Merry Christmas, 2019

Sitting by the fountain in the Soo Looks Park where we used to sit 50 years ago!

2019 has been an extremely happy year for our family for the most part, although not without some major sorrow and challenges! Alan has been feeling well and is continuing as the medical director at Pine Rest Christian Hospital. However, we will both turn 70 in 2020, so he’s beginning to think about retiring “at some point.” I’m guessing sometime this coming year, but he’s made no promises, so I’m not holding my breath! Besides, I’m happy as a clam writing and enjoying family, friends, community, and church life.

Aaron and Michael’s families joining us on a “Roots Tour”
in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Aaron and Carleen with their four boys continue to enjoy living in California, where Aaron is now a senior manager at LinkedIn. Carlie is still homeschooling, and the kids all seem to be thriving. They’ve been wonderful about visiting twice each year, for which I’m most grateful because it makes the distance seem not quite so far!

Michael and Grace’s family in Europe

Michael and Grace are now stationed in Belgium with their five children, so (very sadly) we don’t get to see them often, although they blessed us with a long, happy visit last summer. Michael has been promoted to “Major” Armstrong and works at the American/NATO dental clinics near Brussels, where they enjoy interacting with military personnel from 28 different countries! The children were enrolled in the Belgian public schools this fall (after previously home schooling), so they’re learning French and expanding their understanding of world culture.

Such a fun week with Jon and Gerlinde’s family at Disney!

Jonathan and Gerlinde are now living in Chicago, where (“Dr.”) Jonathan is a professor of biblical studies and directs the Center for Global Theological Education. Gerlinde is still homeschooling the children. We had an awesome trip to Disney camping with their family last spring and feel greatly privileged to see them pretty often now that they’re living so much closer than they used to! (Lived for seven years in Washington State.)

Daniel and Brianna with Samuel, Elanor, and Neil

Daniel and Brianna (like Jonathan and Kathryn) also now have three children, so Alan and I are the blessed “Papa” and “Nana” to eighteen grandchildren. Because Daniel and Brianna live in Grand Rapids, we get to see them the most often and delight in watching every little change! Right now, Nerf wars with Sammy and Play-Doh with Ellie are favorite games, whereas our new “Neil Armstrong” just likes to snuggle and coo! Daniel continues as the dental director at Exalta Health, a ministry in GR treating the medical, emotional, and spiritual needs of un or under-insured folks. Brianna’s father retired in May (in what seemed like perfect health) but was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in August. His 10 children, 6 in-laws, and 15 grandchildren were able to gather in time for his shocking demise, and he passed into eternal rest on the 21st of November. He has been terribly missed.

Stephen home for the Fourth of July and his birthday

Stephen is still hard at work on his PhD in musicology from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. He has now completed all his classwork for his degree and is writing his dissertation. Thanks to a scholarship, he spent part of his summer studying in the U.K. Stephen has presented at twenty conferences over the past few years . . . all part of becoming competitive for the job market as (hopefully) a college professor in the next year or two.

Joel at his office

We have the great privilege of having our youngest son living with us at this time. He works as an associate editor at Kregel Publications and adds much joy to our home! He is also actively presenting at writers’ conferences and is constantly working on novels.

Joel teaching a seminar at my Blue Water Writers’ Group

Joel (as a special gift to me) has even shared a couple of his presentations with my writers’ group!

Some of our family gathered for a Fourth of July celebration

There is so much I could say, but I appreciate your taking time to read this much! All the kids and grandchildren are healthy, active in their churches, and growing in grace. The bottom line to me is that God has been amazingly merciful and kind to our family. I’ve been memorizing psalms this year, and Psalm 16 just speaks my heart:

Preserve me, O God: for in thee do I put my trust. O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to thee; But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight. Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

Time Mirror

For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:23-25).

Memorandum

And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it,
when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21).

Black and White Challenge

“Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?” (Job 38:22)

My daughter-in-law Carlie tagged me in a Facebook challenge to post seven black and white photos in seven days with no explanation or words. At the time, my life was spinning too fast to take her up on it, but tomorrow the holiday festivities begin with the first family arriving, and between now and the New Year, we have high hopes of seeing all twelve of our children (counting our in-law kids) and eighteen grandchildren except those who live in Belgium. Therefore, my life is going to be even busier . . . possibly too busy to write my blog! So, I’m thinking to have a series of seven black and white photos that depict what life has been like over the past few weeks (albeit interrupted over the weekend with my usual recipe post on Saturday and a scripture meditation on Sunday). Perhaps over the Christmas to New Year week I can post a series of color photos that relate to our holidays and the joy of family (from another popular challenge going around Facebook these days called “Grandma”).

Because my heart is to share the Lord, I’m allowing myself one scripture verse caption for each photo, but I won’t indulge in any other explanations or words. Hope you enjoy!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Little Samuel’s Wish Comes True

I’m wondering if our grandson Samuel is a bit of a budding prophet . . . maybe a little like his namesake from the Bible!

