In and Out of Africa

In and Out of Africa

As we make our way back to Africa today, I’m at least slightly amused by the reality of our last week: on Sunday, April 30, we returned to Boston from South Africa; on Wednesday, May 3rd, we flew to California for a conference; on Sunday, May 7th, we flew back to Boston; and on Monday, May 8th, we left Boston for Uganda. Now . . . some would rightfully ask, “Who made a schedule like that?” 

If It's Tuesday . . .

The past two weeks have been marked by very quick turn-arounds.  The kind that leave you wondering where you are and what time it is. 

Returning from Trinidad late on Tuesday, the 26th of April, we had just enough time to do a load of laundry and repack before flying to Sacramento, CA, the following day, to participate in Bayside’s annual Thrive Conference. The brainchild of Ray Johnston, lead pastor of the Bayside family of churches, this conference is packed with upbeat worship, a large variety of workshops, great plenary session speakers, and lots of fun and laughter. There’s not much that’s conventional about it, and each year we are re-energized by this hyper-inspiring event.

We taught three workshops on Friday, the 29th: one on balancing marriage and ministry, one on teaching Biblical values regarding sexuality to our youth, and the final one on temperaments. All three were well received, but the temperaments workshop was off the charts. Packed with very responsive folks, there were many moments of epiphany and enlightenment amidst the laughter and verbal “aha’s.” At the end of the workshop, one woman got to me immediately and with tears said, “This workshop might have just saved my marriage. I understand my husband in a whole new way with these insights.” There is no more encouraging response we could have received.  All praise is His.

The "temperaments in marriage" workshop garnered a huge crowd and an even bigger response.

The facilitating team for our workshops; on the far right are Dave and Diane Watts, our faithful book table handlers.

Following dinner that night at Ray and Carol Johnston’s house, we left the Thrive conference with hearts full and overflowing for how God had met us through some great speakers and worship, and for how He had used us.  

We drove from Sacramento to Santa Clarita that night (definitely not a very New England thing to do, but oh so Californian!) so we could be at Brandon’s soccer game the next morning. The flight we had originally booked Saturday morning wouldn’t get us there in time for the game, so we drove! The five-hour drive gave us time to process the conference and to look ahead at our crazy schedule. We were very thankful to safely arrive at the Garcia’s home at 2 am for a little shut-eye.

What fun to spend Saturday with Brandon and Ana (and their parents, of course.) Though it’s been years since we sat on the sidelines cheering for our favorite athletes, it all came right back to us and we joined the crowd of crazy fans seamlessly. We were really happy it worked out for us to be there. Playing games, taking a walk, sneaking a nap, and going to church balanced the day.

After Brandon’s soccer game . . .

Cleaned up and ready to attend Saturday night church.

Lisa joined us for festivities on Sunday, which revolved around having a small family celebration of our 40th. After a lovely brunch at the Egg Plantation, and delicious cold brew coffee at Honu (a coffee shop in Santa Clarita owned by friends of theirs from church), we returned to the Garcia house where we were presented with a beautiful book of tributes written by family and friends in honor of our marriage. We were totally blown away. Humbled. Touched. Deeply moved. It is a gift that will keep on giving. Sweet Kari took that project on and she did a beautiful job on it.

Coffee break!

The book of tributes for our anniversary.  What a treasure!

Back to Boston on a red-eye Sunday night, April 30, in order to offer a day of counseling. Had we not done this, we would’ve had no counseling days from April 19 until June 1, and we couldn’t do that to our clients. So, much of Monday and all of Tuesday were spent counseling, and then we re-packed and headed back to California. The bright side? Obviously connection with our counselees, but also more miles towards the 1K United mileage club.   :-)

We flew into San Diego so we could spend a day with my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day a bit early and we had such a sweet visit. My mom is incredible! At 86, she still runs her life: she drives, she manages everything, and she’s learning the in’s and out’s of her new iPhone 6.  She’s a bar-setter, that’s for sure. She even picked us up at the airport late Wednesday night. We are blessed that she is so healthy and so vital. Though very short, our time together was lovely and we hated to drive out Friday at noon.

But the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard Marriage Conference was ready to “play ball” so drive we did to Tehachapi, making a quick stop on the way in Riverside to see daughter Lisa’s “new” house!  What joy to celebrate such meaningful milestones in the lives of your children. We’re so proud of the way Lisa has managed her life, positioning her to make a move on buying her first home when her need for a place to live intersected with her “randomly” following an “Open House” sign while walking home from Cal Baptist one day about 6 weeks ago. After crunching the numbers and realizing that her mortgage payments would be only about $300 more a month than renting, she made her move and an abundant amount of God’s grace and favor were evident in the deal closing in her favor. She was thrilled to show her dad her new home (his only view of it had been virtual) and was very happy with his enthusiastic approval. So starts a new chapter in Lisa’s life as she continues as a professor at Cal Baptist for the 2016-17 school year.

On to Tehachapi, for the second year in a row, to speak at their baseball themed marriage conference entitled “Marriage Strong.” They spared no creativity in carrying out a theme and we were delighted to arrive at the “ball field” in time to get Dodger Dogs (which we quickly renamed “Fenway Franks”), nachos with queso, and lemonade. They did an awesome job of decorating the tables and the concession stand. Attendees came wearing their favorite team’s shirts, so there was plenty of friendly rivalry as Red Sox fans bantered with Dodger fans, etc.  It was one of the most creatively themed conferences we’ve done and it definitely was a “grand slam.”

 They didn’t miss a trick when it came to decorating for this conference.

 The Fenway Franks were delicious and made us feel right at home.

 Imagine finding all these Red Sox fans in the high desert east of LA??

