Summer Roadtrip: Boston

Catching a glimpse of NYC as we crossed the George Washington Bridge.

Visiting Boston was especially exciting because none of us had been there before.  We had met two couples from Boston at a church planter’s retreat a year ago who had invited us to come visit their community.

This year we’re going to use Story of the World as part of our history curriculum.  I bought the audio version to take with us on our trip, and saved it for a surprise for this next segment of our trip.  It helped the hours pass by much more quickly. Right as we were passing NYC, the narrator described how Broadway got it’s name, then we heard about Boston’s history as we got close to the city.  I couldn’t have possibly coordinated the details so well if I had tried.

A) An airplane landing over the interstate B) George Washington Bridge in NYC C) reading lots during the long hours of sitting D) I enjoyed seeing the change in structures as we drove further north E) Boston made a fantastic first impression F) A passenger window shot as we first got into the city

Medford, our destination, is suburb located on the north side of Boston.  Boston is packed with history–a homeschooler’s delight. Jingle Bells was written here (see the plaque below), and it’s so easy to imagine a winter sleigh ride on these streets. 15 July-6774

It’s also the location of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride. A hitching post where he  tethered his horse is preserved here. 15 July-6780

This area is really lovely with a lot of homes built in the late 1800’s.  The group we were visiting lives in intentional community–sharing often in daily life. Three of the families live in two houses on one property. One home is a two-story house big enough for one family to live upstairs while the downstairs is home for another family and includes a large room used for church services. Several other families live close by.

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They really enjoy living in close proximity because they can easily share meals, spend evenings together, and gather for prayer as needs come up. They all homeschool, but they also have the advantage of a co-op of sorts just outside their door. It is not communal living, though. Each family has their own space and functions as a separate unit. However, they are close enough to support each other in so many ways throughout the week.

After we had eaten dinner and taken a short walking tour of Medford our first evening, several families from church gathered on the patio area to talk and eat dessert together. Gatherings like this might happen as often as several times a week for them.  The church families often invite other people they’ve been connecting with throughout the week through work, classes, or in conversation to join them for an evening of fellowship.

In his book King Jesus Claims His Church, Finny Kuruvilla, one of the group’s leaders describes his beliefs on what it means to follow Christ and build His church. Through living together and spending hours in conversation, the group is still working out what kingdom living will look like for them.

The group at Followers of the Way is very warm and welcoming.  We felt a camaraderie among them that easily resembled a large family, and they invited us and other visitors into their circle individually and as a group.

It was a privilege to be a part of these discussions and to learn more of what it looks like to live in close community.  Both Saturday and Sunday evenings a group of us stayed up past midnight engaged in deep conversation. This might have been difficult for families of young children in some places, but here it was easy to get the children to bed then step back into the group.

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A few things we found insightful:

:: Living in community creates an easy gathering into which the church can invite people they meet throughout the week. In urban settings where people do not visit in homes as freely, joining in with a group that has a large family atmosphere will probably feel less intimidating.

:: Living in community requires sacrificial living. I think this may be part of the purpose–the peeling back layers of self and living for the cause of Christ and for our brothers and sisters. Homes become less  our space and more a space where people outside our family are always welcomed into. Each of the three families on the property had at least one single person staying with them and shared their space for large group discussions and/or meals at least once in the two days we were there. Having this many people in their homes was not just a busy weekend for them, but typical life. [For those of you unfamiliar with this culture, it is very common in Anabaptist  groups to host people in our homes for meals or for the night-whether we are friends, acquaintances, or friends of friends.]

:: The group here has an acutely clear vision. Seeing them process and work out their vision in person confirmed the importance of clearly established goals in church planting.

There’s so much more, so if you want to hear more call Steve or I or we would be happy to talk about it more in person. :)

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While we valued community before our visit, we noticed benefits of community that we hadn’t seen before. Living in a community that is this close in a physical sense of living right next to each other and doing daily life together might not be our goal. Still, Steve and I really value learning from other people and we learn a lot by listening to a wide range of ideas.

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A few street scenes, a handsome little man who was behind on sleep and tired of all the traveling, North Church and a statue of Paul Revere

Sunday morning our hosts kindly took us on a tour of Boston–doubly nice because we got to see so much more than we would have if we would have tried to find all these places on our own.

