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.  

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!

Feeling the love

Hard as it was to leave 2-week-old Ana and 3-year-old Brandon (and their parents), I felt the love of God as I returned to New England and was met with the glorious colors of fall.  Most years the height of fall has passed by mid-October, and my only lament of being in California for the first two weeks of October was missing this annual "rite of leaf passage."  I was delightfully surprised to see that fall had "waited" for me, in a manner of speaking, and the past two weeks have showcased the brilliance of this spectacular season breathtakingly.  I am in awe at the majesty of creation!!

Besides the parade of the unfolding beauty of autumn, I returned to a "transformation" of several areas in our house, thanks to the very hard work of Paul (who returned a week earlier than I).  All a complete surprise to me, he had painted the kitchen (and changed the color from nondescript off-white to yellow!), had the kitchen floor refinished, scrubbed the soot-veiled walls of our Great Room, had the lighting fixtures changed, and polished the rest of the wood floors.  His consistent response to my "What are you up to?" calls from California was "Just preparing for our West Point retreat"  and began to raise my suspicion, but not enough to make me wonder much beyond that.  Imagine my surprise to discover all of these "acts of service" expressions of love in the wee hours of Wednesday, Oct. 16, just after landing back in Boston.  I was truly blown away. 

Besides all that, Paul spent a couple of days hosting Pastor Wilberforce Okumu, senior pastor of Pearl Haven Christian Center in Mbale, Uganda (the church Derek and Julie are part of).  Wilberforce was definitely wowed by the beauty of fall as well as the coastline of Cape May and his brief visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  

On the same day I returned, Kim and Dave Noble (director of Campus By the Sea) checked in to our Bed and Breakfast for a few days.  I actually didn't lay eyes on them until Friday, as my first two days back home were crazy full.  Just hours after landing, I drove to Attleboro for the Patriots’ women study, followed by counseling appointments.  Admittedly it was hard to keep my eyes open at times.  Thursday was more of the same in reverse, with counseling in the  morning and early afternoon, and then off to Attleboro for the Patriots’ couples study.  Two full, productive days.

Over homemade pumpkin waffles and sizzling bacon, we spent several hours catching up with Dave and Kim before beginning our drive to West Point.  It was a great time with dear friends.

By noon, we were on the road to speak at Officers Christian Fellowship's fall retreat, focusing on developing God-honoring relationships.  Tom and Cheri Austin run the OCF program at West Point and it just happens that they are the parents of Thomas (and Margaret) Austin, who spent a year and change with the Patriots.  Thomas and Margaret are "all in" for Christ and were a integral part of the couples' study and women's study while in New England.  Tom and Cheri are also the parents of Jennifer Austin Foxworth, who is also "all in" for Christ and attended the military wives conference I spoke for in Oahu a couple of years ago.   Both of their children strongly recommended to their parents that they invite us to do a conference for the cadets.  The third vote came from Dennis Mansfield, who was at West Point with Tom Austin over 3 decades ago, so Tom and Cheri made it happen.  And we're so glad they did.

The retreat was held at St. Basil's Academy, a beautiful conference center on the Hudson River directly across from West Point.  So though close, it felt far away from campus.  The grounds were immense, providing a perfect outdoor sanctuary for everything from early morning quiet time to a rousing game of football or a roaring campfire at night to facilitate s'more making. Perfect weather made it impossible to stay inside the castle-esque main house during the day, except for during the program.  We spoke 4 different times on the over-arching theme of "Created for Relationship," progressing from our relationship with God (created for Him) to relationship with each other (created for community) and ultimately to relationship with one (created for marriage.)  

We loved the cadets.  They were bright, interactive, engaged, open, respectful, and fun.  We ate with different ones at each meal so by the time we left, three days later, we felt very connected with all of them.  We also felt very met by God.

A special bonus of our West Point weekend was that one of the cadets was Pierce Wasdahl.  Pierce's grandparents are Ken and Shirley Lincoln, long time friends and partners in ministry at CBS.  They served with Paul's parents on the original CBS Committee that "saved" CBS in 1968 from being turned back to the Catalina Island Conservancy.  Pierce's mom (and aunt and uncles) all served at CBS in our early years, and Pierce's brothers have continued the tradition.  It was such a joy to get to know Pierce and to see his genuine heart for the Lord.  The legacy continues.  "Great is Thy faithfulness."

