Why Psalms?

I’ve written a book called Praying with the Psalmists.

My book is a complete study of Psalms, showing you how you can deepen your prayer life by using patterns from the ten types of Psalms in your own prayers. I illustrate the types of Psalms by telling my own story. But why Psalms?

Why Read Psalms?

Psalms is a book of emotions of humans in relationship with God. Did you know that there are more Laments in the biblical book of Psalms than there are Psalms of Praise? God can handle our emotions, both positive and negative, and you’ll find them all in the Book of Psalms. These emotions are timeless and the Psalms still touch our hearts today. I’ve got a Reading Plan for reading all the Psalms in 12 weeks, reading one type of Psalm each week.

Why Memorize Psalms?

I’ve memorized all 150 Psalms (beginning in childhood, when my parents paid me), and I’ve found that the brain exercise of memorizing a Psalm helps bypass your brain and bring it straight to your heart. Have you ever memorized a piece of music and found that once you memorize it, you can focus on musicality and meaning? “Hiding God’s Word in your heart” by memorizing a Psalm will help you feel the meaning of that Psalm all the more powerfully. (If you don’t believe me, try it!) I’ve got a chapter with some tips on memorizing Scripture in my book.

Why Study Psalms?

Looking deeper at Psalms, you can see the patterns the Psalmists used — and use them in your own prayers. This is the ultimate goal of my book: To give you another tool to use in prayer and to help your prayers reach your heart.

The book is a 12-week study of all 150 Psalms. You’ll read the Psalms of each type, hear how those Psalms touched my life, and see patterns in each type so you can try it yourself.

After all, sometimes you need a Lament.

Where am I in my book journey?

My book is written, and I brought my own small group through it in 2023, with the help of a co-leader.

In 2023, besides working full-time, I was on the Morris Award committee, so that was taking most of my free time. I did send the book out to some agents. But the feedback I got was that I need to grow my platform before I would get enough interest for an agent or large publisher.

So, in 2024, I’m going to try to grow my platform, as well as try some small publishers. If all else fails, I may decide to self-publish.

How can you help?

You can help my platform grow by subscribing to this blog. I’m going to try to post something about Psalms at least once a month. And I’ll post updates about my book journey. This is my personal blog, so if I find other pressing topics about faith or my life, this is where I put them. You can find out about everything else in my website on my About page.

Why Psalms?

Because if you give them the chance, Psalms will touch your heart.

Christmas Letter 2023

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays to you!

When it comes to Christmas letters, I love the tradition of looking back on my year and reflecting on its joys. I also love the tradition of using that to connect and reconnect with friends. Now that I post the result electronically, it’s become a meditative tradition added to my Christmas celebrations — and we’re talking Christmas in the “Twelve Days of Christmas” sense. So I hereby declare this isn’t late, since the twelve days of Christmas aren’t finished. You’ll have more time to read it after the 25th anyway, right? I certainly have more time to write it.

Another result of posting electronically is that I’m no longer confined to one page. I’ll still try to keep my text short, but I’m going to fill the post with some of my favorite pictures I took in 2023.

As I look back on 2023, it feels like the year I didn’t quite have time for all the things I wanted to do. Just slightly overdoing it. And what that was all about was totally worth it: Serving on the 2024 Morris Award Committee! The William C. Morris Award honors the best Young Adult Debut book of the year, with the year defined as November 1st to October 31st. So we are done with our reading, have chosen our Finalists, and are scheduled to choose our winner on New Year’s Day and announce on January 22nd.

So, yes, I was reading young adult debut books all year long. When I was on the Newbery committee in 2018, I cut back drastically on any other commitments. But I didn’t do that so much this time, which is why the crunch. And while I had a joyful and busy year, I’m ready for a break now and happily reading adult books. Well, as soon as I finish chairing the groups choosing the Cybils Awards for the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category and facilitating discussion for the Birth to Five group of Capitol Choices and reading the remaining books for the 2024 Mathical Book Prize. The truth is, I didn’t even give up other award committee participation this time. (But I love it all so much!) And yes, I’ve been trying to keep up with posting reviews on Sonderbooks as well. (If you’re ever wondering what to read, do take a look!)

I was telling a friend about all of this and she asked, “But what do you do for fun?” Make no mistake about it, reading is what I do for fun, and that award committee participation is not work but volunteer joy. And I love it, though I may need to take a break from any more year-long committees for at least, say, a year.

Though yes, my job is very much related and also my idea of incredible fun. I am in my second year as Youth Materials Selector for my public library system where I’d worked as a youth services manager since 2008. I get to select the books and other materials for kids from birth through teens for all twenty-two branches. And I still believe it’s the absolutely perfect job for me. It’s not necessarily the perfect job for too many other people, but it’s completely suited to me. I love working with spreadsheets and budgets, and I also love keeping up with what’s being published and the best books for children and teens (see all that award committee fun).

But that’s not all I do! Once a week, I get to play online Dominion with my kids Zephyr and Tim, who are adults living on the other side of the country. And we Skype while we play, so I get to talk with my kids at least an hour a week, and I love that. (My kids are doing great, but I won’t post too many details publicly – ask me privately if you want to hear what they’re up to lately.) I also continue to attend the Sunday gaming group that my friend brought me to almost ten years ago on our second date. We didn’t keep dating long, but we’re still friends, and I still say that ten years of that gaming group is a great big win for online dating.

And that’s not all! I’ve been attending Floris United Methodist Church for over four years now and singing in the choir adds joy to my life every week. For a year and a half now, I’ve also been co-leading a Monday night ladies’ virtual small group, which is another lovely way to connect with people. At the start of the year, we went through my unpublished book, Praying with the Psalmists. I was able to polish it up, and I think it’s ready to be published — but finding an agent or publisher was where I dropped the ball this year. I’m planning to continue pursuing that in the new year. (You can follow the Praying with the Psalmists category on this blog to get a small taste of what it’s about.)

Now, besides all those great things, 2023 was the year of two major leaks happening in my condo — the first into my master bathroom and bedroom closet from the condo above and the second from the windows in my bedroom and office. I ended up with a nice newly-painted bathroom, slightly less cluttered closet, and brand new windows – but come to think of it, all that was a big part of why I felt behind this year. (I’ve almost finished cleaning up all the stuff I moved in response to those leaks.) Those windows still frame an awesome view.

But 2023 also held two big trips that brought lots of joy. In May, my youngest sister Melanie got married in Oregon. I flew out and spent a few days with family in Portland (sisters and brothers and nieces and a nephew), then took my two kids and spent a beautiful, peaceful week at the Oregon coast, then drove back to Portland for even more family time at my sister’s wedding, now with aunts and uncles and cousins, too.

Stayed with my sister Marcy’s family for a bit.
Incredible view from our vacation condo.
So good to be with my kids!
It took a week to play through all 50 missions of the cooperative card game The Crew.
I dragged them on a strenuous and gorgeous hike.
The happy couple
With Tim and Zephyr

And in late September, family came to me! My sister Wendy and her husband Jim were visiting his family in Connecticut, so we split the difference and met up for a day at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, for a lovely day together.

