Marriage Conference

All Over the Place

All Over the Place

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.

In and Out of Africa

In and Out of Africa

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?” 

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

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.”

It's NOT beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

It's NOT beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

If “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .” is related to a house decked in outdoor lights, a beautifully decorated tree indoors, and stockings “hung by the chimney with care,” we’re off. Way off. Thankful to have just gotten all pumpkins processed and the orange and rust decorations put away . . .

Savoring

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.

Fall is FINALLY in the Air




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.



The chill in the air this morning was a welcomed change from the unseasonably warm September we’ve experienced in New England this past month (at least the few days we’ve been here!) and all things Fall suddenly seem within grasp of cold fingers. Leaves will change and flutter to the ground, days will grow noticeably shorter, sweaters and close-toed shoes will be worn as the lingering days of summer quickly become memories of a season well spent.

I love fall. Truth be told, I must quickly admit that I also love winter, spring, and summer as each season brings its own delights and beauty.

But before I can thoroughly embrace autumn, I must wrap up summer (because that’s what the SJ personality does—in Myers-Briggs talk.)

Backing up to the end of August, we returned to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to speak at the 2/42 Community Church’s second annual “Fr-amily Camp”, held at Spring Hills Camp in Evart, MI. It’s always an honor to be invited to speak anywhere once, and it’s at least a double honor to be invited back. We were delighted to again partner with the 2/42 director of Family Ministries, Eric Rauch, who has great vision, enthusiasm, and passion for encouraging and equipping families. This year, besides having the “Birdsongs” again lead in worship and having us speak, he brought in David Laflin, an incredibly talented Christian illusionist from the Denver area. Amazingly, I had met his wife Teesha (who often performs with him) at Mission Hills Church in Littleton, CO, the previous weekend, as she stopped by to chat with me about balancing ministry and family after Paul and I had spoken. Only God . . .

David did a great job of wowing us with his illusionary trickery as well as with the gospel message. Check their ministry out at www.davidandteesha.com

The weekend went really well. Twice the size of last year’s camp, we were reminded of how desperately we need to keep building in to families the hope of the gospel. No one skipped the teaching sessions (it seemed), despite being surrounded by 900 acres of beauty, very fun activities, and plenty of options to distract. We really felt that God met us and the campers in some very powerful ways.

It was especially good for us to have several days with our dear friends, Wai and Elaine Wong and their lovely daughters while in Ann Arbor. We stayed an extra day so we could hang out with them and that made a great weekend even greater.


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.


We returned to Boston for 24 hours to repack before heading west for the Labor Day Weekend family camp at CBS. But first, a joy-filled celebration of the birthday buddies, Papa and Brandon, who share an August 29 birthdate. Brandon did ask me this year, “If Papa and I have the same birthday, why aren’t we the same age??”  :)  

Happy birthday, Papa and now 6-year-old Brandon!


After too short a stay (but better than nothing), we headed to CBS for the weekend with Lisa and a terrific group of veteran staff who served the family campers all weekend. This third annual Labor Day weekend family camp was again sold out to a very enthusiastic group of families. Presumably because the time is short, these families dive right in and make every minute count. Thankfully, with the majority of staff who had served together all summer, we were also ready to dive right in with them. It was a full, breathless weekend.

Bob and Carol Kraning served as our resource couple for the weekend and were wildly popular. Bob, who had a very close brush with death a year ago, was stronger than ever and didn’t miss a beat. Our young families were so encouraged to hear from a couple who have been married over 50 years and who have followed the Lord faithfully throughout life. Such richness!

All too quickly the weekend was over and we sang our final rendition of “We love you campers, oh yes we do!” as the boat pulled away from the dock. We followed soon after and headed south for a couple of days before heading east. 

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.

Lis and I did one last loop hike on the last morning of camp and encountered this bison, who seemed to own the road. He’s much bigger than he appears in this photo, and the road is much more narrow than it appears. Obviously we lived to tell about it.  :)


Bob and Carol Kraning partnered with us this weekend and God used them to bring a word of both encouragement and challenge. We’ve been together with the Kranings in ministry for most of our married life and we’re so thankful they’ve been a part of our journey.

One last chorus of “We love you campers, oh yes we do . . .” as the final family camp group departs on the Catalina Express.


Off to San Diego we went, after overnighting in Santa Ana with our dear friend Wendy Turney, to spend the next two nights at the Hotel del Coronado. This San Diego landmark hosted us the first night of our honeymoon 40 years ago and this was our first return to the inside of it since. Made possible in part by the kids, who generously gave us a gift certificate for the hotel several years ago, we decided the time was right to put the capstone on our 40th anniversary’s never-ending celebration.  

What a great idea!

We had two wonderful days there, doing little more than walking the beach, laying by the pool, exploring downtown Coronado, and enjoying the beauty of this exquisite hotel. We did sneak away to Petco Stadium with our friends the Hazlebecks to watch the Red Sox beat the Padres one night, but we squeezed everything we could out of the rare treat of staying in this fabulous hotel. We highly recommend 40th anniversaries, if God grants you that many years.

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.  :)

We left refreshed and renewed, celebrating life and marriage, and ready to face a little bit of craziness.

Arriving home at 1 in the morning on Saturday, Sept. 10, we were overjoyed (if even a bit bleary-eyed) to welcome Dick and Becky (Manley Pippert) Molenhouse to our home at 9:30 am.  Becky had spoken at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Pastors’ Conference the previous day.  So, seizing the opportunity to reconnect our four-decades-long friendship, we welcomed them to our home for the remaining hours prior to their late afternoon flight.

It is so good to be with treasured, lifelong friends. Paul and Becky came on InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff together in 1972 and that began a deep and mutually respected friendship. Dick and Becky have spent the past 7 years doing evangelism training throughout Europe and are stateside now as their organization, Saltshaker Ministries, produces numerous curriculums and resources for equipping churches to be engaged in evangelistic outreaches. Though some of the time was spent talking about our respective ministries, much of it was focused on catching up with each other’s lives, families, and reflections. It was such a sweet time of fellowship. 

Dick and Becky Molenhouse spent a day with us and we joyfully caught up on one another’s lives.

Shortly after the Molenhouses left, another couple arrived from California for a couple of days—and when they left on Monday, yet another couple arrived from California for a couple of days. We love sharing our home and our lives, and all three of these visits were delightful.  

And just like that, we were back in the saddle of counseling and Patriots studies. Wednesday, Sept 14, the Pats Women’s Study started with a great group of gals. Many of us hadn’t seen much of each other since the season ended last January, so it was a happy reunion. Thursday we did more counseling and launched the couples’ study with a great group of couples. So we’re off and running in our fall schedule!!

“Running” is the operative word . . . as very early Friday morning, I “ran” off to the airport to fly to Pennsylvania to spend the last 4 days of Derek’s trip to Africa with Julie and the kids.  Two weeks is a long time to be apart and to temporarily be a “single mom” and I was so thankful to help fill in the gap.

Oh the fun we had! Taking walks. Visiting farm animals. Playing with play dough. Reading books. Decorating for fall. Snuggling with babies. Learning about Nathan’s new world in pre-school.

Loved. Every. Minute. Even the ones that came in the middle of the night.  :)

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!!


The days passed quickly (there’s a blessing in that, I know) and Derek returned from Africa, and I returned to New England, just in time to welcome another set of guests, our dear friends Dick and Nancy Beggs. We’ve known each other for our whole marriage, as we met at the first Christian Camping International Conference we attended in 1977 and we’ve been friends of the heart ever since. The Beggs have been associated with Camp Maranatha in Idyllwild, California, for years and we’ve journeyed with them through the joys and challenges of raising families and working in camping. They only spent one night with us, but we made the most of it.

Dick and Nancy Beggs, from Idyllwild, California, joined us for a night of non-stop talking, a few tears, and a lot of laughter.


This past weekend, we did the first ever marriage conference for Oasis Christian Church in Concord, New Hampshire. Fulfilling the vision of Skip and Avonne Jarvis, who seeded the water by leading a marriage class at the church this past year using our study, In Our Image, the day went off swimmingly. The thirty couples who attended gave very positive feedback and a second annual is already in the works as we agreed to return and speak again next September. Especially sweet for us was having four couples attend who have been long time Berea Family Campers (the NH family camp we’ve directed the past 12 years). Many couples expressed that God really met them in the day. All praise is His.

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.


Sunday we taught at their two worship services, thanks to their lead pastor Jon Rose who turned the service over to us. We so enjoyed worshiping with this alive congregation and look forward to continuing our partnership with them.


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!!

