Friday, February 5, 2016

Glorious things

My friends, 

Here is a glorious thing: many of you have been praying desperate, around-the-clock prayers for my health this week. You've been praying for relief, for healing, and that some way, somehow, I could get into a doctor this week. The difficulty with seeing a doctor is I need to see a very particular kind of doctor who is familiar with my case and who doesn't have a three-month wait list. These doctors are very rare.

There is one doctor, besides the doctor who just closed his practice, who is familiar with my case. He helped me a lot this summer. But when I called to make an appointment with him last month, I couldn't get into see him until March. This week, though, I'm desperate to see him. It feels like my entire life depends on seeing him. 

So Wednesday I called his office twice to see if he had any cancellations before March, but nobody answered. I called again first thing yesterday morning. No answer. And then again, at lunch time. This time, his office assistant answered. And what do you know: he had a cancellation yesterday at 2:15.

Talking to him was so helpful. One of the difficulties of the flare-up of the last several weeks is I've been trying to navigate it and look toward next steps without a doctor's guidance. The doctor I talked to yesterday gave me ideas for steps I should and shouldn't take, and he has some sensible ideas about why I've regressed so much. I'm hopeful his protocol will help me heal without making me sicker first.  Please pray that it's effective and gentle.

There's something else: Wednesday night I was terribly sick. I knew I had to teach Thursday morning, but I couldn't get out of bed to do my dishes Wednesday evening, so teaching seemed like an impossibility. But Thursday, when I woke up, my symptoms were much quieter. It felt like whatever is attacking my insides wasn't as angry — like the hand of God had very quickly and miraculously calmed my insides enough that I could teach before resuming my bed rest. 

At one point yesterday afternoon, I got a stressful email, and within minutes I felt my symptoms ratchet up. Man, I thought, how am I going to make it through the semester if this is how stress affects me? Seconds after the discouraging thought, peace flooded my body, and my symptoms suddenly quieted. I've never felt anything quite like it. 

So GLORY HALLELUJAH. God is at work and I am so grateful. 

Thank you for praying.

I do have another prayer request. Yesterday the doctor read my most recent test results and informed me I have a genetic defect that makes me more susceptible to mold-related illnesses. This means I'll have to be extra careful to avoid mold exposure. Here's the kicker: my 3-hour PhD classroom smells strongly of mold, and by the time the class was almost over this week, I felt terrible. My doctor humorously forbade me from being in that room again for an extended period of time.

I can't stay in the class if my health doesn't improve, and if it does improve, the only way I can stay is if we can move the class to a different building. Please pray that God would use this mold situation to clarify my next steps with regards to the PhD class.

Thank you, friends.

-SJ


UPDATE: I've just gotten the most gracious, proactive responses from my professor and the head of the PhD program, and they are going to do whatever they can to get us into a mold-free environment. My goodness, all these answers to prayer!


© by scj

Thursday, February 4, 2016

You guys

My friends, yesterday marked a scary turn in my health, and I've run into the end of myself. But you people: you're amazing. 

Yesterday my phone buzzed throughout the day with texts of encouragement from you, although you didn't know how bad things had gotten. A friend in Africa. A friend in Singapore. A friend down the street. Our cleaning lady with a Spanish prayer. Family scattered across the globe.

Last night my housemate prayed over me for an hour straight. Last week a friend from India, who's prayed for me faithfully as he's fought cancer, brought me a cake from his homeland. Right now I'm snuggled under a quilt one of you made. To my right is a pile of books on CD from one of you. Another of you emailed me this week about sending me another encouraging audio book. Another of you is trying to find organic lamb liver to cook for me (doctor's orders). My favorite pillow was hand-stitched by one of you. Some of my favorite jewelry is from you — gifts, to add sparkle to dark weeks. My fridge and pantry are full of groceries you've bought for me. This week many of you have emailed me medical leadsinformation that may help, potential doctors to replace mine.

There's more, so much more. You are knock-my-socks-off friends, and I am so thankful for you. Facebook says it's Friends Day (they made us individualized "friend" videos to prove it), so Happy Friends Day to my wonderful, marvelous, glorious friends who are the hands, feet, arms, and mouth of God to me.

I just love you guys. You are the best.

-Sarah

 


© by scj

Sunday, January 31, 2016

More prayer requests

My friends,

I'm going to make this short as I'm feeling really crummy. I especially need your prayers right now.

I've been off my meds for a couple of weeks now, and I experienced considerable relief from my symptoms the first few days I was off them. But yesterday, my symptoms grew so loud it feels as if the work of the last year has been undone. This is scary and terribly discouraging.

Classes start tomorrow — both those I teach and the one I hope to take — and I need a considerable and quick rebound if I am going to do all that I need to do this week, month, and semester. But I'm just focusing on this week for now. 

Please pray for:

1. Quick healing. I cannot do a repeat of last spring. I really don't think it would be possible to teach and live another four months in the state I was in last spring. That was the most horrifyingly miserable semester of my life.

2. Wisdom for next medical steps. I'm trying to take some of my meds this weekend to see if I can tolerate them now. I'm wondering if the symptoms of the last few days are the result of having stopped taking my meds... I have some anti-viral treatment I'd like to try but I don't want to try it if it's going to make me sicker.

3. I will need to drop my PhD class if I don't seem some improvement in the next two weeks. If I do see improvement, then I'll need wisdom to discern how much improvement is enough to move on with the class.

4. Emotional and mental stamina. This is really hard.

5. Spiritual protection. I know Satan isn't jazzed about my ministry and wants to use this hardship to completely incapacitate me.


Thank you, my friends.