Then in October, I flew to California with my friend-since-3rd-grade Darlene to celebrate our friend-since-7th-grade Ruth’s 60th birthday. Ruth has early-onset Alzheimer’s. So it was painful to see the difficulties she’s having, but beautiful to see her as well as her adorable grandbabies. She is surrounded by family and surrounded by love, and she’s still my incredible friend who always has something to smile about. Darlene and I also connected with some more school friends, which was such a joy.

With Ruth and Darlene
With Darlene and Abby
With Darlene and Daphne

So that was my 2023: Lots of reading, writing, singing, playing games, and enjoying people. Oh, and taking pictures of the great blue heron that visits the lake outside my window. Yes, I’m still taking walks by my lake, and I still am not tired of those beautiful birds.

Wishing you abundant joys in 2024!

— Sondy

A Psalm for Alzheimer’s

Last week, my friend Darlene and I traveled to California for our friend Ruth’s 60th birthday. It was a lovely trip. We had a great time together.

But Ruth has early-onset Alzheimer’s, and I am all torn up inside about it.

Explanation for this post: I have written a book, Praying with the Psalmists: Open Your Heart to God Using Patterns from Psalms in Your Prayers. This book is not yet published. But the premise is that we can use patterns from Psalms in prayer to open our hearts to God when things trouble us.

The book may or may not ever get published, but I’m trying to model praying with the psalmists in my own prayers when things are heavy on my heart. [You can follow along with the blog series “Praying with the Psalmists.”] At this time, Alzheimer’s is so heavy on my heart.

At first, I thought I’d write a lament, as I did in “Lament for Leukemia.” But despite the situation, Laments generally are more for prayer requests — bad situations where you are asking God to come through. My friend’s Alzheimer’s is a horrible situation out there in the world, and I can’t help wondering how God allows it. Why is this happening to someone who loves God? I just hate it. So this is a situation for a Wisdom Psalm.

Now, the trouble with writing a wisdom psalm myself is that I don’t particularly think I have wisdom. So I think of the ones we laypeople write as Pep Talk Psalms — reminding ourselves what we know about God, reminding ourselves that it’s worth it to follow God, reminding ourselves that we actually do trust God. Some Wisdom Psalms in Scripture that I love are Psalm 1, Psalm 34, Psalm 37, and Psalm 73.

In my book, I cover five key concepts from the biblical Wisdom Psalms: Blessings, Teachings, Consequences, Oversight, and Perspective. But maybe you’ll get the idea from the example and the biblical examples. I’m going to attempt to use parallelism and dive in and write a psalm about this. I’m going to start with the situation, but then remind myself what I know.

A Psalm for Alzheimer’s

Father, I hate Alzheimer’s
with every fiber of my being.

First, my mother had it,
starting in her early sixties.
It started kind of cute:
holding hands with Dad in new situations,
not understanding mirrors,
proud of getting a puzzle piece in,
telling my Dad they should get married.

But every time I saw her,
she was much worse than the time before.
I just got a memory on Facebook about the time
more than a year before her death,
already on hospice,
when she fell out of her wheelchair
broke her nose, cut her forehead,
and had to remain bedridden
for the last year of her life.

When I saw her two months before her death
at my Dad’s funeral,
she couldn’t talk,
couldn’t smile,
couldn’t sit up,
couldn’t feed herself.
People asked if she knew me,
but how would I even know if she did?

I really hate Alzheimer’s.

So now my friend Ruth has it,
about ten years younger than my Mom started.
Yes, she knows me.
Yes, she can still talk,
with a little trouble putting thoughts into words.
Her frequent “Yeah, uh huh…” reminded me so much
of my mother for a while saying constantly “okay… okay…”,
though Ruth is working to engage in conversation
at least in that way.

She’s happy!
She laughs a lot.
Her husband does a wonderful job
of keeping things light,
laughing with her,
making her failings foibles.
She’s got grandbabies nearby,
living in both homes where she spends her time.
She’s not thinking about the future
and what it will hold for her.
She’s enjoying the present.

She did hike with us,
her husband leading her by the hand.
I tried — and failed to get her past the spot
where she needed to put her foot just there —
because she’s not looking at her feet.

We looked at pictures
from junior high and high school.
She knew who people were
(or at least said she did)
when we could get her to look at the TV
where they were showing.

In the old pictures, in every single set
there’d be a picture of Ruth
perched atop a swingset or boulder or castle wall or tree.
She can’t climb any more,
and I hate that.
In fact, she has trouble sitting down
in an ordinary chair.

And I hate it.

I know it’s only going to get worse.
Though Ruth isn’t thinking about that.
She’s enjoying her husband’s care,
her children and grandchildren,
and wherever she finds herself.
She enjoyed our visit,
and I’m so glad we got to be there for her.

But I hate Alzheimer’s.

[Crying break.]
Lord, why did this have to happen
to someone so vibrant, so alive,
so sharp, so kind,
so always full of mischief,
always literally climbing on boundaries?

Now I’m home,
no longer putting on a brave face so Ruth won’t see my distress,
and my 7-year-old niece is getting
a stem cell transplant for leukemia.
A high school friend’s husband, a pastor,
just passed away from a brain tumor.
Thousands of innocents were recently murdered
in terror and war, both Israelis and Palestinians.

And, Lord, it all seems so hard.

But whom have I in heaven but you, Lord?
I’m not going to decide you don’t exist
because terrible things happen in the world.
I’m not God,
and that’s a good thing.
But I don’t understand.
And that’s okay. I’m human.

What do I believe?
I believe you bring good even out of terrible things.
I believe that mankind is fallen,
but that you redeem.

I believe that my mother is in heaven now,
and all her suffering is not even worth comparing to the glory she now faces.

I believe that my father shone so brightly while he cared for her,
as Ruth’s husband is beginning to shine now.
[I still don’t think it even comes close to outweighing the evil of Alzheimer’s,
but, yes, good comes out of it.]

I believe that because Alzheimer’s and leukemia exist,
humans are exercising their ingenuity and brilliance
and discovering cures.
The stem cell transplant is a much simpler process
than the old bone marrow transplant.
Immunotherapy shows great promise
for many kinds of cancer,
and research for Alzheimer’s treatments
is making great strides.
We have come so far in medical science!
May it continue, may lives continue to be saved and prolonged.

And Lord, above all,
I believe you are with us.
You became a human,
Emmanuel, God with us.
You took up our infirmities
and carried our diseases.
I believe you know our suffering
and carry us.

Sometimes you calm the storm
and sometimes you guide us through the storm.
You love Ruth, your precious child.

Thank you for her life,
thank you for her friendship,
thank you for her laughter,
thank you for her love.
Thank you that you are always with her.
Thank you that she’s been my friend
for almost 50 years.

Thank you that despite awful things,
there is still joy in this world.

Thank you that we were able to bring some of that joy
to our friend Ruth.

