Three typically “warm climate” places with below average temps.
Three visits to Urgent Care.
Three deaths of esteemed friends.
Three times two flights taken.
Obviously, good (and bad) comes in threes.
Giddy with gratitude from the H.I.M. marriage conference Feb. 9-11, three days later we drove to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, to spend the night with grandchildren Nathan and Rachel (and their parents) before continuing on to Havre de Grace, Maryland, for our fifth annual marriage conference for Restore Church. This has been a highlight event for years now, in part because Restore has been led by long time mentees, Jess and Elizabeth Bousa, and this church offers a beacon of hope especially to those caught in the destructive web of addictions. As a recovering addict himself, Jess speaks the language understood by this often despairing and hopeless demographic. Each year we’ve left buoyed with confidence by the life-transforming power of the gospel.
This year was very different. Heartbreakingly, Jess is no longer pastoring the church due to massive moral failure which was revealed only weeks prior to our coming, so we found ourselves in the midst of a congregation reeling from disillusionment and pain. Thankfully the gospel is not based on human performance, but on God’s, so we taught with confidence and conviction on the hope we have in Christ . . . and the reality that the enemy is “like a roaring lion, prowling about, seeking whom he can devour.” (I Peter 5:8). We acknowledged that evil “seemed” to be winning, but that it would NOT because “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4). We affirmed their hurt, their pain, their disillusionment, and encouraged them to ask the Holy Spirit to ruthlessly search their own hearts in order to see where distortions, deceptions, pride, and evil were lurking.
The struggle is real. The enemy has a strategy to make evil look good and good look evil. He is the father of lies. And he’s “winning” in the current culture wars in what has become a lop-sided battle as political correctness and tolerance-shaming mitigates the boldness of those who believe God’s Word still authoritatively teaches us how to live.
Small compromises unchecked will lead to colossal failure eventually. A lack of accountability, a lack of transparency, a lack of Biblically-instructed church infrastructure, a lack of truth-telling, a lack of power checks and balances, and a lack of congruence between public and private life . . . all add up to a lack of integrity and godliness.
We did remind the congregation (those who attended the conference Friday and Saturday, along with those who were present at the four weekend services) that when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, killing 57 people, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses to the tune of 3 billion dollars in 2018 money, spreading ash over 15 states and 5 provinces, and covering miles with molten lava which destroyed all signs of life, many people believed Mount St. Helens would forever be a monument to death and destruction. Thirty-eight years later, only by comparing photographs of Mount St. Helens before she "blew her top” and today would you know that anything catastrophic had happened almost four decades ago. The ecosystem has regenerated. Life has returned to the mountain and to its surrounding areas. Hope fills the air.
We believe that same can be true for Restore Church. There are many wonderful people at the church who are committed to honoring God authentically and to living in a Christ-like way. Far from giving up on God or on Restore Church, they have rolled up their sleeves and are serving and carrying on the vision to share the hope of Christ with those who are hopelessly mired in life without Him. We don’t believe the enemy will have the final say at Restore Church and we are committed to praying for and supporting that congregation when possible.
And thankfully, the marriage conference went really well and many expressed that it spoke directly into their own marriages. All praise is His!!
From Maryland we drove home in time to pack and head out for an almost three-week trip to “warm” places, all of which turned out to be not so warm.
First stop: Tucson, Arizona, for the annual “Increase Conference” hosted by ProAthletes Outreach. With huge kudos to Matthew and Shahrzad Slater, who offered to host any Patriots couple who wanted to attend, we had nine couples at the conference (as well as a number of other ex-Pats). It was a rich time of worship, teaching, and interacting. We served as “at large” counselors at this conference and had numerous “sessions” with some really special couples. We’re so thankful for this annual outreach which provides a safe, protected, autograph- and photo-free environment for these couples, allowing them to focus on important things like their marriage and their relationship with the Lord. The setting was beautiful, and though the pools were lovely to behold, we chose to hike in the 50-degree weather. In Tucson. “It’s not usually cold like this at this time of year” became a refrain we’d become accustomed to hearing.
