Christmas Letter 2020

January 1st, 2021

I was going to write my annual Christmas Letter on Christmas Day — but then I was still reading for the Cybils, so I decided to write it on New Year’s Day. Then I thought I’d look over all the pictures I took in 2020 and choose highlights to put in the letter — and ended up spending two hours just getting through May. (I was working from home. I took a lot of pictures.) So if I want to make this a New Year’s letter, I need to revise my plans and settle for the idea that I might not pick the very best pictures. My Highlights folder already has 380 pictures in it, just going through May, anyway!

First, let me say that I understand that many, many people had a much worse 2020 than I did. If you’re not in a place where you want to read about someone having a good year, I get it. Please feel free to stop right here with my wishes for a much better 2021.

Though for me, it was the start of 2020 that was hard. I flew to California for my mother’s funeral — which reminded me how much I missed my dad, whose funeral was two months before. We had no idea that it was a privilege to get to hold in-person funerals! Though we did know that it was a blessing to get to gather and mourn together.

[This picture is only 11 of us siblings and my niece. Here’s a fun game for those who think they know my family: Can you identify who is who, sort us by age, and figure out which two siblings are missing?]

My dear friend Ruth and her husband John picked me up at the airport on New Year’s Eve and whisked me off to their home in the mountains near Lake Arrowhead. And I got to see more snow on the ground on New Year’s Day than in the rest of the year combined.

Then I got some time with my siblings celebrating a belated Christmas together — and then my mother’s memorial service on January 4th.

Approximately three hours after the service and reception, I was sitting talking with some siblings and my cousin Kristi — and I started to feel my ears get congested, and within a half-hour, I was so dizzy, I had to go lie down. That night, I almost passed out when I got up to use the restroom, and even lying down, to move my head made the room spin. I was lucky it happened at my family’s house, because my siblings took care of me — that first day, I was too sick to even get myself food — and a couple days later, I got to see my brother’s doctor who okayed me to fly home and gave me some medicine that helped make that possible.

I ended up being sick for three months — though after the first awful week, the dizziness was only occasional and I thought I was getting better. Even when it went into my chest, I was pretty sure I wasn’t contagious, since I’d had it so long. Then we started hearing about this virus…. They never checked me for it, because I hadn’t traveled to China, though I did get a chest x-ray that was clear, so they called it bronchitis. (In the summer, I got an antibody test done, which was negative, so it was probably not Covid. I probably just got hit with a bug when vulnerable because of flying and grieving.)

The funny part was that when the library closed to the public in mid-March — I finally took it easy, got lots of sleep, and finally started feeling better. So just when things were awful for most of the world was when my year finally started going better.

There had been some other hard things in January — my little 3-year-old niece Meredith was diagnosed with leukemia. Let me skip to the end of the year and tell you that she’s gone through the standard treatment and is now in maintenance mode and on track for a complete recovery — but that was a hard moment for all of us, and especially for her parents, my brother Robert and his wife Laura (who also had a 3-month-old baby at the time of diagnosis who’s now an active toddler).

But mostly, I enjoyed the closing of the library a little too much! We had a couple weeks where we didn’t know what was going to happen — and then we all got approved to telework. During the teleworking time, I made a video series about prime factorization and numerical bases, which I really got a kick out of doing.

I enjoyed working from home so much, I still miss it! Besides not having commute time, it dawned on me after a month or so that the biggest plus was I could go for a walk by my lake on my lunch break. The skies were extra blue this Spring — we were convinced it was from fewer cars on the road — and that’s why I took thousands of pictures this year.

My evening activities changed. No more Silent Book Club, since it just didn’t make sense to sit in a small room with other people to read, as much fun as that is. But my weeknights quickly filled up with Zoom activities.

My church switched to online services. I joined Floris United Methodist Church in 2019, and I’m happier and happier to be a part of this church. I appreciated that they were careful about spreading the virus and that they have a strong ministry reaching out to those in need. They also offered some thoughtful and insightful programs about issues of the day.

The choir managed to still meet in small groups, spaced ten feet apart for a while. Then even that was deemed to be risky, so we met outside, spread apart, and wore masks to sing a few songs for the Christmas cantata. But through the time, the connection with the choir was a big plus. I’m so glad to be a part of it and glad to get to take part in the worship services, even when it’s pre-recorded.

I also took part in a virtual alumni choir of the Biola Chorale, singing “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” — the arrangement written by the director, Loren Wiebe, and which we would sing to start every concert. We had a grand Zoom gathering to show it to him on his 80th birthday, and I was blessed to pieces to be part of that.

Since I wasn’t working Thursday nights any more, I could join the small group my friends at church were running especially for LGBTQ allies, now meeting on Zoom. I’ve made some new friends who are already dear to me. The first study we went through looked at the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and why Christians should be loving and accepting toward all, as Jesus did.

My Sunday gaming group moved online. And after they showed me dominion.games and what a great interface it is for my favorite game, Dominion — I also started playing once a week with Tim, my youngest. So my favorite result of the pandemic is now I hang out regularly with my kid!

And yet another Zoom gathering I joined is a weekly Christian writers’ group. This was perfect timing for me, as I’ve started working on a book about the Psalms, and using the types of Psalms as a pattern for your own prayers. This group is wonderful for helping me actually keep writing.

So you may have noticed that maybe I’m overdoing the number of weekly activities. It was easier when I was still working from home, but in mid-July, we opened the library back up for “Express Services.” It’s sad that we can’t encourage people to linger, but at least we can offer books and online programs. And I am definitely not cooped up at home. So far, no one working at my branch has gotten sick with Covid, and here’s hoping it will stay that way. But that’s a good sign that our precautions are working.

