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Memories that matter: a cradle and a cross

They say a picture says a thousand words but, to me, this picture said at least fifteen-thousand.

It was our family vacation photo taken on the last day of our 2011 trip to Hilton head. There were fifteen of us in attendance – two brothers, two sister-in-laws, two parents and eight nieces and nephews. We had just finished enjoying a perfect week on the beach and, if I recall correctly, there had barely been a single argument or squabble among the whole group. It truly was a picture perfect trip.

In the picture, we were all sporting our very best tans and smiling with sun kissed glows. This particular shot has always been one of my very favorite family photos because every one of us looks happy, healthy and full of life.

But I wonder if we would have been smiling that big had we known what was to come over the next nine years?

Heaven knows, I didn’t have a clue!

What that picture was taken, I was feeling so good! I had just recently climbed out of my first go around with illness and, although I didn’t understand why I’d suddenly become sick in the first place, I didn’t care. All that mattered to me was that whatever had plagued me appeared to be history. I considered it a miracle and gift from God. I was thrilled to be well again and able to plan for the future without factoring in physical limitations. My body was strong, pain free and vibrant and I was loving every minute of it!

But my health didn’t stick around.

Before long, the plans I made (some on that very family trip), including a return to college and future as a fitness professional, went up in smoke. By November 2011, my weight was falling off again and every pound I gained (and then some) was gone. By Thanksgiving, every bit of muscle I worked so hard to restore had wasted away entirely.

On our family’s 2011 summer vacation to the beach I had no idea that, by the following June, I would be living in  Florida to be near a particular doctor I believed could solve my health mystery. I couldn’t even begin to imagine that over the next four years I would go across the country in search of someone who could explain what was wrong with my failing body. During that perfect summer, I didn’t think that in 2015, at the age of twenty-five, I would receive MRI test results revealing lesions on my brain. Nor did I have a clue that, two years after those brain scans, my life would be changed again by the word “Lyme.” To think, in 2011, I didn’t even know what the world Lyme meant!

Now, as I look back at that 2011 family photo and recall my former, long haired, optimistic, smiley self, all I can think about is how naive I was. There was so much I didn’t know and so much I wasn’t prepared for. Back then, I thought my life was on the verge of taking off, when in reality, it was actually on the precipice of falling apart.

As 2019 comes to a close and I stare at that beloved picture with 20/20 hindsight vision, I’ve asked myself this question: “If you could go back in time, would you want to know that life was going to get this hard?” 

The answer is an emphatic, “no.”

Even if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have wanted to know that a my life’s path was going to be this challenging to traverse. I wouldn’t have wanted to know that I was going to spent years fighting for my life and endure such excruciating pain that I thought I might die. Knowing how long and how trying this road was bound to be would have only proven to discourage me and, had I known what it looked like before I embarked on it, I fear I would have succumb to hopelessness and possibly even given up.

But, praise God, back in the summer of 2011, He made sure I walked into the future entirely unaware of what lay ahead. He blessed me three months of amazing health and picture perfect opportunities to enjoy it! During those months of ignorance, I lived in bliss and excitement about the future. I dreamed. I hoped. I lived life to the fullest and made exciting plans that included honoring and serving God with my restored body and soul.

Just because my illness returned after that summer, should I now look back on those memories with sadness and longing?

Since I have, once again, relapsed into sickness, wouldn’t it be understandable for me to moan, groan and complain to God?

Don’t I have grounds to say, “God, this isn’t fair! I wanted to pour out my life for you and you let me become sick, keeping me from the life of fruitful service I wanted!”

The answer, again, is “no” to all of the above.

No matter how hard these years have been, I have no grounds for grumbling to God. Like Job told his friends and wife after having every earthly treasure snatched away from him, he would not denounce God. The Lord had given and the Lord could take away. That was Job’s stance and it’s mine, too.

But, I must admit, sometimes I fall prey to lamenting. When I look at what I lack and what I’ve lost, it is tempting to slip into a state of utter hopelessness and defeat – especially during this Christmas time of year when, all around me, are messages about merriment and holly and jolly happiness.

