39 and Counting!

No, that's not my age.  We've just completed our 39th summer at Campus by the Sea and we're just getting warmed up.  :)

I'm writing from Camp Berea on Newfound Lake, where we are hosting our 7th family camp straight in as many weeks. Though "tired" on many levels, I can't think of a summer that ranks higher in terms of God's favor on the staff, the program, the "aha!" moments, the decisions made to be more fully surrendered to Him, and the overall delight and joy of serving in this way.

All summer I've wanted to capture moments in words and have been thwarted by the 24/7 needs of running packed camps and building into our college students who serve as staff.  I find moments to write this morning as the shopping-starved staff spend part of the "change of pace day" at Walmart in the local town of Plymouth. Wild horses couldn't drag me there, but thankfully, they dragged basically the entire staff so I luxuriate in a very quiet cabin overlooking the lake.  Hard to improve on the inspirational quality of the setting. It will be a challenge to distill the noteworthy aspects of the summer, however, as there were so many. Nice problem, yes?

But first . . . we did have a "20" on a scale of "1-10" family reunion/vacation in Vero Beach, FL, during the first week of June, prior to beginning this marathon summer.  With the Johnsons home from Uganda, and the Garcias and Lisa from CA, we landed together in FL for a most memorable and delightful week together at the beach home of dear friends in Vero Beach. It would take a herculean effort to imagine a more perfect setting and/or experience.  Lazy days walking the beach, eating simple meals together, swimming, enjoying 3 little ones as well as 7 big ones . . . we all were exceedingly blessed. One of the highlights was a family photo shoot done by Gabe's cousin Joelle (www.capturedbyJoelle.org).  She spectacularly captured the unity and love of our family in such a memorable and framable fashion.  

The "Fam" in Vero Beach: Derek, Julie, and Nathan on far left,
Gabe, Kari, and Ana next, Lisa next to me and Paul, fronted by Brandon.

Off to Catalina Island we went to begin staff orientation on June 16.  We could tell early on that we had a very special group of college students and that proved to be true in spades as the summer progressed. The difference this summer?  An unusually strong group of "all in for Christ" young men! They lead the team with a contagious fervor for Christ and what a shaping influence that had on the whole team. There was such a concerted effort to honor the Lord by honoring the community and serving the campers, "drama" was noticeably absent as well as any other disciplinary issues.  It's not an exaggeration that Paul and I thanked the Lord every night for bringing together this "set apart" group of young people.

We were also really thankful to have Dave and Vonny Bastedo as our right-hand people this summer. They did a great job of investing in staff and keeping the Little Gallagher's cove healthy and compliant. They also lead the college group for each family camp and were appreciated by many. They were a terrific addition to the team and truly lessened our load significantly.

First day of orientation week, we got off to a great start.

Five weeks later, seasoned and bonded, this amazing group of staff had proved
their commitment to Christ as well as to the campers.

A few of my summer take-aways:

Great worship, lead by Paul Gandy and Lyss Gosselin (and accompanied by Robert Kovacs on the drums.)  Not only musically excellent, but their passion for Christ lit up the stage during every worship set.  

Great speakers.  All summer . . . all six weeks . . . great teaching.  Challenging, Biblical, inspiring, hope-giving. We are so thankful for all six of our speakers and their families for their faithfulness in teaching the Word.

Great family moments.  Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana attended Family Camp 2 and we had many deja-vu moments as Brandon helped Papa ring the bell, eagerly participate in his class, move around camp as if it were his backyard, etc. Wasn't it only yesterday that his mother was that almost-4-year-old, fully embracing the delights of family camp?  Full circle. What a privilege to see the next generation grabbing the baton.  Derek, Julie, and Ana had a brief but wonderful 48 hours at camp just before family camps began and Lisa spent 4 weekends with us over the course of our 7 weeks. All of us agree that there's no place on earth we'd rather be than at CBS. That is a gift in itself. We also had a variety of extended family members come to various camps and we truly love that.

Derek and Julie head out on a hike with Nathan in the backpack and Ana on front.

Sisters and babies . . . such fun!!!

All the family minus Gabe (who was leading a missions trip)—
We shared many happy moments at camp.

Brandon helps Papa with devotions.

Paul's oldest sister, Sandy Clark, and her gang, plus sister Beth
and nephew Brian Rottschafer and his family joined us for camp 5.

Great hikes.  The "Staff Only" special hikes were all highly successful. Twenty-five of us hiked the "loop" under the Super Moon on July 19 and enjoyed perfect conditions. Thirty-five hiked the shore to Avalon on a Wednesday morning when the tide was lowest, and again had an "as good as it gets" experience. Our third hike to "Lone Tree" separated the "true" hikers from the crowd and 17 made this annual trek under a full morning sun. All three hikes built into our camaraderie and connectedness as a staff. Additionally, our daily routine of hiking the Scar Loop at 4 pm and ending with a swim to the line and back was good for physical and mental health.

The 6 am departure for the shore hike didn't discourage many as 35 staff made this annual trek.

Happy staff hikers conquer Lone Tree once again.

Great fun.  The annual game show, this year's rendition named "The Ology Show", was wildly successful and the hosts were dashing. Everyone participated, row by row, which provoked lots of laughter and fun for the whole family each Tuesday night. Worship at the fire ring under the stars followed the game show and s'mores put the exclamation point on that evening. Stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, tubes . . . dancing on the basketball court . . . hamburgers on the beach. Lots of summer fun was had by all.

The hosts of "The Ology Game" were joined by swashbuckling Brandon.

S'mores anyone?  Brandon enjoys one with his "Boo" Lyss.

Great moments of seeing God work.  We heard stories of God changing hearts, healing hurts, breaking down walls, giving hope. We witnessed commitments to follow Him more fully, to be more Christ-like, to proclaim His truth more boldly, and to be "fully surrendered." The testimonies shared at each closing banquet were so moving, as person after person affirmed the work of the Holy Spirit among us. All praise is His!!!

