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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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The Hope of Heaven

Her body was shockingly skeletal and small. Her skin was pasty white and paper thin. As I stood in the doorway of her hospital room and saw her lying in the bed, completely still, I wondered if I’d come too late. Was she already gone?

I walked across the room to look for signs of life and found one in the shallow rise and fall of her chest. I let out a sigh of relief and then took a seat in the chair next to her bed. “Hi Lucy,” I said. “It’s Stephanie and I’ve come to read to you.” I knew she couldn’t respond, and I didn’t expect her to, but I was sure her heart would hear the word of God.

So, I opened up the scriptures and turned to my favorite Psalm – Psalm 23. I read through it slowly, adding special inflection to each line. I read the beautiful words as if they were golden honey flowing sweetly from a hive.

For the first five verses of Psalm 23 Lucy didn’t make a move. Her eyes were closed and breathing was barely visible. But once I reached the last verse of the passage and read “I will dwell in the house of the Lord,” something miraculous happened. Lucy’s leg leapt for joy.

My eyes must have turned into the size of saucers at the sight of Lucy’s physical response to the promise of Heaven. In her leg’s movement I could see her heart’s exuberance. Even though she lay trapped in a failing body, nearing the end of her earthly life, Lucy’s spirit was strong and her hope in heaven was healthy and well.

For the next thirty minutes as I read through many more scriptures, one word continued to strike a chord with Lucy: eternity. Each time I shared a passage about heaven and the mansion being prepared for her in that splendid place, Lucy’s legs moved in celebration at the new life to come. Over and over I watched as the joy of the Lord became her strength.

The great promise that we, as born-again believers have, is eternity. In this life we endure hardship, pain and suffering, but, through it all, we look ahead to the everlasting life to come.

With our faith securely established in the resurrection of Jesus, we can rest assured that no matter what becomes of our earthly tent, our true home in glory awaits us.

Although this world and every body will pass away, Heaven, where we are headed, will endure forever.

Within days, doctors expect Lucy to be gone from this world, but when her body passes away her soul will enter through Heaven’s pearly gates, more alive than it has ever been before.

So, before I left her hospital room, I told Lucy that I look forward to worshipping with her in glory because I know someday we’ll both be there, leaping for joy, praising Jesus forevermore.

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A Fertile Future

“If you can’t have kids, I’m not sure I want to marry you.”

His words cut like a knife. This was my fiancé, the man I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with, questioning whether or not he could spend the rest of his life with only me, not me plus kids.

Our engagement had already been on the rocks (illness has a way of putting relationships there) but this statement was the final nail in the coffin of till death do us part. Without missing a beat or shedding a tear (in front of him, at least), I flatly stated that I couldn’t guarantee I’d ever be able to bear children and couldn’t marry someone who required me to promise that as part of our wedding vows.

A year earlier, at the age of twenty, sickness had forced my body to trade in its menstrual cycle for early menopause. I was a hot mess – literally – thanks to the added (and unwanted) bonus of hot flashes. Within a few months, the fate of my fertility (barring a miracle of God) was sealed.

Since I couldn’t guarantee future infertility reversal and my fiancé couldn’t unequivocally commit without such an assurance, I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I called off the engagement and cancelled all plans for our future together.

Sometimes, when I stop to consider that someone stopped loving me because of what I couldn’t physically give, it still hurts. He was supposed to be my forever friend and closest companion, but I wasn’t enough and what I could provide wasn’t enough.

Knowing that I am unable to carry a child has impacted my self-esteem, confidence and self-worth. “What man will ever want me if I can’t give him a child?” has been one of my most frequently asked inner questions. For answers and reassurance that my future is fertile (whether my cycle ever returns or not), I go to God’s word. On the pages of the Bible I discover who’s I am and that who I am is enough. God’s holy inspired love letter tells me that Jesus loves me just as I am. His affection and devotion is not dependent on what I am capable of giving because He does not derive His value from child-bearing parenthood potential. He derives value simply from personhood.

When I sink back into despair and my hope wears thin, it is the truth of who I am in Christ that restores my faith and joy again. I remember Psalm 37:4 that says those who “delight themselves in the Lord will receive the desires of their heart.” From that scripture I am assured that God is not only the fulfiller of my desires, He’s the knower of them, too. God sees what is in my heart. He knows the emptiness that comes from infertility and how I long to have Him fill it.

Over the past ten years spent in infertility God has used the time to bring me back to His all-sufficient, abundant love. In the presence of Jesus’ precious Spirit, I’ve learned that the most satisfying love does not come from a husband or developing baby. It comes from on High and dwells within.

The hope I have for future love and companionship is held in the hands of my unfailing Heavenly Father. Because Jesus loves me just as I am, I believe that, one day, I will be loved again – and not for what my body can give or do but simply for who I am in Christ.

To my infertile friends, remember that your capacity to love and be loved is not determined by your ability to procreate. You are worthy of love because God you created you in His image and sent His Son to rescue you with eternal life.
If you ever doubt that God has a fertile plan for your life, return to the pages of scripture. Read versus such as Psalm 37:4, Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 40:5 and Isaiah 25:1. As you meditate on God’s truth your faith will be strengthened and hope renewed by the reassurance that God is good and faithful and He isn’t finished with you yet.

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Spring will Spring Again

 I’m mad at winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 119:140-141

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Hoarding: Buried Alive in Hope

The amount of clothing I own is nothing short of astonishing. The number of plastic containers in my possession containing said clothing is ludicrous.

The hoarding problem busting at the seams of my closet has been slowly developing for the past eight years. It all started with my first unintentional, dramatic weight loss. Within three months I was down thirty pounds and my pants would no longer stay up. I updated my wardrobe with smaller clothing and packed away the larger sizes trusting that they would be worn again when weight returned.

As the years have ticked by more weight has been lost and more clothing has been acquired. With each drop of pounds, bags of new clothes have appeared and more empty boxes have been filled. Now I have half a dozen containers full of clothes in pristine condition that are simply too big for me to wear yet I can’t bring myself to part with them because I still believe that one day I will have the weight I need to wear them.

Although I have lost weight I have not lost hope that God will heal me yet. My confidence in His restorative power is why I have been hoarding my old clothes for all of these years. Belief in restoration is why I haven’t parted with the sizes I can’t wear.

In my closet full of oversized clothing is a testimony to the big, confident hope I have that God restoring me completely – body, mind and soul. In my closet I am still holding onto the trust and believe that God is at work healing me. Even now the Great Physician is making me whole.

Dear friend, of this I am sure, God is the Almighty rebuilder and restorer who performs His most miraculous healing on the inside, in the broken and ailing human heart. With each internal restoration the Spirit of Christ reassures me that the Healer is most certainly at work and He isn’t finished yet.

 

“Your hands made me and fashioned me;
Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.

May those who fear You see me and be glad,
Because I wait for Your word.”

Psalm 119:73-74