Though fall arrived “late” this year, it is making a quick exit as the Christmas season makes its appearance “early.” Or so it seems! As we fly home today from a 10-day trip during which we spent 2 days each in 5 different towns, I’m musing about walking in to a home bedecked in orange, greens, and golds, all representing the season just passed of falling leaves, harvest, and shortening days. But if past performance is any indication of future expectations, Christmas will be here in short order, ready or not. And though I’m certain my lofty goals of projects completed will exceed the time needed to complete them between now and then, I’m hopeful that my desire to prepare my heart for Christmas will outpace my attempts to prepare my gifts.
As we make our way back to Africa today, I’m at least slightly amused by the reality of our last week: on Sunday, April 30, we returned to Boston from South Africa; on Wednesday, May 3rd, we flew to California for a conference; on Sunday, May 7th, we flew back to Boston; and on Monday, May 8th, we left Boston for Uganda. Now . . . some would rightfully ask, “Who made a schedule like that?”
For the first time since launching this blog over twelve years ago, three months have elapsed since my last post. In an unprecedented quandary, I’ve had a really hard time finding the words to write, for though there have been many great moments and experiences during this time, we have concurrently experienced some of the darkest and most difficult days of our life together. And quite frankly, I haven’t known how to communicate about this, fairly and honorably, especially since it’s ongoing. This is a season during which my silence hasn’t been “golden.”
If “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .” is related to a house decked in outdoor lights, a beautifully decorated tree indoors, and stockings “hung by the chimney with care,” we’re off. Way off. Thankful to have just gotten all pumpkins processed and the orange and rust decorations put away . . .
Though the song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” is affirming the beauty of the Christmas season (and who would argue that?), I could easily build a case for an equally fitting song to be written about fall in New England. I quickly run out of expressive adjectives to describe the delights of this season during which beauty parades in different colors and presentations daily for about six weeks. We have been savoring each eyeful of gorgeousness in this land of deciduous trees whose greatest beauty comes through the transition from life to death. Interesting paradox.
We were treated to an early kaleidoscope of color the last weekend of September when we drove to Newport Center, Vermont, to present a marriage conference at the Newport Church of God. The home church of Paul and Lyss Gandy (our 2016 CBS musicians and high school family camp directors), they persuaded Pastor Larry Wall to invite us and we’re so glad they did. We had a great weekend with the Walls and their congregation, celebrating God’s design for marriage. We tagged a couple of days on to enjoy the beautiful area while staying in Lyss’s family’s cabin on Lake Memphremagog. It was a true gift of restoration and renewal to be there as we hiked, leaf peeped, and enjoyed some time with Lyss’s extended family. And it officially became an international trip when we had dinner in Canada. :)
The conference was well received and we heard from many that God really met them during it. As always, we pray for ongoing fruit.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church overlooks the lake.
Spectacular photo taken by Lyss Gandy.
Paul and Lyss emceed and led worship for the conference, and did both so well.
Here we are with the Gandys . . . always a good time.
Dinner out with Lyss’s local family, who were delightfully hospitable and welcoming.
Pastor Larry and Sally Wall: passionate for Christ and for transformation. We enjoyed being guests in their home and sharing stories of hope.
On the drive down we found the colors to be distracting from keeping our eyes on the road.
Home October 4th, just in time for the Patriots’ women’s and couples’ studies, with some counseling packed in around them. We’re so thankful for robust groups in both of the studies, and we sense that God is doing a deeper work among us. Pray for those studies as you root for the Patriots. :)
Columbus Day Weekend brought with it not just increased foliage color, but a sweet visit from Derek and Julie and their precious littles. Though the four-day stay included the stomach flu for Rachel, a bad head cold for Derek, and a very rainy Sunday (no complaints—just reporting), it was so good to be together. Those unplanned-for-elements insured that we had plenty of down time, which was a good thing for all involved. We did stroller walks to the park daily and played lots of indoor hide-and-seek, games, and read a plethora of books. Loved every moment.
Papa and his girl Rachel showcase their very blue eyes and beautiful smiles.
We did make it to a little farm stand, but as you can see from Rachel’s face, she was still under the stomach-flu weather.
We got the Johnsons off Tuesday afternoon (always sad) and spent Wednesday and Thursday as per usual: Patriots studies and counseling. There was a lot of laughter and many points of connection as we taught on temperaments at the couples’ study Thursday night. Great time.
Off to California first thing Friday morning for a full long weekend. Built around a wedding Paul was asked to officiate, the week had a little bit of everything. First stop: Biola University, where we were honored to tape two podcasts for the Institute of Marriage and Relationships, which is directed by Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace. Alisa had written a blog on our book
Before You Save the Date: 21 Questions to Confirm your Decision to Marry
and asked us to follow up her blog with a couple of podcasts. Even though we had to slog through a delayed-from-Boston flight (after getting to the airport at the ungodly hour of 6 am . . . and then leaving 1.5 hrs late :( ), waiting 30 minutes for our luggage at LAX, waiting another 30 minutes for the rental car van to pick us up . . . delaying our arrival to Biola by 1 hour 45 mins (and costing us lunch with the Graces), it was so worth it! We loved being with Chris and Alisa, whose hearts beat in sync with ours regarding family and marriage, and we are so excited about the Institute of Marriage and Relationships they are directing at Biola. The podcasts we recorded will be aired in the near future and we’ll keep you posted so you can tune in.
Speaking of Chris and Alisa Grace, they will be speaking at the annual H.I.M. Marriage Retreat, March 3-5, 2017, in Newport, Rhode Island. Registration has started and as has been true the past several years, it will likely sell out well in advance. Register now! This will make a great Christmas gift for your spouse, your married kids, your parents, and your friends.
Friday evening, we spoke at The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills for their couples’ night. Jeff and Shauna Ochoa spearheaded this marriage shot-in-the-arm evening and provided a lovely date night for many couples. We’ve partnered with this church numerous times in the past and are so thankful for their commitment to healthy marriages.
Jeff and Shauna Ochoa planned the Couples Night Out for The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills, California.
The main event of this trip to California was Davey and Ruthanna’s wedding, officiated by Paul. Ruthanna grew up coming to family camp at CBS and she and Davey Ray met at CBS when they both served on staff. They attended our Engagement Matters Weekend last December and soon after they asked Paul to do their wedding. We accepted the honor with pleasure. The wedding on Sunday was a God-honoring celebration of a couple committed to living faithfully for Christ. Held in beautiful Highland Springs Resort in Cherry Valley, CA, under an 1100-year-old oak tree, the metaphors of legacy, of roots, and of strength were lost on no one. It was a thoughtful, meaningful wedding and we were so happy to be a part of it. It was also such a joy to be with Dave and Kim Noble and Isaac Rossitor again, all fellow past CBS staff, as well as with the Lee family, who have been family campers for over two decades.
