Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thursday Things: Generosity

Today is a short, fat list kind of day:


1. I recently got a package in the mail with a handwritten postmark bearing my name. There was no return address so I quickly opened it, curious to discover the sender. Inside, I found this cross-stitch:

This work is exquisite

This phrase, from C.S. Lewis' Voyage of the Dawn Treader is special to me. So special, I had it engraved on a bracelet a friend made for me based on a design I sketched after re-reading the book last year. I wear the bracelet daily and call it my jewelry tattoo.

There was no signed note accompanying this gift, so I don't know who sent it. Here's what I do know: this is the loveliest, most encouraging and timely gift. I've just returned to my bungalow after a long stint at my aunt and uncle's, and I've hung this cross stitch where I can see it every morning upon climbing out of bed. To whomever made and sent this: thank you. I love it.


2. I went to the neighbors to borrow a rake and came back with this basket of homegrown California sunshine.


Generous neighbors are delightful, aren't they? They make me want to be a generous neighbor.


3. My old car has finally pooped out so I've gotten a new car. I've been too unwell to even think about selling my old car but have felt a growing burden to sell it as both my cars are currently insured and insurance is expensive, baby.

An elder at my church recently sent an email to the church men's group asking if anyone could sell the car for me, and a Biola student offered to prep and sell the car on my behalf. I talked to him for the first time via phone this week as we made a game plan. When we had a plan in place, I thanked him. "J," I said, "this is a tremendous gift; thank you for your help."

"That's what family does," he responded simply.

I love being part of God's family.



Thanks for stopping by, friends. Shoot me a note to tell me how I can pray for you, if you think of it. I love praying for you.

Cheering for you, Skillets,

Sarah



© by scj

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday Things: Best Moments

It's Tuesday, and there are five things makin' me happy today:

1.  I have to call my plumber every 8 weeks or so because the trees around my house wiggle their roots into my bungalow's very old pipes. I call him so often that he recognizes my number and, upon answering his phone, greets me with, "Hi there, Sarah!" before I've said a word. My frequent plumbing problems have been a real hassle, but I sure am thankful for the new friend I've made out of them.


2. My faithful, creative, hard-working, funny, spunky, talented, self-sacrificing mom is visiting me this week.



She's been the best companion the last several days. I love having here around.


3. Last week was spring break. I spent most of it in front of the fire at my dear friend's house in Murrieta, CA. Rest was the name of the game — my body gobbled up as much as it could. Oh glory.


When the week came to a close I hopped in my car and made the 1 1/2-hour drive back to my place. Along the way, I passed five tanks cruising down the freeway, full of strapping soldiers waving to passers by. I'll tell you what, caravanning with scads of handsome, brave men is not a bad way to commute. Not bad at all.


4.  My dizziness has lessened some in the last 10 days. This has been a sweet relief for which I am so thankful. I'm praying it's the first step toward complete healing. In the meantime, we're still trying to pinpoint exactly what's going on in my body. The tests I've undergone thus far reveal my central nervous system is under attack, we just aren't sure what is attacking it. The doctor's original speculation that I have an autoimmune disease is still a strong possibility, but I'm having some other tests run to investigate another possibility. I'm also seeing a doctor in my home-town this June who specializes in solving mysterious cases like mine. I'm hopeful he'll be able to help me.

As all of these next steps fall into place, I'm wonderfully grateful for the way my family and church body have rallied around me. Chronic sickness is the hardest thing I've ever experienced, but it has opened me to some of the greatest things I've ever experienced, like having the Body of Christ take care of me. I've gotten to experience the paradox of living in Christian community: loss becomes gain. When you lose the capacity to adequately care for yourself, you gain a crew of caretakers who help you understand grace.


5. Yesterday I ate raspberries that tasted like childhood summer. They reminded me of brown bare feet, riotous games of cowboys and Indians, and water balloon fights that sent squeals of mirth ricocheting across the cul-de-sac. Isn't it grand that God gave us the capacity to remember our best life moments?!



Hoping you have a string of best moments today, my friends.

Cheer for ya, Skillets,

SCJ





© by scj

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Marc and Jaime: Littlest Brother is Engaged!

Dear Marc,

I remember it like it was yesterday: your little hand in mine as you looked up at me and called me "sissy," your brown eyes sparkling with life. You and I were crammed in the coat closet, evading our opponents in a Jackson family game of hide and seek. Our whispering trailed off when we heard the pitter patter of approaching feet. We looked at each other with bated breath and saucer eyes. A few seconds later the footsteps grew quiet as the pursuer walked past our hiding spot. We breathed a sigh of relief and laughed quiet, sneaky laughs: "hee hee heeee." We were safe.

Marc, my littlest brother: you have always been special to me.

You and me, circa 1992ish

Ever since Mom brought you home from the hospital weighing 9 lbs 4 oz, you have brought me unspeakable joy. 

