Category Archives: The Armstrong Archives

Rise Up, My Love (164): What’s Your Story?

Jon Brushing TeethSong of Solomon 5:9 “What is thy beloved more than another beloved?” Last week I shared a little bit about my experience with Christ, but today I’d like to ask you to reflect on your story. I’ll never forget the frustration of my son Jonathan had years ago as a teenager. He had such a compulsion to preach but felt like he had “no special message.” We were going down to work at  our local rescue mission, and Jon wanted to be able to share his testimony, but he felt like he didn’t have anything to say. Now, although I never asked my children to ask Christ to save them (because I feared that they would respond just to please me at such tender ages), I did teach them the gospel from infancy, and all of the children—on their own—did want to confess their sins and ask Christ to become their Lord and Savior as preschoolers…most before their third birthday. Jonathan was two and a half when he came tiptoeing down the stairs one night after I’d tucked him into bed, very concerned that he wanted to become a Christian that night!

Now, Jonathan was always an extremely good-natured child, and although he’d once had enough testosterone in his little eighteen-month-old frame to have heaved a footstool across the living room floor (in demonstration of his masculine prowess for his toddler girlfriend), he was generally a bouncy, eager-to-please angel. The only big change I noticed immediately after his conversion was that he’d let me brush his teeth without a tussle. Up until then, he used to clamp his little jaws down on the toothbrush every time I tried to brush his teeth at night. But, the very next night after he had asked Jesus into his heart, he smiled sweetly and let me brush his teeth without fussing.

This, folks, might bring a smile to the faces of the men at the rescue mission, but I’m not sure if hearing that Jesus had enabled Jonathan to kick the toothbrush-biting habit would convince the men that Jesus has enough power to cleanse them from their addictions to heroin and alcoholism, cure their mental illnesses, or restore their broken relationships.

Do you see my point? God’s work in our life is wonderful and miraculous, whether it’s cleaning up our tooth brushing habits or our drinking habits, but it’s still His work, in His way, and in His time, and it’s incidental to what should be the true focus of our testimony. In all things, Christ should be lifted up! Some people tell very sordid stories about themselves; others are afraid to share because they’ve had such an awful past and don’t know what to say. Think of the woman at the well. She didn’t list her sins in gory detail, she simply said, “Come see a man which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (John 4:29). Our testimony could be simply: “Come meet a man who healed me from all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?“

Never be afraid to speak out about Jesus and all he’s done and can do. It’s not what or how much you did that was wrong, but what he did that was right that’s important. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). Are you happy and satisfied with Christ? Then you’ve got something to share!

Finding Tanglewood Cottage

Swans with CygnetsIn light of the house-hunting of my two oldest of late, I was sharing the story of how Alan and I found our home with a friend, and she said I should tell you, too, so here goes! We moved to GR from Marquette (which is an 8-hour drive) some 22 years ago while our 7 kids were still quite young, so we really wanted to find a home before we arrived with a van full of kids and a moving van stuffed with early-American (hand-me-down) furniture and miscellaneous junk. Wispy Fog on Lake We lined up a dozen homes that sounded interesting, loaded the kids into our trusty van, and came down for a whirlwind tour on a snowy Saturday in late winter. I had a dear friend, an only child of an only child, who lived with her husband and only son as well as her mother and grandmother in “the perfect” home for them…which you can imagine would be a unique home indeed! When I asked how she’d ever found such a home, she told me that she’d just prayed for what she needed, which was a first-floor apt. for her grandmother and mother, and the rest was just a surprising and wonderful gift from God. Great balloon Dragon on lake So, after considering what my 7 rambunctious, outdoor-variety kids needed, I prayed, “Lord, we need some land with personality where the kids can play outside.” In Marquette, we lived in the middle of 50 acres of incredibly beautiful forest overlooking thousands of acres of Dead River flood plain and ending at the Dead River Falls. Trillium It was one of the most beautiful pieces of God’s great wilderness in Michigan’s interior, and I knew it would be irreplaceable. However, run space was my #1 priority, so that’s all I asked for. Lake in Autumn The morning we began our whirlwind tour, Alan and I prayed for guidance before reading our daily chapters from the Bible, which just happened to be near the end of Jeremiah.  I was particularly struck by such verses as “Flee, save your lives, and be like the heath in the wilderness” (Jer. 48:5), and “Leave the cities, and dwell in the rock, and be like the dove that maketh her nest in the sides of the hole’s mouth” (Jer. 48:28). So, by the time we got to Jeremiah 49:30, “Flee, get you far off, dwell deep…” I said, “Okay, Lord. I hear you! Don’t live in the city. Stream through the woodsYou want us to live in the country.” But, just as I was saying that, I heard Alan read the next verse: “Arise, get you up unto the wealthy nation…” and I felt like the Lord was telling me to be actively involved in GR. In fact, the Lord had specifically laid Jeremiah 29:7 on my heart as “my” verse for the move. But, I was totally confused by the sense that we should both “flee” the city and “Arise” and go into the city. How can you live in the country and the city? That thought was simmering on the back burner of my heart as we inspected all the homes. Skating on our lake At the end of the day, the unanimous, clear favorite for everybody was a little home built into the side of a tiny hill with a walk-out basement (“dwell in the rock…in the sides’ of the hole’s mouth”) on a lake with almost ten acres, including a patch of field and a stream running through the woods. Snowy Woods Definitely ideal from the standpoint of run space. So we went back for a return visit. “The only thing I don’t understand is the property line,” I remarked to the realtor. “Oh, I should have mentioned that because it’s a funny shape, and it’s actually two lots: One in the country where your house is, but also one in the city. You’re right on the border.” Bingo! Chills down my spine and the confirmation I needed. We bought the house and have been wonderfully content here at “Tanglewood Cottage” ever since!

