just like that, family camp was over and we had 24 hours to regroup and prepare to make our last group of family campers feel like it was our first week of camp.  The weekend was relaxing and renewing in many ways.  Pizza Friday night was followed by a special showing of one of “clean” comedian Brian Regan’s very funny DVD’s, which was followed by watching a disappointing, extra innings loss for the Boston Red Sox.  We got over it by eating yummy homemade waffles the next morning. :)

The weekend was also highlighted by having Aimee, Chelsea, and Danny visit us from NYC.  Yes, it’s the same Aimee who met Christ at CBS during week 2, and the same Chelsea who was baptized at CBS during week 6.  Danny is a mutual friend of theirs who decided to follow Christ after seeing the dramatic transformation in Aimee when she returned from CBS.  Don’t you love the way God works??  They came to Berea to reconnect with the staff and many significant conversations were had during the course of their stay.  God is at work.

The staff were thrilled to have Aimee, Chelsea, and Danny join us for the weekend.  This photo is taken in near the cottage we rented to house some of our staff.  Here everyone takes a break from swimming and playing to mug for the camera “for the blog.”

Family Camp 2 arrived Saturday afternoon, August 14th, with even more campers than week 1.  Our biggest camp of the summer was the last!  Fortunately, we had several additional staff - Liann and Evan Wong, as well as Helen Challener and Taylor Tedford.  They were just what we needed to “fill the gaps” and we were so thankful for them.

Helen Challener joined our team for family camp 2.  She volunteered at CBS in 1978 and 1980 and proved that she hasn’t lost her touch.  She was a terrific aide for the 1st and 2nd grade class.  It was a joy to have her!

A wonderful team of “older than college students” rounded out our staff: Debbie Smith (a colleague of mine from college), Helen Challener, Susan Martis, and Liann Wong all added “years of experience” to the team and were so appreciated by both kids and parents.

Staff team for Family Camp 2
One of the traditions and highlights at Camp Berea is the all generations “finger blasters” feud.  The “harmless” nerf rockets are “fired” at the opposing team and mayhem breaks loose in the gym.  It is really fun and thoroughly enjoyed by all.  The grand finale of this family camp was having a shoot-off between Paul and me.  Much to the delight of the very competitive and vocal men, Paul “shot” me.  :)  I lost this year . . . but there’s always next.  :)

Paul is the victor in the “shoot-off” with me.  Here we’re posing with “refs” from our staff team:  Heather Thiel, Kyle Becker, David Hathaway, and Nathan Smith.

During the second family camp, we drove the staff up to the Mt. Washington Hotel so they could experience some of the unique beauty of New England and tour this fabulous hotel . . . and then on to Amonusuc Falls to do some big rock jumping.  Compared to Sculptured Rocks, the jumps are MUCH higher and the water MUCH colder - but fun was had by all.  We picnicked on the rocks, did a fair bit of jumping, and then drove back to Shacketts for more yummy ice cream.  It was a great day.

The staff enjoyed touring the Mt. Washington Hotel . . .

 . . . but probably enjoyed the delights of jumping into this frigid water more.  :)
We were back at Camp Berea in time to conduct our last dance night.  We had a blast in their spacious gym doing the Chicken Dance, the Hokey Pokey, the Barn Dance, the Virginia Reel, Slappin’ Leather, the Cotton Eye Joe, the Rain Dance, and finally swing dancing.  Kelsey O’Keeffe and Andrew Price did a fantastic job all summer leading the dances and this was no exception.  I love this night for many reasons, but topping the list is seeing the integration of the generations on the dance floor.

Megan Forbes and Vincent Swaim work some swing moves while Alton Green teaches his sister Danielle how to slide in the background.

Jay Abramson spoke for this week of family camp and he did a wonderful job of tying his talks in with the prodigal son story. Jay’s teaching is authentic and passionate, and it engages both the head and the heart. Jay and Liz are always such a delight to partner with.  They make themselves so available as they invest greatly in campers outside of the speaking sessions.

Jay and Liz Abramson were appreciated by the campers during Family Camp 2.

Our final family camp culminated with powerful sharing at the banquet and a wonderful time of worship at the campfire.  We heard testimony of marriages on the mend, parent-child relationships improving, and many tales of personal sanctification.  No one could deny God’s hand in changed lives.

For the final time in the summer of 2010, we had our closing session featuring worship and wrap-up. One last “Butterfly Song,” “Days of Elijah” and the memory verse song . . . One last all-camp photo. One last giant farewell to a wonderful summer.

Kelsey O’Keeffe plays one last round of “gaga” with some of our smaller campers.

We were packed up and out of Berea in record time on Friday and the real end of the summer celebration began.  Pizza in the small town of Bristol sustained us until we were feted with an unbelievable surf and turf (lobster and steak) feast at Doug and Julie Macrae’s house.  We arrived mid-afternoon and enjoyed their pool and their huge backyard-turned football field before indulging ourselves beyond reason.  It rivaled the finest restaurants in Boston.  We all felt very pampered.

The Macraes’ backyard provided a great party site for our “end of the summer” celebration.

Full and happy . . . we take one more photo for the blog.  :)
But is doesn’t end there.  Saturday topped the charts - starting with a yummy brunch, a tour of Boston, a great meal at Fire and Ice, and then an extravaganza at Fenway Park.  The Macraes had arranged for all 22 of us to tour Fenway and then to watch the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays in extra innings.  :)  Really?  Does it get an better than that??

We’re on the field during our tour of Fenway Park.

During batting practice, Kevin Bron and Andrew Price snagged balls, while Heather Thiel, Monica Wong, and Hannah Early celebrate with them.

It was our first visit to Fenway this year and we enjoyed it at least as much as the kids did.

With very little sleep, we got most of the staff to the airport for early morning departures Sunday . . . and the summer officially ended.  Though we are really, really tired, we are much more thankful.  It has been a most unforgettable summer (for mostly good reasons!!!) and we are praying that the seed that fell on fertile soil will thrive in the year ahead.  We can hardly believe we’ve now crossed the summers-at-camp finish line 35 times, but we consider that a huge gift from the Lord.

And now, the countdown begins in earnest for the arrival of grandson #1.  His due date is a week away and we’re so thankful that he didn’t decide to make an early entrance.  We’ll be in Sacramento for the next little while with Gabe and Kari as they begin this new season in their lives.

Other family news: Julie has successfully finished her first year of physical therapy school and is enjoying a much needed break with her boyfriend, Derek, who is “home” from Uganda for several weeks.  We’ll see them in Sacramento this week.  Lisa is off and running with her new job.  She has been going non-stop since starting on August 1, and is loving it so far.

Thanks for standing with us and for praying for our lives and ministry.  “When you’re working out of your passion, it doesn’t seem like work” is an apt statement for us.  We know we’re blessed to be able to say that.

If a picture says a thousand words, then this one that Barbara Steele snapped last week at Camp Berea overlooking Newfound Lake expresses what’s in my heart that can’t be expressed in words.  Savor His faithfulness along with us.