Patriots

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

When Silence Isn't Golden . . .

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

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

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

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

Savoring

Though the song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” is affirming the beauty of the Christmas season (and who would argue that?), I could easily build a case for an equally fitting song to be written about fall in New England. I quickly run out of expressive adjectives to describe the delights of this season during which beauty parades in different colors and presentations daily for about six weeks. We have been savoring each eyeful of gorgeousness in this land of deciduous trees whose greatest beauty comes through the transition from life to death. Interesting paradox.

We were treated to an early kaleidoscope of color the last weekend of September when we drove to Newport Center, Vermont, to present a marriage conference at the Newport Church of God. The home church of Paul and Lyss Gandy (our 2016 CBS musicians and high school family camp directors), they persuaded Pastor Larry Wall to invite us and we’re so glad they did. We had a great weekend with the Walls and their congregation, celebrating God’s design for marriage. We tagged a couple of days on to enjoy the beautiful area while staying in Lyss’s family’s cabin on Lake Memphremagog. It was a true gift of restoration and renewal to be there as we hiked, leaf peeped, and enjoyed some time with Lyss’s extended family. And it officially became an international trip when we had dinner in Canada.  :)

The conference was well received and we heard from many that God really met them during it.  As always, we pray for ongoing fruit.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church overlooks the lake.

Spectacular photo taken by Lyss Gandy.

Paul and Lyss emceed and led worship for the conference, and did both so well.

Here we are with the Gandys . . . always a good time.

Dinner out with Lyss’s local family, who were delightfully hospitable and welcoming.

Pastor Larry and Sally Wall: passionate for Christ and for transformation.  We enjoyed being guests in their home and sharing stories of hope.

On the drive down we found the colors to be distracting from keeping our eyes on the road.

Home October 4th, just in time for the Patriots’ women’s and couples’ studies, with some counseling packed in around them. We’re so thankful for robust groups in both of the studies, and we sense that God is doing a deeper work among us. Pray for those studies as you root for the Patriots.  :)

Columbus Day Weekend brought with it not just increased foliage color, but a sweet visit from Derek and Julie and their precious littles. Though the four-day stay included the stomach flu for Rachel, a bad head cold for Derek, and a very rainy Sunday (no complaints—just reporting), it was so good to be together. Those unplanned-for-elements insured that we had plenty of down time, which was a good thing for all involved. We did stroller walks to the park daily and played lots of indoor hide-and-seek, games, and read a plethora of books. Loved every moment.

Papa and his girl Rachel showcase their very blue eyes and beautiful smiles.

We did make it to a little farm stand, but as you can see from Rachel’s face, she was still under the stomach-flu weather.

We got the Johnsons off Tuesday afternoon (always sad) and spent Wednesday and Thursday as per usual: Patriots studies and counseling. There was a lot of laughter and many points of connection as we taught on temperaments at the couples’ study Thursday night. Great time.

Off to California first thing Friday morning for a full long weekend. Built around a wedding Paul was asked to officiate, the week had a little bit of everything. First stop:  Biola University, where we were honored to tape two podcasts for the Institute of Marriage and Relationships, which is directed by Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace. Alisa had written a blog on our book

Before You Save the Date: 21 Questions to Confirm your Decision to Marry

and asked us to follow up her blog with a couple of podcasts. Even though we had to slog through a delayed-from-Boston flight (after getting to the airport at the ungodly hour of 6 am . . . and then leaving 1.5 hrs late :(  ), waiting 30 minutes for our luggage at LAX, waiting another 30 minutes for the rental car van to pick us up . . . delaying our arrival to Biola by 1 hour 45 mins (and costing us lunch with the Graces), it was so worth it! We loved being with Chris and Alisa, whose hearts beat in sync with ours regarding family and marriage, and we are so excited about the Institute of Marriage and Relationships they are directing at Biola. The podcasts we recorded will be aired in the near future and we’ll keep you posted so you can tune in.

Speaking of Chris and Alisa Grace, they will be speaking at the annual H.I.M. Marriage Retreat, March 3-5, 2017, in Newport, Rhode Island. Registration has started and as has been true the past several years, it will likely sell out well in advance. Register now! This will make a great Christmas gift for your spouse, your married kids, your parents, and your friends.  

Friday evening, we spoke at The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills for their couples’ night. Jeff and Shauna Ochoa spearheaded this marriage shot-in-the-arm evening and provided a lovely date night for many couples. We’ve partnered with this church numerous times in the past and are so thankful for their commitment to healthy marriages.

Jeff and Shauna Ochoa planned the Couples Night Out for The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills, California.

The main event of this trip to California was Davey and Ruthanna’s wedding, officiated by Paul. Ruthanna grew up coming to family camp at CBS and she and Davey Ray met at CBS when they both served on staff. They attended our Engagement Matters Weekend last December and soon after they asked Paul to do their wedding. We accepted the honor with pleasure. The wedding on Sunday was a God-honoring celebration of a couple committed to living faithfully for Christ. Held in beautiful Highland Springs Resort in Cherry Valley, CA, under an 1100-year-old oak tree, the metaphors of legacy, of roots, and of strength were lost on no one. It was a thoughtful, meaningful wedding and we were so happy to be a part of it. It was also such a joy to be with Dave and Kim Noble and Isaac Rossitor again, all fellow past CBS staff, as well as with the Lee family, who have been family campers for over two decades.

We also managed to squeeze in a few hours visit with John and Grace Tebay, two of our longest and most beloved mentors. At 84 and 82, they are beyond remarkable and we hang on their every word and insight—and savor every moment. Their godly wisdom has been an invaluable resource to us since before we got married and we feel so blessed to have them in our lives. We closed out Saturday over dinner with two couples we’re mentoring, Brent and Melissa Slezak and Josh and Carley Gire, and left so inspired by their hearts and hopes.

John and Grace Tebay are in a league of their own and we’re so blessed to have them in our lives.

Davey Ray and Ruthanna’s wedding was beautiful and Christ-centered.

Such a fun reunion with Dave and Kim Noble (former CBS director) and Isaac Rossitor (former assistant head cook at CBS.)

One last thing before we returned to New England: a day at Disneyland with Brandon and Ana. Gifted by a dear friend employed by the Magic Kingdom, we made the most of this celebration in honor of Brandon’s 6th and Ana’s 3rd birthdays. 25,000 steps later (collected from 8:30 am to 8 pm), we left happily exhausted and full of memories we’ll keep savoring and replaying. Big moment of the day? Brandon’s inaugural ride on the Matterhorn. Pretty daring for a just-turned-6-year-old. Ana and Papa set a record for the most times on Ariel’s Grotto and King Arthur’s Carousel, though those numbers would’ve been shared with the Winnie-the-Pooh ride had it been open. I will never stop delighting in Disneyland, nor will I give up my dream to one day work there (though my aspiration to be Tinkerbelle and fly from the Matterhorn across the sky has been scratched off the list . . . for about 40 years now.) How grateful we are for generous friends who help make such memory-making days happen.

Disneyland was spectacularly dressed up for Halloween.

Brandon’s response just moments after his first ride on the Matterhorn. He was pretty happy that he conquered this very scary ride.

Back in New England, we’re joining the masses who are mesmerized by the glorious parade of fall colors which are truly breathtaking. No photos or words can capture the display, which unmistakably points to the glory of God. We’re savoring the days and thanking the Lord for His creative nurturing of our souls through such reflections of His majesty.

The blog posts I never finished . . .

Happy Veterans’ Day 2015

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving 2015!!

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


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

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

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

Success!!

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Happy December and Merry Christmas 2015

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

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

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


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

 The Johnsons get a family walk in as night falls.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The littlest “little,” modeling her matching jammies

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

Ana is ready for Christmas breakfast.


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


“Just what I wanted!

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

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

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

Christmas dinner

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


The morning after, with John and Marilyn Nugent.

