Family Camp, Resurrected (Part 2)

Family Camp, Resurrected (Part 2)

With 26 hours between Family Camps 1 and 2, we relaxed with the staff (some great pool time, dinner in Ventura on the beach, and hanging out in a coffee shop in downtown Ojai) and then prepared for the second camp. We were very ready when the campers began arriving at 4 pm on Sunday and we were so happy to welcome them with cold water bottles and ice pops, help them register, and walk them to their “home away from home.” Everyone was checked in by dinner time and we were off and running.

We were so grateful for the reinforcements who joined the staff team for week 2, as a number of our week 1 staff had to return to work. God graciously brought together a phenomenal group for camp 2 and we quickly jelled as a team.

Only God

Only God

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.

In and Out of Africa

In and Out of Africa

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

It's NOT beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

It's NOT beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

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 . . .

Fall is FINALLY in the Air

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.

The chill in the air this morning was a welcomed change from the unseasonably warm September we’ve experienced in New England this past month (at least the few days we’ve been here!) and all things Fall suddenly seem within grasp of cold fingers. Leaves will change and flutter to the ground, days will grow noticeably shorter, sweaters and close-toed shoes will be worn as the lingering days of summer quickly become memories of a season well spent.

I love fall. Truth be told, I must quickly admit that I also love winter, spring, and summer as each season brings its own delights and beauty.

But before I can thoroughly embrace autumn, I must wrap up summer (because that’s what the SJ personality does—in Myers-Briggs talk.)

Backing up to the end of August, we returned to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to speak at the 2/42 Community Church’s second annual “Fr-amily Camp”, held at Spring Hills Camp in Evart, MI. It’s always an honor to be invited to speak anywhere once, and it’s at least a double honor to be invited back. We were delighted to again partner with the 2/42 director of Family Ministries, Eric Rauch, who has great vision, enthusiasm, and passion for encouraging and equipping families. This year, besides having the “Birdsongs” again lead in worship and having us speak, he brought in David Laflin, an incredibly talented Christian illusionist from the Denver area. Amazingly, I had met his wife Teesha (who often performs with him) at Mission Hills Church in Littleton, CO, the previous weekend, as she stopped by to chat with me about balancing ministry and family after Paul and I had spoken. Only God . . .

David did a great job of wowing us with his illusionary trickery as well as with the gospel message. Check their ministry out at

The weekend went really well. Twice the size of last year’s camp, we were reminded of how desperately we need to keep building in to families the hope of the gospel. No one skipped the teaching sessions (it seemed), despite being surrounded by 900 acres of beauty, very fun activities, and plenty of options to distract. We really felt that God met us and the campers in some very powerful ways.

It was especially good for us to have several days with our dear friends, Wai and Elaine Wong and their lovely daughters while in Ann Arbor. We stayed an extra day so we could hang out with them and that made a great weekend even greater.

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.

We returned to Boston for 24 hours to repack before heading west for the Labor Day Weekend family camp at CBS. But first, a joy-filled celebration of the birthday buddies, Papa and Brandon, who share an August 29 birthdate. Brandon did ask me this year, “If Papa and I have the same birthday, why aren’t we the same age??”  :)  

Happy birthday, Papa and now 6-year-old Brandon!

After too short a stay (but better than nothing), we headed to CBS for the weekend with Lisa and a terrific group of veteran staff who served the family campers all weekend. This third annual Labor Day weekend family camp was again sold out to a very enthusiastic group of families. Presumably because the time is short, these families dive right in and make every minute count. Thankfully, with the majority of staff who had served together all summer, we were also ready to dive right in with them. It was a full, breathless weekend.

Bob and Carol Kraning served as our resource couple for the weekend and were wildly popular. Bob, who had a very close brush with death a year ago, was stronger than ever and didn’t miss a beat. Our young families were so encouraged to hear from a couple who have been married over 50 years and who have followed the Lord faithfully throughout life. Such richness!

All too quickly the weekend was over and we sang our final rendition of “We love you campers, oh yes we do!” as the boat pulled away from the dock. We followed soon after and headed south for a couple of days before heading east. 

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.

Lis and I did one last loop hike on the last morning of camp and encountered this bison, who seemed to own the road. He’s much bigger than he appears in this photo, and the road is much more narrow than it appears. Obviously we lived to tell about it.  :)

Bob and Carol Kraning partnered with us this weekend and God used them to bring a word of both encouragement and challenge. We’ve been together with the Kranings in ministry for most of our married life and we’re so thankful they’ve been a part of our journey.

One last chorus of “We love you campers, oh yes we do . . .” as the final family camp group departs on the Catalina Express.

Off to San Diego we went, after overnighting in Santa Ana with our dear friend Wendy Turney, to spend the next two nights at the Hotel del Coronado. This San Diego landmark hosted us the first night of our honeymoon 40 years ago and this was our first return to the inside of it since. Made possible in part by the kids, who generously gave us a gift certificate for the hotel several years ago, we decided the time was right to put the capstone on our 40th anniversary’s never-ending celebration.  

What a great idea!

We had two wonderful days there, doing little more than walking the beach, laying by the pool, exploring downtown Coronado, and enjoying the beauty of this exquisite hotel. We did sneak away to Petco Stadium with our friends the Hazlebecks to watch the Red Sox beat the Padres one night, but we squeezed everything we could out of the rare treat of staying in this fabulous hotel. We highly recommend 40th anniversaries, if God grants you that many years.

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.  :)

We left refreshed and renewed, celebrating life and marriage, and ready to face a little bit of craziness.

Arriving home at 1 in the morning on Saturday, Sept. 10, we were overjoyed (if even a bit bleary-eyed) to welcome Dick and Becky (Manley Pippert) Molenhouse to our home at 9:30 am.  Becky had spoken at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Pastors’ Conference the previous day.  So, seizing the opportunity to reconnect our four-decades-long friendship, we welcomed them to our home for the remaining hours prior to their late afternoon flight.

It is so good to be with treasured, lifelong friends. Paul and Becky came on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff together in 1972 and that began a deep and mutually respected friendship. Dick and Becky have spent the past 7 years doing evangelism training throughout Europe and are stateside now as their organization, Saltshaker Ministries, produces numerous curriculums and resources for equipping churches to be engaged in evangelistic outreaches. Though some of the time was spent talking about our respective ministries, much of it was focused on catching up with each other’s lives, families, and reflections. It was such a sweet time of fellowship. 

Dick and Becky Molenhouse spent a day with us and we joyfully caught up on one another’s lives.

Shortly after the Molenhouses left, another couple arrived from California for a couple of days—and when they left on Monday, yet another couple arrived from California for a couple of days. We love sharing our home and our lives, and all three of these visits were delightful.  

And just like that, we were back in the saddle of counseling and Patriots studies. Wednesday, Sept 14, the Pats Women’s Study started with a great group of gals. Many of us hadn’t seen much of each other since the season ended last January, so it was a happy reunion. Thursday we did more counseling and launched the couples’ study with a great group of couples. So we’re off and running in our fall schedule!!

“Running” is the operative word . . . as very early Friday morning, I “ran” off to the airport to fly to Pennsylvania to spend the last 4 days of Derek’s trip to Africa with Julie and the kids.  Two weeks is a long time to be apart and to temporarily be a “single mom” and I was so thankful to help fill in the gap.

Oh the fun we had! Taking walks. Visiting farm animals. Playing with play dough. Reading books. Decorating for fall. Snuggling with babies. Learning about Nathan’s new world in pre-school.

Loved. Every. Minute. Even the ones that came in the middle of the night.  :)

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!!

The days passed quickly (there’s a blessing in that, I know) and Derek returned from Africa, and I returned to New England, just in time to welcome another set of guests, our dear friends Dick and Nancy Beggs. We’ve known each other for our whole marriage, as we met at the first Christian Camping International Conference we attended in 1977 and we’ve been friends of the heart ever since. The Beggs have been associated with Camp Maranatha in Idyllwild, California, for years and we’ve journeyed with them through the joys and challenges of raising families and working in camping. They only spent one night with us, but we made the most of it.

Dick and Nancy Beggs, from Idyllwild, California, joined us for a night of non-stop talking, a few tears, and a lot of laughter.

This past weekend, we did the first ever marriage conference for Oasis Christian Church in Concord, New Hampshire. Fulfilling the vision of Skip and Avonne Jarvis, who seeded the water by leading a marriage class at the church this past year using our study, In Our Image, the day went off swimmingly. The thirty couples who attended gave very positive feedback and a second annual is already in the works as we agreed to return and speak again next September. Especially sweet for us was having four couples attend who have been long time Berea Family Campers (the NH family camp we’ve directed the past 12 years). Many couples expressed that God really met them in the day. All praise is His.

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.

Sunday we taught at their two worship services, thanks to their lead pastor Jon Rose who turned the service over to us. We so enjoyed worshiping with this alive congregation and look forward to continuing our partnership with them.

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!!

That brings us up to today. The chill still hasn’t left and I can see leaves changing before my very eyes. It’s time to put on a jacket and take a walk in the brisk fall air, which we hope is here to stay. Finally. 

Sunset over the lake in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

Summer #41 "Great is Thy Faithfulness!"

Wow!! Seven weeks. Off the grid. Immersed in community. Focused on Christlikeness. Twenty-six program staff. Over 1300 campers. At least a dozen decisions for Christ. 

It’s been quite a summer at Campus by the Sea. 

As we make our way east (very temporarily), we are overwhelmed with joy, awe, and exhaustion. The summer was beyond expectations in terms of ministry, relationships, and staff. Simultaneously there were challenges that were draining and hard. Both the joys and the challenges allowed us to be met by God in very deep and real ways. We know we were prayed for more than we’ve ever been aware of, and the outpouring of love, affirmation, and support for us personally was off the charts. “Great is Thy faithfulness!

