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Missing Person

Nieko Lisi went missing on September 30, 2011.

He was eighteen years old when he told his parents that he and a friend were going to take a drive to nearby Buffalo, NY. But instead of going to Buffalo, Nieko drove his friend to Michigan and then went on alone to Tennessee where his truck was found stripped and abandoned five years later.

Although Nieko went missing almost a decade ago, his family has never stopped looking for him. To this day in April 2020, his mother continues to search for her son and for answers to his disappearance. She persistently presses police, urging them to keep his case open while doggedly keeping Nieko’s missing face on the minds of Tennessee residents by posting billboards near the location where his truck was found.

Yet, despite years of digging, excavating, scouring and investigating, no one knows where Nieko is. Not one tip has led to a single arrest. Not one piece of evidence has assisted the police in putting together the puzzle of his disappearance.

I’ve seen Nieko’s billboard dozens of times, studied his face and read those big red words “MISSING PERSON.” And every time I do I can’t help but think about the pain his mother must experience not knowing what happened to her child. The mental and emotional torment is more than I can begin to comprehend. How does she sleep at night? How does she smile during the day? How does she keep hope alive that her missing son will one day be found?

As I drove past Nieko’s billboard this afternoon, just like I have so many times before, the sight was transformed in my mind’s eye. Suddenly, instead of just one billboard, I saw hundreds of thousands of billboards, each one pleading for the safe return of a missing child of God.

It was a spiritual vision unlike any I’d ever witnessed. Across the landscape I saw the pictures of my wayward friends, relatives and acquaintances who are missing from God’s family fold. They wore smiles on their faces but, inside, my heart was breaking knowing that these lost souls are in grave danger and don’t even know it. They are in desperate need of being found yet so many of them don’t even realize they’ve gone missing.

On the billboards that God revealed to my heart, I saw the depths of our Heavenly Father’s all-pursuing love. Even when the child has been missing for decades without a trace, God never loses hope that one day His beloved son or daughter will hear His call, see His signs and come home. No matter how old His child is or how stubborn they are, God never stops searching for them. He refuses to give up on His kids. Whether the child is eighteen or eighty one, God relentlessly pursues the heart and soul of each and every one of His missing children.

Beloved, remember that God sees your wayward loved ones and knows them each by name. He has watched them take their every step and can pinpoint exactly where they are hiding at this very moment.

Although your missing person is spiritually lost right now, they are not a lost cause. God has not given up on them and so we must not give up on them either. Keep praying and keep believing that by the amazing grace and all-sufficient love of God your missing person will one day be found.

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices more over that one sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”

Matthew 18:12-14

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God Wins

In our culture of ever-changing buzz words, “new normal” has become the latest to take center stage. It comes on the heels of “social distance,” “flatten the curve” and “stay safe.” I’ll admit, I wasn’t particularly fond of any of these phrases but the “new normal” tops my list of worst word offenders and I’d like to tell you why.

Let’s start by talking about “new”. When something new comes along there is a change from the old and change isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, change can be good. When there is a change from a wrong way of living to a right way of living, change is indeed very good. When we read in the Bible that God is doing a “new thing” and that Jesus gives us “new life” we can see that the change being made is going to introduce something altogether glorious.

But the “new” we hear discussed on the news and by politicians is cut from a different cloth. While our nation’s leaders are discussing a “new normal,” they are releasing hardened criminals from jail while, at the very same time, jailing peaceful prayer warriors. As a “new normal” is being bandied about, churches are forced to shut down while the government protects abortion facilities so they can remain open for business. Further down the line, we are being told that the changes to our way of life will include injecting humans with man-made chemicals and even branding them for a future that includes “cryptocurrency.” This sounds like a Matrix movie but, tragically, this is real life.

You don’t need a PhD to realize that this “new normal” has nothing to do with God’s hope and a future. It has nothing to do with revival, restoration and rebirth. Clearly, this “new normal” that our worldly leaders are attempting to implement is not on God’s terms. It’s on the enemy’s terms.

