In Pursuit of Perfection: The Perfect Christmas Tree

Gold bulbHave you ever thought about what makes the perfect Christmas tree? As I  recall, I think we’ve managed to find our perfect tree every year so far. How about you?  In our family, we have a tradition of finding the tree together. When the kids were little, we used to chop down our own, either from a Christmas tree farm, or when we lived in Marquette, from our own back fifty acres. However, now we just go to the local market and look for the tree with the most symmetrical shape and loaded with thick boughs just perfect for hanging lots of ornaments. After we’ve checked out every tree and figured out which tree we like the best, we let the expert trim off the base so that it’s perfectly flat and drill the hole for absorbing tree slurpees (1 gallon water+1 tablespoon bleach+1/4 cup sugar). We sold our 15-passenger stretch van to a friend with nine kids, so this year we had to strap the tree on top. In fact, the salesman tied us all in, but Joel graciously & nimbly climbed out a window to untie the doors when we got home! Long gone are the days when Alan and I had to do all the lifting and carrying!   This year we just admired and took pictures, while our sons did all the work. 🙂 When the kids were little, we used to decorate the Christmas tree all together, but the little ones usually hung bunches of decorations on all the lowest branches  and it looked a little—well, shall I say a smidgen less than aesthetically perfect? After the children were nestled all snug in their beds, I would rearrange the ornaments until I thought everything looked “just perfect.” Of course, my idea of perfection would doubtless be different from someone else’s, but I’ve learned Blue and silver bulbthat beauty—and perfection—are both somewhat in the eye of the beholder. After Alan and I were too tired to work anymore, and were nestled all snug in our bed, Joel (our “baby”) stayed up and finished decorating the Christmas tree for us. And you know what? When I woke up the next morning, I thought to myself,19“Wow!” The tree looks just perfect!”

My kids are all grown up! “Perfect” can mean “flawless,” but it can also mean “mature; accomplished; complete.” When Jesus told us in Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” I don’t think He was putting the burden on us to never, ever make a mistake or fail, in the same sense in which our omnipotent, omniscient, and holy God is perfect.  I believe Jesus was calling us to himself, to be “born again” as a spiritual babe and to walk in faith from spiritual infancy toward spiritual maturity, knowing that all along the way, we would be imperfect in the ultimate sense, but still “just perfect” in God’s eyes. This is not because we are perfect, but because of his unfathomable love and compassion for us as we journey toward maturity, just like we find pleasure in our children from infancy to adulthood and often think that what they’ve done is “just perfect.”

“As for God, his way is perfect” (2 Samuel 22:31).

“God is my strength and power, and he makes my way perfect” (2 Samuel 22:33).

Iris Entertains

Mom told me Grandma was coming today, so I watched for her by the window.Hurry, Mom! Help me get my coat on!Okay, Grandma, we’re outta here!Let’s see…what’s on the menu today?Okay, I know what I want, so let’s get on with ordering!Oh goodie, here comes the waiter!Man, is he tall! I suppose he’s too old, too. I wonder if he’ll flirt with me…Yes, I’d like a Sicilian pizza, peach lemonade, and red velvet cake with ice cream.Hey, who ordered these grapes as the appetizer?Actually, they’re ….they’re…they’re my very favorite. Mom’s so smart.Oolala. Peach lemonade is really…well…interesting…Hey, waiter, hurry up, will ya? I’m half starved!Now, that’s more like it!Hmmm. That pizza’s great, but it sure makes me thirsty.Wonder if I could figure out a way to get a drink on my own…Oh, nuts! It rolled out of my reach.Thanks, Grandma! Hey, Ma, can I try again? I know I’ve never done it before, butthere’s a first time for everything! Ha, it wasn’t half as hard as I thought! 🙂Nobody look. I want a second helping of those grapes. They’re the bomb.Of course, pizza isn’t too bad, either.Napkins—on the other hand—leave much to be desired.Okay, did I eat enough to qualify for a little dessert?What do you mean you’re too full? I want cake with  Häagen-Dazs ice cream!Okay, let’s compromise.Anything for you, Mommy!How about if we share a piece?I’ll even share with Grandma too, just to make her feel good.How about a little swing by the park?I am such a brave little pink-eared bunny, don’t you think?See my new teeth?But I’m getting sooo cold! Maybe we should go home and I can show you some  more tricks. I’ve learned to climb to a stand by Mommy. Aren’t I clever? And I have a new dolly. Would you like to play dolls with me?I can clap my hands and laugh! I love my new roll and rocking chair.And, guess what, Grandma? I’m right on the verge of walking!Three cheers for a big day of entertaining Grandma!

