Feeling the love

Hard as it was to leave 2-week-old Ana and 3-year-old Brandon (and their parents), I felt the love of God as I returned to New England and was met with the glorious colors of fall.  Most years the height of fall has passed by mid-October, and my only lament of being in California for the first two weeks of October was missing this annual "rite of leaf passage."  I was delightfully surprised to see that fall had "waited" for me, in a manner of speaking, and the past two weeks have showcased the brilliance of this spectacular season breathtakingly.  I am in awe at the majesty of creation!!

Besides the parade of the unfolding beauty of autumn, I returned to a "transformation" of several areas in our house, thanks to the very hard work of Paul (who returned a week earlier than I).  All a complete surprise to me, he had painted the kitchen (and changed the color from nondescript off-white to yellow!), had the kitchen floor refinished, scrubbed the soot-veiled walls of our Great Room, had the lighting fixtures changed, and polished the rest of the wood floors.  His consistent response to my "What are you up to?" calls from California was "Just preparing for our West Point retreat"  and began to raise my suspicion, but not enough to make me wonder much beyond that.  Imagine my surprise to discover all of these "acts of service" expressions of love in the wee hours of Wednesday, Oct. 16, just after landing back in Boston.  I was truly blown away. 

Besides all that, Paul spent a couple of days hosting Pastor Wilberforce Okumu, senior pastor of Pearl Haven Christian Center in Mbale, Uganda (the church Derek and Julie are part of).  Wilberforce was definitely wowed by the beauty of fall as well as the coastline of Cape May and his brief visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  

On the same day I returned, Kim and Dave Noble (director of Campus By the Sea) checked in to our Bed and Breakfast for a few days.  I actually didn't lay eyes on them until Friday, as my first two days back home were crazy full.  Just hours after landing, I drove to Attleboro for the Patriots’ women study, followed by counseling appointments.  Admittedly it was hard to keep my eyes open at times.  Thursday was more of the same in reverse, with counseling in the  morning and early afternoon, and then off to Attleboro for the Patriots’ couples study.  Two full, productive days.

Over homemade pumpkin waffles and sizzling bacon, we spent several hours catching up with Dave and Kim before beginning our drive to West Point.  It was a great time with dear friends.

By noon, we were on the road to speak at Officers Christian Fellowship's fall retreat, focusing on developing God-honoring relationships.  Tom and Cheri Austin run the OCF program at West Point and it just happens that they are the parents of Thomas (and Margaret) Austin, who spent a year and change with the Patriots.  Thomas and Margaret are "all in" for Christ and were a integral part of the couples' study and women's study while in New England.  Tom and Cheri are also the parents of Jennifer Austin Foxworth, who is also "all in" for Christ and attended the military wives conference I spoke for in Oahu a couple of years ago.   Both of their children strongly recommended to their parents that they invite us to do a conference for the cadets.  The third vote came from Dennis Mansfield, who was at West Point with Tom Austin over 3 decades ago, so Tom and Cheri made it happen.  And we're so glad they did.

The retreat was held at St. Basil's Academy, a beautiful conference center on the Hudson River directly across from West Point.  So though close, it felt far away from campus.  The grounds were immense, providing a perfect outdoor sanctuary for everything from early morning quiet time to a rousing game of football or a roaring campfire at night to facilitate s'more making. Perfect weather made it impossible to stay inside the castle-esque main house during the day, except for during the program.  We spoke 4 different times on the over-arching theme of "Created for Relationship," progressing from our relationship with God (created for Him) to relationship with each other (created for community) and ultimately to relationship with one (created for marriage.)  

We loved the cadets.  They were bright, interactive, engaged, open, respectful, and fun.  We ate with different ones at each meal so by the time we left, three days later, we felt very connected with all of them.  We also felt very met by God.

A special bonus of our West Point weekend was that one of the cadets was Pierce Wasdahl.  Pierce's grandparents are Ken and Shirley Lincoln, long time friends and partners in ministry at CBS.  They served with Paul's parents on the original CBS Committee that "saved" CBS in 1968 from being turned back to the Catalina Island Conservancy.  Pierce's mom (and aunt and uncles) all served at CBS in our early years, and Pierce's brothers have continued the tradition.  It was such a joy to get to know Pierce and to see his genuine heart for the Lord.  The legacy continues.  "Great is Thy faithfulness."

Two of the other cadets were from California, and both were connected with good friends of ours.  Small world!

