New Year’s Eve: Disney’s IllumiNating “Moving On”

skywayDisney Land opened on July 17, 1955, just a few weeks before I began kindergarten, and my parents took our family for my first visit when I was seven. I still remember the coupon books and the thrill of “flying” on the sky way and riding in a “ship” through the night sky over London, feeling like Wendy on her way to Neverland. But, my parents were the ultimate educators, and so most of our family vacations were to America’s incredible national parks, and over the years I grew to find nature even more thrilling than the child-delights of a fantastic fantasy world.Cinderella's C.Disney World opened on October 1, 1971. I had just graduated from college and was teaching high school in Greensboro, North Carolina that year, but when the South Eastern Christian School Teachers Annual Convention met in Florida and everybody else headed to Disney World for a day, my sister and I sat it out. We were just a little too sophisticated in those days, and so we spent our day on the beach in Orlando memorizing the book of Romans instead.ImaginationI could never have imagined that just one year later I’d be visiting Disney World with Alan and his great uncle Bill, or that Alan and I would spend the next 40 Luggageyears visiting Disney World over 50 times. In fact, both Jonathan and Joel had been to Disney three times before their first birthday, and Joel (our youngest) will have been to Disney 3 times this year (his 21st) again! 74Alan’s favorite vacation in the world has been to drive us down to Disney and 2011camp at Fort Wilderness, the 1500 loop if possible, where the cloud count is 86usually “O,” the temperature usually in the 80°s, and there seems to be no end of River Countrytennis, volleyball, swimming, boating, biking, and beautifully groomed Campingtrails…cool nights for sleeping, picnics, camping, fun and relaxation. We never 63owned a cottage, but the kids call Fort Wilderness their home away from home, Petting Zooand several of the kids have been playfully plotting to write a book of essays 69                                        about “growing up at Disney World.”GoofyApparently, we’re not the only Disney aficionados. Last year Disney hosted some 198417 million visitors, making it the most visited tourist attraction in the world. I suspect that will also be true when tonight is over and Disney closes its gates on 2012. We were at Epcot one New Year’s Eve some years ago when my sister was going to come about noon and meet us. However, by the time she arrived, the 01park had already filled up with their allotted 100,000 guests for the day and she couldn’t get in! I’m imagining that will happen today, although I’m not there. I’m sitting at my desk looking out at a cardinal pecking away at our bird feeder under a grey sky and a backdrop of frozen, snow-covered lake.03At any rate, as 2012 closes, the lyrics from the song “Promise” (Epcot’s IllumiNations theme song) keeps playing on the sound track of my mind, so just in case you’ve never heard it, I want to share it with you at the end of this post…04 2012 was one of the hardest years of my life in some ways, but it has also been one of the happiest. As a family, we had three new grand babies in close to one 06month, and another soon after, making a grand total of 4 grandchildren in 4 months. Two of the young dads were in serious accidents (and still recovering to some extent). There have been job changes, uncertainties, and some of the most trying challenges in our lives. But, by God’s grace, I believe we’re all going to Fairy Land by Nightcome through, not only alive, but hopefully with deeper faith and a greater        ability to love.Evening LightsThe financial situation in our country and around the world is very intimidating to me. The future is fraught with insecurities. Nevertheless, I would like to encourage us all to be brave and, as the song goes: “We’ll go on, growing closer through the years. Moving on, through the good times and the tears.”05

Every evening brings an ending.  Every day becomes a legacy.                          Every sunset leads to morning with the promise of opportunity.02We can reach for the stars we find along the way,                                          Dreaming as we learn to love everyday.

Promise you will take my hand as tomorrow comes. We’ll go on…07We’ll go on, growing closer through the years.
Moving on, through the good times and the tears.
Ever on, another thousand circles ’round the sun
If two can be as one, we’ll go on.

There is music if you listen in the rhythm of each breath we take.       Destinations undiscovered, revelations from every choice we make.09And I know there are diamonds dancin’ in the sky;
All we have to do is open our eyes.

Promise we’ll walk side by side—
As a new day dawns, we’ll go on.08We’ll go on, growing closer through the years,
Moving on, through the good times and the tears
Ever on, another thousand circles ’round the sun
A new life has begun: The two of us as one.
We’ll go on, moving on, through the good times and the tears,
Ever on, another thousand circles ’round the sun
A new life has begun when two of us are one
And we live to keep the promise,  we’ll go on
Ever on,  we’ll go on. —”Promise” lyrics from Epcot’s IllumiNations fireworks

“Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Rise Up, My Love (13): Who is He and What’s the “Better Than” Way?