But God never leaves me down in that dark and dreary pit. As long as I keep calling out to Him for help, just like Job did, and keep trusting Him, just like Job did, He keeps showing up to pull me out of the emotional and spiritual depths of doom and death. He reclaims my Christmas spirit and restores my hope and joy by calling back to remembrance two scenes: one of a cradle and another of a cross. These are the two memories that matter most. 

As soon as I return to the heart of the gospel and the reason for not only this Christmas season but the reason for my very life, what did and didn’t happen in the past nine years fails to matter. With my eyes and heart fixed solely on Jesus, I remember that the only moment in time that has any power over my joy and peace is the moment that the long awaited Messiah entered the world on a mission to save me and all of mankind from sin and hell. The only event that can impact the state of my hope its the event of the perfect Lamb of God’s sacrificial death on the cross and victorious resurrection from the grave.

The last nine years have been unexpected and, of course, the next nine are too. But I’m not afraid of the unknown because I have the confidence of knowing what and Who awaits me after my time on earth is through. Because I have been born again into the Kingdom of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, I can step into the future knowing that, one day, I will walk through Heaven’s gates and onto streets of gold where I will live perfectly healthy and completely whole in the company of my Father God.

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Is it wrong for Christians to online date?

Is it wrong for Christians to online date?

This was the question I typed into the Google search bar under the cover of night, yielding 10.4 million results in 3.4 seconds. It was comforting to know that I’m not the only one wondering whether or not God approves of Christians looking for love online. Given the millions of blog posts and articles written on the topic, I assume that thousands (if not millions) of other single Christians are wrestling with the same question.

As I scrolled through the first page of search results, I found a plethora of posts from well-respected leaders in the Christian ministry world. Desiring God, Focus on the Family, Crosswalk and The Gospel Coalition – just to name a few. I picked a sampling of articles that piqued my interest and gave them a read.

To my surprise, most authors supported online dating and some even went so far as to strongly encourage it.  Although there were a few authors that took a more cautious approach, they were in the minority. The majority came to the conclusion that taking the spouse search online is a fabulous tool for Christians who want to expand their pool of potential mates, be candid about their faith and, most importantly, get a date.

After reading through three articles in their entirety, I called off my Google search and darkened the screen on my phone. The counsel of the Christian community left me feeling more confused than I had been before I sought out their opinion. As I laid in bed pondering the posts I’d just read, I couldn’t help but get my own recent online dating experience out of my head.

You see, just a short twenty-four hours prior to my Google search, I had ventured into the world of online dating – Christian Café to be exact. I made a username, answered the “get to know you” questions and chose a recent picture to accompany my profile. But about sixty seconds after clicking “confirm subscription” I had a sinking feeling in my gut. “This is not where you’re supposed to be. You’re not supposed to be seeking a spouse online.”

For weeks my fleshly desires had been engaged in a tug-of-war with Christ’s spirit within me and this was the battle’s climatic moment.

I had been telling myself that it’s totally natural to want a husband and perfectly acceptable to seek one out online. As long as I did the seeking with godly principles clearly stated in my profile, there was nothing wrong with venturing into the worldwide match making web. At least, that’s what I thought until I confirmed my account and became a fish in the online dating pool. At that moment my flesh took the decisive upper hand in the tug-of-war and my soul lost all peace.

In a state of inner turmoil, I swiftly navigated to Christian Café’s settings page where I found a button to disable my account. “Do you want to temporarily remove your profile or delete it forever?” the site asked. That choice was easy. Without hesitating, I double clicked and said goodbye to Christian Café forever.

It was the next night that I decided to click around on Google to explore what other Christians had to say about online dating.

I fully expected to find similar stories to mine about being unable to online date in peace and anticipated advice that would warn readers about the battle royal between flesh and Christ. But what I discovered was just the opposite. I couldn’t find one word of warning to Christians about the how online dating can pose a very real danger to the spiritual life by causing the dater to take their focus off of seeking Christ and put it on seeking a spouse instead.

The more I pondered the posts I’d just read, the more conflicted I became. “Why is the Christian world’s take on online dating so dramatically different than my own?” I wondered. I had gone searching for clarity and truth but the internet wasn’t delivering. So, I decided to do what I should have done in the first place. I turned to God and asked Him my question. “Is it wrong for Christians to online date?”

