Mom to Mom

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.

Glorious Fall


We can’t remember a more glorious fall in all our years in New England (which shockingly now number 24!). We have delighted in and been enlivened by an unending and unfolding parade of brilliant colors, each seeming to proclaim the glory of God.  Words and photos both will fail to do justice to the autumnal gifts we’ve been indulged with.

It hasn’t been leaf peeping alone that has kept me from making a blog post, though admittedly I’ve exchanged indoor time for outdoor time as often as possible.  It’s my “carpe diem” bent at work: the keyboard will always be here, but the leaves and the warm temps won’t.

We’ve actually been home very few days this fall, and following a long summer of being away, the piles of unsorted build-up are constant reminders of an on-the-move schedule.  It’s all been good, fortunately, and full of numerous celebrations of weddings and birthdays and life in general.  

The day after returning from our final family camp over Labor Day weekend at Campus by the Sea, we drove to Philadelphia to officiate the wedding of Ross and Caitlyn Macrae.  It was a true honor to marry the son of our very dear friends, Doug and Julie Macrae, and the weekend was full of joy and celebration. 

Ross and Caitlyn Macrae stand with Paul soon after being pronounced husband and wife.
What fun it was to drive from the wedding festivities to Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, to visit Derek, Julie, and Nathan and to see the house they’ve just signed papers for. It has officially become real to us that they are stateside and only 7 hours from us!  With their second baby due in two short weeks, it feels like a gift to have them so “close.”  Derek is still working for CURE International, now as Director of Development and Sustainability.  They’re all adjusting well to their new life in America. 

Julie and Nathan stand in front of their new house in Mechanicsburg, PA.

Julie and Nathan visited us in Bedford while Derek returned to Africa for 10 days. We were home only two days (during which time we launched our Patriots studies ( the women’s study on Wednesday morning and the couples study Thursday night) plus, did some counseling, before heading to Nantucket Island the weekend of Sept. 18-20 to officiate another wedding. This was especially meaningful as it was a re-marriage for a couple who had been divorced for five years. It was such a huge celebration to reconcile a family in a beautiful seaside ceremony.

Wedding by the sea . . . Paul re-married this couple, much to the delight of their two children.

We had a great time on Nantucket  Island with Julie and Nathan. It was the first time for all of us to this beautiful island.

Because of the timing of the Patriots’ bye week, we had a 10-day break beginning Sept. 25. The timing was perfect as it enabled us to fly to Iowa to celebrate Paul’s Aunt Margaret’s 100th birthday on our way to a writing retreat in California. 

100th birthday!!!  Besides a little oxygen support, Aunt Margaret is remarkably young-old and healthy. Her mind is sharp, she’s very mobile, and the praise of her personal Lord is always on her lips. It was an such a joy and an honor to celebrate with her. Aunt Margaret was married to Paul’s father’s brother, Uncle Leland, who passed away a number of years ago. She has now survived three of her four sons, so her losses have been great, but her trust in the Lord has been unwavering. She’s still investing in others: a privileged group of young women are currently being mentored by this incredible woman of God. We were greatly inspired by her life and left praying that we would be like her when we grow old.

Aunt Margaret makes 100 years of age look like 80!

On to California we flew, where we spent the first two days doing a “marriage intensive” for a couple recovering from a huge hit on their marriage. God graciously met the four of us and much progress was made toward the restoration of their union. We’re so very thankful.

Since we were so “close”, we drove to Santa Clarita to celebrate Ana’s 2nd birthday. We had a brief 36 hours with the Garcia and managed to pack in lots of fun and celebration in that short time.

Ana is all smiles in her new birthday Sports Coupe.  Can’t  believe she’s 2 already!

Lots of fun birthday moments with our little pink princess and her big brother, who loves everything about birthdays, no matter whose it is.

We were blessed to spend the next five days in the villa of some dear friends who are committed to helping us get our current writing projects done. We walked the beach daily after putting a good day’s work at our computers. The time was productive and restorative, both of which were needed.

Our daily walk on the beach help to stimulate our brain cells for writing.

Driving from the Central Coast to Sacramento for our return flight, we were fortunate to meet up with three sets of dear friends, breaking up a long, beautiful drive with relational deposits.

We met up with our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent along the “gold coast.”  Note: only John is pictured here.   :-)  
We happily connected with our best friends from seminary, now living in Monterey, Johnny and Lori Potter.
And we checked in with newly transplanted from New England to CA, Steve and Jenny Luxa.  It made In-N-Out all the better to share it with friends!

