Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tis the Season!

'Tis the season to celebrate, to rejoice, to feast, and so we have - thus the quietness on our blog for the last few weeks! But now, we'll post a few highlights of our Christmas celebrations that have taken place from December 3rd, through the present.

First off, was the Muligano Christmas gathering at our house shortly after arriving home from the Faith & Freedom Tour. No pics of this party, but we had my mom's local relatives (ie. her brother and his family) over for an afternoon and evening of fun and, of course, feasting. Telephone Charades brought many laughs throughout the evening...

Next was the Koeppen Family Christmas at our home where we had most of Dad's extended family here. We actually managed to get a picture with everyone in it (aside from my Dad's parents who had already left). The original is, of course, much clearer than this scanned in copy, but you get the idea!

Part of the fun of the evening was gingerbread house making, singing carols around the piano together, eating, catching up...

.. and the young cousins getting to know each other better!

Following that came the biggest celebration of the month. Our church's Christmas Celebration on December 17th.

Aside from earlier rehearsals and such, the event sort of started on the 16th, with a day of major cleaning, decorating and rehearsing at the American Legion Hall that our church rents as our meeting place. Oh, yes, and preparing the feast:

The guys really got into the cleaning...

Then came Sunday. Following our regular morning church service, we had a feast - Turkey, multiple potato dishes, cranberries, dressing, salads, sweet potatoes, breads...

And then, we gathered back together for the primarily musical celebration of Christ's birth. We started out with our chamber ensemble playing a selection of Christmas carols that the congregation joined in singing under the able direction of our very own Jonathan Erber.

Then came a series of ensembles:

a handful of piano solos and duets....

a hastily organized - but not too bad sounding - choir...

ah, yes - the bluegrass ensemble performing "Go Tell it on the Mountain"...

...a collection of our younger members sang "Silent Night" to the harp accompaniment of Raeanne Carlson,

A baroque recorder quartet played "Good Christian Men Rejoice," another piano duet, and then our chamber ensemble returned to play some excerpts from Handel's "Messiah" We did hand scores out to the congregation... maybe in future years we'll be able to do it! :-)

We did also have soloists come up to sing a couple of the pieces - "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion" and "Come Unto Him" (the soprano half of "He Shall Feed His Flock").

Our chamber orchestra/ensemble was made up of a fine group of musicians -
4 violins, 3 cellos, a flute (actually two flutes that took turns), and Dustin Webb ably contributed piano, harpsichord or organ as needed!

Thanks to all who participated in making this a great event (including the cleaning/decorating crews!). While it was a first endeavor of the sort, there was certainly a lot of talent contributed, and we look forward to seeing how God will use the gifts He has placed in our church in the coming years. It was certainly one of the most joyful and beautiful celebrations of the year! Praise God for giving us such a wonderful season to rejoice in together! Glory to God in the highest!

Ah, then a few days later came our annual highlight: LaSalle Bank's Do It Yourself Messiah in Chicago! Our group numbered around 70 this year and we again got a whole train car reserved to ourselves. Friends came from north, south, east, and west to join us as we traveled the hour and a half train ride into Chicago. We caught up with friends we hadn't seen in a while, and got to enjoy those we see frequently as well.

Our train was delayed during the course of the trip and so we arrived at the Opera House after the doors were already opened! That was a first for us and we've been attending since the late 1990's - (we can't determine which was our first year, but I'm thinking it was '99). Amazingly, the crowd was considerably sparser than last year and we ended up with seats for us all within the front few rows of our respective sections. Partly, that was due to the fact that most people stopped when the saw "reserved" signs on a few rows of chairs and sat behind them - not realizing that there were about 10 rows in front of the "reserved" seats that were not reserved!

As always, the concert was amazing - singing through that much heavy theology with three thousand people in Chicago's Opera House is quite the experience! Each year my prayer is that "the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped." Old Testament prophecies interwoven with New Testament fulfillments, covering the sinful state of man as we walked in darkness, to the promise of a Savior, His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and triumph over the kingdoms of this world, the work of the church in carrying out His commands, the comfort and hope that we have in Him and His promises, and then ending with "Worthy Is the Lamb" and the several minutes of "Amens" - and all of it set to appropriate and incredible music that so well expressed the emotions and message of the words... How can it not be a highlight of the year to have the opportunity to sing such an incredible and inspired masterpiece?

