Repeating Stories

Have you ever wondered what I do all day now that I’m not homeschooling anymore?

I mean, last year I at least had the excuse that Joel needed a driver…but no more!

So, am I just sitting around all day?

Or, sleeping on the job?

Well, in fact, I’ve been telling stories, or at least repeating them.

When I was a little girl, I noticed that my mother wrote her mother a letter every week, and so I decided to try to do the same for my mom when I  grew up! Without ever telling me, my mother lovingly kept every letter I ever wrote her carefully filed away by year in a box! And so, to my delight, I’m spending my spare time this summer (and doubtless into the fall) transcribing all the letters into a “book” I’m going to give each of my kids for a Christmas present. It will be titled Armstrong Archives and will trace twenty-five years of bringing up our children: from October 2, 1975 when our first child, Aaron, was born (on my 25th birthday) until 2000, when Aaron turned twenty-five and I turned fifty. It will end before Aaron got married…sort of the springtime of our children’s lives and the summer of Alan and mine. I guess it’s a bit like memoirs, not that I’m old enough to want to write memoirs yet, but it’s been a wonderful joy to relive the past and remember all the foibles and fun of motherhood! Right now I’m in June of 1984. I am sure glad the world didn’t end that year, aren’t you?

Now, in 2008, Molly, our tabby cat, is curled up sleeping on my lap as I type. In 1984 it was Kathy. I still have her little scribbly marks all over the letter to my parents and laughed again as I remembered putting all the kids to bed after an exhausting day and looking forward to having a chance to write my parents (since at 9:30 pm Alan was still gone…the life of a doctor!) when all of a sudden I heard a noise. I opened the door, and 20-month-old Kathy fell in, having escaped her crib. The Victor! Yes, and my kids are still keeping me challenged and laughing. Maybe that’s why I haven’t found another job yet!

Hung out to Dry

Ever feel like you’ve been left hanging out to dry?

Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone!

Today was my dear friend Kay’s birthday, so I took her out to breakfast. She’s the type of person who brings me a present on her birthday…plus a book to read on a topic we’re both working on, plus a novel to read to inspire me because she has such confidence that I could write a best seller like that…I mean, the type of person you can never keep up with because she is so giving and positive that you always leave feeling totally encouraged and affirmed. Like…let’s see…I thought I was trying to do something for her, how did all this happen?!

At any rate, among other blessings, today she reminded me of something that as Americans we probably rarely ever think of: “They who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” When I think of persecution, I think of having my house burned down or my family murdered. In the U.S., persecution is much more subtle, and it doesn’t just come from the neighboring warring tribe who doesn’t believe in my god. Have you ever been ridiculed for what you wear? What you do? What you won’t do? For your priorities? For being a “legalist” because you don’t ….(fill in your own blank)? Instead of rising up and calling you blessed, do your children rise up and question your lifestyle…(or, you can fill in this blank too). Do you find yourself feeling bewildered and confused…asking what you’re doing wrong and where you’re going wrong when the opposition comes from your own loved ones?

If so, you probably are doing some things wrong (and don’t we all!), so try to learn from the rebukes of life, but remember that you may also be suffering persecution for the Lord’s sake. If you find yourself wondering what in the world’s going on and if there’s anyone left out there who feels like you do…may you have a Kay in your life to say, “Oh, me too!”  Remember, there were still 7,000 left in Israel, and there are probably millions left even in America.

When you get to feeling down and out and don’t know what to do, picture this little line of puppies. No, they probably can’t get out of trouble alone, but they’re not alone. There’s a whole bunch of them. And, there is somebody watching who can get them out of trouble! Our heavenly Father knows just what kind of predicament we’re in, and He knows how to get us out. May all our troubles serve to “clean” us spiritually, and after we’ve been hung out to dry, may our dear Savior rescue us and send us on our way, cleaner, fresher, and purer!

Wonderful Weekend!

Have you heard that I’ve been having trouble with my computer lately? Something crashed on it, and I can’t seem to  find the mouse anymore! (Okay, so it’s corny, and it’s not original with me, but I thought it was so cute I had to pass it along!)

There’s nothing like a weekend with not a lot of pressing responsibilities to rejuvenate the spirits! I’m about as relaxed at the kitten above! This weekend was the perfect combination of spectacular weather (sunny and in the 80°s), just the right amount of work (a few miscellaneous chores like weeding the gardens and mending, but nothing too taxing…by the way, I found a toad hiding in the back of my gardening shoes out in the garage when I went to put them on; I’m so glad it wasn’t a spider or a snake 🙂  ), and lots of pleasurable hours preparing and enjoying meals and fellowship with our family and our kids’ friends.

