Adventures with the Armstrongs


I've been holding back for awhile about a BIG event happening in our lives.  No, not baby related :) but almost as exciting!

We have been anxiously anticipating this week for awhile now, waiting to get excited until we got some things wrapped up and it became more public, therefore "real!"  But alas, it's here!

Today is Trav's last day of work at Church (not forever) but tomorrow we begin a leadership-given "Sabbatical" that gives him weeks off to rest and rejuvenate.  Yes, week(S) as in we won't be back til April!  What?? Amazing. We are so grateful and so very blessed to have time gifted to our Pastors after years of serving. The grind of ministry is intense, exhausting, draining, and never-ending.  However, it's also rewarding, laden with joy and blessing, faith building and a high privilege to serve in the power of Jesus.  We wouldn't walk away or trade professions if we had it to do all over again.

We have been at our Church for 7 years already and I can honestly say it has FLOWN by.  I'm so thankful that we are able to take this Sabbatical and enjoy the blessing it is without feeling burned out or "sick of" ministry.  We definitely aren't in that place and we aren't contemplating any major decisions.  We are simply able to rest, refresh and reconnect with the Lord, with each other and the kids.  We're going to see some family, we're going to do some traveling, we're going to play with our kids, we're each going to do some writing...and we can't wait!  I have a feeling once we are unplugged (Trav esp) and away from everything for an extended time, we'll probably realize how soul-weary we actually are.  It becomes such a busy existence going from one activity, one crisis, one season after another, and every year the schedule seems to just get heavier as our kids get older.  And I know we're not alone, that's life, right??  Especially in the United States where we do not know or practice the discipline of rest very well.  

But here we are, given the incredible chance to stop and pause and reflect...For the last two weeks we have been sitting under our Pastor's teaching in Matthew 11 and 12, where Jesus instructs us to come to Him, all who are weary and heavy laden, so we can be yoked with him and enjoy the blessing of an easy yoke that allows us to rest in his strength and power.  In chapter 12, He gives us the Sabbath principle of work/rest/worship, intended to bless us and refresh us, not burden us.  Seriously, it feels so weird not to have "work" looming ahead, but after that teaching it was a great reminder that the Lord values and prioritizes rest because He knows how much we need it and how burdened and bogged down we get without it, without Him.

So, things are busy in our house today...well really, they've been extremely busy for the last week.  We are making plans, getting prepared and "working hard" so that we can rest well, beginning tomorrow!  It's another adventure for us, I'm laughing that we'll be embarking on yet another road trip after just returning home from one.  We are quickly turning into road warriors, but as I've stated before, road-tripping with my little family has become my very favorite thing to do!  Who knew??  Turns out, the Lord did and so did Travis :)

We know what a gift this is...I've had a hard time telling many people about it because it feels so indulgent and too good to be true, I almost feel little guilty even talking about it.  BUT I know the Lord ordained this for us and we are choosing to accept it and ENJOY it too!!  So, here's to rest and adventure and family!!  Whatever your week looks like, I am praying you will have time (or make time) to carve out rest too.  Most people I know are too busy, we have adopted a bad practice in general, keeping a pace that is too much to bear.  "Slow down" is the truth the Lord has impressed on my heart for these last few weeks. He never intended life to be like this, the American dream of building all you can in a short amount of time, really isn't that great of a dream after all...

Praying rest for your (our) weary souls today!  We know the one who gives it...

Matthew 11:28-30

New International Version (NIV)
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


Kissing the Waves

Source image here

 "I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages." --Spurgeon

"I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord." 
Psalm 40:1-3

It's been a February to remember around here.  I've been longing to sit and write and yet the days just fill up so quickly and my arms only hold so much.  I've been juggling spinning plates it seems, and yet I read a great quote somewhere (Piper maybe?) that alluded to the idea that all writers have one thing in common.  The discipline takes sacrifice and saying "no" to something in order to say "yes" to writing.  It's a myth in my mind that my favorite writers and bloggers have loads of time to spend everyday on their craft, but really, it's just a choice to make the time for it. So this morning, with to-do lists and a BIG adventure on the horizon, I'm taking some time to write a little bit for the sake of my soul care.  I've got pent up thoughts that are coursing through my mind and begging to work themselves out through my fingers and this's been too long.

