Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The mother of all forts

When I was a freshman in college I printed and laminated star charts, hopeful that my friends and I could star-gaze one warm California night. I did this because I am a nerd. Also, I love stars. Also, I had never lived in Los Angeles before. Had I lived in Los Angeles before, I would have known that we have approximately six visible stars here.

Let me give you an idea of what that means for us: it takes seven stars to make the big dipper. There are no constellations to be found.

So we have to go elsewhere for our star gazing. A few weeks back, in honor of my 30th birthday, some of my friends and I planned a desert camping trip, complete with star charts, blankets, and lots of hot chocolate. But then a heat wave hit, and the desert temperatures soared over 100 degrees. So we decided we were okay with gazing at our six stars after all.

To make up for our cancelled camping trip, we planned a slumber party, complete with a BBQ, bonfire and...wait for it... FORT BUILDING! Because: happiness.

Building forts is a sure-fire way to bring out the kid in ya. And if there's one thing I wanted to do the weekend of my 30th, it was play like it was 1993. Thankfully, my friends were all about the fort building.

The boys spear-headed the building project.

Please excuse my poor photo quality. My iPhone is very old and almost dead.

And boy did they do a good job.

The delight, you guys; the.de.light.

A little building break

It was the mother of all forts. We couldn't wait to play in it.

Except we had to BBQ first.

And then eat.

And then we gathered around the fire to roast dessert. We made roasted fruit pockets. Have you tried these before? They're so easy and delicious. Just slice up your favorite fruit — we sliced pears, apples, and peaches. Then, put several slices of fruit on a square of tin foil, along with your choice of the following: chopped nuts; unsweetened, shredded coconut; cinnamon; nutmeg; honey; and maple syrup. Wrap the mixture up in the foil and then throw it on a bed of hot coals. After several minutes the fruit will be steaming, caramelized deliciousness. You can eat it right out of your foil pocket or on a bowl of vanilla ice cream. 

A campfire isn't a proper campfire without campfire tunes, is it?

Robert doing a little strumming before our sing-along

Robert and I got after it, energetically bellowing tunes from "Frozen" and "The Lion King" while our friends listened, with great pleasure, no doubt. 

And then, we moved inside to our fort where everyone joined in our singing.

"Under the Sea...darling it's better..."

Oh Disney, you are the gift that keeps on giving.

We closed the night watching "Frozen" and then the boys headed down the street to their house where they slept before joining us for breakfast the next morning.

It was truly the mother of all fort parties, complete with my friend Robert's trademark photo-bomb. And oh Robert, you may have forgotten, but, nobody photo bombs Sarah Jackson without some of those photos being posted for all the world to see. Wua ha ha ha ha!

Happy Tuesday, Friends!


© by scj

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A 30th Birthday Reflection

My friends. I've missed you. I'm not sure how a week break from blogging turned into two months. The whirring of the clock's hands seem to be accelerating at a shocking rate — a surprisingly welcome development as we've been experiencing a heat wave here in southern California and can use all the fans we can find.

I hope these last few months have been full of good and beautiful gifts for you. So much has happened in my life since I last wrote — travel and friendships and calculated risks and out-of-town guests and new tutoring clients and sickness and weekend getaways and, most recently, my 30th birthday.

In the months leading up to my birthday, I so did not feel ready to be thirty. Thirty means I was learning to drive fifteen years ago. Thirty means I am no longer the hip, young teacher my third-graders venerated for her high tops and Nike jackets. Thirty means my skin is changing. Thirty means gravity will begin working its magic any day now. Thirty means I'll be forty in ten years. Thirty means I'm halfway to sixty, AND HOW IN THE WORLD WILL I FIT EVERYTHING INTO THIS ONE, SHORT LIFE?!!

Birthdays always provoke reflection for me; they send my mind running over the contours of the previous year with all its gifts and hardships. Thirty has been especially reflective for me. And this last week, as I've surveyed my life, I've been floored by the gifts that have entered my 30th year with me. As it turns out, being 30 is not a big, bad, horrible thing because: oh. the. gifts. 

These people:

They're one of life's greatest gifts.

