Friesen family

The dash between Uganda and Viet Nam

The dash between Uganda and Viet Nam

If it’s Wednesday, we must be on our way to Viet Nam.

And we are!

The three weeks between the end of our Uganda trip and the beginning of our Viet Nam trip were full! Shocking, I know.

As I write, I’m thoroughly enjoying this 14-hour Toronto to Seoul leg of the trip, as it is providing a much needed “break” following a fairly intense, post-Uganda pace. Our very generous Vietnamese hosts have ensured a restful, renewing journey to their land by booking us in business class, which is a euphemism for “hotel room in the sky.” We’re loving it!

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.

Fall is FINALLY in the Air




One last sunrise at Campus by the Sea over Labor Day Weekend,
taken as Lisa and I hiked the loop on our final day at camp.



The chill in the air this morning was a welcomed change from the unseasonably warm September we’ve experienced in New England this past month (at least the few days we’ve been here!) and all things Fall suddenly seem within grasp of cold fingers. Leaves will change and flutter to the ground, days will grow noticeably shorter, sweaters and close-toed shoes will be worn as the lingering days of summer quickly become memories of a season well spent.

I love fall. Truth be told, I must quickly admit that I also love winter, spring, and summer as each season brings its own delights and beauty.

But before I can thoroughly embrace autumn, I must wrap up summer (because that’s what the SJ personality does—in Myers-Briggs talk.)

Backing up to the end of August, we returned to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to speak at the 2/42 Community Church’s second annual “Fr-amily Camp”, held at Spring Hills Camp in Evart, MI. It’s always an honor to be invited to speak anywhere once, and it’s at least a double honor to be invited back. We were delighted to again partner with the 2/42 director of Family Ministries, Eric Rauch, who has great vision, enthusiasm, and passion for encouraging and equipping families. This year, besides having the “Birdsongs” again lead in worship and having us speak, he brought in David Laflin, an incredibly talented Christian illusionist from the Denver area. Amazingly, I had met his wife Teesha (who often performs with him) at Mission Hills Church in Littleton, CO, the previous weekend, as she stopped by to chat with me about balancing ministry and family after Paul and I had spoken. Only God . . .

David did a great job of wowing us with his illusionary trickery as well as with the gospel message. Check their ministry out at www.davidandteesha.com

The weekend went really well. Twice the size of last year’s camp, we were reminded of how desperately we need to keep building in to families the hope of the gospel. No one skipped the teaching sessions (it seemed), despite being surrounded by 900 acres of beauty, very fun activities, and plenty of options to distract. We really felt that God met us and the campers in some very powerful ways.

It was especially good for us to have several days with our dear friends, Wai and Elaine Wong and their lovely daughters while in Ann Arbor. We stayed an extra day so we could hang out with them and that made a great weekend even greater.


Hanging out with David Laflin (the illusionist) and the Wong family,
we had some very fun moments on giant swings, ropes courses, and zip lines.
How could you not love this weekend?


The “Birdsongs” did a phenomenal job leading us in worship
before each of the four teaching sessions.


The stillness of the water is found only early in the day, prior to campers discovering the four inflatable “blobs” anchored in this lake.


A special dinner out with the Wongs in honor of Paul’s birthday.


We returned to Boston for 24 hours to repack before heading west for the Labor Day Weekend family camp at CBS. But first, a joy-filled celebration of the birthday buddies, Papa and Brandon, who share an August 29 birthdate. Brandon did ask me this year, “If Papa and I have the same birthday, why aren’t we the same age??”  :)  

Happy birthday, Papa and now 6-year-old Brandon!


After too short a stay (but better than nothing), we headed to CBS for the weekend with Lisa and a terrific group of veteran staff who served the family campers all weekend. This third annual Labor Day weekend family camp was again sold out to a very enthusiastic group of families. Presumably because the time is short, these families dive right in and make every minute count. Thankfully, with the majority of staff who had served together all summer, we were also ready to dive right in with them. It was a full, breathless weekend.

Bob and Carol Kraning served as our resource couple for the weekend and were wildly popular. Bob, who had a very close brush with death a year ago, was stronger than ever and didn’t miss a beat. Our young families were so encouraged to hear from a couple who have been married over 50 years and who have followed the Lord faithfully throughout life. Such richness!

All too quickly the weekend was over and we sang our final rendition of “We love you campers, oh yes we do!” as the boat pulled away from the dock. We followed soon after and headed south for a couple of days before heading east. 

Paul, Lisa, and I arrive to serve the Labor Day Family Camp.


Our terrific program staff served so well,
diving right in to do whatever needed to be done.

Worship was led by Robert Kovacs, Claire Peister, and Seth Heinz—and was appreciated by all.

A large group of kids second grade and under gathered at the front of the Main Deck each morning for the always-favorite devotions created and led by Paul.

Lis and I did one last loop hike on the last morning of camp and encountered this bison, who seemed to own the road. He’s much bigger than he appears in this photo, and the road is much more narrow than it appears. Obviously we lived to tell about it.  :)


Bob and Carol Kraning partnered with us this weekend and God used them to bring a word of both encouragement and challenge. We’ve been together with the Kranings in ministry for most of our married life and we’re so thankful they’ve been a part of our journey.

One last chorus of “We love you campers, oh yes we do . . .” as the final family camp group departs on the Catalina Express.


Off to San Diego we went, after overnighting in Santa Ana with our dear friend Wendy Turney, to spend the next two nights at the Hotel del Coronado. This San Diego landmark hosted us the first night of our honeymoon 40 years ago and this was our first return to the inside of it since. Made possible in part by the kids, who generously gave us a gift certificate for the hotel several years ago, we decided the time was right to put the capstone on our 40th anniversary’s never-ending celebration.  

What a great idea!

We had two wonderful days there, doing little more than walking the beach, laying by the pool, exploring downtown Coronado, and enjoying the beauty of this exquisite hotel. We did sneak away to Petco Stadium with our friends the Hazlebecks to watch the Red Sox beat the Padres one night, but we squeezed everything we could out of the rare treat of staying in this fabulous hotel. We highly recommend 40th anniversaries, if God grants you that many years.

An early morning walk on the beach, before the marine layer burned off (which it later did.)

A little sand castle we built in our spare time . . . or at least, that we stopped to admire at the end of our walk.  :)

We left refreshed and renewed, celebrating life and marriage, and ready to face a little bit of craziness.

