Unseen Growth Part 2: The Story of Jongi

FireplaceWhen Jon and Gerlinde were first married, they lived with us for awhile, and during that time they bought a little philodendron. When the moved to Washington State, they bequeathed the plant to me, and as I am a plant lover and dreadfully sentimental, I named the plant “Jongi” (for “Jon”+ “Gi,” because Jonathan sometimes calls Gerlinde “Gigi” for short). Jongi sits atop the fireplace in our bedroom and has grown into a veritable jungle of lush, sprawling vines.

Philodendron shootAbout a week ago I noticed something really strange. Can you see it? -5From the woodwork above the window ledge, a delicate leaf was forming…DSCN5115and before long, it began to unfurl!Philodendron growing through crackI  guessed that the vine had wedged itself along the top of the window frame DSCN5125 and was an offshoot from highest vine, even though I couldn’t see it. DSCN5119But, I was wrong! There was no trace of a vine growing along the top board. DSCN5123Where in the world had that leaf come from? Ahh…I finally found a tiny vineDSCN5124that had worked its way under the boards & traveled a good 3 feet in the dark! DSCN5126

Do you ever feel like you’re in the dark and not sure what you’re doing, even though you’re doing everything you know how to do? I sure do! Lord, if we’re doing the right thing even during times when we’re afraid we may have lost our way, would you please remind us of this little philodendron tendril and   encourage us to “keep on keepin’ on,” knowing that someday, Lord willing, we’ll find the light and come out right-side-up on top again? Thank You!

“For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (Psalm 36:9).

(Don’t know how long I’ll be without my photo library, but it may be a week! Meanwhile, the post on bluejays is half done, awaiting renewed ability to download the rest of the pictures. :) My normal blogging pattern will resume when time and photos meet again, but know that I am praying daily for you.)

“Song for Marion”…or Marion’s “Unfinished Song”

unfinished+songAlan and I were both very moved by this touching story of an elderly couple dealing with the ravages of cancer and the inevitable loss of their lifelong marriage…and their very lives.unfinished_song_final Unfinished Song—or, as it was called when released last fall in the U.S. (2013)— Song for Marion3630_Unfinished415658gives a bird’s-eye view into the lives of an effervescent cancer patient (“Marion,” splendidly portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave),1005-M-Song-for-Marion and her old, curmudgeon husband, Arthur Harris, as the couple faces the tragedy of cancer and the triumph of a life lived with zest and courage.song-for-marion03 The contrast between the characters, the way they deal with emotional pain, and their frustrations in the context of their enduring love song-for-marion-2is both comical and inspiring. UNFINISHED-SONG-pic-2_3The bitterness that Arthur feels over the threat of losing Marion is eventually overcome by his great love for her and his desire to please her… unfinishedeccleston500and the ending, though sad, is full of hope…even for the recovery of Arthur’s relationship with his estranged son. unfinished-song-1024x525If you’re aware that you’re growing old—either alone or with your mate—or if your parents are growing old…or even if you have a grouchy, old grandpa you’d like to understand a little better…you might enjoy this sweet story!

“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Unseen Growth: The Story of Frank

Cactus“Frank” was a tiny cactus that Joel purchased from Frank’s Nursery at least 10 years ago, and it stayed tiny for many years in a small pot under teenage management. Over the years, Frank got accidentally knocked over and repotted several times, but he always seemed to survive. When Joel began graduate school, he left Frank under my care, so I transferred him to a bigger pot and set him on a sunny window sill, where I watered him faithfully but didn’t pay much attention to him otherwise until the day I found him on the floor. Someone had accidentally knocked him off the window sill without even realizing it, breaking him into several pieces. I felt really bad—like a careless surrogate mother! :(Garden RoomI picked up all the pieces, replanted them, watered the pot carefully and paid extra attention to him…for awhile. Before long, it appeared that he was going to survive this, and in fact, all the little broken sections had taken root and were growing again, better than ever. Amazing! Cacti are so resilient!  At any rate, before long I was back to watering Frank faithfully but not really paying much attention to him, since he was tucked away in our garden room  behind other plants where he wouldn’t be so likely to get knocked over again. Long arm on cactusA couple of weeks ago, as Joel was packing to leave for his new home in Boston, I thought I should ask if he wanted to take Frank with him (although I knew it would be very hard to transfer a cactus on an airplane). But, when I went to check Frank out and assess the likelihood of his surviving such a transfer, here is what I found! Frank had wedged himself happily in the window sill and—without any of us realizing it— had grown like crazy! It’s amazing what can happen when one gets enough water, sunshine, peace, and quiet!

