Warm Hearts, Cold Everything Else

I’m not off to a very good start in 2015 blog-wise. I’ve fallen way short of my newly set goal of posting weekly or at least bi-weekly. I guess I could blame it on the weather—that seems to be the catch-all for all that’s gone wrong so far this year. Alas, I’ll chalk my failure up to lack of priority and plan to improve in the weeks ahead.

Backing up to January, our Hawaiian refueling stop the first half of January well prepared us to embrace the frigid temps and warm hearts that greeted us at West Point January 16-17.  Tom and Cheri Austin, directors of Officers Christian Fellowship, rolled out the red carpet for us at the OCF bed and breakfast, and facilitated our speaking to faculty and staff on Christian parenting and marriage Friday night and Saturday.  I’ll never get used to seeing “Go Army - Beat Navy” signs everywhere, but that aside, our time was rich and rewarding.  A return trip is in the offing.

Tom and Cheri Austin, directors of OCF at West Point,
extended warm hospitality to us when we spoke at West Point.

Home for only 4 days, we managed to do a full day of counseling, consult with a group of leaders from Cambridge Christian Fellowship Church on family and marriage ministry, unpack and repack, and then we flew to California on January 22 to begin a two-week junket.  The first major blizzard to hit New England arrived two days after we left, and, though most people thought we’d be thrilled to have dodged that bullet, we sorta hated to miss the historic event.

But we didn’t hate walking on beautiful California beaches, and being committed to making the most of wherever we are, we took full advantage.

How we love walking on the beach … and Pismo is one of the best.

The weekend was spent in Arroyo Grande, where Grace Bible Church hosted a marriage conference Friday night and Saturday.  This was our third conference in four years with this great group of people and we enjoyed reconnecting with “old” faces as well as meeting many new faces.  It was a great time of ministry, evidenced by encouraging feedback.  Paul preached on Sunday to wrap up our time there and then off we sped to Santa Clarita to “do ministry” with our grandchildren, Brandon and Ana, while their parents went on a pastors’ retreat with their church staff.

Some wonderful friends who helped make the marriage conference happen
for Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, California.

What fun filled the next couple of days!  Grandparenting is much more FUN than parenting, honestly, because the only thing on our agenda was keeping everyone safe and satisfied.  That’s it!  So we played from morning ’til night.  Walks to the park.  Baseball in the backyard.  Visiting the fish pond at the outdoor mall, and getting mini-donuts at The Coffee Bean since we were there.  Riding the merry-go-round.  Eating at Chick-Fil-A.  Picking and eating grapefruit from the tree in the backyard.  Building things with Legos.  Cooking in the play kitchen.  Wrestling with Papa.  Reading books. Baking scones and cookies.  Building memories.  Gabe and Kari had a fantastic getaway and we had a 48 hours of joyful bonding.  Everyone wins.

Papa, Brandon, and Ana having fun at the park.

Brandon and Ana helping Gigi bake scones.

Sibling love.

Nathan, who clearly isn’t in New England, says “I really like chocolate syrup!”
As we’ve hit records with cold and snow, our children in Africa
have been sweltering during dry season with high temps and no rain.  

Back up to the Gold Coast of California Wednesday to speak at Grace Church of San Luis Obispo that evening.  Tim Thuele (lead pastor) and Ken Peet (family pastor) put together a teens and parents evening, focusing on relationships.  It was a first for them, and they hoped to have 75-100 out for the event. Everyone—including the dinner prep team—was shocked when over 200 showed up!  We spoke to the parents for the first hour, who were most receptive to some tips on navigating the tricky waters of preparing their teens to make God-honoring choices regarding relationships—and then the teens returned and the conversation continued.  Great energy, great attentiveness, great night.  Great thanks.

Ken Peet welcomes the crowd at Grace Church who
came out for the parents/teens talk on relationships.

