To and from Ann Arbor with love

(Note:  this blog was started April 18th . . . and finished May 10.)

It actually felt great to board the flight to Detroit on Thursday, April 11, though weather delays out of Boston and again out of Chicago turned the 3.5 hour flight time into a 10-hour day, door-to-door.  No worries: delays in airports are seen as walking fields for me and as an office extension for Paul.  :)  "Latent Spring" continued in Ann Arbor under cloudy skies and rainy weather, and there were no signs of spring, except in the beautiful cut flowers from Costco which adorned the Wong home.

Wai and Elaine Wong and their daughters Jessica (14), Leilani (12), and Jasmine (9), are in a league of their own when it comes to hospitality.  All five of them go above and beyond in making us feel like they’re privileged to have us staying in their home.  Welcome signs.  Fresh cut flowers.  Delicious meals.  Engaging conversations.  Sensitivity to our needs.  We were sorry our schedule allowed us only 3 days with them!!

 Elaine and her sous chefs prepared fresh sushi for dinner and it was fabulous.

The Wongs and us at Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor.
As good as it was, it wasn't better than Elaine's home cooking.

Wai and Elaine made this weekend happen.  For the second year in a row, they brought us to Ann Arbor to speak to the community at Ann Arbor Christian School and beyond.  Friday night we spoke on parenting to a room full of parents eager for encouragement and support.  Dr. James Dobson got it right when he named one of his parenting books Parenting Isn't for Cowards.  We need all the support and encouragement we can get during the "in the trenches" season of raising up the next generation, and we were  thankful that many took advantage of this opportunity.

The audience at Ann Arbor Christian School listened attentively
as we taught on raising kids with convictions.

Saturday morning we spoke on marriage and a slightly smaller, but just as engaged, group showed up for the seminar.  One of our constant themes is that marriage and parenting are inextricably bound together and the reciprocal effect is that they'll both suffer or both thrive, but it's nigh impossible for one to thrive while the other suffers.  It's a sobering truth for those who have given everything they have to their children at the expense of their marriage, to hear that their children would fare better with less good parenting if it were replaced with a thriving marriage.  Though seemingly counter-intuitive, it is a truth agreed upon by both secular and Christian therapists.  Having a growing marriage and thriving kids is what we all want, but for most of us, we struggle for that to be a reality.

We were humbled to receive this from one of the attendees:

"It was truly a joy and a privilege to hear Paul and Virginia Friesen speak on marriage and parenting at AACS.   Delivering humble, honest teaching paired with story-telling that is at times both poignant and humorous, the Friesens bring a message of hope to families today, with Christ placed firmly at the center.  My husband and I walked away not only with the desire to grow in our marriage and parenting skills, but also with practical tips and tools for achieving our goals in these areas.  Relevant, inspiring, and challenging...exuding a love for God and for others...the Friesens are the real deal!" 

Besides speaking, we spent a chunk of time with our dear friend Doris, who is now a single mom raising her 3 little girls.  We have such deep hearts for Doris.  She is not just a survivor; she is determined to thrive and to create a home environment in which her daughters will also thrive.  We're always inspired by time with Doris and this was no exception.

We also had the joy of spending an afternoon with Paul's sister and brother-in-law, Ron and Joyce Rottschafer, who drove in from Pentwater, MI, and their daughter and her family, Dave and Heidi Lemmerhirt and Daniel and Anna.  Over a delicious homemade meal of hot soup and muffins (perfect for this semi-winter day), we caught up on each other's lives and celebrated all that is good in shared DNA.  

Ron and Joyce (Friesen) Rottschafer and Heidi (Rottschafer) Lemmerhirt with husband Dave and children Daniel and Anna hosted us for lunch after speaking.  Great time of catching up with family.

The rest of the time, we were the recipients of the Wong's love.  They spoiled us.  They pampered us.  They gave us the pure "no-strings-attached" form of love.

Even more than their many indulgences, we loved the most hanging out with all five of them at times and just the four adults at times.  We had great conversations about life.  We learned about robotics and the upcoming International competition their team has been invited to.  We talked about health.  Exercise.  Eating.  We talked about church, parenting, marriage.  We talked about what works and what doesn't.  

We talked about how much we need the encouragement of one another to keep on keeping on, especially in the marriage and family realm as destruction in these precious-to-God units increases around us.  It would be oh-so-easy to give up and give in to worldliness, to settling, to missing the mark.

