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.

A Few Things

June 8, 2023 | My Jottings

Hello everyone! How is your June going so far? We have a gorgeous spring happening here in northern Minnesota. The lilacs are in full bloom, my three crab-apple trees in the side yard of my house are singing out their pink joy, birds are at the feeders, there are “sheep” on Lake Superior as the breezes ripple its surface, and the temperatures have not yet reached Icky Hot Summer Weather status yet. I still have to turn on the furnace at night and cover up with my heavy blankets when I go to bed, which is a blessing.

Last night our family gathered at Carolyn and Jeremy’s house, to be together to celebrate the life of their little girl Hannah Joy, who was born six years ago on June 7th, and who went to heaven on that same day. She was born early at 22 weeks and weighed about a pound, but her brief life means so much to all of us. I love getting together for Hannah Day. As the years go by and other precious grandchildren have been born, I still get such joy (appropriate for her name) thinking of her. What is she like now in heaven? Does the Lord let her be aware of us? (I think so.) I don’t know why, but I’ve always thought of her as Hannah the Strong. That title might seem unlikely for a tiny baby girl whose heart beat for such a short time, but I think we’ll find out some day why she has that name.

Here is a photo of Hannah, being held by her daddy Jeremy. How thankful we are that the Lord entrusted her to us.

We met in the evening on the side terrace of Jeremy and Carolyn’s house, and everyone brought something. Carolyn made two delicious pasta salads and cupcakes, Chris and Sharon brought fried chicken, Jeremy’s parents Diane and Steve brought a marinated Greek salad and her delicious homemade rolls. I brought a vegetable and dip platter and some California rolls. Almost all the grands were there. We oohed and aahed over the new climbing roses they’ve planted near the front of their house, and the purple hydrangea. I saw the bee hive on the edge of the woods for the first time, and the small vineyard Jeremy has planted. Being at their house is like visiting a lovely park surrounded on all sides by woods. Both Sharon’s and Carolyn’s homes have such peaceful settings, and I’m so happy for them both. Having a home is nothing to take for granted. I walk through my own house and frequently whisper, “Thank you, Lord, for giving me this home.” I want to always remember that this is a gift and a privilege from Him (and from Michael) and I will never take it for granted (or “for granite” as a dear one used to say when she was little.)

I’m still dreaming of Ireland and hoping 2024 will be the year I visit. Right now I have my trip narrowed down to two possibilities. I will either take a cruise around Ireland and Great Britain, going on land for different tours/excursions and then returning to the ship each evening. Or I will take an Aer Lingus flight to Ireland, and take this tour.

Both options have advantages I love. I really like the thought of a cruise ship (I’ve been on four cruises and so enjoyed each one), having a balcony to relax on, one room to return to, unpacking only once. I also love what I read about the Driftwood Tour I linked above. The small group size, the comfortable small coach, going so many places in Ireland and having it all pre-planned.

I would appreciate reading any of your thoughts, especially those of you who have been to Ireland.

I’ve also been reading about the business class seats (not first class, but so much nicer than coach for long flights) Aer Lingus offers, and would consider traveling that way. Here’s a photo — the seats recline.

Have any of you watched Shiny Happy People on Prime Video? Oh my. I almost have no words. When Michael and I were raising the girls and I was home-schooling, we had some good friends who were part of the Bill Gothard movement and used the ATIA curriculum. I never did, but I was somewhat familiar with it. It’s hard to imagine all that has taken place because of it.

I may take my camp chair up to the cemetery this afternoon and read by Michael’s grave. I love being there and since I have a fairly free day, that sounds like the perfect way to end it.

I could babble on about what I’m reading, a crochet project I’m about to start, what our summer Bible study is about, and what’s going on with daughters and grandchildren, but I’ll share about that next time.

God bless your week,

When Oprah Came Calling

May 17, 2023 | My Jottings

(From the archives….)

In September of 1998 I began attending our local Community Bible Study, which has turned out to be one of the most momentous things to ever occur in my spiritual life. If you have never considered attending, I encourage you to click on the link above and see if there’s a class near you. I don’t believe anyone studies God’s Word in depth and ever regrets it. Whether you are Bible-literate or have never owned one, are politically liberal or conservative, young or old, enthusiastic about Bible study or quite dubious, interested in making friends or preferring to remain on the fringe, you will be welcomed, accepted, and loved at CBS. For me to convey all the things that God has done in my life through CBS would take several blog posts, and will have to be for another time. Because this blog post is about when Oprah came calling. And CBS sort of figures into the story.

I was asked to be a Core Leader that first year I attended, and after I got over the nervousness about what the position entailed, I loved it. I loved the women in my core group, I loved the daily accountability of the study (which was thirty weeks in the books of Mark and Ephesians), I loved the different ages of the women in our rather large class. I loved the amazing things I learned about Jesus. I loved it that the Bible wasn’t so difficult to understand anymore. I loved the different perspectives from women of Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Methodist, Catholic and even unchurched backgrounds. I loved seeing light-bulbs go on in women young and old. I loved the way my own faith in Christ was strengthened. I loved the fellowship, the scholarship, the comfort, the challenge, and the hope I found there.

