Cerebellar Stroke and Vertebral Artery Dissection Recovery, Ten Years Out

July 26th, 2021

Yesterday, I wrote about the cerebellar stroke I had ten years ago, when I was 47 years old, caused by a right vertebral artery dissection.

Today I want to talk about the recovery process. It was much longer and much stranger than I expected. And both cerebellar strokes and vertebral artery dissections are rare. There isn’t much out there about recovering from either one, except for big obvious disabilities. So I want to put my own experience out there.

I stayed in the hospital ten days (after being told they’d keep me overnight!) in order to get the right levels of blood thinner in my system. They had me on IV Heparin and were transitioning me to Coumadin. I learned that when you’re on Coumadin, you have to get your blood checked often (for me it was usually once a week), because either too thin or too thick can be life threatening. I was also told not to make sudden changes in the amount of green vegetables I ate, or other Vitamin K-containing foods, because that would change the amount of Coumadin I needed.

In the hospital, they had me walking around now and then. But I was in the telemetry ward hooked up to machines, so that was a production. I was also checked out by a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and a neurologist and they concluded I didn’t have any permanent disability and didn’t need additional services. So I thought I could bounce back.

But I basically had three things that needed to heal: My cerebellar stroke, my vertebral artery dissection, and my general fitness level. And part of the problem with recovery was I didn’t know which symptom was from which thing or combination of things.

General Fitness Level

I liked to tell people that I didn’t have the stroke because my fitness level was bad, but having the stroke destroyed my fitness level. I was lying around in the hospital for ten days, and that can’t have been good for me.

But come to think of it, I’ve certainly had headaches in the past that lasted more than ten days where I didn’t do much — but was never as wiped out as I was after my stroke. I now suspect that the stroke itself made me woozy, light-headed, and tired when I stood up and walked around. After all, your cerebellum is your center of balance. I think my brain had to make some new connections simply to easily walk around in the world. Sure, I could walk a straight line when the neurologist asked me to, but being up and around for more than an hour or so had me wanting to go straight back to bed.

In my blog post from August 23, a month after the stroke, I wrote this:

However, the one symptom that’s lingering is something of a problem: If I stand for more than a few minutes, I feel “woozy” — not exactly dizzy, but headachy, weak, and faint. Sitting for awhile seems to relieve it, and lying down definitely does. I haven’t yet gotten in to see a neurologist (which is a whole other annoying story that I should skip!), but I suspect that’s a leftover from my cerebellar stroke. After all, when I stand my brain needs new connections to keep my balance. I tried to step over the baby pen in the nursery on Sunday, and almost fell over. I’ve never been terribly graceful, but now I especially need to take care!

(I stopped working in the church nursery for a while after that, because that incident scared me — I was holding a baby when I almost fell over.)

I was actually a little bit lucky about the timing at the beginning. I had previously requested time off in September to go to my brother Robert’s wedding in Oregon (and to see ALL of my twelve brothers and sisters!), and even though I’d used up all my sick leave, and was accepting donated leave, they let me use my annual leave for this instead of making me use it on sick leave. But also good was that I was able to mostly take it easy and take naps every day on that trip — thus getting much needed healing time. If I had been home, I was tired of being sick, and would have tried to go to work.

It was something like six months before I had a pay period where I worked the entire 80 hours. I used a LOT of donated leave, and was never told who was donating the leave. I am oh so thankful to my generous coworkers!

I did, eventually, overcome this. But it wasn’t nearly as simple as I thought it would be and took much, much longer than I thought it should. For a long time, even when I was back to work full-time, it was a strain to walk around the library “sweeping” for books left around, because that was just too much time walking.

However, two years later in 2013, I bought a condo by a lake and started getting up early to go walking, using a walking program from the book Walk Your Butt Off. After completing that program, I really did feel like my fitness level was back to my normal — but it really did take two years.

Could I have just done the walking program sooner? Maybe. But I physically could not have done the walking program at all in the first six months or so after the stroke. Maybe after that. As it was, two years later turned out to be enough to challenge me — but I ended up feeling like myself again, at least as far as energy levels.

Neck Pain

This one’s frustrating. But remember how I had a headache centered in my neck for four weeks before I had the stroke? (And the stroke happened after I went back on birth control pills.) Well, once I found out that pain was from a right vertebral artery dissection, now I knew exactly what a right vertebral artery dissection feels like. It was hammered into me over four weeks. And I know exactly what pain in my right vertebral artery feels like.

The vertebral artery dissection was explained to me as a kind of bruise on your artery. Then if a clot breaks off from it, that gets in your brain and causes a stroke. This is the most common reason for a stroke in younger people — though still very rare.

We have two vertebral arteries. This is because our necks are made to move. When we turn our head a lot in one direction, it can constrain one of our vertebral arteries, and the blood makes up for it going through the other vertebral artery.

I was told that I’d be put on blood thinners for six months while my vertebral artery healed. That would be to keep a clot from forming and to keep from having another stroke. Once six months were up, they decide whatever situation remains with my vertebral artery — that’s my new normal. Mine ended up being no longer blocked, but described in the MRA report as “diminutive.” So I’ve got one tiny vertebral artery and one normal.

But my neck pain didn’t stop when I had the stroke. Why would it? The blood thinners helped some, but for months, it hurt to turn my head when driving or to hold a telephone with my chin.

Strangely, when I continued to complain of neck pain, my neurologist decided to check if I had arthritis in my neck. Years later, a neurology intern told me that arteries don’t hurt.

This is STUPID! They know full well that vertebral artery dissections hurt. That’s the main symptom before a stroke happens. They also know that I have a teeny-tiny right vertebral artery. And I KNOW exactly what it feels like for my right vertebral artery to hurt. That continued pain I was having was exactly the same as the pain I’d had before my stroke — less sustained (not lasting four weeks, thank God), but in the same place.

