If Home Is Where the Heart Is . . .

It's Sept. 12 and we're somewhere between Brussels and Newark, NJ.  As the 11th anniversary of 9/11 drew to a close, we boarded our flight from Entebbe, Uganda, closing out three incredible weeks of ministry and holiday in this central African country.

A million thoughts are swirling through my head as we make this long journey back to the States, where a good portion of our hearts reside.  But surely "home" is now also in Mbale, Uganda, where we have left part of our hearts.

Our last week in that country has been more vacation than work, so we travel home considerably more rested and relaxed than we arrived 3 weeks ago.  Though I did visit the hospital daily to hang out with precious mamas and babies, much of the week was spent relaxing, swimming, napping, reading, and hanging with Derek and Julie.  Sweet, sweet times with them, making it harder and easier to leave them.  Harder because we love being with them so much; easier because they are delighting in marriage and are fulfilled in their ministry work.  They are "better together" and that is so encouraging to see firsthand.

"Papa Paul" plays with Hadasseh, a little 3-year-old Ugandan orphan adopted
by Lexi, a young woman from Florida.

Mostly relaxing: Derek manages to enjoy the pool and take a business call.  :)

One of the highlights of this week was visiting "Overcomers Rehabilitation Center," a less-than-one-year-old private school for children with spina bifida.  One of the specialties of the CURE Neurological Hospital in Mbale is treating children who are born with this condition, which is considered a congenital defect of children born in poverty.  Though the opening in the spinal column can be surgically repaired at CURE, the children are typically paralyzed from the opening down, resulting in lifelong incontinence.  As a result, these usually bright children are refused admission to school, as the schools are not able/willing/equipped to deal with incontinent children.

The Spiritual Center Director of CURE, Miriam Ongom, received a vision from God regarding starting a private school for these children, who have survived the perceived "curse" of spina bifida as infants, only to be cast away by the time they are school-aged.  Without Miriam's school, the six students currently enrolled would languish in their huts, with nothing but a dismal future unfolding before them.

We first met her school children earlier in the week when they came to the hospital for a physical therapy session with Dr. Julie (Friesen Johnson!) and her colleague, Lucy (CURE's full-time physiotherapist.)  We fell in love with this little uniformed cohort of overcomers.  They played ball.  They recited their facts.  They laughed.  They did their exercises.  And they sang.  "Somebody touched me . . . it must've been the hand of the Lord."  Lustily and with conviction.  If you didn't know that the little silk purses around their necks held their catheters, or if you didn't notice the braces on their legs or the crutches under their arms, you would've thought they were any typical group of 4-6 year olds.

These children have come from all over Uganda to attend Sister Miriam's special boarding school.  Sister Miriam, who lives in Namatala, one of the largest slums in Mbale, has converted her rented home into a boarding school.  Not because it's a lucrative private school.  These children can't pay.  Not because she has so much excess money and time.  She works full-time to support her family of six sons.  Not because she has state aid, a huge board, and a list of benefactors.  At this point, she's doing this with the aid of two teachers and a "dorm" mom.

Just because God told her to do this.  Because these children, though considered "the least of these" by a society that has no purpose for their lives, are loved by Him, and Sister Miriam knows that He has a purpose for each of their lives.

We visited the "school" and had a deeply moving "sad-glad" experience.  I'll admit that it was initially hard to overlook the obvious symbols of poverty:  the dirt, the small room holding 3 bunkbeds for sleeping, the tiny school room, the smell of beans alone boiling for dinner, the "squatty potty", etc.  But all it took to see through a totally different lens was the children, who were happily working at their desks, learning to write and read, being taught by a beautiful Ugandan school teacher (who is willing to serve at ORC for much less than she'd receive in any other Ugandan school).  They lit right up when they saw that the "M'zee" had come with his wife ("M'zee" refers to an older man, who is considered wise and worthy of respect).  "M'zee Paul" had taught them "My God is so BIG" when they had come to the hospital on Tuesday, so they were thrilled when he led them in a chorus of this simple, profound song.  Precious moments.

The children from Overcomers Rehabilitation Center arrive at the hospital for physical therapy with Dr. Julie and Ms. Lucy.
Enoch, Anthony, Adijah, and Emma are in the front row, with Ruth standing behind.
All of these children had surgery at CURE in years past.

Dr. Julie tosses the ball, much to the delight of the children.

Sister Miriam stands in the "dorm room" of her little school.

The happy children with their teacher have just finished singing, "My God is so BIG!"

Miriam's school launched in March and they are beginning their 3rd term now.  She fully believes that this is just the beginning of a large boarding school which will meet the needs of many otherwise forgotten children.  Would you pray with us for her efforts - and ask the Lord if He is calling you to be part of the fulfillment of her vision?

Another highlight of the week was spending good chunks of time with my new friend, Janet, and her son Emma.  I referred to them last week in the blog:  Emma was born with hydrocephalus and was treated at CURE during its inaugural year in Mbale (2001).  He has had many complications and as a result, is non-ambulatory and confined to a wheelchair.  He was back at the hospital for the past couple of weeks for a shunt revision due to an infection.  His mother was widowed 4 years ago, about the time she had her second child, so she lives with her mom (who is disabled) as a single mom of two.

