Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

These people are my favorites.

We have lots of things in common. We all like pecan butter. We all own Nike running shoes. We all watched Despicable Me 2 this weekend. We all have the same last name.

Between the seven of us, we traveled 5,000 miles to spend Christmas together. It was a worthy trek.

Last night, we donned our fancies and headed to a restaurant in Portland with a killer view of the city. The evening — a Christmas gift from my parents — was lovely. The tables were candlelit, the city below sparkled (and so did the ladies at the table), the food knocked our socks off, and it was generally a festive evening.

This is my little brother, Marc, flanked by me and my sister, Rebecca.
 
Marc just graduated from college. He's become strapping, bearded, and educated. He's always been smart, hilarious, and loyal. We like him.

Rebecca is my fashion consultant. She's also the one I call when life has me down, the one I dance with when I'm feeling inhibited, and my slumber party invitee of choice. God knew what he was doing when he gave me her.

This is my brother Aaron and his wife, Natasha.


Aaron is fly. He starts hair trends, wears sick shoes, and is generally one of the coolest people I know. He's also tender, thoughtful, and crazily creative. Natasha is hard-working, loyal, and, of course, beautiful. She's also training for the Olympics. You should check out her website and her blog. Aaron and Natasha are a good match. We like having them around.

This is my mom and dad.


My mom is radiant. My dad is lucky. He's also trustworthy, thoughtful, and great fun to be around. He reads voraciously and is an impressive cook. He loves my mom. Naturally. She is full of conviction, oozes creativity, and is my absolute favorite to laugh with. Her baking expertise knows no bounds, and she can dance an impromptu salsa number like nobody's business. Both my mom and my dad are wise, loyal, and have modeled for us faithfulness to Jesus, even when it's wildly difficult. We think they're great.

This is our waiter's finger. Or an unruly flash. Or a mummy rising from the dead.

Sometimes photo spots work like clouds; they contain all sorts of hidden objects.

And this is Abi and I wishing you a happy New Year!

Well, I'm wishing you New Year's cheer, anyway. Abi is busy looking toward the next bend in the road; she's looking toward new adventures, challenges, and opportunities. She's excited about 2014.

I pray an exciting 2014 for you, friends. 

I hope, in this new year, you know....

.... the peace, provision, and presence of Jesus who's always calling us nearer, with open arms ....

..... encouragement and direction from the Spirit who delights in nudging us into newness of life .....

.... and the smiling approval of the faithful Father who loves us so ....

Merry, exciting newness ahead of us!

In Him,

SJ

© by scj

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I'm in Love

Everyone, meet Abbie.

She is the cutest little pookie wookie face you ever did see.

Actually, she's a Maltese — the Maltesest of all Malteses.

She belongs to my sister's friend who is out of town for the holidays. Luckily, Rebecca gets to take care of Abbie while her owners are gone. And luckily, Rebecca's been staying at my parents' house since all of us siblings are staying with my parents for the holidays.

We love Abbie. It's a good thing she likes people because snuggling with Abbie is all we want to do these days.

We can't help it; she's a curly, poofy ball of joy. She's a prancing, playful cuddle magnet. She's a living, breathing beanie baby who likes licking those she loves.

She's a muse for fur-trimmed fashion shows,

and a sucker for late-night belly rubs.

She's a curious little critter who likes prancing from room to room and person to person, exploring new territories, assessing new situations, and ensuring she doesn't miss out on any morsel of conversation, tidbit of adventure, or crumb of Christmas cheer.

I'm allergic to pretty much anything that has four legs, which means I never get to pet, snuggle, or play with animals. But for some reason I am only mildly allergic to Abbie, so I've been making up for 29 years of not being able to enjoy dogs.

I find myself cooing, crawling around on my hands and knees, and lying on the floor approximately 80% of the time. I find myself looking forward to returning from holiday outings so I can see little Abbie. I find myself wishing we could keep her forever and ever, Amen.

Wouldn't that be grand?

So if you need me to babysit your Maltese, I'm all in.

Happy Sunday, friends!

-Gaga-for-Abbie Sarah


© by scj

Friday, December 27, 2013

Snippets

Merry Christmas and happy almost-New Years, friends!

I've missed you this week, and have all sorts of posts queued up to publish next week. The problem is the posts are all in my head. So, for now, until I'm able to sit for more than 10 minutes at a time, here are a few of my favorite moments from the week:

 My dear friend from southern California, Tiffany, flew up to spend Christmas with me and my family.



It's Tiffany's first time in the Pacific Northwest so we've been trying to give her a taste of the area.
We've sipped hot beverages in funky coffee shops. Lots of 'em.


