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Live for an Audience of One

As I stood at my favorite coffee shop’s cash register, ordering my regular small coffee (no room for cream), the barista looked up from the carafe and asked me a question that immediately made my heart stop and palms sweat. “So what is it that you do while your sitting there, typing on your computer?”

It’s a question I’ve been asked at least a hundred times and one I’m never quite sure how to answer. On one hand, I want to declare that I’m a self-proclaimed writer, but, on the other hand, I’m embarrassed to address the follow-up questions that so often come next, such as “are you published?”

When I am forced to acknowledge that I’m a writer without a single word in print, it makes me question the thousands of hours I’ve poured my heart out and onto a page. I have spent nearly ten years posting, “doodling” (what I call journaling), and asking Jesus to take the pen and yet I have so little to show for it by earthly measures. To date, I have a measly fifty-nine IG followers, five email subscribers and seventy-six likes on FB. In society’s terms of success, that translates into “failure.”

In the split second that passed between receiving the barista’s question and responding, a battle royal between confidence and doubt waged within my mind. It was like having a little red-horned devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.

From the devil’s side came taunting, insults and heckling…. “You’re such a loser. Don’t you see that you’re wasting your time writing your little Jesus life lesson stories? No one even reads them because they’re not any good. You’re not any good!”

But, on the other shoulder, was the voice of a reassuring, uplifting angel… “Just one is enough. Just reaching one weary soul is enough. Just encouraging one heavy heart is enough. Just cheering one downcast friend is enough. Just brightening one stranger’s day is enough. Just writing for an audience of your One and only Savior is enough.”

The enemy tried hard to crush my spirit and rob me of the opportunity to tell the barista that I write for Jesus but, praise Jesus, he didn’t have the final say because, louder than his lies was God’s voice of truth. With a decisive, “not today satan”, I snubbed the devil on my shoulder, opened up my mouth and, with bold conviction, proclaimed to the barista, “I’m a writer!” Then, to my pleasure, she asked what I write about, to which I was able to respond, “devotionals for Jesus.”

As I sat down with my coffee and opened up my computer like I have nearly every day for the past decade, I said a silent, “thank you” to God for the opportunity to hear and respond to His voice.

I also thanked Him for reminding me of what Paul wrote to the Colossians. “Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ.” (3:23) Although the Colossians weren’t faced with the challenges of social media, that doesn’t mean they were immune to the enemy’s taunting. Just like you and I experience today, the Colossians were tempted to measure success in worldly terms. In his letter, Paul reminded them, and us, that we are citizens of Heaven and, therefore, we are to live for the King of Heaven. Honoring God, not gaining worldly honor or likes, is what gives life real purpose, enduring meaning and eternal value. Faithfully obeying and following Jesus in any and all situations, whether big or small, is how we are to truly glorify God.

When the curtain falls on this earthly life, all social media accounts, book deals, and awards will mean nothing. They will not accompany us past this grave. But what we will take with us is the heart we surrendered to God and the life we dedicated to an audience of One.

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Thank God for Unanswered Prayer

January 2020 is an important month in my personal history because this month marks ten years since I caught the first glimpse of my chronic illness giant.

At first the glimpse was just that – only a glimpse. In the beginning of this journey, all I could see was a dramatic thirty-pound plunge on the scale. I had no idea of the magnitude of the illness brewing underneath or the physical dysfunction, severe wasting and debilitating pain to come. Looking back now, I’m grateful that God didn’t show me the whole scope of my sickness saga. Had I known how long and how hard this road was destined to be I might have given up. Thankfully, God gave me just enough visibility and strength to take it one day and one victory at a time.

As I look back over these past ten years, limited foresight isn’t the only reason I’m thankful. I’m also thankful for unanswered prayer.

Over the course of the past decade I prayed one particular prayer so many times only Heaven could keep count. Although the phrasing of the prayer varies each time, it always goes a little something like this:

“Father God, how long will I have to face this same Goliath? Haven’t I been standing on this chronic illness battlefield long enough? Now God, just to be clear, I’m not asking you to make me immune to suffering and trouble. As a follower of Jesus, I know that’s part of the deal. But could I trade in this sickness trouble for a different model? Maybe relationship woes or a career so I could experience some really bothersome problems at work? Anything Lord! I’m begging you, please give me a different giant to face!”

But not once in ten years did God ever give me what I asked for. God never let me treat my Goliath like a leased car and trade it in for another model. God refused to let me pick my own giant and, although I wasn’t glad at the time, now I am. Had I been up against a different foe, I would have missed out on the shaping and molding God had in mind. If I would have faced a different Goliath, I wouldn’t be the Stephanie I am today.