Two of the other cadets were from California, and both were connected with good friends of ours.  Small world!

Another huge highlight of the weekend was having our first ever tour of West Point.  What beautiful grounds!  Cheri Austin did the honors and gave us many insights from one who was at West Point as a kid, then as a young wife, and now as a retired wife.  We loved every minute of it—with the small exception of seeing "BEAT NAVY" seemingly everywhere I looked.  :)  

Some days after the retreat, we were encouraged by the "After-Activity Reports" that Tom and Cheri sent us (commonly known as evaluations in the public sector).  Here are a few of the comments written in:  

This weekend God really impressed upon me how critical it is that I have an intimate relationship with him so that I can stand firm—fully dependent on Him. Having the Friesens, Austins, and Hamptons there was also so big because of the wisdom they gave us and the example they set for us. This weekend was such a blessing!

I thought the topic was great and the speakers did a really amazing job of communicating it to us. Relationship advice is something that people my age really crave, and the Friesens are probably the best people I’ve had advice from because they have 37 years’ experience in a godly marriage. They also made a point of sharing that their marriage wasn’t perfect, which was also refreshing to hear because it means that it is possible for others like me to work through challenges in my relationship. 

Yes, the topic of relationships is very applicable to our lives as we seek to grow closer to God and form godly relationships with both members of the same and opposite gender.  The speakers were outstanding! They were well-spoken, easy to understand, and fully of godly wisdom and advice. They did a great job showing the contrast between the way men and women think. I definitely learned a lot and will take the information forward with me. I better understand how God created us to be in relationships.

All praise is His.

Directly behind this photo of the cadets is West Point.  

Tom and Cheri Austin are the directors of Officers Christian Fellowship at West Point.
We march to the same drumbeat and drummer.

Our drive home was full of this kind of scenery.  We wouldn't have minded traffic!

We arrived home Monday night the 21st in time for a H.I.M. Board Meeting.  We are so grateful for our board. They work tirelessly to facilitate what we do.  Blessed.

Tuesday night we spoke at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, for the annual couples night hosted by the Seminary Wives class and Lita Schlueter.  To be honest, it's worth the drive up just to hang with Dan and Lita.  They are some of the most positive, upbeat, loving, godly people we know and we always consider it an honor to partner with them.  There was a great turn-out for the event and the time flew by as we addressed issues relevant to marriage and ministry.  Some important conversations followed, including one with a dear Korean couple who are interested in having us partner with their ministry in Korea.  That sounds exciting.

Here we are with Dan and Lita Schlueter.

Counseling, Patriots, and World Series games dominated the next few days, and then the weekend came.  Dr. Vita Stagno, the Sicilian pediatric neurosurgeon who stayed with us last fall for 2 months, came up from New York (where she is interning this fall) and my friend Helen came from upstate NY to have a fun girlfriends weekend.  Saturday was a blockbuster day, highlighted by enjoying the First Armenian Church of Belmont's annual fair, and though the homemade Armenian food was fabulous, the real treat was connecting with Greg and Sossi Haroutunian, friends and ministry partners for many years now.  It was extra meaningful to be with them, because they are moving to Fresno in late December to pastor a church, so many miles will separate us.  We were thrilled to receive a copy of our study guide, In Our Image:  Marriage as a Reflection of the Godhead, translated into Armenian!  Greg has done marriage conferences in Armenia the past two summers using this work.  So exciting!!!

A very happy reunion with Vita and Helen.

Dear friends Greg and Sossi Haroutunian at the Armenian festival.  

Besides the festival, we headed into Boston to drop a care package off for a friend in the hospital and then introduce Vita and Helen to the Farmers Market at Quincy Marketplace.  So much local color!!!  Love it.  We rounded out the day at Tremont Temple to hear Steve Green in concert.  What a worshipful experience!  He has lost nothing since his prime in the late 80's and we enjoyed every minute of it.

