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.

New Beginnings

Well, he’s here.  Brandon Michael Garcia was born on his Grandpa Paul’s 60th birthday, August 29, 2010, and that’s why it’s taken me awhile to update this blog.  :)  When the choice comes between holding the baby or doing computer work, there is simply no contest.  So in the quiet of this early morning, while he’s still sleeping, I’m thrilled to fill in the blanks of these past two weeks.
We flew to Sacramento on the 23rd of August and spent the next couple of days enjoying time with both Gabe and Kari and Derek and Julie.  We relaxed, ate some great meals, played games, and generally enjoyed some very “vacationesque” moments.  Though Derek and Julie were with us only 2.5 days, we enjoyed every moment we had and then sent them off to spend a couple of days with his family in Tulsa, OK.  Before Derek left, however, we supported him and Paul as they took on the challenge of assembling the changing table we had bought.  The mission was accomplished, and provided both entertainment (for those observing) and some sanctification for those assembling.  

Breakfast at Tower Restaurant was on the agenda for the first day we arrived and its delicious breakfasts did not disappoint.

Paul, Gabe, and Derek grill up a great summer dinner after a leisurely afternoon at Gabe’s parents’ pool.

Derek and Paul begin the process of assembling the changing table.  So many pieces, so many confusing directions, so much at risk.

30 minutes later...

90 minutes later… mission accomplished, much to the delighted of the non-hired assembly crew.

Before Derek and Julie left for Oklahoma, Ray and Carol Johnston and their crew surprised Paul with an early birthday celebration.  During a lovely breakfast gathering, each of the six Johnstons tributed Paul with their “Top 5 List of Things We Love About Paul Friesen” and it was extremely humbling and meaningful to him.   We continue to consider it such a privilege for our families to journey through life together; we’ve shared close to three decades now.

Ray and Carol Johnston, along with Mark, Scott, Christy and Leslie, honored Paul with lots of affirmation to mark his 60th birthday.

On Saturday, the 28th (his actual birthday is the 29th), John Nugent  (without Marilyn, who is finishing up the sale of their home in Pennsylvania) surprised Paul by showing up at Gabe and Kari’s house midday.  Introvert that he is, Paul wasn’t interested in a big gathering for his birthday, so we’ve tried to celebrate him in a way meaningful to him.  We had a great afternoon with “Nuge” before heading to downtown Sacramento and doing a walking tour of Old Sacramento and the capitol building, etc.  A fabulous dinner at “Mortons” followed, and Nuge had barely driven off to his apartment in Redwood City when Kari announced that it looked like labor was beginning.  That 1.5 hour walk around Old Town worked!!  :)  

We thoroughly enjoyed exploring Old Sacramento together.  Here we’re standing on the bridge over the Sacramento River.

A delicious steak dinner followed our explore.

So, at 10:30 at night on the 28th, Kari went into labor.  It took several hours to convince us it was real labor, but by 3 a.m. we were convinced, so off to the hospital we went.  I have to admit that though we really had hoped the baby would come on Paul’s 60th, we were mentally prepared for him to arrive after her August 31 due date.  Once at the hospital, it was confirmed that she was in fact in labor and they checked her in.  To make a long 22-hour labor “short,” everything went really well until 3 hours of pushing (at the end of 19 hours of laboring) couldn’t get the job done, so Brandon was born via c-section at 8:49 p.m.  At 8#15 oz and 21.5”, he was just too big for Kari’s body to deliver.  Thankfully, though she lost 2 liters of blood in the process, she is recovering really well and we’re all enjoying a really healthy, beautiful baby boy!
We were grateful that we could be at the hospital throughout labor (in the room with them) and delivery (in the waiting room).  God has been so gracious in the timing of Brandon’s birth and in allowing us to experience firsthand so many one-time-only moments.  During part of the wait, I wrote this note to a friend who had just left her oldest child at college and was experiencing both the pain and joy of such passages:
You’ve been in my thoughts especially this month as you’ve prepared to launch your daughter to a new world of independence and exposure.  I’m sure you had very mixed feelings when you left her at college today...joyful anticipation for her future, which is bright and full of promise, and sadness at the changing of seasons for you as a family and for her as a young woman.  I don’t think anything really prepares us for such transitions entirely.  As I write, I’m sitting in the hospital waiting room while Kari, my firstborn, labors to launch into the world the next generation and ushers our whole family into another new season.  Life is full of changing seasons.
I imagine you have some of the same feelings for your daughter now as I have for Kari.  Prior to now, I hadn’t really considered how much I would want her delivery to be much I would hurt to see her hurt, and struggle to see her struggle.  I find myself wanting to protect her from the have her experience the joys of childbirth without the pain of the birthing experience.  I’ve suddenly remembered all the risks and potential complications of childbirth, and of possible problems with the baby.  I don’t want her to have to endure any of that.
I can imagine you have similar thoughts for her as she enters this whole new world - so often hostile to the kind of values and beliefs you’ve helped her embrace.  I can imagine you having some fears or at least concerns about her roommate, her classes, her profs, her Christian fellowship, her decisions, her hopes, her dreams.  I can imagine that you feel as powerless at this point to change the course of any of that as I do.
And that’s exactly where the Lord wants us.  He is reminding me to release her and to trust Him.  He’s reminding me that He is sovereign over all - the good and the hard.  He’s reminding me that He IS enough...for her, and for me.
I am praying that you’ll hear His reminders to you too, dear friend.
With much love- 
P.S.  As it turns out, after 22 hrs of labor..including 3 hrs. of pushing after being fully dilated...Brandon Michael was born via c-section at 8#15oz, 21.5” long.  Too big to get through Kari’s pelvic floor.  We saw him for the first time around midnight last night.  Everyone’s doing really well today, though she lost over 2 liters of blood post c-section.  The feared needed transfusion didn’t have to happen today - PTL - and mother and baby are doing really well.  
So...all my musings of wanting to protect her from pain remind me of how little control I have over so many things.  Thankfully, the Lord has been extremely gracious and so many things that could’ve been haven’t been so we’re all feeling very, very blessed.

