Jealous for Joy
September 30, 2008 | My Jottings
I know there is a big difference between happiness and joy. Like anyone else I yearn to be happy, but I’m also aware that happiness is rather shallow and fleeting compared to deep and abiding joy. The harder life gets, the more I am jealous for joy.
I used to have this drawn into the inside cover of my Bible when I was a teen:
I know that some of what I write might be easily misconstrued – I certainly don’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves and should instead run ourselves ragged tending to others’ needs and not to the needs of our own families. I am just beginning to more firmly believe that there is rest and joy in the prescription Jesus gave us in Matthew 6:33.
I know we are seeing the me-first, me-wonderful, me-deserve-it, me-want-it-now generation, but I can speak from experience that self-focus and getting everything you want doesn’t bring true joy. Walking with Christ brings joy. Trusting His purposes brings joy. Hearing Him speak directly to your heart through His Word brings joy.
I don’t experience as much joy as I would like. I do all sorts of things that rob my life of joy (worry being one), but I’m learning. It’s a tall order for a control freak to let go and surrender, but the more I know of Him, the easier it is to relinquish my life and loves to Him.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes on joy.
We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world. Helen Keller
Joy is an inward singing that cannot be silenced by outward negative circumstances. Yes, even when life is seemingly falling apart. Robert D. Foster
Joy is the standard that flies on the battlements of the heart when the King is in residence. R. Leonard Small
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for He comes, He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His truth. Psalm 96:11 – 13
These are some trees in our backyard forest that have recently begun to sing for joy:
And here is the the Hallelujah Chorus warming up right outside our kitchen window:
I believe one day we’ll see that most of God’s creation speaks to Him and of Him at all times. Today as I think on how much I want joy to be the undercurrent of my life, our trees remind me to rejoice.
If trees can sing for joy, so can I.
September 27, 2008 | My Joys
If you don’t know Ginny, you are really missing out. She and I have been friends for about eleven years now, but it seems like we’ve known each other since first grade. Sometimes it feels like we were twins separated at birth and then returned to each other’s lives as middle-aged women.
She’s the first to admit that she’s a sanguine party animal by nature, and I believe everyone always has a great time with Ginny. But she’s also quick to remind her friends that “this ain’t the party”, helping us to look past our current hard times and to never forget that untold joys await on the other side.
Ginny is one of the first people I go to if I need prayer. I always know Ginny will pray. And keep praying. I cherish this about her.
If you meet Ginny and become even slightly acquainted with her, she will very quickly christen you with a nickname. Sometimes the nicknames make sense: she calls my husband Michael “Mickey”, and she calls me “Jewel”. I like that. She calls my youngest daughter Sara “Bubba”. Now Sara no more looks like a Bubba than Queen Elizabeth does, but because Ginny says it with such fondness, somehow it just seems right.
Ginny’s passion, I think, lies in the word connection. She’s someone who has a passion to see people connect with each other and with God – she wants people to feel welcomed, included and loved right away, and no one else makes that happen quite like Virginia Kay. She would eradicate loneliness from the face of the earth today if she had the power to do so, and sometimes I think she just might.
She likes to connect with her friends on a deep, sharing level. She cares, she calls, she listens, she laughs, she prays out loud for me and makes me feel loved. She knows how to put people in touch with whatever it is they need, whether it’s a wallpaper hanger, a restaurant, a blazer that’s 32 inches long, or Almighty God Himself.
She has nurtured women young and old in the faith for years. She says she can’t bake and can barely cook, yet each time she invites me for a meal I end up salivating all over the table and begging for the recipe. She loves the “type and shadow” found in the Bible and her huge eyes fill with tears when she learns a new truth. Ginny and I were in a book club together for ten years. We go to the same church. We have husbands with similar interests, primarily food and guns fishing and travel. We love attending Community Bible Study together. And we are very partial to our Danskos.
