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Every Thought Captive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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A Fertile Future

“If you can’t have kids, I’m not sure I want to marry you.”

His words cut like a knife. This was my fiancé, the man I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with, questioning whether or not he could spend the rest of his life with only me, not me plus kids.

Our engagement had already been on the rocks (illness has a way of putting relationships there) but this statement was the final nail in the coffin of till death do us part. Without missing a beat or shedding a tear (in front of him, at least), I flatly stated that I couldn’t guarantee I’d ever be able to bear children and couldn’t marry someone who required me to promise that as part of our wedding vows.

A year earlier, at the age of twenty, sickness had forced my body to trade in its menstrual cycle for early menopause. I was a hot mess – literally – thanks to the added (and unwanted) bonus of hot flashes. Within a few months, the fate of my fertility (barring a miracle of God) was sealed.

Since I couldn’t guarantee future infertility reversal and my fiancé couldn’t unequivocally commit without such an assurance, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I called off the engagement and cancelled all plans for our future together.

Sometimes, when I stop to consider that someone stopped loving me because of what I couldn’t physically give, it still hurts. He was supposed to be my forever friend and closest companion, but I wasn’t enough and what I could provide wasn’t enough.

Knowing that I am unable to carry a child has impacted my self-esteem, confidence and self-worth. “What man will ever want me if I can’t give him a child?” has been one of my most frequently asked inner questions. For answers and reassurance that my future is fertile (whether my cycle ever returns or not), I go to God’s word. On the pages of the Bible I discover who’s I am and that who I am is enough. God’s holy inspired love letter tells me that Jesus loves me just as I am. His affection and devotion is not dependent on what I am capable of giving because He does not derive His value from child-bearing parenthood potential. He derives value simply from personhood.

When I sink back into despair and my hope wears thin, it is the truth of who I am in Christ that restores my faith and joy again. I remember Psalm 37:4 that says those who “delight themselves in the Lord will receive the desires of their heart.” From that scripture I am assured that God is not only the fulfiller of my desires, He’s the knower of them, too. God sees what is in my heart. He knows the emptiness that comes from infertility and how I long to have Him fill it.

Over the past ten years spent in infertility God has used the time to bring me back to His all-sufficient, abundant love. In the presence of Jesus’ precious Spirit, I’ve learned that the most satisfying love does not come from a husband or developing baby. It comes from on High and dwells within.

The hope I have for future love and companionship is held in the hands of my unfailing Heavenly Father. Because Jesus loves me just as I am, I believe that, one day, I will be loved again – and not for what my body can give or do but simply for who I am in Christ.

To my infertile friends, remember that your capacity to love and be loved is not determined by your ability to procreate. You are worthy of love because God you created you in His image and sent His Son to rescue you with eternal life.
If you ever doubt that God has a fertile plan for your life, return to the pages of scripture. Read versus such as Psalm 37:4, Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 40:5 and Isaiah 25:1. As you meditate on God’s truth your faith will be strengthened and hope renewed by the reassurance that God is good and faithful and He isn’t finished with you yet.

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How to End a Pity Party

The aqua blue waves brushed gently against the silky white sand, covering my feet and cooling me from head to toe. It was a picture perfect day at the beach; the kind of day that refreshes a person in both body and soul.

But that’s not what was happening to me.

I didn’t feel refreshed at all and it wasn’t the sun or the sand’s fault. It was all me. I was too blame because I was too busy have a pathetic pity party to enjoy a walk on the beach.

The pitiful party all started when I began rehearsing the past. I just couldn’t seem to get the last nine years out of my head. I kept returning to opportunities gone by, missed milestones and a decade of disappointments. For days my thoughts had been traveling down “poor me” lane, lamenting time and dreams lost thanks to Lyme Disease.

While the pity party was going strong, joy and contentment were nowhere to be found. Consumed with thoughts about what I don’t have robbed me of enjoying the gifts that were right in front of me – namely the beach, sun and life.

