August has flown by, which is consistent with the beat of the whole summer. When the family camp program was canceled at CBS back in late December, we had no idea what the summer of 2017 would look like. We weren’t concerned that we’d be twiddling our thumbs, quite honestly, but we couldn’t have imagined then the opportunities that have unfolded for us. “Only God.” Indisputable.
As we make our way back to Africa today, I’m at least slightly amused by the reality of our last week: on Sunday, April 30, we returned to Boston from South Africa; on Wednesday, May 3rd, we flew to California for a conference; on Sunday, May 7th, we flew back to Boston; and on Monday, May 8th, we left Boston for Uganda. Now . . . some would rightfully ask, “Who made a schedule like that?”
If “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .” is related to a house decked in outdoor lights, a beautifully decorated tree indoors, and stockings “hung by the chimney with care,” we’re off. Way off. Thankful to have just gotten all pumpkins processed and the orange and rust decorations put away . . .
One last sunrise at Campus by the Sea over Labor Day Weekend,
taken as Lisa and I hiked the loop on our final day at camp.
Hanging out with David Laflin (the illusionist) and the Wong family,
we had some very fun moments on giant swings, ropes courses, and zip lines.
How could you not love this weekend?
The “Birdsongs” did a phenomenal job leading us in worship
before each of the four teaching sessions.
|The stillness of the water is found only early in the day, prior to campers discovering the four inflatable “blobs” anchored in this lake.|
A special dinner out with the Wongs in honor of Paul’s birthday.
|Happy birthday, Papa and now 6-year-old Brandon!|
|Paul, Lisa, and I arrive to serve the Labor Day Family Camp.|
Our terrific program staff served so well,
diving right in to do whatever needed to be done.
Worship was led by Robert Kovacs, Claire Peister, and Seth Heinz—and was appreciated by all.
|A large group of kids second grade and under gathered at the front of the Main Deck each morning for the always-favorite devotions created and led by Paul.|
|One last chorus of “We love you campers, oh yes we do . . .” as the final family camp group departs on the Catalina Express.|
|An early morning walk on the beach, before the marine layer burned off (which it later did.)|
|A little sand castle we built in our spare time . . . or at least, that we stopped to admire at the end of our walk. :)|
|Dick and Becky Molenhouse spent a day with us and we joyfully caught up on one another’s lives.|
|With the “boys of summer” on his back,|
Nathan visits the pigs at the farm.
|Snuggle time (briefly) with Mama.|
Go Sox!! Even Rachel is being trained right. :)
Oh, and then there’s our most favorite team: Go Pats!!
|Dick and Nancy Beggs, from Idyllwild, California, joined us for a night of non-stop talking, a few tears, and a lot of laughter.|
|Berea family campers Gary and Kim Walker, Skip and Avonne Jarvis, Dennis and Heidi Lommen, and not pictured is the Lommens’ daughter Jenny and her husband, Jed. A very special group of friends.|
The Jarvis family . . . Skip and Avonne and their four great kids. We shared a 7:30 am breakfast together and had coherent, meaningful conversation with these set-apart young people. So encouraging!!
Sunset over the lake in Wakefield, Massachusetts.