-Sarah




© by scj

Monday, January 18, 2016

All blessings

I read the doctor's letter in front of the fire place. I've laid here for weeks, watching the flickering flames, sometimes shifting to watch the clouds beyond the windows drop ribbons of sleet. I tried to read a book in the firelight a few weeks earlier, but there was too much inflammation in my brain to string symbols into sentence-strands. So I rest and wait and hope and pray. I do not need to read this break, after all. But this letter's salutation makes it seem important, worth reading.

"Dear honored patients...I have been dealing with cancer for the past 10 years...I do not have much longer to live...it is time for me to shut down my practice... I must spend my remaining time getting my affairs in order and spending time with my family....I have already chased enough rainbows."

I'd just seen him two weeks earlier. He wasn't hooked up to his IV this time. His nurse didn't check in on him every 15 minutes like she has in the past. He coughed less. "I'll see you in February," he said when I stood up to leave.

There is a special bond you develop with your doctor when you are very sick. He must know your history — every emotional trauma and every twist and turn in symptom presentation. He must know what's happening in your liver, your heart, your brain, your bones, your cells. He comes to know you in ways nobody else does. And then he takes all that knowledge and he thinks on it. He reviews your thick stack of lab results again and again; and he pieces everything together as best he can. He carefully prescribes new medication. And when he's worked with you awhile he says things like, "The normal dosage for this tincture is 20 drops twice a day, but you should start with 5 drops once a day."

A few months ago I sunk into the leather chair opposite his desk for an appointment. He wanted to know my symptoms. I try to explain. My head is buzzing. It feels like every cell in my brain is swelling, morphing into a red ant. My brain is crawling with millions of biting red ants. Now it's growing, like a water balloon pushing at my skull. My head is nauseated; I'm dizzy. I feel like a inflatable doll who's been filled with lead. His nurse interrupts for a moment to change the IV he's hooked up to. A few seconds later he's doubled over, hacking from the cancer that has spread to his lungs. When his coughing subsides he looks up and asks me to continue. It's been a long, saw-tooth journey, I say. I am tired. "I know," he says, and he looks me in the eyes, his own clouded with cancer and compassion.

My dad is in the other room. I want to go to him, to tell him that my doctor will die soon, but first I need some time alone. I am blindsided by how sad this letter makes me feel. So I lie here. I wonder about the woman my doctor married last month. What sorts of things will they do together in the next few months? Where do his kids live? Does he feel afraid?

And then it hits me: what am I going to do now? A few hours earlier I'd googled "twitching between finger and thumb" and I sifted through dozens of articles about Multiple Sclerosis and ALS. The twitching began two days after I started taking the new medicine my doctor prescribed. I stop taking the medicine immediately but the twitching continues. I wonder if it's flipped a switch in my brain. I want to ask my doctor, but I can't now.

I return to L.A. a few days later. I have work I can do, and I want to distract myself. I'm still feeling lousy, and I realize my body is suddenly rejecting the medicine I've been taking the last 6 months. I stop taking it, cold turkey. My body feels shocked, but my neurological symptoms are a little bit quieter. The twitching subsides and I'm able to grade three days in a row. While I work, I try not to think about my next steps. Medicine, doctors, supplements, grad school. I push them into a mental closet.

I check the mail my second evening here. It's a two-minute walk to the mailbox but I stretch it into four minutes. I breathe in the balmy air, and God and I peer into my closet to discuss what I've stuffed there. I tell him the future is scary, and anxiety is a vine growing up out of my gut and around my chest, tightening. Are you going to take care of me this semester, God? I want his reassurance, so I ask him to prompt someone to send something in the mail to reassure me. It feels like a far-fetched prayer.

When I return to the house I rifle through the stack of mail I've just collected. At the bottom of the pile is a card addressed to me. I open it to find a gift card to the health food store down the street, and this anonymous note:

"Someone wanted to surprise you and let you know you're cared for."





Two days later, a random check arrives in the mail.

On Wednesday my friend, A, texts me to see how I am doing. "Can I do anything for you?" she asks. I tell her to keep praying. She says she will and then offers to do my grocery shopping and cooking. I hesitate. I know how much work that will be. She lives 1.5 hours away and has an 11-month-old baby. But I know she means it, and I need help. Yes, I say. I would love that. I feel anxiety's thorny vine loosen a bit.

Saturday morning she arrives with a trunk full of food she's bought, prepped, and cooked for me. I can't wait to snuggle Baby H, so I take her while A unloads. Soon, my refrigerator and freezer are stuffed with the food required for my new diet. Homemade soup, bone broth, wild salmon A's husband caught in the bellies of Alaska's rivers, free-range turkey, berries, kelp, fermented veggies, and dozens of bags of chopped vegetables for juicing, roasting, and snacking. Carrots. Turnips. Brussel Sprouts. Cabbage. Cucumber. Mushrooms. Onions, and more.

There is a box on the floor, next to the cooler, full of non-edible goodies A wants to give me. A cast iron skillet ("You need iron, and iron will absorb into your food if you use this," A says), a new blender, and a number of other tools. And then she pulls out two new knives. I've been using a $7 set of IKEA knives for 12 years now and am delighted with these new knives. I put them to use, slicing a beet to put in the juicer, and I wonder if this is what it feels like to transition from driving a minivan to a Lamborghini.


Mid-morning we sit on the floor with the baby, and A tells me she's been researching doctors on my behalf. She's found a good one she thinks can help. She has other ideas about how to help me get healthy, too. She has a plan, and she is going to be my advocate. The future doesn't feel so scary anymore, and my soul feels fuller than my fridge.