Without missing a beat, God laid one particular verse on my heart. 1 Corinthians 10:23:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.

“I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.

Although online dating isn’t in and of itself bad, it is not necessarily beneficial because of the inherent dangers that accompany it. And I’m not just referring to stranger danger. I’m talking about seeker danger.

What is seeker danger, you ask?

Seeker danger is the temptation to replace “seek ye first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) with “seek ye first a spouse of your own.” The risk of online dating is that the flesh will get the upper hand due to the simple fact that, as human beings, we’re prone to single mindedness. We can’t serve two masters – our flesh and God. We have to die to self and unconditionally surrender every earthly, fleshly desire at the foot of the cross so we can run our race singularly focused on Jesus Christ.

As single adults, we’d all like to think we can go seeking a spouse while remaining committed to seeking God. At least, I certainly thought I could. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I can’t seek out two men at once – my Lord and my husband – because God is a jealous God who wants the full attention of His beloved. He doesn’t want His children conflicted or distracted. He desires that in the hierarchy of needs, seeking Him always trumps seeking the desires of our heart.

Can God use online dating? Plenty of bloggers would say “absolutely yes.” But this online blogger is here to point out that, although online dating is permissible, it might not be beneficial to seeking God first.

My advice? Consult God about what He would have you do and who He would like you to spend your time and expend your energies seeking. If He answers you like He did me, He’ll simply say, “just seek me.”
 

 “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Matthew 6:33

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Be Still And Know

Can you have short hair and still be feminine?

I’ve asked myself this question countless times over the past four years, beginning I was twenty-five years old and took a leap of faith with a short hair style. At the time, I was living under the shadow of a sickness and disease, trapped in a body that was under attack. My health was declining quickly, causing my once long locks to thin and frizzle off at the ends.

So, I had a choice to make. Cry about it or cut it off? After mulling it over, I decided to cry about it and then cut it off.

Enter: the pixie cut.

At first, I adored my short haircut because of what it meant spiritually. My pixie cut was a proclamation, declaring that chronic illness could not rob me of my joy and zest for life. With my new short haircut, I was telling the world, “I am resilient. I am an overcomer. I am mighty strong.”

It was a super short style that spoke volumes.

But, before long, a little voice started speaking back to me. “You don’t even look like a woman anymore…You look like a little boy…Good luck finding a man who will be attracted to you now.“

I immediately recognized that this voice was coming from the enemy. He saw my pixie-cut positivity and wanted to chop it off. But I told him to be quiet with a firm, “not today satan.” 

But then my short hair started to grow out, the ends started to fray and the style lost its shape. I looked in the mirror and wasn’t thrilled with what I saw. And that’s when the voice of the enemy returned, louder and more confident than before. “You’re single because of your short hair”he said. “You can’t be feminine with a cut like that.” This time around I didn’t even try to dispute his lies. I just believed them, hook, line and sinker.

And sink I did…and fast.

It didn’t take long for the enemy’s trickery to make inroads into my thought pattern and infiltrate my overcoming, resilient, mighty strong spirit with doubts, worries and hopelessness. My mental dialogue became so tainted that I even started taking over for the enemy and began feeding his lies to myself. “If only I had long locks, then someone would love me… You’re single because you’re a sick woman with short hair… You can’t be feminine with that haircut.

The more attention I paid to the lies, the more I began to buy into the belief that something as trivial as a haircut could be the determining factor in something as significant as a significant other. Not only was that a ridiculous idea, it was a destructive one, too. By believing the lies that the enemy was selling, I began to question God’s plans for my life. Not that I realized that at the time. In the heat of the moment, I felt too sorry for my sick self to recognize that my new thought pattern was undermining my hope in God’s perfect will and timing. While blinded by the enemy’s schemes, I couldn’t see that by falling for false logic, I was actively impairing my faith and trust in Jesus.

After spending far too many days beaten down by the enemy, I finally decided to ask God what He thought of my hair. So, I looked in the mirror and said, “Is this short haircut the reason I’m single?… Am I alone because my hair isn’t long enough to look like a lady?… Is it possible to have a pixie cut and still be feminine?”

When God responded, He didn’t simply say, “no, no, and yes.” Instead, He responded with one simple verse that completely changed my entire eternal dialogue. “Be still and know that I am God.”