Highlights of Saturday included a leisurely breakfast with Kathy’s new friend from Ann Arbor (who seems like a very nice young man), some chores, a nap, and then the younger boys’ best friend, Steve C. came over in time for tea and snacks, a swim, picking blueberries, dinner at our favorite Greek dive in Grand Haven, and a long walk along the boardwalk, topped off with a video on The Importance of Being Earnest.

Highlights of Sunday included the worship service (we have a weekly communion hour) and then the regular morning service, a picnic lunch with pulled pork barbecue, biscuits, summer squash and zuchinni (compliments of church friends and their abundant garden!), salad, fresh blueberries, and lemonade… a nap, tea time with more of Joel’s wonderful cake (an afternoon nap and tea time have become standard fixtures in our home on weekends 🙂   ) a leisurely swim in the pool, and a canoe ride around the lake, which is now edged with lily pads and the first flushes of pinking loose strife.

Why I should be so privileged as to live in America and enjoy such a peaceful, happy life is a total mystery to me…an indescribable gift of God’s grace. But, I’m immensely grateful. May I remember these beautiful summer days of life and learn to praise God during the winter too!

Increase God Confidence and Decrease Self Confidence, but TRY!

Here is a wonderful quotation by Theodore Roosevelt that is posted on a door at my friend E.J.’s house. It was so encouraging to me that I wanted to pass it along!

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcomings, who knows the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the high achievement of triumph and who at worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows his place…Shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

All Quiet on the Western Front

Alan says now that he has his new job, his weeks go Monday Friday with nothing in between as far as he can tell. I’m not usually nearly so busy, but this week sure did fly by, and it seems like I never got anything more than “the usual” stuff of life done. Wednesday morning I taught down town at a ladies’ ministry that reaches out not only to the homeless, but also to women who live in the heart of GR, so that took up all my time until Wednesday afternoon just preparing my message. I’m slowly working my way through the Song of Solomon again, teaching on God’s wonderful love for us as revealed through the love of Solomon for the Shulamite. “Thy name is as ointment poured forth.” I talked about the healing effect of being still in the presence of God the Father, the healing power in calling on the name of God the Son, Jesus Christ, to save us and cleanse us from sin, and the healing influence of the Holy Spirit as he leads us in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. I love teaching, and there’s nothing I love more than teaching the Song of Solomon!

Wednesday night we hosted prayer meeting in our home, which is always such a blessing! We started thirteen years ago with three families who each had seven children. The oldest “kid” (who’s now in his thirties) of one family married the oldest daughter of the other friends, and they now have five children and sponsor a prayer meeting for young marrieds just around the corner from us. I love being in the same community long enough to put down roots and watch people (my own family included) growing up!

Thursday was a day of extreme extravagance and fun! Two of my girlfriends and I spent a glorious morning enjoying all the beauty of Meijer Gardens and even indulged in lunch there. Wow, was that special! For years we’ve been taking each other out for birthdays, but this was the first “just because.” It was a perfect day, and the perfect way to get caught up at a deep level with all we’re experiencing and learning as parents and wives. What a joy!

Now it’s Friday afternoon. Kathy has a friend visiting from Ann Arbor, a young man who does the videography for a mega church in the Detroit area. (I think she said there are 20,000 members. Could that be right?) At any rate, he seems like a very sweet person and very likeable. Now, are they compatible? That’s the question! There are a lots of really awesome people out there, but probably just a handful that any one person would really enjoy living with for the rest of her/his life. That is the challenge!

We’re going to a fund-raiser spaghetti dinner for Josh T., who’s going to Romania soon on a mission trip, and then we’re coming back home for some tea and dessert…and to give Alan a chance to visit with our young man too (well, really all of us to visit, but Alan hasn’t met him yet). Such an interesting time of life! Joel has a delectable looking cake (from scratch, of course) in the oven baking. He spent the afternoon scrubbing the siding on our home. We’ve been fortunate enough to contract with him to help us this summer to help pay school bills. Stephen works some too, but he mostly plays the piano like fury. Daniel has another week in Ann Arbor and will then be home for a couple of weeks to study for boards and vacation a little. Jon is visiting Mike and Grace at their new apartment in Germany this weekend to help them figure out how to dispose of trash, etc. Michael says his landlord knows as much English as Michael does German, which is about zero on both counts. Aaron and Carleen are looking for a bigger car and went blueberry picking last weekend. And, we have three adorable grand children, none of whom are close enough to get our hands on! Ah well, we do get to skype them now and then!