Home just in time to speak to Park Street Church’s Union Fellowship (their young married’s group) on the subject of finances.  Our second time with this group, we love speaking into the lives of those in the 0-5 year stage of marriage.  We thoroughly enjoyed the evening!

The Union Fellowship at Park Street Church welcomed our teaching on finances.
Paul and Lianna Chong host the Union Fellowship group.

After leading the Patriots women’s study Wednesday morning and then counseling the balance of the day, I flew to Bozeman, Montana, to attend the wedding of my nephew Jonathan and his bride Marilee. Paul had been scheduled to officiate a wedding in Raleigh, North Carolina, which had to be postponed due to the deployment of the groom, but the changes came too late to get an affordable ticket for Paul to Bozeman, so I went “alone” —but was joined by Kari and Lisa there. It was a wonderful time of reunion as all six of my siblings and my mom were in attendance.  We had a great time being together and celebrating Jon’s marriage.  We also greatly enjoyed the beauty of Big Sky Country as we hiked and soaked in hot springs. Fun trip!

Jon and Marilee exit after being pronounced husband and wife by my brother-in-law, David Leach.

The original “Collins crew with the matriarch.
  
Home on Columbus Day, just in time for the foliage to explode in color. We’ve been on the road the past few years during peak week, so we’ve particularly relished the “parade of color” we’ve been treated to daily. Besides counseling and the Patriots studies, we spoke at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom on Thurs., Oct. 15. We always love to partner with this group! The young moms were so appreciative and responsive.

The Johnsons rolled back into town as Derek had a business trip to the west coast. So Julie was part of the weekend surprise getaway in honor of my dear friend Helen’s 60th birthday. Helen is one of those rare gifts in life. Our friendship began when she worked at Campus by the Sea in 1978 as a summer staffer, and it has only grown through the years. Helen has visited our home annually to get her “girl fix,” as she was an only child and has two sons but no daughters. She is well loved by all in our family. So we gathered a small group of seven and spent the weekend in Annisquam, honoring our beloved Helen. It was a great time.

Julie, Betty Ann, Barbara, Dawn, Helen, and me. Kelly had already retired for the night. Helen is still surprised!

This past weekend, we spoke at a local marriage conference hosted by Grace Baptist Church in Hudson, Massachusetts. Headed by Carl and Cathy Blatchley, the team did a fabulous job on the conference. It was so well run and so well received. We spoke on “Discovering Intimacy” to a packed-out sanctuary, and many expressed deep appreciation for the impact it had on them. We taught the next morning at both of the Sunday morning church services on “Living to the Praise of His Glory.”  Our time with the congregation of this very alive, very responsive church was positive in every way. We are so impressed by their vitality and their vision for kingdom work.   

Carl and Cathy Blatchley and Lars and Bethany Nielsen worked hard to make the Grace Baptist Church marriage conference successful.

We just received this kind note from one of the couples who attended the conference at Grace Baptist Church in Hudson:

“Thank you, Paul and Virginia, for a wonderful life-changing marriage conference. As I shared with you, I've never been to a marriage conference that takes the Biblical, temperament, and biological differences and make them very, very relevant to marriage. Your reinforcement of how differences can strengthen your marriage when viewed with grace and gratitude helped us greatly.”

 After the second service Sunday morning, we thank the Lord, with Carl and Cathy Blatchley, for meeting us this weekend.
After church, what a joy it was to have lunch with long time Berea family campers and friends Skip and Avonne Jarvis and their great kids Patrick, Kendra, Kara, and Isaac. They drove all the way from Chichester, NH, to share the morning with us!  Love them!

We managed to squeeze in a couples date night for New England Chapel in Franklin Saturday evening.  :)  Why not?  We love to speak locally, and happily fill in gaps with such requests.  It was a great night as we addressed “how to keep your marriage a priority."

Don and Betsy Hasselbeck were at New England Chapel for the couples’ night.  Love them!
Whew! Weddings. Birthdays. Seasons. Patriots. Moms. Marriages. Football. Reunions.  

It feels as though we’ve been “gathering nuts” for the long winter ahead. So much of the fall has been nurturing to our souls. Though our schedule has been full, it’s been primarily full of joys and celebrations. We feel very blessed and our hearts are overflowing with gratitude.

We’ll enjoy every last vestige of this glorious fall, ever aware that it merely reflects the glorious God we serve.




Hope in Life and Death


As the “Crown Jewel” month of the year for New England draws to a close, I continue to be consumed by the beauty this season offers. It’s been an especially vibrant, glorious fall, mesmerizing in a “don’t miss this” sort of way. The last vestiges of trees disrobing will fortunately play out for weeks still as we slowly transition into the bleak midwinter, which will eventually boast a beauty of its own. Death precedes life.

