Thursday, December 31, 2015


When I was a kid I picked up the idea that it is lame to talk about the weather. I must've read it in one of the books I poured through — that if you want to be a sparkling conversationalist, you should ask people about their work, friendships, activities, pets, families, and hobbies. Ask them about anything but the weather, really. Otherwise, you will drop the conversational ball. At the age of nine, I had aspirations to be a non-converstational-ball-dropper.

The thing is, I like talking about the weather. Weather is great. Sometimes, the afternoons are hot and dry, and the sun's warmth feels like it's wiggled through my skin and muscles and is invigorating my deepest insides. Sometimes, the setting sun turns the clouds to cotton candy (will they rain Skittles?!). Sometimes, the mornings dawn muggy and humid and wrap around me like a big, wet, lotion-y blanket. The weather makes life a grander adventure.

This morning I awoke to blue skies and a frosted world. Crystalline trees winked in the sunlight, and the pond glistened with a thin layer of ice. It was a stunning sight.

I think the Sugar Plumb Fairy must be especially fond of these frosty mornings. It looks like the world's been tipped upside down and dipped in sugar, doesn't it?!

Walking on frosted grass makes the most satisfying crunch. More satisfying, even, than the crunch of garbanzo beans I deep fried yesterday, which is saying a lot, because I fried those babies in bacon grease.

Side note: I've been frying lots of things in bacon grease this month, and it's been rocking my culinary world. My favorite deep-fried item: thinly-sliced shallots. Holy smokes they're amazing.

My parents' neighborhood has a 180-degree view of Washington's finest mountains, but they're often cloaked in clouds so we don't often get to enjoy their beauty. Yesterday, though, we had a rare dose of sun and accompanying mountain vistas.

A close up of the far left side of the panoramic photo above

I wish I'd had my camera and a zoom lens with me so I could've captured the mountainous horizon in all its glory.

But here's the best weather news:

It snowed! A number of us hadn't seen snow in a couple of years, so we were delighted.

It only snowed for a few hours, but we made the most of it.

Catching snowflakes is one of my favorite life activities. For a few minutes, it makes time seem so much slower and life's hard stuff seem far-off. It's a quiet grace.

Happy New Year's Eve, friends.

I hope your celebrations are filled with warm, glowing moments.

Cheering for you, Skillets,


© by scj

Monday, December 28, 2015


A few years ago, my sister babysat a friend's dog the week of Christmas. The dog, a snuggly, fluffy Maltese named Abbie, captured my family members' hearts and convinced me, a former dog skeptic (due to allergies), that dogs are the best animal on the planet.

Our first day with Abbie we decided we should look into buying a Maltese for ourselves, such was our burgeoning love for her.

My brother, the lover of German Shepherds and Labs, protested: "A maltese would not be good for us, guys; we are big dog people, not little dog people." Hours later he found himself negotiating with me to hand over the pup for some snuggle time of his own. "Just five minutes, Sarah. Just let me have her for five minutes."

So you see, Abbie made small dog people out of us all.

None of us ended up buying a dog in her absence, mostly because of dog allergies. But a Christmas hasn't passed since then when I haven't wished little Abbie were visiting. Last week I told my mom I wished her owners would go out of town more. "This Christmas would be a great time to go out of town," I said.

A few days later, my sister came over to stay the week. I'd planned to borrow one of her winter coats, so she set it in my lap shortly after she walked in the door. It was a heavy coat. Heavier than normal. And it was wiggling. What in tarnation? And then: a bright patch of white fur; a wagging tail, and a wet little nose.


She's been here all week, folks, and WE ARE IN SMALL DOG HEAVEN. Well, we were. Yesterday was her last day with us, and now we're all feeling a little sad. We keep having phantom Abbie urges. We find ourselves turning to snuggle her, only to remember she's gone.

We're glad we soaked up every moment with her last week.

Early morning walk at Washington State

Christmas Eve walk
The Poofy Coat Gang with our fierce mascot (missing: the older of my two brothers and his wife)

Oh Abbie. That sweet little face of yours has magical power.

Happy Monday, folks. I hope your Christmas was merry and bright!


P.S. Thanks for praying. I've started taking the first few items in my most recent medical protocol. It's been a rocky start, so I'm especially thankful for your prayers.

© by scj

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A trip to the doctor

There was a time in my adult life when I struggled to take my daily dose of cod liver oil. If you have ever tasted cod liver oil, then you understand. But then I got sick and had to start taking all manner of fetid, foul-tasting medicine on a daily basis, and my tolerance for disgusting medicine skyrocketed. These days, downing gross stuff is easy peasy. I don't mean to brag or anything, but I have become a cod liver oil-drinking MACHINE. Your mom would be proud.