Checked in...labor progressing...this is GREAT!!!  Even easy!

Julie flies in from OK around 2 p.m. and clearly hasn’t missed the birth!  Obviously, just waiting for her… At this point, Kari is almost fully dilated so delivery should be imminent.  :)  

Really?  Still waiting?  Water broken at 9:30 a.m., fully dilated, fully effaced.  Let’s get this show on the road!

Around midnight—after c-section—the happy family welcomes Brandon Michael.  All smiles now.  :)

Paul agrees this is the best birthday gift ever.  :)

There really aren’t words to capture the joy of such moments, such miracles, such amazing love.

In the midst of everything, Paul’s birthday was celebrated.  :)  Thanks to technology, the girls “skyped” Lisa in from VA when they presented Paul with a beautiful book of tributes to him from family and friends, compiled in a treasured “iBook.”  The girls each tearfully read their tributes to their unbelievable dad, and I read mine to the guy who’s the best person in my life.  He was so deeply touched by the many expressions of affirmation to him from so many.  It was a birthday he’ll never forget for many reasons.  :)

The next few days, while Kari, Gabe, and Brandon hung out in the hospital, we tried to get things more ready at home.  On Wednesday, September 1, they ventured out into the world en route to settling in their little nest here in Sacramento.  Since then, we’ve had a blast helping them have confidence in their natural instincts and taking a bazillion photos (thank heavens for digital!) of his constantly changing face.  We’ve had the privilege of keeping everyone fed, keeping the laundry clean, baking cookies for the visitors, and regaling Gabe and Kari with tales of Kari when she was Brandon’s age.  

We’ve spent countless moments in awe of the miracle of creation and in giving thanks to Creator God for this little masterpiece named Brandon.  We’ve delighted in getting to know Gabe and Kari in a whole new way as we watch them enter this new season of their lives with so much joyful expectation and wonder.  We’ve thanked the Lord a billion times for arranging the timing of all of this as only He could, in part to bless us with being able to experience all of this.
We all feel beyond blessed.

Kari and Gabe take five-day-old Brandon out for his first stroller ride.

On day 9, they pose for more family photos.  :)

This photo pretty much captures the last 10 days of our’s all about him.  :)

A very prejudiced grandma thinks he’s the cutest thing ever.  :)

Thankfully, this scheduled break followed ten weeks out straight with virtually no “down” time, so we’re recuperating from our full and wonderful summer in this unique and privileged way.  Since no one knows when exactly a baby will come, we left our schedule open until our first studies with the New England Patriots which occur on September 15 and 16.  Paul actually returns to Boston today, because he’s finding Brandon a bit “too distracting” to the work he needs to get done.  I, on the other hand, don’t want anything to distract me from Brandon for another week, so I’m staying.  :)

We did take a quick 36-hour break to drive down to Temecula to join the celebration of Kraig and Eryn Kraning’s wedding on Labor Day.  Our long time friendship with Kraig’s grandparents and parents, as well as having Kraig on staff at CBS several years ago, all contributed to us not wanting to miss this special day, so we did it.  During those brief 36 hours, we drove 14 hours, visited my folks for 4 hours (they relocated to San Diego recently), and were at the wedding for 4.5 hours.  In between, we hung out with Julie and got a little sleep.  We had a wonderful time and pray that Kraig and Eryn will experience the matchless blessings of a marriage lived for Him.

Bob and Carol Kraning were the first ones we greeted at the wedding. 

Kraig and Eryn are served communion by both sets of Kraig’s grandparents.

Outside of Brandon’s world, Julie is settling into her 4th of 7 trimesters at physical therapy school and Lisa is in full tilt as the athletic trainer for JMU’s women’s soccer team, which is off to a great start.  We’ll be with both girls on Catalina Island the weekend of Sept. 17th for another very important occasion, as our lifelong friend Calen Offield marries Amber Clark.

That brings you up to date on our lives.  We are bursting with joy and overflowing with gratitude.  And enjoying this “new beginning” exponentially more than we could’ve ever imagined.