Last year, before his mother was pregnant, he asked her if she had a baby boy in her tummy named Alex (with whom Samuel planned to shoot hoops).

Brianna thought Sammy’s question was cute, but she did take note, and when she became pregnant soon afterward, it made us all wonder if the baby was going to be a boy . . . especially since Sammy had informed us all the his first younger sibling was going to be a girl . . . and she was!

Brianna and Daniel like to be surprised so don’t test for gender but rather wait until delivery to learn the good news!

Can you guess?

Samuel was right!

We are now celebrating the birth of our 18th grand child,
a beautiful baby boy.

Vision of Cornelius the Centurion by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout,
1664, Public Domain

Dan and Brianna have named him Cornelius both to honor Brianna’s grandfather and because the Cornelius in the Bible was a very honorable person who sought out God and opened the door to the gospel in Caesarea, where he became the first gentile convert to Christ.

However, Cornelius is going to go by the nickname “Neil”
(rather than “Cory” or whatever).

The New Neil Armstrong

We are all overjoyed with Baby Neil Armstrong and hope he lives up to the virtuous examples of those brave and godly men who’ve come before him.

Oh, and for the record, his mom and daddy blessed him with the middle name of “Alexander,” which means “Defender of the People,” so Sammy can call him “Alex” any time he wants!

We are all in love with our new grand child/son/nephew/cousin/little person!

May he grow up to be a man of great faith and courage, one who is full of good works and prayers and loves God and man.

May he walk in the Truth, defend the just, and live a long, fruitful life!

Baptism of Cornelius

“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway . . . Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come?22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee . . .

34 “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.36 The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)37 That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.39 And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree:40 Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly;41 Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead.42 And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” (The entire story can be found in Acts 10.)

God bless you, Baby Cornelius!

In Memorial: Lest We Forget

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.” —G.K. Chesterton

“Heroism doesn’t always happen in a burst of glory. Sometimes small triumphs and large hearts change the course of history.”—Mary Roach

Normandy Beach

 “On Memorial Day, I don’t want to only remember the combatants. There were also those who came out of the trenches as writers and poets, who started preaching peace, men and women who have made this world a kinder place to live.” —Eric Burdon

 “Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.”—James Bryce

“137 years later, Memorial Day remains one of America’s most cherished patriotic observances. The spirit of this day has not changed-it remains a day to honor those who died defending our freedom and democracy.” —Doc Hastings

 “Over all our happy country—over all our Nation spread,
Is a band of noble heroes—is our Army of the Dead.” —Will Carleton

“The brave die never, though they sleep in dust,
their courage nerves a thousand living men.”—Minot J. Savage

“Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy
forget in time that men have died to win them.”—Franklin D. Roosevelt

“No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom
unless he be vigilant in its preservation.”—General Douglas MacArthur

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them.” —John F. Kennedy

 “There is nothing wrong with America
that cannot be cured with what is right in America.” —William J. Clinton

“Veterans are a symbol of what makes our nation great, and we must never forget all they have done to ensure our freedom.”—Rodney Frelinghuysen

“May we never forget freedom isn’t free.”—Unknown

“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being.
With freedom comes responsibility.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends
(—Jesus, in the Bible, John 15:13).

What a Friend We Have in Jesus
(—Joseph M. Scriven, 1855, Public Domain)

  1. What a friend we have in Jesus,
    All our sins and griefs to bear!
    What a privilege to carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
    Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
    Oh, what needless pain we bear,
    All because we do not carry
    Everything to God in prayer!
  2. Have we trials and temptations?
    Is there trouble anywhere?
    We should never be discouraged—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Can we find a friend so faithful,
    Who will all our sorrows share?
    Jesus knows our every weakness;
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
  3. Are we weak and heavy-laden,
    Cumbered with a load of care?
    Precious Savior, still our refuge—
    Take it to the Lord in prayer.
    Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
    Take it to the Lord in prayer!
    In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
    Thou wilt find a solace there.
  4. Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
    Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
    May we ever, Lord, be bringing
    All to Thee in earnest prayer.
    Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
    There will be no need for prayer—
    Rapture, praise, and endless worship
    Will be our sweet portion there.

(I took all the photos in May of 2016 during a trip to Normandy, France.)

When the Lights Go Out

This past week many Michiganders (and others) endured yet another big power outage this winter. A friend who lives in the country had power out for 5 days straight and subsisted on canned food heated on a one-burner propane camp stove. He didn’t dare go anywhere because he had to keep stoking his fire so the pipes wouldn’t freeze. Area schools were closed—one system for 11 days straight!  Alan and I missed the first two rounds of blizzards and ice storms while on our Southern Caribbean cruise, but we experienced this last one in all its unglory! 😦  Living in the country on well water and a septic tank has its advantages (mostly good well water), but it’s distinkyly a disadvantage when there’s no electricity! We bundled up, hunkered down, and praised God for workplaces that had showers and were gracious about taking in refugees (like me) during the day. Since most of us can’t just fly down to the tropics to avoid cold weather, I asked several of my friends what they’d learned from their experiences and if they had tips to share about how to prepare for the likely event of another outage. One friend, Connie Sikma, wrote such a charming response that I want to share it:

                           “When the Lights Went Out in West Michigan. . .” When I think about the electricity going out, I get a tingle of excitement. I can actually try to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder. The videos won’t work, so we can read, have conversations, and even play games by lantern. It is all sounds so cozy and nostalgic.

