Thora Eames

It can't be May already! [Part 2]

And so off to the Gold Coast of California we flew the morning of April 27.  Since we flew into San Francisco airport in order to facilitate our return trip 2.5 weeks later, we enjoyed the 2.5 hour drive through familiar territories en route to Arroyo Grande ("AG"), stopping in San Luis Obispo ("SLO") for bbq tri-tip at Firestones and frozen yogurt at Bali's (two of our favorite haunts from the years Julie and Lisa lived in SLO.)  Ah...the simple pleasures in life.

Grace Bible Church of AG hosted us for the second year in a row to do a parenting conference on Saturday.  Though the turnout was not what they had hoped for, those who came were delightfully engaged and we trust encouraged and fortified for the long, demanding, sanctifying journey of parenting.  We were also privileged to teach at the two services on Sunday.  Grace Bible is a healthy, vital church, lead by Paul and Charlotte Bubar who are seasoned, faithful people of God.  We truly love having the opportunity to rub shoulders with them.  
Paul and Charlotte Bubar faithfully lead the congregation
at Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, CA.
Up the coast just a bit, we drove to spend Sunday evening with Tim and Susie Theule and the family at Grace Church of SLO.  This was the home church for our girls during their years in SLO and through the years we've come to deeply respect and appreciate Tim and Susie - their ministry, their family, their lives.  So it's always an honor to spend time with them and their people.  That evening we addressed issues pertaining to parenting teens.  It struck us that though there are unique challenges to this age and stage, the principles are still largely consistent with parenting younger children:  authenticity, availability, consistency.  Especially regarding faith issues, teens need to see the reality of Christ in the home and be convinced that He is making a difference in how life is lived.  Teens are not fooled by walk that doesn't match talk.  We loved interacting on this subject with such proactive parents.  The talk continued afterwards with Tim and Susie over more tri-tip at Firestones.  :)
Tim and Susie Theule, along with CBS family campers Mary and David Hazlebeck, made our time at Grace Church SLO very meaningful.

Continuing up the coast, we stopped in Monterey to reconnect with our dear friends, Johnny and Lori Potter.  We shared our years together at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary from 1991-1994 and have been cherished friends ever since.  Johnny pastors Stone Harbor Church in downtown Monterey.  As is always true, we enjoyed every minute of our too short time together and then we were off to San Francisco, where we met up with more very dear friends, John and Marilyn Nugent.  How we love to spend time with these guys!  Taking a brisk 6-mile walk through downtown SF, we chatted the whole way about life and ministry and family.  The fact that we could chat  throughout the walk is a very good sign.  :)  It's always very inspiring to be with John and Marilyn.  We love their hearts for God and their very active role in making a difference for the kingdom through the use of their talents and resources.  We got another early morning walk in the next day before heading east for Sacramento.

Two hours later, our reunion with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon was very sweet.  As thankful as we are for being able to "FaceTime" with them regularly from afar, there's nothing that beats receiving an enthusiastic embrace from our little 20-month-old grandson.  The changes happen so rapidly during this phase of life, that though we had just seen him a month earlier, we were amazed at his growth and development.  He is full of life and has a very engaging personality.  What joy to spend days with them!  Twice-daily treks to the park, the reward for the two-mile walk preceding arriving there, delight Brandon and provide a lot of outdoor exercise and fun.   
Papa and Brandon enjoy the animals at the Folsom Zoo.  

Papa, Gigi, and Brandon on the "little train that could" at the Folsom Zoo.

Bathtime . . . devotions, meals together, playing cars and ball . . . hanging out.
Such sweet moments with our little "BooBoo."

Papa and Brandon . . . hand in hand.

Though visiting with them would be reason enough to be in Sacramento, we were brought there to be a part of the 7th annual THRIVE conference hosted by Bayside Church of Granite Bay.  We love being a part of this conference, which never lacks for enthusiasm, energy, and inspiration.  We presented two workshops, one on marriage and one on parenting, and both were full and overflowing.  Lots of great interaction and feedback.  We personally benefitted from hearing great speakers at the plenary sessions, and one of the highlights was spending a bit of time with Wess Stafford (president of Compassion Int'l).  We have great respect for him and how he's spent his life.  Over 2 million easily forgotten children in the world have hope because of the work of Compassion, which has been driven by Wess's passion and compassion. 
Wess Stafford,Victor, and Paul share a moment during THRIVE.

THRIVE ended Saturday afternoon, May 5, and we drove up to Sebastopol to speak for a couples' date night.  This was our second year in a row with Sebastopol Christian Church and John and Debbie Briones once again put together a really nice event.  Particularly heartening to us was a young couple who had come last year, separated, and were back this year reconciled.  They expressed great appreciation for the encouragement they had received from our teaching.  Praise Him!!!  Paul also preached at the two Sunday services, as well as the Saturday night service (which happened before the couples event.)  We so appreciate the senior pastor, Jesse Bradley, and his heart for his congregation.  

The other highlight of our time in Sebastopol was spending the night with Garth and Rosemary Dougan, our long time mentors and friends.  Garth will be 90 in October, but you'd never know it.  They are so "green with sap" proclaiming the mercies of God.  We cherish every moment with them.  
Dinner with the Welches and Garth and Rosemary Dougan was a highlight of our time in Santa Rosa.