Strangely, that little plant and its quiet growth reminds me of Joel. I know he’ll be able to transition to Boston, even though he’ll get accidentally injured sometimes and it won’t be easy. But, my prayer is for Joel—and for each of us—that we’ll be resilient, recover from injuries, and…by leaning into the One who can support us…grow into something really quite amazing!

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).


(My entire photo library of almost 100,000 pictures has gone down, so I’ve had to take my computer in for repairs. Meanwhile, I don’t have much access to my pictures, so my posts may be short, sweet, and without many photos!)

“Classical Mystery Tour” Gives a Tribute to the Beatles

Picnic PopsDo you like the Beatles? I think their music is here to stay. One night a few years ago, while visiting in Vienna, Austria, I was determined to find some gorgeous open-air concert in the park. The only gig going was a tribute to the Beatles. Alan and the kids loved it, but it wasn’t at all what I’d had in mind!  :(  The Picnic Pops. Cannonsburg       Last Friday Alan and I  joined some friends for an evening at the Picnic
Pops…and guess what? The "Beatles" It was a tribute to the Beatles as a joint venture between the Grand Rapids Symphony and a group called “Classical Mystery Tour,” composed of four guys who dress, act, and sing “just like the Beatles” (or so I was told by Alan, who would know). DSCN4930 I mostly ignored the Beatles as a teenager (which was 1963-1970…and exactly their hay day), but this time ’round I was genuinely trying to understand their messages, since they’d had a tremendous influence on Alan. Mystery TourHowever, try as I might, I couldn’t figure out half of what they were singing, and of the lyrics my ears could decipher, I couldn’t understand half of what the Beatles meant!  Is it just me, or did other people have a bit of trouble understanding what the Beatles said and what they meant? Or, as the Beatles put it, were they just trying to say “Give peace a chance,” “Let It Be,” and “All you need is love.”? DSCN5043Despite my personal best effort to ignore the Beatles’ influence in my teen years, their music was everywhere, and I remember people using “Strawberry Fields Forever” almost as a mantra that meant???”Do whatever you want because nothing matters anyway.” Is that what they were saying? ” Got any thoughts?Poppies in Sunset

“Always, no sometimes, think it’s me
But you know I know when it’s a dream
I think I know I mean a ‘Yes’ but it’s all wrong
That is I think I disagree
Let me take you down, cos I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever.”

I heard “Hey Jude” about a zillion times but always thought it was about a girl (“Judy?”) and only knew the line: “Take a sad song and make it better.” Just looking up the lyrics for the first time this morning, I did think there’s something to these lines:

Listening to Music“And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder.”

Too true. Pretending not to care only makes things worse.

And, how about “The Long And Winding Road”? Alan and I had a really rocky relationship (as epitomized by our polar-opposite musical tastes). Still, the words of this song would come to me time and time again as we trudged our way through trying to develop a good relationship:

Candles in sky“The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here
Leads me to your door.”

