Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye, 2012: a pacific northwest year-end finale

Green, green; everywhere green:

Walking through the well-watered woods

Exploring

Green at dawn, under rain-filled clouds

And yesterday, unexpectedly: a brilliant banner of blue!

A rare, rainless day

Who knew there was cobalt under all that fluffy gray?!

And today, even more unexpectedly: white, white — everywhere white!


Isn't it grand?!


Time slows when you catch snowflakes. . . 

I prayed it would snow while I was home. . . What a lovely year-end gift!

Happy New Year, friends!

In 2013, may you luxuriate in God's lavish grace, rest in his peace, know the depth of his love, sense his smiling delight, and cling to his promise of heaven.

Looking forward to a glorious new year with you,

Sarah


© by scj

Friday, December 28, 2012

Jiggity jig

I'm home again, home again, jiggity jig. Although I haven't been doing much jigging. Mostly moonwalking. And a little bit of the Charleston. My parents have moved to a new (to them) house with wood floors; and, baby, it's cold outside, so I wear socks. And then I slide and skate. It's semi-hazardous for absent-minded walkers by.

But it's great exercise.

And I love that I'm healthy enough to exercise. When I've not been moonwalking, I've gone to a dance class with my sister (it was canceled, but hey, I had enough verve to go), hit the gym with my dad, and done push-ups. Well, I didn't actually do push-ups, but I imagined I did. It all starts in the mind, right? And it's been years since I've had the energy to even imagine doing push-ups. So, basically, it's been a break-through week.

It's also been a week of change.

Last month my parents moved from our home of 23 years to a house out toward the country. It has breath-taking views, large windows that invite the light inside, and, of course, slippery wood floors.

But it's not home. Not yet, anyway.

The trees in the backyard have never held tree houses built by small, clever hands; the smell of the yard's freshly cut grass doesn't remind me of kool aid and slip n' slides; I don't know where every light switch is; and the boys' bedroom doesn't smell like. . . boys.

When I turn onto my parents' new street I don't remember the days I sold rice krispie treats on the corner; and when I pull into the driveway I don't turn back time and envision four little blond waifs toppling out the door wearing tutus and cowboy boots.

All this change doesn't detract from my gratitude for the new house. I am quite thankful for it. It's a refreshing and wise change for my faithful parents. It's a good gift from a good God.

It's just that so much of life feels like sojourning — like looking for home, and never quite finding it. I can settle into my own abode, and decorate, and bake, and light candles, and usher in guests, and slip on red shoes and click my heels three times. . . but the reality is, heaven is our only true home, and nothing will ever feel like HOME home until we settle into our heaven-home. But I think the house I grew up in was as close to home as you can get, this side of heaven. Going home to it was a deep comfort. I felt like I belonged.

But I guess it's good to feel uncomfortable — to be reminded sharp and fresh to turn my heart toward heaven, instead of storing all my stuff down here where time will eat away at it. It's good to be reminded that I wasn't made for here. The unfilled longing for home reminds me that Jesus is the only One who can satisfy. God is gracious to remind me of this.

And I know that one day there will be little grandbabies spilling out the new front door, and maybe even selling lemonade on the corner — with me as their business advisor, of course. At some point someone will don a tutu or cowboy boots, and I imagine I'll eventually find all of the light switches. My big toe will be thankful when that happens.

Yes, we'll fill this new house with memories, as we re-center our hearts on heaven. And my mom is right: "The more memories we make, the more this house will feel like home."

So we've been working hard to make lots of fond memories this week. Here are just a few:


We sit around and talk, and little brother keeps us in stitches. The boy's timing is im.pecc.able., I tell ya.











We [read: my fun mom] turned the downstairs into a movie theatre, and have been enjoying the t.v. series "Pushing Daisies." So clever, so sweet, and so intent on lauding virtue. How have I not discovered this series until now?!









We got locked out of the house (didn't waste any time in re-making that memory),

My sister
and tried to break in.

E and her sister, A, are childhood friends that came to visit for the weekend.

And when that didn't work we initiated our first ever "Operation snag-a-key" at the new house.

