To and from Ann Arbor with love

(Note:  this blog was started April 18th . . . and finished May 10.)

It actually felt great to board the flight to Detroit on Thursday, April 11, though weather delays out of Boston and again out of Chicago turned the 3.5 hour flight time into a 10-hour day, door-to-door.  No worries: delays in airports are seen as walking fields for me and as an office extension for Paul.  :)  "Latent Spring" continued in Ann Arbor under cloudy skies and rainy weather, and there were no signs of spring, except in the beautiful cut flowers from Costco which adorned the Wong home.

Wai and Elaine Wong and their daughters Jessica (14), Leilani (12), and Jasmine (9), are in a league of their own when it comes to hospitality.  All five of them go above and beyond in making us feel like they’re privileged to have us staying in their home.  Welcome signs.  Fresh cut flowers.  Delicious meals.  Engaging conversations.  Sensitivity to our needs.  We were sorry our schedule allowed us only 3 days with them!!

 Elaine and her sous chefs prepared fresh sushi for dinner and it was fabulous.

The Wongs and us at Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor.
As good as it was, it wasn't better than Elaine's home cooking.

Wai and Elaine made this weekend happen.  For the second year in a row, they brought us to Ann Arbor to speak to the community at Ann Arbor Christian School and beyond.  Friday night we spoke on parenting to a room full of parents eager for encouragement and support.  Dr. James Dobson got it right when he named one of his parenting books Parenting Isn't for Cowards.  We need all the support and encouragement we can get during the "in the trenches" season of raising up the next generation, and we were  thankful that many took advantage of this opportunity.

The audience at Ann Arbor Christian School listened attentively
as we taught on raising kids with convictions.

Saturday morning we spoke on marriage and a slightly smaller, but just as engaged, group showed up for the seminar.  One of our constant themes is that marriage and parenting are inextricably bound together and the reciprocal effect is that they'll both suffer or both thrive, but it's nigh impossible for one to thrive while the other suffers.  It's a sobering truth for those who have given everything they have to their children at the expense of their marriage, to hear that their children would fare better with less good parenting if it were replaced with a thriving marriage.  Though seemingly counter-intuitive, it is a truth agreed upon by both secular and Christian therapists.  Having a growing marriage and thriving kids is what we all want, but for most of us, we struggle for that to be a reality.

We were humbled to receive this from one of the attendees:

"It was truly a joy and a privilege to hear Paul and Virginia Friesen speak on marriage and parenting at AACS.   Delivering humble, honest teaching paired with story-telling that is at times both poignant and humorous, the Friesens bring a message of hope to families today, with Christ placed firmly at the center.  My husband and I walked away not only with the desire to grow in our marriage and parenting skills, but also with practical tips and tools for achieving our goals in these areas.  Relevant, inspiring, and challenging...exuding a love for God and for others...the Friesens are the real deal!" 

Besides speaking, we spent a chunk of time with our dear friend Doris, who is now a single mom raising her 3 little girls.  We have such deep hearts for Doris.  She is not just a survivor; she is determined to thrive and to create a home environment in which her daughters will also thrive.  We're always inspired by time with Doris and this was no exception.

We also had the joy of spending an afternoon with Paul's sister and brother-in-law, Ron and Joyce Rottschafer, who drove in from Pentwater, MI, and their daughter and her family, Dave and Heidi Lemmerhirt and Daniel and Anna.  Over a delicious homemade meal of hot soup and muffins (perfect for this semi-winter day), we caught up on each other's lives and celebrated all that is good in shared DNA.  

Ron and Joyce (Friesen) Rottschafer and Heidi (Rottschafer) Lemmerhirt with husband Dave and children Daniel and Anna hosted us for lunch after speaking.  Great time of catching up with family.

The rest of the time, we were the recipients of the Wong's love.  They spoiled us.  They pampered us.  They gave us the pure "no-strings-attached" form of love.

Even more than their many indulgences, we loved the most hanging out with all five of them at times and just the four adults at times.  We had great conversations about life.  We learned about robotics and the upcoming International competition their team has been invited to.  We talked about health.  Exercise.  Eating.  We talked about church, parenting, marriage.  We talked about what works and what doesn't.  

We talked about how much we need the encouragement of one another to keep on keeping on, especially in the marriage and family realm as destruction in these precious-to-God units increases around us.  It would be oh-so-easy to give up and give in to worldliness, to settling, to missing the mark.

Maybe we're most at risk of losing hope and of giving up.  Since brokenness is part of all of our existence, we're vulnerable to taking the path of least resistance.  It was good to reinforce our collective commitment to pressing on and to becoming more Christlike.

All too quickly, our time in Ann Arbor came to an end and we flew in to Boston in the wee hours of the morning of Patriots Day, now aka "Boston Marathon Bombing."  I reflected on that tragic day in my last post, and though I immediately started writing this blog, the pace of the past three weeks, combined with a myriad of computer challenges, conspired against me getting this done.

Though 3.5 weeks have passed since Patriots Day, the weight of what happened that day is still very evident.  Flags around Boston  are still flying at half-staff.  News reports alternately replay the past with new revelations as they unfold.   Boston Strong's commercial aired by Major League Baseball, featuring Neil Diamond singing "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway, as well as the iconic song being sung at other ballparks around the country symbolizing solidarity, plays several times during telecasts of Red Sox games.  Each showing causes a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  The make-shift memorial that grows daily in Copley Square, along with a  brightly be-ribboned fence along Boylston Street with each fabric tie carrying a message or a prayer handwritten by those united by common grief reminds us that healing takes a long time.

Scraps of fabric became messengers of prayers and expressions of grief,
tied to an iron fence along Boylston Street.

Symbols of grief, expressed tangibly in Copley Square,
remind us that we unite against some forms of evil.

Twelve hours separated us from the Wong's loving, selfless service and care and the selfish, cowardly, destructive act of violence against mankind at the marathon.  Degrees of difference.  Day and night.  Love and hate.  Life and death.

Though polarized in description, the truth is that these intermingle in all our hearts.  What happened at the Boston Marathon is a macrocosm of what happens in our homes.  We're convicted to keep pressing for selfless, in-the-light, life.  And to help others do the same.