29 Things I Love About Michael

December 14, 2018 | My Jottings

I wrote this about Michael years ago, but it still brings me such happiness to think of him. He went to be with the Lord on February 9, 2015, and I will miss him forever…or at least until I see him again.

Our next wedding anniversary will be our thirtieth, and we’re looking forward to celebrating with a trip to the UK later this year. Today I want to share a few things I love about my husband in honor of our most recent anniversary.

I love:

1.  his one-of-a-kind smile

2.  the way he compliments my cooking (last night as he was eating my homemade spaghetti sauce he said, “Wonderful! Awesome! You could sell this on a corner somewhere!”)

3.  his patience

4.  his ability to say he’s sorry

5.  the way he’s not afraid to cry

6.  when he once forgot I was taking a friend to the airport for an early morning flight and searched the whole house for me, including under all the beds

7.  the way he has such a soft spot in his heart for dogs, and croons to our schnauzers as they gaze at him adoringly

8.  his faithfulness to me for 29 years

9.  his muscular V-shaped back

10.  his quirkiness

11.  the way he endures his Parkinson’s with grace and humility

12.  his desire to give to others

13.  the way he willingly scratches the ridges in my ankles left by my SmartWool socks

14.  the way he will dance a jerky little jig if anyone asks him to

15.  how much loved he is by his friends

16.  his big, kind eyes

17.  his flexibility in scheduling

18.  the way he rubs my right hand when we’re traveling to the Cities and I’m driving with my left

19.  his expertise and hard work that made our house of 24 years a cherished haven

20.  his love for adventure and travel

21.  the way he kneels with me to pray for our children, and puts his arm around my shoulders

22.  his rock-solid faith in Jesus

23.  how he tells me he thinks my rear end is getting smaller when it’s not

24.  how he makes me feel young and pretty even when I see old and frumpy in the mirror

25.  how he would never, ever leave

26.  his call to me to come and read the Bible with him in the morning

27.  how he thinks our daughters are the finest young women to ever walk the earth

28.  the way he kisses my cheek when we’re standing in line at the grocery store

29.  his unwavering certainty that God is at work and will bring good from any difficult circumstances our loved ones are experiencing, and the way he keeps reminding me of it…

He is God’s gift to me.

Muskrat Love

December 12, 2018 | My Jottings

A repost. This happened years ago, but the memory of this evening still makes me giggle.

Earlier this week it rained and the temperatures dropped. The wind blew and a hint of winter was in the air. Michael had been outside and he came in to tell me that there was a critter in the front yard, over by the neighbor’s fence. I asked him what kind of animal it was and he said a muskrat. A muskrat? I thought. In our front yard? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a muskrat before and wouldn’t know one even from a photo.

I followed Michael outside into the cold drizzle and this is what he showed me:

Do you see the round furriness and the long, hairless tail? (You can click on the photos to enlarge them.) As we approached I thought it looked like a beaver, but once I saw the tail I knew it wasn’t. At this point we thought this little beast was just resting near the fence and we didn’t want to get near her because we figured she could viciously attack us at the speed of light and permanently disfigure our faces. So we backed off. She was calmly sniffing the air and sitting in the rain and I wondered where she had come from, and what she was. Michael left to run his errand and I went back inside to check online to see what I could learn. Sure enough, not a woodchuck (which was another thought we had), but a Minnesota Muskrat. They swim in lakes and ponds, and they dig and they make messes of people’s yards. They are also known to be carriers of rabies and leptospirosis.

Michael returned a little while later and came in to tell me she was still there. So back out we went into the rain, and it was then we saw her wriggling, and we could now tell she wasn’t resting near the fence, she was stuck in the fence. Apparently she had tried to squeeze herself through, gotten the front half of her thick-furred body through one of the square holes of the chain link fence, but couldn’t get the back half through. We bent over and talked to her and clapped our hands and said in high-pitched voices, “Come on, you can do it!” to give her a bit of friendly encouragement to try again, but she wasn’t having it. She began to look tired and she closed her eyes.