We also managed to squeeze in a few hours visit with John and Grace Tebay, two of our longest and most beloved mentors. At 84 and 82, they are beyond remarkable and we hang on their every word and insight—and savor every moment. Their godly wisdom has been an invaluable resource to us since before we got married and we feel so blessed to have them in our lives. We closed out Saturday over dinner with two couples we’re mentoring, Brent and Melissa Slezak and Josh and Carley Gire, and left so inspired by their hearts and hopes.
John and Grace Tebay are in a league of their own and we’re so blessed to have them in our lives.
Davey Ray and Ruthanna’s wedding was beautiful and Christ-centered.
Such a fun reunion with Dave and Kim Noble (former CBS director) and Isaac Rossitor (former assistant head cook at CBS.)
One last thing before we returned to New England: a day at Disneyland with Brandon and Ana. Gifted by a dear friend employed by the Magic Kingdom, we made the most of this celebration in honor of Brandon’s 6th and Ana’s 3rd birthdays. 25,000 steps later (collected from 8:30 am to 8 pm), we left happily exhausted and full of memories we’ll keep savoring and replaying. Big moment of the day? Brandon’s inaugural ride on the Matterhorn. Pretty daring for a just-turned-6-year-old. Ana and Papa set a record for the most times on Ariel’s Grotto and King Arthur’s Carousel, though those numbers would’ve been shared with the Winnie-the-Pooh ride had it been open. I will never stop delighting in Disneyland, nor will I give up my dream to one day work there (though my aspiration to be Tinkerbelle and fly from the Matterhorn across the sky has been scratched off the list . . . for about 40 years now.) How grateful we are for generous friends who help make such memory-making days happen.
Disneyland was spectacularly dressed up for Halloween.
Brandon’s response just moments after his first ride on the Matterhorn. He was pretty happy that he conquered this very scary ride.
Back in New England, we’re joining the masses who are mesmerized by the glorious parade of fall colors which are truly breathtaking. No photos or words can capture the display, which unmistakably points to the glory of God. We’re savoring the days and thanking the Lord for His creative nurturing of our souls through such reflections of His majesty.
One last sunrise at Campus by the Sea over Labor Day Weekend,
taken as Lisa and I hiked the loop on our final day at camp.
Hanging out with David Laflin (the illusionist) and the Wong family,
we had some very fun moments on giant swings, ropes courses, and zip lines.
How could you not love this weekend?
The “Birdsongs” did a phenomenal job leading us in worship
before each of the four teaching sessions.
|The stillness of the water is found only early in the day, prior to campers discovering the four inflatable “blobs” anchored in this lake.|
A special dinner out with the Wongs in honor of Paul’s birthday.
|Happy birthday, Papa and now 6-year-old Brandon!|
|Paul, Lisa, and I arrive to serve the Labor Day Family Camp.|
Our terrific program staff served so well,
diving right in to do whatever needed to be done.
Worship was led by Robert Kovacs, Claire Peister, and Seth Heinz—and was appreciated by all.
|A large group of kids second grade and under gathered at the front of the Main Deck each morning for the always-favorite devotions created and led by Paul.|
|One last chorus of “We love you campers, oh yes we do . . .” as the final family camp group departs on the Catalina Express.|
|An early morning walk on the beach, before the marine layer burned off (which it later did.)|
|A little sand castle we built in our spare time . . . or at least, that we stopped to admire at the end of our walk. :)|
|Dick and Becky Molenhouse spent a day with us and we joyfully caught up on one another’s lives.|
|With the “boys of summer” on his back,|
Nathan visits the pigs at the farm.
|Snuggle time (briefly) with Mama.|
Go Sox!! Even Rachel is being trained right. :)
Oh, and then there’s our most favorite team: Go Pats!!
|Dick and Nancy Beggs, from Idyllwild, California, joined us for a night of non-stop talking, a few tears, and a lot of laughter.|
|Berea family campers Gary and Kim Walker, Skip and Avonne Jarvis, Dennis and Heidi Lommen, and not pictured is the Lommens’ daughter Jenny and her husband, Jed. A very special group of friends.|
The Jarvis family . . . Skip and Avonne and their four great kids. We shared a 7:30 am breakfast together and had coherent, meaningful conversation with these set-apart young people. So encouraging!!
Sunset over the lake in Wakefield, Massachusetts.
|The church-planting village pastors and wives at the marriage training hosted by the Church of Christ|
and organized by JP and Jill Robinson (far right)
|JP and Jill are completing their fourth year in Mbale and will return after a 2.5 month furlough in the states this summer. They facilitated our time in Mbale and we are ever so grateful.|
|Robby Keen welcomes the JENGA crew to the all-day marriage event in a meeting room at the Mt. Elgon Hotel.|
|At day’s end . . . |
everyone has enough energy to muster a smile for the group photo.
|We were warmly hosted for dinner that evening by Joseph and Nada Eid and their children Manna and Naseem. All our evening meals were provided by those who love Derek and Julie.|
|The crowd is gathering at Pearl Haven for the all-day Saturday marriage/singles conference.|
|The singles met for a special session|
in the “upper room” in the early afternoon.
|Mackay and Doreen came to Pearl Haven for the first time to attend the marriage conference and the three of us were given a tour of the ongoing construction of the church.|
“And they’ll look sweet, upon the seat, of a motorcycle built for six!”
The congregation at Pearl Haven continues to grow—in knowledge and in size.
