Warm Hearts, Cold Everything Else

I’m not off to a very good start in 2015 blog-wise. I’ve fallen way short of my newly set goal of posting weekly or at least bi-weekly. I guess I could blame it on the weather—that seems to be the catch-all for all that’s gone wrong so far this year. Alas, I’ll chalk my failure up to lack of priority and plan to improve in the weeks ahead.

Backing up to January, our Hawaiian refueling stop the first half of January well prepared us to embrace the frigid temps and warm hearts that greeted us at West Point January 16-17.  Tom and Cheri Austin, directors of Officers Christian Fellowship, rolled out the red carpet for us at the OCF bed and breakfast, and facilitated our speaking to faculty and staff on Christian parenting and marriage Friday night and Saturday.  I’ll never get used to seeing “Go Army - Beat Navy” signs everywhere, but that aside, our time was rich and rewarding.  A return trip is in the offing.

Tom and Cheri Austin, directors of OCF at West Point,
extended warm hospitality to us when we spoke at West Point.

Home for only 4 days, we managed to do a full day of counseling, consult with a group of leaders from Cambridge Christian Fellowship Church on family and marriage ministry, unpack and repack, and then we flew to California on January 22 to begin a two-week junket.  The first major blizzard to hit New England arrived two days after we left, and, though most people thought we’d be thrilled to have dodged that bullet, we sorta hated to miss the historic event.

But we didn’t hate walking on beautiful California beaches, and being committed to making the most of wherever we are, we took full advantage.

How we love walking on the beach … and Pismo is one of the best.

The weekend was spent in Arroyo Grande, where Grace Bible Church hosted a marriage conference Friday night and Saturday.  This was our third conference in four years with this great group of people and we enjoyed reconnecting with “old” faces as well as meeting many new faces.  It was a great time of ministry, evidenced by encouraging feedback.  Paul preached on Sunday to wrap up our time there and then off we sped to Santa Clarita to “do ministry” with our grandchildren, Brandon and Ana, while their parents went on a pastors’ retreat with their church staff.

Some wonderful friends who helped make the marriage conference happen
for Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, California.

What fun filled the next couple of days!  Grandparenting is much more FUN than parenting, honestly, because the only thing on our agenda was keeping everyone safe and satisfied.  That’s it!  So we played from morning ’til night.  Walks to the park.  Baseball in the backyard.  Visiting the fish pond at the outdoor mall, and getting mini-donuts at The Coffee Bean since we were there.  Riding the merry-go-round.  Eating at Chick-Fil-A.  Picking and eating grapefruit from the tree in the backyard.  Building things with Legos.  Cooking in the play kitchen.  Wrestling with Papa.  Reading books. Baking scones and cookies.  Building memories.  Gabe and Kari had a fantastic getaway and we had a 48 hours of joyful bonding.  Everyone wins.

Papa, Brandon, and Ana having fun at the park.

Brandon and Ana helping Gigi bake scones.

Sibling love.

Nathan, who clearly isn’t in New England, says “I really like chocolate syrup!”
As we’ve hit records with cold and snow, our children in Africa
have been sweltering during dry season with high temps and no rain.  

Back up to the Gold Coast of California Wednesday to speak at Grace Church of San Luis Obispo that evening.  Tim Thuele (lead pastor) and Ken Peet (family pastor) put together a teens and parents evening, focusing on relationships.  It was a first for them, and they hoped to have 75-100 out for the event. Everyone—including the dinner prep team—was shocked when over 200 showed up!  We spoke to the parents for the first hour, who were most receptive to some tips on navigating the tricky waters of preparing their teens to make God-honoring choices regarding relationships—and then the teens returned and the conversation continued.  Great energy, great attentiveness, great night.  Great thanks.

Ken Peet welcomes the crowd at Grace Church who
came out for the parents/teens talk on relationships.

Next stop, Sacramento!  We welcome any opportunity to return to Sacramento and were honored to accept Bayside Midtown’s invitation to spend the weekend with them.  But first, we had lunch with some of our dearest friends and partners in ministry, Ray and Carol Johnston.  Not only did we have a great catch-up time over lunch, but Paul came away transformed fashionably through the efforts of Ray, Carol, Christy, and Leslie.  Since Paul has lost 35 lbs. in an attempt to get healthy, the Johnstons took one look at his over-sized jeans and deemed them “unfit.”  Thus began a crash course in “jean”-ology.  An hour spent in Nordstroms did the trick and Paul is now stylin’ in a way he’s never styled before.  Let’s just say that the cost of the jeans will definitely motivate him to keep the weight off.  :)

Ray, Carol, Christy, and Leslie Johnston give Paul a lesson about buying jeans.