It was that last, critically important gift that put an abrupt end to my pity party. As I wiggled my toes in the sand, it suddenly dawned on me: You’re not dead.

To most people, that wouldn’t have been a shocking or profound thought. Especially while sitting upright and very much alive on a beach. But, given my past nine years of ill health, thinking about the life in my body stopped my party dead in its tracks. And with that, I called off my pity party and showed my ungrateful, pathetic, self-absorbed thoughts, feelings and emotions the door.

A moment later the pity party had completely packed up and gone home and, immediately, in it’s place, a new thanksgiving party up shop.

With gratefulness back as the host of my heart it was as if the beach transformed before my very eyes. With my gloomy attitude lifted, the sun began to shine brighter. Suddenly the water took on a sparkly hue and the sand felt softer, like a heavenly mattress just begging me to sit down and take a rest.

And so I did.

As I sat myself down on the sandy earth and dug my heels into the sand, I thanked God for my feet and the incredible healing that’s occurred in each and every toe. As I glanced up and down the beach I thanked God for restored eyes that can see such a beautiful world. Next, I looked at my legs and arms and thanked God for muscles that are relaxed and no longer flaring. Then I looked up to the cloudless sky and thanked God for Jesus, my friend and Savior who rescued my soul that once was perishing.

During my silent and solo beachside worship time, I was reminded that the joy of salvation is mine to enjoy the moment I stop the pity party and invite Jesus back onto the throne of my life. As soon asI put an end to the  lamenting and ask the Holy Spirit to come and refresh me with the joy of salvation, Chris always comes flooding my heart, renewing me from the inside out with streams of abundant gladness. Resurrection power ushers in the indescribable peace that can only ever be experienced while content and at home in His presence.

Let’s face it. Pity is never a very good party. It is always pathetic and sad. But when Jesus enters in that’s when the real, holy, eternally jubilant party gets started. And the good news is, it will never, ever have to end.

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My Grown Up Thanksgiving List

Out with the old and in with the new…traditions that is.

This Thanksgiving I’m instituting a new tradition and I think it could catch on: The Thanksgiving list.

My thanksgiving list could go on forever because, as the saying goes, there is always something to be thankful for. From the bed I woke up in to the family that will fill the dinner table tonight for a feast, my life is full of blessings that give me an abundance of reason to over flow with daily thanksgiving.

So, without further ado, this is my grown-up Thanksgiving List:

1.     Redemption.

I was once a lost, rebellious, hideous sinner. My life was marked by bad decisions and double-minded wickedness. But God saved me and on November 2, 2009 I received new life in Christ and a fresh new start. On that fateful day Jesus rescued me from myself and redeemed me with Himself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the day I received God’s free gift of salvation was the best day of my life.

2.     Forgiveness.

I mess up daily, if not hourly. Although I constantly fall short God is always full of second chances. He keeps picking me back up, brushing me off and giving me the opportunity to try, try again.

3.     Strength (and weakness).

Becoming intimately acquainted with my weakness by way of chronic illness has introduced me to the limitless depth of God’s strength. Every time I surrender in weakness it is an invitation that welcomes God in so He can effortlessly lift me up by His almighty, strong and powerful hand.

4.     Grace.

“Amazing Grace” has always been my favorite hymn and with good reason. It tells the story of my life. “I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.” By grace through faith in Jesus Christ I have been given new life.

5.     New mornings.

Every sunrise is an opportunity to wake up, get up and start again.

6.     Healing.

God is the healer of the body and the soul and I am thankful for both. Last year at this time I was a shocking 65 pounds; a walking skeleton, uncertain of what the future held for my health. Wow, it is truly amazing what a year can do. Although my journey to full health isn’t over yet the healing I’ve experienced in the past year is a miracle. I am alive! That in and of itself is a miracle. I am regaining function in parts of my body that were either dead or dying. At the same time God has been doing a work on the inside, restoring hope, peace and joy to my soul. God works from the inside out, healing on deeper levels than I ever imagined possible.

