We waited a long time for it, but winter finally made an appearance in New England the first weekend of March. Barely. It squeaked in just as Danny and Rayna Oertli were flying in from Denver, Colorado, to lead worship at our H.I.M. Marriage Getaway in Newport, Rhode Island, and the snow added a festive touch to their arrival. Fortunately, it had no impact on our weekend conference, as the weather cleared out and warmed up by the time we launched on Friday, March 2.
We love this annual conference at the Viking Hotel in Newport. The setting is spectacular, the hotel service is top-shelf, and there always seems to be a spirit of anticipation that God will meet us in a big way. This year was no exception. Eighty-five couples were warmly welcomed by our smiling registration team first, and then by beautifully set tables as they entered the ballroom. Kelly Plosker gave the Macraes a break this year by taking over the decoration task and did a great job of setting the stage for a romantic getaway. We feel so blessed to have such a capable team around us, who take care of everything from the book table to the printing and everything in between.
The H.I.M. Board once again insisted that Paul and I speak for this conference. We resisted initially, but then submitted and considered it a great honor and privilege to speak to the hometown crowd. It's always more challenging to prepare to speak at "home" to people who know us well and have heard us many, many times. But God was with us and we felt met by Him. We especially enjoyed developing a talk on “Friendship in Marriage,” which at first blush sounds unromantic. But it's our growing conviction that maintaining friendship in marriage is a key to growing vitality and deepening love. Many couples who come to us for counseling complain that though they're committed to staying together, they really don't like each other any more. True friends don't say that about their relationship. We had fun working with the concept.
Besides our four plenary sessions, we had some great workshops offered and inspiring worship led by the Oertlis. We purposely leave Saturday afternoon free for couples to reconnect (which we feel is the greatest need for most couples on a getaway weekend), and the Lord provided bright sunny skies for those who ventured out. From the things we could control to the things we couldn't, all went swimmingly and we were encouraged to hear many affirming comments on the weekend experience. Here are a few of them:
"Thanks again to you and Paul for a great weekend. One of the takeaways was that we really need to understand God's word as written in the Bible more and to live according to His word. The weekend taught me that our 'instructions' on life according to God's plan are all there in the Bible."
"Thank you so much for putting together the weekend retreat. We got so much out of it; it is hard to adequately describe the impact that it had on us. Our marriage and our relationship with God is so much better for the time we spent in Newport. The speakers, the workshops, the worship—all were incredible! This was the first marriage retreat we have attended; you've set the bar awfully high!"
"Another wonderful weekend by Home Improvement Ministries. Thank you for investing in our lives and marriages. May God continue to bless your ministry."
The H.I.M. Board met Monday night, the 5th of March, and discussed strategies for increasing the impact of HIM. We continue to be so grateful for such a supportive group of men and women who invest greatly and sacrificially in this ministry. It is certainly an understatement that we couldn't do it without them.
After a couple of days of counseling, we packed our bags and flew to Detroit for several days of ministry with Ann Arbor Christian School. Our longtime friends Wai and Elaine Wong (who lived in Boston previously and were very involved with us 2000-2005) arranged for us to come to serve their school community. We had a blast! They put together a very diverse schedule for us, starting with an early morning parenting seminar Friday. The small crowd they expected multiplied and filled the library. Perhaps word got out that Paul Friesen's "breakfast biscuits" (aka his chocolate chip cookies) would be served. Whatever, it was a great start to a full couple of days. Next on the schedule was speaking for the school-wide chapel, and Paul's cookies were served there as part of the devotional. The Wong girls said that Uncle Paul was the best chapel speaker ever. :) Admittedly he had an unfair advantage with his world-famous cookies. :)
Chapel was followed by a delightful lunch at our niece, Heidi Rottschafer Lemmerhirt's home, with her husband, Dave, and children, Daniel and Anna. We loved being in their hospitable home and reconnecting with them. Next was a meeting with one of the pastors from Heidi and Dave's church who is developing a family ministries emphasis. Almost nothing gets our adrenaline going more than being part of a conversation focused on equipping and encouraging churches to address this "blind spot" in many of our churches today. We had a great, stimulating time with Tom and Ruth Ann Robertson.
We closed out the day with an evening marriage seminar at the school. The turn-out was great and our talks well-received. We were especially thrilled to have Joe and Lynn Forrester in the audience. They drove down from the Upper Peninsula (Cedarville) for the conference to put live faces with a relationship that began online just over a year ago.