We closed out our time in that area with a wonderful time of food and fellowship with Carter and Tracy Welch and their sons, Owen, Baker, and Turner.  New Englanders transplanted to Santa Rosa and dear friends and ministry partners with Home Improvement Ministries, we loved reconnecting with them and seeing God at work in this very intentional family.  On that high note, we drove back to Sacramento.

Between the weekends, we had some special days doing life with Brandon and his parents, and I had some special days with my folks in San Diego.  My dear mom, who has always been "healthy as a horse" was felled with a very serious virus around April 1 and was just returning to health during my visit.  She gave us quite a scare when the virus settled in her ears, causing near deafness.  Her severe reaction made us all aware of how run down she is for the years of caring for my dad (who has dementia) and more care is now in place to help ease her load.  I was really thankful for the days I was able to be with them, which included a day-before-Mother's-Day brunch with my three sisters who live in San Diego.  
My sisters Lucy, Sue, and Melissa honored my mom with a pre-Mother's Day brunch and my dad was very happy to be included. 

Paul and I spoke on Mother's Day at Peninsula Covenant Church (Redwood City), whose lead pastor, Gary Gaddini, is a prized friend and partner.  What a joy to be with his congregation for both morning services.  My biggest Mother's Day gift arrived in the form of Brandon, Gabe, and Kari, who drove out from Sacramento to surprise me just as the first service ended.  Need I say more?  :)
My surprise Mother's Day present . . . brought smiles all around.

The beautiful Gaddini family . . .  They are true gifts in our life.

After a lovely picnic at a park with the Garcias and the Nugents, a brisk walk through the windy hilly streets of SF, and dinner out with the Nugents, we were on our way back to New England after a full and varied ministry tour.
The grand finale: lunch in the park with the Nugents and Garcias.  Very fun!

It's aways good to be home.  Really.  Lots to catch up on, of course, and mail to sort, but it's good.  Our first week back was dominated by wedding festivities as Paul married Sarah Hathaway and Jason Welch on Sunday, May 20.   Having known Sarah for the past 15 years, it was so good to celebrate this very special day with her and to affirm her and Jason's commitment to honoring God with their lives.  The shower Wednesday night, the rehearsal Friday night, and the wedding Sunday were all celebrations of joy.  
The very happy Hathaway family celebrates the marriage of Sarah to Jason Welch.

Quite a bit of counseling filled several days and some speaking, too.  We spoke in Springfield, MA, at the Evangelical Covenant Church on Monday, the 21st, to a group of parents on "how to keep your marriage alive while raising children."  Great question!!!!  It doesn't happen naturally, that we know.  It was a great evening, organized by long time friends Mark and Caroline Funchion, and we most enjoyed reconnecting with them after many years.  I mentored Caroline as a single women long before she met Mark!  They're now on the cusp of their 11th anniversary and have 2 adorable and lively little boys.  God is faithful!

I'll wrap up with our annual Memorial Day Family Tenting trip, which happened last weekend.  Twenty-five families, 103 campers, perfect weather, great food, and greater fellowship.  Despite missing having any children with us (our tent seemed very large suddenly) and making our first camping trip without our precious dog Baker (who had been with us the previous 18 Memorial Day weekends), we had a spectacular weekend.  Jim and Sue Martis did a great job organizing and executing dinner each night and Paul delivered on family devotions each night around the campfire.  Keith and Amy Hinrich came through as worship leaders and Thora Eames made a guest appearance as our oldest and most inspiring camper ever.  At 94, she delighted all with her joyful worship and her childlike enjoyment of a messy, gooey s'more.  Our annual Memorial Day parade was rag tag but meaningful.  Veteran Glen Franks once again served as our Grand Marshall.
Thora delighting in her beautiful garden.

S'mores are enjoyed by all ages.

Let the Memorial Day parade begin!  Mount your steeds . . .

. . .  and we're off, with Grand Marshall Glenn Franks leading the way.

And so another Memorial Day camping trip is in the annals of time, having accomplished the purpose of providing a community building experience for families committed to being encouraged by the body of Christ by doing life together.  

I'm writing from West Cornwall, CT, as Paul and I spend the fifth year in a row encouraging the pastoral staff at Avon Community Baptist Church.  These days are like a slice of heaven, really.  A beautiful retreat center, surrounded by a healthy church staff, lead by two of our favorite ministry couples:  Tim and Sharon Ponzani and Jay and Liz Abramson.  It really doesn't get much better than this.  Oh wait!  It does!  Our daughter Lisa has joined us here!  Last night she spoke on the blessings and challenges of being raised in a pastor's family and she knocked it out of the park.  Wow.

Around the world, Derek and Julie are into their 10th month of marriage and spent 10 days recently on their "real" honeymoon in Mauritius.  Their days were relaxing, renewing, and celebratory of all that is good in marriage.  We are so thankful for their life together in Uganda and look forward to joining them there in late August.
Derek and Julie in a self-portrait from Mauritius.

Shockingly, in a few hours, the days of May will expire and we'll be in June.  I'm trying to catch up with the quickly moving calendar days, but don't have much hope of that happening.  Mostly praying that we'll allow the Holy Spirit to direct our days and rest in knowing that we've done what He's called us to do.