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

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

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

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

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

Papa and Brandon had a blast sledding tandem.


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

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



Happy New Year 2016!!

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Glorious Fall


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Margaret makes 100 years of age look like 80!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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.







Finally . . . an update!

It’s been a long time since my fingers have found this keyboard to update our lives via this blog but finally, with 14 hours of flying ahead, here we go! 

Crazy busyness marked the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the first two weeks of 2015 have rather idyllically been spent in Hawaii: a vacation around speaking at a marriage conference.  Tough gig, but someone has to do it.  Though fully intending to write this before the new year launched, the mesmerizing tranquility of the island trade winds and nirvana-esque existence framing each day drained me of all motivation to get anything done that was unrelated to discovering the beauty of God’s creation in the sea and on the land.  

So here we are, flying to the frigid northeast after spending two weeks in daily temps of 80 degrees.  The adjustment might be brutal—unless there’s snow to play in. Only then is cold redeemed.  :)

Very briefly recapping, Thanksgiving was spent with my mom and siblings in San Diego at sister Sue’s house.  Lisa, Paul, and I drove down for the day since Lisa had to be back for UCLA vs. Nebraska on Friday, but it was a sweet day.  Holidays, especially the “firsts” without a loved one, seem to stir deep emotions and that was certainly true for us as we had our first Thanksgiving without our beloved father.  Many happy memories of Thanksgivings past surfaced, and though tinged with the sadness of his absence, our focus was gratitude for the richness of our many years together.

A fair representation of the Collins family line gathered at my sister Sue’s home for Thanksgiving.


The balance of the weekend was full of fun moments: the UCLA women’s basketball game, which we lost but we loved seeing in person; Black Friday fabric shopping deals (and a few other deals as well!); the Garcias, who returned early from Sacramento making it possible to have a Thanksgiving celebration with them and Lisa in Santa Clarita on the first Sunday of Advent.  

Coach Cori Close inspires her team, though their efforts fell short vs Nebraska.

Brandon and Auntie Lili at our Thanksgiving-on-1st-Advent-Sunday celebration
enjoying their “name card cookies."

It all ended too quickly and suddenly we were on our way to Orlando, Florida, to speak at the Christian Conference and Camping Association (CCCA) national conference.  Formerly known as CCI, we were quite involved with them in our early years of running CBS, but it had been 20 years since we had been at one of their conferences.  What a joyful reunion!!!  We love the work of CCCA.  Back in the day, it was so life-giving for us to attend these conferences and rub shoulders with those in like-profession with similar challenges and mutual understanding.  It was as though no time had passed, honestly.  Some of our long time camping cronies were there and conversations revealed that we still understand each other and the challenges and delights of camping ministry.

Our two workshops were well attended (packed and overflowing) and we’ve received very positive feedback, including a tentative invite to speak at next year’s conference.  We spoke on marriage and family issues in the camping context and there was high interest in the sessions.  

But the highlight of the conference was connecting with Gabe and Rosemary Valencia, who direct Mile High Pines Camp in Angeles Oaks, California.  Gabe seemed exceptionally thrilled to meet us when he found out we were from Campus by the Sea and then he explained that he had come to CBS in the early 80’s with Father Norm Supenchek and there had met Christ.  He said he had always wanted to relate his story to those responsible for the work there and finally was able to do that upon meeting us.  He and his wife have raised 5 great kids at their camp and have had a significant impact on the Kingdom, all beginning with his surrender to Christ at CBS in ’80’s.  What a gift for us to hear his story!!!  God is so faithful and good.

Gabe and Rosemary Valencia encourage us with their story
at at the CCCA Conference in Orlando.

We spent a couple of days in Vero Beach following the conference, writing and working on curriculum.  Though the somewhat stormy weather did not cooperate with helping us get a head start on our tans for Hawaii, we had long walks on the beach twice daily anyway.  Great time.  Home on the 9th of December, it suddenly didn’t seem that wise that we spent those days in Vero as I counted only 7 days between then and when the Johnsons would arrive from Uganda.  We returned to a home still decorated for fall and uncut flannel for Christmas jammies—and a schedule full of counseling and Patriots events, as well as a few houseguests along the line.   

No time for eating bonbons.  Start your engines.  We were off and running.

Cutting out flannel.  Sewing.  Sending packages.  Baking gingerbread houses.  Decorating.  Making ornaments.  Last minute shopping.  More packages.  Caramel corn.  Jam.  Welcoming a brief but wonderful visit with Elsa Stanley, who was in town for a teachers’ conference.  Picking the Johnsons up at Logan—oh, happy day!—and seeing our house and its perils through the eyes of a 16-month-old adorable and curious explorer.  

Elsa Stanley, whose dad Mark we’ve known since we were students at SDSU,
graced us with a sweet visit upon our return from Florida.


In the midst of super-productivity, we wisely took some time to enjoy the season.  A small group of Patriots accompanied us to the Highrock Church Christmas Concert, which ranks among the top musical celebrations of the season we’ve ever experienced.  Plan to attend next December if you want to be exhilarated by exceptional talent and unmitigated passion expressed by the choir.  We also had a lovely evening out with our dear friends Doug and Julie Macrae, whose presence we miss greatly since they moved to Florida.  My dear friend Helen spend several days with us, serving as my "right hand elf” in wrapping, packing, sewing bows on jammies, etc.  She willingly did whatever needed to be done, and without her, I really wouldn’t have accomplished my scaled down “to do” list.  Friends who are willing to serve in the midst of their own frenzy are so rare and such gifts.

Besides all the preparations for Christmas, we did many hours of counseling and wrapped up our Patriots women’s study as well as our couples’ study.  We are so thankful for such a high level of interest and participation in both studies this fall.  The women really “got into” the book Mended by Angie Smith, which promoted a lot of good discussion.  We closed out our season together by making cinnamon rolls and having a goofy gift exchange.  I really miss meeting with the ladies.

Just before Thanksgiving, we made apple pies from scratch at the Patriots women’s study.  

At our last meeting, after making cinnamon rolls, we exchange goofy gifts,
some of which are displayed.


For the final couples’ study, we invited David Swaim (lead pastor of Highrock Church in Arlington, Massachusetts) to speak, and he did a great job.  There was a lot of great interaction with a large group of couples all fall; we continue to pray for eternal fruit.

Our final Patriots couples’ study night . . . missing four couples who had come all season.
It was a great group.


UCLA gave us a Christmas present by scheduling a game against UConn women on Dec. 21.  We had 25 UCLA fans join us at the game . . . though we barely put a dent in the crowd of 9,000 UConn crazies.  :)  After a tough loss, we got to take Lisa home with us for Christmas!  Such joy.

"Go Bruins” was lost in the huge crowd of UConn fans, but we were there!!


Our 5 days together for Christmas were full of delight. The girls were game to decorate the traditional gingerbread houses, finish up baking, make deliveries, wrap, etc.  We had the loveliest Christmas Eve celebration, starting with church at Highrock, followed by dinner at our home with Paul and Dawn Amico and their three great kids.  Nathan loved having some kids to play with and all enjoyed our Happy Birthday Jesus cake, served with homemade peppermint ice cream. 

Hadden, Lucy, and Wiley join Papa and Nathan in singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.


Christmas Day, though not “white,” was full of precious moments and celebration.  Nathan was pretty excited about his Little Tikes basketball hoop and entertained all of us for hours as he shot hoops.  We moved slowly through the day, savoring the Christ Child and each other.  Opening gifts provided everything from the hilarious to the poignant and, as always, produced repeatable sound bites.  Hank Bazigian joined us for dinner, continuing that loved tradition, and we eventually closed the books on Christmas 2014.  Lisa left very early the next morning to return to her duties at UCLA.

This little boy is all about balls!  Christmas morning fun.


