NFL

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

For the first time since launching this blog over twelve years ago, three months have elapsed since my last post. In an unprecedented quandary, I’ve had a really hard time finding the words to write, for though there have been many great moments and experiences during this time, we have concurrently experienced some of the darkest and most difficult days of our life together. And quite frankly, I haven’t known how to communicate about this, fairly and honorably, especially since it’s ongoing. This is a season during which my silence hasn’t been “golden.”

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

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

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

Fall is FINALLY in the Air




One last sunrise at Campus by the Sea over Labor Day Weekend,
taken as Lisa and I hiked the loop on our final day at camp.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hanging out with David Laflin (the illusionist) and the Wong family,
we had some very fun moments on giant swings, ropes courses, and zip lines.
How could you not love this weekend?


The “Birdsongs” did a phenomenal job leading us in worship
before each of the four teaching sessions.


The stillness of the water is found only early in the day, prior to campers discovering the four inflatable “blobs” anchored in this lake.


A special dinner out with the Wongs in honor of Paul’s birthday.


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

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


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

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

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

Paul, Lisa, and I arrive to serve the Labor Day Family Camp.


Our terrific program staff served so well,
diving right in to do whatever needed to be done.

Worship was led by Robert Kovacs, Claire Peister, and Seth Heinz—and was appreciated by all.

A large group of kids second grade and under gathered at the front of the Main Deck each morning for the always-favorite devotions created and led by Paul.

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


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

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


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

What a great idea!

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

An early morning walk on the beach, before the marine layer burned off (which it later did.)

A little sand castle we built in our spare time . . . or at least, that we stopped to admire at the end of our walk.  :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the “boys of summer” on his back,
Nathan visits the pigs at the farm.

Snuggle time (briefly) with Mama.

Go Sox!!  Even Rachel is being trained right.  :)

Oh, and then there’s our most favorite team: Go Pats!!


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

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


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

Berea family campers Gary and Kim Walker, Skip and Avonne Jarvis, Dennis and Heidi Lommen, and not pictured is the Lommens’ daughter Jenny and her husband, Jed. A very special group of friends.


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


The Jarvis family . . . Skip and Avonne and their four great kids. We shared a 7:30 am breakfast together and had coherent, meaningful conversation with these set-apart young people. So encouraging!!

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


Sunset over the lake in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

Relationships!

Today, April 20, we fly to Port Au Spain, Trinidad, to speak at a marriage conference for Trinidad and Tobago Urban Ministries. Our partnership with TTUM spans 17 years, starting when we took a group of families to serve on our second family missions trip for Grace Chapel. We “clicked” with Ashoke and Stefanie Bachew and their vision for these little islands and have been fast friends and ministry partners ever since. What a welcomed opportunity to return this week for their second bi-annual marriage conference—and how different it is to be going “alone” and not traveling with a team of 25-30, and not hauling hundreds of pounds of supplies for Backyard Bible Clubs! Paul’s sentiments: “This is a whole lot easier!!"

Backing up to Easter, we had a most delightful time hosting friends in our home for Easter week. We had a blast together and learned some new games, including “Tenzi” and "Jousting with Peeps” (use your imagination). We laughed a ton, had deep ponderous discussions, and thoroughly enjoyed every moment shared. Easter Sunday morning, we all attended church together and were most surprised when one of those being baptized related in her story that she had been a young African girl born with “knocked knees” and seemingly relegated to a life lacking mobility until she was sponsored to be surgically repaired at the CURE Hospital! I could barely contain my excitement as these worlds . . . church in Arlington and CURE in Africa . . . intersected in such a life-giving way. A bonus moment on Easter Sunday! The celebration continued in our home as eleven of us gathered around our table, connected by our love for the Risen Lord as well as our love for one another. It was a great day.

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.

Between March 4 and April 9, we’ve hosted the H.I.M. marriage conference, Engagement Matters, and Worth It. I guess you could say we’ve been on a relationship roll.  

The weekend following Easter, April 2-3, our Engagement Matters conference was held in Andover, MA, at the home of Seth and Melanie Bilazarian. As always, stimulating conversations and probing questions were exchanged in an attempt to help these couples sort through important matters which will have an impact on their married life. We always tell the couples at the beginning of the weekend, “There are at least three potential outcomes of this weekend. One possibility is confirming that you are right for each other and that your timing is good to move ahead towards marriage. A second possibility is that you’ll decide you’re headed in the right direction, but you could benefit from more time before you decide on marriage. The third possibility is that you’ll decide you are not right for each other and though that’s a painful discovery, it’s far less painful to decide that on this side of the altar than the other.”  Our belief is that some marriage problems can be avoided with good pre-marriage work.

We are so thankful for our Engagement Matters teammates Ryan and Kelly Plosker, Carl and Cathy Blatchley, and Melanie Bilazarian. We are all kept very busy through the weekend, interacting with the couples formally and informally. We all have such deep hearts for each of them to make wise, God-honoring decisions.  

Most of the couples who attended EM April 2–3 . . . though some had already slipped out before this photo was snapped.


After one of the mildest winters in a while, the last thing we expected was that a snowstorm would cause the cancellation of our speaking to the Park Street Church Union group on Monday, April 4. Very fortunately, it was able to be re-scheduled for Thursday, the 7th, and we spoke to a packed room of young marrieds on the subject of marital sexuality. We were very impressed with the thoughtful questions submitted after our presentation, which were answered in the remaining 45 minutes of the evening. We were reminded that as pervasive as “sex” is in our culture, few seem to have a place to go with their questions, especially if seeking Biblical guidance. It was a great evening . . . 

. . . and, an appropriate lead-in to the following weekend, “Worth It!”  Our annual purity conference (the pre-engagement, pre-marriage conference we host), geared for families, was beset with challenges this year, from speaker availability to logistics. Our “normal” line-up of NFL couples had scheduling/family conflicts of all sorts, reducing our “headliners” to Don Davis (retired) and Matthew and Shahrzad Slater. At the ninth hour, the Slaters had to cancel due to the funeral of his aunt in Mississippi (though they kindly recorded a message to the attendees which we showed during the conference), so Don carried the NFL ball alone this year.  He was up to the task!  He also was accompanied by a stellar line-up of Nate Parks (executive director of Camp Berea), Paul Friesen (director of H.I.M.), Kate Wylie (wife of figure skating Olympic Silver Medalist Paul Wylie), Lisa Friesen (professor of athletic training at California Baptist University), Chris and Dorothy Greco (speakers, writers), and Adam Rowe (youth pastor for Grace Chapel Wilmington). All of the speakers led both plenary sessions and workshop sessions, and they all truly knocked it out of the park. 

Hosted by Trinity Baptist Church of Nashua, the packed crowd was fully engaged in the day as the “gospel” of relationships was proclaimed. The audience, made up of parents and teens, was delighted with the clarity of the messages, especially against the back drop of a culture whose confusion regarding these subjects only increases. There is such relief in hearing truth spoken.