The congregation holds their hands towards us as Wilberforce speaks a blessings over our work and travel.
|Hanging out with Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, who lead the work at Pearl Haven. They are very kindred to us.|
Neese’s 7th birthday party…
just before the cake cutting, the guests eagerly encircle her.
|Most of the “muzungu” missionary community who gathered for tea and talk Monday afternoon.|
|The Mwebingwa family plus one: Sirene is on the far left and she has joined the family since her parents’ death.|
|About 42 familiar pastors and their wives joined us for the afternoon for ongoing training. It was another sweet reunion.|
|John, Farouk, Jack, Lemon, and Paul . . . a very happy group.|
|Chad, Katie, Graham, Molly, and Finn welcomed us into their home Tuesday night for dinner.|
|Part of the staff we successfully corralled for a photo after the second chapel … How we love these!|
|One of the precious little ones who has undergone the ETV treatment for her fairly advanced case of hydrocephalus.|
|This sweet mama has her hands full with her non-mobile son and her baby with a good view from her back.|
Isaiah, Mackay, Wilberforce, Sarah, and us
just before dinner at the Mbale Resort Hotel.
|Our last morning in Mbale: what an incredible start to the day!|
Gloria, owner of the Endiro Coffee Shop chain, was so kind and generous to us. Best cappuccino I’ve had in a long time!
|Mackay’s parents-in-law, Mr. Atim and Margaret: he had a career with UNICEF and other NGO’s and she is a retired school head-mistress. Amazing folks!|
|A first for us: leaving the airport at Addis Ababa!|
“It was a great time. Very practical and doable. They were great presenters. Never a dull moment. Sensitive to everyone's different cultures and personalities. But most of all, I found them to be very genuine. They offered help that was both important and addressable. Not pie in the sky—I could never be like that—kind of advice. Would recommend it anywhere and if they come next year, we will encourage all the married hospital staff to attend.”
The “Yard Sale” and the young entrepreneurs running it.
|The marriage conference attendees.|
A stellar group of servant-hearted people.
|What a welcome to the hospital!|
Dr. Tim Nunn (left) and Dr. Rick Gardner (holding his son Ben)
flanked the 14-year-old girl who took her first steps on Friday, after 7 months of work at the hospital.
Smiles, smiles everywhere!
|The facilitating team for our workshops; on the far right are Dave and Diane Watts, our faithful book table handlers.|
They didn’t miss a trick when it came to decorating for this conference.
The Fenway Franks were delicious and made us feel right at home.
Imagine finding all these Red Sox fans in the high desert east of LA??
|Short but sweet time with the kids prior to jetting back to Boston on those beloved red-eye flights.|
Updates will be coming, but for now, thanks for your prayers and resources that have gotten us here. We want to be used by God to make a difference . . . on Tuesday, as well as every other day of the week.
Walking on Grande Riviere Beach
Our first turtle sighting, fortunately just before nightfall so we could capture her with the camera.
|Here she is in the glow of the infrared light, with a huge gelatinous salt tear running from her eyes. The guide explained that this is how they purge excess salt from their system.|
|After digging for about 45 minutes, she lays her eggs in this 24” deep hole.|
|Breakfast with Jen and Javed at the guest house prior to making the 2-hour drive back to St. Helena’s.|
|Ashoke and Stephanie Bachew, founders of TTUM, are some of our dearest friends and ministry partners.|
The beautiful cupcake-cake for our anniversary celebration.
|We were humbled to be so lavishly feted by these dear brothers and sisters in Christ.|
A not-great shot of most of those who came to the conference.
|Standing with the charter members of the church in Campoo, it was great to see them pressing on with the gospel.|
|Walking on the beach at Maracas Bay.|
|The smile on Paul’s face tells it all.|
|Stephanie’s “Tea on the Beach” was a perfect ending to an unforgettable day.|
|Stephanie and Ashoke and Jen and Javed are “salt of the earth” folks and we are so grateful to have them in our lives.|
The restaurant added to the celebration with this special dessert.
|Our final sunrise in Trinidad on this trip.|
Full time seminary students, worship leaders at their church, and parents to half a dozen laying chickens. Jake and Kaylee have a full life.
“Thank you for such a life-giving, refreshing weekend!”
“We learned so much this weekend and will recommend this conference to all our married friends!”
“What a fantastic reminder of how much God loves us and His design for our marriages.”
“We can’t thank you enough for the AMAZING weekend in Rhode Island. We are so blessed to learn what it is to be rooted in Christ as a couple. We are so grateful for the prayer session that equipped us to live our lives as one spirit and tackle the world together. We will be sharing our experiences and the tools with our small group.”
“My husband and I just returned from the marriage retreat in Newport and are HIGHLY recommending it to all our married friends! You guys do a wonderful job and we cannot wait to come back next year!”
“Thank you so much for leading, with Paul, such a wonderful marriage conference weekend. We came away with so much to think over and talk about. We are grateful for the wisdom both you and Paul share with so many.”
|Opening night: being lead in worship by Danny and Rayna Oertli, Rich and Sue Musacchio, and Paul and Lyss Gandy. A strong start.|
|The theme “Marriage Strong” was carried out beautifully by Kelly Plosker, who once again worked her magic on the ball room, creating an ambience of welcome, comfort, and delight. We are so thankful for her gifts used so powerfully.|
|Sunday afternoon . . . the guests are gone and the team is tearing down. We pause for a photo and a prayer, giving thanks for the incredible ways God met us.|
|Pioneer Valley Christian Academy’s headmaster, Tim Duff, addresses the larger-than-expected crowd at the “Worth It—Springfield” night.|
|The daily walk to visit “Cody” and “Mouse,”|
two horses who live in the neighborhood.
|Rachel, showing early signs that she enjoys being all dressed up with somewhere to go.|
|Sibling love. Ahhh . . .|
|Craig (worship leader) and Danika (asst. to program director) and Chris (emcee) and Suzanne flank us on stage at the Tuscarora Conference Center’s marriage conference.|
|Some of the mentoring moms at Bethany Church Greenland,|
ready to debrief the morning.
|It LOOKS warm . . . but it wasn’t!|
Nonetheless, we had a great time at the Nubble Lighthouse.
|The cousins—stopping long enough for a quick picture before voting to suspend the walk on the Marginal Way and return to the warmth of the car.|
|Cousin Katie, Auntie Lisa, and Nathan enjoy a rare opportunity to set foot on the island where Mr. and Mrs. Mallard raised their little ducklings.|
|Nathan and Rachel enjoyed dinner in the North End on Sunday before going to church on Palm Sunday.|
|Papa and Nathan made quick work of the 6” Spring snow fall.|
|A small remnant of the MLAC youth group long after most had gone home. What a great group!|
|A visual of this is important—it was pretty hysterical.|
|She said “Yes!” to his very heartfelt proposal.|
Most of the couples who attended the MLAC marriage conference.
|These three couples have been at every MLAC conference we’ve spoken for. Treasured friends.|
|One last stop before heading west . . . dinner and frozen yogurt with the Copleys. It’s hard to believe these “little girls” are so grown up!|
|Time with the Dahlstroms is always stimulating, and it has nothing to do with the coffee. :)|
|Earl and Sandy Wilson continue to be used by God in so many important ways. They are still on the front line of redemptive work.|
|Jay and Sarah Welch are enjoying marriage fully.|
|Rachel, Alissa, and MaryAnn were very fun ice cream dates.|
|Lunch with Duke and Amy Paulson was another highlight|
of our time in the Pacific NW.