Kiss1:2 “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine…” As I meditated on this verse, one of the most striking things to me is that the speaker does not name her lover.  “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!”  Who is “him?”  It’s as if all the world should know.  Mary said to the gardener, “Tell me where thou hast laid him…” The disciple exclaimed, “We have found him…” Paul cried, “That I may know him…” Who is he?

“In the beginning God created…” At the outset of the Bible, God is not explained or defined. There is no mention of “which god,” because he is The God…the one and only true God…the great I AM.  His existence needs no justification, just acknowledgment.  Those who seek, find!  And yet, in finding, the seeker discovers that the great Creator is also Christ who has not only made man but has sought him all along.  “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock:  if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with me”  (Rev. 3:20).  What an invitation! To open the door to Christ and feast with him on his meat and wine… to accept his kisses of love, which are even better than that which sustains our physical bodies and brings us joy.

Does the love of God produce a deeper joy and abundance in us than that which can be produced by the best of wines? Absolutely. The euphoric effect of alcohol is fleeting and superficial but in reality changes nothing and solves nothing. The love of Christ changes everything and makes all the impossible struggles of life become possible. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) is not a one-time testimony by the Apostle Paul. Christ can enable us to overcome evil with good in any circumstance. We don’t need addictive escapes to overcome pain and trials; we can go through the shadowy valleys with his comfort and guidance. His love is better.

As a separate reflection… there is also a perfect parallel in the “wine” of worldly success and materialism. An abundance of this world’s goods often leads to a false sense of security that produces self-centeredness and inattentiveness to spiritual principles such as loving God more than anything else and loving those around us as much as we love ourselves.

What God wants us to learn is to become love-centered, not self-centered: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8). When a person allows himself to get sidetracked by intoxication with worldly pleasures, he will eventually “run off the road” spiritually, bringing terrible pain to himself and others…losing all sense of love, joy, peace, and purpose. I’ve seen it lived out so many times and experienced it myself. The end of chasing our own way and our own dreams is ultimately depression, not joy; restlessness, not peace; purposelessness, not hope; frustrated selfishness, not love. All intoxications (addictions) work the same way.

What are we to do? Turn away from the wines of this world and let our Lord kiss us with the kisses of his mouth, “for thy love is better than wine.” As C.S. Lewis shares in Surprised by Joy, we need to learn that true joy and abundance cannot be caught by chasing or developed by demanding. True joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and spiritual abundance is produced in us as we patiently abide in the Vine of Life. How?  In Psalm 34:6-8, David shares how it happened for him: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”  Let him kiss you with the kisses of his mouth: cry out for him to deliver you, trust in him…taste and see…and prove for yourself that his love is better than wine!Karen and ScottAlso consider this. The bride’s exclamation that the king’s love is better than wine makes it obvious that the Shulamite is more taken with her lover than with his gifts to her. This is so inspirational to me. Which do we love more…our spouse, or the ways in which our mates meet our needs? Which do we love more…our Lord, or the abundant life he provides for us? It is the king—not his gifts—who is the object of the bride’s affection and fills all her vision.  “The bride eyes not her garment, but her dear bridegroom’s face; I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of Grace.”* The king is better than the wine of joy, because he is the object of her joy and produces the response of joy within her! What a beautiful way to live!

* From the song “O Christ, He is the Fountain,” by Anne Ross Cousin

Also, the picture just above is of my friends, Scott and Karen, at the moment when the preacher said, “You may now kiss your bride!” Karen had to wait a long time for her man too, but I saw her just a couple of days ago, and they’re still as in love as ever! A good spouse is worth waiting for a long, long time!

The Armstrong Archives (13): Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

180December, 1975  Merry Christmas!!

After a three-month hiatus, I’ve finally decided to break down and write a family letter, hoping thereby to reconcile myself to all those who in good faith have written us and expected a response! Everything is going just great here, but I’m learning that caring for a newborn is more time-consuming than graduate school ever thought about being.

