Favorite Marriage Counsel and One Hundred Years of Marriages

Okay, so I may be repeating myself, but some things bear repeating! Last night Alan and I went out on a date. In fact, we’ve been going out on weekly dates (as much as possible) ever since we’ve been married. It was the best bit of advice my dad ever gave us. He said, “Even if you don’t have a nickel to split an ice cream cone (and back in his day you could actually get an ice cream cone for a nickel), get out every week and go for a walk around the block or something! Keep having fun together!”

So, every week, we’ve been trying to go out for a date. We take turns picking, and last night was my pick, so we went to Grand Haven and walked the beach and boardwalks after dinner at our favorite dive (topped off with a large strawberry shake, which we split). Didn’t even bring the camera. (Alan sometimes tires of his wife, the family historian and chronicler, who takes pictures of EVERYTHING!)

But, I have something fun to show you anyway…

Here are my grandparents, William Littler and Daisy (Kerr) Littler, who were married on June 6, 1900.

The couple on the right are my parents, Louis Ward and Carolyn (Littler) Ward, who were married on June 30, 1938. They are with Mom’s brother Bob and his wife, Millie, who were married the same day.

Here we are on our wedding day, February 18, 1973. That’s a long time ago!

And, here we are that following year when we started graduate school. That was 35 years ago!

And, here is our first born, Aaron, and his wife, Carleen, on the day they were married,  June 29, 2002.

Just kidding, they were married in 2002, but this was taken when we were in California to together visiting family last year. They actually have two sons now.

And here are Michael and Grace, who were married on July 1, 2003. This picture was taken in the hollow of the same huge sequoia tree in CA. Mike and Grace have a daughter now. Maybe soon I’ll scan in some wedding pictures and tell you more about my oldest kids, since I usually just talk about what’s going on here in good old GR. But, at any rate, this completes my tiny tale of a hundred years of marriage in our family!

Bon Appetite

It happens every time Alan and I go out for dinner. The cuisine at home is better than we can get out. When we left last night, Joel was whipping up a massive pan of fresh vegetables for some Mexican extravaganza. Needless to say, I don’t feel sorry for the kids when I’m out for dinner. In fact, I feel a little sorry for myself. However, Alan and I can never resist the opportunity to talk straight for three hours, and so we regretfully leave the marvelous smells of our own wonderful kitchen.  Just to make your mouth water too, I’ll include a few pictures. In truth, these are pictures of gourmet delights that our whole family has enjoyed in the past few weeks, but the creations that Alan and I miss are no less appealing!

There’s no slumming it in the kitchen when Mom’s away!

The Ups and Downs of Motherhood and Life

Well, not only did Stephen leave for MSU Sunday,

Joel began his senior year at Cornerstone University on Monday.

And, Tuesday night we had Joel’s best friend, Steve C., for his “last supper” before leaving for U.M. Wednesday, where he will be a junior in the engineering school. Very hard, this losing so many kids…one might even say it’s a real downer. 😦

Wednesday morning, I taught at the Ladies’ Day ministry of Mel Trotter, an outreach both to the local residents of downtown GR and to the women living at the mission and involved in their discipleship program. Pictures aren’t allowed (for the protection of the residents), but I’ll tell you, it’s a wonderful ministry, and you really see the Spirit of God working! If you’re ever wondering how to use a free afternoon or wish you could do something for the down and outers, consider your local rescue mission. I’ve been teaching just one day a month, but I am challenged and blessed every time I go. What a wonderful work to help encourage and try to uplift women who’ve been abused and misused most of their lives, and yes…made lots of bad choices too. God is in the business of transforming us, if we’ll only let Him! I stayed for lunch and the chance to counsel and pray with some of the women, and then I headed off the Channel 25 TV to pick up my Song of Solomon series, which has run for the past two years and is now finished (for the second time). Kellie, who does the programming, is always looking for inspirational materials, so if you have any videos to offer and are living in the greater GR area, consider sharing some good programming with the cable TV station here!  Having the time and freedom to be involved in volunteer ministries is—as one might say—a real upper! 🙂

Wednesday night Vanessa and Jennifer R. came over for dinner and to enjoy the evening with the home team (sans Alan and me, who’d gone to the Mounts for a most encouraging prayer meeting). V & J are French girls who’ve been living in the U.S. for the past three years. They are really lovely young ladies, and it was a joy to catch up with them since they just returned from visiting France with their parents. I think there’s definitely something to this idea of globalization. I am ready for a visit to Europe and to see my kids across the ocean!

