Jonah’s Lament

July 15th, 2018

I was thinking about Laments a couple days ago. Then today, our pastor began a sermon series in Jonah.

Why did this strike me? Jonah chapter 2, his prayer from the belly of the whale, is a Lament.

Now, when a modern reader reads Jonah, the prayer seems, frankly, a little odd. If I were swallowed by a great fish, I’d pray something like, “Lord, I need out of this fish!” Or: “In the name of Jesus, fish, I command you to vomit me up!”

But Jonah’s prayer as given in the account is exactly the appropriate prayer from the perspective of his time and his culture.

According to the professor of my Psalms class at Biola, the Lament form wasn’t unique to the psalms. Other Ancient Near East poetry used the same form. And this form is one of the most common forms you’ll find in the Psalms. To those of that time, this is a good way to pray when you’re in trouble.

The belly of a whale is proverbial trouble.

Now, the form doesn’t have every component every time. And when I look more carefully, it seems closer to the very-closely-related Thanksgiving Psalm form. Let’s look at the verses with that in mind:

I. Introduction

In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.

[Note: II. Call to Praise is missing, which is often true in the Psalms, too.]

III. Account
A. Crisis in Retrospect
[This is very closely related to the Lament part two, the Complaint. The main difference is that in a Thanksgiving Psalm, it’s usually past tense – as it is here in Jonah.]

You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.

B. Deliverance (slight order change here)
2. You heard and you intervened.

But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.

1. I called.

When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.

IV. Praise
[Here this more closely fits the Lament finale – Vow to Praise.]

Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’

So why would Jonah, in the belly of the whale, pray a Thanksgiving Psalm?

Well, his words answer that. We are used to thinking of being in the belly of the whale as the worst thing that can happen to you. But remember, first he was thrown into a raging storm:

The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.

I’m thinking that the great fish didn’t swallow Jonah the moment he hit the water. I’m thinking when his “life was ebbing away,” when he was minutes from drowning – that’s when he desperately called on the Lord.

For Jonah, the great fish was a rescue, a place to reflect.

We forget that drowning was the danger – the great fish was the deliverance. And Jonah was given a gift of three days to reflect. Now he had time to compose a psalm.

Thanksgiving was completely appropriate.

I also think that after miraculously escaping from drowning – I seriously doubt that Jonah was terribly concerned that God was going to leave him inside the belly of the great fish. He’d just experienced a miracle, after all.

But that also explains why he’s still using the “Vow to Praise” at the end, rather than the straightforward praise of a regular Thanksgiving Psalm. In a Lament, the psalmist generally finishes off with, “When I get out of this, I’m going to tell the world how wonderful you are!” In the belly of the great fish, Jonah wasn’t yet in a position to testify to God’s faithfulness to anyone else. But he has enough confidence in God’s deliverance – already saved from drowning – to vow that he will do it.

So there you have it. The next time you find yourself metaphorically in the belly of a whale, or metaphorically saved from drowning – think about following Jonah’s example with a Lament or Psalm of Thanksgiving. I like the way these psalms remind us that God hears and answers.

Psalms for Prayer

July 13th, 2018

I was thinking about Laments today.

I talked about forms of psalms – Laments and Thanksgiving Psalms in posts from three years ago.

The idea is that we can use the forms used in the book of Psalms to pray our own prayers. But to be honest, I’m a little embarrassed by the psalms of my own I wrote and posted as examples. (But part of the point is that it doesn’t have to be good writing!)

Here’s the form of a Lament:
1) Address to God
2) Lament or complaint
3) Review of God’s Help (Confession of Trust)
4) Petition
5) Words of Assurance
6) Vow to Praise

I was thinking about Laments because I currently have multiple friends, relatives, and acquaintances dealing with cancer or other life-threatening illnesses. On top of that, I’m discouraged by what’s happening to our country.

With a Lament, you’re allowed to question. You’re allowed to complain. You’re allowed to feel pain.

You do come back around. You remember how God’s helped in the past. You ask for help. You express belief that God will come through. You make promises that you are going to praise God when this is over!

To be honest, I don’t feel adequate to write a Lament for my friends, or for our country. At least not that I’m willing to post.

But where I am in my own life is a spacious place. After a long, dark time. After some wilderness wanderings. So I’m going to try a psalm of Thanksgiving. Here’s the form for that:

Thanksgiving Psalm
I) Introduction
II) Call to Praise
III) The Story
A) Crisis in Retrospect
B) Deliverance
1) I called.
2) You heard and you intervened.
IV) Praise

Okay, I’m going to try it. I’m going to be rather vague, in the name of symbolism. (And because I’ve been rescued from obsessive thoughts!) Remember: They don’t have to be great literature. I will probably borrow heavily from the Psalms. And I’m going to try to include parallelism. Also remember that you don’t have to slavishly follow the form.

Fluttering

Lord, I’m here to praise you.
May my heart always sing to you.
You gave me new life.
You brought me out of the cocoon.

Let everyone rescued by the Lord remember.
Let us sing
for the joy of being alive today,
for the light of hope again in our eyes.

