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What do genealogies have to do with it?

This year I set out to read the entire Bible in a year. I must admit, this is not the first time I’ve undertaken this endeavor but, I’m sorry to say, I’ve never succeeded. I always get bogged down in the genealogies and lists of names I can’t pronounce. Usually sooner rather than later, I abandon the mission and return to my New Testament comfort zone.

But this year I determined to approach the Bible in a year endeavor differently. I’ve decided to embrace a “delay is not defeat” mantra. Even if I miss a day or two, I will keep coming back to my Bible reading plan and pick up wherever I left off.

Which brings me to January 10th.

According to my reading plan, I should have been reading Genesis chapter twenty-one on this particular day but I’m a bit behind. Or a lot a bit, depending on how you define behind. Thankfully, the truth found in God’s Word never expires or changes. And neither does His grace, which I reminded myself as I opened up Genesis chapter eleven five days behind schedule.

If you’re not familiar with Genesis eleven or have simply forgotten the specifics of this passage, allow me to break it down for you.

It starts with the Tower of Babel where sin gets out of control and God has to reign it in by breaking up unified language. Next is the Shem family genealogy. It’s riveting reading, as I’m sure you can imagine. Lastly, the chapter turns to Abram and tells the story of how his father took their family from the land of Ur to the land of Harran. Also riveting reading.

While trying to sound out names like Arphazad, Peleg and Serug, I started to wonder if the Shem family line is even important? “Do these verses have anything to do with me?” I asked myself.

No sooner did these thoughts cross my mind than God answered them with verse thirty one. “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram…” To some readers, this might seem like a throw away verse but, to me, it spoke volumes because of one word, one name: Sarai.

Being familiar with Sarai, I knew the two important details about her life that were revealed one verse earlier, in Genesis thirty. First is that Sarai is Abram’s wife and, second, is that she in infertile. Unlike her sister-in-law and other women in the family line, Sarai is unable to conceive and bear children for her husband.

In any era, but especially in Sarai’s era, infertility can cause shame for women due to the fact that the ability to carry a child and give birth plays a large role in making a woman feel feminine. Pregnancy is a beautiful gift imparted specifically to women and when that gift can’t be experienced and enjoyed a woman often feels worthless and less than. I should know since I, too, am infertile.

In the day and age that Sarai lived, being unable to have a child was a defining characteristic and that’s what makes this verse in Genesis so noteworthy. In this particular scripture, the author shares the name of every man on the voyage from Ur to Harrah but only shares the name of one woman – and it wasn’t the name of a woman who could conceive children. It was the name of the one woman known to be infertile.

As I closed my Bible and thought about Genesis eleven, I was overwhelmed by the perfection of God’s Word.

God’s Word is never outdated and doesn’t contain any irrelevant details. Every word has a purpose and Sarai’s name being listed in verse thirty one is no exception. Her name has significance and sends a message to men and women everywhere: The ability to have children is not what makes you valuable. You are valuable because you are a child of God.

Your name is worth listing and your life is worth loving because God created You in His image with purpose and on purpose. Whether you can have a child of your own or not does not define you or determine your value and worth. Your value is determined by the perfect Lamb of God who died to save you and secure you a place in heaven. According to Jesus, you are worth dying for. That truth, not your current or future fertility, is why you are a precious and priceless treasure.

In His amazing grace and unmerited goodness, God used one word to shower my belated Bible reading with blessings and remind me that He loves me for me, just like He loves you for you.

If you want proof of God’s love for you, just open up your Bible – and don’t be deterred by the genealogies. God’s Holy Word is His love letter to you and, I can assure you, He never disappoints.

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What are you collecting?

My coffee mug collection began innocently. A whimsical, ice-skating snowman inspired mug here. An Easter bunny and carrot themed mug there. “A mug for every season” – that was my motto.

Over the years, as my coffee cup collection has steadily grown, so has the chaos in my kitchen cabinet. There are now so many mugs crammed into that little space it’s a wonder the door even closes.

