Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pearls in May, #7: Memorial Day Festivities

The events of the last month have felt a bit like a stampede of elephants trampling my sense of well-being. Whenever elephant stampedes invade my life, I have to work twice as hard to notice the good gifts that pervade every difficulty. So this month, in an attempt to work my gratitude muscles, I'm collecting and posting a gift a day. Soon, I will have a written series of little gifts strung together like a strand of pearls!

To read the introductory post to this series click here.


This is my grandpa:

He was in the U.S. navy during World War II, back before he and my grandma had a passel of toe-headed little rascals. I'm thankful for him and the millions of other men and women who have offered their service, courage, and lives to protect our freedom. I know it's because of their sacrifice that I can write, teach, speak, grocery shop and go on evening walks without inhibition or restriction. What a gift we've been given — a gift we were able to take time to remember yesterday, on Memorial Day.

Yesterday was a lovely Memorial Day, full of pearls. A friend, whose birthday was on Memorial Day, threw a pool birthday party complete with hamburgers on the grill, six variations of potato chips, floaties and foam noodles, and piles of friends. It was a fun affair — such tremendous fun that it's my pearl for today. And boy is it a big, fat pearl (I suppose it's really a string of little pearls....).

Pool parties are a great time to do things you don't usually do, like have smash ball tournaments in inner tubes; and throw a tooth pick in the water and see who can dive in to grab it first; and dress up in your very best Audrey Hepburn-esque pool party attire:

It was a busy, active, and music-filled day. I can't remember that last time I've attended such a fun pool party. We sang, danced, and thrashed around in the water till our hearts' content.

All too soon, the sun began to sink and shadows crept across the pool, so we shimmied onto the sunny side of the pool deck to soak up some rays and have a good chat.

 This group of young people really is unique. We can splash and play and rough house, and we can have long, meaningful conversations with each other. They make life so much better.
How have I managed to find 50 of Orange County's finest Christian singles?

Here I am with my dear friend Tiffany and our friend, Alex. 

You may recognize Tiffany. She's one of my most favorite people in the whole world. We've just met, Alex, and so far we've concluded he's pretty great. He has a baby goldendoodle that would get you using baby talk faster than you can say, "Wook at the sweet wittle boo boo face!" We'll keep Alex and Boo Boo Face around. Also, I should probably tell you that Boo Boo Face is actually named Buddy. If my name were Buddy I'd want you to know, mostly so you could lapse into quoting Elf till your little heart's content.

"Why the long face, Buddy?"

"Hey Buddy, want to pick some snowberries?"

"Byyyyyyye Buuddy!" 

By the end of the day everyone was tired and happy from all the active festivities. Although I take that back: the boys didn't seem too tired. They still had all sorts of energy that they used to do things boys do.

I'm not sure what's going on here, but I can tell you it's 100% boy, whatever it is.

Oops! That's all the pictures I took. I must've been having too much fun. Boy, I was glad to have a healthy body to enjoy such a warm and playful community.

I hope your Memorial Day was restful, my friends. And if you've lost someone as a result of war, or if you've served our nation, then thank you for your sacrifice. I feels trite to say it here. Words can be so reductionist. But thank you, truly, so very much; and I hope you were able to spend peaceful, restorative time with family yesterday.

Happy freedom-filled Tuesday, kids.


© by scj

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pearls in May, #6: Letters

The events of the last month have felt a bit like a stampede of elephants trampling my sense of well-being. Whenever elephant stampedes invade my life, I have to work twice as hard to notice the good gifts that pervade every difficulty. So this month, in an attempt to work my gratitude muscles, I'm collecting and posting a gift a day. Soon, I will have a written series of little gifts strung together like a strand of pearls!

To read the introductory post to this series click here

There is a woman up in Washington who has watched me grow since I was one year old.  Her name is Mrs. T. I haven't seen Mrs. T. more than once a year in the last decade, but still she prays for me every day. She also writes me letters, sometimes daily, and sends occasional packages. Last week she mailed me a book. A few weeks before that, an earring holder. A few weeks before that, another book.

I used to forget to check my mail. All those bills, bills, bills. Who needs 'em! But since Mrs. T. started writing me regularly last winter, I can't wait until the mailman comes. I love my trips to the mailbox. I love rifling through bills to find a letter addressed to me by hand, with a return address from Washington. I love tearing it open to find a newsy update on happenings in my hometown. I love the reminders that God is putting it on someone's heart, 1,000 miles away, to pray for me.