While the girls were playing, Paul was working.  He spoke at the chapel for the Miami Dolphins Saturday night on the theme of finishing well.  :)

It's been a pretty exciting run in Boston for Red Sox Nation, so we're not only wearing red sox—everyone has red eyes.  :)  So many great life lessons from this season about team, perseverance, determination, overcoming.  We have loved every minute of the post season and feel these guys are more than deserving of this World Championship.

Representing the Red Sox in Mbale!

Great reports are coming in from Derek, Julie, and Nathan, though Africa seemed VERY far away at moments these past couple of weeks.  The Garcias are doing well and Baby Ana is "thriving."  Brandon still thinks she's the greatest.  And Lisa is getting more and more settled and is really happy that basketball season is now underway.  

Brandon and Ana are decked out for Halloween.  Looks like the pirate has a little captive.

Julie and Nathan ready to rock and roll.

Now 3 months old, Nathan continues to change daily.

And so does Ana, now 4 weeks old.

These have good weeks and we're so thankful for the many ways we've experienced His love, family love, and the love of many dear friends.

We hope you're feeling the love, too.

Life On an Island

I’m looking forward to the day when my blog doesn’t start with “I can’t believe how much time has passed . . .”, but that day is not today.  It is unprecedented, actually, that almost two months have passed since my last post, but again, it is an apt reflection of the lack of bandwidth I've had for the non-urgent list of “to-do’s.” 

We had a summer full of family camps ahead of us when I last posted.  Only 3 days now remain of our 9-week commitment and that truly seems impossible.  But calendars don't lie.

We started June 17th at Campus by the Sea with this wonderful staff of mostly veteran family camp kids now grown up.  It's funny to think back to our first few days of orientation week, before we knew each other and before we had become a cohesive team.  Now reflecting, this staff grew into who they “seemed” to be: servant-hearted, humble, serving, and desiring growth.  So many answers to the months of praying that God would bring the right team together!  We are truly grateful for God's faithfulness and grace.

Day 1 of staff training: a neophyte collection of college students
who had grown up at CBS (for the most part) . . .

 . . and who became a well-functioning, serving, cohesive team over the course of 7 weeks.

All six weeks of family camp were incredibly fruitful and blessed.  Each speaker delivered, and God used their words to inspire, challenge, heal, and give hope.  Some families experienced healing.  Some made life-impacting decisions.  Some met Christ.

It was just one of those summers during which the constant refrain was "we are so blessed."  We had very little sickness on staff or in camp.  We had very few injuries.  We had great weather, and the three or so days during which rain fell, it was gentle and dust-settling and no more.  We had a cohesive, harmonious staff who were committed to living honorably in the community and, thankfully, perpetuated little drama.  All of our camps were full and overflowing; the waiting lists never were cleared, which is both good and bad news.

We sensed God’s favor and presence in more ways than I can articulate.  We feel very, very blessed.

One family encouraged us with this email following their week at camp:

Dear Paul and Virginia,We want to thank you for such a great week at family camp!We were so encouraged and refreshed by all the teaching and super sweet worship times! Thank you for your clear and frank teaching. We were blessed!Blessings to you both! Thank you so much for running such an amazing program...we are truly blessed and encouraged...ready to take on the next year. Thank you for the love, encouragement, friendship, and challenging of our faith, marriage, and parenting! 

Papa and Brandon get the campers’ attention in the dining hall at the start of the meal.

Though there were many highlights for us as we reconnected with literally hundreds of families we deeply love and invested in a program we're wholly invested in, the highest lights included having our own family at camp.  All three girls spend some days at camp, and Kari, Gabe, and Brandon spent a week as family campers.  It feels like it's coming full circle to have the 4th generation Friesens benefitting from the vision of Grandpa Mel, who helped start this whole thing 62 years ago.  “Great is Thy Faithfulness!”  It was also a delight to have a bunch of other siblings, nieces, and nephews.  It means the world to us that they make a priority of continuing the legacy of family camp in their families.

