Friday, July 31, 2015

Day dreamin'

I have a friend — a kindred spirit — who likes to daydream the way I do. When we're together we create extravagant, intricate fantasies in which everything is well and ends well. Last year, we constructed a fantasy in which we moved to the Scottish countryside for a few years of doctoral study. The cottage in which we spent most of our time was nestled in the verdant hills, just off a country lane. My friend, Joe, wanted to be sure the cottage would have "rustic hard wood floors, a small but sturdy oak dining table, and a kitchen window overlooking a quaint, organic garden blooming with tomatoes, carrots and herbs."

"Yes, yes!" I exclaimed. "And the cottage will have all sorts of large windows (and a bench seat under one window) with sweeping views of the countryside. And there must be a rose garden. And there must be a nook for tea time, and I hope we take high tea everyday."

"AH!" he responded. "How could I forget the bench seat?! I am a fool! I expect nothing less than high tea on a daily basis."

In very little time, we've created a dream in high definition, complete with hand-painted dishes, freshly preserved marmalade, and rousing tea-time discussions with tart philosophers, soulful poets, eccentric musicians (preferably fiddlers), colorful authors, brooding psychoanalysts, and elderly widows and widowers of gentrified birth. Our neighbors, Betsy and William, will own a cow and will have their freckled, dimpled 9-year old, Billy, bring us fresh cream every morning. To go with the marmalade and scones, of course. We will churn all leftover cream into butter, which we will sell at the local farmer's market.

Oh, and there's so much more.

Our dreams are often extravagant, but they're not too far outside the realm of realistic possibility. It's the twinge of realism that makes them so sweet. It's unlikely we'll ever realize our Scottish cottage fantasy, but we've both toyed with the idea of doing doctoral work at St. Andrews, so our dreams could have come true. Dreams that could come true are one of my favorite escapes from real life when the going gets tough. They breathe a little bit of hope into dark times.

I've been trying to escape my life into the Land of Daydreams lately. I try to dream about traveling to Spanish-speaking countries or meeting a good guy on an airplane, but these dreams feel too far-fetched after so many months in bed. It's hard to imagine that I'll ever again be able to participate in life enough to travel abroad or date. So lately, I've steered clear of these kinds of dreams. The hope they instill isn't sturdy enough.

But gosh. I need some place to which I can escape. I need a dream that feels magical but could one day be realized. So I've started daydreaming about the escapades I want to have with Jesus in heaven. I ask myself, "If I were with Jesus right now, in the flesh, what would I want to do with him?" Often, before I enter into these daydreams, I ask God to help me dream. I'm hoping he'll reach in and drop a sparkling idea that makes my heart skip a beat.

The other day I imagined Jesus and I were jumping on a trampoline so big I couldn't see its borders. It is just the two of us at first, bouncing and laughing as you only can when you're flying and flailing. There are colorful water balloons on the trampoline, too, bouncing high in the air alongside us but somehow never getting under foot.

After awhile, hundreds of other people appear and join us. Everywhere, there are colorful balloons and people laughing with glee, delighting in God's company and in each other, and marveling at the ways we reflect the God we're getting to know so well.  Sometimes, a water balloon pops, but instead of water drenching an unsuspecting jumper, small beads of light cascade out of the balloons, each glistening with a different color. There is light confetti everywhere.

A dream that really, truly could come true. I hope it does.

Hey God, I hope this dream comes true, okay? Maybe Moses, Elisabeth Elliot, and my grandpa can help you fill all those water balloons. In the meantime, I'll be rallying as many trampoline troops as I can down here. I'll tell them about your love, and I'll pray for them, and I'll do my best love them like you do. And hey, would you use this sickness of mine to somehow draw people to you? I'd love it that trampoline were extra full because of my sickness. That would be just the greatest.

Thanks, God.

Love you,

-Sarah



© by scj

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Justified


My friends,

Whew. This season continues to be so hard. Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting in the grandstands watching this disease march deeper into my body, slowly compromising new systems and creating new symptoms. It’s scary watching my body do things without my permission. And it’s hard not to worry about what it may decide to do tomorrow, or next week. Sometimes my fearful thoughts swoop in like a pack of frantic bats, swarming my sensibilities and pecking away at my peace.

I’ve developed a number of coping mechanisms for fighting off anxiety or despair since I got sick years ago. I say “at least” a lot. Hey, I may be stuck in bed but “at least I can still work on this writing project”; or, “at least I can go on a short walk if I rest in bed for a few days beforehand”; or, “at least I can pray for people.”

Most of my “at leasts” are about being productive and creative. When I was a kid I assumed work was something God implemented after the Fall of Man — it was part of the curse. But when I revisited the Genesis account as a young adult, I discovered work was part of God's plan for Adam and Eve in the very the beginning. God created us to work and take deep pleasure in it. Unfortunately, as a result of the Fall, there are all sorts of “thorns” and “thistles” that frustrate our efforts; but even still: it's good to be able to work. When I can be a bit productive while stuck in bed, I feel like I’m able to do a little of what God’s created me to do. It’s all sorts of satisfying.

