Grace Outside the Beltway

In January of 1984, Bud Weniger let me know he was taking the presidency of Maranatha Baptist Bible College. I instinctively knew our family would need to move to the Washington D.C. area so that I could fulfill the next step in the ministry where God had placed me. Our home in 1984, and the office for the American Association of Christian Schools, was in Normal, Illinois, where Bud was my boss at AACS, but more importantly pastor of Calvary Baptist Church.

It was not practical to keep the office in Normal long term because I would continue to work under Bud after he moved to Wisconsin. AACS needed to either move to Watertown, Wisconsin, or to the area of the nation’s capital where a good bit of my work activity was focused. I realized right away that the D.C. area was the only logical choice. Thus began a year and a half journey to Northern Virginia.

My responsibilities with AACS, as Executive Director, required me to travel extensively. Within a few months of this turn of events, I was appointed to the Exemplary Private School Recognition Project committee by Chuck O’Malley, Executive Assistant to the Secretary of Education for Private Education. That appointment increased my travel to Washington to once a month over the next year. At the same time, I still traveled all over the USA and Canada on behalf of Christian education. It simply made sense to relocate the AACS office to the DC area and to move our family there so that I would be home more often. That was the plan.

By the summer plans were beginning to take shape and so we took a family vacation to the Washington area to introduce our kids to the beauty and historical significance of our nation’s capital. We also intended to begin house hunting.

That trip was memorable. First, because we followed the advice of a colleague to book lodging in a short-term apartment complex for a week that turned out to be a mini-nightmare, but we survived. Second, we met our valued real estate agent, Ken McKeehan. Kenny owned White House Real Estate Company and was extremely knowledgeable and well connected in the Northern Virginia housing market. He was also a wonderful Christian and member of the church that became our home church, and he became a dear friend.

On one Sunday afternoon, Kenny gave us a tour of possible homes and quickly steered us to the Pleasant Valley subdivision in western Fairfax County, just south of Dulles Airport. It was there we found a split-level model home that led us to say, “Yes, that will meet our needs nicely.” In December of 1984, we signed a contract to have a new home built. Even though in January the price jumped by $10,000, we had a locked-in contact at the original price. God’s grace led us and we moved in by late June of 1985 right after Kristy graduated from high school. It was a whirlwind.

It was through Kenny that we were introduced to his neighbor and close friend, the legendary NFL football coach Joe Gibbs. It was the coach’s wife Pat, and son Coy, that became our close friends, although we met Joe and their other son, J.D., on several occasions. Our youngest son Chad was a classmate of Coy, and they played football together for several seasons. Connie and I would sit with Pat at the games and we came to have great respect for Coach Gibbs and his family. They are an amazing story of God’s grace. We treasure the memory of those Friday night football games when we sat with Pat Gibbs watching our boys play. The coach was always pursuing a Super Bowl, and the Redskins won one the season just after we left Virginia.

The move exposed our family to the “fast-lane” lifestyle of the sprawling Washington-Baltimore metroplex area. Our house, in the suburb of Chantilly, was 30 miles straight west of the U.S. Capitol, but 20 miles outside of the Capital Beltway. For three exciting and taxing years, we became very familiar with living and struggling in the “outside the Beltway” environment.

As we were planning to move I determined that I needed Connie to join me in the AACS office. A close friend in ministry warned me that might not be a good idea, but I learned quickly that it was the right idea – and thank the Lord we walked that stressful part of the journey as a team. We worked together opening the first Washington area office for AACS at 10195 Main St., in historic downtown Fairfax, Virginia.

Several years before moving Connie and I began to take evening walks due to the example of her parents following her father’s heart attack. In Pleasant Valley, Virginia, the walks through our subdivision became a regular exercise in receiving God’s grace. Looking back we see how God taught us the sufficiency of grace during that time of struggle. In remarking about modern day advertising a current Bible commentator observers that marketers preach the, “power to escape weakness in leisure, but Christianity offers power to endure weakness in love.” We found that to be true.

Today every time we watch a newscast reporting on the political struggles and tensions in Washington, D.C., we hark back in memory to our three years living outside the Beltway. We enjoyed immensely the beauty and history of the area, but we remember the suffocating traffic and congestion, plus the pressures of a fast-lane lifestyle. It took its toll on our health and family.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. During those years we were privileged to participate in the growth and maturing of the Christian School movement. We met many fine Christian educators, valued leaders, and servants of the Lord. We also rubbed shoulders with many hard-working politicians and dedicated public servants. The Lord allowed us to make life long friendships with wonderful Christian people who live and survive in the Washington area. We realize now that God was gracious to help us survive that environment, and after three years escape to Wisconsin. We learned to trust God and walk with Him in a deeper way.  

Connie and I took many day trips to well-known and lesser-known historical sites, and I always loved seeing families enjoying the Capitol Mall – which I think of as America’s “Main Street.” I am afraid the area is even much more stressful today, but I know the ability to survive from 1985-88 was due to God’s grace. We found that truly, “God’s grace is sufficient” for our every need. To repeat an old gospel song, “We wouldn’t take nothing for our journey now.”

2 thoughts on “Grace Outside the Beltway

  1. Thank you, Dr. Carlson, for your many years of service on behalf of Christian education. Though I only knew OF you and your work during the time you were in Washington, I was indirectly a beneficiary of it because my wife and I were teachers in a Christian school. Since getting to know you through Positive Action for Christ, my appreciation for your ministry has only grown.

    1. It was a privilege to serve the our great God in AACS, but I am glad the Lord has brought along younger leaders to carry on that work today. You are a great encouragement and example to me as a writer.

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