The week of February 7 of 2019, I got to experience that reality. It will be long remembered by the people of West Michigan when over 150,000 people were without power. Some lost power for a few hours and others for several days.  For us—my husband, teenage son and myself—the three days were not so difficult because we are healthy, have city water, a wood stove, and an ample supply of wood. However, we discovered our limits and learned a few lessons.

When the power went out Thursday morning, it was just before breakfast. School and various other things had been cancelled because of the bad weather. Power outages were predicted because of the ice, but we knew we would keep warm because of our wood stove. We thought we were ready. Lots of wood. I had the lanterns, flashlights, batteries, and matches placed in a central, easy-to-find place. I had candles in the dark bathrooms ready to go. As I mentioned, we have a small wood stove in the walkout basement. We initially installed it as a romantic, “just-for-fun” alternative, but we have since come to treasure it as one of sweetest assets in our home! It warms the basement whenever our gas heater fails, lowers our gas bill, and provides us all with some therapeutic activity while we keep it going. When the power went out, it also became our cook stove.

I did not realize how a warm breakfast and coffee on a cold day adds to the ambiance. I did not take into account that one cannot cook eggs on an electric stove when the power is out, nor did I consider how my drip coffee maker might respond. It simply stood silent, empty and cold before me. This is when my husband’s incredible skills of resourcefulness kicked in. While I stood there immobilized by my caffeine-starved brain, he went to work with more cheer than was necessary. He became a surgeon ordering the tools he would need, while I ran up and down the stairs delivering them, meanwhile bemoaning the fact that it was going to take another hour to taste the coffee I needed.

He put a pot of water to boil on the top of the wood stove. We got out a Melita filter and ran the coffee through like the pour-over one gets in a fancy coffee shop. We did find out though: One still needs filtered water or the coffee tastes excessively salty.

As for the eggs, we just took our usual pan and fried a few eggs on the stove. It really worked and was fun. For dinner, we got some hamburgers to grill on the outdoor grill with coals from our wood stove.

The first day the power was out, I decided to run errands. The bank was open but would only dispense up to $50. My usual grocery store was closed, but I found another franchise that was open a few miles away. Many restaurants were closed and so was the library. I noticed a few gas stations were closed too. Our car still ran and a bookstore was open, so my son and I spent the second day there. That was fun, although the drive through the bad weather was scary. But, we had all day, and we got there and home safely. One night we took the cold ham I’d prepared for dinner over to my mother-in-law, who lives a half an hour away. We spent a little extra time with her, and she had power so that was a nice break for all of us. We didn’t stay overnight, though, because my husband was concerned about our pipes freezing if we didn’t keep the fire going at home.

The sun sets at six, and nights can get so long and dark. By the second night it was very cold. Our son slept downstairs to keep the fire going. We went upstairs, but I did not sleep very well even though I had layers on. By morning on the third day (after a sleepless night), the cold and dark were beginning to wear us down. We had used up the hot water in the water tank, so no hot showers. The scented candles were starting to get to be too much; the house was getting messy and needed a good vacuuming.  We went out to eat for breakfast but even that was not as comfortable as being in a warm house cooking over an electric stove. Everything took a little extra effort because it was not part of our routine.

It was a good experience. I learned that we should be a little more prepared. I went out and bought some unscented candles. I also got some cash from the bank and will save it for real emergencies – when it is not possible to get money.  I thought an extra lantern would be handy as well. I realized that my world got very small in survival mode. It was an effort to think of others. I hope that this experience will teach me to be more empathetic to those in need.

I was reminded not to take all my blessings for granted. We have so much in this country, with its strong infrastructure, but all the good things I enjoy are really gifts of God’s goodness. I see that much more of my discretionary time and energy could be used to serve Him, and I don’t want to become complacent in my comfort.  If I practice using my time, talent and treasure well in the good times, I hope that I can be more useful in the hard times. To be prepared in the full times enables us to be equipped to share with others in the lean times.

Connie’s story made me think of what Joseph did in Genesis: “And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.47 And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls.48 And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities . . .53 And the seven years of plenteousness, that was in the land of Egypt, were ended.54 And the seven years of dearth began to come, according as Joseph had said: and the dearth was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. (Genesis 41:47-48 and 53-54). May we prepare in good times so we can provide for ourselves and others in bad times!

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8).

(P.S.—Some years ago, our family invested in a battery-started, propane fireplace because my husband is asthmatic and can’t handle wood smoke. It was a real lifesaver for us and kept our pipes from freezing.)