Engagement Matters

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 . . .

Relationships!

Today, April 20, we fly to Port Au Spain, Trinidad, to speak at a marriage conference for Trinidad and Tobago Urban Ministries. Our partnership with TTUM spans 17 years, starting when we took a group of families to serve on our second family missions trip for Grace Chapel. We “clicked” with Ashoke and Stefanie Bachew and their vision for these little islands and have been fast friends and ministry partners ever since. What a welcomed opportunity to return this week for their second bi-annual marriage conference—and how different it is to be going “alone” and not traveling with a team of 25-30, and not hauling hundreds of pounds of supplies for Backyard Bible Clubs! Paul’s sentiments: “This is a whole lot easier!!"

Backing up to Easter, we had a most delightful time hosting friends in our home for Easter week. We had a blast together and learned some new games, including “Tenzi” and "Jousting with Peeps” (use your imagination). We laughed a ton, had deep ponderous discussions, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment shared. Easter Sunday morning, we all attended church together and were most surprised when one of those being baptized related in her story that she had been a young African girl born with “knocked knees” and seemingly relegated to a life lacking mobility until she was sponsored to be surgically repaired at the CURE Hospital! I could barely contain my excitement as these worlds . . . church in Arlington and CURE in Africa . . . intersected in such a life-giving way. A bonus moment on Easter Sunday! The celebration continued in our home as eleven of us gathered around our table, connected by our love for the Risen Lord as well as our love for one another. It was a great day.

Our houseguests from California brought a lot of life and energy to our home during Easter week, starting with Easter Sunday breakfast.

Joyce was born and raised in Africa, and her “knocked knees” were surgically repaired at a CURE Hospital in Africa. Years later, Easter 2016, she was baptized in Arlington, MA.

Our delightful gathering on Easter Sunday, with much talking, laughter, and fellowship.

Between March 4 and April 9, we’ve hosted the H.I.M. marriage conference, Engagement Matters, and Worth It. I guess you could say we’ve been on a relationship roll.  

The weekend following Easter, April 2-3, our Engagement Matters conference was held in Andover, MA, at the home of Seth and Melanie Bilazarian. As always, stimulating conversations and probing questions were exchanged in an attempt to help these couples sort through important matters which will have an impact on their married life. We always tell the couples at the beginning of the weekend, “There are at least three potential outcomes of this weekend. One possibility is confirming that you are right for each other and that your timing is good to move ahead towards marriage. A second possibility is that you’ll decide you’re headed in the right direction, but you could benefit from more time before you decide on marriage. The third possibility is that you’ll decide you are not right for each other and though that’s a painful discovery, it’s far less painful to decide that on this side of the altar than the other.”  Our belief is that some marriage problems can be avoided with good pre-marriage work.

We are so thankful for our Engagement Matters teammates Ryan and Kelly Plosker, Carl and Cathy Blatchley, and Melanie Bilazarian. We are all kept very busy through the weekend, interacting with the couples formally and informally. We all have such deep hearts for each of them to make wise, God-honoring decisions.  

Most of the couples who attended EM April 2–3 . . . though some had already slipped out before this photo was snapped.


After one of the mildest winters in a while, the last thing we expected was that a snowstorm would cause the cancellation of our speaking to the Park Street Church Union group on Monday, April 4. Very fortunately, it was able to be re-scheduled for Thursday, the 7th, and we spoke to a packed room of young marrieds on the subject of marital sexuality. We were very impressed with the thoughtful questions submitted after our presentation, which were answered in the remaining 45 minutes of the evening. We were reminded that as pervasive as “sex” is in our culture, few seem to have a place to go with their questions, especially if seeking Biblical guidance. It was a great evening . . . 

. . . and, an appropriate lead-in to the following weekend, “Worth It!”  Our annual purity conference (the pre-engagement, pre-marriage conference we host), geared for families, was beset with challenges this year, from speaker availability to logistics. Our “normal” line-up of NFL couples had scheduling/family conflicts of all sorts, reducing our “headliners” to Don Davis (retired) and Matthew and Shahrzad Slater. At the ninth hour, the Slaters had to cancel due to the funeral of his aunt in Mississippi (though they kindly recorded a message to the attendees which we showed during the conference), so Don carried the NFL ball alone this year.  He was up to the task!  He also was accompanied by a stellar line-up of Nate Parks (executive director of Camp Berea), Paul Friesen (director of H.I.M.), Kate Wylie (wife of figure skating Olympic Silver Medalist Paul Wylie), Lisa Friesen (professor of athletic training at California Baptist University), Chris and Dorothy Greco (speakers, writers), and Adam Rowe (youth pastor for Grace Chapel Wilmington). All of the speakers led both plenary sessions and workshop sessions, and they all truly knocked it out of the park. 

Hosted by Trinity Baptist Church of Nashua, the packed crowd was fully engaged in the day as the “gospel” of relationships was proclaimed. The audience, made up of parents and teens, was delighted with the clarity of the messages, especially against the back drop of a culture whose confusion regarding these subjects only increases. There is such relief in hearing truth spoken.

Here are some of the comments written on evaluations at the end of the day:

"Excellent speakers.  All of them.  I took something from each talk.  Thank you!!”  (15-year-old male)
"I appreciated that nothing was sugar-coated.  It helped me realign my thoughts on what really matters in life.”  (15-year-old male)
"I loved attending with my teenage daughter.  It opened up opportunities for us to discuss topics we had not, and gave me the way to do it.  I wish I had known these things when I was a teen.”  (female parent)
"I recently asked God to please show me someone that was going through the same struggle of staying pure.  I am so happy this conference exists and I am thinking of so many people to bring next year.  This conference helped me get closer to God.”  (17-year-old female)
"Really appreciated the candor and vulnerability of the speakers.” (male parent)
"Getting to spend the day at 'Worth It' reinforced what we have been attempting to teach them about relationships.”  (male and female parents)
"The things I learned today will change the things I do in the future.”  (14-year-old female)
"Most of the speakers were fun so it helped teens who were not thrilled to attend.”  (female parent)
"You guys fit so much into one day! Well done. Thank you so much for your ministry!  God bless!”  (female parent)

We all agreed that it was one of the best “Worth It” conferences ever, and for that, we say “Thank you, Jesus!”  All praise is His!!

Paul Friesen opens the day with passion and humor, instantly helping all attendees relax.


Kate Wylie uses some volunteers to illustrate how hard it is to have a foot in both worlds.


Lisa Friesen challenges the teens with the question, “What is your BRAND?” (Belief, Reason, Accountability, No, and Dream)  As our “token” single, she was winsome in affirming her trust in a very personal God who continues to meet her as she trusts Him for her future mate.


Adam Rowe addressed the issue of media and technology, hitting hard on the destructive nature of pornography.


Don Davis wrapped up the day with the good news of forgiveness and the hope of redemption.


In the absence of the rest of the NFL crew, Paul creatively had a DVD made of interviews with the couples who would’ve been there. The DVD featured Benjamin and Kirsten Watson, Danny and Stacia Woodhead, Matthew and Shahrzad Slater, Ryan Wendell and Meridith Bartman (who are engaged to be married in July), as well as Don Davis.  It was really well done (thanks to the creative work of Jake and Kaylee Gosselin) and was a great addition to the day.

It takes many helping hands to put on such a conference, and once again Jim and Sue Martis and their able team pulled it off with excellence.  The day went like clockwork and we are deeply grateful for the many who helped make it so.


The aftermath . . . cleaned up and packed away . . . these folks stayed ’til the end. So grateful for them!


The dust had barely settled on “Worth It” before Lisa and I flew to California on Sunday while Paul happily stayed home to work on a myriad of house and writing projects. I had the joy of spending the week with Kari, Brandon, and Ana, while Gabe was with his pastoral staff team from Grace Baptist Church, Santa Clarita, attending the “Together for the Gospel” conference in Louisville, KY.  Oh what fun it was to have five delicious days with Brandon and Ana (and their mama, of course.)  Brandon and I had “sleep overs” every night, ensuring that the day would close with reading some childhood favorites. Baking, going to the park, playing “Candyland” and doing some special outings filled up the days and all too quickly I was boarding a plane for Raleigh, NC, where I joined Paul who was officiating the wedding of Parker and Katie.  


The cuties I spent a week with in California. I can never get enough of the grands!


