After almost a year of planning and anticipating, our two-week ministry trip to Lebanon is now “in the books.” We’re in the midst of flying home from Beirut as I write this, and one of the benefits of this long flight is the opportunity to process and ponder the past eleven days as we partnered with our Evangelical Armenian brothers and sisters in Christ who are serving Him faithfully in this often times unstable part of the world.
One reunion bled into another as we wrapped up the nuclear Friesen family gathering in Pennsylvania on Jan. 4 and flew to California to celebrate my mother’s 88th birthday with the Collins side of the family. All of my siblings were able to make this grand celebration and, including in-laws, grands, and great-grands, the final count came in at 33. Sadly, Paul was stranded in New England by the blizzard which suspended operations at Logan and Kari and her family were felled by the flu the night before the party, so they were unable to make it.
After rolling in on a red-eye flight today and landing at Logan and going home for only our fifth day in the month of January (which is almost out of days), I am finally getting to what has been a near-the-top entry on my “to-do” list since the third week of December 2017: writing this blog post. I love to write, but I need space and time to do so and, well, that’s been hard to come by in the days that wrapped up 2017 and the ones that have begun 2018. I’ll rely on pictures to “say a thousand words” so this won’t turn into marathon missive.
Though fall arrived “late” this year, it is making a quick exit as the Christmas season makes its appearance “early.” Or so it seems! As we fly home today from a 10-day trip during which we spent 2 days each in 5 different towns, I’m musing about walking in to a home bedecked in orange, greens, and golds, all representing the season just passed of falling leaves, harvest, and shortening days. But if past performance is any indication of future expectations, Christmas will be here in short order, ready or not. And though I’m certain my lofty goals of projects completed will exceed the time needed to complete them between now and then, I’m hopeful that my desire to prepare my heart for Christmas will outpace my attempts to prepare my gifts.
It is a season of weddings, funerals, and falling leaves. Of football, pumpkins, and sweaters. Of hot soup, warm bread, and apple cider. Of Patriots Bible studies, marriage conferences, and counseling. Of birthdays, anniversaries, and memories.
This year, it is also a season of hurricanes, floods, fires, and shootings.
With visions of Yosemite’s matchless beauty still dancing in our heads, we flew east in time to do laundry and repack suitcases with appropriate gear for speaking at Park Street Church’s family camp held at Camp Laurel in Readfield, ME (central Maine) the weekend of August 25-27. It was the perfect ending to an incredibly paradoxical summer. Though we have partnered for years with Kris Perkins (Park Street Church’s pastor to families/marriages) by speaking at various workshops and seminars at the church, this was our first experience with their annual family camp. And we loved it.
August has flown by, which is consistent with the beat of the whole summer. When the family camp program was canceled at CBS back in late December, we had no idea what the summer of 2017 would look like. We weren’t concerned that we’d be twiddling our thumbs, quite honestly, but we couldn’t have imagined then the opportunities that have unfolded for us. “Only God.” Indisputable.
Wow!! I always thought our summers on the island, running seven and a half weeks of discipleship training for dozens of college students as well as 6.5 weeks of family camps, flew by . . . but these past 7 weeks redefine “flying.” I am in utter disbelief that we are at the halfway mark of August . . . and still on the road and in the air, by God’s grace, going strong. What an unbelievable journey we’ve been on!
Returning from Ethiopia on May 22, we were very thankful to have several days at home before heading to California for a couple of weeks. It was especially good in light of the fact that Paul was “under the weather” with a gastro-intestinal bug that hopped on board his system the previous Friday while in Ethiopia. Thankfully “Cipro” knocked it out of him fairly quickly and he was none the worse for the wear a day later.
Though it seems like a lifetime ago, it’s only been seven weeks since we returned from the Thrive Conference in California and flew to Uganda. A lot has happened between then and now, which “explains” why I haven’t “found” time to update this blog, but still . . . I’m a bit shocked to again be this far behind. So as to not overwhelm you, I’ll share about this space of time in a couple of posts, starting with a recap of our time in Uganda and Ethiopia today.
As we make our way back to Africa today, I’m at least slightly amused by the reality of our last week: on Sunday, April 30, we returned to Boston from South Africa; on Wednesday, May 3rd, we flew to California for a conference; on Sunday, May 7th, we flew back to Boston; and on Monday, May 8th, we left Boston for Uganda. Now . . . some would rightfully ask, “Who made a schedule like that?”
For the first time since launching this blog over twelve years ago, three months have elapsed since my last post. In an unprecedented quandary, I’ve had a really hard time finding the words to write, for though there have been many great moments and experiences during this time, we have concurrently experienced some of the darkest and most difficult days of our life together. And quite frankly, I haven’t known how to communicate about this, fairly and honorably, especially since it’s ongoing. This is a season during which my silence hasn’t been “golden.”