|Hope Community Church of Newburyport, MA, held their marriage conference in Portsmouth, NH.|
|Anyone left standing at the end of clean-up was grabbed for this photo.|
|This lovely family hosted us in Alabama and we were so encouraged by their commitment to Christlikeness in their home.|
|They outfitted us with rival shirts . . . symbolizing how two very different people can be strong together.|
|The team at Solitude Baptist Church did a wonderful job putting on their marriage conference.|
|Valentine’s breakfast in bed . . .|
. . . and dinner by candlelight. I am a very blessed woman!
|Being framed with Jess and Elizabeth Bousa.|
|The Restore Church marriage conference.|
|Rachel at 3 months is edible . . . so sweet and low-key.|
|Nathan is a very happy, active, loving little guy and a great big brother.|
|Many of our H.I.M. Board Members and volunteers, without whom we couldn’t do what we do. So thankful for each of them!|
Derek, Julie and Nathan welcome baby Rachel to their family.
|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.
Hard at work, working together . . . many hands make many pies.
Connie Lawrence and Joy Coonradt have faithfully served Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel for years now. So good to reconnect with them!
|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.|
|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.
|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.|
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.
|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.|
The first ones who arrived to our final study got a sneak preview of the cinnamon rolls they would take home.
Pictured are some of the women who attended the Wednesday study all fall. Lexi is holding Hudson in the center back of the photo.
|Many of the couples who attended the couples study this fall. Our hearts for them are so deep.|
|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|
|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
The morning after, with John and Marilyn Nugent.
|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.
|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, 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.|
|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.
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!!|
|Tom and Cheri Austin, directors of OCF at West Point, |
extended warm hospitality to us when we spoke at West Point.
|How we love walking on the beach … and Pismo is one of the best.|
|Some wonderful friends who helped make the marriage conference happen|
for Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, California.
|Papa, Brandon, and Ana having fun at the park.|
|Brandon and Ana helping Gigi bake scones.|
|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.
|Ken Peet welcomes the crowd at Grace Church who|
came out for the parents/teens talk on relationships.
|Ray, Carol, Christy, and Leslie Johnston give Paul a lesson about buying jeans.|
|The male models . . .|
|Bob and Letty Balian lead the ministry at Bayside Midtown and are dear friends.|
Dan and Susan Yardley hosted the lovely couples’ dessert night in Charlotte.
|Part of the Summit View Church retreat attendees at Black Rock Retreat Center.|
|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.|
|The “Les Miserable” surprise theater group, sans Gabe and Kari, who rushed to my mom’s house after the show to prepare a fabulous Mexican feast.|
|The Garcias worked so hard behind the scenes to insure success on every level.|
|Sisters Sue, Lucy, and Melissa with my amazing mom at the west coast gala.|
|The Friesen side of the family represented at the west coast gala.|
|Four generations of our family . . . so blessed!|
|Julie and Derek were at the east coast celebration . . . via FaceTime. Here we are conversing in the midst of a room full of people. I was undone.|
|Kari and Lisa give public tribute at the east coast surprise party.|
|Paul, aka “Chauffeur Goober”, made sure that we got downtown for dinner and opening night of “Annie” on my birthday. If he quits his day job . . .|
|Kari and Lisa flew in from California for more birthday surprises.|
|Decked out and ready to join the 60’s club.|
|And finally: the brother! I was deeply touched by the efforts made by all my siblings to join in the celebration. My brother Frank and and my sister Francene both traveled from VA to surprise me.|
In the midst of this epic milestone celebration, we have been doing ministry. Back to the Salvation Army, we spent two incredible days with the officers from the Greater Los Angeles area looking at God’s design for marriage and ministry. We fell in love with this very special group of ministers. They are committed to living sacrificially for the Kingdom to a degree we seldom see. Their focus is to come alongside the most broken in our world, and give them “soap, soup, and salvation.” Their thrift stores support their drug rehab program, which boasts a 28% success rate for those who go through the (free) program. We had great interaction with them as they wrestle with balancing the demands of ministry (endless) and their families (also endless.) Several weeks after the conference, Major Ian Robinson wrote:
"People are still talking about the retreat and how it impacted their lives and marriages.”
|Part of the Salvation Army officers who attended the marriage conference|
at their retreat center, Mt. Crags, in Malibu Canyon.
|Colonel Doug and Colleen Riley were instrumental in the success of the conference.|
|Grant is the offensive line coach for Westminster Academy, the Christian high school the girls attend, and this photo follows a play-off win.|
|So thankful for Grant and Emily’s commitment to their marriage, family, and ministry.|
We love every minute with them!
|So much wisdom was “overheard” as Gordon and Gail conversed with one another|
as though none of us were there.
|Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield opened their doors for this one-of-a-kind event|
and once again extended incredible hospitality and warmth to all.
I wrote to Gordon and Gail the following day:
"We couldn’t be more thankful than we are for the day. You and Gordon gave us all a gift we’ll never forget. A look not only into your living room, but also into your kitchen, your family room, and even your bedroom. You let us overhear your conversations about real life, which included failures as well as successes, the journey from a lack of understanding to understanding, selfish tendencies transformed by humble repentance producing unselfishness.
You showed us how to communicate, how to honor one another, how to love. And armed with the credibility of 53 years of marriage, you were most convincing because of the very nature of where your marriage is in 2014: tender, thoughtful, sensitive, growing, vital."
Gordon and Gail MacDonald have had a mentoring role in our lives for thirty years now.
What a gift to us!
|Douglas Gerber conducts the choir at his father’s memorial service while his mom,|
Nancy, sings (far right, front row)
We spent Sunday with a precious congregation in Swansea, Massachusetts: Bethany Gospel Chapel. We love this group! They heavily support H.I.M. events as well as the ministry, and we’re thrilled to partner with them. Paul preached and then we spent the afternoon in the home of Jim and Mary Klink, fellowshipping with many congregants over yummy homemade soup and salad.
|A portion of Bethany Gospel Chapel’s congregation who stopped by for soup and salad at the home of Jim and Mary Klink (back row, far right)|
|Most of those attending Engagement Matters this past weekend.|
That brings us up to date. It’s been a rich, full month of celebration and sages. May your experience include both of these as well.
|The Dangers: son Jeremiah, daughter Julia, Vicky, and Jay holding|
granddaughter Elizabeth, and Jenny, Elizabeth's adopted mom.
|The Special Needs class at New Hope praying together.|
|Derek and Julie were thrilled to see Israel who was operated on by their CURE staff|
in September to remove a brain tumor. He is doing well, praise the Lord!
