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IF: A holy invitation

“If” is one little word with huge implications. Especially when Jesus says it.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)  

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)

When Jesus uses the word “if,” He issues an invitation that doesn’t sound like an offer to attend a rocking party. “Die to self and get ready to pick up a cross,” He says. “Don’t forget to bring your patience and persistence because you’re going to be experiencing more suffering, hardship and persecution than you can imagine!” Thanks Jesus, but I think I’ll stay home and watch HGTV.

Just ask Paul, the New Testament disciple who was imprisoned for his faith. Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. It requires continual unconditional surrender and the relinquishing of all control. Giving up your right to yourself is in no way natural. It takes the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit to make it possible. But it is possible and that’s the good news of the Gospel!

Jesus makes sold-out, devoted followership not only possible, but positively wonderful!

When we release our expectations and crucify our fleshly desires, we are freed up to receive the riches of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling that overcomes every trouble in the world. When we embrace, not escape, the cross of Jesus we find ourselves in the perfect position to encounter the fullness of His resurrection power.

Although those who RSVP “yes” to Jesus’ “if” invitation might not experience what the world deems a party-hat kind of life, we must remember that we are not living for its temporary treasures. We, as Christ’s faithful followers, are actually citizens of heaven just passing through this earthly life. Our hope is in God’s heavenly Kingdom and our eyes are set on His eternal crown.

But even before we get to our permanent home, this life need not be a party gone wrong.

Even in the midst of trial and tribulation, this life can and should be a celebration of all that is good, holy and righteous about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. When our hearts and minds are set on serving God, we can rejoice in every circumstance, knowing that God has plans to use it to magnify His unmatched greatness.

Have you heard Jesus speak “if” into your life and have you responded yet? If you haven’t heard Him, I encourage you to open up His word and read the red letters. They are a personal invitation written just for you, welcoming you to leave your worldly life behind and experience a new life.

If you’ve already heard the “if” and have yet to respond, I urge you not to hesitate one moment longer. Remember what Jesus said: “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:9)

Confidently leave the old life behind knowing that what lies ahead is infinitely better!

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By Faith

She did it! My little puppy, Faith, finally did it! After months of coaxing and coaching, at last, Faith conquered her fear of cement steps and ascended all three flights of apartment complex stairs!

As I watched Faith bound up those steps for the very first time my heart welled up with parental pride. I felt the joy of victory as my pup, who used to be petrified by the very sight of those steps, leapt up each one with ease. In the blink of an eye, Faith became a stair climbing pro. She even made it to the top before I did. Once safely on the third-floor landing, she turned around and smiled at me as if to say, “look what I did mom! I’m a big pup now!” 

I celebrated Faith’s milestone with many “good dog” affirmations, petting and, of course, a treat. But while I was praising her, my mind began to wander and wonder, “If watching your fur baby conquer steps is this exciting, how amazing must it be to watch your own flesh and blood baby take his or her first steps?” A second after that thought crossed my mind, grief slammed into me like a tsunami as I heard myself utter the words, “you might never get to find out.”

This month (January 2020) marks ten years since my menstrual cycle abruptly left my body, taking my ability to carry a child with it.

While working through the loss of my fertility I’ve experienced every stage of grief multiple times and cried a river’s worth of tears. After a decade of mourning and processing, I really thought I had come to a place of peace and acceptance. But, as I watched Faith conquer her fear of the stairs, my own old infertility fears and sadness came back with vengeance. 

Sadness came first.

I know that being a Mom isn’t all rainbows, butterflies and roses. Parenting (and pregnancy) has plenty of thrones. But with immense challenges come immense blessings, such as experiencing, firsthand, the miracle of new life. To give birth to a child is a wonderful gift and one that, growing up, I always assumed I would receive someday. Up until ten years ago, it never occurred to me that I would be unable to conceive and carry a child. I never imagined I wouldn’t give birth to a baby. To me, that was a given.

But I’ve had to learn the hard way that nothing in life is a guarantee. Not health. Not fertility. Not marriage. Not motherhood.

With the loss of my fertility I’ve had to grieve the fact that I might never hold my own baby in my arms. I might never see my own baby on a sonogram image or prepare to welcome a new life into the world. I might never get to capture a first smile, first word or first step. I might never get to rejoice in those little, monumental victorious and it’s the reality of all those nevers that has caused me incredible sadness.

But it’s not just sadness that plagues me. It’s fear, too.

