Part 1: Fast/Slow; Finish/Start; 2017/2018

After rolling in on a red-eye flight today and landing at Logan and going home for only our fifth day in the month of January (which is almost out of days), I am finally getting to what has been a near-the-top entry on my “to-do” list since the third week of December 2017: writing this blog post. I love to write, but I need space and time to do so and, well, that’s been hard to come by in the days that wrapped up 2017 and the ones that have begun 2018. I’ll rely on pictures to “say a thousand words” so this won’t turn into marathon missive.

We kicked off December by speaking for a “Date Night” at the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church of Boston. Our hearts for this community have grown deep over the years we have partnered with them and we especially appreciate the leadership of Pastor Khaled Ghobrial and his lovely wife Vannel. A beautifully-served dinner launched the evening, setting it up perfectly for us to speak on God’s good design for marriage, and the packed house was responsive and appreciative.

  Pastor and Mrs Khaled Ghobrial lead this church with vision and passion.

Pastor and Mrs Khaled Ghobrial lead this church with vision and passion.

The following weekend, nine engaged or pre-engaged couples weathered the first real snowfall of the season and made it to Ryan and Kelly Plosker’s home in Wenham for Engagement Matters. With the support of the outstanding team of resource couples, including Carl and Cathy Blatchley, Rob and Gabby Warren, and the Ploskers, we had a rich weekend of merging Biblical design for marriage with practical application. We so enjoyed mixing it up with these couples who are on the brink of making the “second most important decision of their life” and trust that God will use the weekend to help them sort out His plan for them. We were thankful that the snow didn’t keep anyone away . . . and we were also thankful for the transforming beauty of the snow as it fell gently throughout the day, creating the sensation of us being characters in a snow globe world. The best.

  We love Engagement Matters weekends and this was no exception!

We love Engagement Matters weekends and this was no exception!

  A highlight of Engagement Matters was having Jeff Armstrong and Whitnee Sherman, (“kids” we’ve known since they were really little), fly in for the weekend from California. So fun!!

A highlight of Engagement Matters was having Jeff Armstrong and Whitnee Sherman, (“kids” we’ve known since they were really little), fly in for the weekend from California. So fun!!

We wrapped up both the women’s and the couples’ Patriots studies mid-December with celebrations consistent with the season, but even more for how God had met us through the fall. We had a very consistent 13–15 couples out weekly for couples’ study and 13–18 women out for the women’s study, and we saw personal growth in both studies week by week. It continues to be a joy and a privilege to speak into the lives of these “kids” and to see them succeed on and off the field.

  Our final meeting of the women’s study was marked by the joy of being together and the sorrow of the study coming to a close.

Our final meeting of the women’s study was marked by the joy of being together and the sorrow of the study coming to a close.

  The Patriots have big shoes to fill . . .

The Patriots have big shoes to fill . . .

Off to St. Louis we flew Dec. 16 for our annual visit with Grant and Emily Williams and their three daughters. Our lives have been joined for 19 years now as we “surrogate parent and grandparent” their family and we love reconnecting with them in person annually. Sweet, sweet fellowship.

  The Williams’ girls aren’t “little” anymore . . . but beautiful young women who are fierce on the volleyball court.

The Williams’ girls aren’t “little” anymore . . . but beautiful young women who are fierce on the volleyball court.

Lisa arrived soon after we returned from St. Louis and we went into high gear to finish Christmas preparations before driving to PA on the 24th. My little “Elf NOT on a shelf” was SO helpful, doing whatever needed to be done…including (but definitely not limited to) our annual gingerbread houses. 

  Lisa continues the tradition of decorating gingerbread houses which bring delight to several families every Christmas.

Lisa continues the tradition of decorating gingerbread houses which bring delight to several families every Christmas.

Fortunately our time together wasn’t all work. We spent a lovely evening seeing the School of Creative Arts' production of “Suddenly on Christmas Eve”, directed by Nancy Gerber and her son Douglas. Nancy’s very talented now deceased husband Steve wrote the play years ago and this was the first time it was performed without him. They did a great job!

