February 23, 2024 | My Jottings

I have a few good memories of my brother Steve.

When my first marriage ended suddenly while living in Germany, I was 22 and my daughters were 2 years and 8 months old. We returned to Southern California to get our bearings, and Steve and his first wife were very good to my little girls. They took toddler Sharon to their favorite salon in Beverly Hills for her first official haircut. We delighted in the way Sharon said, “Unca Steeb got my hair cut in Bebbaly Hills!”

He would get down on the floor with my girls and play with blocks and dolls, and read books to them. He laughed at their antics and hugged and kissed them. They adored him for the short time he was in their lives. Once my divorce was final, my girls and I moved to a beach city an hour away when I got a job, an apartment and began life as a single mom. Steve’s marriage ended not long after that and he was involved in trying to recreate his own life, so we didn’t have much contact.

But the way he doted on my young daughters is what I remember most fondly.

I had two older brothers. Larry was 15 years older than I, Steve was 10 years older. In many ways I was like an only child, since by the time I was 8, both of my brothers had moved out. My most vivid memories of my brother Steve all revolve around the way I knew he felt about me: I was his pesky younger sister. I know he must have loved me because we were siblings, but he was more often dismissive of me. Sometimes he teased me by putting his front teeth over his lower lip as if he had an overbite, making a goofy rodent sound and calling me Bucky Beaver. Those were the days before my braces. He also liked to scare me a lot. He used to hide behind a door or crouch outside in the brick-bordered flower bed under my bedroom window at night, and when he saw me he would jump out and yell a loud and deep “mwahahahaha!!” and he would laugh when I cried or got mad at him for doing that.

I’m told he was a sensitive little boy, and I know now that he was secretly and violently bullied by my older brother.

Steve didn’t like to get dirty even when he was young, and didn’t want to be a boy scout because that meant camping, which meant getting dirty. He used to shower twice a day as an adult. He always looked nice, dressed well, took care of himself.

Here’s a picture of Steve in 1949, when he was two years old.

He loved peanut butter and jelly and milk. He used to take a spoon and scrape out a dollop of Skippy, and then a plop of Welch’s grape jelly on top of that for a quick snack, washed down with a swallow of Foremost milk from the carton. He loved graham crackers and milk. I remember seeing him when he was a teen, dipping a layered pile of long graham crackers into a bowl of milk, and biting off the soft, mushy ends. To this day I could have that same snack if I’d let myself.

By the time he was in junior high school he was excelling in basketball. We had a basketball hoop on our garage on Eckerman Avenue in West Covina, and Steve shot baskets constantly. He carried a basketball with him in the house, and used to effortlessly spin and balance it on the tip of his finger. My dad was the basketball coach at Covina High School, and by the time Steve attended there, he was a star player. Because he was only 6′ 1″ he was a guard, but he was quick, a superb shooter and ball handler, and he held the school record for assists decades after he graduated in 1965.

I didn’t know then how strained the relationship was between my dad and Steve. I think as long as Steve did well on the court, things were okay with them. But after he graduated from high school and went to college and didn’t finish, things between him and my dad deteriorated. My dad could have been a more supportive father. He showed dictator-like qualities toward his sons that he didn’t toward me. He put his coaching before his family at times. Then my father divorced my mother after 31 years of marriage and that seismic event made us all into people we didn’t want to be. I have some pretty awful memories from those years. One of those horrible memories resulted in complete estrangement between my dad and Steve, and Steve legally changed his last name from Sooter to Brontë.

Steve tried high school basketball coaching, but it didn’t last. I was never sure why. He married his long time girlfriend and they both had good jobs and a lifestyle that included frequent French dining in Beverly Hills, shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, and European trips.

Over the years Steve and my dad would have tentative contact with each other and it seemed like things were going to mend, but harsh words and accusations would always erupt and then it was over again. Sometimes for years.

I don’t want to write too many details, but what should be mentioned is that unforgiveness and bitterness can change a person into someone hardly recognizable if those choices are left to stand for years. Steve never got the kinds of apologies from my father that he should have had. Pride is also a great destroyer.

