We Gotta Have Faith

I was reading over the lesson for our 10th-12th grade girl’s Lifegroup for tomorrow, when one of the scriptures just grabbed hold of my heart.

Hebrews 11:5-6 “By faith Enoch was taken away, and so he did not experience death.  He was not to be found because God took him away.  For before he was taken away, he was approved as one who pleased God.  Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

I know this scripture. It’s not foreign to me.  I’ve heard countless sermons and Sunday School lessons on it.  The church has taught us the priority of faith over works, and this scripture drives home the understanding of why faith takes priority.  Without faith works would never happen.  If we don’t believe he exists, we can’t draw near to him.  And to believe, we have to have faith.  And to have faith, we have to believe.  Without faith and without belief, we have no motivation to do anything.  Sure, we can do things out of habit.  We can become ritualistic in the things we participate.  If we allow faith to slip down the list of priorities, what are we doing anything of eternal value for in the first place?

And here we are in March, 2020, lives altered, the busy-ness of life being ceased, separated from friends, family, schedules, activities and we are struggling.

As I read this verse, a neon light was flashing in my head, “you must return to faith”.  We are good at telling others to have faith, we are good at announcing that we are confident because we have faith and we proudly wear t-shirts and tattoo’s announcing our faith.  But how is our faith when everything is removed.  Suddenly we have more time to do nothing.  To be quiet.  To do projects.  To talk.  No more running here and there, filling all our time with endless activities.  I think God wants us to stop.  Be still.  Return to faith.  I mean seriously get in His Word and really, really read it and understand what God is doing.  He is in control.  No matter what we think is happening in the world, HE IS IN CONTROL.  Things look scary.  An indulged America is not sure what we will do without an endless flow of toilet paper, fast food and entertainment.  It’s time we step back and look at Him and not the world.  Take a close look at your heart.  Where is your faith.

I pray I am not overcome by fear. I pray I do not lose faith.   I pray I do not allow the daily onslaught of what seems like an imploding world to govern how confident I am that God is in control.

I pray I draw near to Him, I pray He approves of me and is pleased with me.  And I pray that he rewards my faithfulness.

Day 4 of Social Distancing Encouragement

Sadly I realized at about 2:30am this morning that I did not post encouragement for today…..uhhh…..yesterday!  And, sadly, the verse I was going to post on was about love.  Not sadly that it was on love, but sadly it was on love and I forgot to post in the midst of all the love going on in our family!!!!

John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

All that love in two verse in John, in the midst of a global pandemic, in the midst of a suggested/requested quarantine, and I forget to post!  Let me state my case for forgetfulness.  I actually didn’t totally forget, but I let the day get away from me.  Yesterday was Molly Grace’s 21st birthday.  The baby of the family.  Our baby girl who loves birthdays and family and cake and is the best present opener EVER!

My two older girls braved the pandemic and hit two stores and a bakery in an effort to try and make it a normal day as possible.  Life is so full of uncertainties right now, we felt the need to do our best to gather and celebrate, before we are forbidden to gather and celebrate even as families.  We found Flour Girls open and willing to let me in to purchase a dozen cupcakes to deliver to her office.  We pulled up to the front door of her work, crossed our fingers they would let us in, even though we weren’t there for an appointment.  I waltzed right in and up to the counter where she sat smiling and surprised. I kept the required 6 foot distance (after putting the box of cupcakes on the counter) and sent all the air hugs possible to our baby girl.   I dropped off the older daughters and went home to begin the preparation for the birthday party.  I found party decor in a box that I had been saving and  decorated the dining room.  I baked a strawberry cake, with chopped up strawberries in it and topped it with cream cheese icing.  We prepared her favorite Shrimp Bisque and set the table.  The family all arrived at 6:00 (thankfully there is no curfew as of yet) and we celebrated her life.  Somehow, in the midst of everything going on, we needed to do something normal.  We have five more birthdays and a new baby coming in the next few months, and we aren’t sure how it will all play out.  We are being bombarded everyday with COVID19, or “the Corona” as we like to refer to it, whether the information is fact or not.  Shelves in stores are getting less stocked as time goes on.  Numbers in our coastal city, Mobile, or creeping up, as they are across the nation.  Weddings and baby showers and other events are being cancelled every day.  School has been cancelled.  Churches are becoming techno smart in order to stay connected with their people.  People are becoming unemployed all around us.  And this verse couldn’t be more accurate today, right now.

