Archive for the ‘Devotional Thoughts’ Category

Rolled Away

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

I’ve been thinking about these verses for the past couple of weeks. And I can’t avoid the thought that God’s trying to tell me something.

The women were on the way to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ dead body. Even though he told them more than once he was going to rise from the dead. And they were stewing about how they’d move the stone. It was very large.

This should have been a legitimate concern – The stone was very large. Three women probably wouldn’t have been able to move it. But maybe they could have found someone to do it. Maybe with some effort they could have figured it out. Maybe the Roman guards would have taken pity on them. They weren’t planning to steal the body – just wrap it with spices.

As it was? This example is the epitome of needless worry. They’re worrying about who’s going to roll the stone away – when a much, much bigger miracle had happened.

Yes, their worry was taken care of – the stone was miraculously rolled away – but that was only the beginning of how God came through for them.

***

In my life, I’ve got something I’ve been praying about for a long time. It’s something I can legitimately put some effort into trying to make happen. (And I’ve worked on it in the past with no luck, but maybe I just didn’t work hard enough!)

But I feel like God’s been telling me “Wait on the Lord.” And I also feel like God’s been telling me, “I’m going to take care of this one for you.”

But I still get tempted to stew. Right now I’m on the Newbery committee, so I don’t have time to put in effort on this anyway. But what about after my Newbery service is done? Maybe I should start working on it again then? Who will roll the stone away? Above all, even though that’s still a ways away, Hadn’t I better make plans?

About a month ago, the verse that kept coming up was John 4:50 — The man took Jesus at his word and departed.

Now it’s The stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

I do believe that in general, we have a certain responsibility to do our part. My pastor has talked about the Path of Trust – somewhere smack in the middle of Control and Letting It Happen.

Me? Without fail, my tendency is to be on the Control side of the diagram – at least trying to be in control.

How many ways does God need to tell me He’s got this?

And maybe there’s a bigger miracle going to happen than even the part I could have tried to organize myself.

Who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb?

Let’s watch and see. Maybe it will be God Himself.

And maybe that will be the smallest part of the miracle God’s going to do.

[Photo: Skerries Beach, Ireland, July 2001]

Three Little Lessons

Friday, April 6th, 2018

I was thinking today about what I’m learning in my life lately. And I came up with three things. Thinking about them made me happier today.

The first one came from lately being hyperaware of single men somewhere near my age and whether I might meet them. A friend told me about a single man she’d met – and there was absolutely nothing to indicate that he might have anything in common with me – except that he appeared to be single. (No ring on the fourth finger of his left hand.)

On top of that, I’ve been joking with friends about where I might meet single men – it’s pretty much an attitude of scarcity.

But lately I’ve been talking with other single women. We talk about how nice it is to set our own schedule and make our own choices and pursue our own interests. I’m remembering a bigger truth:

Lesson One: Even if I never get married again, I’m going to have a richly happy life.

When I think about what I don’t have, I forget how wonderful my life is right now.

I by no means want to get married just for the sake of getting married. I do believe that someone may come along who could enhance my life and make it even better than it is now. But if such a man never comes along? It is no tragedy. Life is very good.

There’s a balance. I don’t want to rule out finding a partner or shut men out of my life. But lately, I was thinking a little too much about “finding a man” as being a problem.

But I absolutely don’t want just any man. Being single and somewhere near my age is not enough! He’s going to have to be exceptional to win a place in my life!

And today was a good day to remember that. And relish a day that was exactly what I wanted it to be.

Lesson Two: Enjoy this time while I’m on the Newbery committee.

I recently made a new plan to get more reading time in: Reading every day from 7 to 9, whether morning or evening or both.

But then I noticed I wasn’t necessarily getting in a quiet time. And I was getting a little bit uptight about whether I got the reading time in.

And I just need to remember – this is a time I’ll look back on all my life. Might as well enjoy it!

With that in mind, today I sat out on my balcony in the afternoon and read a book from start to finish!

It meant that I needed to do some other things from 7 to 9 tonight. But while I was out there, winds were blowing, and birds were singing. It was warm enough I didn’t need a jacket. The wind meant I could hear gentle ripples coming from the lake. I have a comfortable chair and can put my feet up.

In short, it was a lovely, idyllic afternoon. I’m so glad I seized the opportunity while I had it.

Lesson Three: Remember how far the Lord has brought me.

This came from reading Mark 5:34 this morning. Jesus says to a woman whom He healed, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

I’ve been reading Project 52 this year, which I wrote last year. And it reminded me that 12 years ago, I was suffering. Suffering greatly.

Today, I am free from my suffering.

And I am so thankful.

Okay, those lessons aren’t as big as the ones I learned when I was suffering. But they were good to think about today. Call them Lessons in a Time of Joy.

Resurrection and Brahms’ Requiem

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

When I was a young adult, I was part of a choir, the William Locke Singers, that sang Johannes Brahms’ A German Requiem. We were told that this is a Protestant Requiem, and is all about hope.

We sang it in English, and indeed the text is entirely taken from the Bible – verses full of hope and about the beauty of heaven and about comfort.

Some time before we performed the Requiem, a college friend died in a freak accident. This requiem – and singing those words over and over again – comforted me.

I often play the Requiem over and sing along at Easter when I’m thinking about Resurrection.

This year, today I’m attending a memorial service for an elder of our church who died after a long battle with cancer. He was only a little older than me, and leaves a wife and two adult kids – and a grieving church.