I did not like this one bit. A large rodent was painfully stuck in a fence bordering our yard, and if we didn’t do something, she would die there. In the cold and rain. And away from her family and the soothing warmth of her cheerily blazing hearth.

“She’s going to die here!” I said to Michael. “What can we do?”

Please forgive my husband for what he said next. He grew up in Minnesota where he has hunted and fished since he was a little boy. It’s the culture here.

Michael responded helpfully, “We could kill her.”

I cringed. “How?” I asked timidly.

“Hit her over the head.”

Oh, no, we don’t, I thought. Not on my watch. I’m not a fan of anything that ruins yards and spreads diseases, but seeing her stuck so tightly in that tiny square of wire made me feel strange twinges of compassion for this little animal, and we were not going to kill her. Moths? Smash ’em. Mosquitoes? Whack! Flies? Swat them dead! But Minnesota Muskrats? No killing.

What were we going to do with her, then? Well, if you are Michael and Julie, you spend thirty minutes in the rain, going back and forth with various unlikely implements, trying to help the poor muskrat get free.

First, I took a shiny yellow gardening boot that belongs to our daughter Sara. I grabbed it because I was looking for something to prod the muskrat’s rear end with, something not too sharp to cause more pain than she was already in. So I let myself in the neighbor’s back yard through their gate, and cautiously proceeded (in my slippers, in the rain) to the trapped muskrat. I inserted my hand into the boot and used the toe to gently prod and push her rump, to help her squeeze through the fence. She turned in a flash of fur and tried to bite me, but of course she couldn’t because she was stuck, and I was on one side of the fence and her little yellow beaver-like teeth were on the other. The other defensive thing she kept doing was swatting both her front paws quickly down on the ground in front of her. I kept gently prodding with the yellow boot, but I could feel that this little muskrat was really, really wedged in tight. And her hind quarters had begun to swell. Oh dear! I thought. What are we going to do?

Back into the garage. This time Michael found a large pronged garden hoe. He carefully placed the prongs under the upper part of the wire square she was stuck in, hoping to pull upward to bend it slightly enough to release her. This was a strong fence. He pulled, I pulled, she wriggled, to no avail.

“Do you have any thick gloves?” I asked Michael. He had begun to shiver a bit and our muskrat was looking feeble, closing her eyes. Back into the garage. We looked for gardening gloves and couldn’t find any. So I went into the house and found a pair of my winter leather gloves, and a large pair of Thinsulate mittens. I put them both on my hands and tromped back out into the rain. I went into the neighbor’s yard and bent down to push, but she was so swollen it didn’t work.

Next I came back into our yard and decided to gently pull her out. But that meant dealing with her little yellow teeth. So I crooned to her as I carefully placed the leg of the vinyl yellow gardening boot over her head to keep her from seeing me. She did not appreciate having a yellow gardening boot put on her face. Do you want to know how I knew this? Let’s just say I could tell. She did settle down and once she did, I grasped her front sides and tried to pull her out. I believe she moved forward an inch or two, but she made the most pitiful little muskrat whimpers and I stopped. I tried again, but couldn’t move her any further. She was truly stuck fast.

Michael and I were praying out loud now. “Lord, please help us get her out!” Michael hadn’t really wanted to kill her to be unkind — he was wanting to put her out of her misery. As we worked together to see what we could do for this helpless creature, he kept praying and we kept brainstorming.

“Do you have wire cutters?” I asked. He did. Back into the garage, and he came out and handed me this heavy, long-handled, mammoth tool that I knew I would be unable to use. I tried. I went back into the neighbor’s yard, and from behind I placed the wire cutters on one of the wires that made up the little square she was caught in. I exerted all my strength and could not snap that wire. I was starting to feel very sad. We kept praying.

I came back into our yard and was almost on the verge of tears. It was getting dark and we were expecting company for dinner. I had Chicken Parmesan to finish and Panzanella to toss. I thought I’d try the wire cutters one more time.

As the muskrat sat there looking exhausted, I bent down and placed the cutters on a wire right above her back. “Lord, give me strength!” I said as I squinched my eyes shut and brought those handles together with all my might, and snap! the wire was severed. Wow! Now we brought out the pronged garden hoe again, placed it under the newly cut wire and pulled upward, hoping to bend it enough to enlarge the hole a bit. No good.