God’s creativity is endless!  Imagine—this is a small sampling of the pumpkin family!

I last wrote from Ann Arbor, where we spoke on marriage and family to a healthy group from Ann Arbor Christian School (AACS). We’ve so enjoyed partnering with these folks for the past several years. Dr. Wayne Sit, headmaster of AACS, is a Boston transplant and has brought to this school a great vision not only for academic excellence, but also for family success. Envisioned and produced by Dr. Wai and Elaine Wong (also Boston transplants), the third annual Family Seminar was very successful. 

Dr. Sit welcomes eager parents who gave up Friday night and Saturday
to be encouraged in their parenting and marriage efforts.

A highlight for us was connecting with our niece and her family, Dave and Heidi (Rottschafer) Lemmerhirt. After attending the conference Saturday, we were able to spend several hours over lunch catching up with them. A truly delightful time! 

Extended family Dave and Heidi Lemmerhirt and their kids
Daniel, Anna, and Josiah met up with us at AACS.

The balance of the time in Ann Arbor we were loved and cared for in many tangible ways by our chosen family friends Wai and Elaine Wong and their daughters Jessica, Leilani, and Jasmine. Great meals, great walks, great moments. We loved every minute of our time with them. We always leave their home refreshed and renewed, with our cup overflowing. Pure gift!

Our “last supper” with the Wongs before returning to Boston. 

We flew back to Boston on Sept. 30, our granddaughter Ana’s first birthday. How can that be? It doesn’t seem that long ago that we welcomed this little brown-eyed beauty into our arms and our hearts. She is now walking, saying a few words, climbing on everything that’s climbable (or not), eating an amazing variety of food (considering she only has 4 teeth!), and making friends with everyone. She hasn’t met a stranger. What a gift she is to all!!

Ana Marie turns 1.

We were home long enough to do 12 hours of counseling and lead two Patriot studies (women on Wednesday morning and couples Thursday night) before we got back on a plane to Denver. Wes and Anna Welker invited us to join them for the weekend, which included seeing Wes break an NFL record for the most catches by an undrafted receiver in the history of the NFL during the Broncos win over the Cardinals. Very cool!!  We also spent lots of time talking about marriage in their “annual marital check-up.” We had a great weekend and are so thankful for the hearts of these two.

During the Broncos-Cardinals game, we had plenty to cheer for with Anna.

We landed at Logan on Oct. 7, just a bit after our houseguests-for-the-next-week Jay and Yukiko Dreves arrived. They hung around downtown to fetch us and we welcomed them to our home just after midnight. That began a very fun week with the Dreves, as daughters Sydney and Shelby arrived days later. Amazingly, we were home through Saturday, so we had a really good visit with them. The Dreves are longtime friends from CBS, and the girls both served on staff at CBS this past summer. Loved having them!!

Jay and Yukiko Dreves, with daughters Sydney and Shelby,
had a great introduction to New England during their visit.

We did about 10 hours of counseling, spoke at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom group, and led our two Patriots studies before heading out. And before the Dreves left, we left. :)  Off to California I flew to spend a week with Kari and the children while Gabe took a graduate course in Portland, Oregon, and off to Florida Paul flew to spend a week writing his latest book. 

To say we had entirely different weeks would be an understatement. Staying in the empty home of dear friends in Ft. Lauderdale, he took two 5-mile walks a day, ate two simple meals a day, and wrote like the fury in between. He set no alarm clock and went to bed early. He was supported in prayer by many and received great input from his “readers,” chapter by chapter. He succeeded in writing 7 chapters and returned home refreshed, renewed, and very thankful.

Out in California, I set no alarm clock either . . . but a little humanoid found his way to my bedroom every morning around 6:15 to start the day. :)  We had 3-5 meals a day, and they looked nothing like the kale salad mixes Paul was consuming. We did get out in the stroller for a few walks, but most days my 10K step goal was met inside the house . . . playing tag with Brandon or chasing Ana who has a knack for being where she shouldn’t be. The only books I read were made of cardboard and had very few words on the pages, and you can be sure I didn’t write any. My baking partner, Brandon, and I made “Gigi Cakes” (cinnamon chip scones) and  “Gigi Cookies” (pumpkin shaped frosted sugar cookies), and Mickey Mouse waffles. And we played, put together puzzles, raced cars, went to Brandon’s pre-school, watched shark movies, went yard sale-ing, and tried to keep everyone happy, healthy, and safe.