Second stop: Kauai. We were “persuaded” to return to this beautiful island to speak at the fourth annual marriage conference hosted by “Stepping Forward”, a foundation established by Global Algae Innovations which supports events to strengthen marriages and family. What’s not to love about this opportunity!! In partnership with Kalaheo Missionary Church (KMC), the Friday night and all-day Saturday conference served not just the KMC fellowship, but was attended by many from other local churches. Life on an island is not quite as idyllic as mainlanders picture, we’re told, and we are so appreciated by these sweet families who are eager for marriage and family enrichment teaching. We’ve developed a deep heart for the lead pastor of KMC, John Zimmerman, and his wife Paula, who are consistently warm and welcoming to us, and for the families who have been involved in the conference year after year.
One of the things we’ve marveled at throughout the 15 years we’ve been itinerant speakers is how God has protected our health, so it was an unusual twist for Paul to be “felled” by a relative of this winter’s flu. He barely made it through the conference, and might not have, had he not disappeared to a quiet room between each of the sessions. We headed right to Urgent Care when the conference ended and the doctor confirmed an ear infection, which caused significant temporary hearing loss, bronchitis, and early pneumonia. Yikes!! To bed he went . . . for 48 hours, before returning to Urgent Care for a do-over. Because there had been no real change in his health, they made a change in medications, and thankfully he began to improve. By the time we did a workplace seminar on temperaments for Global Algae Innovations Wednesday afternoon, he was improved enough to provide some comic relief during our presentation, and thankfully was more improved by the time we flew out of Kauai on Thursday in the early afternoon.
Had it been our one and only time in Kauai, or had the weather been the normal sunny, warm, nirvana-like perfection we’re used to, Paul’s being bed-bound would’ve been beyond torturous. But, as I said, we became accustomed to hearing “It’s not usually cold like this at this time of year…” as uncharacteristic clouds obscured the sun for five straight days and temps didn’t exceed the low 70’s. I’ll be honest . . . it made it easy to be “locked up!”
Even so, I managed to walk the beach daily, sometimes under umbrella protection, and drank in the beauty of a wild and woolly ocean, of turtles basking on the beach, and of monk seals frolicking in the surf. I even caught two sunsets (we were there 7 nights) and there’s nothing quite like a Hawaiian sunset.
March 1, Thursday, we flew from Kauai to Southern California, where we presented three workshops at the Southwest Thrive Conference. In its second year, this “Thrive” is an expansion of the Thrive Conference we speak for every year in Granite Bay, California.
We were so blessed to have our daughter Lisa serve as our Uber driver and book seller for this conference, and even if she hadn’t filled those important roles, we welcome any time with her. The “southwest” flavor contributed to a different experience than the Granite Bay conference, but the "Thrive” heartbeat—a commitment to equipping leaders with solid Biblical teaching and encouragement—was palpable. We loved being there . . . but it was “colder than usual for this time of year” so once again the pool went relatively unused. :)
Our scheduled plan to return to Boston to speak Sunday afternoon/evening (March 4) at Valley Community Baptist Church in Avon, Connecticut, was upended by the first Nor’easter that roared through New England in March as the church was left “power-less” by the storm. Paul proceeded with the plan to fly home that Saturday, the March 3, in case their power was restored, but I stayed on the west coast since I was scheduled to fly right back out to California early Monday morning for a wedding that night.
That gave me a “bonus” day with Lisa, which was pure delight. We managed to pack in a hike, pedicures, church, and the Cal Baptist University production of “When the Beam Creaks”—a stage play on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I also got to hang out with the team of students she’s leading on a mission trip to Uganda in May and observe a “Facebook Live Auction” fundraiser they held.
It turned out to be a very good call for me not to return to New England for the Connecticut conference, as the power was not restored, so their marriage event was canceled and rescheduled for late May.
I flew to Sacramento that Monday from southern California and had the joy of attending Ray and Carol Johnston’s oldest son’s wedding that night. Since we’ve known Mark since “before he was born” and have traveled through life together for all 30 years of his life, it was a delight to celebrate this milestone event. Everything about the evening was delightful, from their beautifully thought-out service, to reconnecting with many treasured friends and eating yummy food. I especially loved the time shared with Ray and Carol and the “fam.” I was so thankful to be able to be there!!