Great challenges.  In an unprecedented fashion, two of our registered and long-time family campers had to cancel just days before camp due to accidents which left the dads of each family with broken vertebrae. By God's grace, neither experienced paralysis but both face a long road of recovery ahead. Another precious young family came to camp in spite of huge challenges with the debilitating effects of the dad's stage 4 metastatic colon cancer diagnosis. It was so moving to see this young family (married only 3 years, with a 2-year-old son) press to be at camp in spite of enormous amounts of pain, etc.  Many more came to camp with internal challenges, struggling marriages, rebellious children, financial difficulties, health issues, etc. We were privileged to see God meet so many in some pretty dramatic ways while at camp.

Great protection.  As a staff, we were very aware of God's mercy on us in so many ways, but particularly in the area of health. Though a stomach bug visited one camp, no one on staff got it. One staff member had strep throat and that was it. One and done. Three staff members had a staph infection, and only three. We truly felt that God supernaturally spared us from these illnesses spreading.

Great hope.  We consistently heard campers express their gratitude that God had renewed their hope in Him and in His promises during the week. There can be no genuine hope apart from Him, since He is the author of hope, and that message was reiterated throughout the summer.

There's so much more I could say, but we're in the midst of family camp at Berea so time is scarce. For now, know that we are deeply grateful for your prayers, your support, your encouragement. We couldn't do what we do without a "village" around us and we are humbled to have you in our village. Pray that we'll finish strong. HIM/Berea Family Camp 2 begins Saturday and ends Friday, Aug. 15th. If you do the calculations, you’ll know that means we left Campus by the Sea on Saturday, Aug. 2, started HIM/Berea family camp on Aug. 3 after red-eyeing it to New England, and will go 13 days here without a break. We are depending on the strength and power of the Lord to get us through with health and effectiveness.

By His grace, many years will be added to the 39.

Life Goes On

The full moon last night (Oct. 14, as I write this) reminds me that we’ve been home from Europe a month now. Re-entry has been harder than expected, quite honestly—and the beautiful summery weather we’ve continued to experience in New England contributes to the desire to keep hiking, biking, and gawking at God’s beautiful creation.  Fortunately, our schedule has allowed us to be so indulged, so we’ve had a “soft” landing, in a manner.

Though it wouldn’t appear that way to some.  Less than 12 hours after returning from Europe, I was driving to Foxboro to launch the Patriots women’s study, which is held every Wednesday morning during the season.  It’s an honor to be leading the study for the second year and we’re all getting a lot out of Cynthia Heald’s Becoming a Woman of Faith.  Fifteen women are involved and it’s truly one of the highlights of my week to interact with these engaged, honest, interactive women.

 A smattering of counseling appointments made their way into the balance of that week and on Saturday, Paul initiated Camp Berea’s Women’s Conference with the first male-presented workshop in its history.  Not surprisingly (from my vantage), he hit it out of the park with the women and received feedback that his was the most highly rated workshop of the weekend.  :)  We received this email regarding his workshop:

“I attended Paul’s workshop this weekend at the Women’s Retreat and he was excellent.  I think the women could have stayed all afternoon and listened to him bring understanding to them about their husbands’ reactions.  He was “right on” according to some of the gals I spoke with.  He was straight to the point and didn’t mince words, which spoke to many of them.  I doubt seriously if many of them have had such a clear delivery of how their husbands hear their words and how they deliver their words.”

He made it back down from Berea in time to have a farewell dinner with our dear friend, Margaret Austin, whose husband was picked up off the Patriots’ practice squad by the Texans—and just like that, they vanished.  We hated to see them go, as both Margaret and Thomas have deep hearts for the Lord and have added great ballast to the couples’ study and women’s study this past year.  But alas, the “Not For Long” league lived up to its reputation.  We’ll miss having them here for a long time.

Margaret Austin and I share a farewell hug before she joined her husband in Houston, where he now suits up for the Texans.

We did something in September we haven't done often in the past eight years since the launch of Home Improvement Ministries: we attended our home church two weeks in a row! It was so good to hear David Swaim (Highrock Church) preach in person rather than hearing him via podcast and to connect with many dear people who attend that church.

We were in full tilt the next week, counseling, doing both Patriots studies, catching up on neglected emails, sorting through piles which just grew over the previous four months of not being home, and regrouping in general.  Adding joy to some of these mundane tasks was having Julie with us for several days leading up to the east coast wedding reception held Sept. 21 at the Macraes’ home in Weston.  Derek joined the festivities on Friday, the 20th, after flying in from Uganda where he had spent the prior two weeks.  Yes, 17 days into their marriage, they experienced a 14-day separation, necessitated by his continuing duties as executive director of the CURE Children’s Hospital in Mbale, Uganda.  Though it wasn’t easy,  they both agreed it was much better than the four-month separations characteristic of their two-year long-distance courtship.

Their reception was delightful as many wonderful friends came to wish them well and to celebrate God’s goodness to them through marriage.  The youngest attendee was 6 weeks old—the first child of one of Julie’s best friends from high school—and the oldest was Thora Eames, at 93, who came with more vim and vigor than most of the middle-aged crowd combined.  We were honored to have my sister Francene and her husband Thom fly up from Virginia for the party, and were thrilled that Lisa's women's soccer team from JMU “just happened” to be playing Northeastern on Sunday, allowing her to catch the tail end of the reception.  It was a great afternoon.

It was a special joy to have Gail MacDonald, long-time family friend and mentor, attend the reception.

And Thora Eames—she inspires all of us!  She brought much energy to the afternoon!!

Doug and Julie Macrae kindly opened their home for the reception which was a huge blessing to all.

Lisa made it off the practice field to catch the tail end of the reception, and we had a happy reunion with her and my sister Francene.

