Big Mike, Big Moors, and Sheep Sharing

04  Quintessential English romance—at least to me—is a stay in a snug B’n’B,  IMG_1145 a lavish “full English” (and the very best have fried toast), 03 and a long day’s hike out on the moors. 05We had just such an exhilarating experience near Haworth, England, 07 on the Pennine Moors of West Yorkshire. And, we also found “the perfect” B’nB:06“Big Mike’s” (note his ample frame in the background). His super-sized breakfast 09kept us entirely energized for our 7.5-hour hike across the grand, open country! 10On this particular escapade we had a specific goal: Top Withins, said to be the 11inspiration for Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, which was one of the first 23major novels I read as a child (besides every Nancy Drew I could get my hands 20on), and had a huge (and somewhat questionable) impact on me. In fact all three The Brontes 2Brontë sisters wrote classic romance novels set in these moors, and so Kathy   14was also very eager to experience their expansive, wild beauty.  12Although I’m sure you could get dreadfully lost out in these ancient, 13somewhat desolate hills, the path is well worn and in most places clearly marked. 16There were sheep grazing everywhere, and although we could walk freely 15 wherever we wished, the pastures were kept secure by a system of styles, gates, 24and old stone fences surrounding the edges of each farmer’s vast lands. 19When we finally reached our destination, we decided it was time for a break to 21rest up and enjoy some tea and  biscuits ( the English name for what we  08Americans call “cookies”). We watched the peaceful lambs, which were grazing 8 nearby, but what we didn’t foresee was that the sheep were keenly aware that  17  all travelers seem to follow this exact same ritual…and they were insistent that 25  we share our tea party with them! Well, what could we say? Sharing is a good thing, and aren’t we all the Lord’s sheep? 🙂 22“For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:7). (Like Emily, I may be vexed at times, but I am eternally grateful that the Lord is my shepherd, because he knows how to lead me to green pastures and beside still waters! I’d be totally lost and more barren than the moors without Him!)

Happy Thoughts to Cheer Your Heart

-2Here are a few particularly cheerful thoughts from “Nubia Group.” -6Most of the sentiments are part of our cultural heritage already, -10but I think they’re clever, -7and I think the artwork is delightful! -15They cheered me this morning, and I hope they make you smile too! 🙂

“A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones.” Proverbs 17:22


Rise Up, My Love (30): Dove’s Eyes

Dove 2Song of Solomon 1:15 “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes.”  The bridegroom, held in his beloved’s embrace, thrills with her beauty.  “Behold…” Look and see!  Is there anyone who would not see what the lover sees?  No one who will behold her as he has done!  “Thou art fair, my love.”  What a comfort to his bride, who so recently was lamenting her blackness and in shame asking that no one look at her!  Now, her husband looks on her and exclaims in delight that she is beautiful! “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11). How like our Lord to exalt us when we have gone from seeing the shame of our own sinfulness to being taken up with the wonder of his person.Pigeon Kensington London“My love…” The one who is the object of his love.  Never doubt our Savior’s love.  He who has chosen you will never cease from loving you! “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 33:3).  Our eternal lover has promised to never forget us, having inscribed us on his hands: “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isa. 49:16). Indeed, the scars of the nail prints will remain through eternity as a reminder of his everlasting love!  Oh, for husbands who could learn to love with such unending fervor!

“Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair.”  He repeats it twice… as if he cannot help himself…as if to reassure her that the unbelievable is true. The Hebrew word for fair is yapa, which means “beautiful.” It also brings to mind the idea of being “unblemished.”  Fair weather is that which is clear and sunny…unclouded. PIGEON copy“Thou hast doves’ eyes.” It is said that Syrian doves have very large, luminous eyes. Doves were used for food and sacrifices, and they are among the world’s most docile of all creatures…not only beautiful, but characterized by gentleness and meekness. As the husband was held in his love’s embrace, what did he see most clearly?  Her large, open, unclouded eyes.  Her eyes, as “harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16), trusting,  glowing with purity and passion. What a challenge for wives, and for all who would hold Christ tightly to our hearts.  Are our eyes clear and bright, full of gentle meekness and pure passion, signifying preparedness for sacrifice?  May our hearts so burn within us that all the chaff of self is consumed and the fire of his presence is alone reflected in our gaze!Dove One

The Armstrong Archives (30): Weber’s Inn and Belle Isle

February 13, 1977  Aaron [16-months] is getting to be more and more fun…and busy! Always up to something. He is a real match for Alan, too. Remember how Alan always makes a face and says, “You won’t like it!” when he’s eating something especially yummy? He did that last night, and Aaron made a face right back. Then all through the meal they’d both make a face every time they took a bite. Alan would point and say, “Look, Aaron!” then steal his plate. Pretty soon Aaron was pointing off in the distance trying to get Alan to look at nothing too. I’m sure if his arm were longer he’d have taken Alan’s food too. Those guys!

