Rise Up, My Love (39): His Banner over Me is Still Love

Hibiscus copySong of Solomon 2:4 “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.”  Today would have been my parents’ 75th wedding anniversary (although they only lived long enough to make it to their 63rd anniversary). Our three oldest sons and their cousin Andrea all got married around this weekend (different years, however), so the end of June just seems like it should be “National Anniversary Weekend” or something! Are you married? If so, I hope you’re still very much in love. I can’t think of anything that is at the same time more difficult and more rewarding than surrendering our hearts to another person with the promise to love and cherish them for the rest of our lives. What is it that draws us into marriage?

From our look at the Song of Solomon 2:3 (last Sunday), we saw that the bride’s great attraction to her husband was related to his ability to protect and provide for her, and she drew near to him, resting in his care. Are you resting in the care of Jesus? He wants you to!

However, from verse two we see that the husband truly was attracted to her first and perceived her as uniquely desirable. To me, one of the greatest mysteries of all time is how God could love me…or any human, imperfect as we are.

As I’ve watched the world go by, this inexplicable attraction and response also seems to be the most common human experience: a man finds a woman compellingly attractive (not simply physically, but from a constellation of lovely qualities) and is drawn to reach out to her in love; in turn, the woman responds to his attention and grows to admire his strengths, drawing near and allowing him to meet her needs. (Of course, as a healthy relationship develops, both partners go way out of their way to meet one another’s needs.) What a perfect picture of God’s love for us! As Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). God draws us to himself because he loves us! And yet, in our conscious experience, we draw close to God because we respond to his love and see him as uniquely able to meet our needs. (At least, that’s what happened to me.) We feel the “draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” principle taught in James 4:8. So, God loves, and we love back. Man loves, and a woman responds. (Okay, so in contemporary American culture, this may not be as universally true, but I do think God designed us this way.)

“He brought me…”  And so, the bridegroom woos his bride and then wins her.  She may be drawn to enjoy his provisions, but it is he who ultimately invites her into the fullness of all he is and possesses.  She sat down under his shadow, but he brought her into his house.

“…to the banqueting house.” In Hebrew, the term is more literally rendered “house of wine.” Wine always speaks of joy in the Scripture.  The house of wine was the place of joy…of feasting and intimate communion…of experiencing the overabundant blessing of every good thing…of rejoicing together.  From the refreshment of the apple (life) to the overflowing fruit of the vine (joy), he first allowed her to rest under the wings of his love and then drew her into the very “holy of holies,” the bosom of his joy.

“…and his banner over me was love.”  The banner, or ensign, was (and still is) a display of possession and victory. His banner was a sign of having conquered her…but he had conquered her through love, and she loved him all the more for his victory! He who wooed and won his bride now brings her into the heart of his joy with a banner of possession over her.  “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10). What a magnificent rest we find in being conquered by our heavenly lover, who has wooed and won us with such patient tenderness!  What a beautiful example for a man who would woo and win the one who has won his heart!

But, this is not a “triumph over” but a “triumph in.”  Christ does not triumph over us, as if we are a defeated foe; he triumphs in us and through us! “Now thanks be unto God, which always causes us to triumph in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:14). He conquered us in order to make us “more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37). He placed his banner of possession over us, not to make us his slaves or destroy us, but to protect us and give us victory! Victory over slavery to this world: “and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4), and victory over the destruction of sin and death: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57). Likewise, may all earthly husbands—modeling Christ’s great love before this world—possess their wives, not as conquered slaves to do their bidding, but as cherished and protected vessels to be sanctified, made victorious, “holy, and without blemish” (Ephesians 5: 25-28).