Where should I start in catching up? How about with Aaron Alan, who is on my mind because I can hear his social cackle from the bedroom, suggesting that he would rather be entertained than take his nap? He is now ten weeks old, six pounds and five inches bigger, looking so different that Alan caught me the other night saying, “When Aaron was little…” The birth experience itself was truly incomparable and incomprehensible. I am reminded of a childbirth brochure we read in preparation for the event: “Childbirth can be Painless and Joyful.” It was not my experience that natural childbirth is painless, but Alan and I both felt a flood of joy when our little lump of a baby came slithering out. Our long-awaited “Herbie” (his prenatal nickname) magically turned into Aaron, a real person separate from ourselves, much loved—but really quite an unknown other. It took several weeks before we could distinguish between cries and begin to understand him. Now he’s no longer a stranger but really a part of us, and we just love being a family. In fact, we wouldn’t trade him in for anything in the world!!193It took Aaron a while to figure out who we are too. He spends hours studying his mom while nursing, and I think those are the most precious times I spend with him. He always seems so happy after eating and will smile and coo at me contentedly. The other highlight of his day is his bath, which he shares with his dad. Alan takes him right in to the bath tub with him and Aaron goes nuts! He kicks and splashes and shrieks—gets so worn out that he falls right to sleep afterward. So now he knows who Alan is too, and he’s started working on himself. This morning I let him look in the mirror. He looked at me, then at himself, then back to me, again and again. He smiled at himself, and he frowned at himself, batted at the mirror with his hand and stared. Who the little guy is…is still definitely a mystery.191 Alan with Aaron and our niece, Joli (Louthan) Holm…on Aaron’s first Christmas.

Alan is thoroughly enjoying medical school and I think is over the major hurdles of adjusting to the style of education and making up his deficient science background. On the first exam he laughingly told me that he placed about 183rd in the class (of 256 students), but we were really satisfied because Aaron had arrived during that time and there were gross amounts of material that Alan had never even seen before. We just got the results back from his second exam and he placed in the top 10% of his class. His comment was, “The Lord’s touch is unmistakable.” How true. We are both keenly aware that success in school, as in all other areas of life, is not dependent on one’s gift of intelligence alone. “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” Hans Selye Wiki CommonsDr. Hans Selye,* an erudite old gentleman who has gained world renown for his creative research on stress (instrumental in developing the use of cortisone), guest lectured at Wayne several weeks ago. After three hours he drew three conclusions to his life’s work: 1) Find your highest obtainable goal and go after it 2) Have an altruistic egoism 3) Love your neighbor as yourself. This was his answer to dealing with stress in one’s life after fifty-some years of research and thought. The most profound of truths can be understood by the simplest of minds and taught to the youngest of children. King Solomon, reputed to be the wisest man in the world in his day, wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” In the light of this, those of us who would pride ourselves in our intellect can be reproved. Detroit_SBTLiving in Detroit** is becoming more palatable for both of us. Besides the obvious advantages of cultural events (such as the “Christmas Festival” we’re going to this Friday night, and the Red Wings hockey games—not too refined but of special interest to us as Northerners), we are exposed to lots of new and exotic experiences…such as the aroma of Wonder Bread baking, or lye brewing at the Wayne Soap Company—a truly memorable stench. Also, we live minutes away from Detroit Metropolitan Airport and have a spare bedroom, so we are lucky enough to get company occasionally. Come whenever you can!Highland Park Baptist Church We finally found a church we both really enjoy: Highland Park Baptist.* It has 1968 members and is by far the largest church we’ve ever attended together, but we just love it and have decided to push up the membership by two more after we take the necessary class during Sunday school starting in January. The church is a twenty-mile drive for us, but it’s so good that it attracts people from all over Detroit’s metro area, and via prayer meeting we’ve met some rather well known Michiganders. Tonight we prayed with Don Lonnie and his wife. As a high school girl I used to listen to his hilarious and piercing challenges to Christian teenagers on records. I was so surprised to meet him in person! I guess because I thought so much of him as a girl it somehow didn’t occur to me that he was a person—just like the rest of us!

Believe it or not, Alan has gone to bed without me, the first time all year, so I should probably quit before you get tired of reading. I thoroughly enjoy playing house. The thoughts of leaving academia really frightened me last spring; I loved teaching and felt confident in my role as a student. Somehow giving up school to become a mother made me feel very old. I had to admit that I wasn’t a kid anymore. But, that was all pre-Aaron. Now I really don’t know what I’d do without him, and Alan and I are both recommending children to our several friends who are expecting their first…and to our friends and family who’ve had the same hesitations that we had about starting a family. I think babies are a lot more pleasure than pain—as long as you take children as one of your goals in life, not as a casual sideline that gets in the way of your “real” career. We now think that starting a family at this juncture of our lives was a great blessing!186Well, I’ve got to close. We love you all and are looking forward to seeing most of you soon. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and lots of happiness in 1976.