So, it’s also quiet on the eastern front too, as far as I can tell. How is it on your front?

Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings, by Tony Snow


I was going to tell you about my weekend, which was wonderful, but this arrived on my desk, and it is more eloquent than anything I could begin to imagine wanting to share!

Cancer’s Unexpected Blessings

by Tony Snow

[Tony Snow, who recently lost his life to his disease, served as White House Press Secretary under the current President Bush]

Blessings arrive in unexpected packages—–in my case, cancer. Those of us with potentially fatal diseases and there are millions in
America today—–find ourselves in the odd position of coping with our mortality while trying to fathom God’s will. Although it would be the height of presumption to declare with confidence “What It All Means,” Scripture provides powerful hints and consolations.

The first is that we shouldn’t spend too much time trying to answer the “why” questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can’t someone else get sick? We can’t answer such things, and the questions themselves often are designed more to express our anguish than to solicit an answer.

I don’t know why I have cancer, and I don’t much care. It is what it is—-a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out.

But despite this—-or because of it—-God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We don’t know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face-to-face.

Second, we need to get past the anxiety. The mere thought of dying can send adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes you. Your heart thumps; your head swims. You think of nothingness and swoon. You fear partings; you worry about the impact on family and friends. You fidget and get nowhere.

To regain footing, remember that we were born not into death, but into life, and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth. We accept this on faith, but that faith is nourished by a conviction that stirs even within many nonbelieving hearts—-an intuition that the gift of life, once given, cannot be taken away. Those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might, main, and faith to live—-fully, richly, exuberantly—-no matter how their days may be numbered.

Third, we can open our eyes and hearts. God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, predictable ease—-smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see, but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension—-and yet don’t. By His love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.

Picture yourself in a hospital bed. The fog of anesthesia has begun to wear away. A doctor stands at your feet, a loved one holds your hand at the side. “It’s cancer,” the healer announces.

The natural reaction is to turn to God and ask Him to serve as a cosmic Santa. “Dear God, make it all go away. Make everything simpler.” But another voice whispers: “You have been called.” Your quandary has drawn you closer to God, closer to those you love, closer to the issues that matter—-and has dragged into insignificance the banal concerns that occupy our “normal time.”

There’s another kind of response, although usually short-lived—-an inexplicable shudder of excitement, as if a clarifying moment of calamity has swept away everything trivial and tiny, and placed before us the challenge of of important questions.

The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing through the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain), shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.

There’s nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue—-for it is through selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we ever could give, the most we ever could offer, and the most we ever could do.

Finally we can let love change everything. When Jesus was faced with the prospect of crucifixion, He grieved not for Himself, but for us. He cried for Jerusalem before entering the holy city. From the Cross, He took on the cumulative burden of human sin and weakness, and begged for forgiveness on our behalf.

We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us—-that we acquire purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God’s love for others. Sickness gets us part way there. It reminds us of our limitations and dependence. But it also gives us a chance to serve the healthy. A minister friend of mine observes that people suffering grave afflictions often acquire the faith of two people, while loved ones accept the burden of two peoples’ worries and fears.

Most of us have watched friends as they drifted toward God’s arms, not with resignation, but with peace and hope. In so doing, they have taught us not how to die, but how to live. They have emulated Christ by transmitting the power and authority of love.

I sat by my best friend’s bedside a few years ago as a wasting cancer took him away. He kept at his table a worn Bible and a 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. A shattering grief disabled his family, many of his old friends, and at least one priest. Here was an humble and very good guy, someone who apologized when he winced with pain because he thought it make his guest uncomfortable. He retained his equanimity and good humor literally until his last conscious moment. “I’m going to try to beat [this cancer],” he told me several months before he died. “But if I don’t, I’ll see you on the other side.”

His gift was to remind everyone around him that even though God doesn’t promise us tomorrow, He does promise us eternity—-filled with life and love we cannot comprehend—and that one can in the throes of sickness point the rest of us toward timeless truths that will help us weather future storms.

Through such trials, God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don’t matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?