Monday, February 21, 1977  Well, we’ve had a super weekend! I called the doctor yesterday (talked to a nurse). They seemed to have “temporarily” misplaced my pregnancy test, but she said she was pretty sure it had been positive, which means if her memory isn’t failing, we’ll need a nurse maid sometime in October, probably the latter part. The technical due date is the same as Aaron’s, September 24th, but I feel quite sure I’ve not been pregnant very long. At least, I’ve only been feeling miserable for a couple of weeks. I don’t remember feeling so sick with Aaron, so I thought maybe something else was going on, but it’s always hard to remember the unpleasant parts of life, so maybe I’ve just forgotten. YUK! Anyway, I’m hopeful it won’t last too long. It makes me short-tempered with Aaron, and he’s at an age where he requires huge doses of patience!Weber's InnWe went to Weber’s Inn for Friday night and spent the whole time relaxing. It was just super! The first time since last summer (when we went to Mackinac Island) that I was able to completely relax for more than a couple of hours! They have just about priced us out of the competition there. In the four years we’ve been going there, the prices have more than doubled. Yips! But even one day was such a marvelous break. Mary Sokoly babysat and said that Aaron got along just fine until Saturday afternoon, and then he started running to the door looking for “Mama.” We got home shortly thereafter.

It’s starting to look like spring outside. The snow is almost all gone, and the sky has been deep blue. It’s predicted to be cold for another month though. Aaron has started helping set the table. He carries in the silverware and sets it on the table, then gives himself a hardy round of applause. He has also started cooking when I cook. He digs out all the unused pans, puts on their tops, and arranges them all over the kitchen floor. Then he goes from pan to pan and lifts the top, pretending to stir, blow, or smell. “M-m-m” he says approvingly, then moves on to the next pot. Quite the chef!

Wednesday, March 2, 1977  The sight of food makes me sick these days, and it’s just about all I can do to get a decent meal on the table. I can’t believe how lousy I’ve been feeling the last few weeks, but luckily I can blame it all on hormones and hope it passes soon. Hormones and colds, since we all have colds right now!Whitcomb_Conservatory WIki                (Whitcomb Conservatory at Belle Isle, 2005, from Wikipedia)              We went to the Belle Isle Aquarium last week and saw the tail end of a winter flower show at the plant conservatory. Aaron went wild over all the big tanks of “ca” (fish)! He is really adding to his vocabulary these days and now says “do” (g) and “pi” (g) as well as “ca” (t) for animals. It seems like every few days he adds a word to his vocabulary. I’m trying to teach him “nana” and “papa” for Grandma and Grandpa. He can say them, but as he doesn’t associate them with you, they are meaningless so far. Only two more weeks until spring break. I can hardly wait!

Cell Phone…Bible…Which Way, Which Way? Splat

I don’t have a “smart” phone, but this forward from Sarah J. really challenged me to stop and think about what I’m counting on to solve my problems…cell phone “Ever wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phone?  What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?  What if we flipped through it several times a day? What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it? What if we used it to receive messages from the text? What if we treated it like we couldn’t live without it? What if we gave it to kids as gifts? What if we used it when we traveled? What if we used it in case of emergency? This is something to make you go….hmm…where is my Bible? Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we don’t have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill. Makes you stop and think: ‘Where are my priorities?’ And no dropped calls! When Jesus died on the cross, he was thinking of you!” Remember: “He [God] that spared not his own Son, but delivered him [Christ] up for us all, how shall he not with him [Christ] give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) We’ll never get a busy signal when we call on God because He’s available 24/7 and longs to hear from us! That’s just how great He is and how much He loves us!