Lisa also managed to make it to camp during the week the Garcias attended.  :)

Another highlight of the summer was having Jake Gosselin and Kaylee Sherman serve as our college leaders and worship leaders.  The fact that their wedding date was set for 8 weeks after orientation week began made their presence most significant.  The comment that we had the "best worship ever" at camp was constant, but even more impressive was how they conducted themselves in the community with so much honor.  Their impending marriage spawned many relationship talks among the staff and inspired many to continue wrestling with their own commitments and standards regarding relationships. A very fun Saturday afternoon was spent “showering” Kaylee.  The time of sharing was especially sweet as several spoke of Kaylee and Jake’s relationship being so hope-giving in terms of having a God-honoring relationship.

Kaylee’s shower was a sweet time of celebration of her upcoming wedding
which went off without a hitch on August 10.

For the first time maybe ever, I left camp just before the sixth and final family camp began, but that's for the next blog.  

Life on an island.  Free of so many distractions.  Full of so many God moments.  Fruitful in ways known and unknown.  

We are blessed.

Sunrise illuminating Saddleback on the mainland . . . and the iconic rock jetty,
which protects this sacred little cove that hosts Campus by the Sea.  

Whirlwind on Steroids (part 3)

Wrapping up the whirlwind: our annual H.I.M. Memorial Day Family Camping Trip was canceled due to dire weather forecasts, which proved to be true.  Though very disappointing, it was the right decision.  Snow fell in VT and NH that weekend!!

As a result of that cancellation, I was able to fly down for my brother Frank's remarriage.  It was good to be with five of my six siblings even briefly.

Six of the original seven Collins siblings at Frank's remarriage.  

In between lots of counseling appointments and preparation for family camps, we also took on re-painting and re-carpeting our long-neglected downstairs in anticipation of having Derek and Julie with us for the next several months as they birth their first child.  :)  We are very pleased with the results and have wondered what took us so long to prioritize those projects!

Lisa and I ran the Covered Bridges Half Marathon Sunday, June 2, for the 4th year in a row.  As it turned out, 85 degree temps and 95% humidity made it our most difficult "half" and our worst time.  In spite of Lisa's gracious encouragement throughout all 13.1 miles, I spent much of it wondering if I could do it.  Thankfully, I did, but I vowed to not compete in a "hot" run again.  Ever.   

Even so, the grueling nature of the run was made somewhat bearable by the kind-hearted people who stood along the race route and sprayed us with their garden hoses.  Lisa and I were extra blessed by our dear friend Glenn who twice met us along the route with a spray bottle and icy cold wash clothes. Especially at mile 11, when 2 more miles seemed impossible, Glenn refreshed us with these coolants and encouraged us with "You can do it!" I was amazed at how revitalizing such acts of kindness were and what a huge difference they made in our determination to finish well.  Well, at least, to finish.  For the record, I am using "we" very generously here.  Lisa could've run circles around me and finished at least 45 minutes sooner than we did.  She is very, very gracious.

Lisa, Pam Barker, and I ran as the "Green Team" this year at the Covered Bridges Half Marathon.
13.1 miles later in brutal heat and humidity, we celebrated our accomplishment.  

It was a joy to reconnect with Bethany Church of Breakfast Hill, New Hampshire, on Monday, June 3, as we spoke to their First Monday Couples' Night.  To a packed room, we spoke on "finishing well" in marriage and the couples seemed very engaged and appreciative.  First Monday at Bethany was spawned by First Monday at Grace Chapel, launched by Gordon MacDonald and carried on for 9 years by Paul.  It was heartening to see the continuation of that strategic ministry to men.

That evening ended with the exclamation point of Derek and Julie's return to the States to begin the wait for their baby's arrival.  Derek once again flew within 24 hours after a positive malaria diagnosis.  :(  Fortunately he responds quickly to medication and had enough in him to make the trip.  He did return to Uganda 11 days later and will return to the States July 12 for the countdown.  Their due date is July 25.  Exciting times!!!

Welcome home, Derek and Julie!  A delayed celebration of Derek's birthday included
freshly baked cinnamon rolls and fresh blueberries.

Not many people make Phoenix, Arizona, a destination of choice in June, but we did—in response to an invitation from lead pastor David Harris to do a marriage conference at Paradise Church.  We loved partnering with David and his crew, who did a great job of putting together a meaningful weekend for couples.  We were especially pleased to reconnect with Matt and Christen Bumen and their precious children Derek and Riley over breakfast one morning.  Paul married them 10 years ago and it's very, very encouraging to see their vital, growing marriage.  Though very brief, our time was rich and wonderful.  And hot.  It was 113 degrees on Saturday.  :)

Matt and Christen Bumen and David and Tammy Harris were instrumental to making the Paradise Church conference happen.

