Monday, August 31, 2015


It's Monday. It's Monday and I'm coming off several days of improved health. I've been hovering around 5% of normal the last 10 months, but last week I felt like I'd progressed to 15% of normal. That 10% improvement brought colossal relief. But then I woke up and I'd regressed considerably. My health has worsened as the day has progressed. I've come to expect this.

One of my doctors recently reminded me that chronic illness isn't a linear process. It's more like a jagged sawtooth journey. Up and down and up and down, and heck, add a carousel for all the round and round. The journey is almost as disorienting as it is disappointing.

It's funny how those "ups" make me hope. Even after all these years of sickness, momentary physical relief breathes audacious hope into the deepest parts of me. But then, the next minute, or hour, or day, or week, this crazy sickness takes a dagger to my hope until it's lying in shreds on the floor.

Shredded hope has a way of turning me into Eeyore: Ho hum, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and there are people who love me, but what does it matter if I'm too sick to enjoy it all...?
Lately, when I notice my internal voice is sounding a lot like Eeyore, I do a t-shirt exercise. I imagine I'm wearing a white t-shirt with something Eeyore-ish printed across the front. I know that whatever is printed across that shirt is a message my spirit has subconsciously embraced. It's a lie I've dressed myself in.

Some days my t-shirt shirt says I deserve better. Other days it says Everyone else is having all the fun. Still other days it reads It's not fair. Lots of days, I'm wearing more than one t-shirt message. This morning I try to list the messages in which I subconsciously dressed myself when I rolled out of bed. There are three I can identify. I'm sure there are many more buried in my subconscious, so I ask God to help me discover them.

This activity is helpful because it requires that I articulate the lies I'm believing. Lies are to Eeyore attitudes what microwaves are to marshmallows.

Identifying the lies is the first step to eradicating them. The second is inviting the Spirit of God to do the eradicating. I want him to take those t-shirts off and replace them with new t-shirts. This morning, after reading Romans 8, I write a list of the t-shirts messages I want to wear:

I am chosen
He knows my name
I’m living my best life because it's authored by Jesus

I ask God to clothe me in these truths. I want to wear them proudly like the "Jesus is my homeboy" t-shirt my best friend sported in middle school.

And then I remember a poster I had when I was a kid. It was royal purple and midnight blue and covered with the names of God. Counselor, Father, Shepherd, Savior, Redeemer, Friend. Sickness has tugged me into deeper understanding of these names. Today, as I do my t-shirt exercise, my sickness has me thinking of God as a tailor.

I picture him in the Garden of Eden shortly after the serpent has slithered off in the grass, smug and victorious. The birds have stopped their cheerful singing. The breeze has ceased its impish dancing and the air hangs thick and still. Adam and Eve are hiding in the olive grove, their heads hanging in shame. And God is there, sitting near them, his nimble fingers stitching together clothes for them from animal skins. He knows they are ashamed of their nakedness, so he wants to cover them.

I wonder what Adam and Eve were expecting God to say and do when he discovered their sin. Would he blow the tops off volcanoes? Send the seas crashing across the land? Were they surprised when he found them hiding in the garden and instead of spewing anger, announced the remedy for the mess they'd made?

I wonder how the Serpent shivered when he heard the news: One day Adam and Eve's great, great, great, great, great, great* grandson would defeat evil once and for all by crushing the head of the crafty Serpent. God had already chosen Someone to reverse the curse of Adam and Eve's sin. The prophets would later call him Messiah. We call him Jesus.

And Jesus?

He takes his cue from the Father. He wants to cover our shame, too. He wants to dress us in robes of righteousness. He does dress us in robes of righteousness when we accept his offer of forgiveness and new life.

Sometimes we may try to pull those rotten, false t-shirts over our robes of righteousness, but that doesn't fool God. When he looks at his kids he sees Jesus's perfection draped across our naked souls, shining through those thin shirts. And he's keen to take those t-shirts off, to remind us that we are forgiven, accepted and adored. The lies on our t-shirts don't get to be the boss of us anymore. And we don't even need to replace the old shirts with new and improved shirts of our own; Christ's righteous robes already declare to the world and the heavenly hosts of angels that we are chosen, he knows our names, and we are living our best lives because they're authored by Jesus. 