Here are some of the comments written on evaluations at the end of the day:

"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)

We all agreed that it was one of the best “Worth It” conferences ever, and for that, we say “Thank you, Jesus!”  All praise is His!!

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.


Lisa Friesen challenges the teens with the question, “What is your BRAND?” (Belief, Reason, Accountability, No, and Dream)  As our “token” single, she was winsome in affirming her trust in a very personal God who continues to meet her as she trusts Him for her future mate.


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.


In the absence of the rest of the NFL crew, Paul creatively had a DVD made of interviews with the couples who would’ve been there. The DVD featured Benjamin and Kirsten Watson, Danny and Stacia Woodhead, Matthew and Shahrzad Slater, Ryan Wendell and Meridith Bartman (who are engaged to be married in July), as well as Don Davis.  It was really well done (thanks to the creative work of Jake and Kaylee Gosselin) and was a great addition to the day.

It takes many helping hands to put on such a conference, and once again Jim and Sue Martis and their able team pulled it off with excellence.  The day went like clockwork and we are deeply grateful for the many who helped make it so.


The aftermath . . . cleaned up and packed away . . . these folks stayed ’til the end. So grateful for them!


The dust had barely settled on “Worth It” before Lisa and I flew to California on Sunday while Paul happily stayed home to work on a myriad of house and writing projects. I had the joy of spending the week with Kari, Brandon, and Ana, while Gabe was with his pastoral staff team from Grace Baptist Church, Santa Clarita, attending the “Together for the Gospel” conference in Louisville, KY.  Oh what fun it was to have five delicious days with Brandon and Ana (and their mama, of course.)  Brandon and I had “sleep overs” every night, ensuring that the day would close with reading some childhood favorites. Baking, going to the park, playing “Candyland” and doing some special outings filled up the days and all too quickly I was boarding a plane for Raleigh, NC, where I joined Paul who was officiating the wedding of Parker and Katie.  


The cuties I spent a week with in California. I can never get enough of the grands!


The wedding was a celebration of so many great things, and we enjoyed every minute of it. We’ve shared many important moments with this family through the years and it was such an honor to share this milestone event with them. Every time Paul does a wedding, he’s flooded with responses from those unfamiliar with a Christian perspective. He most often hears, “I’ve never heard marriage spoken about that way. You’ve given me something to really think about.”  What a privilege to proclaim God’s good design for marriage to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

Held at the beautiful Carolina Inn on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, the ceremony was a declaration of the gospel of marriage.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to encourage marriages, we welcomed the opportunity to do a mini-marriage conference for the Trinity Park Church.  Connected by Corrado and Penny Grieci (former New Englanders and long time friends), we spent the morning with a very receptive and warm audience.  It was a bonus to catch up with the Griecis as well.

Friends from Trinity Park Church attended the marriage seminar on Saturday, April 16.
After the wedding festivities ended, we spent Sunday reconnecting with James and Joe Yardley, both who attend UNC-Chapel Hill. After church, at which Joe was playing keys, we had a lively conversation over lunch. It was so encouraging to catch up with these two college students (who we’ve known since they were 1 and 3 years old) whose hearts are for the Lord. Next visit, my 88-year-old second cousin, Sis, who is a lifelong Raleigh-ite. Impressively spry and a delightful conversationalist, our time with her passed far too quickly. We rounded out the day with Roy and Jenny Kelly, beloved friends who used to live in New England. It was great to catch up with them after not having seen them face to face in such a long time. More important relationships!

Back home, briefly, for a day of counseling, and now we’re off to Trinidad for a week.

Forty years ago today we were counting the final four days until we would be united as husband and wife. We’re both finding it hard to wrap our minds around 40 years! While thousands of memories swirl in my head as we anticipate reaching this milestone on Sunday, April 24, the overwhelming sentiment centers on the faithfulness of God. We sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness” at our wedding and believed that “morning by morning new mercies we see.” We have clung to “All I have needed Thy hand has provided” and we affirm, “Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

Humbling. Blessed. So loved. The most important relationship of all: He loves us and promises to be faithful. That’s the key to our 40 years together. All praise is His.
Our wedding party . . . sooo late 70’s. Love it!

All Things New


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Several comments received after the conference:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is risen indeed!!!

To Him be the glory forever and ever.


Amen.

Leaping in to March


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

She said “Yes!” to his very heartfelt proposal.

Most of the couples who attended the MLAC marriage conference.

These three couples have been at every MLAC conference we’ve spoken for.  Treasured friends.

One last stop before heading west . . . dinner and frozen yogurt with the Copleys. It’s hard to believe these “little girls” are so grown up! 

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

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

Time with the Dahlstroms is always stimulating, and it has nothing to do with the coffee.  :) 

Earl and Sandy Wilson continue to be used by God in so many important ways. They are still on the front line of redemptive work.

Jay and Sarah Welch are enjoying marriage fully.
Rachel, Alissa, and MaryAnn were very fun ice cream dates.

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

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

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

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



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


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

Hope Community Church of Newburyport, MA, held their marriage conference in Portsmouth, NH.
Anyone left standing at the end of clean-up was grabbed for this photo.
  
We arrived home in time for Super Bowl Sunday, which held much less interest for us than last year’s did.  :)  We were happy for our friends who are die-hard Broncos’ fans, but we admittedly had our share of “if only’s.”  As I said before, we are more than proud of our Patriots players, especially the ones who come to the Thursday night couples’ study, and thank them for working so hard and accomplishing so much.

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

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

This lovely family hosted us in Alabama and we were so encouraged by their commitment to Christlikeness in their home.
They outfitted us with rival shirts . . . symbolizing how two very different people can be strong together.

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

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

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

Valentine’s breakfast in bed . . .


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

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

We love partnering with them.

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


Being framed with Jess and Elizabeth Bousa.

The Restore Church marriage conference.

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

Rachel at 3 months is edible . . . so sweet and low-key.

Nathan is a very happy, active, loving little guy and a great big brother.

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

Many of our H.I.M. Board Members and volunteers, without whom we couldn’t do what we do.  So thankful for each of them!
And that brings us to now. Safely down in Denver, we will spend some time with some Denver Theological Seminary students tonight and present a couple of workshops at the ProAthletes Outreach Conference in Colorado Springs over the next few days.


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

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.




A Lifetime Ago

Re-reading my last blog post (March 22, 2015), it does seem like a lifetime ago.  The snow is now gone and signs of (a very late) spring are beginning to surface.  We’ve traveled 22,628 miles and spent almost 50 hours in the air since then.  We’ve been home 5 days since mid-March, and most of those have been filled with counseling or speaking locally.

No wonder our arrival in Uganda feels like a lifetime ago!

Before we hit the air again (in just over 30 hours), I’ll try to catch up with myself by reflecting on this “lifetime” in a few short paragraphs.