We gathered in this sacred cove Monday, June 13, and looked like this:

Our first program staff photo, taken during orientation week.

We were pale-skinned and we had clean feet. Some of us knew each other well, but most of us had limited knowledge of one another.

Seven weeks later, we looked like this:

The night of our last family camp banquet, all dressed up and ready to go.

Darker skin and much darker feet, and deeply connected as a discipling community. So bonded that farewells on Sunday, July 31, were tearful.

It will be impossible to capture all we feel about this staff. Twenty-two of the twenty-six were “veteran” staff, and they brought with them maturity and experience. Twenty-four of the twenty-six grew up as family campers at CBS. They “get it.” They knew how important the staff were to them as they grew up and came with a vision to live up to the high view they had of staff when they were young. They were committed to growing in Christlikeness and to being servant-hearted, unselfish, submissive to authority, and to going above and beyond. They worked hard but they also knew how to have a blast. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience with a staff. What a huge blessing they were!

Our leadership team lead incredibly well and were a large part of the success of this team. Mary Ann Bastedo led the nursery/playyard team and with four years of experience, she handled one of the more challenging areas of camp with wisdom and patience. Shelby Dreves, also serving her 4th year, was the peer director for the elementary team and she knocked it out of the park. Well organized and an extroverted communicator, Shelby garnered the respect of her whole team, who worked together beautifully. Paul and Lyss Gandy provided leadership for the junior/senior high ministry team as well as leading worship and they led both areas with excellence. Worship received off-the-chart ratings all summer and the jr/sr high team received rave reviews. Dave and Vonny Bastedo served in many ways again, from being the “deans of Little Gallagher’s” (the staff cove) to leading the college group to overseeing crafts and the elementary program . . . we couldn’t have done it without them! Lisa Friesen, who joined us for the last four family camps, was an effective mentor for the staff team as well as facilitator for the “young professional” group we had in four of the camps. Everything is better with Lisa around! We are so grateful for this special group of leaders and are hoping they’ll all return in 2017. :)

I did miss the start of family camp 1 due to the arrival of our fifth grandchild, Micah James, who made his grand entrance on Sunday, June 19. What a privilege and joy to be in the OR when all 10#8oz of him was delivered via c-section. As you can see, Brandon and Ana are elated to be joined by Mighty Micah. It’s hard to believe he’s already 6 weeks old!

Brandon and Ana are in love with their new little/big brother Micah James.

Our theme this summer was “Journeying with Jesus” and our studies included four vignettes from the life of Peter: his call, his declaration that “Jesus is the Christ!”, his denial of Jesus, and his mandate to “feed my sheep.” Paul’s giftedness in curriculum development was seen again as he “visioneered” the theme and wrote the studies for the adults, which served as a springboard for our creative teaching staff to adapt the studies for every age in camp. This allows all ages to interact with these stories as our integrated, intergenerational teaching model is fleshed out. Devotionals, the memory verse, and Paul’s Monday night talk all supported the theme, creating cohesiveness throughout the program. We were delighted with how well it all worked out.

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. 

All six of our speakers—Tim Theule, Brent Eldridge, Chris Grace, Howard Clark, Ray Johnston, and Gary Gaddini—were used by God to bring His word in message to each camp. We were so blessed to have these men of God (and their families), who are faithful to His Word and who walk the talk, serve as teachers and mentors. It is a lavish banquet of teaching all summer and we personally are fortified and encouraged by such quality, God-honoring teaching. Our staff discipleship program includes having each of the speakers address the staff on Thursday nights and they also appreciated their wisdom and giftedness. 

The depth of community experienced by most at family camp is the result of many factors, some tangible and some intangible. At the core is the centrality of the gospel, which is the only truth which could form cohesion among a diverse group of families. Build out from that the secluded nature of CBS (no access except by boat or foot) and being off the “grid” and you have two big contributing factors to the inimitable experience campers have at CBS. It truly is a place like none other and we consider it such a privilege to be able to live out our passion for marriage and families in this unique context.

We “do” life together as community in so many ways! From lazy afternoons on the beach to hiking into Avalon, from adult-only small groups to intergenerational almost everything else, the goodness of community is celebrated. Though Americans have recently identified “isolation and loneliness” as their biggest problem, not many (if any) would identify that as an issue at family camp. In fact introverts find it challenging to find alone time in this almost-always-visually-connected community! We eat together, worship together, learn together, play together, pray together. And if you were fortunate enough to have your birthday or anniversary during your week at camp, you might’ve been serenaded by the "Barbershop Quartet with Olé” and then heard 260 voices sing together to you! This talented group of musicians brought many smiles to our family campers with their performances to mark special occasions. This was just one of the many ways the staff served above and beyond, with cheerful hearts and excellence, and helped to build into community.

Claire Peister, Lyss and Paul Gandy, and Joe Yardley brought down the roof when they performed as a quartet.

As much as we love the family campers and do what we do to serve them, our commitment to the staff and our investment in their growth is an equally important value. We believe that the seven-week “overseas mission trip experience” should be life-changing and life-shaping for them as they serve and live in a Christ-centered discipling community. Though we are only directly responsible for the volunteer program staff (from “hiring” to supervising), the discipleship program is for the entire staff team, which includes the kitchen, grounds, and waterfront teams. We thoroughly enjoyed the entire team, which both worked and played well together. The following photos give some glimpses into summer staff life. 

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 under-the-stars “square” dance (we don’t actually do any dancing in squares, but line dancing, circle dancing, and swing dancing are enjoyed by all) is always such a huge hit. Pictured here is JoJo Gaddini and Brandon Garcia doing the “Virginia Reel.”
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.

Hiking is one of the favorite activities for many of the staff, who take advantage of the “gym with no walls” which promises challenging workouts with incredibly beautiful scenery. One of the privileges of serving on staff is having the opportunity to do three special, “staff-only” hikes. The following photos reveal the secrets. 

The “shore hike” is the most popular of the staff-only hikes. 38 staff safely navigated this somewhat dangerous hike along the coast between CBS and Avalon. The early morning departure is timed to coincide during the lowest tide to make this doable. It’s a great experience in team building and bonding as staff help staff succeed in getting to Avalon in one piece.

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.
The third staff-only hike is an 8-mile loop from CBS to “Lone Tree.” Named for the “lone tree” which sits atop the tallest ridge seen from camp, this somewhat-challenging hike is the most arduous, but 25 stalwart staff took it on and lived to tell about it. This is taken at the first “stop”: the altar on the far side of Toyon Bay. No sacrifices were made.
Successfully to the top of Lone Tree, sweaty but smiling. The full-sun morning added challenge to the hike.

Every staff member is placed in a small group that meets weekly. The centerpiece of this year’s small groups was Paul David Tripp’s devotional New Morning Mercies. Every staff member was given a copy of this ground-breaking devotional and encouraged to use it daily. During small group, each shared a particularly meaningful devotional from the week before. This is our small group. We loved meeting with them each Monday afternoon. Even more, we all love this devotional and couldn’t more highly recommend it.

There are many more staff-shaping moments and activities, and all are framed by a universal commitment to living honorably together in community. Our “community standards” are clear and, thankfully, are “bought in to” by the staff. That’s part of what makes it work.

One more photo from staff life . . . and without minimizing any of the other herculean efforts expended by many of our staff, I am sharing this photo of Taylor Tebay (5th year staff, elementary PE teacher, all around great guy) with Ryan Beiter. Ryan has come to camp most of his life and this year Taylor served as his "special buddy.” When Taylor asked Ryan’s dad if there was any way he could serve Ryan “above and beyond,” Paul said, “He’s always wanted to go to the cross, but we’ve never figured out a way to get him up there.” Ryan’s ride is a motorized wheelchair, and there are parts of the path to the cross that would be impassable for him. 

So Taylor (with some help from equally servant-hearted Robert Kovacs), determined to get Ryan to the cross for the jr/sr high closing session that is held every Friday night at the cross.

The smile on Ryan’s face the next day told most of the story.
The tears running down his father’s cheeks told the rest of it.

Taylor literally had to carry Ryan on his back up the parts interrupted by steps. And so he did.

The degree of sensitivity and servanthood reflected in this incredible act of love and service speaks volumes about Taylor’s and Robert’s hearts . . . and the joy on Ryan’s face affirmed his delight to be included in this special, but logistically difficult part of camp. Of such is the kingdom of God.

Taylor Tebay and Ryan Beiter share a moment before Ryan boards the boat to return to the mainland.

A few more highlights of the summer before I wrap this up. Family Camp 4 clandestinely organized honoring our 40th anniversary and our 41st summer at CBS and completely surprised us with a thoughtful and beautiful tribute. Photos, notes, painted rocks, and the framed rubber food scrapers with the caption “Scraping since 1976” represented memories collected for four decades. We were so touched and felt so loved. 

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.

Paul was honored to do several baptisms each week. It’s amazing how many of our campers choose to be baptized at CBS, citing it as the place they experience significant spiritual growth. It’s very moving to hear each one verbalize their testimony down on the rocky shore before entering the oftentimes surging sea. The support of the community is felt by all.

Campers surround the “baptismees” to hear the proclamations of faith prior to them entering the waters.

Especially meaningful during camp 6 was the baptism of Sonora Shaffer, who made the decision to follow Christ the day before in her class. She is surrounded by 4 generations in this photo: Rosemary Dougan (great-grandma), Jerry and Eileen Shaffer (grandparents), Jon and Lisa Shaffer (parents), and her four siblings. The heritage. The legacy. The faithfulness of God through the generations. Doesn’t get any better than this!

This is another precious moment. Krista Engle Hart with Daniel, Julie Friesen Johnson with Rachel, and Robyn Chevalier Hall with Benjamin . . . all three moms grew up at camp together, served on staff together, and are continuing the tradition of family camp with the next generation. Rich!!

