The dash between Uganda and Viet Nam

The dash between Uganda and Viet Nam

If it’s Wednesday, we must be on our way to Viet Nam.

And we are!

The three weeks between the end of our Uganda trip and the beginning of our Viet Nam trip were full! Shocking, I know.

As I write, I’m thoroughly enjoying this 14-hour Toronto to Seoul leg of the trip, as it is providing a much needed “break” following a fairly intense, post-Uganda pace. Our very generous Vietnamese hosts have ensured a restful, renewing journey to their land by booking us in business class, which is a euphemism for “hotel room in the sky.” We’re loving it!

In and Out of Africa

In and Out of Africa

As we make our way back to Africa today, I’m at least slightly amused by the reality of our last week: on Sunday, April 30, we returned to Boston from South Africa; on Wednesday, May 3rd, we flew to California for a conference; on Sunday, May 7th, we flew back to Boston; and on Monday, May 8th, we left Boston for Uganda. Now . . . some would rightfully ask, “Who made a schedule like that?” 

If It's Tuesday . . .

The past two weeks have been marked by very quick turn-arounds.  The kind that leave you wondering where you are and what time it is. 

Returning from Trinidad late on Tuesday, the 26th of April, we had just enough time to do a load of laundry and repack before flying to Sacramento, CA, the following day, to participate in Bayside’s annual Thrive Conference. The brainchild of Ray Johnston, lead pastor of the Bayside family of churches, this conference is packed with upbeat worship, a large variety of workshops, great plenary session speakers, and lots of fun and laughter. There’s not much that’s conventional about it, and each year we are re-energized by this hyper-inspiring event.

We taught three workshops on Friday, the 29th: one on balancing marriage and ministry, one on teaching Biblical values regarding sexuality to our youth, and the final one on temperaments. All three were well received, but the temperaments workshop was off the charts. Packed with very responsive folks, there were many moments of epiphany and enlightenment amidst the laughter and verbal “aha’s.” At the end of the workshop, one woman got to me immediately and with tears said, “This workshop might have just saved my marriage. I understand my husband in a whole new way with these insights.” There is no more encouraging response we could have received.  All praise is His.

The "temperaments in marriage" workshop garnered a huge crowd and an even bigger response.

The facilitating team for our workshops; on the far right are Dave and Diane Watts, our faithful book table handlers.

Following dinner that night at Ray and Carol Johnston’s house, we left the Thrive conference with hearts full and overflowing for how God had met us through some great speakers and worship, and for how He had used us.  

We drove from Sacramento to Santa Clarita that night (definitely not a very New England thing to do, but oh so Californian!) so we could be at Brandon’s soccer game the next morning. The flight we had originally booked Saturday morning wouldn’t get us there in time for the game, so we drove! The five-hour drive gave us time to process the conference and to look ahead at our crazy schedule. We were very thankful to safely arrive at the Garcia’s home at 2 am for a little shut-eye.

What fun to spend Saturday with Brandon and Ana (and their parents, of course.) Though it’s been years since we sat on the sidelines cheering for our favorite athletes, it all came right back to us and we joined the crowd of crazy fans seamlessly. We were really happy it worked out for us to be there. Playing games, taking a walk, sneaking a nap, and going to church balanced the day.

After Brandon’s soccer game . . .

Cleaned up and ready to attend Saturday night church.

Lisa joined us for festivities on Sunday, which revolved around having a small family celebration of our 40th. After a lovely brunch at the Egg Plantation, and delicious cold brew coffee at Honu (a coffee shop in Santa Clarita owned by friends of theirs from church), we returned to the Garcia house where we were presented with a beautiful book of tributes written by family and friends in honor of our marriage. We were totally blown away. Humbled. Touched. Deeply moved. It is a gift that will keep on giving. Sweet Kari took that project on and she did a beautiful job on it.

Coffee break!

The book of tributes for our anniversary.  What a treasure!