When I became still before God, my short hair style ceased to matter. When I refocused on knowing who God is, what the future holds for my status stopped stressing me. Every lie lost its power and all distractions were destroyed the moment I got still and fixed my heart, mind and soul on the truth of who God is and who I am in and through Christ.

If you recognize yourself in this story, consumed with listening to the enemy’s lies that have you trapped in trivial pursuits, let this one verse be your guide back to the truth, joy and peace. Simply be still, right where you are, and know that He, the triumphant Christ, your Savior and Lord, is God.

 

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

– Psalm 46:10

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Holiday Survival Tips for Singles

Thanksgiving Day is not only the official start of the holiday season for Americans but also the official start of the lonely season for the unattached.

For those of us who find ourselves still checking the “single” box, the months of November and December can be painfully lonely. Everywhere we turn there is another reminder of our solitary status. Twenty-four seven Hallmark movies about picture perfect romance. Mistletoe on doorposts. TV commercials featuring starry eyed couples on ice skates. Song lyrics singing the blues about Christmas without a special YOU.

Unless you go to live under a rock for two months, the holiday romance messages will be inescapable. Every place you go, you’ll see it. Everywhere you click online, you’ll encounter it. Every time you turn around, you’ll run into it.

The challenge for singles at Christmas time is to remain joyful and thankful while being bombarded with in-your-face reminders of what you don’t have. This isn’t always easy and sometimes it feels nearly impossible. But as a single who has spent eight Novembers and Decembers alone, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating this season while maintaining a joyful holiday spirit. That’s not to say I don’t have my days when I get down because I do. I won’t deny the fact that I desperately want a family and special someone of my own but I’m learning to wait on God’s timing and embody an attitude of gratitude for the many blessings I do have.

Which leads me to my first single’s holiday survival tip:

  1. Be grateful. At Thanksgiving we do this in my family by anonymously writing down on a piece of paper what we’re thankful for, putting the papers in a basket and having each one read off one by one so we can all guess who wrote it. It’s become one of my favorite traditions because it refocuses my perspective off of what I lack and onto what I have. But here’s the danger: shifting that perspective away gratefulness when I walk away from the Thanksgiving table. It is all too easy to leave behind that attitude of gratitude and spend the rest of my holiday season stuck in a “poor me I’m alone and lonely” state of mind. But if I walk away and keep practicing intentional gratefulness and thankfulness, I will be better equipped to defeat feelings of sadness and unhappiness.
  2. Be giving. When we do for others we become less concerned about our own needs. This isn’t why we give and serve, but it is a built-in blessing that comes with giving and serving. Our self-centeredness ceases to control our thoughts when we turn our energies and attentions onto other people and sacrificially do, give and serve on their behalf.
  3. Be Gospel-centered. Jesus is the reason for the season. Stop and read that again. Jesus it the reason for the season. Romantic love is not the reason. Holiday gatherings are not the reason. Santa is not the reason. Family get togethers are not even the reason. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to earth on a rescue mission to save us and reconcile us to God, is the reason for the season. His sacrificial life and pursuing love are why we celebrate. His relentless grace and overwhelming mercy are why we rejoice. As singles, the holiday season actually offers us the prime opportunity to set our hearts on the gospel. I know it might not seem like our status is an opportunity but, I assure you, it is! Our lives are quieter and simpler, leaving us more time to soak in the stillness of Jesus’ presence, which truly is the greatest present a person can ever receive! By fixing our eyes on the true reason for the season, the worldly reasons fade away and take their rightful place behind the King of Kings.

So, no matter what your status says about you or what season you find yourself in, be grateful, giving and God-centered. Whether single or attached, December or July, those three faith principles will always lead to a life full of year-round peace, hope and joy.

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Perspective: how we see what we see

 “The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgement.”

Tonight, I found this quote on my herbal tea bag and was struck by how profound it is – especially that last word, “judgement.”

Judgement means you have to make a decision on something in particular. You have to come to a conclusion. But how do we do that? How do we make judgements? And what do we rely on to inform our judgements?

This is where one of my favorite words comes into play: perspective.

Perspective is about our attitude towards something. It is our point of view and it plays a critical role in how we make decisions, form opinions and come to conclusions.