AlanWhen Alan turned 64 last month, his brother reminded him of the Beatles’ song, “When I’m Sixty Four.” I’d never even heard of that song before, but it definitely reminded me of my relationship with Alan, which never would have gone anywhere were it not for Alan’s persistence. I wonder if he was influenced by this song:

DSCN5074“Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away
Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?”Band shell at nightYes, I still need Alan, and I still feed Alan now that he’s 64! BobAfter the performance, one of the “Beatles” threw his pick into the audience. Bob, who’s much younger but a great friend to Alan, disappeared into the dark and returned triumphant! He not only found the pick, he presented it to Alan. What a guy! And, I am glad to have the pick. You know what it says? Live and Let Die

“When you were young and your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live…
But if this ever changing world in which we’re living
Makes you give in and cry, Say live and let die.”

Dear friends who read this, if you’ve been influenced by the depressing philosophy of our culture’s music, can I encourage you? If you’re thinking that all you need is love—but you can’t find anyone who truly loves you—then look up! There is a God who loves us. All we need is His love. If you—like me—look around at the violence in our world today and feel discouraged, please know that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and it’s only through Him that peace has a chance. Don’t just “let it be.” Entrust it to God. And please, please don’t just live and let die. Please live and help others live…lives that are abundant and blessed by God!

Candle and Cup“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26, ESV).




Rise Up, My Love (94): Getting Your Teeth Cleaned and Straightened

Smiling LipsSong of Solomon 4:2 “Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.” Teeth speak of maturity…the ability to chew and digest spiritual meat…to meditate on thoughts of the imagination, understanding, and memory. An infant has no teeth and must be fed on the “sincere milk of the Word” (I Peter 2:2)…but the bride has come of age.

“Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep.” Sheep graze; they can often discern what is good for them and choose the tender grass, just as the mature believer can discern that which is good and pure, and has learned to “think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

A flock of sheep that are “even shorn, which came up from the washing” have recently been clipped and washed. Shearing and washing removes all the dirty, ragged outer growth, leaving the sheep in fresh, white wool, soft and lovely again. “Wash you, make you clean…though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:16,18). Our hearts can be like wool that has been freshly sheared and scrubbed and is as white as snow!

In the Old Testament, wool was symbolic of the natural man, and the priests were not to wear wool in the temple service (Exodus 28). The thought of sheared sheep brings to mind the spiritual analogy of trimming away all natural zeal and the weight of self-life. The ragged coat of the sheep grew in response to the harsh cold of winter, but their thick coats gathered dirt and burrs and became a haven for lice and insect infestation.  How human! Often, in the cold of adversity, we grow protective walls of “self” to keep us from the pain of the world’s buffeting, but those walls weigh us down and become embedded with the barbs of sin and callous indifference. How we need the spring of revival in our souls, when all the ragged wool is sheared away, leaving our hearts tender, vulnerable, and clean once again!

“Whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.” This refers to the beautiful symmetry of his beloved teeth: straight, as perfectly symmetrical as identical twins, with not a single one missing…like a lovely set of matching pearls half hidden in the mouth: even, sparkling, moist, and white. Are our spiritual teeth so lovely for the Lord? Are they straight and strong? Are we able to chew  through the toughest “meat” of the Word and digest it properly? Are our spiritual “teeth” symmetrical? Are we balanced in our understanding of doctrine? Are we able to judge righteously and truly? Are any of our spiritual teeth black? Have we allowed any of our teeth to rot away by indulging in too many sugarcoated bits of vain philosophy…or have we broken any of our teeth on the bones of cleverly devised fables? Are any of our teeth barren…gone… missing altogether because we gradually allowed a blind spot of decay to destroy an entire tooth of discernment?

If our spiritual teeth are crooked, in disrepair, or missing, we should go straight to the Master Dentist and get some repair work done! Have you ever needed braces? I didn’t as a girl, but in my forties, my teeth began to shift, and so I had to wear braces for over a year…and a retainer at night ever afterward! Braces are definitely no fun. Every few weeks, the orthodontist shifts the position of the teeth, and each new tightening puts constant pressure on the teeth to change their position. Doesn’t our dear Lord do that for us…work with us over time to make us change position until we are straight and upright? Isaiah 40:4, “the crooked shall be made straight.” And, then, if we want to keep straight, we always have to keep putting on the retainer of God’s Word…through every trial of night!

