For the first time since launching this blog over twelve years ago, three months have elapsed since my last post. In an unprecedented quandary, I’ve had a really hard time finding the words to write, for though there have been many great moments and experiences during this time, we have concurrently experienced some of the darkest and most difficult days of our life together. And quite frankly, I haven’t known how to communicate about this, fairly and honorably, especially since it’s ongoing. This is a season during which my silence hasn’t been “golden.”
If “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .” is related to a house decked in outdoor lights, a beautifully decorated tree indoors, and stockings “hung by the chimney with care,” we’re off. Way off. Thankful to have just gotten all pumpkins processed and the orange and rust decorations put away . . .
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.
Derek, Julie and Nathan welcome baby Rachel to their family.
|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.
Hard at work, working together . . . many hands make many pies.
Connie Lawrence and Joy Coonradt have faithfully served Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel for years now. So good to reconnect with them!
|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.|
|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.
|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.|
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.
|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.|
The first ones who arrived to our final study got a sneak preview of the cinnamon rolls they would take home.
Pictured are some of the women who attended the Wednesday study all fall. Lexi is holding Hudson in the center back of the photo.
|Many of the couples who attended the couples study this fall. Our hearts for them are so deep.|
|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|
|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
The morning after, with John and Marilyn Nugent.
|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.|
|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.
|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, 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.|
|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.
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!!|
|Ross and Caitlyn Macrae stand with Paul soon after being pronounced husband and wife.|
Julie and Nathan stand in front of their new house in Mechanicsburg, PA.
|Wedding by the sea . . . Paul re-married this couple, much to the delight of their two children.|
|We had a great time on Nantucket Island with Julie and Nathan. It was the first time for all of us to this beautiful island.|
|Aunt Margaret makes 100 years of age look like 80!|
|Ana is all smiles in her new birthday Sports Coupe. Can’t believe she’s 2 already!|
|Lots of fun birthday moments with our little pink princess and her big brother, who loves everything about birthdays, no matter whose it is.|
|Our daily walk on the beach help to stimulate our brain cells for writing.|
|We met up with our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent along the “gold coast.” Note: only John is pictured here. :-)|
|We happily connected with our best friends from seminary, now living in Monterey, Johnny and Lori Potter.|
|And we checked in with newly transplanted from New England to CA, Steve and Jenny Luxa. It made In-N-Out all the better to share it with friends!|
|The Union Fellowship at Park Street Church welcomed our teaching on finances.|
|Paul and Lianna Chong host the Union Fellowship group.|
|Jon and Marilee exit after being pronounced husband and wife by my brother-in-law, David Leach.|
|The original “Collins crew” with the matriarch.|
|Julie, Betty Ann, Barbara, Dawn, Helen, and me. Kelly had already retired for the night. Helen is still surprised!|
|Carl and Cathy Blatchley and Lars and Bethany Nielsen worked hard to make the Grace Baptist Church marriage conference successful.|
“Thank you, Paul and Virginia, for a wonderful life-changing marriage conference. As I shared with you, I've never been to a marriage conference that takes the Biblical, temperament, and biological differences and make them very, very relevant to marriage. Your reinforcement of how differences can strengthen your marriage when viewed with grace and gratitude helped us greatly.”
|After the second service Sunday morning, we thank the Lord, with Carl and Cathy Blatchley, for meeting us this weekend.|
|Don and Betsy Hasselbeck were at New England Chapel for the couples’ night. Love them!|
|Our first day in Mbale, visiting the CURE Children’s Hospital.|
|Auntie Lisa and Brandon visit a sweet mama and her baby.|
|Gabe, Kari, and Ana went from bed to bed, talking and praying with the mamas.|
|Our day trip to Sipi Falls was wonderful and all made the hike|
except Derek, who was nursing a knee injury.
|Daily walks in the neighborhood gave us exercise and insights into the life and culture of Mbale.|
|The JENGA crew who spent the day with us being trained in Biblical marriage.|
|Chiko II pays us a visit during our outdoor breakfast.|
|The “cows come home” after a day of grazing.|
|We celebrated Julie’s 30th a bit early at the Endiro Coffee Shop.|
|After a very long and bumpy 8-hour drive, a very happy crew arrives at Bwana Tembo,|
our lodging for our safari.
