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While it was still dark

If you’re like me, you tend to move on quickly after a holiday. Take, for example, Easter.  The build up to resurrection Sunday, marked by a number of special days on the Christian calendar, lasts for weeks. And then, after the big day, the celebration comes to an abrupt end. While dining room table decorations come down, I often find that my spiritual streamers get packed up, too. I move on from the empty tomb of Jesus and return to “life as usual.”

But the resurrection of Jesus is worth celebrating 365 days of year. The good news found in the closing chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s gospels is worth exploring all year long, not just on Resurrection Sunday.

And so, with that truth in mind, I invite you to join me in the gospel of John and linger a bit longer in the message of Easter.

“While it was still dark.” That’s how John begins his account of the very first encounter with the risen Jesus. Before dawn even reached the break of day, Mary Magdalene was already at Jesus’ tomb, bearing oil and spices to mourn and honor her Messiah. She never expected the tomb to be open and empty. Nor did she understand what prophecy said. But she was compelled by undying love and devotion to be as near to her Lord as possible – even if “near” meant seated outside the sealed grave.

Although physically, emotionally and mentally, Mary was in the dark, her soul was drawn to the Light of the world. Christ’s miraculous power captivated her. Even from the grave, His spirit called her. What she had seen and learned from her Teacher before His crucifixion convinced her that Jesus was who He said He was: the Savior she had been waiting for.

Of course, we know that Mary did not come to find a dead body but a resurrected King!

When Jesus first spoke to her, Mary didn’t recognize Him through her crying eyes. But the moment He said her name, her tears of sorrow were transformed into tears of joy. Her Savior was alive! Her Messiah was risen from the grave!

Mary’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus is incredibly noteworthy and not just because it’s the first to be recorded in the gospels. It is even more remarkable because the miraculous meeting took place in a day and age when women were not given any special privileges. At that time in history, women had limited religious standing according to the law and yet Jesus chose to reveal His risen life to Mary before anyone else.

Why was that? Could it be because her faith was so sure that she sought Her Savior even in the dark? Or maybe she was blessed with such an extraordinary glimpse of Christ because she went looking for Him, even when she didn’t have the advantage of light to help her see?

Even when the evidence was against her, Mary still believed in Jesus. Even when she thought her Messiah was still in the grave, she faithfully followed Him. Before Mary had confirmation, Mary had confidence that God would keep His promises. And, in response to her unwavering faith and unshakable belief, Mary was abundantly blessed.

May it be so for you and me.

 

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.

John 20:1

 

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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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Holiday Survival Tips for Singles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Life Resolutions

“I hate new year’s resolutions,” the man said to his wife with a gravelly, sneering tone that conveyed absolute contempt for the annual tradition. In five forceful words he made his feelings known. Convincing him to change his mind would have been a waste of time – a fact his wife must have known because she didn’t even try. Silence followed the man’s statement and the conversation abruptly ended.

The exchange that unfolded between the man and his wife is a common new year’s scene. People tend to either love or hate new year’s resolutions. The pro-resolution crowd believes it is good to at least make an effort to better one’s self. The anti-resolution crowd says it’s a silly tradition especially since 80% of resolutions fail.

Resolution haters have a point. Every year like clockwork the resolution resolve that was so strong on New Year’s Day wanes by Martin Luther King’s holiday and is ancient history by Valentine’s. After a few slip ups (and who doesn’t slip up?) the resolution feels more burdensome than beneficial. The promises made get trapped in the ruts of life and rarely do they make it out before December 31st.

New Year’s resolutions have earned their bad rap. They have a horrible track record for producing lasting change which is why this year I’m promoting a whole new kind of resolution: A New Life Resolution. A promise to make a spiritual change with eternal significance.

My new life resolution for 2019 and beyond is to pursue Christ…and nothing else.

For my entire life (up until now) I have pursued Christ AND something else. Christ and education…health….a miracle healing modality…a career…a killer business idea…a calling…a livelihood….a passion….a purpose. I believed it was acceptable to seek what this world has to offer while still honoring God.

Turns out I was wrong.

Seeking the world’s offerings made me more like a frenetic squirrel than a faithful follower of Christ. Like a wild, bushy tailed animal that scurries up every tree in search of a tantalizing nutty treat, I frantically searched for purpose and usefulness in this world. I thought if I could just find the right tree bearing the treat I’d be happier, more content and fulfilled.

What I’ve discovered is that I can’t pursue the world in addition to Christ. The result is a life of dissatisfaction, confusion and distraction. Balancing two lives, one lived for God and one lived for the world, doesn’t work. God requires my full, undivided attention be given to knowing Christ and making Him known.

In order to fully obey and glorify God I must put an end to my frantic search for a place in this world. I must surrender my former life of dual quests so I can live exclusively in pursuit of Jesus – His way, His truth and His life.