Leaping through February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The catered Mexican feast was enjoyed at colorfully set tables.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At 4 am, getting ready to run . . .

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

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

Good-bye and Hello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Goes On

The full moon last night (Oct. 14, as I write this) reminds me that we’ve been home from Europe a month now. Re-entry has been harder than expected, quite honestly—and the beautiful summery weather we’ve continued to experience in New England contributes to the desire to keep hiking, biking, and gawking at God’s beautiful creation.  Fortunately, our schedule has allowed us to be so indulged, so we’ve had a “soft” landing, in a manner.

Though it wouldn’t appear that way to some.  Less than 12 hours after returning from Europe, I was driving to Foxboro to launch the Patriots women’s study, which is held every Wednesday morning during the season.  It’s an honor to be leading the study for the second year and we’re all getting a lot out of Cynthia Heald’s Becoming a Woman of Faith.  Fifteen women are involved and it’s truly one of the highlights of my week to interact with these engaged, honest, interactive women.

 A smattering of counseling appointments made their way into the balance of that week and on Saturday, Paul initiated Camp Berea’s Women’s Conference with the first male-presented workshop in its history.  Not surprisingly (from my vantage), he hit it out of the park with the women and received feedback that his was the most highly rated workshop of the weekend.  :)  We received this email regarding his workshop:

“I attended Paul’s workshop this weekend at the Women’s Retreat and he was excellent.  I think the women could have stayed all afternoon and listened to him bring understanding to them about their husbands’ reactions.  He was “right on” according to some of the gals I spoke with.  He was straight to the point and didn’t mince words, which spoke to many of them.  I doubt seriously if many of them have had such a clear delivery of how their husbands hear their words and how they deliver their words.”

He made it back down from Berea in time to have a farewell dinner with our dear friend, Margaret Austin, whose husband was picked up off the Patriots’ practice squad by the Texans—and just like that, they vanished.  We hated to see them go, as both Margaret and Thomas have deep hearts for the Lord and have added great ballast to the couples’ study and women’s study this past year.  But alas, the “Not For Long” league lived up to its reputation.  We’ll miss having them here for a long time.

Margaret Austin and I share a farewell hug before she joined her husband in Houston, where he now suits up for the Texans.

We did something in September we haven't done often in the past eight years since the launch of Home Improvement Ministries: we attended our home church two weeks in a row! It was so good to hear David Swaim (Highrock Church) preach in person rather than hearing him via podcast and to connect with many dear people who attend that church.

We were in full tilt the next week, counseling, doing both Patriots studies, catching up on neglected emails, sorting through piles which just grew over the previous four months of not being home, and regrouping in general.  Adding joy to some of these mundane tasks was having Julie with us for several days leading up to the east coast wedding reception held Sept. 21 at the Macraes’ home in Weston.  Derek joined the festivities on Friday, the 20th, after flying in from Uganda where he had spent the prior two weeks.  Yes, 17 days into their marriage, they experienced a 14-day separation, necessitated by his continuing duties as executive director of the CURE Children’s Hospital in Mbale, Uganda.  Though it wasn’t easy,  they both agreed it was much better than the four-month separations characteristic of their two-year long-distance courtship.

Their reception was delightful as many wonderful friends came to wish them well and to celebrate God’s goodness to them through marriage.  The youngest attendee was 6 weeks old—the first child of one of Julie’s best friends from high school—and the oldest was Thora Eames, at 93, who came with more vim and vigor than most of the middle-aged crowd combined.  We were honored to have my sister Francene and her husband Thom fly up from Virginia for the party, and were thrilled that Lisa's women's soccer team from JMU “just happened” to be playing Northeastern on Sunday, allowing her to catch the tail end of the reception.  It was a great afternoon.

It was a special joy to have Gail MacDonald, long-time family friend and mentor, attend the reception.

And Thora Eames—she inspires all of us!  She brought much energy to the afternoon!!

Doug and Julie Macrae kindly opened their home for the reception which was a huge blessing to all.

Lisa made it off the practice field to catch the tail end of the reception, and we had a happy reunion with her and my sister Francene.

Following the reception, we had the absolute delight of spending a couple of days with Derek and Julie in New Hampshire.  We rode our bikes around Newfound Lake and then swam in it—on Sept. 23 and 24th!!  The warm weather made the lake irresistible and we behaved as though it were summertime.  We enjoyed every minute of this getaway, especially knowing that in a few short months, Derek and Julie will settle in Mbale, Uganda, and such moments will be few and far between.

Mounted on our steeds, we rode the 18-mile circumference of  Newfound Lake on a gorgeous summer-like fall day.

Back to Bedford for the Patriots’ women's study and some counseling before driving with Derek and Julie to Rockport and Gloucester, where we splurged on some fresh-out-of-the-water 2# lobsters.  Home for a delicious New England lobster dinner and a competitive game of “Nickel.”  A perfect ending to a great day.

At Captain Joe’s, we were amazed by this ginormous lobster.  We let him live, and settled on four 2-pounders which were out of this world.

We had a great turnout for the Patriots’ couples study Thursday night and all seem to be engaged in the Jesus on Marriage study Paul wrote for this fall's curriculum.  We're having a lot of good and thought provoking interaction following sharing a meal together.  We're so thankful that Matt and Susie Light are hosting the study again this year.