|Brandon was enthralled with every sighting, and was especially captivated by this giraffe that followed us for awhile.|
|On the Nile River cruise, we enjoyed watching these elephants frolic in the water.|
|We think it’s a friendly smile...|
|With Murchison Falls in the background, we get a family shot on the Nile.|
|What all good mates do: carefully groom their spouse.|
|Continuing our family tradition, we circled up to pray before parting ways.|
|We spent a day training these local pastors in marriage ministry.|
|Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, who lead the fellowship at Pearl Haven Christian Center, attended the couples’ date night dinner.|
|We spoke at the Pastor’s Prayer Breakfast during the Easter Convention.|
|We also spoke to the whole Easter Convention after the prayer breakfast.|
|Nathan and his good friend Faruke, whose father John is the groundskeeper for the Johnsons. Faruke is a wonderful, motivated young man who will be sorely missed|
when the Johnsons return to the States this summer.
|The “Worth It” speaking team — such a great group!!! So thankful for them.|
|Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield hosted our annual “Worth It” conference|
and the house was packed.
|A favorite destination . . .|
|. . . and this is why! Quite mesmerizing to watch these turtles and koi.|
|Barry and Saundra Galloway shepherd the flock at Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard|
and are impossible not to love.
|Lisa, Head Coach Cori Close, and I get a photo prior to the Women’s Basketball Banquet.|
|Sweet time with Liz Aleman and Julie and Nathan Aleman|
in San Francisco soon after we landed in California.
|Early morning breakfast with Drew and Dana Macrae for our annual “marital check-up."|
|Lunch with Ross Macrae and his fiancée Caitlyn|
before heading to Golden Hills Community Church for the evening.
|Johnie and Becky Moore were such gracious hosts at GHCC.|
|The CBS contingent at the dessert night . . . How we love these families!|
|My mom was pretty thrilled to have Danny Woodhead and Benjamin Watson|
as her dinner dates at the PAO conference.
|David and Cherylyn Hegg are dear friends and ministry partners.|
We loved having them with us for the marriage retreat!
|Doug Macrae presents David Hegg with a signed Brady jersey . . . |
just what every Seahawks’ fan wants. :)
|The newlywed dinner was well-attended and spawned some lively discussion.|
|Part of the H.I.M. team that worked the weekend. So grateful for each one of these servants!|
|Kelly Plosker invested hours in making sure everyone felt welcomed|
and cared for in the ballroom by her creative decorating.
“Our first retreat and our mutual expectation for a clearer picture of God’s design for marriage was exceedingly met! Thank you!”
“Thanks for another Christ-centered weekend and for giving us additional tools/resources to grow our marriage and further understand God’s plan for marriage.”
“Thank you for this experience. It has been life-changing for us and our marriage.”
|Engagement Matters attendees March 14-15, 2015|
|The serving team: Melanie Bilazarian and Cathy and Carl Blatchley.|
"I now have many tools to work on bettering my relationship and having a successful marriage.”
“I loved the tie back to scripture and the examples and anecdotes were good for getting a point across. I also appreciated the resources available and recommended.”
“Everything was explained so well and in such an engaging way. Everyone was so approachable for questions. I loved it all. Very well done.”
“It opened up many avenues of discussion, many topics covered that we haven’t thought through.”
|Our first day at the CURE Hospital . . . deeply moving.|
|Tom and Cheri Austin, directors of OCF at West Point, |
extended warm hospitality to us when we spoke at West Point.
|How we love walking on the beach … and Pismo is one of the best.|
|Some wonderful friends who helped make the marriage conference happen|
for Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, California.
|Papa, Brandon, and Ana having fun at the park.|
|Brandon and Ana helping Gigi bake scones.|
|Nathan, who clearly isn’t in New England, says “I really like chocolate syrup!”|
As we’ve hit records with cold and snow, our children in Africa
have been sweltering during dry season with high temps and no rain.
