A Christmas Family Portrait

Well, this is “us” for this Christmas, the Michigan Armstrongs

Alan & Kathy, Daniel & Brianna, Stephen, Kathy & Carl, and Joel

(Compliments of Steve Cooper, who’s celebrated more holidays with us in GR than probably any of our three oldest! 🙂 Thanks, Steve!)

(If you have facebook, I just posted a “ton” of pictures…)

A Christmas Eve Poem by Michael Marks

A Christmas Eve Poem

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed around the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.

In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn’t loud, and it wasn’t too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.

Perhaps just a cough, I didn’t quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside on the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled there in the cold.

Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, my wife, and my child.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked without fear,
‘Come in this moment, it’s freezing out here!

Put down your pack; brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!’

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts

To the window that danced with a warm fire’s light,
Then he signed and he said ‘it’s really all right
I’m out here by choice. I’m here every night.’

(My friend, Dr. Julia Hall…just safely back from Iraq a week after Michael returned. Praise God!)

‘It’s my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I’m proud to stand here like my fathers before me
My grandpa died at ‘Pearl on a day in December,’
Then he sighed, ‘That’s a Christmas Grandma always remembers.’

My dad stood his watch in the jungles of ‘Nam’,
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I’ve not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures; he’s sure got her smile.

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue . . . an American flag.

I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.

I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.

I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother.

Who stand at the frond against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall.

‘So go back inside,’ he said, ‘harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I’ll be all right.’

‘But isn’t there something I can do, at the least,
‘Give you money,’ I asked, ‘or prepare you a feast?’

It seems all too little for all you’ve done,
For being away from your wife and your son.

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
‘Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we’re gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.

For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us.’

—Poem by Michael Marks

Where’s the Line to See Jesus?

You may have had a dozen people forward the email below to you, but Alan and I were at the mall yesterday watching the children lined up to see Santa, and it reminded me…yah! Where IS the line to see Jesus???
A Christmas song…
About the Song

While at the mall a couple of years ago, my then four year old nephew, Spencer, saw kids lined up to see Santa Claus. Having been taught as a toddler that Christmas is the holiday that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, he asked his mom, “where’s the line to see Jesus”? My sister mentioned this to my dad, who immediately became inspired and jotted words down to a song in just a few minutes. After putting music to the words, and doing a quick recording at home, he received a great response from friends. He sent the song off to Nashville without much response, except for a Christian song writer who suggested adding a bridge at the end of the first chorus. My dad then asked if I wanted to record the song to see what we could do with it. I listened to the song, made a few changes to the words to make it flow better, and we headed to Shock City Studios. It was at the studio where Chris, owner and producer, rewrote the 2nd verse and part of the chorus… with goosebumps and emotions high, we were all hopeful and felt like we had something special. The demo was recorded in just under 2 hours and sent off again to Nashville … still no response. Then 2 weeks before Christmas last year, my cousins Greg and Robbie decided to do a video to see what we could accomplish on YouTube. The first day we had 3000 hits and it soared from there. We received e-mails, phone calls, Facebook messages from people all over asking for the music, CD’s, iTunes, anything… we had nothin’. After a couple of meetings with Chris following the amazing response, we got serious. We headed back into the studio this past spring… this time with guitars, drums, bass, pianos, choirs… the real deal…. and here we are today. Getting iTunes set up, a website put together, and loving that thousands upon thousands of Christians have come together… remembering the true meaning of Christmas. Out of the mouths of babes come profound truths that many adults can not understand. Hopefully Spencer’s observation will cause people all over to reflect on the love of Jesus, and that one day we will all stand in line to see Him. We are most thankful to our Heavenly Father to have this chance to share our music with you. Merry Christmas everyone.

Christmas Thoughts

(Excerpts from a Compilation by James Watkins)

Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas.
Johnny Carson

Christmas is a time when you get homesick — even when you’re home.
Carol Nelson

Christmas is a time when everybody wants his past forgotten and his present remembered.
Phyllis Diller

Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.
Oren Arnold

Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won’t make it “white.”
Bing Crosby

The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each others’ burdens, easing others’ loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of Christmas.
W. C. Jones

The only real blind person at Christmas-time is he who has not Christmas in his heart.
Helen Keller

There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions.
Bill McKibben

He who has no Christmas in his heart will never find Christmas under a tree.
Sunshine Magazine

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.”
The Grinch from How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Christmas began in the heart of God. It is complete only when it reaches the heart of man.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’
Luke 2:9-14

There has been only one Christmas — the rest are anniversaries.
W.J. Cameron

Celebrating Christmas without Christ is like celebrating George Washington’s birthday without mentioning the first president.
James N. Watkins

. . . for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

This is Christmas: not the tinsel, not the giving and receiving, not even the carols, but the humble heart that receives anew the wondrous gift, the Christ.
Frank McKibben

When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?
Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Christmas is the day that holds all time together.
Alexander Smith

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
Ebeneezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

The implications of the name ‘Immanuel’ are both comforting and unsettling. Comforting, because He has come to share the danger as well as the drudgery of our everyday lives. He desires to weep with us and to wipe away our tears. And what seems most bizarre, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, longs to share in and to be the source of the laughter and the joy we all too rarely know.
Michael Card

I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.
Taylor Caldwell

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end
Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Christmas Caroling

Our “care group” always goes Christmas caroling at Rest Haven, which is the elderly care home affiliated with our chapel.