It's been years and years since I've had a pen pal

These letters are always bearers of grace, and I'm so so thankful for them. 

© by scj

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pearls in May, #5: Songbirds

The events of the last month have felt a bit like a stampede of elephants trampling my sense of well-being. Whenever elephant stampedes invade my life, I have to work twice as hard to notice the good gifts that pervade every difficulty. So this month, in an attempt to work my gratitude muscles, I'm collecting and posting a gift a day. Soon, I will have a written series of little gifts strung together like a strand of pearls!

To read the introductory post to this series click here.

My ambition to post a pearl a day has been thwarted by my computer's decision to crash earlier this week. The bad news is also the good news in this situation: the bad news is the computer is only four months old ("this sort of hard drive crash after just four months is an anomaly," said the tech guy); the good news is it's still under warranty because it's so new.

Thankfully, I've hung on to my old computer and can use it as a stand-in, although it is about as capricious as my car. It works and then it doesn't and then it does and then it doesn't. But it's working right now, which means I get to post a weekend pearl!:

There is a grove of deciduous trees standing tall and quiet outside my window. When the ocean breeze blows through them, they can't help but quiver and dance with joy. And when the squirrels scurry up their trunks, they can't help but offer the furry critters the fruit of their limbs. And when the sun shines through their branches onto my deck, I can't help but curl up in a chair in the flickering patch of light.

Most days I soak up the warmth, close my eyes, and listen to the birds sing their joyful melodies. From sun-up to sun-down they sing. When dark clouds cloak the hillside like a burial shroud, they sing. When the sun dries up the morning dew, they sing. When the wind rips fiercely through the trees, they sing. When there's a break in a torrential downpour, they sing, their flaming orange and yellow breasts quivering with joyful, endless song.

Sometimes, after most of the birds have fallen asleep, I awake in the middle of the night, my mind racing with busy thoughts that quickly chase away sleepiness. And so I whisper prayers and quote Bible verses to quiet my mind. I listen to my breathing and hope that the rhythm of my chest rising and falling will lull me to sleep. And then, through my open window, I hear the cheerful strain of a lone songbird undaunted by the darkness. 

I suppose this is why I've grown to love these birds: they remind me that life is too full of gifts for us to keep quiet. In the bright of day there's the sun and the sky and the citrus groves popping with color, just begging us to sing joy to the world. And in the darkness of night there's the cool, damp air and the pearly glow of of the moon about which we can sing. Even the cloudy, stormy, inky moments contain a morsel of grace, and so we can choose, in every situation, to sing a song of thanks to the Giver of good gifts.

Image credit: http://creationoutreach.com
© by scj

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Pearls in May, #4: T-Rex Trying

The events of the last month have felt a bit like a stampede of elephants trampling my sense of well-being. Whenever elephant stampedes invade my life, I have to work twice as hard to notice the good gifts that pervade every difficulty. So this month, in an attempt to work my gratitude muscles, I'm collecting and posting a gift a day. Soon, I will have a written series of little gifts strung together like a strand of pearls!

To read the introductory post to this series click here

A number of you have sent me messages telling you that you're praying for me this week. Thank you.

I woke up this morning, still sick, wondering how I'd make it through the rigors of work and the hassles of moving out temporarily while my ceiling is taken apart. Anytime my body feels weak like it has the last few weeks, my spirits sag low. Sometimes really low. During these lower lows, I usually want to curl up into a ball and sleep until it's all over, but I can't. So instead I weep and gnash my teeth. And then I decide to try to look for the adventure in all this, and I begin to flex my gratitude muscles. And then I have another meltdown. And then I look for the good all over again. It's quite a cycle, and I'm glad for your prayers in the midst of it.

Today's pearls are numerous, as always, and I can't seem to limit them to just one.
So here are a few:

1. Yesterday, within the period of an hour, four of my guy friends offered to help me move furniture, should I need to before the ceiling is taken apart. I love my guys. They are just so thoughtful and gracious.

2. My neighbor, B, brought me a book on tape and a big ol' chunk of the juiciest, sweetest watermelon this week, just because.

3. Warmed vanilla coconut milk with honey and cinnamon. It is wonderfully comforting.

4. Michael Scott. He is so funny in those early years of the Office. An entertaining sick companion.

5. T-Rex. I have a book of his antics on my coffee table. They are simply delightful.

It's Tuesday morning. Tuesday mornings are sleepy mornings. So go google "T-Rex Trying." The results you'll find under "images" will make your morning more lively!

