Choosing family over stuff

Today is Family Day, a civic holiday allowing us to enjoy an extra day of family togetherness, in many parts of Canada. One of the ironies of Family Day, though, is how little “regular” time families actually get together, especially as increasingly the average family requires two (or more) incomes to survive.

I really feel for families in this situation. I know a lot of people for whom this is reality. They’ve got mortgages, car payments, student loans… Some of them are cool with it, others feel stuck.

When Emily and I got married, a big question we wrestled with was whether or not Emily would stay home with the kids or if she’d go back to work. We chose for her to stay home, knowing  there would be a cost. So we went from a fairly decent two incomes to… less. Like a lot less.

About five years ago, I had a meeting with the pastor of the church we formerly attended. We wound up discussing some of our adjustments to the single income lifestyle, and toward the end of our conversation, he said, with more than a hint of resignation, “The days of the single-income household are gone.”

Around the same time, we watched Maxed Out, a brilliant and troubling documentary chronicling the practices of the credit card industry in the United States, and the stories of many Americans whose lives have been crippled by debt. They can’t escape it, no matter how hard they try, it seems.

We’ve made tremendous mistakes financially over the years, and everything came to a head when we finally decided to sell our house. For us, it came down to a choice about our convictions. Which was more important—owning a home or having Emily stay at home? 

We chose Emily staying at home.

We chose to remain at one income, to sacrifice some of the things the world, our friends and even our parents kept telling us we “should” want. Why? Because we’d considered the cost, and found it worth the price we had to pay.

It was better for us to say goodbye to a lifestyle we should have wanted, in order to embrace the one we have. We have everything we need, if not always everything we want.

And that’s okay. This, again, is not to say our decision is the right one for everyone. Some of our friends have decided to go the same route as we have. Others have not.

But when we feel trapped by the expectations of the world, we need to remember: we can always choose to go another way. We don’t need the house. We don’t need the new car. But kids need their mom and dad. Husbands need their wives. Wives need their husbands.

Sometimes we can have it all, and that’s not bad. But sometimes we have to choose between the two. And when we do, it’s always better to choose family over stuff.

Can you pray for us?

We’re having some interesting discussions in the Armstrong house. As always, we’re talking about big important future things. One of the big topics we’ve had come up recently is education.

Our oldest daughter, Abigail, is in public school. She’s smart as a whip, and a really good student. Overall she’s had a pretty good experience in school; a few issues with other kids, but nothing too major. We’ve had a number of concerns, some minor, some major, and very few have been able to be resolved.

Our middle girl, Hannah, is nearly ready to start school, too. In fact, Emily’s been very proactive in starting her education already. She knows her ABCs, her numbers one through ten, and has even started to read and write. In fact, here’s a look at one of her recent spelling efforts:

Hudson isn’t even two, so school’s not quite on his radar yet. He’s happy just jumping, running around and playing with cars.

But as we’ve been talking, the idea of homeschooling has come up. We’d previously said we’d only do it if we had a deal-breaker situation come up, like the school started demanding our kids affirm things we fundamentally disagree with. But lately as we’ve talked, we’ve been wondering about what would offer the best quality education for the kids.

And we’re really not sure what to do. What I don’t want to do is say to Emily, “So, we’re going to do this now,” if she’s not sold on the idea. In fact, I’ve been waiting for her to make a call on what she thinks is the right thing to do. She’s started talking to the kids about the idea. Hannah likes it (even though just a few months ago, she was super-psyched about putting on her back pack and going to school like Abigail); Abigail’s opinion changes from day to day. Some times she’s keen on it, other times she’s not sure. There’s a lot of uncertainty around it right now, which is fine.

I’d rather take the time to make a wise decision than to rush in without counting the cost, y’know?

But if you could pray for us on this, I’d really appreciate it. From everything we’ve read, and from all the people we’ve talked to so far, it seems like a really good option, one that could help our wee ones not only get a leg up in terms of quality, but allow us to enjoy their company a little while longer. (It’s terrifying to believe Abigail’s going to be seven this year! She was barely two when I started this blog!)

Finally, I’d love to get your take on this: where do you land on education? If you’re a parent, would you homeschool? Were you yourself homeschooled? I’d love to hear your experiences and any wisdom you might have to offer on this.

Book Review: The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin

The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin

This book will be different than any other book on organization that you’ve probably read. I have no schedule to offer you, I won’t tell you what day to mop the kitchen floor, and you don’t need to buy a timer. Your standards for an organized home and a reasonable schedule will vary with your personality, season of life, and the needs and preferences of your family.