I then took the wire cutters and placed them on the other connecting wire above the muskrat’s back. Once again, click! — that wonderful sound, and I had cut right through. Michael gently placed the prongs of the garden hoe under the area where these upper wires of the square had been cut, and pulled upwards, grunting with the effort. The hole was getting bigger! He pulled again — now it was a little larger. I went back to the neighbor’s yard, my slippers completely muddy by now, and used my double-gloved hands to push her rump through the hole.

It worked! She was free. Free to spread rabies, leptospirosis, to make tunneled messes of people’s yards, free to trundle back to Birdinal Creek at the back of our property and do whatever it is muskrats do.

She didn’t run at first. She sat still for a minute, breathing heavily, and we wondered if she had been permanently injured from her ordeal. But soon she started waddling away, toward our back yard and down toward the creek.

“Thank you Lord,” I said with relief, and as we put away our wire cutters, pronged garden hoe and Sara’s shiny yellow boot, we were both smiling and feeling so happy. The dinner got finished and we had an enjoyable evening of nice visiting with our old friends Bob and Linda.

I am a little worried that I’ll have to explain to the neighbor why his fence was cut, but I’ll deal with that when I must.

And to end this little adventure, I leave you with the song that came to mind as Michael and I were working hard to free this little muskrat from her fence trap. I remembered the words from The Captain and Tennille’s song as the rain was soaking us, and I said to myself if this story has a good ending, I’ll find the song online so I can share it on my blog.

Those of you born in the seventies or later may not remember this song, but I have vivid memories of it.

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

I’ve been asking God to increase my capacity to love. I want to love Him above all, and I want to love people better than I do. I know He answers prayers like that.

And maybe while He’s at it, He’s giving me some muskrat love too. 🙂

A Year of Nots

December 10, 2018 | My Jottings

I’m republishing a few posts this month — this one dredges up strong feelings in me.

First grade at Workman Avenue Elementary School was a year of nots for me.

I did not have a really close friend yet, so I spent recess time wandering around deep in my thoughts, talking to myself a little bit.

I did not like most foods, so spent lunch time in the cafeteria hoping others would offer me their peanut butter balls that came in the tiny paper cups. When it was time to go outside for lunch recess, I always took the mashed potatoes and hamburger gravy, peas, and cherry cobbler that I did not eat, walked to the cafeteria garbage can and threw them away. I also did not eat the fish sticks, the pizza, or the spaghetti and meatballs.

It wasn’t a concern because I was not that hungry. Abba Zabbas and cottage cheese were usually waiting at home if I was.

In first grade my hair did not have bangs. My mother always took an uncompromising moral stand against bangs. She believed little girls’ foreheads should be seen and not covered. And the rest of them covered and not seen. 

Consequently, one small drawer in my room was not lacking in a wide variety of plastic headbands.

I did not think I’d better chop off my hair right before picture day, like I did when I was in Kindergarten, here.

At age six, I began to be aware that my parents did not have a solid marriage. I felt this deeply and probably spent a lot of time walking around at recess begging God to please not let them split up.

In Southern California in 1963, I was miserable and petulant if I was not allowed to swim as often as possible.

I was not close to my older brother Steve, who regarded me as a pest he did not want to have around.

I did not see my oldest brother Larry enough, as he was twenty-one when I was six and did not live with us anymore.

I did not miss very many afternoon episodes of Mighty Mouse.

One afternoon during story time on the rug, my teacher Mrs. Weber asked the class if they believed in the devil. I was a Sunday School goin’ girl so said yes, and when I described to her what I thought he might look like, Mrs. Weber laughed and mildly snickered at me. I was a little embarrassed and did not like that. (Mrs. Weber was in her fifties then, so I do not think she’s alive today. I would imagine that no matter what side of the spiritual fence she ever came down on, she is not snickering about that topic now.)

My mother had a friend named Mary Wyles who did not ever miss a Wednesday visit at my house with my mom. They did crafts together and talked over the matters of their hearts.