Emma, Janet, Julie, and another little patient share
a few moments in the ICU ward after Emma's surgery.

Janet is one of the most beautiful, courageous women I have met.  I sat with her for about 30 minutes during Emma's surgery, sharing life stories and praying, and was so impressed with her heart for the Lord and her awareness of His presence.  "God is good ALL the time" she began, and I finished, "And ALL the time, God is good."  She loves her Emma, even though his needs are so great and her culture rejects him.  She inspired me greatly.

The hospital is expanding as we speak.  Construction is underway to add a ten-bed private ward, a new Physiotherapy Lab, and a third "theater" (operating room.)  Completion is expected in November.  It's very, very impressive to be on the hospital grounds - a beautifully landscaped "sanctuary," gated from the surrounding impoverished village, but providing life and health, spiritual and physical, to those living in such villages.  It's a remarkable work.

Interacting with the hospital staff was another highlight of our time in Mbale.  Led capably by our son-in-law Derek Johnson, the staff of over 100 are truly delightful.  Possessing the gracious spirit of Ugandans, they are appreciative, warm, respectful, and servant-hearted.  They so genuinely appreciated our teaching on relationships, and many expressed how much it had impacted their lives.  Many said it had really changed the way they looked at marriage and family.  We loved every minute of interaction and look forward to being with them again.

"M'zee Paul" and "M'zee Emma" share a bond as the two "M'zees" of the hospital.
Emma has been married for 30 years and has raised his three children for Christ.
He's a remarkable man of God.

Sister Harriet, Sister Esther, and Sister Miriam are three key players at the hospital.  Wonderful women of God, dedicated to serving Him and these precious Mamas and babies.

We also enjoyed connecting with the missionary community in Mbale and others who are friends with Derek and Julie.  Bob and Martha Wright (and their five children!), are missionaries in Karamoja, a remote and rough region in the northeast corner of Uganda.  They were in Mbale for much of the time we were, and we had several great times with them.  We had dinner one night with Yusef and Nada Eads, and four of their five children and enjoyed a Palestinian feast prepared by Nada.  They fled Palestine over 20 years ago and have made their home in Mbale since.  They're very involved in the Christian community in Mbale.  Another night we had dinner with JP and Jill Robinson and their two kids.  The Robinsons were married 15 or so years ago by our dear friend, Jay Abramson (of Valley Community Baptist Church of Avon, CT), and began their missionary career in Mbale in April.  We attended their ecumenical Bible Study one Sunday night and got to meet many others there.  It gave us good insight into Julie and Derek's world outside of the hospital.

Dinner with the Wright family from Karamoja.  We really enjoyed
these guys and admire the work they're doing in a very tough setting.

No safaris or sightseeing tours on this trip, but on Saturday, Derek did drive us up Wanale, a mountain just behind their town.  It was a beautiful drive through the waterfall strewn landscape.  The hillsides were terraced with small farms and we were enthusiastically greeted by small children from the small villages dotted along the road.  We were captivated by all the sights and sounds.   Derek regaled us with tales of riding his bike up their arduous dirt road, which planted a vision in my mind for our next trip.  :)  Great day.

On the Wanale Road, the friendly children paid a visit when we stopped to photograph the waterfall.

Just about the time that we were tuning out the incessant sounds of roosters crowing through the night, and dogs barking their heads off, and birds contributing their special songs to the symphony of the night; and just about the time the sometimes noxious odors of people and poverty were becoming somewhat normal; and just about the time walking into the ward at the hospital didn't cause me to automatically burst into tears; and just about the time it was second nature to not swallow any tap water . . . it was time to pack and go.  

But we weren't quite done.  We were privileged to have two more ministry opportunities before we boarded our flight home.  We drove to Kampala on Monday, the 10th, and spoke that night at the Family of Destiny Church in NTinde.  Pastored by a dear friend of Pastor Wilberforce, we were invited to speak on marriage to their young marrieds, so we did.  We were in cross-town Kampala traffic to get there for longer than we spoke, but it was a wonderful night.  We've been invited back.  Pastor Thomas said, "You have only served up an appetizer tonight.  We want you to come back and serve a full meal!"

The following morning, very early, we were invited to speak to the Christians in Parliament.  We had the privilege of addressing this group 3.5 years ago when were were here, and considered it a great honor to have another opportunity.  We mainly encouraged this group of faithful men and women in positions of influence to use their appointments to strengthen marriages and families in Uganda, using scriptural truth as their guide.  They've also invited us back.

Pastor Wilberforce, MP Charles Angine, and Patrick
helped make it possible for us to speak to Parliament.

We've said yes to all these invitations.  What makes it a bit easier to leave part of our hearts in Uganda is that God has made a way for us to return in March.  :)  We are most grateful.