Back to Boston on a red-eye Sunday night, April 30, in order to offer a day of counseling. Had we not done this, we would’ve had no counseling days from April 19 until June 1, and we couldn’t do that to our clients. So, much of Monday and all of Tuesday were spent counseling, and then we re-packed and headed back to California. The bright side? Obviously connection with our counselees, but also more miles towards the 1K United mileage club.   :-)

We flew into San Diego so we could spend a day with my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day a bit early and we had such a sweet visit. My mom is incredible! At 86, she still runs her life: she drives, she manages everything, and she’s learning the in’s and out’s of her new iPhone 6.  She’s a bar-setter, that’s for sure. She even picked us up at the airport late Wednesday night. We are blessed that she is so healthy and so vital. Though very short, our time together was lovely and we hated to drive out Friday at noon.

But the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard Marriage Conference was ready to “play ball” so drive we did to Tehachapi, making a quick stop on the way in Riverside to see daughter Lisa’s “new” house!  What joy to celebrate such meaningful milestones in the lives of your children. We’re so proud of the way Lisa has managed her life, positioning her to make a move on buying her first home when her need for a place to live intersected with her “randomly” following an “Open House” sign while walking home from Cal Baptist one day about 6 weeks ago. After crunching the numbers and realizing that her mortgage payments would be only about $300 more a month than renting, she made her move and an abundant amount of God’s grace and favor were evident in the deal closing in her favor. She was thrilled to show her dad her new home (his only view of it had been virtual) and was very happy with his enthusiastic approval. So starts a new chapter in Lisa’s life as she continues as a professor at Cal Baptist for the 2016-17 school year.

On to Tehachapi, for the second year in a row, to speak at their baseball themed marriage conference entitled “Marriage Strong.” They spared no creativity in carrying out a theme and we were delighted to arrive at the “ball field” in time to get Dodger Dogs (which we quickly renamed “Fenway Franks”), nachos with queso, and lemonade. They did an awesome job of decorating the tables and the concession stand. Attendees came wearing their favorite team’s shirts, so there was plenty of friendly rivalry as Red Sox fans bantered with Dodger fans, etc.  It was one of the most creatively themed conferences we’ve done and it definitely was a “grand slam.”

 They didn’t miss a trick when it came to decorating for this conference.

 The Fenway Franks were delicious and made us feel right at home.

 Imagine finding all these Red Sox fans in the high desert east of LA??

Barry and Saundra Galloway are the campus pastors for the TMV and through many years now, we’ve become very good friends as well as ministry partners. Their grace-giving, truth-telling style endears them easily and we loved partnering with them again this year for their marriage conference.

  Barry and Saundra Galloway are salt of the earth folks and we loved being with them.

God did a great work through the conference.  One woman confessed to Paul, “I dragged my husband here, hoping he would be convicted of his need to change, and God turned the tables on me. I’m the one who needed the conference. God spoke to me of my need to change!”  We had many encouraging conversations with those who felt God really met them. Praise Him!

We were also honored to teach at both of their services on Sunday and were thankful that went well. And just like that, we were on our way to Santa Clarita for a quick Mother’s Day celebration with Garcias and Lisa, and then to LAX.  

Though the time was short with the kids, it was very sweet. Yummy food, sweet sentiments expressed, and love shared. So very thankful!

 Short but sweet time with the kids prior to jetting back to Boston on those beloved red-eye flights.

Home on a red-eye, picked up and taken home by Barbara Steele, who’s servant-heartedness knows no bounds. Six hours later, she was back to pick us up and take us back to Logan for our flight to Uganda. Convincing servant-heartedness, yes??

So here we are, ready to call it a day in Entebbe, Uganda. It’s still Tuesday here, so we know where we are.

We are beyond thankful for the opportunity to return to this land of beautiful, loving people and continue the ministry of encouraging church leaders, ex-Pat missionaries, and the congregation at Pearl Haven.
Updates will be coming, but for now, thanks for your prayers and resources that have gotten us here. We want to be used by God to make a difference . . . on Tuesday, as well as every other day of the week. 

