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.


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.

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.

Finally . . . an update!

It’s been a long time since my fingers have found this keyboard to update our lives via this blog but finally, with 14 hours of flying ahead, here we go! 

Crazy busyness marked the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the first two weeks of 2015 have rather idyllically been spent in Hawaii: a vacation around speaking at a marriage conference.  Tough gig, but someone has to do it.  Though fully intending to write this before the new year launched, the mesmerizing tranquility of the island trade winds and nirvana-esque existence framing each day drained me of all motivation to get anything done that was unrelated to discovering the beauty of God’s creation in the sea and on the land.  

So here we are, flying to the frigid northeast after spending two weeks in daily temps of 80 degrees.  The adjustment might be brutal—unless there’s snow to play in. Only then is cold redeemed.  :)

Very briefly recapping, Thanksgiving was spent with my mom and siblings in San Diego at sister Sue’s house.  Lisa, Paul, and I drove down for the day since Lisa had to be back for UCLA vs. Nebraska on Friday, but it was a sweet day.  Holidays, especially the “firsts” without a loved one, seem to stir deep emotions and that was certainly true for us as we had our first Thanksgiving without our beloved father.  Many happy memories of Thanksgivings past surfaced, and though tinged with the sadness of his absence, our focus was gratitude for the richness of our many years together.

A fair representation of the Collins family line gathered at my sister Sue’s home for Thanksgiving.

The balance of the weekend was full of fun moments: the UCLA women’s basketball game, which we lost but we loved seeing in person; Black Friday fabric shopping deals (and a few other deals as well!); the Garcias, who returned early from Sacramento making it possible to have a Thanksgiving celebration with them and Lisa in Santa Clarita on the first Sunday of Advent.  

Coach Cori Close inspires her team, though their efforts fell short vs Nebraska.

Brandon and Auntie Lili at our Thanksgiving-on-1st-Advent-Sunday celebration
enjoying their “name card cookies."

It all ended too quickly and suddenly we were on our way to Orlando, Florida, to speak at the Christian Conference and Camping Association (CCCA) national conference.  Formerly known as CCI, we were quite involved with them in our early years of running CBS, but it had been 20 years since we had been at one of their conferences.  What a joyful reunion!!!  We love the work of CCCA.  Back in the day, it was so life-giving for us to attend these conferences and rub shoulders with those in like-profession with similar challenges and mutual understanding.  It was as though no time had passed, honestly.  Some of our long time camping cronies were there and conversations revealed that we still understand each other and the challenges and delights of camping ministry.

Our two workshops were well attended (packed and overflowing) and we’ve received very positive feedback, including a tentative invite to speak at next year’s conference.  We spoke on marriage and family issues in the camping context and there was high interest in the sessions.  

But the highlight of the conference was connecting with Gabe and Rosemary Valencia, who direct Mile High Pines Camp in Angeles Oaks, California.  Gabe seemed exceptionally thrilled to meet us when he found out we were from Campus by the Sea and then he explained that he had come to CBS in the early 80’s with Father Norm Supenchek and there had met Christ.  He said he had always wanted to relate his story to those responsible for the work there and finally was able to do that upon meeting us.  He and his wife have raised 5 great kids at their camp and have had a significant impact on the Kingdom, all beginning with his surrender to Christ at CBS in ’80’s.  What a gift for us to hear his story!!!  God is so faithful and good.

Gabe and Rosemary Valencia encourage us with their story
at at the CCCA Conference in Orlando.

We spent a couple of days in Vero Beach following the conference, writing and working on curriculum.  Though the somewhat stormy weather did not cooperate with helping us get a head start on our tans for Hawaii, we had long walks on the beach twice daily anyway.  Great time.  Home on the 9th of December, it suddenly didn’t seem that wise that we spent those days in Vero as I counted only 7 days between then and when the Johnsons would arrive from Uganda.  We returned to a home still decorated for fall and uncut flannel for Christmas jammies—and a schedule full of counseling and Patriots events, as well as a few houseguests along the line.   

No time for eating bonbons.  Start your engines.  We were off and running.

Cutting out flannel.  Sewing.  Sending packages.  Baking gingerbread houses.  Decorating.  Making ornaments.  Last minute shopping.  More packages.  Caramel corn.  Jam.  Welcoming a brief but wonderful visit with Elsa Stanley, who was in town for a teachers’ conference.  Picking the Johnsons up at Logan—oh, happy day!—and seeing our house and its perils through the eyes of a 16-month-old adorable and curious explorer.  

