Life On an Island

I’m looking forward to the day when my blog doesn’t start with “I can’t believe how much time has passed . . .”, but that day is not today.  It is unprecedented, actually, that almost two months have passed since my last post, but again, it is an apt reflection of the lack of bandwidth I've had for the non-urgent list of “to-do’s.” 

We had a summer full of family camps ahead of us when I last posted.  Only 3 days now remain of our 9-week commitment and that truly seems impossible.  But calendars don't lie.

We started June 17th at Campus by the Sea with this wonderful staff of mostly veteran family camp kids now grown up.  It's funny to think back to our first few days of orientation week, before we knew each other and before we had become a cohesive team.  Now reflecting, this staff grew into who they “seemed” to be: servant-hearted, humble, serving, and desiring growth.  So many answers to the months of praying that God would bring the right team together!  We are truly grateful for God's faithfulness and grace.

Day 1 of staff training: a neophyte collection of college students
who had grown up at CBS (for the most part) . . .

 . . and who became a well-functioning, serving, cohesive team over the course of 7 weeks.

All six weeks of family camp were incredibly fruitful and blessed.  Each speaker delivered, and God used their words to inspire, challenge, heal, and give hope.  Some families experienced healing.  Some made life-impacting decisions.  Some met Christ.

It was just one of those summers during which the constant refrain was "we are so blessed."  We had very little sickness on staff or in camp.  We had very few injuries.  We had great weather, and the three or so days during which rain fell, it was gentle and dust-settling and no more.  We had a cohesive, harmonious staff who were committed to living honorably in the community and, thankfully, perpetuated little drama.  All of our camps were full and overflowing; the waiting lists never were cleared, which is both good and bad news.

We sensed God’s favor and presence in more ways than I can articulate.  We feel very, very blessed.

One family encouraged us with this email following their week at camp:

Dear Paul and Virginia,We want to thank you for such a great week at family camp!We were so encouraged and refreshed by all the teaching and super sweet worship times! Thank you for your clear and frank teaching. We were blessed!Blessings to you both! Thank you so much for running such an amazing program...we are truly blessed and encouraged...ready to take on the next year. Thank you for the love, encouragement, friendship, and challenging of our faith, marriage, and parenting! 

Papa and Brandon get the campers’ attention in the dining hall at the start of the meal.

Though there were many highlights for us as we reconnected with literally hundreds of families we deeply love and invested in a program we're wholly invested in, the highest lights included having our own family at camp.  All three girls spend some days at camp, and Kari, Gabe, and Brandon spent a week as family campers.  It feels like it's coming full circle to have the 4th generation Friesens benefitting from the vision of Grandpa Mel, who helped start this whole thing 62 years ago.  “Great is Thy Faithfulness!”  It was also a delight to have a bunch of other siblings, nieces, and nephews.  It means the world to us that they make a priority of continuing the legacy of family camp in their families.

Lisa also managed to make it to camp during the week the Garcias attended.  :)

Another highlight of the summer was having Jake Gosselin and Kaylee Sherman serve as our college leaders and worship leaders.  The fact that their wedding date was set for 8 weeks after orientation week began made their presence most significant.  The comment that we had the "best worship ever" at camp was constant, but even more impressive was how they conducted themselves in the community with so much honor.  Their impending marriage spawned many relationship talks among the staff and inspired many to continue wrestling with their own commitments and standards regarding relationships. A very fun Saturday afternoon was spent “showering” Kaylee.  The time of sharing was especially sweet as several spoke of Kaylee and Jake’s relationship being so hope-giving in terms of having a God-honoring relationship.

Kaylee’s shower was a sweet time of celebration of her upcoming wedding
which went off without a hitch on August 10.

For the first time maybe ever, I left camp just before the sixth and final family camp began, but that's for the next blog.  

Life on an island.  Free of so many distractions.  Full of so many God moments.  Fruitful in ways known and unknown.  

We are blessed.

Sunrise illuminating Saddleback on the mainland . . . and the iconic rock jetty,
which protects this sacred little cove that hosts Campus by the Sea.  

Whirlwind on Steroids (part 2)

We didn't catch our breath, really, before catching an early morning flight to LA to spend the weekend in that area.  First stop, Santa Clarita, which just happened to be on our way to our Thursday night speaking engagement at Desert Vineyard in Lancaster.

Though it had only been days since being with Brandon in Sacramento, it was no less exciting to receive Brandon's exuberant, full body hug Thursday morning.  We managed to squeeze in an arduous hike to his favorite new park (Kari gets a "Mother of the Year" rose for pushing him in the stroller up the 1.5 mile route to the park) before heading up to Lancaster to spend the evening teaching at the Antelope Valley Ministerial Association date night.  A delicious bbq dinner preceded our talk on "Friendship in Marriage," over which we caught up with David and Nancy Parker, who lead the congregation at the Desert Vineyard.  We love them!  

Reward for hiking up that 1.5 mile hill to get to this very fun park!!

David and Nancy Parker have become not just partners in ministry, but dear friends as well.

The Antelope Valley Ministerial Association gave us a warm welcome in Lancaster.

We're not sure who enjoyed Friday more, Brandon or us, as we spent from morning ‘til night exploring Disney's new Cars Land, where Brandon's beloved Lightening McQueen lives.  Thanks again to the generosity of our dear Disney employed friends, we were able to enjoy this day without having to ransom our grandson to gain entry.  :)  It was a perfect Disneyland day....slightly coolish weather, cloudy-at times skies, and not horrific lines.  We had a blast.  Since Disneyland was part of my growing up years, it has always held my heart and I really do love the place.  We managed to "do" both parks and clocked 11 miles walking from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.  :)  The delight exponentially increased as we experienced it through Brandon's "this is really real" eyes....especially on the "Finding Nemo" submarines when he announced that he had found Nemo to the entire boatload of people. So stinkin' cute!!

Cars Land lives up to its billing!  We had so much fun.
The traditional trip to Disney would be complete without it!

Highly recommend this tire air-hockey ride in Cars Land.

The highlight: meeting Lightening himself.  Does it get any better than this?
He conked out before we got off the shuttle back to our car, and didn't waken ‘til the next morning.

After a brief recovery from Disney Saturday morning (and a few lessons for Brandon about the fine art of yard-saleing from Gigi and Papa), we headed back to Lancaster to preach at the Desert Vineyard Saturday night and Sunday.  We once again found the congregation to be very receptive and teachable.  Many expressed appreciation for our teaching. One woman, through tears, said she was leaving with hope for the first time in years. Praise Him!!

We were so blessed to have another couple at Desert Vineyard who are committed book table sellers.  Theresa and Kevin Swafford ran our book table the first time we spoke for Desert Vineyard's marriage conference several years ago and eagerly volunteer each time we come to town.  They LOVE doing it and they do a great job.  Once again, feeling very blessed!!

Kevin and Theresa making selling books look easy. 

Back to Massachusetts we flew on Monday, May 20, happily exhausted.  Our flight back was half a red-eye; we were on a 6 am flight, which required getting up at 3:30 am.  We decided that was as bad as a red-eye.  

But the whirlwind doesn't stop here.  Stayed tuned for part 3.

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.

New Year's . . . Really? (Part 2)

December 14 ushered in eight of the best days of 2012.  Kari, Gabe, and Brandon flew from California, Lisa from Virginia,  Derek and Julie from Uganda, and Paul and me from Massachusetts, all gathering in Orlando for an early Christmas reunion.  From Orlando, we drove to Vero Beach, where we enjoyed the remote hospitality of Doug and Julie Macrae who loaned us their on-the-beach condo for the week.  The days which unfolded were "as good as it gets" and we all felt so, so blessed.  Walks on the beach, playing in the pool, eating great meals, hanging out in jammies from dinner on, playing some competitive "Nickel," and our favorite pastime of all: watching Brandon, playing with Brandon, laughing at Brandon, being amazed by Brandon . . . all combined to make a most memorable gathering.  

At 28 months, Brandon was pretty much all we needed for entertainment.

Daily walks on the beach were therapeutic on all levels.

Papa and Brandon had fun in the pool . . . especially when Papa was a whale.

I made sure our time together was well-documented photographically,
and this beach photo-shoot was a highlight.

So was this one—and I am grateful for sons-in-laws who willingly participated in both wearing the jammies I made AND being seen in public in them.  :)  Great guys!!

We were all so grateful for this gift of relaxation, rest, and time of reconnection with each other.  Disconnection from all of our ministry commitments was just what we needed.   

We left Vero Friday Dec. 21, to go from our quiet, secluded getaway to one of the busiest places on earth . . . Disney World!  Another gift to our family: dear friends from California (who are also Disneyland employees) gave us passes to "The Happiest Place on Earth" and we had a blast experiencing the Magic Kingdom through the eyes of a 2-year-old.  It was a first for all but Paul and me to visit Disney World and we had a great time.  The only real surprise was the weather, which registered 40 degrees at 8 a.m. Dec. 22.  The plus side of that was that only the hearty ventured out, so the crowds were smaller than expected during the morning.  :)  It was the exclamation point on the end of a great family time.

Brandon was thrilled to meet Goofy in person—and Gabe was thrilled that Brandon was thrilled. 

We made it til 7 p.m. before throwing in the towel and returning to the condo to get warm.  

Dec. 23 we got Garcias on a plane back to California and Johnsons off to Oklahoma, each to spend Christmas with their "other" families.  That left Lisa, Paul, and me in Florida, and after considering many options to launch the celebration of Lisa's upcoming 30th birthday, we took friends up on their offer for us to use their home in Ft. Lauderdale and off we went for another almost-week of sunny, warm weather.

It was another first for us to visit Ft Lauderdale, and we had so much fun exploring this area.  Lots of beach walks, late breakfasts, a dinner cruise on the inter-coastal waterways, and an all-day trip to the Keys filled out our time.  Christmas was different . . . lacking all of the "trappings" and all of the people with whom we usually celebrate, it definitely felt a bit like "Skipping Christmas" but Christmas Eve service at the local Calvary Chapel brought it all into focus.  Paul and I loved having these days with Lisa and have many sweet memories from them.

Paul very creatively fashioned a Christmas tree from a limb he found in the trash . . .
and then decorated himself with paper cut-outs.  We were impressed!!

On our Christmas day walk, we came across this Sandman Santa and hijacked it for a photo.  :)

We were quite entertained by feeding the tarpon in Islamorada at “Buddy’s.”  Another first.

We packed our warm weather clothes and after-Christmas-sales finds and flew back to New England on Saturday, Dec. 29, just in time for our first big winter storm in a long time.  We felt so fortunate!  Honestly!  We're among the few who actually love it when the white stuff falls and it was a "cold" warm welcome back home.

Paul was honored to do the chapel for the Miami Dolphin players that night and then fought his way home in the raging storm.  We were so thankful when he crawled in around midnight, safe and sound.

Off to Gillette Stadium we went for the Pats’ final regular-season game in which we routed the Dolphins.  We had such a great time connecting with the many couples who have faithfully been a part of the Couples Study all season, and the highlight for us was getting to introduce Lisa to them.  Since they had all met Julie two weeks earlier at the Christmas party, we heard many, “Your girls look SO much alike!”  A very fun time was had by all.

What a great time we had at the final Pats game!
We were thankfully and surprisingly warm in spite of temps in the 20’s.

We welcomed in the New Year by spending some time in Boston enjoying First Night features, including the 7 p.m. firework display, which was fabulous.  On to join with a number of family camp families for a family-fun new years party and home before the ball dropped.  A great way to welcome the new year.

Lisa and Paul on the Boston Common early on New Year’s Eve.

Derek and Julie rejoined us late on the 2nd, overlapping with Lisa for her final days in Boston, and our days were filled with exploring the delights of Boston, hanging out with friends, meeting up with our dear Helen in Stockbridge, and enjoying being together.  We were all sad to send Lisa off on Sunday, the 6th, back to her life and world in Harrisonburg, VA.

This ice sculpture provided a suitable backdrop for us and our bags. 

A lovely lunch at the Red Lion Inn with Helen was a highlight of our day with her,
though shopping at the Lee Outlets was a close second.

Another highlight of these days was having Dave and Kim Noble, directors of Campus by the Sea, live with us for a week while they visited their children who live in downtown Boston.  We had many leisurely breakfasts together and a few evenings, affording us opportunities to get to know one another in ways that our busy shared weeks at CBS preclude.  We loved it and we love them.

This slightly distorted photo was the best we could do with the self-timer,
but we're all glad to have captured a frame of our time together with Kim and Dave Noble.

The highlight of this young new year was celebrating Lisa's 30th birthday last weekend.  It was a full-on surprise, commencing with Derek and Julie ringing her door bell “out of the blue” on Thursday evening, Jan 9th.  Kari, Paul, and I were hiding in the van we had driven down from Boston (via Lemoyne, PA, where Derek and Julie had done some CURE business at headquarters) and Lisa was close to "heart attack" surprise when she opened the van and found us.  :)   Off to dinner we went, taking with us Lisa's wonderful roommate, Rachel, who was our right-hand-gal in setting up Lisa's birthday weekend.  No one could stop smiling.

Dinner at “Dave's Restaurant” with Lisa and her housemate Rachel. Let the party begin!!

The next part of the surprise was Friday night, and 30 of Lisa’s closest friends and family pulled it off.  A delicious Mexican feast was enjoyed by all, but the highlight was hearing tributes to Lisa.  Many brought “thirty” of something that made them think of Lisa and presented them to her with an explanation of the symbolism.  It was deeply moving to hear how God has used Lisa in the lives of these friends, and the themes about her life were consistent: her love for Christ, for people, for serving, for fun, and for chocolate.  It was one of those “Could this have been any better?” evenings and we were so, so thankful.  

Lisa’s surprise party was a blast and she was duly honored
by all of these very-important-to-her people.

The fam—for one last photo before we all disperse.

We also gave Lisa a book of affirmation, compiled and produced by Kari and contributed to by many.  It was a beautiful shout-out to a remarkable young woman.  I know we’re biased, at least a bit, but we are so very proud of who Lisa is and we're quite humbled to be her parents.  She reflects the amazing love of her first love, the Lord Jesus Christ, and lives so winsomely for Him.  Her selflessness and her servant-heartedness has touched all of those around her and she is loved, esteemed, and cherished.  Many of her friends are moving in the direction of Christ because of her.  How easy it is to celebrate her life!

So, that’s how we've brought in the new year.  It’s been such a sweet run of days.  We’re now up to speed—we’ve hung the 2013 calendars—and accepted the fact that 2013 is underway.  

By God’s grace, we stand as a family, facing the new year, with confidence and hope vested in Him and Him alone.

Of pumpkins and leaves and sharks . . .

The splendor of fall . . .

Brandon's first "U-Pick" pumpkin experience . . . looks like he figured it out!

I have a continuing love affair with fall.  I really love everything about it, except the shortening days.  I love the tastes.  All things pumpkin and apple and cranberry—yum!  I love the smells.  Cinnamon-infused apple pies baking, leaves burning, candle-lit pumpkins slowly cooking, soups simmering, caramel apples.  I love the sights.  Dressed up New England homes with fall decor producing fabulous curb appeal, leaves changing colors daily, late afternoon "plugged in" vibrant trees being backlit by the setting sun, creative displays made with most things natural. I love fall weather.  Warm enough to be out comfortably but chilly enough to wear sweaters, perfect for biking, hiking, or just taking a stroll.  

These are just a few of the reasons we've delighted in hanging out in New England these past couple of weeks.  Due to an international conference being postponed, we have had the rare privilege of actually being home two weekends in a row and we've tried to make the most of it.  Now, how we define "most of it" is vastly different for Paul than it is for me.  My imagination is immediately filled with visions of a clean and purged attic, decluttering and ordering each room of our house; making batches of jam; cleaning pantries and freezers by cooking up or throwing out.  My heart races just considering the options.

Paul?  Not so much.  “Make the most of it” for him would be: Relax.  Recreate.  wRite.  And so we divided and conquered, each lending support to the other when needed.

And we got a lot done.  The final draft of our book on marriage is coming to completion after hours and hours of reworking, rewriting, and incorporating input from others.  We're excited about this hopefully helpful tool, which we anticipate being available in the next couple of months.

And our house has less stuff and more appeal.  Many bags to Goodwill later, we're both enjoying our home more.   It makes me feel better to be in spaces more organized and simplified.  And when Mama's happy . . .  :)

This unusual spate of at-home days has been punctuated by some highlights, besides the magnificence of fall.  

One highlight was going to Gillette Stadium with our dear friend Kara Mankins and watching the Patriots play well against the Broncos.  Great game.  Great time.  Our study with the Patriot couples has been exciting, with between 22 and 32 coming each week.  We've had some great interaction on God's prescription for love and we're so thankful for the potential of this ongoing study.  The women's study using Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas is also going well, with 18 women out most weeks.  If you haven't gotten this book yet, you should.  It's very provocative.

At Gillette with Kelly, Case, and Kara, happy after a great win over the Broncos.