   San Diego at its best . . . sunset over the harbor.

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring has sprung in New England and we are surrounded by new life in all its glory.  Cherry and apple blossoms, tulips and daffodils, tulip trees, azaleas, and rhododendrons . . . and lilacs in lavender, white, and purple. The air is fragranced with beauty.  The days are longer. The trees are being robed.  It is truly a glorious time of year!

In the midst of all this beauty, we celebrated our 39th anniversary just half a mile from where we spent our honeymoon in 1976.  Graciously invited back to Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center in Santa Cruz, California, to speak at the second of their annual marriage conferences (we spoke at the first conference last year), the conference opened on the day of our anniversary (April 24) and we decided it was a perfect way to celebrate the event.  Dave Burns, director of adult ministries at Mt. Hermon, was a delight to work with again and the sold-out crowd was warmly receptive and very responsive.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time speaking, hanging out with some great people, and celebrating our anniversary by re-visiting the very same Foster’s Freeze Ice Cream stand we frequented daily on our honeymoon. 

The Mt. Hermon team who served the marriage conference weekend. Dave Burns is in the middle.

Dear friends who attended the Mt. Hermon conference:
Carter and Tracy Welch and Mike and Tricia Toews.

Ah yes . . . Fosters Freeze . . . just like it was 39 years ago!

We had a couple of days prior to heading to Granite Bay to speak at the Thrive Conference, and we made the most of it. We had a lovely evening with Howard and Kathy Clark, along with Bill and Christi Bachman and their sons, who hosted us for the night. Great food, stimulating conversations, and lots of love was shared. Our riches in relationships continue to multiply. So blessed!

Howard and Kathy Clark, Bill and Christi Bachman with sons Andrew and Nathan . . .
we spent a delightful evening together.

On to Half Moon Bay for an overnight to really celebrate our anniversary (without a hundred other people) and we had what we needed: a lovely, clean room at the Half Moon Bay Lodge and an expansive shoreline for walking. Though clouds obscured the sun, it gave the ocean an opportunity to wear a new face and we will never grow tired of the ever-changing beauty of the sea. We enjoyed every minute of our getaway.  

We managed to have a pre-marital counseling session with a couple we’ll be marrying in September, and then on to Santa Rosa to spend some precious time with Rosemary Dougan. It was our first time with her since Garth’s death in March and that was hard. The reality that Garth really has left this earth was inescapable, and having never been with Rosemary apart from Garth, his absence was deeply felt. Seventy years of marriage (it certainly downsized our 39!) . . . living for Christ, and loving each other in Christlikeness . . . truly mentors, friends, and chosen family.  We look forward to celebrating Garth’s life on May 30 in Santa Rosa, knowing that joy and sorrow will intermingle throughout his being honored.

Loved having some time with Rosemary Dougan, though we all missed Garth so much.

On to Sacramento where we participated in the annual Thrive Conference, hosted by Bayside Church and directed by Ray Johnston. We’ve been privileged to present workshops at all ten Thrive conferences and consider this one of the highlights of our speaking year. Not only do we have the honor of teaching on family and marriage (this year we presented three workshops on the topics of marital sexuality, parenting, and reducing the risk of divorce), but we take full advantage of hearing great speakers whose teaching edifies and instructs us, as well of reconnecting and networking with dozens of people important to us. Our days were full and profitable in so many ways.

Ray Johnston and Paul greet each other at the beginning of Thrive 2015.

Paul returned to Bedford after Thrive ended May 2 and I flew to San Diego to spend a few days with my mom. The bonus was having the Garcias and Lisa at my mom’s when I arrived, affording a few hours of 4 generations interacting. Each of these moments are gifts. They left that evening, and I stayed until Wednesday morning before flying home in time for counseling on Thursday. The visit with my mom and 4 of my siblings was good in every way. I love getting time with her and she always expresses such gratitude. I always tell her I wish I could stay longer, to which she always responds, “I’m so grateful for every minute you’re here.”  The garden of her heart reveals that she has sown seeds of gratitude as opposed to seeds of entitlement and bitterness.  Great life lesson.