Did I mention that I love Community Bible Study? I guess I did.

So when I was informed about our annual Sharing Day each May, I was curious and anxious to experience it. Many people who had been in CBS for decades waxed eloquent about how special Sharing Day was each year, the grand finale that was so memorable and such a blessing. I couldn’t wait to end the year by gathering with 250 women over a meal, and then listening to some of them share what a personal, powerful and loving God had done in their lives that year through the study of His Word. I was told Kleenex would be needed and I armed myself. (But Kleenex is always needed in my life. People who cry over something every single day usually own stock in Kimberly-Clark.)

You’re probably wondering where Oprah figures in to all of this. It all started when I met my husband Michael through a snail-mail letter back in 1981. I was living and working in sunny Southern California; he was a rugged outdoorsman born and raised in northern Minnesota. We wrote letters, talked on the phone a lot for three months, and were engaged before we ever met; then married each other the second time we were together. I left my home, family and friends in SoCal and moved to Minnesota, where I’ve been for almost 32 years now. I wrote a very rhyme-y poem that tells the details of our love story, and if you’re interested in it, click here.

Back in the day, I used to occasionally watch Oprah, and then I sort of lost interest. Years ago I would look at her website now and then to see what kinds of stories her producers were asking for. One day I saw that they were asking for people who had “unusual love stories” to write in and share the details. They gave you about enough space to write one concise paragraph about your unusual love story, and since I thought Michael’s and my story qualified as “unusual,” I wrote. I clicked “send” and didn’t really think much more about it, knowing I was one in probably thousands who were doing the same thing.

The next day, Oprah came calling. Or at least her producer did. These were the days before caller ID, so when a professional-sounding female voice identifying herself as Maren from The Oprah Winfrey Show asked for me, I was stunned. “I’m Julie,” I said hesitantly.

“Hello, Julie! We read your story about your unusual love story and I wondered if you would be willing to tell me a little more about it.”

I didn’t mind, and after Maren heard more of our story and apparently had discerned that I was not an imbecile and could be trusted to be a guest on the show, she said magnanimously, “Well, Julie, we would like to have you and Michael on the show. We will send you first-class round trip tickets and pay for your stay in the all-suite Omni Hotel in the heart of Chicago!”

“Oh my gosh!” I exclaimed. “Thank you! Thank you so much. When will we have to come?” Maren told me the date in May that the “unusual love story” taping would be, and I quickly went to my calendar to mark it down (thinking who on earth gets to write “Be on the Oprah show” on their calendars?) but I stopped short when I saw something already written there on that date. “Sharing Day – CBS.”

I know not everyone will understand this, and my three daughters certainly didn’t, but it wasn’t hard for me to decide which I would choose. Of course I wanted to be on the Oprah Show and fly first-class and stay at the all-suite Omni Hotel on the Miracle Mile in the heart of Chicago. I wanted to meet Oprah and have a video tape of the show we would be part of (even though I knew we would be 60 seconds of it) so we could show our grandchildren someday. I wanted Michael and myself to experience all of that, and to tell our story, which we believe is such a God-thing.

But I also wanted to attend my first Sharing Day at Community Bible Study. I knew it would be a great blessing, and I also wanted to be there at our special table with the fourteen other women I’d bonded with during our year of study. I wanted to hear what things the Lord had done in ordinary women’s lives through His extraordinary Word.

I told Maren no. “Uh, I’m so sorry – I’m really thankful you called and wish we could be there, but um, we already have something planned on that day.”

Pause. “What do you have planned?” Maren asked.

“Sharing Day at Community Bible Study,” I answered quietly.

“Sharing Day? At Community Bible Study?” she asked, a little less friendly. I could almost hear the unspoken words in her head, Lady, do you know who you’re talking to? Do you know how many people try to get on this show and now you’re turning it down for Sharing Day at Community Bible Study?

“Are you sure you can’t reschedule or get someone else to take your place?”

“Yes, I’m pretty sure. I don’t think I should miss it. I’m sorry to have to decline – thank you so much for considering us and offering this chance to us.” I didn’t try to explain to Maren. I just knew I wanted to be at Sharing Day with my core group.

And I did go to my first Sharing Day at CBS that May of 1999, and was not disappointed with my choice. I probably used more Kleenex than anyone there. We sat and bathed in the love and unity that had been built over the year’s study, rejoicing over the changes that had happened in women’s lives. We listened with tears streaming, cheeks aching from the huge smiles, and hearts swelling with hope as we saw and heard firsthand how active God is in His children’s lives. We just need a little help seeing it sometimes. Sharing Day is one of those things that always helps me see.

So there’s the story about how Oprah came calling. Sometimes friends mention it to others, so I’ve been asked to share it many times, and always feel a little funny telling it. I’m not sure why.