Off to Pennsylvania we drove to speak at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church, on Sunday, Oct. 2.  En route, we stopped in Lancaster for dinner with one of our cherished mentors, Barbara Boyd.  A contemporary IVCF colleague of Paul’s parents, Barbara is an absolute inspiration to us.  She has faithfully followed Christ since meeting Him in her early 20’s and as we listened to her life story over dinner, we were even more impressed with her incredibly fruitful life.  And with her joyful acceptance of how her life has unfolded.  Engaged to be married to Ralph Willoughby in her late 20’s, her hopes and dreams for a God-honoring marriage were dashed when Ralph died of a virus months before they were to be married.  Barbara never married, but rather than live with the bitterness of unfulfilled dreams, she poured herself in to Kingdom work and was used mightily by God for decades as she served with IVCF.  She is still “green with sap” (Psalm 92) as she continues to live for Him as an octogenarian.  We were deeply touched by our time with her.

We had a great evening with Barbara Boyd as we made our way to Elizabethtown, PA.

It was a true joy to return to Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (EBIC) after having a wonderful introduction to this congregation almost a year ago.  Steve and Liz Lane head up this vital church and it was a delight to spend a bit of time with them while there.  We spoke at both of their Sunday services, taught their very large adult Sunday School class, and did a parenting seminar.  We packed a lot in to a short time and actually hated to leave so quickly—but we had an engagement in Harrisonburg the next night so on we went.

Steve and Liz Lane and their sons Michael and Scottie were wonderful hosts for us at EBIC.

Next stop:  Harrisonburg, Virginia.  After a brief but lovely visit with my sister and her husband, Laura and David Leach, in Burke, Virginia, we drove down to Harrisonburg with Lisa, and spoke at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) large group meeting Monday night.  Lisa has assumed a position of leadership with FCA at JMU this year and she was so happy to have us speak on the topic of relationships to a good-sized group of student athletes.  We loved it and were honored by the opportunity.  It was an added bonus to have some moments with Lisa as well.  Our trip back to Boston on Tuesday was smooth, fast, and uneventful.  That’s the way we like road trips!

Lisa poses with part of her FCA leadership team after the large group meeting Monday night.

Back to Boston in time for the Patriots women’s study, counseling, the Patriots couples’ study, and more counseling.  In between we also spoke at Mom to Mom at Grace Chapel, and it was good to reconnect with many dear friends there.

The moms at Grace Chapel’s Mom to Mom were very happy to have access to resources after we spoke.

We flew to California on Friday, Oct. 7, to attend the wedding of a young man who grew up coming to Campus by the Sea.  Over the years, we’ve become close family friends so it was a joy for us to celebrate with Matt Engle and Tara Klein as they entered the covenant of marriage on Oct. 9.  Derek and Julie joined us for the weekend and due to the gracious generosity of friends who loaned us their "empty" home in Camarillo, we had a wonderfully relaxing and refreshing weekend around the wedding festivities.  We got a bit of work done between hiking, swimming, and having a blast with Derek and Jules—and the wedding was delightful.  A really special highlight of being at the wedding—besides the obvious—was reconnecting with one of my best friends from college, Janet Siemens Spencer and her husband Greg, who is a professor at Westmont.  Janet played the piano at our wedding and we hadn’t seen each other for about 23 years.  We had a great time filling in the blanks of the past many years and made a commitment to stay in better touch.  What an unexpected gift!

We hiked to Paradise Falls in Camarillo with Derek and Julie during the wedding weekend.

 What a joy to reconnect with Greg and Janet Spencer at Matt and Tara Engle’s wedding.

Two last visits before flying back to Boston completed the trip.  We had the joy of meeting Christian Baker Offield, the almost-3-month-old son of Calen and Amber who we married last September.  Since we've known Calen since he was born, it was very special to meet the next generation.  Much to our delight, Calen’s mom, my very dear friend Wendy, was also included in the visit.  We spent the night with another very dear Wendy (Turney), and flew back to Boston on Tuesday, Oct. 11, very, very grateful for a memorable-on-many-levels weekend.

Calen and Amber with their son, Christian, and his grandma, Wendy.

And so life goes on.  We were back in the saddle in New England for a mere 48 hours.  But that’s news for the next blog.

What's there not to celebrate?

A picture’s worth a thousand words: Matthew expresses well the joy of a gorgeous fall day, perfect for apple picking.
Is there a better time in New England than Fall?  Daily, for weeks now, we’ve been served up a kaleidoscope of color in an ever-changing landscape and we have delighted in every moment of it.  Fall is such an energizing time of year — even as it ushers in the (sometimes) bleak winter months, which occupy about four times as much calendar space as does the autumn.  Still, the joys of this time of year re-charge our batteries and launch us into the coming season fully satiated and more deeply aware of the majesty of God as seen in creation.

In celebration of Matthew’s birthday, we managed to carry on the tradition of apple picking for the 20th Fall in a row.  The perfect day for one of our favorite fall activities included picnicking in the pumpkin patch, picking lots of apples, interacting with small farm animals, playing in the hay maze, and indulging in fresh apple crisp a la mode to wrap up in the festivities.  Definitely a quintessential New England autumn day.