Barry and Saundra Galloway are the campus pastors for the TMV and through many years now, we’ve become very good friends as well as ministry partners. Their grace-giving, truth-telling style endears them easily and we loved partnering with them again this year for their marriage conference.

  Barry and Saundra Galloway are salt of the earth folks and we loved being with them.

God did a great work through the conference.  One woman confessed to Paul, “I dragged my husband here, hoping he would be convicted of his need to change, and God turned the tables on me. I’m the one who needed the conference. God spoke to me of my need to change!”  We had many encouraging conversations with those who felt God really met them. Praise Him!

We were also honored to teach at both of their services on Sunday and were thankful that went well. And just like that, we were on our way to Santa Clarita for a quick Mother’s Day celebration with Garcias and Lisa, and then to LAX.  

Though the time was short with the kids, it was very sweet. Yummy food, sweet sentiments expressed, and love shared. So very thankful!

 Short but sweet time with the kids prior to jetting back to Boston on those beloved red-eye flights.

Home on a red-eye, picked up and taken home by Barbara Steele, who’s servant-heartedness knows no bounds. Six hours later, she was back to pick us up and take us back to Logan for our flight to Uganda. Convincing servant-heartedness, yes??

So here we are, ready to call it a day in Entebbe, Uganda. It’s still Tuesday here, so we know where we are.

We are beyond thankful for the opportunity to return to this land of beautiful, loving people and continue the ministry of encouraging church leaders, ex-Pat missionaries, and the congregation at Pearl Haven.
Updates will be coming, but for now, thanks for your prayers and resources that have gotten us here. We want to be used by God to make a difference . . . on Tuesday, as well as every other day of the week. 

   San Diego at its best . . . sunset over the harbor.

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring has sprung in New England and we are surrounded by new life in all its glory.  Cherry and apple blossoms, tulips and daffodils, tulip trees, azaleas, and rhododendrons . . . and lilacs in lavender, white, and purple. The air is fragranced with beauty.  The days are longer. The trees are being robed.  It is truly a glorious time of year!

In the midst of all this beauty, we celebrated our 39th anniversary just half a mile from where we spent our honeymoon in 1976.  Graciously invited back to Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center in Santa Cruz, California, to speak at the second of their annual marriage conferences (we spoke at the first conference last year), the conference opened on the day of our anniversary (April 24) and we decided it was a perfect way to celebrate the event.  Dave Burns, director of adult ministries at Mt. Hermon, was a delight to work with again and the sold-out crowd was warmly receptive and very responsive.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time speaking, hanging out with some great people, and celebrating our anniversary by re-visiting the very same Foster’s Freeze Ice Cream stand we frequented daily on our honeymoon. 

The Mt. Hermon team who served the marriage conference weekend. Dave Burns is in the middle.

Dear friends who attended the Mt. Hermon conference:
Carter and Tracy Welch and Mike and Tricia Toews.

Ah yes . . . Fosters Freeze . . . just like it was 39 years ago!

We had a couple of days prior to heading to Granite Bay to speak at the Thrive Conference, and we made the most of it. We had a lovely evening with Howard and Kathy Clark, along with Bill and Christi Bachman and their sons, who hosted us for the night. Great food, stimulating conversations, and lots of love was shared. Our riches in relationships continue to multiply. So blessed!

Howard and Kathy Clark, Bill and Christi Bachman with sons Andrew and Nathan . . .
we spent a delightful evening together.

On to Half Moon Bay for an overnight to really celebrate our anniversary (without a hundred other people) and we had what we needed: a lovely, clean room at the Half Moon Bay Lodge and an expansive shoreline for walking. Though clouds obscured the sun, it gave the ocean an opportunity to wear a new face and we will never grow tired of the ever-changing beauty of the sea. We enjoyed every minute of our getaway.  

We managed to have a pre-marital counseling session with a couple we’ll be marrying in September, and then on to Santa Rosa to spend some precious time with Rosemary Dougan. It was our first time with her since Garth’s death in March and that was hard. The reality that Garth really has left this earth was inescapable, and having never been with Rosemary apart from Garth, his absence was deeply felt. Seventy years of marriage (it certainly downsized our 39!) . . . living for Christ, and loving each other in Christlikeness . . . truly mentors, friends, and chosen family.  We look forward to celebrating Garth’s life on May 30 in Santa Rosa, knowing that joy and sorrow will intermingle throughout his being honored.

Loved having some time with Rosemary Dougan, though we all missed Garth so much.

On to Sacramento where we participated in the annual Thrive Conference, hosted by Bayside Church and directed by Ray Johnston. We’ve been privileged to present workshops at all ten Thrive conferences and consider this one of the highlights of our speaking year. Not only do we have the honor of teaching on family and marriage (this year we presented three workshops on the topics of marital sexuality, parenting, and reducing the risk of divorce), but we take full advantage of hearing great speakers whose teaching edifies and instructs us, as well of reconnecting and networking with dozens of people important to us. Our days were full and profitable in so many ways.

Ray Johnston and Paul greet each other at the beginning of Thrive 2015.

Paul returned to Bedford after Thrive ended May 2 and I flew to San Diego to spend a few days with my mom. The bonus was having the Garcias and Lisa at my mom’s when I arrived, affording a few hours of 4 generations interacting. Each of these moments are gifts. They left that evening, and I stayed until Wednesday morning before flying home in time for counseling on Thursday. The visit with my mom and 4 of my siblings was good in every way. I love getting time with her and she always expresses such gratitude. I always tell her I wish I could stay longer, to which she always responds, “I’m so grateful for every minute you’re here.”  The garden of her heart reveals that she has sown seeds of gratitude as opposed to seeds of entitlement and bitterness.  Great life lesson.

Four generations of strong women.