Evangeline Virginia

April 14, 2023 | My Jottings

How does the arrival of a helpless baby carry such power? How can a little girl who can’t lift her head or utter a word captivate a family so quickly they can’t imagine life without her? Even when she’s only been here a few days? I don’t know, but it speaks to the preciousness and beauty of life to me, and I’m so grateful.

My daughter Carolyn and her husband Jeremy have welcomed their eighth child (Hannah is in heaven), and her name, as you’ve already seen above, is:

Evangeline Virginia

She weighed 8 pounds, 3 ounces and is 20 inches long, which are exactly what Carolyn’s details were when she was born in Germany just a few years ago. I was so touched that they chose Virginia for her middle name, after my mother, whom my children, especially Carolyn, spent a lot of time with before she died in 1993. My mom loved babies like she was the champion baby lover of the world, so we’re commenting a lot about how much Grandma Sooter would have loved Evangeline. And all the grandchildren.

Jeremy and Carolyn aren’t sure yet if Evangeline will have a nickname. I have been calling her Evie to myself, pronounced Evvie; Carolyn mentioned the possibility of pronouncing it Eevie (like her initials spoken aloud), but right now Evangeline is preferred and we’ll see how things evolve. And the last part of her name is like leen rather than line.

Her name means good news, and while it certainly means the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I like to think her existence itself is just plain good news, and I can’t wait to get to know her better.

Carolyn and Jeremy’s other children are pretty smitten with their new little sister of course, and seven year old Miriam likes to hold Evangeline the most.

These next photos are right after she was born… my eyes fill with tears of love, looking at my lovely daughter.

And four year-old Levi (who looks so much like his mama) is learning how to not be the youngest anymore. He will show Evangeline the ropes once she gets on her feet, and they will be best buddies someday.

So much to hope for. To pray about. To say thank you for.

I hope your weekend is a peaceful one,

A Guestroom and Some Grands

March 31, 2023 | My Jottings

March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. In northeastern Minnesota, March indeed came in like a lion but is still roaring and terrorizing as it goes out and April arrives. Snowstorm after snowstorm has blanketed the ground with multiple feet of snow, causing people to shovel their roofs and making me feel like I live in Narnia.

I have stayed home a lot this winter, reading and slowly putting together a guest room. It’s still in process, but here is where it’s at today:

I’m still deciding on the art to hang above the queen-sized bed, but this space calls my name and I am drawn to the peace I feel in this room. Two adult grandchildren have already slept here, as well as one ten year-old granddaughter, and I’ve issued an invitation to friends afar to come and visit.

Here is the fairly blank slate I started with:

I couldn’t find the exact curtains I was looking for, so I bought flannel sheets from Pottery Barn and Lloyd hung them for me. I have three little green transferware plates in mind to hang on the wall between the new curtain rod and window, a large print of sheep and Scottish hills for over the bed, and there’s a mirror hung on a wall that these photos don’t show.

“Nowhere beats the heart so kindly as beneath the tartan plaid!” said an old Scottish poet, and I guess in my old age I have to agree.

I enjoy books and movies that cause me to think about things deeply, or show that a person can truly change. I watched Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto a couple of days ago and loved it because of how the main character experienced transformation. I read the book years ago (A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman) and knew the story, but it was such a treat to see a person late in life, deeply entrenched in his rule-enforcing curmudgeonliness, be transformed by the love of a friend. The friend didn’t give up, Otto gradually opened up his heart even though he may not have known he was doing that, and many lives changed. That’s the best kind of story, and one that gives me hope for my own change.

I’ve been told by someone who should know me pretty well that I am incapable of change. What a blow that was, since my heart’s desire is to grow and change in the right direction until my time here is done. I may not be growing as noticeably as I would have when I was young, but I don’t want to stagnate or be stubborn. I want to learn, be transformed more and more into someone who better resembles my Savior, and be pliable inside, even as my body and joints stiffen. “That’s just the way I am” is something I hope to never say, and if ever I do, those of you within an arm’s length can pop me.

My oldest daughter Sharon and her husband Chris went to Dallas recently because the George W. Bush Presidential Center invited her to discuss democracy on a small panel. That was fun to watch.

My middle daughter (“diddle maughter”, as a friend recently introduced hers, so I’m claiming it too) Carolyn is due any day to give birth to her eighth child. She and Jeremy lost Hannah Joy in 2017, so this will be their seventh child still here on earth. I can’t wait to meet my little granddaughter, and wish they would let me in on the name. You’d think they’d have pity on me after all these years and give me the inside scoop, but I have to wait until she’s born along with everyone else. If I could have my druthers she would be Evelyn, but I’ve loved every name they’ve chosen so I know she’ll have a lovely, old-fashioned name.

My youngest daughter Sara has been working hard in nursing school and will graduate as an RN in a couple of months. I’m so proud of her — she has been on the Dean’s List each semester and will be a wonderful nurse. She plans on applying at one of our local hospitals and has already secured a nice apartment of her own nearby.

My daughter Carolyn sent me photos from her new phone yesterday and I couldn’t stop looking at them.

