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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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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.

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Waves of Amazing Grace

Walking on the beach is one of life’s simple – and serene – pleasures. There is nothing quite like strolling next to the vast ocean, breathing in the salty air and listening to the waves break against the shore. While the warm sun beats down from above, cool water rushes in to refresh from below. It is a calming scene that elicits feelings of tranquility and peace.

After a walk on the beach, I breath a little deeper and feel more relaxed and at ease. I used to think the ocean air was to thank. Perhaps all of that salt is good for the lungs? Or maybe it was the visual sight of the water? That seemed to make sense since studies have shown that just watching ocean waves helps to relieve stress and anxiety.

But then, as I was walking on the beach one day, I looked behind me and saw the waves washing over the footprints I’d left in the sand. And that’s when I realized that what both my body and soul love about a walk on the beach is the picture of grace I see when I look down.

When I looked down at the shoreline and glanced back behind me, I saw the footprints I left behind and the impact I’d made on the perfectly smooth, moist sand. The memory of my every step was right there before my eyes but only for a moment because, seconds later, they were gone.

Like an artist’s paint brush sweeping across a canvas, the ocean’s wave glided effortlessly across the sand, completely covering the ground below. With one fluid stroke of salty water, every speck of sand was renewed and my every step was erased.

As the wave receded and pulled back into the vast ocean, it left behind not a trace of my footprints. There was not a trace of evidence that I had just traversed that stretch of sandy beach. The ground looked completely new and untouched by the soles of man.

And so it is with God’s redeeming love and grace.

At the shoreline of my life I covered the sand with steps of disobedience and rebellion. With my sinful actions I left behind imprints of shame and guilt.

But Christ’s perfect blood washed me clean.

Jesus, in an amazing wave of grace, died to cover my guilt with purifying waters of mercy and love. Then, with overcoming redemptive power, He rose to new life again, erasing every memory and trace of sin’s stain in my life.

And that’s when I realized that the most powerful benefits from walking on the beach don’t come from the salty air or the motion of the ocean. They come from seeing Jesus’ redeeming love in every sandy step washed away in the waves of God’s amazing grace.

 

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,”

– Titus 3:5

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Salvation, Sickness & Singleness

Three “s’s have defined my twenties: salvation, sickness and singleness.

At the age of twenty, salvation changed everything about me. In the blink of an eye, Christ’s redemption did a complete overhaul on my life, reinventing me from the inside out. Now, when I look back on pre-salvation Stephanie, I can’t believe I was that person. The old me is someone I don’t even recognize – and I thank God for that. 

On the heels of salvation came sickness. At the age of twenty-one chronic illness changed everything about my life and the course it’s taken. I had an image in my mind’s eye about what my future would look like. We all have one of those, don’t we? It’s totally normal and natural – especially for a young adult – to envision what lies ahead based on dreams, desires and previous experience. But when I became sick all of my thoughts about the future were upended by the uncertainty of my physical condition. Sickness dramatically altered life as a knew it and derailed many of my hopes and dreams. I had to grieve the loss of my health and my plans for the future before I could accept that God’s will, although far different from my own, is still perfect and good.

Then there is singleness. Being completely and utterly single (read: not a date in sight) for nine years has been a journey onto itself. Again, I’ve had to grieve more dreams and more plans while coming to accept that a solo life is not a lesser life.

I’ve also had to learn how to do life on my own. This was a first for me. All throughout my teen years, right up until my sickness, there was always a special someone to accompany me on life’s adventures. Companionship was my comfort zone and I didn’t leave it willingly. To be candid, my first few years of singleness were spent complaining and wishing I wasn’t alone. Being content with single has been just as challenging as being joyful while sick. But, as always, God has been faithful and gracious, repeatedly reminding me through His Spirit of love that the only person I need to be whole is Jesus.

The more seasons of life I’ve spent being single, sick and saved, the more I can relate to the Psalmist, David, who wrote, “You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands. How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are!” (Psalm 16:5-6)

While experiencing the shadows and clouds of earthly troubles, David leaned into the almighty God and discovered that He is all-sufficient, all-powerful and all-faithful. By spending intense time with God, David’s view of Him was completely transformed.

