A Kitty Named Miss Molly Jane

One lovely summer day back in 2007 Alan came home from work and asked me if I wanted another kitten…a very cute Persian tabby. “Over my dead body!” was my unequivocal answer. I had seven kids, two cats, and a dog to take care of, not to mention the fact that Alan has asthma and is allergic to cats and dogs, as is our oldest son, Aaron. Alan was not convinced. “Well,” I said dryly, “if you bringhome a kitten, then YOU take care of it! I’ve had it with being up all night and cleaning up messes. If you want a baby, then it’s going to be your baby. Period.”So much for my resolve. Alan brought the adorable little kitty, named her Miss Molly Jane, and I’ve been feeding her and changing her litter box ever since. Of course, it’s been Joel who patiently lets her in and out his bedroom window at night when she’s not otherwise curled up sleeping soundly next to him on the top bunk, while Davy snoozes peacefully on Stephen’s bed below.        In fact, Dave and Molly very quickly became pretty much inseparable companions. Not only did they sleep together, Molly pretty much followed Davyeverywhere. She learned how to catch mice and stalk birds. She got excited aboutplaying in the snow the first winter, and chased butterflies and frogs the next   summer. Dave spent endless hours mentoring Molly in self-defense, in how to get the best scratches from doting adults, & in how to avoid being inadvertently trampled by Abishai. Miss Molly Jane was a quick learner, and before long she  was in the groove! She learned how to garner attention as wanted, but she also knew when to chillax and sleep. She insinuated her way right into the middle ofKathy and Carl’s snuggle life, and that’s a trick, since Carl is very allergic to cats! In fact, everybody loved her, and the grand kids always wanted to play with her.Molly was especially fond of Joel and was always standing by to help him work!She also managed to sweet-talk Abby into letting her be king of the mountain, something neither of our other cats ever tried! Also—believe it or not—both Davy and Molly would often follow Abby on our evening walks down the lane, although Molly sometimes walked on the other side of the fence, taking no chances on being chased up a tree!  Just like most of us, I think Davy and Molly’s favorite time of the year was Christmas. Davy loved to hide under the Christmastree so he could spy on us while we wrapped the Christmas presents, althoughhe was always pretty good about sharing the presents with Molly. Being the more   mature, older brother, Davy spent a lot of time guarding the tree, but Molly waswas always curious about what was inside the gifts, and even though they knew they weren’t supposed to open any presents until Christmas morning, Molly really had trouble waiting and was always trying to figure out what they were. In fact, she was such a nuisance that Dave usually had to guard the stockings Christmas Eve just to keep them safe. 🙂

Well, they had a pretty ideal life, I’d say…until one day. But, I’ll have to tell you the rest of the story later. In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about what a cushy life those kitties had, and thinking about the fact that I’ve had a very happy life (mostly). Are you familiar with the excellent little daily devotionals called Our Daily Bread? (You can get free copies emailed daily to your inbox by signing up at odb.org/email-sign-up/ ) At any rate, I’ve enjoyed reading them for years, and today’s mini-lesson included the text of Psalm 103. This psalm just about sums up my life and the life of our kitties:

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s…” (Psalm 103:2-5).

None of us knows what tomorrow might hold, but if we’re safe and at peace today, I hope you and I are appreciating God’s goodness and blessing his name! “Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Psalm 103:22).