Perhaps what makes it seem so “epic” is that 3 of the past 4.5 weeks were spent in Africa.  It’s not only geographically far away, its culture and lifestyle are even more “far away” from our middle class American life.  The sights, sounds, and smells are constant reminders that we’re a long way from home… that is, until we reunited with our daughter and her family awaiting our arrival at Entebbe, and then, amazingly, we instantly felt “at home.” It’s amazing how relationships always transcend place.

And so began the fulfillment of our long-held dream to have our whole family experience Julie, Derek, and Nathan’s world together.  Our arrival on March 17th was followed by Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana’s on the 18th, and finally by Lisa’s on the 19th.  No small miraculous feat in itself…accomplishment by Paul who spent countless hours booking and re-booking flights for this trip.  Thankful for safe air travel for all, we continued traveling as we piled in vehicles and drove 5 hours to Mbale, the town in eastern Uganda that houses the CURE Pediatric Hospital where Derek serves as the executive director.  

Our first day in Mbale, visiting the CURE Children’s Hospital.


We had 10 days all together in Uganda and we made the most of them given the “constraints” we had given that 3 of the 10 family members were age 4 and under.  Bless those little ones!  We may have gotten no rest were it not for the napping and early-to-bed needs of such company.  

Our days in Mbale were divided between visiting the babies and mamas at the hospital (the highlight for everyone), playing in the Johnsons’ yard, taking walks in the neighborhood, eating fabulous meals a la Derek and Julie, and grabbing an occasion cup of cappuccino at the Endiro Coffee Shop.  We did venture on a “field trip” to Sipi Falls one day and enjoyed a short hike to a beautiful waterfall, but other than that, our world existed within about a 3-mile range between the hospital and their home.  Paul and I did one whole day of teaching on marriage for JENGA during the time we were all together, but otherwise we majored on the delight of being together as a family and we immersed ourselves in the Johnsons’ world.

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.

We loved every minute of it.  It was re-inspiring to view their life anew through the first-time eyes of the Garcia family. Brandon was beside himself with excitement to see Chiko II (the monkey that has been hanging out in the Johnsons’ yard for the last several months) swinging in the trees in their yard as well as the herds of Ankole cows ambling down the dirt road in front of the Johnsons’ house every morning and night.  Ana loved the Johnsons’ dogs, their son Nathan (who is just 2 months older than she is, and they did have some competitive moments of non-sibling rivalry), and all the babies at the hospital. Gabe and Kari were impressed by the mission and work of the hospital as well as by the realities of living in a developing country for the Johnsons. It’s hard to grasp what that means until you experience it firsthand.  Our awareness of the sacrifices and challenges of their life were heightened.

We also had an early 30th birthday celebration for Julie. We were all so happy to get to honor her in person for this milestone.

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 week in Mbale, we headed northwest to Murchison Falls Game Park to go on a safari.  In spite of lots of rain, we had a fabulous time viewing the incredible creativity of God as seen in giraffes, elephants, Cape Buffalo, a female lion and her cubs, deer, antelope, wart hogs, hippos, crocodiles, eagles, and more.  We drove for about 5 hours through the savannah and then took a 3-hour “cruise” on the Nile up to Murchison Falls.  It was an unforgettable day and one we hated to see end.  

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 parted ways the next morning, with the Garcias and Lisa driving to Entebbe to fly home and Johnsons and us heading back to Mbale.  Paul and I had many great ministry opportunities the next week:  we did an all-day pastors’ conference focusing on marriage training, we spoke for a couples’ date night for Pearl Haven Christian Center, we spoke at the Easter Convention and for a pastor’s prayer breakfast, we did a bit of counseling, we hung out at the hospital, and we spent time with several missionary families.  We had the joy of celebrating Easter at Pearl Haven and were so lifted by the worship of our uninhibited African brothers and sisters.  Glorious!

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.

April 7 we left Uganda to begin a very long trip home, which thankfully went without hitch, landing us in Boston late afternoon on the 8th.  No time for jet lag recovery as we counseled all day the 9th and ran our annual “Worth It” purity family conference all day the 11th.  

Yes, that was a very fast transition….and the Lord met us with amazing strength and energy.  We were thrilled to have a packed house for Worth It, which featured New England Patriots Nate Solder and Matthew Slater (with his wife Shahrzad), retired Patriot Don Davis, Camp Berea Director Nate Parks, UCLA head athletic trainer for women’s basketball Lisa Friesen, Grace Chapel Wilmington youth minister Adam Rowe, and LCA Creative Arts Director Christopher Greco and his wife Dorothy.  All spoke with power, clarity, and conviction regarding the goodness of God’s design for our sexuality and relationships.  


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.

No rest yet: on Sunday Paul preached both services at Hope Community Church in Newburyport and that evening we returned to the church to speak for a Couples’ Dessert Night.  This was an event which had been snowed out in February and we were so glad we had a day to reschedule it.  We thoroughly enjoyed partnering with this alive church.

We rested on Monday, April 13th, as we flew to California.  :)  Tuesday and Wednesday we partnered with Grace Baptist Church of Santa Clarita, speaking at a mom’s event Tuesday morning and doing training for their Care Ministry teams on Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday night.  It was great working with Dan Broyles, their Director of Care Ministries.

Thursday was all about the Garcia grandkids: visiting the fish and turtle pond at the mall, eating at Chick-Fil-A, playing baseball in the back yard, building Legos creations, baking Gigi cakes, having “wrestle time”, and taking walks.  What’s not to love about grandparenting?!!

A favorite destination . . .

. . . and this is why!  Quite mesmerizing to watch these turtles and koi.


On to Tehachapi, California, on Friday to do a marriage conference for the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard. This church plant of the Desert Vineyard in Lancaster is thriving in this small mountain town under the shepherding of Barry and Saundra Galloway.  We were enveloped by their love and grace from the moment we arrived Friday evening until we left Sunday afternoon. The well-attended marriage conference Friday night and Saturday was vibrant and alive. We were very encouraged by the receptivity and teachability of the attendees. We spent Saturday evening talking with their ministry staff about balancing ministry and family, and then taught at both of their Sunday morning services on “Living to the Praise of His Glory.”  It was a very well-spent weekend.

Barry and Saundra Galloway shepherd the flock at Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard
and are impossible not to love.

A Campus by the Sea family camp planning meeting took place in the afternoon, followed by the UCLA women’s basketball banquet, and then a red-eye home.  Whaaaat???  Gluttons for punishment, perhaps, but it feels like we somehow gained a day, especially when flying west to east.  Our bodies aren’t fooled by such trickery, however, so we weren’t very productive after getting home early afternoon Monday.

Lisa, Head Coach Cori Close, and I get a photo prior to the Women’s Basketball Banquet.
Though it’s only been a month, it still somehow seems like a lifetime ago since I last wrote.  We are beyond thankful for all that’s gone down in this last month and are cherishing memories that will last a lifetime.  

