Monday, March 30, 2015

A busy week

My friends! Hello!

It's been a busy week here in the land of eternal sun. I have lots to tell you.

First, I have suffered another cactus tragedy. This brings my grand total of 2015 cactus tragedies to 2. It's been a tough year for my cacti.

Remember Mella, the little succulent who replaced George after he fell to his death?

She was a sweet and gentle friend. I kept her to the right of my bathroom sink where I could admire her every time I washed my hands. She added such warmth to my bathroom.

And then.

And then I noticed her leaves were drooping. "Oh Mella," I exclaimed. "Silly me! You need sun!" So I put her in the sun and hoped vitamin D would revive her.

Alas, there are only so many things vitamin D can do, and resurrect a succulent destined to die is not one of of those things. So I said goodbye to Mella. Then, I walked into my bathroom and moved Tommy to her place next to my sink.

Everyone, meet Tommy:

I got Tommy several weeks back for such a time as this. Tommy is quiet. He's also packed with talent. He's that kid in your high school class who hung back and observed from the sidelines and then went out and killed it in business after college because of all he learned from his years of studying people. And now, I can consult him whenever I wash my hands. I'm lucky to have Tommy on my team.

But wait. The week wasn't ALL cactus drama. Because my sweet little globe-trotting sister came to visit this week.

Sisters are one of God's greatest gifts. They are proof of his goodness. They are the best people with whom to analyze reality tv shows, eat piles of brussel sprouts, and drink tropical smoothies in the sunshine.

My sister and I are different, as all sisters are. Rebecca is a business woman; I am a teacher. Rebecca can design beautiful, edgy clothing; I can bake a mean apple pie. Rebecca can win a tennis match; I can (okay, let's be honest, I could) win a hurdle race. But we are also very similar. We both have a keen intuition, a fierce sense of loyalty, and a deep love of beauty. And sometimes we both wear pink and black on our evening walks.

Accidental twinning!

It was a week of accidental twinning because my uncle and I also ended up looking mighty matchy in our gingham shirts:

My sister and I had a pretty low key time together but we did manage to make it to the beach one day where we laid in the sun for hours.

It was glorious.

Our cousin, K, met us a bit later and the three of us had a jolly chat. We loved having her vibrant company.

Oh Jackson girls. I love 'em.

I sure do love y'all, too, and I hope you've had a wonderful weekend.

I pray your week is full of reminders of God's resurrection power working in and through all Christians to accomplish his grand purposes in the Church and the world.

Cheering for ya, Skillets.

Because He Lives,


© by scj

Sunday, March 22, 2015

My doctor's theory

Hi Friends,

Top o' the morning to ya. I hope yer feeling cheery and rested. I'm feeling a wee bit Irish today. Not sher if it's because I'm cravin' a bowl o' Lucky Charms (Oh what I'd give fer a bowl o' Lucky Charms), or because I forgot to celebrate St. Patrick's Day last week, or because I have Colin Farrel on the mind, but I suppose it doesn't matter, really.

While we're on the subject o' Colin Farrel, I figure I'll give you a little something special to start your day, ladies (sorry, laddies, the best I can offer you is a bowl o' Lucky Charms from the store down the street. Although it's not a bad offer if I do say so meeself):

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Oh C.F., you and your dark, handsome, intelligent, accent-y ways are a gift to big screens, medium screens, and small screens everywhere. Also, Saving Mr. Banks was a good movie, folks. Worth putting on the Friday night movie list, if you ask me.

Okay. Onto other matters. I have a medical update for all of you who have been praying for wisdom for the doctors trying to diagnose my illness.

On Friday I sat down with a specialist who went over the results of the last few months' medical tests with me. Because my test results were unusual, it's much harder to conclusively diagnose whatever is going on. But he did have some helpful thoughts.

First, he discovered I have way more allergies than I originally thought. Over the years I've gotten many allergy tests revealing scores of significant environmental and food allergies. The doctor's most recent tests revealed I have a lot more allergies than those tests originally indicated. My research indicates that it's not uncommon for people who have had a prolonged infection with the Epstein Barr virus (as I did) to develop new allergies post infection. My recent tests indicated I am allergic to all food except vegetables, turkey, pork and some fruits. So the first piece to this puzzle is knowing that not only has the environment been poisoning my body, but my food has been, too.

