Saturday, September 17, 2016

32

Today is my birthday. I am 32 years old. I started thinking about this birthday months ago, and I expected it would be a tough one the way 29, 30, and 31 were. I dreaded those birthdays because they signified the conclusion of young adulthood, a chapter filled with indefatigable hope for the future; a dating pool loaded with intriguing fish; firm triceps that do not hang low and wobble to and fro; and the capacity for death-defying, "We'll talk about this when we're 80 [or, as the case may be, 32]" adventures.

The last three birthdays reminded me that my life is not what I hoped it would be by 30. I'd expected the daily freedoms and sporadic adventures that health affords, and I'd hoped for wifely and motherly adventures along the way. Many of my dreams have been elusive, despite my fervent efforts at realizing them; and the last few birthdays have shined a strobe light onto the deep, sometimes frantic ache of punctured hope.

For years I've longed to recapture young adulthood, determined to regain the years I spent in bed or at the doctor's office. I've been desperate to make the next six years better, easier — healthier. This birthday, though, I've grown tired of trying to scramble up the sand dune of time past, and I have finally stopped and turned to embrace this new season, whatever it might hold. In doing so, I've discovered the gift I kept overlooking.

Thirty-two has gleaned decades of life experiences that confirm the lavishness of God's goodness and the grandness of his grace. Thirty-two offers grey hairs and wrinkles, but they're hard-won wrinkles and grey hairs, earned in the trenches of unexpected suffering and ongoing disappointment.

At 32, my heart has begun to understand what my head has known all along: wrinkles and grey hair can be celebratory signs that we are growing into our truest selves, more glorious than the year before. And they can be credentials — a sign to the world that though we cannot wipe off the whiteboard without our triceps flying to the high heavens, our souls are strong and sturdy, and we are becoming wise.

I only have a few wisdom credentials at this point, but I'm thankful for the few I have, and for the hardships that endowed them. At 22 years old, I couldn't have imagined the layers of richness they would add to my life. At 22, I liked my safe, comfortable little life, and heart-wrenching hardships seemed like the worst possible thing. I did everything I could to avoid — and resist — them.

But oh, my sweet 22-year-old self: if I could reach back in time and talk with you today, here is what I would tell you about life and its hardships:

In 32 years I have learned that at some point life will strip you naked. It will tear away health, or careers, or wealth, or relationships, or beauty, or physical fitness, until you're a naked soul, trembling from the discomfort of nakedness.

At this point, despite all your good theology, you may feel like you have little offer the world — like you aren't as valuable as you used to be — and you will likely scramble to cover up your nakedness. You will reach for the things that have been stripped away, with the hope of plastering them over your life all over again.

There is a good chance God will not let you.

Instead, he may teach you that impressive achievements and a reliable career were fig leaves you were using to cover your nakedness all along, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When we shrink back in shame like Adam and Eve, determined to cover our nakedness, God will come looking for us. He will call out to us, and draw near to us, and his Father's heart will long to clothe us.

We see this when God carefully sewed clothing for Adam and Eve so they'd no longer have to use fig leaves to cover their nakedness. Those clothes were a symbol, a foreshadowing of the righteousness in which Christ would one day clothe the souls of his lovers, so we don't ever have to cower from the shame of nakedness again.

When your fig leaves have been stripped away, you may realize you do not feel relieved by the re-discovery that you are clothed in Christ's righteousness. You may feel like you got the short end of the stick, like his righteousness is not enough somehow. It doesn't help you toward the American Dream, after all, and the American Dream is the ultimate measuring rod for success in the West.

This realization is a gift.

It is a light on the dashboard of your soul, alerting you to hardness of heart you weren't previously aware of. It is an opportunity to invite the Holy Spirit to re-teach you the sufficiency of his grace and the marvels of being his child, clothed in his righteousness. It is an invitation to awaken to the living, Gospel Truth that devours the lie of the American Dream:

There is no life dearer — no life more fulfilling, thrilling, or vibrant — than a life of being a naked soul, clothed in righteousness, loved by God.