And these two: Rosemary Dougan and Shirley Lincoln, two women who along with their now-deceased spouses, Garth and Ken, have had a significant shaping impact on CBS history and legacy for decades. What joy to have them continuing as campers . . . each bringing four generations with them to family camp this summer.

And speaking of legacy, Sandy Friesen Clark (back row, second from right), and two of her four siblings, Paul and Beth, were at CBS in 1951 when it all started (well, Beth wouldn’t join the crew for 2 more years). Sixty-five years later, all of Mel and Helen Friesen’s children, in-laws, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are walking with Jesus. “I have no greater joy than to know that my children are walking in the faith.” (3 John 4) Blessed!

Though of the Garcia family only Brandon made it to camp this summer due to Micah’s arrival, the rest of the gang did and wonderful memories were made, life-shaping lessons were learned, and many “only God” moments were had. Paul had a vision while doing his early morning hike one day of sending a message to his father, who helped start CBS and sadly died an early death in 1983, “Jesus . . . please let Daddy know that what he started is going strong and is being used by God to change many lives.”
All praise is His!

“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.”

If It's Tuesday . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Brandon’s soccer game . . .

Cleaned up and ready to attend Saturday night church.

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

Coffee break!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endings and Beginnings

The exclamation point was put on the end of the Summer of 2015 with our Labor Day Family Camp. Spanning the past twelve weeks, we ended where we began the season: at Campus by the Sea . . . but managed to travel 8,000 miles and do family camp in two other states in between.

Our 18-year run of family camp in New England officially concluded on August 16 with the family camp closing banquet. This marked our 10th year of running two week-long camps at Berea in Hebron, New Hampshire, and we are so thankful to have ended on the high note of handing over a healthy family camp program to Nate Parks and his crew at Berea, who have a vision and passion for continuing these legacy-building camps.

We are so thankful for Nate (executive director of Berea) and Heidi Parks to whom we have passed the mantle of family camp.

This year, our two weeks at Berea didn’t begin 24 hours after our final camp at CBS like it has the past 3 summers (thank you, Jesus!) which enabled us to accept the request of Paul Gandy and Alyssa Gosselin to perform their wedding in Newport Center, Vermont, the day before camp began. What a joy it was to celebrate with these two, who over the past 3 years have wisely and honorably prepared for their life together. Their wedding was a true celebration of all that is good, and we loved being a part of it.

What a joy to perform the marriage of Paul and Alyssa Gandy in Newport, VT.

We came straight to camp from the wedding, meeting up with a “half staff” from CBS and a whole lot of questioning our own wisdom in deciding to team up with a “half staff” from Berea, along with hopes of a successful transition of family camp from H.I.M. to Berea. It had sounded wise and good last November when we devised the plan, but I’ll admit I had more than a few misgivings as we made the drive to camp. What if our teams didn’t mesh? What if the program would be compromised by having half a staff who knew nothing about what the other half had been doing all summer at CBS? What if . . . ? Many concerns swirled in my head, until several hours later we had our first meeting together.

As it turned out, we loved the “half staff” from Berea and I’m so thankful to say that our teams meshed and the program went off without a hitch. What a huge answer to prayer.

Of course, having the key positions and lead teachers filled by veteran CBS staff made a big difference. Shelby Dreves led the elementary program and Mark Barrett led the jr/sr highers, and their leadership was effective and respected. Ryan and Kelly Plosker knocked it out of the park with the college students.

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.
Both weeks were so full of grace and hand-of-God moments.  We know of at least two decisions for Christ during the first week. Fourteen were baptized. Several families who in past summers were hanging on by a thread were in much better places. Some made hard decisions during camp regarding relationships, lifestyle choices, etc. There was no mistaking that the Spirit of God was present and penetrating hearts.

The overwhelming response of family campers was that they were met by God, encouraged by community, and refueled and recharged for the year ahead. What a privilege to be a part of all of this!

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.

Mark Barrett’s small group circles around one of their guys who decided to follow Jesus as camp wrapped up. They presented him with a Bible and are committed to praying for him. His decision for Christ follows 14 years of his grandmother bringing him to family camp. 
One of the 14 baptisms in Newfound Lake . . .
. . . with some of the witnesses celebrating this meaningful declaration.

Guy Steele, “Mr. Banner Man,” explains the tradition of families making banners as a memorial of their family camp week, as 18 banners, all made by the Glen and Barbara Franks family over the past 18 years, are paraded across the stage.  How cool is that???
We worked hard, and put in lots of hours, but we also played hard and made many great memories together.

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.

In an unprecedented fashion, Paul and I took off moments after this photo was taken because we had to catch a flight from Boston to Detroit a mere 7 hours later.  All I can say is that we felt God’s leading in saying “yes” to the invitation to speak at the inaugural family camp for the 2/42 Church in Ann Arbor, so we did.

We again second-guessed that decision as we arrived home at 1 a.m. to re-pack, and were picked up at 4 a.m. to leave for the airport. But 3 days later, after our final session at the 2/42 Church’s first-ever family camp, we had no doubt.  

Held at SpringHill Camp in Evert, Michigan, we spoke at four sessions: two inter-generationally, and two to adults only. The campers were receptive, engaging, and so appreciative, especially after the sessions on marriage and parenting.

SpringHill is not CBS. :)  Zip lines, blobs, horses, “the gusher,” giant swings, ropes courses, gymnasiums . . . You name it, they had it. Their housing included a plane (re-purposed as a dorm) and 4 railroad cars (on a track), also re-purposed . . . and, a tram service connected the events spread over their 900-acre facility, giving it a distinctly Disneyland-esque feel.  

Standing in line for the zip line at SpringHill camp with the Wong family. We loved it!

SpringHill is a beautiful place!!

In spite of all those wonderful experiences (and potential distractions), the teaching sessions were well attended and we had many great conversations. It’s pretty cool to “just speak” at a family camp—a very different experience from running them!!

We drove back to Ann Arbor with Wai and Elaine Wong and family Sunday afternoon, exhausted but oh so thankful for the clear ways that God had met us and confirmed the “rightness” of being there.

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!

We then went back to Ann Arbor to “play” with the Wongs for a couple of days.  Walks around the lakes, amazing meals, pedicures for Elaine and me, followed by some “great deals” shopping. A sweet visit with our niece, Heidi, and her 3 kids. Baking cookies and scones. Having competitive ping pong matches. Playing games. Eating custard. Wonderful moments and memories.

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.
After recuperating for a couple of days with our precious Wong family, we spoke for a couples event at the 2/42 Church Tuesday night. We really loved partnering with Eric and Stacey Rauch, the pastor to families for 2/42, who set up both the family camp and the couples night. They have a great vision for equipping and encouraging families in their fellowship and it was a privilege to be a part of it.

Eric and Stacey Rauch stand with us before we spoke for the couples event.
All too soon our Michigan days were over and back to Boston we flew on Wednesday, Aug. 26.  We spent 9 hours between Thursday and Friday doing a "mini-intensive” counseling for a couple who flew in from the south with hopes of saving their infidelity-ravaged marriage.  We felt God really met us and them and it seems He used those days as a turning point for them. All praise is His.

Off again: on Aug. 29, we flew to California to celebrate Paul’s 65th and Brandon’s 5th in Santa Clarita. What fun!!  A Brandon-designed day of mini-golfing, go-karting, swimming, bbq-ing salmon, and eating strawberry pie made for a perfect celebration and we enjoyed every minute of it.  We spent the next 3 days catching up with ourselves and hanging with the Garcias before driving to Riverside to spend a night with Lisa in her new world.

Mini-golfing—what fun. 

With temps reaching 106 degrees, it was really refreshing to jump in their pool.
The grand finale: strawberry cream pie a la Kari.

Lisa has officially begun her role as an associate professor at California Baptist University in Riverside, CA. She is teaching 5 athletic training courses, 3 of which are undergrad and 2 are master’s level (she’s co-teaching those.)  She’s renting a little CBU-owned house on the edge of campus and has happily traded her onerous commute for walking to campus.  She’s rediscovering the joys of good work-life balance and is super impressed with the Christian commitment of the president and faculty of CBU. We were so happy to get to experience her new life.

Standing in front of Lisa’s new rental at CBU!

Off to CBS we went on Thursday, the 3rd of Sept., to make final preparations for the 2nd Annual Labor Day Weekend Family Camp. Blessed with a largely veteran staff, and a full-with-waiting-list camp, we had great expectations going into the weekend.

And they were exceeded.

The program team worked together seamlessly. Cheerfully. Willingly. Flexibly. In a Christlike manner. It was truly a joy to partner with this crew, and as we told them, we’d work with any of them anytime.

The Labor Day Family Camp program staff team . . . a stellar group!

Though short, we manage to pack a lot in to the weekend and for the more than 50 family units who came, it worked for them.  David and Cherylyn Hegg were our resource couple and David’s two morning talks were received well. Paul and I spoke one evening on “living to the praise of His glory in your marriage” and the campers seemed to appreciate it.  We danced on the basketball court “under the lights” and worshiped around the campfire before having s’mores. Beautiful weather made the water so inviting and the kayak trip to Willow Cove was packed out. Early morning tubing, commencing in the dark-turning-light, was very popular.

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.
The weekend couldn’t have gone better. We had nothing but thankful hearts for God’s faithfulness as we sang the boatload of campers back to the mainland.

We sailed off the island that afternoon, concluding a long, wonderful summer of family camps. Our passion for family camps only deepens year by year. We continue to believe it’s one of the most impactful venues we invest in. It’s the place where “the worlds’ greatest need and our deepest passion” meet. So so grateful for the opportunity to continue to serve in this way.

After two days in San Diego with my mom, we’ll begin to settle in to a full fall in New England. More beginnings always follow endings. We are anticipating great things, at this point known only by God, but comforted by knowing He goes before us.