You make me laugh harder than just about everyone. Sometimes, when we run errands together, I wonder what the grocery clerks must think of us. You can make a bunch of bananas hilarious, and, without fail, I find myself rolling in the aisles, laughing till I wheeze till I cry. That sparkle in your two-year old eyes turned out to be a wicked sense of humor.

Life's an adventure with you, Marc. Some of my favorite life memories are with you — roller blading down big hills; playing roller hockey after sunset; scooping frogs out of mud puddles; and biking off the beaten path to discover creeks lined with thirsty ferns. You know the secret so many of us are still discovering: life is wondrous. But I love you for more than your sense of humor and spirit of adventure.

I love you for your strength of character and conviction. I love you for your sense of justice and love of mercy. I love you for your tenderness and generosity. I love you for your devotion to your family and friends. You have a beautiful soul. You have faithfully followed Jesus, and he has nurtured and cultivated the gifts he put in you. And now, you look more like your truest self than you ever have. I love the you you're becoming, Marc. 

I'm not the only one. There are four other Jacksons, and a slew of friends and family who love you to the moon. And yet, they're not the only ones.

Because last year, you sat down at your computer and carefully crafted an email to a beautiful, blond Air Force nurse stationed in San Antonio, Texas. You'd met her a few years earlier when you were going to school on the east coast. It was Thanksgiving break, and you and your friends had plans to enjoy a week of boating on the lake. You were told a friend of your friends would join you. She did, and she was something else. Her name was Jaime, and although you parted ways after that trip, you didn't forget her.

For years you wondered about her. But she was in Texas and you had graduated from college and returned to Washington, and it is hard to ask someone on a date when you can't actually take them on a date. But then, in a delightful turn of events, you were assigned a work trip to San Antonio, Texas. BINGO. You got out your computer and shot an email across the states to this girl you couldn't forget. And then, in an even lovelier turn of events, she responded.

Back and forth your emails flew, growing longer and longer with each correspondence. Eventually, you noted: "Our emails are getting pretty long. Would you like to FaceTime sometime?" She agreed and you talked for hours. The next day, it was the same thing. You quickly discovered that Jaime was everything she'd seemed to be in her emails. She was independent, intelligent, and intentional. She loved her family, and, best of all, she wanted every area of her life to be folded up into God's purposes.

Sometimes Jaime would share her perspective on a topic and your eyes would widen: "No way!" you'd say. "Me too!" It wasn't long before you were completing each other's sentences and eagerly awaiting that business trip to San Antonio. A deep and abiding friendship was born.

And then you went on your first, real live date. I FaceTimed with you both after that date, and I saw it in your eyes, Marc: the way you admired and respected this woman. And then I saw the way she looked at you, like you were the best guy she knew.



For many months the two of you FaceTimed and took regular trips to visit each other. As you experienced more and more life together, it became clear that your visions of life aligned and your souls' nooks and crannies fit together like snug puzzle pieces. You were in love.

And so, on March 22nd, 2015, you got down on one knee and asked Jaime to be your wife. And, in the most delightful turn of events, the girl you couldn't forget said "yes."

A reenactment of the proposal shortly after the actual proposal


Jaime, I've always prayed my special littlest brother would find someone like you with whom to share his life. You are kind, thoughtful, and others-centered. You are a woman of strength and conviction, and your love for Jesus is evident. And now, as you and Marc embark on a new life together, your love for my brother fills me with joy. Yours is a special love he gets to cherish and enjoy for the rest of his life.




Marc and Jaime, you have devoted your lives to growing into the people God calls you to be, and now, as you merge lives, I pray God's blessings upon you as you grow together. May God give you rich friendships, deep belly laughs, unexpected adventures, and abundant opportunities to use your married lives as a gift for others. And most of all, may he use your marriage to continue to teach you how high, wide and deep his love for you is. 

Praise Him for bringing the two of you together.

I love you both.

Sincerely,

Sarah
a.k.a., "Sissy"


P.S.  "Jaime Jackson" sounds like it was meant to be. Am I right or am I right?!



© by scj

Monday, March 30, 2015

A busy week

My friends! Hello!

It's been a busy week here in the land of eternal sun. I have lots to tell you.

First, I have suffered another cactus tragedy. This brings my grand total of 2015 cactus tragedies to 2. It's been a tough year for my cacti.

Remember Mella, the little succulent who replaced George after he fell to his death?


She was a sweet and gentle friend. I kept her to the right of my bathroom sink where I could admire her every time I washed my hands. She added such warmth to my bathroom.

And then.

And then I noticed her leaves were drooping. "Oh Mella," I exclaimed. "Silly me! You need sun!" So I put her in the sun and hoped vitamin D would revive her.


Alas, there are only so many things vitamin D can do, and resurrect a succulent destined to die is not one of of those things. So I said goodbye to Mella. Then, I walked into my bathroom and moved Tommy to her place next to my sink.

Everyone, meet Tommy:


I got Tommy several weeks back for such a time as this. Tommy is quiet. He's also packed with talent. He's that kid in your high school class who hung back and observed from the sidelines and then went out and killed it in business after college because of all he learned from his years of studying people. And now, I can consult him whenever I wash my hands. I'm lucky to have Tommy on my team.