Loosestrife on Lake“And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7).SUP at Sunset on our Lake(In case you’re wondering, all the picture are indeed from Tanglewood Cottage.)

Rise Up, My Love (134): When North and South Winds Meet…

Beach castles at Daytona BeachSong of Solomon 4:16 “Awake, O north wind: and come, thou south; blow upon my garden…Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.” Usually our Lord speaks in a still, small voice, but sometimes he speaks through a mighty, rushing wind. I completed the above sections just as our children finished their final exams for the summer, and then we left for a delightful family camping trip down to Florida (17 years ago now!). The skies were cloudless the whole week, and warm southern breezes brought daytime temperatures into the nineties. We spent the week playing volleyball and tennis, swimming, splashing in the waves, strolling up the beach, and building sand castles. It was heavenly.

However, shortly after we returned, there was a terrible clash between the warm, southern winds and a strong northern wind that blew down from Canada. The result was a tornado that leveled an entire town in North Dakota and tornado-force winds that swept across much of the country, leaving a path of destruction behind. I learned an unforgettable lesson concerning what may happen when both the north and south winds ‘awake’ together!Trout lilies in woodsMy husband and I were awakened by the loud crash of a tree coming down (which by God’s grace didn’t damage the house but landed inches from it—and the head of a set of bunk beds where our boys sleep!). The wind whistled like a train engine roaring down the tracks, and we fled with our children to the basement. In a matter of minutes the storm had passed, and it wasn’t until the next morning that we learned the true extent of the damage. We were just nine of 600,000 people in southern Michigan who were out of electric power. Our immediate surrounds were declared a national disaster area. Leafy branches and debris were blown all over the yard and road, and more than twenty trees had been blown over on our property…some with massive root systems reaching ten feet into the air. A telephone pole had been knocked over by two trees, and the trail through our woods was impassable. The sound of chain saws rang through the air all day, and the younger children helped me rake and sweep until our arms ached.Kids with daffodils and grape hyacinthsFortunately, no one died in our area, and after several days electrical power and water were restored. Although it will take years for the woods to recover from the trauma, the rest of our property is pretty much back to normal and the birds are singing again in the woods. But, we learned so many lessons from the storm! One: when you invoke the north and south winds at the same time, you may get a tornado, so be prepared! Two: be prepared, but don’t be afraid. There were so many ways God protected and provided for us during the crisis. God always has his hand upon his children. Three: curiously, mighty oaks and cottonwoods fell, but not one flower. Not even the hanging basket of fuchsias or the roses budding on the trellises. There were reports of quarter-sized hail falling some places, but at our house the sweeping rains only provided much needed nourishment for our flowers, and the next morning the gardens glistened in the bright sunshine. I could not help but be struck by the thought that the 120 m.p.h. wind which demolished huge trees not fifty yards from our house had not touched our home or any of the delicate flowers in the gardens. It was a profound lesson on how God can care for us even in the midst of storms.