We need to love.  We do not need to fear.  We need to celebrate.  We need to remind ourselves and others that God is in control.  We need to be smart, but we need to still gather in small groups if we can.  We need to breathe in and breathe out.

So I am sorry for getting caught up in the preparations for her birthday celebration.  But the gathering of our family did us all good.  It felt normal.  And for a couple of hours of food, fun, laughter and celebration, we loved on each other.

Be as normal as possible.  It doesn’t have to be a “big” deal, but keep on hugging, laughing, and reaching out others, even if hugging isn’t possible.  Happy birthday, today, to all those who are sitting at home, working at a desk or out looking for toilet paper. (I still don’t understand or obsession with this one).

And.  Just for the record.  We only had 9 and 2 little people (ages 2 and 2 months) which could technically be considered as 10.  So we didn’t break the rules!

As a side note…..I am not encouraging excessive touching or spreading of germs. We should all respect the fact that there is a virus out there that is contagious and we should be careful.   So maybe air hugging is the best option for now.  And keep your groups at 10.  And no sneezing or coughing in anyone’s direction!

Time Marches On

I just noticed that it has been two months since my last post. A lot has happened in the last eight weeks: Thanksgiving, surgery (for me), Christmas, a new grandbaby, a new year, and I broke a front tooth. Our lives are eventful, if nothing else! Knee replacement surgery December 5th sent me on a road to recovery that included pain meds, physical therapy (pure torture), lots of tears and frustrations, first a walker then a cane, and quite honestly a lot of rest. I have always considered myself to have a high tolerance for pain, I was wrong…at least in this aspect!  I’m still in process, feeling my age, but getting a little better each day. I’m off the pain meds, a personal choice, so the Norco induced bouts of weepiness have ceased!

A beautiful princess entered our lives three weeks early. We Armstrong women cannot seem to carry a baby to full term….but we sure do have beautiful babies! Maybe they are just eager to meet us face to face! Nora Kate arrived on December 31st and let everyone know she had arrived with a fireworks celebration! Or, maybe that was just the city celebrating the new year.  We’ll always tell her it was to celebrate her birth!   Mom, Dad & Big brother are still getting acclimated to having a princess amongst mere peasants! Sam’s name for his new sister is “Puppy”. Which is a step up from completely ignoring her presence. We’ll let it go for now, it will make for a cute story one day.  But for now we will keep Princess Nora Kate in the dark about her brother’s nickname for her for his protection.

Daughter #2 finally has a distinct baby bump as we look forward to the arrival of a second princess. She is beginning to prepare all things possible for baby girl and it’s so fun watching our middle girl researching life with baby and so interested in all that goes with this special event. Such a change for this gifted, goal oriented girl. It makes us smile.

The newlyweds are navigating their way through married and adulting life. Two months in and they are now the proud fur parents of a golden doodle called Milo.  We still think of them as kids, but I’ve got to step back and let them figure out life together and not fret.

As for Lynn and I, we’re stumbling through adapting to an empty nest, but more on that in the next post.

So, about that broken tooth. As if trying to heal and basically learn to walk again isn’t enough, I broke my right front tooth last week. It was horrifying. At least in my mind it was traumatic.  Of course, I had taken a Norco after PT that day, so perhaps that may have contributed to the tears and freak out moment!.  I had fixed myself a healthy lunch, and was proudly limping around the kitchen, when I opened the frig for a bottled water and spotted a Lindor Truffle sitting on the top shelf screaming my name.  I thought “Ohhh I want that.”. Bad decision. It was hard because of being in the cold frig. I eagerly unwrapped it and bit into it.  I felt a click in my front tooth. I thought “That was weird” and when I touched my tooth it felt fine.  I shrugged and sat down to my healthy lunch, but as I bit into the ham and cheese roll up, it clicked again. This time I knew. Horrors. I felt the back of my front tooth with my tongue and felt the break. I cried. I know, big surprise. I frantically called my dentist, and they took me right in.  Now remember, I took that Norco after PT and by the time I got in the dentist’s chair, it was working. I was chatting away.  My oldest daughter was with me and she confirms that I was talking….too much.  In comes Dr Wright. I don’t remember this, but my daughter says it is true. I looked at him and asked him how old he was, and then said, without skipping a beat, “You look fifteen.”   I’m mortified now, but then I was feeling no filter in place on my thoughts escaping my mouth. He was sweet and told me he was twenty-eight. (Still young for a dentist, in my head!). So now I am sporting a temporary bridge right up front. Not on the side or back where no one can see….Right. Up. Front. I’ll get the permanent one the end of February.

