Sunday, January 31, 2016

More prayer requests

My friends,

I'm going to make this short as I'm feeling really crummy. I especially need your prayers right now.

I've been off my meds for a couple of weeks now, and I experienced considerable relief from my symptoms the first few days I was off them. But yesterday, my symptoms grew so loud it feels as if the work of the last year has been undone. This is scary and terribly discouraging.

Classes start tomorrow — both those I teach and the one I hope to take — and I need a considerable and quick rebound if I am going to do all that I need to do this week, month, and semester. But I'm just focusing on this week for now. 

Please pray for:

1. Quick healing. I cannot do a repeat of last spring. I really don't think it would be possible to teach and live another four months in the state I was in last spring. That was the most horrifyingly miserable semester of my life.

2. Wisdom for next medical steps. I'm trying to take some of my meds this weekend to see if I can tolerate them now. I'm wondering if the symptoms of the last few days are the result of having stopped taking my meds... I have some anti-viral treatment I'd like to try but I don't want to try it if it's going to make me sicker.

3. I will need to drop my PhD class if I don't seem some improvement in the next two weeks. If I do see improvement, then I'll need wisdom to discern how much improvement is enough to move on with the class.

4. Emotional and mental stamina. This is really hard.

5. Spiritual protection. I know Satan isn't jazzed about my ministry and wants to use this hardship to completely incapacitate me.

Thank you, my friends.


© by scj

Monday, January 18, 2016

All blessings

I read the doctor's letter in front of the fire place. I've laid here for weeks, watching the flickering flames, sometimes shifting to watch the clouds beyond the windows drop ribbons of sleet. I tried to read a book in the firelight a few weeks earlier, but there was too much inflammation in my brain to string symbols into sentence-strands. So I rest and wait and hope and pray. I do not need to read this break, after all. But this letter's salutation makes it seem important, worth reading.

"Dear honored patients...I have been dealing with cancer for the past 10 years...I do not have much longer to is time for me to shut down my practice... I must spend my remaining time getting my affairs in order and spending time with my family....I have already chased enough rainbows."

I'd just seen him two weeks earlier. He wasn't hooked up to his IV this time. His nurse didn't check in on him every 15 minutes like she has in the past. He coughed less. "I'll see you in February," he said when I stood up to leave.

There is a special bond you develop with your doctor when you are very sick. He must know your history — every emotional trauma and every twist and turn in symptom presentation. He must know what's happening in your liver, your heart, your brain, your bones, your cells. He comes to know you in ways nobody else does. And then he takes all that knowledge and he thinks on it. He reviews your thick stack of lab results again and again; and he pieces everything together as best he can. He carefully prescribes new medication. And when he's worked with you awhile he says things like, "The normal dosage for this tincture is 20 drops twice a day, but you should start with 5 drops once a day."

A few months ago I sunk into the leather chair opposite his desk for an appointment. He wanted to know my symptoms. I try to explain. My head is buzzing. It feels like every cell in my brain is swelling, morphing into a red ant. My brain is crawling with millions of biting red ants. Now it's growing, like a water balloon pushing at my skull. My head is nauseated; I'm dizzy. I feel like a inflatable doll who's been filled with lead. His nurse interrupts for a moment to change the IV he's hooked up to. A few seconds later he's doubled over, hacking from the cancer that has spread to his lungs. When his coughing subsides he looks up and asks me to continue. It's been a long, saw-tooth journey, I say. I am tired. "I know," he says, and he looks me in the eyes, his own clouded with cancer and compassion.

My dad is in the other room. I want to go to him, to tell him that my doctor will die soon, but first I need some time alone. I am blindsided by how sad this letter makes me feel. So I lie here. I wonder about the woman my doctor married last month. What sorts of things will they do together in the next few months? Where do his kids live? Does he feel afraid?

And then it hits me: what am I going to do now? A few hours earlier I'd googled "twitching between finger and thumb" and I sifted through dozens of articles about Multiple Sclerosis and ALS. The twitching began two days after I started taking the new medicine my doctor prescribed. I stop taking the medicine immediately but the twitching continues. I wonder if it's flipped a switch in my brain. I want to ask my doctor, but I can't now.

