A Primary Leap…But Not a Very Big One

(Cartoon by Bob Englehart)

Happy Leap Day to you! Did you vote in the Michigan Primary yesterday? Alan and I ran over to the poll after dinner last night. Mitt Romney won over Rick Santorum, but not by much of a leap…a touch over a 3%. He wasn’t the candidate I voted for, but I think he’d make a credible president. He’s just a few years older than Alan and me and grew up in Michigan, where his father, George Romney, served as the governor when we were in high school. I know my father thought highly of the Romney family.

But, I don’t want to argue about the coming election today. Instead, I would like to encourage those of us who live in free countries where we can go to a public poll and cast a private ballot for whomever we wish with no fear of reprisal—for those of us who have voted for years and never been harassed—to take a moment to appreciate this immense blessing! I’m reading a book by a forensic psychiatrist (also a Polish Jew) who survived the Holocaust and eventually made his way to the U.S. I love what Dr. Emanuel Taney says, “American has become my home because it is free of an ideology that promises to make this planet a paradise. America never offered eternal salvation. America makes promises to make people rich, strong, beautiful and slim. When these schemes fail, no one dies. Americans, in times of peace, are passionate about the good life. To live in such a land is a privilege.” (from Passport to Life)  To that, I say “Amen.” If you’ve been born in a free land where you can pursue life, liberty, and happiness without having to conform to a particular religious or political system, then I hope you are also rejoicing!

“And the chief captain answered, ‘With a great sum I obtained this freedom.’ And Paul said, ‘But I was born free.'”

Acts 22:28

Brenda Goes NASCAR

Did you watch the Daytona 500 last night? I think it was the wildest ride possibly in Daytona’s history! I’ve never been to a race, but Brenda, my very resourceful best friend from high school days (I mean so close that getting grounded had the “except for seeing Brenda/Kathi clause” and we were so devoted to each other that we’d fall down every time the other person fell when we were first learning how to ski just for solidarity…), has gotten herself a hobby job writing for Insider Racing News (http://insiderracingnews.com/Writers/BB/022712.html)

which gives her all sorts of privileges, like a free pit pass, access to all the press activities (while sitting right next to the guy from Sports Illustrated, for example), and tons of excitement. (She’s pictured here with two of the pilots who flew over the field before the race began.)So, in honor of my “bestest buddy,” I’ll recount the details for you. Her first photo shows the rain pouring down. For the first time in the race’s 54-year history, the race was postponed from Sunday noon until Monday.To make matters worse, Montoya’s car got caught in a jet draft and crashed into a safety truck loaded with 200-gallons of fuel that burst into flame. Fortunately, no one was injured, but it caused a two-hour delay while the road was cleared and cleaned with detergent. (Picture from Tampa Bay Times)                                We watched some of the race last night on T.V.  (Pictures I took from watching the race of Fox News) I must admit, it kind of reminds me of some of the kids’ video games…                              only the thought that these are real people (Picture of Marcos Ambrose taken by Brenda)…who could get really killed

                                                  makes me really anxious! (Photo by Brenda in press conference.) So, I’ll have to leave the real thrill racing to my dear buddy! You know what they say, “No guts, no glory.” That’s me. I think there are only about three things in the world that would scoot me out of my comfort zone: helping someone I love, sharing the gospel with someone God loves (which is everybody), or trying to get a better look at some gorgeous scene from nature.In case you’re interested, Matt Kenseth (on right in lead, Tampa Bay Times) won a very decided victory. He had to make a comeback after falling to 32nd place due to a radiator problem that sent water shooting like a fountain from the front of his car.  (Picture from Los Angeles Times) You just never know what’s going to happen, do you? As Solomon wrote, “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong,neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

Still, God calls us to run the race! “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Holy War or Unholy War

(Jonathan changing Baby Amelie)

Two weeks ago, Jonathan received an invitation to teach at a Christian seminary in Pakistan this May, but just last week 20 terrorists attacked the seminary on a mission of death and destruction. Please pray for Pastor Khan and those who have survived this heartbreaking atrocity. I think Jonathan will have more details on his next ministry post, for any of you who are interested.(Picture from the U.K. Daily picturing angry Muslim protesters in Afghanistan)

