Salvation Army

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. 

Here, There, and Everywhere (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auntie LeeLee makes hiking all the more fun for Brandon.

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

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

Part 3 is coming . . . stay tuned!!

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