All Over the Place

Though fall arrived “late” this year, it is making a quick exit as the Christmas season makes its appearance “early.” Or so it seems! As we fly home today from a 10-day trip during which we spent 2 days each in 5 different towns, I’m musing about walking in to a home bedecked in orange, greens, and golds, all representing the season just passed of falling leaves, harvest, and shortening days. But if past performance is any indication of future expectations, Christmas will be here in short order, ready or not. And though I’m certain my lofty goals of projects completed will exceed the time needed to complete them between now and then, I’m hopeful that my desire to prepare my heart for Christmas will outpace my attempts to prepare my gifts. 

It will surprise no one that the past month or so since last posting has been crazy busy. It feels like we have been all over the place. For the second year in a row, we did a marriage conference for Oasis Christian Church in Concord, NH. A delightful group of people came out on Saturday, Oct. 28, to invest in their marriages. Skip and Avonne Jarvis directed the conference and put their heart and soul in to it. It was a day of encouragement and instruction, and both were eagerly received. Dinner that night with the whole Jarvis clan (minus Kendra, who is in college in Florida) was delightful in every way. We have come to love this family deeply over the 15 years we’ve known them and are so thankful for their commitment to building into strong marriages in their church and community. 

 The Jarvis family: Skip and Avonne do a wonderful job directing the annual marriage conference at Oasis Christian Church in Concord, New Hampshire.

The Jarvis family: Skip and Avonne do a wonderful job directing the annual marriage conference at Oasis Christian Church in Concord, New Hampshire.

 Jon and Sammantha Rose planted Oasis in 2004 and have faithfully served there since.

Jon and Sammantha Rose planted Oasis in 2004 and have faithfully served there since.

We taught at both of their services Sunday and so enjoyed partnering with their senior pastor Jon Rose and his wife, Sammantha. We’re really thankful for this faithful congregation which is thriving in an area in which evangelicals are a small minority.

We spent the next couple of days hanging out with Derek and Julie’s children in central Pennsylvania while the parents attended a conference. We had a blast. Nathan and Rachel are delightful to be with. They both love being outdoors, playing, exploring, discovering. They’re inquisitive, kind, and easy to be with. We baked, went to numerous parks, and engaged in much imaginative play during which inanimate plastic animals came alive. We even got to take them trick-or-treating, which surfaced many fun memories of days gone by. Great time. Great memories. Grateful hearts.

 Papa and Rachel

Papa and Rachel

 Trick-or-treating fun

Trick-or-treating fun

Twice in the last month we spoke at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom ministry. Always a delight to reconnect with people we love from our years of serving on staff at GC, we enjoyed catching up as well as teaching. The first week we taught on extended family relationships and how to navigate these sometimes challenging waters during the holidays. Research cited in In-Laws by Ron and Jorie Kincaid shows that 3 out of 4 families struggle with these very important relationships, and we tried to offer some Biblical principles to guide them towards Christlikeness in their own situations. Whenever we teach on this subject, the audience is highly engaged and deeply appreciative. 

 The Grace Chapel Mom to Mom crew of faithfuls.

The Grace Chapel Mom to Mom crew of faithfuls.

We returned to GC on Thursday Nov 2 to do a workshop on “Making Media Decisions for your Kids” and there was a huge amount of interest in this topic. The struggle is real. With technology changing so rapidly, making it harder and harder to “control” this seemingly amorphous, invasive entity, parents everywhere are overwhelmed with how to sort out the benefits from the dangers. No easy answers, and there’s not one right answer for all . . . but the concerns connected with technology are very real. Early studies do not paint a great picture for the long-term impact on brain development, imagination, and physicality. The peer pressure is immense . . . and it’s tough for kids as well. A couple of moms of 12-years-olds said afterwards, “I wish someone had taught us this when our kids were little.”  The openness and interaction of those attending was refreshing.

Lots of counseling filled Wednesday and and the balance of Thursday before we drove to Wolfeboro, NH, to speak for Bethany Church of Greenland’s annual marriage conference Nov. 3–5.

Beautiful place. Beautiful season. Beautiful people. 

We were most impressed that their "marriage team” (consisting of about 8 veteran couples) is driven by a strong vision for and commitment to building into the marriages at Bethany. Throughout the year. They have marriage events, marriage classes, and marriage mentoring year round at Bethany. What a great encouragement.

The conference went very well and God used it to do some very significant work in the lives of many. During the sharing time Sunday morning, we had the privilege of hearing how some had been met by God in life-changing ways at the conference. Several were profoundly impacted by our session on temperaments as they were able to grasp the potential strength of their wiring, allowing them to release the burdensome perception of failure they seemed to live with. Seven people prayed to receive Christ. Several testified that they were leaving with hope that God would meet them in their struggling marriage. 

