Monday, May 28, 2012

When Grace Wears Skin

I'm sitting on my couch staring out the window, watching dusk chase the day beyond the verdant hills.  The birds are trilling their evening song, and the little house across the yard sits empty and silent.

Its dark windows peer at me like blank eyes, making me sigh deep sighs.  Life is full of so much emptying.  The emptying of hearts, of pocketbooks, of coffee cups, of houses that once swelled with life.

My neighbors, Luke and Laura, have just removed the last of their furniture from the little house, and soon they will move.  They will drive hundreds of miles north to another empty house that they will fill.

Laura, she's full with child, and Luke, he's starting a new job at a hospital full of needy people, and so even as I watch them empty the house across the way my soul swells full for them and the hope on their horizon.

But tonight as I sit here alone the silence rings loud with poignant memories that make my heart a little achy.

Even so, I think this must be what grace sounds like.

Because Luke and Laura have taught me what grace looks like when it wears skin.

I remember the day Laura and I first spent time together.  We didn't sit and have a 'cuppa', as Australian Laura calls her tea, or hit the nearby beaches.  We drove south to my pre-marriage counselor, where I met my fiance to break off our engagement.

I'd known Laura less than a week, but she was one of two women I knew in the area I'd just moved to.  So I asked her, my lip quivering, if she'd accompany me and then drive me home if I didn't have the strength.

That hour and a half we spent in the car together Laura spoke true things about God and his mercy.  She told me I was strong and brave and right to do this, and that I wasn't alone.  She and Luke, and our landlady Joy, would be there for me. And as I stared out the rain-splattered window into the night I felt hope stirring in my chest, a splinter of light in an ever-blackening sky.

Laura is a woman of her word.  When I walked out to my car the next morning to go to work there were purple daisies on my windshield.  A reminder that I wasn't alone.

When illness incapacitated me in the following days and months, she walked over to my house daily.  She'd bring freshly squeezed orange juice, lunch, and groceries.  She'd make me tea, and make me laugh.

Some evenings she and Luke would bring dinner over and we'd sit on my patio and enjoy a meal together.  We'd chat and laugh deep belly laughs, and it was in those moments that I almost forgot I'd been stripped of my health and was grieving my broken engagement.

During this season of darkness Luke and Laura's friendship was a salve to my soul wounds.  It was a lifeline for my weakened body.  They became my family away from home.  Because of their friendship my grief became mingled with gratitude.

There were several months when my sickness made it hard for me to carry on conversations.  During that time I had to retreat into my apartment, desperate to rest myself back to health.  I worried that my absence would change my friendship with Luke and Laura, but it didn't.  They loved me the same, they just showed it in different ways.

Their friendship changed me because it assured me that grace gives freely,
expecting nothing in return.

Luke and Laura helped me to better understand Jesus, Grace wrapped in skin.

When grace wears skin it doesn't just give, it also invites.  It dignifies people by showing them they're significant and have something to offer, even when they're weak and broken.  Luke and Laura taught me this.  They poured into my life, and invited me into theirs.  When they suffered and grieved they invited me into the dark and vulnerable places.  When they delighted in God's gifts they invited me to celebrate with them.

And so that is what I want to do today.  I want to celebrate this new season of adventure and promise that's unfolding for them. I want to look back on the good work God has done in and through them, and look forward to the new friends they'll make—friends whose souls might also need reminding of what grace looks like when it wears skin.

© by scj

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thursday Things: Camera Happy

I've become a photography fiend.

It's not that I have a nice camera (hello, Instagram), and it's not that I have a good eye, it's just that there's a two year period of my life that I didn't document with pictures.

I didn't forget to document; there just wasn't much of anything to document.  I was sick in bed most of the time, staring at the ceiling, or sitting out on porch watching my flowers grow.

There are only so many flower shots a girl can take.

So now that I'm up, moving around, and participating in a life that's more normal, I'm a little camera happy.

I've become that girl at every party who takes pictures of strangers, uncle Joe's plate of food, the dandelions out back, and the pile of shoes by the door.

I've also begun to dabble in videography.  I'm thinking of premiering my most recent work featuring the wildlife on my back patio as they prepare for the 2016 Olympics. You should see the lizards do push-ups.

Unfortunately, my computer has been running a little funny lately—no doubt from the hundreds of photos and videos I'm uploading every week.  I may need to stop taking pictures of every weed I pull out of my garden.

The upside of being bogged down with so many photos is that I've got ample fodder for my Thursday Things list to celebrate the week.

And so, without further ado, I give you Thursday Things, a photo journal to celebrate the week.