|Our first program staff photo, taken during orientation week.|
|The night of our last family camp banquet, all dressed up and ready to go.|
|Brandon and Ana are in love with their new little/big brother Micah James.|
|The program staff are teaching the new group of campers the memory verse song, which Paul and Lyss Gandy “wrote.” They set 1 Peter 3:15 to music and it tops the charts as one of the best memory verse songs written for CBS ever.|
|Claire Peister, Lyss and Paul Gandy, and Joe Yardley brought down the roof when they performed as a quartet.|
|Our 1st annual "4th of July Old Fashioned Picnic and Games” was held on Sat. July 2 and fun was truly had by all. Pictured here is one of the four teams that competed against one another.|
|Apparently this team won 1st place—at least in this popular “toss the cheese puff onto the shower-cap-smothered-in-shaving-cream” event.|
|The annual game show—this year named “The 2016 Gallagher’s Games”—was a huge hit and this dedicated, hard-working team made it look easy week after week. Such a great night of laughter, friendly competition, and intergenerational craziness.|
|The 4th annual “Ladies Only” tea was held one Saturday afternoon for the staff women. Especially lovely is leaving our staff shirts behind and celebrating the bond of women.|
|The full moon loop hike is another staff-only hike, and though only 11 took advantage of this opportunity this summer, it was one of the best hikes ever. The clear, bright night made flashlights unnecessary . . . and a few bison made it interesting.|
|Off this intrepid group goes to enjoy the island in this unique way.|
|Successfully to the top of Lone Tree, sweaty but smiling. The full-sun morning added challenge to the hike.|
|Taylor Tebay and Ryan Beiter share a moment before Ryan boards the boat to return to the mainland.|
|This is just part of what they set up in our honor.|
|This is the crew that orchestrated the tribute given in our honor at the banquet for family camp 4. Such precious friends/family.|
|Campers surround the “baptismees” to hear the proclamations of faith prior to them entering the waters.|
“Great is Thy Faithfulness!!!Morning by morning new mercies I see.All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”
|The facilitating team for our workshops; on the far right are Dave and Diane Watts, our faithful book table handlers.|
They didn’t miss a trick when it came to decorating for this conference.
The Fenway Franks were delicious and made us feel right at home.
Imagine finding all these Red Sox fans in the high desert east of LA??
|Short but sweet time with the kids prior to jetting back to Boston on those beloved red-eye flights.|
Updates will be coming, but for now, thanks for your prayers and resources that have gotten us here. We want to be used by God to make a difference . . . on Tuesday, as well as every other day of the week.
|We are so thankful for Nate (executive director of Berea) and Heidi Parks to whom we have passed the mantle of family camp.|
|What a joy to perform the marriage of Paul and Alyssa Gandy in Newport, VT.|
|Two “half staffs” combined to make a powerhouse “whole staff” at Berea. This is the week one staff . . .|
|. . . and this is the week two staff.|
|Staffer Erik Anderson leads his group of guys. During the second camp, we had 64 students 4th grade and below . . . and 51 of them were boys.|
|Kelsey O’Keeffe, serving for the sixth summer at Berea, finds a creative place for her high school girls’ small group time.|
|One of the 14 baptisms in Newfound Lake . . .|
. . . with some of the witnesses celebrating this meaningful declaration.
|Jumping into frigid water at Sculptured Rocks|
provided an afternoon of fun.
|Daily hikes along the lake front renewed our minds and worked our bodies. Mark was joined by several other staff guys after this photo was snapped.|
|Howard Clark, who was our speaker for both camps, holds court with the staff during a riveting Question and Answer session.|
|Our final staff photo after the week two banquet. Parting is such sweet sorrow.|
|Standing in line for the zip line at SpringHill camp with the Wong family. We loved it!|
|SpringHill is a beautiful place!!|
|To celebrate the end of family camp and Paul’s upcoming birthday, the Wongs took us to “Black Rock Steak House” for dinner and it was great!|
|Brunch at the Wongs': great food, but greater company.|
|Our niece, Heidi Rottschafer Lemmerhirt, and her 3 came for a visit that was enjoyed by all.|
|Eric and Stacey Rauch stand with us before we spoke for the couples event.|
|With temps reaching 106 degrees, it was really refreshing to jump in their pool.|
|The grand finale: strawberry cream pie a la Kari.|
|Standing in front of Lisa’s new rental at CBU!|
The Labor Day Family Camp program staff team . . . a stellar group!
|A full camp enjoys worship led by Christian Hushaw, Alea Peister, and Seth Heinz.|
|Dancing under the lights and the stars. Very, very cool.|
|Late-night staff gathering around Paul’s cookies and stories of engagements. Great bonding time.|
|David and Cherylyn Hegg served as our resource couple for the weekend. We always love spending time with them.|
|What a perfect ending to a wonderful visit with my mom!|
|The sun sets on another summer at Campus by the Sea.|
|The entire staff team: facilities, program, and year-round staff.|
|The program staff.|
|The “staff only” annual shore hike . . . pausing at Frog Rock.|
|For the first time in a long while, the 4th of July fell on Saturday,|
so we rented the "Blanche W” and took the staff in to watch the fireworks in Avalon Harbor, followed by a flying fish tour. Such a fun night!
