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.”

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.


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!

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.

Here, There, and Everywhere (Part 2)

I wasn't joking when I said we were home briefly after our Feb. 12–24 California speaking tour.  Two days of counseling, and we were off!  Or, I was off, to Paradise, Pennsylvania, where I spoke for an Amish-hosted scrapbooking weekend.

Yes.  As oxymoronic as that sounds, that's what I did.

And it was a dream come true for me.  Ever since 1969, when my family moved to Northern Virginia and we discovered the delights of the Amish people, who lived a short 2.5 hours north of our rented home in Alexandria, Virginia.  We made many day trips to that back-in-time enclave of devotees committed to simplicity and to an undistracted-by-worldliness lifestyle . . . and a place in my heart was formed for these people.  Drawn in by their seemingly uncomplicated lives and their pursuit of focusing on the basic-needs-to-live philosophy, I secretly longed to spend a week or two with them.  Notice I wasn't deluded enough to believe I could make a total switch, but truth be told, I'm more comfortable with their simplicity than I am with American culture's obsession with "stuff."  (On the other hand, if you've noticed the many pictures I've posted over the years, maybe it's not so hard to imagine me there, as repeat performances by my "uniform" outfits appear over and over and over.)

My friend Liz Lane, whose pastor husband Steve serves as senior pastor of Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church, gave Rachel King, owner of From the Heart Scrapbooking Shop, a copy of my book Raising a Trailblazer:  Rite of Passage Trail Markers for your Set-Apart Teen and Rachel loved it. That's what led to me having coffee with her and her five children at their home in Paradise, which led to dreaming about a scrapbooking conference, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What a sweet, sweet time.  Rachel hosted Liz and me in their home—without electricity, technology, or a car.  Yes.  No car.  No TV.  No computers.  Besides those "differences," which were honestly almost unnoticed as battery-operated lamps lit the way, the home was full of the delights of a large family growing up together.  Five adorable children who are obviously well-loved and well-trained by their parents.  And parents who truly love each other and who love Jesus.  Junior (Rachel's husband) cooked omelets for us to round out Rachel's yummy breakfast muffins and after eating, the children drifted off to play games or read.  It was refreshing to see no iPod earplugs or iPads in hand.  I would've gladly just stayed in the home for the day, but the conference beckoned, so off to the barn we went.

Her scrapbooking shop is built above their barn, which houses their horses and buggies.  Fourteen ladies filled the work space with various creative projects and I spoke 3 times between Friday night and Saturday afternoon.  Rachel and two of her five sisters served lovely meals and kept things going.  

It was one of the most fulfilling and inspiring things I've done.  Rachel is a beautiful woman, immensely gifted artistically and relationally.  Her shop is only open a few months of the year because she's a wife and a mother first and doesn't want to miss out on raising her children or loving her husband.  She's practical, down-to-earth, genuine, wise, hospitable, and winsome.  She knows the difference between "religiosity" and "personal relationship with Christ" and she lives authentically and devotedly for Him.

My first real experience in an Amish home far exceeded my lofty expectations.

And joy!  She wants to do it again.  Bring it on!! 

The Amish farm just across the street from Rachel's home . . . freeze drying the clothes.  Love it!

Liz Lane, Rachel Esh, and Rachel King, celebrating the success of the scrapbooking conference.

The ladies who attended: an eclectic but very congenial group which quickly bonded during the weekend.  All had in common their love for Rachel King and her beautiful shop.

