Psalms of Confession

I’ve written a book called Praying with the Psalmists, and I’m going through it with my church small group. The basic idea is to look at ten types of Psalms and use patterns from the Psalms in your own prayers.

Since I’m urging other people to try it, the least I can do is keep doing it myself! This week we’re covering Psalms of Confession.

Psalms of Confession follow a similar pattern to Laments, and I’ve made an ACCESS acronym to remember the parts:

Address to God
Confession of Sin
Confession of Trust
Sureness of Help
Subsequent Praise

I haven’t committed any big sins lately. No lying or stealing or killing. But I think of a line from a group confession in church: “We have not loved you with our whole hearts.” I have committed plenty of sins of omission.

In fact, when I approach Psalms of Confession with my own inadequacy, I find I have plenty to pray about. And a characteristic of these Psalms in the Bible is that they overflow with the Lord’s mercy, forgiveness, and chesed, unfailing love.

Lately, my life is very good, but I feel like I’m doing too many good things — and then feeling inadequate when I don’t do them well. It came to a head the other night, when a closet shelf in my bedroom closet collapsed in the middle of my night and scared me half to death. I was relieved when I found out what it was — but also found out it stirred up all my anxieties.

Let me stop explaining and take it before the Lord.

Have mercy on me, Lord.
Grant me your peace.
See me with your eyes of love,
instead of my eagle-eyed perfectionism.

Lord, you’ve filled my life with good things —
a job I love,
an award committee,
a choir to sing with,
a small group to help lead,
a book ready to send out,
a website to add to,
a group to play games with,
weekly virtual visits with my kids,
a trip coming to see family,
a sister coming after that,
a home I love and want to keep clean…
And I am not keeping up with those wonderful things.

Worse, I’m wasting time mindlessly reading Twitter or Facebook,
when I could at least be reading for the award.
I’m unproductive and stay up late
and then don’t have energy for what I should be doing.
Yes, perfectionism is robbing my joy,
but it’s also that old problem of wanting to do more wonderful things
than a human can do.
And then I wear myself out
and fret about what I’m not doing
Or worry about how I’m going to prepare
unwilling to let things go,
unwilling to understand
that often the only one requiring perfection of me
is myself.

Lord, you “give sleep to those you love.”
And you grant me 24 hours in a day.
You have given me these wonderful gifts,
this wonderful time in my life.
You know that I am dust,
and you love me anyway.
You know I won’t get it all done,
and I won’t make perfect choices,
that I’ll often choose unwisely
and bear the consequences in needless exhaustion.
Yet you love me anyway.

Lord, grant me your Joy.
You’ve blessed me abundantly —
help me remember.
Give me wisdom in choosing how to spend my time
and grant me grace when I fail to choose wisely.
Redeem my mistakes,
show me the joy of imperfection.

Thank you, Lord, for always loving me.
Thank you that you have promised to give wisdom generously.
Thank you that you don’t find fault
when I need to ask yet once again.
If I had my way,
I’d simply do a certain list of tasks each day of the week.
Thank you for not giving me my way,
and adding so much spice and variety and job
if I’m willing to see it.

Lord, I know you will answer this prayer
and help me live with more joy.
And that joy will overflow in praise to you.
Thank you for amazing moments like the sunrise over the lake this morning.

Thank you for showing your love.
May I praise you as long as I live.

Please — anyone is welcome to add their own prayer in the comments!

Christmas Letter 2022

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! This “Christmas” Letter has turned into a New Year’s Letter — But may every holiday you celebrate be filled with moments of joy!

It’s time for my annual reflection on my year. I try to get it written by Christmas, but allow myself grace if it doesn’t happen. This year — I had the letter written by Christmas, but decided to look through all the pictures I took in 2022, so now it’s the New Year. One thing that’s always true is how much my life is enriched by the people I’ve gotten to spend time with along the way — so do know that I am thinking about you during this holiday season and wishing you blessings and joy.

2022 was a fabulous year for me. A turning point came one morning in March. I was sitting on an interview panel, thinking how much more fun interview panels are when you’re one of the people asking the questions instead of the person answering the questions. I thought to myself, “I’m so glad I love my job and will never have to interview ever again!”

Then we broke for lunch and a Youth Services Managers’ meeting at 1:00. At the meeting, the Youth Materials Selector for our entire system of 22 branches announced that she was going to be moving to Utah. It was less than half a second after she said that before I knew that I would be applying for that position and that I wanted it with all my heart.