|Every Saturday night the staff enjoyed Paul’s freshly baked|
chocolate chip cookies—much to their delight.
|The annual tea party for staff women was delightful.|
|In a most unusual twist, Family Camp 5 arrived in RAIN, and in order to keep our campers as dry as possible, the our staff cheerfully got drenched.|
|The annual staff-only hike to Lone Tree took place during Family Camp 5,|
and though it didn’t draw a large crowd, those who went had a great time.
|The “Staff Coffeehouse” was resurrected this summer, featuring some great acts as well as some great desserts. “Pavlova” a la Vonny was the biggest hit.|
|Into town for our “staff appreciation dinner” to celebrate our seven weeks of serving together.|
|Dave and Vonny were our “right hand people” serving as the “deans” of the staff cove,|
Little Gallagher’s, as well as leading the college group.
Vonny also directed the elementary program. So thankful for them!
|The host and hostess of “Go For the Glory” . . . stylin’!!|
The “fam” minus Gabe, who had returned to the mainland to lead
the college missions trip from his church.
|Nathan helps Papa ring the bell for announcements.|
A bunch of Friesens, Herbsts, Rottschafers, Clarks, Oertlis, Millers, and Stucks.
So fun to have them all at camp!
|The original 3: Kari, Julie, and Lisa.|
|Our first day in Mbale, visiting the CURE Children’s Hospital.|
|Auntie Lisa and Brandon visit a sweet mama and her baby.|
|Gabe, Kari, and Ana went from bed to bed, talking and praying with the mamas.|
|Our day trip to Sipi Falls was wonderful and all made the hike|
except Derek, who was nursing a knee injury.
|Daily walks in the neighborhood gave us exercise and insights into the life and culture of Mbale.|
|The JENGA crew who spent the day with us being trained in Biblical marriage.|
|Chiko II pays us a visit during our outdoor breakfast.|
|The “cows come home” after a day of grazing.|
|We celebrated Julie’s 30th a bit early at the Endiro Coffee Shop.|
|After a very long and bumpy 8-hour drive, a very happy crew arrives at Bwana Tembo,|
our lodging for our safari.
|Brandon was enthralled with every sighting, and was especially captivated by this giraffe that followed us for awhile.|
|On the Nile River cruise, we enjoyed watching these elephants frolic in the water.|
|We think it’s a friendly smile...|
|With Murchison Falls in the background, we get a family shot on the Nile.|
|What all good mates do: carefully groom their spouse.|
|Continuing our family tradition, we circled up to pray before parting ways.|
|We spent a day training these local pastors in marriage ministry.|
|Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, who lead the fellowship at Pearl Haven Christian Center, attended the couples’ date night dinner.|
|We spoke at the Pastor’s Prayer Breakfast during the Easter Convention.|
|We also spoke to the whole Easter Convention after the prayer breakfast.|
|Nathan and his good friend Faruke, whose father John is the groundskeeper for the Johnsons. Faruke is a wonderful, motivated young man who will be sorely missed|
when the Johnsons return to the States this summer.
|The “Worth It” speaking team — such a great group!!! So thankful for them.|
|Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield hosted our annual “Worth It” conference|
and the house was packed.
|A favorite destination . . .|
|. . . and this is why! Quite mesmerizing to watch these turtles and koi.|
|Barry and Saundra Galloway shepherd the flock at Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard|
and are impossible not to love.
|Lisa, Head Coach Cori Close, and I get a photo prior to the Women’s Basketball Banquet.|
|Sweet time with Liz Aleman and Julie and Nathan Aleman|
in San Francisco soon after we landed in California.