I canceled a trip I’d planned in the Spring, but in the Autumn, I booked a place only a few hours away that included a kitchen, so I didn’t have to be around other people. I had a lovely reading-and-hiking retreat at Shenandoah National Park. It was beautiful! And I was again a panelist for the first round of the Cybils Awards, so that helped me get a headstart on all the reading I needed to do.

So despite a difficult beginning, 2020 was a surprisingly peaceful year for me. I’ve got lots of meaningful activities (probably too many!) and had lots of time to reflect. I do see people, since now I go to work and at least I don’t have to drive to my activities.

Of course, it’s been way too long since I’ve seen my kids. Zephyr didn’t end up getting married this year, which was hard on her. She and Tim are both still living in the area of Portland, Oregon. But I’ve talked with both of them more this year, and I have to say that’s been a positive side of the pandemic.

I did laugh when I looked over the goals I made for 2020. But I ended up having a lot more reflection time than I’d expected. And this introvert isn’t complaining!

Though I do look forward to the day I can read stories to preschoolers again and encourage them to touch their head, shoulders, knees, and toes — as well as eyes and ears and mouth and nose!

I did hit some hard anniversaries, especially in November, 10 years after my divorce, when my father-in-law passed away. But as every year, what got me through were the friends surrounding me, even though their way of surrounding me took new forms in 2020.

Here’s wishing all of you health and happiness — and hugs — in 2021!

Solitary Thanksgiving Joy

November 27th, 2020

We all know the holidays this year are fraught. I live on the opposite side of the country from my family, so I don’t usually get to indulge in our big enormous wonderful Thanksgivings, which we traditionally celebrate with Hatch relatives the day after Thanksgiving.

But I have friends like family nearby in Virginia, so I usually go to one of my friends’ houses and celebrate with their family. I have two friends who live nearby whom I’ve known since 3rd grade (in California!) and celebrating with them, I never feel alone. Last year was more difficult than most, since my mother was dying, and passed two days after Thanksgiving, after many of her kids had gathered and sang hymns to her while her sister played the violin. A rainbow even came out! But I was in Virginia, and celebrated with my friend’s family who had suffered their own loss of her stepfather that year. But that was a hard Thanksgiving — and there’s no way this year wouldn’t be better.

Since I work in a public library, I figure of all my friends, I’m the most likely to pick up Covid-19. It would probably be worth it to celebrate with my friends if the only risk was that I’d catch it from them — but I would feel horrible if I gave it to them or any of their parents. So this is my year to celebrate Thanksgiving alone.

It’s also a time for reflection. First, my former father-in-law passed away the Sunday before last. So close to my parents’ deaths, that’s hard. But I started a project of compiling pictures of him that I had taken over the years. (I’ve been digitizing negatives.) Those pictures reminded me how happy I am that my kids had devoted and involved grandparents while they were growing up. (My own parents had a much bigger family and didn’t have so much attention to spare. So I loved that my husband’s parents did.)

Then yesterday happened to be the ten-year anniversary of the day my divorce was final. At that point I still didn’t want to get divorced and still hoped that somehow we would still be reconciled. But you know what? These last ten years have been good, and full of blessings. And I no longer want to go back to that marriage, even if I could.

When I thought about a menu, I decided I was hankering for roast beef. So I found a crock pot recipe on the internet. Last night, I made the homemade cream of mushroom soup it calls for (delicious!) and Chocolate Angel Pie (basically chocolate whipped cream in a meringue shell).

But this morning I didn’t set the alarm and slept late. By the time I got the ingredients thrown into the crock pot, it wasn’t going to be ready until 8:45 pm!

And then I realized: Who cares? I could have a late breakfast, a late lunch, and a late dinner, and no one at all would be upset with me. And I wouldn’t think anyone was upset with me. Later, I sat on the balcony reading and thought how nice it was to not have to hurry up and get ready to go anywhere. Yes, a solitary Thanksgiving has its own wonderful charms.

But the truly wonderful part happened on my walk.

I was taking pictures of leaves, marveling at how many beautiful ones are still out there.

While I was walking, I was praying. It’s Thanksgiving. I was thanking God for my life. I was thinking about how those ten single years have been lovely. I was counting my blessings. Thinking about the new online groups I’ve joined since the pandemic hit. Even though I’m not around family, I’ve got new friends who love and appreciate me. And life is good.

And once again, I got to thinking that maybe I should stop asking God to find a life partner. Sure I’d like to find someone before another decade goes by, but maybe I should just focus on all the good I already have in my life. After all, I’m not an easy person to match. Maybe God isn’t answering that prayer because He knows I’m happier single. Life is good, and this day has been nice not trying to please anyone but myself.

When I walked back to the lake (My walk takes me past the lake, into the woods, and then back.), I was still looking for the great blue heron who likes to come by, with no luck. Wouldn’t it be nice to see him for Thanksgiving Day? But it was such a beautiful day for giving thanks.

And then I remembered the Theme I’d chosen back in January for 2020. I already blogged about it. The theme is to ask with Shameless Audacity, as Jesus tells us to in Luke 11.

So I did it — I prayed that God would let me see a great blue heron today, for Thanksgiving. I acknowledged that it was shameless audacity on my part to ask for it. But I did ask. And then I kept walking, thinking it wasn’t going to happen this time. And that’s okay.

