One reunion bled into another as we wrapped up the nuclear Friesen family gathering in Pennsylvania on Jan. 4 and flew to California to celebrate my mother’s 88th birthday with the Collins side of the family. All of my siblings were able to make this grand celebration and, including in-laws, grands, and great-grands, the final count came in at 33. Sadly, Paul was stranded in New England by the blizzard which suspended operations at Logan and Kari and her family were felled by the flu the night before the party, so they were unable to make it.
But party we did!! It was great to be together to honor our remarkable mom, who continues to live each day for Christ and take seriously her charge to pray for all of us. The Mardi Gras themed party reflected her heritage as a New Orleans born and bred Southern Belle, and the Persian food spread linked her deep love for the Iranian people she and my dad have loved since their Naval tour in Iran in the late 70’s. Friendships forged then are still current and so precious to all of us. It was a grand time, honoring a grand lady, which affirmed our blessed legacy in family.
I flew home on a red-eye, arriving halfway through Monday, Jan. 8th, and much to my delight, 18” of snow welcomed me home. Wasting no time, I eagerly strapped on my cross-country skis (while Paul, in an act of sacrificial love, strapped his on) and we explored our blanketed-in-snow woods with great delight. (Remember that I’m writing this blog . . . Paul might have felt differently, but he did it. He’s a good man.)
I was home for only 4 days, and the time evaporated quickly as it was filled with counseling, a Patriots wives gathering, sorting mail that had been accumulating since Dec. 24, and making a t-shirt quilt for Lisa’s birthday.
Paul spoke at “Men’s Night Out” in Halifax, MA, on Friday night, the 12th, and enjoyed reconnecting with a group he’s spoken for a number of times. And then he took me to the airport so I could return to CA to celebrate Lisa’s birthday and have some Gigi time with the Garcia Littles prior to speaking at a San Diego church the following weekend.
We had a blast celebrating Lisa’s birthday with a group of family and friends on Sunday afternoon, Jan 14th. Brandon and Ana decorated the house, Kari made a fabulous Mexican feast, and Lisa’s favorite dessert—“Fruit Pizza”—was made for the occasion. Each guest was asked to bring a flower that best reflected something about Lisa’s character, and it was very meaningful to see the beautiful bouquet built one flower at a time, symbolically reflecting the beauty of Lisa’s heart and the depth of her character. She loves so well and is so well-loved!
Hanging out with Brandon, Ana, and Micah (and their parents) is just . . . pure gift. This is such a joyful season of life! Trips to the park, “Fantastic Fours" with Ana, listening to Brandon read, having dance parties, observing changes in the 19-month-old Micah daily as he discovers life, baking together . . . These shared moments are fulfilling the prophetic words of a poem I recall reading when I was a young mom, the essence of which was “Grandma’s have time.” Time is such a gift! Kari, Gabe, and I also managed to accomplish a few small house projects, as well as close out every evening together over a bowl of ice cream.
Off to San Diego on Thursday, with stops along the way to meet with some dear friends before arriving at my mom’s in time to prepare dinner. I’m always so thankful for time with her. She is “easy”—not demanding, and very appreciative. She’s teaching us a lot about aging gracefully.
Our weekend conference at Rise City Church in Lakewood, CA, was exhilarating. Though it was our first time partnering with them, we felt very much at home as we were so warmly welcomed and received. Mary Phillips, of Global Algae Innovations (GAI), served as event planner at the conference, which was underwritten by the GAI-supported foundation Stepping Forward International, and she did a great job. The Friday night through Saturday early afternoon conference drew 180 adults and 130 kids. :) As Paul said, those parents didn’t care who was speaking or what the topic was . . . free childcare could not be missed. :) Well done, Rise City Church! This young, thriving church is being used by God to make a difference in this area and we are so thankful to have had this opportunity.
Back up to Santa Clarita late Saturday night, where the focus of our care-giving shifted down 81 years as we stepped into the role of babysitting the Garcia Littles while their parents enjoyed the annual Grace Baptist Church's pastors’ retreat. A win-win. Gabe and Kari had a wonderful time deepening community with the pastors they serve alongside and having some sweet R and R time, and we had a great time hanging with the Littles. It was no challenge to get over 10K steps a day while with them!!
We had the privilege of speaking to the moms of the “Fantastic Fours” on Tuesday. We love to speak encouragement in to the lives of young moms who spend at least part of the time wondering if what they’re doing with the kids is on track and if it’s making a difference. Our words somehow have a believability because we’ve “been there, done that” and lived to tell about it . . . by the grace of God.
