Blizzards and Contentment and Trust

January 31st, 2016

BlizzardwithCardinal

We had a blizzard last week. I live in the DC area — you might have heard.

I find with a blizzard, people tend to either love it or hate it. I LOVED it!

We had plenty of warning — so my workplace at the library was closed on Friday just in time for me to get home just as the flakes were beginning to fall. Then they continued to fall — extremely thickly — for the next more than 30 hours.

The area isn’t prepared for such a rare event. With 30 hours of heavily falling snow and more than 2 feet of snow on the ground, this did break records. So besides the weekend, when I hadn’t been scheduled to work (but all activities were cancelled), I got Monday and Tuesday off work.

Snow days are gifts of time. Plans get cancelled, and you get to take time out of your routine. This time, for the first time in four years on a snow day, I had my son (newly graduated from college) home with me, so I wasn’t all alone.

After the blizzard ended, on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I went for a walk through the snow. It was incredible! I love to walk around my lake on a sunny day, but this was a whole new adventure and each day was different.

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Mind you, each excursion was so much work, I’d then wipe out my afternoon by taking a nap to recover. There was a part of me that thought I should “use” the time. But it was so worth it.

And I’ve felt good! All my life, I’ve been plagued by headaches — until recently and “the change” — and I haven’t had a headache all month! Not even going out in the cold and snow! Not even with major weather fronts coming through! This all still feels miraculous and wonderful.

And I got time to work on my website and add cool math stuff, and I have a manuscript being considered by an editor, and I’m doing things at work (when we’re open) that make me happy, and life is just very good. And did I mention I got to walk in the snow this week?!!! (And it was so cool!!!)

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All this boils down to — I have been Happy lately. Very Happy and Content.

So I’ve been thinking about Contentment in the context of trust. And, yes, in the context of singleness.

One of those prayer requests I mentioned in my post last month? I’d like to find a new life partner.

But this past week, I’ve been happy and content in the here and now — and I think that helps me to trust.

In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul tells us present our requests to God with thanksgiving — and the result will be peace.

I’ve found this week that it helps me trust that God will bring me good in the future if I focus on how much good God has given me in the present.

I do realize there’s a balance. You want to be content — but you don’t want to be complacent. You want to be thankful for the present, but you don’t want to fail to grow as a person.

For example, I had a wonderful time in the snow. I have a garage and only one car, and I live in a condo which hires a company to clear snow — so I didn’t have to do any shoveling. I was happy about that, maybe too happy — I didn’t help my neighbors much. (In my defense, I’m not really supposed to carry heavy loads since my vertebral artery dissection and stroke four years ago. But that wasn’t really my motivation.)

In the example of looking for a new life partner, it’s good to be content — but how much should I be putting myself out there, looking online or going to meetups? If I happily become a hermit, is my trust in God expecting Him to do a miracle and bring someone into my shell? I do think there’s a balance.

I’ve had a small personal breakthrough in the past few years. I feel like I’ve come a long way in forgiving my ex-husband, and I have friends again who are men — from a variety of settings. I admit, I had generalized some of my anger and was leaning toward the “Men are skunks” view. (It was interesting recently. Something came up that had me shaking my head about “men” — and I was able to trace it back to a specific incident where I was still angry with my ex-husband. Once I took that out and looked at it and did some forgiveness work — it also took out the generalized anger.) And it’s so nice to get past that, and men add something to my life. (Mind you, my girlfriends have ALWAYS been there for me and are the ones who helped me even survive my divorce. But there was a gap in my life.)

There’s a balance in that, too. All these men I’m friends with are either married or for some other reason not an appropriate life partner for me. And it’s easy, in a low moment, to get discouraged by that fact. To jump to the conclusion that it will be impossible to find a nice single Christian man appropriate for me and even God can’t pull it off and start feeling sorry for myself.

But choosing contentment — I can see how those friendships enrich my life and even add male companionship (in a friendly way), which I was missing and does me good. And instead of stressing about the fact that these men aren’t ever going to marry me, I can find a whole lot of joy in what they do bring to my life.

Just yesterday, my sister posted an amazing poem that reaffirmed this idea for me.

We may always love, but we may not always serve.

This also applies to my ex-husband. I had to come to the place where I can love him — yet release him and go on with my life, not wanting to be married to him again. To remember the good, but accept that this is past. If I’ve truly forgiven him, I can still love him and wish him well. But I have had to accept that there is no longer any way I can serve him. (In the past, when I would try to do something nice for him, he definitely didn’t take it in the spirit it was offered.)

I had to see that wanting to serve someone has a selfish side. Can I be happy that so many of my men friends have beautiful relationships with their wives — exactly the sort of relationship I’d like to have with someone?

Well, the answer is that — when I’m content, I can.

And when I’m content, it’s easier to trust that God is going to take care of the future.

And when I’m content, it’s even easier to brush up that online profile and do a little looking. But also not be too horribly disappointed when that man with the interesting profile never answers my message.

It’s all a dance.

I was talking with my son today about being a rule-follower (which I am). He says he likes it when there are clear processes. (Looking for a job after college is not a clear process!)

I think the path of trust is also like that. Not a clear process. A place that needs balance. You want to be content but not complacent.

