Thriving, Faith, and James

September 2nd, 2014

This morning, I was listening to Casting Crowns’ song “Thrive” on the way to work. I love the way the music makes you feel joyful. And I realized that, yes, I am thriving now, and life is good.

Then I realized it’s now been 10 years since my ex-husband met the other woman. (Or at least when I met her. He said, “There’s someone I’ve been wanting you to meet.” Which I figure means I was still his best friend. Unfortunately, that changed.) As my marriage fell apart, I NEVER would have guessed how thoroughly I’d be thriving now. God is SO good! And I guess I can trust Him if things in the next year or so don’t go as I hope they will!

I can’t emphasize enough how dark that time was for me. I couldn’t imagine ever being happy again. Yet now life is very, very good.

I wouldn’t be a Librarian, wouldn’t live in my own lovely condo in Virginia, wouldn’t have a son who’s graduated from the best high school in the nation, wouldn’t attend Gateway Community Church, wouldn’t be up for my dream job if all of that hadn’t happened. God can bring good out of even horrible things.

And God also used it to show me how MUCH He loves me. Our pastor said once that great faith comes from desperate need. No glory to yourself, but when you’re desperate, God comes through.

And that gets me thinking about Faith. Our church has been going through James this summer, and Faith is a big theme in James. In fact, they’ve titled the sermon series “Faith That Works.”

I think when I was a kid, the “double-minded man” passage in James 1 kind of disturbed me. Were you supposed to ask for something and then screw up the ability to believe that it would happen, and if you doubted, then it wouldn’t? When my marriage fell apart, I prayed earnestly, for years, that it would be restored, and that my husband would come back to me. And I thought God was telling me that would happen.

And when I did file for divorce, I was afraid I was lacking in faith. But when I was praying about it, asking for direction, God’s answer was in Hebrews 11 — “By faith, Abraham offered his son Isaac on the altar… even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.'” I felt like God was saying to give Him my marriage and my hopes for the future. I was still hoping, like Abraham, that the end result would be resurrection. But I had to make the offer genuine, either way.

Abraham believed God had promised him abundant offspring. But he didn’t cling to his own view of how God would do that.

And I noticed that the double-minded man passage in James comes right after the verse about “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God.” That’s what we’re supposed to have faith about. And faith in James is always about what we do. So I really think that James is saying, “If you need direction, ask God. And then do what He tells you, or you don’t really trust him.” I don’t think it’s about holding onto your own ideas of what God will do, but trusting God enough to do what He tells you.

This actually fits with the study of Psalms I did last Spring. I noticed that David pours out his heart to God and tells Him what He’s feeling. He is bold about asking God to act — but he just doesn’t tell God what to do, like we tend to do.

So a better way to pray for my marriage is to tell God how my heart was broken and that I’m lonely — and trust Him to figure out what to do about that.

And when I look back at what I thought God was telling me as I prayed — everything I thought He was telling me to do was good advice. Okay, maybe He wasn’t telling me the future. Maybe the promises about my ex-husband are that he’ll come back to God some day, not to me. Eventually, I felt that God was telling me that I shouldn’t be yoked together with someone who wants nothing to do with God.

A year ago, I started thinking about dating. I prayed about that as well. The pastor was doing a sermon on Abraham, and I thought Hagar would come up, and I’d hear about “Plan B living,” and I was afraid no longer hoping to remarry my ex would be lacking in faith and going for second best.

But the pastor brought a chalkboard up on stage and drew a diagram. He made a line across the board which he said represented a continuum. On one end was just letting things happen. On the other end was trying to completely control everything. He said where we want to live is right in the middle, on the Path of Trust.

I realized that “Standing for my Marriage” and trying to pray my husband back was trying to Control things. If I couldn’t have the perfect marriage, well then I’d be the perfect little martyr and pray until he gave in. But that was all my idea. I decided it would take a lot more trust to start dating again. (It still took me six months to actually do it. But that was when I decided that doing so would take more faith rather than less.)

In Hebrews 11 again, the author summarizes what, to me, Faith is all about: “And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” You have to believe that it’s worth it to follow God.

And that means doing what He tells you. When you ask for direction, don’t ask for advice, which you can take or leave. If God really knows best, then do it.

And the really cool thing? He works all things together for good for those who love Him — even truly horrible things like divorce can bring great good things in your life.

Isn’t He amazing?

Sunday Songs

April 6th, 2014

Our pastor is doing a series on Finding Jesus, and today’s topic was Simplicity of Identity.

