Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Will You Forget Me Forever?

The assignment was to memorize Psalm 13:1-2.  And 1 Corinthians 10:13 too, but I sort of knew that one already.  So Psalm 13 is where I turned first.

How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
v. 1-2

The assignment was given by a pastor we've had the privilege of meeting with twice a month to talk through ministry, marriage, and parenting challenges. These meetings have been a gift of grace. Who knew there was a colleague nearby who was gifted and trained to come alongside of us for encouragement, wisdom, and support? We would now consider him a friend - a friend unafraid to step into the challenging role of mentor and counselor. We're planning on a near-future double date with he and his wife. That's how encouraging it has been.

But difficult, too, as you can imagine, and as the assignment reveals.

So, I started memorizing.  I said them aloud and copied down the verses to get them in my head and in my heart. The memorizing was not difficult.  I even decided not to stop at verse 2 (and on a fairly sad note), since the lines were coming so easily. Like a familiar cadence, the words and stanzas seemed oddly second nature.

Today I realized why.

I have the week off from teaching my 10th-ish graders today at Classical Conversations. When we plan the teaching schedule for the year during the summer months, I always advocate (beg?) for taking a break the week after Easter rather than the week of Easter.  Holy Week is so wonderful ~ my favorite week of the year ~ but also very full. I'd rather teach that week, packing in one more thing, and then take a true breather from teaching and extra church activity the week afterward.

So today, the day I would have been teaching, I've spent the morning reading God's word, praying, and reflecting. I even re-read my entire current journal which began in September. Not at all riveting, it was six months of what seem to be the exact same cries, pleas, and prayers for renewal, healing, restoration, and hope. John Piper says that the one thing that causes him to question the existence of God is the slowness of his own sanctification and victory over sin. I'm not sure that would be my first answer (I am, sadly, not that godly in my perspective), but his response is certainly confirmed in the pages of my own journal. Sanctification and the putting off of sin are slow in my life.

I have friends who burn their journals when they finish filling one up. And though I love archiving, I guess I can understand that somewhat. I just can't bring myself to do it yet, and don't know that I ever will be. So, for those who may read them in the future, here's a warning: Each one is simply more of the same. (Honestly, there is probably more regress that progress.)

When I got to the October 15th entry of my current journal, there was Psalm 13.  I had written out each stanza with my own prayers interspersed.

I remember it now. On October 14 of this past fall, I was driving to meet a friend for lunch an hour away. The tears had been brimming since I'd awoken that morning, and in an attempt to not spill them all over her during our Panera Bread lunch, I plugged my phone into the auxiliary cord and found the Psalms on my Bible App.  (Taylor Swift does not do the trick in moments like those.) Psalm 1-13 played aloud in the minivan as I drove along Rt. 2 headed for Eastern MA. After Psalm 13, I just hit repeat over and over.

Consider me and answer me, O Lord my God.
Enlighten my eyes or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say "I have overcome him,"
and my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.
v. 3-4

The words of David echoed my own longings and frustrations, and yet the gratitude of my own heart as well. I must have replayed it a dozen times.  No wonder it seemed such a familiar rhythm this spring. No wonder the memorizing came without effort. It was already there.

Five months ago, God had, unbeknownst to me, filled my heart and mind with a prayer that He would use in a very specific way this month.  A Psalm which He would literally assign me to memorize as a way to properly respond to the challenges at hand.

But I have trusted in your lovingkindness
My heart shall rejoice in your salvation
I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.
v. 5-6

If this isn't proof that He deals bountifully with me, I don't know what is. His seemingly harsh dealings with me were exactly what I was tearful about, and yet there He was providing the words to pray in such a situation. And then reminding me of it today.

No, He has not forgotten me.  (I really thought He might have.)

Yes, He has answered me and prevented the death of my hope and faith. (Not in the removal of the pain, but in the way through it.)

I can trust.

I can even rejoice.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Wonderful Women Of My Week

Last year's women's retreat.  Don't think we'll be playing broom hockey on the frozen lake this year. 
Yesterday at church, I gave an announcement about our upcoming women's retreat. (April 15-17th. You should come!) I love planning for this event each year. I love helping to provide the opportunity for fellowship, good biblical content, and a refreshingly fun time away for the women of my church (and now three other churches as well). It got me thinking about how much I love the women of my church as well as how thankful I am for the other women God has so specifically and generously placed in my life, which then got me thinking about the week-full of women that led up to yesterday.