And then, every now and then, you get a wonderful gift of a Blizzard!

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BreakingTrail5

New Year’s Prayer Requests

January 1st, 2016

Happy New Year!

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I saw two swans swimming on my lake, so I’ll open with swans.

Swans

I don’t exactly do New Year’s Resolutions. But I do like to make New Year’s Goals — measurable, definite plans. I like to make seven.

Last year, I accomplished exactly half my goals. Exactly half because I’d split one into two parts and did one of the parts. And got three others done.

For example, this year I’m borrowing an earlier year’s goal. One year a few years ago, I really did work on a book for a half-hour per day every day of the year. This year, I want to focus on that again. I’m going to modify it slightly and set a goal of working on a book three hours per week.

I’m going to try to do it every week, but even if I miss a week or two, this sets my intention for what I want to do.

I also like to choose a Theme for the year and a Verse for the year.

This coming year will be my first tax year with no dependents other than myself (if all goes well). This brings up many issues about meaning and purpose. I wonder what God’s doing in my life and why He brought me down this path.

I had started feeling Anxious and I know the road to Peace from Philippians 4:6-7 — “Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds, in Christ Jesus.”

Thinking about that verse gave me an idea to come up with seven 2016 Prayer Requests.

Instead of me trying to do things, I’ll be asking God to do things!

When I say 2016 Prayer Requests — I’m not necessarily asking God to complete these things in 2016. But I’m planning to pray these requests every day of 2016. These are the desires of my heart. I plan to present them with thanksgiving. And be comforted to know that God is working on them.

Some of them are related to a goal. For example, one prayer request is that I get a book published. My part is to plan to work on a book for three hours per week every week this year. But I have no control over whether I get published or not. I’m going to ask God to work on that part!

And making the request will keep me going on my part. After all, it doesn’t make sense to pray to get a book published and never write or submit one.

Another example is related to my debt. I have way too much of it, and blame my divorce for most of that. But my divorce is long over, and I want to dig my way out. If I pray and ask God that I will get out of debt, it will help motivate me to meet the goals I’ve made to pay down that debt by a certain amount this year.

Four of the requests are that sort of thing. You might call them selfish, but I’m thinking of it as knowing the desires of my heart and bringing them before the Lord.

One request is that my two kids will find meaningful and well-paid work!

I thought I’d make the final two requests more general, trying to keep me where I want to be: First, I’m going to ask God to continue to guide me this year and that I will follow His leading. Second, I’m going to ask God to help me touch lives.

And the Theme and Verse this year? TRUST. I’m placing my requests before God, and now I want to trust Him.

Psalm 62:8

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge. Selah

Jeremiah 17:7-8

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.

I like the idea, though, that I am looking forward to what God will do in the New Year.

Christmas Letter 2015

December 1st, 2015

Merry Christmas, my Friends!

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The holiday season is such a good time to look back on the year with thanks.

The theme of 2015 for me was Change and Transition. I’m not sure that’s what I wanted, but that’s what I got!

JadeandMe

The first and biggest change is that my adult son Josh is transitioning to become my daughter Jade. Though this is quite an adjustment, I believe Jade that this change more truly expresses who she is. I was blessed to have a chance to spend time with Jade and her partner Sunny in Portland, Oregon, in July and in November. I am more convinced than ever that I have an amazing and wonderful kid!

Tim

The other huge transition is that my son Tim is graduating from William & Mary this month! He will earn a degree in both Computer Science and English. He plans to join Jade in Portland. This is a big transition, and I’ve been moaning over my Empty Nest all year long. But I am also so proud of the person Tim has grown to be.

This month is ten years since my ex-husband moved out and five years since my divorce was final. And you know what? I have transitioned to a place where that no longer seems a tragedy in any sense of the word. Romans 8:28 is true – God can bring good out of anything. My life is meaningful and happy and full of joys. I’m excited about what’s coming next.

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My church is facing a transition, about to break ground to build our own building. This should bring growth and exciting changes. I am enjoying living nearby, and my small group meets at my house. For all my nine years here, church friends have been the key to making me feel at home here in Virginia.

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I still am Youth Services Manager at City of Fairfax Regional Library. This year, I’ve highlighted math-related programs and tech-related programs, as well as always pushing good books. I went to four book-related conferences this year (tacking vacation onto two of them) and always enjoy hanging out with book people.

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And my mathematical knitting continues! I finished a prime factorization blanket for my new little niece Zoe, and this will not be the last baby blanket I need to make! I decided this needs a special page on my website, so you can now follow my mathematical knitting adventures at sonderbooks.com/sonderknitting/.

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TOP TEN BRIGHT SIDES TO HAVING AN EMPTY NEST:
10. You barely have to clean, and it’s only after yourself.
9. Groceries cost much less.
8. If you accidentally trap yourself in your shower, no one hears you call for help and comes to investigate. (This is a good thing.) You discover resources you didn’t know you had.
7. When you cook, the food lasts much longer.
6. You can change your plans on a whim. If you get a nice invitation to do something after work, you can just go.
5. You can go to conferences and don’t have to worry about leaving anyone behind.
4. You can make activities you love (like Eurogames) a regular part of your life.
3. You can play your music loud and sing your heart out.
2. You can look forward to visiting your kids in their own homes.
1. You can be ever so proud that you have launched some wonderful young adults into the world.