I had a little red bike with training wheels and did not like it when it was stolen from our garage less than a year after I’d received it for Christmas.

In first grade I had not yet eaten anything green except celery and iceberg lettuce, had not had a nibble of cheese, or a taste of an egg.

When I was in first grade, I did not realize how wonderful it was to have a back yard with two nectarine trees, one apricot tree, one peach tree, one plum tree, and a lemon tree with fruit the size of oranges.

I did not know that two chocolate donuts mushed up in a bowl of whole milk was not a healthy breakfast. And apparently my parents did not realize this either.

I did not realize then how I could have been the poster child for Gummy Bears, but hindsight is everything. (Click on the photo for further confirmation.)

I did not know that twice-yearly trips to Disneyland was not the norm for other little boys and girls of the world.

In 1963 I did not have a clue that I would do better in school the following year.

I did not know that someday I would drink from a water fountain and not have the water run out of my nose.

In first grade I realized my mother had a slightly crippled foot (due to a botched spinal anesthetic), and that was why she sat in the car and did not go into the local Alpha Beta grocery store, and sent me in with a list and a check instead.

There was never a time when Knutsen Cottage Cheese was not on the list.

Right around this time I decided I would like to be a grocery checker (we didn’t call them cashiers) when I grew up, and not a nurse or a teacher after all.

Even at age six, I was not afraid of deep water.

I did not understand puns yet, and had no idea how humorous it was to have a dentist named Dr. Payne.

I did not know a lot of things.

What I also did not know when I was in first grade was that God was really there with me at all times. I did not know yet that He had made me and was going to see me through a lot of things in the coming years. I knew He loved me because my Sunday School teachers told me so, but I did not realize what kind of love and keeping that would turn out to be.

I did not know that He would save my life over and over again, and that He would not ever let me go.

I did not know that no matter how tied up in nots, Jesus can take any life and make His light and presence known in the deepest of darks.

Even today, I sometimes do not remember that this is His promise to His children.

During the year of nots, Jesus was there. He never left me.

He will not leave me now.

And He will not leave you.

Have you called out His name lately?

If not…why not?

Words pack a wallop

December 7, 2018 | My Jottings

This is a repost from years ago… I still need to review these truths.

I’ve said before that while growing up, my favorite thing in the whole world was to swim. I grew up in Southern California, and many families there had built-in swimming pools in their back yards, but my family didn’t have one until I was a teen. During the early years of my life I had to wait to be invited to a friend’s house to swim.

One hot summer day when I was about ten years old, a neighborhood friend named Jackie invited me and my good friend Christy over to enjoy her pool. We did back dives and front flips off the diving board, we turned pale and wrinkled from the chlorinated water, we coughed from the mixture of smog in the air and bleach in our lungs, but I didn’t care – to me it was all a magical concoction of what made a perfect day.

After a couple of hours of fun, I noticed Jackie whispering to Christy, and later found out that she had invited Christy to spend the night at her house, excluding me. I was hurt, but I went home thankful I had been able to swim. Several days later when I was invited to Jackie’s house again, I decided to be bold and ask her why she had asked Christy to spend the night and not me too. Jackie wasn’t an unkind girl, but she was serious and rather forthright for her age. I saw her wince as she considered what to answer me, and these were the words she spoke:  “Julie, you’re dull.”

If ever a word packed a wallop, that one did. Deep inside I thought it might be true – I knew I wasn’t one of those exciting little girls who had swarms of people around her all the time – but I had never heard someone describe me as dull, and as that word reverberated in my head, I began to think of ways to liven myself up, ways to become more exciting or entertaining. I thought I was going to have to tap dance, juggle or tightrope walk in order to keep people from thinking I was dull.

But somehow over the years God kept me from truly attempting to change my personality. He brought other people into my life who liked me the ho-hum way that I was. Nevertheless, that word packed a wallop in my young heart and soul and occasionally I fought the thought that I had to entertain people in order to interest them. When I had matured a bit I was able to let go of that false way of thinking. Lucky for all of my friends that each time we’re together they haven’t been subjected to waving pompoms, trick roller skating, or quickly constructed balloon animals. When I began to understand more about who I am in Christ, the word “dull” gradually lost its power and I could look upon that memory of Jackie with a smile.

