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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 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.

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A Decade in Review

As this decade comes to a close, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting and thinking about all that has transpired in my life over the past ten years. In doing so, three words have kept returning to my mind:

  1. Sickness

  2. Singleness

  3. Salvation

When I received salvation in November of 2009, just two months before a new decade began, I thought I was living the final chapter of my rescue story. Little did I know, my story was just getting started.

As the 2010’s kicked off, so did my sickness. By the summer of that first year, a mystery illness consumed me. In 2010 I encountered major health disruptions that completely derailed my twenty-year-old self’s plans. By 2011, those disruptions turned into the destruction of dreams, plans and even love. That year I watched my status go from engaged to single – and that’s where it’s been ever since.

Over the next four years, I traversed the trying trail of chronic, undiagnosed illness as a single woman. Thankfully, I never walked alone. I was blessed with the support of a loving family, amazing Mom and incredible dog – my Pippy love.

But what truly kept me going throughout those chronic, undiagnosed illness wilderness years was Jesus.

Whenever I wanted to give up, I’d remember November 2, 2009 and the moment when my life was forever changed by receiving salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Just knowing that Jesus rescued me, redeemed my past and reconciled me to God filled my spirit with the hope and strength needed to carry on. Whether in sickness or in health, I belonged to Christ. He bought my life at the highest price and I had to believe that He didn’t die in vain.

If I believed God’s Word, then I had to trust that my illness wasn’t a mistake and I wasn’t forgotten or forsaken. I had to trust that God had a purpose and plan for my life. So I grabbed hold of these three foundational truths:

  1. God is good.
  2. God is faithful.
  3. And He isn’t finished yet.

By standing on the rock of salvation, I was indwelled with the spiritual strength needed to keep fighting for my life even when sickness ravaged my body and caused me to physically waste away.

In 2015, I was 25 years old and 72 pounds when I was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Seeing lesions on my brain and hearing the letters “MS” was as reassuring as it was difficult. Reassuring because those scans confirmed that I wasn’t crazy – there truly was something wrong with my body. But difficult, too, because MS provided little hope, no cure and limited treatment options. The prognosis for MS is simply a steady, and possibly swift, decline.

My physical decline was swift. Thankfully, my hope didn’t follow such an ill-fated trajectory.

As the calendar turned to 2017, I watched the scale drop below 70 pounds. By that point my body was experiencing so many debilitating, life-altering symptoms it would take an entire notebook to catalogue them. My health was failing fast but, praise God, my faith was growing even faster.

As my body went plummeting towards death at a seemingly unstoppable clip, I was compelled to go on a hunt for further help. By the grace of God, I was led to a doctor who took a fresh look at my case and gave me life changing news. I wasn’t a multiple sclerosis case. I was a lymie and had been all along.

After receiving a Lyme diagnosis in 2017, I entered a disease killing battlefield prepared to endure an intense and lengthly fight for my life.

Defeating lyme proved to be much harder than five years of undiagnosed illness and two years of misdiagnosed illness – but much more rewarding, too. Organs that had been shut off for years were restored and turned back on. Chronic pains that had plagued me for almost an entire decade began reversed. It was like being reborn!

Although I had to fight hard for victory over my lyme foe, I’ve never fought alone. God, in His unfailing faithfulness, carried me and upheld me when I didn’t know if I could go one step further. The joy of Jesus renewed my strength when my faith was wearing thin. The hope of salvation restored my resolve when I felt like giving up.

Looking back on the past decade, I can hardly believe I survived it! There is no doubt in my mind that the overcoming strength, love and grace of God saved and sustained me so I could live to tell this rescue story. God charted this course specifically for me. He had a purpose for every pain and a plan for every setback. There wasn’t one single step wasted. God, in His unwavering goodness, produced fruit in every season and used every struggle to sanctify my faith, strengthen my hope and secure my footing on the rock of salvation.

As this decade comes to a close, I’m ready for whatever lies ahead in 2020 because I am still standing on these foundational truths:

God is good.

God is faithful.

And He isn’t finished yet.   

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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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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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A Brutally Honest Update from Nashville

Back in the ninth grade I was told by a teacher that I tend to be “brutally honest”. He went on to warn that, at times, that tendency would “get me in trouble.” He should have added “with the world” because that’s the only place honesty gets a person in trouble. Honesty– even when it’s brutal – never causes trouble with God. He always considers honesty to be the very best policy.

But, during the last week, I have abandoned God’s policy and my naturally “brutally honest” self in the name of self-preservation. I’ve been afraid that if I share the honest truth about what’s happening in my life I’ll look like a failure or, worse yet, a “hot mess.” So, I’ve attempted to hide the truth from the people around me and the page in front of me.

The result has been a severe case of restless writer’s block. I mean to write one thing and end up typing another. It’s like a game of telephone between my head and my hands. Mentally, my message is on point but it’s not making it to print.