Thankfully, everyone was intact and happy when the parents returned Tuesday late afternoon. We boarded a plane early the next morning to Seattle, where we spent the next five days partnering with Moses Lake Alliance Church. Our every-other-year commitment to serve this congregation now spans 12 years and we are amazed by the depth of connection we feel with many who have consistently been a part of these ministry tours. Though we’ve always been hosted by our dear friends Kent and Staci Copley, they are now serving a church in Visalia, CA, so Mark and Sharon Blazer (who are part of the consistent group through the years) hosted us in their home and we so enjoyed connecting with them on a deeper level. They are pouring their lives out to serve many in that community. Great people.
After landing in Seattle, we drove to Moses Lake Alliance Church (MLAC) Wednesday night just in time for the fellowship dinner which precedes youth group, where we spoke on relationships to the high school students. We were so thankful for their good response. David Thomas, the youth leader, and his wife Bethany, are obviously building truth in to the lives of these students throughout the year, so we were mainly reinforcing what they hear regularly. Great time.
Thursday evening we spent with the pastoral team from MLAC. They are transitioning with several new pastors, including a new senior pastor, and it was just good to spend time around dinner sharing ideas on balancing ministry and marriage/family life. Early the next morning, we drove to Newport, WA (in the far northeast corner of the state, about 45 minutes north of Spokane), stopping along the way to have coffee with the Copley’s daughter, Tori, who attends Eastern Washington University. It was so refreshing to spend some time with this very centered, wise-beyond-her-age college sophomore, who is living an “all in” life for Christ. Though very “out of step” with most of her peers, Tori's kind and winsome heart draws people to her. She’s making a positive difference for the kingdom. We also shared a delightful lunch with Paul’s cousins, Bob and Chris Clark, who live in Spokane.
The sold-out marriage conference was held at Clearwater Lodge in Camp Spaulding and it was, once again, a very powerful weekend. There were many significant moments during the weekend, but the highlight for all of us was witnessing the "Christian marriage” of Phil and Andrea Lawson. Though married already for 10 years, they didn’t know Christ until several years in to their marriage and the Lord put it on their hearts to have a ceremony that expressed their faith. So, Paul officiated at at “wedding” which was attended by the conferees, and followed by a “reception" at the coffee bar. It was profoundly meaningful and we were so honored to be a part of it.
Back to Seattle we drove Sunday afternoon, arriving in time to have dinner with Dane and Amy Looker (former Patriots couple) before taking a red-eye home. We’re so thankful for the opportunities our travels afford us to keep connecting with some of the important-to-us people. There’s never enough time to connect with all we’d like, of course, but we’re grateful when these moments happen.
Home!! Monday, Jan. 29. In time for snow on Tuesday. Yay hooray!!! Unfortunately it was followed by rain, so no cross-country skiing was possible, but we’ll take what we get. Counseling Wednesday and Thursday, then on Friday, we drove up to the First Baptist Church of Hampton Falls for the second annual couples’ date night with us speaking. We are so encouraged by this church! Ken and Connie Lawrence have faithfully served there for over three decades and have grown a vibrant, vital, gospel-centered church. Grant and Jen Winnes lead their ministry to family and marriages and so this event is theirs—and again this year, they put together an evening that was beautiful, delicious, funny, fun, and instructive. It’s a joy to partner with them.
We opted out of any Super Bowl parties to watch the game from the comfort of our home and we were glad we did. Obviously not the outcome we were rooting for, but having various text streams from families/marriages in distress going on throughout the game created perspective. We’re thankful for another great season, but much more for the relationships we have with many of the team couples who are committed to living God-honoring lives off the field as well as on. And really, how can you not be happy on some level for a team to win their first Super Bowl? We rejoice with the nice Eagles fans in the world.
Besides coming alongside these families in distress during Super Bowl weekend, we managed to repaint our entryway and complete a “project” whose “number" finally came up. I am delighted with the results of both efforts.
Since we’re now turning the page into February, I’m going to wrap this “part 2” up and renew my commitment to keeping this up in a more timely fashion. Though life will continue to be a combination of time moving fast mixed in with a few moments of slow, and though there will continue to be many finishes and starts in this new year, we’ll be in 2018 for ten and a half more months. We are praying that God will continue to draw us to Himself in deeper and deeper ways, and that we’ll keep pressing in to do what He’s called us to do.