The wedding was a celebration of so many great things, and we enjoyed every minute of it. We’ve shared many important moments with this family through the years and it was such an honor to share this milestone event with them. Every time Paul does a wedding, he’s flooded with responses from those unfamiliar with a Christian perspective. He most often hears, “I’ve never heard marriage spoken about that way. You’ve given me something to really think about.”  What a privilege to proclaim God’s good design for marriage to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

Held at the beautiful Carolina Inn on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, the ceremony was a declaration of the gospel of marriage.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to encourage marriages, we welcomed the opportunity to do a mini-marriage conference for the Trinity Park Church.  Connected by Corrado and Penny Grieci (former New Englanders and long time friends), we spent the morning with a very receptive and warm audience.  It was a bonus to catch up with the Griecis as well.

Friends from Trinity Park Church attended the marriage seminar on Saturday, April 16.
After the wedding festivities ended, we spent Sunday reconnecting with James and Joe Yardley, both who attend UNC-Chapel Hill. After church, at which Joe was playing keys, we had a lively conversation over lunch. It was so encouraging to catch up with these two college students (who we’ve known since they were 1 and 3 years old) whose hearts are for the Lord. Next visit, my 88-year-old second cousin, Sis, who is a lifelong Raleigh-ite. Impressively spry and a delightful conversationalist, our time with her passed far too quickly. We rounded out the day with Roy and Jenny Kelly, beloved friends who used to live in New England. It was great to catch up with them after not having seen them face to face in such a long time. More important relationships!

Back home, briefly, for a day of counseling, and now we’re off to Trinidad for a week.

Forty years ago today we were counting the final four days until we would be united as husband and wife. We’re both finding it hard to wrap our minds around 40 years! While thousands of memories swirl in my head as we anticipate reaching this milestone on Sunday, April 24, the overwhelming sentiment centers on the faithfulness of God. We sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness” at our wedding and believed that “morning by morning new mercies we see.” We have clung to “All I have needed Thy hand has provided” and we affirm, “Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Humbling. Blessed. So loved. The most important relationship of all: He loves us and promises to be faithful. That’s the key to our 40 years together. All praise is His.
Our wedding party . . . sooo late 70’s. Love it!

All Things New


“Do you need anything more than the cruel cross of Jesus Christ to convince you of how deep your need for grace is?”  (Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies)

It’s Good Friday as I write and these words taken from Tripp’s new devotional book bring such clarity to the message of the Cross. Sacrifice. Love. Grace. Oh to be reminded once again that “Jesus paid it all . . . All to Him I owe. . . . Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” Hope!! He will make all things new.

It’s good to pause and reflect after a full month of ministry. I last wrote from Denver, where on Monday, the 29th of March, Jake and Kaylee Gosselin hosted an evening for seminary couples to talk about marriage and ministry. We love such events! We love the conversation, the questions, the insights. We love seeing the next generation of ministers preparing to go into the fields which are ripe with harvest. The evening passed far too quickly, but fortunately the conversation continued with Jake and Kaylee over breakfast this next morning in their sweet home. It was so good to have time with these guys, and we left very excited about what God is doing in their lives.


Full time seminary students, worship leaders at their church, and parents to half a dozen laying chickens. Jake and Kaylee have a full life.

On to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs for the Pro-Athletes Outreach “Increase” conference . . . our sixteenth! We were pleased to have four of our Patriots couples attend this unique-for-NFL-players Christian conference, where we experienced great worship, heard challenging speakers, and had sweet fellowship. Paul and I did two workshops: one on temperaments, and one on in-law relationships . . . which was very alive with questions, emotions, and stories. Hit a nerve for sure for many; after the workshop ended, about half the group stayed for informal Q and A, which went on for another hour. Loved it.

A couple of our Patriots couples who attended the PAO conference.

We red-eyed it back to Boston the night of March 3, arriving early on the 4th in time to host and speak at our annual H.I.M. marriage conference in Newport, RI. It was a packed, sold-out house, full of couples across the spectrum of age/stage, ethnicities, and health of marriage. From those celebrating the delight of marriage to those in deep crisis, from thirty couples married six years or less to those married 40-50 years (including one married 64 years . . . we had a healthy cross-section of very engaged, expectant couples. Thankfully, God met us in spades and the weekend was wildly successful.

Several comments received after the conference:

“Thank you for such a life-giving, refreshing weekend!”

“We learned so much this weekend and will recommend this conference to all our married friends!”

“What a fantastic reminder of how much God loves us and His design for our marriages.”

We can’t thank you enough for the AMAZING weekend in Rhode Island. We are so blessed to learn what it is to be rooted in Christ as a couple. We are so grateful for the prayer session that equipped us to live our lives as one spirit and tackle the world together. We will be sharing our experiences and the tools with our small group.”

“My husband and I just returned from the marriage retreat in Newport and are HIGHLY recommending it to all our married friends! You guys do a wonderful job and we cannot wait to come back next year!

Thank you so much for leading, with Paul, such a wonderful marriage conference weekend. We came away with so much to think over and talk about.  We are grateful for the wisdom both you and Paul share with so many.

Opening night: being lead in worship by Danny and Rayna Oertli, Rich and Sue Musacchio, and Paul and Lyss Gandy. A strong start.

The theme “Marriage Strong” was carried out beautifully by Kelly Plosker, who once again worked her magic on the ball room, creating an ambience of welcome, comfort, and delight. We are so thankful for her gifts used so powerfully.

Sunday afternoon . . . the guests are gone and the team is tearing down. We pause for a photo and a prayer, giving thanks for the incredible ways God met us.

A highlight for us was having 30 young married couples with us for the weekend, most of whom have come through Engagement Matters. During the EM weekend, we challenge them to commit to having an "annual marital check-up” as a way to keep their marriage healthy and growing. Too many people forego ongoing “maintenance” on their marriage and only consider attending a marriage conference when they’re in crisis. Our observation is that those who do regular “maintenance” often avoid getting to the place of crisis or of drifting apart. We’re so encouraged by these young couples who are proactively building into their marriages.

It was also a highlight to have Bill and JoAnne Shore with us, who have logged 64 years of marriage. Ah, the power of lives well lived. Every couple privileged to rub shoulders with them during the weekend was inspired. Their hearts for the Lord and for each other cannot be missed.

Reflecting on the weekend 2.5 weeks later, we’re mostly just grateful. For God’s faithfulness. For the team who worked so hard, so sacrificially to make the weekend go smoothly in every way. For the couples who came, seeking healing, seeking encouragement, seeking fellowship, seeking God. For the strength and grace He gave Paul and me, coming in on the heels of a very full week in Colorado, and speaking for the conference, doing a workshop, and interacting with over 260 people. For the work of the Holy Spirit. We’ve interacted with many couples who testified that God met them in big ways at the conference, giving them new hope and grace for their marriages. We are truly humbled to be, part of such powerful Kingdom work. All praise is His.

Home—very briefly—to catch our breath and repack (sort of). All day Monday we counseled and all day Tuesday I had jury duty. Early on Wednesday, March 9, Paul headed to Springfield, MA, to partner with Pioneer Valley Christian Academy for their relationship day. He spoke for the middle school chapel in the morning and their senior high chapel in the afternoon. After the illness that sidelined me for the morning had improved enough for me to join the party, I headed out to Springfield in time for the parents/teens session for “Worth It—Springfield” which drew a crowd of about 200 (far exceeding the expectations of the planning team, who were expecting about 75.) Well organized by Caroline Funchion, and promoted by headmaster Tim Duff, the day was more successful than anyone imagined. There was lots of good interaction, good questions, and positive feedback from our straight talk about Biblical principles for guiding decisions regarding relationships. These teens have been exposed to massive culturally-held distortions about sexuality and relationships their whole lives and seemed hungry for truth that would bring clarity to the current chaos. We so desperately want them to see how deeply loved they are by God and, as such, how much He longs for them to trust His plans and purposes. As we drove on to Mechanicsburg, PA, that night—far into the middle of the night.  We were buoyed by hope that in the midst of the craziness, the gospel is our only hope and that we are privileged to help communicate that hope to so many. That kept us awake, fortunately, until we arrived at Derek and Julie’s home at 3 am. :)

Pioneer Valley Christian Academy’s headmaster, Tim Duff, addresses the larger-than-expected crowd at the “Worth It—Springfield” night.

We then spent two delicious days with Nathan and Rachel (and their parents, of course). Oh, the joys of grandparenting!! I remember a poem that surfaced when our girls were littles, all about what makes grandparents special is that they have time . . . and I realized, we are there!! Walk to the horses? Of course! Play with trains? Why not? Throw the ball outside? Let’s go! No interruptions. No “more important things” to do. No “but we’ve read that book three times already!” Just the delight of being together, making memories, living in Nathan’s world. It is surely the privilege of grandparents, and we fully embrace this joyous season.