This is the eye of Vivienne:

And Audrey’s eye:

And Miriam’s:

Speaking of “grands”, Lloyd and I will be taking our first trip to Arizona soon. Neither of us has ever seen the Grand Canyon, so we’ll stay in Flagstaff and drive over to Williams to take The Grand Canyon Railroad for one day. We’re hoping the snow in northern Arizona melts before we get there.

There always seems to be so much to share, yet when I finally sit down to type it all out, the rocks in the stream pile up and form a bottleneck. That may be an apt metaphor for my life right now too — I’m trying to remove some rocks to pile on the shore as an Ebenezer of sorts, so the water can flow again.

I hope there are signs of spring where you are,

The Paper Boy

February 5, 2023 | My Jottings

I had my first real crush on a boy when I was in the fifth grade. His name was Duane Edmunson. Since his last name began with the letters Ed, his friends called him Ed instead of Duane. I liked him because I thought he was cute (he looked like Paul McCartney if you squinted your eyes and stood 1/8 of a mile away), he was tall (I was the tallest girl in the class), and he was nice. He didn’t behave like an idiot like some of the other boys did.

Duane liked sports, and spent most of his time at recess playing football or basketball with his friends. He was also a paper boy for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, our evening newspaper, and I used to see him riding his purple Schwinn Sting Ray bike with his canvas paper carrier on the handlebars.

At Workman Avenue Elementary School in West Covina, California, we often went into the cafeteria and square danced for recess time when it rained outside. I remember The Virginia Reel, and another dance we did in a circle to the words “Oh, Johnny, oh Johnny oh!” I always hoped that Duane would end up being my square dance partner.

Many of my classmates had crushes on boys too. My friend Denel went steady with cute Barry Fourzon in second grade and red-headed Bob McCarter in fourth. I confided in my friends about my crush on Duane, and we giggled together like girls do. It was very innocent, even though looking back now I think we were too young to be focusing on boys when we were only 10 years old. I don’t think a boy ever had a crush on me back then, unless you count Irwin Fast, who asked most of the girls to go steady because he just wanted to say he had a girlfriend.

I don’t know who spread the word, but someone told someone else who told Duane that I liked him. It was probably a passed, crumpled note in class that had written in faint pencil, Julie S. likes you. When I found out about that I was embarrassed, but I had hopes that maybe Duane might like me back. What were we going to do if we “liked” each other? Nothing at all. He didn’t live close to me, he ate lunch with his friends as I did mine, and we were too young to date.

After a couple of months, two of my friends called my name on the playground one sunny afternoon and came running up to me. “Ed wants to go steady with you!” one of them exclaimed. This was the way of things — messengers were used to do the asking and the relaying of messages. She held out a little cardboard jewelry box and nestled inside was a pretty gold heart necklace. On the flat heart were several clear rhinestones shaped in a small cross. I was so shocked, but I was happy, and they helped me put my necklace on. I couldn’t believe that Duane actually liked me and wanted to go steady.

Things continued as before, with Duane playing football at recess with his friends, me playing four-square with mine, and we exchanged occasional shy smiles and quick hip-high waves when we saw each other at lunch. One time I saw him finishing his paper route and went out to the sidewalk to talk to him. He gave me a ride on his bike and I thought the clouds had parted and the angels sang.

I don’t remember how long Duane and I went steady before I got the news. Probably a month or two had passed. Two friends told me that they had felt sorry because no boys were interested in me, so they talked Duane into asking me to go steady. He was a nice guy and thought it seemed like a kind thing to do, to take pity on the tall gangly girl with the freckles and the buck teeth. I know that none of them were trying to hurt me. But I’ll bet you can guess that it did. I gave the necklace back to Duane, and tried not to show how “other” and alone I felt.

Seven years later Duane and I graduated from high school in the same class, and he continued to be a football-loving, relatively shy, uncommonly nice guy. He had a serious girlfriend, and I was dating the guy I would eventually marry.

Why this particular memory wandered back to me I’m not sure. It makes me wish I could go back and tell that ten year-old girl a few important things, put my arms around her and comfort her heart.

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 155

January 25, 2023 | My Jottings

“We are fools for Christ’s sake,” Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians.

God is foolish, too, Paul says. God is foolish to choose for His holy work in the world the kind of lamebrains and misfits and nit-pickers and odd ducks and stuffed shirts and egomaniacs and milquetoasts and closet sensualists as are vividly represented by us all.

God is foolish to send us out to speak hope to a world that slogs along heart-deep in the conviction that things can only get worse…He is foolish to have us speak of loving our enemies when we have a hard enough time loving our friends…God is foolish to have us proclaim eternal life to a world that is half in love with death…God is foolish to send us out on a journey for which there are no maps, and to aim us in the direction of a goal we can never know until we get there. Such is the foolishness of God. 