Along with this crew, all of these folks have deep hearts for marriage
and are serving Paradise Church in some manner.

Straight from Phoenix, we flew to Washington, D.C., to pull off a surprise 30th anniversary party for my youngest sister, Laura, and her husband, David.  Our girls are some of their "surrogate" children and together with them, we really wanted to honor their beautiful marriage. They have been so intentional about keeping their marriage alive and growing—and truthfully, they make marriage look great.  We're so thankful for them.

It was a blast working together with some of their closest friends to honor them on the occasion of this milestone.  Thankfully, it came off without a hitch and along with 30 of their closest friends, we celebrated their uncommonly good union.  

Here they are on June 18, 1983 . . .

. . . and here they are 30 years later, still madly in love with each other,
and even more in love with Christ.

The party-goers at the home of their dear friends Bob and Lisa Hartman (front row, far right).

We drove back home early the next morning with Derek and Julie, who had driven down for the party, and began the countdown for our summer at Campus by the Sea.  It was crazy to say the least but we managed to get through our final counseling appointments and wrap up other loose ends before we flew to Caifornia on Saturday, June 15th, as Derek flew back to Uganda.

It was a joy to spend Father's Day with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon, as well as Lisa and Julie, and then all head to Campus by the Sea together on Monday, the 17th, where we launched our 38th summer there. 

Gabe opens his Father's Day gift from Brandon: SF Giants' t-shirts for both.  :)

The best gift for this dad—his three daughters!
Off to Catalina we go, with three grown up daughters and two grandchildren on the way.

The whirlwind sort of has landed in Gallagher's Cove which hosts Campus by the Sea.  Not that we're sitting around eating bonbons, mind you, but we're breathing deeply the sea air and basking in the simplicity of life disconnected from technology and traffic.  We're in to our second week of family camp already and I'll write about that before long.

I mentioned in the first part of this series that we've had some of the highest highs and lowest lows over this past month.  The lows have included almost losing my dad over Memorial Day Weekend, when he apparently suffered a TIA or a mild heart attack (from which he has fully recovered, thankfully, though his decline from dementia marches on).  The night of Memorial Day we received word that my sweet cousin Donna's 21-year-old son had drowned accidentally, and that news plunged us all into deep sorrow.  More recently, the mother of very dear friends succumbed to a 9-month battle with cancer, and these friends had lost their dad just 9 months ago, also to cancer.  And we experienced greater challenge than usual assembling a program team for family camps this summer.  Plenty of applicants, but putting together the right team for working with our older kids was difficult.

I wish I could say that we handled these all with grace and confidence consistent with our belief in our Sovereign Lord, but there were many moments of anxiety, concern, and grief.   No apologies for grief; it is what it is and warranted in times of loss, but it's been good to be reminded these weeks at camp that God really is in control and that He's got us covered.

Inside and outside of the whirlwind.

All praise is His.   

It's Time to Change

Sunrise over Avalon Harbor . . . His mercies are new every morning. . . 

Three weeks ago we were flying home from Uganda.  Today we're flying home from California.  Maybe when we get home tonight, I'll change my watch from Ugandan time to Eastern Standard Time.

It's a quirky thing with me, admittedly, but it's something I've done for a really long time.  It's not because I don't know how to change my watch, obviously.  It's because I don't want to quite yet.  For many reasons, my "heart" hasn't been ready to embrace that our days in Mbale, for now, are history.  Mainly it serves as a reminder to pray specifically for what might be going on in Derek and Julie's lives at a given time.  They've had a lot going on since we've left, and we've wanted to stay as connected as we can from seven time zones away.