© by scj

Monday, May 19, 2014

Pearls in May, #3: The stampede becomes the gift

The events of the last month have felt a bit like a stampede of elephants trampling my sense of well-being. Whenever elephant stampedes invade my life, I have to work twice as hard to notice the good gifts that pervade every difficulty. So this month, in an attempt to work my gratitude muscles, I'm collecting and posting a gift a day. Soon, I will have a written series of little gifts strung together like a strand of pearls!

To read the introductory post to this series click here

And the elephant stampedes continue. This time, my ceiling literally looks as though it received the impact of some pretty energetic elephants. Since the new tenant started parking his car in the garage above me last week, my ceiling started cracking. The cracks are quickly becoming wider and more numerous, giving me reason to believe that my Chicken Little worries last week weren't that far-fetched. The ceiling just might fall after all.

On Saturday, the cracks had become big enough that I decided life-saving measures needed to be taken, so I headed to the new tenant's house to ask him if he'd be willing to park in the driveway for one night until an inspector could come investigate the stability of the structure.

The visit was unproductive though, as my new neighbor is an elitist Buddhist monk who only receives VIP visitors, and his servant wasn't sympathetic to my plight.

(P.S. I love Jesus. His humility, kindness, and servant's heart. His declaration that the least of these will be the greatest. The way he sought out people who were about as far from "VIP" as you can get. The dignity he bestowed to every person he met. The fact that he never asked his disciples to do any act of service that he didn't do himself. There is no one — no god or religious founder — like the God of the Bible.)

So I walked down the street to my neighbor L's house and asked her if I could sleep on her couch that night. She welcomed me with open arms. "Oh honey, come in; come in! You can stay in my guest room," she said as she hugged me. So I went home to pack my bags, and then made the dark trek down to her house.

After putting my bags in her spare bedroom, I snuggled onto the couch next to her recliner. We chatted about our day, stopping occasionally to watch snippets of the Everybody Loves Raymond marathon on t.v. Eventually, our eyes grew heavy and we headed to bed.

The next morning, I enjoyed a cuppa tea with L (how nice to have morning company!), and then I headed back to my house to meet the inspector (we'll call him "M") from the insurance company. I was excited to see him.

The night before, M called me to schedule an appointment. "Sarah!" he said in rapid Spanish. "How are you? How is your health?" I smiled when I realized he'd remembered me, since it had been almost four months since I'd seen him last.

Remember my big flood back in February? A tree outside my window had grown into one of my bathroom pipes, clogging it and causing a rather sizable flood that gushed from the bathroom into the living room/bedroom. The damage was significant enough that I had to move out for nine days so a crew from the insurance company could repair the damage. M was the man in charge of the crew.

M was kind, helpful, and considerate. He set me at ease during a pretty stressful situation and was a great conversationalist. He's also a native Spanish speaker, so we got to converse in Spanish for most of the time, which is always fun for me.

Awhile into our conversation last February he asked, "Does your job give you peace?" 

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 is available to everyone because of Christ's work on the cross.

He listened intently and 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.

I've wondered about M since that conversation. I've wondered how he and his family are doing, and how work is going for him. I've wanted to reconnect with him. And here he was, coming to help me again. What a gift. I know that these sorts of chance meetings are never coincidence. They are always an opportunity for us to discover, more profoundly, how much God loves us.

When he arrived yesterday morning, he brought his wife with him. She is just as lovely as he is.

M, his wife, and I chatted for awhile and then M inspected the garage and my studio. His assessment confirmed my fear: the garage floor is not strong enough to hold a car. He and his crew will have to take my ceiling apart to investigate the extent of the weakness in the garage floor above me, and until then, no one can park there. I was relieved to hear him relay the news to the neighbor, who agreed to park his car in the driveway.

After M had finished his assessment, I invited him and his wife to stay for tea. They had somewhere to get to, but invited me for lunch at their house after this crazy ceiling business is over. "You're in for a real treat," M told me. "My wife is a truly amazing cook."

So today's "pearl" has turned out to be a string of pearls. A hospitable neighbor, a reconnection with M, a new friend in M's wife, and a future lunch date. And once again, I'm reminded that worrisome inconveniences are God-given opportunities. God is always extending an armful of gifts; we just have to receive them.

I'm tired, though. Really tired. This week is finals week, which means my tank is on empty, and I'm about to get a mountain of grading. I still have a sore throat, seven days after getting sick; and taking care of my ceiling is going to be a really big task. I'll have to move out for an indefinite period of time.

