chicagoFrom a few days ago:
Alan is attending his first conference for leadership training to help with his new position as CMO of his hospital. Today’s module is on finances, which is timely, since they’re in the throes of budgeting for the next fiscal year. The hospital graciously sent Alan and is paying his expenses, so for the first time in our lives, we’re actually staying at the hotel where the meetings are being held. The price was high, but the corporate rate was actually lower than anything I could get by accessing on-line sources such as, and so we accepted the rate, and after Alan was able to get off work yesterday, we drove to Chicago.
Now, I had no appreciation for just how huge a gift Lizzie had been giving me all these years by putting us up when our family was “in town” (Chicago) for anything. Even if GR is the second largest city in MI, it’s definitely the country compared to Chicago! As we exited our car, we were approached by the immaculately dressed valet attendants.     “Oh, that’s okay,” I said cheerily, “We’ll park ourselves.”
He smiled pleasantly, “The Hyatt Regency only has valet service.” Humbly, we allowed the bellman to whisk away our luggage and the valet to take our keys. The sign read: $48 per day.” Actually, it listed parking by the hour, etc. I think it was $22 for an hour and $36 for three hours, or something like that, but my eyes wandered quickly down to the bottom line where it said that for five or more hours, the price was $48. Hmmm. Five times $50 equals $250 to park…
The bellman showed us to the front desk, and we gave him a generous tip (or so we hoped, having no clue what would considered generous in these parts), thinking he would deliver our luggage to our room. However, he just let us to the front desk, and while we checked in, he passed us off to another bellman. “Oh, brother,” I thought to myself, “Do we have enough cash left to pay him too?” Cheery Charlie escorted us briskly down the hall like a tour guide, rattling off stats and orienting us the various wings, amenities, and opportunities at the hotel. Then, up the elevator we went to our room on the 11th floor. Charlie unloaded the luggage for us, turning on the lights, adjusting the blinds, highlighting the snacks and liquor cabinet and explaining how to connect to the internet, etc.
“Is the internet free?” I asked, by this time a bit warily.
“No, they get you on this one too!” he smiled with an understanding twinkle in his eye. “I think it’s about $14 per day!” (This, folks, is why it’s taken until now for me to write a post! I wouldn’t have hopped on today, except Joel needed me to proof one of his last papers for the year…and how could I resist that pleasant privilege? I get most of my current education free by reading my kids’ papers!)

Charlie, our bell hop, told us that the Hyatt has 2,013 rooms and they’re full every day. It’s a very popular conference center, maybe the best. At least, it has the world’s longest bar, which we’d be sure to really enjoy. We smiled politely, but since neither of us drink, the bar was probably not where we were likely to spend an extra fifty bucks each day!
“Breakfast is from six to ten,” he chattered on lightly.
“Is there a free continental breakfast?”
“No, but there’s room service!” He showed me the menu in the black leather case, and while Alan gave him the last of his money (well, maybe not all of it) and sent him on his merry way, I perused the menu: “Seasonal fruits and berries  $12.00…Starbucks coffee: $8.00, Continental breakfast $16.00. Two eggs, any style: $15.00 Pepsi: $4.75 Strawberry shortcake $9.00…How about a bottle of champagne just to celebrate?  $225.  Well…let’s go for something cheaper…Vodka? $190.  Red wine? Why, that looks like a steal at only $88. I take it back. It looks like you could spend a lot more than $50 at the bar if you wanted!
I smiled smugly to myself. Alan’s breakfasts and lunches are all provided at the conference, and I brought the entire 5 days’ worth of my food along, complete with granola, ultra-pasturized milk, fresh strawberries, oranges, sandwich fixings, snacky stuff, and various teas and beverages. Alan usually tells me not to bother bringing along food, but this time he didn’t complain at all. I think I would have refused to eat before I’d spend those prices for meals. Besides, every night we’ll go out for dinner and probably eat enough for an entire day anyway!