Today my kitchen is swirling with the sounds of a culinary symphony. The steady rhythmic base of my new knives striking the cutting board. The soothing soprano-sizzle of onions in my new iron skillet. The occasional pop of hot oil, the dinging of the timer.

Sometimes I wonder if orchestral symphonies in heaven will smell as beautiful as they sound. Perhaps the musical note "A" smells like summer strawberries; "B" smells like ocean breeze; "C" smells like dry pine, "D" smells like someone you shared your life with, and so on. Clair de Lune could smell like summer vacation at the sea. Today, my kitchen symphony smells better than it sounds — a taste of heaven, perhaps. The sharp smell of citrus. Rosemary's perfume. Pungent garlic and sliced winter cucumber and freshly juiced kale.

At noon I sit down to eat lunch. Spinach wilted in olive oil and garlic, roasted root vegetables, and turkey seasoned with fresh rosemary. It feels like a feast compared to my tired attempts at meals this winter. I eat slowly, noticing the textures, savoring the flavors. And then I notice anxiety's thorny vine has disappeared, and it isn't from any effort of my own. It is because of my friends, the ones who are teaching me that they love me because they love me, not because of anything else. Quietly, slowly, I sing a prayer of thanks: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow..."



© by scj

Monday, January 11, 2016

Prayer Requests

Hi Friends,

I'm preparing to fly back to California tomorrow and am feeling pretty sick. I would love your prayers as I travel and transition back into work.

Thanksgiving:

1. I've rested a lot this break and have done a lot of helpful research about potential treatments. Pieces of this puzzle continue to emerge.

2. I'm so glad I could experiment with different treatments the last few weeks in the comfort of my parents' home, surrounded by family.

3. So many of you have been such an encouragement to me. Thank you. And to those of you who emailed me your stories of God's goodness in your lives, thank you! I loved reading them. Keep 'em comin'.

4. Tangerines. Nimble fingers to peel them; a nose to inhale their sharp citrus; a chin to feel juice dribbling down it; a tongue with TASTE BUDS, of all things.

5. The presence of the Holy Spirit. I do not know how people survive chronic illness without Him.

6. Snow. It has been such a quiet, refreshing grace this month.


Requests:

1. That I'd heal enough tonight to be able to travel tomorrow and work this week. I have daily work responsibilities this week, but my symptoms have been so difficult the last several weeks that I'm nervous my body won't let me do what I need to do.

2. Discernment for next treatment steps. I have a number of medications I want to take that could really help my body, but thus far, my body has reacted badly to the few I've tried, and I'm struggling to stabilize. I have a few weeks before I resume teaching, so I want to utilize this time wisely. Should I take my new medications? Or should I give my body a break after the difficulty of the last several weeks? I need wisdom. I also need help differentiating between a bad reaction to medication and what my fellow sickies call a "healing crisis," in which I feel much sicker because the medication and my body are doing healing work. Sometimes the two look really similar, and it can be hard to know if I should continue with the medication or not.

3. Emotional and mental stamina — that God would strengthen my inner being. It's pretty much a guarantee that all treatment will make me much sicker before I get better, and as I move forward with other treatments, I'm feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted from everything.

4. Wisdom about the spring semester. I am set to begin my PhD program with this spring. I was originally going to ease in by taking just two classes but have recently dropped a class as a result of my health the last several weeks. Now I'm wondering if I can even handle one class. School starts February 1st, and I can get a full refund for my class if I drop it by February 12th. One of my doctors thinks going back to school could help me get better, but I don't want to push my body too hard. It's hard to figure out which activities will help me heal and which will make me sicker. Please pray I can discern God's will for me this semester by February 12th. Good health in the next several weeks would be a good sign to stay. (And goodness, I would SO love to be well enough to take a class...)

Thank you, my friends.

I'm praying this for you tonight:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21


Cheering for you,

Sarah





© by scj

Friday, January 8, 2016

Remembering to hope

My dear friends,

I had grand ambitions to write some year's end reflections last week. I'd sit down with a cuppa tea and scour old memories, looking for overlooked mistakes I could learn from. I'd search for themes in my decision-making and knee-jerk reactions to life's hard stuff, asking the Spirit to help me learn from them. I'd plumb the depths of my hardest moments, looking for signs of God's goodness that I may have missed. Then I'd look toward the new year with renewed determination to cultivate growth-oriented practices.

But a few hours into New Year's Eve day, I noticed my pants were on inside out and backward. A few hours later, they were still inside out and backward.

Here's the thing: I am tired. I am especially tired of trying to get healthy. It's a full-time job that reaps such little reward. Lately, I've been so exhausted that even breathing has been hard. All that *in* and *out*, and *in* and *out* business. It's breeeeaking the energy bank. And since rectifying pant situations is harder than breathing, I left my pants inside out and upside down, or however they were, and then I collapsed in a pile and mentally sang an operatic rendition of "The Ants Come Marching In." I'm hoping the doctor will be satisfied impressed with my recent mental attempts at singing opera when I see him next. It's the thought that counts and all.

And this is where I insert a plot twist you totally didn't see coming:

I did not sit down that day to scour old memories for signs of God's goodness; nor did I search for themes in my decision-making. Instead, I laid in front of the fireplace for 12 hours straight, shifting occasionally to find a more pant-friendly position, and trying to ignore the quickly approaching new year.

I think a lot of you put your pants on backwards and inside out on New Year's Eve day, too — metaphorically speaking, of course. You, like me, may be too tired to muster enthusiasm about the new year. You may even be dreading it. Maybe 2015 tore through your life like Hurricane Katrina and left everything in shambles. Or maybe 2015 slowly and quietly whittled away at your sense of wonder and curiosity and left you feeling dry and apathetic. Maybe it punctured your most secret hopes, or stole someone you love, or gobbled up your financial stability. Maybe it left you feeling lonely and directionless.