Another huge highlight of the weekend was having our first ever tour of West Point.  What beautiful grounds!  Cheri Austin did the honors and gave us many insights from one who was at West Point as a kid, then as a young wife, and now as a retired wife.  We loved every minute of it—with the small exception of seeing "BEAT NAVY" seemingly everywhere I looked.  :)  

Some days after the retreat, we were encouraged by the "After-Activity Reports" that Tom and Cheri sent us (commonly known as evaluations in the public sector).  Here are a few of the comments written in:  

This weekend God really impressed upon me how critical it is that I have an intimate relationship with him so that I can stand firm—fully dependent on Him. Having the Friesens, Austins, and Hamptons there was also so big because of the wisdom they gave us and the example they set for us. This weekend was such a blessing!

I thought the topic was great and the speakers did a really amazing job of communicating it to us. Relationship advice is something that people my age really crave, and the Friesens are probably the best people I’ve had advice from because they have 37 years’ experience in a godly marriage. They also made a point of sharing that their marriage wasn’t perfect, which was also refreshing to hear because it means that it is possible for others like me to work through challenges in my relationship. 

Yes, the topic of relationships is very applicable to our lives as we seek to grow closer to God and form godly relationships with both members of the same and opposite gender.  The speakers were outstanding! They were well-spoken, easy to understand, and fully of godly wisdom and advice. They did a great job showing the contrast between the way men and women think. I definitely learned a lot and will take the information forward with me. I better understand how God created us to be in relationships.

All praise is His.

Directly behind this photo of the cadets is West Point.  

Tom and Cheri Austin are the directors of Officers Christian Fellowship at West Point.
We march to the same drumbeat and drummer.

Our drive home was full of this kind of scenery.  We wouldn't have minded traffic!

We arrived home Monday night the 21st in time for a H.I.M. Board Meeting.  We are so grateful for our board. They work tirelessly to facilitate what we do.  Blessed.

Tuesday night we spoke at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, for the annual couples night hosted by the Seminary Wives class and Lita Schlueter.  To be honest, it's worth the drive up just to hang with Dan and Lita.  They are some of the most positive, upbeat, loving, godly people we know and we always consider it an honor to partner with them.  There was a great turn-out for the event and the time flew by as we addressed issues relevant to marriage and ministry.  Some important conversations followed, including one with a dear Korean couple who are interested in having us partner with their ministry in Korea.  That sounds exciting.

Here we are with Dan and Lita Schlueter.

Counseling, Patriots, and World Series games dominated the next few days, and then the weekend came.  Dr. Vita Stagno, the Sicilian pediatric neurosurgeon who stayed with us last fall for 2 months, came up from New York (where she is interning this fall) and my friend Helen came from upstate NY to have a fun girlfriends weekend.  Saturday was a blockbuster day, highlighted by enjoying the First Armenian Church of Belmont's annual fair, and though the homemade Armenian food was fabulous, the real treat was connecting with Greg and Sossi Haroutunian, friends and ministry partners for many years now.  It was extra meaningful to be with them, because they are moving to Fresno in late December to pastor a church, so many miles will separate us.  We were thrilled to receive a copy of our study guide, In Our Image:  Marriage as a Reflection of the Godhead, translated into Armenian!  Greg has done marriage conferences in Armenia the past two summers using this work.  So exciting!!!

A very happy reunion with Vita and Helen.

Dear friends Greg and Sossi Haroutunian at the Armenian festival.  

Besides the festival, we headed into Boston to drop a care package off for a friend in the hospital and then introduce Vita and Helen to the Farmers Market at Quincy Marketplace.  So much local color!!!  Love it.  We rounded out the day at Tremont Temple to hear Steve Green in concert.  What a worshipful experience!  He has lost nothing since his prime in the late 80's and we enjoyed every minute of it.

While the girls were playing, Paul was working.  He spoke at the chapel for the Miami Dolphins Saturday night on the theme of finishing well.  :)

It's been a pretty exciting run in Boston for Red Sox Nation, so we're not only wearing red sox—everyone has red eyes.  :)  So many great life lessons from this season about team, perseverance, determination, overcoming.  We have loved every minute of the post season and feel these guys are more than deserving of this World Championship.

Representing the Red Sox in Mbale!

Great reports are coming in from Derek, Julie, and Nathan, though Africa seemed VERY far away at moments these past couple of weeks.  The Garcias are doing well and Baby Ana is "thriving."  Brandon still thinks she's the greatest.  And Lisa is getting more and more settled and is really happy that basketball season is now underway.  

Brandon and Ana are decked out for Halloween.  Looks like the pirate has a little captive.

Julie and Nathan ready to rock and roll.

Now 3 months old, Nathan continues to change daily.

And so does Ana, now 4 weeks old.

These have good weeks and we're so thankful for the many ways we've experienced His love, family love, and the love of many dear friends.

We hope you're feeling the love, too.