Samuel Has a Ball Bowling

For any of you who’ve read my blog over the past few years, you may remember we have a grandson living in Grand Rapids who was a micro-preemie. His survival was in question and the source of unceasing prayers for months. Three years later, Samuel is still almost off-the-charts small, but the doctor has signed off on his needing any more speech assessments and says Samuel has completely caught up intellectually and physically (as far as coordination and skill go), for which we are all deeply grateful to our merciful heavenly Father, who loves us all even more dearly than we can imagine loving one another! Samuel has a passion for “Dude Perfect” and anything that has to do with balls, and so he asked if he could have a bowling party for his birthday. I haven’t been to many parties for three year olds (since all our other grand kids live pretty far away), but I can say that this is one of the most fun birthday parties I’ve ever attended where a small fry was center stage! Sammy carried his own ball and learned how to roll it down a little ramp to give it enough momentum to make it all the way to the end of the lane. I’d never seen one of these contraptions before, but what a great way to get toddlers going!  We had four lanes’ worth of family (Brianna’s family also lives in town), and everybody got to bowl a couple of games, but I think we all enjoyed watching Sammy, who was so excited he was practically ecstatic the whole time!Sammy’s mother was a heroine that day, carrying Baby Sister the entire time to keep her content and then making sure Sammy was happy even when it was someone else’s turn now and then (although I think he not only had his own turns, but he got one of his mom’s and one of his dad’s each round as well).Brianna’s dad handily beat the rest of us, although her brother-in-law Sam had unbelievable power!             Most importantly, everybody had a ball…including sweet Samuel!                             He even got a few balls among his birthday gifts!  🙂              Samuel wanted a carrot cake shaped like a ball for his birthday.  The cake was moist, full of carrots and walnuts, and had cream cheese frosting. We all loved it (at least, those of us with teeth), but it made me consider the fact that Sammy is very unusual! However, isn’t every child unique and wonderful?!?In a day and age when fewer people are investing in children and more people are lavishing their love on pets, I’d like to encourage married couples who are considering whether or not they want children to go ahead and take the plunge! Sure, they’re a huge amount of work and life will never be the same, but it will be better! Through all the sleepless nights and struggles, you’ll become less selfish and emotionally richer. Most parents I know wouldn’t trade their kids for anything, even if they do roll their eyes at times and tease about it! In fact, I don’t think there’s anything more precious on earth than a home with children.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5).

(P.S.—I took the photos from the bowling alley, but the three portraits of Samuel were taken by his mom and used by her permission. Thank you, Brianna!)

Sammy: Love From a Two-Year-Old

It’s been an entire month since I mentioned anything about “our” new baby in the family here in GR, but something so touching happened yesterday that I wanted to share it with you! As any of you who have children know, parenting isn’t for sissies. I have vivid memories of crazy-tired nights rocking and nursing babies, feeling dazed and totally unsure of how I’d survive the next day on so little sleep. It was in those middle-of-the-night hours that my faith became like bedrock in my soul, because as I poured out my heart to God, crying for help, I would find that He did answer. It wasn’t the power of positive thinking, and it wasn’t magic; it was mercy and grace. In the morning, I would imagine myself grabbing my machete and chopping again…trying to cut a swathe through the dry savanna grass (which was always higher than my head) so my children and I could walk on a path…The path! God is faithful.

I didn’t know sometimes from day to day if we’d survive, but we did, and I took that as a miracle. Frankly, I believe every child who grows to adulthood as a relatively healthy, spiritually and emotionally intact person is an answer to prayer and a miracle of God’s grace!

