Thursday, October 16, 2014

He who believes...

This week the university where I teach is hosting a conference, so classes have been canceled for the latter half of the week. That means I get to work from home today, instead of teaching. It's been a relaxed morning of reading, tea parties, and completing miscellaneous tasks from my ever-growing to-do list.

First things first, I got out my hammer and nails and hung my most favorite birthday gift — an original painting by my friend, Tammy, who is a gifted artist.

Tammy and I at my 30th birthday dinner

I first met Tammy five years ago at the public library in Glendora, where we were both living at the time (we lived in Glendora, not the library! Although I wouldn't mind living in the library, for a day or two, anyway...). We got to talking and I invited her to church, and the next thing we knew, we were enjoying weekend walks and dancing excursions together.

All these years later, Tammy is still my loyal friend. In fact, she's the only close friend I have in Orange County who knew me before I was sick. For this reason, my illness was quite grievous to her. She saw its full effects as she watched it change me and strip me of my capacity to live a "normal," full life. I'm thankful to have a friend who will mourn with me when I'm mourning and rejoice with me when I'm rejoicing.

This year, in celebration of my 30th birthday, Tammy wanted to give me a gift that could comfort me when life's storms howl and rage."What Bible verse has brought you courage these last four years?" she asked me awhile back.

I pointed her to a blog (re-posted below) I wrote about the story of Lazarus' death in John 11, back when I was absolutely the sickest I'd ever been (see original post here):

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September 19, 2011
 
I've missed you this last week, Friends. It's been a hard health week for me which always makes it difficult for me to write. But today when God pulled the sun up over the horizon there was healing in its rosy rays, and I have a bit more energy to share something I discovered this last week and have tucked into the folds of my heart to carry with me through each challenging day.

I found it in the book of John, soon after Jesus rubbed spit and mud in the eyes of a blind man and in two strokes of his hand painted the man's world with light, color, and texture. A couple of chapters later this God-Man, whose fingertips bore unmatchable power, received word from his friends Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus had fallen desperately sick.

The Gospel writer sets the scene for us: Lazarus's sisters know Jesus of Nazareth loves their failing brother (and won't he do something for him?), and Jesus knows that this story will end well—just you wait and see, he tells his disciples: God will be glorified in all this.

Then, just before the story really picks up, the Gospel writer pauses to tell us something very important:

"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus."

Yes, yes he did. I nod as I read. This is the first thing I learned about Jesus when I was little tyke in Mrs. Doerschuck's Sunday School class, with her sweet smile, softly curling white hair and singsong voice: "Jesus loves us this we know..."

I go back and read it again.

"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus."

"So when he heard Lazarus was sick," the Gospel writer continued.

My heart quickens. The English teacher in me knows that the word "so" means "to the great extent that," or, "for this reason." So I know the next words on the tissue-thin page will reveal the sort of thing God does when he loves people a lot—people like us, who need to be reminded of the ways Jesus shows us his love.

I lift my eyes and gaze for a moment at the pink geraniums smiling through my window. The muscles around my spine ache as I sit turning the first few verses of Lazarus's story over and over in my mind, thinking about all of the things that could follow that "So".

 My thoughts move slowly through my foggy mind (has it grown into a forest of cotton?), and I am aware that my limbs have fallen limp and exhausted at my side from the sensation of lead sitting thick and still in them.

My emotions are slumped with my body—a body that almost daily reminds me that it is dying, slowly and quietly.

 I remember realizing as an adolescent that we're all dying — that our bodies consistently deteriorate after childhood because of sin's curse. It's just that now it's hard for me to forget about this steady return to dust when my body so often aches and trembles with fatigue.

 And so I daily cry out to God, asking him to sustain and heal me, to keep my body from falling into even more severe illness; and I think, in a very small way, I may understand how Mary and Martha felt and hoped when they asked Jesus to come to Lazarus.

"So when he heard Lazarus was sick he stayed where he was two more days."

Two long days with seconds that passed so slowly the minutes felt like hours, and hours that crawled by slower than lifetimes. Just long enough for Lazarus' body to break and die.

There are tears in my eyes at this point, because this story is not turning out the way it did with the blind man, and I think Jesus shows us his love in ways I wouldn't have chosen.

I keep reading: Jesus makes his way to Martha and Mary's house where he knows Lazarus lies dead, and reminds his disciples along the way of what he'd said when he first heard about Lazarus's illness: "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory....that you may believe."

