Danny Oertli

Rocky Mountain High 2

“Be exalted, O Lord, above the heavens . . .”  This photo was taken out of the window of the plane flying from Denver to San Diego. The changing skyscape kept us mesmerized for almost an hour.  It was spectacular.

This August has been different than any other in our married life.  We’ve always done family camps in August, the last 18 of which have been in New England. As we passed the mantle to Camp Berea’s executive director, Nate Parks, at the end of last summer’s camping season, we didn’t know what God would have in store for us. Thankfully, and not surprisingly, He had a great plan (which is still unfolding as I write this) and we are truly grateful for how He has met us during this transitional year.

Usually, as soon as family camps wrap up at CBS, we fly directly to New England to do two more weeks of family camp. 

Not this year.

The decision to turn family camps over to Berea came after much prayer and many conversations. Topping the list of “this is right to do now”: first, we were (rightly) convinced that Nate and his crew were “ready” to assume leadership/responsibility for continuing the tradition as they fully embraced and “got” the ethos of family camp and were committed to continuing that, and second, the cost of flying the staff back to run the family camps was escalating every year, making its financial viability more challenging. We were impressed with Nate’s commitment to “getting it right”—which does not mean “doing it exactly as its always been done”—but he pressed to understand the heart, the purpose, the ethos of family camp by careful observation of every component of family camp as well as spending hours asking us the “whys” of each component. We had complete confidence that family camp under his leadership would be different and the same, and it would be good.

We were thrilled and thankful to hear from some family campers who affirmed that very sentiment. It’s very rewarding to have something you’ve poured yourself into and passed on to continue effectively. All praise is His!!

So, since we weren’t doing family camp in New England, the window we needed for our all-family celebration of our 40th anniversary presented itself. Gabe and Kari hosted a small renewal of our vows ceremony at their home in Santa Clarita the day we left CBS. Attended by a small mix of our families and a few chosen family friends, the “ceremony” was conducted by Pastor John Tebay, who was one of the officiants at our wedding, April 24, 1976. Kari, Lisa, and Julie did a beautiful job of putting together a very memorable celebration. It was very meaningful to repeat the vows we had written 40 years earlier and to realize that they really had shaped the ethos of our married life. God has been so faithful.

Here we are: our entire immediate family. Brandon walked me down the aisle after Ana lead the way as the “flower girl.”  Gabe and Derek each read scripture and everyone else did the hard work of making it all happen. It exceeded our expectations.

My dear mama, almost 87, is the only living parent we have and we are so grateful for her health and mobility which allows her to be present at moments like these.

The siblings able to make it included my sisters, (l-r) Sue Hekman, Melissa Collins, and Lucy Silveira, and Paul’s sibs Carol and Wayne Herbst, Beth Helen Smith, and Wayne and Sandra Clark. It meant so much to us to have them there, just as they were 40 years ago.

Pastor John Tebay (and his wife Grace) have been such significant mentors in our lives for well over 40 years and it was such an honor to have John renew our vows. He is a true man of God and he and Grace have been so instrumental in helping to shape our lives.

These five weren’t present 40 years ago!  :-)  The next generation, by God’s grace, will carry the mantle of truth in the decades to come.

After a few days with Garcias, we flew home to exchange our CBS wardrobe for speaking clothes and to get our hair cut, paper work sorted, and to check on our house before flying 24 hours later to Denver, CO, where we've spent the last three weekends doing a family and marriage series of sermons for Mission Hills Church. (To watch recordings of the sermons, go to the Mission Hills Church website and click on “Watch Now”)  

What a privilege to serve this way! We loved everything about this “gig.” Mission Hills has had a 75-year history of faithfulness to teaching God’s Word which has well-prepared them for this interim period during which time they’ve been without a pastor for almost 2 years. Danny Oertli (married to our niece, Rayna) is the worship leader at Mission Hills and has filled in a lot of gaps during the interim, one of which has been making sure the pulpit was filled. When the decision was made to do a series on family and marriage, he convinced the staff we would be the best candidates (nepotistic connections help), so the invitation was issued.