But wait. The week wasn't ALL cactus drama. Because my sweet little globe-trotting sister came to visit this week.


Sisters are one of God's greatest gifts. They are proof of his goodness. They are the best people with whom to analyze reality tv shows, eat piles of brussel sprouts, and drink tropical smoothies in the sunshine.

My sister and I are different, as all sisters are. Rebecca is a business woman; I am a teacher. Rebecca can design beautiful, edgy clothing; I can bake a mean apple pie. Rebecca can win a tennis match; I can (okay, let's be honest, I could) win a hurdle race. But we are also very similar. We both have a keen intuition, a fierce sense of loyalty, and a deep love of beauty. And sometimes we both wear pink and black on our evening walks.

Accidental twinning!


It was a week of accidental twinning because my uncle and I also ended up looking mighty matchy in our gingham shirts:





My sister and I had a pretty low key time together but we did manage to make it to the beach one day where we laid in the sun for hours.


It was glorious.



Our cousin, K, met us a bit later and the three of us had a jolly chat. We loved having her vibrant company.


Oh Jackson girls. I love 'em.

I sure do love y'all, too, and I hope you've had a wonderful weekend.

I pray your week is full of reminders of God's resurrection power working in and through all Christians to accomplish his grand purposes in the Church and the world.

Cheering for ya, Skillets.

Because He Lives,

Sarah






© by scj

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My doctor's theory

Hi Friends,

Top o' the morning to ya. I hope yer feeling cheery and rested. I'm feeling a wee bit Irish today. Not sher if it's because I'm cravin' a bowl o' Lucky Charms (Oh what I'd give fer a bowl o' Lucky Charms), or because I forgot to celebrate St. Patrick's Day last week, or because I have Colin Farrel on the mind, but I suppose it doesn't matter, really.

While we're on the subject o' Colin Farrel, I figure I'll give you a little something special to start your day, ladies (sorry, laddies, the best I can offer you is a bowl o' Lucky Charms from the store down the street. Although it's not a bad offer if I do say so meeself):

Mobile Users Click here

Oh C.F., you and your dark, handsome, intelligent, accent-y ways are a gift to big screens, medium screens, and small screens everywhere. Also, Saving Mr. Banks was a good movie, folks. Worth putting on the Friday night movie list, if you ask me.

Okay. Onto other matters. I have a medical update for all of you who have been praying for wisdom for the doctors trying to diagnose my illness.

On Friday I sat down with a specialist who went over the results of the last few months' medical tests with me. Because my test results were unusual, it's much harder to conclusively diagnose whatever is going on. But he did have some helpful thoughts.

First, he discovered I have way more allergies than I originally thought. Over the years I've gotten many allergy tests revealing scores of significant environmental and food allergies. The doctor's most recent tests revealed I have a lot more allergies than those tests originally indicated. My research indicates that it's not uncommon for people who have had a prolonged infection with the Epstein Barr virus (as I did) to develop new allergies post infection. My recent tests indicated I am allergic to all food except vegetables, turkey, pork and some fruits. So the first piece to this puzzle is knowing that not only has the environment been poisoning my body, but my food has been, too.

The doctor said he believes there is a close relationship between out-of-control-allergies and autoimmune diseases. He speculated that, given my past with the Epstein Barr virus which has been linked to many autoimmune diseases, it is quite possible that I have an inner ear autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, there is no test to confirm this, nor is there a happy little pill I can take to fix it. Some doctors think that taking chemotherapy or tumor-shrinking drugs is a helpful approach, but I have no desire to go that route, especially as we can't conclusively diagnose this. Thankfully, my doctor doesn't want to go that route either. Instead, he thinks that if I can get my allergies under control with diet changes and weekly immunotherapy then my immune system will calm down enough that any autoimmune disease will also be quieted and maybe even resolved.

This makes sense to me. I'm hopeful that he's right and we begin to see improvement with allergy shots and diet changes. I'd love your continued prayers for healing and insight for me and my doctors as we try to resolve this. Because inner ear diseases are so difficult to diagnose, this whole journey is really just a process of elimination — of seeing what treatments work and don't work and then making a diagnosis based on that information. Thank you so much for your faithful prayers and encouragement thus far. You guys are just the greatest.

In the meantime, I had a decent health night last night (two cheers for DECENT!!!!) and was able to go to my friend Laura's birthday party. It was a rip roarin' affair complete with a bonfire in the back yard, a table laden with barbecued delights, forty of my favorite people, a gut-wrenching basketball game, someone getting thrown in the pool, and back rubs to go around.

Laura is running a marathon in a few months so our friend Dan gifted her with a huge box of supplies. This was a very generous gift considering Dan usually gives us each a stick of gum for our birthdays. But I suppose when you're training for a marathon you deserve more than a stick of gum.


Look at all these folks watching the unveiling of the marathon care package:




What a crew.