As I embark on my new life resolution it is important to acknowledge that the key to success does not rest in my own power. If I bank on my own resolve I am doomed to fail as miserably as most new year’s resolutions. The only hope I have of realizing my resolution is to rest in the truth and assurance of Christ’s resurrection. All the strength I need is available at the foot of His cross and to receive it I must stay put, resisting the temptation to be the squirrel that goes scampering off after every distraction. I must continue in the way of obedience, constantly surrendering myself to Jesus and God’s will for my life.

Jesus said in Luke 9:24 that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” With the Savior of the world as my sole pursuit in this world I have no idea what the year ahead will bring but I know who will bring it. And knowing Him is enough for me.

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Redeemed by Belief

December 2018 was a bust – well, almost.

The first twenty-three days of my December were short on Christmas spirit and high on Christmas angst. The dominating thoughts in my mind revolved around shopping and sulking. If I wasn’t on a frustrating hunt to find the perfect present for every person on my list, I was most likely in a depressive funk. My mood was more melancholy than merry. Sadly, I must admit I was more prone to crankiness than cheeriness. To those who had to share a roof with me this Christmas season, I’m sorry.

Sadly, I know I’m not alone in experiencing a depressing December. When Christmas lights come on and jolly tunes are turned up every sadness and heartache gets magnified. Smiling Santas betray the despondent, mocking them at every festive turn. “Have a holly, jolly Christmas” doesn’t ring true. “I’ll have a Blue Christmas” sounds more appropriate. For those who have an identifiable “reason” to be sad it’s easy to slip into a season of sulking come Christmastime.

And so, on December 1st, that’s precisely what I did. I entered into a twenty-three day season of sulking.

While out shopping I was hopeless, unable to find the perfect gift for the loved ones on my list. While at home I was discontent, trapped in the sadness of my not-so-perfect life. Staring me in the face was the heavy weight of grief born out of a life sidelined by sickness. Although there was much to celebrate since last Christmas – more healing, vitality, improved health – I was blind to the many healing victories. All I could see were a lifetime of dreams and plans destroyed by a decade of sickness.

But then the light of God pierced into my darkness on December 23rd by way of a simple children’s Christmas play.

At New Life Community Church, the home of my church family, a small group of children performed a short and sweet Christmas program that shared a powerful and profound message. With bed sheets for costumes and a simple Bethlehem set, the kids told the story of Jesus’ arrival into the world. Mary and Joseph entered the manger scene followed by angels who appeared to shepherds as they watched their flocks by night. After telling them the good news about the Savior’s birth the young shepherds excitedly declared their desire to travel to Bethlehem and see the promised King of Kings.

As the play came to a close the audience’s attention was drawn back to the narrator as he said, “In believing, they found the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, their Savior. And tonight, just as it was in Bethlehem so many years ago, God has chosen you to hear the good news and believe.” That one line changed the spirit in the room – or at least it changed the spirit in me.

Belief transformed my heart.

Belief in Christ, who He is and what He came to do transformed my December bust into a beautiful time of celebration. By returning to Jesus Christ and fixating on His life from the cradle to the cross, my depression lifted and quickly disappeared. In the Savior’s presence the sadness I had experienced all season long was replaced by abundant joy and overwhelming peace.

Whether it be Christmastime or the middle of July, when we approach the manger throne believing in Christ and the salvation He delivers, we will encounter His peace, comfort and joy. By seeking the Savior and entering into His presence our hearts will be renewed by redeeming love.

Come to God bearing your bust of a month. Surrender your sadness and sorrow so He can transform it. God is faithful. He will redeem and restore you. Come to the manger and God will revive you with an eternally abiding Christmas spirit.

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Christmas is a Box of Chocolates

Tucked in the basement of an old church in downtown Erie, Pennsylvania is the fellowship and dining hall used by the Upper Room, a local homeless shelter.

The windowless space is dim and the kitchen’s appliances are ancient. The long, rectangular tables have seen better days and the hard metal chairs aren’t particularly comfortable. But, on Christmas morning, there’s no place I’d rather be than that humble dining room.

For the homeless, Christmas can be one of the loneliest and most depressing days of the whole year. While families congregate and celebrate the day with delicious meals and carefully wrapped gifts the homeless go without, often spending the holiday alone. Even places they usual gather (McDonalds and soup kitchens) are usually closed, making Christmas not only one the loneliest days of the year but one of the hungriest, too.

It was this lonely, hungry thought that inspired the Christmas Morning Brunch at the Upper Room. Five years ago members from around the community began what would become an annual tradition of hosting a meal for those in need. At the morning meal guests are invited to indulge in a spread of home cooked food complete with fluffy egg casseroles, a variety of muffins, juicy Honey Baked Ham and freshly cut fruit. There is hot coffee on tap, second helpings and even the finest chocolate in all of Erie, PA – Stefanelli’s melt-aways.