Grant her husband and children
grace and perseverance.
Be with them all on the journey that follows.
But thank you that Ruth herself is living in the moment,
still trusting you.

And you are faithful.

Ruth and Darlene in 2014.

Okay. That’s my psalm. I think it helped. The fact is, I still believe that God is good. I don’t claim to know higher meaning for Alzheimer’s. But I choose to believe that God is good and God is loving. And God brings good out of even this.

Hey, anyone reading this — I’d love it if you tried writing your own psalms, too. You can tell by my example that they don’t have to be very good! But use the comments if you want to share.

Ruth in 1975.

Lamenting Leukemia – Again

Last week, I wrote a Lament for a Leak. This week I got much worse news, so it’s time to write a Lament for Leukemia. Except wait — I already wrote a Lament for Leukemia.

Yes, this is about my same niece, Meredith. Now she’s seven years old, and she’s still dealing with leukemia.

I remember the Lament form using the ACCESS acronym:

Address to God
Confession of Trust
Sureness of Help
Subsequent Praise

[If you’re interested in reading a book about writing your own psalms, subscribe to this blog or to my Sondermusings substack, and I will definitely let you know if/when I find a publisher. You’ll also find out some things along the way. Let me encourage you to try the lament form and post your own examples in the comments.]

For now, another lament for leukemia:

[Address to God]
Lord, we don’t know where to turn
and so we turn to You.
You love us and care for us,
you hear prayer,
but we don’t understand
how children can suffer so much
in this world you’ve made.

Meredith was in remission!
She did so well with immunotherapy!
No side effects!
Out of the hospital on the first possible day!

Our hopes were high.
Our hearts lifted to see her
dancing ballet,
learning Parkour.
(Parkour seems to be navigating obstacles with strength and grace —
may she navigate these new obstacles with strength and grace.)

But only a couple weeks later,
her b-cells are back.
The reengineered t-cells are no longer
protecting her from leukemia.

We don’t want to be ungrateful.
Her big sister is a match!
But the stem cell transplant process
is hard,
is risky,
is scary.
And we’d gotten to hoping she could do without it.

Lord, she’s just a kid!
Seven years old, with years of painful and uncomfortable treatments
behind her.
She was doing activities,
going back to school,
learning new things,
even growing her hair back.
Now it’s time for six more weeks in the hospital (at least).

[Confession of Trust]
Lord, we know that you do see trouble and grief.
You consider it to take it in hand.
You will be with your children
every step of the way.

Lord, have mercy!
Grant Meredith health and healing.
Uphold her family.
Grant them all grace and peace.

Give her sister peace and rest
as she donates her stem cells,
and transform her blood into
healing and salvation for Meredith.

Lord, we don’t even understand fully how it works,
but turn her sister’s blood into good medicine
that gives Meredith new health and new life
and many years of thriving.

[Sureness of Help]
Thank you, Lord, that you do hear our prayers.
Thank you for the amazing developments in medicine
that have produced this cure for leukemia.
Thank you that you have been with this family for years already
and you’re not abandoning them now.

[Subsequent Praise]
Lord, help us dare to celebrate again
when the stem cells do their work.
Let us look forward to the day
when her blood has been renewed
and she is cured.
We look forward to singing for joy
at the healing you bring.

Lament for a Leak

I’m upset over something that happened yesterday. And I feel stupid for being so upset. The something is that in a rainstorm, I discovered my bedroom window is leaking badly. My office window is also leaking.

I feel like that shouldn’t upset me so much — and then my mind keeps spinning over reasons why it does.

And that gets me thinking about Psalms.

You see, I recently finished writing a book about Psalms, Praying with the Psalmists. I don’t yet have a publisher, but my premise is that you can use the patterns from Psalms to write your own prayers.

And I want to try a Lament for this Leak. I think it will help me calm down my catastrophic thinking.

I learned when studying Psalms that God wants our honesty. The psalmists seem somewhat extreme in their complaints. So if I’m extreme in what I worry about regarding this stupid leak — well, that’s okay. God can handle it.

I’ll use parallelism, and I’ll use the ACCESS form of a Lament:

Address to God
Confession of Trust
Sureness of Help
Subsequent Praise

Here goes! I’m going to sit down and write this now and try not to edit it too much. This is my prayer.

[Address to God]
Lord, I’m coming to you about this leak,
I’m telling you my worries and fears
because I want to trust that you care about me;
I want to believe that you listen to my concerns.

This one seems too petty for you, God.
I’m a grown-up, shouldn’t I deal with it?
But let me come to you like a child
because as a father has compassion on his children
so you have compassion on those who follow you.

A situation like this makes me miss my father,
miss someone to turn to,
miss not having to be the most responsible one.
So it’s time to turn to You, Father.

It’s just a window!
But I’ve been afraid of this.

When my air conditioner went out and pulled me back into debt,
my friend said, “What’s *really* expensive are windows.”
Just a couple years ago, our condo association sent out a notice:
Replacing windows is now the responsibility of the homeowner.
Because they’re all getting old,
and the association can’t afford to replace them all.
They had us vote on it,
but what could I do?
We don’t want our fees to go up,
but neither do I want the expense.
Had a feeling it would be relevant,
but hoped I was just superstitious.

Many months ago, I noticed a leak
in the window in my office.
But it didn’t happen again
until yesterday.
I’d hoped it was a fluke.

For the same months, I’ve been noticing a wet, rotting wood smell
near the window in my bedroom
every time it rains.
But never saw any water.
Maybe I’m imagining it?
After all, if I don’t actually see a leak,
how could it actually be there?

Then yesterday it was spitting out.
My head got sprinkled when I ducked in to see where it was coming from.

The rug was wet next to my bed.
Then I saw splashes on the things under the window.
I moved those things next to the piles
removed from my closet months ago.
I got a step ladder and found the water was coming
from the wooden casing above the window.
The paint is cracked, and water was coming out
randomly all in a line,
all along the top of the window,
falling all the way down
not in a stream I could catch in a bowl,
but spreading out and spraying.

I put down plastic,
wiped it down.
The office window was leaking too.
(Usually wind drives rain the other direction
— that’s the one good side.)

Four months ago, a bathroom leak from the condo above me
destroyed my master bathroom and closet.
I still haven’t returned everything to the closet,
trying to sort through the boxes of books.
I’ve only just recently finished cleaning the dust
from the reconstruction.
I still haven’t gotten back
the $500 deductible,
because the problem didn’t originate within my unit.

So I don’t want another project.
I haven’t put my house back together after the last one!
Problems are supposed to wait their turn!
Aren’t they?

And money!
Ten years ago, my Dad gave me the down payment to buy this place.
A few years later, a home equity loan allowed me to pay off
heavy debt from my divorce.

Then the water heater broke…
then the air conditioner…
and always, God provided.

In a few months, I’ll have my car paid off,
and I was already daydreaming about saving little by little
to buy one more car – without payments –
before I retire.