On February 23, Franklin Graham appeared on Fox News appealing for an overturn of the sentence passed on Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who has been condemned  to death by an Iranian court for converting from Islam to Christianity. He is guilty of apostasy under Islamic law.                          (Hamas website reporting anger of the Egyptian Jihad)

I’ve been trying to understand the Muslims and what their “Holy War” is all about. As I understand it, it’s not simply trying to get revenge for how other religions or nations have persecuted their people either in the past or in the present. It’s not “what we’ve done” but “who we are and what we believe,” and that’s the basic nature of all genocides, be it Nazis against the Jewish in World War II or the extremist Muslims’ present “Holy War” against the world. It’s an all-out war against every religion and every people who do not worship Allah as god. They believe that Allah is the only true god, and that anyone who worships any other god, or who fails to worship their god, should be obliterated. (I took this picture inside the Haggai Sophia, which was built as a Christian     cathedral in Istanbul, although now it is a Turkish museum.)

So, how do you fight a war like that? Is that really “holy” war? Not for the Christian. Christ calls us to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This runs totally contrary to human nature and is only possible through the grace of God, but that is our calling.                             (I took this picture inside a Muslim mosque.)

I think murdering everyone who doesn’t worship your god is not the way of life, but the way of death…not the kingdom of light, but the kingdom of darkness. I heard a converted Muslim terrorist who said that he was ready to die for Allah when he discovered that Jesus had already died for him. He found joy in the thought of living for a God who loved him rather than dying for a god who did not love him.

“Walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their minds, having their understanding darkened, being alientated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts, who being past feeling have given themselves over to lasciviousnesss… But you have not so learned Christ…” (Ephesians 4:17-20).

Surgery? Today??

                               Today, February 29th, is Kathy’s “Due Date.”   And I dare say, she’s definitely ready for the baby to come…or so she thought.Only one problem. Her husband, Carl, is on a hockey team, and last night, he got in a bad accident while skating and shattered his ankle. They rushed him to the hospital, admitted him, and scheduled surgery for 9:00 am this morning. However, Carl’s ankle is so bad that they decided to put his leg in a halo for a week and then try surgery next week. So, today Kathy’s been sitting by the bedside of her beloved husband, who’s in a great deal of pain…a total reversal of how they imagined this day might go. And, I still have a fever and a deep chest cough, so I’m no help at all! 😦  Sigh. Just goes to show, we run the race, but we can’t build the race track.

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

Proverbs 27:1

Heating Problems

When Alan got home from work the other night, he noticed that it was cold in the house and pretty quickly ascertained that the furnace had stopped and needed repair. He wondered why I hadn’t noticed.“I don’t know,” I replied. “I just thought I was cold because I’m getting sick.” In fact, that spurred me to check my temperature, which was 102.2° I don’t know if that was really justification for my oversight, but I called our faithful repair man, and before bedtime the house was warm and the water hot again.                                       (Picture by Kumuka of Budapest at night)

It occurred to me that while I am sitting around feeling cold in a nice, warm house, how would it feel to be sick in a freezing home? Europe has been experiencing terribly cold weather this winter. In many places, they can’t just turn up the heat or call their handy furnace repair man to make everything “fine” again.We have a sister church in Romania, and one of our members has been helping out for many years over there with various ministries to the Roma gypsies and other marginalized people. Carl sent us this picture, encouraging us to help out if we can with money for firewood.                            (Picture is from Halstatt in winter by CarForHire.com)

I know there is no end of need around the world, but for me…it occurred to me that if I even send the money that I save on fuel bills this winter (being a warmer than usual winter here) over to help out the people in Romania who are in such desperate need of wood for warmth—well, it wouldn’t really be sacrificing anything special, it would just be re-distributing the cost of heating to where it’s needed.