So I've revised my imaginative picture today: I'm not exchanging false t-shirts for true ones; I'm just acknowledging the righteous robes that have been there all along. The robes God sees when he smiles upon me; the robes that remind me of my greatest earthly hope: one day soon, I'll see Jesus face-to-face. And although he will give me a new body on that day, I think I'll be too in awe of his goodness, beauty and tender care for me to pay much attention to my body.

This is the sturdy hope that's pushing me through Monday. I'm praying God would breathe sturdy hope into your Monday, too, my friends. 

Hugs and hugs and hugs,

and cheering for you, home skillets.



*LOTS more "greats" belong here

© by scj

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Marc and Jaime's pre-wedding reception

The Sunday before last my parents hosted a pre-wedding reception for my littlest brother, Marc, and his fiance, Jaime. They'll be marrying in Florida on labor day weekend and wanted to celebrate with everyone who would be unable to travel to Florida.

The weeks leading up to the reception were packed with preparations. My brother and his fiance came into town a couple of days before the reception, and upon arriving my brother noted, "It's like Father of the Bride around here!"

Marc's fiance, Jaime (on the left) and our dear family friend, Annie

My parents are surrounded by such wonderful friends. Many of them helped my folks get ready in the days before the reception — they baked, did yard work, shopped, and decorated. I've been sleeping outside on the deck a lot this summer, and at midnight the night before the reception, while lying out on the deck, I heard my parents and some good friends in the yard below setting up tables. You know you've hit the friendship jackpot when your people are over at midnight helping however they can.

Before the people arrived

On Sunday afternoon, people started to arrive. Family, and friends, and lots of babies. I love having babies around with their fat little legs and their soft little heads.

Baby photos taken by Carolyn Nichols

Everyone was excited to congratulate the soon-to-be-married couple!

The love birds, Marc and Jaime

Jaime's parents were in Washington for a cousin's wedding so they attended the reception, too. Jaime's mom is on the far right. I'm next to my mom who is next to my sister. 

The spread of food was absolutely beautiful.

Food, food, glorious food!

 I couldn't stop taking pictures of it.

Photo credit: Ann Beaudry

The three ladies on the left are a mother/daughters trio responsible for the food table, minus the sandwiches and fruit bouquets which other talented friends made (photo credit: Carolyn Nichols)

After Marc and Jaime had a chance to mingle with guests, we all gathered to hear the story of how they met. My dad kicked off the sharing time with some introductions.

He introduced family that had traveled from Arizona and other parts of Washington:

Two of my aunties

And he introduced Jaime's parents, who shared a bit about their family and their excitement for Marc and Jaime's commitment to each other. 

My parents also shared a bit:

And then Marc and Jaime came up and shared their story.

It was funny, and tear-jerking, and generally wonderful. You can read about how they met and started dating here.
Photo credit: Carolyn Nichols

The crowd loved it.

Photo credit: Carolyn Nichols

It was so fun to celebrate with them!

After Marc and Jaime shared, some old family friends came up and gave them marriage advice.

I tried to pick a few of my favorite pieces of their advice to share with you, but it was all so good that I've posted the whole thing with their permission:

"Never raise your voices to each other.  You will develop self-control that will benefit your relationship in the happy times as well as the difficult ones.

Make it your personal policy to forgive any offense against you, even if your spouse does not apologize or recognize their behavior as a problem. (It may not be-it might be you!)

Do not tolerate stereotypes and jokes about the other gender, especially as they relate to marriage.  You can quietly refute these cultural lies without causing offense by praising your spouse.

Every day thank God that someone on this earth chose to love you.  NEVER lose the sense of wonder that a human being, created in the image of God, able to make independent and thoughtful choices, decided that out of all the people on earth, they would love YOU.  This is important to do ESPECIALLY when they disappoint you or when you are angry about something.