I'd hoped to pick blackberries today. It always brings me such delight after a 20-hour day in bed. But today I discovered our neighborhood blackberry thicket had been uprooted and removed. A plot of upturned dirt remains in its stead. I suppose the removal of these bushes is a small thing in the scope of life, but it feels big to me.

Slowly, my sickness has made it nearly impossible to do lots of things that bring me pleasure. Most of the time, my neurological symptoms make it nearly impossible to read and write coherently [confession: it took me three weeks to write this and no time to proofread it... because I didn't. So, here's to hoping it's coherent!], so I’ve laid aside a beloved writing project and stack of unread books. Every now and then my body lets me go to the grocery store or on a walk, but most of the time, my fatigue and a host of other symptoms keep me in bed all day. Lately, I feel too sick to pray much more than one-word feeble prayers. "Help." And now my blackberry bushes, one of the last of my "at leasts," are gone. I cried when I told my mom about the bushes this evening. "I'm tired of losing things," I lamented.

This week I realized my "at leasts" aren't just about the pleasure of work; they're also about trying to create a life of value. Losing the last of my “at leasts” makes me feel like a tired lump of bones wasting away in bed. Without them my life feels purposeless. Sometimes I wonder why God’s keeping me around. "How could you possibly use this sickness for your Kingdom purposes when I’m stuck in bed?” I ask him. He hasn’t answered with words lately, but he does keep my heart beating, which I suppose is sort of like saying, “Just trust me that you’re worth keeping around, okay, kid?”

My life felt similarly worthless the first time I got really sick five years ago, but back then, God seemed closer than he does now. For years, when I’d wake up in the morning I’d feel the Spirit of God hovering protectively over me. When I’d eat breakfast, I’d feel Jesus sitting with me at the table. Sometimes, the Spirit of God would talk to me with a clarity I hadn't experienced before.

I didn’t have much to offer God back then. I mostly just laid in bed and breathed and blinked. And yet, I felt more enveloped in God’s love than ever before. It was as if…as if he loved me even when I had nothing to offer him but my body and heart. Wonder of wonders.

When I was a kid I discovered that Jesus loves me no matter what. I've believed it ever since. But when I got sick I realized we have two kinds of beliefs: conscious beliefs and subconscious beliefs. Conscious beliefs are the beliefs we’re aware of – they’re the beliefs we readily espouse to others when they ask: “Jesus loves me, this I know (for the Bible tells me so).”

Our subconscious beliefs are harder to identify because we’re not often aware of them. They make themselves known, though, in our knee-jerk reactions to life’s curve balls. That’s when the disconnect between the things we believe in in our heads and the things we believe in our hearts is revealed.

The first long round of acute illness taught me that although I consciously believed Jesus loved me, I subconsciously believed I needed to make myself valuable by doing a heck of a lot more than breathing and blinking. So I was stunned and delighted to experience what I intellectually knew: that God really loved me when I had nothing important or successful to give him. He loved me — not because I was an athlete, or scholar, or sister, or daughter, or musician, but because I was me, created by Him. The experience made those first years of sickness feel like a wonderful gift.

This week, now that the last of my "at leasts" is gone, I'm reminded afresh of just how hard it is to rest in God's undying love for me. Sometimes I forget how much he loves me, but most of the time I just doubt it. My heart has trouble believing what my head believes with certainty: that a perfect God would stoop to delight in little me. I still feel like I need to build value into my life. A pile of tired bones that reads and writes and goes on occasional walks is worth having around, but a pile of tired bones that watches tv and naps all day? Eh. Those piles aren't as valuable. Those aren't the piles our culture affirms and celebrates.

During the apostle Paul's ministry, the Corinthian Christians began posturing for power and position in the church based on who mentored them. Those who were mentored by Paul thought they should have power and influence, but those who were mentored by Apollos thought they were better leadership candidates. It was a fight to prove whose associations made their leadership services more valuable.

Timothy Keller, in his little book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, points out that Paul responds to the Corinthians by giving the Corinthians a new way of thinking about their self worth:

"I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not judge even myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me." (1 Cor. 4:3-4)

Here, Paul explains that his identity is not the result of people's opinions about him. The judgements of others don't matter to him. Moreover, his identity isn't even informed by his own opinions about himself. And his clear conscience certainly isn't settling the matter of his identity. No, it's God's judgements that determine Paul's identity.

Keller says that word translated "innocent" comes from the word "justify" — the same word Paul uses throughout Romans and Galatians. Paul is looking for a courtroom verdict about his identity. We all are looking for this verdict. "Every single day we are on trial," Keller writes. "Everyday, we put ourselves back in a courtroom." Everyday we're either providing evidence for the defense or the prosecution in this trial to determine our worth.