Elsa Stanley, whose dad Mark we’ve known since we were students at SDSU,
graced us with a sweet visit upon our return from Florida.

In the midst of super-productivity, we wisely took some time to enjoy the season.  A small group of Patriots accompanied us to the Highrock Church Christmas Concert, which ranks among the top musical celebrations of the season we’ve ever experienced.  Plan to attend next December if you want to be exhilarated by exceptional talent and unmitigated passion expressed by the choir.  We also had a lovely evening out with our dear friends Doug and Julie Macrae, whose presence we miss greatly since they moved to Florida.  My dear friend Helen spend several days with us, serving as my "right hand elf” in wrapping, packing, sewing bows on jammies, etc.  She willingly did whatever needed to be done, and without her, I really wouldn’t have accomplished my scaled down “to do” list.  Friends who are willing to serve in the midst of their own frenzy are so rare and such gifts.

Besides all the preparations for Christmas, we did many hours of counseling and wrapped up our Patriots women’s study as well as our couples’ study.  We are so thankful for such a high level of interest and participation in both studies this fall.  The women really “got into” the book Mended by Angie Smith, which promoted a lot of good discussion.  We closed out our season together by making cinnamon rolls and having a goofy gift exchange.  I really miss meeting with the ladies.

Just before Thanksgiving, we made apple pies from scratch at the Patriots women’s study.  

At our last meeting, after making cinnamon rolls, we exchange goofy gifts,
some of which are displayed.

For the final couples’ study, we invited David Swaim (lead pastor of Highrock Church in Arlington, Massachusetts) to speak, and he did a great job.  There was a lot of great interaction with a large group of couples all fall; we continue to pray for eternal fruit.

Our final Patriots couples’ study night . . . missing four couples who had come all season.
It was a great group.

UCLA gave us a Christmas present by scheduling a game against UConn women on Dec. 21.  We had 25 UCLA fans join us at the game . . . though we barely put a dent in the crowd of 9,000 UConn crazies.  :)  After a tough loss, we got to take Lisa home with us for Christmas!  Such joy.

"Go Bruins” was lost in the huge crowd of UConn fans, but we were there!!

Our 5 days together for Christmas were full of delight. The girls were game to decorate the traditional gingerbread houses, finish up baking, make deliveries, wrap, etc.  We had the loveliest Christmas Eve celebration, starting with church at Highrock, followed by dinner at our home with Paul and Dawn Amico and their three great kids.  Nathan loved having some kids to play with and all enjoyed our Happy Birthday Jesus cake, served with homemade peppermint ice cream. 

Hadden, Lucy, and Wiley join Papa and Nathan in singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.

Christmas Day, though not “white,” was full of precious moments and celebration.  Nathan was pretty excited about his Little Tikes basketball hoop and entertained all of us for hours as he shot hoops.  We moved slowly through the day, savoring the Christ Child and each other.  Opening gifts provided everything from the hilarious to the poignant and, as always, produced repeatable sound bites.  Hank Bazigian joined us for dinner, continuing that loved tradition, and we eventually closed the books on Christmas 2014.  Lisa left very early the next morning to return to her duties at UCLA.

This little boy is all about balls!  Christmas morning fun.

Paul, Lisa, Julie, and Hank strike a natural pose for the photographer.

We had a few more happily exhausting days with Derek, Julie, and Nathan, and then WE were off to Hawaii (Dec. 30.)  It was so hard to leave before Johnsons left, but our schedule is so packed between now and this coming September, that we had to grab some renewing vacation time before our life ramps up this weekend.

And that’s what we got.  A dear friend loaned us her condo on the Big Island and we spent 9 days there, exploring, snorkeling, hiking, swimming, discovering, and relaxing.  It was everything and more than we had hoped for. Beautiful weather. Lots of turtles and fishes. Great pineapples, papayas, and bananas.  Beautiful sunrises and spectacular sunsets.  We were even fortunate to cross paths with Linda Bartel Dismukes, (she went to SDSU with me and has been involved with CBS since college), who is serving at YWAM Kona currently, and with our nephew Mark Herbst and his wife, Angie, who were vacationing on the same island at the same time. Every day was pretty amazing, and the beauty and diversity of creation continually pointed us to Creator God.

Linda Bartel Dismukes joined us for coffee in downtown Kona.

