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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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This Too Shall Pass

This too shall pass…

For far too long I held onto those words like a prayer, banking on them really. Like a wish, I cast that desperate sentiment up to the throne of heaven, imploring God to make my physical distress pass… and quickly.

When the pain in back refused to relent, I called on the name of God to make it pass… and quickly. While suffering with burning eyes and disrupted vision, I begged God to make the episode pass… and quickly. In the midst of crippling intestinal dysfunction, I cried out to God, pleading with him to make the distress pass…oh so quickly.

But God hasn’t always answered – at least not the way I asked him to. He rarely chooses to relieve, restore and rescue with the snap of a finger or blink of an eye. Most of the time, God makes me wait for deliverance.

It seems cruel, or at least it used to from my distressed perspective, but after years of waiting on God, I’ve come to realize that His delays have a divine purpose. While I’m waiting for the trouble to pass, God is teaching me how to trust and depend on Him alone.

What I find most curious about how God works is actually how He doesn’t. He doesn’t give us what we ask for the moment we ask for it. He doesn’t grant us three wishes like a genie in a bottle – and then three more when we’re in another desperate situation. He doesn’t deliver us from every painful and trying situation.

Instead, God works the way Paul said he does – in sufferings, persecutions and hardships. God shows us through our trials that when we are weak “He is strong”.

It goes against our human nature to wait on the almighty God. After all, he is all mighty so what’s the hold up? He could bring this too to pass with just a thought in His mind but He doesn’t because He sees and knows what we don’t. He sees when we need to deepen our dependence on Jesus. He knows when we’re banking on the miracle moment, not the Savior and Sustainer, and He loves us too much to leave us with that flawed faith, so He makes us wait in order to cleanse and perfect us.

Nearly every time I ask God to make it pass (and quickly), He responds with silence and then…“Wait for it…Wait for it to pass the way I want it to pass…Wait for deliverance to arrive according to my will…Wait while I teach you how to cultivate a garden of trust in me….Wait and be still, resting in the unshakable, unchanging truth that I AM God.”

So, what can I say? That if this takes years to pass, God is late? That if this never passed, God is not listening or, worse yet, not caring? No, I am compelled to say, write and believe what Paul said: that I rejoice in all of these things because, through them, God shows me that His strength, love and peace are enough and all I will ever need.

 

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

– Romans 5:3-5
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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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Southern Hospitality

For as long as I can remember I’ve heard about Southern hospitality but have questioned whether or not the phenomenon is true. Does geniality really corollate with geography? I doubted it until I moved to Tennessee.

In just two short months, Tennessee has made me a Southern hospitality believer. What can I say? People are just plain friendlier in the volunteer state. They offer up kindness free of charge and provide service with a smile. Cashiers strike up conversation and somehow manage to find a topic that goes deeper than the temperature. The atmosphere in Tennessee is so welcoming and inviting that it’s easy to feel right at home in the buckle of the Bible belt.

Being surrounded by hospitality has caused me to question why. Why is the south known for their hospitality? After all, southerners are human beings, no different than northerners. Is it something in the water? Or perhaps something in the sweet tea? Could it have to do with the warmer temperatures? Maybe people are kinder when exposed to less cold air?

But then I looked up at the landscape and realized that southerners aren’t more hospitable on account of a beverage or the climate. They are more hospitable because of active belief in Christ.

You see, when I look across the landscape of middle Tennessee, I see an absolutely glorious sight. Steeples. Dozens of them in just a few square miles. Steeples in middle Tennessee are like Starbucks in New York City. They’re everywhere.

In the buckle of the Bible belt where churches are thriving, so is the gospel message of kindness, generosity and hospitality. People are hearing the words of Jesus and, the good news is, they’re practicing what He preached. The even better news it that anyone, no matter where they live, can embody this same characteristic because being hospitable isn’t dependent on where we live but on Who lives in us.

 

“…Always be eager to practice hospitality.” – Romans 12:13

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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 Power of a Compliment

“Hey, l like your haircut!”

My head spun around as if it were on a swivel. Who was the unfamiliar voice talking to, I wondered. And could I get the name of their hairdresser?

But, when I looked behind me, there was no one there. Confused, I turned back around, thinking I must have been hearing things but that’s when I realized that the stranger was staring straight at me. Convinced I must have misheard what he said I kindly asked, “I’m sorry, I missed that. What did you just say?”

“I said, ‘I like your haircut.’” Then, just to be sure he was heard and taken seriously, he added, “It’s a really good haircut.”