My mom and  four of my six siblings celebrate the Cinco De Mayo
at a San Diego Mexican restaurant.

It was good to get back to Bedford for a few days. There was lots of counseling and catching up, along with a a delightful evening spent with the congregation of the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church in West Roxbury. This was our second year speaking on marriage to this church and our hearts deepened even more for them. Led by Reverend Khaled Ghobrial and his wife Vanille, we were very impressed again by their commitment to grow their families and marriages in Christlikeness. On the eve of Mother’s Day, it seemed a fitting focus.  

Sweet friends at the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church in West Roxbury.

Even without having any of our children close by, nor being near enough to my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day, we had a sweet time at home with one of our dear friends who is a single mom of a disabled child. Paul served us up a yummy meal and we shared a lively conversation around our table. We then took the party to the Boston Commons where we crazily snapped photos of the blooming beds of tulips and flowering trees as dusk eventually brought a slow, beautiful end to a magnificently beautiful day.  

Monday night, May 11, found us back downtown, not to wander through the gardens, but to speak to the Union Young Marrieds group at Park Street Church on Biblical principles regarding finances. Organized by the directors of Union, Paul and Liana Chong, the evening drew quite a crowd (over double what they usually have) which underscores the need for addressing this potent issue.  We love hanging with 20-30 somethings and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.  

Paul and Liana Chong direct the young marrieds ministry at Park Street Church.

What a joy to host Wai and Elaine Wong and their daughters Thursday, May 14.  They were in Boston for a medical convention, and we were so happy that our schedules worked out for us to spend an evening together in our home. The evening passed all too quickly.

The Wai Wong Family came to town and we love spending the evening with them.

Off to Ekton, Pennsylvania, we drove down for the weekend to do a second annual marriage conference for Marsh Creek Community Church. We had such a wonderful time reconnecting with Joel and Sarah Schuster who lead that ministry. Their vision for the importance of building into marriages and families is refreshing. Our conference culminated a month-long emphasis on these seminal matters. We were thankful for a great response to the weekend.

Joel and Sarah Schuster are doing a great job leading the ministry
at Marsh Creek Community Church in Ekton, PA.

Taking advantage of being in that area, we spent our non-conference time in the richest sort of way. Our first visit was with Haddon and Bonnie Robinson, who have retired to Willow Valley, PA. Haddon is a well-known preacher and preaching professor from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which is where we developed a relationship with him and Bonnie. They became mentors-at-a-distance for us and we welcomed any time we could hear Haddon preach or hang out with them at the seminary. Haddon’s health is failing now (Parkinson’s Disease, a recent fall and a minor heart attack all have combined to limit him greatly) and we were so thankful for the opportunity to spend some time with them.  Married now 63 years, they continue to live for Christ and love each other truly.  What a gift to be with them!

Haddon and Bonnie Robinson are still praising God in spite of many medical challenges.

Next stop: Calvary Missionary Fellowship Retirement Community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to visit 92-year-old Barbara Boyd. “Barbie” lived with Paul’s family early in her career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and after her fiancé, Ralph Willoughby, died from a virus while Barbara was serving at Campus by the Sea with the Friesens, she continued her ministry with IVCF and never married.  She is truly one of the most winsome Christ-followers we’ve ever known; her joy is contagious and her trust is flawless. Since we were last with her, she’s moved from independent living to assisted living due to declining memory, but she was still an engaging conversationalist.  Loved our visit.

Barbara Boyd and Paul enjoy catching up on family history.

Rounding out our tour of octogenarians plus, we had dinner with our dear friends and mentors, Bill and JoAnne Shore. They’re poster children for “80 is the new 60” as they are fully engaged in serving the church through mentoring, teaching, etc.  We hang on every word the Shores say.  What a gift to spend several hours with them!

Bill and JoAnne Shore make the 80’s look very young.

Spring has sprung and filled the earth with beauty, but we were reminded with each visit with an over 80-year-old this month that beauty is seen in the fall of life as well. What a gracious, generous God we have who lavishes us with beauty throughout the seasons of nature and of life! Grateful for all these opportunities to delight in His beauty!

Warm Hearts, Cold Everything Else

I’m not off to a very good start in 2015 blog-wise. I’ve fallen way short of my newly set goal of posting weekly or at least bi-weekly. I guess I could blame it on the weather—that seems to be the catch-all for all that’s gone wrong so far this year. Alas, I’ll chalk my failure up to lack of priority and plan to improve in the weeks ahead.

Backing up to January, our Hawaiian refueling stop the first half of January well prepared us to embrace the frigid temps and warm hearts that greeted us at West Point January 16-17.  Tom and Cheri Austin, directors of Officers Christian Fellowship, rolled out the red carpet for us at the OCF bed and breakfast, and facilitated our speaking to faculty and staff on Christian parenting and marriage Friday night and Saturday.  I’ll never get used to seeing “Go Army - Beat Navy” signs everywhere, but that aside, our time was rich and rewarding.  A return trip is in the offing.

Tom and Cheri Austin, directors of OCF at West Point,
extended warm hospitality to us when we spoke at West Point.

Home for only 4 days, we managed to do a full day of counseling, consult with a group of leaders from Cambridge Christian Fellowship Church on family and marriage ministry, unpack and repack, and then we flew to California on January 22 to begin a two-week junket.  The first major blizzard to hit New England arrived two days after we left, and, though most people thought we’d be thrilled to have dodged that bullet, we sorta hated to miss the historic event.

But we didn’t hate walking on beautiful California beaches, and being committed to making the most of wherever we are, we took full advantage.

How we love walking on the beach … and Pismo is one of the best.

