Archive for April, 2020

My Own Salvation History Psalm

Monday, April 27th, 2020

Last week, I wrote about Salvation History Psalms.

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

So I wanted to do one myself.

Here’s what you do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praise the Lord!

Legacy

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!

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

Back in the 1980s when I was a student at Biola University, I took an amazing class on the Psalms taught by Dr. Edward Curtis. He taught us about the many different types of Psalms and opened my eyes to things about them I hadn’t noticed before.

Today I was reading in Psalm 129. The beginning goes like this:

“They have greatly oppressed me from my youth,”
let Israel say;
“they have greatly oppressed me from my youth,
but they have not gained the victory over me.
Plowmen have plowed my back
and made their furrows long.
But the Lord is righteous;
he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.”

That got me thinking about the Salvation History Psalms. Unlike the Lament, Salvation History Psalms are defined more by their content than by their form. They are Psalms where the writer reviews what God has done and what God has brought them through. That’s offered as evidence that God can bring them through the current situation.

Can you see why I got to thinking about them?

On top of that, I was moved by my pastor’s online sermon on Easter Sunday. He said that in the middle of a pandemic, Easter doesn’t feel like Easter. But he reminded us that the first Easter didn’t feel like Easter, either.

Before the first Easter, things were very dark indeed. But the light came. And because of what God brought those first disciples through then, we remember now that God is with us in the darkness.

That’s what Salvation History Psalms were all about. They rehearsed what God had done, bringing His people out from slavery in Egypt in the Exodus, listing out more ways God had delivered them. And because God did that — we know He’s not going to abandon His people now.

Some examples of Salvation History Psalms are Psalm 78, 105, 106, 135, and 136. The theme of these Psalms is: Remember!

These Psalms are long, telling stories, so I won’t write out the whole Psalms. But here are some verses that give the idea.

Psalm 78:4–

We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.

Psalm 105:5-6–

Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,
you his servants, the descendants of Abraham,
his chosen ones, the children of Jacob.

Psalm 106:6–

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

Psalm 135:3-4–

Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;
sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.
For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own,
Israel to be his treasured possession.

Psalm 136:10-12–

to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
His love endures forever.
and brought Israel out from among them
His love endures forever.
with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm;
His love endures forever.

Salvation History Psalms are different from Thanksgiving Psalms. Those are more about a specific time when God came through. The Salvation History Psalms tend to be about the history of the people of Israel and how God had a pattern of taking care of them.

How can we use this in our own prayers? Well, you can think through the collective history of the Church. You can also make it personal and recite more of a history of how faithful God has been to you. Beyond any one incident.

With all of these: Because God has been with us in the past, we know He is with us now. Reciting the history of how God has been with us reminds us we don’t need to be afraid.

My plan was to write one and leave it as an example. But it almost feels too personal.

So for now, I’m going to go offline and make myself a list of ways God has worked in my life when I’ve gone through darkness and He has shown that He is there.

Will that help me in the midst of a pandemic? Yes it will. Because whatever happens, I do believe the Lord will walk with me.

As Jesus said to his disciples before his death:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Praying in Crazy Times

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

During this pandemic, I’ve heard people say they don’t even know how to pray.

I’m thinking about the Psalms lately as I think about praying. I do believe there are many ways to pray — but some of those ways are to pray like the psalmists.

I’ve been looking at laments lately. An interesting thing about laments is that in the Psalms, they generally spend a lot more time telling God what the problem is than they do telling him what they want him to do about it. It’s almost like praying is more for our benefit than it is for God’s.

Over the years, I’ve often been told to pray specific prayers, because then you can see when God has answered. I’ve been told to name it and claim it.

And yes, we’re supposed to lay our requests before God with thanksgiving. There’s nothing wrong with telling him what we want to happen. He’s said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

But what is the difference between asking God and telling him what to do?

Take a look at the Psalms. They pour out their hearts to God about the big mess they’re in, and then they ask God to act. They ask God for help. They aren’t usually terribly specific about what form the help needs to take. In fact, it seems like they actually trust God to figure out what should be done.

I think about when my husband left me. For years, I prayed that God would bring him back. It took a long time before I realized that I wasn’t trusting God. I was telling him what I thought needed to happen.

