Friday, August 30, 2013


Oh boy. I've been missing in action the last few weeks on the ol' blogski, and it's looking like I'll be MIA a couple of weeks longer. Life has gotten busy, busy, busy and has me loopy, loopy, loopy.

So I guess I'll see you when the dust settles!

Happy Friday!


© by scj

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Embodying Beauty

This article is the second of a 2-part series on beauty, originally posted at Sturdy Answers (check out part 1 here).

I have often struggled with feeling like my body is my enemy.
My college track career was riddled with inconvenient injuries that interfered with my athletic ambitions. My post-college body rarely looked as lean and sleek as I wanted it to. And, as I wrote last month, I spent much of early adulthood lamenting the ugliness in my soul as much as, if not more than, I lamented the inadequacy of my body. Then, after years of trying to make my body and soul beautiful, I got sick, and was bedridden for the better part of two years. It was during those years of suffering that the Holy Sprit changed the way I understood beauty.
When I was sickest, I’d spend every day in the Gospels, reading and re-reading the stories of Jesus healing the lame and the sick.
I loved Mark’s story of the paralytic who is lowered through the roof of the house where Jesus is teaching.
“Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus tells him when he sees him.
The teachers of the law are appalled. Who is Jesus to forgive what only God can forgive?
And Jesus, knowing what they are thinking, says, “’Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’”
And the man gets up, picks up his mat, and walks.
Jesus proves the sufficiency of his power to make the man’s soul beautiful by demonstrating his power to restore the man’s body.
If God’s grace is sufficient for our bodies, then his grace is sufficient for our souls.
Grace is what makes us beautiful; and, as I discovered in Matthew 18, humility, or a right understanding of who we are in relation to God, is what opens us to grace.
Last month I shared my realization that we cannot make ourselves humble — only God can clothe us in humility. So how do we open ourselves to the power of the Spirit of God, who can make us humble and grow us in grace and beauty? How do we let him teach us to see ourselves the way he does?
Throughout my illness, I discovered several practices, in addition to reading and meditating on God’s Word, which have helped me to grow in humility, grace, and ultimately beauty. Today I’ll share seven of them with you.
1. Pray honestly; Invite the Holy Spirit’s power into your weakness.
When I was sickest, I’d often lie in bed weeping and talking to Jesus. In the early stages of my illness I’d ask Jesus to come and be with me. But with time, my prayers became more raw and honest.
I’d tell him I hated lying in bed. I’d tell him that, on top of feeling angry and depressed about my illness, I was insecure about my flabby triceps and pants that were too tight. I’d tell him I was anxious about the way I’d recently hurt my loved one’s feelings. I’d tell him I felt utterly unlovable.
And then I’d ask him: “Please come into this place with me, Jesus, and give me humility so that I embrace your Truth, rather than my feelings of inadequacy and failure. Help me to walk in obedience to you, in your power.”
Sometimes, though, I didn’t care to have the Spirit of God change me, so I’d pray, “I feel resistant to the work of your Spirit because I feel angry. Come into this, Jesus, and change me.”
This daily practice of praying honestly can help us open and reorient our hearts. Instead of fixating on our inadequacy and trying to make ourselves beautiful in our own power, we turn again and again to the power of God.
This turns into praying without ceasing.
And prayer makes us humble because it reminds us of our utter dependence on God to do for us what we cannot for ourselves.
3. Notice the God-given beauty in your inner person.
My sister has an extraordinary ability to express herself with wildly creative and poetic imagery. One of my friends can add up a list of long figures in his head, and another can walk into a room and envision how it could be decorated.
When my friends’ minds conjure up creativity and quick calculating, I hope they notice the ways God wired their minds so beautifully.
What are you naturally good at? Can you nurse people in a way that makes them feel cared for? Can you build new things and fix old things?
Begin to observe yourself, asking God to help you notice the goodness and beauty he has put in your soul. You will begin to see yourself the way God does.
4. Notice the God-given beauty in your body.
When you’re tempted to think of the things you could be, should be, aren’t, and don’t have, notice how your body opens you up to pleasure and grace.
One afternoon, when I still was quite sick, I managed to crawl out of bed long enough to pick an orange from our tree. As I walked, I noticed how my feet carried me across the grass, and my skin soaked up the sun’s warmth. I noticed how my nimble fingers peeled the orange’s fleshy skin, and my nose inhaled the sharp smell of citrus. I noticed how my tongue tasted the burst of sweet orange juice in my mouth, and my chin felt the cool dribble of runaway juice.
Joy on Face
The joy in this woman’s soul has etched beauty across her face
Our bodies, even when they are weak and disfigured, enable us to experience the world’s goodness and beauty. If only we would notice.
Miraculously, our bodies can also act as a canvas displaying the beauty God is growing in our souls. Do your eyes reveal joy? Do your dimples convey mirth? Are you inclined to use your vocal cords to express praise to our Creator? Notice how your body reflects your soul’s beauty.
5. Practice gratitude.
Ingratitude fosters pride. We see this in the Garden of Eden: “I could have a better life than the one I live,” thought ungrateful Eve.
And within minutes she was acting as if she knew better than God — in prideful rebellion.
Gratitude is an antidote to pride and the poison of idolatry — of valuing culture’s definition of beauty over God’s.
Practicing gratitude for the goodness in our bodies and souls reminds us we are indebted to God. It reminds us of our utter dependence on him for all good things. It helps us to have a right understanding of who we are in relation to God.
Gratitude fosters humility; humility opens us to grace; and grace makes us beautiful.
6. Surrender to suffering.
7.  Celebrate the people in your life.
When I was in fifth grade a friend looked me in the eyes while we chatted in the church bathroom. “You are ugly,” she said. Her words pierced deep, and sent the poison of self-doubt and self-deprecation coursing through me.
In subsequent years other people occasionally echoed my fifth grade friend. These friends acted as distorted mirrors, like the mirrors in carnival funhouses. They convinced me I was strange and unlovely. I became ashamed of my imperfections and idiosyncrasies, and as I entered adulthood, my self-talk about my body and soul began to mimic the talk of these unkind people.
But there have been other people who have held up mirrors — mirrors that reflect back to me the ways my body and soul uniquely reflect our Creator. These friends have identified my God-given beauty, and have celebrated the gracious work of God in me.
I want to be a mirror like this for the people in my life. I want to help them see themselves the way I see them. I want to help them believe the things God tells them about the beauty in their body and soul.
And so I search for their beauty, and I try to tell them what I see. And with every celebratory word, I feel Grace cultivating the soil of humility in my heart, so that beauty can grow there.
Image credit:,,