It really was FULL.  Just take a look. 
MONDAY: This is Sarah, and I only really met her last Thursday. (Technically, I met her about four years ago at a Chili's in Ft. Worth, but that was too quick to count.) I said goodbye to Sarah and her husband Christian on Tuesday morning after spending much of the extended weekend with them ~ even went to Worcester and Boston with them all day Friday.  Robert took them to Vermont all day Monday, and then they were back here for dinner Monday night. They were here checking out the church planting scene and trying to discern a call to ministry in this part of the country. Sarah homeschools four children ages six to twelve and works part time at her church organizing the children's ministry there. Full of life and faith and spunk and practical wisdom, it was so good to laugh together and share background and ministry experiences with her. Don't tell her, but I'm hoping and praying that they come to live in Massachusetts for good.
TUESDAY MORNING: I teach at Classical Conversations all day Tuesday, but sometime early in the day I got a text from my longtime friend Shemaiah. (Not the best pic, sorry.  Had to take a pic of a pic.) We keep in fairly constant contact and prayer this way, especially lately, as the Lord has her on one of the most difficult journeys of her life so far.  It involves a very sick husband (also a longtime and dear friend) who's been in and out of the hospital more times than any of us can count at this point (actually, Shemaiah probably knows the count), and an adoption process that is quite tenuous and extremely emotional. I don't know if there is anyone in my life whom God has entrusted with the amount of trial and suffering this godly friend has carried, but she does it with great faith and strength. She is a constant reminder to me of God's power, sovereignty, and intimate involvement in our lives, and she has been since she was a freshman at Oklahoma State University (which was a LONG time ago).
 TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Our typical routine after Classical Conversations is to take all of our teens to Barnes and Noble for coffee drinks and socializing. (Sometimes I think my homeschooler has way too much socializing.  I can hardly keep up.) Lately though, they've been practicing for a Shakespeare play and have to stay at the church where we meet until after 6pm. That meant that my friend Deb and I could have a Barnes and Noble date by ourselves. I love catching up with Deb and appreciate so much her listening ear and her faithfulness to pray for me ~ always following up and even letting me know how the Lord is leading her to pray specifically.  This particular coffee date really helped me to process a couple of recent struggles, and I'm especially thankful for Deb's gentle, godly wisdom, as well as her willingness to share her own struggles.
Here's Deb again as well as four other WONDERFUL women I get to interact with on a weekly basis.
WEDNESDAY: This is Lizzie.  She's a sophomore at Smith College. (I could be her mom.) Lizzie goes to my church and comes to our Sunday lunch/afternoon discipleship group. Several Sunday mornings ago, I said this to Robert: "I'd really love to start going over to Smith and hanging out with Lizzie and maybe a few of the other girls." Fast forward a few hours, and Lizzie was standing in my kitchen after our small group asking if I might have some time to meet with her in the coming weeks. No doubt that the Lord worked that one out. This past Wednesday we planned to meet at the cafe we had met at previously, but then she texted and suggested getting ice cream at Herrell's since it was nearly 80 degrees. Perfect!  The line was long, so we opted for bubble tea and frozen yogurt down the street, and had a great conversation about her time at a political convention over the weekend, school, family dynamics, God, the Bible, boys, and marriage.  Lizzie is brilliant and brave, and earnestly seeking to grow in Christ.  What a joy to be with her.
 THURSDAY EARLY MORNING: You probably already guessed that Betsy would show up in this list.  We have a run-five-miles-every-Thursday-morning-date. (Well, except for the six Thursdays of winter that we carpool to snow ski in Vermont for a ski school program.) We pack in all of our catching up for the week in this hour of running and driveway chatting, and I love it. Betsy's faith and joy are contagious, and a Thursday never goes by that she doesn't share with me what she's reading in her Bible or praying about, wrestling through, and confessing. This enables me to freely share the same things.  I don't know about you, but this doesn't always happen naturally in friendships with other women.  I'm so thankful she paved the way for this type of authenticity.
Betsy and I have had lots of adventures together, from half-marathons, to White Mountain Backpacking Trips (Yikes), to cross country skiing, to downhill skiing, to soccer games, and basketball games, graduations, and weddings of children. I'm so, so thankful that she's a regular part of my week.
THURSDAY MID MORNING:  Ran home from Betsy's, took a shower, checked in with Kayla on schoolwork, and headed to Gardner for a late breakfast with Christina who is a fellow pastor's wife. (She is also the worship director at her church and the mom of two grown sons.) I got to hear about her recent trip to Rwanda to work with pastors and wives and their churches there.  She brought me Rwandan coffee and shared about the spiritual warfare that seemed evident on their trip overseas as well as the reality of it in their church recently. And not only the battles, but the victories, too. It helps me so much to hear her stories and gives me a more realistic perspective on church ministry. Christina is a deep thinker and full of compassion. She has been a constant and intentional encourager to me through the years (emails and texts and phone calls), and Robert and I have both been helped by Christina and her husband Neal's friendship and godly counsel lately.
FRIDAY: Lauralee and I have been trying to make a lunch date work for about a year now, and we finally accomplished it on Friday. I first met Lauralee just after Kayla (who is about to turn 16) was born and she brought over a meal and a hand painted (by her!) t-shirt as a gift. I didn't even know her! We were new to MA, and the church we attended while planting ours graciously ministered to us by providing a couple of weeks worth of meals once we got home from the hospital with baby #3. Just knowing this about Lauralee should tell you what a kind and compassionate woman she is. Recently, she and her family became members of our church, and so we have re-connected. Lauralee loves the Lord and young people so much. You can usually find her participating in some crazy Young Life skit or mission trip, cheering on teenagers (who are not even her own, but don't tell her that) at their sporting events, or shedding tears over God's goodness and work in other people's lives. We had a heart to heart about life and marriage and parenting over salads at Panera Bread.  Such a sweet time.
SATURDAY: Kayla had play practice until 6pm on Saturday evening. I picked her up and we drove straight to Wilbraham, so that we could spend the evening with one of her best friends, Mary, and one of mine, Izckra ~ Mary's mom. This is just the perfect arrangement. Really. Both moms and both daughters love each other dearly and have for over 12 years. We all went out together for my birthday last month. So fun. Saturday night Kayla and Mary ate pizza at home, baked cookies, and watched a movie while Izckra and I spent about two and a half hours at a local restaurant trying to catch up on each other's lives as best as we could. Izckra is one of the wisest, strongest women I know. And joyful. Her spirits are always up and her eyes are always on Christ even in the most difficult times. I treasure time with her so much.

