Since last writing, we’ve spent a good amount of time in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, helping Julie and Derek get settled in their new home. What fun it is to see this “house”—which is so right for them—becoming their home. God has provided so generously!
And today, we not only honor those to whom we owe an un-repayable debt of gratitude for serving and protecting our country, but we rejoice in the birth of our fourth grandchild! Julie gave birth to Rachel Ann at 9:36 this morning, after a stellar job of laboring and a hasty job of delivering. Rachel weighs in at 7#10 oz and is 20” long. She looks a lot like her brother Nathan at this point. We are all so very thankful for a healthy and safe delivery and child. At the invitation of Derek and Julie, I was privileged to be a part of the birthing team and I treasured every moment of participating in that very sacred event. Paul and I are so thankful to be able to love on Nathan and to support Derek and Julie during this wonderful transition.
Derek, Julie and Nathan welcome baby Rachel to their family.
Whoops! Didn’t quite get this done and posted on Veteran’s Day, so here we find ourselves flying west to celebrate Thanksgiving with the California girls! Soon after Rachel’s birth, we did steal away for about 30 hours to Schenectady, NY, to speak for the First Presbyterian Church’s marriage conference. It’s always an honor to be invited anywhere to speak once, but it certainly is a double honor to be invited back. We were with this group in 2012 and it was a joy to reunite with them. Re-visits always provide opportunities to go deeper relationally and that was certainly true this weekend. God was with us and we were most grateful.
|Al and Bonnie Magill and Bill and Helen Challener were part of the marriage conference leadership team for First Pres Schenectady.|
It was a special joy to be with these four.
We returned to Derek and Julie’s for a few days before touching home base, primarily for counseling and the Patriot studies. Our pre-Thanksgiving women’s study focuses on making apple pies from scratch and we had a great time producing many beautiful (and tasty) pies.
Hard at work, working together . . . many hands make many pies.
We also were privileged to speak at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom while we were home. Reconnecting with dear friends and ministry partners is always a highlight of speaking at Grace.
Connie Lawrence and Joy Coonradt have faithfully served Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel for years now. So good to reconnect with them!
We’re spending Thanksgiving in California, and it’s been a wonderful week. One of the perks of Lisa being a professor at California Baptist University is that she has this whole week off. It’s been such a delight to have her with us: visiting my mom, “Grammie Essie,” for a few days, catching up with several treasured friends, watching UCLA women play JMU women (Lisa has served as Athletic Trainer for both of these teams!), spending two days in Pixley with Paul’s family who gathered at the family farm, and enjoying Thanksgiving with the Garcias. We also happily connected with some of our dearest CBS friends while out west. It was a great trip.
|Lisa, Paul, and I walk the Coronado Beach at sunset.|
Does it get any better than this?
|The Garcias hosted the Dreves for a Saturday brunch . . . |
and fun was truly had by all.
|We were thrilled to share a lunch with our dear friends and ministry partners, Bob and Carol Kraning—especially after Bob’s near death heart attack episode this fall. These are “salt of the earth” people and we’re so thankful they’re in our life.|
|A couple of days in San Diego with my mom and siblings . . . |
We were happy to be there to celebrate my sister Melissa’s birthday with a cinnamon-roll-centered brunch.
|Our Thanksgiving table. We were delighted to have my second cousins, Madeline and Abby Shiell, and LeeLee Jackson, a mentee of Gabe and Kari’s, join the gathering.|
Our two days on the family farm in Pixley went far too quickly, but we did manage to get the annual family football game in: east vs. west.
I think we tied, though the west may disagree. :)
|One last event before we flew home: it was a joy to attend stage manager Kelsey O’Keeffe’s production of “A Christmas Memory” and to sit with her parents, our dear friends, Dawn and Jim.|
Well, this obviously didn’t get posted in November, so here we go!
We returned to Boston just after Thanksgiving, in time for more Patriot studies, counseling, and Engagement Matters! We were delighted to have a critical mass show up for EM which we recognize is held during a tough time of the year. Hosted again by the Bilazarians, we had a dynamic, interactive, lively group that pondered facets of marriage in thought-provoking ways. We were aided by Carl and Cathy Blatchley and Peter and Lois Blatchley, each couple taking one day to assist Melanie Bilazarian in the kitchen. Ryan Plosker joined us to present his and Kelly’s talk “The Top Ten Things” (Kelly was out of town attending her grandmother’s funeral, unfortunately) and he did a great job flying solo.
We were especially pleased to have Derek, Julie, Nathan, and Rachel with us for several days during this week as Derek had business in the area. We are loving having these guys so close!!
We thoroughly enjoyed speaking in to the lives of these couples considering marriage at Engagement Matters.
The Johnsons get a family walk in as night falls.