1.  We had a Jackson family reunion of sorts last week.  I thought it would be just a few aunts and uncles and a handful of cousins, since everyone else is scattered far and wide.  But then, glory of glories, my sweet grandma showed up.  It was such a delightful surprise.

Isn't she lovely?  Check out her stylin' sunnies.  

The reason for the reunion was this little guy.  

Meet Lil' Rad, everyone.

He's my cousin's first baby. Isn't he the sweetest wittle thing you ever did see?  And lands, look at all that hair.

There is very little in this world that tops hanging out with grandma, lil' Rad, and everyone in between.

2. This week I ate a rainbow orange, minus the GBIV.

It was one of the most thought-provoking things I've ever eaten.

It made me wonder:

What it is about the red section of this orange that makes it absorb every color of light, except red?

And why does the yellow section reflect the yellow in light, instead of orange or red?

Also, is the yellowness actually a part of the orange?

Or is it just something that the hardware in my head makes me see?

If God looked at the orange would he see red, orange, and yellow?

These are the things a philosopher thinks when she eats a rainbow orange.

3.  I spotted this lone rose on my walk the other day.

Isn't she romantic?

She is as tall as I am.  I wonder how she got that tall?  Perhaps she is an overachiever.  Or perhaps her pituitary gland has been over-activated.

Either way, she is the belle of this beautiful border.

4. As some of you know, I live on a property with two other families.  We call our community 'The Compound.'

This is a picture of the Compound Kids.  We are called this because we all live on the Compound.

Very clever and cutting-edge, I know.

From left to right: Me, Kathryn (sadly covered in shadow), Laura (and baby Addie), and Luke

Our lovely compound mumsie is taking this picture just outside of El Cholo, one of L.A.'s finest Mexican restaurants.

Luke recently got a job up north, so they will be moving soon. We're all trying to get as much time with them as we can before they go.  We'll miss them somethin' fierce.

5. I spotted Peter Rabbit the other day.

No doubt he was on his way to the garden for some tasty radishes and lettuce.

I think he had the right idea.  I'm off to water my garden, where I will no doubt take pictures of every dirt clod and leaf I see.


And happy Thursday!


© by scj

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Grade Escape

Today is Monday which means I'm supposed to post a blog.

Normally I'd write something that helps me process or celebrate life and discover new things about God and myself.  But not today.  Not this week.

I'm pooped from a full semester of teaching, and it's all I can do to plow through my last pile of grading.

I usually somewhat enjoy grading, but oh! the lengths I have to go to to maintain my sanity while grading with such a tired brain.  I find myself having to schedule distractions every thirty minutes or so.

I make smoothies with the oranges from our tree.

I get out my guitar, shut my windows, and sing "Killing Me Softly" at the top of my lungs.

I water my garden, prune my roses, and weed.

I stand on the diving board and twist myself into all sorts of poses that make my shadow on the pool floor look like a professional ballerina.

I curl my hair.

I do laundry.

I wash dishes.

I lie in the grass, look up, and admire the majestic hawk soaring across the sky, before realizing it is actually a pigeon.

And, of course, I read poetry.

Poetry is a sanctuary for me.  It is a place of peace I can escape to that helps me to slow my racing mind, and rejuvenate my tired spirit.

And so, in honor of my rather large pile of grading, I give you a post from the archives: an original poem from a third grade student I taught years ago.

I hope it gives you a brief and sunny escape from the day's responsibilities.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My students learned how to write non rhyming poetry today. I asked them to write a poem about some type of city wildlife. Their imagery made me chuckle. Here's one of my favorites (completely uncorrected):


Today I saw
a baby squirrel.
The squirrels teeth
was fricken me out
its teeth were all black.
The squirrel's head
was shining like
Its nails were
sharp like a
porcupine's thorn.

*To read more about my adventures teaching third grade click on the label entitled "Room 341" in the cloud on the right of the page.

© by scj

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I hope I'm Like You When I Grow Up

Five months ago I tried to write a post in honor of my mom's 26th birthday.  She's been celebrating 26th birthdays for years now.

Since I'd finally surpassed her in age, I thought I'd perhaps be able to take the last 27 years of knowing my mom and squish them into 1,000 words or less.  But I couldn't.

Describing my mom was like trying to use hand gestures to make a friend understand how I felt the first time I stood under a moonless indigo sky ablaze with stars hanging so low I could reach up and grab them.

There are some things that cannot be confined to a string of symbols on a page.  A mother's influence is one of those things.

But still, words can give glimpses of glory; they can be pinpricks of light, like the stars, pointing us to a brighter, truer Light.

