Hitting Pause

Sitting in Derek and Julie’s cozy living room next to a lit Christmas tree and a roaring (gas-fueled) fire in the fireplace, I’ve finally found the “pause” button. Truly, that button has been “MIA” for the past two months and it feels really good to carve out a few moments to reflect on the the past two months which have been on the uber fast track.

Backing up to early November, the Patriots’ women’s study surprised me with a yummy cake (baked by Danielle Burkhead) in honor of my birthday. I love these ladies! We’ve had a great fall together as we’ve studied Colossians and have found the truths of that short epistle to be so relevant and applicable to our lives.

The surprise birthday celebration by the Patriots women.

The surprise birthday celebration by the Patriots women.

Veteran’s Day weekend found us in Grand Rapids, Michigan, helping Derek and Julie move into their new house, after six months of condo living. Julie’s diligent efforts on Zillow paid off when she located a “perfect for them” home in Ada, Michigan, convenient to schools, church, and work. It was “walk-in” ready, save three rooms which needed new paint, so Papa and Gigi volunteered to contribute their vast painting skills and accomplished the task almost in a day. The “almost” might or might not have been necessitated by two helpful Littles...

Some work and some play filled our days in Grand Rapids, and either way, we loved every minute of our time together.

Some work and some play filled our days in Grand Rapids, and either way, we loved every minute of our time together.

We also were delighted to be in town to celebrate Rachel’s third birthday and we all are wondering how that happened so quickly. Time does seem to be moving at warp speed.

Her “Peppa Pig” party featured a play-dough activity center, hence the play dough mini-cake crafted by one of the guests.

Her “Peppa Pig” party featured a play-dough activity center, hence the play dough mini-cake crafted by one of the guests.

Paul stayed a couple days longer in Grand Rapids while I flew back to Boston to hold the Patriots women’s annual apple pie making day. Though a smaller group than usual (many were traveling due to the upcoming bye week), each of us went home with a yummy pie to bake for Thanksgiving.

The Patriots wives proudly show the fruit of their labors.

The Patriots wives proudly show the fruit of their labors.

On to California for the Thanksgiving holiday, where we spent the first week with my Mom. Lisa joined us several days into our visit and everything is always better with Lisa around. We had so much fun being together, going on almost daily “field trips” which included walking to the Embarcadero and going to Coronado Beach. Evenings always include “Jeopardy,” “Wheel of Fortune,” and an episode of “Bluebloods” or “Bull.” Thankfully she is doing really well and is quite remarkable as she prepares to celebrate her 89th birthday on January 7. We’re truly thankful for every minute we get to spend with her.

One of our favorite field trips included a stroll through the Hotel del Coronado on a beautiful Southern California day.

One of our favorite field trips included a stroll through the Hotel del Coronado on a beautiful Southern California day.

Thanksgiving Eve, we made our way up to Santa Clarita to spend Thanksgiving with the Garcias. Their “chosen family” friends, the Eidems, joined us for the traditional feast, and a lovelier day couldn’t have been had.

Thanksgiving dinner with the Garcias, Eidems, and Friesens.

Thanksgiving dinner with the Garcias, Eidems, and Friesens.

Focusing on giving thanks, everyone contributed their thoughts to the poster designed by Brandon.

Focusing on giving thanks, everyone contributed their thoughts to the poster designed by Brandon.

Up early Friday, we continued north to join the extended Friesen family in Pixley. All of the original five siblings (except sister Joyce and family) were present and the many traditions of this family-centered holiday continued. Much to the delight of the youngest generation, who have stepped into the Annual Family Football Bowl with more skill than previous generations, the first order of business was “the” game. Fun was (mostly) had by all, and of greatest significance was Uncle Wayne Clark passing the mantle of “officiating” to nephew Brian Rottschafer. 

Another annual tradition, loved by all, is the bonfire/taco truck dinner hosted by the Clark family, featuring story telling by Uncle Wayne Herbst, and devotions led by Uncle Paul. Such treasured legacy-building moments are truly appreciated by all.

The younger crew has taken over the field, allowing the “olders” to coach, cheer, and/or watch.

The younger crew has taken over the field, allowing the “olders” to coach, cheer, and/or watch.

All DNA-related Friesens, numbering 32, celebrated the gift of family unified in Christ.

All DNA-related Friesens, numbering 32, celebrated the gift of family unified in Christ.

We drove down to Fullerton Sunday afternoon in time to attend the beautiful wedding of Brad and (now) Anya Armstrong, making our eighth (and final) wedding since July 20. We’re so thankful that all of the weddings have been so Christ-centered and God-honoring. We so enjoyed celebrating with them and connecting with many dear friends.