We've gone on long hikes in foggy, enchanted forests. While winding our way up the mountain, we kept waiting for Prince Charming to come riding through the woods on his white stallion. He must've gotten lost in the fog. Go figure.


 We've braved cold weather, sported bright beanies, and enjoyed breathing crisp, clean air. 

Left to right: me, Rebecca, Tiffany, Mom


It's been merry and bright, and goodness, there's more to tell you!

Soon!

© by scj

Friday, December 20, 2013

What I saw

Yesterday, after leaving for the airport at the ungodly hour of 5:30 A.M., eating rather questionable airport eggs for breakfast, enduring a scarily turbulent flight, and making new, Peruvian friends on the airplane, I stepped out of the Portland airport and breathed in cold, clean Oregon air. I'm home again, home again, jiggity jig. And baby it feels so good.

I've been trying to blog since I got here, but the internet decided to go on holiday, too. So today, during this window of functioning internet, I need to show you what I saw from my house the night before I flew home:



The sun spewed lava across the sky.

Isn't it glorious?!

And now we have the glorious weekend-before-Christmas before us!

Cheers to that! *raising cup of tea*

Merry Friday, friends!

-SJ


© by scj

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Oh, you know, just losing my marbles

It's finals week. And although I have no finals because I'm not currently in school, and although next week I'll have five hundred times more grading than I do this week, and although we've had the weather of Paradise since Sunday, I am bushed, exhausted, wiped. Absolutely pooped.

Each morning, while working up the verve to get out of bed, I find myself speaking bits of encouragement aloud into the silence: "You can do it Cinderelli, you can do it!!" Which, oddly, works.

Then I roll out of bed begrudgingly and do really terrific things. Like baking brownies for my students with the oven at 375 instead of the advised 325.

Or almost running into a 15-passenger van in my neighborhood that I somehow did not see.

Or losing my grade book, frantically turning the house upside down looking for it, and then finding it in the mailbox later.

All this to say, I'm hanging in there, but barely. And if my Facebook feed is any indicator of the general state of the average American, then you are barely hanging in there, too. To which I say: "Solidarity! We're in this together! We can do it! I believe in us! Yes!" That and, "Chocolate." Sometimes the best encouragement comes in one-word packages, smells like heaven, and tastes like glory.

Go make yourself some fudge, folks.




Happy halfway-to-the -weekend day!

-Sarah









© by scj

Friday, December 13, 2013

Merry and Bright

Things have been merry and bright around here this week.

My little bungalow on the ridge is decked with boughs of pine and berries,

I've been crafting quite a bit this Christmas; this centerpiece was my first project






and my Christmas tree, although without a topper, is twinkling happily.


The good folk of my little town have strung lights and set up nativity scenes with gusto (and boy, have they gone all out),





And I've been eating Christmas-y treats like they're going out of style.

My friends and I have attended festive gatherings like the Christmas tree lighting in the town square, which we enjoyed from the rooftop of a nearby business building before returning to the ground so we could venture closer to the choir, orchestra, and, of course, the snow machine.

Fear of heights = fuzzy wuzzy photo

video

The mornings have been chilly, and the evenings glorious,


And in one week I'll be in Washington, sitting by the fire and sipping tea with my family.

I'm just loving all this merry brightness.

Here's to hoping your weekend is twinkling and jolly!

-Sarah


Follow on Bloglovin

© by scj

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The mysteries of the bungalow on the ridge

It's been a week of space heaters, dairy-free ice cream bars, Christmas lights, and . . . mysteries. Dun dun duuuun.

I give you, Exhibit 1:

Last weekend, my friend John came over to my place so he and I could look at the Christmas lights near my neighborhood together. Before he arrived I texted him, "Be prepared to solve a mystery with me when you get here."

Sure, no problem, I'll do what I can, he said. He's agreeable like that.

Upon arriving, it did not take John long to discover the mystery of my little bungalow on the ridge. "What is that smell?!" he groaned, when he stepped into the house. "I drove up and, before I'd even gotten out of my car, I was assaulted by the most horrific septic smell you can imagine."

Oh, I can imagine.

What I can't imagine is what in tarnation is causing the strength-of-Samson septic smell. It started last week, after a crew of men came to fix our septic tank. At first I wondered if they'd improperly sealed the tank; but oddly, the smell doesn't come from the septic tank which is north of the house. Instead, it seems to be coming from the south side of the house, on which there is a street without manholes, a driveway, and some trees — nothing terribly smelly.