7.     Church family.

This year more than ever before I am aware of what a precious gift it is to be a part of a faithful body of believers and so appreciative for the incredible prayers warriors who intercede on behalf of one another. I am always stunned by how many dear brothers and sisters in the Lord are praying for me and pleading with God for my continued healing and renewed health. I cannot say thank you enough.

8.     Eternal assurance.

I have no doubt about what comes after this life. After I leave earth I’m going to Heaven. End of story. That part of my journey is not a mystery because I am a child of the King and know that one day I will cross through the pearly gates and spend eternity with God.

9.     Pain with a purpose.

I’ll admit that I am slow to be thankful for pain. Naturally, I tend to have the opposite reaction while assaulted by gripping pain in my gut, burning in my eyes, or spasms in my legs. Instead of rejoicing I want to escape but when I consider my circumstances through a spiritual lens my agony drenched tears are replaced with abundant thankfulness because my pain has an eternally profitable purpose: to pull me closer to Jesus Christ, to make me wholly dependent on the Holy Spirit and to draw me into a deeper, more intimate relationship with God.

10.  Love.

The greatest gift of all is the love of God poured out on the cross of Christ. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” I am alive today – both physically and spiritually – because of the love of God that will not let me go. God lavishly showers me with love through His Word, His Spirit and the people He has put around me.

 

Although this list is not exhaustive it is foundational. My abundance of thanksgiving is rooted in this list because every good gift, from the love of family to the comforts of home, comes from above and springs forth from the fountain of everlasting life.

 

Have you written a Thanksgiving list? I’d love to hear what you’re most thankful for.

Share in the comments below!

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A Stain is a Stain

The disposable paper cup was still quite full with steaming hot double-double when the coffee collision occurred. It was an innocent accident, the sort of mishap that can easily transpire while moving with haste in the presence of a hot beverage.

The spill happened so fast I had no time to react. One moment I was completely clean and coffeeless. The next I was covered in medium roast.

The moment the hot liquid hit I hopped up, hoping to minimize the damage but it was too late. The cup’s lid had popped off, releasing a flood of coffee rushing in my direction. By the time I stood up my lap was already thoroughly caffeinated along with my feet and brand new sneakers.

I quickly slipped off my shoes and ran them under cold water. Then, with the help of a damp paper towel, I went to work on cleaning my pants and was pleased when the coffee disappeared in a jiffy.

With my sneakers and pants cleaned and socks replaced I thought that all consequences of the coffee collision had been avoided until I caught a glimpse of my shirt. At the very top of my brand new blue t-shirt was one little round coffee stain. While I had been busy worrying about my shoes I had forgotten to look at my shirt. An hour post spill, when I finally thought to inspect it, the coffee spot on my new, once flawless shirt was completely dry and quite obvious.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “It’s just a shirt….It’s just a little spot…It’s not a big deal.” And you’re right. Shirts are just material possessions. They have no lasting value. A little stain on a shirt is nothing to cry over.

But what if that shirt were my soul?

You see, the trouble is not how I treat shirt stains; it’s treat soul stains.

When I sin do I check my entire being as well as I check my entire attire after a coffee spill? Do I throw off my sinful ways as quickly as I threw off my stained sneakers? Do I rush to God for cleansing and renewal as hastily as I rushed to the sink to clean up my pants and change my socks? Do I check my whole heart, mind and soul for wrong thoughts, motives and feelings? Or do I neglect to search my whole being like I neglected to check my whole wardrobe?

The moral of the coffee spill story is that a stain is a stain no matter how small.

Whether the sin comes rushing in like a flood or simply splatters a few droplets, the result is a stain. Once sin enters in the whole heart, soul and mind get stained meaning that the whole heart, soul and mind need cleansed. I cannot allow sin to be spilled in my life and address only the obvious stains. I must look everywhere, surrender everything and take my whole being before the throne of grace to get clean.