That brings us up to today. The chill still hasn’t left and I can see leaves changing before my very eyes. It’s time to put on a jacket and take a walk in the brisk fall air, which we hope is here to stay. Finally. 


Sunset over the lake in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

Our Hope Is Built on Nothing Less . . .




Two weeks ago, this was the view out of the plane window as we made our approach to Entebbe, Uganda.  If you look closely, you’ll be able to see the Nile River snaking her way across this beautiful country.  Even if you don’t look closely, you’ll see the Glory of God in this magnificent sunset captured by camera.

And thus it began. In some ways it seems as though we blinked, and now we’re returning home…and in other ways, it seemed like much longer ago than two weeks that we witnessed this spectacular scene. Six full days of travel (to and from US, and within Uganda) and nine full days of ministry. We return home changed by the things we have experienced, the people we have served, and by the God who has met us. And we are more convinced than ever that “our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness."

Our first time in Uganda in the post-Derek and Julie era, we had a certain amount of trepidation as we commenced this journey. Since they had always taken such good care of us logistically, practically, and otherwise, we truly wondered how we would manage without them.  

We found out quickly that when you’ve impacted people there as deeply and positively as have they, you will be well-taken care of on their coattails. How humbling!

And so from the moment of our arrival, when we were met at the Entebbe airport by the driver Nelson from the Boma Hotel, we were greeted and treated as though we were well-loved family returning home. The crew at the Boma couldn’t have been more effusive about their love for the Johnsons and about how deeply they miss them now that they’re in the states. They wanted to see photos of Nathan, whom they had known since his birth, and of his new baby sister, Rachel, who they are eager to meet. This record played over and over and over every day we were in Uganda.  

And as a result, we had no need that was left unmet.  

We flew to Uganda seven hours after returning from California on a red-eye, Monday, May 9, and landed late on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the 11th, we spent the whole day getting from Entebbe to Mbale (western to eastern Uganda), made quite difficult by the impending inauguration of President Museveni the following day. Road closures and increased traffic delayed our pick-up near the airport by 3 hours and increased the normally 5-hour trip to Mbale to 8 hours. It was quite harrowing at the end as we traveled in complete darkness, but our wonderful driver Mackay safely delivered us to the Mt. Elgon Hotel just after 8. The strangeness hit us strongly that we were at a hotel and not at the Johnson compound. We missed them terribly the whole time, but not because we were not well cared for.

We hit the road running. JP and Jill Robinson, dear friends who are serving with the Church of Christ, picked us up bright and early Thursday and we were off to speak at an-all day marriage training for church-planting village pastors who are being discipled by JP and his Ugandan counterpart, Dennis. It was truly an exciting day for all as it included the wives (who are not part of the discipleship program) and they seemed genuinely pleased to be included in this unusual day. It was the first such training for these local village pastors on marriage and they were fully engaged all day. The Robinsons did a great job organizing the event, which was held on the grounds of Livingstone International University (LIU) and we all deemed it successful at day’s end as we debriefed over a lovely meal at the Robinsons' home.
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.

Sleep felt very good that night!

Up and at it early Friday, prior to starting our conference for JENGA, Robby Keen drove us over to the CURE hospital to indulge our desire to make contact with the many we love there. It was brief, but so so sweet to exchange many hugs and even to see a few babies. What a great way to start the day.

The balance of the day (9:30-5) was spent at the hotel where we  spoke for JENGA, an NGO dedicated to serving the community in many different ways. Led by one of the Johnsons’ closest friends, Robby Keen, a Brit who defies his heritage save his accent (he is a wild one), the JENGA team spent from 10-5 hearing about God’s design for marriage, why it matters, and how to live it. It was a lovely group that seemed to really feel their time was well spent.  

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.
For the third day running, we had an early start for yet another all-day marriage seminar, this one hosted by and held at Pearl Haven Christian Center. What a joy to return to this thriving church, pastored by Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, and to see the progress they’ve made on completing their 10-year-in-process church building. Some of you will remember that H.I.M. raised $20K for Pearl Haven after our trip last year, which we sent to them so they could “raise the roof. Though not yet finished, much progress has been made and the roof should be on within the next two months.  

Around 250 attended the Saturday conference, including “our” driver Mackay and Doreen, whom we invited after he asked what we were doing in Mbale and expressed interest in coming. The day went very well, after we adjusted the speed of our speaking to facilitate the translator. Though most Africans know some level of English and many are fluent English speakers, most would profit much more by hearing it in Lugandan.  One of the highlights of the day for us was having a break-out session with the singles in attendance, which numbered about 70. We presented some material then opened it to written Q & A, and it was lively.  We LOVE addressing issues facing singles, especially today as the cultural rules and expectations continue to change. It’s very security-producing for this age/stage group to be reminded that the clarity of God’s heart for them hasn’t changed and won’t change and they can hold on to the eternal truth of scripture and design. Paul and I were at the Bam Supermarket early Monday morning and a young woman approached us, identifying herself as having been at the singles meeting during the marriage conference. “It helped me so much,” she said. “I’m content to trust God’s design and to wait for His best. It was so clear and so helpful. Thank you!” What a gift from God to hear of how He was working. To Him be the glory!!

After our third long teaching day in a row, we had the “night off” and bravely walked into Central Market in downtown Mbale to buy some avocados and mangos so we could have a quiet light supper in our room and retire early. Central Market is a huge, multi-level, (now) indoor “farmer’s market” consisting of locals bringing their goods to sell from their little booth. It’s a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated. Fortunately we had been there several times with Derek and Julie through the years, but I’ll admit it felt a lot different without them. Unusual (and somewhat offensive) sights, smells, and sounds combine to make it an outside-of-comfort-zone experience, but we navigated it, achieved our purpose, and made it back to the hotel before dark. Whew! And the avocado was well worth it.

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!”
Back at Pearl Haven on Sunday for the packed first service and a much smaller second service, Paul preached on “Ten Things Matthew 19 teaches us about Marriage.” He did a great job, says his adoring wife. We always love to be with the congregation at Pearl Haven, especially for their worship through song, which is always robust, heartfelt, and alive.


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.
Home from church just after 2 (after leaving the hotel at 7:30 am), we were refreshed by a walk and a short time at the pool before going to the Olupot home to help celebrate Neese’s 7th birthday. Dr Olupot is a highly trained and respected MD/PhD at Mbale Regional Hospital, specializing in infectious diseases, and his wife Harriet works at CURE Hospital. They are deeply loved by Derek and Julie and the favor is returned. We were truly honored to be invited to join the festivities and loved having yet another insight into Ugandan culture. Her birthday was not only celebrated with the typical children’s games, foods, and cake, but it also had a spiritual dimension, lead by the pastor of their church. We took it all in and enjoyed every minute of it.


Neese’s 7th birthday party…
just before the cake cutting, the guests eagerly encircle her.


Monday…we met with a dating couple who wanted to talk through the challenges of a cross-cultural relationship…and then had time for a walk and a swim before the muzungu (white) missionary community came to the Mt. Elgon Hotel to spend the afternoon with us leading a discussion on balancing marriage, family, and ministry…especially in a different culture. We’ve known many of these for a number of years now, so it was really a sweet reunion. Over tea and cakes, we had a very fruitful time together and only wished it had been longer. The hearts are willing, but the challenges are real. This is a wonderful group of ex-Pats.  

Most of the “muzungu” missionary community who gathered for tea and talk Monday afternoon.
That evening we had the pleasure of dining with Mackay and Doreen’s family in their home.  We were treated like royalty as they presented a spread of local Ugandan food, made in their home, in honor of our visit. We loved being with their family,and being entertained by their adorable daughters, Maya, Martha, and Marcella. It was a night we won’t soon forget.

The Mwebingwa family plus one:  Sirene is on the far left and she has joined the family since her parents’ death.

Tuesday! Time is flying and we’re unable to slow it down. Having the morning off helped a bit. We were thankful for a few hours to have extended quiet time, a long walk, and a short time by the pool before welcoming local pastors with whom we’ve met each time we’ve been here since 2012 for ongoing marriage training. Many of these were at our very first event held at CURE Hospital in 2012 and then attended the retreat H.I.M. hosted in 2013. We love the continued connection with these dear folks. They also came to the Mt. Elgon Hotel for the afternoon, beginning with lunch and continuing with an ongoing discussion on marriage in Uganda. It was so good to be together.