And yet, and yet, Paul says, “the foolishness of God is wiser than man.”     

~~~ Frederick Buechner

Because He Picked Up a Pen

December 31, 2022 | My Jottings

In 1976 I had been married for less than a year when my Air Force husband and I moved out of our trailer on the banks of the Yuba River in Smartville, California, which is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. We moved into a three-bedroom house on Beale AFB — the address was 4093 Terrace Drive and we were just beginning our life together. I was eighteen and Glenn was twenty-one.

I was so happy to be a homemaker. I kept a fairly tidy house (unlike how I’d kept my bedroom growing up on Eckerman Avenue in West Covina, much to my mother’s occasional consternation), I liked to cook, and made a lot of recipes from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook called Cooking for Two my mother had given me for my hope chest. I still make the little meatballs recipe to this day, along with the homemade barbecue sauce in the book. I also used to make Cornish game hens stuffed with mushroom rice quite a bit.

One day while my husband was at work on the base, two little girls knocked on the sliding glass window in the dining room of our base home. They were nine and seven years old, and introduced themselves as Celeste and Kathleen. Their father was a Senior Master Sergeant and their family lived around the corner and down a few houses. I was so taken with these beautiful, kind-hearted little girls. I looked forward to their visits and one time even invited them in to bake cookies with me. Those were the days when things like this could happen without a care. Celeste and Kathleen soon introduced me to their mother Yvonne, who became a fast friend despite our thirteen year age difference.

Yvonne taught me a lot about prayer during the two years we lived in the same neighborhood. When I gave birth at Hospital Beale to my first daughter, Yvonne came minutes afterward and joined me in marveling over such a miracle. I always cherished how easily she would shed tears of joy, and she certainly did on that day.

As happens with military families, goodbyes always come. The Laynes went to other assignments, including Minot, North Dakota. Glenn and I lived in a little German village called Damflos, not far from the Luxembourg border, and our second daughter was born at Landstuhl Army Hospital. Over the years Yvonne and I wrote letters to each other, and I was glad to receive her Christmas cards with the newest school photos of their four children, Mark, Celeste, Kathleen and Jenifer. Once Frank retired from the Air Force, the Laynes bought a home in Duluth, MN, where Yvonne had been born and raised.

When my little girls were two years old and nine months old, our lives took an unexpected turn when my husband of four years struck out on a different path. I found myself suddenly uprooted, with eleven pieces of luggage (high chair, suitcases, and several densely packed household boxes), two exhausted little ones, three passports, a diaper bag and a purse, flying from airport to airport so we could go home to Southern California to heal and begin anew. We flew from Frankfurt to McGuire AFB in New Jersey, to Charleston AFB in South Carolina, to the civilian airport in Charleston, where we had an eight hour layover. From there we flew to Atlanta, Georgia where we had another layover, and then flew to Los Angeles. Our journey took exactly twenty-four hours.

After a difficult six months I felt stable enough to look for a job and was blessed with a good one in Anaheim. I was thankful, but working full-time while a nanny cared for my children was not the horizon I had hopefully scanned when Glenn and I stood at the altar. We got a nice two-bedroom apartment, visited Disneyland when we could, drove to the beach, and read lots of books.

One day I came home from work from the private investigating company on Brookhurst Avenue and stopped at the mailboxes to grab my mail. The one envelope that caught my attention was one addressed to me by hand. The postmark was from Duluth, MN, but that did not ring a bell in my mind. I truly had no knowledge of Minnesota, and because Frank and Yvonne had moved around with the Air Force, it hadn’t registered that this had been where they might retire.

I climbed the outside stone stairs to my second floor apartment, greeted my little ones and Gwynne, their nanny who lived with us during the week, and sat down to go through the mail. Of course I had to open the mysterious hand-written letter first — it was from an M. Balmer. Michael introduced himself and took several pages to tell me all about his life. On the first page I learned that he was Yvonne’s nephew, and she had given him my name and address a year and a half before. I vaguely remembered that after I flew home from Germany and was staying at my mom’s, Yvonne and I spoke on the phone once, me in tears and she with her compassionate tears and kindness coming through the receiver, and she mentioned having a nephew who was going through something similar to me. Just hearing the word “nephew” conjured up something undesirable in my mind and I wasn’t interested in the least. I was hoping my marriage might be restored and was focusing on that.

But since Michael didn’t seem to be fishing for a relationship in his letter, and instead was telling me how the Lord was seeing him through an unwanted divorce, and he spoke so genuinely about his faith in Christ, I felt relatively safe, and wrote back. We exchanged handwritten letters (they were the only kind back in 1981) for a few weeks and then he called me. Our conversations on the phone were easy and grew to be lengthy. I was so drawn to his love for Christ, who had delivered him from many hardships and a few foolish decisions. After about six weeks, I received a letter from Michael declaring his feelings for me, and I felt my heart melting as well. He asked me to marry him before we had ever met, and I accepted. I did not have enough faith to just set a date and marry him the first time we were together, however. I bought a plane ticket for Minneapolis, arranged for Sharon and Carolyn to stay with my friend Diane, and flew north to meet the Balmer/Nesgoda clan.