Yesterday, during my doctor's appointment, Dr. N. suggested I try a different type of cod liver oil. Fermented cod liver oil, he said. Apparently, it's the best because it's made with a low-temperature fermentation process that preserves some of the fish's fatty acids and forms a vitamin A that none of the other fish oils have. He sold me on it, and I picked up a nice, big, spendy bottle of it.

Last night, after I'd taken my evening round of medications, I squirted a teaspoon of the oil into a cup and downed it. And sweet mother of Joseph, the smell of that stuff could KILL A GOAT. It literally knocked me to my knees. I sputtered and shuddered and almost couldn't keep it down, but I did. And oh have mercy, this oil is the "Mexican Food" of medicine. It sticks with you, if you catch my drift. I don't know if my gag reflex is going to let me take this stuff everyday for the next several months. I may have finally met a medicinal match that can

If I am unable to take this stuff, then I will ship it to Gollum. It seems like the sort of thing he'd love. Although, as I knelt in the kitchen and willed the oil to go all the way down my esophagus last night, I wondered if fish oil fermentation is the process wherein Gollum finds a rotten fish, chews it up, swallows it, throws it up because it's so gross, and leaves it to rot some more before a scientist comes, bottles it, and sells it to suckers like me. So on second thought, I may not be able to pawn this stuff off on him after all...

Here's my point in all this: Little Brother, you may want to bring a mask of some sort with you this Christmas. If you thought my apple cider vinegar was bad, well: you ain't seen smelled nothin' yet.

Cod liver oil aside, I'll add another protocol to my existing medical protocols soon. The doctor found a couple of new pieces to the puzzle yesterday. First, he discovered another virus called the Cytomegalovirus (CMV) lurking in my body. He said it's a particularly nasty virus that can be virtually indistinguishable from EBV — the virus we know has been wreaking havoc in my body all these years. It's likely that the viruses have both been attacking my insides all this time.

Because these viruses splice into a person's DNA (it's called "interpolating"), they mate with you for life. The goal is to keep them dormant, lest they keep you in bed for life. In order to try to get them under control, I'll start anti-viral treatment after Christmas. It will make me much sicker than I currently am, so I'll prepare my body for treatment by clearing my detox pathways with a couple of other medications before beginning anti-viral treatment. We know I have a genetic defect that inhibits my body's ability to detox, so my body needs help detoxing dead critters. Clearing detox pathways will make it easier for dead critters to leave my body.

These detoxing medications will likely make me sicker than I am, too, so I'll also wait until after Christmas to begin clearing my detox pathways. One of the detoxing agents has the potential to make me very sick, depending on whether or not I have a genetic abnormality affecting something called "sulfation pathways." The doctor said I'll know three days into taking it if I have the genetic abnormality. If I do, I'll get very sick. This is a little scary, so I'd love your prayers. And of course, I'd love prayer as I begin the anti-viral treatment in the next week or two. I'm hoping my body is strong enough that it can rebound from the sickness it causes.

Here's another thing: the full moon is this Christmas. It can make me so sick, but gosh I'd love to be healthy enough to up and mentally present with my family. I'd love prayer for this!

My most recent lab work revealed a number of other things. Most notably, an inflammation marker called TGF-beta 1 is super high. Dr. N. said he often sees those numbers in lyme patients, but he acknowledged there could be other pathogens causing that kind of inflammation. So the uncertainty about lyme continues. Perhaps getting these viruses under control will strengthen my body enough that I can move ahead with another lyme test. That's something else to pray about.

And finally: I asked the doctor about my vagus nerve and he said vagus nerve dysfunction is really common in patients like me. He said there's really nothing I can take to directly rehabilitate my vagus nerve, but I can work to rehabilitate it with diet, gargling, and singing opera. This is not a joke. It is a real thing, and I am taking it VERY seriously.

My family finds me a true delight to have around.

Merry day-before-Christmas-Eve, friends of mine.

I hope your day is jolly!


© by scj

Sunday, December 20, 2015


Last night my mom picked me up from the airport. I was trembling and weak when she arrived. The turbulence on my flight was the scariest I've experienced, and my nervous system was still rather unhappy about the whole affair. Electrical shocks; heart pounding; breathing labored; throat constricting. I kept murmuring words of comfort to my body. "It's okay, Body; it's all over. Feel how the earth is holding you up. Notice the way your lungs balloon with clean air. You can relax now. All is well."