Focus your attention, daydreams, and thoughts on the good you see in your spouse.

Since most of communication is non-verbal, make the commitment to converse with your spouse mostly through face-to-face conversations.  Setting appointments or details through text or email are okay- but it is not adequate for most spousal conversations.

Respect the otherness of your spouse.  Do not attempt to convert them to your point of view on life.  Their unique perspective adds to the strength of the relationship.  When you are inclined to argue or dismiss an opinion of your spouse, instead, ask yourself, “How does this opinion add to the totality of who we are?”

Frequently ask yourself, “How many things can I list that I do only because it pleases my spouse?”  This is a measurement of your personal sacrifice for the one you love.

Be loyal to the new family you are creating.  You are not a mini-Jackson clan or a mini-Richter clan.  God wants to make a new family-different from both the Jacksons and the Richters through your marriage.  Your new family will have its own idiosyncrasies or profile.  Guard it.

Be intentional about interpreting your family of origin to your spouse; customs of families need to be explained so that your spouse has a realistic view of the non-spoken milieu of your family.  

Lovingly be on your spouses’ team as they struggle against sin.  Remember your life goal is to be constantly growing in holiness.  Let God decide if you constantly grow in happiness. 

 Be honest with your spouse about your personal struggles and failures as a believer.  Especially if you are having a consistent struggle-hiding it from your spouse diminishes your security in your relationship as you will soon be thinking, “If he/she knew this would they still respect/love/honor/appreciate me?”

Avoid creating a mental scale of how much each person bears responsibility for any issue.  Give yourself 100% to the other, not waiting to see what you perceive to be their commitment to you.  Marc, be ready to lay down your life, your preferences, your rights, your ways, to sacrificially love your Jaime.  Look to God to know what loving the other would look like in any given situation.

Follow wherever God leads you whether it makes sense according to conventional wisdom or not.  Be ready to be led, by seeking Him with an open heart, not holding onto places, possessions or people.  Don’t be afraid to go (or doubt his leading) when pain and disappointment are part of his plan for you. You will be surprised at how he will care for you and teach you in those places. 

If God graciously gives you children, enter into your parenting roles with the certainty that you will be trained by God through your role as a parent far more than you will train your child.

Pray together every day. Pray for each other every day.  Ask God to show you ways to serve him together.  Remind each other every day with words and actions that you are happy you married your spouse and that you love them.  Be physically affectionate to each other in ways that please your spouse.

Expect that marriage will be the closest thing you will know of heaven before you are actually there. It is.  God Bless you Marc and Jaime.  We pray that the joy you experience in your marriage will surprise you beyond your fondest dreams."

Isn't this advice just the best?

After the marriage advice, another old family friend came up and led us all in a toast to Marc and Jaime's future together.
 And then, another old friend came up to lead us in prayer for the happy couple. We have so many old friends. It is truly delightful.

And then it was time to eat cupcakes, drink ice water, and be merry!

It was a truly celebratory day with some of the people we love best. And in a few weeks, it'll be destination Florida for a real, live WEDDING!

Happy Tuesday, folks.

Cheering for you,


© by scj

Monday, August 24, 2015

Home again: the California version

Greetings from Orange County! I've returned to the land of dolphins, orange groves, and knock-your-socks-off Mexican food. I flew in yesterday afternoon and am gearing up to start teaching later this week. It's good to be back.

Yesterday, I felt particularly hemmed in behind and before by God's caring provision. I accumulated QUITE a lot of extra stuff when I was in Washington, and yesterday I found myself dragging enough sea lion-sized luggage through the the airport that I could've opened my own sea lion-sized-luggage aquarium. Fortunately, the moment I entered the airport two passersby helped me get my luggage down the escalator. It was as if they were just waiting on the other side of the airport entrance to whisk me to the Jetblue desk. Obstacle #1: sailed right on over it.