The Pats women's study says farewell to Margaret Austin and Adam, as her husband gets the nod from Carolina.  We all hated to see Margaret and Thomas go.  :(

The next highlight began with an email from Derek and  Julie asking if we could find housing for a Sicilian neurosurgeon who was coming to Boston to do a fellowship at Brigham and Women's Hospital and to work with Dr. Benjamin Warf at Children's Hospital.  She had trained at the Mbale CURE Hospital under Dr. John Mugamba, who had been trained by Dr. Warf when he was the lead neurosurgeon at CURE Mbale.  We invited her to stay with us for her six-week stint in the states, and she arrived the 14th of October.  Dr. Vita Stagno has been with us for just over two weeks now and we're having a delightful time with her.  Her age (29) and her size (tiny) all seem to make her an unlikely candidate for a neurosurgeon, but in four months, she will complete her training and begin looking for a job.  We've loved talking with her about relationships, faith, life in America, life in Sicily—and are so thankful the Lord has brought our paths together.  It just feels like we have a daughter back in our midst.

Vita is enjoying her American experience at the hospital and in our kitchen. 

One of the highlights would hardly qualify as a "head-liner," except to this grandma, her daughter, and her grandson.  This will be entered in our memory banks as "The day God sent a shark from heaven."  As the story goes, Kari decided to acknowledge Brandon's current fascination with sharks by dressing him as one for Halloween.  She saw the costume at the online site of a beloved and frequented store, but the cost ($25.00) was more than she could justify for such a purchase.  The shark was only available at the online site, and not being carried in the store.  I told her not to worry; I could either make one (as I had years earlier for one of her pals) or hopefully find it for less than $25.00.  Several days later, I went into the Nashua branch of the store, and immediately moved towards the display of costumes all their stores were carrying.  And there, hanging in front of all the racks of the standard costumes, was one shark.  Adrenaline now pumping, I reached for the lone shark to check its size, and yes, it was a 2-3 —just the size we needed.  The sign above the costumes announced "25% off all costumes", but there was no price on the shark.  I quickly made my way to the young, 20-something-year-old cashier and asked her to check the price.  I told her it looked like it said $10, but I wasn't sure.  Smiling at me with a "your eyes aren't as sharp as they once were" look, she read the tag and said, "That actually says “S10,” which is the stock number."  :)  Of course.  But then, she scanned it and said, "You're not going to believe this, but it's scanning $1.41!"  I quickly said, "Well, before you find out that's a mistake, would you sell it to me?"  :)  She said, "That's really what it says, so it's yours for $1.41."

Now I know that's a really "small" thing, and as the world goes, it ranks in the lower percentile of importance, but for us, it was a potent reminder that God is in the details of life.  He is personally involved with us.  He cares enough about us . . . to send a shark from heaven.  

The shark costume was sent to California the next day and was a huge hit with Brandon.  

We did renew our close relationship with Logan airport on Oct 19 when we flew to Rome, GA, to speak at Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church. Nate and Jeannie King were again our hosts and it was a gift to all of us to be together.  How we love this precious family!   And their church family, which is always so warm and embracing.  We also consulted with Kings and several other couples about family ministries in other contexts Friday night and all day Monday. and that's always energizing to us.

Senior pastor Dr. Philip May and his wife, Delayne, and 4/6th of the King family grab a moment at the end of the Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church service.

Sunday night we had the privilege of speaking on relationships to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes group at University of Georgia.  We LOVED that.  It was so encouraging to chat with several couples who are committed to being in God-honoring relationships and to get a sense of how God is using FCA at that great school.  It was also a treat to have dinner with Jill Perry, the FCA director at UGA, who is also a close friend of our Lisa's, and quickly becoming a close friend of ours.  She's a great lady.  

The remnant of the FCA gathering at UGA.

We've just returned from speaking on Long Island this past weekend.  The Church on the Sound and Christ Church teamed up to host a marriage conference all day Saturday (Oct. 27), and we felt it was a day well-spent.  Great people—with a great vision for building in to marriages—put the event together and we were just so energized by being with them.  Several of the attendees were engaged to be married and were so grateful for teaching that will helpfully get them off on the right foot.  We spent Sunday reconnecting with longtime CBS camper-grown-into-staffer Chelsea Paskvan in Manhattan, and were able to see "Mary Poppins" on Broadway before “getting out of dodge” before Hurricane Sandy hit.

We're now safely snuggled in our home as the storm rages outside, taking with it the last vestiges of fall and a whole lot more.  How thankful we are for a God who cares about beautiful fall colors and great marriages, and who sends friends from Sicily and sharks from heaven.

Loving the feel of those slimy pumpkin seeds...

The finished carved pumpkins, by Brandon and Grandpa Dan.

Yes, we know this is indoctrination . . . and we make no apologies.  Next blog, he'll be a shark.  

It's Time to Change

Sunrise over Avalon Harbor . . . His mercies are new every morning. . . 

Three weeks ago we were flying home from Uganda.  Today we're flying home from California.  Maybe when we get home tonight, I'll change my watch from Ugandan time to Eastern Standard Time.

It's a quirky thing with me, admittedly, but it's something I've done for a really long time.  It's not because I don't know how to change my watch, obviously.  It's because I don't want to quite yet.  For many reasons, my "heart" hasn't been ready to embrace that our days in Mbale, for now, are history.  Mainly it serves as a reminder to pray specifically for what might be going on in Derek and Julie's lives at a given time.  They've had a lot going on since we've left, and we've wanted to stay as connected as we can from seven time zones away.

Other than being completely confused when I glance at my watch in the middle of the night, it serves good "heart" purposes.  Just don't ask me what time it is.  :)

It took a week to adjust to being back in the states, sleep-wise and body-wise, but we didn't have that long before we jumped back in to ministry.  In fact, within 24 hours of returning, we met with the core team of leaders for the Patriots Couples’ study over dinner to map out the plan for the fall, and we managed to stay awake through the whole thing!  It was actually very inspiring to be with three of the player couples, as well as with Don and Betsy Hasselbeck, and to develop a new strategy with hopes of injecting some new life into the study.  We've now had our first two evenings, and we had 18 at the first...and 32 at the second!  We are more than excited at the potential of our gatherings.  

Within 48 hours of landing back in Boston, we were driving to Falmouth to speak at an all-day Saturday marriage seminar for Falmouth Baptist Church.  We had a really sweet time with Tim Rogers, who booked us to speak after coming to several "Worth It" conferences.  It was an adjustment initially to speak at normal speed with less concern about idiomatic expressions, or cultural context, but the "saddle" felt comfortable rather quickly.  It was a very positive time with very sincere folks.

Most of the attendees of the Falmouth Baptist Church conference . . . a great group of folks!

As though we had never been gone, the following week fell in to a predictable pattern.  Wednesday morning was the Patriots Women's study, and we were thrilled to have 17 ladies show up.  :)  After a quick scone-making lesson by moi, we launched our study using Gary Thomas' new book, Every Body Matters.    I really appreciated the message of this book when I read it this past spring and have been promoting it all summer at Family Camps.  As Gary deals with the challenge of "stewarding" our bodies rather than worshiping or abusing them, he treds where few have dared to tred in the Christian community.  His indictment that we've been content to be "chin-up" Christians, focusing on correct theology and doctrine, while ignoring the implications of application of those very truths on our physical bodies and health, is spot on.  We've gotten off to a good start in the study, with good discussion of a topic extremely relevant to the fulfillment of God's purposes for our lives.  Eighteen ladies showed up for week 2 of the study!

Counseling fills the balance of our Wednesdays, and continues on Thursday mornings until mid-afternoon, and then we drive back down to Attleboro for the Pats Couples’ study.  The first week, Big Jim Martis catered a great bbq dinner of steak and chicken and the fixin’s, and then the second week Paul and I prepared a Mexican feast.  The spirit and interaction has been great for these first two meetings.  Pray for both of these weekly studies, that God would draw these dear couples to Himself in a deeper way.

Big Jim is in the middle of a few of our players at our Patriots couples' study.

Last Friday, Sept. 21, I flew to California alone while Paul fulfilled the commitment we had made to Camp Berea to do a seminar at their women's conference.  Paul was one of two male presenters, and his seminar was presented three times on Saturday to full crowds.  The ladies always love him.  

Meanwhile my first stop in California was in San Diego to visit my folks.  I hadn't seen them since Father's Day weekend and it was a joy to hang with them for a couple of days.  My mom's health is good and my dad is declining, but not too rapidly.  We had many sweet moments together. I was also happy to meet my newest great nephew, Josiah David Rivera, when Corey and Claire brought their crew over for a visit.  I spent Sunday on Catalina Island, attending the wedding of Sarah Armstrong and Doug Hippe, long-time friends from family camp.  It was a wonderful, God-honoring celebration and a great time for me to reconnect with many dear island friends.  It was also a joy to spend the night with Wayne and Carol Herbst, Paul's youngest sister and husband.

The mother of the bride, Jenny, is one of my dearest friends.

On Monday I spoke to a group of young moms in Ladera Ranch.  Two of Lisa's dear friends, Heather Vataha and Amber Offield, collaborated to make that happen, and it was such an encouraging time to talk about "The Things I Wish I Had Known..." with this group of thirsty young moms.  I LOVE this age/stage and delighted in encouraging them in the hope of the gospel, which is sometimes elusive when life is full of the craziness young children often bring.  Financial pressures, marital challenges, exhaustion, confusion, wanting to do the best but experiencing unwanted feelings of failure to an overwhelming degree at times.  We talked about lots of things and all seemed to really appreciate that I had felt all of those very things—and had survived them.  By God's grace.  It was a very special time.

Amber and Christian Offield and Heather and Laila Vataha pulled together the moms gathering I spoke for in Rancho Ladera.

And here are the moms—outnumbered for sure by the kids!

It was a treat to spend the balance of the time with my dear friend, Wendy Offield, before flying back to Boston on Tuesday.  I returned feeling very blessed: for all of the moments in California, and also for the husband I have.  Traveling alone, I was reminded of how much he takes care of when we travel—from hauling all the heavy suitcases, boxes, etc., to getting rental cars, driving to unknown places, etc.  And never getting flustered or acting like it "can't be done."  He gets it done and I am so spoiled.  And more thankful.

Back in Bedford for a mere 48 hours for the two Pats studies, for counseling, and then back to California.  This time to the Bay Area, to spend the weekend at Bethel Christian Church in downtown San Francisco.  Our dear friends, John and Marilyn Nugent (who are also H.I.M. Board members), arranged the weekend.  It was varied and well put together as a "Relationships Weekend,"  featuring us as speakers and Danny and Rayna Oertli as musicians.  We love any opportunity to partner with the Oertlis!!

We launched the weekend on Friday night with a talk on purity, given to teens and their parents.  We were thrilled with the response of a very engaged group; both teens and their parents were interactive and responsive.  During the first half of the evening we spoke to the group together, and during the second half we fielded questions from the parents, while the teens met with their youth leaders.  The questions were thoughtful and heartfelt.  We were reminded of how many more challenges face these parents today and how much more difficult on so many levels it is to protect and prepare teens according to God's design.  Thankfully our hope continues to be in the gospel, and that hasn't changed through the generations.

All day Saturday we did the "Irony of Intimacy" marriage conference.  We were thrilled to have Kari and Gabe, along with three couples they're mentoring, drive out from Sacramento for the conference.  :)  It was also heartening to have Bill and Kristen Smith, friends from CBS, fly in from Reno, and James and Charlotte, a sweet couple who attended Engagement Matters, as well as Drew and Dana Macrae, show up.  Charlotte told me, "As we celebrated our first anniversary in July, we were thinking about the assignment from Engagement Matters to have an annual marital check-up . . . and then the email came announcing this conference!  We were so happy!"

Gabriel and Jessika, Jerron and Danielle, Gabe and Kari, and Lamar and Kalyce drove from Sacramento to our marriage conference at Bethel Christian Church.

We were happy, too.  It was a wonderful day of celebrating God's design for marriage in some very practical ways.  God seemed to meet many there, as evidenced by their comments.

Sunday morning we taught a joint Sunday School class on "Forgiveness" and God met us in a powerful way.  I prayed with a forty-something-year-old man who said he carried deep anger towards his father who was severely abusive to him, his siblings, and his mother.  He said he wanted to walk in freedom, and through tears we prayed that he would release his anger and allow God to handle his father with justice.  

Paul preached the morning worship service and was anointed.  He preached with passion a stirring sermon on God's desire to take us from paralysis to praise—and young and old alike seemed very moved by it.  We wrapped up the weekend by enjoying Danny Oertli in concert and he did not disappoint.  It was a rockin' evening.

What fun to rock out to Danny's concert with Nathan and Julie Aleman and Liz.

Under a full moon and traffic-free highways, we drove to Sacramento after the concert, so we could be wakened by our grandson, Brandon, early the next morning.  And that's exactly what happened.  :)  Our 24 hours with Kari, Gabe, and Brandon flew by, but was a delightful ending to a wonderfully full weekend.

Brandon, 25 months, still loves being on Papa's shoulders.

As October opens its pages, we are glad for a few days to enjoy the best New England has to offer: fall.  Brilliant salmon, orange, crimson leaves pop out against the not yet turned leaves as harbingers of the steady parade of colors that will be ours to behold this month.  The delights of New England fall are unmatched and we're very thankful we'll be around to drink it in.

I guess it is time to change my watch. 

The Best Intentions . . .

The heavens declare the glory of God.  Sunrise, June 18th

It's ironic that the theme of Family Camps '12 is "The Intentional Family"...and it's not lost on me that though I've had good intentions to write an update for weeks now, I've not followed through very intentionally.  Not that I've been sitting around eating many bonbons...but still.  This late night attempt to catch up guarantees unusual brevity...and I'm counting on these pictures to paint many thousands of words.
I'm writing from the sacred cove of Campus by the Sea on Catalina Island, where we've been hanging out for the past 4.5 weeks in our 37th summer of being here as a couple.  We arrived June 18 along with our summer staff team to serve for 7 weeks — running six weeks of family camps, preceded by our orientation week.  As this would be our first summer with no daughters on staff, I'll admit that we arrived with at least a bit of sadness...and though we have missed them greatly, God has been more than faithful in bringing a wonderful team around us.  But first....
For the third year in a row, Lisa and I ran the Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Woodstock, VT, June 3.  This is such a beautiful race course and under robin-shell blue skies,  we completed our 5th run together (and my 6th half marathon since Nov. 2009.)  Paul, as usual, was our escort and he makes it so easy for us!  
Just after crossing the finish line, we were awarded our medals and were already talking about our next race. 

We flew to Lancaster, CA, the next weekend to speak at Central Christian Church, and were honored to speak in this new venue.  We also consulted with Grace Baptist Church of Santa Clarita on developing a family ministries model at their church, which gave us some time with our dear friends and ministry partners, David and Cherylyn Hegg.  And we managed to squeeze in a lunch date with our mentors, John and Grace Tebay.  Rich, full days!
Back to Boston to get things wrapped up before the summer, we counseled, cleaned, and packed, and on Sat., June 16, we flew to CA to be with my folks to celebrate Father's Day.  My mom's health is much improved (PTL) and my dad seems to be holding his own.  Though brief, it was wonderful to be with them.

Happy Father's Day, Papa!

We arrived at camp on Monday, June 18, and we were off and running immediately.  Our program team gathered every morning to dive in to God's Word and to discuss the passages that would be used for the summer study.  We were immediately impressed with these college students and their insights into scripture, their character, and their openness.  We bonded fairly quickly and are really enjoying being in community "spurring one another on to love and good deeds."  We feel very blessed and very met by God to be partnering with them.
A highlight of our first days at camp was having Lou and Grace Charette join us for a bit.  They were on our staff in the late 80's, when Grace served as the head cook and Lou as the mechanic.  We have been fast friends ever since and have have watched God do amazing things in their marriage and family.  The staff were all deeply touched by their testimony, which they generously agreed to share during our all staff training time.  It was so good to catch up with them and celebrate God's faithfulness as they celebrated their 56th anniversary.  They inspired us all.
What a treat to have Lou and Grace Charette visit camp, 24 years after serving with us!

The program staff takes a photo break during staff training week.  They're a great group!

Family Camp 1 arrived June 24 and for the first time in our history, Paul and I were not at camp to welcome the campers.  That was strange!  We were in Aspen, CO, doing a wedding, and thankfully had very capable hands to carry on at CBS.  We were very happy to get back on the island before lunch on Monday, so we fortunately didn't miss much.  
We love family camps!  Everything about them.  The multi-generational presence.  The distraction-free environment.  The expectation and joy of the campers.  The way God works.  The beautiful setting.  The simplicity.  The purpose.  The transforming impact.  
"The Intentional Family" theme has been powerful.  It has provoked reflection and recommitment.  Each week we've heard testimony upon testimony of God's work in lives.  Humbling.
Family Camp 1 was extra special for us as Paul's oldest sister, Sandra, and her clan were in camp, as well as his sister Beth Smith, as well as our nephew Brian Rottschafer and his family.  We loved having late night hang-outs with them, sharing old memories, and making new ones.  Sweet times.
Extended Friesen family attended Family Camp 1, launching the summer with lots of laughter and energy.