So – today not only am I listening to this wonderful requiem, I’m going to type out all the verses in the text.

Now, in the music form, this is extremely, extremely repetitive. So learning this piece gets you thinking about these things and repeating them in beautiful music over and over and over again. The words are beautiful – but singing them in this incredible piece of art puts them right into your heart.

I.
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall have comfort.

They that sow, that sow in tears, shall reap, shall reap in joy.
Who goeth forth and weepeth, and beareth precious seed,
shall doubtless return with rejoicing, and bring his sheaves with him.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall have comfort.

II.
Behold, all flesh is as the grass, and all the goodliness of man is as the flower of grass;
For lo, the grass with’reth, and the flower thereof decayeth.

Now therefore, be patient, O my brethren, unto the coming of Christ.
See how the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit, the precious fruit of the earth,
and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early rain and the latter rain.
So be ye patient.

Behold, all flesh is as the grass, and all the goodliness of man is as the flower of grass.
For lo, the grass with’reth, and the flower thereof decayeth.

But yet the Lord’s word endureth, endureth for evermore.

The redeemed of the Lord shall return again, and come rejoicing unto Zion;
Joy everlasting upon their heads shall be.
Joy and gladness, these shall be their portion,
and tears and sighing shall flee from them.

The redeemed of the Lord shall return again, and come rejoicing unto Zion;
Joy everlasting, joy upon their heads shall be.
Joy everlasting.

III.
Lord, make me to know the measure of my days on earth, to consider my frailty,
that I must perish.
Surely, all my days here are as an handbreadth to Thee,
and my lifetime is as naught to Thee.

Verily, mankind walketh in a vain show, and their best state is altogether vanity.
Man passeth away like a shadow, he is disquieted in vain,
he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.

Now, Lord, O, what do I wait for?

My hope is in Thee, my hope is in Thee.

But the righteous souls are in the hand of God, nor pain nor grief shall nigh them come.

IV.
How lovely is Thy dwellingplace, O Lord of Hosts, O Lord of Hosts!
For my soul, it longeth, yea, fainteth for the courts of the Lord;
my soul and body crieth out, yea, for the living God.

How lovely is Thy dwellingplace, O Lord of Hosts, O Lord of Hosts!
Blest are they, O blest are they that dwell within Thy house;
they praise Thy name evermore, they praise Thee for evermore!

How lovely is Thy dwellingplace.

V.
Ye now are sorrowful,
howbeit, ye shall again behold me, and your heart shall be joyful.

Yea, I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforteth.

Look upon me; ye know that for a little time labour and sorrow were mine,
but at the last I have found comfort.

Yea, I will comfort, will comfort you.

Ye now are sorrowful;
howbeit, ye shall again behold me, and your heart shall be joyful.

Yea, I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforteth.

VI.
Here on earth have we no continuing place,
howbeit, we seek one to come.

Lo, I unfold unto you a mystery.
We shall not all sleep when He cometh,
but we shall all be changed,
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the trumpet.

For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.

Then, then, what of old was written, the same shall be brought to pass.

For death shall be swallowed in victory, yea, in victory!

Grave, where is thy triumph?
Death, O where is thy sting?

Worthy art Thou to be praised, Lord of honour and might,
for Thou hast earth and heaven created,
and for Thy good pleasure all things have their being, and were created.

VII.
Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.

Saith the spirit, that they rest from their labours,
and that their works follow after them.

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth.

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.

Amen.

I looked for a youtube video of Brahms’ Requiem sung in English, and found this playlist, which should take you through all the movements.

Nostalgia

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

Last year, I wrote Project 52, writing about all 52 years of my life, a year each week.

This year, I’m reading what I wrote, at the same pace, covering a year each week. Right now, I’m reading about the time I’m most nostalgic about – my kids were young, we lived in Germany, and were visiting castles on our free weekends. In the pictures, you can see the joy on their young, sweet faces. Ah! That was the life! Looking at the pictures alone lifts my spirits.

But you can see the danger. I can’t visit castles any more. My kids are grown (as they should be!). And I’m not married any more. Nostalgia’s dangerous because it can lead to discontent.

And I have to admit that Valentine’s Day plays into that. I agree with my little sister that it’s lovely to have a holiday that celebrates love and romance, which are both beautiful things and make the world a better place. But the danger is being discontent.

Now, I know full well that while I am on the Newbery committee would be a really bad time to look hard for a new man in my life. It just plain wouldn’t be fair to go online and find a match and then tell him, “I like you, but I don’t have much time to spend with you until next year. Sorry about that.”

However, that doesn’t help all that much when Valentine’s Day comes around and I start being tempted to discontent.

Today I was looking through my journal where I wrote down the things I thought God was telling me over the past ten years. Now, I thought He was telling me that my ex-husband would come back some day – and I don’t think that any more.

But I keep going back to the things I thought God was telling me to do. I believe that He was telling me to Wait – and that was a good thing. That was not a mistake.

He also gave me words of loving encouragement – way too perfectly timed to be coincidence: That He was making me beautiful, and making me shine like a star. That He loves me, deeply and amazingly. That He notices me, cares for me, and is watching over my life.

And, come on, Sondy – I am on the NEWBERY COMMITTEE!!!!!

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the day will come when I am nostalgic about this time – right now, today – when I’m on the Newbery committee! and spending all my free time reading.

I have a wonderful home. I have a lake to walk by. It’s not as pretty during the winter when there’s no snow and everything’s brown – but I brought my camera on my walk today to remind me that it’s still beautiful. And as I’m writing this, it’s snowing outside.