“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”

Galatians 6:10

Why I Love Cindi: Views of Honduras

So, the birthday club was at it again yesterday!We went to Shiraz’ Grille for some great Persian foodand then came back to my house for presents, a tea partyand a birthday pie. (Cindi might be slightly older than 27, but that’s no concern to us at the Birthday Club on our outings…we go by how we feel.) 🙂Sometimes we hike together, sometimes we have long prayer times together, but the highlight this year was hearing all about Cindi’s short-term mission trip.She and Rex just returned from Honduras, where Rex did anesthesia so that the surgeon could perform some especially difficult cases.Despite Rex getting violently ill from food poisoning before they ever arrived at the mission compound, and despite very rustic conditions, Rex was able to be so helpful that they’ve asked if he could possibly come back every year, and as of now, he’s definitely positive toward the idea.Meanwhile, Ilsa took a week break from school and accompanied Cindi in helping out at the mission school.They ended up doing all sorts of organizational and practical jobs as well as working with the children and providing some craft times.Ilsa is highly artistic and worked with the kids on several art projects.They had a lot of unique experiences and saw some incredible sights, like these iridescent trees,and these fierce-looking bugs. Cindi got attacked by stinging ants and has one leg that is painfully itchy even now…but they’re all ready to go back! Aren’t they brave?It’s her love for the Lord and her desire to reach out to those less fortunate than she is that causes her to strike out beyond her “comfort zone” and travel to a country that is known for poverty and violence. How could you not love a heart like that?!

“Blessed is the man [and woman] that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he [and she—they] shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green: and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday

Did you celebrate the beginning of Lent? Tuesday night we enjoyed the Awards Banquet at Pine Rest, where they honor employees who have worked for 5…up to 50+ years (for every 5 years more of service). One lady had completed 50! 🙂It was particularly special for us this year, because we have several close friends who were being honored for their years of service, including Alan’s assistant, Dona (pictured with her husband), several lovely psychiatrists,

and our very dear friends, Mike (who’s now served 30 years at Pine Rest) and his wife, Mary. Mike and Alan go “way back.” Mary sings on our worship team, and Mike has a long history of playing with our family band, keeping us on track with his gentle, smiling ways and impeccable sense of timing and dynamics.It was such a sweet night, and I was especially touched by the CEO’s remarks that although our lives are but dust and our bodies turn to ashes after we die, all the good that people do is somehow preserved by God. Love will endure.(Picture of Beth Moore from Living Proof Ministries)

So, that was Fat Tuesday. Wednesday morning we had our last lesson from the  “The Patriarchs,” video-taught by Beth Moore. Beth ended her series with a reminder that our bodies may perish, but our spirits live forever. She reminded us that Joseph forgave of his brothers, who had schemed against him and sold him into slavery (recounted in Genesis 37-50). If we’re willing to forgive others, God can take our greatest tragedies and make something beautiful out of them. She said, “There’s nothing Satan can deal you that God can’t trump. But, don’t try to hang on to your bad card and hide it. Don’t be afraid…play it!” Let God make a pearl from your pain. Let him turn it into something to bless others.Last night we attended an Ash Wednesday service. It was beautiful, and at the end everyone had the chance to write out their sins on a slip of paper, ask forgiveness for them, and then place them in a large incinerator, where they were burned to ashes. Sins that are forgiven can be transformed into a means of grace and blessing.  Just one of God’s many miracles!

Joseph said: “Fear not; for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not; I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.”

Genesis 50:19-21

Yes! It’s a Girl!