Eventually, it did get better, but I still have flare-ups, and they always scare me. Oh, and at the beginning once I forgot to take a dose of Coumadin and then my neck started hurting. (You can’t tell me it’s not connected to my vertebral artery!)

It does turn out that lifting heavy weights — like books — with my right arm can aggravate it. I don’t know why this is so, but did read it somewhere. When I asked, my neurologist did tell me that vertebral artery dissection patients shouldn’t lift heavy weights — so he wrote me a note so that I could bring a wheeled cart to ALA conferences and the exhibit floor. I also started bringing a wheeled cooler to my job at the library to carry books back and forth, because using a tote bag wasn’t a good idea.

But all those precautions weren’t enough in January 2018. I went to ALA Midwinter meeting. I did use a wheeled suitcase on the exhibit floor — but on my way to the conference I lifted my heavy carry-on into the overhead bin on the plane. And later carried it up stairs onto a bus. That night, in a hotel room in Denver, my neck started hurting intensely. I laid awake, wondering if I should go to an E.R. I didn’t. I took some Naproxen, and the next day it settled down, and I didn’t have a stroke. Now when I fly in a plane, I look for a nice man to lift my carry-on for me.

About a month after that, I was shifting our Young Adult Fiction section at the library, spreading the books out over more shelves. I did a lot of lifting and twisting with my right arm — and again had right side neck pain. I made an appointment with the neurologist — and that was when an intern told me that arteries don’t feel pain. Grrrr. Anyway, I didn’t have another stroke and it got better.

Another way I can get neck pain is if I sleep with my head turned toward my left side so that my left vertebral artery is blocked. Unfortunately, I have my bed positioned in my room so that the sun comes in on my right side, and I often turn away from the light in my sleep and wake up with a headache. (I really should move my bed, but normally just use a blindfold, which sometimes falls off.) That always disturbs me — but I can usually change my position and turn my head toward my right side — and the pain will go away, thus proving it was indeed coming from blood going through that teeny-tiny artery. This does, however, make it harder to get out of bed on those mornings — I want to make the pain go away first. Though it’s usually fine after I get up.

Dizziness

Okay, if you have a stroke centered in your center of balance, you’re going to have trouble with balance. At first, I felt woozy if I stood up even for a few minutes.

That got better quickly, but I’d still have episodes where I’d be suddenly struck with dizziness — and every time, I thought I might be having another stroke — since vertigo was the main symptom of the first one.

After several false alarms, and more trips to the E.R. than were really warranted (but a stroke is traumatizing, and I was easily scared) — in December 2011, we discovered a new symptom. I had double vision if I looked up and to the right. My neurologist thought I must have had another stroke. He sent me to a neuro-ophthalmologist at Johns Hopkins.

The neuro-ophthalmologist told me that my double vision was Brown Syndrome, caused by inflammation, not by the stroke. I still wonder if there was actually some kind of nerve damage that was too small to show up in an MRI. But it doesn’t matter because there’s no treatment for it — I just close one eye when I look up and to the right and the double vision is solved.

More significant, he told me that these sudden bouts of dizziness were coming because my migraines had switched to vestibular migraines — where I got dizziness instead of head pain.

I was a little resistant to that diagnosis at first, but as I watched how the episodes behaved, they were indeed very much like migraines and came with a small amount of head pain. Did this happen because of the cerebellar deficit or because of low blood flow on my right side? There’s no way to really tell. But the wonderful news is that when my migraines got dramatically better about a year after menopause — these also got dramatically better. I haven’t had a vestibular migraine in a few years. I do still get regular migraines, but not very bad and not very often. And I am SO thankful. (I have gotten a lot of migraines since I was in fourth grade, so something like forty years of frequent headaches.)

I’ve had to make other accommodations over the years. For a long time, I was attending a church that met in a middle school auditorium — with a slanted floor. I found that if I was going to stand and sing or, worse yet, close my eyes to pray — I needed to hold onto the seat in front of me to give my brain another cue as to which way is up.

Now I almost forget that I have a cerebellar deficit. These are the things that are left:

— I now get car sick very easily. The simplest way to solve this is if we’re driving a winding road, I should be the one driving. If not, I’d better take the front passenger seat.

— Alcohol goes to my head more quickly than ever. I’m a small person, so I never could tolerate much alcohol, but now it seems like a sip will do it. That woozy feeling is almost like a vestibular migraine, in fact, and it’s just not pleasant enough to be worth it. I don’t drink much.

— Other things can affect me more than they would someone without a deficit. I had a nasty respiratory virus in January 2020 (probably too early to be Covid-19), and it hit with my ears being stuffy — and then I got incredibly dizzy with room-spinning vertigo.

This vertigo came on quickly — over about twenty minutes — but I did understand that it wasn’t the same as the instantaneous vertigo that happened when I’d had the stroke. It was alarming, and I eventually saw a neurologist when the virus and episodes of vertigo lasted six weeks — but the neurologist concluded (and I agreed) that the dizziness was caused by middle ear congestion and was just a lot worse for me because of my existing cerebellar deficit. My damaged cerebellum has adjusted to normal life, but this was something it couldn’t handle.

So all told — I consider myself very, very blessed to be so healthy after having a stroke when I was 47 years old. And after ten years, I’m feeling much, much better than after two years — so I’m here to say that healing happens!

Sure, there are still small deficits and I make small accommodations. But nothing is insurmountable, and I am so very glad to be alive!

My Tenth Stroke-i-versary

July 25th, 2021

Ten years ago today, when I was 47 years old, I had a stroke.

A friend has encouraged me to celebrate my Stroke-i-versaries (her word) because it’s a way to celebrate being alive!

I want to blog a little bit about it, because there’s not much out there on the web about recovering from a cerebellar stroke or a vertebral artery dissection, so ten years out, I’d like to give my perspective. I’ll highlight some take-aways as I go.

Don’t sleep on a plane without a neck pillow.

