Birthday Reflections

June 14th, 2018

I had a lovely day today – I got to spend a few hours out on my balcony reading with blue skies and gentle breezes blowing.

And I drove a short distance and went for a walk in the woods by the Potomac River.

On the way to Red Rock Wilderness Park, I heard Casting Crown’s new song on the radio, and it struck me as a perfect Birthday Song. Truly God is the God of all my days.

But that also got me thinking of Psalm 37:4 — “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

I am in the middle of getting the desire of my heart, make no mistake about it.

No, I don’t have every desire of my heart.

But I am in the middle of a huge one being fulfilled – I am on the Newbery committee! I get to tell the world about great books! And – I get to spend my birthday reading great books, sitting out on a beautiful balcony. I get to go walk in the woods and have my spirit restored. I even have loving friends who come read with me (I spent the evening at my Silent Book Club) and bring me cupcakes and flowers.

Truly, God has given me the desire of my heart. My cup overflows.

May I continue to see all the reasons He gives me to find delight.

Rolled Away

May 27th, 2018

I’ve been thinking about these verses for the past couple of weeks. And I can’t avoid the thought that God’s trying to tell me something.

The women were on the way to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body. Even though he told them more than once he was going to rise from the dead. And they were stewing about how they’d move the stone. It was very large.

This should have been a legitimate concern – The stone was very large. Three women probably wouldn’t have been able to move it. But maybe they could have found someone to do it. Maybe with some effort they could have figured it out. Maybe the Roman guards would have taken pity on them. They weren’t planning to steal the body – just wrap it with spices.

As it was? This example is the epitome of needless worry. They’re worrying about who’s going to roll the stone away – when a much, much bigger miracle had happened.

Yes, their worry was taken care of – the stone was miraculously rolled away – but that was only the beginning of how God came through for them.

***

In my life, I’ve got something I’ve been praying about for a long time. It’s something I can legitimately put some effort into trying to make happen. (And I’ve worked on it in the past with no luck, but maybe I just didn’t work hard enough!)

But I feel like God’s been telling me “Wait on the Lord.” And I also feel like God’s been telling me, “I’m going to take care of this one for you.”

But I still get tempted to stew. Right now I’m on the Newbery committee, so I don’t have time to put in effort on this anyway. But what about after my Newbery service is done? Maybe I should start working on it again then? Who will roll the stone away? Above all, even though that’s still a ways away, Hadn’t I better make plans?

About a month ago, the verse that kept coming up was John 4:50 — The man took Jesus at his word and departed.

Now it’s The stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

I do believe that in general, we have a certain responsibility to do our part. My pastor has talked about the Path of Trust – somewhere smack in the middle of Control and Letting It Happen.

Me? Without fail, my tendency is to be on the Control side of the diagram – at least trying to be in control.

How many ways does God need to tell me He’s got this?

And maybe there’s a bigger miracle going to happen than even the part I could have tried to organize myself.

Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb?

Let’s watch and see. Maybe it will be God Himself.

And maybe that will be the smallest part of the miracle God’s going to do.

[Photo: Skerries Beach, Ireland, July 2001]

My Story Revisited

May 22nd, 2018

It was my turn to tell my story at my small group on Sunday. I didn’t want to tell the same story I told in church last year, mainly focused on my divorce and all I learned from that.

So – I focused more on growing up in a big family and growing up as a rule-follower in a conservative Christian family – basically becoming a Pharisee.

I’d been thinking about what to say for awhile. I didn’t, however, write it out ahead of time, as our small group leader suggested that we do. And when I was done, I was dissatisfied, even a little depressed. Because I talked about some hard things that happened to me, but I didn’t bring out all the good results.

So, now that it’s after the fact – I want to pull some things out of my story. What’s the important part? Not that I got hurt in certain specific ways, but that the person who I am today was shaped by the things that happened to me.

The approach I’m going to take is: Who am I? I’m going to pull out what feels true about me, and talk about how I know that from my story.

The things that follow may be in random order, but they feel true about me:

I’m a person who needs to live near some green. Something wild, or something beautiful in nature, or where you can walk in the woods, or near some rolling hills.

They asked why I was so upset to leave Kent, Washington, when I was a little kid and move to the Los Angeles area. As if it wasn’t obvious. And, apparently, it’s not. Apparently most other people can happily live where the sidewalks are a grid and you’d never ever see a deer run by (or a great blue heron).

Okay, living in a place like that didn’t really happen for me until I was 32 years old and we moved to Germany. And that is the big thing I loved, loved, loved about living in Germany – in the countryside. The view fed my soul. The walks in the woods. The deer running by. But that yearning for beauty in nature had already gotten into my heart in Kent. But I’ve gotten to live places like that for at least 20 years now. And now it’s a need.

Hmmm. I also love castles, too. But I pretty much have to do without that now.

This is also tied with loving to travel. I mostly like to travel to beautiful places – you know, places with castles! Or perhaps with forests or mountains or ocean….

And it’s tied with loving to take photos. A photo of a beautiful place I’ve been can pull me right back.

I need a little snow in my life.