By faith, the bride asked for the movement of the winds so “that the spices thereof may flow out” and her beloved could enjoy his garden. God may send a mighty, rushing wind into our lives that topples lofty dreams or sends brilliant career plans crashing to the ground, but it will not touch the fruits of the Spirit. Rather, the flood of rain will only provide spiritual nourishment and luster to our lives and souls.Girl with Downy woodpecker chicks(Kathy has one downy woodpecker on her head and another in her hand.)

Lastly, the Lord gave us one special blessing in the storm. A family of fledgling downy woodpeckers was nesting in one of the trees that blew over. The children found the birds quickly because of their distressed chirping and begged to rescue them, but I advised them to wait and see if their own parents would find and tend them. My children waited anxiously all day for the parents to return, but alas, as evening came the pitiful chirps for help were growing weaker. Rather than leave the babies to starve, our children took them in.Feeding a downy woodpecker chick It took countless hours of faithfully digging worms and grubs and pill bugs, stuffing blackberries, seeds, and tiny bits of crushed nuts and suet down their beaks…hours of work and love…but now (back then) we have five robust birds who trill and sing in the bedroom each morning and hopefully are within days of being ready to return to their woodland home. Girls with Downy Woodpecker baby Raising a brood of five baby birds…and all the lessons learned along the way…was a great source of joy and blessing to our whole family… Brookfield Zoo and to many families, as the woodpeckers traveled as far as Chicago with us! Boy with Downy Woodpeckers on his capWhen we pray for the Lord to work, he does! His touch may be like a gentle breeze, or like a terrible electrical storm, but it will be for our good. He will always be with us, providing for us, overseeing our trials, and bringing us through…giving us sunny skies and times of relaxing rest, and then times of severe testing. But always, always, his work in us is to produce spicy fragrance and pleasant fruit in our lives for our happiness and his eternal enjoyment.Teenager and Downy Woodpecker

 

 

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.]

 

The Armstrong Archives (107): The Flu Bug Tries to Spoil Christmas

Wednesday, December 9, 1981  We were very excited to hear that you might be coming for Christmas; we all hope everything works just perfectly so you can!Family Portrait with Parents + GPEnclosed is a picture—one of the proofs from our sitting.  I think it’s beautiful and I want to keep it. Do you like it too? Would you like to have some prints made to send to friends and family, or a print to keep yourselves? Tell me what you want and I can get them. Or, you can wait until Christmas and see everything and decide then. Aaron's Kindergarten ClassLast night was Aaron’s Christmas program at Faithway. It was just grand, and everybody sang so lustily. We took Aaron out for a hamburger afterwards. He also got his second report card—all A’s and O’s (for “Outstanding”) except on B+ in hand writing and an S (satisfactory) in music. They not only grade academic subjects, but such things as” “Is courteous, Obeys quickly, Works well independently,” etc. On the back the teacher commented on how much she enjoys having Aaron! We were all very happy about that!!

Friday morning, December 18, 1981 Hi! Just a note to let you know that as of this moment, we are all feeling well and nobody has a cold.

Aaron has already left for school and a nice party there (his last day). Alan is on “Super Call” today, so we won’t see him until tomorrow. JJ is still sleeping, and MM is eating his fourth slice of toast and jam. We’re going shopping as soon as Jolly Jon Jacque wakes up.

It’s a glorious, sunny morning with about two inches of fresh snow everywhere. The Christmas tree is all a-twinkle with lights and presents. Mikey picked it out, Aaron chopped it down, and the three boys totally decorated it. (Well, after they went to sleep, I rearranged things just a little. JJ wanted to put most of his ornaments in one patch at the front of the tree!)

We will be eagerly watching for you on Tuesday, and we’ll have a good, hot dinner waiting (unless there’s a big storm and we hear otherwise)!! 1981 Christmas Kathi with kidsWednesday, December 23, 1981 Wow! Thanks for the gifts! No wonder Rob likes you to send candy!! I just made cookies and peanut butter fudge this year, but when I’ve tried to make the other kinds, it hasn’t turned out as professional looking and yummy as yours.

