Sunday, July 26, 2015


My friends,

Whew. This season continues to be so hard. Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting in the grandstands watching this disease march deeper into my body, slowly compromising new systems and creating new symptoms. It’s scary watching my body do things without my permission. And it’s hard not to worry about what it may decide to do tomorrow, or next week. Sometimes my fearful thoughts swoop in like a pack of frantic bats, swarming my sensibilities and pecking away at my peace.

I’ve developed a number of coping mechanisms for fighting off anxiety or despair since I got sick years ago. I say “at least” a lot. Hey, I may be stuck in bed but “at least I can still work on this writing project”; or, “at least I can go on a short walk if I rest in bed for a few days beforehand”; or, “at least I can pray for people.”

Most of my “at leasts” are about being productive and creative. When I was a kid I assumed work was something God implemented after the Fall of Man — it was part of the curse. But when I revisited the Genesis account as a young adult, I discovered work was part of God's plan for Adam and Eve in the very the beginning. God created us to work and take deep pleasure in it. Unfortunately, as a result of the Fall, there are all sorts of “thorns” and “thistles” that frustrate our efforts; but even still: it's good to be able to work. When I can be a bit productive while stuck in bed, I feel like I’m able to do a little of what God’s created me to do. It’s all sorts of satisfying.

I'd hoped to pick blackberries today. It always brings me such delight after a 20-hour day in bed. But today I discovered our neighborhood blackberry thicket had been uprooted and removed. A plot of upturned dirt remains in its stead. I suppose the removal of these bushes is a small thing in the scope of life, but it feels big to me.

Slowly, my sickness has made it nearly impossible to do lots of things that bring me pleasure. Most of the time, my neurological symptoms make it nearly impossible to read and write coherently, so I’ve laid aside a beloved writing project and stack of unread books. Every now and then my body lets me go to the grocery store or on a walk, but most of the time, my fatigue and a host of other symptoms keep me in bed all day.

Lately, I feel too sick to pray much more than one-word feeble prayers. "Help." And now my blackberry bushes, one of the last of my "at leasts," are gone. I cried when I told my mom about the bushes this evening. "I'm tired of losing things," I lamented.

This week I realized my "at leasts" aren't just about the pleasure of work; they're also about trying to create a life of value. Losing the last of my “at leasts” makes me feel like a tired lump of bones wasting away in bed. Without them my life feels purposeless.

Sometimes I wonder why God’s keeping me around. "How could you possibly use this sickness for your Kingdom purposes when I’m stuck in bed?” I ask him. He hasn’t answered with words lately, but he does keep my heart beating, which I suppose is sort of like saying, “Just trust me that you’re worth keeping around, okay, kid?”

My life felt similarly worthless the first time I got really sick five years ago, but back then, God seemed closer than he does now. For years, when I’d wake up in the morning I’d feel the Spirit of God hovering protectively over me. When I’d eat breakfast, I’d feel Jesus sitting with me at the table. Sometimes, the Spirit of God would talk to me with a clarity I hadn't experienced before.

I didn’t have much to offer God back then. I mostly just laid in bed and breathed and blinked. And yet, I felt more enveloped in God’s love than ever before. It was as if…as if he loved me even when I had nothing to offer him but my body and heart. Wonder of wonders.

When I was a kid I discovered that Jesus loves me no matter what. I've believed it ever since. But when I got sick I realized we have two kinds of beliefs: conscious beliefs and subconscious beliefs. Conscious beliefs are the beliefs we’re aware of – they’re the beliefs we readily espouse to others when they ask: “Jesus loves me, this I know (for the Bible tells me so).”

Our subconscious beliefs are harder to identify because we’re not often aware of them. They make themselves known, though, in our knee-jerk reactions to life’s curve balls. That’s when the disconnect between the things we believe in in our heads and the things we believe in our hearts is revealed.

The first long round of acute illness taught me that although I consciously believed Jesus loved me, I subconsciously believed I needed to make myself valuable by doing a heck of a lot more than breathing and blinking. So I was stunned and delighted to experience what I believed: that God really loved me when I had nothing important or successful to give him. He loved me — not because I was an athlete, or scholar, or sister, or daughter, or musician, but because I was me, created by Him. The experience made those first years of sickness feel like a wonderful gift.

This week, now that the last of my "at leasts" is gone, I'm reminded afresh of just how hard it is to rest in God's undying love for me. Sometimes I forget how much he loves me, but most of the time I just doubt it. My heart has trouble believing what my head believes: that a perfect God would stoop to delight in little me. I still feel like I need to build value into my life. A pile of tired bones that reads and writes and goes on occasional walks is worth having around, but a pile of tired bones that watches tv and naps all day? Eh. Those piles aren't as valuable. Those aren't the piles our culture affirms and celebrates.