Obstacle #2: fear of flying. I had my phone and headphones so I could distract myself with airplane dancing, but I didn't even need to. Instead, I talked the whole flight with the guy to my left. We got to talk about the most important things, like how we can know Truth, and about the jaw-dropping [sometimes unsettling] claims of Jesus of Nazareth. This kind of conversation makes me feel so alive. It also makes it easier to ignore turbulence. When we landed my new friend, M, turned to me and said, "I'm so glad we could talk. Flying gives me major anxiety and this made it easier." Back atcha, M. Obstacle #2: Alll taken care of. 

When we landed M helped me get my luggage to the curb. He and I will stay in touch. We've each agreed to read a book that the other has recommended. I'm going to read a book he's enjoyed by a physicist who uses physics to attempt to prove the existence of the immaterial world, and he's going to read the Gospel of John. It will be fun to check in with each other as we read throughout the semester.

 A friend from church picked me up from the airport. She managed to get all my sea lion-sized luggage in the car and then handed me a bouquet of sunflowers. "These are for you!" she said. Then I looked in the back seat and saw it was full of groceries. "These are for you, too," she said.

You guys.

I'd wondered if I'd have stamina to get groceries upon landing. I figured I could snack on the sweet potato chips I had with me for dinner if all else failed. But this friend. She had it all planned out and I had a summer salad with raspberries for dessert last night instead. Obstacle #3: Ningun problema.

It's extra sunny around here

Yesterday looked a lot like a hurdle race, but I felt like I was being whooshed along a grace-drenched water slide instead. I'm just so thankful.

Happy Monday folks.

Photos from the reception are coming soooon!

Cheering for you,


© by scj

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fireflies, part 2

On Sunday we celebrated my little brother and his fiance, Jaime, as they prepare to wed in Florida on September 6th. I plan to post photos from the event later, but for now, I want to show you something.

Back in February, I wrote a post about the darkness that had settled into the nooks and crannies of my life. It was thick and heavy and I hated that it was back. The darkness tends to show up when I'm scary sick. But, as I noted in my post, "There's one thing I've learned about the darkness: there are always fireflies darting through it. Often, these fireflies flit nearer and nearer till they're hovering in front of us, close enough to reach out and grab."

My rose-loving mechanic, the neighbor's hungry horse, the friend with a rare form of cancer who faithfully prays for me — these are all fireflies. They are pockets of grace casting patches of light across the shadows.

"I don't want to let these fireflies flit away unnoticed," I wrote. "I want to catch them and keep them somewhere safe. This week I imagine myself gently sliding my fireflies into a mason jar with nail holes in the lid. When life's darkness feels too thick and heavy, I pull out that mason jar and set it on the table.

"Then I sit quietly and watch it glow, moonish and mesmerizing."

My dear aunt, who has always been such an encourager to me, decided to make me a special gift after reading my firefly post. On Sunday, since she and my uncle were in town for the reception, she gave me the gift.

You guys. Here it is:

That's me on the left

The print on the backside of the pillow

She made this. 

My dear aunt.

Isn't it delightful? I absolutely love it. Its whimsy satisfies some deep, thirsty part of me.

I told my aunt that these unexpected acts of love mitigate some of the sorrow of this season. Somehow, chronic illness ends up being the vessel bearing life's greatest gift: the kindness and compassion of the Body of Christ.

And so many people have shown me such kindness.

When this whole health fiasco became so grave 9 months ago, I started developing mild dyslexia. That and a number of other symptoms often make reading really hard. So my cousin, upon learning that I was struggling to read, found the summer reading list I'd posted on Facebook in early June, and bought a pile of audio books for me.

Every few days I get a new package with a new books.

Snail mail is THE BEST!

Last weekend a friend, A, who has prayed faithfully for me stopped by and gave me this necklace:

The gal from whom A bought this necklace is one of my favorite jewelers, and just days before A gave me this necklace I'd seen it (or one just like it, I'm not sure) online and thought, "I'd sure like that." And then poof! it was mine. A said to remember that she's praying for me each time I wear it.

