Monthly Archives: December 2013

Making Gingerbread Boys…and Girls

IMG_0755Grace had it on her heart to make gingerbread cookies with the kids. IMG_0756Since there’s so much commotion going on, it took 2 days to get the gingerbread IMG_0757 dough prepared, chilled, and ready to roll, but boy was it worth the bother! IMG_0760Amélie oversaw the progress, IMG_0766but then she wanted to help too, so Aunt Gerlinde showed her how.IMG_0768The cookies were baked to perfection, IMG_0769and then everybody was ready to join in the fun…IMG_0771and I do mean everybody! IMG_0772We had 9 grandchildren under 7 at our house that night, IMG_0777and the only one who abstained was Sophie, who’s only a month old. IMG_0778Sophie slept through the whole party IMG_0782 and never even knew what she was missing. IMG_0779Even Judah and Baby Giles got into frosting (with a little help from their dads), IMG_0785and for those of us who really like frosting…their cookies were “the best!”IMG_0781But, I think every cookie was a masterpiece…just like ginger children. IMG_0783

Each child is so unique and so wonderful! They are really precious gifts. As I watch my kids waking up at all hours with babies, changing diapers, soothing tears, managing squabbles, doing endless loads of laundry, cleaning up after them, and trying to find time to nurture them, I remember so well the “good, old days” when our seven were little and I was more or less always exhausted. I sometimes hear young people say, “So, why would anybody ever want to have kids? They’re so much work.” True, true, but they are also so much of the stuff of life and love…tiny bundles of humanity that have the potential to enjoy life and fellowship with God and with us  forever! What a gift we can give by investing our lives in children…and what gifts they are to us as well. I wouldn’t trade mine for any amount of money or leisure!!!

“Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward” (Psalm 127:3).

Rise Up, My Love (65): Shadow Lands

SS 65 Shadow landsSong of Solomon 2:17 “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved…” There is a luminescent spiritual pearl here too beautiful to leave hidden within its shell. One cannot dive down and pull up this verse without noticing its twin oyster: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (I Corinthians 13:12).

Spiritually, we are living in the shadow lands where life and death, joy and pain are inextricably intertwined. Someday the silver cord binding us to this earth will be loosed; the golden bowl of our life will break, and we will fly away to heaven. “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7). In that day, we shall see him face to face, and “we shall be like Him; for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2). Someday we will die, but we must not fear death! This is the glorious hope of the Christian:  when the day breaks and the shadows flee away, we shall know the dawn of everlasting light and the unclouded enjoyment of his blessed presence forever! We must learn to grasp this priceless pearl by faith!   Like Paul we need to learn, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent form the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Our ultimate physical death is the gateway to eternal life in the immediate presence of our Lord; our last great battle with pain brings the triumph of everlasting joy.  Although God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather wants them to turn to him and live (Ezekiel 33:11), the Scriptures are clear that “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Why?  Because when the bell tolls out our death on earth, the wedding bells will be ringing in heaven! Before Christ left the earth he taught us, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Herein lies the Pearl of Great Price—Eternal Life—Jesus Christ. Although death is our enemy, don’t fear death!  Look beyond death and see the figure of Christ!  See him standing with his sword drawn, ready to swallow up death in victory.  “O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?” (I Corinthians 15:54-57). He is our captain, mighty to save (Hebrews 2:10; Isaiah 63:1)!

“Until the day break and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved…” What does the bride say to her heavenly beloved? Until I experience the full light of everlasting glory, let me feel your presence.  Reign in me fully; delight in me completely; may I always be moved and totally absorbed by your love.