So, a bit of culture shock, but I do love Chicago! Here’s a picture taken at the end of our hall on the 11th floor. We’re right in the heart of town and easy walking distance to everything! It’ll be a great stay, but we may not come to Chicago for a conference too often. We don’t even feel comfortable having our beloved hospital foot the bill for this much luxury. We’re still country kids at heart!

Honor the Graduate


Melissa Marquez, Joe Stowell, Joel Armstrong, and Gillian Ferwerda

(I got to take a picture while the honor graduates were posing with the university president for the campus news!)

Well, it was Honor’s Chapel at Cornerstone this morning, and I was so excited to be able to attend!! I knew that Joel would be honored for being a member of the honor fraternity, Alpha Chi, and for being in Who’s Who Among University and College Students in America. I also knew he was graduating summa cum laude, having only ever received on A- in his otherwise perfect course record while attending college. We had even heard that Joel was the salutatorian (second highest G.P.A.; actually, as it turns out, there must have been two students with a perfect 4.0 this year, because there are two valedictorians). However, neither of us knew that Joel was going to receive the Humanities Department Award! That was amazing, because there are so many students in that department, and the award is given “to the student who best exemplifies high academic achievement, spiritual maturity and involvement in on-campus and/or off campus activities.” All this from a kid who is still seventeen. Man…I was just STARTING college when I was seventeen, and I thought that was pretty cool! Way to go, Jo!

National Problem; International Sorrow

Today a dearly loved young mother in Europe is having labor induced to deliver her beloved baby who died just two weeks before the due date. What unspeakable grief to bear all the pain to deliver a dead child. I can’t imagine such sorrow. What always sustained me through the trauma was the thought that I was “dying” in a sense to bring forth new life. That my pain was worth the joy of allowing someone else to come to birth. How awful to bear the pain without the hope of new life.

Yesterday morning I sat and prayed with a friend whose daughter had just miscarried the week before…for the fourth time. Yesterday afternoon I sat and prayed with another young mother of two who just lost a pregnancy the week before. During our Bible study this morning we prayed for a young mother at our chapel who has been experiencing some cramping about five months into her pregnancy. I am struck by the terrible number of miscarriages occurring in this generation. A generation ago they occurred on rare occasions, but today it seems like a miscarriage is almost as common…or even more common…than a full term baby delivered to new life. What in the world is happening? Is it in our diet? Too much stress in the lives of young women? What, what, what, Lord?

One thing that struck me from Alan and my reading through the Old Testament law just recently is that God promises to bless those who obey Him: “And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fuit of thy land…” (Duet. 7:13). He also promises to chasten those who fail to uphold his commandments. I wonder if God is judging our country for national sins such as abortion. If so, I know that just as God’s blessing of rain falls on those who trust and those who do not, so God’s national judgments will affect both those who believe and those who do not.

But, here is what I’m starting to pray for all the dear young women I know who are striving to live godly lives and are faithfully attempting to live right. I am asking the Lord to bless them with fruitful wombs and help them to conceive and carry their children. I am asking God to “put a light in their camps” just as there was light in the camp of the Israelites during the time of the plagues in the land of Egypt. Miscarriage is a tremendous sorrow, and it is weighing down the hearts of many of our young women. Will you pray with me for our daughters and the young women in this generation that they will put their trust in the Lord and that He will provide for them and allow them the privilege of bearing and caring for children? So many people don’t even want “to be bothered.” May those who treasure the privilege be allowed the gift of new life!

In consolation, King David said of his baby that died, “But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2Sam. 12:23). I take this to mean that David believed not only in life after death, but that both he and his infant son had inherited this eternal life. Miscarried children have never sinned, and God is not willing that any should perish. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Although we may not see our miscarried children here on earth, I believe we will enjoy getting to know them in heaven. That brings hope to me and some sense of peace in pain.

Not Really Boiling Over, just Bubbling Over!

Here’s a little motivational excerpt I read the other day that I really liked, encouraging us to make the most of every moment!