Boston wowed me. We were on a quick walking tour trying to cover as much as we could in just a few hours, but it was the kind of place that made you want to be still and take in all the colors and lines, the movement, the people. We’d walk past places with signs indicating they were the first meeting house or the oldest church in Boston or America.

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Watching a live jellyfish
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Christopher Columbus
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A street musician; beautiful architecture
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The church is the site of the Boston Massacre. I didn’t remember what happened at the Boston Massacre, but thankfully I have an eight year old son to fill in the pieces I was missing. I’ll ask him again tomorrow, because I’ve already forgotten the details again. I try to keep plenty of brain space available to absorb all the beauty around me.:)
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Yes, this is THE park where the duck family of Make Way for Ducklings lived. You have read Make Way for Ducklings, right? It is such a wonderful children’s storybook. We got to ride the swanboats–powered by someone peddling the boat from behind the swan. At this point I was starting to battle city envy.

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After this we headed back home where the church family was gathering for their weekly church. The ladies take turns preparing a meal for the church. It was a laid back, outdoor affair with lots of time for conversation.  The children played nearby on a small playground then gathered into the middle of the group when it was time for communion. Afterward everyone headed up to the meeting room for the main church service. There were lots of visitors to make a total of about fifty people.

Afterward there was another gathering on the patio. The women had all brought food for an evening meal, so again there was food and more discussions that stretched long into the night. That might sound boring here, but really the time flew by because the conversations were really good. The boys had such a good time playing for hours with their new friends. It was so nice to see them run and play and not need to worry about safety. Parenting felt pretty easy in general because the boys were so happily occupied the whole weekend. It gave me a lot of time to sit with other ladies which was nice.


I’d had a birthday on Sunday, so on our way out of the city Monday morning Steve drove back to a really charming street we’d seen the day before just so I could buy a treat. I LoVe trying new foods. If it had been feasible, I would have loved for us to eat traditional, local foods in all of the places we visited. We really were there to focus on spending time with people and ate our meals in their homes, so we didn’t get to try much local flavor.  To meander into an Italian pastry shop for an iced coffee and a freshly-filled cannoli was a perfect present. Oh, my.

Next up: NYC!

If you missed them, here are the earlier travel entries
Part 1: Virginia
Part 2: Philadelphia


Summer Roadtrip: Philadelphia

If you missed it~
Roadtrip Part 1: Virginia

After a relaxing day with family in Virginia, we were off on our big adventure. The boys were set with a new load of books from Grandpa and Grammie’s bookshelves.   Steve’s playlist kept us tapping our toes and singing along.

We traveled through several cities this day.  I was all, “Look! Boys! Do you see…”

They’d glance up from their books and nod disinterestedly. Skyscrapers are old hat to them now, I guess. Alrighty then.

A friend heard we were in Virginia and told us to stop by a local doughnut shop to buy doughnuts for our family on her tab. 4 of 5 of us may have broken our diet rules, but it was worth it  for the sweet flavor and connection with an old friend!


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In the months before our trip we studied the history of the city and especially the Liberty Bell. Finally the day came when we were standing in front of this memorial from the past. The boys had a hard time believing that this was really and truly “the real thing.”  Of course being young, they didn’t fully grasp how cool it was to be there. Zac was looking at this picture after we got home and asked, “Do you know what I was thinking here? I was just wishing I could get back to my reading.” :)

Driving into Philadelphia from the South gave us a great view of their fantastic skyline.  The city–its art, it’s buildings, it’s atmosphere–is so classy and beautiful. The architecture definitely has more of an European influence than Atlanta’s buildings.  I also really liked the city’s focus on international peace.15 July-6746

                   Our family spent the first couple hours in Philly                              touring the historic area.

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Then we were off to our real destination–Duane and Lucy’s house! Duane and Steve have been friends since way back when, and we got to know Lucy when she and Duane were dating. We always have great discussions when we’re together. They moved into the city several years before we moved to Atlanta and they care a lot about supporting and building their community. They have good input on urban living and on living well.

This was a special visit, too, since it was the first time we met their beautiful children Anya and Felix.

15 July-6709Friesen_Family-6200The next morning I photographed a documentary style session of Duane and Lucy and their family playing at the park [see it here]. We ended at a coffee shop where Steve and the boys met us for the rest of the day.

