Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center

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 . . .

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.  

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring has sprung in New England and we are surrounded by new life in all its glory.  Cherry and apple blossoms, tulips and daffodils, tulip trees, azaleas, and rhododendrons . . . and lilacs in lavender, white, and purple. The air is fragranced with beauty.  The days are longer. The trees are being robed.  It is truly a glorious time of year!

In the midst of all this beauty, we celebrated our 39th anniversary just half a mile from where we spent our honeymoon in 1976.  Graciously invited back to Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center in Santa Cruz, California, to speak at the second of their annual marriage conferences (we spoke at the first conference last year), the conference opened on the day of our anniversary (April 24) and we decided it was a perfect way to celebrate the event.  Dave Burns, director of adult ministries at Mt. Hermon, was a delight to work with again and the sold-out crowd was warmly receptive and very responsive.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time speaking, hanging out with some great people, and celebrating our anniversary by re-visiting the very same Foster’s Freeze Ice Cream stand we frequented daily on our honeymoon. 

The Mt. Hermon team who served the marriage conference weekend. Dave Burns is in the middle.

Dear friends who attended the Mt. Hermon conference:
Carter and Tracy Welch and Mike and Tricia Toews.

Ah yes . . . Fosters Freeze . . . just like it was 39 years ago!

We had a couple of days prior to heading to Granite Bay to speak at the Thrive Conference, and we made the most of it. We had a lovely evening with Howard and Kathy Clark, along with Bill and Christi Bachman and their sons, who hosted us for the night. Great food, stimulating conversations, and lots of love was shared. Our riches in relationships continue to multiply. So blessed!

Howard and Kathy Clark, Bill and Christi Bachman with sons Andrew and Nathan . . .
we spent a delightful evening together.

On to Half Moon Bay for an overnight to really celebrate our anniversary (without a hundred other people) and we had what we needed: a lovely, clean room at the Half Moon Bay Lodge and an expansive shoreline for walking. Though clouds obscured the sun, it gave the ocean an opportunity to wear a new face and we will never grow tired of the ever-changing beauty of the sea. We enjoyed every minute of our getaway.  

We managed to have a pre-marital counseling session with a couple we’ll be marrying in September, and then on to Santa Rosa to spend some precious time with Rosemary Dougan. It was our first time with her since Garth’s death in March and that was hard. The reality that Garth really has left this earth was inescapable, and having never been with Rosemary apart from Garth, his absence was deeply felt. Seventy years of marriage (it certainly downsized our 39!) . . . living for Christ, and loving each other in Christlikeness . . . truly mentors, friends, and chosen family.  We look forward to celebrating Garth’s life on May 30 in Santa Rosa, knowing that joy and sorrow will intermingle throughout his being honored.

Loved having some time with Rosemary Dougan, though we all missed Garth so much.

On to Sacramento where we participated in the annual Thrive Conference, hosted by Bayside Church and directed by Ray Johnston. We’ve been privileged to present workshops at all ten Thrive conferences and consider this one of the highlights of our speaking year. Not only do we have the honor of teaching on family and marriage (this year we presented three workshops on the topics of marital sexuality, parenting, and reducing the risk of divorce), but we take full advantage of hearing great speakers whose teaching edifies and instructs us, as well of reconnecting and networking with dozens of people important to us. Our days were full and profitable in so many ways.

Ray Johnston and Paul greet each other at the beginning of Thrive 2015.

Paul returned to Bedford after Thrive ended May 2 and I flew to San Diego to spend a few days with my mom. The bonus was having the Garcias and Lisa at my mom’s when I arrived, affording a few hours of 4 generations interacting. Each of these moments are gifts. They left that evening, and I stayed until Wednesday morning before flying home in time for counseling on Thursday. The visit with my mom and 4 of my siblings was good in every way. I love getting time with her and she always expresses such gratitude. I always tell her I wish I could stay longer, to which she always responds, “I’m so grateful for every minute you’re here.”  The garden of her heart reveals that she has sown seeds of gratitude as opposed to seeds of entitlement and bitterness.  Great life lesson.

Four generations of strong women.