The daily walk to visit “Cody” and “Mouse,”
two horses who live in the neighborhood.
Rachel, showing early signs that she enjoys being all dressed up with somewhere to go. 
Sibling love.  Ahhh . . .

All too quickly those two days evaporated and we were off to Mt. Bethel, PA, to speak at Tuscarora Lutheran Brethren Conference Center’s annual marriage conference. A new-to-us experience, we didn’t know exactly what to expect, but we were delighted at every turn. Paul DiQuattro, conference manager, and his team quickly made us feel at home and in short order we were impressed with how well they run a conference. Drawing couples from all over the northeast, we thoroughly enjoyed connecting with a whole new group of people. The conference host, Chris (Suzanne) Priestaf, was well suited for his role as emcee, as he effectively brought this eclectic group together and helped to develop a sense of safe community. We were so encouraged by the eagerness of the couples to improve their marriages. During the testimony time at the end of the conference, we were deeply moved to hear one couple express that they had come to the conference having been separated for five months, and were leaving reconciled and committed to growing a Christ-centered marriage. Many others testified that they had been met by God during the conference and were leaving with hope. This is work that only the Holy Spirit can do and we were humbled to consider His work among us throughout the weekend. We look forward to partnering with this group in the future.

Craig (worship leader) and Danika (asst. to program director) and Chris (emcee) and Suzanne flank us on stage at the Tuscarora Conference Center’s marriage conference. 

Home after Tuscarora . . . daylight savings time . . . spring . . . all things new. And in front of us, the longest we’ll be home in 2016! Between Palm Sunday weekend, Easter, Engagement Matters, and Worth It, we’ll actually be home three weeks in a row! Recognizing the rarity of this, we’re “making it count” by focusing on local relationships and home management (a nice way of saying “trying to dig out from months of neglected pile accumulation, etc.”)

“Local” commitments include lots of counseling and a few speaking engagements. On Wednesday, March 16, we spoke for the moms group at Bethany Church in Greenland, NH. We always love partnering with Bethany! And this was no exception. Speaking on temperaments and love languages in children was fun and informative, spawning good questions and interaction. We love to encourage moms in particular, who seem to be buffeted by so many challenges related to culture, families of origin, and the reality that “one size doesn’t fit all” in parenting. Mostly we find ourselves pressing hope into them that God is bigger than their challenges and that He is with them.

Some of the mentoring moms at Bethany Church Greenland,
ready to debrief the morning.

As only God could’ve orchestrated, I was in town for the funeral of another very dear friend’s mother. It’s the season of our life and I am so grateful when schedules permit “showing up” at these critical passages of life for people we deeply love.

Palm Sunday weekend was full of family fun. The Johnsons and daughter Lisa drove up from Pennsylvania (where Lisa had been spending her spring break) and our niece Katie Herbst flew in from California, all converging in the early hours of Saturday morning. We spent Saturday touring Ogunquit, Maine, and visiting the Nubble Lighthouse. The bright blue, sun-filled skies belied the cold north wind blowing that day, but that didn’t slow us down at all. In fact it likely speeded us up! We had such a fun day enjoying the beauty of this part of the world with people whose presence makes your heart glad. Sunday our touring took us to Boston where we had the unique experience of walking on the bottom of the currently empty Swan Boat lake and visiting the island made famous by Make Way for Ducklings. How we love that story! We walked to the North End for an early dinner and attended Palm Sunday service at Park Street Church before dropping Lisa off at the airport and Katie off at the hotel that’s hosting her conference. A full and fun weekend!

It LOOKS warm . . . but it wasn’t!
Nonetheless, we had a great time at the Nubble Lighthouse.

The cousins—stopping long enough for a quick picture before voting to suspend the walk on the Marginal Way and return to the warmth of the car. 
Cousin Katie, Auntie Lisa, and Nathan enjoy a rare opportunity to set foot on the island where Mr. and Mrs. Mallard raised their little ducklings.

And just like that, it snowed!! Wakening to a winter wonderland in spring is always fun, regardless of the complaints voiced by most. Spring snow never lasts long; most of the 6” that fell in Bedford were melted by late that afternoon. But for the hours it’s around, it makes “all things new” temporarily, and when it leaves, “all things are new” once again. Nathan loved helping Papa shovel and Gigi and the girls loved watching the snow fall . . . from their vantage inside the warmed-by-wood-stove home. Everyone was happy. Really. 

Nathan and Rachel enjoyed dinner in the North End on Sunday before going to church on Palm Sunday.

Papa and Nathan made quick work of the 6” Spring snow fall.

The Johnsons returned to Pennsylvania on Tuesday, on a bright, sunny, snow-less day . . . and we got the house back in order for our next guests, arriving Saturday.

Holy Week. We’ve been reminded in so many ways that our only eternal hope is in the empty cross. We cannot escape the brokenness that is all around us and in us. Pain. Suffering. Loneliness. Disconnectedness. Dysfunction. Disappointment. Disillusionment. Political toxicity. Worldwide terrorism. Broken hearts. Disease. Death. 

Temporary relief seduces us, and for brief periods we are anesthetized from our pain through counterfeit means.

How comforting, how good, how hope-giving is it to know the only One who can truly still our souls, give us peace, and make all things new. We do have a Good Good Father, and we’re reminded of that profoundly this week as we pause to remember that He gave it all for us . . . because of His deep deep love. 

We hold on to the promise that He will make all things new.

He is risen indeed!!!

To Him be the glory forever and ever.


Amen.

The blog posts I never finished . . .

Happy Veterans’ Day 2015

Since last writing, we’ve spent a good amount of time in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, helping Julie and Derek get settled in their new home. What fun it is to see this “house”—which is so right for them—becoming their home.  God has provided so generously!

And today, we not only honor those to whom we owe an un-repayable debt of gratitude for serving and protecting our country, but we rejoice in the birth of our fourth grandchild! Julie gave birth to Rachel Ann at 9:36 this morning, after a stellar job of laboring and a hasty job of delivering. Rachel weighs in at 7#10 oz and is 20” long. She looks a lot like her brother Nathan at this point. We are all so very thankful for a healthy and safe delivery and child. At the invitation of Derek and Julie, I was privileged to be a part of the birthing team and I treasured every moment of participating in that very sacred event. Paul and I are so thankful to be able to love on Nathan and to support Derek and Julie during this wonderful transition.
Derek, Julie and Nathan welcome baby Rachel to their family.

Happy Thanksgiving 2015!!

Whoops! Didn’t quite get this done and posted on Veteran’s Day, so here we find ourselves flying west to celebrate Thanksgiving with the California girls!  Soon after Rachel’s birth, we did steal away for about 30 hours to Schenectady, NY, to speak for the First Presbyterian Church’s marriage conference. It’s always an honor to be invited anywhere to speak once, but it certainly is a double honor to be invited back. We were with this group  in 2012 and it was a joy to reunite with them. Re-visits always provide opportunities to go deeper relationally and that was certainly true this weekend. God was with us and we were most grateful. 


Al and Bonnie Magill and Bill and Helen Challener were part of the marriage conference leadership team for First Pres Schenectady.
It was a special joy to be with these four.

We returned to Derek and Julie’s for a few days before touching home base, primarily for counseling and the Patriot studies.  Our pre-Thanksgiving women’s study focuses on making apple pies from scratch and we had a great time producing many beautiful (and tasty) pies.   

Hard at work, working together . . . many hands make many pies.

Success!!

We also were privileged to speak at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom while we were home. Reconnecting with dear friends and ministry partners is always a highlight of speaking at Grace.


Connie Lawrence and Joy Coonradt have faithfully served Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel for years now.  So good to reconnect with them!

We’re spending Thanksgiving in California, and it’s been a wonderful week. One of the perks of Lisa being a professor at California Baptist University is that she has this whole week off. It’s been such a delight to have her with us: visiting my mom, “Grammie Essie,” for a few days, catching up with several treasured friends, watching UCLA women play JMU women (Lisa has served as Athletic Trainer for both of these teams!), spending two days in Pixley with Paul’s family who gathered at the family farm, and enjoying Thanksgiving with the Garcias. We also happily connected with some of our dearest CBS friends while out west. It was a great trip.

Lisa, Paul, and I walk the Coronado Beach at sunset.
Does it get any better than this?

The Garcias hosted the Dreves for a Saturday brunch . . .
and fun was truly had by all.

