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Nothing But the Truth

It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a pen (or put my fingers on a computer’s keyboard) to write about life with a chronic illness. But my silence has not been on account of absence. My silence has been on account of fear.

Since moving to Nashville, I’ve shied away from typing about, talking about or testifying to the reality of my disease out of fear that it will define me and this new season of my life. The last thing I wanted when I made this move was to have sickness follow me. Illness had been my shadow for long enough and I wanted a fresh start with a new identity that didn’t include a devastating disease and debilitating ailments.

So, I tried to hide from the reality of my present suffering. I took the tree falling in a forest approach, reasoning that if I didn’t acknowledge my health struggles, maybe they would cease to exist. I did everything in my power to make myself and others believe that my sick days were dead and buried, going so far as to write my disease’s obituary and celebrated its defeat. In my desperation to turn the page and begin a new chapter, I disallowed myself from giving voice to persistent pain and lingering physical dysfunction that plague my daily life, arguing that no one needed to know about the storm brewing on the other side of my smile.

I thought that by rejecting my reality, I could reinvent my identity but, instead, I wound up removing myself from the peace and confidence of God. I began living in a state of denial which, as I came to learn, is like being buried alive. Denial is like trying to have a funeral for that which isn’t actually dead.

From inside my body’s lively grave, I’ve heard symptoms whispering in my ear with a troubling voice that can’t be ignored or outrun. “You’re living a lie,” the voice says, “you’re withholding the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about your life. You’re trying to write a new reality – one that God hasn’t given you yet.”  

By trying to keep my circumstances a secret, I slipped into the destructive territory known as “the double life.” Broken on the inside but “pretty much fixed” to the outside world; revealing my struggles only to those closest to me while telling the masses “I’m doing well.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in wearing a smile and having an upbeat attitude but those qualities aren’t meant to mask the truth under a cloak of denial. A smile and positive outlook can’t be the façade for trying circumstances. If that’s the foundation for a cheerful disposition, then it isn’t truly genuine. A sincerely joyful countenance isn’t just a face to hide hard circumstances; it is a spirit of faith in the midst of hard circumstances.  

But the negative implications of denial don’t end there. Living with denial is a double-sided coin with destructive ramifications on both heads and tails. If heads is the double-life disunity between the public and private persona, tails is the disconnection between God’s glory and our story.   

Throughout the many years when I wasn’t living in a state of denial, I watched God use painful ailments and disquieting symptoms to mend and shape my heart. Using disease as a sculpting tool, He carved out a purer, more complete faith in Jesus Christ. I wrote about that process regularly and rejoiced in it even when my body was falling apart.

But during the last year I decided that my time of being chiseled by disease was up. In my mind, I was past due for a new storyline and so I told God I wanted a new challenge. I no longer wanted to “bloom” in the garden of Lyme disease in which I was planted. I didn’t want to spend any more time on the potter’s wheel of pain and physical suffering. So, I determined to bury my old trials – even if it meant I was burying them alive. Little did I know I was burying the peace of Christ and joy of His Spirit along with it.

This decision, even if subconscious, was an act of rebellion. By refusing to live in my God-given reality, I cut myself off from letting God’s glory shine through my story. Pretending that my circumstance didn’t exist was essentially like telling my Maker and Savior that His way wasn’t right, good and perfect. While trying to bury that which God hadn’t put in the grave just yet, I became enslaved to my secret instead of empowered to honor Jesus with the truth.
 
The depression of living a double, disconnected life has taught me that it is simply impossible to deny my circumstances and, at the same time, give glory to the Author of them. I cannot bloom when I reject where I’m planted. I cannot live in a state of denial and expect to escape spiritual, emotional or physical defeat. In order for there to be harmony in my heart, fruit in my spirit and healing in my body, I must joyfully accept where God has me and embrace my weakness so that it can become a looking glass for others to see the overcoming strength of Jesus.