What a perfect ending to a wonderful visit with my mom!

One of the Best

The sun sets on another summer at Campus by the Sea.

The rhythmic sound of the tide coming and going over the rolling rocks has been replaced by early morning loons calling from the placid waters of Newfound Lake, and we know we’re not at Campus by the Sea this week. Just like that, seven weeks of living at “a little piece of heaven by the sea” is history and we’re off and running at Berea for two weeks of Family Camp.  

We begin these weeks at Berea with hearts overflowing with gratitude for the incredible ways God met us and showed His faithfulness at CBS. The summer theme of “Living to the praise of His glory” taken from Ephesians 1 set the bar. That theme was woven through the curriculum, the worship, and the devotions. We challenged our staff (and ourselves) to process all decisions, thoughts, and actions through the rubric of “Will this help me live to the praise of His glory?” It showed. Consistently the staff chose to serve whole-heartedly, to embrace the opportunities unique to an “off the grid” discipleship community, and to live honorably in the community by submitting to the community standards. It was a delightfully productive, drama-free summer, marked by deep solidarity and growth. Nothing but gratitude.

We served together, learned together, grew together, played together, hiked together, laughed together, cried together. We chose to honor one another by loving well, encouraging each other, and helping each other grow.  As masks came off during our 49-day community experience, we chose to accept idiosyncrasies and challenge ungodliness. We learned to love those we found hard to love. We rediscovered how good it was to have real time conversations face-to-face, and we regained oodles of hours normally eaten up by Facebook, video games, texting, etc.  We helped each other “live to the praise of His glory.”  It was a rich, growth-producing summer.

Since a “picture paints a thousand words,” I’m posting numerous photos representing staff life, Summer 2015.

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!

All six weeks of family camp were full of great teaching, incredible fellowship, and numerous moments of being showered by God’s grace. Decisions were made for Christ. Hope was given to struggling marriages. Baptisms were celebrated. Parents and children were encouraged to work together as a team. Milk jug boats were entered in the “Annual Boat Race.” Square dancing on the basketball court was repeated six times, but was never tired of. The game show, “Go for the glory,” was wildly popular. Worship under the stars, around the campfire ring, followed by s’mores . . . unbeatable.  

The host and hostess of “Go For the Glory” . . . stylin’!!

We were also beyond thankful to have our whole immediate family at camp, as well as many of our extended family.  What a joy to have our grandchildren loving the program, singing the “Butterfly Song”, and hanging out with Papa and Gigi.  This feels like it’s coming full circle.

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.

Some big changes within our family happened during these seven weeks. Julie, Derek, and Nathan have moved stateside from Uganda, settling near Lemoyne, PA (outside of Harrisburg), to spend the foreseeable future working at the CURE headquarters. Derek’s new role will be in development and long-term sustainability. Though it was very hard to leave all they love in Uganda, they are looking forward to their new life in Pennsylvania, especially as they await the birth of their second child in early November.

Lisa has resigned her position as head athletic trainer for UCLA women’s basketball and on Aug. 17 will assume the position of Associate Professor at California Baptist University (CBU) located in Riverside, CA.  She’ll teach two undergrad and two master’s level athletic training courses and is looking forward to a more normal schedule, with improved work/life balance.  She’ll leave a large portion of her heart at UCLA with the student athletes she has served and loved so well, as well with her athletic training colleagues. We’ll continue to follow the Lady Bruins with support and love.

We’re still finding it hard to believe that our summer at CBS is over . . . but it will surely go down in history as one of the best.

A Lifetime Ago

Re-reading my last blog post (March 22, 2015), it does seem like a lifetime ago.  The snow is now gone and signs of (a very late) spring are beginning to surface.  We’ve traveled 22,628 miles and spent almost 50 hours in the air since then.  We’ve been home 5 days since mid-March, and most of those have been filled with counseling or speaking locally.

No wonder our arrival in Uganda feels like a lifetime ago!

Before we hit the air again (in just over 30 hours), I’ll try to catch up with myself by reflecting on this “lifetime” in a few short paragraphs.

Perhaps what makes it seem so “epic” is that 3 of the past 4.5 weeks were spent in Africa.  It’s not only geographically far away, its culture and lifestyle are even more “far away” from our middle class American life.  The sights, sounds, and smells are constant reminders that we’re a long way from home… that is, until we reunited with our daughter and her family awaiting our arrival at Entebbe, and then, amazingly, we instantly felt “at home.” It’s amazing how relationships always transcend place.

And so began the fulfillment of our long-held dream to have our whole family experience Julie, Derek, and Nathan’s world together.  Our arrival on March 17th was followed by Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana’s on the 18th, and finally by Lisa’s on the 19th.  No small miraculous feat in itself…accomplishment by Paul who spent countless hours booking and re-booking flights for this trip.  Thankful for safe air travel for all, we continued traveling as we piled in vehicles and drove 5 hours to Mbale, the town in eastern Uganda that houses the CURE Pediatric Hospital where Derek serves as the executive director.  

Our first day in Mbale, visiting the CURE Children’s Hospital.

We had 10 days all together in Uganda and we made the most of them given the “constraints” we had given that 3 of the 10 family members were age 4 and under.  Bless those little ones!  We may have gotten no rest were it not for the napping and early-to-bed needs of such company.  

Our days in Mbale were divided between visiting the babies and mamas at the hospital (the highlight for everyone), playing in the Johnsons’ yard, taking walks in the neighborhood, eating fabulous meals a la Derek and Julie, and grabbing an occasion cup of cappuccino at the Endiro Coffee Shop.  We did venture on a “field trip” to Sipi Falls one day and enjoyed a short hike to a beautiful waterfall, but other than that, our world existed within about a 3-mile range between the hospital and their home.  Paul and I did one whole day of teaching on marriage for JENGA during the time we were all together, but otherwise we majored on the delight of being together as a family and we immersed ourselves in the Johnsons’ world.

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.

We loved every minute of it.  It was re-inspiring to view their life anew through the first-time eyes of the Garcia family. Brandon was beside himself with excitement to see Chiko II (the monkey that has been hanging out in the Johnsons’ yard for the last several months) swinging in the trees in their yard as well as the herds of Ankole cows ambling down the dirt road in front of the Johnsons’ house every morning and night.  Ana loved the Johnsons’ dogs, their son Nathan (who is just 2 months older than she is, and they did have some competitive moments of non-sibling rivalry), and all the babies at the hospital. Gabe and Kari were impressed by the mission and work of the hospital as well as by the realities of living in a developing country for the Johnsons. It’s hard to grasp what that means until you experience it firsthand.  Our awareness of the sacrifices and challenges of their life were heightened.

We also had an early 30th birthday celebration for Julie. We were all so happy to get to honor her in person for this milestone.

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 week in Mbale, we headed northwest to Murchison Falls Game Park to go on a safari.  In spite of lots of rain, we had a fabulous time viewing the incredible creativity of God as seen in giraffes, elephants, Cape Buffalo, a female lion and her cubs, deer, antelope, wart hogs, hippos, crocodiles, eagles, and more.  We drove for about 5 hours through the savannah and then took a 3-hour “cruise” on the Nile up to Murchison Falls.  It was an unforgettable day and one we hated to see end.  

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 parted ways the next morning, with the Garcias and Lisa driving to Entebbe to fly home and Johnsons and us heading back to Mbale.  Paul and I had many great ministry opportunities the next week:  we did an all-day pastors’ conference focusing on marriage training, we spoke for a couples’ date night for Pearl Haven Christian Center, we spoke at the Easter Convention and for a pastor’s prayer breakfast, we did a bit of counseling, we hung out at the hospital, and we spent time with several missionary families.  We had the joy of celebrating Easter at Pearl Haven and were so lifted by the worship of our uninhibited African brothers and sisters.  Glorious!

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.

April 7 we left Uganda to begin a very long trip home, which thankfully went without hitch, landing us in Boston late afternoon on the 8th.  No time for jet lag recovery as we counseled all day the 9th and ran our annual “Worth It” purity family conference all day the 11th.  

Yes, that was a very fast transition….and the Lord met us with amazing strength and energy.  We were thrilled to have a packed house for Worth It, which featured New England Patriots Nate Solder and Matthew Slater (with his wife Shahrzad), retired Patriot Don Davis, Camp Berea Director Nate Parks, UCLA head athletic trainer for women’s basketball Lisa Friesen, Grace Chapel Wilmington youth minister Adam Rowe, and LCA Creative Arts Director Christopher Greco and his wife Dorothy.  All spoke with power, clarity, and conviction regarding the goodness of God’s design for our sexuality and relationships.  

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.

No rest yet: on Sunday Paul preached both services at Hope Community Church in Newburyport and that evening we returned to the church to speak for a Couples’ Dessert Night.  This was an event which had been snowed out in February and we were so glad we had a day to reschedule it.  We thoroughly enjoyed partnering with this alive church.

We rested on Monday, April 13th, as we flew to California.  :)  Tuesday and Wednesday we partnered with Grace Baptist Church of Santa Clarita, speaking at a mom’s event Tuesday morning and doing training for their Care Ministry teams on Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday night.  It was great working with Dan Broyles, their Director of Care Ministries.

Thursday was all about the Garcia grandkids: visiting the fish and turtle pond at the mall, eating at Chick-Fil-A, playing baseball in the back yard, building Legos creations, baking Gigi cakes, having “wrestle time”, and taking walks.  What’s not to love about grandparenting?!!

A favorite destination . . .

. . . and this is why!  Quite mesmerizing to watch these turtles and koi.

