Archive for May, 2020

Contentment vs. Asking with Shameless Audacity

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020


(Picture from June 1, 2013.)

I’m on my annual Springtime personal spiritual retreat this week. Monday it began with me thinking about how happy my life is and how fulfilling so many of the activities I make a regular part of my life are, because they express who I am.

This was happening the day after, on Sunday evening, I got a message on an online dating site from a guy who ended up being a scammer. There were three big tip-offs: The first message was generic. (I specifically ask on my profile for non-generic messages.) The messages made it clear he was not a native English speaker. (That’s theoretically okay, but wasn’t obvious from his profile, so he was probably a scammer operating from overseas.) And the big tip-off, which I always always answer with a No was asking to go off the dating site right away. (And my No means they stop sending me messages.)

So Monday I was discouraged with online dating, but very happy with my life as it is. So I began thinking, Maybe I should give up on the whole idea of ever finding another man and getting married again. It would be nice, sure, but my life is good and I for sure don’t want to have someone in my life who doesn’t fit with me, who instead of appreciating the way the things I do express who I am, puts a damper on me doing those things.

In short, I’m content. That’s good. So why even bother with having an online profile? Maybe I should just plan on spending the rest of my life happily single.

The next morning, as part of my spiritual retreat. I looked again at the verse and theme I’d chosen for 2020.

The verse was Luke 11:9 — “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

The theme was “Shameless Audacity” — from Luke 11:8. Jesus has told a parable about someone asking for bread at midnight. “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” And then he launches into verse 9, telling us to ask.

And I’ll be honest: What instantly comes to mind to ask God for is a man who loves me and loves God, a man for me to marry.

So I thought, I will ask again. I won’t completely give up on the idea.

But there was a problem with that. Yesterday I started feeling discontent. I was thinking more about what my life is missing and less about what I have.

This morning, while I went on my walk, I was thinking how to balance Shameless Audacity with Contentment. I don’t want to lose my joy and contentment because I’m asking God for the desires of my heart.

I do think God wants us to ask for the desires of our hearts. There’s this verse, and there are many others.

I think of the quote from C. S. Lewis, “We are far too easily pleased.

But it feels selfish and greedy to ask for something more when my life is already so very good. In fact, wait a minute, it feels like shameless audacity.

And I think maybe that’s the way to pull the two together, to be content while still asking for more — and that’s to acknowledge that it’s shameless audacity by being grateful.

In fact, it goes back to Philippians 4:6 — “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

And rather than feeling discontent from doing that — when I acknowledge the shameless audacity and combine it with gratitude — I feel a whole lot of joy.

Because it reminds me that God the Father loves to give good gifts to His children.

While I was walking, I thought of another, much smaller request, that feels like shameless audacity. I haven’t seen the great blue heron who frequents my lake since the stay at home order happened in March. So, yes, for a few days I’ve been praying that I’d see one.

Well, this morning I acknowledged that the irises I’ve been taking pictures of this week have been amazing and stunning, so it’s shameless audacity for me to ask for something more, but yes, Lord, I’m going to ask to see a great blue heron.

And sure enough, a person walking a dog ahead of me startled a great blue heron, so it flew to the other side of the lake.

And I saw another fly by my window in the afternoon. (This is after not seeing one for more than two months.)

And maybe if God grants that small shamelessly audacious request, maybe He will grant the bigger one.

He doesn’t have to, and I know He doesn’t have to, and I am happy and content and thankful for the life I have and it will not be a tragedy at all if I am single for the rest of my life.

But I’m going to be shamelessly audacious and ask.

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?

Creation Psalms

Monday, May 11th, 2020

I’m doing a project where I’m looking at different types of Psalms and using the ideas to write my own psalms. It’s a form of prayer and an exercise that is blessing me every time I try.

Now I’ve come to Creation Hymns, which seem like one of the most straightforward types of Psalms. Some examples are Psalms 8, 33, 65, 95, 96, 104, and 148. These are hymns that talk about God’s amazing power in creating and maybe talk about how small mankind is when compared with creation.

In trying to write my own, it’s hard to know where to start. But lately, under Stay-at-Home orders, the sky has been more blue than ever and I’ve gotten to take daily walks by my lake on my lunch break when working from home. So I’m just going to start by praising God for the beauty I see every day.

