CBS

All Over the Place

All Over the Place

Though fall arrived “late” this year, it is making a quick exit as the Christmas season makes its appearance “early.” Or so it seems! As we fly home today from a 10-day trip during which we spent 2 days each in 5 different towns, I’m musing about walking in to a home bedecked in orange, greens, and golds, all representing the season just passed of falling leaves, harvest, and shortening days. But if past performance is any indication of future expectations, Christmas will be here in short order, ready or not. And though I’m certain my lofty goals of projects completed will exceed the time needed to complete them between now and then, I’m hopeful that my desire to prepare my heart for Christmas will outpace my attempts to prepare my gifts.

Only God

Only God

August has flown by, which is consistent with the beat of the whole summer. When the family camp program was canceled at CBS back in late December, we had no idea what the summer of 2017 would look like. We weren’t concerned that we’d be twiddling our thumbs, quite honestly, but we couldn’t have imagined then the opportunities that have unfolded for us. “Only God.” Indisputable.

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

For the first time since launching this blog over twelve years ago, three months have elapsed since my last post. In an unprecedented quandary, I’ve had a really hard time finding the words to write, for though there have been many great moments and experiences during this time, we have concurrently experienced some of the darkest and most difficult days of our life together. And quite frankly, I haven’t known how to communicate about this, fairly and honorably, especially since it’s ongoing. This is a season during which my silence hasn’t been “golden.”

It's NOT beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

It's NOT beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

If “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .” is related to a house decked in outdoor lights, a beautifully decorated tree indoors, and stockings “hung by the chimney with care,” we’re off. Way off. Thankful to have just gotten all pumpkins processed and the orange and rust decorations put away . . .

Savoring

Though the song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” is affirming the beauty of the Christmas season (and who would argue that?), I could easily build a case for an equally fitting song to be written about fall in New England. I quickly run out of expressive adjectives to describe the delights of this season during which beauty parades in different colors and presentations daily for about six weeks. We have been savoring each eyeful of gorgeousness in this land of deciduous trees whose greatest beauty comes through the transition from life to death. Interesting paradox.

We were treated to an early kaleidoscope of color the last weekend of September when we drove to Newport Center, Vermont, to present a marriage conference at the Newport Church of God. The home church of Paul and Lyss Gandy (our 2016 CBS musicians and high school family camp directors), they persuaded Pastor Larry Wall to invite us and we’re so glad they did. We had a great weekend with the Walls and their congregation, celebrating God’s design for marriage. We tagged a couple of days on to enjoy the beautiful area while staying in Lyss’s family’s cabin on Lake Memphremagog. It was a true gift of restoration and renewal to be there as we hiked, leaf peeped, and enjoyed some time with Lyss’s extended family. And it officially became an international trip when we had dinner in Canada.  :)

The conference was well received and we heard from many that God really met them during it.  As always, we pray for ongoing fruit.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church overlooks the lake.

Spectacular photo taken by Lyss Gandy.

Paul and Lyss emceed and led worship for the conference, and did both so well.

Here we are with the Gandys . . . always a good time.

Dinner out with Lyss’s local family, who were delightfully hospitable and welcoming.

Pastor Larry and Sally Wall: passionate for Christ and for transformation.  We enjoyed being guests in their home and sharing stories of hope.

On the drive down we found the colors to be distracting from keeping our eyes on the road.

Home October 4th, just in time for the Patriots’ women’s and couples’ studies, with some counseling packed in around them. We’re so thankful for robust groups in both of the studies, and we sense that God is doing a deeper work among us. Pray for those studies as you root for the Patriots.  :)

Columbus Day Weekend brought with it not just increased foliage color, but a sweet visit from Derek and Julie and their precious littles. Though the four-day stay included the stomach flu for Rachel, a bad head cold for Derek, and a very rainy Sunday (no complaints—just reporting), it was so good to be together. Those unplanned-for-elements insured that we had plenty of down time, which was a good thing for all involved. We did stroller walks to the park daily and played lots of indoor hide-and-seek, games, and read a plethora of books. Loved every moment.

Papa and his girl Rachel showcase their very blue eyes and beautiful smiles.

We did make it to a little farm stand, but as you can see from Rachel’s face, she was still under the stomach-flu weather.

We got the Johnsons off Tuesday afternoon (always sad) and spent Wednesday and Thursday as per usual: Patriots studies and counseling. There was a lot of laughter and many points of connection as we taught on temperaments at the couples’ study Thursday night. Great time.

Off to California first thing Friday morning for a full long weekend. Built around a wedding Paul was asked to officiate, the week had a little bit of everything. First stop:  Biola University, where we were honored to tape two podcasts for the Institute of Marriage and Relationships, which is directed by Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace. Alisa had written a blog on our book

Before You Save the Date: 21 Questions to Confirm your Decision to Marry

and asked us to follow up her blog with a couple of podcasts. Even though we had to slog through a delayed-from-Boston flight (after getting to the airport at the ungodly hour of 6 am . . . and then leaving 1.5 hrs late :(  ), waiting 30 minutes for our luggage at LAX, waiting another 30 minutes for the rental car van to pick us up . . . delaying our arrival to Biola by 1 hour 45 mins (and costing us lunch with the Graces), it was so worth it! We loved being with Chris and Alisa, whose hearts beat in sync with ours regarding family and marriage, and we are so excited about the Institute of Marriage and Relationships they are directing at Biola. The podcasts we recorded will be aired in the near future and we’ll keep you posted so you can tune in.

Speaking of Chris and Alisa Grace, they will be speaking at the annual H.I.M. Marriage Retreat, March 3-5, 2017, in Newport, Rhode Island. Registration has started and as has been true the past several years, it will likely sell out well in advance. Register now! This will make a great Christmas gift for your spouse, your married kids, your parents, and your friends.  

Friday evening, we spoke at The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills for their couples’ night. Jeff and Shauna Ochoa spearheaded this marriage shot-in-the-arm evening and provided a lovely date night for many couples. We’ve partnered with this church numerous times in the past and are so thankful for their commitment to healthy marriages.

Jeff and Shauna Ochoa planned the Couples Night Out for The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills, California.

The main event of this trip to California was Davey and Ruthanna’s wedding, officiated by Paul. Ruthanna grew up coming to family camp at CBS and she and Davey Ray met at CBS when they both served on staff. They attended our Engagement Matters Weekend last December and soon after they asked Paul to do their wedding. We accepted the honor with pleasure. The wedding on Sunday was a God-honoring celebration of a couple committed to living faithfully for Christ. Held in beautiful Highland Springs Resort in Cherry Valley, CA, under an 1100-year-old oak tree, the metaphors of legacy, of roots, and of strength were lost on no one. It was a thoughtful, meaningful wedding and we were so happy to be a part of it. It was also such a joy to be with Dave and Kim Noble and Isaac Rossitor again, all fellow past CBS staff, as well as with the Lee family, who have been family campers for over two decades.

We also managed to squeeze in a few hours visit with John and Grace Tebay, two of our longest and most beloved mentors. At 84 and 82, they are beyond remarkable and we hang on their every word and insight—and savor every moment. Their godly wisdom has been an invaluable resource to us since before we got married and we feel so blessed to have them in our lives. We closed out Saturday over dinner with two couples we’re mentoring, Brent and Melissa Slezak and Josh and Carley Gire, and left so inspired by their hearts and hopes.

John and Grace Tebay are in a league of their own and we’re so blessed to have them in our lives.

Davey Ray and Ruthanna’s wedding was beautiful and Christ-centered.

Such a fun reunion with Dave and Kim Noble (former CBS director) and Isaac Rossitor (former assistant head cook at CBS.)

One last thing before we returned to New England: a day at Disneyland with Brandon and Ana. Gifted by a dear friend employed by the Magic Kingdom, we made the most of this celebration in honor of Brandon’s 6th and Ana’s 3rd birthdays. 25,000 steps later (collected from 8:30 am to 8 pm), we left happily exhausted and full of memories we’ll keep savoring and replaying. Big moment of the day? Brandon’s inaugural ride on the Matterhorn. Pretty daring for a just-turned-6-year-old. Ana and Papa set a record for the most times on Ariel’s Grotto and King Arthur’s Carousel, though those numbers would’ve been shared with the Winnie-the-Pooh ride had it been open. I will never stop delighting in Disneyland, nor will I give up my dream to one day work there (though my aspiration to be Tinkerbelle and fly from the Matterhorn across the sky has been scratched off the list . . . for about 40 years now.) How grateful we are for generous friends who help make such memory-making days happen.

Disneyland was spectacularly dressed up for Halloween.

Brandon’s response just moments after his first ride on the Matterhorn. He was pretty happy that he conquered this very scary ride.

Back in New England, we’re joining the masses who are mesmerized by the glorious parade of fall colors which are truly breathtaking. No photos or words can capture the display, which unmistakably points to the glory of God. We’re savoring the days and thanking the Lord for His creative nurturing of our souls through such reflections of His majesty.

Rocky Mountain High 2

“Be exalted, O Lord, above the heavens . . .”  This photo was taken out of the window of the plane flying from Denver to San Diego. The changing skyscape kept us mesmerized for almost an hour.  It was spectacular.


This August has been different than any other in our married life.  We’ve always done family camps in August, the last 18 of which have been in New England. As we passed the mantle to Camp Berea’s executive director, Nate Parks, at the end of last summer’s camping season, we didn’t know what God would have in store for us. Thankfully, and not surprisingly, He had a great plan (which is still unfolding as I write this) and we are truly grateful for how He has met us during this transitional year.

Usually, as soon as family camps wrap up at CBS, we fly directly to New England to do two more weeks of family camp. 

Not this year.

The decision to turn family camps over to Berea came after much prayer and many conversations. Topping the list of “this is right to do now”: first, we were (rightly) convinced that Nate and his crew were “ready” to assume leadership/responsibility for continuing the tradition as they fully embraced and “got” the ethos of family camp and were committed to continuing that, and second, the cost of flying the staff back to run the family camps was escalating every year, making its financial viability more challenging. We were impressed with Nate’s commitment to “getting it right”—which does not mean “doing it exactly as its always been done”—but he pressed to understand the heart, the purpose, the ethos of family camp by careful observation of every component of family camp as well as spending hours asking us the “whys” of each component. We had complete confidence that family camp under his leadership would be different and the same, and it would be good.

We were thrilled and thankful to hear from some family campers who affirmed that very sentiment. It’s very rewarding to have something you’ve poured yourself into and passed on to continue effectively. All praise is His!!

So, since we weren’t doing family camp in New England, the window we needed for our all-family celebration of our 40th anniversary presented itself. Gabe and Kari hosted a small renewal of our vows ceremony at their home in Santa Clarita the day we left CBS. Attended by a small mix of our families and a few chosen family friends, the “ceremony” was conducted by Pastor John Tebay, who was one of the officiants at our wedding, April 24, 1976. Kari, Lisa, and Julie did a beautiful job of putting together a very memorable celebration. It was very meaningful to repeat the vows we had written 40 years earlier and to realize that they really had shaped the ethos of our married life. God has been so faithful.

Here we are: our entire immediate family. Brandon walked me down the aisle after Ana lead the way as the “flower girl.”  Gabe and Derek each read scripture and everyone else did the hard work of making it all happen. It exceeded our expectations.

My dear mama, almost 87, is the only living parent we have and we are so grateful for her health and mobility which allows her to be present at moments like these.

The siblings able to make it included my sisters, (l-r) Sue Hekman, Melissa Collins, and Lucy Silveira, and Paul’s sibs Carol and Wayne Herbst, Beth Helen Smith, and Wayne and Sandra Clark. It meant so much to us to have them there, just as they were 40 years ago.

Pastor John Tebay (and his wife Grace) have been such significant mentors in our lives for well over 40 years and it was such an honor to have John renew our vows. He is a true man of God and he and Grace have been so instrumental in helping to shape our lives.

 
These five weren’t present 40 years ago!  :-)  The next generation, by God’s grace, will carry the mantle of truth in the decades to come.

After a few days with Garcias, we flew home to exchange our CBS wardrobe for speaking clothes and to get our hair cut, paper work sorted, and to check on our house before flying 24 hours later to Denver, CO, where we've spent the last three weekends doing a family and marriage series of sermons for Mission Hills Church. (To watch recordings of the sermons, go to the Mission Hills Church website and click on “Watch Now”)  

What a privilege to serve this way! We loved everything about this “gig.” Mission Hills has had a 75-year history of faithfulness to teaching God’s Word which has well-prepared them for this interim period during which time they’ve been without a pastor for almost 2 years. Danny Oertli (married to our niece, Rayna) is the worship leader at Mission Hills and has filled in a lot of gaps during the interim, one of which has been making sure the pulpit was filled. When the decision was made to do a series on family and marriage, he convinced the staff we would be the best candidates (nepotistic connections help), so the invitation was issued.

It was a huge honor and privilege to serve this congregation. All 4 services (a Saturday night and three Sunday mornings) were filled with eager, receptive, responsive people of all ages. We felt that God really met us each weekend, as well as the listeners—many of whom communicated to us just that. After the second weekend, which focused on marriage, one man told me, “This sermon just saved my marriage.”  Well . . . we know the sermon didn’t save his marriage, but we do know that the Holy Spirit did a work in his heart that morning through the sermon and gave him a vision of hope. There is nothing more exciting/gratifying/humbling than feedback like that.

Between weekends, we played. More exhausted emotionally and physically than we’ve been in a long time, it was a gift from heaven to have two 5-day periods “free.” We had some sweet time with the Oertli family celebrating Jack’s 16th birthday, before flying to San Diego between the first two weekends to hang out with my mom.

Jack’s 16th birthday celebration started with brunch at his Aunt Susie’s house. Such a great time!!

Our days in San Diego were perfect. It’s rare that we get to spend more than 2 days with my mom due to our crazy schedule, so this was gift in so many ways. My mom is easy. Never demanding, never complaining about not seeing enough of us, always thankful and appreciative. That makes our times together so precious. Adding delight, Lisa joined us for two days and Lisa makes everything better.