A couple minutes later, some ducks splash-landed on the lake next to me. Fun! I thought that at least I could take nice pictures of ducks.

But while I watched a second group of ducks land, right behind them came a great blue heron! It squawked at them, then decided it didn’t want to land next to them and swooped in a big circle around the end of the lake — and came straight toward me!

It kept squawking, as if to say, “YOU WANTED TO SEE ME?!! HERE I AM!!!” (I’ve never been sure I heard a great blue heron’s voice before, in all the time I’ve watched them.) It veered away from me and flew further down the lake.

Then it flew onto a rooftop, and I happily took about a hundred pictures of it with the sky as a background.

But wow! If I thought my request was shamelessly audacious, I didn’t begin to predict the shamelessly audacious answer I received. That heron buzzed me! I wanted to see a heron? It flew at me, squawking!

I’ve been looking at Creation Psalms lately, and yesterday it was Psalm 139 — The Lord has searched me, and he knows me. Right now, Tauren Wells’ song, “Fully Known,” is playing. “I cannot find the reasons why you’d give me so much.” God knows me, and he delights in giving good things to his children.

And I feel so thankful.

I know what my next shamelessly audacious request is. What’s yours?

Psalm of Trust

October 25th, 2020

I’m working on a book about Psalms, and using the forms found in the Book of Psalms to write your own prayers.

While I’m doing that, I’m writing my own example psalms. They aren’t meant to be very good, but they are meant to come from the heart. And to show that you can use the Psalms as an example for prayer.

The current chapter I’m working on is about Psalms of Trust, which is what I’m calling Psalms 7, 11, 16, 21, 23, 25, 26, 27, 31, 46, 57, 62, 63, 71, 91, 108, 121, 123, 125, 131, and 141. Those Psalms are beautiful and comforting, and I never was trying to match them. But in writing a psalm of trust in a difficult time, I tried to remind myself that I do trust God. When I ran out of things to say, I quoted a favorite Psalm of Trust to finish up.

Here’s my offering:

A Psalm for Perilous Times

Lord, you’ve always been the Rock in my life.
When everything around me falls apart,
you’re still there;
you’re firm ground beneath my feet.

I’m writing this during uncertain times.
We thought the pandemic would end months ago,
and now we’re afraid to hope it will ever end.
A presidential election is coming up
and we worry about conflict and fraud.
There are fires on the west coast,
hurricanes in the south.
My library is open,
but instead of welcoming patrons,
encouraging all to linger,
we kick them out after thirty minutes,
put our programs online,
and hide our faces behind masks.
We cringe when people don’t follow the rules
and hope they aren’t carrying disease.

Lord, we’re trying to protect ourselves,
and we’re trying to do our part.
But ultimately, we have to trust you to care for us,
We need your protection.
We trust in your care.

Lord, be my refuge and my rock,
whether or not I stay healthy,
no matter who wins the election,
no matter what disasters strike.

May I learn to be loving and faithful
like the one I follow.
And may I never think that my hope and security
rest in a certain outcome.

For you are with me, Lord.
You show me I have resources I never knew I had
and with your help I can withstand difficulties
I never thought I could handle.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

Noticing

August 26th, 2020

On Sunday, I received a wonderful gift.

I’d had kind of a grumpy week. I was scheduled to work six days in a row. (I’ll get a 3-day weekend this coming week.) I ended up taking one day off because of a light headache I just couldn’t shake. Every day at the library, I asked numerous people to please wear their masks, and I was starting to get angry about it. That persistent headache wasn’t helping, even if I knew it was just a migraine and I didn’t have a fever. On Saturday, I was person-in-charge and two people in a row displayed some aberrant behavior, though I was relieved that they did leave the library soon after.

All that to say, it was a stressful week.

Sunday was my day off. I hadn’t taken a walk by my lake in a week, so this was my opportunity, before online church. The week before I hadn’t even bothered to bring my camera, because I felt like I was taking pictures of the same flowers each time. But sometimes on Sunday mornings, I’d seen deer, so I brought my camera that day.

And my friend the great blue heron was there! Though the heron is a regular, I hadn’t seen much of him since the shelter-in-place order happened. Perhaps it didn’t like how many people walked by the lake.

But today the water was very still, and the bird was very still, and I got a whole sequence of cool mirrored pictures.

It even flew to the nearer side of the lake and I got the picture at the top of this post.

Then walking on. I spotted a butterfly whose wings were different on the inside and the outside. Patiently waiting, I got shots of both.

My walk takes me by the lake, then in a meadowy part with big bushes, then beside some woods. Then I turn around and come back. I hoped to see deer in the woods as I had the week before, but nothing this time. Instead, when I got back to the meadow, there was another butterfly, and this one was posed with the sun shining on its wings. When its wings were together, the sun didn’t shine through, but when it opened its wings, they lit up spectacularly as they were now thin enough to be transparent.

The butterfly was, however, a bit stubborn. I’d wait and wait for it to open it wings, and it wouldn’t do so until I lowered the camera. So catching a few times with the lighting felt like a triumph.

As I walked back toward the lake, in a place where the path is constrained by bushes on one side and the lake on the other — there in the bushes, right next to the path, two fawns were sitting and eating leaves.

What could I do? I stood and took pictures, of course. Eventually a jogger came by and joined me. When she decided to go on, that got one of the fawns to get up and walk out of the bushes.