The truth is that the Lord has showered me with blessings – already, right NOW.

If I do get married again some day, I have no doubt I’ll get nostalgic about this time when my time is my own. I can spend an extra hour on my quiet time, write a meditative blog post, go for a walk around my lake, and, of course, read, read, read – and nobody at all feels neglected.

So, again, I’m using the power of future nostalgia to remind me that I am gloriously blessed.

And I am loved by the Lord.

I’ll finish with the amazing verse I felt like God gave me last May. It reminds me that I am amazingly, wonderfully, beautifully blessed.

And, doggone it, I’m going to enjoy it!

Song of Songs 2:10-12 —
“My beloved spoke and said to me,
‘Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come.'”

Yes, I’m loved. Yes, the Lord is making me beautiful.

It’s time for singing!

Stone of Help

Saturday, February 3rd, 2018

I got a new car just before the New Year!

I’m naming the car “Ebenezer,” “Benny” for short, after I Samuel 7:12, where Samuel set up a stone saying, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped.”

The car is reminding me of all the things that have worked out for good lately.

And let me try to explain some of the things that came together when I bought this car.

I’ve been in a horrible black hole of credit card debt for years. Most of it started when I got divorced, and when I moved to Virginia and lost my job. But once you’re deeply in debt, it feels foolish to save, because you should be using any “extra” money to pay down credit card debt. But then when big expenses come up, you have to borrow to pay them. On top of that, any trips I took or any other splurges – I borrowed to do it. So a lot of the debt was my own fault for doing that too much.

For a few years now, along with New Year’s Goals, I’ve come up with 7 prayer requests to pray daily in the new year. Ever since I started doing that, one of the prayer requests was to get out of debt. The associated goal was always much, much less, and more realistic – to reduce the total by a few thousand. I didn’t think this was a prayer that could happen in less than 5 years.

In November 2016, wanting to speed up paying off my debt, I took out a 4-year installment loan to cover the highest rate cards. I knew it would make my budget tight, but I thought it would be worth it to speed up paying off the cards.

In the next few months after borrowing that money, my car needed $2700 of repairs. I knew I couldn’t afford a new car – I wanted to wait at least until I paid off my library school student loans in November 2017 – but to pay that amount, I had to borrow – so the monthly payments got yet higher.

Then in November 2017, I paid off my student loan! Hooray! A little leeway in my budget!

But at the end of December, my car’s Check Engine light went off again. Sure enough, it would cost $5000 to fix it. Well, I didn’t have student loan payments any more. That meant I knew I could make payments, right? I did decide to buy a new car.

The old one, a 2002 Prius, had 126,000 miles on it when I bought it in 2008. It had over 227,000 miles when it died. This time, I wanted to get the benefit of the best 126,000 miles! It turned out now they make a Prius C (for compact) that is less expensive. And my car broke down between Christmas and New Year’s – which I’ve heard is the best time to buy a car. I got 0.9% financing for 72 months. It turned out they hadn’t gone up in price a whole lot since I’d bought my first one. Yay!

So that was wonderful – but I was still wondering how I’d pay for it!

It was clear that my home had gone up in value since I’d bought it almost five years ago. I checked, and some neighbors had recently sold the same model for $290,000 and $295,000. (I bought it for $255,000.) Since that meant I had more than 20% equity, I wondered if I should refinance to get rid of my mortgage insurance on my FHA loan.

Well, long story short, that wasn’t a good idea, because my first mortgage is at 3.25%. Also, I got my FHA mortgage a month before the rules changed – so my insurance will automatically go away when I hit 78% of the original purchase price – in 4 or 5 years.

But all this time I’d thought that a home equity loan would count against hitting that 78%. But because of buying the car, I looked into it and learned that isn’t the case. It turned out that the public value out there for my place came in at $277,000, without me getting an appraisal. And at this time, I qualified for exactly enough money to pay off all my credit cards and have a little money left over for a cushion. (The cushion quickly went away with a couple expenses that came up. So just exactly the right amount of money.)

Once I think about it, the timing is amazing:

My car didn’t break down until I’d paid off my student loan. If it had happened sooner, I might have kept borrowing to keep it running.

It happened at the best time to buy a new car.

It motivated me to find out about home equity loans.

It happened when I qualified for exactly the right amount to pay off my credit cards. (It’s 15-year fixed rate, so it won’t last forever, either.)

Now I realize I’m still in debt, but now it’s secured debt. And the best part is that now my budget has some room to save – so I can try with all my might to save for future big expenses and try to never get back into credit card debt again.

On top of that, this happened just as 2018 was beginning. 2018 is the year I’m serving on the Newbery committee. The Newbery committee is a dream come true and also represents things working out for good.

I applied four years earlier to be on the committee – and missed it by 15 votes. But this is a much better time. It makes my Empty Nest an asset instead of something to mope about.

Why, I’m having so much fun going to classes and talking about the Newbery committee – I realized that this even shows me that I’m happier in my current job than I would have been in the Youth Materials Selector job I applied for a few years ago and was sad not to get. In that job, it wouldn’t be a natural outgrowth to do outreach to schools – but as Youth Services Manager, that fits in beautifully. Yep, that’s worked out for good, too.

There’s ONE thing left that hasn’t worked out in my life.

I find it just plain funny how, when things are going most beautifully, on two different days that I noticed were particularly good – I caught myself thinking about that one thing left. (Oh, the ability of humans to think about what we don’t have instead of about what we do!)

