Creation Psalms

May 11th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wisdom Psalms

May 4th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Own Salvation History Psalm

April 27th, 2020

Last week, I wrote about Salvation History Psalms.

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

So I wanted to do one myself.

Here’s what you do:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praise the Lord!

Legacy

April 25th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Modifications in the last paragraph are mine.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

April 15th, 2020

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

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

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

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

Can you see why I got to thinking about them?

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 78:4–

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

Psalm 105:5-6–

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

Psalm 106:6–

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

Psalm 135:3-4–

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

Psalm 136:10-12–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Jesus said to his disciples before his death:

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

Praying in Crazy Times

April 8th, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then ask him:

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

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

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

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

Walk with us, Lord.

A Psalm from the Scatterbrained

April 1st, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Psalm from the Scatterbrained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Try This At Home!

March 24th, 2020

I got some wonderful responses to yesterday’s Lament for Covid-19. People said it touched them.

But that wasn’t what I was going for. What I wanted was for people to say: I can do that!

I want to motivate people to try this way of praying themselves. I think I’m going to have to post a much shorter example.

But before I do, I want to point out something that blessed me in writing yesterday’s lament. I already knew that what I love about the form of the lament is that Thanksgiving is built in. It automatically includes what Christians are taught in Philippians 4:6-7 – to present your requests before God with thanksgiving.

But I wasn’t prepared for how powerfully the “Vow to Praise” would hit me. You make promises of what you’re going to do when God comes through and answers your prayer. I started imagining all the people I’m going to hug when this Covid-19 crisis is over… and that was more powerful to me than anything else I thought about.

Okay, now let me write a short lament. Here again are the parts:

1) Address to God
2) Complaint
3) Confession of Trust
4) Petition
5) Words of Assurance
6) Vow to Praise

I’m also going to use parallelism, like the Psalms do – which just means saying the same thing in a different way on the next line.

A Shorter Lament for the Sick

Hear my voice, Lord,
I’m calling because you’re the only one who can help.

Thousands are sick across our country,
suffering, alone, scared.
Our hospitals are filling,
and their workers are risking their lives.
Others at home are wondering
at what point do they need to get help?

We trust you, Lord.
We know you see each one of us.
You are with us
and we are never alone.
You are the Great Physician,
and you have the power to heal.
You give wisdom to the healers
and comfort to the sick.

Lord, have mercy.
Grant your help and healing.
Give wisdom to everyone seeking a cure,
stamina to everyone helping the sick,
comfort to everyone ravaged by illness,
and protection to everyone still healthy.

We will get through this.
As a community,
as a country,
and all humanity together.
We will once again create vaccines and treatments.
We will conquer this illness
long before it conquers us.
And that is because of the
wisdom and grace you have granted
to humankind.

Lord, when the church meets again,
we’re going to do lots of touching.
We’ll share communion
and envelop each other in hugs.

When the library reopens,
we’re going to sing “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes”
and touch our eyes and ears and mouth and nose
with great excitement.
And then again, faster!

Okay, your turn! Do you have something that needs prayer? Try a Lament. God can take your complaints, and it will do your heart good to plan how you’re going to celebrate when He answers.

A Lament for Covid-19

March 23rd, 2020

I’ve been thinking for a long time about praying like the Psalmists, using the forms of Hebrew poetry to pray.

The Lament is the most common form in the Psalms, and it’s a wonderful form because you fully complain, but the form brings you back around to remembering that God’s going to take care of this. You even plan how you will rejoice when you get through it. So — I’m going to do a practice Lament about the coronavirus.

This isn’t polished, it’s not pretty. But I want it to be something anyone can do.

I wrote this with two things in mind: I tried to use parallelism, repeating myself. And I tried to use the form of a Lament:

1) Address to God
2) Complaint
3) Confession of Trust
4) Petition
5) Words of Assurance
6) Vow to Praise

So that’s enough. I’ll offer below my lament I wrote for this time.

