I last wrote just after our annual H.I.M. Marriage Conference was held (March 3-5) and I regret not having written about the weekend then because it’s hard to do justice to it and capture the essence of it weeks later.
For the first time since launching this blog over twelve years ago, three months have elapsed since my last post. In an unprecedented quandary, I’ve had a really hard time finding the words to write, for though there have been many great moments and experiences during this time, we have concurrently experienced some of the darkest and most difficult days of our life together. And quite frankly, I haven’t known how to communicate about this, fairly and honorably, especially since it’s ongoing. This is a season during which my silence hasn’t been “golden.”
If “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .” is related to a house decked in outdoor lights, a beautifully decorated tree indoors, and stockings “hung by the chimney with care,” we’re off. Way off. Thankful to have just gotten all pumpkins processed and the orange and rust decorations put away . . .
One last sunrise at Campus by the Sea over Labor Day Weekend,
taken as Lisa and I hiked the loop on our final day at camp.
Hanging out with David Laflin (the illusionist) and the Wong family,
we had some very fun moments on giant swings, ropes courses, and zip lines.
How could you not love this weekend?
The “Birdsongs” did a phenomenal job leading us in worship
before each of the four teaching sessions.
|The stillness of the water is found only early in the day, prior to campers discovering the four inflatable “blobs” anchored in this lake.|
A special dinner out with the Wongs in honor of Paul’s birthday.
|Happy birthday, Papa and now 6-year-old Brandon!|
|Paul, Lisa, and I arrive to serve the Labor Day Family Camp.|
Our terrific program staff served so well,
diving right in to do whatever needed to be done.
Worship was led by Robert Kovacs, Claire Peister, and Seth Heinz—and was appreciated by all.
|A large group of kids second grade and under gathered at the front of the Main Deck each morning for the always-favorite devotions created and led by Paul.|
|One last chorus of “We love you campers, oh yes we do . . .” as the final family camp group departs on the Catalina Express.|
|An early morning walk on the beach, before the marine layer burned off (which it later did.)|
|A little sand castle we built in our spare time . . . or at least, that we stopped to admire at the end of our walk. :)|
|Dick and Becky Molenhouse spent a day with us and we joyfully caught up on one another’s lives.|
|With the “boys of summer” on his back,|
Nathan visits the pigs at the farm.
|Snuggle time (briefly) with Mama.|
Go Sox!! Even Rachel is being trained right. :)
Oh, and then there’s our most favorite team: Go Pats!!
|Dick and Nancy Beggs, from Idyllwild, California, joined us for a night of non-stop talking, a few tears, and a lot of laughter.|
|Berea family campers Gary and Kim Walker, Skip and Avonne Jarvis, Dennis and Heidi Lommen, and not pictured is the Lommens’ daughter Jenny and her husband, Jed. A very special group of friends.|
The Jarvis family . . . Skip and Avonne and their four great kids. We shared a 7:30 am breakfast together and had coherent, meaningful conversation with these set-apart young people. So encouraging!!
Sunset over the lake in Wakefield, Massachusetts.
|Our houseguests from California brought a lot of life and energy to our home during Easter week, starting with Easter Sunday breakfast.|
|Joyce was born and raised in Africa, and her “knocked knees” were surgically repaired at a CURE Hospital in Africa. Years later, Easter 2016, she was baptized in Arlington, MA.|
|Our delightful gathering on Easter Sunday, with much talking, laughter, and fellowship.|
|Most of the couples who attended EM April 2–3 . . . though some had already slipped out before this photo was snapped.|
"Excellent speakers. All of them. I took something from each talk. Thank you!!” (15-year-old male)
"I appreciated that nothing was sugar-coated. It helped me realign my thoughts on what really matters in life.” (15-year-old male)
"I loved attending with my teenage daughter. It opened up opportunities for us to discuss topics we had not, and gave me the way to do it. I wish I had known these things when I was a teen.” (female parent)
"I recently asked God to please show me someone that was going through the same struggle of staying pure. I am so happy this conference exists and I am thinking of so many people to bring next year. This conference helped me get closer to God.” (17-year-old female)
"Really appreciated the candor and vulnerability of the speakers.” (male parent)
"Getting to spend the day at 'Worth It' reinforced what we have been attempting to teach them about relationships.” (male and female parents)
"The things I learned today will change the things I do in the future.” (14-year-old female)
"Most of the speakers were fun so it helped teens who were not thrilled to attend.” (female parent)
"You guys fit so much into one day! Well done. Thank you so much for your ministry! God bless!” (female parent)
|Paul Friesen opens the day with passion and humor, instantly helping all attendees relax.|
Kate Wylie uses some volunteers to illustrate how hard it is to have a foot in both worlds.