What I hope to do is to help you examine your heart and discover things that may be hindering your walk with God. My goal is not necessarily for you to have a cleaner home or a more manageable schedule—although I certainly hope that is the case. Rather, my hope for this book is that it will help you serve God and your family more effectively, more fruitfully, and with greater peace and joy.

Staci Eastin, The Organized Heart: A Woman’s Guide to Conquering Chaos

The Organized Heart by Staci Eastin is not a book full of charts or checklists. There’s no instruction to do your laundry on Monday, or your floors on Wednesday. (Although seriously, who does their floors every week?) We’ve seen enough of those, and if you’re a person who struggles with disorder, you probably have a few of these books already and don’t need another one.

So what is The Organized Heart? It’s an insightful work that challenges the reader to investigate the root of disorder, which according to the author, is idolatry.

The Organized Heart covers four areas where disorder can reign (and ruin)—perfectionism, busyness, possessions, and leisure. In the chapter on possessions, Staci offers a very funny anecdote about her beloved couch; it went from being white and tan to brown and brown, and when all was said and done not even a charity would take it. [Read more...]

Husbands, Date Your Wives

This weekend my wife and I had our first date in what seemed like ages. Probably because it has been.

Saturday’s date was a big, fancy one, too. An evening out at The Keg (steak = win), followed by browsing at the bookstore and a tea at Starbucks.

For Emily, it was awesome to have time to just be grown ups without having to worry about doling out fishy crackers and wiping bums and noses. For me, it was fantastic to spend time talking with Emily about things that didn’t involve the contents of a diaper, something that the kids did and to focus on making Emily feel special.

(I think I succeeded, right Emily?)

Ever since our first daughter was born, we’ve struggled to get into a consistent habit of going out for a date. And we’re not the only ones. In the parenting course we’re a part of, the subject comes up frequently. As our course facilitators have pointed out (as have the resources), a healthy marriage is foundational to raising children. And it’s easy to see a consistent pattern in all of our difficulties in making it happen consistently:

  1. It’s hard to find a babysitter
  2. Budgets are tight
  3. Our schedules are crazy right now

And these are all legitimate concerns (I know, because they’re mine, too). But they’re nothing compared to the benefits of a regular date night:

  1. You’re protecting your marriage from moral compromise (i.e. emotional and/or physical adultery)
  2. You get to be reminded why you like each other so much (after all, there had to be something that made you want to spend the rest of your lives together, right?)
  3. Your kids get to see a healthy marriage modelled for them
  4. Your wife gets to feel like a princess

There are tons more, but I think you get the idea.

Husbands, it’s our responsibility to make it a priority to date our wives and make them feel treasured. In fact, we’re commanded in Scripture to sacrificially love our wives and to treat them as prized treasures (cf. Eph. 5:25; Col. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:7). Dates don’t have to be expensive. And even if it’s not every week, but every two weeks or even once a month, can we commit to making our wives a priority for one night?

Do you and your wife have a date night? If so, what’s been your favorite?

Preschooler Theology: “Why Do Monsters Scare Me?”

So, a while back, my oldest daughter started talking about being afraid of monsters. I don’t remember exactly where she picked up on this, but it caught me off guard.

See, it’s a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, monsters like what you see in Monsters Inc. don’t exist. But, demons are very real (whether we like to think about it or not), and it’s possible that our kids who are saying they see monsters in their closet are possibly seeing some sort of demonic manifestation.

So how do you start explaining that to your kids?

Here’s how my dialogue with Abigail typically goes:

Abigail: Why do monsters scare me?

Me: Monsters try to scare you because they don’t want you to trust Jesus. Monsters don’t have to scare you because Jesus is the King of the whole universe and everything has to do what He says. Jesus is bigger and stronger than any monster, so when He tells them to do something, they have to do it.

Abigail: So can we tell them to go away?

Me: Yep.

Abigail: Can you do it?

Me: Sure.


That in a nutshell is my conversation with Abigail every couple of nights.

I really hope I’m not traumatizing her with this.

Now what about you? If you’re a parent, how are you handling this subject with your kids? If you were brought up by Christian parents, how did they explain this to you?

Being a Comfort When You're Not Sure What to Say

Wednesday morning at six, my father-in-law is going to have heart surgery. Emily’s been surprisingly okay with everything (as she’s been fond of saying, she gets anxious about the little things, but the big ones don’t faze her too much), and her Dad is pretty confident that everything will be fine. But Emily’s mom… you can hear the stress in her voice whenever she calls.

It’s been a tough few weeks for her, and honestly we’ve not been sure how to be of comfort beyond telling her that we’re praying for her.