Family Camp has many traditions . . . like singing the "Butterfly Song" every day, young and old; the annual original Game Show; great teaching from our wise speakers; the square, line, and swing dance; worship under that stars and around the fire ring followed by s'mores; the hike into Avalon; the milk carton boat race; the banquet.  Traditions connect the generations and create a secure foundation for changes that allow family camp to be fresh and inviting.  The mix of the known and unknown produces ongoing engagement and ownership.  
Game Show hosts Vanna and Paul Barker.

Each week we celebrate God's work in our midst.  Great teaching.  Worship.  Baptisms.  Reconciliations.  Confessions.  Prayers.
Paul had the privilege of baptizing Baker and Turner Welch in the chilly Pacific.

Family Camp 3 brought Kari, Gabe, and Brandon, as well as Lisa (who had just returned from Israel where she served on a summer missions project with Fellowship of Christian Athletes.)  It was SO wonderful to have them in camp with us (though all of us deeply missed having Derek and Julie with us, too) and Brandon managed to keep us all entertained with ease.  What a difference a year makes!  He was fully engaged in all the activities available, and especially enjoyed anything the included a ball.  We hiked, talked, swam, laughed, and had a blast.  It was hard to let them go after a week.
Gabe, Kari, Lisa and I hiked the loop together.

Brandon helped Papa with announcements at every meal.

Lunch at Antonio's Pizzeria in Avalon.

Loving playing on the mostly rocky beach at CBS.

Banquet night! By now, Brandon was down with an ear infection and wasn't too chipper, but the party continued.

Sending our little man back to Sacramento. The week passed way too quickly.

Family camp 4 at CBS is almost history and we have only 2 weeks left before we fly east to run our two family camps at Berea.  I wonder if the summer has passed as quickly for you as it has for us.  We'll cherish each day we have left in this beautiful place and be very intentional to maximize the opportunities unique to Campus by the Sea.  
I'm also committed to being very intentional about my intentions to post more often.   
Sunset on the same day, July 18.  Wow.

It can't be May already! [Part 2]

And so off to the Gold Coast of California we flew the morning of April 27.  Since we flew into San Francisco airport in order to facilitate our return trip 2.5 weeks later, we enjoyed the 2.5 hour drive through familiar territories en route to Arroyo Grande ("AG"), stopping in San Luis Obispo ("SLO") for bbq tri-tip at Firestones and frozen yogurt at Bali's (two of our favorite haunts from the years Julie and Lisa lived in SLO.)  Ah...the simple pleasures in life.

Grace Bible Church of AG hosted us for the second year in a row to do a parenting conference on Saturday.  Though the turnout was not what they had hoped for, those who came were delightfully engaged and we trust encouraged and fortified for the long, demanding, sanctifying journey of parenting.  We were also privileged to teach at the two services on Sunday.  Grace Bible is a healthy, vital church, lead by Paul and Charlotte Bubar who are seasoned, faithful people of God.  We truly love having the opportunity to rub shoulders with them.  
Paul and Charlotte Bubar faithfully lead the congregation
at Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, CA.
Up the coast just a bit, we drove to spend Sunday evening with Tim and Susie Theule and the family at Grace Church of SLO.  This was the home church for our girls during their years in SLO and through the years we've come to deeply respect and appreciate Tim and Susie - their ministry, their family, their lives.  So it's always an honor to spend time with them and their people.  That evening we addressed issues pertaining to parenting teens.  It struck us that though there are unique challenges to this age and stage, the principles are still largely consistent with parenting younger children:  authenticity, availability, consistency.  Especially regarding faith issues, teens need to see the reality of Christ in the home and be convinced that He is making a difference in how life is lived.  Teens are not fooled by walk that doesn't match talk.  We loved interacting on this subject with such proactive parents.  The talk continued afterwards with Tim and Susie over more tri-tip at Firestones.  :)
Tim and Susie Theule, along with CBS family campers Mary and David Hazlebeck, made our time at Grace Church SLO very meaningful.

Continuing up the coast, we stopped in Monterey to reconnect with our dear friends, Johnny and Lori Potter.  We shared our years together at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary from 1991-1994 and have been cherished friends ever since.  Johnny pastors Stone Harbor Church in downtown Monterey.  As is always true, we enjoyed every minute of our too short time together and then we were off to San Francisco, where we met up with more very dear friends, John and Marilyn Nugent.  How we love to spend time with these guys!  Taking a brisk 6-mile walk through downtown SF, we chatted the whole way about life and ministry and family.  The fact that we could chat  throughout the walk is a very good sign.  :)  It's always very inspiring to be with John and Marilyn.  We love their hearts for God and their very active role in making a difference for the kingdom through the use of their talents and resources.  We got another early morning walk in the next day before heading east for Sacramento.

Two hours later, our reunion with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon was very sweet.  As thankful as we are for being able to "FaceTime" with them regularly from afar, there's nothing that beats receiving an enthusiastic embrace from our little 20-month-old grandson.  The changes happen so rapidly during this phase of life, that though we had just seen him a month earlier, we were amazed at his growth and development.  He is full of life and has a very engaging personality.  What joy to spend days with them!  Twice-daily treks to the park, the reward for the two-mile walk preceding arriving there, delight Brandon and provide a lot of outdoor exercise and fun.   
Papa and Brandon enjoy the animals at the Folsom Zoo.  

Papa, Gigi, and Brandon on the "little train that could" at the Folsom Zoo.

Bathtime . . . devotions, meals together, playing cars and ball . . . hanging out.
Such sweet moments with our little "BooBoo."

Papa and Brandon . . . hand in hand.

Though visiting with them would be reason enough to be in Sacramento, we were brought there to be a part of the 7th annual THRIVE conference hosted by Bayside Church of Granite Bay.  We love being a part of this conference, which never lacks for enthusiasm, energy, and inspiration.  We presented two workshops, one on marriage and one on parenting, and both were full and overflowing.  Lots of great interaction and feedback.  We personally benefitted from hearing great speakers at the plenary sessions, and one of the highlights was spending a bit of time with Wess Stafford (president of Compassion Int'l).  We have great respect for him and how he's spent his life.  Over 2 million easily forgotten children in the world have hope because of the work of Compassion, which has been driven by Wess's passion and compassion. 
Wess Stafford,Victor, and Paul share a moment during THRIVE.

THRIVE ended Saturday afternoon, May 5, and we drove up to Sebastopol to speak for a couples' date night.  This was our second year in a row with Sebastopol Christian Church and John and Debbie Briones once again put together a really nice event.  Particularly heartening to us was a young couple who had come last year, separated, and were back this year reconciled.  They expressed great appreciation for the encouragement they had received from our teaching.  Praise Him!!!  Paul also preached at the two Sunday services, as well as the Saturday night service (which happened before the couples event.)  We so appreciate the senior pastor, Jesse Bradley, and his heart for his congregation.  

The other highlight of our time in Sebastopol was spending the night with Garth and Rosemary Dougan, our long time mentors and friends.  Garth will be 90 in October, but you'd never know it.  They are so "green with sap" proclaiming the mercies of God.  We cherish every moment with them.  
Dinner with the Welches and Garth and Rosemary Dougan was a highlight of our time in Santa Rosa.

We closed out our time in that area with a wonderful time of food and fellowship with Carter and Tracy Welch and their sons, Owen, Baker, and Turner.  New Englanders transplanted to Santa Rosa and dear friends and ministry partners with Home Improvement Ministries, we loved reconnecting with them and seeing God at work in this very intentional family.  On that high note, we drove back to Sacramento.

Between the weekends, we had some special days doing life with Brandon and his parents, and I had some special days with my folks in San Diego.  My dear mom, who has always been "healthy as a horse" was felled with a very serious virus around April 1 and was just returning to health during my visit.  She gave us quite a scare when the virus settled in her ears, causing near deafness.  Her severe reaction made us all aware of how run down she is for the years of caring for my dad (who has dementia) and more care is now in place to help ease her load.  I was really thankful for the days I was able to be with them, which included a day-before-Mother's-Day brunch with my three sisters who live in San Diego.  
My sisters Lucy, Sue, and Melissa honored my mom with a pre-Mother's Day brunch and my dad was very happy to be included. 

Paul and I spoke on Mother's Day at Peninsula Covenant Church (Redwood City), whose lead pastor, Gary Gaddini, is a prized friend and partner.  What a joy to be with his congregation for both morning services.  My biggest Mother's Day gift arrived in the form of Brandon, Gabe, and Kari, who drove out from Sacramento to surprise me just as the first service ended.  Need I say more?  :)
My surprise Mother's Day present . . . brought smiles all around.

The beautiful Gaddini family . . .  They are true gifts in our life.

After a lovely picnic at a park with the Garcias and the Nugents, a brisk walk through the windy hilly streets of SF, and dinner out with the Nugents, we were on our way back to New England after a full and varied ministry tour.
The grand finale: lunch in the park with the Nugents and Garcias.  Very fun!

It's aways good to be home.  Really.  Lots to catch up on, of course, and mail to sort, but it's good.  Our first week back was dominated by wedding festivities as Paul married Sarah Hathaway and Jason Welch on Sunday, May 20.   Having known Sarah for the past 15 years, it was so good to celebrate this very special day with her and to affirm her and Jason's commitment to honoring God with their lives.  The shower Wednesday night, the rehearsal Friday night, and the wedding Sunday were all celebrations of joy.  
The very happy Hathaway family celebrates the marriage of Sarah to Jason Welch.

Quite a bit of counseling filled several days and some speaking, too.  We spoke in Springfield, MA, at the Evangelical Covenant Church on Monday, the 21st, to a group of parents on "how to keep your marriage alive while raising children."  Great question!!!!  It doesn't happen naturally, that we know.  It was a great evening, organized by long time friends Mark and Caroline Funchion, and we most enjoyed reconnecting with them after many years.  I mentored Caroline as a single women long before she met Mark!  They're now on the cusp of their 11th anniversary and have 2 adorable and lively little boys.  God is faithful!

I'll wrap up with our annual Memorial Day Family Tenting trip, which happened last weekend.  Twenty-five families, 103 campers, perfect weather, great food, and greater fellowship.  Despite missing having any children with us (our tent seemed very large suddenly) and making our first camping trip without our precious dog Baker (who had been with us the previous 18 Memorial Day weekends), we had a spectacular weekend.  Jim and Sue Martis did a great job organizing and executing dinner each night and Paul delivered on family devotions each night around the campfire.  Keith and Amy Hinrich came through as worship leaders and Thora Eames made a guest appearance as our oldest and most inspiring camper ever.  At 94, she delighted all with her joyful worship and her childlike enjoyment of a messy, gooey s'more.  Our annual Memorial Day parade was rag tag but meaningful.  Veteran Glen Franks once again served as our Grand Marshall.
Thora delighting in her beautiful garden.

S'mores are enjoyed by all ages.

Let the Memorial Day parade begin!  Mount your steeds . . .

. . .  and we're off, with Grand Marshall Glenn Franks leading the way.

And so another Memorial Day camping trip is in the annals of time, having accomplished the purpose of providing a community building experience for families committed to being encouraged by the body of Christ by doing life together.  

I'm writing from West Cornwall, CT, as Paul and I spend the fifth year in a row encouraging the pastoral staff at Avon Community Baptist Church.  These days are like a slice of heaven, really.  A beautiful retreat center, surrounded by a healthy church staff, lead by two of our favorite ministry couples:  Tim and Sharon Ponzani and Jay and Liz Abramson.  It really doesn't get much better than this.  Oh wait!  It does!  Our daughter Lisa has joined us here!  Last night she spoke on the blessings and challenges of being raised in a pastor's family and she knocked it out of the park.  Wow.

Around the world, Derek and Julie are into their 10th month of marriage and spent 10 days recently on their "real" honeymoon in Mauritius.  Their days were relaxing, renewing, and celebratory of all that is good in marriage.  We are so thankful for their life together in Uganda and look forward to joining them there in late August.
Derek and Julie in a self-portrait from Mauritius.

Shockingly, in a few hours, the days of May will expire and we'll be in June.  I'm trying to catch up with the quickly moving calendar days, but don't have much hope of that happening.  Mostly praying that we'll allow the Holy Spirit to direct our days and rest in knowing that we've done what He's called us to do.

It can't be May already . . . [Part 1]

Welcome to my “Gigi”’s delinquent blog.  I’m only part of the reason she’s so far behind . . . but I think I’m the favorite reason.  :) 

Though the calendar says it’s May 28, I’m having a very hard time believing it.  The past two months since my last post have all but evaporated.  As we return to Boston after spending Memorial Day weekend camping at Myles Standish State Forest with 100 family campers,  I'll begin reflecting on how God has met us. And to ensure that this is not an overwhelmingly long blog post, this will be “Part 1.”

My last blog was written from California, during a two-and-a-half-week west coast junket.  That time, which began with a meaningful marriage conference at The Journey Church in El Segundo, California, ended with the marriage of our nephew Mark Herbst and his bride, Angie.  What a wonderful celebration it was to join with most of the extended Friesen clan (including all of our immediate family except Derek and Julie) in honoring Mark and Angie's commitment to Christlikeness as singles and now as a married couple.  The setting, on the beach at Dana Point, was spectacularly beautiful, and Angie's grandfather was inspiring as he boomingly preached their wedding service with passion and conviction that would belie his 80-plus-year life.  It was truly a celebration of all that is good and we were thrilled and honored to be there.
Cousins . . . celebrating the wonderfully God-honoring marriage of Mark Herbst and his bride Angie.

Gabe and Brandon enjoyed the lively coastline during the ceremony.

Besides the wedding, the highlight for us was being with our kids and, of course, Brandon.  He is one very fun little guy and we're all kind of mesmerized as we watch his curiosity unfold in discovery.  He doesn't miss a thing, and in his own language, narrates life as he sees it.  We had a blast being together.

Back home Monday, April 2—briefly—before heading to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to spend Easter with Lisa.  We had been wanting to get down her way and this presented the best opportunity schedule-wise, so off we went on Good Friday.  We had a great time with her, just hanging.  A little shopping, a little yard sale-ing, a little running, a little entertaining.  A lot of talking and laughing.  Easter Sunday, full of sunshine, blue skies, and fragrant blossoms, was packed with joyful celebration, starting with our traditional breakfast of almond puff pastry fashioned in the shape of a cross and followed by gathering with the church.  Her church included the singing of many traditional Easter hymns, which connected us with memories spanning the decades.  We hosted dinner for a number of her FCA leadership team and over a delicious table, and enjoyed sharing family traditions celebrating this significant Holy Day and faith stories from each one's life.  The grand finale was an Easter egg hunt in her yard; we never really outgrow the delight of that childhood event!  Couldn't have been a better day, affirming the hope-giving resurrection of Christ!  We wrapped up that trip Monday, returning home that night with hearts full of gladness that we had gone.
Lisa and some of her FCA volunteers celebrate Easter together.
Engagement Matters was the main event of the next weekend, April 13-15, and we were thrilled to have a sold-out conference with 22 couples (six of whom came in from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California)!  The California couple stayed with us and we thoroughly enjoyed having Kevin and Rawni in our home.  Many conversations were had throughout the weekend regarding making “the second most important decision in life,” and we were impressed with the process these couples were engaged in to confirm God's best. 

Engagement Matters was packed and inspiring.

We love Engagement Matters weekends, and this one definitely will rank among one of the best ever.  So many thoughtful, engaging couples, striving to hear from the Lord regarding their potential marriages.  Great questions.  Great interaction.  Great "aha!" moments.  Our passion for this weekend grows, especially as the disillusionment with marriage increases.  Marriage really isn't the problem; selfishness and an increasingly skewed view of God's design for marriage are.

Taking advantage of being "in town" for EM, we spoke for a Friday Date Night at North Shore Community Baptist Church the 13th (always love partnering with them), had 3 of our EM couples for dinner Saturday night (great time!), and on Sunday evening met with a sweet high school group lead by Dan and Lois Frasier who have been using Paul's Discussion Guide for Letters to My Daughters over the past several months.  That was especially delightful as we interacted with them on the impact of Letters on the decisions they were making regarding relationships.  Though packed and at least somewhat exhausting, we valued every moment of the weekend.
Dan and Lois Frasier lead this group of teens through Letters to My Daughters using Paul's new discussion guide.
As tempting as it was to sleep in on Patriot's Day, the lure of the reenactment of the first battle of the Revolutionary War on the Lexington Green . . . and the promise of 60 degree temps at 5 am (the ungodly hour of this historical event) and the fact that we had two Californians staying with us, all combined to compel us to pile in the car at 4 am and be among the thousands to experience this unique event.  It had been several years since we had gone, and truth be told, it's one of our family traditions that our girls would just as soon have skipped (after the first time.)  None expressed regret that they were not with us this year.  Even so, we had a great time and memories were made.  :)

Kevin Munsey and his fiance Rawni flew out from California for Engagement Matters and we hosted them at our home.