|Early morning breakfast with Drew and Dana Macrae for our annual “marital check-up."|
|Lunch with Ross Macrae and his fiancée Caitlyn|
before heading to Golden Hills Community Church for the evening.
|Johnie and Becky Moore were such gracious hosts at GHCC.|
|The CBS contingent at the dessert night . . . How we love these families!|
|My mom was pretty thrilled to have Danny Woodhead and Benjamin Watson|
as her dinner dates at the PAO conference.
|David and Cherylyn Hegg are dear friends and ministry partners.|
We loved having them with us for the marriage retreat!
|Doug Macrae presents David Hegg with a signed Brady jersey . . . |
just what every Seahawks’ fan wants. :)
|The newlywed dinner was well-attended and spawned some lively discussion.|
|Part of the H.I.M. team that worked the weekend. So grateful for each one of these servants!|
|Kelly Plosker invested hours in making sure everyone felt welcomed|
and cared for in the ballroom by her creative decorating.
“Our first retreat and our mutual expectation for a clearer picture of God’s design for marriage was exceedingly met! Thank you!”
“Thanks for another Christ-centered weekend and for giving us additional tools/resources to grow our marriage and further understand God’s plan for marriage.”
“Thank you for this experience. It has been life-changing for us and our marriage.”
|Engagement Matters attendees March 14-15, 2015|
|The serving team: Melanie Bilazarian and Cathy and Carl Blatchley.|
"I now have many tools to work on bettering my relationship and having a successful marriage.”
“I loved the tie back to scripture and the examples and anecdotes were good for getting a point across. I also appreciated the resources available and recommended.”
“Everything was explained so well and in such an engaging way. Everyone was so approachable for questions. I loved it all. Very well done.”
“It opened up many avenues of discussion, many topics covered that we haven’t thought through.”
|Our first day at the CURE Hospital . . . deeply moving.|
|The Amish farm just across the street from Rachel's home . . . freeze drying the clothes. Love it!|
|Liz Lane, Rachel Esh, and Rachel King, celebrating the success of the scrapbooking conference.|
|The ladies who attended: an eclectic but very congenial group which quickly bonded during the weekend. All had in common their love for Rachel King and her beautiful shop.|
|Standing with sisters Pam and Wendy and their wonderful Mom "Gami Jo" Baker|
the morning after the funeral.
|Benjamin and Kirsten Watson ate dinner with us. Can you see the glow on my mom's face?|
|Thomas (an ex-Pat) and Margaret Austin (and Baby Austin, due in early April) loved being introduced to Torrey Pines State Beach.|
|Don (also an ex-Pat) and Yannette Davis run the football conference and are such precious friends, in addition to being professional colleagues. God is using them in big ways.|
|Major David Kelly, Divisional Commander of the Massachusetts Division of the Salvation Army, and his wife, Naomi, hosted the marriage conference for their team and were wonderful to work with.|
|Nathan, lighting up the continent of Africa with his engaging smile and outgoing personality.|
|Auntie LeeLee makes hiking all the more fun for Brandon.|
|Though Ana appears to be not too sure about hiking, everyone else had a blast.|
|Sunset from Coronado Beach, California. We never grow tired of this beauty.|
|A sweet but short visit with my parents reinforced the goodness of|
being with ones who truly have hearts of gratitude.
|On the family farm in Pixley for Thanksgiving Day, we were with four of the five original Friesen siblings and some of their progeny. |
It was easy to reflect on our heritage with such gratitude for the values Paul's parents instilled in their family.
|Leaving Tampa on the first day of the cruise, we had no idea how many delights|
the Lord had in store for us on this cruise!
|Standing with Pastor Khaled Ghobrial and his wife, Manal,|
after speaking on family and marriage to their congregation.
|UCLA Head Women's Basketball Coach, Cori Close, with me and her parents, Don and Pat Close, and her sister Amity Wicks,|
in Pauley Pavillion following the UCLA win over OK. GREAT family.
|One last walk on the beach (Siesta Beach near Sarasota, Florida) before returning to Boston.|
It feels like I am writing from within a nightmare. We are working through the loss of my dear mother-in-law, and figuring out how we will care for my sweet father-in-law. These have been dark days, to say the least.