“”Lay up these my words in  your heart and in your soul…and teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up…that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children…” (Deuteronomy 11:18-21)

Which Way Are You Looking?

Gerlinde’s father is a retired (at least theoretically) missionary/pastor in Germany, and he collects cartoons to liven up his messages from time to time (since he’s still very active in ministry). He sent me this one, and I just love it! In times of fear and crisis, where are we looking…down at the potential disaster that might befall us, or up to the One who can intervene and help us? I’m afraid I’m all too often like the Apostle Peter, who fixed his eyes on the terror of the waves and the seeming impossibility of walking on the water rather than looking up to his heavenly Father and asking for miraculous help. (Thankfully, Peter did cry out to Jesus for help and was summarily rescued!)

I have a precious friend on the mission field who was recently diagnosed with multiple  myeloma. Yes, he’s doing everything medically relevant to help with the situation. But, he’s also asked for friends to join him in praying for a miracle of healing and recovery, and I’m doing just that. Like Daniel’s three friends testified—isn’t it true that God is able to deliver us? And, whether or not he chooses to do so, shouldn’t we ask…and then trust him to do what’s best from his perspective?

Whatever seemingly impossible challenge may be looming ahead in each of our lives, God wants us to look up and cry out to him for help, not down at what appears to be our inevitable, disastrous fate. So, let’s keep looking up!

“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22).

Blenheim Palace’s Stunning Parkland and Pleasure Gardens

Blenheim Palace has been the monumental, English-Baroque style country home of the dukes of Marlborough (Churchill family) for over 300 years. It is a   UNESCO World Heritage site and most famous as the birthplace of Winston Churchill. Come with me and enjoy a pictorial trip around this amazing estate, which is surrounded by some 2,000 acres of parkland accented by pools, rivulets and water falls from the River Glyme, formal gardens, a butterfly garden, the world’s second-largest maze, and many other attractions both within and without! The palace is definitely worthy of a complete day, although we tried to enjoy the highlights in about four hours…with only partial success! This week I want to share some of Blenheim’s gorgeous grounds but next week I’ll continue with “Part II” inside, at lunch, and round about. I thought it might be appropriate to underscore the pictures with some famous quotations by Churchill, the  bulldog who helped save the world from Nazi fascism during World War II.“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”“We contend that for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”Nancy Astor: “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.”
Churchill: “If I were your husband I would take it.”“Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened.”“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.”“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” “The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.” “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” “The problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult.” “Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.” “If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without blood shed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”“Take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)

(P.S.—Sam Jacobs from asked me to include this link to some of Churchill’s best motivational and political quotes, and they are excellent. So, if you’re looking for even more wisdom from one of our world’s greatest leaders, try this:

Count Your Blessings!

Did you have a grand Thanksgiving break? Did you take time to count your blessings? This perfectly beautiful little fellow isn’t my grand baby, he’s the grandson of one of my friends, and his name is Chase Braman. He was born just moments after Thanksgiving Day 2012 passed into history, but it looks to me for all the world like he’s praying and counting his blessings on his fingers: “Let’s see…I had a safe birth and now I’m warm and comfy; mom seems to be doing fine; daddy loves me and thinks I’m wonderful…”

What do you think? Let’s not stop counting our blessings just because Thanksgiving Day is past; let’s keep counting them every day! 🙂

    “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou has perfected praise”     (Matthew 21:16)

Rise Up, My Love (8): What Place Does God Want in our Lives?