Alyssa got up and talked about all the different ways we find our identity — from our physical qualities, our job, our hobbies, what our friends say, to quizzes on Facebook. Then they showed this music video:

Pastor Ed’s sermon was from John 6. When we read John 6, we can see how secure Jesus was in his identity and how firm he was about it. And Jesus’ identity is firm and secure because of his connection with the Father.

But the point of John’s biography isn’t to help us identify Jesus. It’s to help us find our identity in Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t ask for us to understand him — He wants us to come to him, to eat and drink of him.

In our lives, we have identity indicators and identity anchors. My identity will be secure if my anchor is my connection to Jesus.

The only way to get free from the crippling identity messages that come at us is to find our anchor in Jesus.

I was especially touched by this sermon because before and after they sang a song that was sung at my wedding — “Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”

But my marriage ended badly, and many messages were flung at me that I was unlovable, a failure, and a cruel person.

But I had honestly prayed on my wedding day, “Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.” Things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to, but what a nice reminder that God considers me His Beloved.

Beloved. We are beloved by God. He will never let us go.

Thanksgiving Letter

November 28th, 2013

I decided to send a Thanksgiving Letter this year, rather than a Christmas letter. I have much to be thankful for!

The big thing that stands out for the year is my new home! With my Dad’s help, I purchased a condo in South Riding, less than 10 minutes from my church. After another place fell through, at just the right time for me, this home came open — with a beautiful view of a lake! I feel so blessed living here.

I’m thankful for church friends who made me feel so cared for and helped me through the moving process.

I’m thankful that my sons are doing well. Tim is a Sophomore at the College of William & Mary and enjoying it. He’s declared his major — English and Computer Science. His Dad lives near Williamsburg, so they see each other during the school year, and I get Tim for his vacations. He recently heard about some exciting Study Abroad possibilities for next year. Of course I would have to go visit!

Josh is still living in Portland, Oregon, and now has a salaried job as a computer programmer, which he’s enjoying very much. I’m so happy for him!

I’m thankful for a place to walk. With my lake to hike around, I’ve been much more regular about exercising than ever before, and I’m treated to beautiful scenery, including a great blue heron.

I’m thankful for my job. I’m still working at City of Fairfax Regional Library as Youth Services Manager and still love my job. I’m also going to be a Cybils judge (Kid Lit Blogger awards) again this year. And, yes, I’m on my 13th year of writing Sonderbooks book reviews and still love it.

What else am I doing? Plenty of mathematical knitting, like this prime factorization blanket for my niece, and regular board games with a group that meets Saturdays close to the library. Life is full, and life is good, and I’m so thankful for what this year has brought me!

May you have a blessed holiday season!

Sondy Eklund

Sunday Songs – You’re an Overcomer

October 6th, 2013

Recently, I finished a headache that lasted for 30 days. It did vary in intensity during that time, but I did have at least some head pain every waking moment of those 30 days. I’m super super happy that it’s over. In the middle of it, several times this song by Mandisa came on the radio, and helped so much.

No, the pain did NOT last forever. And yes, I overcame. Thank you, God!

Two Herons at the Lake

August 17th, 2013

Thursday is my late day to work. I hadn’t been feeling good, but I wanted to go for a slow walk to try to get back into the groove. When I got to the lake, I saw not just the great blue heron, but a great white heron, both on the wall. I decided it would be a good day to substitute a photo shoot for my usual walk. I went back for my camera.

The great white heron didn’t tolerate my snapping for long:

And soon he was so good as to pose by the rainbow in the fountains on a sunny day.

I love the way the wildflowers blooming by the lake change every week. This is one of my favorites, because it reminds me of a flower we had in Gundersweiler, Germany.

I love the bunnies I see every day on my walk. It’s getting where they aren’t scared of me, which feels a little pathetic.

And more flowers and lake.

Next, it posed by the gazebo.

I love the way the great white heron and its reflection shine in the sunshine.

I should mention that the weather was also fabulous. Bright and sunny, but cool and breezy. Even though I wasn’t feeling good, that time at the lake started off a great day.

Hiking at Great Falls

June 17th, 2013

When I go on a beautiful hike and take more than a hundred photos, I like to try to challenge myself to choose the top ten. And then if I stop at 19, well, that’s okay, too.

Friday was my birthday, and the weather was wonderful, and I went for a lovely walk along the River Trail at Great Falls National Park. Here are 19 of my photos.