The Armstrong Archives (65): Uncle Terry Visits

Thursday, February 22, 1979 Well, we had a nice break from the February drearies with Uncle Terry this week. He came Sunday night and left last night (Wednesday). He was doing some preliminary research for an experiment they’re running this fall on the impact of sports on athletes at various universities, including Michigan State University. He really burned it hard and did two days’ work in one so he had an extra day to play on Alan’s day off. The best part was just getting to know him a little better. He had never seen Michael! The boys immediately fell in love with him, and Aaron made the same comment that Noel [Terry’s other nephew] had, “I like having two daddies!” When Alan tucked Aaron in one night, Aaron teased him, “Are you Uncle Terry or Uncle Daddy?” We all felt pretty teary when we had to part with him.AA 65 Terry VisitsBesides all that, we just had a lot of fun doing things together. We toured around the Renaissance Center and Belle Isle. That day was sunny and warm (“warm” is relative to the freezing weather we’d been having), and we got to see all the fish at the aquarium, the plant conservatory, and found some fallow deer and squirrels eating apples in the woods. On Alan’s day off it was really windy and rainy, so we kept to the inside and spent a little time at the art institute. Terry has something in common with walking encyclopedias, besides many other virtues like consideration, sensitivity, and generosity, so he was both interesting and fun. Now there are only six days left until Alan’s done with day wards, and I think we will survive!

While browsing through a bookstore the other day, we saw a big book on California. On the cover was a sweeping view of the spectacular coastline. Aaron looked up at me with round-eyed alarm. “Mama, where are Noel and Joli? Why aren’t they in the picture?” After all, what’s important in California: scenery or cousins? At least Aaron has his values straight. Aaron still has trouble with past tenses. He says “hurted” so often that sometimes I can’t remember if it’s a legitimate word of not! The other day we saw a bright red cardinal. “Look at the beautiful cartilage!” he exclaimed. Or, noting Michael’s commotion at the table once, he demanded, “What’ all the complexion about?” Words!!! Michael has picked up a few new ones too, “Biba” (Bible, used for all books), a revived use of “dona” (doughnut, used for all goodies), and “NO!” He literally puffs up with pride over each new accomplishment, so pleased with himself. I found him practicing at the mirror the first morning he learned “no.” He would say it just as seriously and meanly as he could, then he’d laugh and laugh.

The dictionary for children is starting to get a lot of use. Every day or two we use it to learn something: what a puffin looks like or how a boom and a derrick are related. It even broke up one argument the other day! Aaron hadn’t eaten a good breakfast, so I told him there would be no snacks until lunch if he didn’t finish. Sure enough, by ten o’clock he was craving come cheese. He contended that a snack was junk food and didn’t include nutritious items. I said it meant anything eaten between meals. Do you need a dictionary to figure out who was right? (We ate lunch earlier than usual, though!)

The legos have continued to be the family favorite this week, and there is a perceptible improvement in how the boys can handle them. If the interest keeps up long enough, we may all figure out how to use them. With such a constant round of colds, I’m really glad they are content to play a lot of quiet indoor games; it has made the winter much more pleasant than anticipated. They also love to listen to records and stories, and even Michael is starting to sit on my lap and listen a bit. I love to read, so I’m especially pleased to see our little ones developing similar interests. There are so many exciting things to learn and enjoy!

P.S.— Hope you get this before you leave! I just wanted to wish you and Aunt Helen a “Bon Voyage!” You sure picked the perfect time of year to be in sunny Mexico! We hope you have an absolutely marvelous time exploring and getting to enjoy each other’s company. Aren’t sisters great?!

…We had such a great time with Terry. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would give him up! On the other hand, knowing my own bad side and human weakness, it’s as much a wonder that any two people ever remain married.

Merry Christmas!

IMG_0896It’s nearly midnight on Christmas Eve, and I’m waiting for my kids to finish wrapping presents at the kitchen table so I can fill the stockings and set them out (also on the kitchen table). It’s already been a truly wonderful holiday, although IMG_0713I’ve hardly had a minute to think a quiet thought for over a week, and we’re looking forward to a couple of more glorious weeks together before we have to IMG_0718part with the last of the kids and resume “life as usual” for 2014. We will have everybody together over the holidays…all 27 of us, and the house is already full! IMG_0870 Tonight we went to the Christmas Eve service at Calvary Church. IMG_0913We sang some carols and the kids colored pictures about the birth of Christ.

IMG_0933Michael read us a story for Advent and ended with a treat of gold (chocolate) coins for the kids. Now the kids are safely tucked into bed (hopefully with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads), Alan and Stephen are off to a midnight service where Stephen is playing, our adult “kids” are wrapping last minute presents, and I am thinking about how thankful I am to the Lord for our bubbly, busy family…and the fact that I haven’t sent out any Christmas cards this year and probably won’t have a chance to even blog much before mid January! Still, know that if you’re reading this, I have been praying for you.