Love, A, K,&AA

192[This year—2012—was our first Christmas without Alan’s sister Janice! We miss her, and I know that many of you are missing loved ones too. Sorry. 😦 I hope those of you with little ones are able to enjoy your happy, busy, sometimes frantic lives!]

* Statue of Dr. Hans Selye from Slovakia’s Selye Janos University via Wiki Commons  **Picture of Detroit from the Albion Pleiad. When we lived in Detroit, it was America’s fifth largest city and had a thriving auto industry. *Picture of Highland Park Baptist Church from their website. The senior pastor there now (Brent Slater) is the younger brother of one of our best friends from medical school days, and I’ve no doubt but that Brent is a gifted teacher. I believe the church would still be an excellent place to consider if anyone in the Detroit area is looking for a church home.

Of Birds, Migration, and Seasons…

Migrating FlockI’ve thought a lot about migration this fall…the vast numbers of twittering birds, Fall Flight Practicethe months of practice as the young cygnets learn to flyPracticingand then begin to build their strength by doing “laps” around our lake.November SwansFor years I used to fret about the fact that our pair of swans would leave with Coming In for a Landingtheir offspring, but then return the next spring without them.Swans in NovemberWhere did the young birds go? Did they survive the transition? Why didn’t they return with their parents? And then I read that young cygnets often separate Swans separatingafter the first migration and remain in large flocks of singles until they mate (for life) around age three. Furthermore, swans can live up to 20-30 years! Well, after Misty morning swanshearing that most cygnets make the transition to adulthood just fine, I began to relax. I always feel a twinge of sorrow when I see them take off, but now I wish Goodbye Baby Swanthem a fond farewell and hope they enjoy their adventures, their new home, and their new life. I’ve also had to learn this with my own kids, and I hope that any young person reading this will also be inspired to trust that their parents (if they are saved by faith in Christ) will do “just fine” when they are loosed from the surly bonds of earth and fly away to their new adventure in heaven some day.Geese Crossing StreetOur Canada geese have a slightly different story. They are much more abundant in Michigan and can be seen causing traffic jams on major highways. Some nest Flock of Geese resting on our lakeon our lake (if they don’t despair of being chased by our swans), but not many. However, large groups of Canada geese do settle on our lake late in the fall as 01they are passing through. I love to hear their beating wings and excited splash down as they land in the twilight to rest for the night. They do not know that a Geese on our lakegigantic German shepherd (our dog, Abishai) is sleeping just forty feet away. I don’t know if this is an instinct to help preserve the flock, or if they just need Geese in families on lakesome “family” time to talk about the journey, but the flock breaks up into families to sleep during the night, scattered about the lake. In the early dawn of 2the new morning, I always see them start to feed, wake up, and gradually reassemble, calling to each other as if to say, “Are you ready to head out yet?”Geese leavingSoon there’s a rustle of restless wings, a loud chorus of honking, and they’re off! 06Now it is almost the end of December 2012, and the lake is covered with snow.LeavingAll the ducks and geese and swans have left the lake, and I can’t help but ask: Migrating BirdsWhere have they gone? Will they come back? What will next spring be like? FlightsI’ve been working on my “New Year’s Resolutions.” Do you make any?MigrationI would like to soar like a bird and live with a heavenly perspective.03I would like to leave behind unnecessary weights, fly straight, and keep focused on my goals. I would like to live strong and finish well in this migration of life.04Certainly at age 62, it’s autumn for me. I don’t know when I’ll really “fly away” into the sunset of heaven, but I want to be ready, and I’m looking 05forward to the new adventure! Some are called home early. Daniel lost 3 young 20/30-year-old friends this past year. Tragedy abounds. May we embrace 2013 with grateful hearts and a zest for life that only grace can grant!God's smile via GeeseAnd, when our day comes to migrate from earth, may we be blessed with a home in heaven and a sense of God’s pleasure in our coming!

(This last picture was forwarded to me on the internet. You may have seen it too. I don’t know who took it, but I just love the look of a smile in the sky, don’t you?)

“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).