BibleIf you want a Bible and don’t have one, did you know you can download one for free on the internet? Even if you don’t own a Bible, you can access it from any cell phone or computer! May the Word of God be more precious us to us than our daily bread…and more used than our phones! 🙂

If you would like to read the Bible, try this site:

If you’d like to be able to print a Bible, you can from this site:

If you want to be able to compare Bible texts, there are over 100 versions at Bible Gateway:

Grace at Work

November 2011 013Today I want to share a story about my dear friend, Kari. (From left to right: Alan, me, Kari, Larry, Tom, and Brenda…we’ve all been friends pretty much forever.) I just got word a few minutes ago that Kari finished her ObGyn renewal boards already this morning! Three cheers for Kari. (She had cancer surgery just a few weeks ago and next week she’s starting chemo treatments.) I stand in awe of the way she’s handling all this!! Also, this afternoon I’m making dinner for some friends whose husband is recovering from cancer surgery, and Alan’s condition (which seems great at this time) is still ever on my heart, so the whole question of how to treat cancer and facing end-of-life issues has been burning my brain black on the front burner lately. Kari’s CaringBridge post is such a picture of grace at work that I want to share a few excerpts in the hopes of comforting anyone else who may be peering into the future with fear and trembling:

I guess I want to share a story that has been on my mind lately. Our first  trip to Zambia to the hospital there was several years ago now.  When first proposed to me that I go, I had said I would only go if they specifically needed a ob/gyn, as I knew I would be overwhelmed with general medicine.  When it turned out that was they type of doctor  was requested, I did not hesitate a minute – I knew I was being “called” and did not think twice.  It was a challenging experience to say the least.  The hospital had not had any doctor for a few years, the OR was dirty and disorganized and we did not know any of the staff or their capabilities like we do now.  I was doing a lot of general medicine with critically ill patients and I barely knew what to do for them.

However, one experience stands out for me above all the rest. The nurses we came with had spent several days trying to organize and clean the OR. We had trouble finding and obtaining oxygen which was delaying our doing any surgery, although we had several patients that needed procedures for various reasons.

There was one patient that I felt needed to be the first for surgery.  I had been told she had a miscarriage…and now she appeared to have had a “septic abortion”, meaning she was infected, and the ultrasound report showed an “abscess”. She was having a lot of pain but I ended up sitting on her a day or so, waiting for things to be ready for surgery.

Now I was in the OR ready to start the case… The instrument packages did not look very sterile to me and the lighting was poor. So as I stood over the patient with a scalpel in hand, looked around the room and started to tremble.  I thought, “I am going to kill this patient! What am I doing??” and started to cry.

However, I paused and asked myself, “Am I supposed to be here?” The answer was clear and unequivocal: yes. That is the one thing I knew – that I had been called to this place and time.  So then, what was I afraid of? An image floated before my eyes of a picture that the long- term missionary nurse had cut from a magazine and had on her wall.  It was of a surgeon in the OR in a mask and surgical gown, the OR light shining on the patient, with an image of Christ standing behind the surgeon with one hand on his shoulder and one hand covering the surgeon’s hand on the scalpel.

I stopped trembling and tearing up, and I started the surgery.  It turned out the patient did not have an abscess but a ruptured ectopic (tubal) pregnancy.  She was bleeding to death internally and waiting any longer would have surely meant her death. The nurse with no experience first assisting performed courageously and with natural talent and skill that was amazing, not panicking with the large amount of blood. Ann kept her cool and David turned out to be incredibly experienced.

I am telling this story because I feel like I have spent more time than I want to admit in the last several weeks with that scalpel poised over that patient, trembling and unsure.  I have to ask myself, “Am I supposed to be here? Should I go through with this?”. The answer is clearly, again, “Yes”.  I did the right things and clearly this situation was not MY choice or in my control,  but the One who is in charge of my life decided and is directing this whole cancer story.  So, why should I be afraid?

“But he knows the way that I take: when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).-3

What is Grace?

CrocusKay Arthur is a well known Bible teacher, but I’d never heard her until just recently as a part of a video series on David. Today’s lesson was on grace, and it was so encouraging that I wanted to share a few of her thoughts. Kay pointed out that “Sin will take you further than you ever expected to go, it will keep you longer than you ever intended to stay, and it will cost you more than you ever expected to pay.” I think if we could all get that truth implanted firmly in our brains, it would keep us from boatloads of sorrow. However, the real focus of her message was on the fact that God is gracious. No matter what we’ve done or whom we’ve hurt, as long as we’re not dead yet, then it’s not too late to be “converted”…to change our mind about sin: repent,  confess, and ask God’s forgiveness…not based on any “deal” or promises about being perfect in the future, but based on His perfect love and ability to forgive us, to change our hearts, to reconcile us to himself and sometimes even those we’ve hurt, and to transform us into people who reflect his forgiveness and grace toward others.