We meandered over the Ben Franklin Bridge on foot. The children were fascinated by the duck boats launching into the harbor below, and we adults got to talk some–not always easy with five children. :)


After a relaxing afternoon, we took a picnic to a quiet park where the kids had space to splash around in water. Again I noticed the history in the details of this place.  Even around a wading pool for children you could find statues of historical figures.  Duane also drove through downtown on our way back to their house to let us see a little more of their city.  It really was a place for happy sighs.


On our way out the next morning we ate brunch together at one of their coffee shops full of local flavor–a really nice way to end our time together.15 July-6715

Next up: Boston

Summer Roadtrip: Virginia

About a year ago we met a few families who were starting an church plant in Boston who invited us to come visit them.  At the time I thought it sounded really fun, but also thought, “Fat chance of us ever traveling all the way to Boston when we’re lucky to visit family once a year.”

Steve felt it would be very helpful to visit the church in Boston since they are living in intentional community–a concept we find fascinating. And what do you know, less than a year later we were headed out on one fantastic roadtrip. 

Boston was our main destination which we combined with a trip to visit my family. We’ve also been wanting to visit our friends in Philadelphia, and when our route took us right past NYC, well, of course we planned to spend a day there, too. It was all we could do to keep from stopping in DC and Baltimore, but you can’t go everywhere you would like in just two weeks. Our itinerary was a little tight already. In addition to these stops we also went [backyard] camping with my family in Maryland and spent a few days in the country with friends from Pennsylvania.

We are used to taking long trips with our family, but we’ve never taken a trip with seven overnight stops in 15 days or packed for city living, swimming, and camping in one trip.  Our diets are a little complicated since one person avoids dairy, another dairy and eggs, another yeast, eggs, some dairy, citrus, and more; and another person was on a grain + sugar free diet.


For the most part I was all, “Hum-dee-dum, oh, it will be okay.” Then the week before we left it all felt huge and I was wondering how in the world I would pack everything we needed, but not overpack and drive us crazy, and get all the just-in-case food ready to take with us.

For packing I like to lay out clothes in outfits and choose fewer pieces that can be mixed and matched in many combinations as much as possible. I took a little more than I thought we needed in the event that washing laundry would be inconvenient, and we still managed to keep our luggage fairly minimal.
I took too much entertainment for the boys. Zac picked out his books (see above: he might be on school break, but he always loves learning). No matter how far we travel, it seems mostly we only need books. Some other entertainment is helpful, but the boys really like reading and drawing and reading and drawing. Any other toys last for such a short time be fore they tire of them.

The first segment of our trip was nine hours to Virginia.

Thirty minutes before we left, Steve was vacuuming the living room (Yes, he’s awesome like that) and the lights would suddenly shine three times their normal strength for a minute, dim, then intensify again.  When he unplugged the vacuum cleaner smoke poured out of the outlet. I unplugged the washer and driver to save electricity while we were gone and smoke came out of those outlets, too.

Steve flipped off the breakers for that circuit, and we left the house feeling just a little nervous.  I kept giving our house back to God, but also wishing I would have taken my hard drives holding our pictures on the trip! Well, thankfully our house was still standing when we got back home which was no small relief.

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That wasn’t the only way we saw God protecting us. Steve felt our SUV would feel pretty cramped for all the traveling, and the mission very kindly let us use one of their vans. When we first started out I snapped a picture of the boys in the backseat.  I hadn’t really noticed the van being shaky before, but with my phone it was impossible to get a picture that wasn’t blurry.

The shaking became so significant that Steve took it to a mechanic the next morning thinking the tiresmay be out of balance.  There was a problem with one tire in particular–itwas worn down to threads. The mechanic said it should absolutely not be driven anywhere, and we were lucky it didn’t blow on our trip.  Thankfully, the rest of the trip went smoothly after getting the tired fixed.

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We arrived at my sister’s house in the dreamy evening hours. Even though I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley countryside, I’m surprised every time we visit by the beauty and tranquility.

The children had such a fun time playing together, and Kelvin grilled steaks for us. My sister Beth always plans menus that she knows would be special for us. We had both just read French Kids Eat Everything, and felt rather French with our late evening, whole foods dinner.

