Day 5 of Social Distancing Encouragement

Hebrews 10:24-25 “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encoruaging one another and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

Tomorrow is Sunday.  For many of us, it is the day we get up, get dressed, get in the mindset of worship, and gather together as a church family.  But things have changed.  Tomorrow we will gather in front of our t.v.’s, laptops, and even our phones too tune in together to do church from our homes.  It will be weird.  We may have some glitches.  But we won’t be neglecting to meet together!

As I’ve been thinking about how it will all go down tomorrow morning, I was trying to think of how we can still be believers reaching out to people around us who are stressed, afraid or uncertain, when I found a pack of index cards while I was looking for candles for the birthday cake yesterday.   It was like a big lightbulb going on in my head.  I could put the instructions to access the service tomorrow on the cards and deliver them to my neighbors.  I will tape them to their mailboxes and hopefully they will use the information to join us for “church” in the morning at 10:30am.  Let me encourage you to do the same.

See y’all at church in the morning…..(well, I won’t actually see you, but I will imagine us all sitting together).

Be sure to be praying tonight that everything runs smoothly and that God will move, and lives will be changed.

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!

Day 3 of Social Distancing Encouragement

Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful.”

There is a lot of wavering going on.  Whether it is in the news, the internet, the grocery store or in a conversation with friends and family.  Wavering is about “becoming weaker, faltering” and I hear the conversations of people I know ranging from the world is coming to an end to a myriad of conspiracy theories.  But for now, I want us to focus on the conversations of believers.  As believers, people who express faith in an all knowing, all powerful God, we need to stop the wavering.  We know in our hearts that God is bigger than this situation, but our minds are soaking up every news report, every article, every Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter post.  It is causing conflict in our souls.  Stop!  Don’t waver!  Reach out and hold on as tight as you can to the confession of where your hope is, in Jesus Christ!  Let’s be smart, mind you, wash our hands, social distance yourself from crowds, be aware of any change in your physical health, but goodness, move your focus to scripture and worship, and reminding yourself that you trust God above all else. Speak His truth, not the endless flow of true or fake news flowing through the media 24/7.  He is trustworthy.  The world is not.

I am not, in any way, making light of being informed, or of the suffering that is rippling around the world because of this virus.  But we cannot succumb to the fear that satan is using to make us feel weak and vulnerable.  His efforts to divide and separate us as believers will not work.  We’re smarter than he thinks we are.  We are finding ways to connect without breaking the rules or endangering others.  We will still gather and share God’s Word, whether in tiny groups or through streaming connections.  We will pray for each other.  We will find out about needs and devise creative ways to meet the needs!  We are His people.  He has equipped us.  Why?  Because He is faithful.  So shoulders back, chin up and no wavering.

Love y’all!

Day 2 of Social Distancing Encouragement

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

When I want to really dig deep and understand the meaning of a verse, I often look up key words in the scripture.  Let’s take a minute and do that.  Let’s start with the word anxious.  Listen to the definition:  experiencing worry; unease; nervousness; typically by an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.  Well, there you go.  Sounds exactly where we are walking today and for the coming weeks.  An imminent event. But lets look at another word in that verse, petition.  It means to appeal to authority with respect.

We are walking in times with an uncertain outcome, and as much as we are trying to keep our chins up, we are anxious somewhere deep inside because we are being hit on all sides by too much information…..and we are listening to it.  Now that we have a better understanding of a couple of words in this verse, let’s write it for today, March 18, 2020.

“Do not be worried, uneasy or nervous about whatever is coming in the future, about sickness, about our needs being met or being “locked down”, but in all of these or any situation to come, pray and appeal to God who has authority over everything, be thankful for His love, His provision, His protection, His guidance, His presence and His power in our lives, then faithfully without fear bring your requests to Him.”

There is no need for us to have anxiousness in our hearts.  There is no need to worry.  But there is need for us to be in prayer about every situation, then move on to being thankful for a God who hears.

God is still in control.  He’s got this.  He is walking every step with us.  We need to square our shoulders like the army of God we are, have no fear, and march on.  Be encouraged today to be strong and courageous, not fearful or anxious.  We can trust Him.

Love you all.

Day 1 of Social Distancing Encouragement

I’ve been thinking about this for the last 24 hours.  What can I do to encourage others while we are asked to practice “social distancing” for the next 15 days in an effort to slow the process, perhaps even stop the process of a virus that is slithering its way across our country.   People are walking around in a daze, there body language exuding anxiousness.  We have gone to buy groceries “just in case”, searched out diapers and formula for our daughter and listened endlessly to news reports. I have been choosing to turn off the news reports and turn on the worship videos available on Youtube.  Back to what I can do to encourage you.  I lay in bed last night thinking about it when an idea came to mind.  I will begin today to daily post a scripture and encouragement to you.  Maybe more of a reminder of God’s faithfulness and the truth of what His Word tells us.  So, I hope you will read, be encouraged and come back again.  The scriptures will be familiar.  But maybe they will come to you at the very moment you need them.