I saw that amazing quote above from Charles Spurgeon, on my friend Jen's facebook and I couldn't get it written on my heart fast enough.  She shared it in context of a difficult medical situation with her Mom and it spoke deeply to my heart as well.  We are kissing some big waves over here, waves that have appeared out of nowhere, rising up from a seemingly calm ocean and knocking us off of our feet.  In the (almost) thirty-three years of my life, there have been lots of waves beating against my frame.  Some have soaked me, some have have blindsided me and some have knocked me squarely off my perch into a raging sea.  But as I walk one more day with the Lord and He grows ever sweeter and true, what once would have sent me spiraling into salty waters now only presses me harder against the rock of Ages, into the firm foundation of my Jesus.  He's everything He promises to be in a storm; steady, reliable, unmovable, unshakable, real, strong, present...And yet, a storm is a storm.  HE never bends, but when the waves are crippling and relentless, without an intentional clinging to the Rock, it's hard to stand firm and endure. 

As most trials do, ours followed a quiet season in January.  February opened with one of my favorite highlights of the year, a scrapbook retreat up north with many girlfriends.  It was a sweet, sweet weekend and I left feeling so refreshed and soul-rested.  My husband was so kind to joyfully take over at home all weekend, even greeting me with a clean house, sleeping kids and a warm candle burning.  Those kind of re-entries don't happen very often, it was a gift, followed by a cherry on top gathering with a small group we are beginning a journey with.  Sweet.  Several days later I got a good taste of what Travis does every week, several times a week.  We started a man of God/woman of God series on Wednesday nights with our students and we split up into gender specific groups for a series of weeks.  The first week we were all combined and then I spoke to the girls while Trav spoke to the guys.  The following week we split up further and I spoke to just the junior high girls and Trav to the junior high boys.  It was a privilege to do it and I'm grateful for the opportunity, but I gained a whole new appreciation for the drain and grind of the process.  

Whenever I've taught before or led a study or just had a conversation with a friend about something the Lord taught me, He has a funny way of holding my feet to the fire almost immediately following.  It's a built in accountability that makes me tremble at the seriousness of saying one thing in the name of the Lord and living something else.  I spoke to the girls out of Proverbs 7, looking at the story Solomon penned for his sons, a warning about a misguided young guy and a dangerously cunning and wild woman.  It's a grave warning for a scenario that is so common and dismissed in our culture, yet so loaded with sin and unlike anything God designed for relationships.  Because I don't teach regularly, I have not refined a prep process, except to immerse myself in as much reading and studying and writing as possible.  For three weeks I spent lots of my "free" time, (read: every nap time, bedtime, and cartoon time while the kids were occupied) working on those two talks and really pouring myself into it.  Happily, by the way, this is not a complaint...I just resonated for the first time with Paul's statement about feeling like he was being "poured out like a drink offering."  It was exhausting in every way, but worth it too.  On the second week I had a major emphasis on trusting the Lord with your life, or your story.  I implored the girls to give the pen of their lives to the Lord, trusting him to write the perfect story for them as opposed to trying to manipulate and control every decision and outcome.  I fell into bed that night, weary from two weeks of my mind and heart wrapped up in that teaching, wondering how often my own husband pours himself out for the sake of the Gospel and then collapses from the weight of that.  I laid in bed and fought off the enemy planting those traps of defeat, did anyone even receive it?  Did it make sense?  Do they care? Was it all white noise?  Did I do a faithful job presenting the ideas of the text?  I felt like the Lord had confirmed his pleasure, but I'm human and don't we all just long for those pats on the back that make us feel secure?  

When I woke in the morning, on Valentine's Day, I felt the drain of energy and surveyed the damage of two weeks of letting my housework pile-up in place of studying.  I was weary and my footing unsure.  It was the perfect time for a wave to sweep me away and when my phone rang early that morning,  I was not prepared for the swirling waters headed my way.  My cousin Amy called to share a diagnosis with me, that my cousin Jenny had just received.  Stage 2 breast cancer, with a likely surgery and difficult recovery looming.  Who among us has not dealt with cancer these days?  It seems endless, the diagnosis, the treatments, and the road to recovery...and yet, until it hits close to home and rears its' ugly head in the life of a loved one, it's just a prayer request on a long list.  But as I stood in my kitchen, dipping marshmallows in chocolate and sprinkles and doing what Moms do to make celebrations fun, I grew numb hearing those words and felt fear begin to seize me.  Cancer in our family has not always been kind or brought with it a happy ending on this side of Eternity.  My weary heart began to ache for my cousin Jenny, for her husband and her three kids...a wave of pain, emotion, fear, and doubt leveled me, one after another.  I hate cancer.  No sooner did I stand before young girls and leaders, promising them that God is faithful, He never disowns his own, His ways are higher and His plans better and He is trustworthy with our life stories, no matter the twists and turns we might not understand...hours after those words fell from my lips and heart before them, I was standing in the midst of my own story, facing the same choice.  Do I let go of the pen and rest in Him, even with waves pounding, or do I grip it ever tighter, scripting my own story and grappling for control wherever I can find it?  