Like David, I’ve gone through dark valleys and, in the midst of them, experienced glorious glimpses of Jesus. As it turns out, sickness and singleness are fantastic tools for strengthening dependence and reliance on Christ’s Holy Spirit. Thanks to those two s’s built on the bedrock of salvation, I’ve been blessed to spend my twenties getting to know Jesus as more than just a far-off God reigning on a throne, wearing robes of white. I’ve gotten to know him as my personal Sustainer, very best Friend and unfailing Father.

At the start of my twenties, when my three s’s were fresh and new, I never imagined I’d be grateful for how they disrupted and altered my life. But one more thing I’ve learned in the past decade is “never say never.”

Now I can say, “thank God” for my twenties because the holy work done on my heart in the fires of illness and loneliness has been truly incredible. Through tears, grief and sorrow I have been cleansed, renewed and strengthened. In His perfect way, God has used unexpected challenges to mold and shape me into a woman after His own heart.

The closing verses of Psalm 16 are the perfect bow to wrap around a life saved and sustained by the almighty hand of God. In that beautiful chapter, David wrote, “I am always aware of the Lord’s presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. And so I am thankful and glad, and I feel completely secure, because you protect me from the power of death. I have served you faithfully, and you will not abandon me to the world of the dead. You will show me the path that leads to life; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever.” (Psalm 16:5-7, GNT)

Praise God, He is always good, perfectly faithful and still isn’t finished yet.

 

Today’s reading: Psalm 16

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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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Heart to Heart: A pen for every season

It took becoming sick to teach me how to talk to God. Lyme, pain, a pen and paper were a few of the choice tools God used to draw me closer to Jesus.

At first, I was resistant. Or, more accurately, I was distracted. The illness was my all-consuming obsession. I was fixated on symptoms, possible causes and an accurate diagnosis. The only time I picked up a pen was to write my medical history in a doctor’s office.

But then something shifted.

The sickness didn’t go away. It remitted – briefly – but then it got worse – much worse. I lost all control of my body and no amount of research could get it back again. Failed attempts at doctoring left me feeling misunderstood. I desperately wanted someone to listen, care and get what I was going through. I needed to vent, be real and know I wasn’t alone.

But what I truly needed most was help from on high; aid from the Great Physician who could carry me through the mystery that had become my life.

Although I had come to know Jesus years before my illness began, I didn’t know how to actually be in a relationship with Him. I had yet to rely on Him fully and in complete dependence. I was saved but I wasn’t walking with my Savior step-by-step and hand-in-hand. Jesus was definitely my friend, but He wasn’t my bestie.

But sickness changed that.

The seed of change that was my need took root in a pen. Writing was God’s gift to me – a communication method that helped me disconnect from the world around me and reconnect with His Spirit. Although the pen and paper, in and of themselves, weren’t the salvation, they were a vital tool God used to deepen and strengthen my relationship with Jesus.

After almost a decade of writing, I have accumulated boxes of notecards, stacks of journals and numerous files on my computer’s hard drive. Every word (some written on tear-stained paper) a testimony to Who sustained me throughout my sickness. The reason I kept fighting for my life and believing in the future is written on those pages. The Person that kept me even when I wanted to end my own life is revealed on a those reams of paper.

It was Jesus. Always and only Jesus.

I’ve often wondered what will happen when I’m not sick anymore. Will I keep writing? Will I still rely on this pen and paper to communicate with God? Will this still be a key tool He uses to meet and chat with me?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. Only God knows what He has planned for the next seasons of my life. But I do know this: Jesus will be there and He’ll keep providing plenty of tools to connect with Him along the way.

Whether or not God uses writing, I know He’ll keep revealing Himself. With or without the use of a pen and paper,  He will continue to show His love by faithfully making His spirit known in incredible and unexpected ways.

In my heart, I sure do hope He keeps using writing to draw me closer to Jesus but I trust that Father knows best. He knows my desires and, more importantly, He knows just what I need in every season of my life. He will provide in the future just like He has in the present and past. Because God is good… He is faithful… And He isn’t finished yet.

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A Table for Two

It was six o’clock in the evening and time for dinner. But I didn’t feel like eating alone…again.

As my tummy grumbled, my heart did, too, longing for someone to share a meal with. For a few pathetic minutes, I sat frozen at the kitchen counter, wishing there was someone to sit across from me and exchange conversation between bites of food. As I glanced at the empty chairs, I silently lamented the fact that no one would be arriving to fill them. “Oh, how I wish I did not have to eat alone anymore!”

