California, here we go!

We’re sitting in the Sacramento airport, reflecting on the past 18 days we’ve been in California, and we’re amazed with the diversity of experiences, interactions, and moments from heaven we’ve had since landing in San Francisco on March 5. We are feeling blessedly tired and exceedingly thankful. God has met us, and many in extraordinary ways.

It seemed rather surreal when we were met at the San Francisco airport on Friday, March 5, by our dear friend John Nugent. It was a “what’s he doing here?” moment . . . and then we remembered that he now lives here! John and Marilyn, our long time friends and ministry partners, have relocated to Redwood City, California, because John has assumed the CEO position of the software company Serena. And just in time to attend the Arcade Wesleyan Marriage Retreat, held this year in Santa Cruz! We’ve done a number of conferences for Arcade through the years and we are always impressed with the love and energy they invest in making each couple feel very special with the goodies they gift everyone with upon arrival. Kevin and Cheryl Snider have given leadership to this ministry for almost two decades and are tireless as they invest in marriages. We love partnering with them.

Getting snowbound at Lake Tahoe at their conference two years ago convinced them to seek a new site, out of range of snow, so the conference was moved to a great hotel near Santa Cruz. The Lord blessed us with incredible weather and all around, the weekend was a great success. We were especially pleased to have five young couples, each with their under-six-month-old babies, attend. How wise of them to be committed to investing in their marriages during a season of life which presents some of the greatest challenges to doing so.

Having John and Marilyn at that conference was the icing on the cake. We so enjoyed introducing them to some of our favorite haunts in that area, but honestly, even if we hadn’t left the hotel, it was a joy just to hang out with them. They inspire, challenge, and encourage us and we are so grateful for them

Paul takes home the big prize after throwing a softball in an apple basket at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

It was a gorgeous day for walking and we took full advantage.

The happy “campers” at the Arcade Conference are all smiles as they end their special weekend away.

Before the delight of the conference dissipated, we were on a flight to San Diego to spend a couple of days getting Julie settled in her newest temporary living situation. :) After being somewhat nomadic since early January when she moved out of the house she had lived in since starting PT school in September, she is now sharing a two-bedroom condo with one of her classmates, who is also her favorite study partner. We were thrilled to be able to get her and her stuff off the floor by fetching a bed and a dresser from my parents’ storage. We also had many long talks which resulted in clarity and peace regarding her current station in life. It was such a gift to spend those days with her and we are so grateful for the ways God met us. We were also able to squeeze in a few short visits with family and friends but as always, there wasn’t enough time to do everything.

Back up to the Bay Area on Wednesday night, March 10, to speak at Peninsula Covenant Church’s “Mothers Together” monthly meeting the following morning. Because we had such a wonderful time with this group last year, we were really looking forward to our return visit and we weren’t disappointed. Designed to be an outreach, the serving team pays close attention to creating a warm and welcoming environment for all the mothers who come. We heard many stories from women who have met Christ through this effective “entry point” ministry. It was a great morning and we had numerous conversations with women who appreciated our talk on keeping your marriage a priority.

Mary Sharpless Giani and Anne Gaddini are leaders in “Mothers Together” and it was a joy to reconnect with them!

Later that afternoon, we drove to Sacramento for a ministry engagement in that area. Adding to the attraction of driving four hours for a three-hour evening was being able to hang out with Gabe and Kari before and after the event. :) I don’t think we’ve yet officially announced that Kari is pregnant with our first grandchild - :) - so we also had vested interest in seeing how she is progressing. At just over 4 months, a little “baby bump” has emerged, and this is all very exciting. (A stop at In-N-Out Burger and the Jelly Belly factory en route gave me a little baby bump appearance as well. :) )

Gabe and Kari are thrilled to be expecting their first child in late August.

Our ministry event happened Friday night, March 12, at Bayside Church in West Roseville. The couples evening was scheduled by our dear friends Paul and Stefanie Spangler, who served with us at Campus by the Sea in the summer of 2008. We had a great time reconnecting with them over dinner before the event, and the great time continued through the evening as couples filled out the hall to hear us speak on marriage issues.

Paul and Stefanie Spangler put together a couples’ night at Bayside Church in West Roseville.

Saturday afternoon we drove back to Redwood City and spent an engaging evening with Doug Macrae, his son Drew, and Drew’s girlfriend, Dana, over dinner in Palo Alto. Great food, great friends, great conversation.

The next day, we spoke at all three Sunday services at Peninsula Covenant Church (PCC) on “The Irony of Intimacy.” We have such deep respect for Gary Gaddini, lead pastor of PCC, that speaking to his flock is a true privilege. Gary is a man of standing, marked by integrity and authenticity and that character is reflected throughout his congregation. It was a joy to partner with him. It was also a delight to have a group of our dearest friends from Boston in the service: John and Marilyn Nugent, Carter Welch (who is moving his family to Windsor, California, next month), and the Macraes. It felt very much like home to have them there.

This group of familiar faces from Boston dubbed themselves “H.I.M. West” as we met up at PCC on Sunday. Drew Macrae and his girlfriend Dana departed prior to taking this photo.

Monday dawned beautifully and was the perfect day for the unfolding of Gary and Anne’s plans for us to spend the morning hiking the beach at Half Moon Bay and then reward ourselves with a yummy lunch at the oceanfront Ritz. The only improvement to the day would’ve been lengthening it. We walked, talked, found sea glass, and had yummy food with ones we consider to be very dear friends as well as ministry partners. It was a wonderful recovery day.

Gary and Anne Gaddini show us where they “suffer for Jesus” on the beautiful California coastline.

With clearer heads and refreshed bodies, we returned to the church to do a podcast with PCC’s minister to young adults, Tony, and his wife, Wendy, on the subject of God’s design for our sexuality. (You can check it out here, though it may not be posted quite yet.) A dinner meeting with Matt and Christen Bumen followed that, and then we all went back to PCC for a “mini-marriage conference.” We spoke on love and respect the first session and on marital sexuality the second under the banner of “developing emotional intimacy in marriage.” Both subjects have tremendous power to enhance or destroy emotional intimacy, and as a result are fraught with many challenges.

Some of the couples who came out Monday night, March 15, for the mini-marriage conference at PCC.

Kari and Gabe servant-heartedly drove out to Redwood City that night to drive us back to Sacramento. It was great to debrief with them on the 2-hour ride back to their house...and staying awake was aided by a quick stop at In-N-Out Burger. :)

At this just-over-mid-way point in our 18-day ministry tour, we took a deep breath and thanked the Lord for His faithfulness. We’ve spoken eleven times in 10 days and have been aware of God’s presence in very clear ways in each venue. Our gratitude for getting to do what we do only grows. Thanks for praying and for supporting H.I.M.; that truly helps to keep us in in the saddle . . . or on the road.