What is grace? It is “Charis”…free, unearned, unmerited favor…God’s kindness and benefits bestowed on us not because we deserve them, but because we need them so desperately and ask God to help us. In the course of the session, Kay mentioned that she hadn’t become a Christian until she was 29…after she’s made a terrible mess of her life. Since then she found herself complaining, “God, why didn’t you save me sooner? Why did you allow me to live such a destructive life?” After years of soul-searching, she felt like the Lord told her that if she’d stop moaning and groaning, he’d redeem even her ruined past by giving her the privilege of sharing her story with others in a way that would help them avoid the pits that she fell into. She learned with the Apostle Paul (who also led a terribly destructive life of persecuting Christians before he was converted himself) to say, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 10:15) …no more…no less. We can’t change our past, and we can be sure that we will be judged for our past. Just like David, whose family was forever marred by the consequences of his sins, we will reap what we’ve sown. Forgiveness does not mean there will be no consequences, but it does mean that we can still be used by God to share our story with others and encourage others to avoid our failures. Grace means that we can be blessed in spite of our failures, and that (whether or not it “pleases” us) we can bring glory to God through our heartaches, failures, and pain.

I’ve had people say to me, “There must not be a God, or he wouldn’t allow such evil.” Would you like to have no freedom to choose right or wrong? To do this or that?  When believers get to heaven, the Bible says that we will “be like Him,” and then I believe we will no longer make unwise or sinful choices, but until that day, we have the privilege and bear the responsibility for making our own decisions—for good or ill. We can either be a great blessing to those around us or a cause of pain and suffering. Our choices are ours. Will we be good even when others are not? Will we believe God and trust Him, or will we follow our own natural inclinations? “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Will we seek forgiveness when we sin…and will we forgive those who hurt us? Are we willing to become conduits of God’s grace?

“And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).

Chatsworth: Grandest Country Home in England

01I’m sure those of you who enjoyed the 2005 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride  05and Prejudice would love a leisurely day at Chatsworth House, the setting for 03Mr. Darcy’s “Pemberley.” In fact, Chatworth House often wins recognition as 04England’s most popular country home, hosting 300,000+ tourists each season 19on their 35,000-acre estate in North Derbyshire on the River Derwent. 14Construction on the present mansion began in 1553 by the Cavendish family, 11who have been the earls (and later Dukes of Devonshire) since that time. 17Perhaps the most famous was the Sixth Duke (known as the “Bachelor Duke”) 15who was an incredibly energetic and wealthy traveler and visionary. In 1811 (at 08  the age of 21) he inherited the title, Chatsworth, and 7 other major estates in 18England and Ireland that comprised a massive 200,000 acres! I think even Mr. 09 Darcy’s wealth would have been dwarfed by the Bachelor Duke’s holdings. Many 07 famous people are associated with Chatsworth house, including Mary, Queen of 13Scots (who was imprisoned there several times), and Sir Joseph Paxton, who was20 a gardener at Chatworth and also designed London’s Crystal Palace. If you have 06the chance to travel a bit in England, consider a day at Chatsworth. If that’s not 21 an option, but you’d like to see more, Chatsworth House is the subject of a 3-part 12documentary, Chatsworth, produced by BBC and broadcast as Chatsworth 10House in the U.S. by PBS last year (2012). There are many fascinating things to see there…such as this life-sized painting of a violin on a door (but both the violin and the door is simply part of one very realistic painting)! 16For our daughter, who had just earned her M.A. in literature and loves to write novels set in England, our trip was an especially treasured time of both pleasure and learning!

    “When wisdom enters into your heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto your            soul, discretion shall preserve you, understanding shall keep you.”   (Proverbs 2:10-11)

“The heart of the prudent gets knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Proverbs 18:15).

2013 Grand Rapids Flood Worst in Recorded History

GR Flooding Tyler CardLast night the Grand River, which runs through downtown Grand Rapids, crested at 21.85 feet, which was almost 4 feet above flood stage and the highest water levels ever recorded in Grand Rapids’ history. Water levels were reported to be 6 inches above the first-floor windows of the Old Town Riverfront Building, making the view from the first floor windows replicate an aquarium.  I heard that some people were catching fish from the Grand River that were swimming into their yards. I talked to friends Saturday who said that huge truck loads of sand and thousands of sand bags had been dumped in their neighborhood and that