When Michael and I married in 1981, it was the last time my family was ever together in one place. This photo was taken on that day.

From left to right: me (age 23), Carolyn (age 2), Sharon (age 4) and Steve (age 33).

As decades passed, my brother did and said things that stunned the rest of us, and we were a family by DNA only. My brothers were estranged from each other, from my father, my parents were divorced, and my brothers came in and out of my life as their moods struck them.

Steve married again and had two children. His wife and grown kids are beautiful and have trusted God to get them through the hell that was their existence. Steve eventually ruined every relationship he had, and his family had to try to survive apart from him. They moved to a state where decent jobs could be had, and Steve stayed in California and mostly lived in his car.

I never quite understood why Steve alternately loved and hated me. Once in a while I would get an email from him, apologizing and asking for a fresh start, and we would try to begin again. But invariably it would all fall apart when I refused to hate or disown my father for letting his family down. I was terribly confused and disappointed by the things I learned about my dad, but I had seen the wreckage bitterness brings, and I didn’t want to let my pain bring me to that. So then the fragile beginnings Steve and I were making would collapse and he would cut me out of his life with vitriol and cruel, mocking hate mail. I wouldn’t respond, and the wall around my heart got thicker and taller. This happened at least a dozen times. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, I just didn’t trust him. I had deep compassion for him, and deeper suspicion, all mixed together.

He used to check in on this blog, and he usually left comments that were reminiscent of the Steve I knew could be — loving, sensitive, funny, compassionate. My heart would wrench at those times and I would think to myself that maybe it was time to reach out to Steve after so many years had passed and try again to have a brother-sister relationship.

In September of 2016 I was walking in the cemetery where Michael is buried, as I love to do. The maples were showing off their glowing oranges and golds and crimsons, and leaves drifted to the ground around me as I strolled. My cell phone rang and I didn’t recognize the number, so I let it go to voicemail. When I listened to the message it was Steve, saying hi in that old voice of his that told me he was more himself that day. He knew from my blog that Michael had died. He was still estranged from his own family and I don’t think he ever fully understood that it was his doing. His words told me he was feeling wistful and wished that he and I could have a real, supportive, brother-sister relationship. He told me he loved me and asked me to return his call, words I’d heard a hundred times. Only someone who knows Steve could understand why I wouldn’t just punch in his number and call him back right that minute. He perceived my guardedness and silence as unforgiveness and anger. I knew it was self-preservation and the unwillingness to open the door to drama and strife in a time of my life when Michael’s health was fast declining. Only someone who has gone through something like what our family did can truly understand that you can love a person and still not trust them. Steve never understood that.

But that golden morning at the cemetery tears came to my eyes and I prayed to the Lord about Steve. My heart hurt at what his life had become, and how easy it had been for me to just keep the lid of that Pandora’s box locked. I told the Lord that if He wanted me to try again with Steve, I would. I would answer Steve’s call the next time he rang.

But he would never call again.

The Los Angeles County coroner thinks my brother died of a heart attack on October 1, just three weeks after his call to me. He was found almost three days later, in the business of an old photography friend of his, who had been letting him stay in a shed of sorts at the back of the building. He died alone, not connected to his family, and I had not responded to his pleas to call him back.

His family decided that there would be no funeral or service, no obituary, no way of memorializing him whatsoever. I do not pretend to understand what they experienced, and have nothing but love for them. All three of them are beautiful people who have weathered the storm of their lives in ways I can only surmise was due to the grace of God.

As much as I’m trying to here, I have not been able to put words to what I feel after knowing that Steve’s message to me in September was his last. Sorrow, guilt, regret, unbelief, grief….these words only touch the surface of the turmoil that sloshes around in my heart when I allow myself a few minutes to ponder his life and passing.

My one consolation is for the both of us. Steve was a believer in Jesus, and even though his faith never worked itself outward as much as it should have, there is no doubt in my mind that he cried out to the Lord every day.