I return to L.A. a few days later. I have work I can do, and I want to distract myself. I'm still feeling lousy, and I realize my body is suddenly rejecting the medicine I've been taking the last 6 months. I stop taking it, cold turkey. My body feels shocked, but my neurological symptoms are a little bit quieter. The twitching subsides and I'm able to grade three days in a row. While I work, I try not to think about my next steps. Medicine, doctors, supplements, grad school. I push them into a mental closet.

I check the mail my second evening here. It's a two-minute walk to the mailbox but I stretch it into four minutes. I breathe in the balmy air, and God and I peer into my closet to discuss what I've stuffed there. I tell him the future is scary, and anxiety is a vine growing up out of my gut and around my chest, tightening. Are you going to take care of me this semester, God? I want his reassurance, so I ask him to prompt someone to send something in the mail to reassure me. It feels like a far-fetched prayer.

When I return to the house I rifle through the stack of mail I've just collected. At the bottom of the pile is a card addressed to me. I open it to find a gift card to the health food store down the street, and this anonymous note:

"Someone wanted to surprise you and let you know you're cared for."

Two days later, a random check arrives in the mail.

On Wednesday my friend, A, texts me to see how I am doing. "Can I do anything for you?" she asks. I tell her to keep praying. She says she will and then offers to do my grocery shopping and cooking. I hesitate. I know how much work that will be. She lives 1.5 hours away and has an 11-month-old baby. But I know she means it, and I need help. Yes, I say. I would love that. I feel anxiety's thorny vine loosen a bit.

Saturday morning she arrives with a trunk full of food she's bought, prepped, and cooked for me. I can't wait to snuggle Baby H, so I take her while A unloads. Soon, my refrigerator and freezer are stuffed with the food required for my new diet. Homemade soup, bone broth, wild salmon A's husband caught in the bellies of Alaska's rivers, free-range turkey, berries, kelp, fermented veggies, and dozens of bags of chopped vegetables for juicing, roasting, and snacking. Carrots. Turnips. Brussel Sprouts. Cabbage. Cucumber. Mushrooms. Onions, and more.

There is a box on the floor, next to the cooler, full of non-edible goodies A wants to give me. A cast iron skillet ("You need iron, and iron will absorb into your food if you use this," A says), a new blender, and a number of other tools. And then she pulls out two new knives. I've been using a $7 set of IKEA knives for 12 years now and am delighted with these new knives. I put them to use, slicing a beet to put in the juicer, and I wonder if this is what it feels like to transition from driving a minivan to a Lamborghini.

Mid-morning we sit on the floor with the baby, and A tells me she's been researching doctors on my behalf. She's found a good one she thinks can help. She has other ideas about how to help me get healthy, too. She has a plan, and she is going to be my advocate. The future doesn't feel so scary anymore, and my soul feels fuller than my fridge.

Today my kitchen is swirling with the sounds of a culinary symphony. The steady rhythmic base of my new knives striking the cutting board. The soothing soprano-sizzle of onions in my new iron skillet. The occasional pop of hot oil, the dinging of the timer.

Sometimes I wonder if orchestral symphonies in heaven will smell as beautiful as they sound. Perhaps the musical note "A" smells like summer strawberries; "B" smells like ocean breeze; "C" smells like dry pine, "D" smells like someone you shared your life with, and so on. Clair de Lune could smell like summer vacation at the sea. Today, my kitchen symphony smells better than it sounds — a taste of heaven, perhaps. The sharp smell of citrus. Rosemary's perfume. Pungent garlic and sliced winter cucumber and freshly juiced kale.

At noon I sit down to eat lunch. Spinach wilted in olive oil and garlic, roasted root vegetables, and turkey seasoned with fresh rosemary. It feels like a feast compared to my tired attempts at meals this winter. I eat slowly, noticing the textures, savoring the flavors. And then I notice anxiety's thorny vine has disappeared, and it isn't from any effort of my own. It is because of my friends, the ones who are teaching me that they love me because they love me, not because of anything else. Quietly, slowly, I sing a prayer of thanks: "Praise God from whom all blessings flow..."