This picture was taken from where we did not sit... the top balcony!

For some of us, one night of it was not enough, and having obtained tickets for Friday evening... we went again!! Which made Saturday slower for some of us, but we still managed to get all the necessary food preparations done! Sunday was church, and our Christmas Eve with Grandpa, Grandma, Aunt Jill and Uncle Don as posted about earlier. Monday was Christmas Day at our house with Jeanine & Jeremy coming over with their spouses and children for our Christmas Feast - and an afternoon and evening of giving and rejoicing! Truly a wonderful time of the year to remember the most wonderful event in world history: The incarnation and birth of Christ. Hallelujah!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve at Aunt Jill's House

This was the first year that Aunt Jill and Uncle Don hosted our family Christmas Eve celebration and it was fun and yummy!! It was a first Christmas for "the boys" (Winston & William) and although a second and third Christmas for "the girls" (Caroline & Corrine) it was the first one that they were really able to engage in the festivities to any degree! Smiles were everywhere throughout the afternoon and evening - and you can probably guess whose were our favorites to capture! Thanks to "UD & AJ" for a wonderful and memorable day!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


O'Hare International Airport is a busy place. Like any airport, it is filled by throngs of families, business men, tourists, security agents, and airline employees. Not only are the people and purposes for traveling varied, but so are the emotions one witnesses in the partings, greetings, hurryings and waitings.

Having grown up very close to O'Hare airport, I have been there fairly frequently - picking up, or dropping off, friends, family, conference speakers, guests, or even just going to the gate to visit with out of state friends during their layover in Chicago (pre-2001, of course). It was at O'Hare that I boarded an airplane and experienced flying for the first time 10 years ago.

But in all my visits to O'Hare, I've never been to the International Terminal until yesterday. And of all my visits to O'Hare, yesterdays visit will be one of the most warmly remembered.

For the last two years the Strand family, friends and fellow laborers at our church, has been "in process" of adopting children from Liberia. Obstacle after unusual obstacle has cluttered their path down to the very last hour. But, God is bigger than the most trying circumstances and when all deadlines were past and it most looked like they would be unable to be united with their children before 2007, last Friday afternoon they received a phone call informing them that God had worked on their behalf and their children would arrive at O'Hare International Airport just after 1:00 pm on Monday, December 18th.

Shortly after 1:00pm yesterday, our family, Jeanine and her children, the Strands, and Mr. Strand's brother's family, stood in the international terminal waiting and watching for those three precious little ones.

The flight from Liberia was via Brussels, Belgium, and the flight from Brussels to Chicago was delayed slightly, but our eyes were glued to the screen until at last it changed to reflect the news we were waiting to see:

Then the waiting began. For over two hours we stood waiting, all eyes glued to those glass doors where we could first see them coming.

Part of the time we whiled away talking with a family from New Jersey whose adopted daughter would be with the Strand children on the flight from Brussels. They had adopted her older brother two weeks ago, but the little girl's paper work had been delayed and they were just now able to have her join them.

Finally, the moment we had come for arrived.

The children - Eleanor, Erik and Maggie Strand - walked through those big glass doors towards their eagerly waiting parents and siblings.

The greetings of the families being united with their children brought tears to many eyes - including the eyes of others who, unrelated to any in our party, were in the terminal waiting for other flights to come in and came over to see what was going on and offer their congratulations and best wishes.

The children had been traveling for over 30 hours and were fairly tired, but were very sweet and patient through the introductions, and the final sorting of paperwork, backpacks and details.

The Strand family, with Patty Anglin (founder of the Acres of Hope adoption agency, and the one who escorted the Strand's children home from Liberia).

Finally, it was time to go home. Home, at last, for three of them!

Thank you, Strands, for inviting us to be a part of your very special day. Your faith, patience, and love throughout the adoption process have been an encouragement and example to us - and a reminder of the love of our Heavenly Father Who has adopted us to be His children. Someday we, too, will be able to go home, at last!

Mama and baby Maggie.

So glad to finally be a big brother!