God did answer my prayers for help. He granted me protection and security, a new job, a new home, and a church family that cared about me. He took my relationship with himself to a whole new level.

In fact, he graciously granted me an abundance of blessings I’d never thought to ask for.

There was a key moment for me when I realized that “standing for my marriage” wasn’t actually trusting God. Could I trust God to help me and bless me when I was not deciding what the outcome had to be?

Take a look at some Psalms. You can almost page through and take your pick, but I’ll point out a couple where it’s really striking.

Look at Psalm 44. The psalmist goes on for 22 verses about how bad things have gotten. Then they end with these four verses:

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.

Another good example is Psalm 10. This one is a more complete lament, and it’s got the “Words of Assurance” section after the “Petition.” In fact, out of 18 verses, there is only one where he asks God to do anything, and that verse is short and sweet:

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.

So this is an idea for praying during this pandemic. I’m not saying this is the only way to pray. But as an exercise, try pouring out to God all your worries and all the ways things are not going well.

And then ask him:

Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.

It doesn’t hurt, after that, to continue with the form of the lament. Remind yourself that you really do believe that God can handle this. Make some promises about how you’re going to celebrate when God brings you through!

But I for sure don’t know what God should do about this global pandemic. I’m glad that I do trust that he knows, and that he will have mercy.

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief.
You consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.

Walk with us, Lord.

A Psalm from the Scatterbrained

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

I’m feeling scatterbrained this week. I’m trying to focus and failing. Tonight I was trying to get to working on my Psalms book again and just going nowhere.

That’s when I thought: I want more example Psalms. To show that you can use these forms to pray and it really helps, because they direct your thoughts. Why not write a Psalm Prayer about it?

I’ve done Laments. But tonight I tried a Penitential Psalm. Because I’m pretty sure it’s my own fault I’m getting worried and distracted. I’m not trusting God; I’m trying to figure things out myself.

A Penitential Psalm has pretty much the same form as a Lament, but you ask God for mercy in the address to God and the complaint part talks about how bad things have gotten because of what you’ve done, so it’s also confession. (See Psalms 6, 38, and 51.)

Let me review the parts:
1) Address to God
2) Complaint
3) Confession of Trust
4) Petition
5) Words of Assurance
6) Vow to Praise

Okay, I tried not to edit too much and just pray it through, so this doesn’t pretend to be polished. But here goes:

A Psalm from the Scatterbrained

Father, have mercy on me,
according to your unfailing love.
Look on my situation and have compassion;
see my failings and grant me grace.

We’re in a pandemic,
and the world has turned upside-down.
I don’t know what’s normal,
and I don’t know how to plan.
My thoughts are bouncing around my brain
like ping-pong balls.
I’m having trouble focusing,
distracted by each new announcement or speculation.

My work serving the public has come to a halt.
Helping people in person spreads germs.
So now we look for ways to help
while keeping everyone at a distance.
I write reviews;
I read those journals that were stacking up.
Will I learn about customer service
while staying away from customers?

What’s the problem? As an introvert,
being at home should give me focus.
But instead, I’m scatterbrained.

I want to know what to expect,
how to plan,
what date to schedule the make-up programs
and when the books are due.

It’s out of my hands.
It’s out of my hands.
Wash those hands free of germs
and free of holding the world.

Lord, is this what it takes
to show me my plans are butterflies?
Does it take a pandemic
for me to realize I’m not in control?

You do see the future.
You do watch over your children.
If you see a sparrow fall,
then you know today’s death count.
And you are there.
And you gently bear each soul to heaven.

You’ve told us that riches are fleeting.
You’ve told us our life is a breath.
Does it take a pandemic
to make us understand?

Lord, walk with your children.
Forgive us when we run ahead.
Hold our hands through the dark fearful chasm
and carry us safely out of the fire.

Lord, do not forsake us!
Show yourself by our sides.
Come quickly to help us
and grant us peace and strength.

We don’t know how this pandemic will end.
We don’t know what our lives will look like next season.
But we know you will be with us
and show us new joys on the other side.

The day will come
when we again shake hands with new friends
and throw our arms around old friends.

The time will come
when we again meet as a choir
to join our voices in praises to God,
and lift our voices together to our Mighty Fortress.