In other words, we judge according to our perspective. We judge what we see by how we see it.

In recent days, perspective has been on my mind, especially in relation to my latest health setback.

When I first started experiencing the return of old symptoms, I’ll fully admit that my perspective was terrible. I viewed the illness relapse as a life disruption sent to ruin my plans and delay my future. Therefore, I judged it as a curse, causing me to become bitter, angry and full of self-pity.

But God, who is full of second chances, was gracious and merciful.

God came into my circumstances and redeemed them by opening my eyes so I could view my illness from His perspective. Suddenly, I was able to see that this setback is actually a gift. Because I have relapsed, I have a golden opportunity to extract more goodness out of this illness than ever before!

By viewing my circumstances with God’s perspective that sees through a perfect lens of hope and joy, my relapse judgement has been turned completely upside down. I no longer judge this setback as a curse but, instead, deem it as an incredible blessing. Now I understand that God is not allowing my illness to return because He wants to disrupt my life. He’s allowing it to return because He has a divine purpose for it in His glorious grand plan.

To borrow from the unknown author on my tea bag, I used to judge my illness as a weed but now I see it as a flower.  

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God is Faithful

Two years ago, by this time in the evening (9:15 PM), I would have been asleep – or close to it.

Two years ago, I used to retreat to my room around 7:30 or 8:00, although my contacts left my eyes and PJS went on my body hours earlier. Each night, not long after dinner, energy would leave my body and force me to my bed. It was discouraging. I was a twenty-seven year old with an eights seven year old’s bedtime. I was frail, weak and constantly spent.

But tonight, I’m awake.

At 9:30 PM on a Monday night, this twenty-nine year old’s body has energy and strength. Even though my body is, once again, relapsing into disease, I still have so much to be thankful for. I am so far ahead of where I was two years ago. True, I’ve lost ground but I’m not at rock bottom – not even close! I’m down but I am so far from out.

By the grace of God, I am a resilient survivor who has been through the fire and lived to tell the tale. Death no longer has a sting. Disease no longer has a fear factor because I’ve already been in bed at 8:00 PM, wondering where my story would end and how much more time I had on this earth. But I don’t ask those questions anymore. I don’t wonder where this story ends or even what comes next because all I need to know is what I learned two years ago: that God is in control and He is taking care of me.

Even when the circumstances look gloomy and full of doom, I know that God can turn what appears bad into something wonderfully good. God can transform defeat into victory and, out of weakness, bring strength. I know this to be true because God has done it for me in both body and soul. I was once dying but now I am living. I once was withering on the vine but now I am thriving and sprouting new buds every day.

Praise God, He is faithful. I will write it again: God is faithful!

God is faithful to restore. Faithful to forgive. Faithful to sustain. Faithful to save.

I am alive today because God is faithful every day.

So, I will not fear this relapse or what tomorrow might bring because I know where I’ve been and Who was faithful every step of the way. The Lord my God who was, is and always will be perfectly faithful now and forevermore.

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What’s Your Greatest Fear?

What’s your greatest fear?

Mine is ending up alone.

For some people, the thought of ending up alone isn’t the least bit scary. But I’m not some people. I’m some person who spent her growing up years daydreaming about meeting and marrying a Brad Pitt look-alike, moving into a movie-set worthy house and raising a family complete with two boys, two girls and a dog (or two). That was my fantasy, my hope and my dream. That was my plan A and I didn’t have a plan B.

Unlike some of my female peers, I never had my sights set on a career path or any path apart from matrimony, family planning and happily ever after. But God’s sights were set on an entirely alternate route and, eight years ago, right around my twenty-first birthday, He started taking me down a path marked with chronic sickness and just as chronic singleness.

By now, one would think I’d be used to the solitary life and over my fear of ending up alone. But one would think incorrectly. Instead of my fear diminishing, it’s been increasing. With each day that brings me closer to the big 3-0, my fear intensifies.

Now I know, thirty isn’t “old” but, in Christian circles, it practically makes me a spinster. In the past eight years while I’ve been alone, the field of male prospects has been dramatically reduced (see the wedding announcements for proof). Every time I turn around, someone is getting married and every time I glance down, someone is wearing a wedding band on their left hand.

