Worth It

All Things New

“Do you need anything more than the cruel cross of Jesus Christ to convince you of how deep your need for grace is?”  (Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies)

It’s Good Friday as I write and these words taken from Tripp’s new devotional book bring such clarity to the message of the Cross. Sacrifice. Love. Grace. Oh to be reminded once again that “Jesus paid it all . . . All to Him I owe. . . . Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” Hope!! He will make all things new.

It’s good to pause and reflect after a full month of ministry. I last wrote from Denver, where on Monday, the 29th of March, Jake and Kaylee Gosselin hosted an evening for seminary couples to talk about marriage and ministry. We love such events! We love the conversation, the questions, the insights. We love seeing the next generation of ministers preparing to go into the fields which are ripe with harvest. The evening passed far too quickly, but fortunately the conversation continued with Jake and Kaylee over breakfast this next morning in their sweet home. It was so good to have time with these guys, and we left very excited about what God is doing in their lives.

Full time seminary students, worship leaders at their church, and parents to half a dozen laying chickens. Jake and Kaylee have a full life.

On to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs for the Pro-Athletes Outreach “Increase” conference . . . our sixteenth! We were pleased to have four of our Patriots couples attend this unique-for-NFL-players Christian conference, where we experienced great worship, heard challenging speakers, and had sweet fellowship. Paul and I did two workshops: one on temperaments, and one on in-law relationships . . . which was very alive with questions, emotions, and stories. Hit a nerve for sure for many; after the workshop ended, about half the group stayed for informal Q and A, which went on for another hour. Loved it.

A couple of our Patriots couples who attended the PAO conference.

We red-eyed it back to Boston the night of March 3, arriving early on the 4th in time to host and speak at our annual H.I.M. marriage conference in Newport, RI. It was a packed, sold-out house, full of couples across the spectrum of age/stage, ethnicities, and health of marriage. From those celebrating the delight of marriage to those in deep crisis, from thirty couples married six years or less to those married 40-50 years (including one married 64 years . . . we had a healthy cross-section of very engaged, expectant couples. Thankfully, God met us in spades and the weekend was wildly successful.

Several comments received after the conference:

“Thank you for such a life-giving, refreshing weekend!”

“We learned so much this weekend and will recommend this conference to all our married friends!”

“What a fantastic reminder of how much God loves us and His design for our marriages.”

We can’t thank you enough for the AMAZING weekend in Rhode Island. We are so blessed to learn what it is to be rooted in Christ as a couple. We are so grateful for the prayer session that equipped us to live our lives as one spirit and tackle the world together. We will be sharing our experiences and the tools with our small group.”

“My husband and I just returned from the marriage retreat in Newport and are HIGHLY recommending it to all our married friends! You guys do a wonderful job and we cannot wait to come back next year!

Thank you so much for leading, with Paul, such a wonderful marriage conference weekend. We came away with so much to think over and talk about.  We are grateful for the wisdom both you and Paul share with so many.

Opening night: being lead in worship by Danny and Rayna Oertli, Rich and Sue Musacchio, and Paul and Lyss Gandy. A strong start.

The theme “Marriage Strong” was carried out beautifully by Kelly Plosker, who once again worked her magic on the ball room, creating an ambience of welcome, comfort, and delight. We are so thankful for her gifts used so powerfully.

Sunday afternoon . . . the guests are gone and the team is tearing down. We pause for a photo and a prayer, giving thanks for the incredible ways God met us.

A highlight for us was having 30 young married couples with us for the weekend, most of whom have come through Engagement Matters. During the EM weekend, we challenge them to commit to having an "annual marital check-up” as a way to keep their marriage healthy and growing. Too many people forego ongoing “maintenance” on their marriage and only consider attending a marriage conference when they’re in crisis. Our observation is that those who do regular “maintenance” often avoid getting to the place of crisis or of drifting apart. We’re so encouraged by these young couples who are proactively building into their marriages.

It was also a highlight to have Bill and JoAnne Shore with us, who have logged 64 years of marriage. Ah, the power of lives well lived. Every couple privileged to rub shoulders with them during the weekend was inspired. Their hearts for the Lord and for each other cannot be missed.

Reflecting on the weekend 2.5 weeks later, we’re mostly just grateful. For God’s faithfulness. For the team who worked so hard, so sacrificially to make the weekend go smoothly in every way. For the couples who came, seeking healing, seeking encouragement, seeking fellowship, seeking God. For the strength and grace He gave Paul and me, coming in on the heels of a very full week in Colorado, and speaking for the conference, doing a workshop, and interacting with over 260 people. For the work of the Holy Spirit. We’ve interacted with many couples who testified that God met them in big ways at the conference, giving them new hope and grace for their marriages. We are truly humbled to be, part of such powerful Kingdom work. All praise is His.

Home—very briefly—to catch our breath and repack (sort of). All day Monday we counseled and all day Tuesday I had jury duty. Early on Wednesday, March 9, Paul headed to Springfield, MA, to partner with Pioneer Valley Christian Academy for their relationship day. He spoke for the middle school chapel in the morning and their senior high chapel in the afternoon. After the illness that sidelined me for the morning had improved enough for me to join the party, I headed out to Springfield in time for the parents/teens session for “Worth It—Springfield” which drew a crowd of about 200 (far exceeding the expectations of the planning team, who were expecting about 75.) Well organized by Caroline Funchion, and promoted by headmaster Tim Duff, the day was more successful than anyone imagined. There was lots of good interaction, good questions, and positive feedback from our straight talk about Biblical principles for guiding decisions regarding relationships. These teens have been exposed to massive culturally-held distortions about sexuality and relationships their whole lives and seemed hungry for truth that would bring clarity to the current chaos. We so desperately want them to see how deeply loved they are by God and, as such, how much He longs for them to trust His plans and purposes. As we drove on to Mechanicsburg, PA, that night—far into the middle of the night.  We were buoyed by hope that in the midst of the craziness, the gospel is our only hope and that we are privileged to help communicate that hope to so many. That kept us awake, fortunately, until we arrived at Derek and Julie’s home at 3 am. :)

Pioneer Valley Christian Academy’s headmaster, Tim Duff, addresses the larger-than-expected crowd at the “Worth It—Springfield” night.

We then spent two delicious days with Nathan and Rachel (and their parents, of course). Oh, the joys of grandparenting!! I remember a poem that surfaced when our girls were littles, all about what makes grandparents special is that they have time . . . and I realized, we are there!! Walk to the horses? Of course! Play with trains? Why not? Throw the ball outside? Let’s go! No interruptions. No “more important things” to do. No “but we’ve read that book three times already!” Just the delight of being together, making memories, living in Nathan’s world. It is surely the privilege of grandparents, and we fully embrace this joyous season.

The daily walk to visit “Cody” and “Mouse,”
two horses who live in the neighborhood.
Rachel, showing early signs that she enjoys being all dressed up with somewhere to go. 
Sibling love.  Ahhh . . .

All too quickly those two days evaporated and we were off to Mt. Bethel, PA, to speak at Tuscarora Lutheran Brethren Conference Center’s annual marriage conference. A new-to-us experience, we didn’t know exactly what to expect, but we were delighted at every turn. Paul DiQuattro, conference manager, and his team quickly made us feel at home and in short order we were impressed with how well they run a conference. Drawing couples from all over the northeast, we thoroughly enjoyed connecting with a whole new group of people. The conference host, Chris (Suzanne) Priestaf, was well suited for his role as emcee, as he effectively brought this eclectic group together and helped to develop a sense of safe community. We were so encouraged by the eagerness of the couples to improve their marriages. During the testimony time at the end of the conference, we were deeply moved to hear one couple express that they had come to the conference having been separated for five months, and were leaving reconciled and committed to growing a Christ-centered marriage. Many others testified that they had been met by God during the conference and were leaving with hope. This is work that only the Holy Spirit can do and we were humbled to consider His work among us throughout the weekend. We look forward to partnering with this group in the future.