The male models . . .

The Bayside Midtown conference Saturday was energizing.  We love to speak to audiences that speak back.  Interaction is good.  A great crowd showed up, representing ages and stages across the board. A mid-afternoon lunch with lead pastor Bob and Letty Balian and others was full of reflection of how God met us at the conference.  We taught at the church services on Sunday morning—Super Bowl Sunday, that is.  

Bob and Letty Balian lead the ministry at Bayside Midtown and are dear friends.

We managed to stay very focused at church, but as soon as we hit the road in Sacramento our focus switched to making it (faster than humanly possible) to San Francisco to watch the Super Bowl.  Unfortunately, it seemed that the Super Bowl wasn’t a priority for far too many California drivers who were clogging  the freeway between Sacramento and SF, so we laboriously and frustratedly navigated the traffic and arrived to our chosen destination as the first quarter was ending.  If you’re gonna miss a quarter, best it be the first and not the last (especially of this game, as it turned out). We thoroughly enjoyed watching the game with fellow Pats’ fans and dear friends John and Marilyn Nugent, especially after Malcolm Butler made his game-saving interception in the end zone.  Unforgettable in such a happy way, driving out the unforgettable memories of the last two Super Bowl heartbreaks.  

Red-eying it to Charlotte, North Carolina, after the game, we were behind mics just after noon on Monday, Feb. 2,  at Covenant Day School, speaking to the whole senior class on making God-honoring choices in relationships and sexuality.  We were pleasantly surprised by their attentiveness, interaction, and thoughtful responses expressed directly to us.  That was the first of four days of us addressing each high school class and right down to the freshman class the final day, all were delightful.  It was a bonus to have some time with the Head of School Mark Davis, who formerly served as headmaster of Lexington Christian Academy. 

Hosted by Dan and Susan Yardley, we also spoke to a Couples’ Date Night while in Charlotte.  In a beautiful ballroom setting, the Yardleys served a wide spread of homemade desserts and we presented on marriage.  It was a lovely evening with a delightful group of couples.

Dan and Susan Yardley hosted the lovely couples’ dessert night in Charlotte.

In between the five speaking engagements, we hung out with the Yardleys, had lunch with Paul and Kate Wylie, and ate dinner with Thomas and Margaret Austin.  Great times.  Canceled and delayed flights cost us some sleep on our return to Boston late Thursday night, the 5th, but we made it in the wee hours of the 6th, little worse for the wear.

That weekend was dominated by performing the wedding of Matthew and Shahrzad Slater.  Such a privilege to celebrate the sacrament of marriage for these two who are sold out to Christ and whose walk matches their talk. Their desire for a God-honoring, gospel-centered ceremony was fulfilled at the church and a joyous celebration followed at a downtown Boston hotel.  

With this crazy record-setting winter that Boston is experiencing, it’s surprising that our first event cancellation happened Feb. 8, as the third storm in as many weekends invaded the area, dumping 16” of snow over a period of 36 hours.  We were really happy to not miss this great storm that left everything blanketed with beautiful, crystalline snow.  We were sorry that the couples’ date night in Newburyport had to be postponed to April, but that’s how the snow falls.

Valentines Day was celebrated at the Black Rock Retreat Center in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, speaking for Summit View Church’s first marriage conference.  We were most impressed with this group who pulled off the retreat after their former pastor, who had booked us, resigned in the fall.  Rather than cancel, they carried on and we were all glad they did.  It was a very successful weekend.  On the way out of town, we “broke bread” with Bill and JoAnn Shore, one of our treasured mentoring couples who set the bar high for being “salt of the earth.”

Part of the Summit View Church retreat attendees at Black Rock Retreat Center.

While in Pennsylvania, another storm brought yet another foot of snow to our area, and we were anticipating arriving home to a driveway full of snow—not a great thought, since our arrival was to be around 9 pm.  Imagine how loved and relieved we felt when we drove home to a driveway that had been completely and meticulously cleared.  An angel in the form of Tommy Devlin had spent hours insuring that we’d be able to park in our driveway painlessly.  What a sacrificial gift of love! Blessed beyond.

