Friday, April 22, 2016

Beach and Chips

Yesterday my friend Sean took me to one of my many weekly doctor's appointments, and afterward, I was feeling well enough to head to the beach. Hip-hip-HOORAY!


This trip I had the foresight to wear a swimsuit, so I enjoyed splashing in the waves sans work clothes.

If you are using a desktop and you click on this photo, it will get big; and, if you are like me, then its bigness will make you feel like you have taken a virtual trip to the beach.



And you guys: my symptoms were so quiet yesterday afternoon, I almost forgot I was sick. Yesterday's pocket of relief makes for three relief-pockets in nine days. I am so hopeful this becomes a trend.

After spending a few hours in the sun, I was happy and fried to a crisp. Unfortunately, after so many months in bed, I forgot that backs are prime real estate for sunburns, so my back stayed sunscreen-free. My legs, on the other hand, were lathered in sunscreen, so today I look rather like a strawberry that has been dipped in white chocolate.

Sean and I could've stayed at the beach hours longer, but we plan our lives around traffic down here, so we hit the road before the traffic could get too bad. On the way home, we took a detour to Whole Foods where I promptly marched to the chip aisle.

For months now I have been craving — and I mean CRAVING — some sort of comfort food. I want chocolate, I want macaroni and cheese, I want toast with butter, I want tea with cream, I want enchiladas, I want a heaping bowl of peanut butter ice cream with chocolate fudge and whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles and crushed peanuts and basically, my body is sad and it needs a food pacifier.

But alas, I stick to squash and turkey, and my body thanks me for it. Yesterday, though, I decided to branch out and try sweet potato chips cooked in coconut oil. I'm not sure if my body can tolerate either ingredient, but I went ahead and bought four bags (which, incidentally, bear my name. How could I NOT buy almost every bag on the shelf?!) and then ate an entire bag of sweet and salty Jackson goodness on the way home.


It's so fun being a grown-up.

Also, this picture cracks me up. I believe this is what they call an "action shot."

I hope your weekend is full of rest and joy, my friends.

Happy Friday!

-Sarah



© by scj

Thursday, April 21, 2016

End of the semester

Today I accidentally showed up to work an hour early. "But where all the students? Why is there so much parking? And why is the sun just now peeking over the hills?"

My friends, the time has finally come: end-of-the-semester dementia is working its mischief, and I am thankful I at least remembered to put pants on before slipping on my shoes this morning, which does not always happen for me in almost-May.

Let us all have a moment of silent prayer for teachers around the world showing up to class at the wrong time, on a Saturday, without wearing pants, and their shoes on the wrong feet. And then let's adore my CUTEST FURRY NEPHEW, Copper because: happiness.



Peace be with you, all you educators of young minds.

I'm cheering for you (and I'm wearing pants).

 -SJ



© by scj

Monday, April 18, 2016

News and a pocket of fun

My friends,

I have all sorts of news. I'll start with the good stuff.

The Best News: Finally, after months of prayer and hard work, I experienced some relief from my neurological symptoms last week, and for a few glorious days, I felt like I'd been released from prison.

The timing of this pocket of relief couldn't have been more perfect. My sister-in-law, who is training for the 2016 Olympics in Calgary, Canada, was in town with my brother to compete in her first heptathlon of the season at the Mt. Sac Invitational track meet. My dad and some dear family friends also happened to be in town last week, so we all attended her two-day meet together at my Alma Mater, Azusa Pacific University, where I reunited with some of my old teammates. I have all sorts of photos from that meet that I'll share later in this post.

The Disappointing News: I'm fighting a new infection, the presence of which seems to have reversed the progress I made last week. This has been the story of the semester — just as I'm seeing glimmers of healing, a new infection swoops in and devours them — and it's a narrative that has me discouraged. Would you pray that my immune system kicks into gear and I return to the place of freedom-from-prison that I felt last week?