Other than being completely confused when I glance at my watch in the middle of the night, it serves good "heart" purposes.  Just don't ask me what time it is.  :)

It took a week to adjust to being back in the states, sleep-wise and body-wise, but we didn't have that long before we jumped back in to ministry.  In fact, within 24 hours of returning, we met with the core team of leaders for the Patriots Couples’ study over dinner to map out the plan for the fall, and we managed to stay awake through the whole thing!  It was actually very inspiring to be with three of the player couples, as well as with Don and Betsy Hasselbeck, and to develop a new strategy with hopes of injecting some new life into the study.  We've now had our first two evenings, and we had 18 at the first...and 32 at the second!  We are more than excited at the potential of our gatherings.  

Within 48 hours of landing back in Boston, we were driving to Falmouth to speak at an all-day Saturday marriage seminar for Falmouth Baptist Church.  We had a really sweet time with Tim Rogers, who booked us to speak after coming to several "Worth It" conferences.  It was an adjustment initially to speak at normal speed with less concern about idiomatic expressions, or cultural context, but the "saddle" felt comfortable rather quickly.  It was a very positive time with very sincere folks.

Most of the attendees of the Falmouth Baptist Church conference . . . a great group of folks!

As though we had never been gone, the following week fell in to a predictable pattern.  Wednesday morning was the Patriots Women's study, and we were thrilled to have 17 ladies show up.  :)  After a quick scone-making lesson by moi, we launched our study using Gary Thomas' new book, Every Body Matters.    I really appreciated the message of this book when I read it this past spring and have been promoting it all summer at Family Camps.  As Gary deals with the challenge of "stewarding" our bodies rather than worshiping or abusing them, he treds where few have dared to tred in the Christian community.  His indictment that we've been content to be "chin-up" Christians, focusing on correct theology and doctrine, while ignoring the implications of application of those very truths on our physical bodies and health, is spot on.  We've gotten off to a good start in the study, with good discussion of a topic extremely relevant to the fulfillment of God's purposes for our lives.  Eighteen ladies showed up for week 2 of the study!

Counseling fills the balance of our Wednesdays, and continues on Thursday mornings until mid-afternoon, and then we drive back down to Attleboro for the Pats Couples’ study.  The first week, Big Jim Martis catered a great bbq dinner of steak and chicken and the fixin’s, and then the second week Paul and I prepared a Mexican feast.  The spirit and interaction has been great for these first two meetings.  Pray for both of these weekly studies, that God would draw these dear couples to Himself in a deeper way.

Big Jim is in the middle of a few of our players at our Patriots couples' study.

Last Friday, Sept. 21, I flew to California alone while Paul fulfilled the commitment we had made to Camp Berea to do a seminar at their women's conference.  Paul was one of two male presenters, and his seminar was presented three times on Saturday to full crowds.  The ladies always love him.  

Meanwhile my first stop in California was in San Diego to visit my folks.  I hadn't seen them since Father's Day weekend and it was a joy to hang with them for a couple of days.  My mom's health is good and my dad is declining, but not too rapidly.  We had many sweet moments together. I was also happy to meet my newest great nephew, Josiah David Rivera, when Corey and Claire brought their crew over for a visit.  I spent Sunday on Catalina Island, attending the wedding of Sarah Armstrong and Doug Hippe, long-time friends from family camp.  It was a wonderful, God-honoring celebration and a great time for me to reconnect with many dear island friends.  It was also a joy to spend the night with Wayne and Carol Herbst, Paul's youngest sister and husband.

The mother of the bride, Jenny, is one of my dearest friends.

On Monday I spoke to a group of young moms in Ladera Ranch.  Two of Lisa's dear friends, Heather Vataha and Amber Offield, collaborated to make that happen, and it was such an encouraging time to talk about "The Things I Wish I Had Known..." with this group of thirsty young moms.  I LOVE this age/stage and delighted in encouraging them in the hope of the gospel, which is sometimes elusive when life is full of the craziness young children often bring.  Financial pressures, marital challenges, exhaustion, confusion, wanting to do the best but experiencing unwanted feelings of failure to an overwhelming degree at times.  We talked about lots of things and all seemed to really appreciate that I had felt all of those very things—and had survived them.  By God's grace.  It was a very special time.

Amber and Christian Offield and Heather and Laila Vataha pulled together the moms gathering I spoke for in Rancho Ladera.

And here are the moms—outnumbered for sure by the kids!