On to Tehachapi, California, on Friday to do a marriage conference for the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard. This church plant of the Desert Vineyard in Lancaster is thriving in this small mountain town under the shepherding of Barry and Saundra Galloway.  We were enveloped by their love and grace from the moment we arrived Friday evening until we left Sunday afternoon. The well-attended marriage conference Friday night and Saturday was vibrant and alive. We were very encouraged by the receptivity and teachability of the attendees. We spent Saturday evening talking with their ministry staff about balancing ministry and family, and then taught at both of their Sunday morning services on “Living to the Praise of His Glory.”  It was a very well-spent weekend.

Barry and Saundra Galloway shepherd the flock at Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard
and are impossible not to love.

A Campus by the Sea family camp planning meeting took place in the afternoon, followed by the UCLA women’s basketball banquet, and then a red-eye home.  Whaaaat???  Gluttons for punishment, perhaps, but it feels like we somehow gained a day, especially when flying west to east.  Our bodies aren’t fooled by such trickery, however, so we weren’t very productive after getting home early afternoon Monday.

Lisa, Head Coach Cori Close, and I get a photo prior to the Women’s Basketball Banquet.
Though it’s only been a month, it still somehow seems like a lifetime ago since I last wrote.  We are beyond thankful for all that’s gone down in this last month and are cherishing memories that will last a lifetime.  

From Africa with Love

We’re not in Bedford anymore!  We left behind 4 feet of snow (just after the “most snowfall record” was broken and temps were still deep in the basement…) and landed in Entebbe, Uganda, with temps in the 90’s and the parched land longing for the rainy season to begin.  

What a difference 8,339 miles and 30 hours can make!

The month leading up to this African ministry/family reunion trip has been full (!): of ministry opportunities, of challenging situations, of seeing God’s power and presence in incredible ways. Shortly after my last post, we headed to California to speak in Brentwood for a couples’ dessert night at Golden Hills Community Church (GHCC). Before we got to the church, though, we spent an evening with a handful of very special Campus By the Sea (CBS) “kids”, then we had breakfast with a precious couple we married 2.5 years ago for a slightly delayed “annual marital check-up”, and then we had lunch with a dear engaged couple we’ll be marrying in September.  We work these trips!

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.

Our evening with Johnie Moore and his congregation at GHCC was delightful.  Their “dessert bake-off” contest was very competitive (and yummy) and the packed house of couples were receptive and warm.  Phil and Heather Andrews, long time CBS’ers (Heather was “raised” coming to Campus By the Sea, and now she and Phil are raising their two at camp), spearheaded the invitation and we were overjoyed to have a reunion with about 9 CBS families that evening, some who drove in from as far as Fresno, Chico, and Redding. Such a great time! We’re amazed to hear from couples at the end of such evenings how much of a “shot in the arm” it was to have encouraging words spoken into their marriage at “just the right time.”  That is the work of God . . . and we are so humbled to be a part of it.

Johnie and Becky Moore were such gracious hosts at GHCC.

The CBS contingent at the dessert night . . . How we love these families!

We flew to San Diego first thing Sunday morning and spent a couple of days with my mom. She continues to impress us with her remarkable “can-do” spirit and her gracious heart. She’s always so grateful for all gestures of care and kindness that come her way.  While we may struggle with spending less time with her than we’d like, she’s always quick to say, “I’m so grateful for any time we get to be together.”  What a gift to all of us who love her!

Though our time in San Diego was short, we were happy to connect with all three sisters who live there before we headed to Del Mar for the annual “Increase Conference” hosted by Pro-Athletes Outreach.  This is one of our favorite conferences every year for many reasons: it’s great to have time with current and former Patriots on a more casual basis than the season allows; we hear great teaching and enjoy sincere worship through music; the accommodations are always first-rate and we thoroughly enjoy being spoiled for those few days; and we love teaching workshops on topics germane to healthy marriages and are always amazed at how appreciative the audience is.  For the second year, we were able to bring my mom up for an evening and we think it definitely ranks on the short list of highlights of her year.  We are so touched by the care some of the players (who have become close friends through the years) extend to her.  Since my mother’s love for football makes mine look anemic (and those of you who know me know it’s not at all!), few things could trump being in a room full of NFL players, including some of her very favorites.  Special time.

My mom was pretty thrilled to have Danny Woodhead and Benjamin Watson
as her dinner dates at the PAO conference.

We red-eyed back to Boston before that conference ended (sadly) to run the H.I.M. marriage retreat, which seems like very poor planning, but actually was due to having to book our dates for the H.I.M. conference a year out and making the assumption that the PAO conference would stay in February where it has usually been. Alas, some things are beyond our control, so we beat a hasty retreat to Boston, made a pit stop in Bedford to change out our wardrobe (the summery clothes we wore in California weren’t quite appropriate for the winter wonderland we returned to!), and off to Newport, Rhode Island, we went.

Our annual marriage get-away conference was highly successful.  Sold-out weeks ahead, we had a full house whose evaluations affirmed that God met us in a significant way throughout the weekend. All praise is His.

We moved the weekend to the Hyatt Hotel on Goat Island after many years at Hotel Viking.  Though we missed many things about the ambience of the Viking, the Hyatt did a great job and proved to be very suitable in terms of conference space, meals, etc.  

David and Cherylyn Hegg, from Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, California, joined us for the weekend to teach 3 of the 4 plenary sessions (Paul and I spoke opening night).  David is a theologian whose regard for the proper and accurate handling of God’s Holy Word is high, which is quite refreshing in an age when value is often higher on connection than content. Fortunately David does both well: he connects well and his content is substantial.  His teaching was appreciated.

David and Cherylyn Hegg are dear friends and ministry partners.
We loved having them with us for the marriage retreat!

A moment of all-in-good-fun rivalry happened when Doug Macrae presented David, a diehard Seahawks’ fan, with a signed Tom Brady jersey.  :)  

Doug Macrae presents David Hegg with a signed Brady jersey . . .
just what every Seahawks’ fan wants.  :)

With 30 of the 130 couples being “newlyweds” (married 6 years or under), we moved our newlywed breakfast to the dinner hour and had a stimulating time of discussion about topics relevant to their stage of marriage.  We were so encouraged by the inter-generational mix of attendees overall, from 2 months married to 46 years married, and everything in between.  

The newlywed dinner was well-attended and spawned some lively discussion.

Our many workshops also got very high marks, as did worship, led again by Danny and Rayna Oertli.
Maybe the two highest points of the weekend were when two different couples shared their stories of hope.  One of the couples had survived adultery, and testified to the redemptive power of God in their marriage and family.  Another couple shared that the threat of divorce by a very dissatisfied spouse had been replaced by a vision of hope for their now thriving marriage.  Everyone was moved by these stories: by the honesty and candor of the couples, and by the hope-giving message of the gospel.

Everything ran like clockwork, and as Paul and I drove home, we focused on how grateful we were for God’s faithfulness and to have such an incredible team around us.  As he said to the team at conference end, “There’s no way we could’ve come in on a red-eye had we not had the team we have.”  Though many contributed, a huge shout out to Kelly and Ryan Plosker (who did decorations and goodie bags), and Barbara and Guy Steele and Jim and Sue Martis (who did registration, desktop publishing, folder production, hotel liaisoning, etc., as warranted).  Without their huge effort, it wouldn’t have happened.

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.

Quoting from several evaluations that affirmed the impact of the weekend:

“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.”

With only one week before our departure for Uganda, we squeezed as much as we possibly could in to those 7 days.  Shock!

Monday night we hosted an H.I.M. Board and volunteer staff appreciation dinner.  We are surrounded by such wonderful, godly, servant-hearted people and will never be able to fully communicate our appreciation for them, but we tried.  Fun was had by all.

Tuesday was dedicated to shopping for our trip to Uganda and packing what we could at that point. We had a full day of counseling Wednesday, and some Thursday as well. Friday morning we drove to Portland, Maine, to speak to a Mom’s group at Eastpoint Church and loved that. Friday night one of our couples for Engagement Matters (EM) who were staying at our home arrived, and all day Saturday and Sunday were spent teaching EM to a very full house. Saturday night we spoke for a New England Chapel couples’ night in Franklin, Massachusetts, and Sunday night we finished packing for Uganda.  :) Since we had to leave our house at 3 a.m. Monday for the airport, it was a good thing we didn’t have time to go to bed anyway.  :)

Engagement Matters delights us in every way. The 19 couples who attended exhibited such openness and genuine desire to hear important Biblical truth about God’s design for marriage. They asked great questions and interacted in and out of sessions.  We love wrestling with important issues before a couple is married and truly believe it pays off after marriage.  Hosted by the Bilazarians at their lovely Victorian home in Andover, we were grateful to have Carl and Cathy Blatchley on the serving team and Ryan and Kelly Plosker on the teaching team.  Our collective hearts pray that God will really use this weekend to better prepare couples to pursue God-honoring marriages.

Engagement Matters attendees March 14-15, 2015
The serving team: Melanie Bilazarian and Cathy and Carl Blatchley.
The warm home and yummy food were appreciated by all.

Several comments from attendees:

"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.”

Very, very thankful for the opportunity to speak into the lives of these young people and for how God met each of us during the weekend.

After such an exhausting week, we were glad to have some really long flights to Uganda to sleep and process. Off we flew in the middle of the night, just hours after Engagement Matters ended, and by Tuesday early afternoon, we were happily hugging Derek, Julie, and Nathan at the Entebbe airport. Twenty-four hours later, Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana arrived, and nineteen hours later, Lisa arrived.  Family complete for the drive to Mbale as this long dreamed of, long planned for family reunion/ministry trip launched.

We are beyond thankful and thrilled to be here together, embracing the life Derek and Julie have had together the past 3.5 years. Since they will be returning to the states in late summer to begin Derek’s new position at CURE headquarters in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, the window of opportunity to make the trip was now or never.  We are so grateful it has worked out.

My next blog will detail our time here, so for now, sending much love from Africa. 

Our first day at the CURE Hospital . . . deeply moving.