Here is what I know that I know that I know: if you are in your bed, almost all day, most days, for years and years, aching from illness and the grief that accompanies it, but you are discovering God's power and learning his love, then you are living your best possible life. You are not missing out. You are writing a most beautiful story.

This story-writing is often painful. In fact, most of the time, it will not feel like you and God are writing a beautiful story with a glorious ending. Instead, it will feel like you have been thrust into enemy territory, castaway and forgotten. When this happens, plunder the enemy territory. If your enemy is sickness, singleness, or grief, carefully survey the landscape and salvage everything of value — every last bit of gold, every last string of pearls — and tuck it into the folds of your heart.

The quiet isolation of chronic illness may be the space in which you learn to listen for God's voice. The hunger for marriage may push you into community with people in whom you'd never otherwise have time to invest. The pain of pervasive grief may teach you to pray without ceasing.
 
The plundering will add sparkle to your life, but it will not transform your darkness into light. Only God can do that. And he is at work transfiguring the darkness. This is at the heart of the Gospel. When you are weak, then you are strong; when you are empty, then you are filled; when you lose your life, then you find it; when you die, then you are really, truly alive.

I used to love gazing at these paradoxes from afar, intoxicated by their beauty. I never dreamed they would be so brutal to live. Weakness, loss, and death are a miserable lot, and sometimes it can take absolutely ages — even an entire lifetime — before we see signs of strength, gain, and life sprouting from the ashes.

It is easy to lose heart in the midst of the waiting, while our robust hope withers and droops. This is why we need each other. While you wait for Jesus to transfigure your darkness into light, run into a safe community of Christians. Ask them to tell you their stories of God's provision — of the strength he gave them in weakness, and the gain he gave them in loss. If you are too sick to meet with other followers of Jesus, then send a text or an email, asking people to send you their stories. Become a collector of stories that you can revisit when your perseverance wanes.

And when you have stories of your own, share them. Tell your people about the time you got a check in the mail, just hours after sinking despair over financial need. Tell them about the friend who gave her heart to Christ, after you'd prayed for her for years; tell them about the angel that protected you on a long road trip; tell them about the time you ate a waffle and realized, mid-bite, that God gave you taste buds — of all things, taste buds! — all over your tongue, opening you to all sorts of grace. Remember God's goodness together, and watch your hope grow.

And when God turns the darkness into gold? Give it away. Empty yourself right back out for the impoverished in your community. Take every last drop of love you've received and every last bit of grace you've learned and give it to the the lonely neighbor who needs a listening ear, the marginalized immigrant who needs a safe place to belong, the exhausted single mom who needs rent money and a babysitter, the imprisoned and forgotten who need education and opportunity, and the sick and elderly who need hot meals and encouraging words.

If you're immobilized by illness and you can't do much to lessen the pain on earth, then petition heaven on behalf of those whose wounds are raw and gaping. Devote your days to asking God to give them advocates and a sense of his peace, presence, and power. And when you do, you will discover all over again that the discomfort of giving is where Life hides. The Way of Jesus is the Way of Giving, and the Way of Giving is the only way of having what satisfies your soul.

It is hard work persevering through the darkness and resting at the heart of Gospel paradox. But I can promise you this: if you have surrendered your life — your ambitions, longings, and deepest loves — to Jesus, then you will discover that suffering is not the worst possible thing that could happen to you; a comfortable life disconnected from God's love is. And in some crazy, wild way, God can use your suffering to make his love more real to you than ever before, more glorious than you ever imagined. If you thought his love was a glowing candle, your suffering can teach you it is a sunrise.