But Paul has discovered the secret to having an identity that doesn't hang on the opinions of people, himself included: he is no longer on trial. He doesn't have to show up to the courtroom each day to prove himself worthy. When Jesus died on the cross, he took Paul's place in that courtroom, and the Judge, Father God, found Jesus innocent.

The Bible makes it clear: when we repent of our sins and place our trust in God, Christ's courtroom verdict becomes our courtroom verdict. God imputes Christ's innocence to us. So that now, we can relate to God the way Jesus relates does. Now, God can say of us, "This is my son, my daughter, with whom I am well pleased." This is the final courtroom verdict for Christians.

For every other religion, our performance in the celestial courtroom determines the ultimate verdict about our value and worth. But for the follower of Jesus, God's courtroom verdict is our starting place: "Accepted; delightful; loved no matter what. Court adjourned." God's courtroom verdict means we don't need to spend the rest of our days trying to build value into our lives. Our opinions and "at leasts" don't matter anymore.*

If you are stuck in bed for months, or years, and you can't do much more than stare at the ceiling, God is still dancing over you with delight. If you are working a discouraging job that feels utterly unimportant, or you are failing at friendship, or you are single and lonely, or you are barren and discouraged, or you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, well, then you are accepted, delightful, and loved no matter what.

I've been looking forward to heaven a lot this year. Some afternoons you'll find me in bed, day dreaming about sitting with Jesus at the piano and composing a symphony that, in a surprising turn of events, smells as glorious as it sounds. Other days you'll find me imagining he and I are climbing a big ol' pine tree that stretches to the Milky Way. But this week, I've been looking backwards at the cross and empty tomb. The cross and empty tomb remind us of the startling, jaw-dropping courtroom verdict that changes everything.

The cross and the tomb also remind us that if we want to live fully, freed from all the false ideas we have about our value and love-ability, then we're going to have to first learn loss, weakness, and the death of our old selves — the selves that tell us lies about our self-worth. It's when sickness, or financial ruin, or relational brokenness swallow up the last of our "at leasts" that God re-teaches us that we are completely, wholly enough because He is enough.

This makes it all worth it, doesn't it? The Gospel of Jesus is the only thing that makes this all worth it. Praise Him for the cross and the empty tomb! And praise him for his relentless mercy that teaches us again and again how wide, high, and deep His love for us really is.

Praying today that God gives us each special grace to rest in the paradoxical Gospel miracles he works in our hardship.

And as always, cheering for ya, Skillets.

-Sarah




*Timothy Keller's book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness informed a lot of these thoughts.

© by scj

Friday, July 17, 2015

Looking forward

One of my doctors recently reminded me of the importance of building things into my life that I can look forward to. He said it's essential for healing. I've been struggling to do this well the last several months because my body limits me in so many ways, so I've started asking God to give me things each week that make my life feel full and exciting, if even for a moment.

Here's how he's provided lately:

1. Most days I look forward to walking down the street to pick blackberries for dessert after dinner.


If you could somehow lick summer, it would taste like blackberries. Every season has a taste, I think. Fall tastes like baked apples, fresh off the tree in the backyard. Winter tastes like peppermint hot chocolate. Spring tastes like citrus, at least in the sunny southwest it does (how might spring taste to you?). And summer tastes like blackberries.


2. During a few trips to the blackberry thicket this week, I picked extra berries to set aside for baking. I've been on a strict vegetables, fruit, and turkey diet for several months, but this week I caved and made warm blackberry scones topped with clotted coconut cream. And of course, there was tea. There is always tea.


 Who says grain, egg, dairy and refined sugar-free baked goods can't be GOOD!

My coconut clotted cream needed more time to "clot"



Also, scones and tea are solid proof for God's existence.


3. Several days ago I escaped the house for a bit to see my childhood best friend, Lauren, and her two sweet kiddos.

Lauren and I were thick as thieves growing up. We also had a penchant for crazy costumes (and crazy escapades to accompany them):





This is from a picture book I made for Lauren when I was a young thang. Now, her daughter loves it when Lauren "reads" the book to her before bed.

Lauren's a full-grown wife and mom now, but some things never change. She still has a silly streak and a readiness to laugh. I love that about her. It's been almost three decades since the birth our friendship and we still have lots of fun together.

Here's the crew:


Oops! Lauren's eyes are closed.

Let's try again:

 Oh no, we lost you, Ben!

One more time:


Viv, where'd you go?

Alright, again.

 Oh boy. Sarah's down for the count.

Next time. Next time we'll capture all four pairs of hazely green eyes in the same photo.


4. On Tuesday a friend, C, who has prayed faithfully for me on this journey of sickness, stopped by to give me a beautiful quilt she'd made for me.


