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.

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.  

It can't be May already! [Part 2]

And so off to the Gold Coast of California we flew the morning of April 27.  Since we flew into San Francisco airport in order to facilitate our return trip 2.5 weeks later, we enjoyed the 2.5 hour drive through familiar territories en route to Arroyo Grande ("AG"), stopping in San Luis Obispo ("SLO") for bbq tri-tip at Firestones and frozen yogurt at Bali's (two of our favorite haunts from the years Julie and Lisa lived in SLO.)  Ah...the simple pleasures in life.

Grace Bible Church of AG hosted us for the second year in a row to do a parenting conference on Saturday.  Though the turnout was not what they had hoped for, those who came were delightfully engaged and we trust encouraged and fortified for the long, demanding, sanctifying journey of parenting.  We were also privileged to teach at the two services on Sunday.  Grace Bible is a healthy, vital church, lead by Paul and Charlotte Bubar who are seasoned, faithful people of God.  We truly love having the opportunity to rub shoulders with them.  
Paul and Charlotte Bubar faithfully lead the congregation
at Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, CA.
Up the coast just a bit, we drove to spend Sunday evening with Tim and Susie Theule and the family at Grace Church of SLO.  This was the home church for our girls during their years in SLO and through the years we've come to deeply respect and appreciate Tim and Susie - their ministry, their family, their lives.  So it's always an honor to spend time with them and their people.  That evening we addressed issues pertaining to parenting teens.  It struck us that though there are unique challenges to this age and stage, the principles are still largely consistent with parenting younger children:  authenticity, availability, consistency.  Especially regarding faith issues, teens need to see the reality of Christ in the home and be convinced that He is making a difference in how life is lived.  Teens are not fooled by walk that doesn't match talk.  We loved interacting on this subject with such proactive parents.  The talk continued afterwards with Tim and Susie over more tri-tip at Firestones.  :)
Tim and Susie Theule, along with CBS family campers Mary and David Hazlebeck, made our time at Grace Church SLO very meaningful.

Continuing up the coast, we stopped in Monterey to reconnect with our dear friends, Johnny and Lori Potter.  We shared our years together at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary from 1991-1994 and have been cherished friends ever since.  Johnny pastors Stone Harbor Church in downtown Monterey.  As is always true, we enjoyed every minute of our too short time together and then we were off to San Francisco, where we met up with more very dear friends, John and Marilyn Nugent.  How we love to spend time with these guys!  Taking a brisk 6-mile walk through downtown SF, we chatted the whole way about life and ministry and family.  The fact that we could chat  throughout the walk is a very good sign.  :)  It's always very inspiring to be with John and Marilyn.  We love their hearts for God and their very active role in making a difference for the kingdom through the use of their talents and resources.  We got another early morning walk in the next day before heading east for Sacramento.

Two hours later, our reunion with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon was very sweet.  As thankful as we are for being able to "FaceTime" with them regularly from afar, there's nothing that beats receiving an enthusiastic embrace from our little 20-month-old grandson.  The changes happen so rapidly during this phase of life, that though we had just seen him a month earlier, we were amazed at his growth and development.  He is full of life and has a very engaging personality.  What joy to spend days with them!  Twice-daily treks to the park, the reward for the two-mile walk preceding arriving there, delight Brandon and provide a lot of outdoor exercise and fun.   
Papa and Brandon enjoy the animals at the Folsom Zoo.  

Papa, Gigi, and Brandon on the "little train that could" at the Folsom Zoo.

Bathtime . . . devotions, meals together, playing cars and ball . . . hanging out.
Such sweet moments with our little "BooBoo."

Papa and Brandon . . . hand in hand.

Though visiting with them would be reason enough to be in Sacramento, we were brought there to be a part of the 7th annual THRIVE conference hosted by Bayside Church of Granite Bay.  We love being a part of this conference, which never lacks for enthusiasm, energy, and inspiration.  We presented two workshops, one on marriage and one on parenting, and both were full and overflowing.  Lots of great interaction and feedback.  We personally benefitted from hearing great speakers at the plenary sessions, and one of the highlights was spending a bit of time with Wess Stafford (president of Compassion Int'l).  We have great respect for him and how he's spent his life.  Over 2 million easily forgotten children in the world have hope because of the work of Compassion, which has been driven by Wess's passion and compassion. 
Wess Stafford,Victor, and Paul share a moment during THRIVE.