This is why I have decided to return to the grave of my disease and dig it back up again. I’m taking a shovel to the ground of my sickness and asking God to revive my spirit as I face the reality of where I am in His perfectly timed healing process. I’m uncovering my Lyme without fear of being defined by it, knowing that my identity is not determined by my physical condition. Because I am a daughter of the most-High King, who I am is rooted in the spirit of the Risen Christ who conquered the grave and defeated death so that I can victoriously rejoice in the midst of suffering, not just praise His holy name in the absence of it.

Even if I go to my grave with disease still coursing through my veins, I will praise God by rejoicing in the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because this is God’s story and it is all for His glory.

But I’m in the very presence of God
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

– Psalm 73:28 [The MSG]

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Thank God for Unanswered Prayer

January 2020 is an important month in my personal history because this month marks ten years since I caught the first glimpse of my chronic illness giant.

At first the glimpse was just that – only a glimpse. In the beginning of this journey, all I could see was a dramatic thirty-pound plunge on the scale. I had no idea of the magnitude of the illness brewing underneath or the physical dysfunction, severe wasting and debilitating pain to come. Looking back now, I’m grateful that God didn’t show me the whole scope of my sickness saga. Had I known how long and how hard this road was destined to be I might have given up. Thankfully, God gave me just enough visibility and strength to take it one day and one victory at a time.

As I look back over these past ten years, limited foresight isn’t the only reason I’m thankful. I’m also thankful for unanswered prayer.

Over the course of the past decade I prayed one particular prayer so many times only Heaven could keep count. Although the phrasing of the prayer varies each time, it always goes a little something like this:

“Father God, how long will I have to face this same Goliath? Haven’t I been standing on this chronic illness battlefield long enough? Now God, just to be clear, I’m not asking you to make me immune to suffering and trouble. As a follower of Jesus, I know that’s part of the deal. But could I trade in this sickness trouble for a different model? Maybe relationship woes or a career so I could experience some really bothersome problems at work? Anything Lord! I’m begging you, please give me a different giant to face!”

But not once in ten years did God ever give me what I asked for. God never let me treat my Goliath like a leased car and trade it in for another model. God refused to let me pick my own giant and, although I wasn’t glad at the time, now I am. Had I been up against a different foe, I would have missed out on the shaping and molding God had in mind. If I would have faced a different Goliath, I wouldn’t be the Stephanie I am today.

By being stripped away physically, emotionally and spiritually, I was given a front row seat to a show featuring God’s saving and sustaining power. At sixty-five pounds I watched God carry my body against all odds. When my heart began to travel off rhythm, I experienced the peace and comfort of His steadying as He upheld and reassured my anxious soul. In my very body, He performed victory after victory and blessed me with the miracle of experiencing it all firsthand.

While I was praying for a different Goliath, God knew a new giant wasn’t what I truly needed. Intensive training to become a fierce and fearless warrior in His army was and is what I needed. Complete dependence on the resurrection power of Jesus was and is what I needed. Unwavering faith in the perfect will and unchanging goodness of God was and is what I needed.

I am so thankful that God refused to give me what I asked for. Like a good Father, He said “no” to what I thought was good so He could give me what He knew was best.  

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” 

Hebrews 4:16

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A Decade in Review

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

  1. Sickness

  2. Singleness

  3. Salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is good.

God is faithful.

And He isn’t finished yet.   

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Memories that matter: a cradle and a cross

They say a picture says a thousand words but, to me, this picture said at least fifteen-thousand.

It was our family vacation photo taken on the last day of our 2011 trip to Hilton head. There were fifteen of us in attendance – two brothers, two sister-in-laws, two parents and eight nieces and nephews. We had just finished enjoying a perfect week on the beach and, if I recall correctly, there had barely been a single argument or squabble among the whole group. It truly was a picture perfect trip.

In the picture, we were all sporting our very best tans and smiling with sun kissed glows. This particular shot has always been one of my very favorite family photos because every one of us looks happy, healthy and full of life.

But I wonder if we would have been smiling that big had we known what was to come over the next nine years?

Heaven knows, I didn’t have a clue!