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We spent one relaxing day in Virginia. Steve stained my parents’ swing set, Mom and I drank coffee and talked, Beth and I ate lunch together, the boys had a great time playing with their cousins. In the evening Steve and my dad took the boys up on the mountain, then we ate a seafood dinner on my parents deck.  It was all so nice. IMG_3495 15 July-6027-2 IMG_3491-2

Next up in this very detailed trip diary, is: Philadelphia!

Learning to See God’s Goodness in Pain

Life is a mixture of joy and sorrow. Sometimes they come at different times but so often we aren’t given the space to feel first one than the other–we’re grieving loss and enjoying beauty all at once.  We’re rich; we’re impoverished.

I’ve felt this intertwining of deep emotions so much the last few years.  There have been so many answered prayers, so many touches from God, so many times when His provision became unmistakable.  We’ve also lived with financial insecurity like never before, wrestled the demons of distrust and depression and faced significant health problems. That is only a part of all that was hard, and there were days I didn’t know if I could keep living–or if I wanted to.

These trials have the power to crush and break us. They could turn us into dark, bitter people who grumble constantly about life.  They can also push us in the most healing, redemptive ways when God’s grace is poured over the shattering of our hearts–when we recognize His goodness even in the middle of pain.

I have been broken. My world has been turned upside down. My life has been shattered in the past few years.15 June-4792-2

Yet, in a period of darkness, God has ministered to me in ways I can’t even describe with words. It is only His grace that gave me enough courage to keep walking because everything inside of me was done.

Little by little I’ve been learning that God is a safe place to run to. Of course I’ve been taught this my whole life. I’ve known that He is good. But learning to KNOW this truth from deep inside my heart has given me a deep peace to hold me during the hard times we face.

In our time here in Atlanta  I’ve felt a desperate need to lean on Him like never before.  It is because of this that I see God’s goodness in the pain.  I look back and can list one thing after another that has made life so hard, but because of the incredible grace of God I could can see the beauty in those trials.

What has surprised me most is the way phrases I’ve heard so often [and passed off as somewhat cliche] turned into keen reality. Statements like,

We feel your prayers.

God is providing for us.

We appreciate your support.

He is enough.

I knew they were true, but I’ve never before felt them so clearly.  Now instead of seeming glib or cliché they seem like a pathetic effort in expressing immense gratitude. Sometimes there simply are not enough words to describe the depths of our feelings.  I find myself saying these phrases to people and wonder if they could have any idea how much I mean those words.

I want to tell you some of the stories because God has answered so many prayers of mine, and I want Him to receive more of the glory He deserves.

And, yes, I’m totally aware that I often start a series, but only write the first one or two parts. This life changing belief, though, can’t be kept to myself, and I do hope I can tell you some of the ways God has shown me that He sees and cares about me. That He is good. That He is safe. That He is not silent.

Mostly I really want Him to receive glory. He deserves praise and honor. I also hope the new life He’s bringing to me can encourage you to trust Him more, too.


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We’ve been soaking up the last summer days. Ready (Ian) or not (Zac and I) we’re starting our school year the end of this week.

Here are several pieces of life around here–most of which have to do with going places or conversations that happened while driving– indicative of the types of days we’ve been having.

:: Last week the two older boys attended VBS at a small community church in a neighborhood adjacent to ours. The boys LOVED their time at VBS, and for me the quiet forenoons with Paxton were a gift from heaven.

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:: I registered the boys to participate in several developmental studies at Emory University. They contact us when the boys fit the demographic for a current study.  If the boys participate they get a small compensation after spending about 90 minutes of being evaluated while they play. Since then I’ve become particularly interested when I see articles reference, “In a study conducted by Emory University…”

This week we joined our first study.  They had requested Paxton and Ian, but only Ian met their criteria for participants. The study was looking at how children learn to recognize their surroundings and how they navigate their way around obstacles.  Ian had so much fun playing a guessing game and a video game. He was begging me to sign him up for more studies. As a bonus they gave a gift card big enough to buy a new Lego set.

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:: While we were driving, we noticed a man whose entire chin and jaw was bandaged. The boys were guessing what may have happened.

“Maybe a ball hit him.”

“Maybe he bumped his chin on a cupboard.”

I noticed his unsteady gait and a few details that made me guess something more like a fall due to lack of consciousness or maybe a fight.  But I like that they still voice such innocence when they live in a place where they see so much brokenness. I love that their perspective reminds me to look for the good.

An Atlanta family's story: learning to love God and others


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