From Africa with Love

We’re not in Bedford anymore!  We left behind 4 feet of snow (just after the “most snowfall record” was broken and temps were still deep in the basement…) and landed in Entebbe, Uganda, with temps in the 90’s and the parched land longing for the rainy season to begin.  

What a difference 8,339 miles and 30 hours can make!

The month leading up to this African ministry/family reunion trip has been full (!): of ministry opportunities, of challenging situations, of seeing God’s power and presence in incredible ways. Shortly after my last post, we headed to California to speak in Brentwood for a couples’ dessert night at Golden Hills Community Church (GHCC). Before we got to the church, though, we spent an evening with a handful of very special Campus By the Sea (CBS) “kids”, then we had breakfast with a precious couple we married 2.5 years ago for a slightly delayed “annual marital check-up”, and then we had lunch with a dear engaged couple we’ll be marrying in September.  We work these trips!

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.


Our evening with Johnie Moore and his congregation at GHCC was delightful.  Their “dessert bake-off” contest was very competitive (and yummy) and the packed house of couples were receptive and warm.  Phil and Heather Andrews, long time CBS’ers (Heather was “raised” coming to Campus By the Sea, and now she and Phil are raising their two at camp), spearheaded the invitation and we were overjoyed to have a reunion with about 9 CBS families that evening, some who drove in from as far as Fresno, Chico, and Redding. Such a great time! We’re amazed to hear from couples at the end of such evenings how much of a “shot in the arm” it was to have encouraging words spoken into their marriage at “just the right time.”  That is the work of God . . . and we are so humbled to be a part of it.

Johnie and Becky Moore were such gracious hosts at GHCC.

The CBS contingent at the dessert night . . . How we love these families!


We flew to San Diego first thing Sunday morning and spent a couple of days with my mom. She continues to impress us with her remarkable “can-do” spirit and her gracious heart. She’s always so grateful for all gestures of care and kindness that come her way.  While we may struggle with spending less time with her than we’d like, she’s always quick to say, “I’m so grateful for any time we get to be together.”  What a gift to all of us who love her!

Though our time in San Diego was short, we were happy to connect with all three sisters who live there before we headed to Del Mar for the annual “Increase Conference” hosted by Pro-Athletes Outreach.  This is one of our favorite conferences every year for many reasons: it’s great to have time with current and former Patriots on a more casual basis than the season allows; we hear great teaching and enjoy sincere worship through music; the accommodations are always first-rate and we thoroughly enjoy being spoiled for those few days; and we love teaching workshops on topics germane to healthy marriages and are always amazed at how appreciative the audience is.  For the second year, we were able to bring my mom up for an evening and we think it definitely ranks on the short list of highlights of her year.  We are so touched by the care some of the players (who have become close friends through the years) extend to her.  Since my mother’s love for football makes mine look anemic (and those of you who know me know it’s not at all!), few things could trump being in a room full of NFL players, including some of her very favorites.  Special time.

My mom was pretty thrilled to have Danny Woodhead and Benjamin Watson
as her dinner dates at the PAO conference.


We red-eyed back to Boston before that conference ended (sadly) to run the H.I.M. marriage retreat, which seems like very poor planning, but actually was due to having to book our dates for the H.I.M. conference a year out and making the assumption that the PAO conference would stay in February where it has usually been. Alas, some things are beyond our control, so we beat a hasty retreat to Boston, made a pit stop in Bedford to change out our wardrobe (the summery clothes we wore in California weren’t quite appropriate for the winter wonderland we returned to!), and off to Newport, Rhode Island, we went.

Our annual marriage get-away conference was highly successful.  Sold-out weeks ahead, we had a full house whose evaluations affirmed that God met us in a significant way throughout the weekend. All praise is His.

We moved the weekend to the Hyatt Hotel on Goat Island after many years at Hotel Viking.  Though we missed many things about the ambience of the Viking, the Hyatt did a great job and proved to be very suitable in terms of conference space, meals, etc.  

David and Cherylyn Hegg, from Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, California, joined us for the weekend to teach 3 of the 4 plenary sessions (Paul and I spoke opening night).  David is a theologian whose regard for the proper and accurate handling of God’s Holy Word is high, which is quite refreshing in an age when value is often higher on connection than content. Fortunately David does both well: he connects well and his content is substantial.  His teaching was appreciated.

David and Cherylyn Hegg are dear friends and ministry partners.
We loved having them with us for the marriage retreat!


A moment of all-in-good-fun rivalry happened when Doug Macrae presented David, a diehard Seahawks’ fan, with a signed Tom Brady jersey.  :)  

Doug Macrae presents David Hegg with a signed Brady jersey . . .
just what every Seahawks’ fan wants.  :)


With 30 of the 130 couples being “newlyweds” (married 6 years or under), we moved our newlywed breakfast to the dinner hour and had a stimulating time of discussion about topics relevant to their stage of marriage.  We were so encouraged by the inter-generational mix of attendees overall, from 2 months married to 46 years married, and everything in between.  


The newlywed dinner was well-attended and spawned some lively discussion.


Our many workshops also got very high marks, as did worship, led again by Danny and Rayna Oertli.
  
Maybe the two highest points of the weekend were when two different couples shared their stories of hope.  One of the couples had survived adultery, and testified to the redemptive power of God in their marriage and family.  Another couple shared that the threat of divorce by a very dissatisfied spouse had been replaced by a vision of hope for their now thriving marriage.  Everyone was moved by these stories: by the honesty and candor of the couples, and by the hope-giving message of the gospel.

Everything ran like clockwork, and as Paul and I drove home, we focused on how grateful we were for God’s faithfulness and to have such an incredible team around us.  As he said to the team at conference end, “There’s no way we could’ve come in on a red-eye had we not had the team we have.”  Though many contributed, a huge shout out to Kelly and Ryan Plosker (who did decorations and goodie bags), and Barbara and Guy Steele and Jim and Sue Martis (who did registration, desktop publishing, folder production, hotel liaisoning, etc., as warranted).  Without their huge effort, it wouldn’t have happened.

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.


Quoting from several evaluations that affirmed the impact of the weekend:

“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.”

With only one week before our departure for Uganda, we squeezed as much as we possibly could in to those 7 days.  Shock!

Monday night we hosted an H.I.M. Board and volunteer staff appreciation dinner.  We are surrounded by such wonderful, godly, servant-hearted people and will never be able to fully communicate our appreciation for them, but we tried.  Fun was had by all.