My trouble started when I went to ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans on June 24, 2011. Since I was flying in the middle of the day, I thought I wouldn’t want to sleep on the plane so I didn’t bring a neck pillow. However, my trip to New Orleans went through New York City, and on the second flight, I got really tired, so I tried to sleep with my head against the window. There was some turbulence, and my head and neck really hurt when I woke up. I thought I had just gone too long without eating, so I went straight to find food, but it wasn’t enough to get rid of the headache. At ALA, I made things worse by carrying multiple tote bags of heavy books all over the exhibit floor. I do remember that made the headache worse — and it was already centered in my neck, close to the shoulder where I was holding the heavy bags.

In the month that followed, I think at the beginning I had a couple days off from it, but then a headache developed that lasted for four weeks. It was centered in my neck, behind my right ear. I tried Maxalt. I had more than one doctor appointment. Nothing worked. I used up my sick leave, even trying to work through it most of the time. Working distracted me and was a way to bear it.

If you get migraines, you probably shouldn’t use birth control pills.

A doctor told me when I was young that migraineurs have a higher risk of stroke if they go on the pill, so all through my marriage, I hadn’t used it. But when I was 46 years old and divorced, I was getting frequent ovarian cysts, and a gynecologist wanted me to take birth control pills. I asked about the risk of stroke, but she said they’re lower dose now and it’s not a concern.

I was on the pill for three months, March through early June, and had no ovarian cysts. But I let the prescription expire. She told me to go ahead and get a refill and start the Sunday after my next period started.

I thought maybe being off the pill was causing the headaches. (I was reaching for any possibility.) I started it again on Sunday, July 24.

Don’t feel guilty about changing plans if you’re not feeling well.

I joke that the book Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run saved my life. You see, it was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run, and the site is nearby, and I’d been given tickets to a reenactment. But it was outside and you had to take a shuttle bus to the event — and the forecast was for 104 degrees that day.

The book is about a kid whose parents drag him to reenactments, which he hates and thinks are stupid. (Then he gets pulled back in time.) I thought about his perspective and thought about how I’d had a headache for a solid month and really didn’t want to go out in 104 degree heat — and decided to stay home and read the book instead. I didn’t go to church either, because the headache was really getting to me.

I don’t like to think what would have happened if I’d had the stroke that day instead of the next, out at a field in the heat at a crowded reenactment. So I’m very glad the book convinced me otherwise!

I did make a spinach casserole that night that used two bags of spinach. Later, I learned that spinach is full of vitamin K, which helps blood to clot. I still think the birth control pills were more responsible than the spinach, though.

The next day, I took my second birth control pill from the new prescription and went to work, scheduled 12:30 to 9. I was almost out of sick leave. I found an email that I wrote to a friend at 2:00 that afternoon, saying that the headache was still going strong after four weeks and I was thinking about going to the E.R. and begging them to give me some kind of shot for a temporary reprieve. But at least work helped me think about it less.

For dinner, I had some leftover spinach casserole.

If you get hit with vertigo that strikes instantaneously, it might be a stroke.

After dinner, I had a shift working on the information desk. In between customers, I was talking with Ivelisse, my coworker, and all of a sudden, the room started spinning.

I told Ivelisse, “I feel really dizzy,” and I must have showed on my face how bad it was, because she didn’t hesitate to tell me she’d help me get to the back. But then a customer walked up and asked for my help, and I couldn’t even look up the book on the computer — Ivelisse had to help him. I tried to close my computer windows before I went to the back and managed to get one closed, I think, but had to put my head down until she came back.

Ivelisse helped me get to the back and lie down on the couch in the break room, but I couldn’t walk straight and had to lean on desks and walls along the way. Once I laid down, if I moved my head the tiniest bit, the room started spinning again.

At first I hesitated, but when lying down didn’t help at all, I remembered that birth control pills can increase your risk of stroke, so I asked them to call 911. When the paramedics came, moving my head to talk to them made me start vomiting. I was also in a cold sweat.

Moving while in the ambulance also was awful, though they’d given me an I.V. for nausea.

I later learned that only 3-4% of people who go to the E.R. for dizziness are having a stroke — but a couple of signs that distinguish it are vertigo that strikes instantaneously and not being able to walk straight.

Maybe don’t tell the E.R. that you get migraines. Or don’t be a 47-year-old female.
The E.R. at Fairfax Hospital missed my stroke. By the time I saw the doctor, the dizziness had finally let up (about 45 minutes later). So technically that one was probably just a TIA — a transient ischemic attack. They did a CT scan and an EKG, but didn’t find anything. After I told them I’d had a headache for four weeks, they told me my migraines had changed.

This would be a dramatic change — I’d never vomited with a migraine except when I was pregnant.

They gave me a neurology consult and prescriptions for headache pills and anti-nausea pills and sent me home.

I learned later that CT scans only catch 26% of cerebellar strokes when they’re happening, because they’re surrounded by bone. In a small study of cases where the strokes got missed and the patients had another — 40% died with their next stroke, and 30% had permanent disabilities.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I called my friend Marilynn and she drove me home from the hospital. I could hardly sit up. (I’ve often thought how they nicely use a wheelchair to help you out of the hospital when you’ve been admitted, but the time I really needed a wheelchair was that night from the E.R.)

The next day, Tuesday, I was too sick and out of it to fill the prescriptions or make a doctor appointment. I did send an email to friends telling them what happened and that it wasn’t a stroke or a tumor or heart problems, but asking them to pray. (I was still taking birth control pills.)

On Wednesday, I woke up without a headache for a little while! I thought it was from the Fiornal I’d been given, but enjoyed the reprieve. I made a doctor appointment for 9:20 the next day and thought if I felt good enough, I’d go to work after the appointment. I asked my friend Kathe to drive me to work to pick up my car. I told people at work that the doctors said I was fine and I planned to be back at work the next day.

