Monthly Archives: July 2013

What Makes Us Happy?

 

DSCN1678I’ve decided to combine pictures from an evening with Mike’s family in Hawaii IMG_0711with a review of the documentary HAPPY and my own thoughts on happiness, DSCN1681 because I think Michael and Grace have one of the happiest families I know, and DSC_0358 the pictures are pretty self-explanatory. All you need to know is that after DSCN1685Michael got done with his work for the day, we did what they usually do: DSCN1771 We took a trip to the beach for some fun and then went home for dinner! 🙂868 Have you seen the 2011 documentary called HAPPY? As its own advertizement DSCN1692 explains, “HAPPY combines powerful human stories from around the world withDSCN1700 cutting edge science to give us a deeper understanding of our most valued DSCN1697emotion.” We watched it a few nights ago, and I really appreciated what it had to DSCN1844 teach. They interviewed people from around the world and uncovered some very DSCN1765 profound stories, such as a man from the slums of India who was found to be as DSCN1761 happy as the average American, and the beautiful debutant who was run over by DSCN1769 a truck and disfigured for life but is—believe it or not—even happier than she  DSCN1710was before her accident. The researchers discovered that happy, close family DSCN1713 relationships far outweigh economic status. Although there is a big difference in DSCN1735 satisfaction between Americans making $5,000 and $50,000 per year, there is DSCN1740 no perceptible difference in happiness between those who earn $50,000 and DSCN1737 $500,000, so making a lot of money is not the answer! DSC_0398Research indicates that although 50% of “happiness” is a genetic disposition, DSC_0395only a pretty insignificant 10% is related to circumstances beyond our control, DSC_0392leaving a whooping 40% up to us, our own attitudes and how we manage life. DSCN1776What the producers of HAPPY found dovetail nicely with what much of what my DSCN1759 father always taught comprised the “good life.” He said the “good life” is Delonix Regia (Royal Poinciana) Hawaii  copyVaried.” Indeed, variety is the spice of life, so enjoy new experiences! DSCN1828Integrated.” Your life flows as a connected whole; you have true integrity. DSCN1817Productive.” Hard work building and creating good stuff makes people happy!DSC_0365Physical activity is also huge…anything where you get lost in the flow of life.DSCN1862Social.” Family unites tend to be the happiest, although even people living in DSCN1875 community with others tend to be happier than people who live alone.   DSCN1872As one who loves mnemonic devices to help me remember, DSCN1883 the first letters of these words form the acronymDSC_0409  VIPS: Varied, Integrated, Productive, and Social. From the DSCN1884 video on happiness, I’d like to add “Intensely Interesting” (“in the flow”) to the DSCN1886“I” and “Physically active” to the “P.” From what I’ve learned about happiness DSCN1860over the years, I would also add “Spiritual” to the “S,” and I think we’d have a DSCN1887 really great recipe for happiness! DSC_0402“Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God” (Psalm 146:5).