We also spent a day at Disneyland, thanks to the Dreves, and Brandon had his first experience seeing his Gigi in Magic Kingdom mode. We got it done. Zooming here and there, with both kids in the double stroller and Kari and Lisa running to keep up, by day’s end I had 20K steps on my Fitbit (that translates to 10 miles.)  We had the best time. There is nothing like being at “Mickey’s House” with a 4-year-old, whose exclamations of delight and belief in the “realness” of fantasy give temporary reprieve to the reality of our broken world. We closed the day at 10 pm, beyond exhausted but in a most delicious sort of way.

After all was said and done, at week’s end, Paul returned to Boston with a good portion of his book written to show for his time.

I returned to Boston with nothing “tangible”—but the intangibles are off the charts. Each day we loved big, life on life, learning, growing, savoring. Pure gift. 

Brandon and Ana: brother-sister love . . . and “Giants” love to boot.

“Gigi cookies” all done: teamwork.
Brandon was in charge of the sprinkles—and they were sprinkled!!

Pure delight with his first yard sale purchase. 

Watch out, here we come!!  Perfect weather, lighter crowds, and happy kids.
What more could we want?
Those rockets seemed as real to Brandon as they did to me when I was a little girl!

Paul and I met up in Boston for three full days before boarding the flight that today takes us to California to speak for the Salvation Army marriage retreat (with a couple of days in San Diego visiting my mom before the conference.)  Not surprisingly, we packed a lot into those three days . . .

We spoke Tuesday morning in Newburyport for their Mom to Mom group and Tuesday night at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for their couples’ night. I lead the Patriots women’s study Wednesday morning and went straight in to 5 counseling appointments for the balance of the day. Thursday morning we spoke at North Shore Community Baptist Church’s MOPS group and that night led the Patriots couples’ study. Whew!!

We left each of these events with hearts touched by their commitment to honoring Christ by investing in families and marriages. Each setting was different and yet alike. We are grateful and honored to partner with these vital ministries.

 
Susie Miele Millian and her kids, Grace and JD, were at the Mom to Mom at Hope Community Church in Newburyport, MA. We’ve known Susie since she was young and have many memories of family missions trips, family camps, and family events with her and her parents. It’s so encouraging to see her and her husband, Tim, passing the legacy on to the next generation.

Dan and Lita Schlueter hosted our evening at the seminary
and we enjoyed our time with them as much as speaking. Salt of the earth folks.

This month has been marked by a fair bit of reflection in the midst of the many comings and goings. Part of the introspection has been prompted by reading the blog of Kara Tippetts, a young mom of 4 young kids and pastor’s wife, who is fighting with all she has to beat her now stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Unless God chooses to miraculously heal her, her days on earth will fall far short of the “average” (by about 40 years). In the midst of immense pain and suffering, she manages to squeeze every thing she can out of each day she has. I have been so challenged, so inspired, so saddened, so convicted by her story. She is so real. So positive. So kind. So gutsy. So generous. So indomitable. So full of “big love.”

So gospel centered.

That’s the only explanation for why she is the way she is. Though I would love for those words to describe me if I were in her shoes, I’m not sure they would. So she is teaching me how to be “all in” when life isn’t fair, when the script isn’t followed, when things are well beyond my ability to control. Tough lessons, but I’m listening and observing and taking lots of notes.

I’ve also been reading several books which have encouraged personal inventory. Mended by Angie Smith is the book we’re reading for the Patriots women’s study and God is using Angie’s words to challenge me to trust that God will use the broken pieces of my life for His glory.  To love Him more fully and more personally. I’m also reading Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung and I’m finding it painfully applicable to my life. Hopefully it will have more of a lasting impact than Swensen’s Margin did. That’s one of the best books I’ve read regarding balance in life, but apparently just reading a book doesn’t change one’s life. :)

One other contributor to my reflections is related to Derek, Julie, and Nathan traveling to Cape Town for two weeks this month. Unexpected by all, it turns out that they were out of Internet range the entire time they traveled, and I had to wrestle with trusting God’s protection of them when I couldn’t check in regularly via text, email, or FaceTime. I am well aware that it wasn’t too long ago that this was the face of missions: virtually no contact for months and sometimes years at a time . . . and I realize how “spoiled” we are to be so connected with them though miles apart. It was hard to not know how they were doing and I was convicted by my little faith.

Seeds of growth are germinating . . . which reminds me that fall represents the Biblical truth that death precedes life. That is truly hope-giving.

Happiness is . . . a face plant in soft garden dirt!  Nathan’s joy is contagious.

A beautiful morning sunrise in San Diego. 

