Saturday, June 30, 2007

The end of the beginning of the beginning

The beginning to the beginning of our seminary adventure has ended! Thank God for a blessed trip! We've arrived! 2,100 miles, 7 pit-stop cities along the way, a trip to Disneyland and the Grand Canyon, 10 days on the road, and a partridge in a pear tree, we made it to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis earlier this afternoon.

Our first item of business in town? Don (our Pastor-to-be) enjoyed a Cardinal Sin.

Well, actually "Cardinal Sin" is the name of a milkshake made by Ted Drewes, St. Louis' world-famous custard stand. The "Cardinal Sin" is frozen vanilla custard with hot fudge and lots of tart cherries mixed in. Yum! Our visit to Ted Drewes fulfilled a promise to a good Bakersfield friend of ours who gave us a send-off gift with one string attached: that we use a portion of the gift for a visit to Ted Drewes! (You know who you are...thank you! Wish you could have been there with us to enjoy it with us!)

Hannah also enjoyed her very first ice cream (well, frozen custard) cone at Ted Drewes!

We are staying in the on-campus dorms tonight and tomorrow, and will move in to our new apartment (pictured below) on Monday. Don's mom, "Grammies," and his eldest brother, "Uncle Dan," are due to join us to help move-in and enjoy the sights over the 4th of July here in this wonderful city.

Our apartment building, which we'll move in to on Monday.

Thank you for your continued love, prayers, and support. We know God blessed and strengthened us on our cross-country journey because of your prayers. You are a blessing to us. Feel free to call, email, write, and pray as God leads you.

We love you,
DR, SR, HR, & ER

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Show-Me State

The good news? We made it to Missouri! The bad news? Apparently the state is now closed. :-)

We're in Springfield, Missouri and it feels great to be almost done traveling. We arrived at about 3:00 this afternoon and will head out on our final leg tomorrow morning. Tonight, we're just relaxing in the hotel after doing some laundry, checking out the hotel pool, and walking next door to Ruby Tuesday's for dinner. The girls are both asleep and Don is headed that way fast.

Yesterday we went to the Omniplex in Oklahoma City, as Don mentioned in an earlier post. We had fun - for the most part. There were a lot of neat exhibits and fun things to do. However, all the traveling is catching up to our Hannah-boo and she was not very fun. She had several melt-downs and the visit just wasn't what we envisioned it to be. One fun thing we did do, was to try building an arch like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. We were successful!

There's a section of the Omniplex called "Gadget Trees." It's essentially a playground area with a teeter-totter, a tree house called "Newton's Clubhouse" and a 2-story tall structure called "Archimedes' Tower." Kids were using a pulley system to haul soft foam balls up to the top of the "tower" and other kids were retrieving them and using a small catapult to launch the balls off the top and down into a board with holes cut out of it (like a bean bag toss on steroids). Hannah wanted to throw some of the balls, so she and I began the trek up to the top of the tower. We wound around and around climbing stairs and finally reached the top. We waited in line and finally got our hands around some of the balls coming up in the buckets. I tried to lift her up to reach the catapult and she freaked out. She wanted to go back down and throw the balls from there. At that point, I just laughed and laughed. We had gone all the way up to the top to get balls when all she wanted was just to grab one another kid threw, stand next to the board, and throw balls in from there. Life is so much simpler when you're three! So we got two balls and rode a very long, very twisty slide down. I almost got stuck and got a friction burn on my knee and elbow for my trouble. But Hannah was happy to chase after foam balls and throw them in the holes. The things we do for our kids!

Later, she said her favorite part was the slide, so that was good. She also enjoyed running around aimlessly on some gymnastic mats, painting her face with crayons, and playing with a sound machine that used foam spheres (like from a bean bag chair) to make sound waves visible (very cool machine).

Don wanted me to be sure and mention how pretty it is out here. Everything is so green and while we were driving, all we could see was rolling green hills and tons of trees.
Don says that this is some of his favorite scenery and he really enjoyed the drive. Most likely, tomorrow will be more of the same. About 210 miles to go - and then we'll never feel like getting in the car again.

Two good things to look forward to this week - the rain is supposed to stop for Monday through Wednesday (so our prime moving-in days will be dry) and Grammies (Don's mom) and maybe "Uncle Dan" (Don's oldest brother) will be here from Monday through Friday. It will be great to see them, have some help with the girls and the unpacking, and get to show them around St. Louis. If it's not raining we'll probably head to the waterfront (the Mississippi River near the Arch) for the 4th of July festivities and fireworks. Bonus: the 4th of July is Hannah's baptism birthday and also Elizabeth's 3-month birthday. How time does fly!

We miss everyone and thank you for all your prayers - our trip has been surprisingly smooth and uneventful. God's blessings to all our loved ones - we couldn't do this without your support.

With love,
--Stacye, Don, Hannah, & Elizabeth

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

We're "OK"

We've arrived safely in Oklahoma City, OK! We left Amarillo, TX this morning and expected to arrive in OKC in the midst of a downpour (some sections of the outlying areas around OKC have been flooded). But apart from a few storm cells here and there along I-40, it was a beautiful day!

