Two halves . . . so different, but so good

There are two halves to every month.

First half of February:

Home (sort of) with the following speaking opportunities:

  • Date night in Connecticut

  • Date night in Hingham, MA

  • Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA

  • MomsRock at Highrock Church in Arlington, MA

  • Super Bowl :-)

  • Visit from Derek and Julie, Nathan and Rachel

  • HIM Marriage Conference in Newport, RI

  • Counseling 

Second half of February:

  • Feb 14: Flew to Virginia for a marriage conference at New Beginnings Church in Harrisonburg

  • Feb. 17: Flew to California to do a funeral

  • Feb. 18: Flew to Florida for the ProAthletes Outreach Conference 

  • Feb. 21: Flew to San Francisco for conference at Mt Hermon

  • Feb. 24: Flew to Boston to film a segment for Mom to Mom

  • Feb. 25: Flew to Kauai for conference 

It’s been quite a month!!  It’s good to catch our breath on our 13-hour flight to Kauai today, where we’ll prepare for speaking this weekend by having 3 days of R&R first.  Just what the doctor ordered.

Our hearts are so full as we reflect on the past month and on the incredible ways we have been met by God at every turn.  

After returning from our 16-day California tour back in January, we settled in at home for two weeks. Two full weeks of speaking, counseling, hosting our youngest daughter and family, and doing all manner of housekeeping-related activities. (See “Second half of February” above.) It was a good stretch.

The period kicked off with us driving to Willimantic, CT, to speak for a date night at the Christian Life Assembly Church. It was our first time partnering with this fellowship and we were really blessed by the passion of Pastors Don and Jennifer Capps, who have been leading this congregation for just over 3 years. The evening was well planned and fully embraced by the congregation. It was an energetic launch to the month of February.

Pastor Donnie and Jennifer Capps lead the Christian Life Assembly with passion and grace.

Pastor Donnie and Jennifer Capps lead the Christian Life Assembly with passion and grace.

A lovely dessert spread was enjoyed by all during “intermission” between our two talks.

A lovely dessert spread was enjoyed by all during “intermission” between our two talks.

We immediately connected with Kevin and Atonye Ake and swapped stories about Africa.

We immediately connected with Kevin and Atonye Ake and swapped stories about Africa.

Our late night return home from Connecticut was duly rewarded with the arrival of the Johnsons, fresh off the plane from Grand Rapids, MI. Though we lost a whole day of their liveliness due to weather in Michigan—which has caused the cancellation of many flights this past month—we squeezed everything we could out of their three-day visit.  First stop: breakfast Saturday morning, which brought smiles all around.

The yumminess of breakfast was far surpassed by the yumminess of these little faces!

The yumminess of breakfast was far surpassed by the yumminess of these little faces!

Piano duet . . . bring it on!!

Piano duet . . . bring it on!!

We pulled ourselves away from the (now) rare sounds of happy children playing to speak for Date Night at South Shore Baptist Church. We’ve long partnered with SSBC, but this was the first marriage event hosted by the new marriage ministry team led by Jim and Debbie Kleberg. On Super Bowl Eve in New England, it was questionable whether there would be a crowd, but come they did for the evening that explored the nuances of temperaments, in the context of marriage.  Such a fun night!!  We took the liberty of wearing our Patriots gear, very much aware that most of the places we speak would not have appreciated our attire. Wear-it-while-you-can was our decision! 

Not many words are needed to describe what we thought of the Super Bowl besides the obvious: we were thrilled for our guys, especially for the couples who come weekly to the study. I will add that this was the team that was written off at some point during the season by pretty much everyone.  The general consensus was “they just don’t have what it takes this year.”  Well, they showed us they did! They came together as a formidable force sometime after the "Miami disaster” (as it’s referred to by New Englanders, while the rest of the football world has dubbed it the “Miami Miracle!”) and they defied the odds.

Allow me to make a marriage corollary: it seems all too easy for a couple to act on dissolving their marriage when enough people predict it is going to fail.  Can we be inspired by the “we’re not done till we’ve left everything on the field” attitude of these players, who refused to say die?  Just a thought . . .

Ready for the Super Bowl, but not before speaking for South Shore Baptist Church’s date night.

Ready for the Super Bowl, but not before speaking for South Shore Baptist Church’s date night.

Lots of laughter, yummy desserts, and great fellowship filled the evening.

Lots of laughter, yummy desserts, and great fellowship filled the evening.

The west coast cheering squad “did their job” by fully supporting our “boys."

The west coast cheering squad “did their job” by fully supporting our “boys."

It was all smiles at our home in Bedford as the game “went our way.” What fun it was to have the Johnsons in our rooting section!!

It was all smiles at our home in Bedford as the game “went our way.” What fun it was to have the Johnsons in our rooting section!!