Here I am with the one and only Bobby Carter. 
I used his phone for these photos. I could've taken 300 photos of me with his phone for him to find later, but I didn't. I leave that sort of thing to him.


I hope you're weekend has been full of good things, my friends.

A very jiggy (in the Irish Riverdance sort of way) Sunday to you all.

Cheering for ya, Skillets.

-Sarah




© by scj

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Seven Minutes

When I was in college my track coach would give me and my teammates seven minutes of rest between especially grueling sets of long sprints. That seven minutes was dreamy. It was full of shade, cold water, and slow breathing. It allowed us to recover just enough that we could run our guts out again.

I got my "seven minutes" last week when God gave me four glorious days of feeling decent. When I feel decent I'm able to rest enough that I can bear all the other really hard health days. It makes this life race possible. Feeling decent means I can be productive — I can run errands, cook meals, and grade piles of papers.

I sure have been loving my home office these days

And it makes it possible to do fun stuff stuff, like cook dinner for a picnic atop a grassy hill overlooking the ocean.


My friend Tiffany picnicked with me. This was my first outing with a friend since all this started and it was everything a first outing should be. Wispy clouds, frothy waves, salty skin, and girl talk. 

It was a victorious week, folks, because I was also able to enjoy not one, but TWO outings with friends. To cap off the week, I cheered my friends on in one of our semi-frequent softball games. Last week we had some long, hot days that felt like summer, and there ain't nothin' better than a little "summer" softball under a banner of blue.


Get a load of that setting sun.

My friend Robert took the above photo. You may know Robert as Photo Bomber Extraordinaire.

My friend Jeremy took the below photos. If you ask him to take a single picture, it is likely he will decide to make a documentary instead. I love that about him. He captures so much real, unposed life.








Gosh, I'm thankful for decent. Last week was my second bout of feeling decent since all this started a few months ago. This time, though, I felt even more decent than the first time, which is encouraging. I'm hopeful that decent will become standard one of these days. And then, maybe, decent will up and turn into good ol' healthy normal.

I have some new prayer requests for those of you who are still praying:

1. Wisdom for my doctors who are still trying to diagnose this.

2. Wisdom for me as I try to decide which tests to have run. They're all so expensive that I have to be strategic.

3. Healing. I really want to keep my life down here but I won't be able to if I don't experience significant improvement in my health.

4. Trust in God's plan; Encouragement when I can't see what he's doing.

Thank you thank you thank you for your prayers! How can I pray for you today? Shoot me an email. I love praying for all of you.

Cheering for you, Skillets.

-Sarah



© by scj

Monday, March 9, 2015

Flinging Gold

These days I spend lots of time sitting in the sunny backyard eating blackberries. Normally, I inhale my food. This allows me to hit two birds with one stone: I can breathe AND eat in the same breath. I love being efficient and productive, baby. But lately, I've been savoring these blackberries. I close my eyes and chew slowly and I notice what it's like to eat a blackberry. Tangy, then sweet, then a little bit bitter. Firm, then juicy, then summertime syrup. 
 
Eating blackberries in the sunshine helps me live in the present rather than worrying about the future. I'm tempted to think about the future a lot these days. I wonder what's going to happen in my body in the next few months and how that will affect my life long-term. In the end, my body will be the boss and I will have to do what works for her. This is hard.


Remember how ten days ago I laid on a medical table for a dizziness test? I wore a pair of goggles with a black, plastic sheath covering them and all I could see was inky black. An audiologist sat at my side and stuck alternating hot and cold air in my ears to induce extreme dizziness. The doctor, sensing my anxiety as she stuck the air shooter in my ear, spoke:


"It's okay, Sarah. This dizziness will be over in two minutes. This isn't real."


Later, I wondered at her words. The dizziness was definitely real. A real gust of air really changed the temperature in my real ear canal which really gave me horrible vertigo and really inspired me to try the Lamaze breathing techniques I'd seen on TV.


But I think I know what she meant. As I lay on the table, my reality was a dark void threatening to suck me into its spinning vortex. And that experience was real. But there was a realer real than the one I experienced. The audiologist could see the realer real. She saw a room full of light in which an anxious, goggle-wearing patient laid on a medical table. She knew she was a caring, competent professional in complete control of my dizziness. She knew this would be over in a flash and would soon be a fading memory.


There's this dialogue I've been having with God lately.


"God," I say. "I am tired of being stuck in my body. What could you possibly be thinking by allowing this?"


Sometimes he answers me clearly; sometimes he doesn't. When he doesn't, I imagine how he might respond, based on what I know of him from the Bible.


I usually imagine him saying something like this:


"I want you to know how much I love you. I know it doesn't make sense right now, but your suffering is teaching you my love in ways physical health wouldn't."


"That's really wonderful, God," I respond. "But why don't you just take me to heaven now where I can experience your love in its fullness? Then you could teach me your love AND spare me a lifetime in my body."