We had the honor of speaking at the 1st Presbyterian Church of Ipswich the next weekend.  What a delightful group of people came out Friday night and Saturday to wrestle with "The Irony of Intimacy."  This church, which we attended from time to time when we lived on campus at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has a long history of faithfully preaching the gospel and it was a joy to reconnect with them.  

The weekend also was highlighted by reconnecting with some dear friends.  Helen Challener drove from Glenville, NY, to spend several days with us.  Time with Helen is beyond fun.  She makes us laugh like few others and that's just one of the gifts she brings.  Another dear friend, Dave Bullock, also drove in.  Not by car . . . but on his Harley, from Milwaukee!  It had been too long since we last saw Dave and his son Al, so it was a joy to go to church together and then catch up over a plate of fried clams in Essex.  Great weekend.
Just before heading to California on the 27th, we celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary.  That's starting to sound like a really long time, but in all honesty, it doesn't feel like a really long time.  We are blessed.
 Our engagement photo in March 1976.  :)

Two-fer home . . . repack . . . GO!

I’ve written this blog many times in my mind over the past month, and I’m confident that in the future, there will likely be technology that will take our thoughts and transcribe them.  (Hopefully, selectively!)  For now, though, lacking such a system, the pace of these weeks has precluded doing the “non-urgent” so I’m thankful that today as we fly to St. Louis, the time has come.  We’ve had a fall of “two-fers”: five days on the road, “two fer” Boston.  And those “two-fers” have been dedicated to our two Patriots studies and counseling, so that’s why it feels like we really haven’t been home much!  We haven’t!

Backing up to Nov. 17th, we had a great morning with the MOPS group at North Shore Community Baptist Church.  We love opportunities to speak into the lives of young moms.  So much encouragement is needed during that season of life—which is delightful—but also so demanding, challenging, and often times undervalued in our culture.

Early on Nov. 18th, we packed our passports and flew to Seattle, where we rented a car and drove to Vancouver, British Columbia.  We considered it an immense honor to partner with lead pastor Ken Shigematsu and his team at Tenth Church.  We had known Ken from our time at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary back in the early 90’s and respected him then as a true man of God with a heart to impact the world for Him.  We were delighted to reconnect with him last year as he wrote asking for input on a chapter he was writing on family.  He invited us to spend a weekend with his congregation and it was definitely one of the highlights of our year to do so.

After spending Friday evening in the Shigematsu’s home having dinner with his family, we knew it was going to be a great weekend.  His beautiful wife, Sakiko, and son, Joey, extended warm hospitality and we felt kindredly linked in short order.  It was a lovely launch to the weekend.

On Saturday, we presented a marriage seminar in the morning and a parenting seminar in the afternoon.  In between, we met with a team from the church to consult for them on family ministry within the church, and then spent that evening with a couple on their church lay leadership team, continuing the lunch conversation.  It was a full, productive day.

The seminars were very well attended, which took even the planners by surprise, and even delayed the beginning of the morning due to so many “walk-ins.” A nice problem, really.  The audience was engaged and thoughtful, and much to our surprise, had a rather large representation of single adults.  Tenth Church does have a large single population, but we didn’t necessarily expect them to come to these two seminars.  Happily, they did!  As we conversed with more than a few of them, they explained that they wanted to gather as much information as possible before they were married or parents.  Wise singles!

Sunday we preached four times at two different locations.  Tenth Church has exploded under Ken’s leadership, growing from 150 in 1996 to over 2,000 now.  Space is an issue and they’re creatively working to “expand their borders.”  Focusing again on family issues in our sermon, we were amazed at the number of moving conversations we had with many singles who are wrestling with developing Godly expectations for their future marriages and families.  Many of them bought copies of Letters to my Daughters and we were blessed beyond belief to have conversations with several on Sunday who had already read it, after picking it up on Saturday!  One young woman related to me through tears how deeply she had been impacted by the wisdom of Paul’s father’s heart.  “I didn’t receive that from my dad, and I was overwhelmed by the message and the heart behind it.  I feel so much better prepared to make a wise marriage decision now. I only wish I had read this book sooner; it probably would’ve saved me some heartache.”

Another beautiful young woman wrote:

I want to thank you full heartily again for giving me Paul’s book Letters to My Daughters.  I’ve been reading it every night since. It has brought me tears and joys. As I read on, I reflected on my own past, my own experiences wishing I’d read it earlier, and thanking the Lord for bring you and Paul into my life.

We had many great conversations with married couples as well, but I think we were both so impressed with the hunger and openness of the single population at Tenth.  What a great reflection of the heart of the ministry at that vital church.

After late night sushi following the evening service (which kept us connecting with the “we’re in no hurry to leave this place” crowd until after 10), we got some sleep and headed out early Monday morning for parts south.  We felt like we were leaving Vancouver way too quickly.  We were comforted that a return is in the offing when we received this kind email from Ken:

Thank you, Paul and Virginia.
It was such an enormous blessing to have you at Tenth!
You are declaring God’s wisdom about marriage and family in a way that is biblically faithful, wise, winsome, moving, and practical.
Perhaps most powerful of all you are living example of how a family can hike in a direction that’s different from the general culture and in so doing serve as a light on a hill.
I sense that God is truly honoured in your lives and ministry!
I don’t know if you recommend an ideal “wait time” ratio before you come back to a context, but if you are open to returning to Tenth we would love to have you again—and perhaps market it beyond just our local church.
With Gratitude,

Reconnecting with Ken Shigematsu, lead pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, we rediscovered how similarly our hearts beat regarding God’s design for  family and marriage.

It was a joy for me to spend time with my new friend Annie, and thanks to the internet, our friendship will continue.

There was a lot of interest in our books at Tenth and we’ve received some very encouraging feedback from this congregation.

Next stop: Seattle.  We managed to squeeze in brunch with Richard and Donna Dahlstrom, who are on our short list of favorite friends and ministry partners.  They inspire us!  So down to earth.  So real.  So missional.  Our time as a foursome passed all too quickly.  On to the church (Bethany Community Church, for which Richard serves as lead pastor) to spend the lunch hour with his staff talking about the virtues of family camp.  That was easy.  :)  Our passion for family camp runs deep for so many reasons, as we see it as one of the most effective venue for impacting families who make it a tradition.  I think we were convincing.

Continuing south, our next stop was San Diego, where we spent a couple of days with my parents and assorted other family members. I was genuinely pleased to be in town to take my mom to have cataract surgery that Tuesday morning. Thankfully, she came through with flying colors and can’t believe what she’s seeing again.  Good days with my side of the family before driving to the central valley to spend Thanksgiving with Paul’s side of the family in Pixley.

Besides my parents, it was great to visit with my sister Francene and her husband
(the taker of this photo) while in San Diego.

The farm in Pixley.  Legacy.  Roots.  Shaping.  Paul’s boyhood home, where his godly character was forged.  It was so good to be back at the farm.  Especially thrilling was introducing Gabe, Brandon, and Derek to Pixley; walking the cotton fields, playing the annual family football bowl; cracking walnuts gathered from the orchards; eating traditional dishes for the Thanksgiving feast; regaling tales of times gone by.  We had family meals and family devotions with extended family each night in the “great room” of the farm house, which is still occupied by Paul’s oldest sister Sandy and her husband Wayne.  Flashbacks of  35 years of history danced through my mind as we sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness” together, as we’ve done many times over time.  Four generations have been a part of my Pixley experience; five generations for Paul, whose grandmother and aunt lived with them when he was a young boy growing up in that house.

The greatest gift was gathering with three generations of Friesens, all of whom are committed to faithfully walking with the Lord.  It’s hard to express how significant it’s been for our own family to be journeying through life with those who not only share DNA, but who share spiritual convictions.  It’s been reinforcing for us to keep pressing on.  It’s filled in some gaps for our daughters, especially during the teen years, to have cousins who would stand with them, especially when they felt “alone” in their values and convictions.  Well beyond the tangible benefits of being on the farm were the intangibles, and we left refreshed and renewed after three wonderful days there.

But not home yet!  We headed north with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon, and spent a couple of days with them before flying home on Tuesday, Nov. 29th.

The extended Friesen family gathered for Thanksgiving at the family farm in Pixley, California.

All smile after the family friendly football bowl game was won, once again, by the “west.”

The days at the farm were full of discovery for Brandon, the city boy. 

Our gang enjoying a bonfire at cousin Randy and Rachael’s home in Strathmore (a suburb of Pixley!)

The girls, standing in front of an old oak tree with the cotton fields forming the backdrop.

Back to real life: the Patriots women’s study early the morning after we returned, counseling, the couples’ study, and . . .  what?  No trip to the airport Friday morning?

Breaking the pattern, we stayed home the first weekend of December.  Sort of.  We didn’t really stay home, we just didn’t actually fly anywhere.  :)  Friday night we spoke at Couples’ Date Night at the North Shore Community Baptist Church and had a lot of fun teaching on temperaments.  The beautifully-planned evening (thanks to the creative efforts of Ryan and Kelly Plosker and their great team) was a fitting launch to the holiday season, forcing a pause to prepare for the physical and emotional challenges of this great but sometimes hard month.  Always love being with this group.

At the end of the date night, some lingerers were willing to be “shot.”

The next night, we spoke on parenting at the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church.  Due to a scheduling error on our part, this group graciously flexed and changed their event to accommodate us, which made it difficult for some who had planned to come.  An enthusiastic group gathered nonetheless and we so enjoyed our time with them.

Wai-Chin and Fannie Ng (far right) planned this event and were wonderful hosts.

In between those two dates nights, we did an Engagement Matters seminar all day Saturday and Sunday.  :)  We have only ourselves to blame for the packed schedule, but besides being too tired to eat popcorn during the Patriots game Sunday late afternoon, we were none the worse for the wear.  The Engagement Matters weekend was one of the best we’ve had.  We loved the couples and had a lot of interaction with them since our EM partners (Doug and Julie Macrae) were out of town.  Fortunately, Ryan and Kelly Plosker were able to come up for an hour on Sunday to present a session dealing with great decisions to make early in marriage, and they knocked it out of the park.

One of the attendees wrote:

“The entire weekend was so amazing! My girlfriend and I are so very thankful to have gone and are excited about the future together. You and Mr. Friesen did just an amazing job and we are glad to have had such wise counsel.”

How we pray that God will use this weekend to prepare couples for a marriage which fulfills His design!

The Engagement Matters attendees were delightful, and sincere in their desire to make great decisions regarding marriage.

After another great Patriots win, the first week of December included an H.I.M. Board meeting in addition to the normal counseling and Patriots activities.  We are so very thankful for our board.  They are very smart and very dedicated to this ministry, and each of them sacrifices a lot to make this ministry happen.  We are blessed.

As the calendar days march on under the heading of “December,” I must admit that we’re still a bit back in November.  We have no Christmas decorations up yet . . . in fact, we have a few pumpkins hanging around our house, and harvest-scented candles still fill the holders.  It’s a really good thing that we’re not in charge of the world, or there’s a very strong possibility that Christmas would be celebrated sometime in late January or February!  Our pattern this fall of being home “fer two” days (and gone for five)—and those 48 hours being full of counseling and Patriots ministry—has caused many important things on the home front to be neglected.  We’ve truly loved everything we’ve done but are committed to reassessing how to schedule our lives with more wisdom.

For now, though, we have another plane to catch.  We’ve been home for 48 hours and it’s time to get moving . . .

Brandon is “soooo big” and at 15 months, continues to delight us with each new development.

Strutting his new Patriots duds given him by his aunties, he’s all about football.  Go Pats!!

The Twists and Turns of November 2011

The Oct. 30, 2011 Nor’easter created great hardship for millions, but also painted some unusually beautiful vignettes which prompted the question, “What's wrong with this picture?”

What a month it’s been!  We returned from California on Oct. 25, got through days of counseling and the two Patriots studies, and then hunkered down for the Nor’easter of 2011.  Not to minimize the very challenging circumstances that evolved from this unprecedented October storm, but we were secretly very pleased to be in town to “experience” it firsthand rather than read the reports about it (which seems more typical for us due to our travels.)  Let me also confess that since we only lost electricity for about 10 hours, we faced none of the hardships incurred by so many others, so we could “enjoy” it as few could.  At any rate, we were awed to see the power of God in nature and the unusual marriage of fall colors and snow.  Wild weather!

November was ushered in by our annual evening with the couples at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  We love Lita Schleuter, director of the seminary wives program,  and are honored to partner with her and to mix with the students.  We always find this engagement stimulating as we interact with those preparing for ministry and struggling with the somewhat unknown future challenges of balancing marriage, family, and ministry.  It was a great evening, capped with a brief but sweet visit with some of our family friends’ students who are attending Gordon College.

We received this kind email from Lita after our evening together:

Paul and Virginia,
What joy it is to always have you come and encourage future church leaders!!  You are indeed preparing soldiers of the Cross!
Your teaching reached across cultures - in the audience were couples who are already leaders in their countries, and they were greatly encouraged by God's word as presented by the two of you.
Thank you for making yourselves available to God to bless His Church!
In Christ’s joy,

We were so honored to spend the evening at GCTS with Bonnie Robinson and Lita and Dan Schleuter, along with many student couples.

Hannah Bastedo, Holland Stewart, and Monica Wong are family friends all studying at Gordon College, so we had a late night “Nick’s Roast Beef” run after speaking at the seminary.

Our long-awaited “Sacred Marriage” conference happened the first weekend of November, and Danny and Rayna Oertli’s arrival on Thursday, November 3rd, got the ball rolling when we picked them up en route to the Patriots couples study so the couples could enjoy a mini-concert.  Our group was smaller that evening since many of the couples had been without electricity since the weekend storm, but the group present was greatly blessed by Danny’s music.    

Danny gave Betsy Hasselbeck an impromtu lesson on his guitar before his mini-concert at the Pats couples’ study.

That was the start of a great weekend.  Gary Thomas spoke Friday night and all day Saturday to a crowd of about 550, and God’s spirit was unmistakably present.  He is anointed to bring a very counter-cultural message to a world steeped in self-centered entitlements, which wrecks havoc on marriages. He challenges us to think about marriage from a design perspective, making it about God, rather than from a cultural perspective, which makes it about “me.”  His message was clear, convicting, and hope-giving.   Especially heartening to Paul and me was seeing many, many couples with whom we’ve walked for years now, who have been met by God in very life-changing ways.  Their once very struggling marriages are now on solid ground and the hope of the gospel is seen very practically.

Besides Gary's inspiring and practical messages, the spectrum of workshops hit the mark by addressing specific areas of interest, and were led by highly-qualified resource couples.  We had the usual offerings of conflict management, temperaments, and investing in your marriage, plus some new ones.  David and Michelle Swaim presented a workshop on developing a missional marriage with a global perspective.  As they taught, holding their seventh adopted child, 5-month-old Andrew, they caused many to consider living far beyond themselves.  We received great feedback on the workshops.

And as always, the worship led by Danny and Rayna Oertli was used by God to draw us to Himself.  It was a great, great conference.

Several comments we’ve received since:

“We really felt so enriched and blessed to be at the marriage conference this weekend.  It was worth every penny of the $20 per hour! (cost of babysitter!) Thanks again.”

“My wife and I attended the recent Sacred Marriage conference, what a blessing!  I frequently give Sacred Marriage to couples as wedding presents and during premarital counseling, I loved hearing Gary in person and was personally challenged and stretched to grow in loving my wife as Christ loves the church.”

After the conference, Doug and Julie Macrae treated Gary Thomas, the Oertlis, and us to a wonderful dinner at Il Capriccio in Waltham.

We rounded out the weekend with a visit to Foxboro, where we were witness to a deja-vu game against the Giants.  Everything about the experience, minus the score, was perfect:  weather, company, food, friends.  Danny and Rayna enjoyed their introduction to our football world nonetheless, especially because their Broncos took the Raiders down that day.

It was a great afternoon at Foxboro, in spite of a not-so-great loss to the Giants.

Our post-conference recovery week included an H.I.M. Board meeting, counseling, Patriots studies, and speaking at Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel.  We divided and conquered and each did a workshop on Thursday, Nov. 10.  As always, it was good to reconnect with a few familiar faces and to partner with this great ministry to moms.

Carolyn Sylvester, Lisa Cerci, and Connie Lawrence were a few of our favorite faces from our Grace Chapel days.

Veterans Day weekend  took an unexpected turn when we got a phone call from our newly-married daughter, Julie (whose husband Derek was in Uganda for two weeks), regarding a somewhat urgent medical concern (which has, thankfully, been since resolved).  In light of a relatively “light” ministry weekend (Paul had a men’s breakfast to speak for at 1st Congregational Church of Hamilton and we were scheduled to participate in a very important wedding which Paul was able to do alone), I hopped on a plane within hours and spent the weekend with Julie, awaiting several test results.  Though there was a underlying concern running throughout the days, it was a very sweet time to spend with our Uganda-bound daughter during her last months stateside.  We laid low, overall, since she wasn't feeling great, but did manage to sneak off to the beach at Coronado and take a sunset walk Sunday afternoon.  On that walk, we also admired the Hotel Del Coronado, where Paul and I spent the first night of our honeymoon 35.5 years ago.  It's on our bucket list to return there for a night or two, but for now, it brings great delight to just look at this magnificent hotel from the incredible beach upon which it sits.

The Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego sits majestically on the beach and holds great memories for us.

And, turning around 180 degrees, the setting sun declares the glory of God.

While with Julie, we were also able to pop in on my folks and have lunch with my sisters before flying back to New England late Tuesday evening.  It was a gift to receive good news from the test results before flying home that day.

Paul carried the ball in New England and spoke at two more Mom to Moms, one at St. Michael’s in Bedford and the other at Faith Evangelical Free Church in Acton.  He is also wildly popular with the ladies and the feedback we got confirmed that nothing has changed.

At the Patriots Women’s Study that Wednesday (the 16th), we exchanged our Cynthia Heald study and Bibles for cinnamon roll dough and rolling pins.  This annual event is lots of fun and we had a blast together rolling dough, splashing butter, sprinkling cinnamon sugar, and baking this yummy treat for all to bring to their families.

The annual cinnamon roll workshop produced dozens of rolls and happy consumers.

The almost finished product with some of the accomplished bakers.  

After only 48 hours at home, we were off again—passports required...

But before I sign off: how could I not post this photo of our quickly growing and changing Brandon?  :)

Endless Fall

Brandon welcomes you to his “GiGi”’s blog.  How could I not start this post with this photo??

I have to look at the calendar to know that today is Nov. 10—or look at the address to know we're not in California.  After several days of temperatures which have warranted wearing capris and short-sleeves, the fall leaves and harvest decorations seem to be out of place in this very late Indian summer period.  And this, following an unprecedented N'oreaster 11 days ago that terrorized this region with snow and high winds, devastating trees everywhere.  Crazy!

Most of October was spent in California, where weather is generally more predictable and even.

After being home for only 48 hours earlier in the month, we flew back to the west coast on Oct. 14 for a 12-day ministry tour which began in Lancaster/Palmdale, California.  We first ministered with this church last February when we spoke for their marriage conference, and our hearts connected immediately with David and Nancy Parker who provide leadership for the Desert Vineyard.  We were honored when they invited us to partner with them at their church for this October weekend and eagerly accepted.  We love to hang out with folks like the Parkers, who have faithfully served the underserved and underprivileged in this high desert community east of Los Angeles for 18 years. Their congregation of 5,000 includes many who are struggling with addictions, poverty, broken homes, gangs, unemployment, etc., and the Parkers have poured their heart and soul into this community.  They are humble, authentic, very gifted people of God and it was truly a privilege to serve with them.

We spent Friday evening with their staff, talking about ministry and marriage.  Hosted by the Parkers in their home, we all enjoyed a Mexican feast before our time of teaching.  It was a good evening.  Saturday morning we did a half-day parenting seminar and were warmly received by the relatively small group that gathered.  Before doing the evening service, we spent the afternoon hanging out with Tom and April Garcia and their beautiful family, who are long-time Campus by the Sea family campers.  We were truly inspired to be with three of their teenagers, who are all in love with Jesus and are standing for Him in their secular schools and workplaces.  The evening service went well, and we were exhausted but thankful by day’s end. We taught at both of the services on Sunday and were energized by the congregation's interaction.  What an amazing way God is working in that place!

At Desert Vineyard, we grabbed a photo with Tom and April, Brean, Marina, and Tommy Garcia.

Julie and Derek drove up to hear us teach and to drive us down to San Diego after church on Sunday.  What a treat!  We feel so blessed to have these moments with them, knowing they'll be fewer and farther between once they're settled in Uganda early in 2012.  En route to San Diego, we met the newest member of the Friesen family,  Colson Rottschafter, and had a brief but wonderful visit with extended family gathered at their home.

Ron and Joyce (Friesen) Rottschafer holding Wylan and Brenton, and baby brother Colson (in my arms) next to their mother Donna (married to our nephew Brian Rottschafer who was serving at church and therefore not in the photo), and Derek and Julie.

Spending three days in San Diego with my parents was a highlight of this trip.  My mother is remarkable as she continues to care for my father, whose dementia increases while his abilities decrease.  What a very, very tough journey.  Sixty-three years together in marriage, their love for one another and their commitment to one another is more evident than ever.  This passage of their life together is definitely a test of “in sickness and in health . . .  ’til death do us part.”  We're always grateful for time spent with them.

My parents and Paul always enjoy having time together.

The second part of the trip took us north, about 500 miles, to Sacramento.  Sacrificially, we saved Bayside Church (which hosted our coming) money on hotel and restaurant costs and stayed with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon.  :)  Oh my!  What a difference two months makes in the life of a one-year-old! Since Julie’s wedding on  August 21 (the last time we saw Brandon), he has sprouted 4 teeth and become a walker.  We had an absolute ball discovering him anew.  We were thankful to have prepared well for our weekend teaching sessions before we arrived because it would've been quite impossible to have done so after arriving.  Derek and Julie flew up to join the party, which made it an almost family reunion.  We all lamented that Lisa’s work prevented her from joining us.  :(

Friday night, a packed-out crowd came out to Bayside for Couples’ Dessert/Date Night.  What a fun night!  Lincoln Brewster did a few special songs, Curt Harlowe did a comedy routine, and then we spoke to an eager crowd.  We love teaching at Bayside.  The congregation is always so responsive and receptive.  It was a great evening.

The sold-out date night crowd waits for the doors to open for the evening’s festivities.

The “booksellers” man the table after the couples’ dessert/date night.  :)

We taught at all five weekend services held that Saturday and Sunday, and have had some very profound interactions with some since.  We really sensed God’s spirit working among us throughout the weekend and were so thankful.   We were moved to receive this email shortly after the weekend:

“For those of you who might have missed it, our friends, Paul & Virginia Friesen spoke at Bayside this past weekend. The message on Sat/Sunday about marriage, ‘When It’s Good, It’s Really Good,’ is the best marriage message Rose and I have ever heard and it’s directly from Ephesians 5.”

We were also challenged by an email from a dear man who has struggled with the difficulties mental illness has visited upon his marriage and who needed a word of hope.  We enlisted the help of several ministry colleagues who have walked that path very personally and God did an amazing work through the networking which ensued.  We are still in awe of His faithfulness and grace in using the “this isn't what I signed up for” journey of two truly Godly men to come alongside this man with wisdom and truth which God used to knead hope into the heart of this hurting man.  To be “spectators” of this was faith-confirming and expanding for us.

Each service at Bayside was full of energy and responsiveness.  What a joy to minister there!

In between serving at Bayside, we had some great moments with Alton and Danielle Green and Alton’s girlfriend, Jeronica, over a meal at the Garcia home, and with a number of others who are being mentored by Gabe and Kari.  We also had time for walks, swinging at the park, shopping (Kari and Julie helped spruce up my predictable wardrobe!), playing “Nickel,” and hanging out.  But truth be told, most of the time we just enjoyed Brandon.  He is incredibly entertaining and the question did surface of what we did for entertainment before he was born.  I must also mention that Brandon had his first chocolate chip cookie baking lesson from the master, his very own “Papa.”

 Brandon enjoys a moment with his big brother, Alton, and Alton’s girlfriend, Jeronica.

“Papa” took advantage of time alone with Brandon to give him his first chocolate chip cookie baking lesson.  

Uncle Derek and Aunt Julie took advantage of time with Brandon (and his parents) throughout the weekend.

Tuesday, October 25, we pulled ourselves away from the Garcias’ cozy home and made our way to the newly-remodeled Sacramento Airport to return to Boston.  We were so very thankful for every part of the trip and spent much of the flight home reflecting on how God had met us and the glimpses we had into how He had met those we had been privileged to teach.  We were struck with both the vast differences between the congregations at Desert Vineyard and Bayside Church—socioeconomically, professionally, lifestyle, etc.—and yet the profound similarities between what challenges their marriages and families.  Good communication, genuine intimacy, commitment to the covenant, family solidarity, priorities, spiritual growth . . . all seem elusive, whether you have a lot or a little.  At the end of it all, the hope for all of us is bound up in Him—not in things, status, or perceived success.

So we returned to New England energized and exhausted.  Fortunately we didn't have anything until . . . the next morning!  More on that later.

The calendar said Oct. 23 when we resumed residence at our official address, and by that late date, usually 90% of the glorious fall color has “fallen.”  So we were surprised and ecstatic to see that the trees were still almost fully “clothed” and the brilliance of fall was just peaking.  That was an unexpected gift which brought great visual delight over the days to come.

I love this seemingly endless fall.

But I love this precious little face even more.  :)

Sacred Marriage

And so it began, in February 2009, when Julie followed the call of God to Mbale, Uganda, to volunteer as a physical therapy aide at the CURE International hospital.  The last thing Julie expected was to find a husband during this five month, pre-physical therapy school missions experience, but this past Sunday, August 21, Derek and Julie wed in a garden wedding in Santa Clarita, California.

There is only one plausible explanation for the unfolding of this beautiful story, and that is the hand of God.  Nothing short of that could've caused the paths of these two to have intersected in this rural village in central Africa.

As we prepared for the wedding (in between running 8 weeks of family camps), I reflected on the 2.5 year journey that brought them to the place of entering a sacred marriage.

This is the first photo Julie sent us of Derek and we were touched by his tenderness with this precious child.

Then the emails came.  I've included some excerpts to give insight into how things progressed.
Feb. 4, 2009: I got here and met Derek... He took about 2 hours touring me around, introducing me to people and just talking.  He is a great guy and it should be a fun time working along side of him.
Feb 6, 2009: dinner with Derek was great.  He took me to an indian resturaunt, we were the only two and we got to sit outside cuz the power has been out for 5 days... ouch:) We saw a beautiful lightning storm and had great food.  He is a very nice man. I think he is older (late 30's) but very nice.  No romantic attraction at all which is great.  I think he will take care of me... he has a lot going on and is a guy so i have done alot of asking for things, but he is very gracious when he does.  
March 8, 2009: I just got back from dinner with Derek and Brent and it was a blast.  Derek is so funny and great to be around. I look forward to you meeting him. 
April 10, 2009:   Last night Derek, Silvio (plastic surgeon from NYC) and I went to dinner at this restaurant called Dwat which is a place you can eat on the roof.  The moon was full and rose over Winale as we sat there... I thought, and talked, about all of our fun full moon traditions.  It made me miss you guys so much and camp! It was a spell binding and breathtaking sight and time.  I am pretty sure Derek is not the one for me, which is a bummer because we are having some great times together! After dinner, we came back here and Derek just stayed chatting for 2 more hours.  It is so relaxed and easy and there is so much to talk about. I am so blessed to have him here.  This time would be dramatically different without him.  
(On Julie's 24 birthday, April 19, Derek asked Julie is he could date her.  She said a conditional yes!) 
April 20, 2009:  Thank you for your prayers for Derek and me.  I need them for sure.  You know how my mind works, runs and overthinks sometimes.  I am honestly humbled by this guy.  I feel like he gets me well and has fallen in love with who Jesus has made me to be, the heart He has given me, the personality He has given me, etc.  I still have my eyes wide open to red flags, am trying to listen and hear them as much as I can and yet trying not to let my fears of our age difference, etc.  block me from receiving what God is offering for this time for me.  I am taking it one day at a time, one interaction at a time, praying for wisdom and insight only Christ can truly offer.

April 21, 2009:   Thanks for your prayers. Derek continues to treat me far better than I deserve.  I feel blessed by God through him and his words of encouragement.  I do not feel blinded, just blessed and at peace for this season. I love you! Miss you! 
May 2, 2009:   I feel like with ALL integrity, I can tell you that I really do like Derek, but I am not sold nor am I thinking “he is the one.”
The rest of the day was wonderful, he is just easy to be with, I did not get sick of him once and we just had fun laughing, talking and walking.  I feel so safe with him in all senses of the word.  I just feel like it is a gift, no matter how long or short lived it is.  In many ways, I feel that God is showing me His love for me and the caliber of guy that is out there and that He desires for me. 
May 28, 2009 (Derek) I truly enjoyed our time together in Uganda. Although I wish it would have not be as brief, no amount of time would have been adequate. I have the utmost respect and admiration for you and Paul... for many reasons, but mostly for bringing up wonderful daughters (I've now experienced two Friesen girls... the third is surely in the same vein). I'm also really thankful for your insight, support and prayers for myself and my relationship with Julie. More than anything, both of us simply want to be in His will and living-working for His purposes alone. In emotionally charged situations, like new relationships, wisdom from Godly, trusted people makes all the difference. So thank you for giving so much of your bandwidth to my part in this, as well as Julie's. Julie and I have the vision that this relationship is His doing, but keeping it open enough for Him to come in and work it out. Thank you for sharing in that vision. I'm hopeful we'll visit face-to-face again on your side (Boston) soon.  
May 28, 2009:  (Julie)  He is amazing and such an incredible gift to me.  I continue to like him more every day and am just humbled by the way the Lord loves me through Derek. It is so true that when I leave interacting with him I feel so much more in love with Jesus than I was even before that interaction. I know it is still so early and there are a lot of things that loom ahead on the horizon, but mom, I never thought I would really feel this way or even be treated this well.  I know it is what God calls for relationships, but I am almost brought to tears so many times as I just feel cherished. Just as I am.  That by no means states that he does not challenge me or spurs me on, but he does not care about who I am going to be.  He cares for me, the girl God has created.
It is humbling, it is amazing. I love being with him… So pray, Mom.  I want more than ever to hear words of wisdom, warning, and advice and I don’t want to walk into this blind. 

The rest, as they say, is history.  Julie returned to the states late July 2009 and started physical therapy school that September.  She and Derek carried on a long-distance relationship for the next two years, and now, by God’s grace, they'll have a side-by-side relationship for the rest of their days.

“We're MARRIED!!!!”

After years of praying for God to bring into her life a “man of standing,” we were filled with awe during their ceremony at the faithfulness of God in orchestrating the circumstances of their lives to bring them to this point.  And the wedding celebrated all that is good.  Two, surrendered to Christ, passionate for His purposes, and passionate for one another.  Surrounded by two families, committed to Christ, to marriage (Derek’s parents are celebrating their 40th anniversary on the central coast as I write, and we just passed our 35th in April), to family, to serving, to missions.  Supported by a “cloud of witnesses,” including people from around the world who traveled to Santa Clarita to join the celebration, and whose influence on Julie and Derek's life is treasured by them.  Set in a gorgeous garden amphitheater, made to look like a tended secret garden by the incredible floral design talents of our dear friend Wendy Turney and her sidekick Sharon, with perfect weather and a cloudless blue sky.

Their wedding was both sacred and joyous.  Dr. David Hegg, long time friend and mentor to Julie and Derek (and senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church where the wedding was held), set the stage for a God-honoring ceremony with his opening comments and prayer.  He handed the ceremony off to Paul after Paul handed Derek off to Julie, and there weren’t many dry eyes as Paul delivered a very inspired and personal charge to them.  Danny and Rayna Oertli wrote and sang the song “Welcome Home” for them, and Uncle David and Aunt Laura read scripture.  The two sets of parents served them communion.  Pastor John Tebay, who co-officiated our wedding (and whose wife Grace played the piano for the service) ended the ceremony with a prayer of blessing on the couple.  It was exactly what they wanted.

Paul gives them a final charge before pronouncing them husband and wife.

The reception was on site and all enjoyed some yummy food, a bit of dancing, and a few toasts with Martinellis.  All too fast, 9 pm arrived, and Derek and Julie were on their way.

We are filled with gratitude and are overwhelmed by God’s goodness in all of this.  We’ll continue ruminating on it in the weeks ahead, savoring God’s grace and generosity to us.  And to them.

Toasting Martinellis as the sun sets on their first day as husband and wife.

The newly expanded Friesen family.

I couldn’t really leave this photo out.

Family camps are underway!

We blinked and orientation week and family camp one were over.  And family camp two hit the halfway mark today.  It seems as though the pace of the summer will keep time with the months preceding it.

Before we got to the island, I spent a few days in San Diego with Julie and my parents.  The days passed quickly, but were fairly productive as we got their wedding invitations in the mail, celebrated Father’s Day early with my dad, and went to a bridal shower for Julie given by her professors and classmates from physical therapy school.  It was so sweet to hear them speak so supportively of Julie and her influence on them.  I felt very privileged to be there.

Dinner out in honor of Father's Day with my parents was lovely.

First thing Monday morning, June 13, we drove to Long Beach and took the ferry to Catalina with our summer staff.  We could tell even then that the Lord had brought together a great group of college students as we gathered at the terminal.  That first impression has been fulfilled during these few weeks.  We have a terrific staff.

We were thrilled to reconnect with Bob and Carol Kraning at the boat terminal.  They delivered two of our staff, Kory and Johnie (who also happen to be their grandsons), to catch the boat.