Arriving home at 1 in the morning on Saturday, Sept. 10, we were overjoyed (if even a bit bleary-eyed) to welcome Dick and Becky (Manley Pippert) Molenhouse to our home at 9:30 am.  Becky had spoken at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Pastors’ Conference the previous day.  So, seizing the opportunity to reconnect our four-decades-long friendship, we welcomed them to our home for the remaining hours prior to their late afternoon flight.

It is so good to be with treasured, lifelong friends. Paul and Becky came on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff together in 1972 and that began a deep and mutually respected friendship. Dick and Becky have spent the past 7 years doing evangelism training throughout Europe and are stateside now as their organization, Saltshaker Ministries, produces numerous curriculums and resources for equipping churches to be engaged in evangelistic outreaches. Though some of the time was spent talking about our respective ministries, much of it was focused on catching up with each other’s lives, families, and reflections. It was such a sweet time of fellowship. 

Dick and Becky Molenhouse spent a day with us and we joyfully caught up on one another’s lives.

Shortly after the Molenhouses left, another couple arrived from California for a couple of days—and when they left on Monday, yet another couple arrived from California for a couple of days. We love sharing our home and our lives, and all three of these visits were delightful.  

And just like that, we were back in the saddle of counseling and Patriots studies. Wednesday, Sept 14, the Pats Women’s Study started with a great group of gals. Many of us hadn’t seen much of each other since the season ended last January, so it was a happy reunion. Thursday we did more counseling and launched the couples’ study with a great group of couples. So we’re off and running in our fall schedule!!

“Running” is the operative word . . . as very early Friday morning, I “ran” off to the airport to fly to Pennsylvania to spend the last 4 days of Derek’s trip to Africa with Julie and the kids.  Two weeks is a long time to be apart and to temporarily be a “single mom” and I was so thankful to help fill in the gap.

Oh the fun we had! Taking walks. Visiting farm animals. Playing with play dough. Reading books. Decorating for fall. Snuggling with babies. Learning about Nathan’s new world in pre-school.

Loved. Every. Minute. Even the ones that came in the middle of the night.  :)

With the “boys of summer” on his back,
Nathan visits the pigs at the farm.

Snuggle time (briefly) with Mama.

Go Sox!!  Even Rachel is being trained right.  :)

Oh, and then there’s our most favorite team: Go Pats!!


The days passed quickly (there’s a blessing in that, I know) and Derek returned from Africa, and I returned to New England, just in time to welcome another set of guests, our dear friends Dick and Nancy Beggs. We’ve known each other for our whole marriage, as we met at the first Christian Camping International Conference we attended in 1977 and we’ve been friends of the heart ever since. The Beggs have been associated with Camp Maranatha in Idyllwild, California, for years and we’ve journeyed with them through the joys and challenges of raising families and working in camping. They only spent one night with us, but we made the most of it.

Dick and Nancy Beggs, from Idyllwild, California, joined us for a night of non-stop talking, a few tears, and a lot of laughter.


This past weekend, we did the first ever marriage conference for Oasis Christian Church in Concord, New Hampshire. Fulfilling the vision of Skip and Avonne Jarvis, who seeded the water by leading a marriage class at the church this past year using our study, In Our Image, the day went off swimmingly. The thirty couples who attended gave very positive feedback and a second annual is already in the works as we agreed to return and speak again next September. Especially sweet for us was having four couples attend who have been long time Berea Family Campers (the NH family camp we’ve directed the past 12 years). Many couples expressed that God really met them in the day. All praise is His.

Berea family campers Gary and Kim Walker, Skip and Avonne Jarvis, Dennis and Heidi Lommen, and not pictured is the Lommens’ daughter Jenny and her husband, Jed. A very special group of friends.


Sunday we taught at their two worship services, thanks to their lead pastor Jon Rose who turned the service over to us. We so enjoyed worshiping with this alive congregation and look forward to continuing our partnership with them.


The Jarvis family . . . Skip and Avonne and their four great kids. We shared a 7:30 am breakfast together and had coherent, meaningful conversation with these set-apart young people. So encouraging!!

That brings us up to today. The chill still hasn’t left and I can see leaves changing before my very eyes. It’s time to put on a jacket and take a walk in the brisk fall air, which we hope is here to stay. Finally. 


Sunset over the lake in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

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.  

If It's Tuesday . . .

The past two weeks have been marked by very quick turn-arounds.  The kind that leave you wondering where you are and what time it is. 

Returning from Trinidad late on Tuesday, the 26th of April, we had just enough time to do a load of laundry and repack before flying to Sacramento, CA, the following day, to participate in Bayside’s annual Thrive Conference. The brainchild of Ray Johnston, lead pastor of the Bayside family of churches, this conference is packed with upbeat worship, a large variety of workshops, great plenary session speakers, and lots of fun and laughter. There’s not much that’s conventional about it, and each year we are re-energized by this hyper-inspiring event.

We taught three workshops on Friday, the 29th: one on balancing marriage and ministry, one on teaching Biblical values regarding sexuality to our youth, and the final one on temperaments. All three were well received, but the temperaments workshop was off the charts. Packed with very responsive folks, there were many moments of epiphany and enlightenment amidst the laughter and verbal “aha’s.” At the end of the workshop, one woman got to me immediately and with tears said, “This workshop might have just saved my marriage. I understand my husband in a whole new way with these insights.” There is no more encouraging response we could have received.  All praise is His.

The "temperaments in marriage" workshop garnered a huge crowd and an even bigger response.


The facilitating team for our workshops; on the far right are Dave and Diane Watts, our faithful book table handlers.


Following dinner that night at Ray and Carol Johnston’s house, we left the Thrive conference with hearts full and overflowing for how God had met us through some great speakers and worship, and for how He had used us.  

We drove from Sacramento to Santa Clarita that night (definitely not a very New England thing to do, but oh so Californian!) so we could be at Brandon’s soccer game the next morning. The flight we had originally booked Saturday morning wouldn’t get us there in time for the game, so we drove! The five-hour drive gave us time to process the conference and to look ahead at our crazy schedule. We were very thankful to safely arrive at the Garcia’s home at 2 am for a little shut-eye.

What fun to spend Saturday with Brandon and Ana (and their parents, of course.) Though it’s been years since we sat on the sidelines cheering for our favorite athletes, it all came right back to us and we joined the crowd of crazy fans seamlessly. We were really happy it worked out for us to be there. Playing games, taking a walk, sneaking a nap, and going to church balanced the day.