Here, There, and Everywhere (Part 2)

I wasn't joking when I said we were home briefly after our Feb. 12–24 California speaking tour.  Two days of counseling, and we were off!  Or, I was off, to Paradise, Pennsylvania, where I spoke for an Amish-hosted scrapbooking weekend.

Yes.  As oxymoronic as that sounds, that's what I did.

And it was a dream come true for me.  Ever since 1969, when my family moved to Northern Virginia and we discovered the delights of the Amish people, who lived a short 2.5 hours north of our rented home in Alexandria, Virginia.  We made many day trips to that back-in-time enclave of devotees committed to simplicity and to an undistracted-by-worldliness lifestyle . . . and a place in my heart was formed for these people.  Drawn in by their seemingly uncomplicated lives and their pursuit of focusing on the basic-needs-to-live philosophy, I secretly longed to spend a week or two with them.  Notice I wasn't deluded enough to believe I could make a total switch, but truth be told, I'm more comfortable with their simplicity than I am with American culture's obsession with "stuff."  (On the other hand, if you've noticed the many pictures I've posted over the years, maybe it's not so hard to imagine me there, as repeat performances by my "uniform" outfits appear over and over and over.)

My friend Liz Lane, whose pastor husband Steve serves as senior pastor of Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church, gave Rachel King, owner of From the Heart Scrapbooking Shop, a copy of my book Raising a Trailblazer:  Rite of Passage Trail Markers for your Set-Apart Teen and Rachel loved it. That's what led to me having coffee with her and her five children at their home in Paradise, which led to dreaming about a scrapbooking conference, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What a sweet, sweet time.  Rachel hosted Liz and me in their home—without electricity, technology, or a car.  Yes.  No car.  No TV.  No computers.  Besides those "differences," which were honestly almost unnoticed as battery-operated lamps lit the way, the home was full of the delights of a large family growing up together.  Five adorable children who are obviously well-loved and well-trained by their parents.  And parents who truly love each other and who love Jesus.  Junior (Rachel's husband) cooked omelets for us to round out Rachel's yummy breakfast muffins and after eating, the children drifted off to play games or read.  It was refreshing to see no iPod earplugs or iPads in hand.  I would've gladly just stayed in the home for the day, but the conference beckoned, so off to the barn we went.

Her scrapbooking shop is built above their barn, which houses their horses and buggies.  Fourteen ladies filled the work space with various creative projects and I spoke 3 times between Friday night and Saturday afternoon.  Rachel and two of her five sisters served lovely meals and kept things going.  

It was one of the most fulfilling and inspiring things I've done.  Rachel is a beautiful woman, immensely gifted artistically and relationally.  Her shop is only open a few months of the year because she's a wife and a mother first and doesn't want to miss out on raising her children or loving her husband.  She's practical, down-to-earth, genuine, wise, hospitable, and winsome.  She knows the difference between "religiosity" and "personal relationship with Christ" and she lives authentically and devotedly for Him.

My first real experience in an Amish home far exceeded my lofty expectations.

And joy!  She wants to do it again.  Bring it on!! 

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.

The aura of 24 hours of living Amish quickly dissipated, sadly, as I rented a car and drove from Harrisburg, PA, to Baltimore, MD, to catch a flight to California.  The 1hr 40mins trip would get me to the airport hotel easily before 8 pm, and I'd get a good night of rest before catching an early morning flight.  "Easily" turned out not to be part of this journey, I soon found out, when for reasons then unknown to me, traffic backed up for miles about 30 minutes shy of my destination.  1hr 30mins delayed, I eventually found out that 83 South had been closed due to the potential collapse of part of the highway, and the subsequent delay and detour, though warranted, sabotaged my "isn't life peaceful and perfect" reverie less than 2 hours after leaving "Paradise."  Finally to the hotel by 9, I decided to return the rental car so as to not have to worry about it at 4 in the morning, and the first gas station I stopped at to refill had non-functioning pumps due to a shift change and computer downloading process.  But I waited for 10 minutes with an impotent hose in my gas tank before giving up on the "it'll only be a minute" explanation I'd been given twice by the attendant.  Off to another station, which boasted having a Subway sandwich shop inside, and with a momentary sense of happiness, I decided the Lord kept the pumps closed at the other station so I could grab a bite to eat at the second station.  Notice the word "momentary."  After filling up, I went in to get a Subway . . . only to find it closed.  Missed it by 10 minutes: the 10 minutes I was waiting at the first station.  Oh well.  Off to return the rental car, I carefully entered the address of the car return in iMaps and off I went, determined to trust the GPS, which caused me to ignore the signs to the rental car return area.  Following it, I was suddenly in the middle of an abandoned air strip with nothing but eerie flashing warning messages to watch for possible emergency vehicles in the area.  Thoroughly freaked out at 11 pm, in the dark, alone, I turned off iMaps and retraced my steps back to the rental car return signs and successfully returned the car.  And then I waited for a courtesy bus to return me to the hotel, which a few short hours later would take me back to the airport.

But it doesn't end there.  Once back in the hotel, I decided to confirm the time of my early morning flight, only to discover that for reasons known only to the cyber-gods, I could find no trace of my reservation confirmation on my computer.  No worries.  Call Paul, the one who makes all such reservations.  Wait—he's in the air himself, flying to California to do the funeral that I'm flying out for. By now, I am beside myself. Exhausted, hungry, and frustrated, with the memories of the most idyllic, peaceful scrapbooking conference completely obliterated. Tears. Bad thoughts. Oh!  How thin the line is at times!

Two hours later, Paul landed in LA and wished he hadn't turned his phone on immediately to read a cryptic text from his very distraught wife, languishing in self-pity in a 2-star hotel in Baltimore.  Within minutes, he had located my flight information and I fell into a beyond-exhausted heap for a short, short night of sleep.  

But it still doesn't end there.  Off to the airport, I flew from Baltimore to Phoenix without a hitch.  That was nice.  And productive.  I was then to fly to Orange County, arriving at 11:40 am for a 2 pm funeral.  Easy breezy.  But not really.  After turning down the offer to take a $300 "bump" and be placed on a flight to Ontario (which would land 30 minutes after the Phoenix flight would and then be bused to Orange County) because I didn't want to risk missing the funeral, the announcement came through that the Phoenix flight was delayed due to a lavatory malfunction.  No worries, they said.  A 30 minute delay could be expected.  If you fly much, you know that's code for "we'll say 30 minutes to start with, so you all don't mutiny, and then we'll keep adding the minutes according to our need."  We were finally boarded 1hr 30mins later, and just after pushing off from the gate, the captain announced, "Good news, bad news.  Good news: we're pushed back.  Bad news: Air Force One has landed and we're grounded for another 30 minutes until air space is cleared for security."

Seriously???  My seat mate is probably still wondering what tragic news I was discussing on the phone with Paul at that moment as I was really, really close to . . . well, I'm not sure what, but I was close to it.

Thankfully the story ends well.  The flight did take off and it did safely land at 1:20 pm, and my dear friend Wendy Turney did pick me up after a last-minute frantic call from Paul arranged the connection, and after getting my luggage, changing my clothes, and driving to the funeral home, I arrived at 1:55 pm.  Just in time.  Whew!!

And that's how life rolls at times.  Two 24-hr periods of time, back to back, different as night and day. The second 24-hour period rebukes my "everything SHOULD go right and according to my time table and expectations because I have important things to do" mindset and reminds me that "she who lives without margins can easily be derailed."

The funeral honored the life of our very dear friend Wendy's Auntie Lynne and Paul did a beautiful job of leading the service.  The joy of being there was connecting with Wendy's extended family, all dear friends of ours.  It was a great celebration and I was exceedingly thankful that I was there.  

Standing with sisters Pam and Wendy and their wonderful Mom "Gami Jo" Baker
the morning after the funeral. 

Up next, with the residual dust of Amish simplicity still resonating, we checked in to a 5-star "boutique resort" in San Diego for the annual Pro-Athletes Outreach (NFL) conference.  It was clear I wasn't in "Paradise" Pennsylvania any longer.  Our room was half the size of our home and dripping with elegance.  Rose petals.  Chocolates.  A Nespresso machine.  A small swimming pool called a "tub." Oh, and electricity and TV's. Talk about a swing to the other side.  Crazy.

We love this conference every year and feel privileged to be workshop presenters for 13 years in a row. With worship lead by the Katinas, and with Francis Chan and Jon and Jeni Kitna (and others) presenting in the plenary sessions, the conference was "off the charts" for the almost 400 in attendance. Reconnecting with many "ex-Pats" and others we've met through the years was so encouraging.  God is using the unique privilege of these families to make a difference as they live out their Christian convictions.

There were two highlights of the conference for us.  We brought my mom, a rabid NFL fan (with a very specific love for the San Diego Chargers, the New Orleans Saints, and the Washington Redskins), to spend an evening with us (okay, with "them"—though she loves us, she would never have been so revved up for just an evening with us!)  and it was a magical evening.  The "guys" and their wives were so kind to her!  She was glowing.  And taking it all in.  A very memorable evening was had by all.

Benjamin and Kirsten Watson ate dinner with us.  Can you see the glow on my mom's face?

The second highlight was having two of our Patriots players come to Christ at the conference.  As we witnessed their baptisms, we were overwhelmed with gratitude for the work of the Holy Spirit.  Great rejoicing!!!

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.

PAO ended and we spent a couple of days with my mom before flying home.  Because our 3rd conference in just over a week was an all-day marriage seminar for . . . the officers of the Salvation Army.  Quite a spectrum-of-life experience in 9 short days!!

These moments remind us that we are completely dependent on the Holy Spirit to speak through us. Left to our own devices, we'd come up short being clever or wise enough to speak to the hearts of those ranging from the Amish to NFL players to Salvation Army officers.  Really short.