© by scj

Monday, August 12, 2013


Hi, friends! I hope your weekend was full of rest and play, and that you got to drink that icy glass of lemonade on the patio. Mine was full of biking. Yes, it's true: I conquered my bike rack's very sturdy, very hard to move metal pins.

First, though, some folks gave me some advice:

Advice #1: Why not use a ratchet or a makeshift twisted tourniquet to squeeze those two wires together until you can align them both and then gradually release the pressure allowing them to insert as you describe? Or go get a gorilla for a boyfriend and have him do it.

Advice #2: What you need, Sarah, is to gather all said parts and instructions, bundle it up, take it back to be your store, look helpless, find the best looking young man with lots of muscles and ask for help. They often are easily influenced by a beautiful smile, an asset in which you are highly qualified. Wish you were closer. Your uncle would be happy to help.

Advice #3:  I was looking at the picture of the rack, and maybe you could un-assemble it a little bit by unscrewing the the screws near the top so you can move the black part around better? And then screw those parts back in. Or maybe that is too much work or will make it worse... in that case, I would call for a muscle man.

Advice #4: Dirk

There are three comments I'd like to make about this advice.

First, Dirk is a childhood friend who can take a pile of miscellaneous, complicated mechanical parts and make them do cartwheels, the rhumba, and the moonwalk across the table. He just has a way of getting them to do what he wants. Naturally, his name is one of the first that comes to mind when I need something fixed or built. Apparently his name is also the first to come to mind when others are giving a mechanically challenged girl advice for her bike rack.

Second, the first three pieces of advice all have something in common: they all ultimately advise me to find a big, strong man to help me. I like this advice. I like it a lot. Keep it comin', folks. 

Third, although this advice is all quite helpful, I didn't end up needing it after all. Because it turns out I have the brute strength of an ox. That, combined with a handy pair of pliers, enabled me to muscle the pins into their respective holes. And voila! the bike rack was complete.

The next morning I had the bike rack and beach cruiser secured to my car, and I was off to Newport, where a girlfriend and I had a lovely day cruising around the back bay before heading to the beach for some glorious sun and sea.

And not a hiccup did I experience with that bike rack of mine. It's turned out to be a solid, secure and reliable little guy. No doubt thanks to those pins-that-won't-budge...

Happy Monday, y'all!