Evin & Erik


Monday, December 18, 2006

A Special Christmas Celebration

Last week the Hill family invited Joanna to a Victorian Christmas Celebration which took place in a town not too far from here. Joanna had a wonderful time! It was so very cold outside, but the layers and layers she was wearing made it possible to be wrapped "simply in a shawl".

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Legacy Received

So, what of our quest? What treasure did we bring home with us from the 2006 Plymouth Faith & Freedom Tour? And, really, how valuable is it?

Those of you who were there will likely not be the ones asking that last question, but, in fact, you were part of the wealth we gained. Year after year, a significant highlight of these tours (and this was our 10th) is the opportunity to spend a week with delightful people from across the continent. We are truly enriched by the friendships that God has placed in our lives, and having a whole week set aside to spend with some of you all is an uncommon pleasure for which we are grateful. Not only is it just plain fun to be with them, but I never return home without having been greatly encouraged and challenged by the conversations had during the trip. On this trip, many of the attendees were "alumni" and already good friends, but there were a handful of "newbies" along, and thus not only did our current wealth become more precious, but new treasure was added as well.

In truth, if that were the only value we took home with us from the week, it would have certainly been well worth the trip. But during the course of the week we gained much more as well. Though many of the stories, many of the places, had been seen and heard by us before, one can lose nothing by hearing and seeing them again.

To learn of the men who have gone before us, who laid the foundation for the country we love today, to visit their homes, to walk down their streets, to stand on their battlefields, to hear their stories, to study their principles, to consider their ideals, to marvel at their accomplishments, to realize the obstacles they overcame, is inspiring. To see how so many of them, and so much that they did, has been forgotten today or misconstrued, is astonishing and grieving. So much wisdom can be gained from their experiences and their writings that it is truly far more than an academic exercise or "human interest" to study these men! Yes, it is indeed true wealth that can be found.

For me, however, to stand beside the graves of our national and spiritual forefathers is one of the most impacting parts of the tour. There the reality of their lives is once again pressed upon me. Standing beside a grave, honoring the man whose physical remains now lie there, I am reminded that someday I will lay likewise. Someday, my work will be over. Someday, I will join them in the rest to which they have gone. What impact will my life have? What legacy will I leave? When I pass on the mantle that they have left to me will it be improved or impoverished? Those who have gone before us have made such incredible sacrifices, weathered such awful storms, lost friends and position, born mountains of stress, made such difficult decisions - to give to us what they would never enjoy themselves. Who are we to complain? Who are we to be discouraged? And more - In light of what they did, what will we do? In light of their stance, how and where will we stand? Their devotion must inspire ours; their excellence, motivate us; their faith, encourage us; their principles, instruct us; their lives, their accomplishments, and their industry, must spur us on to dream and to do great things.

So often in the course of life, it is easy to get lost among the consequence of the everyday. The noise, the needs, the urgencies, the battles of the day crowd in around us and our vision becomes shortened, our enthusiasm sapped, our purpose forgotten. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the size of our calling and alone in the midst of it - or just plain ol' tired.

But, for one week in New England, the clouds were rolled back and we were given a glimpse of the great "cloud of witnesses" that surrounds us and has preceded us. They have fought their fight and have handed their sword to us. Now we carry on in the battle; the battle for the glory and honor of Christ and His kingdom. We must build upon what they built and invest what they bequeathed to us. Regardless of how big or small a part we are called to, regardless of whether our gravestone is engraved with a long and touching epitaph and frequented by tourists years from now, or forgotten in some small corner of the world, we are members of a glorious company of saints - some triumphant already, some yet to come. We must be faithful in walking the road that lies before us. We must remember. We must carry on.

We have been given much. May we be found faithful.


Our family would also like to offer our sincere thanks to Doug Phillips, his family, and the Vision Forum staff for all the work that they put into this, and every, Faith & Freedom Tour, and for making them the very special events that they always are. Your work and friendship mean so much to us. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Return to Plymouth...