In that light, as I read my daughter-in-law’s Facebook post today, tears of thankfulness sprang to my eyes. With her permission, I’d like to share what she wrote:“There are many moments lately where life feels crazy-busy or just sort of crazy. I have come face-to-face with the reality of my own sin nature and with my inability to be a ‘perfect’ parent more times than I realized I would. So, I was having a brief moment of personal crisis today (not really… just a few quiet tears) over lack of sleep and two needy children when the Lord gave me a sweet gift through Mr. Samuel.  “Samuel was tired and having a moment of his own crisis of toddler-proportion when I brought him upstairs to try to get him to nap. While walking him around in my arms and feeling frustrated that he wasn’t sleeping, Elanor started crying with fervor. I realized that if I put Samuel down he would likely give up on napping and possibly get upset that he had lost my attention. But Samuel instead pointed at Elanor and said, ‘Sis. Feed milk.’ So I set Samuel down to take care of the baby while he contentedly played. Soon afterward Samuel told me, ‘Down. Eat, Mommy.’ After asking him, I realized he wanted me to go downstairs to feed myself. I was incredibly touched that my two-year-old would both be perceptive and giving enough to reflect God’s love in that small act.  “Crisis averted for the time being. 😉 No, he didn’t nap. Yes, food makes us more pleasant people. But especially, what an encouragement to watch my son demonstrate love.”

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly,
since love covers a multitude of sins
” (1 Peter 4:8, ESV).

A Triply Blessed Thanksgiving

family-celebrating-grand-sons-birthdayDid you have a happy Thanksgiving Day? boy-with-a-balloonOurs was really special. basket-ball-birthday-cakeFor one thing, Thanksgiving Day
coincided with our grandson Samuel’s second birthday.
taking-a-selfieSamuel was a little micro-preemie born at 27.5 weeks with translucent skin and looking so fragile it was hard to imagine he could survive,
although by God’s grace he did, and look at him now! baby-dedication Last Sunday Dan and Brianna dedicated Samuel to the Lord.  blowing-out-birthday-candlesSunday was also Daniel’s thirty-first birthday,
so we’ve had one super happy week!little-boy-playing-with-a-balloonToday Sammy is a happy, healthy, bouncy little boy who is madly in love with all things ball! and lights up our lives with his laughter and joyful presence. birthday-celebrationLast night we joined Brianna’s family in celebrating Samuel’s second birthday. expectant-momI am so thankful for his life and health, and we’re delighted to be looking forward to Daniel and Brianna’s second baby, due to arrive next April!

family-funAlso, our son Stephen didn’t think he could make it home (from New York) because he was over his head with work. However, Wednesday night I heard his voice in the rainy twilight just about the time Alan was due to arrive home for dinner. WOW! What a treat to have him surprise us with a visit! child-stacking-blocksTonight, we’re having our GR kids over for a thanksgiving dinner of goose, and tomorrow we’re going to Plymouth to share in a Thanksgiving dinner with my daughter Kathy’s family, so this Thanksgiving seems like a celebration of firecrackers going off pop, pop, pop! children-playing-with-balloonsNot long ago, someone mentioned to me feeling like a failure because they didn’t feel very loved.mother-and-sonIt occurred to me that success isn’t in being loved, it’s in loving others. God doesn’t say “Be loved,” He says, “Love” and defines success as loving God with all our hearts and loving our neighbors. couple-enjoying-autumnGod is the source of all genuine love, and as C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves: “When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been a party to, has made, sustained, and moved moment by moment within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because [it was] His.” child-opening-birthday-presentsThank you, Father, for loving us. Help us to experience your love for us, be overwhelmed by love, and able to love others as a result.  stacking-blocksMy prayer for you is what Paul asked for the Ephesians: “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”