It is hard to look toward the future with excitement and hope when the past is laden with disappointment.

But hope buoys us. It keeps the thrashing waves from swallowing us when we veer into the unexpected and unfamiliar darkness. And sometimes, it bumps us into a still-water patch of sunlight just long enough to coax buds out of the gardens we're growing inside ourselves. Many of us need a good dose of hope this month as we tentatively step into 2016.
 
This week, now that my pants are on straight, I've been trying to inflate my rather limp hope as I look toward the new year. I've been praying, and mentally singing praise songs (sans the opera; I figure the angels could use a break from all my high-pitched warbling), and hanging out in Exodus 14 and 15.

In these chapters, the Israelites are standing at the edge of the Red Sea. On the other side of the sea lies freedom from slavery — finally, after hundreds of years under Egyptian rule. Behind them, an army of Egyptian slave masters is chasing them, threatening their imminent freedom. Most of us know the story well: God parts the Sea in half, and the Israelites walk across the seabed to safety. Once they've reached the other side, the sea returns to normal, swallowing the Egyptian slave drivers.

The Israelites must've fallen onto the seashore and turned to each other in relief and awe that day. They were free to establish a home of their own in the land God promised! And yet, a vast and dangerous desert lay between them and the Promised Land. Their trials were far from over. In fact, many of them would soon be longing for the comparatively "comfortable" days of slavery. Even so, they burst into a song of praise to God right then and there. My Bible calls it "The Song of Moses and Miriam."

In the first half of the song, the Israelites look back on the good things God has done for them:

    "Pharaoh's chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
    and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea..."


In the last half of the song, they look forward to the good things God will certainly do for them in the future. In the English translation* they describe some of God's future acts as if they've already happened, such is their confidence in his promises:

  "...all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
    because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
    till the people pass by whom you have purchased."


The Israelites had hope in God's future provision because he'd taken care of them in the past. This is why God repeatedly admonishes his people to remember him and his unfailing love throughout the Old Testament. And this is why, at least in part, he built festivals of remembrance into the Jewish calendar. He wants his children to step into the future with hope that it will be full of good gifts because he's packed the past with good gifts.

I'm especially intentional about trying to remember God's past faithfulness when the burden of my sickness sends me staggering to my knees, but in these moments of crisis it can be hard to remember the good things he has done. In these moments, my brain tends to freeze, and my spirit is apt to pace and wring its hands in fear. So lately, I've started swapping stories about God's faithfulness with my friends throughout the daily humdrum of life. I want our stories to wiggle into my heart and take root, so when the storms come, the stories are a part of me. And so, when God answers a prayer request, I try to remember to tell my people. When I'm sinking into the quicksand of discouragement and anxiety, I try to remember to ask them to recount times God encouraged and strengthened them.

I have just a few resolutions for 2016. At the top of the list is my desire to make our stories of remembrance a reliable part of the rhythm of my daily life, because I know they will rewrite the direction of my life-song. I'm hoping you'll help me with this today.

Would you share with me, either in the comments section or via email, some story highlighting the good care, provision, and/or presence of God in your life? If you're comfortable sharing in the comments section, please do. I think lots of us are longing to hear stories of God's faithfulness to the saints as we practice the disciplines of remembering and hoping.

I'll start us off with a story from a particularly trying time in my life awhile back. I've been revisiting this story almost daily lately!

..................

I'm sitting in a patch of sunshine outside the Eagle's Nest, one of Biola University's cafes, trying to respond to a work email. I've managed to type a decent greeting, but I'm struggling to string more sentences together.

When I was a kid, I learned that although we can't feel gravity, its force is really, really strong. I haven't thought about gravity a whole lot since then; but today, I can't stop thinking about it. It is distracting me from writing this email, because today gravity has turned into a sumo wrestler trying to flatten me to the sidewalk.

In my experience, grief turns gravity into a force to be reckoned with. In life's carefree moments, gravity lets us run and jump and hug and twirl; but in life's saddest moments, gravity weighs heavily, threatening to incapacitate us.

A few weeks earlier I suffered a loss that triggered a nightmarish flare-up in my health problems. For the first time on this crazy journey with sickness, I feel abandoned by God. Doesn't he know he's been letting me dangle over the flames for years now? Does he have plans to give me a break anytime soon? Must he really lower me deeper into the fire? Does he even know what's going on in my life right now?

I close my email and sit back in my chair. "God," I say. "My head knows you've not abandoned me, but my heart is really suspicious that you have. Please change my heart. Give me special grace. If you know what I'm going through right now, and if you care, then please move in someone in another part of the country or world — someone who doesn't know my circumstances — and prompt her to pray for me right now. And then, prompt her to message me on Facebook to tell me she is praying for me."

A few minutes later, I check my Facebook profile, hoping to see the red notification indicating a new message. There is no red. Ah, well . . . maybe God needs more time to answer this prayer.

A few hours later, after teaching my last class of the day, I check my Facebook again. There, in the upper left-hand corner, is a message alert. My heart beats a little faster and I nervously open the message. It's from a friend who lives in Singapore. I met her last year on an airplane. It was the day before Easter, and when I'd discovered she was a Christian and didn't have anywhere to celebrate Easter, I invited her to my church and folks' house. She spent the day with us and has been a friend ever since.