But our day (March 10) in Sharon, MA, with about 80 officers was nothing short of wonderful and we once again felt very met by the Lord.  Great conversations between sessions, great interaction during sessions, and all agreed it was a day well spent when all was said and done.  Thank you, Lord.

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.

Meanwhile, on the family front, Julie and Derek have been busy on the frontlines of hospital work in Mbale, while Nathan closes in on 8 months and keeps them on their toes.  He is smiley, active, and "eat-him-up" cute, which makes up for his sometimes erratic sleep patterns.  Julie spent a lot of time during the month of February doing physical therapy for a young missionary couple who sustained significant injuries in a tragic car accident which took the life of their five-week-old baby girl.  The family has returned to the States now for further treatment, and Julie's work with the mother was pivotal in her recovery.  Pray for this dear family who have a long road ahead of them, both physically and emotionally.  

Nathan, lighting up the continent of Africa with his engaging smile and outgoing personality.

Lisa's first season as the head athletic trainer for women's basketball at UCLA has ended, sooner than anyone wanted, but with the team down to just six players, it was no surprise that they didn't make it beyond the first round of the Pac12 tournament.  She's been "recovering" from the intensity of the past 7 months in a variety of ways, including stealing away to Campus by the Sea for a few days and catching a few hikes with the Garcias.  

Speaking of the Garcias, their life is also full of activity between their work with Grace Baptist Church and a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old.  They are thrilled to be where they are, doing what they're doing, and especially loving growing their family.  

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. 

Thankfully, though we've been here, there, and everywhere, God has been reminding us faithfully that He is, too.  Through rain, snow, sunrises, and sunsets, when things go right and when they don't, He is with us in this amazing life journey.  We are truly, truly grateful.

Part 3 is coming . . . stay tuned!!

Sunset from Coronado Beach, California.  We never grow tired of this beauty.  

Legacy of Thanksgiving

November has always been one of my favorite months and this one we've just turned the page on is no exception. Ushered in by the waning days of fall and ending by catapulting us into my favorite season of the year—Christmas—it's not a stretch to understand my affinity for this eleventh month of the calendar year.

But it's more than that.  And last week's Thanksgiving Day celebration helped to clarify why this month is so important and meaningful to me.  Well beyond the glory of fall with its captivating moments of observing castaway leaves dancing in the currents of winds, crispness due to falling air temps, and the increasingly pressing awareness of the diminishing days that stand between now and the celebrated birth of the Christ Child, November reminds us to be thankful.

Though it shouldn't be that way, it is.  It's so easy to live entitled rather than grateful in America.  The simple things—like food, shelter, and freedom to worship—are hardly occasion for thankfulness.  We “deserve” those things.  The occasions for genuine gratitude are reserved for really big things we don't deserve . . . like winning the lottery or the World Series.

This month reminds us that being thankful is really, really important to God.  "In everything give thanks . . . for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I've pondered how a thankful heart is cultivated, since this is "the will of God"—making it much more than a suggestion or a good idea when you want to feel better.  

And that's where legacy comes in.  Though not the only factor, it is a significant contributor towards our hearts being inclined towards entitlement or gratitude.

We've both reflected especially this month how profoundly we have been influenced by parents who loved the Lord above all else and who modeled thankfulness. Who taught us to appreciate the small things and to not take them for granted. Who showed us through example that giving to and serving others would produce more joy than living self-indulged lives. Who lived sacrificially and responsibly, who worked hard and made no excuses, who loved one another faithfully and prioritized their family.

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.

As life moves on, our awareness of the rarity of this kind of legacy grows.  And that deepens our gratitude and compels us to pass the mantle to the next generation, whose challenge to live this out is greater than ever.  Our prayer is that we would cultivate thankful hearts year round, 24-7.  That will contribute greatly to our growing Christlikeness.

We've had a great month, which has included time together in three states and four countries.  And, Paul has been in an additional 12 states on his own, and no, he's not running for office.  And we've relaxed.  And been renewed.  This is how:

We spent the first week of the month celebrating my birthday and the Patriots’ bye week on a Caribbean cruise.  There were many firsts for us on that cruise, including having our minds changed about cruises in general.  Naturally, we got a great "couldn't pass up" deal and spent 7 days resting, relaxing, enjoying the beauty of the Caribbean, reconnecting with each other, and eating delicious food. We got a lot of exercise, basked in the majesty of His creation, and were renewed.  It was a wonderful gift.  We also met a couple on the tender going to port on Grand Cayman Island, and we clicked immediately.  We ended up spending our day with them, making an unforgettable excursion to Stingray City together.  We are looking forward to continuing the relationship.  

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!

On the ministry front, we had a great Engagement Matters weekend, Nov. 16-17, and spoke at the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church of Boston for an evening of marriage and family encouragement during that same weekend.  It was a true delight to partner with Pastor Khaled Ghobrial and his wife and to get a glimpse into the relevant work this church is engaged in.  The New England Patriot studies have been going well and have been well attended.  We have seen God work through our counseling in moments of breakthrough and hope.  We also had the privilege of doing two chapels for the UCLA women's basketball team during a recent tournament.

Standing with Pastor Khaled Ghobrial and his wife, Manal,
after speaking on family and marriage to their congregation.

A highlight of the month was hosting Pastor Wilberforce Okumu, lead pastor of Pearl Haven Christian Center in Mbale, Uganda.  He was the featured speaker for an H.I.M. donor thank you dessert evening and knocked it out of the park. Everyone was inspired by the work he's engaged in and his vision for the Kingdom.  We loved having him in our home for a few days as well.  Partnering with him in Mbale these past couple of years has bonded us in Christ and we love his heart!

Nov. 14th was a significant day for Home Improvement Ministries as we launched our first software app:  "The Marriage App."  After months of development primarily by Doug Macrae and assisted by Guy and Barbara Steele and Richard Hendricks, the app (based on our newest book, The Marriage App) hit cyberspace with the aid of tweets by Elizabeth Hasselbeck, Richard Dahstrom, Shaunti Feldhahn, Don Davis, Gary Gaddini, Ray Johnston, and David Hegg (to name a few).  Along with lots of Facebook traffic, the app soared to the top of the list of new apps on marriage downloaded over the weekend of  Nov 15-17.  We have been humbled by emails and Facebook posts which have affirmed the value of this app and are praying that God will use it to give hope to marriages and contribute to them thriving.  If you haven't downloaded this free app yet, we'd encourage you to do so at the App Store.

Most recently, we flew back out to California for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Well, I flew out.  In order to visit those additional 12 states I mentioned, Paul decided to deliver the used van that Gabe and Kari bought from (east coast) friends of ours, making his second cross-country road trip in 2 months time. Confirming his introversion, he loved every minute of it and made this trip between Friday morning the 22nd and Sunday night the 24th. He's amazing.  

Our days in California included some time with Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana in their home in Santa Clarita; attending a UCLA vs. OK women's basketball game to watch the athletic trainer (the game was great, too: a big upset victory for UCLA!); visiting my folks and sisters in San Diego with Lisa and then Paul; sweet visits with two other special families to welcome newborns; and a short but wonderful time in Pixley for Thanksgiving Day with Paul's extended family. In between all those visits, we managed to walk to the setting and rising sun on various California beaches.  Heavenly.

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.

We flew to Florida on Black Friday, missing the shopping and the crowds, but making it just in time to see UCLA women play in the Gulf Coast BB Tournament.  Though disappointing results on the court (we went 1-2), Paul and I loved being with the girls and the staff and feel we have such a better understanding of Lisa's new life in California.  Many in the system are coaching or playing for more than just records, and their hearts for the Lord are obvious.  They are struggling currently with a depleted team due to injuries, but the month ahead should see their bench increasing.  We are so thankful Lisa is part of this effort.

While in Florida, we also managed to walk a few beaches and to visit our dear friends Don and Yannette Davis, who extended warm hospitality to us as we concluded this all-over-the-place trip.

One last walk on the beach (Siesta Beach near Sarasota, Florida) before returning to Boston.

Though the delights this month have been many, the sorrows have also been present.  We've walked with several dear friends through the deaths of beloved parents and with couples through marital and family crises.  Life is often hard; sometimes because of choices we've made, but other times just because we live in a broken world and sin and evil takes its toll on all of us.  And death is a reality that no one escapes.  Each time death steals away one we love or one loved by ones we love, we are reminded in grief that we weren't designed for death and therefore it will always be excruciatingly painful.  

That's why the 1 Thessalonians passage says "In everything give thanks . . ." not "for everything give thanks."  There are many things we can't give thanks FOR, but we're called to give thanks IN.  

A very dear friend who lost her father and her mother-in-law within the space of 9 days this month, both unexpectedly, wrote:

Hello Friends,
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.

This friend is living in gratitude and passing on to her children a legacy of thanksgiving.  In the midst of deep and dark unexpected valleys, her comfort and source of gratitude is found in Him.  She is teaching all of us profound lessons.

In the month ahead, we will all experience the gamut of emotions, from the pinnacle of joy found in revisiting the manger, to the depths of despair as pain past and present weaves its darkness into our awareness.  Praying that especially in the moments of sorrow, we'll find our way to the cross and "in everything, give thanks."  That's the best legacy we can pass on.

Nathan at 2 months . . .

. . . and at 4 months. 

Brandon (3 years) and Ana (4 weeks)

Feeling the love

Hard as it was to leave 2-week-old Ana and 3-year-old Brandon (and their parents), I felt the love of God as I returned to New England and was met with the glorious colors of fall.  Most years the height of fall has passed by mid-October, and my only lament of being in California for the first two weeks of October was missing this annual "rite of leaf passage."  I was delightfully surprised to see that fall had "waited" for me, in a manner of speaking, and the past two weeks have showcased the brilliance of this spectacular season breathtakingly.  I am in awe at the majesty of creation!!

