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.
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.
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.