I guess this is another opportunity to learn to live daily in Sabbath Rest — to work hard as unto the Lord but with the knowledge that he does not need my efforts to keep my world spinning. And one day, after we've labored long and hard for the cause of Christ, we'll stand before him and he'll look us in the eyes, his eyes burning with love for us, and say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

"Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." I love these words of Jesus.

In the meantime, I'm in a yoke with Jesus; and his yoke his easy, his burden light. And somehow, I know the inconveniences of the next few weeks will give me plenty of opportunities to tell the people I meet how much God loves us. They always do. It turns out my life's tiring inconveniences are really God-appointed opportunities.

I'd love your prayers for health, stamina and provision this week, if you're the praying type.

Happy Monday, friends!


© by scj

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Pearls in May, #2: Kev

The events of the last month have felt a bit like a stampede of elephants trampling my sense of well-being. Whenever elephant stampedes invade my life, I have to work twice as hard to notice the good gifts that pervade every difficulty. So this month, in an attempt to work my gratitude muscles, I'm collecting and posting a gift a day. Soon, I will have a written series of little gifts strung together like a strand of pearls!

To read the introductory post to this series click here

Yesterday I had to back out of plans with friends because of my sore throat, so they stopped by my house to say hello before they went out for the night. Upon walking in the door, my friend Kevin asked if he could use my bathroom. "Sure!" I answered. "Just be aware that the toilet seat won't stay up without help, and the bathroom needs to be cleaned, and the toilet paper dispenser broke last week..."

Minutes later, after using the bathroom, Kevin was armed with tools and determination to fix my toilet paper dispenser. Minutes after that he was out on my deck brushing away cobwebs and sweeping up leaves.

Please try not to feel too bad for the dying plant in the lefthand corner of this picture. The heat wave killed it, as did the general lack of sun my deck gets due to all the lovely trees.

As Kevin cleaned, I leaned back in my chair and turned to my friend Tiffany, "I like having a man around!" She laughed and agreed that our Kev is pretty terrific. Because truth is, not every man would walk into a house and get to work fixing and cleaning of his own initiative. But Kevin does, and I'm thankful for him.

And I'm loving my rehabilitated toilet paper dispenser.

© by scj

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A month of pearls

The month of April was unusually comfortable for me. With April showers came a stronger body and a life void of significant inconveniences and difficulties. It was lovely and unexpected. But then May 1st arrived and life turned into a herd of elephants trampling my general sense of well-being. Every time I've tried to peel myself off the sidewalk, another herd of elephants has come pounding down the pavement. I'm tired of elephants.

Today I am lying in bed since the sore throat I thought I'd kicked a few days ago has returned. The weather has cooled 20 degrees, so my windows are open, and the music of dozens of happy birds is floating into my bungalow. As I rest, I'm thinking back over the elephant-ridden events of the last few weeks.

Normally, when I reflect on a period of difficulty my spirit slowly deflates from the heaviness of the not-so-distant trials. But today, instead of looking back and seeing deep elephant footprints scattered across the month of May, I see a number of small, delightful moments hanging in the loft of my memory, like pearls on a string.

I've been working hard the last few weeks to notice and thank God for the good, quiet gifts in my life. I notice the sun shining through my window and warming my back while I sit on my bed and eat coconut ice cream.

I notice the feathery leaves outside my window, quivering in the breeze and gilded with sunlight.

I notice the wispy clouds on the horizon that look as if they have been painted with the same opalescent light that coats the inside of an abalone shell.

I notice the way the sunset turns the abalone clouds into a glowing sandstone sky that would make the Citrus family proud. A banner of tangerine atop a banner of lemon atop a banner of grapefruit. I wouldn't mind eating a spoonful of that citrus sky.

Layers of sandstone

I love that May's gifts are more impressed in my memory than the elephant tracks. Because I am great at seeing elephant tracks. I am great at talking about elephant tracks. I am great at remembering elephant tracks. It is unusual for me to look back on an elephant stampede and see something other than elephant tracks. So this pearl-filled remembering must be a gracious gift from God. I'll take it.

Here's the thing about gifts: they are always best when they are shared. So for the rest of May I'm going to try to share with you, daily, one of life's quiet gifts. Today, I give you my first gift — one of many pearls on my life string:

Last night I walked to my neighbor L's house an hour before sunset. "Hello!" I greet her when she opens the door. "I'm looking for a walking buddy. Do you want to join me?"