Operation "Snag-a-key" initiated

We ended up locating a key fifteen minutes away in my dad's office. A short while later we were inside the new house enjoying a cup of steaming tea and a good chat.




We sip tea and chat most afternoons. It's a go-to memory-maker around here.






Next week, my brother and sister-in-law join us, so we'll just keep filling this house fuller with memories. Until then, I'm still wearing socks, Christmas music is blaring from the other room and getting me all jiggy, and this place is starting to feel a bit like home.


© by scj

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A dialogue whilst brushing teeth


Sister: You're healthier this Christmas than I've seen you in years.

Me: Is it that obvious?

Sister: Yes. It's crazy.


I shall smile while I sleep tonight, and dream healthy dreams.

Merry day-after-Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.


© by scj

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tea, party of four

I still haven't joined the world of twitter, but boy, I like perusing my friends' twitters. Tweets. Twitter accounts. Whatever they're called.

This little gem, tweeted by my friend Bryan, gave me a good chuckle. I thought it was funny enough to share (with permission):


CAPTION: "Apparently my 2 yr old needed a 4th chair for her tea party so she improvised and found one..."

Love me an innovative tea party. Now I'm just awaiting my invite. ;)

For more of this little darling's antics follow my friend, Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay, on twitter. He loves Jesus, travels, and has photo shoots and television interviews; and best best best of all: he chronicles his kids' antics.


© by scj

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Scholarship Story

Sometimes, when people ask me why I love Jesus, I struggle to answer them with eloquence. It's not that I don't have any answers; it's just that 172 answers often hit me at the same time. Anwers that, like too many people trying to walk simultaneously through the same door, get jammed in the idea-transportation tube that connects my brain and my mouth. You know what I'm talking about, right?

My super precise scientific diagram
And the idea-transportation tube is totally real, right?

Well, the same thing's been happening to me this month, except with writing ideas. I have so many blog post ideas that they're jamming the tube that leads from my brain to my fingers. Thus, my two week absence.

And so, this week, because there's a traffic jam in my brain-to-fingers tube, I'm posting a friend's testimony.

For awhile now I've been wanting to do a series in which I feature other people's stories of God's faithfulness and provision to them. As I've written elsewhere, these stories can buoy our faith.

This isn't the kickoff for that series because I still need to gather more stories. (If you have a story of God's faithfulness and provision I want to hear it!) But I think this lone story will encourage you.

And so I give you a scholarship story, in my friend's words:


This is the story of how my financial need was answered.

Since well before Thanksgiving Break, I knew that I was going to be short a fairly large amount of money for this upcoming Spring semester. In an effort to find aid, I spoke with the Student Advocate Office in early November about the potential possibilities for aid. I met with Shelly Smith*.

Shelly walked me through the steps I should take to find aid and suggested that I attend several Scholarship meetings. I did as was told and attended the meetings and looked into the different ways to find scholarships.

Nothing really came about from my pursuits and so I was continually stressed about ways to figure out my dilemma. I prayed and prayed that God would take away this burden, so that I could return to school in the spring.

With my other scholarships and a last-minute provision of $6,000 that went straight to my account (!), I was $2,445 short of next semester’s tuition. I was the only person who knew this information. Or rather, I did, and so did God.

I went in to financially check in on December 6th, which was the scholarship application deadline. I had no idea what I was going to do. I thought that I might as well try the Student Advocate Office one more time. Just to see if there was any possibility of receiving aid directly from that office. When I walked in, Shelly Smith was just finishing up with a client and recognized me, almost a month later.

She said, “Joseph Bullinger*, right?”

I was surprised that she remembered my face, much less my full name.  She proceeded to say, “Come on in,” and I didn’t have to wait at all. I waited 30 minutes at my previous visit.

She brought me into the same room as last time and said that she was glad I came in because she had just been working on my file that morning. She had been pestering her boss to look over my financial need and that very day she had gotten an answer as to how much I would be able to receive.

She did some calculations and showed me the number on the calculator and with a smile and glint in her eye she said, “this is the amount we will be able to help you with”…my chin dropped as the number was $2,501.26.

It was 56 more dollars than I needed. But no less than I needed.   