His answer is the same every time: "Because there are people who don't know me yet, and I will use your suffering to teach them how much I love them. Courage, dear heart. I'm doing something big that you cannot see."


There's a realer real than one we can see. Our little globe is spinning through the darkness, and sometimes the darkness presses in so thick and close we can't see through it. Sometimes things feel hopeless and out of control. They feel like the realest real. 


But God sees the Realest Real. He sees heaven, bathed in light, and he sees the hosts of heaven peering down at our little planet, waiting with bated breath for the day Jesus will chase away every last ounce of darkness. He knows he is caring and in control, and in the end, this dusty life on earth will be like a fading memory compared to the eternal life he's preparing for followers of Jesus in heaven.


And heaven? In heaven we will feel really, truly known. In heaven all of our dingy facades and tarnished masks will melt away, along with sin's soul scars and stains. We will know what it is to stand before our Creator naked and accepted, and we will know God fully, the way he knows us. And I think, in that moment, it will feel like love and compassion are burning through every inch of us. All at once all of our deepest desires will finally be satisfied. 


What will it be like to hear the voice that spoke the stars into the sky, calls dead men to life, and courses with love say our names...?

Sometimes, when I sit in the sun and eat blackberries, I think I've glimpsed a sliver of heaven's light. And the more I slow down to notice, the more slivers of heaven's light I see. They're everywhere, dancing like fireflies in the darkness. They're especially bright when Christians serve others like Jesus did, with humility and generosity. Jesus said when this happens we're witnessing his children building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Isn't it a miracle? That he'd trust and empower us to build the Realest Real right here?


The poet Rumi once wrote:


"Find the real world, give it endlessly away, grow rich flinging gold to all who ask. Live at the empty heart of paradox. I'll dance there with you — cheek to cheek."


Millions of people haven't heard the good news yet: they don't know there's a Realer Real than all this earthy madness. They don't know that the darkness doesn't have to have the last word. They don't know that our chaos can be turned into a story of redemption. They don't know that the God of the ages loves them with an undying, unfathomable love. And they need to know. We all need to know.


So we remain faithful in suffering. We keep our hands at the plow, pushing through the hard stuff, because, somehow, God will use it like a megaphone declaring the love of our very Real God who is preparing an eternally glorious home for those who love and serve him. 


Somehow, he'll turn the darkness to gold that we can give away.



Cheering and praying for you today, Skillets,


Sarah




© by scj


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dragons

It's my seventh grade year and my family has driven up the mountain to our friends' cabin. "Time at their cabin" usually involves very little time at the cabin. Instead, we shimmy up rocks, slide down waterfalls, and roast dinner around a roaring fire.

But we haven't gotten to dinner yet. For now, we're streaking though the forest in our swimwear. Well, 7 of the 8 kids are. I'm wearing sweat pants tucked into socks, and a sweatshirt with the hood pulled over my face. The sky is summer blue, but I am wishing for an umbrella.

It's all Mrs. Payne's fault. Well, hers and whatever baby neuroses were incubating in my adolescent mind just waiting to hatch and grow into something Neurotic, with a capital N.

Mrs. Payne is my homeroom teacher. She has short brown hair that is always perfectly styled and plump lips which regularly sport a nice shade of mauve. She is actually a great teacher. The problem is she has just finished teaching a unit on parasites that has made me terrified of getting a tapeworm. I have officially decided to give up meat. Unbeknownst to me, this vegetarian phase will only last for three months. Because: steak. Also: growth spurts.

I'm also terrified of getting a tick. For this reason, I have vowed to cover as much skin as possible when walking through the brush during tick season. I seem to be doing okay with my sweatsuit ensemble, but an umbrella would provide an extra layer of protection from ticks falling out of trees.

This is just one of many fears I have developed this year. It has been an unparalleled year in the fear department. Must be the hormones. Shortly before the parasite unit, Mrs. Payne brought in an acupuncturist to demonstrate the process of sticking very long needles into people's bodies. There was a lot of lecturing — Chinese medicine, qi, meridians, etc. — and then we all watched while she allowed the doctor to stick a needle in her head. HER HEAD. The very top, where the scalp is very hard and very thick, and very hard and very thick.

Enter: Oh sweet Moses, I will never, ever, ever do acupuncture ever. I do not even need to write this in my 7th grade diary because I know I will never forget my commitment to needle safety and general sanity.

But here is the way life often works: I was the only child that fateful day on the mountain who got a tick, and fast forward 18 years to today, and I've just spent some time on a doctor's table with eight needles in my head. EIGHT, people. In MY VERY HARD AND VERY THICK HEAD.

And here's what I have to say about it: I would much rather have a needle in my head than a tick in my back.

Amen and amen.

I have decided to try acupuncture with the hope that it will alleviate my dizziness, nausea and tinnitus. The doctor said it will take a few sessions before I can tell if the acupuncture is working for me, but I've worked out a tentative verdict:

This stuff is not a bunch of hooey balooey. When done by a skilled practitioner, it can accomplish good, healthy things in the body. It hasn't lessened my dizziness and nausea yet, BUT my tinnitus is a bit better already and my neck, which has felt like it's been full of gravel for several years, feels like it's been emptied of gravel and oiled up with some serious WD-40. I'm hopeful acupuncture will do for my vertigo what it's done for my neck.