Her message was sent at 6:00 A.M. her time. I did the math and it must've been around 3 A.M. her time when I'd prayed earlier that day. Her message said,

"Hihi. Hope all is well with you. For some strange reason, you came into my dream last night. I pray that God's hedge of protection will be upon you, showering you with His joy and strength each and every day. Take care and have a blessed week ahead."

................................

Gravity's sumo wrestler force didn't go away in the weeks after I got that message. My health didn't get better, either. In fact, it got worse. But often, when I am tempted to believe God has forgotten about me, I remember this story. He knows the battles we fight, and he cares about the burdens we carry. Sometimes, though, he responds to our needs differently than we'd like him to.

His goodness is often very different than I expect it to be. My understanding of his goodness is often paper doll-shaped. It fits into my dream-worlds and is dressed in pink frills and glossy pearls. But his actual goodness comes to us in real flesh and bones, nailed to a cross, and then busting out of a grave. Your stories of his faithfulness in your lives continue to broaden my understanding of the goodness of death and resurrection, and they teach me to hope in the things that won't disappoint.

I'd love to hear your stories now. Your long stories. Your short stories. Your personal stories. Your anonymous stories. Let's remember together.

I'm praying your first month of 2016 swells with the hope that comes from remembering.

I love you guys,

Sarah



*I don't know how the Hebrew compares

© by scj

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Two things

1. It snowed again, and this time it stuck!

Snow globe status!


The medicine I've been on lately has made me really sick and has confined me to bed, but when I awoke to a winter wonderland, I felt well enough to go on a snow adventure. So I threw my snow clothes on over my pajamas and went trekking through the neighborhood and surrounding woods. It was an invigorating, spirit-lifting break from the recent intensity of my symptoms.





Oh, these magical woods.




2. I finished my semester grading. HOLLLLLLLLA!



After I'd finished, I felt well enough to go out for dinner with Dad. He and I are home alone since my siblings have returned to work and their respective homes, and my mom is studying abroad in France this winter (YAAAY, Mom!). And since we're both rather tuckered out from the holiday festivities, our culinary endeavors have been less than impressive this week. Eating out was a well-timed treat.



And I just love dates with Dad.


Happy Thursday, folks. I hope your transition back to work has been encouraging and smooth.

I'm cheering for ya, Home Skillets,

Sarah

© by scj

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Weather

When I was a kid I picked up the idea that it is lame to talk about the weather. I must've read it in one of the books I poured through — that if you want to be a sparkling conversationalist, you should ask people about their work, friendships, activities, pets, families, and hobbies. Ask them about anything but the weather, really. Otherwise, you will drop the conversational ball. At the age of nine, I had aspirations to be a non-converstational-ball-dropper.

The thing is, I like talking about the weather. Weather is great. Sometimes, the afternoons are hot and dry, and the sun's warmth feels like it's wiggled through my skin and muscles and is invigorating my deepest insides. Sometimes, the setting sun turns the clouds to cotton candy (will they rain Skittles?!). Sometimes, the mornings dawn muggy and humid and wrap around me like a big, wet, lotion-y blanket. The weather makes life a grander adventure.

This morning I awoke to blue skies and a frosted world. Crystalline trees winked in the sunlight, and the pond glistened with a thin layer of ice. It was a stunning sight.


I think the Sugar Plumb Fairy must be especially fond of these frosty mornings. It looks like the world's been tipped upside down and dipped in sugar, doesn't it?!



Walking on frosted grass makes the most satisfying crunch. More satisfying, even, than the crunch of garbanzo beans I deep fried yesterday, which is saying a lot, because I fried those babies in bacon grease.

Side note: I've been frying lots of things in bacon grease this month, and it's been rocking my culinary world. My favorite deep-fried item: thinly-sliced shallots. Holy smokes they're amazing.

My parents' neighborhood has a 180-degree view of Washington's finest mountains, but they're often cloaked in clouds so we don't often get to enjoy their beauty. Yesterday, though, we had a rare dose of sun and accompanying mountain vistas.


A close up of the far left side of the panoramic photo above


I wish I'd had my camera and a zoom lens with me so I could've captured the mountainous horizon in all its glory.

But here's the best weather news:



It snowed! A number of us hadn't seen snow in a couple of years, so we were delighted.


It only snowed for a few hours, but we made the most of it.


Catching snowflakes is one of my favorite life activities. For a few minutes, it makes time seem so much slower and life's hard stuff seem far-off. It's a quiet grace.


Happy New Year's Eve, friends.

I hope your celebrations are filled with warm, glowing moments.

Cheering for you, Skillets,

Sarah




© by scj

Monday, December 28, 2015

Abbie

A few years ago, my sister babysat a friend's dog the week of Christmas. The dog, a snuggly, fluffy Maltese named Abbie, captured my family members' hearts and convinced me, a former dog skeptic (due to allergies), that dogs are the best animal on the planet.


Our first day with Abbie we decided we should look into buying a Maltese for ourselves, such was our burgeoning love for her.

My brother, the lover of German Shepherds and Labs, protested: "A maltese would not be good for us, guys; we are big dog people, not little dog people." Hours later he found himself negotiating with me to hand over the pup for some snuggle time of his own. "Just five minutes, Sarah. Just let me have her for five minutes."


So you see, Abbie made small dog people out of us all.

None of us ended up buying a dog in her absence, mostly because of dog allergies. But a Christmas hasn't passed since then when I haven't wished little Abbie were visiting. Last week I told my mom I wished her owners would go out of town more. "This Christmas would be a great time to go out of town," I said.

A few days later, my sister came over to stay the week. I'd planned to borrow one of her winter coats, so she set it in my lap shortly after she walked in the door. It was a heavy coat. Heavier than normal. And it was wiggling. What in tarnation? And then: a bright patch of white fur; a wagging tail, and a wet little nose.