Even still, my nervous system sputtered and misfired and tried to keep me safe long after the plane landed. Seeing my mom get out of the car, wearing her red turtle neck and gold beads, made my racing, jumpy insides feel cozy, like they'd climbed inside a fuzzy sock.

When we pulled into the driveway 20 minutes later, the house was glittering with twinkle lights. "Look at all the fairies!" my mom said. Decades ago, my siblings and I loved to curl up by Christmas tree and listen to my dad spin stories about Christmas lights that were really fairies. Each day the fairies remained still as glass, determined to maintain their secret identity as lights; and each night, after all the humans had gone to bed, they flew into the darkness to have adventures.

Some nights they feasted and danced with the people in the miniature, ceramic village atop the piano, and other nights they traveled back in time and lit up baby Jesus' dark manger scene. Their adventures always made Christmas as magical as can be. Decades later, the Christmas light fairies decking the boughs in my parents' home are one of my favorite parts of Christmas. Lying here, surrounded by fairy lights, makes me feel safe and full of wonder.

My parents will return from church in a bit. My dad will be tired from preaching so he'll curl up in his easy chair by the twinkle lights with me for a bit. My mom will probably head straight to the kitchen to whip up something to eat, chatting with us from her position by the stove top.

My mom is known for her soup around these parts. A childhood friend calls it her "world famous soup." She doesn't follow a recipe when she makes soup, so it's always different. Sometimes she adds sausage and sprigs of thyme to a bubbling pot of vegetables. Sometimes she purees potato, adds a ham hock, and lets it all simmer on the stove top for hours. She always toasts bread with butter and Parmesan cheese to accompany the soup. Parmesan bread makes a tasty soup-scoop.

My dad is known for his savory herb blends. He loves to experiment with fresh herb combinations whenever he cooks. Garlic, basil, red pepper flakes, and jalapeno-infused olive oil. Rosemary, roasted chipotle powder, and a dash of maple syrup. Perhaps today he will join my mom part-way through her lunch preparations. Maybe she'll marinade the chicken while he creates an herb bath for the zucchini. Their kitchen will be filled with intoxicating smells.

Our dinner table is adjacent to the Christmas tree, several yards from the fire place. It is covered in a festive table cloth and bathed in light from the floor-to-ceiling windows. This area of the house often swirls with conversation. What did the kindergartners do in mom's Sunday school class today? What text will dad be preaching from next week? Has anybody seen any good movies lately? Hey, do you guys think reality TV can be a healthy entertainment choice? Marc, you can't let this dinner hour pass without a Nacho Libre impersonation — it just wouldn't be a proper meal without one. And by the way, how do you all understand the role of women in the church? 

Sometimes, all this conversation erupts into disagreement, and the air hums with friction. I'm learning this is inevitable when a group of verbal people gathers. I think, though, that these moments have the potential to be the most fruitful parts of our conversations. Iron sharpening iron, and all. My brothers think of things I wouldn't think to think; my dad's studied things I've been too tired to study; my mom knows just the right questions to ask; and my sister thinks of word pictures that make my conclusions seem rather dull. They push me toward developing truer beliefs.

I've grown to appreciate the bowls of steaming soup and hunks of crusty bread more than ever during these conversations because they draw out the conversations long into the night. They invite more musing, more exploring. They make the dinner table a place of connecting, of discovering, of growing.

There's snow on the forecast for this Friday. I started asking God for big, feathery flakes this morning. My sister and littlest brother and his wife will be in town that day. My littlest brother and his wife got married in September, so we've not built many memories with the two of them together. His wife is a unique blend of strength, conviction, gentleness and grace, and we're loving getting to know her. We've spent time with her in the drizzly rain of Washington and the humid heat of Florida beaches. We haven't played in the snow together, yet, though. A snow day with her would be the cherry on top of this December sundae.

I've just looked at the clock. It's noon, and I'm still in my pajamas. They're fuzzy fleece pjs that a new friend gave me a few Christmases ago, but I didn't bring a suitcase full of sweats for nothing. It's time for a mid-day change.

Cheering for you, Home Skillets,


© by scj

Friday, December 18, 2015

An unexpected answer to your prayers

Oh you wonderful people, you. Thank you for praying for me so diligently these last few weeks as I've finished up the school year. Your prayers have been powerful and effective. I've seen significant improvement in my symptoms since you started praying, and I have been able to remain faithful in my most pressing responsibilities. Today I wrapped up finals week, and tomorrow I'm flying to my folks house for the holidays. It all feels like a tremendous gift.

