Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Affinity Combinations

Monday, May 18th, 2020

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

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

And I am abundantly happy with my life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legacy

Saturday, April 25th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Modifications in the last paragraph are mine.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Letter 2019

Friday, December 20th, 2019

Emmanuel — “God with us” — that’s what I’m clinging to this Christmas season, along with other tidings of comfort and joy.

I’ve decided that 2019 was an overdramatic teenager of a year — very big good things and very big bad things. Maybe 2020 will calm down!

I’ll go in opposite chronological order, to cover the bad news first, so I can finish with the good news.

On November 30, my mother passed away after more than ten years with Alzheimer’s. She’d been on hospice for two years, and this was not unexpected. The lovely part was that the day after Thanksgiving, my family in California came together to celebrate, as is our custom. My mother’s sister, Aunt Linda, came to watch Mom and she brought her violin. Mom’s sister and her children stood by her bedside, playing and singing hymns. Believe it or not, when they finished, a rainbow came out. The next morning, Mom went to heaven.

That was expected and really should be thought of as a blessing at last — but it was made harder because my father, who had been tenderly caring for her for years, passed away unexpectedly on September 25th, in the hospital from a blood clot two days after minor surgery.

So it feels like a wallop for my twelve siblings and me. The gathering of family at Dad’s memorial service was beautiful. But when my mother passed away, too, this time I didn’t have the luxury of the Denial stage of grief, and it hit hard right from the beginning. We did want my Dad to have a nice rest after all his work caring for Mom — and he has gotten that rest. Rather than seeing Mom off, he got to welcome her into heaven.

Another tough thing that happened this year was that the church I’d been attending since I moved to Virginia, full of people who love me and support me and got me through my divorce, that church officially adopted a policy that essentially says LGBTQ people are sinning. I strongly disagree with the policy, believing it is neither biblical nor kind.

The good side of that was that I joined Floris United Methodist Church, just fifteen minutes down the road. I heard the pastor making some of the same biblical arguments I’d been making about how Christians need to be inclusive. And to my delight, it turns out this church has an outstanding choir — and I hadn’t even realized how much I’d missed singing in a choir, joining the voices of others singing praise to God. Singing in the amazing Christmas cantata brought light to an otherwise dark December.

And that brings me to good news! I actually got the news of my father’s passing when I was on one of the best vacations of my life, traveling in Prince Edward Island with Darlene and Ruth, two of my childhood friends. There are two weeks of the year in late September and early October when we are all the same age, and we spent a week in PEI to celebrate being 55. We saw the L. M. Montgomery sites and beautiful scenery from all over the island. And we enjoyed spending time together. I wrote about the whole trip, with pictures, on this Sonderjourneys blog.

And the year started off with the amazing and wonderful experience of meeting with the 2019 Newbery Committee and deliberating in a locked room in Seattle to choose the most distinguished American children’s book of 2018. Our winner was Merci Suárez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina. One of the things the main character deals with in the book is her grandfather developing dementia, so that hit home.

After choosing the winner in Seattle, I got to visit my kids and my siblings and little nieces in Portland, Oregon. It was lovely to see them! Tim had started a new job, still doing computer work, and I saw his new apartment. Zephyr announced that she’s planning to marry Lily Dear in December 2020, and I got to meet Lily and welcome her into the family! Speaking of welcoming into the family, as of November 2, I will have to talk about nieces and a nephew in Oregon, because Robert and Laura had their third child, little Martin.

In June, we got to celebrate with the Newbery winners at ALA Annual Conference in DC, which ended up being a great big celebration to cap off all our hard work.

And the other amazing thing that happened at ALA Annual Conference was that I was given the 2019 Allie Beth Martin Award from the Public Library Association! This award is given “for extraordinary range and depth of knowledge about books and distinguished ability to share that knowledge.” Who even knew such an award existed? I was blown away to be nominated by my own library system, and then winning it felt like serious validation that I made the right choice switching careers when I was in my forties.

So, those are just the big things of the year — but they were very big things!

2020 will start with my mother’s memorial service on January 4th and finish with my daughter’s wedding on December 21st. I’m hoping in between will be plenty of love and joy.

To those reading this, thank you for your love and friendship! All that 2019 held was enhanced by the many dear friends rejoicing and weeping with me.

May this Christmas season bring you the comfort and joy of the knowledge that God is with us.

Getaway Reflections

Friday, April 12th, 2019

I spent three nights this week at a “Getaway” cabin. It’s a very small cabin with cooking facilities. And you get to not talk to anyone. They left a card for you to leave behind thoughts, a quote, or a picture.

Here’s what I wrote:

Silenced

I came with an agenda,
so much to think about,
so much to plan.