If half of your face is tingling, call 911, for crying out loud!

I woke up Thursday morning, July 28, super dizzy, but not room-spinning. Just hardly able to stand up. I almost fainted when I went to the bathroom, and dived back onto my bed when I was done. Then I noticed my right side — both arm and leg — was tingling. Had I slept on them funny?

I laid there trying to figure out what to do. I didn’t want to call 911 because the E.R. had just sent me home. Besides, my son was sleeping in his room and I didn’t want to scare him. Besides, my room was messy. How could they fit their gurney in there? And I didn’t want to call them when I was in my nightgown.

But my dizziness got a little better, so I decided to get dressed and make breakfast and figure out what to do. I didn’t dare take a shower, but I managed to get dressed and then felt more able to face the day.

I made my usual morning oatmeal, lying down in between steps. Also lying down on the sofa, I called the doctor’s office to tell them I wouldn’t make my appointment. I talked to a nurse and I don’t know what I said, but she told me it would be fine to ask a friend to drive me to a military hospital — I didn’t need to call 911. Dear Reader, this was bad advice.

When I started eating my breakfast, I noticed that the right side of my whole face, including my lips, was numb, besides my arm and leg. Okay, I was going to the E.R.

Next I found a friend to take me. My friend Kathe, who lived a half-hour away, said she’d do it. I calmly told my son I’d be going to the E.R. Then I logged onto my computer to print a map to the E.R. for my friend. This was before we had cellphones, but I don’t know why I thought she needed this.

I discovered today that I even wrote an email to my small group asking for more prayer. Why did I do that? Here’s what I wrote:

Well, instead of going to my doctor appointment this morning, I’m headed for the ER at Fair Oaks. Would appreciate more prayer. The nurse at the doctor’s office said I could wait for a friend to pick me up, though that was before my whole right side started tingling again. Kathe’s going to take me.

I woke up this morning and got real dizzy when I went to the bathroom. Then my whole right side started tingling — arm and leg and even my face. I rested and managed to eat breakfast, got dressed, but didn’t try a shower. Cold sweat with the dizziness. Oh, and an intense right side headache, too. Anyway, I went online to print directions to Fair Oaks, but now think I will lie down until Kathe comes. I admit I’m freaked out!

About the time I finished writing that, it got bad enough again that I was getting scared. I finally figured out that I should probably call 911. But I called Kathe and she was only a minute away. So she helped me walk out to her van — I couldn’t walk straight again. I had to lie down in the back rather than sit in the front seat.

This time I went to Fair Oaks Hospital, and I’ll borrow from a post I wrote at the time to describe what happened:

And they got me in right away and looked me over. (Fair Oaks is a great hospital!) At first they didn’t seem very alarmed. They had access to the CT Scan that was done on Monday, so didn’t think it needed to be done again. But since I had that tingling on my right side (and that continued), they decided to do an MRI.

While they were doing the MRI, I was praying that if something was there, they would FIND it. Because I absolutely knew that I was not okay and I would have a really hard time believing these were new migraine symptoms.

Later, when they did send me for a CT Scan, I figured they must have found something. Sure enough, they told me I’d had a stroke, and they were going to admit me “overnight for observation.” Okay, I guess they tell you “overnight” at first to let you down easy! I was super glad I had taken the time to eat breakfast, because I didn’t get any food until after they admitted me at dinnertime. They did four tests that first day. I think the other two were a sonogram of my heart and an MRA (magnetic resonance angiography) of my head.

It took them a couple days, but they did figure out that the stroke was caused by a right vertebral artery dissection — basically a neck injury. I knew right away that it must have happened when I slept on that plane going to ALA Annual Conference. No wonder I’d had a headache centered in my neck ever since!

Oh, my son’s 17th birthday was the day after I went into the hospital. His dad had been planning to pick him up to visit on his birthday, so I told Tim to have him pick him up a day early. I felt awful about missing his birthday — I made a cake after I got home from the hospital.

I stayed in the hospital for ten days while they adjusted the IV blood thinner so I wouldn’t have another stroke. They sent me home with a prescription for Coumadin, a blood thinner. My small group leaders John and Lisa Maulella brought me home and took me to two stores to find the prescription. It was so hard to stand up long enough to fill the prescription!

And this post has gotten long enough. I do want to blog about the recovery process from the vantage point of ten years, but I’ll do that tomorrow.

Here are blog posts I wrote ten years ago, in the middle of it:

Journeys of Different Kinds
To the Hospital
Was I Scared?
In the Lucky Thirty Percent
The Road to Recovery

Transcending – Written in Stone

May 30th, 2021

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post in my series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love. This series is about why I believe the Bible does not support churches excluding LGBTQ people in general and transgender people in particular. And when I say “exclude,” I mean from membership and leadership, not simply from attending. Few churches exclude any sinner from attending their services, but many have rules about who can be a member or who can be in leadership.

I wrote the series when I was still hoping to change minds and hearts at Gateway Community Church in South Riding, Virginia, where I had been a member for thirteen years. I’d felt tremendously loved and cared for there. But in 2019, they voted in favor of a “Christian Living Statement” that essentially states that LGBTQ people are sinning if they live out who they are.

Although I understand where in the Bible they get the disapproval of same-sex marriage, I do not agree with that interpretation. To this day, I do not at all understand where in the Bible they get their disapproval of transgender people having surgery or taking hormones to make their gender expression match their identity. They have to seriously stretch their interpretation out of recognition and take verses out of context to do so. But that’s what this series is about, so read the other posts if you’d like elaboration on that.

Today I want to talk about a Bible passage I’d never realized has a modern application. Full credit for noticing this passage to Rev. Tom Berlin, senior pastor at Floris United Methodist Church, the church I attend now. Last week, he preached a sermon on “Responding with Justice,” and used the text Numbers 27:1-11.