|Ken Peet welcomes the crowd at Grace Church who|
came out for the parents/teens talk on relationships.
|Ray, Carol, Christy, and Leslie Johnston give Paul a lesson about buying jeans.|
|The male models . . .|
|Bob and Letty Balian lead the ministry at Bayside Midtown and are dear friends.|
Dan and Susan Yardley hosted the lovely couples’ dessert night in Charlotte.
|Part of the Summit View Church retreat attendees at Black Rock Retreat Center.|
|Jess and Elizabeth Bousa work tirelessly to serve the growing needs of their church plant, Restore.|
|Paul preaching at Restore Church … in his new, cool jeans.|
|A fair representation of the Collins family line gathered at my sister Sue’s home for Thanksgiving.|
|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."
|Gabe and Rosemary Valencia encourage us with their story|
at at the CCCA Conference in Orlando.
|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.
|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.
|Our final Patriots couples’ study night . . . missing four couples who had come all season.|
It was a great group.
|"Go Bruins” was lost in the huge crowd of UConn fans, but we were there!!|
|Hadden, Lucy, and Wiley join Papa and Nathan in singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.|
|This little boy is all about balls! Christmas morning fun.|
|Paul, Lisa, Julie, and Hank strike a natural pose for the photographer.|
|Linda Bartel Dismukes joined us for coffee in downtown Kona.|
|We spent a great evening with Mark and Angie Herbst (Mark is our nephew.)|
|Church Sunday morning with Dave and Debbie Hazlebeck and John and Marilyn Nugent.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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 from California for more birthday surprises.|
|Decked out and ready to join the 60’s club.|
|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.”
|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.|
|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!
|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."
Gordon and Gail MacDonald have had a mentoring role in our lives for thirty years now.
What a gift to us!
|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)|
|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.
|God’s creativity is endless! Imagine—this is a small sampling of the pumpkin family!|
|Dr. Sit welcomes eager parents who gave up Friday night and Saturday|
to be encouraged in their parenting and marriage efforts.
|Extended family Dave and Heidi Lemmerhirt and their kids |
Daniel, Anna, and Josiah met up with us at AACS.
|Our “last supper” with the Wongs before returning to Boston.|
|Ana Marie turns 1.|
|During the Broncos-Cardinals game, we had plenty to cheer for with Anna.|
|Jay and Yukiko Dreves, with daughters Sydney and Shelby,|
had a great introduction to New England during their visit.
|Brandon and Ana: brother-sister love . . . and “Giants” love to boot.|
|“Gigi cookies” all done: teamwork. |
Brandon was in charge of the sprinkles—and they were sprinkled!!
|Pure delight with his first yard sale purchase.|
|Watch out, here we come!! Perfect weather, lighter crowds, and happy kids.|
What more could we want?
|Those rockets seemed as real to Brandon as they did to me when I was a little girl!|
|Dan and Lita Schlueter hosted our evening at the seminary|
and we enjoyed our time with them as much as speaking. Salt of the earth folks.
|Happiness is . . . a face plant in soft garden dirt! Nathan’s joy is contagious.|
|A beautiful morning sunrise in San Diego.|
|Ryan and Kelly Plosker's "fifth child"—a brand new home for New England Academy!|
|Doug and Kelly Hart have been in our lives for over 30 years. Loved having them in our home!|
|Check out those short sleeves! Such a fun game!|
|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."|
|The view from Wai and Elaine's backyard. :)|
As Paul said, "Suffering for Jesus in Ann Arbor . . . someone’s got to do it!"
|Celebrating with Grant and Emily Williams, and daughters Meegan, Madeline, and Sarah Elizabeth.|
|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!!|
|True conversation: Virginia: "What's not to love about snow?" Paul: "Shoveling, maybe?" :)|
|Brandon finding Baby Jesus in the manger Christmas morning.|
|So fun being together in our matching jammies.|
|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!!|
|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.|
|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.
|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.
|Lisa and Paul on the Boston Common early on New Year’s Eve.|
|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.
|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.