Then, back to New England on Tuesday, the 6th, to join Paul. We had one day of counseling, and we were off again.
In the throes of the second Nor'easter which brought 10” of snow to the area, we drove to the airport at 4 am on March 8, hoping that our flight would make it out. Fortunately our 8 am flight was the first one out that day. West Palm Beach, Florida, was our destination for CURE International’s President’s Weekend, and we were so grateful to make it! If you haven’t checked out CURE International yet, do! It is such a inspiring ministry, as physical and spiritual healing is brought to so many in developing countries through their eleven hospitals and additional clinics. Their commitment to excellence medically and to Biblical integrity affirms our commitment to partnering with this ministry which brings so much hope and healing. Every medical professional who serves at a CURE hospital could be employed in a first world country and paid commensurately. The sacrifices made by them (which go far beyond financial gain) beg the question “Why?” In the words of Dr. Rick Gardner, an orthopedic surgeon from the UK who serves at the CURE hospital in Addis Ababa, “After working here for 5 years, it’s impossible to imagine working anywhere else that would be more satisfying or rewarding.”
The excellent media presentations shown during the conference, which took us inside CURE hospitals from patient admission through surgery and recovery, told the stories of countless children whose lives have been radically changed by the medical treatment received at a CURE hospital. Besides just thoroughly enjoying mixing it up with CURE employees (including our own Derek and Julie) as well as CURE supporters, we were energized to consider new ways that H.I.M. could partner with CURE. We love this ministry and pray that the Lord will continue to expand its impact as more people are exposed and moved to be a part of what’s happening through CURE around the world. It was such an encouragement to rub shoulders with the many quality folks who are committed to CURE.
Paul headed north from West Palm Beach, only to be stranded in Newark due to the impending Nor’easter (the third) which ended up dumping 25” of snow on our town that Tuesday (March 13). Instead of cooling his jets in Newark until Friday (the earliest he could be re-scheduled), he flew to Harrisburg Tuesday night, overnighted with Derek and Julie, and drove their extra car home on Wednesday, in time to “miss” the storm, but to see the evidence. There was a LOT of snow. After snow removal, Paul spent the week finishing two manuscripts he’s been working on for some time and delighting in an introvert’s dream: being home alone.
I, meanwhile, flew to California to spend a week with my mom, and what a sweet week it was. I am so blessed to have a truly grateful Mom who continues to teach me so much. I had the privilege of taking her to a few appointments, doing a few projects around her home, and just hanging out with her. My heart was so full when I left to return home. It’s hard to live far away from one you love so much.
During this period of time, we have also lost three wonderful friends. Billy Graham’s death was not a surprise at 99, but it triggered deep emotions as we celebrated his faithful, consistent life as a true man of God who was used to impact this world as few others have or ever will. it was not hard to “let him go” to his eternal reward. We also lost Barb Doyle, whose husband, Brian, is the founder and director of the men’s ministry, "Iron Sharpens Iron." Though our relationship with Barb was mainly through their ministry, Brian brought many of us into their lives in a very personal way through his regular posts on Caring Bridge as Barb valiantly fought an 18-month battle with cancer. Barb was just over 50, with several of their five children still living at home, and the pain and grief of loss is great. The third death was our nephew-in-law Danny Oertli’s only sister, Susie, who succumbed to cancer in early March. As was true for Barb, hundreds of people were praying and believing that Susie would experience a miraculous healing, but sadly, for those left behind, God chose to heal her by taking her home. Susie’s death was particularly hard for us personally and we have grieved deeply. How grateful we are that each of these three genuinely lived for Christ and faced death knowing it has been conquered by Christ’s death on the cross . . . but it’s still hard.
So, I guess good and bad come in threes. As we approach Easter this weekend, two “threes” that have changed and are changing the world have made all the difference: The resurrection of Jesus, after three days of separation from the Trinity as He bore our sins, paying our penalty. And the Trinity, the Godhead, the “three in one: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This “Three” gives us hope, in the midst of storms, of death, of brokenness. “O death, where is thy victory? O grave, where is thy sting?”
He is risen indeed! All praise is His.