Craig (worship leader) and Danika (asst. to program director) and Chris (emcee) and Suzanne flank us on stage at the Tuscarora Conference Center’s marriage conference. 

Home after Tuscarora . . . daylight savings time . . . spring . . . all things new. And in front of us, the longest we’ll be home in 2016! Between Palm Sunday weekend, Easter, Engagement Matters, and Worth It, we’ll actually be home three weeks in a row! Recognizing the rarity of this, we’re “making it count” by focusing on local relationships and home management (a nice way of saying “trying to dig out from months of neglected pile accumulation, etc.”)

“Local” commitments include lots of counseling and a few speaking engagements. On Wednesday, March 16, we spoke for the moms group at Bethany Church in Greenland, NH. We always love partnering with Bethany! And this was no exception. Speaking on temperaments and love languages in children was fun and informative, spawning good questions and interaction. We love to encourage moms in particular, who seem to be buffeted by so many challenges related to culture, families of origin, and the reality that “one size doesn’t fit all” in parenting. Mostly we find ourselves pressing hope into them that God is bigger than their challenges and that He is with them.

Some of the mentoring moms at Bethany Church Greenland,
ready to debrief the morning.

As only God could’ve orchestrated, I was in town for the funeral of another very dear friend’s mother. It’s the season of our life and I am so grateful when schedules permit “showing up” at these critical passages of life for people we deeply love.

Palm Sunday weekend was full of family fun. The Johnsons and daughter Lisa drove up from Pennsylvania (where Lisa had been spending her spring break) and our niece Katie Herbst flew in from California, all converging in the early hours of Saturday morning. We spent Saturday touring Ogunquit, Maine, and visiting the Nubble Lighthouse. The bright blue, sun-filled skies belied the cold north wind blowing that day, but that didn’t slow us down at all. In fact it likely speeded us up! We had such a fun day enjoying the beauty of this part of the world with people whose presence makes your heart glad. Sunday our touring took us to Boston where we had the unique experience of walking on the bottom of the currently empty Swan Boat lake and visiting the island made famous by Make Way for Ducklings. How we love that story! We walked to the North End for an early dinner and attended Palm Sunday service at Park Street Church before dropping Lisa off at the airport and Katie off at the hotel that’s hosting her conference. A full and fun weekend!

It LOOKS warm . . . but it wasn’t!
Nonetheless, we had a great time at the Nubble Lighthouse.

The cousins—stopping long enough for a quick picture before voting to suspend the walk on the Marginal Way and return to the warmth of the car. 
Cousin Katie, Auntie Lisa, and Nathan enjoy a rare opportunity to set foot on the island where Mr. and Mrs. Mallard raised their little ducklings.

And just like that, it snowed!! Wakening to a winter wonderland in spring is always fun, regardless of the complaints voiced by most. Spring snow never lasts long; most of the 6” that fell in Bedford were melted by late that afternoon. But for the hours it’s around, it makes “all things new” temporarily, and when it leaves, “all things are new” once again. Nathan loved helping Papa shovel and Gigi and the girls loved watching the snow fall . . . from their vantage inside the warmed-by-wood-stove home. Everyone was happy. Really. 

Nathan and Rachel enjoyed dinner in the North End on Sunday before going to church on Palm Sunday.

Papa and Nathan made quick work of the 6” Spring snow fall.

The Johnsons returned to Pennsylvania on Tuesday, on a bright, sunny, snow-less day . . . and we got the house back in order for our next guests, arriving Saturday.

Holy Week. We’ve been reminded in so many ways that our only eternal hope is in the empty cross. We cannot escape the brokenness that is all around us and in us. Pain. Suffering. Loneliness. Disconnectedness. Dysfunction. Disappointment. Disillusionment. Political toxicity. Worldwide terrorism. Broken hearts. Disease. Death. 

Temporary relief seduces us, and for brief periods we are anesthetized from our pain through counterfeit means.

How comforting, how good, how hope-giving is it to know the only One who can truly still our souls, give us peace, and make all things new. We do have a Good Good Father, and we’re reminded of that profoundly this week as we pause to remember that He gave it all for us . . . because of His deep deep love. 

We hold on to the promise that He will make all things new.

He is risen indeed!!!

To Him be the glory forever and ever.


A Lifetime Ago

Re-reading my last blog post (March 22, 2015), it does seem like a lifetime ago.  The snow is now gone and signs of (a very late) spring are beginning to surface.  We’ve traveled 22,628 miles and spent almost 50 hours in the air since then.  We’ve been home 5 days since mid-March, and most of those have been filled with counseling or speaking locally.

No wonder our arrival in Uganda feels like a lifetime ago!

Before we hit the air again (in just over 30 hours), I’ll try to catch up with myself by reflecting on this “lifetime” in a few short paragraphs.

Perhaps what makes it seem so “epic” is that 3 of the past 4.5 weeks were spent in Africa.  It’s not only geographically far away, its culture and lifestyle are even more “far away” from our middle class American life.  The sights, sounds, and smells are constant reminders that we’re a long way from home… that is, until we reunited with our daughter and her family awaiting our arrival at Entebbe, and then, amazingly, we instantly felt “at home.” It’s amazing how relationships always transcend place.

And so began the fulfillment of our long-held dream to have our whole family experience Julie, Derek, and Nathan’s world together.  Our arrival on March 17th was followed by Gabe, Kari, Brandon, and Ana’s on the 18th, and finally by Lisa’s on the 19th.  No small miraculous feat in itself…accomplishment by Paul who spent countless hours booking and re-booking flights for this trip.  Thankful for safe air travel for all, we continued traveling as we piled in vehicles and drove 5 hours to Mbale, the town in eastern Uganda that houses the CURE Pediatric Hospital where Derek serves as the executive director.  

Our first day in Mbale, visiting the CURE Children’s Hospital.

We had 10 days all together in Uganda and we made the most of them given the “constraints” we had given that 3 of the 10 family members were age 4 and under.  Bless those little ones!  We may have gotten no rest were it not for the napping and early-to-bed needs of such company.  

Our days in Mbale were divided between visiting the babies and mamas at the hospital (the highlight for everyone), playing in the Johnsons’ yard, taking walks in the neighborhood, eating fabulous meals a la Derek and Julie, and grabbing an occasion cup of cappuccino at the Endiro Coffee Shop.  We did venture on a “field trip” to Sipi Falls one day and enjoyed a short hike to a beautiful waterfall, but other than that, our world existed within about a 3-mile range between the hospital and their home.  Paul and I did one whole day of teaching on marriage for JENGA during the time we were all together, but otherwise we majored on the delight of being together as a family and we immersed ourselves in the Johnsons’ world.

Auntie Lisa and Brandon visit a sweet mama and her baby.

Gabe, Kari, and Ana went from bed to bed, talking and praying with the mamas.

Our day trip to Sipi Falls was wonderful and all made the hike
except Derek, who was nursing a knee injury.

Daily walks in the neighborhood gave us exercise and insights into the life and culture of Mbale.

The JENGA crew who spent the day with us being trained in Biblical marriage.

