Rise Up, My Love (246): Passionate Devotion

Song of Solomon 7:11 “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field: let us lodge in the villages.” As we discovered earlier, “my beloved” is the wife’s favorite term of endearment for her husband. After reflecting on her position in her beloved, the wife now invites her husband to go forth into the fields and villages.

In chapter 2, it was the husband who invited: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” Now it is the wife who initiates. She no longer has to wait for an invitation to understand what he needs and desires. His love has produced in her such overwhelming devotion that she has become sensitive to his needs and has learned to anticipate his desires.

“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye” (Psalm 32:8). He had taught her, and now she knew him so well that all she had to do was look into his eyes to see what he wanted. Oh, to become a wife who understands and anticipates the needs of my husband so well! Oh, to see so clearly the countenance of my beloved Christ…to be able to see reflected in his eyes the desires of his heart!

There are many wonderful aspects of this courageous suggestion that should be considered. Notice first that intimate, personal love is the great motivation that has aroused the bride to action…a love that recognizes the person of Christ: “My beloved.” The beloved one is not an imaginary hero. This is no Super Man drawn with pen and ink on a comic strip. He is no teen idol adored from the distant corners of darkened auditoriums or admired from airbrushed photographs. He is not even an inspirational leader broadcasted live on worldwide TV or internet and quoted widely in global newspapers.

This person was a real, living man she knew with great intimacy…someone with whom she could walk and talk; someone upon whose shoulder she could lean; someone who loved her and had taken her for his own, forever. This is the love of Christ for us. If you have never looked into his eyes and felt his arms around you, open your spiritual heart and allow yourself to know him in this way! Christ is alive. He is a real person who can be spiritually discerned and known. Take upon yourself the challenge that God gave King Solomon in I Chronicles 28:9: “And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.”

What a command, and what an awesome responsibility! But, I believe by faith we can grasp this promise for ourselves even today. To do so, we must learn to understand and abide in his love. It is this passionate love that will cause us to say, “Come, my beloved, let us go forth.” This is the explosive love, the “dynamite” power that Paul spoke of in Romans 1:16 when he said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power (dynamite) of God unto salvation to every one that believeth…” This is the “perfect love” that “casts out fear” (I John 4:18)—fear of anything that man might do to harm us—fear of ever being separated from our beloved again.

It is a passion so hot that it will melt our hearts into his and weld us together in true unity of purpose. We need never fear separation, because we will always want to be at his side, and he has promised, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). Notice also that true love cannot be rushed or forced. The husband invited but never forced. He waited until his bride was ready. When she was not willing, he left until she sought him out. But, when she found him, he received her immediately to himself, not rebuking her, but rather encouraging her with lavish praise (chapter 5). His amazing love reaped great rewards, because it generated passionate and permanent devotion in his wife.

Finally, we see that it is this type of love—intimate, passionate, carefully nurtured but freely developed—which leads the bride to go afield for her husband: “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages.” Husbands: If you want a wife who fully supports you in your work…try loving her with this type of love and see how the Lord blesses! (Obviously, not all women will respond with such enthusiasm, but God still wants us to imitate him: “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” [Romans 2:4].)

“Let us!” The bride is now eager to leave the comforts of home to further her husband’s interests because she senses the stirring within his heart to go afield, and she wants nothing more than to be with him no matter where he goes. She will not be going alone; she will be going with him! My mother used to always say, “Home is where the heart is.” The bride’s heart was with her husband-king, and so home had become wherever his heart was…be it the palace or the villages. She no longer cares if she sleeps behind the curtains of Solomon or in the tents of Kedar… so long as she sleeps with her beloved!

I wonder, is it the burning passion of our hearts to go afield with Christ? Am I prepared to leave home for the discomfort of sleeping in the “villages?” Are you? If you are, then why not invite the Lord to take you, just as the bride enjoined her husband: “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages…”

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).