The Other Disappointing-yet-Actionable News: I got another piece of this crazy health puzzle: the results of my more extensive genetic testing came back this week. Prior to ordering the test, I expected to have a number of genetic mutations because illnesses like mine are usually caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. I just didn't expect to have so many genetic mutations.

Of the 20 genes that were tested, 14 are mutated, and some of the mutations I have are especially blahblahblahblahughughugh. (I tried to think of a word to describe how I feel about these mutations, and that's the only thing I could think of). I'm hopeful I will be able to take action to compensate for some of these genetic defects, though I imagine doing so effectively will require a lot of research and a really good doctor. If you think of it, please pray for wisdom for me and my doctors as I take steps toward addressing the genetic component of my illness.

The Change-of-Plans News: Many of you have been praying about the new treatment I intended to try last Friday. At the last minute, I decided to postpone the treatment for at least a week so I could ride the wave of relief I was enjoying. I didn't want to throw myself back into prison if I could enjoy the break from my neurological symptoms that I so desperately needed. I'm especially glad I postponed treatment, because dealing with its aftermath while also dealing with a new infection would have been too difficult. I appreciate your continued prayer as I figure out the best timing to move forward with the treatment.

Okay, that's all the news I got, man. Now, for the feel-good stuff: track meet photos.

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

On Wednesday morning, when my dad and I pulled into Azusa Pacific University, our old friend Simon called my dad's phone. I answered since my dad was driving, "Hey, Sarah!" Si said. "We're here."

WHAT?! You're HERE here? Like, at the meet?

Si, his wife Taylor, and their baby, Joanna, live in Arizona, and they were the last people I expected to see at the meet. But they were on a road trip to central California, and since they are our honorary siblings, they took a two-day pitstop in Azusa for the meet.

And oh sweet heavens, it was glorious to see them.

From left to right: me, Daddio, Taylor and Baby Jo, Simon, and my brother Aaron
Brother Aaron and our star athlete, Natasha
 

Over the course of our two days together, I got enough baby snuggles to fill my Baby Snuggle Tank...

..And enough girl time to fill my Girl Time Tank. Both tanks are very important and make life approximately 30 times sunnier.




We hadn't seen Baby Jo in 6 months, and we were all enamored with her. 



While I was snapping photos of Dad and Jo, Simon decided it would be nice to get a photo of Dad and Jo's twin hair-dos.

Dad's always such a good sport.


Oh my sweet heavens. How are we to handle the sweetness?

 Joanna liked to play with her sock. She'd twist and pull it and twist some more, until it was on upside down. After awhile, Simon would notice her sock needed fixing, and he'd carefully return it to its upright and locked position (he's a pilot, see).

Years ago, after realizing afresh that God created good earthly fathers and mothers to teach us about His heart for us, I started practicing the discipline of noticing moms and dads caring for their kids. Whenever I saw a dad rocking a distraught baby on an airplane, or a mom laughing with delight over her child's attempt at a knock-knock joke, or a dad jumping up and down cheering when his daughter scored a goal, I imagined I was the child in the scenario and God was the parent.

As I sat there watching Simon and Joanna, I imagined God carefully sliding my sock around so it fit just right, and it hit me, the way it always does when I watch good parents and kids: God cares about the way our socks fit. And if he cares about that, certainly he cares about the big stuff, like betrayal, financial hardship, relational discord, sickness, and injustice in the workplace. Good moms and dads can remind us to pray with the confidence that God cares about everything we bring before him.

......

Okay, now for some action shots, but first, a disclaimer: I really need to invest in a good lens if I'm to capture any decent action shots. These will do, for now.


Oh hello, spongy Old Friend:


You are the holder of my team's puke, sweat, snot, and tears, and I love you for it. 

The Mt. Sac Invitational is a prestigious meet where many of the world's best athletes have their debut spring performances. All events are held at Mt. Sac College, with the exception of the heptathlon and decathlon, which APU hosts. 

On the first day of the heptathlon, the girls compete in the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, and 200-meter sprint. 