Four generations of strong women.

My mom and  four of my six siblings celebrate the Cinco De Mayo
at a San Diego Mexican restaurant.

It was good to get back to Bedford for a few days. There was lots of counseling and catching up, along with a a delightful evening spent with the congregation of the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church in West Roxbury. This was our second year speaking on marriage to this church and our hearts deepened even more for them. Led by Reverend Khaled Ghobrial and his wife Vanille, we were very impressed again by their commitment to grow their families and marriages in Christlikeness. On the eve of Mother’s Day, it seemed a fitting focus.  

Sweet friends at the Arabic Evangelical Baptist Church in West Roxbury.

Even without having any of our children close by, nor being near enough to my mom to celebrate Mother’s Day, we had a sweet time at home with one of our dear friends who is a single mom of a disabled child. Paul served us up a yummy meal and we shared a lively conversation around our table. We then took the party to the Boston Commons where we crazily snapped photos of the blooming beds of tulips and flowering trees as dusk eventually brought a slow, beautiful end to a magnificently beautiful day.  

Monday night, May 11, found us back downtown, not to wander through the gardens, but to speak to the Union Young Marrieds group at Park Street Church on Biblical principles regarding finances. Organized by the directors of Union, Paul and Liana Chong, the evening drew quite a crowd (over double what they usually have) which underscores the need for addressing this potent issue.  We love hanging with 20-30 somethings and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.  

Paul and Liana Chong direct the young marrieds ministry at Park Street Church.

What a joy to host Wai and Elaine Wong and their daughters Thursday, May 14.  They were in Boston for a medical convention, and we were so happy that our schedules worked out for us to spend an evening together in our home. The evening passed all too quickly.

The Wai Wong Family came to town and we love spending the evening with them.

Off to Ekton, Pennsylvania, we drove down for the weekend to do a second annual marriage conference for Marsh Creek Community Church. We had such a wonderful time reconnecting with Joel and Sarah Schuster who lead that ministry. Their vision for the importance of building into marriages and families is refreshing. Our conference culminated a month-long emphasis on these seminal matters. We were thankful for a great response to the weekend.

Joel and Sarah Schuster are doing a great job leading the ministry
at Marsh Creek Community Church in Ekton, PA.

Taking advantage of being in that area, we spent our non-conference time in the richest sort of way. Our first visit was with Haddon and Bonnie Robinson, who have retired to Willow Valley, PA. Haddon is a well-known preacher and preaching professor from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which is where we developed a relationship with him and Bonnie. They became mentors-at-a-distance for us and we welcomed any time we could hear Haddon preach or hang out with them at the seminary. Haddon’s health is failing now (Parkinson’s Disease, a recent fall and a minor heart attack all have combined to limit him greatly) and we were so thankful for the opportunity to spend some time with them.  Married now 63 years, they continue to live for Christ and love each other truly.  What a gift to be with them!

Haddon and Bonnie Robinson are still praising God in spite of many medical challenges.

Next stop: Calvary Missionary Fellowship Retirement Community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to visit 92-year-old Barbara Boyd. “Barbie” lived with Paul’s family early in her career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and after her fiancé, Ralph Willoughby, died from a virus while Barbara was serving at Campus by the Sea with the Friesens, she continued her ministry with IVCF and never married.  She is truly one of the most winsome Christ-followers we’ve ever known; her joy is contagious and her trust is flawless. Since we were last with her, she’s moved from independent living to assisted living due to declining memory, but she was still an engaging conversationalist.  Loved our visit.

Barbara Boyd and Paul enjoy catching up on family history.

Rounding out our tour of octogenarians plus, we had dinner with our dear friends and mentors, Bill and JoAnne Shore. They’re poster children for “80 is the new 60” as they are fully engaged in serving the church through mentoring, teaching, etc.  We hang on every word the Shores say.  What a gift to spend several hours with them!