I’d got it in my head that at last I’d go back to visit Germany
where I lived for ten years,
but haven’t seen for eighteen years.
I’d go next June for my sixtieth birthday.
What better way to celebrate?

Now I feel like who am I
to dare to plan for something special like that?
Who am I to think
I can be out of debt for more than a few months at a time?

And, Lord, I know it’s so childish!
It’s expensive to own a home.
My condo already saved my financial situation.
At worst, surely I can get a home equity loan.
But I’m still complaining!
This is the part about all the thoughts going through my head:

How dare I think I can have nice things?
I’m on the Morris committee!
How can I possibly find time to have people come through my home
open up a wall
rip things apart
and put in a new window?
And how will I ever find time to clean up after?
Why can’t I just ignore the problem
and hope the wind won’t blow that direction with rain ever again?

And where do I start?
Who do I call?
(The condo association.
Maybe they can tell me where to get windows that match.)

Okay, that’s the start of my complaint, Lord!
It’s a big mess of money and time that I for sure
do not want to spend right now.

It childishly doesn’t seem fair
when I haven’t even put things back together after the other leak.

It all seemed like more when I was stewing.
But those are my complaints, Lord.
I’m not looking forward to dealing with it.
I’m not looking forward to paying for it.
I’m not looking forward to having people fix it.
I’m not looking forward to moving my furniture to make it happen.
I’m not looking forward to the disruption of folks working on it.
I’m not looking forward to cleaning up after it.

And I keep hoping the problem is just a fluke,
but yesterday was enough water
that I think the time for ignoring the problem
is long past.

[Confession of Trust]
Lord, thank you that writing all that out
isn’t nearly as bad as what was spinning in my head.
Thank you for this home
and how it solved my credit card debt.
Thank you that you provided
after all the other repairs and after dental crises and other unexpected expenses.
Thank you for that $3000 award that came
exactly when I was $3000 in debt.

Father, by now I should have learned that you can meet my needs.
And you help me deal with things I don’t want to deal with.
And you help me find professionals who know what they’re doing.
And I can really do this Grown-up stuff!

And yes, I can trust you, Lord.
And no, this isn’t a disaster.
And yes, I have so many resources
and should probably be ashamed for how upset this got me.
Because you will be with me, Lord,
as you have been with me before.

Lord, be with me
as you have promised!
Grant me wisdom
to figure out who to call,
to find trustworthy professionals,
who quote me a good price.
If I need a home equity loan to pay for it,
help me through that process, too.
Make me thankful for my cozy and beautiful home
as I invest in it something in return
for the shelter it has provided to me.

Be with me in this process, Lord.
May it not cost as much money and time
as I fear.
And provide for my needs,
as you always do.
Help me not to fret;
eliminate my disaster thinking,
and grant me grace as I carry on.

[Sureness of Help]
Lord, already I feel more calm.
I know that you see me
and you will help me
and you keep me from disaster.

[Subsequent Praise]
When it’s all done,
when I have brand-new windows
with a lovely new window treatment
(because why not?)
and my house put back together —

It’s time for me to have a party
and tell my friends:
I was so worried about this;
I felt sorry for myself dealing with it on my own,
but the Lord helped me through.

Okay, that’s my psalm of lament.

It’s childish, it’s silly. I’m making a fuss over something people deal with all the time.

But you know what? I feel better after writing that. More equipped to figure out what needs to be done, and not panic about what it will take to do it.

For you, reader, it’s not that I want to make you listen to all my petty worries. It’s that I want to share that we all have petty worries. And yes, we can pray about them! And for me, the Lament form really helps.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Thoughts on Trust and Shame

Sunset behind clouds off the Oregon coast.
Just a pretty picture from my recent Oregon vacation.

Several seemingly disparate things came together this weekend, and they all got me thinking about Trust – and Shame.

1) First, before the weekend, I’d been thinking it was time to write another blog post about Psalms.

I’ve written a book called Praying with the Psalmists, and I’m trying to find an agent and/or publisher. In the book, I show people ten types of Psalms and how we can write our own psalms for prayer.

I’d love to end up with a website where people can post the psalms they’ve written. So why not start with blog posts? I’m trying to increase my blogging in order to build a platform — and in my Praying with the Psalmists posts, I would love for people to post their own psalms in the comments.

But now I’ve finished going through the book with my small group, so what type of psalm should I try to post? I decided my next post would be about Psalms of Trust.

I am going through a relatively stable time in my life. I don’t feel the need to write a lament. I don’t currently have a big deliverance story to put in a psalm of thanksgiving. However, I’m feeling a little unfocused, a little frustrated with the day-to-day trying to get things done and not getting enough sleep and having occasional odd health issues and just feeling a little out of sorts. So a psalm of trust might help me focus. (We’ll come back to this.)

2) Last Tuesday, I wrote a blog post about the terrible AI-produced children’s book I mistakenly purchased for the library and had to take out of processing so that it would not go on library shelves. This weekend, it got lots of attention, because on Thursday Betsy Bird, a librarian who writes for School Library Journal read it and tweeted about it. She said, “It begins. Librarians, warn your selectors. AI is making its way into our libraries by sneaky means.
@Sonderbooks has the scoop:” I’m not talking going viral, but as of Sunday evening, her tweet linking to my blog post has 24.7K Views, 108 Likes, 62 Retweets, 17 Quotes, and 18 Bookmarks. Which is a lot more than my tweets usually get.

3) At the same time, I read a tweet on AskAubrey, whose Twitter feed I’m unduly fascinated with and always shows up at the top of my “For You” Tab, showing terrible posts by men on dating sites or Reddit. The one I saw Saturday morning was posted by a woman. Her husband is obviously cheating on her with the “friend” he’s “renting” a room to. But she still believes him that they are exclusive. People are mocking her cluelessness, and I felt compelled to respond like this:

Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. I believed my ex-husband, too, when he told me he wasn’t having an affair with the woman he’d gone to watch movies with at midnight. He’s lying to you. You’re a trusting person, and he has exploited that. The shame is his.

By the next day, this tweet has gotten 14.5K Views, 158 Likes, and 2 Bookmarks. One reply said, “Glad I wasn’t the only one.”

4) Most of the responses to Betsy’s tweet have been positive. Well, aside from the shock and horror that such a book got published. But one library selector responded that this isn’t “sneaky” at all, and if we do an actual good job with collection development, we won’t let such things get past us.

And that response revived my shame.

But it also made me realize how the two popular tweets were similar.

In both cases, I should not have trusted, but I did.

In both cases, there were red flags, but I trusted anyway.

In both cases, I felt deep shame for trusting.

Let’s start with the trivial case: I ordered a truly terrible children’s nonfiction book about rabbits. It was masquerading as a series nonfiction book from a publisher that had more than 500 titles listed on our vendor’s website. But there were red flags, and I truly should not have ordered it. And I think of myself as a very good youth materials selector for the library – but trusting that particular publisher (“Bold Kids”) was a truly bad decision, it turned out. And I was deeply ashamed.