My inner dialogue was interrupted by inner rumblings of hunger. So, to satisfy my need for food and desire for company, I hopped in the car and drove to my go-to place for a bite to eat. “At least there will be people around,” I told myself.

Twenty minutes later I found myself seated at a round table with three chairs and only one person to fill them. My purse took a seat and I took another, then I prayed over my cup of chicken noodle soup and began to eat.

As I filled my spoon and ate my dinner, nothing visibly dramatic happened. I didn’t spill my soup bowl or run into anyone I know. It was, by all outward appearances, an uneventful meal. But, on the inside, an attitude-altering transformation was underway.

The change occurred when I opened my Bible and began to read Philippians chapter three. In his letter, Paul wrote about living as a citizen of heaven, not a citizen of earth.

“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

And that’s when it dawned on me: loneliness is always an earthly emotion.

Loneliness is not of God. It is of man. It is a self-absorbed feeling that has nothing to do with eternity and everything to do with what is temporary. Loneliness is a sneaky trick of satan used to distract God’s children from enjoying fellowship with Jesus. It is an emotion born out of self-pity – “Poor me, I’m alone again.” Not born out of thanksgiving – “Praise God, I am never ever alone!”

Whenever I am lamenting loneliness, I am always focusing my attention inward and downward. My forlorn feelings arise when fixating on myself and what I want. But, praise God, He does not abandon me in my pathetic, self-absorbed state. The way out of lonesome sadness and sorrow is found by refocusing outward and upward, on Jesus and who He is. The crippling grief of unwanted solitude is supernaturally dispelled by the cheering gratefulness of God’s unfailing companionship.

The moment I turn from my lonely lament and let Jesus satisfy my desire for companionship I am always relieved to discover that He was right there all along. The third seat at my table was never empty. The table is always full because God’s Spirit is always with me. He is my faithful friend who never fails or leaves me. He is with me every step of the way and seated beside me for every bite of every meal.

Because my citizenship is in Heaven, my company is, too. My faithful friend, my Savior, Jesus is always with me and I am truly never alone.

 

My table is never set for a party of one.
There are always at least two seats taken – one for me and one for God.
Jesus meets me at every meal and walks with me every moment in between.
He never leaves me nor forsakes me. He stays with me through thick and thin.
At times it may appear that I am all alone but don’t be fooled by the earthly view of my companionship.
The truth is I am always in the best company – the company of my Savior.

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Spring will Spring Again

 I’m mad at winter.

And when I say “winter,” I don’t mean the earth’s meteorological season. Although I’m not particularly loving late winter’s lingering chill, it’s not nearly as infuriating as my body’s persistent season of sickness. That’s the winter that really has me hot (sweating) and bothered.

It was almost two years ago to the day that I received a Lyme disease diagnosis and began treatments to reclaim my health and life. The healing process has been incredibly intense, exhausting and, seemingly, never ending. Regaining my health has been more of a long slog than an early spring. Frigid, gray days have, by far, outnumbered the warm and sunny. This season of fighting Lyme has felt like a perpetual winter.

By now in my Lyme journey I had expected my illness to have thawed. Two years in I knew it might not look like summer quite yet but I at least expected it to feel like late spring. I never imagined I’d still be waking up in the midst of winter’s dark and dreary gloom.

It’s been so long since my body has experienced a true spring that sticks around for more than a day or two that I’ve been tempted to question whether or not my physical condition will ever change. Will I be stuck in this season of sickness for the rest of my days on earth? Am I destined to a lifetime trapped in winter? 

As He so often and so graciously does, God answered my doubts and questions by showing me the wonder of the earth’s spring. He pointed to a twig on a tree and said,

“Spring has always been your favorite season and with good reason. You love it so because spring always comes right after winter, on the heels of brutal cold, snow and ice. That’s when I step in and bring the dead earth back to life!

Spring is such an incredible miracle and it thrills you each and every year when I make it happen! As soon as I command the seasons to change, I hear you oh and awe as if you’ve never seen a budding flower before. You gaze at them with admiration and wonder – just like you’re doing to the one I’ve formed right here on this delicate twig set before you.

In your twenty-eight years of life I have never failed to deliver spring. Not once. I have always put an end to winter. I have always renewed and redeemed the earth. Remember my faithfulness. Rest in my righteousness. I am trust worthy and my promises are true. I will end your winter and bless you with the most beautiful spring you’ve ever seen!