I spent a few days in Duluth, gasped when I first saw Lake Superior since it looked vast as an ocean, basked in the welcoming love of Michael’s aunts and uncles and cousins, hugged his sweet daughters Buffy and Daphne, and gulped when I met his mother Bernie who said when she saw me, “Oh! You look just like the Blessed Virgin!” Michael and I set a wedding date and I flew back to Anaheim to get ready to move. I gave notice at my job, packed up my belongings, and after Michael arrived in late June, we were married in a small ceremony attended by my parents, brothers and a few dear friends. Michael, Sharon, Carolyn and I made the long drive north and east in two vehicles — a rented moving truck and my green VW Rabbit. We had known each other a little longer than three months. It took about a week before Sharon and Carolyn began to call Michael Daddy.

In less than a year Michael and I had a daughter together, Sara Yvonne, and yes, Yvonne attended our home birth and cried when we told her Sara’s middle name.

The years passed, as they do. I home-schooled my three daughters. We bought an old Victorian house in a neighborhood we loved and Michael transformed it over the course of twenty years. We certainly had our ups and downs, but two things I never questioned: Michael’s love for me, and his love and devotion to Jesus. He was never ashamed of either one of us, and showed it outwardly, often.

There is so much more to this story of course, but much of this blog already contains those accounts. What is on my mind today is how many people have come to be, how many friends have blessed and loved us, how much beauty has appeared in our lives because Celeste and Kathleen came to my door, and because of that, eventually Michael picked up a pen. My name and address had been in his wallet and he only came upon them when he was going through his old fishing licenses and cleaning up his wallet. He wrote to me on a whim of sorts. Because of all this, actual human beings of inestimable value have come into existence. Our daughter Sara. My grandchildren Clara, Cullen, Elijah, Eleanor, Vivienne, Margaret, Audrey, Louisa, Miriam, Hannah, Levi, and now a little girl who is still growing inside her mama. Because of all this, I have my own home and can see that breathtaking Lake Superior from my windows every day. Because of all this, my dear friend Su lives minutes away because she wanted to move to Minnesota too. Because of all this, I have a life in one of the most gorgeous places on earth, get to look into the actual eyes of my beloved daughters and granddaughters, and know who I am and where I belong. And because of two little girls who knocked and a man who picked up a pen, I have two sons-in-law that are as dear to me as if they were my own flesh and blood.

Also because of all this, I was able to be married to Michael for over thirty-three years, and be with him as he took his final breath after suffering with Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia for too long. I was able to experience the faithfulness of God in times I thought I wouldn’t survive.

Here is the wreath Sara made for Michael’s grave this winter:

It has been almost eight years since Michael went to heaven, and I have said before that I don’t view each day as getting further away from him, I look at each day as one more step to being able to see him again. The first year after his death was one I hardly have words for, but God was with me. Emmanuel… God with us.

Because of Celeste and Kathleen knocking and Michael picking up a pen to write to me, I am now remarried, to another lifelong Minnesotan who also lost his wife.

I am sixty-five years old now, the age Michael was when he died. I’m glad the Lord can read my heart, because the words my mind can come up with are much too feeble to express the wonder I sometimes feel because I live here in Northeastern Minnesota, have three precious daughters and a bundle of grandchildren (ages 20 to almost-born).

I think of dear Celeste and Kathleen who are grandmothers themselves now, and their wonderful, godly mother Yvonne, and Yvonne’s nephew Michael in Minnesota, and how he picked up a pen to write to a fragile young woman he didn’t know in California, and how the Lord mercifully brought so much from that.

So. Much.

I hope your Christmas was peaceful, and that hope infuses your life in 2023.

A Wintry Morning’s Musings

November 19, 2022 | My Jottings

Oh, how I love a day at home, with no packages to mail, groceries to lug, meetings to attend. It’s also a luxury to let myself wake up when my body wants to wake up, slowly, in the dark and with no hurried thoughts set toward organizing a to-do list. When I have such a day, I usually do wake before 5:00 a.m., but after going potty and clicking the heat up a bit, I come back to bed, tug the heavy covers up over my neck and ears, and listen to something to help me calibrate my day. Often it’s Father Mike Schmitz reading The Bible in a Year to me on the Hallow app. Or today’s scripture reading from my beloved Pray As You Go app.

When I’m ready to get out of bed 20 minutes later, it’s still pitch black outside. I turn on a beautiful little stained glass lamp Lloyd gave me for our third anniversary in October. It puts out just enough light, not so much to illuminate the whole bedroom. I often light a beeswax candle on top of my tall mahogany dresser, and I turn on my little electric fireplace by the bedside. I pull the curtains open and look out on the neighborhood. The wind blew the snow off the roof last night while I slept, and deposited it on my newly shoveled driveway. I head to the kitchen to get some water and to microwave my Medibeads eye compress (44 seconds will do it), then I return to my room and put the compress on my eyes until it cools. I’ve had Meibomian Gland Dysfunction for years and oh, this compress is so wonderful for those with dry eyes. It really works.