When I was 4 years old and not in school yet, Seattle got a “big snow.” Ricky and Becky got to get out of school early and walk up the hill in the snow. We played in the snow and made snowmen. The next year, when I was in Kindergarten – the *only* time it snowed that year was a tiny bit of snow – while I was supposed to be taking a nap. Gone when I was allowed to go outside. I overheard our bus driver actually say she was glad we hadn’t gotten any snow! I vowed then and there never to be the kind of grown-up who didn’t like snow! I have pretty much kept that vow, though it’s challenged a bit when I have to drive in it. (But when I was an adjunct math instructor, a snow day was the only way I got paid time off – so I liked snow even more.)

This is, actually, closely tied to needing to live where there’s some green. I’m not a fan of heat or deserts or bright headache-inducing sun.

Christian music – and singing along – is important to me.

And, what do you know, it’s been important since I was 4 years old, dancing around the house and singing along to Little Marcy records.

Then singing hymns with my sister Becky with our little faces out the back windows of the van on vacations and all the way to church and back for years. Then A Capella Choir in high school and the Biola Chorale in college. The William Locke singers. Even the German-American choir. And still, music filling my home, and singing a hymn every morning while making breakfast.

I’ve read that affirmations are good for you. Well, I prefer to sing my affirmations. And put them straight into my heart.

I do love babies.

I’ve often said, if you catch a little girl when she’s eight years old and put her around a lot of babies, she’s always going to be confident taking care of them. I love babies.

I did, however, learn from my mother that just because you love babies doesn’t mean you have to give birth to them.

My own babies, though, were the most wonderful of all! And the two people who were once my babies are the two people I love most in all the world.

Loving babies is perfect, though, for being a children’s librarian.

I love reading. And I love reading to kids.

My Mom taught me to read when I was 3 years old. And I’ve always loved it. I remember her reading to me when I was small enough to fit on her lap. And I remember later reading to my younger siblings. And I remember the one-hour naps she made us take every day (when we were home) – and we could spend it reading instead of sleeping if we wanted to. I remember once I stayed in bed after the nap was over and spent 5 hours reading until I’d finished The Black Stallion Revolts. I also remember when my Mom made me go to bed awfully early (when I was still in elementary school but my older brother and sister weren’t), and I went into my walk-in closet and read books instead of going to bed. I remember reading Little Women that way and crying when Beth died.

I’m an introvert who loves attention.

I’m an introvert – so I love time to myself and time to read. Living alone actually feels like a luxurious privilege.

But – I’m from a big family and somewhat starved for attention. When someone actually notices me, listens to me, pays attention to my thoughts and feelings – that feels amazingly good.

I mentioned these things were in random order, right?

I love Jesus.

I remember my Mom being my Sunday School teacher when we lived in Kent and I was 3 or 4 years old. I played with flannel graph Bible story pieces. I believed it – and God has walked with me my whole life.

As early as junior high, I started doing the Bible Fellowship, a devotional system by mail that was fond of check charts. Then our high school youth group put a big emphasis on daily quiet times – and that’s still an important part of my daily routine. I spend some time reading the Bible, memorizing, reading some other books, and especially journaling about it. I think that’s an important part of keeping my eyes on what life is about.

I know an awful lot about the Bible.

My parents paid me to memorize Scripture. I love God’s word. I’ve memorized (a chapter at a time) all of the New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Hosea, and more. I also attended Christian schools from 3rd grade through college – Long Beach Brethren Elementary School, Brethren Junior/Senior High School, and Biola University.

Now, my memorizing Scripture meant that I didn’t swallow what people told me the Bible said easily. I can read it for myself. If you think the Bible supports your view, tell me where it says that, and I will consider for myself if I think that’s a valid interpretation. When political groups tried to say the Bible teaches what only one political party believes, I knew full well it was a load of hogwash.

My eyes were opened when I memorized John 9, where the Pharisees proved from Scripture (what they thought their Scriptures said) that Jesus was not from God — “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

Since Jesus surprised the theologians of his day when he came the first time, who’s to say he’s not going to surprise everyone the second time? As C. S. Lewis says, “He’s not a tame lion.”

I believe that God will eventually save everyone.

I came to this belief as an adult, from reading the writings of George MacDonald. He obviously knew and loved the Bible, so how could he think this was true? Well, I searched the Scriptures (I began by reading the New Testament and looking for the words “all” and “every.”) – and I came to believe that this fits beautifully with the pervasive teaching of the Scriptures.

I still believe in hell – but not that it is unending. I’ve done some reading in many other books and learned that the word translated “eternal” in English is better translated “of the eons” – it means an indefinitely long time, but not necessarily unending. And – that fits with the overwhelmingly consistent message of Scripture that God loves everyone, while they are still sinners, that Jesus died for the whole world – and God’s punishment is to restore us. Nowhere does the Bible say that death is the deadline for coming to Christ. On the contrary, one day “Every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” And one day Christ will be all in all.

This belief changed my whole outlook. If God is really going to search for every lost sheep until they are found – then it cuts off my pride at the feet. Then my privilege of growing up in a Christian family and hearing of God’s love from an early age – is nothing to be proud of. It’s a responsibility to then grow to be loving like Christ. And that love reaches to everyone.

I believe God is personal, and God speaks, and God leads each person on their own path. I believe that God delights in His children and that He knows and loves us for being the quirky people He created us to be.

I learned more about that as God walked with me through my divorce and as I’ve connected with the people at Gateway Community Church here in Virginia.

I’m politically liberal.

This is not how I grew up. I think it came out of living in downtown Los Angeles as a young adult and then in Germany as an older adult. I saw some common sense things that worked really well there – better health care and much better social safety net (even “Kindergeld” – money for children!) and better gun laws. I felt safe to walk around outside at night. Also no billboards by the Autobahns and hiking trails everywhere.