Tuesday was dedicated to shopping for our trip to Uganda and packing what we could at that point. We had a full day of counseling Wednesday, and some Thursday as well. Friday morning we drove to Portland, Maine, to speak to a Mom’s group at Eastpoint Church and loved that. Friday night one of our couples for Engagement Matters (EM) who were staying at our home arrived, and all day Saturday and Sunday were spent teaching EM to a very full house. Saturday night we spoke for a New England Chapel couples’ night in Franklin, Massachusetts, and Sunday night we finished packing for Uganda.  :) Since we had to leave our house at 3 a.m. Monday for the airport, it was a good thing we didn’t have time to go to bed anyway.  :)

Engagement Matters delights us in every way. The 19 couples who attended exhibited such openness and genuine desire to hear important Biblical truth about God’s design for marriage. They asked great questions and interacted in and out of sessions.  We love wrestling with important issues before a couple is married and truly believe it pays off after marriage.  Hosted by the Bilazarians at their lovely Victorian home in Andover, we were grateful to have Carl and Cathy Blatchley on the serving team and Ryan and Kelly Plosker on the teaching team.  Our collective hearts pray that God will really use this weekend to better prepare couples to pursue God-honoring marriages.

Engagement Matters attendees March 14-15, 2015
The serving team: Melanie Bilazarian and Cathy and Carl Blatchley.
 
The warm home and yummy food were appreciated by all.


Several comments from attendees:

"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.”

Very, very thankful for the opportunity to speak into the lives of these young people and for how God met each of us during the weekend.

After such an exhausting week, we were glad to have some really long flights to Uganda to sleep and process. Off we flew in the middle of the night, just hours after Engagement Matters ended, and by Tuesday early afternoon, we were happily hugging Derek, Julie, and Nathan at the Entebbe airport. Twenty-four hours later, Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana arrived, and nineteen hours later, Lisa arrived.  Family complete for the drive to Mbale as this long dreamed of, long planned for family reunion/ministry trip launched.

We are beyond thankful and thrilled to be here together, embracing the life Derek and Julie have had together the past 3.5 years. Since they will be returning to the states in late summer to begin Derek’s new position at CURE headquarters in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, the window of opportunity to make the trip was now or never.  We are so grateful it has worked out.

My next blog will detail our time here, so for now, sending much love from Africa. 

Our first day at the CURE Hospital . . . deeply moving.

Warm Hearts, Cold Everything Else



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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Brandon and Ana helping Gigi bake scones.

Sibling love.


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


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

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


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

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


The male models . . .



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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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







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. 

Leaping through February


As the first real snowstorm of the quickly-coming-to-a-close winter “that wasn’t” blankets the area, I’m happily snuggled at home absolutely delighting in this thoroughly unexpected twist of nature.  My “Let It Snow” collection of pleading signs that have greeted every visitor to our home this winter have been ignored by the Great Snow Maker...until now.  LET IT SNOW!!!!

This is the perfect scenario for writing an overdue blog entry... and on leap day, no less.  We have been home eight days since I last wrote...which explains why I feel very far behind on most maintenance issues.  Our travels have taken us to CA, NY, and FL, and each trip has been full of people, ministry, and delight.

Backing up to Feb. 3, when I returned from London, I had no time to get over anything before we were in the saddle Saturday a.m. teaching at our H.I.M.-hosted parenting conference.  Though the turn-out for it was disappointing, those who attended were very affirming of its value.  Between the workshops and the plenary sessions, there was plenty of energy and hunger for encouragement and instruction.

It was interesting to juxtapose the seeming lack of priority placed on attending a parenting conference (too busy, kids' sports, no babysitter, etc.) with the immense amount of time and energy invested in being prepared for the biggest football game of the year which happened the following day.  There were no lack of callers-to-sports-radio from armchair coaches who had clearly spent a lot of time analyzing the Patriots and developing a game plan that would produce the desired results.  If fathers spent a fraction of the time investing in developing a game plan for their families...and then showing up to coach them through the "game of life," our homes would be so different.

Super Bowl Sunday started for us at Highrock Church, where we heard a challenging message by David Swaim, and was followed by a trip to Plymouth to visit our dear Thora Eames.  She was recovering from hip replacement surgery, necessitated by an unfortunate fall off a ladder while washing her outside windows (Why not?  Isn’t that what all 94-year-olds do on a Saturday afternoon?).  We had a great visit with her and were most encouraged that her spunk and spirit were not dampened in the least.  We presented her with a new Patriots shirt to wear as she watched the game that night as she is a diehard, energetic fan.  Her son instructed the nurse to seatbelt Thora in her wheelchair during the game to keep her from leaping to her feet during happy moments (and dislocating the newly located hip!)  We left so inspired  by her amazing life.


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

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

After a board meeting and a day of counseling, we flew to California for a return visit to the Desert Vineyard in Lancaster/Palmdale.  This was our third trip there in a year and each time we're with David and Nancy Parker (lead pastor and wife) and their crew, we're more impressed with what they're doing and with how God is using them.  We kicked off our time by speaking for the Antelope Valley Ministerial Association's monthly luncheon on Thursday.  We were amazed at the broad representation of area churches in attendance and had many conversations that gave us glimpses into the greater work in that area.  It's so encouraging to see churches working together to make an impact for the kingdom!

That night, the church hosted a Couples' Fiesta Date Night, and they pulled out all the stops!  From a beautifully decorated room to live Mariachis and a delicious catered Mexican feast, the ambience was set for a delightful evening.  The sold-out crowd was full of energy and didn't run out of it until we were done speaking.  It was an extremely well done evening.



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


The catered Mexican feast was enjoyed at colorfully set tables.

Friday morning, after a very fun visit with some friends, we drove to Westlake Village for the weekend marriage conference for Desert Vineyard.  There was a huge response to the conference, and we're convinced that when the senior pastor leads by example and attends the marriage conference his church is promoting, there is greater buy-in by the congregation.  It sure was a bonus for us to grab moments with David and Nancy throughout the weekend.  So many in that congregation have become dear to us over this past year!  And we "owe it all" to Tommy and April Garcia, long time CBS family campers, who got the ball rolling for us at DV.



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


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

All too quickly, our five days with Desert Vineyard were up and as we said our good-byes, we felt like we were leaving very dear friends.

Since it was only Sunday afternoon, why not do another event?  On to Yorba Linda we drove (about an hour south) to speak at "The Rock" for their Valentine's Date Night.  This was also the second year in a row with this group, headed by Brent and Melissa Slezak, and we had a great night.  The Slezaks have such strong ministry gifts and such a deep passion for family and marriage, so it's a real joy to partner with them.  The evening was beautifully done, from the decorations to  the dinner, and we had a very receptive audience to speak to.  We loved every minute of it.



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

Since "all work and no play make one dull" we took Monday to play. . . at Disneyland.  The Slezaks made that possible (Brent is employed by Disneyland) and we had a really fun day at the Magic Kingdom and California Land.  Just honing our skills for our grandchildren . . . :)


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

We flew home on Valentine’s Day and spent a full day Wednesday counseling, and an equally full day Thursday with various events, the highlight of which was our end-of-the-season celebration dinner with our New England Patriots couples Bible study group.  Unfortunately, between those who had already left town for "home" and others who had had surgeries, our group was rather small—but we had a really great evening together.  Don and Betsy Hasselbeck were surprised when Paul read the dedication of the study he wrote for our group this fall ("Jesus on Marriage") to them.  We are so grateful for their partnership!