Following the reception, we had the absolute delight of spending a couple of days with Derek and Julie in New Hampshire.  We rode our bikes around Newfound Lake and then swam in it—on Sept. 23 and 24th!!  The warm weather made the lake irresistible and we behaved as though it were summertime.  We enjoyed every minute of this getaway, especially knowing that in a few short months, Derek and Julie will settle in Mbale, Uganda, and such moments will be few and far between.

Mounted on our steeds, we rode the 18-mile circumference of  Newfound Lake on a gorgeous summer-like fall day.

Back to Bedford for the Patriots’ women's study and some counseling before driving with Derek and Julie to Rockport and Gloucester, where we splurged on some fresh-out-of-the-water 2# lobsters.  Home for a delicious New England lobster dinner and a competitive game of “Nickel.”  A perfect ending to a great day.

At Captain Joe’s, we were amazed by this ginormous lobster.  We let him live, and settled on four 2-pounders which were out of this world.

We had a great turnout for the Patriots’ couples study Thursday night and all seem to be engaged in the Jesus on Marriage study Paul wrote for this fall's curriculum.  We're having a lot of good and thought provoking interaction following sharing a meal together.  We're so thankful that Matt and Susie Light are hosting the study again this year.

Off to Pennsylvania we drove to speak at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church, on Sunday, Oct. 2.  En route, we stopped in Lancaster for dinner with one of our cherished mentors, Barbara Boyd.  A contemporary IVCF colleague of Paul’s parents, Barbara is an absolute inspiration to us.  She has faithfully followed Christ since meeting Him in her early 20’s and as we listened to her life story over dinner, we were even more impressed with her incredibly fruitful life.  And with her joyful acceptance of how her life has unfolded.  Engaged to be married to Ralph Willoughby in her late 20’s, her hopes and dreams for a God-honoring marriage were dashed when Ralph died of a virus months before they were to be married.  Barbara never married, but rather than live with the bitterness of unfulfilled dreams, she poured herself in to Kingdom work and was used mightily by God for decades as she served with IVCF.  She is still “green with sap” (Psalm 92) as she continues to live for Him as an octogenarian.  We were deeply touched by our time with her.

We had a great evening with Barbara Boyd as we made our way to Elizabethtown, PA.

It was a true joy to return to Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (EBIC) after having a wonderful introduction to this congregation almost a year ago.  Steve and Liz Lane head up this vital church and it was a delight to spend a bit of time with them while there.  We spoke at both of their Sunday services, taught their very large adult Sunday School class, and did a parenting seminar.  We packed a lot in to a short time and actually hated to leave so quickly—but we had an engagement in Harrisonburg the next night so on we went.

Steve and Liz Lane and their sons Michael and Scottie were wonderful hosts for us at EBIC.

Next stop:  Harrisonburg, Virginia.  After a brief but lovely visit with my sister and her husband, Laura and David Leach, in Burke, Virginia, we drove down to Harrisonburg with Lisa, and spoke at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) large group meeting Monday night.  Lisa has assumed a position of leadership with FCA at JMU this year and she was so happy to have us speak on the topic of relationships to a good-sized group of student athletes.  We loved it and were honored by the opportunity.  It was an added bonus to have some moments with Lisa as well.  Our trip back to Boston on Tuesday was smooth, fast, and uneventful.  That’s the way we like road trips!

Lisa poses with part of her FCA leadership team after the large group meeting Monday night.

Back to Boston in time for the Patriots women’s study, counseling, the Patriots couples’ study, and more counseling.  In between we also spoke at Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel, and it was good to reconnect with many dear friends there.

The moms at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom were very happy to have access to resources after we spoke.

We flew to California on Friday, Oct. 7, to attend the wedding of a young man who grew up coming to Campus by the Sea.  Over the years, we’ve become close family friends so it was a joy for us to celebrate with Matt Engle and Tara Klein as they entered the covenant of marriage on Oct. 9.  Derek and Julie joined us for the weekend and due to the gracious generosity of friends who loaned us their "empty" home in Camarillo, we had a wonderfully relaxing and refreshing weekend around the wedding festivities.  We got a bit of work done between hiking, swimming, and having a blast with Derek and Jules—and the wedding was delightful.  A really special highlight of being at the wedding—besides the obvious—was reconnecting with one of my best friends from college, Janet Siemens Spencer and her husband Greg, who is a professor at Westmont.  Janet played the piano at our wedding and we hadn’t seen each other for about 23 years.  We had a great time filling in the blanks of the past many years and made a commitment to stay in better touch.  What an unexpected gift!

We hiked to Paradise Falls in Camarillo with Derek and Julie during the wedding weekend.

 What a joy to reconnect with Greg and Janet Spencer at Matt and Tara Engle’s wedding.

Two last visits before flying back to Boston completed the trip.  We had the joy of meeting Christian Baker Offield, the almost-3-month-old son of Calen and Amber who we married last September.  Since we've known Calen since he was born, it was very special to meet the next generation.  Much to our delight, Calen’s mom, my very dear friend Wendy, was also included in the visit.  We spent the night with another very dear Wendy (Turney), and flew back to Boston on Tuesday, Oct. 11, very, very grateful for a memorable-on-many-levels weekend.

Calen and Amber with their son, Christian, and his grandma, Wendy.

And so life goes on.  We were back in the saddle in New England for a mere 48 hours.  But that’s news for the next blog.

Part 2: The Hills Were Alive

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011:  Rain started as we parted ways with Nugents at Zurich Airport and continued for most of the next 48 hours.  We drove to Zug, Switzerland, to stay with Campus by the Sea friends who have recently relocated to this adorable town just 30 minutes from the airport.  Though much later than expected, the Tobins welcomed us warmly with a home-cooked dinner and lots of love.  It was such a gift to find shelter with them, especially on this rainy, messy night.  The rain abated temporarily late morning on Sunday so we (Bernie, Lisa, Paul, and I) hiked the Burgenstock overlooking Lake Lucerne.  I had hiked this with the girls and loved being able to introduce Paul to yet another experience we had shared.  The rain eventually caught us and reinforced what my second grade teacher, Miss March, had told our class the few times we experienced rain during recess:  "You're not sugar, so you won't melt.  Relax!"  It was a great hike with wonderful friends, who welcomed us to stay the night again rather than drive to Salzburg in the bad weather that night.  That gave us time to tour their town by foot and with umbrellas.  We were soaking wet by the time we finished, but it whetted our appetite to return when the sun is shining.  