I also am a believer in Jesus. And my faith hasn’t worked itself outward in the radical changes I have hoped for either.

And I cry out to the Lord every day.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
    he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children’s children,
to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his word,
    obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
    his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the Lord, all his works,
    in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Psalm 103:10-22

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Good News

January 18, 2024 | My Jottings

Hello friends. It has been so cold here in northern Minnesota these last several days, I’ve been setting my alarm for dark thirty so I can drive my foster gal to the bus stop. Normally she walks to catch the city bus herself, knows how to dress herself warmly and looks forward to her part-time job each day. But when it’s eight degrees below zero, I don’t want her skin hitting the air for long. Frostbite is a serious thing.

I am not fond of the trendy five-second rule for springing out of bed within five seconds of the alarm’s sounding to get the show on the road. At my age I prefer the 900-second rule. I need about fifteen minutes of slowly waking. I might raise the head of my electric bed and pull the covers up, looking out toward Lake Superior in the dark. I might reach for my phone and play the day’s devotional from the Pray As You Go app. I probably do get up to go potty, but then I click up the heat and hunker down beneath the covers again until I feel my room warming up. I reach for my little clip-on reading light and ask the Lord to speak to my heart through the epistle, the psalm, and the Gospel scriptures I’ll read.

Then after holding firmly to my 900-second rule, I get up, take my keys and my phone, and while I’m still clad in my nightgown, my sweet foster gal and I head to the car and set out in the still and white neighborhood, up the hill away from the steaming Lake to the sheltered bus stop. She pulls on her mittens, thanks me cheerfully for the ride, and gets out of the car to stand in the sheltered shed, where the bus will stop for her in a few minutes. I make a U-turn on the deserted main road and drive home. I make my coffee, warm up a wheat-filled heating pad in the microwave to wrap around my always-chilled neck, and pad down the hall in the dark to my bedroom sanctuary.

Here’s the Gospel (which means Good News) I read this morning, propped up in bed with a single beeswax candle lit and a magenta band of light peeking up on the horizon of the Lake:

Jesus withdrew toward the sea with His disciples. A large number of people followed from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what He was doing, a large number of people came to Him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told His disciples to have a boat ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush Him. He had cured many and, as a result, those who had diseases were pressing upon Him to touch Him. And whenever unclean spirits saw Him they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God.” He warned them sternly not to make Him known.   Mark 3:7-12.

As I sat and slowly read this, of course I tried to picture the details. Jesus being so pressed in by the hordes of people with such desperate needs, He was close to being crushed. I’ve been to Disneyland and Disney World, two places that come to mind that at times can have such crowds you can barely walk along without having someone within inches of you. But I have never been in a crowd so dense that there was a danger of being crushed.

What struck me in this passage was the last part — the unclean spirits who cried out when they saw Him, “You are the Son of God,” and how Jesus would not permit them to say that again.

They weren’t wrong. He was and is and ever will be the Son of God. Demons and their father satan always lie, but evidently they can’t lie about Him. But why did Jesus sternly warn them to stop saying He was the Son of God?

I’ve heard sermons and read things with excellent theological explanations about why Jesus forbade some people (and unclean spirits) from spreading the word about Him, mostly regarding the timing of His ministry. It was not yet time to declare He was the Messiah… there was still more for Him to do before He could permit His arrest and mock trial and eventual crucifixion.

But this morning I thought, Jesus will not permit the Gospel to be preached by demons. The Good News of Jesus Christ is to be preached by people. And by all creation. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says the rocks will cry out about who He is. In Isaiah we’re told that mountains and hills will burst into song about the Good News, and that the trees of the field will clap their hands with joy. Which, by the way, I totally believe, and think of reverently and joyfully on a breezy fall day in Minnesota. When I watch a nature program on television that shows slow aerial footage of the Alps or the Rockies, I think to myself, “I can’t hear their song with my own ears yet, but they are singing out about the glory of God.”