Recognizing the excessiveness of my drinkware situation, I have, for years, resolved to cut off all coffee cup purchasing and pare down my current collection. My intentions have been good but my follow through has been quite poor. I’ve tried picking just my favorites and donating the rest, but I find that they are all my favorites for one sentimental reason or another. I’ve even tried the Kon Mari technique, asking myself “does this bring you joy?” To which the answer is always, “Yes. This llama mug most certainly does bring me joy.”

But coffee mugs aren’t my only collection. I have a second, not so visible and far less joyous collection that I’ve had trouble parting ways with, too: a collection of fears.

Over the past decade I’ve collected more fears than coffee mugs. I have a fear that I’ll wind up being a lifelong single and a fear that I’ll never regain my full health. Then there’s that pesky fear that I’ll fail at every career I try. And who can forget the niggling fear that I’ll end up moving back into my parent’s basement (again). For every setback, failure or struggle, I’ve added another fear to my collection, creating an internal space that is so chock-full of anxiety, worries and concerns it makes my kitchen cabinet look sparse.

Like I do every January 1st, I made a resolution on this New Year’s Day. “This year,” I thought, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to cut ties with this excessive coffee mug collection and bring order back to this chaotic cabinet!” Nowhere in my mind was I thinking about my fear collection – that’s a collection I didn’t want to admit even existed. I wanted to keep that door securely shut. I wanted to keep my fears, anxieties and worries a secret.

But that wasn’t meant to be.

As soon as I opened the kitchen cabinet to attack the out of control coffee mug collection, a revelation dawned on me like a lightbulb illuminating above a cartoon character’s head: Why are you so fixated on this coffee mug conundrum? Don’t you see that you have a far more pressing situation to address – all those paralyzing fears you’ve let take up residence in your mind? Can’t you see that you’ve become like this cabinet – so crammed full of fear you have no room left for faith.

As I surveyed the plethora of coffee cups all stacked and squished behind the cabinet’s glass door, I realized that, just like that cabinet, my mind has limited space and I must be intentional about what – and Who – I let fill it. If I relinquish control to the enemy, he will cram me full of anxious thoughts and fearful emotions, destroying my joy and robbing me of peace in the process. But, if I allow God to fill my sacred internal space, He will strengthen my faith by enriching my mental collection with wisdom and truth. When I invite God into my mind and ask Him to control my collection of thoughts, He defeats the enemy’s lies, exposes every destructive fear, and fills me with His overcoming peace and abundant joy.

It was this new revelation that revived my resolve – but not my resolve to part ways with my llama mug, that mug is here to stay. This time, I determined to get rid of my collection of fears.

But how?

If I couldn’t part ways with a few coffee mugs, how could I part ways with an entire mind full of fears and dooms day thoughts? To successfully accomplish this resolution, I knew I needed help clearing away the anxious clutter I’d let accumulate inside. So, I did what anyone who wants to declutter their life should do. And, no, I didn’t turn to Kon Mari to refresh my memory on her Tidying Up technique. I turned to the only One who has the power to break every chain – including every chain of fear. I turned to Jesus, relinquished control of my collection and asked Him to take over cleaning my internal house.

In no time at all, a verse came to mind. “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2) Or, in coffee mug speak, when the enemy is trying to sell you an earthly fear mug, leave the store, run to God and stock up on the eternal treasures revealed in His word.

You see, Jesus claimed victory over fear when He conquered the grave. When our Savior defeated death, He made it possible for you and I to enjoy freedom from all fear. But, in order to experience that freedom, we have to be choosy about what we allow into our mental, emotional and spiritual collection. We must stop buying the fear lies and quit even giving the enemy’s sales pitch the time of day! Instead, we must fix our eyes, ears and heart on Jesus and invest in a faith-filled collection packed with God’s promises and busting at the seams with His extravagant love.

And, if you must buy something, just go buy a whimsical coffee mug. I suggest shopping at Home Goods, TJ Maxx or Marshalls. They always have the very best selection. Tell them Stephanie sent you.

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A Decade in Review

As this decade comes to a close, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting and thinking about all that has transpired in my life over the past ten years. In doing so, three words have kept returning to my mind:

  1. Sickness

  2. Singleness

  3. Salvation

When I received salvation in November of 2009, just two months before a new decade began, I thought I was living the final chapter of my rescue story. Little did I know, my story was just getting started.