Paul, Lisa, Julie, and Hank strike a natural pose for the photographer.

We had a few more happily exhausting days with Derek, Julie, and Nathan, and then WE were off to Hawaii (Dec. 30.)  It was so hard to leave before Johnsons left, but our schedule is so packed between now and this coming September, that we had to grab some renewing vacation time before our life ramps up this weekend.

And that’s what we got.  A dear friend loaned us her condo on the Big Island and we spent 9 days there, exploring, snorkeling, hiking, swimming, discovering, and relaxing.  It was everything and more than we had hoped for. Beautiful weather. Lots of turtles and fishes. Great pineapples, papayas, and bananas.  Beautiful sunrises and spectacular sunsets.  We were even fortunate to cross paths with Linda Bartel Dismukes, (she went to SDSU with me and has been involved with CBS since college), who is serving at YWAM Kona currently, and with our nephew Mark Herbst and his wife, Angie, who were vacationing on the same island at the same time. Every day was pretty amazing, and the beauty and diversity of creation continually pointed us to Creator God.

Linda Bartel Dismukes joined us for coffee in downtown Kona.

We spent a great evening with Mark and Angie Herbst (Mark is our nephew.)


On to Kauai we flew on Friday, Jan 9.  We spoke at a marriage conference sponsored by Global Algae Innovations, a cutting edge company founded by our friends, Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck.  Long time family campers at CBS, they had a vision for encouraging and strengthening the marriages of their employees and included the local churches in the opportunity. Kalaheo Missionary Church hosted the conference Friday night and Saturday and everyone seemed pleased with the event.  The second annual conference is already in the works.

Church Sunday morning with Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck and John and Marilyn Nugent.


Our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent decided to plan their annual trip to Hawaii around our conference, so we spent the last 5 days on Kauai with them.  It’s no challenge to find great things to do and beautiful things to see in Kauai, so we spent the days exploring, thrilling to see whales breaching, spouting, or waving a fluke, as well as watching graceful swimming sea turtles en masse. We could never tire of experiencing the wonder of our Father’s world and are coming home refreshed, renewed, and overflowing with gratitude and wonder.

We walked endlessly along the coasts of these Hawaiian islands . . .

. . . and at points, came upon sleeping turtles . . .


. . . or swimming turtles.  Any kind of turtles worked for us.


We landed back in Boston just hours ago and entered a wintery landscape. We’re not in Hawaii anymore!!  We head out tomorrow to speak at West Point, so we’re off and running, but we do so feeling energized and ready to get back in the saddle. This has been a very good time of rest and recreation for us and we are deeply grateful for the time and the generosity of those who helped make this happen in a variety of ways.

In the midst of all this loveliness and extravagance from God, we are aware that many are living with great sadness, pain, and brokenness.  We continue to read every word Kara Tippetts pens on her blog Mundane Faithfulness and we have not stopped praying for God to do a miraculous intervention of healing for her as cancer ravages her body.  Our hearts are heavy for her, her husband Jason, and their 4 beautiful (and young) children who are walking this very dark valley now.  Our hearts and prayers are constantly also with Steve and Sharol Hayner, as Steve’s health declines and hospice is invited in. Two very godly people who seem far too young to die, and yet whose journeys are teaching us that dying well is as important as living well.  

And so we take the broken with the beautiful and get a more accurate picture that He alone is our hope and that true beauty exists only because of and in Him. That which is broken is mended through His healing presence.  On the brink of this new year, we’re reminded that our souls will only truly find rest and contentment in Him. Reinforced for whatever lies ahead, we submit to Him with confidence that He’s got 2015 in His hands.






Of Sages and Celebrations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four generations of our family . . . so blessed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Most of those attending Engagement Matters this past weekend.

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

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. 

 
Fall . . . beautiful fall!!!  We love everything about it!!

We've been home now for the longest string of days we've put together in 2014.  And it's been nice.  It's provided us with some great recovery moments, as well as time to work inside our home (the sorting, purging, organizing will never have an end, but some progress has been made...) and to relaunch counseling and our two Patriot studies.  

Recovery moments, needed as a result of my hernia surgery (now five weeks back, I have been cleared to run as well as do whatever else I wish) as well as from a long, exhausting, and amazing summer.  Paul and I have taken many long walks, watched a few movies, gone to bed early, and kept it pretty simple.  It's been good.

In between, we've sorted out life at home, tackling stacks of papers, piles in rooms, etc.  I should say we've “begun sorting . . .”  as this will be a never-ending task, I fear.  Especially since only one of us has a vision for making it happen.  :)  But there are fewer stacks today and order is emerging in several rooms of the house.

The slower pace has allowed us to do things normal people can do when they're not jet-setting about the country.  Like, visit friends who "cut the ribbon" (umbilical cord?) opening the doors of their brand-spanking-new school building for New England Academy (NEA) —their fifth child?  We were more than impressed when we recently toured the new home of NEA, founded and directed by Dr. Ryan Plosker and his wife Kelly (who are not only some of our dearest friends, but who also serve on the H.I.M. Board.) It was remarkable to see the the fruition of their dreams and visions for a well-designed school building that would meet the needs of the special community their school serves.  Incredible!

Ryan and Kelly Plosker's "fifth child"—a brand new home for New England Academy!


We were home to enjoy a meal in our home with long time friends Doug and Kelly Hart, who were visiting the area from Indiana.  We experienced "Bedford Days" and were reminded of some of the delights of living in a small New England town during the fall.  We attended church 3 weeks in a row.  That is a record.  :)

Doug and Kelly Hart have been in our lives for over 30 years.  Loved having them in our home!


We watched the Patriots play their home opener at Gillette Stadium for the first time ever.  All previous visits to Gillette have been in December (except one in late October, but it might as well have been December, as we had torrential rain which became snow during the game!), and therefore freezing.  With unseasonably warm weather last Sunday (the 21st), we left our jackets and boots at home and thoroughly enjoyed the game very comfortably! 

Check out those short sleeves!  Such a fun game!


We were home to welcome daughter Lisa "home" for five days of vacation, which included the Pats game, apple picking, eating fried "fish cheeks" at Charlie's Place in Gloucester, walking barefooted on Good Harbor Beach for a couple of hours, and shopping at the Farmer's Market in Boston. Great weather, great fellowship, great fun.

Yes, he can still lift his daughter to the top of the apple trees!

Lisa and Paul taste the spoil . . . Yum!

Good Harbor Beach on a lazy late September "dog day."


We were home to intersect with a precious family from California who came to Boston Children's Hospital so their 7-week-old son could have a needed surgery.  Only God could've orchestrated this. Starting back in 2009, when Julie went to work at the CURE Hospital in Mbale, Uganda, follow the thread:  she volunteered at the premier children's hospital in the world for treating children with hydrocephalus, where a treatment procedure (ETV) was developed by Dr. Ben Warf and Dr. John Mugamba, wherein the child with hydrocephalus undergoes a small surgery that leaves the child non-shunt-dependent (hydrocephalus is traditionally treated by inserting a shunt.) Obviously, this is a much better treatment plan for these children who live in mud huts and have little access to medical care required by on-going shunt revision, infections, etc.  It's also better for children who live in suburban neighborhoods with access to great medical care.  Though not successful in all cases, it has been successfully used to treat thousands of hydrocephalus cases, and the CURE Children's Hospital in Mbale has become a teaching hospital for the ETV procedure for pediatric neurosurgeons from around the world 

Fast forward to 2014: our son-in-law Gabe's best friend and his wife have twin boys in California in early August, one of whom has hydrocephalus. Dr. Warf is now working at Boston Children's Hospital . . . and several phone calls later between Uganda (Derek and Julie), Boston (Dr. Warf), and California, the plan is hatched to fly the baby to Boston for surgery.  Not only that, but the timing is such that other dear friends make available their apartment in downtown Boston for the exact two weeks the little family from California needs housing close to the hospital.  So exact, that the friends who opened their home flew out of Logan one hour after the California family flew in.