THRIVE ended Saturday afternoon, May 5, and we drove up to Sebastopol to speak for a couples' date night.  This was our second year in a row with Sebastopol Christian Church and John and Debbie Briones once again put together a really nice event.  Particularly heartening to us was a young couple who had come last year, separated, and were back this year reconciled.  They expressed great appreciation for the encouragement they had received from our teaching.  Praise Him!!!  Paul also preached at the two Sunday services, as well as the Saturday night service (which happened before the couples event.)  We so appreciate the senior pastor, Jesse Bradley, and his heart for his congregation.  

The other highlight of our time in Sebastopol was spending the night with Garth and Rosemary Dougan, our long time mentors and friends.  Garth will be 90 in October, but you'd never know it.  They are so "green with sap" proclaiming the mercies of God.  We cherish every moment with them.  
Dinner with the Welches and Garth and Rosemary Dougan was a highlight of our time in Santa Rosa.

We closed out our time in that area with a wonderful time of food and fellowship with Carter and Tracy Welch and their sons, Owen, Baker, and Turner.  New Englanders transplanted to Santa Rosa and dear friends and ministry partners with Home Improvement Ministries, we loved reconnecting with them and seeing God at work in this very intentional family.  On that high note, we drove back to Sacramento.

Between the weekends, we had some special days doing life with Brandon and his parents, and I had some special days with my folks in San Diego.  My dear mom, who has always been "healthy as a horse" was felled with a very serious virus around April 1 and was just returning to health during my visit.  She gave us quite a scare when the virus settled in her ears, causing near deafness.  Her severe reaction made us all aware of how run down she is for the years of caring for my dad (who has dementia) and more care is now in place to help ease her load.  I was really thankful for the days I was able to be with them, which included a day-before-Mother's-Day brunch with my three sisters who live in San Diego.  
My sisters Lucy, Sue, and Melissa honored my mom with a pre-Mother's Day brunch and my dad was very happy to be included. 

Paul and I spoke on Mother's Day at Peninsula Covenant Church (Redwood City), whose lead pastor, Gary Gaddini, is a prized friend and partner.  What a joy to be with his congregation for both morning services.  My biggest Mother's Day gift arrived in the form of Brandon, Gabe, and Kari, who drove out from Sacramento to surprise me just as the first service ended.  Need I say more?  :)
My surprise Mother's Day present . . . brought smiles all around.

The beautiful Gaddini family . . .  They are true gifts in our life.

After a lovely picnic at a park with the Garcias and the Nugents, a brisk walk through the windy hilly streets of SF, and dinner out with the Nugents, we were on our way back to New England after a full and varied ministry tour.
The grand finale: lunch in the park with the Nugents and Garcias.  Very fun!

It's aways good to be home.  Really.  Lots to catch up on, of course, and mail to sort, but it's good.  Our first week back was dominated by wedding festivities as Paul married Sarah Hathaway and Jason Welch on Sunday, May 20.   Having known Sarah for the past 15 years, it was so good to celebrate this very special day with her and to affirm her and Jason's commitment to honoring God with their lives.  The shower Wednesday night, the rehearsal Friday night, and the wedding Sunday were all celebrations of joy.  
The very happy Hathaway family celebrates the marriage of Sarah to Jason Welch.

Quite a bit of counseling filled several days and some speaking, too.  We spoke in Springfield, MA, at the Evangelical Covenant Church on Monday, the 21st, to a group of parents on "how to keep your marriage alive while raising children."  Great question!!!!  It doesn't happen naturally, that we know.  It was a great evening, organized by long time friends Mark and Caroline Funchion, and we most enjoyed reconnecting with them after many years.  I mentored Caroline as a single women long before she met Mark!  They're now on the cusp of their 11th anniversary and have 2 adorable and lively little boys.  God is faithful!