Fun was had by all . . .
Our plans to fly to Arizona after our apple picking venture on Oct. 8 were changed when the church which had booked us to do a conference canceled just over a week before the event.  Ouch!  We were very disappointed, but they felt they had to postpone the conference due to low registrations.  But suddenly, we had a weekend “off” and since that doesn’t happen very often, we decided to  “make lemonade” and use the flexibility creatively.  We started the weekend with a date with our dear friends and ministry partners, Guy and Barbara Steele.  It had been way too long since we had been able to just relax with them so it became a gift to ourselves to have dinner together that Friday night.  We are SO thankful for them — we couldn’t do half of what we do without them — and that night reminded us that we love hanging out with them even when we're not partnering on a project for H.I.M.  Great time.

Saturday was a combination of more of our (my) favorite things:  yard-saling with a very dear friend, continuing the cleaning/sorting/purging process in our house, and having a good long visit with another very dear friend, Patty Benes, who was back in the hospital.  Though we hated to see her there, it was great to catch up with her.

Sunday, we went to church!!  We love to go to church and seldom “get” to go sit in the pews.  It was good to be “fed” and to connect with many dear friends.  As we entered church, we were followed by an elderly woman whose face I recognized, but was so out of context it took me a few moments to identify.  Suddenly overwhelmed, I realized I was face to face with Elisabeth Elliot Gren, one of my long time mentors (primarily through her writing, but through several personal encounters over the years as well).  There are few women for whom I have greater respect than Elisabeth Elliot, nor whose life has had a greater impact on mine.  I remember reading Through the Gates of Splendor and In the Shadow of the Almighty as a young bride 34 years ago and was convinced then I wanted Elisabeth’s life to help shape mine.  

Since I’ve followed her ministry all these years, I was aware that Alzheimer’s disease was slowly but surely overtaking her brain and decreasing her mobility, so I had given up hope of ever seeing her again this side of glory.  It was therefore a gift straight from heaven that we would be standing inches from one another, in the same church, at the same time, on the Sunday we were supposed to be in Arizona.

For me, it was a holy moment.  After the service ended, I met her granddaughter who is in college in the area and several other family members.  I then offered to sit with Elisabeth while they went down for coffee.  Amazingly, they agreed.  Though no intelligible words were exchanged between us, I knew I was sharing a sacred moment with a woman “after God's own heart.”  From her days at Wheaton College; through her long courtship with Jim Elliot; to her brief marriage to Jim which ended when he (and 4 others) were murdered by the Auca Indians in Ecuador (leaving her a widow with a less-than-2-year-old daughter); through her decision to remain with the Auca tribe to continue the work started by her late husband; through opportunities worldwide to influence this world for Christ by her extensive writing and speaking ministry; through the cancer death of her second husband; and until the past few years, still ministering faithfully with her husband Lars Gren — she has been faithful and her character has been consistent with one whose goal in life is Christlikeness.

She was so at peace sitting in that sanctuary.  She was safe and “at home.”  It was no surprise then when her family came back to take her home, she at first resisted.  I’ve seen the same kind of “hunkering down” in holy places by my dad, who also has Alzheimer’s.  My father is most alive when were playing hymns on the piano and he is belting out the words of those sacred songs he’s sung for over 80 years.  A failing memory cannot dislodge the deeply spiritual which has been forged by years in the crucible of living life for Christ.

I can’t put words around how deeply impacted I was by this God-arranged encounter with one of the true heroines of Christendom — but I left church with a deeper desire to be more surrendered to Him and to not miss the important due to the urgent.

Monday we got away for our own mini-marriage retreat in Newport, RI, and en route we had a lovely lunch visit with our precious friend, Thora Eames.  Amazing to have back to back days with two different women who have had such a positive spiritual impact on my life.  Dear Thora . . . almost 93! Our visit fell on the eve of her 70th wedding anniversary which she would mark alone having been widowed for 3 years now.  Still living by herself (in an in-law unit at her son's house), she tends her own garden, cleans her own house, cooks her own meals, and in between all that, checks emails on her desktop computer.  And praise is continually on her lips.  Though she no longer drives, desperately misses her beloved Eliot, lives an hour away from where she spent 50 years, and suffers a variety of aches and pains associated by “overuse,” Thora doesn’t complain.  “What do I have to complain about?” she proclaims . . . and she means it.

Though she insists that our visit was a huge blessing to her, we left knowing that the greater blessing was ours.  Really.  Her genuine heart for the Lord and the way she has lived her life is as uncommon as is her name.
Visiting Thora . . . a truly remarkable lady!
On to Newport, we continued to check out a hotel for possible future use by H.I.M. for a marriage or family conference.  We had a lovely evening, got a good night's sleep, and after meeting with the conference planner over breakfast Tuesday, we walked all 7 miles of the Cliff Walk (round trip). It was a gorgeous day and we drank it in.  We returned to Bedford late afternoon refreshed and ready for full days ahead.

The day was perfect for walking the Cliff Walk in Newport, RI.
Wednesdays and Thursdays are consistent this fall: on Wednesday mornings, I lead the Patriot Women’s Bible Study, and then join Paul for counseling from early afternoon until 9:30 pm.  Thursday, we counsel from 8 am through 2 pm, and then head down to Foxboro for the Patriot's Couples Bible Study from which we usually return around 10:30 pm.  Friday mornings, we head out for our weekend conference, returning late Tuesday — and begin again.