If “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .” is related to a house decked in outdoor lights, a beautifully decorated tree indoors, and stockings “hung by the chimney with care,” we’re off. Way off. Thankful to have just gotten all pumpkins processed and the orange and rust decorations put away . . .
Though the song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” is affirming the beauty of the Christmas season (and who would argue that?), I could easily build a case for an equally fitting song to be written about fall in New England. I quickly run out of expressive adjectives to describe the delights of this season during which beauty parades in different colors and presentations daily for about six weeks. We have been savoring each eyeful of gorgeousness in this land of deciduous trees whose greatest beauty comes through the transition from life to death. Interesting paradox.
We were treated to an early kaleidoscope of color the last weekend of September when we drove to Newport Center, Vermont, to present a marriage conference at the Newport Church of God. The home church of Paul and Lyss Gandy (our 2016 CBS musicians and high school family camp directors), they persuaded Pastor Larry Wall to invite us and we’re so glad they did. We had a great weekend with the Walls and their congregation, celebrating God’s design for marriage. We tagged a couple of days on to enjoy the beautiful area while staying in Lyss’s family’s cabin on Lake Memphremagog. It was a true gift of restoration and renewal to be there as we hiked, leaf peeped, and enjoyed some time with Lyss’s extended family. And it officially became an international trip when we had dinner in Canada. :)
The conference was well received and we heard from many that God really met them during it. As always, we pray for ongoing fruit.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church overlooks the lake.
Spectacular photo taken by Lyss Gandy.
Paul and Lyss emceed and led worship for the conference, and did both so well.
Here we are with the Gandys . . . always a good time.
Dinner out with Lyss’s local family, who were delightfully hospitable and welcoming.
Pastor Larry and Sally Wall: passionate for Christ and for transformation. We enjoyed being guests in their home and sharing stories of hope.
On the drive down we found the colors to be distracting from keeping our eyes on the road.
Home October 4th, just in time for the Patriots’ women’s and couples’ studies, with some counseling packed in around them. We’re so thankful for robust groups in both of the studies, and we sense that God is doing a deeper work among us. Pray for those studies as you root for the Patriots. :)
Columbus Day Weekend brought with it not just increased foliage color, but a sweet visit from Derek and Julie and their precious littles. Though the four-day stay included the stomach flu for Rachel, a bad head cold for Derek, and a very rainy Sunday (no complaints—just reporting), it was so good to be together. Those unplanned-for-elements insured that we had plenty of down time, which was a good thing for all involved. We did stroller walks to the park daily and played lots of indoor hide-and-seek, games, and read a plethora of books. Loved every moment.
Papa and his girl Rachel showcase their very blue eyes and beautiful smiles.
We did make it to a little farm stand, but as you can see from Rachel’s face, she was still under the stomach-flu weather.
We got the Johnsons off Tuesday afternoon (always sad) and spent Wednesday and Thursday as per usual: Patriots studies and counseling. There was a lot of laughter and many points of connection as we taught on temperaments at the couples’ study Thursday night. Great time.
Off to California first thing Friday morning for a full long weekend. Built around a wedding Paul was asked to officiate, the week had a little bit of everything. First stop: Biola University, where we were honored to tape two podcasts for the Institute of Marriage and Relationships, which is directed by Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace. Alisa had written a blog on our book
Before You Save the Date: 21 Questions to Confirm your Decision to Marry
and asked us to follow up her blog with a couple of podcasts. Even though we had to slog through a delayed-from-Boston flight (after getting to the airport at the ungodly hour of 6 am . . . and then leaving 1.5 hrs late :( ), waiting 30 minutes for our luggage at LAX, waiting another 30 minutes for the rental car van to pick us up . . . delaying our arrival to Biola by 1 hour 45 mins (and costing us lunch with the Graces), it was so worth it! We loved being with Chris and Alisa, whose hearts beat in sync with ours regarding family and marriage, and we are so excited about the Institute of Marriage and Relationships they are directing at Biola. The podcasts we recorded will be aired in the near future and we’ll keep you posted so you can tune in.
Speaking of Chris and Alisa Grace, they will be speaking at the annual H.I.M. Marriage Retreat, March 3-5, 2017, in Newport, Rhode Island. Registration has started and as has been true the past several years, it will likely sell out well in advance. Register now! This will make a great Christmas gift for your spouse, your married kids, your parents, and your friends.
Friday evening, we spoke at The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills for their couples’ night. Jeff and Shauna Ochoa spearheaded this marriage shot-in-the-arm evening and provided a lovely date night for many couples. We’ve partnered with this church numerous times in the past and are so thankful for their commitment to healthy marriages.
Jeff and Shauna Ochoa planned the Couples Night Out for The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills, California.