“His banner over me was love.”  It was love that conquered. Blood is the price of conquest, and the conquerors of this world literally wade through the blood of their enemies to win their thrones.  But, our conqueror, in love, gave his own life and waded through his own blood to purchase our redemption (I Peter 1:18-19).  And then, did God make us his slaves?  No!  In love, he “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6-7). Our heavenly conqueror defeated our foes so that we could partake of his throne and be taken into his banqueting house…so that we could take joy with him in all the exceeding riches of his grace and kindness!  Hallelujah, what a Savior! Flowering Tree in Hawaii copy

The Armstrong Archives (39): Murder on Campus

Aaron and AlanThursday, September 29, 1977  Still no baby but at this point I’m glad to wait a few days. Alan is at his first big exam, and then has virtually Friday to Sunday free—which is a huge vacation for us. I tried to con him into taking us up to the camp at Uncle Lloyd’s for our birthday, but to no avail!Uncle LloydWe had a lot of trauma around here yesterday. Haven’t heard anything official, but it appears that someone was murdered in the parking structure across the street from our apartment building at around 7:30 am yesterday. The police have contacted us about five times looking for leads. You couldn’t get in or out of our building without being questioned, and the place was swarming with police. Nobody’s saying anything, but Alan and I are thinking it was probably rape and murder of a student. We’ll have to read the papers to find out. I knew that would make you more eager to come to Detroit to see us…but on the other hand, to be forewarned is to be fore-precautioned. I sure hate to have Alan out at all hours. [As it turned out, it was a young teenager who shot and killed a professor. When questioned, the boy said he shot him “because he had a nice pair of shoes and a watch” (which the kid stole). It was a great grief and source of devastation to the entire Wayne campus community.]Aaron AsleepThursday, October 7, 1977  Hi! Thanks for calling last night! I’m hoping the baby comes before too many days, so please come as soon as you can—and bring some good books to read if you want so you don’t get bored while Aaron and I sleep ten hours a day!

We had a really happy birthday. Alan cooked breakfast and a big pot of spaghetti for dinner. I made a Mardi Gras cake, which Aaron liked almost as well as we did. We went to a big toy store and had a great time picking out a train set, two children’s records, and several trucks for Aaron. We also consulted with him on what he wanted—and his immediate response was “suckers!” The neighbors give him a sucker every time he visits, and I think he wonders why we don’t have a big candy jar like theirs! Anyway, we bought him a nice sack of suckers and his day was complete. My day was complete just being with Alan and Aaron. I remember how content Mom used to be when we were all together. Now I understand why. Nothing quite like a family—no matter how big or small. (However,  I am also getting a new dress to wear to church as a gift from them after the baby comes. I am sooo tired of wearing the same brown and gold maternity dress every week!)

Hand in Hand: Joyful Purpose and Satisfaction

May Apple“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” —Frederick Buechner

DSCN2873Last night Alan and I took Mike and Mary Ann out for dinner to celebrate Mike’s 65th birthday. Mike runs the hospital-based services for Alan, and Mike’s quiet, gentle disposition and wise leadership has been invaluable. Mike has had a long career as a dedicated psychiatrist, but now that he’s 65, I couldn’t help but wonder if he’s considering retirement (which I knew would be a huge loss for Alan). So, I asked with a smile, “Any chance you might stay on for another 5 or 10 years?” Without missing a beat, he smiled back, “Yes…as long as Alan doesn’t quit.” DSCN2875Alan does get tired. He just turned 63, and sometimes  he wonders how long he can take the pressure and long hours. At 62, I am more than content to continue my role as “home maker” rather than looking for some new career to start, so I can certainly empathize, although I know that I have a passion for connecting with our kids, our church family, and various other friends and ministries, without which I would feel lost. I know that whether or not we human beings are working full-time, we all need to be fully engaged and busy in order to be truly happy and feeling good about ourselves. I think God has just made us that way!DSCN1226Have you thought about what you might do when you retire? Whether you’re young or old…working or retired…do you ever struggle with wondering if you’re doing “enough”? I often do! I find myself saying, “Lord, my life is just so happy…am I doing something wrong?” I took this picture one morning last week while doing the dishes at Mike and Grace’s house in Hawaii. It’s so “Mike and Grace”…the bird of paradise flower…the two winged doves, the tire swing hanging from their fig tree, a glass star, and sunshine streaming in the window. I felt so contented and happy to be working away in the kitchen with a joyous household waking up around me! In truth, sometimes my life has been so difficult that I just wished the Lord would take me up to heaven to get away from it all, but most of the time, I’m praying the Lord will come back to earth so that not only I, but all mankind, can experience the peace and blessing of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I believe that while we’re here on earth, God wants us to be working hard at whatever he calls us to, but he also calls us to “walk in the light.” Sometimes that’s hard, and sometimes it’s easier, but there’s nothing wrong with it being beautiful experience! So, may we find purpose and satisfaction in doing whatever we’re doing—whether it’s working in a psychiatric hospital, serving in the army, rearing a brood of kids, or just trying to love others by “being there.”