October 15, we flew to California to partner with Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, CA, as keynote speakers for their Healthy Sexuality Conference.  What church do you know of that dedicates a whole weekend to dealing with the issue of sexuality from God’s perspective?  We are SO impressed with Grace Baptist's commitment to equipping their congregation with information and perspective on a subject long neglected by the church.  Neglect, in this case, has contributed greatly to many distortions and much evil connected with the potent and dynamic dimension of our sexuality.  We applaud this church's leadership for tackling this important but delicate subject.

There were many facets to the weekend.  Friday night, after being delayed significantly by traffic, we spent the evening with the pastoral staff team talking about marriage, ministry, and morality.  The dinner was beautifully hostessed by George and Janice, who graciously opened their homes and worked overtime to pamper this hard-working group of ministers and their spouses.  We fell in love with them.

Paul spoke for a men’s breakfast the next morning, challenging them to be “men of standing” with pure hearts and minds. That evening after church (at which we were interviewed about the Sunday afternoon conference), we spoke at two separate workshops on singleness and sexuality.  We had good interaction in both sessions which were attended by singles from 18 years old to much older singles.  No matter what their age, singles in our culture today who understand God's design for purity are in a very, very small minority.  We encouraged them to trust Creator God, confident that His plan is good and right.

Sunday, after attending both morning services, we spoke for 3 hours at the actual Healthy Sexuality Conference.  We often include a 45-60 minute session on marital sexuality during a weekend marriage conference, but we loved having 3 hours to develop with more depth God’s design, Satan’s destruction, and the Delights and Hope in biblical healthy sexuality.  We felt very met by God in the afternoon and pray that each who came were also met.  We did another workshop that evening, and then, rather spent, we drove to north San Diego with our daughter Julie who had joined us in Santa Clarita for the weekend.

The next day, we received this email from the Care Pastor who helped coordinate the conference:
Paul and Virginia,
We are thrilled with the work of Christ and His Spirit in and through you.
Our good and beautiful God poured out His love, grace and truth through you unto us as a healing oil. 
I want to express our gratitude, respect, love, and appreciation for you.  
The marriage you are making is a masterpiece. 
Your love for each other is inspiring and gently challenging to us. 
I pray you rest well, refill, and draw enjoyment from one another as you pause between our house of worship and your next place of serving.
(Luke 5:16)
Love and respect,
May His kingdom purposes be affected by the weekend!

At conference end, Paul and I share a moment with David and Cherylyn Hegg (lead pastor) and Doug and Julie Macrae (H.I.M. board members.)

On to San Diego to celebrate Julie’s “White Coat Ceremony” at Physical Therapy School Monday night.  We were SO thankful for the timing of this special event in her educational pursuit of a doctor of physical therapy degree!  After taking the Hippocratic Oath, she received her “White Coat” as a rite of passage to her first internship, which will begin November 1 in Fairfax, VA.  It was gratifying to be there, to meet her professors and some of her classmates, and to mark this important milestone in her degree program.  She'll be done with four of seven “trimesters” at the conclusion of this seven-week internship.

A high moment — and a reprieve of sorts from the rigors of studying: Julie receives her “White Coat.”
We also managed to sneak a quick visit in with my folks in San Diego while Julie was in class on Monday.  It was great to spend even a couple of hours with them.

The last part of our trip was a scheduled five-hour layover in Sacramento to check in on our grandson, Brandon, who is already seven weeks old.  In the five weeks since we've seen him, he has grown so much!!!  Every moment of the five hours was magical, though fleeting...

We are very grateful for even five hours.

Brandon’s Red Sox shirts have been replaced with Giants shirts, much to the delight of his dad, who has been a lifelong Giants fan.

It’s been so good to celebrate both ends of life these weeks.  Elisabeth Elliot Gren, Thora Eames, and my folks all reflect lives lived for His glory . . . and as their earthly lives wind down, their anticipation of the eternal celebration with Jesus comforts and strengthens them even as their bodies and minds break down.

At the other end of the spectrum, Brandon’s new life exudes hope, delight, purity, and the miracle of birth.  And God is over all — the beginning and the end.  He goes before us, and behind us, and holds all things together.  It can’t get any better than that.

From Tenting to Tea Partying

Cruising at an altitude of 35,000' en route from London to California, this 11-hour flight affords me opportunities to catch up on some neglected quiet activities . . . like my through-the-Bible-in-a-year-with-D.A.-Carson readings, journaling, and now blogging. No complaints from me regarding this long flight. I love enforced quiet and stillness, since I seem to have a hard time making it happen on my own.

It’s been quite a month since my last post. Our days in Vero Beach came to an end and we returned to the saddle refreshed and ready to go. Which was a good thing, because we arrived late Thursday night, May 20, and Paul spoke at a men’s event Friday night. This is the second year in a row he has spoken for this group, which is lead by Alan Siegel, and he loves the spirit of the group. He was very well-received.

Saturday we spoke for a marriage conference in Easton, also run by Alan Siegel, and had a wonderful day with many eager couples, from young marrieds to older marrieds. We were very heartened to receive this message from one of the couples who attended:
You and Paul were probably the best speakers I’ve ever heard. I looked at my husband’s outline and was surprised at his honesty and felt he tried to treat me nicely yesterday. He, too, thought you both were very good speakers. Thank you.