It’s that I’m still single. And there are apparently no prospects for changing that.

But the truth is, it’s a lot easier to spend all my spare time reading when I’m not in a relationship. If God has worked out so many other things for good – including perfect timing – I really do believe He can work out that one, too.

And I don’t have time for a man right now, anyway!

And mind you, I’m very, very happy. (I won’t get started on how much, much, much I’m enjoying Newbery committee activities – and I’ve barely begun.)

But when I find myself going down the path of thinking about what I don’t have – my little car is now a physical reminder: Hitherto hath the Lord helped!

Love and Connection

Friday, October 20th, 2017

I’ve been thinking about love lately.

Our pastor preached on “Right Connection” last Sunday. Although I agreed with his points – We are made for connection; right connection with God helps us have right connection with people and vice versa; right connection is incredibly important – a couple of implications from how it came out bothered me a little bit and got me thinking.

In talking about how much right connection with God helps us to connect with people, he mentioned how much a tough marriage affects your whole life and hurts your happiness.

But – I have experience with a tough marriage and heartbreak in marriage, and I have friends in similar situations. Being in a tough marriage does not mean something’s wrong with your connection with God. And I especially disagree with any implication that heartbreak has to destroy your happiness. I mean, by definition heartbreak makes you sad. But – finding joy in other things was a crucial part of healing for me. And being surrounded by the love of friends was also crucial.

So – all that got me thinking about love. I’d also just finished reading Lorna Byrne’s book Love from Heaven. Lorna Byrne says that from birth, she has been able to see and talk with angels. She also says that the angels taught her what the force of love looks like coming out from people. Angels showed her that people are born with a soul of pure love – but with one thing and another, we learn to wrap a band around our hearts and lock up our love.

(You can feel love and peace coming from a newborn – at least one who’s sleeping!)

Now, I believe that loving others is all wrapped up in following Christ. My pastor also preached on Sunday about two passages that affirm this. Jesus said that people will know his disciples by their love for one another. Jesus also said that the two commands that sum up the Law and the Prophets are Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

So why do I know so many Christians who are in marriages that are breaking their hearts? If our faith helps us to love, why does that happen?

Well, to me, the thing about humans loving others is that we get hurt. We fail to be as loving as we should, and in return we are not loved as we should be. Or it may even be no fault of our own – even babies are not always welcomed into a loving home.

What made me want to write about this was a memory that came to me this morning. It was not long after my husband had told me he wanted a divorce. Now I could tell people that I was having marriage difficulties. I told my family, and I told my Sunday school class. And I remember there was a Sunday when three different people told me, “You need to let Steve go.” The first two, I thought were just saying that because they were divorced themselves. But when my wise mentor who’d had marriage difficulties but was still married said so – well, I finally figured out God was trying to tell me something. (I managed to loosen my grip a tiny bit. Actually letting go took years. But the process was beginning.)

Anyway, what I remember about that day was that a woman in my Sunday school class who had been divorced and was standing there with her new husband was one of the people who told me I needed to let Steve go. But she also told me, “You will become hard.” She said that she had become a much harder person during her divorce, and I could in fact see it in her eyes.

I decided in my heart right then that I didn’t want that to happen to me.

And I’m not talking about dating or getting married again. I’m talking about opening my heart to love.

Lorna Byrne says that it’s all the same thing. Locking up your love affects your ability to love anyone. If you let out love in one way, it’s going to help you release love in other ways.

And that rings true.

It’s not even only love of other people, but also love of yourself and love of life.

And that ties in with what Steven Stosny talks about in his books. Among other things, he says that when you value other things or people – even something like beauty in nature – you will feel more lovable. You’ll “access” your core value.

When I was struggling through my marriage falling apart, it helped so much to find other things that brought me Joy. They helped me remember who I really was, what I was about. Sure enough, it helped me feel more lovable and valuable. (That takes a big hit when someone who’s promised to love you until death parts you decides you don’t deserve his love.)

I’m also reminded of the book Deeper Dating. That author, Ken Page, talks about finding your Core Gifts. He talks about expressing your Core Gifts and finding people who are attracted to them, attracted to you.

In a roundabout way, he’s saying the same thing as Lorna Byrne: Loving yourself makes you more lovable and more able to love. Release that love! Don’t wrap a protective band around your heart.

When I think of these in light of what Lorna Byrne is saying, it all fits. They’re talking about loving yourself – and like Lorna Byrne says, that gets you releasing love and more able to love others.

I think following Christ can also help you release love. Connecting with a community of Christ followers can also help you release love. That’s how faith can help in this.

Releasing love is dangerous though. There’s a really good chance you’ll get hurt. Being a Christ follower definitely won’t keep that from happening. You’ll be tempted to become a harder person.

But I do think that faith and loving people can help you open your heart again and love. Believing you have God’s tremendous love for you goes a long way. And actually seeing that love expressed through people – That is gold.

So – that’s what I’ve been thinking about. It’s come out a bit incoherent. But I’m trying to say that Joy in life and Love and Forgiveness are all wrapped up together. Let’s try to loosen that band around our hearts – whatever it is that’s happened to us. And let’s release that love and compassion. Let’s connect with others and refuse to become hard, even though it feels like it’s a lot safer.

And if you harden your heart in one area, I really do believe it’s going to affect your ability to love in every area.

Praise God! He loves us unconditionally, and we can go to Him when loving brings wounds. And try to learn to open up and let out that love again.