Tash had a great high jump on Wednesday — she went 1.86 meters (that's 6'1), and was only out-jumped by one other athlete.



The day is action-packed, so the athletes don't get much time between events. Here, Tash has come straight from the high jump and is warming up for the shot put. 
Notice the men in the dirt where the shot put will land. The man on the right with the rake is my friend, Bryan Clay. We trained together, and he is great. He's also an Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon. You can read about him and my other teammates here. The man in the blue shirt standing on the left side of the dirt pit is Ashton Eaton, another Olympic gold medalist and the current world record holder in the decathlon. They were a few of many Olympic athletes at this meet. 

I'm telling you: Azusa Pacific Track meets are the place to be if you want to watch some of the world's best athletes do their thing.

Hey brother Marc: do you see the girl in the red hat on the far left of the above photo? She ran track with you at Liberty and was at APU for the California Invitational!

One of my favorite parts of returning to APU this time of the year is seeing some of my old teammates. Some are coaching, some are helping run the meet, and some are just chilling, so I was unable to get a photo of all of us.

These are some of my favorite guys in the whole wide world (you can read about them and why I love them here). 


It's funny how after all these years, being with them still feels like home.

Left to right: Matt Sparks (we call him Sparks), my fellow hurdler and training partner; Rob Jarvis (I call him Jarv), and Bibi
And it's funny how after all these years, we still speculate about what kind of athletic performances we've got in us. And always, at every reunion meet, somebody's gotta do something crazy to find out. 

Last spring we decided we'd all join in the madness and compete in this year's Bryan Clay Invitational. I'd do the shot put (naturally); Bibi would do...something — we hadn't decided; and Sparks would do the long jump. Sparks started training in April of last year, and even sent us video footage of his training to spur us on in our own training regimes. 

Bibi responded to Sparks' video footage with this photo of his training regime:

 

 And I responded with a picture of a bag of potato chips I'd just polished off:

"I'm going for the high momentum/inertia approach to my event," Bibi said. I agreed.

None of us ended up formally competing last week, but Bibi wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to showcase the effects of those cheeseburgers (or something like that), so he and Bryan had a little javelin showdown. 

Bryan was nursing a knee injury....


And Bibi was sporting his work clothes...
 

...But it didn't matter, because these two have still. got it.  

Meanwhile, Tash was killing it in the 200-meter sprint. Oh man, these girls are starting to feel the pain right about here:

But the pain of the 200 is nothing compared to the pain of the 800-meter race. Here's the schedule of events on the second day of the hep:

Day 2: long jump, javelin, 800-meter race


The 800-meter race is arguably the most difficult race in all of track and field, and is rivaled only by the 400-meter hurdles (in my humble opinion). Having to run the 800 after six events spread over two days requires guts upon guts upon G.U.T.S.
The start of the 800

And man are these girls gutsy. When they'd all fallen across the finish line, I wanted to weep. So I did. There are some things I don't fight anymore now that I'm settling into my 30s. 

After the meet, we celebrated by eating. And the day after that, we ate some more:


Gosh you guys, I'll tell you what: last week was just what the doctor ordered. 

And there's this: Tash, you are the gutsiest, most faithful inspiration out on that track, and I'm glad to call you sister.

Happy Monday, friends. 

Cheering for ya,

SJ



© by scj

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Happy Things

1. My brother and sister-in-law recently added a furry baby to their family. Everyone, meet Copper, the cutest puppy in all the land.





I am in love. I will probably become the most annoying Facetiming sister of life because I just want to see the puppy ALL THE TIME IN ALL THE PLACES. This whole living thousands of miles apart thing is getting harder and harder. I cannot even imagine how hard it will be when these two start having non-furry kids.


2. Eleven years ago I became very grown-up and bought pajama pants for myself for the first time. Though the pants were cheap — $11.99 at Walmart —they were flannel and reminded me of sugar plumb fairies, so I loved them with a monogamous, enduring love. Year after year I loved them and them only, wearing hole after hole in them, until one day, a few months ago, the waistband became so full of holes that the pants fell down around my ankles when I was walking to the bathroom.

