Friday, January 31, 2014

My flood: Gift #1

This is the second post about my apartment's flood this weekend. You can read part 1 here.

Last week, after dealing with frustrating and worrisome health insurance issues (thank you, [un]Affordable Care Act), I was aware — very aware — of the effects of sin. Governments mess up, bodies break down, and life can be so stinking hard. Our lives are not the way they were supposed to be, and we all know it. Deep down we all know we were designed for perfection, for paradise, for the greatest good we can imagine.

And we can imagine. We can imagine a life of comfort, ease, and pleasure — a life insulated from pain and loss. And since God endowed us, not only with imagination, but with free will and sovereignty to effect a measure of change and control in our lives, we strive to make our lives better. We manicure our yards, keep our homes free of mold and critters, make our bank accounts swell, escape to tropical vacations, and break away from routine to grab a nice dinner. We create our own little utopian Kingdoms, trying to recreate the perfection God intended for us before sin's curse ruptured, poisoned, and twisted the good, true, and beautiful in us and our world. 

Deep down we all know we were designed for perfection

All this striving is evidence for Eden. Our controlling, our reaching: they're signposts pointing to heaven, the place we belong. We all feel the pull of paradise, but few of us feel peace in the face of that gnawing, aching pull. Jesus, in the book of Matthew, explained why: 

"For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

Few find Jesus; few find peace; and it grieves God's heart because oh! how he longs for everyone to be saved, to be pulled back into paradise, to participate in re-creating a utopian Kingdom of heaven on earth. The difficulty is that the Way of Jesus doesn't guarantee manicured lawns, swelling bank accounts, and lengthy vacations. God is the giver of good gifts — bank accounts and nice dinners included — but the best gift he can give us is himself. Unity, fellowship, and co-creation with God are our greatest possible goods. Sometimes, if he's going to give us more of himself, he has to take away the comfort and ease in our lives. He uses the hard stuff for good. Really good good.

And yet, when I tell God I want him to turn the hard stuff into good stuff, I find I don't always want fellowship with him or opportunities to tell other people about restored relationship with him. Instead, what I often mean when I pray is, "God, please turn this hard stuff into comfortable, pleasurable gain and fulfilled desires.  Please use it to help me create a utopian Kingdom in which I am safe from the difficulties of the world. Thank you, and Amen." 

My tendency to fixate on cultivating my own, self-serving utopian Kingdom is one of many reasons I'm thankful for Corrie ten Boom. Because her decision to thank God for the fleas, with the assurance that he'd use them for good, did not result in comfortable gain. After she thanked God for the fleas, she was still in a concentration camp; she was still surrounded by dying friends and family; she was still starving, cold, and covered in flea bites; she was still assaulted by sorrow and loss. But those fleas gave her and her sister space to share the Bread of Life freely with hungry fellow prisoners. They enabled them to participate with God in recreating his perfect Kingdom of heaven on earth. Corrie ten Boom modeled for me how to press into Goodness — the Goodness for which we were created — when life is a sad, hard, far cry from paradise. 

Corrie Ten Boom

This Saturday, 10 hours, 12 towels, 5 blankets, 4 sheets, and 1 pair of sweat pants after my apartment flooded, a contractor came to survey the damage. He was hispanic, and soon we were speaking Spanish. I wanted to know where he was from; he wanted to know where I was from. We talked about Mexico, his culture, his people, and then he asked about my job.

"Does your job give you peace?" he asked. 

And so I told him how my job is wonderfully satisfying but doesn't give me peace. I told him that the only thing that's ever given me peace is restored relationship with God, and that this peace was available to everyone because of Jesus' work on the cross. 

His listened intently and he asked questions, and we talked about suffering and sin and how to understand God's goodness in the thick of it all. And then he looked me in the eyes, with tears in his eyes, and said,

"When I walked in here I thought to myself, 'This is a place of peace, and the girl who lives here is at peace.' And now, I see it in your eyes."

I felt my eyes well up, and the carpet underneath us squished and splashed, and the towels in the tub were heavy with water, and I thought how utterly, heavenly perfect it was that all this water would give me an opportunity to share how Grace has changed my life, because His embrace is like taking a warm bath in acceptance, purity, hope, renewal, and peace.

