Though the song “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” is affirming the beauty of the Christmas season (and who would argue that?), I could easily build a case for an equally fitting song to be written about fall in New England. I quickly run out of expressive adjectives to describe the delights of this season during which beauty parades in different colors and presentations daily for about six weeks. We have been savoring each eyeful of gorgeousness in this land of deciduous trees whose greatest beauty comes through the transition from life to death. Interesting paradox.

We were treated to an early kaleidoscope of color the last weekend of September when we drove to Newport Center, Vermont, to present a marriage conference at the Newport Church of God. The home church of Paul and Lyss Gandy (our 2016 CBS musicians and high school family camp directors), they persuaded Pastor Larry Wall to invite us and we’re so glad they did. We had a great weekend with the Walls and their congregation, celebrating God’s design for marriage. We tagged a couple of days on to enjoy the beautiful area while staying in Lyss’s family’s cabin on Lake Memphremagog. It was a true gift of restoration and renewal to be there as we hiked, leaf peeped, and enjoyed some time with Lyss’s extended family. And it officially became an international trip when we had dinner in Canada.  :)

The conference was well received and we heard from many that God really met them during it.  As always, we pray for ongoing fruit.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church overlooks the lake.

Spectacular photo taken by Lyss Gandy.

Paul and Lyss emceed and led worship for the conference, and did both so well.

Here we are with the Gandys . . . always a good time.

Dinner out with Lyss’s local family, who were delightfully hospitable and welcoming.

Pastor Larry and Sally Wall: passionate for Christ and for transformation.  We enjoyed being guests in their home and sharing stories of hope.

On the drive down we found the colors to be distracting from keeping our eyes on the road.

Home October 4th, just in time for the Patriots’ women’s and couples’ studies, with some counseling packed in around them. We’re so thankful for robust groups in both of the studies, and we sense that God is doing a deeper work among us. Pray for those studies as you root for the Patriots.  :)

Columbus Day Weekend brought with it not just increased foliage color, but a sweet visit from Derek and Julie and their precious littles. Though the four-day stay included the stomach flu for Rachel, a bad head cold for Derek, and a very rainy Sunday (no complaints—just reporting), it was so good to be together. Those unplanned-for-elements insured that we had plenty of down time, which was a good thing for all involved. We did stroller walks to the park daily and played lots of indoor hide-and-seek, games, and read a plethora of books. Loved every moment.

Papa and his girl Rachel showcase their very blue eyes and beautiful smiles.

We did make it to a little farm stand, but as you can see from Rachel’s face, she was still under the stomach-flu weather.

We got the Johnsons off Tuesday afternoon (always sad) and spent Wednesday and Thursday as per usual: Patriots studies and counseling. There was a lot of laughter and many points of connection as we taught on temperaments at the couples’ study Thursday night. Great time.

Off to California first thing Friday morning for a full long weekend. Built around a wedding Paul was asked to officiate, the week had a little bit of everything. First stop:  Biola University, where we were honored to tape two podcasts for the Institute of Marriage and Relationships, which is directed by Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace. Alisa had written a blog on our book

Before You Save the Date: 21 Questions to Confirm your Decision to Marry

and asked us to follow up her blog with a couple of podcasts. Even though we had to slog through a delayed-from-Boston flight (after getting to the airport at the ungodly hour of 6 am . . . and then leaving 1.5 hrs late :(  ), waiting 30 minutes for our luggage at LAX, waiting another 30 minutes for the rental car van to pick us up . . . delaying our arrival to Biola by 1 hour 45 mins (and costing us lunch with the Graces), it was so worth it! We loved being with Chris and Alisa, whose hearts beat in sync with ours regarding family and marriage, and we are so excited about the Institute of Marriage and Relationships they are directing at Biola. The podcasts we recorded will be aired in the near future and we’ll keep you posted so you can tune in.

Speaking of Chris and Alisa Grace, they will be speaking at the annual H.I.M. Marriage Retreat, March 3-5, 2017, in Newport, Rhode Island. Registration has started and as has been true the past several years, it will likely sell out well in advance. Register now! This will make a great Christmas gift for your spouse, your married kids, your parents, and your friends.  

Friday evening, we spoke at The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills for their couples’ night. Jeff and Shauna Ochoa spearheaded this marriage shot-in-the-arm evening and provided a lovely date night for many couples. We’ve partnered with this church numerous times in the past and are so thankful for their commitment to healthy marriages.