Exchanging Presents and my Very Favorite Present

Early Christmas MorningDid you get everything you wanted for Christmas?VillageFor the first time I can ever remember, Christmas morning started out quietly!Aaron and CarlieIn 37 years, we’d never been without at least Aaron for the holidays 😦Boys on CouchWell, Aaron and Carlie couldn’t come home from CT, but they decided to cheer Giles slept!us up by skyping! Their boys had awakened at 3:53 am, but they waited until 8 Reubena.m., then called so we could watch them open some presents. Joel had wakened Reidby then too, so the three of us got a little baby fix while we waited for the rest of Gideonour crew to join us. Gideon’s favorite gift was a set of pterodactyl wings, and once he had those strapped on his arms…well, they just weren’t going to come off!Awana giftReuben had made his parents a gift from his AWANA program (sort of like a Christian version of scouts),Reid with Gift and all in all, the gift exchange looked like a smashing success!Dan and BriannaAbout then, Daniel and Brianna arrived for our gift exchange, and Stephen woke Stephenup. Stephen got a special set of headphones for listening to music, and one of Bone SawDaniel’s favorite gifts was a “bone saw” (literally).JoelJoel got a roasting pan for his apartment,Alan and meand Alan and I got royally spoiled! I was touched by how excited people were while waiting to see how pleased others would be with their gifts! Carl and Kathy Bow Snatcherhad spent some time with Carl’s mom before coming over, and so—of course—Iriswe were all waiting expectantly for Miss Iris. One of her cutest gifts was a Pride Pride and Prejudice Countingand Prejudice Counting Book. (Guess who dreamed up that one?) And then,4 at long last, it was time for Iris to call up her Hawaiian cousins for a skype.3Jon and Linda went to visit Mike and Grace, so they wouldn’t have to be alone 2for Christmas (and, of course, because Hawaii—and Mike and Grace— are so Judah and Amelieawesome any time of the year). Amelie and Judah wanted to tell Iris all about Cousinstheir presents, and Iris was pretty pumped about getting to see them too!Meer CatsIsn’t it great to be able to give and receive gifts? Doesn’t it make you feel loved?1Family is for sure my greatest earthly treasure, but there’s one gift that’s even Alan's presentsgreater. After all the gifts have been unwrapped, admired, and carefully put awayAsleep?…and we’re all worn out from having so much fun…Totoroand have gone to bed for the night…Chinese LanternsGod’s gifts of love and light still remain, and will forever! So, whether you were Christmas Morningable to be with your family for Christmas or not, I hope you opened your present Candlefrom God and enjoyed the warmth of his love.

“The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ephesians 6:23).

The In-Laws and the Out-Laws’ Christmas

-1Just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas this morning!  Christmas 2011 Our kids were at home with us last year, but every other year they visit with their in-laws instead. So, things are pretty quiet today with just us outlaws here at the ranch. In the lull, I wanted to share a few of my favorite pictures from the year:Aaron and CarleenAaron & Carlie playing “Adam and Eve” in their church’s Christmas Eve service.ReubenReuben is Aaron and Carleen’s oldest son and our oldest grand child.GilesGiles is Aaron and Carlie’s youngest (of 4) sons, & our youngest grand child (all upside-downy). Our 4 oldest kids each had a baby during the first half of 2012.Reuben, Gid, and Reid All of Aaron’s kids were in the Christmas pageant last night too.ReidReid, who is two and was an angel last night in the program, says things like, “When I was little…”Michael's FamilyMichael’s family at HalloweenGrace and kidsGrace and girls before the Haliewa Christmas Parade, where their youngest,Baby Judah and Baby JesusBaby Judah, got to play the part of Baby Jesus.Jon, Linda, and AmelieHere are Jonathan, Gerlinde, and their baby, Amelie. Jon organized Camp Amelie in boxArmstrong here last summer, which was an especially happy time for us.Carl and Kathy, and IrisCarl and Kathy with Baby Iris. Carl was in a serious hockey accident the night before Iris was due and shattered his ankle, but he’s almost all better.Iris copyIris under the Christmas treeDan and Brianna at weddingDan (was in a wedding here) and Brianna have moved back to GR! 3 Cheers! 🙂Dan'sWe love having them close, & they’ve been able to share a lot of fun with family.Visiting HawaiiBefore Mike and Grace leave Hawaii next summer, all of us will have visited! Stephen and Joel had the most extended stays…and they loved every minute!Joel and IrisAs of this fall, both Joel and Stephen are in graduate school with teaching assistant-ships to fund their training. Stephen is teaching music and Joel’s The Society out for dinnerteaching writing. They come home most every weekend, and Alan and I really enjoy being able to carry on with what we call “The Society.” Meanwhile, Alan Alan and mehas been working killer hard as CMO at his hospital, developing a psychiatric residency program, and I’ve been putting my heart and soul into this blog. So, that’s our year in a nutshell. Hope you’re well and thriving too! God bless you!Dan's Christmas Tree“And she shall bring for a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS, for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Meijer Garden: Christmas Trees from Around the World

