It’s hard to believe it has been five months since our last email! Here is what we’ve been up to in that time. Kudos if you can stick with me to the end! Five months is a long time!

In October we continued fall retreats each weekend. In total, between September and October there were 6 weekends of retreats, plus one work weekend at the end. Retreats included Father/Son, Married Couples, Ladies, and Men. During the work weekend we hosted college-aged volunteers who came and helped us prepare for the seasonal transition, preparing buildings, grounds, and program areas for the transition from fall to winter.

In the office, Jim is always working several seasons ahead. So as we ran fall retreats he was working on configuring the campdoc and campminder systems, which we use to manage staffing and medical information for everyone who comes to camp. He completed the yearly analysis of how much camp charges for each event, in order to help determine if the amounts are what they should be. He compiled reports for the annual business meeting. He worked on the schedule of events, family camp brochure, and mailing list.

At the end of the final retreat, I left with Lydia for an extended time away in South Carolina with Grace and Soren and the awaited baby. We planned to be gone about a month, and were welcomed into their home in the sunny south right as the leaves were getting ready to fall up north. We got settled into the spaces they had for us there, and enjoyed spending some time together, arriving a week before the due date. I jumped in to help with the tasks and chores that Grace hadn’t gotten to at the end of pregnancy while still working parttime, and Lydia kept moving along on her schoolwork. A big advantage of homeschooling is that it is fully portable!

The only picture we took to represent all weekends of the fall retreats! We need to get better about taking pictures of us working during events! This was the handcraft project during a ladies retreat. I spent a bit of time during each ladies retreat helping at this activity.
Lydia has quite a knack for plants, so in her free time she happily spent some time refreshing some of Grace’s plants and gave them a little TLC.
The day before the due date!
Grace and I made a whole bunch of freezer meals so they would be well stocked in the early weeks after the baby was born.
We decided if there was no baby by the due date then we would go get some due date pedicures. As we were out that evening we were hopeful there would be a baby soon since she was having some contractions. But no such luck, we would wait another week! 

November at camp brings a much needed maintenance season. In the office this means lots of preparations for the coming seasons, especially summer. Jim spent time finalizing summer camp policies for 2024. He also updated the reports that team leaders use to build their budgets for the next year.
Meanwhile in South Carolina, we all waited for what I considered the main event of the fall! Soren continued to teach, Grace was done teaching her classes and had transitioned them to a sub for her time off. On November 7, two weeks after Lydia and I arrived, the sweet baby made her arrival. I summarized these weeks in my social media post back in December:

“I was blessed beyond measure to be present for the birth of my sweet granddaughter, Ella Magdala Moody. Lydia and I were in South Carolina with them for a month – two weeks before Ella’s birth and two weeks after. We prepared, we cleaned, we meal planned, we bought groceries, we caught up on tasks left undone during the last part of Grace’s pregnancy. I learned my way around Columbia, SC and found all of their customary go-to stores. Lydia did her homeschooling like normal, but with the added benefit of a Latin-teaching older sister. We meal planned again, we bought groceries again, we got bored, we watched late night tv, we made freezer meals. We went to church, we did bedtime family prayer, and we sang. And finally, after waiting contentedly and waiting impatiently, “the time had come!” (Anyone know this reference?)

WHAT A GIFT to be there helping, caring, serving, and just living. So amazing for Lydia and I both to be welcomed into not only a home, but also into the beautiful moment of a new, created life entering the world. And so precious to see my daughter begin to nurture a daughter of her own.”

As it says above, we stayed for two more weeks after Ella was born, helping them through that newborn transition, and being Grace’s hands and feet around the house, as she ended up mostly on bedrest through those couple of weeks. What a blessing to be able to be there through that time. Wonderful that it was timed when I wasn’t missing any events at camp! Jim and Mary Emma came down after she was born and stayed for nearly a week so they could meet her and be part of those sweet early days. Lydia and I stayed until the Monday before Thanksgiving, and then started the long drive home. I’ll be honest and say it was a really sad departure. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there in so many ways. The closeness created by walking through those days together; the experience for Lydia of watching the beautiful process of birth and then bonding with a little newborn; the lovely extended warmer days during a time when we normally have a steady temperature drop. Somehow even doing chores in someone else’s house is more appealing for a while! Anyone with me on that one? But say goodbye we did, and we arrived home two days before Thanksgiving. It was a different kind of Thanksgiving with just the four of us at home. We didn’t travel downstate to be with family since Lydia and I were just arriving back home. We even decided to do the unthinkable and had BBQ ribs for dinner, and saved the turkey for Christmas when we would have more people!

We welcomed Ella Magdala Moody on November 7 at 10:11am. She was 8 pounds and 22″ long.
Lydia was a big fan of holding Ella any chance she got. Even while doing schoolwork if she could!
It was very sweet that Mary Emma could come down with Jim to meet Ella too.

The calendar turned to December; we settled back in at home; we adjusted to the cold weather and winter clothing. The work continued at camp; Jim finalized the configuring of the campdoc system; he helped finalize the camp budget; he completed the fire inspection action plan; he prepped the work schedules for winter retreats. In December is also when we do staff training for CPR and First Aid. On one weekend toward the middle of December, we went downstate for the Tech & Engineer Reunion and the Summer Staff Bash. This was an afternoon spent in Lansing with gatherings of both the high school and college-aged workers from the summer. It’s a chance for them all to get together and have some fun, but it’s also a chance for us to talk to the different groups about the next program they can serve in, or whether they hope to be back the following summer. Another work responsibility that started by this time was processing summer staff applications. While I was still in South Carolina, applications for summer staff opened up, so our tasks in running the YAPS program got a rolling start.