May God bless you richly and grant you a healthy, happy 2014. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Day and a find great peace in accepting the love gift that God has sent to us: Jesus Christ, who loved us and gave his life for us.

“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Rise Up, My Love (64): Truly Free Love

SS 64 Truly Free LoveSong of Solomon 2:16 “My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.” In the first verse of this chapter, the bride describes herself as a lily. Here she tenderly pictures him being filled up by drinking her in and delighting in her. The fragrant, snow white lily is the perfect symbol of the purity and beauty of the nuptial bed. As the earthly bridegroom is allowed to “browse”…to freely “feed among the lilies”…to uninhibitedly enjoy the pleasures of his wife, he finds the reservoirs of his body, soul, and spirit being filled up and overflowing. This is the relationship which restores and refreshes the husband just as much food restores a famished soul.  Dear wives, delight in allowing your husband to “feed among the lilies” of your body, soul, and spirit.  Let him drink you in and be filled up always by your love!

2:17 “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.”  The word “Bether” means “cleft,” and although this has been a much disputed passage, often spiritualized into a metaphor of the church waiting for the rapture, it would be sadly out of context to suggest that the bride is lamenting her husband’s having abandoned her to feed his flocks among some distant lilies and that she is anxiously awaiting his return. Quite the opposite.  She has just been reveling in their unity— “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”  Would this be the exclamation of a bride whose husband had just left her to go off on a business trip?  Much more likely, it is the exultation of one who was holding her husband in her arms!

In that context, and following her description of him browsing among the lilies, it seems much more natural that this verse is an invitation for her husband to take his fill of love until the morning.  This is the true invitation of a loving wife. Notice the marked similarities between this invitation and that of the adulterous woman in Proverbs 7:18: “Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning.” Although the invitation is similar, beware of the striking differences between true love and false love.   The adulterous harlot of Proverbs 7 is not in a covenant relationship of “My beloved is mine, and I am His.”  Instead, she pursues her prey (Proverbs 7:10-12). The strange woman is not the responder, she is the initiator, flattering with her lying lips rather than speaking the truth in love (Proverbs 7:5, 13-15). She offers him first—not herself, but her material trappings and comforts: “I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt.  I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon” (Proverbs 7:16-17).  Her invitation is couched in deceit and sin: “Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves.  For the goodman is not at home…” (Proverbs 7:18-19). Instead of yielding to a loving husband’s desire, the adulterous woman allures her victim against his better judgment: “With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him” (Proverbs 7:21). And most importantly, the result of her invitation—rather than filling up his senses with life-giving refreshment—brings the stench of death:  “He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter…as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life… For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her.  Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:22-27).

In this day of adulterous relationships, beware of falling prey to the flattering tongue of the unhappy woman. Follow the example of the perfect husband, and “Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well…Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.  Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love” (Proverbs 5:15,18-19).

This is the picture we see in the Song of Solomon 2:17. The wife is inviting her husband to be as a young stag, enjoying the “cleft mountains” of her breasts. “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.” It is my prayer that husbands learn to love their wives as tenderly as our Heavenly Beloved loves us, and that wives will respond and learn to invite their husbands into the satisfying freedom of  enjoying their bodies. Then, there would be no reason for a man to long for another woman’s comfort.

No reason… but sometimes possibly the corrupt non reason of lust welling up within the heart. “And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger?” (Proverbs 5:20).  Great is the ruin of all who turn aside to lies!  “Be thou ravished always with her (your wife’s) love.” Oh God, seal to our hearts this teaching!

The Armstrong Archives (64): “He’s a just gonna hav ta die I guess.”

AA 64 Feb. 1979Saturday, February 10, 1979  Well, back from a long, exciting day on the town with the boys. Alan is on call tonight, so we got up bright and early and took a bus down to retrieve the car for the weekend. We took a trip to K-Mark to get (among other more needed items) a special toy truck for Aaron [3] as a consolation prize for postponing our trip. He is more crazy about his grandparents than just about anybody else I can think of, and he was pretty crest-fallen over the delay. However, Alan will be done with school soon, and I’m sure Aaron will get lots of time with the you then!

Aaron is supposed to be coloring valentines, but, he’s finally mastered cutting with scissors, and now every time he gets done coloring a page he starts cutting it into narrow strips. Oh well!

