parenting conference

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.

Two-fer home . . . repack . . . GO!

I’ve written this blog many times in my mind over the past month, and I’m confident that in the future, there will likely be technology that will take our thoughts and transcribe them.  (Hopefully, selectively!)  For now, though, lacking such a system, the pace of these weeks has precluded doing the “non-urgent” so I’m thankful that today as we fly to St. Louis, the time has come.  We’ve had a fall of “two-fers”: five days on the road, “two fer” Boston.  And those “two-fers” have been dedicated to our two Patriots studies and counseling, so that’s why it feels like we really haven’t been home much!  We haven’t!

Backing up to Nov. 17th, we had a great morning with the MOPS group at North Shore Community Baptist Church.  We love opportunities to speak into the lives of young moms.  So much encouragement is needed during that season of life—which is delightful—but also so demanding, challenging, and often times undervalued in our culture.

Early on Nov. 18th, we packed our passports and flew to Seattle, where we rented a car and drove to Vancouver, British Columbia.  We considered it an immense honor to partner with lead pastor Ken Shigematsu and his team at Tenth Church.  We had known Ken from our time at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary back in the early 90’s and respected him then as a true man of God with a heart to impact the world for Him.  We were delighted to reconnect with him last year as he wrote asking for input on a chapter he was writing on family.  He invited us to spend a weekend with his congregation and it was definitely one of the highlights of our year to do so.

After spending Friday evening in the Shigematsu’s home having dinner with his family, we knew it was going to be a great weekend.  His beautiful wife, Sakiko, and son, Joey, extended warm hospitality and we felt kindredly linked in short order.  It was a lovely launch to the weekend.

On Saturday, we presented a marriage seminar in the morning and a parenting seminar in the afternoon.  In between, we met with a team from the church to consult for them on family ministry within the church, and then spent that evening with a couple on their church lay leadership team, continuing the lunch conversation.  It was a full, productive day.

The seminars were very well attended, which took even the planners by surprise, and even delayed the beginning of the morning due to so many “walk-ins.” A nice problem, really.  The audience was engaged and thoughtful, and much to our surprise, had a rather large representation of single adults.  Tenth Church does have a large single population, but we didn’t necessarily expect them to come to these two seminars.  Happily, they did!  As we conversed with more than a few of them, they explained that they wanted to gather as much information as possible before they were married or parents.  Wise singles!

Sunday we preached four times at two different locations.  Tenth Church has exploded under Ken’s leadership, growing from 150 in 1996 to over 2,000 now.  Space is an issue and they’re creatively working to “expand their borders.”  Focusing again on family issues in our sermon, we were amazed at the number of moving conversations we had with many singles who are wrestling with developing Godly expectations for their future marriages and families.  Many of them bought copies of Letters to my Daughters and we were blessed beyond belief to have conversations with several on Sunday who had already read it, after picking it up on Saturday!  One young woman related to me through tears how deeply she had been impacted by the wisdom of Paul’s father’s heart.  “I didn’t receive that from my dad, and I was overwhelmed by the message and the heart behind it.  I feel so much better prepared to make a wise marriage decision now. I only wish I had read this book sooner; it probably would’ve saved me some heartache.”

Another beautiful young woman wrote:

I want to thank you full heartily again for giving me Paul’s book Letters to My Daughters.  I’ve been reading it every night since. It has brought me tears and joys. As I read on, I reflected on my own past, my own experiences wishing I’d read it earlier, and thanking the Lord for bring you and Paul into my life.

We had many great conversations with married couples as well, but I think we were both so impressed with the hunger and openness of the single population at Tenth.  What a great reflection of the heart of the ministry at that vital church.