So as we head home, we carry with us much less luggage, and much fuller hearts.  We'll be processing these weeks for months to come, undoubtedly, but we know we've been changed by these experiences.  We have greater confidence than ever in God's design for the family, and a deeper awareness that He will bring about His purposes in spite of cultural distortions.  

And we know that a heart can be divided . . . in a way that doesn't decrease it, but expands it.  Only God can make that happen.

Worlds Apart

The heavens declare the glory of God . . . whether we're at CBS, or Camp Berea, or Mbale, Uganda.  We send our greetings and love today from Uganda, where we have spent the past two weeks doing very much what we do in the States: speaking on marriage and counseling couples.  

We "hobbled" out of the USA on Monday, Aug. 20, after nine weeks straight of family camp, during which time we barely stopped to catch our breath.  This was a particularly full and exhausting summer—as I wrote in the last post—so by the time we boarded our flight out of Boston, we were anticipating with joy our 24 hours of travel to Entebbe!  Crazy, maybe, but two eight-hour-plus time periods in the air, with no interruptions, was just what we needed about that time.  We were most thankful for good, on-time flights, and for a safe arrival at the Entebbe airport late Tuesday night.  There's nothing quite so sweet as being greeted by eager children, full of smiles, and seemingly non-plussed by the 4-hour, rugged drive they had just made to pick us up.  It was a very happy reunion with Derek and Julie, whose faces we had only seen via Skype since early February.

We drove back to Mbale the next day, after a lovely night's rest and some errands around Kampala.  We made a quick stop in Ginja en route for a late lunch, and just around supper time, we arrived at their home.  This is our first return to Mbale since our visit in May of 2009 (when Derek and Julie were in the beginning of their courtship) and it was such a joy to settle into their home this time. 

We came fully loaded with "not available in Uganda" provisions for Julie and Derek.  What fun!

Our ministry opportunities began almost immediately, as Derek and Julie had their pastor and his wife, Wilberborce and Sarah Okumu, come for dinner Thursday night so we could discuss with them the ministry plans for their church that weekend.  Why Derek and Julie appreciate this couple so much became quickly apparent:  they are passionate people of God who serve their people with deep hearts and commitment.  Wilberforce was really excited about our proposal to teach his congregation about God's design for marriage as found in Genesis 2, the fall and curses in Genesis 3, and the "antidote" to the fall in Ephesians 5.  It was a new thought to him that God's spoken  curse to Eve, "Your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16) means that Eve would have a tendency to control, undermine, manipulate, and overrule her husband (her power corrupted), and that Adam's power would also be corrupted and expressed through dominance or passivity.   With this understanding of the Genesis 3:16 account of the curse, the instructions to husbands and wives found in Ephesians 5 "make sense" and far from being obsolete, irrelevant or oppressive, they address the sinful tendencies of men and women as a result of the fall and the curse.  Wilberforce was very eager for us to teach this to his people, which we did all day Saturday at a marriage seminar, and again on Sunday to a combined number of over 600 in two worship services.  What a privilege to be invited to speak into the lives of these precious people.

Here we are with Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu of Pearl Haven Christian Center, Derek and Julie's home church.

Our inadequacies have been very apparent to us, and we've been often plagued with concerns about the cultural gaps that exist between our world and theirs.  We have had many moments of self-doubt and questions about whether we really had anything to say.  After eight full days of ministry, we are sure we don't have anything to say apart from the truth of God's Word, and that we don't have anything to offer apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.

We were so aware of this as we taught at Pastor Wilberforce's church, Pearl Haven Christian Center.  The all-day Saturday conference was well attended and received, and we quickly adjusted to speaking through an interpreter.  We were struck with how very different, yet how very similar we are to these people.  In the words of Ron Hall and Denver Moore, "the same kind of different as me."  The struggles between husbands and wives are universal to a degree, with cultural adaptations.  Obviously there are many differences, but the core issues are very similar.  It's been incredibly encouraging to see the impact of truth on the universally-fallen nature of mankind.

Sunday evening we had the privilege of teaching just under 100 at their youth service on God's design for relationships.  As we've done many times in the States, we started by asking them what qualities or characteristics did they hope to find in a mate.  The list was remarkably similar to every list we've heard in the States!  As we taught on God's design for purity and for marriage, we again sensed a hunger for the truth, and yet much confusion related to the cultural mores here. Great questions followed the talk and we felt that some of the confusion was clarified. The longing for healthy, God-honoring relationships was palpable.  Some things are universal among the body of Christ.

At the end of the youth service, a few remained to stack the chairs.

Before the weekend, we spent Friday afternoon with Derek's Senior Management Team at CURE Pediatric Hospital.  This group of very talented, committed leaders of the hospital were delightful to hang out with. After a fabulous lunch of homemade pizza a la Derek and Julie,  we discussed group and team dynamics and what Christlikeness looks like in a hierarchical setting.  It was a productive afternoon.

The Senior Management Team of CURE Hospital:
Florence, (Julie), Miriam, Peter, Moses, (Paul), Moses, and Derek.

Fresh, homemade pizza, baked in Derek's outdoor pizza oven, was happily consumed by all.