Gerlinde’s baby was due on February 17th, my mom’s birthday. I was really hoping she’d arrive then. So was Linda! In fact, she made the baby a birthday cake on the 17th, hoping that would encourage Baby to arrive on time! 🙂 (Can you see the little “O” in the middle of the cake?) We all thought for sure a cake like that would be so delectable that it would tempt any Armstrong to come out to eat some, but Baby had a mind of her own and decided that she wasn’t done baking.However, little Amélie Sarah Louise Armstrong arrived at 12:05 am on Tuesday, February 21! Mother and Baby are both doing just great. Jon and Linda say she’s so pretty they just can’t take their eyes off her. She weighs 7 lbs. 14 oz. and is 18″ long, dark hair and “JP” as my father would say (“just perfect” in every way).“Amelie” is French and means “industrious, hard-working, ambitious.” I can’t think of a name any more descriptive of both Jonathan and Linda, so I’m guessing their little angel will have a double blessing of vitality and energy. May she grow up to channel all her gifts into loving and serving the One who created her and sent her to us! What a blessing!Linda’s mother arrived “on the day!” What a joy that must be for her!! Sarah and Christoph have been serving as interim missionaries at a church in Seoul, South Korea, for the past year, so it was a long way to come, and Sarah is planning a good, long visit. Alan and I will have to wait our turn, but we can hardly wait. 🙂 All prayers appreciated for Linda as she recovers from the hard work of labor, Sarah as she recovers from the trip and time change, Christoph surviving without his wife (she had to teach him how to do laundry before she left, but I’m not sure about cooking…), and Jonathan as he tries to help and figure out how they can all get a little sleep while Amélie—angelic cherub that she is—tries to adjust to the idea of daytime and nighttime versus her time (which is pretty much all the time for babies, right?!). Thanks for your prayers. And, praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembers no more the anguish, for joy that a man [or in this case a woman] is born into the world” (John 16:21)

Winter Beauty at Tahquamenon

To celebrate our 39th anniversary last weekend, Alan and I ran away to the place where we met (almost 50 years ago)…Michigan’s beautiful north country. We spent the night in one of our favorite motels by the straits of Mackinac.

Then, after an A+ breakfast to fortify ourselves for the daywe headed across the Mighty Mac and on toFor any of you who’ve never been there,even the ride across the bridge is special!The views—like this shot of Mackinac Island—are spectacular.We decided to visit Tahquamenon Falls, which has been a favorite spot for years.There are both the “Lower Falls” (in the above pictures)and the “Upper Falls,” which are the second highest falls east of the Mississippi. In the spring 50,000+ gallons of water per second gush over the falls.I can remember snow shoeing behind these falls back in “the olden days” when there were no boardwalks…or restrictions!Alan and I have fond memories of scuddling and jumping with Aaron through the leaves in the fall here back in 1976. We had come with Alan’s mom to celebrate Aaron’s first birthday!In fact, we have many precious memories of walking through the “murmuring pines and the hemlocks” with all our kids!It really turned out to be the perfect place to share happy memories of the past 39 years and dream about the future!It’s a pretty magical spot!The one thing we never used to afford was anything more than a picnic! For our anniversary dinner, we enjoyed a first-rate meal at “Camp 33.”And our luncheon at the Perry Hotel on our way home was another big hit!This was what the Lake Superior sunrise looked like from our room the morning we left. I am hoping for many memorable returns of our anniversary, and I wish the same for all of you who are married!

“For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Isaiah 55:12-13

Update on Aaron’s Family: Thank Heaven for Little Boys

Aaron’ family stopped by for a belated birthday party for Gideon and a bit of a Valentines’ Day party, but because Alan and I had been up north celebrating our anniversary, Joel decided to make dinner. It was everybody’s lucky day, because he served the most incredible meal: Schiacciata con le Cipolle Rosse e Formaggio (pictured above), chicken pasta, tossed salad, grape juice, and for dessert: fresh berry trifle (some ingredients being gathered above), with tea and/or Macchiatos. I think Reuben had three helpings of the trifle, but who was counting? 🙂After dinner, Gideon opened his present and was suitably excited. It’s fun to have grandchildren who are still very young and easily delighted!Likewise for the entertainment! A handful of balloons and container of legos pretty much carried the evening for the guys. They are just too cute!Reid played “cash” (catch) with me for quite awhile, and wanted to help stack the dishwasher. The boys are all super helpful and sweet!Of course, before they trundled off to bed, they needed a little Daddy time. I’ll tell you, it was just 30 years ago that the man on the couch was Alan playing with Aaron, Michael, and Jonathan!A perfectly wonderful end to a perfectly wonderful weekend!

“Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms” (Psalm 95:2)