The Birthday Boys: Daniel’s 30th and Samuel’s First

Baby SamuelToday is our grandson Samuel’s first birthday. Baby eating birthday cake It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this chunky, Flying with Daddyhappy,  healthy, playful, sturdy Baby with Pumpkin little pumpkin thanksgiving-day-2014 weighed in at 1 pound 8.5 oz. just one year ago today preemies-foot…a micro preemie with translucent skin november-24-2014-emergency-c-section who looked more like a sci-fi ultrasound come to life than a viable newborn. november-30-2014Samuel means “Asked of God.”  Hannah testified: “For this child I prayed,
and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him” (1 Samuel 1:27).
That was the cry of our hearts—most of all Daniel and Brianna’s—for five years. happy-grandma I think sometimes God makes us wait a long time
for things He knows will be very hard, Jayna and Illyanana so that when the going is super challenging, Shelly we’ll remember that we asked for it.  🙂  Kathi and Samuel But what a wonderful gift Baby Samuel has been for all of us! Birthday Party Last weekend was the joint celebration Birthday Cake for our son Daniel’s 30th birthday and Samuel’s 1st birthday, Having Fun!and we had SO. Fun at Party MUCH.Daniel and Tony FUN!What's in the Bag? There were lots of family and friends, Mexican Goodies lots of yummy food, So many presents! and lots of presents. Julie Every child is precious, Opening Gifts and every birthday is special, Jayna but I think the harder to come by, John and Samuel the more we appreciate the miracle of life and health. Baby with Bow on Head This Thanksgiving, I am just bursting with praise to God, Baby Opening Presents who has blessed us with such an abundance of good things, best of all grace— Happy Birthdaythe wondrous mercy that enables us to persevere Opening presents 2 through the ebb and flow Baby with a helmet of  life’s joys and tribulations.

Blowing out the Candles “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work…Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God… Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:8,11,15). 

A Mixed Pail of Labor Day Blessings at Jilbert’s Dairy

Baby licking ice cream cone at Jilbert's DairyThis is Labor Day in America, but no matter where you live, FlagI hope you have a really happy, restful day! The beach at Hoffmaster Stephen and Joel are both out east in grad school today,
so Alan and I are celebrating without any of our children…a first in 40 years. HIking the beach at Hoffmaster I was thinking back to past Labor Days and all the fun we’ve had over the years.swimming-in-lake-michigan God has been so merciful and kind in my  family’s life! Baby at the beach This year our little miracle man preemie is alive & not just doing well, but great! Blue Moon Ice Cream at Jilbert's Dairy I was working on a post about our “Roots Tour” stop Enjoying ice cream cones at Jilbert's Dairy with Jon’s family at Jilbert Dairy in Marquette Making a sundae and realized our family pretty much makes our own “Brown Cow” sundaes now jilbert-sundae(which was our favorite sundae at Jilbert’s from 25 years ago). Home made brown cow sundae I think Daniel may have even improved the recipe some! Daniel with a sundae (Here’s a picture of Dan’s Brown Cow creation from Labor Day a few years ago.)Giant Cow at Jilbert's Dairy At any rate, reminiscing about Jilbert’s and past Labor Days made me feel deeply grateful to God, who is the author of every blessing and the source of my rest. Baby enjoying ice creamIt is my prayer that both you and I find our rest, comfort, and joy in God today.  Autumn FlowersMy soul finds rest in God alone (Psalm 62)

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
    he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God
    he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
    pour out your hearts to him,
    for God is our refuge.”
(Psalm 62:5-8)

(The picture of Samuel is by permission of his mom, Brianna. The Labor Day flag greeting is from the internet…”Thank you, whoever made it!” The rest are mine.)