Monday, Aug. 27, Paul spent the afternoon with 14 influential, evangelical pastors, hand-picked for this meeting to discuss marriage in Uganda.  Issues such as dowry, bride price, introductions (engagement), weddings, etc., were on the table with the hopes of aligning Ugandan Christian marriages with Biblical design.  The challenges are great:  dowry continues to perpetuate a "wife as property" sentiment, which sets her up to be abused and treated as inferior.  Weddings have become very costly, large events, which cause the couple to wait for years before actually marrying.  They do not, however, postpone co-habiting and having children as they wait for the wedding.  The evangelical pastors have a heart for the church to lead the way in bringing changes, consistent with God's design for marriage, and that was the subject of the afternoon meeting.  Paul took it all in until the end, when he was invited to speak, and he was so impressed with the hearts and thoughts of these men of God.  He considered it a great privilege to be a part of this pivotal meeting.

The next day, the pastors returned with their wives for an all-day seminar with us teaching on marriage.  Once again, we were honored to present Biblical design and to wrestle through difficult questions posed by the pastors.  We loved the spirit of the day.  Such sincere men and women of God who truly are troubled by the state of marriage in Uganda and are poised and ready to lead the way in making some much needed changes.  They were so excited about the day that several of them asked us to return as soon as possible so they could mobilize as many pastors as possible to be taught similarly.  

The pastors and their wives attended an all-day seminar on Christian marriage and ministry.
They were delightful!

The day closed with the singing of "I Surrender All" and it was very, very powerful.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we spent at the CURE Pediatric Hospital, of which our son-in-law Derek is the Executive Director.  Working together with his spiritual care director, Miriam Ongom,  we would be speaking three times each day, in one-hour time slots, to maximize attendance of the hospital staff.  The spiritual emphasis of the hospital this year is "Developing Healthy Relationships," and we were asked to speak on healthy marriages, families, and singles.  

Over the nine hours we had in the three days, we addressed Biblical design for all of these relationships, focusing especially on God's design for purity, for treating one another with Christlikeness, and His design for sexuality.  All the topics were revolutionary to the way life is done in Uganda, but especially radical was dealing openly with sexuality.  Ugandans do not talk about it at all.  Though sex and all things related to it are kept in complete secrecy, there is tremendous corruption, abuse, and confusion concerning all things sexual.  At Miriam's and Derek's suggestion, we waited until Friday to teach on sexuality, and by God's grace and a deep level of trust which had grown between us and the staff, there was an amazing level of openness to our teaching.  Though many submitted written questions, a handful even voiced questions aloud.  There was such an obvious hunger for truth about this "taboo" subject that is so dynamic and which impacts each person's life significantly.  

Our commitment was to teach Biblical design.  The last thing we wanted was to communicate western ideas about sexuality, marriage, etc.  Enough of those ideas have floated through cyberspace and other forms of media and have had a very corrupting and distorting affect on this culture.  For many of them, the concept of a mutually-satisfying marital sexual relationship was a brand new idea.  The truth that there was no place for beating a wife into submission went against common practice.  The belief that husband's headship meant servant leadership, not "I'm the boss so it's all about me" was hard to swallow (for the men, anyway!).  The culturally acceptable attitude towards women as inferior was turned upside down by the Biblical truth of equality.  

God met us in ways which far exceed any expectations we had.  He was so gracious to give us wisdom in the moment as we dealt with complex issues and questions, and to touch the hearts and ears of those listening.  Though exhausted by late Friday afternoon (we also counseled in between the 3 teaching sessions that day), we were thoroughly energized to have been part of something so potentially revolutionary.  

Whenever possible during the four full days we spent at the hospital for the seminars, Julie and I slipped into the ward to see the babies.  As difficult as it is to see babies struggling with such challenging medical conditions, it's so hope-giving to see how God is using this place to bring life and healing.  We're more and more impressed with what is happening here.  

Julie loves on a precious little girl who has had surgery and will soon be going home.

This precious child and his 17-year-old mama has very advanced hydrocephalus and has had a shunt surgically implanted.  The mamas who come here are the brave ones.  Many succumb to the cultural belief that a big-headed baby is cursed, and "accidentally" drop the baby in the river or get rid of them in other ways.  :(

This is Emma and his mama Janet.  We've fallen in love with this pair.  Emma is 11 and due to many complications, is non-mobile and deals with the ongoing effects of hydrocephalus.  Even so, he hardly complains and has the sweetest smile.  He also has a very devoted, sacrificial mama, who is widowed. 

This is a wonderful story of success.  This little girl has returned to the hospital for a follow-up visit and she is doing beautifully, thanks to the amazing grace of God and work of CURE.

We rested on the weekend.  :)  It's been wonderful to hang out with Derek and Julie, relaxing, enjoying playing games, eating fine meals, going to a local resort pool, and getting good sleep.  The first two days of this new week (and our last one in Uganda for awhile), Paul has been focused on writing a handbook to go along with our teaching last week, to leave these dear people with something tangible for reference as they continue to wrestle with these new ideas.  I've gone to the hospital for part of each day with Derek and Julie to check in on the babies.  