After that, I was wondering if the heron was still there, lurking behind the tall grasses where I couldn’t see it. As I checked, I heard an enormous splash and saw a bird rising up from the water. It turned out that an osprey was fishing in the lake and continued circling — in a way that tantalized me into trying to get its picture.

By that time, I felt simply overwhelmed with blessings.

Last time I blogged here, I talked about God giving good gifts to His children. This felt like gifts given with good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. My cup overflowed!

I hadn’t done anything to deserve such blessings. I’d been grumpy! But that got swept aside.

Then in the online church service, my pastor Barbara Miner talked about how Jesus notices us. The text was from the story where Jesus is going to heal a synagogue ruler’s daughter who has died, and a woman in the crowd touches the hem of his robe and is healed. Jesus, on an urgent mission, stops and turns and notices the woman. She must have been mortified! She wasn’t trying to be noticed! But Jesus calls her “Daughter.”

Pastor Barbara reminded us that Jesus notices us and challenged us to notice others.

And that got me thinking of my walks by the lake. When I don’t bring my camera, I don’t notice things as small as butterflies. (Okay, I would have noticed those fawns! And probably the great blue heron, too.) I would have marveled at the osprey and then kept walking. But wanting to get pictures made me really look, really notice.

Last year, I got a better camera, with a stronger zoom, and my pictures got dramatically better. Even before that, I noticed that little flowers by the path have a whole new look when you zoom in. Butterflies are just a speck until you zoom in and notice their beauty. And it might take some waiting before they light up for you.

Isn’t that like people? I was reminded of Pastor Tom Berlin’s sermon months ago, where he talked about using Mr. Rogers as an example of paying attention to people.

If I can zoom in and focus on people, it’s so much easier to notice their beauty.

As a kind of icing on the cake, the next morning I worked the late shift and got another walk in, and got to see yet another species, a great egret.

Now, my lofty goal was to start zooming in on people and noticing the beauty of their souls. So far at the library, I confess that most of the zooming in I’m doing is on Nosers who aren’t wearing their masks properly.

But I’m writing this whole post as a reminder to Notice.

When I Notice God’s gifts, I end up feeling overwhelmed with blessings.

And how amazing that Jesus notices me. And I’m going to say He noticed that some blessings would lift my spirits right about now.

And maybe I can pass that on and practice noticing others.

Contentment vs. Asking with Shameless Audacity

May 20th, 2020


(Picture from June 1, 2013.)

I’m on my annual Springtime personal spiritual retreat this week. Monday it began with me thinking about how happy my life is and how fulfilling so many of the activities I make a regular part of my life are, because they express who I am.

This was happening the day after, on Sunday evening, I got a message on an online dating site from a guy who ended up being a scammer. There were three big tip-offs: The first message was generic. (I specifically ask on my profile for non-generic messages.) The messages made it clear he was not a native English speaker. (That’s theoretically okay, but wasn’t obvious from his profile, so he was probably a scammer operating from overseas.) And the big tip-off, which I always always answer with a No was asking to go off the dating site right away. (And my No means they stop sending me messages.)

So Monday I was discouraged with online dating, but very happy with my life as it is. So I began thinking, Maybe I should give up on the whole idea of ever finding another man and getting married again. It would be nice, sure, but my life is good and I for sure don’t want to have someone in my life who doesn’t fit with me, who instead of appreciating the way the things I do express who I am, puts a damper on me doing those things.

In short, I’m content. That’s good. So why even bother with having an online profile? Maybe I should just plan on spending the rest of my life happily single.

The next morning, as part of my spiritual retreat. I looked again at the verse and theme I’d chosen for 2020.

The verse was Luke 11:9 — “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

The theme was “Shameless Audacity” — from Luke 11:8. Jesus has told a parable about someone asking for bread at midnight. “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” And then he launches into verse 9, telling us to ask.

And I’ll be honest: What instantly comes to mind to ask God for is a man who loves me and loves God, a man for me to marry.

So I thought, I will ask again. I won’t completely give up on the idea.

But there was a problem with that. Yesterday I started feeling discontent. I was thinking more about what my life is missing and less about what I have.

This morning, while I went on my walk, I was thinking how to balance Shameless Audacity with Contentment. I don’t want to lose my joy and contentment because I’m asking God for the desires of my heart.

I do think God wants us to ask for the desires of our hearts. There’s this verse, and there are many others.

I think of the quote from C. S. Lewis, “We are far too easily pleased.

But it feels selfish and greedy to ask for something more when my life is already so very good. In fact, wait a minute, it feels like shameless audacity.

And I think maybe that’s the way to pull the two together, to be content while still asking for more — and that’s to acknowledge that it’s shameless audacity by being grateful.

In fact, it goes back to Philippians 4:6 — “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

And rather than feeling discontent from doing that — when I acknowledge the shameless audacity and combine it with gratitude — I feel a whole lot of joy.

Because it reminds me that God the Father loves to give good gifts to His children.

While I was walking, I thought of another, much smaller request, that feels like shameless audacity. I haven’t seen the great blue heron who frequents my lake since the stay at home order happened in March. So, yes, for a few days I’ve been praying that I’d see one.

Well, this morning I acknowledged that the irises I’ve been taking pictures of this week have been amazing and stunning, so it’s shameless audacity for me to ask for something more, but yes, Lord, I’m going to ask to see a great blue heron.

And sure enough, a person walking a dog ahead of me startled a great blue heron, so it flew to the other side of the lake.

And I saw another fly by my window in the afternoon. (This is after not seeing one for more than two months.)

And maybe if God grants that small shamelessly audacious request, maybe He will grant the bigger one.