Now that I've finished telling you about all of these wonderful women, I almost feel guilty. Women are not always easy to relate with, and yet so much of my week was spent being encouraged by women who are full of life and wisdom.  Women who love me for who I really am. Women who love their Lord with their whole lives. Women who are so gifted and so committed to their work, studies, husbands, children, churches. Women who make me want to grow in grace and surrender to the Spirit's work in my life. Women who challenge and sharpen me.

And this was just one week. I didn't even get to mention Kayla (my own daughter is a huge blessing and example to me), or Sarah, or Karla, or Aimee, or Amy, or Chris, or Christie, or Jenna, or Jenn, or Katie, or Kelly, or Kim, or Yvette, or Sherri, or Nichelle, or Rachel, or Rayna, or Molly, or Becky, or Deborah, or Mandie, or Melissa, or Mariah, or Melinda, or Laurie, or Romy, or Lois, or Cindy, or Isabelle or a hundred others, really.

Wonderful women from a recent summer small group.
Some weeks it's more giving than receiving, more ministry than friendship (not this week though!), but really, no matter what, I always receive something in the spending of time with women. God knows my desperate need, and He's provided so generously. Today, I'm thanking Him for the gift of many friendships with incredible women.

And I'm praying that our upcoming women's retreat fosters both intimacy with Christ and with other women.  We have so far to grow in Him and so much to gain from each other in that process.

P.S. Listing all of these women makes me think I should feature one per week on a more in-depth level.  What do you think? That would take me quite a while ~ years actually ~ but it would be really fun. If I did feature a woman per week, what questions would you want her to answer? What things would you like to know?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Only 3.2 Chapters A Day

Last weekend Kayla, her friend Mary, and I got to go to YEC ~ the Youth Encountering Christ conference. It's our denomination's winter teen conference and this was the 35th anniversary. I've dropped kids off there before and picked them up again, but I've never stayed for the whole weekend.  This time I stayed, and I'm so glad I did.
With staff, students, and chaperones, there were nearly 900 people gathered around the theme: He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30) Since it was a big anniversary year, everyone on stage speaking or leading worship was an alumnus of the conference, meaning they had attended as a teenager at some point or possibly every year of middle and high school and then some. (The sound tech beat us all with 35 years of perfect attendance!)
I had the privilege of leading a little breakout session twice on Saturday afternoon called "My Daily Dose: What happens when you read the Bible every day." It was sort of a last minute thing, I didn't really know the exact description of it till the day before, and I was pretty sure it wouldn't be a very popular session, but it turned out to be such a fun time interacting with teens (and their chaperones) about God's Word. 