I limped through the day, holding my babies close, letting go of weeks of pent up emotion and praying, reading the Word.  It was an odd Valentines Day for sure.  I read that quote and that passage from Psalm 40 and it connected the dots, so to speak.  The waves of life are real.  Real trials, real circumstances, real pain and yet, there is real hope, real strength, and real peace that is ours to access.  I cried for my cousin, I hate for her to face this road, but I am jealous for the way I know Jesus will grow her faith, show Himself to her and make a lasting impression in the faith journeys of her kids.  And I'm praying for our whole family, every last one of us, to throw ourselves at the Rock of Ages, clinging to Him as we walk this road together.  From experience of God's faithfulness, every significant season of growth and depth in my relationship with Jesus has come from hard days, from trials that I thought were so unfair and difficulties that stripped me of my own strength and abilities.  And in hindsight, those parts of my story and the way God has used them, are actually scenes on a highlight reel of His magnificence and love.  So I've learned, like Spurgeon, to kiss those waves and endure in the strength of my Savior, knowing the fruit produced in the tension of God's plan is always the sweetest and most brilliant.  

My cousin faces a double mastectomy and reconstruction on Wednesday, just two weeks after her diagnosis.  Since that phone call, there have been constant waves in my life, none as big as that one, but sometimes it's the relentless trickle afterwards that robs you of any joy and knocks you over when you least expect it.  And even so, here I am doing my best to kiss those waves because Jesus is better and His plan is greater than mine.  His grace is sufficient and when we cry out to Him, He hears us and lifts us out of the pit, setting our feet on a rock...He gives us a new song, a hymn of praise even, so that many will see His power and love through us, and fear Him, and put their trust in Him too.  

If you find yourself drowning in the waves of life today, take heart and kiss that wave when you come up for air.  He allowed it for a reason and it could be the wave that was actually designed to save you, not destroy you.  

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds...Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised..."
Hebrews 10:23-24, 35-36


Looking Back on January

It's hard to believe that January has come and gone already!  Ready or not, 2013 is off to a fast start.  Who knows if I can maintain this or not, but I'm hoping to do a better job of recording some the things we do on the blog.  After getting ready for my scrapbook retreat recently, I spent some time reading back through the blog and I remembered why I started this in the first place.  It was so fun to re-live some of our old memories and to hear my thoughts from years gone by.  So, I'm hoping to at least get some recap posts up every month this year, before these things are gone from my memory forever :) 
We left Iowa on New Year's Day after a great Christmas break with family.  
Aaannnd, this is the reality we came home to. I took this on the morning that Travis went back to work and I found myself at home with the kids, trying to dig out of the hole of Christmas gifts, packed bags, and laundry.  I'm pretty sure the house looked like this for at least a week!  Usually I kill myself to get it done immediately but this year?  Not so much :) 
I took the first few days of the year and indulged myself by participating in the Passion Conference via livestream.  It was SO great, I love kicking off the year with some of my favorite worship artists and an incredible line-up of speakers.  
It was so awesome to hear David Crowder leading again, although he totally looks like a cast member from Duck Dynasty!  I was so sad that he and his band stopped recording and touring.  We loved DCB!! 60,000 college students seeking the Lord and worshipping Him...what a fun thing to see!  Gives me hope for the future generations.  Of course, aside from a little feature from CNN, nothing in the mainstream news about it.  Amazing.  But we did get days of coverage on whether Beyonce sang live at the inauguration or not, so I guess I don't know what "real" news is. 
I have a funny memory of all of us dancing like fools while Lecrae performed on the last night, ha ha!  We LOVE him and he always brings out the inner dancer in all of us :) Carter especially!  
I did A LOT of baking this month :)  I've had some happy campers around here! 
We had some good family time in January.  Taking the kids out for a meal is getting easier...
...although it's still an event.  Sometimes it goes well, and sometimes it goes horribly wrong :) I've had some serious flashbacks to conversations between my parents that are now happening to us.  Like my Mom, I usually hesitate at the thought of going out with the kids, for a variety of reasons, but like my Dad, Travis always thinks it sounds like fun!  Ha ha!  We are making memories I suppose, right??  Ironically, the kids always have the best time!  
We were due for some new car seats and these two little passengers were happy about the upgrade!
We had some fun Christmas gift cards and enjoyed a sweet Friday night at a very quiet (who would have guessed) Mall of America.  The twinkling Christmas lights were still up, which made it seem especially magical.
Carter decided he was finally brave enough for the carousel after watching Ava.  He was so proud of himself and loved riding the "horsey" which was actually an Ostrich!
These two scored BIG at the Disney store, which was the real highlight of the night.  Thanks for the gift cards Aunt Katy!  The post-Christmas clearance sale was very kind to our kids.  They came home with some serious loot!  
January brought our first visits to the dentist, which was hilarious.  I had prepped them for awhile, but had no idea how they'd do.  Ava did great, she actually talked the hygienist's ear off!  I had to remind her to be quiet so she could clean her teeth :) She wanted to tell her all about her princesses and her castle. Classic!
Carter on the other hand, was not quite so cooperative.  He pretty much sat with his mouth clenched shut :) He did lick the toothpaste off the brush, but we decided 6 more months would be a good thing for him!  I couldn't blame him, what part of going to the dentist is fun??  No offense if you are a Dentist!  I really love ours, but I hate having my mouth worked on!   I spent some time there myself this month, getting a crown.  Oh, the fun!
Unfortunately, sickness hit our house this month and took us all down one by one.
Based on our symptoms, I'm going to say we got hit with the Norovirus that recently swept the nation.  We had all the symptoms to a tee and we spend a solid week and a half dealing with it.  