We were thrilled to share a lunch with our dear friends and ministry partners, Bob and Carol Kraning—especially after Bob’s near death heart attack episode this fall. These are “salt of the earth” people and we’re so thankful they’re in our life.
On our bucket list has been seeing Austin Tebay on the stage, and we were fortunate to see him perform in “Beauty and the Beast” while out west this trip. We didn’t get to shake his hand, but we did get to deliver specially made cookies to his parents, David and Carrie Tebay, also dear friends and ministry partners.
  
A couple of days in San Diego with my mom and siblings . . .
We were happy to be there to celebrate my sister Melissa’s birthday with a cinnamon-roll-centered brunch.
And since we were in the neighborhood, we squeezed in a short but sweet visit with our dear friends, Danny and Stacia Woodhead, and their now three children. What fun to meet little Maisy and to catch up with our ex-Pats-turned-Chargers. My mom, a rabid Charger fan, was happy to talk shop with Danny.
  
Our Thanksgiving table.  We were delighted to have my second cousins, Madeline and Abby Shiell, and LeeLee Jackson, a mentee of Gabe and Kari’s, join the gathering.


Our two days on the family farm in Pixley went far too quickly, but we did manage to get the annual family football game in: east vs. west.
I think we tied, though the west may disagree.  :)  

One last event before we flew home: it was a joy to attend stage manager Kelsey O’Keeffe’s production of “A Christmas Memory” and to sit with her parents, our dear friends, Dawn and Jim.

Happy December and Merry Christmas 2015

Well, this obviously didn’t get posted in November, so here we go!

We returned to Boston just after Thanksgiving, in time for more Patriot studies, counseling, and Engagement Matters!  We were delighted to have a critical mass show up for EM which we recognize is held during a tough time of the year.  Hosted again by the Bilazarians, we had a dynamic, interactive, lively group that pondered facets of marriage in thought-provoking ways. We were aided by Carl and Cathy Blatchley and Peter and Lois Blatchley, each couple taking one day to assist Melanie Bilazarian in the kitchen.  Ryan Plosker joined us to present his and Kelly’s talk “The Top Ten Things” (Kelly was out of town attending her grandmother’s funeral, unfortunately) and he did a great job flying solo.

We were especially pleased to have Derek, Julie, Nathan, and Rachel with us for several days during this week as Derek had business in the area. We are loving having these guys so close!!


We thoroughly enjoyed speaking in to the lives of these couples considering marriage at Engagement Matters.

 The Johnsons get a family walk in as night falls.

Off to St. Louis we flew on the 11th of December for our annual visit with Grant and Emily Williams and their daughters.  How we love this family! They started the Patriot’s couples’ study 16 years ago, and we’ve been deeply involved with them since. We love seeing how the Lord continues to work out His purposes for this precious family. As first-generation Christians, they are committed to establishing a Godly legacy from this generation forward. We loved doing life with them for a few days—we always leave inspired.

The tradition continues: our annual visit with Grant and Emily Williams and their daughters 

An added bonus of our St. Louis visit was catching up with Wes and Anna Welker and meeting their precious 4-month-old twins.

We got home just in time to make a boatload of cinnamon rolls for our final Patriots women’s study. Our group was so large this year (about 20 usually attended) that we couldn’t make the rolls together as we have in the past. So I baked 20 pans of rolls at our home after getting back in town early afternoon on the 15th, and had them ready for our study on the 16th. That’s a lot of dough.  :)  So fun!


The first ones who arrived to our final study got a sneak preview of the cinnamon rolls they would take home.

Our study has bonded in a deeper way this year for several reasons, but the biggest is that we’ve come alongside our friend and Patriots wife, Lexi Solder, whose 3-month-old son was diagnosed with kidney cancer in October. When asked in one of our early studies what our greatest fear was, every mother in the group said, “That something would happen to my child/ren."  We were all beyond shocked and deeply grieved when Lexi shared about Hudson’s battle. The prognosis is good, though the journey is excruciating, and we have all tried to rally around Nate and Lexi as they walk through this dark valley. Though relatively young in Christ, Nate and Lexi’s faith and confidence in the Lord has been so heartening. The situation has challenged all of us to evaluate our faith and our beliefs and much growth has happened as a result. Please pray for this dear family. Hudson has recently begun his third round of chemotherapy as the doctors attempt to shrink the tumors in both his kidneys to an operable size.  


Pictured are some of the women who attended the Wednesday study all fall. Lexi is holding Hudson in the center back of the photo.

The following night we wrapped up the Couples Study with a sweet time of sharing what the gospel means in every day life. We’ll miss meeting with this group again ’til next fall.  


Many of the couples who attended the couples study this fall.  Our hearts for them are so deep.

Gasp!  Christmas is right around the corner!  And as you can read, we haven’t been home much to get ready. Five days after our final Pats study, our home will be filled with children and grandchildren: everyone’s coming home for a White Christmas . . . or at least for Christmas. Lots to do, and so little time to do it in, but here goes.

Sewing jammies.  Wrapping presents. Mailing packages. Preparing food and menus. Readying the house. Making ornaments. Gingerbread house dough. Cookies. Raspberry jam. Crossing off items on the list. Trying not to add to the list. And in the end, being okay with what was and wasn’t done.

What a joy to have all 11 of us in Bedford for the holidays. Though the adults outnumbered the kids (7 to 4), it didn’t seem like it very often. Two 2-year-olds amplify everything: activity, noise, mischief—I mean, curiosity—happiness, sadness, and delight. What a difference three more "littles" make, the increase since our last all-family Christmas reunion in 2011.  

Christmas Eve unfolded traditionally: church followed by dinner (shared with our chosen family friends Paul and Dawn Amico and their three), and the Happy Birthday Jesus party.  It was a “couldn’t have gone better” evening together as we celebrated friendship, food, and of course, Jesus. After the Amicos left, we opened our new jammies (so we’d look presentable for Christmas morning photos) and our kids-turned-parents were tasked with wrapping their kids gifts and filling their stockings.  

Happy Birthday, Jesus!
The “fam” on Christmas Eve

The Amicos with the gingerbread house we made for them.
Ready for bed in new Christmas jammies…

The littlest “little,” modeling her matching jammies

Christmas morning seemed like days gone by, as 5-year-old Brandon and 2-year-olds Ana and Nathan discovered the Baby in the manger, the stockings full and overflowing, and presents under the tree. Shouts of glee and unmitigated joy underscored the delight of Christmas as gifts were ripped open and identified as “This is just what I wanted!" Unlike days gone by, gifts unwrapped included Star Wars action figures, light sabers, Lego sets, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. On the other hand, Ana’s dolls, princess jewelry, and a pink tent seemed very familiar. We managed to not rush through the time, savoring the moments and the blessing of being together.

Ana is ready for Christmas breakfast.


Out-of-the-park delight with her new Olaf slippers.


“Just what I wanted!

Brandon’s light saber makes it into Nathan’s hands and he’s mesmerized.

Brief but sweet afternoon visit with Patty and Kimmie Benes . . .
more chosen family

We welcomed Paul and Christie Borthwick, Felicia Collazzo, and Hank Bazigian to our Christmas dinner, continuing a tradition that has happened for years now whenever we’re in town for Christmas. We all love these guys who just expand our family that day.  After yummy food, great fellowship, overwhelming generosity, and farewells, at the end of the non-white, 60-degree Christmas Day, we were full and overflowing with gratitude, joy, and exhaustion.

Christmas dinner

The celebration continued on the 26th with a morning visit from our well-loved John and Marilyn Nugent. Always love to have these guys back in town. Traditions now fulfilled, we turned our attention to packing and getting on the road. The next four nights would be spent on Newfound Lake, at Birchaven, a cabin made available to us by friends for the continuation of our reunion.


The morning after, with John and Marilyn Nugent.

We truly couldn’t have had better days. A spacious cabin, with good space for each family unit, a great dinner meal prepared daily by a different family each night, and an 8” snowfall—fulfilling our dreams of at least a white post-Christmas and providing hours of fun sledding and mock snow-boarding. We relaxed and had nothing to do except enjoy being together. As fun as Christmas was, I think we’d all agree that the days at the cabin were the best.

The “littles” are checking to see if the Gigi Cakes
(aka cinnamon chip scones) are ready yet.

Family devotions, doing the Butterfly Song.  Everyone’s favorite!

Family walk in light rain, the day before the snow.
  
Snow!!!!