The weekend was spent in Arroyo Grande, where Grace Bible Church hosted a marriage conference Friday night and Saturday.  This was our third conference in four years with this great group of people and we enjoyed reconnecting with “old” faces as well as meeting many new faces.  It was a great time of ministry, evidenced by encouraging feedback.  Paul preached on Sunday to wrap up our time there and then off we sped to Santa Clarita to “do ministry” with our grandchildren, Brandon and Ana, while their parents went on a pastors’ retreat with their church staff.

Some wonderful friends who helped make the marriage conference happen
for Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, California.

What fun filled the next couple of days!  Grandparenting is much more FUN than parenting, honestly, because the only thing on our agenda was keeping everyone safe and satisfied.  That’s it!  So we played from morning ’til night.  Walks to the park.  Baseball in the backyard.  Visiting the fish pond at the outdoor mall, and getting mini-donuts at The Coffee Bean since we were there.  Riding the merry-go-round.  Eating at Chick-Fil-A.  Picking and eating grapefruit from the tree in the backyard.  Building things with Legos.  Cooking in the play kitchen.  Wrestling with Papa.  Reading books. Baking scones and cookies.  Building memories.  Gabe and Kari had a fantastic getaway and we had a 48 hours of joyful bonding.  Everyone wins.

Papa, Brandon, and Ana having fun at the park.

Brandon and Ana helping Gigi bake scones.

Sibling love.

Nathan, who clearly isn’t in New England, says “I really like chocolate syrup!”
As we’ve hit records with cold and snow, our children in Africa
have been sweltering during dry season with high temps and no rain.  

Back up to the Gold Coast of California Wednesday to speak at Grace Church of San Luis Obispo that evening.  Tim Thuele (lead pastor) and Ken Peet (family pastor) put together a teens and parents evening, focusing on relationships.  It was a first for them, and they hoped to have 75-100 out for the event. Everyone—including the dinner prep team—was shocked when over 200 showed up!  We spoke to the parents for the first hour, who were most receptive to some tips on navigating the tricky waters of preparing their teens to make God-honoring choices regarding relationships—and then the teens returned and the conversation continued.  Great energy, great attentiveness, great night.  Great thanks.

Ken Peet welcomes the crowd at Grace Church who
came out for the parents/teens talk on relationships.

Next stop, Sacramento!  We welcome any opportunity to return to Sacramento and were honored to accept Bayside Midtown’s invitation to spend the weekend with them.  But first, we had lunch with some of our dearest friends and partners in ministry, Ray and Carol Johnston.  Not only did we have a great catch-up time over lunch, but Paul came away transformed fashionably through the efforts of Ray, Carol, Christy, and Leslie.  Since Paul has lost 35 lbs. in an attempt to get healthy, the Johnstons took one look at his over-sized jeans and deemed them “unfit.”  Thus began a crash course in “jean”-ology.  An hour spent in Nordstroms did the trick and Paul is now stylin’ in a way he’s never styled before.  Let’s just say that the cost of the jeans will definitely motivate him to keep the weight off.  :)

Ray, Carol, Christy, and Leslie Johnston give Paul a lesson about buying jeans.

The male models . . .

The Bayside Midtown conference Saturday was energizing.  We love to speak to audiences that speak back.  Interaction is good.  A great crowd showed up, representing ages and stages across the board. A mid-afternoon lunch with lead pastor Bob and Letty Balian and others was full of reflection of how God met us at the conference.  We taught at the church services on Sunday morning—Super Bowl Sunday, that is.  

Bob and Letty Balian lead the ministry at Bayside Midtown and are dear friends.

We managed to stay very focused at church, but as soon as we hit the road in Sacramento our focus switched to making it (faster than humanly possible) to San Francisco to watch the Super Bowl.  Unfortunately, it seemed that the Super Bowl wasn’t a priority for far too many California drivers who were clogging  the freeway between Sacramento and SF, so we laboriously and frustratedly navigated the traffic and arrived to our chosen destination as the first quarter was ending.  If you’re gonna miss a quarter, best it be the first and not the last (especially of this game, as it turned out). We thoroughly enjoyed watching the game with fellow Pats’ fans and dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent, especially after Malcolm Butler made his game-saving interception in the end zone.  Unforgettable in such a happy way, driving out the unforgettable memories of the last two Super Bowl heartbreaks.  

Red-eying it to Charlotte, North Carolina, after the game, we were behind mics just after noon on Monday, Feb. 2,  at Covenant Day School, speaking to the whole senior class on making God-honoring choices in relationships and sexuality.  We were pleasantly surprised by their attentiveness, interaction, and thoughtful responses expressed directly to us.  That was the first of four days of us addressing each high school class and right down to the freshman class the final day, all were delightful.  It was a bonus to have some time with the Head of School Mark Davis, who formerly served as headmaster of Lexington Christian Academy. 

Hosted by Dan and Susan Yardley, we also spoke to a Couples’ Date Night while in Charlotte.  In a beautiful ballroom setting, the Yardleys served a wide spread of homemade desserts and we presented on marriage.  It was a lovely evening with a delightful group of couples.

Dan and Susan Yardley hosted the lovely couples’ dessert night in Charlotte.

In between the five speaking engagements, we hung out with the Yardleys, had lunch with Paul and Kate Wylie, and ate dinner with Thomas and Margaret Austin.  Great times.  Canceled and delayed flights cost us some sleep on our return to Boston late Thursday night, the 5th, but we made it in the wee hours of the 6th, little worse for the wear.

That weekend was dominated by performing the wedding of Matthew and Shahrzad Slater.  Such a privilege to celebrate the sacrament of marriage for these two who are sold out to Christ and whose walk matches their talk. Their desire for a God-honoring, gospel-centered ceremony was fulfilled at the church and a joyous celebration followed at a downtown Boston hotel.  