Our time is flying by, but we are grateful for every day we're here.  In one week, we'll return to a more familiar world—but one which is loved no more deeply than this one. 

The Twists and Turns of November 2011

The Oct. 30, 2011 Nor’easter created great hardship for millions, but also painted some unusually beautiful vignettes which prompted the question, “What's wrong with this picture?”

What a month it’s been!  We returned from California on Oct. 25, got through days of counseling and the two Patriots studies, and then hunkered down for the Nor’easter of 2011.  Not to minimize the very challenging circumstances that evolved from this unprecedented October storm, but we were secretly very pleased to be in town to “experience” it firsthand rather than read the reports about it (which seems more typical for us due to our travels.)  Let me also confess that since we only lost electricity for about 10 hours, we faced none of the hardships incurred by so many others, so we could “enjoy” it as few could.  At any rate, we were awed to see the power of God in nature and the unusual marriage of fall colors and snow.  Wild weather!

November was ushered in by our annual evening with the couples at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  We love Lita Schleuter, director of the seminary wives program,  and are honored to partner with her and to mix with the students.  We always find this engagement stimulating as we interact with those preparing for ministry and struggling with the somewhat unknown future challenges of balancing marriage, family, and ministry.  It was a great evening, capped with a brief but sweet visit with some of our family friends’ students who are attending Gordon College.

We received this kind email from Lita after our evening together:

Paul and Virginia,
What joy it is to always have you come and encourage future church leaders!!  You are indeed preparing soldiers of the Cross!
Your teaching reached across cultures - in the audience were couples who are already leaders in their countries, and they were greatly encouraged by God's word as presented by the two of you.
Thank you for making yourselves available to God to bless His Church!
In Christ’s joy,

We were so honored to spend the evening at GCTS with Bonnie Robinson and Lita and Dan Schleuter, along with many student couples.

Hannah Bastedo, Holland Stewart, and Monica Wong are family friends all studying at Gordon College, so we had a late night “Nick’s Roast Beef” run after speaking at the seminary.

Our long-awaited “Sacred Marriage” conference happened the first weekend of November, and Danny and Rayna Oertli’s arrival on Thursday, November 3rd, got the ball rolling when we picked them up en route to the Patriots couples study so the couples could enjoy a mini-concert.  Our group was smaller that evening since many of the couples had been without electricity since the weekend storm, but the group present was greatly blessed by Danny’s music.    

Danny gave Betsy Hasselbeck an impromtu lesson on his guitar before his mini-concert at the Pats couples’ study.

That was the start of a great weekend.  Gary Thomas spoke Friday night and all day Saturday to a crowd of about 550, and God’s spirit was unmistakably present.  He is anointed to bring a very counter-cultural message to a world steeped in self-centered entitlements, which wrecks havoc on marriages. He challenges us to think about marriage from a design perspective, making it about God, rather than from a cultural perspective, which makes it about “me.”  His message was clear, convicting, and hope-giving.   Especially heartening to Paul and me was seeing many, many couples with whom we’ve walked for years now, who have been met by God in very life-changing ways.  Their once very struggling marriages are now on solid ground and the hope of the gospel is seen very practically.

Besides Gary's inspiring and practical messages, the spectrum of workshops hit the mark by addressing specific areas of interest, and were led by highly-qualified resource couples.  We had the usual offerings of conflict management, temperaments, and investing in your marriage, plus some new ones.  David and Michelle Swaim presented a workshop on developing a missional marriage with a global perspective.  As they taught, holding their seventh adopted child, 5-month-old Andrew, they caused many to consider living far beyond themselves.  We received great feedback on the workshops.

And as always, the worship led by Danny and Rayna Oertli was used by God to draw us to Himself.  It was a great, great conference.

Several comments we’ve received since:

“We really felt so enriched and blessed to be at the marriage conference this weekend.  It was worth every penny of the $20 per hour! (cost of babysitter!) Thanks again.”

“My wife and I attended the recent Sacred Marriage conference, what a blessing!  I frequently give Sacred Marriage to couples as wedding presents and during premarital counseling, I loved hearing Gary in person and was personally challenged and stretched to grow in loving my wife as Christ loves the church.”

After the conference, Doug and Julie Macrae treated Gary Thomas, the Oertlis, and us to a wonderful dinner at Il Capriccio in Waltham.

We rounded out the weekend with a visit to Foxboro, where we were witness to a deja-vu game against the Giants.  Everything about the experience, minus the score, was perfect:  weather, company, food, friends.  Danny and Rayna enjoyed their introduction to our football world nonetheless, especially because their Broncos took the Raiders down that day.

It was a great afternoon at Foxboro, in spite of a not-so-great loss to the Giants.

Our post-conference recovery week included an H.I.M. Board meeting, counseling, Patriots studies, and speaking at Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel.  We divided and conquered and each did a workshop on Thursday, Nov. 10.  As always, it was good to reconnect with a few familiar faces and to partner with this great ministry to moms.