About 42 familiar pastors and their wives joined us for the afternoon for ongoing training. It was another sweet reunion.
We managed a second walk that afternoon to visit the Johnsons’ former compound (now inhabited by new CURE Hospital Executive Director Tim Erickson and his wife, Kiera, and their 3 little ones.) It felt so strange to be there on one hand, as with the exception of the Johnsons not being there, not much had changed. Their guard John and his son Farouk (who were like family to the Johnsons and subsequently to us) were there, their dogs Jack and Lemon were there, etc. It was a most happy reunion with John, Farouk, and the dogs. Farouk, who had not expected our arrival, just kept saying, “It’s a miracle! It’s a miracle!” The day wrapped up with a sweet time of fellowship and food with Chad and Katie Allen and their three littles. Chad is the CFO of LIU and they are a warm, hospitable family.

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.

Finally…Wednesday. CURE Hospital! We had been looking forward to this day long event since arriving, and this was the day. Tim had kindly invited us to speak at chapel from 8-9 and then added a special chapel from 12-1. In between the chapels, we met individually with those who wanted our counsel. The morning and afternoon “slots” were all booked and we had some very precious moments with some very dear folks. The chapels went well and it was just so good to be face to face with many we’ve grown to love so deeply since our first visit to the hospital in 2009. The chorus of “we miss Derek and Julie so much” was constant and not surprising; they both invested greatly in that place and those people for 5-8.5 years.  It was a day full of celebration and grace.

One of the highlights for us for having a private visit with Sister Florence, the recently retired director of nursing for the hospital. It would be hard to find a more impressive woman!  When she was a young nurse, almost twenty years ago, her sister died, leaving her three daughters orphaned. Sister Florence adopted the girls, forsaking her own desire to be married in order to focus on the needs of these precious but traumatized young girls. The youngest is now 20 and all three are following Christ and doing well. Sister Florence has done her job, both at the hospital and with her daughters, exceedingly well. It was a privilege to sit and talk with her about the past as well as her future plans.  

Salt of the earth. Life upon life. Gifts of the journey.

The day ended all too quickly. Our time in the ward wasn’t long enough, but sufficient to remind us of the incredible work being done by the folks at the hospital.  What a privilege to be connected with this ministry and with these people.

Part of the staff we successfully corralled for a photo after the second chapel … How we love these!

Sister Florence!
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.

It was very hard to pull ourselves away from the hospital but we had a dinner date at the Mbale Resort Hotel with Wilberforce and Sarah, and Mackay. This spontaneous invitation to dinner was extended by the manager of the hotel, Isaiah, who is a very close friend of Mackay. After Mackay had related to him high praise for the marriage conference at Pearl Haven, Isaiah extended the invitation for us to be his guest for dinner. Isaiah let us know how much Derek and Julie had impacted his life as well during their time in Mbale and he was very interested in partnering with us on future trips. He wondered if we would consider using his hotel for some future marriage event. Only God knows where this will lead. For now, we know we had a fabulous meal at this hotel and another strong connection was made. Praise Him!


Isaiah, Mackay, Wilberforce, Sarah, and us
just before dinner at the Mbale Resort Hotel.

What a lovely way to spend our last night in Mbale. Back to the Mt. Elgon Hotel to pack and be ready for an 8 am Thursday pick up. We managed to do an early morning walk in the drizzle, which abated before we made it back to the hotel, making way for a beautiful rainbow straight from heaven. It actually left us both speechless as we were drenched in the hope of His promise and the reality of His presence.

Our last morning in Mbale: what an incredible start to the day!

Our trip to Entebbe Thursday was full of unexpected delights!  We stopped at the new Endiro Coffee Shop on the road to Jinja and were delightfully surprised that Gloria, the very smart entrepreneur behind the now 4-stores-strong coffee shop “chain”, was there! We had such a nice visit, and of course heard, “We miss Derek and Julie so much!” She admitted that beyond just loving them, they were very faithful customers at her Mbale store and she also is missing their business. :)


Gloria, owner of the Endiro Coffee Shop chain, was so kind and generous to us. Best cappuccino I’ve had in a long time!

Next stop…to repair a flat tire.  The same one that was repaired a week earlier gave up completely.  But in no time, Mackay had replaced it with the “donut” and off we went.

Jinja was up next, and we made a very brief stop to get some coffee, etc., and then were on our way to Mackay’s parents-in-law, who live between Jinja and Kampala. Remarkable people! Now retired, they farm their large piece of land to supply their family and friends, and extend hospitality to all who come by. We thoroughly enjoyed connecting with them.

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!

We finally arrived at the Boma around 5, we were in the pool by 5:05 to be refreshed in the last waning streams of sunlight, which lasted long enough to get in a walk to Lake Victoria, all the while viewing the setting sun. A relaxing evening, delicious dinner, and to bed, exhausted.

Next stop:  Ethiopia!!

A first for us: leaving the airport at Addis Ababa!

Invited by CURE to conduct a marriage seminar for the leadership team at their Addis Ababa Orthopedic Hospital, we were both excited and apprehensive about this event. It was an intimate gathering of eight couples, most of whom are doctors of some sort, and we wondered what their expectations would be and if they’d feel that giving up their Saturday in such a way would be “worth it.”

We were delightfully surprised and aware of God’s faithfulness as the rapport between us developed. By conference end, we felt we had eight new couples who had become friends. Because of the size of the group, there was plenty of interaction, time for questions, etc. We were so impressed with their sincere expressions of wanting to build in to their marriages and families, and of recognizing their vulnerability to imbalance given the immense need for their medical services. By the time it was over, there was talk of doing it again next year.  :)

The hospital’s medical director later wrote:
“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.

One of the highlights of the day, unrelated to the conference (which was held on the SIM compound), was the “yard sale” run by the children of the compound dwellers. These enterprising young ones had it on their heart to raise funds for a pediatric rehabilitation center, so they baked cookies and gathered some candy and gum to sell at their “yard sale.”  Loved seeing their hearts of compassion!

We returned to the hotel near the airport and walked about the city before calling it a day.




 The “Yard Sale” and the young entrepreneurs running it.

The marriage conference attendees.
A stellar group of servant-hearted people.

Sunday, after attending church services at St Matthew’s Anglican Church with several of the CURE families, we toured the CURE Hospital.  What an amazing place and even more so are the incredible people who make it happen.  We were privileged to be toured by Dr. Tim Nunn and Dr. Rick Gardner, the two orthopedic surgeons who work here. Both men are highly skilled, highly trained physicians who are pouring their lives out for “the least of these.” We were so touched by their personal connection with their patients as they stopped to check in with them during the tour, which was happening on their day off. It was evident immediately that they are deeply loved by these young ones whose lives are literally being changed by them. Hope givers. Life changers. Jesus with flesh on.

This hospital is so different than the Mbale hospital in some obvious ways: neurosurgery in Mbale and orthopedic surgery in Addis Ababa; the Mbale hospital deals largely with babies, while the Addis hospital treats older children; the Mbale hospital sits on a sanctuary-esque compound with many single story buildings, and the Addis hospital is terraced on a hillside and is currently building a huge rehabilitation center on their large property. They are also so much like each other. Both are clean, peaceful places of hope and healing, physical and spiritual, staffed by caring, sacrificial, highly professional medical teams, and filled with patients and their parents who are full of smiles as the never-thought-possible becomes possible. We met a 14-year-old girl who had been born with such deformity in her legs and feet that she had never walked.  After 7 months of operations and procedures at the Addis hospital, she took her first steps on Friday, with the aid of crutches. The doctors showed us a photo of her first steps and the joy on her face was unmitigated by the fact that she still has months of therapies and treatments ahead before she’ll go home. I asked Dr. Rick (who is completing his 3rd year at this hospital) if he saw himself here for the long haul and he said, “I can’t imagine practicing anywhere else.”  A heart (and hands) fully surrendered.

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!

We left the hospital so filled with hope and joy for these patients and their families, and with such awe and appreciation for the medical and support staff who bring help and healing in the name of Jesus. We also left with both a degree of sorrow, having been told that 2,000 children are on the waiting list for this CURE hospital now, and deep gladness knowing that thousands of children have already been treated here since its beginning in 2008.  

Our hearts were once again enlarged, and we are committed to pray for this work and for these people, who have given up lives of comfort and entitlement to serve those who would otherwise go unserved.

We walked the streets of Addis after we left the hospital, taking in more sights, sounds, and smells. Our compassion for these people was temporarily suspended when Paul realized he had been pick-pocketed by the little 9-year-old beggar who bumped into him and managed to take off with his wallet, which was deep in his front pocket. It returned—our compassion—though the wallet and its non-monetary contents did not. They are now in a trash heap somewhere in Addis Ababa. Choosing to be thankful that we weren’t harmed and that everything lost is replaceable, we began to pray for the little boy who at such a young age engaged in such an evil.  