Besides, Libraries are socialism done right! When communities invest in the good of the community (like libraries) – everyone benefits.

I’ve been tremendously blessed in my jobs.

Okay, the first job – MacDonald’s – was nothing special.

Working as a Student Programmer for Computer Services, programming for the university administration, was an awesome college job.

A teaching assistantship paid for grad school.

Turning around and teaching at Biola was a great way to start my adult life. They were good to me with maternity leave, too. And then I was able to get part-time adjunct math instructor jobs quickly when we moved to New Jersey and then Illinois.

I wasn’t *crazy* about teaching kids who didn’t want to learn math, but I learned to enjoy it – and it enabled me to spend most of my time with my kids and not put them into day care. Their dad took care of them while I was teaching – and that was fantastic for his relationship with them and his confidence as a father. Especially that first year when I was working full-time, so he was full-time with our baby.

I taught college math for ten years. It also enabled my husband to get an Associate’s degree in Computer Science (on top of his Bachelor’s in music) for a deep discount.

And then after we moved to Germany, I got a half-time job at the base library – and found my calling. I worked there for eight years.

When I came to Germany, while I was still taking library science classes, I got a part-time job at almost the closest library to my house.

When I finished my MLIS, I got a full-time job at the very closest library to my house.

The worst part was when I got RIF’d and had to work for the Office for Children for six months. But the good part of that was I still had a job – and it brought me to the regional library where I still work now and eventually got the Youth Services Manager position.

I am doing what I love and what I am called to do. I am blessed that way.

Let’s see. Also true about me:

I love telling people about good books.

I began my website of book reviews, Sonderbooks, in 2001 as an email newsletter. It’s still going strong, and now I’m on the Newbery committee as well.

I almost forgot to mention:

I love math.

I was a math major at Biola, got a Master’s in Math from UCLA, taught college math for ten years – and now make mathematical knitting projects, which delight me.

Tied with this, I love logic puzzles and playing Euro games (which is often like solving a puzzle).

It was a shock when my youngest went to college and I had to find people to play games with outside of my own home. Growing up, of course, that was never ever a problem. And I trained my kids to play games with me. Fortunately, I found some gaming groups and now get to play games most weeks. Intellectual stimulation plus getting to connect with friends – an all-round win.

I love to write.

Blogs and emails and book reviews are the main way this gets out now. I do have two books written – some day I’ll get published, though that’s on the back burner now that I’m on the Newbery committee. And I also write daily in my quiet time journal, writing out prayers to God about what’s going on.

I like to keep my friends.

I’ve been friends with Kathe and Darlene since 3rd grade and with Ruth since 7th grade. I love Facebook – because I get to hear about people who have touched my life, people I care about.

I wanted to keep my best-friend-that-was, my ex-husband, and tried to stand for my marriage for a very long time, but I did learn that you can’t keep a marriage by yourself.

I’ve talked about the divorce process elsewhere, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. But I’m still glad I married him. He was my best friend, and we became adults together. Being married to him meant I got to live in Europe for ten years and discover how much I loved working in a library – getting a job via Spouse Preference. And we adventured in Europe together for several years before things went sour. I loved his sense of humor, and he was a great dad to our kids – and even recently spent two weeks when our daughter had a crisis and I couldn’t be there.

Now, at this point I’m also thankful we’re divorced. I hope that a new life partner is in my future, because living with your best friend brings joy and challenges you to grow. But I have to admit I’m enjoying this interlude of living alone in a beautiful place with plenty of books to read.

I made this “Visual Mission Statement” a few years back. I think everything I said above is included in it somewhere.

So – it didn’t come out as a coherent “story,” but I hope this gives you an idea of who I am.

I guess I forgot this one:

I believe that God works all things together for good. I believe that Joy is the hallmark of the Christian.

That statement about Joy was something a Biola professor used to say. I think Joy is important. Because I believe it’s part of trusting God.

So that’s why I wanted to post this addendum to the story I told yesterday. That story (which I didn’t write out) focused too much on things that happened to me. I wanted to finish up by thinking about what it meant and who I am.

God is so good, and He has walked with me all my life.

Right now, my life is very happy and full. And I’m excited to find out what comes next!

Three Little Lessons

April 6th, 2018

I was thinking today about what I’m learning in my life lately. And I came up with three things. Thinking about them made me happier today.

The first one came from lately being hyperaware of single men somewhere near my age and whether I might meet them. A friend told me about a single man she’d met – and there was absolutely nothing to indicate that he might have anything in common with me – except that he appeared to be single. (No ring on the fourth finger of his left hand.)

On top of that, I’ve been joking with friends about where I might meet single men – it’s pretty much an attitude of scarcity.

But lately I’ve been talking with other single women. We talk about how nice it is to set our own schedule and make our own choices and pursue our own interests. I’m remembering a bigger truth:

Lesson One: Even if I never get married again, I’m going to have a richly happy life.

When I think about what I don’t have, I forget how wonderful my life is right now.

I by no means want to get married just for the sake of getting married. I do believe that someone may come along who could enhance my life and make it even better than it is now. But if such a man never comes along? It is no tragedy. Life is very good.

There’s a balance. I don’t want to rule out finding a partner or shut men out of my life. But lately, I was thinking a little too much about “finding a man” as being a problem.