It was a huge honor and privilege to serve this congregation. All 4 services (a Saturday night and three Sunday mornings) were filled with eager, receptive, responsive people of all ages. We felt that God really met us each weekend, as well as the listeners—many of whom communicated to us just that. After the second weekend, which focused on marriage, one man told me, “This sermon just saved my marriage.”  Well . . . we know the sermon didn’t save his marriage, but we do know that the Holy Spirit did a work in his heart that morning through the sermon and gave him a vision of hope. There is nothing more exciting/gratifying/humbling than feedback like that.

Between weekends, we played. More exhausted emotionally and physically than we’ve been in a long time, it was a gift from heaven to have two 5-day periods “free.” We had some sweet time with the Oertli family celebrating Jack’s 16th birthday, before flying to San Diego between the first two weekends to hang out with my mom.

Jack’s 16th birthday celebration started with brunch at his Aunt Susie’s house. Such a great time!!

Our days in San Diego were perfect. It’s rare that we get to spend more than 2 days with my mom due to our crazy schedule, so this was gift in so many ways. My mom is easy. Never demanding, never complaining about not seeing enough of us, always thankful and appreciative. That makes our times together so precious. Adding delight, Lisa joined us for two days and Lisa makes everything better.

Goers and doers that we are, we convinced Mom to go to “Night Zoo” at the San Diego Zoo Tuesday and our two-hour stay couldn’t have been better. Perfect temp for enjoying the zoo, we (meaning Paul) wheeled her around and we took it all in. Just after sunset, we all took the Skyfari. My mom never ceases to amaze me.

On a roll, we took her to the “Greatest Generation Ever” memorial on the San Diego waterfront the next night. It was truly moving to see her response to this fitting tribute to her generation. Our days together couldn’t have been improved upon. So grateful!

Along with my sister Melissa, we had a great night at the zoo. The bronzed gorilla is no relation.

The “Greatest Generation Ever” memorial includes a bronzed collection of injured veterans being entertained by Bob Hope, with a continuous loop of one of his comedy routines being broadcast. Pretty remarkable.

The iconic farewell (or welcome home) embrace is one we were well familiar with as “Navy Brats." Right at this harbor, my father’s ships made many departures (full of tears) and returns (full of joy). So many memories are evoked by this incredible statue.

Back to Denver we flew after this lovely week with my mom, and after teaching at all four services that weekend, we spent four days at Twin Lakes in a cabin graciously made available to us by our dear friends, Dave and Kathleen. Off the grid in a big way, we anticipated getting a lot of writing done, but our bodies and souls were in greater need of rest and renewal so we gave in to the call of the mountains and lakes and hiked 6–10 miles daily. It was just what we needed. Having never hiked in the Rockies, we got a crash course in the effects of altitude when we hiked Aspen Mountain. Between thin air and a huge thunderstorm materializing out of nowhere (and breaking just as we made it to the lodge at the top), we had a very memorable hike—fortunately, with a happy ending (we are still alive). After four days of such recreating, we made our way back to Denver, refreshed and ready.

Hiking to “Interlaken” along the first lake . . . breathtaking!!

Taken from Independence Pass on our way to Aspen, this photo doesn’t really do justice to the incredible beauty—so use your imagination.

Paul, fully recovered from his brush with altitude sickness on the climb to the top of Aspen, stands on the platform upon which he married Wes and Anna Welker four years ago.

One of the most memorable encounters of our time in Colorado was meeting up with Bob and Jeannie Mannes, now 95 and 92 respectively. Campus by the Sea owes a huge debt of gratitude to Bob and Jeannie, who served as the summer directors of CBS from 1956–1970. Their tenure at CBS came to a close due to Bob’s promotion to Dean of Students at USC, which eliminated his professorial “summers free” schedule. They raised their five children at CBS, summer after summer, and Jeannie said, “All of our children believe that their summers at CBS were life-shaping for them.” We had the sweetest visit with them, comparing notes about people we know in common, and we were most impressed with their sharp-as-tacks memories. It’s so meaningful for us to connect with peers of Paul’s parents who have so much history with CBS. What a happy, blessed reunion!

Jeannie and Bob Mannes were most gracious to receive us for a “down memory lane” visit in their home in Denver.