Off to St. Louis we flew on the 11th of December for our annual visit with Grant and Emily Williams and their daughters. How we love this family! They started the Patriot’s couples’ study 16 years ago, and we’ve been deeply involved with them since. We love seeing how the Lord continues to work out His purposes for this precious family. As first-generation Christians, they are committed to establishing a Godly legacy from this generation forward. We loved doing life with them for a few days—we always leave inspired.
|The tradition continues: our annual visit with Grant and Emily Williams and their daughters|
|An added bonus of our St. Louis visit was catching up with Wes and Anna Welker and meeting their precious 4-month-old twins.|
We got home just in time to make a boatload of cinnamon rolls for our final Patriots women’s study. Our group was so large this year (about 20 usually attended) that we couldn’t make the rolls together as we have in the past. So I baked 20 pans of rolls at our home after getting back in town early afternoon on the 15th, and had them ready for our study on the 16th. That’s a lot of dough. :) So fun!
The first ones who arrived to our final study got a sneak preview of the cinnamon rolls they would take home.
Our study has bonded in a deeper way this year for several reasons, but the biggest is that we’ve come alongside our friend and Patriots wife, Lexi Solder, whose 3-month-old son was diagnosed with kidney cancer in October. When asked in one of our early studies what our greatest fear was, every mother in the group said, “That something would happen to my child/ren." We were all beyond shocked and deeply grieved when Lexi shared about Hudson’s battle. The prognosis is good, though the journey is excruciating, and we have all tried to rally around Nate and Lexi as they walk through this dark valley. Though relatively young in Christ, Nate and Lexi’s faith and confidence in the Lord has been so heartening. The situation has challenged all of us to evaluate our faith and our beliefs and much growth has happened as a result. Please pray for this dear family. Hudson has recently begun his third round of chemotherapy as the doctors attempt to shrink the tumors in both his kidneys to an operable size.
Pictured are some of the women who attended the Wednesday study all fall. Lexi is holding Hudson in the center back of the photo.
The following night we wrapped up the Couples Study with a sweet time of sharing what the gospel means in every day life. We’ll miss meeting with this group again ’til next fall.
|Many of the couples who attended the couples study this fall. Our hearts for them are so deep.|
Gasp! Christmas is right around the corner! And as you can read, we haven’t been home much to get ready. Five days after our final Pats study, our home will be filled with children and grandchildren: everyone’s coming home for a White Christmas . . . or at least for Christmas. Lots to do, and so little time to do it in, but here goes.
Sewing jammies. Wrapping presents. Mailing packages. Preparing food and menus. Readying the house. Making ornaments. Gingerbread house dough. Cookies. Raspberry jam. Crossing off items on the list. Trying not to add to the list. And in the end, being okay with what was and wasn’t done.
What a joy to have all 11 of us in Bedford for the holidays. Though the adults outnumbered the kids (7 to 4), it didn’t seem like it very often. Two 2-year-olds amplify everything: activity, noise, mischief—I mean, curiosity—happiness, sadness, and delight. What a difference three more "littles" make, the increase since our last all-family Christmas reunion in 2011.
Christmas Eve unfolded traditionally: church followed by dinner (shared with our chosen family friends Paul and Dawn Amico and their three), and the Happy Birthday Jesus party. It was a “couldn’t have gone better” evening together as we celebrated friendship, food, and of course, Jesus. After the Amicos left, we opened our new jammies (so we’d look presentable for Christmas morning photos) and our kids-turned-parents were tasked with wrapping their kids gifts and filling their stockings.
|Happy Birthday, Jesus!|
The “fam” on Christmas Eve
|The Amicos with the gingerbread house we made for them.|
|Ready for bed in new Christmas jammies…|
|The littlest “little,” modeling her matching jammies|
Christmas morning seemed like days gone by, as 5-year-old Brandon and 2-year-olds Ana and Nathan discovered the Baby in the manger, the stockings full and overflowing, and presents under the tree. Shouts of glee and unmitigated joy underscored the delight of Christmas as gifts were ripped open and identified as “This is just what I wanted!" Unlike days gone by, gifts unwrapped included Star Wars action figures, light sabers, Lego sets, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. On the other hand, Ana’s dolls, princess jewelry, and a pink tent seemed very familiar. We managed to not rush through the time, savoring the moments and the blessing of being together.
|Ana is ready for Christmas breakfast.|
Out-of-the-park delight with her new Olaf slippers.
“Just what I wanted!”
Brandon’s light saber makes it into Nathan’s hands and he’s mesmerized.
|Brief but sweet afternoon visit with Patty and Kimmie Benes . . .|
more chosen family
We welcomed Paul and Christie Borthwick, Felicia Collazzo, and Hank Bazigian to our Christmas dinner, continuing a tradition that has happened for years now whenever we’re in town for Christmas. We all love these guys who just expand our family that day. After yummy food, great fellowship, overwhelming generosity, and farewells, at the end of the non-white, 60-degree Christmas Day, we were full and overflowing with gratitude, joy, and exhaustion.
The celebration continued on the 26th with a morning visit from our well-loved John and Marilyn Nugent. Always love to have these guys back in town. Traditions now fulfilled, we turned our attention to packing and getting on the road. The next four nights would be spent on Newfound Lake, at Birchaven, a cabin made available to us by friends for the continuation of our reunion.
The morning after, with John and Marilyn Nugent.