With this crazy record-setting winter that Boston is experiencing, it’s surprising that our first event cancellation happened Feb. 8, as the third storm in as many weekends invaded the area, dumping 16” of snow over a period of 36 hours.  We were really happy to not miss this great storm that left everything blanketed with beautiful, crystalline snow.  We were sorry that the couples’ date night in Newburyport had to be postponed to April, but that’s how the snow falls.

Valentines Day was celebrated at the Black Rock Retreat Center in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, speaking for Summit View Church’s first marriage conference.  We were most impressed with this group who pulled off the retreat after their former pastor, who had booked us, resigned in the fall.  Rather than cancel, they carried on and we were all glad they did.  It was a very successful weekend.  On the way out of town, we “broke bread” with Bill and JoAnn Shore, one of our treasured mentoring couples who set the bar high for being “salt of the earth.”

Part of the Summit View Church retreat attendees at Black Rock Retreat Center.

While in Pennsylvania, another storm brought yet another foot of snow to our area, and we were anticipating arriving home to a driveway full of snow—not a great thought, since our arrival was to be around 9 pm.  Imagine how loved and relieved we felt when we drove home to a driveway that had been completely and meticulously cleared.  An angel in the form of Tommy Devlin had spent hours insuring that we’d be able to park in our driveway painlessly.  What a sacrificial gift of love! Blessed beyond.

This past weekend we drove south again, this time to Havre De Grace, Maryland, where we spoke for the second annual Restore Church marriage conference. That three-year-old church plant is exploding with growth! They hold services at 4 campuses and have just purchased 26 acres of property to build a central campus.  Jess and Elizabeth Bousa are providing great leadership and vision for this church which offers the hope of Jesus to the broken and hurting. We love partnering with these guys. A major snowstorm (there is a theme!) arrived midway through the Saturday conference, but we pressed on to finish and then struggled to make it back to the hotel. Two of the four church services were canceled due to the 8” of white stuff, but by the time we drove out Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining and the snow was melting.  There was no appreciable snow in Boston this weekend, but frigid temps did welcome us home late that night. It was -13 degrees on Monday morning.  Our 4’ stand of snow is going nowhere at this point.

Jess and Elizabeth Bousa work tirelessly to serve the growing needs of their church plant, Restore.

Paul preaching at Restore Church … in his new, cool jeans.

In between the many schedules to keep, important life happens.  We bring meals to our neighbor whose husband is dying. We grieve with the Hayner family when Steve breathes his last on earth Jan. 30.  We eagerly await the next post of Kara Tippett’s blog Mundane Faithfulness and continue to pray for God to miraculously spare her life.  We pray for health to return to grandbabies fighting viruses.  We listen to UCLA women’s basketball games long past our bedtime.  We visit friends in hospitals.  We sled down snow-packed hills.  We get our 10,000 steps in the mall because of dangerous cold outside.  We prepare for upcoming events, including our family trip to Uganda mid-March.  We enjoy being snowbound and make a bit more progress purging our excess.  

So we’re off and running in this new year and if the start is any indication, we’ll be running (sledding?) to keep up.

Whirlwind on Steroids (part 1)

I'm well aware that I begin many of my blogs with "I can't believe it's already ______" and though I always "mean" it, I mean it even more this time.  April ran out of days, and once May began, it's been hard to catch our breath.  On Monday we take the boat to Catalina Island to begin our summer of family camps, and I can honestly say I'm not quite ready.  Fortunately, 48 hours remain between now and then and I'm trusting that the loose ends will be secured and the "have to's" will be completed.  

These past six weeks have held some of our highest highs as well as some of our lowest lows.  

April ended on a high note of spending Monday the 29th at Whitinsville Christian School, speaking on relationships.  We taught two different chapels and four different classes in the course of the day, covering both junior and senior high students.  Under the umbrella of the goodness of God's design, we spoke on "becoming the right person rather than finding the right person" in a variety of ways.  Topics ranging from purity and modesty to dating and marriage were touched on and we enjoyed every minute of our interaction with this wonderful student body.  Great way to spend a day!!

The day ended with a Home Improvement Ministries Board Meeting.  It says a lot about your Board when you look forward to meeting with them.  Blessed!!

The middle schoolers at Whitinsville were quite engaged as we spoke on relationships.

Following a day of counseling, we were off to California again for the annual THRIVE conference at Bayside Church in Granite Bay, May 2-4.  We love being a part of this conference, which is dynamic, relevant, re-energizing, spiritually challenging, and fun.  It's kind of a "party with a purpose."  Ray Johnston knows how to do that better than anyone we know.  It's such an honor to present workshops there, and this year we did two on marriage and one on parenting teens.  All three were packed out and well received.  We’re so thankful.

THRIVE conference at Bayside—lacking in nothing except sleep.  :)

Straight from THRIVE, we drove to San Francisco to spend Sunday with Bethel Church.  We were so happy to be back at this church after doing a marriage conference for them last September.  We had the privilege of teaching together at their church services, morning and night, and their merged adult Sunday School class.  Bill and Marja Osgood provide such passionate leadership for this strategically located church in the Mission district of SF.  We love partnering with them. And of course, our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent provide the lay leadership for our ministry there and it's always a treat to partner with them in ministry as well as celebrate our friendship.  After a full day, we caught a red-eye home, forgetting temporarily that we gain little from such craziness.  :)

John and Marilyn Nugent and Marja Osgood (not pictured is her husband, Bill, lead pastor)
made it a great day for us at Bethel.