This afternoon my father died suddenly at his home in New Hampshire. I am on my way there now to be with my sisters and my mother. I have not yet told my children, and my sisters have not yet told my mother. Please pray for each of these situations, as they will be profoundly difficult conversations.
I want each of you to know how grateful we are for your love and support this last week. You have each pressed love into us and have been a source of strength and comfort.
I have been listening to a lot of music this week. A song that I have come to love, "You Are Good" by Nichole Nordeman has these beautiful lyrics:
When it's dark and it's cold and I can't feel my soul, You are so good
When the world is gone gray and the rain's here to stay You are still good
So with every breath I take in I'll tell You I am grateful again
And the storm may swell, even then IT IS WELL and you are good.
It is well and God is good.
|Nathan at 2 months . . .|
|. . . and at 4 months.|
|Brandon (3 years) and Ana (4 weeks)|
This weekend God really impressed upon me how critical it is that I have an intimate relationship with him so that I can stand firm—fully dependent on Him. Having the Friesens, Austins, and Hamptons there was also so big because of the wisdom they gave us and the example they set for us. This weekend was such a blessing!
I thought the topic was great and the speakers did a really amazing job of communicating it to us. Relationship advice is something that people my age really crave, and the Friesens are probably the best people I’ve had advice from because they have 37 years’ experience in a godly marriage. They also made a point of sharing that their marriage wasn’t perfect, which was also refreshing to hear because it means that it is possible for others like me to work through challenges in my relationship.
Yes, the topic of relationships is very applicable to our lives as we seek to grow closer to God and form godly relationships with both members of the same and opposite gender. The speakers were outstanding! They were well-spoken, easy to understand, and fully of godly wisdom and advice. They did a great job showing the contrast between the way men and women think. I definitely learned a lot and will take the information forward with me. I better understand how God created us to be in relationships.
|Directly behind this photo of the cadets is West Point.|
|Tom and Cheri Austin are the directors of Officers Christian Fellowship at West Point. |
We march to the same drumbeat and drummer.
|Our drive home was full of this kind of scenery. We wouldn't have minded traffic!|
|Here we are with Dan and Lita Schlueter.|
|A very happy reunion with Vita and Helen.|
|Dear friends Greg and Sossi Haroutunian at the Armenian festival.|
|Representing the Red Sox in Mbale!|
|Brandon and Ana are decked out for Halloween. Looks like the pirate has a little captive.|
|Julie and Nathan ready to rock and roll.|
|Now 3 months old, Nathan continues to change daily.|
|And so does Ana, now 4 weeks old.|
|Allan Hearl welcomes the 55-plus crowd to the launch of this new ministry outreach at Bayside.|
|Gabe, Kari, and Brandon enjoy the beauty of Ventura Beach.|
|The beautiful snack table reflected the care and beauty of all aspects of the women's conference|
at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.
|Most of the committee that made the women's conference happen—a great group of ladies!|
|My remarkable mom at 83, following two surgeries in the last two months. I told her she'd set the bar at a level I hope to never have to reach! What an amazing woman she is. So thankful for her.|
|Most of the "Worth It" staff, gathered at day's end to thank the Lord for meeting us.|
|Retired NFL player Don Davis poses with a group of eager students at the "Worth It" conference.|
"There were several times throughout the day that someone said something and immediately I would think, 'I came here to hear that. That was meant for me! It's just crazy and wonderful." (16-year-old female)
"The most beneficial part of the day was that I'm worth the wait!"
"Great message. My mom brought me and, to be honest, I didn't want to come. I AM SO GLAD THAT I DID!" (13-year-old female)
"It was an awesome day. Great food, fantastic speakers who really related to us students . . . I will definitely come again!"