Nathan wasn’t quite sure what to think of this cold white stuff
(a first for him) but everyone else loved it.

Papa and Brandon had a blast sledding tandem.


Of course! Snow ice cream!! Another first for the next generation.

All too quickly our long-awaited, thoroughly enjoyed family reunion came to an end. We celebrated our final night together with dinner out while the Sweeneys kept the children. It was the perfect ending to a happily memorable time.



Happy New Year 2016!!

Finally!!  The first 3.5 weeks of 2016 have been a mixture of work and play. Believe it or not, we were pretty exhausted by the time we sent our kids off from our reunion, so we took advantage of an invitation to speak in Kauai Jan. 15-16 and flew to the Big Island on the 4th to grab some R & R. Thanks to the generosity of one of our dearest friends, we had a condo to stay in and we spent 7 days frolicking in Hawaii. We hiked, swam, snorkeled; watched turtles, sunsets, and whales; we rested, recreated, and were renewed.  It was just what we needed to decompressed from 2015 and to prepare for a very full 2016. What a gift!!

Overlooking the Wai’pi’o Valley on the northern shore of Kona, just before we hiked 1 mile straight down. Fortunately, we made it back up!

On to Kauai for the conference, we went 2 days early so we could do more of the same there.  Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck, of Global Algae Innovations (and long time friends from Campus by the Sea), sponsored and hosted the conference, and we thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with them for the days prior to the conference. The second annual conference, held Friday night and Saturday, and focused on both marriage and parenting, was well attended and well received. The attendance more than doubled from last year and the third annual conference is already in the works. God met us in very significant ways as follow-up conversations revealed that many experienced healing and hope for their marriage and family.


On to Kauai, we hike the first 4 miles of the NaPali Trail, to this magnificent waterfall, and then walked the 4 miles back.
It was challenging and glorious.


Yes, that’s your man Paul standing under the waterfall.
Someone had to take the photo, so I sacrificed getting in that 55-degree water to be the photographer.  

We drove to Waimea Canyon on Kauai,
the Grand Canyon of the Islands. Magnificent.
After most had left, we grabbed this photo of a very small but delightful remnant of the conference attendees.
Sunset, crashing surf, and a great model.

We hopped a red-eye to Los Angeles soon after the Kauai conference ended so we could care for Brandon and Ana while their parents attended a pastors’ retreat with their church. The bonus was having Lisa with us Sunday and Monday, too, and we had great fun without the parents.  :) Because Lisa was with us and could help with the kids, we did manage to schedule some counseling, as well as a mentoring evening with our mentors John and Grace Tebay. The Tebays have been influencing Paul since 1968 and the two of us together since they helped marry us in 1976. We count every minute with them sacred. At 80 and 82, they have slowed down a bit physically, but not in any other way. Their wisdom and Christ-likeness inspires and instructs us. What a gift they are!

And speaking of gifts, we were gifted admission to Disneyland on Tuesday, the 19th, by a dear friend and Disney employee.  Just the 4 of us.  From 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. we took the parks by storm, enjoying perfect overcast-but-not-cold weather and light crowds.  23,000 steps later (on my Fitbit), we trudged to our car, leaving the Magic Kingdom in our rear view mirror (but taking it in our hearts). In Brandon’s words, “It was the Best. Day. Ever.”  We have to agree!!

The “littles” with the Mouse.
Eleven hours and 23K steps later, we leave the park.
Guess you could say we made a day of it. 

On to Arroyo Grande for the weekend to speak for a conference emphasizing family relationships in marriage and parenting.  We’ve partnered with Grace Bible Church for about a decade now and we love this church. Since we were there last year, a new pastor has been installed and we so enjoyed connecting with him and his wife, Jason and Andrea Whalen. A much larger than expected crowd showed up at each section of the conference, which is a nice problem to have.  We are so excited about the vision Jason has for the church and for building in to marriage and families. It was a privilege to continue the partnership.


Tom and Betsy Newell were instrumental in running the conference in Arroyo Grande . . .

. . . as were Paul and Sherri Masters, who treated us to a fabulous home-cooked meal of freshly caught fish. Yum!!

Though back home for only 48 hours, we flew to Boston Sunday during the AFC Championship game and were heartbroken for our team to learn of our loss to the Broncos when we landed—but life moves on. New England Patriots fans have been indulged great success for 15 years now and though we fell short of our goal this year, we’re very proud of our team that pushed beyond tremendous adversity and injuries to make it to the “final four.” And the 2016 season is just around the corner. Go Pats!!

Okay. I’m going to press with this overdue, too-long blog, with a commitment to not let this happen again. No more unfinished blogs in 2016.

May God draw each of us more deeply in to His heart in this new year.

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.

Of Sages and Celebrations

Thanksgiving greetings to all!  We’re back in California as we write, having flown here to celebrate this holiday weekend with our west coast family before flying to Orlando to speak at a camping conference.  It was pure joy to be gleefully met by Brandon and Ana this afternoon.

What a month it’s been!!  I last wrote as we were landing in California to speak at the Salvation Army’s Regional Officers Marriage Conference, October 27-28, which was preceded by several days of visit with my mom.

That turned out to be code for “we’re going to launch Virginia’s 60th birthday celebration with surprises at every turn” and we were off and running.  Paul and the girls had brilliantly master-minded an unexpected (to me) intimate gathering of friends who “bumped into me” on Orange Street in Coronado as we walked towards the Lamb’s Players Theater to watch “Les Miserables.”  And that was only the beginning of many wonderful celebrations, which made turning 60 something I wished I had done sooner.  :)  I can’t remember a time that I have felt more loved, known, and affirmed than I have been this past month, and if you were part of the never-ending-celebration in any way, from posts on my Facebook wall, to beautiful bouquets of flowers delivered, to showing up at or creating any of the amazing surprises along the way, thank you again from the bottom of my heart.

The “Les Miserable” surprise theater group, sans Gabe and Kari, who rushed to my mom’s house after the show to prepare a fabulous Mexican feast.
  

I am truly much more comfortable being on the giving end of such honor.  I love to plan the ways to love and surprise others for their special milestones.  When Paul and the girls asked me months ago how I wanted to celebrate my 60th, I was very clear that I didn’t want a big party.  I’m truthfully not wild about being the center of attention in such settings.

Semi-apologetically, after the first of two big surprise parties, they confessed that they couldn’t NOT have the parties because so many people wanted to be a part of something. They said, “We’d rather have you temporarily mad at us than make everyone else mad!” And they were accurately confident that I wouldn’t be “mad” long. And so I’ve been the recipient of kind words, thoughtful gifts, sacrificial travel, and great efforts by many to help usher me not just painlessly, but joyfully into the 7th decade of my life.

I have been more than humbled by all the expressions of BIG love. I have spent much of the past month feeling overwhelmed in an off-the-charts-delightful sort of way.  I have been genuinely surprised more than I’ve ever been in my life, and hence have officially retired the long-held belief I’ve had that it was near impossible to surprise me.  

HUGE accolades to Paul and the girls for planning clandestinely each celebration. They worked overtime….and dusted off their “effective lying” skills to pull the wool over my eyes time and again. They thoughtfully put together events and experiences that would be most meaningful to me. They sacrificed much to pull together unforgettable moments.  Especially meaningful to me is that all of my siblings and my mom, as well as almost all my in-law siblings, were part of the celebrations.  Julie and Derek’s desire to join the festivities was thwarted by living in Uganda, but they will be home in 3 weeks and we’ll get the party on with them then.

The Garcias worked so hard behind the scenes to insure success on every level. 

Sisters Sue, Lucy, and Melissa with my amazing mom at the west coast gala.

The Friesen side of the family represented at the west coast gala.

Four generations of our family . . . so blessed!

Julie and Derek were at the east coast celebration . . . via FaceTime.  Here we are conversing in the midst of a room full of people.  I was undone.

Kari and Lisa give public tribute at the east coast surprise party.

I will treasure the memories of all of these expressions forever. 

That will be made possible in part by the gift of two beautiful books full of words of affirmation collected and produced by Kari. A big thank you to any and all who contributed to that treasured project. Very thoughtfully, my sister Laura even submitted several letters from my dad’s pen, written in the late 70’s and early 80’s, so even my precious father is on the pages of this incredible gift.  They will be thumbed through and absorbed over and again in the years ahead, as a gift that will keep on giving.