I reach for the remote and the head of the bed slowly raises, and if Lloyd hasn’t been in town from his cabin in the woods south of me, all my Treasured Things are waiting for me on his side of the king bed. My Bible. My CBS lesson (currently on the book of Joshua), two devotionals I love equally, my gratitude journal and a regular journal I often write prayers and thoughts and heart cries in. I look out the window from bed and see swirling light snow in the street light across and down one house. I look at the triad of soft lights in my room, almost equidistant from each other, and I ask the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to please come and help me this day. My prayers are so simple, really. But almost every morning without fail I end up with several wadded up tissues on the bed, because the tears fall as soon as I read His Word, or write the names of my loved ones in my journal. Everything seems to condense as one ages. The same prayers and struggles and joys, but more intense, more urgent.

Several days ago my dear friend Denel flew from San Diego to Duluth to spend a long weekend with me. We hadn’t seen each other since March of 2020. She and I sat and reminisced of course, because when a friendship is 58 years old, how could we not? We drove down to see Lloyd’s place and the three of us had the legendary burgers at The Bear’s Den. She came with me to see my granddaughter Margaret perform as Ariel in her high school’s production of The Little Mermaid. Denel and I drove out to Chris and Sharon’s to visit a while, and we solved all the political problems of this divided country, just the three of us. We also took a drive up the north shore and stopped at Great Lakes Candy Kitchen in Knife River, where we browsed and picked out delectable goodies before going to sit close to Lake Superior and watch the waves break on the rocks. One night Denel and I shared a meal at Taste of Saigon, our local Vietnamese restaurant, and talked about our childhoods and families as we always do. When I shared a memory of her dad, my eyes filled and I felt so grateful to have known him.

Denel has reminded me that even though we’ve been through so much in our lives (both lost husbands, both had difficult brothers, both experienced heartache in other ways) and have gone on to happy times and being grandmothers and delighting in other friends, we are each others’ last link to our childhoods. We knew each others’ families, triumphs and tragedies so well. I went on vacation with the Lupianis, Denel went with the Sooters. To say we have thousands of memories would not be overstating it, but to say we can access them all, well that is another story. Denel and I sat in my living room one night and quietly acknowledged to each other that at our ages, this could be the last time we’ll see each other on this earth. Probably not, but it’s possible. And I wanted to distill everything we did and said, and hang on to it so tightly.

Soon I will pack a small bag and drive to one of my favorite places, Pacem in Terris, in St. Francis, MN. It’s about a two hour drive from my home, and there are 19 hermitages placed in the woods of this retreat center. I’ll be staying in one of the three newly built hermitages, all named for saints. Mine will be St. Maximilian Kolbe, and I had to look him up because I wasn’t familiar with him. Here’s a photo, and the path that leads to it:

I never quite know what a few days in a one-room cabin in the woods will be like. The first time I went was restful and much needed, as Michael was becoming more ill with Parkinson’s. The second time I went was all about my pride, and what the humility of Christ looked like. One time I went to Pacem and the word “offering” kept coming to my mind and was in all the scriptures I turned to. Sometimes I go very heavily burdened and just want the Lord to tell me what to do next.

The first time I went to Pacem the woman who met with me before I walked back to my hermitage said, “Even though you made the plans to come here yourself, please remember it is Jesus Himself who has invited you, and He is waiting for you in your hermitage.” I’ve been pondering that these past few days. I believe with all my heart that He will be waiting for me when I open the door, and I pray I will receive His words, correction, cleansing and hope. I know that He lives within all believers and is always with us, but there is something quite set apart about going to a hermitage in the woods to be solely and wholly with Him. He knows how deaf I can be, I ask Him now to open my ears. He has experience with healing the deaf and the blind and the lame. And the dead. So no matter what hinders me, He is able.

Can you imagine opening your mailbox and seeing an inviation from Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, sitting there with your name glowing on the envelope? I wonder what He would invite us to? I know He invites me to prayer all the time, and too often I don’t show up. He invites me to deep trust, but I’m more familiar with fretting. He invites me to keep company with Him, and I turn to lesser things. What would I do without His patience and mercy? I would have died decades ago, but that is another story for another time.

I was going through old pictures two weeks ago and found a blurry one of my sixteen-year old self. This was taken in Squaw Valley, California, at Girl’s State. It was a program for high school juniors from all over the state to spend a week learning about government by participating in actual campaigns and elections. We never got snow where I grew up in Covina, CA, so I guess I wanted to stand in a leftover patch at the ski resort that hosted us.

That girl in the picture was in pain. Her parents had split up two years before after 31 years of marriage, her brothers hated each other, she had a boyfriend who was not a standup guy, and her priorities were all wrong, and she knew it.