Back to my story! From K-Mart we went to the Christian bookstore to get Little Visits With God and a couple of object lesson books for the boys. From there to Burger Chef for lunch, then Farmer Jack’s for groceries. It was a long day, but they never complained. A miracle!? I keep expecting Michael to start getting balky, but he’s still sweet. Both the boys have really been harder to control since Alan’s been on emergency surgery working 90-100-hour weeks. I teasingly told Alan the other night that I hadn’t realized he did anything around the house until he started working nights. Even one extra hour being with the kids at night makes a big difference in their dispositions. After not seeing Alan for about three days, Aaron told me, “Tell Daddy to stop working so hard and come home to play again.”

I can’t tell how Alan’s absence affects Michael [16-months-old], but he is certainly ecstatic whenever he sees Alan. Michael is really growing these days. He’s learned how to get out of his crib and into Aaron’s, so there are regular battles over bedtime these days! He has also just about taken over Aaron’s job of carrying things to the dinner table (only selected items, like unbreakables!). He also—amazingly—likes to pick up toys and helps me straighten up. The other day he found a Kleenex and threw it in the trash. Of course, he has also been known to throw toys in the trash, so I’m not too sure how virtuous he was being, in retrospect. He’s the family smoocher. All we have to do is mention being “sweet,” or kissing, and he’s all puckered up. He loves best of all to kiss Aaron, which meets with mixed results.

Both the boys are really in love with their legos. What great toys for kids! Michael can stack them, and Aaron can make the models from off the box on the big ones. Aaron’s set (the small kind) makes good trampling grounds for Michael whenever I’m not looking. I think Mike likes the sound, like shuffling through leaves or something. Aaron spends hours building big square trucks and wagons, tractors, and a few houses, boxes, boats, and whatever. Most of his creations look fairly similar, with one or two distinctions, but he’s pretty sure what they are.

Alan and I are just basically on survival this month. He is usually home less than nine hours so does little besides eat, bathe, read, and sleep. We usually try to talk between bites and soapsuds. If the boys haven’t been sleeping too long, he often gets them up for just a few minutes to say “hi,” which they are always more than happy to do. I find that it makes me feel more introspective, and I entertain myself by doing things like cutting 18” off my hair, throwing out my makeup, cleaning cupboards, etc.

Monday, February 12, 1979 Foiled again! Alan called to say he’d probably be home “early,” and since the boys hadn’t napped all afternoon they were ready to sleep by 8:00 pm. By the time Alan arrived I was relaxed from a nice, hot bath and was all ready for a (somewhat) leisurely candlelight dinner. Except. Except just as Alan walked in the door Aaron woke up screaming with an earache. Alan had to whisk him right over to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital for penicillin and eardrops. Poor little guy—it’s about the fourth time this winter.

I find the days seem to go rather slowly this month. Alan is putting in another 95 hours this week, and I think he’s lost about five pounds in two weeks. Luckily this rotation will only last ‘til March. I already have trouble seeing him if he turns sideways. He’s supposed to be learning a little about emergency surgery, but in reality he’s learning a lot about nursing, respiratory therapy, radiology, and all the ancillary services since none of them do their jobs. Detroit General is the hospital where one of Alan’s friends panicked and asked a nurse for help. She responded, “Honey, it’s 11:00 pm, and I’m goin’ home. He’s a just gonna hav ta die I guess.”

The boys are in fine form again (except for tonight’s earache) after a somewhat trying adjustment period to being fatherless. Aaron has taken to calling himself “the man in the family” and looks after Michael quite well. I even found him sponging up some water Michael splashed out of the tub a couple of nights ago. Aaron is also being trained to answer the phone (with supervision), so don’t be surprised if he answers. He reported to me accurately once that “Uncle Keith called and said he’d try again later (I was out emptying trash), but I think you should call him right now.” In fact, he tells me his opinion all the time. I think it must be a new stage, but he constantly contradicts me. I mean, to the point of being ridiculous. If I say it looks cold out, he says it’s warm. If I comment that I’m going to vacuum, he says it would be better to scour the sink. Advice, please! Is it time to ignore his contrariness, or should I take him seriously and train him to be more respectful? Is this the next stage after the Terrible Two battle over learning obedience?