|Adam Rowe addressed the issue of media and technology, hitting hard on the destructive nature of pornography.|
|Don Davis wrapped up the day with the good news of forgiveness and the hope of redemption.|
The aftermath . . . cleaned up and packed away . . . these folks stayed ’til the end. So grateful for them!
The cuties I spent a week with in California. I can never get enough of the grands!
|Held at the beautiful Carolina Inn on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, the ceremony was a declaration of the gospel of marriage.|
|Our wedding party . . . sooo late 70’s. Love it!|
Full time seminary students, worship leaders at their church, and parents to half a dozen laying chickens. Jake and Kaylee have a full life.
“Thank you for such a life-giving, refreshing weekend!”
“We learned so much this weekend and will recommend this conference to all our married friends!”
“What a fantastic reminder of how much God loves us and His design for our marriages.”
“We can’t thank you enough for the AMAZING weekend in Rhode Island. We are so blessed to learn what it is to be rooted in Christ as a couple. We are so grateful for the prayer session that equipped us to live our lives as one spirit and tackle the world together. We will be sharing our experiences and the tools with our small group.”
“My husband and I just returned from the marriage retreat in Newport and are HIGHLY recommending it to all our married friends! You guys do a wonderful job and we cannot wait to come back next year!”
“Thank you so much for leading, with Paul, such a wonderful marriage conference weekend. We came away with so much to think over and talk about. We are grateful for the wisdom both you and Paul share with so many.”
|Opening night: being lead in worship by Danny and Rayna Oertli, Rich and Sue Musacchio, and Paul and Lyss Gandy. A strong start.|
|The theme “Marriage Strong” was carried out beautifully by Kelly Plosker, who once again worked her magic on the ball room, creating an ambience of welcome, comfort, and delight. We are so thankful for her gifts used so powerfully.|
|Sunday afternoon . . . the guests are gone and the team is tearing down. We pause for a photo and a prayer, giving thanks for the incredible ways God met us.|
|Pioneer Valley Christian Academy’s headmaster, Tim Duff, addresses the larger-than-expected crowd at the “Worth It—Springfield” night.|
|The daily walk to visit “Cody” and “Mouse,”|
two horses who live in the neighborhood.
|Rachel, showing early signs that she enjoys being all dressed up with somewhere to go.|
|Sibling love. Ahhh . . .|
|Craig (worship leader) and Danika (asst. to program director) and Chris (emcee) and Suzanne flank us on stage at the Tuscarora Conference Center’s marriage conference.|
|Some of the mentoring moms at Bethany Church Greenland,|
ready to debrief the morning.
|It LOOKS warm . . . but it wasn’t!|
Nonetheless, we had a great time at the Nubble Lighthouse.
|The cousins—stopping long enough for a quick picture before voting to suspend the walk on the Marginal Way and return to the warmth of the car.|
|Cousin Katie, Auntie Lisa, and Nathan enjoy a rare opportunity to set foot on the island where Mr. and Mrs. Mallard raised their little ducklings.|
|Nathan and Rachel enjoyed dinner in the North End on Sunday before going to church on Palm Sunday.|
|Papa and Nathan made quick work of the 6” Spring snow fall.|
|A small remnant of the MLAC youth group long after most had gone home. What a great group!|
|A visual of this is important—it was pretty hysterical.|
|She said “Yes!” to his very heartfelt proposal.|
Most of the couples who attended the MLAC marriage conference.