I do not have the gift of evangelism. I don’t have the courage to stand on a street corner and preach the Gospel like some do. I think I might have other gifts. But this morning as the sky pinked up and I read and reread the verses from the Gospel of Mark, I thought of how good news is preached to me every day.

The other night I was able to sit with my nineteen year-old granddaughter and gently brush her beautiful, long auburn hair. I remembered how I used to do the same thing when she was a little girl, and she’d patiently sit while I French-braided it. Being close to her and feeling her love and the life within her, being able to love her back, was good news to me. To pray for her is a privilege. A gift from the Son of God.

That same night my eleven year-old granddaughter asked me if she could put makeup on me. She washed her hands, gently applied moisturizer to my face, let me choose the dramatic sparkly burgundy-colored eye shadow, slowly and softly put a bit of mascara on my old-lady lashes, smiled her beautiful smile at me, and made me feel drenched in good news. She and her older sister are my own flesh and blood, and the Lord saved my life when I was fourteen years old so I could be brought to my sixty-sixth year to know and love them.

My twenty-one year-old granddaughter texted me last thing before I slept last night, and first thing this morning. What a gift. My delight for her cannot be plumbed.

I recently shared a restaurant table with my three daughters, who are the blood in my veins. To look upon their faces, into their eyes, feel the depth of love I have for them no matter what we are all going through, was good news to me.

Today I will brave the bitter cold and drive to the Subaru place to have my oil changed, tires rotated, things checked out. What unfathomable grace is it that I have a car, it has gas, I have eyes and faculties to drive it, money to pay for the service, a furnace to keep my home warm? Isn’t the Lord preaching His Good News to me every hour of every day? I am here. I am caring for you. I sent my Son to save you. You can trust me. I am your Light, your Bread, your Hope, your Life.

Unclean spirits are not allowed to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is too sacred, too wonderful and life-changing and pure and holy, for them to speak from their foul lips.

But you and I can speak His Gospel. To our loved ones in various ways, even with just a brush in hand or by putting our head back on a soft leather couch to give a child a warm memory. We can tell of His faithfulness in our lives without standing behind a pulpit and preaching a sermon.

I do want to speak words that convey His Gospel as well. I’m not very good at it. I’m still bumbling along learning to live it. I look for ways to share that in the midst of all the disappointment, hard times, turmoil and confusion of my (also richly blessed) childhood, He made Himself known to me when I was three years old. He reminds me that He is the Son of God, in charge of all, and that He brings the Good News of Himself and His love to any who would try to listen and receive.

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 157

January 16, 2024 | My Jottings

Take fifteen minutes (that’s it), leave your phone in another room, and go to the most peaceful and quiet room of your house. And just sit there, quietly. Say nothing, except, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And then listen. Just for fifteen minutes. Do nothing, say nothing, just sit quietly and listen.

The first few days it will be a little uncomfortable. You may not hear much. After a week you’ll really be starting to listen and you’ll probably love those fifteen tranquil minutes in your day. After a month you’ll be aware of little things the Lord is saying to you all the time. In a year, you’ll be a prayer professional. At the end of your life, you’ll be a saint.

There’s no magic to it, just say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And then listen. If you do that every day, I bet God will transform your life. 

~~Fr. John Hammond

Permanent rebellion

December 30, 2023 | My Jottings

One of my young granddaughters has been really getting into doing her own hair, curling it, taking care of it, letting it grow so beautifully. It made me remember how a few years back when she was still pretty little, she got her hands on some scissors and cut her own hair. It was not a happy occasion. Her parents had decided to let her hair (and bangs) grow out back then, and it was getting past that awkward stage when the bangs were too long to be worn on the forehead but too short to do anything with. Her hair had started to grow long and was looking so pretty. Then one day she chopped away at it, and her mama had to try to salvage what she had done, and bangs had to be cut once again.