With my sister Becky at Torrey Pines in California

With my sister Becky at Torrey Pines in California

We finally toured the Civil War Barracks a block from my parents' house!

We finally toured the Civil War Barracks a block from my parents’ house!

Hanging out at English Country Dancing with my niece Arianna and sister Melanie

Hanging out at English Country Dancing with my niece Arianna and sister Melanie

A butterfly by my lake

A butterfly by my lake

My newest niece Zoe smiling at her Aunt Laura.

My newest niece Zoe smiling at her Aunt Laura.

My niece Alyssa is feeding her mama and me "busghetti"

My niece Alyssa is feeding her mama and me “busghetti”

Sunny and Jade (and their dog Pippi) are just so cute together!

Sunny and Jade (and their dog Pippi) are just so cute together!

Wishing you a blessed holiday season,

Sondy Eklund

What Was the Pharisees’ Mistake?

November 21st, 2015

Yesterday was Transgender Day of Remembrance 2015. I observed this day because I recently learned that my 27-year-old son is transitioning to become my 27-year-old daughter, which she says more clearly matches who she really is.

I was pretty shaken by the news, but fortunately, she got to tell me in person, so I could feel in my heart that, regardless of gender, this is still the person I love with all my heart. Their essential being hasn’t changed. I haven’t lost my child.

And I’ve done some reading on verbal abuse. I think it’s abusive to tell someone that I know better than they do what’s going on inside their own head. If my kid tells me that living as a woman better fits the person they are inside, I am going to listen. Because no one knows better than they do what is going on inside their own head. (Some would say it’s not abusive, it’s just invalidating. Either way, it’s not very nice.)

This news came last summer. Last week, I got to spend some time with my new daughter in Portland, Oregon, and with a trip to the Oregon coast. It was a lovely, wonderful time. She is very happy about transitioning. And I still think she’s one of the most wonderful people God ever created.

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Not all my friends and family members, however, think I should be happy that my child is happy.

After all, they are absolutely sure the Bible teaches that changing gender is sinful. They say the gender you appear to be at birth is what you are, because Adam and Eve were male and female. Therefore I should not “go along” with my child’s sin, and I should not “give in” and call them by the new name they have chosen.

Meanwhile, I joined a Mom’s Facebook group for Christian mothers of LGBTQ kids. My transgender daughter is an adult. But many of them have children who are being given messages that they are an abomination and evil. Many tried and tried with prayer to change who they are, only to despair.

I’m coming to think of this not as a simple expression of intolerance but of active harm.

However, though I strongly disagree with their interpretation of Scripture, I feel like I do have some sympathy. I can remember what it was like to look at the world — and the Bible — that way.

You see, I was a teenage Pharisee.

Okay, I was also a child Pharisee and an adult Pharisee. I grew up in a loving Christian home. We went to an evangelical church, and I accepted all the teachings from an early age. I thanked God that I was born into a home where I was taught the Truth. Too bad that everyone who didn’t believe this was going to hell. But it was what they chose by not believing the Truth.

I went to a Christian elementary school. I started in third grade, which was where I met two dear friends who are still among my very best friends today. I went on to a Christian high school and a Christian university. We signed statements of faith as well as codes of conduct where we agreed that we would not do shocking things like smoke, drink alcohol, or dance. And I was happy to sign.

Like a good Pharisee, I memorized Scripture — the entire New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. Now, the real reason I could give significant time to it was that my parents paid me, but I do have to say that memorizing Scripture did me good in spite of myself. Filling my mind with Scripture got it into my heart. And I still love the Bible today.

I married a good Christian man — a fellow student from the university. I was all set to live a good life, pleasing God. Don’t get me wrong — I knew there would be “trials,” but God would get me through. We’d be a nice Christian couple and raise a nice Christian family. And I wasn’t even tempted to bend the rules. No smoking, drinking, or dancing for me, even if I hadn’t signed a code of conduct recently.

But in my memorizing, I noticed something about the Pharisees. They believed they could prove from Scripture that Jesus was not from God. It’s right there in John 9:14 —

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.

My heart goes out to the Pharisees. They thought they had it all figured out. They thought they knew how to please God. They thought they had all their ducks in a row.

They got things in black and white, and they didn’t have to guess if they were doing it right. They knew who was right with God and who was a sinner. They thanked God that they weren’t like those sinners. Hmmmm. Kind of like me.

And then Jesus comes along and says things like this in Matthew 12 —

“If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

That rule, which they’d all worked out? He said it wasn’t the end-all and be-all.

What’s more, he criticized their nice definite lists of rules, the way they clarified things for God. In Matthew 23, he said they missed the point —

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Now, when I was a college student, I used to wonder when my professors presented me with a detailed chart of how the end times were going to go. It seems to me that God doesn’t like to be predictable. Jesus fulfilled prophecy — but he certainly didn’t fulfill it the way those who’d received the prophecies expected the Messiah to fulfill them. What if God was going to deal with prophecies of the end times the same way? What if they aren’t given to us so we can know in black and white exactly what will happen? What if we just need the message of who is going to win?