To the airport for our flight home that night, we flew Ethiopian Air to Frankfurt, Germany, and Lufthansa to Boston.  We couldn’t have asked for better or easier flights, thankfully, and gratefully were home in Bedford before dinner time.

We’ll be processing the trip long after our bodies are readjusted to Eastern Standard Time.  

God has met us. He has used us. He has allowed our hearts to be broken “by the things that break His heart.”  He has shown us His power. His mercy. His grace. His generosity. 

He has amplified our hope in nothing but Him.

All praise is His as we seek to proclaim that our hope is truly built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

"My Hope is Built on Nothing Less"
by Edward Mote, 1797-1874

1. My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

2. When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

3. His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

4. When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.







If It's Tuesday . . .

The past two weeks have been marked by very quick turn-arounds.  The kind that leave you wondering where you are and what time it is. 

Returning from Trinidad late on Tuesday, the 26th of April, we had just enough time to do a load of laundry and repack before flying to Sacramento, CA, the following day, to participate in Bayside’s annual Thrive Conference. The brainchild of Ray Johnston, lead pastor of the Bayside family of churches, this conference is packed with upbeat worship, a large variety of workshops, great plenary session speakers, and lots of fun and laughter. There’s not much that’s conventional about it, and each year we are re-energized by this hyper-inspiring event.

We taught three workshops on Friday, the 29th: one on balancing marriage and ministry, one on teaching Biblical values regarding sexuality to our youth, and the final one on temperaments. All three were well received, but the temperaments workshop was off the charts. Packed with very responsive folks, there were many moments of epiphany and enlightenment amidst the laughter and verbal “aha’s.” At the end of the workshop, one woman got to me immediately and with tears said, “This workshop might have just saved my marriage. I understand my husband in a whole new way with these insights.” There is no more encouraging response we could have received.  All praise is His.

The "temperaments in marriage" workshop garnered a huge crowd and an even bigger response.


The facilitating team for our workshops; on the far right are Dave and Diane Watts, our faithful book table handlers.


Following dinner that night at Ray and Carol Johnston’s house, we left the Thrive conference with hearts full and overflowing for how God had met us through some great speakers and worship, and for how He had used us.  

We drove from Sacramento to Santa Clarita that night (definitely not a very New England thing to do, but oh so Californian!) so we could be at Brandon’s soccer game the next morning. The flight we had originally booked Saturday morning wouldn’t get us there in time for the game, so we drove! The five-hour drive gave us time to process the conference and to look ahead at our crazy schedule. We were very thankful to safely arrive at the Garcia’s home at 2 am for a little shut-eye.

What fun to spend Saturday with Brandon and Ana (and their parents, of course.) Though it’s been years since we sat on the sidelines cheering for our favorite athletes, it all came right back to us and we joined the crowd of crazy fans seamlessly. We were really happy it worked out for us to be there. Playing games, taking a walk, sneaking a nap, and going to church balanced the day.


After Brandon’s soccer game . . .


Cleaned up and ready to attend Saturday night church.


Lisa joined us for festivities on Sunday, which revolved around having a small family celebration of our 40th. After a lovely brunch at the Egg Plantation, and delicious cold brew coffee at Honu (a coffee shop in Santa Clarita owned by friends of theirs from church), we returned to the Garcia house where we were presented with a beautiful book of tributes written by family and friends in honor of our marriage. We were totally blown away. Humbled. Touched. Deeply moved. It is a gift that will keep on giving. Sweet Kari took that project on and she did a beautiful job on it.

Coffee break!

The book of tributes for our anniversary.  What a treasure!


Back to Boston on a red-eye Sunday night, April 30, in order to offer a day of counseling. Had we not done this, we would’ve had no counseling days from April 19 until June 1, and we couldn’t do that to our clients. So, much of Monday and all of Tuesday were spent counseling, and then we re-packed and headed back to California. The bright side? Obviously connection with our counselees, but also more miles towards the 1K United mileage club.   :-)

We flew into San Diego so we could spend a day with my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day a bit early and we had such a sweet visit. My mom is incredible! At 86, she still runs her life: she drives, she manages everything, and she’s learning the in’s and out’s of her new iPhone 6.  She’s a bar-setter, that’s for sure. She even picked us up at the airport late Wednesday night. We are blessed that she is so healthy and so vital. Though very short, our time together was lovely and we hated to drive out Friday at noon.

But the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard Marriage Conference was ready to “play ball” so drive we did to Tehachapi, making a quick stop on the way in Riverside to see daughter Lisa’s “new” house!  What joy to celebrate such meaningful milestones in the lives of your children. We’re so proud of the way Lisa has managed her life, positioning her to make a move on buying her first home when her need for a place to live intersected with her “randomly” following an “Open House” sign while walking home from Cal Baptist one day about 6 weeks ago. After crunching the numbers and realizing that her mortgage payments would be only about $300 more a month than renting, she made her move and an abundant amount of God’s grace and favor were evident in the deal closing in her favor. She was thrilled to show her dad her new home (his only view of it had been virtual) and was very happy with his enthusiastic approval. So starts a new chapter in Lisa’s life as she continues as a professor at Cal Baptist for the 2016-17 school year.

On to Tehachapi, for the second year in a row, to speak at their baseball themed marriage conference entitled “Marriage Strong.” They spared no creativity in carrying out a theme and we were delighted to arrive at the “ball field” in time to get Dodger Dogs (which we quickly renamed “Fenway Franks”), nachos with queso, and lemonade. They did an awesome job of decorating the tables and the concession stand. Attendees came wearing their favorite team’s shirts, so there was plenty of friendly rivalry as Red Sox fans bantered with Dodger fans, etc.  It was one of the most creatively themed conferences we’ve done and it definitely was a “grand slam.”

 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??

Barry and Saundra Galloway are the campus pastors for the TMV and through many years now, we’ve become very good friends as well as ministry partners. Their grace-giving, truth-telling style endears them easily and we loved partnering with them again this year for their marriage conference.

  Barry and Saundra Galloway are salt of the earth folks and we loved being with them.

God did a great work through the conference.  One woman confessed to Paul, “I dragged my husband here, hoping he would be convicted of his need to change, and God turned the tables on me. I’m the one who needed the conference. God spoke to me of my need to change!”  We had many encouraging conversations with those who felt God really met them. Praise Him!

We were also honored to teach at both of their services on Sunday and were thankful that went well. And just like that, we were on our way to Santa Clarita for a quick Mother’s Day celebration with Garcias and Lisa, and then to LAX.  

Though the time was short with the kids, it was very sweet. Yummy food, sweet sentiments expressed, and love shared. So very thankful!

 Short but sweet time with the kids prior to jetting back to Boston on those beloved red-eye flights.


Home on a red-eye, picked up and taken home by Barbara Steele, who’s servant-heartedness knows no bounds. Six hours later, she was back to pick us up and take us back to Logan for our flight to Uganda. Convincing servant-heartedness, yes??

So here we are, ready to call it a day in Entebbe, Uganda. It’s still Tuesday here, so we know where we are.

We are beyond thankful for the opportunity to return to this land of beautiful, loving people and continue the ministry of encouraging church leaders, ex-Pat missionaries, and the congregation at Pearl Haven.
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. 

   San Diego at its best . . . sunset over the harbor.



To Trinidad with Love

It’s hard to believe that a week ago we were flying to Trinidad….and today we are returning to the U.S.  Though it seems like we blinked and the week evaporated, it’s also quite amazing that we got so much packed in to the past six days. I’m sure that comes as a surprise to no one. :)

We arrived in Trinidad late Wednesday night, two days ahead of the marriage conference so we could get an early start to our 40th anniversary celebration. Unbeknownst to me, Paul had clandestinely planned a sweet overnight getaway to Grande Riviere Beach to see the leatherback turtles lay their eggs on the beach at night. One of the few places in the world that this phenomena occurs, nothing could’ve delighted me more. He thoughtfully booked Jen and Javed Bachew to be our escorts on this surprise tour, as he too remembered how traumatized I was two years ago when he drove a rental car on Tobago.  :)  So off we went on the grand adventure, which unfolded in spectacular fashion.  

Arriving in time for a lovely beach walk, the smooth sand betrayed nothing of what would happen at nightfall, save the remnants of turtle egg shells (which had already been found by vultures, dogs, or other turtles digging them up in preparation to lay their eggs) strewn upon the sand. After dinner, we connected with our hired guide and went off to watch one of the most remarkable natural events we’d ever seen.

