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Salvation, Sickness & Singleness

Three “s’s have defined my twenties: salvation, sickness and singleness.

At the age of twenty, salvation changed everything about me. In the blink of an eye, Christ’s redemption did a complete overhaul on my life, reinventing me from the inside out. Now, when I look back on pre-salvation Stephanie, I can’t believe I was that person. The old me is someone I don’t even recognize – and I thank God for that. 

On the heels of salvation came sickness. At the age of twenty-one chronic illness changed everything about my life and the course it’s taken. I had an image in my mind’s eye about what my future would look like. We all have one of those, don’t we? It’s totally normal and natural – especially for a young adult – to envision what lies ahead based on dreams, desires and previous experience. But when I became sick all of my thoughts about the future were upended by the uncertainty of my physical condition. Sickness dramatically altered life as a knew it and derailed many of my hopes and dreams. I had to grieve the loss of my health and my plans for the future before I could accept that God’s will, although far different from my own, is still perfect and good.

Then there is singleness. Being completely and utterly single (read: not a date in sight) for nine years has been a journey onto itself. Again, I’ve had to grieve more dreams and more plans while coming to accept that a solo life is not a lesser life.

I’ve also had to learn how to do life on my own. This was a first for me. All throughout my teen years, right up until my sickness, there was always a special someone to accompany me on life’s adventures. Companionship was my comfort zone and I didn’t leave it willingly. To be candid, my first few years of singleness were spent complaining and wishing I wasn’t alone. Being content with single has been just as challenging as being joyful while sick. But, as always, God has been faithful and gracious, repeatedly reminding me through His Spirit of love that the only person I need to be whole is Jesus.

The more seasons of life I’ve spent being single, sick and saved, the more I can relate to the Psalmist, David, who wrote, “You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands. How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are!” (Psalm 16:5-6)

While experiencing the shadows and clouds of earthly troubles, David leaned into the almighty God and discovered that He is all-sufficient, all-powerful and all-faithful. By spending intense time with God, David’s view of Him was completely transformed.

Like David, I’ve gone through dark valleys and, in the midst of them, experienced glorious glimpses of Jesus. As it turns out, sickness and singleness are fantastic tools for strengthening dependence and reliance on Christ’s Holy Spirit. Thanks to those two s’s built on the bedrock of salvation, I’ve been blessed to spend my twenties getting to know Jesus as more than just a far-off God reigning on a throne, wearing robes of white. I’ve gotten to know him as my personal Sustainer, very best Friend and unfailing Father.

At the start of my twenties, when my three s’s were fresh and new, I never imagined I’d be grateful for how they disrupted and altered my life. But one more thing I’ve learned in the past decade is “never say never.”

Now I can say, “thank God” for my twenties because the holy work done on my heart in the fires of illness and loneliness has been truly incredible. Through tears, grief and sorrow I have been cleansed, renewed and strengthened. In His perfect way, God has used unexpected challenges to mold and shape me into a woman after His own heart.

The closing verses of Psalm 16 are the perfect bow to wrap around a life saved and sustained by the almighty hand of God. In that beautiful chapter, David wrote, “I am always aware of the Lord’s presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. And so I am thankful and glad, and I feel completely secure, because you protect me from the power of death. I have served you faithfully, and you will not abandon me to the world of the dead. You will show me the path that leads to life; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever.” (Psalm 16:5-7, GNT)

Praise God, He is always good, perfectly faithful and still isn’t finished yet.

 

Today’s reading: Psalm 16

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The Hope of Heaven

Her body was shockingly skeletal and small. Her skin was pasty white and paper thin. As I stood in the doorway of her hospital room and saw her lying in the bed, completely still, I wondered if I’d come too late. Was she already gone?

I walked across the room to look for signs of life and found one in the shallow rise and fall of her chest. I let out a sigh of relief and then took a seat in the chair next to her bed. “Hi Lucy,” I said. “It’s Stephanie and I’ve come to read to you.” I knew she couldn’t respond, and I didn’t expect her to, but I was sure her heart would hear the word of God.

So, I opened up the scriptures and turned to my favorite Psalm – Psalm 23. I read through it slowly, adding special inflection to each line. I read the beautiful words as if they were golden honey flowing sweetly from a hive.

For the first five verses of Psalm 23 Lucy didn’t make a move. Her eyes were closed and breathing was barely visible. But once I reached the last verse of the passage and read “I will dwell in the house of the Lord,” something miraculous happened. Lucy’s leg leapt for joy.