I drove home from the acupuncturist with the windows down and country music crooning. When I pulled into my aunt and uncle's neighborhood, a gust of jasmine perfume blew through the car. I breathed it in and turned up the music. And then, to celebrate today, I took another lap around the block, occasionally popping my head out the window into the oncoming, fragrant breeze like an eager puppy. Because it's not everyday you get to slay a 7th grade acupuncture dragon.

If I had a Humans of New York-type blog, I'd rally up all your seventh grade dragons along with stories about the times you've slayed them. I'd like reading through those stories. You should tell me sometime. 


Cheering for you, and hugs, and G'night.


-SJ


P.S. Still working on slaying the tick dragon, but I can happily report that on my last traipse through the brush I didn't even bother to tuck my pants into my socks. So, two steps forward, baby.



© by scj

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dun dada dun: Exciting News!

Friends,

So I have exciting news.

I GOT ACCEPTED INTO A PH.D. PROGRAM!

Here is what my table looked like when I was done with the program application:









What you cannot see in the photo above is the row of 30 library books sitting against the wall. I had to churn out a writing sample for the application since I've been out of the world of academia for so long, and my house very quickly filled up with books and papers. I was a loopy loopster when I was done with all the writing.

Here are the program details:

The school: Talbot Theological Seminary

The program: Educational Studies

The research goal: To explore the role of imagination in our spiritual formation, giving special attention to the intersection of myth and theology. This is the broad view of the direction I'd take my research. I have some ideas for the particulars that I'm still working out.

The hope: to get healthy enough that I can start in the fall or spring of the next school year.


Pretty fun, huh?!

Cheering for you this Monday, skillets,

Sarah



© by scj

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fireflies

This week has been a three steps back kind of week. I'd thought I'd identified the things that were causing my health problems, fixed them, and then experienced corresponding healing last week, but my symptoms have returned this week, putting me back at phase one of the diagnostic journey. This has tested my mental, emotional and physical stamina in massive ways. It has been the grindiest grind.

Most days this week I've wondered how I would make it through the day. "God," I say, "I need your strength to do this because I do not have any left." Then I burst into a rousing mental rendition of, "You can do it, Cinderelli!" which doesn't usually help much, so I give myself quiet little pep talks.

A number of times, I've caught myself using affectionate nicknames for myself during these talks. Last week it was "Darlin'"; this week it's "Girlfreeen!" One of the gifts of the illness of the last several years is it's taught me to like myself. I called myself lots of names before I got sick, but they were rarely kind. Hardship is a big anvil bearing down on shoulders of flesh, but somehow, miraculously, God uses it to teach us to love ourselves. I'm glad for that.

Last night I lay on a doctor's table clenching the vinyl that poofed out of both sides of the table. I wore a set of snorkel-like goggles that weighed about as much as a child's bowling ball. The goggles contained video cameras that taped the movement of my eyes during a series of tests assessing the balance organ in each of my ears.

For the last set of tests, the goggles were covered with a black plastic sheath so I couldn't see a thing. If I had to imagine what it feels like to be sealed in a coffin, I would use this blacked-out goggle experience as inspiration. I wish I could say that I just had to lie there and watch blinking lights inside the goggles, but there were no blinking lights. Instead, the doctor had to induce extreme dizziness four times in a row by shooting alternating hot and cold air in my ear. "Breathe, Sarah," she said each time she stuck her dizziness-inducer in my ears. "Don't forget to breathe."

When the tests were over, the news wasn't great. The good news is it's highly unlikely I have a brain tumor. The bad news is only 2% of cases look like mine and the doctor doesn't know what could be causing this. This week she'll comb the results of my tests and compile a report that she'll send to another doctor who will look over them. I'm praying the Holy Spirit drenches them with insight as they try to figure out what my next steps should be in this diagnostic process.

The picture of me clenching the table and wearing the blacked out goggles on my head is a good metaphor for life sometimes, isn't it? Sometimes things are dark and we can't see very far in front of us. We breathe through the hard stuff.

There's one thing I've learned about the darkness: there are always fireflies darting through it. Often, these fireflies flit nearer and nearer till they're hovering in front of us, close enough to reach out and grab.

This week I discovered that my mechanic, smudged with black grease and smelling like fuel, loves roses. He hopes to have a garden one day, and in the meantime he stops to smell every rose he sees.

He, with his unexpected love of roses, is a fleck of light in this hard week. He's a firefly.

Today I made a new friend on my afternoon walk:


I must have been delicious because he licked my hand and forearm for a solid ten minutes.


It tickled and made me chortle with glee, and when I pulled away, he pawed at the fence. He wanted more of salty little me.

"More, I want moooooore!"

So I gave him more. I'll have to bring a carrot with me on my next evening walk.