|These three couples have been at every MLAC conference we’ve spoken for. Treasured friends.|
|One last stop before heading west . . . dinner and frozen yogurt with the Copleys. It’s hard to believe these “little girls” are so grown up!|
|Time with the Dahlstroms is always stimulating, and it has nothing to do with the coffee. :)|
|Earl and Sandy Wilson continue to be used by God in so many important ways. They are still on the front line of redemptive work.|
|Jay and Sarah Welch are enjoying marriage fully.|
|Rachel, Alissa, and MaryAnn were very fun ice cream dates.|
|Lunch with Duke and Amy Paulson was another highlight|
of our time in the Pacific NW.
|Hope Community Church of Newburyport, MA, held their marriage conference in Portsmouth, NH.|
|Anyone left standing at the end of clean-up was grabbed for this photo.|
|This lovely family hosted us in Alabama and we were so encouraged by their commitment to Christlikeness in their home.|
|They outfitted us with rival shirts . . . symbolizing how two very different people can be strong together.|
|The team at Solitude Baptist Church did a wonderful job putting on their marriage conference.|
|Valentine’s breakfast in bed . . .|
. . . and dinner by candlelight. I am a very blessed woman!
|Being framed with Jess and Elizabeth Bousa.|
|The Restore Church marriage conference.|
|Rachel at 3 months is edible . . . so sweet and low-key.|
|Nathan is a very happy, active, loving little guy and a great big brother.|
|Many of our H.I.M. Board Members and volunteers, without whom we couldn’t do what we do. So thankful for each of them!|
|Ross and Caitlyn Macrae stand with Paul soon after being pronounced husband and wife.|
Julie and Nathan stand in front of their new house in Mechanicsburg, PA.
|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.|
|Aunt Margaret makes 100 years of age look like 80!|
|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.|
|Our daily walk on the beach help to stimulate our brain cells for writing.|
|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!|
|The Union Fellowship at Park Street Church welcomed our teaching on finances.|
|Paul and Lianna Chong host the Union Fellowship group.|
|Jon and Marilee exit after being pronounced husband and wife by my brother-in-law, David Leach.|
|The original “Collins crew” with the matriarch.|
|Julie, Betty Ann, Barbara, Dawn, Helen, and me. Kelly had already retired for the night. Helen is still surprised!|
|Carl and Cathy Blatchley and Lars and Bethany Nielsen worked hard to make the Grace Baptist Church marriage conference successful.|
“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.|
|Don and Betsy Hasselbeck were at New England Chapel for the couples’ night. Love them!|
|Our first day in Mbale, visiting the CURE Children’s Hospital.|
|Auntie Lisa and Brandon visit a sweet mama and her baby.|
|Gabe, Kari, and Ana went from bed to bed, talking and praying with the mamas.|
|Our day trip to Sipi Falls was wonderful and all made the hike|
except Derek, who was nursing a knee injury.
|Daily walks in the neighborhood gave us exercise and insights into the life and culture of Mbale.|
|The JENGA crew who spent the day with us being trained in Biblical marriage.|
|Chiko II pays us a visit during our outdoor breakfast.|
|The “cows come home” after a day of grazing.|
|We celebrated Julie’s 30th a bit early at the Endiro Coffee Shop.|
|After a very long and bumpy 8-hour drive, a very happy crew arrives at Bwana Tembo,|
our lodging for our safari.
|Brandon was enthralled with every sighting, and was especially captivated by this giraffe that followed us for awhile.|
|On the Nile River cruise, we enjoyed watching these elephants frolic in the water.|
|We think it’s a friendly smile...|
|With Murchison Falls in the background, we get a family shot on the Nile.|
|What all good mates do: carefully groom their spouse.|
|Continuing our family tradition, we circled up to pray before parting ways.|
|We spent a day training these local pastors in marriage ministry.|
|Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, who lead the fellowship at Pearl Haven Christian Center, attended the couples’ date night dinner.|
|We spoke at the Pastor’s Prayer Breakfast during the Easter Convention.|
|We also spoke to the whole Easter Convention after the prayer breakfast.|
|Nathan and his good friend Faruke, whose father John is the groundskeeper for the Johnsons. Faruke is a wonderful, motivated young man who will be sorely missed|
when the Johnsons return to the States this summer.