© by scj

Monday, January 11, 2016

Prayer Requests

Hi Friends,

I'm preparing to fly back to California tomorrow and am feeling pretty sick. I would love your prayers as I travel and transition back into work.


1. I've rested a lot this break and have done a lot of helpful research about potential treatments. Pieces of this puzzle continue to emerge.

2. I'm so glad I could experiment with different treatments the last few weeks in the comfort of my parents' home, surrounded by family.

3. So many of you have been such an encouragement to me. Thank you. And to those of you who emailed me your stories of God's goodness in your lives, thank you! I loved reading them. Keep 'em comin'.

4. Tangerines. Nimble fingers to peel them; a nose to inhale their sharp citrus; a chin to feel juice dribbling down it; a tongue with TASTE BUDS, of all things.

5. The presence of the Holy Spirit. I do not know how people survive chronic illness without Him.

6. Snow. It has been such a quiet, refreshing grace this month.


1. That I'd heal enough tonight to be able to travel tomorrow and work this week. I have daily work responsibilities this week, but my symptoms have been so difficult the last several weeks that I'm nervous my body won't let me do what I need to do.

2. Discernment for next treatment steps. I have a number of medications I want to take that could really help my body, but thus far, my body has reacted badly to the few I've tried, and I'm struggling to stabilize. I have a few weeks before I resume teaching, so I want to utilize this time wisely. Should I take my new medications? Or should I give my body a break after the difficulty of the last several weeks? I need wisdom. I also need help differentiating between a bad reaction to medication and what my fellow sickies call a "healing crisis," in which I feel much sicker because the medication and my body are doing healing work. Sometimes the two look really similar, and it can be hard to know if I should continue with the medication or not.

3. Emotional and mental stamina — that God would strengthen my inner being. It's pretty much a guarantee that all treatment will make me much sicker before I get better, and as I move forward with other treatments, I'm feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted from everything.

4. Wisdom about the spring semester. I am set to begin my PhD program with this spring. I was originally going to ease in by taking just two classes but have recently dropped a class as a result of my health the last several weeks. Now I'm wondering if I can even handle one class. School starts February 1st, and I can get a full refund for my class if I drop it by February 12th. One of my doctors thinks going back to school could help me get better, but I don't want to push my body too hard. It's hard to figure out which activities will help me heal and which will make me sicker. Please pray I can discern God's will for me this semester by February 12th. Good health in the next several weeks would be a good sign to stay. (And goodness, I would SO love to be well enough to take a class...)

Thank you, my friends.

I'm praying this for you tonight:

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21

Cheering for you,


© by scj

Friday, January 8, 2016

Remembering to hope

My dear friends,

I had grand ambitions to write some year's end reflections last week. I'd sit down with a cuppa tea and scour old memories, looking for overlooked mistakes I could learn from. I'd search for themes in my decision-making and knee-jerk reactions to life's hard stuff, asking the Spirit to help me learn from them. I'd plumb the depths of my hardest moments, looking for signs of God's goodness that I may have missed. Then I'd look toward the new year with renewed determination to cultivate growth-oriented practices.

But a few hours into New Year's Eve day, I noticed my pants were on inside out and backward. A few hours later, they were still inside out and backward.

Here's the thing: I am tired. I am especially tired of trying to get healthy. It's a full-time job that reaps such little reward. Lately, I've been so exhausted that even breathing has been hard. All that *in* and *out*, and *in* and *out* business. It's breeeeaking the energy bank. And since rectifying pant situations is harder than breathing, I left my pants inside out and upside down, or however they were, and then I collapsed in a pile and mentally sang an operatic rendition of "The Ants Come Marching In." I'm hoping the doctor will be satisfied impressed with my recent mental attempts at singing opera when I see him next. It's the thought that counts and all.

And this is where I insert a plot twist you totally didn't see coming:

I did not sit down that day to scour old memories for signs of God's goodness; nor did I search for themes in my decision-making. Instead, I laid in front of the fireplace for 12 hours straight, shifting occasionally to find a more pant-friendly position, and trying to ignore the quickly approaching new year.