But I still didn’t see it with the Rules. God lays out in his Word what’s Good and Bad, what’s Right and Wrong. A good Christian believes that and follows those Rules. A good Christian does their best not to sin.

Gradually, over the years, God eased me out of being a Pharisee. He ever-so-gently showed me that maybe the point isn’t the rules, but loving God and loving your neighbor.

One of the earlier things to shake me up was reading George MacDonald, a nineteenth-century preacher. George MacDonald clearly loved the Bible and read it in the original languages — yet he seemed to be teaching that All would (eventually) be saved. How could he believe the Bible, yet teach that?

I tried to set aside my preconceptions and read through the New Testament again — the New Testament that I’d memorized and thought I knew well. I was amazed that this new interpretation flowed much more naturally out of the text! (For more on this see my review of a book by George MacDonald and links to other books at the bottom of the review.)

So — how astonishing that the interpretation of the Bible that I’d grown up with and believed was the Only Saving Truth — was not at all the only possible interpretation, and that there was even one that seemed much better and much more in harmony with God’s love.

Now I still believe that everyone comes to God through Jesus, but that your chance to trust him doesn’t end at death. I believe that hell isn’t punishment, but correction. And though it lasts for eons (the word used in the Greek), it doesn’t last for eternity.

Hell is not senseless, unending vindictive torture. Hell is the length to which a loving God will go to bring his children back to himself.

But wait — that means those people I believe are horrible sinners are going to wind up in heaven with me.

Okay, that shakes up my way of looking at people.

That means maybe God will bring other people to himself using a different path than the one that led me to him.

And . . . just maybe . . . it’s possible that sometimes my interpretation of Scripture is wrong.

George MacDonald also cautions his readers against putting their trust in the Bible, when our trust should be in Jesus.

Because we aren’t reading the original language, and even if we were, our interpretation can vary.

It seems to me, that’s what the Pharisees did.

Now, in the case of lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender, and queer people — there are definitely other ways to interpret the Bible.

Here’s a nice link with an alternative view. Or there’s an outstanding book written by an Episcopal bishop, God Believes in Love.

And what, after all, does Jesus say are the “more important matters of the law”? Doesn’t he say in Matthew 22 what’s most important:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If Jesus’ words aren’t enough, Paul echoes it in Romans 13 —

The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

It seems to me that if your interpretation of Scripture results in actions that don’t seem very loving — maybe there’s something wrong with your interpretation of Scripture.

Do we really want to put more faith in the Bible — or our interpretation of it — than we do in Jesus and his Spirit who lives in us?

Shouldn’t we be concerned when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what someone else is doing is sin?

Even if we’re right and it is sin, that brings us to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 —

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

And how does Jesus deal with sinners? Does he confront their sin first? Not so much. (Religious people who did not believe they were sinners, yes.) Look at his interaction with Matthew, partying with his friends, in Matthew 9. Look at the entire chapter of John 4 where Jesus shocks his disciples by talking with an immoral Samaritan woman at a well. Here’s what he tells her:

You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.

Do you hear a word of condemnation in that? (She didn’t seem to. She changes the subject but continues talking with him.) Sure, I hope for her sake that she found real and lasting love later in her life. But at that moment? Her lifestyle, sinful or not, is not the point. Jesus loves her and wants to give her living water.

***

Now, brothers and sisters, I’m trying to be clear that I can easily remember thinking very differently about this. I’ve gone more quickly down this path because now it affects one of the people I love most in all the world.

But it does make me sad that my new daughter doesn’t naturally look to Christians for love and acceptance. And it makes me sad that Christians aren’t urging me to love my kid all the more.

So let me humbly suggest some questions:

Does my interpretation of Scripture fit with the principles of mercy, love, and faithfulness in this matter?

In what ways can I love my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer neighbors as myself?

Am I straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel?

And to any lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer people who may be reading this post: God loves you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Let me close with words from Romans 8:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And that, Dear Reader, includes you.

Core Value, Loveability, and Loneliness

October 12th, 2015

This morning I came across something that brought a whole lot of things I’d been thinking about together.

It was a “Core Value Bank” I’d written out on a little slip of paper, using directions from Steven Stosny, author of Love Without Hurt, which was originally published as You Don’t Have to Take It Anymore. He also spoke about this when I went to the Compassion Power Boot Camp and in his book Living and Loving After Betrayal.

Let me attempt to explain the threads that came together when I saw this piece of paper.

First, for a few weeks I’ve been reading Dr. Robert Holden’s book, Loveability. An interesting thing he’s said in the chapters I’ve been reading recently is that all love springs out of the belief, “I am loveable,” and all fear springs out of the belief, “I am not loveable.”

Another thread was that I was having a discussion with a friend from church that a primary way to serve God with our whole hearts is to love as God would have us love. But my friend pointed out that a big obstacle to that is that we first need to love ourselves. (See how that tied with what I’d been reading?)

Another thread is that I’m living alone, dealing with an Empty Nest as my youngest son is about to graduate from college, and coping with Loneliness a whole lot more often than I think I should have to. This thinking has been a thread through my recent blog posts.