We loved every minute of it.  It was re-inspiring to view their life anew through the first-time eyes of the Garcia family. Brandon was beside himself with excitement to see Chiko II (the monkey that has been hanging out in the Johnsons’ yard for the last several months) swinging in the trees in their yard as well as the herds of Ankole cows ambling down the dirt road in front of the Johnsons’ house every morning and night.  Ana loved the Johnsons’ dogs, their son Nathan (who is just 2 months older than she is, and they did have some competitive moments of non-sibling rivalry), and all the babies at the hospital. Gabe and Kari were impressed by the mission and work of the hospital as well as by the realities of living in a developing country for the Johnsons. It’s hard to grasp what that means until you experience it firsthand.  Our awareness of the sacrifices and challenges of their life were heightened.

We also had an early 30th birthday celebration for Julie. We were all so happy to get to honor her in person for this milestone.

Chiko II pays us a visit during our outdoor breakfast.

The “cows come home” after a day of grazing.

We celebrated Julie’s 30th a bit early at the Endiro Coffee Shop.

After a week in Mbale, we headed northwest to Murchison Falls Game Park to go on a safari.  In spite of lots of rain, we had a fabulous time viewing the incredible creativity of God as seen in giraffes, elephants, Cape Buffalo, a female lion and her cubs, deer, antelope, wart hogs, hippos, crocodiles, eagles, and more.  We drove for about 5 hours through the savannah and then took a 3-hour “cruise” on the Nile up to Murchison Falls.  It was an unforgettable day and one we hated to see end.  

After a very long and bumpy 8-hour drive, a very happy crew arrives at Bwana Tembo,
our lodging for our safari.

Brandon was enthralled with every sighting, and was especially captivated by this giraffe that followed us for awhile.

On the Nile River cruise, we enjoyed watching these elephants frolic in the water.

We think it’s a friendly smile...

With Murchison Falls in the background, we get a family shot on the Nile.

What all good mates do: carefully groom their spouse.

Continuing our family tradition, we circled up to pray before parting ways.

We parted ways the next morning, with the Garcias and Lisa driving to Entebbe to fly home and Johnsons and us heading back to Mbale.  Paul and I had many great ministry opportunities the next week:  we did an all-day pastors’ conference focusing on marriage training, we spoke for a couples’ date night for Pearl Haven Christian Center, we spoke at the Easter Convention and for a pastor’s prayer breakfast, we did a bit of counseling, we hung out at the hospital, and we spent time with several missionary families.  We had the joy of celebrating Easter at Pearl Haven and were so lifted by the worship of our uninhibited African brothers and sisters.  Glorious!

We spent a day training these local pastors in marriage ministry.

Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu, who lead the fellowship at Pearl Haven Christian Center, attended the couples’ date night dinner.

We spoke at the Pastor’s Prayer Breakfast during the Easter Convention.

We also spoke to the whole Easter Convention after the prayer breakfast.

Nathan and his good friend Faruke, whose father John is the groundskeeper for the Johnsons.  Faruke is a wonderful, motivated young man who will be sorely missed
when the Johnsons return to the States this summer.

April 7 we left Uganda to begin a very long trip home, which thankfully went without hitch, landing us in Boston late afternoon on the 8th.  No time for jet lag recovery as we counseled all day the 9th and ran our annual “Worth It” purity family conference all day the 11th.  

Yes, that was a very fast transition….and the Lord met us with amazing strength and energy.  We were thrilled to have a packed house for Worth It, which featured New England Patriots Nate Solder and Matthew Slater (with his wife Shahrzad), retired Patriot Don Davis, Camp Berea Director Nate Parks, UCLA head athletic trainer for women’s basketball Lisa Friesen, Grace Chapel Wilmington youth minister Adam Rowe, and LCA Creative Arts Director Christopher Greco and his wife Dorothy.  All spoke with power, clarity, and conviction regarding the goodness of God’s design for our sexuality and relationships.  

The “Worth It” speaking team — such a great group!!!  So thankful for them.

Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield hosted our annual “Worth It” conference
and the house was packed.

No rest yet: on Sunday Paul preached both services at Hope Community Church in Newburyport and that evening we returned to the church to speak for a Couples’ Dessert Night.  This was an event which had been snowed out in February and we were so glad we had a day to reschedule it.  We thoroughly enjoyed partnering with this alive church.

We rested on Monday, April 13th, as we flew to California.  :)  Tuesday and Wednesday we partnered with Grace Baptist Church of Santa Clarita, speaking at a mom’s event Tuesday morning and doing training for their Care Ministry teams on Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, and Wednesday night.  It was great working with Dan Broyles, their Director of Care Ministries.

Thursday was all about the Garcia grandkids: visiting the fish and turtle pond at the mall, eating at Chick-Fil-A, playing baseball in the back yard, building Legos creations, baking Gigi cakes, having “wrestle time”, and taking walks.  What’s not to love about grandparenting?!!

A favorite destination . . .

. . . and this is why!  Quite mesmerizing to watch these turtles and koi.

On to Tehachapi, California, on Friday to do a marriage conference for the Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard. This church plant of the Desert Vineyard in Lancaster is thriving in this small mountain town under the shepherding of Barry and Saundra Galloway.  We were enveloped by their love and grace from the moment we arrived Friday evening until we left Sunday afternoon. The well-attended marriage conference Friday night and Saturday was vibrant and alive. We were very encouraged by the receptivity and teachability of the attendees. We spent Saturday evening talking with their ministry staff about balancing ministry and family, and then taught at both of their Sunday morning services on “Living to the Praise of His Glory.”  It was a very well-spent weekend.

Barry and Saundra Galloway shepherd the flock at Tehachapi Mountain Vineyard
and are impossible not to love.

A Campus by the Sea family camp planning meeting took place in the afternoon, followed by the UCLA women’s basketball banquet, and then a red-eye home.  Whaaaat???  Gluttons for punishment, perhaps, but it feels like we somehow gained a day, especially when flying west to east.  Our bodies aren’t fooled by such trickery, however, so we weren’t very productive after getting home early afternoon Monday.

Lisa, Head Coach Cori Close, and I get a photo prior to the Women’s Basketball Banquet.
Though it’s only been a month, it still somehow seems like a lifetime ago since I last wrote.  We are beyond thankful for all that’s gone down in this last month and are cherishing memories that will last a lifetime.  

It WAS "Worth IT"

Admittedly, there are times of discouragement in ministry (and in life), and about 10 days ahead of our annual event "Worth It" was one of those times.  With a blockbuster line-up of speakers and a fabulous venue booked at Bethany Church in Greenland, NH, we fully expected an overwhelming response to this potentially life-changing—and at least reinforcing to God-honoring-relationships—values conference.  

Ten days out, we had 250 registrations and were discouraged.  Adding to our disappointment were the "excuses" for not coming, ranging from "we're too busy" to "we're having a fund-raiser for our summer missions trip" to "I don't want to make my kids go and they don't want to."

Really?  With the chaos surrounding relationships and the confusion regarding why choosing sexual and emotional purity escalating, it seems that very few things should outrank the importance of spending 1/365th of the year focused on such life-changing tipping points from God's perspective.

Fortunately, we marshaled the prayer forces and by the day of "Worth It" were thrilled to have 410 attendees.  Though still short of our hoped-for number, we were really grateful for this great group of teens and parents who placed such a high priority on this important day.

Increasingly convinced that the relationship choices we make pre-maritally have a very big impact on eventual marriage choices, we are more and more passionate about speaking into this generation of teens who have been lied to their whole lives by a virtually godless culture.  The messages come at us — fast, furiously, and authoritatively — that the only thing that matters is your personal happiness, however fleeting that may be, and whatever it takes to gain it.  The average college-aged woman in our culture (and it goes without saying that men also live this belief) no longer believe that sex and love are connected, and sadly, the Christian community statistically isn't distinctly different in terms of unmarried sexual behavior.  Most have resigned themselves to the "if you can't fight 'em, join 'em" mentally and have given up hope that sexual and emotional purity can be lived out.