This is my offering — but I offer it in hopes that you’ll see that you don’t have to be good at this to do it! I hope that you’ll try writing your own Lament and voice your complaint — but remind yourself that you really do believe that God will pull you through.

A Lament for Covid-19

Lord, are you there?
Have you seen the world going crazy?

Your people are falling ill,
young and old are suffering.
This virus is spreading the globe,
people in every country are affected.

We’re afraid to touch each other.
We’ve banned hugs and handshakes.
We stay at home and keep our distance.
Even people I pass on the outdoor path draw back.

Businesses are closing;
hairdressers are afraid.
Librarians are too scared to touch books,
and restaurants have become take-out only.

The economy is crashing.
Friends are getting laid off.
Small businesses are failing,
and classes are switching to online learning.

The scariest part is exponential growth.
Our country went from hundreds
to thousands of cases
in less than a week.

Can our hospitals tend
those who need it?
Will we run out of facemasks?
Will we have enough ventilators?

Lord, the future is unknown
and everything we thought was normal has changed.

I do trust you, Lord.
You’ve seen the world through every disaster.
This seems so big,
but you are always bigger.

Can you save mankind from the consequences of our mistakes?
You can.
Will you have mercy on us?
You will.

You see the individual.
You notice when a sparrow falls.
You see the hourly worker laid off,
And you have compassion for the owner who lost their business.

I wish you were not quite so good
at redeeming bad things,
for then you wouldn’t
let bad things happen.

As it is, we ask for redemption.
We ask for bursts of goodness and grace.
We ask for ingenuity for doctors and scientists,
finding treatment, finding cures,
developing an effective vaccine.

We ask for compassion
in the hearts of caregivers,
that those suffering may know
their pain is seen.

We ask for protection
for those serving on the frontlines,
that the virus will not enter their bodies,
that they will not succumb,
that they will fight on.

We ask for creativity
in the hearts and minds of artists,
that they will lift us above these times,
draw us out from fear.

We ask for community
even as we distance ourselves.
We ask for creative ways
to reach out and tell people we care.

We ask that we will never forget
how richly blessed we are
to have each other,
and what an amazing gift
is the presence of another human being.

Lord, have mercy on this world You’ve created!
Look with compassion on our suffering!
Give humanity the wisdom and resilience
To stop this virus and cut short the harm.

Lord, you’ve said when we walk through the fire,
you will be with us.
We will not be burned,
the flames will not set us ablaze.

When we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
You are with us.
You comfort us
with your rod and your staff, the signs of your presence.

We don’t know what’s coming,
but you do.
Jesus took on our infirmities
and carried our diseases,
and he never stopped
caring for the ills of the world.

Lord, we will sing for joy
when we meet back together again.
Our hugs will be
strong and invigorating.

We will laugh with joy
when we see friends and family
in person again,
when we feel our loved ones in the flesh.

Thank you for the precious gift of community,
and thank you that we’re learning
Love is stronger than any virus
And community transcends physical distance.

Amen, Lord.

God’s Guidance

March 1st, 2020

Recently, the pastors at my church did a short sermon series on God’s Will. They made some wonderful points, but didn’t talk much about how these things fit with God’s guidance. This post is going to mull over what I think and believe about God’s guidance.

In the choir on the third week of the series, we sang “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” and “He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought” — so I expected that third sermon to touch on God’s guidance and God’s leading. God’s guidance does relate to “God’s plan.”

Now, what the pastor did talk about was very helpful. He mentioned that Time Travel movies have conditioned us to think that every little decision we make can drastically affect our futures. Combine that with talk of “God’s Perfect Plan,” and we put too much pressure on ourselves when we make decisions. He made the strong point that the idea of “God’s Perfect Plan” is not biblical.

God gives us agency! He allows us to make choices. Real choices that affect our lives and the lives of others. He doesn’t have One “Plan” for our lives — one that we can irrevocably mess up.