Bill and JoAnne Shore make the 80’s look very young.

Spring has sprung and filled the earth with beauty, but we were reminded with each visit with an over 80-year-old this month that beauty is seen in the fall of life as well. What a gracious, generous God we have who lavishes us with beauty throughout the seasons of nature and of life! Grateful for all these opportunities to delight in His beauty!

Whirlwind on Steroids (part 1)

I'm well aware that I begin many of my blogs with "I can't believe it's already ______" and though I always "mean" it, I mean it even more this time.  April ran out of days, and once May began, it's been hard to catch our breath.  On Monday we take the boat to Catalina Island to begin our summer of family camps, and I can honestly say I'm not quite ready.  Fortunately, 48 hours remain between now and then and I'm trusting that the loose ends will be secured and the "have to's" will be completed.  

These past six weeks have held some of our highest highs as well as some of our lowest lows.  

April ended on a high note of spending Monday the 29th at Whitinsville Christian School, speaking on relationships.  We taught two different chapels and four different classes in the course of the day, covering both junior and senior high students.  Under the umbrella of the goodness of God's design, we spoke on "becoming the right person rather than finding the right person" in a variety of ways.  Topics ranging from purity and modesty to dating and marriage were touched on and we enjoyed every minute of our interaction with this wonderful student body.  Great way to spend a day!!

The day ended with a Home Improvement Ministries Board Meeting.  It says a lot about your Board when you look forward to meeting with them.  Blessed!!

The middle schoolers at Whitinsville were quite engaged as we spoke on relationships.

Following a day of counseling, we were off to California again for the annual THRIVE conference at Bayside Church in Granite Bay, May 2-4.  We love being a part of this conference, which is dynamic, relevant, re-energizing, spiritually challenging, and fun.  It's kind of a "party with a purpose."  Ray Johnston knows how to do that better than anyone we know.  It's such an honor to present workshops there, and this year we did two on marriage and one on parenting teens.  All three were packed out and well received.  We’re so thankful.

THRIVE conference at Bayside—lacking in nothing except sleep.  :)

Straight from THRIVE, we drove to San Francisco to spend Sunday with Bethel Church.  We were so happy to be back at this church after doing a marriage conference for them last September.  We had the privilege of teaching together at their church services, morning and night, and their merged adult Sunday School class.  Bill and Marja Osgood provide such passionate leadership for this strategically located church in the Mission district of SF.  We love partnering with them. And of course, our dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent provide the lay leadership for our ministry there and it's always a treat to partner with them in ministry as well as celebrate our friendship.  After a full day, we caught a red-eye home, forgetting temporarily that we gain little from such craziness.  :)

John and Marilyn Nugent and Marja Osgood (not pictured is her husband, Bill, lead pastor)
made it a great day for us at Bethel.

We were home 3-4 days before flying back to California.  Technically, 4 days, but Monday was a wash following the red-eye, so 3 productive days would be accurate.  Counseling and other meetings filled the days, as well as selecting paint and carpet and readying our long-neglected house for some work.  Maintenance must happen at some point!  For the first time in our married life (which hit the 37-year mark on April 24), we hired an interior painter.  Definitely one of the better decisions we've made.  :)  We left for California on the 10th, and returned to 20th to a freshly painted downstairs.  We decided we could totally get into this.  :)  Nice.

We returned to Bayside Granite Bay to speak for their Mothers’ Day services and were truly humbled by the invitation.  Bayside's congregation is also so warm, supportive, and appreciative.  The effects of trickle-down leadership are obvious.

Much to our delight, Gabe, Kari, and Brandon made the trek from Santa Clarita to Sacramento to celebrate Mother's Day with both of their mothers, so the weekend was laced together with wonderful moments of multigenerational delight.  The pool, the park, church, frozen yogurt, Oscars tacos.  Great times.  Great memories.  Great Mother's Day.  All too quickly they drove south and our brief reunion was temporarily suspended.