Ginny has never chosen to have children of her own. I once asked her why and she cracked me up by responding, “I didn’t have kids because I didn’t want to wreck anyone – I was pretty sure mine would end up being the ones who sit on the tops of buildings with rifles in their hands.” Yet she is the most maternal, wise, insightful, nurturing woman you could meet. I recently heard this phrase and it so applies to Ginny: that girl could mother a fencepost.
For my last birthday she took the time to write out fifty of our memories, on fifty small strips of paper. I cried fifty tears and thanked God fifty times for a “jewel” of a friend like her.
Meet Ginny. If you don’t know her yet, you should. Your nickname awaits you.
September 26, 2008 | My Jottings
The house I have lived in longer than any other house will go on the market tomorrow. We moved out of it in March of this year and have been slowly getting it ready to sell for a while. It needed some paint touch-ups and Michael decided to sheet rock closets and paint the basement walls and floor too. Now in the current economic crisis, it seems like it will take a miracle to sell our beloved old house.
My mom was a compulsive mover, and I am not. I am a compulsive stayer. My mom lived in thirty-seven homes in her lifetime, always looking for a place that would make her happy. I, on the other hand, always feel that change will ruin things, and that if I could only stay put I would be content. Nevertheless we finally moved to a different house three miles away, and each day the new place is beginning to feel a little more like home.
I lived in my first house from birth to age three. The next one was from my third until my fifteenth year. Then my mom and I lived six months in an apartment. Then one year in a house. Then one year in another house, when my Grandma moved in with us. Then one year in another house, after Grandma decided to move back to Kansas City. Then at age eighteen I got married and lived for six months in a three room trailer on the banks of Yuba River in Smartville, CA. Then we lived for two years in base housing at Beale AFB, then on to Germany we went, where we lived almost two years in two houses. At age twenty-two I found myself divorced, and my two little girls and I returned to Southern California where we lived in three places in two years. When I was nearly twenty-four years old I married Michael, a native Minnesotan, and moved to American Siberia. Our first house was a cute rental and we were there three years. Then we bought our own home in a quiet neighborhood not far from Lake Superior – a dumpy Victorian, built in 1895, with good bones and lots of potential, and we stayed for just under twenty-four years. I lived in that old house from age twenty-seven until I was fifty years old.
I cried on the day we moved in to that place because it needed so much work and I had no vision. “I can make this a nice home”, Michael assured me. “Tell me what you don’t like and I’ll change it.” And over the course of that twenty-four years, my talented and hard-working husband tore down every bit of old plaster and lathe, and sheet rocked and taped every wall and ceiling. He tore down walls, made two smaller rooms into a huge kitchen. He replaced all windows but one. He put a two bedroom addition on the house. He built a half bath on the main floor. He enlarged the full bath on the second floor. He roofed the house, he sided it. He installed soffit and fascia. He put up crown moulding. He jacked up the two-car garage and tore out the old slab, pouring a new slab and extending the garage to hold four cars (or actually, two cars and all his boy-toys and other stuff). He built two decks. He did so much more than I am listing here. He transformed that raggedy old first house into a place I truly loved, a place where we raised daughters, had our first, second, third and fourth dogs, held Bible studies and welcomed friends for dinner, laughed and cried and rested and home schooled and dreamed and prayed and hoped and lived.
And now the for sale sign will go up in the front yard tomorrow. Today I spent a few hours at the old house getting it in ready-to-show condition, doing the final paint touch ups, cleaning the bathrooms and scrubbing the floors, snipping off the stalks of the old hosta blooms in the yard, and carting out the final few odds and ends still there. It felt like such a momentous closure to lock the door and drive away.
The twenty-four years we spent in that charming house with the round window on the third story, were years that shaped my life in ways I’ll never forget. Thank you, Lord, for all that you blessed us with there, all you helped us with. Thank you for giving us a home.