That brings me to the Core Value Bank. I was reminded of Steven Stosny’s teachings when I looked at it. He teaches that when you’re having an argument with your spouse, a key part of transforming your anger into compassion is to focus on your own core value. This is because the reason you get angry is when you don’t feel valued or valuable. If you remind yourself of your core value, you will be operating from a place of strength and you’ll be able to see the value of your partner and show compassion toward them.

But the interesting thing was that reading over my Core Value Bank this morning — It helped with Loneliness as well! Because isn’t Loneliness all about the fear that I am not loveable?

Now, I strongly recommend Dr. Stosny’s books, but you might not feel you need to read them if you’re not in an emotionally abusive relationship. (If you are, get his book immediately!) So I’ll give a brief rundown on what he has you put in your “Core Value Bank.”

This is from You Don’t Have to Take It Anymore, page 187:

The Core Value Bank is designed as a repository of your core value, a kind of bank account of the most important things. You can think of each of the eight segments as a safe deposit box containing images of the most important things to and about you. The Core Value Bank is itself an image of your internal value. Its contents correspond to persons and things in the world, but it resides entirely within you. It’s always there, ready to give you strength whenever you need it. Each time you see, hear, smell, touch, or taste something in the world similar to the contents of your Core Value Bank, it will remind you of your core value and thereby activate it within you. In other words, you will be motivated to improve, appreciate, connect, or protect. The next time you see a sunset, for example, it will not only seem beautiful, it will remind you of your core value. Put as much content as you can in your safe deposit boxes — you’ll be amazed at how many reminders you’ll start to find in your environment.

The best thing about the Core Value Bank is that you make deposits at the same time you make withdrawals. You will never run out of core value.

So, to be clear: The paper I found today was a diagram with eight boxes where I’d put reminders of my Core Value Bank. The bank itself exists inside me. But thinking of those reminders? It zapped any feelings of loneliness I was having. In my past experience, it really does work beautifully with feelings of anger as well. It honestly does help you have compassion for others.

Here are the things to put in the eight boxes:

Box 1: Basic Humanity. Imagine helping a child in trouble. Dr. Stosny gives different scenarios: A child in the desert when you are both dying of thirst — You would help the child first. A child in a car accident who has lost their mother — You would naturally want to comfort this child. In the box you put the emotions of helping and comforting that child.

Box 2: The most important thing about you as a person.

To sort out what is most important, think of what you would rather have your grown children say about you: “He was always honest, but I’m not sure he always loved us.” Or, “He was human and made some mistakes, but I always knew that he loved us.” For most human beings, the ability to love, protect, and support their loved ones is the most important thing to them and about them.

Box 3: Attachment: Fill in the names of your loved ones. You’re writing their names, but the emotional content of this box will be the actual love you feel for them.

Box 4: My Spiritual Connection: Fill in a symbol (a drawing, mark, or word will do — I used a Scripture reference) of something that has spiritual importance to you. It can be religious, natural, cosmic, or social — anything that connects you to something larger than the self, which, while you are connected to it, seems more important than your everyday, mundane, or selfish concerns.

Box 5: Something Beautiful in Nature: Name, draw, or describe a nature scene that you value — something that you feel is beautiful. (I can think of my lake.)

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Box 6: Something Beautiful Human Made: Identify a piece of art, music, writing, or other human creation that makes you feel value. (I tend to list great books. But part of the idea is to put many different things in here. When you appreciate beauty, it also makes you feel valuable.)

Box 7: My Community Connection: List communities you feel connected to. (My church and small group, the folks in the Kidlitosphere…)

Box 8: Compassionate Things I Have Done: List three compassionate things you have done. These do not have to be a Mother Teresa kind of compassion. They can be relatively small gestures, when you helped or comforted someone else, with no material gain to you.

So, that’s the Core Value Bank. (I do highly recommend reading the book for more information and ideas about it — even if you’re not in an emotionally abusive relationship or any relationship at all. But if you don’t read the book, this gives you the idea.)

I hadn’t thought about it in awhile. But when I picked up the paper I’d written reminders on and thought about my Core Value Bank — magic happened.

Can you see how all the threads pulled together? When I remember my own core value, and make deposits in that value by improving, appreciating, connecting and protecting — I’m so much more able to believe that I am loveable. And then I am more able to show compassion and love to others in my life. And I am also more able to spend my time meaningfully when I have a day alone, not fretting about the fact that I am alone.

And another name for Core Value, I believe, is your inherent Loveability.

So the things in your Core Value Bank remind you of the basic truth: “I am Loveable.”

Let Nostalgia Work for You

September 21st, 2015

This is another post about a strategy for dealing with loneliness. It’s tied in with being grateful and enjoying the moment.

I was walking around my lake yesterday morning.

Clouds

And I began to imagine what my life will be like if I do find a wonderful man and marry him. The fact is, I know if that happens, no matter how wonderful the man, there will be things about my life now that I will miss.

And isn’t that true about all the past stages of your life? It is for me. There’s something I miss about every one. Even the most horrible time in my life when my ex-husband was in the process of leaving me — my girlfriends really rallied round and supported me, and I felt very loved. I had daily quiet times without fail and with a sense of desperation, and I also felt loved and cared for by God.