03Do you have a lot of family traditions for Christmas? What’s your favorite? 02One perennial favorite of mine is looking at all the Christmas trees decorated in Ireland 2traditional garb from around the world. This year, I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you and make a bit of a game out of it, that I’m thinking even kids or grandkids might enjoy. I’ll show you a tree, but I’ll list the name of the country depicted under the picture of the tree below. So, here’s the first one:The NetherlandsWant to take a guess?AustraliaOkay, the first one (in honor of living in Grand Rapids) was “The Netherlands.” I bet most of you guessed it right. That was easy, right? How about this one?Mexico“Australia!” (How’d they do, Dorthea? Does it look authentic?) How about this? IrelandOkay: Mexico. (Ya, I know you could read it, but that builds confidence!) 🙂Switzerland 1Celtic harp, Celtic cross, lots of green…does it look like “Ireland,” Sarah? PeruCowbells and Edelweiss on a cow’s horn? “Switzerland!” Now, shift continents…Native AmericanJPGThe last one was “Peru”. (Look right, Dr. Ward?) This is more a people group…Victorian Tree“Native American.” (Would you approve, Carl?) This one is more in the style of an era named for an English ruler…Canada“Victorian.” Now, this one’s from the cold north, but I bet you can guess!Belize“Canada.” Wow! We have so many friends in Canada: Melody, Paul and Lynn, Glenn and Sandy, Moira, Janice, Beth, and on and on! I’d love to hear if Canadians really dress their trees this way. It looks so perfect for the north! Now think warm Caribbean waters. I couldn’t have guessed this one…Brazil“Belize.” (Does that look about right, Julia?) How about this one, Dawnie?Africa 2“Brazil.” Okay, so this one is a dead give away, but it might be your last freebie!Korea“Africa” (of course). Now on to Asia and the most Christians-per-capita nation in the world today, where they have a single church with over 100,000 members…Japan

“Korea.” (What do you think, E.J.?) And this: Mike and Grace hope to move to__Middle East“Japan!” This next one represents an area of the world where olive wood grows.Germany“The Middle East.” This country has a special tradition of hiding a pickle…Iceland“Germany,” where my beloved daughter-in-law Gerlinde was born! This one’s icyAustria“Iceland.” This tree represents the country where “Silent Night” was composed.England“Austria.” This country is where both Alan and I have our ethnic roots…Finland“England.” This lovely tree represents the heritage of my two spiritual moms…Spain“Finland.” Many famous artists and explorers came from___ (not Italy)…Russia“Spain.” This vast, cold treasure-house of a country spans three continents…Greece“Russia.” This land of golden isles is famed for their ancient philosophers.Poland“Greece.” The homeland of Fryderyk Chopin and Pope John Paul II is…Denmark“Poland.” Alan is crazy about the pastries from this country. We have tickets to Lithuaniavisit there next spring…”Denmark.” This country is at the geographic center ofUkraine 2 Europe…”Lithuania.” And, there were more, but I’ll end with this lovely tree from the Ukraine, where the story is told that one poor family had no money to Ukrainedecorate their tree at all, so during the night, some kindly spiders spun webs through the tree, which turned to strands of silver and gold in the morning. Isn’t that a sweet legend? It makes me think of Jesus, who provided salvation for me when I had no means of earning it for myself and turns all the common experiences of life into something precious. 04Well, where ever in the world you are, I hope you enjoy a wonderful Christmas Eve with the warmth of abundant love surrounding you!  Christmas Wreats     “Glory to God on the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Rise Up, My Love (12): Could Anything be Better than Wine?