So, there you have it…some of the ups and downs of mothering children who are growing up! More friends and more time…but then you have to part with your kids more and more. All good, and all the way it “should be,” but I’m still feeling nostalgic. Doubtless, recovery is in the forecast.

And, how are you? I was so busy preparing my messages for Monday and Wednesday that I’ve hardly kept abreast of my friends and family! What’s going on in your corner of the world? Just hit that comment button, and you can comment without having to “join” or anything. V simple!

Bair Lake’s Home School Week

Today I had the great joy and privilege of speaking at Bair Lake Bible Camp to a group of home schooling parents on “How to Organize Your Day for Success.” What are some of the things I learned from my 23 years of teaching? First and foremost, I am a firm believer in Joshua 1:8 and recommend making it the cornerstone of your children’s education: “This book of the law [the Bible] shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein, for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”

Some areas where I wish I’d done a lot better? Be joyful, supervise everything, and don’t take problems too seriously, or at least not any more seriously than God does.  Some suggestions? Keep your priorities straight, including getting enough sleep (or at least a concerted attempt in that direction) and spending time as a couple. Avoid T.V. and video games as much as possible, or else really restrict the kids’ time, and then give them ample time for creative play. Confine academics to 2-4 hours if possible, but teach your kids at all times…whether it’s rooting in the garden, serving up supper, or playing ball.

Bair Lake is a beautiful camp set in the rolling farm land of southern Michigan. May all the home schooling families who attend this week have a marvelous experience! What a great way to start the school year. 🙂

Emptying Nest

Well, it was a happy day and a sad day all rolled into one.

Jon preached this morning at FHBC:

And Stephen left right after lunch with Mark for MSU. Once Jonathan and Gerlinde leave at the end of September, we’ll be down to just Kathy and Joel left at home. Now, in truth, that’s as many kids as many people ever have, so I know I can’t complain, and of course, I’m overjoyed for Stephen’s growth and accomplishments that have allowed him to pursue his music with a fine scholarship to MSU. But, still, it’s a lot harder to “add” than “subtract!”  The thought of a truly empty nest is very sad to me, even though it will mean that all our children are grown and enjoying independent (and hopefully productive, happy) adult lives…and THAT is a joyous thought! Good thing I have a little time to get used to all these ancient and suddenly relevant problems!  Aren’t you glad that Jesus comforts us with, “In my Father’s house are many abiding places…” Someday, all of God’s children will be dwelling together in joyful communion. What a hope!

“But as many as received him [Jesus], to them gave he [God] power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).

Hey, All You Spartan Fans!

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, but it happened today! The time has come to install Stephen and Mark R. into their new apartment at MSU.

Stephen and Mark have been friend ever since we moved to GR and Mark’s family moved back to GR from the mission field in Argentina. Our families have been involved in the same care group from our chapel, and so the kids have pretty much grown up together! They both attended Cornerstone and both pursued music majors. Mark is working on his M.A. degree at MSU, and Stephen is transferring in as a junior undergraduate in piano performance.

Here are Stephen and Joel checking out Stephen’s new barren bedroom…but it is neat and clean with a woodsy view out the back.

Daniel came over from U.M. to help set up the apartment. Fortunately, even though we’re a “house divided against itself” as far as now having two sons at Michigan’s two biggest (and very competitive) universities, I’m sure it won’t really effect anything, because none of us are big fans of sports. 🙂

After we got things unloaded, we stopped for a picnic lunch right outside their front door.

In a couple of hours, everything was pretty much assembled and organized! Many hands make light work. Here are Stephen at his desk in his new room and Alan trying out the bed. Both approved!

Before returning home, I showed everybody where I’d lived when my dad taught at MSU almost 50 years ago now and stopped in for drinks at my favorite restaurant there. We saw Dad’s office building (now Student Services), the block where my house used to be (apartment building now), Bailey School where I attended grade school, and my favorite place to eat. I lived in East Lansing when Breslin Stadium was being built and McDonald’s came to town. When I was a tyke, McDonald’s was famous for “Forty-five cents for a three course meal? Sounds to me like that’s a deal!” The three course meal was a hamburger, french fries, and a malt. Today we thought it was a great deal to be able to get any size soft drink or sweet tea for a buck!