I know the rest of the story well. Martha runs to meet Jesus as he nears their house, lamenting his late arrival. He promises her Lazarus will rise, and this Jewish woman remembers aloud another promise: the promise of resurrection at the last day.

 I think Jesus must have tipped her downcast, tear-stained face up toward his when he replied, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die."

I think Martha's heart must have quaked and soared.

Together, Jesus walks with Martha into the village where they find Mary grieving among friends and family. Jesus looks at their heaving shoulders and contorted faces, hears their gutteral wails, and is deeply moved.

Even in the face of his transcendent plan to use Lazarus' sickness and death for God's glory, he enters their pain and weeps with them over their dead friend, Lazarus.

 Then he walks to the tomb and calls for Lazarus, telling him to come out into the arms of his sisters and friends. And Lazarus emerges from the tomb's darkened doorway, tearing off his grave cloths as his blinking eyes adjust to the piercing light.

And the resplendence of God's glory fills that brilliant light, and many of the people around Lazarus believed.  

My soul swells and sighs as I look up from my Bible and I know that I want God's glory to radiate from my weakness so that I and others might believe in his power, goodness, and unmatchable love in order that we might have life.

I also know that this is what God will give me. He is writing more of his glory and goodness into my story than I could ever write myself, and although the story he pens may look very different from the story I'd pen, he writes it this way because he loves me.

And so I try to see my story through his eyes, remembering that he is the God of Resurrection who turns our pain into his life-giving glory.

I thoughtfully close my Bible, set it on my cluttered kitchen table, and walk over to the sink where I begin to slowly wash my dishes, murmuring as I lather,

"Now Jesus loved Sarah Christine. So he allowed her a long season of illness...."

And I ask him to make sure that the story ends in his glory, even if it ends in sickness, because his glory is our greatest good.


How might your story change if you told it this way?
 

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So Tammy, dear Tammy, made a gorgeous painting of John 11:25-26 for me:
She said she wasn't sure what the backdrop would look like when she began but figured she'd do something abstract.

Tammy gave her life to Jesus a few years ago, and when she did, she began praying when she painted, asking the Spirit of God to guide her hands. As she prayed and worked on my painting she was surprised to see that her abstract shapes turned into clouds with light pouring through them. It was the perfect background for John 11:25-26.

I love this painting. It matches the colors in my studio perfectly and its words both comfort me and give me courage. There is nothing — nothing — that can happen to me that will ever snatch away my new, eternal life in Christ. There is nothing God cannot use to teach me his resurrection power. There is nothing God cannot use to give me fuller, grander life.



I love having this message of life above the doorways in my house. Its presence reminds me of the Passover in Exodus when the Israelites had to mark their doorways with blood so the angel of death would pass over them.

In seminary I learned that the blood, smeared above and to either side of the doors during Passover, made the shape of a cross.

http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/236x/a3/ed/40/a3ed40c9b8819731a094280663982dd9.jpg
Image credit: pinimg.com
It foreshadowed the day when Jesus' death and resurrection would save us from Death's grip — when God would look at us and, instead of seeing our sin, would see Jesus' blood covering us.

He who believes in Jesus will live, enough though he dies. This truth will never, ever get old. Not in a million, billion, trillion years. I get it now, why the angels can't stop singing "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty!" It's a mind-blowing, heart-healing, body-resurrecting, relationship-transforming, life-changing reality. Ha.le.llujah.

I hope you can carry this joyous, glorious truth with you into your Thursday afternoon, friends!

Hopefully,

Sarah



© by scj

Monday, October 13, 2014

A foggy morning

This morning I woke up to this:


I love these rare cloudy mornings. They make me want to wrap up in a fur coat and go searching for talking beavers and centaurs. Alas, I had a lot of work to do this morning, so I settled for making tea with homemade gluten-free scones and lemon curd instead. 



Ten years ago my family lived in Austria for a summer while my dad worked on his dissertation. Our first morning there I awoke before everyone and ventured out of our suite and onto the grounds of the castle where we were staying. The sleepy rays of sun reached through the outlying forest and illuminated rows of rose bushes and patches of wild flowers. Mist hung over the gardens, shimmering in morning light. It thrilled me. I could have lived in that moment all day.

The quiet unfamiliarity of the fog this morning felt similar to that first morning in Austria somehow. It had me hankering for verdant hills, mountain air and really good chocolate. But since I couldn't teleport to the alps, I did the next best thing: milkmaid braids!