"Sarah!" she exclaims. "Come in honey; sit down." She ushers me to her black leather couch and then settles into her recliner. "I had a miracle happen and I want to tell you." So with excitement in her voice she fills me in. I'd tell you, dear reader, except it's not my miracle to share. ;)

L is lovely. If you met her you'd notice that her smile is bright and welcoming, and she is full of life. She's almost 40 years older than I am, but I could never call her elderly. She's too young for that.

I've only known L for a couple of months, but she's already a great friend. We understand each other, in part because she's struggled with some health problems with which I can identify. When I first got sick I never anticipated how my chronic illness would help me understand the physical limitations and accompanying grief that so many older people experience. I'm grateful for the many friendships this illness has helped forge. And I'm grateful to have a walking partner with whom I can enjoy meandering evening treks through the hills.

About 45 minutes into our conversation we look out the window and see the sun sinking behind the mountains and into the sea. Startled at how quickly the evening is slipping away, we hop up and L runs to the back room looking for walking shoes.

"The West Nile virus is bad this year, honey" she calls from the back room. "I don't want you to get bitten by a virus-carrying mosquito; why don't you wear something of mine to cover your bare arms?" She emerges from the bedroom holding a white, long-sleeved button up shirt with polka dots and frills. I smile and put it on over my Nike dry-FIT top while she slips a similar shirt over her sundress.

"Don't we look fit to kill," she says dryly. Then she throws back her head and chortles. I giggle with her and we look down at our outfits. They are rather eccentric. But it is eccentricity that will likely keep the West Nile Virus at bay, so we embrace it.

Moments later we're walking down the street, our eyes glued to the horizon. The sky is on fire. We murmur about the cotton candy clouds above us and the lava light in front of us. We stop every few feet to take pictures, but the photos don't do the sky justice so we shrug and keep walking.

Once the sky's fire has reduced to quietly burning embers, we head back to L's house, walk into the kitchen and take off our long-sleeved shirts. "Let me send you home with some soup, honey," L says before I move toward the door. She dishes up a container of cream of celery soup that is, surprisingly, void of all of the foods to which I'm allergic.

"Here you go!" She hands me the soup and I step out the door. "Hurry home, honey," she calls as I'm closing the door. "Make sure no mosquitos bite you!"

I smile and step into the twilight.

Sandstone image credit: fineartamerica.com
© by scj

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The sky [could be] falling

I wish I could tell you that I've been MIA in the blog-posting arena because I've been preoccupied with all sorts of wild adventures, but I can't. Instead, I can explain my absence in a few rather unflattering ways:

1. I have Senioritis.

What they don't tell you when you contract Senioritis — an imaginary illness characterized by exhaustion and apathy — your senior year of college, is that you will experience seasons of Senioritis forever and ever, until you die.

Two weeks ago I entered a season of very, very severe Senioritis. I've had to give myself daily pep talks about the victories that await me when I've finally trudged through all my grading. I've had to lay on my bed for hours at a time staring at the ceiling and listening to "Oceans" on repeat. I've had to bribe myself out of bed with waffles every day since the onset of Senioritis. I've even caught myself wringing my hands and performing an impassioned speech to my students that goes something like this:

"Stop giving me so much to grade you guys; just stop it already!"

My students wish I'd stop assigning them so much for me to eventually grade, too.

2. I've gotten sick.

An end-of-the-semester bug has bitten me with its germ-y fangs and I've been rendered unable to do much more than re-watch season three of the Office. It ain't a bad situation.

3. I became Chicken Little for a bit. 

This is the story:

It's a Tuesday in April and grey clouds have enveloped Portland like a comfy blanket. The city streets are slick with rain and the day is fading into dusk.

My friend G and I are tucked in the corner of a cheery delicatessen, chatting, when the waiter brings us each a reuben sandwich piled high with steaming salami. We look hungrily at our dinner and just before we dig in I whip out  my ever-present bottle of hand sanitizer.

"Do you want some?" I ask G. "This could be the one thing standing in the way of you and a parasite." I grin mischievously, 50% joking and 100% serious because, thanks to my eighth grade science class, I know that parasites are serious business.

"You're afraid of a lot, aren't you?" G observes as I squirt sanitizer into his open palms.

I'm surprised by his candor, but I shouldn't be because this is one of the things I love about him.