That's why we do "Worth It."

Because God's Word hasn't changed. His heart for His children hasn't changed. His design hasn't changed.

So we try to build a very convincing case for purity in 2014.  We want to give hope.  We want to be prophetic. We want to challenge youth to trust the goodness of God's design and the power we have in Him to live it out.

Before the day began, the team gathered to pray for all that would happen in the day.

Barbara Steele and Kit Hendricks welcomed the over 400 attendees
of the day at the registration table.

Tim Carpenter, family pastor at Bethany Church in Greenland,
welcomes everyone to the "Worth It" conference.

That's the message that was proclaimed throughout the day on April 5.  Jess Bousa kicked off the day with a stirring and lively message on the good news of the gospel and the Word of God, saying that it is "not a prison sentence, but a permission slip."  Jess speaks with such credibility as one who was far from God during his high school years when he became very familiar with cops and jails through multiple arrests connected with drug abuse and dealing.  God got a hold of him in a big way while serving time at a court-ordered stay with Teen Challenge, and 14 years later, Jess is married, has two children, has his MDiv and then some, and has planted Restore Church in Havre de Grace, MD, which two years into existence has 650 attendees and 3 campuses.  Great start to the day!

Jess Bousa preaches it at Worth It!

Kirsten Watson followed with a passionate talk on "You are Worth It."  Starting with a very effective illustration, she offered a crisp $20 bill to anyone who wanted it.  After she had folded it, crushed it, stomped on it, and thrown it to the ground, there were still the same number of hands raised of those who wanted it.  Why?  Because it was still worth $20 — even though it had been “through a lot."  Her message was shaped by the intrinsic value of each human being, not based on what they had been through — or what they had been spared — but by the love of God Himself, who calls us by name and whose image we bear.  It was very powerful . . . and convincing.

Kirsten Watson speaks to the individual worth and value of each person.

Two workshop sessions and lunch followed the opening plenary talks, and the line-up of topics and speakers was top shelf.  Adam Rowe, youth pastor for Grace Chapel in Wilmington, MA, spoke on media and how to make God-honoring choices in this very dynamic, high-risk arena.  Christopher and Dorothy Greco (Chris is the Theater Arts Director at Lexington Christian Academy and worship leader at Grace Baptist Church, Hudson, MA) spoke on LGBTQ issues facing the community of Christ.  Their story was compelling and their teaching on how to love and give hope to those struggling with sexual identity was sensitively handled with compassion and truth.  Kirsten Watson did a workshop on making the "second most important decision of your life: marriage!", and Kate Wylie spoke on the perils of popularity.  Danny Woodhead and his mom, Annette, spoke together on how to parent in the midst of so many cultural pressures, especially those that accompany athletic prowess.  Nate Parks spoke to parents on how to be in touch with their kids who are facing incredible pressures vastly different from those faced by parents when they were youth.  And Lisa Friesen spoke on how to prepare for college in terms of values and beliefs you need to have in place before you step foot on a campus—so you can have a "blast" in college.

Danny and Annette Woodhead were a real hit as
a son/mother team speaking on parenting principles.

All of the workshops were relevant, practical, and well-received.  We were SO thankful for such a quality team.

Two more plenary sessions in the afternoon rounded out the day.  Kate Wylie spoke on why purity is worth it.  With raw honesty and vulnerability, Kate shared how she had "bought the lie" that "technical virginity" was all God was really interested in and that with all her Christian boyfriends, the only line not crossed was sexual intercourse.  She explained how betrayed she felt when each relationship ended as she struggled with feeling used and then abandoned.  She also shared how that trajectory changed when she was finally taught the heart of God's design for purity.  She and her fiancé embraced boundaries consistent with Biblical purity and it profoundly and positively impacted their relationship.  She offered hope: to those "lacking experience,” to keep on holding the lines, and to those who had already crossed lines, the hope of forgiveness and the challenge to make adjustments.  

Kate Wylie teaches on the subject of "purity is worth it" and her vulnerability was deeply moving.

Nate Parks, director of Berea, was our final plenary speaker and he offered the hope of forgiveness and the challenge that "what you plant will grow."  Rather than viewing purity as a set of rules to follow, Nate was convincing that you must choose to plant seeds of love for God, His Word, and His ways, so your heart will produce a harvest of righteousness.  Because what you plant will grow.  He was engaging and energetic and his simple message was the perfect ending for the day.

Nate Parks, the farmer, explains that "what you plant will grow."

Tucked in here and there was lunch, directed by Jim Martis and an amazing volunteer crew orchestrated by our event coordinator, Susan Martis, who helped with everything from packet preparation to lunch preparation and clean-up, as well as book sales, and all the myriad of details needed to facilitate such a day.  A panel of all the speakers fielding a few questions and recommending a few books, and many, many side-bar conversations filled in some “non-structured” time.  During the panel, the crowd was inspired by the testimony of Danny and Stacia Woodhead (former Patriot, now Charger and one of the best running backs in the NFL) who remained pure throughout their eight-year courtship.  Quite a story of hope!!  Another highlight was hearing from Lisa Friesen, the lone single voice of the day, who exudes contentment and purpose in life as she waits for the Lord to bring the "right" man into her life. She knocked it out of the park when she shared that her decisions for purity had already delivered some great dividends.  "When I eventually met my college boyfriend’s wife, I was so thankful I could look her in the eyes and know that I had honored her and her husband had honored her long before she was on the scene, by how we had honored each other."  Very, very powerful.

All of the speakers participated in a panel Q and A in the late afternoon.

Lisa Friesen enjoys a moment with Danny and Stacia Woodhead.

As the day ended, our previous discouragement which had dissipated days earlier had been replaced with overflowing gratitude.The team gathered to thank the Lord for the incredible ways He met us during the day, and we could only give Him all the praise. 

He is worth it!!

Here are a few excerpts from the evaluations handed in at day's end:

Despite the resistance from the girls leading up to the conference (“This is my 5th, time – I GET it, Mom!”, “Saturday is my only day to sleep!”, “I have voice lessons, can’t go.”, “I have my last driving lesson, if I miss it – I won’t get my driving license for MONTHS!”), making the effort was definitely worth it!  It was a wonderful day. Thank you and your dedicated team for all they do to pour into our lives the saving grace and love of God and Jesus.  (Mom of three teenage daughters) 
Down to earth, funny. (13-year-old son) 
The stories, content, and presentation styles of each workshop were beneficial. (Mom of teenage son and daughter) 
Being involved in something so deep with my daughter is opening up new doors for both of us. (Parent) 
I was basically dragged here by my dad, and I came with low expectations.  It blew me away how honest and real you guys were.  I feel like I can directly relate what I learned to my life and am inspired to live a life of purity.  (13-year-old gal) 
We have been back 3 times because my kids wanted to come back. Thank you! (Parent) 
This kind of conference that helps our families confront and talk about sexual issues is so needed. Thank you for your presentations. (Parent of 13- and 16-year-old teens) 
We were so thankful to attend with our 3 daughters and have them hear that they are Worth It. (Husband and wife) 
Great selection of books, and staff were very helpful in helping in selection of books.
It was way better than I expected and I will recommend this to my friends. (13-year-old gal) 
Bethany was a great facility and staff were very helpful and friendly.
Being there with all four of my very athletic boys and hear them hear from other athletes was huge. (Parent of 4 teenage boys) 
My biggest take-away is knowing that God needs to be the center of my life and relationships.  (18-year-old guy) 
Really liked the way lunch was so organized. 
It was so beneficial to be able to have an open conversation with my teen about God’s plan for sex and have him be receptive. (Dad of teenage son) 
Thank you so much, this was so helpful before I go off to college and begin a relationship. (Teen)
All praise is His.  