So I'm thankful for that flood. I'm thankful because, even though it was discouraging and far from my utopian weekend plans, God used it for good. A deeper, truer good that tastes like Living Water.


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Image Credits: sosickwithit.com; thetinytwig.com
 © by scj

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The flood that felt like a bucket of sand

This morning I'm sitting in my aunt and uncle's kitchen while fog steals over the hills from the ocean and settles in their backyard. It's a quiet, sleepy morning, perfect for curling up with good book and a cuppa tea. But first, I need to tell you about what could've been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

It could've been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week because my bathroom flooded on Saturday, for the second time. This time, however, I didn't realize it was flooding in time to prevent damage, so the water gushed into the living room and kitchen, forcing me to use every towel, blanket, and sheet I own to soak up as much water as I could. Also, it turns out sweat pants are highly absorbent and quite useful when you've run out of blankets and towels. I always knew it was a good idea to accumulate a wardrobe in which sweatpants are a staple.

Here is the thing about this flood: it felt less like a load of water and more like a large bucket of sand. Dumped, unexpectedly, on my head.

Remember that day at the beach when you and your cousin Sam decided it would be fun to bury you in the sand? And remember how, when he was dumping a bucket of sand on your chest and shoulders, the wind picked up and sent that load of sand flying into your face? Sand burning the eyes, sand in your snot, sand in your earwax, sand grinding in your teeth, sand in your hair, for days and days and days. And days.

Sand in your eyes, sand in your snot, sand in your earwax

This flood felt much worse than that.

I've been fighting really hard to pull out of my illness and its accompanying grief these last 3.5 years. But trying to pull out of this illness and its effects has felt like trying to get out of a pit of quicksand. Not surprisingly, trying to get out of quicksand is exhausting and discouraging, and has made difficult, unexpected external circumstances — normal life things, like floods, gas leaks, break-ups, and moves — feel 5 times harder than usual. It's made them feel like heaping buckets of sand that Life has decided to dump on my head while I grasp and gasp to get out of quicksand.

This flood felt like a big ol' bucket of sand. It felt terrible. Horrible. No good. Very bad. "Whhhhyyy, God?!!!!" I asked, while I dragged furniture out of the water's way and wondered where I'd stay during repairs. "I don't think I can handle another bucket of sand," I told him. "Please, no more quicksand, and no more buckets of sand."

And then I braced myself for what I thought would be a terrible week. But you know what? It's been a great week. A week full of joy and grace. And I wish that, instead of crying anxious tears or feeling frustrated with God the first 24 hours of that flood, I'd thanked him for the flood. I wish I'd thanked him in the midst of the hard stuff the way 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to. I wish I'd thanked him for the thing that felt like the last straw, the way Corrie Ten Boom thanked God for the fleas swarming her concentration camp barracks, with the knowledge that God will transfigure the bad, hard stuff for his glory and our good. 

I'm not great at thanking God for the good stuff. I have to work really hard at it. I'm way worse at thanking him in the midst of the hard stuff, trusting that he'll use it for good. Thankfully, this week has buoyed my faith, once again, in a God who uses bad stuff for good. So the next several days I'll be sharing snippets from my flood experience — evidence that God is always at work in everything, and assurance that he is compassionate and mindful that we are dust. 

Stay tuned for more!

And now, I have some news completely unrelated to my flood, I've had a technological breakthrough! I've set up an account on Bloglovin and figured out how to post a Bloglovin button on my blog. Can I get a hallelujah?!

Bloglovin creates a feed for you with updates from all the blogs you read, so all your favorite content is in one place. If you don't already use Bloglovin, you should! And then you follow this little blog of mine! Just click the Bloglovin button under my picture and blog description to the right of this post, or click the button at the bottom of this post. See you over there!

-Sarah


Read part 2 here and part 3 here!