It was a treat to spend the balance of the time with my dear friend, Wendy Offield, before flying back to Boston on Tuesday.  I returned feeling very blessed: for all of the moments in California, and also for the husband I have.  Traveling alone, I was reminded of how much he takes care of when we travel—from hauling all the heavy suitcases, boxes, etc., to getting rental cars, driving to unknown places, etc.  And never getting flustered or acting like it "can't be done."  He gets it done and I am so spoiled.  And more thankful.

Back in Bedford for a mere 48 hours for the two Pats studies, for counseling, and then back to California.  This time to the Bay Area, to spend the weekend at Bethel Christian Church in downtown San Francisco.  Our dear friends, John and Marilyn Nugent (who are also H.I.M. Board members), arranged the weekend.  It was varied and well put together as a "Relationships Weekend,"  featuring us as speakers and Danny and Rayna Oertli as musicians.  We love any opportunity to partner with the Oertlis!!

We launched the weekend on Friday night with a talk on purity, given to teens and their parents.  We were thrilled with the response of a very engaged group; both teens and their parents were interactive and responsive.  During the first half of the evening we spoke to the group together, and during the second half we fielded questions from the parents, while the teens met with their youth leaders.  The questions were thoughtful and heartfelt.  We were reminded of how many more challenges face these parents today and how much more difficult on so many levels it is to protect and prepare teens according to God's design.  Thankfully our hope continues to be in the gospel, and that hasn't changed through the generations.

All day Saturday we did the "Irony of Intimacy" marriage conference.  We were thrilled to have Kari and Gabe, along with three couples they're mentoring, drive out from Sacramento for the conference.  :)  It was also heartening to have Bill and Kristen Smith, friends from CBS, fly in from Reno, and James and Charlotte, a sweet couple who attended Engagement Matters, as well as Drew and Dana Macrae, show up.  Charlotte told me, "As we celebrated our first anniversary in July, we were thinking about the assignment from Engagement Matters to have an annual marital check-up . . . and then the email came announcing this conference!  We were so happy!"

Gabriel and Jessika, Jerron and Danielle, Gabe and Kari, and Lamar and Kalyce drove from Sacramento to our marriage conference at Bethel Christian Church.

We were happy, too.  It was a wonderful day of celebrating God's design for marriage in some very practical ways.  God seemed to meet many there, as evidenced by their comments.

Sunday morning we taught a joint Sunday School class on "Forgiveness" and God met us in a powerful way.  I prayed with a forty-something-year-old man who said he carried deep anger towards his father who was severely abusive to him, his siblings, and his mother.  He said he wanted to walk in freedom, and through tears we prayed that he would release his anger and allow God to handle his father with justice.  

Paul preached the morning worship service and was anointed.  He preached with passion a stirring sermon on God's desire to take us from paralysis to praise—and young and old alike seemed very moved by it.  We wrapped up the weekend by enjoying Danny Oertli in concert and he did not disappoint.  It was a rockin' evening.

What fun to rock out to Danny's concert with Nathan and Julie Aleman and Liz.

Under a full moon and traffic-free highways, we drove to Sacramento after the concert, so we could be wakened by our grandson, Brandon, early the next morning.  And that's exactly what happened.  :)  Our 24 hours with Kari, Gabe, and Brandon flew by, but was a delightful ending to a wonderfully full weekend.

Brandon, 25 months, still loves being on Papa's shoulders.

As October opens its pages, we are glad for a few days to enjoy the best New England has to offer: fall.  Brilliant salmon, orange, crimson leaves pop out against the not yet turned leaves as harbingers of the steady parade of colors that will be ours to behold this month.  The delights of New England fall are unmatched and we're very thankful we'll be around to drink it in.

I guess it is time to change my watch. 

A Life Lived for the Kingdom

Claude and Forestine, flanked by John and Marilyn Nugent and Paul and me at Claude’s 90th birthday celebration in September 2007

The phone call this morning was unexpected and brought us news that saddened our hearts. Claude Cole was on the other end of the line, 3,000 miles away, and in a broken, teary voice, he let us know that his beloved Forestine had entered eternity this morning. After sixty-four years of living together in the covenant of marriage, their ways have been parted by death.