At day's end, we paused to thank the Lord for the amazing way He had met us.

Jet-setting isn't as glamorous as it looks . . .

. . . but it's "worth it."

So 48 hours after the Boston Marathon Bombing, we were on a flight to California to speak at Bayside Church's monthly couples' date night.  Though we have loved, loved, loved doing this every month of 2013, it seems that each month is challenged with obstacles.  Weather delays.  Lost luggage.  Almost missing the event.  Crazy!

Continuing in the theme, our luggage didn't arrive with us because our to flight Sacramento via O'Hare was canceled (thunderstorms this time!) and we were rebooked to Sacramento via San Francisco.  Our bodies made it but our luggage didn't.  Paul was all too happy to make another trip to Costco to buy his monthly new outfit for speaking.  Me, not so much.  Especially since my personal shopper (Kari) has re-located to Santa Clarita, so I was left to my own devices in a very limited amount of time.  I know, I know.  First World Problem.  No sympathy expected.

The theme of this date night was marital sexuality, and we appreciated the very responsive crowd.  So many commented on how grateful they were that we were willing to address this "verboten-in-the-church" subject.  One couple wrote, "LOVED all that you shared last night @ Bayside…God worked thru you, reaching right into our 30-year relationship…I'M AMAZED!!! Thank you."  We were very thankful.

Thursday we spoke at the first event geared towards the 55-plus gang at Bayside.  Allan and Karen Hearl lead this new ministry which is just beginning to take shape and we were honored to help with their launch.  A salad luncheon followed by worship led by Brandon Yip preceded our talk on "Finishing Well."  The group was eclectic and represented the spectrum from married and remarried, to single and single again through widowhood or divorce, and everything in between.  But despite the diversity of life stage and experience, there was a sweet spirit in the place. As the committee met to reflect on the event, there was agreement that it had been very successful.  Praise Him!

Allan Hearl welcomes the 55-plus crowd to the launch of this new ministry outreach at Bayside.

Still without luggage, I flew down to Burbank that night and met up with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon, and Paul flew back to Boston the next day (united with his luggage.)  I spent a frustrating number of hours on Friday awaiting delivery of my suitcase (which had been flown multiple times between Boston, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and finally Burbank) but it finally arrived, and off to the beach in Ventura we went to play late in the afternoon.  Very, very fun.

Gabe, Kari, and Brandon enjoy the beauty of Ventura Beach.

Kari and I spoke at a women's conference at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach all day Saturday, while Paul spoke at two Iron Sharpens Iron conferences in New England.  Our day was much more relaxing and lovely than his, but he felt good about his experience.

Women's Conferences are works of art. Really. The beautiful decorations. The delicious food, presented as though for a Queen's Court. The details all tended to. The air of expectation. The delight of women gathering. These women did a fabulous job of preparing for the day and Kari and I enjoyed working together on "Sacred Influence:  Journeying through life with Racers, Pacers, and Tracers."  Borrowing from very impacting talks Gary Gaddini gave at Campus by the Sea a number of years ago, we talked about the importance of mentoring and of being mentored as we go through life.  It was truly a joy for me to speak with Kari, and I think the women really appreciated that, too.  It was a good day.

The beautiful snack table reflected the care and beauty of all aspects of the women's conference
at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA. 

Most of the committee that made the women's conference happen—a great group of ladies!

Early the next morning, I drove to San Diego to spend 5 days with my parents.  My mother has recovered beautifully from her mastectomy, and it was such a privilege to spend a few days enjoying being with them and doing a few projects around the house, as well as helping with the early morning and nightly routines with my dad.  I also got to be with the three sisters who live in the area at various points.  Really special, memorable days.

My remarkable mom at 83, following two surgeries in the last two months.  I told her she'd set the bar at a level I hope to never have to reach!  What an amazing woman she is.  So thankful for her.

I flew back to Boston on Thursday, April 25th, and disappointingly, my luggage didn't arrive with me.  Oh no!!!  Not this again!  In a Groundhog's Day-esque way, Friday the 26th was a repeat of Friday the 19th, only worse.  The suitcase, promised at 6 a.m., eventually arrived at 5 p.m.  A very long, frustrating day.  Crazy again.  And yes, I know, a first world problem.  

The following day was our annual "Worth It" Conference, focused on sexual and emotional purity.  This family event is one of the highlights of our year.  We believe so passionately that we experience God's best when we trust His design, and this is especially true regarding relationships.  

We had a packed house and a phenomenal staff whose teaching and life stories both inspired and challenged the audience, which was composed of parents and teen-agers.  All of the staff were open and honest about the goodness of God's design as well as the heartache of going against it.  Besides the three plenary sessions, we offered relevant workshops and peer group, gender-based sessions that provided forums for going deeper in some areas.  The day ended with a challenge to commitment to purity.

Most of the "Worth It" staff, gathered at day's end to thank the Lord for meeting us.

Retired NFL player Don Davis poses with a group of eager students at the "Worth It" conference.

The feedback on the day was overwhelmingly positive and some of the comments included:

"There were several times throughout the day that someone said something and immediately I would think, 'I came here to hear that.  That was meant for me!  It's just crazy and wonderful."  (16-year-old female)

"The most beneficial part of the day was that I'm worth the wait!"

"Great message.  My mom brought me and, to be honest, I didn't want to come.  I AM SO GLAD THAT I DID!"  (13-year-old female)

"It was an awesome day.  Great food, fantastic speakers who really related to us students . . . I will definitely come again!" 
One youth leader sent this:
"Overall, all 8 kids that came really liked it and said they loved the speakers and learned a lot and wanted to bring others next year!  The girls said, "It was great to hear everyone's stories about making mistakes so that we know not to follow in that same path, but we really liked hearing Lisa talking about doing it the right way!" (Go Lisa!) They also LOVED hearing Adam talk about how he valued his wife so much before they were married and that is proof that she can trust him to value her and be faithful forever. Another quote they loved was from Jillian about, "You don't have to worry about attracting all the guys. You will attract the one that God has planned for you.'"

We couldn't have been more thankful for the day and pray that the effects of the day will be felt for years to come.

The following day we had the privilege of conducting a "renewal of vows" ceremony for a couple whose marriage was rocked by infidelity three years ago.  Through years of hard work and lots of God's grace, their marriage not only survived, but is thriving. It was a celebration we'll treasure remembering.  There were many poignant moments, but I'll never forget the look on the face of the 14-year-old son as his parents recommitted themselves to one another.  He later said, "I've been praying and waiting for this day for 3 years."  His radiant face said it all.  

The very full weekend was rounded out by some exploring Boston with daughter Lisa and her friend/mentee Jillian who flew up to help with "Worth It."  We had a blast walking the streets, taking in the sights, and consuming the delights of some great eateries.  A perfect end to a great weekend.

Lisa and Jillian and I delight in the Public Garden's blooming tulips. 

It was very nice to not board a plane this weekend—or to be waiting for errant luggage to be delivered. 