Michael’s coming along well. He’s learned two new words: ca(r), and di(aper). The other day he was eating his vegetable soup, and all of a sudden he exclaimed, “ba(ll), ba!” Before I could figure out what he meant, he had fired two peas at me. If he doesn’t turn out to play some kind of sports, I’ll be amazed. He would rather play ball than do almost anything. In fact, the only thing I know he loves better than ball is Aaron. He has started climbing into bed with Aaron every time he wakes up. At first Aaron threw a fit about it, but I told him about how I used to sneak into bed with my big sister Annie when I’d get scared at night, and how nice it is to be able to cuddle when it’s cold, so now he is almost as pleased over the arrangement as Michael is. It’s really gratifying to see them becoming such good friends after such intense initial jealousy. I hope it lasts at least a little while longer!

Did I tell you there’s no such thing as a loser in our family? For some reason, Aaron never learned the word, so now when he competes with everybody to see who can finish his oatmeal first, it’s just, “I’m the first winner,” or “You’re the third winner.” Since I’m usually the last one done, I never bother to tell him that really I’m the loser. I figure that if both boys finish a good breakfast before I do…I’m a winner!

We’re still trying to figure out what to do with our time between April and June. No thunderbolts have struck yet, but I’m sure the Lord must have something. Well, maybe I’d better start to heat up our dinner again and see if Alan will show up!

Rise Up, My Love (63): The Importance of Being Earnest…ly Possessed

037 Daffodils copySong of Solomon 2:16 “My beloved is mine, and I am his…” Here again the scene changes.  Their labor has been completed, and they have gone home to rest.  The foxes have been caught; their vineyard is again secured; their relationship is healthy and growing…and now their communion is again pure and sweet…and even deeper.  How often in life it is through the struggle of overcoming difficulties that we become more strongly bonded to our mate.  Working side by side in the vineyard of life produces a unity that surpasses that of untried love.  So it is with the bride, for here is her first exclamation of unquestioned possession.

“My beloved is mine…” Held fast in her arms, she knows He is hers.  The LXX version renders “beloved” as “kinsman,” meaning “one near to redeem.”  How true this is of our heavenly beloved, who also holds us fast in his arms and ever lives to redeem us. Not only secure in his pronouncements of love, the bride is now secure in her obedience to love.  He has claimed her, and she has surrendered to his claim. “My beloved is mine.”  He is mine, not only in interest, but in enjoyment; not only in covenant, but also in communion. Wholly mine. Only mine.  Forever mine! What a privilege and treasure to hold to one’s breast an earthly beloved who will be ours wholly and only while life shall last!  Beyond that, what a sacred privilege to hold and be held in the embrace of love with our heavenly beloved not only for time but for all eternity!

“My beloved is mine…” That he is ours is the free gift of God the Father: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  It is the free gift of the Son: “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25).  The Holy Spirit is also given to us as a free gift: “This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

“My beloved is mine, and I am his…” I am his, by creation, by redemption, by conquest, and by free choice.  Some are won easily, as this bride was won.  Others are won only after a bloody battle, as so aptly described by Spurgeon:

“What a battle He had with us before we would be won.  How long He laid siege to our hearts.  How often He sent us terms of capitulation.  But we barred our gates and shut Him out.  Can you remember that glorious hour when He won your heart? He placed His cross against the wall, scaled our ramparts, and planted on our strongholds the blood-red flag of His omnipotent mercy.

“Yes, we are indeed the conquered captives of His omnipotent love, chosen, purchased, and subdued.  The rights of our divine possessor are inalienable.  We rejoice that we never can be our own.  We desire, day by day, to do His will and to show forth His glory” (Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Nov. 15).

But, whether with difficulty or easily, all of his beloved ones are won to himself.  Won by conquest, but also by free consent.  “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”  It is a declaration of great joy! He is mine—his gift of himself given freely to me; I am his—my gift of myself given freely to him.  This is the sacred pattern for perfect love and marriage from the inception of mankind: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).  This is the example of perfected love throughout history: “Thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee” (Hosea 3:3). As so beautifully portrayed for us in the Song of Solomon, this is the sacred privilege of marriage—the permanent enmeshing of two lives into one.  “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9).