It dipped down into the 60s this morning, so I donned my extra warm Mountain Hardwear vest. Oh Orange County, you've made a wimp out of me.

Sorry for the blurry photo quality

My mom gave me milk maid braids for the first time on Midsummer's Eve in Austria. There were a number of Lithuanians also staying at the castle where we stayed who planned a series of Midsummer's Eve festivities, including a hayride through the alps, a treasure hunt, and a bonfire around which we danced the Lithuanian polka.

It was one of the better days of my life, and has cemented my desire to dance the Lithuanian polka at my wedding, should I get married. You guys, you have to learn the Lithuanian polka before you die. It's bouncy, flailing, fast and joyful. I think some scientist somewhere must have proven that doing doing the Lithuania polka will make you three times happier than you currently are.


Oh boy, I hope you had a happy Monday. And if your Monday royally stunk, then go close your shades and dance, just.like.this:



Happy (or, at the very least, bouncy) Monday, folkas! (When you've got polkas on the brain "folks" becomes "folkas").

-Sarah

© by scj

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Because: grace

This week I've been processing the last four years. Do you remember when I said it's felt like I've been stuck in quicksand all this time? My illness and its wake perpetuated a season of gasping and grasping to get out of the quicksand. But every time I thought I was close to getting out, life threw a giant bucket of sand in my face, sending me sliding back into the quicksand pit.

Five weeks ago, though, I felt like I was pulled out of the quicksand and set on solid ground. Since then, I cannot leave the house without wonderful, glorious things happening to me. I'm used to scouring my circumstances for the little gifts I'd normally overlook, but these days, the grace pours in and it's hard to miss. For a season, I'm not having to search for the gifts. They're flashing neon signs declaring a new season of life. I don't understand why there's been a sudden shift in my circumstances except that God is graciously giving me a season of consolation, after such a trying season of darkness.

Take yesterday, for instance. Yesterday I was over the moon, basking in the vocational, educational, recreational and relational provisions of the last several weeks. I thought my week couldn't get any better. But then I headed down the street to Trader Joe's, and it did.

I wanted orange gerbera daisies for my apartment. Orange feels so autumnal, and it's dipped into the 80's down here, which means fall is in the air. Ha. So I selected the mother of all bouquets, along with snacks for the week, and headed to the checkout stand.

But wait! "One of these daisies has snapped off," I mused to the cashier. "I think I'll get another bouquet." So I selected a nice yellow bouquet — pretty, but  not as autumnal as my orange bouquet — and returned to the cashier. And lo and behold, as I went to pay, she put the orange gerbera daisies in my cart, alongside my yellow bouquet, as a gift to brighten my Saturday. Delight of delights!

And then, as I went to load my groceries in the car, a Trader Joe's employee motioned from across the parking lot that I should stop loading, and ran over. I've never heard this man talk before, and I think he may be deaf. So he used sign language to indicate that he'd load my groceries for me. And you guys. He is beautiful. He is an older African American with ebony skin and blue eyes — we're talking Crater Lake blue. They're dazzling and full of compassion.

http://www.craterlakeoregon.org/SIB/images/157086xcitefun-crater-lake-1.jpg
Crater Lake

Isn't it nice when beautiful people turn out to be beautiful on the inside, too?

Minutes later, I drove home happily with a car seat full of autumn.





On a side note: do you carry loads of hand sanitizer with you the way I do?





I have three bottles of hand sanitizer in my car. Two of these are approximately the size of baby dolphins. Clean hands are my jam, man. Also, I am a Jackson, and we love hand sanitizer.


When I got home, I splashed autumn across my "almost aqua" kitchen wall.




I put a little bit of autumn under the far window, too.





Did you notice my baby cactus?


He cracks me up. I call him George, and I think that, despite his prickles, he's a warm fellow with a wicked sense of humor. Don't ask me how I know that. Just come on over and have a look at him and you'll understand. And when you get here, we can sit down for a nice breakfast of tea and bacon. Because: grace.


© by scj

Crater lake image credit: craterlakeoregon.org

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A trip to Mammoth Lakes

Today I checked my box at Biola expecting to find a pile of paperwork. Instead, there was a bag of my favorite chocolate mints from Trader Joe's, along with a note from a colleague.

Then, I went to a workshop at my university about its new computer grading system, and instead of being one of 20 faculty members receiving training, I unexpectedly got one-on-one training. If you've ever sat next to me while I've tried to navigate computer technology, then you understand this is a fantastic and necessary turn of events, indeed.