Allow me to make another observation about our guys: as this article published by Breaking Christian News records, we have a number of Patriots who are playing for Someone’s glory other their own (and I’m aware that every team has guys like this, thankfully). It is so heartening to us that some of these guys really get it.  Of course they play for “the prize,” but we’ve seen firsthand that they see their highest call to be “off the field.”  All three of the guys interviewed in this article are regular attenders of the weekly couples’ study we lead and they are the real deal. They know that the rings aren’t going with them and they live letting that reality define them.  It’s a privilege to know guys like this and to see what a difference they’re making for the Kingdom—because their priorities are His.

We had the joy of speaking at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom and Highrock’s “MomsRock” groups during this window of at-home time—and we also managed to get in a bunch of hours of counseling.

Theresa Nelson introduces us at Mom to Mom, where we spoke on “Media and the Family.”

Theresa Nelson introduces us at Mom to Mom, where we spoke on “Media and the Family.”

All of this led up to the annual H.I.M. Marriage Retreat, again held at Gurney’s Resort in Newport, RI.  Sold out at 182 couples, it was our biggest conference to date and it’s going to be impossible to capture the essence of the weekend with words. The presence of God was unmistakable. The theme of “Fully Alive” befit the whole experience, which was full of spiritual energy and of expectant hope. Orchestrated in large part by the capabilities of Barbara and Guy Steele and Rob and Gabby Warren, every aspect of the weekend  was life-giving. From the moment each couple arrived at registration and were warmly greeted by our team (who, besides folders, gave them a package of “Paul Friesen’s World Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies” . . . yes, the tradition continues) to the closing worship number, the conference was touched by the hand of God.  As each couple stepped into the ballroom, a giant hug wrapped around each person in the form of beautiful decorations and thoughtful goodie bags, once again created and executed by Kelly Plosker. Worship, led again this year by Dave Bullock and a remarkably talented team of musicians, was inspiring, and a myriad of relevant workshops were appreciated by all.  Paul and I spoke again this year (at the insistence of the H.I.M. Board and based on the recommendations from the evaluations at the end of last year’s conference) and we definitely felt met by God. The resort was lovely, meals were delicious, and the weather was cooperative. It exceeded our already high expectations. All praise is His!!

One attendee wrote in:

"I just want to thank you again for such a phenomenal weekend. It’s always a boost for us and we can see SUCH evidence of the boost it was for the couples we brought. We always know people will be blessed by the time with you. You both have a way of bringing people into encounters with Jesus. You do that grace and truth thing SO WELL! I always come away feeling convicted, but never condemned."  

From another: 

"It was another great weekend! We found hope in the things we heard and have a renewed spirit to keep pushing forward in a trying time in our relationship. Thank you and Paul for all that you do to bring us hope in a seemingly hopeless world. It’s great to have those who fight for marriages to thrive!  My heart is grateful for you!”

And another: 

"What a God-inspiring weekend; we truly felt His presence there! Thanks Paul & Virginia, looking forward to going again.”

John and Tammy Eunice (from Valdosta, GA) joined us this year to present a workshop on “when life doesn’t go the way you had expected/planned.” Speaking from their own journey of deep grief after losing their 17-year-old son in a drowning accident 8 years ago, their story touched everyone. By God’s grace, the Eunices have allowed God to bring “beauty from ashes” as they regularly speak hope into the lives of grieving people. Our relationship with the Eunices goes back twenty years, and it was a gift to have them on our team . . . and to bring a little “southern grace” to our New England conference.

John and Tammy Eunice (from Valdosta, GA) joined us this year to present a workshop on “when life doesn’t go the way you had expected/planned.” Speaking from their own journey of deep grief after losing their 17-year-old son in a drowning accident 8 years ago, their story touched everyone. By God’s grace, the Eunices have allowed God to bring “beauty from ashes” as they regularly speak hope into the lives of grieving people. Our relationship with the Eunices goes back twenty years, and it was a gift to have them on our team . . . and to bring a little “southern grace” to our New England conference.

Kelly Plosker worked her magic in the ballroom and carried the “Fully Alive” theme with bursts of color as seen in these sunflowers and red goodie bags.

Kelly Plosker worked her magic in the ballroom and carried the “Fully Alive” theme with bursts of color as seen in these sunflowers and red goodie bags.

Opening night . . . a team meeting before launch for clearing signals and prayer, and a ballroom full of expectant couples.

Opening night . . . a team meeting before launch for clearing signals and prayer, and a ballroom full of expectant couples.

The worship team was well-received and so very inspiring. Worship was heartfelt and “fully alive."

The worship team was well-received and so very inspiring. Worship was heartfelt and “fully alive."

We are most thrilled that almost one third of those attending the conference had been married 6 years or less. This is the “newlywed dinner."