Thankfully, I was the last one to get sick and I recovered just in time to hear Travis preach.  He was scheduled to preach at the end of the month but had to move it up a week when our Pastor was dealing with pneumonia himself.  I was so grateful to be there, he did a great job and I loved being his cheerleader in the front row!  This was also the first time the kids got to see Daddy on stage in "big Church."  Ava sat with me for two services and did great and Carter got to see Daddy on all the monitors around our Church, which has thoroughly confused him now.  He expects to see Daddy every time now and likes to inform his nursery teachers that his Daddy is "on da TB in big Church!"   :) 
We've had a whole range of temperatures this month.  It is January, so it's been pretty typical.
We welcomed a precious new member of our family this month!  This is our sweet nephew, JT.  Is he darling or what??  Trav's sister Katy and her husband made us an Uncle and Aunt again!  We just love him!!
We FINALLY broke through our terrible stretch of bad haircut experiences with Carter!!  After bribing him with suckers and the promise of ice-cream, Carter sat mostly still without screaming and crying.  Victory!!
This little girl is always happy to get her hair cut, thankfully!
After the plans changed several times regarding when Trav was going to preach, my parents offered to take our kids for a long weekend and we took them up on it!  I drove half-way and met my Dad to make the swap.  The kids were so good and so excited about it!
While they were gone, we found ourselves in a suddenly free weekend, so Travis surprised me and booked a night at at Bed and Breakfast in a cute little town we love.
It was a sweet surprise and so fun to be away together in a cozy place.
We had a good laugh together, our B&B was a fun treat, but let's just say our room and the house in general was "exotic" and extremely unique!  We may have landed in a sort of pagan idol room, which is a funny place for a Pastor and his wife to stay :) It does make for a great story, however!  Ha ha!
I've felt like I was playing catch-up all month long and I have a feeling that was party due to being so behind in ordering my planner!  I don't know what my problem was this year, but it finally came and I just LOVE it!!
My love for all things erin condren continues!
While our kids were gone, we caught a high school hockey game to see my second cousin play.  We had fun, although wished they could have won in overtime.  High school sports are fun to us and to not have to bring kids or find a sitter??  Golden! 
The kids got an extra night at my parents after an Ice storm but we were oh so happy to have these little faces back!!  They had a blast, but one of the biggest developments since they've been home is that Carter has completely given up his paci, and totally without a fight.  It's almost as if he never had it, we can't believe it!  I guess he must have been ready or just old enough to not need it??  If I gave it to him, I think he'd take it, but he's bought into our song and dance about him being a big boy and not needing it anymore and HE even threw in a line about the garbage man "taking" it because he was big, which I haven't bothered to correct!  If he's ok with that, than so we are we!  

We finished January off with a plunge into the arctic!  We had some unbelievably cold days, but it just makes me all the more thankful for a cozy home and little ones who aren't "scheduled" yet.  We've just enjoyed being home and snuggling up together.  I know someday I will look back on these simple, early years and miss them.  But here's hoping February brings some warmer temps our way!