Carolyn Sylvester, Lisa Cerci, and Connie Lawrence were a few of our favorite faces from our Grace Chapel days.

Veterans Day weekend  took an unexpected turn when we got a phone call from our newly-married daughter, Julie (whose husband Derek was in Uganda for two weeks), regarding a somewhat urgent medical concern (which has, thankfully, been since resolved).  In light of a relatively “light” ministry weekend (Paul had a men’s breakfast to speak for at 1st Congregational Church of Hamilton and we were scheduled to participate in a very important wedding which Paul was able to do alone), I hopped on a plane within hours and spent the weekend with Julie, awaiting several test results.  Though there was a underlying concern running throughout the days, it was a very sweet time to spend with our Uganda-bound daughter during her last months stateside.  We laid low, overall, since she wasn't feeling great, but did manage to sneak off to the beach at Coronado and take a sunset walk Sunday afternoon.  On that walk, we also admired the Hotel Del Coronado, where Paul and I spent the first night of our honeymoon 35.5 years ago.  It's on our bucket list to return there for a night or two, but for now, it brings great delight to just look at this magnificent hotel from the incredible beach upon which it sits.

The Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego sits majestically on the beach and holds great memories for us.

And, turning around 180 degrees, the setting sun declares the glory of God.

While with Julie, we were also able to pop in on my folks and have lunch with my sisters before flying back to New England late Tuesday evening.  It was a gift to receive good news from the test results before flying home that day.

Paul carried the ball in New England and spoke at two more Mom to Moms, one at St. Michael’s in Bedford and the other at Faith Evangelical Free Church in Acton.  He is also wildly popular with the ladies and the feedback we got confirmed that nothing has changed.

At the Patriots Women’s Study that Wednesday (the 16th), we exchanged our Cynthia Heald study and Bibles for cinnamon roll dough and rolling pins.  This annual event is lots of fun and we had a blast together rolling dough, splashing butter, sprinkling cinnamon sugar, and baking this yummy treat for all to bring to their families.

The annual cinnamon roll workshop produced dozens of rolls and happy consumers.

The almost finished product with some of the accomplished bakers.  

After only 48 hours at home, we were off again—passports required...

But before I sign off: how could I not post this photo of our quickly growing and changing Brandon?  :)

If it’s Monday, we must be in Placentia . . .

We know we’re back in Bedford because there’s snow on the ground.  And it looks and feels dramatically different that what we were experiencing in California and Florida, which is where we’ve been most of the past 3 weeks.  We’ve had amazing moments with God and with His people in many different places, and our days have been full and our nights short - hence, I’m way behind on getting this blog written.  So fasten your seat belts because we’re going to fly through 1700 miles of driving and speaking 14 times in six different cities in California from Feb. 10 through 20th.

After tying up loose ends from the Gary Thomas Parenting conference (Feb. 5) and seeing a number of our counseling clients, we packed up for a 10-day driving tour in California.  It wasn’t quite the warm, sunny California one normally finds in mid-February in this garden state, but it was amusing to us to hear Californians lament the “freezing cold weather” they were having to endure.  :)  Having left 5’ of snow on the ground and temps in the single digits, you can imagine our lack of sympathy.  Though it was quite spectacular to see the snow-topped mountains behind Pasadena—a very unusual sight.

We arrived in Orange County late Thursday night and settled in to our home base for the next 10 days, hospitably opened to us by our dear friend, Wendy Turney.  Her “B and B” is charming and exceeded only by her.  We love to spend time with this great lady and each night we were there, we chatted way late into the night.  Good therapy for the soul.

The weekend conference for the Desert Vineyard Church (located in the Lancaster/Palmdale area) was held in Westlake Village and launched Friday evening.  Long time friends from Campus by the Sea had spearheaded the invitation for us to speak at their annual conference, and we’re so glad they did.  We fell in love with the heart of this church and were incredibly impressed with their senior pastor and his wife, David and Nancy Parker.  The church serves a community racked by gang violence, broken families, and a high incidence of substance abuse issues.  Their commitment is to be Jesus with flesh on to this very hurting population and to love them into the Kingdom.  From the top down, it was apparent that they are doing just that, and we found it refreshing to be with a large group of people who really know what is it to be the recipients of God’s grace and forgiveness.  They seemed to truly grasp that He is their only hope.

Our sessions with them were very well received and we had some great interaction with a number of couples.  It was a great start to our trip and a true honor to partner with this vitally Christian group.

Tom and April Garcia got the ball rolling on our partnership with Desert Vineyard, and Crystal and Brian Roseborough made it happen.

Tom and April Garcia got the ball rolling on our partnership with Desert Vineyard, and Crystal and Brian Roseborough made it happen.

Senior pastor David Parker and his wife Nancy were delightful.  Our lives have followed a very similar path and we felt a real kinship with them.

We drove to San Marcos on Sunday afternoon after the conference to take Julie out for a Valentine’s dinner (since it was a bit far for Derek to do the honors). We got to see her newest living situation, chat with some of her colleagues and friends at PT school (where they were studying), and had a nice dinner together before returning to Wendy Turney’s B and B.  We feel so blessed by every opportunity to hang with our kids.

