It’s a new year!

Hopefully that’s what we’ll be saying after the Pats meet the Jets this Sunday at Gillette.  :)

As our attention turns to a huge nor’easter snowstorm approaching New England and the Pats preparing for the play-offs this weekend, we’re very aware we’re not in Hawaii anymore.  There are a few other reminders as well, like the sub-freezing temps, the piles of dirty snow left over from the post-Christmas storm, and Dunkin’ Donuts stands on every corner.  We’re home—briefly—and our warmth is driven by memories of a wonderful vacation in Hawaii with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon.

Our days on the Big Island, made possible by the generosity of one of our dearest friends who loaned us her condo in Kailua-Kona and lots of frequent flyer miles accrued by our extensive travels, were nothing short of delightful.  Though having a 4-month-old along insured that every day wasn’t filled with early morning to late evening activities as per our normal “vacation” pace, we packed a surprising amount of exploration and discovery into our 8 days there.  One day, we drove up the Kohala Coast and spent several hours on Hapuna Beach as well as Mauna Kea Beach, thrilling to see some humpback whales breaching as they migrated past us.  We drove the Saddle Road to Hilo (a first) and loved seeing multiple waterfalls, gorgeous flowers, and farmers’ markets.  We drove down the east coast of the island to the “end of the road” where volcano Kilauea had buried the town of Kalapana under 75' of lava almost 20 years ago and were amazed to see green growth randomly popping up from the unfriendly lava fields.  Later that evening, we watched Kilauea’s deep orange glow and scalding steam arise as we stood on the crater’s rim.  One day we hiked down to Captain Cook’s memorial, on a very rigorous, broken-lava-strewn, uneven, and toe-catching 2-mile semi-pathway, which was hard to go down (1300' drop in 2 miles), and even harder to go up.  Brandon was the only one who thought it was a blast as he rode in his “Jeep” front pack being worn by his devoted dad.  The snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay was worth it all, admittedly, and yes, we would do it again.

We swam, played tennis and ping pong, Rummikub and Nickel, went to the pool, sipped iced Kona coffee and frozen lattes, savored papayas, pineapples, avocados, and samples at Costco, slept in, napped, watched the wonders of the sea-world (including spouting and breaching whales and sea turtles bellying up to the fresh sushi bar) and the wonders of volcanoes, past and present.  Most of all, though, we passed Brandon around.  He was definitely the star of the show.  Even breaching whales don’t compete with the gift of watching this little guy grow up before our very eyes.  And though I risk sounding like an incurably prejudiced grandma (guilty as charged), he was very easy to be around with his low-key, content, sweet disposition.  

Four month old Brandon is dressed and ready for the surf.

Sporting his Red Sox hat, Brandon and Kari take a walk on Hapuna Beach.

At Honaunau, we couldn’t get enough of these sea turtles who were enjoying “fresh sushi in the sea.”
Down the challenging path to Captain Cook’s memorial, we all snorkeled in Kealakekua Bay and marveled at the stunningly beautiful undersea world.

Back up that awful trail from Captain Cooks, Gabe suppresses his masculine pride to don Kari’s nursing apron to provide protection for Brandon’s fair skin.

Hilo provided some gorgeous waterfall sightings.  Here we pose in front of Pe’e Pe’e Falls.

Gabe stands on the lava formed coastline on the southeastern shore of Hawaii, and is mesmerized by the power and fury of the ocean.

Brandon enjoys the sunset at Honaunau on our last evening together.

This is really what it looked like.  Breathtakingly beautiful, we didn’t leave until the last rays of sun were swallowed up by darkness.

Brandon and his Grandpa exchange smiles as they relax together on the couch.

It’s hard to imagine how the days could’ve been better.  We were blessed in a big way to have these days together, being renewed and refreshed by being in such an extraordinary place.  

The red-eye flight home dimmed some of the glow, but not much.  We were so thankful to get home Friday morning, since a very big weekend was in the wings.

Saturday morning, Jan 8, we were leading Engagement Matters for 12.5 couples.  Along with the resource team of Ryan and Kelly Plosker and Doug and Julie Macrae, we agreed that it was one of the best weekends ever.  Not sure how to qualify that, except to say that we all had great interaction with the couples, who were open, engaged, and taking it all in.  They seemed to be there with hearts to seriously consider truth that would impact their thinking regarding making “the second most important decision of life.”  We continue to love this event and pray that God will use it to change the world through at least a few of these future marriages.

That evening we had the privilege of being a part of Matthew Steele and Stephanie Chin’s wedding reception.  The wedding had occurred earlier in the day, while we were involved with Engagement Matters (EM), but we were so honored to join the festivities at Hei La Moon Restaurant in Chinatown and have Paul serve as emcee for the evening, as well as pronounce a blessing on Matt and Steph at the evening’s close.  It was purely a joyful occasion.  Matt and Steph, who met as undergrads at MIT, both have sincere hearts for the Lord and are committed to honoring Him with their lives, now together.  The merging of their two cultures appeared seamless as they included traditions from both of their backgrounds.  In all, it was a beautifully God-honoring celebration, and a very fitting end to our day.  Matt and Steph had gone through EM a year ago and it felt like a “graduation” of sorts to witness their entry into the covenant of marriage.

With Mr. and Mrs. Steele (times two!) at the reception.

Though we arrived home very late, we got enough sleep to fuel us through the second day of EM, which wrapped up around 3:30 Sunday afternoon.  Some of the comments participants wrote on their evaluations:
“It helped us to bring up and clarify some things we hadn’t discussed and has helped us to grow closer and communicate more effectively”
“Confirmed that problems are real”
“There is a lot to do!  But God’s grace and redemptive nature is so comforting”
“We are getting closer to not getting married.  This has helped us figure this out.  We have seen that we have too many differences.  It raised questions about our relationship we had not faced.”
“It has helped me realize I am marrying a great man.” 
After Engagement Matters concluded, we went on to church for the 5 pm service, and then home to crash.

Monday was actually even longer as we counseled from 8 am to 7:30 pm, virtually break-less, and then went into a H.I.M. Board Meeting.  It was so good to be with our board.  We love each of them so much and are so thankful for their continuing commitment to this ministry in general, and to us personally.  We value their input, insights, and gifts, all of which bring diversity and more depth to the table.  The months ahead are very full of traveling and speaking and we’re raring to go!

Julie’s days in Uganda were very sweet, until Derek’s locked car was broken into right before New Year’s, and they were robbed of all the electronics in the car.  They lost iPods, Kindles, cameras, FLIP video, and Julie’s Blackberry, as well as Julie’s backpack containing her travel Bible, journal, and school work.  That was a real bummer, but they handled it well and chose to be thankful that they still had their irreplaceable things (their lives) and that the pictures in their minds would have to suffice.  It hasn’t been an easy transition back for Julie as she begins her 5th trimester of grad school and their wedding date of August 21 seems very far off at this point, but we’re praying her through each day.

Lisa is meeting herself coming and going as the women’s basketball season heats up, but she’s really enjoying taking care of her 11 players.  In her spare time, she’s trying to buy a car to replace “Olga,” her 1998 bright red with sunroof and leather seats Lincoln Continental whose transmission died just before Christmas.

We’ve launched our second year of reading through the Bible using D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God as a guide.  We’re both committed to being more His than H.I.M.’s this year.  And I continue training for my next half-marathon, which I’ll run February 28 at Disney World. 

We’re so thankful for life, for health, for family and friends, and for the opportunity to minister in this arena.  A belated happy new year!