Bernie, Lisa, Anna, and Kelly Tobin were wonderful hosts in Zug
(their daughter Emma was on a weekend trip).

On the Burgenstock hike, our banana yellow rain ponchos came in very handy.  

We took off early the next morning and drove in the rain to Salzburg.  I love Salzburg for so many reasons.  My love affair with this beautiful place began the first time I saw "The Sound of Music" in 1966 at the Loma Theater in San Diego, CA, with my beloved teacher Mimi Test.  That was the first of many viewings of this epic musical and each time I've been in Salzburg, I'm filled with the a desire to run through the green hillsides singing "The hills are alive....with the sound of music" and to relive the romance, drama, adventure, suspense, and beauty of this spectacular place.  We found a "zimmer frei" on the Moosestrasse (thank you, Rick Steves!) and headed right to downtown to begin our explore.  We had a fresh fish dinner on the banks of the Salzach River and topped it off with . . . yep, gelato!  As the sun set and the waxing 3/4 moon rose, we made our way back to our "gausthaus" to a cozy night. 

Little did we know that our cozy night would be interrupted.  Paul wakened with severe chest pains around 4 a.m. and only then did we think about how much we didn't know and how limited we were technologically.  No cell phones, no WiFi, no idea where the local hospital was, and no idea of who to contact and how to contact them.  When 30 minutes had elapsed and he was continuing to have severe pain, we hopped in the car and thanked the Lord for the GPS once again.  It directed us to the hospital, which was only 3.5 km away (PTL) and long story short, after six hours in the ER, two EKG's, two sets of blood work, an IV of saline, and an injection of a strong antacid,  he was released.  Thank you, Lord!  For awhile, it was looking like our trip was going to take a very sharp turn in a direction we hadn't seen coming.  None the worse for the wear, Paul insisted on continuing the tour since he by then felt back to normal.  So off we went.  :)

Released from the Krankenhaus (hospital), we resumed our travels.

First stop, the Untersburgbahn.  We did something "unusual" for us in Salzburg and bought the "Salzburg Card" which granted us admission to everything for one low price.  As a result, we did many things we never would've "paid" for individually and we loved it.  The Untersburgbahn is an aerial tram to the top of the Untersburg, which gave us an incredible view of Salzburg and neighboring villages.  From there we toured Hellbrun Castle and the magical water fountains.  Hellbrun Castle hosts the glass gazebo used during the "I am 16 going on 17" scene in SOM.  We had so much fun trying to avoid getting wet by the craftily hidden spouts of water throughout the grounds.  Since the day was gorgeous and warm, the occasional spray which hit us was welcome.
We spent the balance of the day walking the Monchberg and eating.  Somehow, even with the late start of 11:30 a.m., we managed to log 9 miles that day.  Paul's nighttime escapade did catch up with us, however, and we retired early.

View from the top of the Untersburg.

We walked endlessly through Salzburg and never really got tired (at least of what we were seeing!)

After a good night of sleep at "Haus Ballwein", we continued our exploration of Salzburg with our Salzburg card.  "HohenSalzburg" took up much of the morning, and we enjoyed the castle tour as well as the Marionette Theater.  Eventually we did a little shopping and got our "final" gelato before leaving this inviting place.

In HohenSalzburg, we changed roles temporarily.  :)

A little shopping—and a final gelato—and we were on our way.

Next stop, Hallstatt—but first, a breathtaking drive from Salzburg to Hallstatt via Wolfgangsee.  It was the kind of drive that would take forever if you stopped every time you wanted to take a picture.  There is nothing that can rival natural beauty.  Between the spectrum of greens seen in the meadows and trees, the blues in the lakes and skyscapes (which also played host to white, puffy, squeezable clouds), and the splashes of brilliance accented by flowers—each picturesque scene fed our souls and overwhelmed us with the evidence of God's incredible creativity and personal love for us.  I would've happily freeze-framed almost any moment on that drive.

Wolfgangsee is behind us and this photo doesn't begin to do justice to it.

One stop we did make en route to Hallstatt was at the Alpen Sled run or "sommerbotten."  This was in honor of Paul's love for speeding down hillsides—and he did just that.   It was so much fun to be dragged a long way up the side of a great mountain and ride "sleds" down a metal track.  There were two tracks side by side, so we started the descent together.  But Paul had given up that I would ever come off the mountain after at least five minutes passed after he made it to the bottom.  With some genuine concern, he told the operator that he thought something had happened to me.  The operator smiled and said, "She's fine.  She's just slow."  The brake was my best friend and I had a sightseeing tour on the way to the bottom.  I loved my ride and Paul loved his.  He saw nothing.  :)

Just when we thought a more idyllic place than Salzburg could never be found,  we arrived in Hallstatt.  Oh my goodness.  I'm not sure a more Disneyesque place exists (outside of Disneyland....which is so funny, because Disneyland copied these places!).  We checked into our little guesthouse perched on the terraced side of the mountain overlooking the Hallstattsee and wasted no time beginning our walking tour of this tiny town, trying to squeeze everything we could out of the remaining hours of sunlight, as rain was forecast for the next morning.   

View from the porch of our guesthouse in Hallstatt.

Another view from our porch . . . how cute is this??

The weather report was right, and the rain fell heavily the whole next day, so we exchanged our plans to hike to the waterfalls for a tour of the salt mines, for which this area is most known.  It was quite interesting and certainly worth a one time visit, especially on a very wet day.