Of course, other stages are much easier to be nostalgic about — when my kids were young and we’d climb the mountain behind our house after dinner most days, for example. Visiting castles in Germany. Being a young carefree college student. Even when I was recovering from my stroke, I had something to focus on other than my divorce. And received wonderful loving care.

Funny how no matter how many difficulties — there are still things to be nostalgic about.

So one way to practice gratitude is think — What about today will I be nostalgic about in five years?

And then ENJOY it!

I do not believe a person should ever ever ever pray for patience. Instead, you should pray to ENJOY the time God is giving you right now.

I admit, there are times I wish God would hurry up if He’s going to bring a wonderful man into my life. But I want to make the most of this time.

After all, I know I’ll be nostalgic about it some day.

Might as well dance.

HeronTakeOff

Meaning in Solitude

September 6th, 2015

I’m having trouble with loneliness lately.

And this annoys me. I’m an Introvert! I love solitude! I have absolutely no desire to get a pet (I’ve spent enough of my life — including childhood — caring for others). I don’t want to add more activities to my life. (I have added some, and it’s been a good thing, but just to add activities? No! I want more alone time.)

There are reasons why loneliness has become a problem recently. My youngest turned 21 and started his last semester of college. My oldest lives far away and is changing gender. I’m missing being married, missing my ex-husband-as-he-was or at least as-I-thought-he-was. And I recently had something happen that discouraged me about the chance I will ever find an available man who loves the Lord and wants to follow him.

Mind you, I know good men, intelligent men, attractive men exist — I see plenty of them at church, devoted to their wives. And I’m not wanting to be envious or covet other people’s husbands. If they showed any signs of preferring me to their wives, they would instantly lose all my respect! But it is easy to look at other people’s situations with envy (not reality) and at my own past with nostalgia (not reality) and forget about all the good things in my life now.

I’m coming up on 10 years since my ex-husband moved out. And I maintain that those are NOT wasted years.

But it dawned on me that I was always a person who invested a lot of my purpose in my marriage. I always wanted to be a wife and mother, and became both relatively young. And I wanted to stay home with my kids (always hoping that would give me time to be a writer, I have to admit). I did end up working part-time, but I didn’t really have a career until after my husband left. And I happily moved around the world wherever my ex-husband’s job sent us. Mind you, that was to Germany, a place I loved wholeheartedly! But I didn’t have to work out where I wanted to go or do — I was part of a couple, a family.

I wish there was one answer to loneliness. If you’re feeling lonely — do this! The truth is, there are strategies. I know about many of them. And I practice them. I wish that took care of it!

One strategy is gratitude – which is why I’ve revived my Sonderblessings blog. Another strategy is going out and doing activities (Yes, I do some.), which is why I joined a gaming group, competed in a Splendor tournament last week, and went to the National Book Festival yesterday.

But today I’m thinking about Meaning. I catch myself thinking I might not ever find another partner — and that that would be a tragedy.

It’s true that I might not ever find another partner. But I declare that that would NOT be a tragedy!

The fact is, when I’m thinking rationally, I would rather not be in a relationship at all than be in a relationship with someone who isn’t trying to follow the Lord with all his heart.

And I definitely don’t want to get my meaning from a man. (Though at the same time knowing I would throw my heart into helping a partner accomplish his purposes. But I don’t want that to be my only meaning.)

So the strategy I want to talk about today is finding meaning, purpose, and joy in life alone. Why did God create me? What does he delight in about me? What ways can I uniquely serve him and make the world a better place?

Today in church the person who gave the message talked about going barhopping with a friend — for Jesus! That is not my mission! (See above: Introvert.)

However, I am a writer at heart. I want to write more about my journey, reaching out to my fellow travelers. We’re all in this together. I know I’m not the only woman walking alone for a season. And I know we women walking alone aren’t the only ones who get lonely.

So I offer this idea: Create a visual mission statement. Here’s mine.

Sondy Sue

I don’t remember why it came up, but a friend who’s a coach at heart suggested this idea to me awhile back. He showed me his, which was tiled with stunning images as the background. (Judging by his Pinterest page, he is exceptionally good at finding stunning images.) At first I thought I’d use my own castle pictures to do something similar. Then I thought of this picture taken last year, when I was on a 50th birthday celebration trip with two of my dearest lifelong also-50-year-old friends. We took it on the top of a mountain at sunset, and it speaks to me of possibilities, lasting friendship, and joy.

As for the mission statement itself, I like sevens. And I was thinking about what things stir my heart, put a sparkle in my eye, and make me uniquely me.

I now have the mission statement on my computer desktop. Looking at it helps me with loneliness because it motivates me not to waste time with computer games, but to enjoy the opportunity to do things I was uniquely created to do. (Like write! And that is more easily done, honestly, when one has solitude.)

Your visual mission statement won’t look anything like mine. But if you’re going through a solitary season, your life is not any less meaningful than it is when you’re in a partnership. This isn’t a “between relationships” time, it’s a meaningful, rich, joyful time of its own.

Or so I’m telling myself. :)

Positive Thinking for Christians

August 28th, 2015

Rainbow

I’ve been thinking about theology lately, after reading Tony Jones’ book, Did God Kill Jesus?, which goes over different views of the cross which the church has put forth over the centuries.