Earlier in the month of December, we enjoyed another performance by Mary Emma in Oscoda. It was great to see the progress she had made after a few months of such intense training. We also did get to enjoy a visit from Grace, Soren, and Ella. They came the week before Christmas and stayed with us. We also got a chance to go downstate with them before they headed further south, so that they could see my parents and brother’s family. Ella had gotten a bit sick at that point, so she was pretty fussy, but it was still really sweet for the new great-grandparents to meet her. The four of us came home a couple of days before Christmas and had a very quiet Christmas here.

The aunts, still happy to spend time with Ella.
Our delayed turkey dinner that we didn’t make at Thanksgiving
Ella experiencing the cold of northern Michigan
The new great-grandparents meet Ella.
Four generations

January and February
We started in with winter retreats on January 5, and hosted those all the way through February, making 8 weekends of retreats. We hosted college-aged young adults, fathers/sons, fathers/daughters, and lots of teens in their youth groups. Our normal weekly rhythm during retreat season is to work Tuesday through Sunday, and then have Monday off. We settled back into that routine this winter, with Lydia adjusting her school days to Tuesday through Saturday so she can be off with us on Monday. During the 8 weekends of retreats, the weather threw us a few curveballs! There were some weekends that were run more as spring retreats because there wasn’t enough cold and snow to run winter activities. Then there was one weekend that the weather overcompensated and tossed in a blizzard, complete with power outages. We are really thankful for the programmers at camp who worked so hard to maintain a program for campers each weekend, in spite of having to roll with the bizarre changes in weather.

In the midst of the weekend retreats, we also got a good amount of YAP interviews in. Since the YAPS are this year’s high school seniors, many of the applicants come with their youth groups for a winter retreat. We try to get their interviews in while they are here. Most of the time that ends up being one or two on any given weekend, ramping up a bit more through February. The record setting number was the last weekend when I had 8 interviews between Friday and Saturday. That required some good note taking to keep them all straight! The biggest weekend event for Jim was February 10, when, in the midst of a retreat, we also opened up summer camp registration. I still am not sure how we covered all the retreat jobs that weekend with so many staff needing to be in the office at least through the morning, and some of them all weekend. It all went quite smoothly, with good communication between parents and camp staff as questions and issues arose.

During January, Lydia participated in a newer program we have at camp called Bible Immersion Week. One of our seasonal volunteers runs this program for one week for high school aged students. Lydia went and participated in that and spent most of a week learning effective ways to dig into God’s Word and really seek to understand it. It was a good opportunity for her to be in with a small group of high schoolers and to really focus in on how to study the Bible better.

During all of January and February, Mary Emma has been in the thick of audition season for ballet. She has worked so hard to prepare choreography, get good videos recorded, get required photos, get updated headshots, and get registered for some in-person auditions. She had a line-up of about a month of weekends traveling to those in-person auditions. After several of these weekends on her own, there was one weekend with a bit more in it, driving into downtown Chicago, so we decided it was best if I went with her. Over the course of the five days that we were gone, she did three auditions, one of which was a second round audition. Plus we took Lydia along and she and I got in a college visit during Mary Emma’s full-day audition!

We had quite the large amount of snow right before one of the retreats, which left us without power for part of the weekend.
During my full weekend of interviews I made use of spare minutes to get information entered into our personnel system while my thoughts were still fresh. This was during a meal in the dining hall while Lydia played piano for the mealtime. 

Here we are almost halfway through another month! Our weekend events are done until late April, and we have started the annual spring tradition of….cleaning! Many hours during March and April (and actually this year even some in February!) are spent cleaning. YAP interviews will continue as their applications continue to come in. Later this month we will take a week and go down to South Carolina to again visit Grace, Soren and Ella. We are thankful for connecting through technology, but we are really excited to see our little granddaughter in person! She’s changed a lot since before Christmas!

In the coming months…
We appreciate your prayers in the coming months. We will continue with maintenance things here at camp, especially a lot of cleaning. We will continue to interview YAPS. We will work on smoothing out the schedule for summer staff workshop which begins after Memorial Day. We will pray earnestly for more summer staff applications, especially counselors and leaders. Our summer depends on more staff! Jim will train Katelyn, our new bookkeeper who is just recently fully supported to join staff (praise the Lord!). Jim will upgrade the trading post computer system. Jim will update the document templates that we use as tools for summer. Rachel will choose music and prepare to lead singing at the spring mother/daughter retreat. Rachel will help choose music for Hisability week at the beginning of the summer. Rachel will get summer music to the potential piano YAPS and begin to help them in learning it. In our family, we will likely help Mary Emma find housing and prepare to move her to her next training location, which is tentatively decided and would mean a move in early June (except that’s when all this summer stuff really gets going!). And Rachel and Lydia will likely squeeze in some more college visits before everyone’s spring semesters are finished. As I type all of that and think about all of these plans that are underway for the coming months, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I only need to be in today, and I can trust God to be fully in control of all of the tomorrows. Praise Him for that! 

Thank you for sticking with me to the end of this long update! We appreciate each and every one of you who support us in prayer and financially. We could not be here continuing in this work without you and your generosity. We love you and praise God for you!

Rachel, for the Bennetts