What we can do is align ourselves with God’s Will. We can make choices that align with loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

I like that message. Though my first thought is along the lines of What happens when other people around you are not aligned with God’s will and your life is affected? Okay, let’s get specific. Suppose your husband has an affair (clearly not aligned with God’s will) and divorces you.

Well, this message brings hope — Since God doesn’t have only One Plan for my life that I have to follow — my ex-husband can’t mess up my destiny. I already have seen that God has redeemed my single state and has filled my life with good things — some of which specifically came from my divorce. I would not have sought full-time work or become a librarian if I were still married, for example. And if I weren’t a librarian, I never would have gotten to serve on the 2019 Newbery Committee or received the 2019 Allie Beth Martin Award from the Public Library Association. Becoming a librarian has been a wonderful thing for me. Even though it wasn’t my personal Plan A for my life.

So let me receive the point loud and clear that someone else’s sin may affect your life dramatically, but it doesn’t pull you out of the possibility of aligning with God’s will. God can redeem the trials, and He promises in Romans 8:28 that He will work all things together for the good of those who love Him. That doesn’t mean that “everything happens for the best.” God doesn’t promise us “the best” at all times, and people sinning against you can indeed do you terrible harm. But I do believe that God can bring good out of anything.

In fact, I believe that if God can’t bring good out of it, He won’t let it happen. Unfortunately, He is very good at bringing good out of bad things! (I personally would prefer it if He would just keep the bad things from happening.)

So, yes, God gives us agency to make choices. And yes, He is with us as we live through the consequences of those choices — our own and others.

But I still believe that God gives guidance when we ask.

I mainly base this on James 1:5:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

In the Bible, wisdom consistently refers to what you do, to making good choices. So if you lack wisdom to know what to do, God encourages you to ask.

The Psalms have several passages where the writer asks God to lead.

Psalm 31:3 — “Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name, lead and guide me.”

Psalm 25:5 — “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”

Psalm 23:3 — “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”

Psalm 119:105 — “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”

Psalm 5:8 — “Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness because of my oppressors — make straight your way before me.”

Psalm 143:8 — “Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”

Yes, God gives us agency, but He is happy to help us figure out how to use that agency.

The pastor was urging us not to put so much pressure on our choices. If we have a big decision — whether to take a job in another state, whether to accept a marriage proposal, for example — we can’t mess up God’s will for our lives. Make the best decision we can, and God will be with us.

When faced with a big decision, though, is a good time to ask for wisdom.

One of the big good things that came out of my divorce was that I learned to ask God for wisdom. I was desperate, and I believe He answered.

But how does He answer? How does He give wisdom?

John Eldredge takes on this topic head-on in his book Walking with God. I’m going to copy here the same long quote I posted in my review of the book.

Now, I know, I know — the prevailing belief is that God speaks to his people only through the Bible.  And let me make this clear: he does speak to us first and foremost through the Bible.  That is the basis for our relationship.  The Bible is the eternal and unchanging Word of God to us.  It is such a gift, to have right there in black and white God’s thoughts toward us.  We know right off the bat that any other supposed revelation from God that contradicts the Bible is not to be trusted.  So I am not minimizing in any way the authority of the Scripture or the fact that God speaks to us through the Bible.

However, many Christians believe that God only speaks to us through the Bible.

The irony of that belief is that’s not what the Bible says.

The Bible is filled with stories of God talking to his people.  Abraham, who is called the friend of God, said, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me . . .’ (Genesis 24:7).  God spoke to Moses ‘as a man speaks with his friend’ (Exodus 33:11).  He spoke to Aaron too: ‘Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron about the Israelites’ (Exodus 6:13).  And David: ‘In the course of time, David inquired of the Lord.  “Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?” he asked.  The Lord said, “Go up.”  David asked, “Where shall I go?”  “To Hebron,” the Lord answered’ (2 Samuel 2:1).  The Lord spoke to Noah.  The Lord spoke to Gideon.  The Lord spoke to Samuel.  The list goes on and on.

I can hear the objections even now:  ‘But that was different.  Those were special people called to special tasks.’  And we are not special people called to special tasks?  I refuse to believe that.  And I doubt that you want to believe it either, in your heart of hearts.