I feel love and kindness for that tall, uncertain girl. I’m so thankful the Lord did too, and kept her alive and kept pouring out His mercy and faithfulness on her life. He brought her out into a more spacious place and saw her through dry deserts and mucky swamps of sin of her own making. I’m so grateful He saw fit to give her three daughters who her heart beats for today. His goodness was so deep and wide He let her hold and kiss eleven grandbabies, with one still yet being formed in her mama. The ocean of His mercy in which He bathed her has now allowed her to receive invitations to come and spend time alone with Him, because He’s not finished with her yet.

Have you ever received an invitation from God? What did He invite you to?

Thank you for stopping by, friends. May you have peace and hope this Thanksgiving.

This, that and the other…

October 22, 2022 | My Jottings

It has been many weeks since I’ve walked in the woods, or at the cemetery or on the lakewalk. Walking from my bedroom to the kitchen during the summer was an accomplishment. Now that my fractured tibia has mostly healed, I’ve been thinking about walking in the woods near Lester Park, on the eastern boundary of our city.

When Michael and I were raising our family we lived a couple of blocks from the Lester River, which empties into Lake Superior. We used to walk over to the woods that surround the river and hike the loop and return home, which was about a two mile easy walk. Some of the pines are considered old-growth, and it’s calming and awe-inspiring to walk the needle-cushioned paths under their canopy many feet above.

Lloyd came and picked me up and we set off on one of the trails around 8:30 a.m. I took my trekking poles and they ended up helping so much, especially when the path went downhill. My bone might have healed, but the soft tissue injuries from my fall in July are still apparent, and are said to take a year to heal. The muscles and ligaments all around the knees are still sore.

We had thought we would walk twenty minutes into the woods, then turn around and walk back to the car. We ended up walking for about an hour and ten minutes. I had to go slower than normal, but oh, how lovely it felt to be out in the dry, brisk fall morning air, surrounded by falling leaves and the smell of pine.

Here’s the Lester River as soon as we got onto the trail:

The white pines grow so straight and true, and their trunks are as wide as a large refrigerator:

Here’s Lloyd standing next to a majestic white pine:

I love this poem by Joyce Kilmer:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.


I always hope to see lots of wildlife when I’m in or near the woods, but yesterday all we saw were chickadees fluttering around and calling right above our heads. The sound of the river swirling in its various pools and rapids as we walked further away from the Lake made me breathe deeply and question why I don’t get outside more often. That is the quandary of a nature-loving homebody. I love to be at home, I love to be outside. Too often the former wins out.

Today I drove down to Lloyd’s cabin and will spend one night. He is taking a nap in the loft as I type this, and I’ve got my feet up in our loveseat/recliner, a Yeti full of cold water near me on the side table, and a wonderful window view of the forest that surrounds his home. Most of the leaves have fallen but the few that remain are rustling in the breeze in a way that makes me think they’re giving one last applause before they lose their grip and become part of the earth. Will I be able to do that? When my life is almost bare and the last of me is getting ready to let go, will I give my applause and praise to my Creator up until the very end? I pray He gives me the grace to do so.

My long-time friend Linda and I had lunch together recently and it’s a blessing to be with her. We have watched each other’s children grow up and now we are older women coping with the challenges that aging brings. She’s one of those brilliant creatives who can do almost anything artistic, but she has quilted more than anything, I believe. Linda gave me two quilts at the end of our lunch, a completely unexpected and humbling gift. One of them (which I will show someday soon) is full of orange little foxes and vibrant colors I would never have thought to put together, and it’s so stunning I keep examining it every day. The other quilt had plaid fabric and a cabin-y motif I thought would be perfect for Lloyd’s house in the woods. I have loaned the quilt to his place for a while, and here it is today, on the back of where I’m presently sitting:

So much goes into a quilt, to receive one (or two) as a gift feels lopsided or heavy, like you’ve received so much more than lovely pieces of fabric put together. I cherish them.

Are any of you Doc Martin fans? I am, because my dear friend Su introduced Michael and I to the series years ago. Of course I then had to initiate Lloyd, and he is a devoted fan. Su let me know recently that there are two episodes from the final season out, and last night Lloyd and I watched them. We laughed out loud several times, and he said, “You know how good these are when the whole episode goes by in just a few minutes.” I’ve also been enjoying the week-by-week releases of the newest season of The Great British Baking Show. What have you been watching lately? Shetland is on my list too.

My middle daughter Carolyn was in a delightful community play recently called Nunsense!. She played Sister Robert Anne in the musical, and was one of five singing and tap-dancing nuns who had the audience laughing and clapping along with them. Here’s a photo of my girl (she’s the nun on the right):

I’ll share some other things when I post again, but it’s getting close to dinner time and Lloyd and I are going to make a salad and split a sirloin steak to thinly slice and put on top of the greens. We also bought a loaf of French country bread at Costco and that sounds like something that would make the parotid glands awaken.

What do you always buy at Costco? Our store is fairly new so I’m still getting accustomed to it, but here are some things I’ve loved from Costco: their organic chicken breasts, frozen blueberries, cauliflower crust pizza, and bed sheets. Lloyd is partial to their extra-large pumpkin pies.

Have a peaceful weekend, friends.