Dinner at “Dave's Restaurant” with Lisa and her housemate Rachel. Let the party begin!!
|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.|
|Lunch with Gail MacDonald at the Bedford House in NH,|
belatedly celebrating my birthday and prematurely celebrating hers!
|The group of leaders from Bethany Gospel Chapel who attended|
“The Church Family and Your Family” conference.
|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. :)
|The tradition continues: matching jammies for|
the family . . . except for Wilson, the dog.
|We had a great night at Gillette Stadium with Stacia and Annette Woodhead. Go Pats!!!|
|A few of the women proudly showcase their handiwork.|
|Our final women’s study—sweet, sweet group.|
|These happy smiles are for more than the Dunkin' Donuts|
coffee Helen bought to welcome these two from Africa!
|The after-hours crew making the annual gingerbread houses.|
|The Ugly Sweater gang|
|Sunrise over Avalon Harbor . . . His mercies are new every morning. . .|
|Most of the attendees of the Falmouth Baptist Church conference . . . a great group of folks!|
|Big Jim is in the middle of a few of our players at our Patriots couples' study.|
|The mother of the bride, Jenny, is one of my dearest friends.|
|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!|
|Gabriel and Jessika, Jerron and Danielle, Gabe and Kari, and Lamar and Kalyce drove from Sacramento to our marriage conference at Bethel Christian Church.|
|What fun to rock out to Danny's concert with Nathan and Julie Aleman and Liz.|
|Brandon, 25 months, still loves being on Papa's shoulders.|
As the first real snowstorm of the quickly-coming-to-a-close winter “that wasn’t” blankets the area, I’m happily snuggled at home absolutely delighting in this thoroughly unexpected twist of nature. My “Let It Snow” collection of pleading signs that have greeted every visitor to our home this winter have been ignored by the Great Snow Maker...until now. LET IT SNOW!!!!
This is the perfect scenario for writing an overdue blog entry... and on leap day, no less. We have been home eight days since I last wrote...which explains why I feel very far behind on most maintenance issues. Our travels have taken us to CA, NY, and FL, and each trip has been full of people, ministry, and delight.
Backing up to Feb. 3, when I returned from London, I had no time to get over anything before we were in the saddle Saturday a.m. teaching at our H.I.M.-hosted parenting conference. Though the turn-out for it was disappointing, those who attended were very affirming of its value. Between the workshops and the plenary sessions, there was plenty of energy and hunger for encouragement and instruction.
It was interesting to juxtapose the seeming lack of priority placed on attending a parenting conference (too busy, kids' sports, no babysitter, etc.) with the immense amount of time and energy invested in being prepared for the biggest football game of the year which happened the following day. There were no lack of callers-to-sports-radio from armchair coaches who had clearly spent a lot of time analyzing the Patriots and developing a game plan that would produce the desired results. If fathers spent a fraction of the time investing in developing a game plan for their families...and then showing up to coach them through the "game of life," our homes would be so different.
Super Bowl Sunday started for us at Highrock Church, where we heard a challenging message by David Swaim, and was followed by a trip to Plymouth to visit our dear Thora Eames. She was recovering from hip replacement surgery, necessitated by an unfortunate fall off a ladder while washing her outside windows (Why not? Isn’t that what all 94-year-olds do on a Saturday afternoon?). We had a great visit with her and were most encouraged that her spunk and spirit were not dampened in the least. We presented her with a new Patriots shirt to wear as she watched the game that night as she is a diehard, energetic fan. Her son instructed the nurse to seatbelt Thora in her wheelchair during the game to keep her from leaping to her feet during happy moments (and dislocating the newly located hip!) We left so inspired by her amazing life.
After a board meeting and a day of counseling, we flew to California for a return visit to the Desert Vineyard in Lancaster/Palmdale. This was our third trip there in a year and each time we're with David and Nancy Parker (lead pastor and wife) and their crew, we're more impressed with what they're doing and with how God is using them. We kicked off our time by speaking for the Antelope Valley Ministerial Association's monthly luncheon on Thursday. We were amazed at the broad representation of area churches in attendance and had many conversations that gave us glimpses into the greater work in that area. It's so encouraging to see churches working together to make an impact for the kingdom!