Did I tell you that I've had several loads of blackberries delivered over the last few weeks?

There have also been a number of people who have sent me notes of encouragement, and loads of others who have offered to come see me -- to watch movies, go on easy walks, sit and visit etc. I've been too sick to have visitors, but the offers have made me feel less alone.

Fireflies, fireflies, everywhere fireflies.

So if you need me, I'll be snuggled under my new quilt on my new pillow, wearing my new necklace, listening to my new audio books, whilst snacking on a mountain of blackberries.

And oh: my body made it through almost the entire reception on Sunday. I was upright for hours, interacting with dozens of people, which is nothing short of MIRACULOUS.  The activity did wear on the ol' body, but the ol' body DID IT. It wouldn't have a couple of weeks ago. So thank you thank you thank you, Jesus for answering the prayers of my friends.

I hope your Tuesday is filled with good things, friends.

And over and out;

And cheering for ya, home skillets.


© by scj

Friday, August 14, 2015


My friends,

I have a number of happy things to report, no doubt in large part because of your faithful, fervent prayers for me:

1. I'll be returning to teach part-time at Biola in the fall! The Lord has made it very clear that I'm to return, and I feel a deep peace and enormous relief about my decision. I'll postpone my Ph.D. program as I heal, but I still intend to resume my studies when my body lets me.

2. I've been detoxing for about 6 weeks now and I'm experiencing pockets during which some of my more miserable symptoms are a little quieter. Typically, my body feels the way I imagine the first stages of poisoning feel. Now, it feels like there is generally less poison coursing through my body. I suppose this makes sense, since the homeopathics I've been taking have been pulling, pulling, pulling toxins out of my body. We still don't know why my body is so toxic, of course, but the lack of diagnosis is a bit less discouraging this week since our current treatments seem to be helping, at least a little bit.

I woke up to rain on the window panes and energy to make banana bread

3. My brother and his fiance are flying into Portland today. On Sunday my parents will host a wedding reception for them since their September wedding is in Florida and many PNW friends will be unable to attend. I'm so, so excited to see them. The timing is wonderful since I'm able to be upright a bit more this week.

Marc and his fiance, Jaime

4. This week I've discovered a couple of other forms of treatment that I intend to try in the next month. I'm going to wait until after my brother's wedding, though, since treatment, especially detoxing, tends to make me sicker before I improve. I'm glad to have a treatment plan for September. I'm so hopeful it will help!

I have a few prayer requests today as I look toward the next few weeks:

First, that my body would steadily improve, or, at the very least, not get worse. In May I experienced two weeks of quieter symptoms after a five-week herbal detox, but the relief was short-lived, and my health took a massive dive after that two-week period. I'd love it if I didn't regress at all this semester, and especially not in the next month of activities.

Second, that I'd have physical and mental stamina to fly to Florida for my brother's wedding festivities September 4-9. At this point, it would take a miracle for my body to hold up for something like this. Also, nine of my dearest life-long friends will be there —we'll have a reunion of sorts — and I'd love to be able to participate in the festivities. I'd also love to be able to dance at the wedding reception on September 6th...

Third, that I'd have stamina to re-enter work upon returning from the wedding, and that my teaching would help my healing process rather than hinder it.

A number of you have asked about how the MRI went on Monday. Thank you for praying. I felt nervous about going through with it up until a few hours before my appointment but intended to go ahead and do it. Thankfully, a few hours before my appointment, I had a nagging feeling that I should confirm insurance coverage for the MRI. I'd left that part of things in the hands of the referring doctor's office. After doing some digging, I discovered that the MRI wasn't covered after all. I canceled the appointment at the last minute and will reschedule after the wedding at a location where it will be covered. I'm thankful that the Lord spared me a large expense.

So many of you have made me feel so loved this month. You've written me kind notes, sent me books on CD, delivered freshly picked blackberries, offered to come keep me company, and so much more. Thank you thank you thank you!

Love and hugs and love and hugs and cheering for ya, Home Skillets,


© by scj