During Orientation Week, the staff creatively worked to develop the curriculum and decorate their classrooms.  We spent time every day building community as we built curriculum.  For the first time ever, we had 7 on the program staff who had never even been to CBS.  Very unusual, but understandable: three of the new staff have great siblings on year round staff, two of them came from Kari and Gabe’s ministry and had been mentored by them (and Kari and Gabe are batting a thousand on all the staff they’ve sent us the past four years), one grew up at our family camp in New Hampshire, and one has a sibling who was on staff  3 years ago.  So though they hadn’t stepped foot on the island prior to June 13, they were all exposed to CBS by reliable sources.  It did create a steep learning curve for them and reminded us of how foreign this well-known-to-us culture is to some. Thankfully, they’ve all adjusted beautifully and have brought a freshness to our team. We’re also thrilled to have Dennis and Susan Mansfield with us this summer as the “Dean and Deana of Little Gallaghers” (the little cove in which our summer staff are housed). Additionally Susan is serving as our children’s program director and crafts coordinator, and Dennis is filling in many gaps.  We’re loving having them here for many reasons, but especially for their maturity, depth, and love for the staff.  After being family campers for 28 years, they’re experiencing camp in an entirely different way.

Holland, Taylor, Claudia, Johnny, and Katie work on decorations for their classrooms.

Not all the team, but many, pose after lunch on their way to more preparations during orientation week.

Though we are truly thankful for each staff member God has brought here, we’re still pinching ourselves to believe that Gabe, Kari, and Brandon are part of that team.  As it became increasingly clear to them that God was moving them on from their positions at Bayside of South Sacramento, they talked to us about serving at CBS this summer. Really??? It quickly became clear that their gifts in working with college students could be used to lead the college studies for family campers as well as to develop training material for our summer staff, so we said YES!!!  Oh, and, we'll gladly help care for the little guy.

So here we are, in the midst of a historical legacy visiting the next generation.  Paul’s parents, Mel and Helen Friesen, started camp in 1951 and their only son, Paul, learned to walk in the Main Deck that first summer.  In 1981, Paul (who was in the midst of his tenure as the Camp Director 1975–1991), watched his eldest daughter Kari learn to walk in the Main Deck that summer.  Thirty years later, Kari’s eldest child, Brandon, is trying to learn to walk in the Main Deck (and feeling lots of pressure as a 10-month-old to uphold the tradition.  :)  )  Really?  We feel blessed beyond belief that we’re part of God's amazing faithfulness through the generations.

Gabe, Kari, and Brandon Garcia are a great addition to the staff team this summer.

Brandon loves his new and different bathtub, as well as living in community with more loving arms and smiles than ever.

Truly a huge part of the richness in serving at CBS comes from the relationships we've developed over the past 35 years.  Each family camp is full of people who mean so much to us. We've journeyed through decades of life together, through the highs and the lows, the thick and the thin, the family milestone moments of life, marriage, deaths, disappointments and triumphs.  Each week we reconnect with friends who return to camp with three generations in tow - some of whom were young parents in the late 70’s, now at camp with their grown up kids and grandkids.  We love the intergenerational framework of CBS family camps. And we love the newer families, who bring fresh perspective and experience to the table. Our passion for this ministry has not abated at all, but actually continues to grow each summer as we see the hand of God doing His good work among us. We are so blessed.

Dick and Nancy Beggs, who directed Camp Maranatha in Idyllwild for many years, have been dear friends since the beginning of our marriage.  It's always such a joy to have them pop into camp for an annual visit, to celebrate what God is doing in our lives and in our families, as well as to affirm our deep hearts for each other.

So, after a week or orientation and preparation, the boat loaded with over 200 family campers pulled up to our dock on Sunday, June 19.  With a mixture of emotions running the gamut from excitement to at least a few fears (how will the program go, etc.), the staff enthusiastically welcomed the campers and the 2011 family camp season at CBS was launched. The most touching moment of the week was experienced right off the bat, when Hayden Whelan, a precious 13-year-old who has Down’s Syndrome, arrived at camp after a year’s hiatus.  She was unable to come last year because she was undergoing treatment for a malignant tumor, and after a torturous year of chemo, radiation, hospitalizations, etc, she was recovered enough to return to camp and to her beloved “Paul.”  Hayden has had a thing for Paul since she was tiny, and she told her mom before arriving that she couldn't wait to see him.  She ran up the ramp and threw herself in his waiting arms, and there wasn’t a dry eye to be found.

Hayden is welcomed by Paul and the whole staff, who painted her a “Welcome Back, Hayden!” sign.

Six days later, Hayden gives Paul a farewell hug as she leaves camp.

That was the start of a great first week of camp.  Though we had the normal challenges of the first week, and some abnormal ones with so many new staff, it was a surprisingly smooth week programmatically.  Tim and Susie Theule were our resource couple and as we've come to expect, Tim’s teaching was challenging, instructive, and inspiring.  He’s truly one of the best teachers we’ve heard.  We’ve also grown to love their family over these six years that they've been on our family camp team, so having a week with them was a treat.

Our theme this summer is “The Fully Alive Family” using Psalm 23 and John 10:1–10 as our texts.  We’ve been so struck by the reminder that the sheep follow him because they know his voice and that they won’t follow the stranger because they don’t know his voice.  Our prayer is that we’ll become so attuned to the voice of the Good Shepherd that the stranger won’t pull us off course.

Tim and Susie Theule bring so much to camp, not just through Tim’s excellent teaching, but also through their healthy, beautiful family of six.

The week progressed through all the  beloved traditions - the game “Gender Defender” (some say it's the best ever!); all family worship and s’mores at the beach around the campfire; the hike to Avalon; the dance night and ice cream social; the boat race; the banquet; banner making; and tons of inter-generational interaction around dining tables, in the fairway, and on the beach.  What makes this place and experience so unique is the intergenerational community that is naturally woven into all waking hours.  So much health “happens” when the generations are laughing, playing, and learning together.

The week flew by and before we knew it, we were singing the traditional “We love you campers...oh yes we do!” as the boat pulled away from the dock in the early afternoon of June 25.  It was  especially poignant for us, as we were saying good-bye to many relatives who had continued their tradition of attending family camp.  Paul’s oldest sister, Sandra, and her husband, Wayne, once again brought their four married children and all their grandchildren to camp so we had feasted on the delight of being with family we love so much.  That meant many late nights of laughing and talking with one another, which was not great for our sleep needs, but an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.  Danny and Rayna Oertli are part of that clan, so we were treated to a concert by Danny one night during which he debuted a number of songs just released on his newest album, Just Beyond the Door.  We love this album and would highly recommend it.

The Friesen relatives who attended family camp 1.  Great time with all!!

No real reason for this photo, except that it’s an adorable one of this possible future lifeguard.  :)

Family is the theme...and we’re so blessed to have all of our gang with us at the moment. Lisa safely returned from Israel after her 2-week missions trip with FCA and came back bubbling over with enthusiasm for her experience there.  She’s working at camp for three weeks, joining the high school team. Julie is managing to make it up for the weekends and we’re loving that. The countdown to the return of her fiance Derek to the states has begun in earnest.  It's now less than a month.  :)  And we're loving having the Garcias here 24/7.  Besides the joy of having them with us, they’re doing a fabulous job with our staff and with the college-age family campers.

The girls and Gabe, left to right: Kari, Julie, Lisa

We’re also having an amazing summer of wildlife sightings as well as gorgeous weather. Buffalo have been hanging out in camp regularly and the bald eagles and pods of dolphins have been seen multiple times.  We’re delighting in all of it.

A buffalo finds dinner next to our volleyball court. 

Brandon helps “Papa” with announcements at many meals.

Our program staff are ready for a new day.

Do pray for us as we run 4.5 more weeks of camp.  God is doing amazing things among us already and we are humbled to be a part of it.  All praise is His!!!

Way to THRIVE!

Home from Denver for not quite three days, we managed to do 10 hours of counseling and have a H.I.M. Board meeting before flying to California on May 6. The board met on the Cinco de Mayo, so we celebrated Mexico’s Independence Day by serving a Mexican feast to the board members prior to the meeting. Yum! Most of them have by now been converted to loving Paul’s homemade salsa, which we consider a victory for the south.

Off we flew to Sacramento on Friday to begin a nine-day ministry tour . . .  and a grandson-visitation trip.  :) We feel extremely blessed to have seen Brandon as much as we have during the first 8 months of his life.  He changes so much between visits! As is evidenced by this photo, he is a very smiley little guy—and he has an amazingly laid back disposition.  It was a joy to share the house with him and his parents while we were in Sacramento.

Happy 1st Mother’s and Grandmother’s Day, Mama and “Gigi.”  Love, Brandon

On Mother’s Day weekend we were privileged to teach at all five of Bayside Church’s services, starting with two on Saturday. Bayside is a happening place.  Senior pastor Ray Johnston has more energy, creativity, and vision than dozens of pastors combined, and we always feel reinvigorated when we’re on his turf.  The congregation is highly responsive, eager, and teachable. Our talk, A Legacy Worth Leaving, seemed to both inspire and challenge many, and Paul and I both had many personal conversations which affirmed that the Holy Spirit had been faithful to take our inadequate words and make them His words. (A video of the service is available here.)

We love partnering with Bayside for many reasons: we love Ray and his incredible giftedness; we love hanging out with his family and many other friends cultivated at Bayside through the years; we love seeing a church that’s doing so many things well; we love hearing Lincoln Brewster leading worship (and on this particular Sunday, hearing his new song, “Real Life,” enough times to have it memorized); and we love hearing stories of transformation as a result of this ministry.  Though physically tired by the end of those five services, we were pumped by the hope and expectation that courses through this church.   

Julie, who sat through 3 services on Mother’s Day, caught us on film during one service.

After five services teaching at Bayside, we closed up the church with a mini-reunion of the Johnstons and the Shaulls.
Auntie Julie enjoys a smiley moment with her favorite nephew, Brandon.

It was a gift to celebrate Kari’s first Mother’s Day with her on Sunday, May 8, and to have two of our three daughters with me.  Jules flew up from San Diego for the weekend to join the festivities, and Lisa was there in heart. Gabe, Paul, and Julie all contributed to making it a very special day for the mothers (which eventually included Gabe’s mom, Debbie, who arrived with Dan for dessert late that afternoon.)   We’re loving watching Gabe and Kari parent their little guy with loving wisdom and great delight.  Babies are such hope-giving reminders that Creator God hasn’t given up on us.

Brandon and his mom, Kari, celebrate Mother’s Day.

The next three days in Sacramento included several counseling appointments, errand running, taking walks with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon, celebrating the 22nd birthday of Alton (aka “Biggie”), hearing Gabe preach at “Remix,” and preparing for the Thrive conference.  We also had a sweet visit with our dear friend and mentor of our daughters, Christina Swanson, who lives in a neighboring town.  It was a gift to catch up with this great lady who has been such an important part of our lives for almost 30 years.

Brandon wishes his big brother Alton a happy 22nd!

Christina spent the morning with us catching up and quickly made friends with Brandon.

The 7th annual Thrive Conference started Thursday, May 12th, and we were honored to be on the teaching staff for the 7th time.  This conference is energizing, encouraging, instructive, inspiring, and tons of fun.  It’s great for networking, but maybe more importantly, it ministers to the ministers.  Great speakers, great times of worship, hysterical moments of craziness, and free goodies tossed out during plenary sessions and during breaks.  What more could a church leader want??  Our two seminars went well and were fairly well attended, in spite of them being held in a conference room in outer Siberia (really only 1/4 mile from the sanctuary—but that’s a long walk for most!)  :) 

Though there were many great moments during the conference, the highlight for us was the plenary session during which Ray interviewed Louis Zamperini, the 94-year-old World War ll veteran and an Olympic runner, whose life and marriage were at great risk of survival in the years following the war’s end due to alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder.  And then Billy Graham came to Los Angeles in 1949 and the very resistant Louie was coerced by his wife into going with her.  On the third night, he surrendered his life to Christ and his transformation was immediate.  From that point on, he has been faithfully serving the Lord.  He is in a league of his own and held the entire crowd in rapt attention as he answered Ray’s questions with crystal clear clarity and detail.  His story was recently published in the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, which I couldn’t put down once I started reading it.  I highly recommend it.  

Listening to “Louie” recount his crash landing at sea, followed by 47 days of floating on two life rafts with the other 2 survivors of the crash, fighting off sharks, Japanese bombers, starvation, and dehydration, and 2,000 miles later landing in the Japanese controlled Marshall Islands, only to spend the next 2.5 years as a prisoner of war enduring unbelievably brutal treatment, was mind-boggling.  He said, “Tom Brokaw has named us the ‘greatest generation ever’ but I’m not sure that’s how I’d label us.  I think of us as a hearty generation of overcomers.  We had to overcome many obstacles if we were going to make it, and we did.”  I’ve thought a lot about that statement since, with plenty of self-evaluation.  It’s challenged me as I recognize in me a tendency to default to what’s comfortable or that which seems to cause the least amount of pain.  While I marvel at what Louie endured, I concurrently believe that I would not have survived what he survived.  This has given me lots to ponder.

We were also really challenged by speaker Christine Caine, an Australian woman who has started the ministry, The A21 Campaign, whose focus is to stop human trafficking.  She cited that there are 27 million slaves worldwide today, far more slaves than at any other time in history, and that a huge percentage of them are sex slaves.  She was compassionate and compelling and raised our awareness to the growing problem of this horrific “industry.”  Check out her website and prepare to have righteous indignation stirred to a boiling point. 

Gabe, Kari, and Brandon attended Thrive with three of their interns: Lamar, Alton, and Danielle.
Pastor Ray Johnston holds Brandon, whom he affectionately refers to as “Baby Raymond.”  :)
The dust had barely settled on Thrive before we made our way to Sebastopol, California, to speak at a Couples’ Date Night at Sebastopol Christian Church.  John and Debbie Briones, long time friends from Campus by the Sea, put together a lovely evening during which we spoke twice and they served dessert in the middle.  It’s the first date night we’ve spoken for that had a chocolate fountain for dessert, and it was duly enjoyed and consumed.  There was a great spirit in the night; people everywhere seem to be looking for “booster shots” of hope for their marriages.  We were especially thrilled to have Carter and Tracey Welch (transplants from New England to Santa Rosa) attend with several other couples, as well as a good number of long-time CBS family campers.
We went “home” that night with Garth and Rosemary Dougan, some of our most treasured mentors and friends.  Garth is now 88 years young, and Rosemary 86, and they still don’t act anywhere near their age.  They are remarkable!  We so love their example of marriage (over 60 years and going strong!), of faith, of commitment to family, of servant-heartedness.  We brought them a copy of Unbroken, but before we gave it to them, we asked Garth if the name “Louis Zamperini” meant anything to him.  Immediately, he said, “Track star Lou?  The great runner of the ‘40’s.  Fastest man on the track.  War hero.  Why, the only thing I ever had against Lou was that he went to USC!”  :)  He was thrilled to receive the book and we were astounded to think that within days, we had been in the company of two great men of faith and of patriotism —two men of the “greatest generation ever.”  Two men, who at 88 and 94, are sharp as tacks, physically able, and serving their Lord.  Wow!

Sebastopol Christian Church’s senior pastor, Jesse Bradley, kindly invited Paul to preach on Sunday, and both services went well, thankfully.  The bonus for us was developing a connection with Jesse and Laurie Bradley.  We felt very in sync with them and hope our paths cross often in the future.  It was also greatly encouraging to be with the Briones family and hear more of their journey, which is very hope-giving.  John and Debbie have started a new legacy with their three daughters, as a result of God getting a hold of them as adults.  Their daughters are very blessed by the faithful commitment of their parents to honor God in their home.

The Briones family arranged for us to speak at their church in Sebastopol.  
After church on Sunday, Gary and Patty LeDonne (long time IVCF and CBS friends), Garth and Rosemary Dougan, and John and Debbie Briones took us out for Mexican food.

Back to Sacramento we drove, in order to get one last night with Brandon and his parents, and then flew back to Boston on Monday.  We had so much more than Mexican food to digest as we flew home.  God stirred our hearts at Thrive, and we’re praying about how to respond to the despicable practice of sex trafficking.  God challenged us with the lives of Garth, Rosemary, and Louie—and the question we’re turning over in our mind is what course correction do we need to make now in order to finish strong and well.  We were moved by the Briones’ testimony of God’s transforming work in their lives—and now their daughter’s lives—which gives great hope to those who don’t have the benefit of a Christian heritage.  They reminded us that their years at family camp at CBS had filled in many of the gaps for them in terms of God’s design for family and marriage, and we were humbled.

And we were so blessed to have spent time with the most important people in our lives —our own progeny.  As Julie prepares for marriage, and as Gabe and Kari seek God for direction for the next chapter of their lives, and as Lisa prepares for her missions trip to Israel with FCA, and as Brandon grows in the greenhouse of his parents’ love and training, we are thinking a lot about legacy.  We’re more aware than ever that at the end of the day, there is much less that we can control than what we can’t—and that our confidence must grow deeper in the truth that He is enough.  Just as He was enough for Louie Zamperini, He will be enough for Brandon.  And us.  In that truth, we will thrive. 