Recently, my cousin, who’s divorced, asked if someone who has once given her heart, given her all, can ever get that again.

Now, my cousin clearly loves life. I don’t think she’s wrapping a tight band around her heart. I think she’ll find that love.

And, no, romance again isn’t guaranteed. But I want to learn to radiate Love. I do believe it goes hand-in-hand with Joy and adds so much richness to life. And the thing about following Jesus is that he showers that love on us. He will help us spread that love to others.

Waiting With Grace

Friday, September 1st, 2017

I’m thinking about Waiting this week, and about God’s Timing.

God’s Timing is beautiful! I know it well, and I’ve seen evidence of that lately, in a very simple but big way.

In April, I was elected to the 2019 John Newbery Award Committee. A dream come true.

The thing is, four years ago, I was on the ballot for the 2015 Newbery Committee – and I missed being elected by 15 votes! Out of about 800 voters. My disappointment was enormous and huge.

But here’s where God’s timing comes in: This is a much better time in my life. Being on the Newbery committee makes my Empty Nest and Single State an asset, rather than something to be sad about. I’m going to need to spend a whole lot of time reading – and no one will mind.

And I have another reason to be thankful for the timing – my library system is going to pay for my trips to ALA Conferences to serve on the committee. I can safely say that this would not have happened four years ago, for various reasons.

But that doesn’t change how disappointed I was when it didn’t happen when I wanted it to.

And that reminds me of something else I want in my life. Or perhaps I should say someone else I want in my life.

Yes, being single is an asset for serving on the Newbery committee. But yes, I still want to find a new partner to share my life with.

It’s been awhile now since I shut off my online profile. I felt that God was telling me to “Wait on the Lord.”

But this past week, I got into a little bit of a funk about that. There were several reasons. A big one was that a very good friend who is not a Christian said something about not liking to watch me letting life pass me by.

Oh my goodness, that got me defensive! Because I’m HAPPY, doggone it!

Trouble is, he knows me well enough to know that I really do want to have a man in my life again.

And then I argued with him, and he said some things that made it worse. Though eventually, he apologized and we’re good – talking about other things.

But I’m thinking about Waiting.

I know in my heart that I can trust God with my future. And I also am super happy in the present.

It’s interesting to me that it didn’t necessarily help to tell my friend the human and perfectly natural reasons why I don’t want to go back online right now. I’m on the Newbery committee – I honestly don’t want to give it a lot of energy. I’m focusing on reading for the next year and a half. If I try to find someone online, I will have to change my strategy, anyway (I was not having much success with that method) – and that would take a whole lot of energy.

But the truth is, I do feel like God told me that He’s got this – that I don’t have to take charge of this! That this is something He’d like me to put in His hands.

And that’s hard for me to do. When there are things I can do to help find someone – post an online profile, go to meet-ups – am I “letting life pass me by” if I don’t do them?

Well, I don’t believe so.

But there are danger points. I think this particular time is a danger point because I’m so eager to start reading for the Newbery! I got one Advance Reader Copy of a 2018 book passed on to me a few weeks ago, and I was so excited to get started! But now I have nothing. And work suddenly got much less frantic, when the kids went back to school.

I thought I’d ask God for more confirmation that I should still be waiting. And you know what verse I got this time? John 4:50 – “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.”

What I feel like that’s saying? You KNOW I’ve got this, Sondy! Trust me, and go about your business.

So – I’m trying. In fact, the day I read that verse, I thought I should look back at what I thought Jesus’ words to me were about this – and it turned out that exactly one year before was one of the times I felt God was telling me to “Wait on the Lord” – and did give me a little sign.

And I believe it. I believe this will work out. And even if I’m totally wrong and I never get married – my life is good, and rich and full. I am absolutely sure that I don’t want to marry anyone who will not enhance my life and build me up in my faith. I’d rather be single – because my life as a single person is very sweet.

I just need to remind myself of that now and then!

And then I go back to strategies – The thing about waiting is that being impatient doesn’t speed things up one little bit. In fact, being impatient makes it seem a lot longer.

And my impatient times sneak up on me.

But there are strategies to happily waiting. Being thankful is a big one of those.

And you know what? I bet part of the problem was that since April, I’ve been SO excited and happy about the Newbery, I haven’t even needed to employ strategies to be happy!

So, yes, some of this is probably that I got impatient about getting started on my reading for the Newbery. Getting to read just one eligible book tantalized me. It won’t be long now, Sondy! (And I hope on this weekend to read some last books for grown-ups before my Newbery reading starts.)

This post didn’t turn out to be nearly as profound as I’d hoped. But here’s what I’m trying to say:

I’ve seen clearly that God’s timing is beautiful – in the Newbery committee, as well as other disappointments I’ve suffered.

I believe that God’s timing will be beautiful about finding a life partner, too.

And I do believe God has told me that I can put that one into His hands.

And if I’m wrong about that? Well, my life is very, very good. It’s definitely a win-win situation.

Okay, I’m going to re-evaluate after the Newbery. And ask God. But for now? I don’t have time to pour my energy into finding someone, anyway.

And God’s not mad at me for getting into a little funk. I’m trying not to be mad at myself. I’m also trying to shift gears and notice again just how very beautiful life is right now.

I’ll close with some verses from Psalm 86 —

Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
because you answer me.

Three Tips for Memorizing Scripture

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Today I told my story at my church and how God has used His Word in my life.

But I originally thought I was going to talk about memorizing Scripture, so I came up with three tips if people want to try adding some memorizing Scripture into their devotional routine.