I sat out by the trees,
and the woods said to me,
“Shut up!”

I laid by the big window,
and the stars said to me,
“Shut up!”

Silenced by beauty,
stopped short by wonder.

And it was good.

***

That was my reaction to the first night. I’d brought lots of books to read and had intended to do some major planning. But when I arrived and saw the space was smaller than I’d anticipated, instead of spreading out the books and notebooks and getting to work – I went outside and read a book.

After it got dark, I laid on the bed and discovered I could see more stars through the big window than I’ve seen in a very long time. And it calmed my mind.

The next day, I did get busy with my getaway.

The space was smaller than I’d expected. Somehow I’d expected drawers, closets, shelves, and certainly mirrors, something more like a hotel room. This was not that. But my suitcases did work to hold my clothes.

I brought far, far too many books. But I’d known I was bringing too many, and it turned out there was room to line them up so I could choose, so I could dabble in a wide variety.

There was a hiking trail and it turned out to branch into two directions. I took the first way the first day, and it eventually petered out (unless I missed a turn?), then took the second way the second day and was relieved to find the trail was a loop so I didn’t have to turn back. I did have a scary moment crossing the stream on stepping stones. People who lay out stepping stone paths generally don’t plan for people with very short legs such as me, and despite myself and despite the super shallow water, I got so scared I was shaking, and then was more afraid I wouldn’t make the step.

Believe it or not, here are the stepping stones that scared me:

Then I went and found a walking stick, and I got my foot a little wet, but I did it! Both walks took about an hour, walks through the woods with plenty of birds singing and not seeing a single solitary human. On the first walk, I saw someone as I got back to my cabin and told her where the trail started.

In some ways, I’ve got a getaway in my own home, since I live alone. And I had a getaway all three times I went to a library conference while on the Newbery committee – since I had a large hotel room to myself.

But the gift of this place was that part of not talking to any people. I’ll admit, I did check my phone. And answered a couple of emails very briefly. But it was ideal for a place to read and write on my own agenda. I made simple meals and did not have to go out and find food, as I did when I stayed in a hotel room on Chincoteague.

My purpose in going was to decide: Do I want to take up writing again, now that my time serving on the Newbery committee is done?

The answer was an unequivocal YES.

Now, it was two years – since April 2017 – that I knew I would be on the Newbery committee, and another year before that I knew I would be on the ballot. So I’ve been putting my writing on hold for three years. And it was a beautiful experience being on the Newbery.

I brought all my old writing – the three books I’ve finished, three books I’ve started, and two short stories. My plan was to read them all and decide whether there is anything to salvage out of them and what to work on next. I was also planning to think through possibilities for nonfiction writing.

I didn’t have time to read all of those. What I ended up reading was an old writing journal I’d written 1995 to 2001, when I was a mother of young kids and planned to write. Toward the end of the journal, I thought of writing Sonderbooks, and it was fun to see that idea develop.

In the journal, I was reflecting on writing books I’d been reading. And I was asserting that I am a writer.

The lovely thing, reading that now? I no longer feel the need to assert that so hard. Yes, I am a writer. Now I know it in my bones.

All the years of writing Sonderbooks reviews, of responding to life in Sonderjourneys, and especially all the friends I’ve emailed about so many big issues – about my marriage falling apart, about what directions to take, about dreams and hopes, about theology – and even writing my life story in Project 52. I’ve figured out that I think things through by writing about them. How I put it, when I apologize to friends for the long emails I send, is this: I am a writer at heart.

Whether or not I ever get a book published, I am a writer. That’s who I am.

And taking some time out to think about that reasserted that. Yes, now that the Newbery’s done, yes, I want to spend at least a half-hour a day writing. I don’t think I’m going to not count writing reviews any more (like I used to) because some day I might want to write some kind of collection of book reviews. I won’t, however, count the time it takes to post the reviews.

But yeah, I’m a writer. And thinking about adding that back into my life makes me happy.

In fact, I’m not putting this on my online profile, but it makes me a lot happier than the thought of dating someone again. Maybe I’m not discouraged after all that I’m not finding a match that way! I’m thinking out a schedule for getting that half-hour in, and maybe having a longer time once a week… and I’m not sure I’ll be real patient with anyone wanting to interrupt that.

As for what to work on – one of those short stories is a very silly story about a kid saving the world from alien invasion. I’m going to try to turn that into a beginning chapter book.

It’s a very unserious story, and I like that for my again trying to write a book.

Today I read this in the book Chapter after Chapter, by Heather Sellers:

One writer I know, Brandon, is dying to write what he calls his magnum opus, a fantasy novel that brings all of his ideas together in one stunning story. But he feels stuck as a writer, completely blocked, and he has trouble starting even small pieces. Many of his friends have told him he needs to write his magnificent book and risk failure in order to save it. The longer he sits on his project, the more blocked Brandon will become.