The Key to Something
September 24, 2008 | My Jottings
I just read a book I loved called Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. It’s a series of topical essays by a very funny, candid Christian man whose political beliefs are not my own, but that doesn’t matter to me. I laughed out loud and cried a lot while reading this book, and one section moved me so profoundly I knew I wanted to share about it. I was going to actually quote one paragraph from the book, and naturally give credit to Donald Miller, but when I emailed Thomas Nelson Publishers just to make sure I was doing it right, they promptly wrote back and said I couldn’t quote the paragraph at all. Even though it would have been a glowing blog post, I can’t quote it word for word. So that means I have to convey what the paragraph in the book said, using my own words to retell it, and, loquacious person that I am, it might not be as concise. But it’s worth the telling, I think.
Apparently a friend of Donald Miller’s, a man named Alan, decided to go around the country and interview the heads of big ministries, to find out why they were doing what they were doing, and what made their ministries so successful. This didn’t sound very interesting to the author of Blue Like Jazz until his friend started talking about the part where he sat down with Dr. Bill Bright, former head of Campus Crusade for Christ. Alan said that Dr. Bright met with him to answer questions, and always looked him in the eye when he responded. At the end of the interview, Alan concluded by asking him, “What does Jesus mean to you?” And he said that this large, powerful man who sat behind a large desk as the founding president of a huge and effective ministry, couldn’t answer. Dr. Bright’s eyes filled up with tears and he began to cry.
Donald Miller was deeply moved that someone would love Jesus so much, that just to hear the mention of His name would make him weep. He wondered if Dr. Bright was either a fruit nut or someone who knew Jesus so well that it was all he could do to keep it together when he thought of what Christ meant to him.
Donald Miller wrote that he would like to love Jesus like that too. He mused that knowing Jesus so intimately and loving Him so utterly might just be the key to something.
I can’t get this out of my mind.
September 23, 2008 | My Joys
This is my dear friend Carey. She and I met about 24 years ago at a young couples’ small group gathering through our church. We were in our twenties then and still pretty naive about so many things. Now we are middle-aged and hopefully a little wiser. We giggle about how in another 24 years we’ll be clacking our dentures and cackling together on the phone like we always have. Cackling and clacking. We won’t look as cute if we cackle and clack, but the love will still be there.
Carey and I have seen each other through a lot in life. Or you might say that we have clung to our friendship while we’ve waited and watched for Jesus to see us through. We have cried to each other too many times to count, carried one another’s burdens as the scriptures encourage sisters in the Lord to do, and laughed and lunched and longed for higher things together.
My husband and I were eating dinner with family the night we got the horrible call that Carey’s husband Gary had died suddenly at age 26. I spoke at Gary’s funeral and wondered how God would show Himself to a young widow who had experienced less than two years of marriage. Then God brought new love to her life, and I rejoiced when she and David were married. I also remember the phone ringing in the night and Carey’s soft voice saying, “We have a girl!” Now that little babe is doing wonderfully in college. I will never forget the night their third child was born. I went down to the hospital to be with their two sleeping young daughters, while she and David waited to welcome their son. I couldn’t help bursting into tears when I heard his healthy cry, and when I drove home I pondered: death, life, tears and tragedy, health and happiness. I’m so glad God gives us friendships to help us hurt and to help us celebrate. Carey has certainly done this in my life.
Carey isn’t just a loyal friend. She is a real-life version of Wonder Woman, if you ask me. There are so many things she does well it’s astounding. She can cook and bake delectable meals and treats, and the desserts she makes look like they’re off the cover of Bon Appetit. She can expertly fish for walleye, bring down a deer with an accurate shot, then gut it with a knife. She can butcher the deer and then make her own sausage from the meat. She can properly tear apart an outdated room in an old house all by herself. She can install ceramic tile. Carey can sew beautifully, and used to have a business doing just that. Then she started making the most unique and gorgeous dried florals, and couldn’t keep up with the demand. Today she makes jewelry and when she eventually has the website I think she needs, I’ll update this post and you can see her gorgeous creations. She can read a how-to manual on just about anything and then do the job well. She handily changed a flat tire for me once. She has sewn incredible Halloween costumes. She sacrificially and cheerfully did all the flowers for the wedding of one of our daughters. She can pour concrete and she can create a breathtaking English flower garden. She can canoe, portage and set up camp in the Boundary Waters and she can put on a fabulous English tea. But even though she’s strong and can meet a physical challenge, she’s very feminine, tender, beautiful and kind.