Who but God??  It has been so deeply touching to see how He has orchestrated all of this, down to every last detail.  The couple of times we've shared with this precious family have been so sweet as all of us grope for words to express what words can never express.  "Over and above all we could ask or think . . .”  That's what this is.

Besides long walks, simple meals, and sorting, we've also resumed our counseling schedule and launched our two Patriots’ Bible studies. We've been happily surprised by the high interest in both of these studies this year. There were 19 women out for the women's study this week and 24 at the couples study last night.  Most are seekers, which is very exciting and daunting all at the same time, and we are very aware that we're dependent on the Lord to reveal Himself.  Pray for these groups!  

This past Friday we left home to spend the weekend in Ann Arbor speaking at the Ann Arbor Christian School. Our chosen family friends Wai and Elaine Wong are hosting the weekend and if you can't be home, this is a pretty sweet place to be. Thankfully, we've found fall here, too.  

The view from Wai and Elaine's backyard.  :)
As Paul said, "Suffering for Jesus in Ann Arbor . . . someone’s got to do it!"



Fall!!  Arguably the crown jewel season of New England, during which the sights, the smells, the colors, the games, the bonfires, the foods, the clothes, and the events all invigorate and enliven. Though saying good-bye to summer is never easy, the sorrow is quickly driven out as fall bursts on the scene in all her glory.  Drink in the beauty wherever you are.  Delighting in being home for a few weeks during this spectacular season, we are doing just that.  

2013: Now History

We're sitting in the United Lounge at Dulles Airport, 4 hours shy of 35 hours in transit from Uganda to Boston on this 17th day of January.  We've been on the road since Dec. 17, on a journey which has taken us through Christmas, my father's death and funeral, and 19 days ministering in Uganda.  It seems like a lifetime has happened since this trip commenced!

I had intended to blog about the first couple of weeks of December prior to my dad's unexpected-but-not-surprising death, but didn't get to it before he passed.  It feels incomplete to not mention our wonderful annual visit to St. Louis the first weekend in December to hang out with the precious Williams family.  Oh my!!  It's hard to believe that these little girls, who were 2 and under (and Baby was non-existent) when we met in 1998, are all hovering around 6' tall and are beautiful young teen-age women.  We baked, ate, toured a local village to see gingerbread creations, and caught up with one another in our brief 3-day visit.  Though time is never enough, we are so thankful for this continuing tradition and more thankful to see this family growing in Christlikeness and making a difference all around them for Him.

Celebrating with Grant and Emily Williams, and daughters Meegan, Madeline, and Sarah Elizabeth.

The following week we wrapped up our Patriot studies.  We had a truly sweet time of closure with the women on Wednesday morning and we all agreed that doing What's It Like Being Married to Me by Linda Dillow had been very impacting.  I love these women.  It was such a delight to meet with them all season.  On Thursday night we wrapped up the couples' study and celebrating seeing growth in a number of couples' this fall.  Nothing about the evening went exactly as planned: terrible traffic delayed our arrival (and with us, several side dishes for dinner) by almost an hour, and we realized only as we assembled the gift bags for each couple once down there that we had forgotten the jars of homemade raspberry jam at our house—but the party went on.  We got out of the "jam" the next day when Paul drove south to visit Thora Eames and I suppose "all's well that ends well" applies here.

The Patriots women's study on a baking workshop day.

Our final night of the couples' study, missing a few of the "regulars."  Great group!!

We were gifted with a huge snow storm that weekend, which made staying home PERFECT as I sewed, baked, wrapped, and mailed in preparation for Christmas.  It stopped early enough on Sunday so we could join the Armenian community at the Belmont church honor and send off Greg and Sossi Haroutunian to their new church assignment in Fresno.  We adore this family and will miss them in New England, but bless their westward migration as they return to Greg's roots and family.

True conversation:  Virginia:  "What's not to love about snow?"  Paul:  "Shoveling, maybe?"  :)

It was a mad scramble to the last minute to get off on the 17th as we were preparing for Christmas in California followed by 2.5 weeks in Uganda.  What we didn't know then was that we would also be preparing for my father's death and funeral in that time period.  It's always good to be reminded that God wasn't taken by surprise, and we were so very aware that His grace was very apparent in how everything unfolded.

Our days in California up until the 23rd were delightful in every way as we hung with Gabe, Kari, Brandon, Ana, and Lisa.  No big "to do" lists which had driven the days at home.  No overly ambitious plans.  Just a lot of enjoying being together, playing, baking, a bit of shopping, and lots of being. Having children both slows things down and speeds things up in a funny mix.  And our two-day celebration of Christmas at Garcias' house on the 24th and 25th were full of joy.  Nothing like Christmas with a 3-year-old.  I'll treasure the look on Brandon's face when he discovered Baby Jesus in the manger Christmas morn.  It was also priceless to hear him exclaim, "This is just what I wanted!" upon opening most every one of his gifts.  :)  Very sweet.

Brandon finding Baby Jesus in the manger Christmas morning.
  
So fun being together in our matching jammies.
  
This puts a wrap on 2013.  It was a year in which a lot of family and ministry history was made. Garcias relocated to Santa Clarita.  Lisa moved to California.  Derek and Julie had their first child. Gabe and Kari had their second. My father passed away.  The Marriage App was birthed.  Several of our books became ebooks.  We were on the road four times as much as we were home.

As we look ahead, we wonder what God has in store.  Much of what happened last year was unknown when 2013 turned its first page.  The "what" will happen is still hidden, but thankfully, the "Who's got it under control" isn't.  We enter 2014 with confidence that He goes before us and that His mercies will be new every morning.


How good to rest in His faithfulness.

New Year's . . . Really? (Part 2)


December 14 ushered in eight of the best days of 2012.  Kari, Gabe, and Brandon flew from California, Lisa from Virginia,  Derek and Julie from Uganda, and Paul and me from Massachusetts, all gathering in Orlando for an early Christmas reunion.  From Orlando, we drove to Vero Beach, where we enjoyed the remote hospitality of Doug and Julie Macrae who loaned us their on-the-beach condo for the week.  The days which unfolded were "as good as it gets" and we all felt so, so blessed.  Walks on the beach, playing in the pool, eating great meals, hanging out in jammies from dinner on, playing some competitive "Nickel," and our favorite pastime of all: watching Brandon, playing with Brandon, laughing at Brandon, being amazed by Brandon . . . all combined to make a most memorable gathering.  


At 28 months, Brandon was pretty much all we needed for entertainment.

Daily walks on the beach were therapeutic on all levels.

Papa and Brandon had fun in the pool . . . especially when Papa was a whale.

I made sure our time together was well-documented photographically,
and this beach photo-shoot was a highlight.

So was this one—and I am grateful for sons-in-laws who willingly participated in both wearing the jammies I made AND being seen in public in them.  :)  Great guys!!

We were all so grateful for this gift of relaxation, rest, and time of reconnection with each other.  Disconnection from all of our ministry commitments was just what we needed.   

We left Vero Friday Dec. 21, to go from our quiet, secluded getaway to one of the busiest places on earth . . . Disney World!  Another gift to our family: dear friends from California (who are also Disneyland employees) gave us passes to "The Happiest Place on Earth" and we had a blast experiencing the Magic Kingdom through the eyes of a 2-year-old.  It was a first for all but Paul and me to visit Disney World and we had a great time.  The only real surprise was the weather, which registered 40 degrees at 8 a.m. Dec. 22.  The plus side of that was that only the hearty ventured out, so the crowds were smaller than expected during the morning.  :)  It was the exclamation point on the end of a great family time.

Brandon was thrilled to meet Goofy in person—and Gabe was thrilled that Brandon was thrilled. 