Latent Spring


It's hard to believe we've actually been home two and a half weeks, which records as our longest stretch in 2013 between now and  this coming August.  We've thoroughly enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with our home, our neighborhood, our local friends...and have been rudely awakened by our list of "to-do's" around the house (which can seem non-existent when we're out and about) as well as mounting piles of paperwork, mail, etc.  Though we've made some headway, much is still unfinished as we fly off to Detroit, MI, today, and this much we know....it will be just as we left it when we return in four days for a brief two days before flying to California next week.

It's also hard to believe we've been home from Uganda for 3.5 weeks.  It still feels close enough to touch and we find ourselves praying for the pastors and their wives regularly and asking Derek and Julie for updates on these precious folks.  Plans are in the works for our return, during which time we'll focus on continuing to train the pastors to teach their congregations the beauty of God's design for family and marriage.

Early on Wednesday, March 20, we re-entered life.  Driving in much-needed California “liquid sunshine,” we made our way to Bridgeway Christian Church in Rocklin to speak to their Mom2Mom group.  What an energetic gathering of about 150 moms! They were certainly not going to let rain keep them away from this morning of "group therapy":  childcare, yummy snacks, adult conversation in small groups, connection with mentors, and a talk to boot.  So they came, and they listened.  The topic of "In-laws" is always a popular one as we deal realistically with some of the challenges of this dynamic relationship which is problematic to a degree in 3 out of 4 marriages.  Lots of tears, lots of questions, and lots of stories followed the talk, and all agreed that not enough teaching is done on this topic.  

The leadership team for Mom2Mom at Bridgeway Church
is doing a fantastic job of serving their young moms.



We had a lunch business meeting with a team from Bayside who lead the "Second Half Ministry" to the 55 years and older crew.  We'll be speaking to their group in April, so it was helpful to meet with the planning team to gain a vision for their expectations.  It was a wonderful group and a productive time, led by Allen Hearl (and his lovely wife, Karen, who is battling cancer currently and therefore not with us that day).

Back to our predictable schtick, we also spoke that night at the third consecutive monthly "Date Night" at Bayside.  It was an enlightening evening, we were told by many who attended.  There were "aha!" moments as we talked through respect, love, and submission by partnering Genesis 3:16—the curse—with Ephesians 5, the response.  We love teaching on this subject because we identify the many distortions of submission and headship and recommend their disposal, while retaining the Biblical, Christ-as-the-model for both headship and submission understanding of the Ephesians 5 passage.  This is so clarifying, regarding what plagues every marriage to some degree, and so hope-giving in terms of the potential of "reversing the curse."  It was a great night.

Up early the next morning to drive to Truckee, a small town at the gateway of Lake Tahoe.  We were so happy to be back with Sierra Bible Church, with whom we partnered three years ago.  Wayne and Sandy Hoag lead this vital church with integrity and passion. We love their hearts. We love their boldness.  We love their confidence in Biblical truth. Great people. A true honor to partner with them.

In our days there, we spoke to their MOPS group, to their junior/senior high students and parents about sexual purity, to their couples date night, Paul to their men's breakfast, and we taught at all three services on Sunday.  In all settings, we found great openness and receptivity to the teaching.  

Our hosts for the weekend, Randy and Joy Hitchcock, filled in the "blanks" with a delightful dinner at their home one night and an invigorating hike one afternoon. Lake Tahoe is in their backyard and is truly a crown jewel of geographic beauty.  We hiked to the Vikingsholm in Emerald Bay and were captivated by its beauty.  And hanging out with the Hitchcocks was icing on the cake.


Sierra Bible Church's leadership team, headed by Wayne Hoag (standing right next to me) are vitally impacting the Truckee community for Christ.


Randy and Joy Hitchcock (and their sons Chad and Cooper and dog Blizzard)
were very caring hosts for our Truckee ministry tour.


An overnight stop with our dear friends Scott and Sally and lunch with more dear friends John and Marilyn took us up to our flight out of San Francisco airport late Monday afternoon and the end of our just over 3-week-long trip was in sight.

It seemed like we had been gone a really long time when we flew into Boston on Tuesday, March 26, in the wee hours of the morning.  We had only been home six days since the beginning of February, so I guess that's why it felt like we hadn't been home.  :)

We did jump right into it, but truthfully felt ready to do that since our recovery from Uganda had happened in California.  The week leading up to Easter was full of appointments, counseling and otherwise, and it felt really good to know we wouldn't be packing our bags for a couple of weeks.