But I absolutely don’t want just any man. Being single and somewhere near my age is not enough! He’s going to have to be exceptional to win a place in my life!

And today was a good day to remember that. And relish a day that was exactly what I wanted it to be.

Lesson Two: Enjoy this time while I’m on the Newbery committee.

I recently made a new plan to get more reading time in: Reading every day from 7 to 9, whether morning or evening or both.

But then I noticed I wasn’t necessarily getting in a quiet time. And I was getting a little bit uptight about whether I got the reading time in.

And I just need to remember – this is a time I’ll look back on all my life. Might as well enjoy it!

With that in mind, today I sat out on my balcony in the afternoon and read a book from start to finish!

It meant that I needed to do some other things from 7 to 9 tonight. But while I was out there, winds were blowing, and birds were singing. It was warm enough I didn’t need a jacket. The wind meant I could hear gentle ripples coming from the lake. I have a comfortable chair and can put my feet up.

In short, it was a lovely, idyllic afternoon. I’m so glad I seized the opportunity while I had it.

Lesson Three: Remember how far the Lord has brought me.

This came from reading Mark 5:34 this morning. Jesus says to a woman whom He healed, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

I’ve been reading Project 52 this year, which I wrote last year. And it reminded me that 12 years ago, I was suffering. Suffering greatly.

Today, I am free from my suffering.

And I am so thankful.

Okay, those lessons aren’t as big as the ones I learned when I was suffering. But they were good to think about today. Call them Lessons in a Time of Joy.

Resurrection and Brahms’ Requiem

March 31st, 2018

When I was a young adult, I was part of a choir, the William Locke Singers, that sang Johannes Brahms’ A German Requiem. We were told that this is a Protestant Requiem, and is all about hope.

We sang it in English, and indeed the text is entirely taken from the Bible – verses full of hope and about the beauty of heaven and about comfort.

Some time before we performed the Requiem, a college friend died in a freak accident. This requiem – and singing those words over and over again – comforted me.

I often play the Requiem over and sing along at Easter when I’m thinking about Resurrection.

This year, today I’m attending a memorial service for an elder of our church who died after a long battle with cancer. He was only a little older than me, and leaves a wife and two adult kids – and a grieving church.

So – today not only am I listening to this wonderful requiem, I’m going to type out all the verses in the text.

Now, in the music form, this is extremely, extremely repetitive. So learning this piece gets you thinking about these things and repeating them in beautiful music over and over and over again. The words are beautiful – but singing them in this incredible piece of art puts them right into your heart.

I.
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall have comfort.

They that sow, that sow in tears, shall reap, shall reap in joy.
Who goeth forth and weepeth, and beareth precious seed,
shall doubtless return with rejoicing, and bring his sheaves with him.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall have comfort.

II.
Behold, all flesh is as the grass, and all the goodliness of man is as the flower of grass;
For lo, the grass with’reth, and the flower thereof decayeth.

Now therefore, be patient, O my brethren, unto the coming of Christ.
See how the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit, the precious fruit of the earth,
and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early rain and the latter rain.
So be ye patient.

Behold, all flesh is as the grass, and all the goodliness of man is as the flower of grass.
For lo, the grass with’reth, and the flower thereof decayeth.

But yet the Lord’s word endureth, endureth for evermore.

The redeemed of the Lord shall return again, and come rejoicing unto Zion;
Joy everlasting upon their heads shall be.
Joy and gladness, these shall be their portion,
and tears and sighing shall flee from them.

The redeemed of the Lord shall return again, and come rejoicing unto Zion;
Joy everlasting, joy upon their heads shall be.
Joy everlasting.

III.
Lord, make me to know the measure of my days on earth, to consider my frailty,
that I must perish.
Surely, all my days here are as an handbreadth to Thee,
and my lifetime is as naught to Thee.

Verily, mankind walketh in a vain show, and their best state is altogether vanity.
Man passeth away like a shadow, he is disquieted in vain,
he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.

Now, Lord, O, what do I wait for?

My hope is in Thee, my hope is in Thee.

But the righteous souls are in the hand of God, nor pain nor grief shall nigh them come.

IV.
How lovely is Thy dwellingplace, O Lord of Hosts, O Lord of Hosts!
For my soul, it longeth, yea, fainteth for the courts of the Lord;
my soul and body crieth out, yea, for the living God.

How lovely is Thy dwellingplace, O Lord of Hosts, O Lord of Hosts!
Blest are they, O blest are they that dwell within Thy house;
they praise Thy name evermore, they praise Thee for evermore!

How lovely is Thy dwellingplace.

V.
Ye now are sorrowful,
howbeit, ye shall again behold me, and your heart shall be joyful.

Yea, I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforteth.

Look upon me; ye know that for a little time labour and sorrow were mine,
but at the last I have found comfort.

Yea, I will comfort, will comfort you.

Ye now are sorrowful;
howbeit, ye shall again behold me, and your heart shall be joyful.

Yea, I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforteth.

VI.
Here on earth have we no continuing place,
howbeit, we seek one to come.

Lo, I unfold unto you a mystery.
We shall not all sleep when He cometh,
but we shall all be changed,
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the trumpet.

For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.

Then, then, what of old was written, the same shall be brought to pass.

For death shall be swallowed in victory, yea, in victory!