Carey is smart, too. Really smart. She has two college degrees and could probably get a third while building a garage, altering a wardrobe and feeding the multitudes. But she wouldn’t like me telling you that, because she’s humble. She has a quiet servant’s heart that always wants to make people feel cared for, listened to, and helped in a practical way. Not too long ago she came to my house and helped me put a bed together, move some furniture around, prime the kitchen walls, and fold some clothes. She made me feel like this was no big deal to her, yet it meant so much to me.
We were in a book club together for a decade. We have read and discussed and recommended books to each other time and again. I can imagine we’ll be talking books while we’re clacking and cackling. We’ve even talked about visiting some of the places we’ve read about. Our most recent travel dream is the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. Up until now the farthest we’ve gone together is Minneapolis, but we had so much fun on that trip I think we could handle Guernsey someday.
One special memory is when we met for a movie one evening – a film about chocolate. Or maybe it was just a movie about life, with lots of chocolate thrown in, which isn’t that far from the truth of our own lives, actually. Carey and I couldn’t simply sit there and enjoy the movie together. We hunkered down in the theater seats and ate huge, freshly baked and still warm, gooey, appropriately chocolate cookies as we watched, and washed them down with jars of cold, smuggled-in milk.
We know what brings joy to each others’ hearts. We well understand what brings pain and fear. But we also know how to point each other back to the Lord, and that is what I cherish about our friendship.
Carey and I have been in many Bible studies together, marking each summer with a different Beth Moore study, and each fall, winter and spring we attend Community Bible Study. We have learned so much about God and His goodness together, talking things out and praying for each other. I think that’s the main thing that comes to mind as I think over the years we’ve been friends – God has grown us up together, in Him. He has instructed us about life and eternity, and about His inscrutable ways; He has shown us what we can live through as we walk with Him, and in His kindness He has given us our friendship, which is truly rooted in Christ.
After all these years she still warmly says to me, “Julie, it’s so good to hear your voice.” I feel the same way about her.
I want you to get to know Carey. It’s so good to have her as a friend.
The Full English
September 20, 2008 | My Jottings
This is a typical breakfast at any inn or bed and breakfast in Great Britain. We ate approximately 10 of these when Michael and I traveled to Ireland, Scotland and England in January of 2007. There is bacon, ham with thick white fat around the edges, a very moist mound of unsalted scrambled eggs, a grilled toe-mah-toe, a deep-fried triangle of bread, a giant sausage, and the black blob in the middle of the plate is Yorkshire pudding. Missing from this particular meal at The Nag’s Head Inn in Pickhill, Yorkshire, England, were the grilled mushrooms and the bland beans that were served with breakfast everywhere else we stayed. Toast is always served cold in little racks (see top of photo), and there was usually yogurt, fruit and occasionally cereal if we wanted (we didn’t). Don’t forget the porridge (oatmeal in the little covered white bowls), the ubiquitous Typhoo tea, orange juice and coffee. We drove a leisurely 1004 miles in 10 days in a rented Vauxhall Vectra and had some memorable adventures. But because we were almost daily served a Full English breakfast, we were never hungry enough to stop for lunch.
He doesn’t say so, but I think Michael would like me to make him a Full English breakfast every morning (without the tomato). I’m not planning to do this anytime soon, because I love him and would like him around for as long as possible.