My bad hair day hair and I were so stunned by the stranger’s compliment that it took me a second to get the words, “thank you” out of my mouth. Before I could elaborate further, the stranger opened a door, turned down a hallway and disappeared. It’s as if he was an angel sent for a brief moment in time to brighten my day before being sent on his way to bless another weary soul.

Looking back on that fifteen second exchange, there are so many responses that come to mind that I wish I would have said.

If I could go back, I would have been more profusive in my thanks, conveying to this kind man how worn out I had been feeling and how his words provided a much-appreciated lift to my day. Chances are I would have blabbered on about feeling like my hair was laying too heavy on my head and making my face look drawn. On second thought, it was probably better that the stranger didn’t stick around for that conversation.

But, if he would have had time to really chat, I would have gone deep with the kind stranger, telling him the story of how, four years ago, I chopped my hair off on account of illness and disease. I would have poured my heart out, describing how letting my hair go was a step of trust in God, believing that He could heal me if He wanted to but was still good even if it was His will that I remain sick. Then I would have gone on to explain that, since cutting off my hair, I’ve struggled with feeling feminine and beautiful and that little compliments, like the one he gifted me with, are precious reminders that I am still attractive even with a short pixie haircut.

But I didn’t have the chance to say any of those things. All I managed to squeak out was an awkward, caught unawares, “thank you.

So, here’s the moral of the story (because there is always a moral to the story). Be overly kind. Catch someone off guard with a compliment. Make a stranger’s day by shining the light of Christ into it. Be someone’s God wink.

And, to those who receive the compliment, graciously accept it and pass it on. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to take this gift and give it to someone else because there is power in a kind compliment and smiling face. In those moments of generous compassion, we get to be the face of Jesus for someone else, even if only for a few fleeting seconds.

PS…To the stranger in the hall who complimented my haircut, I give you my sincerest thanks. What you said went so much deeper than strands of hair. Your kindness was truly a gift from God that touched my heart, reminding me of Jesus’ love and inspiring me to pass it on to someone else.

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Belief: Is it bigger than butterflies?

“Do I believe that God is good even when His will and ways don’t feel good?”

This is the faith-revealing question I’ve been asking myself on repeat ever since Pippy passed away twenty days ago. As a devoted follower of Christ, I know that my response should be a resounding, “yes” but my emotions have tempted me to reply with a noncommittal, “I’m not so sure.”

And so, like a doubting Thomas, longing for confirmation to strengthen belief and faith, I prayed, “Lord, show me that you’re good. Send me a sign!” In short order, God answered my pitiful prayer with remarkable butterfly encounters.

My first butterfly encounter occurred just hours after Pippy passed away. It flew up in front of my car’s windshield and proceeded to do a little dance in front of the glass. That particular monarch lingered for quite some time and, as I watched her wings flutter, I felt the sadness in my heart lift. The butterfly delivered an overwhelming assurance that Pippy has gone home to Heaven where she is safe in the presence of God.

Over the next few days more butterflies arrived. In fact, not a day went by in the entire first week after Pippy past without a noteworthy butterfly encounter. Each day I was gifted a dazzling demonstration of God’s goodness winged its way into my world and, in response, I thanked God profusely for answering my prayer. I praised Him for reassuring me of His promises and vowed to keep looking up and out with an open heart and mind so that I would never miss a single butterfly blessing.

But, in recent days, something terrible has happened to my butterflies. They’ve disappeared. My world has become suddenly and dramatically butterfly-less. I’ve searched for them outdoors and even paused near bushes just in case God has one waiting in the leaves, but they’re no where to be found.

In the absence of the butterflies, God has turned the tables on the questioning. Instead of me asking Him to prove His faithfulness, He is asking me, “Even when you don’t see any sign of it, do you still believe I am good?

In the book of Hebrews, Paul wrote, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) If that’s what true faith is, then my questioning God and requesting a special sign was faithlessness. By asking God to prove that I have grounds for believing He is good, I make my faith evidence dependent instead of Jesus dependent.

Now I know why God gave and then took away the butterflies. He gave them because He loves me, and He took them away because He loves me too much to let me remain weak in faith. He is invested in growing and developing my belief in who He is, just like He was for the doubting Thomas.

In John chapter 20, right after Jesus rose from the grave, He gave His follower, Thomas, an opportunity to feel His hands and side so Thomas could have physical proof that the Messiah was alive. After Thomas affirmed his belief, Jesus made an important distinction about faith with sight versus faith without sight. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Jesus obviously loved Thomas – that’s why he made a special visit just to see him – but Jesus wanted Thomas to understand that the faith God desires doesn’t require the aid of a visual. The faith that receives the blessing is the faith that remains unshakable even when there is no hand to touch or sign to see.