Finding Beauty at the 2017 National Medical/Dental Association’s Annual Meeting

In almost 30 years of being a doctor’s wife (plus seven while he was in training),I’ve been with my husband to countless meetings, but last week I actually had the joy of being a participant! For the first time in forever, we attended the NMDA’s annual national meeting in Ridgecrest, North Carolina. I loved everything about it! Ridgecrest is a beautiful Christian conference center (like Maranatha here in southeast Michigan) nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Black Mountain, North Carolina. Although—I have to admit—the schedule (7 am-9pm) was grueling, the speakers were outstanding, not only medically but spiritually…some brilliant, some extremely wise, and some just plain funny (but also wise). There were constant opportunities to connect (Midwest Regional Meeting), and get to know people (like Dr. Jim Hines, who’s planning to run for governor of Michigan in our next election; I’m very likely to vote for him!). There were many options for break out sessions on topics that interested me: human trafficking (by a female M.D. married to a police officer in Vermont),  moral ethics, legal issues, philosophy, and Christian education (in addition to more specifically medical issues). One of the really inspirational aspects was hearing about the doctors who received various awards for outstanding medical research and service. I learned many, many practical lessons from the lecturesand left with my heart and brain stimulated and enriched. I’d like to encourage anyone in the medical field
(not only doctors but dentists, P.A. and N.P’s, nurses, optometrists, etc.)
to think about attending the CMDA conference in 2018.

On the other hand, if you’re in some other profession, I’d like to encourage you to look into the possibility of a conference geared for Christians in whatever field you’re in. And, if you can’t find something…maybe you could start something! Finally, let me end by sharing one of the most provocative thoughts I heard, which came from Thomas Aquinas 800 years ago. His question to us is this: Is it possible that our battle wounds will somehow become glorious and beautiful? In heaven, will that which we perceive of as beautiful be virtue and character, not outward appearance? I love that! Wow!! Feeling ugly or deformed here on earth? I believe the day is coming when our spirits will shine out, and the measure of our beauty will be the radiance of Christ within us. Want to be beautiful? I do!

“Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me
All His wonderful passion and purity
Oh, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine
Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”
(~Albert Orsborn/Tom M. Jones)

But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18).

And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).

(All photos from last week in North Carolina during the 2017 CMDA conference.)

Rise Up, My Love (226): Some Keys for Living in Harmony with Your Spouse

toby-mac-practice-the-pauseSong of Solomon 7:3 Two last thoughts before leaving this very sensitive, but critical subject. First, what if you are trying your hardest to do everything right, but your spouse is unresponsive or adversarial? The first and last step—as in all things—is to prayerfully look to the Lord for help and guidance. Some relationships are so damaged…some individuals are so emotionally disabled…that the marriage may need serious help from the outside—from trusted and respected counsel. But, sometimes the problems can be remedied by prayerfully studying some of the many marriage resources available.

One such book is Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, which identifies some important ways of communicating love that people most appreciate. Whether it’s by kind words or deeds, the book guides you in finding out how to speak your spouse’s “love language” so that he/she will recognize and respond to your attempts to truly love in tangible ways. Learning to love in the ways your mate wants to be loved does not usually come naturally.

My husband likened marriage to inheriting a 747 jet without having taken pilot’s training. In the light of the 911 tragedy, we now also recognize that we need complete training…not just in how to take off and fly, but how to land without disaster. Believe me, today is better than never to try getting that training!

Love is a lifetime quest. A very wise and elderly pastor once said that he thought learning to love was like learning to paint, and that his life of loving his wife was like a long mural. At the beginning the strokes were clumsy and awkward, and it was hard to recognize what he was even trying to portray, but the more he practiced, the better the painting became. Isn’t that beautiful? And, isn’t that true?

Second, what if both partners are doing everything right to the best of their ability but there is still deep, unresolved tension? That may be the time to employ the advice Paul gave in I Corinthians 7:5, “Defraud ye not one another, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” There may be rare times when your difficulties are so great that rather than joining physically, you should temporarily set aside normal physical needs (including eating!) and give yourselves wholly to prayer and fasting until God gives you the wisdom and peace you both need for the problem resolution process. Think of how quickly people would focus on solving their problems if they stopped eating food until they came to an agreement!