When our faith flags, He throws reminders in our way. Think of the prayer warriors in our midst. They change things, and those of us who have been on the receiving end of their petitions and intercessions know it. It is hard to describe, but there are times when suddenly the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and you feel a surge of the Spirit. Somehow you just know: Others have chosen, when talking to the Author of all creation, to lift us up—-to speak of us!!

This is love of a very special order. But so is the ability to sit back and appreciate the wonder of every created thing. The mere thought of death somehow makes every blessing vivid, every happiness more luminous and intense. We may not know how our contest with sickness will end, but we have felt the ineluctable touch of God.

What is man that Thou are mindful of him? We don’t know much, but we know this: No matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us who believe, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place, in the hollow of God’s hand.


(Compliments of Michael from our last trip to the Colorado Rockies)

Do you have trouble waiting? I do, especially if it’s something I’m really looking forward to. It took me all day to get my work done, but Alan was hoping to be home an hour ago, and so I have a few moments to reflect, and of course what’s on my mind right now is waiting.

What are you waiting for? What are you longing for? Your marriage? A baby? A new job? Graduation? Your birthday? The visit of a friend? Retirement? Your first grand child? Your kids to come home (that’s always me)? Your kids to leave (and there are always a few who might feel that way too!)?:)

How about getting to go home? That’s what I long for more than anything else. My true home and heaven!

But, it occurred to me that although it’s only natural to look forward to things and have trouble waiting, I shouldn’t be thinking about what I’m waiting for, but who I’m waiting on. Am I waiting on a person? Well, then, I should be patient, as the snail sings in Papa John’s Garden: “Be patient, be patient; don’t be in such a hurry. When you get impatient, you only start to hurry. Remember; remember, that God is patient too, and think of all the times when others had to wait on you.”

Ultimately though, I wait on the Lord and long for the day when I will be with Him forever! That’s both the hardest and the easiest thing I do. It’s hard, because it’s always hard to wait for something I’m really longing for. But, it’s easy to wait on the Lord, because who—after all—is more worthy of my waiting?

“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strenthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD” (Psalm 27:14)

When Sleep Isn’t on the Menu

Do you ever have a problem sleeping at night? One of my friends used to always tell me, “A good conscience makes a soft pillow.” Well, there are some nights when even though I can’t think of a bloomin’ thing that I’m fighting with the Lord about, sleep simply isn’t on the menu for the night, especially between about 2-5 am.

What to do? What do you do? Got any special tricks? Everybody has different ways of coping with stress (or whatever is causing sleep disturbance), and what works for one might never work for another. For one thing, my hubby has a lot of trouble getting back to sleep if awakened, so I try to move as little as possible and usually don’t get out of bed for fear of waking him. When he’s wakeful, he usually gets up and reads, but then I can’t sleep, and so I hate to take a chance on keeping him awake by getting up while he’s sound asleep, since he needs his sleep a lot worse than I do right now.

Over time, I’ve learned a few things about myself. Number one: The middle of the night is the best time for worrying and the worst time for making decisions. Number two: Worrying is never productive, so worrying is “off limits.” (Sometimes I have to remind myself over and over again, because as soon as I get the least bit unfocused and drifty, I will start to worry again.) As a corrolary to that: grumbling, complaining, and blame-shifting are also off limits.There’s nothing like being madder than a hatter to wake you up and ruin a good night’s sleep! When Kathy and I were walking yesterday, she said she woke up “so mad!” and then realized it was all because of a bad dream, and she was so happy that there was really nothing to be mad about! 🙂

Number three: Praying is always productive, day or night, so if I can’t sleep, I take this as special time to “talk things over with the Lord.” This can be very useful, and if nothing obvious results from this (like I feel like the Lord has heard it all before and He’s not exactly explaining things up front, just reminding me to “trust Him and be patient”), it will often at least decrease my worrying and improve my disposition. Number four: If I’m really wired and trying to figure things out…well, I can’t seem to stop myself, so I go ahead and try, but I remind myself that all solution theories derived during REM time must take the daylight sanity test the next day. Number five: Who says we deserve a good night’s sleep every night, anyway? It’s often a good chance to count my blessings and be thankful for all the good things in my life…a bed for a starter; I’m not at war; my husband and kids are all alive and healthy (at least as far as I know); I had supper and a good prospect for breakfast; I’m not in Iraq where it hit 132° the other day; I wasn’t one of the ten people sleeping in a garbage dump in Guatemala who got buried in an avalanche of trash not long ago….and on and on. I once had the privilege of hearing Elizabeth Elliot (one of the five women whose husbands were martyred by the Auca Indians when I was young) speak on Under the Shadow of the Almighty. (She also wrote a book by that title.) She pointed out that God never promises to deliver us from trials, but He does promise to go with us through them.