In our salt mine tour special clothing, we enjoyed this "now we've been there, done that" experience.

We left Hallstatt earlier than planned for drier climes and ended up in Oberammergau.  This unique town hosts the "Passion Play" every ten years and it's been on my "bucket list" for years now to attend the Passion Play some decade.  Even without the play in session (the next performance will be in 2020), this town is so worth visiting.  It seemed like every building was adorned with fresco paintings depicting different scenes from the life of Christ.  Flower boxes.  Cobblestones.  Chalets.  Quaintness redefined.  

We found a room in Herr Anton Zwink's guesthouse.  Turns out that he's been in every Passion Play since 1950 and he has photos of each one hanging in the hallway.   It was very cool to be in his home. 

Herr Anton Zwink in three of the Passion Plays.  He's now performed in seven productions of the play, spanning the past sixty years.

Paul poses with Herr Zwink.
We resisted the temptation to ask for his autograph.  :)

We spent the next morning hiking to the top of Laber, one of the high peaks around Oberammergau.  It was a great hike, until we came upon a herd of grazing cows.  Our long held belief in the passivity of these creatures was turned over by an aggressive bovine who decided he didn't want us to walk across his pasture.  This near-death experience had a happy ending, because Paul turned tail and ran from the oncoming beast and we chose to circumvent the field rather than cross it. Our hearts were wildly pounding for awhile after that, and not from the exertion required by the climb.  The view from the top was well worth the risks taken.  We poked around this makes-you-not-want-to-leave town, but we resisted the pull and continued on to Stuttgart, stopping briefly in Ulm en route to buy some lebkuchen at the Weiss factory.  I bought as though everyone I know loves this German gingerbread, only to be reminded that I'm alone in our family with a desire for this confection.  Oh well, I got great deals.

Approaching the top of Laber, we conquered yet another peak.  :)

Our dear friend Gertrud and her sweet dog, Kuti, warmly welcomed us to Stuttgart with a yummy dinner and great conversation.  We've been friends with Gertrud since she volunteered at Campus by the Sea with her friend Elfriede in 1988.  We're always happy to reconnect with her; she's a wonderful friend.

Gertrud served us a delicious dinner and opened her home to us again.

Gertrud planned a full Saturday, which started with a hike in the Schwaibese Albs in Bartoloma and continued with a tour of the Steiff factory.  Steiff makes very high-end specialized stuffed animals and we had a great time touring the factory and posing with some of their larger products.  Very fun.  On to a beautiful monastery which is home to a spectacular cathedral, and then to a castle which set in view of our outdoor dinner.  We were joined at the Steiff factory by Elfriede and Uwe and the five of us had a grand time together.

Does it look like Paul is enjoying the Steiff factory?  :)

Gertrud, Elifriede, and I also had fun.

Sunday dawned beautifully and we met up with the Maiers again for a hike overlooking Hohenzollern.  Everything was beautiful about this hike and the company could hardly be improved upon.  We enjoyed a hearty meal of sauerbrauten at hike's end and then paid a visit to Uwe's mother's house for some homemade plum cake and coffee.  :)  We said our good-byes and sadly left our German friends for parts further south.

Kuti kept up with us on our hike on this gorgeous Sabbath.  
Gertrud, Elfriede, and Uwe extended such warm hospitality to us!

Final stop of this excellent journey: Titisee.  This sweet Black Forest village surrounds a beautiful lake (there is a theme!  We like bodies of water!).  Julie and I had hiked around the lake in 2006 so Paul and I hiked the highest peak in the Black Forest, the Feldberg, as recommended by Elfriede and Uwe.  Initially we thought twice about doing the hike when we saw the cool temps and cloud cover, but a look at the weather cam in the visitor's center gave us the assurance that within an hour, it would be warmer and clear.  And it was right!  

"Highest peak" might give the wrong impression.  Though true, the reality is that there aren't many high peaks in the Black Forest and this one was less than half the height of the Schilthorn, coming in under 2000 meters.  What it lacked in height, it made up for in distance and nine miles later, we made it back to the car.  We did stop at the Feldbergsee for lunch and we drank in the beauty of this pristine lake hidden in the valley of the mountains surrounding it. 

Lunch by the Feldbergsee was a welcomed refueling stop during our 9-mile hike.

Back to the town of Titisee, we briefly considered walking around the lake, but easily gave in to the seduction of shops and eateries as we sampled our way through the town.   All the while, we willed the millions of ticking cuckoo clocks to stop to make time stand still.  We were both very aware that our excellent adventure was coming to a close.

On the shores of the Titisee, we take it all in, very aware that the sand is
almost through the hour glass of this excellent adventure.

We spent our last night on the border of Germany and Switzerland, in Waldshut, to facilitate our early morning flight from Zurich.  Under a full moon sky, we wandered through a meadow full of grazing cows and then ate cheese and bread on the balcony of our room.  It was a perfect end to an unbelievable trip. 

The full moon rose over Waldshut on our last night in Europe.

Packed and ready, we board our flight in Zurich.

Our hearts were as packed with gratitude and joy as were our suitcases.  So many great moments.  So many beautiful views.  So many God-sightings.

And about that fresh new leather-bound journal I gave Paul on the first day of the trip?  On the plane as we returned to America, Paul pulled it out of his backpack and began writing fast and furiously.  I smiled.  We are so different in so many ways—but there's no one in the world I would rather have made this trip with than him.

Part 1: The hills were alive . . .

From the Lauterbrunen Valley in Switzerland—views like this were the rule, not the exception.

We've been home from Europe for just over a week now and I've had a curious avoidance to writing about this beyond-our-expectations trip.  Not that we’ve been sitting around eating bonbons—nor wondering what to do with all our free time since returning—but I finally realized last night that writing a blog post about the trip officially makes it “over,” “finished,” “done”—part of our history—and there’s a part of me that doesn't want to acknowledge that this long-awaited trip is now in our rear view mirror! 