It took about a day for me to even talk about it. (It helped tremendously, I’m afraid, that another selector whom I respect fell for another one of their books at the same time.) But when I acknowledge that I am not perfect and I did, in fact, make a mistake — then my reaction is: Wait a second, who’s the one who should be ashamed here? “Bold Kids” is a scammer masquerading as a publishing company, and they are the ones who deserve the shame.

5) And that made me think of scammers on dating sites. When I first started trying online dating, I allowed a couple of men to email me off the site — and they turned out to be scammers. (Here are a couple of posts I wrote later about some tips for spotting them.)

When my friend helped me figure out one of those guys emailing me was a scammer, I hadn’t sent the scammer any money — but I felt very stupid and ashamed. And it left me feeling foolish for getting my hopes up. Did the scammers think I was so desperate that I’d fall for them? Who was I to think that anyone but a scammer would be interested in me?

So yes, even though they did not get my money, they did harm.

But going back to shame: Who should be ashamed of that? Not me! Shame on the scammers for preying on people’s trust.

And that brings me back to my ex-husband.

I was deeply ashamed when I found out he was actually having an affair.

But that’s backwards. Ashamed of trusting my husband?!?! He looked me in the eye and told me, “I’m not having an affair.” Twice!

We’d been married 18 years at the time, and I didn’t know of any reason not to trust him.

But I am not the one who should be ashamed. He is the one who should be ashamed of breaking my trust.

Now, I am the first to admit that I’m a naive and trusting person. That ties in with another thread:

6) I recently watched the “Shiny Happy People” documentary series and wrote a blog series in reaction, “Shiny Happy Childhood.” I think that authoritarian organizations like Bill Gothard’s seminars put lots of emphasis on trusting and obeying authority. I grew up in that, and I am a very trusting person.

However, I don’t believe that trust is a bad thing!

After all, I never intentionally lied to my ex-husband — so that’s a big part of why I didn’t suspect him of lying to me. I’ve grown up around a lot of good people, so I tend to think of people as good-hearted.

But it all depends on where you place your trust.

And when it turns out that we put our trust in a bad place, our first reaction is shame — when they are the one who should be ashamed.

7) As if those Twitter threads weren’t enough, yesterday morning I hit this daily reading in Melody Beattie’s book The Language of Letting Go, titled “Learning to Trust Again”:

Many of us have trust issues.

Some of us tried long and hard to trust untrustworthy people. Over and again, we believed lies and promises never to be kept. Some of us tried to trust people for the impossible; for instance, trusting a practicing alcoholic not to drink again.

Some of us trusted our Higher Power inappropriately. We trusted God to make other people do what we wanted, then felt betrayed when that didn’t work out….

[I for sure did that for years, praying that God would bring my husband back to me. I finally realized that I wasn’t really trusting God — I was telling God what should happen and gritting my teeth to believe it would, like a magic vending machine — instead of trusting that whatever God allowed to happen, God would be with me and would bring good even out of a bad situation.]

Most of us were taught, inappropriately, that we couldn’t trust ourselves.

The reading goes on to say that yes, we can learn to trust appropriately – trusting myself, God, and others. We are not foolish to trust, but we may need help with it.

8) And then today I was reading in Katie Porter’s book I Swear and saw this point in her “Guide to Consumer Protection”:

Never feel ashamed.
They cheated YOU! They are the bad guys. Would you report a burglary? It’s no different when a company rips you off. Expect them to make it right.

So Yes! I will resist being ashamed of falling for the scam that Bold Kids “publisher” is running. They are the ones who should be ashamed!

9) But coming back around to Psalms of Trust:

In my book, I put 21 Psalms in that category, so they are a big part of the Psalms. And one of the key concepts I found in the Psalms of Trust is Vindication. I used vindication as a positive way of saying the prayer that comes up again and again, “Let me not be put to shame.”

When we place our trust badly, the natural reaction is to feel shame.

And may I trust the Lord in such a way that I will not be ashamed. Because the Lord is good, and God’s love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness continues through all generations.

So, after all those musings, let me try to pray a short psalm of trust:

Lord my God, I trust in you;
let me not be put to shame.

Teach me to trust truly
rather than trying to control.

Take away my shame for being imperfect
and give me grace to warn others
and learn from my mistakes.

Grant me rest
as I trust that I am doing enough.

And I give you my endeavors:
My work at my dream job,
my writing,
my website,
my reading for award committees.

Let me trust that it’s not all up to me,
that you love me as the person you made me
and my value doesn’t come from what I do.


There. A hodgepodge of thoughts about Trust and Shame. Does that bring up any thoughts for you? I’d love comments — don’t worry if they go off on tangents, because this sure did.

A Story about a Heron… and Angels

Okay, you don’t have to buy this story.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s a true story. I’m going to tell you what happened and what I was thinking at the time and the inevitable conclusion I drew from it. You do not have to draw the same conclusion. You can think I’m gullible. Or that it was all a coincidence. But I was there, and I don’t really have any doubt left.

Years ago – based on my review, it was six years ago – I read Lorna Byrne’s book Angels in my Hair, and my heart was touched. Lorna Byrne tells her life story and how all her life, she’s been able to see angels and talk with them. I went on to read more of her books, and the love and encouragement I read in them always does my heart good.

Now, I’d left one of her books, Prayers from the Heart, in my Amazon Shopping Cart “to buy later.” But a month ago, I’d signed up for a free trial of Amazon Prime in order to watch the “Shiny Happy People” documentary series, so I ordered some things from my shopping cart before the free trial expired. The book arrived on July 3rd, and I read Chapter One on the morning of my day off on the 4th.

Then I went for a walk around my lake (actually, a walk to the other side of the lake, into the woods on the other side, and then back — about a mile altogether). It was a hot day, so I took a slow walk, with my camera, taking pictures of the summer flowers by the lake. I was thinking about what I’d read — that angels are all around, and there are angels in nature, angels for each type of animal species and for the trees. I always use my walks around the lake as prayer time, and that day I used what I’d read and prayed that God would send Healing Angels to my loved ones dealing with illnesses. It was a beautiful time.

Often, lately, my walks by the lake had become mechanical, but that day I was feeling God’s presence, along with a nice dose of peaceful joy. I was thinking about what Lorna Byrne said about angels. I do believe that God is with me and God sees me. I do believe that God’s relationship with me is personal. But there’s something about thinking that there are angels all around, a guardian angel by my side and angels in nature, that feels even more personal.

Now, I’ve written before about some great blue heron sightings with amazing timing that I’ve experienced when walking by my lake. As I was walking so happily and prayerfully, I thought, Oh! That’s how God does it! When I have a great blue heron sighting right when I need it! It’s angels!

Let’s be clear that both ways of thinking about it, it’s God’s doing, and God answering prayer. (Lorna Byrne doesn’t suggest that you pray to angels, just helps us acknowledge that they’re there.) But something about thinking that angels are right there nudging the creatures in order to bless me — well I like that idea better than the idea of somehow attracting a “spirit animal guide” (even though I’m happy to learn what I can from what a great blue heron is said to represent). And it feels like drawing back the curtain and seeing how, physically, God has been blessing me. Not that God can’t make a great blue heron do what God wants. But, well, Lorna Byrne says that angels can be playful – and I like imagining them giving a bird a nudge at just the right time.