But for the sake of argument, notice that God also speaks to ‘less important’ characters in the Bible.  God spoke to Hagar, the servant girl of Sarah, as she was running away. . . .  In the New Testament, God speaks to a man named Ananias who plays a small role in seven verses in Acts 9. . . .

Now, if God doesn’t also speak to us, why would he have given us all these stories of him speaking to others?  ‘Look — here are hundreds of inspiring and hopeful stories about how God spoke to his people in this and that situation.  Isn’t it amazing?  But you can’t have that.  He doesn’t speak like that anymore.’  That makes no sense at all.  Why would God give you a book of exceptions?  This is how I used to relate to my people, but I don’t do that anymore.  What good would a book of exceptions do you?  That’s like giving you the owner’s manual for a Dodge even though you drive a Mitsubishi.  No, the Bible is a book of examples of what it looks like to walk with God.

In my own life, a turning point happened soon after my husband had moved out, very much against my wishes. For months, very helpful books had been landing on my desk at the base library, books that helped me respond to my husband’s anger with compassion and that helped me more calmly work on my own attitude and gave me hope that he would come around.

But the turning point in my attitude came in a pastor’s sermon. He was talking about a very odd miracle that Jesus did in Mark 7, healing a man who was deaf and mute.

After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

I’ve always thought that story was a little strange. But this pastor pointed out something I’d never noticed but seems absolutely true once you think about it — Jesus was speaking to the man in sign language!

The man could not hear or speak. Jesus took him aside and got his attention. Then he dramatically pantomimed what he was going to do.

The pastor made this powerful point: “God speaks your language!”

It brought me to tears at the time. Because all those helpful books that had been showing up on my desk at just the right time? My language is books, and God was speaking to me that way. My language is also Scripture (I have memorized large portions of the Bible.), and throughout those divorce years, God continued to speak through Scripture as well. More than once, I’d think God was speaking to me through a verse. I’d ask for confirmation, and the next Sunday that verse would be mentioned in the sermon. (These were obscure verses, too.) That was enough for me.

Now, there’s a part of me that feels very presumptuous to think that God would pay enough attention to my life to speak to me. It’s that part that leads me to burst into tears most times when the coincidence is simply too big — I have to believe God is speaking.

Yes, God notices me. Yes, God cares about my life. Yes, God will give me wisdom and guidance. He will give that generously and without finding fault. He won’t be angry when I need confirmation.

So this is the flip side of putting so much pressure on a decision that we’re paralyzed. Yes, God gives us agency. But He’s generous to help us when we don’t know what to do.

And that flip side is what I want to say loud and clear: God loves you enough to be interested in your life and to give you guidance. He pays attention to you, yes, you!

I think a big part of why that hits me so hard is that I’m the third of thirteen children. It feels presumptuous to think that God would be concerned about the details of my life. But God notices even me!

Now, I have to add that as much as I learned to listen to God’s voice, to not be afraid to ask for guidance — all that was cast into doubt when things didn’t turn out the way I thought they would.

For a very long time during my conflict with my ex-husband, I really thought God was telling me that he would come back.

But about five years after he moved out, I did think it was the right thing to file for divorce.

I thought through what I believed God had told me. And the wisdom part, the part about knowing what to do was: “Wait on the Lord.”

And that was indeed wisdom. If I had filed for divorce or given up on my husband at the very beginning — I don’t think I would have believed that he had truly changed. I knew I’d given him ample opportunity to return. I still believe and hope that God was saying that my ex-husband will eventually have a change of heart and come back — to God. But he does not need to come back to me, and I finally figured out that wouldn’t be the best thing, anyway. (In fact, before I signed up for online dating, I made my friends promise to stop me if I was ever tempted to take my ex-husband back.)

So maybe I was wrong about what was going to happen. But I was not wrong about what God was telling me to do: Wait.