Well, life goes on and here we are just a few days from the end of January. I am sure this year holds many more expected and unexpected experiences, and as always, we will take them in stride and know that it’s just life.  This experience will pass, and time will continue to march on.

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It Takes a Village

I have never really put a lot of thought into the statement “it takes a village to raise a child” and that may be because I heard Hillary Clinton say it once and I some how associate that phrase with her.  But in the Christian community, in the church family, it does take the village to raise our children to be people who understand what God did for them, then to teach them what it means to have a relationship with Jesus and to live a life that honors God.  That church family of precious believers are the family that pours truth into their lives.  The family that cheers them on, encourages them and often comes to their rescue.

This weekend I saw this village of believers came to rescue the wedding day of my youngest daughter.  My girl had been dreaming of this day at this perfect outdoor venue for well over a year.  Our area of Alabama is known for unpredictable weather.  It is said, if you don’t like the weather, hang around for about fifteen minutes and it will change.  Saturday morning, just as forecasted, was rainy.  Not torrential, downpour rain. But steady rain.  I stood inside the house of the Historic Malbis Nursery watching the puddles form outside, trying to devise a Plan B.  I could not fathom how we would get over 150 guests, the food and the ceremony inside the building.  We decided to wait it out and be flexible with some of the decorations.  Thankfully I had brought a stack of towels “just in case”.  We delayed putting linens and centerpieces on tables.   And we prayed.  Yes.  We asked God to make the rain stop for a wedding.  It seemed shameless and selfish to ask such a thing when people in other parts of the world were praying for food!  But we prayed.  We asked our friends to pray.  We asked social media to pray.  My husband and I went back to the hotel to get ready while our baby girl was in the bridal suite getting hair and make-up done.  We got a phone call right before we were leaving to return to the venue.  We were needed for a “first look” picture asap.  As we rode back to the venue we noticed that the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to shine.  We just smiled.  God in his sovereignty had chosen to answer our prayer.  As soon as we arrived we were wisked away to see our baby girl for the first time.  We were in awe at the young woman standing before us.  No longer a little girl.  No longer our baby.  But a beautiful young woman ready to marry the love of her life.

When we stepped inside the venue there was a beehive of activity.  Friends were everywhere blowing rain off the outside brick flooring, drying chairs, wiping down tables.  Linens were being put on tables and centerpieces arranged.  The caterer was busy organizing the banquet of food.  The one desire of my girl was to have chiffon draped at the ceremony site with a beautiful wooden cross draped in eucalyptus.  With the rain it didn’t seem an option because of the continued light dripping of rain off the greenery that covered the venue.  One of our friends told me to send him the picture of what she wanted and he would make it happen.  Within a short time I looked out and two wonderful men had intricately draped the chiffon exactly like the picture I had sent them.  I grabbed my daughter as she was headed back to the bridal suite and showed her the ceremony area.  Big tears welled up in her eyes as she smiled.  She was so happy.

The events of the day progressed.  People kept coming.  Chairs were pulled from the reception area to accommodate the number of guests.  First the pastor, groom and groomsmen.  Then the bridesmaid along with my grandson wearing a sign “Uncle Zach, here comes your bride?”

