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:,,

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.


  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
  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)


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

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Then?

It's evening and I'm following a friend across the bluffs lining the pacific ocean. We weave through dry, desert brush, and pass prickly pear cacti that offer their red fruit to us with outstretched arms. The warm wind teases and tousles and we breath deep delight.

And Dusk, she joins us. She sings us her evening song, quietly at first. The music steals low and velvety across the bluffs, just behind the wind, and then it paints the distant mountains purple.

Lights twinkle in the city below, and the song, it grows louder. And as the sun falls lower, the song swells fuller, till the sky bursts into crimson flame from the song's piercing melodic strain, and the waves clap and the trees whisper awe.

And we stand in silence and watch the sea swallow the sun. I listen close, and my soul sounds grateful peace.

It's easy to feel at peace when the sky dances with light and the sea is shining silent.

And it's easy to feel at peace when bodies are healthy, and hearts are no longer grieving, and our country is free, and friendships are satisfying, and the future is full of opportunities.

But the darkness, it was just here last night, and I know, even as the sky streaks glory, that the black of night will come again.

And what then? When the inky darkness weighs heavy, and hearts ache fierce, and the future seems a burden? What then, when sin colors ugly and shoots sorrow, and things aren't the way they're supposed to be?

I turn and look behind me at the darkening bluff covered in dead brush, and then I look back at the blazing sky and sinking sun.

And I whisper how the sky is always there, and the waves they always churn, and the sun it always sets, and dusk, she always sings,

And even when we are faithless God is faithful because he cannot deny himself.

© by scj

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Thursday Things: Six

1. I made brussel sprouts this week. Aren't they beautiful?

There are two keys to making brussel-sprouts-that-taste-so-good-they-rival-cheesecake (seriously): 

1. A good balsamic
2. Bacon

Bacon is always the answer.

2. I've caught the cold that's kept my students sniffling this month. So rather than spend the week galavanting about with friends in costume, I've been writing like a fiend, eating lots of chicken soup, and sipping tea/dancing/husband-finding/countryside-romping with these girls:

3. I seriously feel so good, you guys. Even with this cold, I feel ten times better than I did a few months ago. It turns out having my tonsils removed was one of the best decisions I've ever made, besides following Jesus of course. Now that my body is no longer fighting a constant infection it is more easily repairing the internal damage from the mono, and it's doing normal things like thinking clearly and waking up rested in the morning.

It's all so thrilling.

There are 26 keys on this keyboard that I could use to explain just how thrilling—how wildly delightful—it is to feel so normal. But these keys aren't enough. You'd probably understand best if you could watch me run up the hill behind my house, or splash free and full in ocean waves, or do the moonwalk in my socks after dinner.

I'm thankful for your prayers, and would love continued prayer for complete healing this year.

4. In other news, it dropped below 70 degrees here the other night.

It was quite a shock to my system.

5. My iPhone camera got too full this week so I had to delete scores of pictures. I could not, however, bring myself to delete this one. I like having it handy on my phone.

What does this garden squash remind you of?

I cannot look at it without seeing a third grade Veggie Tales character who really, really needs to go to bathroom.

I smile every time I see it.

6. Soon I'll be blogging about this trip:

Photo by Mayra Long

In the meantime, Happy Thursday, everyone!


© by scj