We truly couldn’t have had better days. A spacious cabin, with good space for each family unit, a great dinner meal prepared daily by a different family each night, and an 8” snowfall—fulfilling our dreams of at least a white post-Christmas and providing hours of fun sledding and mock snow-boarding. We relaxed and had nothing to do except enjoy being together. As fun as Christmas was, I think we’d all agree that the days at the cabin were the best.
|The “littles” are checking to see if the Gigi Cakes|
(aka cinnamon chip scones) are ready yet.
Family devotions, doing the Butterfly Song. Everyone’s favorite!
|Family walk in light rain, the day before the snow.|
|Nathan wasn’t quite sure what to think of this cold white stuff|
(a first for him) but everyone else loved it.
Papa and Brandon had a blast sledding tandem.
Of course! Snow ice cream!! Another first for the next generation.
All too quickly our long-awaited, thoroughly enjoyed family reunion came to an end. We celebrated our final night together with dinner out while the Sweeneys kept the children. It was the perfect ending to a happily memorable time.
Happy New Year 2016!!
Finally!! The first 3.5 weeks of 2016 have been a mixture of work and play. Believe it or not, we were pretty exhausted by the time we sent our kids off from our reunion, so we took advantage of an invitation to speak in Kauai Jan. 15-16 and flew to the Big Island on the 4th to grab some R & R. Thanks to the generosity of one of our dearest friends, we had a condo to stay in and we spent 7 days frolicking in Hawaii. We hiked, swam, snorkeled; watched turtles, sunsets, and whales; we rested, recreated, and were renewed. It was just what we needed to decompressed from 2015 and to prepare for a very full 2016. What a gift!!
|Overlooking the Wai’pi’o Valley on the northern shore of Kona, just before we hiked 1 mile straight down. Fortunately, we made it back up!|
On to Kauai for the conference, we went 2 days early so we could do more of the same there. Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck, of Global Algae Innovations (and long time friends from Campus by the Sea), sponsored and hosted the conference, and we thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with them for the days prior to the conference. The second annual conference, held Friday night and Saturday, and focused on both marriage and parenting, was well attended and well received. The attendance more than doubled from last year and the third annual conference is already in the works. God met us in very significant ways as follow-up conversations revealed that many experienced healing and hope for their marriage and family.
On to Kauai, we hike the first 4 miles of the NaPali Trail, to this magnificent waterfall, and then walked the 4 miles back.
It was challenging and glorious.
Yes, that’s your man Paul standing under the waterfall.
Someone had to take the photo, so I sacrificed getting in that 55-degree water to be the photographer.
|We drove to Waimea Canyon on Kauai,|
the Grand Canyon of the Islands. Magnificent.
|After most had left, we grabbed this photo of a very small but delightful remnant of the conference attendees.|
|Sunset, crashing surf, and a great model.|
We hopped a red-eye to Los Angeles soon after the Kauai conference ended so we could care for Brandon and Ana while their parents attended a pastors’ retreat with their church. The bonus was having Lisa with us Sunday and Monday, too, and we had great fun without the parents. :) Because Lisa was with us and could help with the kids, we did manage to schedule some counseling, as well as a mentoring evening with our mentors John and Grace Tebay. The Tebays have been influencing Paul since 1968 and the two of us together since they helped marry us in 1976. We count every minute with them sacred. At 80 and 82, they have slowed down a bit physically, but not in any other way. Their wisdom and Christ-likeness inspires and instructs us. What a gift they are!
And speaking of gifts, we were gifted admission to Disneyland on Tuesday, the 19th, by a dear friend and Disney employee. Just the 4 of us. From 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. we took the parks by storm, enjoying perfect overcast-but-not-cold weather and light crowds. 23,000 steps later (on my Fitbit), we trudged to our car, leaving the Magic Kingdom in our rear view mirror (but taking it in our hearts). In Brandon’s words, “It was the Best. Day. Ever.” We have to agree!!
|The “littles” with the Mouse.|
|Eleven hours and 23K steps later, we leave the park.|
Guess you could say we made a day of it.
On to Arroyo Grande for the weekend to speak for a conference emphasizing family relationships in marriage and parenting. We’ve partnered with Grace Bible Church for about a decade now and we love this church. Since we were there last year, a new pastor has been installed and we so enjoyed connecting with him and his wife, Jason and Andrea Whalen. A much larger than expected crowd showed up at each section of the conference, which is a nice problem to have. We are so excited about the vision Jason has for the church and for building in to marriage and families. It was a privilege to continue the partnership.
Tom and Betsy Newell were instrumental in running the conference in Arroyo Grande . . .
|. . . as were Paul and Sherri Masters, who treated us to a fabulous home-cooked meal of freshly caught fish. Yum!!|
Though back home for only 48 hours, we flew to Boston Sunday during the AFC Championship game and were heartbroken for our team to learn of our loss to the Broncos when we landed—but life moves on. New England Patriots fans have been indulged great success for 15 years now and though we fell short of our goal this year, we’re very proud of our team that pushed beyond tremendous adversity and injuries to make it to the “final four.” And the 2016 season is just around the corner. Go Pats!!
Okay. I’m going to press with this overdue, too-long blog, with a commitment to not let this happen again. No more unfinished blogs in 2016.
May God draw each of us more deeply in to His heart in this new year.