Now, I hadn’t seen any heron at all on this walk. The lake was pretty quiet, and it was hot. A very quiet day. I was taking lots of pictures of flowers. And then I thought, This would be a good day to pray to see a great blue heron.

And so I did. I prayed that God would send a great blue heron my way “so I’ll know if it’s true.” (And yes, that’s a direct quote from my prayer.)

Remember, I was in a joyful state — enjoying the day, the beauty, praying blessings on my friends, and marveling that maybe there were angels all around. I had seen a few other people — just passed a man and his dog, and I was coming back out of the woods to the side of the lake.

Then I noticed what I thought were some tiny red flowers right down by the water’s edge. I was lingering in this walk, enjoying each moment, and on a whim, I decided to step closer and get a picture of them. Based on the picture, they were actually berries:

I was moving pretty quietly and slowly. I took the picture and was stepping back — when a great blue heron burst into the air — it had been wading behind the tall grass clump right next to the berries. I had my camera up, but still couldn’t get a good shot:

But did get some as it flew and landed on the other side:

And then I took its picture many times as it waded along the edge on the other side. My heart was full of thankfulness.

After all, now I know it’s true.

Shiny Happy Childhood – Judging

Me in 1971

I thought I was finished blogging about my reactions to the “Shiny Happy People” documentary series. But last night, I had dinner with a friend who had been involved in Bill Gothard’s training. (I’m finding many more friends than I’d ever suspected had been exposed to his teachings.) We did some unpacking together.

First, let me give links to what I’ve blogged about so far:

Background – My background as third of thirteen kids and going to Bill Gothard’s seminars many times in childhood.

Authority – Bill Gothard taught a strict hierarchy of authority is ordained by God, and if you “get out from under it,” you’re in danger of Satanic attack.

Spankings – They taught that God’s design is to teach babies on up to learn “instant obedience” with physical punishments. That didn’t work out well in our family, from my perspective anyway.

Legalism – Gothard promised to have universal principles for living your life all down in black and white. Rules, so you never have to exercise discernment! My Mom and I ate them up.

And that leads to Judging, which I’m going to talk about today.

If you believe that you truly have universal life principles that apply in all times and all circumstances, and if you are pretty good at following those rules — then that leads to becoming very judgmental. And a very set-apartness from those “other” people. It’s an exclusive attitude and way of life, rather than an inclusive one.

When our family moved to a bigger house in 1970, it was in a “bad neighborhood.” Basically, almost all the neighbors spoke Spanish. We did not get to know very many of them. (Except our persistently friendly Filipino neighbor next door.) We did not go to the local school, but began attending a Christian elementary school. (That was in 3rd grade and when I met two lifelong friends I moved to Virginia to be near!)

When you believe that you have the only right way to live — you end up thinking you’re better than other folks who don’t live that way.

I remember when I was teaching college math and one of my young adult students was having some issues with her boyfriend that were making her need homework extensions, I felt so sorry for her living with her boyfriend. Of course she was missing out on God’s best. No wonder they were having problems!

And I’ve already mentioned my mother’s scorn for women who work outside the home.

When I found out my husband was seeing another woman behind my back, I believed him that it was not an affair. And I figured that since I knew he’d waited to have sex with me until we were married, then of course I could trust he had self-control and wouldn’t have sex with anyone else.

I was wrong about that. And all the divorced people I’d judged for letting their marriage go? (Or something) Well, I learned to be a lot less judgmental about that, too.

So, yes, while the divorce was a terrible thing that happened to me – the humiliation it brought and the dismantling of my beliefs that doing right things will keep you safe from trouble and that people who got divorced obviously didn’t do right things — that whole ball of wax — all that was one of the good effects to come out of that awful situation.

Another thing that helped me become less judgmental was coming to believe the Bible teaches universalism. It happened from reading the sermons of George MacDonald, a 19th-century preacher. And I’ve followed up by searching the Scriptures and reading many more books, and I truly believe, with great joy, that God’s going to end up saving everyone. I think many may come to Jesus after death, but I do believe that one day “at the name of Jesus every knee — of beings heavenly and earthly and subterranean — should bend, and every tongue gladly confess that Jesus the Anointed is Lord, for the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11, David Bentley Hart’s translation).

But if I can trust that God will save everyone, despite the other people’s path being different from mine — well, there’s simply not as much room for judgment.

As Paul says in Romans, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls, and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Now I really believe that the Lord will make “those people” stand.

I’m not here to argue Universalism. Another verse from Philippians says, “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you — only let us live up to what we have already attained.”

What I’m trying to say is that one problem with saying you have universal principles — is that you are setting yourself up as the authority on how every single person on earth should live their lives. That isn’t very loving, and it definitely tends toward being judgmental — I’ve seen it in myself.

Now, I have by no means destroyed judgmentalism in myself. I definitely tend to be judgmental toward judgmental people in particular. (That’s the “measure they mete,” so it’s fair to give it back?) Though I think I’ve forgiven, I’m pretty darn judgmental about men who have affairs.

But still, I believe I’m going to see those people in heaven some day. I believe that God loves them and will correct and restore them. And I don’t want to be angry with God about that, like the elder brother of the Prodigal Son, or like the workers in the vineyard who worked all day long in the vineyard but were paid the same as those who only worked one hour.

Because it comes down to what it says in Psalm 103 — “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”

I’m not saying that any of “those people” will get off the hook. Correction and restoration may be very painful. But that is between them and God. May I learn to become more and more like my Father — compassionate and gracious.

Shiny Happy Childhood – Legalism

My family going for a hike in 1977

This blog series is about my reactions to the documentary series “Shiny Happy People.”

Post 1 “Background” explains why the documentary struck so close to home.
Post 2 “Authority” talks about the authoritarian teachings of Bill Gothard and how those affected my life later.
Post 3 “Spanking” works through why I was so horrified when reminded of that “spare the rod, spoil the child” teaching.

Today I’m going to talk about what that all adds up to – legalism.

When one of my brothers read my post about spanking, he said (among other things), “Mom was always the type that latches onto extreme rules to basically avoid having to ever use discernment.”

But that basically describes what Bill Gothard’s “Basic Life Principles” was going for — He pulled “principles” from the Bible so that you didn’t have to. From the documentary, he got more and more and more specific as the years went on about how you should live your life.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, the best thing that our family got from those seminars was the idea to memorize whole chapters of the Bible. My parents started with specific challenges – for example, $5.00 if we could memorize Hebrews 11 — and eventually my Mom made a whole system of paying us 10 cents per verse to say a chapter word perfect, and then 5 cents a verse to review a chapter as long as it had been a month since we’d recited it the last time.