We’ve had an ongoing dialogue with this couple and God is at work in a big way in their marriage. Praise Him!

We drove from Easton to Hingham and were privileged to speak for a Couple’s Coffee House hosted by South Shore Baptist Church. Bill and Rebecca Haeck spear-headed the evening and did a masterful job transforming their social hall into a welcoming, candle-lit, cozy coffee house. We always love partnering with SSBC and this was no exception.

Bill and Rebecca Haeck hosted the Couples Coffee Shop at South Shore Baptist Church on Saturday, May 22.

In the meantime, house guests arrived! Our very dear friends, John, April, and Lizzie Aleman, came to town for a graduation and we were thrilled to have them crash at our house. We spent all of Sunday together, first worshiping at our home church, Highrock Church in Arlington, and then relaxing over Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and home-grilled bbq. We thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with them and building on our almost three decades of friendship through Campus by the Sea. Their kids, Nathan and Lizzie, have both served on staff at CBS in the past, as well as on family camp staff in New England. Their family is a great encouragement to us personally.

The Aleman family (far right) joined us for worship at High Rock Church in Arlington, and reconnected with family campers Tim and Linda Brown and family and Heather and Lydia Dietz.

Monday and Tuesday we both had a variety of appointments and “stuff” to do before counseling all day Wednesday. And then off again, this time me alone, to surprise our daughter Kari on her 30th birthday, May 27. What a fun surprise! By Friday night, all three girls were together celebrating her and we snuck off to a hotel in downtown Sacramento to further the celebration as a last getaway before baby arrives. Though everything didn’t exactly go as planned, it was a memorable and honoring time. Hardly 48 hours passed before I was flying back to join the H.I.M. Memorial Day Family Tenting Weekend!

In honor Kari’s 30th, Baby Garcia received some Red Sox garb from us . . . and some Giants garb from his dad!

The end of our hotel getaway was spent soaking in some Vitamin D poolside. (l-r: Lisa, Julie, Kari)

Of course the tenting weekend had started without me, and Paul was there with Jim and Sue Martis to make sure it happened. Twenty-five families (numbering 130 people) pitched their tents or drove their rigs to Myles Standish State Park for this annual event, and except for a brief (easy for me to say since I wasn’t there yet) two-hour shower at dinnertime on Saturday, the weekend was graced with fabulous weather (which means a whole lot when you’re camping in a tent!)

I joined the party on Sunday and everything was going swimmingly. In fact, many were swimming . . . or fishing, or biking. Regardless of the activity, everyone was clearly having a grand time.

As it goes, each evening the community gathers around a common meal (planned and prepared by Big Jim Martis of MJM Catering) which is followed by a time of worship, devotions, and s’mores. Mike and Seth Allen sacrificially drove to the campsite every night to lead worship and did a wonderful job again this year, and Paul lead the devotions in the inimitable Paul Friesen fashion.

The highlight of the weekend came Sunday night when Paul brought Thora Eames to camp for the evening. Thora, at 92, is still as spry and full of life as ever and young and old alike delighted in having her join the fun. As part of devotions that night, Paul interviewed Thora in front of the whole group. Everyone listened with rapt attention when Paul, acknowledging that Thora had experienced much loss these past years, asked her how she had managed with so much grief to keep going with a smile on her face. “Oh Paul,” Thora responded, “God has been so faithful to me!! I don’t have anything to complain about. Every day I wake up and thank Him for being so good to me.”

It was a recordable moment. Thora is the poster child for the truism: “Life is 10% circumstance, 90% attitude.” Thank you, Thora. We were all so blessed by her presence!

Paul interviews Thora, while Faith Metaxotos secures her bond with “Granny Thora.”

The weekend wrapped up on Memorial Day with our second annual Memorial Day parade, organized by the Barkers and the Cranes. Glenn Franks was selected to be the Grand Marshall in recognition of his service to our country. With most of the children mounted on their bikes and sporting patriotic colors (including glittery tattoos), and accompanied by the voices of an approximate 20-voice choir singing patriotic melodies, two laps were made around the camping circle to commemorate those who have protected our many freedoms, including the freedom to worship.

Glenn Franks served as the Grand Marshall of the second annual Memorial Day parade.

On your marks, get set, ride - carefully and slowly. :)

And the 2010 Memorial Day Family Tenting Weekend came to a close, with some families adding extra-curricular activities afterward, like picnicking at another lake and then making an ice cream stop as the exclamation point to an already great time.

The carefree escape from the worries of life came to a screeching halt Tuesday morning as we spent the day in our office counseling. We’re never far from the painful realities of life, which show up in so much brokenness relationally. By God’s grace, however, we’re privileged to seen much growth and healing in many marriages.

Early Wednesday morning, June 2, we drove to Cornwall, CT, to join the pastoral staff from Valley Community Baptist Church (VCBC) for the fourth year in a row. We’re so honored to be re-invited to speak into the lives of this amazing group of fellow ministers, lead by Jay Abramson and Tim Ponzani. We feel very personally connected to each of them by now and love just being with them. We led four sessions, dealing with ministry and personal issues connected to family and marriage, but mostly we just hung out, played games, took walks, and ate fabulous meals. It was as refreshing as it was productive, and we were most touched by them sending us off by praying specifically for us as we prepare for a very full summer. We’re so pleased to be looking forward to spending another week with Jay and Liz Abramson as they’ll be speaking at one of our H.I.M. Family Camps at Camp Berea in August. They are salt of the earth people.