The inside of the quilt is made out of flannel. It's so very soft.


The outside looks like a garden.


What a treasure.




5. The sunset skies these days. They make me want to fly. And paint. And write music. 





Happy Friday, friends. I hope you have all sorts of things to look forward to this weekend.

Cheering for ya, Skillets,

Sarah





© by scj

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Happy things...

...four of 'em:

1. Yesterday I ventured out of the house to the grocery store. (Two cheers for that!) While walking from my car to the store I passed a blond boy, about the age of 4, standing a few feet from his mom who was putting a baby sibling in the mini van. The boy, oblivious to his mom's efforts to get all the kids in the car, stood stoutly, brandishing a wooden sword, its PVC pipe sheath secured at his side. He was a fierce knight to be reckoned with. No doubt all the grocery store dragons hid cowering in the produce section.

The whole thing brought me loads of delight.


2. My mom just painted this darling band of lawn frogs.



If this band's music was discernible to the human ear (no doubt it's discernible to the gnome next to the petunias) we'd probably classify it as a jazzy big band jam. These frogs are endearing for more than their music, though. I also love them for their buns.


Frog buns.


Did you know those were a thing?

These guys don't have the cowboy flair that Marlboro Man does, but they are nonetheless worth broadcasting to the world.



Sorry, frogs.

Please don't stop serenading us over this.


3. Last night my folks and I ate dinner outside. We've had a hot spell here so it was nice to relax in the shade.

The tree in the center of the photo is full of BABY APPLES!


I had my eyes dilated for a doctor's appointment so it was sunglasses into the evening hours for me, man.

After dinner I walked down the street and picked blackberries for dessert. There are a few things that make me feel transported back to childhood, and blackberry picking is one of them.

Side note: when I was a kid, I loved dreaming up inventions that made blackberry picking easier. For example, instead of using a bucket to collect berries, I cut a large hole in a milk jug and then strapped the jug to my waist by slipping my belt through its handle. I don't remember if I was the originator of this idea, but the innovative get-up certainly inspired other ideas for inventions, such as a protective suit that allows pickers to wade deep into the bushes to get the hiding berries, or an arm that picks the fattest, ripest berries way up high. These contraptions would ensure an abundantly fruitful berry picking excursion.


4. I'm going stir-crazy. All this time in bed. A summer full of cerulean skies, and some of the best hiking and camping in the world at my fingertips. Boy what I'd give for a good, sweaty hike. But, since that's not an option right now, I decided to add a little action to my day and take my lunch up the street to the Washington State University campus. It's a stunning campus with wide open spaces, mountain views, forest glens, and thickets of blackberries. It's also got some great picnicking rocks.


See! Plenty of room to spread out, snack, and soak up the sun.

Perks of a picnic outing:
  • the view of Mt. Hood
  • the singsong of the field birds
  • an impish breeze
  • wearing something other than sweats (a cute pair of neon Nike shorts Sister gave me!)
  • food tastes better outside


Picnics are one of the best things of life, aren't they?


Happy Wednesday, folkaroos.

Cheering for ya — every last one of ya.

Sarah





© by scj

Monday, July 6, 2015

Bed Rest

I've been on pretty strict bed rest the last week, which means I spend all day sprawled out on my bed, the couch, or the easy chair next to the big window upstairs.

I'm used to bed rest, but I'm also used to having pockets of time when my body lets me climb out of bed and go on a walk or have a short dance party. These breaks added a little action to my week. However, it turns out these breaks were not helping me get healthy the way I'd hoped they would. Rats. Exercise is normally great for the immune system (especially dancing!), but, as many of my doctors have reminded me, I'm not "normal sick," so for now I rest and I rest and I rest.

As a result, I have very little interesting blogging fodder right now. One day I'd like to write about all the spiritual lessons I'm wrestling through as I rest, but my brain fog is far too thick to accommodate any real writing right now. So I blog. About generally un-noteworthy things.

For example:

1. My doctor wants me to put 1/2 teaspoon of salt in my drinking water twice a day. This is not the easiest concoction to down so I've started squeezing lemon and grapefruit juice into the mix. Alas, salty grapefruit juice is not my jam, but drink it I must. So, I've taken to pretending I'm sipping salt-rimmed margaritas on the French Riviera. I suppose a nice Bordeaux is much better suited to the Riviera, but I say: when life (or the doctor) hands you a tub of salt and a bag of grapefruits, if you feel like drinking the concoction on the French Rivera, then honey, IT'S OFF TO THE FRENCH RIVIERA WE GO!

2. I started detoxing yesterday and today I can feel the medicine pulling toxins out of my body's nooks and crannies. I've got what I suspect is a nice little toxin-induced headache settling in. But you guys, I am so glad to finally be doing something to (hopefully) improve my health that I have never been so excited about a headache in my life. Welcome, Headache. You are a sign of MOVEMENT. I love movement, especially if it's toxins leaving their hiding places.