Maybe we're most at risk of losing hope and of giving up.  Since brokenness is part of all of our existence, we're vulnerable to taking the path of least resistance.  It was good to reinforce our collective commitment to pressing on and to becoming more Christlike.

All too quickly, our time in Ann Arbor came to an end and we flew in to Boston in the wee hours of the morning of Patriots Day, now aka "Boston Marathon Bombing."  I reflected on that tragic day in my last post, and though I immediately started writing this blog, the pace of the past three weeks, combined with a myriad of computer challenges, conspired against me getting this done.

Though 3.5 weeks have passed since Patriots Day, the weight of what happened that day is still very evident.  Flags around Boston  are still flying at half-staff.  News reports alternately replay the past with new revelations as they unfold.   Boston Strong's commercial aired by Major League Baseball, featuring Neil Diamond singing "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway, as well as the iconic song being sung at other ballparks around the country symbolizing solidarity, plays several times during telecasts of Red Sox games.  Each showing causes a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  The make-shift memorial that grows daily in Copley Square, along with a  brightly be-ribboned fence along Boylston Street with each fabric tie carrying a message or a prayer handwritten by those united by common grief reminds us that healing takes a long time.

Scraps of fabric became messengers of prayers and expressions of grief,
tied to an iron fence along Boylston Street.

Symbols of grief, expressed tangibly in Copley Square,
remind us that we unite against some forms of evil.

Twelve hours separated us from the Wong's loving, selfless service and care and the selfish, cowardly, destructive act of violence against mankind at the marathon.  Degrees of difference.  Day and night.  Love and hate.  Life and death.

Though polarized in description, the truth is that these intermingle in all our hearts.  What happened at the Boston Marathon is a macrocosm of what happens in our homes.  We're convicted to keep pressing for selfless, in-the-light, life.  And to help others do the same.

Worlds Apart

The heavens declare the glory of God . . . whether we're at CBS, or Camp Berea, or Mbale, Uganda.  We send our greetings and love today from Uganda, where we have spent the past two weeks doing very much what we do in the States: speaking on marriage and counseling couples.  

We "hobbled" out of the USA on Monday, Aug. 20, after nine weeks straight of family camp, during which time we barely stopped to catch our breath.  This was a particularly full and exhausting summer—as I wrote in the last post—so by the time we boarded our flight out of Boston, we were anticipating with joy our 24 hours of travel to Entebbe!  Crazy, maybe, but two eight-hour-plus time periods in the air, with no interruptions, was just what we needed about that time.  We were most thankful for good, on-time flights, and for a safe arrival at the Entebbe airport late Tuesday night.  There's nothing quite so sweet as being greeted by eager children, full of smiles, and seemingly non-plussed by the 4-hour, rugged drive they had just made to pick us up.  It was a very happy reunion with Derek and Julie, whose faces we had only seen via Skype since early February.

We drove back to Mbale the next day, after a lovely night's rest and some errands around Kampala.  We made a quick stop in Ginja en route for a late lunch, and just around supper time, we arrived at their home.  This is our first return to Mbale since our visit in May of 2009 (when Derek and Julie were in the beginning of their courtship) and it was such a joy to settle into their home this time. 

We came fully loaded with "not available in Uganda" provisions for Julie and Derek.  What fun!

Our ministry opportunities began almost immediately, as Derek and Julie had their pastor and his wife, Wilberborce and Sarah Okumu, come for dinner Thursday night so we could discuss with them the ministry plans for their church that weekend.  Why Derek and Julie appreciate this couple so much became quickly apparent:  they are passionate people of God who serve their people with deep hearts and commitment.  Wilberforce was really excited about our proposal to teach his congregation about God's design for marriage as found in Genesis 2, the fall and curses in Genesis 3, and the "antidote" to the fall in Ephesians 5.  It was a new thought to him that God's spoken  curse to Eve, "Your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16) means that Eve would have a tendency to control, undermine, manipulate, and overrule her husband (her power corrupted), and that Adam's power would also be corrupted and expressed through dominance or passivity.   With this understanding of the Genesis 3:16 account of the curse, the instructions to husbands and wives found in Ephesians 5 "make sense" and far from being obsolete, irrelevant or oppressive, they address the sinful tendencies of men and women as a result of the fall and the curse.  Wilberforce was very eager for us to teach this to his people, which we did all day Saturday at a marriage seminar, and again on Sunday to a combined number of over 600 in two worship services.  What a privilege to be invited to speak into the lives of these precious people.

Here we are with Pastor Wilberforce and Sarah Okumu of Pearl Haven Christian Center, Derek and Julie's home church.