As we know from scripture, Thomas’ living color experience with the Risen Savior was only temporary. And so it is  with my butterflies.

God’s removal of my butterfly encounters is a gift unto itself. It is a second chance to use this season of grieving to affirm my belief that, in all seasons and circumstances, God’s will and ways are always perfect because He is always good.

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Grief & the Power of Giving Thanks

I stood paralyzed in the doorway, staring at Pippy laying lifeless in a Rubbermaid box on the living room floor. To think that she would never again experience the wind blowing through her ears or prance at the park overwhelmed me with shock, disbelief and heartbreak. I cried, desperately hoping it was all a terribly bad dream – the worst I’d ever had.

But Pippy’s lifeless body couldn’t lie. This wasn’t a dream. It was real life.

I must admit that part of me wanted to pray and ask God for a resurrection miracle. He did it with Jesus, couldn’t He do it with Pippy? I knew that He could but, even in the midst of heartache, I knew in the depth of my soul that Pippy’s passing was God’s will. He had allowed her to leave this earth earlier than I had hoped but right on time according to His perfect schedule. It wasn’t my place to beg Him for a rewind and redo. It was my job to ask Him, “How do I glorify You in this moment?”

God’s answer came like a lightening bolt: “By giving thanks as you walk with me through this season of grief. That’s how you glorify me in this moment and every moment of suffering, pain and loss you will encounter as you travel down this road called life.”

At first, I was hesitant to give thanks. I was worried that by being thankful I would dishonor Pippy and minimize her importance. But God’s word spoke to me again, “Give thanks in all circumstances. That’s my will for you.”

All meant right there and then – even with Pippy’s lifeless body still in a Rubbermaid box.

All meant in grief, loss, sorrow, sadness, heartbreak and pain.

All meant in the face of life and in the face of death.

All meant that I couldn’t withhold my thanks on account of worries and concerns about hurting my deceased pup’s feelings.

All meant that I was compelled and commanded to give thanks right then and there in obedience to God.

And so, that’s precisely what I did.

I started by thanking God for blessing me with Pippy eight years ago and providing me with an incredibly loyal and faithful friend. I thanked Him for creating Pippy and filling her with gentleness, kindness and love – the very fruits of His Spirit. Then I thanked God for making Pippy a furry little teacher who demonstrated so perfectly priceless lessons on walking obediently with Jesus and following Him by faith and not by sight.

While giving thanks to God for my departed Pip, the pain of losing her was replaced with the joy I experienced in loving her. With each praise of thanksgiving offered up to God, a deeper level of peace and comfort descended on me from above. By the time I walked away from Pippy’s side, my Spirit was transformed by the very presence of my Father God.

What’s so incredible about the night Pippy passed is that, even in death, God was using her to teach me how to trust and obey Him. This particular lesson could have been titled, “Grief And the Power of Giving Thanks” with the objective being to understand that, by giving thanks, an open invitation is extended to the Holy Spirit. When we thank God, it is as if we are welcoming the Wonderful Counselor into our brokenness so that He can comfort and console us with His love and grace.

When grief threatens to crush my Spirit – and Heaven knows it will try – the way back to peace is always through the doorway of thanksgiving. As soon as I put God’s lesson on giving thanks in all circumstances into practice, my heart is opened wide to the Spirit of Christ and I am once again comforted by the assurance that Pippy is in a better place.

Although Pippy’s spirit has left this earth, she is not truly dead. She has gone to her heavenly home, experiencing more fullness of life than ever before. The good news that I am choosing to celebrate is that my best walks with Pippy are yet to come. I will rejoice and give thanks for the adventure’s we’ve had thus far while looking ahead to Heaven’s streets of gold, where an eternity of togetherness awaits us.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

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Pippy Love

At 2:39 AM on August 9, 2019, my dear Pippy Love departed this earthly world and entered into doggie heaven.

I know that some people don’t believe there is such a thing as doggie heaven, but I disagree with some people. Ever since my childhood dog, Puff, crossed over that rainbow bridge I’ve believed that God has set apart a special place in heaven for our furry friends. After all, He allowed dogs to be given His name spelled backwards. Could there be any question He has a special place for them in His heart?

Bottom line: our God is too good to not prepare a place for our pets.