Jeff and Shauna Ochoa planned the Couples Night Out for The Rock Community Church in Anaheim Hills, California.

The main event of this trip to California was Davey and Ruthanna’s wedding, officiated by Paul. Ruthanna grew up coming to family camp at CBS and she and Davey Ray met at CBS when they both served on staff. They attended our Engagement Matters Weekend last December and soon after they asked Paul to do their wedding. We accepted the honor with pleasure. The wedding on Sunday was a God-honoring celebration of a couple committed to living faithfully for Christ. Held in beautiful Highland Springs Resort in Cherry Valley, CA, under an 1100-year-old oak tree, the metaphors of legacy, of roots, and of strength were lost on no one. It was a thoughtful, meaningful wedding and we were so happy to be a part of it. It was also such a joy to be with Dave and Kim Noble and Isaac Rossitor again, all fellow past CBS staff, as well as with the Lee family, who have been family campers for over two decades.

We also managed to squeeze in a few hours visit with John and Grace Tebay, two of our longest and most beloved mentors. At 84 and 82, they are beyond remarkable and we hang on their every word and insight—and savor every moment. Their godly wisdom has been an invaluable resource to us since before we got married and we feel so blessed to have them in our lives. We closed out Saturday over dinner with two couples we’re mentoring, Brent and Melissa Slezak and Josh and Carley Gire, and left so inspired by their hearts and hopes.

John and Grace Tebay are in a league of their own and we’re so blessed to have them in our lives.

Davey Ray and Ruthanna’s wedding was beautiful and Christ-centered.

Such a fun reunion with Dave and Kim Noble (former CBS director) and Isaac Rossitor (former assistant head cook at CBS.)

One last thing before we returned to New England: a day at Disneyland with Brandon and Ana. Gifted by a dear friend employed by the Magic Kingdom, we made the most of this celebration in honor of Brandon’s 6th and Ana’s 3rd birthdays. 25,000 steps later (collected from 8:30 am to 8 pm), we left happily exhausted and full of memories we’ll keep savoring and replaying. Big moment of the day? Brandon’s inaugural ride on the Matterhorn. Pretty daring for a just-turned-6-year-old. Ana and Papa set a record for the most times on Ariel’s Grotto and King Arthur’s Carousel, though those numbers would’ve been shared with the Winnie-the-Pooh ride had it been open. I will never stop delighting in Disneyland, nor will I give up my dream to one day work there (though my aspiration to be Tinkerbelle and fly from the Matterhorn across the sky has been scratched off the list . . . for about 40 years now.) How grateful we are for generous friends who help make such memory-making days happen.

Disneyland was spectacularly dressed up for Halloween.

Brandon’s response just moments after his first ride on the Matterhorn. He was pretty happy that he conquered this very scary ride.

Back in New England, we’re joining the masses who are mesmerized by the glorious parade of fall colors which are truly breathtaking. No photos or words can capture the display, which unmistakably points to the glory of God. We’re savoring the days and thanking the Lord for His creative nurturing of our souls through such reflections of His majesty.

Don't miss the leaves...or Jesus...this fall

Fall is unmatched in beauty as seen in New England.  We poked around Stowe, Vermont, en route home from Montreal, and were treated to beautiful views and breathtaking colors.

The past month has evaporated, but not without leaving behind many wonderful moments experienced in California, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Montreal.  No wonder we find ourselves needing some refueling!

My days with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon all too quickly came to a close as I flew home Sept. 14th.  I will forever cherish the memories of those wonderful first days of his life and the gift of sharing once-in-a-lifetime moments with Gabe and Kari.  I’ve thought a lot about the joy of those days.  It’s been a really long time since I’ve been so completely and myopically focused on just one thing: in this case, the birth of our first grandchild.  I can’t remember a time when “nothing else mattered” — nothing was more important than enjoying him and serving them.  I wasn’t too busy, too tired, or too divided to do whatever needed to be done, be it making a meal, doing laundry, or rocking the baby.

God has spoken to me through the beginning of this new season of our lives.  He has gently reminded me that my relationship with Him warrants this same kind of devotion and focus.  He wants this same kind of priority placed on growing my relationship with Him.  He wants me to choose Him above the distractions of email, Facebook, running, etc.  I’m being re-calibrated, and it’s good.

Brandon continues to dominate our thoughts and hearts.  Here he is at 9 days old.  It was so hard to leave him on his 16th day of life.

Like mother, like son.  Those dimples…

So safe and secure in the loving arms of his parents . . .
Brandon has no cares in the world.