|Very early Friday morning, we said good-bye to Lisa|
prior to leaving for our ministry event that morning.
|Paul and Pastor Wilberforce standing on the church grounds prior to our teaching session.|
|Richard and Rianna lead a marriage ministry at their church|
and were thrilled at the prospect of partnering.
|We stopped for a quick lunch at "Ozzies" in Jinja|
and had a few moments with Jude, the owner and operator of the cafe.
|The splendor of fall . . .|
|Brandon's first "U-Pick" pumpkin experience . . . looks like he figured it out!|
|At Gillette with Kelly, Case, and Kara, happy after a great win over the Broncos.|
|The Pats women's study says farewell to Margaret Austin and Adam, as her husband gets the nod from Carolina. We all hated to see Margaret and Thomas go. :(|
|Vita is enjoying her American experience at the hospital and in our kitchen.|
The shark costume was sent to California the next day and was a huge hit with Brandon.
|Senior pastor Dr. Philip May and his wife, Delayne, and 4/6th of the King family grab a moment at the end of the Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church service.|
|The remnant of the FCA gathering at UGA.|
Loving the feel of those slimy pumpkin seeds...
The finished carved pumpkins, by Brandon and Grandpa Dan.
|Yes, we know this is indoctrination . . . and we make no apologies. Next blog, he'll be a shark.|
We waited a long time for it, but winter finally made an appearance in New England the first weekend of March. Barely. It squeaked in just as Danny and Rayna Oertli were flying in from Denver, Colorado, to lead worship at our H.I.M. Marriage Getaway in Newport, Rhode Island, and the snow added a festive touch to their arrival. Fortunately, it had no impact on our weekend conference, as the weather cleared out and warmed up by the time we launched on Friday, March 2.
We love this annual conference at the Viking Hotel in Newport. The setting is spectacular, the hotel service is top-shelf, and there always seems to be a spirit of anticipation that God will meet us in a big way. This year was no exception. Eighty-five couples were warmly welcomed by our smiling registration team first, and then by beautifully set tables as they entered the ballroom. Kelly Plosker gave the Macraes a break this year by taking over the decoration task and did a great job of setting the stage for a romantic getaway. We feel so blessed to have such a capable team around us, who take care of everything from the book table to the printing and everything in between.
The H.I.M. Board once again insisted that Paul and I speak for this conference. We resisted initially, but then submitted and considered it a great honor and privilege to speak to the hometown crowd. It's always more challenging to prepare to speak at "home" to people who know us well and have heard us many, many times. But God was with us and we felt met by Him. We especially enjoyed developing a talk on “Friendship in Marriage,” which at first blush sounds unromantic. But it's our growing conviction that maintaining friendship in marriage is a key to growing vitality and deepening love. Many couples who come to us for counseling complain that though they're committed to staying together, they really don't like each other any more. True friends don't say that about their relationship. We had fun working with the concept.
Besides our four plenary sessions, we had some great workshops offered and inspiring worship led by the Oertlis. We purposely leave Saturday afternoon free for couples to reconnect (which we feel is the greatest need for most couples on a getaway weekend), and the Lord provided bright sunny skies for those who ventured out. From the things we could control to the things we couldn't, all went swimmingly and we were encouraged to hear many affirming comments on the weekend experience. Here are a few of them:
"Thanks again to you and Paul for a great weekend. One of the takeaways was that we really need to understand God's word as written in the Bible more and to live according to His word. The weekend taught me that our 'instructions' on life according to God's plan are all there in the Bible."
"Thank you so much for putting together the weekend retreat. We got so much out of it; it is hard to adequately describe the impact that it had on us. Our marriage and our relationship with God is so much better for the time we spent in Newport. The speakers, the workshops, the worship—all were incredible! This was the first marriage retreat we have attended; you've set the bar awfully high!"
"Another wonderful weekend by Home Improvement Ministries. Thank you for investing in our lives and marriages. May God continue to bless your ministry."
The H.I.M. Board met Monday night, the 5th of March, and discussed strategies for increasing the impact of HIM. We continue to be so grateful for such a supportive group of men and women who invest greatly and sacrificially in this ministry. It is certainly an understatement that we couldn't do it without them.
After a couple of days of counseling, we packed our bags and flew to Detroit for several days of ministry with Ann Arbor Christian School. Our longtime friends Wai and Elaine Wong (who lived in Boston previously and were very involved with us 2000-2005) arranged for us to come to serve their school community. We had a blast! They put together a very diverse schedule for us, starting with an early morning parenting seminar Friday. The small crowd they expected multiplied and filled the library. Perhaps word got out that Paul Friesen's "breakfast biscuits" (aka his chocolate chip cookies) would be served. Whatever, it was a great start to a full couple of days. Next on the schedule was speaking for the school-wide chapel, and Paul's cookies were served there as part of the devotional. The Wong girls said that Uncle Paul was the best chapel speaker ever. :) Admittedly he had an unfair advantage with his world-famous cookies. :)
Chapel was followed by a delightful lunch at our niece, Heidi Rottschafer Lemmerhirt's home, with her husband, Dave, and children, Daniel and Anna. We loved being in their hospitable home and reconnecting with them. Next was a meeting with one of the pastors from Heidi and Dave's church who is developing a family ministries emphasis. Almost nothing gets our adrenaline going more than being part of a conversation focused on equipping and encouraging churches to address this "blind spot" in many of our churches today. We had a great, stimulating time with Tom and Ruth Ann Robertson.
We closed out the day with an evening marriage seminar at the school. The turn-out was great and our talks well-received. We were especially thrilled to have Joe and Lynn Forrester in the audience. They drove down from the Upper Peninsula (Cedarville) for the conference to put live faces with a relationship that began online just over a year ago.
The back story begins when an order for a case of
Letters to My Daughters
came in from Michigan. Paul didn't recognize the name of the customer, so he sent an email asking who they were and why they wanted a case of books. Joe wrote back:
Our organization typically does 50 gift bags for high school graduations. A recent graduate recommended your book. We obtained a copy. Read it and immediately decided we needed more copies. The book is so needed today and the way it was put together is outstanding. Thank you for all your insights. God bless you, Joe and Lynn
We couldn't wait to meet this couple! Both retired from the U.S. Navy and are fully engaged in serving the next generation where they are. They have already given out hundreds of copies of
and have a vision that every high school senior girl will get a copy of it in the years to come. It was truly a highlight of our weekend to spend some time with them. They’re Christ-followers, living missionally, and making a difference. They are tilling the soil to have us come to their area to do a marriage/family conference in 2013. What a privilege to partner with such "we're not gonna waste our life" folks. They wrote us after the weekend:
It was a very special educational experience for us. We certainly enjoyed meeting the Wongs and your niece and nephew.