And, yes, I applied. They were mercifully quick about opening the position up for applications and getting the interviews done. (I say mercifully, because nine years before, the same position had been open, and what with one thing and another, it went unfilled for a year and a half.) The interview was virtual and somehow that was a lot less scary for me than in person, and I’d practiced, and it went really well. Since June, I have been working as Youth Materials Selector! And yes, I love the job as much as I’ve always known I would. Yes, I loved working in the branches, but this feels like the right job for me at the right time, and I’m still tremendously happy about going to my job every day — or teleworking and doing my job at home.

I’ve always been obsessed with new children’s books — and now that’s my job! It also feels a little bit like a game figuring out how many of which items to order and still stay within the various budgets. I spend over $20,000 each week, so I get to use my math skills as well. It’s perfect!

The rest of my life is full and happy, too. Also in March, I took a trip to the amazing Highlights Foundation Center for a writing retreat. (They feed you! Wonderful farm-fresh food.) My pandemic project was writing a book about Psalms, and now I’ve got the book where I’m ready to submit it to agents and/or publishers. I am really hoping to have more to report about that next year.

Now that I telework twice a week, I manage to get in more walks by my lake (working later if I take a long break) and still can’t resist taking pictures of the flowers, autumn leaves, and especially the great blue heron.

I still play board games, with an in-person Sunday afternoon group still going strong, and a weekly Tuesday evening virtual game time and Skype call with both my kids, Zephyr and Tim, who live in Oregon. I consider that weekly time with them the Great Gift of the Pandemic, because that’s what made me aware of the site — featuring a game I’d played with Tim all through their years in high school and college.

As of September, I’ve begun co-leading a ladies’ virtual small group with my church. Going virtual has been a good way to make friends and connect with a group without taking yet another evening out and about, because Wednesday nights, I’m singing with the church choir and still getting great joy out of that.

This Christmas felt hectic — because on Thanksgiving I took a trip to Maui for my sister Wendy’s wedding! Yes, the trip was wonderful, but it wasn’t quite what I expected, since I got a tiny sore throat three days after I got there — and the next day had a full-fledged cold — and tested positive for Covid.

The good news is that Wendy didn’t catch it and the friend I was staying with didn’t catch it and my other visiting family members didn’t catch it. I ended up doing a lot of reading and relaxing on the balcony of my friend’s house and ate all my meals outdoors. And the wedding was on the beach, with a strong wind, on Day 6 of Covid, so I was able to attend and enjoy Wendy’s wonderful windy wedding.

When I got back, I had my second negative Covid test (48 hours apart) exactly on time to rehearse for our choir’s Christmas cantata one day and perform the next. After the performances, I fell asleep for four hours! But it was a great joy to get to sing.

Yet another thing keeping me busy and happy is Book Award Committees. I took a reading retreat in October to New River Gorge National Park to read for the first round of the Cybils Awards, in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category. This year, I’m category chair as well. We met virtually to choose our Finalists the day after Christmas, so of course I was still finishing up the reading through Christmas. After that, I have some books to read for the Mathical Book Prize, by January 10th (but those are mostly shorter). And after that, I want to cram in some more books for Capitol Choices — a local group of librarians that chooses 100 best children’s and young adult books of the year each year.

And just this week I got the good news that I have been appointed to the 2024 Morris Award committee! This group chooses the best young adult book of 2023 by a debut author. So I will need to get busy reading for that award as soon as I finish all that reading for 2023 awards.

Remember what I told you about being obsessed with new children’s books? Both my new job and these committees feed that obsession and bring me lots of joy. I’m probably a little bit overcommitted, but I’m definitely having fun.

And if you’re interested in which books I loved most from 2022, watch my Sonderbooks site for the 2022 Sonderbooks Stand-outs. I like to post them on New Year’s Day, but a bad tooth had other ideas. I hope it will be soon, though!

So that’s what I’ve been up to in 2022. How about you? I always love this chance to reconnect with friends. Drop me an email if you get the chance!

And here’s wishing you all a joyous holiday season!

— Sondy

Praying with the Psalmists

My pandemic project was writing a book about Psalms, and now the main work of writing it is finished.

The book is about looking at the ten types of Psalms and using them as patterns for writing out own psalms.

If I eventually get the book published, I want to have a website where people can post their own psalms to share with others who have read the book.

For now, this blog post will have to do. People who have read the manuscript form of the book are encouraged to post their psalms in the comments.

And I’ll start it off by writing a simple prayer of thanks for my big life change of 2022, using parallelism.

Thanks for a Blessed Year

Lord, this year unexpectedly a dream came true,
I was surprised with a second chance at a job I’d long wanted.

I’d wanted the job ever since I found out it existed,
thought it would be cool for about 14 years.
Nine years ago, the job came open
and I watched every week for an announcement,
but it took a year before I could apply,
and weeks beyond that before interviews happened.