ABBIE!


She's been here all week, folks, and WE ARE IN SMALL DOG HEAVEN. Well, we were. Yesterday was her last day with us, and now we're all feeling a little sad. We keep having phantom Abbie urges. We find ourselves turning to snuggle her, only to remember she's gone.

We're glad we soaked up every moment with her last week.


Early morning walk at Washington State

Christmas Eve walk
The Poofy Coat Gang with our fierce mascot (missing: the older of my two brothers and his wife)

Oh Abbie. That sweet little face of yours has magical power.


Happy Monday, folks. I hope your Christmas was merry and bright!

-Sarah


P.S. Thanks for praying. I've started taking the first few items in my most recent medical protocol. It's been a rocky start, so I'm especially thankful for your prayers.


© by scj

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A trip to the doctor

There was a time in my adult life when I struggled to take my daily dose of cod liver oil. If you have ever tasted cod liver oil, then you understand. But then I got sick and had to start taking all manner of fetid, foul-tasting medicine on a daily basis, and my tolerance for disgusting medicine skyrocketed. These days, downing gross stuff is easy peasy. I don't mean to brag or anything, but I have become a cod liver oil-drinking MACHINE. Your mom would be proud.

Yesterday, during my doctor's appointment, Dr. N. suggested I try a different type of cod liver oil. Fermented cod liver oil, he said. Apparently, it's the best because it's made with a low-temperature fermentation process that preserves some of the fish's fatty acids and forms a vitamin A that none of the other fish oils have. He sold me on it, and I picked up a nice, big, spendy bottle of it.

Last night, after I'd taken my evening round of medications, I squirted a teaspoon of the oil into a cup and downed it. And sweet mother of Joseph, the smell of that stuff could KILL A GOAT. It literally knocked me to my knees. I sputtered and shuddered and almost couldn't keep it down, but I did. And oh have mercy, this oil is the "Mexican Food" of medicine. It sticks with you, if you catch my drift. I don't know if my gag reflex is going to let me take this stuff everyday for the next several months. I may have finally met a medicinal match that can take.me.down.

If I am unable to take this stuff, then I will ship it to Gollum. It seems like the sort of thing he'd love. Although, as I knelt in the kitchen and willed the oil to go all the way down my esophagus last night, I wondered if fish oil fermentation is the process wherein Gollum finds a rotten fish, chews it up, swallows it, throws it up because it's so gross, and leaves it to rot some more before a scientist comes, bottles it, and sells it to suckers like me. So on second thought, I may not be able to pawn this stuff off on him after all...


Here's my point in all this: Little Brother, you may want to bring a mask of some sort with you this Christmas. If you thought my apple cider vinegar was bad, well: you ain't seen smelled nothin' yet.

Cod liver oil aside, I'll add another protocol to my existing medical protocols soon. The doctor found a couple of new pieces to the puzzle yesterday. First, he discovered another virus called the Cytomegalovirus (CMV) lurking in my body. He said it's a particularly nasty virus that can be virtually indistinguishable from EBV — the virus we know has been wreaking havoc in my body all these years. It's likely that the viruses have both been attacking my insides all this time.

Because these viruses splice into a person's DNA (it's called "interpolating"), they mate with you for life. The goal is to keep them dormant, lest they keep you in bed for life. In order to try to get them under control, I'll start anti-viral treatment after Christmas. It will make me much sicker than I currently am, so I'll prepare my body for treatment by clearing my detox pathways with a couple of other medications before beginning anti-viral treatment. We know I have a genetic defect that inhibits my body's ability to detox, so my body needs help detoxing dead critters. Clearing detox pathways will make it easier for dead critters to leave my body.

These detoxing medications will likely make me sicker than I am, too, so I'll also wait until after Christmas to begin clearing my detox pathways. One of the detoxing agents has the potential to make me very sick, depending on whether or not I have a genetic abnormality affecting something called "sulfation pathways." The doctor said I'll know three days into taking it if I have the genetic abnormality. If I do, I'll get very sick. This is a little scary, so I'd love your prayers. And of course, I'd love prayer as I begin the anti-viral treatment in the next week or two. I'm hoping my body is strong enough that it can rebound from the sickness it causes.

Here's another thing: the full moon is this Christmas. It can make me so sick, but gosh I'd love to be healthy enough to up and mentally present with my family. I'd love prayer for this!

My most recent lab work revealed a number of other things. Most notably, an inflammation marker called TGF-beta 1 is super high. Dr. N. said he often sees those numbers in lyme patients, but he acknowledged there could be other pathogens causing that kind of inflammation. So the uncertainty about lyme continues. Perhaps getting these viruses under control will strengthen my body enough that I can move ahead with another lyme test. That's something else to pray about.

And finally: I asked the doctor about my vagus nerve and he said vagus nerve dysfunction is really common in patients like me. He said there's really nothing I can take to directly rehabilitate my vagus nerve, but I can work to rehabilitate it with diet, gargling, and singing opera. This is not a joke. It is a real thing, and I am taking it VERY seriously.

My family finds me a true delight to have around.



Merry day-before-Christmas-Eve, friends of mine.

I hope your day is jolly!

-Sarah




© by scj

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Home

Last night my mom picked me up from the airport. I was trembling and weak when she arrived. The turbulence on my flight was the scariest I've experienced, and my nervous system was still rather unhappy about the whole affair. Electrical shocks; heart pounding; breathing labored; throat constricting. I kept murmuring words of comfort to my body. "It's okay, Body; it's all over. Feel how the earth is holding you up. Notice the way your lungs balloon with clean air. You can relax now. All is well."