Our inadequacies have been very apparent to us, and we've been often plagued with concerns about the cultural gaps that exist between our world and theirs.  We have had many moments of self-doubt and questions about whether we really had anything to say.  After eight full days of ministry, we are sure we don't have anything to say apart from the truth of God's Word, and that we don't have anything to offer apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.

We were so aware of this as we taught at Pastor Wilberforce's church, Pearl Haven Christian Center.  The all-day Saturday conference was well attended and received, and we quickly adjusted to speaking through an interpreter.  We were struck with how very different, yet how very similar we are to these people.  In the words of Ron Hall and Denver Moore, "the same kind of different as me."  The struggles between husbands and wives are universal to a degree, with cultural adaptations.  Obviously there are many differences, but the core issues are very similar.  It's been incredibly encouraging to see the impact of truth on the universally-fallen nature of mankind.

Sunday evening we had the privilege of teaching just under 100 at their youth service on God's design for relationships.  As we've done many times in the States, we started by asking them what qualities or characteristics did they hope to find in a mate.  The list was remarkably similar to every list we've heard in the States!  As we taught on God's design for purity and for marriage, we again sensed a hunger for the truth, and yet much confusion related to the cultural mores here. Great questions followed the talk and we felt that some of the confusion was clarified. The longing for healthy, God-honoring relationships was palpable.  Some things are universal among the body of Christ.

At the end of the youth service, a few remained to stack the chairs.

Before the weekend, we spent Friday afternoon with Derek's Senior Management Team at CURE Pediatric Hospital.  This group of very talented, committed leaders of the hospital were delightful to hang out with. After a fabulous lunch of homemade pizza a la Derek and Julie,  we discussed group and team dynamics and what Christlikeness looks like in a hierarchical setting.  It was a productive afternoon.

The Senior Management Team of CURE Hospital:
Florence, (Julie), Miriam, Peter, Moses, (Paul), Moses, and Derek.

Fresh, homemade pizza, baked in Derek's outdoor pizza oven, was happily consumed by all.

Monday, Aug. 27, Paul spent the afternoon with 14 influential, evangelical pastors, hand-picked for this meeting to discuss marriage in Uganda.  Issues such as dowry, bride price, introductions (engagement), weddings, etc., were on the table with the hopes of aligning Ugandan Christian marriages with Biblical design.  The challenges are great:  dowry continues to perpetuate a "wife as property" sentiment, which sets her up to be abused and treated as inferior.  Weddings have become very costly, large events, which cause the couple to wait for years before actually marrying.  They do not, however, postpone co-habiting and having children as they wait for the wedding.  The evangelical pastors have a heart for the church to lead the way in bringing changes, consistent with God's design for marriage, and that was the subject of the afternoon meeting.  Paul took it all in until the end, when he was invited to speak, and he was so impressed with the hearts and thoughts of these men of God.  He considered it a great privilege to be a part of this pivotal meeting.

The next day, the pastors returned with their wives for an all-day seminar with us teaching on marriage.  Once again, we were honored to present Biblical design and to wrestle through difficult questions posed by the pastors.  We loved the spirit of the day.  Such sincere men and women of God who truly are troubled by the state of marriage in Uganda and are poised and ready to lead the way in making some much needed changes.  They were so excited about the day that several of them asked us to return as soon as possible so they could mobilize as many pastors as possible to be taught similarly.  

The pastors and their wives attended an all-day seminar on Christian marriage and ministry.
They were delightful!

The day closed with the singing of "I Surrender All" and it was very, very powerful.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we spent at the CURE Pediatric Hospital, of which our son-in-law Derek is the Executive Director.  Working together with his spiritual care director, Miriam Ongom,  we would be speaking three times each day, in one-hour time slots, to maximize attendance of the hospital staff.  The spiritual emphasis of the hospital this year is "Developing Healthy Relationships," and we were asked to speak on healthy marriages, families, and singles.  

Over the nine hours we had in the three days, we addressed Biblical design for all of these relationships, focusing especially on God's design for purity, for treating one another with Christlikeness, and His design for sexuality.  All the topics were revolutionary to the way life is done in Uganda, but especially radical was dealing openly with sexuality.  Ugandans do not talk about it at all.  Though sex and all things related to it are kept in complete secrecy, there is tremendous corruption, abuse, and confusion concerning all things sexual.  At Miriam's and Derek's suggestion, we waited until Friday to teach on sexuality, and by God's grace and a deep level of trust which had grown between us and the staff, there was an amazing level of openness to our teaching.  Though many submitted written questions, a handful even voiced questions aloud.  There was such an obvious hunger for truth about this "taboo" subject that is so dynamic and which impacts each person's life significantly.  