After Brandon’s soccer game . . .


Cleaned up and ready to attend Saturday night church.


Lisa joined us for festivities on Sunday, which revolved around having a small family celebration of our 40th. After a lovely brunch at the Egg Plantation, and delicious cold brew coffee at Honu (a coffee shop in Santa Clarita owned by friends of theirs from church), we returned to the Garcia house where we were presented with a beautiful book of tributes written by family and friends in honor of our marriage. We were totally blown away. Humbled. Touched. Deeply moved. It is a gift that will keep on giving. Sweet Kari took that project on and she did a beautiful job on it.

Coffee break!

The book of tributes for our anniversary.  What a treasure!


Back to Boston on a red-eye Sunday night, April 30, in order to offer a day of counseling. Had we not done this, we would’ve had no counseling days from April 19 until June 1, and we couldn’t do that to our clients. So, much of Monday and all of Tuesday were spent counseling, and then we re-packed and headed back to California. The bright side? Obviously connection with our counselees, but also more miles towards the 1K United mileage club.   :-)

We flew into San Diego so we could spend a day with my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day a bit early and we had such a sweet visit. My mom is incredible! At 86, she still runs her life: she drives, she manages everything, and she’s learning the in’s and out’s of her new iPhone 6.  She’s a bar-setter, that’s for sure. She even picked us up at the airport late Wednesday night. We are blessed that she is so healthy and so vital. Though very short, our time together was lovely and we hated to drive out Friday at noon.

But the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard Marriage Conference was ready to “play ball” so drive we did to Tehachapi, making a quick stop on the way in Riverside to see daughter Lisa’s “new” house!  What joy to celebrate such meaningful milestones in the lives of your children. We’re so proud of the way Lisa has managed her life, positioning her to make a move on buying her first home when her need for a place to live intersected with her “randomly” following an “Open House” sign while walking home from Cal Baptist one day about 6 weeks ago. After crunching the numbers and realizing that her mortgage payments would be only about $300 more a month than renting, she made her move and an abundant amount of God’s grace and favor were evident in the deal closing in her favor. She was thrilled to show her dad her new home (his only view of it had been virtual) and was very happy with his enthusiastic approval. So starts a new chapter in Lisa’s life as she continues as a professor at Cal Baptist for the 2016-17 school year.

On to Tehachapi, for the second year in a row, to speak at their baseball themed marriage conference entitled “Marriage Strong.” They spared no creativity in carrying out a theme and we were delighted to arrive at the “ball field” in time to get Dodger Dogs (which we quickly renamed “Fenway Franks”), nachos with queso, and lemonade. They did an awesome job of decorating the tables and the concession stand. Attendees came wearing their favorite team’s shirts, so there was plenty of friendly rivalry as Red Sox fans bantered with Dodger fans, etc.  It was one of the most creatively themed conferences we’ve done and it definitely was a “grand slam.”

 They didn’t miss a trick when it came to decorating for this conference.

 The Fenway Franks were delicious and made us feel right at home.

 Imagine finding all these Red Sox fans in the high desert east of LA??

Barry and Saundra Galloway are the campus pastors for the TMV and through many years now, we’ve become very good friends as well as ministry partners. Their grace-giving, truth-telling style endears them easily and we loved partnering with them again this year for their marriage conference.

  Barry and Saundra Galloway are salt of the earth folks and we loved being with them.

God did a great work through the conference.  One woman confessed to Paul, “I dragged my husband here, hoping he would be convicted of his need to change, and God turned the tables on me. I’m the one who needed the conference. God spoke to me of my need to change!”  We had many encouraging conversations with those who felt God really met them. Praise Him!

We were also honored to teach at both of their services on Sunday and were thankful that went well. And just like that, we were on our way to Santa Clarita for a quick Mother’s Day celebration with Garcias and Lisa, and then to LAX.  

Though the time was short with the kids, it was very sweet. Yummy food, sweet sentiments expressed, and love shared. So very thankful!

 Short but sweet time with the kids prior to jetting back to Boston on those beloved red-eye flights.


Home on a red-eye, picked up and taken home by Barbara Steele, who’s servant-heartedness knows no bounds. Six hours later, she was back to pick us up and take us back to Logan for our flight to Uganda. Convincing servant-heartedness, yes??

So here we are, ready to call it a day in Entebbe, Uganda. It’s still Tuesday here, so we know where we are.

We are beyond thankful for the opportunity to return to this land of beautiful, loving people and continue the ministry of encouraging church leaders, ex-Pat missionaries, and the congregation at Pearl Haven.
Updates will be coming, but for now, thanks for your prayers and resources that have gotten us here. We want to be used by God to make a difference . . . on Tuesday, as well as every other day of the week. 

   San Diego at its best . . . sunset over the harbor.



Relationships!

Today, April 20, we fly to Port Au Spain, Trinidad, to speak at a marriage conference for Trinidad and Tobago Urban Ministries. Our partnership with TTUM spans 17 years, starting when we took a group of families to serve on our second family missions trip for Grace Chapel. We “clicked” with Ashoke and Stefanie Bachew and their vision for these little islands and have been fast friends and ministry partners ever since. What a welcomed opportunity to return this week for their second bi-annual marriage conference—and how different it is to be going “alone” and not traveling with a team of 25-30, and not hauling hundreds of pounds of supplies for Backyard Bible Clubs! Paul’s sentiments: “This is a whole lot easier!!"

Backing up to Easter, we had a most delightful time hosting friends in our home for Easter week. We had a blast together and learned some new games, including “Tenzi” and "Jousting with Peeps” (use your imagination). We laughed a ton, had deep ponderous discussions, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment shared. Easter Sunday morning, we all attended church together and were most surprised when one of those being baptized related in her story that she had been a young African girl born with “knocked knees” and seemingly relegated to a life lacking mobility until she was sponsored to be surgically repaired at the CURE Hospital! I could barely contain my excitement as these worlds . . . church in Arlington and CURE in Africa . . . intersected in such a life-giving way. A bonus moment on Easter Sunday! The celebration continued in our home as eleven of us gathered around our table, connected by our love for the Risen Lord as well as our love for one another. It was a great day.

Our houseguests from California brought a lot of life and energy to our home during Easter week, starting with Easter Sunday breakfast.