Well, after "Day Two" of the Faith & Freedom Tour we sort of left our blog hanging there in Plymouth. Before we have to go too far back to remember it all, let's return to Plymouth now and finish up the trip:

Day Three
As the the third full day of our trip dawned, we realized that today would be the day for hats and umbrellas! A real New England "nor'easter" had blown in overnight. The rain poured down torrentially and the winds were incredibly strong. But the poor weather didn't succeed in dampening anyone's spirits that memorable Thanksgiving Day! Although it delayed our morning a little, our crowd was at Burial Hill at the end of Leyden Street on time for the event of the morning - witnessing the "Pilgrim's Progress."

The Pilgrim's Progress is an annual event where a number of Pilgrim reenactors march up Leyden Street and reenact an authentic Pilgrim worship service. In true Pilgrim spirit, they were not deterred by the storm.

Following the service, we headed indoors and enjoyed the hospitality of the Church of the Pilgrimage. They offered snacks, desserts, and drinks throughout the morning to all who came by. After a brief respite, we headed back out through the rain over to the Pilgrim Hall Museum.

This museum holds many artifacts of great significance to any student of American history, including many original pieces of furniture, dishes, books, and such, owned by the Pilgrims. They also have the original copy of the Pierce Patent (the document that gave the Pilgrims the legal right to the land they settled).

After browsing the museum and library and learning some about the historical research that they have done to confirm what we know today about the Pilgrims, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for our Thanksgiving dinner.

First thing to be done was to find dry clothes! BUT, some decided they weren't quite wet enough and enjoyed some time in the hotel pool before the dinner hour called them away. What a dinner it was! With southern tradition (Peanut Soup) at the beginning of the buffet, and classic New England (fresh cod in a lobster sauce) at the end, and a bountiful selection of breads, salads, and side dishes in between, and a separate table full of various meats, and another piled with desserts, we had much to give thanks over! The Potter family joined ours over dinner and we enjoyed pleasurable discourse during the meal.

After dinner Mr. Doug Phillips interspersed quotes from "Of Plymouth Plantation" by William Bradford, with comments and thanksgivings shared by others as the mic was passed around the room. Through the late afternoon hours and into the early evening, our dinner extended as we rejoiced together over the abundant blessings granted us by our Lord.

After dinner, our family and various others chose to soak ourselves once again, and stop in at the Thain family's open house. Their home carries historic import in Plimouth and they were gracious in inviting us all over! Although the structure has been rebuilt in comparatively recent years, their home marks the place where the Pilgrims and Wampanoags signed the peace treaty that stood for over 50 years! The story of their relationship over those 50 years is an incredible, but too often untold, tale in American History. (More on this topic can be learned from this resource.)

After visiting the Thains, it was time to get back to work! As we headed up to the "Food Room" we were joined by the 4 young men who comprise Vision Forum's 2006 Intern Class. With their assistance we worked to quickly prepare and pack the lunches for the following day. Thanks guys!

Day Four
The day following Thanksgiving Day we had something else for which to give thanks: during the night the storm blew past and the sun was out! It was a beautiful day to spend in Boston. Our first stop was the Massachusetts State House.

Led by Dr. Paul Jehle, we learned more of the early history of colonial America (specifically in Massachusetts) as we toured the state capitol building. In nearly every hall and chamber we found murals and statues with tales to tell and providences to recall. As we sat in the legislative chamber - in the actually seats in which the Massachusetts state representatives sit when in session - Dr. Jehle lectured on the establishment of the rule of law on America's shores.

It is difficult to describe what Dr. Jehle presented as a lecture, but for lack of a better word, we must. Five paintings cover the front wall of the legislative chamber representing five historic events that all - and especially lawmakers - would do well to keep in mind. We learned of Governor Winthrop's arrival with the Massachusetts charter, the just arrest of colonial Governor Andros, the repentance of Judge Sewall (of the Salem Witch trials), the writing of the Massachusetts constitution, and John Hancock proposing a Bill of Rights at the Constitutional Convention.

While in the Senate chamber we got to view this American treasure: the rifle used by Capt. John Parker during the skirmish on the Lexington Green - an event we would learn more of later during our visit.

In the State House's Nurses Hall, we were shown a few more murals and heard a condensed version of Dr. Jehle's presentation regarding five elements necessary to change a nation (which he delivered in Illinois last year during our Liberty Day celebration).