3. This is a picture I took a few weeks ago, back when I was wild and crazy and went on occasional evening walks:


This rabbit was still as stone, utterly transfixed on something I could not see. I pulled out my phone to snap a photo of him but my phone was full, so I quickly deleted some old photos, hoping the rabbit wouldn't hop away in the meantime. He didn't so much as wiggle his nose. But my phone still wouldn't take a photo, so I re-started it, and in the time it took to reboot my phone the rabbit remained frozen.

Hmmm. How strange. Could it be a fake rabbit that someone had placed on the lawn for kicks? I walked toward it until I was just a few feet away, but he was still frozen. Was he petrified? Paralyzed? Stiff with rigor mortis? Just then, his little nose wiggled. He was alive! And yet, still glued to the ground.


Sweet heavens, why was he so still and unafraid of me? In Fairyland, he might have had a spell cast upon him by some rather impish pixies. In our land, he might have seen an angel standing a few feet ahead of him, like Balaam's donkey. I liked that thought. It's nice to imagine the spiritual world around us, full of angels watching over God's people.

A few seconds later, I crept near enough to pet Mr. Rabbit, and he darted away into a nearby bush. I never saw him again.

The end.


I apologize for subjecting you to such a pointless story.



Annnd that's a wrap. Thanks for listening in, folks.

As always, cheering for ya, Skillets.

Happy Monday,

Sarah





© by scj

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A verdict (and steps forward)

Well, folks, we have a WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER. Several of my Facebook friends gave me some bone broth advice, and the verdict is in: chicken bones are the way to go. They smell better and take less time to cook (just 24 hours). A few people suggested cooking the broth in a Crock-pot in the garage, which sounds like a guh-reat plan to me. Sorry, neighbors: your odds of smelling my broth have just increased by at least three. Although, this time around, the smell should be much more pleasant. Just be thanking your lucky stars that I didn't decide to cook BEEF bone broth in the garage. 


If you prayed about my doctor's appointment yesterday, thank you. I'm happy to report that the doctor I saw yesterday (Dr. V.) was systematic (YAY FOR SYSTEMS!), detail-oriented, knowledgeable, and familiar with cases like mine. His protocol aligns with the things we talked about in our consultation (not a given, I've discovered) as well as some of the hopes I had for a treatment plan. The N.D. I saw a few weeks ago didn't end up being as helpful as I'd hoped, so it feels good to find someone who seems like they'll be a good fit for my needs. We're finally taking steps forward, baby.

Dr. V. thinks lyme is a strong possibility and wants to do further testing for co-infections often present with lyme. He also wants to check for parasites and a few dozen other things -- other pathogens, vitamins, minerals etc. So it's back to the labs for more bloodwork etc.

In the meantime, I've started Phase One of the doctor's protocol. This phase will (hopefully) prepare my body for the antimicrobial treatment at a later stage. Over the next week, I will systematically introduce new items to Phase One's protocol with the goal of boosting a few systems and beginning to pull toxins out of my body. Pathogens are nasty little toxin-creators, so bodies overrun with pathogens tend to have way more toxins than your average healthy body. I'm praying that the protocol, especially the detoxing, won't cause any complications and will be wonderfully effective in nudging me toward healing. I'm also praying that my body's responsiveness (or lack of responsiveness) to certain things will help us figure out all that's ailing me. 

Let the puzzle pieces continue to emerge!

Hoping your Thursday is grand (and cheering for you, Skillets),

SJ



© by scj

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Three days

This week my body has taken me through the wring.er., and since my next doctor's appointment isn't until tomorrow, I've been pumping my body full of every natural remedy I can think of to try to ease my symptoms a bit. Nutritional shakes. Gallons of water. Electrolyte drinks (thanks, mom, for inventing the concoction). Vitamins. Supplements. And man, nothing is working. And so, I have decided to try bone broth — the anti-inflammatory elixir touted by bloggers such as Wellness Mama and Dr. Mercola and recommended to me by multiple friends. This stuff sounds like the real deal, so last week I bought the ingredients to make my own. Today is the first time I'll actually drink the broth, though, because it's taken me three days to make this stuff. And my, what a long three days it's been.

Have you ever made beef bone broth, dear readers? It is one of God's especially stinky gifts. And since the bones have to simmer for for 48-72 hours before their marrow has fully disintegrated into the broth, it's three days of major stink. God bless my parents who have put up with this constant, simmering stench ("Sarah, I can smell that stuff in the front yard"). And God bless my bedroom, which has a way of trapping especially potent pockets of bone broth stink (there is no escape from this smell. None). And God bless my body, for which my family and I are enduring three days of olfactory discomfort (one day we'll laugh about this).