Then they put applicants through three interviews,
and I was only offered two.
I was so nervous with the in-person interview,
I got a dizzy spell.
It was another half a year before I found out my dream didn’t happen,
and with a young person in the job, I thought it never would.

I didn’t understand, but I made the best of it.
After all, in a branch, my job had more variety.
I liked my coworkers,
and I liked reading to kids.
I spent the time getting better at my job
and finding great joy in it.

Surely it was all for the best,
even though I couldn’t understand?

Then in March last year, I was sitting on an interview panel,
thinking how much better it is to ask the questions than answer,
thinking how much I loved my current job,
thinking how glad I was I’d never have to interview again.

A couple hours later, I learned that my dream job was coming open again,
as the young selector was moving to Utah.
In less than a blink of an eye,
I knew I’d be interviewing for the job,
the dream job I’d always wanted,
that I still wanted with all my heart.

I was afraid the interview would be scary.
I didn’t want another dizzy spell.
I found practice questions and thought through my answers.
I did two practice interviews with others
and countless practice interviews by myself.
The real interview happened about a month later.
(Only a month!)
It was virtual, and two of the three asking questions were already friends.
I got to tell them why this job is right for me.

And I got the job!
And yes, this is the right job for me at the right time.

Looking back, I’m happy about those nine years at Fairfax branch,
that I wouldn’t have had if things had gone how I wanted.

But there are so many things right about doing the job now,
with nine years more experience in the branches.

And Lord, this builds my trust
and fills my heart with joy.
You did grant me my heart’s desire,
at an even better time than when I first wanted it.

I’m amazed and thankful,
and simply going to work gives me joy.

Thank you for this blessing.
Thank you for a dream come true.

Praying a Thanksgiving Psalm

I’m working on a book about Psalms. It’s called Praying with the Psalmists and analyzes ten different types of Psalms in the Bible. Then the reader is challenged to use each of these types to write their own psalms and pray their own prayers. And I’m putting in memoir material as I go.

Several years ago, I wrote the example Thanksgiving psalm I was going to use and posted it in this blog. But now that I’m looking at it again, it gives away some events from my life that I wanted to put in the following chapter. So I need to write a new Thanksgiving psalm! Shouldn’t be hard, right? I mean, that’s the whole point of my book. Right?

The form of Thanksgiving Psalms is praise before and after a Deliverance Account. The Deliverance Account takes this form:

I was in trouble. I called. God intervened.

I want to do it about something recent, so I’m going to talk about when I left my former church in 2019, and how wonderfully God turned things out.

I left because my former church decided by an overwhelming majority to vote to include in their church constitution that it’s officially sinful to be LGBTQ. I strongly disagree with that policy and believe it’s falling into the sin of the Pharisees that Jesus condemned in Matthew 23 and makes a heavy load and places it on other people’s shoulders without lifting a finger to help them.

I was very sad to leave that church, however, because it was full of people I cared about and who cared about me.

And I would like them to read and use my book, so I will see if I can mention that I left without mentioning why.

I was also torn about my decision. Was I being judgmental of them for being too judgmental? But time has shown that it was a wonderful decision and I am tremendously happy in my new church. And now I feel like God didn’t just nudge me to where I needed to be — God dragged me there kicking and screaming. But I’m so happy to be there now!

So let’s put it in a psalm:

A Thanksgiving Psalm for a Church Home

I will thank you, Lord,
with all my heart.
You have answered my longings
and filled me with joy.
You have put new songs in my mouth
and given me new friends to sing them with.

I was sad and heartbroken,
destitute to leave my church family of years.
I had a point of disagreement
important to my convictions,
fundamentally about ministry,
and important to my family.
But how could I leave my home?
How could I take a different path
from the people who’d sustained me
through hard times and difficulties?

I called out to you, Lord.
I agonized and prayed.
I tried to find a different way.
I talked with the elders, the pastor, leaders.
But the more I talked
and the more I prayed,
the more I realized it was time for me
to look for a new church home.
I’d hoped you would lead me otherwise,
or intervene and eliminate the need.
But that’s not how things happened,
and it was time to visit another church,
one where I was a stranger
and didn’t know anyone,
with no one greeting me by name
or looking for me to catch up.

On my very first visit
an amazing coincidence gave me hints
I was in the right place.
Then someone told me I should join the choir,
starting back up at the end of the summer.

And in the choir,
I truly found my new family.
So many meaningful times in my life
had been singing to the Lord,
among choirs of fellow believers.
It was so good to be back!

Besides the choir,
more and more things showed
that you, Lord, brought me
to the right place for me.
There’d be a word in a sermon,
a song that hit the spot.
A small group during the pandemic
gave me new connections who cared.
Now every week, I lift my voice
in praise and wonder to the Lord.