We felt the presence of God throughout the weekend and were truly humbled to be a part of it. All praise is His.

 Bethany Church of Greenland’s annual marriage conference held at the Wolfeboro Inn in New Hampshire

Bethany Church of Greenland’s annual marriage conference held at the Wolfeboro Inn in New Hampshire

 A perfect fall day for a walk in the woods.

A perfect fall day for a walk in the woods.

 Tim and Jenny Carpenter lead the family and marriage ministry at Bethany Church.

Tim and Jenny Carpenter lead the family and marriage ministry at Bethany Church.

We drove home late Sunday afternoon, just in time to welcome Wayne, Randy, and Ryder Clark to our home for a sweet but too short overnight visit. These three generations of Clark men spent a week together touring historical sights in Boston, Gettysburg, and Washington DC and we were so happy to be on their itinerary. Wayne Clark is married to Paul’s oldest sister Sandra (they’ll celebrate 50 years of marriage in April 2018) and they live in the farmhouse in Pixley, California, where Paul grew up. The Clarks extend hospitality regularly, but the grand event of their year is hosting Thanksgiving for as many of the Friesen family progeny as can make it.

 Our nephew Randy with his son Ryder and his dad (and our brother-in-law) Wayne Clark came for a (too) brief visit.

Our nephew Randy with his son Ryder and his dad (and our brother-in-law) Wayne Clark came for a (too) brief visit.

It was a joy for us to return the favor, even if in such a small way. We had an animated evening together, hearing about their travels and catching up on each others lives while happily consuming Paul’s (now) world-famous ribs. We hated to see them leave Monday morning, but as we say, “better than a kick in the head, with or without pointy boots.”

Tuesday night, Nov. 7, we made our way up to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to speak for the annual “couples night” for the seminary wives class. We really do love this night! We love having the opportunity to speak into the lives of these young seminary families who have fresh, eager visions for serving Jesus in professional ministry. We encourage their optimism while also giving them a bit of a reality check. Ministry professionals face many challenges, both externally and internally, and the enemy works overtime to mess things up. Being aware that “the enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8) has no exception clauses (“unless you’re serving the Lord and then you’re encased in an impermeable bubble so nothing can get to you”) So be prepared. Be aware. Take no chances. Don’t flirt with the enemy. Know where your “borders” are weak and beef up the security. Keep your heart for the Lord alive. Meet with Him regularly for devotion, not just for preparation. Keep your marriage in its place of priority. Invest in your kids. Be a person of character even when no one is watching. And don’t believe the inflated press about yourself.

They were a very appreciative audience and we left feeling very grateful for our 17th year of addressing this group.

 Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary: couples night for the seminary wives class: we caught the last few stragglers at the end of the evening for this photo. 

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary: couples night for the seminary wives class: we caught the last few stragglers at the end of the evening for this photo. 

The typical counseling and Patriots studies filled Wednesday and Thursday, but atypically, Paul spoke alone to “Moms Rock” at Highrock Church on “what men most need from their wives.” He’s always a favorite at this Moms events as he brings important insight interspersed with humor. They seemed to appreciate him. 

That Saturday, Veteran’s Day, we partnered with Hope Chapel in Sterling, MA, by speaking at their marriage conference. Though it was our first time at this church, several of their congregants had come to the H.I.M. marriage conference, or Worth It, or Engagement Matters, so they knew of us. The house was packed and the conference, though short (8:30-1:30) was well planned and well done. We thoroughly enjoyed having some time with the senior pastor and his wife, as well as the pastor of families. They are doing a great work through that church and we’re so thankful to now know about it.

 Hope Chapel in Sterling, MA—a great half-day marriage conference.

Hope Chapel in Sterling, MA—a great half-day marriage conference.

 The team behind the conference

The team behind the conference

Since Veteran’s Day is also our granddaughter Rachel’s birthday, we just kept right on driving to Mechanicsburg to celebrate her 2nd birthday the following day. Though our crazy travel schedule prevents us from being at most of these important celebrations, we take advantage of the ones we can. A small group gathered for a low-keyed party Sunday afternoon and fun was had by all. We were SO glad to be a part of the celebration. After a fun-filled Monday, we drove home . . . wishing for a longer visit, but grateful.

 Rachel is two!!!

Rachel is two!!!

 The birthday girl! 

The birthday girl! 

Preparation mode switched to high gear as we had three days to get ready for this 10-day trip as well as to get the house ready to welcome a sweet family who would use it for their week-long Thanksgiving vacation trip. We squeezed cleaning, packing, baking, making jam, collecting west coast gifts to be delivered (free shipping!), and errands in between counseling and other scheduled events, which included my weekly Patriots wives/girlfriends study-turned-pie-baking-workshop. This annual event is one of my favorites. I LOVE seeing the wonder of someone holding a not-yet-baked apple pie which she made. Great, memorable moments. We wrapped up the baking workshop with a very sweet time of sharing Thanksgiving traditions and expressing gratitude. I love these women.