What’s holding back my hands is my heart’s honesty. I can’t write with clarity and conviction while trying to hide the truth because God never meets me at the keyboard when my spirit is in a conceal and cover up condition. If I want to post with God’s power, I must be authentic. If I hope to write a message worth reading, I have to be genuine and real with my myself and my readers.

So, here it goes. The honest to goodness truth about where my life journey is at this very moment:

In the past week my world fell apart and fell into place almost simultaneously.

I’ll start with the falling apart recap.

Over the past month, since moving to Nashville and restarting college, my health has declined. It started slowly and then picked up speed. About two weeks ago the pain and symptoms reached the level of debilitating and, a week ago, I could no longer deny their devastating presence in my life. And so, I did what I in no way wanted to do. I withdrew from school.

With the word “failure” ringing in my ear, I walked away from the one reason I came to Nashville in the first place. It felt like a bad dream from my past being replayed. I thought my health was stable, not 100% but well enough that I could forget ahead with life. But my body has forced me to face the facts: I’m not as far along as I thought.

Watching my worship music plans fall apart was a crushing blow that was softened with three words that made my world miraculously fall into place: Operation Baby Bootie.

Operation Baby Bootie, the pro-Jesus, pro-love of life movement delivered to me by the Lord himself eight months ago, has returned and taken up residence in my heart with more power, conviction and direction than ever before. When I came to Nashville, the buckle-belt of the Bible-belt, I thought the move as about music, but God was thinking about so much more. While I was busy formulating my own personal plans, God was orchestrating His Kingdom plans to transform hearts and minds, redeem the lost and restore the love of life to the American people and their government.  All along, He knew I was moving to Tennessee on His mission to save the unborn and the broken by mobilizing a prayer movement celebrating the value of each individual life.

It’s not at all what I thought it was. But it’s better.

So, you see, this is why my hands couldn’t write. Because I wasn’t being my brutally honest self. I was holding back the miraculous journey God has been taking me on for my good and HIs glory. I was hiding how God has been responding to my “Here I am, send me” with a mission and vision beyond my wildest imagination.

But I’m not hiding this light under a bushel any longer. I’m going to let it shine for the whole world to see – or at least my faithful friends to read.

 

“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” – Matthew 5:15

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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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But what about Saturday?

Every year during the week of Easter, my thoughts turn to two events in the life of Jesus. His crucifixion on Good Friday and His resurrection on Sunday. But what about Saturday?

On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Jesus was dead and buried in a tomb. He was neither seen nor heard from. The day before He had been crying out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” but on Saturday His voice was silenced. His spotless, blameless, nail-pierced body lay still and motionless in a dark, lifeless grave.

For the followers of Jesus who loved Him and were witness to His death, Saturday was a day of confused heartbreak. They loved Jesus and believed He was the Son of God, the Messiah they had been waiting for. They left behind families, possessions and livelihoods in obedience and dedication to Jesus. All of their hope and trust was in the person of Jesus

But how could they believe in His power to save if He was dead?

Then there was the memory of the bewildering statements the Messiah made before the crucifixion. Jesus explained to His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem and suffer unto death before being raised to life again. These words were beyond His followers’ comprehension.

Why would their Savior have to die and how could He rescue them from their sins if He couldn’t rescue Himself from the cross?  

Although Jesus clearly described the events of His rescue mission as they were to unfold, it was such an unlikely way to save the world that even His closest friends struggled to understand it. And so, on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Jesus’ disciples and followers mourned, fearing that all hope was lost. It was a still, silent, sorrowful Saturday indeed.

In this post-resurrection world, we have the blessing of 20/20 vision and can look back on the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to read about what happened after Saturday. Jesus most certainly did come back to life.

On Easter morning the stone was miraculously rolled away, as explained by a radiant angel. Jesus did walk along the road and talk to His followers, encouraging them with the truth of scripture. He even helped His disciples catch fish and prepared a place for them to partake of it.

When Jesus rose from the dead He not only redeemed the brokenhearted, He removed any need to fear the silence. At His resurrection, the Son of God proved that stillness does not signify hopelessness. Just because Jesus was silent did not mean that God was absent. Even while Jesus lay behind the stone, in a dark and empty tomb, God was at work accomplishing the impossible, orchestrating His redemptive plan, reviving the dead in spirit with new, eternal life.

Although as post-resurrection Christians, we live as children of the Risen, Ascended King, we will still encounter days of silence. There are destined to be seasons when we will not see the visible evidence of God’s promises in the circumstances of our lives. At times, the covenants we received from God will appear to be dead and buried.

But those who have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb have the assurance of Easter Sunday.

As God’s redeemed children we need not endure our still, silent seasons with hopelessness and sorrow because we know that, behind the stone, God is working all things together for our good and His glory. We can obediently and faithfully praise Him on Saturday knowing that, when the time is perfect and right according to His will, God will miraculous open the grave and reveal His resurrection power.

As followers of the risen Christ, may we spend each and every silent day and still season worshipping God with hopeful expectation and the full assurance that He who promised is and always will be faithful.

 “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” – Jesus [Mark 9:31]