By the way, this is never an excuse for one partner to start sleeping on the couch, because they are supposed to be engaged together in fervent prayer. Also, the resolution never includes the option of permanent separation. Notice the last portion of the verse: “and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” If you are going to deprive your spouse of sex, consider depriving yourself of food (or at least some food you love, like desserts or salty snacks) at the same time. That will give both partners a small reminder of how serious a matter sex is!

Do you have seemingly insurmountable disagreements? Just a few years ago, my husband and I did. We spent the first almost two decades of our marriage with my husband generally making decisions that I often sharply disagreed with and deeply resented. Instead of resolving problems, we just tried to bury them and “get over” it. As the wife, I was somehow expected to always cheerfully submit to and approve of his plans…but I didn’t! He ended up with a volcano on his hands…so touchy that every time the simplest problem arose, I blew up, because it reminded me of not only the insignificant conflict at hand, but of twenty or more past conflicts where I felt I had been treated unfairly. My trust and confidence in his leadership was down to just about “0.”

Because we didn’t really pray together over problems until we both felt peaceful that we had found God’s solution, I constantly felt that my husband was basing decisions on his own judgment and will, not God’s, and I became bitter over what I believed was intense selfishness on his part. I became so unhappy that I gladly would have left the marriage did I not have the firm conviction that God commands us to remain married…happy or miserable.

Somewhere during that time, the Lord opened my husband’s eyes to my misery and softened his heart, so that he truly did have a deep desire to try to make the marriage work. When we began trying to sort through all the problems that we’d buried, it looked like…not just a mountain…but a volcano. Some nights we stayed awake all night talking. We talked for hours…days…over a year. In fact, it took about two years to work through all the past hurts and find forgiveness and healing. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick, but it was worth all the pain. Of course, that wasn’t the end of our struggles. We’ve gone through deep valleys since that time too. At one point our problems were so severe we needed outside help for resolution and employed Christian counseling. Today, we have a very positive relationship, and instead of longing to be free, I feel like we must be some of the world’s “luckiest” (most blessed) people!

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any trials. Alan says we’re living in the “suburbs” of heaven…the closest thing to heaven on earth. Sometimes it seems almost like heaven, and sometimes a new problem will set us back to struggling again, but now at least we know that true problem resolution comes only through praying together until God brings both partners to peace. There is great strength in unity and harmony. “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). In such a state, the wife’s body will be open to her husband’s touch…as long as he remembers to treat her with the same gentleness he would accord a newborn fawn!  🙂

Rise Up, My Love (188): When Your Beloved Leaves

Full Moon Seen through bramblesSong of Solomon 6:1 “Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? Whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee.” “Whither is thy beloved gone?” That is a logical question. If he means so much to you, you must know where he went. How could you have lost track of him completely? Has this ever happened before? Where does your husband usually go when he leaves? Have you ever lost track of your husband at night? One such experience stands out vividly in my memory. It was early into the beginning of my husband’s solo medical practice. He only had one support person, who served as secretary, receptionist, nurse, and accountant, and between the two of them, they had to do everything that there was to do at his office. So, Alan was left at night to do all the clean up and paper work, and his last duty was to drop off any money that came in at the bank’s night deposit box. I always felt a little uncomfortable with his stopping at the bank each night, fearing that someone might notice and try to rob him. One night Alan called to say that he had to go to a meeting at the hospital and would be late. That was not uncommon, so I was disappointed but not unduly worried until after I’d put our four young children to bed for the night and found it was 11:00 p.m. and he still wasn’t home. I called his office, but there was no response. I tried to page him at the hospital, but he didn’t respond there either. By 11:30 p.m. I was fearing the worst, but I couldn’t leave the children alone. Finally, near tears, I called our next-door neighbors, who were old enough to be our parents and had become good friends. The husband asked me all the right questions…has this ever happened before? No! Where does he usually go? We discussed Alan’s normal patterns, and then my neighbor took off in his car to try to track Alan down. I waited on pins and needles. My neighbor was gone for an hour but could find no trace of him. I was about ready to call the police when Alan showed up…just fine and wondering why I wasn’t sound asleep. As it turned out, he’d returned to the office to do paper work after the meeting at the hospital and then had been called back to the hospital for an emergency admission for one of his patients. He hadn’t called to tell me because he was afraid I’d already be asleep and didn’t want to wake me.