Wine1:2 “…for thy love is better than wine.” Okay, so today’s topic is a tough one. When I first wrote this commentary nearly 20 years ago, the evangelical church of America was pretty much united in their stand against drinking. Of course, 60 years before that, our entire country (along with a number of other nations) was so convinced that alcohol wasn’t good for people that drinking wasn’t just restricted to the 21+ set…it was against the law for everyone. Today…well, there are nearly a dozen countries where alcohol is forbidden, but we are definitely  “a house divided” in our country, in our churches, and in our homes. So, this is a hot and devisive topic, but I’m going to tackle it anyway!

What do you suppose the Shulamite meant when she exclaimed that his love was better than wine? I believe she was reflecting on the fact that being loved is a more wonderful experience than sipping wine…the taste is sweeter and the effects of being filled with love far exceed the temporary euphoria that comes from drinking something alcoholic. Bottom line: if you want pain relief and joy, come to Jesus, don’t hit the bottle.FireworksLet’s think about wine for a few minutes. What does wine do? Many people think it tastes delicious (I’m going by hearsay here, since I’ve never had a drink), but it also makes a person feel relaxed. They say wine makes people forget their worries and stresses so that they feel happy.  For that reason, wine is sometimes used in the Scripture as a symbol of abundance and joy: “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased” (Psalm 4:7); “So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine” (Proverbs 3:10). In times of abundance, people tend to relax and forget their worries, feeling an almost unrealistic sense of security.  I know that happens to me at times, and possibly that’s true for all of us.

But, wine is a trickster because the euphoric effect of alcohol is only temporary, and in reality alcohol is a depressant. Although the first effect of alcohol is to make one feel less stressed and worried, alcohol eventually leaves the drinker depressed, and for about one in seven people, alcohol becomes addictive. Perhaps it is for these reasons that the Bible has many warnings about drinking. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). “He that loves pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loves wine and oil shall not be rich (Proverbs 21:17).  Proverbs 23:29-35 describes the alcoholic as one who will experience great heartache and misery and warns: “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it gives its color in the cup, when it moves itself aright. At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder…”

Because alcohol at best gives temporary relief, the Scriptures only recommend it medicinally for those who are ill (I Tim. 5:23) or about to die (Pro. 31:6), and its use is definitely limited for those in positions of authority. “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink” (Pro 31:4; see also New Testament qualifications for church leadership:  I Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7; 2:3; and therefore for all men: 3:8).

Although wine was used as a drink through the centuries where nonalcoholic forms of beverage preservation were not possible, given the stern warnings in Scripture against drinking, I have never personally been able to justify the use of alcoholic beverages. I recognize that moderation and not abstinence is the required standard of Scripture. I am convinced that alcohol consumption is a personal issue between each believer and the Lord…one of those “disputable issues” discussed in Romans 14 (see Rom. 14:21). There are without a doubt situations in which the Lord may give a believer freedom to drink alcoholic beverages. To my mind, this is akin to the Scriptures’ standard on slavery, which is also not abstinence but the requirement of merciful responsibility. Apparently there have been places and times in world history where slavery was allowable. However, few Americans would advocate slavery as a necessary or optimal social structure for today. Similarly, I don’t believe that many thoughtful Christians would consider drinking a necessary or optimal dietary requirement for today. Studies from law and medicine provide frightening statistics about the percentage of people who become alcoholics after they begin drinking alcoholic beverages, and about the number of accidents, crimes, and illnesses that are related to alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol appears to be an unnecessary risk today. Is it a risk you need to take?Fire ragingIn I Peter 4:1-6, careless drinking is listed with other “lusts of men” that believers should give up in order to pursue the will of God: “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you…for this cause was the gospel preached…”

Whenever I get tempted to consider drinking, I am stopped by statistics like this: only 39% of Americans drink but 14% of Americans are alcoholics (and would doubtless be tempted by seeing me drink), one in four Americans report being adversely effected by alcohol, one in three Americans who choose to drink also abuse alcohol at times, devout Muslims and many Christians not only in America but around the world are abstinent and find alcohol consumption offensive. To me, choosing to abstain from something that I have “liberty” to enjoy at the possible expense of causing others to be tempted or offended is a good choice. To me, it’s choosing love for others above personal privilege, and that’s a small sacrifice to make for love of others and my Savior, who gave up everything for me. It’s also risky and can be expensive. Is drinking really worth what it costs?

“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

“It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21).Fireworks 2

*My statistics were gleaned mainly from the last (2010) USDA Nutrition Guidelines, literature from the American Medical Association, and an interview with an officer from our local Michigan State police unit.