Like clockwork, the massive leatherback females came lumbering out of the water just after dusk. Dozens of them, emerging from their watery home to commence the hard work of insuring the propagation of the species. Each turtle finds the “right” spot for her and begins a 45-minute process of digging a hole in the sand with her back flippers, one flipper-full at a time, over and over again until she has reached the right depth (which is determined by the length of her flipper). On cue, she begins dropping her eggs in the hole, 50-100 of white, round, rubbery, larger-than-ping-pong-ball-size eggs. When she’s delivered her load, she carefully covers the hole back over with sand and. after “limin’” a bit, makes her way back to the water. It’s clearly very hard work.

We were spellbound. These beautiful reptiles were captivating for sure, but even more amazing was watching them do what they were designed to do. No “doulas” needed for these ladies.  They just did their thing, as God has created them to do, and unless mankind causes their extinction, they’ll continue to do it for centuries to come.

We were super blessed by having a full moon under which to observe this amazing process, especially since no lights (except the infrared light held by the guide) were allowed. According to Jen and Javed, it was one of their best viewings ever. Plenty of turtles made their way right in front of our guest house, so we had easy access, and with the moon, we had plenty of light. God’s gifts are extravagant!! We loved every minute of the adventure.

At 4 am, a huge, unexpected, much-needed rainstorm arrived, wakening us from a dead sleep with thoughts that we were being bombed. Those tin roofs really amplify the noise!! We finally resigned ourselves to not getting back to sleep and walked the beach in the pouring rain. We were rewarded by getting to watch one mama leatherback who was still “limin’” on the beach make her way back into the sea. What a most remarkable experience!

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.

Wow!! What a great experience. Back to the Trinidad-Tobago Urban Ministries (TTUM) compound early afternoon, we caught a nap before the conference began with dinner at 6 pm. TTUM hosted and underwrote the conference for the almost 50 couples who attended from all over western Trinidad. In the face of crumbling marriages, their vision is to strengthen and encourage marriages in their local churches. This was the second bi-annual such conference and all are committed to keeping the tradition going.

From beginning to end, there was a spirit of openness and receptivity among the attendees. One of the things we love about international work is that the conferees come hungry. They haven’t been over-satiated, over-resourced, and over-fed as many in America are. They eagerly listen, taking it all in, and don’t expect the talks to end before at least an hour and a half has passed. We welcomed their questions and continued conversations during breaks. In between sessions, we were booked for counseling. Our days were full in the best sort of way.

Saturday culminated with a beautiful banquet served at small tables with flowers, while music softly played in the background.  Led by Cindy, the admin for TTUM, the team that put the conference on outdid themselves. Everything was thought of and carried out so well. Every couple who attended felt the “love” of being served and cared for.

At the banquet, we were surprised to be honored for our 40th anniversary. Ashoke gave us a kind tribute and all enjoyed the beautiful cupcake-cake made in honor of the occasion. It was a lovely evening.

The conference ended on Sunday after lunch, and according to Ashoke, the “vibe” was that people felt the weekend was very practical and life-changing. The consensus was to have it every year rather than every other.  :)

All praise is His! We felt very met by Him throughout the weekend.  

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.
  

After the conference ended, we drove to the little village of Campoo where, with our family missions team in 2001 and 2002, we founded a church. In a primarily Hindu and Muslim village, there was no evangelical church until this one and it was so encouraging to see that the church is still going. Though small, the band of faithful members continue to hold services and outreach to the community.  

Standing with the charter members of the church in Campoo, it was great to see them pressing on with the gospel.


Paul preached Sunday night at church on the compound and then completely surprised me with a renewal of our vows at the end of the service. He had converted the audio tape recorded at our wedding to a CD and we stood face to face, hearing our very young, forty-years-ago voices reciting our original vows. I was blown away. It was a very sweet and memorable moment. He thought of everything!!

Monday, our last day in Trinidad, we drove with Stephanie and Ashoke and Diane to Maracas Bay to walk the beach and eat Bake N Shark. A tradition with the missions teams, we have nothing but great memories of each trip to Maracas Bay . . . and we now have more.  On a picture perfect day, we walked the beach, found sea glass, and then, out of the blue, Paul fell to one knee, claiming injury, but recovering quickly, still on bended knee, he asked me to marry him again. Instead of re-proposing with a metal washer (as he had done back on Dec. 15, 1975—but it was only temporary, for those of you concerned, and quickly replaced with a beautiful solitaire diamond), he presented me with a gorgeous antique diamond ring.  Happy 40th!!  I was again blown away.

Walking on the beach at Maracas Bay.

After a yummy-beyond-description lunch of Bake N Shark (a Trinidadian version of fry bread, topped with freshly caught and fried shark, and then loaded with a large variety of condiments), Stephanie served “Tea on the Beach” for the ladies before packing up and driving back to the compound. A lovelier day couldn’t be imagined!

The smile on Paul’s face tells it all.

Stephanie’s “Tea on the Beach” was a perfect ending to an unforgettable day.

The grand finale of our time in Trinidad was having dinner out with both Bachew couples. Our laughter and talking was unabated for two hours as we confirmed how “in sync” we all are. It was a fitting ending to a great week.

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.


We rose earlier than the sun this morning in order to get to the airport on time, but she made her appearance in the eastern sky as we awaited our flight. Though we’ve loved all of our trips to Trinidad, this one is definitely in a league of its own. We hadn’t intended to be speaking on our 40th anniversary weekend originally, but several dates had to be changed in order to accommodate a postponed wedding (due to military deployment) and this is how it ended up going down. At first it seemed like it would be sacrificial to be serving on our 40th, but the blessing was actually ours. We’ll never forget the milestone anniversary we celebrated with the Trinidadian body of Christ.  

Trinidad. The destination of many family missions trips. The place to which both Julie and Kari led college missions trip. The place where Paul found his “brother from another mother” in Ashoke Bachew. The place we had the privilege of planting a church. The place we overcame American inhibitions and boldly went door to door inviting children to Backyard Bible Club. The place we learned about “limin’” and slowing down. The place we fell in love with steel pan drums, worship that moves, doubles and roti and everything curry, and Bake N Shark.

And now the place we proclaimed the goodness of marriage to 50 couples, who celebrated our 40 years of marriage generously.

Trinidad has become a place of memorial for us and our hearts will always be deep for this beautiful Caribbean jewel.  

Our final sunrise in Trinidad on this trip.

All Things New


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Several comments received after the conference:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is risen indeed!!!

To Him be the glory forever and ever.


Amen.

Leaping in to March


Four long years must pass between having a February 29 date on a blog so I will seize this opportunity!!  As we fly to Denver today, it’s good to take a look over the past month and be reminded of God’s faithfulness in so many ways.

Backing up to the last days of January: we spent almost a week in Washington state, partnering with Moses Lake Alliance Church (MLAC) for the 6th time in the past 10 years.  We are deeply connected with Kent and Staci Copley (executive pastor of MLAC), who host their annual marriage conference. Our love for this congregation grows ever stronger each time we’re here. We arrived on Wednesday, Jan 27 (after those brief 48 hours home), and spoke that night to their jr/sr high youth group on the goodness of God’s design for sexuality.  Responsive, attentive, and engaged could describe the group of students, much to our delight, and we had some great conversations afterwards.  A true highlight was a comment from a young college-bound woman who said, “This has helped clarify so much for me.  I now know where I will set my physical and emotional boundaries as I go off to college.”  We are so thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit, Who brings truth to light so personally.

A small remnant of the MLAC youth group long after most had gone home. What a great group!

Thursday night we spoke on parenting to a group of about 40 who joined forces in the church sanctuary to be encouraged and instructed.  Parenting has gotten a lot harder since, in the words of Al Mohler in his new, important book entitled We Cannot Be Silent, “the breakdown in the moral immune system of human society.  Western civilization has forfeited its immunity  against the breakdown of marriage, the family, and the integrity of human sexuality” (p 31).  Parents and teens alike are confused by the dissonance between cultural Christianity and Christianity—and sadly, culture is winning over Christianity in all too many cases. We are so thankful for opportunities to proclaim the gospel about God’s good design for family, parenting, and sexuality. It was a very good evening with these folks.

Friday we were off to the marriage conference, annually held at Clearwater Lodge at Camp Spaulding in Newport, WA. A beautiful setting, excited-to-be-there couples, and our new series on “Being Rooted in Christ” combined to make it a refreshing, shot-in-the-arm weekend all around. This group is always fun and we usually have some unique experiences with them. This year was no exception as one of the games was the “Undy 500.” Fortunately only 4 couples were selected to “race”—a three-legged contest which used a rather large pair of men’s tidy whities to secure the two middle legs. We were ROTFLing.  