Goers and doers that we are, we convinced Mom to go to “Night Zoo” at the San Diego Zoo Tuesday and our two-hour stay couldn’t have been better. Perfect temp for enjoying the zoo, we (meaning Paul) wheeled her around and we took it all in. Just after sunset, we all took the Skyfari. My mom never ceases to amaze me.

On a roll, we took her to the “Greatest Generation Ever” memorial on the San Diego waterfront the next night. It was truly moving to see her response to this fitting tribute to her generation. Our days together couldn’t have been improved upon. So grateful!

Along with my sister Melissa, we had a great night at the zoo. The bronzed gorilla is no relation.


The “Greatest Generation Ever” memorial includes a bronzed collection of injured veterans being entertained by Bob Hope, with a continuous loop of one of his comedy routines being broadcast. Pretty remarkable.

The iconic farewell (or welcome home) embrace is one we were well familiar with as “Navy Brats." Right at this harbor, my father’s ships made many departures (full of tears) and returns (full of joy). So many memories are evoked by this incredible statue.

Back to Denver we flew after this lovely week with my mom, and after teaching at all four services that weekend, we spent four days at Twin Lakes in a cabin graciously made available to us by our dear friends, Dave and Kathleen. Off the grid in a big way, we anticipated getting a lot of writing done, but our bodies and souls were in greater need of rest and renewal so we gave in to the call of the mountains and lakes and hiked 6–10 miles daily. It was just what we needed. Having never hiked in the Rockies, we got a crash course in the effects of altitude when we hiked Aspen Mountain. Between thin air and a huge thunderstorm materializing out of nowhere (and breaking just as we made it to the lodge at the top), we had a very memorable hike—fortunately, with a happy ending (we are still alive). After four days of such recreating, we made our way back to Denver, refreshed and ready.

Hiking to “Interlaken” along the first lake . . . breathtaking!!

Taken from Independence Pass on our way to Aspen, this photo doesn’t really do justice to the incredible beauty—so use your imagination.

Paul, fully recovered from his brush with altitude sickness on the climb to the top of Aspen, stands on the platform upon which he married Wes and Anna Welker four years ago.

One of the most memorable encounters of our time in Colorado was meeting up with Bob and Jeannie Mannes, now 95 and 92 respectively. Campus by the Sea owes a huge debt of gratitude to Bob and Jeannie, who served as the summer directors of CBS from 1956–1970. Their tenure at CBS came to a close due to Bob’s promotion to Dean of Students at USC, which eliminated his professorial “summers free” schedule. They raised their five children at CBS, summer after summer, and Jeannie said, “All of our children believe that their summers at CBS were life-shaping for them.” We had the sweetest visit with them, comparing notes about people we know in common, and we were most impressed with their sharp-as-tacks memories. It’s so meaningful for us to connect with peers of Paul’s parents who have so much history with CBS. What a happy, blessed reunion!

Jeannie and Bob Mannes were most gracious to receive us for a “down memory lane” visit in their home in Denver.

Our last weekend in Denver was packed with great moments with great people.  Elsa Stanley, one of our all-time favorites from CBS (family-camper-turned-staff-member), recently moved to Ft Morgan, Colorado, for a teaching job and spent Saturday afternoon with us following our visit with Bob and Jeannie. Time is always too short with Elsa, but we packed it in during the window we had. After the Saturday night service, we enjoyed fellowship and food with the Oertlis. And Sunday after church, we were thrilled to be part of a CBS reunion of sorts hosted by Joel and Tiffany Ann Johns. The group was a mix of long-time CBS family campers (including Amity Close Wicks and her family and Stephen McLaughlin and his family), and newer CBS family campers (the Formes family, the Becketts, and the Johns), and the in-betweeners (Laura Long), and the never-been-to-CBS-but-new-to-Colorado (the Kyners). It was a lovely afternoon. We were well fed and hosted and they pulled off a sweet surprise “Happy 40th anniversary” CBS-style skit for us, complete with cake and well wishes. We’re still surprised and deeply touched by their kindness.

Elsa and I had a great time together catching up.

A wonderful group of CBS family campers gathered for food and fellowship in Parker on the Johns’ family ranch.


One more sweet celebration of our 40th. 


We also managed to meet up with our niece Kristi Rottschafer Daggett and her family at a local park in Castle Rock AFTER the Johns’ gathering, and then we made one final stop at Danny Oertli’s parents’ home before heading to the airport for our red-eye home. We truly couldn’t be more thankful for our three weekends in Denver, nor could we be more aware of how significantly God met us.

The Daggetts—Kristi, Tim, Isaac, Maddie, and Joel—met us at a park for a wonderful time of reconnection.


Our final social gathering prior to flying home—bbq and s’mores at Danny Oertli’s parents’ home. Delightful!


Refreshed and renewed, it was such a joy to return to Bedford and be greeted by Derek and Julie, Nathan and Rachel, who were awaiting our arrival. After a quick breakfast together, Derek and Julie took off for Maine to celebrate their 5th anniversary, leaving the littles with us for three days. They had a great getaway and we had loved every minute with the grands. Parks, stroller walks, playing games, and observing the simple delights of life through the eyes of a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old filled the days and “took us back.” Since we were playing “man to man” defense, it was very manageable and “easy.” We’re so thankful for the privilege.

We “rocked it” with Nathan and Rachel for three days while their parents got away. Loved every moment.

Derek and Julie returned Wednesday afternoon, glowing, and after a lovely celebration dinner of steak and artichokes a la Derek, Thursday rolled in and the Johnsons rolled out mid-morning for home and we flew out mid-afternoon for Michigan. Just like that.

So I write from Michigan, where the 2/42 Church second annual family camp (Fr-amily Camp) is underway. We’re honored to partner with this very alive, very vision-driven church again this year and were thankful for a strong launch last night. Next weekend we’ll be back at Campus by the Sea for the third annual Labor Day Family Camp and that will officially close our summer.

In many ways, it’s been the shortest summer . . . and the longest.

The best . . . and the hardest.

Energizing . . . and exhausting.

Hope-giving . . . and discouraging.

That’s kind of how life is, though, isn’t it?  Evil, sin, and hardship will interrupt perfection as long as we’re on the earth, but our great hope, encouragement, and perseverance is fueled by our eternal hope in Jesus. He continues to be faithful and gives us energy, hope, purpose, and vision.

And for that, we give thanks from the depths of our souls and we press on towards His heart.

Whether we’re high in the Rockies or not.

Sunrise behind us as the moon sets before us over the Rockies. Such assurance that He goes before us and behind us, always present, always with us. How comforting! All praise is His.

Summer #41 "Great is Thy Faithfulness!"

Wow!! Seven weeks. Off the grid. Immersed in community. Focused on Christlikeness. Twenty-six program staff. Over 1300 campers. At least a dozen decisions for Christ. 

It’s been quite a summer at Campus by the Sea. 

As we make our way east (very temporarily), we are overwhelmed with joy, awe, and exhaustion. The summer was beyond expectations in terms of ministry, relationships, and staff. Simultaneously there were challenges that were draining and hard. Both the joys and the challenges allowed us to be met by God in very deep and real ways. We know we were prayed for more than we’ve ever been aware of, and the outpouring of love, affirmation, and support for us personally was off the charts. “Great is Thy faithfulness!

We gathered in this sacred cove Monday, June 13, and looked like this:

Our first program staff photo, taken during orientation week.


We were pale-skinned and we had clean feet. Some of us knew each other well, but most of us had limited knowledge of one another.

Seven weeks later, we looked like this:

The night of our last family camp banquet, all dressed up and ready to go.


Darker skin and much darker feet, and deeply connected as a discipling community. So bonded that farewells on Sunday, July 31, were tearful.

It will be impossible to capture all we feel about this staff. Twenty-two of the twenty-six were “veteran” staff, and they brought with them maturity and experience. Twenty-four of the twenty-six grew up as family campers at CBS. They “get it.” They knew how important the staff were to them as they grew up and came with a vision to live up to the high view they had of staff when they were young. They were committed to growing in Christlikeness and to being servant-hearted, unselfish, submissive to authority, and to going above and beyond. They worked hard but they also knew how to have a blast. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience with a staff. What a huge blessing they were!

Our leadership team lead incredibly well and were a large part of the success of this team. Mary Ann Bastedo led the nursery/playyard team and with four years of experience, she handled one of the more challenging areas of camp with wisdom and patience. Shelby Dreves, also serving her 4th year, was the peer director for the elementary team and she knocked it out of the park. Well organized and an extroverted communicator, Shelby garnered the respect of her whole team, who worked together beautifully. Paul and Lyss Gandy provided leadership for the junior/senior high ministry team as well as leading worship and they led both areas with excellence. Worship received off-the-chart ratings all summer and the jr/sr high team received rave reviews. Dave and Vonny Bastedo served in many ways again, from being the “deans of Little Gallagher’s” (the staff cove) to leading the college group to overseeing crafts and the elementary program . . . we couldn’t have done it without them! Lisa Friesen, who joined us for the last four family camps, was an effective mentor for the staff team as well as facilitator for the “young professional” group we had in four of the camps. Everything is better with Lisa around! We are so grateful for this special group of leaders and are hoping they’ll all return in 2017. :)

I did miss the start of family camp 1 due to the arrival of our fifth grandchild, Micah James, who made his grand entrance on Sunday, June 19. What a privilege and joy to be in the OR when all 10#8oz of him was delivered via c-section. As you can see, Brandon and Ana are elated to be joined by Mighty Micah. It’s hard to believe he’s already 6 weeks old!

Brandon and Ana are in love with their new little/big brother Micah James.


Our theme this summer was “Journeying with Jesus” and our studies included four vignettes from the life of Peter: his call, his declaration that “Jesus is the Christ!”, his denial of Jesus, and his mandate to “feed my sheep.” Paul’s giftedness in curriculum development was seen again as he “visioneered” the theme and wrote the studies for the adults, which served as a springboard for our creative teaching staff to adapt the studies for every age in camp. This allows all ages to interact with these stories as our integrated, intergenerational teaching model is fleshed out. Devotionals, the memory verse, and Paul’s Monday night talk all supported the theme, creating cohesiveness throughout the program. We were delighted with how well it all worked out.


The program staff are teaching the new group of campers the memory verse song, which Paul and Lyss Gandy “wrote.” They set 1 Peter 3:15 to music and it tops the charts as one of the best memory verse songs written for CBS ever. 


All six of our speakers—Tim Theule, Brent Eldridge, Chris Grace, Howard Clark, Ray Johnston, and Gary Gaddini—were used by God to bring His word in message to each camp. We were so blessed to have these men of God (and their families), who are faithful to His Word and who walk the talk, serve as teachers and mentors. It is a lavish banquet of teaching all summer and we personally are fortified and encouraged by such quality, God-honoring teaching. Our staff discipleship program includes having each of the speakers address the staff on Thursday nights and they also appreciated their wisdom and giftedness. 

The depth of community experienced by most at family camp is the result of many factors, some tangible and some intangible. At the core is the centrality of the gospel, which is the only truth which could form cohesion among a diverse group of families. Build out from that the secluded nature of CBS (no access except by boat or foot) and being off the “grid” and you have two big contributing factors to the inimitable experience campers have at CBS. It truly is a place like none other and we consider it such a privilege to be able to live out our passion for marriage and families in this unique context.


We “do” life together as community in so many ways! From lazy afternoons on the beach to hiking into Avalon, from adult-only small groups to intergenerational almost everything else, the goodness of community is celebrated. Though Americans have recently identified “isolation and loneliness” as their biggest problem, not many (if any) would identify that as an issue at family camp. In fact introverts find it challenging to find alone time in this almost-always-visually-connected community! We eat together, worship together, learn together, play together, pray together. And if you were fortunate enough to have your birthday or anniversary during your week at camp, you might’ve been serenaded by the "Barbershop Quartet with Olé” and then heard 260 voices sing together to you! This talented group of musicians brought many smiles to our family campers with their performances to mark special occasions. This was just one of the many ways the staff served above and beyond, with cheerful hearts and excellence, and helped to build into community.

Claire Peister, Lyss and Paul Gandy, and Joe Yardley brought down the roof when they performed as a quartet.


As much as we love the family campers and do what we do to serve them, our commitment to the staff and our investment in their growth is an equally important value. We believe that the seven-week “overseas mission trip experience” should be life-changing and life-shaping for them as they serve and live in a Christ-centered discipling community. Though we are only directly responsible for the volunteer program staff (from “hiring” to supervising), the discipleship program is for the entire staff team, which includes the kitchen, grounds, and waterfront teams. We thoroughly enjoyed the entire team, which both worked and played well together. The following photos give some glimpses into summer staff life. 

Our 1st annual "4th of July Old Fashioned Picnic and Games” was held on Sat. July 2 and fun was truly had by all. Pictured here is one of the four teams that competed against one another.

Apparently this team won 1st place—at least in this popular “toss the cheese puff onto the shower-cap-smothered-in-shaving-cream” event.
The annual game show—this year named “The 2016 Gallagher’s Games”—was a huge hit and this dedicated, hard-working team made it look easy week after week. Such a great night of laughter, friendly competition, and intergenerational craziness.

The under-the-stars “square” dance (we don’t actually do any dancing in squares, but line dancing, circle dancing, and swing dancing are enjoyed by all) is always such a huge hit. Pictured here is JoJo Gaddini and Brandon Garcia doing the “Virginia Reel.”
The 4th annual “Ladies Only” tea was held one Saturday afternoon for the staff women. Especially lovely is leaving our staff shirts behind and celebrating the bond of women.


Hiking is one of the favorite activities for many of the staff, who take advantage of the “gym with no walls” which promises challenging workouts with incredibly beautiful scenery. One of the privileges of serving on staff is having the opportunity to do three special, “staff-only” hikes. The following photos reveal the secrets. 

The “shore hike” is the most popular of the staff-only hikes. 38 staff safely navigated this somewhat dangerous hike along the coast between CBS and Avalon. The early morning departure is timed to coincide during the lowest tide to make this doable. It’s a great experience in team building and bonding as staff help staff succeed in getting to Avalon in one piece.