And then I enjoyed a steaming cup of my favorite tea, and I talked to my grandma on my 30-minute break, and I laughed with my students while discussing Rogerian argument, and I made plans to meet a friend for a fall concert.

This day has been lovely. Actually, this whole fall has been lovely. It's been full of staggering grace and unexpected joy. Several weeks ago, my friends started praying that God would use this year to teach me his unbounded love and compassion for me. The results of their prayers often have me tingling with wonder-filled delight. Seriously: the goosebumps, you guys; the goosebumps.

One of my most favorite fall gifts is the trip some friends and I took to Mammoth Lakes last weekend. It was glorious. "The weather this weekend is the best it's been all summer and fall," a local told us. I believe him. Everyday the sun lazily stretched his rays across a banner of bluest sky, occasionally peering into the many looking glass lakes to admire his cheery reflection.







My friends, A and J, have a cabin on the edge of one of the Mammoth lakes. The cabin, built in the early 1900's, can't be accessed by road, so it is private and rustic.

The cabin is peeking through the trees on the left-hand side of this photo


From the cabin's deck we could see the fish jumping across the lake (and boy were they jumpy!). At night, the laughter of a nearby stream floated through the open windows. 


The lake on which the cabin is situated is stunning. I especially loved watching the lake's colors shift with the movement of the sun. It was mesmerizing. In some lights the water was cobalt blue; in others it rippled with ribbons of turquoise and jade.

We canoed daily


"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." -Anne Shirley


When we weren't canoeing we were romping through glens dappled with sunshine and forests alight with flaming trees.


The fall colors were certainly at their peak!



My dear friend, A, is pregnant with her and J's first baby!



Just look at the aspen lining the lake! Aspen are my favorite tree. The way they quiver and whisper in the breeze, their slender white trunks, their electric tangerine leaves each autumn — they simultaneously soothe and stir up stuff in my soul. One day, when I grow up, I want to live on acreage with an aspen-lined brook.







A and her husband, J, are dear friends who go way back. I met A at a father/daughter camp, just weeks before I moved to California for school. She and I hit it off immediately, and then we discovered she was a sophomore at the college I'd be attending. Our friendship was destined to be! And now, 11 years later, she's married to a good man, pregnant with their first baby, and still my loyal friend. A and J are some of the most wise, generous, kind, compassionate and fun people you'll ever meet. What a special gift they will be to their baby.  


 




Most of my southern California friends are "beach people." The beach is their destination of choice. But you can't take the Washington out of a girl and the mountains are my favorite place in the world. They make me feel fully alive and awake. And the stars, oh the stars! They hang so thick and low at Mammoth you could reach up and grab them, which makes Mammoth the perfect place to bring star charts. Except, you guys: I FORGOT TO BRING MY STAR CHARTS! This means I have to go back again soon with star charts in hand. Hey, it ain't a bad situation, Jack.


If the evening star-gazing was glorious, then the mornings were glorious-er. Every morning I'd crawl out of bed, brew a cuppa tea, and walk around the lake taking pictures.

Goooood morning!

If my soul were a fiddle, then the mornings at Mammoth would be skilled hands coaxing the happiest jig-inducing folk music out of me. 













The time to pack our bags and close up the cabin came too soon. But you know, the beauty I returned to is pretty special, too:




What a wonderful world we live in.

I hope you have a joyful, beautiful day, my friends!

-Sarah



© by scj

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

An Arizona tour

This has been the fall of weekend getaways. It's been great fun traipsing about the west with the people I love — a truly delightful way to part with summer and welcome fall.

My favorite getaway last month was to my friend's family's house in Arizona. Their home was lovely and palatial, but their grounds were my absolute favorite. They were sprawling, verdant, and teeming with bougainvillea. Care to join me on a backyard tour?

(Note: all photos were taken by my friend, Laura).








The pool was the center of the grounds and featured an overflowing hot tub at one end. It also boasted a stunning view of Camelback Mountain.




Nearest the house, there was a covered sitting area. On one end of the covered area was an outdoor kitchen.







On the other side of the covered sitting area was a banquet table.






Just beyond the banquet table was another seating area (one covered and one uncovered), a grassy area, and a fountain. 






Surrounding the pool were several lounging areas. There was even a golf green, which wasn't captured on camera. I sure could get used plowing through piles of grading in these surroundings...



And that concludes my brief Arizona tour. Sweet heavens, it was a glorious place to rest!

I hope you have the loveliest October weekend, friends.

-Sarah

 



© by scj