Here, There, and Everywhere (Part 3) Final!

For the only period of time in 2014, we're actually home for four weeks.  At first blush, I imagined how much I'd get done and how many people I'd get to reconnect with over a cup of coffee or a walk.  Now at the end of said period, I'm amazed that I didn't get much done (in some respects) and that few of the "I would love to spend some time with you" friends were seen.  A close scrutiny of our schedule reveals that we (Home Improvement Ministries) hosted three events during this time, two of which were major conferences.  Plus, we spoke for three different Mom to Mom groups, we spoke at two date nights on the north shore, we flew to St. Louis for a rite-of-passage celebration, we counseled five days, we did a one-day marriage conference for a local church, and then an evening seminar for another.  In between, we prepared for all those speaking engagements, attempted to catch up on the growing piles of mail and other necessary-for-life things, and watched a few episodes of "I Love Lucy" for comic relief.  Guess that explains it!

Now we'll fill in the blanks.

We wrapped up a three-month, once-a-month "date night" hosted jointly by the North Shore Community Baptist Church and The Harbor Church up on the north shore.  Each week, Londie Grothjan beautifully decorated the social hall to set the stage for us to speak on a different aspect of marriage.  They thought of everything, from available child care to yummy desserts, and the enthusiastic response to this event confirmed the need for it.  We loved having the opportunity to partner with these churches which are aware that building in to healthy marriages is critical to everything else that happens within their congregations.

The welcoming tables "hugged" everyone who walked into
the fellowship hall at North Shore Community Baptist Church.
Worship through music was a part of each of the date nights.

Paul spoke to a men's group for "Men's Night Out" in Halifax, MA, on Friday, March 14, and was deeply encouraged by the responsiveness of the large group of men who showed up.  Sorry, no photos. Paul doesn't "do" that.  :)

March 15th and 16th was Engagement Matters.  How we love to speak in to the lives of those considering marriage! Lots of great conversations were had throughout this two-day conference and the attendees really seemed to appreciate the various ways in which they were both encouraged and challenged. Ryan and Kelly Plosker came up on Sunday to teach a session and, as always, they were wildly popular.  

Every couple is offered a follow-up private counseling session with us to dive deeper in areas pertinent to them, and one such couple sent this note following their private session:

"Thanks so much for meeting with my potential fiancé  and me last night. It was wonderful to have more time with you and ask you questions that we still needed advice on. You both have been such a blessing to us, even in the little time we've spent together. Thank you for your ministry and hearts for the Lord; God is doing amazing work through you!"

We thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with these engaged or pre-engaged
couples at Engagement Matters.

Carl & Cathy Blatchley and Helen Challener served throughout the weekend, preparing food, cleaning, and taking care of all but teaching.  So thankful for them!!

When long time friends and ministry partners, Rich and Sue Musacchio invited us to spend an evening speaking to their church, Revive, on the subject of sexuality, we enthusiastically said yes and then were challenged to find a date that would work.  That proved to be much harder, but we finally settled on Tuesday night, March 18.  It was a great night, but even greater to us was hearing the heart and seeing the vision of their relatively young church plant.  They have a huge heart for those recovering from many forms of brokenness and the love and grace of the place was palpable.  We were so glad we found a date that worked!

Rich and Sue Musacchio lead worship at Revive Church

We drove to New Hampshire the next morning to speak to the Mom to Mom group at Bethany Church in Greenland, and the next day we spoke at Grace Chapel's Mom to Mom group in Lexington, MA.  The previous week we had spoken at Faith Evangelical Church's Mom to Mom group in Acton, MA.  We love the ministry of Mom to Mom, which can be a lifeline to so many young moms who thrive in the context of Biblical truth as it applies to parenting and wise mentors who "have been there and done that."  It was an honor to speak in all three churches.  

Moms taking it all in  at Bethany Church.

Next up was the Home Improvement Ministries annual marriage retreat, March 21-23, held once again at the beautiful, historic Viking Hotel in Newport, RI.  

Kelly Plosker once again designed and decorated the ballroom and welcome table, ensuring that people felt warmly received when they arrived.

Barbara Steele welcomes a couple at registration.

Beautiful decorations.  Sweet goodie bags.  Welcoming registration table.  Great music lead by Rayna and Danny Oertli and supported by Rich and Sue Musacchio and Erik Kerr.  Important break-out sessions.  A packed house.  Multi-generational, with about 20% of the couples married less than 6 years, and about as many married over 30 years. Beautiful weather.  Delicious food.  An over-the-top wait-staff.

Danny and Rayna Oertli lead the worship band, which included Erik Kerr and Rich and Sue Musacchio.  They were terrific!
The ballroom at the Viking was full, as the conference sold out several weeks ahead and some later registrants ended up staying in other hotels and coming to the Viking for the program and meals.

At the insistence of the H.I.M. Board, we were the featured speakers.  We argued, but to no avail.  So we prayed and prepared and felt that God met us in a unique way.

The theme of "Dreams and Memories" was inspired by the Old Testament account of Moses reminding the grumbling, questioning children of Israel to remember God's faithfulness to them in the past, and to look to Him for their hope in the future.  As we counsel so many couples, the parallels are astonishingly similar.  Many couples struggling in their marriage have forgotten their early days when they were most likely very happy with one another, and they are so mired in the trouble of the present, they've lost sight of the hope of the future.  It's a strategy from the enemy that works amazingly well.

