Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tacky Tinsel and Beautiful Souls

We Portlanders and Vancouverites experienced a Christmas miracle last week: the grey skies rolled away and the sun shone clear. My mom and I pulled on our walking shoes, eager to enjoy this unexpected gift of sun, and went on a leisurely neighborhood stroll.

"Look at all of the cute Christmas decorations on this house," my mom exclaimed, slowing her pace to admire the house.

There certainly were a lot of them. Too many, I thought. Too much tinsel, and too many bright colors.

"It looks pretty tacky," I flippantly responded.

My mom grew quiet.

"You miss out when you judge too quickly," she finally said. "There's a bigger picture that you don't see."

"Mmm, no, I don't think I missed anything," I responded, again carelessly.

She was quiet again before continuing. "The lady who lives there works every day for a week to get that house ready so that kids can enjoy it. She and her husband aren't able to have kids, and she told me once she hopes the neighborhood children will delight in her decorations."

Her soft words cut sharp into my careless heart, teaching it to see what she saw.

I felt shamed, overcome by the irony of my judgment. For that house's tinsel glittered cheerily and its colors shone happily to celebrate the babe whose entrance into a cold and fetid stable made him the scorn of flippant hearts, unable to see his beauty and majesty.

This celebrated boy King, he grew into a man who looked at the people society scoffed at—the beggars and prostitutes, homeless and sick—and saw valuable, beautiful souls.

This humble King, he delights in us because he sees more than our trimmings—our waning shine and fading color. He delights in the souls no one can see, and takes joy in their offerings—even when they pale next to the riches of his heaven.

And this High King who stepped down from heaven into a dirty feeding trough, he would have us delight in the offerings of the souls around us, dignifying them because we can see what others may not.

© by scj

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Adventures of Mr. Duck

This is Mr. Duck.

He is an adventurer—a bird of many hats who has traversed the years with me.

I first met him when he showed up on my doorstep, leading a band of other misfit lawn ornaments. Which, by the way, is a redundancy since lawn ornaments are by nature misfits.

The moment I saw Mr. Duck and his motley crew I knew I would always love him. I also knew my friend, G, was the lawn ornament donor. G has always been generous. He has also always had an affinity for lawn ornaments.

Anyway, I graciously returned the gnomes, flamingos and other lawn riff raff to G, but kept Mr. Duck for myself. I sensed his strength of courage and versatility, and wanted him to be a part of my life. He quickly became a good friend—almost as good a friend as G.

It didn't take long, however, for Mr. Duck to grow antsy. He wasn't content to sit on my shelf and watch me navigate my senior year of high school. He wanted to be navigating a life of his own—exploring new terrain, climbing new mountains, sailing new seas.

Mr. Duck's first destination of choice was Antarctica. So I bundled him up in a home-made scarf and duck-sized ear muffs, snuck into G's house, and put him in G's refrigerator. Plane tickets to Antarctica are expensive.

He enjoyed his time in his dark, chilly corner of the city for awhile. Although I'm guessing it didn't take long before he grew restless.

Next thing I knew I found Mr. Duck hiking from my mailbox to my house, complete with duck-sized hiking pack and floppy-brimmed hat.

I brought him in for a tall glass of lemonade and some rest, and brainstormed his next adventure with him.

Turns out he had a hankerin' for the high seas. So I strapped on his eye patch, red bandana, and curly mustache (ahooooy there mateeey), and let him set sail on my brother's pirate ship in the raging waters of G's bath tub.

Back and forth Mr. Duck went, enjoying fantastic adventure after fantastic adventure. Until that fateful day when I left Mr. Duck at G's house one last time before moving 1,000 miles south to Azusa Pacific University.

I can't say that I missed Mr. Duck in the excitement of moving, but as I walked down the long, unfamiliar hallway of my dorm for the first time I felt a twinge of longing to see something familiar.

I stopped outside my dorm room, trying to ignore the stench of old dorm—a mixture of dust, cat urine, and mold—took a deep breath, and walked inside. And there was Mr. Duck, sitting on my desk with a walkie talkie strapped to his feathery bum. Turns out G had arrived at Azusa Pacific a bit before me, had the other walkie talkie, and wanted to see someone familiar, too.