We were home 3-4 days before flying back to California.  Technically, 4 days, but Monday was a wash following the red-eye, so 3 productive days would be accurate.  Counseling and other meetings filled the days, as well as selecting paint and carpet and readying our long-neglected house for some work.  Maintenance must happen at some point!  For the first time in our married life (which hit the 37-year mark on April 24), we hired an interior painter.  Definitely one of the better decisions we've made.  :)  We left for California on the 10th, and returned to 20th to a freshly painted downstairs.  We decided we could totally get into this.  :)  Nice.

We returned to Bayside Granite Bay to speak for their Mothers’ Day services and were truly humbled by the invitation.  Bayside's congregation is also so warm, supportive, and appreciative.  The effects of trickle-down leadership are obvious.

Much to our delight, Gabe, Kari, and Brandon made the trek from Santa Clarita to Sacramento to celebrate Mother's Day with both of their mothers, so the weekend was laced together with wonderful moments of multigenerational delight.  The pool, the park, church, frozen yogurt, Oscars tacos.  Great times.  Great memories.  Great Mother's Day.  All too quickly they drove south and our brief reunion was temporarily suspended.


We hung around Sacramento for the next few days in our "home away from home"—the hospitable home of Scott and Sally Shaull.  They've hosted us 3 out of the 5 times we've been out to partner with Bayside since January and have loved us so well.  They have amazing hearts.  Scott cooked up a phenomenal steak and lobster post-Mother's Day feast on Tuesday night and it would be hard to beat this culinary fete anywhere.  Add to that great company—Johnstons and Shaulls—and you've got a "couldn't get any better than this" evening.  

Ray, Scott, and Paul hover over the just-about-to-be-eaten,
fresh from New England, hand-carried-by-Scott lobsters.

Another highlight of these days was getting to spend a morning with one of my heart friends, Christina.  Once a young camper at CBS, "Nina" is now the mother of 4, wife of a godly man who doubles as a highly-trained doctor working with pediatric trauma cases, and thriving woman of God.  We had such a sweet morning together, catching up on what we could, and ending longing for more time.  Pure gift.

It was great to be with Nina.

Wednesday, May 15, we ended our 5-part series on marriage at Bayside's "Date Night."  How we've loved these nights!  To an enthusiastic crowd, we talked about how to keep your marriage alive if you're married, and how to make a wise choice for marriage if you're not.  It was a great ending to an effective series.

Our final date night at Bayside.

Before I wrap up part one, I want to highlight a couple who made a huge difference for us.  Manning our book table is always a challenge for us as it's hard to sell books and be available to people who have questions after we've spoken.  Dave and Diane have become friends of ours over the past months and when we asked if they would be willing to be at our book table once or twice during Mothers’ Day weekend (Bayside now has 6 services), they said, "We'll do it for all six services."  And they did.  Cheerfully.  Servant-heartedly.  In a "it's our privilege" sort of way.   We were/are so grateful for the way they came alongside us.  We truly couldn't have done it without them.  They are "difference makers" through their service.  

Dave and Diane after service #6 at Bayside.  We'll always be grateful.

On to southern California . . . and the whirlwind continues.  On to part 2.

Jet-setting isn't as glamorous as it looks . . .

. . . but it's "worth it."

So 48 hours after the Boston Marathon Bombing, we were on a flight to California to speak at Bayside Church's monthly couples' date night.  Though we have loved, loved, loved doing this every month of 2013, it seems that each month is challenged with obstacles.  Weather delays.  Lost luggage.  Almost missing the event.  Crazy!

Continuing in the theme, our luggage didn't arrive with us because our to flight Sacramento via O'Hare was canceled (thunderstorms this time!) and we were rebooked to Sacramento via San Francisco.  Our bodies made it but our luggage didn't.  Paul was all too happy to make another trip to Costco to buy his monthly new outfit for speaking.  Me, not so much.  Especially since my personal shopper (Kari) has re-located to Santa Clarita, so I was left to my own devices in a very limited amount of time.  I know, I know.  First World Problem.  No sympathy expected.

The theme of this date night was marital sexuality, and we appreciated the very responsive crowd.  So many commented on how grateful they were that we were willing to address this "verboten-in-the-church" subject.  One couple wrote, "LOVED all that you shared last night @ Bayside…God worked thru you, reaching right into our 30-year relationship…I'M AMAZED!!! Thank you."  We were very thankful.

Thursday we spoke at the first event geared towards the 55-plus gang at Bayside.  Allan and Karen Hearl lead this new ministry which is just beginning to take shape and we were honored to help with their launch.  A salad luncheon followed by worship led by Brandon Yip preceded our talk on "Finishing Well."  The group was eclectic and represented the spectrum from married and remarried, to single and single again through widowhood or divorce, and everything in between.  But despite the diversity of life stage and experience, there was a sweet spirit in the place. As the committee met to reflect on the event, there was agreement that it had been very successful.  Praise Him!

Allan Hearl welcomes the 55-plus crowd to the launch of this new ministry outreach at Bayside.

Still without luggage, I flew down to Burbank that night and met up with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon, and Paul flew back to Boston the next day (united with his luggage.)  I spent a frustrating number of hours on Friday awaiting delivery of my suitcase (which had been flown multiple times between Boston, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and finally Burbank) but it finally arrived, and off to the beach in Ventura we went to play late in the afternoon.  Very, very fun.

Gabe, Kari, and Brandon enjoy the beauty of Ventura Beach.

Kari and I spoke at a women's conference at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach all day Saturday, while Paul spoke at two Iron Sharpens Iron conferences in New England.  Our day was much more relaxing and lovely than his, but he felt good about his experience.