Ireland’s Glendalough: Reflections on Death

“Life and death are balanced on the edge of a razor.”  ~Homer, Iliad Do you think much about death? Your own death? I never used to… “Gaily I lived as ease and nature taught and spent my little life without a thought, and am amazed that Death, that tyrant grim, should think of me, who never thought of  him.” ~Rene Francois RegnierOf course, all that changes at some point. “We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.”  ~Madame de Stael“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.  ~From a headstone in Ireland”Yesterday I took a friend out for lunch whose husband died just a couple of weeks before Alan and I lost our sister Jan in May. It was just natural for us to  reflect on death and loss. “The death of someone we know always reminds us that we are still alive – perhaps for some purpose which we ought to re-examine.  ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960And so, I have been reflecting on the brevity and uncertainty of life and trying to reevaluate my own priorities and goals.  “We say that the hour of death cannot be forecast, but when we say this we imagine that hour as placed in an obscure and distant future.  It never occurs to us that it has any connection with the day already begun or that death could arrive this same afternoon, this afternoon which is so certain and which has every hour filled in advance.”  ~Marcel ProustIt is in this sober mood that I want to share with you our experience Glendalough a ruins that Lonely Planet Ireland calls “truly one of the most beautiful places in Ireland and a highlight of any trip to the island.” I concur with his opinion! 🙂Glendalough is nestled into a glacial valley in Wicklow National Park at the confluence of two rivers. It was established in the sixth century as a monastic settlement by St. Kevin, famed as a holy man as well as a Celtic monk. The site was attacked in 1398 and much of it left in ruins, although a few of the buildings are still in tact, particularly this entirely stone chapel (even the roof!) known affectionately as “St. Kevin’s Kitchen,” and a graceful round tower madefrom mica schist and stone, shooting like an arrow some 30 meters into the sky. But, enough introduction! Now I’ll be quiet and let you reflect with me on death: ”When the time comes for you to die, you need not be afraid, because death cannot separate you from God’s love.” ~ Charles H. Spurgeon “Death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.”          ~William Penn “A human life is a story told by God.”  ~Hans Christian Andersen      “We all labor against our own cure, for death is the cure of all diseases.”             Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici “While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.”  ~John Taylor        “He spake well who said that graves are the footprints of angels.”            ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11“The Jews looked upon a serpent to be freed from serpents; and we look upon the death of Christ to be delivered from death.” ~St. Augustine
“Pale Death with impartial tread beats at the poor man’s cottage door and at the palaces of kings.” ~George Santayana (1863-1952), Soliloquies in England, 1922, “War Shrines”“Oh heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body, answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains.”  ~Kahlil GibranWhen the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to  God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”                                   1 Corinthians 15:54-57      “He whose head is in heaven need not fear to put his feet into the grave.”         ~ Matthew Henry

“Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.”  ~ C.S. Lewis“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”  Daniel 12:2-3“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3:20-21“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will       always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”      1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Despite its provocative title, Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008) is a tremendously worthwhile documentary that has won no fewer than seven prestigious awards and tells the inspiring story of a huge group of women from war-torn Liberia who began to pray for the Lord to end the reign of terror that had enveloped their nation in a life and death struggle between the horribly corrupt and oppressive government of Dr. Charles Taylor (one of Africa’s most ruthless warlords) and the LURD group (rebels, but led by other vicious war lords) who were attempting to overthrow him.

Some of you may remember that back in May of this year, Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his evil deeds, including terror, rape, and murder. As the presiding judge, Richard Lussick, was reading the sentence, he was quoted as saying: “The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.”

What is not common knowledge but comes out in this 72-minute video is that thousands of women—both Christian and Muslim—banded together in prayer and eventually in action, demanding that Taylor and the rebels meet together for peace talks to end the butchery and terror that had devastated their nation for over 15 years. It was through the bravery and perseverance of these women that the peace talks finally occurred, leading to the resignation and exile of Taylor to Nigeria, and eventually to trial for his unspeakable crimes against humanity. To the women involved, and to me as a viewer, this was all a miracle of God’s grace and a direct answer to the fervent prayers of those courageous women. Very inspirational!

As one who had close friends serving as missionaries in Liberia at that time, the video really hit home. I remember Sue’s Christmas letter in 1989, remarking that life always seemed to be “just the same” day to day. The war broke out on Christmas Eve, and Steve sent Sue and the kids out of the country but tried to stay to help with medical relief (because he was a physician and as a believer). However, their mission hospital was brutally attacked and Steve barely escaped with his life after a long trek through the jungle just weeks later.

At any rate, this video is available on Netflix or can be purchased on Amazon. It’s pretty horrifying, so I definitely wouldn’t show it to kids, but I think it’s a movie well worth seeing just to help us understand more of what a mess our world is in and prod us into more fervent prayer. God is still on the throne, and He is indeed mighty to save when we cry out to him for help.