The duck became a permanent fixture of my dorm room that year: a friendly, feathered piece of home that made my college transition a little less lonely. That's why it was so tragic when, in the middle of one of my several moves in college, Mr. Duck disappeared. I think he may still be buried in some random friend's garage somewhere. Lucky friend.

So here I am today fighting what's become a three-week battle with tonsillitis, in my childhood home where I first met Mr. Duck, with Mr. Duck nowhere to be seen. I'm sipping honey-lemon water, researching ENT doctors, wondering if a tonsillectomy would alleviate some of my chronic infection and fatigue, and feeling generally overwhelmed and discouraged.

And then my dad walks in and says, "Sarah, there's something in the driveway for you." Which makes me think that there is an old friend waiting in the driveway to surprise me, which makes me suddenly very aware of my pasty face, wrinkled pjs, and messy hair.

I work up the courage to go outside, and this is what I find:

A new lawn ornament friend bearing a gift: herbal "throat coat" tea. There is an accompanying card, from G.

Suddenly my day looks a whole lot brighter, and the possibilities for future fantastic adventures seem endless.

© by scj

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thursday Things, a Friday Edition: Home for Christmas

It's Friday and I'm home, where evergreen trees line the horizon, snow-capped mountains stand guard in every direction, and the icy air smells like Christmas. Yahoo!!

Here are a few things I love about being home:

1. My bed. Technically it's not the bed I grew up sleeping in, but it's in my old room and it's got a thick, fluffy pillow top and flannel sheets. If I could eat, work, converse, and play the piano in bed, I would. I'm currently trying to figure out how I can smuggle it back to California where I will put it in my office at work.

2. Little brothers. They are the funniest. I've laughed more in two days than I have all year. I am an endorphin-saturated gal.

3. Plastic grocery bags. They make the best shower caps.

4. Early morning dance parties. In our sweats, with tummies full of breakfast, and really bad dance moves. Okay okay, the boys had some wicked moves. I, on the other hand, was the awkward string bean dancer.

Geeet it, little Brothers.

5. Mom's homemade soup. Nothin' like it. I could eat it for every meal.

6. Hot chocolate. After almost a year of trying to develop a taste for herbal tea, I recently found a dairy-free, refined sugar-free recipe for hot chocolate. My life is complete.

7. A real Christmas tree. The whole house smells of pine.

8. Twinkle lights. When we were kids the whole family would gather by the twinkling Christmas tree before bed. My dad would make up stories about little fairies that pretended to be twinkle lights during the day but flew away and had marvelous Christmas adventures when all the humans were asleep. It's one of my favorite childhood memories.

9. The piano. Oh how I've missed having one this last year and a half.

10. Slumber parties out by the Christmas tree with little Sister and childhood friends. Best. Weekend. Ever.

I hope your week has also been full and merry!


© by scj

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ditching my Dread of Dating: How I'm Learning to Not be My Own Worst Enemy

For much of my adult life I've run in circles with a very favorable male-female ratio. In college I was on a track team with three guys for every one girl. A few years after college I enrolled in seminary where I am one of seven girls in a program of 100 guys.

You would think I'd have gotten good at the whole dating thing along the way.

But I didn't.

Instead I got good at hocking loogies, cracking jokes and throwing a frisbee.

It's always been easier for me to be pals with guys. The prospect of anything more has historically gotten me tangled up in my thoughts about our romantic and marriage potential: Do we have similar interests? Are we too similar? How similar is too similar? Why am I so nervous? Is it him? Or is it me? Why am I not nervous anymore? Shouldn't I be? Am I laughing too much? Does he think I'm too intense? Did I remember to floss this morning?

Not surprisingly, right about the time my anxiety and insecurity paralyze me, I get really bad at dating.

My initial solution to my dating ineptitude was to not do it. This worked for years. As time passed, though, I realized it would be pretty hard to jump straight from friendship to marriage, and I wanted to get married—so maybe I should date?

I gave it shot.

And I was still horrible at it. Still stifled by insecurity. Still suffering the paralysis of analysis.

Eventually I met a couple guys who weren't deterred by my dating awkwardness and stuck with me through my initial anxiety and uneasiness. And then one by one, none of the relationships turned into marriage.