Risen Indeed!

With California gas prices well over $4.00 a gallon, and a one-way rental car fee exorbitant, we enjoyed our first train ride in quite some time as we made our way down the Pacific Coast from Arroyo Grande to Orange County.  What a great way to travel!  We enjoyed the view along the coast, and when that ran out (because the train turned inland), we were productive on our computers, and when we arrived in Irvine, met by our dear friend Wendy Offield, we were rested and ready to go!  Good decision.

Julie and Derek picked us up the next morning and we drove together to Santa Clarita to meet with the wedding coordinator on site at Grace Baptist Church.  What fun to be with them!   Derek had flown in from Uganda the previous day in time to help Jules celebrate her 26th birthday, and every day of the week he was stateside was treasured.  After a great day getting wedding stuff done, we had an animated evening with Wendy over dinner and headed out early the next morning to pick up Kari and Brandon from the San Diego airport.  That was the first of many airport runs: over the next few days, Derek's sister arrived, followed by Lisa, and finally Derek's parents.  It was a “meet-the-parents” event for the parents—and we were so thankful for the time together to get to know each other a bit.  We rented a house on the beach in Encinitas for all of us and that was brilliant in terms of giving us lots of hanging out time between events.  We talked a lot, enjoyed good food, walked on the beach, watched the sunset each night, and played a few rounds of a Johnson card game called “Nickel” after night had fallen.  Great times.

Derek and Julie enjoy the view from Wendy's house in Laguna Beach.  Quite honestly, they would've enjoyed being anywhere, as long as they were together.

Three ladies and a baby . . . We're not sure what we did for entertainment before Brandon arrived.  :)  Left to right:  Lisa, Julie, Kari holding 8-month-old Brandon.

The occasion which brought us all together from the four corners was a bridal shower for Julie.  Our dear friend, Jodee Neal, hosted the gala at her home in Poway and the afternoon tea party on Easter Saturday was lovely in every way.  It was a wonderful reunion of family and friends, and amazingly, five of the six Collins “girls” (my sibs) were there, one of Paul’s sisters, as well as my mom.  Julie was honored to have lacrosse teammates from her Cal Poly years, Derek's mom and sister, and a variety of cousins and other family.  Her Grandma Collins gave a very fitting devotional from her vantage point of an almost-63-year marriage, and her words were meaningful to all.  A trivia game filled in some personal information about both Derek and Julie, and then Julie was showered with many beautiful personal gifts which won't be shown on this blog.  It really was a great time celebrating something so good and God-honoring as their upcoming nuptials.

Jodee Neal hosted the shower for Julie and did a beautiful job.

Julie listens intently as her Grandma Collins gives the devotional at the shower.

Five of the six Collins sisters were able to celebrate with Julie at the shower.  (l-r: Sue Hekman, Lucy Silveira, Melissa Collins, Francene Green)

Brittney, Chelsea, and Janelle looked different at the shower than they did on the lacrosse field!  All four are very tough (and beautiful!) competitors.

It meant so much to Julie that so many gathered to celebrate with her.

Easter Sunday was full of the inimitable joy spawned by the reality of the resurrection.  After our traditional breakfast of almond puff pastry in the shape of a cross, the Johnsons and Friesens went to services at Seacoast Community Church.  Besides a solid message by Dale Burke and inspiring worship, we connected with some of our long time friends from CBS family camp.   They're everywhere!!

Just in from church, we get a shot of both families, still dressed up.  We're so thankful that Julie's in-laws are vital Christ-followers and that they raised a son like Derek.

Easter dinner was hosted by my oldest sister, Lucy, and her husband Rick, in their lovely old Victorian home in downtown San Diego.  I think there were about 28 for the afternoon and the gathering was amazingly lacking in chaos.  Great moments of reinforcing family ties.

Rick and Lucy Silveira and Derek and Julie strike a pose before the exodus begins.

And then the airport runs began.  Kari and Brandon actually left Saturday night so they could be with Gabe for Easter and for his birthday (which along with our 35th anniversary, landed on Easter!)  By Monday morning, we were all on outbound flights to OK, VA, MA, and Uganda—thankful for the days shared and looking forward to the wedding.  Derek and Julie were especially thankful that this will be their last pre-marriage farewell.

We returned to Boston refreshed and full of gratitude for these very special days.  He is risen indeed!!

The sun sets on Derek and Julie's last farewell before they get married in August.

We're really not in Hawaii anymore...

We flew from Atlanta to Boston on Monday the 28th of March, welcomed home by a very spring-like day.  Matthew, who along with his mom picked us up at the airport, was thrilled to discover the crocuses in our front yard, as were we.  Tthese fragile purple flowers are the unmistakeable symbol that winter has lost its grip and spring is coming.  And so it was a rather rude awakening . . .

Matthew poses with our “field” of crocuses . . .

. . . to be greeted by snow several days later.  Wow!  Classic New England!  Though everyone knows it won’t hang around long at this point in the year, it was disconcerting to more than a few who felt like there’s been more than enough snow already this winter.

. . . which were buried three days later by the April Fools Day snowstorm.

We jumped right in to life as we know it when we’re home.  Paul actually made an airport run later the night we returned to help out a friend!  His servant-heartedness touches so many.  Counseling, sorting mail, unpacking, and preparing for two H.I.M. events in the next two weekends filled that week.  We always try to accommodate invitations from local churches when we’re in town, so the weekend of Engagement Matters, April 2-3, ended up being very, very full.

Friday night, April 1, we spoke at North Shore Community Baptist Church for a couples dessert night.  Hosted by Ryan and Kelly Plosker, the evening was well done and enjoyed by 40-50 couples.  In typical Kelly fashion, the tables were decorated simply and beautifully, and both fruit and sweet desserts were available.  She even took the labels off the water bottles because they clashed with the colors.  :)  The extra mile!

We so enjoyed the evening.  The couples responded well to the teaching and seemed to really appreciate having a date night with a purpose.

The tables were beautifully set . . .
. . . and the couples were very engaged in the teaching.

Early Saturday morning, we headed to the Macrae home in Weston to hold Engagement Matters.  We had a lively collection of 16 couples who hailed from all over New England, as well as one couple from Seattle and two couples from Pennsylvania.  Along with Ryan and Kelly Plosker, we taught through lots of material on God’s design for marriage and challenged the couples with many practical considerations in light of God’s Word.  We enjoyed interacting with this thoughtful group who seemed to have a sincere desire to make wise decisions.  We have such a deep heart for this arm of our ministry, believing that doing good work prior to marriage can increase the chance of experiencing a more fulfilling and God-honoring marriage.  We’re grateful for these couples who contributed to this being another successful weekend.

Engagement Matters weekend is always a highlight for us.

Most of the couples posed for a photo at the end of our last session.

Saturday night, we drove straight from the end of the first day of Engagement Matters to Medway Community Church to speak for a couples date night there.  We have a long history with that church, having spoken at their first couples date night back in 1995.  The many return visits since have endeared this congregation to us.  It was great to meet their new pastor (it's always a good thing when the senior pastor shows up at such events in the life of the church!) and to reconnect with old friends.  Though we were pretty beat by the end of the evening, we were really glad for the opportunity to partner with Medway.

At 2 am Sunday the 3rd, a family of four from Moses Lake, Washington, arrived to spend a week at our house.  Kent and Staci Copley have been featured in previous blogs, as Kent serves as the executive pastor of Moses Lake Alliance Church and has invited us to speak at their marriage conference multiple times over the past years.  One of the joys of doing that has been developing a deepening friendship with their family, so they chose to spend their spring break exploring Boston and hanging out with us.  Their flight was delayed out of Denver; hence their very late arrival.

Monday morning waffles with Kent, Staci, Tori, and Britni Copley, who spent a week with us.

We had a blast with them!  We love their daughters who are absolutely delightful, and the parents aren't too bad either.  We had many fun moments with them (around our counseling schedule and final preparation for the “Worth It” conference held April 9) and loved having the laughter of little girls in our home again.  We had lobster races with the fresh catch bought in Maine, watched American Idol together (an indoctrination for us, since we have never really found the time or priority to tune in to this popular show), and shared many leisure meals together while we heard about their adventures in and around Boston.  It was truly a joy to have them.

We wrapped up Engagement Matters that Sunday afternoon, and then Paul headed off to his next speaking engagement: a men’s event at Grace Community Church in Chelmsford.  Bill Keating, who arranged the evening, was thrilled with the large turnout of men and Paul has received very positive feedback on his talk.  It’s so encouraging to partner with a church that is committed to building into men.  Though truly exhausted by this time,  Paul was honored to be a part of this movement at GCC.

We also had a low moment in this week: we completely missed a speaking engagement on Thursday, March 31.  It was an awful moment to receive a call at 9:56 am that morning and to hear the voice on the other end say, “We have 57 women that are waiting to hear you speak this morning.  Are you on the way?”  Paul was at the office, and I was knee deep in preparing the house for our house guests—and for the first time in our many years of ministry, we had completely forgotten about a commitment.  Though we offered to jump in the car and try to salvage the morning (after admitting that we had failed to remember), the gracious woman said not to worry, that we could reschedule.

It was a huge moment of grace.  Her response was so gracious.  She said, “Having just returned from spending days with my mother who has stage 4 cancer, you not coming this morning is minor.  Please don’t worry about it.  The ladies are having a great time talking and we’ll all look forward to rescheduling you.”

Wow!  What a gift she gave us that morning.  Though we really did feel terrible, she was clear in insisting that we not lose sleep over it.  We’ll be touched by her response for a long time to come.

No, we’re not in Hawaii anymore, but we’re truly glad to be back in New England with many folks we love and are privileged to serve with.  There’s no place like home . . .
. . . unless it would be Sacramento, California, where our precious little-big grandson is growing and changing daily.  Here he is pictured at 7 months with his Red Sox colors proudly displayed.  Now if he could only bring them a little luck . . .

7-month-old Brandon makes it harder to live 3,000 miles away.

From Hawaii to Rome . . . Georgia, that is!

The sun set over Hawaii before we boarded our 11 pm flight to Rome—Georgia—via Phoenix.  Those red-eye flights are getting more challenging, but are an easy-to-make trade-off for a whole day exploring the island.  We were pretty beat by the time we arrived in Atlanta, but revived quickly when Jeannie and baby Brady chauffeured us to their home in Rome, about 1.5 hrs north of Atlanta.

We are so impressed with how God is using the Kings!!  In the 2.5 years they’ve been in Rome, they have made a huge impact on their community, their school, and their church.  Driven with a similar passion for the incredible goodness of God’s design for family and marriage, Nate and Jeannie are “making it happen,” all the while building into their own almost 11-year marriage and their 4 precious children, ages almost 8 down to 1.5 years.  No bonbon eating in front of the TV for them.

Our invitation was to do a marriage conference for their home church, Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church, whose senior pastor, Dr. Phil May, also shares their commitment to marriage and family ministry.  Knowing the bandwidth of their church community, they held the conference “in house,” Friday night and Saturday until 1pm, and provided a children’s program for those with youngsters.  Brilliant!  Their original hope was to have 25-30 couples, so they were ecstatic when 55 couples participated in the conference!  Lots of hard work in publicity and planning preceded the weekend, and obviously paid off.

When couples arrived Friday night they were welcomed by a beautifully set room and served a lovely catered dinner.  It was very well done and every detail was tended to, right down to the Danny Oertli music playing in the background.

Dana and Greg Tarter were among the first to arrive for dinner, and having left their 4 children in the children's program, they were very happy to have some quiet moments to themselves.

Nate and Jeannie emceed the weekend and really did a great job.  We gave one talk Friday night on the overall theme of “the irony of intimacy” and felt the conference got off to a really good start.  Wedding cake was served, door prizes were creatively given out, and the atmosphere was filled with hopeful anticipation.

Nate and Jeannie did a great job of running the conference and their expectations were exceeded all weekend.

Jeannie’s aunt made the beautiful wedding cake on the right and along with the “groom’s cake,” provided yummy desserts for all. 

This very creative couple “presented” the door prizes theatrically.  They were a delightful, comedic team.

Saturday morning, bright and early, the couples streamed back to the church for two sessions with us speaking and another session with relevant workshop options.  Paul and I spoke on temperaments in our workshop, while Nate and Jeannie taught on spiritual oneness and prayer, and the “fun” couple spoke on keeping your marriage alive by having fun.  Nate and Jeannie affectionately refer to them as the “Doug and Julie Macrae of Rome!”

When all was said and done and the clean-up crew had finished their job, the weekend was pronounced a huge success.  It seems that everywhere we go, the sentiment is similar: our marriages and our families need this kind of encouragement.  The worldly view regarding the disposability of marriage infiltrates at least our subconsciouses and the clarity of God’s design slowly fades, leaving all of us more vulnerable to our own selfish agendas and solutions.  This great congregation in Rome expressed deep gratitude to us for reminding them that there are more important things than indulging the entitled belief that “my right to happiness trumps all else.”

Sunday we taught a class on marriage to the congregation at the First Presbyterian Church, for whom we had done a marriage conference in January.  Tommy and Pricilla Overton oversee family and marriage ministry there and we love to work with them.  It was a sweet time of following up on some themes from the conference.

The rest of the time before we flew out Monday morning for Boston (with our suitcases still packed with the winter clothing we had needed two weeks earlier in Pennsylvania, the swimsuits and snorkeling gear we had needed in Hawaii, and our “business casual” dress needed in Rome), we hung out with the sweet King family.  Cookie baking, talking, eating, laughing, having mutual friends over for dinner—it was good to relax a bit with all six delightful Kings.

Emily and Camryn help Mr. Paul bake chocolate chip cookies . . .

. . . and Brady enjoys the finished product.

Cam, Emi, and Drew have breakfast before school as we take off for the airport.

Meanwhile, Brandon inched towards 7 months and sent us smiles across cyberspace while his parents celebrated the publication of Gabe’s book The Gospel Revolution.  Lisa wrapped up her commitment to the JMU’s women's basketball team and returned to the soccer fields.  And Julie muscled her way through some huge exams, moving closer to finishing her 5th of 7 terms of physical therapy school, while Derek makes preparations to join her in San Diego for a week over Easter.

It was good to get home after 2.5 weeks on the road, but we returned overflowing with gratitude for all of the ways God met us during this multi-faceted, 11,000 mile trip which took us from the easternmost point of the USA to the westernmost point!

Brandon is 7 months old.  :)

If it’s Monday, we must be in Placentia . . .

We know we’re back in Bedford because there’s snow on the ground.  And it looks and feels dramatically different that what we were experiencing in California and Florida, which is where we’ve been most of the past 3 weeks.  We’ve had amazing moments with God and with His people in many different places, and our days have been full and our nights short - hence, I’m way behind on getting this blog written.  So fasten your seat belts because we’re going to fly through 1700 miles of driving and speaking 14 times in six different cities in California from Feb. 10 through 20th.

After tying up loose ends from the Gary Thomas Parenting conference (Feb. 5) and seeing a number of our counseling clients, we packed up for a 10-day driving tour in California.  It wasn’t quite the warm, sunny California one normally finds in mid-February in this garden state, but it was amusing to us to hear Californians lament the “freezing cold weather” they were having to endure.  :)  Having left 5’ of snow on the ground and temps in the single digits, you can imagine our lack of sympathy.  Though it was quite spectacular to see the snow-topped mountains behind Pasadena—a very unusual sight.

We arrived in Orange County late Thursday night and settled in to our home base for the next 10 days, hospitably opened to us by our dear friend, Wendy Turney.  Her “B and B” is charming and exceeded only by her.  We love to spend time with this great lady and each night we were there, we chatted way late into the night.  Good therapy for the soul.

The weekend conference for the Desert Vineyard Church (located in the Lancaster/Palmdale area) was held in Westlake Village and launched Friday evening.  Long time friends from Campus by the Sea had spearheaded the invitation for us to speak at their annual conference, and we’re so glad they did.  We fell in love with the heart of this church and were incredibly impressed with their senior pastor and his wife, David and Nancy Parker.  The church serves a community racked by gang violence, broken families, and a high incidence of substance abuse issues.  Their commitment is to be Jesus with flesh on to this very hurting population and to love them into the Kingdom.  From the top down, it was apparent that they are doing just that, and we found it refreshing to be with a large group of people who really know what is it to be the recipients of God’s grace and forgiveness.  They seemed to truly grasp that He is their only hope.

Our sessions with them were very well received and we had some great interaction with a number of couples.  It was a great start to our trip and a true honor to partner with this vitally Christian group.

Tom and April Garcia got the ball rolling on our partnership with Desert Vineyard, and Crystal and Brian Roseborough made it happen.

Tom and April Garcia got the ball rolling on our partnership with Desert Vineyard, and Crystal and Brian Roseborough made it happen.

Senior pastor David Parker and his wife Nancy were delightful.  Our lives have followed a very similar path and we felt a real kinship with them.