In the meantime, I'm thinking I'll try chicken bones for my next batch of broth. Surely they smell better than beef bones. If you bone broth aficionados are able to weigh in on this stinky issue, please do. Do you know of a less smelly way to do this? If so, my family will be forever in your debt.

Over and out, and cheering for ya, Skillets,

Sarah


P.S. I'll see a new N.D. tomorrow. Would you pray that God will fill him with supernatural healing wisdom and that he'll get me on a trajectory of healing? I'll also be seeing three different doctors ( a radiologist for a brain scan, a neurologist, and an infectious disease doctor) in the next few weeks. I'm hoping they can collectively shed some light on what's going on in my body.



© by scj

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Kiddos

Yesterday my cousin brought her sweet babies, ages 3 and 1, over from Portland to visit. My aunt and uncle are visiting my parents from southern California, so it was a family breakfast affair. I sure love having babies in the house.

Everything is so exciting when babies are around. The birds are taking a bath in the fountain outside the window? AMAZING. The bushes out front are full of plump blueberries? DELIGHTFUL. The big truck behind the house is pouring cement? GET OUT OF TOWN.

Talking about the bathing birdies


Life is a stream of delights cascading into every moment when you're a kid. 

When you're a kid, eating trail mix is HILARIOUS. There's just something about peanuts and red M&Ms, man.



And best of all, when you're a kid, every Bible story is fresh and awe-inspiring:


Here, R and I are reading excerpts from the book of John. The story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet was particularly noteworthy to little R. ("Mom, Jesus washed off the mud and animal poop!")

I'll tell you what, if you're wanting to increase your happiness quotient, go hang out with some babies.

Heavens to Betsy, they're one of life's greatest delights.

Happy Tuesday, friends.

Cheering for ya,

SJ



© by scj

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Helping my unbelief

Yesterday was full of sweet gifts. Tea in the backyard while reading the story of the widow's offering in Luke 21. Then lunch on a bench in the sunshine. Turkey, quinoa, and spinach tossed in peach vinaigrette and olive oil, with homegrown blueberries for dessert. I'm grateful for these quieter moments. By evening, however, my symptoms grew loud and ornery, and I felt too sick to blow-dry my wet hair. My mom offered to dry it for me, and although her touch was soothing, I felt disappointed by my body's continued limitations. When I climbed in bed, I was trudging through thick layers of muddy discouragement.

A few weeks ago I read Mark 9 in which a father brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus for healing. The disciples try healing him first. No luck. "This kind needs prayer," Jesus admonishes them. I'd always thought Jesus was classifying demons in this story, as if some exorcisms need prayer while others don't. But one of my pastors said Jesus was making a point about all exorcisms: they all require the power God; without his involvement, the demons ain't going nowhere.

The disciples were relying on their own power to heal the sick boy; that's why Jesus admonished them: "How long will I put up with you, you faithless generation?" The boy's father isn't exactly demonstrating hall-of-fame faith, either. "If you can help me, please do," he says to Jesus. "If?" Jesus asks. "All things are possible for one who believes!"

"I believe," the boys father cries. "Help my unbelief!"

I've prayed this prayer a number of times over the years. When I do, I typically expect Jesus will answer by pulling out his scalpel and cutting the unbelief out of my heart in an act of merciful yet painful surgery. But there are no scalpels in this story. Instead, Jesus turns and heals the boy. A gracious act to buoy the man's faith.

I like Jesus's answer to this man's prayer, so a few weeks ago, I started echoing the prayer more persistently: "Lord, help my unbelief on this long journey of sickness." I wait expectantly, hoping for a miracle. And then, days after I start asking God to help my unbelief, the doctor I've been waiting months to see cancels my appointment. I spend hours researching and calling other doctors but can't find a reputed doctor who will see me before the end of July, just weeks before summer's end.

So much for an imminent miracle.

Last night I knelt at my bed before going to sleep. "God," I prayed, "I really need you to help me trust you. I’m having trouble believing you’re attentive to, involved in, and care about this journey of sickness. Please help my unbelief by teaching me your tender care for me." 

This morning I woke up to a text from a good friend. She'd sent it last night, 45 minutes after I prayed and climbed in bed:

Thinking of you so much tonight. My bible study of young adults are all praying for you. Jeff, our bible study leader, prayed for you powerfully this evening. He's so kind. About 6'4", deep voice, gray haired man. About 65. Thought you might appreciate the visual :) Powerful prayer :) 

The text was from my friend, but it felt like it was from God, as if he was saying, "See, I care. While you were on your knees praying last night, I was moving in my people to come before God's throne on your behalf. You'll know my tender care through my people."

Seconds after reading the text, the doorbell rang. I walked upstairs and found a large vase of summer flowers on the step, waiting just for me.