From: 212° the extra degree Gift Book, by  S.L. Parker, Mac Anderson

“212° the extra degree captures the essence of excellence in an unforgettable way…At 211° water is hot. At 212°, it boils. And with boiling water, comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive. The one extra degree makes the difference.

In 1981 Jan Carlzon had just been named the CEO of Scandinavian Airlines. His company was in trouble. They had just been ranked by a consumer poll as the worst airline in the world. Last in service, last in dependability, and last in profits as a percentage of sales. Yet one year later, in the same poll, they were ranked number one in all three categories. What happened?

Carlzon had decided to focus on what he thought was the most critical issue…serving the customer. He wanted to keep it simple: identify every contact between the customer and the employee and treat that contact as “a moment of truth.” He set out to let his people know the importance of that moment…the captain, the ticket agent, the baggage handler, the flight attendant. “Every moment, every contact,” he said, “must be as pleasant and as memorable as possible.” He determined that he had approximately ten million customers each year, and on average each customer made contact with five of his people for approximately 15 seconds at a time. Carlzon felt that what happened in these 50 million contacts would determine the fate of his company.

He set out to share his vision with his 20 thousand employees. He knew the key was to empower the front line. Let them make the decisions and take action, because they were Scandinavian Airlines during those 15 seconds. He now had 20 thousand people who were energized and ready to go because they focused on one very important thing…making every moment count. Carlzon made it happen with 212 focus; and you can too.”

Or, as I like to editorialize, make the most of every moment by being God-focused, so that we’re not really boiling over, we’re bubbling over!

“If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water”

(John 7:38).

He Stayed on the Cross out of Love for Us

Just one small thought, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since the Maundy Thursday service we attended at Thornapple Covenant Church. It’s something I’ve known since I’ve known the gospel story. It’s something I’ve sung about in church. But, for some reason, I’ve been really struck by it this time around…I guess because I climbed down off the altar when things got too tough.

The song goes, “He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy the earth and set Him free. He could have called ten thousand angels, but He died alone, for you and me.”

He died because He loved us. Through His death He paid the penalty for every man and woman who would ever live so that if we accept His sacrifice for us, we go free. It’s finished. All we have to do is accept His free gift of eternal life.

Are you ever tempted to climb down off the altar? Most of us don’t ever have to face martyrdom for our faith. Some do. Most do not. But, God asks us to give our lives as a “living sacrifice” to love others and draw them to the healing love of God. When I get too hurt, I give up. I say, ‘If they don’t want me or love me…I’m out of here!”

That’s not what Jesus did. I need to learn to be stronger. “Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas? Sure I must fight if I would win, increase my courage Lord.”

In Memory

Jo Ann’s funeral program read, “Celebrating a Wonderful Life.” Mel was so brave! After 39 years of marriage where they did  everything together from kids to camping to playing in the M.S.U. alumni band to standing beside each other in the hand bell choir at church…after that long of constant companionship, can you imagine losing your mate in an instant? The hand bell choir played during the funeral, and Mel not only played his part, he rang Jo Ann’s bells too. What courage!

Mel asked Alan to bring some reflections on Jo Ann’s medical career. That took a lot of courage too. Alan won’t really be able to replace Jo Ann. As a 34-year veteran at the hospital, she had an expertise and insight that he’s not going to find already available. Alan did the adult patient care and Jo Ann did the pediatric patients…every day…for 16 years! That’s a long time working side by side with somebody. Mel was our family dentist; they were family friends. We will all miss them!

Grappling with the ephemeral nature of life and the painful reality of death is tough. I told Alan that if I die suddenly of a heart attack or accident…be happy! I will have gotten my wish. The only thing even better would be to be translated like Elijah, but unless the Lord comes back before I die, that’s not likely going to happen. Watching at the bedside of Aunt Annie, Mrs. Velde, and my parents has left me with the deep sense that death is indeed the most difficult thing any of us face… the last great “Headmaster” in the video game of life, and if I don’t have to fight long…so much the better!