God provided for me this month. In a very big way. It was very encouraging for me, in my dedication to prayer, and in confirming that there is no need to doubt. If God wants you somewhere, He will put you there. So long as you are open and listening. 



*Names have been changed
Image credit (tube edits mine): ggriffinslo.files.wordpress.com

© by scj

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Plaster, pain, and mountain biking

We sit on the couch and he tells me about his life group leaders training meeting. "They want us to keep our eyes open when we pray together, to make sure no one gets hurt."

I raise my eyebrows.

"I guess someone fell over once and got injured while the group was praying."

He looks at me with mischief in his eyes.

"I know that wouldn't be an issue in your life group," he says. "You'd make all your life group members wear helmets."

I throw back my head and laugh deep and full, because he's not too far from the truth.

The first time I was well enough to go walking, after months and months in bed, I fought debilitating anxiety. The first time I drove on the freeway, after the worst of my illness, I battled panic attacks.  Talking to strangers suddenly made my heart race, and going to a new grocery store made my throat constrict.

It was strange to be so inhibited by fear. Me, the girl who used to run full throttle at hurdles and drive like a maniac, afraid to leave the house.

I didn't expect to have to battle such pervasive fear on my journey of healing. It has been so gloriously evident that God has used the loss of the last few years for gain, so that I don't have to fear loss anymore. Even the loss becomes grace, by God's sovereignty. But I guess my soul is still heaving hard from the blows of the last two years, and my knee-jerk reactions to life reveal the fear wrapped around my heart, like a protective bandage.

This bandage doesn't protect and heal though; it suffocates, like hardening plaster, squeezing the joy out of life.

So I've spent this year stripping away fear. I went walking once, twice, three times, until walking was no longer scary. I drove on the freeway, then I sped, then I weaved. I talked to strangers, and forced myself into the grocery store.

And the plaster bandage started cracking, loosening.

So that, if you were in my life group, I probably wouldn't make you wear a helmet during prayer. But if we were to go to the ocean together? I'd have to grit my teeth and race into the water, and swim and swim and swim, and watch fear dissolve.

There's still so much fear to strip away.

So I've been adventuring, once, twice, three times, until the fear of loss — the possibility of injuries, mishaps, and close calls — doesn't have the power to dictate my living. And fear's grip keeps loosening.

Last week the grand adventure was mountain biking. On a $5,000 bike (a demo). And booooy, let me tell you: I get it now. I get why people fork out thousands of dollars for toys, because I swear that bike has a brain.

I'm whipping around a corner a little too fast, but the bike keeps me upright. I'm flying over a hill and the bike lands smooth and steady. I'm cruising over bumps and the bike softens the impact of the landing.

It's so strange to feel in control, but to also feel some reliable outside force working in conjunction with my free will, saving me from my errant, fearful self.

So I pedal hard and breathe deep. And oh! it feels good to speed and sweat, and whip with the wind.

I pedal harder. Faster. I accelerate into turns, and every time I think I'm going to fall, the bike keeps me upright. I begin to trust it.

And then it hits me: that this feeling of not being as in control as I think I am — of my free will working together with an outside force — is the closest I've gotten to experiencing something that sort of resembles the way God's sovereignty interacts with our free will.

I'm grinning now as I fly around a blind corner, because this analogy is great — this feeling is great: my heart so alive.

But the corner turns out to be tighter than I thought, and I'm deep in thought about God's sovereignty, and in a split second I've careened off the trail, grazed a tree, and flown over the handlebars.

I land hard, and I can't breath, and the pain is surging, and the vomit rising, and I wonder if I punctured a lung?

And thank goodness I'm wearing a helmet — thank goodness.

My friend races over and I'm gasping ragged breaths, and aching, and it takes awhile before the nausea lessens. And then I'm up. I'm okay and I'm walking toward my bike.

And I'm smiling, and feeling oddly energized. Because the fall? It wasn't that bad. I did end up fracturing my rib, but the doctor says it's a minor injury. And I'm covered in bruises, but they make me feel like I did back when I was knocking over hurdles on a weekly basis. And I'm grinning as I write because it feels so good to be hurting from mountain biking rather than chronic illness, and I love that  the girl who panicked over driving on the freeway is chuckling about a cracked rib.