Eternity in our hearts
September 13, 2008 | My Jottings
I remember getting up to go to the bathroom right before dawn about a year ago. The reason I remember this particular morning is because as I was sitting there in the dark, looking out of the bathroom window toward the eastern sky, I saw a very bright light. Everything is a blur without my glasses, so I thought it was a large plane, close to flying over my house on its way to the airport. I waited for the plane to come closer so I could hear it go by, but it stayed put and I never heard a sound. The light was huge and low in the sky, so I retrieved my glasses and went again to the bathroom window, where I could then clearly see that it was a star or a planet like I’d never observed before. I went downstairs to look up online what I was seeing, and learned it was the planet Venus, at least 26 million miles from us. Standing there at five in the morning and gazing at this heavenly sphere, my thoughts turned to God. And I felt something I’ve been experiencing more often as I get older: a longing, a difficult-to-describe yearning, an intangible ache that comes in an instant, like a stab, and then it’s gone.
There are other things that have brought on this longing, and I wonder if any of you will relate.
Certain music, with haunting melodies, brings a subtle yearning. Wind chimes barely touching in the breeze. The way some authors can put words together has made me feel that pang. Brilliant autumn leaves. God’s Word, prayerfully and humbly read. Looking at the night sky and meditating on its vastness, and knowing God is so much bigger.
My grandchildren often evoke an indescribable sweet ache in my heart. It feels like wonderful joy, and it feels like pain.
When my husband and I visited Scotland a while back, the ancient heather hills and the lonely sound of bagpipes seemed to call to something deep inside me; I wanted to fall to my knees and weep, but I didn’t know why.
One characteristic about the fleeting sense of these longings, is that you can’t duplicate them if you try. Maybe tomorrow the same drive up the shore of Lake Superior or the same view of Venus won’t bring that same feeling back.
Have you ever longed for something, for someone at times, and you can’t quite put your finger on what you’re yearning for, and then it’s gone? Do you sometimes grow restless even when everything is going well? Do you ever get the sense that something you’re hearing, something you’re observing, has a meaning much bigger than the moment, but you can’t say exactly what it is? You’re not alone. And if you’re a Christian – if you have surrendered your life to Jesus – I believe that ache, that longing, has been put there by God. It’s a reminder from Him to us, that this earthly life isn’t all there is.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
My Bible notes on this say “this verse means we can never be completely satisfied with earthly pleasures or pursuits”.
He has set eternity in our hearts. There’s something always there, something that feels like we’re being strummed by a huge, unseen hand, some sort of chord that’s being struck in our souls. Like a distant bell is being sounded, and a tiny bell in our own soul answers. At times it’s a thrill, and often it’s a little painful.
Sometimes it’s the passage of time that makes us aware of this pang. We run into an old acquaintance after ten years and are shocked that her children are ten years older and that her hair has begun to turn grey. How did this happen? Why are we surprised at time and why do we feel that longing as the years go quickly by? Could it be because we are eternal beings temporarily confined by time?
C.S. Lewis describes this phenomenon in one of my favorite quotes:
“If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it you don’t feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. (‘How time flies! Fancy John being grown up and married! I can hardly believe it!’) In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something about us that is not temporal.”
I’m convinced that some people feel this longing deeply, but try to quiet it or squash it because it can be uncomfortable. I think I’ve tried to silence this vague yearning or to fill it in ways that have not served me well. Some might choose alcohol or busyness or spending money or control to silence this longing we all feel. Or we might pressure our friends or spouses to fill that yearning in us, which of course is futile, because a human or a substance or an activity can’t ease a yearning that God has put in us to remind us that we’re pilgrims here, only passing through.
Psalm 63:1: O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
I think our whole beings long for what only He can give us. Even when God has lavished us with kindness and blessings untold, deep inside we know there’s more. And we long for it. Even those who haven’t acknowledged God, have felt this yearning and can’t identify what, exactly, they’re aching for.
