Richard Dahlstrom

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!

Summer's Grand Finale (part 1)

Our official working summer ended with a bang:  two packed-out weeks of family camps at Camp Berea, on Newfound Lake in New Hampshire.  A stalwart group of tired staff (who had just invested 7 weeks at Campus by the Sea) and an even tired-er leader, Paul, boarded flights at LAX Saturday night, August 3, "red-eyeing" it to Boston in time to launch two weeks of H.I.M. family camps.  Though not our preference, the way the calendar falls again this year makes it impossible for us to delay the start of New England family camps for a week, so we forge ahead. Our very impressive team pressed on, without complaint, as we headed to Camp Berea around noon Sunday, trying to arrive ahead of our eager family campers, which we managed to do.  And then we were off and running, with no time to consider our exhaustion level.  Rising to the occasion, our staff presented "This is week 1 of family camp" enthusiasm and energy, and we truly honor them for their commitment to excellence.  We are also very mindful of God's grace in giving us all strength and health equal to the task.

Paul was greeted by Nathan Scott and his parents at Logan upon his arrival and that was precious to behold the first meeting of Papa and grandson #2.  How kind of Derek and Julie to make that happen at 6 a.m.!!

One-week-old Nathan musters a sleepy greeting for his Papa at the airport.

The "Butterfly Song" is sung for the first of many times as family camp gets underway.

We are so grateful to be partnering with Camp Berea these two weeks.  The commitment of the Berea staff to serve "as unto the Lord" is evident in every aspect of the camp, and our hearts resonate with their priorities, which we share.  Both weeks of camp were "out of the park" in all ways:  full and overflowing capacity, beautiful weather overall, protection from (most) sickness and serious injury, open hearts and sensitive spirits to God's work, and fabulous teaching from Richard Dahlstrom (lead pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, WA).  Our staff were superb and served so, so well. We felt so met by God.  Above and beyond.

Staff photo from Family Camp 1 — a great, servant-hearted group of young people.

Derek, Julie, and Nathan Johnson decided to spend a good portion of the two weeks with us at camp, taking advantage of staying in the beautiful cabin we rent for housing our married staff (sans Paul and me, who stay on site.)  Birchaven (the cabin) abuts the camp property, making it very convenient but very separate.  It was a delight to all of our family campers to have the Johnsons show up to hear Richard speak or hang out in the back of the gym during the game show.  

I managed to make my way to Birchaven during any free moment I carved out during those weeks.  In fact, I surprised myself by how creative I was in finding "off the beaten track" paths to the cabin so as to not run into campers I would want to talk with.  I didn't want anything to keep me from spending the precious few moments I could have holding this little guy.  

I had an epiphany which came with a conviction as I stealthily made my way to the cabin one day.  The priority of seeing Nathan trumped my nature, which temperamentally would lead me to walk paths which would allow me to see the most amount of people.  I love interacting with people, especially those I love, and yet the desire to hold this little 8-pound bundle of new life was greater than my desire to connect with others I love.

The conviction was strong and startling.  I don't have that "I'll do this no matter what" drive when it comes to being with my Lord.  My quiet time can easily be set aside for "the tyranny of the urgent."  I can be sidetracked by a phone call, my "to-do" list, a hunger pang, or any number of other distractions.  My prayer since then is that I would have the same urgency of spending time with Him that I have had of spending time with little Nathan.  

I treasured every moment spent with him and found it very easy to worship Creator God as I studied the ever contorting face of this little guy and marveled at the miracle of new life. It's beyond me that life can be attributed to anyone or anything besides our Holy God.

Family campers seize some “Nathan moments” at the end of our talk on parenting.  

The highlights at family camp were many.  Richard Dahlstrom's talks were brilliant and inspiring. Listen to them!  They are available on the H.I.M. website here and they are well worth listening to, at least once.  It was a joy to have Richard's wife, Donna, join us for week 2 of camp.  Richard and Donna are a couple who together live the gospel.  They make marriage look good. They live life fully.  They are real and down to earth.  They have become very treasured friends.  What a treat to have these days with them.