Off we drove the next morning...for upstate New York!  Glens Falls to be exact!  We were privileged to do our first conference for the Pine Knolls Alliance Church and were so pleased to feel very much at home with them right off the bat.  Richard and Amy Dean, who came to Engagement Matters many years ago, planned the conference and overlooked no detail.  They did a great job of covering the bases and the conference ran very smoothly  They had a great turn-out and we were thankful for a very enthusiastic audience.  The conference ran Friday night and all day Saturday.  On Sunday, we spoke for two Sunday School classes on marriage.  We had a great experience and are so thankful for what they have going at that vital church.


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



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

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

Continuing the rhythm, we unpacked, did laundry, and repacked, counseled for a full day, and then were off again.  Destination:  Florida!  Conference:  Pro Athletes Outreach, for the 12th year.

We love this conference.  PAO is committed to putting together a high quality program, steeped in solid Biblical teaching, and this year was no exception.  Dr. Tony Evans and Louie Giglio were two of the best who gave challenging, brilliant messages to this group of professional football players and their wives.  Paul and I did our temperaments workshop twice, and spent a lot of time interacting.  It was great for us to reconnect with many ex-Pats as well as others who have become friends through the years.  Our Lisa flew in during the conference to join me for an after-conference event and we loved having her with us.


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

And about that after-conference event: Lisa and i joined 20,000 other Princesses (with a few Princes thrown in) to run the Disney Princess Half-Marathon that Sunday morning.  This was our 4th half-marathon together (my fifth and her seventh) and we both agreed it was our best.  Not our best time (though almost) but certainly the most fun.  Taking full advantage of the princess theme, we "fit in" with our self-fashioned princess garb and enjoyed the cool, overcast morning run from Epcot through the Magic Kingdom and back.  It touches me so deeply that Lisa is willing to run a much slower race so she can run with me.  That's sacrifice.



At 4 am, getting ready to run . . .



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

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

Life Goes On


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.



Margaret Austin and I share a farewell hug before she joined her husband in Houston, where he now suits up for the Texans.

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.

It was a special joy to have Gail MacDonald, long-time family friend and mentor, attend the reception.


And Thora Eames—she inspires all of us!  She brought much energy to the afternoon!!



Doug and Julie Macrae kindly opened their home for the reception which was a huge blessing to all.

Lisa made it off the practice field to catch the tail end of the reception, and we had a happy reunion with her and my sister Francene.

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.



Mounted on our steeds, we rode the 18-mile circumference of  Newfound Lake on a gorgeous summer-like fall day.

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.



At Captain Joe’s, we were amazed by this ginormous lobster.  We let him live, and settled on four 2-pounders which were out of this world.

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 had a great evening with Barbara Boyd as we made our way to Elizabethtown, PA.

It was a true joy to return to Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (EBIC) after having a wonderful introduction to this congregation almost a year ago.  Steve and Liz Lane head up this vital church and it was a delight to spend a bit of time with them while there.  We spoke at both of their Sunday services, taught their very large adult Sunday School class, and did a parenting seminar.  We packed a lot in to a short time and actually hated to leave so quickly—but we had an engagement in Harrisonburg the next night so on we went.

Steve and Liz Lane and their sons Michael and Scottie were wonderful hosts for us at EBIC.

Next stop:  Harrisonburg, Virginia.  After a brief but lovely visit with my sister and her husband, Laura and David Leach, in Burke, Virginia, we drove down to Harrisonburg with Lisa, and spoke at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) large group meeting Monday night.  Lisa has assumed a position of leadership with FCA at JMU this year and she was so happy to have us speak on the topic of relationships to a good-sized group of student athletes.  We loved it and were honored by the opportunity.  It was an added bonus to have some moments with Lisa as well.  Our trip back to Boston on Tuesday was smooth, fast, and uneventful.  That’s the way we like road trips!


Lisa poses with part of her FCA leadership team after the large group meeting Monday night.

Back to Boston in time for the Patriots women’s study, counseling, the Patriots couples’ study, and more counseling.  In between we also spoke at Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel, and it was good to reconnect with many dear friends there.



The moms at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom were very happy to have access to resources after we spoke.

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!



We hiked to Paradise Falls in Camarillo with Derek and Julie during the wedding weekend.




 What a joy to reconnect with Greg and Janet Spencer at Matt and Tara Engle’s wedding.

Two last visits before flying back to Boston completed the trip.  We had the joy of meeting Christian Baker Offield, the almost-3-month-old son of Calen and Amber who we married last September.  Since we've known Calen since he was born, it was very special to meet the next generation.  Much to our delight, Calen’s mom, my very dear friend Wendy, was also included in the visit.  We spent the night with another very dear Wendy (Turney), and flew back to Boston on Tuesday, Oct. 11, very, very grateful for a memorable-on-many-levels weekend.


Calen and Amber with their son, Christian, and his grandma, Wendy.

And so life goes on.  We were back in the saddle in New England for a mere 48 hours.  But that’s news for the next blog.

It really was “Worth It”

What does finding a needle in a haystack look like these days?

How 'bout having two NFL players who, along with their wives, tell a crowd of 500 teens and their parents that they chose sexuality purity as the route to making the covenant commitment of marriage?

That packs a pretty big punch—which gets even bigger when both couples explain that their commitment was marathon in nature - not sprint-like.  David and Kassidy Thomas (former Patriot, now part of the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints) said that their courtship lasted six years—from their first date in high school to their marriage, which happened after they graduated from college—and that they strategically devised a plan that would help them honor this highly-valued commitment to sexual purity.  Six years!!  They were very practical as they explained their commitment to purity and the road they took to help them accomplish their goal.  They were truly inspiring!

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."

And those were only two of the stories of the day.  The maxed-out crowd which gathered at Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield heard from a variety of voices, including those who had not been as successful in making God-honoring choices in the area of sexual purity.  All offered hope, encouragement, and challenge to trust God in the area of relationships and to pay attention to His instructions so that He could give them the very best.  The message of grace and forgiveness was also abundantly clear and universal in application.

"Love the diverse panel of speakers and their different life experiences."  
"I appreciated the realness of the speaker.  Their transparency made a tough subject safe to talk about . . .”

We brought Danny Oertli in from Parker, Colorado, to "fill in the gaps" and he was perfect.  He began playing 15 minutes before the conference officially began, which drew the crowd into the sanctuary, and he played a various points throughout the day.  It was a great decision to have him on the team and we were so thankful for the effort he expended to come for less than 24 hours.

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, whose husband Benjamin is also a former Patriot (now playing for the Cleveland Browns) launched the day by powerfully speaking to the subject, "You are worth it!"  What establishes our worth?  The deep and sacrificial love of God, expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  His performance.  Not ours.  Each person, therefore, is worth being treated with honor, respect, and dignity in all areas of life . . . including our sexuality.  Kirsten was engaging and spot on and God used her to lay a great foundation for the day.  We desperately wanted those in attendance to understand that sexual purity is not about following a set of repressive rules, but about understanding the depth of God's love for us and responding to Him in obedience to His clear instructions. 