To say that I’m devastated is an understatement. Pip was only eight years old. She was supposed to live till at least fifteen – at least that’s what the dog gurus said I could expect given her size and breed. Even when she was diagnosed with Lyme disease and congestive heart failure a few months ago, I was confident she’d beat the disease. After all, that’s what she helped me do when I was diagnosed with Lyme and I was sure I’d help her do the same.

In her last weeks of life, Pippy’s future looked bright. At Frontier Park – her favorite place to sniff and explore – she ran with the vigor of a dog half her age. Her energy was such a source of hope that Mom and I even said to each other, “Look, the Pipster is coming back!”

But, then, on the evening of August 8th, Pippy took a sharp and dramatic turn for the worse. Her breathing became so labored she couldn’t relax. She stretched out her neck, gasping for air. A panic look pierced her sweet, tender eyes. It was terribly distressing just to watch. I can’t even imagine how much more distressing it must have been for my dear Pip to experience.

At the vet we were given two options: put Pip down or put her on oxygen and drain the fluid around her heart. The first option was a sure death. The second was a possibility of three more months of life – best case scenario.

I hated both options, especially since both meant leaving Pippy on a cold metal table in the hands of an equally cold veterinarian. Knowing Pippy, I know she hated those options just as much as I did.

In our eight years together Pip never had to say a word to speak volumes. The two of us communicated on a deeper level. With one simple head tilt to the left I could read her detailed message. It was different than the message she sent when tilting her head to the right. That’s how tight Pippy and I were. We could read each other’s head tilts.

So, when the vet gave me two options, I knew what Pippy wouldn’t want. She wouldn’t want to be left hooked up to a machine with tubes and wires. But I didn’t believe Pippy would want to die by injection underneath the fluorescent lights of a vet’s office, either. The idea of playing God and deciding Pippy’s destiny was unfathomable to me. I wanted God to play God, so I prayed and waited for divine feedback.

It was the middle of the night and we were back at home, laying hands on Pippy and praying for the Holy Spirit’s intervention. That’s when Pippy began struggling even harder to breath. I told my Mom we couldn’t stand by and do nothing. She suggested we get in the car and drive. I agreed.

As we began heading east, in the direction of the vet, I fervently asked God to step in before we reached the doors of that sterile place. “Heal her or take her home,” I asked, hoping for the former but surrendered to God’s will no matter what the future held.

And that’s when it happened. In the arms of my Mom, while listening to WCTL on the radio, Pippy’s labored breathing became shallow. The struggle suddenly ceased as her body relaxed. Her heart beat slowed to a stop and within a few minutes she was gone.

I pulled over near Frontier Park, overcome with heartbreak, shock and disbelief. Just a few hours earlier Pippy had been enjoying a walk along those paths, sniffing grass and breathing in the great outdoors. I couldn’t – and still can’t – fully comprehend that she could die that same night. It didn’t make sense but, then again, when does loss ever make sense?

Pippy was an incredible dog and saying goodbye to her is breaking my heart for a million reasons.

While I was alone and single for the past eight years, Pippy was my companion. I hopped from Florida to Ohio to Florida again to Pittsburgh, with multiple stints in Erie in-between, and Pippy always came along for those rides. She was my constant in a world of change.

Then there was her spirit. Pippy had such a great way about her. She was docile and sometimes even timid. Pip was so kind she would never have dreamed of hurting a fly let alone a human. She was good natured and sweet. Truly a gem of a dog and friend.

Pip was obedient, too. She could walk off leash nearly anywhere and behave like a good dog should. I’ll never forget when we lived in Chagrin Falls, OH where I used to walk with Pippy down in the village – off leash, of course. Bystanders couldn’t believe that Pip stuck right by me without ever venturing into the street. She even stopped respectfully at crosswalks. Before stepping one paw into the street she’d look back at me for guidance, as if to ask, “Is it okay to go, Mom?”

Pippy was my baby, my friend, my comforter and my reason for living for the past eight years. When I was too sick to do much of anything, I still always walked Pippy. There were so many days when my own illness threatened my life and will to live. I used to cry because I felt so useless. “What good is my life if I’m always sick?”

Once again, Pippy gave me my answer. With her big, sweet brown eyes, she would look at me as if to say, “Your life is important to me.” Getting up and doing right by Pippy was incentive for me to keep fighting for my health when defeated tempted me to give up. She gave me reason to keep pushing ahead and, for that alone, I owe her a debt of gratitude that I could never repay.