I think a lot of you put your pants on backwards and inside out on New Year's Eve day, too — metaphorically speaking, of course. You, like me, may be too tired to muster enthusiasm about the new year. You may even be dreading it. Maybe 2015 tore through your life like Hurricane Katrina and left everything in shambles. Or maybe 2015 slowly and quietly whittled away at your sense of wonder and curiosity and left you feeling dry and apathetic. Maybe it punctured your most secret hopes, or stole someone you love, or gobbled up your financial stability. Maybe it left you feeling lonely and directionless.

It is hard to look toward the future with excitement and hope when the past is laden with disappointment.

But hope buoys us. It keeps the thrashing waves from swallowing us when we veer into the unexpected and unfamiliar darkness. And sometimes, it bumps us into a still-water patch of sunlight just long enough to coax buds out of the gardens we're growing inside ourselves. Many of us need a good dose of hope this month as we tentatively step into 2016.
This week, now that my pants are on straight, I've been trying to inflate my rather limp hope as I look toward the new year. I've been praying, and mentally singing praise songs (sans the opera; I figure the angels could use a break from all my high-pitched warbling), and hanging out in Exodus 14 and 15.

In these chapters, the Israelites are standing at the edge of the Red Sea. On the other side of the sea lies freedom from slavery — finally, after hundreds of years under Egyptian rule. Behind them, an army of Egyptian slave masters is chasing them, threatening their imminent freedom. Most of us know the story well: God parts the Sea in half, and the Israelites walk across the seabed to safety. Once they've reached the other side, the sea returns to normal, swallowing the Egyptian slave drivers.

The Israelites must've fallen onto the seashore and turned to each other in relief and awe that day. They were free to establish a home of their own in the land God promised! And yet, a vast and dangerous desert lay between them and the Promised Land. Their trials were far from over. In fact, many of them would soon be longing for the comparatively "comfortable" days of slavery. Even so, they burst into a song of praise to God right then and there. My Bible calls it "The Song of Moses and Miriam."

In the first half of the song, the Israelites look back on the good things God has done for them:

    "Pharaoh's chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
    and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea..."

In the last half of the song, they look forward to the good things God will certainly do for them in the future. In the English translation* they describe some of God's future acts as if they've already happened, such is their confidence in his promises:

  "...all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
    because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O Lord, pass by,
    till the people pass by whom you have purchased."

The Israelites had hope in God's future provision because he'd taken care of them in the past. This is why God repeatedly admonishes his people to remember him and his unfailing love throughout the Old Testament. And this is why, at least in part, he built festivals of remembrance into the Jewish calendar. He wants his children to step into the future with hope that it will be full of good gifts because he's packed the past with good gifts.

I'm especially intentional about trying to remember God's past faithfulness when the burden of my sickness sends me staggering to my knees, but in these moments of crisis it can be hard to remember the good things he has done. In these moments, my brain tends to freeze, and my spirit is apt to pace and wring its hands in fear. So lately, I've started swapping stories about God's faithfulness with my friends throughout the daily humdrum of life. I want our stories to wiggle into my heart and take root, so when the storms come, the stories are a part of me. And so, when God answers a prayer request, I try to remember to tell my people. When I'm sinking into the quicksand of discouragement and anxiety, I try to remember to ask them to recount times God encouraged and strengthened them.

I have just a few resolutions for 2016. At the top of the list is my desire to make our stories of remembrance a reliable part of the rhythm of my daily life, because I know they will rewrite the direction of my life-song. I'm hoping you'll help me with this today.

Would you share with me, either in the comments section or via email, some story highlighting the good care, provision, and/or presence of God in your life? If you're comfortable sharing in the comments section, please do. I think lots of us are longing to hear stories of God's faithfulness to the saints as we practice the disciplines of remembering and hoping.

I'll start us off with a story from a particularly trying time in my life awhile back. I've been revisiting this story almost daily lately!


I'm sitting in a patch of sunshine outside the Eagle's Nest, one of Biola University's cafes, trying to respond to a work email. I've managed to type a decent greeting, but I'm struggling to string more sentences together.