Our emotions and thoughts are all over the place as we let this news sink into our souls. Claude and Forestine have been a very big part of our lives for fourteen years now, ever since we joined the staff at Grace Chapel in 1994. As regular attenders in our Home Improvement Sunday School class, we’ll never forget how often they’d come up after class and say, “What a great message! We wish we would’ve heard this years ago.”

As we grew in our knowledge of and love for them over the years, we discovered that what set them apart from most was their commitment to continued growth in Christ-likeness. Claude and Forestine, as old and wise as they were, never believed they had “arrived” or that they knew more than anyone else. They loved learning about God, and their relationship with Him was their life. Their lives reflect the words of the Psalmist in 92:14–15: “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming ‘The Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no wickedness in him.’”

The Coles were about bearing fruit. When many of the over-70 crowd were indulging themselves in the rewards of retirement, Claude and Forestine were investing themselves in Kingdom work. In 1997 we launched “The Gathering” at Grace Chapel, and they volunteered (along with their dear friends, Thora and Eliot Eames) to serve on the dinner team. Week by week, they faithfully showed up to serve: Forestine at the money till and Claude usually at the sink, washing dishes. That was only one of many ways their lives bore witness of their commitment to Christ.

But it was their dedication to one another that has touched us most deeply in these past years. With Forestine’s descent into the murky world of Alzheimer's, Claude has demonstrated steadfast commitment and service to his beloved. For a number of years now, he has managed life for both of them: cooking, cleaning, driving, etc. From time to time, Forestine would leave for a week or so to be cared for by one of their daughters. In a visit with him during one of her absences, Paul said, “I’ll bet it’s a relief to not have Forestine here this week, Claude. You get a much needed break.”

“Oh NO, Paul: I miss her SO much. I wish she were here,” Claude responded.

Claude and Forestine’s love for Jesus and love for each other have changed us. Their lives of faithfulness to Him and to each other have inspired us. We have lost something rarely seen in these times with Forestine’s death, but the impact of their lives together will be immortal because they invested themselves in that which will outlast their physical lives. “Oh joy!” as Forestine would say.

Paul Friesen will be returning to New England to officiate at Forestine’s funeral, which is this Friday, July 11, 11:00 am, Grace Chapel, Lexington, Massachusetts. Viewing hours are Thursday evening from 7-9:30 pm at the Douglass Funeral Home next door to Grace Chapel.

Family campers sing “We are somebody” during worship.

From the rocky shores of Campus by the Sea, and as Family Camp 3 begins, we send our love and greetings. Two full weeks of Family Camp are now history and the third camp is off to a great start. God is meeting us in such obvious ways.

I’ll confess that I had great concerns throughout the spring as we hired our staff team. Though very impressed with the caliber of applicants we received, most of them were young and would be rookies as staff (though the majority were veteran family campers.) We were especially concerned about lacking “ballast” staffers: those with experience, maturity, and leadership. We prayed, we recruited, we even lost a little sleep—and still, a month prior to the start of orientation, we were deficient.

As I reflect now on how I felt then, and how I feel now as we are experiencing an unusually mature, dedicated, here-for-the-right reasons staff team, I’m a bit embarrassed that I was so uptight . . . and probably untrusting that God would meet our needs. He has provided for us in some amazing ways. In the ninth hour, Paul and Stefanie Spangler (recruited by Kari and Gabe) agreed to come to lead worship, work with the high school program, and serve as RA’s in the staff housing. They’ve been such a gift, filling these critical needs incredibly well. Our daughter Lisa is coordinating the junior and senior high team and program and she’s golden as she brings years of experience to the table. Elsa Stanley is running our elementary program and is doing a wonderful job. The “young, rookie” staff has far exceeded our expectations and we are more than thankful. God is so good!!

CBS staff hike the shoreline into Avalon, enjoying the challenge and the exercise afforded by this team-building event.

We’re privileged to be here, serving in this set-apart place, experiencing God and seeing Him work in real ways. Though our days are people-intensive and full, it’s therapeutic in itself to experience the simple delights of being in this beautiful, car-less, “unplugged”, remote place. We’re loving building into families and marriages in this unique setting, where God manages to get a hold of hearts and minds in uncommon ways.