Next stop, Sacramento!  We welcome any opportunity to return to Sacramento and were honored to accept Bayside Midtown’s invitation to spend the weekend with them.  But first, we had lunch with some of our dearest friends and partners in ministry, Ray and Carol Johnston.  Not only did we have a great catch-up time over lunch, but Paul came away transformed fashionably through the efforts of Ray, Carol, Christy, and Leslie.  Since Paul has lost 35 lbs. in an attempt to get healthy, the Johnstons took one look at his over-sized jeans and deemed them “unfit.”  Thus began a crash course in “jean”-ology.  An hour spent in Nordstroms did the trick and Paul is now stylin’ in a way he’s never styled before.  Let’s just say that the cost of the jeans will definitely motivate him to keep the weight off.  :)

Ray, Carol, Christy, and Leslie Johnston give Paul a lesson about buying jeans.

The male models . . .

The Bayside Midtown conference Saturday was energizing.  We love to speak to audiences that speak back.  Interaction is good.  A great crowd showed up, representing ages and stages across the board. A mid-afternoon lunch with lead pastor Bob and Letty Balian and others was full of reflection of how God met us at the conference.  We taught at the church services on Sunday morning—Super Bowl Sunday, that is.  

Bob and Letty Balian lead the ministry at Bayside Midtown and are dear friends.

We managed to stay very focused at church, but as soon as we hit the road in Sacramento our focus switched to making it (faster than humanly possible) to San Francisco to watch the Super Bowl.  Unfortunately, it seemed that the Super Bowl wasn’t a priority for far too many California drivers who were clogging  the freeway between Sacramento and SF, so we laboriously and frustratedly navigated the traffic and arrived to our chosen destination as the first quarter was ending.  If you’re gonna miss a quarter, best it be the first and not the last (especially of this game, as it turned out). We thoroughly enjoyed watching the game with fellow Pats’ fans and dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent, especially after Malcolm Butler made his game-saving interception in the end zone.  Unforgettable in such a happy way, driving out the unforgettable memories of the last two Super Bowl heartbreaks.  

Red-eying it to Charlotte, North Carolina, after the game, we were behind mics just after noon on Monday, Feb. 2,  at Covenant Day School, speaking to the whole senior class on making God-honoring choices in relationships and sexuality.  We were pleasantly surprised by their attentiveness, interaction, and thoughtful responses expressed directly to us.  That was the first of four days of us addressing each high school class and right down to the freshman class the final day, all were delightful.  It was a bonus to have some time with the Head of School Mark Davis, who formerly served as headmaster of Lexington Christian Academy. 

Hosted by Dan and Susan Yardley, we also spoke to a Couples’ Date Night while in Charlotte.  In a beautiful ballroom setting, the Yardleys served a wide spread of homemade desserts and we presented on marriage.  It was a lovely evening with a delightful group of couples.

Dan and Susan Yardley hosted the lovely couples’ dessert night in Charlotte.

In between the five speaking engagements, we hung out with the Yardleys, had lunch with Paul and Kate Wylie, and ate dinner with Thomas and Margaret Austin.  Great times.  Canceled and delayed flights cost us some sleep on our return to Boston late Thursday night, the 5th, but we made it in the wee hours of the 6th, little worse for the wear.

That weekend was dominated by performing the wedding of Matthew and Shahrzad Slater.  Such a privilege to celebrate the sacrament of marriage for these two who are sold out to Christ and whose walk matches their talk. Their desire for a God-honoring, gospel-centered ceremony was fulfilled at the church and a joyous celebration followed at a downtown Boston hotel.  

With this crazy record-setting winter that Boston is experiencing, it’s surprising that our first event cancellation happened Feb. 8, as the third storm in as many weekends invaded the area, dumping 16” of snow over a period of 36 hours.  We were really happy to not miss this great storm that left everything blanketed with beautiful, crystalline snow.  We were sorry that the couples’ date night in Newburyport had to be postponed to April, but that’s how the snow falls.

Valentines Day was celebrated at the Black Rock Retreat Center in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, speaking for Summit View Church’s first marriage conference.  We were most impressed with this group who pulled off the retreat after their former pastor, who had booked us, resigned in the fall.  Rather than cancel, they carried on and we were all glad they did.  It was a very successful weekend.  On the way out of town, we “broke bread” with Bill and JoAnn Shore, one of our treasured mentoring couples who set the bar high for being “salt of the earth.”

Part of the Summit View Church retreat attendees at Black Rock Retreat Center.