Among the Lilies: Brianna’s Baby

Dan and BriannaYesterday I mentioned that Brianna (and my son, Daniel) served as photographers for a wedding last weekend, but today I want to share a precious story that Brianna wrote last week. Mother with Baby at Meijer Garden Those of you who know our family well have heard many stories about Samuel, their little miracle baby who was born at 27.5 weeks and had a huge struggle for survival. Dan and Brianna with Baby Sam He is now so round and sturdy that he reminds me of a little Winston Churchill (only immeasurably sweeter in disposition). But, without further ado, I’ll share what she wrote: Brianna with their Baby “364 days ago, I was eagerly anticipating/anxiously awaiting my first ‘normal’ pregnancy appointment ever… hoping to hear our baby’s heartbeat at the 10 week check-up, but scared that there wouldn’t be one. That same week, I watched the lilies fade in my backyard and wondered what would happen to the lone one that lay fallen over on the ground, unopened. The morning of my appointment, it blossomed in the dirt. My very favorite flower in the whole world- a stargazer. Daniel and I were delighted.  Baby with Star-gazer lilyI sometimes struggle with trusting that the Lord’s plan is good, even when it’s hard. What a sweet reminder from our Creator.  This morning the stargazer gave us this year’s bloom.

Baby and star-gazer lily “‘And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?…’
‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?’
                                                        – Matthew 6:27-30″

Look Who’s Home for Dinner!

10994972_10100470560107658_6472890611977388160_n-1Well, who do you suppose has come home in time for dinner? Sam 2Samuel came through his surgery with flying colors, Sam 3so somebody lent him a cap and gownSam4& the doctor approved his discharge without any oxygen, tubes, or extra “stuff!” Samuel in his basketSo, Daniel and Brianna just whisked him away to their home, sweet, home, Samuel in his cap and gownand little Samuel is a bonafide NICU graduate and glad to be home body!
I was so excited that I couldn’t wait until next Saturday to share the good news!
Thank you once again for your prayers, love, and concern during this journey!!!

“But I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning: for thou hast been my defence and refuge in the day of my trouble.”   (Psalm 59:16)

(P.S.—Starting next Saturday, Lord willing, I may start sharing from a book I wrote called Bless Your Baby, which will give weekly ideas for how to be a blessing to babies during their first year of life.)

Samuel at 41 Weeks

Look Mom, no tubes!Good things have been happening in Samuel’s tiny world. Here’s what Brianna shared last Tuesday: “Word on the street is that Samuel’s eyes are ‘mature.’ He will have an outpatient follow-up exam in two weeks to verify. Considering how extensive his disease had become, this is remarkable news! Thanks for the many prayers on behalf of the little man. Thank you Lord for answering with a ‘yes’.” Sleeping Preemie        Because Samuel’s eye exam went so well, he had surgery on WednesdaySmiling preemie                                                 to repair his inguinal hernias.Three generations of Armstrong     Here are a few “family photos” from the last time we saw him before surgery.Happy Family (but not Chinese dish)        Brianna and Dan have been real troopers throughout this whole ordeal!Mom and Baby resting       This is Brianna comforting Sammy before he was prepared for surgery.Baby with a pacifier                                He’s gotten quite attached to his pacifier!Just before surgery  Ready to roll? His surgery went very well, and recovery has been so rapid Resting with Mom after surgery   that there’s talk of his being able to go home this weekend! It may be that we’re close to the end of Baby Samuel’s scary hospital journey! Wouldn’t that be nice!Preemie in isoletteSo, Samuel and  his traveling buddy, D.J., are both safely home, but we’ve connected with yet another preemie family. Tiny Elin Faith was born just a couple of weeks ago at 24 weeks and 15 oz. So far, she’s hanging tough. Family of preemie Here are her mom and 3 older sisters, who (along with their daddy) are also trying to hang tough. If you have any interest in following Elin’s progress or praying for her, her family is posting on Facebook under “Elin Faith Updates,” and they welcome you to follow there.