"Hearing that I am worth it made me aware that my family is worth fighting for.  Being there for them is worth it."  (parent)  

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.
Paul, who did a phenomenal job emceeing the day, conducted five-minute interviews with those speakers who weren't doing a plenary session in between sessions and that was very effective.  His interview with our daughter Lisa was very powerful as she talked about some of the benefits of cooperating with God's plan for purity.  She related that the decision she and her college boyfriend made to have a non-physical relationship that lasted for almost two years prior to them moving on served them so well.  They had a blast while they dated—and no regrets when they stopped dating.

You could hear a pin drop in the room when she continued and said, "But the best part of it was when I met the woman he married several years later.  I could look her right in the eye and know that I had honored her in my relationship with the man who eventually became her husband, and that he had as well.  Though we didn't know her while we were dating, we had honored her."  What a great word.  It was very powerful.  It was also powerful to hear her say that though she never expected to be single at 28, and admittedly that was hard at times since she really does want to be married, her life is full and good and she feels deeply loved by God.  She said, "This I know: I would much rather have my very fulfilling life as a single woman than be married to the wrong person.  As of now, I haven't met the right person for me, so I'm content waiting."  What an important and profound word!

"Today showed me that God does care about my heart's desires."  (17-year-old female)

Lisa Friesen—a single, and an athletic trainer at James Madison University—spoke very important words about the goodness of God and His ways.
During the morning, workshops were offered covering a range of topics, and were led by our very qualified team.  Nate Parks, director of Camp Berea, led a workshop for the parents on understanding the culture in which they are raising their children.  Jess and Elizabeth Bousa, church planters from Grace de Havre, New Jersey, spoke on the perils of cyberspace, and Lisa Friesen spoke on establishing convictions now that will help you honor God in college.  Don Davis gave a word of hope as he spoke on freedom through forgiveness, and Kirsten Watson challenged teens to be prepared to stand up to the godless culture in very practical ways.  David and Kassidy Thomas spoke on why sticking to your commitment for purity is worth it, and Kate Wylie did a workshop on why it's important to not give up on God's design for marriage.  The broad spectrum of topics provided something for everyone.

Nate Parks spoke to the adults during the workshop block on the realities of today's culture.

God blessed us with a gorgeous spring day (not to be taken for granted in New England!) so lunch boxes became outdoor picnics for many.  Jim Martis (MJM Catering) once again did a masterful job with his capable team and over 500 were served efficiently and nutritiously in short order.

"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.

It was a perfect day for being outside . . . and the lunch boxes made it easy.

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.

After lunch, Kate Wylie, whose husband Paul was the silver medalist in men's figure skating in the 1992 Albertville Olympics, did our third plenary session.  In an extremely honest presentation, Kate talked about the "sliding scale" that is so often applied to God's standard for purity, and what it costs.  She talked about the hypocrisy of "technical virginity" which Christian singles often rationalize and settle for, and challenged the men to lead their relationship in a godly fashion.  She said that sadly, there was no difference in the way guys who called themselves Christians treated her compared to those who were outside the church.  Kate was very open in saying that part of the reason she was speaking at "Worth It" was because she felt no one had instructed her with clarity when she was a teenager regarding God's design for emotional and physical purity, and that the "just don't have baby-making sex" had not been enough to protect her from making regrettable decisions along the way.  Her talk was thought-provoking and poignant.  

Kate articulated why we do the "Worth It" conference for the family, rather than just for the teens, when she said that no one had instructed her on God's design for sexual purity. In our years of doing family ministries, we've seen what she's described far less in kids who have had parents who encouraged and instructed their teens in the area of sexual purity.   As a result, we've felt the need and the call to equip challenge parents along with their kids on the subject of purity for several reasons.  First, it's hard for parents to stay ahead of the curve in the ever-changing sexual landscape of our culture, so many erroneously believe that things aren't that different from when they were teen-agers, and second, most parents will default to passing on the same legacy of silence regarding sexuality they received from their parents.  The stakes are too high to not interrupt this pattern, so we're committed to making it a bit easier for parents by opening up discussion on these important topics.  Third, and most sobering, many parents have given in to the culture and given up believing and expecting that their teenagers could make God-honoring decisions regarding their sexuality in this "anything-goes" culture.  We want to refortify them as well as their kids.

"Almost speechless with praise and thanksgiving, I feel like my eyes were opened to see the ‘7,000 others who had not bowed the kneel to Baal.’ ” (a parent)

“I came here for my daughter, but am leaving excited for both of us."  (parent)

"Loved hearing these messages with my daughter.  I wish I had had an opportunity like this when I was a teen."  (parent)

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.

After peer group break-outs, during which time Paul and I spoke on parenting during the teen years, Don Davis, retired from the NFL in a Patriots’ uniform and now juggling a number of roles including itinerate speaker, PAO, and the PA of the NFL, wrapped up the day with a call to surrender.  Charismatic, dynamic, and gospel-centered, Don put it on the line.  He unloaded the "swag bag for Jesus" and talked about forgiveness, grace, and love.  Don's heart for the Lord was impossible to miss and when he challenged the crowd to say "yes" to Jesus, at least 40 stood to make a profession of faith.  It was a very sacred moment in the day.

"The best part of the day was when I accepted Christ."  (14-year-old female)

"God has been tugging on my arm for a few years to pull me back.  Today He gave me a yank.  Thank you so much."  (female)


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.

But that wasn't all.  Paul interviewed Danny and Stacia Woodhead, whose story inspired all.  Their hearts for the Lord are so sincere and they faithfully honored each other throughout their 8-year courtship.  What a hope-giving model!  We were so thankful they were willing to come and be used so powerfully.

Paul interviews Danny and Stacia Woodhead as the "Worth It" conference drew to a close.

But that still wasn't all.  The whole team, including Brian and very pregnant Heather Dietz, gathered on the stage for the open question and answer time, and though we were unable to answer all the questions, quite a number were fielded.  That was followed by a time for commitment, and while Danny played his guitar in the background, Paul challenged the youth to consider committing themselves to purity, and confirming the commitment by signing a pledge card.  He encouraged them not to sign it if they weren't ready to do so.

"I made a commitment that sticking with my convictions is worth it."  (16-year-old male)


The teaching team listens as Kirsten Watson answers a question.


Paul throws in some thoughts on one of the questions.


As Danny plays, the conferees consider making a commitment to purity.

It was all over at 4 pm.  The place cleared out pretty quickly and the wonderful volunteers broke it down and cleaned it up.  Though tired by this point, everyone felt quite energized by what had happened that day.  It was clear that God had done a great work among us that would have deep impact beyond the day.  We all agreed that all of our efforts had been "worth it" and that by God's grace, all those there that day left knowing that God's heart for them is deep and His plans for them are good.