 




Once you have felt the warmth of that sunrise, you will want to bask in it forever. You will want to swim in it, to be wrapped up in it, to be united with it. Unlike twenty-two, thirty-two, with its deepening wrinkles and white hairs, will remind you that you are returning to dust, and one day very soon, you will be wrapped up in God's arms, united with him at last. You will touch him, smell him, and look into his eyes, and what you see in them will make you sing and dance with joy.

In the meantime, there is worthy work to do.

So press on, Young One, your face ever-fixed on the Sunrise. You will be glad you did.



.........



***I first heard John Coe use the metaphor of lights on the dashboard of the soul; and I first heard Matt Jenson use the metaphor of plundering enemy territory.


© by scj

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Limbic System Retraining: September Update

My friends!

I come bearing a limbic system retraining update. It's been about ten weeks since I started training, and I continue to be encouraged by my progress. The last few weeks have been particularly encouraging since I've had several pockets during which I can feel the lights in my body flicker on as my brain begins to remember how to function like a normal, healthy brain. During these pockets, I'm able to be up, engaging people and activity, more often and more easily.

Here are a few other encouraging signs of progress:

1. I'm not constantly in fight-or-flight mode anymore and am generally much calmer than I have been in ages. Things that used to drench my body in adrenaline and trigger a set of crazy physical challenges — like the sound of my phone buzzing, or bright lights, or artificial smells — are affecting me less and less.

As my healing brain creates more pockets of calm, it is able to divert the energy it used to need to maintain a constant state of fight-or-flight to healing the rest of my body. I expect that my brain will eventually slide completely out of fight-or-flight mode so my body can use every last bit of its energy to heal.


2. I've continued to work on adding foods back to my diet, and I've successfully re-integrated almost all fresh fruits.

I'm especially happy to be eating bananas...


....and raisins (a game-changer! Now I can make "trail mix" with my pecans and raisins)....


....and, in the non-fruit category: POTATO CHIPS! I'm thankful to have such a calorie-heavy source of food. For awhile there, I had to drink sparkling water if I wanted to feel full, but now, I just pull out a bag of tater chips.
I accidentally ate an entire bag of potato Chips on Sunday. Also on Monday. Also on Tuesday.

3. For years I tried to remember what it felt like to be in my body before all of these challenges started, but whenever I inserted myself into a happy memory, my physical challenges would invade and change the memory. Remembering my old life often made me feel like I was watching a movie about someone else's life — a character with whom I couldn't identify at all.

But over the last ten days I've been repeatedly hit with snippets of memories from my early twenties, and in those moments my brain REMEMBERS what it felt like to be in my body back then. I've remembered what it felt like to lift weights in Austria, camp in the Italian countryside, and go swing dancing in Pasadena. As far as I understand, this remembering is a sign that my hippocampus — a key part of the limbic system — is coming back online after many years of malfunctioning.

It's so exciting and encouraging to see these signs of brain, and subsequent body, change. The goal is to do this program for a minimum of six months, but my intuition and research suggest I need to be doing this for a whole year, so that's what I'm committing to. I'm feeling more and more confident that at this time next year, I'll be singing a whole new song.

If you're new to my blog and want to read more about limbic system retraining, click here

Thanks for praying with me as I train, my friends.

I'm praying and cheering for you,

Sarah



© by scj

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Missing

Shortly before I returned to LA, Girlfren and I were downstairs resting — well, I was resting, and she was sniffing around, exploring new nooks and crannies — when I noticed Girfren was no longer in my line of sight. I got up and looked in every bedroom, calling her name, but I couldn't find her. I looked in closets and behind doors, and then I revisited every bedroom again, but she was still MIA.

I wondered momentarily if she had gone upstairs, but Girlfren did not know how to climb stairs, so I continued my downstairs search. And then I rounded the corner and saw her sitting quietly, perhaps a bit uneasily, on the first stair landing:



Yaaay, Girlfren! You finally figured out how to get up those stairs!


But how to get back down them?


And how to get up the next 12 stairs?


Another problem for another day.

For now, Puppy Baby is growing up way too fast.