After late night sushi following the evening service (which kept us connecting with the “we’re in no hurry to leave this place” crowd until after 10), we got some sleep and headed out early Monday morning for parts south.  We felt like we were leaving Vancouver way too quickly.  We were comforted that a return is in the offing when we received this kind email from Ken:

Thank you, Paul and Virginia.
It was such an enormous blessing to have you at Tenth!
You are declaring God’s wisdom about marriage and family in a way that is biblically faithful, wise, winsome, moving, and practical.
Perhaps most powerful of all you are living example of how a family can hike in a direction that’s different from the general culture and in so doing serve as a light on a hill.
I sense that God is truly honoured in your lives and ministry!
I don’t know if you recommend an ideal “wait time” ratio before you come back to a context, but if you are open to returning to Tenth we would love to have you again—and perhaps market it beyond just our local church.
With Gratitude,

Reconnecting with Ken Shigematsu, lead pastor of Tenth Church in Vancouver, British Columbia, we rediscovered how similarly our hearts beat regarding God’s design for  family and marriage.

It was a joy for me to spend time with my new friend Annie, and thanks to the internet, our friendship will continue.

There was a lot of interest in our books at Tenth and we’ve received some very encouraging feedback from this congregation.

Next stop: Seattle.  We managed to squeeze in brunch with Richard and Donna Dahlstrom, who are on our short list of favorite friends and ministry partners.  They inspire us!  So down to earth.  So real.  So missional.  Our time as a foursome passed all too quickly.  On to the church (Bethany Community Church, for which Richard serves as lead pastor) to spend the lunch hour with his staff talking about the virtues of family camp.  That was easy.  :)  Our passion for family camp runs deep for so many reasons, as we see it as one of the most effective venue for impacting families who make it a tradition.  I think we were convincing.

Continuing south, our next stop was San Diego, where we spent a couple of days with my parents and assorted other family members. I was genuinely pleased to be in town to take my mom to have cataract surgery that Tuesday morning. Thankfully, she came through with flying colors and can’t believe what she’s seeing again.  Good days with my side of the family before driving to the central valley to spend Thanksgiving with Paul’s side of the family in Pixley.

Besides my parents, it was great to visit with my sister Francene and her husband
(the taker of this photo) while in San Diego.

The farm in Pixley.  Legacy.  Roots.  Shaping.  Paul’s boyhood home, where his godly character was forged.  It was so good to be back at the farm.  Especially thrilling was introducing Gabe, Brandon, and Derek to Pixley; walking the cotton fields, playing the annual family football bowl; cracking walnuts gathered from the orchards; eating traditional dishes for the Thanksgiving feast; regaling tales of times gone by.  We had family meals and family devotions with extended family each night in the “great room” of the farm house, which is still occupied by Paul’s oldest sister Sandy and her husband Wayne.  Flashbacks of  35 years of history danced through my mind as we sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness” together, as we’ve done many times over time.  Four generations have been a part of my Pixley experience; five generations for Paul, whose grandmother and aunt lived with them when he was a young boy growing up in that house.

The greatest gift was gathering with three generations of Friesens, all of whom are committed to faithfully walking with the Lord.  It’s hard to express how significant it’s been for our own family to be journeying through life with those who not only share DNA, but who share spiritual convictions.  It’s been reinforcing for us to keep pressing on.  It’s filled in some gaps for our daughters, especially during the teen years, to have cousins who would stand with them, especially when they felt “alone” in their values and convictions.  Well beyond the tangible benefits of being on the farm were the intangibles, and we left refreshed and renewed after three wonderful days there.

But not home yet!  We headed north with Gabe, Kari, and Brandon, and spent a couple of days with them before flying home on Tuesday, Nov. 29th.

The extended Friesen family gathered for Thanksgiving at the family farm in Pixley, California.

All smile after the family friendly football bowl game was won, once again, by the “west.”

The days at the farm were full of discovery for Brandon, the city boy. 

Our gang enjoying a bonfire at cousin Randy and Rachael’s home in Strathmore (a suburb of Pixley!)

The girls, standing in front of an old oak tree with the cotton fields forming the backdrop.

Back to real life: the Patriots women’s study early the morning after we returned, counseling, the couples’ study, and . . .  what?  No trip to the airport Friday morning?