Unfortunately, there are all sorts of impish breezes floating about our property, and they all seem intent on blowing the septic stench into my open windows. And then, when I close my windows, they somehow figure out a way to push the smell into every window crack, thus convincing me that A) I will die of gaseous poisoning in the night, or B) the Apocalypse has begun and the world will soon end. Neither is a reality I feel prepared to face.

So John and I walked up and down the street searching for some sort of vent emitting foul fumes, and when we didn't find anything, we roamed the property searching for anything else that could cause such a powerful stench, such as a skunk that sprayed a dead possum and then pooped before falling over dead next to said possum.

We didn't find anything.

And so, the mystery remained unsolved for days, until yesterday, when a nice young man came to empty the septic tank next to my bungalow on the ridge. With wide eyes and high hopes, I told him my septic woes and begged him to help me solve the mystery of the septic-smell-from-nowhere. He assured me I wouldn't die of gas poisoning, and then, in one fell swoop, solved the mystery:

"There's a vent on the roof that releases septic gases. That's probably the source of the smell."

Aha. Yes, that makes sense. A vent, near my window, blowing the smell of death. Joy to the world.

The good news is the guy told me pouring Pine Sol down my toilet and drains would help, and I will not be poisoned in the night, and the world is not ending. At least not as far as I can tell.

So it all turned out alright in the end.


And now, I give you Exhibit 2:

I have two of the cutest little rustic stools you ever did see. They sit on my deck so I can prop my feet up whenever it suits my fancy, which is often. There ain't nothin' like watching the sun set over the city with a cuppa tea in hand and a stool under your feet.

And then, suddenly and without warning, one of the stools disappeared. I'm not sure when, but I noticed it last week.

I looked high and low for that stool, and then searched my mind for any memories in which I loaded the stool into my car, drove off, and donated it to Goodwill.

Alas, I do not remember donating the stool to Goodwill this month, and it is no.where. to be found.

So I began to grapple with the possibility that somebody spotted my stools while on an evening walk, crept down the hill while I was gone, jumped up onto my deck, plucked up one of the stools, and made off with it like a sneaky, sneakster stool bandit.

It was the most plausible scenario I could construct, so I began to speculate about who could have stolen it. My neighbors were absolutely not an option. Both sets of them are lovely and honest, and would never ever take my stool. But I couldn't come up with any suspects. So I consulted with all of my visitors, hoping they'd help me solve the mystery.

And then, yesterday, whilst looking at my little Christmas tree, I noticed it was standing on something rectangular to give it some added height.

And that's when I solved the mystery of the missing stool: it was under my tree, snug as a bug in a rug.

So you see, my week is full of happy endings. No Apocalypse, no gaseous poisoning, and no stool bandits.

What a wonderful world.

Merry 14-days before Christmas, friendlies!

-Sarah


© by scj

Monday, December 9, 2013

Good Waiting and Hard Waiting

Posted simultaneously at Soulation's Sturdy Answers.
Last night I wheeled a cart through Michael’s and perused the festive aisles looking for craft supplies to deck my apartment with Christmas cheer. I stopped in the floral section, wondering whether I could turn a few wintery branches into an Advent tree.
When I was a little girl, I’d bound out of bed every morning in December, delighted to put another ornament on the Advent tree. As its branches grew fuller, my wait grew shorter. Christmas morning, with its stuffed stockings, piles of presents, and sticky cinnamon rolls, was just a string of frosty mornings away.
Waiting is exciting when you can measure progress, and the reward you’re waiting for is within reach. Otherwise, waiting can feel downright unbearable.
When I turned 19, I started waiting for my adult life to start. College, I knew, was a sheltered training ground. When it was over, I had grand plans to use my post-college 20s to outpace the inexorable whirring of the clock’s hands. I’d work hard, like I always had. I’d shoot for the moon, like I’m prone to do. And by the time I was 30, I’d own my own home, be established in a lifelong career, and be married, or close to it. But life wasn’t keen on cooperating with my ambitions, and I’ve spent the greater part of my 20s in bed, sick, and then fighting relapse after relapse. I’ve weathered a broken engagement, and have dated a lot with little success.
Life has begun to feel like one long season of waiting.
For a while after I first got sick, I waited for my life to get easier. But the losses of the last few years have taught me that nothing’s guaranteed. It’s not a guarantee that I’ll return to complete health or find a life partner. I oughtn’t sit around wishing and waiting for things to change, because God never promised my life would look the way I want it to.
I am learning, though, to wait for God to keep the promises he has made. He’s promised he’s making all things new. He’s promised he’ll work all things together for good for those who love him. He’s promised heaven as a reward for those who live for him.
Most days, though, it feels like God’s doing his mysterious redemptive work behind a curtain, and I don't have a backstage pass.
I wonder if this is a taste of what Joseph felt when he was thrown, bloodied and betrayed, into a pit by his brothers, then maligned by his best friend’s wife, then thrown into jail, where the years slipped quietly by.
I wonder if it’s how Abraham felt when, 25 years after God’s promise of a son, his very old wife still wasn’t pregnant.
I wonder it it’s how David felt when, 15 years after he was anointed as the future king of Israel, he still spent his days tending a bunch of stinky, bleating sheep, then running for his life from King Saul.
Reading the Old Testament makes me wonder whether waiting is one of the greatest Christian virtues.
The person who waits patiently for God’s promises — who hopes in the things they can’t see — is the kind of person who ends up in a biblical hall of fame, like the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11.
These famous, faithful men and women never received the things God promised the Israelites. Instead, they greeted them from afar, and then turned their hearts toward their heavenly home. The hope of heaven can sustain us when the reward we are waiting for seems elusive. Not just because there will be mansions, crowns, and streets of gold in heaven. And not just because in heaven there will be no more pain or loss. In heaven, we get Jesus — all of him in all his glory. We will know him fully, even as we are fully known. And as the apostle Paul reminds us,
“All of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means 'Yes') ascends to God for his glory.”
This month my family will gather to continue the Advent tradition I loved as a little girl, as we count the days to Christmas.
The word “advent” is from the Latin word meaning “coming.” For 400 years after the last Old Testament prophet foretold the coming Messiah, God’s people waited for the Messiah to appear. And now, two thousand years later, we continue to wait because he’s told us he’ll come again. We wait because we know he keeps his promises. We saw his greatest promise fulfilled in the baby in the manger, the man on the cross, and the empty tomb.
And so, this Advent, when our lives may not look the way we hoped, we wait for the day when we will be united, once and for all, with the One in whom all God’s promises are fulfilled.
 ____________________
Image credit: catholicstyle.typepad.com; www.99centbibleskits.com