Another highlight was having our first ever college group for H.I.M. Family Camp 1.  Last year we had a college group at camp 2, which was thrilling, and we reached a new place in New England family camp history to have college groups at both camps this summer.  Ryan and Kelly Plosker led the group during week 1, and their praises were sung daily.  Never ones to do anything "just to get by," they looked up information on the internet about each of the colleges these kids would be attending in the fall and talked as a group about the unique challenges and benefits each may find at their respective schools.  The students felt very personally cared for by them.  Week 2's college students had the privilege of being led by Richard and Donna, who helped engage their group in developing more of a global awareness.  Great reports came from the students this week as well.  We were so thankful for the way God provided for the students in each of the weeks—again, "above and beyond."

The college group at Family Camp 1.  A stellar group, now off on college campuses.
Pray that they'll stand firm for and in Him.

The traditions of family camp are always so stabilizing and loved:  the game show was a grand slam this summer as every camper was involved; the time of worship at the fire ring, followed by s'mores, was "sweet" in every way; the finger blasters were a "blast"; the dance night celebrated all that is good when the generations have fun together.  Banners were made by most families (thank you Guy Steele for making this happen year after year) and the banquet was a time of celebrating the powerful work of God among us. 

Guess which couple hosted the game show?  Fun was had by all.

Baptisms are among the most meaningful "traditions" of Family Camp.  Although all baptisms are significant, I don't think any of us will ever forget Meredith Grieci's.  This precious 7-year-old has Down's Syndrome and her enthusiastic "YES" to each of Paul's questions were topped only by her coming out of the water, arms held above her head in victory, beaming from ear to ear.  Ahhh . . . pure, childlike faith!  

Meredith Grieci and Mister Paul share a hug as camp ends.
Her baptism will stay with us for a long time to come.

The end of family camp comes oh so quickly.  After corporate worship and wrap up, a group photo is taken, farewells are exchanged, and the campers drive off, reminding us that there are only 51 weeks until family camp.  :)

And within hours, the 260 campers for the second family camp arrived and we did it over again. 

I'll admit there were many moments leading up to family camp that we really doubted our sanity regarding our commitment to continuing to direct these weeks.  Maybe our sanity is still in question, but the moment camp was underway, the passion for this seminal ministry overwhelmed any questions we may have had about why we were doing this.  There is nothing more satisfying or reinforcing that seeing families together, learning to live and love "Jesus-style" in the community of like-minded believers.  What can be better than hearing stories of how God is at work: healing, restoring, renewing, and rebuilding?  

Friday, August 16, was the last day of our 2013 family camp season.  As tired as we were at that point, we were fueled by adrenalin (and grace) to finish strong and to savor the incredible way we had consistently been met by God throughout the summer.  Truly.  We were especially aware of the way God molded us in to a team in New Hampshire as a relatively eclectic group—anchored by a solid core of 15 who had served together all summer—gathered to staff those two weeks.  

After sending the campers off with a heartfelt chorus of "We love you campers, oh yes we do!", we drove out of New Hampshire and the party began.  Doug and Julie Macrae hosted the team for the weekend, starting with a night at Fenway Park on Friday and ending with a steak and lobster feast on Sunday evening.  Their hospitality and generosity are legendary and communicate such appreciation and affirmation of the staff team.  It's hard to imagine a better ending to an unforgettable summer.

Donned in Red Sox gear, the staff experience the rare treat of witnessing
a Red Sox vs. Yankees match-up at Fenway.

Pretty sweet welcome to Fenway!!

Lobster races prior to dinner Sunday night, one of many unique experiences the staff had,
making for a very memorable end-of-the-summer celebration.

And so another summer of family camps retires into the memory banks of all involved, by God's grace, leaving life-changing fingerprints on the hearts and minds of all.  Our prayer is that none of us will be the same as a result of having been together at family camp.  

We were greatly encouraged to receive a beautifully written, from-the-heart letter today from a family camper, and I'll close by excerpting part of it:

Thank you for another wonderful week at Family Camp.  We all look forward to it all year long and we are never disappointed.  As our little family grows up and our needs change, camp continues to be a perfect fit for us.
My girls love their "teachers" at camp and I am so grateful for these "cool" young adults who show my girls God's love, that it is fun and rewarding to walk this path boldly, to worship Him unashamed.  These young people go above and beyond, giving their time and attention to children, making kids feel special.  Thanks again for an amazing week, for being our non-negotiable family trip every summer.  We are already looking forward to next year!

A joyful exclamation point on the end of a great summer.  All praise is His!