The doctor said he believes there is a close relationship between out-of-control-allergies and autoimmune diseases. He speculated that, given my past with the Epstein Barr virus which has been linked to many autoimmune diseases, it is quite possible that I have an inner ear autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, there is no test to confirm this, nor is there a happy little pill I can take to fix it. Some doctors think that taking chemotherapy or tumor-shrinking drugs is a helpful approach, but I have no desire to go that route, especially as we can't conclusively diagnose this. Thankfully, my doctor doesn't want to go that route either. Instead, he thinks that if I can get my allergies under control with diet changes and weekly immunotherapy then my immune system will calm down enough that any autoimmune disease will also be quieted and maybe even resolved.

This makes sense to me. I'm hopeful that he's right and we begin to see improvement with allergy shots and diet changes. I'd love your continued prayers for healing and insight for me and my doctors as we try to resolve this. Because inner ear diseases are so difficult to diagnose, this whole journey is really just a process of elimination — of seeing what treatments work and don't work and then making a diagnosis based on that information. Thank you so much for your faithful prayers and encouragement thus far. You guys are just the greatest.

In the meantime, I had a decent health night last night (two cheers for DECENT!!!!) and was able to go to my friend Laura's birthday party. It was a rip roarin' affair complete with a bonfire in the back yard, a table laden with barbecued delights, forty of my favorite people, a gut-wrenching basketball game, someone getting thrown in the pool, and back rubs to go around.

Laura is running a marathon in a few months so our friend Dan gifted her with a huge box of supplies. This was a very generous gift considering Dan usually gives us each a stick of gum for our birthdays. But I suppose when you're training for a marathon you deserve more than a stick of gum.

Look at all these folks watching the unveiling of the marathon care package:

What a crew.

Here I am with the one and only Bobby Carter. 
I used his phone for these photos. I could've taken 300 photos of me with his phone for him to find later, but I didn't. I leave that sort of thing to him.

I hope you're weekend has been full of good things, my friends.

A very jiggy (in the Irish Riverdance sort of way) Sunday to you all.

Cheering for ya, Skillets.


© by scj

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Seven Minutes

When I was in college my track coach would give me and my teammates seven minutes of rest between especially grueling sets of long sprints. That seven minutes was dreamy. It was full of shade, cold water, and slow breathing. It allowed us to recover just enough that we could run our guts out again.

I got my "seven minutes" last week when God gave me four glorious days of feeling decent. When I feel decent I'm able to rest enough that I can bear all the other really hard health days. It makes this life race possible. Feeling decent means I can be productive — I can run errands, cook meals, and grade piles of papers.

I sure have been loving my home office these days

And it makes it possible to do fun stuff stuff, like cook dinner for a picnic atop a grassy hill overlooking the ocean.

My friend Tiffany picnicked with me. This was my first outing with a friend since all this started and it was everything a first outing should be. Wispy clouds, frothy waves, salty skin, and girl talk. 

It was a victorious week, folks, because I was also able to enjoy not one, but TWO outings with friends. To cap off the week, I cheered my friends on in one of our semi-frequent softball games. Last week we had some long, hot days that felt like summer, and there ain't nothin' better than a little "summer" softball under a banner of blue.

Get a load of that setting sun.

My friend Robert took the above photo. You may know Robert as Photo Bomber Extraordinaire.

My friend Jeremy took the below photos. If you ask him to take a single picture, it is likely he will decide to make a documentary instead. I love that about him. He captures so much real, unposed life.

Gosh, I'm thankful for decent. Last week was my second bout of feeling decent since all this started a few months ago. This time, though, I felt even more decent than the first time, which is encouraging. I'm hopeful that decent will become standard one of these days. And then, maybe, decent will up and turn into good ol' healthy normal.

I have some new prayer requests for those of you who are still praying:

1. Wisdom for my doctors who are still trying to diagnose this.

2. Wisdom for me as I try to decide which tests to have run. They're all so expensive that I have to be strategic.

3. Healing. I really want to keep my life down here but I won't be able to if I don't experience significant improvement in my health.

4. Trust in God's plan; Encouragement when I can't see what he's doing.

Thank you thank you thank you for your prayers! How can I pray for you today? Shoot me an email. I love praying for all of you.

Cheering for you, Skillets.