That brought back to me a hair memory from my youth. When I was growing up my mom had a thing about long, stringy hair. And bangs. She disliked both. If my hair grew to shoulder length and fell down in my face for an instant, she’d say “Get that hair out of your face.” My mom was a very loving person and she didn’t say it unkindly, but I grew up in the sixties, and long hair stood for something back then. And what it stood for wasn’t something my conservative parents wanted their youngest child to be associated with in any way, shape or form.

My mom also had a thing about permanents. She thought they were adorable, especially on little girls. I didn’t really agree with her, but when you’re five years old you’re still forming your own opinions and ways in which to express them, so I never said, “Mom, can we talk? I don’t really want you to give me a Toni Home Permanent Wave. I want to grow my hair long and have pigtails and braids, okay?” I probably should have taken that route. Instead of obedience and/or diplomacy, I whined and pouted, and then took matters into my own hands.

My first permanent was when I was five years old, in preparation for a big event — my kindergarten school picture. My mom’s good friend Mabel, who was also her hairdresser (we didn’t call people stylists back then), put a tight, smelly permanent in my shoulder-length hair, and my mom thought it looked pretty darn cute. I must have thought it looked pretty darn awful. We have no pictures of me with that first perm, because that very night when my mother went to work (she was a professional organist) and my oldest brother Larry was babysitting me, I quietly slunk to my room, took my little turquoise blunt-end scissors and hacked all those curls off.

The next morning when I appeared in the kitchen for my Cheerios and milk, my mother was stupefied by the sight of my mangy look and was understandably quite upset. I remember a lot of muttering on her part, a scolding from my father, a sharply wielded hair brush as Mom tried to make my hair look presentable, and my loud sniveling crying.

1962 – Kindergarten

Here’s the Kodak memorial to the rebellion against my first perm at age five.

I actually think my kindergarten hairstyle pretty much resembles the one I have now, except I don’t wear plastic barrettes anymore and I actually pay someone money to give me the moth-eaten look.

1962 was also the year I had my tonsils and adenoids out and began a years-long trend of what my parents called “talking through my nose.” Because of the complications of the surgery, I also had the added problem of liquids sometimes running out of my nose as I drank them. Yes, I was a child of many unique talents.

Anyway, back to the subject of hair. By the time I was in junior high school I put my inner foot firmly down about short hair and perms. I decided to let my hair grow fairly long and I kept it that way, or at least past my shoulders, until I was in my thirties.

When this kindergarten photo fell out of a memento folder I was going through last week, I sat down and studied it for a few minutes, and so many memories came flooding back.

Warm and golden Southern California days, a little red bicycle with training wheels, my teacher Mrs. Staton playing the piano and singing “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” playing “store” with neighborhood friends, brothers ten and fifteen years older than I, learning to swim at The Covina Plunge, our epileptic, rock-fetching dog named Dutchess, playing hopscotch almost every day, our behemoth Buick station wagon with California license plates JDT 043, my father coaching high school basketball and watching Perry Mason, my mother playing the Hammond B-3 organ and ironing shirts, my stoic grandparents Bud and Oma and our Sunday visits to their house.

Now I’m a grandparent myself and I have kindergarten photos of my own dear grandchildren in my office, bedroom and wallet. I show them to anyone who’s polite enough to act interested in seeing them. How do I say that time flies without sounding trite and clichéd? I don’t know, but I’ll try anyway. Time zooms, it rockets, and I’ve gone from being a vulnerable, trusting, slightly moth-eaten and headstrong five year-old to being a vulnerable, trusting, slightly moth-eaten and headstrong sixty-six year-old. In what seems like about seventeen days.

I guess I’m steeping myself in nostalgia lately. I sort of like the sound of that phrase – nostalgia steeping. This morning one of my friends asked me what I had planned today and I gave her the list. I should have answered her, “I’ll probably do a little paperwork, some housecleaning, some grocery shopping, and quite a bit of nostalgia steeping.”

The Two Youngest

November 30, 2023 | My Jottings

This is a photo I know will wrench my heart for years to come, if I’m granted years to come. This was on Thanksgiving at my daughter Sharon’s house. Her youngest was patiently and lovingly reading to my daughter Carolyn’s youngest.