For the first time in years, we hosted Easter at our home.  What a joy!!!   We flew Lisa home for the occasion and had a blast Saturday  watching JMU play Northeastern in baseball (would've been more fun had we won, but...), shopping at the farmer's market by the North End, having cappuccino and pastries at Cafe Vittoria, walking to and through the Public Gardens and visiting the ducklings who were sporting Easter bonnets, and eventually having dinner in the city using a very expired gift card (which was honored).  It was a gorgeous spring day, which I now know was the exception during this "spring is a calendar date at best" season, and we squeezed everything we could out of it.  Easter Sunday was glorious.  After worshiping, we hosted 10 around our table and had great fellowship and food until we had to come to a quick close to get Lisa to the airport on time for her 6 p.m. flight back to Virginia.  


The Public Gardens at sunset on Easter Sunday Eve . . .
Mama Duck and her ducklings in their own Easter Parade.


Easter Sunday dinner . . . delightful time with friends, yummy food, great fellowship,
and the resurrection.  Can't improve on that!


Home the next week as well, we had a H.I.M. Board meeting and finalized details on our newest book, due to be released May 1.  The Marriage App:  Unlocking the Irony of Intimacy is at the printers as we speak, after a long, laborious labor.  A "ninth hour" crew of very creative friends helped make it come together with a cover design, as Guy and Barbara Steele kept their "nose to the grindstone" to complete editing it to its print-ready state.  None of our books would ever see the light of day were it not for these two and we are so, so grateful.  More will be coming on the book soon.

A highlight of the week was speaking at MOPS at the North Shore Community Baptist Church.  Love that ministry!   Two days later we hosted a full weekend of Engagement Matters April 6 and 7.  Nineteen couples crowded into the Macraes' home in Weston for the weekend to interact on God's design for marriage.  It's no secret that we love this weekend, and this group was especially interactive and appreciative of the teaching.  Some of the comments we received from attendees include:

"This weekend has deepened our understanding and strengthened the foundation of our relationship, and also raised challenging questions for us to consider."
"It has helped us identify areas to work on and be aware of, helped us to think of positive changes we can make to strengthen our relationship, and to not be afraid to take as much time as is necessary to be sure and ready."
"The weekend was so positive.  It has reinforced our decision to be married one day while also giving us a reality check and opening our eyes to safeguards, boundaries, and practical things we can do to help our relationship."

We had a great group of couples for our April Engagement Matters weekend.


After a few more speaking engagements, some counseling, and more organizational work at home, we packed our bags and flew to Detroit.  I'll write about that wonderful weekend in my next post, with hopes that spring will have sprung and "latent spring" will be no more.

Well, apparently spring has sprung in Ventura,
and Brandon doesn't seem to mind the chilly water.  No nerve endings in kids! 







Two-fer home . . . repack . . . GO!


I’ve written this blog many times in my mind over the past month, and I’m confident that in the future, there will likely be technology that will take our thoughts and transcribe them.  (Hopefully, selectively!)  For now, though, lacking such a system, the pace of these weeks has precluded doing the “non-urgent” so I’m thankful that today as we fly to St. Louis, the time has come.  We’ve had a fall of “two-fers”: five days on the road, “two fer” Boston.  And those “two-fers” have been dedicated to our two Patriots studies and counseling, so that’s why it feels like we really haven’t been home much!  We haven’t!

Backing up to Nov. 17th, we had a great morning with the MOPS group at North Shore Community Baptist Church.  We love opportunities to speak into the lives of young moms.  So much encouragement is needed during that season of life—which is delightful—but also so demanding, challenging, and often times undervalued in our culture.

Early on Nov. 18th, we packed our passports and flew to Seattle, where we rented a car and drove to Vancouver, British Columbia.  We considered it an immense honor to partner with lead pastor Ken Shigematsu and his team at Tenth Church.  We had known Ken from our time at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary back in the early 90’s and respected him then as a true man of God with a heart to impact the world for Him.  We were delighted to reconnect with him last year as he wrote asking for input on a chapter he was writing on family.  He invited us to spend a weekend with his congregation and it was definitely one of the highlights of our year to do so.

After spending Friday evening in the Shigematsu’s home having dinner with his family, we knew it was going to be a great weekend.  His beautiful wife, Sakiko, and son, Joey, extended warm hospitality and we felt kindredly linked in short order.  It was a lovely launch to the weekend.

On Saturday, we presented a marriage seminar in the morning and a parenting seminar in the afternoon.  In between, we met with a team from the church to consult for them on family ministry within the church, and then spent that evening with a couple on their church lay leadership team, continuing the lunch conversation.  It was a full, productive day.