A few years ago, I talked about Why Memorizing Scripture is a great thing to add to your personal devotional life. Now I’d just like to mention three practical tips.

1. Consider memorizing entire chapters.

When you memorize an entire chapter, you get the train of thought of the passage. It’s easier to remember, and you get the entire context. You’re not just listening to a snippet here and there.

2. Consider memorizing by time, rather than by amount.

The truth is that different verses in the Bible take different amounts of time to learn. And different chapters take different amounts of time. Psalms are easier than the gospels, for example. But Psalm 117 has two verses and Psalm 119 has 176 verses. If you try to memorize a verse a day or a chapter a month, you may run into trouble.

Also, this makes it not about skill. I may not be *able* to learn some particular chapter in a month — but what I can do is spend 10 minutes a day memorizing.

This way, I don’t get mad at myself if I do it slowly. If it takes me a long time to memorize a chapter, I figure that God wanted me to spend more time on it.

I did an hour a day when I was a kid and my parents were paying me to memorize. Now I do ten minutes a day. This is something that anyone can do (or some amount of time), regardless of “ability.” So now you don’t have to even think about ability — but just spending time with God’s Word.

3. One Thing at a Time.

This works on the macro and micro level.

For chapters, I don’t try to keep more than one chapter in short-term memory at a time. I stumbled on this because my parents paid me to memorize and gave me half-price for chapters I reviewed a month later. 10 cents a verse the first time, 5 cents a verse every time after, as long as there was at least a month in between. It turned out that reviewing was where the real money was to be made!

But what I discovered was this: The second time I memorized a chapter, it was almost as hard as the first time. However, by about the sixth time, that chapter was firmly stored in my long-term memory and was mine for life.

But if I try to have everything I’ve ever memorized on the tip of my tongue at all times — I’m setting myself up for failure. Focus on one thing at a time. Then make a habit of coming back to chapters you’ve memorized before. Eventually, that reviewing process will get easier and easier.

When memorizing a long chapter, I don’t work on more than one thing at a time, either. I don’t learn verse 1, then verse 1 and 2, then 1 through 3. Instead, I first memorize each verse, one at a time. Then I go back and memorize each paragraph. (I won’t remember verse 1 when I start on the first paragraph. But it will come back after awhile.) Then, depending on how long the chapter is, I might go back and learn a section at a time. Eventually, I’m working on the whole chapter. I count it as completed when I can sit down and say the chapter perfectly the first time I recite it in the morning. If there’s a mistake somewhere — that means I need to try again the next day. God knew I needed more time with it!

(I usually then pick a verse from the chapter I’m working on that day and write in my journal, talking to God about it.)

Consider adding this habit to your daily devotions. It’s blessed me over and over again. Because God’s Word has power.

My Story – Church Version

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Today Pastor Ed had me tell my story in church. Here’s what I wrote out to say, which I followed pretty closely.

My Story

First, I want everyone to know that Ed tricked me. Since he was doing a series about Practicing creative devotion, I offered to get up here and talk about memorizing Scripture, and then he told me he wanted me to share my story! So it’s kind of a compromise talk about how the Bible has touched my life.

The reason I wanted to talk about memorizing Scripture is that I grew up in a Christian home, and my parents had the bright idea to pay us for memorizing chapters of the Bible. I wanted to earn some money and that sounded much better than housework, so over the years I memorized a lot of chapters.

But I do believe that God’s Word has power. If you put the Bible in your head – whatever the motive – it will find its way into your heart. Doing all that memorization honestly made me love it.

Now mine was the kind of family that was at church whenever the doors were open. I went to a Christian elementary school, a Christian high school, and a Christian university. I married a guy from Biola who sang in the choir with me. We were part of a small group of young married couples at our church in downtown LA.

After we got married, I went back to Biola as a math instructor. But when our first child was born, I wanted to have more time with him, so my husband joined the Air Force as a musician and I started teaching part-time. We moved to New Jersey and then Illinois. In Illinois, I had a second child and was put on bed rest for the pregnancy, and our church brought us meals and got us through.

After 5 years in Illinois, we got the opportunity to move to Germany, and we were thrilled. We got to see Europe, and I got a job in the base library and loved it. We extended twice so that we could stay until our oldest graduated from high school, for a total of ten years. I thought we were a good Christian family with a side of world travel.

But a year and a half before we left Germany, everything fell apart. On March 14, 2005, I found out that instead of spending extra hours at the office, my husband had been spending that time with another woman.

It didn’t even compute at first. I thought it was a terrible mistake. Some sort of weird misunderstanding. We loved each other, right? When I confronted him, he confessed by looking me in the eye and saying, “I’m not having an affair, but I am living a double life.” He said he’d been spending time with this other woman because he needed a friend and that I hadn’t been there for him.

He did apologize, and I thought that was that. We’d straighten it all out. But over the next month, he started telling me every single way I’d hurt him over 18 years of marriage.

What was devastating about it was that it was based in truth. I had done hurtful things over 18 years of marriage. But I begged forgiveness, and I groveled, and I cried and I looked for ways to make it up to him, but he said he just couldn’t forgive me.

That was pretty much the low point in my life. I remember going for a walk and chanting the names of my kids so that I wouldn’t think about suicide.

I want to talk about the ways God used the Bible in my life, and it was at that time, when I was in a deep depression, being told I was unforgivable by the person I loved most, being told that I was the one who had ruined my marriage – that Psalm 103 came up in my memorizing rotation.