The back story begins when an order for a case of
Letters to My Daughters
came in from Michigan. Paul didn't recognize the name of the customer, so he sent an email asking who they were and why they wanted a case of books. Joe wrote back:
Our organization typically does 50 gift bags for high school graduations. A recent graduate recommended your book. We obtained a copy. Read it and immediately decided we needed more copies. The book is so needed today and the way it was put together is outstanding. Thank you for all your insights. God bless you, Joe and Lynn
We couldn't wait to meet this couple! Both retired from the U.S. Navy and are fully engaged in serving the next generation where they are. They have already given out hundreds of copies of
and have a vision that every high school senior girl will get a copy of it in the years to come. It was truly a highlight of our weekend to spend some time with them. They’re Christ-followers, living missionally, and making a difference. They are tilling the soil to have us come to their area to do a marriage/family conference in 2013. What a privilege to partner with such "we're not gonna waste our life" folks. They wrote us after the weekend:
It was a very special educational experience for us. We certainly enjoyed meeting the Wongs and your niece and nephew.
We knew Virginia was going to be exceptional from her book. What we did not know was what a great team the two of you make.
Lynn and I discussed so many new ideas on the way home that we almost reached overload. The Lord knows our limits so we feel he will not give us anything we cannot handle.
We really liked the idea of putting together a series of seminars at Cedar Campus during the first week of June in 2013. Now we have to work out the local details and then we will get back to you with specific proposals.
May God see you safely home,
And that was Friday!!
Saturday started early as we met with the Forresters before the morning seminar on parenting. The whole morning went really well and we were truly honored to partner with the Wongs and their vision for their school community. We also enjoyed connecting with Wayne Sit, the headmaster of the school for the past 2.5 years, and were happily surprised to know that we were familiar to him since Boston and Park Street Church were home to him prior to his move to Ann Arbor. He was extremely supportive of our time there and sent us this kind note:
"Thank you for coming. We felt so blessed and grateful for your guidance and leadership this weekend. Many families at our school were thrilled with their time with you and Virginia." A return trip is in the works.
The rest of our weekend was spent hanging with several dear friends, along with the Wongs. The time passed too quickly and before we knew it, we were on a flight back to Boston, carrying with us many precious memories of a wonderful weekend. It was especially encouraging to “do life” with the Wongs, who are deeply committed to honoring the Lord in their marriage and their family. Their home was marked with Christlikeness and was refreshing to our souls.
Back home . . . briefly. Counseling, unpacking, speaking at a moms’ group at Bethany Gospel Chapel in Swansea, repacking . . . and then off to California to speak at Journey of Faith Church in El Segundo. This conference has been a long time coming, and we were so happy it came together. Our very longtime friends Gene and Teri Engle hosted us in their always-open home that Friday night and we enjoyed the evening with their family. The all-day Saturday marriage conference was held at the church, which was dry and warm while a ferocious rain storm swept through the area in the morning. Those who planned the conference had the brilliant foresight to provide a counterpart children's program which enable many young families to benefit from the day. We were especially touched by the entourage of Air Force couples who drove from Edwards AFB east of Lancaster to attend the conference. It would be hard to find a more responsive and receptive audience than we did there. Once again, we were aware that God was with us. After each event, we thank Him for being the change agent in people's lives. We're called to be faithful; He's in charge of changing lives.
Because of canceling our “Worth It” conference which had been scheduled for March 24, and because of our nephew’s wedding in California on March 31, we decided to stay west through his wedding and take a writing break. We're both working on projects which have been all but neglected for too long and know that we need blocks of time in order to make progress. So, after spending a couple of days with my folks in San Diego (a delight as always), we're hiding out in Camarillo in the home of some dear friends who currently reside outside of the U.S. Our first few days here have been fraught with distractions, some of our own making, and others of satan's making. We’re attributing some crazy problems with my computer to the latter. Things are settling in now, though, and we’re beginning to make some progress. Pray that these days will be productive and that we'll allow the Holy Spirit to direct our writing.
Before I sign off, let me briefly update you on the family: Derek and Julie are happily settling in Mbale. Though their first seven weeks have been buffeted by some trials, they're riding the waves together well. They blog here
Julie's doing a great job of keeping us in the loop of their life in Africa. Lisa spent an indulged week in Costa Rica with the JMU women's soccer team, which was a delightful break for her from her rigorous schedule as an athletic trainer. And Gabe, Kari, and Brandon are in transition, having resigned from their work at "The House" Church. They are seeking God for the next chapter of their life.
So we’ve left the not-too-wintery environs of New England for the beautiful coastline of California, and are soaking in the natural gifts of this area. As much as we love snow, if push comes to shove, the surf is going to win . . . most every time.