The story is one I’ve read before any time I read the Old Testament, but passed over as a kind of boring detail the text mentions more than once. In Numbers, they’re dividing up the Promised Land before they even enter it, and assign different portions to different families, with fathers passing their portion on to their sons. But one man, Zelophehad, had no sons, but had five daughters. Those daughters say, “Hey, wait a minute! That’s not fair! Should our father lose his portion just because he didn’t have any sons?”

Moses took this question to the Lord, and the Lord told him to add a provision that daughters can inherit when there are no sons.

When I read this passage, in the middle of lots of details about establishing the law and dividing up the territory, I guess I thought of it as during time the law was still being developed, that it wasn’t written in stone.

But wait a minute! The law was written in stone! That’s exactly where we get the phrase!

Rev. Tom pointed out that the law that Zelophehad’s daughters said was unfair was given to them by God!

Moses could have said, “God said it; I believe it; that settles it!”

But Moses took their request to God, and God said, “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right.”

And God ordered the law to be amended as a result.

As Rev. Tom said, God had the humility to change the system he had given.

Now, LGBTQ people are saying, “That’s not fair!” about rules excluding them from church membership and leadership.

Rev. Tom did not explicitly make this application, but he did encourage all of us to stand with the good questions justice raises. He encouraged us to listen well to the voices of people being told they don’t matter.

I believe this applies to LGBTQ people. If the Law written by the finger of God could be made better soon after it was written, then surely rules in the church, interpreted from the text by fallible humans, can still be made better.

And surely at the very least, we should be bringing such questions before the Lord.

Bluebell Bliss

April 12th, 2021

Last Thursday, I took the day off work so I could go see the bluebells at Bull Run Regional Park on a week day, when it wouldn’t be too crowded.

I first heard about the bluebells at Bull Run in 2008, when I had only been working for Fairfax County Public Library a few months. They mentioned them in the county employee daily news email. I’d made some half-hearted efforts to go see the cherry blossoms in DC, but I don’t do crowds, so that wasn’t working out. But these were even close to where I lived. I went to see them and was astonished by the sheer quantity of flowers growing wild in the woods. Ever since, I have tried to go every year.

A couple times, I went to a different park where I was told they have bluebells. And last year, Bull Run Regional Park was closed to cars for the pandemic, so I found a different park where the hiking trails are close to the gate so I could walk in. Those other parks are nice, and have thousands of bluebells, but Bull Run Regional Park has millions of bluebells. (And I’m a math person. I understand the magnitude of that claim!) The sheer astonishing quantity of bluebells growing wild in the woods can’t be beat.

Years ago, I visited Keukenhof Gardens in Holland at tulip time, and I think that’s the most beautiful place in the world. But what I love about the Bluebell Trail is that these aren’t weeded and pruned. These don’t grow in careful rows and every wilting blossom isn’t pulled off. The bluebells were planted by God, and they bring an amazing month of beauty each year. They aren’t perfect and planned, but they are exuberant and joyful.

The first few years I walked among the bluebells, I was sad my then-estranged husband wasn’t with me. We’d done a lot of hiking together in beautiful places in Europe. But I eventually I realized that, with no one walking with me, I could take pictures to my heart’s content, and no one would get tired of waiting for me.

This is the first time I’ve been to the Bluebell Trail at Bull Run Regional Park since I bought my new camera in the summer of 2019. So, okay, I went a little crazy snapping pictures. I finally checked the number when I got home and had taken three more pictures and laughed when I saw 702.

I’d like to say something profound about walking among the bluebells. But when I go and start taking pictures, other thoughts go out of my head. It becomes about catching each beautiful cluster of blossoms I see, and getting the big sweep of purple flowers as far as the eye can see through the trees, and experiencing breezes through the still bare trees with blue sky and sunshine on the bright green leaves, and hearing the river by the trail and birds singing in the trees.

In fact, I think taking pictures gets me out of my head and into the moment. It’s not exactly mindfulness, because I can suddenly discover I have a headache after a couple hours of snapping pictures in the sunshine. But it brings me out of myself, into a moment of beauty.

I’ve found that I love taking close-ups, zooming in on the beauty of individual clusters. They get overlooked in the big picture, yet they are so exquisite.

But the big picture, the sweeping panorama of small purple flowers as far as the eye can see through the woods, on both sides of the river, that is part of the incredible beauty of the place. Trying to capture that is even more difficult, because I can’t put in the gentle breezes or the sound of birds singing.

Somewhere in between, pictures close but not zooming in show the joyful profusion of blooms, the sheer exuberance of the flowers.

So I’m not sure I hit anything profound. And maybe if I were less trapped in performance mode, I wouldn’t need to take pictures to focus in and experience beauty. But I had an amazing time among the bluebells enjoying the beauty God has made. And now I’m attempting to share some of that beauty with others. Let me show you a relative few of the pictures I took, wandering among the bluebells on a beautiful day.

Christmas Letter 2020

January 1st, 2021

I was going to write my annual Christmas Letter on Christmas Day — but then I was still reading for the Cybils, so I decided to write it on New Year’s Day. Then I thought I’d look over all the pictures I took in 2020 and choose highlights to put in the letter — and ended up spending two hours just getting through May. (I was working from home. I took a lot of pictures.) So if I want to make this a New Year’s letter, I need to revise my plans and settle for the idea that I might not pick the very best pictures. My Highlights folder already has 380 pictures in it, just going through May, anyway!

First, let me say that I understand that many, many people had a much worse 2020 than I did. If you’re not in a place where you want to read about someone having a good year, I get it. Please feel free to stop right here with my wishes for a much better 2021.

Though for me, it was the start of 2020 that was hard. I flew to California for my mother’s funeral — which reminded me how much I missed my dad, whose funeral was two months before. We had no idea that it was a privilege to get to hold in-person funerals! Though we did know that it was a blessing to get to gather and mourn together.