I often feel most vulnerable to Satan's attacks when I'm sickest. I'm so thankful to have a prayer team in you during these battles. On Wednesday the 2nd, after you'd been praying for a full night, the spiritual attacks subsided. I felt like Angel warriors surrounded me and created a bubble of protection from the Enemy. Since then, I've often felt peace settle into the nooks and crannies of my spirit. I've also felt new hope wiggling its little roots into my soul-soil. And surprise of surprises, the week I was most incapacitated, I found myself laughing a lot, alone, in my room, wearing my stretchy pants. (Name that movie). I know this must be because of your prayers.

These four things — joy, peace, protection from the Enemy, and enough improvement that I can remain faithful in my responsibilities — are often the fruit of your prayers. But two weeks ago there was a fifth gift that made me want to sing the Hallelujah chorus. I'm especially excited to share this fifth gift with you because I know many of you have been praying for years, waiting for something like this to happen. I do wish I could tell you in person, but this little post will have to do.

Lots of you ask me what my symptoms are, exactly. For several years I've been dealing with medical fatigue that makes me feel like I have lead in my limbs. I've also had regular low grade fevers, muscle and joint pain, migraines, vision blocks, cysts, chronic sore throats and swollen lymph nodes, increased food allergies, thick brain fog, decreased mental stamina, poor memory, and occasional muscle weakness. My team of doctors and I are pretty sure the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) is the cause of all these symptoms.

But then, last December, after a season of significant healing, my body added a slew of new symptoms to the mix: constant dizziness, nausea that starts in my head (not my gut) and radiates down my body, ringing in my ears, buzzing in my head, stiff and painful neck and jaw, electric shocks bouncing all over my body, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, increased weakness and fatigue, digestive problems, heightened anxiety, a dozen more food allergies etc. My weirdest symptom makes me feel like my nerves and brain are inflamed and thousands of little bugs are chewing on them. Oddly, this sensation tends to intensify after I eat.

Since July, I've been rigorously detoxifying my body with the help of many supplements and tinctures. For years, pathogens have been dumping poison into my body, and it was essential that we begin pulling it out before doing any extreme treatment. Thankfully, the detoxification has helped, and in September I saw great improvement in my health. I function at about 30-35% of normal now when I feel well, and many of the symptoms that started last year are no longer constant. Every now and then they all flare up at once and incapacitate me, though.

It's been tricky to figure out what's causing each of these symptoms. There are just so many of them, and many of them seem unrelated. One doctor speculated it will be several years before I'm back to normal. I imagine that's in part because of how difficult it can be to pinpoint, with any sort of confidence, the causes of chronic disease like mine.

Many of you already know this next bit, but I'll summarize for those of you who don't. Doctors have discovered my immune, endocrine, digestive, and central nervous systems are not working properly. We know EBV and mykotoxins are present in my body. We suspect I deal with parasites, and we're continuing to search for other invaders like lyme. But what we don't know is what is causing which symptoms. It's possible the EBV may be causing the worst of these new symptoms, but why? What is the EBV attacking that is causing this? Is it my liver? My kidneys?

I've done loads of daydreaming while on bed rest over the years. In my favorite, recurring daydream, I'm pushing through a crowd to get to Jesus, much like the woman who bled for 12 years in Mark 5. The daydream varies from day to day. Sometimes Jesus' back is toward me; sometimes he's facing me. Sometimes I beg him to heal me; sometimes he moves to me before I can open my mouth. One thing is the same every time, though: Jesus always places his hands on the same spot on my neck when he heals me.

I've wondered why Jesus puts his hand on that spot on my neck, of all places. I don't have pain there, nor have I had any physical trauma there (that I know of, anyway). It feels like such a random spot, and yet I've always known I want Jesus to put his hand right there. When people have prayed for my health throughout the years, I've asked them to put their hand on that part of my neck. When I've felt especially ill and have had a friend next to me, I've asked her to put her hand there. And when I'm feeling especially sick but must remain be upright to teach or go to the doctor, I find myself gripping that part of my neck.

Two weeks ago I spent most of my time in bed resting and talking to God. God is often very quiet during these conversations, but this time his still, small voice pierced the silence: "Your vagus nerve is inflamed."

Here's the thing about the vagus nerve: I have no idea what it is. I've heard of it and can tell you two things about it: 1) I have one; 2) enemas stimulate it (Noooow you know! Oh, the trivia I've collected over the years. Also: sorry). So I went into research mode, turning to my good friend, Google, with my most pressing question:

"Where is the vagus nerve?"