The full moon loop hike is another staff-only hike, and though only 11 took advantage of this opportunity this summer, it was one of the best hikes ever. The clear, bright night made flashlights unnecessary . . . and a few bison made it interesting.

Off this intrepid group goes to enjoy the island in this unique way.
The third staff-only hike is an 8-mile loop from CBS to “Lone Tree.” Named for the “lone tree” which sits atop the tallest ridge seen from camp, this somewhat-challenging hike is the most arduous, but 25 stalwart staff took it on and lived to tell about it. This is taken at the first “stop”: the altar on the far side of Toyon Bay. No sacrifices were made.
Successfully to the top of Lone Tree, sweaty but smiling. The full-sun morning added challenge to the hike.

Every staff member is placed in a small group that meets weekly. The centerpiece of this year’s small groups was Paul David Tripp’s devotional New Morning Mercies. Every staff member was given a copy of this ground-breaking devotional and encouraged to use it daily. During small group, each shared a particularly meaningful devotional from the week before. This is our small group. We loved meeting with them each Monday afternoon. Even more, we all love this devotional and couldn’t more highly recommend it.

There are many more staff-shaping moments and activities, and all are framed by a universal commitment to living honorably together in community. Our “community standards” are clear and, thankfully, are “bought in to” by the staff. That’s part of what makes it work.

One more photo from staff life . . . and without minimizing any of the other herculean efforts expended by many of our staff, I am sharing this photo of Taylor Tebay (5th year staff, elementary PE teacher, all around great guy) with Ryan Beiter. Ryan has come to camp most of his life and this year Taylor served as his "special buddy.” When Taylor asked Ryan’s dad if there was any way he could serve Ryan “above and beyond,” Paul said, “He’s always wanted to go to the cross, but we’ve never figured out a way to get him up there.” Ryan’s ride is a motorized wheelchair, and there are parts of the path to the cross that would be impassable for him. 

So Taylor (with some help from equally servant-hearted Robert Kovacs), determined to get Ryan to the cross for the jr/sr high closing session that is held every Friday night at the cross.

The smile on Ryan’s face the next day told most of the story.
The tears running down his father’s cheeks told the rest of it.

Taylor literally had to carry Ryan on his back up the parts interrupted by steps. And so he did.

The degree of sensitivity and servanthood reflected in this incredible act of love and service speaks volumes about Taylor’s and Robert’s hearts . . . and the joy on Ryan’s face affirmed his delight to be included in this special, but logistically difficult part of camp. Of such is the kingdom of God.

Taylor Tebay and Ryan Beiter share a moment before Ryan boards the boat to return to the mainland.


A few more highlights of the summer before I wrap this up. Family Camp 4 clandestinely organized honoring our 40th anniversary and our 41st summer at CBS and completely surprised us with a thoughtful and beautiful tribute. Photos, notes, painted rocks, and the framed rubber food scrapers with the caption “Scraping since 1976” represented memories collected for four decades. We were so touched and felt so loved. 

This is just part of what they set up in our honor.

This is the crew that orchestrated the tribute given in our honor at the banquet for family camp 4. Such precious friends/family.


Paul was honored to do several baptisms each week. It’s amazing how many of our campers choose to be baptized at CBS, citing it as the place they experience significant spiritual growth. It’s very moving to hear each one verbalize their testimony down on the rocky shore before entering the oftentimes surging sea. The support of the community is felt by all.

Campers surround the “baptismees” to hear the proclamations of faith prior to them entering the waters.

Especially meaningful during camp 6 was the baptism of Sonora Shaffer, who made the decision to follow Christ the day before in her class. She is surrounded by 4 generations in this photo: Rosemary Dougan (great-grandma), Jerry and Eileen Shaffer (grandparents), Jon and Lisa Shaffer (parents), and her four siblings. The heritage. The legacy. The faithfulness of God through the generations. Doesn’t get any better than this!

This is another precious moment. Krista Engle Hart with Daniel, Julie Friesen Johnson with Rachel, and Robyn Chevalier Hall with Benjamin . . . all three moms grew up at camp together, served on staff together, and are continuing the tradition of family camp with the next generation. Rich!!

And these two: Rosemary Dougan and Shirley Lincoln, two women who along with their now-deceased spouses, Garth and Ken, have had a significant shaping impact on CBS history and legacy for decades. What joy to have them continuing as campers . . . each bringing four generations with them to family camp this summer.

And speaking of legacy, Sandy Friesen Clark (back row, second from right), and two of her four siblings, Paul and Beth, were at CBS in 1951 when it all started (well, Beth wouldn’t join the crew for 2 more years). Sixty-five years later, all of Mel and Helen Friesen’s children, in-laws, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are walking with Jesus. “I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in the faith.” (3 John 4) Blessed!

Though of the Garcia family only Brandon made it to camp this summer due to Micah’s arrival, the rest of the gang did and wonderful memories were made, life-shaping lessons were learned, and many “only God” moments were had. Paul had a vision while doing his early morning hike one day of sending a message to his father, who helped start CBS and sadly died an early death in 1983, “Jesus . . . please let Daddy know that what he started is going strong and is being used by God to change many lives.”
All praise is His!

“Great is Thy Faithfulness!!! 
Morning by morning new mercies I see. 
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. 
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”




Same Song, 41st Verse

It’s a beautiful day on Catalina Island and during this break from program planning for family camps, I’ve reached the entry on my “to do list” which says “blog.”  As I start writing, I am struck with the seeming impossibility of it being only 3 weeks since spending Memorial Day weekend in Tennessee, speaking at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat’s second annual family camp. It seems like a short lifetime ago, as these weeks have been filled with a lot of activity and emotion.

It was only hours after returning from Uganda on Monday late afternoon, May 23, that I caught an early morning flight to Washington, D.C., to surprise my baby sister Laura with a birthday visit.  It was one of the best surprises ever, aided by my brother-in-law David’s willingness to get me at the airport and take me to her office. It was a sweet, sweet day in so many ways, but perhaps the sweetest was having some time with Laura and David’s beloved 10-year-old mini-dachshund, Maggie, who lost the battle to inflammatory bowel disease just days later.  :(  I’ll always consider that day as a gift from heaven. 

Hand-carried, freshly cut lilacs from New England “fragranced” the surprise visit to honor my sister Laura for her birthday.

This little fighter, Maggie, attacked this plastic tube with a vengeance, which betrayed her very weakened, sickly condition.

Home from D.C. that night, we counseled the next day. On Friday morning, May 27 (our daughter Kari’s 36th birthday!), we flew to Atlanta, and then drove to Cumberland, Tennessee, to speak at the Cumberland Wilderness Retreat’s second annual family camp.  We launched this camp last Memorial Day and were so delighted to return.  The “baby” of Keith and Marsha Thompson and Nate and Jeannie King, it was SO gratifying to hear the second-year families say that they’ve been counting the days since last year! They “got” it! They loved the community experience of families coming alongside each other, doing life, learning about Jesus, praying, playing, and staying together.  One sweet family, whose father is an orthopedic surgeon, related that their 5-year-old has not stopped talking about family camp since last Memorial Day Weekend. The surgeon’s office partners told him before this Memorial Day, “Ok, we get it. We won’t schedule you to work Memorial Day Weekend for the next 15 years!”  There’s just something about family camp that is so unique, so shaping, so transforming.  It thrills us when families “get it.”

The Kings and the Thompsons once again did a great job of planning and preparing for family camp. Perfect weather contributed to the success of the weekend, and the addition of the ever-popular “finger rocket blasters” was loved by all. Great worship, great children’s ministry staff, great food. It was an off-the-charts weekend.

Sunrise over one of the lakes at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat.

Under the tent—the “meeting hall” at this not-yet-developed but full-of-potential camp.


Battle of the sexes . . . men against women in finger-rocket-blasters.

Fish fry—starring freshly caught fish by the campers—absolutely to die for (well, the fish did).


Cumberland Wilderness Retreat’s future—site of the first construction which will happen in the next few months. We prayed over the land together.

The family campers at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat: 75 campers, 17 families.

The family camp staff—all great folks who served endlessly through the weekend.

After a lovely day with the King family in Rome, GA, we flew home with T- 10 days til departing for our summer at Campus by the Sea.  Counseling, catching up, preparing for the summer, cleaning, sorting, packing, HIM Board Meeting…the days passed  quickly.  The highlight came in the form of Derek and Julie, Nathan and Rachel, who arrived for a short visit on Sat. the 4th.  What little joy bringers they are!  We had so much fun together doing not much more than taking walks, playing with toys, being entertained by the antics of these two adorable littles, and packing every bit of loving we could into three short days.  It was especially fun to share with Derek and Julie stories from our time in Uganda and Ethiopia.  We had so much love to give them from their many friends/colleagues/admirers.  

Papa and his well-loved grands, Nathan and Rachel.

Rachel lights up a room!

On Saturday, June 11, we flew to San Francisco and left behind all that never quite got done.  Out of sight . . . out of mind. We spent Sunday teaching at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City. Lead pastor Gary Gaddini, one of our dearest friends and ministry partners, is on sabbatical, so we were invited to fill the pulpit. Having spoken at PCC numerous times over the years, it feels a bit like “coming home” to be there as we are always so warmly welcomed. We love the ethos of PCC—a very Christ-centered, grace-giving, outreach committed church—which God is using to make an impact.

Highlights for us included meetings up with Bob and Clara Sharpless, who were on the original Campus by the Sea (CBS) committee with Paul’s parents and others back in 1968. That committee “saved” camp literally, as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) was ready to give up the lease due to the difficulty of staffing it. The CBS committee offered to take full financial and operational responsibility of the camp if IVCF would continue to carry the lease and the deal was made. Though the committee was disbanded in 1994, they served an incredibly important role in the history of CBS.

Bob and Clara’s love for CBS has never abated and until very recently, they attended a week of family camp each summer.  Their family torch is carried by their daughter, Mary Giani, and her husband, Paul, and their three kids, who continue to make family camp their tradition. 

We also reconnected with Jim and Marge Perry, long time CBS friends, as well as several families who are current CBS family campers. It was a day filled with wonderful reunions.

Bob and Clara Sharpless are such an encouragement as they continue to be involved in Kingdom building in their golden years.

 
Jim and Marge Perry have also been a part of CBS history for decades.  When we got married, they were family campers, and eventually their sons served on staff. 

 

More friends we got to hug at PCC.

We walked on the beach at Half Moon Bay for the balance of the day, after having a lovely lunch with some dear friends, and called it a day. On to Catalina the next day . . .


On the boat heading over to CBS for the summer. This is a great group!

We’re singing the “same song” for the 41st time, in a sense. There is so much that is consistent, known, traditional about being at CBS. The deeply embedded ethos, the commitment to the Lordship of Christ and servanthood. The set-apartness, the distraction-free zone, the protection. The peace, the solitude, the love. The community, the connections, the support. The freedom from technology, from cars, from craziness.  

There’s no place like it in our world. We are so very thankful for the privilege of serving here for over 4 decades.

So, orientation week is underway and we couldn’t be more thankful for the staff that God has brought together. All but four of our program staff are veterans so we have a huge head start as most of them know the ropes already. Cream of the crop, this group of 26 college students or beyond is serious about their relationship with the Lord and is committed to serving. It’s an honor to serve with them.

We’re spending all our time this week developing the curriculum for all the age levels and solidifying the extra-curricular all family activities. It’s a week of getting to know each other, sharing creative ideas, brainstorming, building anticipation for a great summer of serving together. There’s a lot of talent, passion, and heart for Jesus in this group. God is so faithful!

Staff optional hike up “Scar” with “Lone Tree” in the background.

Dick and Nancy Beggs, retired from Christian camping (they are connected with Camp Maranatha in Idyllwild), stopped by for a visit. Our friendship spans our marriage; we met them at the CCI conference at Mt Hermon in 1977. They are treasured friends.

The program team for the 2016 family camp season. Such a great, great group!!

So, here we are. Singing the same song . . . for the 41st time. Singing with joy, with anticipation, with passion. Pray for us!!


Sunset at Cumberland Wilderness Retreat.  Unfiltered beauty.  

Glorious Fall


We can’t remember a more glorious fall in all our years in New England (which shockingly now number 24!). We have delighted in and been enlivened by an unending and unfolding parade of brilliant colors, each seeming to proclaim the glory of God.  Words and photos both will fail to do justice to the autumnal gifts we’ve been indulged with.

It hasn’t been leaf peeping alone that has kept me from making a blog post, though admittedly I’ve exchanged indoor time for outdoor time as often as possible.  It’s my “carpe diem” bent at work: the keyboard will always be here, but the leaves and the warm temps won’t.

We’ve actually been home very few days this fall, and following a long summer of being away, the piles of unsorted build-up are constant reminders of an on-the-move schedule.  It’s all been good, fortunately, and full of numerous celebrations of weddings and birthdays and life in general.  

The day after returning from our final family camp over Labor Day weekend at Campus by the Sea, we drove to Philadelphia to officiate the wedding of Ross and Caitlyn Macrae.  It was a true honor to marry the son of our very dear friends, Doug and Julie Macrae, and the weekend was full of joy and celebration. 

Ross and Caitlyn Macrae stand with Paul soon after being pronounced husband and wife.
What fun it was to drive from the wedding festivities to Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, to visit Derek, Julie, and Nathan and to see the house they’ve just signed papers for. It has officially become real to us that they are stateside and only 7 hours from us!  With their second baby due in two short weeks, it feels like a gift to have them so “close.”  Derek is still working for CURE International, now as Director of Development and Sustainability.  They’re all adjusting well to their new life in America. 

Julie and Nathan stand in front of their new house in Mechanicsburg, PA.

Julie and Nathan visited us in Bedford while Derek returned to Africa for 10 days. We were home only two days (during which time we launched our Patriots studies ( the women’s study on Wednesday morning and the couples study Thursday night) plus, did some counseling, before heading to Nantucket Island the weekend of Sept. 18-20 to officiate another wedding. This was especially meaningful as it was a re-marriage for a couple who had been divorced for five years. It was such a huge celebration to reconcile a family in a beautiful seaside ceremony.