Women's Conferences are works of art. Really. The beautiful decorations. The delicious food, presented as though for a Queen's Court. The details all tended to. The air of expectation. The delight of women gathering. These women did a fabulous job of preparing for the day and Kari and I enjoyed working together on "Sacred Influence:  Journeying through life with Racers, Pacers, and Tracers."  Borrowing from very impacting talks Gary Gaddini gave at Campus by the Sea a number of years ago, we talked about the importance of mentoring and of being mentored as we go through life.  It was truly a joy for me to speak with Kari, and I think the women really appreciated that, too.  It was a good day.

The beautiful snack table reflected the care and beauty of all aspects of the women's conference
at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA. 

Most of the committee that made the women's conference happen—a great group of ladies!

Early the next morning, I drove to San Diego to spend 5 days with my parents.  My mother has recovered beautifully from her mastectomy, and it was such a privilege to spend a few days enjoying being with them and doing a few projects around the house, as well as helping with the early morning and nightly routines with my dad.  I also got to be with the three sisters who live in the area at various points.  Really special, memorable days.

My remarkable mom at 83, following two surgeries in the last two months.  I told her she'd set the bar at a level I hope to never have to reach!  What an amazing woman she is.  So thankful for her.

I flew back to Boston on Thursday, April 25th, and disappointingly, my luggage didn't arrive with me.  Oh no!!!  Not this again!  In a Groundhog's Day-esque way, Friday the 26th was a repeat of Friday the 19th, only worse.  The suitcase, promised at 6 a.m., eventually arrived at 5 p.m.  A very long, frustrating day.  Crazy again.  And yes, I know, a first world problem.  

The following day was our annual "Worth It" Conference, focused on sexual and emotional purity.  This family event is one of the highlights of our year.  We believe so passionately that we experience God's best when we trust His design, and this is especially true regarding relationships.  

We had a packed house and a phenomenal staff whose teaching and life stories both inspired and challenged the audience, which was composed of parents and teen-agers.  All of the staff were open and honest about the goodness of God's design as well as the heartache of going against it.  Besides the three plenary sessions, we offered relevant workshops and peer group, gender-based sessions that provided forums for going deeper in some areas.  The day ended with a challenge to commitment to purity.

Most of the "Worth It" staff, gathered at day's end to thank the Lord for meeting us.

Retired NFL player Don Davis poses with a group of eager students at the "Worth It" conference.

The feedback on the day was overwhelmingly positive and some of the comments included:

"There were several times throughout the day that someone said something and immediately I would think, 'I came here to hear that.  That was meant for me!  It's just crazy and wonderful."  (16-year-old female)

"The most beneficial part of the day was that I'm worth the wait!"

"Great message.  My mom brought me and, to be honest, I didn't want to come.  I AM SO GLAD THAT I DID!"  (13-year-old female)

"It was an awesome day.  Great food, fantastic speakers who really related to us students . . . I will definitely come again!" 
One youth leader sent this:
"Overall, all 8 kids that came really liked it and said they loved the speakers and learned a lot and wanted to bring others next year!  The girls said, "It was great to hear everyone's stories about making mistakes so that we know not to follow in that same path, but we really liked hearing Lisa talking about doing it the right way!" (Go Lisa!) They also LOVED hearing Adam talk about how he valued his wife so much before they were married and that is proof that she can trust him to value her and be faithful forever. Another quote they loved was from Jillian about, "You don't have to worry about attracting all the guys. You will attract the one that God has planned for you.'"

We couldn't have been more thankful for the day and pray that the effects of the day will be felt for years to come.

The following day we had the privilege of conducting a "renewal of vows" ceremony for a couple whose marriage was rocked by infidelity three years ago.  Through years of hard work and lots of God's grace, their marriage not only survived, but is thriving. It was a celebration we'll treasure remembering.  There were many poignant moments, but I'll never forget the look on the face of the 14-year-old son as his parents recommitted themselves to one another.  He later said, "I've been praying and waiting for this day for 3 years."  His radiant face said it all.  

The very full weekend was rounded out by some exploring Boston with daughter Lisa and her friend/mentee Jillian who flew up to help with "Worth It."  We had a blast walking the streets, taking in the sights, and consuming the delights of some great eateries.  A perfect end to a great weekend.

Lisa and Jillian and I delight in the Public Garden's blooming tulips. 

It was very nice to not board a plane this weekend—or to be waiting for errant luggage to be delivered. 

Latent Spring

It's hard to believe we've actually been home two and a half weeks, which records as our longest stretch in 2013 between now and  this coming August.  We've thoroughly enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with our home, our neighborhood, our local friends...and have been rudely awakened by our list of "to-do's" around the house (which can seem non-existent when we're out and about) as well as mounting piles of paperwork, mail, etc.  Though we've made some headway, much is still unfinished as we fly off to Detroit, MI, today, and this much we will be just as we left it when we return in four days for a brief two days before flying to California next week.

It's also hard to believe we've been home from Uganda for 3.5 weeks.  It still feels close enough to touch and we find ourselves praying for the pastors and their wives regularly and asking Derek and Julie for updates on these precious folks.  Plans are in the works for our return, during which time we'll focus on continuing to train the pastors to teach their congregations the beauty of God's design for family and marriage.

Early on Wednesday, March 20, we re-entered life.  Driving in much-needed California “liquid sunshine,” we made our way to Bridgeway Christian Church in Rocklin to speak to their Mom2Mom group.  What an energetic gathering of about 150 moms! They were certainly not going to let rain keep them away from this morning of "group therapy":  childcare, yummy snacks, adult conversation in small groups, connection with mentors, and a talk to boot.  So they came, and they listened.  The topic of "In-laws" is always a popular one as we deal realistically with some of the challenges of this dynamic relationship which is problematic to a degree in 3 out of 4 marriages.  Lots of tears, lots of questions, and lots of stories followed the talk, and all agreed that not enough teaching is done on this topic.  