Those broken relationships were disappointing and painful, but I learned a lot from them.

I learned about tennis and crossfit, wine and chocolate, showing a man respect, and resolving conflict.

I learned that effective communication is way harder than anyone ever told me, and that words must always be married to actions to mean anything.

Most importantly, those relationships changed me.

They forced me to confront a lot of my fears, needs and baggage. They showed me the darkest parts of my soul, and encouraged me to open myself to the Light of the world who eradicates our fears, satisfies our deepest needs, and carries our baggage for us.

These relationships taught me about Jesus, the Lover of our souls, and gradually prepared me to see him face to face. I can't help but think that the men I dated were also changed for good as a result of our dating relationship.

Last year I broke off my engagement a month before my fiance and I were to be married (read more here and here). It hurt more than anything has ever hurt.

But even in the turbulent wake of the break-up, I rested in my confidence that God's plan all along was to use my relationship with my former fiance to shape each of our souls.

Marriage was not his goal for me last year. Marriage is never his goal for his children. Holiness is. Sometimes the Potter uses marriage as a tool to shape the clay; sometimes singleness is his tool of choice. Either way, he always uses relationships to accomplish his good work in each of us.

My shift in thinking about marriage—not as a goal but as a grace God uses to make us holy—has prompted a shift in the way I view the guys I go on dates with.

I am less prone to anxiously analyze our marriage potential. Instead, I have begun to view "him and me" as people who could help each other on this journey toward heaven, with or without a resulting marriage.

Because this journey is sometimes hard and lonely, and always meaningless without other people to spur us up over the rocky terrain and down into the daunting valleys.

This journey is where we meet God—sometimes in the still quiet, sometimes in the eyes of men and women.

And this journey is where we become like God, often in an intimate huddle with other souls.

This new perspective has changed the way I feel and act around men.

It's made it easier for me to be myself with them outside of frisbee-throwing, joke-cracking situations. I'm more confident to share my story, to let myself be known.

I'm not as distracted by anxious analysis and I can enjoy the things my new male friends have to offer. I find myself hungry to hear their stories, to learn of their "soul adventures," as author Frank Lambauch calls them.

These men have marvelous stories that spotlight the redemptive work of God, and renew my hope that the same God is working redemptively through my life. Their run-ins with God's grace have made many of them wise and intentional, and their input in my life has made it much richer.

© by scj

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday Things: Rested

Happy Thursday, Friends!

After a few weeks without "Thursday Things," it's time to reinstate the list that celebrates the week and looks forward to the weekend:

1. Sweet potatoes are the new chocolate around here. I had one for the first time last month and now I can't get enough of them. The weird thing is I didn't used to like them. Although, come to think of it, I don't remember ever tasting one before last month. I must have decided I didn't like them when I was five, and then never looked back. Silly five-year-old me.

I love eating them drowning in butter, but this recipe for baked curry sweet potato fries is puh-ritty delish, too.

2. Aren't words marvelous? I put together a few symbols on a page and they evoke an immaterial idea in your mind. Off. The. Hook.

And some people say there is no God...

3. My new favorite fall decoration is these tangerine-colored berries from the yard.

I have them in vases and jars all over my studio. They make my place feel so warm and autumnal.

4. This week at work whenever I looked at my students I saw stories. Tall stories, short stories, thin stories, stocky stories, dark stories, fair stories, smile-provoking stories, somber stories, heavy stories, light stories. Everywhere stories. I love that I get to be a character in their stories. I love that they are characters in mine. And I am thankful that all our stories have been grafted into the most Epic Story of all time.

5. I just woke up from the most delicious nap. I usually try not to use the word "delicious" except when I'm talking about food, but this nap was so good it somehow satisfied all my senses.

After 15 months of naps that did little to nothing for my debilitating fatigue, today's nap made me feel rested. Not the recharged-and-ready-to-run kind of rested, but the wide-eyed, hair-tousled, rosy-cheeked, mom-is-going-to-make-me-an-afternoon-snack-soon kind of rested. Hallelujah.

6. The wind is whispering at my window, luring me to step out of my cozy abode and into her wild dance. I think I will.

Hoping your evening is everything restful,


© by scj

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Today I am Celebrating...