Besides the parade of the unfolding beauty of autumn, I returned to a "transformation" of several areas in our house, thanks to the very hard work of Paul (who returned a week earlier than I).  All a complete surprise to me, he had painted the kitchen (and changed the color from nondescript off-white to yellow!), had the kitchen floor refinished, scrubbed the soot-veiled walls of our Great Room, had the lighting fixtures changed, and polished the rest of the wood floors.  His consistent response to my "What are you up to?" calls from California was "Just preparing for our West Point retreat"  and began to raise my suspicion, but not enough to make me wonder much beyond that.  Imagine my surprise to discover all of these "acts of service" expressions of love in the wee hours of Wednesday, Oct. 16, just after landing back in Boston.  I was truly blown away. 

Besides all that, Paul spent a couple of days hosting Pastor Wilberforce Okumu, senior pastor of Pearl Haven Christian Center in Mbale, Uganda (the church Derek and Julie are part of).  Wilberforce was definitely wowed by the beauty of fall as well as the coastline of Cape May and his brief visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  

On the same day I returned, Kim and Dave Noble (director of Campus By the Sea) checked in to our Bed and Breakfast for a few days.  I actually didn't lay eyes on them until Friday, as my first two days back home were crazy full.  Just hours after landing, I drove to Attleboro for the Patriots’ women study, followed by counseling appointments.  Admittedly it was hard to keep my eyes open at times.  Thursday was more of the same in reverse, with counseling in the  morning and early afternoon, and then off to Attleboro for the Patriots’ couples study.  Two full, productive days.

Over homemade pumpkin waffles and sizzling bacon, we spent several hours catching up with Dave and Kim before beginning our drive to West Point.  It was a great time with dear friends.

By noon, we were on the road to speak at Officers Christian Fellowship's fall retreat, focusing on developing God-honoring relationships.  Tom and Cheri Austin run the OCF program at West Point and it just happens that they are the parents of Thomas (and Margaret) Austin, who spent a year and change with the Patriots.  Thomas and Margaret are "all in" for Christ and were a integral part of the couples' study and women's study while in New England.  Tom and Cheri are also the parents of Jennifer Austin Foxworth, who is also "all in" for Christ and attended the military wives conference I spoke for in Oahu a couple of years ago.   Both of their children strongly recommended to their parents that they invite us to do a conference for the cadets.  The third vote came from Dennis Mansfield, who was at West Point with Tom Austin over 3 decades ago, so Tom and Cheri made it happen.  And we're so glad they did.

The retreat was held at St. Basil's Academy, a beautiful conference center on the Hudson River directly across from West Point.  So though close, it felt far away from campus.  The grounds were immense, providing a perfect outdoor sanctuary for everything from early morning quiet time to a rousing game of football or a roaring campfire at night to facilitate s'more making. Perfect weather made it impossible to stay inside the castle-esque main house during the day, except for during the program.  We spoke 4 different times on the over-arching theme of "Created for Relationship," progressing from our relationship with God (created for Him) to relationship with each other (created for community) and ultimately to relationship with one (created for marriage.)  

We loved the cadets.  They were bright, interactive, engaged, open, respectful, and fun.  We ate with different ones at each meal so by the time we left, three days later, we felt very connected with all of them.  We also felt very met by God.

A special bonus of our West Point weekend was that one of the cadets was Pierce Wasdahl.  Pierce's grandparents are Ken and Shirley Lincoln, long time friends and partners in ministry at CBS.  They served with Paul's parents on the original CBS Committee that "saved" CBS in 1968 from being turned back to the Catalina Island Conservancy.  Pierce's mom (and aunt and uncles) all served at CBS in our early years, and Pierce's brothers have continued the tradition.  It was such a joy to get to know Pierce and to see his genuine heart for the Lord.  The legacy continues.  "Great is Thy faithfulness."

Two of the other cadets were from California, and both were connected with good friends of ours.  Small world!

Another huge highlight of the weekend was having our first ever tour of West Point.  What beautiful grounds!  Cheri Austin did the honors and gave us many insights from one who was at West Point as a kid, then as a young wife, and now as a retired wife.  We loved every minute of it—with the small exception of seeing "BEAT NAVY" seemingly everywhere I looked.  :)  

Some days after the retreat, we were encouraged by the "After-Activity Reports" that Tom and Cheri sent us (commonly known as evaluations in the public sector).  Here are a few of the comments written in:  

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.

All praise is His.

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!

We arrived home Monday night the 21st in time for a H.I.M. Board Meeting.  We are so grateful for our board. They work tirelessly to facilitate what we do.  Blessed.

Tuesday night we spoke at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, for the annual couples night hosted by the Seminary Wives class and Lita Schlueter.  To be honest, it's worth the drive up just to hang with Dan and Lita.  They are some of the most positive, upbeat, loving, godly people we know and we always consider it an honor to partner with them.  There was a great turn-out for the event and the time flew by as we addressed issues relevant to marriage and ministry.  Some important conversations followed, including one with a dear Korean couple who are interested in having us partner with their ministry in Korea.  That sounds exciting.

Here we are with Dan and Lita Schlueter.

Counseling, Patriots, and World Series games dominated the next few days, and then the weekend came.  Dr. Vita Stagno, the Sicilian pediatric neurosurgeon who stayed with us last fall for 2 months, came up from New York (where she is interning this fall) and my friend Helen came from upstate NY to have a fun girlfriends weekend.  Saturday was a blockbuster day, highlighted by enjoying the First Armenian Church of Belmont's annual fair, and though the homemade Armenian food was fabulous, the real treat was connecting with Greg and Sossi Haroutunian, friends and ministry partners for many years now.  It was extra meaningful to be with them, because they are moving to Fresno in late December to pastor a church, so many miles will separate us.  We were thrilled to receive a copy of our study guide, In Our Image:  Marriage as a Reflection of the Godhead, translated into Armenian!  Greg has done marriage conferences in Armenia the past two summers using this work.  So exciting!!!

A very happy reunion with Vita and Helen.

Dear friends Greg and Sossi Haroutunian at the Armenian festival.  

Besides the festival, we headed into Boston to drop a care package off for a friend in the hospital and then introduce Vita and Helen to the Farmers Market at Quincy Marketplace.  So much local color!!!  Love it.  We rounded out the day at Tremont Temple to hear Steve Green in concert.  What a worshipful experience!  He has lost nothing since his prime in the late 80's and we enjoyed every minute of it.

While the girls were playing, Paul was working.  He spoke at the chapel for the Miami Dolphins Saturday night on the theme of finishing well.  :)

It's been a pretty exciting run in Boston for Red Sox Nation, so we're not only wearing red sox—everyone has red eyes.  :)  So many great life lessons from this season about team, perseverance, determination, overcoming.  We have loved every minute of the post season and feel these guys are more than deserving of this World Championship.

Representing the Red Sox in Mbale!

Great reports are coming in from Derek, Julie, and Nathan, though Africa seemed VERY far away at moments these past couple of weeks.  The Garcias are doing well and Baby Ana is "thriving."  Brandon still thinks she's the greatest.  And Lisa is getting more and more settled and is really happy that basketball season is now underway.  

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.

These have good weeks and we're so thankful for the many ways we've experienced His love, family love, and the love of many dear friends.

We hope you're feeling the love, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latent Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

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.  :)

From Snow to Surf

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.

New England made Danny and Rayna Oertli feel right at home with a small snowstorm to herald their arrival.

New England made Danny and Rayna Oertli feel right at home with a small snowstorm to herald their arrival.

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 tables were set and ready for the couples’ arrival Friday night.

The tables were set and ready for the couples’ arrival Friday night.

The room was full of couples seeking encouragement, renewal, relaxation, reconnection, and fun.

The room was full of couples seeking encouragement, renewal, relaxation, reconnection, and fun.

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." 
This photo partially represents the team who worked very hard to make this weekend happen.  We are so blessed!

This photo partially represents the team who worked very hard to make this weekend happen.  We are so blessed!

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,
Chapel at Ann Arbor Christian School.  We were so impressed with the well-behaved, attentive students, ranging in age from pre-K through 8th grade.

Chapel at Ann Arbor Christian School.  We were so impressed with the well-behaved, attentive students, ranging in age from pre-K through 8th grade.

Joe and Lynn Forrester drove over 7 hours to attend the seminars at AACS and we were delighted to put real faces to the names we'd been in contact with for over a year.

Joe and Lynn Forrester drove over 7 hours to attend the seminars at AACS and we were delighted to put real faces to the names we'd been in contact with for over a year.

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.

Jessica, Leilani, and Jasmine show us a fort they built in their spacious back yard.

Jessica, Leilani, and Jasmine show us a fort they built in their spacious back yard.

I just love this photo of the Wong girls.  It prompts many memories of years gone by with our three.

I just love this photo of the Wong girls.  It prompts many memories of years gone by with our three.

At church Sunday morning, we stood in front of the photo of their newly "adopted through support" African child.

At church Sunday morning, we stood in front of the photo of their newly "adopted through support" African child.

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.

The Engles and the Harts (David and Krista Engle Hart and Abigail) are dear friends and partners in ministry at CBS as well as at Journey of Faith.

The Engles and the Harts (David and Krista Engle Hart and Abigail) are dear friends and partners in ministry at CBS as well as at Journey of Faith.

Over 200 people came out on this rainy St. Patrick’s Day for the marriage conference at Journey of Faith.

Over 200 people came out on this rainy St. Patrick’s Day for the marriage conference at Journey of Faith.

We were thrilled to have five Air Force couples from Edwards AFB attend the conference.  Two of the women had been at the women's conference I spoke for last year in Oahu.

We were thrilled to have five Air Force couples from Edwards AFB attend the conference.  Two of the women had been at the women's conference I spoke for last year in Oahu.

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.

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.  :)