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© by scj

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Warmth

This weekend I returned to the land of fragrant citrus coves, ever-fresh avocados, and turquoise ocean coves. My previously sun-hungry body is happy-happy-happy. I now realize that Washington is so cold and gray because Southern California is using up all the available sun. While much of the US is experiencing unprecedented cold spells, we've been enjoying a long string of glowing, 80-degree days. To my friends in Washington, Oregon, Iowa, Maine, Denmark, Antarctica, and Russia etc.: I wish I could bottle up some of this shining glory and send it to you.

Since I returned to Orange County, I've been filling my days with some of my favorite, southern California activities — hiking, family-style dinner with friends, laying on the beach. One of the highlights was a weekend picnic with friends on the bluffs overlooking Laguna beach.








We munched on pineapple and turkey wraps before heading to the tide pools, where a few of us decided it would be a good idea to walk across the barnacle-studded rocks barefoot. It was not a good idea. We will be taking a trip to Walmart to purchase water socks before our next tide pool adventure.



But boy, braving those barnacles was worth it. The pools were teeming with critters — fish, starfish, and even some squid which were too shy to come into plain view.

My reflection in the water is making it hard to see the critters, but they're there!





Also, somehow I've managed to master the middle-aged tourist look. All I need is a fanny pack, folks:


I love watching the ocean ripple and churn. Water blows my mind; it's just so unexpected.


It grabs the light and sends it shooting in every direction, sometimes splitting it into ribbons of color.

It undulates, rising and falling like a single organism, and then, when it hits the rocks, bursts into millions of frothy white droplets.




When we try to scoop it into the palms of our hands it won't be held, and it wears away rocks too heavy for humans to hold.


The ocean never ceases to reawaken in me jaw-dropping awe at God's unimaginably wild imagination.


After several hours of fun, Mr. Sun slipped toward the horizon and eased himself into the ocean to take a cool bath after a long day of work, so we packed up our stuff and headed to the car.


Minutes after we'd hopped onto the Pacific Coast Highway, God must've had a hankering for cotton candy, because he spun gobs of it across the sky. I was tempted to reach out the window for a handful.

 It was a very sweet end to a glorious day.


© by scj


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Friday, January 17, 2014

Thursday Things, on a Friday: Solidarity

1. Last week, someone I know (who shall remain anonymous) wore their shoes on the wrong feet all day before she realized it.


It is a great comfort to know I am not the only one who is a few tacos short of a fiesta platter. Solidarity, people; it's a wonderful thing.


2. If anyone asks me for good book recommendations this year, I will tell them to read The Boys in the Boat.

http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1354683116l/16158542.jpg

It's a true story about the University of Washington's crew team, a group of mostly poor, hard-working, humble kids, who ended up winning the 1936 Berlin Olympics during Hitler's rule. (No spoilers; this info is in the prologue). The story is fantastic and beautifully written. It made me laugh and cry and breathe deep satisfaction. I highly recommend it.


3. Yesterday I told my dad that "I no longer feel like a dead muffin." Which is to say, this Tracy Anderson dance cardio video — a combination of flailing kicks and windmill arms — did wonders for my body and brain yesterday.


4. The clouds cleared and the sun came out the other day.


It made my endorphins perk up and do the cha cha before tempting me to throw myself prostrate on the ground in order to soak up as much warmth as possible. Washington, you have been good to me, but you are sorely deficient in vitamin D...


5. But the horizons here. They take my breath away.

Washington State University, flanked by mountains not visible in this photo


6. I've discovered a Russian artist and mother who lives on a farm and takes the most magical, whimsical photos of her kids and the farm animals. They take my breath away, and may make your day a little more magical:

http://www.boredpanda.com/animal-children-photography-elena-shumilova/


7. This morning, seconds after waking up, I realized that my life, if I'm lucky to live long, is almost halfway over. This feels problematic. It's not just that my skin will sag and my triceps will jiggle (even more), although to be fair, my friend, John, has discovered a way to slow the aging process:


And goodness, my resistance to aging (dying, really) confirms that we were (and are!) meant to live forever, and things have gone terribly awry. And that's the problem: there are billions of us who will die in the next 40 years, and so many of the dying ones don't know the resurrected Jesus of the Bible who died on the cross so Death doesn't have to have the last word in our lives... There's so little time to spread and live this Good News. You guys, we've got to get busy and bold proclaiming the Gospel that's changing our lives!