Joyce was born and raised in Africa, and her “knocked knees” were surgically repaired at a CURE Hospital in Africa. Years later, Easter 2016, she was baptized in Arlington, MA.

Our delightful gathering on Easter Sunday, with much talking, laughter, and fellowship.

Between March 4 and April 9, we’ve hosted the H.I.M. marriage conference, Engagement Matters, and Worth It. I guess you could say we’ve been on a relationship roll.  

The weekend following Easter, April 2-3, our Engagement Matters conference was held in Andover, MA, at the home of Seth and Melanie Bilazarian. As always, stimulating conversations and probing questions were exchanged in an attempt to help these couples sort through important matters which will have an impact on their married life. We always tell the couples at the beginning of the weekend, “There are at least three potential outcomes of this weekend. One possibility is confirming that you are right for each other and that your timing is good to move ahead towards marriage. A second possibility is that you’ll decide you’re headed in the right direction, but you could benefit from more time before you decide on marriage. The third possibility is that you’ll decide you are not right for each other and though that’s a painful discovery, it’s far less painful to decide that on this side of the altar than the other.”  Our belief is that some marriage problems can be avoided with good pre-marriage work.

We are so thankful for our Engagement Matters teammates Ryan and Kelly Plosker, Carl and Cathy Blatchley, and Melanie Bilazarian. We are all kept very busy through the weekend, interacting with the couples formally and informally. We all have such deep hearts for each of them to make wise, God-honoring decisions.  

Most of the couples who attended EM April 2–3 . . . though some had already slipped out before this photo was snapped.


After one of the mildest winters in a while, the last thing we expected was that a snowstorm would cause the cancellation of our speaking to the Park Street Church Union group on Monday, April 4. Very fortunately, it was able to be re-scheduled for Thursday, the 7th, and we spoke to a packed room of young marrieds on the subject of marital sexuality. We were very impressed with the thoughtful questions submitted after our presentation, which were answered in the remaining 45 minutes of the evening. We were reminded that as pervasive as “sex” is in our culture, few seem to have a place to go with their questions, especially if seeking Biblical guidance. It was a great evening . . . 

. . . and, an appropriate lead-in to the following weekend, “Worth It!”  Our annual purity conference (the pre-engagement, pre-marriage conference we host), geared for families, was beset with challenges this year, from speaker availability to logistics. Our “normal” line-up of NFL couples had scheduling/family conflicts of all sorts, reducing our “headliners” to Don Davis (retired) and Matthew and Shahrzad Slater. At the ninth hour, the Slaters had to cancel due to the funeral of his aunt in Mississippi (though they kindly recorded a message to the attendees which we showed during the conference), so Don carried the NFL ball alone this year.  He was up to the task!  He also was accompanied by a stellar line-up of Nate Parks (executive director of Camp Berea), Paul Friesen (director of H.I.M.), Kate Wylie (wife of figure skating Olympic Silver Medalist Paul Wylie), Lisa Friesen (professor of athletic training at California Baptist University), Chris and Dorothy Greco (speakers, writers), and Adam Rowe (youth pastor for Grace Chapel Wilmington). All of the speakers led both plenary sessions and workshop sessions, and they all truly knocked it out of the park. 

Hosted by Trinity Baptist Church of Nashua, the packed crowd was fully engaged in the day as the “gospel” of relationships was proclaimed. The audience, made up of parents and teens, was delighted with the clarity of the messages, especially against the back drop of a culture whose confusion regarding these subjects only increases. There is such relief in hearing truth spoken.

Here are some of the comments written on evaluations at the end of the day:

"Excellent speakers.  All of them.  I took something from each talk.  Thank you!!”  (15-year-old male)
"I appreciated that nothing was sugar-coated.  It helped me realign my thoughts on what really matters in life.”  (15-year-old male)
"I loved attending with my teenage daughter.  It opened up opportunities for us to discuss topics we had not, and gave me the way to do it.  I wish I had known these things when I was a teen.”  (female parent)
"I recently asked God to please show me someone that was going through the same struggle of staying pure.  I am so happy this conference exists and I am thinking of so many people to bring next year.  This conference helped me get closer to God.”  (17-year-old female)
"Really appreciated the candor and vulnerability of the speakers.” (male parent)
"Getting to spend the day at 'Worth It' reinforced what we have been attempting to teach them about relationships.”  (male and female parents)
"The things I learned today will change the things I do in the future.”  (14-year-old female)
"Most of the speakers were fun so it helped teens who were not thrilled to attend.”  (female parent)
"You guys fit so much into one day! Well done. Thank you so much for your ministry!  God bless!”  (female parent)

We all agreed that it was one of the best “Worth It” conferences ever, and for that, we say “Thank you, Jesus!”  All praise is His!!

Paul Friesen opens the day with passion and humor, instantly helping all attendees relax.


Kate Wylie uses some volunteers to illustrate how hard it is to have a foot in both worlds.


Lisa Friesen challenges the teens with the question, “What is your BRAND?” (Belief, Reason, Accountability, No, and Dream)  As our “token” single, she was winsome in affirming her trust in a very personal God who continues to meet her as she trusts Him for her future mate.


Adam Rowe addressed the issue of media and technology, hitting hard on the destructive nature of pornography.


Don Davis wrapped up the day with the good news of forgiveness and the hope of redemption.


In the absence of the rest of the NFL crew, Paul creatively had a DVD made of interviews with the couples who would’ve been there. The DVD featured Benjamin and Kirsten Watson, Danny and Stacia Woodhead, Matthew and Shahrzad Slater, Ryan Wendell and Meridith Bartman (who are engaged to be married in July), as well as Don Davis.  It was really well done (thanks to the creative work of Jake and Kaylee Gosselin) and was a great addition to the day.

It takes many helping hands to put on such a conference, and once again Jim and Sue Martis and their able team pulled it off with excellence.  The day went like clockwork and we are deeply grateful for the many who helped make it so.


The aftermath . . . cleaned up and packed away . . . these folks stayed ’til the end. So grateful for them!