"Overall, all 8 kids that came really liked it and said they loved the speakers and learned a lot and wanted to bring others next year! The girls said, "It was great to hear everyone's stories about making mistakes so that we know not to follow in that same path, but we really liked hearing Lisa talking about doing it the right way!" (Go Lisa!) They also LOVED hearing Adam talk about how he valued his wife so much before they were married and that is proof that she can trust him to value her and be faithful forever. Another quote they loved was from Jillian about, "You don't have to worry about attracting all the guys. You will attract the one that God has planned for you.'"
|Lisa and Jillian and I delight in the Public Garden's blooming tulips.|
|The leadership team for Mom2Mom at Bridgeway Church|
is doing a fantastic job of serving their young moms.
|Sierra Bible Church's leadership team, headed by Wayne Hoag (standing right next to me) are vitally impacting the Truckee community for Christ.|
|Randy and Joy Hitchcock (and their sons Chad and Cooper and dog Blizzard)|
were very caring hosts for our Truckee ministry tour.
|The Public Gardens at sunset on Easter Sunday Eve . . .|
Mama Duck and her ducklings in their own Easter Parade.
|Easter Sunday dinner . . . delightful time with friends, yummy food, great fellowship,|
and the resurrection. Can't improve on that!
"This weekend has deepened our understanding and strengthened the foundation of our relationship, and also raised challenging questions for us to consider."
"It has helped us identify areas to work on and be aware of, helped us to think of positive changes we can make to strengthen our relationship, and to not be afraid to take as much time as is necessary to be sure and ready."
"The weekend was so positive. It has reinforced our decision to be married one day while also giving us a reality check and opening our eyes to safeguards, boundaries, and practical things we can do to help our relationship."
|We had a great group of couples for our April Engagement Matters weekend.|
|Well, apparently spring has sprung in Ventura,|
and Brandon doesn't seem to mind the chilly water. No nerve endings in kids!
|Sunrise over Avalon Harbor . . . His mercies are new every morning. . .|
|Most of the attendees of the Falmouth Baptist Church conference . . . a great group of folks!|
|Big Jim is in the middle of a few of our players at our Patriots couples' study.|
|The mother of the bride, Jenny, is one of my dearest friends.|
|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!|
|Gabriel and Jessika, Jerron and Danielle, Gabe and Kari, and Lamar and Kalyce drove from Sacramento to our marriage conference at Bethel Christian Church.|
|What fun to rock out to Danny's concert with Nathan and Julie Aleman and Liz.|
|Brandon, 25 months, still loves being on Papa's shoulders.|
|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. :)|
Cousins . . . celebrating the wonderfully God-honoring marriage of Mark Herbst and his bride Angie.
|Gabe and Brandon enjoyed the lively coastline during the ceremony.|
|Lisa and some of her FCA volunteers celebrate Easter together.|
|Engagement Matters was packed and inspiring.|
|Dan and Lois Frasier lead this group of teens through Letters to My Daughters using Paul's new discussion guide.|
|Kevin Munsey and his fiance Rawni flew out from California for Engagement Matters and we hosted them at our home.|
|Our engagement photo in March 1976. :)|
We waited a long time for it, but winter finally made an appearance in New England the first weekend of March. Barely. It squeaked in just as Danny and Rayna Oertli were flying in from Denver, Colorado, to lead worship at our H.I.M. Marriage Getaway in Newport, Rhode Island, and the snow added a festive touch to their arrival. Fortunately, it had no impact on our weekend conference, as the weather cleared out and warmed up by the time we launched on Friday, March 2.
We love this annual conference at the Viking Hotel in Newport. The setting is spectacular, the hotel service is top-shelf, and there always seems to be a spirit of anticipation that God will meet us in a big way. This year was no exception. Eighty-five couples were warmly welcomed by our smiling registration team first, and then by beautifully set tables as they entered the ballroom. Kelly Plosker gave the Macraes a break this year by taking over the decoration task and did a great job of setting the stage for a romantic getaway. We feel so blessed to have such a capable team around us, who take care of everything from the book table to the printing and everything in between.