We hung around Sacramento for the next few days in our "home away from home"—the hospitable home of Scott and Sally Shaull.  They've hosted us 3 out of the 5 times we've been out to partner with Bayside since January and have loved us so well.  They have amazing hearts.  Scott cooked up a phenomenal steak and lobster post-Mother's Day feast on Tuesday night and it would be hard to beat this culinary fete anywhere.  Add to that great company—Johnstons and Shaulls—and you've got a "couldn't get any better than this" evening.  

Ray, Scott, and Paul hover over the just-about-to-be-eaten,
fresh from New England, hand-carried-by-Scott lobsters.

Another highlight of these days was getting to spend a morning with one of my heart friends, Christina.  Once a young camper at CBS, "Nina" is now the mother of 4, wife of a godly man who doubles as a highly-trained doctor working with pediatric trauma cases, and thriving woman of God.  We had such a sweet morning together, catching up on what we could, and ending longing for more time.  Pure gift.

It was great to be with Nina.

Wednesday, May 15, we ended our 5-part series on marriage at Bayside's "Date Night."  How we've loved these nights!  To an enthusiastic crowd, we talked about how to keep your marriage alive if you're married, and how to make a wise choice for marriage if you're not.  It was a great ending to an effective series.

Our final date night at Bayside.

Before I wrap up part one, I want to highlight a couple who made a huge difference for us.  Manning our book table is always a challenge for us as it's hard to sell books and be available to people who have questions after we've spoken.  Dave and Diane have become friends of ours over the past months and when we asked if they would be willing to be at our book table once or twice during Mothers’ Day weekend (Bayside now has 6 services), they said, "We'll do it for all six services."  And they did.  Cheerfully.  Servant-heartedly.  In a "it's our privilege" sort of way.   We were/are so grateful for the way they came alongside us.  We truly couldn't have done it without them.  They are "difference makers" through their service.  

Dave and Diane after service #6 at Bayside.  We'll always be grateful.

On to southern California . . . and the whirlwind continues.  On to part 2.

Way to THRIVE!

Home from Denver for not quite three days, we managed to do 10 hours of counseling and have a H.I.M. Board meeting before flying to California on May 6. The board met on the Cinco de Mayo, so we celebrated Mexico’s Independence Day by serving a Mexican feast to the board members prior to the meeting. Yum! Most of them have by now been converted to loving Paul’s homemade salsa, which we consider a victory for the south.

Off we flew to Sacramento on Friday to begin a nine-day ministry tour . . .  and a grandson-visitation trip.  :) We feel extremely blessed to have seen Brandon as much as we have during the first 8 months of his life.  He changes so much between visits! As is evidenced by this photo, he is a very smiley little guy—and he has an amazingly laid back disposition.  It was a joy to share the house with him and his parents while we were in Sacramento.

Happy 1st Mother’s and Grandmother’s Day, Mama and “Gigi.”  Love, Brandon

On Mother’s Day weekend we were privileged to teach at all five of Bayside Church’s services, starting with two on Saturday. Bayside is a happening place.  Senior pastor Ray Johnston has more energy, creativity, and vision than dozens of pastors combined, and we always feel reinvigorated when we’re on his turf.  The congregation is highly responsive, eager, and teachable. Our talk, A Legacy Worth Leaving, seemed to both inspire and challenge many, and Paul and I both had many personal conversations which affirmed that the Holy Spirit had been faithful to take our inadequate words and make them His words. (A video of the service is available here.)

We love partnering with Bayside for many reasons: we love Ray and his incredible giftedness; we love hanging out with his family and many other friends cultivated at Bayside through the years; we love seeing a church that’s doing so many things well; we love hearing Lincoln Brewster leading worship (and on this particular Sunday, hearing his new song, “Real Life,” enough times to have it memorized); and we love hearing stories of transformation as a result of this ministry.  Though physically tired by the end of those five services, we were pumped by the hope and expectation that courses through this church.   