Finally, Auntie Lisa gets to hold Brandon, a few days shy of his three-week birthday.
Back in Boston Sept. 15th, I joined 9 Patriot’s wives at their request to lead the women’s Bible study this year.  Both honored and intimidated by the invitation, I’ve spent a lot of time praying about this unusual opportunity for months since being asked to do it.  We launched the Wednesday study on the 15th, using John Ortberg’s newest book The Me I Want to Be as a springboard for discussion.   I felt very met by God at that first study and am very hopeful that God will change all of us through our time together.

The next night we launched the Patriot couples’ Bible study and were delighted to have a good showing of mostly veteran players and wives.  We start with dinner, which provides fellowship time, and end with Bible study, which is very interactive and by God’s grace, disciple-making.  We can’t believe we’re in our eleventh season leading this study.  We are grateful each year for the privilege of serving in this way.

About 48 hours after landing in Boston, we were headed back to California.  On Saturday, September 17, Paul officiated at the wedding of lifelong friend, Calen Offield, and his bride Amber Clark.  Lisa, Calen, and his twin sister Kelsey grew up on Catalina Island together as best buds and have continued to remain close throughout the 27 years of their lives.  It was an honor to do this wedding for “chosen family” friends.  Calen and Amber have prepared well for their life together.  They attended Engagement Matters with us in January, and both are committed to having a long-lasting, God-honoring life together.  Paul did a great job on the wedding and many are still talking about how inspirational his message was as he spoke on God’s design for marriage.  We are so thankful!

Julie and Lisa flew in for Calen and Amber’s wedding, much to our delight!

Chase, Wendy, Amber, Calen, Packy, and Kelsey Offield celebrate the nuptials in the backyard of the Catalina home they grew up in.
Wedding festivities dominated Friday and Saturday and continued for us on Sunday and Monday as we enjoyed a variety of Island Company tours, including the new Eco-Zipline adventure.  What a blast that was!

Even at 60, he hasn’t lost his zip!

We also “shot” two rounds of 18 holes at the world famous Avalon miniature golf course.  We laughed and cheated our way through both rounds and decided we shouldn’t quit our day jobs to take up golf.

Before we set sail for the mainland, we spoke at a marriage event at the Avalon Community Church.  Organized by Paul’s sister, Carol, and her husband, Wayne, we were delighted to have a semi-full crowd in the sanctuary who seemed very interested in gaining some insights into God’s design for marriage.  What a great opportunity to impact a small community on an island that will always be very dear to our hearts.

Back to Boston late Tuesday night, Sept. 20th, in time to do the Pat’s wives study Wednesday, followed by hours of counseling.  Thursday started with counseling, and was followed by the couples’ study, with Big Jim Martis catering a great bbq dinner.   This is the 4th year Jim has cooked for the study and everyone always loves it when he comes.

Jim Martis stands with Matt Light, Steven Neal, and Don Hasselbeck as dinner is served.
Early Friday morning, we headed out again - this time by car!  We drove to Montreal, Canada, to speak at the second Evangelical Armenian Church Marriage Conference.  We spoke at the first such conference in September of 2008, held in Boston, and we were thrilled to have the opportunity to reconnect with this wonderful group of people again.  “Badveli” George Dabbos and his wife Priscille hosted the conference at their flourishing church, and couples from Toronto and Boston made their way to Montreal to take advantage of it.  It was such a blessing for us to be with them!  They were like sponges, eager to learn more about God’s design for marriage, and we were impressed at the end of every session that they asked great questions and didn’t really want to stop.  Our hearts grew deeper for them with each interaction.  We were also very impressed at their stamina: after a long day Saturday, topped off by a late night end to the banquet session, one of the older couples suggested that gelato would be a perfect nightcap.  We arrived at the adorable gelato shop after midnight!  I’m not sure what they were going on, but I can tell you that we were happily exhausted!

Paul preached on Sunday morning — in English, of course, through an automatic translation system.  We were quite impressed (to say the least) that most of the Armenians there speak four languages, and English, for most, is language #3 or 4.  Definitely puts mono-linguistic Americans to shame.  He was very well received, even when he said that it was more important that one marry a vital believer than that one marry an Armenian. :)  We felt so warmly received and were so well cared for.  Sunday night we had a lively evening with George and Priscille and Monday night with his associate, Raffi and Arpi and their adorable daughters.   We spent Monday touring downtown Montreal by foot before making the beautiful drive home on Tuesday.  It was a fruitful and delightful time.