Day 1

2 Timothy 1:7 “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

As we walk through the next days, weeks or months, we will experience many challenging circumstances.  Children taken out of their normal schedules, not fully understanding what is going on around them, but they see the anxiousness of the adults.  Lost people fearing the unknown will act in ways that are unhealthy, unsafe and uncivilized.  Christians feeling cut off from each other by the ban on gathering together in large groups may be filled with underlying anxiousness.  But God is in control.  We have to remember that.  This verse is both empowering and encouraging….and yes, even comforting.  We do not have to allow fear to overcome us.  We have the power to face whatever happens with strength and self-control.  We have an opportunity to think way outside the box and discover ways to reach out to people, to minister to people and to teach our children and students about the faithfulness of God.  We can reach out to neighbors (from 6 feet away of course) to see if they need anything, or just to check up on them.  We can even offer to pray for them, six feet away of course!

If you are a believer and you believe God is faithful, chew on those words for a bit.  He gave us power, love and self-control in order to conquer fear.  Fear doesn’t own us!  We can walk through this unprecedented time with confidence in the one who we serve!  Now take a deep breath!  God’s got this.  Listen to His voice and not the world’s!

The Effect of Walking Thru Cancer

Here I sit in the doctors office with my big guy once again. He had an MRI on Tuesday and we are waiting to hear the findings. He has pulled something in his back and has been dealing with it for a few weeks. I’m not gonna lie, it makes me a little anxious because it is reminiscent of two years ago waiting for similar results from a MRI…..what is causing the pain. I have closed my eyes and breathed deeply, whispering once again “I trust you God” to relieve the slight anxiousness in my stomach. I am sure it isn’t a repeat, just something in his back he has pulled. But we’ll know in minutes what we are looking at. Cancer never really goes away, I guess. It may be eliminated in your life, but the effects of a journey filled with everything cancer never completely leaves your subconsciousness. Every ache, every symptom sounds an alarm in your head and puts your mind on alert. But today it is a false alarm. Today we walk out of the doctor’s office and breathe a loud sigh of relief.

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 come 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 bridesmaids 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 had 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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Happy Fall Y’all

I live in the south.  No, wayyyy down south. Where the real, real southerners live.  We’re the last city you see before you hit the warm gulf waters.  Mobile is a beautiful city filled with true southern hospitality and charm.  We boast yummy foods that most northerners do not understand.  We love tradition.  We love the coastal life and we love each other.  However, we do not completely understand a life filled with distinct seasonal changes.  Our landscape doesn’t change that much from one season to another, with the exception of spring when our cozy little spot at the most southern part of Alabama explodes with color….and allergies!  As we stroll through our spring enjoying azaleas of every color, every imaginable shade of green in our foliage and relishing in the salt air floating in from the gulf, we find ourselves loving the world.  It’s hypnotizing!  A few days later, summer stomps in announcing a season of sunbathing, island living, hammock swinging, barbecue loving, horseshoe playing, baseball throwing, outdoor concert dancing, boat riding and every other warm weather, summer loving, activity you can think of.  Did I mention we have very long summers?  We are located on a bay, connected to an island by a small bridge, an hour drive to a sandy white beach and a quick thirty minutes to a small artsy town.  Again, our summers are long.  So long we find ourselves every year saying “Summer was never this hot and long when I was growing up!”  Every year. We long for fall weather, pumpkins, sweaters and spiced lattes and yet, they are very slow in coming.  We do our best to bring on cooler weather with our fancy fall door hangers and decorations.  We sit in our air conditioned cars, warm lattes in hand, wishing for that pre-thanksgiving crisp air.  We fear we will jump from summer straight into winter, completely skipping the cozy fall weather.   We’ve even been known to have a late season hurricane, as if nature is making a last ditch effort to show us her skills. Thanksgiving is a toss up as to whether it will be cool or warm, we never know.  We just hope.  Today it is cold outside and rainy.  Our hopes rise.  Sweaters are jerked out of the bottom drawers and the lines at Starbucks are long.  It’s fall y’all….at least for a few days!  Winter will be upon us before we know it…..at least for 15 minutes!  Then we will head back into spring and then summer.  It’s been said about Mobile that if you don’t like the weather, hang around for about fifteen minutes and it will change.   It is so true.  I believe this has produced a culture that adapts quickly to any weather change.  Well, except for that occasionally snow flurry that happens about every five to ten years and causes school and work shut downs because we have no clue how to drive on ice and snow.  No worries, though, it will be gone tomorrow!!!  But today it is fall.  Like legit fall.  Like in the mountains of Tennessee fall, except we still have green leaves on the trees.  Enjoy it while you can, because we Mobilians know Thanksgiving is coming and we’ll probably be wearing t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops while eating smoked turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, sweet potato soufflé, dumplins, carrot cake, pecan pie and sweet tea!  Happy Fall Y’all!

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