A visual of this is important—it was pretty hysterical.


Alan and Marianne Bladgley put a lot of creative thought into tying the weekend together and there were many moving moments as couples accepted the challenge to privately or publicly affirm their commitment to their spouse. One husband actually proposed to his wife of almost 10 years, acknowledging that he had let her 4-year-old daughter pop the question nine years ago. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house during that precious exchange.

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! 

With a promise to return in two years, we hugged these dear friends good-bye and headed to Seattle.

How much can we pack into one day?? Start at 7:30 am Monday: breakfast with our dear friends and ministry partners, Richard and Donna Dahlstrom. Follow it with a late breakfast rendezvous (9-11) with Dane and Amy Looker, also dear friends . . . retired NFL, parents of 4 littles, all around great people.  Never enough time.  Back to the hotel by noon for 5 hours with Earl and Sandy Wilson, co-authors, respected and loved friends. Dinner date/marriage check-up with Jay and Sarah Welch, a young couple we married three years ago. And dessert . . . an ice cream party at 8:30 pm with three CBS staff girls. Why not??  We loved every meeting, every meal, every reconnection.  

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.

We sort of did it again on Tuesday, Feb. 2, as we met with the Wilsons all morning. The book we co-authored, Restoring the Fallen, continues to be a widely-used tool in the work of restoration and we are all humbled to see God using it to bring hope and healing to many who find themselves in very broken places. Beauty from ashes. All praise is His. We said our farewells and met up with Duke and Amy Paulson for a late lunch. Duke’s parents were also co-authors of Restoring the Fallen so we go way back with these guys. It was great to catch up with friends we’ve known for so long.

Lunch with Duke and Amy Paulson was another highlight
of our time in the Pacific NW.

A long walk along the Seattle wharf after closing down Pike’s Market put the exclamation point on our time in Seattle and we boarded a red-eye for Boston, happily tired from and deeply grateful for a week chock full of great ministry/great friendship moments.

Home for another 48-hour period (does this sound familiar?), one day of which was counseling and the other a snow storm which was in full force as we were driving to attend the funeral of a very dear friend’s mother. We were beyond thankful that we were in town for the funeral. As you can see from our schedule, we haven’t been in town much, so we were very grateful that God’s timing was perfect. The older we get, the more aware we are of how important it is to “show up” for important, non-routine, pivotal events in life. It was such a gift to us to be able to “show up” for these dear friends.



The snow tapered off late afternoon, just as we were driving to Portsmouth, NH, to speak for Hope Community Church’s first marriage conference. As the sun emerged, casting a pinkish glow to the otherwise all-white world, we witnessed jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring winter beauty. It was a spectacular drive to Portsmouth.  


We had spoken for a couples’ dessert event last spring for Hope, which inspired  the family/marriage pastors, Andy and Katie Bauer, to invite us to do a weekend conference for them and we booked the date. They were thrilled that the conference sold-out, with young and older marriages represented, and by conference end, it was evident that we had been met by God. 

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.
  
We arrived home in time for Super Bowl Sunday, which held much less interest for us than last year’s did.  :)  We were happy for our friends who are die-hard Broncos’ fans, but we admittedly had our share of “if only’s.”  As I said before, we are more than proud of our Patriots players, especially the ones who come to the Thursday night couples’ study, and thank them for working so hard and accomplishing so much.

For the first time in the new year, we were home for more than 48 hours. Four days to be exact . . . which provided time for some neglected things, like seeing the eye doctor. Having not been for almost four years, he wasn’t surprised when I said I was having a harder time seeing distance. The examination confirmed the need for distance glasses, which have definitely made the world clearer for me.

We flew to Huntsville, Alabama, on Thursday, to speak for Solitude Baptist Church’s marriage conference. The story of how we connected with Solitude is too long to explain, but suffice to say that our connection with them was through a family transplanted from New England to Alabama a number of years ago. We were thrilled to reconnect with this family, who have experienced the transforming power of God in incredible ways and are a testament to His power and grace to make “all things new.” They hosted us Thursday night and we had such sweet fellowship with them and their kids.

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 conference at Solitude went really well. I love being in the south; it taps into my beloved heritage, as my parents were both from the south. So friendly and polite, we instantly felt at home and connected with this congregation. It was a very sweet time.

The team at Solitude Baptist Church did a wonderful job putting on their marriage conference.

Back to Boston, arriving late the night of the 13th, just in time to wake up to breakfast in bed from my forever Valentine, who went out in -11 degree weather to procure breakfast supplies. What a guy!! That was the start of our longest stretch at home . . . five days!!  We did have a houseguest the whole time, but that was lovely. It was great to be home and sort out our life a bit. 

Valentine’s breakfast in bed . . .


. . . and dinner by candlelight.  I am a very blessed woman!

We drove out early Friday (Feb. 19) for Havre de Grace, MD, to speak for the third year in a row for the Restore Church marriage conference. This young (almost 4-year-old) church plant will open its 6th campus next month in Towson!!  Lead by visionary Jess Bousa and his wife Elizabeth, this movement is ministering especially to many who are struggling with addictions, broken homes, and other challenging situations, and who previously haven’t found church to be a safe place for healing and hope. Jess and Elizabeth live out a very hands-on, in-the-trenches, needs-meeting ministry through which they help meet the physical needs as well as the spiritual needs of those God brings their way.  God is using them in big ways and Restore Church is exploding.  

We love partnering with them.

The marriage conference went well Friday night and Saturday, and we taught at their Saturday night service, as well as three Sunday services. Actually, Paul taught alone Sunday as I was down with a bug of some sort that made everything on my inside want to be outside.  That is the first time either of us has missed teaching together because of sickness in our 13 years on the road!  We have been so blessed.


Being framed with Jess and Elizabeth Bousa.

The Restore Church marriage conference.

We took advantage of being so close to Derek and Julie (1.5 hrs) and spent the next two days at their home. Though I wasn’t up for much, it was a joy to be in their home with those two littles. Rachel is 3.5 months already and Nathan, at 2.5-years-old, is full of life and curiosity.  What a joy to see them more often with their settling in Pennsylvania.

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.

Back home on Wednesday, the 24th, for counseling the 25th and 26th.  A little more time to catch up on a few things, a few people, etc., and a belated H.I.M. Board and volunteers appreciation dinner. 

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!
And that brings us to now. Safely down in Denver, we will spend some time with some Denver Theological Seminary students tonight and present a couple of workshops at the ProAthletes Outreach Conference in Colorado Springs over the next few days.


I’m going to take a leap and get this posted today . . . before the once-every-four-years date has expired.  Best!

The blog posts I never finished . . .

Happy Veterans’ Day 2015

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving 2015!!

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


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

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

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

Success!!

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Happy December and Merry Christmas 2015

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

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

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


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

 The Johnsons get a family walk in as night falls.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The littlest “little,” modeling her matching jammies

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

Ana is ready for Christmas breakfast.


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


“Just what I wanted!

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

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

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

Christmas dinner

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


The morning after, with John and Marilyn Nugent.

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

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

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

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

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

Papa and Brandon had a blast sledding tandem.


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

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



Happy New Year 2016!!

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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.







Of Sages and Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four generations of our family . . . so blessed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Most of those attending Engagement Matters this past weekend.

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

Uganda Update #1


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Greetings to all from Entebbe!

We left Boston's Logan Airport Monday, March 4, at 2 pm, not quite 24 hours after wrapping up our wonderful marriage conference in Newport, Rhode Island.  Fueled by prayers and many words of encouragement, we had great travel from Boston to Newark to Brussels, to Entebbe—and 30 hours after we left our home in Bedford, we landed in Entebbe, Uganda at 11 pm local time.  What a delight to be welcomed by Derek, Julie, and Lisa.

After doing some errands Wednesday morning, we drove north about 2 hours to Luwera, where New Hope Ministries is located. This incredible ministry was founded in 1986 by Jay and Vicky Dangers, who had a vision for providing a family experience to orphans.  For over 25 years now, they have faithfully served as their vision has evolved and expanded, all the while raising their own six children.  We have known the Dangers our whole adult life and had long heard of their ministry, so it was thrilling to get to see it first hand.  

The Dangers:  son Jeremiah, daughter Julia, Vicky, and Jay holding
granddaughter Elizabeth, and Jenny, Elizabeth's adopted mom.
  

We spent all of today touring their grounds and seeing the fruit of their labors.  It was very, very inspiring.  We're hoping there will be opportunities to partner with them in the future.