On top of that, tonight I wrote reviews of two books (not posted yet), one called At the End of the Ages… The Abolition of Hell, by Bob Evely, and the other Life Loves You, by Louise Hay and Robert Holden.

I will attempt to explain how my thinking about these three different books came together.

First, Did God Kill Jesus? pretty drastically criticized the “Payment Model” explanation of the crucifixion. And I agree with that criticism.

But I don’t want to sit in judgment every time I hear the gospel preached. Surely it’s enough to be glad that the gospel is preached? And surely for those who feel burdened by their sins — they can find comfort in the fact that Jesus’ death certainly paid any debt accrued.

However, I’m still uneasy about starting the gospel message with sin.

And At the End of the Ages affirms me in my belief that God isn’t sending anyone to endless torment, that hell is for correction, not punishment, and will be emptied out at the end of the ages, when every knee will bow at the name of Jesus. I believe that the gospel message is about God’s great big enormous LOVE.

So then, reviewing Life Loves You, I’m struck by how positive and life-affirming it is — and all about love. And it’s not even from a Christian perspective! But shouldn’t it be Christians who are affirming how loved everyone is? Shouldn’t we be meditating on God’s love for us rather than agonizing over our own sinfulness?

And that reminds me of a pet peeve I have. I’m on the prayer team at my church, and we plan regular Prayer and Praise meetings. The leader goes by the old ACTS acronym — being sure to include Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

I’ve found I’m not comfortable with the Confession section at a Prayer and Praise night. I hear people analyzing and agonizing and finding ways they don’t feel they’ve done all they should. Is this even helpful? Is this how we should focus?

And then I wonder — Does this flow from the Payment Model of the cross? We feel that sin needs to be paid for. Yes, Jesus paid it all on the cross, but we go with I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I’ve heard it preached that we should “keep short accounts” with God and be sure we don’t have any “unconfessed sin.” Is that really how we want to focus?

Why can’t we be the ones focusing on how Life (that is, God) loves us?

I think everyone has fundamental questions of whether they are lovable, whether they are worthy, whether they are good enough. We all have parts of ourselves that make us feel ashamed.

And you know what? God loves us anyway! Deeply and truly! He crafted us and loves the unique people we are. “He knows that we are dust.”

Even in the Old Testament, the Psalmist pointed out God’s love (Psalm 103):

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

I just don’t believe that God is keeping an account of our sins at all. I don’t, actually, believe that sin must be paid for. What’s important to God is where we are with him now. Are our sins keeping us from him? Are we acting like a toddler throwing a tantrum in a corner who won’t accept any loving overtures from our father? Then by all means confess that sin and come back to God. He loves you!

But don’t you think you’ll live a better life if you’re focusing on God’s love for you rather than the ways you’ve fallen short?

If I truly feel loved by God, I don’t need to satisfy my longings in sinful or hurtful ways. If I truly believe that God is “a rewarder of those who seek him,” I don’t have to take shortcuts to get what I want. I won’t fall into discouragement or despair. And it’s ever so much easier for that to overflow to others.

But if I’m focusing on the ways I’ve fallen short? It reinforces that fear that I am unlovable and unworthy. Not true! God knows my failings, and loves me anyway.

And look! The book of I John, which includes the verse about confessing your sins, has some of the most wonderful passages about how much God loves us.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!
The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Dear friends, now we are children of God,
and what we will be has not yet been made known.
But we know that when he appears,
we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself,
just as he is pure.
— I John 3:1-3

Yes, the focus is on God’s love — and from that hope, we’ll more naturally seek to be pure. God’s love is a positive motivation.

God is not angry with us! He is not keeping track of our sins and which we’ve confessed.

If a sin is keeping us from God now, by all means confess it! But know that your Father is not going to hold that against you.

Why should New Agers be more positive than Christians? Louise Hay and Robert Holden recommend you saying in your mirror, over and over again, “Life loves you.” and “I am ready to let life love me.” It’s amazing how healing that is.

But don’t we believe this is true? “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us!”

The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
— Zephaniah 3:17

Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call me ‘my husband';
you will no longer call me ‘my master….
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.
— Hosea 2:14-16, 19-20

And what’s the focus here?

Be imitators of God, therefore,
as dearly loved children
and live a life of love,
just as Christ loved us
and gave himself up for us
as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
— Ephesians 5:1-2

What, then, shall we say in response to this?
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all —
how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
It is God who justifies.
Who is he that condemns?
Christ Jesus, who died —
more than that, who was raised to life —
is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or sword?…
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:31-39

Maybe it’s just me — my ex-husband really tore me down when he left and tried to convince me that no one could love such a horrible person as me. I don’t need to think about how I haven’t measured up; I’m always conscious of that. For that matter, I’m one of a big family, and have trouble with feeling even worthy of attention, trouble feeling that I’m one of many, not special.

But when I think about how much God loves me? I’m empowered to be the person He created me to be. I can shine.

I’ve only gotten started on the verses. There are so many, many more. Take a look at all the “Positive Thinking” messages and exhortations in the Bible. Yes, there are a few places where we’re told to “examine ourselves.” I’m not saying that we’re not sinners. We are. But aren’t we all too aware of that? Look at the focus of the vast majority of exhortations to believers in the New Testament. I think you’ll find it’s overwhelmingly positive.

