Southern Living

As the last vestiges of the H.I.M. marriage conference evaporated, and after we had deposited Bob and Carol Kraning at Logan and put in a full day of counseling, off we flew to Charleston, South Carolina. Our dear friends and ministry partners, Jack and Leiann Harvey (and their daughter, Olivia) had invited us to do some “seed planting” for holding a future marriage conference in their area. The Harveys relocated from the south shore of Boston to Charleston over three years ago and were eager to expand the exposure of Home Improvement Ministries to their new neck of the woods.

Our three days in Charleston were full of delight. We love the South! It’s just so different: from the food (grits, anyone?) to the slower pace of life, you know you’re not in the northeast anymore!

We spoke at two events during our three days. Friday afternoon, Lisa and I spoke for Leiann’s “Friday Friends Gathering.” A group of nine-year-old girls and their moms came, and Lisa lead the girls in a small Bible study and then hung out with them while the moms and I chatted about several parenting issues. Though sickness and travel kept a number away, we enjoyed those who came and felt it was profitable.

Jack, Olivia, and Leiann swing together in downtown Charleston on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Lisa along with several moms and daughters came together for “Friday Friends Gathering” at the Harveys’ home.

Saturday night, eight couples joined Jack and Leiann for an informal evening of dessert and dialogue about God’s design for marriage. The group was engaged and responsive and were sold on having us back in the fall. We’re scheduled to return to Charleston to do a larger scale conference the weekend of November 5-7.

The couples thoroughly enjoyed watching a brief clip from Brian Regan at the beginning of our talk.

Saturday morning, Olivia watched closely as I conducted yet another cinnamon roll workshop. :)

It was such a joy to be with the Harveys from beginning to end. Their family is thriving as is their marriage, and God is using them to make an impact in their neighborhood and marketplace. We can’t wait to return in November.

And just in case you’re wondering what Lisa (who lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia, while she finishes her masters degree in exercise physiology at JMU) was doing in Charleston . . . “her” softball team (she’s their athletic trainer) had a tournament there that weekend! We were thrilled to connect with her and to watch her in action as she tended to the needs of the team.

After the fourth game, Lisa’s team lines up for ice packs. She is really good at what she does!

Paul arranged our flight from Charleston to have a 3 hour lay-over in Washington, D.C., so we could have a quick lunch with my parents and sister and brother-in-law. We were amazed by the massive amount of snow still piled in their front yard, as well as the Saints’ flag proudly displayed at their house.

Yes, that’s about 3 feet of snow STILL in their yard on Feb. 22! The flag WILL outlast the snow, they trust. :)

In one of our shortest turn-arounds ever, we returned home around 7 pm on the 22nd and were underway at 7 am on the 23rd. Crazy, yes. But it made sense at one point. It definitely made no sense as we were trying to do laundry and re-pack for our six-day trip to Dallas! Thankfully we made it, with very little sleep, and arrived in Dallas in time to celebrate the retirement of Norm and Bobbe Evans from their post as President and First Lady of ProAthletes Outreach. For 25 years, they’ve held that position for this organization which ministers to professional athletes, primarily in the NFL and in MLB. This ministry of “pro’s to pro’s” has impacted thousands through the years as the Evanses have been a part of 200 conferences during their tenure. They have been committed to excellence and have brought solid Bible teachers and godly leaders together to staff their conferences. It was a privilege to join with a large group of friends and ministry partners to honor them and their years of service.

Paul and I have deep respect for Bobbe and Norm Evans and their work with Pro Athletes Outreach for the past 25 years.

Before the annual PAO NFL conference kicked off Wednesday night, Paul and I stole away to Rowlett (on the east side of Dallas) and had lunch at my cousins’ Brian and Scott Shiell’s restaurant, Big Star. We’ve been eager to experience this popular burger joint and weren’t disappointed. Great food in a clean, cute setting. If you’re in the Dallas area, you should check it out.

Brian and Sharon Shiell and Scott (along with his wife, Amy, who is not pictured) run this great little restaurant in Rowlett, Texas.

The PAO conference got underway Wednesday night, Feb. 24, with the changing of the guard. Norm and Bobbe officially retired, and Steve and Lori Stenstrom took the reins as the new president and first lady of PAO. Don and Yannette Davis (retired Patriot) have been appointed to manage the NFL division of PAO and they did a fabulous job of providing strong leadership as they ran their first conference. It was the largest conference in the history of PAO with 450 participating and it was a great conference. Great speakers, great worship, great times of fellowship, and great times of service. Paul and I did a workshop on marital communication to an overflowing crowd and had a ton of meaningful interaction from morning until late at night for all four days of the conference. It was a joy to have a number of our Patriot and ex-Patriot couples there and we all happily gathered around Paul’s chocolate chip cookies one night. It’s an honor to be part of such a unique ministry - hard to believe that we’ll be in our 11th season with the Patriots couples’ study this fall.

Most PAO conferees partnered with World Vision and packed medical supply bags for AIDS patients to be distributed where needed, while others visited a local juvenile detention center and shared the gospel.

The highlight of the PAO conference was the baptism service held in the hotel pool Saturday morning. It was so moving to hear testimony upon testimony of God’s work in the lives of these athletes.

Pats and ex-Pats gathered for a photo after our last meal together. What a precious group!

We debriefed until the wee hours of the morning following the final session, celebrating the redemptive ways God had worked among us through the conference and acknowledging that He was present in a big way each day. How thankful we were for the opportunity to be part of such an important and impacting ministry.

Off we rolled to Stonebriar Church in Plano early Sunday morning to hear Chuck Swindoll preach. Our niece and her husband, Steve and Stephanie Stuck, are both on the ministry team at that church, so our main objective was to have time with them and their sweet little almost-one-year-old, Natalie. We learned more about some of the many ways they contribute to their church: Steve is a musician/composer and had written the accompaniment for a song performed there that morning, and Stephanie helps keep order in enrollment and check-in for Sunday School through their computer system--and she certainly was on top of her job. We love to be with the Stucks, not just because they’re related or because Paul married them 10 years ago, but because we love their hearts and their passions. Though our time was short, it was very sweet.

Stephanie and Natalie give warm Texas smiles from their home in Celina.

One more visit before flying home on Monday: we made it back to Rowlett for dinner with Virginia’s Shiell cousins. Besides having delicious “muffalettas” and red beans and rice, we shared great moments of raucous laughter, reminiscing over days gone by. Good times.

Lots of first Shiell first cousins and their kids gathered for dinner in Rowlett to celebrate family.

And so the sun has set on several more ministry opportunities. We continue to be grateful for health, strength, and ever deepening passion for what we’re doing.