Hopeful, light-filled Thursday, friends of mine.

-SJ


P.S. Thank you for your prayers last week as I traveled. I had a smooth, quick flight; and I generally felt swaddled in prayer, as I always do when you rally to pray. Since being back in LA, I have experienced peace in the midst of some challenges, clear guidance from the Holy Spirit, sweet encouragement from all sorts of places, and hope about the future. What wonderful gifts.



© by scj

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Snailio

Pink wispy clouds stretched across the sky outside my bedroom window, signaling the day's end. I had been resting inside all day, so I decided to step outside for some fresh air. Down the stairs, out the door, onto the edge of the driveway: "Hi! Hiii!" a small voice to my right called for me. I turned and saw Peter,* my 5-year old neighbor waving frantically over the hedge.

I smiled and walked over to him. "Look at my new pet!" he gave me a wide smile and held out a plastic sandwich bag filled with bits of grass. I leaned in for a closer look, and there, nestled in the pieces of grass was an empty, cracked snail's shell, held together with scotch tape. "I'm feeding it dinnuh because he's hungwy," he explained, struggling to pronounce that tricky "r" sound.

I admired Peter's new pet and praised his tender care for him. "What's your snail's name?" I asked.

He paused for a minute, his brow furrowed in concentration, before looking up with light in his eyes. "Snailio if it's a boy. Snailia if it's a girl," he announced. He resumed his grass-picking before looking up again. "I think I'm going to put candy in Snailio's house in case he wants dessert later." Peter smiled with glee at the thought of the yummy treat Snailio had coming.

"I think that's a great idea," I said, musing that Peter's generosity — so pure and unnecessary — seemed lavish. Moments later his mom called him inside, so he skipped away, leaving me to enjoy the last few minutes of daylight.

Six years ago, I started observing good moms and dads in order to catch glimpses of God's goodness. I watch them cheer over Zoe's first steps, cradle Janie tenderly despite the smell of dirty diaper, and comfort Paulie after a fall on the pavement. I try to imagine God is cheering for me like that, attentive to my wounds after a failure, cradling me close despite the smell of dirty heart. I suppose I am trying to take my cue from Jesus by situating the abstract assurance of God's love in our bustling world of smells, sounds, sight, taste, touch.

Over the years, I've started watching other caretakers, hoping for more glimpses of God's goodness. I watch sisters make their little brothers lunch, teachers patiently repeat homework instructions for the 5th time, aunts and uncles jump up and down with pride and joy at [not-so] little Johnny's X-factor audition on TV, and I imagine God is caring for me — delighting in me — like that.

This evening I watched Peter with his empty, cracked snail shell and his big plans for dessert, and I think I see a glimmer of what God looks like in Peter's tender hands and shining eyes. I wonder if I might create a variation of Matthew 7:11 to better understand how much God loves me:

If you then, who are but five years old, know how to give good gifts to your empty, cracked snail shell pet, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Lately, this has become a prayer of sorts. When my trust in Jesus is etiolated, I think about Peter and God, and Snailio and me, and I feel hope lifting its tired head. And oh Jesus, thank you for 5-year old neighbors that image you, and pet "snails" that image me, and a promise that your gifts will be wonderfully, unimaginably lavish — because you love us.





*Not his real name.


© by scj

Monday, August 15, 2016

Prayer requests and support

My friends,

My time here in the Pacific Northwest has come to a close, and tomorrow I head back to LA where I will continue to rest. Though my work load has been minimal the last six years, I'll carry an even easier load this fall as I try to get on a healing trajectory. I'm hopeful the rest will be productive in the best possible ways.