I'll wrap up with our annual Memorial Day Family Tenting trip, which happened last weekend.  Twenty-five families, 103 campers, perfect weather, great food, and greater fellowship.  Despite missing having any children with us (our tent seemed very large suddenly) and making our first camping trip without our precious dog Baker (who had been with us the previous 18 Memorial Day weekends), we had a spectacular weekend.  Jim and Sue Martis did a great job organizing and executing dinner each night and Paul delivered on family devotions each night around the campfire.  Keith and Amy Hinrich came through as worship leaders and Thora Eames made a guest appearance as our oldest and most inspiring camper ever.  At 94, she delighted all with her joyful worship and her childlike enjoyment of a messy, gooey s'more.  Our annual Memorial Day parade was rag tag but meaningful.  Veteran Glen Franks once again served as our Grand Marshall.
Thora delighting in her beautiful garden.

S'mores are enjoyed by all ages.

Let the Memorial Day parade begin!  Mount your steeds . . .

. . .  and we're off, with Grand Marshall Glenn Franks leading the way.

And so another Memorial Day camping trip is in the annals of time, having accomplished the purpose of providing a community building experience for families committed to being encouraged by the body of Christ by doing life together.  

I'm writing from West Cornwall, CT, as Paul and I spend the fifth year in a row encouraging the pastoral staff at Avon Community Baptist Church.  These days are like a slice of heaven, really.  A beautiful retreat center, surrounded by a healthy church staff, lead by two of our favorite ministry couples:  Tim and Sharon Ponzani and Jay and Liz Abramson.  It really doesn't get much better than this.  Oh wait!  It does!  Our daughter Lisa has joined us here!  Last night she spoke on the blessings and challenges of being raised in a pastor's family and she knocked it out of the park.  Wow.

Around the world, Derek and Julie are into their 10th month of marriage and spent 10 days recently on their "real" honeymoon in Mauritius.  Their days were relaxing, renewing, and celebratory of all that is good in marriage.  We are so thankful for their life together in Uganda and look forward to joining them there in late August.
Derek and Julie in a self-portrait from Mauritius.

Shockingly, in a few hours, the days of May will expire and we'll be in June.  I'm trying to catch up with the quickly moving calendar days, but don't have much hope of that happening.  Mostly praying that we'll allow the Holy Spirit to direct our days and rest in knowing that we've done what He's called us to do.

From Tenting to Tea Partying

Cruising at an altitude of 35,000' en route from London to California, this 11-hour flight affords me opportunities to catch up on some neglected quiet activities . . . like my through-the-Bible-in-a-year-with-D.A.-Carson readings, journaling, and now blogging. No complaints from me regarding this long flight. I love enforced quiet and stillness, since I seem to have a hard time making it happen on my own.

It’s been quite a month since my last post. Our days in Vero Beach came to an end and we returned to the saddle refreshed and ready to go. Which was a good thing, because we arrived late Thursday night, May 20, and Paul spoke at a men’s event Friday night. This is the second year in a row he has spoken for this group, which is lead by Alan Siegel, and he loves the spirit of the group. He was very well-received.

Saturday we spoke for a marriage conference in Easton, also run by Alan Siegel, and had a wonderful day with many eager couples, from young marrieds to older marrieds. We were very heartened to receive this message from one of the couples who attended:
You and Paul were probably the best speakers I’ve ever heard. I looked at my husband’s outline and was surprised at his honesty and felt he tried to treat me nicely yesterday. He, too, thought you both were very good speakers. Thank you.

We’ve had an ongoing dialogue with this couple and God is at work in a big way in their marriage. Praise Him!

We drove from Easton to Hingham and were privileged to speak for a Couple’s Coffee House hosted by South Shore Baptist Church. Bill and Rebecca Haeck spear-headed the evening and did a masterful job transforming their social hall into a welcoming, candle-lit, cozy coffee house. We always love partnering with SSBC and this was no exception.