From the State House, we followed Boston's red brick "Freedom Trail" over to the Granary Burial Grounds and saw the graves of James Otis, Paul Revere, John Hancock, Sam Adams, and Ben Franklin's parents. Mr. Phillips gave us much to consider while we were there, as he built on Dr. Jehle's presentation and spoke further on how God used these men - and others - to influence the fate of the nation. Mr. Phillips also pointed out the incredible work that was done for the cause of independence from American pulpits, reminding us of King George III quote calling the American war for independence a "Presbyterian Parson's Rebellion." Not a bad title!

Here we split paths with the rest of the group for a few minutes. While Mr. Phillips and Mr. Potter led everyone over to the King's Chapel Burying Ground we headed back to the Boston Commons to get lunch ready to be served. For the record, the cemetery at King's Chapel is of note as the final resting place of the first Pilgrim to touch Plymouth Rock (Mary Chilton), as well as famous early Bostonians John Cotton, John Winthrop, and William Dawes (who made that famous midnight ride along with Paul Revere, though he got home free while Revere was captured by the British...). Also buried there is a British officer who died during the battle of Bunker Hill, James Abercrombie.

It was a beautiful day to picnic on the Boston Commons - a picturesque little place in the midst of a busy city.

Following lunch we boarded our buses once again and headed over to the waterfront to visit the USS Constitution!

This famous old boat is still under active commission of the US Navy, and thus it is maintained, and the tours are led by, Navy personnel. We enjoyed a portion of the afternoon standing in line chatting with those around us as we waited to pass through the security area to board the boat. Once on board, we made it in time for the final guided tour of the afternoon.

A visit to the USS Constitution Museum finished the day for our family as we parted ways with the rest of our tour group in order to do some shopping for the remaining meals of our trip. The rest of everyone lingered at the museum and then headed out to restaurants in the area of historic Fanueil Hall.

Our day ended peacefully after our shopping was done, by taking care of some of the food preparation for the following day. Those back in Boston boarded the buses late in the evening to head back to the hotel in Plymouth, but their arrival was delayed by their witnessing a near-fatal car accident. But that is a tale for others to tell as they were there and we were not!

Day Five
Ah, this day we will attempt to summarize quickly as we somehow managed to leave our camera back in our hotel room. Alas for faithful documentation of our adventure! The morning began back in Plymouth on Burial Hill, picking up on what the rain canceled for us on Thanksgiving Day. We spent our whole morning there listening to more stories about the Pilgrims, learning more of the vision, more of their theology, more on their perspective of life, death, and the resurrection, more of who they were and what they did. Much indeed, can be learned reading the eulogies, the epitaphs, they left for us on the gravestones of their loved ones.

Upon boarding the buses, we served everyone their lunches (remember, that detail is important to us, while it may seem irrelevant to others!), and then headed back north to spend the rest of the day in Boston. Arriving in Boston's north side, we disembarked and breaking into three smaller groups set out to explore the wealth of the area. Much was found as - once again following the red brick Freedom Trail - we walked through Paul Revere's small home, the famous Old North Church (where were hung the lanterns of Revere's famous ride), and the Copps Hill Burying Ground. The Bunker Hill Monument was closed, and thus we learned about that engagement from the standpoint of Copps Hill - which in itself was a neat historical experience as on June 17, 1775 Abigail Adams and her son, John Q. Adams, stood on Copps Hill to watch the battle of Bunker Hill as it took place!

(Josh both recorded all the lectures, and faithfully carried around the speaker to broadcast whatever our guide was saying at a volume that all 165 of us could hear.)

Copps Hill is also the place where the Mather family is buried. Called by George Washington, "The true spiritual founding fathers of America," the Mathers today are largely forgotten, misunderstood, or misrepresented. On Copps Hill we learned of the impact of Puritanism on early America and the truth of the Mather legacy. We learned of their incredible contributions to Christian society - theologically, practically, philosophically, politically, medically and scientifically - for Richard, Increase, and Cotton Mather were men of diverse talents and interests!