By being stripped away physically, emotionally and spiritually, I was given a front row seat to a show featuring God’s saving and sustaining power. At sixty-five pounds I watched God carry my body against all odds. When my heart began to travel off rhythm, I experienced the peace and comfort of His steadying as He upheld and reassured my anxious soul. In my very body, He performed victory after victory and blessed me with the miracle of experiencing it all firsthand.

While I was praying for a different Goliath, God knew a new giant wasn’t what I truly needed. Intensive training to become a fierce and fearless warrior in His army was and is what I needed. Complete dependence on the resurrection power of Jesus was and is what I needed. Unwavering faith in the perfect will and unchanging goodness of God was and is what I needed.

I am so thankful that God refused to give me what I asked for. Like a good Father, He said “no” to what I thought was good so He could give me what He knew was best.  

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” 

Hebrews 4:16

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What do genealogies have to do with it?

This year I set out to read the entire Bible in a year. I must admit, this is not the first time I’ve undertaken this endeavor but, I’m sorry to say, I’ve never succeeded. I always get bogged down in the genealogies and lists of names I can’t pronounce. Usually sooner rather than later, I abandon the mission and return to my New Testament comfort zone.

But this year I determined to approach the Bible in a year endeavor differently. I’ve decided to embrace a “delay is not defeat” mantra. Even if I miss a day or two, I will keep coming back to my Bible reading plan and pick up wherever I left off.

Which brings me to January 10th.

According to my reading plan, I should have been reading Genesis chapter twenty-one on this particular day but I’m a bit behind. Or a lot a bit, depending on how you define behind. Thankfully, the truth found in God’s Word never expires or changes. And neither does His grace, which I reminded myself as I opened up Genesis chapter eleven five days behind schedule.

If you’re not familiar with Genesis eleven or have simply forgotten the specifics of this passage, allow me to break it down for you.

It starts with the Tower of Babel where sin gets out of control and God has to reign it in by breaking up unified language. Next is the Shem family genealogy. It’s riveting reading, as I’m sure you can imagine. Lastly, the chapter turns to Abram and tells the story of how his father took their family from the land of Ur to the land of Harran. Also riveting reading.

While trying to sound out names like Arphazad, Peleg and Serug, I started to wonder if the Shem family line is even important? “Do these verses have anything to do with me?” I asked myself.

No sooner did these thoughts cross my mind than God answered them with verse thirty one. “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram…” To some readers, this might seem like a throw away verse but, to me, it spoke volumes because of one word, one name: Sarai.

Being familiar with Sarai, I knew the two important details about her life that were revealed one verse earlier, in Genesis thirty. First is that Sarai is Abram’s wife and, second, is that she in infertile. Unlike her sister-in-law and other women in the family line, Sarai is unable to conceive and bear children for her husband.

In any era, but especially in Sarai’s era, infertility can cause shame for women due to the fact that the ability to carry a child and give birth plays a large role in making a woman feel feminine. Pregnancy is a beautiful gift imparted specifically to women and when that gift can’t be experienced and enjoyed a woman often feels worthless and less than. I should know since I, too, am infertile.

In the day and age that Sarai lived, being unable to have a child was a defining characteristic and that’s what makes this verse in Genesis so noteworthy. In this particular scripture, the author shares the name of every man on the voyage from Ur to Harrah but only shares the name of one woman – and it wasn’t the name of a woman who could conceive children. It was the name of the one woman known to be infertile.

As I closed my Bible and thought about Genesis eleven, I was overwhelmed by the perfection of God’s Word.

God’s Word is never outdated and doesn’t contain any irrelevant details. Every word has a purpose and Sarai’s name being listed in verse thirty one is no exception. Her name has significance and sends a message to men and women everywhere: The ability to have children is not what makes you valuable. You are valuable because you are a child of God.

Your name is worth listing and your life is worth loving because God created You in His image with purpose and on purpose. Whether you can have a child of your own or not does not define you or determine your value and worth. Your value is determined by the perfect Lamb of God who died to save you and secure you a place in heaven. According to Jesus, you are worth dying for. That truth, not your current or future fertility, is why you are a precious and priceless treasure.

In His amazing grace and unmerited goodness, God used one word to shower my belated Bible reading with blessings and remind me that He loves me for me, just like He loves you for you.

