After a wonderful week with my mom, I returned to New England for the longest stretch so far in 2018. Home sweet home. I do love it when we land here.
The past few weeks have been a mix of new and old. How blessed we are to have both the traditions of “old” and the challenges of “new."
Returning to "High Rock Moms” for the second time this year on March 21, we appreciated the opportunity to connect with many familiar faces. We spoke on parenting and tried to encourage often battle-weary moms to keep pressing on. “The days are long but the years are short” as the saying goes, though since the understanding of that doesn’t seem to come until your kids are almost grown, it’s a bit of a hard sell to moms of young ones in the trenches. We welcomed the opportunity to give hope to this group of women, who are ably led by Michelle Swaim.
The next night, Thursday, March 22, we spoke on parenting again, but this time to the Lexington Christian Academy (LCA) parents’ group and the LCA Board . . . a new experience for us. Speaking to parents of teens twenty-four hours after speaking to parents of “littles” reminded us of the seasonal challenges unique to the journey of parenting. The physically exhausting “young" years give way to oft times emotionally exhausting adolescent years when the “getting it right” stakes seem to be much higher. A community dinner was shared by Board and parents alike, followed by a devotional suitable for both groups. We spoke about the unique privilege LCA has to not only provide excellent academics, but also a Christian worldview, and having two LCA alums in our family, we spoke very personally of our gratitude for the positive impact LCA had on our family. The Board adjourned to do their business, and we continued teaching gospel-centered parenting principles that we trust were very hope-giving. It was a great evening.
The next day, March 23, we drove to Providence, Rhode Island, to do a marriage conference for Christ Community Church. This was a new-to-us church, with no “known” connections, so we really didn’t know what we were walking in to. We were delightfully surprised to discover this very alive, gospel-centered church almost “in our backyard.” Pastor Rick Luz (Ann) and Associate Pastor David Mackall (Ali) have served this congregation together now for over ten years and have established a discipling community at the church. There were over 80 in attendance at the conference, held on the church property, and out of a congregation of just over 200, that’s an incredible showing. The diverse, multi-ethnic congregation was eager to focus on God’s design for marriage, which seemed to fit hand and glove with what they’re being taught the rest of the year. They were interactive, warm, and appreciative. We left the Friday night and all day Saturday conference energized and grateful to have partnered with such a thriving fellowship.
And then were were off. Maybe we haven’t been home as much as I thought. We made our last trip to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, to help relocate Derek and Julie (and Nathan and Rachel) to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where CURE Headquarters have moved. We made it down late Tuesday night and after several days of tying up loose ends and filling packing boxes, Saturday “Moving Day” arrived. Saturday and Sunday of Easter weekend, we “caravanned” with two U-Haul trucks (loaded with “stuff”) and a Denali (loaded with kids and moms) and safely pulled in to a hotel in GR late afternoon. Thankfully, Easter wasn’t entirely lost on us as the Bellig family (dear friends of the Johnsons who also work with CURE) kindly and generously had us to their home that evening for a lovely Easter dinner and fellowship with their beautiful family of seven.
Though many parts of the move didn’t go exactly as planned, including not being able to get them settled into the condo they had contracted for (which turned out to be not occupant-ready new construction), we were so very thankful to have had that transitional week with them. The mix of the old and the new. How we treasure any moments spent with our kids and grandkids, regardless of the circumstances.
Home we flew late on April 3rd for counseling and final prep for our annual “Worth It” family purity conference held Saturday, April 7.
In a culture that is increasingly confused about all things related to our sexuality, we believe this day is more valuable than ever. Our broad array of speakers (a college professor, two NFL players, a camp director, a worship leader, a couple of authors and speakers, and a full-time mom) delivered wisdom from many walks of life to the diverse audience of about 270. Nate Parks (director of Berea Christian Camp) kicked-off the day with a compelling message about the immense value of each person in the room, and he was followed by Paul interviewing Nate (and Lexi) Solder, a seven-year Patriots veteran. Having come to a saving knowledge of Christ in recent years, they articulated how their relationship with Him had changed “everything” including their views towards sexuality. They were very powerful.