As the 2010’s kicked off, so did my sickness. By the summer of that first year, a mystery illness consumed me. In 2010 I encountered major health disruptions that completely derailed my twenty-year-old self’s plans. By 2011, those disruptions turned into the destruction of dreams, plans and even love. That year I watched my status go from engaged to single – and that’s where it’s been ever since.

Over the next four years, I traversed the trying trail of chronic, undiagnosed illness as a single woman. Thankfully, I never walked alone. I was blessed with the support of a loving family, amazing Mom and incredible dog – my Pippy love.

But what truly kept me going throughout those chronic, undiagnosed illness wilderness years was Jesus.

Whenever I wanted to give up, I’d remember November 2, 2009 and the moment when my life was forever changed by receiving salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Just knowing that Jesus rescued me, redeemed my past and reconciled me to God filled my spirit with the hope and strength needed to carry on. Whether in sickness or in health, I belonged to Christ. He bought my life at the highest price and I had to believe that He didn’t die in vain.

If I believed God’s Word, then I had to trust that my illness wasn’t a mistake and I wasn’t forgotten or forsaken. I had to trust that God had a purpose and plan for my life. So I grabbed hold of these three foundational truths:

  1. God is good.
  2. God is faithful.
  3. And He isn’t finished yet.

By standing on the rock of salvation, I was indwelled with the spiritual strength needed to keep fighting for my life even when sickness ravaged my body and caused me to physically waste away.

In 2015, I was 25 years old and 72 pounds when I was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Seeing lesions on my brain and hearing the letters “MS” was as reassuring as it was difficult. Reassuring because those scans confirmed that I wasn’t crazy – there truly was something wrong with my body. But difficult, too, because MS provided little hope, no cure and limited treatment options. The prognosis for MS is simply a steady, and possibly swift, decline.

My physical decline was swift. Thankfully, my hope didn’t follow such an ill-fated trajectory.

As the calendar turned to 2017, I watched the scale drop below 70 pounds. By that point my body was experiencing so many debilitating, life-altering symptoms it would take an entire notebook to catalogue them. My health was failing fast but, praise God, my faith was growing even faster.

As my body went plummeting towards death at a seemingly unstoppable clip, I was compelled to go on a hunt for further help. By the grace of God, I was led to a doctor who took a fresh look at my case and gave me life changing news. I wasn’t a multiple sclerosis case. I was a lymie and had been all along.

After receiving a Lyme diagnosis in 2017, I entered a disease killing battlefield prepared to endure an intense and lengthly fight for my life.

Defeating lyme proved to be much harder than five years of undiagnosed illness and two years of misdiagnosed illness – but much more rewarding, too. Organs that had been shut off for years were restored and turned back on. Chronic pains that had plagued me for almost an entire decade began reversed. It was like being reborn!

Although I had to fight hard for victory over my lyme foe, I’ve never fought alone. God, in His unfailing faithfulness, carried me and upheld me when I didn’t know if I could go one step further. The joy of Jesus renewed my strength when my faith was wearing thin. The hope of salvation restored my resolve when I felt like giving up.

Looking back on the past decade, I can hardly believe I survived it! There is no doubt in my mind that the overcoming strength, love and grace of God saved and sustained me so I could live to tell this rescue story. God charted this course specifically for me. He had a purpose for every pain and a plan for every setback. There wasn’t one single step wasted. God, in His unwavering goodness, produced fruit in every season and used every struggle to sanctify my faith, strengthen my hope and secure my footing on the rock of salvation.

As this decade comes to a close, I’m ready for whatever lies ahead in 2020 because I am still standing on these foundational truths:

God is good.

God is faithful.

And He isn’t finished yet.   

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Is it wrong for Christians to online date?

Is it wrong for Christians to online date?

This was the question I typed into the Google search bar under the cover of night, yielding 10.4 million results in 3.4 seconds. It was comforting to know that I’m not the only one wondering whether or not God approves of Christians looking for love online. Given the millions of blog posts and articles written on the topic, I assume that thousands (if not millions) of other single Christians are wrestling with the same question.