He had no idea of the anxiety he’d caused! Thankfully, that was the first and last time he stayed out into the middle of the night without calling to let me know what had happened! Solomon probably could not have guessed the anguish in his wife’s heart as she searched for him. She had been lazy and careless…so slow to answer that he’d left without ever knowing she was even going to bother to get up and let him in. Where would he go? How could she guess? Where would your husband go if you locked him out? Where would you go if your husband refused to let you in the house at night?

I shudder to think of the foolish rebellion and sin that many fall into because their spouses refuse to forgive and forget…to go the extra mile…to give and receive love even when there’s stress and tension in the relationship. Where would you go? Where should you go? There’s only one right answer, and that’s to the arms of Jesus, the lover of our souls. No matter how we long to run to the arms of another human being, we must learn to run first— always and only—to the arms of God.

We are first and foremost his children and his bride. In an ultimate sense, we belong to no other. No matter who fails us, or how they fail us, we have no right to run to the arms of some other sympathetic person, no matter how wonderful or how understanding that person might be. So many of life’s tragedies could be avoided if we human beings would learn to run to the right arms. “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee” (Deuteronomy 33:27). May we memorize that verse until it burns into our hearts. The next time sorrow rips through your soul like a jagged streak of lightning, visualize yourself running to the arms of Jesus, comforted and secure in his embrace.

News with Views: Two of our Eagles Have Landed

Grace in VeniceToday is my dear daughter-in-law Grace’s 40th birthday. Happy Birthday, Grace!
What a gift she (and each of my in-law children) is to me! I feel so blessed! 🙂The Kids I’m also happy to report that after six hard months of packing up and moving Venice from South Korea to Italy Learning to ride horses in San Antonio via a 10-week training session in San Antonio, Texas,Watching a Rodeo  where the kids learned what it means to be cowboys and cowgirls Michael in Germany and Michael (Grace’s husband and my son) learned a lot about his job… The Little brothers—after months of living out of suitcases in cramped quarters— Villathey’ve finally settled into an incredibly beautiful Italian villa that was Bavarian Alpsbuilt into the side of a mountain in the foothills of the Alps during the 1600’s Baby playing with stones and now belongs to a count and countess! Child in garden  So, two of my eagles have landed…at least for a few more years. Girl with flowers gone to seed My Italian connection and news correspondent
(their oldest daughter, who’s 8 and an avid photo journalist like her Nana) River near Garmish, Germany sent me some amazing photos of the statuary and views,
but I guess they haven’t gotten AP newswire release approval yet, Garmish, Germany so I’m also using some photos from their recent trip to a conference in Germany,Castle in Germany just to give you a little taste of European beauty. The Sword in the StoneWho would have thunk? Sword fighting I’ve got to say, life at its best is full of challenges, but I stand amazed Bavarian Alps at yet another example of how God always gives us more than we deserve Flying high! and sometimes gives us so much more than we can even dream up! Baby rocking in a rocking chair I mean, Alan & I’ve been praying for months for “just the right” home for them, Playing near Neuschwanstein Castle but the place God has given them wasn’t even in my mental repertoire
of possibilities. What a gift! Old ChurchIt’s Enchanted April in November. Thank you, Father; You’re unbelievably kind!

14 “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Rise Up, My Love (153): Trying to Cope with Marital Frustrations

bleeding-hearts copySong of Solomon 5:4 “My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.” Since calling had not stirred his wife into action, the husband may have attempted to open the door for himself. According to Harry Ironside, ancient eastern locks were on the inside of the door, and there was an opening by the door where the owner might reach in and unlock the door from the inside. If this was true, it is unclear why he didn’t simply unlock the door and come in. Another eastern custom included the suitor leaving ointment on the door and flowers as a token of his affection if the loved one was not at home.* This might possibly account for the bride’s description of the myrrh on the handle of the lock in the next verse.