So here I want to give a little commercial for memorizing. Imagine you’re feeling unforgiveable. Then this is what you’re memorizing. You’re reading it over and over again. It starts to sink in.

Psalm 103

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 
As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 
The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 
But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 
with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.
19 
The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.
20 
Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
22 
Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul.

You can see why those words were life to me.

I realized I’d always proved to myself that I was lovable because my husband loved me, and now I really had to turn to God.

The last year and a half in Germany were truly awful. It felt like my marriage was slipping through my fingers. I kept trying to patch things up, trying to be extra loving, trying to somehow get things right, and every time I thought I’d made progress, Steve would pull further away.

But I started following a ministry that encourages you to “Stand for your marriage,” and I still didn’t think there were grounds for divorce, and I believed divorce was wrong, and I made a vow, and, doggone it, I was going to pray him back. (I look at it now and think maybe I was a little controlling?)

One very good thing about that ministry was they encouraged you to listen to God’s voice. I was desperate and I started listening.

Toward the end of my time in Germany, the pastor there preached on the passage in Mark 7 where Jesus heals a deaf and mute man. It’s a weird passage. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears and then spits and touches the man’s tongue – and the pastor pointed out that Jesus was speaking to the deaf man in sign language, telling him what he was going to do. And he said that God speaks your language. And I realized that my language is books. And Scripture.

And it made me cry, because for the last several months exactly the book I needed kept landing on my desk at the library. I read The Divorce Remedy, which helped me stop chasing after Steve to try to get him back. And I read Love Without Hurt, which is about responding with compassion instead of anger. And there were several other books that came just exactly when I needed them.

Our time in Germany was up when our oldest graduated from high school. I’d planned to follow Steve wherever he was stationed next, so he could be near Tim, our youngest. But he got himself sent to Japan unaccompanied so that I could not follow him. He wanted to be on the other side of the world from me.

Well, that gave me a choice to go anywhere in America. I didn’t want to go back to California for a number of reasons – but I had two friends I’d known since 3rd grade in California who both lived in Herndon and attended Gateway, Kathe Barsotti and Darlene LeVault. I’d visited Gateway when I was here for Darlene’s wedding, and had wished there was a church like that where we lived. What’s more, Tim was starting 7th grade, and Gateway was meeting at Rachel Carson, a brand new beautiful middle school.

So we got it on his orders for me to go to Virginia. The day the movers came was the day Steve told me it had been an affair all along. Since I’d been saying for a year that nothing is unforgivable, I wasn’t able to turn around and say, “Except that! That’s not forgivable!”

So I came to Virginia still standing for my marriage. But I came here completely broken and devastated and sad – and Gateway took me in. Darlene and Matt let me and my kids live in their basement for six weeks, bless them. I was so distraught, I lost my cellphone and a key to Darlene’s house in the first week. I went with them to Trisha & Phil Sallee’s small group, and it turned out they’d gone to Biola and started the first semester after I quit teaching, so that was a connection.

But what completely touched my heart was that when my household goods arrived, the entire small group came over – even though they didn’t know me yet – and moved me in. Almost all my furniture had been disassembled, and some of it was broken, and they put it back together and made me feel so cared for and so much less alone. That was when Gateway became my family.

That was 2006. God was taking care of me, too. I knew I needed to work full-time now, so I got my Master’s in Library Science, and I was able to almost completely finish it while Steve was still in Japan getting a dual housing allowance. And when I did finish it, I got a job right away at the closest library to my house.

I was still standing for my marriage, still hoping to pray Steve back or somehow win him back with my loving, forgiving attitude! I had this feeling that if I were really spiritual, and really loving and forgiving, then nothing Steve said should be able to hurt me.

That brings up a story from August 2009, when Steve sent an email basically telling me I was a terrible mother and a terrible person. My mind didn’t believe it, but my heart did.

My first reaction was to write back a blistering response, but I was pretty sure that probably wasn’t the best idea. I did pray and ask God how I should respond.

That night I was planning what I was going to wear to church the next day. When I saw a t-shirt with stars embroidered on it, I thought of the verse Philippians 2:15. It says, “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”

It comforted me to think that God was using all I was going through to make me shine. Again – you have to understand that I was feeling terrible about myself. As much as I wanted to not believe it, a part of me was believing that I was unlovable, that I was a bad mother and a bad person. But how healing it would be to think that God was using these awful times to build my character and was making me shine like a star. And that He brought that verse to mind to tell me so.

The next morning as I was getting dressed, the thought came to me, I think the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to pray that Philippians 2:15 would come up in the sermon. That would be confirmation from God that He was making me shine like a star, that I wasn’t unlovable, that God was bringing good things out of all this. That would show me that the verse coming up wasn’t a coincidence, but a message to me from God.

You weren’t preaching that day, Ed — and the verse did not come up in the sermon. Oh well. It was probably a silly thing to pray. I mean, what are the odds?

Then they sang the closing song.

“We are the people of God,
The sons and daughters of love
Forgiven, restored and redeemed,
Living our lives to the praise of our King
We are the ones who will shine
His light in the darkness of night
The hopeless, the broken, the poor,
They will be hopeless and broken no more.

You are the light
The light of the world
And we shine you, Lord.
You are the light
The light of the world
And we shine you, Lord.”

Okay, I’m getting very emotional, realizing how much this fits the verse, and they went through that twice, and then they sang the bridge:

“We shine like stars in the universe
Proclaiming the hope of our God
To the sons and daughters in all the earth
We shine you, Lord.”