...Because today marks the 14th consecutive day that I've been up out of bed and really participating in life. This is the longest stint of good health I've had in about a year, and let me tell you, my soul is shimmying and shaking with delight!

This is my 'my soul is dancing!' face. It also happens to be my best Wallace and Gromit face.

Throughout this 15-month battle with debilitating illness the Lord has been teaching me to live in the moment by drinking deeply of the grace that is everywhere. To celebrate his grace today I've listed 14 things that make my soul dance:

1. Beetles gleaming emerald by the side of the road (and looking, upon closer examination, like Power Rangers wearing turbo packs).

2. Nimble fingers that can use keyboards, pens, fabric, and food to create.

3. A God who teaches us the worth of our souls.

4. Laughter that rolls out of my belly like undulating ocean waves.

5. Laundry machines that wash the grime out of my clothes for me.

6. Sherbet-streaked sunsets.

7. Coconuts. (And coconut sugar, coconut ice cream, coconut oil, and coconut milk).

8. California mandarin oranges. They smell like Christmas, don't they?

9. Trustworthy friends that have traversed the years with me.

10. A job and ministry I love.

11. Students who energize me and pray for me.

12. New friends.

13. The Biola library. Still shoots thrills through my soul every time I step through its doors.

14. Severe mercy. The kind that strips away the props we rely on for our well-being* and teaches us to dive into the unconditional love and grace of Jesus.

Hope your Tuesday is grand and grace-filled, dear friends.


*I've borrowed this idea from Gerald Sittser's book A Grace Disguised

© by scj

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tea for Three

Voices danced through my studio today. "Swing your partner round and round," the tea kettle cried. And the voices did, skipping and twirling through flickering candlelight.

Silver spoons clanked against china teacups to the rhythm of regular laughter, and hands exchanged lemon curd, clotted cream, and jam—boysenberry, blackberry and raspberry—to top English scones.

And the dancing continued,

As three girls marveled at the way God's sovereignty touches everything, shared the way God is redeeming loss and pain, and remembered that unfulfilled desires nudge us back toward the only One who can satisfy.

The candles burned brighter as the sun began to set, and the clock showed it was time to go.

Plates were whisked to the sink, and plans were made for next time.

Voices dancing have been replaced by dish water splashing.

The silence is full,

But my soul is fuller.

And I am thankful I am made in the image of a God who delights in good friends.

© by scj

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Melodious Monday

It's been too long since I've posted, and so I give you a few fanciful thoughts to kick off a new work week. I hope they make your Monday more melodious.

1. Imagine if the Milky Way could sing....

...and you could fly through it mid-concert.

2. Do you think our guardian angels sing back-up for us when we're singing in the shower?

3. If I ever get to spend Christmas in Fairy Land I will learn to play "Carol of the Bells" on these:

And then I will have the fairies teach me to play a fanfare on one of these:

Until then, I'm just trying to imagine what blossom bells and morning glory horns must sound like...

4. What if the only way to heal the sick was to sing to them? How would the world be different?

5. Sometimes I try to imagine how it would sound if God sang to me.

And then I wonder what words he would sing.

Goodnight, my friends. I hope you dream musical dreams.


© by scj

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thursday Things: Using Superlatives is the MOST Fun

1. Brussel sprouts are the best vegetable. Well, they are if you cook them in bacon grease and add a pound of bacon bits, and sauteed onions and mushrooms. Otherwise, they are the worst vegetable.

By the way, the bacon bits and grease do not detract from the nutritional value of the sprouts. Not at all.

2. Tennis is the coolest sport because you get to wear things like this:

And this:

I sure got jipped.

3. The best way to ensure that your days are productive is to know yourself. If you are a procrastinator and you have 105 papers to grade tomorrow, then you should probably designate tomorrow as a day of endless, grueling cleaning instead. This will ensure that you procrastinate cleaning to do less unpleasant activities. Like grading.