We spent a great evening with Mark and Angie Herbst (Mark is our nephew.)

On to Kauai we flew on Friday, Jan 9.  We spoke at a marriage conference sponsored by Global Algae Innovations, a cutting edge company founded by our friends, Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck.  Long time family campers at CBS, they had a vision for encouraging and strengthening the marriages of their employees and included the local churches in the opportunity. Kalaheo Missionary Church hosted the conference Friday night and Saturday and everyone seemed pleased with the event.  The second annual conference is already in the works.

Church Sunday morning with Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck and John and Marilyn Nugent.

Our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent decided to plan their annual trip to Hawaii around our conference, so we spent the last 5 days on Kauai with them.  It’s no challenge to find great things to do and beautiful things to see in Kauai, so we spent the days exploring, thrilling to see whales breaching, spouting, or waving a fluke, as well as watching graceful swimming sea turtles en masse. We could never tire of experiencing the wonder of our Father’s world and are coming home refreshed, renewed, and overflowing with gratitude and wonder.

We walked endlessly along the coasts of these Hawaiian islands . . .

. . . and at points, came upon sleeping turtles . . .

. . . or swimming turtles.  Any kind of turtles worked for us.

We landed back in Boston just hours ago and entered a wintery landscape. We’re not in Hawaii anymore!!  We head out tomorrow to speak at West Point, so we’re off and running, but we do so feeling energized and ready to get back in the saddle. This has been a very good time of rest and recreation for us and we are deeply grateful for the time and the generosity of those who helped make this happen in a variety of ways.

In the midst of all this loveliness and extravagance from God, we are aware that many are living with great sadness, pain, and brokenness.  We continue to read every word Kara Tippetts pens on her blog Mundane Faithfulness and we have not stopped praying for God to do a miraculous intervention of healing for her as cancer ravages her body.  Our hearts are heavy for her, her husband Jason, and their 4 beautiful (and young) children who are walking this very dark valley now.  Our hearts and prayers are constantly also with Steve and Sharol Hayner, as Steve’s health declines and hospice is invited in. Two very godly people who seem far too young to die, and yet whose journeys are teaching us that dying well is as important as living well.  

And so we take the broken with the beautiful and get a more accurate picture that He alone is our hope and that true beauty exists only because of and in Him. That which is broken is mended through His healing presence.  On the brink of this new year, we’re reminded that our souls will only truly find rest and contentment in Him. Reinforced for whatever lies ahead, we submit to Him with confidence that He’s got 2015 in His hands.

Three Days in Paradise

The amazing days in Oahu with the PWOC women continued to linger, but I was overjoyed to return to the Big Island to spend several days with Paul relaxing and exploring this incredible place.  We had a blast discovering new-to-us territories, starting on Monday morning when we drove up to the north point of the island and worked our way down the east coast.  Rugged beauty along that coastline being fashioned by churning, powerful tides and waves filled us with awe at Creator God.  We drove down into Laupahoehoe, where in 1946 a tsunami swept away a play yard full of 21 school children and 3 adults.  The newspaper articles said that had the wave come 15 minutes later, the children would've been in their classroom, which was relatively unscathed by the tsunami.  Since the 2011 March 12 tsunami was very present in our minds, it was a bit eerie to be in a place linked by similar tragedy, so we didn't stay long.  But long enough to have our respect deepened for the power of God as seen in the sea.

Since the east coast of the Big Island is known for waterfalls, and because Paul is a waterfall lover, we visited as many as we could.  :)  All of them were voluminous and gorgeous.  Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, Pe'ePe'e Falls, and Wai'ale Falls—we visited them all and were duly impressed with their majesty.  Our hopes to swim in the pools that feed Wai'ale Falls were dashed when we noted how full and raging the flow was in and out of the falls, so wisdom overruled and we settled for taking photos.  After poking around Hilo and admiring their flowers and fresh produce, we continued down the coast to "Champagne Pond"—a natural thermal-fed pool with crystal clear, warmish water.  Lovely.  We drove back at nightfall along the Saddle Road and witnessed a spectacular sunset far from the coastline.  What a great day.

Akaka Falls were gorgeous.

At Wai'ale Falls, we had hoped to swim in the pools above the falls, but didn't want to risk experiencing the falls personally, so we passed.  Lots of rushing water at the top!

At Champagne Pond, we were mesmerized by the clarity of the water,  revealing multi colored lava rock which formed the "pool" bottom.