For his voice when all was dark,
for his healing when the world spun,
for his solution when my resources were spent,
for his presence when I felt all alone,
for his confirmation when I was without confidence,
for his notice when I felt utterly insignificant,
for his good gifts when I felt worthless,
for his calling when I felt useless.

O Lord, you gave all these things.

My mind was spinning and obsessing.
My hopes and plans were shattered.

You changed my tears to laughter,
my disappointment to joy.

The cocoon was dark and dismal;
now flowers line my path.
I may not be soaring,
but my wings have dried,
and I’m beginning to flutter.

Lord, I didn’t understand the darkness,
but your love has made me new.

Praise the Lord
for his unfailing love
and his mercies that never fail.

Praise the Lord.

***
That’s my example. The real reason to post is in hope that you’ll try it yourself. But also that you’ll join me in praising the Lord.

Envision Today

June 29th, 2018

A year and a half ago, a friend suggested an exercise to me: You envision a day in your life ten years in the future. What do you want it to look like? Describe it in great detail.

The promise is made that you will be surprised about how much that you envision will come true.

I was thinking about that exercise today. I was going for a walk by my lake. It was warm, yes, but cool breezes were blowing. I’d gotten a close up look at my friendly neighborhood great blue heron. Lovely flowers were blooming. It was simply beautiful. My heart was overflowing.

I started thinking, if ten years ago I had envisioned today, could I have imagined much better than this?

Now, if I were imagining a perfect day, I would have gotten up a whole lot earlier than I did today. But there are a whole bunch of elements of today that will be dreams come true:

— I’m going to spend hours reading out on my balcony.
— I got to go for a walk in a beautiful place.
— I *can* take a nap, take it easy, sing along with Christian music….
— I will post thoughts and they will be “published” on my blogs.
— I’m on the Newbery committee, for crying out loud!

Okay, it’s not as impressive when I write it out. But I’ve been thinking lately about Psalm 103:5 — “who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.” When my desires are satisfied with good things, I want to *notice* it. I’m a bit stressed because I need to spend every spare minute reading – but that’s a dream come true!

The truth is, when I envisioned my life ten years in the future – Future Sondy had a wonderful husband who was sharing in all the activities of that day I envisioned, and making them better.

But I’m noticing lately that dreams can come true even if that particular dream hasn’t come true yet.

Lately I’ve met some single men near my age – and I haven’t been attracted to them, and they have shown no signs of being attracted to me. And I just hate the part of me that is disappointed by that! It’s an attitude of scarcity – that single men near my age are rare, and I’d better hope if I meet one that we’re a good match, because otherwise none of my dreams will ever come true!

I’m speaking against that. I like what Michelle Obama said at ALA – that she’s found you can have it all, but usually not all at the same time.

The truth is, right now I’ve got a dream come true of being on the Newbery committee and getting legitimately to spend hours and hours of my time reading. Often out on my balcony with birds chirping around me and gentle breezes blowing.

And you know what? It really is easier to do that while I’m living alone.

At the same time, I’ve noticed how richly blessed I am with friends – and a wide variety of friends, women and men, young and old, from so many different backgrounds. Last night I got to read at Silent Book Club with a friend who’s older than me and a delightful storyteller and another new friend who likes to read horror stories and is a young college student and drives out an hour from West Virginia to meet with us.

But I like this idea: Envision Today.

Sure, I’ve frittered away a lot of this day, but that’s a luxury in itself! I’m going to get to sit out on my balcony and read. I’ve gotten to post on a blog some of my thoughts about life. I’ll get to connect with some friends on Facebook.

And look at that. A box of books just arrived at my door from a publisher!

Yes, I can imagine a day where NO dreams come true. But I don’t want to generate that kind of vision, so let me instead look at some really bad days I’ve had:

There was the day I went to court and my divorce became final. That day, my lifelong friend, who was my maid of honor at my wedding and a witness in my divorce, along with another much newer friend, took me out to eat. Showing that even on my worst day, I have loyal friends.

Or how about when I was in the hospital after my stroke? Again, friends came and helped. I went in the hospital the day before my son’s birthday – but my ex-husband rose to the occasion and drove to pick up my son a day earlier than we had planned. I was cared for even when I couldn’t care for myself. Even my work colleagues contributed some of their own sick leave for me.

Tomorrow I have to work. Working in a library has many situations that are definitely *not* dreams come true. But it also has many situations that are. Tomorrow, I’m hosting Family Math Games, and I can easily imagine that I’m going to get to see parents interacting and having fun with their children, who are learning, also having fun, and feeling loved. I can easily imagine that I will get to help a child find a book they’re going to love. And after work? Why, some more reading, of course!

I’m not trying to say that every day is a dream come true. But when dreams do come true, I really want to notice it!

And, honestly, until January 28, 2019, I’m on the Newbery committee – so the truth is that every day *does* have at least one dream come true.

But what about January 29?

I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like to make a new habit. Envisioning a day ten years in the future is a great exercise. I added some good things into my life after I did that.

But I would also like to make a habit of Envisioning Today.

I’d like to do meaningful things, and I’d like to notice that I’m doing them.

And when my dreams come true, I’d like to notice it.

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!