The H.I.M. Board once again insisted that Paul and I speak for this conference. We resisted initially, but then submitted and considered it a great honor and privilege to speak to the hometown crowd. It's always more challenging to prepare to speak at "home" to people who know us well and have heard us many, many times. But God was with us and we felt met by Him. We especially enjoyed developing a talk on “Friendship in Marriage,” which at first blush sounds unromantic. But it's our growing conviction that maintaining friendship in marriage is a key to growing vitality and deepening love. Many couples who come to us for counseling complain that though they're committed to staying together, they really don't like each other any more. True friends don't say that about their relationship. We had fun working with the concept.
Besides our four plenary sessions, we had some great workshops offered and inspiring worship led by the Oertlis. We purposely leave Saturday afternoon free for couples to reconnect (which we feel is the greatest need for most couples on a getaway weekend), and the Lord provided bright sunny skies for those who ventured out. From the things we could control to the things we couldn't, all went swimmingly and we were encouraged to hear many affirming comments on the weekend experience. Here are a few of them:
"Thanks again to you and Paul for a great weekend. One of the takeaways was that we really need to understand God's word as written in the Bible more and to live according to His word. The weekend taught me that our 'instructions' on life according to God's plan are all there in the Bible."
"Thank you so much for putting together the weekend retreat. We got so much out of it; it is hard to adequately describe the impact that it had on us. Our marriage and our relationship with God is so much better for the time we spent in Newport. The speakers, the workshops, the worship—all were incredible! This was the first marriage retreat we have attended; you've set the bar awfully high!"
"Another wonderful weekend by Home Improvement Ministries. Thank you for investing in our lives and marriages. May God continue to bless your ministry."
The H.I.M. Board met Monday night, the 5th of March, and discussed strategies for increasing the impact of HIM. We continue to be so grateful for such a supportive group of men and women who invest greatly and sacrificially in this ministry. It is certainly an understatement that we couldn't do it without them.
After a couple of days of counseling, we packed our bags and flew to Detroit for several days of ministry with Ann Arbor Christian School. Our longtime friends Wai and Elaine Wong (who lived in Boston previously and were very involved with us 2000-2005) arranged for us to come to serve their school community. We had a blast! They put together a very diverse schedule for us, starting with an early morning parenting seminar Friday. The small crowd they expected multiplied and filled the library. Perhaps word got out that Paul Friesen's "breakfast biscuits" (aka his chocolate chip cookies) would be served. Whatever, it was a great start to a full couple of days. Next on the schedule was speaking for the school-wide chapel, and Paul's cookies were served there as part of the devotional. The Wong girls said that Uncle Paul was the best chapel speaker ever. :) Admittedly he had an unfair advantage with his world-famous cookies. :)
Chapel was followed by a delightful lunch at our niece, Heidi Rottschafer Lemmerhirt's home, with her husband, Dave, and children, Daniel and Anna. We loved being in their hospitable home and reconnecting with them. Next was a meeting with one of the pastors from Heidi and Dave's church who is developing a family ministries emphasis. Almost nothing gets our adrenaline going more than being part of a conversation focused on equipping and encouraging churches to address this "blind spot" in many of our churches today. We had a great, stimulating time with Tom and Ruth Ann Robertson.
We closed out the day with an evening marriage seminar at the school. The turn-out was great and our talks well-received. We were especially thrilled to have Joe and Lynn Forrester in the audience. They drove down from the Upper Peninsula (Cedarville) for the conference to put live faces with a relationship that began online just over a year ago.
The back story begins when an order for a case of
Letters to My Daughters
came in from Michigan. Paul didn't recognize the name of the customer, so he sent an email asking who they were and why they wanted a case of books. Joe wrote back:
Our organization typically does 50 gift bags for high school graduations. A recent graduate recommended your book. We obtained a copy. Read it and immediately decided we needed more copies. The book is so needed today and the way it was put together is outstanding. Thank you for all your insights. God bless you, Joe and Lynn
We couldn't wait to meet this couple! Both retired from the U.S. Navy and are fully engaged in serving the next generation where they are. They have already given out hundreds of copies of
and have a vision that every high school senior girl will get a copy of it in the years to come. It was truly a highlight of our weekend to spend some time with them. They’re Christ-followers, living missionally, and making a difference. They are tilling the soil to have us come to their area to do a marriage/family conference in 2013. What a privilege to partner with such "we're not gonna waste our life" folks. They wrote us after the weekend:
It was a very special educational experience for us. We certainly enjoyed meeting the Wongs and your niece and nephew.