Hawaii’s Fascinating Pacific Aviation Museum

DSCN1548If you’ve seen any movies from World War 2 such as Pearl Harbor, then you’ve DSCN1566 seen pictures from the Pacific Aviation Museum. When I was trying to think of DSCN1561the best adjective to use in the title, “fascinating” emerged, but I will say that it’s DSCN1581most fascinating for people who love all things mechanical, like my beloved DSCN1549husband, who as a kid made model airplanes for many of the World War 2 DSCN1585 planes that we saw at the museum. DSCN1615This particular museum is somewhat unique because it wasn’t built to house  DSCN1531artifacts. Rather, many of the displays and exhibits are housed in the original DSCN1578hangers that were in Pearl Harbor at the time it was bombed. In fact, not all of DSCN1564the windows have been repaired to this day, just as one of many ways of DSCN1535authenticating the events and making visitors more acutely aware of what all DSCN1521transpired during World War 2. Alan and I decided to visit after grabbing a bite DSCN1494to eat with Michael and Grace. Of course, we’d no sooner sat down to enjoy our DSCN1496 masterpieces than Mike got called away. Sad…but we all understood. Not only is DSCN1631 Michael medical like his dad, he’s in the army…so when they call, he goes! DSCN1533One of the most touching things to me about the museum is the close connectionDSCN1527 they maintain with the Japanese…who must be among the most frequent visitorsDSCN1497since most of the signs are printed in both English and Japanese. As I mentioned DSCN1513on my July 17 post featuring the Pearl Harbor Memorial (“Remembering the  DSCN1503Remembrance”), the Japanese are still very involved in reconciliation and DSCN1502cordiality. In fact, some of the displays are manned by young Japanese soldiers. DSCN1518Oh, that we might develop peaceable relationships with every nation! DSCN1616Beyond the impressive collection of aircraft and historical narrative, there were DSCN1540 accounts highlighting some of the courageous people who sacrificed to maintain DSCN1545 our freedom, among them George H.W. Bush, who was the youngest U.S. Naval DSCN1543aviator at that time and later became the 41st president of the United States. DSCN1546 We were able to look right into the cockpit of a plane such as Bush flew! DSCN1592Visitors can walk right into the belly of an airplane and imagine just how DSCN1593terrifying it might have been to be a paratrooper waiting to drop out of the sky DSCN1612 behind enemy lines. My uncle was a paratrooper behind enemy lines in GermanyDSCN1590 during World War 2. He survived the war but committed suicide after he came DSCN1541 home. The war was terrible for everyone. My mother thought Uncle Art had beenDSCN1554 totally devastated by the evil he encountered and the inhumane actions that wereDSCN1553 required of him as a soldier. She spent her life trying to encourage reconciliation DSCN1611between Americans and other nations, starting a People-to-People “sister-city” DSCN1633exchange with Japan. I think it’s critical for all of us to remember war’s terrible DSCN1635 devastation so that we make every effort to avert such disasters in the future.DSCN1627I am deeply grateful for every brave soldier who defends the freedoms of our DSCN1579nation, but I also pray every day for peace & long for the day when war will cease. DSCN1747May “thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Mark 6:10

Do Good People Go to Heaven?

DSCN9486Yesterday was very traumatic for me. Alan and I drove to the other side of the state after church to visit a friend in Beaumont’s cardiac intensive care unit. I will call her Melissa, although that’s not her name. Melissa married Alan’s college roommate, so that means we’ve been friends pretty much forever, although we hadn’t seen her for a long time. Melissa has suffered from scleroderma for 30 years, but this past January her condition worsened and she developed pulmonary hypertension. The doctors at U.M. started her on an experimental medication, but it isn’t working. She’s grown steadily worse, weighs only about 100 pounds now, and has a very poor prognosis. She was very alert (even with tubes everywhere in her body), calm, and gracious…as always!

Melissa is the type of person that everybody enjoys and admires. Her two bouncy, bright, and highly successful 20-something kids were there too, and Alan and I felt deeply grateful to get to spend a little time with them. Their father was a true and loyal friend to both Alan and me, an outstanding lawyer, and an avid fly fisherman. He died of a sudden, massive heart attack while on an adventure hiking in the Appalachian Mountains with his 10-year-old son and their boy scout troop. That was nearly 20 years ago. Due to good insurance, Melissa was left a wealthy woman, but she never moved out of their modest home. In fact, Melissa never remarried, and her daughter told me that all their father’s fishing books are still on the shelves in their living room. Melissa continued working as an occupational therapist and devoted her life to being a good mother and a good person. In every way, I think of her as a model human being. If anybody deserves to get to heaven by being good, I think Melissa will get in.

Yet, what will happen to Melissa when she dies? The Bible teaches unequivocally that we no human being is “good enough” to get to heaven based on their personal perfection. Some religions try to get around the sin problem by saying that we can spend some time in purgatory after we die paying penance for past sins, or that we will be reincarnated again and again until we “get it right” (which is only ever theoretically possible). Christianity alone offers a “once for all” answer to the sin problem and tells us that there is a way to get to heaven… a “free” way…but that it isn’t by having “good works” that outweigh “bad works” on the balance of life. It’s through faith in Christ, who did all the “good works” for us and died in our place to pay for our sins…the greatest “cultural exchange” of all time: “For our sake he [God] has made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:11). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

I do not know what will happen to Melissa, because I do not really know what she believes. Although I had lively discussions about faith and Christ with her husband (whom Alan and I knew for 10 years before they married), Melissa kept her religious views strictly (and politely) to herself. She was from a Christian background, but that’s all she was ever willing to divulge.

Yesterday it was very hard for her to talk. She mostly whispered. I hope I get to see her again before she passes from this life to the next, but in the meantime…I’ve decided to bite the bullet and write her a letter just to share the gospel. If she’s a believer, it will make her happy. If she’s not a believer…well, perhaps it will at least cause her to stop and consider. What does a person stand to lose? If there is no God, then death is the end of everything. If Jesus is right, then the believer stands to gain an eternal life of happiness in heaven! Why not choose the hope of life over the dread of death?