Wedding by the sea . . . Paul re-married this couple, much to the delight of their two children.

We had a great time on Nantucket  Island with Julie and Nathan. It was the first time for all of us to this beautiful island.

Because of the timing of the Patriots’ bye week, we had a 10-day break beginning Sept. 25. The timing was perfect as it enabled us to fly to Iowa to celebrate Paul’s Aunt Margaret’s 100th birthday on our way to a writing retreat in California. 

100th birthday!!!  Besides a little oxygen support, Aunt Margaret is remarkably young-old and healthy. Her mind is sharp, she’s very mobile, and the praise of her personal Lord is always on her lips. It was an such a joy and an honor to celebrate with her. Aunt Margaret was married to Paul’s father’s brother, Uncle Leland, who passed away a number of years ago. She has now survived three of her four sons, so her losses have been great, but her trust in the Lord has been unwavering. She’s still investing in others: a privileged group of young women are currently being mentored by this incredible woman of God. We were greatly inspired by her life and left praying that we would be like her when we grow old.

Aunt Margaret makes 100 years of age look like 80!

On to California we flew, where we spent the first two days doing a “marriage intensive” for a couple recovering from a huge hit on their marriage. God graciously met the four of us and much progress was made toward the restoration of their union. We’re so very thankful.

Since we were so “close”, we drove to Santa Clarita to celebrate Ana’s 2nd birthday. We had a brief 36 hours with the Garcia and managed to pack in lots of fun and celebration in that short time.

Ana is all smiles in her new birthday Sports Coupe.  Can’t  believe she’s 2 already!

Lots of fun birthday moments with our little pink princess and her big brother, who loves everything about birthdays, no matter whose it is.

We were blessed to spend the next five days in the villa of some dear friends who are committed to helping us get our current writing projects done. We walked the beach daily after putting a good day’s work at our computers. The time was productive and restorative, both of which were needed.

Our daily walk on the beach help to stimulate our brain cells for writing.

Driving from the Central Coast to Sacramento for our return flight, we were fortunate to meet up with three sets of dear friends, breaking up a long, beautiful drive with relational deposits.

We met up with our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent along the “gold coast.”  Note: only John is pictured here.   :-)  
We happily connected with our best friends from seminary, now living in Monterey, Johnny and Lori Potter.
And we checked in with newly transplanted from New England to CA, Steve and Jenny Luxa.  It made In-N-Out all the better to share it with friends!

Home just in time to speak to Park Street Church’s Union Fellowship (their young married’s group) on the subject of finances.  Our second time with this group, we love speaking into the lives of those in the 0-5 year stage of marriage.  We thoroughly enjoyed the evening!

The Union Fellowship at Park Street Church welcomed our teaching on finances.
Paul and Lianna Chong host the Union Fellowship group.

After leading the Patriots women’s study Wednesday morning and then counseling the balance of the day, I flew to Bozeman, Montana, to attend the wedding of my nephew Jonathan and his bride Marilee. Paul had been scheduled to officiate a wedding in Raleigh, North Carolina, which had to be postponed due to the deployment of the groom, but the changes came too late to get an affordable ticket for Paul to Bozeman, so I went “alone” —but was joined by Kari and Lisa there. It was a wonderful time of reunion as all six of my siblings and my mom were in attendance.  We had a great time being together and celebrating Jon’s marriage.  We also greatly enjoyed the beauty of Big Sky Country as we hiked and soaked in hot springs. Fun trip!

Jon and Marilee exit after being pronounced husband and wife by my brother-in-law, David Leach.

The original “Collins crew with the matriarch.
  
Home on Columbus Day, just in time for the foliage to explode in color. We’ve been on the road the past few years during peak week, so we’ve particularly relished the “parade of color” we’ve been treated to daily. Besides counseling and the Patriots studies, we spoke at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom on Thurs., Oct. 15. We always love to partner with this group! The young moms were so appreciative and responsive.

The Johnsons rolled back into town as Derek had a business trip to the west coast. So Julie was part of the weekend surprise getaway in honor of my dear friend Helen’s 60th birthday. Helen is one of those rare gifts in life. Our friendship began when she worked at Campus by the Sea in 1978 as a summer staffer, and it has only grown through the years. Helen has visited our home annually to get her “girl fix,” as she was an only child and has two sons but no daughters. She is well loved by all in our family. So we gathered a small group of seven and spent the weekend in Annisquam, honoring our beloved Helen. It was a great time.

Julie, Betty Ann, Barbara, Dawn, Helen, and me. Kelly had already retired for the night. Helen is still surprised!

This past weekend, we spoke at a local marriage conference hosted by Grace Baptist Church in Hudson, Massachusetts. Headed by Carl and Cathy Blatchley, the team did a fabulous job on the conference. It was so well run and so well received. We spoke on “Discovering Intimacy” to a packed-out sanctuary, and many expressed deep appreciation for the impact it had on them. We taught the next morning at both of the Sunday morning church services on “Living to the Praise of His Glory.”  Our time with the congregation of this very alive, very responsive church was positive in every way. We are so impressed by their vitality and their vision for kingdom work.   

Carl and Cathy Blatchley and Lars and Bethany Nielsen worked hard to make the Grace Baptist Church marriage conference successful.

We just received this kind note from one of the couples who attended the conference at Grace Baptist Church in Hudson:

“Thank you, Paul and Virginia, for a wonderful life-changing marriage conference. As I shared with you, I've never been to a marriage conference that takes the Biblical, temperament, and biological differences and make them very, very relevant to marriage. Your reinforcement of how differences can strengthen your marriage when viewed with grace and gratitude helped us greatly.”

 After the second service Sunday morning, we thank the Lord, with Carl and Cathy Blatchley, for meeting us this weekend.
After church, what a joy it was to have lunch with long time Berea family campers and friends Skip and Avonne Jarvis and their great kids Patrick, Kendra, Kara, and Isaac. They drove all the way from Chichester, NH, to share the morning with us!  Love them!

We managed to squeeze in a couples date night for New England Chapel in Franklin Saturday evening.  :)  Why not?  We love to speak locally, and happily fill in gaps with such requests.  It was a great night as we addressed “how to keep your marriage a priority."

Don and Betsy Hasselbeck were at New England Chapel for the couples’ night.  Love them!
Whew! Weddings. Birthdays. Seasons. Patriots. Moms. Marriages. Football. Reunions.  

It feels as though we’ve been “gathering nuts” for the long winter ahead. So much of the fall has been nurturing to our souls. Though our schedule has been full, it’s been primarily full of joys and celebrations. We feel very blessed and our hearts are overflowing with gratitude.

We’ll enjoy every last vestige of this glorious fall, ever aware that it merely reflects the glorious God we serve.




Endings and Beginnings


The exclamation point was put on the end of the Summer of 2015 with our Labor Day Family Camp. Spanning the past twelve weeks, we ended where we began the season: at Campus by the Sea . . . but managed to travel 8,000 miles and do family camp in two other states in between.

Our 18-year run of family camp in New England officially concluded on August 16 with the family camp closing banquet. This marked our 10th year of running two week-long camps at Berea in Hebron, New Hampshire, and we are so thankful to have ended on the high note of handing over a healthy family camp program to Nate Parks and his crew at Berea, who have a vision and passion for continuing these legacy-building camps.

We are so thankful for Nate (executive director of Berea) and Heidi Parks to whom we have passed the mantle of family camp.


This year, our two weeks at Berea didn’t begin 24 hours after our final camp at CBS like it has the past 3 summers (thank you, Jesus!) which enabled us to accept the request of Paul Gandy and Alyssa Gosselin to perform their wedding in Newport Center, Vermont, the day before camp began. What a joy it was to celebrate with these two, who over the past 3 years have wisely and honorably prepared for their life together. Their wedding was a true celebration of all that is good, and we loved being a part of it.

What a joy to perform the marriage of Paul and Alyssa Gandy in Newport, VT.

We came straight to camp from the wedding, meeting up with a “half staff” from CBS and a whole lot of questioning our own wisdom in deciding to team up with a “half staff” from Berea, along with hopes of a successful transition of family camp from H.I.M. to Berea. It had sounded wise and good last November when we devised the plan, but I’ll admit I had more than a few misgivings as we made the drive to camp. What if our teams didn’t mesh? What if the program would be compromised by having half a staff who knew nothing about what the other half had been doing all summer at CBS? What if . . . ? Many concerns swirled in my head, until several hours later we had our first meeting together.

As it turned out, we loved the “half staff” from Berea and I’m so thankful to say that our teams meshed and the program went off without a hitch. What a huge answer to prayer.

Of course, having the key positions and lead teachers filled by veteran CBS staff made a big difference. Shelby Dreves led the elementary program and Mark Barrett led the jr/sr highers, and their leadership was effective and respected. Ryan and Kelly Plosker knocked it out of the park with the college students.

Two “half staffs” combined to make a powerhouse “whole staff” at Berea. This is the week one staff . . .

. . . and this is the week two staff.
Both weeks were so full of grace and hand-of-God moments.  We know of at least two decisions for Christ during the first week. Fourteen were baptized. Several families who in past summers were hanging on by a thread were in much better places. Some made hard decisions during camp regarding relationships, lifestyle choices, etc. There was no mistaking that the Spirit of God was present and penetrating hearts.

The overwhelming response of family campers was that they were met by God, encouraged by community, and refueled and recharged for the year ahead. What a privilege to be a part of all of this!

Staffer Erik Anderson leads his group of guys.  During the second camp, we had 64 students 4th grade and below . . . and 51 of them were boys. 

Kelsey O’Keeffe, serving for the sixth summer at Berea, finds a creative place for her high school girls’ small group time.

Mark Barrett’s small group circles around one of their guys who decided to follow Jesus as camp wrapped up. They presented him with a Bible and are committed to praying for him. His decision for Christ follows 14 years of his grandmother bringing him to family camp. 
One of the 14 baptisms in Newfound Lake . . .
. . . with some of the witnesses celebrating this meaningful declaration.

Guy Steele, “Mr. Banner Man,” explains the tradition of families making banners as a memorial of their family camp week, as 18 banners, all made by the Glen and Barbara Franks family over the past 18 years, are paraded across the stage.  How cool is that???
We worked hard, and put in lots of hours, but we also played hard and made many great memories together.

Jumping into frigid water at Sculptured Rocks
provided an afternoon of fun.

Daily hikes along the lake front renewed our minds and worked our bodies.  Mark was joined by several other staff guys after this photo was snapped.

Howard Clark, who was our speaker for both camps, holds court with the staff during a riveting Question and Answer session. 

Our final staff photo after the week two banquet. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

In an unprecedented fashion, Paul and I took off moments after this photo was taken because we had to catch a flight from Boston to Detroit a mere 7 hours later.  All I can say is that we felt God’s leading in saying “yes” to the invitation to speak at the inaugural family camp for the 2/42 Church in Ann Arbor, so we did.

We again second-guessed that decision as we arrived home at 1 a.m. to re-pack, and were picked up at 4 a.m. to leave for the airport. But 3 days later, after our final session at the 2/42 Church’s first-ever family camp, we had no doubt.  

Held at SpringHill Camp in Evert, Michigan, we spoke at four sessions: two inter-generationally, and two to adults only. The campers were receptive, engaging, and so appreciative, especially after the sessions on marriage and parenting.

SpringHill is not CBS. :)  Zip lines, blobs, horses, “the gusher,” giant swings, ropes courses, gymnasiums . . . You name it, they had it. Their housing included a plane (re-purposed as a dorm) and 4 railroad cars (on a track), also re-purposed . . . and, a tram service connected the events spread over their 900-acre facility, giving it a distinctly Disneyland-esque feel.  

Standing in line for the zip line at SpringHill camp with the Wong family. We loved it!

SpringHill is a beautiful place!!

In spite of all those wonderful experiences (and potential distractions), the teaching sessions were well attended and we had many great conversations. It’s pretty cool to “just speak” at a family camp—a very different experience from running them!!

We drove back to Ann Arbor with Wai and Elaine Wong and family Sunday afternoon, exhausted but oh so thankful for the clear ways that God had met us and confirmed the “rightness” of being there.

To celebrate the end of family camp and Paul’s upcoming birthday, the Wongs took us to “Black Rock Steak House” for dinner and it was great!

We then went back to Ann Arbor to “play” with the Wongs for a couple of days.  Walks around the lakes, amazing meals, pedicures for Elaine and me, followed by some “great deals” shopping. A sweet visit with our niece, Heidi, and her 3 kids. Baking cookies and scones. Having competitive ping pong matches. Playing games. Eating custard. Wonderful moments and memories.

Brunch at the Wongs': great food, but greater company.
Our niece, Heidi Rottschafer Lemmerhirt, and her 3 came for a visit that was enjoyed by all.
After recuperating for a couple of days with our precious Wong family, we spoke for a couples event at the 2/42 Church Tuesday night. We really loved partnering with Eric and Stacey Rauch, the pastor to families for 2/42, who set up both the family camp and the couples night. They have a great vision for equipping and encouraging families in their fellowship and it was a privilege to be a part of it.

Eric and Stacey Rauch stand with us before we spoke for the couples event.
All too soon our Michigan days were over and back to Boston we flew on Wednesday, Aug. 26.  We spent 9 hours between Thursday and Friday doing a "mini-intensive” counseling for a couple who flew in from the south with hopes of saving their infidelity-ravaged marriage.  We felt God really met us and them and it seems He used those days as a turning point for them. All praise is His.

Off again: on Aug. 29, we flew to California to celebrate Paul’s 65th and Brandon’s 5th in Santa Clarita. What fun!!  A Brandon-designed day of mini-golfing, go-karting, swimming, bbq-ing salmon, and eating strawberry pie made for a perfect celebration and we enjoyed every minute of it.  We spent the next 3 days catching up with ourselves and hanging with the Garcias before driving to Riverside to spend a night with Lisa in her new world.

Mini-golfing—what fun. 

With temps reaching 106 degrees, it was really refreshing to jump in their pool.
The grand finale: strawberry cream pie a la Kari.