All of this holy matrimony has caused me to wonder (and, if I’m honest, fret), “is there anyone left for me?” While I’ve been battling illness and fighting for my life, did I completely miss the marriage train? And, if I did indeed miss it, will there be a later one I can catch or am I doomed to stand at this single’s station indefinitely?

It’s when I allow these questions to fester in my mind that fear starts to seize me, followed by a crippling cascade of depression and hopelessness. It’s just plain crushing to imagine a future without love, companion and a family of my own.

But when I turn my questions over to God, He always stills my fears, relieves my depression and restores my hope. He does all of that with one verse from His Holy Word. Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the plans I have for you…plans to give you hope and a future.”

If I take God at His Word, then I have no reason to fear the future because, come singleness or come marriage, I know that God’s ways are always and will always be good. Even when those ways are challenging and different than my own, I can take comfort in the promises of God and rest in the assurance that His way is leading to an eternal holy ever after. 

What’s more is that God’s future plans are not limited by age or what I perceive as potential “prospects.” God is able to bring me a mate at any time and any age because nothing is impossible for Him! And because nothing is impossible for Him, I have every reason to never give up hope. God has the power to change the circumstances of my status in a second – He can work that fast!

But, even if God doesn’t change my status in a second or ever, His goodness will not be diminished. Even if I do end up alone, God will still be good and His Word will still be true.

Because, you see, God doesn’t need to send me a spouse to bless me with an abundant life. When God sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross, He gave me everything and every ONE I will ever need for a truly wonderful life. In Jesus, I have the perfect companion, friend and Savior who makes me whole.  In Jesus, I have the Lord who upholds me and the love that completes me.

Every single time I come back to the foot of the cross, bearing my lonely burden, I find that Jesus was there all along with arms wide open, ready and willing to take away all my fear and replace it with the overcoming, reassuring peace that I have never been and never will be alone.  

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

~ Jeremiah 29:11

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This Too Shall Pass

This too shall pass…

For far too long I held onto those words like a prayer, banking on them really. Like a wish, I cast that desperate sentiment up to the throne of heaven, imploring God to make my physical distress pass… and quickly.

When the pain in back refused to relent, I called on the name of God to make it pass… and quickly. While suffering with burning eyes and disrupted vision, I begged God to make the episode pass… and quickly. In the midst of crippling intestinal dysfunction, I cried out to God, pleading with him to make the distress pass…oh so quickly.

But God hasn’t always answered – at least not the way I asked him to. He rarely chooses to relieve, restore and rescue with the snap of a finger or blink of an eye. Most of the time, God makes me wait for deliverance.

It seems cruel, or at least it used to from my distressed perspective, but after years of waiting on God, I’ve come to realize that His delays have a divine purpose. While I’m waiting for the trouble to pass, God is teaching me how to trust and depend on Him alone.

What I find most curious about how God works is actually how He doesn’t. He doesn’t give us what we ask for the moment we ask for it. He doesn’t grant us three wishes like a genie in a bottle – and then three more when we’re in another desperate situation. He doesn’t deliver us from every painful and trying situation.

Instead, God works the way Paul said he does – in sufferings, persecutions and hardships. God shows us through our trials that when we are weak “He is strong”.

It goes against our human nature to wait on the almighty God. After all, he is all mighty so what’s the hold up? He could bring this too to pass with just a thought in His mind but He doesn’t because He sees and knows what we don’t. He sees when we need to deepen our dependence on Jesus. He knows when we’re banking on the miracle moment, not the Savior and Sustainer, and He loves us too much to leave us with that flawed faith, so He makes us wait in order to cleanse and perfect us.

Nearly every time I ask God to make it pass (and quickly), He responds with silence and then…“Wait for it…Wait for it to pass the way I want it to pass…Wait for deliverance to arrive according to my will…Wait while I teach you how to cultivate a garden of trust in me….Wait and be still, resting in the unshakable, unchanging truth that I AM God.”

So, what can I say? That if this takes years to pass, God is late? That if this never passed, God is not listening or, worse yet, not caring? No, I am compelled to say, write and believe what Paul said: that I rejoice in all of these things because, through them, God shows me that His strength, love and peace are enough and all I will ever need.