Our last weekend in Denver was packed with great moments with great people.  Elsa Stanley, one of our all-time favorites from CBS (family-camper-turned-staff-member), recently moved to Ft Morgan, Colorado, for a teaching job and spent Saturday afternoon with us following our visit with Bob and Jeannie. Time is always too short with Elsa, but we packed it in during the window we had. After the Saturday night service, we enjoyed fellowship and food with the Oertlis. And Sunday after church, we were thrilled to be part of a CBS reunion of sorts hosted by Joel and Tiffany Ann Johns. The group was a mix of long-time CBS family campers (including Amity Close Wicks and her family and Stephen McLaughlin and his family), and newer CBS family campers (the Formes family, the Becketts, and the Johns), and the in-betweeners (Laura Long), and the never-been-to-CBS-but-new-to-Colorado (the Kyners). It was a lovely afternoon. We were well fed and hosted and they pulled off a sweet surprise “Happy 40th anniversary” CBS-style skit for us, complete with cake and well wishes. We’re still surprised and deeply touched by their kindness.

Elsa and I had a great time together catching up.

A wonderful group of CBS family campers gathered for food and fellowship in Parker on the Johns’ family ranch.

One more sweet celebration of our 40th. 

We also managed to meet up with our niece Kristi Rottschafer Daggett and her family at a local park in Castle Rock AFTER the Johns’ gathering, and then we made one final stop at Danny Oertli’s parents’ home before heading to the airport for our red-eye home. We truly couldn’t be more thankful for our three weekends in Denver, nor could we be more aware of how significantly God met us.

The Daggetts—Kristi, Tim, Isaac, Maddie, and Joel—met us at a park for a wonderful time of reconnection.

Our final social gathering prior to flying home—bbq and s’mores at Danny Oertli’s parents’ home. Delightful!

Refreshed and renewed, it was such a joy to return to Bedford and be greeted by Derek and Julie, Nathan and Rachel, who were awaiting our arrival. After a quick breakfast together, Derek and Julie took off for Maine to celebrate their 5th anniversary, leaving the littles with us for three days. They had a great getaway and we had loved every minute with the grands. Parks, stroller walks, playing games, and observing the simple delights of life through the eyes of a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old filled the days and “took us back.” Since we were playing “man to man” defense, it was very manageable and “easy.” We’re so thankful for the privilege.

We “rocked it” with Nathan and Rachel for three days while their parents got away. Loved every moment.

Derek and Julie returned Wednesday afternoon, glowing, and after a lovely celebration dinner of steak and artichokes a la Derek, Thursday rolled in and the Johnsons rolled out mid-morning for home and we flew out mid-afternoon for Michigan. Just like that.

So I write from Michigan, where the 2/42 Church second annual family camp (Fr-amily Camp) is underway. We’re honored to partner with this very alive, very vision-driven church again this year and were thankful for a strong launch last night. Next weekend we’ll be back at Campus by the Sea for the third annual Labor Day Family Camp and that will officially close our summer.

In many ways, it’s been the shortest summer . . . and the longest.

The best . . . and the hardest.

Energizing . . . and exhausting.

Hope-giving . . . and discouraging.

That’s kind of how life is, though, isn’t it?  Evil, sin, and hardship will interrupt perfection as long as we’re on the earth, but our great hope, encouragement, and perseverance is fueled by our eternal hope in Jesus. He continues to be faithful and gives us energy, hope, purpose, and vision.

And for that, we give thanks from the depths of our souls and we press on towards His heart.

Whether we’re high in the Rockies or not.

Sunrise behind us as the moon sets before us over the Rockies. Such assurance that He goes before us and behind us, always present, always with us. How comforting! All praise is His.

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.

New Year's . . . Really? (Part 1)

Does anyone else feel like New Year's Day should be about now—and that though the calendar already says January 16, 2013, it feels like that's impossible?

That's where I am.  We have just finished a full-to-overflowing month, filled with memorable family moments, rest, rejuvenation, and renewal.  "The End" to our family reunion was written Monday night as we bid farewell to Derek and Julie and sent them back to Uganda.  Let the New Year begin!  

So, after a month of not needing to know exactly what day it was very often, we're back at it.  An early morning trip to Logan and we're off to California and Colorado for a 12-day ministry tour.  The New Year is rolling.

But first, I need to wrap up 2012.  Picking up just after Thanksgiving,  I had an important lunch with my longtime mentor and friend, Gail MacDonald.  It's impossible to express what it means to me to have Gail continuing to invest in my life, which she's faithfully done for 28 years.  I've learned so much from her, both formally and informally, and her life lived for Christ has hugely influenced mine.  I will be forever grateful that Gail continues to carve out time in her very busy schedule for me.