Then the moment came, my sweet big guy escorting his last daughter down the aisle.  My memory raced back to a year ago as he escorted our second daughter down the aisle for her November wedding.  He had only been out of the hospital for a week from his last week long chemo treatment.  He was weak, bloated and hairless from five months of treatment, but he was there, walking her proudly down the aisle.  Here we were a year later and he looked amazing.  New suit, bowtie, goatee and a huge smile.  He proudly held her arm in his.

The ceremony began and then finished with our girl and her young man washing each other’s feet as their first act of love toward each other as they served each other just as our Savior did for His disciples in the last days before His return to heaven.  It was sweet, it was moving, it was precious.

The reception followed with lots of dancing, hugs and laughter.  They were surrounded by people who have poured into their lives.  People who love them and have watched them in their walk with Jesus.  People who willingly came and made this day perfect for them.

They departed in a flurry of confetti, bubbles and silly string. All appropriate for these to kids who fell in love in their church youth group, then dated for two more years before becoming engaged.  Then they went to their hotel, quickly changed clothes and went off to bowl with a group of friends until almost midnight.  I have to laugh at this last part.  It just speaks volumes about the relationship and personalities of these two kids.  Because in reality they are still kids at heart.  Two twenty year olds stepping into adulthood, filled with love and excitement for what the future has for them.  They have a wonderful support group around them.  A village.  A church family.  They love Jesus and desire to live for Him.  So here’s to a new life for Molly and Zach Johnson.  I have a feeling God has big plans for these two!

As a postscript….I received a text from my baby girl later that night, while they were hanging with friends and bowling.  It said “thank you for making my dream come true today, it was perfect.”

 

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Being Obedient

Walking with Christ is about obedience.  It is about surrendering your own will and desiring the will of God for your life.  It is about throwing off the old and putting on the new.  It is about creating in me a clean heart.  It is about doing the hard things, even when we don’t want to.  It is about walking in the spirit and not walking in the flesh.

Yesterday I did something that I didn’t want to do.  Something that I believe God was prompting me to do.  I’ve chewed on it for a long time.  It meant choosing to be obedient. Choosing to suck it up and do the right thing.  Taking the step was difficult.  First I had to play the conversation over and over in my head to formulate exactly the right words.  Then I took a deep breath and made contact.  Then I waited.

It didn’t turn out as I thought it would.  In fact, it didn’t go any further than making contact.  The other person didn’t want to engage.  I retreated, a little confused with God.  So for the rest of the day I pondered it over and over with the Lord and came to a final conclusion.  It had been about obedience.  That is all.  I took a step toward obedience and did what I thought God was telling me I needed to do.  The amazing part is this, I now feel free to move forward without continuous thoughts of needing to do the right thing.  He just wanted me to be willing to do what was hard, and to actually take action toward doing that hard thing.

Not everyone would understand this situation.  Not everyone has all the details.  But that is okay.  It is not about everyone.  I am putting it to rest.  I have done all I need to do in this situation and can move on.

God is good.  He knows us so well.  He knows exactly what we need.  He knows what it will take for us to continue on in this journey with Him.  Obedience.  When I was thinking about this blog post I kept trying to remember a verse that I thought was about being obedient to Him.  I searched and searched with the words I could remember.  Then I found it…..and it wasn’t about obedience.  It was about trust.  I laughed because trust is the ongoing thing He has been teaching me for the last year and a half.  Complete and unwavering trust.  But I guess they go hand in hand.  Trust and obedience really are the same thing!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.”  Proverbs 3:5-6

 

I Fell In Love Yesterday

I fell in love yesterday.  It was love at first sight.  He is quite handsome….dark hair, dark eyes.  Tall and lanky.   I can already tell he has a great personality.  People adore him.  When I spoke in hushed whispers for his ears only, telling him my name and that we would have great adventures together, he just smiled a knowing smile.  He felt the same way, I could tell.  He looked straight into my eyes, squeezed my finger and I’m pretty sure he winked at me.  I never thought I would be one of those women who would give their heart away to another so easily.  I did that once nearly twenty-nine years ago.  It was surprising then as well.   But this young man has stolen my heart with little effort.  He was so anxious to meet me that he arrived early.  How extraordinary!  Not just punctual, but early!  So welcome to our hearts, Samuel Eli Stringfellow.  You’re stirring things up already!  “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9SAM