1:1 “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.”  Have you memorized the first verse without even trying? Wouldn’t it be great if we memorized the entire book together just by studying it? My (physician) husband says that the brain literally lights up along the neural pathways where stored memories are being accessed. I hope our brains light up by remembering scriptural passages together!

Well, is there any other thought that can be drawn out of this first verse before moving on?  I see just one more thing, and that is this: God wants to be God in our lives. The Song belongs to Solomon alone. It is his. All may read it; all may be inspired by it; all may profit from it; all may share in its beauty and wisdom. But, the song belongs to Solomon.

The song may have been written by Solomon, but its spiritual author was God, and God chose to include it in his Book. So, we must respect the authority of the King of Kings in understanding that the song ultimately belongs to God alone. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Luke 20:25).  God wants to be our first and greatest love. As we study, he wants us to be learning our lessons first about him and growing more in love with him. Then, as we learn to love him better, other people will also benefit from our greater ability to love. But, may we never forget that God is a jealous God (Ex. 34:14) and always deserves and demands the highest place in our affections. He wants no spouse, friend, relative, hero or thing to ever become an idol who means more to us than he does. He brooks no rivals and commands us: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 19:3).

Our family was privileged to be involved with the ministry of a local rescue mission for many years, and we invited the men to fill out prayer cards. Some who got saved wrote requests that were so tender they touched to tears, but only a few understood that their deepest needs were spiritual. One wrote: “I need a woman.” I do not doubt the truth of what he said; God said even of Adam in his sinless state, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a help meet for him” (Gen. 2:18). We can pray for a mate with every confidence that God acknowledges marriage as a good thing, reminding him of what he himself said in Genesis, as well as Hebrews 13:4: “Marriage is honorable in all.” However, no matter how good and honorable marriage is, we must never forget that our relationship with God is the most important thing in life. It is life.

As creatures of the flesh, we tend to be most concerned about matters of our physical universe…life in the here and now…loving and being loved by somebody “with skin on.”  But, Jesus reminds us in John 14:6 the he is “the life,” and I John 4:16 teaches us that “God is love.” Apart from the life of God, we have no life, and all that is truly love is of God and from him. It is only as we learn to love the Lord above all else that we can be related to other people with a true and godly love.Heb. 12:3 says to “consider him.”  As we pursue this study, may we always first and foremost consider him who is our divine lover, leaving his father’s throne to come to earth, woo, and win us to himself…save us, wash us from our sins in his own blood, dress us in his righteousness, and prepare us as a pure and spotless bride for himself. Wow! Could any husband model such amazing, selfless love?

Hopefully men will be inspired by Christ’s flawless example, but as wives, we should never pine for such perfection! Each of us must understand from the outset of our pursuit that “truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3). Perfection can only be found in Christ, and perfect contentment in any relationship will only be found in the context of a right relationship with God, where we are allowing him to meet our deepest needs. Then, as the Holy Spirit springs up like a fountain of love in our souls, the overflow will nourish our mates and those around us.As we consider his perfections, may our hearts be won to a greater love for him. Truly, this is the greatest love story ever told…the greatest love song ever sung…the “song of songs.”

