Happy Halloween :)

So, are you all dressed up and looking like the cutest little pumpkin ever?Have you got your jack-o-lanterns all carved into amazing designs?Although we didn’t take our kids treat-or-treating (and lived so far out that no one ever came to our house looking for treats either), we’ve had a long standingtradition of carving pumpkins, and I love the idea that God plans a design for our lives, cleans us up from the inside out, and patiently cuts away at us—ever so carefully—until we’re “just so,” and then He fills us up with lightso that we can shine even in dark places!And if you can believe this one…Alan and I are going to do something for the first time since we’ve been married…(picture shared by Mike Bouchard on fb)

We’re going over to Dan and Brianna’s house for a party and to pass out candy to all their neighborhood children (and maybe a few dogs, too)! 🙂

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus    Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels…”                                   (2 Corinthians 4:6-7a)

The Sheep of England’s Cotswold Hills

For those of us with a pastoral bent, an amble through the sheep pastures of the Cotswold Hills ranks right up there with a windswept hike through the Bronte sisters’ Haworth moors or an enchanted climb beside Longfellow’s Aira Force Falls, where “not a breath of air ruffles the bosom of this leafy glen.”People come (literally) from all around the world to enjoy the quiet setting andruminate on life like the placid sheep, who chew on their cuds under shady trees.The Cotswold Hills are a lush green and haven’t changed much in the 450 years since Shakespeare wrote of their “high wild hills and rough, uneven ways,”  although in the last 300 years, the Cotswold Hills have become one of England’s finest sheep-raising districts, and the valleys are filled with sheep as well as  gurgling streams. We arrived in May and found the fertile pastures filled with buttercups, which—as even the most discriminating English sheep attest—are as totally satisfying for making one plump as for naming plump girls.The woodlands were hedged with hawthorns and carpeted in white.Although most of the land is privately owned, you can walk freely pretty muchwherever you please. But, just be sure you close the gates behind you! 🙂Although we’ve always lived in the country, the kids and I had never been close to sheep, and I found myself totally delighted with every curious, snowy lamb. Alan—on the other hand—grew up near his grandmother, who raised sheep, and so he failed to see the romance in traveling 6,000 miles to walk through said shady green pastures!

However, I am fascinated by sheep because of all the biblical imagery:“[He] made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock” Psalm 78:52.“Know you 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).“I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments” (Psalm 119:176).“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).“As the shepherd seeks out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day” (Ezekiel 34:12).“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be you therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).“For you were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).“So we your people and sheep of your pasture will give you thanks for ever: we will show forth your praise to all generations” (Psalm 79:13).

Autumn Day in Provincetown and Cape Cod National Seashore

Last week Alan attended a medical conference in Boston, but we were able to slipaway early enough to enjoy a brief trip out to Cape Cod the weekend beforehand. Cape Cod is one of the world’s largest barrier reefs. It looks like a long, sandy boot (almost 560 miles of shoreline) sticking out into the ocean, and although its highest point is only 306 feet above sea level, the Cape shields much of Massachusetts from rough North Atlantic storm waves. There are nearly aquarter of a million year-round residents, but the Cape is teeming with tourists in the summer. However, in the fall, Cape Cod National Park’s 40-miles of beach becomes a paradise for those of us who are restored by tranquility in nature. When we visited, it was cool, clear, and calm… and in fact, stunningly beautiful!We drove straight to Provincetown at the very end tip of the Cape. Provincetown is a tiny little resort of just about 3,000 and is known for upscale tourists, seafood, beaches, harbors, artists, and tolerance of homosexuals (as we noticed and later learned). We enjoyed meandering along the pier, soaking up the crisp morning sunshine and watching the fishermen hauling in their lobster traps and  tying up their boats…far below the pier because it was low tide! As it wasalmost lunch time, we asked a friendly fisher woman where to go for the “bestlobster in town” (since there were myriad choices). “The Lobster Pot!” she exclaimed without a moment’s hesitation. Wow! It was every bit as incredible as it looks! 🙂 Afterward, we took a stroll along the neatly manicured streets of thislovely little resort community, still quite alive with tourists and full of interestingboutiques where local artists showcased and sold their wares. And then, later, inthe warmer afternoon breezes, I took a hike along the seaside while my belovedhad an afternoon siesta in the car. At first I was really disappointed, since I’d looked forward to our hiking together and couldn’t believe he’d actually prefer sleep to enjoying the great out of doors (since that was the goal and highpoint of the trip from my standpoint), but then I remembered that while my son Jon and I ate bread and water to save time while traveling the Iberian Peninsula, Alan and Kathy stopped us in our tracks once we met them in Paris, pointing out that some people prefer fine culinary feasts to fine visual feasts! So then, I decided hewasn’t just being a killjoy and a crab, and I let him sleep while he let me hike.To each his own. Live and let live. While I walked, I remembered the fun I’d had years ago camping at Cape Cod with my brother Wolle. We went digging for clams and one afternoon he even fished a baby sun shark out of a tidal pool and we grilled him for our supper! (Very bony, but good otherwise.) Such fun times!All in all, it was a perfectly wonderful day! But, that was last week. As I write, the category 1 Hurricane Sandy is churning her way toward a 700-mile stretch of Northeast coast (including Cape Cod) with 90+ mile-an-hour winds that may collide with an arctic storm moving in from the west, all under a full moon, making the storm surges even more deadly and threatening 50 million people in the most population-dense corridor of our nation. Will you pray with me for mercy and protection for all those at risk?

“Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wail upon the LORD our God, until he have mercy upon us” (Psalm 123:2).

Rise Up, My Love (4): Choose Faith

I believe that the Bible is the seed; faith is the sprout; understanding is the flower; and Christ-likeness is the fruit.

1:1 “The song of songs, which is Solomon’s.” The book opens with two statements of introduction and explanation. First, this book is “the song of songs,” and second, the book belongs to Solomon. There is no proof given for either statement; you will have to choose whether you will believe or disbelieve what is stated. To say “the song of songs” is declaring that this book is the best…the creme de la creme…the favorite…the finest offering…the greatest song. To introduce the book as “the song of songs, which is Solomon’s” is to declare that this best of all songs belongs to Solomon, and I believe the author is trying to say, “I, Solomon, wrote this song; it is the very best one I have written.”

Now, you are free to disagree with my interpretation. You may believe the author is saying something a bit different. But, please do not doubt that it is “the song of songs”—the chief and best—according to Solomon.  Even if you don’t think it’s the best song that was ever written, please at least believe that it truly was the “song of songs” to Solomon, and perhaps to God as well, because every word of the Scripture has been superintended by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Also, please do not be tempted to think that The Song of Solomon really belonged to someone other than Solomon because no one alive personally saw Solomon write it and you have heard rumors raising doubts about its authorship. Start now by accepting the Word of God as truth exactly as it is written!

The Song of Solomon 1:1 is similar to Genesis 1:1 in that certain assumptions are made which must be accepted or rejected. God does not define or prove himself in the first verse of the Bible; he simply states a fact, and we are left with a choice to believe or disbelieve that fact: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” As we study more of the Bible, we discover that God is “light” (John 9:5), “love” (I John 4:8), and the definition of goodness (Ps. 107:1). Also, we are told that the Bible itself as the living Word of God (John 1:14). We are instructed to have faith in God (Mark 11:22), and we are promised that meditating on Scripture will bring us success (Josh. 1:8) and help us find eternal life through faith in Christ, who died for our sins (John 3:16; 6:63, 68-69).

Do you believe that it was truly this good God who was creating heaven and earth in Genesis 1:1? Although we are asked to believe this fact without any proof, as we study the Bible, many mysteries about God unfold until we find ourselves falling in love with our Creator, who is also the king of the universe and the lover of our souls. But, it takes faith to bring understanding.

So it is with The Song of Solomon. At the beginning of this book, a similar assumption is made. It is assumed that we know who Solomon is. He does not say, “King Solomon, the son of David, the wealthiest and wisest king in the world at this time” (I Kings 10:23). He does not give any titles or credentials. He does not prove himself or commend his writing to his readers. He states a simple fact, “This is my best.” In I Kings 4 we learn that King Solomon “was wiser than all men…he spake three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five.” Wouldn’t you love to study the best song—the best in over a thousand songs—of the wisest man in the world? Will you believe that The Song of Solomon is his best song?To truly understand the Scripture, you must come with an attitude of faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please him [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). Do you lack faith? Do you want a deeper faith? If you want more faith, pray as the father did in Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief,” or as the apostles asked in Luke 17:15, “Lord, increase our faith.” How is our faith increased? By exercise in the Word of God: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). If you want a deeper faith, ask God to increase your faith, and then make some time to meditate on the Bible every day, even if it’s only for five or ten minutes.

What is my first hope for this book? That we come to the Word of God in faith, believing that God exists, and that he will reward us for diligently seeking him through the study of his Word…specifically for now—The Song of Solomon. As you study this commentary, certainly test and question my thoughts and ideas, but please do not question the words of Scripture. Perhaps a good prayer for each of us as we pore over God’s Word is: “Lord, please enlighten our hearts so that we will believe you, understand your truth, and be changed by it.”

The Armstrong Archives (4): Let Me Back Track Just a Bit…

So, last Saturday I left us in the doctor’s office, where I was feeling very overwhelmed by the news of an unexpected pregnancy and my husband’s acceptance into medical school. But, let me take a couple of weeks to reflect before telling you the special surprise surrounding my firstborn’s birth.

It is now 37 years later. I’m older than my mom was when Alan and I got married back in 1973. The story I’m sharing will be extracted from the letters I wrote my parents during 30 years of medical school, residency, and medical practices in southeastern, northern, and now southwestern Michigan. It is the true tale of our adventures in trying to rear a brood of seven children, home-school them, and bring them up to the best of our ability in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

Why do I want to share our story? Because life and love are worth sharing. Three nights ago I attended a lecture at Harvard by Dr. Marie Pasinski on “Neuroplasticity: the Key to Brain Health.” One of her recommendations for maintaining mental vitality is to share your story! So, as you read mine—if anything strikes a chord and reminds you of a story from your own journey— please share with us too! We can all benefit from exchanging our experiences in life and love!