My eyes must have turned into the size of saucers at the sight of Lucy’s physical response to the promise of Heaven. In her leg’s movement I could see her heart’s exuberance. Even though she lay trapped in a failing body, nearing the end of her earthly life, Lucy’s spirit was strong and her hope in heaven was healthy and well.

For the next thirty minutes as I read through many more scriptures, one word continued to strike a chord with Lucy: eternity. Each time I shared a passage about heaven and the mansion being prepared for her in that splendid place, Lucy’s legs moved in celebration at the new life to come. Over and over I watched as the joy of the Lord became her strength.

The great promise that we, as born-again believers have, is eternity. In this life we endure hardship, pain and suffering, but, through it all, we look ahead to the everlasting life to come.

With our faith securely established in the resurrection of Jesus, we can rest assured that no matter what becomes of our earthly tent, our true home in glory awaits us.

Although this world and every body will pass away, Heaven, where we are headed, will endure forever.

Within days, doctors expect Lucy to be gone from this world, but when her body passes away her soul will enter through Heaven’s pearly gates, more alive than it has ever been before.

So, before I left her hospital room, I told Lucy that I look forward to worshipping with her in glory because I know someday we’ll both be there, leaping for joy, praising Jesus forevermore.

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Faith > Fear

Fear is a deceptive and paralyzing force that takes root in the most innocent and natural of human concerns such as failure, loneliness and rejection, just to name a few.

But fear never stops where it starts.

Fear and worry multiply like rabbits and if they aren’t put to death in a New York minute, they can easily wind up trapping their victim in a box called “common sense” that’s roughly the size of a comfort zone.

From afar, the common sense box looks safe and logical but, up close, the box is actually a stuffy tomb devoid of real peace and joy. Although the box itself isn’t necessarily a bad box, it can become a bad box if Jesus is standing on the outside of it, calling His follower to step out in faith and join him.

When it comes to heeding the call and following Jesus in the face of fear there are only two options.

The first is to say, “Thanks but no thanks, Jesus. I’m just going to stay here in my box.”

Although Jesus will never force us to relent or drag us out of the box, we miss out on the fulness of God’s plan if we decide to stay inside our comfort zone. When we deny the Sprit’s call, we reap the joyless, restless consequences of that decision.

Just take Jonah for example.

God called Jonah to Nineveh and gave him the task of proclaiming righteousness and holiness to the lost. It was a great responsibility that fulfilled a real need but there was a big problem. Jonah was afraid. The people of Nineveh were a rough crowd and Jonah had his concerns about what fate would befall him in that hostile place. So, instead of heeding the call, he ran.

Jonah’s next move was to escape by boat. He thought he could flee the call of God and be free of fear but stormy consequences followed him. Soon waves buffeted the boat and threatened the lives of everyone on board. After questioning the passengers, everyone agreed that Jonah was to blame for their misfortune. Because Jonah had denied God, they had all become cursed.

What happened next must have made Jonah wish he’d gone to Nineveh in the first place. In the middle of the storm, the passengers on the boat lifted Jonah up and overboard. He landed in the ocean where he was swallowed by a gigantic whale. Still alive inside the whale’s belly, Jonah had a “come to Jesus moment.” He prayed, “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” (Jonah 2:7)

As soon as Jonah asked God for forgiveness and recommitted his life to salvation’s cause, God responded by ordering the whale to spit Jonah up. Once back on dry land, God gave His fearful follower, Jonah, a second chance to heed the call.

What happened next in Jonah’s story is our second option when confronted with the call of God: choose faith over fear and bravely obey.

That’s what Jonah did and the results were incredible. When Jonah told the Ninevites about God they repented of their sins, ceased worshipping false idols and returned to the Lord. Their response to God’s mercy was miraculous.

From Jonah’s life story we learn that fear is debilitating but faith is empowering. Fear weakens but faith strengthens. Fear creates a coward but faith cultivates bravery. Fear gets in the way but faith will always make a way.

When confronted with fear, brave faith is needed to ignite courageous obedience. To overcome fear the follower of Jesus must consistently, constantly and confidently chose to walk by faith and not by fear. As children of the Most-High King we must determine to heed the call of Jesus on the basis of who He is and not the conditions of His command.

So next time fear comes knocking at your door, don’t answer it. Instead, return to faith and recommit to following Jesus. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, take the next obedient step of faith and heed the call.

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A Fertile Future

“If you can’t have kids, I’m not sure I want to marry you.”

His words cut like a knife. This was my fiancé, the man I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with, questioning whether or not he could spend the rest of his life with only me, not me plus kids.

