We’re not in Bedford anymore! We left behind 4 feet of snow (just after the “most snowfall record” was broken and temps were still deep in the basement…) and landed in Entebbe, Uganda, with temps in the 90’s and the parched land longing for the rainy season to begin.
What a difference 8,339 miles and 30 hours can make!
The month leading up to this African ministry/family reunion trip has been full (!): of ministry opportunities, of challenging situations, of seeing God’s power and presence in incredible ways. Shortly after my last post, we headed to California to speak in Brentwood for a couples’ dessert night at Golden Hills Community Church (GHCC). Before we got to the church, though, we spent an evening with a handful of very special Campus By the Sea (CBS) “kids”, then we had breakfast with a precious couple we married 2.5 years ago for a slightly delayed “annual marital check-up”, and then we had lunch with a dear engaged couple we’ll be marrying in September. We work these trips!
|Sweet time with Liz Aleman and Julie and Nathan Aleman|
in San Francisco soon after we landed in California.
|Early morning breakfast with Drew and Dana Macrae for our annual “marital check-up."|
|Lunch with Ross Macrae and his fiancée Caitlyn|
before heading to Golden Hills Community Church for the evening.
Our evening with Johnie Moore and his congregation at GHCC was delightful. Their “dessert bake-off” contest was very competitive (and yummy) and the packed house of couples were receptive and warm. Phil and Heather Andrews, long time CBS’ers (Heather was “raised” coming to Campus By the Sea, and now she and Phil are raising their two at camp), spearheaded the invitation and we were overjoyed to have a reunion with about 9 CBS families that evening, some who drove in from as far as Fresno, Chico, and Redding. Such a great time! We’re amazed to hear from couples at the end of such evenings how much of a “shot in the arm” it was to have encouraging words spoken into their marriage at “just the right time.” That is the work of God . . . and we are so humbled to be a part of it.
|Johnie and Becky Moore were such gracious hosts at GHCC.|
|The CBS contingent at the dessert night . . . How we love these families!|
We flew to San Diego first thing Sunday morning and spent a couple of days with my mom. She continues to impress us with her remarkable “can-do” spirit and her gracious heart. She’s always so grateful for all gestures of care and kindness that come her way. While we may struggle with spending less time with her than we’d like, she’s always quick to say, “I’m so grateful for any time we get to be together.” What a gift to all of us who love her!
Though our time in San Diego was short, we were happy to connect with all three sisters who live there before we headed to Del Mar for the annual “Increase Conference” hosted by Pro-Athletes Outreach. This is one of our favorite conferences every year for many reasons: it’s great to have time with current and former Patriots on a more casual basis than the season allows; we hear great teaching and enjoy sincere worship through music; the accommodations are always first-rate and we thoroughly enjoy being spoiled for those few days; and we love teaching workshops on topics germane to healthy marriages and are always amazed at how appreciative the audience is. For the second year, we were able to bring my mom up for an evening and we think it definitely ranks on the short list of highlights of her year. We are so touched by the care some of the players (who have become close friends through the years) extend to her. Since my mother’s love for football makes mine look anemic (and those of you who know me know it’s not at all!), few things could trump being in a room full of NFL players, including some of her very favorites. Special time.
|My mom was pretty thrilled to have Danny Woodhead and Benjamin Watson|
as her dinner dates at the PAO conference.
We red-eyed back to Boston before that conference ended (sadly) to run the H.I.M. marriage retreat, which seems like very poor planning, but actually was due to having to book our dates for the H.I.M. conference a year out and making the assumption that the PAO conference would stay in February where it has usually been. Alas, some things are beyond our control, so we beat a hasty retreat to Boston, made a pit stop in Bedford to change out our wardrobe (the summery clothes we wore in California weren’t quite appropriate for the winter wonderland we returned to!), and off to Newport, Rhode Island, we went.
Our annual marriage get-away conference was highly successful. Sold-out weeks ahead, we had a full house whose evaluations affirmed that God met us in a significant way throughout the weekend. All praise is His.
We moved the weekend to the Hyatt Hotel on Goat Island after many years at Hotel Viking. Though we missed many things about the ambience of the Viking, the Hyatt did a great job and proved to be very suitable in terms of conference space, meals, etc.
David and Cherylyn Hegg, from Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, California, joined us for the weekend to teach 3 of the 4 plenary sessions (Paul and I spoke opening night). David is a theologian whose regard for the proper and accurate handling of God’s Holy Word is high, which is quite refreshing in an age when value is often higher on connection than content. Fortunately David does both well: he connects well and his content is substantial. His teaching was appreciated.
|David and Cherylyn Hegg are dear friends and ministry partners.|
We loved having them with us for the marriage retreat!