This past weekend we drove south again, this time to Havre De Grace, Maryland, where we spoke for the second annual Restore Church marriage conference. That three-year-old church plant is exploding with growth! They hold services at 4 campuses and have just purchased 26 acres of property to build a central campus.  Jess and Elizabeth Bousa are providing great leadership and vision for this church which offers the hope of Jesus to the broken and hurting. We love partnering with these guys. A major snowstorm (there is a theme!) arrived midway through the Saturday conference, but we pressed on to finish and then struggled to make it back to the hotel. Two of the four church services were canceled due to the 8” of white stuff, but by the time we drove out Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining and the snow was melting.  There was no appreciable snow in Boston this weekend, but frigid temps did welcome us home late that night. It was -13 degrees on Monday morning.  Our 4’ stand of snow is going nowhere at this point.

Jess and Elizabeth Bousa work tirelessly to serve the growing needs of their church plant, Restore.

Paul preaching at Restore Church … in his new, cool jeans.

In between the many schedules to keep, important life happens.  We bring meals to our neighbor whose husband is dying. We grieve with the Hayner family when Steve breathes his last on earth Jan. 30.  We eagerly await the next post of Kara Tippett’s blog Mundane Faithfulness and continue to pray for God to miraculously spare her life.  We pray for health to return to grandbabies fighting viruses.  We listen to UCLA women’s basketball games long past our bedtime.  We visit friends in hospitals.  We sled down snow-packed hills.  We get our 10,000 steps in the mall because of dangerous cold outside.  We prepare for upcoming events, including our family trip to Uganda mid-March.  We enjoy being snowbound and make a bit more progress purging our excess.  

So we’re off and running in this new year and if the start is any indication, we’ll be running (sledding?) to keep up.

Sacred Marriage

And so it began, in February 2009, when Julie followed the call of God to Mbale, Uganda, to volunteer as a physical therapy aide at the CURE International hospital.  The last thing Julie expected was to find a husband during this five month, pre-physical therapy school missions experience, but this past Sunday, August 21, Derek and Julie wed in a garden wedding in Santa Clarita, California.

There is only one plausible explanation for the unfolding of this beautiful story, and that is the hand of God.  Nothing short of that could've caused the paths of these two to have intersected in this rural village in central Africa.

As we prepared for the wedding (in between running 8 weeks of family camps), I reflected on the 2.5 year journey that brought them to the place of entering a sacred marriage.

This is the first photo Julie sent us of Derek and we were touched by his tenderness with this precious child.

Then the emails came.  I've included some excerpts to give insight into how things progressed.
Feb. 4, 2009: I got here and met Derek... He took about 2 hours touring me around, introducing me to people and just talking.  He is a great guy and it should be a fun time working along side of him.
Feb 6, 2009: dinner with Derek was great.  He took me to an indian resturaunt, we were the only two and we got to sit outside cuz the power has been out for 5 days... ouch:) We saw a beautiful lightning storm and had great food.  He is a very nice man. I think he is older (late 30's) but very nice.  No romantic attraction at all which is great.  I think he will take care of me... he has a lot going on and is a guy so i have done alot of asking for things, but he is very gracious when he does.  
March 8, 2009: I just got back from dinner with Derek and Brent and it was a blast.  Derek is so funny and great to be around. I look forward to you meeting him. 
April 10, 2009:   Last night Derek, Silvio (plastic surgeon from NYC) and I went to dinner at this restaurant called Dwat which is a place you can eat on the roof.  The moon was full and rose over Winale as we sat there... I thought, and talked, about all of our fun full moon traditions.  It made me miss you guys so much and camp! It was a spell binding and breathtaking sight and time.  I am pretty sure Derek is not the one for me, which is a bummer because we are having some great times together! After dinner, we came back here and Derek just stayed chatting for 2 more hours.  It is so relaxed and easy and there is so much to talk about. I am so blessed to have him here.  This time would be dramatically different without him.  
(On Julie's 24 birthday, April 19, Derek asked Julie is he could date her.  She said a conditional yes!) 
April 20, 2009:  Thank you for your prayers for Derek and me.  I need them for sure.  You know how my mind works, runs and overthinks sometimes.  I am honestly humbled by this guy.  I feel like he gets me well and has fallen in love with who Jesus has made me to be, the heart He has given me, the personality He has given me, etc.  I still have my eyes wide open to red flags, am trying to listen and hear them as much as I can and yet trying not to let my fears of our age difference, etc.  block me from receiving what God is offering for this time for me.  I am taking it one day at a time, one interaction at a time, praying for wisdom and insight only Christ can truly offer.