Julie, who sat through 3 services on Mother’s Day, caught us on film during one service.

After five services teaching at Bayside, we closed up the church with a mini-reunion of the Johnstons and the Shaulls.
Auntie Julie enjoys a smiley moment with her favorite nephew, Brandon.

It was a gift to celebrate Kari’s first Mother’s Day with her on Sunday, May 8, and to have two of our three daughters with me.  Jules flew up from San Diego for the weekend to join the festivities, and Lisa was there in heart. Gabe, Paul, and Julie all contributed to making it a very special day for the mothers (which eventually included Gabe’s mom, Debbie, who arrived with Dan for dessert late that afternoon.)   We’re loving watching Gabe and Kari parent their little guy with loving wisdom and great delight.  Babies are such hope-giving reminders that Creator God hasn’t given up on us.

Brandon and his mom, Kari, celebrate Mother’s Day.

The next three days in Sacramento included several counseling appointments, errand running, taking walks with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon, celebrating the 22nd birthday of Alton (aka “Biggie”), hearing Gabe preach at “Remix,” and preparing for the Thrive conference.  We also had a sweet visit with our dear friend and mentor of our daughters, Christina Swanson, who lives in a neighboring town.  It was a gift to catch up with this great lady who has been such an important part of our lives for almost 30 years.

Brandon wishes his big brother Alton a happy 22nd!

Christina spent the morning with us catching up and quickly made friends with Brandon.

The 7th annual Thrive Conference started Thursday, May 12th, and we were honored to be on the teaching staff for the 7th time.  This conference is energizing, encouraging, instructive, inspiring, and tons of fun.  It’s great for networking, but maybe more importantly, it ministers to the ministers.  Great speakers, great times of worship, hysterical moments of craziness, and free goodies tossed out during plenary sessions and during breaks.  What more could a church leader want??  Our two seminars went well and were fairly well attended, in spite of them being held in a conference room in outer Siberia (really only 1/4 mile from the sanctuary—but that’s a long walk for most!)  :) 

Though there were many great moments during the conference, the highlight for us was the plenary session during which Ray interviewed Louis Zamperini, the 94-year-old World War ll veteran and an Olympic runner, whose life and marriage were at great risk of survival in the years following the war’s end due to alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder.  And then Billy Graham came to Los Angeles in 1949 and the very resistant Louie was coerced by his wife into going with her.  On the third night, he surrendered his life to Christ and his transformation was immediate.  From that point on, he has been faithfully serving the Lord.  He is in a league of his own and held the entire crowd in rapt attention as he answered Ray’s questions with crystal clear clarity and detail.  His story was recently published in the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, which I couldn’t put down once I started reading it.  I highly recommend it.  

Listening to “Louie” recount his crash landing at sea, followed by 47 days of floating on two life rafts with the other 2 survivors of the crash, fighting off sharks, Japanese bombers, starvation, and dehydration, and 2,000 miles later landing in the Japanese controlled Marshall Islands, only to spend the next 2.5 years as a prisoner of war enduring unbelievably brutal treatment, was mind-boggling.  He said, “Tom Brokaw has named us the ‘greatest generation ever’ but I’m not sure that’s how I’d label us.  I think of us as a hearty generation of overcomers.  We had to overcome many obstacles if we were going to make it, and we did.”  I’ve thought a lot about that statement since, with plenty of self-evaluation.  It’s challenged me as I recognize in me a tendency to default to what’s comfortable or that which seems to cause the least amount of pain.  While I marvel at what Louie endured, I concurrently believe that I would not have survived what he survived.  This has given me lots to ponder.

We were also really challenged by speaker Christine Caine, an Australian woman who has started the ministry, The A21 Campaign, whose focus is to stop human trafficking.  She cited that there are 27 million slaves worldwide today, far more slaves than at any other time in history, and that a huge percentage of them are sex slaves.  She was compassionate and compelling and raised our awareness to the growing problem of this horrific “industry.”  Check out her website and prepare to have righteous indignation stirred to a boiling point. 