I was sitting at lunch some time ago with my son Jonathan, who is a professor. “Mom!” he queried. “What if all of us are scandalized by what you write?”

“But Jon, you kids have never done anything scandalous. At least…nothing your mother knew anything about when she was writing Grandma!” I narrowed my eyes playfully, but some painful memories did flash through my mind.

Ah, there were secrets. One story that came out years later concerned our last born, Joel, when he was a baby. I used to have a little noose that I would tie around the baby’s foot while he sat in his highchair at the dinner table (in the days before seat belts) so that he could swing his foot but couldn’t stand up or fall out. One night, when Alan and I had left for our weekly date, whichever of the kids had been hired to baby sit for us forgot to put Joel’s foot in the noose. So, as soon as the blessing was over and the “Amen!” pronounced, Joel scrambled up on top of the table and took a running dive for the pot of soup at the other end, slipping and sliding to a halt within a hair’s breath of colliding with the steaming pot, scalding himself and everyone around him. It took many years before the kids were brave enough to relate that nearly disastrous mishap, although we all just smile and shake our heads now as we re-envision Joel’s wild ride.

So, every family has secrets, and every family has failures. Ours certainly did, but we also had a very blessed and happy home, and we still do today.

Some of you probably already know the “characters” in my story, but for those of you who may not, let me give a quick introduction:This is Alan and I (Kathi). We’ve have been married almost 40 years now. Alan is the CMO (chief medical officer) at a Pine Rest Christian Psychiatric Hospital.Here we are enjoying seven of our nine wild and wonderful grandchildren, and next week I’ll introduce our own children as they are today…before beginning the journey back 37 years…

Flitting Thoughts

It’s one of those days when I’m miles behind and am supposed to meet Alan for lunch in an hour with plans for how to spend a glorious afternoon once he’s done with his conference. Hmmm, and I haven’t even stopped to eat breakfast yet…It’s at times like this that I’m especially appreciative of all my friends who post irresistible pictures and sayings on their face books and blogs…ideas I collect like flowers to share on rainy days! So, here’s to ya’ll from ya’ll! Thanks for being my friends and taking time to share love!

Peak District National Park and Buckingham Hotel

After leaving Castle Howard in Yorkshire, we traveled beneath a moody English skyscape to Peak District National Park nestled in the heart of England.  The “Peak” is England’s oldest national park, and some assert that it is the world’s second most visited. The hills were dotted with sheep and the roads lined with graceful Hawthorns. Although most of the 555 sq. miles of the park are above 1000 feet, there are no jagged mountains to be seen, and most of the landscape consists of gently rolling hills and gritstone escarpments. The area is famous for castles and in particular, the magnificent Chatsworth House featured in Jane  Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, but Alan and I had visited Chatsworth before, so  this trip we preferred to visit the old spa resort town of Buxton, which was built on the River Wye by the Romans as the “spa of the goddess of the grove.” Some say Buxton is “one of the loveliest towns in Britain,” and it has been a tremendously popular tourist attraction for several hundred years. Buxton has aCrescent modeled after Bath’s “Royal Crescent” by John Carr, and a fabulous Opera House that hosts operas and other theatrical activities throughout the year. We stayed at Buckingham Hotel, which is just around the corner from the Opera House and near Pavilion Park. If you ever visit, I highly recommend thishistoric hotel that has hosted numberless celebrities over the years. Our roomwas clean, comfortable and charming, and the price was moderate considering the area. It also had the largest bathroom I’ve ever seen in a hotel (15X30′ with a 12- foot ceiling and a marble floor)! Maybe so opera stars can sing in the shower? Well, after we’d checked in, Alan was too tired to venture out, but Stephen and Joel went with me in pursuit of the elusive “Monsal Trail,” which was purported to be a 3-mile-long trail between Buxton and Bakewell and “the best and most evocative walk in the entire peak district” where you can see “the peak district in a nutshell.” Believe it or not, we couldn’t find anyone at the hotel or nearby who recognized the name or the description, but we were pointed to a path along the stream by our hotel that led through a wildflower meadow and eventually toward humble signs pointing to Bakewell, so we may (or may not) have stumbled uponthe right path, but as the sun was setting and the way becoming dark, we decided to turn back rather than take any chances on getting lost or stolen. Too bad! 😦  I had also read about the “famous Bakewell tart” and had visions of dining on a succulent dessert at the halfway point before returning to Buxton. Not to be. But, better to live another day and try something else than push ahead in the dark.The next morning we were well rewarded for our self-restraint! Buckingham had an incredibly extravagant buffet of continental-style breakfast offerings before concluding with the “Full English,” mocha lattes, mango and papaya juice, etc. The breakfast was included in the price of the room and was definitely a one-stop-shop show stopper!  With breakfast in tum, we were ready to head out for a long day’s hike in the Cotswolds and—hopefully—maybe find a Bakewell tart for tea!

“Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Proverbs 19:2).