There were lots of great blue herons flying around and also sitting and posing. I’ve already posted about the Great Blue Heron of Happiness.

These first several are from the Overlooks at the start of the River Trail.

The parts that weren’t looking at the amazing river were wonderful for being a peaceful walk in the woods.

Though mostly, it was both: Peaceful woods overlooking a majestic river.

I could *not* resist retouching this photo a tiny bit:

And I finished up back at the Overlooks:

Simply a beautiful day!

Sunday Songs – Bluebird of Happiness

June 16th, 2013

My birthday was Friday, and I received an amazing gift from my friend Lauri Ann.

I woke up with a vestibular migraine, which I’d had more than a week. I was feeling rather down. Lauri Ann’s gift was the only thing I had to open. (No offense to my family — I am always late with their presents, too. And this time, I didn’t get my new address out to people.)

It is an antique locket, owned by singer Jo Stafford. It was given to her by Gordon MacRae when they recorded the song “Bluebird of Happiness.”

Lauri Ann included the words. What a nice reminder that I have so many things in my life to be happy about now!
“Remember this: Life is no abyss. Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.”

In fact, I remembered that I’ve been enjoying seeing lots of birds from my balcony. I thought it would be nice if soon I’d see a bluebird.

But I didn’t end up reading on my balcony Friday, like I’d planned. People (not me! Yay!) were doing noisy yard work. So — I went to Great Falls National Park. And had a wonderful hike along the River Trail. And my migraine left before I got there.

And you know what? I saw many, many great blue herons. Now that I know what they look like, because of the one that lives on my lake, they were easy to spot. One was right below me when I looked down from the overlook.

So you know what I decided? I’ve got not just a bluebird of happiness, but a Great Blue Heron of happiness! Whenever I see him — and I spot him almost every day now when I walk by my lake — I get a reminder of how much I have to be thankful for. And the locket is a lovely reminder as well.

“Hold your head up high,
Till you find the bluebird of happiness.
You will find greater peace of mind
Knowing there’s a bluebird of happiness.
And when he sings to you,
Though you’re deep in blue,
You will see a ray of light creep through,
And so remember this, life is no abyss,
Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.”


June 6th, 2013

Turns out … the Egret is not an egret. He (or she) is a Great Blue Heron. And the story about them mating for life is not true. This is what happens when you tell a story like that to a Librarian. My coworker, James, made me look it up. (I’m ashamed I didn’t think of it myself. He gets the Librarian points there!) We used books first — field guides, and once the basic identification was made, websites helped.

But the important thing about the story is absolutely true: A big awesome water bird lives on the lake outside my window!

In fact, this morning I went walking by the lake, thinking I had gotten out of my system any need to bring my good camera along.

Today the Great Blue Heron was very near the path, wading in the rocky part by the sidewalk. While I watched, he caught a fish! He then walked onto shore to eat it, to the part of the shore I’d recently left.

I took pictures with my phone, but he’s merely a speck. But I thoroughly enjoyed watching him.

Another fun thing that happened at the library:

I was sitting at the reference desk next to James, this young co-worker who had me look up the Great Blue Heron. (Clearly a very intelligent guy is what I’m saying here.) A patron walked up to him and said, “I’m looking for The Beautiful and the Damned.

I couldn’t help myself. I said, “You’ve found us!”

Walking by the Egret

June 1st, 2013

I haven’t posted on Sonderjourneys in a long time. I was too busy journeying!

In April, I purchased my first home — a two-bedroom second-floor condo with a lake view. I’m still settling in — not unpacked yet. But I have started doing a walking program. My first regular exercise program in my life! I’m using the book Walk Your Butt Off! It’s got a 12-week program in which you gradually increase your speed. I have completed the 4-week preliminary program for sedentary people, and today started the second week of the main program. It is just not a chore to walk beside my beautiful lake! Feels like a privilege to have a reason to walk there!

And today my walking got slowed down when I spotted the egret posing on the wall. I snapped some pictures with my phone, but it doesn’t zoom, so I knew the bird would be hard to make out.

Mind you, one of the selling points of the place was that my realtor told me that an egret lived on this lake. She said that egrets mate for life, and when one dies, the other will nest forever after in the place they were last together. This is a solitary egret, and he’s going to live here until he dies. (I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s sure a nice story! And I have indeed seen him several times now.)

Anyway, when I came back after walking to the other end of the lake, the egret was still there. Since he was staying so long, and since it is my day off, I decided this would be the perfect time to come back with my good camera. I did, and he was still there!