© by scj

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Life is like that


This morning I opened my Facebook feed whilst taking a break from my grading. A friend's post — a list describing all of the wonderful things she was experiencing during breakfast — was at the top of the feed. Her list, about her yummy peanut butter toast, the robe she borrowed from her husband and was wearing, and the baby kicking in her stomach, highlighted all of the things I sometimes wish were different about my life. It made my morning seem empty and unattractive.

In an instant, I’d mentally drafted a similar list describing my morning, and was comparing it with hers:

“The smell of a still-malfunctioning septic tank making me sick, and socks with holes in them, and greasy hair, and a floor that needs to be vacuumed, and a pile of grading that’ll consume most of my Saturday, and Saturday, you’re kind of a let-down.”

Yep, my life stinks, I concluded rather forcefully. Both literally and figuratively. 

Then I remembered one evening in Sun Valley, Idaho, when my mom, sister and I watched the sunset on the patio. The western horizon was clear and calm, aglow with rose and lavender light. But to the east, dark, menacing storm clouds were spreading across the sky, devouring the delicious blue. I could have drawn a line straight down the middle of the sky, separating the peaceful sunset from the imminent storm.

“Life is like that,” my mom said. "You can look in one direction and see beauty and goodness, and then turn the other direction and see nothing but storm."

I remember her words often, especially when I’m tempted to fixate on life’s dark, thunderous rain clouds instead of its dazzling sunsets, as I had this morning after reading my friend's Facebook post.

So I wrote another list — a "sunset list” describing the exact same morning:

“Rain on the window, and a twinkling Christmas tree, and a bowl full of blueberries, and fuzzy sweatpants, and no place to be, and the kettle steaming and singing, and over half the weekend still unlived, and Saturday, won’t you stay awhile?”

Yep, my life isn't half bad, I concluded. In fact, I kind of like it.

Here's to hoping your Saturday is full of sunsets!

-SCJ

© by scj

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Preaching the Gospel: Words are Just as Important as Actions

My affinity for Duck Dynasty began last July. I watched all three seasons in a month. Twice. Since then, I like to keep tabs on the Robertson family. I google 'em, read up on 'em, youtube 'em, and even sport their gear.

Last week I stumbled across Phil Robertson's I am Second videoI am Second videos feature testimonies of prominent (sometimes not-so-prominent) American figures. I could watch them for hours. Sometimes I do. Prior to watching Phil's I am Second video, I knew a bit about his life before Christ. He'd been wild in his younger years, partying and sleeping around while his wife and kids kept the home fires burning. But I'd never heard how he came to know and give his life to Jesus.