April 21, 2009:   Thanks for your prayers. Derek continues to treat me far better than I deserve.  I feel blessed by God through him and his words of encouragement.  I do not feel blinded, just blessed and at peace for this season. I love you! Miss you! 
May 2, 2009:   I feel like with ALL integrity, I can tell you that I really do like Derek, but I am not sold nor am I thinking “he is the one.”
The rest of the day was wonderful, he is just easy to be with, I did not get sick of him once and we just had fun laughing, talking and walking.  I feel so safe with him in all senses of the word.  I just feel like it is a gift, no matter how long or short lived it is.  In many ways, I feel that God is showing me His love for me and the caliber of guy that is out there and that He desires for me. 
May 28, 2009 (Derek) I truly enjoyed our time together in Uganda. Although I wish it would have not be as brief, no amount of time would have been adequate. I have the utmost respect and admiration for you and Paul... for many reasons, but mostly for bringing up wonderful daughters (I've now experienced two Friesen girls... the third is surely in the same vein). I'm also really thankful for your insight, support and prayers for myself and my relationship with Julie. More than anything, both of us simply want to be in His will and living-working for His purposes alone. In emotionally charged situations, like new relationships, wisdom from Godly, trusted people makes all the difference. So thank you for giving so much of your bandwidth to my part in this, as well as Julie's. Julie and I have the vision that this relationship is His doing, but keeping it open enough for Him to come in and work it out. Thank you for sharing in that vision. I'm hopeful we'll visit face-to-face again on your side (Boston) soon.  
May 28, 2009:  (Julie)  He is amazing and such an incredible gift to me.  I continue to like him more every day and am just humbled by the way the Lord loves me through Derek. It is so true that when I leave interacting with him I feel so much more in love with Jesus than I was even before that interaction. I know it is still so early and there are a lot of things that loom ahead on the horizon, but mom, I never thought I would really feel this way or even be treated this well.  I know it is what God calls for relationships, but I am almost brought to tears so many times as I just feel cherished. Just as I am.  That by no means states that he does not challenge me or spurs me on, but he does not care about who I am going to be.  He cares for me, the girl God has created.
It is humbling, it is amazing. I love being with him… So pray, Mom.  I want more than ever to hear words of wisdom, warning, and advice and I don’t want to walk into this blind. 

The rest, as they say, is history.  Julie returned to the states late July 2009 and started physical therapy school that September.  She and Derek carried on a long-distance relationship for the next two years, and now, by God’s grace, they'll have a side-by-side relationship for the rest of their days.

“We're MARRIED!!!!”

After years of praying for God to bring into her life a “man of standing,” we were filled with awe during their ceremony at the faithfulness of God in orchestrating the circumstances of their lives to bring them to this point.  And the wedding celebrated all that is good.  Two, surrendered to Christ, passionate for His purposes, and passionate for one another.  Surrounded by two families, committed to Christ, to marriage (Derek’s parents are celebrating their 40th anniversary on the central coast as I write, and we just passed our 35th in April), to family, to serving, to missions.  Supported by a “cloud of witnesses,” including people from around the world who traveled to Santa Clarita to join the celebration, and whose influence on Julie and Derek's life is treasured by them.  Set in a gorgeous garden amphitheater, made to look like a tended secret garden by the incredible floral design talents of our dear friend Wendy Turney and her sidekick Sharon, with perfect weather and a cloudless blue sky.

Their wedding was both sacred and joyous.  Dr. David Hegg, long time friend and mentor to Julie and Derek (and senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church where the wedding was held), set the stage for a God-honoring ceremony with his opening comments and prayer.  He handed the ceremony off to Paul after Paul handed Derek off to Julie, and there weren’t many dry eyes as Paul delivered a very inspired and personal charge to them.  Danny and Rayna Oertli wrote and sang the song “Welcome Home” for them, and Uncle David and Aunt Laura read scripture.  The two sets of parents served them communion.  Pastor John Tebay, who co-officiated our wedding (and whose wife Grace played the piano for the service) ended the ceremony with a prayer of blessing on the couple.  It was exactly what they wanted.

Paul gives them a final charge before pronouncing them husband and wife.

The reception was on site and all enjoyed some yummy food, a bit of dancing, and a few toasts with Martinellis.  All too fast, 9 pm arrived, and Derek and Julie were on their way.

We are filled with gratitude and are overwhelmed by God’s goodness in all of this.  We’ll continue ruminating on it in the weeks ahead, savoring God’s grace and generosity to us.  And to them.

Toasting Martinellis as the sun sets on their first day as husband and wife.

The newly expanded Friesen family.

I couldn’t really leave this photo out.