The dust had barely settled on “Worth It” before Lisa and I flew to California on Sunday while Paul happily stayed home to work on a myriad of house and writing projects. I had the joy of spending the week with Kari, Brandon, and Ana, while Gabe was with his pastoral staff team from Grace Baptist Church, Santa Clarita, attending the “Together for the Gospel” conference in Louisville, KY.  Oh what fun it was to have five delicious days with Brandon and Ana (and their mama, of course.)  Brandon and I had “sleep overs” every night, ensuring that the day would close with reading some childhood favorites. Baking, going to the park, playing “Candyland” and doing some special outings filled up the days and all too quickly I was boarding a plane for Raleigh, NC, where I joined Paul who was officiating the wedding of Parker and Katie.  


The cuties I spent a week with in California. I can never get enough of the grands!


The wedding was a celebration of so many great things, and we enjoyed every minute of it. We’ve shared many important moments with this family through the years and it was such an honor to share this milestone event with them. Every time Paul does a wedding, he’s flooded with responses from those unfamiliar with a Christian perspective. He most often hears, “I’ve never heard marriage spoken about that way. You’ve given me something to really think about.”  What a privilege to proclaim God’s good design for marriage to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

Held at the beautiful Carolina Inn on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, the ceremony was a declaration of the gospel of marriage.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to encourage marriages, we welcomed the opportunity to do a mini-marriage conference for the Trinity Park Church.  Connected by Corrado and Penny Grieci (former New Englanders and long time friends), we spent the morning with a very receptive and warm audience.  It was a bonus to catch up with the Griecis as well.

Friends from Trinity Park Church attended the marriage seminar on Saturday, April 16.
After the wedding festivities ended, we spent Sunday reconnecting with James and Joe Yardley, both who attend UNC-Chapel Hill. After church, at which Joe was playing keys, we had a lively conversation over lunch. It was so encouraging to catch up with these two college students (who we’ve known since they were 1 and 3 years old) whose hearts are for the Lord. Next visit, my 88-year-old second cousin, Sis, who is a lifelong Raleigh-ite. Impressively spry and a delightful conversationalist, our time with her passed far too quickly. We rounded out the day with Roy and Jenny Kelly, beloved friends who used to live in New England. It was great to catch up with them after not having seen them face to face in such a long time. More important relationships!

Back home, briefly, for a day of counseling, and now we’re off to Trinidad for a week.

Forty years ago today we were counting the final four days until we would be united as husband and wife. We’re both finding it hard to wrap our minds around 40 years! While thousands of memories swirl in my head as we anticipate reaching this milestone on Sunday, April 24, the overwhelming sentiment centers on the faithfulness of God. We sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness” at our wedding and believed that “morning by morning new mercies we see.” We have clung to “All I have needed Thy hand has provided” and we affirm, “Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Humbling. Blessed. So loved. The most important relationship of all: He loves us and promises to be faithful. That’s the key to our 40 years together. All praise is His.
Our wedding party . . . sooo late 70’s. Love it!

All Things New


“Do you need anything more than the cruel cross of Jesus Christ to convince you of how deep your need for grace is?”  (Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies)

It’s Good Friday as I write and these words taken from Tripp’s new devotional book bring such clarity to the message of the Cross. Sacrifice. Love. Grace. Oh to be reminded once again that “Jesus paid it all . . . All to Him I owe. . . . Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” Hope!! He will make all things new.

It’s good to pause and reflect after a full month of ministry. I last wrote from Denver, where on Monday, the 29th of March, Jake and Kaylee Gosselin hosted an evening for seminary couples to talk about marriage and ministry. We love such events! We love the conversation, the questions, the insights. We love seeing the next generation of ministers preparing to go into the fields which are ripe with harvest. The evening passed far too quickly, but fortunately the conversation continued with Jake and Kaylee over breakfast this next morning in their sweet home. It was so good to have time with these guys, and we left very excited about what God is doing in their lives.


Full time seminary students, worship leaders at their church, and parents to half a dozen laying chickens. Jake and Kaylee have a full life.

On to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs for the Pro-Athletes Outreach “Increase” conference . . . our sixteenth! We were pleased to have four of our Patriots couples attend this unique-for-NFL-players Christian conference, where we experienced great worship, heard challenging speakers, and had sweet fellowship. Paul and I did two workshops: one on temperaments, and one on in-law relationships . . . which was very alive with questions, emotions, and stories. Hit a nerve for sure for many; after the workshop ended, about half the group stayed for informal Q and A, which went on for another hour. Loved it.

A couple of our Patriots couples who attended the PAO conference.

We red-eyed it back to Boston the night of March 3, arriving early on the 4th in time to host and speak at our annual H.I.M. marriage conference in Newport, RI. It was a packed, sold-out house, full of couples across the spectrum of age/stage, ethnicities, and health of marriage. From those celebrating the delight of marriage to those in deep crisis, from thirty couples married six years or less to those married 40-50 years (including one married 64 years . . . we had a healthy cross-section of very engaged, expectant couples. Thankfully, God met us in spades and the weekend was wildly successful.

Several comments received after the conference:

“Thank you for such a life-giving, refreshing weekend!”

“We learned so much this weekend and will recommend this conference to all our married friends!”

“What a fantastic reminder of how much God loves us and His design for our marriages.”

We can’t thank you enough for the AMAZING weekend in Rhode Island. We are so blessed to learn what it is to be rooted in Christ as a couple. We are so grateful for the prayer session that equipped us to live our lives as one spirit and tackle the world together. We will be sharing our experiences and the tools with our small group.”

“My husband and I just returned from the marriage retreat in Newport and are HIGHLY recommending it to all our married friends! You guys do a wonderful job and we cannot wait to come back next year!

Thank you so much for leading, with Paul, such a wonderful marriage conference weekend. We came away with so much to think over and talk about.  We are grateful for the wisdom both you and Paul share with so many.

Opening night: being lead in worship by Danny and Rayna Oertli, Rich and Sue Musacchio, and Paul and Lyss Gandy. A strong start.

The theme “Marriage Strong” was carried out beautifully by Kelly Plosker, who once again worked her magic on the ball room, creating an ambience of welcome, comfort, and delight. We are so thankful for her gifts used so powerfully.

Sunday afternoon . . . the guests are gone and the team is tearing down. We pause for a photo and a prayer, giving thanks for the incredible ways God met us.

A highlight for us was having 30 young married couples with us for the weekend, most of whom have come through Engagement Matters. During the EM weekend, we challenge them to commit to having an "annual marital check-up” as a way to keep their marriage healthy and growing. Too many people forego ongoing “maintenance” on their marriage and only consider attending a marriage conference when they’re in crisis. Our observation is that those who do regular “maintenance” often avoid getting to the place of crisis or of drifting apart. We’re so encouraged by these young couples who are proactively building into their marriages.