Lisa has officially begun her role as an associate professor at California Baptist University in Riverside, CA. She is teaching 5 athletic training courses, 3 of which are undergrad and 2 are master’s level (she’s co-teaching those.)  She’s renting a little CBU-owned house on the edge of campus and has happily traded her onerous commute for walking to campus.  She’s rediscovering the joys of good work-life balance and is super impressed with the Christian commitment of the president and faculty of CBU. We were so happy to get to experience her new life.

Standing in front of Lisa’s new rental at CBU!

Off to CBS we went on Thursday, the 3rd of Sept., to make final preparations for the 2nd Annual Labor Day Weekend Family Camp. Blessed with a largely veteran staff, and a full-with-waiting-list camp, we had great expectations going into the weekend.

And they were exceeded.

The program team worked together seamlessly. Cheerfully. Willingly. Flexibly. In a Christlike manner. It was truly a joy to partner with this crew, and as we told them, we’d work with any of them anytime.

The Labor Day Family Camp program staff team . . . a stellar group!

Though short, we manage to pack a lot in to the weekend and for the more than 50 family units who came, it worked for them.  David and Cherylyn Hegg were our resource couple and David’s two morning talks were received well. Paul and I spoke one evening on “living to the praise of His glory in your marriage” and the campers seemed to appreciate it.  We danced on the basketball court “under the lights” and worshiped around the campfire before having s’mores. Beautiful weather made the water so inviting and the kayak trip to Willow Cove was packed out. Early morning tubing, commencing in the dark-turning-light, was very popular.

A full camp enjoys worship led by Christian Hushaw, Alea Peister, and Seth Heinz.
Dancing under the lights and the stars.  Very, very cool.

Late-night staff gathering around Paul’s cookies and stories of engagements. Great bonding time.

David and Cherylyn Hegg served as our resource couple for the weekend. We always love spending time with them.
The weekend couldn’t have gone better. We had nothing but thankful hearts for God’s faithfulness as we sang the boatload of campers back to the mainland.

We sailed off the island that afternoon, concluding a long, wonderful summer of family camps. Our passion for family camps only deepens year by year. We continue to believe it’s one of the most impactful venues we invest in. It’s the place where “the worlds’ greatest need and our deepest passion” meet. So so grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve in this way.

After two days in San Diego with my mom, we’ll begin to settle in to a full fall in New England. More beginnings always follow endings. We are anticipating great things, at this point known only by God, but comforted by knowing He goes before us.

What a perfect ending to a wonderful visit with my mom!

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.

A Lifetime Ago

Re-reading my last blog post (March 22, 2015), it does seem like a lifetime ago.  The snow is now gone and signs of (a very late) spring are beginning to surface.  We’ve traveled 22,628 miles and spent almost 50 hours in the air since then.  We’ve been home 5 days since mid-March, and most of those have been filled with counseling or speaking locally.

No wonder our arrival in Uganda feels like a lifetime ago!

Before we hit the air again (in just over 30 hours), I’ll try to catch up with myself by reflecting on this “lifetime” in a few short paragraphs.

Perhaps what makes it seem so “epic” is that 3 of the past 4.5 weeks were spent in Africa.  It’s not only geographically far away, its culture and lifestyle are even more “far away” from our middle class American life.  The sights, sounds, and smells are constant reminders that we’re a long way from home… that is, until we reunited with our daughter and her family awaiting our arrival at Entebbe, and then, amazingly, we instantly felt “at home.” It’s amazing how relationships always transcend place.

And so began the fulfillment of our long-held dream to have our whole family experience Julie, Derek, and Nathan’s world together.  Our arrival on March 17th was followed by Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana’s on the 18th, and finally by Lisa’s on the 19th.  No small miraculous feat in itself…accomplishment by Paul who spent countless hours booking and re-booking flights for this trip.  Thankful for safe air travel for all, we continued traveling as we piled in vehicles and drove 5 hours to Mbale, the town in eastern Uganda that houses the CURE Pediatric Hospital where Derek serves as the executive director.  

Our first day in Mbale, visiting the CURE Children’s Hospital.


We had 10 days all together in Uganda and we made the most of them given the “constraints” we had given that 3 of the 10 family members were age 4 and under.  Bless those little ones!  We may have gotten no rest were it not for the napping and early-to-bed needs of such company.  

Our days in Mbale were divided between visiting the babies and mamas at the hospital (the highlight for everyone), playing in the Johnsons’ yard, taking walks in the neighborhood, eating fabulous meals a la Derek and Julie, and grabbing an occasion cup of cappuccino at the Endiro Coffee Shop.  We did venture on a “field trip” to Sipi Falls one day and enjoyed a short hike to a beautiful waterfall, but other than that, our world existed within about a 3-mile range between the hospital and their home.  Paul and I did one whole day of teaching on marriage for JENGA during the time we were all together, but otherwise we majored on the delight of being together as a family and we immersed ourselves in the Johnsons’ world.

Auntie Lisa and Brandon visit a sweet mama and her baby.

Gabe, Kari, and Ana went from bed to bed, talking and praying with the mamas.

Our day trip to Sipi Falls was wonderful and all made the hike
except Derek, who was nursing a knee injury.

Daily walks in the neighborhood gave us exercise and insights into the life and culture of Mbale.

The JENGA crew who spent the day with us being trained in Biblical marriage.

We loved every minute of it.  It was re-inspiring to view their life anew through the first-time eyes of the Garcia family. Brandon was beside himself with excitement to see Chiko II (the monkey that has been hanging out in the Johnsons’ yard for the last several months) swinging in the trees in their yard as well as the herds of Ankole cows ambling down the dirt road in front of the Johnsons’ house every morning and night.  Ana loved the Johnsons’ dogs, their son Nathan (who is just 2 months older than she is, and they did have some competitive moments of non-sibling rivalry), and all the babies at the hospital. Gabe and Kari were impressed by the mission and work of the hospital as well as by the realities of living in a developing country for the Johnsons. It’s hard to grasp what that means until you experience it firsthand.  Our awareness of the sacrifices and challenges of their life were heightened.

We also had an early 30th birthday celebration for Julie. We were all so happy to get to honor her in person for this milestone.

Chiko II pays us a visit during our outdoor breakfast.

The “cows come home” after a day of grazing.

We celebrated Julie’s 30th a bit early at the Endiro Coffee Shop.


After a week in Mbale, we headed northwest to Murchison Falls Game Park to go on a safari.  In spite of lots of rain, we had a fabulous time viewing the incredible creativity of God as seen in giraffes, elephants, Cape Buffalo, a female lion and her cubs, deer, antelope, wart hogs, hippos, crocodiles, eagles, and more.  We drove for about 5 hours through the savannah and then took a 3-hour “cruise” on the Nile up to Murchison Falls.  It was an unforgettable day and one we hated to see end.  

After a very long and bumpy 8-hour drive, a very happy crew arrives at Bwana Tembo,
our lodging for our safari.

Brandon was enthralled with every sighting, and was especially captivated by this giraffe that followed us for awhile.

On the Nile River cruise, we enjoyed watching these elephants frolic in the water.

We think it’s a friendly smile...

With Murchison Falls in the background, we get a family shot on the Nile.

What all good mates do: carefully groom their spouse.

Continuing our family tradition, we circled up to pray before parting ways.


We parted ways the next morning, with the Garcias and Lisa driving to Entebbe to fly home and Johnsons and us heading back to Mbale.  Paul and I had many great ministry opportunities the next week:  we did an all-day pastors’ conference focusing on marriage training, we spoke for a couples’ date night for Pearl Haven Christian Center, we spoke at the Easter Convention and for a pastor’s prayer breakfast, we did a bit of counseling, we hung out at the hospital, and we spent time with several missionary families.  We had the joy of celebrating Easter at Pearl Haven and were so lifted by the worship of our uninhibited African brothers and sisters.  Glorious!

We spent a day training these local pastors in marriage ministry.

Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, who lead the fellowship at Pearl Haven Christian Center, attended the couples’ date night dinner.

We spoke at the Pastor’s Prayer Breakfast during the Easter Convention.


We also spoke to the whole Easter Convention after the prayer breakfast.


Nathan and his good friend Faruke, whose father John is the groundskeeper for the Johnsons.  Faruke is a wonderful, motivated young man who will be sorely missed
when the Johnsons return to the States this summer.

April 7 we left Uganda to begin a very long trip home, which thankfully went without hitch, landing us in Boston late afternoon on the 8th.  No time for jet lag recovery as we counseled all day the 9th and ran our annual “Worth It” purity family conference all day the 11th.  

Yes, that was a very fast transition….and the Lord met us with amazing strength and energy.  We were thrilled to have a packed house for Worth It, which featured New England Patriots Nate Solder and Matthew Slater (with his wife Shahrzad), retired Patriot Don Davis, Camp Berea Director Nate Parks, UCLA head athletic trainer for women’s basketball Lisa Friesen, Grace Chapel Wilmington youth minister Adam Rowe, and LCA Creative Arts Director Christopher Greco and his wife Dorothy.  All spoke with power, clarity, and conviction regarding the goodness of God’s design for our sexuality and relationships.  


The “Worth It” speaking team — such a great group!!!  So thankful for them.

Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield hosted our annual “Worth It” conference
and the house was packed.

No rest yet: on Sunday Paul preached both services at Hope Community Church in Newburyport and that evening we returned to the church to speak for a Couples’ Dessert Night.  This was an event which had been snowed out in February and we were so glad we had a day to reschedule it.  We thoroughly enjoyed partnering with this alive church.

We rested on Monday, April 13th, as we flew to California.  :)  Tuesday and Wednesday we partnered with Grace Baptist Church of Santa Clarita, speaking at a mom’s event Tuesday morning and doing training for their Care Ministry teams on Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday night.  It was great working with Dan Broyles, their Director of Care Ministries.

Thursday was all about the Garcia grandkids: visiting the fish and turtle pond at the mall, eating at Chick-Fil-A, playing baseball in the back yard, building Legos creations, baking Gigi cakes, having “wrestle time”, and taking walks.  What’s not to love about grandparenting?!!

A favorite destination . . .

. . . and this is why!  Quite mesmerizing to watch these turtles and koi.


On to Tehachapi, California, on Friday to do a marriage conference for the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard. This church plant of the Desert Vineyard in Lancaster is thriving in this small mountain town under the shepherding of Barry and Saundra Galloway.  We were enveloped by their love and grace from the moment we arrived Friday evening until we left Sunday afternoon. The well-attended marriage conference Friday night and Saturday was vibrant and alive. We were very encouraged by the receptivity and teachability of the attendees. We spent Saturday evening talking with their ministry staff about balancing ministry and family, and then taught at both of their Sunday morning services on “Living to the Praise of His Glory.”  It was a very well-spent weekend.

Barry and Saundra Galloway shepherd the flock at Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard
and are impossible not to love.

A Campus by the Sea family camp planning meeting took place in the afternoon, followed by the UCLA women’s basketball banquet, and then a red-eye home.  Whaaaat???  Gluttons for punishment, perhaps, but it feels like we somehow gained a day, especially when flying west to east.  Our bodies aren’t fooled by such trickery, however, so we weren’t very productive after getting home early afternoon Monday.

Lisa, Head Coach Cori Close, and I get a photo prior to the Women’s Basketball Banquet.
Though it’s only been a month, it still somehow seems like a lifetime ago since I last wrote.  We are beyond thankful for all that’s gone down in this last month and are cherishing memories that will last a lifetime.  

From Africa with Love

We’re not in Bedford anymore!  We left behind 4 feet of snow (just after the “most snowfall record” was broken and temps were still deep in the basement…) and landed in Entebbe, Uganda, with temps in the 90’s and the parched land longing for the rainy season to begin.  

What a difference 8,339 miles and 30 hours can make!

The month leading up to this African ministry/family reunion trip has been full (!): of ministry opportunities, of challenging situations, of seeing God’s power and presence in incredible ways. Shortly after my last post, we headed to California to speak in Brentwood for a couples’ dessert night at Golden Hills Community Church (GHCC). Before we got to the church, though, we spent an evening with a handful of very special Campus By the Sea (CBS) “kids”, then we had breakfast with a precious couple we married 2.5 years ago for a slightly delayed “annual marital check-up”, and then we had lunch with a dear engaged couple we’ll be marrying in September.  We work these trips!

Sweet time with Liz Aleman and Julie and Nathan Aleman
in San Francisco soon after we landed in California.

Early morning breakfast with Drew and Dana Macrae for our annual “marital check-up."

Lunch with Ross Macrae and his fiancée Caitlyn
before heading to Golden Hills Community Church for the evening.


Our evening with Johnie Moore and his congregation at GHCC was delightful.  Their “dessert bake-off” contest was very competitive (and yummy) and the packed house of couples were receptive and warm.  Phil and Heather Andrews, long time CBS’ers (Heather was “raised” coming to Campus By the Sea, and now she and Phil are raising their two at camp), spearheaded the invitation and we were overjoyed to have a reunion with about 9 CBS families that evening, some who drove in from as far as Fresno, Chico, and Redding. Such a great time! We’re amazed to hear from couples at the end of such evenings how much of a “shot in the arm” it was to have encouraging words spoken into their marriage at “just the right time.”  That is the work of God . . . and we are so humbled to be a part of it.

Johnie and Becky Moore were such gracious hosts at GHCC.

The CBS contingent at the dessert night . . . How we love these families!


We flew to San Diego first thing Sunday morning and spent a couple of days with my mom. She continues to impress us with her remarkable “can-do” spirit and her gracious heart. She’s always so grateful for all gestures of care and kindness that come her way.  While we may struggle with spending less time with her than we’d like, she’s always quick to say, “I’m so grateful for any time we get to be together.”  What a gift to all of us who love her!