Our engagement had already been on the rocks (illness has a way of putting relationships there) but this statement was the final nail in the coffin of till death do us part. Without missing a beat or shedding a tear (in front of him, at least), I flatly stated that I couldn’t guarantee I’d ever be able to bear children and couldn’t marry someone who required me to promise that as part of our wedding vows.

A year earlier, at the age of twenty, sickness had forced my body to trade in its menstrual cycle for early menopause. I was a hot mess – literally – thanks to the added (and unwanted) bonus of hot flashes. Within a few months, the fate of my fertility (barring a miracle of God) was sealed.

Since I couldn’t guarantee future infertility reversal and my fiancé couldn’t unequivocally commit without such an assurance, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I called off the engagement and cancelled all plans for our future together.

Sometimes, when I stop to consider that someone stopped loving me because of what I couldn’t physically give, it still hurts. He was supposed to be my forever friend and closest companion, but I wasn’t enough and what I could provide wasn’t enough.

Knowing that I am unable to carry a child has impacted my self-esteem, confidence and self-worth. “What man will ever want me if I can’t give him a child?” has been one of my most frequently asked inner questions. For answers and reassurance that my future is fertile (whether my cycle ever returns or not), I go to God’s word. On the pages of the Bible I discover who’s I am and that who I am is enough. God’s holy inspired love letter tells me that Jesus loves me just as I am. His affection and devotion is not dependent on what I am capable of giving because He does not derive His value from child-bearing parenthood potential. He derives value simply from personhood.

When I sink back into despair and my hope wears thin, it is the truth of who I am in Christ that restores my faith and joy again. I remember Psalm 37:4 that says those who “delight themselves in the Lord will receive the desires of their heart.” From that scripture I am assured that God is not only the fulfiller of my desires, He’s the knower of them, too. God sees what is in my heart. He knows the emptiness that comes from infertility and how I long to have Him fill it.

Over the past ten years spent in infertility God has used the time to bring me back to His all-sufficient, abundant love. In the presence of Jesus’ precious Spirit, I’ve learned that the most satisfying love does not come from a husband or developing baby. It comes from on High and dwells within.

The hope I have for future love and companionship is held in the hands of my unfailing Heavenly Father. Because Jesus loves me just as I am, I believe that, one day, I will be loved again – and not for what my body can give or do but simply for who I am in Christ.

To my infertile friends, remember that your capacity to love and be loved is not determined by your ability to procreate. You are worthy of love because God you created you in His image and sent His Son to rescue you with eternal life.
If you ever doubt that God has a fertile plan for your life, return to the pages of scripture. Read versus such as Psalm 37:4, Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 40:5 and Isaiah 25:1. As you meditate on God’s truth your faith will be strengthened and hope renewed by the reassurance that God is good and faithful and He isn’t finished with you yet.

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The Resurrection of a Nearly Dead Dream

To pursue my dream or let it die?

That is the question.

Becoming a writer has been one of my most precious dreams for nearly a decade. It’s right up there with someday becoming a wife and Mom – but I’ll save more on that for another post.

My beloved writer dream first came to life on “Pippy Love.” On that simple Blogger site I wrote about the antics of my schnoodle puppy, Pippy (named after the beloved children’s character, Pippy Longstocking). In those posts, I shared what I learned while teaching Pippy how to walk on leash and sleep through the night without having an accident in the house. I acknowledged that doggie parenting was far more trying than I ever imagined and admitted that, at times, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

Fast forward eight years and so much has changed. As for Pippy, she doesn’t need to be leashed to walk obediently by my side and hasn’t had an accident in the house since I can’t remember when. As for me, I’m still acknowledging that I’m a far from perfect doggie parent who repeatedly gets herself into things without fully understanding what that thing entails.

As for the blog Pippy Love, that’s a thing of the past. About a year and a half ago I said my goodbyes to the basic (and free) Blogger platform and started posting here, on Jesus take the Pen. Deciding to launch an official website with an honest to goodness web address was a leap of faith. It took money, vision and the belief that what I was putting on the internet was worth reading.

Being the Pollyanna that I am, I debuted Jesus take the Pen with high hopes that its readership would take-off. A few shares here and there and, viola! I imagined followers subscribing to the page in droves. In my wildest fantasies I even envision a letter from Guidepost popping up in my inbox one day, asking me to be a guest poster on their website.

But, alas, my dreams have not come true.

Jesus take the Pen has only three subscribers, one of which is my Mom. The second is a dear friend from the church and the third is the web developer who became a subscriber while testing JTP’s “subscribe” feature when launching the site. And, as I’m sure you already guessed, Guide Post has yet to email me.