“For you, my brothers [and sisters], were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Galatians 5:13-14)

New Help for Alzheimer Patients

DSCN2629Alan is the C.M.O. (chief medical officer) at Pine Rest. I don’t usually write much about Alan’s work, but every once in a while something pretty special happensDSCN2609 that’s really striking to me, and yesterday was one of those times:DSCN2610 I enjoyed the honor of being invited to the dedication of the new DSCN2615

In the U.S., the fastest growing sector of our population are those over 65, and it’s estimated that 1 in 10 of these people have dementia,  most commonly Alzheimer’s Disease. These people and their families are dealing with such symptoms as:

  • “Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Mood swings
  • Distrust in others
  • Irritability and aggressiveness
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Wandering
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Delusions, such as believing something has been stolen” Mayo Clinic DSCN2611My mother had Alzheimer’s. She remained quite sweet-tempered, but she definitely suffered from most of the other symptoms, and it took our family quite a while to figure out that something was DSCN2612organically wrong rather than simply getting our feelings hurt and thinking that Mom had really changed in personality…and for some reason didn’t seem to love us (read that “want to be around us”) the way she had before.  Our story is all too common. Family members DSCN2614of both the Van Andel and Cook families (gracious philanthropists in our area) have been afflicted, and so these two families, along with some 350 other donors, contributed millions of dollars to fund a behavioral health clinic to help meet the needs of this population here on the campus of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. DSCN2630Our beloved CEO and fearless leader (and Alan’s boss), Dr. Mark Eastburg, was on hand to welcome everyone and serve as host.DSCN2616Our C.O.O. (chief operating officer), Bob Nycamp (and a great friend to Alan as well as everybody else under the sun), was the master of DSCN2617ceremonies and had a few good jokes to tell on each of the speakers. DSCN2618      David Van Andel (a true celebrity of charity) gave an address, DSCN2620   along with his sweet wife, Carol. They’ve been great supporters of DSCN2623Pine Rest for many years. Ryan Cook spoke as a representative of theDSCN2624 awesome Cook Family. Lt. Governor Brian Calley brought greetings (and political commentary 🙂 ) from our Michigan governor’s office. DSCN2628Reverend Dr. Tom DeVries (General Secretary of the Reformed Church of America) gave an inspiring dedication address, pointing out that in Christ we have both the motivation and the model for  fulfilling Pine Rest’s mission “to express the healing ministry of Jesus Christ by providing behavioral health services with professional excellence, Christian integrity, and compassion.” DSCN2631
    Afterward, we were privileged to tour the new unit, DSCN2638                                         meet some of the staff, DSCN2648                                    and enjoy light refreshments DSCN2642                               while checking out the rooms DSCN2649                          and mingling with donors and staffers. DSCN2650(Wish I could have gotten a group picture, but here are 3 of  many A+ people who put their heart & soul into the ministry of Pine Rest.) DSCN2632       In all, I was totally delighted with the new facility. The grounds, DSCN2636                  the restful artwork and peaceful atmosphere,DSCN2640

and the opportunities for therapy. (This “Sensory” room is just one example.) Pine Rest isn’t a “nursing home” substitute, it’s a place where people who suffer from the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other geriatric mental health diseases can come for diagnostic testing and receive help in developing treatment plans. It’s a place where  families can find help for their loved ones (and themselves) in how to deal with the debilitating effects of their illnesses. So, if you notice yourself or someone you love struggling with a constellation of the symptoms listed above and find yourself pulling out your hair…Stop! Realize you might be seeing early signs of dementia. 😦  Start researching. Consider visiting Pine Rest if you live in the GR area. Or, do a little reading to figure out how and where you can get help. It’s never easy, but there are resources out there that can make things easier.

“Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees. Make level paths for  your feet so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”          (Hebrews 12:12-13)

Kevin: The Friendliest Hawaiian I’ve Ever Met

DSCN1998So, yesterday I said I’d tell you about our new friend. Just as we were leaving  DSCN1994Alligator  Rock, we saw a gorgeous parrot sitting in a bush. As we approached, he DSCN1995 climbed  down from his perch with great speed and practically ran to greet us! DSCN1996He reached out a wing stub as if to shake our hands and called out cheerily, DSCN1997“HELLO!!” DSCN1999It was the first time in my entire life that a totally strange bird ever came up and tried to befriend me. I was totally amazed and so pleased. 🙂 DSCN2000

After we chatted for a while, it occurred to me that although I’ve been to Hawaii three times, I’ve never once had a stranger (human or bird brain) approach me out of the clear blue and strike up a conversation! (In truth, he had a very limited vocabulary, but that doesn’t change the point of his extreme friendliness.) DSCN2001Well, the folks at North Shore Christian Fellowship have been super friendly, but we also come with family when we visit there, so it’s not quite the same thing as pursuing a total stranger who’s just walking along the beach by your house.

DSCN2002At any rate, we all had quite a nice chat with him, but then we thought we’d DSCN2003better head on back to the car before the rain hit, so we reluctantly said goodbye. DSCN2005Kevin (the parrot) wasn’t convinced. He wanted to chat some more, and so he   DSCN2006started walking along the edge of his property, talking to us as we went. DSCN2007 When he got to the end of the blocks edging his beachfront yard, DSCN2008Kevin climbed up the side of the fence DSCN2010 and began walking toward us along the top of the wall! DSCN2011He was hurrying so fast I began to fear he’d fall off, and at the end ofDSCN2012the wall I knew there was a very busy highway, so I became concerned for his DSCN2013safety! Besides, he appeared to want to come home with us! Thankfully, just as I  DSCN2014 started wondering  how to get him safely back to his back yard, a young boy came

DSCN2015         out of the house and shared a few more details about this friendly parrot.DSCN2016 As it turns out, Kevin is 20 years old. He was mauled by a dog when he was pretty young. As a result, Kevin lost his entire left wing and much of his right wing, but he survived and now lives a very gregarious life with his family. He isDSCN2017 completely free to roam, although he usually stays close to home and is safe under the watchful care of this young boy and their very large, faithful dog.

Kevin inspired me! Someone small, maimed, very vulnerable, and with an extremely limited vocabulary…but absolutely driven to be friendly! If he can do it, can’t anyone? Next time you’re insecure about reaching out to greet someone, think of Kevin and take heart! Many people are probably a little on the lonely side, and most people would probably appreciate a cheery greeting at any rate. I’m willing to take the risk of being considered a birdbrain to reach out, and I hope you are too!

“Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

[The “gospel” is the good news that Jesus is God made flesh, who came to earth to die for our sins so that by faith in Him we can have eternal life.]