By the time our touring was done for the day, Boston's "Little Italy" beckoned us to stay for dinner. And we did. Mr. Turley had made reservations at a certain restaurant in the area and invited us to join their crowd. We did, and soon found ourselves seated in a quiet room at the restaurant, which did not stay quiet long as in addition to our family and the Turleys, there were also the Zeses, the Weathers, and the Harts in our party! For the next couple of hours we enjoyed food, fellowship and the simple pleasure of sitting down, before returning to our buses for the ride back to Plymouth.

Day Six
Sunday, the Lord's Day. Our morning began as we gathered in the Hotel's "Mayflower" room for a Sabbath service: hymns of praise, prayers, scriptures, and a sermon. Following the church meeting, we walked a few blocks over to our only stop of the day: The Forefather's Monument.

Due to lack of funds, the monument is only half the size that was intended, but it is nonetheless an impressive and significant monument. The main figure is a statue of "Faith." Supporting it are the four smaller figures of Morality, Law, Education, and Liberty. Each of those four smaller figures are in turn supported by other statuettes, engravings, and quotes. The symbolism incorporated into even the tiniest details of each figure was carefully noted by the architect and was explained to us by Dr. Jehle.

The remainder of the day was spent in rest, fellowship, and - well, yes - food preparation for the following day!

Day Last
The final morning of our New England excursion woke us as our anticipation for what the day held mingled with regret that this was our last day together. But we still had that one day to enjoy, and enjoy it we did.

Monday morning saw us setting foot on the historic Lexington Green.

Now here, friends, is an exciting place to stand. The town square, the green, still remains much as it was back in April of 1775. The changes are few. The church that stood at one end burnt down and upon its now empty lot stands a monument to the church leaders who inspired the men of their town to stand for what was right.

As they did then, so also now, houses face the town green - and one can easily imagine the scenes of that day: The wives and children in their homes, yet watching the small group of loved ones out on that green as the dawn broke and the redcoats arrived, the thick silence that must have pressed upon them all during those few short moments, the shouts of the British officer, the lone musket fired, the echoing shots that followed, the fatally wounded Jonathan Harrington dragging himself to his doorstep to die in the arms of his wife, the minutemen dispersing for the moment and hastening to Concord...

Courage, resolve, faithfulness.
Duty, principle, truth.

As Mr. Potter told us about the short engagement of the Lexington men with the British regulars, he called up about 40 of the young patriots amongst us to stand and recreate the line which the patriots of old had formed to greet the lobsterbacks. He then sent one young man out forty paces to stand where the redcoated soldiery had formed their line and fired.

After eating lunch (chicken salad on croissants) on the Lexington Green, we followed the day's battle to the bridge at Concord. Here was the site of the major altercation of that day in April of 1775. The minutemen defending their homes, ammunition, and principles from the abuse of the tories. Here is the site memorialized in Emerson's Concord Hymn.

"By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard round the world."

Of course, we know the story - after the battle at the bridge, the minutemen chased those tyrant tories back to Boston, shooting at them from behind stonewalls...

But we couldn't spend all day there! By mid-afternoon we were shooed back to the buses and taken to our final stop of the week. Harvard University.

Harvard University may sound like an odd place to stop on a Vision Forum Faith & Freedom Tour, but as it is the oldest college in America, it has been around awhile and has some history and lessons of its own to share.

Mr. Botkin, Mr. Potter, and Mr. Phillips shared with us both the Christian history of the college - it was established as a place of learning and evangelism for the native population - and how it got to where it is today.

And then the 2006 New England Faith & Freedom Tour was over. Well, almost. We still have the closing dinner!

We always like to extend our visits as long as possible and a meal together is a good way to do that.

Over dinner we enjoyed our final hours of fellowship and an inspiring recap of the week - plus, of course, a slide show of pictures from our time together!

After dinner, came the traditional signature gathering as various of the young people passed papers, catalogs, and notebooks around collecting as many autographs of their fellow tourers as possible.

As a number of us were still loathe to part, and not quite tired enough as it was, we stayed up until well past 2:00am enjoying games and chatter on the fourth floor lobby.

And, that, dear friends (those of you who made it thus far), is a faithful recounting of what we did during our New England Adventure... But what of our quest? Did we find the priceless treasure we sought, that legacy we wished to pass on? Aye, friends, we did. But time does not permit me to reveal much of that story to you at present. However, time will be made, and hopefully our next post will tell that tale.