The story goes like this: an acquaintance asked young, wild Phil if he could share the Gospel with him. Phil declined to listen in favor of his partying ways. Later, Phil's wife remembered the acquaintance and begged Phil to sit and listen with him, just to see what he had to say. She was desperate for a change in her husband, and he agreed to sit down with him.

And so he listened to the man talk about Jesus, God in the flesh — Love embodied to show people with bodies what Love looks like, and to assure us that Love, Life and Light can have the last word in our lives.

And he thought, "How have I never heard this before?"

Phil Robertson, born and raised in the Bible Belt south, in an originally Christian nation, had never heard the Gospel.

I was incredulous. How had he never heard it before?

I was reminded of a young man I sat next to on a plane several years ago. He was on his way back to Bible college after visiting his family. As we talked, he revealed he was spiritually conflicted and trying to figure out what he thought of his parents' faith. I was able to share the Gospel with him, from the Eden to the return of Jesus, and was startled by his response,

"I've never heard the Gospel like that before."

In college, I first heard an exhortation that is sometimes attributed to Francis of Asissi's:

"Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary."

When my peers cited it, they often did so in an attempt to create a dichotomy between actions and words. When it comes to influencing the nations for Christ, then it's your behavior that counts, not your words, they'd say. Preaching with words, in many of their experiences, was empty and hypocritical, and had the power to quickly and easily repel people from Christ. Many of them thought it was better to avoid words altogether.

I see what they're saying. In some ways, they're onto something. Truly effective preaching starts on the inside, not the outside. Jesus said you could tell what's in a person's heart by their fruit. The apostle Paul said our lives are the fragrance of Christ to a dying world. The Spirit of God puts his Light in us, a spotlight on the soul he's remaking. The good work of God starts on the inside and bubbles up, splashing onto people on the outside. Who we are and what we do, both in public and in secret places, becomes genuine and compelling when we open ourselves to the recreative work of the Spirit of God.

I'm thankful for the biblical examples we have of evangelism. After Jesus said, "Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation," the apostle Paul, Peter, Timothy, Barnabas and others obeyed. They preached with their lives, and they preached with their words. Imitating their example can be scary. Preaching with words can make our knees knock and teeth chatter in fear. It can feel like taking a big, neon highlighter to our inadequacies. Surely the goodness and beauty that leak out of our souls will be self-evident? Surely people can connect the dots as soon as they find out we're Christians?

Somehow, in spite of my love of words, I forget that words are powerful. Words can influence a person's trajectory. We see this when words that aren't backed by actions send people running from Christianity. But words backed by actions can be equally as powerful in changing a person's destiny. Words can work to save a soul and grow a Kingdom.

And if Phil Robertson, born and raised in the Bible belt; and my airplane friend, raised and trained in a protestant church, hadn't heard the Gospel by the time they were adults, then the cashier at Trader Joe's down the street, and your pediatrician, and your colleague, and your neighbor, and your great aunt Belinda may not have heard the Gospel either. In fact, they probably haven't

And they need to hear it. Because they'll see the goodness and beauty pouring out of your life. They'll see it even when you're weak and mess up, because the Spirit likes to showcase his glory in our weakness. And they'll want what you have. But without knowledge of the Gospel, they may just settle with trying to live good and beautiful lives, rather than giving their lives to the Creator of all goodness and beauty. This would be a tragedy, like a single woman trying on a wedding dress but never knowing there's a groom waiting for her, loving her, ready to marry her.

One conversation can have a ripple effect, changing
all of eternity
My mom grew up in the Catholic church but never heard the Gospel as a child and young teen. When she was 16, a former drug addict came into the restaurant where she worked and shared the Gospel with her. After that meeting, my mom gave her life to Christ. The man will never know how a conversation he had in passing has changed eternity. My mom and dad raised four kids who love Jesus, and who are learning to share him with other people. For years she's worked at a church in which her faithfulness and giftedness has influenced thousands upon thousands of people. She supports my dad in the pastorate, and shares Christ with the people she meets at the grocery store, community center, and soccer field. Her life has shown me that using words to preach the Gospel changes the world.

This week I'm asking God to open my eyes to opportunities to share Gospel. I'm praying he'll make me courageous. I'm thankful that when he emboldens us to take advantage of opportunities he gives us to share the Gospel, the Spirit of God, from whom all goodness and beauty flow, will give us words to say. And if we stumble and sputter and spew out feeble attempts, he'll make them good and beautiful. All we have to do is share with others the life we enjoy with Jesus.

What stories do you have of people you know coming to Christ as a result of someone's courage to share the Gospel? These stories embolden my faith and I know they'll do the same for others. Let's share!


Image credit: www.breathecast.com; wiki.ucfilespace.uc.edu
© by scj

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Faithful Sky

The Little Red Hen was onto something.