From the subscribe and share analytics perspective, Jesus take the Pen has been a failure. It has far underperformed in reach and readership. And although I still believe the site’s pages and posts could encourage readers on their journey with Jesus, they’d have to actually read it to receive the help and hope I’ve tried, with God’s help, to provide.

So, what now? Is this the end of the line for JTP? Is my dream of being a well-read writer dead? Is it time to close down my site and put down my penl?

After mulling over these questions for months and feeling utterly defeated for weeks, I’ve come to a firm conclusion. The answer to all of the above questions is an unequivocal, no.

No, now is not the time to close down JTP. No, now is not the time to abandon my dream of being a writer. No, now is not the end of giving Jesus my pen and asking Him to write His story upon my life.

Now is the time to put my foot down and claim victory over my dream. It’s time to declare that, by the resurrection power of Jesus, my writing future is about to experience an abundant life revival. In fact, now is the perfect time to rejoice in the plans God has for JTP that are far greater, loftier and incredible than the big dreams I’ve had for it.

When the going gets tough, satan wants God’s children to give up. The enemy wants us to associate down with defeated. He hopes that when things get quiet, we quit and when things get tough, we tucker out and throw in the towel. But today I’m writing to tell satan “no” to killing my dream. I am recommitting JTP to Jesus, boldly declaring that the enemy does not have the power to destroy what God has created.

Because I know that God is always good and always at work behind the scenes, orchestrating the very best plan for Jesus’ glorification, I will continue to keep writing and dreaming. No matter what the analytical evidence does or does not say, I will remain confident that God is not finished with this site or my writing future. He has a purpose for this weak vessel and plans to proclaim the goodness, faithfulness and power of His Risen Son through my pen.

 

So, stay tuned, because if you thought things were getting eerily quiet on this website, you thought wrong. By God’s grace and power, this site is just getting started.

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Heart to Heart: A pen for every season

It took becoming sick to teach me how to talk to God. Lyme, pain, a pen and paper were a few of the choice tools God used to draw me closer to Jesus.

At first, I was resistant. Or, more accurately, I was distracted. The illness was my all-consuming obsession. I was fixated on symptoms, possible causes and an accurate diagnosis. The only time I picked up a pen was to write my medical history in a doctor’s office.

But then something shifted.

The sickness didn’t go away. It remitted – briefly – but then it got worse – much worse. I lost all control of my body and no amount of research could get it back again. Failed attempts at doctoring left me feeling misunderstood. I desperately wanted someone to listen, care and get what I was going through. I needed to vent, be real and know I wasn’t alone.

But what I truly needed most was help from on high; aid from the Great Physician who could carry me through the mystery that had become my life.

Although I had come to know Jesus years before my illness began, I didn’t know how to actually be in a relationship with Him. I had yet to rely on Him fully and in complete dependence. I was saved but I wasn’t walking with my Savior step-by-step and hand-in-hand. Jesus was definitely my friend, but He wasn’t my bestie.

But sickness changed that.

The seed of change that was my need took root in a pen. Writing was God’s gift to me – a communication method that helped me disconnect from the world around me and reconnect with His Spirit. Although the pen and paper, in and of themselves, weren’t the salvation, they were a vital tool God used to deepen and strengthen my relationship with Jesus.

After almost a decade of writing, I have accumulated boxes of notecards, stacks of journals and numerous files on my computer’s hard drive. Every word (some written on tear-stained paper) a testimony to Who sustained me throughout my sickness. The reason I kept fighting for my life and believing in the future is written on those pages. The Person that kept me even when I wanted to end my own life is revealed on a those reams of paper.

It was Jesus. Always and only Jesus.

I’ve often wondered what will happen when I’m not sick anymore. Will I keep writing? Will I still rely on this pen and paper to communicate with God? Will this still be a key tool He uses to meet and chat with me?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. Only God knows what He has planned for the next seasons of my life. But I do know this: Jesus will be there and He’ll keep providing plenty of tools to connect with Him along the way.

Whether or not God uses writing, I know He’ll keep revealing Himself. With or without the use of a pen and paper,  He will continue to show His love by faithfully making His spirit known in incredible and unexpected ways.

In my heart, I sure do hope He keeps using writing to draw me closer to Jesus but I trust that Father knows best. He knows my desires and, more importantly, He knows just what I need in every season of my life. He will provide in the future just like He has in the present and past. Because God is good… He is faithful… And He isn’t finished yet.