He doesn’t have to, and I know He doesn’t have to, and I am happy and content and thankful for the life I have and it will not be a tragedy at all if I am single for the rest of my life.

But I’m going to be shamelessly audacious and ask.

Affinity Combinations

May 18th, 2020

I’m taking my Annual Personal Spiritual Retreat this week. I’d originally meant to start it off with a 48-Hour Book Challenge on Monday morning. Then I thought I’d do a few things before I started Monday morning — and it will now soon be Monday evening. Oh well!

One of the things I did though, was some thinking about my life — the whole point of a personal retreat.

And I am abundantly happy with my life.

In fact, this morning I was developing a little theory. A Theory of Affinity Combinations. (I’m going to have to come up with a catchier name.) This theory is that activities that are especially satisfying are ones that combine two or more of the things you love — the result will feel especially an expression of who you uniquely are.

19 years ago, I began writing Sonderbooks. Then it was an e-newsletter, but before long it became a website of book reviews. Even back then, what I loved so much about it was that it combined my love of reading with my love of writing and even my enjoyment of programming (in making the website). And since the reviews give my personal opinion — Sonderbooks is something that expresses who I am. And when it actually helps people find good books, that’s even better!

So last year, when I won the Allie Beth Martin Award, a national award from the Public Library Association for “extraordinary range and depth of knowledge about books” and “distinguished ability to share that knowledge” — in a large part about Sonderbooks — that felt like a validation of who I am, and brought me so much joy. (Writing Sonderbooks already brings me so much joy. But I’m so happy to realize other people find value in it, too.)

But today I got to thinking about the other things in my life that bring me joy because they’re about combining my affinities. My Mathematical Knitting springs to mind. When anyone asks me about my prime factorization sweater, “You made it?” I answer “Of course! Do you really think anyone else would think of doing such a thing?” Combining my love of mathematical patterns with my love of knitting brings results that, again, feel like they represent who I am.

My Sonderquotes blog fits that, too. I’ve loved collecting quotations since I was in high school. And I’ve loved taking pictures — especially of nature — all my life. A couple years ago, it finally dawned on me to combine the two — and the result brings me so much joy.

By combining things I love, these things all feel like an expression of ME. They all have a piece of my heart.

And I think the book I’m working on fits that, too. It’s about looking at different types of Psalms and using the patterns to write your own psalms. This project combines my love of the Psalms with my love of writing and love of memorizing God’s word — into something that feels like it’s uniquely something for me to say.

But the biggest Affinity Combination of them all is my job as a librarian. This combines my love of books, my love of sharing books with others, my detail-oriented love of organization and lists and research, my love of reading to little kids, and even my love of math and enjoyment of variety and desire to be helpful — all in the best job in the world that so much seems to fit what I was created to do.

And I am so blessed that I currently have lots of space in my life for so many activities that are from combined affinities and bring me so much joy.

How about you? What activities do you do that combine different things you love for a result that’s especially suited to you?

Creation Psalms

May 11th, 2020

I’m doing a project where I’m looking at different types of Psalms and using the ideas to write my own psalms. It’s a form of prayer and an exercise that is blessing me every time I try.

Now I’ve come to Creation Hymns, which seem like one of the most straightforward types of Psalms. Some examples are Psalms 8, 33, 65, 95, 96, 104, and 148. These are hymns that talk about God’s amazing power in creating and maybe talk about how small mankind is when compared with creation.

In trying to write my own, it’s hard to know where to start. But lately, under Stay-at-Home orders, the sky has been more blue than ever and I’ve gotten to take daily walks by my lake on my lunch break when working from home. So I’m just going to start by praising God for the beauty I see every day.

The one other thing to keep in mind is try to use parallelism — repeat yourself, saying something similar in a slightly different way. It gives the writing the rhythm of the Psalms and gives the writing a meditative pace.

I’m going to try to keep it short to make it an example that you can try at home!

Lord, you didn’t have to make the world beautiful.
You could have created a colorless landscape.
But your creation oozes with beauty
and shines into my windows with wonder.
Each season brings new glories;
your wonders never cease to unfold.
When the cherry blossoms fall
and the bluebells go silent,
then irises quietly sprout at lakeside,
flamboyantly flashing their colors.

Scientists say that living by water is good for the health of humans
Is that because of the beauty of aquatic creatures?
Or maybe the soothing sounds of moving water
or simply the mesmerizing maze of ripples?

The sheer variety of your creatures is astonishing.
Birds alone come in all shapes and sizes
from the slow long-necked wade of the great blue heron
to the proud perch of the bright tree swallow
to the raucous cry of the crow,
the shimmering stare of the grackle,
and the sudden dive of the osprey.

Lord, if a sparrow can’t fall without your noticing,
if you keep track of myriads of creatures,
which you created in all their amazing forms
which you made with the wildest imagination of all,
then surely you can track my movements.
Certainly you know my fears.
Assuredly you understand my longings.
Decidedly you comprehend my needs.

And I will never go unnoticed.
I will always be in your tender care.

Now you try! A Psalm about Creation. What have you noticed lately?

Wisdom Psalms

May 4th, 2020

I’m doing a project where I’m going over different types of Psalms I learned about in Psalms class when I was a student at Biola University more than thirty years ago, and I’m using those Psalms as a pattern for my own prayers. My favorite is the Lament, which is a sort of paint-by-number and walks you through pouring out your heart to God and then remembering that God is good and is with you. But now I’m going through some more challenging forms that I’d never before thought to try myself.