4. Roses are the loveliest way to spruce up a house.

5. Vitamin jars make the best vases.

6. Dogs are the greatest company. Next to humans. And books.

7. This is the best book I've read in awhile.

8. Fall is the best season.

9. Apple cider is the best fall drink.

10. Carving jack-o-lanterns is the best fall activity—if you do it with your sister.

11. The most darling jack-o-lanterns come in pairs.

12. The most creative way to use a surplus of pumpkins and gourds is in a fairy tale display.

The Three Little Pigs, at Rasmussen Farms, near Hood River, WA.

The Little Mermaid

The Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe

Flying with Peter Pan and his Gang

The Emperor...Without His Clothes

13. The best kind of game is a guessing game. So what fairy tale character do you think these feet belong to?

© by scj

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Copper Coins and Pistachio Shells

There is a to-do list on my kitchen table covered in pistachio shells—the remains of the afternoon snack I'd hoped would make me feel a bit better. But three handfuls of pistachios later and my muscles still ache somethin' fierce, and my fatigue is so deep it feels like it's located in my soul somewhere.

My mind is racing, tripping over discouraged thoughts, trying to figure out why I felt good for so many days and then woke up today feeling like I was hit by a freight train.

I stare in silence at the checklist I can't read for all the shells heaped on it, and it's just as well I can't see what I've written because I've been in bed all day, too achy and exhausted to do much more than feed myself the last of my leftovers.

This is so hard for me, the woman who used to make her roommates laugh at how quickly she blazed through a heap of responsibilities; who literally sprinted her way through college on a track scholarship; who is energized by productivity and is wired to scale and conquer metaphorical mountains—mountains that get higher and steeper with each victory.

And here I sit, the only mountain I've recently conquered in front of me: a pile of empty pistachios littering the list I am too exhausted to look at.

I feel impoverished, somehow. Like I have little to offer God when the fruit of my day is a pile of empty shells, when even my good health weeks allow me to do nothing more than scale mole hills.

The patient ache in my heart quivers and then I remember the widow in Luke 21 moving quietly toward the church offering, dropping in two copper coins worth less than a penny. They mustn't have sounded more than a quiet *clink* when they landed, swallowed up by piles of weightier coins.

I've often wondered how the widow felt when she watched Ol' MoneyBags walk ostentatiously up to the offering receptacle before her and pour in a heavy bag of gold and silver coins. Did she shift uneasily as the Rabbi, Jesus, watched her drop in her meager offering? As she gripped the two copper coins—all she had to live on—and walked up to the offering behind the pompous rich man, did her heart ache like mine, wishing she had more to offer God?

Perhaps not. Perhaps the kind of heart that is eager to give God everything is the kind of heart that understands the Kingdom of God—that knows that in this Kingdom greatness and value have never been determined by what we have to offer God. For what can clay do for the Potter or tools do for the Carpenter?

When Jesus saw the poor widow's offering he didn't see just two copper coins. He saw what no one else could see: a woman whose heart had taken a posture of surrender; a woman who had given the little she owned to God because she knew that the best thing clay can do is remain wholly available to the Potter for his purposes. Jesus knew that in his Kingdom—where less is more and loss is gain—the widow had given the most valuable gift of anyone in the temple that day.

The story of the widow's gift assures me that when Jesus looks at me he sees much more than a history of scaling and conquering mountains. I think he often sees a heart that strives: clay that believes deep down that its efforts and achievements are important indicators of its value and influence. Perhaps this is why God has stripped away my ability to achieve and conquer mountains this year. Perhaps he is redeeming this chronic sickness by teaching me, in still and helpless solitude, that clay is valuable, not because of its efforts, but because of the hands it rests in. Strong, capable hands that belong to a Potter who cares most about the things unseen: about hearts that need to be kneaded and shaped and taught to trust so that they can surrender to the loving plan of the Potter.

There is a stirring in my heart now—a lifting of my heart's gaze—and I know that Jesus sees beyond my pile of pistachio shells. He is looking for something smaller, something unseen. He is looking for faith the size of a mustard seed. The kind of faith that prompts a heart to surrender to the Potter's loving hands, available to be used for His plan because it knows that He is a God who uses a seed of faith—not to scale mountains—but to move them.

I think it's time to turn over my climbing gear.