We made it til 7 p.m. before throwing in the towel and returning to the condo to get warm.  


Dec. 23 we got Garcias on a plane back to California and Johnsons off to Oklahoma, each to spend Christmas with their "other" families.  That left Lisa, Paul, and me in Florida, and after considering many options to launch the celebration of Lisa's upcoming 30th birthday, we took friends up on their offer for us to use their home in Ft. Lauderdale and off we went for another almost-week of sunny, warm weather.

It was another first for us to visit Ft Lauderdale, and we had so much fun exploring this area.  Lots of beach walks, late breakfasts, a dinner cruise on the inter-coastal waterways, and an all-day trip to the Keys filled out our time.  Christmas was different . . . lacking all of the "trappings" and all of the people with whom we usually celebrate, it definitely felt a bit like "Skipping Christmas" but Christmas Eve service at the local Calvary Chapel brought it all into focus.  Paul and I loved having these days with Lisa and have many sweet memories from them.


Paul very creatively fashioned a Christmas tree from a limb he found in the trash . . .
and then decorated himself with paper cut-outs.  We were impressed!!

On our Christmas day walk, we came across this Sandman Santa and hijacked it for a photo.  :)

We were quite entertained by feeding the tarpon in Islamorada at “Buddy’s.”  Another first.

We packed our warm weather clothes and after-Christmas-sales finds and flew back to New England on Saturday, Dec. 29, just in time for our first big winter storm in a long time.  We felt so fortunate!  Honestly!  We're among the few who actually love it when the white stuff falls and it was a "cold" warm welcome back home.

Paul was honored to do the chapel for the Miami Dolphin players that night and then fought his way home in the raging storm.  We were so thankful when he crawled in around midnight, safe and sound.

Off to Gillette Stadium we went for the Pats’ final regular-season game in which we routed the Dolphins.  We had such a great time connecting with the many couples who have faithfully been a part of the Couples Study all season, and the highlight for us was getting to introduce Lisa to them.  Since they had all met Julie two weeks earlier at the Christmas party, we heard many, “Your girls look SO much alike!”  A very fun time was had by all.

What a great time we had at the final Pats game!
We were thankfully and surprisingly warm in spite of temps in the 20’s.



We welcomed in the New Year by spending some time in Boston enjoying First Night features, including the 7 p.m. firework display, which was fabulous.  On to join with a number of family camp families for a family-fun new years party and home before the ball dropped.  A great way to welcome the new year.

Lisa and Paul on the Boston Common early on New Year’s Eve.

Derek and Julie rejoined us late on the 2nd, overlapping with Lisa for her final days in Boston, and our days were filled with exploring the delights of Boston, hanging out with friends, meeting up with our dear Helen in Stockbridge, and enjoying being together.  We were all sad to send Lisa off on Sunday, the 6th, back to her life and world in Harrisonburg, VA.

This ice sculpture provided a suitable backdrop for us and our bags. 

A lovely lunch at the Red Lion Inn with Helen was a highlight of our day with her,
though shopping at the Lee Outlets was a close second.

Another highlight of these days was having Dave and Kim Noble, directors of Campus by the Sea, live with us for a week while they visited their children who live in downtown Boston.  We had many leisurely breakfasts together and a few evenings, affording us opportunities to get to know one another in ways that our busy shared weeks at CBS preclude.  We loved it and we love them.

This slightly distorted photo was the best we could do with the self-timer,
but we're all glad to have captured a frame of our time together with Kim and Dave Noble.

The highlight of this young new year was celebrating Lisa's 30th birthday last weekend.  It was a full-on surprise, commencing with Derek and Julie ringing her door bell “out of the blue” on Thursday evening, Jan 9th.  Kari, Paul, and I were hiding in the van we had driven down from Boston (via Lemoyne, PA, where Derek and Julie had done some CURE business at headquarters) and Lisa was close to "heart attack" surprise when she opened the van and found us.  :)   Off to dinner we went, taking with us Lisa's wonderful roommate, Rachel, who was our right-hand-gal in setting up Lisa's birthday weekend.  No one could stop smiling.

Dinner at “Dave's Restaurant” with Lisa and her housemate Rachel. Let the party begin!!

The next part of the surprise was Friday night, and 30 of Lisa’s closest friends and family pulled it off.  A delicious Mexican feast was enjoyed by all, but the highlight was hearing tributes to Lisa.  Many brought “thirty” of something that made them think of Lisa and presented them to her with an explanation of the symbolism.  It was deeply moving to hear how God has used Lisa in the lives of these friends, and the themes about her life were consistent: her love for Christ, for people, for serving, for fun, and for chocolate.  It was one of those “Could this have been any better?” evenings and we were so, so thankful.  


Lisa’s surprise party was a blast and she was duly honored
by all of these very-important-to-her people.

The fam—for one last photo before we all disperse.


We also gave Lisa a book of affirmation, compiled and produced by Kari and contributed to by many.  It was a beautiful shout-out to a remarkable young woman.  I know we’re biased, at least a bit, but we are so very proud of who Lisa is and we're quite humbled to be her parents.  She reflects the amazing love of her first love, the Lord Jesus Christ, and lives so winsomely for Him.  Her selflessness and her servant-heartedness has touched all of those around her and she is loved, esteemed, and cherished.  Many of her friends are moving in the direction of Christ because of her.  How easy it is to celebrate her life!

So, that’s how we've brought in the new year.  It’s been such a sweet run of days.  We’re now up to speed—we’ve hung the 2013 calendars—and accepted the fact that 2013 is underway.  

By God’s grace, we stand as a family, facing the new year, with confidence and hope vested in Him and Him alone.


New Year's . . . Really? (Part 1)


Does anyone else feel like New Year's Day should be about now—and that though the calendar already says January 16, 2013, it feels like that's impossible?

That's where I am.  We have just finished a full-to-overflowing month, filled with memorable family moments, rest, rejuvenation, and renewal.  "The End" to our family reunion was written Monday night as we bid farewell to Derek and Julie and sent them back to Uganda.  Let the New Year begin!  

So, after a month of not needing to know exactly what day it was very often, we're back at it.  An early morning trip to Logan and we're off to California and Colorado for a 12-day ministry tour.  The New Year is rolling.

But first, I need to wrap up 2012.  Picking up just after Thanksgiving,  I had an important lunch with my longtime mentor and friend, Gail MacDonald.  It's impossible to express what it means to me to have Gail continuing to invest in my life, which she's faithfully done for 28 years.  I've learned so much from her, both formally and informally, and her life lived for Christ has hugely influenced mine.  I will be forever grateful that Gail continues to carve out time in her very busy schedule for me.

Lunch with Gail MacDonald at the Bedford House in NH,
belatedly celebrating my birthday and prematurely celebrating hers!


We welcomed in December with a half-day H.I.M.-sponsored conference, "The Church Family and Your Family."  Designed to encourage churches to intentionally build into families and marriages, we were very pleased with the group of around 30 that gathered that morning, representing about 8 local churches.  We were especially impressed by Bethany Gospel Chapel of Swansea, which sent four couples from their leadership.  That's a church that is serious about this very important mission!  The morning was lively with discussion and inspiration, all while sitting in the atrium-like living room of the Macraes' home as snow fell softly outside.  It was a really wonderful way to spend the day!

The group of leaders from Bethany Gospel Chapel who attended
“The Church Family and Your Family” conference.


Monday, Dec. 3, we were honored to partner with the Faith EV Free Church of Acton by speaking to their Mom to Mom group.  Lorraine Stobbe extended the invitation and we were so pleased to be a part of that very exciting ministry.  One of the women we spoke to afterwards shared that she had just come to Christ after having been a part of Mom to Mom for several years, and that she was now praying for her husband to embrace Christ.  Very cool.  