The main event of this trip to California was Davey and Ruthanna’s wedding, officiated by Paul. Ruthanna grew up coming to family camp at CBS and she and Davey Ray met at CBS when they both served on staff. They attended our Engagement Matters Weekend last December and soon after they asked Paul to do their wedding. We accepted the honor with pleasure. The wedding on Sunday was a God-honoring celebration of a couple committed to living faithfully for Christ. Held in beautiful Highland Springs Resort in Cherry Valley, CA, under an 1100-year-old oak tree, the metaphors of legacy, of roots, and of strength were lost on no one. It was a thoughtful, meaningful wedding and we were so happy to be a part of it. It was also such a joy to be with Dave and Kim Noble and Isaac Rossitor again, all fellow past CBS staff, as well as with the Lee family, who have been family campers for over two decades.
We also managed to squeeze in a few hours visit with John and Grace Tebay, two of our longest and most beloved mentors. At 84 and 82, they are beyond remarkable and we hang on their every word and insight—and savor every moment. Their godly wisdom has been an invaluable resource to us since before we got married and we feel so blessed to have them in our lives. We closed out Saturday over dinner with two couples we’re mentoring, Brent and Melissa Slezak and Josh and Carley Gire, and left so inspired by their hearts and hopes.
John and Grace Tebay are in a league of their own and we’re so blessed to have them in our lives.
Davey Ray and Ruthanna’s wedding was beautiful and Christ-centered.
Such a fun reunion with Dave and Kim Noble (former CBS director) and Isaac Rossitor (former assistant head cook at CBS.)
One last thing before we returned to New England: a day at Disneyland with Brandon and Ana. Gifted by a dear friend employed by the Magic Kingdom, we made the most of this celebration in honor of Brandon’s 6th and Ana’s 3rd birthdays. 25,000 steps later (collected from 8:30 am to 8 pm), we left happily exhausted and full of memories we’ll keep savoring and replaying. Big moment of the day? Brandon’s inaugural ride on the Matterhorn. Pretty daring for a just-turned-6-year-old. Ana and Papa set a record for the most times on Ariel’s Grotto and King Arthur’s Carousel, though those numbers would’ve been shared with the Winnie-the-Pooh ride had it been open. I will never stop delighting in Disneyland, nor will I give up my dream to one day work there (though my aspiration to be Tinkerbelle and fly from the Matterhorn across the sky has been scratched off the list . . . for about 40 years now.) How grateful we are for generous friends who help make such memory-making days happen.
Disneyland was spectacularly dressed up for Halloween.
Brandon’s response just moments after his first ride on the Matterhorn. He was pretty happy that he conquered this very scary ride.
Back in New England, we’re joining the masses who are mesmerized by the glorious parade of fall colors which are truly breathtaking. No photos or words can capture the display, which unmistakably points to the glory of God. We’re savoring the days and thanking the Lord for His creative nurturing of our souls through such reflections of His majesty.
One last sunrise at Campus by the Sea over Labor Day Weekend,
taken as Lisa and I hiked the loop on our final day at camp.
Hanging out with David Laflin (the illusionist) and the Wong family,
we had some very fun moments on giant swings, ropes courses, and zip lines.
How could you not love this weekend?
The “Birdsongs” did a phenomenal job leading us in worship
before each of the four teaching sessions.
|The stillness of the water is found only early in the day, prior to campers discovering the four inflatable “blobs” anchored in this lake.|
A special dinner out with the Wongs in honor of Paul’s birthday.
|Happy birthday, Papa and now 6-year-old Brandon!|
|Paul, Lisa, and I arrive to serve the Labor Day Family Camp.|
Our terrific program staff served so well,
diving right in to do whatever needed to be done.
Worship was led by Robert Kovacs, Claire Peister, and Seth Heinz—and was appreciated by all.
|A large group of kids second grade and under gathered at the front of the Main Deck each morning for the always-favorite devotions created and led by Paul.|
|One last chorus of “We love you campers, oh yes we do . . .” as the final family camp group departs on the Catalina Express.|
|An early morning walk on the beach, before the marine layer burned off (which it later did.)|
|A little sand castle we built in our spare time . . . or at least, that we stopped to admire at the end of our walk. :)|
|Dick and Becky Molenhouse spent a day with us and we joyfully caught up on one another’s lives.|
|With the “boys of summer” on his back,|
Nathan visits the pigs at the farm.
|Snuggle time (briefly) with Mama.|
Go Sox!! Even Rachel is being trained right. :)
Oh, and then there’s our most favorite team: Go Pats!!
|Dick and Nancy Beggs, from Idyllwild, California, joined us for a night of non-stop talking, a few tears, and a lot of laughter.|
|Berea family campers Gary and Kim Walker, Skip and Avonne Jarvis, Dennis and Heidi Lommen, and not pictured is the Lommens’ daughter Jenny and her husband, Jed. A very special group of friends.|
The Jarvis family . . . Skip and Avonne and their four great kids. We shared a 7:30 am breakfast together and had coherent, meaningful conversation with these set-apart young people. So encouraging!!
Sunset over the lake in Wakefield, Massachusetts.