And so today, in honor of my mom, I've written a letter listing a few of the things I love about her.

Dear Mom,

Remember those cat eye sunglasses with the *very* colorful rims?  I was in fifth grade when you wore them out. In public. And you didn't care what other people thought.  You didn't listen to my stammering protests, or pay attention to the most recent fashion magazines.  You just donned them with confidence and style.  I think you may have even danced your way into the mall with those things on your head, just in case people hadn't already noticed them.

I love you for that.

I love that you've always marched — or danced — to the rhythm of your own drummer.  You haven't tried to cram your soul into the stifling corsets* of silly expectations, reductionistic roles, or cultural 'coolness.'

In the Austrian Alps, 2004

Your tenacious commitment to be who God calls you to be is evident beyond your daring sunglass choices.

It was evident when you stood alone before the city council to challenge an unethical education mandate.

It was evident when you stood up for the woman in your musical theater group whose male director felt her youth and timidity made it okay for him to invade her privacy and publicly degrade her.

It was evident when you brought the four of us kids to the courthouse to participate in silent protests on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.  You wanted to show us that there are some things in the world worth fighting for, and that it is possible fight in a quiet and respectful way.

That's my little brother Marc hopping down the stairs.
My mom is behind him wearing the same 'Former Fetus' sign

When people drove by honking and yelling profanities at us, we watched you smile graciously, with dignity.  When a man walked past and accused you of brainwashing us, you engaged him respectfully, but didn't back down.  Because you knew that it isn't brainwashing to instill in your kids a value for our most fundamental right—the right to live—and it isn't brainwashing to raise your kids with a sense of justice, and a commitment to action when the world goes topsy turvy.

You taught us how to do the right thing, even under persecution, but you also taught us that life is for having fun.

When we studied world religions you thought it would be fun to celebrate the Jewish festival of booths, and so we made a booth—or sukkah—in our backyard and ate our meals in it that week.

When we grew older and got too stressed from school, or too irritated with each other, you'd show us how to throw back our heads and laugh and let the stress and irritation drain from our spirits, like air from a balloon.

And when you met people who'd moved here from other countries you'd invite them to our house for holidays.  They'd bring authentic cuisine from their country and teach us new words, and we learned that the world is big and grand and full of new friends.

I could go on and on, mom.  So many things you taught us.

You taught us that we were more important than your sleep when we'd wake up sick in the middle of the night,

and that paint, foam, and cardboard are for creating Halloween costumes, doll houses, and Christmas presents.

You taught us that empty amphitheaters in foreign countries are for dancing,

that empty plots of land are for gardening,

and that empty dishwashers are for loading.

Pinpricks of light, all of this, pointing us to a greater, truer Light.

A few months ago little brother Marc was driving onto his college campus with his buddy.  As they crawled across speed bumps Marc noticed a male student about his age, standing alone and looking despondent.

Go talk to him.  That inner voice prompted Marc to do something risky and unusual, even embarrassing.

He turned to his friend and asked him to stop the car.  Slowly, he approached the student.  He talked to him for awhile and the kid told Marc he was lonely and discouraged. Marc got his phone number so they could hang out, and he walked back to the car, one friend richer.

I swelled with pride when I heard the story, and then I thought of you, mom.  Because that day Marc reminded me of you.

Like you, he has become a man who heeds the voice of the Spirit, even when it's uncomfortable.

This is because we learn more from watching lives lived than we learn from powerful rhetoric and substantive textbooks.

We grew up imitating you, mom, and you have always marched to the beat of the Maker of music —the One wired you to dance, stand up for the oppressed, initiate new friendships, and wear zany sunglasses.

And so today, on mother's day, telling you I'm thankful for you just doesn't cut it.

But I am.

I'm thankful for you,

I love you,

and I hope I'm like you when I grow up.

Thank you for being such a marvelous mother.

Happy Mother's Day,

Your Sarah Christine

*My friend, author and apologist, Jonalyn Fincher, uses this imagery of 'soul corsets' in her book Ruby Slippers

© by scj

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thursday Things: Thursdays are for Lovin'

The sun is shining, the birds are twittering all cheerful, the lawn mower is rumbling, and I've got a cuppa tea to coax me awake.  Because I'm plumb tuckered out, and I need a little something extra to get me going today.

And so, in addition to my enlivening cup of berry blossom tea, I'm making my list to celebrate the week.  Because, despite my overall state of grogginess and disorientation, there are lots of things I'm lovin' this week.

1. I love vegetable garden season.

I love picking out seeds,

tilling rocky soil,

and watering in the cool of the evening;

and then months later making fresh pesto with basil,

and eating cherry tomatoes warm and plump off the vine.