What that picture was taken, I was feeling so good! I had just recently climbed out of my first go around with illness and, although I didn’t understand why I’d suddenly become sick in the first place, I didn’t care. All that mattered to me was that whatever had plagued me appeared to be history. I considered it a miracle and gift from God. I was thrilled to be well again and able to plan for the future without factoring in physical limitations. My body was strong, pain free and vibrant and I was loving every minute of it!

But my health didn’t stick around.

Before long, the plans I made (some on that very family trip), including a return to college and future as a fitness professional, went up in smoke. By November 2011, my weight was falling off again and every pound I gained (and then some) was gone. By Thanksgiving, every bit of muscle I worked so hard to restore had wasted away entirely.

On our family’s 2011 summer vacation to the beach I had no idea that, by the following June, I would be living in  Florida to be near a particular doctor I believed could solve my health mystery. I couldn’t even begin to imagine that over the next four years I would go across the country in search of someone who could explain what was wrong with my failing body. During that perfect summer, I didn’t think that in 2015, at the age of twenty-five, I would receive MRI test results revealing lesions on my brain. Nor did I have a clue that, two years after those brain scans, my life would be changed again by the word “Lyme.” To think, in 2011, I didn’t even know what the world Lyme meant!

Now, as I look back at that 2011 family photo and recall my former, long haired, optimistic, smiley self, all I can think about is how naive I was. There was so much I didn’t know and so much I wasn’t prepared for. Back then, I thought my life was on the verge of taking off, when in reality, it was actually on the precipice of falling apart.

As 2019 comes to a close and I stare at that beloved picture with 20/20 hindsight vision, I’ve asked myself this question: “If you could go back in time, would you want to know that life was going to get this hard?” 

The answer is an emphatic, “no.”

Even if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have wanted to know that a my life’s path was going to be this challenging to traverse. I wouldn’t have wanted to know that I was going to spent years fighting for my life and endure such excruciating pain that I thought I might die. Knowing how long and how trying this road was bound to be would have only proven to discourage me and, had I known what it looked like before I embarked on it, I fear I would have succumb to hopelessness and possibly even given up.

But, praise God, back in the summer of 2011, He made sure I walked into the future entirely unaware of what lay ahead. He blessed me three months of amazing health and picture perfect opportunities to enjoy it! During those months of ignorance, I lived in bliss and excitement about the future. I dreamed. I hoped. I lived life to the fullest and made exciting plans that included honoring and serving God with my restored body and soul.

Just because my illness returned after that summer, should I now look back on those memories with sadness and longing?

Since I have, once again, relapsed into sickness, wouldn’t it be understandable for me to moan, groan and complain to God?

Don’t I have grounds to say, “God, this isn’t fair! I wanted to pour out my life for you and you let me become sick, keeping me from the life of fruitful service I wanted!”

The answer, again, is “no” to all of the above.

No matter how hard these years have been, I have no grounds for grumbling to God. Like Job told his friends and wife after having every earthly treasure snatched away from him, he would not denounce God. The Lord had given and the Lord could take away. That was Job’s stance and it’s mine, too.

But, I must admit, sometimes I fall prey to lamenting. When I look at what I lack and what I’ve lost, it is tempting to slip into a state of utter hopelessness and defeat – especially during this Christmas time of year when, all around me, are messages about merriment and holly and jolly happiness.

But God never leaves me down in that dark and dreary pit. As long as I keep calling out to Him for help, just like Job did, and keep trusting Him, just like Job did, He keeps showing up to pull me out of the emotional and spiritual depths of doom and death. He reclaims my Christmas spirit and restores my hope and joy by calling back to remembrance two scenes: one of a cradle and another of a cross. These are the two memories that matter most. 

As soon as I return to the heart of the gospel and the reason for not only this Christmas season but the reason for my very life, what did and didn’t happen in the past nine years fails to matter. With my eyes and heart fixed solely on Jesus, I remember that the only moment in time that has any power over my joy and peace is the moment that the long awaited Messiah entered the world on a mission to save me and all of mankind from sin and hell. The only event that can impact the state of my hope its the event of the perfect Lamb of God’s sacrificial death on the cross and victorious resurrection from the grave.

