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