But, we’re encouraged to “count it all joy” when we face tribulation, knowing that the fruit of enduring and learning to overcome our flesh by our spirit (through the Holy Spirit) will result in the love of God being “shed abroad”…given out to others…and in the end everything will turn out for good and “an eternal weight of glory” much greater in positive value than the negative losses  we suffer here. Now, that’s a hope worth clinging to! Eternal life by faith in Christ, who died for us. Eternal peace and joy in heaven just by accepting the gift that God has already provided for us through the death of His Son. What a promise and hope!

Are you ready to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord this coming Sunday?

I am so ready!

The Aqueduct Project


Well, Jonathan had his birthday last Friday. He’s 29. He told me not to bother wrapping his presents.  (“Save a tree and save some time.”) He didn’t want me to bother making a birthday cake. (“Just a few chocolate chip cookies.”) No fuss, no muss, but all he really wanted was to take a little picnic to Lake Michigan and walk along the beach…not on Friday, but on Sunday after church when most of his siblings would be home and could join in the fun. So, Friday was indeed low key, and we all waited for the big party on Sunday.

Sunday—unbelievably— it snowed. And beyond that, there was a terrible tragedy that morning. Alan’s partner for the past 16 years was killed in a car accident on her way to church when her husband lost control of their car on a patch of black ice. (More on this sorrowful topic later.)  Somehow the idea of heading out on a 40-mile drive in the snow to go to the beach lost its appeal, and we had a rather quiet birthday. We hid Jon’s presents all around the upstairs rather like an Easter egg hunt, and we made cookie monsters out of the chocolate chip cookies (with ice cream, hot fudge, and whipping cream). Kathy and Carl came over from Plymouth, and all in all, it was a sweet celebration, albeit somewhat sober and not at all the picnic at the beach I had been so determined to provide!

This isn’t the first time Jon’s birthday has been less than ideal. One year when he was little our plans had to be totally given up because our basement flooded with torrential, icy rains, and we spent the entire day pumping water furiously. Even on a good year, birthdays often weren’t the way I’d hoped. Here’s a memory from The Armstrong Archives:

“Jonathan had a great seventh birthday…not because it was so perfect, but because he was! He is such a contented child. We had a home schoolers’ party here that day and played lots of games. He never won, but he didn’t complain. Aaron helped him bake his birthday cake while I cleaned up the house afterward, and he finished decorating it when I ran out of time for fancy borders and writing. At bedtime, I told him he had been a gem and asked him if he would have rather gone to ‘Katroo,’ Dr. Seuss’s imaginary birthday land where you get to do everything you always wanted to do. ‘No, I’d rather be home with you!’ What a marvel.

Well, nothing much has changed! Another birthday came and went that just wasn’t all I’d hoped for. But, Jon is still content, despite being across the ocean from his true love and not having enough money to marry her, and despite the snow, the tragedy, the altered plans, and the simple trappings.

So, why do I tell you all this? Because life is so full of ups and downs, and things rarely turn out just the way we expect! By now, Jon had hoped to have a wonderful job lined up teaching at some university where he could earn enough to support a wife and do mission work in the summers teaching at evangelical seminaries around the world. The Lord hasn’t given Jon such a dream job. In fact, God hasn’t given Jonathan a full time job at all…just little bits and pieces here and there. Truly, the Lord seems to have backed Jonathan into a corner without any options except to move forward with the vision he’s had from years ago: to go into all the world teaching and preaching. We’ve incorporated as a tax-deductible non-profit ministry called The Aqueduct Project. If you want to check it out, the website is:

Please pray for us when ever the Lord brings The Aqueduct Project to your mind. Jon’s hope is to earn his own way by teaching and preaching where ever he can find an opportunity (since teaching the Bible IS his tent-making skill so to speak), so if you know of any ministry (even your own church) that might be interested in an Oxford scholar with lots of passion and a great sense of humor, please let me know, and I can send you his resume and more information for you to pass along. He’s great with students as well as adults.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for all prayers and efforts to connect Jonathan with ministries! Our passion is to see revival in America and the hope of the gospel spread around the world!