We knew Virginia was going to be exceptional from her book. What we did not know was what a great team the two of you make.
Lynn and I discussed so many new ideas on the way home that we almost reached overload. The Lord knows our limits so we feel he will not give us anything we cannot handle.
We really liked the idea of putting together a series of seminars at Cedar Campus during the first week of June in 2013. Now we have to work out the local details and then we will get back to you with specific proposals.
May God see you safely home,
And that was Friday!!
Saturday started early as we met with the Forresters before the morning seminar on parenting. The whole morning went really well and we were truly honored to partner with the Wongs and their vision for their school community. We also enjoyed connecting with Wayne Sit, the headmaster of the school for the past 2.5 years, and were happily surprised to know that we were familiar to him since Boston and Park Street Church were home to him prior to his move to Ann Arbor. He was extremely supportive of our time there and sent us this kind note:
"Thank you for coming. We felt so blessed and grateful for your guidance and leadership this weekend. Many families at our school were thrilled with their time with you and Virginia." A return trip is in the works.
The rest of our weekend was spent hanging with several dear friends, along with the Wongs. The time passed too quickly and before we knew it, we were on a flight back to Boston, carrying with us many precious memories of a wonderful weekend. It was especially encouraging to “do life” with the Wongs, who are deeply committed to honoring the Lord in their marriage and their family. Their home was marked with Christlikeness and was refreshing to our souls.
Back home . . . briefly. Counseling, unpacking, speaking at a moms’ group at Bethany Gospel Chapel in Swansea, repacking . . . and then off to California to speak at Journey of Faith Church in El Segundo. This conference has been a long time coming, and we were so happy it came together. Our very longtime friends Gene and Teri Engle hosted us in their always-open home that Friday night and we enjoyed the evening with their family. The all-day Saturday marriage conference was held at the church, which was dry and warm while a ferocious rain storm swept through the area in the morning. Those who planned the conference had the brilliant foresight to provide a counterpart children's program which enable many young families to benefit from the day. We were especially touched by the entourage of Air Force couples who drove from Edwards AFB east of Lancaster to attend the conference. It would be hard to find a more responsive and receptive audience than we did there. Once again, we were aware that God was with us. After each event, we thank Him for being the change agent in people's lives. We're called to be faithful; He's in charge of changing lives.
Because of canceling our “Worth It” conference which had been scheduled for March 24, and because of our nephew’s wedding in California on March 31, we decided to stay west through his wedding and take a writing break. We're both working on projects which have been all but neglected for too long and know that we need blocks of time in order to make progress. So, after spending a couple of days with my folks in San Diego (a delight as always), we're hiding out in Camarillo in the home of some dear friends who currently reside outside of the U.S. Our first few days here have been fraught with distractions, some of our own making, and others of satan's making. We’re attributing some crazy problems with my computer to the latter. Things are settling in now, though, and we’re beginning to make some progress. Pray that these days will be productive and that we'll allow the Holy Spirit to direct our writing.
Before I sign off, let me briefly update you on the family: Derek and Julie are happily settling in Mbale. Though their first seven weeks have been buffeted by some trials, they're riding the waves together well. They blog here
Julie's doing a great job of keeping us in the loop of their life in Africa. Lisa spent an indulged week in Costa Rica with the JMU women's soccer team, which was a delightful break for her from her rigorous schedule as an athletic trainer. And Gabe, Kari, and Brandon are in transition, having resigned from their work at "The House" Church. They are seeking God for the next chapter of their life.
So we’ve left the not-too-wintery environs of New England for the beautiful coastline of California, and are soaking in the natural gifts of this area. As much as we love snow, if push comes to shove, the surf is going to win . . . most every time.
As the first real snowstorm of the quickly-coming-to-a-close winter “that wasn’t” blankets the area, I’m happily snuggled at home absolutely delighting in this thoroughly unexpected twist of nature. My “Let It Snow” collection of pleading signs that have greeted every visitor to our home this winter have been ignored by the Great Snow Maker...until now. LET IT SNOW!!!!
This is the perfect scenario for writing an overdue blog entry... and on leap day, no less. We have been home eight days since I last wrote...which explains why I feel very far behind on most maintenance issues. Our travels have taken us to CA, NY, and FL, and each trip has been full of people, ministry, and delight.
Backing up to Feb. 3, when I returned from London, I had no time to get over anything before we were in the saddle Saturday a.m. teaching at our H.I.M.-hosted parenting conference. Though the turn-out for it was disappointing, those who attended were very affirming of its value. Between the workshops and the plenary sessions, there was plenty of energy and hunger for encouragement and instruction.
It was interesting to juxtapose the seeming lack of priority placed on attending a parenting conference (too busy, kids' sports, no babysitter, etc.) with the immense amount of time and energy invested in being prepared for the biggest football game of the year which happened the following day. There were no lack of callers-to-sports-radio from armchair coaches who had clearly spent a lot of time analyzing the Patriots and developing a game plan that would produce the desired results. If fathers spent a fraction of the time investing in developing a game plan for their families...and then showing up to coach them through the "game of life," our homes would be so different.
Super Bowl Sunday started for us at Highrock Church, where we heard a challenging message by David Swaim, and was followed by a trip to Plymouth to visit our dear Thora Eames. She was recovering from hip replacement surgery, necessitated by an unfortunate fall off a ladder while washing her outside windows (Why not? Isn’t that what all 94-year-olds do on a Saturday afternoon?). We had a great visit with her and were most encouraged that her spunk and spirit were not dampened in the least. We presented her with a new Patriots shirt to wear as she watched the game that night as she is a diehard, energetic fan. Her son instructed the nurse to seatbelt Thora in her wheelchair during the game to keep her from leaping to her feet during happy moments (and dislocating the newly located hip!) We left so inspired by her amazing life.
After a board meeting and a day of counseling, we flew to California for a return visit to the Desert Vineyard in Lancaster/Palmdale. This was our third trip there in a year and each time we're with David and Nancy Parker (lead pastor and wife) and their crew, we're more impressed with what they're doing and with how God is using them. We kicked off our time by speaking for the Antelope Valley Ministerial Association's monthly luncheon on Thursday. We were amazed at the broad representation of area churches in attendance and had many conversations that gave us glimpses into the greater work in that area. It's so encouraging to see churches working together to make an impact for the kingdom!