And I got to make posters, so that was icing on the cake.

The top poster is probably my favorite, artistically speaking (Like my sword?), but this next verse is my favorite of the ones I chose to encourage them that reading God's Word every day draws us close to Him, and accomplishes great things in our hearts and lives ~ guaranteed.

The last half of the session was a bit interactive, as I asked the students to share ways they have learned to incorporate daily Bible reading into their lives.  I don't think I was expecting much of a response.  In fact, I was prepared to give them several tips and ideas for how to do this, but they surprised me in the cutest ways.

A 7th grade girl raised her hand and said she reads two chapters of the New Testament and one chapter of Proverbs every morning, because Proverbs has 31 chapters, so in one month, you finish the whole thing!

So excited and earnest.

A senior boy said he read two chapters of the Old and New Testaments every night before bed, and had recently started taking his Bible to school and finding time to read it once or twice during the day. He used to worry what his friends would think, but not really anymore.

So committed and brave.

And here's the response that got me laughing out loud:

Tiny 7th Grade Girl (twin of the first one!): I read 4 chapters of the Bible a day, because that way I can finish the whole Bible every year.

Me: Wow!  That's great. I don't think I knew that four chapters a day would mean finishing the whole thing in a year.  Thanks for that piece of info!

Me (to the whole group): What if you miss a day or two?  Should you feel bad about that? 

Tiny 7th Grade Girl: No! Because really, it's not 4 chapters. It's 3.5.  So, if you miss a day or two, you'll still finish the Bible in a year.

(Which is NOT what I was getting at, of course!)

Me: Oh!  So, if you go ahead and try to read 4 chapters a day, but then you miss a few days, you'll still finish the Bible in a year?

Tiny 7th Grade Girl: Yes

Me: Got it. Good to know! Thank you!

7th Grade Girl: Actually...

Me: What?

Tiny 7th grade girl: Well, actually........it's 3.2, but I really don't like rounding down.

Me: (cracking up) Are you a statistician?  A mathematician?

Oh my goodness.  Both groups (of about 30 each) were so cute.  The 7th grade twins' mom was in the back of the room. They approached me afterward to thank me for the session and one of her 7th grade daughters gave me a hug and told me how much she LOVED learning about the Bible in our time together.

Pretty sure I loved the time more.

3.2 chapters, friends.  I think we can all manage that. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Lunch With Lars: Root Beer Marinated Steak Tips & Holy Moments

The lunch date was July 15, so it's been a little over six months now.  We were at our annual youth camp, held every year at Gordon College, and just a hop, skip, and a jump from Lars and Elisabeth's home in Magnolia, MA. Elisabeth had passed away in June, we'd been to the memorial and graveside services, and even spoken with Lars there (he all but begged us to come over to the seminary and help them eat some of the 500 chocolate chip cookies he'd asked a local friend to make), but I really wanted to see him again and see how he was doing. I also wanted him to know that our friendship over the last 15 or so years wasn't just about Elisabeth.

So, I called him from camp.  The line was busy. A few minutes later I called again. Busy. I waited a while longer and called again.  He answered.  He asked if I'd been trying to call earlier, and I said that I had been.  He explained that he'd been on the phone ever since he'd gotten up that morning, and could he get dressed and eat some breakfast and call me back? I said "Of course!"

Lars ALWAYS does what he says he is going to do. If you call him, he will always call you back.  If you write him, you WILL get a handwritten note in return.  It might be in a few days or it might be few months, but a response is a guarantee with Lars. And not only that, but the response will be a specific response.  He will remember why you called and follow up with that, or he will address something specific in his written correspondence. Last week this came:

He had received our Christmas card, read the accompanying letter, related to Cooper's work on a golf course, and shared something from his own youth and experience with golfing. How nice. Really. In this age of technology and efficiency and urgency, I love picturing Lars sitting down with our letter, reading it thoughtfully, and then taking the time to write back in his own hand and from his own life experiences. Truly a treasure to me, and something I aspire to. It communicates true care, concern, and Christian love.