Happily, we were able to bring Mark and Stephen back home with us, because it’s only an hour drive to MSU, and they’re planning to come home on the weekends. 🙂 However, tomorrow afternoon, they’ll leave for real. Not only does school start for Stephen and Mark, it starts for Joel too. 😦 I am totally delighted for Stephen, but I’m going to miss his cheery ways around here. How can time fly by so fast?

Olympic Secrets

Have you been enjoying the Olympics? Isn’t it almost unbelievable what athletes can do? I always stand in awe of the dedication and amazing feats of the world’s best athletes. Bravo for them! Here’s a story I read recently in a book by Dan Green (but not the one I know) that really encouraged me, and I hope you find it inspiring too:

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Going into the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, expectations were very high for Paul Hamm. He was the reigning world champion – the first U.S. man to ever win a world all-around title. No American had ever won the men’s all-around gold medal in gymnastics and Paul was expected to change that. The only U.S. gymnast to ever medal was Peter Vidmar in the 1984 Olympics. Paul Hamm seemed destined to at least join Vidmar by winning some sort of medal and the expectations were high that he may even win the all-around title.

Hamm started strong in the first three events and held a first place lead in the all-around by .038 points. Then, disaster struck. During his vault performance, he under-rotated and missed his landing, causing him to sit down and nearly fall off the platform.

His score reflected the “cardinal sin” of gymnastics and after the vault competition was over Hamm found himself in twelfth place. I remember watching the telecast and seeing him sitting on the sidelines with a pale look on his face. It was pretty clear by his reaction that at that point in time he believed he had blown his chance of making history.
But, this is where Paul Hamm demonstrated the difference between mediocrity and greatness. He decided at that point in time to put his fall behind him and move forward, giving his best effort to finish strong. His next event was coming up and he was first up. During the next rotation, a few of the competitors in the 6-11 places struggled. His great performance on the parallel bars coupled with the struggles of his competitors helped to move Hamm into fourth place in the all-around with his last and strongest event left to play out – the high bar.
Paul was determined to take advantage of this positive turn of events and make sure that he at least won the bronze medal. He was a master of the high bar and he scripted a highly technical routine in order to have a shot at earning the most points possible. The die was cast as the other competitors had finished their routines. Paul was the last to go. As I sat and watched the broadcast I could see Paul pour his heart into his routine – you could feel his energy, focus and determination. When he nailed his dismount it was electrifying and even before his score was revealed, you could see on Paul’s face that in his own mind he had won; regardless of the outcome. He came back from a crushing failure on the vault and proved to himself that he could execute beyond failure. And as it turns out, in one of the most dramatic comebacks in all of sports he won the gold medal in the men’s all-around by 0.012 points, becoming the first U.S. man to ever win the Olympic title. Talk about finishing strong.

Before the Olympics started, I got this wrist band from Voice of the Martyrs to remind me to pray for the people of China. Did you know that the largest evangelical church in the world is now the Chinese church, estimated at around 100 million, most of whom suffer significant persecution (or are at the least discriminated against) for their faith? After all the publicity of the Olympics has come and gone, the Chinese church will be needing our prayers. Will we be praying for them? Are we praying for those who are in need…who are sick, hungry, persecuted, and/or imprisoned…as if we were praying for our very lives? How easy it is to ignore the plight of others when we ourselves are comfortable! Even if we haven’t been very concerned for the needy in the past, we can “finish strong” by beginning today to “give it all we’ve got” for the gospel’s sake. Share the good news, and pray for those who are in need!

Now, I suppose you wonder what I meant by “Olympic Secrets.” Feel like you’ve been jipped? Well, here’s a tip I got from the head coach of the diving team from a very prestigious Chicago area University. Do you know where the Olympics is going to be in four years?  I thought so. But, do you know where they’re going to be in 2016?  If my sources are correct, they’re going to be in Chicago! Thought I’d give you a heads up, so we can all start putting in reservations for floor space with our Chicago friends for August of 2016. 🙂

Skype Hype

Have you fallen in love with skyping yet? It’s my favorite invention since the cell phone. Not only can you talk to anybody anywhere in the world (via net) for FREE, you can see their wonderful Picasso-like impression floating around on the screen in living color and almost realtime motion!