Lunch with Gail MacDonald at the Bedford House in NH,
belatedly celebrating my birthday and prematurely celebrating hers!

We welcomed in December with a half-day H.I.M.-sponsored conference, "The Church Family and Your Family."  Designed to encourage churches to intentionally build into families and marriages, we were very pleased with the group of around 30 that gathered that morning, representing about 8 local churches.  We were especially impressed by Bethany Gospel Chapel of Swansea, which sent four couples from their leadership.  That's a church that is serious about this very important mission!  The morning was lively with discussion and inspiration, all while sitting in the atrium-like living room of the Macraes' home as snow fell softly outside.  It was a really wonderful way to spend the day!

The group of leaders from Bethany Gospel Chapel who attended
“The Church Family and Your Family” conference.

Monday, Dec. 3, we were honored to partner with the Faith EV Free Church of Acton by speaking to their Mom to Mom group.  Lorraine Stobbe extended the invitation and we were so pleased to be a part of that very exciting ministry.  One of the women we spoke to afterwards shared that she had just come to Christ after having been a part of Mom to Mom for several years, and that she was now praying for her husband to embrace Christ.  Very cool.  

The week was filled with counseling, Patriots studies, and getting things done for Christmas.   As I was perusing my iPhoto collection of photos for this blog, I came across this one which seemed very fitting to include.  Our ideas about love and serving can be so lofty at times and seem out of reach, but this photo captures love-in-action.  We "rescued" this destined-for-the-garbage pumpkin from the porch of some dear friends, and Paul, as a gift to me, processed it.  Our freezer now has a good amount of pureed fresh pumpkin, which will be used to make soup, pies, and breads.  It's a win-win-win.  Paul has spoken my love language loud and clear and has been duly appreciated, and many will enjoy the fruit of his labor in various treats from the kitchen.  And the pumpkin has a happier ending than in a landfill.  

The girls asked if he used a chain saw to cut this baby open.
He did not.  Just brute strength and a huge karate chop.  :)

We canceled Engagement Matters scheduled Dec. 8-9 due to low enrollment, which opened up the weekend for our annual trip to St. Louis.  We were SO happy to not break tradition with our beloved Williams family.  As usual, our weekend was filled with baking, talking, and catching up, in between and during their normally scheduled school and sports events.  Something new this year was being introduced to "The Duck Dynasty" reality t.v. show . . . and that made the girls "happy, happy, happy."  So many great moments with this precious family; so thankful for this Christ-centered home.

The tradition continues: matching jammies for
the family . . . except for Wilson, the dog.  

All too quickly the weekend was over and we flew home on Monday, Dec. 10, in time to go to Gillette Stadium with Stacia and Annette Woodhead to watch the Patriots handle the Texans (the first time.)  Annette, the mother of #39 (aka Danny, Woody, etc.), and I had a blast talking shop about marriage and family during commercial breaks.  We share many similar passions, and she and her husband are helping families in Nebraska embrace God's design for them.  The weather was great, the game was a blow-out, and still, it was the conversation with Annette that was the highlight.  It's so very encouraging to see how God is using others to impact our very confused and wounded culture with the good news of the gospel. 

We had a great night at Gillette Stadium with Stacia and Annette Woodhead.  Go Pats!!!

We wrapped up the Patriots Women’s study on Wednesday, December 12, with a cinnamon roll baking workshop.  With 18 women regularly involved in the study this year, I hadn’t really thought of what that meant in terms of dough for this popular annual event.  I now know.  It means A LOT of dough!  I started making the dough at 5 a.m. and drove down to Attleboro at 8 a.m. with 12 batches of dough rising in the trunk of our car.  :)  Thankfully, we had plenty of dough and lots of laughs working with it.

We also wrapped up a wonderful fall study of Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas and had a time of sharing about what the study had meant to each one.  It was evident that God was stirring hearts and drawing us closer to Him through our time, which—cinnamon rolls aside—really is the desire.  I’m so thankful for each of these precious women.  They are really very special. 

A few of the women proudly showcase their handiwork.  

Our final women’s study—sweet, sweet group.

It was straight from baking rolls to Logan to pick up Julie and Derek from Uganda!!!  Our dear friend Helen had joined us for a few days to be my right hand girl in all the preparation, baking, wrapping, cleaning, etc., so it was an extra mutual bonus for all parties to reconnect.  Homecomings are usually joyful and this one surely qualified.