Hidden Secrets of Oahu: Alligator Rock

DSCN1890Every day we were in Hawaii, we were treated to a swim at a different beach  DSCN1990from any we’d visited last year, since Mike and Grace keep learning about “new” DSCN1947hidden treasures that aren’t so much in the guide books but are known by locals. DSCN1891 One such gorgeous beach is known as “Alligator Rock” (see the alligator lying behind the girls?)  and has a large shallow, sandy area safe for children, but it  DSCN1960also has a  wonderful area of shallow water with plenty of coral and fish that makes it very ideal for snorkeling…even with little girls! One day while Michael DSCN1905was hard at work, Grace took us to Alligator Rock for the morning DSCN1939so we could all go snorkeling and have a picnic lunch. DSCN1913The fish were very friendly, the water warm, and the waves gentle. DSCN1930I think we all got to swim as much as we wanted, which was super relaxing! DSCN1969Alan watched Judah while Grace took the girls out snorkeling one at a time, DSCN1970and I took the other girl “shelling” while she waited for her turn under the sea! DSCN1976Grace and Nycteris explored Alligator Rock and found some sea anemones and DSCN1975an eel.  While Alan was out, a sea turtle went swooping around him. (But, we didn’t get these on camera, since I was the only one photographing at the time). DSCN1954After a long time, we got tired and decided it was time for our picnic lunch. DSCN1979Judah was really thirsty, so he figured out how to hold the can “all by self!” DSCN1992There was hardly anyone else at the beach, but some local boys were there  DSCN1993 fishing, and they could tell me the name for each kind of fish they caught! DSCN1988As is so common in the tropics, an afternoon storm blew up, so we gathered  up DSCN1989 our belongings (some that had almost been washed out to sea!) and headed back DSCN1991 to the car so we wouldn’t get wet (and because it was nap time). As one final  DSCN2012treat, we made a new friend on our way back to the car! However, it’s past time to start dinner, so I’ll have to tell you about Kevin tomorrow! DSCN2018On the way home we saw lots of people who looked like tourists doing not too  DSCN2021

much in particular, and it made me reflect on the value of ferreting out new places to experience the beauty of God’s good earth. So, I have a challenge for myself, and I’d like you to consider it too. I’ve lived all of my married life in Michigan, but I’m going to try to find one new spot in Michigan sometime this summer that I’ve never visited before. I’d love to hear if you have a favorite “jewel” in your area (wherever around the world you may live!). I’d also love to hear about it if you visit some new place, and after I’ve ferreted out some lovely new corner of Michigan, I’ll let you know what I find!

                  “…at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old.”         (Song of Solomon 7:13)

Graduation Aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Pearl Harbor

DSCN1264 World War 2 began and ended for the U.S. in Pearl Harbor.  DSCN1247 It began on  December 7, 1941 with a terrifying sudden attack by the Japanese, DSCN2329 and it ended 4 years later after some 70 million lives had been lost world-wide DSCN2346 with the unconditional surrender of the Japanese aboard the U.S.S. Missouri… DSCN2372also in Pearl Harbor. Today the U.S.S. Missouri is a naval base in Pearl Harbor, DSCN2127and it was a great privilege to attend the army’s graduation ceremony for DSCN2223Michael and his four classmates, who’ve just earned their M.S. in Comprehensive DSCN2137 Dentistry with the army. Grace and the other spouses were also honored, since DSCN2121behind every awesome man is an awesome woman.  DSCN2156It was a grueling but extremely positive 2-years of learning all the various specialties within dentistry designed to equip Mike and his 4 classmates to be DSCN2276able to provide specialized dental care in various army venues. (This is Mike with Colonel Greenwood, who helped lead the program and mentor Michael.) DSCN2182Michael gave a special address as the student representative…a humorous, DSCN2367warm, and very touching tribute that encouraged us to be true to ourselves, our DSCN2227families, our country, and our God. After the solemnities, the graduates were DSCN2203adorned with leis by friends and family. (His girls could hardly wait! 🙂 ) DSCN2281Aaron & Pualani (their best friends from church) and their 5 daughters also   DSCN2214 came to the ceremony and adorned Michael with leis. (Note their 3-year-old, DSCN2215holding up a candy lei…which Mike’s girls loved…and loved sharing!) DSCN2224After taking lots of pictures and a grand tour of the ship (and museum on board), DSCN2393we went home with our prizes (Mike’s family) to continue celebrating! DSCN2110I guess you can imagine how happy and delighted we are!

“A wise son makes a glad father [and mother :)]” Proverbs 15:20.