Brad and Anya Armstrong entered the covenant of marriage on November 25th and we were delighted to celebrate with them.

Brad and Anya Armstrong entered the covenant of marriage on November 25th and we were delighted to celebrate with them.

Paul responded to a significant need by changing his reservation and flying out early to do an emergency counseling session on Monday the 26th, but I continued with our plans to spend Monday in Riverside with Lisa, culminating with an evening strolling through the Mission Inn’s incredible Christmas light display. If you live near Riverside, you should put it on your bucket list. It’s worth it. After our tummies and our eyes were satiated, I drove back to LAX for a red-eye home, thankful for the trip which included so many special moments with so many special people.

The Mission Inn lights with Lisa. Great way to kick off the Christmas season.

The Mission Inn lights with Lisa. Great way to kick off the Christmas season.

What fun to arrive home and have the first shipment of Letters to My Daughters with its new cover awaiting us. With approximately 16,000 copies of Letters to My Daughters in circulation, we decided it was time to retire the cover featuring our daughters’ senior portraits.

This creative iteration was produced by David Fogelsong, our very talented graphic artist who has designed several covers for us. We’re so thankful that there continues to be such great interest in the wisdom of this book.

After a couple of days full of counseling and Patriots’ studies, we spent the weekend of December 1-2 hosting Engagement Matters. Our passion for and commitment to this weekend only grows as more and more confusion and distortion impact society’s understanding of God’s design for marriage. We had a stimulating weekend with the couples who attended and we are especially grateful for the H.I.M. team that joins us, including Carl and Cathy Blatchley, Ryan and Kelly Plosker, and Rob and Gabby Warren.

Engagement Matters was enthusiastically embraced by the couples who attended, including Katherine and Tim (Katherine grew up at family camp in California) and Billy and Julie (Billy was part of family camp in New England for over ten years). It’s especially meaningful to us to have these kids-turned-adults we’ve known for such a long time choose to attend.

Engagement Matters was enthusiastically embraced by the couples who attended, including Katherine and Tim (Katherine grew up at family camp in California) and Billy and Julie (Billy was part of family camp in New England for over ten years). It’s especially meaningful to us to have these kids-turned-adults we’ve known for such a long time choose to attend.

Repeat cycle: counseling, Patriots’ studies, and early morning flight Friday, this time to St. Louis for our annual visit with Grant and Emily Williams and their daughters. Since 1999, when Grant came from Seattle to play for the Patriots, we’ve journeyed with the Williamses. They had two Littles at the time, both under 2, and were seeking parent/grandparent mentoring, having both been raised in rather dysfunctional, broken homes. They are truly “chosen family” and our three days together were too brief but so rich. Not surprisingly, we packed in as much as possible into those days, including “chaperoning” at the Christmas Banquet for Westminster Christian High School (which was rather eye-opening), touring Daniel Boone’s homestead by candlelight, and having a sweet visit with Dan (retired Patriot) and Lori Connolly and their precious daughters. We also got to watch youngest daughter Sarah Elizabeth play volleyball as a HS senior, on her way to play at Northern Alabama University. 

Dan and Lori Connolly were involved in the couples study, and Lori in the women’s study while Dan play for New England. What fun to reconnect with them!

Dan and Lori Connolly were involved in the couples study, and Lori in the women’s study while Dan play for New England. What fun to reconnect with them!

Madeline, who plays volleyball for Indiana State University, and Sarah Elizabeth, who will begin her college career playing for Northern Alabama University, were home for the weekend, much to our delight.

Madeline, who plays volleyball for Indiana State University, and Sarah Elizabeth, who will begin her college career playing for Northern Alabama University, were home for the weekend, much to our delight.

We caught an early morning flight back to Boston on Monday to join a "flock of flamingos” at the Museum of Fine Arts, in celebration of Julie Macraes’ birthday. We had a blast doing a scavenger hunt through the museum and touring the “Winnie the Pooh” traveling exhibit. Ever the creative one, Doug had everything planned to the minute and all went off perfectly. It was one of the most unique birthday celebrations we’ve ever been to!

The "flock of flamingos” gather post scavenger hunt for a photo.

The "flock of flamingos” gather post scavenger hunt for a photo.