These happy smiles are for more than the Dunkin' Donuts
coffee Helen bought to welcome these two from Africa!

Later that evening, Paul returned to Logan to pick up Danny Oertli, who had been flown in to do a mini-concert for the Patriots Couples Christmas party Thursday night.  Arriving after midnight, he thought he had landed at the North Pole upon seeing the “elves” hard at work making gingerbread houses.  :)

The after-hours crew making the annual gingerbread houses.

After a full morning of counseling, we finished baking, wrapping, and preparing for the grand finale of the Patriots Couples’ Study, and headed down to Attleboro for a really great night.  Betsy Hasselbeck and Kara Mankins had transformed the Mankins’ dining room into a beautifully decorated room, delicious food had been brought in, and the Ugly Sweater Christmas party began.  (Let me note here that when it had been suggested during the previous study that the party become an “Ugly Christmas Sweater” night, I had NO idea that they were referring to the very sweaters that I’ve worn Christmas after Christmas, never thinking them “ugly.”  I honestly thought they meant something very different, so was I surprised to show up and see what this young generation considers “ugly.”  What a rude awakening!)

Sweaters aside, the evening couldn't have been more delightful.  After laughing over the parade of "ugly sweaters" and eating a fabulous meal,  Danny Oertli did a fabulous concert, highlighted by his original tune written just for that night (in anticipation of the AFC title game between his beloved Broncos and our beloved Pats.  You can hear it here on YouTube:    As we now know, that song will have to wait for another year to go viral, as the Broncos will be watching the Pats and the Ravens in the AFC title game, but we all thoroughly enjoyed Danny's creativity and passion expressed in that song.  Matthew Slater talked about his walk with Christ and Paul wrapped it up with a charge that goes beyond the season.  It was a perfect night and we were very, very thankful for how God had met us through the study this season.

The Ugly Sweater gang

That takes us through Dec. 13 and that’s it for now.

I have to try to figure out how it’s already Jan. 16.

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. 

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.

Rocky Mountain High

The pattern continues: home for 3 days for counseling and other meetings, and then off again.  Destination?  Denver!  Venues?  Many and varied.  Delight quotient?  Off the charts.

Danny and Rayna Oertli put together an eclectic weekend for us to help us get our toes in the water of this part of the country and we loved every minute of it.  We started with a live interview Friday afternoon, April 29, on the Gino Geraci show.  Gino is the senior pastor of Calvary South Denver and host of a daily 2-hour radio show (KRKS-FM) broadcast from his church.  Though we were appropriately “nervous” (this is an uncommon venue for us), Gino quickly put us at ease and we had a great time talking with him about several of our publications which reflect our passions.  Great opportunity.

We passed on Danny’s invite to see the Rockies play that night, and were so glad we did as snow fell during the game.  Instead, we watched the royal wedding with Rayna and Grace and were pleasantly surprised by the hymns sung, the scriptures read, and the homily given.  And the fairy-tale factor was huge—she was a beautiful bride!

Uncle Paul enjoys some moments with Maggie and Jack Oertli, who are falling in love with their new puppy, Tulo.

Saturday morning, bright and early, we headed to Hope Community Church to speak at an all-day marriage conference.  Dean and Rebecca Wertz head up this church, and Danny’s parents, Jay and Marti, serve as the Adult Ministry pastors.  Great folks!  Worship was provided by Danny and Rayna, much to our delight, and the setting was perfect for good interaction with the couples, who ranged from several months married to almost 40 years married!  We were so impressed with the spirit of the group which always seems to reflect the leadership of the church.  The congregation is fortunate to have the Wertzes and the Oertlis at the helm.  Both couples have deep character and fully surrendered hearts which have been forged in the crucible of pain and loss.  We love to hang with folks like these; their lives reflect the hope of the gospel so profoundly.

Dean and Rebecca Wertz tried to focus on keeping the worship lyrics rolling, but found each other somewhat distracting . . .  :)

. . . so Jack Oertli stepped in and did the job flawlessly.  :)

The setting was cozy and comfy and we felt very connected with those who came.