And there were other things God told me that turned out to be truly wise: “Do not go down to Egypt for help.” (Do not try to get him in trouble with his first sergeant for having an affair.) “Do everything without complaining or arguing.” (Got me not to send my initial answer to an abusive email.) After the divorce, when I was still obsessing over him: “Ephraim is joined with idols. Leave him alone!”

All of those things — and the many other ways God led me — helped so much!

But now, almost a decade after the divorce was final, it doesn’t seem like God is speaking as much any more. Is that because I don’t need it as much, not being in anywhere near as difficult a situation, or is that only because I’m not asking?

And what does it mean to walk with God, to align yourself with God’s will? I’m going to accept my new pastor’s reminder that we shouldn’t let our desire to follow God’s will be paralyzing.

I also think of a sermon my former pastor preached. He brought a chalkboard into the room and drew a long line that he said represented a continuum. On one end was “letting things happen.” He said that was living life like you’re on a raft, just going where the current takes you. This is often all in the name of “God’s will” and not exercising agency at all.

On the other end was “making things happen.” This is when you try to do everything yourself. It’s all about exercising your own agency to make sure your life goes the way you want it to go. Or trying, anyway. This is like living life on a motorboat, not relying on any power outside yourself.

But he said that where we want to be is somewhere in the middle, on the “Path of Trust.” This is more like living life on a sailboat, turning the sail to catch the wind and move with the power of the wind. It’s not trying to be in total control, but it’s also not just giving up any control at all. Walking on the Path of Trust is trickier than being on either of the ends of the spectrum.

It was when I heard that sermon that I realized that in my prayers, I wasn’t trusting God. I’d been insisting that God bring my then-husband back. I was telling God how things had to turn out. That wasn’t trust. That was me trying to be in control.

Walking with God when I’m not sure what I think God should do? That’s much trickier. To be honest, when I was praying so much, asking God for guidance about my failing marriage, in my heart I was asking God, What should I do to that will help my husband come back? I really thought it must obviously be God’s will for divorce not to happen.

God was faithful. And God answered the question, What should I do to walk with You as I live my life in this difficult space?

Now? I’m not in as difficult a daily space. I’m not asking for guidance out of desperation, but maybe I should still be asking for guidance. Because I do lack wisdom.

And then there’s the matter of what I want to happen in my life: I’d like to get married again. But how to find a man who loves the Lord and loves me?

And that’s where the Path of Trust seems like a good analogy. On the one hand, I could decide the Lord has to do it and not make any effort at all. On the other hand, I could throw myself into online dating and try to get the attention of any and every man I find there.

In practice, I’m tending to wobble between those two approaches, though leaning more toward the no effort extreme. But for the most part, I’m seeing the Path of Trust as having an online presence so that I’m not hiding under a rock, but still being very selective about what messages I answer, and not spending hours of time looking. I’m not sure if this is the best approach, but that’s the thing about the Path of Trust — I do think it can change.

But what if I let go of the outcome? What if I ask God for guidance today, but I don’t try to tell him how my life has to turn out? And what if I’m open to that guidance having nothing to do with finding a man, for example: Today, Sondy, you should try to get a lot more sleep, because you need to get well.

Hmm. The verse that came up in my Bible reading today was Psalm 127:3 —

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat —
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Now, it may be completely crazy to take that as a message from God to me. Why would God pay that much attention to my life?

Never mind that I’ve been sick for eight weeks and counting and have been asking my friends to pray for me. Never mind that I asked God what I should say Yes to for Lent. Wouldn’t it be presumptuous to take this passage as God speaking to me, giving me wisdom?

And that’s kind of how it works. This verse leaped out at me today. It seems like a wise thing for me to do at this time in my life.

So I’m going to dare to say that God put that verse in my life today. Because He loves me, and does care about my life.

So for Lent, I’m going to try to shut off my computer earlier, not make sure I do all the things I’d like to daily before I go to bed. I’m going to try to go to bed earlier, and say to myself, “Sondy, God’s giving you sleep tonight because He loves you.”

I’d better start now….