Breaking the pattern, we stayed home the first weekend of December.  Sort of.  We didn’t really stay home, we just didn’t actually fly anywhere.  :)  Friday night we spoke at Couples’ Date Night at the North Shore Community Baptist Church and had a lot of fun teaching on temperaments.  The beautifully-planned evening (thanks to the creative efforts of Ryan and Kelly Plosker and their great team) was a fitting launch to the holiday season, forcing a pause to prepare for the physical and emotional challenges of this great but sometimes hard month.  Always love being with this group.

At the end of the date night, some lingerers were willing to be “shot.”

The next night, we spoke on parenting at the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church.  Due to a scheduling error on our part, this group graciously flexed and changed their event to accommodate us, which made it difficult for some who had planned to come.  An enthusiastic group gathered nonetheless and we so enjoyed our time with them.

Wai-Chin and Fannie Ng (far right) planned this event and were wonderful hosts.

In between those two dates nights, we did an Engagement Matters seminar all day Saturday and Sunday.  :)  We have only ourselves to blame for the packed schedule, but besides being too tired to eat popcorn during the Patriots game Sunday late afternoon, we were none the worse for the wear.  The Engagement Matters weekend was one of the best we’ve had.  We loved the couples and had a lot of interaction with them since our EM partners (Doug and Julie Macrae) were out of town.  Fortunately, Ryan and Kelly Plosker were able to come up for an hour on Sunday to present a session dealing with great decisions to make early in marriage, and they knocked it out of the park.

One of the attendees wrote:

“The entire weekend was so amazing! My girlfriend and I are so very thankful to have gone and are excited about the future together. You and Mr. Friesen did just an amazing job and we are glad to have had such wise counsel.”

How we pray that God will use this weekend to prepare couples for a marriage which fulfills His design!

The Engagement Matters attendees were delightful, and sincere in their desire to make great decisions regarding marriage.

After another great Patriots win, the first week of December included an H.I.M. Board meeting in addition to the normal counseling and Patriots activities.  We are so very thankful for our board.  They are very smart and very dedicated to this ministry, and each of them sacrifices a lot to make this ministry happen.  We are blessed.

As the calendar days march on under the heading of “December,” I must admit that we’re still a bit back in November.  We have no Christmas decorations up yet . . . in fact, we have a few pumpkins hanging around our house, and harvest-scented candles still fill the holders.  It’s a really good thing that we’re not in charge of the world, or there’s a very strong possibility that Christmas would be celebrated sometime in late January or February!  Our pattern this fall of being home “fer two” days (and gone for five)—and those 48 hours being full of counseling and Patriots ministry—has caused many important things on the home front to be neglected.  We’ve truly loved everything we’ve done but are committed to reassessing how to schedule our lives with more wisdom.

For now, though, we have another plane to catch.  We’ve been home for 48 hours and it’s time to get moving . . .

Brandon is “soooo big” and at 15 months, continues to delight us with each new development.

Strutting his new Patriots duds given him by his aunties, he’s all about football.  Go Pats!!

Sacred Parenting

Gary Thomas speaks . . .
. . . and people listen.

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

With that, Gary Thomas opened dialogue with a room full of parents seeking Godly wisdom on parenting.  Returning to New England to speak for the second Home Improvement Ministries conference in 15 months, Gary imbued a cold, wintry Saturday with tremendous value as he taught on this critically important subject.

Gary is profound.  In the midst of a Christian culture wanting easy answers, formulas and quick fixes, Gary teaches from a completely different perspective. The tagline on his best selling book Sacred Parenting reads “How raising children shapes our souls” and that casts the trajectory of his insightful teaching. “One of the greatest gifts a parent can give children is personal holiness” is the distilled truth which ran throughout his three sessions.

“The question isn’t 'How can we make them behave?' but 'How should I behave so they'll want to behave well?'”  Again and again, Gary emphasized that God's design in parenting is not just about shaping the next generation, but about sanctifying parents.