The one other thing to keep in mind is try to use parallelism — repeat yourself, saying something similar in a slightly different way. It gives the writing the rhythm of the Psalms and gives the writing a meditative pace.

I’m going to try to keep it short to make it an example that you can try at home!

Lord, you didn’t have to make the world beautiful.
You could have created a colorless landscape.
But your creation oozes with beauty
and shines into my windows with wonder.
Each season brings new glories;
your wonders never cease to unfold.
When the cherry blossoms fall
and the bluebells go silent,
then irises quietly sprout at lakeside,
flamboyantly flashing their colors.

Scientists say that living by water is good for the health of humans
Is that because of the beauty of aquatic creatures?
Or maybe the soothing sounds of moving water
or simply the mesmerizing maze of ripples?

The sheer variety of your creatures is astonishing.
Birds alone come in all shapes and sizes
from the slow long-necked wade of the great blue heron
to the proud perch of the bright tree swallow
to the raucous cry of the crow,
the shimmering stare of the grackle,
and the sudden dive of the osprey.

Lord, if a sparrow can’t fall without your noticing,
if you keep track of myriads of creatures,
which you created in all their amazing forms
which you made with the wildest imagination of all,
then surely you can track my movements.
Certainly you know my fears.
Assuredly you understand my longings.
Decidedly you comprehend my needs.

And I will never go unnoticed.
I will always be in your tender care.

Now you try! A Psalm about Creation. What have you noticed lately?

Wisdom Psalms

Monday, May 4th, 2020

I’m doing a project where I’m going over different types of Psalms I learned about in Psalms class when I was a student at Biola University more than thirty years ago, and I’m using those Psalms as a pattern for my own prayers. My favorite is the Lament, which is a sort of paint-by-number and walks you through pouring out your heart to God and then remembering that God is good and is with you. But now I’m going through some more challenging forms that I’d never before thought to try myself.

I’d come to Wisdom Psalms, which has lots of examples — some are Psalms 1, 14, 15, 19, 34, 37, 73, 111, 112, and 119. Essentially, these Psalms are about affirming that it’s worth it to follow God, and it’s not a good idea to do wicked things. They often include the phrase, “How blessed are those who… ”

But it feels presumptuous to even try to write a Wisdom Psalm, so I decided to think of them as Pep Talk Psalms. What do I need a pep talk about?

I was still feeling stuck, when this weekend I found I needed a pep talk. I’ve been doing great with the Stay-at-Home order in my state. I’m an introvert, and I have plenty of things I do to keep myself busy and happy. But for some reason on Saturday — I suspect a combination of not getting enough sleep, having a small headache, and not having gone anywhere for more than a week — I slept late and then seriously thought about not getting out of bed at all because what difference would it make?

Well, I did get better when I got up, but I realized I seriously needed to add some sparkles into my life.

Then our pastor’s online sermon Sunday was on gratitude. I remembered the wise words of Christel Nani, a writer I admire, saying that giving thanks puts you in the present moment and helps you escape regret about the past and worry about the future as you think about what you’re thankful for right now.

So with that in mind, I went for a walk by my lake. It was an ordinary day, but so beautiful! The air is pollution-free with so few cars on the roads and recent rain. Everything captivated me, and little birds seemed to pose for me and the neighbors’ azaleas were blooming lavishly and I saw the first iris of the season, and my own balcony flowers were glowing, and looking at the day opening my eyes to all the beauty just filled my heart with so much joy.

So that night, I wrote this Pep Talk Psalm, taking Psalm 112 as a starting point example.

Praise the Lord.
Blessed are those who notice his handiwork,
who open their eyes to the wonders of his creation.
For then a goldfinch is a gift,
and the first iris of the year is a mark of distinction.
The green of Spring leaves amazes them
and the blue of the unpolluted sky astonishes.
With a heart of gratitude,
birdsong trills out beyond any noise
and flowers pop out of camouflage;
petunias glow in the sunlight,
and rhododendrons pose with raindrops.
Blue jays flash the cartoon colors of their wings,
and proud papa birds preen for photos.
Common things become spectacular,
and small things burst with joy
when the Lord opens your eyes
and shows you how richly
he has poured out blessings upon you
and surrounded you with his wonders.
Praise the Lord.

As always, the exercise of writing the Psalm blessed me to pieces. So I offer the exercise to you: Try writing a Pep Talk Psalm. If you have trouble getting started, think about how to finish the sentence, “Blessed are those who….”