Derek and Julie were also delighted to connect with New Hope and see many possibilities of collaborating with them in Uganda.  Especially meaningful to them was visiting the classroom of special needs children they're caring for at New Hope, and then getting to follow-up on a little boy who lives at New Hope and was operated on at their hospital last September. How gratifying to see this little guy doing so well after having a brain tumor removed by the CURE surgeons.  

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!


We drove back to Entebbe late afternoon and are now preparing to speak to a group of pastors from Kampala tomorrow morning.  We'll then drive to Mbale (about a 4 hour drive) and speak all day Saturday for a marriage conference hosted by Pearl Haven Church.  

Please pray for both of these events.  As always, we are so aware of the obstacles before us culturally, linguistically, and spiritually.  We are grateful to know we have partners around the world praying for us.

Pray also for Lisa who flies home tomorrow.  It will not be a happy farewell.  :(

Sending our love—
Virginia

------------------------------

Friday, March 8, 2013
Mbale, UGANDA

Dear All,

Today has been very, very full . . . and very, very good.  

Our day started very early as we were speaking on the other side of Kampala, and meeting Pastor Wilberforce at 8:45 am.  So after a great breakfast, complete with African tea, we tearfully said good-bye to Lisa, who flew out later in the day, and off we went to minister to a group of local pastors.

Very early Friday morning, we said good-bye to Lisa
prior to leaving for our ministry event that morning.


We were so warmly welcomed and well received.  Many of them came up afterwards, asking us to return to teach their extended network of pastors on Biblical design for marriage and family.  They are dealing with the fallout of western culture's influence on their culture.  "Divorce is becoming more common in Uganda because our people see it happening in western culture."  A very sad commentary, for sure.

We loved our time with this band of faithful warriors and will gladly partner with them in the future as the Lord wills.

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.


Derek and Julie picked us up mid-afternoon, and after getting some provisions at the market, we made the 4-hour trip back to Mbale in 5 hours due to a horrific rain and lightening storm which struck not long after we left Jinja.  We were so thankful for Derek's expert skills in navigation on a very dark, stormy night, and were all so thankful to get to their home around 8 pm, safe and exhausted.

We stopped for a quick lunch at "Ozzies" in Jinja
and had a few moments with Jude, the owner and operator of the cafe. 

Please pray for us tomorrow as we'll speak at an all-day marriage conference for Pearl Haven Christian Center.  We are so honored to continue partnering with Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah, and covet your prayers that God will speak through us. We'll repeat some of what we did in September, but most of our presentation will be different material.

Paul will be preaching on Sunday at Pearl Haven, and then Monday thru Wednesday we'll be speaking for their first Pastors’ Marriage Retreat, sponsored by Home Improvement Ministries.  We are very grateful for the response from so many at the H.I.M. Marriage Conference at the Viking in Newport, Rhode Island, last weekend.  Many of you both assured us of your prayers and financially contributed.  More than enough was given to underwrite the retreat, and the extra funds will be used for contributing materials and other expenses associated with our ministry here.  Thank you!!!

We're so thankful for your interest in what we're doing and for your prayers that God will move in the hearts of those who attend, as we deal with the complex issues facing believers in Uganda.

Sending love from Mbale—

Virginia

Of pumpkins and leaves and sharks . . .

The splendor of fall . . .


Brandon's first "U-Pick" pumpkin experience . . . looks like he figured it out!

I have a continuing love affair with fall.  I really love everything about it, except the shortening days.  I love the tastes.  All things pumpkin and apple and cranberry—yum!  I love the smells.  Cinnamon-infused apple pies baking, leaves burning, candle-lit pumpkins slowly cooking, soups simmering, caramel apples.  I love the sights.  Dressed up New England homes with fall decor producing fabulous curb appeal, leaves changing colors daily, late afternoon "plugged in" vibrant trees being backlit by the setting sun, creative displays made with most things natural. I love fall weather.  Warm enough to be out comfortably but chilly enough to wear sweaters, perfect for biking, hiking, or just taking a stroll.  

These are just a few of the reasons we've delighted in hanging out in New England these past couple of weeks.  Due to an international conference being postponed, we have had the rare privilege of actually being home two weekends in a row and we've tried to make the most of it.  Now, how we define "most of it" is vastly different for Paul than it is for me.  My imagination is immediately filled with visions of a clean and purged attic, decluttering and ordering each room of our house; making batches of jam; cleaning pantries and freezers by cooking up or throwing out.  My heart races just considering the options.

Paul?  Not so much.  “Make the most of it” for him would be: Relax.  Recreate.  wRite.  And so we divided and conquered, each lending support to the other when needed.

And we got a lot done.  The final draft of our book on marriage is coming to completion after hours and hours of reworking, rewriting, and incorporating input from others.  We're excited about this hopefully helpful tool, which we anticipate being available in the next couple of months.

And our house has less stuff and more appeal.  Many bags to Goodwill later, we're both enjoying our home more.   It makes me feel better to be in spaces more organized and simplified.  And when Mama's happy . . .  :)

This unusual spate of at-home days has been punctuated by some highlights, besides the magnificence of fall.  

One highlight was going to Gillette Stadium with our dear friend Kara Mankins and watching the Patriots play well against the Broncos.  Great game.  Great time.  Our study with the Patriot couples has been exciting, with between 22 and 32 coming each week.  We've had some great interaction on God's prescription for love and we're so thankful for the potential of this ongoing study.  The women's study using Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas is also going well, with 18 women out most weeks.  If you haven't gotten this book yet, you should.  It's very provocative.

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.  :(


The next highlight began with an email from Derek and  Julie asking if we could find housing for a Sicilian neurosurgeon who was coming to Boston to do a fellowship at Brigham and Women's Hospital and to work with Dr. Benjamin Warf at Children's Hospital.  She had trained at the Mbale CURE Hospital under Dr. John Mugamba, who had been trained by Dr. Warf when he was the lead neurosurgeon at CURE Mbale.  We invited her to stay with us for her six-week stint in the states, and she arrived the 14th of October.  Dr. Vita Stagno has been with us for just over two weeks now and we're having a delightful time with her.  Her age (29) and her size (tiny) all seem to make her an unlikely candidate for a neurosurgeon, but in four months, she will complete her training and begin looking for a job.  We've loved talking with her about relationships, faith, life in America, life in Sicily—and are so thankful the Lord has brought our paths together.  It just feels like we have a daughter back in our midst.


Vita is enjoying her American experience at the hospital and in our kitchen. 



One of the highlights would hardly qualify as a "head-liner," except to this grandma, her daughter, and her grandson.  This will be entered in our memory banks as "The day God sent a shark from heaven."  As the story goes, Kari decided to acknowledge Brandon's current fascination with sharks by dressing him as one for Halloween.  She saw the costume at the online site of a beloved and frequented store, but the cost ($25.00) was more than she could justify for such a purchase.  The shark was only available at the online site, and not being carried in the store.  I told her not to worry; I could either make one (as I had years earlier for one of her pals) or hopefully find it for less than $25.00.  Several days later, I went into the Nashua branch of the store, and immediately moved towards the display of costumes all their stores were carrying.  And there, hanging in front of all the racks of the standard costumes, was one shark.  Adrenaline now pumping, I reached for the lone shark to check its size, and yes, it was a 2-3 —just the size we needed.  The sign above the costumes announced "25% off all costumes", but there was no price on the shark.  I quickly made my way to the young, 20-something-year-old cashier and asked her to check the price.  I told her it looked like it said $10, but I wasn't sure.  Smiling at me with a "your eyes aren't as sharp as they once were" look, she read the tag and said, "That actually says “S10,” which is the stock number."  :)  Of course.  But then, she scanned it and said, "You're not going to believe this, but it's scanning $1.41!"  I quickly said, "Well, before you find out that's a mistake, would you sell it to me?"  :)  She said, "That's really what it says, so it's yours for $1.41."

Now I know that's a really "small" thing, and as the world goes, it ranks in the lower percentile of importance, but for us, it was a potent reminder that God is in the details of life.  He is personally involved with us.  He cares enough about us . . . to send a shark from heaven.  

The shark costume was sent to California the next day and was a huge hit with Brandon.  



We did renew our close relationship with Logan airport on Oct 19 when we flew to Rome, GA, to speak at Pleasant Valley South Baptist Church. Nate and Jeannie King were again our hosts and it was a gift to all of us to be together.  How we love this precious family!   And their church family, which is always so warm and embracing.  We also consulted with Kings and several other couples about family ministries in other contexts Friday night and all day Monday. and that's always energizing to us.

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.