We knew Virginia was going to be exceptional from her book. What we did not know was what a great team the two of you make.
Lynn and I discussed so many new ideas on the way home that we almost reached overload. The Lord knows our limits so we feel he will not give us anything we cannot handle.
We really liked the idea of putting together a series of seminars at Cedar Campus during the first week of June in 2013. Now we have to work out the local details and then we will get back to you with specific proposals.
May God see you safely home,
And that was Friday!!
Saturday started early as we met with the Forresters before the morning seminar on parenting. The whole morning went really well and we were truly honored to partner with the Wongs and their vision for their school community. We also enjoyed connecting with Wayne Sit, the headmaster of the school for the past 2.5 years, and were happily surprised to know that we were familiar to him since Boston and Park Street Church were home to him prior to his move to Ann Arbor. He was extremely supportive of our time there and sent us this kind note:
"Thank you for coming. We felt so blessed and grateful for your guidance and leadership this weekend. Many families at our school were thrilled with their time with you and Virginia." A return trip is in the works.
The rest of our weekend was spent hanging with several dear friends, along with the Wongs. The time passed too quickly and before we knew it, we were on a flight back to Boston, carrying with us many precious memories of a wonderful weekend. It was especially encouraging to “do life” with the Wongs, who are deeply committed to honoring the Lord in their marriage and their family. Their home was marked with Christlikeness and was refreshing to our souls.
Back home . . . briefly. Counseling, unpacking, speaking at a moms’ group at Bethany Gospel Chapel in Swansea, repacking . . . and then off to California to speak at Journey of Faith Church in El Segundo. This conference has been a long time coming, and we were so happy it came together. Our very longtime friends Gene and Teri Engle hosted us in their always-open home that Friday night and we enjoyed the evening with their family. The all-day Saturday marriage conference was held at the church, which was dry and warm while a ferocious rain storm swept through the area in the morning. Those who planned the conference had the brilliant foresight to provide a counterpart children's program which enable many young families to benefit from the day. We were especially touched by the entourage of Air Force couples who drove from Edwards AFB east of Lancaster to attend the conference. It would be hard to find a more responsive and receptive audience than we did there. Once again, we were aware that God was with us. After each event, we thank Him for being the change agent in people's lives. We're called to be faithful; He's in charge of changing lives.
Because of canceling our “Worth It” conference which had been scheduled for March 24, and because of our nephew’s wedding in California on March 31, we decided to stay west through his wedding and take a writing break. We're both working on projects which have been all but neglected for too long and know that we need blocks of time in order to make progress. So, after spending a couple of days with my folks in San Diego (a delight as always), we're hiding out in Camarillo in the home of some dear friends who currently reside outside of the U.S. Our first few days here have been fraught with distractions, some of our own making, and others of satan's making. We’re attributing some crazy problems with my computer to the latter. Things are settling in now, though, and we’re beginning to make some progress. Pray that these days will be productive and that we'll allow the Holy Spirit to direct our writing.
Before I sign off, let me briefly update you on the family: Derek and Julie are happily settling in Mbale. Though their first seven weeks have been buffeted by some trials, they're riding the waves together well. They blog here
Julie's doing a great job of keeping us in the loop of their life in Africa. Lisa spent an indulged week in Costa Rica with the JMU women's soccer team, which was a delightful break for her from her rigorous schedule as an athletic trainer. And Gabe, Kari, and Brandon are in transition, having resigned from their work at "The House" Church. They are seeking God for the next chapter of their life.
So we’ve left the not-too-wintery environs of New England for the beautiful coastline of California, and are soaking in the natural gifts of this area. As much as we love snow, if push comes to shove, the surf is going to win . . . most every time.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!