The vast majority of me, however, simply delights in the reality of it and relishes the memories, which I’ll now transfer from iPhoto and my mind (with what I know will be inadequate words) to offer you a description of Paul's 60th (plus 1) rite-of-passage journey.

The idea of doing this trip was launched by our dear German friend Gertrud, who had hosted the girls and me on each of their rite-of-passage journeys at age 21.  After my third and final daughter trip with Julie, Gertrud asked, “And what about Paul?  When will his rite of passage journey be?”  That set the wheels in motion five years ago and his 60th birthday was deemed the appropriate milestone. 

But God had other plans, and Paul’s 60th birthday was marked by the birth of our first grandchild, Brandon, so plans for Europe were happily postponed for a year. And so it came that his 61th birthday was celebrated in Gimmelwald, Switzerland, with a hike to the top of the Schilthorn (an almost 4000-meter peak rising from the Lauterbrunen Valley.)

The trip came on the heels of an intense summer, as previous posts record.  Ten weeks were dedicated to family camp (including orientation and other preparations), followed immediately by Julie and Derek’s wedding on August 21.  Only 2 days after returning to Bedford from the wedding, we flew to Zurich.  We briefly considered postponing our departure when the doctor said I had a touch of pneumonia along with a lot of bronchitis, but with Hurricane Irene making her way up the coast, we knew we had to get out before she arrived.  And we were so glad we did!  Thankfully, the Z-pack antibiotics combined with lots of prayer cured what ailed me, so our trip was unhampered.

The first week of our 17-day trip was shared with our chosen family friends, John and Marilyn.  Starting with renting a car, we replicated the trip I made with the girls, with one major adjustment: maps were replaced by a GPS system. I must say, that change alleviated most of the “breakdown” moments I had had navigating in unknown lands, guided with little more than poor maps in hand.  What a gift to be GPS-directed!!

The 21st-birthday rite-of-passage journey focuses on clarifying life purpose, so the girls were each given a new leather journal in which to record God-sightings and life lessons learned on the journey, as well as Gail MacDonald’s book A Step Farther and Higher which has an excellent chapter on how to write a life-purpose statement. (More details are found in my book Raising a Trailblazer: Rite-of-Passage Trail Markers for your Set-Apart Teen.)  I did give Paul a new journal—possibly his first ever, since journaling is not his cup of tea  :)—and suggested he record reflections of his journey to date and thoughts about his “second half.”  He smiled and put the journal in his backpack.  

Our first stop was Interlaken, and on a indescribably gorgeous spring-like day, we took the Jungfraubahn” to the “Top of Europe.”  The trilogy of snow-topped Alps—the Eiger, the Monch, and the Jungfrau—are well known ice-climbing peaks, as well as hosts to a cogwheel rack railway to the Jungfraujoch, billed as the highest railway station in Europe.  From the top, on a clear day. you can see forever—360 degrees of forever—and we took it all in.  We were overwhelmed, to be honest, by the majesty of God as shown in creation.  Being able to hike in light clothing to the backpackers "hut" was a real treat.  Great time!  Our stop in Grindlewald on the way back to Interlaken was also quite magical.  That sweet town is everything you imagine when thinking of a little Swiss hamlet at the base of gianormous Alps, with flower-bedecked chalets dotting the velvety green meadows and the sound of cow bells in surround-sound.  LOVE it.  Also taking advantage of the day were hundreds of para-gliders, whose colorful chutes made a garden in the sky.  We were mesmerized by it all.

From the Top of Europe” on the Jungfrau, we enjoy incredible views from every angle.

Hiking to the JungMonchHuitte, we enjoy very balmy weather as we walk on the glacier.

Loving every minute of it . . .

Next stop:  Gimmelwald, the home of Walter’s Hotel.  It was a hike to get there, after leaving the car parked in Lauterbrunen and taking with us only what would fit in our daypacks, but well worth it.  The incredible beauty surrounding us minimized the physical challenge of hiking the six miles—but my hiking companions did tire of me saying, “It’s just around the next bend.”  There were many more bends than I recalled.  :)

I was most excited about staying at “Walter’s” even though it was the least comfortable place we stayed on the trip.  The girls and I fell in love with Walter, a now 87-year-old Swiss gentleman who runs his hotel to benefit an Indian tribe in South America.  He’s remarkable.  He does most of the cooking and for years managed the hotel on his own.  He now has a “business partner” in Tim from England, who spends from May to November helping Walter run the place.  The hotel is largely unremarkable, but its quaint, family-oriented simplicity embraces you and the intangibles fill in the gaps.  Fortunately, my three traveling companions loved it too.  :)
Arriving at Walter’s Hote-L in Gimmelwald . . .

. . . we’re amazed that 87-year-old Walter is still running the place.

We conquered the Schilthorn on Monday.  This was the big one.  The impending hike unsettled each of us with questions of “can we do this?”  I had hiked it with Lisa and with Julie (it was closed when Kari and I made our trip in early May 2001), and in both cases, I was thoroughly challenged.  Long story short, we did make it, and I must say it was very fun for me to be in the “You can make it!” cheerleading role that I had been the recipient of on the two previous hikes.  :)  The first 2/3 of the hike we enjoyed gorgeous, springlike weather, but clouds moved in and during the last third, we were enveloped.  Most disappointing was getting to the top and being able to see nothing.  :(  That was overshadowed by the incredible joy of making it to the top alive which truly required “leaving it all on the mountain.”
Our hike to the top of the Schilthorn starts out under clear blue skies.  We loved walking behind this waterfall.

Still clear, the views of the opposing Alps are spectacular.

We were glad to get these cloudless photos early in the hike.

Though it looks like we've made it to the top, we still had a long way to go.

The top at last! The clouds and we arrived at about the same time.

Making it to almost 4000 meters, we were thankful, spent, and only mildly disappointed that we couldn't see a thing.  