We drove to San Marcos on Sunday afternoon after the conference to take Julie out for a Valentine’s dinner (since it was a bit far for Derek to do the honors). We got to see her newest living situation, chat with some of her colleagues and friends at PT school (where they were studying), and had a nice dinner together before returning to Wendy Turney’s B and B.  We feel so blessed by every opportunity to hang with our kids.

Valentine’s Day was full of love.  :)  It started with a breakfast reunion with our longest mentoring couple, John and Grace Tebay.  How we treasure time with these saints!  Now in their late seventies, they continue to teach us how to live fully surrendered lives for Him.  Their lives are so winsome:  full, content, purposeful, making a difference.  What gifts they are to us!  Breakfast passed all too quickly—and then it was time for lunch, with more Tebays.  This time we met up with their youngest son, David, and his wife, Carrie.  David is the senior pastor of Calvary Church of Placentia—the church his father pastored for 50 years—and is also one of our CBS family camp speakers.  It was great to catch up with them and to get set for our evening at their church.

Speaking that night at their Valentine’s Couples’ Night Out was an incredible gift to us.  It has been years since we were in that church which was the site of many significant moments in our family history.  Paul was commissioned into ministry at Calvary Church of Placentia in 1972 by Pastor John and the elders.  His father’s memorial service was held there in 1983.  His sister Beth’s wedding happened there in 1984.  It was an evening full of nostalgia and reminders of God’s faithfulness to us through the years.  Many of those in attendance were long time friends and it was so heartening to see them continuing their journey towards the heart of God.  There were three generations of Tebays there, as David and Carrie’s children were part of the serving team.

There were also three generations of Brushwylers there, and that was one of the highlights of the evening for us.  Pam Brushwyler Curlee served on the kitchen staff at CBS in the mid-80’s, and she was “in charge” of the dinner for this Valentine’s event.  We were thrilled to meet her husband and two children and to see her parents, Gordon and Carol.  Pam took the time to let us know how shaping her summers at CBS had been for her spiritual growth, which was very humbling for us to hear.  It was a night full of gifts to our souls.  Another CBS couple, Herb and Karen Huitt, were also there. They are such tributes to the blessings of perseverance even when things don’t go exactly as you’ve envisioned them.  We’ve traveled many roads with Herb and Karen over the years, and God’s faithfulness again is the theme of our friendship with them.

It was a great night.

Our late night was great too as we strategically drove to Santa Clarita during non-traffic hours (if there is such a time in SoCal!) and spent the night with our close friends, David and Cherylyn Hegg.  We’re always inspired by them; we love their hearts and feel very in sync with them as ministry partners, parents of adult children, and grandparents.  We talked too late for ones our age, but it was well worth a slightly higher level of fatigue the next day.  After a great early morning breakfast, we hit the road northbound to “Brandon-land,” aka Sacramento.

At the Calvary Church Valentine’s Couples Dinner. John and Grace Tebay, Herb and Karen Huitt, and David and Carrie Tebay sat with us.

Of course we love being with Gabe and Kari, but we all know that they don’t change much in a month, so our focus of course is the rapidly changing one, Brandon.  At five months, he’s full of smiles and curiosity.  He still has met no stranger.  He’s learning to use his vocal chords and is discovering that he can move to get what he wants.  The miracle of birth and growth amazes us anew as we watched this little guy develop.

Five-month-old Brandon has no trouble sporting a toothless grin.  :)

Way too soon after arriving in Sacramento, we “went to work.”  We spoke at BOSS Remix that night, wrapping up their annual series on “God Loves Sex” and were honored to do so.  We’re humbled to partner with Gabe and Kari in that vital ministry and love rubbing shoulders with their students.  So many of them are hearing for the first time about God’s design for their sexuality, and their hunger for truth is refreshing.  We followed the evening meeting with late night burritos around Gabe and Kari’s kitchen table, squeezing all we could out of our short but wonderful visit.

Students at Remix listen intently to our talk on God’s design for sexuality.

Kari takes a break from the book table to mug with one of her “girls.”

Early Wednesday morning, Feb. 16, we headed to north Sacramento for breakfast with some of our best friends, Ray and Carol Johnston, before speaking to a moms group at Bridgeway Church.  It’s always so much fun to speak to such groups as it’s so unusual for a man to address them. Paul’s perspective is always appreciated and it was a very positive morning.

I’m not sure who does our scheduling :) but we had to be in San Luis Obispo by 6:30 that night for a 7 p.m. speaking engagement, so with only a brief stop in south Sacramento to give Brandon another hug and kiss, we zipped off to SLO.  What a beautiful drive!  The rains had greened the hillsides and bright blue skies dotted with puffy white cumulus clouds filled the backdrop.  We really did enjoy the journey.

Our evening meeting was at Grace Church, whose family pastor, Ken Peet, invited us to speak to parents and teens on God’s design for sexual purity.  The turnout was huge and the attentiveness of the audience was spectacular.  It was a great evening and according to Ken has spawned many good interactions since.  What fun for us to go back to Lisa and Julie’s old stomping grounds!  In spite of a very short stay, we managed to have bbq tri-tips at Firestones and frozen yogurt at Bali’s.  :)  We also had a wonderful visit wit Jan and H.A. Northington, who graciously provided a place for us to stay that night.

The students and their parents are listing qualities they think will be important in a mate.

We were up early (there is a theme) and off to Pismo Beach for a consulting meeting before continuing south all the way to San Diego, stopping at San Marcos en route to pick up Julie for a night at the theater.  A true highlight of our trip was going to see “The Wizard of Oz” on stage that night.  Philip Northington, a long time friend who grew up as a family camper and now is part of the cast of this traveling show, invited us to be his guests and we had a lovely evening.  Since Phil didn’t perform that night, he got to sit with us and share his insider tips on the show.  It was really fun to be with him.

My mom, Julie, and Phil at the theater for a great stage production of “The Wizard of Oz”

We were on the move again Friday (shocking!) from San Diego back to Orange County for a family conference at The Rock in Yorba Linda.  By now it really was “If it’s Friday we must be in Orange County . . .” on this a-different-city-almost-every-day tour!!!  This conference was arranged by Brent and Melissa Slezak, a sweet family who attend CBS family camp.   Friday night was another teen-parent evening dealing with issues of purity and working together as families towards that end.  It was a really good evening and we were very impressed with the mature behavior of the teens and the receptivity of all.  The next morning, we were back at the church to do a parenting seminar, and that also went very well.  Many of the couples in attendance are CBS family campers who look very different “dressed” for proper society.  We took this photo as proof that their wardrobe does include more than shorts, bathing suits, and flip flops.  :)  We loved being with them at the half-way mark between family camps.

Families at “The Rock” who also attend family camp at CBS were very supportive of the parenting seminar.

After reconnecting with another set of treasured mentors in our lives, Bob and Carol Kraning, and visiting with Paul’s sister Carol and her family in Brea, we went back to Wendy Turney’s for the final night in SoCal.  Sunday morning we attended Mariners Church with friends.  It was a treat to introduce two very special couples to one another.  They both attend Mariners, but would likely have never met each other, given the size of the church.  Both couples are really close friends of our Lisa’s (and ours!) and we think they’ll enjoy each other.  The time at church and at our last Mexican lunch for awhile was delightful.

Colin and Heather Vataha (and baby Laila)—transplants from New England to Huntington Beach—and Calen and Amber Offield (and Mom Wendy) joined us at Mariners for church and then lunch on our final day in SoCal.

Back to Wendy Turney’s to pack and fly home.  This picture of me and Wendy by the blooming lemon tree proves that our location is not in Boston.  With solar batteries recharged and hearts full and overflowing with gratitude for safe travels (over 1500 miles driving) and great experiences in six different cities and venues, we jetted up to San Francisco for one last treat before returning to Boston.

Wendy’s hospitality was over the top, making us feel very, very loved.

Our final treat was having dinner with our dearest friends, John and Marilyn Nugent.  Now residents of San Francisco, they zipped over to the airport to take advantage of our three-hour layover.  Over a leisurely dinner, we caught up on what God is doing in each of our lives and added more ballast to our cherished friendship.  It was the perfect ending to a very satisfying and successful trip.

Outside the SF airport, we grab some moments with our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent.

And so the sun sets on a fabulous trip.  And it’s back to the snow piles . . . but not for long!

January has run out of days

As the snow falls steadily outside our warm house, adding another 20 or so inches on top of the 3' already on the ground, we are thrilled to be “figures in a snow globe” here rather than enjoying warm weather and just reading about yet another wintry blast hitting  New England.  It is true: we love snow—and hopefully have enough pleasure in it to counterbalance the unwelcome reception this snow is getting from the majority of people in these parts.  Not that we’re unsympathetic or unaware of the hardship this poses to many, but we can either be sad, mad, or glad about it and it won’t change the reality that we can’t control the weather!  That’s probably a good reminder to the many who pompously believe we are in charge!

Backing up a bit, I did miss the big storm of Jan 11–13 (but Paul didn’t! And yes, he’s done lots of hand shoveling!!) as I scooted out of town to surprise Lisa on her 28th birthday.  It was so much fun because it was a total surprise, thanks to one of Lisa’s housemates, Annie, who picked me up in Charlottesville and delivered me to their house literally 5 minutes before Lisa got home from work.  I actually almost gave her a heart attack when she walked in since I was lurking in the darkened hallway outside her bedroom, attempting to position myself in a place that would have made for a happy surprise rather than a terrifying moment of her thinking an intruder was hunched in front of her door.  She screamed, loud enough to waken the dead—or at least to make her upstairs housemates think  she was being attacked—and in the end, we all laughed ’til our sides ached and Lisa just kept repeating, “I can’t believe you’re here!”  Great (and slightly terrifying) memories.

I had the privilege of spending 2.5 days shadowing her world and I loved every minute of it.  I got to meet her athletes, her colleagues, hang with her housemates, watch her team play (and beat Drexel women in OT).  We got to do a bit of after Christmas shopping, ate some great meals, and did a few runs together (my half-marathon Feb. 27 is looming.)  We test-drove the car she was considering buying and we stayed up late every night, chatting with her housemates, on subjects trivial to life-changing.  It was wonderful in every way—and all too quickly was over.  

Lisa’s  birthday dinner of sushi at “Beyond,” a great restaurant in Harrisonburg.
Back to Boston I flew Friday night in time for Saturday’s all-day marriage conference at Community Chapel in Nashua, NH.  Pastored by Geoff DeFranca, this second annual conference is an expression of where his heart beats.  Geoff has a vision for building into marriages and families in his congregation, so the Saturday conference was flanked by sermons from the pulpit on the same subject.  We are growing to love this church and loved partnering with them for the second January in a row.

We went straight from Nashua to Boxborough, NH, for the sixth annual Mid-Winter Family Getaway.  Sixteen families chose to spend the Martin Luther King Jr. three-day weekend this way and none regretted doing so.  The weekend is low program and high family fun time in a pool-centered way.  Each morning and each night, families worshiped together led by Brian Dietz, and then had devotions together, led by Paul.  We love this weekend because it affords families the opportunity to do life together, from playing to praying.  It was really encouraging for us to see the older children (there were bonafide teenagers attending) playing with and mentoring the younger ones (all the way down to 2-year-olds.)  

The low point of the weekend for all was the Jets-Pats game Sunday afternoon.  What a time for the team to not show up.  It was really hard to see our guys not play their game, especially because it fed the verbal vitriol of the other team.  Tough loss.  But fortunately, in the scope of life, it’s just a game.  Really . . . it is.

The families at the Mid-Winter Getaway worship together under the direction of Brian Dietz.

Home for a couple of days, we counseled for a full day and caught up on life a bit.  We shared some great meals with our houseguests, Al and Bonnie Magill, whose treatments at Mass General were disrupted by equipment failure, extending their stay until the end of January.  

And then I left town again.  :)  Uncannily, I left just before another big storm hit—and I had to settle for reports from first-hand witnesses, which included Paul.  I joined our three daughters and Brandon in San Diego for a wedding prep weekend and we had a great and productive time.  Joined by our very dear friend Wendy Turney on Friday, we narrowed the search for the wedding dress to a few, and joined by another very dear Wendy (Offield) on Saturday, we made the purchase.  We also packed in a visit to the wedding venue, Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, where we were joined by several of the girls’ cousins, and we bought the bridesmaids’ dresses.  All the while, Brandon was proving his worthy appointment as the only male allowed on this girls-only soiree...He couldn’t have been easier.  And he was the only thing that rivaled the center-stage attention focused on the bride-to-be, who was more than happy to share the spotlight with him.

Brandon was happily allowed to crash the girls-only wedding shopping trip.

Three sisters and a baby—the smiles tell it all!

Our home base for this very special weekend was in San Diego at my parents’ new condo, so an added delight was having Brandon meet his maternal great-grandparents and several aunts, uncles, and cousins.  A Sunday afternoon gathering was hosted by my sister Lucy, providing a great place for mingling and eating.

Great Grandma Collins has a happy moment with Brandon, who thinks she’s very funny.

Getting ready to go to the airport, we pose for a rare photo of four generations.

I returned home late on Tuesday night, Jan. 25,and  we counseled all day Wednesday—and prepared for another storm.  As the snow fell,  we shared our last night with Al and Bonnie, as he had graduated from the treatment program that day.  We got them underway Thursday, the 27th around noon, sending them off with thanksgiving for a great almost three months together and trusting that the proton radiation treatment was effective.  We look forward to reconnecting with them in the months and years to come.
Al and Bonnie are packed and ready to return to upstate New York, where they’re supposed to have lots of snow!

Before we flew to Georgia on Friday, the 28th, we had the joy of meeting up with a very long time friend who serves as the assistant head coach for the FSU (Florida State University) women’s basketball team.  Cori Close grew up coming to Campus by the Sea with her family and has consistently and faithfully followed Christ throughout her life.  Still single (but very open to marriage!), she has been used by God to encourage and mentor countless women, on and off the basketball court.  Cori came to town with her team to take on the BC women, and we not only had a great visit with her before the game, but we got to see her in action as she helped coach her team to a win over the Eagles.  It was really fun to be there, and it’s always good to see the team you’re rooting for win,  but that was nothing compared to the joy of reconnecting with this quality, godly young woman.  It makes us smile to think of the fortunate girls who are being coached by her — for what it means for them as basketball players, and even more for what it means for their lives long beyond the court. 

We flew to Rome for the weekend.  Rome, Georgia, that is.  :)  Our second trip to those parts in four months, we returned to speak for a marriage conference hosted by First Presbyterian Church.  Their family pastor, Tommy Overton, graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary around 2000 and our connections were minimal then.  Over a year ago, our dear friends and ministry partners, Nate and Jeannie King, moved into the same neighborhood as the Overtons in Rome and eventually made the “we know the Friesens” connection.  That planted the seeds for our speaking at this conference.

We’ve just returned from that conference and we’re still a bit floaty.  It was just that kind of a weekend.  A sold-out crowd (with twice as many coupes as they had originally booked for), great response, great interaction, beautiful place, perfect weather, and significant “hand of God” insights/moments.  We really felt met by God.

The conference planning committee

Additionally, it was just a gift to hang out with Nate and Jeannie and their precious little crew of four.  We’re never far from remembering what a privilege it is to journey through life with families like these, whose lives are so focused on becoming all God wants them to be.  Nate and Jeannie are being used by God to make such a difference in their children’s school, several churches, and a few ministries, all with the purpose of strengthening marriages and families.  We’re loving seeing what God is doing in their lives!

After the conference ended, we visited the Butterfly Garden within Callaway Gardens (which is where the getaway was held) with Nate and Jeannie.
And now we’re home, shockingly for just over a week.  Our H.I.M.-sponsored parenting conference this weekend, featuring Gary Thomas, will keep us busy the balance of this week, and then we head back to California on February 10.  

On the family front, Kari and Gabe are experiencing the small scale trauma of Brandon’s first cold.  Fortunately, no one is worried that he’s at risk of “failing to thrive”—all 18-plus pounds of him!  He marked his five-month birthday on Saturday and is starting to sit up and to “talk”, sometimes at an irritating decibel level.  They’re loving being parents and are learning to juggle the family/work balance.

Lisa bought a car.  After much deliberation and a lot of research (aided by our dear, stewardship-driven friend Marilyn), she drove out of the lot last night in a new Hyundai Elantra.  She is beyond excited and thankful for this means of transportation and symbol of adulthood.  She hopes to be driving it 10 years from now.

And Julie is knocking out PT school.  Not that she’s counting, but only 42 days remain in this four-days-a-week trimester.  It’s the last highly academic (and intensely demanding) one of the course.  Derek and wedding plans are the other two time fillers in her life.  We are really proud of the perseverance she is demonstrating as she moves towards completing her doctor of physical therapy.

It’s been such a joy for me to be with all of the girls this month.  We just really like being together and those times are fewer and farther between.  We don’t take any of these moments for granted.
The final pictures need no explanation.  The first was taken on our back porch, which hasn’t been cleared of snow this month, so the 3-foot-deep untouched bank of snow was too tempting.  Someone had to do it—and in the absence of the three snow angels who grew up in this home, their father took the plunge.  There are some benefits to having this much snow.  :)