During the apostle Paul's ministry, the Corinthian Christians began posturing for power and position in the church based on who mentored them. Those who were mentored by Paul thought they should have power and influence, but those who were mentored by Apollos thought they were better leadership candidates. It was a fight to prove whose associations made their leadership services more valuable.

Timothy Keller, in his little book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, points out that Paul responds to the Corinthians by giving the Corinthians a new way of thinking about their self worth:

"I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not judge even myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me." (1 Cor. 4:3-4)

Here, Paul explains that his identity is not the result of people's opinions about him. The judgements of others don't matter to him. Moreover, his identity isn't even informed by his own opinions about himself. And his clear conscience certainly isn't settling the matter of his identity. No, it's God's judgements that determine Paul's identity.

Keller says that word translated "innocent" comes from the word "justify" — the same word Paul uses throughout Romans and Galatians. Paul is looking for a courtroom verdict about his identity. We all are looking for this verdict. "Every single day we are on trial," Keller writes. "Everyday, we put ourselves back in a courtroom." Everyday we're either providing evidence for the defense or the prosecution in this trial to determine our worth.

But Paul has discovered the secret to having an identity that doesn't hang on the opinions of people, himself included: he is no longer on trial. He doesn't have to show up to the courtroom each day to prove himself worthy. When Jesus died on the cross, he took Paul's place in that courtroom, and the Judge, Father God, found Jesus innocent.

The Bible makes it clear: when we repent of our sins and place our trust in God, Christ's courtroom verdict becomes our courtroom verdict. God imputes Christ's innocence to us. So that now, we can relate to God the way Jesus relates does. Now, God can say of us, "This is my son, my daughter, with whom I am well pleased." This is the final courtroom verdict for Christians.

For every other religion, our performance in the celestial courtroom determines the ultimate verdict about our value and worth. But for the follower of Jesus, God's courtroom verdict is our starting place: "Accepted; delightful; loved no matter what. Court adjourned." God's courtroom verdict means we don't need to spend the rest of our days trying to build value into our lives. Our opinions and "at leasts" don't matter anymore.*

If you are stuck in bed for months, or years, and you can't do much more than stare at the ceiling, God is still dancing over you with delight. If you are working a discouraging job that feels utterly unimportant, or you are failing at friendship, or you are single and lonely, or you are barren and discouraged, or you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, well, then you are accepted, delightful, and loved no matter what.

I've been looking forward to heaven a lot this year. Some afternoons you'll find me in bed, day dreaming about sitting with Jesus at the piano and composing a symphony that, in a surprising turn of events, smells as glorious as it sounds. Other days you'll find me imagining he and I are climbing a big ol' pine tree that stretches to the Milky Way. But this week, I've been looking backwards at the cross and empty tomb. The cross and empty tomb remind us of the startling, jaw-dropping courtroom verdict that changes everything.

The cross and the tomb also remind us that if we want to live fully, freed from all the false ideas we have about our value and love-ability, then we're going to have to first learn loss, weakness, and the death of our old selves — the selves that tell us lies about our self-worth. It's when sickness, or financial ruin, or relational brokenness swallow up the last of our "at leasts" that God re-teaches us that we are completely, wholly enough because He is enough.

This makes it all worth it, doesn't it? The Gospel of Jesus is the only thing that makes this all worth it. Praise Him for the cross and the empty tomb! And praise him for his relentless mercy that teaches us again and again how wide, high, and deep His love for us really is.

Praying today that God gives us each special grace to rest in the paradoxical Gospel miracles he works in our hardship.

And as always, cheering for ya, Skillets.


*Timothy Keller's book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness informed a lot of these thoughts.

© by scj


  1. Always enjoy reading your blogs. You truly have been in my prayers and I've been wondering how you are. I'll keep praying. God can use you even in bed. Easy for me to say, I know...
    Love to you,

    1. Shirley,

      Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. :) I hope your foot is healing up nicely and that you're encouraged as you wait for healing.


  2. Totally appreciated these words, and they were totally coherent! God IS using you!! We really bring nothing to the table, God does it all. I will be praying for you. Sorry about your blackberry bush. :( Blessings, Sharon

    1. Sharon,

      This is lovely encouragement. Thank you. And thank you for your prayers.

      (And yay! for coherency!)


  3. I love you Sarah. Praying for you amiga.

    1. Mireya,

      And I love you, my friend. :) Thank you for your prayers.

      Miss you,


  4. Sarah,
    I'm so sorry to hear that there is no improvement in your physical health. I pray that your mind and spirit stay strong through all of this. I'm going to send you some links that have helped me through difficult time, and hope that you will find them encouraging as well. Much love to you, sweet Sarah!

    1. Suzie,

      Thank you for your prayers and for the links. I especially loved the video with the clip board lyrics. What a fantastic idea.

      Love to you, too, Suzie!