Though our time in San Diego was short, we were happy to connect with all three sisters who live there before we headed to Del Mar for the annual “Increase Conference” hosted by Pro-Athletes Outreach.  This is one of our favorite conferences every year for many reasons: it’s great to have time with current and former Patriots on a more casual basis than the season allows; we hear great teaching and enjoy sincere worship through music; the accommodations are always first-rate and we thoroughly enjoy being spoiled for those few days; and we love teaching workshops on topics germane to healthy marriages and are always amazed at how appreciative the audience is.  For the second year, we were able to bring my mom up for an evening and we think it definitely ranks on the short list of highlights of her year.  We are so touched by the care some of the players (who have become close friends through the years) extend to her.  Since my mother’s love for football makes mine look anemic (and those of you who know me know it’s not at all!), few things could trump being in a room full of NFL players, including some of her very favorites.  Special time.

My mom was pretty thrilled to have Danny Woodhead and Benjamin Watson
as her dinner dates at the PAO conference.


We red-eyed back to Boston before that conference ended (sadly) to run the H.I.M. marriage retreat, which seems like very poor planning, but actually was due to having to book our dates for the H.I.M. conference a year out and making the assumption that the PAO conference would stay in February where it has usually been. Alas, some things are beyond our control, so we beat a hasty retreat to Boston, made a pit stop in Bedford to change out our wardrobe (the summery clothes we wore in California weren’t quite appropriate for the winter wonderland we returned to!), and off to Newport, Rhode Island, we went.

Our annual marriage get-away conference was highly successful.  Sold-out weeks ahead, we had a full house whose evaluations affirmed that God met us in a significant way throughout the weekend. All praise is His.

We moved the weekend to the Hyatt Hotel on Goat Island after many years at Hotel Viking.  Though we missed many things about the ambience of the Viking, the Hyatt did a great job and proved to be very suitable in terms of conference space, meals, etc.  

David and Cherylyn Hegg, from Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, California, joined us for the weekend to teach 3 of the 4 plenary sessions (Paul and I spoke opening night).  David is a theologian whose regard for the proper and accurate handling of God’s Holy Word is high, which is quite refreshing in an age when value is often higher on connection than content. Fortunately David does both well: he connects well and his content is substantial.  His teaching was appreciated.

David and Cherylyn Hegg are dear friends and ministry partners.
We loved having them with us for the marriage retreat!


A moment of all-in-good-fun rivalry happened when Doug Macrae presented David, a diehard Seahawks’ fan, with a signed Tom Brady jersey.  :)  

Doug Macrae presents David Hegg with a signed Brady jersey . . .
just what every Seahawks’ fan wants.  :)


With 30 of the 130 couples being “newlyweds” (married 6 years or under), we moved our newlywed breakfast to the dinner hour and had a stimulating time of discussion about topics relevant to their stage of marriage.  We were so encouraged by the inter-generational mix of attendees overall, from 2 months married to 46 years married, and everything in between.  


The newlywed dinner was well-attended and spawned some lively discussion.


Our many workshops also got very high marks, as did worship, led again by Danny and Rayna Oertli.
  
Maybe the two highest points of the weekend were when two different couples shared their stories of hope.  One of the couples had survived adultery, and testified to the redemptive power of God in their marriage and family.  Another couple shared that the threat of divorce by a very dissatisfied spouse had been replaced by a vision of hope for their now thriving marriage.  Everyone was moved by these stories: by the honesty and candor of the couples, and by the hope-giving message of the gospel.

Everything ran like clockwork, and as Paul and I drove home, we focused on how grateful we were for God’s faithfulness and to have such an incredible team around us.  As he said to the team at conference end, “There’s no way we could’ve come in on a red-eye had we not had the team we have.”  Though many contributed, a huge shout out to Kelly and Ryan Plosker (who did decorations and goodie bags), and Barbara and Guy Steele and Jim and Sue Martis (who did registration, desktop publishing, folder production, hotel liaisoning, etc., as warranted).  Without their huge effort, it wouldn’t have happened.

Part of the H.I.M. team that worked the weekend.  So grateful for each one of these servants!

Kelly Plosker invested hours in making sure everyone felt welcomed
and cared for in the ballroom by her creative decorating.


Quoting from several evaluations that affirmed the impact of the weekend:

“Our first retreat and our mutual expectation for a clearer picture of God’s design for marriage was exceedingly met!  Thank you!” 
Thanks for another Christ-centered weekend and for giving us additional tools/resources to grow our marriage and further understand God’s plan for marriage.” 
“Thank you for this experience.  It has been life-changing for us and our marriage.”

With only one week before our departure for Uganda, we squeezed as much as we possibly could in to those 7 days.  Shock!

Monday night we hosted an H.I.M. Board and volunteer staff appreciation dinner.  We are surrounded by such wonderful, godly, servant-hearted people and will never be able to fully communicate our appreciation for them, but we tried.  Fun was had by all.

Tuesday was dedicated to shopping for our trip to Uganda and packing what we could at that point. We had a full day of counseling Wednesday, and some Thursday as well. Friday morning we drove to Portland, Maine, to speak to a Mom’s group at Eastpoint Church and loved that. Friday night one of our couples for Engagement Matters (EM) who were staying at our home arrived, and all day Saturday and Sunday were spent teaching EM to a very full house. Saturday night we spoke for a New England Chapel couples’ night in Franklin, Massachusetts, and Sunday night we finished packing for Uganda.  :) Since we had to leave our house at 3 a.m. Monday for the airport, it was a good thing we didn’t have time to go to bed anyway.  :)

Engagement Matters delights us in every way. The 19 couples who attended exhibited such openness and genuine desire to hear important Biblical truth about God’s design for marriage. They asked great questions and interacted in and out of sessions.  We love wrestling with important issues before a couple is married and truly believe it pays off after marriage.  Hosted by the Bilazarians at their lovely Victorian home in Andover, we were grateful to have Carl and Cathy Blatchley on the serving team and Ryan and Kelly Plosker on the teaching team.  Our collective hearts pray that God will really use this weekend to better prepare couples to pursue God-honoring marriages.

Engagement Matters attendees March 14-15, 2015
The serving team: Melanie Bilazarian and Cathy and Carl Blatchley.
 
The warm home and yummy food were appreciated by all.


Several comments from attendees:

"I now have many tools to work on bettering my relationship and having a successful marriage.”
“I loved the tie back to scripture and the examples and anecdotes were good for getting a point across.  I also appreciated the resources available and recommended.”
“Everything was explained so well and in such an engaging way.  Everyone was so approachable for questions.  I loved it all.  Very well done.”
“It opened up many avenues of discussion, many topics covered that we haven’t thought through.”

Very, very thankful for the opportunity to speak into the lives of these young people and for how God met each of us during the weekend.

After such an exhausting week, we were glad to have some really long flights to Uganda to sleep and process. Off we flew in the middle of the night, just hours after Engagement Matters ended, and by Tuesday early afternoon, we were happily hugging Derek, Julie, and Nathan at the Entebbe airport. Twenty-four hours later, Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana arrived, and nineteen hours later, Lisa arrived.  Family complete for the drive to Mbale as this long dreamed of, long planned for family reunion/ministry trip launched.

We are beyond thankful and thrilled to be here together, embracing the life Derek and Julie have had together the past 3.5 years. Since they will be returning to the states in late summer to begin Derek’s new position at CURE headquarters in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, the window of opportunity to make the trip was now or never.  We are so grateful it has worked out.

My next blog will detail our time here, so for now, sending much love from Africa. 

Our first day at the CURE Hospital . . . deeply moving.

Finally . . . an update!

It’s been a long time since my fingers have found this keyboard to update our lives via this blog but finally, with 14 hours of flying ahead, here we go! 

Crazy busyness marked the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the first two weeks of 2015 have rather idyllically been spent in Hawaii: a vacation around speaking at a marriage conference.  Tough gig, but someone has to do it.  Though fully intending to write this before the new year launched, the mesmerizing tranquility of the island trade winds and nirvana-esque existence framing each day drained me of all motivation to get anything done that was unrelated to discovering the beauty of God’s creation in the sea and on the land.  

So here we are, flying to the frigid northeast after spending two weeks in daily temps of 80 degrees.  The adjustment might be brutal—unless there’s snow to play in. Only then is cold redeemed.  :)

Very briefly recapping, Thanksgiving was spent with my mom and siblings in San Diego at sister Sue’s house.  Lisa, Paul, and I drove down for the day since Lisa had to be back for UCLA vs. Nebraska on Friday, but it was a sweet day.  Holidays, especially the “firsts” without a loved one, seem to stir deep emotions and that was certainly true for us as we had our first Thanksgiving without our beloved father.  Many happy memories of Thanksgivings past surfaced, and though tinged with the sadness of his absence, our focus was gratitude for the richness of our many years together.

A fair representation of the Collins family line gathered at my sister Sue’s home for Thanksgiving.


The balance of the weekend was full of fun moments: the UCLA women’s basketball game, which we lost but we loved seeing in person; Black Friday fabric shopping deals (and a few other deals as well!); the Garcias, who returned early from Sacramento making it possible to have a Thanksgiving celebration with them and Lisa in Santa Clarita on the first Sunday of Advent.  

Coach Cori Close inspires her team, though their efforts fell short vs Nebraska.

Brandon and Auntie Lili at our Thanksgiving-on-1st-Advent-Sunday celebration
enjoying their “name card cookies."

It all ended too quickly and suddenly we were on our way to Orlando, Florida, to speak at the Christian Conference and Camping Association (CCCA) national conference.  Formerly known as CCI, we were quite involved with them in our early years of running CBS, but it had been 20 years since we had been at one of their conferences.  What a joyful reunion!!!  We love the work of CCCA.  Back in the day, it was so life-giving for us to attend these conferences and rub shoulders with those in like-profession with similar challenges and mutual understanding.  It was as though no time had passed, honestly.  Some of our long time camping cronies were there and conversations revealed that we still understand each other and the challenges and delights of camping ministry.

Our two workshops were well attended (packed and overflowing) and we’ve received very positive feedback, including a tentative invite to speak at next year’s conference.  We spoke on marriage and family issues in the camping context and there was high interest in the sessions.  

But the highlight of the conference was connecting with Gabe and Rosemary Valencia, who direct Mile High Pines Camp in Angeles Oaks, California.  Gabe seemed exceptionally thrilled to meet us when he found out we were from Campus by the Sea and then he explained that he had come to CBS in the early 80’s with Father Norm Supenchek and there had met Christ.  He said he had always wanted to relate his story to those responsible for the work there and finally was able to do that upon meeting us.  He and his wife have raised 5 great kids at their camp and have had a significant impact on the Kingdom, all beginning with his surrender to Christ at CBS in ’80’s.  What a gift for us to hear his story!!!  God is so faithful and good.

Gabe and Rosemary Valencia encourage us with their story
at at the CCCA Conference in Orlando.

We spent a couple of days in Vero Beach following the conference, writing and working on curriculum.  Though the somewhat stormy weather did not cooperate with helping us get a head start on our tans for Hawaii, we had long walks on the beach twice daily anyway.  Great time.  Home on the 9th of December, it suddenly didn’t seem that wise that we spent those days in Vero as I counted only 7 days between then and when the Johnsons would arrive from Uganda.  We returned to a home still decorated for fall and uncut flannel for Christmas jammies—and a schedule full of counseling and Patriots events, as well as a few houseguests along the line.   

No time for eating bonbons.  Start your engines.  We were off and running.

Cutting out flannel.  Sewing.  Sending packages.  Baking gingerbread houses.  Decorating.  Making ornaments.  Last minute shopping.  More packages.  Caramel corn.  Jam.  Welcoming a brief but wonderful visit with Elsa Stanley, who was in town for a teachers’ conference.  Picking the Johnsons up at Logan—oh, happy day!—and seeing our house and its perils through the eyes of a 16-month-old adorable and curious explorer.  

Elsa Stanley, whose dad Mark we’ve known since we were students at SDSU,
graced us with a sweet visit upon our return from Florida.


In the midst of super-productivity, we wisely took some time to enjoy the season.  A small group of Patriots accompanied us to the Highrock Church Christmas Concert, which ranks among the top musical celebrations of the season we’ve ever experienced.  Plan to attend next December if you want to be exhilarated by exceptional talent and unmitigated passion expressed by the choir.  We also had a lovely evening out with our dear friends Doug and Julie Macrae, whose presence we miss greatly since they moved to Florida.  My dear friend Helen spend several days with us, serving as my "right hand elf” in wrapping, packing, sewing bows on jammies, etc.  She willingly did whatever needed to be done, and without her, I really wouldn’t have accomplished my scaled down “to do” list.  Friends who are willing to serve in the midst of their own frenzy are so rare and such gifts.

Besides all the preparations for Christmas, we did many hours of counseling and wrapped up our Patriots women’s study as well as our couples’ study.  We are so thankful for such a high level of interest and participation in both studies this fall.  The women really “got into” the book Mended by Angie Smith, which promoted a lot of good discussion.  We closed out our season together by making cinnamon rolls and having a goofy gift exchange.  I really miss meeting with the ladies.

Just before Thanksgiving, we made apple pies from scratch at the Patriots women’s study.  

At our last meeting, after making cinnamon rolls, we exchange goofy gifts,
some of which are displayed.


For the final couples’ study, we invited David Swaim (lead pastor of Highrock Church in Arlington, Massachusetts) to speak, and he did a great job.  There was a lot of great interaction with a large group of couples all fall; we continue to pray for eternal fruit.

Our final Patriots couples’ study night . . . missing four couples who had come all season.
It was a great group.


UCLA gave us a Christmas present by scheduling a game against UConn women on Dec. 21.  We had 25 UCLA fans join us at the game . . . though we barely put a dent in the crowd of 9,000 UConn crazies.  :)  After a tough loss, we got to take Lisa home with us for Christmas!  Such joy.

"Go Bruins” was lost in the huge crowd of UConn fans, but we were there!!


Our 5 days together for Christmas were full of delight. The girls were game to decorate the traditional gingerbread houses, finish up baking, make deliveries, wrap, etc.  We had the loveliest Christmas Eve celebration, starting with church at Highrock, followed by dinner at our home with Paul and Dawn Amico and their three great kids.  Nathan loved having some kids to play with and all enjoyed our Happy Birthday Jesus cake, served with homemade peppermint ice cream. 

Hadden, Lucy, and Wiley join Papa and Nathan in singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.