Tuesday, March 22, we headed south, stopping first at Kealakekua Bay to scout for porpoises, whales, turtles, or anything else marine.  What we saw first, sadly, was the tsunami wreckage of several coves along this coastline.  Thankfully, the evacuation was effective in preserving human life, but some parts of this island were hit pretty hard.  Reconstruction was underway and those who live here acknowledge that it is part of life for coastline dwellers and businesses to take the occasional "bad" with the incredible "good" of living in such places.

Tsunami devastation in this little village by Kealakekua Bay was sobering to see.

We drove on to Honaunau (aka "The City of Refuge"), where we snorkeled at Two Step Beach and saw many turtles and beautifully colorful fish.  The underwater world is breathtakingly beautiful and it was hard to pull away from, but parts south beckoned us, so on we drove.  Our next stop was Honomalino Beach, which we had visited in 2003 when our whole family made our first visit to this wonderfully diverse island.  It is accessible only by starting at Miloli'i Beach Park, but was well worth the 25-minute trek to experience this out of the way, gorgeous black and white sand beach lined with a backdrop of coconut palms.  Arriving at Honomalino this year, we were not prepared for the complete destruction of this once beautiful place, which didn't really survive the forces of the tsunami.  The coconut palms were broken like toothpicks and the beach was all but gone.  The difference was incredible.  We obviously didn't hang out there for long.

The turtle at Honaunau waved at us,  giving us a warm aloha greeting.

The south point of the island is rugged, rugged, rugged.  And "out of the way," so to speak.  But Andrew Doughty's description of the hike to Green Sand Beach in his tour guide Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed  was compelling and Andrew hasn't let us down yet as we've used his guide as a "bible" for exploring the islands....so off we set to experience this unique place.  Following a small road 12 miles off the main road, and then hiking 2.5 miles in stiff headwinds, we finally made it.  These photos don't really capture the fury of the ocean, but let's just say we didn't stay down on the beach long with the incoming tide pounding aggressively on the shore.  It was well worth our efforts.  We were sadly mistaken by the notion that the hike back would be "easy" since the wind would be at our backs.  Rather, it was coming at us sideways, with a relentless sandblasting effect as the stiff wind carried sand on its wings.  What a great adventure - and yes, we'd do it again.  :)

Our first glimpse of Green Sand Beach found at the very southern tip of the Big Island.

Paul got right into it . . . while I took photos and hoped he wouldn't be the victim of a rogue wave.

We caught sunset at Honaunau that night after our south point adventure and it was majestic.  Isn't it interesting that the whole world stops to view a sunset?  It's so very captivating.

Another gorgeous sunset viewed from Honaunau.

Our last day of fun in Hawaii was spent exploring Kohalo Beach area, just north of the Kona airport.  While I was in Oahu, Paul had discovered this beautiful place serendipitously.  He was out driving when he stopped to investigate a bunch of trucks parked at the side of the road.  After noticing a dirt path leading to palm trees in the distance, he was in for the adventure.  He sent me a text message with photo Saturday afternoon while at the women's conference which said, "Don't know where I am, but it's beautiful!"  :)  That's my intuitive perceiver!!

So we returned to the place, having identified it in Doughty's book, and we had a great, great day there.  We walked to "Queen's Bath" - a natural pool lined with lava rocks and filled with crystal clear brackish water.  After a brief dip, we continued walking the coastline and eventually arrived at a lagoon in Kiholo Bay.  Absolutely gorgeous, with aquamarine water and abundant turtles, we could've stayed here for days.  We snorkeled, photographed napping turtles, and relaxed on the lava "shoreline" of the bay.  It really doesn't get much better than this.

Paul enjoys the Queen's Bath in Kiholo Bay.

These sea turtles napped undisturbed in the warm sunshine at Kiholo Bay.

Have you ever seen sea turtles snuggling?  :)

We somewhat reluctantly hiked back to our rental car and returned to our dear friend's condo to clean and pack for our 10:45 p.m. flight that night.  How very, very thankful we were for these idyllic days on this island paradise.  We boarded the plane overflowing with gratitude for three of the best days ever . . . feeling refreshed, renewed, and refueled.

Isn't it amazing how the setting sun changes how everything looks?

To and From Hawaii with Love

When the invitation to speak for a women’s conference in Hawaii came nine months ago, we “knew” it would be God’s will for me to say “yes.”  Isn’t it always His will that we go to Hawaii??