We headed straight from Hope Community Church to Crossroads Church in Parker to speak at their Saturday night service, making it a rather full day.  :)  We were instantly drawn in by the lead pastor, John Snyder, who is truly one of the warmest and most pastoral men we've ever met.  As the weekend would unfold, we watched him greet most people who walked through the door by name—and between the 4 services, close to 1,000 people attended.  That’s a shepherd who cares deeply about his flock!  We also found out that he was raised in Yucaipa, and is friends with the Kranings and others we know from that area.  Small world!!  The services went well and we felt very blessed to be a part of what’s happening at Crossroads.

We also were thrilled to reconnect with long time CBS-camper, Stephen McLaughlin, and his wife, Ellie, and daughter, Lexi.  We hadn’t seen them since their wedding four years ago, so we talked fast and furiously over lunch, catching up with them.  Such a sweet family!

Stephen, Ellie, and Lexi McLaughlin joined us for lunch after the final service at Crossroads on Sunday.  Loved being with them!

The balance of Sunday was spent playing with the Oertlis’ dog, Tulo, running races with Maggie (which she won consistently—altitude advantage or age?), reconnecting with dear friends Deb and Mark McCormick, and teaching Danny and Rayna to play “Nickel.”

First thing Monday morning, we headed to Colorado Springs to do a radio interview with Ryan Dobson for his show, “Grounded”—but en route, we squeezed in a short visit with our niece, Kristi, and her three kids.  We missed seeing Kristi’s husband Tim, who is a coach and school teacher, but it was great to meet their two children born since we last saw them.

Sleeping baby Joel, Isaac, and Mattie (on Kristi's lap) extended warm hospitality during our brief visit.

On to the radio show we drove as snow and sleet began to fall.  Denver seems a bit like Boston!  Snow in May!  Wow!  It didn't slow us down, fortunately, and we were happy to arrive in a timely fashion to “Family Talk” headquarters, where Ryan shares space with his dad, Dr. James Dobson,  host of Family Talk Radio.  We have deep hearts for James Dobson, as he was one of the primary coaches for us as young parents starting in 1980.  We tuned in to Focus on the Family regularly back in those days and read just about everything Dobson ever wrote through the years.  To say that he had a strong shaping influence on our parenting would be an understatement.

It was therefore quite an honor for us to be guests on his son’s radio show all these years later.  As we know, it’s who you know . . . and Danny has been on Ryan’s show a number of times, so he convinced Ryan to take a gamble with us.  We didn’t feel the same anxiety we had felt on Friday before we went on the Gino Geraci show (maybe the fact that Ryan is 15 years younger than me had something to do with that!) but we did feel privileged to be there.  And we had a blast.  Besides talking about family and church issues, when off air, Ryan and I were talking about making raspberry jam and bread recipes.  It was very, very comfortable.  The interview, conducted by Ryan and his co-host, Toben Heim, was aired recently and can be heard here.

Ryan Dobson and Toben Heim flank us in the studio of “Grounded.”

Ready, set, go.  Let the tape roll!

Back to Parker, with another brief stop en route to catch up with ex-Pats and dear friends, Tom and Julie Ashworth.  Tom played for the Patriots 2002–2005, and besides helping the team win three Super Bowl titles, he and Julie were faithfully involved in the couples’ Bible study.  They both became more serious about their faith journey as a result, and continued growing by leaps and bounds during the last years of his NFL career which were played out in Seattle.  Is there anything more encouraging that seeing seeds planted producing a harvest?  Wow.  Though only 45 minutes in length, the visit filled us with such thankfulness and hope.

Tom, Julie, and Carolyn welcomed us to their Castle Rock home where we had a happy reunion.

One last event before flying back to Boston—a couples’ dessert night at Front Range Christian School.  Set up by our long time and dear friends Dave and Kathleen Sherman, we were impressed by the creative use of their school-owned coffee shop, “Higher Grounds.”  They packed the place out for the “date night with a purpose” and besides good coffee and yummy desserts, the crowd seemed to appreciate what we said.  One woman told me afterwards that when we talked about the damaging dynamic of a controlling wife and a passive husband, we were describing her and she really wanted to change.  We love moments like that which make it so clear that the Holy Spirit is at work.  Praise Him!

A coffee shop venue was perfect for our evening at Front Range Christian School.

Dave and Kathleen Sherman worked hard to make the evening successful.

And then . . . off to the airport.  Why not?  A 12:45 am flight would get us home Tuesday morning, May 2, so we wouldn't really lose a day.  So with the lights of Denver shining brightly below, we left the Mile High City for home, very thankful for four full and productive days of ministry.