Gabe, Kari, and Brandon attended Thrive with three of their interns: Lamar, Alton, and Danielle.
Pastor Ray Johnston holds Brandon, whom he affectionately refers to as “Baby Raymond.”  :)
The dust had barely settled on Thrive before we made our way to Sebastopol, California, to speak at a Couples’ Date Night at Sebastopol Christian Church.  John and Debbie Briones, long time friends from Campus by the Sea, put together a lovely evening during which we spoke twice and they served dessert in the middle.  It’s the first date night we’ve spoken for that had a chocolate fountain for dessert, and it was duly enjoyed and consumed.  There was a great spirit in the night; people everywhere seem to be looking for “booster shots” of hope for their marriages.  We were especially thrilled to have Carter and Tracey Welch (transplants from New England to Santa Rosa) attend with several other couples, as well as a good number of long-time CBS family campers.
We went “home” that night with Garth and Rosemary Dougan, some of our most treasured mentors and friends.  Garth is now 88 years young, and Rosemary 86, and they still don’t act anywhere near their age.  They are remarkable!  We so love their example of marriage (over 60 years and going strong!), of faith, of commitment to family, of servant-heartedness.  We brought them a copy of Unbroken, but before we gave it to them, we asked Garth if the name “Louis Zamperini” meant anything to him.  Immediately, he said, “Track star Lou?  The great runner of the ‘40’s.  Fastest man on the track.  War hero.  Why, the only thing I ever had against Lou was that he went to USC!”  :)  He was thrilled to receive the book and we were astounded to think that within days, we had been in the company of two great men of faith and of patriotism —two men of the “greatest generation ever.”  Two men, who at 88 and 94, are sharp as tacks, physically able, and serving their Lord.  Wow!

Sebastopol Christian Church’s senior pastor, Jesse Bradley, kindly invited Paul to preach on Sunday, and both services went well, thankfully.  The bonus for us was developing a connection with Jesse and Laurie Bradley.  We felt very in sync with them and hope our paths cross often in the future.  It was also greatly encouraging to be with the Briones family and hear more of their journey, which is very hope-giving.  John and Debbie have started a new legacy with their three daughters, as a result of God getting a hold of them as adults.  Their daughters are very blessed by the faithful commitment of their parents to honor God in their home.

The Briones family arranged for us to speak at their church in Sebastopol.  
After church on Sunday, Gary and Patty LeDonne (long time IVCF and CBS friends), Garth and Rosemary Dougan, and John and Debbie Briones took us out for Mexican food.

Back to Sacramento we drove, in order to get one last night with Brandon and his parents, and then flew back to Boston on Monday.  We had so much more than Mexican food to digest as we flew home.  God stirred our hearts at Thrive, and we’re praying about how to respond to the despicable practice of sex trafficking.  God challenged us with the lives of Garth, Rosemary, and Louie—and the question we’re turning over in our mind is what course correction do we need to make now in order to finish strong and well.  We were moved by the Briones’ testimony of God’s transforming work in their lives—and now their daughter’s lives—which gives great hope to those who don’t have the benefit of a Christian heritage.  They reminded us that their years at family camp at CBS had filled in many of the gaps for them in terms of God’s design for family and marriage, and we were humbled.

And we were so blessed to have spent time with the most important people in our lives —our own progeny.  As Julie prepares for marriage, and as Gabe and Kari seek God for direction for the next chapter of their lives, and as Lisa prepares for her missions trip to Israel with FCA, and as Brandon grows in the greenhouse of his parents’ love and training, we are thinking a lot about legacy.  We’re more aware than ever that at the end of the day, there is much less that we can control than what we can’t—and that our confidence must grow deeper in the truth that He is enough.  Just as He was enough for Louie Zamperini, He will be enough for Brandon.  And us.  In that truth, we will thrive.