If you are struggling with some problem and can’t figure out the solution, or if you’re so anxious that you’re having trouble sleeping, or if you’re madder than a hatter at somebody, or even if you find yourself sleepless in Seattle for no good reason, I hope you take it as a good chance to

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Have you ever watched a great blue heron fish? Here’s one of pair that nest on our lake every summer; he’s just standing like a statue right out my balcony window. He doesn’t fret and fuss; he just stands there so still that the fish think his legs are two sticks in the water, and then “Zap!” he spears a fine breakfast.

I want to be like that with the Lord: so still that He can work! I want to be patient and willing to wait on Him. God knows what I need, and if I need a fish, He can bring one around in His own time and way. I just need to wait. If I thrash around, the fish will all swim away and I’ll never get my breakfast (or whatever it is that I think I need).

You may have heard this a million times before, but if you find that even a clear conscience feels like a hard rock rather than a soft pillow, try reminding yourself of this the next time God doesn’t list “Sleep” as a menu item on your night’s flight:

“Comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit…” (I Thes. 5:14-19).

Busy, busy…but not too!

How is it that I can think I’m so busy when I’m a stay-at-home mom with only three totally adult children left at home? (Well, okay, Dan’s here for three weeks, but usually he’s just home for an occasional weekend.) I wonder how I ever used to home school seven kids and try to visit my parents more or less daily at the nursing home. Well, for a starter, I did a pretty poor job of home schooling, as some of my children like to remind me. But, I must also be slowing down and probably not so driven by adrenalin. At any rate, for a while I was planning to go back to school and try to get a professional degree to keep myself occupied, but Alan’s new job is so demanding that I thought it wiser, at least for the next couple of years until the last two have graduated from college, to stay at home tending the fires here.

As a result, I am totally enjoying the more leisurely pace of life just now. It may only be a honeymoon or a rest before some more demanding phase of life, but I am certainly relishing the slower pace. For instance, today I only had home care responsibilities. We’re having three of Daniel’s colleagues over for dinner, but Joel is making dinner…complete with fresh, home made bread, a stir fry (two of the students are vegetarians), tossed salad, and strawberry short cake! Hence…the freedom to sit here for fifteen minutes and tell you how lovely life is just now.

Did I tell you that in Colorado we’d wake up to the sound of the river bubbling by? At times we’d see elk grazing in the field across from our balcony.

For all the beauty we saw, I would not trade it for the view out my bedroom window:

Notice that the swans still have one cygnet! You may think I’m terribly selfish to have thought to pray for this little one to survive, but every year the swans lose all their cgynets, and it seems such a shame. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but this year I did ask the Lord if they might be able to keep this one, and so far…it looks like He is allowing it!

Do you pray? What do you pray about? I’m reading a good book on prayer right now by Philip Yancey called Prayer: Does it Make any Difference? It’s the first Yancey book I’ve ever been able to read through, but I do really like this one. (Many people love him. Alan always has, but I really had problems with some of his earlier works!)

Do you wonder about the purpose of prayer? For me, I can’t stop, so I don’t get too philosophical about it. I am totally dependent on God and totally dependent on prayer. I could no more stop praying than I could stop talking to Alan. So, I pray…about just about everything. I don’t save it for special occasions, and I don’t feel inhibited about being petty with God. He’s infinite, so he has room for my thoughts along with everybody else’s. Isn’t that marvelous? But, I do pray, “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done,” because I really have no idea what is best on pretty much exactly EVERY topic. So, whether I’m pouring out my heart about some huge problem or just chattering away about what to fix for supper, I tell the Lord all about it, ask for His guidance, and then do whatever seems right to me. Sometimes that’s hard, and then I pray for grace to do the right thing.

So, maybe I should feel ashamed for wasting my prayers on the insignificant details of my life. Many people think prayer should only be for critical concerns and mostly for others. That makes sense. Maybe as I mature, more of my prayer life will be for others and less about what’s going on in front of me, but I’m thankful that I have a Father who will listen to me and tells me to “pray without ceasing.” What a gift that is!