The week was filled with counseling, Patriots studies, and getting things done for Christmas.   As I was perusing my iPhoto collection of photos for this blog, I came across this one which seemed very fitting to include.  Our ideas about love and serving can be so lofty at times and seem out of reach, but this photo captures love-in-action.  We "rescued" this destined-for-the-garbage pumpkin from the porch of some dear friends, and Paul, as a gift to me, processed it.  Our freezer now has a good amount of pureed fresh pumpkin, which will be used to make soup, pies, and breads.  It's a win-win-win.  Paul has spoken my love language loud and clear and has been duly appreciated, and many will enjoy the fruit of his labor in various treats from the kitchen.  And the pumpkin has a happier ending than in a landfill.  

The girls asked if he used a chain saw to cut this baby open.
He did not.  Just brute strength and a huge karate chop.  :)


We canceled Engagement Matters scheduled Dec. 8-9 due to low enrollment, which opened up the weekend for our annual trip to St. Louis.  We were SO happy to not break tradition with our beloved Williams family.  As usual, our weekend was filled with baking, talking, and catching up, in between and during their normally scheduled school and sports events.  Something new this year was being introduced to "The Duck Dynasty" reality t.v. show . . . and that made the girls "happy, happy, happy."  So many great moments with this precious family; so thankful for this Christ-centered home.

The tradition continues: matching jammies for
the family . . . except for Wilson, the dog.  


All too quickly the weekend was over and we flew home on Monday, Dec. 10, in time to go to Gillette Stadium with Stacia and Annette Woodhead to watch the Patriots handle the Texans (the first time.)  Annette, the mother of #39 (aka Danny, Woody, etc.), and I had a blast talking shop about marriage and family during commercial breaks.  We share many similar passions, and she and her husband are helping families in Nebraska embrace God's design for them.  The weather was great, the game was a blow-out, and still, it was the conversation with Annette that was the highlight.  It's so very encouraging to see how God is using others to impact our very confused and wounded culture with the good news of the gospel. 

We had a great night at Gillette Stadium with Stacia and Annette Woodhead.  Go Pats!!!


We wrapped up the Patriots Women’s study on Wednesday, December 12, with a cinnamon roll baking workshop.  With 18 women regularly involved in the study this year, I hadn’t really thought of what that meant in terms of dough for this popular annual event.  I now know.  It means A LOT of dough!  I started making the dough at 5 a.m. and drove down to Attleboro at 8 a.m. with 12 batches of dough rising in the trunk of our car.  :)  Thankfully, we had plenty of dough and lots of laughs working with it.

We also wrapped up a wonderful fall study of Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas and had a time of sharing about what the study had meant to each one.  It was evident that God was stirring hearts and drawing us closer to Him through our time, which—cinnamon rolls aside—really is the desire.  I’m so thankful for each of these precious women.  They are really very special. 

A few of the women proudly showcase their handiwork.  

Our final women’s study—sweet, sweet group.


It was straight from baking rolls to Logan to pick up Julie and Derek from Uganda!!!  Our dear friend Helen had joined us for a few days to be my right hand girl in all the preparation, baking, wrapping, cleaning, etc., so it was an extra mutual bonus for all parties to reconnect.  Homecomings are usually joyful and this one surely qualified.

These happy smiles are for more than the Dunkin' Donuts
coffee Helen bought to welcome these two from Africa!


Later that evening, Paul returned to Logan to pick up Danny Oertli, who had been flown in to do a mini-concert for the Patriots Couples Christmas party Thursday night.  Arriving after midnight, he thought he had landed at the North Pole upon seeing the “elves” hard at work making gingerbread houses.  :)

The after-hours crew making the annual gingerbread houses.


After a full morning of counseling, we finished baking, wrapping, and preparing for the grand finale of the Patriots Couples’ Study, and headed down to Attleboro for a really great night.  Betsy Hasselbeck and Kara Mankins had transformed the Mankins’ dining room into a beautifully decorated room, delicious food had been brought in, and the Ugly Sweater Christmas party began.  (Let me note here that when it had been suggested during the previous study that the party become an “Ugly Christmas Sweater” night, I had NO idea that they were referring to the very sweaters that I’ve worn Christmas after Christmas, never thinking them “ugly.”  I honestly thought they meant something very different, so was I surprised to show up and see what this young generation considers “ugly.”  What a rude awakening!)

Sweaters aside, the evening couldn't have been more delightful.  After laughing over the parade of "ugly sweaters" and eating a fabulous meal,  Danny Oertli did a fabulous concert, highlighted by his original tune written just for that night (in anticipation of the AFC title game between his beloved Broncos and our beloved Pats.  You can hear it here on YouTube:    As we now know, that song will have to wait for another year to go viral, as the Broncos will be watching the Pats and the Ravens in the AFC title game, but we all thoroughly enjoyed Danny's creativity and passion expressed in that song.  Matthew Slater talked about his walk with Christ and Paul wrapped it up with a charge that goes beyond the season.  It was a perfect night and we were very, very thankful for how God had met us through the study this season.

The Ugly Sweater gang


That takes us through Dec. 13 and that’s it for now.

I have to try to figure out how it’s already Jan. 16.




It's Time to Change

Sunrise over Avalon Harbor . . . His mercies are new every morning. . . 



Three weeks ago we were flying home from Uganda.  Today we're flying home from California.  Maybe when we get home tonight, I'll change my watch from Ugandan time to Eastern Standard Time.

It's a quirky thing with me, admittedly, but it's something I've done for a really long time.  It's not because I don't know how to change my watch, obviously.  It's because I don't want to quite yet.  For many reasons, my "heart" hasn't been ready to embrace that our days in Mbale, for now, are history.  Mainly it serves as a reminder to pray specifically for what might be going on in Derek and Julie's lives at a given time.  They've had a lot going on since we've left, and we've wanted to stay as connected as we can from seven time zones away.

Other than being completely confused when I glance at my watch in the middle of the night, it serves good "heart" purposes.  Just don't ask me what time it is.  :)

It took a week to adjust to being back in the states, sleep-wise and body-wise, but we didn't have that long before we jumped back in to ministry.  In fact, within 24 hours of returning, we met with the core team of leaders for the Patriots Couples’ study over dinner to map out the plan for the fall, and we managed to stay awake through the whole thing!  It was actually very inspiring to be with three of the player couples, as well as with Don and Betsy Hasselbeck, and to develop a new strategy with hopes of injecting some new life into the study.  We've now had our first two evenings, and we had 18 at the first...and 32 at the second!  We are more than excited at the potential of our gatherings.  

Within 48 hours of landing back in Boston, we were driving to Falmouth to speak at an all-day Saturday marriage seminar for Falmouth Baptist Church.  We had a really sweet time with Tim Rogers, who booked us to speak after coming to several "Worth It" conferences.  It was an adjustment initially to speak at normal speed with less concern about idiomatic expressions, or cultural context, but the "saddle" felt comfortable rather quickly.  It was a very positive time with very sincere folks.

Most of the attendees of the Falmouth Baptist Church conference . . . a great group of folks!

As though we had never been gone, the following week fell in to a predictable pattern.  Wednesday morning was the Patriots Women's study, and we were thrilled to have 17 ladies show up.  :)  After a quick scone-making lesson by moi, we launched our study using Gary Thomas' new book, Every Body Matters.    I really appreciated the message of this book when I read it this past spring and have been promoting it all summer at Family Camps.  As Gary deals with the challenge of "stewarding" our bodies rather than worshiping or abusing them, he treds where few have dared to tred in the Christian community.  His indictment that we've been content to be "chin-up" Christians, focusing on correct theology and doctrine, while ignoring the implications of application of those very truths on our physical bodies and health, is spot on.  We've gotten off to a good start in the study, with good discussion of a topic extremely relevant to the fulfillment of God's purposes for our lives.  Eighteen ladies showed up for week 2 of the study!