|The “Worth It” speaking team — such a great group!!! So thankful for them.|
|Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield hosted our annual “Worth It” conference|
and the house was packed.
|A favorite destination . . .|
|. . . and this is why! Quite mesmerizing to watch these turtles and koi.|
|Barry and Saundra Galloway shepherd the flock at Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard|
and are impossible not to love.
|Lisa, Head Coach Cori Close, and I get a photo prior to the Women’s Basketball Banquet.|
|Sweet time with Liz Aleman and Julie and Nathan Aleman|
in San Francisco soon after we landed in California.
|Early morning breakfast with Drew and Dana Macrae for our annual “marital check-up."|
|Lunch with Ross Macrae and his fiancée Caitlyn|
before heading to Golden Hills Community Church for the evening.
|Johnie and Becky Moore were such gracious hosts at GHCC.|
|The CBS contingent at the dessert night . . . How we love these families!|
|My mom was pretty thrilled to have Danny Woodhead and Benjamin Watson|
as her dinner dates at the PAO conference.
|David and Cherylyn Hegg are dear friends and ministry partners.|
We loved having them with us for the marriage retreat!
|Doug Macrae presents David Hegg with a signed Brady jersey . . . |
just what every Seahawks’ fan wants. :)
|The newlywed dinner was well-attended and spawned some lively discussion.|
|Part of the H.I.M. team that worked the weekend. So grateful for each one of these servants!|
|Kelly Plosker invested hours in making sure everyone felt welcomed|
and cared for in the ballroom by her creative decorating.
“Our first retreat and our mutual expectation for a clearer picture of God’s design for marriage was exceedingly met! Thank you!”
“Thanks for another Christ-centered weekend and for giving us additional tools/resources to grow our marriage and further understand God’s plan for marriage.”
“Thank you for this experience. It has been life-changing for us and our marriage.”
|Engagement Matters attendees March 14-15, 2015|
|The serving team: Melanie Bilazarian and Cathy and Carl Blatchley.|
"I now have many tools to work on bettering my relationship and having a successful marriage.”
“I loved the tie back to scripture and the examples and anecdotes were good for getting a point across. I also appreciated the resources available and recommended.”
“Everything was explained so well and in such an engaging way. Everyone was so approachable for questions. I loved it all. Very well done.”
“It opened up many avenues of discussion, many topics covered that we haven’t thought through.”
|Our first day at the CURE Hospital . . . deeply moving.|
|Tom and Cheri Austin, directors of OCF at West Point, |
extended warm hospitality to us when we spoke at West Point.
|How we love walking on the beach … and Pismo is one of the best.|
|Some wonderful friends who helped make the marriage conference happen|
for Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, California.
|Papa, Brandon, and Ana having fun at the park.|
|Brandon and Ana helping Gigi bake scones.|
|Nathan, who clearly isn’t in New England, says “I really like chocolate syrup!”|
As we’ve hit records with cold and snow, our children in Africa
have been sweltering during dry season with high temps and no rain.
|Ken Peet welcomes the crowd at Grace Church who|
came out for the parents/teens talk on relationships.
|Ray, Carol, Christy, and Leslie Johnston give Paul a lesson about buying jeans.|
|The male models . . .|
|Bob and Letty Balian lead the ministry at Bayside Midtown and are dear friends.|
Dan and Susan Yardley hosted the lovely couples’ dessert night in Charlotte.
|Part of the Summit View Church retreat attendees at Black Rock Retreat Center.|
|Jess and Elizabeth Bousa work tirelessly to serve the growing needs of their church plant, Restore.|
|Paul preaching at Restore Church … in his new, cool jeans.|
|God’s creativity is endless! Imagine—this is a small sampling of the pumpkin family!|
|Dr. Sit welcomes eager parents who gave up Friday night and Saturday|
to be encouraged in their parenting and marriage efforts.
|Extended family Dave and Heidi Lemmerhirt and their kids |
Daniel, Anna, and Josiah met up with us at AACS.
