Archive for the ‘Devotional Thoughts’ Category

Jonah’s Lament

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

The belly of a whale is proverbial trouble.

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

I. Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. I called.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving was completely appropriate.

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

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

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

Psalms for Prayer

Friday, July 13th, 2018

I was thinking about Laments today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fluttering

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

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

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

O Lord, you gave all these things.

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

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

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

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

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

Praise the Lord.

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

Envision Today

Friday, June 29th, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I like this idea: Envision Today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what about January 29?

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

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

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

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

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.