That night, the church hosted a Couples' Fiesta Date Night, and they pulled out all the stops! From a beautifully decorated room to live Mariachis and a delicious catered Mexican feast, the ambience was set for a delightful evening. The sold-out crowd was full of energy and didn't run out of it until we were done speaking. It was an extremely well done evening.
Friday morning, after a very fun visit with some friends, we drove to Westlake Village for the weekend marriage conference for Desert Vineyard. There was a huge response to the conference, and we're convinced that when the senior pastor leads by example and attends the marriage conference his church is promoting, there is greater buy-in by the congregation. It sure was a bonus for us to grab moments with David and Nancy throughout the weekend. So many in that congregation have become dear to us over this past year! And we "owe it all" to Tommy and April Garcia, long time CBS family campers, who got the ball rolling for us at DV.
All too quickly, our five days with Desert Vineyard were up and as we said our good-byes, we felt like we were leaving very dear friends.
Since it was only Sunday afternoon, why not do another event? On to Yorba Linda we drove (about an hour south) to speak at "The Rock" for their Valentine's Date Night. This was also the second year in a row with this group, headed by Brent and Melissa Slezak, and we had a great night. The Slezaks have such strong ministry gifts and such a deep passion for family and marriage, so it's a real joy to partner with them. The evening was beautifully done, from the decorations to the dinner, and we had a very receptive audience to speak to. We loved every minute of it.
Since "all work and no play make one dull" we took Monday to play. . . at Disneyland. The Slezaks made that possible (Brent is employed by Disneyland) and we had a really fun day at the Magic Kingdom and California Land. Just honing our skills for our grandchildren . . . :)
We flew home on Valentine’s Day and spent a full day Wednesday counseling, and an equally full day Thursday with various events, the highlight of which was our end-of-the-season celebration dinner with our New England Patriots couples Bible study group. Unfortunately, between those who had already left town for "home" and others who had had surgeries, our group was rather small—but we had a really great evening together. Don and Betsy Hasselbeck were surprised when Paul read the dedication of the study he wrote for our group this fall ("Jesus on Marriage") to them. We are so grateful for their partnership!
Off we drove the next morning...for upstate New York! Glens Falls to be exact! We were privileged to do our first conference for the Pine Knolls Alliance Church and were so pleased to feel very much at home with them right off the bat. Richard and Amy Dean, who came to Engagement Matters many years ago, planned the conference and overlooked no detail. They did a great job of covering the bases and the conference ran very smoothly They had a great turn-out and we were thankful for a very enthusiastic audience. The conference ran Friday night and all day Saturday. On Sunday, we spoke for two Sunday School classes on marriage. We had a great experience and are so thankful for what they have going at that vital church.
Continuing the rhythm, we unpacked, did laundry, and repacked, counseled for a full day, and then were off again. Destination: Florida! Conference: Pro Athletes Outreach, for the 12th year.
We love this conference. PAO is committed to putting together a high quality program, steeped in solid Biblical teaching, and this year was no exception. Dr. Tony Evans and Louie Giglio were two of the best who gave challenging, brilliant messages to this group of professional football players and their wives. Paul and I did our temperaments workshop twice, and spent a lot of time interacting. It was great for us to reconnect with many ex-Pats as well as others who have become friends through the years. Our Lisa flew in during the conference to join me for an after-conference event and we loved having her with us.
And about that after-conference event: Lisa and i joined 20,000 other Princesses (with a few Princes thrown in) to run the Disney Princess Half-Marathon that Sunday morning. This was our 4th half-marathon together (my fifth and her seventh) and we both agreed it was our best. Not our best time (though almost) but certainly the most fun. Taking full advantage of the princess theme, we "fit in" with our self-fashioned princess garb and enjoyed the cool, overcast morning run from Epcot through the Magic Kingdom and back. It touches me so deeply that Lisa is willing to run a much slower race so she can run with me. That's sacrifice.
And it ends with snow. Leaping with joy . . . and looking forward to tubing tomorrow. At last.
Only a very few days into the new year, we said good-bye to one of the best gifts to us from the years we served on the staff of Grace Chapel. Claude Cole, 94-years-old, was released from his suffering body as he breathed his last on earth. Though it wasn't "hard" to accept his death (as it is with early or tragic deaths), we experienced a profound sense of loss accompanying our deep gratitude to the Lord for allowing our lives to intersect on such a personal level with such a great man.
Claude was a faithful man of God, who, along with his wife, Forestine, joined forces with four other couples back in 1948 and prayed and sacrificed to birth Grace Chapel. As recounted by his daughter Claudia at his funeral, he was a man of extraordinary faith whose belief in God's power and presence was unshakeable.
Though many things endeared us to Claude, at the top of the list (behind his faith) was his commitment to and love for his precious Forestine. His love for her not only never wavered, but seemed to grow stronger when the effects of her dementia became impossible to ignore. Statistically, when a man is afflicted with Alzheimers Disease, 70% of their wives stay with them and care for them. When a wife is so afflicted, only 30% of their husbands stay with them and care for them. We knew Claude was in the cream of the crop long before Forestine began losing her mind, but through the years of caring for her until her death, Claude demonstrated over and over the stuff he was made of. He was deeply in love with her all his days. He set the bar.
So 2012 was ushered in with Claude's farewell, and Paul did a beautiful job of tributing him at his funeral. We were so thankful that our whole family was able to attend the funeral the morning prior to Derek catching his flight to Uganda and Gabe, Kari, and Brandon catching their flight to Sacramento. Our desire to meet up with Thora Eames (who along with her husband Elliot was one of the five GC-founding couples) was also fulfilled that day, as she came up from Duxbury to pay tribute to Claude. (The Cole and Eames families were best friends for many years.) We were all so happy to catch up with this dear friend whose "full speed ahead" life at 94 inspires us!!!
Lisa continued south to Harrisonburg as Julie and I returned to New England on Sunday, Jan. 8. It was great to get home to a de-Christmased home (thank you, Paul!) and to spend a few days regrouping following our wonderful two-week Christmas vacation with our kids. Especially fun was having Julie with us for the month as she continued preparing for her PT boards. Counseling resumed, we had a H.I.M. Board meeting, and we were quickly back in the saddle.
Fifteen families gathered at the Boxborough Holiday Inn over Martin Luther King's holiday weekend for our annual Family Mid-Winter Getaway, and the balmy weather departed just in time for a cold weekend, making the indoor swimming pool even more appreciated. It's a very low-key weekend with minimal programming, and lots of time for hanging out, enjoying community. We were especially impressed with the teens, who fully integrated with the younger kids and made it a very fun weekend for all. They give us great hope for the next generation.