I can't imagine anything more horrifying than the sky falling.

Everywhere, in every facet of life, things are always changing. The earth quakes and splits open, friends come and go, jobs change, bodies fail, lovers leave, finances dwindle, storms demolish, success wanes.

But the sky: it's always there.


When my heart races with anxiety, soul swells with fear, and hope gives way to despair, I remember the faithful sky with its banner of truest blue;



Its water color clouds,






Lavender tides,


And flaming light.





If the heavens declare the work of God, then God must still be at work, because the sky is still there. And he must be beautiful, because the sky is dazzling. And he must be good, because beauty is "goodness made manifest to the senses."*

When life is dizzying and disappointing, and it's hard to see what God is doing, and I'm tempted to join in the Little Red Hen's chorus, I look up. And for a moment, I rest in the grace of the faithful sky.


*Dallas Willard said this

© by scj

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Kindness

Misery, thy name is Influenza.

Ugh.

There is a reason I have a bottle of hand sanitizer in every purse. With students whose sick season starts in August and ends in May, hand sanitizer is my elixir of life. Truly. Fevers are a taste of hell on earth. Fevers that hit when the septic tank outside my window has been opened for repairs make me wonder if certain death is imminent.

Let's just say it hasn't been my best weekend.

The bug hit hard and fast on Friday after I'd gotten a 2-hour deep tissue massage. By the time I got home I was shaking so hard and aching so deep I didn't know if I'd make it from the car to my house. But I made it. And when I walked in the door I realized I had no food (at least no food that didn't require lots of prep) and no water. The water in this place is undrinkable.

There is nothing that makes me want my mama more than the flu. But my mom's 1,000 miles away, and most of my friends live in south county, a good 40 minutes from me. Moreover, asking people for help is hard for me. I do so hate to inconvenience people. I do so like to be independent. But God does so likes to give me opportunities to learn grace. I figure the flu is one of these opportunities. So every time I woke that first night with the flu, I prayed that God would help me find someone close who was in town and could help me.

The next morning my friend Ellen responded to my text for help. An hour later she was at my front door with food — including fresh fruit she'd picked —, water, and sunflowers.

The flowers are a splash of sunshine against my almost aqua kitchen walls. The fresh oranges are a juicy, vitamin-C packed treat. Her help made me feel so cared for, so not alone, and so not like an inconvenience.

So, this post-Thanksgiving weekend, I'm thankful for my dear friend who ensured I wouldn't go hungry or get dehydrated, and who brought me living beauty to cheer my little apartment. She is a gem of a friend, and God is kind to bring yet another friend into my life to teach me grace.


© by scj

Monday, November 25, 2013

Waiting for Aslan to Move

Posted simultaneously at Sturdy Answers.

Winding our way through Dale and Jonalyn's "White Woods"
Winding our way through Dale and Jonalyn's "White Woods"
A few autumns ago, the Gold Gathering group and I were hiking through the splendor of the Colorado Mountains when, on Jonalyn's cue, we stopped walking, ceased our talking and listened. I hardly dared to breath, straining to hear what she heard. A few seconds passed and then I discerned the far-off, almost imperceptible burbling of a brook. It was the last of winter's melted snow winding its way down the mountain. As we stood and wondered at the tinkling music of melted ice, I thought of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in which it is always winter but never Christmas.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the wicked White Witch has cast a wintery enchantment across the land of Narnia. For centuries snow suffocates the once-living land, and fierce, freezing winds send living creatures scurrying into hiding. Fauns, beavers, wood nymphs and dwarves ache to escape the icy jowls of winter, or to at least have freedom to celebrate Christmas. Oh, to have a reason to celebrate the towering snow-covered pines and knolls frosted with fresh powder!
And then, one glorious day, the fierce whip of icy wind and silence of falling snow are replaced with the sound of far-off liquid laughter. Icicles begin to shrink and wink in the sun's warm light. Droplets cascade down snow-burdened boughs like tears of thanksgiving.
The White Witch sees the changes to the world she’s kept a wintery prison and shudders. But good Mr. Beaver lifts his head, and joyfully announces to his friends,  “Aslan is on the move.”
Aslan, the great Lion, is the rightful king of Narnia. For centuries Narnia’s inhabits have waited for him to come and banish winter. And now, he’s prowling the land, melting ice and snow so the land can live again, and freeing Narnia’s inhabitants from the Witch’s rule.
The highest of High Kings may be called Aslan in Narnia, but here we call him Immanuel, God with us. We called him that 2,000 years ago when he came to live among us, die for us, and rise again to show us that winter's death will not have the last word. Two thousand years later we continue to call him Immanuel. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah is not sitting somewhere far off watching his followers sweat, heave, and weep as we struggle to love him and live well. He is in us, among us, fighting for us. He is on the move.
Over the years I have come to know well the cold darkness of winter. And so I have begun to learn to listen close for far-off gurgles of melting snow — for sounds of life in a wintery world. My listening begins with asking Immanuel to show me what He is currently doing, unseen, for his glory and my good. He always shows me.
He shifts my attention from the darkness of winter to the tart zing of fresh cherries and the warmth of the sunlight falling through the window. He shows me that the recently reduced medical bill and the discount at the doctor are signs he’s on the move, working for my good. He reminds me that the Facebook message from a long-lost friend, the cookies fresh from a neighbor’s oven, and the belly laugh I had with the grocery clerk are signs of unexpected life sprouting.
But even as I learn to listen for sounds of spring, there are days when it seems like spring cannot be found. There are weeks when all I can see is icy gray. There are seasons when all I can hear is my heart creaking from the weight of the snow. During these seasons I am learning to hope, for my heart’s loud groaning is not a sign of its imminent wintery death. Groaning is the sound of ice that thaws: my heart's gradual softening, in spite of suffering, yet another sign of Aslan on the move.
 ____________________
Image credits: www.snowbombing.com; farm3.staticflickr.com