But, what a pleasure to have straight teeth! I am so thankful for the privilege of going through the pain to straighten out my teeth. Aren’t you thankful for dentists who care for our teeth…who drill out the cavities in rotting teeth and make crowns for broken teeth? Yes, it hurts, and yes, it costs, but what a blessing to have good teeth! So it is spiritually. We must get those braces of doctrine on to straighten out our teeth! We must stop indulging in a poor spiritual diet that will rot away our teeth of discernment. We need to stop chewing on the bones of the world’s thinking that will chip and break our teeth so that we have no “bite” left to defend ourselves from the spiritual foes who would devour us. And, we should pray that our spiritual dentist will make our teeth beautiful for him, so that when he beholds us, he will say, “Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep!” With strong, lovely teeth, we will be able to chew on spiritual things and exclaim, “My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord” (Psalm 104:34).

(Picture from the  website of Dr. Blum, dentist, found by googling “white-teeth-smile”)


The Armstrong Archives (94): Life on the Wards

AA 94:07.19.14 Jon on Rocking HorseWednesday, February 4, 1981 Hi! Did you notice the missile launch from Cape Kennedy has been postponed until April 7th? Wouldn’t it be great if we got to see it?! You asked so many questions about the trip that I don’t know where to begin! Alan was the first one to mention “how he wished we had a nanny” because a.) he goes nuts being with the kids 24 hours a day, and b.) he would like me to be able to be a part-time wife as well as a full-time mother. I suggested at least asking you because I thought you might actually enjoy it as well as being a great help to us. So—as far as I know we are not only sure we want you, we are thrilled that you’re willing to come, and we’ll try not to overtire you, but rather make it fun for everybody.

January has really been hard work-wise, and I don’t think February will be any better. I think Alan was working more than half the evenings: sixteen out of thirty-one. Now he’s in the Intensive Care Unit. By March he will have worked all but eight days out of the last four months and about two-fifths of them were sixteen-hour shifts. Needless to say, I will be very relieved when March comes…if it ever does! He is on an elective then and will get every weekend off!

Last week I took the boys for two sled rides through the woods at the botanical gardens. It has been gorgeous here, but cold. Guess what? Aaron’s learning to read a little bit!

Thursday, February 19, 1981 It sure was fun talking to Mom the other night on the phone. We are getting very excited about going south. It’s been so warm that much of the snow is melting, and the boys are out splashing in the puddles… Correction! I just had to go out to put Michael’s boot back on. They’re playing with Mark Grieshaber (neighbor), and all three are muddy from head to foot. Ah, sweet spring!

Last night Alan took me out to Weber’s for our eighth anniversary dinner. He also bought me a beautiful red rose, and another tiny one to put in my hair, and a new bottle of my favorite perfume. In recounting the events of the past year, we realized that Alan has been on the wards (which means 80—106 hours per week) for thirteen out of the last fifteen months, so it’s not surprising I’ve spent some time being discouraged! I can hardly wait for March to roll around!

Everybody’s well here now, and the boys have been “sugar cats” lately. It smells like winter’s melting, and we’re ready!!

 Monday, February 23, 1981 How are you? It’s beginning to look like spring outside. All last week we had rain and fog, and now there are only a few muddy patches of snow left. The kids are back outside riding their bike and trik, and Jonathan stands at the window and calls to them. I would call Jon a walker now, although he’s far from being steady on his feet. Goodness, I’ll have to start sweeping under the table again because I won’t have anyone crawling around devouring all the spare crumbs!

I’m starting to prepare for the trip. Each week when we go to the library I get one or two records extra (whatever I can slip in without Aaron noticing) with stories that I think the boys might enjoy hearing and record them, so the kids will have lots of new stories to listen to on the trip down.