I answer yes, and explain that I've always been a worrywart, but the trauma of my illness has acted like a fertilizer to my worry, growing it into full-blown, full-time fear of more sickness. I'm especially concerned with keeping my house safe as I fight to get healthy. If my body won't stay safe, then I'd like my home to be. So my impulse is to try to protect myself, insulating my life from more pain. I tell G I'm making progress on my journey toward conquering the fear of more loss, but it's slow. He listens quietly and soon the conversation turns to motorcycles and dance moves. Then we clean our plates, lick our lips, and hit the road.

Days later I'm back in Orange County hanging out with my plumber and his entourage. We are exploring the upper part of the property, which is currently for rent, when one of them notices that the unit above me is a garage. My very old apartment is built on the side of a steep hill, which is why the garage is above it. The tenant who eventually rents the main house on our property will get to park his car above me. Until then, it remains empty.

"Is that wood on the floor of the garage?" the worker asks. "Wow," he remarks as he walks into the garage and begins to investigate. "That's really old wood. It doesn't look sturdy at all. It cannot be safe for you to live under this garage when there's a car in it, especially a big car. Who knows what kind of termite damage, or just plan aging damage, has been done to this wood."

I gulp big because the concerned worker has voiced a fear I, and number of others in my life, have had for awhile now. I try to shove down the worry that's welling up inside of me.

A few days later the plumber returns to do more work while I'm at school. When I return from school my neighbor, who talked to the plumber in lieu of my absence, says they discovered a broken pipe under my house that will remain broken and could cause a sink hole.

I gulp again, and wonder if my bright and airy bungalow is actually a death trap.

That day the new tenant for the main house — the one who will park above me — arrives. He is driving a Chevy Tahoe the size of Rhode Island. I feel quite certain I know how I will die now, and death by SUV is not the way I want to go.

In fact I realize, with great fervor, I am not ready to die. I want to live. Oh! how I want to live! And the sneaky tentacles of Fear begin to wrap around my heart and squeeze, like a hungry boa constrictor.

For days I battle periodic bouts of fearful paralysis. I try to grade, but I can't. I try to clean, but I can't. I try to write, but I can't. Instead, I sit there waiting for a Chevy Tahoe to fall on my head. Chicken Little and I are two peas in a poisonous pod sometimes.

My tendency when I'm anxious is to retreat into myself, but I know that I must reach out to people in this post-sickness battle with fear. So at small group I tell my friends that I'm battling fear again, and I need them pray. The next day, I call my brother and ask him to pray. The day after that, I ask my students to pray. And all of them pray, not only for my safety, but for Fear's tentacles to dissolve and for God to fill my heart with peace.

It's been a few days since I asked my community to pray for me, and since then my worry has begun to dissipate. Instead of feeling weighed down by fear of that heavy SUV, I've been bombarded by true things. I remember that God is always at work, fighting on my behalf. I remember that Satan is looking to incapacitate me, and he's likely using fear to do it. I remember that God does things differently than I would because he is infinitely more good and powerful than I am — and should a Chevy Tahoe fall into my studio, his grace will be sufficient. And I remember that God will use any and every painful thing in my life for my good, his glory, and the good of everyone around me.

And grace upon grace: I've been able to rest in these true things. I even feel a sort of supernatural confidence and bravery that I haven't felt in a long time (Take that, Satan!).

So this is the moral of my story: When worry begins to gobble up your peace, joy and productivity, find safe people, invite them into your worry, and ask them to pray for you. It's a sure-fire way to transform Chicken Little into a spiritual William Wallace of sorts:

And hey, it's a mighty good switch, Jack.

Have you had adventures this week, my friends?! I hope they've been enriching, at the very least.

Happy Wednesday!


© by scj

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I hope I'm Like You When I Grow Up

Five months ago I tried to write a post in honor of my mom's 26th birthday.  She's been celebrating 26th birthdays for years now.

Since I'd finally surpassed her in age, I thought I'd perhaps be able to take the last 27 years of knowing my mom and squish them into 1,000 words or less.  But I couldn't.

Describing my mom was like trying to use hand gestures to make a friend understand how I felt the first time I stood under a moonless indigo sky ablaze with stars hanging so low I could reach up and grab them.

There are some things that cannot be confined to a string of symbols on a page.  A mother's influence is one of those things.

But still, words can give glimpses of glory; they can be pinpricks of light, like the stars, pointing us to a brighter, truer Light.

And so today, in honor of my mom, I've written a letter listing a few of the things I love about her.