Lars called back several hours later. I told him we were at Gordon College for the week and would love to come by and take him out for lunch sometime. He said he would be available on Wednesday and asked Kea (the lovely live-in caregiver to Elisabeth) for some restaurant suggestions. Kea had told him that she and her dad had been to Cala's in Manchester-by-the-Sea and that they have Root Beer Marinated Steak Tips on the menu. That sounded quite delicious to Lars, and so we decided that Cala's it was.

We met Lars there, and were offered a table near the back of the restaurant. There was a bar in the center of the restaurant and unfortunately, even though it was fairly empty, it was pretty loud.  At one point, Lars requested that they turn the music down.  The waiter agreed to that request, but we still had to talk pretty loudly in order to communicate.

We looked at the menu and quickly found the Root Beer Marinated Steak Tips.  Robert decided to order them, but Lars went for the Chicken Caesar Salad.  When we acted surprised that he turned down the steak tips, he said he was sure Robert would not be able to eat all of his and would be happy to help him finish them off ~ ha! 

Over lunch we asked Lars about how he had proposed to Elisabeth, and he happily and hilariously recounted how she made him move out of her house as soon as she sensed a romantic connection and how that made him mad.  (He had been a boarder there.) He told us about how he was still at the house every day painting something or fixing something. He explained how Elisabeth would spend summers writing on Cape Cod and how he had proposed in a letter during one of those summers while she was away. "I'd like to have you for a wife," was the horrific way (his description) he had put it. "I don't recommend that approach," he said dryly. She did not respond to that letter right away, which also made him a bit angry.

She wasn't necessarily playing hard to get. Rather, she was concerned about the "scandal" of getting married a third time.  The very idea lacked propriety in her mind. But Lars was not easily deterred, and she eventually gave in.

(There is a MUCH better rendering of this story by Lars and Elisabeth themselves which you can find here! Worth every minute to listen! Lars had a copy of this in his pocket on CD and gave it to us at lunch.  We listened to it on the way home from camp and couldn't believe we'd gotten the story from him at lunch and then again on the way home.  That's the other thing about Lars - he always has a book or recording of Elisabeth's to pass along to you.) 

Lunch was filled with catching up on the Krum kids and what Lars had done before (a hospital chaplain) he became Elisabeth's book manager. When we finally asked how he had been doing since Elisabeth's passing, it seemed to dawn on all of us at the same time.  It was one month to the day.  An anniversary.  He had lost her on June 15 and it was now July 15. There were tears (his and ours) as he recounted the night and early morning of Elisabeth's home-going, and we knew it was a holy moment. A true privilege to have a glimpse into both the love of a husband for a wife and the raw pain of losing a spouse.

I had made him a card with pictures from our past lunches together, my visit to their home two summers ago, and some quotes, verses, and lyrics from the memorial service.  Here's what the front looked like:

And the inside:

I re-read Passion and Purity on the days leading up to the funeral, and was tickled to find what she had written in the preface.  If you can't read it from the bottom of the above photo, here's what it says:

"In the providence of God, I have had three chances to reflect on and try to practice the principles I write about here.  I have been married three times: to Jim Elliot, killed by Indians in the Ecuadorian Jungle; to Addison Leitch, killed by cancer; and to Lars Gren, who is feeling fine on the day I'm writing this.  Lars has lasted nearly six years which is longer than either Jim or Add, so he says he is the 'front runner.' May he outrun me!"

I shared this with Lars after the graveside service and he cried.  He had outrun her, but he was grieving that reality. They were married for 37 years in all, I believe.

On the back of the card I wrote this under a picture of our family:

Dear Lars, Thank you for loving Elisabeth, and thereby Christ and His church so well. 
Love, Melanie and Robert

The family photo overshadowed some of the words, so I decided to read it out loud to him. This brought more tears. For a moment, it felt wrong to ask questions and share sentiments that made him cry.  I felt bad about that. I really don't think he minded, though, and I don't think I would have either. I think I'd much rather people delve into authentic conversation if I'm suffering a loss or facing a trial, than try and keep things unrealistically happy or not bring up the obvious out of fear or discomfort. I think I would be comforted by their interest as well as their shared memories. It seemed that he was grateful for the encouragement, even if it contained moments of grief.