Whether the bridegroom reached his hand inside the door in an attempt to open it or merely to leave a gift of sweet-smelling ointment is uncertain, but what is central in the Scripture is the fact that the husband’s putting in his hand where she could see it was the final event that stirred her to action. First, he called to her, and then he reached out to her in a tangible way.

This is a good pattern for husbands. Is your wife’s heart asleep? Do you call to her and she does not answer? Have you tenderly appealed to her on the basis of your relationships? I think of how often through the course of my marriage I responded to my husband incorrectly: In the flesh. How often I’ve been guilty of appealing to him—not on the positive basis of our relationships, speaking gently to him in terms of highest affection and praise such as the bridegroom used with his wife—but negatively, criticizing him for all the ways in which he failed to live up to my expectations.

There is no hint of criticism in the husband’s language. Think of his plea: my kinsman, my spouse, my spiritual helpmate. In these we see him appeal to her body, her soul, and her spirit. His last appeal is almost shocking in light of her response. He calls her his “undefiled.” He sees her as pure and perfect.

Had she never failed him? Was she truly “undefiled?” Was she honestly that blameless? Did she deserve such praise? Her response to his tender pleadings must have broken his heart! If I were that husband, and held my wife in such high esteem, I would have been totally devastated and disillusioned to have reached out with great expectations, only to find her unmoved.

In Christ, we are complete. Robed in his righteousness, we are clean. Hidden in Christ, we are pure. Only in Christ can such marvelous things be said of us…and did not Christ himself say them, we would not dare to claim such praises for each other. But, if we can only learn to see through his eyes and think his thoughts…to view the present with his eternal perspective and understand the future as he knows it…on that basis, we can approach our mates with such tender praises. But, what if husbands do, and they are rejected, like the matchless bridegroom in the song?

Husband, does your wife disappoint you? Does she fail to meet your expectations? Do you find yourself constantly criticizing her…or biting your tongue because you feel critical? Nothing kills the desire to please like censure and displeasure, and even if it isn’t always verbalized, it’s almost always felt. Criticism is to the tender heart like killing frost to roses.

If you find yourself feeling critical and disgruntled, take it to the Lord. Here is the best way I know to deal with marital frustrations: #1. Make a list of all your expectations for your mate, and how she/he fails. #2. Take this list to the Lord in prayer—with all your heart—just once. Before you begin listing criticisms, be sure to ask the Lord to search your own heart for sin (Psalm 139:23) and spend some time being truly thankful for all the reasons you have to rejoice in Christ and your mate (Philippians 4:4,6). #3. Tenderly approach your mate with—not demands to change, but an explanation of how you feel and how these negative behaviors impact/trouble you, all the while reassuring your mate of your love for her/him and absolute commitment to continuing on in the marriage and learning to grow in love. #4. Ask your mate to prayerfully consider what the areas are in your own life that are causing her/him anxiety and frustration, and to bring them to you. #5. Tear your own list up and throw it away, laying the whole burden of your heartache on God’s altar and trusting him to either change your mate in his time and his way or else give you grace to accept your partner’s lacks as part of your cross. #6. Take seriously your mate’s response, trying to concentrate on changing yourself in the areas where she/he has expressed concern…focusing on getting the “beam” out of your own eye rather than looking at the “mote” in hers/his. #6 Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Don’t look back. Keep looking ahead.

(*Ironside, Harry A. Addresses on The Song of Solomon. Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1973, pp.92-92)

Saying Goodbye: Facing the Loss of a Loved One

Singing Christmas CarolsIf you’re facing the holiday season with a heavy heart over the dreaded thought of losing of a loved one, I hope this post comforts you: Bruce and Lisa have been near and dear to us ever since those infamously brutal days of medical residency when Alan, Bruce, and Rick slogged it out as warriors in the cause of trying to save lives without losing their own. In Alan’s group of 13 interns who began the program in 1979, he and I were the only couple who started and ended married, but Bruce and Lisa (and Rick and Linda) were 2 couples who fell in love and married during those trying days—quite a feat and test of patience—and they’ve stayed together as shining lights of Christian faith and love ever since. In fact, the 3 guys started a practice together in Ann Arbor.