2. I love the entrance to our vegetable garden.

I don't walk into our garden; I steal into it: quiet, with bated breath, relishing the colors and smells, soaking up the silence.

Basically I pretend I'm Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden.

3. I love it when I run into an old student on campus and the first thing he does when he sees me is laugh—

not because I am talking to myself (because I probably am),

and not because I've just run into a tree or tripped over a curb (because I probably have),

but because it feels good to laugh, and it feels good to know people who will laugh with you about nothing in particular.

4.  I love it when students yell and wave at me across campus.  I love yelling and waving back.

5.  I love walking down the crowded, main campus walkway and overhearing funny snippets from student conversations.

6. I love it when I'm in the middle of a conversation with a friend, and suddenly I'm struck by how funny and random our conversation snippets would sound to an outsider.

Consider two real-life examples:

Exhibit A:

Me: I don't really like it when people call me 'sweetheart'.

Friend: Me neither.

Me: Why do you think this is?

Friend: To me, sweetheart connotes spineless and docile.  Don’t call me sweetheart, call me sweetpunch.  Give me a little credit here.

Exhibit B:

Friend: Any advice for how I should be when I see *Sam*?

Me: Just treat him like he’s your long lost friend from camp.

Friend: Yep, I was planning on making that my mojo.

Me: Do you know what a mojo is? Because I don’t.

Friend: I think it’s an agenda.

7. I love that I've discovered the place our Molly-dog hides all the objects she's stolen, so that I can find my hiking shoe when it goes missing.

Molly-dog, you may be smart and sneaky, but I'm onto you.

8. I love playing the guitar.  I've just started learning, and I don't sound great, but everything about it brings me pleasure.  The challenge, the possibilities, the callouses that are finally developing on my fingers.  It's all so satisfying.

I had my friend take pictures of me playing all the new chords I've learned, so I wouldn't forget.
This is an F#,  although when I play it it sounds like pea soup.

9. And last but not least, I love ya—every last one of you. Thanks for being my friends.

Happy Thursday,


a.k.a. Sweetpunch

a.k.a. Stealthy thief-dog stalker

© by scj

Monday, May 7, 2012

Twenty-One Years of Fiascos

Last week I got a Facebook message with a link to a photo album entitled "Jackson-Long Fiasco." It spread a wide ol' grin across my face.

The Jackson-Long fiascos have been one of my favorite things these last 21 years.

It all started when my mom strapped baby Marc into her front pack, and led little Rebecca, Aaron and me into the public library where we ran into Pam Long with baby Jena in her front pack, and little Jake, Dirk and Simon in tow.

I think our young mothers must have pointed at each other and said, "Is that what I look like?!" and a fast friendship was forged.

We home schooled, vacationed, and attended church together.

If I lived closer to my folks' house I'd dig up and show you all sorts of pictures of our childhood fiascos.

I'd show you the summers we camped near huckleberry patches, and the weekends we raced through the Longs' orchard barefoot, shooting potato guns and swinging on low branches.

I'd show you the time the boys built a paddle boat and the girls sewed Easter dresses, and the Sunday afternoons we'd gather at my family's house for $5 'cardboard' pizzas, Power Pete tournaments, and wrestling matches.

It's a special friendship that doesn't fade after everyone's grown and moved away.

Ours is a very special friendship.

Each year, the fiascos continue.

They continued when my family flew to Austria for the summer and the Longs surprised us with a visit.

There's nothing quite like a Jackson-Long fiasco in the alps.

We hiked,

and picnicked,

and then got caught in a torrential downpour.

Later we drank hot drinks in the basement of the castle where we were staying, and, of course, engaged in nose humor.  Nose humor is one of our specialties.

When we're not galavanting about the Alps, you never know what you'll find us doing.

We race to see who can stack cups the fastest.

We dance.

We braid each other's hair.

We have poetry recitations,

And deep conversations.

And always always always, we take couch pictures.

When we were little kids we snapped a photo of us all sitting on the same couch, from oldest to youngest.

This is about 12 years after the original couch photo

We don't fit anymore.

And there are more of us than there used to be.

Back row, from left to right: Jake, Dirk, Simon, Marc
Front row, from left to right: Sarah, Kristin, Rebecca, Taylor, Aaron, Jena

But still we snap couch shots at every reunion.

We try to make our couch photos as interesting as possible.

I believe this is our road kill pose:

And of course, no couch photo session is complete without a role of tape.

Because nose humor is one of our specialties.

And these are just a few reasons the Jackson-Long fiascos are one of my favorite things.  

© by scj