When I was a kid, I learned that although we can't feel gravity, its force is really, really strong. I haven't thought about gravity a whole lot since then; but today, I can't stop thinking about it. It is distracting me from writing this email, because today gravity has turned into a sumo wrestler trying to flatten me to the sidewalk.

In my experience, grief turns gravity into a force to be reckoned with. In life's carefree moments, gravity lets us run and jump and hug and twirl; but in life's saddest moments, gravity weighs heavily, threatening to incapacitate us.

A few weeks earlier I suffered a loss that triggered a nightmarish flare-up in my health problems. For the first time on this crazy journey with sickness, I feel abandoned by God. Doesn't he know he's been letting me dangle over the flames for years now? Does he have plans to give me a break anytime soon? Must he really lower me deeper into the fire? Does he even know what's going on in my life right now?

I close my email and sit back in my chair. "God," I say. "My head knows you've not abandoned me, but my heart is really suspicious that you have. Please change my heart. Give me special grace. If you know what I'm going through right now, and if you care, then please move in someone in another part of the country or world — someone who doesn't know my circumstances — and prompt her to pray for me right now. And then, prompt her to message me on Facebook to tell me she is praying for me."

A few minutes later, I check my Facebook profile, hoping to see the red notification indicating a new message. There is no red. Ah, well . . . maybe God needs more time to answer this prayer.

A few hours later, after teaching my last class of the day, I check my Facebook again. There, in the upper left-hand corner, is a message alert. My heart beats a little faster and I nervously open the message. It's from a friend who lives in Singapore. I met her last year on an airplane. It was the day before Easter, and when I'd discovered she was a Christian and didn't have anywhere to celebrate Easter, I invited her to my church and folks' house. She spent the day with us and has been a friend ever since.

Her message was sent at 6:00 A.M. her time. I did the math and it must've been around 3 A.M. her time when I'd prayed earlier that day. Her message said,

"Hihi. Hope all is well with you. For some strange reason, you came into my dream last night. I pray that God's hedge of protection will be upon you, showering you with His joy and strength each and every day. Take care and have a blessed week ahead."


Gravity's sumo wrestler force didn't go away in the weeks after I got that message. My health didn't get better, either. In fact, it got worse. But often, when I am tempted to believe God has forgotten about me, I remember this story. He knows the battles we fight, and he cares about the burdens we carry. Sometimes, though, he responds to our needs differently than we'd like him to.

His goodness is often very different than I expect it to be. My understanding of his goodness is often paper doll-shaped. It fits into my dream-worlds and is dressed in pink frills and glossy pearls. But his actual goodness comes to us in real flesh and bones, nailed to a cross, and then busting out of a grave. Your stories of his faithfulness in your lives continue to broaden my understanding of the goodness of death and resurrection, and they teach me to hope in the things that won't disappoint.

I'd love to hear your stories now. Your long stories. Your short stories. Your personal stories. Your anonymous stories. Let's remember together.

I'm praying your first month of 2016 swells with the hope that comes from remembering.

I love you guys,


*I don't know how the Hebrew compares

© by scj

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Two things

1. It snowed again, and this time it stuck!

Snow globe status!

The medicine I've been on lately has made me really sick and has confined me to bed, but when I awoke to a winter wonderland, I felt well enough to go on a snow adventure. So I threw my snow clothes on over my pajamas and went trekking through the neighborhood and surrounding woods. It was an invigorating, spirit-lifting break from the recent intensity of my symptoms.

Oh, these magical woods.

2. I finished my semester grading. HOLLLLLLLLA!

After I'd finished, I felt well enough to go out for dinner with Dad. He and I are home alone since my siblings have returned to work and their respective homes, and my mom is studying abroad in France this winter (YAAAY, Mom!). And since we're both rather tuckered out from the holiday festivities, our culinary endeavors have been less than impressive this week. Eating out was a well-timed treat.

And I just love dates with Dad.

Happy Thursday, folks. I hope your transition back to work has been encouraging and smooth.

I'm cheering for ya, Home Skillets,


© by scj