Bill and Rebecca Haeck hosted the Couples Coffee Shop at South Shore Baptist Church on Saturday, May 22.

In the meantime, house guests arrived! Our very dear friends, John, April, and Lizzie Aleman, came to town for a graduation and we were thrilled to have them crash at our house. We spent all of Sunday together, first worshiping at our home church, Highrock Church in Arlington, and then relaxing over Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and home-grilled bbq. We thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with them and building on our almost three decades of friendship through Campus by the Sea. Their kids, Nathan and Lizzie, have both served on staff at CBS in the past, as well as on family camp staff in New England. Their family is a great encouragement to us personally.

The Aleman family (far right) joined us for worship at High Rock Church in Arlington, and reconnected with family campers Tim and Linda Brown and family and Heather and Lydia Dietz.

Monday and Tuesday we both had a variety of appointments and “stuff” to do before counseling all day Wednesday. And then off again, this time me alone, to surprise our daughter Kari on her 30th birthday, May 27. What a fun surprise! By Friday night, all three girls were together celebrating her and we snuck off to a hotel in downtown Sacramento to further the celebration as a last getaway before baby arrives. Though everything didn’t exactly go as planned, it was a memorable and honoring time. Hardly 48 hours passed before I was flying back to join the H.I.M. Memorial Day Family Tenting Weekend!

In honor Kari’s 30th, Baby Garcia received some Red Sox garb from us . . . and some Giants garb from his dad!

The end of our hotel getaway was spent soaking in some Vitamin D poolside. (l-r: Lisa, Julie, Kari)

Of course the tenting weekend had started without me, and Paul was there with Jim and Sue Martis to make sure it happened. Twenty-five families (numbering 130 people) pitched their tents or drove their rigs to Myles Standish State Park for this annual event, and except for a brief (easy for me to say since I wasn’t there yet) two-hour shower at dinnertime on Saturday, the weekend was graced with fabulous weather (which means a whole lot when you’re camping in a tent!)

I joined the party on Sunday and everything was going swimmingly. In fact, many were swimming . . . or fishing, or biking. Regardless of the activity, everyone was clearly having a grand time.

As it goes, each evening the community gathers around a common meal (planned and prepared by Big Jim Martis of MJM Catering) which is followed by a time of worship, devotions, and s’mores. Mike and Seth Allen sacrificially drove to the campsite every night to lead worship and did a wonderful job again this year, and Paul lead the devotions in the inimitable Paul Friesen fashion.

The highlight of the weekend came Sunday night when Paul brought Thora Eames to camp for the evening. Thora, at 92, is still as spry and full of life as ever and young and old alike delighted in having her join the fun. As part of devotions that night, Paul interviewed Thora in front of the whole group. Everyone listened with rapt attention when Paul, acknowledging that Thora had experienced much loss these past years, asked her how she had managed with so much grief to keep going with a smile on her face. “Oh Paul,” Thora responded, “God has been so faithful to me!! I don’t have anything to complain about. Every day I wake up and thank Him for being so good to me.”

It was a recordable moment. Thora is the poster child for the truism: “Life is 10% circumstance, 90% attitude.” Thank you, Thora. We were all so blessed by her presence!

Paul interviews Thora, while Faith Metaxotos secures her bond with “Granny Thora.”

The weekend wrapped up on Memorial Day with our second annual Memorial Day parade, organized by the Barkers and the Cranes. Glenn Franks was selected to be the Grand Marshall in recognition of his service to our country. With most of the children mounted on their bikes and sporting patriotic colors (including glittery tattoos), and accompanied by the voices of an approximate 20-voice choir singing patriotic melodies, two laps were made around the camping circle to commemorate those who have protected our many freedoms, including the freedom to worship.

Glenn Franks served as the Grand Marshall of the second annual Memorial Day parade.

On your marks, get set, ride - carefully and slowly. :)

And the 2010 Memorial Day Family Tenting Weekend came to a close, with some families adding extra-curricular activities afterward, like picnicking at another lake and then making an ice cream stop as the exclamation point to an already great time.