The aura of 24 hours of living Amish quickly dissipated, sadly, as I rented a car and drove from Harrisburg, PA, to Baltimore, MD, to catch a flight to California.  The 1hr 40mins trip would get me to the airport hotel easily before 8 pm, and I'd get a good night of rest before catching an early morning flight.  "Easily" turned out not to be part of this journey, I soon found out, when for reasons then unknown to me, traffic backed up for miles about 30 minutes shy of my destination.  1hr 30mins delayed, I eventually found out that 83 South had been closed due to the potential collapse of part of the highway, and the subsequent delay and detour, though warranted, sabotaged my "isn't life peaceful and perfect" reverie less than 2 hours after leaving "Paradise."  Finally to the hotel by 9, I decided to return the rental car so as to not have to worry about it at 4 in the morning, and the first gas station I stopped at to refill had non-functioning pumps due to a shift change and computer downloading process.  But I waited for 10 minutes with an impotent hose in my gas tank before giving up on the "it'll only be a minute" explanation I'd been given twice by the attendant.  Off to another station, which boasted having a Subway sandwich shop inside, and with a momentary sense of happiness, I decided the Lord kept the pumps closed at the other station so I could grab a bite to eat at the second station.  Notice the word "momentary."  After filling up, I went in to get a Subway . . . only to find it closed.  Missed it by 10 minutes: the 10 minutes I was waiting at the first station.  Oh well.  Off to return the rental car, I carefully entered the address of the car return in iMaps and off I went, determined to trust the GPS, which caused me to ignore the signs to the rental car return area.  Following it, I was suddenly in the middle of an abandoned air strip with nothing but eerie flashing warning messages to watch for possible emergency vehicles in the area.  Thoroughly freaked out at 11 pm, in the dark, alone, I turned off iMaps and retraced my steps back to the rental car return signs and successfully returned the car.  And then I waited for a courtesy bus to return me to the hotel, which a few short hours later would take me back to the airport.

But it doesn't end there.  Once back in the hotel, I decided to confirm the time of my early morning flight, only to discover that for reasons known only to the cyber-gods, I could find no trace of my reservation confirmation on my computer.  No worries.  Call Paul, the one who makes all such reservations.  Wait—he's in the air himself, flying to California to do the funeral that I'm flying out for. By now, I am beside myself. Exhausted, hungry, and frustrated, with the memories of the most idyllic, peaceful scrapbooking conference completely obliterated. Tears. Bad thoughts. Oh!  How thin the line is at times!

Two hours later, Paul landed in LA and wished he hadn't turned his phone on immediately to read a cryptic text from his very distraught wife, languishing in self-pity in a 2-star hotel in Baltimore.  Within minutes, he had located my flight information and I fell into a beyond-exhausted heap for a short, short night of sleep.  

But it still doesn't end there.  Off to the airport, I flew from Baltimore to Phoenix without a hitch.  That was nice.  And productive.  I was then to fly to Orange County, arriving at 11:40 am for a 2 pm funeral.  Easy breezy.  But not really.  After turning down the offer to take a $300 "bump" and be placed on a flight to Ontario (which would land 30 minutes after the Phoenix flight would and then be bused to Orange County) because I didn't want to risk missing the funeral, the announcement came through that the Phoenix flight was delayed due to a lavatory malfunction.  No worries, they said.  A 30 minute delay could be expected.  If you fly much, you know that's code for "we'll say 30 minutes to start with, so you all don't mutiny, and then we'll keep adding the minutes according to our need."  We were finally boarded 1hr 30mins later, and just after pushing off from the gate, the captain announced, "Good news, bad news.  Good news: we're pushed back.  Bad news: Air Force One has landed and we're grounded for another 30 minutes until air space is cleared for security."

Seriously???  My seat mate is probably still wondering what tragic news I was discussing on the phone with Paul at that moment as I was really, really close to . . . well, I'm not sure what, but I was close to it.

Thankfully the story ends well.  The flight did take off and it did safely land at 1:20 pm, and my dear friend Wendy Turney did pick me up after a last-minute frantic call from Paul arranged the connection, and after getting my luggage, changing my clothes, and driving to the funeral home, I arrived at 1:55 pm.  Just in time.  Whew!!

And that's how life rolls at times.  Two 24-hr periods of time, back to back, different as night and day. The second 24-hour period rebukes my "everything SHOULD go right and according to my time table and expectations because I have important things to do" mindset and reminds me that "she who lives without margins can easily be derailed."

The funeral honored the life of our very dear friend Wendy's Auntie Lynne and Paul did a beautiful job of leading the service.  The joy of being there was connecting with Wendy's extended family, all dear friends of ours.  It was a great celebration and I was exceedingly thankful that I was there.  

Standing with sisters Pam and Wendy and their wonderful Mom "Gami Jo" Baker
the morning after the funeral. 