And so, at the age of 31, I bought a pair of pajama pants for the second time ever in my adult life. They are light cotton and remind me of the Secret Garden, and when I bought them I assumed I wouldn't have to buy another pair of pajama pants until I was at least 42.


But then something happened — and I'm not sure what — but I got WILD AND CRAZY and bought ANOTHER pair of pajama pants.


Bedtime is so fun these days, and I have officially bought more pajamas in the last several months than I have in my entire adult life.

I don't mean to make you feel like an underachiever, but I'm a pajama record-setting MACHINE over here.


3. My mom has always had a habit of wearing her pajamas inside out because the seams and tags can be irritating. Growing up, I found the practice a little strange. And when I hit puberty I found it SO EMBARRASSING BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE'S PARENTS WEAR THEIR PAJAMAS INSIDE OUT, MOM.

But oh, life: you have a funny sense of humor.

I've drunk the inside-out-pajama Koolaid, you guys, and my embarrassing mom potential is off the charts.



4. This evening a friend from college who lives in Singapore sent me this photo:


With this sentence:

"Sarah is completely healthy."


5. I recently submitted my PhD program plan to Talbot Theological Seminary, which is sort of like saying, "Hey Talbot, will you be my boyfriend for the next five years?" This week, after reviewing and approving my plan, they were like, "Yes, we will be your boyfriend Sarah Jackson, and we will give you our Talbot Doctoral Studies portfolio to prove it." Leather portfolios are the Letterman jackets of grad school, you guys.

 



6. Sometimes your sister is in town for a whirlwind trip and you know she won't have time to stop by, but then she surprises you by showing up on your doorstep with flowers and groceries.

 

"These flowers look like meteors, like shooting stars," she said.


7. I've been experimenting with ways to curl my hair without heat this semester.

This method is particularly effective and is sponsored by Dr. Seuss.


8. This is a spring morning at my beloved Biola, right outside my office of the last six years:


  
My parents met in this very building many moons ago. My grandparents met here (at the original campus in downtown LA) many moons before that. My brother met his wife here, and I have the tremendous joy of teaching here. Biola has been special for our family — without it, we probably wouldn't exist.


9. I have news. Good news, bad news, and in-between news, and my goal is to post it tomorrow or Monday.


Happy Saturday, my friends.

I'm cheering for ya, Home Skillets.

-SJ



© by scj

Friday, April 8, 2016

A way forward

 Most nights this semester I lie in bed feeling like I'm standing at the edge of the Red Sea with the angry Egyptians breathing down my neck. I cannot see a way forward, cannot imagine how I will make it through another day. And yet, the sun rises each morning, my heart still beating, and the sea splits in two: a way forward. I'm able to dress, drive to work, and spend a couple of hours with my beloved students before falling back into bed, dizzy, nauseated, aching, throbbing, shaking with fever and fatigue. My bed has become a dear, cozy friend; and flannel sheets are one of life's best gifts.

I woke up wiggling my toes and fingers this morning. I think it's simply magical that I can move my appendages however I want, whenever I want, because of synapses firing in my brain. Have an itch that needs scratching? No worries, your body's magic will take care of that for you. Want to eat a bowl of fresh raspberries and cream? Just whip out a spoon and wonder at your spoon-holding magic.

Sometimes the muscles in my hands and legs twitch and tremor, reminding me that I have a neurological disorder, and that neurological disorders sometimes turn into neurological diseases that paralyze the body, sapping it of some of its magic. I beg God to spare me this kind of limitation, but I know he might not. And so I put on regular magic shows: I wiggle my fingers and toes like there's no tomorrow; I flex my legs, and spread my arms wide, and bend my elbows and knees.