From Snow to Surf

We waited a long time for it, but winter finally made an appearance in New England the first weekend of March.  Barely.  It squeaked in just as Danny and Rayna Oertli were flying in from Denver, Colorado, to lead worship at our H.I.M. Marriage Getaway in Newport, Rhode Island, and the snow added a festive touch to their arrival.  Fortunately, it had no impact on our weekend conference, as the weather cleared out and warmed up by the time we launched on Friday, March 2.

New England made Danny and Rayna Oertli feel right at home with a small snowstorm to herald their arrival.

New England made Danny and Rayna Oertli feel right at home with a small snowstorm to herald their arrival.

We love this annual conference at the Viking Hotel in Newport.  The setting is spectacular, the hotel service is top-shelf, and there always seems to be a spirit of anticipation that God will meet us in a big way.  This year was no exception.  Eighty-five couples were warmly welcomed by our smiling registration team first, and then by beautifully set tables as they entered the ballroom.  Kelly Plosker gave the Macraes a break this year by taking over the decoration task and did a great job of setting the stage for a romantic getaway.  We feel so blessed to have such a capable team around us, who take care of everything from the book table to the printing and everything in between.

The tables were set and ready for the couples’ arrival Friday night.

The tables were set and ready for the couples’ arrival Friday night.

The room was full of couples seeking encouragement, renewal, relaxation, reconnection, and fun.

The room was full of couples seeking encouragement, renewal, relaxation, reconnection, and fun.

The H.I.M. Board once again insisted that Paul and I speak for this conference.  We resisted initially, but then submitted and considered it a great honor and privilege to speak to the hometown crowd.  It's always more challenging to prepare to speak at "home" to people who know us well and have heard us many, many times.  But God was with us and we felt met by Him.  We especially enjoyed developing a talk on “Friendship in Marriage,” which at first blush sounds unromantic.  But it's our growing conviction that maintaining friendship in marriage is a key to growing vitality and deepening love.  Many couples who come to us for counseling complain that though they're committed to staying together, they really don't like each other any more.  True friends don't say that about their relationship.  We had fun working with the concept.

Besides our four plenary sessions, we had some great workshops offered and inspiring worship led by the Oertlis.  We purposely leave Saturday afternoon free for couples to reconnect (which we feel is the greatest need for most couples on a getaway weekend), and the Lord provided bright sunny skies for those who ventured out.  From the things we could control to the things we couldn't, all went swimmingly and we were encouraged to hear many affirming comments on the weekend experience.  Here are a few of them:

"Thanks again to you and Paul for a great weekend.  One of the takeaways was that we really need to understand God's word as written in the Bible more and to live according to His word.  The weekend taught me that our 'instructions' on life according to God's plan are all there in the Bible."
"Thank you so much for putting together the weekend retreat.  We got so much out of it; it is hard to adequately describe the impact that it had on us.  Our marriage and our relationship with God is so much better for the time we spent in Newport.  The speakers, the workshops, the worship—all were incredible!  This was the first marriage retreat we have attended; you've set the bar awfully high!"
"Another wonderful weekend by Home Improvement Ministries. Thank you for investing in our lives and marriages. May God continue to bless your ministry." 
This photo partially represents the team who worked very hard to make this weekend happen.  We are so blessed!

This photo partially represents the team who worked very hard to make this weekend happen.  We are so blessed!

The H.I.M. Board met Monday night, the 5th of March, and discussed strategies for increasing the impact of HIM.  We continue to be so grateful for such a supportive group of men and women who invest greatly and sacrificially in this ministry. It is certainly an understatement that we couldn't do it without them.

After a couple of days of counseling, we packed our bags and flew to Detroit for several days of ministry with Ann Arbor Christian School.  Our longtime friends Wai and Elaine Wong (who lived in Boston previously and were very involved with us 2000-2005) arranged for us to come to serve their school community.  We had a blast!  They put together a very diverse schedule for us, starting with an early morning parenting seminar Friday.  The small crowd they expected multiplied and filled the library.  Perhaps word got out that Paul Friesen's "breakfast biscuits" (aka his chocolate chip cookies) would be served.  Whatever, it was a great start to a full couple of days.  Next on the schedule was speaking for the school-wide chapel, and Paul's cookies were served there as part of the devotional.  The Wong girls said that Uncle Paul was the best chapel speaker ever.  :)  Admittedly he had an unfair advantage with his world-famous cookies.  :)

Chapel was followed by a delightful lunch at our niece, Heidi Rottschafer Lemmerhirt's home, with her husband, Dave, and children, Daniel and Anna.  We loved being in their hospitable home and reconnecting with them.  Next was a meeting with one of the pastors from Heidi and Dave's church who is developing a family ministries emphasis.  Almost nothing gets our adrenaline going more than being part of a conversation focused on equipping and encouraging churches to address this "blind spot" in many of our churches today.   We had a great, stimulating time with Tom and Ruth Ann Robertson.

We closed out the day with an evening marriage seminar at the school.  The turn-out was great and our talks well-received.  We were especially thrilled to have Joe and Lynn Forrester in the audience.  They drove down from the Upper Peninsula (Cedarville) for the conference to put live faces with a relationship that began online just over a year ago.

The back story begins when an order for a case of

Letters to My Daughters

came in from Michigan.  Paul didn't recognize the name of the customer, so he sent an email asking who they were and why they wanted a case of books.  Joe wrote back:

Our organization typically does 50 gift bags for high school graduations.  A recent graduate recommended your book.  We obtained a copy. Read it and immediately decided we needed more copies. The book is so needed today and the way it was put together is outstanding.  Thank you for all your insights.  God bless you, Joe and Lynn

We couldn't wait to meet this couple!  Both retired from the U.S. Navy and are fully engaged in serving the next generation where they are.  They have already given out hundreds of copies of


and have a vision that every high school senior girl will get a copy of it in the years to come.  It was truly a highlight of our weekend to spend some time with them.  They’re Christ-followers, living missionally, and making a difference.  They are tilling the soil to have us come to their area to do a marriage/family conference in 2013.  What a privilege to partner with such "we're not gonna waste our life" folks.  They wrote us after the weekend:

It was a very special educational experience for us.  We certainly enjoyed meeting the Wongs and your niece and nephew.
We knew Virginia was going to be exceptional from her book.  What we did not know was what a great team the two of you make.
Lynn and I discussed so many new ideas on the way home that we almost reached overload.  The Lord knows our limits so we feel he will not give us anything we cannot handle.
We really liked the idea of putting together a series of seminars at Cedar Campus during the first week of June in 2013.  Now we have to work out the local details and then we will get back to you with specific proposals.
May God see you safely home,
Chapel at Ann Arbor Christian School.  We were so impressed with the well-behaved, attentive students, ranging in age from pre-K through 8th grade.

Chapel at Ann Arbor Christian School.  We were so impressed with the well-behaved, attentive students, ranging in age from pre-K through 8th grade.

Joe and Lynn Forrester drove over 7 hours to attend the seminars at AACS and we were delighted to put real faces to the names we'd been in contact with for over a year.

Joe and Lynn Forrester drove over 7 hours to attend the seminars at AACS and we were delighted to put real faces to the names we'd been in contact with for over a year.

And that was Friday!!

Saturday started early as we met with the Forresters before the morning seminar on parenting.  The whole morning went really well and we were truly honored to partner with the Wongs and their vision for their school community.  We also enjoyed connecting with Wayne Sit, the headmaster of the school for the past 2.5 years, and were happily surprised to know that we were familiar to him since Boston and Park Street Church were home to him prior to his move to Ann Arbor.  He was extremely supportive of our time there and sent us this kind note:

"Thank you for coming.  We felt so blessed and grateful for your guidance and leadership this weekend.  Many families at our school were thrilled with their time with you and Virginia."  A return trip is in the works.