The Armstrong Archives (12): It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas :)

176Tuesday, December 2, 1975  How did you all survive having us all home for Thanksgiving? Aaron is in the process of crying himself to sleep, but other than that I think we survived pretty well. The little guy was so tuckered on Monday that he just ate, slept, and played quietly…today he had enough energy to fuss! However, he will surprise himself and live through the storms, I’m sure.

Alan just read me this: “Surgeons do everything and know nothing. Internists know everything and do nothing. Psychiatrists know nothing and do nothing. Pathologists know everything and do everything—one day too late.”SquirrelThere’s snow on the ground here. Did I mention that there are squirrels living next door? They’ve built a nest in our neighbors’ attic and have a hole right outside our kitchen window so that I can watch them coming and going. Have they ever gotten fat! They can hardly squeeze through their front door anymore.

Also, have I told you about our fruit fly invasion? We’ve had them off and on since plum season. I think they breed in our drains. Anyway, when we got back from the Soo the place was over run, even though we took the garbage out last thing and didn’t leave a single dirty diaper or spoon. Today I went on a rampage and have killed 29! There are undoubtedly some left, but they’re hiding. Boy, are they a nuisance, but we can’t find a can of Raid any where in town right now and don’t have anything that seems to kill them. [My sister taught me later an effective remedy: sprinkle drain openings heavily with scouring powder (such as Comet or Ajax) for several days until there are no new flies hatching.]195December 10, 1975  Thanks for your last letter, and for your concern. Alan and I don’t leave AA anywhere at home where he could possibly fall. It is true that he may learn to roll over before we know it, and we don’t want to take any chances! You are welcome to make suggestions and offer advice (as long as you don’t expect us to always take it) since you obviously know lots about bringing up tykes and we are such novices. Don’t feel shy to say what you think! That’s what moms are for. 🙂It's Snowing!It’s snowing here! Looks like it’s going to be a a white Christmas. Only one more week for Alan, yea! We’re really looking forward to the vacation; we have so many happy memories of Christmases past, thanks to you.

The Meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas TreeDid you know that the song we learned as children about the “Twelve Days of Christmas” is thought to have been a secret catechism taught and sung in England during a time of religious persecution? The twelve days of Christmas begin with December 25th, the day that Jesus’ birth is celebrated, and end with Epiphany on January 6th, which is traditionally the day of celebrating the arrival of the wise men (“Magi”) from the east, who came to worship Christ, bringing him gifts (which doubtless helped sustain the family during their flight to Egypt). It is believed that each of the twelve symbols represented a religious truth, and that by teaching and singing the song, Christians were able to remember the importance of the various aspects of their faith without fear of being arrested.White Tree

In the song, “My true love” speaks of our true love: God!  “Gave to me” speaks of the gifts that God gives to all of us who are his children by faith in Christ. Tree with Alan, Stephen, and Kathi While Alan and I were on vacation last week with Stephen and Joel, I looked everywhere for pictures I could take to represent the various days of Christmas.Blue Tree

Some of the pictures require quite a stretch of imagination, and I supplemented when I could with pictures I’d taken at other times, but I hope you enjoy thinking about the meaning of each “day,” and I pray we’ll remember the gifts that God offers us when we sing this (otherwise) somewhat frivolous and esoteric song. 🙂

Partridge“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.” 011. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus, 02who died on the tree for us.032. The two turtledovesDoves are the Old and New Testaments, the two covenants of peace and promise.Three Hens3. Three French hens French? Hen copystand for the three abiding graces: faith, hope,07 and unending love.Four Calling Birds
4. The four calling birds Grackle copy are the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John…Calling Blackbirdthat proclaim salvation to all the world.Five Golden Rings5. The five gold rings represent the Torah (Law, also known as the Pentateuch), comprised of the first five books of the Old Testament.Geeese6. The six geese a-laying Geesestand for the six days of creation.Swans a-swimming7. The seven swans a-swimming SwansrepresentSwans copy the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.Milk Maid8. The eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes.Ladies9. Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. (Now, obviously these ladies aren’t happy because they haven’t been filled with the fruit of the spirit yet, but once they’ve feasted, they’ll be full of joy and start dancing. 🙂 )Lord Leaping10. The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.Piper11. Eleven pipers piping represent the eleven faithful Apostles.Drummer12. Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles Creed.Tree with Alan, Joel, and Kathi“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)