The seminars were very well attended, which took even the planners by surprise, and even delayed the beginning of the morning due to so many “walk-ins.” A nice problem, really.  The audience was engaged and thoughtful, and much to our surprise, had a rather large representation of single adults.  Tenth Church does have a large single population, but we didn’t necessarily expect them to come to these two seminars.  Happily, they did!  As we conversed with more than a few of them, they explained that they wanted to gather as much information as possible before they were married or parents.  Wise singles!

Sunday we preached four times at two different locations.  Tenth Church has exploded under Ken’s leadership, growing from 150 in 1996 to over 2,000 now.  Space is an issue and they’re creatively working to “expand their borders.”  Focusing again on family issues in our sermon, we were amazed at the number of moving conversations we had with many singles who are wrestling with developing Godly expectations for their future marriages and families.  Many of them bought copies of Letters to my Daughters and we were blessed beyond belief to have conversations with several on Sunday who had already read it, after picking it up on Saturday!  One young woman related to me through tears how deeply she had been impacted by the wisdom of Paul’s father’s heart.  “I didn’t receive that from my dad, and I was overwhelmed by the message and the heart behind it.  I feel so much better prepared to make a wise marriage decision now. I only wish I had read this book sooner; it probably would’ve saved me some heartache.”

Another beautiful young woman wrote:

I want to thank you full heartily again for giving me Paul’s book Letters to My Daughters.  I’ve been reading it every night since. It has brought me tears and joys. As I read on, I reflected on my own past, my own experiences wishing I’d read it earlier, and thanking the Lord for bring you and Paul into my life.

We had many great conversations with married couples as well, but I think we were both so impressed with the hunger and openness of the single population at Tenth.  What a great reflection of the heart of the ministry at that vital church.

After late night sushi following the evening service (which kept us connecting with the “we’re in no hurry to leave this place” crowd until after 10), we got some sleep and headed out early Monday morning for parts south.  We felt like we were leaving Vancouver way too quickly.  We were comforted that a return is in the offing when we received this kind email from Ken:

Thank you, Paul and Virginia.
It was such an enormous blessing to have you at Tenth!
You are declaring God’s wisdom about marriage and family in a way that is biblically faithful, wise, winsome, moving, and practical.
Perhaps most powerful of all you are living example of how a family can hike in a direction that’s different from the general culture and in so doing serve as a light on a hill.
I sense that God is truly honoured in your lives and ministry!
I don’t know if you recommend an ideal “wait time” ratio before you come back to a context, but if you are open to returning to Tenth we would love to have you again—and perhaps market it beyond just our local church.
With Gratitude,
Ken

Reconnecting with Ken Shigematsu, lead pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, we rediscovered how similarly our hearts beat regarding God’s design for  family and marriage.


It was a joy for me to spend time with my new friend Annie, and thanks to the internet, our friendship will continue.


There was a lot of interest in our books at Tenth and we’ve received some very encouraging feedback from this congregation.

Next stop: Seattle.  We managed to squeeze in brunch with Richard and Donna Dahlstrom, who are on our short list of favorite friends and ministry partners.  They inspire us!  So down to earth.  So real.  So missional.  Our time as a foursome passed all too quickly.  On to the church (Bethany Community Church, for which Richard serves as lead pastor) to spend the lunch hour with his staff talking about the virtues of family camp.  That was easy.  :)  Our passion for family camp runs deep for so many reasons, as we see it as one of the most effective venue for impacting families who make it a tradition.  I think we were convincing.

Continuing south, our next stop was San Diego, where we spent a couple of days with my parents and assorted other family members. I was genuinely pleased to be in town to take my mom to have cataract surgery that Tuesday morning. Thankfully, she came through with flying colors and can’t believe what she’s seeing again.  Good days with my side of the family before driving to the central valley to spend Thanksgiving with Paul’s side of the family in Pixley.


Besides my parents, it was great to visit with my sister Francene and her husband
(the taker of this photo) while in San Diego.

The farm in Pixley.  Legacy.  Roots.  Shaping.  Paul’s boyhood home, where his godly character was forged.  It was so good to be back at the farm.  Especially thrilling was introducing Gabe, Brandon, and Derek to Pixley; walking the cotton fields, playing the annual family football bowl; cracking walnuts gathered from the orchards; eating traditional dishes for the Thanksgiving feast; regaling tales of times gone by.  We had family meals and family devotions with extended family each night in the “great room” of the farm house, which is still occupied by Paul’s oldest sister Sandy and her husband Wayne.  Flashbacks of  35 years of history danced through my mind as we sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness” together, as we’ve done many times over time.  Four generations have been a part of my Pixley experience; five generations for Paul, whose grandmother and aunt lived with them when he was a young boy growing up in that house.