That night, the church hosted a Couples' Fiesta Date Night, and they pulled out all the stops! From a beautifully decorated room to live Mariachis and a delicious catered Mexican feast, the ambience was set for a delightful evening. The sold-out crowd was full of energy and didn't run out of it until we were done speaking. It was an extremely well done evening.
Friday morning, after a very fun visit with some friends, we drove to Westlake Village for the weekend marriage conference for Desert Vineyard. There was a huge response to the conference, and we're convinced that when the senior pastor leads by example and attends the marriage conference his church is promoting, there is greater buy-in by the congregation. It sure was a bonus for us to grab moments with David and Nancy throughout the weekend. So many in that congregation have become dear to us over this past year! And we "owe it all" to Tommy and April Garcia, long time CBS family campers, who got the ball rolling for us at DV.
All too quickly, our five days with Desert Vineyard were up and as we said our good-byes, we felt like we were leaving very dear friends.
Since it was only Sunday afternoon, why not do another event? On to Yorba Linda we drove (about an hour south) to speak at "The Rock" for their Valentine's Date Night. This was also the second year in a row with this group, headed by Brent and Melissa Slezak, and we had a great night. The Slezaks have such strong ministry gifts and such a deep passion for family and marriage, so it's a real joy to partner with them. The evening was beautifully done, from the decorations to the dinner, and we had a very receptive audience to speak to. We loved every minute of it.
Since "all work and no play make one dull" we took Monday to play. . . at Disneyland. The Slezaks made that possible (Brent is employed by Disneyland) and we had a really fun day at the Magic Kingdom and California Land. Just honing our skills for our grandchildren . . . :)
We flew home on Valentine’s Day and spent a full day Wednesday counseling, and an equally full day Thursday with various events, the highlight of which was our end-of-the-season celebration dinner with our New England Patriots couples Bible study group. Unfortunately, between those who had already left town for "home" and others who had had surgeries, our group was rather small—but we had a really great evening together. Don and Betsy Hasselbeck were surprised when Paul read the dedication of the study he wrote for our group this fall ("Jesus on Marriage") to them. We are so grateful for their partnership!
Off we drove the next morning...for upstate New York! Glens Falls to be exact! We were privileged to do our first conference for the Pine Knolls Alliance Church and were so pleased to feel very much at home with them right off the bat. Richard and Amy Dean, who came to Engagement Matters many years ago, planned the conference and overlooked no detail. They did a great job of covering the bases and the conference ran very smoothly They had a great turn-out and we were thankful for a very enthusiastic audience. The conference ran Friday night and all day Saturday. On Sunday, we spoke for two Sunday School classes on marriage. We had a great experience and are so thankful for what they have going at that vital church.
Continuing the rhythm, we unpacked, did laundry, and repacked, counseled for a full day, and then were off again. Destination: Florida! Conference: Pro Athletes Outreach, for the 12th year.
We love this conference. PAO is committed to putting together a high quality program, steeped in solid Biblical teaching, and this year was no exception. Dr. Tony Evans and Louie Giglio were two of the best who gave challenging, brilliant messages to this group of professional football players and their wives. Paul and I did our temperaments workshop twice, and spent a lot of time interacting. It was great for us to reconnect with many ex-Pats as well as others who have become friends through the years. Our Lisa flew in during the conference to join me for an after-conference event and we loved having her with us.
And about that after-conference event: Lisa and i joined 20,000 other Princesses (with a few Princes thrown in) to run the Disney Princess Half-Marathon that Sunday morning. This was our 4th half-marathon together (my fifth and her seventh) and we both agreed it was our best. Not our best time (though almost) but certainly the most fun. Taking full advantage of the princess theme, we "fit in" with our self-fashioned princess garb and enjoyed the cool, overcast morning run from Epcot through the Magic Kingdom and back. It touches me so deeply that Lisa is willing to run a much slower race so she can run with me. That's sacrifice.
And it ends with snow. Leaping with joy . . . and looking forward to tubing tomorrow. At last.
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.
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!!!
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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. :)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 . . .