Never has a firefly made me so slobbery and full of laughter.

Last week, one of my best friends came over to take a walk with me. I hadn't seen her in six weeks and relished every minute with her. When it was time for her to go, she curled up on my bed with me and prayed for me. When she was done, tears were running down her cheeks.

I have a friend on the east coast who is battling cancer. He's been praying for me daily and sending me encouraging scriptural references as he undergoes chemotherapy. Two weeks ago I asked how I could pray for him. "I've been dreaming about the day I get to walk out of this hospital for good," he said, "but I don't want to miss what God is doing in me in the meantime. Please pray I'd be attentive to his work."

The prayers of these people are my fireflies. They're glowing pockets of grace.

I don't want to let these fireflies flit away unnoticed. I want to catch them and keep them somewhere safe. This week I imagine myself gently sliding my fireflies into a mason jar with nail holes in the lid. When life's darkness feels too thick and heavy, I pull out that mason jar and set it on the table.

Then I sit quietly and watch it glow, moonish and mesmerizing.


I covet your prayers this week, especially as doctors pour over my recent test results looking for clues as to what's going on.


Cheering for you, Skillets.

-Sarah




© by scj

Friday, February 20, 2015

Victory Lap

After another week of dancing the cha-cha, I decided that the cha-cha was much too lovely a metaphor for the last few weeks. I have not been dipping and twirling in a little black dress; I have been atop a frantic bull that is trying to buck me to infinity and beyond. The bull, unlike most rodeo bulls, has not been in a rodeo pen. It has been locked in a tilt-a-whirl.

But my friends: Three days ago the tilt-a-whirl slowed to a halt and the bull (and I) hopped off the ride. It wasn't long before he spotted a patch of daisies under a nearby oak tree that looked yummy so he stopped for a snack. This gave me an opportunity to slip off his back and stretch out on the fresh grass under a swath of winter sky.

Oh the relief.

I can't even tell you how good this feels. The world is fresh-faced and hope-filled all over again.

Yesterday I drove up the Orange County coast with my windows rolled down and Taylor Swift crooning her sassy love songs. Every few hundred meters I found myself murmuring thank you to God. Thank you for the for sparkling turquoise coves and the sun kissing my left forearm and the wind whipping my hair into dreadlocks. Thank you for all these people who are healthy enough to be out driving to important places to do world-changing things like sell ice cream and landscape gardens. Thank you for green grass, the sizzling kebabs that are cooking in the restaurant kitchen atop the bluff, and the health you've given me to enjoy this day.

Had I driven any longer Taylor Swift would have probably gone hoarse, but lucky for her I decided to park at Salt Creek Beach and get out of my car.

A verdant hill stretched before me, and beyond it, the ocean undulated lazily toward the shore.


I breathed in deeply, five seconds in, five seconds out, the way I do when I meditate. And then, just because I could, I noticed for the 100th time that day that I felt almost normal — almost, but not quite. But absolutely normal enough to enjoy this hill. So I ran down it with my arms open, like a giant, lunatic pelican taking off for flight. I think I must have been trying to give the world a big hug because right then she felt so darn huggable.

The thing about hugging the world is it's never satisfying. I can drink in her jasmine perfume, bathe in her sea breeze, and stuff my pockets full of her sunshine, but it's not enough. I always want more and more and more. No matter how wide I spread my arms, I just can't seem to fill up with enough of her beauty.

I suppose God made it this way on purpose. Our insatiable hunger for beauty is the tide that pulls us back to him, again and again. He is the most Beautiful One, and his hugs are the only ones that can satisfy. I've been imagining hugging Jesus a lot lately. I've also been making an effort to lie on my back with my arms spread wide while I pray. I'm learning that it's important for me to pray with my heart, mind and body. I wonder if this kind of prayer is kind of like giving Jesus a real hug. It feels like it.

Back at the house I noticed the sky was covered with cotton ball clouds. I think we all know that cotton ball skies are the best skies to dance under, along with clear blue skies, stormy skies, and sunset skies. So I headed to the basketball court in the backyard and I danced like it was my last dance: Popping and locking that made me look like a gangly, spandex-clad octopus; and footwork that looked suspiciously like hurdle warm-up drills. I can't say the neighbors on the hilltop overlooking the court felt comfortable with it all, but I know Leslie Knope would have been proud.

I still don't know the exact causes of all my symptoms the last two months, but my doctors and I have assembled some theories that include mold exposure, grief from some hard life stuff, a jammed neck joint affecting the occipital nerve, and stress. It was a perfect storm of sorts. I'm still not totally back to normal, and I'm still in problem-solving mode about a few things, but I have been leading a normal life the last few days, doing normal things with normal energy levels. This feels glorious. I'm feeling quite hopeful that all will soon be resolved.