It was also a highlight to have Bill and JoAnne Shore with us, who have logged 64 years of marriage. Ah, the power of lives well lived. Every couple privileged to rub shoulders with them during the weekend was inspired. Their hearts for the Lord and for each other cannot be missed.

Reflecting on the weekend 2.5 weeks later, we’re mostly just grateful. For God’s faithfulness. For the team who worked so hard, so sacrificially to make the weekend go smoothly in every way. For the couples who came, seeking healing, seeking encouragement, seeking fellowship, seeking God. For the strength and grace He gave Paul and me, coming in on the heels of a very full week in Colorado, and speaking for the conference, doing a workshop, and interacting with over 260 people. For the work of the Holy Spirit. We’ve interacted with many couples who testified that God met them in big ways at the conference, giving them new hope and grace for their marriages. We are truly humbled to be, part of such powerful Kingdom work. All praise is His.

Home—very briefly—to catch our breath and repack (sort of). All day Monday we counseled and all day Tuesday I had jury duty. Early on Wednesday, March 9, Paul headed to Springfield, MA, to partner with Pioneer Valley Christian Academy for their relationship day. He spoke for the middle school chapel in the morning and their senior high chapel in the afternoon. After the illness that sidelined me for the morning had improved enough for me to join the party, I headed out to Springfield in time for the parents/teens session for “Worth It—Springfield” which drew a crowd of about 200 (far exceeding the expectations of the planning team, who were expecting about 75.) Well organized by Caroline Funchion, and promoted by headmaster Tim Duff, the day was more successful than anyone imagined. There was lots of good interaction, good questions, and positive feedback from our straight talk about Biblical principles for guiding decisions regarding relationships. These teens have been exposed to massive culturally-held distortions about sexuality and relationships their whole lives and seemed hungry for truth that would bring clarity to the current chaos. We so desperately want them to see how deeply loved they are by God and, as such, how much He longs for them to trust His plans and purposes. As we drove on to Mechanicsburg, PA, that night—far into the middle of the night.  We were buoyed by hope that in the midst of the craziness, the gospel is our only hope and that we are privileged to help communicate that hope to so many. That kept us awake, fortunately, until we arrived at Derek and Julie’s home at 3 am. :)

Pioneer Valley Christian Academy’s headmaster, Tim Duff, addresses the larger-than-expected crowd at the “Worth It—Springfield” night.

We then spent two delicious days with Nathan and Rachel (and their parents, of course). Oh, the joys of grandparenting!! I remember a poem that surfaced when our girls were littles, all about what makes grandparents special is that they have time . . . and I realized, we are there!! Walk to the horses? Of course! Play with trains? Why not? Throw the ball outside? Let’s go! No interruptions. No “more important things” to do. No “but we’ve read that book three times already!” Just the delight of being together, making memories, living in Nathan’s world. It is surely the privilege of grandparents, and we fully embrace this joyous season.

The daily walk to visit “Cody” and “Mouse,”
two horses who live in the neighborhood.
Rachel, showing early signs that she enjoys being all dressed up with somewhere to go. 
Sibling love.  Ahhh . . .

All too quickly those two days evaporated and we were off to Mt. Bethel, PA, to speak at Tuscarora Lutheran Brethren Conference Center’s annual marriage conference. A new-to-us experience, we didn’t know exactly what to expect, but we were delighted at every turn. Paul DiQuattro, conference manager, and his team quickly made us feel at home and in short order we were impressed with how well they run a conference. Drawing couples from all over the northeast, we thoroughly enjoyed connecting with a whole new group of people. The conference host, Chris (Suzanne) Priestaf, was well suited for his role as emcee, as he effectively brought this eclectic group together and helped to develop a sense of safe community. We were so encouraged by the eagerness of the couples to improve their marriages. During the testimony time at the end of the conference, we were deeply moved to hear one couple express that they had come to the conference having been separated for five months, and were leaving reconciled and committed to growing a Christ-centered marriage. Many others testified that they had been met by God during the conference and were leaving with hope. This is work that only the Holy Spirit can do and we were humbled to consider His work among us throughout the weekend. We look forward to partnering with this group in the future.

Craig (worship leader) and Danika (asst. to program director) and Chris (emcee) and Suzanne flank us on stage at the Tuscarora Conference Center’s marriage conference. 

Home after Tuscarora . . . daylight savings time . . . spring . . . all things new. And in front of us, the longest we’ll be home in 2016! Between Palm Sunday weekend, Easter, Engagement Matters, and Worth It, we’ll actually be home three weeks in a row! Recognizing the rarity of this, we’re “making it count” by focusing on local relationships and home management (a nice way of saying “trying to dig out from months of neglected pile accumulation, etc.”)

“Local” commitments include lots of counseling and a few speaking engagements. On Wednesday, March 16, we spoke for the moms group at Bethany Church in Greenland, NH. We always love partnering with Bethany! And this was no exception. Speaking on temperaments and love languages in children was fun and informative, spawning good questions and interaction. We love to encourage moms in particular, who seem to be buffeted by so many challenges related to culture, families of origin, and the reality that “one size doesn’t fit all” in parenting. Mostly we find ourselves pressing hope into them that God is bigger than their challenges and that He is with them.

Some of the mentoring moms at Bethany Church Greenland,
ready to debrief the morning.

As only God could’ve orchestrated, I was in town for the funeral of another very dear friend’s mother. It’s the season of our life and I am so grateful when schedules permit “showing up” at these critical passages of life for people we deeply love.

Palm Sunday weekend was full of family fun. The Johnsons and daughter Lisa drove up from Pennsylvania (where Lisa had been spending her spring break) and our niece Katie Herbst flew in from California, all converging in the early hours of Saturday morning. We spent Saturday touring Ogunquit, Maine, and visiting the Nubble Lighthouse. The bright blue, sun-filled skies belied the cold north wind blowing that day, but that didn’t slow us down at all. In fact it likely speeded us up! We had such a fun day enjoying the beauty of this part of the world with people whose presence makes your heart glad. Sunday our touring took us to Boston where we had the unique experience of walking on the bottom of the currently empty Swan Boat lake and visiting the island made famous by Make Way for Ducklings. How we love that story! We walked to the North End for an early dinner and attended Palm Sunday service at Park Street Church before dropping Lisa off at the airport and Katie off at the hotel that’s hosting her conference. A full and fun weekend!