© by scj

Monday, March 9, 2015

Flinging Gold

These days I spend lots of time sitting in the sunny backyard eating blackberries. Normally, I inhale my food. This allows me to hit two birds with one stone: I can breathe AND eat in the same breath. I love being efficient and productive, baby. But lately, I've been savoring these blackberries. I close my eyes and chew slowly and I notice what it's like to eat a blackberry. Tangy, then sweet, then a little bit bitter. Firm, then juicy, then summertime syrup. 
Eating blackberries in the sunshine helps me live in the present rather than worrying about the future. I'm tempted to think about the future a lot these days. I wonder what's going to happen in my body in the next few months and how that will affect my life long-term. In the end, my body will be the boss and I will have to do what works for her. This is hard.

Remember how ten days ago I laid on a medical table for a dizziness test? I wore a pair of goggles with a black, plastic sheath covering them and all I could see was inky black. An audiologist sat at my side and stuck alternating hot and cold air in my ears to induce extreme dizziness. The doctor, sensing my anxiety as she stuck the air shooter in my ear, spoke:

"It's okay, Sarah. This dizziness will be over in two minutes. This isn't real."

Later, I wondered at her words. The dizziness was definitely real. A real gust of air really changed the temperature in my real ear canal which really gave me horrible vertigo and really inspired me to try the Lamaze breathing techniques I'd seen on TV.

But I think I know what she meant. As I lay on the table, my reality was a dark void threatening to suck me into its spinning vortex. And that experience was real. But there was a realer real than the one I experienced. The audiologist could see the realer real. She saw a room full of light in which an anxious, goggle-wearing patient laid on a medical table. She knew she was a caring, competent professional in complete control of my dizziness. She knew this would be over in a flash and would soon be a fading memory.

There's this dialogue I've been having with God lately.

"God," I say. "I am tired of being stuck in my body. What could you possibly be thinking by allowing this?"

Sometimes he answers me clearly; sometimes he doesn't. When he doesn't, I imagine how he might respond, based on what I know of him from the Bible.

I usually imagine him saying something like this:

"I want you to know how much I love you. I know it doesn't make sense right now, but your suffering is teaching you my love in ways physical health wouldn't."

"That's really wonderful, God," I respond. "But why don't you just take me to heaven now where I can experience your love in its fullness? Then you could teach me your love AND spare me a lifetime in my body."

His answer is the same every time: "Because there are people who don't know me yet, and I will use your suffering to teach them how much I love them. Courage, dear heart. I'm doing something big that you cannot see."

There's a realer real than one we can see. Our little globe is spinning through the darkness, and sometimes the darkness presses in so thick and close we can't see through it. Sometimes things feel hopeless and out of control. They feel like the realest real. 

But God sees the Realest Real. He sees heaven, bathed in light, and he sees the hosts of heaven peering down at our little planet, waiting with bated breath for the day Jesus will chase away every last ounce of darkness. He knows he is caring and in control, and in the end, this dusty life on earth will be like a fading memory compared to the eternal life he's preparing for followers of Jesus in heaven.

And heaven? In heaven we will feel really, truly known. In heaven all of our dingy facades and tarnished masks will melt away, along with sin's soul scars and stains. We will know what it is to stand before our Creator naked and accepted, and we will know God fully, the way he knows us. And I think, in that moment, it will feel like love and compassion are burning through every inch of us. All at once all of our deepest desires will finally be satisfied. 

What will it be like to hear the voice that spoke the stars into the sky, calls dead men to life, and courses with love say our names...?

Sometimes, when I sit in the sun and eat blackberries, I think I've glimpsed a sliver of heaven's light. And the more I slow down to notice, the more slivers of heaven's light I see. They're everywhere, dancing like fireflies in the darkness. They're especially bright when Christians serve others like Jesus did, with humility and generosity. Jesus said when this happens we're witnessing his children building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Isn't it a miracle? That he'd trust and empower us to build the Realest Real right here?

The poet Rumi once wrote:

"Find the real world, give it endlessly away, grow rich flinging gold to all who ask. Live at the empty heart of paradox. I'll dance there with you — cheek to cheek."

Millions of people haven't heard the good news yet: they don't know there's a Realer Real than all this earthy madness. They don't know that the darkness doesn't have to have the last word. They don't know that our chaos can be turned into a story of redemption. They don't know that the God of the ages loves them with an undying, unfathomable love. And they need to know. We all need to know.

So we remain faithful in suffering. We keep our hands at the plow, pushing through the hard stuff, because, somehow, God will use it like a megaphone declaring the love of our very Real God who is preparing an eternally glorious home for those who love and serve him. 

Somehow, he'll turn the darkness to gold that we can give away.