The longer a stain sits on a shirt the harder it is to get out and the same is true in the human heart. The longer I let sin go without the treatment of God’s correction, forgiveness and renewal, the more difficult it will be for me to come and allow Him to perform His work of washing in my life. I become more stubborn and less remorseful the longer sin sits in my heart. I become more tolerant and less troubled by the sin the more time spent with it tainting my life.

Thankfully, no matter how dry and troubling the stain of sin, God can thoroughly and completely clean it up. With the washing of regeneration that comes by way of Christ’s cross, God can remove every blemish, spot and stain. Even if the spill occurred decades ago, God can eliminate all evidence of the sin. When we give Him our whole selves and let Him have His will and way, God can and will wash every part of us and make us brand new for the glory of Jesus’ name.

 

Although the coffee stain had already set and dried on my new shirt all hope was not lost. With a good, thorough spot cleaning, the coffee spot disappeared. Now I can look at the shirt from every angle and in every light and never see the slightest remnant of stain. If I never told anyone, no one would ever know my new shirt had ever encountered a hot coffee collision.

And so it with us.

Once God cleans us up it is as if the stain never happened. He removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. He restores us with grace and gives us a fresh start. He gives us new life through the power of the risen Jesus Christ.

It’s true that a stain is a stain no matter how small but the good news is that God is the One who can remove them all.

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Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk

I grabbed the blue carton with purpose, eager to moisten my cereal and dig into breakfast. With my grip secure and arm poised with strength, I picked up the gallon of milk from the counter top and, following the labels instructions, shook it with vigor. A decision I immediately regretted.

As I threw my arm backwards with the brand new, full gallon of milk in hand, a stream of white liquid went flying into the air. Time stood still as the milk exited the opened bottled, traveled straight up towards the ceiling and cascaded downward, flowing like a fountain. One enthusiastic shake of the uncapped carton created Lake Milk on the kitchen floor.

Maybe my milk mishap was due to morning grogginess or perhaps hungry haste was to blame. Whatever the cause of my clumsiness the effect was the same: a milky mess. Removing the cap on a full milk carton prior to shaking well resulted in a whole lot of spilled milk.

For a moment following the mishap I paused, stunned by how quickly the mess was created. One moment the carton was full. The next, half of its contents were on the floor.

As I set the half-full carton on the counter and surveyed Lake Milk I paused for a moment, considering the best way to respond to such as mishap – silly and innocent as it was. One thought immediately came to mind. Don’t cry over spilled milk. Just clean it up and move on.

A few minutes and many paper towels later, the mess was gone and the floor was clean. Before I knew it I was seated at the counter eating my breakfast cereal as if the spill had never happened. In the end, all I lost in the mishap was a little extra milk and a little time but, thankfully, I didn’t lose a single tear.

In life there are bound to be innocent mishaps and mistakes. Milk is going to get spilled and slip-ups are going to happen because we are all imperfect humans prone to grogginess, clumsiness and haste.

But we don’t need to cry over every spill. We don’t need to make a production over every silly accident and shame ourselves over every innocent slip-up. We simply need to accept that we’re all imperfect milk-spillers in need of forgiveness and a fresh start.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you go throw milk all over the floor just for kicks and giggles. Choosing to respond to the accident with a laugh and accepting attitude is not an invitation to spill just like forgiveness is not an invitation to intentionally sin. The forgiveness to laugh at the spill is an extension of grace that invites the pure in heart to move forward and start again with a clean slate and clear conscience. Mercy removes the mess and invites us to grab the milk again tomorrow morning and shake that carton with confidence (and the cap securely fastened).

With a pure heart seeking to live embodying the righteousness of Christ you need not cry over spilled milk. All you need to do is confess the mistake, ask God for forgiveness and let Him clean up the mess. God will always meet you on the floor to wipe away your tears and give you a fresh start.