The Armstrong Archives (8): First Impressions

October 2, 1975    Now, all you seasoned parents out there may be shocked to learn that I did not think my first born was the picture of perfection when he arrived on the scene. When the doctor said, “Push,” I pushed. I’d heard somewhere that the harder you push, the faster the baby comes, and I thought to myself, “I can do this.” So, push I did…so hard that I ripped myself to smitherines and Aaron came gushing forth with a head shaped like a Martian, ears pressed completely flat, and bruises galore. I thought his bright red marks were permanent birth marks and that my cherub was going to be ridiculed for life as a freak. (Thankfully, he normalized and adorablized very quickly, and I don’t even have any pictures of what he actually looked like when he made his first grand entrance…)But you know what? Protective instinct welled up in me like a mother bear, and my first response (after shock) was the grim determination to protect my beloved baby from anyone who ever made fun of him, and I decided then and there that I’d flatten any mean person who ever dared try to hurt him.Funny how we respond to life! I’d never seen a truly newborn before. I was amazed at the strength of my love for this little stranger who had come to live with us. Why did I love him so much? Why did I feel such a bone-deep desire to protect him and provide for him? Nurture effects nature, but I’m now forever a believer in mothering instinct, and I think it’s nothing less than miraculous. As my own kids faced parenthood years later, I can remember them asking me the same question: “What if I don’t love my baby?” I would reassure them without any hesitation, “Don’t worry! You will!” and indeed, they all do. In fact, not only did I fall in love with Aaron at first sight, my kids have fallen in love with their children at first sight too. Thank you, God, for giving us such a deep love for our children! They may tempt us and try us when they get older, but we are undergirded with a love that just never quits. (Oh, it may flicker for a bit when they’re rebellious, but thankfully it never really dies! 🙂 )

I kept a daily journal for each of my kids when they were little, and when my kids started having babies, I wrote a book entitled Bless Your Baby. It’s a daily devotional guide for parents with a scripture verse, thought, and activity suggested for each day during the first year, guaranteed to make your house a bit more lively and hopefully give some comforting advice and ideas for what to do when Baby Cakes is bored or fussy. If any of you would like an e-copy, just ask…although, at this point, I’ll make you a deal. You can have a “free” copy for the price of critiquing the book, sharing ideas and generally adding any helpful comments or advice that occurs to you (such as: “this entry isn’t age-appropriate for my baby” or “I found that this works…”). I’m refining the book one last time this year while I have 4 grand-baby infants living through their first year. Then, my dream is to add pictures and—when it’s all done—offer it on Amazon for $.99. So, if such a project appeals to you, and you’re willing to exchange my rough draft for your insights and additions, just let me know! Thanks. 🙂

Here’s what the first of the 365 daily entries looks like:

1. Surviving Delivery

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” John 16:21, ESV

PRAYER: Dear God, I adore you as the Prince of Life. Thank you for preserving my life and granting Baby new life. I’m flooded with relief and joy! Thank you that pain doesn’t last forever. Thanks for the reassurance that every trial you allow is for our good…somehow resulting in “an eternal weight of glory” as we respond in faith to suffering. I dedicate this child to you. May you love him, keep him, grant him faith that leads to eternal life, and bless him always!

THOUGHT: Were you overwhelmed by the difficulty of the birth experience? Motherhood is a very stretching experience, and first babies cause the lion’s share of stretching (in many ways), so don’t be surprised if you both got beaten up in the process. Be assured, this won’t be the last time, nor will it last a lifetime. The journey from inception to resurrection is mysterious and miraculous, intermingled with pain and joy, but always lovingly overseen by the Prince of Life. Rejoice!

ACTIVITY: Gently touch Baby’s face, head, arms, hands, legs, and feet while he’s awake, allowing your finger to glide softly across his skin so that he is consciously experiencing your touch. Gently uncurl his fingers and let him grasp your finger with his hand.