We are most thrilled that almost one third of those attending the conference had been married 6 years or less. This is the “newlywed dinner."

Paul interviewed and then prayed for Tommy and Nancy Devlin. Tommy is a 33-year veteran State Trooper who was hit by a distracted driver while giving a ticket to another driver on Rt. 3 in July. He miraculously survived, but is struggling with the physical injuries sustained in the accident. The conferees gave them a standing ovation at the end of the interview. The bottom photos are of the worship team at the end of the conference.

Paul interviewed and then prayed for Tommy and Nancy Devlin. Tommy is a 33-year veteran State Trooper who was hit by a distracted driver while giving a ticket to another driver on Rt. 3 in July. He miraculously survived, but is struggling with the physical injuries sustained in the accident. The conferees gave them a standing ovation at the end of the interview. The bottom photos are of the worship team at the end of the conference.

Very soon after the end of our conference, we headed south to Harrisonburg, VA, where we spoke at a Marriage Renewal Weekend for New Beginnings Church. What a delightful group of people!  Brilliantly, the church provided childcare, so there were many young families attending the conference. Steve and Barb Wingfield and Reuben and Ruth Horst are part of the leadership team of the church and we thoroughly enjoyed partnering with them. In addition to the conference Friday and Saturday, we taught at the worship service on Sunday. At the close of the service, Steve wrapped it up by inviting any couples who wanted to reaffirm their commitment to their marriage or who would appreciate being prayed over to come forward—and two thirds of the church came forward. It was very moving.

Two very special bonuses to the weekend: we spent a night and day with my sister Laura and her husband, David, before the conference and they feted us to a 5-star dinner in their home in honor of Valentines Day.  On Sunday, my sister Francene and her husband, Thom, drove over 2.5 hours to hear us teach at the Sunday service and we shared lunch with them afterwards. It meant so much to us to have moments with our family.

The leadership team of the Wingfields and the Horsts in the top photo; my sister and her husband, Thom, in the lower left. Couples gathering at the front of the church on the bottom right.

The leadership team of the Wingfields and the Horsts in the top photo; my sister and her husband, Thom, in the lower left. Couples gathering at the front of the church on the bottom right.

Not in our original plans, we flew from Virginia to California early on Sunday evening to officiate the funeral of our very beloved friend, Johanna “Gami” Baker, who passed away just shy of her 92nd birthday.  Her daughter Wendy is one of my dearest friends and we considered it a great privilege to honor her at her funeral.  Our two families have done life together since 1979 and are truly “chosen family.”  The service was an apt tribute to a wonderful woman who had a deep heart for the Lord and to loving others well. We will especially cherish our last memories with her from October 2018, when during our visit, we shared a “hymn sing” with her. Gami had a beautiful soprano voice and she sang every word of “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Amazing Grace.” Fortunately, I caught those sacred moments on video, which when played at her service, brought smiles and tears. It was as though she was with us. How comforting to know she is with her beloved Savior now.

Wendy and her sister Sharon with a beautiful photo of Gami taken just months ago.

Wendy and her sister Sharon with a beautiful photo of Gami taken just months ago.

Lisa’s best childhood friend, Kelsey, and Kelsey’s first baby, Edna, and her mom, Wendy . . . So many memories accumulated over the past four decades!!

Lisa’s best childhood friend, Kelsey, and Kelsey’s first baby, Edna, and her mom, Wendy . . . So many memories accumulated over the past four decades!!

After only 24 hours in California, we flew back east . . . to Florida to join (just a bit late) the annual ProAthletes Outreach Conference. We had about 14 Patriots couples at the conference and it was a very powerful time.  Great speakers like David Platt, Jackie Hill-Perry, and Santiago Mellado (president of Compassion Int’l), Christ-centered worship, and lots of great fellowship filled the days, making for a “so glad we didn’t miss this” conference. Though exhausting, as we went hard from early morning to late night, it was the best kind of exhausting.

Jackie Hill-Perry, singer, speaker, and author of the recently released book “Gay Girl, Good God,” spoke at the PAO conference and was dynamic.

Jackie Hill-Perry, singer, speaker, and author of the recently released book “Gay Girl, Good God,” spoke at the PAO conference and was dynamic.

Many of the Patriots couples who attended the conference, but not all. Great representation!!

Many of the Patriots couples who attended the conference, but not all. Great representation!!

Matthew and Shahrzad Slater are the real spiritual ring-leaders for the Patriots. Matthew provides godly leadership for the team, and Shahrzad cares for every one of the wives and girlfriends so personally. God has used them in such a big way.

Matthew and Shahrzad Slater are the real spiritual ring-leaders for the Patriots. Matthew provides godly leadership for the team, and Shahrzad cares for every one of the wives and girlfriends so personally. God has used them in such a big way.

