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Shelter in the Storm

On a wet and soggy weekday morning, I witnessed three turkeys running up the sidewalk on Mack Hatcher Road, a four-lane boulevard set between the mountains in middle Tennessee. The feathered fowl were moving fast – well as fast as tri-toed feet can be expected to move. From my rain covered window, I could see the feverish look on the birds’ faces as they frantically searched for shelter from the storm.

The scene was peculiar. It’s not every day you see turkeys doing their own trot along the sidewalk. But it was a bit comical, too, since, only a few feet away from the turkeys, was a covered pavilion. If the turkeys wanted to be protected from the rain, they should have simply turned around. Then they would have seen the picture-perfect safe haven positioned right behind them.

As I drove along, chucking at the irony of the turkey’s dilemma, the smirk on my face melted away as a revelation dawned on me: “I’m not so much different than those birds.”

Like the crazed turkeys running up Mack Hatcher, I have been known to become frantic when caught in one of life’s storms. Just like the silly birds that dread a drenching rain, I dread trouble and difficulty. I’m human and this means I don’t relish life’s soaking wet situations. I want to be safe, dry and carefree. And, so, when dreary conditions arise, I gather up my feathers and flee as fast as I can.

But, in the end, I wind up looking as ridiculous as a trio of turkeys running up Mach Hatcher in a rainstorm.

Instead of leading me to a place of refuge, my frenzied attempt to flee the storm leaves me shuffling up a sidewalk while being pelted with the very problem I was trying to avoid in the first place. I slip and slide in an anxious attempt to find illusive rest and relief. Meanwhile, as I frantically search for an overhang or escape route, I wind up missing the picture-perfect safe haven that’s right behind me: the cross of Christ.

If only I would stop desperately darting my eyes from left to right and fix my eyes in Jesus’ direction, I would see that He has already prepared a shelter from the storm. Long before I ever knew the thunder and rain were coming, He readied my refuge under the shadow of His wings. The Lord Jesus, in His infinite grace, love and mercy, doesn’t expect or want His beloved followers to face a single downpour alone. He lived, died and rose again to be the unshakable Strong Tower, Mighty Fortress and immovable Anchor in every circumstance and every storm, for every child of God that calls on His holy name.

When the rain starts falling, which it will for all of us sooner or later, we have a choose to make. We can follow in the turkey’s tri-toed footsteps and frantically run away in search of our own deliverance. Or we can faithfully follow Jesus and run to the foot of His cross.

My recommendation? Don’t be a turkey.

Instead, seek Jesus with all your heart, mind and soul. Trust in the resurrection power of Christ as you run to His cross while rejoicing in the words of the Psalmist: “He will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you.” (Psalm 91:4)

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By Faith

She did it! My little puppy, Faith, finally did it! After months of coaxing and coaching, at last, Faith conquered her fear of cement steps and ascended all three flights of apartment complex stairs!

As I watched Faith bound up those steps for the very first time my heart welled up with parental pride. I felt the joy of victory as my pup, who used to be petrified by the very sight of those steps, leapt up each one with ease. In the blink of an eye, Faith became a stair climbing pro. She even made it to the top before I did. Once safely on the third-floor landing, she turned around and smiled at me as if to say, “look what I did mom! I’m a big pup now!” 

I celebrated Faith’s milestone with many “good dog” affirmations, petting and, of course, a treat. But while I was praising her, my mind began to wander and wonder, “If watching your fur baby conquer steps is this exciting, how amazing must it be to watch your own flesh and blood baby take his or her first steps?” A second after that thought crossed my mind, grief slammed into me like a tsunami as I heard myself utter the words, “you might never get to find out.”

This month (January 2020) marks ten years since my menstrual cycle abruptly left my body, taking my ability to carry a child with it.

While working through the loss of my fertility I’ve experienced every stage of grief multiple times and cried a river’s worth of tears. After a decade of mourning and processing, I really thought I had come to a place of peace and acceptance. But, as I watched Faith conquer her fear of the stairs, my own old infertility fears and sadness came back with vengeance. 