I was thankful for a good meal in spite of a dog who ate the Thanksgiving turkey the night before Thanksgiving, but I’m most thankful for these actual humans the Lord has granted to our family. I always say their eyes are portals to true wonder and beauty, and the older I get the more deep and true it becomes.

Treasures and Trees

October 25, 2023 | My Jottings

Hello friends. After one of the hottest, most humid summers on record, I have been savoring the cool, dry fall weather that finally arrived. Never have I spent so much time in my air conditioned house. I rode my e-bike once, took two walks in the cemetery, and just generally reinforced my natural homebody inclinations so strongly I wondered if I’d become a true recluse.

But now the glory of autumn has lifted my spirits and made me yearn to gaze at all the colors around me. All I have to do is stand in my bedroom, and no matter which window I look through, there’s a scarlet tree blazing across the street, and there’s a neon orange tree in the neighbor’s back yard. A cathedral of glowing yellow all the way down that road. I can’t get enough. Years ago I went to New England with Michael during the fall with our dear friends Su and Danny, and I don’t remember the legendary colors being as much to write home about as humble Duluth’s are.

Lloyd and I celebrated four years of marriage earlier this month and drove up the Gunflint Trail via Grand Marais, MN to one of our favorite places, Bearskin Lodge. We stayed in a different cabin this year, deeper into the woods and more private, and the logs were massive. Here’s a picture from their website so you can see the kitchen wall logs:

And here’s the living room with the stone fireplace. Lloyd built a roaring fire each evening and we read to each other, listened to music and talked. There are no televisions at Bearskin, which is such a blessing.

We stayed three nights. We walked through the trails in the woods of the Lake Superior National Forest, saw a red fox dart by, sat by East Bearskin Lake on our cabin’s dock, drove to the end of the winding Gunflint Trail and had a picnic overlooking a shimmering lake before a storm blew in and sent us scurrying for the car. And we rested. I made a big pot of Autumn Soup beforehand and we had that for dinner each night, with sour dough bread and salad. I told Lloyd I know that some people are ocean or water people; their happy place is as close to a blue horizon of water as they can be. I love water too, especially Lake Superior, our vast inland sea. But I am a tree person. If I’m in the woods I feel most at rest, most in awe, deep in wonder. I could have lived in that cabin for the rest of my life. I would have changed the decor just a tiny bit, but the bones and setting were perfect.

After we returned home (and how in the world did four years go by since we got married, we both wondered?) I felt the gratitude of having a house I love and settled right in to unpacking and doing laundry. My walls are plaster and not log, but sitting in my own living room makes me happy as well. Here’s a little view. My mismatched ways please my sensibilities.

Here’s a tree that thrilled me at the cemetery where Michael is buried, and where I will be someday, right next to him. I think my favorite trees in autumn are always the ones in transition. Still green, but also orange and yellow.

I am in transition too, still selfish and lazy, yet also trying to bless and serve my family in ways I can, praying more than I ever have, with His help. I hope when the Lord looks upon my heart, He sees that I too want to leave the old behind and reflect His beauty and power in some way. I tell Him all the time, “Lord, thank you for not giving up on me.” If I were Him, I would have said lights out to me long ago, but His patience and kindness have never failed to humble and astound me.

Have you ever watched “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” on television? I don’t know where else it might be available, but I’m watching it on Disney+ and I love it. At night when I finish my chores/paperwork/puttering, I put on my plaid flannel nightgown and watch a couple of episodes. I also just finished the new season of “Unforgotten,” on Masterpiece Theater on PBS. I read the Mitford series by Jan Karon years ago and loved them, so about a month ago I downloaded them all on Audible and have been listening to a chapter or two each night before I sleep. The narrator is great, and the simple goodness and winsomeness of those books nourishes me. I also just finished reading Barbara Jenkins’ new book So Long As It’s Wild, and so enjoyed it. She walked across a huge portion of America with her ex-husband Peter Jenkins years ago, and is finally telling her story about it.