The carefree escape from the worries of life came to a screeching halt Tuesday morning as we spent the day in our office counseling. We’re never far from the painful realities of life, which show up in so much brokenness relationally. By God’s grace, however, we’re privileged to seen much growth and healing in many marriages.

Early Wednesday morning, June 2, we drove to Cornwall, CT, to join the pastoral staff from Valley Community Baptist Church (VCBC) for the fourth year in a row. We’re so honored to be re-invited to speak into the lives of this amazing group of fellow ministers, lead by Jay Abramson and Tim Ponzani. We feel very personally connected to each of them by now and love just being with them. We led four sessions, dealing with ministry and personal issues connected to family and marriage, but mostly we just hung out, played games, took walks, and ate fabulous meals. It was as refreshing as it was productive, and we were most touched by them sending us off by praying specifically for us as we prepare for a very full summer. We’re so pleased to be looking forward to spending another week with Jay and Liz Abramson as they’ll be speaking at one of our H.I.M. Family Camps at Camp Berea in August. They are salt of the earth people.

The pastoral staff of Valley Community Baptist Church gathers for a photo op at retreat’s end.

Someone recently asked if I’ve really ever read the book Margin by Richard Swensen (since I often recommend it) and my emphatic “yes” confirms that just because you’ve read something doesn’t mean you’ve been changed by it.

The question was prompted by the description of what followed our conference for VCBC. We got home Friday early afternoon, and spent the balance of the day packing and preparing for the weeks ahead. Saturday was the annual H.I.M. Pool Party, hosted by servant-hearted and unflappable Doug and Julie Macrae. I (along with daughter Lisa, and friends Pam Barker and Kelly Plosker) left the party early to drive to Woodstock, Vermont, to run the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon Sunday morning, June 6.

Richard, Kit, and Beth Hendricks, and Lisa Friesen were some of the pool party attendees.

Which we did. In pouring rain (I had prayed specifically for it not to be a hot race, and it wasn’t!), we ran the 13.1 absolutely gorgeous course, and then made the 3-hour drive home to shower, finish packing, and fly out of Logan at 10 p.m. for London.

It does seem kind of crazy now, but losing a whole day of the London trip for rest and sanity seemed like a terrible trade-off when we made the plans. And besides, when we made the plane reservations, we thought the race started at 7 am. When we found out it didn’t start til 10:15 am, we felt a little bit of pressure to set a new course record. Even though we didn’t, we made it with plenty of time to spare.

Thankfully, it all went like clock-work. Lisa and I cut 7 full minutes off our last half-marathon and definitely didn’t overheat. And I even talked during this race. Back in November when we did our first half-marathon together, I stunned Lisa by not uttering a single word during the entire 13.1 miles. I couldn’t afford to give up any breath for non-essentials.

Pre-race photo: Lisa, me, Pam Barker, and Kelly Plosker.

This was a wonderful experience all around. Beautiful course, great friends, and a wonderful husband who drove up Sunday to ferry us to the start and from the finish, as well as to cheer us on and get finish line photos. We’re already eager to do it again.

Post-race photo: 13.1 soggy miles later. :)

The past week, we’ve had the great delight of experiencing London for the first time. This trip was a graduation gift to Lisa, in honor of her successfully completing her master’s degree, and London was the destination because her best childhood friend, Kelsey Offield, is studying there. Kelsey’s mom, Wendy, is one of my dearest friends, so the four of us spend the week together, dredging up unforgettable moments from our life’s journey together over the past 27 years, as well as making many new memories together.

Add to that the “only God could’ve made this happen” moment when we found out that our chosen family friends John and Marilyn Nugent would be in London at the same time, and you have two women who feel very, very personally loved by our gracious heavenly Father.