© by scj

Friday, August 9, 2013


It's Friday, folks, which means it's time to get ready for the weekend. It's time to clear off the ol' desk, drive home with the windows down, pour a glass of lemonade, throw up your feet, and then, when your lemonade is done, help me assemble my bike rack.

Tomorrow morning I'm headed to the beach for leisurely bike ride on this beauty before having brunch with a friend.

Unfortunately, my new bike rack isn't quite as simple as my old one. Unfortunately, I returned my old one. Fortunately, this new bike rack looks like it will be much sturdier and more reliable than my old one.

If I could just figure out how to assemble it.

It looks simple enough. It even came almost completely assembled. All I have to do is "insert pins at ends of wire struts into holes in top of foot assembly."

Translation: Put this loose end of this pin....

...into the hole on the black bar. My thumb is in this hole. Notice how the hole is on the opposite side of  the pin on the the bar.

Notice how the pin is very, very sturdy.

Try not to notice how my nails need paintin'.

How in the dickens am I supposed to get the pin into the hole?

Clearly I need to muscle the pin onto the other side of the bar.

Which is what I did with the pin on the left side of the rack:

But about eight seconds in — once it was on the correct, hole-y side of the bar — I realized I did not have the strength to pull the pin out far enough to get it into the hole. At which point I lost my grip on the pin, and it and the black bar began to crush my fingers. At which point I panicked and hoped that some neighbor would be home to hear my screams for help. At which point my adrenaline kicked in and I had enough strength to pry back the pin just enough to get my fingers lose.

At which point I fell back onto the floor exhausted, and stared at the ceiling for approximately 12 minutes.

Then I texted an aerospace engineer I know to see if he could magically fix my bike rack via text instructions. I don't mess around when I need help assembling/fixing things. If you build rockets and such, then you're my guy. Or gal.

Anyway, I still haven't heard back from him. He's busy aerospace engineering today, and will probably have to wait to solve bike rack quandaries until the weekend. Which starts in approximately five hours.

Which means you folks have five hours to help me.

Is there some super simple pin trick that only the mechanically adept will see? Do these pins function in some sort of magical way, like the metal rings that magicians can effortlessly connect?

Or are the instructions just wrong? Should they instead say, "Find a giant, muscle-y body builder to insert pins at ends of wire struts into holes in top foot assembly"?

If there's help you can give, I'll take it, man.

Thanks, thanks, thanks, and happy weekend!!


Mechanically inept and weak as a bean pole Sarah

© by scj

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Almond Branches

Well, I've done it. I've participated in my first ever painting class, and have painted something that I am proud to hang on my wall.

Sure, I'm no Van Gogh, or Aaron Jackson. My brother is an artist extraordinaire. And sure, you can probably tell that my painting is my very first. But you can also probably tell what it is that I tried to paint. And that's pretty much the only criteria I had for whether or not this painting would make it onto the wall.

On Monday night a friend and I showed up at a three-hour painting glass, all bright-eyed and hopeful. She, with a limited background in painting, and I, with no background at all. Unless you count the rainy childhood afternoons I sat at the counter and made watercolor masterpieces for our art-laden fridge.

I can't say that those afternoons did much for me in the way of developing my painting skills, but they sure did teach me about the pleasure of being still and creative. Which is why I decided to try my hand at the lost art once again all these years later.

I'm learning that the things that delighted me as a kid still delight me as an adult. In fact, engaging in these "lost" childhood activities teaches me more about who I really am — who God wired me to be. It's easy to forget who we are when we move into adulthood, with all its cultural expectations, insecurities, and responsibilities.

So I've begun to make a point of revisiting the things I loved to do as a child. It requires plowing through thick layers of inhibition, but every time I do, "play" becomes a bit more natural. And the more I play, the easier it is to recognize the gracious gifts God's given me.

The class was designed to teach us to reproduce Van Gogh's "Almond Branches."

Our teacher brought in her own rendition of "Almond Branches" and then taught us to reproduce a painting similar to her rendition

Here's hers:

It's lovely, isn't it?

I knew it would go perfectly in my studio of browns, burnt oranges, golds, tans, and turquoises.

We couldn't wait to get some color on our blank canvases!

Here is my friend, K. She is a former student of mine. In fact, she was my student in the first college class I ever taught!

K has the most gorgeous, dark eyes I've ever seen. And she is loads of fun.

"Strike a pose, Sarah!"

Poses have never been my forte.

K and I had grand intentions of taking a picture of every stage of our painting, but we never made it past the first stage. Painting requires intense concentration, and there was very little time for fiddling with cameras.