Do not lose hope, little one. Just have faith and believe.”

While fixated on how faithfully God cares for the foundation of the earth and every flower that grows upon it, the Holy Spirit   descended into my wintry soul to strengthen my faith and renew my hope.

Even though my season of sickness has been brutal and long, God has not abandoned me in body, mind or soul. All along He has been orchestrating His plan to renew and restore me. While trapped under the snow and ice of symptoms and illness, Jesus has been protecting the root of my spirit so that, when the time is right, I will bloom like a beautiful flower.

To my Father God all I can say is, “Forgive me for hating on winter and lamenting the length of this sickness. Teach me to live with the joy of salvation in each and every season. Restore me with the hope of heaven that renews my spirit with the promise of eternal spring. Not my winterless will, Lord, but yours be done – no matter what the seasons may bring.”

“Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
and your servant loves them.
Though I am lowly and despised,
I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is everlasting
and your law is true.”

Psalm 119:140-141

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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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Harveigh: The Survivor Cow

Harveigh is a survivor cow.

During Hurricane Harvey, the category four storm that hit southern Texas in 2017, twenty-seven billion gallons of water fell in just four days causing the loss of over one hundred thousand homes and eighty-eight lives. The hurricane, often referred to in Texas as “the storm of the century,” left wide spread devastation in its wake.

Set in the midst of this heartbreaking scene we meet Harveigh, a baby calf born in the midst of the storm. In the chaos of the hurricane, Harveigh’s mother abandoned her and left the poor calf in the pasture to fend for herself. That’s when farm owners, Mr. & Mrs. Canton, spotted Harveigh standing all alone in the flooded pasture. The rain was still falling and the waters were rising quickly. They knew Harveigh was in imminent danger and hopeless without help.
Despite the treacherous weather conditions, Mr. Canton jumped into action. He went straight into the pasture and maneuvered through frigid, muddy waters to rescue Harveigh and pull her to safety.

But when she was out of the flooded pasture she wasn’t home free yet. Not even close. Harveigh was malnourished, weak and chilled to the bone. She had been battered by the worst of the storm and hadn’t been nursed in days.

Although the Canton’s house was already full of dogs and families displaced by the storm, they rushed Harveigh into the warmth. They laid her in a dog bed and covered her with blankets and towels. The vet warned that Harveigh would likely not survive but the Canton’s weren’t about to give up hope. They were determined to fight for Harveigh and do everything in their power to help her survive. They drove through flooded streets to buy formula so Harveigh could be fed by hand. The Canton’s loved on Harveigh, prayed for her and nursed her back to health. Even the family dogs became Harveigh’s friends, encouraging her to recover and join them in the yard to romp around and play.

Today Harveigh is over four hundred pounds and a beloved member of the Canton family. She is playful, gentle and spirited. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the Canton’s, Harveigh not only survived the storm, she has gone on to thrive and enjoy a full, abundant life.

Harveigh’s story reminds me of the greatest rescue story of all: Jesus’ act of rescue that saved you and me from our devastating storm of sin.

Like Harveigh, you and I were caught in the “storm of the century.” Our storm of sin separated us from everlasting life and the eternal protection that is only found in God’s house. We were spiritually weak, malnourished and chilled to the core of our soul. We were stuck in rising flood waters, helpless and powerless to get out.
But Jesus spotted us.

From up on high, Jesus saw our desperate need and jumped into action to save us. He entered into the lowliest of circumstances, a humble manger, and walked through the muck and mire of this life to rescue us. Jesus Christ lived and died in our pasture to save and deliver us from certain eternal death.

But, just like Harveigh, our story doesn’t end at the rescue.

After He saved us, Jesus opened the door into God’s house and welcomed us in. He prepared a special place for us to keep us warm and well fed. He cleaned us up from the ravaging effects of the storm and wrapped us in blankets of grace and love. To bring us back to health, Jesus Himself came and nourished us with the Holy Spirit’s strength and overcoming life – an act of infinite love He still performs to this day! 

Glory be to God who redeemed us by the blood of the Lamb and restored us in His house. We are made survivors because of the Savior who rescued us and gives us full, abundant, eternal life!

 

**Check out  a video about Harveigh!