My daughter Sharon’s first book has a release date — September 17, 2024, which is so exciting. I haven’t read one word of what she wrote, and I can’t wait to open the cover and settle in. Maybe she will autograph it for me. She has been so busy with her podcast, teaching on Instagram (I learn more from her than I ever did from any history or civics teacher), and a recent trip to a Utah university to speak to several thousand people. I’m proud of all she does without a doubt, but I still look at her and see every stage of her life in one streaking flash, all the things she taught me, and she is my very precious daughter. The one who made me a mama.

My daughter Carolyn is busy as a wife and mother of seven children. Hannah Joy went to heaven in 2017 so we still say she’s truly the mother of eight. She and Jeremy are slowly preparing for two new vocations, which I will share about someday, and that’s very exciting for them. She has popular TikTok and Instagram accounts which document all they’ve done on their new old house. Every time I see the latest project I’m shocked at the dramatic changes they’ve brought about. She also makes me so proud of her gifts and talents, her patience, and listening and friendship skills, her quiet strength. But I still look at Carolyn and see her life from birth to toddlerhood to the teen years and beyond, and she is my very precious daughter, and always will be.

My daughter Sara graduated from nursing school last summer with honors, and is now employed as an RN in a long term care facility where people need the love she has always had for older people, for disadvantaged souls, for those most in need. She works hard and feels deeply, desiring to give the best care while guarding peoples’ dignity, and I’m so proud of her. Sara has fortitude and resilience I’ve never had, and is one of the most creative people I know. She has decorated her new apartment beautifully and knows how to bring order and beauty into any setting. But I still look at her and recall how she took my breath away when I gave birth to her at home, and all the seasons of her life surge by in my memory, and she is my very precious daughter.

As I pause and turn to look out the sliding glass door to my left in my office, I see leaves scattered over the roof of my neighbors’ little sagging garage, and the half bare, half blazing tree above it. I see the chickadees who are the frequent flyers of my area, taking their turns at the feeder that hangs from my roof. I see a gray sky that looks more like November than October. I see a squirrel climbing the wooden fence, twitching his tail on the way to wherever he has hidden his stash. And the fact that I see at all, in spite of a bothersome floater in my left eye, the beginning of cataracts, and the blurry vision that is no longer fully corrected by my powerful glasses, is a gift.

I tell the Lord, I see, Father. Thank you. Teach me your ways as I look at your creation. Help me to never take your handiwork for granted. Help me trust your faithfulness in and for each one I love. Change me Lord… as my own leaves begin to fall, help me keep reaching for you, putting roots down deep, and standing still in your glory and love.

Considering His Heavens

September 30, 2023 | My Jottings

I love and often sorely need anything that helps me regain perspective on God’s majesty, hugeness and power.

1  O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.

2 From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:

7 all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,

8 the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8

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A House Blessing

August 31, 2023 | My Jottings

May God give a blessing to this house.
God bless this house from roof to floor,
from wall to wall,
from end to end,
from its foundation and in its covering.
In the strong name of the triune God,
all disturbance cease,
captive spirits freed,
God’s Spirit alone
dwell within these walls.

We call upon the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
to save, shield, and surround
this house, this home,
this day, this night,
and every night.

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I read this prayer last night and something inside of me leaped up and shouted “Yes! Yes! For my home, for my family, for my neighbors, for my friends, for this city, for this country, for the world…yes!”

So today I share these simple but powerful words and pray them for my home, for the homes of those I love, for your home and for the homes of your loved ones.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

God bless your home…

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 156

July 19, 2023 | My Jottings

In Jesus’s day, a sower first scattered the seed, then plowed it under. No matter how unpromising the landscapes of our hearts, Jesus can transform them into good soil with the living rain of God’s mercy, and a plowshare fashioned from the wood of the cross.

Let us pray for the willingness to welcome His saving work.

~~The Magnificat, July 2023

A Cardinal Story

June 22, 2023 | My Jottings

(from the archives…)

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.