01people had reinforced the water lines around their homes. We live out of town a bit at a rather high elevation on a spring-fed lake, and still we felt the impact of 02the heavy rains which inundated southwest Michigan (and other parts of the 09Midwest) for over a week. Our lake, which had dried up from the drought-like 11conditions of last summer, lost a good 50′ of shoreline, sent our dock and old 03willow branches adrift, was engulfing our fire pit and inching its way 16precariously close to our basement. The swamp, which had become a meadow 10and favored feeding ground for the deer, 12 filled, flooded, 08 and overflowed, 05 turning much of our woods into standing water 06 and our road 07 into a massive stream bed.04However, thankfully, there were no major personal catastrophes, and by this13morning the newly created “Lake Armstrong” had receded from the road a little, 14the woods had a clearly demarcated stream bed again, the sun was shining,15our runaway dock was sheepishly returning home, and it was “breakfast as usual” at the Armstrong’s Waterfront Cafe. Thank you, dear Father!

As I was out walking Abby this morning, I felt a strong sense of “survivor’s guilt.” I don’t think anyone was actually killed in the flood, but I’m sure there will be tremendous damage reported before the day is over. Do you ever feel “guilty” because you haven’t suffered when others have, such as those killed and injured during the Boston Marathon or the less publicized but more deadly bombings in Iraq that occurred the same day and left at least 61 dead and 274 injured? I find that I do. I am keenly aware that my life and health and peace are undeserved gifts of grace that could be withdrawn at any moment. Wasn’t it heartwarming to see the compassion of those at the Boston Marathon who were not injured reaching out to help those who were? I think that’s so much what God wants for us…to help those in need, to reach out, to help, to care. Feeling guilty doesn’t help, but reaching out does! “Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1).

(First picture used by permission of Tyler Card, who is a professional photographer in the Grand Rapids area:

Rise Up, My Love (29): The Significance of Myrrh and Henna

Myrrh 14Jun2007 sown 12Oct2005Song of Solomon 1:13 “A bundle of myrrh is my well beloved unto me; He shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.” Now the bride and bridegroom have gone from public celebrating to private communion. The toil of the day, and even the pleasure of the evening, is forgotten in the exquisite delight of the night together.  Myrrh was perhaps the most precious of the ancient perfumes, used in the anointing oil, brought to Jesus as a gift at birth, and used to embalm him at his death. While some perfumed their robes and beds with myrrh (Psalm 45:8; Proverbs 7:17), to the bride, her lover was her myrrh…he was that which brought her such intense pleasure and was her chief delight.

“A bundle of myrrh.” There was an ancient oriental custom of carrying a smelling box of ointment in one’s bosom.  Perhaps the bride reflects on this imagery as she searches for some way to express her supernal joy in her husband and anticipates embracing him all through the's photo streamSong of Solomon 1:14 “My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of En-gedi.” Myrrh exuded its heavenly fragrance when crushed and refined into oil, but the camphire—or  henna flowers— came from an ever blooming shrub and were worn fresh, for it was the delicate white blossoms of the plant that were so sweetly aromatic.

As the myrrh speaks of our Lord’s dying grace, so the camphire speaks of his resurrection life and mercies, which are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23).  It is our privilege to hold Christ in our hearts in all his beauty as crushed and dying Savior, as well as resurrected and glorious Lord.  And, as we hold him in our bosom all through the night of life, we will be satisfied, taking unto ourselves his heavenly fragrance, and by day shedding his love abroad in our hearts.  What a picture of 2 Corinthians 4:10: “Always bearing about in the body the dying [the myrrh] of the Lord Jesus, that the life [the camphire] might be made manifest in our bodies.”  May we take him into our bosoms that we might know both the fellowship of his sufferings and the power of his resurrection (Philippians 3:10)!“…in the vineyards of En-gedi.”  En-gedi is the name of a spring and is associated with streams that spring from beneath the limestone cliffs west of the Dead Sea at a temperature of 80°.  There were palm trees there, and because of the constant heat of the Dead Sea Valley, the springs were a special delight and source of refreshment.  It was there that David found a place of refuge from Saul.  It was there that water could be found to produce vineyards with their luscious clusters of grapes to revive and cheer weary hearts. What a picture of our Lord Jesus and what we can be if we abide in him!  As we hold him in our bosom—abiding in him— we take on his celestial odor, becoming like a fragrant, ever blooming shrub. Our aroma, wafting across the hot wilderness surrounding the Dead Sea of life, will draw lost and dying pilgrims to find the water of life and the precious fruits of his spirit! for pictures: (1) Myrrh seedheads: 14Jun2007   (2) Henna flowers:’s photo stream (3)Vineyards of En-gedi  (4) Springs of En-gedi