Proverbs 18:21 says:  “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

This is a strong verse, but I have seen firsthand how my own words have walloped others, and I have cried bitter tears over careless things that have slipped out of my mouth. I am sick and tired of bringing death with my words, and want to bring life. Even when a negative report is called for, I know it can be brought with words of life.

I read that the average person spends one-fifth of his or her life talking. Are you 50 years old? Quite possibly, you’ve spent ten years talking. If all our words were put into print, the result would be this:  a single day’s words would fill a 50-page book, while in a year’s time the average person’s words would fill 132 books of 200 pages each. Among all those words there are bound to be some spoken in anger, carelessness, or haste, just the very situations Proverbs cautions us against. Someone wrote, “Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

James 3:2-6: We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.

Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

A contemporary example of the tongue being a destroying fire and a deadly poison, is Adolf Hitler. I read that for every word in Hitler’s book Mein Kampf, (which means “My Struggle”) 125 people died during World War II. One hundred twenty-five deaths for every one word. Speech can be a matter of life and death.

In my family during my youth, I saw and experienced the damage that an untamed tongue can inflict on people. There were also many kind, encouraging and life-giving words spoken in our home, but somehow the negative words always seem to pack the biggest wallops, don’t they?

My friend Jackie uttered those walloping words to me over 40 years ago, and I still remember them, but they no longer have any power over me and don’t hurt a bit. In fact, I’m inclined to agree with her. But I don’t feel that need to be someone other than who the Lord created me to be. If I’m not the most sparkling, sanguine person in the room, I’m okay with that. Fuddy-dud works for me. I honestly don’t feel the need to juggle or tap dance or liven myself up anymore. 🙂

These days I’m learning to hearken to the powerful words of Someone Else, and He’s not telling me that I’m dull. (Okay, He’s not telling me I’m scintillating either). His words do pack a great wallop, but for my good and for His glory.

He is telling me that I’m loved with an everlasting love. He’s telling me I’m worth dying for. He’s telling me I need His discipline in my life. He’s telling me I can find all I need at His feet, and that I will never find a friend like Him. He’s telling me that my careless words and many other sins give me a desperate need for a Savior. He’s telling me that He is that Savior.

Could you believe that He’s telling you the very same things?

Truly one of the hardest things in life for me, is to not blurt out a complaint, a worry, or an observation that might be too harsh for the hearer. But I am thankful for opportunities to change.

This morning I woke to find my heart still beating and my lungs drawing breath. That must mean there’s still hope. Like David did, I’m asking the Lord to daily create a clean heart in me, so that the words that are produced there are life-giving words. I want my words to bring warmth and life to my husband, to my children and grandchildren, to my friends, and even to the stranger who crosses my path. I want to speak words that flow out and bring to others encouragement and truth, light and hope. Words that pack a wonderful wallop, and are remembered for years afterward, because they brought life…

The Cardinal Story

December 4, 2018 | My Jottings

This is an old, favorite (autobiographical) blog post I thought I’d repost:

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, and 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.





A Sad Day In Schnauzerville

December 2, 2018 | My Jottings

  1. For the month of December, I will be republishing some of my old posts. Here is one that brings back vivid memories and a smile:


Oh, the shame.

I stared at the envelope we found in our mailbox today and felt a mixture of shock and chagrin. And even though it wasn’t signed, I knew immediately who the note was from.

After the shock and chagrin faded, I felt guilty, and then upset with myself for messing up with our neighbors so soon. We’ve only lived in this house three months, and already we’re getting hate mail. Sort of.

But it’s well-deserved, yes, yes it is. You see, in our other home, we had a huge back yard that sloped down away from our house toward a little woods, with a creek bordering the back of our property. Edith and Mildred, our two Miniature German Schnauzers, would bound outside and run around the back yard, and would usually only bark if they saw wildlife. When they barked I brought them in, but we weren’t so geographically close to neighbors there and I don’t think Edith and Millie were considered neighborhood nuisances. Their barking was infrequent, even though they’re vigilant little hounds who believe their primary reason for living is to alert us when any rogue leaf moves in the breeze.