Singing Together We all used to get together once a month for dinner, to sing, and to pray for our patients. (This is Aaron leaning on Bruce’s shoulder. You can see how at home our kids were with these two wonderful couples!) 3 Moms and 3 Babies  The year Alan and I had our fifth baby (Daniel), both of these dear couples had their first baby…all boys! (Left: Karl; Middle: Daniel; Right: Ricky Jr.) 🙂 Bruce playing recorder  We had so much fun together! Bruce was like the Pied Piper to our kids, Lisa with Karland Lisa was always a calm, nurturing, gentle influence. Dan and Karl

Those were the “good, old days”…hard days but happy days. It was a sad day when we all parted ways. Alan and I made a “roots” move north; Bruce and Lisa moved to Wisconsin, where Bruce became an E.R. doctor; Rick became a pathologist in MI. But, because we’d developed such deep bonds of affection, we continued to keep in touch through Christmas letters and occasional visits. Bruce and LisaTime flies! In what seemed like no time at all, 30 years passed. Not too long ago, Lisa was diagnosed with colon cancer, and Bruce took her on a tour to visit all her friends and family while she was still well enough to enjoy/handle travel. That was one precious but bittersweet visit! I kept up with Lisa until just this past month, when she lost her strength for outside communication. Now we keep tabs for prayer and encouragement through Bruce.

In searching for materials to comfort a friend in the loss of her father as well as cope with my own impending loss of a Lisa, I found a wonderful little book by Cecil Murphy and Gary Roe, called Saying Goodbye: Facing the Loss of a Loved One. (Just checked Amazon; you can get a used copy for a dollar or a new one for $5.) I wanted to tell you “everything” I learned, but there’s too much. A few of the most poignant lessons for me were:

*Prepare yourself. Our culture denies death, but we need to embrace it, educate ourselves, and open ourselves up to deal with the pain, both individually and with our loved one. That front-loads the stress, but long term it’s very helpful.

*Make amends. “It’s not what you did, but what you do next.” Ask for forgiveness as needed and be open to receiving your loved one’s requests for forgiveness, but don’t confront them. Focus on the good times. Learn to forgive, even if your loved one has never experienced deep repentance for injuries! We will never understand all the ways in which we’ve hurt others and God, and yet God is merciful and loves us. May we pass forward his great kindnesses in our lives.

*Take care of yourself in the midst of your care giving. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (See Matthew 22:37-39, emphasis mine).  You cannot freely love others unless you have made peace with God and with yourself.  Learn about your limits. Your loved one depends on you, so don’t lose your own health. Think in terms of how to keep both of you afloat physically and emotionally.

*Be fully present with your loved one. Don’t avoid pain. Cry with them. Pray with them. Remember happy times together. Affirm them. Thank them. Tell them often that you love them, and what you love about them. Enjoy each day as much as you can, living in the present. Laugh with them. Focus on the positives, and look hopefully to the future (if you both are resting in Christ for your salvation and feel sure of heaven).

*Ask them to impart a blessing to you. They may know things about life that you need to learn. Cec offers 4 questions we can ask to start a conversation, but think about other questions to ask when you visit too. Here is Cec’s list:
1. What’s one thing you’d like me to remember?
2. What makes a successful life?
3. What 1 or 2 good things can you pass on about raising kids?
4. What are the biggest lessons I need to learn in life?

*Ask them to tell you their life story, beginning with childhood. This review can be a blessing to both of you, but it can also stir up problems that may need to be addressed. If you have a close relationship and are sensitive, you might be able to help the dying person makes amends with others or make sure they’re able to die with no regrets or unfinished business. A clear conscience and peace are critically important.

*When the time comes, most people need “permission” to die…they need to know that you will be okay without them. Center on their need to let go rather on your need to keep them. Let them know that God will take care of you (or ask God to take care of you if you haven’t, so that it is true). If they don’t have peace about dying, and you’re a believer, share the gospel with them. God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (1 Peter 3:9).