Grave, where is thy triumph?
Death, O where is thy sting?

Worthy art Thou to be praised, Lord of honour and might,
for Thou hast earth and heaven created,
and for Thy good pleasure all things have their being, and were created.

VII.
Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.

Saith the spirit, that they rest from their labours,
and that their works follow after them.

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.

Amen.

I looked for a youtube video of Brahms’ Requiem sung in English, and found this playlist, which should take you through all the movements.

Nostalgia

February 17th, 2018

Last year, I wrote Project 52, writing about all 52 years of my life, a year each week.

This year, I’m reading what I wrote, at the same pace, covering a year each week. Right now, I’m reading about the time I’m most nostalgic about – my kids were young, we lived in Germany, and were visiting castles on our free weekends. In the pictures, you can see the joy on their young, sweet faces. Ah! That was the life! Looking at the pictures alone lifts my spirits.

But you can see the danger. I can’t visit castles any more. My kids are grown (as they should be!). And I’m not married any more. Nostalgia’s dangerous because it can lead to discontent.

And I have to admit that Valentine’s Day plays into that. I agree with my little sister that it’s lovely to have a holiday that celebrates love and romance, which are both beautiful things and make the world a better place. But the danger is being discontent.

Now, I know full well that while I am on the Newbery committee would be a really bad time to look hard for a new man in my life. It just plain wouldn’t be fair to go online and find a match and then tell him, “I like you, but I don’t have much time to spend with you until next year. Sorry about that.”

However, that doesn’t help all that much when Valentine’s Day comes around and I start being tempted to discontent.

Today I was looking through my journal where I wrote down the things I thought God was telling me over the past ten years. Now, I thought He was telling me that my ex-husband would come back some day – and I don’t think that any more.

But I keep going back to the things I thought God was telling me to do. I believe that He was telling me to Wait – and that was a good thing. That was not a mistake.

He also gave me words of loving encouragement – way too perfectly timed to be coincidence: That He was making me beautiful, and making me shine like a star. That He loves me, deeply and amazingly. That He notices me, cares for me, and is watching over my life.

And, come on, Sondy – I am on the NEWBERY COMMITTEE!!!!!

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the day will come when I am nostalgic about this time – right now, today – when I’m on the Newbery committee! and spending all my free time reading.

I have a wonderful home. I have a lake to walk by. It’s not as pretty during the winter when there’s no snow and everything’s brown – but I brought my camera on my walk today to remind me that it’s still beautiful. And as I’m writing this, it’s snowing outside.

The truth is that the Lord has showered me with blessings – already, right NOW.

If I do get married again some day, I have no doubt I’ll get nostalgic about this time when my time is my own. I can spend an extra hour on my quiet time, write a meditative blog post, go for a walk around my lake, and, of course, read, read, read – and nobody at all feels neglected.

So, again, I’m using the power of future nostalgia to remind me that I am gloriously blessed.

And I am loved by the Lord.

I’ll finish with the amazing verse I felt like God gave me last May. It reminds me that I am amazingly, wonderfully, beautifully blessed.

And, doggone it, I’m going to enjoy it!

Song of Songs 2:10-12 —
“My beloved spoke and said to me,
‘Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come.'”

Yes, I’m loved. Yes, the Lord is making me beautiful.

It’s time for singing!

Stone of Help

February 3rd, 2018

I got a new car just before the New Year!

I’m naming the car “Ebenezer,” “Benny” for short, after I Samuel 7:12, where Samuel set up a stone saying, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped.”

The car is reminding me of all the things that have worked out for good lately.

And let me try to explain some of the things that came together when I bought this car.

I’ve been in a horrible black hole of credit card debt for years. Most of it started when I got divorced, and when I moved to Virginia and lost my job. But once you’re deeply in debt, it feels foolish to save, because you should be using any “extra” money to pay down credit card debt. But then when big expenses come up, you have to borrow to pay them. On top of that, any trips I took or any other splurges – I borrowed to do it. So a lot of the debt was my own fault for doing that too much.

For a few years now, along with New Year’s Goals, I’ve come up with 7 prayer requests to pray daily in the new year. Ever since I started doing that, one of the prayer requests was to get out of debt. The associated goal was always much, much less, and more realistic – to reduce the total by a few thousand. I didn’t think this was a prayer that could happen in less than 5 years.

In November 2016, wanting to speed up paying off my debt, I took out a 4-year installment loan to cover the highest rate cards. I knew it would make my budget tight, but I thought it would be worth it to speed up paying off the cards.

In the next few months after borrowing that money, my car needed $2700 of repairs. I knew I couldn’t afford a new car – I wanted to wait at least until I paid off my library school student loans in November 2017 – but to pay that amount, I had to borrow – so the monthly payments got yet higher.

Then in November 2017, I paid off my student loan! Hooray! A little leeway in my budget!

But at the end of December, my car’s Check Engine light went off again. Sure enough, it would cost $5000 to fix it. Well, I didn’t have student loan payments any more. That meant I knew I could make payments, right? I did decide to buy a new car.

The old one, a 2002 Prius, had 126,000 miles on it when I bought it in 2008. It had over 227,000 miles when it died. This time, I wanted to get the benefit of the best 126,000 miles! It turned out now they make a Prius C (for compact) that is less expensive. And my car broke down between Christmas and New Year’s – which I’ve heard is the best time to buy a car. I got 0.9% financing for 72 months. It turned out they hadn’t gone up in price a whole lot since I’d bought my first one. Yay!