Our final Patriots’ studies were held the 12th and 13th, so we were extra busy baking and preparing goody bags for them. The women’s study wrapped up with cookie decorating and a Yankee gift exchange, and the couples’ study ended with a challenge to get together in 20 years and re-do the photo we took that night . . . by God’s grace, all thriving in Christlike marriages. We are so thankful for the Slaters, who for the third year in a row hosted the couples’ study, for the Cannons who for the second year hosted the women’s study, and for Don and Betsy Hasselbeck, who have faithfully partnered with us for 17 of the 20 seasons we’ve been involved with the couples’ study.

Who doesn’t love to decorate sugar cookies in the shape of football jerseys?

Who doesn’t love to decorate sugar cookies in the shape of football jerseys?

Though missing a few regulars, we had a sweet last gathering, punctuated by raucous laughter and even a few tears.

Though missing a few regulars, we had a sweet last gathering, punctuated by raucous laughter and even a few tears.

Again missing some regulars, but this is the photo we hope to recreate in 20 years.

Again missing some regulars, but this is the photo we hope to recreate in 20 years.

The “leadership team” of the couples’ study….couldn’t do it without them, and couldn’t get this selfie without Don Hasselbeck’s long arms.

The “leadership team” of the couples’ study….couldn’t do it without them, and couldn’t get this selfie without Don Hasselbeck’s long arms.

We had barely gotten home from the final Patriots Thursday night study and I was off to CA for a whirlwind weekend full of delightful,”this might only happen once” events. You might say I hit the “pause” button from Christmas preparations. 

First stop, Houston! Taking advantage of a 7-hour layover, I rented a car and managed a 2-hour visit with my dear friend Anna. Since marrying this couple 6 years ago, they’ve expanded by three and it was so much fun to catch up with her and the kids. Too short, but "better than nothin’” as my mom would say!

A brief but very sweet visit with my friend Anna and two of her three littles.

A brief but very sweet visit with my friend Anna and two of her three littles.

On to Sacramento, where I fulfilled a promise made at least 10 years earlier. When Hannah Swanson began showing great promise as a ballerina many years ago, I told her mother Christina (Chew Swanson) that if Hannah were ever cast as “Clara” in The Nutcracker ballet, I would come to see her if at all possible. Hannah’s dancing career took a bit of a hiccup when in 2016 she took 5 weeks off from her semi-professional dance studio to serve with her family on a medical mission trip to Kenya, and since then she has battled injuries in her drive to return to her level of expertise.

She “put her shoulder to the plough” and her hard work (and confidence in God’s grace) resulted in her being chosen for the coveted role, and on Saturday, December 15, I was privileged to be in the audience, mesmerized by her breathlessly beautiful performance. Little known fact: I was a ballerina from 1st through 6th grade, so I’ve always had a love for “artistry on stage” as such. It was such a joy to see Hannah’s excellence “on pointe” combined with her commitment to honor the Lord with the immense talent He has given her. I am so thankful I got to be there!

Beautiful Hannah, a.k.a. “Clara”, danced majestically “on pointe” in The Nutcracker ballet.

Beautiful Hannah, a.k.a. “Clara”, danced majestically “on pointe” in The Nutcracker ballet.

Hannah’s mom, Christina Chew Swanson, and Sally Shaull are two of my favorite “flowers” in my garden of “chosen family friends.”

Hannah’s mom, Christina Chew Swanson, and Sally Shaull are two of my favorite “flowers” in my garden of “chosen family friends.”

Making the most of this “bucket list” trip, I stayed with our dear friends the Shaulls and loved hanging out with Sally over a quiet breakfast in her beautifully decorated Christmas home before the ballet, which segued into a laughter-filled first meeting of her son Scott’s very serious girlfriend, who came by JUST so we could meet each other. Loved her! After the ballet, I met up with Ray, Carol, Christy and Leslie Johnston for a bite to eat prior to attending Bayside’s Christmas service. Such bonuses to this “ballet” trip! Love this family so much.

We managed to get Leslie, Christy, and Carol Johnston in this photo; Ray had already gone to the service.

We managed to get Leslie, Christy, and Carol Johnston in this photo; Ray had already gone to the service.

Back to Sacramento airport early Sunday, but not before spending a sweet though short time with Dan and Debbie Garcia, Gabe’s parents. How thankful we are for them and for the son they raised!

A hop to LA, where Lisa picked me up and we drove to the Staples Center to meet up with the Garcias to watch “Disney on Ice.” Yes!! Friends of Gabe and Kari’s work there and invited them (and a few of their closest family members) to be their guests at the show. It was magical, viewing it with 2-, 5-, and 8-year-old littles, and we were all held captive throughout the two-hour show. Such a gift!!

We were so blessed by the gift of “Disney on Ice” with the Garcias on my “ballet” weekend.