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Rise Up, My Love (43): Leaping and Skipping

Hinds Feet in High PlacesSong of Solomon 2:8 “The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.”  Although the bride may have been the last to drift off to sleep, it is the bridegroom who is the first to awaken!  It is he who was as silent as the doe in not disturbing her rest when he slipped out of their house to drink in the morning, but now he returns to awaken her so that she can join him in his joyful pursuit of life.  How like our Lord this is, who declared, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

“The voice of my beloved!”  This is one of very few times in the Scripture where an exclamation mark is used in the KJV. “The voice of my beloved!” Did it awaken her out of a sound sleep?  Had she been dreaming of dwelling—like Peter—forever on a mountaintop with her Lord? Had she been sleeping so deeply, like the church at the end times, that she wasn’t dreaming at all? “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Pro. 29:18).  Had she been lulled into such a contented rest that she was in danger of lethargy? “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Ephesians 5:14).

Whatever her sleep, and whatever her danger, her precious husband returns to her and awakens her with the sound of his voice!  “The voice of my beloved!” Exclamation mark! Hearing and recognizing his voice is the thrill of her life, and she is instantly awake.Power copyWhat a voice it is!  His voice thunders (Job 40:9), and at the sound of his voice, flames of fire divide, the hinds calve, the wilderness shakes, and the earth melts (Psalm  29:7-9; 46:6).  His voice is “as the sound of many waters” (Revelation 1:15). His voice called Adam, confounded the scholars, condemned the Pharisees, calmed the sea, cast out demons, and comforted weeping Mary at the tomb. It is the music of heaven and our hearts.  No other voice resonates so richly  with all the chords of mercy, grace, and every holy perfection to produce this song of love…this matchless song of songs…and all for us, his beloved ones.  May our hearts be as thrilled and awakened by his voice of love as was the heart of the bride!Waterfall in New Zealanf copyTo “leap” is “to spring forward swiftly… bound…the distance covered by a jump” (Webster, 833).  Our beloved comes to us, bounding swiftly across the mountains like a graceful deer—leaping over each mountain in a single jump!  See his power and energy.  See his eagerness and grace.  No mountain is too high: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Praise God that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us!” (Romans 8:37-39). Nothing, nothing… no physical mountain nor spiritual obstacle is too great for our Lord to overcome as he leaps over the mountains to join us to himself. IMG_5649 copy“Leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” To “skip” is to “spring lightly…gaily…to pass over without noticing…a gait in which hops and steps are alternated” (Webster, 1367). Our Lord leaped over each mountain in a single bound, but he skipped across the hills gaily, without noticing…hopping and stepping, effortlessly and with delight.  “Why leap ye, ye high hills? this is the hill which God desireth to dwell in; yea, the Lord will dwell in it for ever” (Psalm 68:16).

God leaps and skips, and he causes his creation to leap for joy as well. Are there mountains and hills of adversity in your life?  Do not despair.  Can you see? God desires to dwell in them; they are his and there by his design, but he will come flying across them to you.  Oh, awaken my soul, and lift up your eyes to behold your king, leaping across the rugged terrain to be with you! “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.  He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber” (Psalm 121:1-3).

No, our heavenly keeper will not slumber, even though we may think he is asleep.  Instead, we are aroused by his voice, only to find that He has been out, busy about his Father’s business.  And, as our eyes begin to search the horizon, we see him coming to us, leaping and skipping across the wild, mountainous terrain of the world about us, eager to join us to himself!

The Armstrong Archives (43): Inspiring Parents

Aaron opening Christmas PresentsJanuary 3, 1978  “The Lord thy God blesseth thee, as he promised…” Deut. 15:6