In case you didn’t catch it, that’s a direct quote from Philippians 2:15. I completely lost it. Partly what meant so much was that God looked down and saw just how much I desperately needed that encouragement.

And then when I got home came the punchline. I looked up the verse to go over it again. I had forgotten that the sentence begins in the previous verse, Philippians 2:14 – “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine as stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”

Remember that I had asked God if I should defend myself and answer the email that hurt me? Well, in His loving and wonderful way (with His sense of humor), He gently led me to the answer: “Do everything without complaining or arguing”! But he also answered the pain and doubt that came with the email. He was making me shine like a star.

And that reminds me of how you talked last month about coming to God as a lover. But what I learned in that awful time is that God comes to us as a Lover.

He says in Isaiah 54:5 – “For your Maker is your husband –
The Lord Almighty is his name –
The Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
He is called the God of all the earth.”

He says in Hosea 2:14-16 –
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
And speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
And will make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
As in the day she came up out of Egypt.
‘In that day,’ declares the Lord,
‘you will call me “my husband”;
You will no longer call me “my master.”’”

It took a long time, but I did finally realize, especially with the help of a sermon you preached, that “standing for my marriage” wasn’t actually trusting God. I was still trying to control the outcome.

I had this vision of bringing glory to God with a restored marriage. But how much was that really about bringing glory to me?

I think, for me, I had to let go of my belief that God would do this thing that I was sure was best – but hold onto my belief that yes, God would bring good out of this awful thing that happened. I had to realize that Faith isn’t telling God what to do.

At one point in the middle of this, someone said to me that “Everything works out for the best.” And I got mad. That’s not what it says! Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It’s not the best when someone makes a bad decision, and I still think my husband made a bad decision to leave me and leave the church. But – God brought me so much good out of it, I’m not sure it’s not far better than what I thought was best.

I remember sitting in Mark and Rachel Morgan’s small group, a few years after coming to Virginia, and I realized that I’d turned the corner. I no longer had to just believe that God would bring good out of my marriage falling apart, but I could already start to feel it in my heart. I was already so much closer to God, felt so much more loved by Him.

I had to trust that about the divorce, too. Our divorce was final in November 2010.

And God has brought all kinds of good out of it. Some things are obvious. I got a career for the first time, and I love being a librarian. Also, I wouldn’t even be here at Gateway if all that hadn’t happened.

It made me feel much closer to God, but it also humbled me. And I discovered how much I needed humbling. I had always looked down on people who were divorced. Even when I was standing for my marriage. I had to be shown that some things, believe it or not, are out of my control. And, boy, did it give me a heart for other people going through similar things.

Just last week, my small group was talking about the Beatitudes. And I was struck for the first time by “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” My heart had been broken, I was as low as I could go, and God comforted me. And that’s a blessing. It’s not a blessing I would have ever chosen for myself. But it is a blessing that honestly does outweigh the mourning.

Independence Day

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Today’s Independence Day. It’s a day off, the end of a long weekend, and a good time to relax and think.

My son is with me — I’m planning to make a cake for his birthday today, since I’ll be out of town on his actual birthday at the end of the month. But he’s had a skype visit this past week with a possible roommate in Portland area, and he’s got a phone interview next week for a possible job in Portland — and he’s soon going to be Independent from me.

And that reminds me of Independence Day four years ago, when I finished reading the book Why We Broke Up and put away my wedding pictures and declared myself truly Independent from my ex-husband. Sadly, but with finality and a certain joy.

And now I am soon to be Independent of my son. Or him Independent of me.

I recently made an honest effort to get a job in Oregon to be closer to both my kids. I didn’t get it, and I had prayed hard about it, and I felt like God was saying that He has something for me here.

But, you know, I don’t actually want to be Independent!

At the same time, I know it’s good for me.

Something a friend said recently reminded me of one of the blows that struck when my husband left me. The way I knew I was lovable was that my husband loved me. When he left, I had to come to grips with the fact that I am still lovable.

And being Independent forced me to do that.

And some of the same things are at play if my kids aren’t close by, needing daily mothering.

My life is valuable because I’m needed, right? My life is significant because I am significant to them, right?

Now, I’ve had well-meaning friends say that I am lovable because God loves me because of Christ. Or that I am nothing without Christ, but that God looks at me and sees His Son, sees me as perfect in Christ.

Those ring hollow for me. I believe that God sees and loves me.

George MacDonald has some harsh words about the notion of “imputed righteousness.” God sees Truth when He looks at us. And He is actually building character in us, not just pretending that we are already righteous. But I do believe that as we love our children even when they haven’t matured yet, so with God. And as we love the quirky individuality of our children, so with God. And He knows that He is building our character.

I don’t want to be Independent. Attachment is good for people, and we are made for Community. I fought tooth and nail against my marriage ending — until God finally showed me He had something else for me.

But God is teaching me things in my current state of Independence, and that is good.

He’s teaching me that He loves me in all my quirks — I believe God loves my number nuttiness, my love of children’s books, and my excitement about spotting great blue herons, for example.

Yes, God sees all that I can be — but I believe that He loves the quirky uniqueness He created in me. I believe He loves even my childish baby steps toward becoming like Christ.

He’s showing me that I have things to contribute to the world, independent of my husband. (I was happy to accompany my husband around the world, just supporting his career.) He’s given me the gift of a career of my own, and one that I love.

And most of all, He’s saying to me,

Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.

I may be Independent. My kids may be Independent. But I am not alone.