|Our “last supper” with the Wongs before returning to Boston.|
|Ana Marie turns 1.|
|During the Broncos-Cardinals game, we had plenty to cheer for with Anna.|
|Jay and Yukiko Dreves, with daughters Sydney and Shelby,|
had a great introduction to New England during their visit.
|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!|
|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.
|Happiness is . . . a face plant in soft garden dirt! Nathan’s joy is contagious.|
|A beautiful morning sunrise in San Diego.|
As the first real snowstorm of the quickly-coming-to-a-close winter “that wasn’t” blankets the area, I’m happily snuggled at home absolutely delighting in this thoroughly unexpected twist of nature. My “Let It Snow” collection of pleading signs that have greeted every visitor to our home this winter have been ignored by the Great Snow Maker...until now. LET IT SNOW!!!!
This is the perfect scenario for writing an overdue blog entry... and on leap day, no less. We have been home eight days since I last wrote...which explains why I feel very far behind on most maintenance issues. Our travels have taken us to CA, NY, and FL, and each trip has been full of people, ministry, and delight.
Backing up to Feb. 3, when I returned from London, I had no time to get over anything before we were in the saddle Saturday a.m. teaching at our H.I.M.-hosted parenting conference. Though the turn-out for it was disappointing, those who attended were very affirming of its value. Between the workshops and the plenary sessions, there was plenty of energy and hunger for encouragement and instruction.
It was interesting to juxtapose the seeming lack of priority placed on attending a parenting conference (too busy, kids' sports, no babysitter, etc.) with the immense amount of time and energy invested in being prepared for the biggest football game of the year which happened the following day. There were no lack of callers-to-sports-radio from armchair coaches who had clearly spent a lot of time analyzing the Patriots and developing a game plan that would produce the desired results. If fathers spent a fraction of the time investing in developing a game plan for their families...and then showing up to coach them through the "game of life," our homes would be so different.
Super Bowl Sunday started for us at Highrock Church, where we heard a challenging message by David Swaim, and was followed by a trip to Plymouth to visit our dear Thora Eames. She was recovering from hip replacement surgery, necessitated by an unfortunate fall off a ladder while washing her outside windows (Why not? Isn’t that what all 94-year-olds do on a Saturday afternoon?). We had a great visit with her and were most encouraged that her spunk and spirit were not dampened in the least. We presented her with a new Patriots shirt to wear as she watched the game that night as she is a diehard, energetic fan. Her son instructed the nurse to seatbelt Thora in her wheelchair during the game to keep her from leaping to her feet during happy moments (and dislocating the newly located hip!) We left so inspired by her amazing life.
After a board meeting and a day of counseling, we flew to California for a return visit to the Desert Vineyard in Lancaster/Palmdale. This was our third trip there in a year and each time we're with David and Nancy Parker (lead pastor and wife) and their crew, we're more impressed with what they're doing and with how God is using them. We kicked off our time by speaking for the Antelope Valley Ministerial Association's monthly luncheon on Thursday. We were amazed at the broad representation of area churches in attendance and had many conversations that gave us glimpses into the greater work in that area. It's so encouraging to see churches working together to make an impact for the kingdom!
That night, the church hosted a Couples' Fiesta Date Night, and they pulled out all the stops! From a beautifully decorated room to live Mariachis and a delicious catered Mexican feast, the ambience was set for a delightful evening. The sold-out crowd was full of energy and didn't run out of it until we were done speaking. It was an extremely well done evening.
Friday morning, after a very fun visit with some friends, we drove to Westlake Village for the weekend marriage conference for Desert Vineyard. There was a huge response to the conference, and we're convinced that when the senior pastor leads by example and attends the marriage conference his church is promoting, there is greater buy-in by the congregation. It sure was a bonus for us to grab moments with David and Nancy throughout the weekend. So many in that congregation have become dear to us over this past year! And we "owe it all" to Tommy and April Garcia, long time CBS family campers, who got the ball rolling for us at DV.
All too quickly, our five days with Desert Vineyard were up and as we said our good-byes, we felt like we were leaving very dear friends.