Before I forget, the boys haven’t chewed a single piece of gum since they went to the dentist two months ago, and I think gum-chewing may finally be a thing of the past around here, so if you’re ever thinking of treats for the boys, please avoid gum, even sugarless. THANKS! They have become very dedicated to brushing their teeth and avoiding junk. Hurray!

Well, Jon’s asleep, and it’s time to read out of our Childcraft Stories and Fables book. We’ve finished three and are nearly done with a fourth book. They’re great!

Tuesday, March 3, 1981 Tomorrow is Alan’s last day in the intensive care unit. What a tremendous emotional strain to work day after day with people who are dying. What a life! I know I’ve been saved so long I can’t remember anything else, but without absolute confidence in the authority of the Bible and the promise of heaven, I don’t know how people can “survive” death—or life. But what joy in surrendering to the prodding of the Holy Spirit and resting in His Word! Then there’s hope, comfort, encouragement, and reason for living and dying. :)

I am so thankful that God became flesh and dwelt among us, dying so that “whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” That takes the sting out of death. Graduation is a lot of hard work for everybody, but at least it can be graduation day to heaven when we die. Can you tell I’ve been agonizing over a lot of Alan’s patients?


The Barry County Fair and Broken Horn Rodeo

Sunset CarnivalIf you haven’t been to the Barry County Fair yet, there’s still time! 4-H Pigs The fair is running this week, Monday through Saturday. Rodeo Clown Tonight’s the MI State Super Cross & tomorrow the U.S.A. Demolition Derby, 4-H Exhibitbut every day has had some special attraction.DSCN4753 In fact, for over 150 years, the Barry County Fair has been providing family fun Cows at Fairfor southeast Michigan in mid-July, including lots of learning experiences, DSCN4740competitions in all sorts of areas,Midway Gamesmidway games, Love my Pig!livestock competitions and exhibits, Great food at the fair! specialty vendors, entertainment, music, Barry County Fair Food…more food…and special attractions! Broken Horn RodeoThis past Wednesday night we enjoyed both the fair and Broken Horn Rodeo. Cowboy at Rodeo Have you ever been to a rodeo? Baby at FairMy only memory is watching the bucking broncos in the 1950′s while visiting my grandmother in Colorado, Bucking Bronco 3+and the excitement around one of my cousins being the Rodeo Queen one year. Rope tryingOther than that, the closest thing I’ve come to a rodeo is watching the “O Canada” video  at Disney’s Epcot Center, where Martin Short ends up roped by a calf during the Calgary Stampede.Cowboy BUT, I will say, the Broken Horn Rodeo was an interesting cultural experience for someone who’s never gotten into country music or had a red neck!Winner! The rodeo had all the things you might expect, Lassoing horselike lassoing wild stallions, Rope trying roping frisky calves Bucking Bronco 2 and riding bucking broncos.Friendly Pig But, there were two things about Broken Horn Rodeo that truly surprised and delighted me (besides the friendliness of the pigs). American Flag at Rodeo 2One was this highly acclaimed rodeo company’s loyalty to our country and support for our military. Soldiers and Family I was teary-eyed by the time they finished their preliminary program honoring our soldiers, and I was in awe when the arena director stated that they’ve been in Boy Watching Rodeobusiness since the 1960′s & have never begun a rodeo without opening in prayer! American Flags at Rodeo As a group, we stood while this big, burly cowboy asked the Lord to guide us all through the arena of life and prayed that we’d be grateful that Jesus paid the entry fee for our admission tickets to heaven, “in Jesus’ name. Amen.” Amen! Barry County Fair I hope we’ve all accepted our free tickets into heaven.Fair at NIght If you haven’t yet, it’s not too late. Barry County Fair Grounds Jesus is still standing with his arms outstretched, waiting just for you!

“The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).