Early morning birthday breakfast

Birthday dinner with some of my closest friends

These people know me. They know all 12 of my allergies and all of my favorite snacks from Trader Joe's. They know when I need to have a good laugh or an invigorating run. They know my love for beauty, fear of flying, and need for verbal affirmation. They know about the post-trauma fear I’ve been battling the last several post-sickness months, and the academic hopes I have for the future. They know what my makes my soul swell with life and what makes my heart bleed pain.

And somehow, wonderfully, they still love me with a give-of-yourself, commit-till-you die kind of love.

Post-dinner birthday dance party

Post-dancing birthday swinging

There is nothing better than knowing fully even as you are fully known, and being loved unconditionally in the midst of that known-ness. It's the kind of gift that teaches you the worth of your soul and the love of the Father.

This gift of community has been made possible because of another gift: without a healthy body I’d never be able to invest in friendships the way I have. 

For six months I’ve felt my body growing stronger, overpowering my illness and opening me to life’s opportunities. And get this: I haven’t had a single relapse since February.

I can run and dance and work and spend time with friends without the likelihood of relapse gnawing at my joy.

Having a healthy body means I can dream about the future — I can reconsider Ph.D. programs, search for full-time work, and fill my calendar without running into the brick wall of physical limitation.

I wish I had words to fully capture and portray this feeling, but I don’t. It’d be easier to do justice to the Alps at sunset, or a warm Mediterranean sky at twilight. Having a healthy body after all these years is an ineffable experience. My cup runneth over.

My friends make me feel swaddled in love; my health makes the future seem hopeful. And my family? They've taught me steadfast sacrifice, tenacious grace, and truest compassion these last thirty years.

I wonder how many hours my dad watched my track meets in the pouring down rain when I was growing up, and how many hours my mom has stopped everything to listen to me process life's confusions and difficulties.

I wonder how many fervent prayers they've prayed for me, bloody knees they've bandaged, pots of soup they've cooked, and hard-earned dollars they've spent on me.

I wonder how many times my siblings have made me laugh till I cry, and how many times they've shared their hearts with me late into the night.

I wonder how many times my family has grieved the things that make me grieve, and celebrated the things that fill my soul with joy. I wonder how many ounces of themselves they've emptied into me.

When life has bloodied and bruised, or buoyed and beautified, my family has taught me to love and follow Jesus above all else, because nothing else matters. And I know if my world crumbles to a million pieces, they'll all be there, reminding me that Jesus sits with me in the brokenness and somehow, miraculously, uses the brokenness to heal me. I know they will never let me forget that God's grace is sufficient for my body, my heart, my mind, and my circumstances.

And it is. How thankful I am to know that God's grace is enough, always enough. And this is the gift of desperation: it's in the desperation of illness, heartbreak, financial difficulties, betrayal, abandonment, disappointment, and rejection that God teaches us his grace.

If we were to divide all of the people Jesus met in the Gospels into two categories, we'd find that one group of people was desperate, and the other was not. And then, if we examined what happened to each group of people upon encountering Jesus, we'd find that the desperate folks received the miracle.

And this is the gift of these last four, difficult years: they have kept me ever desperate, ever aware of my unwavering need for God's grace, ever awaiting the miracle.

I thought the miracle that would suit me best and teach me deepest grace was physical healing. But it turns out, when Jesus said he'd give his followers more than we could ever ask or imagine, he meant it. He meant he'd take sin's curse — the curse that causes illness and physical limitation, and weaves the inclination toward betrayal and injustice into our very DNA — and turn it on its head.

He meant he'd take the pain caused by our sin — the pain that signals our imminent, eternal death — and use it to make us good, beautiful, and eternally alive. He meant he'd take sin's thorny choke-hold and turn it into a cross and nails, and upon that cross he'd crucify the part of us that gravitates toward lies, ugliness, and badness, so we can be free of it forever.

Satan and sin cannot be victorious in the life of the Christian because God takes every sinister plan and turns into a portal that leads to freedom and joy. Because Jesus lives, we can live — really live — with him. Our souls can be healed forever.

And this is the very best gift. This is why my 30 years of life, with all their thorny disappointments and dark seasons of loss, make me breathe deep delight. These years have taught me that the Psalmist is right: when we entrust our hearts to God, he makes goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives. Goodness and mercy are the sticky shadows we cannot shake. They are the ever-present reminder that we are loved by the Loveliest One.

And oh! how we are loved!