We checked in to our (intended) hotel just south of downtown, but Don decided to check us out faster than you can say "bad neighborhood." Yikes. Unfortunately, booking hotels in advance on the Internet doesn't allow you to experience them firsthand until you arrive. And we only allowed ourselves to "experience" this one for about 10 minutes. Thankfully, we found a much nicer place uptown and will be here for two nights.

Earlier today, we took two hours and visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial, site of the former Murrah Federal Building that convicted (and since-executed) mass murderer, Timothy McVeigh, blew up with a truck bomb in April 1995. 168 lives were lost, including 19 children, as you may recall. Visiting the memorial and the accompanying museum was a very moving and heart-felt experience. They have done a wonderful job celebrating the lives of those who perished and of telling the riveting stories of the survivors and rescuers. You can't help but be moved by the experience.

A few of the empty bronze-and-glass chairs, each one
representing an individual who perished in the OKC bombing.

Hannah at the Oklahoma City National Memorial reflecting pond.
The 168 empty chairs are in the background on the grass,
on the footprint where the Murrah Federal Building stood.

Outside, there are 168 bronze-and-glass empty chairs, laid out in nine rows, representing each of the 168 victims who died, with each row representing the floor of the building they were on (see above photo). The chairs are fronted by a shallow reflecting pool (see above photo) and several other symbolic trees and gardens. They've done a wonderful job with the site. We highly recommend visiting the memorial and paying the extra few dollars to tour the museum inside, if you're ever in the area. May God bless and give peace to all the individuals and families affected by the tragedy.

We'll write more as we continue on the journey! Thanks for your continued love, prayers, and support as we begin this seminary adventure.

God's love and blessings,
D, S, H, & E

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The journey continues!

We write to you from Amarillo, Texas!

After visiting the breathtaking Grand Canyon on Sunday, we stayed the night near the park and drove 8 hours yesterday to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then continued from Albuquerque to Amarillo today. We soaked in the incomparable and majestic Southwestern landscape along the way.

Somewhere along I-40 in Arizona

Earlier this afternoon, we took a dip in our Amarillo hotel's pool and no less than 10 minutes after we got out, the skies opened up with lightning, thunder, and literally sheets of rain which continued for over two hours! Amarillo probably got more rain in that 2 hours than Bakersfield gets in two years! (And God gave us a free car wash, much-needed after 1,200+ miles logged thus far...even the bugs that hit your windshield are bigger in Texas!)

Tomorrow, we continue on to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where we'll stay for two nights and plan to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial. We'll also experience the Omniplex, a hands-on interactive museum for kids and kids-at-heart. We pray for dry skies and safe roads. God continues to bless us so richly on this trip!

As promised, though a bit out of the order of our actual trip, we did want to include some photos from our visit to Disneyland and California Adventure last week. We all had a lot of fun! It was Hannah and Elizabeth's first time meeting Mickey Mouse and experiencing the Magic Kingdom in person!

Jill, Christopher, Stacye, Hannah,
Elizabeth (in stroller), & Don at Disneyland

"Unca Dave" (Don's SoCal brother), Don, Hannah, Elizabeth,
& Stacye awaiting the beginning of Fantasmic! at Disneyland

A picture is worth a thousand words!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Is it bigger than a breadbox?

Yes. It's huge. We saw (a very small sliver of) the Grand Canyon this afternoon (Don, Hannah, & Elizabeth's first time visiting and Stacye's 2nd? 3rd? time seeing it in person). Having two kids in tow in a stroller somewhat limited our ability to do and go and see (apart from the fact that we're pretty gosh darn tired)...but we soaked in the breathtaking vistas of the South Rim as much as we could. Seeing the Grand Canyon reminds us of what an awesome, majestic, powerful, intricate, beautiful God we love and serve!

We also had the blessing of going to Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure on Thursday and Friday of last week with Stacye's mom, Jill, and her brother, Christopher (on Thursday), and Don's brother, Dave, and his girlfriend, Anna (on Friday). It wore us all out, but it was a lot of fun and we got to make some great memories together as a family (pictures to follow soon...check back on the site soon!)

Tomorrow, it's on to Albuquerque, NM...then Amarillo, TX...Oklahoma City, OK...Tulsa, OK...and our final stop in St. Louis! Thanks for your continued prayers and support. We love you.

Don, Stacye, Hannah, & Little-bit

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Off we go...with joyful and heavy hearts

People have asked us many times, "Aren't you excited?!" The honest answer is "yes, very much so" and "no, not really at all."

Yes--we are excited to pursue what we prayerfully believe is God's will for our lives at this time...yes we are excited to soon be living in St. Louis, a diverse and culture-rich big city that has a lot of free or inexpensive fun and interesting things to do for a family (did you know that Forest Park, which is immediately "next door" to the seminary, is larger than New York's Central Park??)...yes, we are excited to see exactly how God will use this experience called seminary as part of His master plan for us and the world. Yes, we are excited to see people's prayerful and financial support come forth, as added encouragement that we are on the right track for the Lord.