I love it.

And falling? It's nothing to be afraid of.

And God's sovereignty? It touches everything. We can't escape it. Even the falls don't fall outside the realm of his sovereignty.

Sometimes the falling is just what we need. God knows, sometimes it's the strength of impact that cracks the plastered fear and lets the heart inhale life.

Wild, glorious gain, that the Father is determined to help us live free and full.


© by scj

Monday, November 19, 2012

Encountering the gospel as fairy tale

Posted simultaneously at Positively Human.


Late one night, a few weeks back, I whizzed down a California freeway with my A.C. blasting and a radio preacher’s voice blaring. My eyelids felt heavy, like they were weighted down with mud — the same thick mud I felt I had been trudging through all week.

And then the preacher’s voice rumbled, loud and unhindered:

“You’ve got to hunger for the Truth!” he said. “You’ve got to long to be in the Word!”

And my soul — the soul that’s learned to love Jesus for 26 years — felt nothing. No longing; no hunger. Nothing but the weight of that viscid mud.

Sometimes, when the mud is especially ubiquitous, I like to remember my childhood. I remember the days I exclaimed in delight over spit bugs, believed people when they told me I was fantastic, and found the Gospel of Jesus awe-inspiring. Back in those days my soul was always alive with longing for the Truth.

And then I grew up.

And now a family friend lies in the hospital while cancer ravages her body, and my soul is still heaving from relief at the doctor’s words this weekend: “Your sister’s bump is benign.”

On these muddy days I find myself wanting to want more of Jesus and his world. But the wanting to want isn’t always enough, and the radio preacher’s exhortations bounce off the barrier around my heart, like bullets off a fortress wall.

When I was a little girl my mom read The Chronicles of Narnia to my family at bedtime. As I entered adulthood, memories of these cozy nights with wood nymphs and fawns prompted me to read other fairy stories. And so I spent afternoons romping through Middle Earth, and evenings walking the corridors of Hogwarts.

Sometime between eating second breakfast with hobbits and perfecting my summoning charm with Hermione Granger, I realized these stories were doing something for me that rational arguments rarely did.

Like author G.K. Chesterton, when I read of cities where rivers gushed with wine, I marveled that the rivers in my world flow with water, of all things. Water that churns frothy white, generates power, and bends the light, separating it into vibrant ribbons of color.

When I read of orchards that grew golden apples I saw afresh the glory of the tree outside my window. This tree is laden with green apples that grow from soft blossoms, and power my dusty body to breath, blink, and dance. And it doesn’t have to be this way. But it is!

During a time of piercing grief I read George MacDonald’s tale The Light Princess, in which a wicked witch curses a newborn princess so that she is ‘light of spirit’ and ‘light of body.’

As the princess grows the law of gravity doesn’t bind her, nor does her soul feel pain or sorrow. Instead, she spends her days being tossed or dragged from place to place — her freedom from gravity no freedom at all, as it strips her of the autonomy necessary for walking. When she sees her mother cry, or is told an enemy is about to attack, she laughs a loud, hollow laugh, which bespeaks her incapacity to feel deeply. And when a prince falls in love with her she can’t know the joy of returning his love, for her inability to feel any depth of emotion precludes the possibility of relational intimacy.

And so it was that I longed for the Light Princess to be able to feel pain. And I knew deep in my grieving heart that the God-given capacity to feel pain makes us much freer than we would be without it, and that to be human is marvelous.

As fairy tales awakened in me what philosopher Peter Kreeft calls a “right response to reality,” my appetite for them increased. Soon I realized every tale went the same: an enemy invades a peaceful Kingdom¹, and an epic battle between good and evil ensues. Lives are forfeited and dreams sacrificed. And then, just when it seems like all hope is lost, a savior arrives to rescue the faithful ones from the grip of evil, and restore order to the Kingdom.

These stories revived my longing to be swept up in something bigger than myself. They made me want to sacrifice and even die for the greater good. And when they ended happily a childlike voice deep inside whispered with longing‘Is it true?’