Our commitment was to teach Biblical design.  The last thing we wanted was to communicate western ideas about sexuality, marriage, etc.  Enough of those ideas have floated through cyberspace and other forms of media and have had a very corrupting and distorting affect on this culture.  For many of them, the concept of a mutually-satisfying marital sexual relationship was a brand new idea.  The truth that there was no place for beating a wife into submission went against common practice.  The belief that husband's headship meant servant leadership, not "I'm the boss so it's all about me" was hard to swallow (for the men, anyway!).  The culturally acceptable attitude towards women as inferior was turned upside down by the Biblical truth of equality.  

God met us in ways which far exceed any expectations we had.  He was so gracious to give us wisdom in the moment as we dealt with complex issues and questions, and to touch the hearts and ears of those listening.  Though exhausted by late Friday afternoon (we also counseled in between the 3 teaching sessions that day), we were thoroughly energized to have been part of something so potentially revolutionary.  

Whenever possible during the four full days we spent at the hospital for the seminars, Julie and I slipped into the ward to see the babies.  As difficult as it is to see babies struggling with such challenging medical conditions, it's so hope-giving to see how God is using this place to bring life and healing.  We're more and more impressed with what is happening here.  

Julie loves on a precious little girl who has had surgery and will soon be going home.

This precious child and his 17-year-old mama has very advanced hydrocephalus and has had a shunt surgically implanted.  The mamas who come here are the brave ones.  Many succumb to the cultural belief that a big-headed baby is cursed, and "accidentally" drop the baby in the river or get rid of them in other ways.  :(

This is Emma and his mama Janet.  We've fallen in love with this pair.  Emma is 11 and due to many complications, is non-mobile and deals with the ongoing effects of hydrocephalus.  Even so, he hardly complains and has the sweetest smile.  He also has a very devoted, sacrificial mama, who is widowed. 

This is a wonderful story of success.  This little girl has returned to the hospital for a follow-up visit and she is doing beautifully, thanks to the amazing grace of God and work of CURE.

We rested on the weekend.  :)  It's been wonderful to hang out with Derek and Julie, relaxing, enjoying playing games, eating fine meals, going to a local resort pool, and getting good sleep.  The first two days of this new week (and our last one in Uganda for awhile), Paul has been focused on writing a handbook to go along with our teaching last week, to leave these dear people with something tangible for reference as they continue to wrestle with these new ideas.  I've gone to the hospital for part of each day with Derek and Julie to check in on the babies.  

Our time is flying by, but we are grateful for every day we're here.  In one week, we'll return to a more familiar world—but one which is loved no more deeply than this one. 

It can't be May already . . . [Part 1]

Welcome to my “Gigi”’s delinquent blog.  I’m only part of the reason she’s so far behind . . . but I think I’m the favorite reason.  :) 

Though the calendar says it’s May 28, I’m having a very hard time believing it.  The past two months since my last post have all but evaporated.  As we return to Boston after spending Memorial Day weekend camping at Myles Standish State Forest with 100 family campers,  I'll begin reflecting on how God has met us. And to ensure that this is not an overwhelmingly long blog post, this will be “Part 1.”

My last blog was written from California, during a two-and-a-half-week west coast junket.  That time, which began with a meaningful marriage conference at The Journey Church in El Segundo, California, ended with the marriage of our nephew Mark Herbst and his bride, Angie.  What a wonderful celebration it was to join with most of the extended Friesen clan (including all of our immediate family except Derek and Julie) in honoring Mark and Angie's commitment to Christlikeness as singles and now as a married couple.  The setting, on the beach at Dana Point, was spectacularly beautiful, and Angie's grandfather was inspiring as he boomingly preached their wedding service with passion and conviction that would belie his 80-plus-year life.  It was truly a celebration of all that is good and we were thrilled and honored to be there.
Cousins . . . celebrating the wonderfully God-honoring marriage of Mark Herbst and his bride Angie.

Gabe and Brandon enjoyed the lively coastline during the ceremony.

Besides the wedding, the highlight for us was being with our kids and, of course, Brandon.  He is one very fun little guy and we're all kind of mesmerized as we watch his curiosity unfold in discovery.  He doesn't miss a thing, and in his own language, narrates life as he sees it.  We had a blast being together.