While in Pennsylvania, another storm brought yet another foot of snow to our area, and we were anticipating arriving home to a driveway full of snow—not a great thought, since our arrival was to be around 9 pm.  Imagine how loved and relieved we felt when we drove home to a driveway that had been completely and meticulously cleared.  An angel in the form of Tommy Devlin had spent hours insuring that we’d be able to park in our driveway painlessly.  What a sacrificial gift of love! Blessed beyond.

This past weekend we drove south again, this time to Havre De Grace, Maryland, where we spoke for the second annual Restore Church marriage conference. That three-year-old church plant is exploding with growth! They hold services at 4 campuses and have just purchased 26 acres of property to build a central campus.  Jess and Elizabeth Bousa are providing great leadership and vision for this church which offers the hope of Jesus to the broken and hurting. We love partnering with these guys. A major snowstorm (there is a theme!) arrived midway through the Saturday conference, but we pressed on to finish and then struggled to make it back to the hotel. Two of the four church services were canceled due to the 8” of white stuff, but by the time we drove out Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining and the snow was melting.  There was no appreciable snow in Boston this weekend, but frigid temps did welcome us home late that night. It was -13 degrees on Monday morning.  Our 4’ stand of snow is going nowhere at this point.

Jess and Elizabeth Bousa work tirelessly to serve the growing needs of their church plant, Restore.

Paul preaching at Restore Church … in his new, cool jeans.

In between the many schedules to keep, important life happens.  We bring meals to our neighbor whose husband is dying. We grieve with the Hayner family when Steve breathes his last on earth Jan. 30.  We eagerly await the next post of Kara Tippett’s blog Mundane Faithfulness and continue to pray for God to miraculously spare her life.  We pray for health to return to grandbabies fighting viruses.  We listen to UCLA women’s basketball games long past our bedtime.  We visit friends in hospitals.  We sled down snow-packed hills.  We get our 10,000 steps in the mall because of dangerous cold outside.  We prepare for upcoming events, including our family trip to Uganda mid-March.  We enjoy being snowbound and make a bit more progress purging our excess.  

So we’re off and running in this new year and if the start is any indication, we’ll be running (sledding?) to keep up.

May Flowers

Does anyone else feel like May has vaporized? I’m stunned that we’re at the end of the month and we’re hurtling towards summertime with the speed of an out-of-control freight train!

Before we get there (it’s just under three weeks until we depart for our summer ministry on Catalina Island), let me reflect on this past month. It’s been full and varied.

Right after returning from our last California ministry tour April 28, we were honored to present at the final chapel for Lexington Christian Academy’s Class of 2008. Gregg Meserole invited us to speak on God’s design for relationships (no arm twisting needed), and we spent an energetic hour interacting with a very engaged and respectful group of seniors. We were really thankful for the privilege and for the experience. Having two alums of LCA (Lisa ’01 and Julie ’03), we are honored to partner any time with those who have had such a critical and growth-producing impact on our daughters.

Our second book signing was held at Christian Book and Supply in Burlington, on Saturday, May 3. The always gracious Linda Camp (store manager) was a delight to work with and accommodated us well. Once again Paul’s chocolate chip cookies were big “sellers.” If only you could sign a cookie . . .

That night we addressed a lively group at Trinity Church of Bolton on the subject of parenting. Carl and Kathy Blatchley and Norm and Debbie Nielsen hosted the evening and did a lovely job of making spring seem real by setting beautiful tulip-adorned tables and serving delicious homemade strawberry shortcake. The evening tied in with an adult Sunday School class they are facilitating that is using the parenting DVD curriculum Paul and I recorded last year.

Early Sunday morning I flew off to Washington, D.C., to co-host a surprise fiftieth birthday party for my baby sister, Laura Leach. What a joy to see her complete shock when she walked into a room teeming with her best friends and later to hear them give accolades to her as they each contributed a flower to her “we love and respect you, Laura” bouquet.

The following weekend (May 9–11) was the Camp Berea Mother-Daughter weekend, and eldest daughter Kari flew in from California to speak with me for this great event. Anoli Bragdon, in her first solo flight as Program Director, did a wonderful job designing the retreat, which was arranged around the theme of the Wizard of Oz. Kari and I tied in to the woeful “If only” laments of the scarecrow (“If I only had a brain”), the tin man (“If I only had a heart”), and the cowardly lion (“If I only had the nerve” (courage)), by teaching out of Deuteronomy’s classic “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” We loved interacting with all the precious moms and daughters, who ranged in age from 5 to well beyond 60. Of course, what I most treasured in my heart was the joy of partnering with Kari, who speaks in a way that people listen to and whose wisdom far exceeds her years. What a gift for me to serve with her. Who would’ve thought when she was a challenging seven-year-old . . . God is good!