The leadership team for Mom2Mom at Bridgeway Church
is doing a fantastic job of serving their young moms.

We had a lunch business meeting with a team from Bayside who lead the "Second Half Ministry" to the 55 years and older crew.  We'll be speaking to their group in April, so it was helpful to meet with the planning team to gain a vision for their expectations.  It was a wonderful group and a productive time, led by Allen Hearl (and his lovely wife, Karen, who is battling cancer currently and therefore not with us that day).

Back to our predictable schtick, we also spoke that night at the third consecutive monthly "Date Night" at Bayside.  It was an enlightening evening, we were told by many who attended.  There were "aha!" moments as we talked through respect, love, and submission by partnering Genesis 3:16—the curse—with Ephesians 5, the response.  We love teaching on this subject because we identify the many distortions of submission and headship and recommend their disposal, while retaining the Biblical, Christ-as-the-model for both headship and submission understanding of the Ephesians 5 passage.  This is so clarifying, regarding what plagues every marriage to some degree, and so hope-giving in terms of the potential of "reversing the curse."  It was a great night.

Up early the next morning to drive to Truckee, a small town at the gateway of Lake Tahoe.  We were so happy to be back with Sierra Bible Church, with whom we partnered three years ago.  Wayne and Sandy Hoag lead this vital church with integrity and passion. We love their hearts. We love their boldness.  We love their confidence in Biblical truth. Great people. A true honor to partner with them.

In our days there, we spoke to their MOPS group, to their junior/senior high students and parents about sexual purity, to their couples date night, Paul to their men's breakfast, and we taught at all three services on Sunday.  In all settings, we found great openness and receptivity to the teaching.  

Our hosts for the weekend, Randy and Joy Hitchcock, filled in the "blanks" with a delightful dinner at their home one night and an invigorating hike one afternoon. Lake Tahoe is in their backyard and is truly a crown jewel of geographic beauty.  We hiked to the Vikingsholm in Emerald Bay and were captivated by its beauty.  And hanging out with the Hitchcocks was icing on the cake.

Sierra Bible Church's leadership team, headed by Wayne Hoag (standing right next to me) are vitally impacting the Truckee community for Christ.

Randy and Joy Hitchcock (and their sons Chad and Cooper and dog Blizzard)
were very caring hosts for our Truckee ministry tour.

An overnight stop with our dear friends Scott and Sally and lunch with more dear friends John and Marilyn took us up to our flight out of San Francisco airport late Monday afternoon and the end of our just over 3-week-long trip was in sight.

It seemed like we had been gone a really long time when we flew into Boston on Tuesday, March 26, in the wee hours of the morning.  We had only been home six days since the beginning of February, so I guess that's why it felt like we hadn't been home.  :)

We did jump right into it, but truthfully felt ready to do that since our recovery from Uganda had happened in California.  The week leading up to Easter was full of appointments, counseling and otherwise, and it felt really good to know we wouldn't be packing our bags for a couple of weeks.

For the first time in years, we hosted Easter at our home.  What a joy!!!   We flew Lisa home for the occasion and had a blast Saturday  watching JMU play Northeastern in baseball (would've been more fun had we won, but...), shopping at the farmer's market by the North End, having cappuccino and pastries at Cafe Vittoria, walking to and through the Public Gardens and visiting the ducklings who were sporting Easter bonnets, and eventually having dinner in the city using a very expired gift card (which was honored).  It was a gorgeous spring day, which I now know was the exception during this "spring is a calendar date at best" season, and we squeezed everything we could out of it.  Easter Sunday was glorious.  After worshiping, we hosted 10 around our table and had great fellowship and food until we had to come to a quick close to get Lisa to the airport on time for her 6 p.m. flight back to Virginia.  

The Public Gardens at sunset on Easter Sunday Eve . . .
Mama Duck and her ducklings in their own Easter Parade.

Easter Sunday dinner . . . delightful time with friends, yummy food, great fellowship,
and the resurrection.  Can't improve on that!

Home the next week as well, we had a H.I.M. Board meeting and finalized details on our newest book, due to be released May 1.  The Marriage App:  Unlocking the Irony of Intimacy is at the printers as we speak, after a long, laborious labor.  A "ninth hour" crew of very creative friends helped make it come together with a cover design, as Guy and Barbara Steele kept their "nose to the grindstone" to complete editing it to its print-ready state.  None of our books would ever see the light of day were it not for these two and we are so, so grateful.  More will be coming on the book soon.

A highlight of the week was speaking at MOPS at the North Shore Community Baptist Church.  Love that ministry!   Two days later we hosted a full weekend of Engagement Matters April 6 and 7.  Nineteen couples crowded into the Macraes' home in Weston for the weekend to interact on God's design for marriage.  It's no secret that we love this weekend, and this group was especially interactive and appreciative of the teaching.  Some of the comments we received from attendees include:

"This weekend has deepened our understanding and strengthened the foundation of our relationship, and also raised challenging questions for us to consider."
"It has helped us identify areas to work on and be aware of, helped us to think of positive changes we can make to strengthen our relationship, and to not be afraid to take as much time as is necessary to be sure and ready."
"The weekend was so positive.  It has reinforced our decision to be married one day while also giving us a reality check and opening our eyes to safeguards, boundaries, and practical things we can do to help our relationship."

We had a great group of couples for our April Engagement Matters weekend.

After a few more speaking engagements, some counseling, and more organizational work at home, we packed our bags and flew to Detroit.  I'll write about that wonderful weekend in my next post, with hopes that spring will have sprung and "latent spring" will be no more.

Well, apparently spring has sprung in Ventura,
and Brandon doesn't seem to mind the chilly water.  No nerve endings in kids!