Even still, my nervous system sputtered and misfired and tried to keep me safe long after the plane landed. Seeing my mom get out of the car, wearing her red turtle neck and gold beads, made my racing, jumpy insides feel cozy, like they'd climbed inside a fuzzy sock.

When we pulled into the driveway 20 minutes later, the house was glittering with twinkle lights. "Look at all the fairies!" my mom said. Decades ago, my siblings and I loved to curl up by Christmas tree and listen to my dad spin stories about Christmas lights that were really fairies. Each day the fairies remained still as glass, determined to maintain their secret identity as lights; and each night, after all the humans had gone to bed, they flew into the darkness to have adventures.

Some nights they feasted and danced with the people in the miniature, ceramic village atop the piano, and other nights they traveled back in time and lit up baby Jesus' dark manger scene. Their adventures always made Christmas as magical as can be. Decades later, the Christmas light fairies decking the boughs in my parents' home are one of my favorite parts of Christmas. Lying here, surrounded by fairy lights, makes me feel safe and full of wonder.

My parents will return from church in a bit. My dad will be tired from preaching so he'll curl up in his easy chair by the twinkle lights with me for a bit. My mom will probably head straight to the kitchen to whip up something to eat, chatting with us from her position by the stove top.

My mom is known for her soup around these parts. A childhood friend calls it her "world famous soup." She doesn't follow a recipe when she makes soup, so it's always different. Sometimes she adds sausage and sprigs of thyme to a bubbling pot of vegetables. Sometimes she purees potato, adds a ham hock, and lets it all simmer on the stove top for hours. She always toasts bread with butter and Parmesan cheese to accompany the soup. Parmesan bread makes a tasty soup-scoop.

My dad is known for his savory herb blends. He loves to experiment with fresh herb combinations whenever he cooks. Garlic, basil, red pepper flakes, and jalapeno-infused olive oil. Rosemary, roasted chipotle powder, and a dash of maple syrup. Perhaps today he will join my mom part-way through her lunch preparations. Maybe she'll marinade the chicken while he creates an herb bath for the zucchini. Their kitchen will be filled with intoxicating smells.

Our dinner table is adjacent to the Christmas tree, several yards from the fire place. It is covered in a festive table cloth and bathed in light from the floor-to-ceiling windows. This area of the house often swirls with conversation. What did the kindergartners do in mom's Sunday school class today? What text will dad be preaching from next week? Has anybody seen any good movies lately? Hey, do you guys think reality TV can be a healthy entertainment choice? Marc, you can't let this dinner hour pass without a Nacho Libre impersonation — it just wouldn't be a proper meal without one. And by the way, how do you all understand the role of women in the church? 

Sometimes, all this conversation erupts into disagreement, and the air hums with friction. I'm learning this is inevitable when a group of verbal people gathers. I think, though, that these moments have the potential to be the most fruitful parts of our conversations. Iron sharpening iron, and all. My brothers think of things I wouldn't think to think; my dad's studied things I've been too tired to study; my mom knows just the right questions to ask; and my sister thinks of word pictures that make my conclusions seem rather dull. They push me toward developing truer beliefs.

I've grown to appreciate the bowls of steaming soup and hunks of crusty bread more than ever during these conversations because they draw out the conversations long into the night. They invite more musing, more exploring. They make the dinner table a place of connecting, of discovering, of growing.

There's snow on the forecast for this Friday. I started asking God for big, feathery flakes this morning. My sister and littlest brother and his wife will be in town that day. My littlest brother and his wife got married in September, so we've not built many memories with the two of them together. His wife is a unique blend of strength, conviction, gentleness and grace, and we're loving getting to know her. We've spent time with her in the drizzly rain of Washington and the humid heat of Florida beaches. We haven't played in the snow together, yet, though. A snow day with her would be the cherry on top of this December sundae.

I've just looked at the clock. It's noon, and I'm still in my pajamas. They're fuzzy fleece pjs that a new friend gave me a few Christmases ago, but I didn't bring a suitcase full of sweats for nothing. It's time for a mid-day change.

Cheering for you, Home Skillets,

Sarah



© by scj

Friday, December 18, 2015

An unexpected answer to your prayers

Oh you wonderful people, you. Thank you for praying for me so diligently these last few weeks as I've finished up the school year. Your prayers have been powerful and effective. I've seen significant improvement in my symptoms since you started praying, and I have been able to remain faithful in my most pressing responsibilities. Today I wrapped up finals week, and tomorrow I'm flying to my folks house for the holidays. It all feels like a tremendous gift.

I often feel most vulnerable to Satan's attacks when I'm sickest. I'm so thankful to have a prayer team in you during these battles. On Wednesday the 2nd, after you'd been praying for a full night, the spiritual attacks subsided. I felt like Angel warriors surrounded me and created a bubble of protection from the Enemy. Since then, I've often felt peace settle into the nooks and crannies of my spirit. I've also felt new hope wiggling its little roots into my soul-soil. And surprise of surprises, the week I was most incapacitated, I found myself laughing a lot, alone, in my room, wearing my stretchy pants. (Name that movie). I know this must be because of your prayers.

These four things — joy, peace, protection from the Enemy, and enough improvement that I can remain faithful in my responsibilities — are often the fruit of your prayers. But two weeks ago there was a fifth gift that made me want to sing the Hallelujah chorus. I'm especially excited to share this fifth gift with you because I know many of you have been praying for years, waiting for something like this to happen. I do wish I could tell you in person, but this little post will have to do.