I continue to remain hopeful that God will use DNRS, along with my other treatments, to completely heal me with time, but in the meantime, this journey continues to be more like a quest through sawtooth mountains than a zipline through the jungle, and I covet your prayers:

Here are my most pressing requests:

1. For special grace as I prepare to fly tomorrow after/during a very challenging week.

2. For protection from the Enemy who wants to kill and destroy.

3. For encouragement in Christ and comfort in his love.

4. For laughter and joy.  

5.  For peace and trust in the good things God is preparing for me in the future.

6. For physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength as I forge ahead.

7. For something unexpected to bring me joy the way my parents' puppy has. She has been a therapeutic companion and tremendous blessing this summer, and I will miss her.

8. For complete healing sooner rather than later.
 

Thank you for your prayer support, my friends. It's an immeasurable gift to me.

If you'd like to support me beyond prayer, my brother recently put together a site to raise medical funds for a year's worth of my  medical expenses, as the cost of my doctors appointments and treatments continues to be well beyond my means.  If you feel moved to contribute, or you're able to share this link on social media, I thank you in advance! And a big thank you to those of you who have already contributed. I feel overwhelmed by your generosity.

https://www.payit2.com/fundraiser/86102


Hopeful, light-filled Monday, my friends.

-Sarah

© by scj

Friday, August 5, 2016

Thief

When socks go missing, I think most people blame the washing machine and dryer. "They're sock thieves," they say.

Not in my parents' house:



Note that we also have a slipper thief


Our sock thief is so cute, we don't mind all the missing socks.
 

© by scj

Monday, August 1, 2016

Reading

Yesterday I was reading by the fire, and The Child decided to join me.

Reading, Take One; alternatively titled "Somebody is a Pillow Hog":


Reading, Take Two; alternatively titled, "Snuggle Bug City."


Reading, Take Three; alternatively titled, "I Gave Up Reading So We Could Snuggle."


Hopeful, Light-filled Monday, my friends.

-SJ

© by scj

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Discovery

Someone has discovered that cardboard boxes make the best toys in the whole entire world:



Napkins are pretty fun, too:




Haaaappy Sunday!

Cheering for ya, Skillets,

Sarah
© by scj

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Growing

The Child was roughly the size of an adult running shoe when we first got her. Since then, she has almost doubled in size. Though she is cuter than ever, I am just dismayed at the speed of her growth. Soon, our girl will be all growed up, and her puppy days will be in the distant past. I wish she would stay small forever.

And this is why I love bathing her, because, without all her fluffy, dry fur, she shrinks for just a few minutes:


Oh tiny girl, I sure love you. How am I ever going to leave you in a few weeks?



Happy Saturday, friends.

Cheering for ya,

SJ

P.S. Girlfren's hair dried as pictured above:


She's our woodpecker baby.

© by scj

Friday, July 29, 2016

Prayer

My friends!

I'm lying here alternately watching YouTube videos and listening to the wind rush through the tree outside my window. My eyelids are heavy, and a Nap is trying to convince me to take her, so I think I will. But first, a few prayer requests as we move into August:

1. Endurance as I do the challenging work of retraining my brain; regular health victories to inspire me onward and upward.

2. Encouragement and hope in the face of my challenges. 

3. Complete and total healing sooner rather than later.

4. Patience.

5. Protection from the Enemy.

6. A sense of God's presence and peace; sensitivity to and confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

7. Wisdom regarding the best way/time to reintegrate food and activities. Balance — I don't want to push too hard, as I'm prone to do.

8. Discernment regarding which medicine, supplements, and treatments to try as I do DNRS, if any. 

9. Physical, mental, and emotional readiness for work and school when they start in three weeks. 


Thank you my friends.

Shoot me your prayer requests. I think of and pray for you all regularly.


Love,

Sarah



© by scj

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Missing

Dear Dad,

If you are wondering where your Nike compression pants and flip flop are, I found them:


Love,

Sarah


© by scj

Monday, July 25, 2016

Happy Monday

"Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities;


Forget about your worries and your strife."

("Yeeaah, yeeeeah")

I hope you were able to kick back and relax this weekend and are rearin' to go today, friends!

Happy Monday,

Sarah



© by scj