© by scj

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Aslan On The Move

A few weeks ago a group of friends and I were hiking through the autumn splendor of the Rocky Mountains when, on my friend Jonalyn's cue, we stopped walking, ceased our talking and listened. I hardly dared to breath, straining to hear what she heard. A few seconds passed and then I discerned the far off, almost imperceptible burbling of a brook: the last of Winter's melted snow, winding its way down the mountain.

We stood still for awhile, hushed, wondering at the tinkling music of melted ice, and I remembered a country where it was always winter but never Christmas.

Where Narnians waited for someone to rescue them from the icy jowls of winter and give them a reason to celebrate the towering snow-covered pines and knolls frosted with fresh powder.

Where, one glorious day, the fierce whip of icy wind and silence of falling snow were replaced with the sound of far-off liquid laughter,

and the icicles began to shrink and wink in the sun's warm light, sending droplets cascading down snow-burdened boughs like tears of thanksgiving.

 The White Witch saw the changes to the world she'd turned into a prison and shuddered, but Mr. Beaver lifted his head and in joyful murmur announced to his friends: Aslan is on the move.

The Highest of High Kings may be called Aslan in Narnia, but here we call him Immanuel, God with us. We called him that 2,000 years ago when he came to live among us to make sure we'd never have to live through winter without Christmas, and to show us that winter's death will not have the last word.

Two thousand years later we continue to call him Immanuel because he's not sitting somewhere far-off watching us sweat, heave, and weep as we struggle to love him and live well. He is in us, among us, fighting for us: on the move.

So listen close for that far-off gurgle, that sound of life in a wintery world. Be still and ask Immanuel to pull back the curtain for just a moment, to show you what He is doing unseen right now for his glory and your good. He will show you.

 He will show you that the smile from your distant husband, the hug from your rebellious daughter, the Facebook message from a long-lost friend, the reduction of your last medical bill, the cookies fresh from your neighbor's oven, and the anonymous check that came in the mail are all signs of spring.

There will be days though, many many days, when even in still and silent searching it seems like spring cannot be found. When all you can see is icy grey and all you can hear is your heart creaking and cracking, splintering into jagged pieces. Be assured: your heart does not break from the weight of the snow.  This is the sound of ice that thaws. This too a sign of Aslan on the move.

© by scj

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thursday Things: A Colorado Adventure, Part II

Well, it took whole weeks, but I've finally unpacked my suitcase from my trip to Colorado and shoved it in my storage closet, where it will keep the spiders company for one week. On Monday I will pull it out again and stuff it full of clothes for a trip home. It just occurred to me that, if I were in my right mind, I would have kept it packed all month—to save a lot of effort and lugging. ;)

I guess the silver lining in this unfortunate lack of strategizing is that my little abode is clean and tidy, and I have peace of mind enough to sit down and finish chronicling my Colorado adventure.

And so I give you: Part II (click here for Part I)

1. After a short stay in Denver, I spent the better part of a week in Steamboat Springs, Colorado for a retreat sponsored by Soulation, an apologetics ministry founded by Dale and Jonalyn Fincher.

Jonalyn and Dale

2. It was a grand week spent surrounded by golden aspen and brilliant minds.

3. Dale and Jonalyn's vision is to help others grow more "appropriately human." They used the retreat to facilitate the exploration of several ways we can grow healthier souls, and asked three attendees to contribute presentations on topics related to spiritual growth and formation.

4. First, I got to present on the way that beauty and the imagination can shape our souls. I focused on the especially powerful nature of fairy tales in helping us to recover our wonder at the world and our delight in a magical Gospel.

5. Jonalyn reminded us of the importance of taking time to play, to let something completely absorb us so that the process—not the product—becomes the point.

And play we did.

Jonalyn also reminded us that good play becomes so engrossing and delightful that we want to do it again and again, the way God wants to pull the sun up over the horizon again and again.*

This is my fifth attempt at trying to look like I belong on the set of "Oklahoma!".

6. Robin, fellow attendee and new kindred spirit friend, helped guide us to a better understanding of the redemptive nature of difficult transitions. She explained that transitions demand the reconciliation of life events and personal values, and force us to update our beliefs about ourselves. She encouraged us to allow tough transitions to "change the story you tell about yourself to yourself."

It was a timely talk for all of us.