  Long time friends, Nancy and Douglas Gerber, spend a few moments with us after the production of “Suddenly . . .”

Long time friends, Nancy and Douglas Gerber, spend a few moments with us after the production of “Suddenly . . .”

Traditions are the warp and woof of the Christmas season for us, and another one we continued was spending an evening with the Amico family. The “real” tradition has been sharing Christmas Eve dinner, but since we left town the 24th, they came our way a few nights earlier and we laughed and talked our way through the evening. 

  The Amico family sharing Christmas joy . . .

The Amico family sharing Christmas joy . . .

It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so we spent Christmas Eve in an unusual way . . . going to Gillette Stadium to watch “our boys” play. Thanks to the generosity of a couple of players who made that possible, we had great seats, watched a great win, and had a wonderful time “in the tunnel” afterwards having dinner and connecting with most of the couples who come to the study. Hard to beat that!!! And even though it was cold (24 degrees at game time), we stayed warm enough to enjoy every minute of it. With tummies full and voices hoarse, we drove straight from Gillette to Mechanicsburg, PA, to celebrate Christmas with Derek and Julie and kids.

  Pretty great day at Gillette Stadium on Christmas Eve, as the Patriots came up with another win. 

Pretty great day at Gillette Stadium on Christmas Eve, as the Patriots came up with another win. 

Christmas morning: the Best. Celebrating the birth of Jesus with two Littles who are at perfect ages for being completely caught up in the delights of Christmas. Sure enough, Baby Jesus was found in the creche, the Christmas story was read out of Luke 2, a special breakfast was had, and presents were opened. Even Santa made an appearance! Rachel was moved to tears (and not sentimental tears, but “I’m scared” tears), and Nathan, after examining “Santa” carefully, declared: “I know it’s not Santa because it’s Papa . . . and Santa is REAL.” Precious moments. 

  Little Santa in the making . . .

Little Santa in the making . . .

  Rachel is still unsure . . .

Rachel is still unsure . . .

The Garcia family flew in the morning of Dec. 28, and sadly, the first three (of what would eventually be six of us) were down with the flu.  :(  But the reunion would not be stopped, and for the next 8 days, with whoever wasn’t sick, fun was had by the rest. A lovely snow fell the 29th and frigid temps the next days sustained the 4-6 inches, providing great sledding opportunities. Such a highlight for these California kids who usually don’t even have to wear a sweater! It was so good to have the 12 of us together for the week. It was the best gift we received . . . and no wrapping paper was needed.

  So much fun to all be together in Mechanicsburg after Christmas.

So much fun to all be together in Mechanicsburg after Christmas.

  We were so thankful for enough snow for sledding several days in a row. Papa, Gigi, and Auntie Lisa, along with Brandon, Ana, and Nathan, had a BLAST.

We were so thankful for enough snow for sledding several days in a row. Papa, Gigi, and Auntie Lisa, along with Brandon, Ana, and Nathan, had a BLAST.

  We managed to get a family photo thanks to a tripod and a timer.

We managed to get a family photo thanks to a tripod and a timer.

  The “originals” . . .

The “originals” . . .

  The tradition continues: matching jammies. Great sons-in-law. :)

The tradition continues: matching jammies. Great sons-in-law. :)

Derek planned a meaningful and delicious New Year’s Eve celebration for the adults, which was enjoyed by all after the Littles were put to bed. It was the perfect way to welcome the New Year.

  “Small plates” were served over the course of several hours, interspersed with sharing prompted by questions written on revolving cards. A very thoughtful evening to close out 2017.

“Small plates” were served over the course of several hours, interspersed with sharing prompted by questions written on revolving cards. A very thoughtful evening to close out 2017.

  The first sunrise of 2018. Clear, crisp, beautiful. 

The first sunrise of 2018. Clear, crisp, beautiful. 

And that’s a wrap on 2017 as one of our most personally difficult years finished . . . ushering in a new set of calendar pages to start 2018. The reunion continued through January 4th and we daily celebrated the goodness and grace God has so generously poured out on our family.