I thought it was a good time to also snap some pictures of the pretty flowers growing around the lake.

(You may not notice, but there’s also a mallard duck sitting on the wall.)

And did I mention, this is right outside my home?

After I took the first and best picture above, my batteries instantly died, and he flew away. But he obviously didn’t fly far, so I thought maybe I could find him. (While first taking more pictures of flowers.)

Sure enough! He was right by the path a little farther on.

I loved the way the fountain had a rainbow this morning.

And I kept snapping pictures of the egret until he got tired of me and flew to the other side of the lake.

Such a beautiful way to start my day!

Memorizing Scripture

March 5th, 2013

A few Sundays back, our pastor said he’d be preaching out of John, and my heart leapt.

You see, a long time ago, when I was a kid, my parents paid me for any chapters of Scripture that I memorized. The deal was a 10 cents per verse for a complete chapter. Better yet, one month later, you could recite the chapter again for 5 cents per verse, and on and on for 5 cents per verse at one-month intervals.

I was too young to get a job, and the only other way to earn money was to do housework. I still reject housework if I have a choice!

So I memorized a lot of Scripture as a kid. I started with chapters in the Psalms and Philippians and James and Romans. But around my Freshman year of high school, I tackled John.

And that’s why my heart leapt when I found out he’d be preaching from John. I recited the chapters in John many times as a kid. My little notebook says I completed John 6 six times in 1979. Now, the second time I’d memorize a chapter, it was almost as difficult as the first time. But by about the sixth time, I think it moves to a different storage area in your brain. It becomes part of you.

I managed to keep quiet for a week. But the next week, Pastor Ed had someone else read a long passage from John 5. I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. If he was going to use long passages from John, I wanted to get to be the one to recite or to read (if that would be less distracting). So last week, he let me recite a portion of John 6.

But he also planned to interview me. So I’ve been thinking about what I’d want to say, and of course didn’t get a chance to say that much of it. (That was fine. I didn’t want to it to be about *me*. I just wanted to get to recite that beautiful passage.) So that’s why I’m writing this blog entry — to get more of that out.

I think I’ll start with something he said he’d ask me about, but didn’t get the chance to.

WHY memorize? What are the benefits?

1. First, it puts the Word of God in your heart.

I firmly believe there’s a reason they call memorizing “learning by heart.” For that matter, I thought it was funny that the next day was Dr. Seuss Day at my library. We were going to have people reading Dr. Seuss books all day long in the children’s area. I find that it’s hard for me to keep quiet when people read Dr. Seuss books, because I’ve inadvertently memorized so many of them — and they are in my heart. I want to chime in. Same with chapters of the Bible that I’ve memorized.

2. God’s Word doesn’t return void.

Unlike Dr. Seuss, I do believe that God’s word will bless you. In spite of yourself. I tell people that my parents paid me so they know my motives were completely crass. And yet memorizing those chapters blessed me, in spite of myself.

3. It gives the Holy Spirit something to work with.

I do believe God speaks through Scripture. There are a lot of chapters that I’ve only memorized once, and now I barely even remember what’s in them. But they are in my mind somewhere. God’s Spirit can bring them to mind, because they are in my mind.

4. Memorizing chapters gives you the thread of Scripture.

My parents got the idea of memorizing whole chapters from the Bill Gothard Seminars. In my experience, that was one of the best things about the whole experience. It was memorizing chapters that made it dawn on me that the Bible actually said something. Maybe I’m a little slow, but just reading it never was as clear as what happened when I memorized a whole chapter, when the train of thought would help me figure out what was coming next.

The one exception to that is the last half of the book of Proverbs, which seems to be mostly random in organization. But most chapters in the Bible do have a train of thought. Memorizing the chapter forces you to figure it out, and you feel like you have an inside track on the writer’s thinking. This was especially clear in Romans, with a long logical argument. But it’s also lovely in the Psalms, where the Psalmist tends to go through a process of feeling despairing and then remembering that he can trust God. And so on, in many other books. In John 6, for example, you’ve got the beginning where Jesus multiplies bread, the people asking him about manna, and then His claim to be the bread of life. When you memorize the whole chapter, it’s easier to notice the themes.

The other question on which I’d like to expound an answer is: HOW?

Now, I did get to say that once before, I recited in church, and I had some people say, “I could never do that!” That is exactly the response I *don’t* want!

The key, for me, is memorizing by TIME. Nowadays, as an adult, I just spend 10 minutes per day memorizing. (As a kid, when I didn’t have a job, for years I spent an hour a day. That’s why I made so much headway. Remember: I got paid!)