Lars was getting down to the final bites of his Caesar salad, and so I motioned to Robert to be sure and leave him a couple of steak tips. He did, and Lars was more than happy to help Robert clean his plate.  They both agreed that it would have been nice to taste a bit more of that root beer marinade.

Deep pain, hearty laughter, great loss, treasured memories, loud music, and root beer marinade. The ordinary and the extraordinary.  All of it sacred though. All of it holy. I couldn't help thinking that this is what life is all about ~ especially life in Christ who uses it all to His glory and to our good. Participating in these moments together as believers.  I came away understanding better how to love and how to grieve and how to look to Christ in all of it ~ resting in Him, trusting Him. And oh, how I long for these examples and experiences! I often feel so ill-equipped for life in general, and so to have this older, godly man share his frailty and as well as his strength was a great source of grace and equipping to me.

I regret to tell you that it wasn't until we said our goodbyes and began driving back toward Gordon College that I realized I had forgotten to take a picture.  I hardly ever forget to take a picture in case you hadn't noticed, and so I wanted to turn around and track him down in order to capture the moment. But then it occurred to me: the moment was not to be captured on film or by pixels. It was a moment to ponder, not visually, but in the heart and mind.

And that's sort of been a theme the Lord keeps bringing up in my life: the need to ponder, to reflect, to remember.  I'm always moving on to next things at the speed of light, and consequently I often miss the message, take for granted the answered prayers, have to re-learn the lessons. I don't want to do that anymore. That the Lord took my thoughts off the phone and camera and kept them swept up in the holy moments with Lars was good for me. Writing it all out here is good for me, and maybe for you, too.

So, there's no photographic evidence, but I'm hopeful that there's some heart evidence from the time spent with Lars over salad and steak tips. I am so grateful for those moments and look forward to many more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Catching Up On 2015

Hello from Hondo, TX. We've just spent a busy two weeks in Texas seeing family and friends, shopping for, wrapping, and opening Christmas gifts, eating lots of food, drinking lots of iced coffee and enjoying the local sights and the warm weather. (More on that below.)

It's been SO long since I've written anything here, so I thought I'd spend this lazy (finally!) afternoon and evening sitting under a blanket on the couch at my in-laws house "watching" the Baylor Bowl Game (we're winning so far!) and trying to remember ALL of the things that happened in the second half of this year. (Not that I wrote much about the first half!)

The last thing I really wrote about was Owen going to school and before that it was the upcoming Taylor Swift concert.  That was July and August, but I'm going to back up just a bit to document some of the special things that happened over that past 8 months or so. So, here goes...

The month of May always involves baptisms at Puffers Pond.  Those are my favorite days of our church year. This May we also traveled to Texas to celebrate Robert's parent's 50th Anniversary. We marked the day by going out to eat at their favorite nacho (yes, nachos!) restaurant near Hondo and having all of the cousins (except for Kory) together. Fun time!