Back home Monday, April 2—briefly—before heading to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to spend Easter with Lisa.  We had been wanting to get down her way and this presented the best opportunity schedule-wise, so off we went on Good Friday.  We had a great time with her, just hanging.  A little shopping, a little yard sale-ing, a little running, a little entertaining.  A lot of talking and laughing.  Easter Sunday, full of sunshine, blue skies, and fragrant blossoms, was packed with joyful celebration, starting with our traditional breakfast of almond puff pastry fashioned in the shape of a cross and followed by gathering with the church.  Her church included the singing of many traditional Easter hymns, which connected us with memories spanning the decades.  We hosted dinner for a number of her FCA leadership team and over a delicious table, and enjoyed sharing family traditions celebrating this significant Holy Day and faith stories from each one's life.  The grand finale was an Easter egg hunt in her yard; we never really outgrow the delight of that childhood event!  Couldn't have been a better day, affirming the hope-giving resurrection of Christ!  We wrapped up that trip Monday, returning home that night with hearts full of gladness that we had gone.
Lisa and some of her FCA volunteers celebrate Easter together.
Engagement Matters was the main event of the next weekend, April 13-15, and we were thrilled to have a sold-out conference with 22 couples (six of whom came in from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California)!  The California couple stayed with us and we thoroughly enjoyed having Kevin and Rawni in our home.  Many conversations were had throughout the weekend regarding making “the second most important decision in life,” and we were impressed with the process these couples were engaged in to confirm God's best. 

Engagement Matters was packed and inspiring.

We love Engagement Matters weekends, and this one definitely will rank among one of the best ever.  So many thoughtful, engaging couples, striving to hear from the Lord regarding their potential marriages.  Great questions.  Great interaction.  Great "aha!" moments.  Our passion for this weekend grows, especially as the disillusionment with marriage increases.  Marriage really isn't the problem; selfishness and an increasingly skewed view of God's design for marriage are.

Taking advantage of being "in town" for EM, we spoke for a Friday Date Night at North Shore Community Baptist Church the 13th (always love partnering with them), had 3 of our EM couples for dinner Saturday night (great time!), and on Sunday evening met with a sweet high school group lead by Dan and Lois Frasier who have been using Paul's Discussion Guide for Letters to My Daughters over the past several months.  That was especially delightful as we interacted with them on the impact of Letters on the decisions they were making regarding relationships.  Though packed and at least somewhat exhausting, we valued every moment of the weekend.
Dan and Lois Frasier lead this group of teens through Letters to My Daughters using Paul's new discussion guide.
As tempting as it was to sleep in on Patriot's Day, the lure of the reenactment of the first battle of the Revolutionary War on the Lexington Green . . . and the promise of 60 degree temps at 5 am (the ungodly hour of this historical event) and the fact that we had two Californians staying with us, all combined to compel us to pile in the car at 4 am and be among the thousands to experience this unique event.  It had been several years since we had gone, and truth be told, it's one of our family traditions that our girls would just as soon have skipped (after the first time.)  None expressed regret that they were not with us this year.  Even so, we had a great time and memories were made.  :)

Kevin Munsey and his fiance Rawni flew out from California for Engagement Matters and we hosted them at our home.

We had the honor of speaking at the 1st Presbyterian Church of Ipswich the next weekend.  What a delightful group of people came out Friday night and Saturday to wrestle with "The Irony of Intimacy."  This church, which we attended from time to time when we lived on campus at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has a long history of faithfully preaching the gospel and it was a joy to reconnect with them.  

The weekend also was highlighted by reconnecting with some dear friends.  Helen Challener drove from Glenville, NY, to spend several days with us.  Time with Helen is beyond fun.  She makes us laugh like few others and that's just one of the gifts she brings.  Another dear friend, Dave Bullock, also drove in.  Not by car . . . but on his Harley, from Milwaukee!  It had been too long since we last saw Dave and his son Al, so it was a joy to go to church together and then catch up over a plate of fried clams in Essex.  Great weekend.
Just before heading to California on the 27th, we celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary.  That's starting to sound like a really long time, but in all honesty, it doesn't feel like a really long time.  We are blessed.
 Our engagement photo in March 1976.  :)

What's there not to celebrate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are very grateful for even five hours.

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

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

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

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.