So — that was much more fun than doing housework for money — so I started working hard at memorizing, and eventually have memorized (a chapter at a time) the entire New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, and more. (If you want to know more about that, check these posts: Memorizing Scripture and Three Tips for Memorizing Scripture.)

Now, I’ll talk about the good side of that in a minute — it was an overwhelmingly good thing in my life, because despite the fact I was doing it for money, the Bible got into my heart.

The down side? I, too, really like having a list of rules to follow instead of having to exercise discernment. I like doing things to show I’m a good person and a good Christian. Memorizing Scripture was one more thing I could do to be impressively good. And bonus: I went to Christian schools for third grade through college, and it was a big advantage for getting good grades in Bible class!

So yes, I was a very legalistic little kid — and that’s what I still have to push myself against.

Bill Gothard’s rules had a big attraction for me.

The biggest comeuppance was when I filed for divorce after my husband had an affair and left me. I had promised my kids, thinking I could make that promise, that their parents would never get divorced. And that was a big rule that I was proud I wouldn’t break.

But of course there were other things. As I said in the other post, Jesus switched from a long list of commands to a command that sums them all up and is far more nuanced: “Love one another as I have loved you.” And the apostle Paul said that’s a continuing debt — we can never be proud because we’re so good at loving people, because there’s always more love we can give.

Anyway, the good side of memorizing all that Scripture was that it backfired. Once I knew very well what the Bible said, I was no longer willing to take an authority figure’s word for it.

I memorized John 9 in I think 7th grade. Jesus heals a man blind from birth. The Pharisees explain to the man who was healed that they know Jesus is not from God because he didn’t keep the Sabbath. The blind man responded that he didn’t know anything about that — he just knows that he was blind, but now he sees!

Even in 7th grade, I realized this was an example of the Pharisees proving from Scripture — their interpretation of Scripture — that Jesus was not from God.

I began to notice that the chart of the “End Times” on the wall at church wasn’t found in the Bible. Or when our church passed out political “scorecards” showing if representatives voted for “Biblical” values — I could say with confidence that those were definitely not necessarily Biblical values, because I knew what the Bible says.

Someone once said they were surprised I hadn’t left the church altogether when I left a church that asserted that LGBTQ people are sinning. But the thing was, I knew the Bible says absolutely nothing in condemnation of transgender people, and for the rest of the LGBTQ folks, it’s a matter of interpretation – and an interpretation I don’t agree with. (If you wonder about that, check out my “Transcending” blog series I wrote at the time.)

I had confidence in coming to God without an “authority” figure between me and God because I know and love the Bible. All that memorizing plus years of Bible classes, and the Lord still has plenty to teach me, but I’m no longer a good candidate for authoritarian teachings.

And there was one last thing that I want to think about from the documentary. Thoughts about Forgiveness and the “Root of Bitterness” and God working things out for good. Some of this is from the documentary and some from my memory.

What I remember is that the seminars gave me a strong confidence that God works all things together for good. I don’t think I absorbed the toxic part about if something bad happens, you must have gotten out from authority and there are holes in your umbrella leaving you open to Satanic attack.

The part I absorbed is maybe when something bad happens to you, it helps you become mighty in spirit. Or some other reason that God will bring good out of the situation.

I still believe this. And yes, knowing that God will bring good out of even bad things can help you forgive. Dr. Fred Luskin, without mentioning God, says in his book Forgive for Good that when your life is going well, it’s easier to forgive. For example, when I got on the Newbery committee and realized that my entire librarian career wouldn’t have happened if my husband hadn’t left me, it’s a lot easier to stop resenting him for doing that. I’m happy! It all turned out good. But I am speaking from many years later.

I also remember that Gothard preached that a “Root of Bitterness” is a terrible sin that will poison your life. Today, I would call it “chronic resentment” — terminology I got from reading a wonderful book by Steven Stosny, Love Without Hurt. But I also believe it will poison your life.

However, it looks like Gothard teaches you must forgive immediately. Women must stay with abusive husbands. God will bring good out of it, so is it really so bad?

I believe that teaching is toxic. Just because God can bring good out of bad things doesn’t mean those things are not bad. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when they happen to you.

When my husband left me, I thought divorce was wrong and I tried to pray him back. So he tried harder and harder to convince me our marriage was over. I wanted to shine by showing him love — and I think I was somehow trying to pre-forgive him. It seemed like if I was going to forgive him — and that was my plan — it shouldn’t hurt when he said cruel things.

Spoiler alert: It hurt like crazy! I needed to stop putting myself in the way of his anger.

But memorizing helped me there, too. Look at Psalms! There are more Laments in Psalms than any other type of Psalm. (And check my post on writing your own lament.) The psalmists whine and complain about what they’re going through. Then they remember that they’re trusting God and ask God to bring them through — but they don’t ever pretend that it’s easy.

Look at the beginning of Psalms, the first Lament, Psalm 3, first verse:

Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”

Yes, forgiveness is something to work toward. But forgiveness isn’t denial that anything bad ever happened. And it doesn’t mean you have to put yourself in the path of more abuse. And it doesn’t mean that if there’s grounds for a court case against someone that you should drop charges. And it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a share of your military ex-husband’s retirement. (To use a personal example.)

Now, in my case thinking of Bill Gothard, thinking of the mistakes my parents made when following his teaching — I’m long past the consequences of that, so it feels like I don’t really need to deal with forgiveness at this point.

So what am I trying to do with this series? I’m looking back as a fairly objective adult and saying: Yes, those teachings affected my life. In a few good ways and in many bad ways. It’s opening my eyes to fundamental ideas that I once took for granted and helping me shine light on them and challenge those ideas.

And my heart goes out to everyone interviewed in the documentary and everyone who was much more involved in IBLP than I ever was, with a whole lot more baggage to unpack. May you know the truth, and may the truth make you free.

Comments? Questions? I think I’m done with this blog series — unless there’s more people would like to talk about.

And if you’d like to read more of my writing:

Here’s a landing page for Project 52, written the year I was 52 and posted each week about one year of my life. That page isn’t complete, so you can also read the blog posts – but they’ll be listed in backwards order.

Praying with the Psalmists is the title of the book I’ve written about how to use patterns from Psalms in your own prayers (not published yet) – and also the title of the blog series with example psalms. And I’d love to get examples from readers in the comments.

Transcending is my blog series about why churches should affirm transgender people.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament is a series showing how the New Testament can be read from a universalist perspective – and it actually makes a lot more sense (in my opinion).

Sonderquotes is my blog of quotes from good books (mostly Christian ones) that I’m reading.

Sonderbooks.com is my main site of book reviews — all ages, all subjects.

And finally, I’ve got a free substack, Sondermusings, https://sonderbooks.substack.com/ where I’m gathering my Christian writing — blog posts, quotes, and reviews.

Thank you for reading my thoughts!

Shiny Happy Childhood – Spankings

five kids in front of a door.
July 1971 with my then four siblings. I was the middle child then.

I’m continuing my response to the documentary series Shiny Happy People with my own blog series “Shiny Happy Childhood.”