The rest of our weekend was spent hanging with several dear friends, along with the Wongs.  The time passed too quickly and before we knew it, we were on a flight back to Boston, carrying with us many precious memories of a wonderful weekend.  It was especially encouraging to “do life” with the Wongs, who are deeply committed to honoring the Lord in their marriage and their family.  Their home was marked with Christlikeness and was refreshing to our souls.

Jessica, Leilani, and Jasmine show us a fort they built in their spacious back yard.

Jessica, Leilani, and Jasmine show us a fort they built in their spacious back yard.

I just love this photo of the Wong girls.  It prompts many memories of years gone by with our three.

I just love this photo of the Wong girls.  It prompts many memories of years gone by with our three.

At church Sunday morning, we stood in front of the photo of their newly "adopted through support" African child.

At church Sunday morning, we stood in front of the photo of their newly "adopted through support" African child.

Back home . . . briefly.  Counseling, unpacking, speaking at a moms’ group at Bethany Gospel Chapel in Swansea, repacking . . . and then off to California to speak at Journey of Faith Church in El Segundo.  This conference has been a long time coming, and we were so happy it came together.  Our very longtime friends Gene and Teri Engle hosted us in their always-open home that Friday night and we enjoyed the evening with their family.  The all-day Saturday marriage conference was held at the church, which was dry and warm while a ferocious rain storm swept through the area in the morning.  Those who planned the conference had the brilliant foresight to provide a counterpart children's program which enable many young families to benefit from the day.  We were especially touched by the entourage of Air Force couples who drove from Edwards AFB east of Lancaster to attend the conference.  It would be hard to find a more responsive and receptive audience than we did there.  Once again, we were aware that God was with us.  After each event, we thank Him for being the change agent in people's lives.  We're called to be faithful; He's in charge of changing lives.

The Engles and the Harts (David and Krista Engle Hart and Abigail) are dear friends and partners in ministry at CBS as well as at Journey of Faith.

The Engles and the Harts (David and Krista Engle Hart and Abigail) are dear friends and partners in ministry at CBS as well as at Journey of Faith.

Over 200 people came out on this rainy St. Patrick’s Day for the marriage conference at Journey of Faith.

Over 200 people came out on this rainy St. Patrick’s Day for the marriage conference at Journey of Faith.

We were thrilled to have five Air Force couples from Edwards AFB attend the conference.  Two of the women had been at the women's conference I spoke for last year in Oahu.

We were thrilled to have five Air Force couples from Edwards AFB attend the conference.  Two of the women had been at the women's conference I spoke for last year in Oahu.

Because of canceling our “Worth It” conference which had been scheduled for March 24, and because of our nephew’s wedding in California on March 31, we decided to stay west through his wedding and take a writing break.  We're both working on projects which have been all but neglected for too long and know that we need blocks of time in order to make progress.  So, after spending a couple of days with my folks in San Diego (a delight as always), we're hiding out in Camarillo in the home of some dear friends who currently reside outside of the U.S.  Our first few days here have been fraught with distractions, some of our own making, and others of satan's making.  We’re attributing some crazy problems with my computer to the latter.  Things are settling in now, though, and we’re beginning to make some progress.  Pray that these days will be productive and that we'll allow the Holy Spirit to direct our writing.

Before I sign off, let me briefly update you on the family:  Derek and Julie are happily settling in Mbale.  Though their first seven weeks have been buffeted by some trials, they're riding the waves together well.  They blog here

Julie's doing a great job of keeping us in the loop of their life in Africa.  Lisa spent an indulged week in Costa Rica with the JMU women's soccer team, which was a delightful break for her from her rigorous schedule as an athletic trainer.  And Gabe, Kari, and Brandon are in transition, having resigned from their work at "The House" Church.  They are seeking God for the next chapter of their life.

So we’ve left the not-too-wintery environs of New England for the beautiful coastline of California, and are soaking in the natural gifts of this area.  As much as we love snow, if push comes to shove, the surf is going to win . . . most every time.

It really was “Worth It”

What does finding a needle in a haystack look like these days?

How 'bout having two NFL players who, along with their wives, tell a crowd of 500 teens and their parents that they chose sexuality purity as the route to making the covenant commitment of marriage?

That packs a pretty big punch—which gets even bigger when both couples explain that their commitment was marathon in nature - not sprint-like.  David and Kassidy Thomas (former Patriot, now part of the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints) said that their courtship lasted six years—from their first date in high school to their marriage, which happened after they graduated from college—and that they strategically devised a plan that would help them honor this highly-valued commitment to sexual purity.  Six years!!  They were very practical as they explained their commitment to purity and the road they took to help them accomplish their goal.  They were truly inspiring!

David and Kassidy Thomas relate their story to a spellbound group.

But that wasn't the only needle!  Danny Woodhead (New England Patriots’ very popular and successful running back) and his wife Stacia also told their story, recounting eight years between their first date in high school to their post-college wedding.  They also successfully honored their commitment to sexual purity.  In a culture that has all but given up on the very archaic concept of marriage being the exclusive context for sexual activity, it was refreshing and hope-giving to hear these very cool young couples express why they had set that goal and how they accomplished it.  Both couples were convincing as they conveyed their belief that God's design really is good and that their decision for sexual purity was "worth it."

And those were only two of the stories of the day.  The maxed-out crowd which gathered at Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield heard from a variety of voices, including those who had not been as successful in making God-honoring choices in the area of sexual purity.  All offered hope, encouragement, and challenge to trust God in the area of relationships and to pay attention to His instructions so that He could give them the very best.  The message of grace and forgiveness was also abundantly clear and universal in application.

"Love the diverse panel of speakers and their different life experiences."  
"I appreciated the realness of the speaker.  Their transparency made a tough subject safe to talk about . . .”

We brought Danny Oertli in from Parker, Colorado, to "fill in the gaps" and he was perfect.  He began playing 15 minutes before the conference officially began, which drew the crowd into the sanctuary, and he played a various points throughout the day.  It was a great decision to have him on the team and we were so thankful for the effort he expended to come for less than 24 hours.

Danny Oertli, always a favorite, got the crowd worshiping together and beautifully filled in the gaps of the day.

Barbara Steele again masterfully published all of the printed material connected with "Worth It."  She is amazing!

Kirsten Watson, whose husband Benjamin is also a former Patriot (now playing for the Cleveland Browns) launched the day by powerfully speaking to the subject, "You are worth it!"  What establishes our worth?  The deep and sacrificial love of God, expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  His performance.  Not ours.  Each person, therefore, is worth being treated with honor, respect, and dignity in all areas of life . . . including our sexuality.  Kirsten was engaging and spot on and God used her to lay a great foundation for the day.  We desperately wanted those in attendance to understand that sexual purity is not about following a set of repressive rules, but about understanding the depth of God's love for us and responding to Him in obedience to His clear instructions. 

"Hearing that I am worth it made me aware that my family is worth fighting for.  Being there for them is worth it."  (parent)  

Kirsten Watson was our first plenary speaker and she did a great job of laying a foundation for the day as she spoke of the deep heart of love God the Father has for us, which establishes our being "worth" treated with honor and respect.
Paul, who did a phenomenal job emceeing the day, conducted five-minute interviews with those speakers who weren't doing a plenary session in between sessions and that was very effective.  His interview with our daughter Lisa was very powerful as she talked about some of the benefits of cooperating with God's plan for purity.  She related that the decision she and her college boyfriend made to have a non-physical relationship that lasted for almost two years prior to them moving on served them so well.  They had a blast while they dated—and no regrets when they stopped dating.