Back home in MA, Kory came home for a few short weeks and we were able to celebrate Father's Day in Portsmouth, NH and Ogunquit, ME. (It was a bit cold and windy for our beach day...)
 And we also got to celebrate his 20th birthday. I had a hard time with him turning 10. Can't believe this happened.
Just before Kory's birthday, a friend and hero of mine passed away. Kory actually texted me while I was at the grocery store on June 15th to let me know it happened. Robert, Kayla and I traveled to Gordon College for Elisabeth's funeral.
 We participated in the memorial service as well as the graveside even though it was pouring down rain.  Elisabeth was buried next to her second husband, Addison.  It was a beautiful celebration of her life. We spoke with Lars at the graveside service and he got choked up a bit.  I was so thankful to have been able to attend. We took Lars to lunch a month later.  I promised to write about it before, and I will. Soon.  It was a meaningful and memorable time.
 I took a summer seminary class: Ethics.  It about killed me, and I have since sworn off summer courses, at least until all children are out of the nest. I absolutely loved what I learned, but 1000 pages of reading and almost that many pages of notes as well as a 15 page research paper in ten short weeks is just too much for this mom.
 Kory left at the end of June to be a counselor at Pine Cove. Khakis and a belt were the required "Welcome Campers!" attire.
He spent nearly the entire time 40 feet up in the air sending campers down the zip line and coaching them through the high elements ropes course and loved every minute of it.
 July had us spending our usual week at youth camp as well.  Robert was camp pastor and Kayla and Cooper were campers. (Coop's last year!) I enjoyed leading the female chaperones in Bible study each morning. (Really, all we did was chat and eat chocolate, but don't tell Allyson C.) The theme was "Deeper" and the sermons were all on Jonah.
 Then, after MONTHS of waiting, the Taylor Swift concert finally arrived at Gillette  Stadium.  We had quite the ticket snafu, and many Craiglist adventures, but it all got worked out in the end.
 I'll never park in the main lots at Gillette stadium again, as we sat in a parked car from 12am - 2am after the concert, and finally arrived home at 4am, but the show was incredible, and it was all worth the effort.
 And then this girl turned FIFTEEN! And got a Polaroid camera to add to her collection of vintage items. And grew about 15 inches, too!
 In August Robert and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary with a trip to Boston. We took a sunset harbor cruise which I'd been wanting to do for a while.  It was a gorgeous evening!
 We went for runs in the city, ate at our favorite breakfast restaurant (The Paramount), walked in the Common and took a deep breath for the first time all summer.
 Speaking of Boston, in a semi-crazy turn of events, one of my dearest friends from Oklahoma (Karla) took a job in the city and moved to the area. Kayla and I spent a day helping unload the moving van and running errands with her.  Can hardly believe we now live in the same state again!
 Betsy is another dear friend whom I met immediately upong moving to MA over 16 years ago.  Our kids have grown up together and this summer her daughter Brittany got married. Robert was honored to be able to do her wedding and we loved being a part of this milestone.  It was so wonderful, but so emotional!  Betsy is my first close friend to have a child get married. I took lots of mental notes, because she handled it all so graciously.
 Typical trip to Ogunquit, ME in August.  It was nice and warm.  We ran, stopped at the local juice bar, lay on the beach, read books, and soaked in the sunshine.
 Kayla and I started back with Classical Conversations in August after taking a year off. I'm tutoring this fun group of teens this year. Thankful for such wonderful peers for Kayla to "do school" with.
 August and September were pretty crazy. I went to TX after my first Tuesday of teaching to move Kory into his first off-campus home. It was a herculean effort by my dad, my sister, niece, and some wonderful friends in Georgetown (THANK YOU, HARGROVES!). Lots of driving, even more shopping, and tons of time assembling of new furniture.
 I am definitely late to the Fixer Upper fan club, but I managed a trip to Magnolia Market (before seeing an episode) in order to pick up a gift for a friend and mega fan back in MA.  Just so you know, the starting price for all things here is $38.  Tin pail = $38. T-shirt = $38. Candle = $38. Be forewarned. It is a delightful shop, though, and I'm doing my best to catch up on the Gaines' family adventures now. (Just followed them on Instagram today, thanks to a tag from my sis.)
 Said a quick goodbye to Kory at Baylor's truly incredible and brand new business school. Kory was a Welcome Week leader, so he was not available for a lot of the shopping and moving in, but we got in some Mexican food with Grandad and a trip to the health center on campus, because 6 weeks of camp counseling ran him down with a cough he could not kick. This is one busy, all-out  kid.
 Another wedding in August!  Renee and Fady's on Cape Cod and one of the most incredible weddings we've been a part of. These two are so special and we thoroughly enjoyed the Egyptian customs - and dancing. So super-fun!
Home long enough to do another wedding and teach another couple of weeks and then it was time to say goodbye to Coop.  Robert gave him a proper send off at church...
 ...and then in early September we were off to sunny California!

 Cooper has his own room at my brother and sister-in-law's house for his gap year in SoCal, but I'm pretty sure he gets frequent visits from this little guy ~ his two-year-old cousin, Uriah. We spent a week in Cali getting Coop all settled in and enjoyed a visit to California Baptist, which is one school to which Coop deferred enrollment until the fall of 2016.  Not sure where he'll end up next fall, but he really liked this campus - especially the dining hall! Coop spent the first 6-8 weeks in California (La Quinta, near Palm Springs) working on the maintenance crew at the golf course where my brother is Superintendent, but now he's parking Porches, Bentleys, and Rolls Royces, washing up golf clubs, and driving the golf ball picker on the driving range. (And texting us pictures of his large tips.)
 A few weeks later, I ran the Boston Half Marathon. Remember the Bible study for chaperones I led at youth camp (i.e. eating chocolate and chatting)? Well, registration for this half marathon happened at the same time I was supposed to be teaching. Thanks to Sarah Moylan's (Owen's mom and one of our chaperones) fast fingers on the laptop and a miraculous lottery pick, I got a spot in this race that fills up as fast as Taylor Swift tickets sell out on Ticketmaster.