Pippy was the most incredible dog and I am the most blessed dog mom to have had her by my side for the past eight years. I will miss her more than words could ever convey and I’ll certainly cry more than I will ever admit. But, even in season of mourning as I grieve the loss of my best buddy, I will give thanks to God for the life of my precious Pippy who provided me with such great friendship, comfort and love.  

Pip, I can’t believe your gone but I know that we’re going to meet again.

You were such an amazing dog and I can’t imagine my life without you being in it. You brought joy, laughter and comfort to the hardest decade of my life. Before I ever knew I would need you as my “therapy dog,” God knew and He provided me the perfect pup for the job.

I am going to miss you more than words can say but I will keep your memory with me every single day.

I love you Pipster…You’ll always be my Little Bear. 

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Looking Back with 20/20 Vision

Hindsight is 20/20.

When troubles and trials are dominating our reality, we rarely see past the pain they inflict. Our thoughts are so consumed with the sting of loss, hurt of rejection or sorrow of despair that it becomes nearly impossible to conceive of a happy ending to our anguish. The idea that there could be a good, redeeming purpose for our suffering is out of sight and certainly out of mind. In the heat of a trial our vision is darkened, and it is hard to picture the world ever looking bright again.

But, as anyone who has ever endured trouble knows, the pain subsides. Day by the day the sting, hurt and sorrow begins to diminish. It doesn’t happen all at once and, sometimes, that pain sneakily returns with renewed force for a brief time. But, slowly and surely, what caused us such grief begins to lose its power over us. Life keeps moving, changing our reality and our view of it.

Some people say, “don’t look back, you’re not going that way.” And I understand their point. Looking back can be a trap but only if we look back to grieve. Looking back can be a gift if we look back to grow. When we use our past pain as a treasure trove of experience instead of a load of baggage, those memories become stepping stones, not stumbling blocks.

I used to try to force myself from looking back and recalling my most painful moments in life. When old memories popped up that featured the sting of a breakup or the hurt of a massive failure, I tried to push them aside, reminding myself not to look back because I wasn’t going that way.

But then I drove past an old friend’s house – or what used to be her house. About a year ago my friend’s house burned to the ground in a tragic fire. Thankfully, everyone in the house escaped and no one was hurt. But the house was an entire loss. There was nothing left to salvage of her two-story home. As I pulled down the road where my friend’s house used to sit, I recalled what the scene had looked like in the days following the fire. Charred cars still parked in the burned-up garage. Black soot and ash covering the property. Busted out glass and empty windows. Loss – so much loss.

But as I approached my friend’s lot I was greeted with a beautiful sight: a brand-new house in the making.

It was seeing my friend’s new house, still in its framing stages, that got me thinking about how I look at the past. Do I look at it as destruction or do I look at it as the plot of land where a new house is destined to be built? When I consider what I’ve lost, do I mourn what was or do I thank God for it as I anticipate what’s to come?

At one time or another in all our lives, we will encounter loss and the struggle to imagine how our ashes could possibly become something beautiful. But, take heart. If Jesus has overcome death, don’t you think He can overcome your pain and hurt? Since Jesus rose from the grave, shouldn’t we believe He can redeem our brokenness and restore what we’ve lost?

Jesus can turn our trials into testimonies, but we have to give Him the ashes and allow Him to work out the transformation. We cannot be afraid to look back nor can we be afraid to move forward. It is a great balancing act of faith and by the grace of God, it is not impossible.

When we look back at the men and women of the Bible who trusted God with their ashes, we are reminded that He truly did make them beautiful. Look at Abraham and Sara, Noah and the ark or Job. God was faithful to the men and women who bowed down and acknowledged Him as Lord. The people who entrusted their lives into God’s care were never disappointed. They encountered trials, troubles and tests but remained true to the Lord their God and He, of course, remained true to them.

If you’re carrying ashes around, why don’t you try giving them to God? Stop trying to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist. You don’t need to be afraid of them or worried that they are doomed to ruin your life. Once you give them to God, He’ll do something incredible with them and then give you His perfect 20/20 vision to see why the pain was for your good.

Loss has a purpose greater than shattered hearts can ever comprehend. In the hands of our Heavenly Father, He takes what has been reduced to ashes and makes them a beautiful masterpiece by the redemptive power of His Son. He takes what breaks us and uses it to bring us back to the Savior’s throne. When God is given control and authority over the past, we can look back on it and smile, knowing that, even in those painful moments where the sting was so intense we didn’t know how and if we’d survive it, God was there all along. He was there, working out the details of His glorious, grand plan.

That’s beauty from ashes but you can only see it if you’re willing to look back.