I’d come to Wisdom Psalms, which has lots of examples — some are Psalms 1, 14, 15, 19, 34, 37, 73, 111, 112, and 119. Essentially, these Psalms are about affirming that it’s worth it to follow God, and it’s not a good idea to do wicked things. They often include the phrase, “How blessed are those who… ”

But it feels presumptuous to even try to write a Wisdom Psalm, so I decided to think of them as Pep Talk Psalms. What do I need a pep talk about?

I was still feeling stuck, when this weekend I found I needed a pep talk. I’ve been doing great with the Stay-at-Home order in my state. I’m an introvert, and I have plenty of things I do to keep myself busy and happy. But for some reason on Saturday — I suspect a combination of not getting enough sleep, having a small headache, and not having gone anywhere for more than a week — I slept late and then seriously thought about not getting out of bed at all because what difference would it make?

Well, I did get better when I got up, but I realized I seriously needed to add some sparkles into my life.

Then our pastor’s online sermon Sunday was on gratitude. I remembered the wise words of Christel Nani, a writer I admire, saying that giving thanks puts you in the present moment and helps you escape regret about the past and worry about the future as you think about what you’re thankful for right now.

So with that in mind, I went for a walk by my lake. It was an ordinary day, but so beautiful! The air is pollution-free with so few cars on the roads and recent rain. Everything captivated me, and little birds seemed to pose for me and the neighbors’ azaleas were blooming lavishly and I saw the first iris of the season, and my own balcony flowers were glowing, and looking at the day opening my eyes to all the beauty just filled my heart with so much joy.

So that night, I wrote this Pep Talk Psalm, taking Psalm 112 as a starting point example.

Praise the Lord.
Blessed are those who notice his handiwork,
who open their eyes to the wonders of his creation.
For then a goldfinch is a gift,
and the first iris of the year is a mark of distinction.
The green of Spring leaves amazes them
and the blue of the unpolluted sky astonishes.
With a heart of gratitude,
birdsong trills out beyond any noise
and flowers pop out of camouflage;
petunias glow in the sunlight,
and rhododendrons pose with raindrops.
Blue jays flash the cartoon colors of their wings,
and proud papa birds preen for photos.
Common things become spectacular,
and small things burst with joy
when the Lord opens your eyes
and shows you how richly
he has poured out blessings upon you
and surrounded you with his wonders.
Praise the Lord.

As always, the exercise of writing the Psalm blessed me to pieces. So I offer the exercise to you: Try writing a Pep Talk Psalm. If you have trouble getting started, think about how to finish the sentence, “Blessed are those who….”

My Own Salvation History Psalm

April 27th, 2020

Last week, I wrote about Salvation History Psalms.

Part of my point in analyzing different types of Psalms is to encourage people to try them out. Write a Psalm! It’s a great exercise in prayer.

So I wanted to do one myself.

Here’s what you do:

Make a list of times in your life when you saw God brought you through.
Then write about it! That’s the whole point — to go over your history with God.

To make it Psalm-like, I tried to use parallelism, tried to repeat myself and say things in more than one way. I began with an “Address to God” and finished with a “Call to Praise,” but otherwise it was a list of some highlights of ways God has worked in my life.

And such a blessing to go over those things! Because when remember what God has already done, it’s so much easier to trust that He will bring us through the current situation.

I’m going to offer my own Salvation History Psalm — as a way of encouraging you to try writing one yourself. Not because this is something special — but it is heartfelt.

Lord, you’ve been by my side since I was a child.
You placed me in a family where I heard about you.
I was trained at Christian schools;
I was encouraged to study and memorize your word.
I was praised for following rules,
and proud of how much I knew,
taught about things to do,
as if that’s how you please God.
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
“Without love, I am nothing.”
I memorized the words,
but they weren’t yet in my heart.

We married young, and a baby came along so soon.
Motherhood was scary, but full of joy.
I wanted to do everything right
and my family to do everything right, too.
I did not succeed,
but You were with us.

I got teaching jobs when we moved,
a job lined up before I’d even found our phone,
(a landline in those days).
You opened doors and helped us pay bills,
make new friends, find a church.

With our second child, preterm contractions put me on bed rest.
My husband and our church family
made that time a blessing.
My oldest joined me in rest and play.
With the new baby, I kept teaching and working,
juggling child care and a happy growing family.

Then we started an adventure –
our family moved to Germany.
You promised your presence would go with us
and you poured blessings out upon us.
My first white Christmas
was that first Christmas in Leithöfe,
with treetops glistening
and snowy fields spread out before us.
We traveled to castles
and wondered at forested beauty.
We walked among the tulips of Holland
and looked out our own windows over fields of Rapps.
We climbed our own hill after dinner,
looked out over a panorama,
and smiled at the baby lambs.

When we suddenly had to move,
you brought us something even greater.
Your goodness seemed laid out with gifts and blessings.
A beautiful home in the hills,
with a view of the valley.
Then a job of my dreams,
dealing with books, seeing friends.
How did it all come crashing down?
Was my beautiful Christian marriage not what it seemed?

I’d told my beloved he probably shouldn’t walk in the woods
with the other woman.
Of course she’d find it romantic;
he’d be leading her on.
In fact, I’d like to walk in the woods with him.
It never entered my head he might want
to lead her on,
he might have chosen
a different path.

I tried to hold it together.
I tried to make things fit back into place.
I begged, I groveled, I cried.
Surely this was all a misunderstanding?