Here is my beloved Jon, chatting away with us from Germany. In truth, he’s home today, zipping around doing research at the library and about to sit down with us for another magnificent dinner by Joel, gourmet chef extraordinarie. BUT, when he’s not home, it’s so wonderful to be able to ring him up and see what he’s up to!

And, being Jon, he’s usually up to a lot. For example, if you google “University of Oxford, Jonathan Armstrong” you will discover that he’s on the faculty there. That’s pretty amazing for a 28-year old. When  he was 27, he had 27 publications. Let’s see…I think I published something once in Keys for Kids…

At any rate, he’s a BUSY guy! He’d be embarrassed to read this, but he has worked so hard for so many years with so little financial remuneration (being in theology) that it’s exciting to me that he’s been so affirmed by Oxford. In fact, he applied to 300 evangelical schools throughout the U.S. and around the world, and Oxford was the ONLY school who had room and interest in a patristics scholar. Isn’t that amazing? Even his dear old alma mater here in GR couldn’t find a place for him.

However, a position will be coming open for the fall of 2009 with a school in Chicago, and they’ve contacted Jonathan about interviewing there, so while he’s home this time, he’s going to make a run to Chicago to talk. I want him wherever the Lord wants him, but would it ever be wonderful to have him living close to home again! Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Exchange Students?

Daniel had to go back to Ann Arbor to begin his last year of dental school this weekend, but Jon arrived before Dan left, so we were able to enjoy a wonderful weekend together, complete with a trip to Grand Haven for lunch and a walk along the waterfront…

ice cream at the Front Door,

and fun at the berry patch, filling our buckets with blueberries.

Sunday included a wonderful time worshiping the Lord at church and then having our dear friends Brenda and Tom B. for dinner, topped off with a youth group party later in the afternoon.

It was a little hot on the volleyball court, but the swimming and canoeing were hits.

And, with young people, supper is always a hit!

No youth group meeting would be complete without a little singing…

and a little devotional. Jon encouraged the kids with some simple lessons he’s been (re)learning: trust God with your dreams; remember that God is in control even when you’re not sure what’s going on; rejoice in the Lord and be thankful. Of course, he had captivating illustrations from his own life and struggles this past year in England and Germany, but the lessons—though simple—are also profound. Good lessons for me too! 🙂

Muskrat Mania

Our intrepid son, Joel, has been helping us with all sorts of projects this summer. (And, as you can see, Abishai helps with all the outdoor projects too!) This last assignment has been perhaps the most challenging: trying the outsmart the rodents that have taken to trying to dam up our lake and drown out all the local residents…our neighbors and ourselves included!  🙂 At first we thought they were beavers, but now we’re wondering if they’re muskrats, because that’s who we see out busily working each evening, and when we had beavers on our trout pond in Marquetter, we heard the “Timmmmbers” and saw silver V’s swimming in the sunset, which isn’t happening here.

At any rate, trying to keep ahead of the muskrats has been a monumental chore. After fearing that his dock system would be washed away, one neighbor tried night after night to shoot them, but to no avail.  The DNR has no suggestions for how to help. We’ve all spent many hours trying to undo their dams, not only said faithful neighbors, but our family, especially Alan and Kathy. Finally, one of our friends, Rex F., mentioned that his parents were able to confuse beavers by laying plumber’s pipe with holes in it under the area where they like to build, since they’re attracted to the sound of moving water…and having the water move in dozens of tiny whispers keeps them from really being sure where to work or if they need to.

So, Joel finally finished a masterful job of opening up the dam and laying down plumber’s pipe. Here’s what his work looked like before he completely opened up the dam.

And, below are the pipes he positioned under the water and through the channel.

Excellent work, Joel! Hope it works. I’ll let you know. I’d try to make a spiritual application, but I’m waiting to see if Joel does. If you’re wondering…check his blog post on the right side of this blog. So, I guess I’m waiting to see what both Joel and the muskrats do next!