Counseling fills the balance of our Wednesdays, and continues on Thursday mornings until mid-afternoon, and then we drive back down to Attleboro for the Pats Couples’ study.  The first week, Big Jim Martis catered a great bbq dinner of steak and chicken and the fixin’s, and then the second week Paul and I prepared a Mexican feast.  The spirit and interaction has been great for these first two meetings.  Pray for both of these weekly studies, that God would draw these dear couples to Himself in a deeper way.

Big Jim is in the middle of a few of our players at our Patriots couples' study.


Last Friday, Sept. 21, I flew to California alone while Paul fulfilled the commitment we had made to Camp Berea to do a seminar at their women's conference.  Paul was one of two male presenters, and his seminar was presented three times on Saturday to full crowds.  The ladies always love him.  

Meanwhile my first stop in California was in San Diego to visit my folks.  I hadn't seen them since Father's Day weekend and it was a joy to hang with them for a couple of days.  My mom's health is good and my dad is declining, but not too rapidly.  We had many sweet moments together. I was also happy to meet my newest great nephew, Josiah David Rivera, when Corey and Claire brought their crew over for a visit.  I spent Sunday on Catalina Island, attending the wedding of Sarah Armstrong and Doug Hippe, long-time friends from family camp.  It was a wonderful, God-honoring celebration and a great time for me to reconnect with many dear island friends.  It was also a joy to spend the night with Wayne and Carol Herbst, Paul's youngest sister and husband.


The mother of the bride, Jenny, is one of my dearest friends.

On Monday I spoke to a group of young moms in Ladera Ranch.  Two of Lisa's dear friends, Heather Vataha and Amber Offield, collaborated to make that happen, and it was such an encouraging time to talk about "The Things I Wish I Had Known..." with this group of thirsty young moms.  I LOVE this age/stage and delighted in encouraging them in the hope of the gospel, which is sometimes elusive when life is full of the craziness young children often bring.  Financial pressures, marital challenges, exhaustion, confusion, wanting to do the best but experiencing unwanted feelings of failure to an overwhelming degree at times.  We talked about lots of things and all seemed to really appreciate that I had felt all of those very things—and had survived them.  By God's grace.  It was a very special time.


Amber and Christian Offield and Heather and Laila Vataha pulled together the moms gathering I spoke for in Rancho Ladera.




And here are the moms—outnumbered for sure by the kids!


It was a treat to spend the balance of the time with my dear friend, Wendy Offield, before flying back to Boston on Tuesday.  I returned feeling very blessed: for all of the moments in California, and also for the husband I have.  Traveling alone, I was reminded of how much he takes care of when we travel—from hauling all the heavy suitcases, boxes, etc., to getting rental cars, driving to unknown places, etc.  And never getting flustered or acting like it "can't be done."  He gets it done and I am so spoiled.  And more thankful.

Back in Bedford for a mere 48 hours for the two Pats studies, for counseling, and then back to California.  This time to the Bay Area, to spend the weekend at Bethel Christian Church in downtown San Francisco.  Our dear friends, John and Marilyn Nugent (who are also H.I.M. Board members), arranged the weekend.  It was varied and well put together as a "Relationships Weekend,"  featuring us as speakers and Danny and Rayna Oertli as musicians.  We love any opportunity to partner with the Oertlis!!

We launched the weekend on Friday night with a talk on purity, given to teens and their parents.  We were thrilled with the response of a very engaged group; both teens and their parents were interactive and responsive.  During the first half of the evening we spoke to the group together, and during the second half we fielded questions from the parents, while the teens met with their youth leaders.  The questions were thoughtful and heartfelt.  We were reminded of how many more challenges face these parents today and how much more difficult on so many levels it is to protect and prepare teens according to God's design.  Thankfully our hope continues to be in the gospel, and that hasn't changed through the generations.

All day Saturday we did the "Irony of Intimacy" marriage conference.  We were thrilled to have Kari and Gabe, along with three couples they're mentoring, drive out from Sacramento for the conference.  :)  It was also heartening to have Bill and Kristen Smith, friends from CBS, fly in from Reno, and James and Charlotte, a sweet couple who attended Engagement Matters, as well as Drew and Dana Macrae, show up.  Charlotte told me, "As we celebrated our first anniversary in July, we were thinking about the assignment from Engagement Matters to have an annual marital check-up . . . and then the email came announcing this conference!  We were so happy!"


Gabriel and Jessika, Jerron and Danielle, Gabe and Kari, and Lamar and Kalyce drove from Sacramento to our marriage conference at Bethel Christian Church.


We were happy, too.  It was a wonderful day of celebrating God's design for marriage in some very practical ways.  God seemed to meet many there, as evidenced by their comments.

Sunday morning we taught a joint Sunday School class on "Forgiveness" and God met us in a powerful way.  I prayed with a forty-something-year-old man who said he carried deep anger towards his father who was severely abusive to him, his siblings, and his mother.  He said he wanted to walk in freedom, and through tears we prayed that he would release his anger and allow God to handle his father with justice.  

Paul preached the morning worship service and was anointed.  He preached with passion a stirring sermon on God's desire to take us from paralysis to praise—and young and old alike seemed very moved by it.  We wrapped up the weekend by enjoying Danny Oertli in concert and he did not disappoint.  It was a rockin' evening.


What fun to rock out to Danny's concert with Nathan and Julie Aleman and Liz.

Under a full moon and traffic-free highways, we drove to Sacramento after the concert, so we could be wakened by our grandson, Brandon, early the next morning.  And that's exactly what happened.  :)  Our 24 hours with Kari, Gabe, and Brandon flew by, but was a delightful ending to a wonderfully full weekend.

Brandon, 25 months, still loves being on Papa's shoulders.

As October opens its pages, we are glad for a few days to enjoy the best New England has to offer: fall.  Brilliant salmon, orange, crimson leaves pop out against the not yet turned leaves as harbingers of the steady parade of colors that will be ours to behold this month.  The delights of New England fall are unmatched and we're very thankful we'll be around to drink it in.

I guess it is time to change my watch. 

Leaping through February


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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


The catered Mexican feast was enjoyed at colorfully set tables.

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



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


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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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


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

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



At 4 am, getting ready to run . . .



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

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

Good-bye and Hello



Only a very few days into the new year, we said good-bye to one of the best gifts to us from the years we served on the staff of Grace Chapel.  Claude Cole, 94-years-old, was released from his suffering body as he breathed his last on earth.  Though it wasn't "hard" to accept his death (as it is with early or tragic deaths), we experienced a profound sense of loss accompanying our deep gratitude to the Lord for allowing our lives to intersect on such a personal level with such a great man.


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


Claude was a faithful man of God, who, along with his wife, Forestine, joined forces with four other couples back in 1948 and prayed and sacrificed to birth Grace Chapel.  As recounted by his daughter Claudia at his funeral, he was a man of extraordinary faith whose belief in God's power and presence was unshakeable.

Though many things endeared us to Claude, at the top of the list (behind his faith) was his commitment to and love for his precious Forestine.  His love for her not only never wavered, but seemed to grow stronger when the effects of her dementia became impossible to ignore.  Statistically, when a man is afflicted with Alzheimers Disease, 70% of their wives stay with them and care for them.  When a wife is so afflicted, only 30% of their husbands stay with them and care for them.  We knew Claude was in the cream of the crop long before Forestine began losing her mind, but through the years of caring for her until her death, Claude demonstrated over and over the stuff he was made of.  He was deeply in love with her all his days.  He set the bar.

So 2012 was ushered in with Claude's farewell, and Paul did a beautiful job of tributing him at his funeral.  We were so thankful that our whole family was able to attend the funeral the morning prior to Derek catching his flight to Uganda and Gabe, Kari, and Brandon catching their flight to Sacramento.  Our desire to meet up with Thora Eames (who along with her husband Elliot was one of the five GC-founding couples) was also fulfilled that day, as she came up from Duxbury to pay tribute to Claude.  (The Cole and Eames families were best friends for many years.)  We were all so happy to catch up with this dear friend whose "full speed ahead" life at 94 inspires us!!!