From Miami on Feb. 21 (Thursday), we flew back to California, this time to San Francisco, where we spent half of Friday doing premarital counseling with Ezra and Meegan, whose wedding we’ll “do” this summer. We’ve known Meegan since she was 2 and are so honored to have been involved in her life consistently all these years. How thankful we are that they are committed to following Jesus and having a Christ-centered marriage.  Besides feeling very short when standing by them, we loved every minute of our time.

Do you think their kids will be tall??

Do you think their kids will be tall??

Next stop, Mt Hermon Christian Conference Center (MHCC), to speak for their annual marriage conference. We love partnering with Dave Burns (who doesn’t?), who directs the family/marriage program at MHCC. Dave is so affable, so easy, and so authentic in his own relationship with Christ—it is always delightful to serve with him. The added bonus this year was having him join his daughter Sarah and her husband, Charlie, in leading worship. All are so talented and so committed to worship being about nothing but Him.

More bonuses came, in that half a dozen of the couples attending the conference are dear friends from CBS family camps. Such joy to be reconnected with folks we’ve shared life with in significant and deep ways for many years, and who all feel the ongoing deep grief of our journey-together-through-family-camp interrupted since the program was canceled. We were so encouraged to get updates on their families and marriages and to affirm the ongoing work of Christ in their lives.

We had no idea that God would also encourage us with visits from two former CBS staff members: Gil Mellis, from our 1976 staff, and his wife, Sue, dropped by to say hi and update us on their lives, which are fully devoted to Christ; and Bonnie VanLew Hansen, who served on staff in 1990, and her husband, Eric, caught us up on their lives. Bonnie told stories of our little girls (who were 10, 7, and 5 when she was on staff) and her thoughts then that they were the most blessed kids in the world to get to grow up at camp. We wholeheartedly agreed with her and our daughters would as well.

Besides these wonderful reconnections, God met us during each teaching session and we really sensed His presence throughout the weekend.  Mt Hermon has been a part of our entire married life in a variety of ways and we are so very thankful for their commitment to Biblical integrity and to proclaiming the gospel whole-heartedly.

Daffodils “out” the fact that this photo was not taken in New England; lower left photo is Dave Burns and his daughter, Sarah, and her husband, Charlie, leading worship, and lower right is Dave welcoming the conferees.

Daffodils “out” the fact that this photo was not taken in New England; lower left photo is Dave Burns and his daughter, Sarah, and her husband, Charlie, leading worship, and lower right is Dave welcoming the conferees.

Our dear friends Bill and Christi were our “chauffeurs” (Uber drivers?) all weekend, from our late night arrival at SFO to our departure Sunday, as well as our tour guides (here they are introducing us to the “Big Foot Museum” in Felton, CA). Upper right is Bill promoting Paul’s new release, “Lovin’ Your Wife Like Christ When You Ain’t No Jesus”; and lower right photo is of us us Sam and Yvonne Linton, long time CBS friends.

Our dear friends Bill and Christi were our “chauffeurs” (Uber drivers?) all weekend, from our late night arrival at SFO to our departure Sunday, as well as our tour guides (here they are introducing us to the “Big Foot Museum” in Felton, CA). Upper right is Bill promoting Paul’s new release, “Lovin’ Your Wife Like Christ When You Ain’t No Jesus”; and lower right photo is of us us Sam and Yvonne Linton, long time CBS friends.

Against all conventional wisdom, we boarded a plane Sunday afternoon bound for . . . Boston, instead of following our original itinerary of flying west to Kauai. Why in the world?? As much as I love snow, it was not so we could check out the harsh winter weather that we “hear” continues to pummel the Northeast. :-) We were invited to film a segment on “Screen Time: Using media to build rather than detract” for Mom to Mom Ministries, which will be part of their new 4th year curriculum. We’ve loved partnering with MTM since the mid-90’s. After all possibilities were exhausted to do the filming at another time, we agreed to fly home for 24 hours to get it done. It truly was an honor and a privilege to work with this incredible team of women who are so committed to equipping this generation of young moms.

So . . . that’s what we did. We arrived just before midnight Sunday night, filmed most of Monday, then flew out at 5:45 am on Tuesday the 26th for Kauai.

Dressed and ready for filming for the new Mom to Mom curriculum.

Dressed and ready for filming for the new Mom to Mom curriculum.

Cameras rolling!

Cameras rolling!

This was the mid-winter scene we left on Tuesday in Massachusetts:

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And this was last night’s sunset from where we are now.  Same sun . . .6,000 miles apart:

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Two halves… So different, but so good. Both halves of February were full of God’s mercies and His faithfulness and we are most thankful for that.

Now, back to the beach, before our conference in Kauai starts this weekend.