So that was wonderful – but I was still wondering how I’d pay for it!

It was clear that my home had gone up in value since I’d bought it almost five years ago. I checked, and some neighbors had recently sold the same model for $290,000 and $295,000. (I bought it for $255,000.) Since that meant I had more than 20% equity, I wondered if I should refinance to get rid of my mortgage insurance on my FHA loan.

Well, long story short, that wasn’t a good idea, because my first mortgage is at 3.25%. Also, I got my FHA mortgage a month before the rules changed – so my insurance will automatically go away when I hit 78% of the original purchase price – in 4 or 5 years.

But all this time I’d thought that a home equity loan would count against hitting that 78%. But because of buying the car, I looked into it and learned that isn’t the case. It turned out that the public value out there for my place came in at $277,000, without me getting an appraisal. And at this time, I qualified for exactly enough money to pay off all my credit cards and have a little money left over for a cushion. (The cushion quickly went away with a couple expenses that came up. So just exactly the right amount of money.)

Once I think about it, the timing is amazing:

My car didn’t break down until I’d paid off my student loan. If it had happened sooner, I might have kept borrowing to keep it running.

It happened at the best time to buy a new car.

It motivated me to find out about home equity loans.

It happened when I qualified for exactly the right amount to pay off my credit cards. (It’s 15-year fixed rate, so it won’t last forever, either.)

Now I realize I’m still in debt, but now it’s secured debt. And the best part is that now my budget has some room to save – so I can try with all my might to save for future big expenses and try to never get back into credit card debt again.

On top of that, this happened just as 2018 was beginning. 2018 is the year I’m serving on the Newbery committee. The Newbery committee is a dream come true and also represents things working out for good.

I applied four years earlier to be on the committee – and missed it by 15 votes. But this is a much better time. It makes my Empty Nest an asset instead of something to mope about.

Why, I’m having so much fun going to classes and talking about the Newbery committee – I realized that this even shows me that I’m happier in my current job than I would have been in the Youth Materials Selector job I applied for a few years ago and was sad not to get. In that job, it wouldn’t be a natural outgrowth to do outreach to schools – but as Youth Services Manager, that fits in beautifully. Yep, that’s worked out for good, too.

There’s ONE thing left that hasn’t worked out in my life.

I find it just plain funny how, when things are going most beautifully, on two different days that I noticed were particularly good – I caught myself thinking about that one thing left. (Oh, the ability of humans to think about what we don’t have instead of about what we do!)

It’s that I’m still single. And there are apparently no prospects for changing that.

But the truth is, it’s a lot easier to spend all my spare time reading when I’m not in a relationship. If God has worked out so many other things for good – including perfect timing – I really do believe He can work out that one, too.

And I don’t have time for a man right now, anyway!

And mind you, I’m very, very happy. (I won’t get started on how much, much, much I’m enjoying Newbery committee activities – and I’ve barely begun.)

But when I find myself going down the path of thinking about what I don’t have – my little car is now a physical reminder: Hitherto hath the Lord helped!

Christmas Letter 2017

December 23rd, 2017

Merry Christmas, Friends!

Here’s wishing you joyful holidays in every way!

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…” (Psalm 107:2)

A big part of 2017 was telling my story.  As the year began, I was in the middle of Project 52 – during each week of the year I was 52, I wrote about one year of my life on my Sonderjourneys blog. Just before I got to the divorce years, I gave my testimony in church – and then writing about those years helped me clearly see how much good God had brought me despite and through the pain. In many ways, I felt like Project 52 put a capstone on my healing journey.

And now a new journey is beginning! On April 12, I learned that I was elected to the 2019 Newbery Medal Selection Committee! What this means is that I will be reading as many American children’s books published in 2018 as I possibly can. My 14 other committee members and I will be meeting in Seattle in January 2019 to make our decision. I am thrilled about this, and it’s going to keep me busy all next year.

I again took some memorable trips this year. In August, I visited my friend Marilynn, who had just moved to South Carolina, and saw the total solar eclipse.

In October, I went to Portland, Oregon, and visited my kids, Jade (who is now going by Amber) and Tim, saw siblings Melanie, Marcy, Robert, Peter, and Becky (who was also visiting) – and saw my FIVE little nieces! Marcy & John had their third little girl, Kara, joining Alyssa and Zoe, and Robert & Laura have Arianna and Meredith. It did my heart so much good to see all of them!

For my second year in a row, this Fall I did a reading retreat in Chincoteague, Virginia, and saw some ponies. Since I’ll need to do so much reading next year, this may keep happening.

My church, Gateway Community Church, completed our beautiful new building. It’s lovely to no longer meet in a middle school. The church is growing rapidly in the new space. I’ve gone back to working in the nursery and still meet with a small group and post on the church blog. We’re trying to use our space during the week, and I started a weekly group – a Silent Book Club, for reading, of course!