We were so blessed by the gift of “Disney on Ice” with the Garcias on my “ballet” weekend.

From there, Lisa and I drove to San Diego, where we surprised my mom with a 36-hour early Christmas visit. My sister Laura and her husband, David, had arrived earlier that day from Virginia for a two-week stay, so we had a very festive time together. The look on my mom’s face when we walked in made it worth the effort to get there!

We were able to re-create one of my favorite childhood memories with Mom, Lisa, Laura, and David on Monday night when, after a lovely dinner out, we drove to Chula Vista (where I grew up) and toured “Whitney-Mankato Circle,” a neighborhood that boasts fabulous Christmas scenes annually. Our family never missed a year of driving slowly through this illuminated, colorful, larger-than-life Christmas extravaganza during my growing up years, but many years have passed since our last sighting. It was a throw-back night as wended our way through the captivating display which filled me with such joy.

An early Christmas dinner celebration launched our evening down memory lane. I love this photo of us!

An early Christmas dinner celebration launched our evening down memory lane. I love this photo of us!

Whitney-Mankato Circle in Chula Vista brings delight to so many, including us.

Whitney-Mankato Circle in Chula Vista brings delight to so many, including us.

Many beautiful nativity scenes are displayed on the lawns of the circle.

Many beautiful nativity scenes are displayed on the lawns of the circle.

But that wasn’t all! We continued to revisit traditions of years gone by as we headed to Balboa Park to view the Christmas displays and were not disappointed. The same Santa in his sleigh being pulled by airborne reindeer. The same life-size dioramas depicting the life of Christ. The same beautifully lit organ pavilion. Ahhhhh. Traditions knit the decades together in such a powerful way.

As a child, I distinctly remember thinking Santa’s sleigh and the reindeer were airborne.

As a child, I distinctly remember thinking Santa’s sleigh and the reindeer were airborne.

Scripture accompanies each of the dioramas that tell the story of Jesus.

Scripture accompanies each of the dioramas that tell the story of Jesus.

With a full, grateful heart, I flew home the 18th with Lisa, and was suddenly confronted with the reality of the long list of things to accomplish in the next five days. No pausing at this point! With my “elf-not-on-the-shelf” Lisa, we managed to make gingerbread houses, wrap and deliver presents, sew lots of pajama pants, and mail packages. We also spent a morning with the Patriots women “wrapping” gifts under the tutelage of Pro-Wrapper Betsy Hasselbeck, visited LCA for an alumni event the afternoon of Dec. 20, had a couple of dinners with family friends, celebrated Christmas early with our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent, and spent Sunday afternoon, Dec. 23, at Gillette Stadium cheering for our beloved Patriots. It was a push to the finish, but when we boarded the plane Christmas Eve morning for Grand Rapids, we hit pause and have enjoyed that state ever since (sort of).

The 47th annual making of the gingerbread houses was accomplished.

The 47th annual making of the gingerbread houses was accomplished.

Our annual Christmas celebration with John and Marilyn was full of laughter, as usual.

Our annual Christmas celebration with John and Marilyn was full of laughter, as usual.

Our 14th annual Christmas Eve Eve dinner with the Amicos was extra special this year with their German daughter joining the gang.

Our 14th annual Christmas Eve Eve dinner with the Amicos was extra special this year with their German daughter joining the gang.

Yes, it was cold, but oh, so worth it! Go Pats!!

Yes, it was cold, but oh, so worth it! Go Pats!!

Christmas morning . . . Santa arrived at the front door mid-morning, and was quickly identified as Papa as soon as he “ho-ho-ho’d!”

Christmas morning . . . Santa arrived at the front door mid-morning, and was quickly identified as Papa as soon as he “ho-ho-ho’d!”

What’s not to love about a visit from Santa??

What’s not to love about a visit from Santa??

The annual jammies’ photos . . .

The annual jammies’ photos . . .

Our days in Michigan have been super fun. We’ve had a very relaxing, low-key time, which after this crazy fall is exactly what the doctor ordered. Nathan and Julie have infused these days with such joy as we’ve experienced Christmas through the eyes and sounds of a child. There are so many sights, sounds, and tastes unique to the Christmas season that add to the delight of this very special time of year as we celebrate the Christ Child.

Definitely worth the pause.

We have a few more days in Michigan before returning home. 2019 will usher in a full schedule which will keep us on the road (and in the sky) a lot.

We are so very thankful for the ways God has met us this fall and have great confidence that He will continue to meet us in the year ahead.

Happy New Year to all!