Since it was only Sunday afternoon, why not do another event? On to Yorba Linda we drove (about an hour south) to speak at "The Rock" for their Valentine's Date Night. This was also the second year in a row with this group, headed by Brent and Melissa Slezak, and we had a great night. The Slezaks have such strong ministry gifts and such a deep passion for family and marriage, so it's a real joy to partner with them. The evening was beautifully done, from the decorations to the dinner, and we had a very receptive audience to speak to. We loved every minute of it.
Since "all work and no play make one dull" we took Monday to play. . . at Disneyland. The Slezaks made that possible (Brent is employed by Disneyland) and we had a really fun day at the Magic Kingdom and California Land. Just honing our skills for our grandchildren . . . :)
We flew home on Valentine’s Day and spent a full day Wednesday counseling, and an equally full day Thursday with various events, the highlight of which was our end-of-the-season celebration dinner with our New England Patriots couples Bible study group. Unfortunately, between those who had already left town for "home" and others who had had surgeries, our group was rather small—but we had a really great evening together. Don and Betsy Hasselbeck were surprised when Paul read the dedication of the study he wrote for our group this fall ("Jesus on Marriage") to them. We are so grateful for their partnership!
Off we drove the next morning...for upstate New York! Glens Falls to be exact! We were privileged to do our first conference for the Pine Knolls Alliance Church and were so pleased to feel very much at home with them right off the bat. Richard and Amy Dean, who came to Engagement Matters many years ago, planned the conference and overlooked no detail. They did a great job of covering the bases and the conference ran very smoothly They had a great turn-out and we were thankful for a very enthusiastic audience. The conference ran Friday night and all day Saturday. On Sunday, we spoke for two Sunday School classes on marriage. We had a great experience and are so thankful for what they have going at that vital church.
Continuing the rhythm, we unpacked, did laundry, and repacked, counseled for a full day, and then were off again. Destination: Florida! Conference: Pro Athletes Outreach, for the 12th year.
We love this conference. PAO is committed to putting together a high quality program, steeped in solid Biblical teaching, and this year was no exception. Dr. Tony Evans and Louie Giglio were two of the best who gave challenging, brilliant messages to this group of professional football players and their wives. Paul and I did our temperaments workshop twice, and spent a lot of time interacting. It was great for us to reconnect with many ex-Pats as well as others who have become friends through the years. Our Lisa flew in during the conference to join me for an after-conference event and we loved having her with us.
And about that after-conference event: Lisa and i joined 20,000 other Princesses (with a few Princes thrown in) to run the Disney Princess Half-Marathon that Sunday morning. This was our 4th half-marathon together (my fifth and her seventh) and we both agreed it was our best. Not our best time (though almost) but certainly the most fun. Taking full advantage of the princess theme, we "fit in" with our self-fashioned princess garb and enjoyed the cool, overcast morning run from Epcot through the Magic Kingdom and back. It touches me so deeply that Lisa is willing to run a much slower race so she can run with me. That's sacrifice.
And it ends with snow. Leaping with joy . . . and looking forward to tubing tomorrow. At last.
The full moon last night (Oct. 14, as I write this) reminds me that we’ve been home from Europe a month now. Re-entry has been harder than expected, quite honestly—and the beautiful summery weather we’ve continued to experience in New England contributes to the desire to keep hiking, biking, and gawking at God’s beautiful creation. Fortunately, our schedule has allowed us to be so indulged, so we’ve had a “soft” landing, in a manner.
Though it wouldn’t appear that way to some. Less than 12 hours after returning from Europe, I was driving to Foxboro to launch the Patriots women’s study, which is held every Wednesday morning during the season. It’s an honor to be leading the study for the second year and we’re all getting a lot out of Cynthia Heald’s Becoming a Woman of Faith. Fifteen women are involved and it’s truly one of the highlights of my week to interact with these engaged, honest, interactive women.
A smattering of counseling appointments made their way into the balance of that week and on Saturday, Paul initiated Camp Berea’s Women’s Conference with the first male-presented workshop in its history. Not surprisingly (from my vantage), he hit it out of the park with the women and received feedback that his was the most highly rated workshop of the weekend. :) We received this email regarding his workshop:
“I attended Paul’s workshop this weekend at the Women’s Retreat and he was excellent. I think the women could have stayed all afternoon and listened to him bring understanding to them about their husbands’ reactions. He was “right on” according to some of the gals I spoke with. He was straight to the point and didn’t mince words, which spoke to many of them. I doubt seriously if many of them have had such a clear delivery of how their husbands hear their words and how they deliver their words.”