At the other house, we also had a very large front yard, so even if Edith and Millie were looking out the front window, they weren’t close enough to see all the people walking by, and they certainly didn’t yap at each passing car.

But now they do. And it’s terrible. We love our new house, but our yard is very small, which we welcome at this stage of our lives because it’s a lot less upkeep. But now we have to let our Schnauzers outside via the front door, which takes them into the smallish front yard, where people walking by with their dogs, and neighbors working in their yards are immediately visible. And whenever Edith and Millie see people, they bark. It’s not a warning, threatening bark, because they’re friendly people-dogs and just want to be loved and have fun.

If you’re wondering what our Schnauzers sound like when they bark, this is pretty close. I know it can be irritating — we’re irritated. Whenever they start to bark, one of us goes outside right away to shush them and to bring them inside. But by the time that happens, they’ve gotten a few good shrieky barks in.

Here’s how the American Kennel Club describes the Schnauzer breed:  The Official Standard of the Miniature Schnauzer for the American Kennel Club describes temperament as “alert and spirited, yet obedient to command…friendly, intelligent and willing to please…should never be overaggressive or timid.” Usually easy to train, they tend to be excellent watchdogs with a good territorial instinct, but more inclined toward barking than biting. They are often aloof with strangers until the owners of the home welcome the guest, upon which they are typically very friendly to them. However, they will often express themselves vocally, and may bark to greet their owner, or to express joy, excitement, or displeasure.

Well, our dogs have been, uh, expressing themselves vocally, and because of that, here’s what was in our mailbox today:

I’ll say it again: oh, the shame.

I showed Michael the note and we just looked at each other. Sigh.

I then sat down at the computer, read the reviews on amazon.com and ordered two bark collars, which will be here by Saturday morning. I bought the most humane ones with good reviews. Most of the training will be done by a recognizable beep the dogs hear. Hopefully only one little jolt will be necessary at the beginning. In case you’re wondering why I ordered bark collars, it’s because I think we’ve tried everything else. We’ve tried spraying them with a small jet of water from a spray bottle when they bark. We’ve tried tossing small circlets of (harmless) chains at them when they bark. We’ve hollered at them. We’ve reasoned with them. We’ve rewarded them when they’re quiet. We’ve lowered our voices and said ominously and authoritatively, “Nooooo.” I’m sorry to say we’ve even tried swatting them a time or two. We’ve taken them to dog training classes, where they did remarkably well because they’re so smart and learn quickly. But what they learned in the arena never translated to the yard. We’ve read the books, watched the shows, and have utterly failed.

I know this is an owner problem, I really do know that. I know that if The Dog Whisperer came to our house, he would tsk-tsk at me and would have Edith and Millie trained to be sweet and silent Schauzers in no time at all. But I have not been able to keep them quiet outside with lasting success, and now I’ve alienated my neighbors because of it.

After I ordered the collars, I asked Michael to pray for me, and I walked across the street to apologize to Burt and Arlene. They’re a retired couple I introduced myself to the first day we moved in. Burt was nice enough that first meeting, but when he waved for his wife Arlene to come greet me, she was kneeling in the garden and declined, waving me off in an impatient gesture that was a little surprising. This afternoon as I approached their house (which you can see in the photo above), through an open front window I heard an interior door close, so I knew someone was home. I knocked and they didn’t answer. I rang the bell and they didn’t answer. So I walked back home. I found their phone number on the internet easily enough, and called them. They didn’t answer but their machine wished me a very good day. I left a message telling them it was their neighbor Julie from across the street, and I sincerely apologized that they had been bothered by our dogs, and I let them know that I had purchased bark collars that would be here soon. I told them we were truly so sorry, that we want to be good neighbors, and that I hoped our dogs would be under control soon. And I thanked them for telling us.

It’s a Sad Day in Schnauzerville when inept Mommy and Daddy have to resort to a “specialty” collar to keep our little dooginses from doing what is totally instinctual: expressing themselves vocally.

I’ll let you know if The Schnauzer Silence descends.

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