“I Waited Patiently…”

June 25th, 2016

waiting_is_not_easy_largeI was thinking about Psalm 40 this morning. If you take out the word “patiently” — I feel like these verses are my testimony:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.

I’ve been struck recently by how many times a friend will say they admire my patience — when I know that I’m not feeling even a little bit patient! They are so, so wrong!

But the fact is? Sometimes you have to wait — whether you’re patient or impatient doesn’t change that one little bit. So outsiders seeing you waiting — might think you’re being patient.

Now, I learned early as a Christian — never pray for patience! Because how does God build patience in you? We’d just love it if he would zap us with patience — make us instantly patient! (LOL) But the way to build patience in us — is to make us wait, to put us through long, excruciating trials. No matter how impatient we are, we will still have to wait — and maybe we’ll learn that impatience doesn’t speed things up one little bit.

Something that’s taken me longer to learn? When you’re tempted to pray for patience, pray instead to enjoy the moment. You’re going to have to wait — might as well enjoy it.

In this way I bring my knitting to long, boring meetings — a wonderful chance to knit! (And I listen better, honest!) I bring books to read on airplane flights — a chance to read! I listen to audiobooks during my commute — again, a chance to read!

When my kids were little and their antics tried my patience — well, now that they’re not little at all, I treasure that time in my mind. Lord, give me the grace to find the treasures in this moment.

Now, some things are much, much, much harder. I think of the things people told me I was waiting patiently about when I simply wasn’t — a 27-day headache, or waiting more than a year for them to fill a position that I so wanted, or other decisions I’ve had to wait for. Even in those times, how can I enjoy this moment?

With a headache, it’s a reminder of God’s grace just to get through the day. (That’s a start, anyway, a humble attempt to find something that redeems the moment.) When waiting for a decision about a big potential change, it’s a reminder to treasure the present moment before the change, to remember how much I love about where I’ve been.

That brings me back to Psalm 40. When I think of being in a slimy pit, I think of the years when my marriage was falling and had fallen apart. Make no mistake about it, it was a horrible time. I waited, but it was not very patiently.

I thought I was waiting for God to bring my husband back and restore our marriage. Turns out, I was waiting for God to heal my heart and bring me into a new phase of life and teach me that God is my rock — and set my feet on that rock and give me a firm place to stand.

And you know what? No matter how patient or impatient I am, that process takes time. God had a lot of work to do in my heart, and he couldn’t just zap me with those new qualities. He couldn’t just zap me with a knowledge of his faithfulness — He had to show me over time.

Now? I think I’m waiting for God to bring a new life partner into my life. I would love it if God would zap a new man into my life. And zap that guy into just the right partner for me.

But maybe God has something else in mind. And maybe he has work to do in my heart. And maybe he has work to do in that man’s heart. I don’t want someone for the sake of having someone. I’d like God to be involved. I’d like God to do some orchestrating about this one.

I’m clearly going to have to wait. (Unless, of course, God plans to zap someone into my life today. That would be fine, Lord!) Whether I wait patiently or impatiently won’t speed up the outcome. (Actually, when it’s a matter of the heart, patience might speed up the outcome.)

But my prayer is: How can I enjoy this moment? What is God doing in me now, today?

And how good it is that I can look back on my own life and say, “See! God has come through! I can put my trust in the Lord!” That’s something good that came out of all that awful waiting. I wouldn’t trade it, now.

Here’s to singing that new song.

Project 52: Year 2

June 21st, 2016

Baby2

Last week, on my 52nd birthday, I decided to begin Project 52: Each week for a year, I’m going to reflect in this blog on one year of my life.

My second year of life is probably the one I know least about. But I do have some cute pictures from approximately that time, so maybe that makes up for it.

Baby5

My brother Ricky was now 3 (4 in October), and my sister Becky was 2.

Right around my first birthday, our family moved from Maryland back to Seattle, where my parents met.

Family legend says that they drove across the country and visited Yellowstone — and my Dad fed a bear Ritz crackers right next to a sign that said, “Don’t Feed the Bears.”

So I’ve visited Yellowstone but have no memory of it, just like I have no memory of living on the East Coast and sight-seeing there.

They moved into the house in Seattle that they had been renting out while they were in Maryland. It was a house with lots of stairs in front, on a hill.

I believe I have one memory of that house, but it was probably after my second birthday, so I’ll include it in next week’s reflection.

Living in Seattle, my family often drove the couple hours to Salem to visit my Mom’s family. This must have been around that time, after they’d moved back to Seattle.

Salem1

This picture was taken in front of Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Salem and features (left to right) my Mom’s little brother Allen and his wife Judy, sister Susan, then Mom holding me with Dad behind her, then sisters Donna and Linda in back with Ricky, Becky, and my Mom’s youngest brother Larry in front. Uncle Larry is one-day-less-than-a-year older than my brother Rick.