He made it back down from Berea in time to have a farewell dinner with our dear friend, Margaret Austin, whose husband was picked up off the Patriots’ practice squad by the Texans—and just like that, they vanished. We hated to see them go, as both Margaret and Thomas have deep hearts for the Lord and have added great ballast to the couples’ study and women’s study this past year. But alas, the “Not For Long” league lived up to its reputation. We’ll miss having them here for a long time.
We did something in September we haven't done often in the past eight years since the launch of Home Improvement Ministries: we attended our home church two weeks in a row! It was so good to hear David Swaim (Highrock Church) preach in person rather than hearing him via podcast and to connect with many dear people who attend that church.
We were in full tilt the next week, counseling, doing both Patriots studies, catching up on neglected emails, sorting through piles which just grew over the previous four months of not being home, and regrouping in general. Adding joy to some of these mundane tasks was having Julie with us for several days leading up to the east coast wedding reception held Sept. 21 at the Macraes’ home in Weston. Derek joined the festivities on Friday, the 20th, after flying in from Uganda where he had spent the prior two weeks. Yes, 17 days into their marriage, they experienced a 14-day separation, necessitated by his continuing duties as executive director of the CURE Children’s Hospital in Mbale, Uganda. Though it wasn’t easy, they both agreed it was much better than the four-month separations characteristic of their two-year long-distance courtship.
Their reception was delightful as many wonderful friends came to wish them well and to celebrate God’s goodness to them through marriage. The youngest attendee was 6 weeks old—the first child of one of Julie’s best friends from high school—and the oldest was Thora Eames, at 93, who came with more vim and vigor than most of the middle-aged crowd combined. We were honored to have my sister Francene and her husband Thom fly up from Virginia for the party, and were thrilled that Lisa's women's soccer team from JMU “just happened” to be playing Northeastern on Sunday, allowing her to catch the tail end of the reception. It was a great afternoon.
Following the reception, we had the absolute delight of spending a couple of days with Derek and Julie in New Hampshire. We rode our bikes around Newfound Lake and then swam in it—on Sept. 23 and 24th!! The warm weather made the lake irresistible and we behaved as though it were summertime. We enjoyed every minute of this getaway, especially knowing that in a few short months, Derek and Julie will settle in Mbale, Uganda, and such moments will be few and far between.
Back to Bedford for the Patriots’ women's study and some counseling before driving with Derek and Julie to Rockport and Gloucester, where we splurged on some fresh-out-of-the-water 2# lobsters. Home for a delicious New England lobster dinner and a competitive game of “Nickel.” A perfect ending to a great day.
We had a great turnout for the Patriots’ couples study Thursday night and all seem to be engaged in the Jesus on Marriage study Paul wrote for this fall's curriculum. We're having a lot of good and thought provoking interaction following sharing a meal together. We're so thankful that Matt and Susie Light are hosting the study again this year.
Off to Pennsylvania we drove to speak at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church, on Sunday, Oct. 2. En route, we stopped in Lancaster for dinner with one of our cherished mentors, Barbara Boyd. A contemporary IVCF colleague of Paul’s parents, Barbara is an absolute inspiration to us. She has faithfully followed Christ since meeting Him in her early 20’s and as we listened to her life story over dinner, we were even more impressed with her incredibly fruitful life. And with her joyful acceptance of how her life has unfolded. Engaged to be married to Ralph Willoughby in her late 20’s, her hopes and dreams for a God-honoring marriage were dashed when Ralph died of a virus months before they were to be married. Barbara never married, but rather than live with the bitterness of unfulfilled dreams, she poured herself in to Kingdom work and was used mightily by God for decades as she served with IVCF. She is still “green with sap” (Psalm 92) as she continues to live for Him as an octogenarian. We were deeply touched by our time with her.
