The Lord Takes, and the Lord Gives

So, Alan and I got left behind when Joel and Stephen moved out this past week, but thankfully, where the Lord closed one door, he opened another! Joel left Sunday, Stephen left Monday, but on Wednesday, Dan and Brianna came over!So, I want to share a bit about what’s been going on with them. After 2 years ofpractice in Battle Creek, Daniel took a job here in GR, where they already owneda home. Now they can live in their own house and be closer to family…a greatjoy for all of us, since Brianna’s large and happy family is also based in GR. Crews from both sides helped scrub up after the renters left and joined forces to help with the move. Alan even stopped by at lunch to see the progress since their house is very close to his office! How fun is that?! 🙂 By the time the moving vanpulled into their driveway, we were all ready for them, and while the young people helped move all their furnishing into place, Brianna’s mom (Shelly) and I stopped to pray for the Lord to fill their home with children too. Daniel and Brianna love children and are so good with them. They’d be such great parents!Wednesday was Daniel’s first day of seeing patients, and they stopped by for dinner afterwards. It was just too fun to get to be hearing “all about it” again!Also, my good friends Susan and Cindi came over to cheer me up on Wednesday.The Lord is so merciful! I think I’m going to live, and I hope the same for any of you who are feeling the pangs of loss from having your children grow up.

“You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15).

What Does An Empty Nest Look Like?

It isn’t like the world stops when your last offspring spring off, but it definitely makes the days seem longer! Alan and I still wake up early, have devotions together and breakfast before he leaves for work.  I still take Abby out for a morning walk and do my little routine of calisthenics.  The world is full of so much business and happy pursuits that I’m never without work or pleasure, and I’m certainly never bored!

         BUT, you cannot replace the companionship of missing loved ones… having your son bop into your bedroom to chat when he wakes up. Do you want to stop for a  cup of coffee and a few minutes of sharing Our Daily Bread over a second breakfast? (This may sound fattening, but all Hobbits know it’s perfectly reasonable). I miss the beautiful sounds wafting up from the music room while my son (known to most as Stephen, but to me as “Roger, Darling” at such times) runs nimble fingers up and down the keyboard for hours, intent on mastering some fabulous composition by Liszt or Tchaikovsky. I miss Joel writing by the hour, intent on finding just the right turn of phrase to convey a certain nuance in a scene he’s conjuring up. I miss my sons sharing ideas and plans over lunch. I even miss the fact that they’re no longer working in GR; they don’t have “jobs” here in town anymore. They both have “jobs” still, working as teaching assistants in their respective universities, but our house is no longer their home base as they practice and write, study and work!  There’s nobody left to dream up fine cuisine for dinner but me. Nobody to brighten up the dinner table conversation  but Alan and me. Nobody to help wash up the dishes or share an evening   constitutional down our lane or a late night dip…unless Alan’s up for it.                    (These gorgeous dogs are my friend Maya’s, not mine!)

The nest is empty. Woe is me. 😦

“Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by strength of the ox.” (Proverbs 14:4)

Well, not really. If anyone is living in his own nest, then the nest is not empty: he is there! So, I am here! My nest is not empty either. Besides, I still have Alan, so there’s two of us. We lost our last two, but we still have two. That means the cup is only half empty and is still half full! Furthermore, when we first got married, 2 was the definition of double the fun!

“The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

      So, shall I mourn the loss, or take joy in what I have?!I spent my first day going solo by doing everything I always do (which took up most of the day), but in my spare time I cleaned the fridge, made menu plans, and went grocery shopping. Amazingly, the bill was just the same as usual, only this time it was because I was buying some unusual items to make special treats to cheer up Alan, who—despite his macho blustering—will also miss the kids intensely!So, honeymooning, here we come! I’m guessing the Lord gives us a second crack at living as a couple so that we can learn from our past mistakes and, with renewed commitment to making the marriage harmonious and good, live lives filled more deeply with grace and love. At least, that’s my dream!“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32)