 

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

– Romans 5:3-5
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Every Thought Captive

Hello, my name is Stephanie and I have a tendency to feel sorry for myself.

It’s not something that I talk about very often, at least not out loud (or at all online), but, in the recesses of my mind, I must admit, I am prone to thoughts of self-pity and poor me.

It always starts with that sneaky and destructive mental exercise known as comparison. I click around on FaceBook (a sure way to feel inferior), observe couples out and about or simply think about all of my childhood dreams that haven’t come true and end up feeling gypped. All throughout my twenties, when I planned to graduate from college, get married, excel at a career and build a family, I ended up stuck in an ongoing saga of sickness, false starts, and loss. It’s like I ended up with the short end of the destiny stick and it doesn’t feel fair.

This pathetic, poor me dialogue could very well go on indefinitely but for the grace of God. Sooner or later, in His gentle yet get-to-the-point way, the voice of Christ always manages to interrupt my pathetic thoughts with a question that pierces the heart. “Are you taking every thought captive in obedience to me?”

It’s a drop the mic moment and a humbling one, too. To answer honestly, I have to tell Jesus, “No, I’m not taking every thought captive.” Which He already knows since I couldn’t possibly be taking every thought captive to Him when I’m consumed with comparing myself to the people around me. It is simply impossible to embody a spirit of holy obedience while harboring thoughts of ungratefulness. 

But, praise God, there is a way to rescue the mind and restore it to Christ and it starts with the cross.

First, I must crucify my thoughts of comparison. Those thoughts never die willingly. They only go by force.

Second, I must fervently seek the cross and let Christ take my thoughts captive by asking Him consistently and consciously to be the Lord and Master of my mind.

Third, I must intentionally guard my mind. It’s popular to say, “guard your heart” and, it’s true, the heart needs guarded but so does the mind. In this world, there are copious sources of temptation that invite in thoughts of comparison, envy and lust. This is why it is so important to guard what intercepts the mind and be choosey about what is allowed take up residence in that sacred place.

When I’m stuck feeling sorry for myself, journeying into the valley of “poor me”, one thought in particular always brings my mind back into the captivity of Christ. It is the thought of my BC life. When I think about who I was before Jesus took hold of my life, I cringe. I was headed for destruction until God, in His unmerited, undeserved, unconditional mercy, saved me from myself. He broke the enemy’s stronghold and set this captive free so I could go on to live as one who is rescued, reconciled and redeemed.

When I look to the cross, I can’t find a single reason to feel sorry for myself. All I can feel is gratitude and reason to praise the Savior who has given me everything I will ever need for this life and eternity.

 

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” – 2 Corinthians 10:5

 

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Southern Hospitality

For as long as I can remember I’ve heard about Southern hospitality but have questioned whether or not the phenomenon is true. Does geniality really corollate with geography? I doubted it until I moved to Tennessee.

In just two short months, Tennessee has made me a Southern hospitality believer. What can I say? People are just plain friendlier in the volunteer state. They offer up kindness free of charge and provide service with a smile. Cashiers strike up conversation and somehow manage to find a topic that goes deeper than the temperature. The atmosphere in Tennessee is so welcoming and inviting that it’s easy to feel right at home in the buckle of the Bible belt.

Being surrounded by hospitality has caused me to question why. Why is the south known for their hospitality? After all, southerners are human beings, no different than northerners. Is it something in the water? Or perhaps something in the sweet tea? Could it have to do with the warmer temperatures? Maybe people are kinder when exposed to less cold air?

But then I looked up at the landscape and realized that southerners aren’t more hospitable on account of a beverage or the climate. They are more hospitable because of active belief in Christ.

You see, when I look across the landscape of middle Tennessee, I see an absolutely glorious sight. Steeples. Dozens of them in just a few square miles. Steeples in middle Tennessee are like Starbucks in New York City. They’re everywhere.

In the buckle of the Bible belt where churches are thriving, so is the gospel message of kindness, generosity and hospitality. People are hearing the words of Jesus and, the good news is, they’re practicing what He preached. The even better news it that anyone, no matter where they live, can embody this same characteristic because being hospitable isn’t dependent on where we live but on Who lives in us.

 

“…Always be eager to practice hospitality.” – Romans 12:13