We flew to California on Friday, Oct. 7, to attend the wedding of a young man who grew up coming to Campus by the Sea. Over the years, we’ve become close family friends so it was a joy for us to celebrate with Matt Engle and Tara Klein as they entered the covenant of marriage on Oct. 9. Derek and Julie joined us for the weekend and due to the gracious generosity of friends who loaned us their "empty" home in Camarillo, we had a wonderfully relaxing and refreshing weekend around the wedding festivities. We got a bit of work done between hiking, swimming, and having a blast with Derek and Jules—and the wedding was delightful. A really special highlight of being at the wedding—besides the obvious—was reconnecting with one of my best friends from college, Janet Siemens Spencer and her husband Greg, who is a professor at Westmont. Janet played the piano at our wedding and we hadn’t seen each other for about 23 years. We had a great time filling in the blanks of the past many years and made a commitment to stay in better touch. What an unexpected gift!
David and Kassidy Thomas relate their story to a spellbound group.
But that wasn't the only needle! Danny Woodhead (New England Patriots’ very popular and successful running back) and his wife Stacia also told their story, recounting eight years between their first date in high school to their post-college wedding. They also successfully honored their commitment to sexual purity. In a culture that has all but given up on the very archaic concept of marriage being the exclusive context for sexual activity, it was refreshing and hope-giving to hear these very cool young couples express why they had set that goal and how they accomplished it. Both couples were convincing as they conveyed their belief that God's design really is good and that their decision for sexual purity was "worth it."
|Danny Oertli, always a favorite, got the crowd worshiping together and beautifully filled in the gaps of the day.|
|Barbara Steele again masterfully published all of the printed material connected with "Worth It." She is amazing!|
|Kirsten Watson was our first plenary speaker and she did a great job of laying a foundation for the day as she spoke of the deep heart of love God the Father has for us, which establishes our being "worth" treated with honor and respect.|
|Lisa Friesen—a single, and an athletic trainer at James Madison University—spoke very important words about the goodness of God and His ways.|
|"Big Jim" Martis catered the day using lunch boxes, which worked beautifully for over 500 hungry conferees.|
|Some of his capable team included Lili Stobbe, Peter and Cassie Sammon, and Linda Tedford, who got the job done well and efficiently.|
|During lunch, many fans enjoyed being photographed with Danny Woodhead and the other NFL players in our midst, who also kindly autographed many folders. Paul was a bit disappointed that no one asked for his autograph (or photograph, for that matter!)|
|The team really seemed to enjoy one another. Here Kate Wylie, Thomas and Margaret Austin (Patriots’ practice squad), and Danny and Stacia Woodhead hang together.|
|Kate Wylie had everyone's attention as she talked about the perils of using a sliding scale when it comes to God's design for purity.|
|Don Davis kept it going by giving a very powerful call to commitment during the last plenary session. He had everyone's ear and God used him to reached many hearts.|
|The remnant—after all the attendees were long gone, we caught this group for one final picture. How blessed we are to be surrounded by them!|
"I just wanted to let you know that PAO has done wonders for us. We have had so many talks since we have been back—more than the last five years . . . lol!! My husband is really opening up to me—I am loving it. Our relationship actually feels more real now than it ever has. When you are finally convicted by the Holy Spirit, you just don't shut up!! He has been talking and praying and listening and confessing and repenting since we came back!! I tried sneaking in there a few times that he isn’t flawed alone but I don’t think he even heard me. I am like, “God please keep working on me because at this rate my husband will be a saint!!’ I am thankful!!"
|Some of our Bible study couples at the PAO conference. We had a great time together.|
It was about the time I came upon Prince Charming and Cinderella's carriage (which evolved from a pumpkin) at mile 9 that I began developing calf cramps, and suddenly my dreams of a "happily ever after" ending dimmed. At that point, I was on track to actually set a personal best time, but the last 4 miles were punctuated with calf-stretching breaks. Thankfully, I was able to finish and wasn't too much slower than my first run.
|Even though I read a t-shirt that read "Princesses don't sweat, they sparkle!!!", I was one sweaty princess on the arm of Prince Charming. :)|
|My third half-marathon is now in the history books and I'm already preparing for #4 in Vermont in early June.|