If you want proof of God’s love for you, just open up your Bible – and don’t be deterred by the genealogies. God’s Holy Word is His love letter to you and, I can assure you, He never disappoints.

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What are you collecting?

My coffee mug collection began innocently. A whimsical, ice-skating snowman inspired mug here. An Easter bunny and carrot themed mug there. “A mug for every season” – that was my motto.

Over the years, as my coffee cup collection has steadily grown, so has the chaos in my kitchen cabinet. There are now so many mugs crammed into that little space it’s a wonder the door even closes.

Recognizing the excessiveness of my drinkware situation, I have, for years, resolved to cut off all coffee cup purchasing and pare down my current collection. My intentions have been good but my follow through has been quite poor. I’ve tried picking just my favorites and donating the rest, but I find that they are all my favorites for one sentimental reason or another. I’ve even tried the Kon Mari technique, asking myself “does this bring you joy?” To which the answer is always, “Yes. This llama mug most certainly does bring me joy.”

But coffee mugs aren’t my only collection. I have a second, not so visible and far less joyous collection that I’ve had trouble parting ways with, too: a collection of fears.

Over the past decade I’ve collected more fears than coffee mugs. I have a fear that I’ll wind up being a lifelong single and a fear that I’ll never regain my full health. Then there’s that pesky fear that I’ll fail at every career I try. And who can forget the niggling fear that I’ll end up moving back into my parent’s basement (again). For every setback, failure or struggle, I’ve added another fear to my collection, creating an internal space that is so chock-full of anxiety, worries and concerns it makes my kitchen cabinet look sparse.

Like I do every January 1st, I made a resolution on this New Year’s Day. “This year,” I thought, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to cut ties with this excessive coffee mug collection and bring order back to this chaotic cabinet!” Nowhere in my mind was I thinking about my fear collection – that’s a collection I didn’t want to admit even existed. I wanted to keep that door securely shut. I wanted to keep my fears, anxieties and worries a secret.

But that wasn’t meant to be.

As soon as I opened the kitchen cabinet to attack the out of control coffee mug collection, a revelation dawned on me like a lightbulb illuminating above a cartoon character’s head: Why are you so fixated on this coffee mug conundrum? Don’t you see that you have a far more pressing situation to address – all those paralyzing fears you’ve let take up residence in your mind? Can’t you see that you’ve become like this cabinet – so crammed full of fear you have no room left for faith.

As I surveyed the plethora of coffee cups all stacked and squished behind the cabinet’s glass door, I realized that, just like that cabinet, my mind has limited space and I must be intentional about what – and Who – I let fill it. If I relinquish control to the enemy, he will cram me full of anxious thoughts and fearful emotions, destroying my joy and robbing me of peace in the process. But, if I allow God to fill my sacred internal space, He will strengthen my faith by enriching my mental collection with wisdom and truth. When I invite God into my mind and ask Him to control my collection of thoughts, He defeats the enemy’s lies, exposes every destructive fear, and fills me with His overcoming peace and abundant joy.

It was this new revelation that revived my resolve – but not my resolve to part ways with my llama mug, that mug is here to stay. This time, I determined to get rid of my collection of fears.

But how?

If I couldn’t part ways with a few coffee mugs, how could I part ways with an entire mind full of fears and dooms day thoughts? To successfully accomplish this resolution, I knew I needed help clearing away the anxious clutter I’d let accumulate inside. So, I did what anyone who wants to declutter their life should do. And, no, I didn’t turn to Kon Mari to refresh my memory on her Tidying Up technique. I turned to the only One who has the power to break every chain – including every chain of fear. I turned to Jesus, relinquished control of my collection and asked Him to take over cleaning my internal house.

In no time at all, a verse came to mind. “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2) Or, in coffee mug speak, when the enemy is trying to sell you an earthly fear mug, leave the store, run to God and stock up on the eternal treasures revealed in His word.

You see, Jesus claimed victory over fear when He conquered the grave. When our Savior defeated death, He made it possible for you and I to enjoy freedom from all fear. But, in order to experience that freedom, we have to be choosy about what we allow into our mental, emotional and spiritual collection. We must stop buying the fear lies and quit even giving the enemy’s sales pitch the time of day! Instead, we must fix our eyes, ears and heart on Jesus and invest in a faith-filled collection packed with God’s promises and busting at the seams with His extravagant love.

And, if you must buy something, just go buy a whimsical coffee mug. I suggest shopping at Home Goods, TJ Maxx or Marshalls. They always have the very best selection. Tell them Stephanie sent you.