As I scrolled through the first page of search results, I found a plethora of posts from well-respected leaders in the Christian ministry world. Desiring God, Focus on the Family, Crosswalk and The Gospel Coalition – just to name a few. I picked a sampling of articles that piqued my interest and gave them a read.

To my surprise, most authors supported online dating and some even went so far as to strongly encourage it.  Although there were a few authors that took a more cautious approach, they were in the minority. The majority came to the conclusion that taking the spouse search online is a fabulous tool for Christians who want to expand their pool of potential mates, be candid about their faith and, most importantly, get a date.

After reading through three articles in their entirety, I called off my Google search and darkened the screen on my phone. The counsel of the Christian community left me feeling more confused than I had been before I sought out their opinion. As I laid in bed pondering the posts I’d just read, I couldn’t help but get my own recent online dating experience out of my head.

You see, just a short twenty-four hours prior to my Google search, I had ventured into the world of online dating – Christian Café to be exact. I made a username, answered the “get to know you” questions and chose a recent picture to accompany my profile. But about sixty seconds after clicking “confirm subscription” I had a sinking feeling in my gut. “This is not where you’re supposed to be. You’re not supposed to be seeking a spouse online.”

For weeks my fleshly desires had been engaged in a tug-of-war with Christ’s spirit within me and this was the battle’s climatic moment.

I had been telling myself that it’s totally natural to want a husband and perfectly acceptable to seek one out online. As long as I did the seeking with godly principles clearly stated in my profile, there was nothing wrong with venturing into the worldwide match making web. At least, that’s what I thought until I confirmed my account and became a fish in the online dating pool. At that moment my flesh took the decisive upper hand in the tug-of-war and my soul lost all peace.

In a state of inner turmoil, I swiftly navigated to Christian Café’s settings page where I found a button to disable my account. “Do you want to temporarily remove your profile or delete it forever?” the site asked. That choice was easy. Without hesitating, I double clicked and said goodbye to Christian Café forever.

It was the next night that I decided to click around on Google to explore what other Christians had to say about online dating.

I fully expected to find similar stories to mine about being unable to online date in peace and anticipated advice that would warn readers about the battle royal between flesh and Christ. But what I discovered was just the opposite. I couldn’t find one word of warning to Christians about the how online dating can pose a very real danger to the spiritual life by causing the dater to take their focus off of seeking Christ and put it on seeking a spouse instead.

The more I pondered the posts I’d just read, the more conflicted I became. “Why is the Christian world’s take on online dating so dramatically different than my own?” I wondered. I had gone searching for clarity and truth but the internet wasn’t delivering. So, I decided to do what I should have done in the first place. I turned to God and asked Him my question. “Is it wrong for Christians to online date?”

Without missing a beat, God laid one particular verse on my heart. 1 Corinthians 10:23:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.

“I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.

Although online dating isn’t in and of itself bad, it is not necessarily beneficial because of the inherent dangers that accompany it. And I’m not just referring to stranger danger. I’m talking about seeker danger.

What is seeker danger, you ask?

Seeker danger is the temptation to replace “seek ye first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) with “seek ye first a spouse of your own.” The risk of online dating is that the flesh will get the upper hand due to the simple fact that, as human beings, we’re prone to single mindedness. We can’t serve two masters – our flesh and God. We have to die to self and unconditionally surrender every earthly, fleshly desire at the foot of the cross so we can run our race singularly focused on Jesus Christ.

As single adults, we’d all like to think we can go seeking a spouse while remaining committed to seeking God. At least, I certainly thought I could. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I can’t seek out two men at once – my Lord and my husband – because God is a jealous God who wants the full attention of His beloved. He doesn’t want His children conflicted or distracted. He desires that in the hierarchy of needs, seeking Him always trumps seeking the desires of our heart.

Can God use online dating? Plenty of bloggers would say “absolutely yes.” But this online blogger is here to point out that, although online dating is permissible, it might not be beneficial to seeking God first.

My advice? Consult God about what He would have you do and who He would like you to spend your time and expend your energies seeking. If He answers you like He did me, He’ll simply say, “just seek me.”
 

 “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Matthew 6:33

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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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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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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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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