K is a talented photographer, and has a way of turning very normal moments into very cool pictures:

This photo really captures the calm, quiet of the experience for me. I loved getting totally lost in what I was doing, oblivious to anything except the colors in front of me. I was fully present in my body, rather than fixated on the could haves and should haves of the week. 

It was so rewarding to see something identifiable take shape under the excellent guidance of our teacher.

It took the full three hours to complete our paintings, and even then I could have used more time. I understand now why my painter friends take days to finish a painting.

I'm not sure if I would have known how to use more time, though. It's only in hindsight, now that I have some painting experience under my belt, that I have some ideas about how to refine my painting.

Here are our finished products!

Aren't they vibrant and spring-y? Don't they make you want to curl up in the shade of a blossom-bedecked tree and listen to a reading of Wind in the Willows?

And here is the painting hanging in my little studio:

It fits perfectly!

A perfect reminder of how fun and important it is to do the things I loved as a little kid.

© by scj

Monday, August 5, 2013

Roller hockey

I'd like to take today to tell you I've fallen in love with roller hockey.

It all started when I was ten years old, flying around our cul-de-sac on a shiny new pair of roller blades.

I'd accelerate into turns crossing my right leg over my left over and over again, the way I'd seen the Olympic speed skaters whip around tight corners. I'd jump over curbs when they were in my way, skate backwards when I thought people were watching, and stop with a spin and a flourish of my hands.

Yessireee, I had mad skills and mad fun. Naturally I was certain I would be the next Apollo Ohno. But that's only because I hadn't discovered roller hockey just yet...

Fast forward 18 years, and I'm at my folks' house for the weekend. Little Brother is in town for the summer, and asks if I want to join him and his friends in their weekly summer roller hockey game.

"Heck yes!" I declare, jumping out of my chair.

I know for a fact that my precious, Olympic-training roller blades still lay in the box of family blades in my parents' garage. Sure, one of the rubber wheels is lacking most of its rubber; and sure, they rattle and squeak and aren't very fast, but they'll do the trick.

So brother and I lace up our blades and hit the streets for a little practice. But all I have to do is skate to the end of the driveway before I return to the garage to find wrist guards, elbow pads, and knee pads. Some things have changed since I was ten. Namely my agility, balance, speed, reflexes and flexibility. Other than that, I'm my same ol' daunting skater self.

"I hope you have a helmet I can borrow tonight," I tell my brother as we skate down the street, hockey sticks in hand.

"Please tell me you're not wearing all that gear tonight," he says.

When you're flying toward 30 you'll understand, I tell him. He says he doesn't think so. If common sense doesn't tell you, then your bones will, I say. And your muscles. And your reflexes. Don't worry. Your rapidly decaying body will make sure you don't do anything life-threatening, I assure him.

And then we start practicing with our cardboard box goal. Time after time I race toward the box, shoot with gusto, and miss.

But I'm not deterred. Instead, I determine that tonight will be more about general fun than prowess on the court.

"Fun" is a defense mechanism I like to fall back on in sports when my body doesn't cooperate with me the way I'd like it to.

Hours later, Little Brother and I are on the court. I, in my helmet and protective pads, surrounded by very adept, strong men who are several years younger than I.

The boys (sorry for the poor picture quality)

As hockey balls fly to and fro, I quickly realize I've overlooked a very important piece of equipment. "Does anyone have any goggles I can borrow?" I shout above the din of clanking sticks and guys shouting encouragement to each other as they warm up.

They graciously assure me I won't need goggles, and then we choose teams.

"Folks," I say, "I realize I'm not the greatest asset here, so don't worry about hurting my feelings when you pick teams."

A few minutes later the teams are formed and the game has begun.

It is fast-moving and aggressive.

And then, two minutes in, our team scores our first goal.

Oh wait, did I say our team? I meant me. Yes, that's right. Goggle-less me.

A little bit after that our team scores our second goal.

Yes, that's right: me again.

And then our team scored a third goal, assisted by, you guessed it, me.

Believe me, no one was more shocked than I was.

And then our team was absolutely creamed by the other team, so that I don't even remember the final score.

Little Brother and I

But the moral of the story is not about winning. It never is. At least not when you're the losing team.

It's that sometimes it just takes a helmet, a set of protective pads, and some practice to regain your ten-year old skating skills. That and a fierce competitive spirit that generally overcomes the decision to just "have fun." No doubt this is a valuable lesson many of you also need to learn.