8. Last year, while on a walk in my neighborhood, I met and befriended a lovely elderly couple. I wanted to get to know them more, and felt a deep stirring in my spirit that they needed to hear the good news of Jesus. But I was still feeling so lousy as a result of my health problems that I didn't have the energy to get to know them. I felt heavy with responsibility and regret. Months later, I discovered the elderly man had died, and that my neighbors, who are Christians, had befriended the couple, and got to sit with the them on the man's death bed where they shared Jesus with them both. It was a timely reminder that we don't Complete the Great Commission alone; we're members of a Body that brings the Good News, and we're in a yoke with Jesus. This is very good news, for which I am exceedingly grateful. Solidarity; it's a wonderful thing, isn't it?!


Happy Friday, friends! I hope your week is full of hope, laughter, and opportunities and courage to share and live out the Good News of Jesus!

-Sarah


© by scj

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Still looking for my marbles (and enjoying a lovely sabbatical in the meantime)

This fall I decided to spend a month-long winter sabbatical at my folks' house in Washington state. My post-holiday days have looked something like this:

1. Wake up. Put on daytime sweatpants.

2. Eat waffles.

3. Lay by fire.

4. Eat fudge.

5. Lay by fire.

6. Eat soup.

7. Lay by fire.

8. Eat more fudge.

9. Watch tv.

10. Change into nighttime sweat pants. Go to bed.

I'm thinking of staying forever. It's been everything I'd hoped and dreamed it would be and more. Minus the part where it's now hard to zip up my jeans. But hey, zipped up jeans are overrated, anyway.

I've had a number of goals for my sabbatical, one of them being to return to a state of mind in which I do not do things like lose my grade book, only to find it in the mailbox later. This has seemed like a reasonable goal. This has seemed like a necessary goal. But this has proven to be an unrealistic goal.

Because the results are in, folks, and the absent-minded professor is here to stay.

Last week my best friend from childhood, Lauren, and I decided to catch up over tea at her house. "How does Wednesday at 10 sound?" she wrote. "Perfect!" I replied. "Can't wait to see you then!"

Lauren and I were thick as thieves when we were kids. We attended the same church, lived in nearby neighborhoods, and had the same sense of humor and adventure. Some of my best memories are with Lauren.



And so, it was with great excitement, that I made plans to borrow my mom's car and visit Lauren for tea. And it was with great grace that Lauren invited me into her house when I showed up for tea yesterday.

Because you guys. I showed up a day early.

I still don't know how Wednesday became Tuesday in my mind, but it did. And it gave me and Lauren something else to laugh about, because not much has changed since the days we ran her dad's riding lawn mower over her mom's flowers and into the side of her house, or stalled her car in the middle of the road before either of us had licenses, or gave Lauren a hair cut that looked like I'd taken a rototiller to it. We still end up in funny pickles that set us to laughing deep belly laughs. Funny pickles are my very favorite life condiment.

So, after a month-long sabbatical, I have not reached my goal of arriving at a mental state in which I am cool, collected, and totally with-it. But that's okay, because I did reach my goal of spending time with a dear friend and her darling kids.

Despite me coming a day early, Lauren was able to whip up a lovely tea. And tea with little kids: you guys, it's the best. Chubby, wiggling babies; toddlers with backpacks full of rocks; a plastic "computer" that sings the ABC's — I loved it all.


Traces of a toddler and a tea party:




A ballerina fairy joined us for tea. She was too busy typing to do much tea-sipping, though. She had a very important letter to write, probably to the queen of ballerina fairies.


This little guy is happy-happy-happy. And he has dimples. I die.

 It was the loveliest — albeit unexpected for Lauren — morning with my old friend. And my time with good friends and their kids didn't stop there: I got to see another old friend from church, and meet her sweet little boys.

 We sipped tea while the slate sky spewed rain at the window panes, and munched on gluten, dairy, and refined sugar-free cookies. They were yummy (and you should make them).