The pastoral staff of Valley Community Baptist Church gathers for a photo op at retreat’s end.

Someone recently asked if I’ve really ever read the book Margin by Richard Swensen (since I often recommend it) and my emphatic “yes” confirms that just because you’ve read something doesn’t mean you’ve been changed by it.

The question was prompted by the description of what followed our conference for VCBC. We got home Friday early afternoon, and spent the balance of the day packing and preparing for the weeks ahead. Saturday was the annual H.I.M. Pool Party, hosted by servant-hearted and unflappable Doug and Julie Macrae. I (along with daughter Lisa, and friends Pam Barker and Kelly Plosker) left the party early to drive to Woodstock, Vermont, to run the Covered Bridges Half-Marathon Sunday morning, June 6.

Richard, Kit, and Beth Hendricks, and Lisa Friesen were some of the pool party attendees.

Which we did. In pouring rain (I had prayed specifically for it not to be a hot race, and it wasn’t!), we ran the 13.1 absolutely gorgeous course, and then made the 3-hour drive home to shower, finish packing, and fly out of Logan at 10 p.m. for London.

It does seem kind of crazy now, but losing a whole day of the London trip for rest and sanity seemed like a terrible trade-off when we made the plans. And besides, when we made the plane reservations, we thought the race started at 7 am. When we found out it didn’t start til 10:15 am, we felt a little bit of pressure to set a new course record. Even though we didn’t, we made it with plenty of time to spare.

Thankfully, it all went like clock-work. Lisa and I cut 7 full minutes off our last half-marathon and definitely didn’t overheat. And I even talked during this race. Back in November when we did our first half-marathon together, I stunned Lisa by not uttering a single word during the entire 13.1 miles. I couldn’t afford to give up any breath for non-essentials.

Pre-race photo: Lisa, me, Pam Barker, and Kelly Plosker.

This was a wonderful experience all around. Beautiful course, great friends, and a wonderful husband who drove up Sunday to ferry us to the start and from the finish, as well as to cheer us on and get finish line photos. We’re already eager to do it again.

Post-race photo: 13.1 soggy miles later. :)

The past week, we’ve had the great delight of experiencing London for the first time. This trip was a graduation gift to Lisa, in honor of her successfully completing her master’s degree, and London was the destination because her best childhood friend, Kelsey Offield, is studying there. Kelsey’s mom, Wendy, is one of my dearest friends, so the four of us spend the week together, dredging up unforgettable moments from our life’s journey together over the past 27 years, as well as making many new memories together.

Add to that the “only God could’ve made this happen” moment when we found out that our chosen family friends John and Marilyn Nugent would be in London at the same time, and you have two women who feel very, very personally loved by our gracious heavenly Father.

So we’ve spent the last six days exploring a new land and seeing come alive the photos and stories related to the UK we’ve seen and heard all our lives. We experienced most of the sights and sounds by foot (and my pedometer kept track, informing us that we averaged 10 miles a day) and loved most every minute of it. We ate great food, saw great theater, saw historical sites, and fell in love with the quaint charm of this country which served as a prototype for New England over 300 years ago. We visited Stonehenge and Bath. We had afternoon tea. We were privileged to be in the country for the “Trooping of the Colors” in honor of the Queen’s birthday, and we stood on the parade route, 20 yards from the Royal Family as they rode by on horseback or in carriages. We were quiet about our heritage Saturday night when the USA tied the UK in the first round of World Cup Soccer but secretly thrilled and so proud of our team. :) Along with the Nugents, we worshiped at the Holy Trinity Church of Brompton, the home of the ALPHA course developed by their senior pastor, Nicky Gumbel.

Lisa and Kelsey in front of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. They never did find Mr. Darcy, though you can be sure they looked!

With Wendy, Marilyn, and John, ready to see “Les Miserables”

At the “Trooping of the Colors” - Queen Elizabeth parades by in her carriage.

Kelsey and Wendy were wonderful hostesses, and John and Marilyn were great traveling companions. It would be hard to improve on the trip, unless it would be reclaiming the day Lisa was side-lined with the stomach flu. Even there, God was so gracious to protect the rest of us.

Though there were many highlights, the highest light of all was seeing “Les Miserables.” We’ve seen it multiple times by now, but never have we been more moved by the clarity of the message of grace. Maybe its because I’ve lived so much more of life now than I had 20 years ago when I saw it for the first time - and am so much more aware of how completely dependent I am on His grace - or maybe its because I’ve seen His grace be so transformative in my own life as well as in the lives of so many we come alongside. Whatever, I was profoundly touched by the play and challenged anew to walk in grace in a deeper way.

So now, the UK is in our rear view mirror, and when we land in several hours, we’ll head directly to Campus by the Sea for our 35th summer. That’s beginning to sound like a long time. We believe we have a wonderful summer staff assembled and can’t wait to see what God will do in our midst in the next seven weeks.