When we started, Alan and I were serving the medical needs of the elderly folks and my mom was the only resident we knew well, but now  there are 22 dearly loved older friends there (most of whom were quite healthy and independent 18 years ago when we first moved to GR). Three of our “care group” prayer partners have their parents here now.

A bit on the sad side…we started with three families and 21 children (each couple had 7 kids!). However, now almost all the kids are grown and have families of their own, so very few kids were left to go singing with us. 😦

After singing to a few special groups, we wandered up and down the halls, singing to some of the folks who were already getting ready for bed.

Here are Cindi and Susan, showing off the dog Ethel gave Ruthie. (The dog sings “Jingle Bells”!)

How times change! Ruth was a pillar at our church for years, spearheading the chapel newsletter and organizing the special music programs. Now I’m chairing the special music. Wonder how long it will be until I’ll be sitting in this chair?!

Afterward, we came back to our place for food and more fun. Joel made some specialty coffee drinks for us to compliment the chili, cheese, and crackers.

And goodies…always lots of goodies!

(Sorry the pictures shrank again. I think I accidentally hit something on the camera that changed the image size. Talk about electronically challenged!)

Brian and Alan are checking out the Christmas tree.

Here are the men in our care group. Dear Roger is now without Cheryl, who graduated to heaven not long ago. How we all missed her beautiful soprano voice!

So, three families meeting 15 years ago expanded to over 30 of us meeting weekly for prayer and Bible study. From that  group, there are now two younger couples (kids of Paul, who’s sitting to Alan’s right) who are leading Bible studies in their own homes. As our kids grew up and started their own families (also there were two marriages between the young people in our care group), we added other families…but now we’re  down to about a dozen adults and no kids. How quickly the generations pass! It inspires me to try to make every day special and especially good!

The Maverick Flying Car by the Son of Nate Saint

The kids know I’ve always dreamed of building an “Alases” (Air/Land/ Sea/Submarine vehicle) because it  showed up in fanciful stories—

This summer Stephen was actually able to fly in a “powered parachute.”


Well, this morning I just saw a video on “The Maverick,” a car that can travel on highways and fly. It’s been developed by the son of Nate Saint (one of the missionaries killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador 50 years ago) with the hopes of using it for humanitarian purposes.

If you’ve ever wanted to fly…take a minute and check out this video!


“If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:9-10)

The Glory of Christmas

Last weekend we went with Kathy and Carl to their church’s marvelous “Glory of Christmas” program, which I’m thinking must be seen by over 30-40,000 people given the size of their auditorium and number of performances. Carl does their animation and a lot of the video work, so it was especially a joy to see his part in their wonderful program (although hundreds of people are involved in the productions).

With 20,000 in their congregation, they have an enormous amount of talent to draw on…a full-sized orchestra (volunteer), and very professional-sounding singing and acting.

They start with all the joyous “fun songs” of Christmas while people are getting settled in but eventually have a play that explains the “reason for the season” and why Christ came to earth…

to live a perfect life and die in our place, so that we can be reconciled to God and receive eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Hundreds of people respond to the invitations given at these outreaches. Praise God!!!

Afterward, Kathy and Carl had us over for a warm and wonderful dinner party. Kathy and I think it’s strange: I always wanted to marry someone in ministry and married a doctor. Kathy always wanted to marry a doctor and married someone in ministry. We are both very content now, however, and love our husbands!!

Sunday afternoon we put up our Christmas tree. (I hope this doesn’t make the older kids jealous to see Dad actually helping in this process, but he’s gotten quite sentimental in his older years. Very sweet!)

Stephen and Joel worked like troopers to help me get the house looking all beautiful! We’re ready for visitors now, so come on over! 🙂

We have a tradition of stopping for crackers and cheese along the way. It seemed strange to only have the four of us this year! I can’t remember decorating with so few people…I guess since Aaron and Michael were babies!

So, who do you suppose stayed up late enjoying the peace and quiet of the tree this year? Actually, Abby and Molly are great friends, only Abby’s usually too concerned about his dignity to allow any portraits with Molly sitting on TOP of him! After all the hard work of setting up the tree, I guess he was feeling especially mellow. Or, better yet…maybe even animals respond to God’s desire for peace and goodwill at Christmas time! 🙂

The Lord is My Shepherd

A Nativity Scene was erected in a church yard.
During the night, the folks came across this scene…
An abandoned dog, looking for a comfortable, protected  place to sleep, chose baby Jesus as his comfort.

No one had the heart to send him away, so he was there all  night.

May we all have the good  sense of this dog and curl up in Jesus’ lap from time to time.
No one mentioned that the dog’s breed is a