So we’ve spent the last six days exploring a new land and seeing come alive the photos and stories related to the UK we’ve seen and heard all our lives. We experienced most of the sights and sounds by foot (and my pedometer kept track, informing us that we averaged 10 miles a day) and loved most every minute of it. We ate great food, saw great theater, saw historical sites, and fell in love with the quaint charm of this country which served as a prototype for New England over 300 years ago. We visited Stonehenge and Bath. We had afternoon tea. We were privileged to be in the country for the “Trooping of the Colors” in honor of the Queen’s birthday, and we stood on the parade route, 20 yards from the Royal Family as they rode by on horseback or in carriages. We were quiet about our heritage Saturday night when the USA tied the UK in the first round of World Cup Soccer but secretly thrilled and so proud of our team. :) Along with the Nugents, we worshiped at the Holy Trinity Church of Brompton, the home of the ALPHA course developed by their senior pastor, Nicky Gumbel.

Lisa and Kelsey in front of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. They never did find Mr. Darcy, though you can be sure they looked!

With Wendy, Marilyn, and John, ready to see “Les Miserables”

At the “Trooping of the Colors” - Queen Elizabeth parades by in her carriage.

Kelsey and Wendy were wonderful hostesses, and John and Marilyn were great traveling companions. It would be hard to improve on the trip, unless it would be reclaiming the day Lisa was side-lined with the stomach flu. Even there, God was so gracious to protect the rest of us.

Though there were many highlights, the highest light of all was seeing “Les Miserables.” We’ve seen it multiple times by now, but never have we been more moved by the clarity of the message of grace. Maybe its because I’ve lived so much more of life now than I had 20 years ago when I saw it for the first time - and am so much more aware of how completely dependent I am on His grace - or maybe its because I’ve seen His grace be so transformative in my own life as well as in the lives of so many we come alongside. Whatever, I was profoundly touched by the play and challenged anew to walk in grace in a deeper way.

So now, the UK is in our rear view mirror, and when we land in several hours, we’ll head directly to Campus by the Sea for our 35th summer. That’s beginning to sound like a long time. We believe we have a wonderful summer staff assembled and can’t wait to see what God will do in our midst in the next seven weeks.

The family that camps together . . .

Jim, Sue, and Matthew Martis make sure the Memorial Day Weekend Family Tenting Camp happens each year. They cover all the bases, including feeding Paul and Virginia. :)

Well, we’re not in Uganda anymore. :) Not long after our noon return from Uganda at Logan on Friday, May 22, we packed up our gear and headed to Myles Standish State Park in Plymouth for our annual Memorial Day Weekend Family Tenting Camp. Stating the obvious, the weekend wouldn’t have been were it not for Jim and Sue Martis, who in spite of many challenges leading up to the weekend, once again pulled it off beautifully. We are so thankful for their partnership!

Pastor Paul leads the family devotions in his inimitable style. :)

Twenty-eight families pitched their tents and disconnected from the busyness and distractions of life for three wonderful days of true “communal” living. Throughout the days, families connected with each other at the lake’s edge, over fishing poles, on the “speedway” supervising dozens of children-driven bikes, or around an unlit campfire ring. Everyone watched out for each other’s kids with a kind of “this is the way it used to be” nostalgia . . . and children played with reckless abandon and without the fears which seem to inhibit such freedom in our neighborhoods. It’s amazing how few “props” (electronic or material) kids need when the great outdoors becomes their playground. Sticks, dirt, rocks, and water, when added to imagination, are all it takes to “while away the hours.” We loved watching the children play together.

Mike and Ann-Marie Allen and family served as worship leaders for the weekend and did a fabulous job.

Wai-Chin and Fannie Ng, with children Gracie and Evan, enjoy the evening worship.

Each evening, we all gathered at the common site for dinner together, followed by worship and devotions. Mike and Ann-Marie Allen and family led the worship and did a great job. Paul led interactive family devotions, with eager participation from all ages. S’mores closed out each evening’s activities.

Each night, devotions were followed by smores at the community fire.

Nathaniel thoroughly enjoys a s'more.

Though the weather wasn’t ideal, it was certainly manageable. Some rain visited both Saturday and Sunday, but the Lord protected us from the powerful thunderstorms and hailstorms which hit the town of Plymouth, just miles away.

John Barker once again thrills the children with a catch and release fish. It looks so much like previous catches, we’re wondering if its a plant...