Many parenting guides subscribe to the truth that parents who walk their talk are more believable and impacting and that you can't pass on what you don't have.  While Gary's teaching is not inconsistent with these truths, the outcomes are still measured by the next generation and as important as that is, it's still not the focus of sacred parenting. “Are we growing ourselves so our children will benefit?” he posited during the opening session.

That radically different approach is what makes Gary Thomas' teaching so life changing.  Following the conference, one parent wrote  in:

The H.I.M. parenting conference far exceeded our expectations! Gary Thomas exhorted us to “parent out of reverence for God” and to embrace every minute, because the time we have with our kids is short! He also encouraged us to give the best gifts we can to our kids and those are: parents who model a growing walk with Christ and parents who prioritize their marriage relationship. The workshops were also excellent, full of great practical advice and encouragement! This event was a huge boost for our family! Thank you for putting it on!
            —Sacred Parenting Conference 2011 Attendee

Besides three rich, deep, and challenging sessions with Gary, a wide spectrum of workshops were offered.  Workshops were presented by eight different teaching couples—including an NFL player, the founder and headmaster of a private school, a cardiologist, a family practice doctor married to a software engineer who homeschool their 4 children, a senior pastor with six adopted children, a junior high pastor, an executive pastor, and a licensed social worker.  The workshop topics included media, homeschooling, teenagers, teaching your kids about sex, passing on your faith, being godly parents when you had none, balancing life and parenting when both parents work, and getting it going in the right direction with young children.  It was a privilege for us to work with such a strong team of highly-credentialed and successful people whose highest commitment is sacred parenting.

The workshop leaders introduce their topics. Each workshop was offered twice and much positive feedback was received on the excellent job done by these highly qualified teachers.

Once again we were so grateful for a tremendously servant-hearted team who staffed the conference.  Sue Martis and Barbara Steele managed the event, from publicity to registrations to on-site execution, and Jim Martis of MJM Catering took care of the food.  They had a great group around them who sold books, arranged food, directed traffic, welcomed and registered attendees, and kept the day going.  The folks at Calvary Christian Church were stellar.  Partnering with them has been such a gift.  Their belief in what we do is greatly encouraging to us personally and offering their facility is a gift.

Part of Jim and Sue Martis' team who prepared lunch.

At day’s end, our only regret was that every seat at Calvary Christian Church wasn't filled.  For those who didn't make it a priority to be there, it was a lost opportunity.  For those who did, they left changed, charged, and blessed with renewed hope, passion, and vision for this very sacred journey of parenting.

At the end of the day, we paused to thank the Lord for His presence which filled every aspect of this conference and for this great group of volunteers and H.I.M. Board members who sacrificially served to make it happen.  We are blessed beyond words.

January has run out of days

As the snow falls steadily outside our warm house, adding another 20 or so inches on top of the 3' already on the ground, we are thrilled to be “figures in a snow globe” here rather than enjoying warm weather and just reading about yet another wintry blast hitting  New England.  It is true: we love snow—and hopefully have enough pleasure in it to counterbalance the unwelcome reception this snow is getting from the majority of people in these parts.  Not that we’re unsympathetic or unaware of the hardship this poses to many, but we can either be sad, mad, or glad about it and it won’t change the reality that we can’t control the weather!  That’s probably a good reminder to the many who pompously believe we are in charge!

Backing up a bit, I did miss the big storm of Jan 11–13 (but Paul didn’t! And yes, he’s done lots of hand shoveling!!) as I scooted out of town to surprise Lisa on her 28th birthday.  It was so much fun because it was a total surprise, thanks to one of Lisa’s housemates, Annie, who picked me up in Charlottesville and delivered me to their house literally 5 minutes before Lisa got home from work.  I actually almost gave her a heart attack when she walked in since I was lurking in the darkened hallway outside her bedroom, attempting to position myself in a place that would have made for a happy surprise rather than a terrifying moment of her thinking an intruder was hunched in front of her door.  She screamed, loud enough to waken the dead—or at least to make her upstairs housemates think  she was being attacked—and in the end, we all laughed ’til our sides ached and Lisa just kept repeating, “I can’t believe you’re here!”  Great (and slightly terrifying) memories.