© by scj

Friday, November 22, 2013

No small feat

This week Winter tromped into Orange County carrying two enormous buckets of water that she promptly dumped on us. Then she turned the county's thermostat down thirty degrees, and threw back her head and laughed a menacing, icy laugh. And now I'm wearing three layers, my hair is wrapped around my neck like a scarf, and I am huddled next to the space heater, thawing my hands so I can type.

What I'm trying to say is, it's officially in the low sixties.

And I'm officially a sun-spoiled winter wimp.

But I'm a sun-spoiled winter wimp who's can wield a drill like nobody's business. I am proud to announce that, after what felt like an indomitable streak of mishaps, I hung two sets of curtains without giving myself a black eye, fat lip, pulled muscle, or slight limp. 

I am woman and I overcame.


And let me tell you, hanging those suckers was no small feat. My place is really old, and I swear my walls are made out of a virtually impenetrable combination of plaster and cement. The drill couldn't actually get through the top layer of plaster.

But thanks to my protective eyewear, a hammer and nail, and the brute strength of an ox, I hung 'em.




It was such a vigorous, sweat-inducing affair that I was peeling off layers faster than you can say "winter wimp." Best endurance workout I've had in awhile. Between my curtain workout on Tuesday, and the strength training workout I had whilst carrying three full boxes of donuts for my students across campus on Wednesday, I'm looking to get in great shape this week, folks.

Although tiring, all this rigorous training has been worth it. My students hungrily and happily devoured the donuts, the curtains have home-ified my little place, and my triceps are considerably less jiggly. Minus the part about my triceps being considerably less jiggly.

Hey, I'll take what I can get, Jack One victory at a time, man, one victory at a time.


Hoping your week has been full of mishap-defying victories, folks.

Happy weekend!

-SJ



© by scj

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bacon

Today I accidentally ate nine pieces of bacon. It was my brain's fault. It was full of happy endorphins that transported me to a world in which bacon does not raise cholesterol.

Hours later, I am writing from the fetal position. It turns out my stomach doesn't do well when it's stuffed full with crispy pieces of pure joy.

The good news is my hair smells very *strongly* of bacon. No doubt people in line behind me at the grocery store could smell it. And no doubt I was a hit with my tutoring students this evening. Adverbs and the distributive property never felt so good. Hey, I am full of cutting edge motivational techniques, Jack.

In other news, a few days ago I accidentally gave myself whiplash. Some friends and I have a running music video text exchange, and it was my turn to create a music video for them to enjoy. I sang into my hairbrush with gusto, swaying to the pulsing melody. And then the chorus swept over me like a powerful, thrashing wave, and I the next thing I knew, I was head banging like it was 2002. An hour later, I was popping ibuprofen and moaning to my sister over the phone about my bodily aches.

And so, my accident-prone streak continues

Tomorrow it must end, though. Because tomorrow I am hanging curtains. With an electric drill. God help me.

I'll keep you updated.

Happy Monday!

-SJ


© by scj

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Family trick

Gents, unless you are of the ponytail-wearing variety (one of my very favorite varieties!), then this post won't be terribly relevant to you. But if you like to keep your hair long and wild, then read on. And if your name is Colin Farrell, then feel free to contact me.


Here I am on a hike in Julian, California.

