New Year's . . . Really? (Part 1)

Does anyone else feel like New Year's Day should be about now—and that though the calendar already says January 16, 2013, it feels like that's impossible?

That's where I am.  We have just finished a full-to-overflowing month, filled with memorable family moments, rest, rejuvenation, and renewal.  "The End" to our family reunion was written Monday night as we bid farewell to Derek and Julie and sent them back to Uganda.  Let the New Year begin!  

So, after a month of not needing to know exactly what day it was very often, we're back at it.  An early morning trip to Logan and we're off to California and Colorado for a 12-day ministry tour.  The New Year is rolling.

But first, I need to wrap up 2012.  Picking up just after Thanksgiving,  I had an important lunch with my longtime mentor and friend, Gail MacDonald.  It's impossible to express what it means to me to have Gail continuing to invest in my life, which she's faithfully done for 28 years.  I've learned so much from her, both formally and informally, and her life lived for Christ has hugely influenced mine.  I will be forever grateful that Gail continues to carve out time in her very busy schedule for me.

Lunch with Gail MacDonald at the Bedford House in NH,
belatedly celebrating my birthday and prematurely celebrating hers!

We welcomed in December with a half-day H.I.M.-sponsored conference, "The Church Family and Your Family."  Designed to encourage churches to intentionally build into families and marriages, we were very pleased with the group of around 30 that gathered that morning, representing about 8 local churches.  We were especially impressed by Bethany Gospel Chapel of Swansea, which sent four couples from their leadership.  That's a church that is serious about this very important mission!  The morning was lively with discussion and inspiration, all while sitting in the atrium-like living room of the Macraes' home as snow fell softly outside.  It was a really wonderful way to spend the day!

The group of leaders from Bethany Gospel Chapel who attended
“The Church Family and Your Family” conference.

Monday, Dec. 3, we were honored to partner with the Faith EV Free Church of Acton by speaking to their Mom to Mom group.  Lorraine Stobbe extended the invitation and we were so pleased to be a part of that very exciting ministry.  One of the women we spoke to afterwards shared that she had just come to Christ after having been a part of Mom to Mom for several years, and that she was now praying for her husband to embrace Christ.  Very cool.  

The week was filled with counseling, Patriots studies, and getting things done for Christmas.   As I was perusing my iPhoto collection of photos for this blog, I came across this one which seemed very fitting to include.  Our ideas about love and serving can be so lofty at times and seem out of reach, but this photo captures love-in-action.  We "rescued" this destined-for-the-garbage pumpkin from the porch of some dear friends, and Paul, as a gift to me, processed it.  Our freezer now has a good amount of pureed fresh pumpkin, which will be used to make soup, pies, and breads.  It's a win-win-win.  Paul has spoken my love language loud and clear and has been duly appreciated, and many will enjoy the fruit of his labor in various treats from the kitchen.  And the pumpkin has a happier ending than in a landfill.  

The girls asked if he used a chain saw to cut this baby open.
He did not.  Just brute strength and a huge karate chop.  :)

We canceled Engagement Matters scheduled Dec. 8-9 due to low enrollment, which opened up the weekend for our annual trip to St. Louis.  We were SO happy to not break tradition with our beloved Williams family.  As usual, our weekend was filled with baking, talking, and catching up, in between and during their normally scheduled school and sports events.  Something new this year was being introduced to "The Duck Dynasty" reality t.v. show . . . and that made the girls "happy, happy, happy."  So many great moments with this precious family; so thankful for this Christ-centered home.

The tradition continues: matching jammies for
the family . . . except for Wilson, the dog.  

All too quickly the weekend was over and we flew home on Monday, Dec. 10, in time to go to Gillette Stadium with Stacia and Annette Woodhead to watch the Patriots handle the Texans (the first time.)  Annette, the mother of #39 (aka Danny, Woody, etc.), and I had a blast talking shop about marriage and family during commercial breaks.  We share many similar passions, and she and her husband are helping families in Nebraska embrace God's design for them.  The weather was great, the game was a blow-out, and still, it was the conversation with Annette that was the highlight.  It's so very encouraging to see how God is using others to impact our very confused and wounded culture with the good news of the gospel. 

We had a great night at Gillette Stadium with Stacia and Annette Woodhead.  Go Pats!!!

We wrapped up the Patriots Women’s study on Wednesday, December 12, with a cinnamon roll baking workshop.  With 18 women regularly involved in the study this year, I hadn’t really thought of what that meant in terms of dough for this popular annual event.  I now know.  It means A LOT of dough!  I started making the dough at 5 a.m. and drove down to Attleboro at 8 a.m. with 12 batches of dough rising in the trunk of our car.  :)  Thankfully, we had plenty of dough and lots of laughs working with it.

We also wrapped up a wonderful fall study of Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas and had a time of sharing about what the study had meant to each one.  It was evident that God was stirring hearts and drawing us closer to Him through our time, which—cinnamon rolls aside—really is the desire.  I’m so thankful for each of these precious women.  They are really very special. 

A few of the women proudly showcase their handiwork.  

Our final women’s study—sweet, sweet group.

It was straight from baking rolls to Logan to pick up Julie and Derek from Uganda!!!  Our dear friend Helen had joined us for a few days to be my right hand girl in all the preparation, baking, wrapping, cleaning, etc., so it was an extra mutual bonus for all parties to reconnect.  Homecomings are usually joyful and this one surely qualified.

These happy smiles are for more than the Dunkin' Donuts
coffee Helen bought to welcome these two from Africa!

Later that evening, Paul returned to Logan to pick up Danny Oertli, who had been flown in to do a mini-concert for the Patriots Couples Christmas party Thursday night.  Arriving after midnight, he thought he had landed at the North Pole upon seeing the “elves” hard at work making gingerbread houses.  :)

The after-hours crew making the annual gingerbread houses.

After a full morning of counseling, we finished baking, wrapping, and preparing for the grand finale of the Patriots Couples’ Study, and headed down to Attleboro for a really great night.  Betsy Hasselbeck and Kara Mankins had transformed the Mankins’ dining room into a beautifully decorated room, delicious food had been brought in, and the Ugly Sweater Christmas party began.  (Let me note here that when it had been suggested during the previous study that the party become an “Ugly Christmas Sweater” night, I had NO idea that they were referring to the very sweaters that I’ve worn Christmas after Christmas, never thinking them “ugly.”  I honestly thought they meant something very different, so was I surprised to show up and see what this young generation considers “ugly.”  What a rude awakening!)

Sweaters aside, the evening couldn't have been more delightful.  After laughing over the parade of "ugly sweaters" and eating a fabulous meal,  Danny Oertli did a fabulous concert, highlighted by his original tune written just for that night (in anticipation of the AFC title game between his beloved Broncos and our beloved Pats.  You can hear it here on YouTube:    As we now know, that song will have to wait for another year to go viral, as the Broncos will be watching the Pats and the Ravens in the AFC title game, but we all thoroughly enjoyed Danny's creativity and passion expressed in that song.  Matthew Slater talked about his walk with Christ and Paul wrapped it up with a charge that goes beyond the season.  It was a perfect night and we were very, very thankful for how God had met us through the study this season.

The Ugly Sweater gang

That takes us through Dec. 13 and that’s it for now.

I have to try to figure out how it’s already Jan. 16.