And, no...leaving you--our family and friends--is incredibly difficult. Family in Christ and family by blood: brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. Tears, hugs, thank you notes of love, phone calls, prayers, more hugs, goodbyes, "see you laters"...that is very difficult for both giver and receiver.

But we take real comfort in what Jesus says, in the midst of our sadness, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29). Wow!!!

And we know there is a real cost to following Christ--to following God's will for our lives...Luke 9:57-62 says, "'As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' Jesus replied, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.' He said to another man, 'Follow me.' But the man replied, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' Still another said, 'I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.' Jesus replied, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'"

As we prayed last year about whether or not to sell our house (which we subsequently did) and whether or not to actually do this "seminary thing," the Lord put several Scriptures in front of us, "...any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33) and Luke 14:25-27, "Many people followed Jesus. Then He turned around and said to them, 'If any man comes to Me and does not have much more love for Me than for his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be My follower. If he does not carry his cross and follow Me, he cannot be My follower.'"

God made it clear to us through His Word that, if we wanted to follow His will for our lives at this time, that it was necessary for us to sell our house and leave behind family and friends. Not easy then. Not easy now. Not easy--ever.

But we know that God is with us. As Hannah told us tonight as we said goodbyes to family and friends, "But Jesus is with us...He lives in our heart. And if mommy or daddy is ever sad, I will give them a hug..." (That one made dad cry!) Yes, she is right, He never leaves us. And so He goes with you as well. God is right there with you--just as He promises, just as He says He will forever be--even when it might feel like He's far away.

We pray that He gives you and us peace during this time of transition and change. And we look forward to what His future plan holds in store for all of us and for His Kingdom.

May God bless you richly...and give you the peace that only He can give. We love you so very much.

Don, Stacye, Hannah, & Lizzy-boo

Monday, June 11, 2007

Getting Ready to Leave...

Stacye here...

Just wanted to write a little bit before things go totally crazy around here and I run out of time. We leave in 10 short days - I really can't believe it. Everyone keeps asking, "So, are you ready to leave?" and the answer is, "No!"

Besides the emotional upheaval of leaving the place I've called home for the past 25 years, we still haven't started packing or anything. We need to sort through all the stuff we brought to my mom's house and figure out what is ours, what is hers, what goes into the POD storage unit, and what will fit into our car for the drive. And believe me, not much is going to fit into the car! By the time we put in Elizabeth's stroller and play pen (for sleeping) there isn't much room left. I've joked that we are allowed 3 changes of clothes each and that won't be far from the truth.

People also ask if I'm excited for the move and I always answer, "Yes and no." I am excited to live in St. Louis - it's such a cool city with tons of fun stuff to do. I'm also excited to get the difficult details and work of packing out of the way. I'm dreading the drive in many ways and I kind of just want to get it over with. Finally, I'm really excited about our trips to Disneyland and California Adventure (see Don's post below). It's going to be so fun to take Hannah to "Mickey Mouse's house." But, I'm definitely not excited about saying goodbye, leaving my family, friends, and church, and starting over. No matter how fun it'll be to meet new friends and get to know the other sem wives, no one can ever replace my loving family and the awesome friends I've met.

Well - Elizabeth is crying so I better wrap this up. We'll write more as we have more to report. Love to all -

P.S. I thought I should do one of the other things we've promised to do on this website - post pictures of the girls. Here's a recent one:

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A date, a Dodge, and debt-free living!

So, we've decided on a day: June 21. That's when we're packing up the Dodge and traveling east (ironically enough, to arrive at "The Gateway to the West"). And it's not exactly due east...we're actually planning to go to Disneyland and California Adventure for two days, and then heading east.

After all things Disney, our first stop is Kingman, Arizona and on to the Grand Canyon, then Albuquerque, NM; Amarillo, TX; through Oklahoma City, OK; and then either through Tulsa, OK up to St. Louis or through Little Rock, Arkansas to Memphis, TN to St. Louis. Either way, it promises to be an adventure, all 2,400 some-odd miles of it! Lord willing and the creek don't rise, we're planning on arriving in St. Louis on June 30 or July 1 (Don's classes start July 9).

And the blessed, trustworthy (and paid for!) '97 Dodge is running quite well: recently, we've invested in a new transmission ($3,000), a new paint job (it was starting to rust!) for another $975 (Earl Scheib is our new best friend), and then another $880 yesterday to put in all new belts and hoses, plus a new O2 sensor, air conditioning unit, air intake service, and more!

We figure $4,800 out-of-pocket is not a bad investment, considering that buying a gently used car would probably sack us with $400/month in payments and higher insurance for the next 3 to 5 years. In 12 months, we would have paid out that same $4,800...and still have car payments for another 2-4 years. Not our cup of tea. Being debt-free and freed up to give greater resources to God's's a wonderful life!

We won't win any "cool car" contests any time soon, but "having more and better stuff" has never been our goal. As my brother says about himself, "I don't own a lot of stuff...because if I do, it starts to own me." True. And Jesus says, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15).

So, stay tuned for The Ray Family Road Trip as time draws closer. We plan to post to the blog as we journey east, headed for The Gateway Arch. Thanks for your continued prayers and support!

Love and blessings,
The Rays