“Call unto me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you know not” (Jeremiah 33:3).

The Taming of a Kitten Named Davy Crockett

Do you have any beloved pets at your house? How Kathy sweet-talked her father into having a second cat in the house eight years ago is beyond me (but of course, I loved it!). She found Davy at the Humane Society, a tiny kitten someone had left in a shopping cart. He had ear mites and runny eyes…definitely in need of mothering, and our 21-year-old daughter was just the young woman for the job. She named him Davy Crockett because he seemed skiddish around people and ran like a jet everywhere he went, but soon enough he recovered from his (probable) abuse background and got very comfy in his new surroundings. When he first came to us, he’d mew in the morning for company, so I’d tie the arms of a sweater into a big knot around my neck and tuck him into the folds like a little papoose.  He’d cuddle up and sleep like a baby until Kathy  woke up and was ready to take over. His skin cleared up and his coat was as soft as bunny fur. Helearned to play nicely with Abby (who took him right in as the youngest memberof the pack, and  before long he made friends with all the animals in the house,with full rights to lounge on top of Dad and Mom’s bed, just like everybody else!In fact, pretty soon he was pretty much making himself at home wherever he jolly well pleased, even in the bread basket. One of his favorite pass times waschasing his tail, although he also chased all small, furry grey objects and became an unerring and deadly mouse trap, keeping our house rodent free! Davy was a cat of many talents and occupied first chair in piano as well as joining our familyband, subbing for us on the drums when neither Daniel nor Joel were available.Being a true Armstrong, Dave became an avid reader, and although he wasn’t as academically inclined as some of us, his mind rested blissfully in high places…and he spent many, many hours on the computer. A highly educated owl, I think.Joel was a very patient friend and tutored him year after year in all the finerpoints about how to scratch out a living as a writer, and sometimes I’d find Davyup late at night still hard at work long after everybody else had gone to bed. I hadhigh hopes that Dave would become a full-time partner in my writing endeavors after Joel leaves for grad school this fall, but Davy Crockett had other plans thatI knew nothing about. What was he dreaming about? Can you guess? It took usall completely by surprise, but I will tell someday. Meanwhile, I was thinking about the national scandal concerning the Penn State coach convicted of abusing young boys. Did you know that nearly 1 in 3 women have suffered sexual abuse and that a very high number of boys are abused too (although the statistics are harder to obtain due to lack of reporting)? If you have been abused or live with or love someone who has, there’s an excellent book by Cecil Murphy, When A Man You Love Was Abused, that offers wise comfort and counsel. No matter what has happened in the past, like Davy Crockett, our lives can be redeemed and transformed by being adopted into the family of God. Our heavenly Father offers help, healing, and the grace to forgive. Life can become so happy that the past no longer haunts and hurts the present. He opens for us a door of hope!

“And I will give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land Egypt” [which for the Israelites was symbolic of bondage] (Hosea 2:15).

Golden Gate Park in Spring, Touched by the Master’s Hand

Today I would like to invite you to put aside all the distractions of your busy lifefor just a few minutes and join me in finding refreshment in some of the stunning beauty and lofty thoughtsthat touched my spirit while visiting San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park this June.Nestled almost under the shadow of the bridge, Golden Gate Park is the picture of tranquil beauty. Alan and I found it very restorative to come apart and rest here one sunny spring afternoon before attending his sister’s memorial service.Some of the flowers and thoughts may be novel,but for most of you, the thoughts will be as familiar as forget-me-nots…but also—I hope—as fragrant and comforting as old country roses.”“Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away” (Song of Solomon 2:13).“The LORD will give strength to his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11).“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say to you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Luke 12:27).“For this says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest shall you be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” (Isa 30:15).“Know that the LORD, he is God; it is he that has made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).“Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name: you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).“In him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Come you yourselves apart…and rest a while'” (Mt 6:31).“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all them that trust in him” (2 Samuel 22:31).“I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace to his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly” (Psalm 65:6).“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you…” (1 Peter 4:12).“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).“By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew” (Proverbs 3:20).“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).“Then Jesus spoke again to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life'” John 8:12).“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can you, except you abide in me” (John 15:4).“He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness” (Isaiah 57:2).“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28).“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” 1 Thessalonians 5:13).Jesus said, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).“Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 6:23).