You could hear a pin drop in the room when she continued and said, "But the best part of it was when I met the woman he married several years later.  I could look her right in the eye and know that I had honored her in my relationship with the man who eventually became her husband, and that he had as well.  Though we didn't know her while we were dating, we had honored her."  What a great word.  It was very powerful.  It was also powerful to hear her say that though she never expected to be single at 28, and admittedly that was hard at times since she really does want to be married, her life is full and good and she feels deeply loved by God.  She said, "This I know: I would much rather have my very fulfilling life as a single woman than be married to the wrong person.  As of now, I haven't met the right person for me, so I'm content waiting."  What an important and profound word!

"Today showed me that God does care about my heart's desires."  (17-year-old female)

Lisa Friesen—a single, and an athletic trainer at James Madison University—spoke very important words about the goodness of God and His ways.
During the morning, workshops were offered covering a range of topics, and were led by our very qualified team.  Nate Parks, director of Camp Berea, led a workshop for the parents on understanding the culture in which they are raising their children.  Jess and Elizabeth Bousa, church planters from Grace de Havre, New Jersey, spoke on the perils of cyberspace, and Lisa Friesen spoke on establishing convictions now that will help you honor God in college.  Don Davis gave a word of hope as he spoke on freedom through forgiveness, and Kirsten Watson challenged teens to be prepared to stand up to the godless culture in very practical ways.  David and Kassidy Thomas spoke on why sticking to your commitment for purity is worth it, and Kate Wylie did a workshop on why it's important to not give up on God's design for marriage.  The broad spectrum of topics provided something for everyone.

Nate Parks spoke to the adults during the workshop block on the realities of today's culture.

God blessed us with a gorgeous spring day (not to be taken for granted in New England!) so lunch boxes became outdoor picnics for many.  Jim Martis (MJM Catering) once again did a masterful job with his capable team and over 500 were served efficiently and nutritiously in short order.

"Big Jim" Martis catered the day using lunch boxes, which worked beautifully for over 500 hungry conferees.

Some of his capable team included Lili Stobbe, Peter and Cassie Sammon, and Linda Tedford, who got the job done well and efficiently.

It was a perfect day for being outside . . . and the lunch boxes made it easy.

During lunch, many fans enjoyed being photographed with Danny Woodhead and the other NFL players in our midst, who also kindly autographed many folders.  Paul was a bit disappointed that no one asked for his autograph (or photograph, for that matter!)

The team really seemed to enjoy one another.  Here Kate Wylie, Thomas and Margaret Austin (Patriots’ practice squad), and Danny and Stacia Woodhead hang together.

After lunch, Kate Wylie, whose husband Paul was the silver medalist in men's figure skating in the 1992 Albertville Olympics, did our third plenary session.  In an extremely honest presentation, Kate talked about the "sliding scale" that is so often applied to God's standard for purity, and what it costs.  She talked about the hypocrisy of "technical virginity" which Christian singles often rationalize and settle for, and challenged the men to lead their relationship in a godly fashion.  She said that sadly, there was no difference in the way guys who called themselves Christians treated her compared to those who were outside the church.  Kate was very open in saying that part of the reason she was speaking at "Worth It" was because she felt no one had instructed her with clarity when she was a teenager regarding God's design for emotional and physical purity, and that the "just don't have baby-making sex" had not been enough to protect her from making regrettable decisions along the way.  Her talk was thought-provoking and poignant.  

Kate articulated why we do the "Worth It" conference for the family, rather than just for the teens, when she said that no one had instructed her on God's design for sexual purity. In our years of doing family ministries, we've seen what she's described far less in kids who have had parents who encouraged and instructed their teens in the area of sexual purity.   As a result, we've felt the need and the call to equip challenge parents along with their kids on the subject of purity for several reasons.  First, it's hard for parents to stay ahead of the curve in the ever-changing sexual landscape of our culture, so many erroneously believe that things aren't that different from when they were teen-agers, and second, most parents will default to passing on the same legacy of silence regarding sexuality they received from their parents.  The stakes are too high to not interrupt this pattern, so we're committed to making it a bit easier for parents by opening up discussion on these important topics.  Third, and most sobering, many parents have given in to the culture and given up believing and expecting that their teenagers could make God-honoring decisions regarding their sexuality in this "anything-goes" culture.  We want to refortify them as well as their kids.

"Almost speechless with praise and thanksgiving, I feel like my eyes were opened to see the ‘7,000 others who had not bowed the kneel to Baal.’ ” (a parent)

“I came here for my daughter, but am leaving excited for both of us."  (parent)

"Loved hearing these messages with my daughter.  I wish I had had an opportunity like this when I was a teen."  (parent)

Kate Wylie had everyone's attention as she talked about the perils of using a sliding scale when it comes to God's design for purity.

After peer group break-outs, during which time Paul and I spoke on parenting during the teen years, Don Davis, retired from the NFL in a Patriots’ uniform and now juggling a number of roles including itinerate speaker, PAO, and the PA of the NFL, wrapped up the day with a call to surrender.  Charismatic, dynamic, and gospel-centered, Don put it on the line.  He unloaded the "swag bag for Jesus" and talked about forgiveness, grace, and love.  Don's heart for the Lord was impossible to miss and when he challenged the crowd to say "yes" to Jesus, at least 40 stood to make a profession of faith.  It was a very sacred moment in the day.

"The best part of the day was when I accepted Christ."  (14-year-old female)

"God has been tugging on my arm for a few years to pull me back.  Today He gave me a yank.  Thank you so much."  (female)

Don Davis kept it going by giving a very powerful call to commitment during the last plenary session.  He had everyone's ear and God used him to reached many hearts.

But that wasn't all.  Paul interviewed Danny and Stacia Woodhead, whose story inspired all.  Their hearts for the Lord are so sincere and they faithfully honored each other throughout their 8-year courtship.  What a hope-giving model!  We were so thankful they were willing to come and be used so powerfully.

Paul interviews Danny and Stacia Woodhead as the "Worth It" conference drew to a close.

But that still wasn't all.  The whole team, including Brian and very pregnant Heather Dietz, gathered on the stage for the open question and answer time, and though we were unable to answer all the questions, quite a number were fielded.  That was followed by a time for commitment, and while Danny played his guitar in the background, Paul challenged the youth to consider committing themselves to purity, and confirming the commitment by signing a pledge card.  He encouraged them not to sign it if they weren't ready to do so.

"I made a commitment that sticking with my convictions is worth it."  (16-year-old male)

The teaching team listens as Kirsten Watson answers a question.

Paul throws in some thoughts on one of the questions.

As Danny plays, the conferees consider making a commitment to purity.

It was all over at 4 pm.  The place cleared out pretty quickly and the wonderful volunteers broke it down and cleaned it up.  Though tired by this point, everyone felt quite energized by what had happened that day.  It was clear that God had done a great work among us that would have deep impact beyond the day.  We all agreed that all of our efforts had been "worth it" and that by God's grace, all those there that day left knowing that God's heart for them is deep and His plans for them are good.

“This was such a great way to spend my Saturday.  I learned so much and gained so much strength that I'm certain I can make it.”  (17-year-old female)

“My 15-year-old went from being ‘sullen and not wanting to come, to being happy, apologetic, and saying 'Too bad more kids from our church arent here.’ ”

The remnant—after all the attendees were long gone, we caught this group for one final picture.  How blessed we are to be surrounded by them!

And, from a 13-year-old, "This day was totally awesome!  And tons of fun, too!"
We'll let her have the final word.