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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 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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Sleep 101

In theory, sleep should be the easiest activity on earth.

Still your body; close your eyes, drift off to dream land.

But sleep isn’t always that simple.

Prior to becoming ill, I was a champion sleeper. But when Lyme took hold of my life it took hold of my sleep too.

The sleep disruption began almost a decade ago with nighttime muscle spasms that attacked my legs. Thank God, a year into my Lyme treatments those nightly disruptions ceased. But that wasn’t the only tormentor troubling my sleep.

For years my ears have been ringing nonstop. During the day the ringing doesn’t bother me because I can drown out the buzzing/ringing/zapping sounds but when night time comes the ringing becomes a problem. In the silence the noises in my head appear to be turned up a notch or two. I used to keep the TV turned on to drown out the sounds, but the light has its own ill-effects on sleep.

Next, I tried thinking happy thoughts and imagined the ocean waves gently washing ashore on a relaxing beach. But visualization didn’t help me in my quest for sleep.

I’ve even counted white fluffy sheep, like those featured in the Serta mattress commercials. But by the time I’m done counting one hundred sheep I’m more frustrated than when I began.

But, fear not, for my sleep disruption story has a happy ending. I have discovered a remarkable cure for every sleep malady: prayer.

Instead of counting sheep, talk to the Shepherd. Start a dialogue with Jesus. Converse with the Lord. He truly is the ultimate sleep remedy.

There is no specific prayer you need to say or lines you need to repeat. You don’t even need to specifically ask Him to help you fall asleep. You’re in bed and God knows your heart. He knows that you want to sleep.

But perhaps, before He lets you fall asleep, God wants to talk to you. 

The Holy Spirit is known to speak the loudest in the silence. Often times, He is heard most clearly when there is no competing noise and the world around us is quiet.

By turning to God in prayer, my sleep disruptions have been transformed from a bother into a blessing. While lying awake in bed, seeds of prayer have been planted in my heart and mind. When I have stopped trying to distract my mind with empty thoughts, I’ve had the incredible experience of being filled with fruitful revelations and an abundance of Christ’s peace.

So next time you are lying awake at night, unable to sleep, don’t turn the TV on in an attempt to fill the emptiness. Don’t count sheep in an attempt to distract and deter your thought life. Instead, tune into the Holy Spirit and talk to your Heavenly Father.

He’s always listening.

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I Have a Dream…

I was born a dreamer.

As a young girl I dreamt that one day I’d be a married mommy. I imagined four little ones and a minivan.

My dreams were so detailed that I even pictured how I’d dress my kids for Sunday morning church. The girls would be in ruffled dresses with bows in their hair. The boys would be in seersucker suits with bowties.

I dreamt in Gap Kids ads. 

Then I got older and my dreams shifted. But only slightly.

Instead of dreaming of a minivan I switched to a large SUV.

By age twenty my dreams became a bit more realistic. Sunday dresses might end up with stains before the service even started. The large SUV might have spilled milk in the car seat. Home might not be as spotless and pristine as an HGTV décor magazine.

The number of kids varied, too. Maybe there would be three adopted kids or even five? I let go of the precise number and left that detail in God’s hands. But the fundamentals of my dream never changed. Husband. Kids. Home.

I was confident that by age thirty my dream would be well underway to coming true. According to my dream timeline, I would be a wife, homeowner and mother to two before I entered my fourth decade of life.

But this year I’m going to turn twenty-nine and not one single detail of my childhood dreams have been fulfilled.

In my mid-twenties I came to the realization that the fantasies I grew up holding in my heart may not unfold the way I’d hoped. It was a tough pill to swallow. I’d spent years day dreaming about my future picture-perfect life. But the reality of my early adulthood hasn’t look anything like my picture.

A few years ago, I wrote about letting go of my dreams. It was like holding onto a bundle of balloons and, one-by-one, releasing them into the sky. The kids. The house. The husband. The adorable little family attending church together. I had to let go of my death grip on my dreams and let them float away.

But, truth be told, I’ve never let those balloons out of my sight. I’ve tried. Trust me, I’ve tried. But I keep looking up into the clouds, trying to spot my dreams dancing around in the wind. All along I’ve been hoping God will let them gently descend back into my life.

But God hasn’t fulfilled my returned dreams desires. Instead, He’s made a special delivery and sent new balloons into my life. He’s given my dreams brand new life.

The dreams God has given me are unlike any I had as a child. The dreams I had for myself appeared achievable. God’s dreams appear impossible. The dreams I formulated sounded realistic. God’s dreams sound completely intimidating.

God’s been sending me dreams so lofty I’ve been afraid to speak them out loud for fear of sounding foolish. I’ve been holding them close to my chest, too overwhelmed by their magnitude to admit they are real.

But God won’t let me stay silent any longer. He wants me to proclaim the dreams He has delivered and believe that, because are His, they will come true.

So, in obedience to God, this is my God-delivered dream:
To have a worldwide ministry that encourages people to surrender their entire lives to Christ, trust God to be their sustainer and obediently follow Him wherever He leads.

I have no idea how God plans to make that dream a reality but I do know He can do it. I am not sure how it will be accomplished but I know it won’t be accomplished by my own ability and power.

And I believe that’s exactly why God’s given this dream to me. His desire is that I be totally reliant on His power to do the impossible. He is calling me to step beyond the limits of my weakness and live by the indwelling of His limitless strength.

Declaring the dream God has given me is the first step in trusting Him to make it happen. He has not given me this dream to abandon it. He has given it to me because He is going to show up and make it a reality. God, the deliverer of the dream, will be the fulfiller of the dream.

“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

– 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Perhaps, one day, God will bring back my old dreams to unite with my new dreams. If so, I’ll be there with open arms, ready to receive the gift of a husband, kids and home.

But, until then, I’m going to stop scanning the sky for those old balloons and let my eyes rest on these new, glorious God-given balloons. I am going to stop shrinking back with fear and doubt. I am going to bolding grab hold of God’s dreams and begin confidently and joyfully praising Him in advance for fulfilling them.

God, I can’t but you can. What is impossible for me is entirely possible for you! I know that you have given me this great dream to bring you glory. I am standing confidently in who You are and what You are going to accomplish. Lord, Here I am, send me. Here I am, use me. Take my life and use it to make Jesus known.

Amen