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.” Ecclesiastes 4:9

Hadrian’s Wall

If you are like me, the name “Hadrian’s Wall” is tucked into the dark recesses of your brain as part of a history lesson on World Civilization, but the details are a bit fuzzy. It was a stop that almost didn’t happen, even though it wasn’t far out ofour way, but I’m really glad we took the time. So, let me refresh your memory with what I hope will be an encouraging tale connecting the past and present.In 122 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian had a wall built near the northern border of England that was 15-20 feet high and almost 10 feet thick. It was builtmainly from local limestone and stretched for 73 miles across England, creatinga formidable barrier between England and Scotland. Every mile along the wallthere were heavily fortified gates and sentries, making it possible to restrict entry into England, control commerce, exact tolls, and generally hamper free travel.What remains of the wall became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and isnow considered northern England’s most popular tourist attraction. (I have since learned that—although you can walk freely on the wall—it would be better not to in order to preserve this monumental wonder of the ancient world. Sorry 😦  ) Nevertheless, the trail along the wall is dotted with wildflowers and vast shade trees encircled by bluebells, making for an absolutely delightful place to stroll…or to rest in the shadow of this mighty wall. I mused over the fact that the sheep would have no insight into the value of the wall or the monumental, sacrificial work that went into what was providing for their comfort. I am so often like one of those sheep, oblivious of all it cost God to provide shade,  a wall of   protection, and green pastures for me through the sacrificial death and present ministry of Jesus Christ, our Rock. How little I understand God’s love!

“For I, saith the LORD, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her” (Zechariah 2:5).

Our Last Chick Flies the Coop

Joel, our 21-year-old “baby” (last born) began graduate school at Western this morning, and Stephen is leaving for graduate school at MSU tonight. Yikes! 😦There’s something very traumatic about having your last born pack up his bags, dismantle his bed, and move out, lock, stock, and barrel! So, it was a pretty sadday for us when Stephen and I helped Joel move all his earthly possessions out of their bedroom and onto a U-Haul headed for parts south! You know the feeling…it’s not like parents don’t want their kids to grow up. We do! We were thrilled when Joel got into graduate school and had lots of fun over the summer helping him find “just the right” stuff for his apartment. Still, together is always happier than apart! Brian stopped by at the perfect moment with two fresh pies to cheer us up, fortify us for the trip down, and give us lots of energy for the bigjob of carrying everything up 3 flights of stairs to Joel’s lovely new apartment.Stephen and Joel have been pretty much inseparable companions, and Joel can’tremember ever living in any other house, so this is going to be a big adjustmentfor Joel too, although he’s a hard worker, a great cook, and has always been mature and steady, so I think he’s well prepared to face the challenges ahead.Saturday night we had a last supper together and celebrated Joel’s having completed the novel he’s been working on for the past 15 months, and SundayJoel left for real while I waved sadly goodbye until he was out of sight. I hope youappreciate every day you have with your kids, and I hope pray for them every dayof your life, because even when they’re grown and gone, they will never stop needing your love and your prayers.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6)

Our Wonderful, Ramshackle Dock

With the kids coming home for “Camp Armstrong,” it seemed like we really needed some way to access our lake besides wading through waist-deep muck! Icontacted our local officials and discovered that the DNR and DEQ (that stands for “Department of Environmental Quality”…an organization I’d never even heard of before) required a site visit (which we did), a visit to their office (whichI did), getting plans drawn up by a builder (in process), filling out a 50-page application (waiting on the builder’s specs), and will take months to get approvalplus require many thousands of dollars to build…probably by 2013. “Yes, but thekids are coming in August, and the water level was so low that there’s 50 feet of  muck between us and good, clean fun on the lake! So, what should we do?It just so happened that Stephen had built us a new retaining wall around our parking area, and we still had the old boards he’d replaced with bricks. Being among that elite group that “yoosed to be yooppers,” (Michigan’s wild and wooly Upper Peninsula, where people work to live, not live to work) the men took matters into their own hands and built us a temporary dock of boards & stumps to keep us all happy until such a time as a dock fit for the Grand Poobah is built.Frankly, I love our rustic “Camp Armstrong” dock just the way it is! We were able to get out to swim and play in the lake during our family reunion,and it makes hopping into the kayak for an early morning paddle sheer joy!I wonder, has there been such a dry season in your life that it seems like 50 feet of muck have come between you and a happy, wholesome life? Don’t wait until every last detail is in place for the “perfect” life. Look around you and take hold of what you have. Ask God to help you build a bridge to goodness and joy, and I believe that both you and God will take pleasure in it.

“Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord” Haggai 1:8.