For those who are counting, my Mom was the oldest of six siblings, in two sets — three older and three younger. My Dad was the 9th of 12. So they were not strangers to big families. (I have a LOT of relatives.)

Here are a couple more pictures from approximately my second year.

Baby4

Baby6

(Huh. My hair curled in strange ways even then.)

Of all my siblings until the last two, Marcy and Melanie, I was the youngest the longest. My brother Rick used to explain that meant I was the most spoiled. I’m not convinced.

Stones of Help, Stones of Fire

June 14th, 2016

Today is my 52nd Birthday.

Because 52 is such a cool number, and because there are 52 weeks in a year, I’m embarking on Project 52 — reflecting each week on one year of my life.

I’ve also been thinking very much about Healing today.

Ten years ago this summer was when I left Germany, utterly brokenhearted, and moved to Virginia.

Now I am settling in — and I feel Healed. And that’s a wonderful thing.

And I was thinking about I Samuel 7:12, where Samuel sets up a stone as a monument to God’s help. He names it “Ebenezer,” which means “Stone of Help,” and says, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped.”

Today I planned to go to Great Falls, which I did, and pick up a stone to remind me of God’s help. I have some other stones. This one (actually I picked up two) is going to represent Healing.

Here are the stones I chose along with some souvenir playing cards from places I loved. (I played some solitaire tonight using 52 cards at a time. It’s appropriate!)

BirthdayStones

But, rather more amazing — this morning I checked my doorstep (I’d forgotten to check last night), and there was a birthday package! It contained a gift from my generous friend Lauri Ann of beautiful opal earrings.

Opals are special to me because one of my favorite books as a kid was a book written by missionary Isobel Kuhn called Stones of Fire. In it, she compares a Lisu tribeswoman to a fire opal. She talks about how the colors of the opal come from pressure and brokenness.

I love that thought. As I’m thinking about Healing — I declare that my healed broken heart is part of what makes me beautiful.

So my Stones of Fire are also my Stones of Help. They speak to how far God has brought me — and that He has not only Healed me, He used those awful times to make me beautiful.

Three years ago when I went to Great Falls on my birthday, the many great blue herons I saw represented Great Blue Herons of Happiness.

This year, they were back!

GreatBlueFalls1

So the walk in great falls was about Healing and Happiness both.

GreatBlueFalls2

We got amazing views of many, many herons.

GreatBlueFalls3

And here I am modeling my Stones of Fire that represent Healing, with a Great Blue Heron of Happiness behind me.

Opal

Hitherto hath the Lord helped!

52 Weeks in a Year…

June 14th, 2016

I’m 52 today!

As a Numbers Person, I think 52 is very cool — we use it a lot in probability, because it’s the number of cards in a standard deck. So I played some solitaire with my souvenir playing cards from Ireland and Britain and Germany.

52_cards

But I’ve decided to start on a project. There are 52 weeks in a year, and I just finished 52 years of life.

I thought it would be fun, each week in the next year, to reflect on one year of my life.

So tonight, on my birthday, I’m going to talk about my first year.

Baby1

I was born on Flag Day in Washington, D.C. My family lived in Maryland, in what is now Columbia, was then called Ellicott City. My Mom was 23 and my Dad was 25. So young! Yet they already had two kids, Ricky, who was not yet 3 years old, and Becky, who was 15 months old.

My parents met in Seattle, attending Seattle Pacific College, and only lived in Maryland a few years, long enough for Becky and me to be born. It’s kind of funny that I ended up living out here as an adult. I didn’t remember the East Coast at all from babyhood, of course.

I checked with my Dad, and they moved away from Maryland after I was a year old. So that first year was on the East Coast. I found out tonight that they did some sight-seeing when they found out they wouldn’t be staying — so I have been to places like Skyline Drive and Monticello, even though I didn’t remember.

My Dad worked at Johns Hopkins Jet Propulsion Lab, and my Mom was a stay-at-home Mom, who always did think it was a terrible thing for women to work.

She told me a story about when I was very small.

She was quite overwhelmed with 3 kids under 3, and had been asking God Why she had to have all these kids (sort of a George Bailey “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment.) The next day, I fell down the basement steps in my walker and cried for a solid hour. She held me and said, “God, I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it!”

I think she told me that story to let me know I was loved and wanted. (I’m not sure if it completely had that effect, but I appreciate the intention!)

I also want to reflect in these posts about how God had his hand on me. My parents met at a Christian college. I was born on a Sunday, the day after my Mom had spent the day at a church picnic. (I was the only one of my Mom’s kids born on my due date.) They both love the Lord and brought us to church every Sunday morning and evening, and often Wednesday nights as well. So my first grace came by the family I was born into — they introduced me to Jesus.