 Apple pie time!!!

Apple pie time!!!

And then we were off!! First stop, Grand Junction, Colorado, for the wedding of Elsa Stanley and Nathan Blanchard. Lisa met us there, and the three of us couldn’t have been happier to witness the vows expressed by these two who love Jesus and are committed to serving Him together as they have individually. Elsa’s father, Mark, was a colleague of mine at San Diego State University back in the day, and Paul Friesen was our IVCF staff, who had a profound impact on both Mark and me spiritually. Mark began serving at Campus by the Sea in the late 70’s and is still serving in some capacity to this day. Mark and Annette attended family camp for years and served on the family camp staff team for more years. Elsa carried on the tradition and was on program staff for multiple years. We’ve shared a very close relationship with her since her mid-teens, so it was with great joy that we were able to share this milestone day with her and her family. It’s so good to have unmitigated joy in such milestones so important to the heart of God.

 Nate and Elsa (Stanley) Blanchard: a most joyous occasion!!

Nate and Elsa (Stanley) Blanchard: a most joyous occasion!!

 Katie Grieb and Lisa Friesen support Elsa on her special day.

Katie Grieb and Lisa Friesen support Elsa on her special day.

On to San Diego for a brief but lovely visit with my mom before heading to Santa Clarita to spend Thanksgiving with the Garcia crew. We were challenged by 94-degree temps to believe it was really Thanksgiving…but the turkey and cranberry convinced us it was. A rousing game of basketball at the local park increased our appetites for the feast, and a long after-dinner walk made room for pie. We were especially thankful to have Chelsea Paskvan join us for the day.

 Serious basketball at the park before the Thanksgiving feast.

Serious basketball at the park before the Thanksgiving feast.

 The Garcia Littles . . . eat ‘em with a spoon adorable!

The Garcia Littles . . . eat ‘em with a spoon adorable!

 The fam ready for the feast

The fam ready for the feast

 Life-long friend Chelsea joins the party.

Life-long friend Chelsea joins the party.

Continuing our “don’t stay longer than 2 days in any one spot” program, we drove to Pixley after the pies were consumed. There we joined with all of Paul’s siblings and their spouses, and all but three of our nieces and nephews and their families. Forty-eight family members gathered on the “legacy” farm, celebrating our shared faith and heritage. It was an extra special time. The annual family football game was played by the younger set and coached and “reffed” by the elders. Devotions, cracking walnuts, walking through the fields, enjoying the annual bonfire at nephew Randy’s home, catching up with one another during this once-a-year gathering, and being encouraged by the miraculous reality that all of us are pursuing Christ in our lives and in our homes. Grace upon grace. Beyond thankful for the gift of this family.

 The family at the farm.

The family at the farm.

 Ten of the original 13 cousins

Ten of the original 13 cousins

 And five of the five siblings responsible for them.

And five of the five siblings responsible for them.

 And the next generation experiences the land once farmed by their great-grandfather, Mel Friesen.

And the next generation experiences the land once farmed by their great-grandfather, Mel Friesen.

We drove to Riverside on Sunday, Nov. 26th, to spend the next two days with Lisa, but stopped on the way to see “The Christmas Story” in Altadena. It’s not quite as random as it seems; our dear friend Kelsey O’Keeffe is the stage manager for the production and anytime we can see anything that Kelsey is involved with, we do. It was such a treat to see her in action once again! To top it off, we had dinner at the O’Keeffes (long time CBS family campers) and were joined by the Dreves, making for a delightful gathering of very special people. We loved every minute of it. We made it to Riverside at about bedtime and happily drifted off to sleep in Lisa’s cozy home.

 Kelsey O’Keeffe, stage manager for the play “The Christmas Story” and long time friend/former CBS staff/family camper.

Kelsey O’Keeffe, stage manager for the play “The Christmas Story” and long time friend/former CBS staff/family camper.

 The O’Keeffes, the Dreves, and the Friesens . . . chosen family.

The O’Keeffes, the Dreves, and the Friesens . . . chosen family.

Paul delighted in every moment of Monday as he got to do “dad” jobs for Lisa, like hanging her Christmas lights and doing small projects around her house. That evening we toured the Mission Inn Christmas light extravaganza and were more than impressed. Definitely a great kick-off for the season!!

Back to Boston in time for the Patriots studies and counseling and the turning of the last calendar page of 2017. Whew!! We have been all over the place!!