Later, I discovered my former piano teacher left them. She had a recital for her students last night and these flowers were part of the decor. "Who shall I give them to?" she wondered as she drifted off to sleep last night. This morning, while she was walking with a friend who also struggles with chronic illness, my name came up. Just then, my piano teacher heard the Holy Spirit say, "Sarah!! Take the flowers to Sarah!" So she did. 

"See, I care; you'll know my tender care through my people." 

Gooood morning, Sunshine!

In his book about the dignity of work, Every Good Endeavor, Timothy Keller discusses the different ways God answers the petitions of the Psalmist for food, shelter and clothing. God uses farmers to provide food, tailors to provide clothing, and builders to provide shelter. He provides for us through other people. This morning I've been taking stock of all the ways God has cared for me through his people this month. The list is long. 

1. The friend who also sees Dr. N. and, upon learning about my canceled appointment, called him to see if she could give me her appointment. (She couldn't, but the gesture was lovely).

2. The other friend who sees Dr. N., whose mom, upon learning about my canceled appointment, called Dr. N.'s office to say, "You NEED to see Sarah Jackson!"

3. The friend who offered to drive an hour out from L.A. to ensure I got safely on the airplane two weeks ago when I flew to Washington. 

4. The friend who offered to drive 1 1/2 hours each way to help me pack. 

5. The friend who offered to bring her baby over to keep me company while I was in bed.

6. The friend who called her doctor to see if she treated lyme, and then emailed me her doctor's contact information. 

7. The myriad friends and strangers who have emailed me with doctor's names, articles with helpful information, and words of encouragement. 

8. My parents and siblings, who ensure I'm not alone on this journey. 

9. The friend who's battled lyme for ten years and has talked me through a number of hard spots over the telephone. 

10. The friend who's battled lyme for four years and called me before my flight to give me suggestions for surviving in one piece. 

11. The new friend who took me to the airport early Sunday morning. 

12. The scores of you who have upheld me in prayer.


I'm currently reading Eric Metaxas' book Miracles. Regularly, he reminds me that the whole point of miracles is for Jesus to prove his deity and message his love to us. I'm still waiting for the healing miracle, but in the meantime, he's using you all to message his love to me. Thank you. The healing miracle may not happen this side of heaven, but your compassion sure does make life on earth rich and meaningful. I'm grateful for your participation in God's answers to my prayers for help. 

Praying for you all today. Do let me know how I can pray.

Cheering for ya, Skillets,

SJ





© by scj

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Barefoot days

It's been a week full of family, rest, bare feet, home-grown strawberries, and walks in the sunshine.


(Posting bare feet pictures on here means you and I are becoming great pals. Only a good friend can graciously endure bare feet pictures.)
 
I'm happy to report that my symptoms have, for the most part, continued to quiet down since I've arrived in Washington, and I have occasional pockets of relief that allow me to be productive. And by be productive, I mean dance. I hope to have the moonwalk mastered by the time my brother gets married this September. Hollllla!

I'm hopeful that this week's improvements indicate future improvement, but there is nothing linear about this illness. It's wildly erratic, with ebbing and flowing that makes no sense at all. I've stopped trying to predict when I'll feel this way or that, and have instead decided to take full advantage of the quieter stretches. This week's quietest stretches were filled with a picnic and nature hike with my sister.


My body has also allowed me to settle into a nice daily rhythm this week. In the mornings, I have a cuppa tea in the sunshine while I read my Bible. I write for several hours mid-day, and in the evenings, my mom and I go on short walks on the university campus up the street. The views are our walk are breath-taking:


There is little in the world that compares to a Pacific Northwest summer. I would drink this fragrant air through a straw if I could figure out how. I'm so glad I'm up here.

Happy Tuesday, friends.

Praying for you. And, as always, cheering for ya, Skillets.

-SJ






© by scj

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Home again

Glory hallelujah, I made it to Washington state safe and sound with no physical complications while in the air. My ideal health scenario last week would have been continued herb-induced improvement as I prepared to fly, but God sure used the week of physical crisis to showcase the power of prayer. I like it when he does that.

The carpet at PDX is renowned among lovers of the PNW

Dozens, maybe even scores, of you were praying for me last week, and on Saturday, the night before my flight, my symptoms suddenly quieted. On Sunday, while I flew, they remained quiet; and since I arrived in Washington, they've stayed mostly quiet-ish. Never in the last five years— and I really mean NEVER — has my health turned around as fast as it did on Saturday. I wasn't on any new medicine to induce the change, so the only way I can explain my body's sudden improvement before flying is God's gracious response to our prayers.