…So, if you’re interested, feel free to contact me at kathrynwarmstrong at

A Dandy Thanksgiving and my Dandy Dan

Did you have a perfectly wonderful Thanksgiving? We did, although actually it’sbeen a couple of years since we’ve had a quorum home to celebrate. This year, wewere down to what we affectionately refer to as “the society,” our three youngestsons, Dan’s wife, Brianna, and pretty often their good buddy, Steve C.,We had a great time together, and I loved that we could skype with almost everybody who wasn’t able to be physically present with us. Do you remember when the concept of skyping was just a vision from Disney’s Spaceship Earth?I am so thankful that now the kids (and Alan) can drop in for a visit any old time!Thank you, dear Father, for letting us be your children, and for allowing us the privilege of having children and grand children, and for giving humans the brilliance to create fabulous communication networks to keep us connected!But, I also want to share just a bit about Daniel. Brianna invited us over to celebrate his 27th birthday Wednesday night. Stephen and Joel went over early to help prepare the Mediterranean feast. Stephen’s specialty is naan bread,  Joel is the resident falafel expert,and Brianna is a very capable organizer, inventive cook, and gracious hostess!All I needed to do was bake some baklavaand show up with Alan in time to eat!This past week I’ve gotten two notes from friends telling me about two different occasions where Daniel (and Brianna) have really extended themselves to show kindness and generosity to others. I was reflecting on that a little as I watched Daniel and Joel play some “Pump It Up” after dinner. I can’t begin to tell you how much it means to me to have children who desire success passionately andpractice hard to live lives of love and kindness. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4).

The Thankful Game

Every Thanksgiving morning we attend a fellowship brunch at our church and then a service of thanksgiving with our chapel “family.” And then, every Thanksgiving after dinner, we sit around in a circle by candle light and share again, just with our immediate family, some of the things for which we’re the most thankful. Almost invariably, the first few rounds reflect a deep appreciation for God and those we love so dearly, and then we begin to think about more peripheral (but still profound) blessings such as good health, safety,  abundant provisions for food, a warm home, snug beds, jobs, natural beauty, special holidays, and on and on. By the time we’re done, we’re all feeling very happy and a bit overwhelmed by God’s mercy and kindness to us.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, because it’s a time to remember all the good things in life that bring me joy. Among the many wonderful things I’m thankful for is each person who has visited my blog, and if you happen to read this post and have an extra minute, I’d love to hear about something has made you especially thankful this year!

 “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endures forever.”   (1 Chronicles 16:34)

The Early and the Latter Rains

Last spring our lake was overflowing with water, and it waseven encroaching on our lawn (along with the geese) as usual.The red-winged blackbirds,the geese, and the ducks all found plenty of food under the bow of our budding  willow tree, and the swans brought their 7 cygnets to call each morning.  All was right with the world. Plentiful rains kept the lake brimming over,but we never worried, because the overflow filled our swamp and then ran into alittle stream that carried the excess bubbling off to our garden and then underour road where it went tumbling down hill near our neighbor’s home.In the spring the geeseand swans always loved to bring their babies into the tranquil swampfor swimming lessons and to feed among the yellow water lilies floating there,and in the summer, turtles sunned themselves of the half-submerged logs.In early summer, all was still right with the world, although a big branch of the old willow broke off, making it hard to get our boats out…even our light kayak.Doug Scherer removed the limb for us, and Alan, Steve, and Joel build us a dockjust in time for Camp Armstrong. And all was still right with the world.It had been the hottest, driest summer my 60-year-old neighbor could ever remember, and he’d lived here his whole life. We heard reports of the worst drought conditions since the dust bowl, but we didn’t really notice just how badit had gotten until our kayak was totally stuck in the mud and landlocked. 😦 The swamp gradually dried up too,and literally turned into a meadowwhere flowers bloomedand thousands of tiny golden flowers made the perfect place fordeer to graze instead of swans and geese. Things had changed dramatically,and the world was becoming a rather drab and mucky place. All was not right.“Ask ye of the LORD rain in the time of the latter rain; so the LORD shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain, to every one grass in the field.” (Zechariah 10:1)“And they waited for me as for the rain; and they opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain” (Job 29:23). If you find that your soul has experienced a drought,remember that the Lord can restore your soul if you ask him. “In the light of the king’s countenance is life; & his favor is as a cloud of the latter rain” (Pro. 15:16)Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he has given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come own for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain” (Joel 2:23).