The greatest gift was gathering with three generations of Friesens, all of whom are committed to faithfully walking with the Lord.  It’s hard to express how significant it’s been for our own family to be journeying through life with those who not only share DNA, but who share spiritual convictions.  It’s been reinforcing for us to keep pressing on.  It’s filled in some gaps for our daughters, especially during the teen years, to have cousins who would stand with them, especially when they felt “alone” in their values and convictions.  Well beyond the tangible benefits of being on the farm were the intangibles, and we left refreshed and renewed after three wonderful days there.

But not home yet!  We headed north with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon, and spent a couple of days with them before flying home on Tuesday, Nov. 29th.


The extended Friesen family gathered for Thanksgiving at the family farm in Pixley, California.



All smile after the family friendly football bowl game was won, once again, by the “west.”


The days at the farm were full of discovery for Brandon, the city boy. 


Our gang enjoying a bonfire at cousin Randy and Rachael’s home in Strathmore (a suburb of Pixley!)


The girls, standing in front of an old oak tree with the cotton fields forming the backdrop.

Back to real life: the Patriots women’s study early the morning after we returned, counseling, the couples’ study, and . . .  what?  No trip to the airport Friday morning?

Breaking the pattern, we stayed home the first weekend of December.  Sort of.  We didn’t really stay home, we just didn’t actually fly anywhere.  :)  Friday night we spoke at Couples’ Date Night at the North Shore Community Baptist Church and had a lot of fun teaching on temperaments.  The beautifully-planned evening (thanks to the creative efforts of Ryan and Kelly Plosker and their great team) was a fitting launch to the holiday season, forcing a pause to prepare for the physical and emotional challenges of this great but sometimes hard month.  Always love being with this group.


At the end of the date night, some lingerers were willing to be “shot.”

The next night, we spoke on parenting at the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church.  Due to a scheduling error on our part, this group graciously flexed and changed their event to accommodate us, which made it difficult for some who had planned to come.  An enthusiastic group gathered nonetheless and we so enjoyed our time with them.


Wai-Chin and Fannie Ng (far right) planned this event and were wonderful hosts.

In between those two dates nights, we did an Engagement Matters seminar all day Saturday and Sunday.  :)  We have only ourselves to blame for the packed schedule, but besides being too tired to eat popcorn during the Patriots game Sunday late afternoon, we were none the worse for the wear.  The Engagement Matters weekend was one of the best we’ve had.  We loved the couples and had a lot of interaction with them since our EM partners (Doug and Julie Macrae) were out of town.  Fortunately, Ryan and Kelly Plosker were able to come up for an hour on Sunday to present a session dealing with great decisions to make early in marriage, and they knocked it out of the park.

One of the attendees wrote:

“The entire weekend was so amazing! My girlfriend and I are so very thankful to have gone and are excited about the future together. You and Mr. Friesen did just an amazing job and we are glad to have had such wise counsel.”

How we pray that God will use this weekend to prepare couples for a marriage which fulfills His design!

The Engagement Matters attendees were delightful, and sincere in their desire to make great decisions regarding marriage.

After another great Patriots win, the first week of December included an H.I.M. Board meeting in addition to the normal counseling and Patriots activities.  We are so very thankful for our board.  They are very smart and very dedicated to this ministry, and each of them sacrifices a lot to make this ministry happen.  We are blessed.

As the calendar days march on under the heading of “December,” I must admit that we’re still a bit back in November.  We have no Christmas decorations up yet . . . in fact, we have a few pumpkins hanging around our house, and harvest-scented candles still fill the holders.  It’s a really good thing that we’re not in charge of the world, or there’s a very strong possibility that Christmas would be celebrated sometime in late January or February!  Our pattern this fall of being home “fer two” days (and gone for five)—and those 48 hours being full of counseling and Patriots ministry—has caused many important things on the home front to be neglected.  We’ve truly loved everything we’ve done but are committed to reassessing how to schedule our lives with more wisdom.

For now, though, we have another plane to catch.  We’ve been home for 48 hours and it’s time to get moving . . .


Brandon is “soooo big” and at 15 months, continues to delight us with each new development.



Strutting his new Patriots duds given him by his aunties, he’s all about football.  Go Pats!!

The Twists and Turns of November 2011


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

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

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

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

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



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



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

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



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

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

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

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

Several comments we’ve received since:

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

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


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

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



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

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


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

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



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


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

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

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

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


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


The almost finished product with some of the accomplished bakers.  

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

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