I don’t know how old I was in this picture, but it looks like somewhere around a year old.

I was ready for a wonderful life!

Baby3

Thinking About Love

February 14th, 2016

ValentineToday’s Valentine’s Day.

I’m not in a romantic relationship, and I would like to be — but I reject the notion that this means I can’t celebrate a holiday that’s all about Love.

Think about it — Love is the fundamental heart of the Christian faith. Consider these verses:

Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” — Matthew 22:37-40

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” — John 15:9-10

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. — I John 3:1

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. — I John 4:7

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him. — I John 4:16

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you. — Isaiah 54:10

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the great deep.
O Lord, you preserve both man and beast.
How priceless is your unfailing love!
Both high and low among men
find refuge in the shadow of your wings. — Psalm 36:7

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

For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:38-39

I think it’s fantastic that we celebrate Thanksgiving — a day set aside to honor a wonderful spiritual practice. So why not treat Valentine’s Day that way? It’s a day set aside to honor Love — which is what makes life worth living. It’s what the lives of Christians are supposed to be about. Sure, we can get by without romantic love (though it sure is nice when it comes along), but love itself is crucial. It’s worth taking a day to think about it!

Although I can get discouraged when I think about romantic love, I have so many reasons to celebrate love! Both the love of God and the love of friends and how rich I am with people in my life whom I love and who love me.

This was brought home to me 10 years ago today. It was pretty much the low point in the end of my marriage (or one of the low points). My then-husband was trying to get through to me how very over our marriage was in his mind — by being cruel. (To be fair, it wasn’t getting through my head. Even then, I didn’t understand at all how he could throw away our years together.)

I was scheduled for surgery in a German hospital on Valentine’s Day. It was for a “non-healing wound” on my cervix — how symbolic is that? — and they also found adhesions (scar tissue) in my uterus.

Anyway, I knew my then-husband was not going to be supportive. And it was Valentine’s Day. And did I mention surgery in a German hospital? I felt very alone. So, out of desperation, I asked my friends and family to mail me valentines.

They came through. In fact, the quilted bag I carry to church each week was made by a friend on that occasion. And what could have been a horrible disaster now reminds me of how rich I am in friends and how much I am loved.

Yesterday, I tried to recreate some of that by “sorting” my Facebook friends — talking about the different times in my life where I’ve met people and made lasting friends and tagging people in each time period. (I’ve moved around a lot and picked up friends all over the world!)

But the joke’s on me! After tagging about a couple hundred people — and I just got through relatives, high school friends, and college friends — Facebook won’t let me tag anyone any more! So I guess that means even Facebook thinks that’s more friends than a person can legitimately have! See how rich I am?

And the picture of the bookmark in this post? That was a Valentine given to me today by my lifelong friend Darlene, accompanied by a wonderful note. It was nice that today was a Sunday — I got other hugs and prayers and kind words and was freshly reminded how surrounded I am by love and how very wonderful that is.

Now, lest it sound like I’m gloating: I do have to make a point of reminding myself. There’s no rejection quite as devastating as that coming from someone you love deeply. When they tell you that rejection is your own fault — because you are not worthy of love, or even worse because of ways you actually did fail them — it is so easy to believe the lie that you’re not lovable.

So I’m taking back Valentine’s Day — using it as a day to remind myself:

YES, I am lovable!
YES, I am loved, deeply and truly, by God and by many others.
YES, I get to love as well!

In closing, let me offer this prayer for you, Dear Reader:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. — Ephesians 3:17-19

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Blizzards and Contentment and Trust

January 31st, 2016

BlizzardwithCardinal

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

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

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

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

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

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

BreakingTrail3

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

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

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

Blizzard6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all a dance.

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

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

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

Blizzard4

BreakingTrail5

New Year’s Prayer Requests

January 1st, 2016

Happy New Year!

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

Swans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 62:8

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

Jeremiah 17:7-8

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

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

Christmas Letter 2015

December 1st, 2015

Merry Christmas, my Friends!

Jade1

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

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

JadeandMe

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

Tim

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

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

GlowingLeaves3

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

PiDay1

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

ZoeandBlanket

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

HeronTakeOff

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

With my sister Becky at Torrey Pines in California

With my sister Becky at Torrey Pines in California

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

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

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

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

A butterfly by my lake

A butterfly by my lake

My newest niece Zoe smiling at her Aunt Laura.

My newest niece Zoe smiling at her Aunt Laura.

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

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

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

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

Wishing you a blessed holiday season,

Sondy Eklund

What Was the Pharisees’ Mistake?

November 21st, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You see, I was a teenage Pharisee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

So let me humbly suggest some questions:

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

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

Am I straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel?

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

Let me close with words from Romans 8:

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

And that, Dear Reader, includes you.

Core Value, Loveability, and Loneliness

October 12th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the things to put in the eight boxes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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