Christmas Day, though not “white,” was full of precious moments and celebration.  Nathan was pretty excited about his Little Tikes basketball hoop and entertained all of us for hours as he shot hoops.  We moved slowly through the day, savoring the Christ Child and each other.  Opening gifts provided everything from the hilarious to the poignant and, as always, produced repeatable sound bites.  Hank Bazigian joined us for dinner, continuing that loved tradition, and we eventually closed the books on Christmas 2014.  Lisa left very early the next morning to return to her duties at UCLA.

This little boy is all about balls!  Christmas morning fun.


Paul, Lisa, Julie, and Hank strike a natural pose for the photographer.

We had a few more happily exhausting days with Derek, Julie, and Nathan, and then WE were off to Hawaii (Dec. 30.)  It was so hard to leave before Johnsons left, but our schedule is so packed between now and this coming September, that we had to grab some renewing vacation time before our life ramps up this weekend.

And that’s what we got.  A dear friend loaned us her condo on the Big Island and we spent 9 days there, exploring, snorkeling, hiking, swimming, discovering, and relaxing.  It was everything and more than we had hoped for. Beautiful weather. Lots of turtles and fishes. Great pineapples, papayas, and bananas.  Beautiful sunrises and spectacular sunsets.  We were even fortunate to cross paths with Linda Bartel Dismukes, (she went to SDSU with me and has been involved with CBS since college), who is serving at YWAM Kona currently, and with our nephew Mark Herbst and his wife, Angie, who were vacationing on the same island at the same time. Every day was pretty amazing, and the beauty and diversity of creation continually pointed us to Creator God.

Linda Bartel Dismukes joined us for coffee in downtown Kona.

We spent a great evening with Mark and Angie Herbst (Mark is our nephew.)


On to Kauai we flew on Friday, Jan 9.  We spoke at a marriage conference sponsored by Global Algae Innovations, a cutting edge company founded by our friends, Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck.  Long time family campers at CBS, they had a vision for encouraging and strengthening the marriages of their employees and included the local churches in the opportunity. Kalaheo Missionary Church hosted the conference Friday night and Saturday and everyone seemed pleased with the event.  The second annual conference is already in the works.

Church Sunday morning with Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck and John and Marilyn Nugent.


Our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent decided to plan their annual trip to Hawaii around our conference, so we spent the last 5 days on Kauai with them.  It’s no challenge to find great things to do and beautiful things to see in Kauai, so we spent the days exploring, thrilling to see whales breaching, spouting, or waving a fluke, as well as watching graceful swimming sea turtles en masse. We could never tire of experiencing the wonder of our Father’s world and are coming home refreshed, renewed, and overflowing with gratitude and wonder.

We walked endlessly along the coasts of these Hawaiian islands . . .

. . . and at points, came upon sleeping turtles . . .


. . . or swimming turtles.  Any kind of turtles worked for us.


We landed back in Boston just hours ago and entered a wintery landscape. We’re not in Hawaii anymore!!  We head out tomorrow to speak at West Point, so we’re off and running, but we do so feeling energized and ready to get back in the saddle. This has been a very good time of rest and recreation for us and we are deeply grateful for the time and the generosity of those who helped make this happen in a variety of ways.

In the midst of all this loveliness and extravagance from God, we are aware that many are living with great sadness, pain, and brokenness.  We continue to read every word Kara Tippetts pens on her blog Mundane Faithfulness and we have not stopped praying for God to do a miraculous intervention of healing for her as cancer ravages her body.  Our hearts are heavy for her, her husband Jason, and their 4 beautiful (and young) children who are walking this very dark valley now.  Our hearts and prayers are constantly also with Steve and Sharol Hayner, as Steve’s health declines and hospice is invited in. Two very godly people who seem far too young to die, and yet whose journeys are teaching us that dying well is as important as living well.  

And so we take the broken with the beautiful and get a more accurate picture that He alone is our hope and that true beauty exists only because of and in Him. That which is broken is mended through His healing presence.  On the brink of this new year, we’re reminded that our souls will only truly find rest and contentment in Him. Reinforced for whatever lies ahead, we submit to Him with confidence that He’s got 2015 in His hands.






Summer is done done

Do you remember the time when summer didn't officially end until after Labor Day weekend . . . and then some?  Though summer 2014 has for many been over since the middle of August (really???), our summer is only now "done done."  I'm flying home from San Diego today, after spending the last lingering vestiges of summer in that beautiful city visiting my mom and sisters.  Walks on the beach and warmish ocean water confirm that summer is holding on a bit, but when I land in about 6 hours, it really will be over.  With a twinge of sadness, I'll pack away "summer only" things—but a full and beautiful fall is in the offing, and life moves on.

We managed to pack much into the past three weeks (gasp!) post surgery. A few days of "what hit me?!” or "what ran over me?!” shifted my expectations of a "walk in the park" recovery from ventral hernia repair surgery to "I didn't see this coming" shock, but after four days of not much movement from the couch, we headed up to Ogunquit, Maine, for two days of R & R before heading back to California for our final family camp there.

Getting to be in Maine was so worth the effort!  We stayed in a sweet cottage "loaned" to us by our dear friend Hank and walked all over that adorable little seaside village. Early morning sunrises, fresh "lobsta" off the pier in Perkins Cove, endless "slow" walks on the beach, and nothing on the agenda but relax, relax, relax.  It was just what we needed and we felt very renewed by the time.


The sun rises over Perkins Cove . . . in the very still, cool morning.  Love.
Paul's "birthday lobsta" from dear friends . . . so yummy!


We returned to reality long enough to (re)pack, check in with the doctor (he said that all I was experiencing that was unexpected by me was "normal" - which seems like it shouldn't have been unexpected, but . . .) and off we flew to California on Wednesday, Aug. 27.  We had two very important birthdays to celebrate before heading over to Campus by the Sea, and we arrived just in time to make (Paul's) and  Brandon's (6)4th birthday cake. If it looks familiar, it's because it's just like last year's cake . . . only with a 4 instead of a 3.  Brandon's temperament is beginning to show.  :)

Gigi and Brandon decorate his birthday cake.

The finished product brought smiles all around.

Papa and Brandon break in his new birthday squirt guns in the pool.  Not sure who had more fun!!

What fun to have just over 24 hours with Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana before they headed to Sacramento for the long weekend, and we headed to Catalina.  Love being able to celebrate these two very special men!  We were also thrilled to spend the night with Lisa in her new condo in Sherman Oaks.  She found a great place to rent with two other women and we loved "meeting" the place and the roommates finally!

Off to Catalina we went early Friday morning for the first ever Labor Day Weekend Family Camp.  The CBS powers-that-be thought it would be worth trying at least once to see if it would lift any burden off the very impacted six week-long family camps and to see if there is a market for a shorter, less expensive family camp option.  They asked us to speak for it, feeling that might give it the best shot at success—as well as direct it.

It seemed so simple a year ago to say "yes" to the proposal.   As the time drew near, however, we realized it would be much more challenging than we anticipated.  No one really expected it to sell out and have a waiting list months ahead, but it did. Just under 200 campers gathered for the weekend, and 14 of them were under 3 years old.    “It shouldn't be a challenge to pull together a staff…” proved to be the most unrealistic expectation we had. What???  As it turned out, few of our 2014 summer staff were available to serve that weekend.  One-third of them live far from SoCal (in VT, OK, WA, PA, FL, etc.) and most of the rest had school (shocking that Labor Day is not honored on most college campuses!), jobs, or weddings. In the end, though, God provided in amazing and almost miraculous ways to meet us and all our needs and the weekend went without a hitch. The staff team He brought together was incredible.  We were SO SO thankful when all was said and done.


Paul was honored by the staff  with a Shelby-directed birthday skit,
since camp started on his real birthday.


We were very thankful to have Ray and Carol Johnston, along with their daughters, Christy and Leslie, serve on our staff team. Treasured friends for about 30 years now, Ray helps Paul celebrate his birthday with a beautiful blue, matches-his-eyes polo.

Lisa came through, recruiting Rhema and Kendrick (both UCLA student athletes)
to serve on our staff.  They all did a great job.

Here's the team!!!  Such a great group.  We were very blessed to partner with them.  Four of them had never been to camp before, but within 24 hours, we were a well-functioning team—and by the time Monday rolled around, we felt like we had served together for a lot longer than 72 hours. Hand of God!

We used the first two program days of week-long family camp (transformation and proclamation) for the two full days of camp and the campers rallied around the themes quickly.  We had the dance night and ice cream social Saturday, and on Sunday evening, Paul and I spoke on temperaments followed by the worship at the fire ring and s'mores.  The weekend was packed full and everything went according to plan.  We all commented on how thoroughly engaged the campers were from the moment they arrived.  They squeezed in all they could, from waterfront activities to banner making. They didn't miss a beat.  We even had four baptisms!

Kendrick, Lisa, and I hosted one of the s'more tables, a first for Kendrick.
He was a quick study . . . spearing those marshmallows!

We lost our sunlight earlier than we finished our dancing,
so with the aid of a floodlight, the dance went on.  Very cool!

While we were committed to doing the best program we could, God was up to far more important things.  Here are some of Paul's reflections on the weekend:

"A husband, coming very reluctantly to camp, came up after a session asking if we had been living in their attic. “Those were the exact issues we have been facing.”  He later told us it was either a miracle at camp for them or divorce.  They left with a new resolve and hope for a future together.
Another single guest was in tears as she let us know she had never seen families eating together.  She later called her mom and asked why they had never been together around the table for meals.  Her mom apologized for this and a new bond was formed between a mom and daughter.
Another couple came estranged because of sinful choices the husband had made.  During the weekend there was repentance, forgiveness, and hope for a future.  It was a very powerful weekend."

And yet another: a young single man came really questioning his relationship with God.  "This is a make or break weekend for me" he explained to our staff.  God met him in extraordinary ways, and he left camp changed, committed to whole-heartedly following Jesus.

One woman wrote:  "We were tremendously blessed, healed, convicted, and guided to seek God in an intimate, surrendered way."

Another wrote on her evaluation:  "As I looked at the staff this morning (as they stood before us and sang the Benediction), there is such a 'sweet, loving, kind, gentle, humble, and pure spirit' among them.  That spirit of purity is the spirit of CBS.  We love CBS.  We love CBS.  We love CBS."

And one more:  "I feel that we got the best of the week-long camp smashed into a weekend.  It was such a great experience for everyone."

All praise is His.  Our desire is to live to the praise of His glory.  Hearts overflowing with gratitude.

We spent an extra day at camp, debriefing the summer with the senior leadership team, and that was time well spent.  We all agreed the Labor Day camp is a keeper.

Down to San Diego we went on Wednesday to spend some time with my dear mom.  It was a very special time to just be together. The highlight was being with her at her oncology appointment and hearing the doctor's report that her latest scan was clear.  What great news!! It was also fun to be there to host two couples who have been long time friends and colleagues of my parents.  It's very meaningful to hear insights from them of my father's life and its ongoing impact on them.  I love that! His legacy lives on.

One more highlight for me was reconnecting with my 7th grade Physical Education teacher, Mimi Test.  She was a young Navy wife doing her first teaching stint at my junior high school and my Mom took her under her wing as a very experienced Navy wife.  My mom's care for her and my "love" for her bonded us in a way that has never faded.  What a treat it was to spend several hours with her and catch up on years gone by.  She's a remarkable woman, full of wisdom and grace, and I was reminded of how blessed I was to have her as an important mentor during such an awkward season of life.

Besides people time, we walked the beach, watched the sunset, enjoyed simple meals together, and somehow managed to make 3 runs to Costco in 6 days.  We also had a special night at the Lamb's Players Theater in Coronado seeing a fabulous production of "Les Miserables."  If you live in San Diego, don't miss it.  They've just extended it until early November.

Walking the beach at Torrey Pines State Park . . . breathtakingly beautiful.
Lunch with Mimi Test and my mom was a true highlight of my time in San Diego.
All too quickly the time came to an end and I said farewell to my precious mom and to summer in the same breath.  The seemingly endless summer is truly done done.  What a great one it was!


The sun sets on the summer at Coronado Beach.  "The heavens declare the glory of God."  Amen!


I Must Stop Blinking!

Three short weeks ago we were wrapping up our 7th week at Campus by the Sea and today I'm 4 days in to recovering from my ventral hernia repair surgery, which took place Tuesday, two days after we got all of our New England family camp staff to the airport, ending our nine-week-straight-out-ministry-packed summer. I must stop blinking!!

If ever we have been more aware of God's gracious and generous hand of provision and protection upon us, I'm not sure when it would be. Arriving in New England on Sunday, Aug. 3, after red-eying it out from California just hours after wrapping up Family Camp 6 at CBS, we were concerned: about health, strength, integrating the supplemental staff who would be joining our very cohesive pre-existing team, the weather (something we never worry about at CBS!), etc.  

We prayed.  And prayed.  That God would supernaturally meet us . . . and He did. In spades.

Both weeks at Berea were exceptional. Beginning and ending with the staff, who became a team very quickly and served tirelessly and cheerfully.  We all agreed that it would help no one to talk about how tired we were, so at our first staff meeting that Sunday afternoon, we collectively pronounced, "We're tired!" and decided that was all that needed to be said. Naps during the first two afternoons and observed bedtime helped close the gap, and thankfully we all made it.        

We can't really say enough about the delight of working with this group of "cream of the crop" kids. They served well, modeled Christlike character, invested in the campers, honored the community, and had a blast together. Pulling together the "right" staff is always a challenge and God provided for all of the needs, some of which we didn't know we had until we had them!

Staff team for HIM/Berea Family Camp Week 1
Staff team for HIM/Berea Family Camp Week 2


Ashoke and Stephanie Bachew from Trinidad were our resource couple for the two weeks.  Ashoke's testimony—of coming to Christ from his Hindu background when 14 short term missionaries from Michigan did a Backyard Bible Club in his town forty-six years ago—was inspiring.  Only 7 children came to those meetings, but all met Christ and the six young men all went in to full time ministry (including Ashoke and his brother Kiki) and the young woman served in the education department of the Trinidad government and is credited with introducing Religious Instruction (RI) into the schools.  What incredible fruit!