The last nine years have been unexpected and, of course, the next nine are too. But I’m not afraid of the unknown because I have the confidence of knowing what and Who awaits me after my time on earth is through. Because I have been born again into the Kingdom of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, I can step into the future knowing that, one day, I will walk through Heaven’s gates and onto streets of gold where I will live perfectly healthy and completely whole in the company of my Father God.

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Perspective: how we see what we see

 “The difference between a flower and a weed is a judgement.”

Tonight, I found this quote on my herbal tea bag and was struck by how profound it is – especially that last word, “judgement.”

Judgement means you have to make a decision on something in particular. You have to come to a conclusion. But how do we do that? How do we make judgements? And what do we rely on to inform our judgements?

This is where one of my favorite words comes into play: perspective.

Perspective is about our attitude towards something. It is our point of view and it plays a critical role in how we make decisions, form opinions and come to conclusions.

In other words, we judge according to our perspective. We judge what we see by how we see it.

In recent days, perspective has been on my mind, especially in relation to my latest health setback.

When I first started experiencing the return of old symptoms, I’ll fully admit that my perspective was terrible. I viewed the illness relapse as a life disruption sent to ruin my plans and delay my future. Therefore, I judged it as a curse, causing me to become bitter, angry and full of self-pity.

But God, who is full of second chances, was gracious and merciful.

God came into my circumstances and redeemed them by opening my eyes so I could view my illness from His perspective. Suddenly, I was able to see that this setback is actually a gift. Because I have relapsed, I have a golden opportunity to extract more goodness out of this illness than ever before!

By viewing my circumstances with God’s perspective that sees through a perfect lens of hope and joy, my relapse judgement has been turned completely upside down. I no longer judge this setback as a curse but, instead, deem it as an incredible blessing. Now I understand that God is not allowing my illness to return because He wants to disrupt my life. He’s allowing it to return because He has a divine purpose for it in His glorious grand plan.

To borrow from the unknown author on my tea bag, I used to judge my illness as a weed but now I see it as a flower.  

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God is Faithful

Two years ago, by this time in the evening (9:15 PM), I would have been asleep – or close to it.

Two years ago, I used to retreat to my room around 7:30 or 8:00, although my contacts left my eyes and PJS went on my body hours earlier. Each night, not long after dinner, energy would leave my body and force me to my bed. It was discouraging. I was a twenty-seven year old with an eights seven year old’s bedtime. I was frail, weak and constantly spent.

But tonight, I’m awake.

At 9:30 PM on a Monday night, this twenty-nine year old’s body has energy and strength. Even though my body is, once again, relapsing into disease, I still have so much to be thankful for. I am so far ahead of where I was two years ago. True, I’ve lost ground but I’m not at rock bottom – not even close! I’m down but I am so far from out.

By the grace of God, I am a resilient survivor who has been through the fire and lived to tell the tale. Death no longer has a sting. Disease no longer has a fear factor because I’ve already been in bed at 8:00 PM, wondering where my story would end and how much more time I had on this earth. But I don’t ask those questions anymore. I don’t wonder where this story ends or even what comes next because all I need to know is what I learned two years ago: that God is in control and He is taking care of me.

Even when the circumstances look gloomy and full of doom, I know that God can turn what appears bad into something wonderfully good. God can transform defeat into victory and, out of weakness, bring strength. I know this to be true because God has done it for me in both body and soul. I was once dying but now I am living. I once was withering on the vine but now I am thriving and sprouting new buds every day.

Praise God, He is faithful. I will write it again: God is faithful!

God is faithful to restore. Faithful to forgive. Faithful to sustain. Faithful to save.

I am alive today because God is faithful every day.

So, I will not fear this relapse or what tomorrow might bring because I know where I’ve been and Who was faithful every step of the way. The Lord my God who was, is and always will be perfectly faithful now and forevermore.

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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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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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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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How to End a Pity Party

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

But that’s not what was happening to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so I did.

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

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

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