And this is so worth thinking about. It’s worth affirming over and over:

God loves you.

Amen.

At a Loss

August 9th, 2015

Today I was reading in Luke 9 about Jesus’ Transfiguration. He went up on a mountain with Peter, James, and John. While he was praying, suddenly his face changed, his clothes became white like lightning, and Moses and Elijah appeared, talking with him.

In verse 33 — “As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.'” — And this is the part I love: Luke felt it necessary to tell us, “(He did not know what he was saying.)”

Imagine if Luke hadn’t told us that! Would people have tried to build theology on Peter’s three shelters? But the truth is: It’s pretty clear Peter was babbling.

Have you ever been at a loss like that with God? I also love that Jesus didn’t rebuke Peter. Mind you, he ignored him. And, okay, a voice came from heaven telling Peter to be quiet and listen to Jesus.

***

I’m in something of a bewildering phase of life right now.

My youngest just turned 21. This summer he’s doing an internship on the other side of the country. He’s going to graduate from college after one more semester, and is talking about moving to the other side of the country.

Of course, I’m divorced, so the Empty Nest is truly empty. And I’m having no luck even finding someone I want to date. Doubts about whether I ever will, whether I’m even dating material, threaten to surface.

And meanwhile, my oldest son has told me he’s actually my daughter — and is taking hormones to change gender.

Mind you, it was a wonderful thing that they told me this face to face — so I could know fully and viscerally that this is still my kid, still the same person whom I do and always will love with all my heart.

But I’m experiencing feelings of loss. It brings home the fact that those rosy days of being a happy family living in Germany, visiting castles — those days are completely over. (They got rosier in retrospect, by the way!) All three of “my boys” are quite different now. My kids, mind you, are adults of whom I’m incredibly proud. But I don’t live with a family; I live alone.

Now, what my mind tells me to do is embrace the present, notice all the wonderful things (and there are many) about living on my own, and be thankful.

But I’m human — and I’m at a loss about my losses.

I need God’s grace.

And, praise Him, He gives it freely.

“Lord, it’s good for us to be here. Here are my plans for dealing with the situation…”

“Sondy, this is my Son. Listen to him.”

May I listen well….

Thanksgiving Psalm

April 13th, 2015

Blossom

In my last post, I looked at the form of the Lament in the Psalms – the most common form used in the Psalms. I posted an example I wrote a year ago.

Yesterday, I thought it was time I wrote another personal Psalm. However, I wasn’t in the mood for a lament. I’d been trying to remember the bright side of being single lately, and I’d been succeeding. In fact, writing out the lament itself brought me to a happier place.

So instead, I decided to write a Thanksgiving Psalm. And I’d focus on the wonderful home that I feel was a gift from God.

Here’s the form of a Thanksgiving Psalm:

I. Introduction

I will exalt you, O Lord,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
— Psalm 30:1

II. Call to Praise

Let the redeemed of the Lord say this –
those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
— Psalm 107:2-3

III. Account
A. Crisis in Retrospect

The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came upon me;
I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
— Psalm 116:3

B. Deliverance
1. I called.

Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, save me!”
— Psalm 116:4

2. You heard and you intervened.

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
–Psalm 30:11

IV. Praise

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for men.
Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.
— Psalm 107:31-32

So that’s the basic form.

My challenge is this: Try using this form, along with parallelism. (Repeat yourself!)

It’s a lovely way to remind yourself what God has done.

Here’s what I wrote yesterday morning. It’s not eloquent – just an example of how you can use this form to recount something God has done for you.

God is good.
It is always worth it to seek Him.

Praise the Lord for his kindness;
praise Him for noticing our needs and longings.
Notice the Lord’s compassion,
for He notices us.

I was abandoned and alone,
in debt after divorce,
a single mom with an empty nest,
pouring money into rent,
with a guest room that was never used,
with furniture for a family I used to have.

I asked the Lord if I should look for a home to buy,
or look elsewhere for a job?
Should I stay where I’d healed after my divorce
or look further afield for something new?

He answered to enlarge the place of my tent
and spread my tent curtains wide.

I thought I found a home—
farther from my church than I’d wanted,
but surely the best I could afford?
It didn’t have a view,
but couldn’t being nice inside make up for that?
Then it fell through, after inspections were done.
I had to start all over again.

Then I saw this place, and looked out on a lake.
The first place kept me busy
while waiting for the gift you had for me.

And every day I look out on my lake
and my soul is soothed.

I’m near my church family,
and the whole church helped me move.
Now a Small Group meets in my home,
and I’ve had more visitors than my last two homes combined.
Walking by my lake
restored my health after my stroke.
The birds and ever-changing plant growth
constantly speak of your loving care.

Father, I thank You for giving me the disappointment
that led to the perfect timing of the home you had for me.
Thank You for knowing what I needed in my life
for this time.
Thank You for giving me much more than I asked for
and always dealing with me with love.
Thank You for the egrets and the great blue heron,
the robins, blue jays, woodpeckers, and cardinals.
Thank You for the enticement to walk
and the soothing lap of the lake.
Thank You for Spring blossoms,
Summer growth,
Autumn splendor,
and Winter whiteness.
Thank You that Your gifts never run out
and You are good.