I had the privilege of spending 2.5 days shadowing her world and I loved every minute of it.  I got to meet her athletes, her colleagues, hang with her housemates, watch her team play (and beat Drexel women in OT).  We got to do a bit of after Christmas shopping, ate some great meals, and did a few runs together (my half-marathon Feb. 27 is looming.)  We test-drove the car she was considering buying and we stayed up late every night, chatting with her housemates, on subjects trivial to life-changing.  It was wonderful in every way—and all too quickly was over.  

Lisa’s  birthday dinner of sushi at “Beyond,” a great restaurant in Harrisonburg.
Back to Boston I flew Friday night in time for Saturday’s all-day marriage conference at Community Chapel in Nashua, NH.  Pastored by Geoff DeFranca, this second annual conference is an expression of where his heart beats.  Geoff has a vision for building into marriages and families in his congregation, so the Saturday conference was flanked by sermons from the pulpit on the same subject.  We are growing to love this church and loved partnering with them for the second January in a row.

We went straight from Nashua to Boxborough, NH, for the sixth annual Mid-Winter Family Getaway.  Sixteen families chose to spend the Martin Luther King Jr. three-day weekend this way and none regretted doing so.  The weekend is low program and high family fun time in a pool-centered way.  Each morning and each night, families worshiped together led by Brian Dietz, and then had devotions together, led by Paul.  We love this weekend because it affords families the opportunity to do life together, from playing to praying.  It was really encouraging for us to see the older children (there were bonafide teenagers attending) playing with and mentoring the younger ones (all the way down to 2-year-olds.)  

The low point of the weekend for all was the Jets-Pats game Sunday afternoon.  What a time for the team to not show up.  It was really hard to see our guys not play their game, especially because it fed the verbal vitriol of the other team.  Tough loss.  But fortunately, in the scope of life, it’s just a game.  Really . . . it is.

The families at the Mid-Winter Getaway worship together under the direction of Brian Dietz.

Home for a couple of days, we counseled for a full day and caught up on life a bit.  We shared some great meals with our houseguests, Al and Bonnie Magill, whose treatments at Mass General were disrupted by equipment failure, extending their stay until the end of January.  

And then I left town again.  :)  Uncannily, I left just before another big storm hit—and I had to settle for reports from first-hand witnesses, which included Paul.  I joined our three daughters and Brandon in San Diego for a wedding prep weekend and we had a great and productive time.  Joined by our very dear friend Wendy Turney on Friday, we narrowed the search for the wedding dress to a few, and joined by another very dear Wendy (Offield) on Saturday, we made the purchase.  We also packed in a visit to the wedding venue, Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, where we were joined by several of the girls’ cousins, and we bought the bridesmaids’ dresses.  All the while, Brandon was proving his worthy appointment as the only male allowed on this girls-only soiree...He couldn’t have been easier.  And he was the only thing that rivaled the center-stage attention focused on the bride-to-be, who was more than happy to share the spotlight with him.

Brandon was happily allowed to crash the girls-only wedding shopping trip.

Three sisters and a baby—the smiles tell it all!

Our home base for this very special weekend was in San Diego at my parents’ new condo, so an added delight was having Brandon meet his maternal great-grandparents and several aunts, uncles, and cousins.  A Sunday afternoon gathering was hosted by my sister Lucy, providing a great place for mingling and eating.

Great Grandma Collins has a happy moment with Brandon, who thinks she’s very funny.

Getting ready to go to the airport, we pose for a rare photo of four generations.

I returned home late on Tuesday night, Jan. 25,and  we counseled all day Wednesday—and prepared for another storm.  As the snow fell,  we shared our last night with Al and Bonnie, as he had graduated from the treatment program that day.  We got them underway Thursday, the 27th around noon, sending them off with thanksgiving for a great almost three months together and trusting that the proton radiation treatment was effective.  We look forward to reconnecting with them in the months and years to come.
Al and Bonnie are packed and ready to return to upstate New York, where they’re supposed to have lots of snow!