Lots of you ask me what my symptoms are, exactly. For several years I've been dealing with medical fatigue that makes me feel like I have lead in my limbs. I've also had regular low grade fevers, muscle and joint pain, migraines, vision blocks, cysts, chronic sore throats and swollen lymph nodes, increased food allergies, thick brain fog, decreased mental stamina, poor memory, and occasional muscle weakness. My team of doctors and I are pretty sure the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) is the cause of all these symptoms.

But then, last December, after a season of significant healing, my body added a slew of new symptoms to the mix: constant dizziness, nausea that starts in my head (not my gut) and radiates down my body, ringing in my ears, buzzing in my head, stiff and painful neck and jaw, electric shocks bouncing all over my body, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, increased weakness and fatigue, digestive problems, heightened anxiety, a dozen more food allergies etc. My weirdest symptom makes me feel like my nerves and brain are inflamed and thousands of little bugs are chewing on them. Oddly, this sensation tends to intensify after I eat.

Since July, I've been rigorously detoxifying my body with the help of many supplements and tinctures. For years, pathogens have been dumping poison into my body, and it was essential that we begin pulling it out before doing any extreme treatment. Thankfully, the detoxification has helped, and in September I saw great improvement in my health. I function at about 30-35% of normal now when I feel well, and many of the symptoms that started last year are no longer constant. Every now and then they all flare up at once and incapacitate me, though.

It's been tricky to figure out what's causing each of these symptoms. There are just so many of them, and many of them seem unrelated. One doctor speculated it will be several years before I'm back to normal. I imagine that's in part because of how difficult it can be to pinpoint, with any sort of confidence, the causes of chronic disease like mine.

Many of you already know this next bit, but I'll summarize for those of you who don't. Doctors have discovered my immune, endocrine, digestive, and central nervous systems are not working properly. We know EBV and mykotoxins are present in my body. We suspect I deal with parasites, and we're continuing to search for other invaders like lyme. But what we don't know is what is causing which symptoms. It's possible the EBV may be causing the worst of these new symptoms, but why? What is the EBV attacking that is causing this? Is it my liver? My kidneys?

I've done loads of daydreaming while on bed rest over the years. In my favorite, recurring daydream, I'm pushing through a crowd to get to Jesus, much like the woman who bled for 12 years in Mark 5. The daydream varies from day to day. Sometimes Jesus' back is toward me; sometimes he's facing me. Sometimes I beg him to heal me; sometimes he moves to me before I can open my mouth. One thing is the same every time, though: Jesus always places his hands on the same spot on my neck when he heals me.

I've wondered why Jesus puts his hand on that spot on my neck, of all places. I don't have pain there, nor have I had any physical trauma there (that I know of, anyway). It feels like such a random spot, and yet I've always known I want Jesus to put his hand right there. When people have prayed for my health throughout the years, I've asked them to put their hand on that part of my neck. When I've felt especially ill and have had a friend next to me, I've asked her to put her hand there. And when I'm feeling especially sick but must remain be upright to teach or go to the doctor, I find myself gripping that part of my neck.

Two weeks ago I spent most of my time in bed resting and talking to God. God is often very quiet during these conversations, but this time his still, small voice pierced the silence: "Your vagus nerve is inflamed."

Here's the thing about the vagus nerve: I have no idea what it is. I've heard of it and can tell you two things about it: 1) I have one; 2) enemas stimulate it (Noooow you know! Oh, the trivia I've collected over the years. Also: sorry). So I went into research mode, turning to my good friend, Google, with my most pressing question:

"Where is the vagus nerve?"

I had a feeling I knew where the nerve was located, and you guys. I was right. The vagus nerve begins EXACTLY at that spot on my neck that Jesus always touches in my daydream.

And here's what else: because the vagus nerve runs down the torso and innervates major organs, and because of its integral role in managing inflammation, the vagus nerve can either directly or indirectly cause almost every single symptom I've been dealing with throughout this journey (that long list, you guys — how is that possible?!).  Even symptoms that seem unrelated — like dizziness and food allergies — are clearly related when I view them through the lens of the vagus nerve's role in my body.

Over the years I have had so many questions about my symptoms — about they way they relate to each other, about the way they coincide with life events, about the experiences that trigger and exacerbate them — and my research on the vagus nerve began to answer those questions in a way that made perfect sense to me.

(A disclaimer: I'm distilling loads of cutting-edge neuroscience into a few sloppy sentences here, which is a bummer, because it's all the details I uncovered that make this discovery SO STINKING AMAZING.)

The difficulty with this whole vagus nerve discovery is neuroscientists are just now gathering significant information about the vagus nerve and chronic disease. It's remained a mystery for quite some time. This means doctors are just now experimenting with treatment involving the vagus nerve for conditions like mine. So my next steps are to figure out how I can reduce the inflammation of my vagus nerve and can help it do its job. And of course, I'm still on the search to identify which pathogens — EBV, mykotoxins, or possible lyme — are inflaming the nerve so horribly. I'm not sure if it will be possible to figure this out, but in the meantime, I've discovered a handful of practical things I can do to stimulate the nerve and reduce inflammation.

And you know, just being able to name a primary cause (albeit not the ultimate cause) of my symptoms feels good. The knowledge has doused me with buckets of relief.

But do you know what's been more amazing than this vagus nerve discovery? The knowledge that all of your prayerful voices moved the Spirit of God to give me this important piece of a perplexing puzzle. He is good, and you are wonderful, and I am grateful. Thank you for praying, praying, praying for years, and months, and weeks, and hours. You guys are my tribe and I love you.


Happy Friday, Folks.

Cheering for you,

Sarah



© by scj