Families pitch in with dinner preparation and many hands make light work.

Monday was beautiful and warm, so lake-front activities were enjoyed by all - but not until after the first annual Memorial Day Weekend Family Tenting Camp Parade made its way through the campground. Led by the Barker family, dozens of bicycle “floats” accompanied by a medley of patriotic songs commemorated this national holiday. Plans are already underway for next year’s parade.

Monday morning, Ted and Lauren Hall hosted a community breakfast at their campsite.

The Barkers spear-headed the first annual Memorial Day Family Tenting Camp Parade. The bike “floats” were accompanied by a medley of patriotic tunes and the holiday was duly celebrated.

Faith Metaxotos sums up the weekend with her cherubic smile.

All too quickly, the weekend came to an close. To soften the disappointment, all remaining campers caravanned to Ericson’s Ice Cream stand in nearby Carver. That was a sweet way to end a great weekend.

Our final stop: Duxbury, for dinner with our dear friend, Thora Eames. It was too cold and wet to bring her to the campsite this year, sadly, so we brought a little of camp to her.

Paul and I traveled home via Duxbury to have dinner with our dear 91-year-old friend, Thora. We had wanted to bring her to dinner at camp one night, but the weather didn’t cooperate. It was such a joy to see her! We always leave encouraged and inspired by her life.

Finally, our own bed . . . for the second time in five weeks. It’s good to be home for a bit before leaving for Campus by the Sea on June 13.

We are so thankful for the incredible experiences we’ve had between Louisiana, California, and Uganda over these past weeks. Through it all, we’ve seen the hand of God directing His work in each context. What a privilege to be on His team.

May Flowers

Does anyone else feel like May has vaporized? I’m stunned that we’re at the end of the month and we’re hurtling towards summertime with the speed of an out-of-control freight train!

Before we get there (it’s just under three weeks until we depart for our summer ministry on Catalina Island), let me reflect on this past month. It’s been full and varied.

Right after returning from our last California ministry tour April 28, we were honored to present at the final chapel for Lexington Christian Academy’s Class of 2008. Gregg Meserole invited us to speak on God’s design for relationships (no arm twisting needed), and we spent an energetic hour interacting with a very engaged and respectful group of seniors. We were really thankful for the privilege and for the experience. Having two alums of LCA (Lisa ’01 and Julie ’03), we are honored to partner any time with those who have had such a critical and growth-producing impact on our daughters.

Our second book signing was held at Christian Book and Supply in Burlington, on Saturday, May 3. The always gracious Linda Camp (store manager) was a delight to work with and accommodated us well. Once again Paul’s chocolate chip cookies were big “sellers.” If only you could sign a cookie . . .

That night we addressed a lively group at Trinity Church of Bolton on the subject of parenting. Carl and Kathy Blatchley and Norm and Debbie Nielsen hosted the evening and did a lovely job of making spring seem real by setting beautiful tulip-adorned tables and serving delicious homemade strawberry shortcake. The evening tied in with an adult Sunday School class they are facilitating that is using the parenting DVD curriculum Paul and I recorded last year.

Early Sunday morning I flew off to Washington, D.C., to co-host a surprise fiftieth birthday party for my baby sister, Laura Leach. What a joy to see her complete shock when she walked into a room teeming with her best friends and later to hear them give accolades to her as they each contributed a flower to her “we love and respect you, Laura” bouquet.

The following weekend (May 9–11) was the Camp Berea Mother-Daughter weekend, and eldest daughter Kari flew in from California to speak with me for this great event. Anoli Bragdon, in her first solo flight as Program Director, did a wonderful job designing the retreat, which was arranged around the theme of the Wizard of Oz. Kari and I tied in to the woeful “If only” laments of the scarecrow (“If I only had a brain”), the tin man (“If I only had a heart”), and the cowardly lion (“If I only had the nerve” (courage)), by teaching out of Deuteronomy’s classic “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” We loved interacting with all the precious moms and daughters, who ranged in age from 5 to well beyond 60. Of course, what I most treasured in my heart was the joy of partnering with Kari, who speaks in a way that people listen to and whose wisdom far exceeds her years. What a gift for me to serve with her. Who would’ve thought when she was a challenging seven-year-old . . . God is good!