[This picture is only 11 of us siblings and my niece. Here’s a fun game for those who think they know my family: Can you identify who is who, sort us by age, and figure out which two siblings are missing?]

My dear friend Ruth and her husband John picked me up at the airport on New Year’s Eve and whisked me off to their home in the mountains near Lake Arrowhead. And I got to see more snow on the ground on New Year’s Day than in the rest of the year combined.

Then I got some time with my siblings celebrating a belated Christmas together — and then my mother’s memorial service on January 4th.

Approximately three hours after the service and reception, I was sitting talking with some siblings and my cousin Kristi — and I started to feel my ears get congested, and within a half-hour, I was so dizzy, I had to go lie down. That night, I almost passed out when I got up to use the restroom, and even lying down, to move my head made the room spin. I was lucky it happened at my family’s house, because my siblings took care of me — that first day, I was too sick to even get myself food — and a couple days later, I got to see my brother’s doctor who okayed me to fly home and gave me some medicine that helped make that possible.

I ended up being sick for three months — though after the first awful week, the dizziness was only occasional and I thought I was getting better. Even when it went into my chest, I was pretty sure I wasn’t contagious, since I’d had it so long. Then we started hearing about this virus…. They never checked me for it, because I hadn’t traveled to China, though I did get a chest x-ray that was clear, so they called it bronchitis. (In the summer, I got an antibody test done, which was negative, so it was probably not Covid. I probably just got hit with a bug when vulnerable because of flying and grieving.)

The funny part was that when the library closed to the public in mid-March — I finally took it easy, got lots of sleep, and finally started feeling better. So just when things were awful for most of the world was when my year finally started going better.

There had been some other hard things in January — my little 3-year-old niece Meredith was diagnosed with leukemia. Let me skip to the end of the year and tell you that she’s gone through the standard treatment and is now in maintenance mode and on track for a complete recovery — but that was a hard moment for all of us, and especially for her parents, my brother Robert and his wife Laura (who also had a 3-month-old baby at the time of diagnosis who’s now an active toddler).

But mostly, I enjoyed the closing of the library a little too much! We had a couple weeks where we didn’t know what was going to happen — and then we all got approved to telework. During the teleworking time, I made a video series about prime factorization and numerical bases, which I really got a kick out of doing.

I enjoyed working from home so much, I still miss it! Besides not having commute time, it dawned on me after a month or so that the biggest plus was I could go for a walk by my lake on my lunch break. The skies were extra blue this Spring — we were convinced it was from fewer cars on the road — and that’s why I took thousands of pictures this year.

My evening activities changed. No more Silent Book Club, since it just didn’t make sense to sit in a small room with other people to read, as much fun as that is. But my weeknights quickly filled up with Zoom activities.

My church switched to online services. I joined Floris United Methodist Church in 2019, and I’m happier and happier to be a part of this church. I appreciated that they were careful about spreading the virus and that they have a strong ministry reaching out to those in need. They also offered some thoughtful and insightful programs about issues of the day.

The choir managed to still meet in small groups, spaced ten feet apart for a while. Then even that was deemed to be risky, so we met outside, spread apart, and wore masks to sing a few songs for the Christmas cantata. But through the time, the connection with the choir was a big plus. I’m so glad to be a part of it and glad to get to take part in the worship services, even when it’s pre-recorded.

I also took part in a virtual alumni choir of the Biola Chorale, singing “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” — the arrangement written by the director, Loren Wiebe, and which we would sing to start every concert. We had a grand Zoom gathering to show it to him on his 80th birthday, and I was blessed to pieces to be part of that.

Since I wasn’t working Thursday nights any more, I could join the small group my friends at church were running especially for LGBTQ allies, now meeting on Zoom. I’ve made some new friends who are already dear to me. The first study we went through looked at the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and why Christians should be loving and accepting toward all, as Jesus did.

My Sunday gaming group moved online. And after they showed me dominion.games and what a great interface it is for my favorite game, Dominion — I also started playing once a week with Tim, my youngest. So my favorite result of the pandemic is now I hang out regularly with my kid!

And yet another Zoom gathering I joined is a weekly Christian writers’ group. This was perfect timing for me, as I’ve started working on a book about the Psalms, and using the types of Psalms as a pattern for your own prayers. This group is wonderful for helping me actually keep writing.

So you may have noticed that maybe I’m overdoing the number of weekly activities. It was easier when I was still working from home, but in mid-July, we opened the library back up for “Express Services.” It’s sad that we can’t encourage people to linger, but at least we can offer books and online programs. And I am definitely not cooped up at home. So far, no one working at my branch has gotten sick with Covid, and here’s hoping it will stay that way. But that’s a good sign that our precautions are working.

I canceled a trip I’d planned in the Spring, but in the Autumn, I booked a place only a few hours away that included a kitchen, so I didn’t have to be around other people. I had a lovely reading-and-hiking retreat at Shenandoah National Park. It was beautiful! And I was again a panelist for the first round of the Cybils Awards, so that helped me get a headstart on all the reading I needed to do.

So despite a difficult beginning, 2020 was a surprisingly peaceful year for me. I’ve got lots of meaningful activities (probably too many!) and had lots of time to reflect. I do see people, since now I go to work and at least I don’t have to drive to my activities.

Of course, it’s been way too long since I’ve seen my kids. Zephyr didn’t end up getting married this year, which was hard on her. She and Tim are both still living in the area of Portland, Oregon. But I’ve talked with both of them more this year, and I have to say that’s been a positive side of the pandemic.

I did laugh when I looked over the goals I made for 2020. But I ended up having a lot more reflection time than I’d expected. And this introvert isn’t complaining!

Though I do look forward to the day I can read stories to preschoolers again and encourage them to touch their head, shoulders, knees, and toes — as well as eyes and ears and mouth and nose!

I did hit some hard anniversaries, especially in November, 10 years after my divorce, when my father-in-law passed away. But as every year, what got me through were the friends surrounding me, even though their way of surrounding me took new forms in 2020.