And forget raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens (okay, forget whiskers on kittens; raindrops on roses are lovely): little hands clutching chocolate chip cookies are one of my favorite things. So are little boy tales of bugs and bulldozers. Baby boys, I tell ya. They make the world a better place.


Also, on second thought, whiskers on kittens are pretty cute. The problem is when kittens become cats. Cats do not make the world a better place.

Just when I thought my week couldn't get any fuller with cute kids, my cousins and their son Radley came to visit. His hat, his little Nikes, his button nose, his long eyelashes. It just doesn't get any cuter than this, folks.


He knows just what to do when he sees someone has whipped out the ol' iPhone camera:


I wanted to get a close-up of Radley, so I squatted low to the street and clicked away. He thought squatting was a good idea, too!


Oh to be a kid again, back when squatting was easy, ballerina fairy costumes were a normal part of Tuesday mornings, cookies were one of the seven wonders of the world, and jeans zipped up easily. But if I can't be one, then I'm glad to play with them. On Tuesday, Wednesday, it doesn't matter: kids make winter sabbaticals tee-rific.

Happy middle-of-the-week, friends,

Sarah


© by scj

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Nike Flash Run: my favorite Christmas gift

A few days into my first week up in Washington for the holidays my sister asked if my mom and I wanted to participate with her in the Nike flash run in downtown Portland. Nike has line of “flash” running gear that lights up at night under the glare of headlights, and created a nighttime run during which the community could sport their flash gear. The run would take place in multiple locations around the world with the goal of encouraging physical fitness through the holidays.

A Nike Flash jacket reacting to the camera's flash

Boy it sounded fun. Back before living in this body of mine became an unpredictable adventure, I’d have pulled on my Nike running gear in a quickened, excited heartbeat.

But since I got sick 3.5 years ago, I’ve had to be cautious, limiting myself in ways I didn’t used to, trying not to overdo it. I went running a couple of times last spring when I first started to experience marked healing, but I pushed my body too hard and had a difficult relapse. Since then, I’ve stuck to non-running activities while I continue to gain strength.

I’m thankful I can be active in the year-round sun of Orange County. My delight at once again having a body that can move and produce endorphins and recover from physical activity still hasn’t faded. But I love to run; running has been central to my life for as long as I can remember, and my spirit aches when I can't do it. When I first ran last spring, after years of not being able to, I felt like a fish thrown back in the water. I felt me-er than me. It's been hard to navigate so much of my twenties without the joy of running.

And so, it was with a mixture of great trepidation and hope that I decided to take a risk and do the Nike flash run.

And you know what? I did it! All 4 miles, plus a little bit more. 


I felt grrrreat.

It was a beautiful, warm-ish night: the steady thrum of Washington rain miraculously stopped, and the trees twinkled happily.


The course had us weaving our way through downtown Portland. Every now and then we'd turn a corner and encounter a fun surprise Nike had planned, like an African drum troop, or a college drumline. Pulsing street beats were the name of the game. 

A little over halfway through the run we stopped at sports stadium that I should know the name of because I grew up here, but do not know the name of because I have forgotten all the names of things in my childhood stomping grounds. Early Onset Dementia. It's a scary thing. 

The stadium was grand and professional. While there, we did some strength training exercises and stair runs. 



After our stadium exercises we stopped for a bit to stretch, and enjoyed a Nike-sponsored fireworks show over the stadium scoreboard. And then we were off to the races again.


Throughout the run, we had to wait at stoplights a number of times, which provided a nice opportunity for rest and recovery. It was the perfect way to ease into a 4-mile run.


The last stretch of the run was along the river before we wound our way back into the heart of downtown to the finish line where we formed a tunnel and cheered the rest of the runners to the victory. 

And then, just like that, it was over. 

Until three days later, when I went on a run/hike, and two days after that when I went on another run, and three days after that when I went on another run. So I guess it was a banner holiday season. And I'm tempted to vacillate between planning a running regime for the next four months and worrying about causing another relapse, but I know better than that now. Instead, I've been trying to live in the present, listening to my feet pound the wet asphalt, watching my rhythmic breaths turn to puffs of steam in the cold air, reveling in the moment because I don't know when my body will allow me to do this next. And it's a good Christmas gift, learning to live in the moment like this.