We hit the road the next weekend, after a month's hiatus from airports. Off to Rome and Athens (in Georgia!) we went, after flying in to Atlanta. It was such a joy to be picked up at the airport by Nate and Jeannie King, and to have many hours with them throughout the weekend as they served as our personal chauffeurs. Our speaking engagement was with the 1st Presbyterian Church of Rome, and their annual marriage conference was held in the Brasstown Resort. It was such an upscale place that the rain all weekend didn't really dampen anyone's experience! This was the second year in a row we've done their marriage conference, so we felt very connected with the group. We had a great weekend.
As soon as the conference ended on Sunday, the Kings whisked us up to Athens, GA, where we had a very important date with the TV to watch the AFC playoff game. :) We had the privilege of watching it with Kevin "Chappie" and Mikki Hynes, who serve with FCA at University of Georgia. Mikki's brother is Coach Mark Richt, head coach of Georgia football and the one who honored James David Eunice (our 17-year-old friend who died a year ago in a duck hunting accident) with a Georgia jersey at his funeral. Small world. "Chappie" lacks no enthusiasm for football so we held nothing back in that nail-biter of a game against the Ravens. Whew!!
With our hearts still racing and our adrenaline still pumping, we drove with Chappie and Jill Perry, also on FCA staff, to the campus to speak to the FCA meeting that night. What fun! To a room packed full of Division I athletes, we talked relationships and God's design. It was very energizing for us and thought-provoking for them, which spawned many conversations long after the talk ended. We loved it. We were so encouraged by what's happening through FCA at UGA.
Jill Perry wrote the following day: "It was a wonderful night. The students I meet with for weekly discipleship have shared with me how much it deeply impacted them. We had a huge turnout! What a blessing!”
I can assure you, the blessing was ours. We love to interact with students who are leaning in to a godly view of relationship rather than a cultural view. As we said to them, our great sadness for their generation is that they've been lied to since they were little about their sexuality and the nature and purpose of relationships. For many of them, gaining a Biblical perspective is relatively new. What a joy to be part of that process.
We flew back to Boston on Monday (after getting at least a couple of hours with the four precious King children) and we made the most of the 24 hours we were home to help Julie with her final preparations for moving to Uganda as soon as her boards were taken on Monday, Jan. 30. We did a few errands, some baking, a bit of sewing - but mostly we marveled at how much work she had done and how well organized and prepared she was for this major transition. We squeezed everything we could out of those brief hours and then boarded a plane for Spokane, WA, to partner for the 4th time in 5 years with the Moses Lake Alliance Church (MLAC). We have very deep hearts for this congregation and are so honored to return.
Kent (executive pastor of MLAC) and Staci Copley picked us up and we picked up with one another as good friends do. We really do love hanging with these guys and their daughters, Tori and Britni. We are terribly amused by one another on one hand, but also have deep and significant conversations, so we always enjoy being with them. We not only admire their ministry hearts, but we respect them greatly as parents. Their daughters reflect the best of parenting as they are well behaved and respectful as well as being tons of fun. It's a joy to stay in their home.
Not that we were there much! We arrived in time Wednesday to go directly to church to speak on relationships to both the middle schoolers and the high school group. Both groups were receptive and interactive and it was clear that the families and the staff at MLAC have a strong commitment to teaching Biblical design to their kids. Refreshing!
Thursday morning, we spoke to a group of women on parenting and marriage. Caryn Bowser, the lead pastor's wife, served up a lovely brunch at the church (and explained to me, "I want them to feel as though they're coming to our home!".) She accomplished that! It was a sweet time. Paul baked cookies with the girls in the afternoon and then we were off to speak to a very cool event that evening. The "Ministerial Association" of Moses Lake invited to us to speak for a special night out for the local pastors. A phenomenal dinner was served by the local country club (seriously good steak!) and after some time of worship, we spoke on balancing ministry and marriage. It was very encouraging for us to see pastors and wives from about 15 different churches in Moses Lake communing with one another rather than competing with each other. They are clearly committed to working together for the Kingdom which can only be good for the people of Moses Lake! Walking shoulder to shoulder in unity is so consistent with the heart of the gospel. We loved being a part of that.
Friday we drove up to Clearwater Lodge in Newport, WA, and began the marriage conference. It was like a family reunion of sorts, as this is the 4th conference we've done for them and we have deep hearts for these folks. Lots of laughter and fun interaction throughout the weekend, along with rapt attention during the times of teaching. It was especially meaningful to us that Jody (lead pastor) and Caryn Bowser were there. It makes a bit statement to a congregation when pastoral staff prioritize a marriage conference. And they weren't "just" there. Jody led worship and played songs we haven't heard since the 70's. (When was the last time you heard "Blind Man"?) It was fun to actually know all the songs! A definite advantage of having a more "mature" worship leader. :)
The long anticipated Boards came and went on Monday, and hours later, Julie and I flew to London. Why not? Julie's husband, Derek, flew up from Uganda to get some dental work done, and more importantly, to retrieve his wife. We've spent the last three days enjoying London, the highlights of which were staying in the lovely Ashburton Bed and Breakfast in Chorleywood (owned and operated by Nick and Olive Vale, whose daughter, Tiffany, lives in Mbale volunteering for an NGO there), seeing the stage play "Les Miserables", spending a day with our lifelong friend, Kelsey Offield, and eating some great meals. Of course the highest light was hanging out with Derek and Julie. As I fly back to Boston today, they are on a plane taking them the opposite direction to Uganda, and so their life will begin as a married couple as medical missionaries in this developing country.
I'll admit that since their engagement 15 months ago, it has seemed to easy to think of Julie living in Africa. It's so consistent with her long-held desire to serve underserved children in Africa. And how can you argue with the divine orchestration of God bringing her and Derek to one another, serving children in Africa. I've said countless times, "I'd rather have her in Africa where she feels she's exactly where God wants her than near us where we would love to have her."
I didn't feel that as convincingly this morning as we tearfully hugged good-bye at Heathrow six hours ago. It all of a sudden feels like she's very far away, and in a curious way, she seemed awfully young and vulnerable as she waved good-bye.
Of course she's not. Her 27th birthday is just ahead and she’s married to one of the finest men of God we've ever met. And we all believe they're where God wants them to be for now.
Though my feelings are real and valid, they're not stronger than what I know is true. Our good-bye this morning allows her to say "hello" to her new life, which is full of hope and promise, love and adventure, challenge and accomplishment.
And God is over all and in all. That's most comforting of all.