Being (as far as we know) the only Christians in our family, this has been a big struggle for us—the things we take comfort in, the only things that bring true comfort (Christ’s death, Christ’s resurrection and the hope of His final return and our future glorification with Him)—these things aren’t terribly comforting to people who don’t trust in Christ or believe that God is good. (And Emily’s shared this with her mom, which was one of the most loving acts I’ve ever seen her take.)

While I’m sure that the operation is going to be fine (sadly it’s become somewhat a standard procedure), I can’t help but wonder…

What if it doesn’t?

I know that, ultimately, if the surgery goes well, it’s by the will of God.

And I know that if it doesn’t, it’s also by His will.

God’s absolute sovereignty is one of the most comforting truths that He has revealed to us. The Psalmists revelled in it. Paul extolled it.

Jesus—well, Jesus is the Sovereign One, so, obviously…

But this doesn’t bring much comfort to those who are opposed to Him.

What I’ve been praying regularly is that God would use this situation to draw Emily’s family to Himself. That He would be revealed and they would respond in faith.

And maybe that’s enough.

Would you join us in praying for this to happen?


We received an update on my father-in-law’s surgery this afternoon. When the doctors began to operate they discovered they had to do a quintuple bypass, rather than the triple they originally thought.

After five hours of surgery, he has been moved to the recovery ward, but they’re waiting for his blood pressure to drop before they can wake him up. Apparently it’s a lot harder to get the blood pressure of “younger” men under control after a procedure like this which is why he is remaining out for the time being.

Thank you for your prayers today. They’ve meant a lot to us!

Receiving Grace upon Grace – Introducing our New Daughter

On Friday March 12 at 5:14 am, Emily and I welcomed our second daughter, Hannah Grace, into the world.

Probably the hardest part (for me) this time around was choosing a name. Names are really important. Biblically, they define people to some degree. The names of Naomi’s sons, Mahlon & Chilion, for example, meant “sickness” and “wasting away.” They died in Moab, leaving their mother without grandchildren. Naomi herself, after the death of her sons renamed herself “Mara” because the “Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20).

So, what you name your children is kind of a big deal. And for Emily and I, agreeing on a name was extremely difficult at first.

We initially wanted this baby’s name to convey an idea of strength combined with femininity. (Tall order? Maybe.) After batting around ideas for several weeks, we managed to agree on a middle name: Grace, meaning “favor” or “blessing.”

More time went by and we were short-listing names, crossing off others… Eventually we came to Hannah. I liked it, but didn’t recall the meaning of the name.

I asked Emily, “How about we call her Hannah Grace?”

Her response, “But ‘Hannah’ means ‘grace;’ wouldn’t that be weird?”

Then I remembered:

And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
John 1:16

The last year has been an incredibly challenging one for us; ultimately all of our difficulties have worked out for our good though it’s not always been comfortable. But through them all, God has been with us and He’s been incredibly gracious to us, so much so that I think I take it for granted.

He’s poured out grace upon grace in our lives, blessing after blessing. And the chief blessing is that He has not only shown us how to live in the Law but that He came to live that life for us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. That His perfect life was given to me in exchange for my sinful one by faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus.

Naming my daughter Hannah Grace is a tangible reminder of this for me.

God willing, the next several years are going to be exciting. Seeing my girls grow up, teaching them about Jesus and someday walking them down the aisle… To see this family grow into all that God has planned for us is going to be a wonderful gift.

Christmas Daddies: Building a Memory

Yesterday, was the big day: My Christmas Daddy-Daughter date with my lovely daughter, Abigail.

This was a really important one for me; I really want to make sure she has some great memories (as much as I can help, anyway), so I did my best to pull out all the stops. First up, her favorite breakfast: French toast (it was delicious).

After a lovely breakfast, we were off to the main event: Sesame Street Live!

We took a few photos:

The Sesame Street players take the stage and all the kids go wild. Well... except for the ones who cried.

[Read more...]

The Effects of Pornography

Ed Stetzer points readers to a new study by Patrick F. Fagan examining the effects of pornography:

A new study done by Patrick F. Fagan examines the effects of pornography on individuals, marriage, family and community. Fagan is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Research on Marriage and Religion at the Family Research Council. He specializes in examining the relationships among family, marriage, religion, community, and America’s social problems. This study is important for everyone to read as it demonstrates that it has damaging effects on individuals and families. In the summary Fagan explains,

Pornography is a visual representation of sexuality which distorts an individual’s concept of the nature of conjugal relations. This, in turn, alters both sexual attitudes and behavior. It is a major threat to marriage, to family, to children and to individual happiness. In undermining marriage it is one of the factors in undermining social stability.Social scientists, clinical psychologists, and biologists have begun to clarify some of the social and psychological effects, and neurologists are beginning to delineate the biological mechanisms through which pornography produces its powerful negative effects.