There's other magic I'm afraid of losing. Some days I can feel something attacking my eyes. On these days the vision in my right eye is a little blurry, or the world grows a little darker, like my brain has selected an Instagram filter — X-Pro II, perhaps — for my eyes. Sometimes my eyes ache, and I remember that the cytomegalovirus, one of the viruses infecting me, causes blindness. One of my doctors doesn't think I need to be concerned about blindness right now, but sometimes I am. So I continue to be diligent about noticing things — all the things, all the time. Roses that look like they've been dipped in sunsets; lizards doing push-ups; fathers cradling their babies; toddlers licking, dripping, squishing soft serve ice cream; light dancing through trees and gilding spring leaves. I don't want to miss a thing, as long as I still have the magic of seeing.

There's other magic I fear I might lose. Some days my hearing disappears for just a second or two before returning to normal. Other days, my hearing is so sensitive normal life noises hurt my ears. The audiologist confirmed something is attacking my ears, so I beg God to spare me the loss of any of my senses. And then I listen to the birds, or Coldplay's new album, or the neighbor with a penchant for belting mariachi from her back porch. Yesterday I sat at the piano in one of my classrooms and played worship music while a gifted student sang. Sometimes I joined in with harmonies, and I tried to commit every moment of the magic to memory.

It's a heavy burden, knowing what could happen to my body if I can't find effective treatment. So I try not to interpret the symptoms, not to mentally scurry ahead to a potentially disastrous future. I try to live in the moment. But this moment I am in my body, and being in my body is the hardest responsibility God has ever given me. If it weren't for your prayers, I might give up hope that there's any way forward.

Here are some ways you can continue to pray:

1. There's a new treatment I want to try. My body is rejecting most food and medicine, which makes healing feel practically impossible, and this treatment might be able to eliminate my body's allergies and sensitivities. It would also address immune dysfunction, viral and bacterial infections, trauma, and chronic pain. I have my initial consultation with the doctors (a husband/wife team) this Monday, and I've scheduled my first treatment for Friday, April 15th. I'm not sure if I'll go through with the treatment just yet, though, as it will likely make me much sicker.

Would you pray for discernment as I figure out when to begin treatment? I feel like I need to try it now if I'm going to make it to the end of the semester; but I also fear it will make me too sick to finish the semester. Right now I'm inclined to try one treatment (I'll likely need upwards of 100 treatments, and I've heard the first 15 are hardest for patients like me) on Friday just to see how it goes. I'd love your prayers that the trial run doesn't cause any lasting problems.

Would you also pray for supernatural wisdom for the doctors as they diagnose and treat me?

2. There is an event next week — on Wednesday and Thursday —with some of my most favorite people, and I am longing to attend. Oh, you guys, I so want to go and be with my people. Would you pray for miraculous healing on those days?

3. You may remember that God provided an opportunity to meet with Dr. K., who has a clinic in San Diego that helps patients like me. I was scheduled to go into his clinic the week of Easter break for testing and treatment, but the Lord closed that door at the last minute. It seems like he wants me to wait on seeing Dr. K. Would you pray for wisdom as figure out when to reschedule with him and his team of doctors?

4. I'm planning to return to my folks' place for a chunk of time this summer like I did last summer, but I need wisdom about when to travel, since a number of my doctors are down here and treatments could make it hard to travel.


5. Mental and emotional stamina. 

6. Protection from the progression of disease, from complications, from new symptoms and limitations, from the schemes of Satan and his minions.

7. I have a list of other treatment possibilities, clinics and doctors I'd like to visit etc. in the next few months, and I need wisdom as I prioritize them all.


Thank you, my friends.

Do send me your prayer requests. I think of and pray for you often.

-Sarah

P.S. This week I asked God to send me flowers. I've only prayed this prayer a couple of times in my life, and each time I am amazed that he cares to respond. But he does. Oh he does. 

On Monday my dear friend, A, trekked across the desert with her 1-year-old in tow to bring me bone broth she's been accumulating for me all semester. Once she was here, she drove all over Orange County, taking me to the doctor, running errands etc. She continues to be my human angel.