We’ve joked that way each time we’ve been invited to Hawaii, but in all honesty, we do pray for confirmation of His will, even for invitations to what has become our second favorite place in the world.  And we knew that only He could’ve orchestrated this invitation, the back story of which began 25 years ago at Campus by the Sea (our first favorite place in the world).

The invitation came from Stacey Taylor, who 25 years ago was twelve-year-old family camper Stacey Munsey.  She came to CBS with her single mom and her four siblings, as well as several of her aunts and their children, beginning a tradition which is still alive today.  A collection of Munseys, Huitts, Browns, and Cekoriches show up at family camp every summer (missing only a couple of summers when their name never made it to the top of the waiting list).

Through Stacey’s teen years, as she navigated the challenges of a broken home, CBS became a place of refuge and hope.  In her words, she was drawn to the truth of the gospel and wanted desperately to live her life according to that truth, but brokenness in several critical areas hindered the full realization of that desire (a reality all of us share with her).  Even still, she returned—summer after summer—to have her wounds dressed and her hope renewed.

When Stacey invited me, she wrote this:

“Virginia and Paul, I am so blessed that you were a part of my teen years, in a home without a parent-team, without relationship role models, without a true vision and understanding of my worth to our Lord. I will not forget what I did grow up with: a family whose heart craved to know our Lord more.”

She got married in her early twenties and bore her first son.  For many reasons, that marriage failed quickly and she juggled being a single mom with trying to finish college during her mid-twenties.  Though not easy years, she is a survivor, and during this time her faith grew by leaps and bounds.  Through much hard work and perseverance, framed within the grace of God whose love for her was transforming her from the inside out, she managed to get through college and provide stability for her son.  Her every-summer family camp tradition became sporadic physically, but remained constant in her heart.

Stacey was last at CBS six years ago, only a few years into her marriage to Britton Taylor, who serves with the U.S. Navy.  As she landed at CBS that summer with Britton, Caleb, and Kirstyn, her beautiful smile told it all.  She was in a secure marriage with a godly man and together they were committed to raising their children for Him.  I remember being moved by how healthy and happy their little family was; it was obviously the work of God in their lives.

Since then, their assignments have kept them geographically too far from CBS to come back, but they are finishing a 3-year tour in Hawaii this summer and are being relocated to Everett, WA, so their plans are in motion to attend family camp in 2012.

I know that’s a lot of background for this post about the women’s conference, but I am so deeply moved by the Christlikeness of this family, I can’t really stop thinking about them.  Stacey’s journey reflects with unmistakeable clarity the power of God to redeem, to transform, and to accomplish His purposes.  She is an amazing mother to her four children, a loving wife to her husband of almost 9 years, and a faithful mentor to a variety of younger moms God brings across her path.  She is leading ministries that are equipping and encouraging marriages and families with Biblical truth.  And she completed a masters in marriage, family, and child therapy in the last few years.  Wow!

So, when Stacey invited me to speak for the the PWOC retreat (Protestant Women of the Chapel) back in July (while we were doing family camps at CBS), we agreed with her that this was God’s will.

Even so, I had no idea of how deeply I would be blessed and impacted by the time with Stacey and these wonderful women.

From the time Stacey picked me up at the Honolulu airport Thursday afternoon, March 17, until she returned me there Sunday late afternoon, each moment seemed God-breathed.  First stop: her base housing, which allowed me to have a peek at her sweet family, including her husband, her four children, and 9 one-week-old chocolate lab puppies.  Busy household!!

Stacey holds her “baby” Karelyn, and is surrounded by oldest son Caleb, Kirstyn (holding one of the puppies), and Camden.

And then we were off to Mokuleia, a Christian camp located on the west coast of Oahu, right across from Dillingham Field airstrip.  The camp is right on the water, so had we been one week earlier, we would’ve been evacuated for the tsunami.  Thankfully, our only weather excitement came in the form of rain that visited us on and off during the weekend.  At least it was warm rain.

The ladies began gathering Friday afternoon and were welcomed by a warm registration team.  Arriving at their rooms, they were surprised to find  personalized goodie bags and other gifts on their beds.  Stacey and her team didn’t miss anything!  Each woman felt well loved by the time they reached their rooms!  After a great dinner punctuated by a worshipful hula, all gathered in the beautifully decorated meeting room for the start of the conference.  It was very impressive to see the ambience created by some hardworking designers, whose creativity transformed the functional space into a warm, welcoming, “we love you” refuge.