One day I re-read Genesis 3:14-15, which announces to a world invaded by evil that a Savior will come to fight evil on behalf of the suffering ones. The story unfolds throughout scripture: the Savior will die, and just when it looks like all hope is lost he will defeat death and darkness. And one day, he will restore everlasting order to his Kingdom of faithful ones.

And that’s when I understood how fairy tales could resurrect my desires.

Fairy tales are trumpet sounds of the truest and greatest fairy tale of all: the Gospel.² These tales dress Truth in the beauty of story. And beauty so powerfully engages our desires that it can creep past our intellectual defenses, or fortress walls, via the secret passageway of imagination. And like Aslan breathing onto the White Witch’s stone statues to revive them, these tales can breath resurrection life into our hardest heart spaces. For as C.S. Lewis reminds us,

“Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as inducing them.”³



For a list of suggested fairy tales and essays about the power of fairy tales click here.

¹or ‘sphere’

²When I say the Gospel is the truest fairy tale, I do not mean that it is literary fiction. I mean, instead, that its true storyline is unique to the fairy tale genre, and that it is the archetype for every fictional fairy tale.

³italics mine
_________
Image Credits: ak6.picdn.net, wherethewind.files.wordpress.com,melissacartercreations.com/images/Aslan.jpg

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A short list of recommended reading: fairy tale and their power to shape us


A companion to my article at Positively Human.

COMMENTARY ON THE ROLE OF FAIRY TALES IN SPIRITUAL FORMATION:

Essays:
  1. "On Fairy Stories" by J.R.R. Tolkien
  2. "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said" by C.S. Lewis. Can be found in the book Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories
  3. "The Fantastic Imagination" by George MacDonald
Books:
  1. Orthodoxy by G.K. Gesterton. See chapter four, "The Ethics of Elfland"
  2. Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy and Fairy Tale by Frederick Buechner (caveat: I haven't read this book, but it's been recommended to me on multiple occasions. I intend to read it this Christmas)

RECOMMENDED FAIRY TALES:


Short Stories:
  1.  "The Light Princess" by George MacDonald. Can be found in the book The Golden Key and Other Stories
  2. "The Golden Key" by George MacDonald. Can be found in the book The Golden Key and Other Stories
  3. "The Wise Woman" by George MacDonald. 
  4. "Beauty and the Beast" by Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont
  5. "The Princess and the Pea" by Hans Christian Andersen
  6. "Little Red Cap" by the Brothers Grimm
  7. "Cinderella" by the Brothers Grimm
  8. "Snow White" by the Brothers Grimm
  9. "Hansel and Gretel" by the Brothers Grimm
NOTE: The Classic Fairy Tales (ed. by Maria Tatar) has all of the traditional fairy tales with which we are most familiar (thanks to Disney) as well as variations of the tales by different authors in different eras and cultures.  It's a fun book to have. 

Books and Series:
  1. Phantaestes by George MacDonald
  2. Lillith by George MacDonald (C.S. Lewis said this book baptized his imagination)
    1. What I'm trying to say here is that you can't go wrong with George MacDonald. ;)
  3. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien 
  6. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
  7. Till we Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  8. The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis
  9. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Do you have selections to add to the list? If so, please share!

© by scj

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A story to remind us what we may have forgotten


It’s Sunday, and the pastor is choking back tears as he tells us about the day he sat in an orphanage on his newest daughter’s bed, and wondered who would adopt the other children.

And then his wet eyes light up and he raises his hands as he reminds us that our care for orphans mustn’t be motivated by guilt, or what’s trendy, but by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This Gospel reveals the Father’s tender heart for the orphans who flipped their middle finger to the Father, bit his hand that fed them, and kicked and screamed at the One who loved them most.

We’re the orphans who disowned the Good Father.

So the Father disowned his Son, that we might become children of God, redeemed, justified, re-created: adopted.

And now we, the adopted ones, take God’s family name as our own, and are co-heirs with the Son who will inherit all heavenly things.

Wild, intoxicating, extravagant grace.

But this idea that we’re adopted, it’s not big enough to describe what God’s done.

Because when we become his children he puts his seed in us, so that we start to look like him. Like biological children, we begin to want the things he wants and do the things he does.