Sadness came first.

I know that being a Mom isn’t all rainbows, butterflies and roses. Parenting (and pregnancy) has plenty of thrones. But with immense challenges come immense blessings, such as experiencing, firsthand, the miracle of new life. To give birth to a child is a wonderful gift and one that, growing up, I always assumed I would receive someday. Up until ten years ago, it never occurred to me that I would be unable to conceive and carry a child. I never imagined I wouldn’t give birth to a baby. To me, that was a given.

But I’ve had to learn the hard way that nothing in life is a guarantee. Not health. Not fertility. Not marriage. Not motherhood.

With the loss of my fertility I’ve had to grieve the fact that I might never hold my own baby in my arms. I might never see my own baby on a sonogram image or prepare to welcome a new life into the world. I might never get to capture a first smile, first word or first step. I might never get to rejoice in those little, monumental victorious and it’s the reality of all those nevers that has caused me incredible sadness.

But it’s not just sadness that plagues me. It’s fear, too.

As a single, infertile woman, my inability to carry a child has caused me to wonder (and worry) what man will ever want to marry me. It seems to me that most men (especially Christian men) want kids and a family. Given that I can’t provide in that way (barring a miracle of God), I fear that no man will ever want to make me his wife, making me not only indefinitely infertilite but indefinitely single, too.

In the days that have passed since Faith made her stair climbing conquest, I’ve done a lot of praying and asking God to help me overcome my infertility fears and sadness.

Ohm how I wish I could say that God answered my pleas with a clear word like He gave to Abraham and Sarah. My hope was to hear His booming voice from heaven say, “you will one day give birth to a child and call him John” – or some great prophesy along those lines.

But, the truth is, this story doesn’t go that way. Instead of a voice, I heard nothing. Absolute silence. God was as quiet as a church mouse. But, even in the silence, I still trusted that He had a word of comfort to share with me so I sought Him by opening, reading and soaking in His Word. Then I waited.

It took a few days of intentional stillness and silence but, finally, I heard the voice of God whispering two little words that changed everything: “By faith.”

Those two words led me back to Hebrews chapter eleven where Paul catalogues the “hall of faith.” The list includes Noah who, “by faith,” built an ark even though there hadn’t been a drop of rain in ages. Abraham who, “by faith,” left his homeland and journeyed into an unknown future. And, of course, Sarah, who, “by faith” believed in the faithfulness of God even when she was old and barren.

Although the details differ, two common themes run through every name Paul listed in Hebrews chapter eleven: extreme difficulty and incredible faith. The men and women who are commended by Paul are men and women who walked by faith and not by sight. They journeyed through this earthly life with their eyes fixed on heaven, knowing that, no matter what fate awaited them in this world, God was preparing a holy city for them in glory.

Because every person listed in Hebrews eleven was “confident in what they hoped for and assured about what they did not yet see,” God was supremely glorified in their life story. They relied on the Lord to be their strength and, in doing so, their lives testified to the resurrection power of Christ. By faithfully surrendering to God, their histories became a beautiful part of His grand story of salvation, redemption and restoration.

And the same is true for me.

As I walk “by faith” through infertility and singleness, God will use those struggles to magnify Jesus and tell His story. “By faith,” He will transform my life into a testimony of His great majesty and grace.

And the same is true for you.

Whatever fear or sadness you are facing today, God knows your deepest pain, understands your heart and wants to guide you down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He is not asking you to look at tomorrow or worry about what the future will or will not hold. All He asks is that you walk, live and trust Him “by faith,” not sight. His one and only request is that you surrender unconditionally at the foot of Christ’s cross and seek the Lord with your whole heart, mind and soul.

Dear friend, I pray that on this very night you will give God your sadness and release every fear into the hands of Jesus. He can and will heal your brokenness and fill you with the joy of new life as you walk with Him “by faith.” 

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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.