The book has some synoptic lists on “Do’s and Don’ts to Prepare Yourself,”  “Comfort for Yourself and Your Family,” and how to cope with your grief following the death of your loved one with a list of resources to help the grieving heart, such as Gary Roe’s practical and inspirational website: “Good Grief” (www.garyroe.com).

So, if you’re struggling with the threat of impending death during this holiday season when you wish you could just be thinking about the joy of Jesus’ birth, consider giving yourself a gift: Face the loss of your loved one and learn how to say goodbye.

Let me know how I can pray for you, and I will.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

The Armstrong Archives Suspended

Roses, pink July  copyIt has come to my attention that posting memoirs from my mothering days when our children were young (which I’ve been doing each Saturday under the title The Armstrong Archives) feels like an invasion of privacy to more than one of my kids, so I’m trying to figure out the next right step. I may give up the project altogether, or I may use the letters as partial input for a historical fiction book about surviving a medical marriage and homeschooling during 1975-2000. As a child, I was mesmerized by the works of such timeless authors as Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Frank & Lillian Gilbreth, who all wrote novels based indirectly on their lives. Perhaps that would be a way of sharing joy without making any of my kids uncomfortable. In fact, I wrote the letters home to my parents primarily to lift their spirits and make them smile, and so I tried to remember all the amusing things the kids did, rather like modern moms, who post cute pictures and funny sayings of their little ones online. However, young adults may not always like to be reminded of their childhood antics, even if their parents and grandparents thought they were charming! So, please accept my apologies if this disappoints any of you who were patiently wading through the material with me. If you have any thoughts on the subject, I’d love to hear them, and I hope by next Saturday to have a better sense for where the Lord wants me to go from here. Thanks!

“It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak.”
(Romans 14:21)

The Armstrong Archives (108): Moving to California?

Armstrong Archives 1982 [On top of this years’ letters is a note from my mom, which reads: “How well have you used your life? Good memories must balance bad moments. Bad moments pass. ~Helen Hoover Santmyer” I think 1982 was one of the hardest years of my life, and my mother doubtless understood that. After all, she and my dad had lived through the depression, World War II, and had had four kids all before I was even born!]

Saturday, January 2, 1982 Hi!  Alan worked all night last night, so he’s already in bed, and I’m on my way. It’s only 9:00 pm, but we’re getting up at 5:30 am. for our flight. Have a good week! We’ll give Lynn a kiss from you and bring a little sunshine home from Florida to enclose in the next letter!

Monday, January 18, 1982 I just finished typing a letter to Faith Baptist Church in Canoga Park, California, where we will be going—if you’re still up to watching the kids—on February 3rd. Some of my best friends from Bob Jones went to church there, so we thought maybe would could hit a Wednesday night prayer meeting and look around some. Yesterday I was so sick with the flu and a sinus headache (of all things; I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those before) that with that on top of nausea [I was newly pregnant with Kathy Kris] I didn’t go to church. After I got the house cleaned up and lunch ready, I read all about California, Michigan, Los Angeles, etc. in your World Book Encyclopedias. They gave such glowing reports of California that for the first time I began to get seriously interested in it as a possibility. We talked to Ann and Ralph, and they said they want to live on the West Coast for the rest of their lives if Ralph can possibly find work there. Wolle and Nana have always been interested in CA, and Rob, Jan, and Terry are immoveable. I think they’ll live and die there! We talked to Lynn when we were in Florida. She would prefer Michigan to California, but she says she thinks family is more important than place. [Amen to that!] I think Alan is basically down to either the Soo or California, and obviously—to be near family. Dad told us last time we were home to count on him being in the Soo for “at least 1-5 more years;” then, are you thinking of relocating? It is only about 350 miles from Canoga Park to Rob’s house in Cupertino. Northern California has bad allergens for Alan, but by Alan’s medical books, southern California (as long as you stay out of the smog regions) is fairly similar to Arizona in the grasses and weeds, and he thinks he should feel pretty well there. Did you know that there are fewer people per square mile in California than in Michigan? The average temperature in Los Angeles is 55° in January and 73° in July; that’s even more temperate than Florida. You can grow almost everything; it’s the #1 agricultural producer; you probably wouldn’t have to worry much about starving or freezing. Can you tell I’m trying to convince you too? Can you still come on the first or second and stay until the ninth? We’ll call next weekend and see how things are going. THANKS! Please pray for us to have wisdom.