Dear Mom and Dad, What a wonderful Christmas! There’s such a list of things to thank you for, I’m sure to forget a dozen or so! We had a delicious beef stew last night made in your pressure cooker—my first attempt. It only took thirty minutes to cook and tasted just great. Thanks also for the key puzzle, the legos, the beads for Michael (which I can’t find! Did I leave them at your house accidentally? Save them and Michael will enjoy them in May), the old National Geographics, and our subscription for Aaron, the books for all of us, the key chain and key case, all the Christmas festivities—tree, decorations, stockings (yummy), meals, cashews, having Danny over, all the work in preparing for us, taking care of us, and cleaning up after us, the delicious candy which takes so many hours to make, baby sitting (and the book for baby sitters), the fantastic lunch you sent home with us, and most of all for the chance to be with you and talk. Hopefully we can come back in May and have more leisure for talking. We had such a great time and really appreciated your having us. [Fun to read this 35 years later as a grandmother, trying to do the same sorts of things for my kids. My mother was a most inspiring example!]Grandma with Aaron and Baby MichaelThursday, January 12, 1978 It’s really snowy here! We got home late from prayer meeting last night, and my two little ones have decided to sleep in…so who am I to complain?!!

Alan’s back in school doing a pediatric rotation at Children’s Hospital. He walks to work every day (about seven blocks), so he says the snow can come as long as we have heat and food…Last time we had a bad storm it took him one and a half hours to drive home three miles because Detroit becomes just about immobilized by heavy snows.

Aaron took a big chip out of a front tooth the other day when he fell backwards over his tricycle. Poor guy! I’m just thankful he doesn’t have his permanent teeth yet. He’s also getting two-year molars—two buds showing through— which has made him even more of a “Be Held by Mama Bunny.”Michael drooleyMichael continues to delight us with coos and smiles. He’s starting to blow bubbles and reach for things like my fork and plate! (He often likes to sit on my lap during supper.) People comment every once in a while that they think he looks like me, and I eat it right up. Funny how ego-oriented we people are!

The name To Love and Chasten for your book has grown on me. Somehow it sounds more sophisticated than A Home Is Where You Find It, but it certainly is catchy. Unfortunately, I find myself emotionally involved and not too objective. I would delight in reading anything Mom writes. You’re “lucky” (fortunate, or whatever—blessed?) to have a professional writing professor and critic for a husband—especially one who’s willing to help you!! Hope you get some time to write now. Dad, have you made any decisions about when you’re going to retire? [This is also interesting to me, since Alan is now trying to decide when to retire! Time flies and the generations roll over so quickly…in retrospect! :)]

Lots of love, XOXOXOXO, Us

What’s More Fun at the Zoo: Watching Critters or Kids?

DSCN9578I hope wherever you live, there’s a zoo not too far awayDSCN9583because visiting the zoo is just such a fun thing to do! DSCN9670In fairness, though, I have to say that watching the kids and grand kids DSCN9587is every bit as fun for me as watching the animals! DSCN9620We took a day to visit the John Ball Zoo here in GR. DSCN9623It was a bright, sunny day, and the critters were just as curious about us DSCN9592as we were about them! The penguins would follow Reuben’s fingers,DSCN9660and even old Mr. Tortoise came slowly over for a closer look! DSCN9676Some of the creatures were pretty scary looking, DSCN9688and then we were glad there was a strong glass between us! DSCN9606Some of the displays DSCN9737were totally captivating DSCN9605and highly educational,  DSCN9603but we kept a tight grip on the kidsDSCN9742since—after all—nobody should really go swimming with a grizzly bear. DSCN9615But, most of the creatures DSCN9609were totally harmless, DSCN9645and exciting even for babies! DSCN9652Besides all the fascinating animals, DSCN9594there were friendly volunteers who taught us about the animals. DSCN9633Even along the pathways astute little mindsMonarchnoticed some of God’s beautifully crafted butterflies and flowers. DSCN9646Since we knew it was going to be a big day,DSCN9651we took a mid-morning break with the reptiles DSCN9647to enjoy a little smackerel of apples. DSCN9691With more fuel in the tanks we were ready to press on…DSCN9700feeling quite a bit more lively than the chimps! DSCN9705Actually, the kids had no shortage of energy for most of the day, DSCN9708although I identified more with these wart hogs… DSCN9730and rather envied the flamingos, who could dip in a shady pool. DSCN9753Ah, but here’s something the animals couldn’t do: DSCN9755Sit at a shady table sipping lemonade and sharing ice cream! DSCN9761The critters only got to peck at the crumbs that fell from our table. DSCN9709There were some things that even baby boys were too small to do. (Notice that Joel is wearing Giles’ hat. Giles kept pulling it off, & we were afraid of losing it!) DSCN9711You have to be a very big boy to go for a camel ride with Grandma…DSCN9717and a pretty big boy to ride with Mama. DSCN9713(Of course, we were being led by a trainer, but let’s not tell anybody.) DSCN9783The John Ball Zoo has a great petting farm DSCN9768where you can feed and groom little goats. DSCN9776Giles wasn’t too small for the petting zoo…but he was too sleepy! ParakeetsOur last stop was the aviary. DSCN9838For $1 you could buy a stick with millet and bird seeds on it Parakeet Yellowand help serve up a birdy afternoon snack. DSCN9836 2The kids didn’t think it looked as good as ice cream, but the bird brains did. Waterfall with KidsAfter that, we left for home with our hearts full of happy memories…glad to be alive, and full of wonder at God’s creativity!