From Tenting to Tea Partying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Life Lived for the Kingdom

Claude and Forestine, flanked by John and Marilyn Nugent and Paul and me at Claude’s 90th birthday celebration in September 2007

The phone call this morning was unexpected and brought us news that saddened our hearts. Claude Cole was on the other end of the line, 3,000 miles away, and in a broken, teary voice, he let us know that his beloved Forestine had entered eternity this morning. After sixty-four years of living together in the covenant of marriage, their ways have been parted by death.

Our emotions and thoughts are all over the place as we let this news sink into our souls. Claude and Forestine have been a very big part of our lives for fourteen years now, ever since we joined the staff at Grace Chapel in 1994. As regular attenders in our Home Improvement Sunday School class, we’ll never forget how often they’d come up after class and say, “What a great message! We wish we would’ve heard this years ago.”

As we grew in our knowledge of and love for them over the years, we discovered that what set them apart from most was their commitment to continued growth in Christ-likeness. Claude and Forestine, as old and wise as they were, never believed they had “arrived” or that they knew more than anyone else. They loved learning about God, and their relationship with Him was their life. Their lives reflect the words of the Psalmist in 92:14–15: “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming ‘The Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no wickedness in him.’”

The Coles were about bearing fruit. When many of the over-70 crowd were indulging themselves in the rewards of retirement, Claude and Forestine were investing themselves in Kingdom work. In 1997 we launched “The Gathering” at Grace Chapel, and they volunteered (along with their dear friends, Thora and Eliot Eames) to serve on the dinner team. Week by week, they faithfully showed up to serve: Forestine at the money till and Claude usually at the sink, washing dishes. That was only one of many ways their lives bore witness of their commitment to Christ.

But it was their dedication to one another that has touched us most deeply in these past years. With Forestine’s descent into the murky world of Alzheimer's, Claude has demonstrated steadfast commitment and service to his beloved. For a number of years now, he has managed life for both of them: cooking, cleaning, driving, etc. From time to time, Forestine would leave for a week or so to be cared for by one of their daughters. In a visit with him during one of her absences, Paul said, “I’ll bet it’s a relief to not have Forestine here this week, Claude. You get a much needed break.”

“Oh NO, Paul: I miss her SO much. I wish she were here,” Claude responded.

Claude and Forestine’s love for Jesus and love for each other have changed us. Their lives of faithfulness to Him and to each other have inspired us. We have lost something rarely seen in these times with Forestine’s death, but the impact of their lives together will be immortal because they invested themselves in that which will outlast their physical lives. “Oh joy!” as Forestine would say.

Paul Friesen will be returning to New England to officiate at Forestine’s funeral, which is this Friday, July 11, 11:00 am, Grace Chapel, Lexington, Massachusetts. Viewing hours are Thursday evening from 7-9:30 pm at the Douglass Funeral Home next door to Grace Chapel.

Family campers sing “We are somebody” during worship.

From the rocky shores of Campus by the Sea, and as Family Camp 3 begins, we send our love and greetings. Two full weeks of Family Camp are now history and the third camp is off to a great start. God is meeting us in such obvious ways.

I’ll confess that I had great concerns throughout the spring as we hired our staff team. Though very impressed with the caliber of applicants we received, most of them were young and would be rookies as staff (though the majority were veteran family campers.) We were especially concerned about lacking “ballast” staffers: those with experience, maturity, and leadership. We prayed, we recruited, we even lost a little sleep—and still, a month prior to the start of orientation, we were deficient.

As I reflect now on how I felt then, and how I feel now as we are experiencing an unusually mature, dedicated, here-for-the-right reasons staff team, I’m a bit embarrassed that I was so uptight . . . and probably untrusting that God would meet our needs. He has provided for us in some amazing ways. In the ninth hour, Paul and Stefanie Spangler (recruited by Kari and Gabe) agreed to come to lead worship, work with the high school program, and serve as RA’s in the staff housing. They’ve been such a gift, filling these critical needs incredibly well. Our daughter Lisa is coordinating the junior and senior high team and program and she’s golden as she brings years of experience to the table. Elsa Stanley is running our elementary program and is doing a wonderful job. The “young, rookie” staff has far exceeded our expectations and we are more than thankful. God is so good!!

CBS staff hike the shoreline into Avalon, enjoying the challenge and the exercise afforded by this team-building event.

We’re privileged to be here, serving in this set-apart place, experiencing God and seeing Him work in real ways. Though our days are people-intensive and full, it’s therapeutic in itself to experience the simple delights of being in this beautiful, car-less, “unplugged”, remote place. We’re loving building into families and marriages in this unique setting, where God manages to get a hold of hearts and minds in uncommon ways.