Cheering and praying for you today, Skillets,


© by scj

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


It's my seventh grade year and my family has driven up the mountain to our friends' cabin. "Time at their cabin" usually involves very little time at the cabin. Instead, we shimmy up rocks, slide down waterfalls, and roast dinner around a roaring fire.

But we haven't gotten to dinner yet. For now, we're streaking though the forest in our swimwear. Well, 7 of the 8 kids are. I'm wearing sweat pants tucked into socks, and a sweatshirt with the hood pulled over my face. The sky is summer blue, but I am wishing for an umbrella.

It's all Mrs. Payne's fault. Well, hers and whatever baby neuroses were incubating in my adolescent mind just waiting to hatch and grow into something Neurotic, with a capital N.

Mrs. Payne is my homeroom teacher. She has short brown hair that is always perfectly styled and plump lips which regularly sport a nice shade of mauve. She is actually a great teacher. The problem is she has just finished teaching a unit on parasites that has made me terrified of getting a tapeworm. I have officially decided to give up meat. Unbeknownst to me, this vegetarian phase will only last for three months. Because: steak. Also: growth spurts.

I'm also terrified of getting a tick. For this reason, I have vowed to cover as much skin as possible when walking through the brush during tick season. I seem to be doing okay with my sweatsuit ensemble, but an umbrella would provide an extra layer of protection from ticks falling out of trees.

This is just one of many fears I have developed this year. It has been an unparalleled year in the fear department. Must be the hormones. Shortly before the parasite unit, Mrs. Payne brought in an acupuncturist to demonstrate the process of sticking very long needles into people's bodies. There was a lot of lecturing — Chinese medicine, qi, meridians, etc. — and then we all watched while she allowed the doctor to stick a needle in her head. HER HEAD. The very top, where the scalp is very hard and very thick, and very hard and very thick.

Enter: Oh sweet Moses, I will never, ever, ever do acupuncture ever. I do not even need to write this in my 7th grade diary because I know I will never forget my commitment to needle safety and general sanity.

But here is the way life often works: I was the only child that fateful day on the mountain who got a tick, and fast forward 18 years to today, and I've just spent some time on a doctor's table with eight needles in my head. EIGHT, people. In MY VERY HARD AND VERY THICK HEAD.

And here's what I have to say about it: I would much rather have a needle in my head than a tick in my back.

Amen and amen.

I have decided to try acupuncture with the hope that it will alleviate my dizziness, nausea and tinnitus. The doctor said it will take a few sessions before I can tell if the acupuncture is working for me, but I've worked out a tentative verdict:

This stuff is not a bunch of hooey balooey. When done by a skilled practitioner, it can accomplish good, healthy things in the body. It hasn't lessened my dizziness and nausea yet, BUT my tinnitus is a bit better already and my neck, which has felt like it's been full of gravel for several years, feels like it's been emptied of gravel and oiled up with some serious WD-40. I'm hopeful acupuncture will do for my vertigo what it's done for my neck.

I drove home from the acupuncturist with the windows down and country music crooning. When I pulled into my aunt and uncle's neighborhood, a gust of jasmine perfume blew through the car. I breathed it in and turned up the music. And then, to celebrate today, I took another lap around the block, occasionally popping my head out the window into the oncoming, fragrant breeze like an eager puppy. Because it's not everyday you get to slay a 7th grade acupuncture dragon.

If I had a Humans of New York-type blog, I'd rally up all your seventh grade dragons along with stories about the times you've slayed them. I'd like reading through those stories. You should tell me sometime. 

Cheering for you, and hugs, and G'night.


P.S. Still working on slaying the tick dragon, but I can happily report that on my last traipse through the brush I didn't even bother to tuck my pants into my socks. So, two steps forward, baby.

© by scj

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dun dada dun: Exciting News!


So I have exciting news.


Here is what my table looked like when I was done with the program application:

What you cannot see in the photo above is the row of 30 library books sitting against the wall. I had to churn out a writing sample for the application since I've been out of the world of academia for so long, and my house very quickly filled up with books and papers. I was a loopy loopster when I was done with all the writing.

Here are the program details:

The school: Talbot Theological Seminary

The program: Educational Studies

The research goal: To explore the role of imagination in our spiritual formation, giving special attention to the intersection of myth and theology. This is the broad view of the direction I'd take my research. I have some ideas for the particulars that I'm still working out.

The hope: to get healthy enough that I can start in the fall or spring of the next school year.

Pretty fun, huh?!

Cheering for you this Monday, skillets,


© by scj