When she got home, she sent me this photo with an explanation:


"My neighbor (I think you met her briefly once) knew I was going to visit you yesterday and had hoped to send me with these flowers for you... She's got two little ones and ended up not getting them to my doorstep early enough before I left on Monday... But I came home to them on Monday. So please know that people all over are thinking and praying for you. So I keep looking at these roses and thinking of you. They smell amazing and I hope you can imagine them... I will bring some next visit :)"


P.P.S. Many of you have asked how I'm faring with the stomach bug. Thank you for checking in. The bug did a number on my body. I'm still feeling its effects and it seems to have worsened my preexisting systemic and G.I. tract infections, but I have thankfully been able to remain faithful in my work responsibilities this week.



© by scj

Friday, April 1, 2016

A world that works like magic


This post is old, but the trees' spring finery prompted me to dig it up.


Not too long ago I finished re-reading the Harry Potter series. For ten glorious days I was immersed in the world of Hogwarts. I went to sleep under an enchanted starry ceiling, and I woke up to House Elves bustling about to prepare my breakfast. I ate treacle pudding (what in the WORLD is treacle pudding, by the way?), and I used my magic wand to fetch distant objects and make nearby objects invisible. I was Harry Potter fighting dementors one day, and Hermione Granger outsmarting Death Eaters the next. No big deal.
But then, I finished the series and had to return to work. It was a particularly wet and gloomy work day, and in the middle of a lesson with my college students I got a hankering for a steaming cup of tea. But the coffee cart was miles away, and class wouldn't be over for another hour. So what did I do? I reached for the magic wand I had stashed in my robe so I could summon a cup of tea. Naturally. 

We Jacksons have a habit of getting a leeeetle too into the books we're reading. 

Okay, okay. It's not a Jackson trait. It's a Sarah-trait. Somehow, though, I'd prefer to blame this on something beyond my control.
When I realized I was, in fact, NOT Harry Potter, my disappointment got me thinking. Wouldn't it have been lovely if God had made a world full of magic, like Narnia, or Hogwarts, or the Shire?!
Then, several days later, while on a walk, I saw this:
A magic wand. Long and slender, sturdy at the base and narrow at the tip, surrounded by dozens of other magic wands.
And magic of all magic, something was shooting out of its tip. Something unexpected. Something so different from the wand's soft, sappy core, you'd have to see it to believe it:
Leaves. Waxy, vibrant, and green.
And blossoms. Fragrant and delicate, in shades of pink, white, and yellow.
What makes this magic?
I'll tell you, but you won't believe me.
It's light. And water. And air. They are stirred together in the great blue sky cauldron, and they make wooden wands shoot out magic:

Berries.

Pods.

Prickle balls.

And cotton ball clusters.

All wooden wands, all imbibing the same sky-cauldron's potion, each wand's magic just a little different.
J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis couldn't have dreamt up this kind of magic. A stick absorbs sun, air, and water, making leaves sprout, followed by buds. The buds unfold into blossoms and the blossoms turn into fruit. Juicy, tart fruit with seeds. Smooth, fleshy fruit with pits. Vitamin-packed fruit in shades of brilliant orange, green, yellow, red, blue, purple — all the colors of the sun's magical light.
How can it be that the fruit from these magic wands powers our dusty bodies to produce millions of cells daily, and keeps blood pumping through our 60,000 miles of blood vessels?!
Magic for us to see. Magic for us to smell. Magic for us to touch. Magic for us to taste.
Magic to teach us at winter's end that death does not have the last word. For light, air and water are mixed together and make a barren tree sprout life.
These magic wands make it easy for me to believe in the magic the ancients taught. An apple is eaten and life with God is lost. A stick hits a rock and water gushes out. Trumpets are blown and city walls tumble. A leper bathes in the river and he is healed. God's son dies on a cross, and takes our sin upon himself. Three days pass, and he teaches us that death will not have the last word.
Magic.
Life-giving, fruit-growing magic.




© by scj