My husband and I bought a new house recently, and I have endeavored to pick just the right paint colors for the kitchen, three of the bathrooms, five of the bedrooms, the living room, the garage door, the laundry area, the office and even the outside shutters. Many times I spread out the entire fan of several hundreds of paint chip colors and still thought to myself, “This can’t be all the colors there are – there have to be more colors than this! I just can’t find the colors I want.” And then this verse from 1 Corinthians 2:9 came to mind:
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
I believe there are colors in heaven that we don’t have here – colors no eye has yet seen. I think there will be musical notes and sounds in heaven that we don’t have here – songs no ear has yet heard.
And once in a while, God seems to part a veil to give us a momentary glimpse of those beauties and joys that await. And then in a flash it’s gone. And we feel that longing, that yearning, that deep ache.
He’s a loving and generous God, and when we consider His creation and His Son, we can know this about Him: He loves beauty, and He is generous and patient and merciful. But in His wisdom, I don’t believe He allows us to be completely satisfied here on earth. He gives us just enough of what we need to learn to love Him and depend on Him while we’re here, but He often gives us those transient glimpses of eternity to help us to set our hearts on minds on Him, not on the things of this earth.
While He’s pouring out His abundance and help and correction and grace and instruction on us here, He frequently reminds us of what is yet to come. While we can have His peace through Jesus now, deeper peace is coming, and while we can know His joy today, more joy is around that eternal corner. We live in mere shadows of what will someday be true and glorious substance.
So even though I still sometimes sob when that veil is pulled back and I sense that horribly wonderful and ephemeral ache, I’m beginning to rest more in what I believe it is. I will never be truly at home here. My Lord is good to remind me of that. He helps me to live in this very beautiful and painful place, and lifts my chin now and then and whispers to me of the Place where all boredom, confusion and pain will forever cease, and my longings and yearnings will be completely fulfilled.
September 12, 2008 | My Jottings
Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
Psalm 42:11 (NIV)
Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God—
soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face.
He’s my God.
Psalm 42:11 (The Message)
Let him eat cake!
September 10, 2008 | My Jottings
Today my friend Carey took me out to lunch. And gave me some beautiful, elegant earrings that she made herself. And gave me a book she loved, which means I will love it. And a card that made me laugh, which assured me that if Carey ever got caught at the dry cleaners wearing a giant chicken costume and had to run into someone she knew there, she would want it to be me. That’s how close she feels to me. And since one of Carey’s many gifts is baking, she brought me an entire Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cake with a ganache frosting. With fresh raspberries on top, and mint leaves picked from her own garden.
When I brought home my whole Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cake with a ganache frosting and raspberries and mint leaves, my husband Michael took one look and started salivating. So I decided to let him have the first piece. I sliced it for him and watched him enjoy it with a glass of cold milk and half closed eyes.
After dinner we each had a piece, and there were moans all around.
A Cardinal Story
September 9, 2008 | My Jottings
Once upon a time there was a family who lived in the woods. They were the Buehler family. Herr Buehler was a woodsman, and he worked hard from sunup until sundown cutting down trees in the thick forest and then lovingly and painstakingly fashioning the lumber into beautiful pieces of furniture for the village people to buy.
Frau Buehler liked to be at home, and she kept busy baking bread for her family and knitting wool mittens and socks to sell, to help keep broth and bread on the table. Herr Buehler was responsible for keeping meat on the table – sometimes while working in the woods he would shoot a large buck and thank God for the provision to feed his family.
The Buehlers had three sons: Wilhelm, Dietmar and Jakob. Frau Buehler taught her sons how to read, and when winter came to the forest many nights found the family sitting in front of the blazing hearth reading books aloud, including the Good Book. Wilhelm grew into a tall young man, married a village girl and they started a family of their own in a city three days’ journey from their home in the woods. Dietmar loved music and had spent many hours yodeling to the sky as he did his chores and dreamed of singing in the Munich opera. Young Jakob had a tender heart and loved to stay close to his mother’s apron as she baked and knitted and read aloud. Jakob also loved animals and happily tended the Buehlers’ two sheep, milk cow and dog, whom he considered his dearest friends. He often confided in them after his brothers had grown up and moved away.