Part of the welcome committee, ready for action, who maintained this coffee/tea station throughout the weekend.

The theme of the first meeting Friday night was “He knows me and still loves me!” based on Psalm 139.  How good it is to be reminded from that psalm that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.  That I’m fearfully and wonderfully made, that He knows me fully, that He knows my name, and that His love for me is deeper than I’ll ever fully understand.  It laid a great foundation for the rest of the weekend.  Walking to our cabins under a full moon to go to bed was a perfect ending to a seamless start.

Stacey welcomes everyone and launched the conference Friday evening.

The full moon was an added gift to the weekend.

Saturday dawned before it was bright; the 6 am prayer meeting at the beach beat the sun up, and though it was hard to interrupt sound sleep at that very early hour, it was well worth it.  A surprising number of women joined the circle to intercede for many and it truly was a “sweet hour of prayer” and a fitting start to the day.  The morning session focused on a look at God’s creativity as seen in our differing temperaments, “Fearfully and Wonderfully Wired,” and we had a rollicking good time laughing at the ins and outs of our personalities.  But it was more than fun—it was insightful and equipping as we considered the challenges we face in accepting and validating our differences, especially in our marriages.  There were many “aha!” moments that will hopefully make a difference relationally going forward.

That night, we looked at "Taking the Road Less Travelled—Trail Markers Along the Way,” springboarding off my book Raising a Trailblazer:  Rite of Passage Trail Markers for your Set-Apart Teen (as per request by Stacey).  Knowing that not all of the women had children approaching the teen years (either because they were empty-nesters, not yet moms, or were moms of really young children), I broadened the application of the principles for all.  For instance, the 13th-year rite of passage focuses on the value of purity, but at what age does purity become unimportant?  God calls us to purity our whole life, so I challenged the women to consider their own pursuit of purity in what they read, see, do, how they dress, etc.  I was thankful for a fairly universal application of the heart of the book and was really touched to hear how the talk affected a number of the women.

Besides our main sessions, I loved being available to the women, and they seemed to love my availability.  After meeting with women before and after sessions, I crawled into bed at 1 am both Friday and Saturday nights—rather exhausted, but contentedly so.

Sunday started with rain, so after getting up to my alarm at 5:45 am for prayer meeting, my housemates informed me that the outdoor prayer meeting was cancelled due to rain, so I happily went back to bed for another hour.  I later found out that the devoted prayer warriors met anyway—indoors.  I’m sure they prayed for me, because once again, during the final session, I was very aware of the presence of God.  My last talk, entitled “Forever 31 . . . and Making a Difference:  Five “D’s” that will improve your GPA*” (Growing a Proverbs 31 Attitude), was a charge to be devoted to growing as Proverbs 31 ladies and to DO something to make a difference for the kingdom with each one’s unique gifting and call.  I sensed that the women were stirred by the spirit of God and left with resolve to be more fully His, driven by His purposes.

The book table was ably managed by Jenn Forxworth - top right- (whose brother Thomas Austin is on the practice squad for the New England Patriots, and who along with his wife Margaret, was very involved in our couples’ Bible study last fall!), and helpers Stephanie and Kelly.  The ladies were thrilled to have some new resources to take home with them and definitely set a record per capita for book sales. 

There were many reasons this women’s retreat was the richest and most meaningful I’ve ever been a part of, but two stand out with prominence.  I’ve already written about the first: Stacey.  The second is that this wasn’t any ordinary group of women: these women are married to men who are serving our country through the armed forces.  The context linked me back to my growing up years, as the daughter of a Naval officer and his very devoted wife, my mom.  It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of things like deployments and ID cards and base housing and uniforms, but it all came flooding back to me kind of like a tsunami figuratively.  I felt a bond with these women in a way I hadn’t expected, for though I’m not a military wife, my years as a Navy “brat” connected me with their world on a fairly deep level.