Here’s wishing all of you health and happiness — and hugs — in 2021!

Solitary Thanksgiving Joy

November 27th, 2020

We all know the holidays this year are fraught. I live on the opposite side of the country from my family, so I don’t usually get to indulge in our big enormous wonderful Thanksgivings, which we traditionally celebrate with Hatch relatives the day after Thanksgiving.

But I have friends like family nearby in Virginia, so I usually go to one of my friends’ houses and celebrate with their family. I have two friends who live nearby whom I’ve known since 3rd grade (in California!) and celebrating with them, I never feel alone. Last year was more difficult than most, since my mother was dying, and passed two days after Thanksgiving, after many of her kids had gathered and sang hymns to her while her sister played the violin. A rainbow even came out! But I was in Virginia, and celebrated with my friend’s family who had suffered their own loss of her stepfather that year. But that was a hard Thanksgiving — and there’s no way this year wouldn’t be better.

Since I work in a public library, I figure of all my friends, I’m the most likely to pick up Covid-19. It would probably be worth it to celebrate with my friends if the only risk was that I’d catch it from them — but I would feel horrible if I gave it to them or any of their parents. So this is my year to celebrate Thanksgiving alone.

It’s also a time for reflection. First, my former father-in-law passed away the Sunday before last. So close to my parents’ deaths, that’s hard. But I started a project of compiling pictures of him that I had taken over the years. (I’ve been digitizing negatives.) Those pictures reminded me how happy I am that my kids had devoted and involved grandparents while they were growing up. (My own parents had a much bigger family and didn’t have so much attention to spare. So I loved that my husband’s parents did.)

Then yesterday happened to be the ten-year anniversary of the day my divorce was final. At that point I still didn’t want to get divorced and still hoped that somehow we would still be reconciled. But you know what? These last ten years have been good, and full of blessings. And I no longer want to go back to that marriage, even if I could.

When I thought about a menu, I decided I was hankering for roast beef. So I found a crock pot recipe on the internet. Last night, I made the homemade cream of mushroom soup it calls for (delicious!) and Chocolate Angel Pie (basically chocolate whipped cream in a meringue shell).

But this morning I didn’t set the alarm and slept late. By the time I got the ingredients thrown into the crock pot, it wasn’t going to be ready until 8:45 pm!

And then I realized: Who cares? I could have a late breakfast, a late lunch, and a late dinner, and no one at all would be upset with me. And I wouldn’t think anyone was upset with me. Later, I sat on the balcony reading and thought how nice it was to not have to hurry up and get ready to go anywhere. Yes, a solitary Thanksgiving has its own wonderful charms.

But the truly wonderful part happened on my walk.

I was taking pictures of leaves, marveling at how many beautiful ones are still out there.

While I was walking, I was praying. It’s Thanksgiving. I was thanking God for my life. I was thinking about how those ten single years have been lovely. I was counting my blessings. Thinking about the new online groups I’ve joined since the pandemic hit. Even though I’m not around family, I’ve got new friends who love and appreciate me. And life is good.

And once again, I got to thinking that maybe I should stop asking God to find a life partner. Sure I’d like to find someone before another decade goes by, but maybe I should just focus on all the good I already have in my life. After all, I’m not an easy person to match. Maybe God isn’t answering that prayer because He knows I’m happier single. Life is good, and this day has been nice not trying to please anyone but myself.

When I walked back to the lake (My walk takes me past the lake, into the woods, and then back.), I was still looking for the great blue heron who likes to come by, with no luck. Wouldn’t it be nice to see him for Thanksgiving Day? But it was such a beautiful day for giving thanks.

And then I remembered the Theme I’d chosen back in January for 2020. I already blogged about it. The theme is to ask with Shameless Audacity, as Jesus tells us to in Luke 11.

So I did it — I prayed that God would let me see a great blue heron today, for Thanksgiving. I acknowledged that it was shameless audacity on my part to ask for it. But I did ask. And then I kept walking, thinking it wasn’t going to happen this time. And that’s okay.

A couple minutes later, some ducks splash-landed on the lake next to me. Fun! I thought that at least I could take nice pictures of ducks.

But while I watched a second group of ducks land, right behind them came a great blue heron! It squawked at them, then decided it didn’t want to land next to them and swooped in a big circle around the end of the lake — and came straight toward me!

It kept squawking, as if to say, “YOU WANTED TO SEE ME?!! HERE I AM!!!” (I’ve never been sure I heard a great blue heron’s voice before, in all the time I’ve watched them.) It veered away from me and flew further down the lake.

Then it flew onto a rooftop, and I happily took about a hundred pictures of it with the sky as a background.

But wow! If I thought my request was shamelessly audacious, I didn’t begin to predict the shamelessly audacious answer I received. That heron buzzed me! I wanted to see a heron? It flew at me, squawking!

I’ve been looking at Creation Psalms lately, and yesterday it was Psalm 139 — The Lord has searched me, and he knows me. Right now, Tauren Wells’ song, “Fully Known,” is playing. “I cannot find the reasons why you’d give me so much.” God knows me, and he delights in giving good things to his children.

And I feel so thankful.

I know what my next shamelessly audacious request is. What’s yours?

Psalm of Trust

October 25th, 2020

I’m working on a book about Psalms, and using the forms found in the Book of Psalms to write your own prayers.

While I’m doing that, I’m writing my own example psalms. They aren’t meant to be very good, but they are meant to come from the heart. And to show that you can use the Psalms as an example for prayer.

The current chapter I’m working on is about Psalms of Trust, which is what I’m calling Psalms 7, 11, 16, 21, 23, 25, 26, 27, 31, 46, 57, 62, 63, 71, 91, 108, 121, 123, 125, 131, and 141. Those Psalms are beautiful and comforting, and I never was trying to match them. But in writing a psalm of trust in a difficult time, I tried to remind myself that I do trust God. When I ran out of things to say, I quoted a favorite Psalm of Trust to finish up.