I had a feeling I knew where the nerve was located, and you guys. I was right. The vagus nerve begins EXACTLY at that spot on my neck that Jesus always touches in my daydream.

And here's what else: because the vagus nerve runs down the torso and innervates major organs, and because of its integral role in managing inflammation, the vagus nerve can either directly or indirectly cause almost every single symptom I've been dealing with throughout this journey (that long list, you guys — how is that possible?!).  Even symptoms that seem unrelated — like dizziness and food allergies — are clearly related when I view them through the lens of the vagus nerve's role in my body.

Over the years I have had so many questions about my symptoms — about they way they relate to each other, about the way they coincide with life events, about the experiences that trigger and exacerbate them — and my research on the vagus nerve began to answer those questions in a way that made perfect sense to me.

(A disclaimer: I'm distilling loads of cutting-edge neuroscience into a few sloppy sentences here, which is a bummer, because it's all the details I uncovered that make this discovery SO STINKING AMAZING.)

The difficulty with this whole vagus nerve discovery is neuroscientists are just now gathering significant information about the vagus nerve and chronic disease. It's remained a mystery for quite some time. This means doctors are just now experimenting with treatment involving the vagus nerve for conditions like mine. So my next steps are to figure out how I can reduce the inflammation of my vagus nerve and can help it do its job. And of course, I'm still on the search to identify which pathogens — EBV, mykotoxins, or possible lyme — are inflaming the nerve so horribly. I'm not sure if it will be possible to figure this out, but in the meantime, I've discovered a handful of practical things I can do to stimulate the nerve and reduce inflammation.

And you know, just being able to name a primary cause (albeit not the ultimate cause) of my symptoms feels good. The knowledge has doused me with buckets of relief.

But do you know what's been more amazing than this vagus nerve discovery? The knowledge that all of your prayerful voices moved the Spirit of God to give me this important piece of a perplexing puzzle. He is good, and you are wonderful, and I am grateful. Thank you for praying, praying, praying for years, and months, and weeks, and hours. You guys are my tribe and I love you.

Happy Friday, Folks.

Cheering for you,


© by scj

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Prayer Requests

I'm lying here typing in the glow of twinkle lights. The piano is decked with boughs of holly (actually: they're fake fir tree branches), candles are flickering merrily, and the smell of stinky feet has settled in the room with thick and terrible force. 'Tis the season for my [fetid, stinky feet-ish] apple cider vinegar regime, because: winter flu bugs (and lots of sick students).

When I taught third grade a colleague introduced me to the antimicrobial wonders of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Since then, I drink it scrupulously every winter. Usually, I make "tea" (pour a few teaspoons of cider in a steaming cup of water, then sweeten with honey) and sip it slowly before bed. My brother loves it when I do this, especially if I snuggle up close to him with my cup of apple cider vinegar:

"Ugh, Sarah. How and WHY do you drink that stuff? Do you not realize that the people around you have NOSES that can SMELL THINGS?!"

Well, little brother, you will be DELIGHTED to know I have recently started using apple cider vinegar as a toner for my skin and will carry the smell of apple cider vinegar with me every morning of Christmas vacation, too. Prepare yourself for a most joyous vacation together, indeed.

But I digress. I'm lying here sipping apple cider vinegar in the glow of my Christmas tree and hoping I can rally my team of prayer warriors. I'm feeling rather crummy these days as a result of all my chronic stuff. Last month I had a longer bout of Crummy, but I rebounded in early November and began to feel better than I have all year. Last week, though, I started feeling yucky, and my symptoms have continued to worsen. Today they've gotten especially loud and demanding, and I feel like much of the healing work of the semester has been undone. This is discouraging and confusing and makes me anxious about the future. I'm especially nervous about the next three weeks which are full of grading, teaching, church events, and grading. Also: grading. There is lots to do and little time to do it. So this week I'm hoping you can pray for me:
  1. For healing (that these symptoms would quiet soon. Like, tomorrow.)
  2. For stamina
  3. For peace
  4. For rest
  5. For hope for the future
  6. For wisdom as I try to figure out how much to push my body. 
  7. For wisdom for my doctors. I have another appointment with my main doctor in Washington on December 22nd, and I'm hoping he can give me some new insight (he'll have new test results) and next steps. 
  8. I'm also gearing up to get some pretty extensive testing done soon, but am trying to be strategic about which testing to get done first. Would love prayer for that.
Do tell me how I can pray for you. I pray for you when I'm lying here resting.

Thank you, my friends.

Merry Christmas Season!

I'm cheering for you, Home Skillets,


© by scj