Interestingly, I felt that some of my most persuasive encouragement to the women came as a result of the gift my parents gave me and my 6 siblings of the strength of their marriage.  Stacey reported that just the week before, statistics had been released revealing that the divorce rate among the military is highest at the bases of the Pacific Fleet — right there in the idyllic paradise of Oahu.  I wanted to give these women hope that they could avoid being part of that dismal statistic by the grace of God and by prioritizing, guarding, and investing in their marriages.  I used many examples from what I observed in my parents’ marriage as a kid growing up in the military.  I can still see my mom every night as I kissed her good-night sitting at the huge mahogany table she and my dad had built together,  writing him on a plain Mead tablet.  Every night.  She numbered the letters and sent them off every day.  My dad was doing the same thing from wherever he was in the world.  And when he was out at sea, it was a red-letter day when the mailman brought 2 dozen letters to her in one day due to a mail drop in the middle of the sea.  His were numbered as well, so my very happy mom would know the order in which to read them, and also would know if any were missing.  Those letters are bundled and preserved in boxes to this day, as my parents approach their 63rd wedding anniversary.  Obviously we were never privy to the contents of those letters (I do remember overhearing my dad instruct my mom to burn them before they left this earth), but their impact was huge in terms of our sense of security of the solidarity of our parents’ marriage.

I asked my mom to write these precious women some thoughts from “one who’s been there” and this is what she wrote:

A few thoughts from an old military wife...
There are many jobs I think I could have done well in my life, but God gave me the best of all: wife and mother. To make it even more challenging and interesting, He made me a military wife.
A few of the things I learned I would like to share with you.  First of all, you are a wife and helpmeet and as such you have no military rank, no matter who your husband is.
But you do have have the privilege of helping other wives in so many ways. Take advantage of that.
The Navy used to say, “if we would have wanted you to have a wife we would have issued her with your sea bag.”  Thank heaven that has changed and the military has finally realized what an asset a family is to a service member.
Military life is difficult but also rewarding. My first advice is that you support your spouse in every way you can. Being a wife is hard, being a serviceman’s wife is even harder.
If you are a parent, the most important thing you can do for your children, besides loving their father well, is to have the same set of rules and standards when their father is away as you do when he is home.  So many times after the ship had sailed I heard a few “Boy, am I glad he is gone.  Now we can do things differently.”  That is a recipe for disaster for your child.
Most of all, I will say that had I not been a Christian, letting God lead in my life, my Navy journey would have been much more difficult. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”  (Phil 4:13) was the verse I relied on to get me through many tough times.
I hope you are having a fantastic retreat in beautiful Hawaii. 
Esther Collins

The women loved it!  What a treasure to have her speak into their lives words that few others could speak.

So I left the weekend empty of energy and full of heart.  It was such a gift to me to have spent the weekend with this group who are challenged in all the “normal” ways that young moms are challenged today, as well as with things that most are not.  Some of them returned to homes “alone” with husbands deployed as planned, but others whose deployments were unexpected due to the tsunami in Japan.  Most returned to temporary situations, with orders looming on the horizon which would transplant them to bases around the world.

By God’s grace, all returned with a deeper understanding that their security isn’t dependent on where they live, or on their husband’s rank, or how long they’ll be in one place—but on His everlasting and abiding love and presence, which will always be theirs.  I left with a heart expanded by a very special group of women, whose faces, stories, and journeys I’ll carry with me, with hopes of crossing paths again.

This is part of an email I received from Stacey this week:

“Many women have related to me that their return home was completely peace-filled, emotional, and marked by worshipful exhaustion. As I spoke with a few today, soo many of them were filled with such peace when they went home they were just glad to be home with their families—where they belong. That just softened my heart with gladness to hear such news. Even more was their complete love for you, the way you spoke to their hearts and reminded them to live with purpose. I have to say that purpose was a reoccurring theme spoken today of the retreat impact. One woman in particular couldn’t believe “that I had no sense of direction” or even thought about parenting purposefully, only living day to day and ‘doing the best I can’ . . . what a wonderful talk she had with her husband that night.”

I’ve spent much time since the retreat thanking the Lord for this experience and praying for these women.  I know that it is God who is at work in them and that He is their hope.  Pray with me that their awareness of Him will only grow stronger and will draw them to deeper levels of surrender to Him.

Cynthia, Vera,  Riza, Hannah, Susie . . . some of the great ladies who expanded my heart.

After most of the women had left, I gathered this “remnant” who were wrapping things up for a quick photo.  Tired but radiant, no?

Hannah (a Gordon College graduate turned teacher for Calvary Chapel’s school in Honolulu) led worship—and crazily jumped in the ocean with Susie after it was all over for a memorable ending to the weekend.

The glory of God was seen in the beautiful setting, as well as in the beautiful women.

It’s a new year!

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!