We had about four inches of thick, soft snow fall last night. It was just beautiful. Alan and I sat up for a long time watching the snow fall and all the twinkley tree lights glow. He spent the whole evening teasing me because he said he missed having Dad to hurl abuse at! What a rascal! Building a SnowmanThe snow was thick on everything this morning. The boys and I built a snowman and shoveled the walks, then we went sledding. About six neighbor children invited themselves along, but it turned out just fine. Everybody was good about taking turns and rolled in the snow and threw snowballs while they waited.

Tuesday, December 29, 1981 Thanks for all the presents! Alan and Aaron built a really nice airplane ride from the erector set. It is pretty hard for little fingers. In FACT, Alan says it’s challenging for him, but they had a lot of fun working together. Aaron built the airplanes and Alan built the platform and crank shaft.

Alan’s getting better. Today we’ve had a constant stream of people in [mostly neighbor children who loved to play at our house], and I started to get very harried, so Aaron just put a sign on our door. “No coming in except members of our family.” Maybe I’ll at least get this letter done before someone comes! Thanks again!! We miss you. Aaron's Rainbow-colored Lorikeet[This letter was written on paper decorated by Aaron of a rainbow-colored lorikeet with AARON printed on the picture. Michael's pictureAlso, Michael included a crayon drawing of “Grandma and Grandpa” with “Michael” spelled backwards, but so neatly that it hardly seems like it could have been his handwriting…]

 

 

 

 

The Armstrong Archives (106): Fall Fun

1981 Fall Terry VisitsWednesday, October 21, 1981 We had a great time while Terry was here. He is really super nice (like his little brother)! Terry VisitsAnnie and Bernard Shaw came Friday night for dinner, and Saturday we went to the U.M. vs. Iowa football game and to Weber’s for dinner. Annie and BernardPS—This will hopefully not be our final will, but it’s all I can get Alan to do for now. We will get wills, trusts, etc. done for real probably in the next 6-9 months. Trick or Treat Tuesday, November 24, 1981 Thanks for stopping last week. It was sure fun to have someones to share Thanksgiving with, and I appreciated all your help with the cooking, Mom, plus your excellent ideas for the sweet potatoes and mincemeat pie. Thanksgiving G+GNow, concerning Christmas, do whatever you want to do. It occurred to me that after a month on the road you might not feel like traveling again for a while, especially with the weather being uncertain. Please remember that I am thirty-five years younger than you. I love you and I try, but at best I’m like Aaron trying to “help” bake a pie. I don’t know how you feel or think; I just haven’t lived long enough. Eagle, by Aaron                                                             [“Eagle” by Aaron]

So, you’re welcome to come for Christmas, but I won’t try to urge you, and I won’t think you don’t love us if you don’t want to come. Aunt Millie said she was dreading having all the kids come for the holidays. I know that nothing is ever calm or relaxed with little kids, and that the best we ever have to offer is just a little love and a lot of confusion. It may not always be so, but in the meantime, please feel free to do what you want to do, not what you think we want.

Thursday, December 3, 1981  I theoretically accept your declining to come. HOWEVER, since we’re never yet spent a Christmas apart, I really can’t bear the thought of it, so I will doubtless panic as the day draws near and may even break down and call to twist your arms a little. I promise not to go to any extra work or expect you if you’ll promise to come if you change your mind and want to and the weather looks clear. I’m going to mail your presents, but I’m not going to make any plans, so we’ll be free if you decide at the last minute to come. After all, how can Christmas be Christmas without Grandpa’s harmonica or Jon knocking a few bulbs off the tree?!

Michael, Jonathan, and I ran right out and bought up the town with your money. We got Aaron an erector set and a big flashlight (lantern) he’s been begging for. Michael will get a black prop jet, a flashlight, and some more tinker toys. (He has been the real tinker toy lover and plays with them nearly every day while Jonny naps. Yesterday he made a very clever “park” for Plain Cat with a swing set, merry-go-round, slide, etc. I wish you could have seen it!) Jonathan is getting a big set of smooth wooden building blocks and a wind up car. They will doubtless call to tell you all about them if you don’t see them. Thanks again!