Valentine’s Day was full of love.  :)  It started with a breakfast reunion with our longest mentoring couple, John and Grace Tebay.  How we treasure time with these saints!  Now in their late seventies, they continue to teach us how to live fully surrendered lives for Him.  Their lives are so winsome:  full, content, purposeful, making a difference.  What gifts they are to us!  Breakfast passed all too quickly—and then it was time for lunch, with more Tebays.  This time we met up with their youngest son, David, and his wife, Carrie.  David is the senior pastor of Calvary Church of Placentia—the church his father pastored for 50 years—and is also one of our CBS family camp speakers.  It was great to catch up with them and to get set for our evening at their church.

Speaking that night at their Valentine’s Couples’ Night Out was an incredible gift to us.  It has been years since we were in that church which was the site of many significant moments in our family history.  Paul was commissioned into ministry at Calvary Church of Placentia in 1972 by Pastor John and the elders.  His father’s memorial service was held there in 1983.  His sister Beth’s wedding happened there in 1984.  It was an evening full of nostalgia and reminders of God’s faithfulness to us through the years.  Many of those in attendance were long time friends and it was so heartening to see them continuing their journey towards the heart of God.  There were three generations of Tebays there, as David and Carrie’s children were part of the serving team.

There were also three generations of Brushwylers there, and that was one of the highlights of the evening for us.  Pam Brushwyler Curlee served on the kitchen staff at CBS in the mid-80’s, and she was “in charge” of the dinner for this Valentine’s event.  We were thrilled to meet her husband and two children and to see her parents, Gordon and Carol.  Pam took the time to let us know how shaping her summers at CBS had been for her spiritual growth, which was very humbling for us to hear.  It was a night full of gifts to our souls.  Another CBS couple, Herb and Karen Huitt, were also there. They are such tributes to the blessings of perseverance even when things don’t go exactly as you’ve envisioned them.  We’ve traveled many roads with Herb and Karen over the years, and God’s faithfulness again is the theme of our friendship with them.

It was a great night.

Our late night was great too as we strategically drove to Santa Clarita during non-traffic hours (if there is such a time in SoCal!) and spent the night with our close friends, David and Cherylyn Hegg.  We’re always inspired by them; we love their hearts and feel very in sync with them as ministry partners, parents of adult children, and grandparents.  We talked too late for ones our age, but it was well worth a slightly higher level of fatigue the next day.  After a great early morning breakfast, we hit the road northbound to “Brandon-land,” aka Sacramento.

At the Calvary Church Valentine’s Couples Dinner. John and Grace Tebay, Herb and Karen Huitt, and David and Carrie Tebay sat with us.

Of course we love being with Gabe and Kari, but we all know that they don’t change much in a month, so our focus of course is the rapidly changing one, Brandon.  At five months, he’s full of smiles and curiosity.  He still has met no stranger.  He’s learning to use his vocal chords and is discovering that he can move to get what he wants.  The miracle of birth and growth amazes us anew as we watched this little guy develop.

Five-month-old Brandon has no trouble sporting a toothless grin.  :)

Way too soon after arriving in Sacramento, we “went to work.”  We spoke at BOSS Remix that night, wrapping up their annual series on “God Loves Sex” and were honored to do so.  We’re humbled to partner with Gabe and Kari in that vital ministry and love rubbing shoulders with their students.  So many of them are hearing for the first time about God’s design for their sexuality, and their hunger for truth is refreshing.  We followed the evening meeting with late night burritos around Gabe and Kari’s kitchen table, squeezing all we could out of our short but wonderful visit.

Students at Remix listen intently to our talk on God’s design for sexuality.

Kari takes a break from the book table to mug with one of her “girls.”

Early Wednesday morning, Feb. 16, we headed to north Sacramento for breakfast with some of our best friends, Ray and Carol Johnston, before speaking to a moms group at Bridgeway Church.  It’s always so much fun to speak to such groups as it’s so unusual for a man to address them. Paul’s perspective is always appreciated and it was a very positive morning.

I’m not sure who does our scheduling :) but we had to be in San Luis Obispo by 6:30 that night for a 7 p.m. speaking engagement, so with only a brief stop in south Sacramento to give Brandon another hug and kiss, we zipped off to SLO.  What a beautiful drive!  The rains had greened the hillsides and bright blue skies dotted with puffy white cumulus clouds filled the backdrop.  We really did enjoy the journey.

Our evening meeting was at Grace Church, whose family pastor, Ken Peet, invited us to speak to parents and teens on God’s design for sexual purity.  The turnout was huge and the attentiveness of the audience was spectacular.  It was a great evening and according to Ken has spawned many good interactions since.  What fun for us to go back to Lisa and Julie’s old stomping grounds!  In spite of a very short stay, we managed to have bbq tri-tips at Firestones and frozen yogurt at Bali’s.  :)  We also had a wonderful visit wit Jan and H.A. Northington, who graciously provided a place for us to stay that night.