Ashoke and Stephanie Bachew joined us from Trinidad for our two weeks of family camp at Berea.

Ashoke's story-telling teaching style was real, down-to-earth, honest, and passionate, reflecting the depth of his heart for the Lord.  Stephanie sang a solo at each session which was ministry in itself. They made themselves available throughout the weeks and many campers took advantage of meeting with them individually. They served well and were so appreciated. They were accompanied by their son Joshua, who took delight in serving whenever and wherever he could.

There were many unforgettable moments during the two weeks of family camp. During camp 1, eight youths were baptized and each articulated their faith journey with clarity and boldness. Four adults chose to be baptized during the second camp in the presence of a community they've come to know and love.

Newfound Lake provided the perfect setting for baptism for these eight . . .

. . .  and during week 2, these four adults.

On the last day of each camp, Paul honored Bill and Ruth Campbell.  "Salt of the earth" servants for Christ, these two are deeply loved by all who come to Berea.  Ruth's domain is the camp store, where selling merchandise is second to reinforcing Bible verse memorization.  Ruth rewards any camper who recites verses from scripture with "Berea Bucks,” currency honored in the store. She is loved by all.  Bill superintends the rifle range, besides maintaining the grounds, washing dishes, serving in the buffet line, or doing whatever else is needed.  They are rare gems who are exchanging "retirement" for full-on Kingdom work and are such an inspiration! From each family camp, Guy Steele made a banner for family campers to sign and express appreciation to the Campbells for all they do for and mean to family camps. It's always such a delight to honor such well-deserving partners.

Bill Campbell accepts the signed banner from Paul during our closing session.

Berea Family Camp traditions are so beloved.  The all family "finger blasters" battle is always a favorite. Inter-generational and all-out, the gym is the scene of unmitigated enthusiasm, competition, and laughter as the (mostly) harmless "finger blasters" are aimed at the opposition. The rules are ignored as are “hits," but everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, has a blast. Paul and I had our annual "shoot-out" each week and we both walked away with a win. Which makes it a "win-win." 

The staff have their own finger-blasters battle after the campers have cleared out . . .
one of the many perks of being on staff here.  :)

Another beloved tradition is having worship and s'mores at the fire ring.   Following the game night, this is such a highlight of each week. Perhaps it's being in the great outdoors, in the cool crisp night air, with the expanse of the heavens providing the backdrop...but worship is always so robust, heartfelt, and joyful in this venue.  And interacting with family campers serving s'mores is a blast. Love this night!!

MaryAnn Bastedo, Melissa Kovacs, and Josh Bachew join me in serving s'mores at this station . . . 
. . . while Shelby Krueger, Jessica Hopkins, Naomi Frey, and Elissa Johnson
keep customers happy at the other station.

The amphitheater was packed for our outdoor worship evening and
perfect weather enhanced the whole experience.

Long after most campers had left the amphitheater, Kelsey O'Keeffe, Kayla Krogh, and Scott Johnston kept the singing going with this little crew of siblings and cousins.  Endless worship!!!

Speaking of worship, throughout both weeks, it was stirring and unifying. Paul Gandy did a great job leading a whole new team at Berea; they didn't miss a beat from the opening session to the last. I love this picture of some of our almost 70 junior high and high schoolers during week 1's closing session.  

The final worship set for week 1.  I love this shot of some of the
70 junior/senior highers at camp this week.  They were tight!


Paul Gandy, Kelsey O'Keeffe, Dakota Baker, and James Yardley lead worship for both camps.  During camp 2, they were joined by Glen and Zachary Powell.  Worship was inspired.


Another highlight for most is being honored by a creative skit if your birthday or anniversary happens to land during family camp.  Directed by staffer Rachel Weeks (who did an incredible job all summer producing skits), this "attack of the ninjas" skit was wildly popular.  She never lacked for willing "actors and actresses" from the staff team to pull off these unique and personalized tributes.

The ninjas await their cue for the birthday skit.

All summer we pray for protection and safety, both physically and spiritually. And for 39 summers, we've been spared any really serious, life-threatening incidents. This summer could've changed all that when during the second week of camp at Berea, one of our campers had an accident doing a back flip at Sculptured Rocks.  Only the hand of God protected him from either death or a paralyzing injury, and after an ambulance ride and hospital visit, he walked away with stitches in the back of his head.  I almost didn't include this account, but God used this "near miss" dramatically in the life of family camp 2, so it would be an omission to not mention it.  Everyone was affected:  the forty or so campers who witnessed the accident (and who all, in some way, became a part of the rescue effort) and everyone else who became a part of the prayer/support team in the aftermath.  When he returned to camp with a relatively minor injury, no one believed it was due to anything less than the intervention of God Himself, who spared us incalculable  trauma and sorrow.  The impact was felt by all.  Person after person testified at the banquet about how God had met them through this near tragedy.  We have not stopped giving thanks to the Lord for this incredible expression of His grace and mercy.


Family camps are a lot of work, for sure, but there are moments of renewal and refreshment along the way.  These are a few glimpses into staff life "outside of the classroom."

Each week, the staff had an audience with Pastor Ashoke,
who taught on full surrender and relationships.

A trip to Sculptured Rocks was fun and cold as each brave staff
jumped into the frigid snow melt pooling river.


Twice-daily staff meetings were punctuated with occasional treats. 
This basket of candy bars from Kelly Plosker brought smiles to all.

Creative rain gear (modeled by Jessica Hopkins and Shelby Dreves) was in order on Wednesday of camp 2 when a huge thunderstorm visited the area from early morning ’til late night.  

Our California staff were amazed that even with such a deluge,
life goes on as though nothing were happening.

In place of the daily Scar hike at CBS, this staff takes a daily 4-mile roundtrip hike
to the lighthouse, followed by a refreshing swim in the lake.

This is it.  Final night . . . after 9 full weeks for most, and 2 for some,
we join arms in the gym to celebrate the faithfulness of God.



And the next morning, after an all-camp photo, we sing "We love you campers, oh yes we do!"
to our loved, departing family campers.


After all that, we spent Saturday, August 16, in Boston, touring and eating and enjoying all that is good in Christian community, before we went in many different directions very early the next morning. And just like that, I blinked, and the summer of 2014 ended.

One last hug before the team began to disperse.  So much love.  Such full hearts.

So there you have it.  A very quick peek into a hall of fame summer.  A summer full of grace, hope, learning, service, pleasure, growth, encouragement, exhaustion, renewal, and community.


Among the many lessons I'll take with me, one will be "do not blink."

39 and Counting!

No, that's not my age.  We've just completed our 39th summer at Campus by the Sea and we're just getting warmed up.  :)

I'm writing from Camp Berea on Newfound Lake, where we are hosting our 7th family camp straight in as many weeks. Though "tired" on many levels, I can't think of a summer that ranks higher in terms of God's favor on the staff, the program, the "aha!" moments, the decisions made to be more fully surrendered to Him, and the overall delight and joy of serving in this way.

All summer I've wanted to capture moments in words and have been thwarted by the 24/7 needs of running packed camps and building into our college students who serve as staff.  I find moments to write this morning as the shopping-starved staff spend part of the "change of pace day" at Walmart in the local town of Plymouth. Wild horses couldn't drag me there, but thankfully, they dragged basically the entire staff so I luxuriate in a very quiet cabin overlooking the lake.  Hard to improve on the inspirational quality of the setting. It will be a challenge to distill the noteworthy aspects of the summer, however, as there were so many. Nice problem, yes?

But first . . . we did have a "20" on a scale of "1-10" family reunion/vacation in Vero Beach, FL, during the first week of June, prior to beginning this marathon summer.  With the Johnsons home from Uganda, and the Garcias and Lisa from CA, we landed together in FL for a most memorable and delightful week together at the beach home of dear friends in Vero Beach. It would take a herculean effort to imagine a more perfect setting and/or experience.  Lazy days walking the beach, eating simple meals together, swimming, enjoying 3 little ones as well as 7 big ones . . . we all were exceedingly blessed. One of the highlights was a family photo shoot done by Gabe's cousin Joelle (www.capturedbyJoelle.org).  She spectacularly captured the unity and love of our family in such a memorable and framable fashion.  


The "Fam" in Vero Beach: Derek, Julie, and Nathan on far left,
Gabe, Kari, and Ana next, Lisa next to me and Paul, fronted by Brandon.


Off to Catalina Island we went to begin staff orientation on June 16.  We could tell early on that we had a very special group of college students and that proved to be true in spades as the summer progressed. The difference this summer?  An unusually strong group of "all in for Christ" young men! They lead the team with a contagious fervor for Christ and what a shaping influence that had on the whole team. There was such a concerted effort to honor the Lord by honoring the community and serving the campers, "drama" was noticeably absent as well as any other disciplinary issues.  It's not an exaggeration that Paul and I thanked the Lord every night for bringing together this "set apart" group of young people.

We were also really thankful to have Dave and Vonny Bastedo as our right-hand people this summer. They did a great job of investing in staff and keeping the Little Gallagher's cove healthy and compliant. They also lead the college group for each family camp and were appreciated by many. They were a terrific addition to the team and truly lessened our load significantly.

First day of orientation week, we got off to a great start.


Five weeks later, seasoned and bonded, this amazing group of staff had proved
their commitment to Christ as well as to the campers.


A few of my summer take-aways:

Great worship, lead by Paul Gandy and Lyss Gosselin (and accompanied by Robert Kovacs on the drums.)  Not only musically excellent, but their passion for Christ lit up the stage during every worship set.  

Great speakers.  All summer . . . all six weeks . . . great teaching.  Challenging, Biblical, inspiring, hope-giving. We are so thankful for all six of our speakers and their families for their faithfulness in teaching the Word.

Great family moments.  Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana attended Family Camp 2 and we had many deja-vu moments as Brandon helped Papa ring the bell, eagerly participate in his class, move around camp as if it were his backyard, etc. Wasn't it only yesterday that his mother was that almost-4-year-old, fully embracing the delights of family camp?  Full circle. What a privilege to see the next generation grabbing the baton.  Derek, Julie, and Ana had a brief but wonderful 48 hours at camp just before family camps began and Lisa spent 4 weekends with us over the course of our 7 weeks. All of us agree that there's no place on earth we'd rather be than at CBS. That is a gift in itself. We also had a variety of extended family members come to various camps and we truly love that.

Derek and Julie head out on a hike with Nathan in the backpack and Ana on front.

Sisters and babies . . . such fun!!!

All the family minus Gabe (who was leading a missions trip)—
We shared many happy moments at camp.

Brandon helps Papa with devotions.

Paul's oldest sister, Sandy Clark, and her gang, plus sister Beth
and nephew Brian Rottschafer and his family joined us for camp 5.


Great hikes.  The "Staff Only" special hikes were all highly successful. Twenty-five of us hiked the "loop" under the Super Moon on July 19 and enjoyed perfect conditions. Thirty-five hiked the shore to Avalon on a Wednesday morning when the tide was lowest, and again had an "as good as it gets" experience. Our third hike to "Lone Tree" separated the "true" hikers from the crowd and 17 made this annual trek under a full morning sun. All three hikes built into our camaraderie and connectedness as a staff. Additionally, our daily routine of hiking the Scar Loop at 4 pm and ending with a swim to the line and back was good for physical and mental health.

The 6 am departure for the shore hike didn't discourage many as 35 staff made this annual trek.

Happy staff hikers conquer Lone Tree once again.


Great fun.  The annual game show, this year's rendition named "The Ology Show", was wildly successful and the hosts were dashing. Everyone participated, row by row, which provoked lots of laughter and fun for the whole family each Tuesday night. Worship at the fire ring under the stars followed the game show and s'mores put the exclamation point on that evening. Stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, tubes . . . dancing on the basketball court . . . hamburgers on the beach. Lots of summer fun was had by all.

The hosts of "The Ology Game" were joined by swashbuckling Brandon.

S'mores anyone?  Brandon enjoys one with his "Boo" Lyss.

Great moments of seeing God work.  We heard stories of God changing hearts, healing hurts, breaking down walls, giving hope. We witnessed commitments to follow Him more fully, to be more Christ-like, to proclaim His truth more boldly, and to be "fully surrendered." The testimonies shared at each closing banquet were so moving, as person after person affirmed the work of the Holy Spirit among us. All praise is His!!!

Great challenges.  In an unprecedented fashion, two of our registered and long-time family campers had to cancel just days before camp due to accidents which left the dads of each family with broken vertebrae. By God's grace, neither experienced paralysis but both face a long road of recovery ahead. Another precious young family came to camp in spite of huge challenges with the debilitating effects of the dad's stage 4 metastatic colon cancer diagnosis. It was so moving to see this young family (married only 3 years, with a 2-year-old son) press to be at camp in spite of enormous amounts of pain, etc.  Many more came to camp with internal challenges, struggling marriages, rebellious children, financial difficulties, health issues, etc. We were privileged to see God meet so many in some pretty dramatic ways while at camp.

Great protection.  As a staff, we were very aware of God's mercy on us in so many ways, but particularly in the area of health. Though a stomach bug visited one camp, no one on staff got it. One staff member had strep throat and that was it. One and done. Three staff members had a staph infection, and only three. We truly felt that God supernaturally spared us from these illnesses spreading.

Great hope.  We consistently heard campers express their gratitude that God had renewed their hope in Him and in His promises during the week. There can be no genuine hope apart from Him, since He is the author of hope, and that message was reiterated throughout the summer.

There's so much more I could say, but we're in the midst of family camp at Berea so time is scarce. For now, know that we are deeply grateful for your prayers, your support, your encouragement. We couldn't do what we do without a "village" around us and we are humbled to have you in our village. Pray that we'll finish strong. HIM/Berea Family Camp 2 begins Saturday and ends Friday, Aug. 15th. If you do the calculations, you’ll know that means we left Campus by the Sea on Saturday, Aug. 2, started HIM/Berea family camp on Aug. 3 after red-eyeing it to New England, and will go 13 days here without a break. We are depending on the strength and power of the Lord to get us through with health and effectiveness.

By His grace, many years will be added to the 39.