I’m still Youth Services Manager at City of Fairfax Regional Library, and keep loving my job more all the time. I still spend lots of time writing and posting Sonderbooks.com. And most weeks I get together with a great bunch of friends and play Eurogames.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas,
Sondy Eklund

TOP TEN REASONS I’M THRILLED TO BE ON THE NEWBERY COMMITTEE:
10. My employers are even bragging that they’ve got a librarian on the Newbery. Wow!
9. I get to be in the Room Where It Happens.
8. Reinforces that I made a good decision becoming a children’s librarian.
7. My library system is going to fund my four trips to ALA conferences during my committee service.
6. I get to discuss children’s books with people who love them as much as I do.
5. Publishers are going to mail me piles of new children’s books.
4. This turned my Empty Nest into an asset instead of something to mope about.
3. Forever after, the shiny sticker on the book we choose will remind me of this wonderful experience.
2. This gives me a new platform for talking with kids about children’s books and the Newbery Medal.
1. Books, books, books!
I get to spend all my spare time for the next year reading – without guilt!

Love and Connection

October 20th, 2017

I’ve been thinking about love lately.

Our pastor preached on “Right Connection” last Sunday. Although I agreed with his points – We are made for connection; right connection with God helps us have right connection with people and vice versa; right connection is incredibly important – a couple of implications from how it came out bothered me a little bit and got me thinking.

In talking about how much right connection with God helps us to connect with people, he mentioned how much a tough marriage affects your whole life and hurts your happiness.

But – I have experience with a tough marriage and heartbreak in marriage, and I have friends in similar situations. Being in a tough marriage does not mean something’s wrong with your connection with God. And I especially disagree with any implication that heartbreak has to destroy your happiness. I mean, by definition heartbreak makes you sad. But – finding joy in other things was a crucial part of healing for me. And being surrounded by the love of friends was also crucial.

So – all that got me thinking about love. I’d also just finished reading Lorna Byrne’s book Love from Heaven. Lorna Byrne says that from birth, she has been able to see and talk with angels. She also says that the angels taught her what the force of love looks like coming out from people. Angels showed her that people are born with a soul of pure love – but with one thing and another, we learn to wrap a band around our hearts and lock up our love.

(You can feel love and peace coming from a newborn – at least one who’s sleeping!)

Now, I believe that loving others is all wrapped up in following Christ. My pastor also preached on Sunday about two passages that affirm this. Jesus said that people will know his disciples by their love for one another. Jesus also said that the two commands that sum up the Law and the Prophets are Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

So why do I know so many Christians who are in marriages that are breaking their hearts? If our faith helps us to love, why does that happen?

Well, to me, the thing about humans loving others is that we get hurt. We fail to be as loving as we should, and in return we are not loved as we should be. Or it may even be no fault of our own – even babies are not always welcomed into a loving home.

What made me want to write about this was a memory that came to me this morning. It was not long after my husband had told me he wanted a divorce. Now I could tell people that I was having marriage difficulties. I told my family, and I told my Sunday school class. And I remember there was a Sunday when three different people told me, “You need to let Steve go.” The first two, I thought were just saying that because they were divorced themselves. But when my wise mentor who’d had marriage difficulties but was still married said so – well, I finally figured out God was trying to tell me something. (I managed to loosen my grip a tiny bit. Actually letting go took years. But the process was beginning.)

Anyway, what I remember about that day was that a woman in my Sunday school class who had been divorced and was standing there with her new husband was one of the people who told me I needed to let Steve go. But she also told me, “You will become hard.” She said that she had become a much harder person during her divorce, and I could in fact see it in her eyes.

I decided in my heart right then that I didn’t want that to happen to me.

And I’m not talking about dating or getting married again. I’m talking about opening my heart to love.

Lorna Byrne says that it’s all the same thing. Locking up your love affects your ability to love anyone. If you let out love in one way, it’s going to help you release love in other ways.

And that rings true.

It’s not even only love of other people, but also love of yourself and love of life.

And that ties in with what Steven Stosny talks about in his books. Among other things, he says that when you value other things or people – even something like beauty in nature – you will feel more lovable. You’ll “access” your core value.

When I was struggling through my marriage falling apart, it helped so much to find other things that brought me Joy. They helped me remember who I really was, what I was about. Sure enough, it helped me feel more lovable and valuable. (That takes a big hit when someone who’s promised to love you until death parts you decides you don’t deserve his love.)

I’m also reminded of the book Deeper Dating. That author, Ken Page, talks about finding your Core Gifts. He talks about expressing your Core Gifts and finding people who are attracted to them, attracted to you.

In a roundabout way, he’s saying the same thing as Lorna Byrne: Loving yourself makes you more lovable and more able to love. Release that love! Don’t wrap a protective band around your heart.

When I think of these in light of what Lorna Byrne is saying, it all fits. They’re talking about loving yourself – and like Lorna Byrne says, that gets you releasing love and more able to love others.

I think following Christ can also help you release love. Connecting with a community of Christ followers can also help you release love. That’s how faith can help in this.

Releasing love is dangerous though. There’s a really good chance you’ll get hurt. Being a Christ follower definitely won’t keep that from happening. You’ll be tempted to become a harder person.

But I do think that faith and loving people can help you open your heart again and love. Believing you have God’s tremendous love for you goes a long way. And actually seeing that love expressed through people – That is gold.

So – that’s what I’ve been thinking about. It’s come out a bit incoherent. But I’m trying to say that Joy in life and Love and Forgiveness are all wrapped up together. Let’s try to loosen that band around our hearts – whatever it is that’s happened to us. And let’s release that love and compassion. Let’s connect with others and refuse to become hard, even though it feels like it’s a lot safer.

And if you harden your heart in one area, I really do believe it’s going to affect your ability to love in every area.