Years passed, and all the sons grew up and lived their own lives away from the cottage in the woods. Herr and Frau Buehler were content, but lonesome for their children. They did see their young men and their families once or twice a year, but they both longed for the days when things had been simpler and all five of them had lived under one roof.
No longer vigorous and spry, the Buehlers spent quiet times reading by the fire, lifting their sons in prayer before the Author of the Good Book, and watching the life and beauty of the woods outside their windows. Herr Buehler spent less time in the woods and began whittling to keep Frau Buehler company as she knitted.
Frau Buehler began to see that the worries of the world were pressing down upon her beloved children, and her times of knitting were often spent talking to the Author of the Good Book, asking for His help and blessing on her sons. Sometimes she could feel the weight of the oppression on her children so deeply she would sit by the parlor window, looking out on the snowy woods, and weep for her sons. Jakob, in particular, was on Frau Buehler’s heart. Jakob had experienced deep pain and disappointment in his young life and the guardedness and suspicion Frau Buehler saw on his face deeply troubled her soul. Jakob had been a sensitive and trusting little boy, but now the big city and the snares of the enemy had changed him. He had a dark and sad look to his eyes, and he often moved and spoke as if all hope had departed from him.
Sometimes at night as Herr Buehler snored under the coverlet beside her, Frau Buehler would look out of the window from her down-filled pillow, and count the stars. She was reminded how immense the Maker of those stars must be in order to hold them in the palm of His hand, and when she would cry out to Him, her heart would be calmed.
But sometimes peace and calm wouldn’t come to Frau Buehler’s soul. She didn’t understand why this was. She would sit by the parlor window and knit. She and Herr Buehler would look deep into each others’ eyes and know what the other was thinking. She could almost hear her dear husband say through that gaze, “Ahh, mein Greta, look to your Maker – He will help you to know that all will be well. The One who spoke and named the stars also made our sons.” She took comfort from her husband’s strength.
One clear morning Frau Buehler timidly asked the Maker of her sons for a sign. She wanted Him to reassure her that Herr Buehler was right, that all would someday be well with her sons Wilhelm, Dietmar, and especially Jakob. Jakob had wandered far from the path his parents had set for him. She felt foolish asking for such a thing, but after thinking a long while about what kind of a sign to ask for, Frau Buehler asked the Creator of the woods and wildlife to send a bright red cardinal to her, to let her know that He was at work in her children. In all the years the Buehlers had lived in the Black Forest, they had seen many forms of wildlife and dozens of different feathered creatures, but never had they seen a cardinal. She humbly bowed her head and said, “Good Father in heaven, bring a cardinal to my window as I’m knitting here, to show me all will be well with my Jakob. And I will thank you for caring for us and our boys.”
Day after day Frau Buehler knitted away, tending to her home, baking their bread, mending their clothes, writing letters to her sons, happily chasing her grandbabies when they came for their occasional visits. Day after day she would look out of her parlor window at the trees outside, at the snowy ground or the soft green needle-packed floor of the forest, and she would watch. Many birds came, as they always did, but never a cardinal. Orioles, chickadees, sparrows, came. Wrens, juncos, and even crows. Herr Buehler enjoyed the birds himself, and would sit at the close of a day and whittle as Frau Buehler’s knitting needles clicked and the fire crackled. Frau Buehler had told no one of her prayer to the Creator for a cardinal. Not even her good husband.