And so we went to our attic and retrieved "relics" of our courtship and early years of marriage in the form of poems, cards, letters, etc., which revealed the depth of our sappiness towards one another.  :)  We had evidence of the very thing we teach pre-marrieds to be cautious of....the over production of oxytocin physiologically has the effect of amplifying the good and minimizing the things you don't want to see.  It was there in black and white (and sometimes, color) in our hands: "You seldom annoy me"  and "I'm completely content in this relationship" and "Nothing will ever make me feel any different."  

Since Hallmark cards fell short of accurately expressing our growing love for one another, most of these were handmade cards or typewritten letters.

I'm so glad we still have them.  Seeing them again took me right back to the days we were making these unrealistic but oh-so-sincere observations to one another.

It had the effect on us that we were hoping it would have on those in attendance.  Reconnecting us with feelings and memories, now somewhat mitigated by the years of life together, it re-sparked the "this is too good to be true" aura of our young love for one another. The opening session was all about the past—hopes, dreams, expectations—and the evening ended with a slide show of wedding photos from each of the couples as Barbra Streisand crooned "The Way We Were" in the background.  It was a very special evening.

April 24, 1976 . . . so, so magical.

The remaining plenary session talks dealt honestly with the things which had derailed some of those hopes and dreams and offered the redemptive hope of the gospel, so that our future would be shaped by His heart for our marriage.  

One couple, married under three years, wrote:  "This was truly a life changing experience for us.  I had been praying for our marriage to be strengthened and this retreat was exactly what we needed.  Thank you so much for helping us grow stronger together as a couple through Christ."

Another wrote, "Thank you for a wonderful weekend.  We left with many wonderful strategies to help us live together with a stronger, more cooperative marriage.  We also had time to reflect on the importance of our faith as it relates to our marriage."

A wife, married just under 30 years, wrote:  "After praying for six years that my husband would come to this conference, he did....and he became a Christian this weekend.  Glorify the Lord!!!"

The first night we shared the "265 Hope St" house address sign which hangs in our counseling office.  It was given to us by a couple who, 15 years ago, felt there was no hope for their struggling marriage, which was being assaulted by the toxic fallout of infidelity, possible bankruptcy, parallel lives, and infertility.  They had been to three counselors, all of whom encouraged them to cut their losses and move on.

Thankfully, they didn't take that advice. Instead of "moving on", they moved towards Jesus and did a lot of hard work over the next two years to bring restoration to their marriage.  Today they lead marriage ministries in their church and are raising a child with a heart for the Lord.

Several years ago they presented us with this street sign, which had belonged to the house they were living in when all this went down. They didn't want to throw it away or keep it for themselves, but decided to give it to us to put in our office as a reminder to every couple who comes for counseling.  Our hope is in the Lord.

All weekend, the sign was prominently displayed on the stage and more than a few at the conference commented on how powerful it was.  One suggested we change the "265" to "365" since every day is marked by hope when we're living for Him.

Notice the "265 Hope St" sign above our heads.  It was a powerful symbol for many.

Danny and Rayna Oertli once again did a wonderful job of leading us in musical worship.

Part of the H.I.M. team who made the weekend happen.  We are SO grateful for this group.  They are tireless in their efforts to serve the body of Christ through the ministry of H.I.M.
As we drove out of Newport at conference end, this was the canvas God painted for us.  Spectacular.

As we drove home post-conference, we were filled with such gratitude for God's goodness and faithfulness.  Only He could've produced the results we experienced throughout the weekend. All praise is His!

We were in town until March 28, Friday, when we flew to St. Louis to celebrate the "13th Birthday Rite of Passage" for Sarah Elizabeth Williams.  Sarah Elizabeth is the youngest daughter of Grant and Emily Williams, ret. NFL, ex-Pat.  We love this family!  We've been "surrogate" family for them since the early 2000's as neither had Christian heritages.  They're doing a great job raising their three daughters for Christ.  It's so inspirational to know that Grant and Emily are beginning a godly legacy to give to the next generation. 

It was a true joy to see their home full of others (who love them and whose lives are being changed because of theirs) Saturday night for the celebration.  Many words of courage and affirmation were spoken to Sarah Elizabeth.  It was a good reminder of how important it is to have great companions with you on this journey to the heart of God.

Grant and Emily and their three daughters are with Grant's sister Tonya
and her husband Joe and their three boys.

Sarah Elizabeth's 13th birthday poster is one of many meaningful gifts she received.

We flew in from St Louis on Sunday at noon-ish and drove directly to Watertown to do a conference for Cornerstone Church.  The small group of about 18 or so couples met in a home and we spoke on marriage.  All but two of the couples have been married for less than a year—or were engaged!  What a great opportunity to help shape the foundations of their marriages.

The Cornerstone Christian Church members who attended the marriage seminar.
This concludes the trilogy of "Here, there  and everywhere."  Though our schedule has been a bit crazy, it has been so gratifying to see how God meets us in all of these different venues.  As it is, we're so grateful.

And it's been nice to not be "here, there, and everywhere . . ." for at least a few days!!