H.I.M.'s "Irony of Intimacy" Conference

Arriving home close to midnight on Sunday, Feb. 27, I was made aware of how blessed (and spoiled) I am to have Paul.  He didnt come home with me, but rather flew to Charlottesville, Virginia, to spend a day with Lisa and return our second car to Bedford (which had been on loan first to Julie during her fall internship in Northern Virginia, and then to Lisa after her car died).  It was snowing when I returned, and the 6" of snow in our driveway looked a bit overwhelming when I realized that I was there alone. Paul always shovels and makes sure those things are taken care of.   Before taking it on, I checked the weather and found that rain and warmer temps would be arriving through the night, so I pretended it wasn’t there and sloshed through to the house dragging suitcases and mementos from the Princess run.  Continuing in the established pattern of touching home base only briefly, I did laundry, repacked, and drove to Glenville, New York (just outside of Albany), to spend a couple of days with my very dear friend Helen Challener, who had just moved into a new home and whose husband was on a 2-week business trip to India.  My gamble on not shoveling paid off; I had no problems driving out of our driveway Monday morning, thanks to rain which melted the already fallen snow and ice.  Sometimes procrastination is a good thing.

My days with Helen passed altogether too quickly as we poked around thrift stores, walked her dog Penny, visited with a wonderful “I want to be like her when I grow up friend of Helens named Betty,  and laughed and talked endlessly.  It was a total blast and I’m so thankful we were able to shoehorn the visit in between conferences.

Helen and her dog Penny are getting settled in their new house.
Helen and I spent an inspiring evening with her dear friend, Betty.
The following weekend, March 4-6, was our annual H.I.M. marriage getaway conference.  Returning to the beautiful Viking Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island, we had a sell out crowd of 100 couples.  At our H.I.M. Board’s insistence, Paul and I spoke for this conference and we felt very, very met by God.  We love teaching on the subject of “The Irony of Intimacy because we’re constantly reminded that at the very heart of intimacy is sacrificial love.  It's so easy to forget that in this culture, which is so steeped in entitlement and approved-of selfishness.

From start to finish, the weekend exceeded our expectations.  We are so blessed to have a phenomenally creative and hard-working team around us.  Doug and Julie Macrae knocked it out of the park again with their generous goodie bags and the wonderful decorations, which created an ambience of romance and delight. Jim and Sue Martis handled registrations, the book table, and served as the liaisons for the hotel.  They covered every detail masterfully.  Guy and Barbara Steele, who are pivotal in every conference, were not with us physically due to a conflict in schedule, but they were with us in “form: all the forms, handouts, and printed material were once again produced by them.  We really missed having them at the conference (it’s the first one theyve missed in the 7.5 years of H.I.M.’s existence) but were thankful for their partnership behind the scenes.  The Tiptons, Musacchios, Ploskers, Hendricks, and Franks also helped in a variety of ways, underscoring the power of teamwork.

Did I mention that Paul baked over 200 of his world famous chocolate chip cookies for the conference?  Two cookies were nicely packaged and placed in each of the goodie bags.  What a guy!!!

From the moment our guests arrived and were greeted by a warmly welcoming registration team, to our final prayer Sunday early afternoon, there was a palpable sense of God’s presence and love.
We loved how special you made us feel.  Love was in the air, the moment we walked in with heart balloons floating in the air, chocolate at every moment, and a special gift bag full of treats.  Thanks!  We feel so rejuvenated.”  (Evaluation from a couple married 15 years)
Danny and Rayna Oertli lead vital worship and then blessed us with a fabulous concert Saturday night, which featured many songs from Danny’s new CD which will be released in May. Though they can perform, when they lead worship, they are only about helping us meet God through song.  How thankful we are for the humble ways they use their gifts.
This has been a wonderful, refreshing weekend.  Were inspired to press on and love each other well.  Rayna and Danny were awesome, as were all the speakers.  Thank you for your transparency and encouragement, Friesens.  (Couple married 3 years)
Workshops were varied and capably taught by a great team of teachers.  Many positive comments were expressed on the evaluations about the workshops.
We found the conference extremely helpful.  We're leaving with a lot of great resources on ways to improve our marriage. (Comment from couple married 20 years) 
The Macraes, as always, spared no expense in creating a welcoming ambience in the meeting room.