Many months after she made her request, Frau Buehler looked up one day to see her husband outside the parlor window, hanging something on one of the low-hanging branches of the huge, ancient pines outside their forest cottage. When he stepped away from the tree, she saw it was a wooden bird-feeder he had made himself. Her heart beat a little faster. “Why is my Peter hanging a bird-feeder outside our parlor window?” She knew it must have been the Author of the Good Book speaking to her husband’s heart, even though he wasn’t aware of the prayer his wife had prayed. Frau Buehler’s eyes filled with tears and she whispered, “O Good Father – you are moving the hands and feet of my husband and he is not even aware. But I am, and I thank you.
Time passed, and the Buehlers enjoyed their quiet life in the woods, and day by day their bodies grew slower and their movements more intentional. One snowy afternoon as Frau Buehler sat knitting by the window, a brilliant blue jay swooped down to the feeder. She watched delightedly as it cocked its head and jerkily ate the seed that Herr Buehler placed there each time the feeder needed replenishing. “That is a beautiful little fellow, Good Father, but he is the wrong color! I’m waiting for my red cardinal.”
A few months later Frau Buehler turned from the stove after stirring the soup and her eye caught movement outside the parlor window. There was her dear husband again, this time hanging another bird-feeder in the lower branches of a massive pine next to the tree from which the first feeder still hung. Two bird-feeders now, and Frau Buehler still hadn’t told anyone of her unusual request to the Creator. When Herr Buehler came inside, stomping the snow from his boots, she asked him “Peter, why have you hung another bird-feeder outside our parlor window?” Herr Buehler shrugged and answered, “I so enjoy these little feathered creatures, Greta”. And that was that.
Once again Frau Buehler thought to herself, “Heavenly Father, I do not know if you will ever bring a cardinal to my window, but I can see that you do move in the hearts of men. Help me to trust you with my Jakob.”
It is not certain how much time passed, but it was a good long time. Perhaps it was even years. Day after day many varieties of birds visited those two bird-feeders outside the parlor window of the Buehler cottage in the Black Forest of Bavaria. Blue, black, brown, yellow, orange, and grey birds. But so far never a red bird.
One morning when the sun was not completely up and the light from the sky was still a deep periwinkle, Frau Buehler got out of bed and went to the window, still in her nightdress. She sighed and lowered herself into her chair, and a tiny flash of red caught her eye. As she gazed out of the window with her knitting in her lap, she saw him. A bright, cheerful, red cardinal, all alone, perched on one of the bird-feeders, cocking his head this way and that. Frau Buehler didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, or fall down on her knees. She kept very still, and watched the cardinal, the first cardinal ever to come to their woods, much less to their home. Mr. Cardinal lightly dropped to the ground and ate some of the fallen seed there. He bounced along, sampling the black seeds Herr Buehler had faithfully placed there for years, not knowing he was being moved upon by the Author of the Good Book and the Creator of all life to do so. The little bird then flew to the low branches of another tree, and seemed to watch Frau Buehler as she sat very still in the parlor window. He was in full view for about five minutes, and then with one look over his little bird shoulder he chirped his friendly cardinal song and flew off into the forest.
Frau Buehler sat still in her rocking chair for quite some time, hands motionless on her yarn and needles. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she thanked the Good Father for the gift of the cardinal, and pondered what a kind and compassionate God He must be to cause a little red bird to fly from unknown parts of the forest to her parlor window, just to encourage her heart and give her hope.
She thought of Jakob, and somehow knew that this gift from the Good Father didn’t necessarily mean that all of Jakob’s troubles would be over in a moment, but Frau Buehler felt calmly reassured that the Lord of Life would keep His strong, tender, reliable right hand on her son, to draw him to Himself and bring him through whatever would come in the future.
When she heard the bed creak and knew her dear husband would soon be joining her for their morning coffee at the window, she prepared her words for the story she would tell Peter about the prayer she had prayed, and the cardinal that was the answer to that prayer. She knew her tender-hearted husband would cry when he heard it, not because he too had been filled with care and tossed by worry, but because he trusted the Good Father and was always overwhelmed and thankful when he witnessed others learning to trust Him too.