The students and their parents are listing qualities they think will be important in a mate.

We were up early (there is a theme) and off to Pismo Beach for a consulting meeting before continuing south all the way to San Diego, stopping at San Marcos en route to pick up Julie for a night at the theater.  A true highlight of our trip was going to see “The Wizard of Oz” on stage that night.  Philip Northington, a long time friend who grew up as a family camper and now is part of the cast of this traveling show, invited us to be his guests and we had a lovely evening.  Since Phil didn’t perform that night, he got to sit with us and share his insider tips on the show.  It was really fun to be with him.

My mom, Julie, and Phil at the theater for a great stage production of “The Wizard of Oz”

We were on the move again Friday (shocking!) from San Diego back to Orange County for a family conference at The Rock in Yorba Linda.  By now it really was “If it’s Friday we must be in Orange County . . .” on this a-different-city-almost-every-day tour!!!  This conference was arranged by Brent and Melissa Slezak, a sweet family who attend CBS family camp.   Friday night was another teen-parent evening dealing with issues of purity and working together as families towards that end.  It was a really good evening and we were very impressed with the mature behavior of the teens and the receptivity of all.  The next morning, we were back at the church to do a parenting seminar, and that also went very well.  Many of the couples in attendance are CBS family campers who look very different “dressed” for proper society.  We took this photo as proof that their wardrobe does include more than shorts, bathing suits, and flip flops.  :)  We loved being with them at the half-way mark between family camps.

Families at “The Rock” who also attend family camp at CBS were very supportive of the parenting seminar.

After reconnecting with another set of treasured mentors in our lives, Bob and Carol Kraning, and visiting with Paul’s sister Carol and her family in Brea, we went back to Wendy Turney’s for the final night in SoCal.  Sunday morning we attended Mariners Church with friends.  It was a treat to introduce two very special couples to one another.  They both attend Mariners, but would likely have never met each other, given the size of the church.  Both couples are really close friends of our Lisa’s (and ours!) and we think they’ll enjoy each other.  The time at church and at our last Mexican lunch for awhile was delightful.

Colin and Heather Vataha (and baby Laila)—transplants from New England to Huntington Beach—and Calen and Amber Offield (and Mom Wendy) joined us at Mariners for church and then lunch on our final day in SoCal.

Back to Wendy Turney’s to pack and fly home.  This picture of me and Wendy by the blooming lemon tree proves that our location is not in Boston.  With solar batteries recharged and hearts full and overflowing with gratitude for safe travels (over 1500 miles driving) and great experiences in six different cities and venues, we jetted up to San Francisco for one last treat before returning to Boston.

Wendy’s hospitality was over the top, making us feel very, very loved.

Our final treat was having dinner with our dearest friends, John and Marilyn Nugent.  Now residents of San Francisco, they zipped over to the airport to take advantage of our three-hour layover.  Over a leisurely dinner, we caught up on what God is doing in each of our lives and added more ballast to our cherished friendship.  It was the perfect ending to a very satisfying and successful trip.

Outside the SF airport, we grab some moments with our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent.

And so the sun sets on a fabulous trip.  And it’s back to the snow piles . . . but not for long!

Our Family is Growing!

Paul and I are thrilled and thankful to announce that our youngest daughter, Julie, recently said a very big “yes” to the second most important decision she’ll make.  And as a result, our family will expand in late August 2011 through marriage.

Derek B. Johnson, executive director of the CURE Hospital in Mbale, Uganda, flew to Boston on Friday, November 12, to give Julie the biggest surprise of her life.  Even a malaria diagnosis two days earlier didn’t dissuade this suitor from traveling 22 hours to propose.  Julie suspected nothing, so when her focus caught the familiar looking man holding two roses, and standing at the base of the escalator at the Jet Blue terminal, she was more than surprised.  After an enthusiastic embrace, Derek dropped to his knee and asked Julie to be his wife.

It didn’t take her long to say YES!

Derek had generously invited us to share the moments with them at the airport as photographers, so we were honored to witness this incredibly sacred moment.

After an August wedding, they’ll live in San Diego until Julie graduates with her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in December.  They’ll then move Mbale, where they’ll continue serving with CURE.

We are amazed by God’s goodness in bringing Derek and Julie together.  Truly, the last thing Julie expected when she bravely flew to Uganda on February 1, 2009, was that God would orchestrate her meeting her future husband.  There’s really no other explanation than the hand of God and we have confidence that He will work out His purposes in their lives individually and together.

None of us have stopped smiling or giving thanks.

Thanks for smiling with us!

Derek waits (im)patiently for Julie to descend.

And on bended knee, he pops the question . . .
She said YES and is still glowing in the night as well as in the day.

After our evening with the Feldhahns ended, we joined them at home for a Martinelli’s toast.

Just over 48 hours later, Julie flies back to Washington DC.  She almost could’ve flown without a plane,  This photo was snapped at 5 a.m. — and that’s not a common 5 a.m. face.  :)