I read the remedies;
I tried seduction.
I tried to kidnap him
for a special date,
to rekindle romance,
to talk and connect.
I tried notes,
I tried emails,
I tried phone calls.
I tried everything I could possibly think of
to let him know he was loved.
Because surely if he knew how I loved him,
he wouldn’t turn away?

I still don’t understand how it happened.
I still don’t know when I lost his heart.
Before we even were engaged,
he told me, “I will never leave you.”
He’d promised to love and cherish me
for better, or for worse.
I don’t know why he decided those vows didn’t matter
and that I wasn’t worthy of love.
He told me he couldn’t forgive me.
He told me I was a terrible wife.
But the truth is that I was at least faithful.
And I at least gave my all to keep on loving him
even when all hope was lost.

You, Lord, were gentle with me
when my husband was harsh.
You sent my offenses away as far as the east is from the west
when my husband brought up words spoken eighteen years before.
“O Lord, if you kept a record of wrongs,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so we can, with reverence, serve you.”

My husband may not have forgiven my shortcomings,
but You did.
You showed me
that You had great things in store for me.

I wanted to stay near my husband,
but You let him run to the other side of the earth.
And once we had the world between us,
You poured out blessings on me.

You showed me I was Loved.
You told me I shone like a star.
You declared Yourself my husband for this season.
You sent me into the wilderness
and spoke tenderly to me.

And your people!
They moved me into a new home,
not once but thrice –
even with all my hoards of books,
they literally bore my burdens.

You gave me libraries!
A job, a profession, a calling!
First part-time, close by my home,
and then full-time, even closer.
I was in my forties and newly-minted with my degree,
yet I was welcomed in service to children.
I got to share the joys of books.

Disappointments came later:
Budget cuts sent me away from the library,
into exile for six months.
Twice I was rejected for the William Morris Seminar
and to be a Cybils judge.
I missed being elected to the Newbery committee by fifteen votes,
and I didn’t get the Selector job I’d wanted so much.
Nor did I get chosen for the position in Oregon near my kids.

But You were with me, Lord.
The disappointments always worked out for something better,
always, every time.
even the divorce, the biggest disappointment of all.

I got back to the library,
now working in a Regional branch,
I was well-positioned to promote.
I worked with new friends
and colleagues it was a delight to see each day.

I got to attend the William Morris Seminar
and be a Cybils judge,
all in good time.
Best of all was being elected to the Newbery committee
when my empty nest was fresh
and I could use my time to read.

As if that weren’t enough,
I won the Allie Beth Martin
a national award for knowledge of books
and distinguished ability to share that knowledge.
Who knew such an award existed?
And that I would receive the honorarium
exactly after home repairs put me in debt
for that exact amount?

Another disappointment happened when I was looking for a home –
my first offer fell through.
And then as soon as that was definite,
a condo came on the market
with an amazing lake view,
in my price range,
in driving distance of the library,
and just the right size for me and my books.
That place where I “spread my tent curtains wide”
blesses me to this day,
as I walk by my lake,
take pictures of birds and flowers and leaves,
and marvel in the beauty of the world the Lord has made.

Praise the Lord!
For every day He surrounds me with His beauty.
He turns my disappointments into dancing,
my setbacks into successes,
my crying into singing.

Praise the Lord!

Legacy

April 25th, 2020

I’ve been thinking about my legacy today. There’s a song by Casting Crowns that plays on Christian radio that is annoyingly catchy that says, “I don’t want to leave a legacy…” but I do want to leave a legacy. Yes, I want my legacy to make people think of Jesus — but I hope my life will be enough of a light that people will miss me, too.

Why am I thinking about my legacy? Because of the coronavirus, of course. It’s a reminder of our mortality. Today I read that it causes blood clots and strokes. Since I already had a stroke at 47 years of age and was left with a small right vertebral artery, I’m at higher risk for strokes. I also woke up at 5 am this morning because it hurt to breathe and in my half-asleep state was convinced I had Covid-19. Well, by the time I got up it was just mild chest pain and I didn’t have a fever — so I think it was just the bronchitis I’ve had since January acting up for some unknown reason. But all of it is a reminder that yes, any of us could die at any time.

Both my parents died in the last seven months, my father unexpectedly from a heart attack. Seeing the mess he left behind that my siblings are trying to clean up made me want to do a better job of having things in order. Or at least that’s what I want. (Not that I’m doing much about it. I did start a list of my passwords….)

Then I’ve got a friend who’s had a lot of health issues lately who talks about how fondly she thinks of going to heaven. I don’t like it when she talks like that, because I think life on earth is a great gift, but at the same time I remember times when I used to get frequent migraines that I would think fondly of heaven. But I do think God puts us on earth for a reason and it’s not because He’s cruel.

So all that is to say, I wanted to write up some thoughts about if I should die in 2020. It seems to be a little more likely in 2020 than it usually is. Still not terribly likely, but slightly more likely than before.

First of all, I do believe I would be in heaven, and I think heaven is so wonderful, I would not be missing earth.

But I also have lived a good life. I am happy with the life I’ve had. In fact, I want to make this a list of three things I’d regret — and then a long list of things about the life I’ve already lived that I’m tremendously thankful for.

Okay, I don’t actually think there will be regrets in heaven. So let me call them three things I’d hoped would happen before I die.

1) First, I hope that I will be reconciled with my oldest child.

I love her, and her existence has brought me delight since the day she was born. I wish I’d realized much, much sooner that she was female (which makes a lot of sense), but still the person she is shines. I miss finding out what’s going on in her life. I miss the way she challenges me and expands my mind.