Dear Mom,

Remember those cat eye sunglasses with the *very* colorful rims?  I was in fifth grade when you wore them. In public. And you didn't care what other people thought.  You didn't listen to my stammering protests, or pay attention to the most recent fashion magazines.  You just donned them with confidence and style.  I think you may have even danced your way into the mall with those things on your head, just in case people hadn't already noticed them.

I love you for that.

I love that you've always marched — or danced — to the rhythm of your own drummer.  You haven't tried to cram your soul into the stifling corsets* of silly expectations, reductionistic roles, or cultural 'coolness.'

In the Austrian Alps, 2004

Your tenacious commitment to be who God calls you to be is evident beyond your daring sunglass choices.

It was evident when you stood alone before the city council to challenge an unethical education mandate.

It was evident when you stood up for the woman in your musical theater group whose male director felt her youth and timidity made it okay for him to invade her privacy and publicly degrade her.

It was evident when you brought the four of us kids to the courthouse to participate in silent protests on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.  You wanted to show us that there are some things in the world worth fighting for, and that it is possible fight in a quiet and respectful way.

That's my little brother Marc hopping down the stairs.
My mom is behind him wearing the same 'Former Fetus' sign

When people drove by honking and yelling profanities at us, we watched you smile graciously, with dignity.  When a man walked past and accused you of brainwashing us, you engaged him respectfully, but didn't back down.  Because you knew that it isn't brainwashing to instill in your kids a value for our most fundamental right—the right to live—and it isn't brainwashing to raise your kids with a sense of justice and a commitment to action when the world goes topsy turvy.

You taught us how to do the right thing, even under persecution, but you also taught us that life is for having fun.

When we studied world religions you thought it would be fun to celebrate the Jewish festival of booths, and so we made a booth—or sukkah—in our backyard and ate our meals in it that week.

When we grew older and got too stressed from school, or too irritated with each other, you'd show us how to throw back our heads and laugh and let the stress and irritation drain from our spirits, like air from a balloon.

And when you met people who'd moved here from other countries you'd invite them to our house for holidays.  They'd bring authentic cuisine from their country and teach us new words, and we learned that the world is big and grand and full of new friends.

I could go on and on, mom; you taught us so many things.

You taught us that we were more important than your sleep when we'd wake up sick in the middle of the night; and that paint, foam, and cardboard are for creating Halloween costumes, doll houses, and Christmas presents.

You taught us that empty amphitheaters in foreign countries are for dancing,

that empty plots of land are for gardening,

and that empty dishwashers are for loading.

All of this: pinpricks of light pointing us to a greater, truer Light.

A few months ago little brother Marc was driving onto his college campus with his buddy.  As they crawled across speed bumps Marc noticed a male student about his age, standing alone and looking despondent.

Go talk to him.  That inner voice prompted Marc to do something risky and unusual, even embarrassing.

He turned to his friend and asked him to stop the car.  Slowly, he approached the student.  He talked to him for awhile and the kid told Marc he was lonely and discouraged. Marc got his phone number so they could hang out, and he walked back to the car, one friend richer.

I swelled with pride when I heard the story, and then I thought of you, mom.  Because that day Marc reminded me of you.

Like you, he has become a man who heeds the voice of the Spirit, even when it's uncomfortable.

This is because we learn more from watching lives lived than we learn from powerful rhetoric and substantive textbooks.

We grew up imitating you, mom, and you have always marched to the beat of the Maker of music —the One wired you to dance, stand up for the oppressed, initiate new friendships, and wear zany sunglasses.

And so today, on mother's day, telling you I'm thankful for you just doesn't cut it.

But I am.

I'm thankful for you,

I love you,

and I hope I'm like you when I grow up.

Thank you for being such a marvelous mother.

Happy Mother's Day,

Your Sarah Christine

*My friend, author and apologist, Jonalyn Fincher, uses this imagery of 'soul corsets' in her book Ruby Slippers

© by scj

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Thursday Things: Shift

1. The plumber just left. He's been a regular visitor this week, ever since my bathroom flooded. Again. Thankfully, because my bathroom flooded twice in the first four months I lived here, I've been on diligent "flood watch" and caught it early. No damage was done and I don't have to move out. *insert deep sigh of relief.*

2. The plumber and I are becoming great friends. We have jolly laughs together because he's a jovial guy, and because bathtubs and toilets are funny.

3. If you would like to pray for me this week, you can pray that my plumber and landlord are able to troubleshoot an effective solution to all these floods.