In opposition to God’s glorious “new normal” is an enemy named satan who wants to destroy it. Satan has His own evil definition of “new” and there is nothing life-giving about it. Let’s take a look at a few of the characteristics of this hell-bound “new normal”:

  • Normalizing sin.
  • Replacing government with God.
  • Living in Fear.
  • Living in isolation.
  • Living enslaved to corrupt earthly leaders.
  • Being restricted from fellowship, public worship and congregational meeting in churches.
  • Empowering death and trampling life.

We know what satan’s mission is: kill, steal and destroy. He salivates at the thought of crushing the church. A “new” landscape without a steeple or a cross is his dream. He loves the thought of silencing God’s people and, in our free nation, implementing a “new” normal that includes the persecution of Christians. For ages, he has been working behind the scenes to end public prayer and ramp up the promotion of murder, crime and violent chaos.

Does this sound like a the “new normal” you want for your future?  

Although the enemy has captured control of the airwaves and certainly has some very influential worldly leaders in his grips, we know how this story ends. The enemy’s “new normal” will not win. Even now, he is acting on borrowed time. Even though he appears to be advancing, his evil plot is doomed to fail because Jesus has already staked claim to the victory.  

Now, I know you might be wondering why, if God has already won, we are seeing such a proliferation of evil and strong advance of the enemy? I asked this same question and took it to before God in hopes of an answer. To my great delight, He replied with these words: “Because dawn is coming – and it is always darkest right before dawn.”

What we are watching unfold before our very eyes is a spiritual war for the very heart of our nation and world. There is a great awakening under way and the enemy has employed every demonic force and weapon of evil in his arsenal to fight back because that’s how threatened he is. The evil actors are getting louder and more hostile in response to the seeds of redemption that are being harvested all around the world. But, try as they might, satan and his evil one’s can’t stop the new life revival God has started.

While speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) Those words are as true and applicable to you and I today as they were the day Jesus first spoke them. It’s true that the enemy is a fierce and persistent fighter but, rest assured, he will not have the final say. Because Jesus live, we know God wins. 

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While it was still dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so for you and me.

 

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

John 20:1

 

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A Word from the Lord

The following is a word from the Lord I received on April 9. Although spoken directly to me, I believe it is not for me alone. I believe I am meant to share it with others who are in a season of concern, anxiety and worry so that they can be comforted and encouraged by truth. If you are feeling burdened and weighed down, I pray that this word speaks to your heart and renews you with hope and peace. 

Dear child,

Long before you had this problem, I had your solution. You didn’t even know you were going to be in this dilemma. But I knew and that’s why I prepared for your deliverance. This situation is not catching me by surprise. I saw this coming from light years away.

I know this case looks hopeless to you now but, rest assured, no one’s is. Remember, I brought new life out of a sealed grave. Trust me, child, there is nothing I cannot do. There is no problem I cannot solve; no brokenness I cannot fix; no hurt I cannot heal; no soul I cannot resurrect.

I am not asking you to devise the right strategy or develop the perfect plan. That’s my job, not yours. I’m the only one who knew you were going to be in this mess and I’m the only one who can get you out. Which is why all I’m asking you to do is trust me. Lean not on your own understanding and trust me. Depend not on your own ideas and trust me. Look not to your own intelligence and trust me.

I will show you the right steps to take – and not a moment too late. I will make the directions clear – and all you have to do is pay attention. Keep your ears attune to my voice and your eyes fixed on my Son’s empty grave. As long as you’re focused on me, you can’t go wrong.

I promised you life and I am always true to my word. You can depend on me to make your path straight through this storm because that’s who I am and what I do. I am the way maker, the miracle worker and the promise keeper. I am the light that will never leave you in the dark.

Do you trust me? Will you bank entirely on me? Give me your word – you know you already have mine – and I promise you, child, I won’t let you down.

Love,

God

 

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.…”

Proverbs 3:5-6

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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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Memories that matter: a cradle and a cross

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

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

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

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

Heaven knows, I didn’t have a clue!

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

But my health didn’t stick around.

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

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

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

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

The answer is an emphatic, “no.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Holiday Survival Tips for Singles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.