Of all the delicious food and baked goods at the Christmas brunch – and there was lots – the box of Stefanelli’s chocolates  was by far the most treasured delight. The white box filled with luscious chunks of rich chocolate was purchased from a local company in town and placed conveniently by the coffee pot where everyone could grab a piece . As guests happened upon the chocolate I watched as their faces lit up. They immediately recognized Stefanelli’s candy – everyone in Erie does. It is considered a luxury and a rare treat, especially for those who often go without daily meals. So it was no surprise when everyone that passed by the box stopped in amazement before scooping up a piece – or two – of chocolatey treasure.

Watching the reception of the Stefanelli’s chocolate struck me as profound. What I witnessed was so much more than men and women being offered chocolate to freely enjoy. What I was watching turned out to be a sweet picture of how God offers us the greatest gift ever – Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. 

Like the special box of chocolates offered at the Upper Room on Christmas morning, God made Jesus accessible to all. He sent His most precious gift, His Son, into the lowliest of circumstances – a humble stable with only a manger for a bed. Although God could have delivered the Savior into a guarded palace or high, lofty estate, He didn’t. He could have kept Jesus far away for the people and out of reach but He didn’t. Instead, God delivered Jesus right into the middle of our broken world where He could shine His light of life in the darkest places and to the most desperate of people. He made Jesus approachable, knowable and conveniently within our weak and feeble reach.

God made Jesus available to all – the worst of sinners, the sickest of individuals and even the dead. When Jesus went out into the world, He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus didn’t come for only the people who had their act together or who had a stellar pedigree. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, the hopeless and the “too far gone.” His gift of salvation was and is for anyone and everyone who will come to Him bearing broken lives, believing He is the Son of God who rescues sinners by way of the cross.

God gave Jesus in endless abundance – just like the box of chocolates.

By the end of the brunch we’d run out of a few breakfast foods. Certain casseroles were all gone and the hash-brown potatoes were no more but the box of chocolates was still half full. Somehow even though nearly every guest had indulged in the rich, meltaway chocolate the supply never ran out. There was enough for everyone and then some.

And so it is with Jesus. In Jesus Christ we have the one and only gift that will never run out and is always fully stocked. Anyone who approaches Jesus’ manger throne in search of the richest mercy and sweetest, most amazing grace will always find that the storehouse of His Salvation is full. Jesus, the Savior of the world, is abundant in boundless love, limitless grace, unfailing forgiveness and abiding peace. His goodness knows no end. There is always more than enough of Jesus to go around…and then some.

On Christmas morning it was a box of chocolates that delivered a special message: that God sent Jesus Christ, the greatest gift of all, into our broken world to offer us salvation through His sacrifice completely free of our charge. All He asks is that we come as we are from wherever we are and partake of heaven and earth’s sweetest, richest, eternally abiding gift: God’s one and only Son.  

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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 letter to my Mom on Mother’s Day

Dear Mom,

This Mother’s Day a store bought card just wouldn’t do. To be honest, I didn’t even look for one in the store because I knew that nothing written in a card could capture what you and I have been through in the past year (not to mention the past 28).

You, more than anyone, know how difficult this past year has been. Treating Lyme Disease has been a roller coaster ride crazier than anything I could have ever imagined. The journey has been insane since the very first dose of treatment and yet you’ve kept your cool. I don’t know how, because heaven knows I haven’t. Through it all you’ve remained steady and sure. You have never wavered in your belief that I will be healed and restored. All the while you have been the hands and feet of God in my life – literally – graciously comforting my calloused feet with essential oils and my burdened spirit with fervent prayer.

I’m not always the easiest person to love. In fact, sometimes I’m down right grouchy and cold, yet you keep loving me. When I am short and unappreciative, you give me grace. When I take out my frustration and anger on you, you forgive me. You love me unconditionally. You love me with the love of Christ.

I know this year you said, “Don’t write anything sappy.” So I won’t. I’ll just write what is true: You are an incredible Mom, my very best friend and you have taught me how to love and support someone “in sickness and in health.”

I know our relationship isn’t perfect. It has its ups and downs but I wouldn’t trade it for anything because by being your daughter I have been taught how to love. By how you care for me I have been showered with sacrificial love that is drawn from the very source of love, Jesus Christ.

On this Mother’s Day I  want to thank you most of all for your devotion to Christ. Thank you for coming alongside me in my battle and encouraging me with scripture and faith. Satan’s attacks have been real, fiercely trying and testing my faith, but you have surrounded me with prayer. Every day you put on the armor of God to defeat the enemy on my behalf.

God doesn’t make mistakes. He had a plan for me as your daughter before I was even born. He had a journey plotted out for you and I  before you knew if I would be a “Stephanie” or a “Steven” (or some other boy name). God knew what He was doing when He put you and I together. He knew I’d need a Mom who would be willing to fight for me and with me.

Mom, I know someday you are going to hear those glorious words, “Well done good and faithful servant” because you are good and faithful and you are a servant. You serve Him everyday by the way you care and love for me.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

Proverbs 31:25-26