We just received this email from the associate pastor of the Montreal church:

       The entire weekend was filled with a joyful godly presence as we dug out
       rich truths through your teachings.  All those who were present were
       enriched, even last minutes skeptical participants were so excited that they
       were rebuking those who did not make the effort to join us.

       Your deep and insightful teaching was beneficial for both our relationships
       and godly living. All our preparation and work behind organizing this event
       was outweighed by the blessings that followed.

       It was our joy to have you both with us and would ask that you consider
       calling on us on any occasion that brings you near our area. It would be our
       pleasure to be able to accommodate you and always look forward to your

All praise to Him!

Some of the couples who drove up from Boston for the conference.

Out for delicious Lebanese food with “Badveli” George and Priscille Dabbos.
The drive from Montreal to Boston was beautiful, in spite of it being overcast and rainy at times.  Fall has come early to Stowe, Vermont, so we took full advantage of it and spent a while meandering through the town and even making it up to the Von Trapp Family Lodge, which is one of my favorite places in Stowe.  It placed a large exclamation point on a really good weekend.

A very cute fall display on a sidewalk in Stowe.
Home late afternoon Tuesday, and I was off to the Patriots’ Women’s Study first thing Wednesday morning.  :)  There’s a little pattern going here.  After another great morning with the ladies, I’m feeling more relaxed and comfortable with God having me with them.  Back up to Bedford for counseling all afternoon and evening....and then more of the same Thurs.  Couples’ Study that night with a smaller turn-out, but a very worthwhile evening.

We didn’t drive out or fly out Friday a.m. :)

We did speak, however, locally, at the Mom to Mom group at the Trinitarian Church in Wayland.  Our talk on in-law relationships spawned so many questions that they ditched small groups and stayed as a large group while we fielded the questions.  We loved it!  Great morning.

Saturday and Sunday were Engagement Matters, and though the group was small (six couples), we’ve grown to expect this turnout for our fall session.  We thoroughly enjoyed each of the couples, and love the deeper interaction which is afforded by small numbers.  The Macraes graciously hosted the weekend and the response from the couples was really positive.  We continue to love this weekend.

I also spoke Saturday night at Grace Community Church’s Women’s Fall Kick-Off Dinner!  What a delight it was!  Women really do know how to create ambience and put together a lovely event.  Allison Nash, director of Women’s Ministries, and her team did a beautiful job on the whole evening, from a 5-star dinner prepared by their in-house chef, Toby, to special music by the Ross Sisters — the evening would’ve been fine without me.  :)  But, they had me speak anyway, and I felt that God did give me a message.  Armed with many insights gained from my Brandon moments, I spoke on how easy it is to miss Jesus due to our distractions, disappointments, and deceptions.  It was grace that I received much positive feedback afterwards.  Apparently I’m not the only one who struggles to stay focused on my priorities.  :)

After EM ended Sunday afternoon, I made my way over to Guy and Barbara Steele’s home to honor their future daughter-in-law, Stephanie Chin, with a bridal shower.  I had been very impressed with Stephanie when she and Matthew  attended EM over a year ago, but I was even more impressed with her when she made the decision to commit part of her bridal shower to assembling boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  What a great reflection of her heart!  And what a great way to assimilate 35 women, ranging in age from college students to those who had graduated from college about 4 decades ago.  :)  Everyone worked together, wrapping and filling boxes, producing 29 completed packages which will brighten the Christmas season for needy children around the world.  What a great idea!

The shower was lovely in every way.  Stephanie and Matthew did receive many lovely gifts, and the guests were feted to a delicious spread of “tea party” food provided by MJM Catering.

Stephanie and her mother May help assemble the boxes for OCC.
And, if that wasn’t enough, we had a H.I.M. Church Reps dinner that evening.  :)  We really do have to pack it in when we’re in town!  About 35 enthusiastic friends of H.I.M. came to the Macrae home for a fabulous dinner (incentive enough for most to come!) and exposure to the H.I.M. events in the upcoming year.  There was a great spirit and a strong commitment to spread the word so many can take advantage of the strategic events we host.

And then, we collapsed.  Happily — but definitely — out of steam.

Some of those who attended the Church Reps Dinner at Macraes.
And so we’re off and running, grateful for opportunities to influence lives for Christ.  Our prayer for you, as well as for ourselves, is that we won’t miss Jesus in the craziness of our over-committed lives.