It was a treat to hear a number of new songs that Danny has just finished recording in Nashville for his next CD.

The audience was very, very responsive and engaged all weekend.

We couldn’t have asked for a better response to the weekend.  God was so faithful to meet us in unbelievable ways.  Several have written that their marriage was turned around this weekend.  The Body of Christ expanded by at least one, as the long-suffering prayers of a faithful wife were answered when her husband decided to follow Jesus.

Wow!  That kind of stuff is accomplished not by great decorations or teaching or a well planned conference, but by the Spirit of God and we are humbled by His grace.

That night after the conference, North Shore Community Baptist Church hosted a family concert featuring Danny, and about 200 people showed up.  Ryan and Kelly Plosker worked hard to pull of this great evening and it was a wonderful night of celebration of all that is good in the body of Christ.  It was a fitting exclamation point on the end of an amazing weekend.

Danny and Rayna lead worship before performing a concert at North Shore Community Baptist Church on Sunday night, March 6.

Feldhahns Come to Town

“Putting the Happily Back in to Ever After” was the theme of our (now) annual one-day marriage seminar, hosted by Home Improvement Ministries to serve the greater Boston area.

And many of the over 200 people left the day feeling at least a little closer to that desire.

Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn, internationally known for their research data and their publications on the differences between men and women, were well received by the conference attendees.  Jeff and Shaunti spoke at three different sessions, giving important and possibly situation-changing information on how to bridge the gap between the genders.  Paul and I had invited them to speak after spending a day with Shaunti at the Iron Sharpens Iron Women’s Conference held in Connecticut last fall.  Over dinner, Shaunti, Paul, and I talked endlessly together about the passion we share for encouraging marriages.  We were so impressed with Shaunti's genuine, down-to-earth self, that we extended the invitation.  Since she and Jeff met in Boston, coupled with having never spoken in Boston, they were willing to negotiate with us to make it possible.

Though we had really hoped to pack out Calvary Christian Church (our new favorite place for doing conferences because of their great facility and their even greater staff), just over 200 people made it to the conference.  We pushed beyond the disappointment of being undersubscribed and watched God work in amazing ways throughout the day.

Most who attended were local, but we did have a couple in from Johannesburg, South Africa.  Tando and Zama Msoki had been impacted by Shaunti’s books and were able to put together a trip which included running the New York marathon the weekend before.  They were a delight!

Besides hearing the Feldhahns speak during three sessions, we offered multiple workshops during two sessions.  Great feedback was received on the evaluations regarding the variety and quality of the workshops.  We are so thankful for the quality team of workshop leaders we had:  Ryan and Kelly Plosker, Danny and Rayna Oertli, Tim and Sharon Ponzani, Seth and Melanie Bilazarian, Doug and Julie Macrae, and Eric and Joylynn Mello.  All were appreciated!

Worship was lead by Danny and Rayna Oertli, which is always a good thing.  That evening, they did a concert at Calvary Christian Church.  Fans, young and old, were blessed by their unusual talent and the sincerity of their hearts for the Lord.

Jim Martis of MJM Catering provided lunch, which was delicious and served efficiently.

All in all, the day was a great success and encouragement.  One first timer, who also is a seeker, wrote, “We loved it.  We felt very loved and we felt God’s presence.  We’ll be back!”

In addition to all day Saturday, we had a “stand-alone” evening on Friday for those who couldn’t attend Saturday.  Held at the Peabody Marriott, about 75 came out for the evening and the Feldhahns gave us a sampling of Saturday’s seminar.

Tando and Zama Msoki from Johannesburg, South Africa, stand with Jeff and Shauti Felshahn at day’s end.

The workshop leaders introduce their topics.

Julie Friesen, Derek Johnson, Jeff and Shaunti, and Paul and I send the Feldhahns off.

The operations team worked tirelessly all day to make sure everyone was well taken care of.

Danny sings a number of new songs off his next CD, which he plans to record this spring.

The weeks ahead will be full of counseling, Patriot studies, and speaking.  In between, we’ll enjoy the preparation for Christmas and look forward to being with our children and grandson at different points along the way.

Happy Thanksgiving for now.  It’s good to be reminded that thankful hearts stave off entitlement and discontent.  Thanksgiving is really a year-round holiday!  We’re thankful for so much...including you.