My mom and  four of my six siblings celebrate the Cinco De Mayo
at a San Diego Mexican restaurant.

It was good to get back to Bedford for a few days. There was lots of counseling and catching up, along with a a delightful evening spent with the congregation of the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church in West Roxbury. This was our second year speaking on marriage to this church and our hearts deepened even more for them. Led by Reverend Khaled Ghobrial and his wife Vanille, we were very impressed again by their commitment to grow their families and marriages in Christlikeness. On the eve of Mother’s Day, it seemed a fitting focus.  

Sweet friends at the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church in West Roxbury.

Even without having any of our children close by, nor being near enough to my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day, we had a sweet time at home with one of our dear friends who is a single mom of a disabled child. Paul served us up a yummy meal and we shared a lively conversation around our table. We then took the party to the Boston Commons where we crazily snapped photos of the blooming beds of tulips and flowering trees as dusk eventually brought a slow, beautiful end to a magnificently beautiful day.  

Monday night, May 11, found us back downtown, not to wander through the gardens, but to speak to the Union Young Marrieds group at Park Street Church on Biblical principles regarding finances. Organized by the directors of Union, Paul and Liana Chong, the evening drew quite a crowd (over double what they usually have) which underscores the need for addressing this potent issue.  We love hanging with 20-30 somethings and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.  

Paul and Liana Chong direct the young marrieds ministry at Park Street Church.

What a joy to host Wai and Elaine Wong and their daughters Thursday, May 14.  They were in Boston for a medical convention, and we were so happy that our schedules worked out for us to spend an evening together in our home. The evening passed all too quickly.

The Wai Wong Family came to town and we love spending the evening with them.

Off to Ekton, Pennsylvania, we drove down for the weekend to do a second annual marriage conference for Marsh Creek Community Church. We had such a wonderful time reconnecting with Joel and Sarah Schuster who lead that ministry. Their vision for the importance of building into marriages and families is refreshing. Our conference culminated a month-long emphasis on these seminal matters. We were thankful for a great response to the weekend.

Joel and Sarah Schuster are doing a great job leading the ministry
at Marsh Creek Community Church in Ekton, PA.

Taking advantage of being in that area, we spent our non-conference time in the richest sort of way. Our first visit was with Haddon and Bonnie Robinson, who have retired to Willow Valley, PA. Haddon is a well-known preacher and preaching professor from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which is where we developed a relationship with him and Bonnie. They became mentors-at-a-distance for us and we welcomed any time we could hear Haddon preach or hang out with them at the seminary. Haddon’s health is failing now (Parkinson’s Disease, a recent fall and a minor heart attack all have combined to limit him greatly) and we were so thankful for the opportunity to spend some time with them.  Married now 63 years, they continue to live for Christ and love each other truly.  What a gift to be with them!

Haddon and Bonnie Robinson are still praising God in spite of many medical challenges.

Next stop: Calvary Missionary Fellowship Retirement Community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to visit 92-year-old Barbara Boyd. “Barbie” lived with Paul’s family early in her career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and after her fiancé, Ralph Willoughby, died from a virus while Barbara was serving at Campus by the Sea with the Friesens, she continued her ministry with IVCF and never married.  She is truly one of the most winsome Christ-followers we’ve ever known; her joy is contagious and her trust is flawless. Since we were last with her, she’s moved from independent living to assisted living due to declining memory, but she was still an engaging conversationalist.  Loved our visit.

Barbara Boyd and Paul enjoy catching up on family history.

Rounding out our tour of octogenarians plus, we had dinner with our dear friends and mentors, Bill and JoAnne Shore. They’re poster children for “80 is the new 60” as they are fully engaged in serving the church through mentoring, teaching, etc.  We hang on every word the Shores say.  What a gift to spend several hours with them!

Bill and JoAnne Shore make the 80’s look very young.

Spring has sprung and filled the earth with beauty, but we were reminded with each visit with an over 80-year-old this month that beauty is seen in the fall of life as well. What a gracious, generous God we have who lavishes us with beauty throughout the seasons of nature and of life! Grateful for all these opportunities to delight in His beauty!