 It was a beautiful October day, and I ran my best time ever ~ could hardly believe it, and definitely started to drag around mile ten. Yikes. My friend Karla (the newest Bostonian) came and cheered me on and then took me out for a big breakfast afterward.

A couple of weeks later I went to Texas for a third time in one year...
 This time it was for Baylor's Homecoming game.  It also happened to be Robert's and my dad's birthday weekend. We had yet to go to a Baylor football game, and this seemed like the perfect year for it and on the perfect weekend.
 The only problem was that it POURED all weekend. We bought ponchos to walk to the game and still got pretty drenched.  Thankfully our seats were under the covered portion of the stadium and so we stayed dry throughout the game which was not the case for most of the fans.
 Kory stayed very dry, since he has the incredibly difficult job of viewing the game from the press box and hand-delivering stats a couple of times during the game. He actually gets paid for that.
 One of the highlights of our fall semester at church has been this group. We decided to do a co-ed Boot Camp discipleship small group this time around at our house over lunch on Sundays after church. I know some of you have thought we were crazy for this, but it really did my heart good, as they say.  First of all, I love hosting Sunday lunch, and then to have a group of young men and women eager to study the doctrines of the faith each week was such a delight.
 September and October brought lots more algebra II, and British literature, and microscope observation, and DNA extractions ~ from strawberries.
 And our first trip to the Big E ~ complete with strange male photo bombers.
Unbeknownst to Kory, his awesome Baylor friends secretly worked together to raise money and buy him a plane ticket home for Thanksgiving.  They gave him his ticket two days before the trip and we so enjoyed having him home for that week.
 Kayla hosted her 8th annual Christmas tea party mid-December! So fun doing this year after year, and none of the girls ever tire of making "gingerbread" houses.
 December also brings a second round of baptisms. This is Rayna who is also a part of our Sunday Boot Camp.  She has an incredible story of redemption "against all odds" as became our way of talking about it. It's too long a story to share here, but I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this incredible 19 year old. Wow.  God is so good.
Soon after the December baptisms, and the end of my 5th seminary class (Hermeneutics) and another 15 page research paper, we flew to Texas for the last time this year. Right of the bat, Kayla went with Kory to Pine Cove (where he worked this summer) for a Winterfest teen retreat. She was reluctant about going, but ended up having a great time and conquering her fear of heights by doing the high ropes course and zip line.

 We spent an evening on the San Antonio Riverwalk with dear friends, Jack and Kelly. It was the PERFECT evening.  We ate outside at Casa Rio (of course) and then took the river cruise to see all of the Christmas lights.
 A few days later it was a trip to Fredericksburg and a hike up Enchanted Rock.  It happened to be 80 degrees that day, and even Grandad made the hike to the summit in no time at all!

On Christmas Eve we ate an early dinner at El Jarro's back in San Antonio and then attended my dad's church for their candlelight service. After that we made little stop at Starbucks and took this photo. It's been great to have my sister Melinda and her boyfriend, Brent in town from Denver. Brent is certainly getting full exposure to the Rowland family!
And that brings me back to the couch at my in-laws house. Baylor won the bowl game and now we're on to the Texas Tech game and the UT Vs. UConn basketball game which my dad, sister Melinda and boyfriend Brent are at.  I just got a text from my dad saying it is a good game so far. It was a Christmas gift for him.

It was such a full year, and I didn't think they could get any fuller. I didn't even tell you about the PURE women's conference I went to in New Jersey in November (because Paige Benton Brown was speaking!) or the Fusion Student conference on Cape Cod where I got to speak to the young women about embracing their femininity "fearlessly," or the Simply Beautiful Conference that I took Kayla and friends to last month. And I certainly didn't mention any of the hard things.  There were lots of those, but I'm learning to be grateful for the lessons and the growth in those circumstances.

I've said it plenty of times before, but if you are still reading this ~ thank you. Thanks for caring and for praying and for loving us and being a friend.

I love that Christmas is a week before the beginning of the new year. I kept marveling at the Incarnation this Advent season.  The fact that Christ came down and entered my world and even my own heart gives me renewed hope and strength to welcome 2016 and all that it will bring.

And being a better blogger is not really one of my resolutions, but I do hope to keep up a little better. It's good for me, and I love the connecting with you!

Happy New Year!