Hoping for piles of happy moments for you today and the grace to enjoy them, my friends.

Happy Thursday!

-Sarah


Monday, January 6, 2014

Gluten, Dairy, and Refined Sugar-Free Fudge

It's tastier than it sounds, I promise. If your allergies force you to cook creatively, then you'll probably love it. And hey, I think you'll like it even if you don't have weird dietary needs, Jack! In fact, I made it for a guy I dated this summer, and, after he'd licked his lips and raved about it, he promptly went home and googled a similar recipe so he could make it for himself.

This fudge is about the healthiest dessert I've ever made.  Coconut oil has loads of health benefits: it supports the thyroid, reverses or improves Alzheimer's Disease, improves Type 1 and 2 Diabetes, and more. Scientists think nuts can lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, which causes heart disease. And studies suggest honey fights infections and treats allergies. This fudge is so healthy I often eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's so fun being a grown-up. 


I've taken a recipe I found floating around the internet and tweaked it just a bit for my needs. I think there are all sorts of fun variations you could make with this basic recipe:

INGREDIENTS:
  • 1/2 cup salted nut butter (I use pecan, but it would be great with almond, cashew, or peanut butter, too)*
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Trader Joe's brand is my favorite; Hershey's is good too, but it makes the fudge taste a bit more like dark chocolate)
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil (You don't have to melt it if you have a really nice blender or food processor that can blend the chunks of oil into silky smooth liquid)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • A splash of vanilla
  • Optional mix-ins: 1-2 cups of Rice Krispies, or chopped nuts, or marshmallows (my favorite is organic, brown rice krispies; although all three would be great together!)
*I make my own nut butter and have found that 1 cup of roasted nuts makes about 1/2 cup of nut butter.


DIRECTIONS:
 
Blend the nut butter, cocoa powder, coconut oil, honey, and vanilla in a blender or food processor until smooth and silky. If you want, mix in the optional mix-ins by hand.

Pour the mixture into a silicon muffin tray or a muffin tin filled with baking cups. I prefer the baking trays for mini muffins, since the fudge is so rich.

Put the muffin tray in the refrigerator or freezer until the fudge has hardened. Store the fudge in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Bon appétit!

Cheering for ya, Home Skillets,

Sarah

Other gluten, dairy, egg and refined sugar-free recipes you  may like:
 Chocolate Mousse Parfait
Banana Chia Seed Pudding 
Berries and Cream Ice Cream
Pecan and maple waffles 






© by scj

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Surprises

Today I woke up with grand plans to put a meteor-sized dent in my grading. Instead, I made fudge, went on a bike ride with my little brother, and laid in front of the fire for three hours. Then I watched Downton Abbey with my mom, dad, and brother.

Life is full of fun surprises.

Sun and blue sky made a rare and glorious appearance



And this weekend will be full of catch-up grading.

Because tomorrow there will be little time for grading. In an attempt to bond with me, Littlest Brother suggested we have an Anne of Green Gables marathon tomorrow. Yes ladies, he is amazing. And yes, he is single. Although I'm not sure if I'm ready for him to mingle. It was just yesterday that he was scooting barefoot around the house, pushing his firetruck and flying into the pathways of startled family members. Firetruck-pushing little brothers aren't supposed to date, right?

Littlest Brother, sans firetruck





Anyway, watching Anne of Green Gables will be the perfect way to ring in the weekend. It'll also be a good distraction from the sense of loss I feel now that Abi has returned to her owner. 

Dearest Abi,

 — also known as "Pookie Wookie Face,"

also known as "Abilicious,"

also known as "The Child" —

This is my favorite picture of Abi

You were the best, four-legged Christmas guest we've ever had. I shall miss waking up to your enthusiastic licks, delighted prancing, and exuberant tail-wagging. I will miss lots of other things, too. Your owners are very lucky.

And, come to think of it, I am very lucky to be sitting here by a cozy fire, surrounded by family, full of fudge, next to a pile of grading. That I must tackle. Now.

Farewell, friends. Wish me grading endurance....

Cheers,

Sarah



© by scj