Some of the findings inside the study include: [Read more...]

Saturdays are great for Sabbath

Saturdays are a lot of fun at the Armstrong house. We have been trying to have pretty agenda-free Saturdays to encourage relaxation, and family time.

They’re also a day that we’re trying to use for Sabbath—to put aside things that distract us from God and enjoy Him.

Historically, this is something I’ve been terrible at, both in the sense that I am terrible at resting, and that I don’t always take the time to enjoy God, to be reminded, as John Piper would say, “that God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.”

All too often, I find the distractions of life pulling my attention away. There’s dishes to be done. A lawn to be mowed. Groceries to be purchased. Freelance work to be completed.

And all of these are important. We need food, a tidy kitchen, our lawn to not look like a jungle… and the extra money from freelance work is very helpful. But they’re not the most important thing.

Jesus is.

In Exodus 20:8, we’re commanded to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” because, Jesus tells us, “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). We’re told these things because one of the most important ways to worship God is to enjoy the great gift He’s given us—Himself, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Spending one day enjoying Him, is definitely not a lot to ask, and God is a gift too important to ignore.

So let me ask you, dear reader: Do you Sabbath? How will you use your Sabbath day to enjoy Him?

Fun Dad moments

I have a great little girl. She’s funny, smart and I have no doubt she’ll be a boy-magnet when she’s in her teens (because she’s pretty like her mom… also, that’s not to say she’s going to be boy-crazy, because I don’t think she will be).

We have had a lot of fun moments this week, so I thought I’d share a few:

  1. Listening to her shout “Jesus!” when I signed his name (one of the only things I know in sign-language).
  2. When I asked her if it was time to come out of the bathtub, she responded, “No, I’ll stay in bathtub.”
  3. Singing songs as a family and listening to her sing back to us parts of Amazing Grace and Jesus Loves Me.
  4. Watching as Abigail announced she was making “Monster faces.”
  5. Getting a running hug when I got up at nine on Saturday morning.

It’s things like that that make me glad to be a dad.

aaron-abigail

When Talking to Family…

As many of you know (because I’ve written about it often here), for a long time, I’ve lamented my lack of initiative in more pro-actively sharing my faith with my family. It’s been a subject of prayer for both Emily and myself, to overcome our fear and speak freely. Because, if our faith actually makes a difference in our lives, we should talk about it.

Having just come back from a couple of days in Grand Bend, Ontario, with my in-laws, I can say that I did get an opportunity to do exactly that, when we got on the subject of the church; and more specifically, the things we believe are important for our family within a church.

We talked about the power of the Scripture, and that when it’s proclaimed with joyous passion—as though Jesus actually makes a difference in your life—it is a beautiful thing.

We talked about discipleship, and how church leaders need to be the kind of men who can confidently say, “Follow me as I follow Christ!”

We talked about the importance of church-planting and missions, because a focus on these inevitably fuels discipleship and enables future leaders to grow in and exercise the gifts God has given them.

And, we talked about male-elder governments, and why we believe that only men should hold the office of pastor. We talked about gender roles, and why we believe the distinction is necessary. This was a particularly difficult part of our conversations, as Emily’s mother is very much the dominant personality on most issues, and a product of the feminist movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s. There were times when I could see her tense and even a bit of anger start to rise up. But we persevered.

We kept our comments clear. We avoided rabbit trails and most importantly, we kept Jesus central.

Honestly, I don’t know what the results of this will be. I’m hoping that it will lead to more conversations. For now, that would be enough for me.

I am grateful to God that this opportunity was not wasted.

May He use it as He wills.

The Mini-Holiday Begins!

We’re heading to Grand Bend for a couple of days today, which will be very exciting. I’m trying to learn how to Sabbath, because this is one of my great sins; I simply do not know how to just chill out.

So if the weather is good, I’ll be sitting near the beach in my jeans and sneakers and reading Don’t Waste Your Life and probably a couple other books (I’m a fast reader), and playing with Abigail while she joyfully screams, “Look at me, Daddy!”

No email to check. No phone to answer.

It should be awesome.

A Great End to a So-So Day

Today was, in large part, a day I’d like to forget altogether. But there’s something about spending some time playing with my little girl that’s refreshing. It’s amazing what a few minutes of fun can do.

Praise God for toddlers who want to do nothing more than “Daddy run!”

aaron-abigail