But he won’t start writing.

I’ve always wanted to write a great book. Reading for the Newbery, I read plenty of great books. So if I get back into it by writing a silly little book – maybe it won’t be so paralyzing.

Anyway, that’s my plan. And I just spent a half-hour writing about that plan. Funny how easy that is.

But it was a lovely Getaway.

Let the Redeemed of the Lord Tell Their Story

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

I’ve been reading in Psalm 107 lately. I think NIV has tweaked the translation, and I love the way it reads now, at the beginning:

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…”

Then the psalm is about various people, in different kinds of trouble, who cry out to the Lord — and he comes through, every time.

There’s a format to each story, a refrain.

God has come through for me, multiple times and in multiple ways. I thought I’d take one of those times and put it into a Psalm 107 format:

Some were lonely and broken,
rejected by the one they loved most,

told they were unworthy of love,
told their failings were unforgiveable.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.

He sent forth his word and healed them,
he sent a community to nourish them.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,

for he heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.

How about you? What is your story?

Seeing the Other

Friday, August 31st, 2018

I’ve been thinking about Patricia Evans’ books on verbal abuse lately, because of an abusive argument on Facebook saying it’s not even a valid definition — and the argument was so hurtful, it reinforced my belief that she has a great definition.

She says that when someone defines you — tells you what you think or feel (“You’re too sensitive!”), what you want, or anything else about you that they could not possibly know better than you — that is verbal abuse.

She points out that verbal abuse begins with pretending — pretending to know what’s really going on inside someone else. In her book Controlling People, she says that many people who get into habits of abusing and controlling do it because they have created a Pretend Person in their minds. When you respond as yourself — different than this ideal, pretend person — they take it as a personal offense. They tell you how you should really be responding.

I’ve been thinking about this lately in the context of my marriage that ended after my husband had an affair and left. I was completely blindsided by the affair — I thought we were both happy in the marriage. He thought we were both miserable. In fact, he argued with me that I’d been miserable for months — even though I had journals that recorded how happy I was. We were both making the mistake of reading our own experience onto the other.

Recently, when I was writing Project 52 and looked in my journals from our years of marriage, I found plenty of evidence of fights and disagreements. But I would pray about it in my journal and remind myself that my husband loved me and make myself feel better. But I think I assumed if I felt better, than he must feel better, too. How much of my husband did I not see?

Now, in my defense, neither one of us should expect our spouse to be a mind reader. When I’d ask my husband if something was wrong, he would usually tell me he was fine — and I’d usually take him at his word. I see how messy it was after the fact.

On a less significant level, since I’ve learned the definition of verbal abuse, I’ve noticed that exactly when I feel out of sync with my girlfriends is when they make assumptions about what I’m thinking or feeling. I’ve got a friend who will praise me for spending lots of time reading — as if it’s something I’m dutifully doing instead of a guilty pleasure! Or in some other way, it’s jarring when a friend reads you wrong.

But when my friends read me wrong — they are willing to be corrected. That’s the difference with verbal abuse — an abuser tells you that your motives are bad and even argues from what you’ve said that they can prove your motives are bad. (This is nonsense, by the way.)

But how often did I expect my spouse to read my mind and know how to please me without me telling him? And how often did I expect him to be pleased when I did something for him that would please me?

I’m an INFJ — and I think that does make me prone to snap judgments about people. I got a crush on my husband rather quickly, and I still get crushes today. And once I’ve got a crush — it’s harder to see that person for who they really are. I need to remind myself that they don’t automatically see the world the same way I do. That doesn’t automatically make us alike in every respect. That doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to be easy to live with.

Those kind of assumptions can be somewhat shocking when you do try to build a home together. I’d like to go into any future relationships with eyes wide open. Not only for my own sake, but also for my partner’s sake.

And I’d like to have a humble spirit — willing to learn from him. Not only to enrich my life by seeing things from a different perspective, but to learn how I can best make him feel loved — not assuming I already know what my Pretend Partner needs.

All this reminds me of a quote from C. S. Lewis’s book, A Grief Observed:

“Not my idea of God, but God. Not my idea of H., but H. Yes, and also not my idea of my neighbour, but my neighbour. For don’t we often make this mistake as regards people who are still alive — who are with us in the same room? Talking and acting not to the man himself but to the picture — almost the précis — we’ve made of him in our own minds? And he has to depart from it pretty widely before we even notice the fact.”

Lord, help me to see the other person in front of me and not the Pretend Person I’ve invented and that I want or expect to be there.

Part of loving someone is seeing who they really are. May I learn to love like that.