Boston Marathon

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. 

To and from Ann Arbor with love

(Note:  this blog was started April 18th . . . and finished May 10.)

It actually felt great to board the flight to Detroit on Thursday, April 11, though weather delays out of Boston and again out of Chicago turned the 3.5 hour flight time into a 10-hour day, door-to-door.  No worries: delays in airports are seen as walking fields for me and as an office extension for Paul.  :)  "Latent Spring" continued in Ann Arbor under cloudy skies and rainy weather, and there were no signs of spring, except in the beautiful cut flowers from Costco which adorned the Wong home.

Wai and Elaine Wong and their daughters Jessica (14), Leilani (12), and Jasmine (9), are in a league of their own when it comes to hospitality.  All five of them go above and beyond in making us feel like they’re privileged to have us staying in their home.  Welcome signs.  Fresh cut flowers.  Delicious meals.  Engaging conversations.  Sensitivity to our needs.  We were sorry our schedule allowed us only 3 days with them!!

 Elaine and her sous chefs prepared fresh sushi for dinner and it was fabulous.

The Wongs and us at Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor.
As good as it was, it wasn't better than Elaine's home cooking.

Wai and Elaine made this weekend happen.  For the second year in a row, they brought us to Ann Arbor to speak to the community at Ann Arbor Christian School and beyond.  Friday night we spoke on parenting to a room full of parents eager for encouragement and support.  Dr. James Dobson got it right when he named one of his parenting books Parenting Isn't for Cowards.  We need all the support and encouragement we can get during the "in the trenches" season of raising up the next generation, and we were  thankful that many took advantage of this opportunity.

The audience at Ann Arbor Christian School listened attentively
as we taught on raising kids with convictions.

Saturday morning we spoke on marriage and a slightly smaller, but just as engaged, group showed up for the seminar.  One of our constant themes is that marriage and parenting are inextricably bound together and the reciprocal effect is that they'll both suffer or both thrive, but it's nigh impossible for one to thrive while the other suffers.  It's a sobering truth for those who have given everything they have to their children at the expense of their marriage, to hear that their children would fare better with less good parenting if it were replaced with a thriving marriage.  Though seemingly counter-intuitive, it is a truth agreed upon by both secular and Christian therapists.  Having a growing marriage and thriving kids is what we all want, but for most of us, we struggle for that to be a reality.

We were humbled to receive this from one of the attendees:

"It was truly a joy and a privilege to hear Paul and Virginia Friesen speak on marriage and parenting at AACS.   Delivering humble, honest teaching paired with story-telling that is at times both poignant and humorous, the Friesens bring a message of hope to families today, with Christ placed firmly at the center.  My husband and I walked away not only with the desire to grow in our marriage and parenting skills, but also with practical tips and tools for achieving our goals in these areas.  Relevant, inspiring, and challenging...exuding a love for God and for others...the Friesens are the real deal!" 

Besides speaking, we spent a chunk of time with our dear friend Doris, who is now a single mom raising her 3 little girls.  We have such deep hearts for Doris.  She is not just a survivor; she is determined to thrive and to create a home environment in which her daughters will also thrive.  We're always inspired by time with Doris and this was no exception.

We also had the joy of spending an afternoon with Paul's sister and brother-in-law, Ron and Joyce Rottschafer, who drove in from Pentwater, MI, and their daughter and her family, Dave and Heidi Lemmerhirt and Daniel and Anna.  Over a delicious homemade meal of hot soup and muffins (perfect for this semi-winter day), we caught up on each other's lives and celebrated all that is good in shared DNA.  

Ron and Joyce (Friesen) Rottschafer and Heidi (Rottschafer) Lemmerhirt with husband Dave and children Daniel and Anna hosted us for lunch after speaking.  Great time of catching up with family.

The rest of the time, we were the recipients of the Wong's love.  They spoiled us.  They pampered us.  They gave us the pure "no-strings-attached" form of love.

Even more than their many indulgences, we loved the most hanging out with all five of them at times and just the four adults at times.  We had great conversations about life.  We learned about robotics and the upcoming International competition their team has been invited to.  We talked about health.  Exercise.  Eating.  We talked about church, parenting, marriage.  We talked about what works and what doesn't.  

We talked about how much we need the encouragement of one another to keep on keeping on, especially in the marriage and family realm as destruction in these precious-to-God units increases around us.  It would be oh-so-easy to give up and give in to worldliness, to settling, to missing the mark.

Maybe we're most at risk of losing hope and of giving up.  Since brokenness is part of all of our existence, we're vulnerable to taking the path of least resistance.  It was good to reinforce our collective commitment to pressing on and to becoming more Christlike.

All too quickly, our time in Ann Arbor came to an end and we flew in to Boston in the wee hours of the morning of Patriots Day, now aka "Boston Marathon Bombing."  I reflected on that tragic day in my last post, and though I immediately started writing this blog, the pace of the past three weeks, combined with a myriad of computer challenges, conspired against me getting this done.

Though 3.5 weeks have passed since Patriots Day, the weight of what happened that day is still very evident.  Flags around Boston  are still flying at half-staff.  News reports alternately replay the past with new revelations as they unfold.   Boston Strong's commercial aired by Major League Baseball, featuring Neil Diamond singing "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway, as well as the iconic song being sung at other ballparks around the country symbolizing solidarity, plays several times during telecasts of Red Sox games.  Each showing causes a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  The make-shift memorial that grows daily in Copley Square, along with a  brightly be-ribboned fence along Boylston Street with each fabric tie carrying a message or a prayer handwritten by those united by common grief reminds us that healing takes a long time.