Here’s my offering:

A Psalm for Perilous Times

Lord, you’ve always been the Rock in my life.
When everything around me falls apart,
you’re still there;
you’re firm ground beneath my feet.

I’m writing this during uncertain times.
We thought the pandemic would end months ago,
and now we’re afraid to hope it will ever end.
A presidential election is coming up
and we worry about conflict and fraud.
There are fires on the west coast,
hurricanes in the south.
My library is open,
but instead of welcoming patrons,
encouraging all to linger,
we kick them out after thirty minutes,
put our programs online,
and hide our faces behind masks.
We cringe when people don’t follow the rules
and hope they aren’t carrying disease.

Lord, we’re trying to protect ourselves,
and we’re trying to do our part.
But ultimately, we have to trust you to care for us,
We need your protection.
We trust in your care.

Lord, be my refuge and my rock,
whether or not I stay healthy,
no matter who wins the election,
no matter what disasters strike.

May I learn to be loving and faithful
like the one I follow.
And may I never think that my hope and security
rest in a certain outcome.

For you are with me, Lord.
You show me I have resources I never knew I had
and with your help I can withstand difficulties
I never thought I could handle.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

Noticing

August 26th, 2020

On Sunday, I received a wonderful gift.

I’d had kind of a grumpy week. I was scheduled to work six days in a row. (I’ll get a 3-day weekend this coming week.) I ended up taking one day off because of a light headache I just couldn’t shake. Every day at the library, I asked numerous people to please wear their masks, and I was starting to get angry about it. That persistent headache wasn’t helping, even if I knew it was just a migraine and I didn’t have a fever. On Saturday, I was person-in-charge and two people in a row displayed some aberrant behavior, though I was relieved that they did leave the library soon after.

All that to say, it was a stressful week.

Sunday was my day off. I hadn’t taken a walk by my lake in a week, so this was my opportunity, before online church. The week before I hadn’t even bothered to bring my camera, because I felt like I was taking pictures of the same flowers each time. But sometimes on Sunday mornings, I’d seen deer, so I brought my camera that day.

And my friend the great blue heron was there! Though the heron is a regular, I hadn’t seen much of him since the shelter-in-place order happened. Perhaps it didn’t like how many people walked by the lake.

But today the water was very still, and the bird was very still, and I got a whole sequence of cool mirrored pictures.

It even flew to the nearer side of the lake and I got the picture at the top of this post.

Then walking on. I spotted a butterfly whose wings were different on the inside and the outside. Patiently waiting, I got shots of both.

My walk takes me by the lake, then in a meadowy part with big bushes, then beside some woods. Then I turn around and come back. I hoped to see deer in the woods as I had the week before, but nothing this time. Instead, when I got back to the meadow, there was another butterfly, and this one was posed with the sun shining on its wings. When its wings were together, the sun didn’t shine through, but when it opened its wings, they lit up spectacularly as they were now thin enough to be transparent.

The butterfly was, however, a bit stubborn. I’d wait and wait for it to open it wings, and it wouldn’t do so until I lowered the camera. So catching a few times with the lighting felt like a triumph.

As I walked back toward the lake, in a place where the path is constrained by bushes on one side and the lake on the other — there in the bushes, right next to the path, two fawns were sitting and eating leaves.

What could I do? I stood and took pictures, of course. Eventually a jogger came by and joined me. When she decided to go on, that got one of the fawns to get up and walk out of the bushes.

After that, I was wondering if the heron was still there, lurking behind the tall grasses where I couldn’t see it. As I checked, I heard an enormous splash and saw a bird rising up from the water. It turned out that an osprey was fishing in the lake and continued circling — in a way that tantalized me into trying to get its picture.

By that time, I felt simply overwhelmed with blessings.

Last time I blogged here, I talked about God giving good gifts to His children. This felt like gifts given with good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. My cup overflowed!

I hadn’t done anything to deserve such blessings. I’d been grumpy! But that got swept aside.

Then in the online church service, my pastor Barbara Miner talked about how Jesus notices us. The text was from the story where Jesus is going to heal a synagogue ruler’s daughter who has died, and a woman in the crowd touches the hem of his robe and is healed. Jesus, on an urgent mission, stops and turns and notices the woman. She must have been mortified! She wasn’t trying to be noticed! But Jesus calls her “Daughter.”

Pastor Barbara reminded us that Jesus notices us and challenged us to notice others.

And that got me thinking of my walks by the lake. When I don’t bring my camera, I don’t notice things as small as butterflies. (Okay, I would have noticed those fawns! And probably the great blue heron, too.) I would have marveled at the osprey and then kept walking. But wanting to get pictures made me really look, really notice.

Last year, I got a better camera, with a stronger zoom, and my pictures got dramatically better. Even before that, I noticed that little flowers by the path have a whole new look when you zoom in. Butterflies are just a speck until you zoom in and notice their beauty. And it might take some waiting before they light up for you.

Isn’t that like people? I was reminded of Pastor Tom Berlin’s sermon months ago, where he talked about using Mr. Rogers as an example of paying attention to people.

If I can zoom in and focus on people, it’s so much easier to notice their beauty.

As a kind of icing on the cake, the next morning I worked the late shift and got another walk in, and got to see yet another species, a great egret.

Now, my lofty goal was to start zooming in on people and noticing the beauty of their souls. So far at the library, I confess that most of the zooming in I’m doing is on Nosers who aren’t wearing their masks properly.

But I’m writing this whole post as a reminder to Notice.

When I Notice God’s gifts, I end up feeling overwhelmed with blessings.

And how amazing that Jesus notices me. And I’m going to say He noticed that some blessings would lift my spirits right about now.

And maybe I can pass that on and practice noticing others.

Contentment vs. Asking with Shameless Audacity

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

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?