I think Paul breathed a huge sigh of relief once we had conquered the Schilthorn.  Sort of like taking a final exam.  Once done, the rest is easy.  

So with sore feet and exhausted bodies, we took the gondola down to Murren and made our way back to Walter's for his delicious meal of lamb, rice, and mushrooms before hitting the hay.  The beds could’ve been made of nails and we wouldn't have noticed.  :)

On to the Cinque Terre on the northern coast of Italy we went, after hiking down from Gimmelwald, through Steckelborg, and across the unbelievably alive-with-natural-beauty Lauterbrunen Valley.  From waterfalls to wildflowers and everything in between, we were constantly “oohing” and “ahhing” and snapping photos like crazy.  Absolutely lovely!

Our drive over the Susten Pass was likewise spectacular on that springlike day, and such a different experience than when Lisa and I had decided to take that route in 2004 since it was clearly the shortest distance between two points on the map. That day was not springlike, but rainy and foggy, and making the drive on the two-lane road (without guardrails in many places) was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done.  With trucks as our only real companions on the road, we had a white knuckle drive I hope to never repeat—and we couldn’t see a thing.
Driving the Susten Pass on our journey from Interlaken to the Cinque Terre, we had backdrops like this.  :)   

How different it was to drive the Susten Pass on a clear, beautiful day!  The vistas were incredible, and though the roads were the same narrow two-lane unguarded windy ones Lisa and I drove, we enjoyed every minute of the 45-minute journey because we could see everything.  A great spiritual lesson recorded in my journal.

We arrived in the Cinque Terre just after sunset on Tuesday, August 30, and settled in to a great hotel overlooking the water.  After a good night’s sleep, we hit the trail, hiking between the towns of Monterroso, Vernazza, and Corniglia.  It wasn't lost on us that we were overwhelmed by the beauty of God's creation in the Cinque Terre—though it stood in sharp contrast to the kind of beauty we had loved in Switzerland.  From the ice peaks and glaciers of the Alps, to the warm “liquid ice” of the Ligurian Sea . . . From the verdant green meadows and blossoming flowers growing wildly or meticulously placed in window boxes, to the dusty, cobbley footpaths which wended through vineyards and terraced gardens producing fresh basil or rosemary—or orchards of olives, fig, or apple trees, we were reminded over and again of the amazing diversity of creation, and of the vast spectrum of what we consider “beautiful.”  We drank it in as we hiked a good 10-12 miles that day, interrupting the sweat-producing exercise with dips in the refreshing sea at least twice, and indulging in gelato the same number of times.  We capped the day with fresh caprese and delicious seafood eaten on the porch of our hotel room as the sunset melted into the western horizon.  It really doesn’t get much better than that.

In Cinque Terre, we begin our first hike from Monterroso to Vernazza on a gorgeous day.
What a difference 24 hours makes!

We rewarded ourselves with dips in the Ligurian Sea to be refreshed after our
arduous and quite warm hiking in the Cinque Terre.

We continued the reward with gelato . . . the best!!

We delighted in the sunset from our balcony in Manarola as we ate our dinner.

More hiking in the Cinque Terre, with unbelievable sights along the way.

We did more hiking the next day before packing up and heading to Florence, but not before indulging in more gelato.  “Carpe Diem!”

We had a full day in Florence, and we packed it in.  We toured the Uffizi Museum as well as L’Accademie, which houses Michelangelo's statue of David.  We also walked almost 20 miles as we explored this historic, artistic city.  We continued our love affair with gelato in Florence.  :)  We had a great time, but preferring hiking mountains and swimming in oceans to museums in general, we weren’t sorry to drive out of Florence on Saturday morning, Sept. 3, only 36 hours after arriving. 

From the Piazzale de Michelangelo, the overview of Florence was amazing.

A great dinner outdoors was a fitting end to a great day of touring Florence.

The drive from Florence back to Zurich was the only part of the trip we'd rather not remember.  Apparently everyone in Europe decided to end their holiday on the same day and through the same route, which also happened to be on a day that several key roads were closed for repairs. So the 6-hour trip ended up taking 11 hours, and our small window to explore Zurich closed as we made a painfully slow trip to the airport.  Fortunately, the Nugents weren't flying out until Sunday morning, so their return flight was unaffected.  We took advantage of our setting by talking endlessly about our family histories, our hopes and dreams, and eventually even defaulted to singing. It seemed fitting to break up the challenge of being held captive by traffic by singing “The Grumbler’s Song” and that definitely added levity to our situation.
This was our view most of the 11 hours it took us to get from Florence to Zurich. Yikes!

We sadly parted ways with the Nugents at this point, and they returned to the States to rest their weary muscles and sore feet and to revel in the accomplishments experienced and the beauty seen.  Our days together were packed with wonderfully unforgettable moments and we'll cherish them always.  
We headed to the small town of Zug to hang with some dear friends . . . and part 2 will pick up there!

Great is Thy Faithfulness!

And just like that, our summer at Campus by the Sea (CBS) is over.  After the coolest summer of our 35 years together at CBS, we wakened this morning with no doubt we were no longer there.  The over 90 degree temps and equal humidity today remind us that part of the reason we love “summering” at Campus by the Sea is the weather!!!

The last two weeks of family camp continued in the trajectory of the summer: beyond words wonderful.  We can’t remember a summer when there has been more evidence of God’s grace working out among us in so many ways.  Every banquet this summer evidenced this, as the “feast” we consumed was exceeded only be the “feast” we witnessed after person upon person shared of how they had been met by God during the week.

Family Camp 5 featured second year speaker David Tebay, senior pastor of Calvary Church of Placentia.  He challenged us with the message of Romans 12, and his sermons were practical and discomforting.  That’s good.  :)  It was a delight to have his son, Taylor, on our program staff all summer, and to have his wife, Carrie, daughters Tara and Amy, and son Austin join him for the week.  David’s father, John, was one of the officiating pastors at our wedding, and along with his wife Grace, has been a significant mentor in our lives for the past almost four decades.  It’s so good to see the generational legacy of God’s faithfulness in this family.