I have been the recipient of extreme generosity in so many ways—well beyond material goods (though those have been present). The generosity that has touched me the most has come through beautiful words written with a high rate of inflation—and I’ve had two prevailing thoughts. One has been grace . . . so much grace!! I’m not unaware of my faults and short-comings, and you’re not either . . . so the extraordinary affirmations which have come my way are framed in grace and love. The other has been “I hope these wonderful people will pray that I become all that they think I am.” (That thought was inspired by Elisabeth Elliot.)  

My hopes and prayers for this next decade are wrapped up in becoming. I want to press towards becoming more and more Christlike, more and more in love with my Savior. I know that will be the best use of whatever days I have left.

My real birthday, November 5, was celebrated from morning ’til night, starting with breakfast in bed from my above-and-beyond husband.  Lunch with a really special friend was followed by dinner and theater in Boston by several more very dear friends.  Every part of it was delightful. 

Paul, aka “Chauffeur Goober”, made sure that we got downtown for dinner and opening night of “Annie” on my birthday.  If he quits his day job . . .

Kari and Lisa flew in that weekend for more partying, starting with whisking me away to a darling cottage in Ogunquit, Maine, where I was surprised by a small gathering that included two of my sisters and a few other “chosen” sisters.  Long walks on the beach, great meals, and lots of talking and laughter filled the next 48 hours in a most unforgettable weekend. That was capped by a large surprise party hosted by the Ploskers and the seemingly unending string of surprises came to a close. After open mic times at both west coast and east coast parties, I said I felt I had been at my own funeral. There’s something to that.  It’s life giving and motivating to be encouraged and affirmed generously.

Kari and Lisa flew in from California for more birthday surprises.
Decked out and ready to join the 60’s club.

Two more sisters, Francene and Laura (and husband David, who drove up from Virginia for the celebrations), were in on the Maine getaway weekend in a big way.  Sweet, sweet time.  Laura planned and executed all the meals, including an out-of-this-world Maine lobster dinner.

And finally: the brother!  I was deeply touched by the efforts made by all my siblings to join in the celebration.  My brother Frank and and my sister Francene both traveled from VA to surprise me.

In the midst of this epic milestone celebration, we have been doing ministry. Back to the Salvation Army, we spent two incredible days with the officers from the Greater Los Angeles area looking at God’s design for marriage and ministry.  We fell in love with this very special group of ministers.  They are committed to living sacrificially for the Kingdom to a degree we seldom see.  Their focus is to come alongside the most broken in our world, and give them “soap, soup, and salvation.” Their thrift stores support their drug rehab program, which boasts a 28% success rate for those who go through the (free) program.  We had great interaction with them as they wrestle with balancing the demands of ministry (endless) and their families (also endless.)  Several weeks after the conference, Major Ian Robinson wrote:
"People are still talking about the retreat and how it impacted their lives and marriages.”
Several other officers have booked us to speak for their locales, and others have written to let us know that the retreat was rather life-changing.  Thank you, faithful God!!  We’re not confused about Who changes lives.  

We are so thankful to have had this opportunity and encourage you to contribute to the red kettles manned by  those very hard-working Salvation Army bell-ringers during this Christmas season.

Part of the Salvation Army officers who attended the marriage conference
at their retreat center, Mt. Crags, in Malibu Canyon.

Colonel Doug and Colleen Riley were instrumental in the success of the conference. 

We flew back to Boston as soon as the conference ended late Tuesday, and were in the saddle for the Patriots women's study onWednesday morning, Oct. 29, and for counseling that afternoon and evening.  We repeated that on Thursday, with counseling in the morning and the Pats couples’ study that evening.  We are so thankful for a high level of interest in both studies. God is doing something among this special group.

Home just long enough to exchange California appropriate clothing for St. Louis garb, we flew to Missouri early Friday morning for our annual visit with the Williams family. Usually made in December, we took advantage of an unscheduled weekend (Halloween eclipses marriage conferences it seems!) for our celebration of chosen family with this precious crew. Those little girls have turned into very tall, grown-up ladies and we were heartened again by their hearts for the Lord and their healthy life choices.  Great time!!

Grant is the offensive line coach for Westminster Academy, the Christian high school the girls attend, and this photo follows a play-off win.

So thankful for Grant and Emily’s commitment to their marriage, family, and ministry.
We love every minute with them!

Life returned to “normal” after all the celebrations ended, and the following weekend, Nov. 15, H.I.M. sponsored a one-day marriage seminar featuring Gordon and Gail MacDonald, who spoke on “Soul Care for Your Soul Mate.”  True sages, Gordon and Gail held the audience mesmerized by their living room conversation we were invited to overhear.  Married now 53 years, and each having logged 75 years on this earth, all who attended would agree that they brought something rare and sacred to the table. Having been very intentional throughout their life together, they presented a picture not of perfection, but of hope and redemption.  One person wrote on their evaluation, "On a scale of 1-10, today was off the charts . . . way over 100!!!”


So much wisdom was “overheard” as Gordon and Gail  conversed with one another
as though none of us were there.


Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield opened their doors for this one-of-a-kind event
and once again extended incredible hospitality and warmth to all.

I wrote to Gordon and Gail the following day:
"We couldn’t be more thankful than we are for the day.  You and Gordon gave us all a gift we’ll never forget.  A look not only into your living room, but also into your kitchen, your family room, and even your bedroom.  You let us overhear your conversations about real life, which included failures as well as successes, the journey from a lack of understanding to understanding, selfish tendencies transformed by humble repentance producing unselfishness.  
You showed us how to communicate, how to honor one another, how to love.  And armed with the credibility of 53 years of marriage, you were most convincing because of the very nature of where your marriage is in 2014: tender, thoughtful, sensitive, growing, vital."
As we hear from attendees, it’s clear that God did an amazing work that day and is continuing to use it.  All praise is His!!

Gordon and Gail MacDonald have had a mentoring role in our lives for thirty years now.
What a gift to us!


We went straight from the conference to Westgate Church to celebrate the life of Stephen Gerber, who passed away a year ago. We’ve had a long, sweet friendship and partnership with Stephen and Nancy, so Paul was honored to be one of the speakers at the service. Nancy and son Douglas put together a beautiful, honoring evening tributing their beloved husband and father, and the service celebrated not only his life, but his profound legacy.

Douglas Gerber conducts the choir at his father’s memorial service while his mom,
Nancy, sings (far right, front row)

We spent Sunday with a precious congregation in Swansea, Massachusetts: Bethany Gospel Chapel. We love this group! They heavily support H.I.M. events as well as the ministry, and we’re thrilled to partner with them.  Paul preached and then we spent the afternoon in the home of Jim and Mary Klink, fellowshipping with many congregants over yummy homemade soup and salad.  

A portion of Bethany Gospel Chapel’s congregation who stopped by for soup and salad at the home of Jim and Mary Klink (back row, far right)

Just before leaving on this trip, we had an Engagement Matters weekend. Sadly, we “lost our lease” on the home we’ve held this conference in for the past 8 years (or more truthfully, the Macraes sold their home in Weston), but happily the Bilazarians offered their beautiful Victorian home in Andover center for the event. We had a great crowd, which very soulfully invested themselves in the weekend.  Besides us doing the plenary sessions, Ryan and Kelly Plosker did a session on their “Top Ten Tips for Marriage” and Seth and Melanie shared about their journey.  Lots of positive feedback at the end of the weekend. One young man said he had come with high expectations, but the weekend had way surpassed those expectations.  So thankful.

Most of those attending Engagement Matters this past weekend.

That brings us up to date.  It’s been a rich, full month of celebration and sages.  May your experience include both of these as well.

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 know....it 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 can't be May already . . . [Part 1]


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


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

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

Gabe and Brandon enjoyed the lively coastline during the ceremony.

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

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

Engagement Matters was packed and inspiring.

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another beautiful young woman wrote:

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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



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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

One of the attendees wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

We're really not in Hawaii anymore...

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Engagement Matters weekend is always a highlight for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a new year!


1-11-11
Hopefully that’s what we’ll be saying after the Pats meet the Jets this Sunday at Gillette.  :)

As our attention turns to a huge nor’easter snowstorm approaching New England and the Pats preparing for the play-offs this weekend, we’re very aware we’re not in Hawaii anymore.  There are a few other reminders as well, like the sub-freezing temps, the piles of dirty snow left over from the post-Christmas storm, and Dunkin’ Donuts stands on every corner.  We’re home—briefly—and our warmth is driven by memories of a wonderful vacation in Hawaii with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon.