On to our Scottish Roots: Dumfries

After our wonderful stay in Edinburgh, we began a lovely drive through the “Southern Uplands” of Scotland down toward the border city of Dumfries, whichis the ancestral home of Alan’s family. Learning something of the history of yourhusband/father/self probably makes you understand a little bit more about whoyou and your loved ones are. This was really true for me as we drove through theverdant hills and vales marking the border between Scotland and England. Scotland has a very stormy past, and the Armstrong Clan was one of the fiercestof the border clans. Dumfries was home to brave warriors like Robert the Bruceand John Paul Jones, Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns, and a trulyremarkable list of innovative people. (Think I exaggerate? Check Wikipedia!) 🙂I’m not sure if Lance or Louie Armstrong came from Scotland, but Alan comes  good stock, and I’m glad to be an Armstrong. However, Armstrongs aren’t lambs,and their motto is: “I Stand Unvanquished.” I’ve learned to respect Alan’s energyand determination. There’s nothing laid back about Armstrongs! Alan’s progenitors, John and Elizabeth Armstrong, migrated from Dumfries about 150 years ago (I believe), and his Great Uncle Bill had a fuel oil business that Alan’s father eventually owned and where Alan worked as a kid. You can imagine ourexcitement when we drove up behind a big fuel oil truck near Dumfries with this sign on the back! Yes! Two Bills in the same business on both sides of the sea!Dumfries was built near the mouth of the River Nith and has been nicknamed“Queen of the South.” We truly relished our opportunity to explore the town andappreciate our rich heritage. After visiting their museum and learning what we could about our heritage, we stopped for lunch at “The Bank” Hotel. Ah! Anotherhappy discovery, and their Beef Wellington was savory…even superb, I’d say! So, my thought for today is to be thankful for your heritage. I hope you discover  the positive attributes of your heritage, live up to them, and build on them for an even brighter and more godly future! And, by God’s grace, may you stand “unvanquished” after all the battles of life are over!

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13).

Family Reunion

For the past week, we’ve been enjoying having our family here. In fact, I’ve beenso busy that I haven’t even processed my pictures yet, and these adorable shots were all taken by Brianna (except for this one OF Brianna). So, I won’t be postingmy usual “Travel Tuesday” post (unless you count traveling around our lake)—atleast not until after Jon and Linda have to leave tomorrow, since…as you can see,I’ve really had my hands full with the kids (this and next pix by Aaron)and having SO MUCH FUN!!

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his Holy Name!”

Edinburgh, Scotland: on The Fringe

Well, we eventually had to leave the beautiful “Emerald Isle” & flew via Ryan Air(great deals on flights in Europe) on to Edinburgh, Scotland, where I had spent awonderfully happy summer doing mission work back in 1972. Edinburgh is abustling city with nearly a half a million inhabitants. It’s the second largest city in Scotland and the seventh largest in the U.K. It was a major historical center of the Enlightenment and was known as the “Athens of the North.” Both the Old Town and the New Town have become UNESCO World Heritage Sites because of their unique beauty and charm. In fact, there are some 4,500 buildings listed on their national register!  Today, Edinburgh is Scotland’s political and cultural center, and although we visited in May (which is a great time), I would definitely consider coming for the Military Tattoo in August (if you can get tickets…40 years ago it wasn’t hard, but now the tickets sell out way in advance)! Also in August “The Fringe” occurs, the world’s largest arts festival, sprawling all over the city, especially down the Royal Mile, and boasting almost 2700 shows including over 1,400 world premieres and over 600 free! (Choose with care.) 🙂 We arrived too early on a Sunday morning to check into our apartment, andso we chose the only reasonable alternative…a great comfort breakfast! From my months of sharing the gospel with folks all over the city, I felt at home on the the Royal Mile and Princes Street, and so we parked and began a walking tour.Our first event was to enjoy a worship service at one of the many area churches.Even the evangelical services are conducted in magnificent buildings with gorgeous interiors and inspiring music. After a refreshing service, we continuedup the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, built at the top of volcanic Castle Rock.This area hosts the Military Tattoo & has become a national symbol of Scotland.Due to the great views and museums, it’s Scotland’s top tourist attraction. Beingvery tired by this time, we stopped for a wonderful Indian lunch and decided tosimply meander through the interesting fabric mill and enjoy the shops rather than tour museums or even their delightful zoo and botanical gardens. We weremore than ready for a nap when it was time to check in and were amazed at thegleaming apartment (including even a laundry room) that we had found online for less than the price of most regular rooms in capital cities around the world!Thus revived, we headed out to enjoy views of Holyrood Palace and the gorgeousnatural beauty surrounding Edinburgh. I remember back in 1972 thinking that some day I wanted to bring Alan back to see Edinburgh and the wild North Sea.Thank you, Lord, for allowing me such a great privilege! Following God on the upward climb has been much more challenging than I ever could have imagined, but still, I’m thankful every day for the gift of life, for our wondrous world, andfor a God who loves us and is willing to guide us home to heaven.

“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3)

“There is not a heart but has it moments of longing, yearning for something better, nobler, holier than it knows now.”  —Henry Ward Beecher

Higher Ground  (by Johnson Oatman)

“I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
‘Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.’

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

“I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till Heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s table land,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”