David and Carrie Tebay, with Austin, Tara, Amy, and Taylor.

The “staff only” annual hike to “Lone Tree” took place on the Wednesday of Family Camp 5.  Only 12 braved this challenging, 9-mile-round-trip hike, and we were all on the top within 1.5 hrs.  Though we were very thankful for the cloud cover hiking up, we all wished the sun would burn it off once we were on the top.  But alas, we remained sunless (in keeping with the theme of the summer!)  Oh well, makes for easier hiking!  We had a great time of fellowship and experienced wonderful camaraderie throughout.  Another Lone Tree summit accomplished!

Front row: Holland Stewart, David Hathaway, Heather Thiel, “Mama Virg”, Megan Forbes, Lisa Friesen, Leslie Johnston, Scott JohnstonBack row:  Jared Klay, Rachel Baughman, Whitnee Sherman, and Christy Johnston.  Mission accomplished: Lone Tree conquered!
As was true for every Family Camp, the week flew by and before we were ready for it, Saturday morning had arrived and we were celebrating God’s faithfulness during our closing session.  Tears, hugs, and another heartfelt chorus of “We love you campers, oh, yes, we do!” sent this wonderful group of campers off to San Pedro.
Late that Saturday afternoon, the program staff and part of the facilities staff headed into Avalon for the annual “staff appreciation” meal in town. “Mi Casita” was the site of our dinner and though the food wasn’t nearly as good as what we’ve enjoyed from the CBS kitchen this summer, it was a fun and relaxing change of venue.  The bonus of the night was the brilliant full moon - with no cloud cover - spawning our second full moon hike of the summer. Twenty-one intrepid staff hiked under the unbelievably beautiful moonlit night, which put a large exclamation point on a great evening.

Program staff appreciation dinner at Mi Casita in Avalon.

Presto change-o - into hiking clothes and off to Campus by the Sea under a moonlit night.
Family Camp 6 arrived on Sunday, July 25.  Gary and Anne Gaddini and their four daughters joined our resource team this week and as usual, Gary’s speaking did not disappoint.  He preached through the book of Jonah, and was compelling, challenging, relevant, and inspiring.  (A reminder that all of the family camp talks from CBS 2010 are available on MP3’s on the CBS website.)  Gary’s passion for Christ, his knowledge of the Word, and his strong communication skills combined to “knock it out of the park.”

Gary and Anne Gaddini with 3 of their 4 daughters join Lisa, Paul, and me for ice cream in Avalon on hike day.

Week 6 had so many special features.  One of them was having Garth and Rosemary Dougan in camp for the week.  Now at 87 and 85, they continue to inspire all of us.  We invited them to our staff meeting and spent a few moments honoring them for their years of faithful service at CBS, but mostly for their faithfulness to the Lord for decades.  Their lives are so hope-giving.  How we love them!

Paul presented Garth and Rosemary with honorary staff shirts at the banquet Friday night.  Don’t they look terrific?

The program staff share a staff meeting with Garth and Rosemary Dougan, CBS staff “grandparents” emeritus.
Another very special moment during week 6 was Chelsea Paskvan’s baptism.  Chels grew up coming to family camp and served on staff for several summers.  She just graduated from Kent State University with a degree in fashion design and is living in NYC working in the industry.  She wanted to be baptized in the place where God has met her consistently.  It was a beautiful service.  BTW, Chelsea has been a great friend to the young woman from NYC who became a Christian at camp during week 2.  She has taken her to Tim Keller’s church, Redeemer, and is walking with her during her first steps as a Christian.

Lisa prays for Chelsea at her baptism ceremony.
It’s hard to remember a summer when we’ve experienced more spiritual fruit than this one.  Or a summer when there’s been more unity among the staff team.  We were especially impressed with how well the program staff worked together; they were “all in” with serving and becoming more Christlike.  They were such a delight to partner with!

I’m still amazed at God’s faithfulness to us in bringing this team together.  Twenty of our twenty-four program staff grew up as family campers.  That means they really “get” it; they know how important staff members were in their lives through the years.  It’s an awesome thought to consider that all the years these kids were growing up as family campers, they were in training to serve as staff workers one day!

We also had an unusually high number of staff with theatrical or musical backgrounds, and in line with their gifts, we had more creative flair in the program.  The Children’s Program drama, written and directed by the staff,  was fabulous and conveyed the essence of the Prodigal Son story remarkably well.  John Thiel, our worship leader (as well as children’s program director) wrote a short reader’s theater for opening night and closing morning, and that was well received.  He also wrote a catchy memory verse song, which will be sung long after the summer of 2010 is history.

After we sent our last family campers sailing, we spent our last almost 24 hours in camp bringing closure to the summer.  The year round staff couples prepared a wonderful Mexican feast for our last dinner together and that was followed by “Saturday Night Live” - a sharing of talents which would bless our community.  Sunday morning, we had a wonderful two-hour worship/sharing service and we privileged to hear how God had met us individually through our seven weeks together.  It was a really sweet time.  And then it was boat time.

It’s impossible to put into words what it means to live in this kind of unplugged, undistracted, directed community for almost two months, but what is unspoken is mostly intangible.  God meets each of us in different ways, right where we are on the journey towards His heart.  He uses us, imperfect as we each are, to impact eternity, and none of us can really get our minds around that.  We can get our hearts around it, though, and even more now, after spending a summer delving deeper into “The Father’s Love,” and for that, we’ll be forever grateful.

On the Catalina Express, en route back to the mainland...our very wonderful staff team gathers for one last shot “for the blog.”  :)

And so the sun sets on another summer at CBS and we head off to New Hampshire to do two more weeks of family camp.  We are exceedingly tired . . . and exceedingly grateful.  “Great is Thy Faithfulness!”