It LOOKS warm . . . but it wasn’t!
Nonetheless, we had a great time at the Nubble Lighthouse.

The cousins—stopping long enough for a quick picture before voting to suspend the walk on the Marginal Way and return to the warmth of the car. 
Cousin Katie, Auntie Lisa, and Nathan enjoy a rare opportunity to set foot on the island where Mr. and Mrs. Mallard raised their little ducklings.

And just like that, it snowed!! Wakening to a winter wonderland in spring is always fun, regardless of the complaints voiced by most. Spring snow never lasts long; most of the 6” that fell in Bedford were melted by late that afternoon. But for the hours it’s around, it makes “all things new” temporarily, and when it leaves, “all things are new” once again. Nathan loved helping Papa shovel and Gigi and the girls loved watching the snow fall . . . from their vantage inside the warmed-by-wood-stove home. Everyone was happy. Really. 

Nathan and Rachel enjoyed dinner in the North End on Sunday before going to church on Palm Sunday.

Papa and Nathan made quick work of the 6” Spring snow fall.

The Johnsons returned to Pennsylvania on Tuesday, on a bright, sunny, snow-less day . . . and we got the house back in order for our next guests, arriving Saturday.

Holy Week. We’ve been reminded in so many ways that our only eternal hope is in the empty cross. We cannot escape the brokenness that is all around us and in us. Pain. Suffering. Loneliness. Disconnectedness. Dysfunction. Disappointment. Disillusionment. Political toxicity. Worldwide terrorism. Broken hearts. Disease. Death. 

Temporary relief seduces us, and for brief periods we are anesthetized from our pain through counterfeit means.

How comforting, how good, how hope-giving is it to know the only One who can truly still our souls, give us peace, and make all things new. We do have a Good Good Father, and we’re reminded of that profoundly this week as we pause to remember that He gave it all for us . . . because of His deep deep love. 

We hold on to the promise that He will make all things new.

He is risen indeed!!!

To Him be the glory forever and ever.


Amen.

Leaping in to March


Four long years must pass between having a February 29 date on a blog so I will seize this opportunity!!  As we fly to Denver today, it’s good to take a look over the past month and be reminded of God’s faithfulness in so many ways.

Backing up to the last days of January: we spent almost a week in Washington state, partnering with Moses Lake Alliance Church (MLAC) for the 6th time in the past 10 years.  We are deeply connected with Kent and Staci Copley (executive pastor of MLAC), who host their annual marriage conference. Our love for this congregation grows ever stronger each time we’re here. We arrived on Wednesday, Jan 27 (after those brief 48 hours home), and spoke that night to their jr/sr high youth group on the goodness of God’s design for sexuality.  Responsive, attentive, and engaged could describe the group of students, much to our delight, and we had some great conversations afterwards.  A true highlight was a comment from a young college-bound woman who said, “This has helped clarify so much for me.  I now know where I will set my physical and emotional boundaries as I go off to college.”  We are so thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit, Who brings truth to light so personally.

A small remnant of the MLAC youth group long after most had gone home. What a great group!

Thursday night we spoke on parenting to a group of about 40 who joined forces in the church sanctuary to be encouraged and instructed.  Parenting has gotten a lot harder since, in the words of Al Mohler in his new, important book entitled We Cannot Be Silent, “the breakdown in the moral immune system of human society.  Western civilization has forfeited its immunity  against the breakdown of marriage, the family, and the integrity of human sexuality” (p 31).  Parents and teens alike are confused by the dissonance between cultural Christianity and Christianity—and sadly, culture is winning over Christianity in all too many cases. We are so thankful for opportunities to proclaim the gospel about God’s good design for family, parenting, and sexuality. It was a very good evening with these folks.

Friday we were off to the marriage conference, annually held at Clearwater Lodge at Camp Spaulding in Newport, WA. A beautiful setting, excited-to-be-there couples, and our new series on “Being Rooted in Christ” combined to make it a refreshing, shot-in-the-arm weekend all around. This group is always fun and we usually have some unique experiences with them. This year was no exception as one of the games was the “Undy 500.” Fortunately only 4 couples were selected to “race”—a three-legged contest which used a rather large pair of men’s tidy whities to secure the two middle legs. We were ROTFLing.  

A visual of this is important—it was pretty hysterical.


Alan and Marianne Bladgley put a lot of creative thought into tying the weekend together and there were many moving moments as couples accepted the challenge to privately or publicly affirm their commitment to their spouse. One husband actually proposed to his wife of almost 10 years, acknowledging that he had let her 4-year-old daughter pop the question nine years ago. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house during that precious exchange.

She said “Yes!” to his very heartfelt proposal.

Most of the couples who attended the MLAC marriage conference.

These three couples have been at every MLAC conference we’ve spoken for.  Treasured friends.

One last stop before heading west . . . dinner and frozen yogurt with the Copleys. It’s hard to believe these “little girls” are so grown up! 

With a promise to return in two years, we hugged these dear friends good-bye and headed to Seattle.

How much can we pack into one day?? Start at 7:30 am Monday: breakfast with our dear friends and ministry partners, Richard and Donna Dahlstrom. Follow it with a late breakfast rendezvous (9-11) with Dane and Amy Looker, also dear friends . . . retired NFL, parents of 4 littles, all around great people.  Never enough time.  Back to the hotel by noon for 5 hours with Earl and Sandy Wilson, co-authors, respected and loved friends. Dinner date/marriage check-up with Jay and Sarah Welch, a young couple we married three years ago. And dessert . . . an ice cream party at 8:30 pm with three CBS staff girls. Why not??  We loved every meeting, every meal, every reconnection.  

Time with the Dahlstroms is always stimulating, and it has nothing to do with the coffee.  :) 

Earl and Sandy Wilson continue to be used by God in so many important ways. They are still on the front line of redemptive work.

Jay and Sarah Welch are enjoying marriage fully.
Rachel, Alissa, and MaryAnn were very fun ice cream dates.