Although my symptoms were quieter on Sunday, I still felt nervous to fly. Before I got sick years ago, I liked flying. I especially liked turbulence. Something about the rhythmic jostling comforted me. So it was rather surprising when, while flying to Washington five years ago, the plane hit some turbulence and my body went into fight or flight mode. My heart raced, adrenaline charged, and throat constricted. Ever since then, I spend most flights trying to comfort my body by practicing mindfulness

But folks, I have discovered something with faster results than mindfulness: AIRPLANE DANCING. Here's what you do: put on your headphones and blast a very upbeat playlist. I listened to a song [on repeat] written by my friend Marques Nelson. Forevermore, this song will be my airplane jam, man. I could've danced in the aisles if everyone else would've been okay with it. Instead, I danced with my shoulders and fingers. I shimmied and I shook and I conducted the band (God bless the people sitting on either side of me), and you know what? My central nervous system didn't go haywire. Sometimes I even had the sense that the airplane's bumps and dips were the plane's attempt at some sweet dance moves.

So now I'm at my folks' house, and I'm thanking God for the week of physical crisis last week because it allowed him to showcase his attention to the prayers of his people and his power to ease a girl's symptoms just like *that*. I'm also thanking him for bodies that open us to the joy of dance, even if it's just shoulder dancing.

But that's not all, folks. An N.D., Dr. A., had a cancellation yesterday and I was able to see her. I'm still processing our appointment, but I think seeing her was a good first step. I'm on a number of other doctors' waiting lists and am asking God to direct me to the next good doctor. Because none of these doctors is quite as educated and reputed as Dr. N., I'm realizing I'll need to see a few of them in order to definitively diagnose my illness and develop a more well-rounded and effective protocol. In the meantime, I'm easing into Dr. A.'s protocol and am praying for God's continued direction and provision. There can be lots of complications when trying to clear a systemic infection caused by lyme or other pathogens, especially since killing off bacteria too fast in a weak body can cause more havoc than healing. I want to make wise, informed choices as I work toward health.

Thank you for your encouragement, support, and prayers. I just love you all. Let me know if there's any way I can pray for you this week. (Contact info here).

Cheering for ya, Skillets,

Sarah



© by scj

Friday, June 5, 2015

Plot Twist

Friends,

This is going to be short because my body is not in a good place, but I'm posting because this week I need lots of prayer.

So remember the specialist in Washington I've been waiting to see? His name is Dr. N. and he is brilliant and loaded with impressive degrees. He specializes in helping people with mysterious chronic illness, especially patients with lyme disease. For months now I've had friends and readers of my blog (hi, guys!) email me urging me to get tested for lyme. The idea has crossed my mind several times over the years but each time I've taken steps to investigate lyme with a competent doctor, I've seen significant improvement in my health before seeing the doctor or getting tested so I've held off. Being chronically ill is expensive and I have to be strategic about the doctors I see and tests I run. But at this point in the game, lyme disease makes absolute perfect sense, so I'm investigating this option.

The difficulty with lyme disease is it's hard to diagnose. There are blood tests but they often show false negatives. People who have been sick with lyme for a long time don't always produce the antibodies that show up on those tests. Sometimes, the sicker you are with lyme, the more likely you are to get a false negative. So I need someone really smart who can help me figure out what's wreaking so much havoc in my body. Enter: Dr. N.

The last five months have been some of the hardest of my life. Most days, I'm begging God for mercy from the time I get up to the time I get to bed. When I'm not praying, I'm comforting myself. "Just a a little bit longer and you get to see Dr. N., Sarah. Hang in there." Dr. N. has been my best human hope for diagnosing my ailments and alleviating my symptoms.

But then, a few days ago, the town crier ran onto the dramatic stage that is my life and shouted, "PLOT TWIST!"

Dr. N. is going out of town for half the summer and I will not get to see him on the 15th after all. He leaves the day before my scheduled appointment. I am so, so disappointed and discouraged. I'll be able to see him the end of summer, but that's disappointing for a couple reasons. First, I'd planned on using the summer to get treatment so I can return to southern California in the fall. I love my life down here and want to keep it. If I don't get treated this summer, I can't imagine how I'll be able to come back in August. Second, my body, heart and mind are so weary of enduring so much physical suffering. I long for relief.

So now I'm back to the drawing board, scrambling to find a doctor near my folks' house. I've found a few, but none of them can see me before late July. I've gotten on their cancellation lists in case there's an opening in the next several weeks. I've also moved my flight up from next Tuesday to this Sunday so I'm in Washington all next week in case Dr. N. has a cancellation.

Will you pray for me as I look for a doctor? Please pray that I can get into see a doctor who will be a good fit for my needs in the next couple of weeks, and please pray that I can rest in God's goodness, power, and provision in the meantime. And, as I fly on Sunday, please pray for a turbulence-free flight and a calm nervous system.

This was longer than I thought! A Friday miracle! Thanks for your notes of encouragement, prayers and help on this journey, my friends. You help mitigate the difficulty of all this.

Cheering for ya, Skillets,

Sarah




© by scj