Our days on the Big Island, made possible by the generosity of one of our dearest friends who loaned us her condo in Kailua-Kona and lots of frequent flyer miles accrued by our extensive travels, were nothing short of delightful.  Though having a 4-month-old along insured that every day wasn’t filled with early morning to late evening activities as per our normal “vacation” pace, we packed a surprising amount of exploration and discovery into our 8 days there.  One day, we drove up the Kohala Coast and spent several hours on Hapuna Beach as well as Mauna Kea Beach, thrilling to see some humpback whales breaching as they migrated past us.  We drove the Saddle Road to Hilo (a first) and loved seeing multiple waterfalls, gorgeous flowers, and farmers’ markets.  We drove down the east coast of the island to the “end of the road” where volcano Kilauea had buried the town of Kalapana under 75' of lava almost 20 years ago and were amazed to see green growth randomly popping up from the unfriendly lava fields.  Later that evening, we watched Kilauea’s deep orange glow and scalding steam arise as we stood on the crater’s rim.  One day we hiked down to Captain Cook’s memorial, on a very rigorous, broken-lava-strewn, uneven, and toe-catching 2-mile semi-pathway, which was hard to go down (1300' drop in 2 miles), and even harder to go up.  Brandon was the only one who thought it was a blast as he rode in his “Jeep” front pack being worn by his devoted dad.  The snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay was worth it all, admittedly, and yes, we would do it again.

We swam, played tennis and ping pong, Rummikub and Nickel, went to the pool, sipped iced Kona coffee and frozen lattes, savored papayas, pineapples, avocados, and samples at Costco, slept in, napped, watched the wonders of the sea-world (including spouting and breaching whales and sea turtles bellying up to the fresh sushi bar) and the wonders of volcanoes, past and present.  Most of all, though, we passed Brandon around.  He was definitely the star of the show.  Even breaching whales don’t compete with the gift of watching this little guy grow up before our very eyes.  And though I risk sounding like an incurably prejudiced grandma (guilty as charged), he was very easy to be around with his low-key, content, sweet disposition.  

Four month old Brandon is dressed and ready for the surf.

Sporting his Red Sox hat, Brandon and Kari take a walk on Hapuna Beach.

At Honaunau, we couldn’t get enough of these sea turtles who were enjoying “fresh sushi in the sea.”
Down the challenging path to Captain Cook’s memorial, we all snorkeled in Kealakekua Bay and marveled at the stunningly beautiful undersea world.

Back up that awful trail from Captain Cooks, Gabe suppresses his masculine pride to don Kari’s nursing apron to provide protection for Brandon’s fair skin.


Hilo provided some gorgeous waterfall sightings.  Here we pose in front of Pe’e Pe’e Falls.

Gabe stands on the lava formed coastline on the southeastern shore of Hawaii, and is mesmerized by the power and fury of the ocean.

Brandon enjoys the sunset at Honaunau on our last evening together.

This is really what it looked like.  Breathtakingly beautiful, we didn’t leave until the last rays of sun were swallowed up by darkness.

Brandon and his Grandpa exchange smiles as they relax together on the couch.

It’s hard to imagine how the days could’ve been better.  We were blessed in a big way to have these days together, being renewed and refreshed by being in such an extraordinary place.  

The red-eye flight home dimmed some of the glow, but not much.  We were so thankful to get home Friday morning, since a very big weekend was in the wings.

Saturday morning, Jan 8, we were leading Engagement Matters for 12.5 couples.  Along with the resource team of Ryan and Kelly Plosker and Doug and Julie Macrae, we agreed that it was one of the best weekends ever.  Not sure how to qualify that, except to say that we all had great interaction with the couples, who were open, engaged, and taking it all in.  They seemed to be there with hearts to seriously consider truth that would impact their thinking regarding making “the second most important decision of life.”  We continue to love this event and pray that God will use it to change the world through at least a few of these future marriages.

That evening we had the privilege of being a part of Matthew Steele and Stephanie Chin’s wedding reception.  The wedding had occurred earlier in the day, while we were involved with Engagement Matters (EM), but we were so honored to join the festivities at Hei La Moon Restaurant in Chinatown and have Paul serve as emcee for the evening, as well as pronounce a blessing on Matt and Steph at the evening’s close.  It was purely a joyful occasion.  Matt and Steph, who met as undergrads at MIT, both have sincere hearts for the Lord and are committed to honoring Him with their lives, now together.  The merging of their two cultures appeared seamless as they included traditions from both of their backgrounds.  In all, it was a beautifully God-honoring celebration, and a very fitting end to our day.  Matt and Steph had gone through EM a year ago and it felt like a “graduation” of sorts to witness their entry into the covenant of marriage.


With Mr. and Mrs. Steele (times two!) at the reception.

Though we arrived home very late, we got enough sleep to fuel us through the second day of EM, which wrapped up around 3:30 Sunday afternoon.  Some of the comments participants wrote on their evaluations:
“It helped us to bring up and clarify some things we hadn’t discussed and has helped us to grow closer and communicate more effectively”
“Confirmed that problems are real”
“There is a lot to do!  But God’s grace and redemptive nature is so comforting”
“We are getting closer to not getting married.  This has helped us figure this out.  We have seen that we have too many differences.  It raised questions about our relationship we had not faced.”
“It has helped me realize I am marrying a great man.” 
After Engagement Matters concluded, we went on to church for the 5 pm service, and then home to crash.

Monday was actually even longer as we counseled from 8 am to 7:30 pm, virtually break-less, and then went into a H.I.M. Board Meeting.  It was so good to be with our board.  We love each of them so much and are so thankful for their continuing commitment to this ministry in general, and to us personally.  We value their input, insights, and gifts, all of which bring diversity and more depth to the table.  The months ahead are very full of traveling and speaking and we’re raring to go!

Julie’s days in Uganda were very sweet, until Derek’s locked car was broken into right before New Year’s, and they were robbed of all the electronics in the car.  They lost iPods, Kindles, cameras, FLIP video, and Julie’s Blackberry, as well as Julie’s backpack containing her travel Bible, journal, and school work.  That was a real bummer, but they handled it well and chose to be thankful that they still had their irreplaceable things (their lives) and that the pictures in their minds would have to suffice.  It hasn’t been an easy transition back for Julie as she begins her 5th trimester of grad school and their wedding date of August 21 seems very far off at this point, but we’re praying her through each day.

Lisa is meeting herself coming and going as the women’s basketball season heats up, but she’s really enjoying taking care of her 11 players.  In her spare time, she’s trying to buy a car to replace “Olga,” her 1998 bright red with sunroof and leather seats Lincoln Continental whose transmission died just before Christmas.

We’ve launched our second year of reading through the Bible using D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God as a guide.  We’re both committed to being more His than H.I.M.’s this year.  And I continue training for my next half-marathon, which I’ll run February 28 at Disney World. 

We’re so thankful for life, for health, for family and friends, and for the opportunity to minister in this arena.  A belated happy new year!

Don't miss the leaves...or Jesus...this fall

Fall is unmatched in beauty as seen in New England.  We poked around Stowe, Vermont, en route home from Montreal, and were treated to beautiful views and breathtaking colors.

The past month has evaporated, but not without leaving behind many wonderful moments experienced in California, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Montreal.  No wonder we find ourselves needing some refueling!

My days with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon all too quickly came to a close as I flew home Sept. 14th.  I will forever cherish the memories of those wonderful first days of his life and the gift of sharing once-in-a-lifetime moments with Gabe and Kari.  I’ve thought a lot about the joy of those days.  It’s been a really long time since I’ve been so completely and myopically focused on just one thing: in this case, the birth of our first grandchild.  I can’t remember a time when “nothing else mattered” — nothing was more important than enjoying him and serving them.  I wasn’t too busy, too tired, or too divided to do whatever needed to be done, be it making a meal, doing laundry, or rocking the baby.

God has spoken to me through the beginning of this new season of our lives.  He has gently reminded me that my relationship with Him warrants this same kind of devotion and focus.  He wants this same kind of priority placed on growing my relationship with Him.  He wants me to choose Him above the distractions of email, Facebook, running, etc.  I’m being re-calibrated, and it’s good.

Brandon continues to dominate our thoughts and hearts.  Here he is at 9 days old.  It was so hard to leave him on his 16th day of life.


Like mother, like son.  Those dimples…


So safe and secure in the loving arms of his parents . . .
Brandon has no cares in the world.