Praise God! He loves us unconditionally, and we can go to Him when loving brings wounds. And try to learn to open up and let out that love again.

Recently, my cousin, who’s divorced, asked if someone who has once given her heart, given her all, can ever get that again.

Now, my cousin clearly loves life. I don’t think she’s wrapping a tight band around her heart. I think she’ll find that love.

And, no, romance again isn’t guaranteed. But I want to learn to radiate Love. I do believe it goes hand-in-hand with Joy and adds so much richness to life. And the thing about following Jesus is that he showers that love on us. He will help us spread that love to others.

Waiting With Grace

September 1st, 2017

I’m thinking about Waiting this week, and about God’s Timing.

God’s Timing is beautiful! I know it well, and I’ve seen evidence of that lately, in a very simple but big way.

In April, I was elected to the 2019 John Newbery Award Committee. A dream come true.

The thing is, four years ago, I was on the ballot for the 2015 Newbery Committee – and I missed being elected by 15 votes! Out of about 800 voters. My disappointment was enormous and huge.

But here’s where God’s timing comes in: This is a much better time in my life. Being on the Newbery committee makes my Empty Nest and Single State an asset, rather than something to be sad about. I’m going to need to spend a whole lot of time reading – and no one will mind.

And I have another reason to be thankful for the timing – my library system is going to pay for my trips to ALA Conferences to serve on the committee. I can safely say that this would not have happened four years ago, for various reasons.

But that doesn’t change how disappointed I was when it didn’t happen when I wanted it to.

And that reminds me of something else I want in my life. Or perhaps I should say someone else I want in my life.

Yes, being single is an asset for serving on the Newbery committee. But yes, I still want to find a new partner to share my life with.

It’s been awhile now since I shut off my online profile. I felt that God was telling me to “Wait on the Lord.”

But this past week, I got into a little bit of a funk about that. There were several reasons. A big one was that a very good friend who is not a Christian said something about not liking to watch me letting life pass me by.

Oh my goodness, that got me defensive! Because I’m HAPPY, doggone it!

Trouble is, he knows me well enough to know that I really do want to have a man in my life again.

And then I argued with him, and he said some things that made it worse. Though eventually, he apologized and we’re good – talking about other things.

But I’m thinking about Waiting.

I know in my heart that I can trust God with my future. And I also am super happy in the present.

It’s interesting to me that it didn’t necessarily help to tell my friend the human and perfectly natural reasons why I don’t want to go back online right now. I’m on the Newbery committee – I honestly don’t want to give it a lot of energy. I’m focusing on reading for the next year and a half. If I try to find someone online, I will have to change my strategy, anyway (I was not having much success with that method) – and that would take a whole lot of energy.

But the truth is, I do feel like God told me that He’s got this – that I don’t have to take charge of this! That this is something He’d like me to put in His hands.

And that’s hard for me to do. When there are things I can do to help find someone – post an online profile, go to meet-ups – am I “letting life pass me by” if I don’t do them?

Well, I don’t believe so.

But there are danger points. I think this particular time is a danger point because I’m so eager to start reading for the Newbery! I got one Advance Reader Copy of a 2018 book passed on to me a few weeks ago, and I was so excited to get started! But now I have nothing. And work suddenly got much less frantic, when the kids went back to school.

I thought I’d ask God for more confirmation that I should still be waiting. And you know what verse I got this time? John 4:50 – “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.”

What I feel like that’s saying? You KNOW I’ve got this, Sondy! Trust me, and go about your business.

So – I’m trying. In fact, the day I read that verse, I thought I should look back at what I thought Jesus’ words to me were about this – and it turned out that exactly one year before was one of the times I felt God was telling me to “Wait on the Lord” – and did give me a little sign.

And I believe it. I believe this will work out. And even if I’m totally wrong and I never get married – my life is good, and rich and full. I am absolutely sure that I don’t want to marry anyone who will not enhance my life and build me up in my faith. I’d rather be single – because my life as a single person is very sweet.

I just need to remind myself of that now and then!

And then I go back to strategies – The thing about waiting is that being impatient doesn’t speed things up one little bit. In fact, being impatient makes it seem a lot longer.

And my impatient times sneak up on me.

But there are strategies to happily waiting. Being thankful is a big one of those.

And you know what? I bet part of the problem was that since April, I’ve been SO excited and happy about the Newbery, I haven’t even needed to employ strategies to be happy!

So, yes, some of this is probably that I got impatient about getting started on my reading for the Newbery. Getting to read just one eligible book tantalized me. It won’t be long now, Sondy! (And I hope on this weekend to read some last books for grown-ups before my Newbery reading starts.)

This post didn’t turn out to be nearly as profound as I’d hoped. But here’s what I’m trying to say:

I’ve seen clearly that God’s timing is beautiful – in the Newbery committee, as well as other disappointments I’ve suffered.

I believe that God’s timing will be beautiful about finding a life partner, too.

And I do believe God has told me that I can put that one into His hands.

And if I’m wrong about that? Well, my life is very, very good. It’s definitely a win-win situation.

Okay, I’m going to re-evaluate after the Newbery. And ask God. But for now? I don’t have time to pour my energy into finding someone, anyway.

And God’s not mad at me for getting into a little funk. I’m trying not to be mad at myself. I’m also trying to shift gears and notice again just how very beautiful life is right now.

I’ll close with some verses from Psalm 86 —

Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
because you answer me.