January has run out of days

As the snow falls steadily outside our warm house, adding another 20 or so inches on top of the 3' already on the ground, we are thrilled to be “figures in a snow globe” here rather than enjoying warm weather and just reading about yet another wintry blast hitting  New England.  It is true: we love snow—and hopefully have enough pleasure in it to counterbalance the unwelcome reception this snow is getting from the majority of people in these parts.  Not that we’re unsympathetic or unaware of the hardship this poses to many, but we can either be sad, mad, or glad about it and it won’t change the reality that we can’t control the weather!  That’s probably a good reminder to the many who pompously believe we are in charge!

Backing up a bit, I did miss the big storm of Jan 11–13 (but Paul didn’t! And yes, he’s done lots of hand shoveling!!) as I scooted out of town to surprise Lisa on her 28th birthday.  It was so much fun because it was a total surprise, thanks to one of Lisa’s housemates, Annie, who picked me up in Charlottesville and delivered me to their house literally 5 minutes before Lisa got home from work.  I actually almost gave her a heart attack when she walked in since I was lurking in the darkened hallway outside her bedroom, attempting to position myself in a place that would have made for a happy surprise rather than a terrifying moment of her thinking an intruder was hunched in front of her door.  She screamed, loud enough to waken the dead—or at least to make her upstairs housemates think  she was being attacked—and in the end, we all laughed ’til our sides ached and Lisa just kept repeating, “I can’t believe you’re here!”  Great (and slightly terrifying) memories.

I had the privilege of spending 2.5 days shadowing her world and I loved every minute of it.  I got to meet her athletes, her colleagues, hang with her housemates, watch her team play (and beat Drexel women in OT).  We got to do a bit of after Christmas shopping, ate some great meals, and did a few runs together (my half-marathon Feb. 27 is looming.)  We test-drove the car she was considering buying and we stayed up late every night, chatting with her housemates, on subjects trivial to life-changing.  It was wonderful in every way—and all too quickly was over.  

Lisa’s  birthday dinner of sushi at “Beyond,” a great restaurant in Harrisonburg.
Back to Boston I flew Friday night in time for Saturday’s all-day marriage conference at Community Chapel in Nashua, NH.  Pastored by Geoff DeFranca, this second annual conference is an expression of where his heart beats.  Geoff has a vision for building into marriages and families in his congregation, so the Saturday conference was flanked by sermons from the pulpit on the same subject.  We are growing to love this church and loved partnering with them for the second January in a row.

We went straight from Nashua to Boxborough, NH, for the sixth annual Mid-Winter Family Getaway.  Sixteen families chose to spend the Martin Luther King Jr. three-day weekend this way and none regretted doing so.  The weekend is low program and high family fun time in a pool-centered way.  Each morning and each night, families worshiped together led by Brian Dietz, and then had devotions together, led by Paul.  We love this weekend because it affords families the opportunity to do life together, from playing to praying.  It was really encouraging for us to see the older children (there were bonafide teenagers attending) playing with and mentoring the younger ones (all the way down to 2-year-olds.)  

The low point of the weekend for all was the Jets-Pats game Sunday afternoon.  What a time for the team to not show up.  It was really hard to see our guys not play their game, especially because it fed the verbal vitriol of the other team.  Tough loss.  But fortunately, in the scope of life, it’s just a game.  Really . . . it is.

The families at the Mid-Winter Getaway worship together under the direction of Brian Dietz.

Home for a couple of days, we counseled for a full day and caught up on life a bit.  We shared some great meals with our houseguests, Al and Bonnie Magill, whose treatments at Mass General were disrupted by equipment failure, extending their stay until the end of January.  

And then I left town again.  :)  Uncannily, I left just before another big storm hit—and I had to settle for reports from first-hand witnesses, which included Paul.  I joined our three daughters and Brandon in San Diego for a wedding prep weekend and we had a great and productive time.  Joined by our very dear friend Wendy Turney on Friday, we narrowed the search for the wedding dress to a few, and joined by another very dear Wendy (Offield) on Saturday, we made the purchase.  We also packed in a visit to the wedding venue, Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, where we were joined by several of the girls’ cousins, and we bought the bridesmaids’ dresses.  All the while, Brandon was proving his worthy appointment as the only male allowed on this girls-only soiree...He couldn’t have been easier.  And he was the only thing that rivaled the center-stage attention focused on the bride-to-be, who was more than happy to share the spotlight with him.

Brandon was happily allowed to crash the girls-only wedding shopping trip.

Three sisters and a baby—the smiles tell it all!