So ask yourself: Can I spend 10 minutes a day memorizing? It’s not about talent. It’s about time. Trust me, if you read a chapter over again enough times, it’s going to start to stick in your head. Maybe when you first do it, it will take longer, but eventually, something’s going to stick.

Here’s how I tackle a new chapter:

1. First, I go through the whole chapter and memorize each verse, one at a time. This takes a long time. Depending on the chapter, I might only get a couple verses memorized in 10 minutes. (Though some chapters are definitely easier than others. If you’re new to this, I recommend starting in the Psalms.) At this point, sometimes I still think, Why am I doing this? I will never learn this whole chapter! Sometimes I am completely unimpressed with myself for barely learning one verse in 10 minutes. But I’ve learned from experience that if I continue on, eventually I’m going to know this chapter.

2. Still going through verse by verse, I won’t necessarily remember what I learned the previous day on the next day. No worries. I just start where I left off, and don’t try to review yet. It’s in there somewhere. I go through the whole chapter, just knowing that I can say one verse at a time. (When I was a kid, I typed the verses on cards and turned them over and checked. Now I use a bookmark covering the words. I say the verse aloud with it covered, and then read it and see if it matches what I just said.)

3. By the time I’ve learned all the verses once, I’ve probably completely forgotten the ones at the beginning. No worries. Next, I go through the chapter and memorize sections or paragraphs. How long a section is depends on the chapter. I try to go with a group of verses expounding on the same thought. How many sections in a chapter depends on how long it is. Using my bookmark, I’ll try to get where I can recite the whole section without making a mistake. Then I’ll move on to the next section.

4. Finally, I try to memorize the entire chapter. This still can take many more days, but is the part that solidifies it. My little “rule” is that I consider a chapter “done” when I can start out in the morning and recite the entire chapter (moving with my bookmark just behind the words I’m saying) perfectly. I usually have my quiet time in the same passage as where I’m memorizing. So if I make a little mistake on some small word at the end of the chapter — I decide God wanted me to spend one more day in that chapter!

When I can say the chapter perfectly when I first start the day, that’s when I write it down as memorized. Then I check my notebook for which chapter to memorize next. (I have a whole elaborate crazy system because I’m the sort of person who loves lists and elaborate crazy systems.)

A key? THERE IS NO RUSH! You will be blessed by the very time you spend doing it, so what’s the hurry? There is no shame in taking a month or more to learn a new chapter. Think of it as a month meditating on and living with those words. (In fact, sometimes I’m a little disappointed when I review a chapter like one of the shorter Psalms and finish with it in just a couple days.)

5. Reviewing.

One of the brilliant parts of my parents’ system was the reviewing a month later for half price. Because somehow forgetting about it and then coming back to it solidifies the words more than if you tried to keep them at the front of your attention all the time. The second time I memorize a chapter is usually exactly as hard as the first time. The third time, a little bit easier. The fourth time, a little easier still. And somewhere around the fifth time, it’s just a matter of brushing up. It’s etched somewhere in my brain. That’s why it was super easy to brush up John 6, which I have memorized a total of eleven times, according to my little notebook.

So you see, it’s not that I’m some sort of genius who can look at something and memorize it. I’ve put in time. And not even because I’m noble, but because I got paid! However, I continue memorizing as an adult, because that minimal time commitment yields blessings a hundredfold. It’s so worth it.

So what I’m trying to say is: Consider spending a little bit of time memorizing chapters of Scripture. Trust me, it’s worth it!

I recommend starting places like the ones where my parents started me: Psalms, James, Philippians, or I John. If you want to memorize a gospel, John is much, much easier to learn than the other three (because of the long speeches which are easier than a sequence of events), though the chapters are very long.

Have I made it clear? I have memorized lots of Scripture, not because I have some sort of miraculous talent, but because I’ve spent lots of time on it. And I respectfully submit that other people might find memorizing chapters of Scripture as hugely worth it as I have. Let me pass on the tip that Bill Gothard gave my parents: Memorizing chapters of Scripture will bless you. Try it and see!

And that’s why I don’t want to keep quiet when there’s a reason to recite one of these passages of Scripture that’s in my heart. I think of reciting some of my favorites like Romans 8 or Isaiah 40 or Psalm 18 as something like singing songs of praise. God’s Word is beautiful, and when I get to recite I get to express some of that beauty straight from my heart. What a privilege!