So now I find myself evaluating every parking lot I see for its roller hockey potential, and scheming of ways I can convince my friends to form a roller hockey club with me.

Perhaps with time I will be able to convince my friends that roller hockey is the best thing in the world.

In the meantime, I am revisiting other things I liked to do as a girl. Because, as I saw with my roller hockey debut, the stuff we do as kids is still buried inside of us. We just have to mine it out with the right gear.

So tonight I'm going to a painting class. This could be a disaster, but it will definitely be fun.

And who knows, maybe I'll do more than just "have fun."

Maybe I will paint something that's worthy of my wall. Maybe painting will awaken some part of me that fell asleep when I became an adult.

And hey, maybe I'll meet some peeps who will be willing to start a hockey league with me.

Chasing your childhood loves is bound to bring all sorts of fun surprises.

© by scj

Saturday, August 3, 2013


If you've been reading my blog for awhile now, then you know my prayers have gotten riskier and more courageous over the last few years: I've begun to petition God with my most vulnerable, intimate request for a husband.

In the past, I've felt weak at the knees and all squirmy inside at the thought of regularly asking God for a life partner, so I generally avoided it. And in doing so, I avoided deep disappointment and disenchantment with life.

I've had no problem, however, asking God for other, very large things. I've asked him for big scholarships in college and grad school, for the salvation of friends, for help with large health bills, for Gideon's fleece-esque signs of direction, for dream jobs.

When my siblings and I were growing up, my mom modeled for us how to invite Jesus into smaller things, too. So when I need the perfect pair of shoes, I ask him to guide me. When I need help reviving a potted plant, I ask him for help. When I am trying to figure out what to cook for dinner, I ask for his advice.

And with each prayer request, God has made his gracious work in my life quite evident. He doesn't always answer like I think he should, but he always acts in a way that assures me of his goodness. So that my specific, sometimes bold, prayers have fortified my faith in significant ways.

But when it comes to asking for a husband — man,  sometimes my wayward heart wonders if God is hearing my prayers.

There just seems to so little movement towards this end.

It could be that singleness will always be the instrument God uses to shape me into a vessel that more fully reflects him, and can be used for his Kingdom purposes. If this is the case, then I will rest in the goodness of a God who knows better than I what is best for me and his Kingdom. I'm thankful for his answers to prayer in the past that assure me he is always working for my good and his glory.

But in the meantime, I've decided to bring my lesser, seemingly insignificant dating desires to God. I still ask him for a husband, but I also ask him for other, smaller things.

For years I have taken great delight in stalking investigating complete strangers on Facebook. I have a hunch I am not alone in this. Isn't this is what Facebook is for? Developing our "research" skills? This is an academic pursuit, people! No doubt our ability to unearth intriguing information is unparalleled by non-Facebook users! We are developing skills that will contribute to academia in unique and helpful ways!

So I have no qualms about seeing a picture of a friend, noticing an attractive or intriguing stranger in the picture, clicking on their name, perusing their photos, finding intriguing strangers in their photos, clicking on these stranger's names etc. etc.

Three times in the last year or so I have stumbled upon interesting-looking men this way who appear to love Jesus.

"God," I've prayed, "I'd like an opportunity to meet and get to know this guy."

And three times I've forgotten about these men, only to meet and go out with them later.

Once I even *discovered* a man via a series of Facebook rabbit trails who seemed quite interesting, but lived in another state. I didn't bother to ask God if I could meet him since it just didn't seem practical.

But you know what? Six months later I did meet him. And we began getting to know each other via Skype. It was great fun.

Obviously none of these men became my husband (well, not yet, anyway), but my interactions with them were valuable in a number of ways. Sometimes my heart needs to be reminded, via experience, of what my head already knows. And the opportunities to go out with these men reminded my forgetful heart that God listens when I pray. He hears and cares about my small prayer requests, and responds to them in ways that assure me is at work.

When my practicality inhibits my prayer life, like it did with out-of-state man, God acts anyway, assuring me he knows and cares about the unspoken things in my heart.

God's answers to my smaller requests may or may not be signs that he is working to bring a husband into my life. But they are most certainly big, bright, flashing signs of his attentiveness, care, and involvement in my life. They're reminders that he hears my prayers for a husband, and cares a lot about them.

So I've begun to make a habit of bringing all my small seemingly, insignificant dating requests before him.

This practice continues to lead me into interactions with God that buoy my faith in his unseen work, and give me hope for the good future he is planning. Prayer about the little things, it turns out, is the best solution for weak knees and squirmy insides.

© by scj