4. The tow truck driver and I are becoming friends, too, as my car broke down again two days before my bathroom flooded. He's a friendly guy who grew up in east L.A. before he moved to the beach. He is well acquainted with the gang culture of east LA, although he was never in a gang himself, and has fascinating observations about gangs' views of justice and loyalty.

5. And hey, the mechanic and I are becoming great friends, too, Jack. He's Greek with an accent that'll make you smile. He calls me "lady."

"Sorry, lady."
"Tell you what, lady."
"Take care, lady."

It's rather endearing.

6. My car didn't start when I returned from my vacation in Washington. Two AAA technicians and I tried to start my car at least 20 times over a period of two days with no success. And then, as soon as we'd dropped it off at the mechanic, it started. Just like that. And it started every time the mechanic tried for three days after that.

I suppose there is a law of the universe that states that if your car won't start for days, all you need to do is drop it off at the mechanic and it will magically start.

I do not love this law of the universe.

7. In fact, I haven't loved the inconveniences of the last few days, and I've been writing rather ungrateful mental letters to God this week that go something like this:

Dear God,

I'm tired of car problems, floods, and bills. It is really, really not fair that you keep allowing (or making) all this bad stuff happen.



8. Writing ungrateful letters to God only feels good for about three seconds before I realize that my ingratitude is devouring my joy, and my criticisms of God are ridiculous. These are first world problems I'm dealing with — problems I wouldn't have if I weren't so privileged. And here I am complaining when my comfortable life of privilege doesn't go the way I want.

And what in the world makes the clay think it can advise the Potter?

I realized my letters to God needed to look very different. I needed to see my life with new, grateful eyes. So I imagined what sort of letter God might write to me explaining what he sees when he looks at my inconveniences.

It went something like this:

Dearest Sarah,

I know this is uncomfortable. Don't forget I'm closer than the freckles on your nose every time your bathroom floods, gas leaks, car breaks down, or the earth quakes. None of this stuff can happen without my knowledge. Nothing your heart feels escapes my attention and care. And nothing bad ever stays all bad. I transfigure it and use it to do good things. This week I am doing good things.

Count the friends you've made since you moved to this bungalow. There are the neighbors you stayed with during the earthquake, the neighbors' workmen who helped you push your car, the AAA technicians, the tow truck driver, the mechanic, the folks at the car rental place, and the plumber and his entourage.

I don't want you to stay cloistered away in your bungalow, depressed from the illness you've experienced and disconnected from your community. Your tendency is to withdraw when you're tired and discouraged, and I want you to live fully, in relationship with the people out your front door. I will save you from the consequences of your tired tendencies, and I'm using these inconveniences to do it. I am merciful.

I also want you to experience the health I've given you. Look how you've handled all this! You wouldn't have had had the health to do it at this time last year. And you wouldn't know what your body is capable of if you didn't have to navigate these frequent inconveneinces. Notice the healing work I've done in your body, and take heart.

I'm doing good work inside of you, but I'm also doing good work outside of you. There are lots of people in your community who don't know how much I love them. They need to know, somehow. Gas leaks, car problems and floods are a few of the ways I pull people together so the people who know my love can tell the people who don't know it yet just how wonderful and unfailing my love for them is. Every inconvenience could be an opportunity to share the world's Best Ever News with a soul that needs to hear it.

And finally, you never know, Sarah, but that the money you pay one of the people who have solved your problems is an answer to his prayer for financial provision. I'm always at work doing things you can't see. Good, awe-full things.

I love you to the moon and back. Actually, from heaven to earth and back again. Don't you ever forget that.



9. This morning I opened my Bible to Luke 21:12-13 in which Jesus foretells wars and persecution of Christians. He states,

"But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness."

My problems are so insignificant compared to the suffering of persecuted Christians. And yet God uses their startlingly painful problems to complete his Great Commission. Surely he can use my first world problems to do the same.

10. Slowly, I'm beginning to view my inconveniences with gratitude for the good things God is certainly doing. It's easy to fall back into anxiety and ingratitude though, so I regularly have to look for the signs of God's goodness in my life.

11. Get a load of this proof of God's goodness:

I was walking to my car after work earlier this week when I saw this sign:

This may be the most brilliant mission trip fundraiser I've ever seen.

I was in puppy heaven.

(Quick, go find a pet store, and go inside and stay awhile!)

14. Thanks for sharing the good and the bad with me today, my friends. Happy Thursday (almost-Friday!) to you. And if it's not happy, I pray that, at the very least, it's full of grateful joy.


© by scj