“This was such a great way to spend my Saturday.  I learned so much and gained so much strength that I'm certain I can make it.”  (17-year-old female)

“My 15-year-old went from being ‘sullen and not wanting to come, to being happy, apologetic, and saying 'Too bad more kids from our church arent here.’ ”


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!

And, from a 13-year-old, "This day was totally awesome!  And tons of fun, too!"
We'll let her have the final word.

Of Football and Princesses

We weren't home long from California (1.5 days to be exact) before we headed back out.  We managed to squeeze in a day of counseling and to wash and repack our suitcases in time for our Wednesday, Feb. 20, flight to Orlando to present a workshop at the Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO) conference.   This annual 4-day conference was started by Norm and Bobbe Evans years ago and has been used by God to spiritually impact NFL players for decades now.  Steve and Lori Stenstrom have now succeeded the Evans in providing leadership for PAO, and working with our own Don (retired Patriot) and Yannette Davis, produced another phenomenal conference.  This year's conference featured plenary speakers Dr. Tony Evans, Miles McPherson, and Francis Chan, and we were challenged and blessed by each of them.

It's a huge honor for us to be invited to be on the workshop team each year.  This year, we spoke on "how to keep your marriage alive while raising kids you like."  The subject obviously hit a chord as our workshop was packed out with very responsive attendees.  It also spawned many sidebar conversations during the remaining days of the conference, as we were fortunately scheduled to present of the first full day of the conference.

It was such a joy for us to reconnect with four current couples from our Patriot's couples' study as well as with at least that many ex-Pat couples.  Every moment of the four days was spent either in sessions or hanging out with friends in the beautiful Omni Resort in Orlando.  The mix of work and play was refreshing.

We came away with a lot, and admittedly, we're still processing—especially the talks given by Francis Chan.  He has an uncanny and consistent way of stirring the water and replacing comfortability with conviction.  His passionate plea to be "all in" for Jesus was lost on no one, and he quite possibly stands alone as the only speaker we've ever heard at PAO who expressed to these NFL players the sentiment, "I feel sorry for you."  He continued to explain why: that because of their status, their wealth, and their being idolized, it will be very difficult for them to fully surrender to Jesus.  He reminded them that their sense of value and worth could ultimately be found in nothing other than Jesus, and that in their arena, they face so much competition for their identity.  He actually wept for the players, as if he really did understand the seductive forces at work to pull them away from the heart of God.  He closed the final evening session by asking everyone to get into a posture of humble surrender - on our knees - and it was an incredibly moving moment to hear the scuffle of chairs and the sounds of 450 people bending their knees to God.  

I was deeply blessed to receive this email from a dear friend after the conference:
"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!!"
Wow!  That's just one piece of evidence that God was at work in a big way at the PAO conference.  Rejoice with us!  We know first hand that when God gets ahold of an NFL player, their natural platform can be used to advance God's purposes in a big way.  Pray for these men and their wives especially, that they wouldn't settle for or be seduced by the temporary things this world offers and defines as successful.

Some of our Bible study couples at the PAO conference.  We had a great time together.
So, you get the football part of this blog’s title, but princess??  What's that about?

The sun had barely set on the PAO conference Saturday night, Feb. 26, and it surely hadn't risen the next morning when I had to rise to join 14,000 "princesses" who would pound out 13.1 miles running in the "Disney Princess Half Marathon."  It was too good an opportunity to pass up, really.  We were in Orlando, and our conference ended just in the nick of time, and my goal of running 2 half marathons a year was lagging . . . so I ran.  It was my first "alone" run, which probably sounds ridiculous, since I've already said there were 14,000 runners.  But my running partner in crime, daughter Lisa, was unable to get out of her work commitments (she's currently the Athletic Trainer for the women's division 1 basketball at JMU, and obviously they're in season), so I ran "alone." 
Sort of. I was able to recruit several Patriot wives to run as well, but, truth be told, I still ran alone.  I didn't want them to set their "personal worst" time by running with me, so I genuinely wished them well and encouraged them to run their race.  I have given that freedom to Lisa in the previous runs we've done and I'm so thankful she's never taken me up on it!  It makes a big difference to run with a motivational coach who can actually run and talk for 13.1 miles and not get winded or sweaty.

Taking the shuttle bus from the Animal Kingdom Lodge at 3:30 am, God did something very special for me.  I sat down next to a woman who I discovered within moments was also running alone.  She was also from New England (CT) and we soon discovered that we had a lot in common, including some mutual friends.  Out of 14,000 women, I would sit next to Heather! I knew that God had orchestrated it.  She was a gift then and I imagine will continue to be in the years to come.

We're ready to run!  My new friend Heather is in the middle.

And so, in the still dark morning, we gathered.  I was quite in awe of the hundreds of princesses who dressed the part!!  There is a high entertainment factor in this run.  Tinkerbell, Snow White, the Fairy God Mother, Ursula, Minnie and Mickey Mouse—they were there in force, contributing to the "eye candy" this event is famous for.

With fireworks brightening the still dark sky and shattering the early morning quiet, the run started at 5:45 am.  Having grown up in SoCal with enough Disneyland exposure to make it one of my favorite places on earth, it was a total blast to run from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom—through the park—with no one but characters and fellow runners.  There was something very magical about running to Sleeping Beauty's Castle with the sun rising behind it, and to be cheered on by Disney's wonderful cast of characters at every turn.


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.

I am so thankful to have the physical health to do such things.  I'm not a natural runner and let me assure you, it's not easy for me to run that long.  It's actually posed the biggest physical challenge I've had in my adult years.  And it's produced some really positive benefits for me, physically, spiritually, and mentally.

The big take-away for me from this run is a reminder of how important community is.  That's obviously not a new thought, but I was struck by how much of a difference it made to run this race "alone."  It was so much harder!  I had way too much time to think about how easy it would be to give up when you're alone.  It's become a bit of a joke that I've inspired at least a dozen young women to run, who have new found confidence that they can do a half marathon if I can do one.  Many thoughts paraded through my head that morning that echoed such sentiments.  After all, if I can run a half-marathon at 56, anyone could run one.  There were times during the 13.1 that I really doubted if I could.

But I pressed on, and as the hot Florida sun slowly rose in the sky, I was motivated to finish sooner than later, since it was only going to get harder and hotter.  It was such joy to cross the finish line and have my own Prince Charming awaiting me with a sign and my Patriots travel mug full of ice water.  After the race is over, it doesn't seem so bad at all.  A bit like childbirth, I suppose.  Back to the Animal Kingdom Lodge we went to recover by hanging out in their beautiful pool.  Amazingly, we met up with my new best friend, Heather, and her husband, and spent several hours animatedly discovering each other's life stories.  As I flew back to Boston late that night, I was a tired, but very thankful and fulfilled Princess, with a mind swimming with challenging thoughts and happy memories.  In some ways, it was a happily ever after ending.  At least for now.

My "Prince Charming" was waiting for me at the finish line.  What a guy!!