Scraps of fabric became messengers of prayers and expressions of grief,
tied to an iron fence along Boylston Street.

Symbols of grief, expressed tangibly in Copley Square,
remind us that we unite against some forms of evil.

Twelve hours separated us from the Wong's loving, selfless service and care and the selfish, cowardly, destructive act of violence against mankind at the marathon.  Degrees of difference.  Day and night.  Love and hate.  Life and death.

Though polarized in description, the truth is that these intermingle in all our hearts.  What happened at the Boston Marathon is a macrocosm of what happens in our homes.  We're convicted to keep pressing for selfless, in-the-light, life.  And to help others do the same.

Reflections on a race gone wrong

All over Logan airport in the wee hours of dawn today, they were wearing the electric blue and yellow 2013  Boston Marathon jackets, shirts, and caps.  Some wore medals around their necks.  Some were limping from blisters worn or muscles strained. The walking wounded were unmistakably identifiable.

Less than 48 hours after the 117th almost-traditional running of the hallowed Boston Marathon, the reality of what happened to interrupt this "life is good" Patriot's Day head-liner seemed to be suspended in the surreal, and the look of disbelief was on every face we saw, runners and non-runners, young and old, man and woman.  Were it not for the constant barrage of TV news coverage (looping with the same images over and over) and the front page of every newspaper on the rack, it could seem like it couldn't have possibly happened . . . that it was little more than a Hollywood rendering of an imagined disaster at the most storied marathon in American history.

How could something so good, so wholesome, so full of life, in 13 short seconds be turned into a scene not unlike a battlefield from war, ironically on the day commemorating the battlefield which launched the Revolutionary War?  How could the laughter, the cheering, the celebrations, the herculean accomplishments of so many vaporize in the acrid smell and deafening sound of "bombs bursting in air", creating panic, chaos, wounds, and death—just like that?

Against the backdrop of a much-prayed-for beautiful cool, spring day, more that 25,000 participants attempted to fulfill what their long and arduous training had prepared them for. They were ready for blisters, for muscle cramps, for dehydration, for glycemic levels to drop, for skin to chafe, for Heartbreak Hill, for the exhilaration of running in The Boston Marathon, and for the inimitable finish on Boylston Street among throngs of wildly cheering spectators. There's nothing like it. 

And as it turned out, there has never been anything like it. The unexpected "finish" to this legendary run is something no one has ever "prepared" for.  (Fortunately, the body of first responders and emergency and medical personnel in Boston were prepared or the list of dead or more seriously maimed would be much longer than it is.)  Who ever thinks that if you're in the right place, doing the right thing, surrounded by like kind, that a human-created tragedy of this nature would happen?  

After all, it's one thing when you're dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster. Though many are still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy in November and from Blizzard Nemo (and several of his friends) in February, throughout the land we're united as people dealing with the forces of nature. A human being is incapable of detonating storms of this magnitude, so we rally together to recover from such catastrophic events. They happen.  hey're part of the ebb and flow of natural episodes in meteorology.

But this. This strikes at the core of our confidence in humanity because "one (or more) of us"  did this to us. The vast majority of us cannot get our hearts and minds around the truth that we've been betrayed by our own. A human being (or beings) made and detonated the bombs with the intent of wounding and killing. It was pre-meditated. It was calculated. In cold blood.

Much was lost on Monday. From 2:50 p.m. onward, for hours that seemed eternal, "everyone and everything" seemed lost. Still-competing runners lost the finish line.  Spectators lost those they were there for. Backpacks and gear lost their owners. Designated volunteers lost their specified tasks. First Aid tents lost their purpose as they were repurposed as emergency rooms. Cell phones lost their reception. The beauty of the day was lost. The celebration of great accomplishments was lost. Lives were lost. Limbs were lost. Peace was lost. Innocence was lost.  

But in a strange twist, hatred and enmity were also lost, or more accurately, were re-focused from petty rivalries and dysfunctional relationships, from socio-economic class warfare, from ethnic and political tensions to One Common Enemy. Evil. Differences aside, rich and poor, black and white, Republican and Democrat, Yankees and Red Sox fans lost the drive to be against one another and united to be against the Evil that caused the Boston Marathon and Patriot's Day to be forever changed.  

The losses will continue to take their toll for days, weeks, months, years—and even a lifetime, for some. Though a modicum of "normal" will resume eventually, it will return as a "new normal", much like what exists at airports today as a nod to the 9/11 attacks in 2001.  Rivalries will resurface.  Our differences will at some point take center stage. "Sweet Caroline" will return to its exclusive place in Fenway Park.

Unless we decide to unite to fight the Real Enemy. The bombs were set by humans who have given themselves over to Extreme Evil. Hatred. Darkness. Hopelessness.

But truth be told, that very evil exists within each of us who would be human. It manifests itself in much lesser ways—at least, that are quantifiable by physical damage.  At the root of all evil is my selfishness. In a belief that "it's all about me." In petty jealousies and fleeting or not so fleeting thoughts which wish ill on others. In living for my own happiness.  Because I deserve it. 

Heroic acts were performed in legion numbers on Monday.  Some risked their lives to save others. People helped people. You need blood? You need a ride?  You need a bed?  You need a medal?  You need help?  You need a tourniquet?  You need to be carried? There was no shortage of good will and sacrifice on Monday.

That could be true on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, too.  We could emerge from this having lost much, but having gained more. Having lost a blind eye to the evil lurking in my soul, driving my self-centeredness, and choosing to live differently. With a heart for others that translates in to serving them. Loving them. Sacrificing for them.

In the words of Jim Elliot, who gave everything he had to sacrificially love others, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose."  

This is Boston.