Finally, Auntie Lisa gets to hold Brandon, a few days shy of his three-week birthday.
Back in Boston Sept. 15th, I joined 9 Patriot’s wives at their request to lead the women’s Bible study this year.  Both honored and intimidated by the invitation, I’ve spent a lot of time praying about this unusual opportunity for months since being asked to do it.  We launched the Wednesday study on the 15th, using John Ortberg’s newest book The Me I Want to Be as a springboard for discussion.   I felt very met by God at that first study and am very hopeful that God will change all of us through our time together.

The next night we launched the Patriot couples’ Bible study and were delighted to have a good showing of mostly veteran players and wives.  We start with dinner, which provides fellowship time, and end with Bible study, which is very interactive and by God’s grace, disciple-making.  We can’t believe we’re in our eleventh season leading this study.  We are grateful each year for the privilege of serving in this way.

About 48 hours after landing in Boston, we were headed back to California.  On Saturday, September 17, Paul officiated at the wedding of lifelong friend, Calen Offield, and his bride Amber Clark.  Lisa, Calen, and his twin sister Kelsey grew up on Catalina Island together as best buds and have continued to remain close throughout the 27 years of their lives.  It was an honor to do this wedding for “chosen family” friends.  Calen and Amber have prepared well for their life together.  They attended Engagement Matters with us in January, and both are committed to having a long-lasting, God-honoring life together.  Paul did a great job on the wedding and many are still talking about how inspirational his message was as he spoke on God’s design for marriage.  We are so thankful!

Julie and Lisa flew in for Calen and Amber’s wedding, much to our delight!

Chase, Wendy, Amber, Calen, Packy, and Kelsey Offield celebrate the nuptials in the backyard of the Catalina home they grew up in.
Wedding festivities dominated Friday and Saturday and continued for us on Sunday and Monday as we enjoyed a variety of Island Company tours, including the new Eco-Zipline adventure.  What a blast that was!

Even at 60, he hasn’t lost his zip!


We also “shot” two rounds of 18 holes at the world famous Avalon miniature golf course.  We laughed and cheated our way through both rounds and decided we shouldn’t quit our day jobs to take up golf.

Before we set sail for the mainland, we spoke at a marriage event at the Avalon Community Church.  Organized by Paul’s sister, Carol, and her husband, Wayne, we were delighted to have a semi-full crowd in the sanctuary who seemed very interested in gaining some insights into God’s design for marriage.  What a great opportunity to impact a small community on an island that will always be very dear to our hearts.

Back to Boston late Tuesday night, Sept. 20th, in time to do the Pat’s wives study Wednesday, followed by hours of counseling.  Thursday started with counseling, and was followed by the couples’ study, with Big Jim Martis catering a great bbq dinner.   This is the 4th year Jim has cooked for the study and everyone always loves it when he comes.

Jim Martis stands with Matt Light, Steven Neal, and Don Hasselbeck as dinner is served.
Early Friday morning, we headed out again - this time by car!  We drove to Montreal, Canada, to speak at the second Evangelical Armenian Church Marriage Conference.  We spoke at the first such conference in September of 2008, held in Boston, and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to reconnect with this wonderful group of people again.  “Badveli” George Dabbos and his wife Priscille hosted the conference at their flourishing church, and couples from Toronto and Boston made their way to Montreal to take advantage of it.  It was such a blessing for us to be with them!  They were like sponges, eager to learn more about God’s design for marriage, and we were impressed at the end of every session that they asked great questions and didn’t really want to stop.  Our hearts grew deeper for them with each interaction.  We were also very impressed at their stamina: after a long day Saturday, topped off by a late night end to the banquet session, one of the older couples suggested that gelato would be a perfect nightcap.  We arrived at the adorable gelato shop after midnight!  I’m not sure what they were going on, but I can tell you that we were happily exhausted!

Paul preached on Sunday morning — in English, of course, through an automatic translation system.  We were quite impressed (to say the least) that most of the Armenians there speak four languages, and English, for most, is language #3 or 4.  Definitely puts mono-linguistic Americans to shame.  He was very well received, even when he said that it was more important that one marry a vital believer than that one marry an Armenian. :)  We felt so warmly received and were so well cared for.  Sunday night we had a lively evening with George and Priscille and Monday night with his associate, Raffi and Arpi and their adorable daughters.   We spent Monday touring downtown Montreal by foot before making the beautiful drive home on Tuesday.  It was a fruitful and delightful time.

We just received this email from the associate pastor of the Montreal church:

       The entire weekend was filled with a joyful godly presence as we dug out
       rich truths through your teachings.  All those who were present were
       enriched, even last minutes skeptical participants were so excited that they
       were rebuking those who did not make the effort to join us.

       Your deep and insightful teaching was beneficial for both our relationships
       and godly living. All our preparation and work behind organizing this event
       was outweighed by the blessings that followed.

       It was our joy to have you both with us and would ask that you consider
       calling on us on any occasion that brings you near our area. It would be our
       pleasure to be able to accommodate you and always look forward to your
       fellowship.

All praise to Him!

Some of the couples who drove up from Boston for the conference.

Out for delicious Lebanese food with “Badveli” George and Priscille Dabbos.
The drive from Montreal to Boston was beautiful, in spite of it being overcast and rainy at times.  Fall has come early to Stowe, Vermont, so we took full advantage of it and spent a while meandering through the town and even making it up to the Von Trapp Family Lodge, which is one of my favorite places in Stowe.  It placed a large exclamation point on a really good weekend.

A very cute fall display on a sidewalk in Stowe.
Home late afternoon Tuesday, and I was off to the Patriots’ Women’s Study first thing Wednesday morning.  :)  There’s a little pattern going here.  After another great morning with the ladies, I’m feeling more relaxed and comfortable with God having me with them.  Back up to Bedford for counseling all afternoon and evening....and then more of the same Thurs.  Couples’ Study that night with a smaller turn-out, but a very worthwhile evening.

We didn’t drive out or fly out Friday a.m. :)

We did speak, however, locally, at the Mom to Mom group at the Trinitarian Church in Wayland.  Our talk on in-law relationships spawned so many questions that they ditched small groups and stayed as a large group while we fielded the questions.  We loved it!  Great morning.

Saturday and Sunday were Engagement Matters, and though the group was small (six couples), we’ve grown to expect this turnout for our fall session.  We thoroughly enjoyed each of the couples, and love the deeper interaction which is afforded by small numbers.  The Macraes graciously hosted the weekend and the response from the couples was really positive.  We continue to love this weekend.

I also spoke Saturday night at Grace Community Church’s Women’s Fall Kick-Off Dinner!  What a delight it was!  Women really do know how to create ambience and put together a lovely event.  Allison Nash, director of Women’s Ministries, and her team did a beautiful job on the whole evening, from a 5-star dinner prepared by their in-house chef, Toby, to special music by the Ross Sisters — the evening would’ve been fine without me.  :)  But, they had me speak anyway, and I felt that God did give me a message.  Armed with many insights gained from my Brandon moments, I spoke on how easy it is to miss Jesus due to our distractions, disappointments, and deceptions.  It was grace that I received much positive feedback afterwards.  Apparently I’m not the only one who struggles to stay focused on my priorities.  :)

After EM ended Sunday afternoon, I made my way over to Guy and Barbara Steele’s home to honor their future daughter-in-law, Stephanie Chin, with a bridal shower.  I had been very impressed with Stephanie when she and Matthew  attended EM over a year ago, but I was even more impressed with her when she made the decision to commit part of her bridal shower to assembling boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  What a great reflection of her heart!  And what a great way to assimilate 35 women, ranging in age from college students to those who had graduated from college about 4 decades ago.  :)  Everyone worked together, wrapping and filling boxes, producing 29 completed packages which will brighten the Christmas season for needy children around the world.  What a great idea!

The shower was lovely in every way.  Stephanie and Matthew did receive many lovely gifts, and the guests were feted to a delicious spread of “tea party” food provided by MJM Catering.

Stephanie and her mother May help assemble the boxes for OCC.
And, if that wasn’t enough, we had a H.I.M. Church Reps dinner that evening.  :)  We really do have to pack it in when we’re in town!  About 35 enthusiastic friends of H.I.M. came to the Macrae home for a fabulous dinner (incentive enough for most to come!) and exposure to the H.I.M. events in the upcoming year.  There was a great spirit and a strong commitment to spread the word so many can take advantage of the strategic events we host.

And then, we collapsed.  Happily — but definitely — out of steam.

Some of those who attended the Church Reps Dinner at Macraes.
And so we’re off and running, grateful for opportunities to influence lives for Christ.  Our prayer for you, as well as for ourselves, is that we won’t miss Jesus in the craziness of our over-committed lives.