Up next, with the residual dust of Amish simplicity still resonating, we checked in to a 5-star "boutique resort" in San Diego for the annual Pro-Athletes Outreach (NFL) conference.  It was clear I wasn't in "Paradise" Pennsylvania any longer.  Our room was half the size of our home and dripping with elegance.  Rose petals.  Chocolates.  A Nespresso machine.  A small swimming pool called a "tub." Oh, and electricity and TV's. Talk about a swing to the other side.  Crazy.

We love this conference every year and feel privileged to be workshop presenters for 13 years in a row. With worship lead by the Katinas, and with Francis Chan and Jon and Jeni Kitna (and others) presenting in the plenary sessions, the conference was "off the charts" for the almost 400 in attendance. Reconnecting with many "ex-Pats" and others we've met through the years was so encouraging.  God is using the unique privilege of these families to make a difference as they live out their Christian convictions.

There were two highlights of the conference for us.  We brought my mom, a rabid NFL fan (with a very specific love for the San Diego Chargers, the New Orleans Saints, and the Washington Redskins), to spend an evening with us (okay, with "them"—though she loves us, she would never have been so revved up for just an evening with us!)  and it was a magical evening.  The "guys" and their wives were so kind to her!  She was glowing.  And taking it all in.  A very memorable evening was had by all.

Benjamin and Kirsten Watson ate dinner with us.  Can you see the glow on my mom's face?

The second highlight was having two of our Patriots players come to Christ at the conference.  As we witnessed their baptisms, we were overwhelmed with gratitude for the work of the Holy Spirit.  Great rejoicing!!!

Thomas  (an ex-Pat) and Margaret Austin (and Baby Austin, due in early April) loved being introduced to Torrey Pines State Beach.

Don (also an ex-Pat) and Yannette Davis run the football conference and are such precious friends, in addition to being professional colleagues.  God is using them in big ways.

PAO ended and we spent a couple of days with my mom before flying home.  Because our 3rd conference in just over a week was an all-day marriage seminar for . . . the officers of the Salvation Army.  Quite a spectrum-of-life experience in 9 short days!!

These moments remind us that we are completely dependent on the Holy Spirit to speak through us. Left to our own devices, we'd come up short being clever or wise enough to speak to the hearts of those ranging from the Amish to NFL players to Salvation Army officers.  Really short.

But our day (March 10) in Sharon, MA, with about 80 officers was nothing short of wonderful and we once again felt very met by the Lord.  Great conversations between sessions, great interaction during sessions, and all agreed it was a day well spent when all was said and done.  Thank you, Lord.

Major David Kelly, Divisional Commander of the Massachusetts Division of the Salvation Army, and his wife, Naomi, hosted the marriage conference for their team and were wonderful to work with.

Meanwhile, on the family front, Julie and Derek have been busy on the frontlines of hospital work in Mbale, while Nathan closes in on 8 months and keeps them on their toes.  He is smiley, active, and "eat-him-up" cute, which makes up for his sometimes erratic sleep patterns.  Julie spent a lot of time during the month of February doing physical therapy for a young missionary couple who sustained significant injuries in a tragic car accident which took the life of their five-week-old baby girl.  The family has returned to the States now for further treatment, and Julie's work with the mother was pivotal in her recovery.  Pray for this dear family who have a long road ahead of them, both physically and emotionally.  

Nathan, lighting up the continent of Africa with his engaging smile and outgoing personality.

Lisa's first season as the head athletic trainer for women's basketball at UCLA has ended, sooner than anyone wanted, but with the team down to just six players, it was no surprise that they didn't make it beyond the first round of the Pac12 tournament.  She's been "recovering" from the intensity of the past 7 months in a variety of ways, including stealing away to Campus by the Sea for a few days and catching a few hikes with the Garcias.  

Speaking of the Garcias, their life is also full of activity between their work with Grace Baptist Church and a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old.  They are thrilled to be where they are, doing what they're doing, and especially loving growing their family.  

Auntie LeeLee makes hiking all the more fun for Brandon.

Though Ana appears to be not too sure about hiking, everyone else had a blast. 

Thankfully, though we've been here, there, and everywhere, God has been reminding us faithfully that He is, too.  Through rain, snow, sunrises, and sunsets, when things go right and when they don't, He is with us in this amazing life journey.  We are truly, truly grateful.

Part 3 is coming . . . stay tuned!!

Sunset from Coronado Beach, California.  We never grow tired of this beauty.  

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.

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!!