Sunday night we had the privilege of speaking on relationships to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes group at University of Georgia.  We LOVED that.  It was so encouraging to chat with several couples who are committed to being in God-honoring relationships and to get a sense of how God is using FCA at that great school.  It was also a treat to have dinner with Jill Perry, the FCA director at UGA, who is also a close friend of our Lisa's, and quickly becoming a close friend of ours.  She's a great lady.  

The remnant of the FCA gathering at UGA.

We've just returned from speaking on Long Island this past weekend.  The Church on the Sound and Christ Church teamed up to host a marriage conference all day Saturday (Oct. 27), and we felt it was a day well-spent.  Great people—with a great vision for building in to marriages—put the event together and we were just so energized by being with them.  Several of the attendees were engaged to be married and were so grateful for teaching that will helpfully get them off on the right foot.  We spent Sunday reconnecting with longtime CBS camper-grown-into-staffer Chelsea Paskvan in Manhattan, and were able to see "Mary Poppins" on Broadway before “getting out of dodge” before Hurricane Sandy hit.

We're now safely snuggled in our home as the storm rages outside, taking with it the last vestiges of fall and a whole lot more.  How thankful we are for a God who cares about beautiful fall colors and great marriages, and who sends friends from Sicily and sharks from heaven.

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.  

From Snow to Surf

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.

New England made Danny and Rayna Oertli feel right at home with a small snowstorm to herald their arrival.

New England made Danny and Rayna Oertli feel right at home with a small snowstorm to herald their arrival.

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 tables were set and ready for the couples’ arrival Friday night.

The tables were set and ready for the couples’ arrival Friday night.

The room was full of couples seeking encouragement, renewal, relaxation, reconnection, and fun.

The room was full of couples seeking encouragement, renewal, relaxation, reconnection, and fun.

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." 
This photo partially represents the team who worked very hard to make this weekend happen.  We are so blessed!

This photo partially represents the team who worked very hard to make this weekend happen.  We are so blessed!

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

Letters

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:

Paul:
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,
Joe
Chapel at Ann Arbor Christian School.  We were so impressed with the well-behaved, attentive students, ranging in age from pre-K through 8th grade.

Chapel at Ann Arbor Christian School.  We were so impressed with the well-behaved, attentive students, ranging in age from pre-K through 8th grade.

Joe and Lynn Forrester drove over 7 hours to attend the seminars at AACS and we were delighted to put real faces to the names we'd been in contact with for over a year.

Joe and Lynn Forrester drove over 7 hours to attend the seminars at AACS and we were delighted to put real faces to the names we'd been in contact with for over a year.

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.

Jessica, Leilani, and Jasmine show us a fort they built in their spacious back yard.

Jessica, Leilani, and Jasmine show us a fort they built in their spacious back yard.

I just love this photo of the Wong girls.  It prompts many memories of years gone by with our three.

I just love this photo of the Wong girls.  It prompts many memories of years gone by with our three.

At church Sunday morning, we stood in front of the photo of their newly "adopted through support" African child.

At church Sunday morning, we stood in front of the photo of their newly "adopted through support" African child.

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.

The Engles and the Harts (David and Krista Engle Hart and Abigail) are dear friends and partners in ministry at CBS as well as at Journey of Faith.

The Engles and the Harts (David and Krista Engle Hart and Abigail) are dear friends and partners in ministry at CBS as well as at Journey of Faith.

Over 200 people came out on this rainy St. Patrick’s Day for the marriage conference at Journey of Faith.

Over 200 people came out on this rainy St. Patrick’s Day for the marriage conference at Journey of Faith.

We were thrilled to have five Air Force couples from Edwards AFB attend the conference.  Two of the women had been at the women's conference I spoke for last year in Oahu.

We were thrilled to have five Air Force couples from Edwards AFB attend the conference.  Two of the women had been at the women's conference I spoke for last year in Oahu.

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.

Leaping through February


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.


Paul presented Thora with a shirt to wear during the Super Bowl, and Thora was more than thrilled.

So . . . the game didn't go how we had wanted/hoped/expected/prayed.  It was heartbreaking for so many reasons, but mostly because of our personal relationship with a number of the players and their families.  They really left it all on the field and it's hard to come up short.  Fortunately, there's much more to life than football and we move on.

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.



The Mariachis set the tone for a great evening at Desert Vineyard.


The catered Mexican feast was enjoyed at colorfully set tables.

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.



The conference was packed out, with couples from all ages and stages of married life.


Tommy and April Garcia convinced David Parker that he should have us come and speak at Desert Vineyard.

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.



Brent and Melissa Slezak did a great job on the Valentine's Date Night at The Rock.

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 never tire of nor get too old for the fun of the Magic Kingdom.  

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.


We spoke to a packed out conference for Pine Knolls Alliance Church in Glens Falls, NY.



Richard and Amy Dean did a masterful job of planning the conference.

We drove back home, after a stop in Glenville, NY, for dinner with our dear friends Bill and Helen Challener, and were thankful for non-winter weather that made the drive very easy.

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.


David and Kassidy (and Karis) Thomas, Doris Simmons-Woods, Thomas and Margaret Austin, and Janelle David — all ex-Pats — loved reconnecting at PAO.

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.



At 4 am, getting ready to run . . .



Two hours and thirty five minutes later, we crossed the line and got our beautiful medals.  :)

So that's the month in a nutshell.  It was fast.  It was fun.  It was full.
And it ends with snow.  Leaping with joy . . . and looking forward to tubing tomorrow.  At last.

Good-bye and Hello



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.


At Claude's 90th birthday celebration, he and Forestine are flanked by four of their great fans: John and Marilyn Nugent and us.


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!!!


After Claude's funeral, we caught up with our beloved Thora.

Julie, Lisa, and I drove down to southern Pennsylvania on Friday, Jan. 6, so Julie could attend a prep course for her Physical Therapy board exam.  Continuing to seize fleeting moments with influential elders, Lisa and I visited Barbara Boyd on Saturday while Julie was in class.  Barbara, now 88, was one of Paul's parents’ best friends and colleagues.  She retired from a lifelong career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship some years ago after faithfully investing in making disciples through the discipleship program she developed for IVCF, Bible and Life.  I was thrilled that Lisa was able to hear stories of her grandparents from one who knew them very well...and to hear the heart of a devoted woman of God whose life didn't go exactly as planned.  Barbara's fiance, Ralph Willoughby, a promising Christian leader and rising star, died 4 days after contracting an unidentified virus, and Barbara has never met a man she wanted to marry after him.... "yet!" she said with a twinkle and a smile.  Far from bitter, Barbara lights up as she speaks of the unmitigated joy she's had in serving her Lord by helping others discover the matchless riches of His Word.  Listening to her talk was sacred, to be honest.  What a privilege.  So now, only Kari hasn't met this remarkable lady and I'm praying that day will come.

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.


Brian Dietz once again lead worship for the Family Mid-Winter Getaway and had enthusiastic support for the "Butterfly Song" from all ages.


The family groups circle up for discussion during the "program" time of the weekend.

It was also really nice to celebrate a big Patriots win over the Broncos that weekend.  The last two Family Mid-winter getaways have not produced such good results for our boys, so we all enjoyed the win.  However, we also agreed that we're all big Tebow fans, so we're sorry he had to lose in order for us to win that weekend.  Even so, there was plenty of Tebow talk throughout the weekend as we all could celebrate his incredible impact on the NFL world with the message of the gospel, which leaves all things temporal (even football) in the dust.  What a difference maker he is!!

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!!


Minutes after the Patriots defeated the Ravens, we pose for a celebratory shot with the Hynes family, Nate and Jeannie King, and Jill Perry.  Go Pats!!

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.


After most of the attendees had dispersed, we gathered the remnant for this shot after the FCA meeting at UGA.


Interacting with a very responsive crowd, we felt right at home at the FCA meeting.


A shot into the crowd . . . athletes from football, basketball, gymnastics, tennis, track and field, etc., gathered to talk about relationships.



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.


Though short, we had a sweet morning with the King children before leaving GA for home.


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.


Kent and Staci Copley with their daughters Britni and Tori are always a delight to hang with.


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.  :)


Jody and Caryn Bowswer and Kent and Staci Copley are providing Godly leadership for the congregation at Moses Lake Alliance Church.


The conferees at the MLAC marriage retreat.  We have grown to deeply love this group.

It was a great weekend and we were truly sorry when it came to a close.  Kent and Staci sped us off to the airport to catch an early afternoon flight so we could be home in time to take Julie to her Board exam in the morning.  Thankfully, there were no complications and we made it by the time the clock struck twelve midnight.

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.


Our early morning farewell at the Ashburton B and B, with innkeeper Nick Vale sending us off.