A moment of all-in-good-fun rivalry happened when Doug Macrae presented David, a diehard Seahawks’ fan, with a signed Tom Brady jersey. :)
|Doug Macrae presents David Hegg with a signed Brady jersey . . . |
just what every Seahawks’ fan wants. :)
With 30 of the 130 couples being “newlyweds” (married 6 years or under), we moved our newlywed breakfast to the dinner hour and had a stimulating time of discussion about topics relevant to their stage of marriage. We were so encouraged by the inter-generational mix of attendees overall, from 2 months married to 46 years married, and everything in between.
|The newlywed dinner was well-attended and spawned some lively discussion.|
Our many workshops also got very high marks, as did worship, led again by Danny and Rayna Oertli.
Maybe the two highest points of the weekend were when two different couples shared their stories of hope. One of the couples had survived adultery, and testified to the redemptive power of God in their marriage and family. Another couple shared that the threat of divorce by a very dissatisfied spouse had been replaced by a vision of hope for their now thriving marriage. Everyone was moved by these stories: by the honesty and candor of the couples, and by the hope-giving message of the gospel.
Everything ran like clockwork, and as Paul and I drove home, we focused on how grateful we were for God’s faithfulness and to have such an incredible team around us. As he said to the team at conference end, “There’s no way we could’ve come in on a red-eye had we not had the team we have.” Though many contributed, a huge shout out to Kelly and Ryan Plosker (who did decorations and goodie bags), and Barbara and Guy Steele and Jim and Sue Martis (who did registration, desktop publishing, folder production, hotel liaisoning, etc., as warranted). Without their huge effort, it wouldn’t have happened.
|Part of the H.I.M. team that worked the weekend. So grateful for each one of these servants!|
|Kelly Plosker invested hours in making sure everyone felt welcomed|
and cared for in the ballroom by her creative decorating.
Quoting from several evaluations that affirmed the impact of the weekend:
“Our first retreat and our mutual expectation for a clearer picture of God’s design for marriage was exceedingly met! Thank you!”
“Thanks for another Christ-centered weekend and for giving us additional tools/resources to grow our marriage and further understand God’s plan for marriage.”
“Thank you for this experience. It has been life-changing for us and our marriage.”
With only one week before our departure for Uganda, we squeezed as much as we possibly could in to those 7 days. Shock!
Monday night we hosted an H.I.M. Board and volunteer staff appreciation dinner. We are surrounded by such wonderful, godly, servant-hearted people and will never be able to fully communicate our appreciation for them, but we tried. Fun was had by all.
Tuesday was dedicated to shopping for our trip to Uganda and packing what we could at that point. We had a full day of counseling Wednesday, and some Thursday as well. Friday morning we drove to Portland, Maine, to speak to a Mom’s group at Eastpoint Church and loved that. Friday night one of our couples for Engagement Matters (EM) who were staying at our home arrived, and all day Saturday and Sunday were spent teaching EM to a very full house. Saturday night we spoke for a New England Chapel couples’ night in Franklin, Massachusetts, and Sunday night we finished packing for Uganda. :) Since we had to leave our house at 3 a.m. Monday for the airport, it was a good thing we didn’t have time to go to bed anyway. :)
Engagement Matters delights us in every way. The 19 couples who attended exhibited such openness and genuine desire to hear important Biblical truth about God’s design for marriage. They asked great questions and interacted in and out of sessions. We love wrestling with important issues before a couple is married and truly believe it pays off after marriage. Hosted by the Bilazarians at their lovely Victorian home in Andover, we were grateful to have Carl and Cathy Blatchley on the serving team and Ryan and Kelly Plosker on the teaching team. Our collective hearts pray that God will really use this weekend to better prepare couples to pursue God-honoring marriages.
|Engagement Matters attendees March 14-15, 2015|
|The serving team: Melanie Bilazarian and Cathy and Carl Blatchley.|
Several comments from attendees:
"I now have many tools to work on bettering my relationship and having a successful marriage.”
“I loved the tie back to scripture and the examples and anecdotes were good for getting a point across. I also appreciated the resources available and recommended.”
“Everything was explained so well and in such an engaging way. Everyone was so approachable for questions. I loved it all. Very well done.”
“It opened up many avenues of discussion, many topics covered that we haven’t thought through.”
Very, very thankful for the opportunity to speak into the lives of these young people and for how God met each of us during the weekend.
After such an exhausting week, we were glad to have some really long flights to Uganda to sleep and process. Off we flew in the middle of the night, just hours after Engagement Matters ended, and by Tuesday early afternoon, we were happily hugging Derek, Julie, and Nathan at the Entebbe airport. Twenty-four hours later, Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana arrived, and nineteen hours later, Lisa arrived. Family complete for the drive to Mbale as this long dreamed of, long planned for family reunion/ministry trip launched.
We are beyond thankful and thrilled to be here together, embracing the life Derek and Julie have had together the past 3.5 years. Since they will be returning to the states in late summer to begin Derek’s new position at CURE headquarters in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, the window of opportunity to make the trip was now or never. We are so grateful it has worked out.
My next blog will detail our time here, so for now, sending much love from Africa.
|Our first day at the CURE Hospital . . . deeply moving.|