All the same, if it’s possible from heaven, I’m pretty certain I’ll be watching her and watching over her, if that’s possible. I might get to see more of her that way, who knows?

2) I’d really like to marry again in this life.

It’s not a tragedy if I don’t — my life is full of joy. And it’s probably terribly selfish of me, but I’d like to leave a great big hole in somebody’s life. I’d like to love someone who loves me and loves God. I’d like to share life with a kind man again on this earth.

But it’s different than with my first marriage. Then I wasn’t sure I was even lovable until I met him and found out he loved me. Now? I’m quirky, sure, but I’m confident I can have a wonderful partnership with the right person — but it’s a lot trickier to find such a man who’s also available. And life is too good to settle for a less than optimal partnership.

Anyway, I may not leave a big gaping hole in one person’s life — but I am confident that I’d leave lots of large holes in other people’s lives. I have been abundantly, richly, overwhelmingly blessed with good friendships throughout my life. I am much loved, even if there is not romance in my life right now.

3) I hope I’ll publish a book before I die.

But hey, I’ve got my blogs! I’ve got Sonderbooks! Hoping to be published is partly because all my life I’ve wanted to be a writer. But again, it’s not a tragedy if this doesn’t happen. After all, I even got to write my life story in Project 52.

I am excited about the thought of heaven, but I am in *no* rush to go there! I love life, and hope to continue to live on earth for a few more decades.

But I want my kids to know, when I’m gone, that I won’t feel cheated if my life should be cut short. I am so thankful for the life I’ve already had, and that’s really what I want to reflect on here. How do I even begin?

Well, let’s start with the obvious: I’m so thankful for my kids. The part of their lives they shared with me was awesome, and I’m so proud of the adults they grew to be. Knowing them (even imperfectly) makes me happy.

And that means I’m thankful I married their Dad. I’m thankful that we became adults together. I’m thankful for the kind of father he was when our kids were young. I’m thankful for how he shared in childcare responsibilities. And I’m especially thankful that his job meant we got to live in Europe for ten years and got to see the world.

I’m also thankful I got divorced. I’m still sad he wanted a divorce and going through it was indeed the worst thing that ever happened to me. But coming out the other side, I like the way it deepened my relationship with God. I like the way I learned that I am lovable and forgivable despite what my husband might think. I do like that I learned to be a whole lot less judgmental and gained new compassion for people going through hard things. I no longer assumed that they broke the rules and brought it on themselves. I learned that life is not in my control — but that God will walk with me through anything.

I am thankful that God has had His hand on my life all my life. I was brought up in a Christian family and accepted Jesus when I was very young — and God has stayed with me.

I’m thankful that my parents encouraged me (with money!) to memorize Scripture, so that God’s Word has always been my comfort and guide.

I’m thankful that my beliefs changed since I was a child. I’m thankful that now I believe that God will eventually save everyone. Along with that, I believe that God’s love for us is deep and unfailing. I believe that God doesn’t get upset with me when I stay up too late doing a jigsaw puzzle or get distracted while I have my quiet time. I believe that he doesn’t want to hear a list of everything I’ve done wrong — I believe He wants my heart.

Here I’m going to insert the Psalm I’ve been memorizing this week, Psalm 130. This is what I believe God is like:

Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, LORD, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Sondy, put your hope in the LORD,
for with the LORD is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem you
from all your sins.

[Modifications in the last paragraph are mine.]

I am thankful that God doesn’t keep a record of sins. I am thankful that He has given me a calling and allowed me to serve Him.

I’m so thankful that I get to be a librarian and that I got to be on the Newbery committee and I get to write my website of book reviews and share good books with people!

And I’m so thankful that I received the 2019 Allie Beth Martin Award in recognition of all that! That felt so validating.

And I’m thankful for other little things I get to do. I’m thankful that I get to live in a beautiful place. I’m thankful that I get to take beautiful pictures. I’m thankful that Facebook exists and I can share those pictures with my friends. And I’m thankful that I can put quotes on the pictures and share wise things from my reading — with pictures on my Sonderquotes blog.

I’m thankful I outgrew my migraines. Someone recently asked if there was an age you’d go back to — and I realized that my 50s have been the best — because I lost my migraines. My life has always been good. But it’s nice to deal with pain so much less often.

I’m thankful for my three hoards — books, yarn (for knitting), and games. My kids are going to have some fun getting rid of those things, but they’ve brought me lots of joy, so they’ve been worth it.

And that reminds me — I’m thankful I’ve gotten to be a matheknitician! My mathematical knitting creations are beautiful things that came out of my brain, and it makes me happy to have such expressions.

I’m so thankful for friends. I have been extra blessed in my life with friends. First, I’ve got my twelve siblings. And then friends still in my life since third grade, friends from high school and college, friends I met in New Jersey, Illinois, Germany, and Virginia, friends I met via my website and discovered were kindred spirits, friends who enjoy exchanging long emails, friends I work with who brighten my days, and new friends from my new church and the choir where we make music together.

I know that I’m a quirky person. When I see how much I’m enjoying shelter in place (Reading! Writing! Puzzling!) and how rare that is — I realize not everyone’s going to find things in common with me.

But how blessed I am that I’ve collected an enormous set of wonderful people who have touched my life.

And that alone is enough reason for me to say I’ve lived a wonderful life.

I hope I’ll get to experience that life much longer. But whether or not — what a joy this life has already been!