“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” (Psalm 34:3)

Sammy at 40 Weeks: Looking Back and Ahead

Alan and KathiAlan and I just celebrated our 42nd anniversary, 38 weeks and it was especially happy and special for us Mother and Baby because our anniversary was the due date for little Samuel, November 24, 2014 Emergency C-section although—as you probably know—he was born 13 weeks early, back in November after Brianna had an emergency C-section due to a dangerous pre-eclampsia. Thanksgiving Day, 2014 Here Samuel is on Thanksgiving Day, and I was thinking about just how much has happened in the past 13 weeks, and how much he’s changed. November 30, 2014Here he is on November 30, after Brianna had recovered enough to love him up. December 16, 2014 Off VentilatorBy December 1, he was allowed to go from a ventilator to a C-PAP, December 8, 2014 Pneumoniaalthough the next week he developed pneumonia. December 19, 2014Poor Baby Samuel was hooked up and wired every which way! 😦 December 25, 2014By Christmas Day he was beginning to recover, but life was still really tough. January 1, 2015By New Year’s Day, we were all beginning to feel very hopeful that he’d survive. January 4, 2015However, then Sammy started developing eye problems, January 10, 2015and eventually it was decided that he needed to be transferred from his NICU  NICU Children'sto a more specialized children’s hospital in case he needed eye surgery. January 18, 2015Thankfully, his eyes have been improving (although they’re still at risk), January 23, 2015but now he has inguinal hernias that will need to be surgically repaired before he can go home. Preemie at term If all goes well, they’re hoping to be able to operate by the end of next week. Father and SonIf Samuel had been born at 40 weeks, he might weigh over 8 pounds today, the way his daddy did when he was born, but with all his extra struggles, Feeling playful we’re just delighted that he’s passed the 5# mark!
(Dan and Sam are starting to relax and have some fun together!)Opening presents at the showerLast Saturday, Brianna’s sisters threw a wonderful baby shower for her.Fun at the baby shower We had tons of fun, Opening Gifts at Showerand Brianna got tons of presents, toys, clothing, and stuff one needs to take care Sisters threw a Baby Showerof a baby, so now all Sammy has to do is grow enough to fit into his new clothes! Baby ShowerWell, I guess he will also have to endure and recover from his hernia repairs, learn to eat and breathe well enough…so lots of challenges yet.Sammy at 40 WeeksBut, the doctors are encouraging us that if all goes well, he’ll be able to go home in 2+ weeks. We’re not crossing our fingers, but we’re all praying it will be soon!

Elin FaithBy the way, if you’re willing, there’s now a new baby in the NICU: “Elin Faith Gillis was born on 2/12/15 at 12:13pm after a placental abruption and rupture of membranes. She was 24 weeks and 2 days. She is being treated at the Helen Devos Children’s hospital in Grand Rapids. She is 15oz. Her due date was June 2nd.” Thank you!

“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.” (Malachi 4:2)

Our Littlest Valentine is Getting Bigger: Samuel at 39 Weeks

Sleepy!Happy Valentines’ Day to you! I hope you have a truly happy day!!
This has been another big week in the life of our littlest valentine! ThinkingThe best news is that Samuel now weighs a tiny bit over 5 pounds! Sticking out tongueWhat do you think of that?! Grandpa and preemieThe other really exciting news is that he had his first heart-to-heart with Alan, Happy Grandma!and I got to hold him too!  🙂He's smiling!In fact, he even smiled at me. Talk about melting my heart!!! Arranging baby“Uncle Stephen” also came, & Brianna showed him all her happy holding tricks. Uncle with preemieBaby Samuel is Stephen Samuel’s namesake…a very special honor for both! Father and SonStephen is Daniel’s next-younger brother in our tribe. God is so good to us! Uncle and Grandma with BabyYou can bet we’re really celebrating this day with our littlest valentine! Bridge to hospitalDespite all the good news, there are still several bridges to cross before he can go home: hernia surgery, remembering to breathe all the time (stabilization), and more mature feeding skills. Such big and little hands! However, we know he’s getting great earthly care and is safely in God’s hands,Angel in skyand we are now looking forward to the bright hope that his health issues will clear up by God’s grace, and that he’ll be able to come home before too long!

“Jehovah! It is nothing with Thee to help, between the mighty and those who have no power; help us, O Jehovah, our God, for on Thee we have leant.”
(2 Chronicles 14:11, YLT)