Have you, like me, forgotten this power of God to make our hearts beat with his?

I’ve a story to remind you.

Andrew, he’s just moved to a new city with his wife, and they’re lonely. They’re wondering why God’s brought them there because it turns out they won’t be working the job they thought they’d work. Not this season, anyway.

So they’re looking for satisfying jobs and new friends. They’re trying push through the discouragement, make sense of the newness and the loneliness, and serve God where he’s put them.

And Andrew, he’s praying,

“Lord, who are you wanting me to connect with? Why am I here?”

One day he and his wife are sitting in church watching a documentary about their city. The documentary features artists—musicians, painters, composers, and fashion designers—who love their city and want to make it beautiful.

The filmmaker is a Christian who wants the documentary to illustrate how all of us, with our unique giftings and idiosyncrasies, have the same soul cravings: to know and be known, to live a life that means something, and to live forever.

One of the artists, we’ll call him Drake, has angst in his voice when he’s interviewed. It’s raw pain that spills out earnest and hungry as he wonders what God is like, and explains his desire for purpose and love — intimacy with his creator.

And Andrew, he leans over to his wife and says with conviction,

“I need to meet this guy. This is who I need to be hanging out with.”

Andrew is an artist. His soul quivers with life when he makes something meaningful out of something meaningless, something whole out of broken parts, and something beautiful out ugliness.

And he knows in his creative soul that if he finds the artists, he’ll find the city’s heartbeat.  These are the dream-chasers and culture-shapers; the ones who want to send life and beauty pulsing into the streets and charging through people’s veins. And just think: what might these people do to a city if they opened their hearts to the source of all Life and Beauty? How might the Creator use the Created Ones as vessels of his Divine Life that makes all things new?

But Andrew’s city is big, and how to find the heartbeat of a thriving metropolis? So he goes on with life. He finds a new job, gets into a routine, and three months later decides it’s time for a haircut.

He’s thinking he’d like to look like his grandpa did back in the day. But who had that sort of hair-cutting skill? That was the question.

Thank goodness a young guy, we’ll call him D.J., came to the store Andrew manages. Because D.J.’s hair was fly. Like, grandpa-back-in-the-day fly.

Andrew and D.J. hit it off, and Andrew discovered D.J.'s roommate had cut his hair.

“He’s an artist,” D.J. said. “You should look him up.”

So Andrew finds his artist page and clicks on it, and his heart quickens.

Because it’s Drake. Documentary Drake.

Andrew shoots him an email with his cell number, and Drake texts him soon after.

“Come on over for a haircut,” the text says.

So Andrew drives downtown to Drake’s house for a 20-minute cut, and stays 2 ½ hours.

Other men join them: more artists who want to change the city. Together they talk about life’s purpose, sex, drugs, alcohol, addictions, art, music, culture, travel, religion, the church, worship, and idols.

These guys hit it off with Andrew and invite him to an event of theirs, so he and his wife go. He’s looking around at this room full of people, their hearts all beating with creative longing, and one of the guys says to the crowd,

“Man, we are the heart of this culture, and that’s why we’re here in this city, to make this a city that thrives on the arts.”

And Andrew, he's hearing the throbbing desires of these artists and thinking about the One who gave them their desires, the One who has the greatest desire for them: to know them and express Himself through them.

My heart quickens as Andrew's telling me the story because I see it in Andrew's life clear and true: how God's seed is in us changing us, so that our hearts beat in tempo with his. So that a man in a big, lonely city leans over to his wife in church and says in unison with God,

"I want to know and be known by that artist."

Then I remember how the Father's heart is an artist's heart: how he wants to make something meaningful out of something meaningless, something whole out of broken parts, and something beautiful out ugliness.

I remember how we are God's greatest masterpieces, and how he wants to work with us, to re-create us so that we're our Truest Selves—the selves we've always dreamed of being. Because the Father is not just a sculptor, carpenter, and painter: he's a composer. And he wants every heart to beat in time with his in a pulsing sacred symphony that sends Life, Light, and Beauty shooting through a city full of hearts he loves.  

It's for this our hearts were created.


© by scj