In the meantime, I'm doing the things that life is too short to not do. Tonight, during my walk, I stopped at a local park and hopped on a swing. I pumped my legs like my mom taught me when I was a little girl, and I swung in and out of the breezy sunset. To my right, a middle-aged woman played ball with her three sons, and a hunched man guided his fluffy, prancy white dog across the grass. I tilted my head back and felt my pony tail whipping in the wind. It reminded me of a tradition my female teammates and I had in college.

Every Wednesday, toward the end of the dreaded 300 workout — after we'd puked at least once and narrowly escaped blacking out — we'd walk up to the starting line to run our last repetition of the 300-meter sprint. Before we looked to our coach for his signal to run, we'd pull our hair loose from the ponytail holders that kept stray hairs from sticking to our sweaty faces. We shook our hair till it tumbled around our shoulders and then we put our game faces on. This would be our hardest lap yet but we'd make it our fastest, our hair streaming behind us like victory flags.

I pumped harder and swung toward the tips of some naked tree branches, wondering at the things my body has allowed me to do over the years. Sunset shadows crept across the grass and the songbirds' symphony quieted. Pollen floated across the sky, small flecks of fluffy light. And I reached back, pulled my hair out of its ponytail holder and let the wind send it flying.





© by scj

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Magic (and Cheering for you, Skillets)

My friends,

It's Saturday. Here we are.

This is something I have learned to say over the years because it's something I can always say truthfully. Here we are. Even if your burgeoning garden is overrun with weevils, or your jeans are so tight you can't zip them, or you accidentally poured orange juice in your bowl of cereal, and even if work was a disaster this week, or your best friendship is in shambles, or your finances are in ruins: we are here. We are here, and this is worth something, isn't it? Because even though "here" may be reverberating with dissonance and littered with disappointments, it is still teeming with little gifts. This what I discovered, for the ten thousandth time, when I took my camera with me on a walk a few days ago.

Cameras are magical things. They have a way have stripping the here and now of its dull familiarity to reveal unexpected bursts of color and patches of light, microcosms of intricate detail. If you ever tire of the world and feel your wonder at it waning, grab your camera and start snapping. Take pictures right where you are in the living room that is littered with toddler toys. Or, better yet, escape the stuffy house and go romping through the neighborhood. You'll be surprised what you notice.

You will notice, for example, a purple plant sitting in a patch of weeds. You will notice it because it looks like the plant your dad bought you a few years ago when you first tried your hand at gardening. You tenderly cared for that plant because it reminded you of your dad and it attracted dozens of beautiful butterflies. You remember how they'd sip the plant's nectar and then flutter off to tell their friends that you'd opened a neighborhood sweet shop just south of the rose bushes. Your purple sweet shop became the talk of the butterfly town.



You can't remember the plant's official name, but you remember it smells different to different people. Cherry, vanilla, and root beer, depending on who you are. It strikes you as the type of plant you'd find at the nursery at Hogwarts School of Magic, so you call it the Harry Potter Plant.

Upon sniffing the Harry Potter Plant you realize it does not smell like cherry, vanilla, or root beer, and must not be a Harry Potter Plant after all. It is the Not Harry Potter Plant. Just then, a bee photo bombs your shot.



You notice that his torso looks much more dangerous than his fuzzy wuzzy head. He's part teddy bear, part torpedo, and he is hungry. Better not bother him.

You watch him stick his head into a particularly nectarous cup and wonder if that is how you look when you eat Ben and Jerry's. Probably. Bless it.

You can't help but wonder what flavor that nectar is. Peanut butter cookie dough? Strawberry ripple? Whatever it is, it must be delicious.

Ah, look at those papery wings reflecting the light. They remind you of the time you were eight and you made paper human-sized wings. It was blustery outside and you connected them to your back and ran down the street as fast as you could, hoping for lift off. It never happened. Making paper wings that actually fly is very tricky.


 
Up the street from the not Harry Potter Plant, you find the most beautiful blossom tree.

You could take pictures of blossom trees until the cows come home, which is likely never, given the amount of schmacon in the Jackson family fridge.

Blossom trees remind you of your childhood. They also make you want to quote poetry, so you google this poem by E.E. Cummings:

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
                                                     
i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)




Around the corner from the blossom tree you find a patch of daisies.



Their centers look like galaxies. Who knew. There's a patch of silent galaxies just down the street from you. You've driven past it a thousand times without noticing, and now it's making you exhale deep and slow. Woooooow. Wow. Wowowowowow.


Eventually, your grumbling stomach will alert you that it's time for lunch. You will sling your camera over your shoulder and walk back down the hill, which is a very short trek. You've only walked 300 feet in one hour.

As you walk, you will notice the sun shining on your back. You'll breathe in the sharp smell of freshly cut grass and you'll wonder what it would be like to take a bath in the breeze. And then you'll notice you are humming, quietly. Here you are, and you are here, and now you know why the birds are singing.



A friend texted me this last week: "Cheering for you, skillet." It is my new favorite closing greeting, and I will use it forever and ever, you home skillets of mine.

So here we go: Happy Valentine's Day AND Cheering for you, Skillets.

-Sarah J.





© by scj