We sort of did it again on Tuesday, Feb. 2, as we met with the Wilsons all morning. The book we co-authored, Restoring the Fallen, continues to be a widely-used tool in the work of restoration and we are all humbled to see God using it to bring hope and healing to many who find themselves in very broken places. Beauty from ashes. All praise is His. We said our farewells and met up with Duke and Amy Paulson for a late lunch. Duke’s parents were also co-authors of Restoring the Fallen so we go way back with these guys. It was great to catch up with friends we’ve known for so long.

Lunch with Duke and Amy Paulson was another highlight
of our time in the Pacific NW.

A long walk along the Seattle wharf after closing down Pike’s Market put the exclamation point on our time in Seattle and we boarded a red-eye for Boston, happily tired from and deeply grateful for a week chock full of great ministry/great friendship moments.

Home for another 48-hour period (does this sound familiar?), one day of which was counseling and the other a snow storm which was in full force as we were driving to attend the funeral of a very dear friend’s mother. We were beyond thankful that we were in town for the funeral. As you can see from our schedule, we haven’t been in town much, so we were very grateful that God’s timing was perfect. The older we get, the more aware we are of how important it is to “show up” for important, non-routine, pivotal events in life. It was such a gift to us to be able to “show up” for these dear friends.



The snow tapered off late afternoon, just as we were driving to Portsmouth, NH, to speak for Hope Community Church’s first marriage conference. As the sun emerged, casting a pinkish glow to the otherwise all-white world, we witnessed jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring winter beauty. It was a spectacular drive to Portsmouth.  


We had spoken for a couples’ dessert event last spring for Hope, which inspired  the family/marriage pastors, Andy and Katie Bauer, to invite us to do a weekend conference for them and we booked the date. They were thrilled that the conference sold-out, with young and older marriages represented, and by conference end, it was evident that we had been met by God. 

Hope Community Church of Newburyport, MA, held their marriage conference in Portsmouth, NH.
Anyone left standing at the end of clean-up was grabbed for this photo.
  
We arrived home in time for Super Bowl Sunday, which held much less interest for us than last year’s did.  :)  We were happy for our friends who are die-hard Broncos’ fans, but we admittedly had our share of “if only’s.”  As I said before, we are more than proud of our Patriots players, especially the ones who come to the Thursday night couples’ study, and thank them for working so hard and accomplishing so much.

For the first time in the new year, we were home for more than 48 hours. Four days to be exact . . . which provided time for some neglected things, like seeing the eye doctor. Having not been for almost four years, he wasn’t surprised when I said I was having a harder time seeing distance. The examination confirmed the need for distance glasses, which have definitely made the world clearer for me.

We flew to Huntsville, Alabama, on Thursday, to speak for Solitude Baptist Church’s marriage conference. The story of how we connected with Solitude is too long to explain, but suffice to say that our connection with them was through a family transplanted from New England to Alabama a number of years ago. We were thrilled to reconnect with this family, who have experienced the transforming power of God in incredible ways and are a testament to His power and grace to make “all things new.” They hosted us Thursday night and we had such sweet fellowship with them and their kids.

This lovely family hosted us in Alabama and we were so encouraged by their commitment to Christlikeness in their home.
They outfitted us with rival shirts . . . symbolizing how two very different people can be strong together.

The conference at Solitude went really well. I love being in the south; it taps into my beloved heritage, as my parents were both from the south. So friendly and polite, we instantly felt at home and connected with this congregation. It was a very sweet time.

The team at Solitude Baptist Church did a wonderful job putting on their marriage conference.

Back to Boston, arriving late the night of the 13th, just in time to wake up to breakfast in bed from my forever Valentine, who went out in -11 degree weather to procure breakfast supplies. What a guy!! That was the start of our longest stretch at home . . . five days!!  We did have a houseguest the whole time, but that was lovely. It was great to be home and sort out our life a bit. 

Valentine’s breakfast in bed . . .


. . . and dinner by candlelight.  I am a very blessed woman!

We drove out early Friday (Feb. 19) for Havre de Grace, MD, to speak for the third year in a row for the Restore Church marriage conference. This young (almost 4-year-old) church plant will open its 6th campus next month in Towson!!  Lead by visionary Jess Bousa and his wife Elizabeth, this movement is ministering especially to many who are struggling with addictions, broken homes, and other challenging situations, and who previously haven’t found church to be a safe place for healing and hope. Jess and Elizabeth live out a very hands-on, in-the-trenches, needs-meeting ministry through which they help meet the physical needs as well as the spiritual needs of those God brings their way.  God is using them in big ways and Restore Church is exploding.  

We love partnering with them.

The marriage conference went well Friday night and Saturday, and we taught at their Saturday night service, as well as three Sunday services. Actually, Paul taught alone Sunday as I was down with a bug of some sort that made everything on my inside want to be outside.  That is the first time either of us has missed teaching together because of sickness in our 13 years on the road!  We have been so blessed.


Being framed with Jess and Elizabeth Bousa.

The Restore Church marriage conference.

We took advantage of being so close to Derek and Julie (1.5 hrs) and spent the next two days at their home. Though I wasn’t up for much, it was a joy to be in their home with those two littles. Rachel is 3.5 months already and Nathan, at 2.5-years-old, is full of life and curiosity.  What a joy to see them more often with their settling in Pennsylvania.

Rachel at 3 months is edible . . . so sweet and low-key.

Nathan is a very happy, active, loving little guy and a great big brother.

Back home on Wednesday, the 24th, for counseling the 25th and 26th.  A little more time to catch up on a few things, a few people, etc., and a belated H.I.M. Board and volunteers appreciation dinner. 

Many of our H.I.M. Board Members and volunteers, without whom we couldn’t do what we do.  So thankful for each of them!
And that brings us to now. Safely down in Denver, we will spend some time with some Denver Theological Seminary students tonight and present a couple of workshops at the ProAthletes Outreach Conference in Colorado Springs over the next few days.


I’m going to take a leap and get this posted today . . . before the once-every-four-years date has expired.  Best!

The blog posts I never finished . . .

Happy Veterans’ Day 2015

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving 2015!!

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


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

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

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

Success!!

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Happy December and Merry Christmas 2015

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

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

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


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

 The Johnsons get a family walk in as night falls.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The littlest “little,” modeling her matching jammies

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

Ana is ready for Christmas breakfast.


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


“Just what I wanted!

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

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

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

Christmas dinner

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


The morning after, with John and Marilyn Nugent.

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

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

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

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

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

Papa and Brandon had a blast sledding tandem.


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

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



Happy New Year 2016!!

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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.