“It is a good thing to give thanks to the LORD, and to sing praises to your name, O most High; to show forth your loving kindness in the morning, and your faithfulness every night…for you, LORD, have made me glad through your work..how great are your works!” (Psalm 92:1-5)

Do Babies Really Like Meijer Gardens?

DSCN9445Mejier Gardens is a world-class botanical garden DSCN9441 and one of the most beautiful places in Grand Rapids, DSCN9429but is it a place where you really want to take your kids and grand kids…DSCN9464or is it more appropriate as a romantic garden setting for adults and lovers? DSCN9438Most of the attractions are intended to bend your mind but not be touched, DSCN9469although an inquisitive touch now & then probably doesn’t really hurt anything. DSCN9443Actually, Alan and I love Meijer Gardens so well that we get annual passes DSCN9436with guest and grandchild privileges, because we know that DSCN9499our entire family—even toddling babies—love Meijer Garden! 🙂 DSCN9497So, when Aaron brought his family to visit not long ago, we took them to Meijer. DSCN9470  The day before,  Alan ruptured a calf muscle trying to catch one of Grandson DSCN9480Rueben’s fly balls and couldn’t walk very far, but the kids were delightedDSCN9452 with the privilege of sitting on Grandpa’s lap while their dad pushed everybody, DSCN9459and Aaron seemed to take special pleasure in helping his dad. (Adult children areDSCN9479 truly wonderful! Also, Alan’s walking fine again. Thank you, Divine Healer!) DSCN9481Besides all the splendid flowers and sculptures that are universally appealing DSCN9431Meijer Gardens has some special places just for kids, like this interactive play DSCN9432area where children (yes, even babies!) can design their own sculpture park. DSCN9484In the conservatory, there are not only wondrous plants and waterways,DSCN9493there are exotic birds to watch,  DSCN9494and no end of fascinating places one might wish to explore…DSCN9472if only allowed…DSCN9460There is so much for everyone to see and learn at the garden, DSCN9461and it’s the perfect place to teach babies gentleness and respect for living things. DSCN9435Although most of the 132-acre botanical garden & sculpture park is for viewing, DSCN9506there is an entire garden area dedicated to kids & designed to be touchableDSCN9505  and delightful for children! DSCN9503The Lena Meijer Children’s Garden has a special entrance for the wee folk, DSCN9539although adults are welcome too. DSCN9527One of the things our grand kids love best on warm summer days is to sail boats DSCN9509through the cleverly designed “Great Lakes”-shaped pools. (See Niagara Falls?) DSCN9521Even the shortest sailors can manage their boats on Lake Erie. 🙂 DSCN9543Lena Meijer’s Children’s Garden is filled with whimsical topiariesDSCN9541 such as this frog prince DSCN9542and this young maiden. DSCN9548The kids had a super time playing with all the interactive critters,DSCN9545exploring castaway huts and clubhouses,DSCN9557making daring crossings of swinging rope bridges to reach the tree house,DSCN9558& feeling on top of the world sitting in the Eagle’s Nest…(er…on robin eggs)…DSCN9573and nary a soul could resist stopping for a tea party after a big day of adventures. DSCN9575I would say that for young and old—even babies—Meijer Gardens is irresistible!

When I was in China some years ago, the government did not allow anyone under 18 to attend their “three-self patriotic churches,” which are the only Protestant churches sanctioned by the communist government. Just as Meijer Garden is perhaps most fully appreciated by adults, I’m sure Christianity is most fully understood by adults. HOWEVER, just as even very small children can learn and grow by exposure to beauty, I believe no one is too young to learn about the majesty and wonder of God, his love for us, and his amazing gospel! May we bring our children to God and let them learn about Him!

“But when Jesus saw it, he was very displeased, and said to them, ‘Allow the little children to come to me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God’.” (Mark 10:14)