Paul was making his own appearances around the country during this same time period. He flew to Denver to surprise our daughter Julie at her first WDIA (women’s lacrosse) National Tournament appearance as a coach. She played for Cal Poly’s team the past four years as they secured four national titles, but it was a vastly different experience for her to be a part of the coaching team this year. Paul was able to cheer her on as Poly fought through the quarter- and semi- final rounds victoriously. He missed the title game in order to honor his commitment to present a seminar at Iron Sharpens Iron in Worcester, and Poly went down in defeat in double overtime. Fortunately, Paul felt the Iron Sharpens Iron conference was a great place to be and thoroughly enjoyed his experience there. And Julie is still happily stunned that her dad made such a herculean effort to support her in Denver.

May 16–18 we made a return visit to Church of the Savior in Wayne, Pennsylvania, to do an all-day Saturday parenting conference. COS’s Children’s Ministry Director, Ellie Greenhalgh, put together a blockbuster weekend for kids and parents alike, and it was inspiring for us to see her creativity and hard work make such a difference! Ellie, grandmother of 7-going-on-8 herself, makes the Energizer Bunny look low on voltage! We loved working with her and sharing such common passions. Sunday morning we partnered with our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent by teaching on marriage to a number of adult education classes at COS. Though our time in Wayne was short (we zoomed out after teaching Sunday morning to fly back to Boston to teach that night), it was both professionally and personally uplifting.

Home briefly for counseling and reading mail before taking off to New York City for a 36-hour soiree honoring (and very much surprising) my dear friend Patty, who will soon hit the big 5-0. Our little group of three women hit the Big Apple with great enthusiasm as we explored Central Park (which was glorious in her Spring apparel), took in a phenomenal production of Wicked, and meandered over to Ground Zero the next day. It was a magical, unforgettable tour celebrating one of my heroines in life.

Memorial Day weekend was spent at Myles Standish State Park, camping with eighteen other families for our annual Family Tenting Camp. Blessed with perfect weather, we enjoyed the beauty of God’s creation in both nature and in each other. Biking, swimming, and exploring filled the days, and the nights were centered around a common meal (prepared by Jim and Sue Martis, H.I.M.’s personal chefs!), a time of worship (led by Rich and Sue Musacchio), and a time of devotions (led by Paul). The grand finale each night centered around the camp fire, and required graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows. Nothing like a good s’more!

One of our campers wrote to us afterwards:

Thank you very much for a awesome weekend. It was a memorable experience and just a great time with the kids. My words really can not explain how great (fulfilling with God's great Grace) this time was for our family. As we drove from the park on the way out, to see Gods great beauty revealed in such a beautiful place and in the relationships He gives us in our families was amazing—I almost came to tears thanking the kids and God for a great time together. [My son] was 6 or 7 when we first started this tradition where back then the focus was camping and "making fires." Now I see him serving, focusing on God and relationships.
Thank you for making these traditions—Adventures for our families where God is an irreplaceable part!

There were many highlights of our long weekend together, but the “highest” for us was having Thora Eames join us for Saturday evenings’ festivities. Ninety-year-old Thora expressed the delight of a young school girl to be surrounded by eighty kids and adults eating, worshiping, and learning together in such a set-apart venue. And what a joy it was for all to have her among us. A gift for all!

We are thankful that Focus on the Family has chosen to carry Raising a Trailblazer as one of their recommended resources. Paul, Kari, and Lisa will also be on the Focus on the Family Weekend Magazine with Dr. Bill Maier each weekend in June discussing Letters to My Daughters. You may find the times and stations or listen online by going to

The next weeks will be full as we wrap up our Partnership training program, speak at a pastor’s conference in Connecticut, have a reunion with our Trinidad team, and tie up loose ends before a ten-week summer at camps. We are so thankful that our confidence is in a God who goes before us!