You, Father, have your hand
always in my life.
You’ve brought me to where I belong
at this particular time,
and I praise you and thank you
for knowing what I need
so much better than I do.

Out of the time of pain
you, Lord, brought me where I needed to be.
And looking back, I can’t help but realize
that for anything less, I wouldn’t have gone.

Lord, I will truly praise you in the congregation,
in the assembly of the peoples.
I will sing your praises every week
along with my new family,
my brothers and sisters
all lifting our voices together in praise.

Christmas Letter 2021

It’s time to write my annual Christmas letter summing up my year. It has evolved from a printed letter to a blog post. And this way I can write it during my time off for Christmas! It does come with wishes for each of you reading it to be blessed with Joys, big and small, this season.

I love this section from a Richard Rohr devotional email I received last week:

In the first 1200 years of Christianity, the most prominent feast was Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Around 1200, Francis of Assisi entered the scene, and he felt we didn’t need to wait for God to love us through the cross and resurrection. He believed God loved us from the very beginning and showed this love by becoming incarnate in Jesus. He popularized what we take for granted today, the great Christian feast of Christmas. But Christmas only started being popular in the 13th century.

The main point I want to make is the switch in theological emphasis that took place. The Franciscans realized that if God had become flesh and taken on materiality, physicality, and humanity, then the problem of our unworthiness was solved from the very beginning! God “saved” us by becoming one of us!

The ornament above was given to me by a friend from my gaming group who is also a pharmacist. It perfectly represents 2021. That’s an empty Moderna vaccine vial, with red caps from more vials. Also included are a plague cube and other game pieces from Pandemic Legacy Season 2, which we finally got to finish in person. We lost the final game, which we hope doesn’t mean the world is doomed. Anyway, it makes a fun ornament!

As I got vaccinated, and later boostered, many things went back to in-person. The library opened up even more hours than before the pandemic, and we started some in-person programs again. Church and choir went back to in-person, wearing masks, and it does my heart good to sing and worship with others again.

Meanwhile, I’m still working on my big pandemic project — writing a book about Psalms. It’s about using the examples in Psalms to write your own prayers, and it’s become a memoir as well, talking about parts of my life along with the different types of Psalms. The whole project is taking me longer than I thought it would. Hmmm. Since I began it when the pandemic started, maybe if I finally finish it the pandemic will end? It’s worth a try! But it’s turning out that writing it is wonderfully therapeutic for me. I hope to finish it in 2022 and then take up the challenge of finding an audience.

I still haven’t done any air travel since the pandemic started. (It doesn’t help that the last time I flew — just before the pandemic — I got very sick.) But I did two personal retreats that were both lovely. The first was in May, renting a cottage on the Eastern Shore. The second was in October at the Highlights Foundation Center. They’ve got a retreat center, and when the center isn’t all booked for workshops, you can do a personal retreat with meals included, and the farm-to-table food is incredibly good. I made good progress on my book at the retreat and also gave my website a major revision to make it more readable on mobile devices.

I did a virtual Jane Austen Summer Program in June, as well as two virtual ALA conferences. Here I am with a turban as was popular in Jane Austen’s day. It was a lot of fun!

And I’m on three book award committees! Capitol Choices is not a new group for me — DC-area librarians who meet monthly and choose 100 of the best books for kids and teens each year. I’m also doing the Cybils Awards again — this time on the second-round panel for Young Adult Speculative Fiction. So beginning January 1st, I will need to read seven finalists and help choose one winner.

But the new committee I’m super excited about is for the Mathical Book Prize — honoring books for children’s and teens that have a mathematical element in them. I’ve wanted to be part of this ever since I heard the prize existed, and this year I finally made the right connection. We’ll decide our winners in late January and make an announcement soon afterward.

Another momentous thing about 2021 was that for a third of the year, I was dating a kind and thoughtful man who lives in Harrisonburg, two hours away. Ultimately, I decided that this time in my life isn’t a great time for a long-distance relationship, but he got me out of my house more than I had since the pandemic began.

My kids are doing well, still in the Portland area. Zephyr’s been doing internet transcribing and making a fantasy baseball website. Tim’s working from home as a programmer, and once a week we Skype and play Dominion online, which makes me happy to have that connection.

As I write this, none of it sounds very exciting, but I’ve got a happy and busy life. I get lots of fulfillment out of my work, my church, and all those projects I always have going. When I need a dose of nature, I still enjoy my condo by the lake, as you can tell by the pictures I’ve put with this letter.

Here’s wishing you, my friends, much joy in the upcoming year!

Cerebellar Stroke and Vertebral Artery Dissection Recovery, Ten Years Out

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.


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

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

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

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

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 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!