Post 1 – Background – I talked about why the documentary resonated as I’m 3rd of 13 children and attended Bill Gothard’s seminars many times as a child, in about 5th through 8th grades.

Post 2 – Authority – I talked about Gothard’s authoritarian teachings. And how that was baked into my aspirations – but didn’t actually work out for me.

Today, I want to start by clearing something up. I am not saying that I did not have a happy childhood. I had a *very* happy childhood. Our parents loved us and did their best to be good parents to us. I went to Christian schools from 3rd grade through college, and I enjoyed that.

I’m not at all trying to get into the Bad Childhood Olympics. I am well aware that many people had it worse than me. Pretty much everyone interviewed in the documentary, for starters. I did go to Bill Gothard’s basic seminars, but that was before he had family camps and advanced training institutes or anything beyond that.

I think it’s the Shiny part that I mostly object to. Our family tried to give the impression of being the perfect Christian family. But if you looked under the surface, there was lots of dysfunction. And we didn’t talk about any of that.

And because it *was* a happy childhood, that makes it a little more difficult to piece out where, exactly, the problems were. When I watched the documentary and remembered how fully I believed and got excited about what Bill Gothard was teaching — it disturbed me. Gave me lots to think through.

Today I’m going to talk about what upset me the most in the documentary — the teaching on spanking.

Sometime when I was in first or second grade, living in the house in California pictured above, my parents decided to stop spanking with their hands — because who wants their hands to be associated with discipline? My Mom took a wooden ruler with a metal edge and wrote a verse from Proverbs on it. That was now “the rod.”

The verse might have been Proverbs 13:24 — “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

Or maybe it was Proverbs 23:13 — “Do not withhold discipline from a child; Though you strike him with the rod, he will not die.”

I was pretty sure she got the idea of using a ruler from Bill Gothard. But I looked up when Dare to Discipline by James Dobson was published, and it was 1970 — so she may well have gotten the idea from that book.

The sad part is that my parents loved us — but they fully believed that if they truly loved us, they needed to hit us with a ruler on our backside whenever we did anything “wrong.” The goal was “instant obedience.” I do remember that Bill Gothard used to talk about how wonderful it was that God put padding onto every child, giving a perfect place for spanking. I laughed along with the rest of the auditorium at that line.

I was horrified by the “blanket training” discussed in Shiny Happy People. I am quite sure my parents never did that, but I do remember that I once saw my mother spank a six-month-old sibling (I don’t remember which one) with a ruler and I was horrified then, too, even as a kid. You see, they believed that we’re born with a sinful nature. So no one is too young to discipline.

The authoritarians my mother learned from believed the goal is to break a child’s will, but not their spirit. They say to not spank in anger and to spank until the crying softens, no longer defiant screaming.

Well, maybe it sounds good in theory. And most of the spankings I received weren’t particularly bad or particularly traumatic. But twice in my life, I received spankings so hard and long that I had bruises on my bottom. One of those was when we were on vacation in Washington visiting a family of cousins. I don’t remember the particulars, but I still remember that I didn’t deserve that spanking. It was something my little sister did. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get to a place of quiet crying any time soon.

Another time, I got spanked because I left the dinner table without saying, “May I please be excused.” — which was something I’d never in my life said before or been told to say. When I tried to explain that no one had ever told me to ask to be excused, my Mom said that spanking would help me remember. But I am still convinced I was never told to do that.

Now, our younger brother (#5) was adopted. The story goes that Dad didn’t think it was healthy for Mom to have more kids, so they adopted. And they changed their minds later. But this brother was not naturally quiet like the rest of us. Not naturally compliant. Needing to move around a lot more. And he got a lot more spankings. I remember telling myself that my parents must love him more because they “disciplined” him more. Yes, I had completely bought the teaching myself. Or perhaps I was trying to convince myself that my parents weren’t being unfair and were good Christian parents, so everything they did was right.

One time I remember we were walking from church in L.A. to our car a couple blocks away. My brother did something that infuriated Mom. She took him on the street corner and pulled down his pants and spanked his bare bottom. The way I remember it, she used the rod — maybe got it from the car? (And I think I remember that she brought it everywhere with us, keeping it in the glove compartment when we got in the car – which was why we had it on vacation.) But maybe she pulled down his pants because she didn’t have the rod. I was on the other side of the intersection with some siblings, and I was mortified and horrified. Mom was incredibly angry, and it showed.

Because no matter how rational and anger-free you mean your discipline to be — we’re humans.

When I became a parent – so young! – spanking just didn’t seem right. We discussed things with other young couples. One friend had been listening to Dobson. I expressed that spanking a young child seemed so wrong. She said, “But it works!” And I’m not sure how I responded, but I hope I said something to the effect of “But at what cost?”

Another friend said in a case of touching something they shouldn’t, she’d use a slap on the hand and say, “No!” We tried that for a little while. But then one day my toddler hit their head on a table. They then slapped the table and said, “No!” That was enough for me! That was not how I wanted to teach my child to react to things.

Not long after that, my then-husband read The Horse Whisperer, by Monty Roberts. We thought that if nonviolence is best for training horses, surely it’s best for training people, too.

Besides, those verses are Proverbs, not promises! Not commands! They are wise sayings — at least wise for ancient times. And I still agree that disciplining and teaching your children is important. But I don’t want to teach them violence.

And how can you punish a kid for being a kid? Curiosity is what children are all about! It’s how they learn! If you squelch a child’s curiosity – teach a baby to stay on a blanket, for example – you’re shutting down a learning machine. Curiosity is not sin.

My mother-in-law was one of the most helpful people I interacted with. When my oldest had just turned two years old and was practicing saying “No” all the time, my mother-in-law told me about an article she’d read saying that they are learning self-autonomy. When my kid would be particularly oppositional, I’d chant “Self-autonomy!” It actually helped. That’s an important part of learning, too. Saying “No” is not sinful!

In fact, I watched a John Bradshaw show on PBS soon after that. He gave an exercise for people who need to learn to say No: First, spend a week practicing saying “No” under your breath, just constantly: “No, No, No, No….”. The next week, maybe warn people around you, but say “No” to everything you’re asked. And after that, actually say “No” to something significant and not prearranged. I laughed at this, because it mirrored what my two-year-old was doing. That was the one time we could get our picky eater to eat anything. All we had to do was say, “That’s mine! Don’t eat it.”

But when I told my Mom about the exercise, she said, “I don’t think you kids went through that.”

Saying “No,” after all, would not be “instant obedience.” The Rod was to teach children not to even say No.

And that makes me think. Does God want our “instant obedience”?

I honestly don’t think God does. Consider I John 4:1 — “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

If you believe God is telling you to do something, test the spirit.

Remember – the Torah was not only religious laws, but also civil laws for a young nation. Yes, people needed to obey the law.

But Jesus brought a new command — “Love one another as I have loved you.” Obeying this command is not about fear. It’s not about instant compliance. And it’s not about legalism — and maybe legalism is what I should tackle next time.