Paul was making his own appearances around the country during this same time period. He flew to Denver to surprise our daughter Julie at her first WDIA (women’s lacrosse) National Tournament appearance as a coach. She played for Cal Poly’s team the past four years as they secured four national titles, but it was a vastly different experience for her to be a part of the coaching team this year. Paul was able to cheer her on as Poly fought through the quarter- and semi- final rounds victoriously. He missed the title game in order to honor his commitment to present a seminar at Iron Sharpens Iron in Worcester, and Poly went down in defeat in double overtime. Fortunately, Paul felt the Iron Sharpens Iron conference was a great place to be and thoroughly enjoyed his experience there. And Julie is still happily stunned that her dad made such a herculean effort to support her in Denver.

May 16–18 we made a return visit to Church of the Savior in Wayne, Pennsylvania, to do an all-day Saturday parenting conference. COS’s Children’s Ministry Director, Ellie Greenhalgh, put together a blockbuster weekend for kids and parents alike, and it was inspiring for us to see her creativity and hard work make such a difference! Ellie, grandmother of 7-going-on-8 herself, makes the Energizer Bunny look low on voltage! We loved working with her and sharing such common passions. Sunday morning we partnered with our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent by teaching on marriage to a number of adult education classes at COS. Though our time in Wayne was short (we zoomed out after teaching Sunday morning to fly back to Boston to teach that night), it was both professionally and personally uplifting.

Home briefly for counseling and reading mail before taking off to New York City for a 36-hour soiree honoring (and very much surprising) my dear friend Patty, who will soon hit the big 5-0. Our little group of three women hit the Big Apple with great enthusiasm as we explored Central Park (which was glorious in her Spring apparel), took in a phenomenal production of Wicked, and meandered over to Ground Zero the next day. It was a magical, unforgettable tour celebrating one of my heroines in life.

Memorial Day weekend was spent at Myles Standish State Park, camping with eighteen other families for our annual Family Tenting Camp. Blessed with perfect weather, we enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation in both nature and in each other. Biking, swimming, and exploring filled the days, and the nights were centered around a common meal (prepared by Jim and Sue Martis, H.I.M.’s personal chefs!), a time of worship (led by Rich and Sue Musacchio), and a time of devotions (led by Paul). The grand finale each night centered around the camp fire, and required graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows. Nothing like a good s’more!

One of our campers wrote to us afterwards:

Thank you very much for a awesome weekend. It was a memorable experience and just a great time with the kids. My words really can not explain how great (fulfilling with God's great Grace) this time was for our family. As we drove from the park on the way out, to see Gods great beauty revealed in such a beautiful place and in the relationships He gives us in our families was amazing—I almost came to tears thanking the kids and God for a great time together. [My son] was 6 or 7 when we first started this tradition where back then the focus was camping and "making fires." Now I see him serving, focusing on God and relationships.
Thank you for making these traditions—Adventures for our families where God is an irreplaceable part!

There were many highlights of our long weekend together, but the “highest” for us was having Thora Eames join us for Saturday evenings’ festivities. Ninety-year-old Thora expressed the delight of a young school girl to be surrounded by eighty kids and adults eating, worshiping, and learning together in such a set-apart venue. And what a joy it was for all to have her among us. A gift for all!

We are thankful that Focus on the Family has chosen to carry Raising a Trailblazer as one of their recommended resources. Paul, Kari, and Lisa will also be on the Focus on the Family Weekend Magazine with Dr. Bill Maier each weekend in June discussing Letters to My Daughters. You may find the times and stations or listen online by going to

The next weeks will be full as we wrap up our Partnership training program, speak at a pastor’s conference in Connecticut, have a reunion with our Trinidad team, and tie up loose ends before a ten-week summer at camps. We are so thankful that our confidence is in a God who goes before us!