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

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

Lisa continued south to Harrisonburg as Julie and I returned to New England on Sunday, Jan. 8.  It was great to get home to a de-Christmased home (thank you, Paul!) and to spend a few days regrouping following our wonderful two-week Christmas vacation with our kids.  Especially fun was having Julie with us for the month as she continued preparing for her PT boards.  Counseling resumed, we had a H.I.M. Board meeting, and we were quickly back in the saddle.

Fifteen families gathered at the Boxborough Holiday Inn over Martin Luther King's holiday weekend for our annual Family Mid-Winter Getaway, and the balmy weather departed just in time for a cold weekend, making the indoor swimming pool even more appreciated.  It's a very low-key weekend with minimal programming, and lots of time for hanging out, enjoying community.  We were especially impressed with the teens, who fully integrated with the younger kids and made it a very fun weekend for all. They give us great hope for the next generation.


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


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

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

We hit the road the next weekend, after a month's hiatus from airports.  Off to Rome and Athens (in Georgia!) we went, after flying in to Atlanta.  It was such a joy to be picked up at the airport by Nate and Jeannie King, and to have many hours with them throughout the weekend as they served as our personal chauffeurs.  Our speaking engagement was with the 1st Presbyterian Church of Rome, and their annual marriage conference was held in the Brasstown Resort.  It was such an upscale place that the rain all weekend didn't really dampen anyone's experience!  This was the second year in a row we've done their marriage conference, so we felt very connected with the group.  We had a great weekend.

As soon as the conference ended on Sunday, the Kings whisked us up to Athens, GA, where we had a very important date with the TV to watch the AFC playoff game.  :)  We had the privilege of watching it with Kevin "Chappie" and Mikki Hynes, who serve with FCA at University of Georgia.  Mikki's brother is Coach Mark Richt, head coach of Georgia football and the one who honored James David Eunice (our 17-year-old friend who died a year ago in a duck hunting accident) with a Georgia jersey at his funeral.   Small world.  "Chappie" lacks no enthusiasm for football so we held nothing back in that nail-biter of a game against the Ravens.  Whew!!


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

With our hearts still racing and our adrenaline still pumping, we drove with Chappie and Jill Perry, also on FCA staff, to the campus to speak to the FCA meeting that night.  What fun!  To a room packed full of Division I athletes, we talked relationships and God's design.  It was very energizing for us and thought-provoking for them, which spawned many conversations long after the talk ended.  We loved it.  We were so encouraged by what's happening through FCA at UGA.


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


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


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



Jill Perry wrote the following day: "It was a wonderful night. The students I meet with for weekly discipleship have shared with me how much it deeply impacted them. We had a huge turnout! What a blessing!”

I can assure you, the blessing was ours.  We love to interact with students who are leaning in to a godly view of relationship rather than a cultural view.  As we said to them, our great sadness for their generation is that they've been lied to since they were little about their sexuality and the nature and purpose of relationships.  For many of them, gaining a Biblical perspective is relatively new.  What a joy to be part of that process.

We flew back to Boston on Monday (after getting at least a couple of hours with the four precious King children) and we made the most of the 24 hours we were home to help Julie with her final preparations for moving to Uganda as soon as her boards were taken on Monday, Jan. 30.  We did a few errands, some baking, a bit of sewing - but mostly we marveled at how much work she had done and how well organized and prepared she was for this major transition.  We squeezed everything we could out of those brief hours and then boarded a plane for Spokane, WA, to partner for the 4th time in 5 years with the Moses Lake Alliance Church (MLAC).  We have very deep hearts for this congregation and are so honored to return.


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


Kent (executive pastor of MLAC) and Staci Copley picked us up and we picked up with one another as good friends do.  We really do love hanging with these guys and their daughters, Tori and Britni.  We are terribly amused by one another on one hand, but also have deep and significant conversations, so we always enjoy being with them.  We not only admire their ministry hearts, but we respect them greatly as parents.  Their daughters reflect the best of parenting as they are well behaved and respectful as well as being tons of fun.  It's a joy to stay in their home.


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


Not that we were there much!  We arrived in time Wednesday to go directly to church to speak on relationships to both the middle schoolers and the high school group.  Both groups were receptive and interactive and it was clear that the families and the staff at MLAC have a strong commitment to teaching Biblical design to their kids.  Refreshing!

Thursday morning, we spoke to a group of women on parenting and marriage.  Caryn Bowser, the lead pastor's wife, served up a lovely brunch at the church (and explained to me, "I want them to feel as though they're coming to our home!".)  She accomplished that!  It was a sweet time.  Paul baked cookies with the girls in the afternoon and then we were off to speak to a very cool event that evening.  The "Ministerial Association" of Moses Lake invited to us to speak for a special night out for the local pastors.  A phenomenal dinner was served by the local country club (seriously good steak!) and after some time of worship, we spoke on balancing ministry and marriage.  It was very encouraging for us to see pastors and wives from about 15 different churches in Moses Lake communing with one another rather than competing with each other.  They are clearly committed to working together for the Kingdom which can only be good for the people of Moses Lake!  Walking shoulder to shoulder in unity is so consistent with the heart of the gospel. We loved being a part of that.

Friday we drove up to Clearwater Lodge in Newport, WA, and began the marriage conference.  It was like a family reunion of sorts, as this is the 4th conference we've done for them and we have deep hearts for these folks.  Lots of laughter and fun interaction throughout the weekend, along with rapt attention during the times of teaching.  It was especially meaningful to us that Jody (lead pastor) and Caryn Bowser were there.  It makes a bit statement to a congregation when pastoral staff prioritize a marriage conference.  And they weren't "just" there.  Jody led worship and played songs we haven't heard since the 70's.  (When was the last time you heard "Blind Man"?)  It was fun to actually know all the songs!  A definite advantage of having a more "mature" worship leader.  :)


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


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

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

The long anticipated Boards came and went on Monday, and hours later, Julie and I flew to London.  Why not?  Julie's husband, Derek, flew up from Uganda to get some dental work done, and more importantly, to retrieve his wife.  We've spent the last three days enjoying London, the highlights of which were staying in the lovely Ashburton Bed and Breakfast in Chorleywood (owned and operated by Nick and Olive Vale, whose daughter, Tiffany, lives in Mbale volunteering for an NGO there), seeing the stage play "Les Miserables", spending a day with our lifelong friend, Kelsey Offield, and eating some great meals.  Of course the highest light was hanging out with Derek and Julie.  As I fly back to Boston today, they are on a plane taking them the opposite direction to Uganda, and so their life will begin as a married couple as medical missionaries in this  developing country.

I'll admit that since their engagement 15 months ago, it has seemed to easy to think of Julie living in Africa.  It's so consistent with her long-held desire to serve underserved children in Africa.  And how can you argue with the divine orchestration of God bringing her and Derek to one another, serving children in Africa.  I've said countless times, "I'd rather have her in Africa where she feels she's exactly where God wants her than near us where we would love to have her."

I didn't feel that as convincingly this morning as we tearfully hugged good-bye at Heathrow six hours ago.  It all of a sudden feels like she's very far away, and in a curious way, she seemed awfully young and vulnerable as she waved good-bye.

Of course she's not.  Her 27th birthday is just ahead and she’s married to one of the finest men of God we've ever met.  And we all believe they're where God wants them to be for now.

Though my feelings are real and valid, they're not stronger than what I know is true.  Our good-bye this morning allows her to say "hello" to her new life, which is full of hope and promise, love and adventure, challenge and accomplishment.

And God is over all and in all.  That's most comforting of all.


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another beautiful young woman wrote:

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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



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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

One of the attendees wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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