Robin preparing her presentation

7. Aubrie—another attendee, a bosom friend, and a grad student majoring in thanatology—gave a presentation on grieving well. She reminded us that grief is work; it is a death and resurrection experience in which we are stripped "of the props we rely on for our well-being." Grief helps us to recognize our true identity as naked souls beloved by God.

Dear friend, Aubrie

8. On Friday, Dale talked a bit about the way our thinking about work has evolved since the industrial revolution from something to be proud of, to a mere money-maker. Then his wife shared one of the questions he asks himself when he's engaging in menial tasks:

"If the world were to watch me do this task to learn something about my God, what would they learn?"

And so we worked as unto the Lord and took great pleasure in it.

Bob and Tanya getting ready to stack firewood

9. Toward the end of the week we talked about the importance of including a Sabbath rest in our weekly rhythm, and determined to live the Sabbath as if God could hold the world together without us. Then we engaged in the Jewish practice of welcoming the Sabbath, and we rested.
Some of the girls on our Sabbath walk

10. We closed our week with "Mole's End"—a time to share poems, songs, and our own writings. It was a joyful and meaningful time.

This is what I look like when I'm about to chop off a fish's head.
This is also what I look like when I'm explaining what slam poetry is.

11. I am so thankful for my new dear friends, and for the renewal and restoration I experienced in such a life-giving community. In the wake of the retreat I have felt refreshed and hopeful, settled and satisfied.

*Jonalyn was referencing an idea in G.K. Chesterton's book Orthodoxy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Autumn Repose

This week the autumnal days have composed a soft and steady symphony; a fluid ebb and flow of sun and moon, breeze and rain, muted gray and smiling blue, curling leaves and unfurling blooms.

My soul has been still—settled and satisfied with the lot that has been dealt me, and my body, for the first time in 13 months, feels my own.

This, a most gracious gift, after learning to live a long and tiring year of chronic illness in a body that felt like a stranger's;
a frame broken and unrecognizable, an impostor in my once familiar world.

A body that didn't—couldn't—respond to the signs of the changing seasons with thrills of joy and remembrance the way it did when it was healthy and whole;
that shuddered at Winter's foreign frost, retreated from Spring's scouring rains, and squinted at Summer's bright light.

But today God has replaced the throbbing tempos of grief and the aching silence of sickness with the gentle, healing rhythms of Fall, and I remember what it is to have a body that I know and that knows me and my world.

A body that remembers Autumn, that recognizes Her dry warmth, earthen perfume, gypsy breeze, and early dusk;
that has stored in its cells Autumn memories captured by senses—sight of golden leaf, smell of rising smoke, taste of tawny russet, sound of sighing trees, chill of clearest night.

It has been two years since I last had a body that knew this gypsy breeze and could grant her passage into my soul, allowing her to swirl and stir within, unearthing the Fall memories that Winter buried there.

And so I walk into the setting sun, breathing deep, trying to swallow pools of sunshine and taste the azure sky;
my body welcoming Autumn, letting Her seep into every familiar pore,
and my soul remembers...

...Riding my little pink bike, wiry legs pedaling fast, wheels splashing through puddles and whizzing down hills, my lungs full of fresh air seasoned with the smell of wet earth...

...Sprinting laps around a stadium, face dripping with sweat, chest heaving; my teammates running behind and before me under an October sun....

...Shuffling through crunchy leaves toward the Glendora foothills while chatting with dearest friends, then stopping downtown for steaming peppermint mochas...

...Piling dirty dishes snugly in the sink, the smell of pumpkin spice wafting through the house, roommates waiting patiently for a slice of sweet bread—a taste of Fall...

...Helping twenty five pairs of little hands pick from piles of orange, yellow and green fabric scraps and tangled balls of yarn, the ingredients for third grade pumpkin patch collages...

These memories rise and rush out my eyes, wet and salty. The wind wraps around me and my spirit settles into my body, quiet and content. And in this settling there is a shedding of pain of loss and fear of the future: a lifting of my spirit. For in this reunion of body and soul is freedom, the feeling of coming home.

I close my eyes and spread my arms wide, welcoming the release, hoping never to forget this feeling: a foretaste, I hope, of heaven.

© by scj