I am laughing with my dear friend, Tiffany. I am wearing three-too-many layers on a rather warm evening. I have not washed my hair in five days. But you can't tell, can you?!

I don't love washing my hair. It's quite thick, and takes ages to dry. It's also very fine, which means it's easily damaged by regular washing and blow-drying. So I try not to wash it more than 1-3 times a week.

The thing is, I'm not one of those glorious people with an eternally dry scalp. My hair starts to get greasy after about 2-3 days. Luckily, there's an old family trick that's saved me the hassle and hair-damage of regular washings and dryings:

Plain ol', nothin' fancy cornstarch.

I think cornstarch is actually the main ingredient in dry shampoo. I don't use dry shampoo, though, because: a) it's smells too strongly of perfume for my liking (and allergies), and b) it's much more expensive than cornstarch.

Instead, I just dip my fingers in a can of cornstarch and rub the cornstarch into my roots, along my part. If my hair is greasy all over, then I rub cornstarch all over my scalp.

The blending of corn starch into the hair does require some patience and skill. Because my hair has darkened as I've aged, I have to spend more time massaging the cornstarch into my roots; otherwise, I'd look like I was wearing a powdered wig. Brushing my hair after I put the cornstarch in also helps it to blend nicely.

If you have really dark hair, then it may be difficult for you to avoid the powdered wig look. But hey, you never know what you can do with some patient, careful massaging. I'm not sure, but I believe my dark-haired cousin has used cornstarch with great success. You'll have to try it and let me know.

The key is blend, blend, blend that powder so it eliminates grease and isn't noticeable.

If you have fine, slippery hair, this will give your hair more texture, allowing you to style it with greater success.

It really is a gem of a family trick.


© by scj

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Facts

Fact #1: This weekend, after rather violent skirmishes with my vacuum cleaner, some piping hot honey roasted pecans, and a misplaced dresser drawer, I got a black eye, fat lip, and mild limp. Then, while dancing, I tweaked a muscle in my back making it hard to turn my head from side to side. I've decided to buy myself a human-sized bubble.

Fact #2: This morning I was coaxed out of my little bungalo on the hill by the sound of loud machinery. Outside, I found a handyman doing something handy with the property plumbing and septic tank.

"There are three people on this property, and too much water without a place to go, so we're re-routing it," he explained.

Septic tank handiwork makes me nervous, so I was poised and ready when, minutes later, my bathroom sink and toilet started spewing and the floor began to flood with dirty water.

Fact #3: I am waiting for a tree to fall on my house. It just seems like the sort of thing that should happen this week.

Actually, I've not been feeling well the last two days as a result of a flare-up from my illness, which makes dealing with these little inconveniences much more difficult. It also makes it easier to join the Little Red Hen in her refrain: "THE SKY IS FALLING!!!!"

My best solution to avoiding this refrain is to think on what is good and true about God and my life. And the truth is, this weekend was fun. It was full of friends, long walks in the sunshine, and a lunch with family.

Here I am with my uncle (dad's little brother), aunt, and a couple of my cousins.



We had lunch at "Wind and Sea," a restaurant situated next to the harbor. The window views and sunshine were glorious.

After lunch, we walked around the harbor, window shopping and taking pictures. It doesn't matter that I've lived down here for ten years; I still can't put my camera down when I'm at the harbor.

At one point we stopped to watch the Parrot Man. He is often hanging out at the harbor showing off his parrots and answering parrot-related questions from passers by. I pulled out my camera to take a photo of him.

"Put your camera in your pocket and come here," he said when he saw me.

So I handed my camera to my cousin, and the next thing I knew I was covered in parrots.

First, he handed me his prized white parrot. She was so soft and docile.

Then, he asked me what country I was from. "Well, um, the, uh, United States, uh, of America?" Unless I am speaking to or teaching crowds, I don't do well in front of them. I forget important things, like what country I'm from.

He responded by setting his red parrot on my shoulder and his blue parrot on my head, to go with his white parrot, of course. It was a very patriotic parrot party. Sorry. Alliteration made me say it.

This is my, "Uuuuuuuh, are these guys potty trained?" face:

They really were fun birds. And there is something about feeling warm weight on your body. Babies, puppies, hot water bottles, parrots. It just feels comforting, man.

The parrot man really wanted to put on a show for the growing crowd, so he started switching things up.

"Put your hands on your hips and look sassy!" he said.

"Keep it up!" he encouraged.

"Now look up in the air!"

"Now go and have yourself a good afternoon!"

Fact #4: We did.

Friends, I hope your Tuesday is full of patriotic parrots that can distract you from spewing toilets, metaphorically speaking of course.

Love,

SJ


© by scj