[Here is a very unusual treat! A letter from Grandma to Grandpa while she was baby sitting!]

Thursday, February 4, 1982  Dear Grandpa,

How is everything in the Soo? Have you had any more snow? We had another good one yesterday, but it’s sunny and nice today. Aaron and Mike with Mark G.Aaron did a lot of shoveling yesterday and had a bad cough and sore throat last night. I didn’t take him to school today—maybe tomorrow.

Aaron wants me to tell you that he helped a man shovel his car out and the man gave him a dollar. Aaron thought maybe it was play money but was very proud and excited when he found it was real. He said, “This is very important, Grandma! I’m trying to save for skis. When I get half enough Mom will put in the rest.”

We’re all a bit shop worn today. For some reason Michael got up at three o’clock am. and thought it was morning. He woke up Jon and Aaron. The lights on the snow did make it about as bright as day. By the time I got all of them back to sleep it was nearly four o’clock.

Michael just brought me some sort of puller he made out of tinker toys. He said it was for you. He also wants to know when you are coming to see him.

When I couldn’t open Aaron’s medicine last night in the night we both wished we had you with your screwdriver. I never did get it open either. I’ll get some man to open it after work—Linda’s husband probably. [Linda and Mel Greishaber lived just a couple of doors down and were wonderful, helpful friends. They offered to do anything Mom needed.] I don’t want to break it off.

Alan called last night. They made it okay before the worst weather struck. It was 72° in Malibu where they were. Kathy was resting.

Enjoy your vacation.

Love, Mom, Aaron, Michael, and Jon

[For Valentine’s Day 1982: A picture of a puppy and a kitten]
Happy Valentine’s Day!  Well, Alan and I are still marveling over what a competent mother we have! The house was so clean, the laundry done, the boys as happy as larks, the WHOLE of Hannah’s Sod House recorded, and all the household’s little routines happily preserved. I really don’t know how you do it! No wonder you miss her so much, Dad; she can just about do everything!

We’re back on Eastern Time, and I’m starting to feel a little less nauseated and more energetic every day. Last night I helped one of the Palestinian girls for an hour with American history. She’s in 11th grade and has only been in the U.S. since last summer. She can’t spell words as simple as “but,” but she can understand much of her text if I read aloud to her. She needs a lot more than I can give right now…like a full-fledged tutor. The needs of life are endless!

Michael and Jon are running circles around the rocking horse, eating apples, and “walking” their alligators. Jon still sleeps with the new mustang you gave him. Alan told me, “There are five interesting-looking jobs in Florida,” as he walked out the door this morning. At least by July we’ll have to have decided something!

Love, Us


[As beautiful an area as Agoura Hills, CA is (known as “The Gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains”), Alan was quite certain it wouldn’t be a good choice. I was so enamored by the gorgeous vistas of the Pacific Ocean and rolling hills that it was harder for me to give up the idea, although I have not regretted our choice over the years, since visual beauty is not as important as the spiritual characteristics of a location (or a person). While touring around the area, I saw a little rundown sheep ranch by the side of the road. “That’s the kind of place I’d like!” I said, imagining that such a humble abode wouldn’t cost much. The physician touring us said, “Well, that dirty little piece of property would probably cost you around a quarter of a million.” (For reference, Alan was making $17,500 per year as a resident.) Later at a meeting with several doctors, I asked what the greatest challenge was for a doctor practicing in the area. Without batting an eye, one doctor responded, “Making enough money.” I didn’t want to live in an area that was so materialistic. Looking on Wikipedia just now, I notice a long list of well-known people (e.g.: Mel Gibson) listed as residents.]