Christopher and Dorothy Greco (worship leader and author) again presented on God’s design for our sexuality, challenging the prevailing distortion that our identity is determined by our sexuality rather than by Christ. They waded in to some of the most polarizing topics of our day related to same-sex attraction and gender identity, and as usual, handled them with wisdom and sensitivity.
Lisa Friesen, college professor at California Baptist University, was the lone single voice in our line-up, and spoke convincingly from her own life’s journey about the benefits of waiting for marriage to be sexually active. Her transparent, vulnerable narrative was hope-giving and affirming of her identity in Christ and her fulfillment found in Him. Kate Wylie, also always a favorite, spoke with raw honesty and passion about her journey and the cost of popularity when it requires “putting up” in order to keep a guy.
Benjamin Watson, a 14-year NFL veteran who recently signed with the Saints for his possible final year in the league, wrapped up the day with a strong call to trust God in all areas of life, but particularly with regard to relationship decisions. His life on and off the football field reflects his commitment to living fully for Christ and to leading his family (wife Kirsten and five beautiful children) towards Christlikeness. He delivered a powerful charge to trust Creator God for His design and for the strength to live it out, in spite of a world that long ago departed from that design.
We were especially grateful to have two longtime family camp families fly in from the west (one from California and one from Nevada) to attend the conference. We loved having them in our home the night before the conference for dinner and a rousing, multi-generational game of Catch Phrase. How we love these precious families!
And of course, having Lisa serve on the "Worth It” team again was such a joy. She brings health and heart wherever she is and she was just good for our souls, besides being a beautiful role model of a woman fully surrendered to Christ and trusting Him for the fulfillment of the desires of her heart.
The team who made it happen, led by Gabby Warren and Barbara Steele, were All-Stars and managed the logistical side of the conference with competence and excellence. Jim and Sue Martis did a great job with the food service, and Calvary Christian Church once again hosted us with cheerful hearts of service. We felt that God met us significantly throughout the conference.
In the words of some of the attendees:
All praise is His!!!
As soon as Worth It was wrapped up, we turned our attention to the next weekend which started with a Couples’ Date Night for the Armenian Churches of the greater Boston area. When Avedis and Arpi Boynerian contacted us back in September, requesting this new event, the only night we could offer them was the 13th of April, since we would be in town for the Saturday through Sunday Engagement Matters conference. They grabbed it and began praying that 40 couples would come to this “first of its kind” event.
Much to their delight, 65 couples chose to come to the beautiful evening held at a Natick hotel, including seven Armenian pastors (“Badvelis”). And even more to their delight, those who came loved the evening. They really leaned in to our talk on “differences in marriage” and how to bridge them. We were so very thankful that it all went so well, and along with the Boynerians, we hope it’s just the first of many.
Engagement Matters happened the next two days and as always, we love interacting with couples considering marriage during this decades old conference. This group in particular was very interactive and asked many important questions during the group times. That really reflected their level of engagement which was so encouraging to us. Once again, we had a California couple fly in for the event and that was a definite highlight for us. We’ll be marrying Seth and Dorothy in July in California and we loved having them with us for the weekend.
We were so grateful for Carl and Cathy Blatchley and Helen Challener providing the food service and clean-up, and for Rob and Gabby Warren who presented on finances, as well as Kelly Plosker who gave the “Top ten tips for marriage.” The Ploskers’ home was warm and welcoming as always.
And now we’re off for another new experience. A first for us, we’ll spend the next two weeks in Beirut, Lebanon, teaching 13 different times on marriage and relationships. We go with a mixture of excitement and wonder, and have moments of being daunted by the task ahead. Fortunately we have great confidence that God goes before us and that He will meet us, releasing His Holy Spirit to speak through us.
Thank you for your prayers, your support, your care. Whether you are old friends or new friends, we count ourselves blessed to have you in our lives.