There's no place like the south . . .

Fresh off the “Worth It” conference and more counseling, we flew to Ft. Worth, Texas, to speak at a marriage conference for Hallmark Baptist Church. Sean and Janelle Willeford, friends through Campus by the Sea, convinced their pastor to invite us and we’re so glad they did! Over dinner Thursday night (which featured guacamole made right at the table!), we connected on a heart and conviction level with Pastor Mike and his wife Diane, who have faithfully labored in ministry together for over 38 years. We were so encouraged to hear about their adult children who are faithfully serving the Lord and to get a sense of their vision for His work at Hallmark Baptist. It is a church with a huge heart for missions. We actually stayed in one of the two “missionary homes” that they maintain right on their church property. These homes are used by missionaries home on furlough, or preparing to go on to the field, or any other need related to missions. What a great idea!

We had most of Friday free before kicking off the marriage conference that evening, so we drove to Coppell to meet my cousin and his wife, Terry and Sunny, for breakfast. The rest of the day was very low-keyed as we relaxed and prepared for the conference. We were very thankful for some “down” time which helped us catch our breath.

Using a creative approach, Sean and Janelle had us speak for an hour, from 6:30 to 7:30, and then, with childcare provided for the rest of the evening, they sent the couples out for a dinner date. Brilliant! We enjoyed our evening on a triple date with Sean’s parents, Mike and Deni Willeford (who had driven in from Visalia, California, to take care of their grandchildren during the conference) and Sean and Janelle. “Salt Grass” served up some great steak and sweet potatoes and we felt very Texan eating there.

Our triple date with Mike and Deni Willeford, and Sean and Janelle Willeford (with their two little ones, Ashton and Aaron). Sean and Janelle are preparing to be career missionaries.

It rained and poured all day Saturday, which made it easy to keep a captive audience. They were both captive and interactive; they posed some well thought out questions which is always a good indicator that they’re wrestling with the content. A delicious catered barbeque lunch was especially appreciated given the rainy weather.

Some of those attending the marriage conference at Hallmark Baptist Church enjoy a yummy catered bbq lunch.

Our commitment to speak on Sunday at their services was renegotiated (thanks to the gracious release of Pastor Mike) due to the death of Paul’s sister Beth’s husband, Clint Smith, so Paul flew off to Rogue River, Oregon, to participate in his services on Sunday, April 18. Concurrently, I flew to San Diego to surprise Julie for her 25th birthday, which was Monday, April 19. Though we would’ve preferred being both places together, we felt that dividing and conquering was most prudent.

Paul was really thankful for his time with his sisters at Clint’s funeral. It was a wonderful celebration of Clint’s life and their 25 years of marriage, which we helped them celebrate last June.

And I was really thankful for my time with Julie and her roommate. It turned out to be great timing to not only celebrate this “rite of passage” birthday with Julie, but also to hang out with her roommate who is just beginning her journey of walking with Christ. The time, though short, was very sweet on both counts. Before I could unpack, I was back on a red-eye to Boston Monday night in order to counsel on Tuesday. :)

Jules and I celebrate her 25th with fresh sushi. Paul wasn’t too sad to miss this meal. :)

In spite of being in the middle of intense finals, Julie’s classmates at physical therapy school took time to surprise her with a cake in honor of her birthday.

After a full day of counseling on April 20, Paul flew to California Wednesday to attend another funeral. This one was for our long-time friend and co-worker at Campus by the Sea, Rick Durvay, who dropped dead ten days earlier while mountain biking on Catalina. It’s suspected that a heart attack took him at the young age of 58, so his death came as a big shock. Though we’ve had very limited contact with Rick in the recent past, his long history of serving at CBS as a mechanic and general all-around fix-it man makes him unforgettable. Paul was delighted to reconnect with many veteran CBS staff at the funeral and was especially encouraged by the spiritual vitality of so many of them. It was of great comfort to those who loved Rick to be assured of his commitment to Christ as expressed in a piece he wrote by hand just months before dying.

Rick’s death was another sobering reminder of the vaporous nature of life on earth.

Meanwhile I flew to Lake Charles, Louisiana, on Thursday and Paul joined me there Friday for our second annual southwest Louisiana marriage conference, hosted by Mark and Deb McCormick and Water’s Edge Church. Deb is one of the most creative, competent, and energetic women we know (check out her website and she did a great job of putting this conference together. Recruiting from eight different area churches, she pulled off a cooperative event that served many.

The lead pastor of Water’s Edge, Tony Bourque, and his wife Rachel have a heart and a passion for doing church authentically and relevantly. Their two-year-old church plant, which rents the local movie theater for Sunday morning services, is growing by leaps and bounds and Tony was delighted to partner with the McCormicks to have a focused “shot in the arm” for the marriages of their congregation. The response on Saturday was very positive.

Paul and I preached at the movie theater Sunday morning and that was a first! Kinda cool, actually. It did seem like the smell of popcorn should’ve come wafting through the place...

We’ve spent the last two days reconnecting with my extended family in New Orleans and Mandeville. What a joy to have another opportunity to hang out with Uncle Don and Aunt Ann, my mother’s only living sibling. An early morning 3-mile walk on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain started Monday a.m. and that walk helped to counter the effects of the beignets and cafe au lait we later consumed at Cafe du Monde in the French Quarters. After poking around in New Orleans for several hours, we made our way to St. Martinville, the home of the Evangeline Oak that Longfellow poetically wrote of. It is also the home of my mother’s French heritage, as her great-grandfather, Louis Pierre Theriot, was raised there. We stayed in an ancient convent/house turned B & B, the Old Castillo Inn, and celebrated our 34th anniversary which we barely marked on the 24th due to the marriage conference. It was very sweet.

After exploring the town of St. Martinville on Tuesday a.m., we drove to Lake Martin and walked the 5-mile trail encircling the lake/swamp/bayou. What a fascinating place! It hosts a rookery, which was teeming with nesting Snowy White Egrets, Blue Heron, Roseate Spoonbills, and several other species of beautiful birds. Dozens and dozens of nests, perched in trees, filled with parents and babies, could be viewed from the trail and how fortunate for us to be there while so much was going on. Besides birds, Lake Martin is known for its alligator populations and we were fortunate enough to be able to photograph this guy who was posing on the banks of the swamp. Very exciting for nature lovers like us! We felt like we were in a different world.

This guy posed so nicely. And yes, he was alive. He eventually slithered back into the swamp.

By now hungry, we had some great Cajun food at a local spot (broiled catfish topped with shrimp etouffee) and then back to Sulphur for a family night with the McCormicks which included some rec baseball featuring their middle son, Bryce, and pizza. We love the three boys, but are so aware of how different a boy house is from a girl house!

And now, we’re on our way to California to be a part of two different conferences. We’ll present a couple of workshops at THRIVE, the sixth annual leadership conference hosted by Bayside Church of Granite Bay, then do a marriage conference at BOSS (Bayside of South Sacramento) . . . and then home on May 4.

An added bonus of being in Sacramento, of course, is checking on the progress of our developing grandson. :) Everything looks good as Kari completes five months. We are all so thankful!

Other family news: Julie is spending her two-week break between trimesters of physical therapy school (she’s now 2/7 done!) in Uganda, visiting some very special children and an even more special young man. And Lisa has successfully completed the requirements for her masters degree in exercise physiology and will be walking May 7. She has accepted a job at James Madison University and will be the athletic trainer for the women’s division 1 soccer team beginning August 1. We are so thankful for God’s hand of blessing on our family.

And so the adventure continues. These two weeks in the south have been full of delight. The food, the nature, the friendly folks . . . there really is no place like the south.