Our home base for this very special weekend was in San Diego at my parents’ new condo, so an added delight was having Brandon meet his maternal great-grandparents and several aunts, uncles, and cousins.  A Sunday afternoon gathering was hosted by my sister Lucy, providing a great place for mingling and eating.

Great Grandma Collins has a happy moment with Brandon, who thinks she’s very funny.

Getting ready to go to the airport, we pose for a rare photo of four generations.

I returned home late on Tuesday night, Jan. 25,and  we counseled all day Wednesday—and prepared for another storm.  As the snow fell,  we shared our last night with Al and Bonnie, as he had graduated from the treatment program that day.  We got them underway Thursday, the 27th around noon, sending them off with thanksgiving for a great almost three months together and trusting that the proton radiation treatment was effective.  We look forward to reconnecting with them in the months and years to come.
Al and Bonnie are packed and ready to return to upstate New York, where they’re supposed to have lots of snow!

Before we flew to Georgia on Friday, the 28th, we had the joy of meeting up with a very long time friend who serves as the assistant head coach for the FSU (Florida State University) women’s basketball team.  Cori Close grew up coming to Campus by the Sea with her family and has consistently and faithfully followed Christ throughout her life.  Still single (but very open to marriage!), she has been used by God to encourage and mentor countless women, on and off the basketball court.  Cori came to town with her team to take on the BC women, and we not only had a great visit with her before the game, but we got to see her in action as she helped coach her team to a win over the Eagles.  It was really fun to be there, and it’s always good to see the team you’re rooting for win,  but that was nothing compared to the joy of reconnecting with this quality, godly young woman.  It makes us smile to think of the fortunate girls who are being coached by her — for what it means for them as basketball players, and even more for what it means for their lives long beyond the court. 

We flew to Rome for the weekend.  Rome, Georgia, that is.  :)  Our second trip to those parts in four months, we returned to speak for a marriage conference hosted by First Presbyterian Church.  Their family pastor, Tommy Overton, graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary around 2000 and our connections were minimal then.  Over a year ago, our dear friends and ministry partners, Nate and Jeannie King, moved into the same neighborhood as the Overtons in Rome and eventually made the “we know the Friesens” connection.  That planted the seeds for our speaking at this conference.

We’ve just returned from that conference and we’re still a bit floaty.  It was just that kind of a weekend.  A sold-out crowd (with twice as many coupes as they had originally booked for), great response, great interaction, beautiful place, perfect weather, and significant “hand of God” insights/moments.  We really felt met by God.

The conference planning committee

Additionally, it was just a gift to hang out with Nate and Jeannie and their precious little crew of four.  We’re never far from remembering what a privilege it is to journey through life with families like these, whose lives are so focused on becoming all God wants them to be.  Nate and Jeannie are being used by God to make such a difference in their children’s school, several churches, and a few ministries, all with the purpose of strengthening marriages and families.  We’re loving seeing what God is doing in their lives!

After the conference ended, we visited the Butterfly Garden within Callaway Gardens (which is where the getaway was held) with Nate and Jeannie.
And now we’re home, shockingly for just over a week.  Our H.I.M.-sponsored parenting conference this weekend, featuring Gary Thomas, will keep us busy the balance of this week, and then we head back to California on February 10.  

On the family front, Kari and Gabe are experiencing the small scale trauma of Brandon’s first cold.  Fortunately, no one is worried that he’s at risk of “failing to thrive”—all 18-plus pounds of him!  He marked his five-month birthday on Saturday and is starting to sit up and to “talk”, sometimes at an irritating decibel level.  They’re loving being parents and are learning to juggle the family/work balance.

Lisa bought a car.  After much deliberation and a lot of research (aided by our dear, stewardship-driven friend Marilyn), she drove out of the lot last night in a new Hyundai Elantra.  She is beyond excited and thankful for this means of transportation and symbol of adulthood.  She hopes to be driving it 10 years from now.

And Julie is knocking out PT school.  Not that she’s counting, but only 42 days remain in this four-days-a-week trimester.  It’s the last highly academic (and intensely demanding) one of the course.  Derek and wedding plans are the other two time fillers in her life.  We are really proud of the perseverance she is demonstrating as she moves towards completing her doctor of physical therapy.

It’s been such a joy for me to be with all of the girls this month.  We just really like being together and those times are fewer and farther between.  We don’t take any of these moments for granted.
The final pictures need no explanation.  The first was taken on our back porch, which hasn’t been cleared of snow this month, so the 3-foot-deep untouched bank of snow was too tempting.  Someone had to do it—and in the absence of the three snow angels who grew up in this home, their father took the plunge.  There are some benefits to having this much snow.  :)