Our Baby is 21

Where were you living and what was was life like when you turned  21?  It was 1971 for me…I was a rookie history teacher in North Carolina, then spent the summer in Scotland working with missionaries before starting graduate school.Here it is, 40 years later, and my baby just turned 21 yesterday. Do you remember how you celebrated your 21st birthday? Well, Joel and Stephen wereboth able to get the day off, so we started with a trip to the farmers’ market forjust the perfect (Hungarian) pastries and local berries to go with our coffee, andthen we headed off to the John Ball Zoo, a great favorite of ours. In fact,one of these days I’ll try to write a post on all the cutest zoo animals and theirantics, but this morning I’m feeling very nostalgic about the fact that all our kids have grown up, and I’ve been thinking about the similarities between Joel’s relationship with his older brother Stephen and my own youth 40 years ago.My sister Annie and I shared an apartment and were pretty much inseparable, teaching, traveling, and schooling together. In fact, when we got married a couple of years later (just four months apart), Alan remarked, “I sure hate to break up such a far out pair of old maids.” (I was 22, but who’s counting?) 🙂Joel & Stephen have been extremely close, particularly for the last several years.They’ve shared college and travel adventures together and have had all sorts of unique opportunities. At long last, they will begin to share their graduate school                           experiences. (Hopefully, they won’t be too hairy!)They’ve still got a long road ahead of them, but I feel confident that they’ll do just great, and I’m so glad they have each other as they journey on in the Light.It was a steamy 94° in the afternoon, so instead of a tennis match, Stephen and Joel read while I napped (rather crucial in order to go to bed and get up withAlan without feeling like a zombie by the evening), wrapped Joel’s presents, andput the finishing touches on Joel’s “Death by Chocolate” birthday cake. AfterAlan returned from work we had our dinner party, watched a video, and went for a swim by firefly light. It was a long and extremely happy day…a crowning joy tocelebrate our youngest becoming a bona fide adult just as Alan and I are becoming bona fide senior citizens! Thank you, Father, for my precious family!

“God sets the solitary in families: he brings out those which are bound with chains” (Pslam 68:6).

Ireland’s Browne’s Hill Dolmen: Lead Me to the Rock

Have you ever heard of the Browne’s Hill Dolmen? Well, neither had I, even though it’s said to be the largest capstone not only in Ireland but in all of Europe.The dolmen is estimated to be 5,000 years old and weighs as much as 150 metric tons…a cool 20 square feet of granite resting serenely in the middle of a field and described as “clearly visible” from the road. Of course, trying to actually find this architectural masterpiece from antiquity was nigh unto impossible. It seemedthat none of the locals had a clue, and the miserable grey rain didn’t help either!Finally, after much intent searching we did indeed locate it, and we feltvery gratified after we got close enough to appreciate its enormity. I couldn’t help but think of how Jeremiah recorded the Lord saying: “You shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all you heart.” We can read about God in the Bible, but it’s not until we really go searching for him that we find outthat he’s even more magnificent than we could have imagined. It’s then that we start studying to find out more. Such an immense rock could definitely protect you from a hot sun or a cold rain, and checking out the rock is a memorable experience  worth sharing with others. Therefore, I’ll tell you exactly how to find it:  enter this in your GPS: Latitude: 52°50′ 13.42″N, Longitude: 6°53’39.71WObviously, the LORD is relational and infinitely greater and more complex than a rock! He’s even greater than the Pearl of Great Price that was hidden in a field and worth trading for everything we possess. But, I do love the psalmist’s declaration in in Psalm 18:2, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust…” I also love the Lord’s promise in James 4:8, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw night to you.” Amen to that! He is my Rock, and I hope he’s yours. If you haven’t found him yet, all you have to do is ask (and seek for him with all your heart)!“From the end of the earth will I cry unto you, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).