Before we flew to Georgia on Friday, the 28th, we had the joy of meeting up with a very long time friend who serves as the assistant head coach for the FSU (Florida State University) women’s basketball team.  Cori Close grew up coming to Campus by the Sea with her family and has consistently and faithfully followed Christ throughout her life.  Still single (but very open to marriage!), she has been used by God to encourage and mentor countless women, on and off the basketball court.  Cori came to town with her team to take on the BC women, and we not only had a great visit with her before the game, but we got to see her in action as she helped coach her team to a win over the Eagles.  It was really fun to be there, and it’s always good to see the team you’re rooting for win,  but that was nothing compared to the joy of reconnecting with this quality, godly young woman.  It makes us smile to think of the fortunate girls who are being coached by her — for what it means for them as basketball players, and even more for what it means for their lives long beyond the court. 

We flew to Rome for the weekend.  Rome, Georgia, that is.  :)  Our second trip to those parts in four months, we returned to speak for a marriage conference hosted by First Presbyterian Church.  Their family pastor, Tommy Overton, graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary around 2000 and our connections were minimal then.  Over a year ago, our dear friends and ministry partners, Nate and Jeannie King, moved into the same neighborhood as the Overtons in Rome and eventually made the “we know the Friesens” connection.  That planted the seeds for our speaking at this conference.

We’ve just returned from that conference and we’re still a bit floaty.  It was just that kind of a weekend.  A sold-out crowd (with twice as many coupes as they had originally booked for), great response, great interaction, beautiful place, perfect weather, and significant “hand of God” insights/moments.  We really felt met by God.

The conference planning committee

Additionally, it was just a gift to hang out with Nate and Jeannie and their precious little crew of four.  We’re never far from remembering what a privilege it is to journey through life with families like these, whose lives are so focused on becoming all God wants them to be.  Nate and Jeannie are being used by God to make such a difference in their children’s school, several churches, and a few ministries, all with the purpose of strengthening marriages and families.  We’re loving seeing what God is doing in their lives!

After the conference ended, we visited the Butterfly Garden within Callaway Gardens (which is where the getaway was held) with Nate and Jeannie.
And now we’re home, shockingly for just over a week.  Our H.I.M.-sponsored parenting conference this weekend, featuring Gary Thomas, will keep us busy the balance of this week, and then we head back to California on February 10.  

On the family front, Kari and Gabe are experiencing the small scale trauma of Brandon’s first cold.  Fortunately, no one is worried that he’s at risk of “failing to thrive”—all 18-plus pounds of him!  He marked his five-month birthday on Saturday and is starting to sit up and to “talk”, sometimes at an irritating decibel level.  They’re loving being parents and are learning to juggle the family/work balance.

Lisa bought a car.  After much deliberation and a lot of research (aided by our dear, stewardship-driven friend Marilyn), she drove out of the lot last night in a new Hyundai Elantra.  She is beyond excited and thankful for this means of transportation and symbol of adulthood.  She hopes to be driving it 10 years from now.

And Julie is knocking out PT school.  Not that she’s counting, but only 42 days remain in this four-days-a-week trimester.  It’s the last highly academic (and intensely demanding) one of the course.  Derek and wedding plans are the other two time fillers in her life.  We are really proud of the perseverance she is demonstrating as she moves towards completing her doctor of physical therapy.

It’s been such a joy for me to be with all of the girls this month.  We just really like being together and those times are fewer and farther between.  We don’t take any of these moments for granted.
The final pictures need no explanation.  The first was taken on our back porch, which hasn’t been cleared of snow this month, so the 3-foot-deep untouched bank of snow was too tempting.  Someone had to do it—and in the absence of the three snow angels who grew up in this home, their father took the plunge.  There are some benefits to having this much snow.  :)