As a single, infertile woman, my inability to carry a child has caused me to wonder (and worry) what man will ever want to marry me. It seems to me that most men (especially Christian men) want kids and a family. Given that I can’t provide in that way (barring a miracle of God), I fear that no man will ever want to make me his wife, making me not only indefinitely infertilite but indefinitely single, too.

In the days that have passed since Faith made her stair climbing conquest, I’ve done a lot of praying and asking God to help me overcome my infertility fears and sadness.

Ohm how I wish I could say that God answered my pleas with a clear word like He gave to Abraham and Sarah. My hope was to hear His booming voice from heaven say, “you will one day give birth to a child and call him John” – or some great prophesy along those lines.

But, the truth is, this story doesn’t go that way. Instead of a voice, I heard nothing. Absolute silence. God was as quiet as a church mouse. But, even in the silence, I still trusted that He had a word of comfort to share with me so I sought Him by opening, reading and soaking in His Word. Then I waited.

It took a few days of intentional stillness and silence but, finally, I heard the voice of God whispering two little words that changed everything: “By faith.”

Those two words led me back to Hebrews chapter eleven where Paul catalogues the “hall of faith.” The list includes Noah who, “by faith,” built an ark even though there hadn’t been a drop of rain in ages. Abraham who, “by faith,” left his homeland and journeyed into an unknown future. And, of course, Sarah, who, “by faith” believed in the faithfulness of God even when she was old and barren.

Although the details differ, two common themes run through every name Paul listed in Hebrews chapter eleven: extreme difficulty and incredible faith. The men and women who are commended by Paul are men and women who walked by faith and not by sight. They journeyed through this earthly life with their eyes fixed on heaven, knowing that, no matter what fate awaited them in this world, God was preparing a holy city for them in glory.

Because every person listed in Hebrews eleven was “confident in what they hoped for and assured about what they did not yet see,” God was supremely glorified in their life story. They relied on the Lord to be their strength and, in doing so, their lives testified to the resurrection power of Christ. By faithfully surrendering to God, their histories became a beautiful part of His grand story of salvation, redemption and restoration.

And the same is true for me.

As I walk “by faith” through infertility and singleness, God will use those struggles to magnify Jesus and tell His story. “By faith,” He will transform my life into a testimony of His great majesty and grace.

And the same is true for you.

Whatever fear or sadness you are facing today, God knows your deepest pain, understands your heart and wants to guide you down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He is not asking you to look at tomorrow or worry about what the future will or will not hold. All He asks is that you walk, live and trust Him “by faith,” not sight. His one and only request is that you surrender unconditionally at the foot of Christ’s cross and seek the Lord with your whole heart, mind and soul.

Dear friend, I pray that on this very night you will give God your sadness and release every fear into the hands of Jesus. He can and will heal your brokenness and fill you with the joy of new life as you walk with Him “by faith.” 

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Live for an Audience of One

As I stood at my favorite coffee shop’s cash register, ordering my regular small coffee (no room for cream), the barista looked up from the carafe and asked me a question that immediately made my heart stop and palms sweat. “So what is it that you do while your sitting there, typing on your computer?”

It’s a question I’ve been asked at least a hundred times and one I’m never quite sure how to answer. On one hand, I want to declare that I’m a self-proclaimed writer, but, on the other hand, I’m embarrassed to address the follow-up questions that so often come next, such as “are you published?”

When I am forced to acknowledge that I’m a writer without a single word in print, it makes me question the thousands of hours I’ve poured my heart out and onto a page. I have spent nearly ten years posting, “doodling” (what I call journaling), and asking Jesus to take the pen and yet I have so little to show for it by earthly measures. To date, I have a measly fifty-nine IG followers, five email subscribers and seventy-six likes on FB. In society’s terms of success, that translates into “failure.”

In the split second that passed between receiving the barista’s question and responding, a battle royal between confidence and doubt waged within my mind. It was like having a little red-horned devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.

From the devil’s side came taunting, insults and heckling…. “You’re such a loser. Don’t you see that you’re wasting your time writing your little Jesus life lesson stories? No one even reads them because they’re not any good. You’re not any good!”

But, on the other shoulder, was the voice of a reassuring, uplifting angel… “Just one is enough. Just reaching one weary soul is enough. Just encouraging one heavy heart is enough. Just cheering one downcast friend is enough. Just brightening one stranger’s day is enough. Just writing for an audience of your One and only Savior is enough.”

The enemy tried hard to crush my spirit and rob me of the opportunity to tell the barista that I write for Jesus but, praise Jesus, he didn’t have the final say because, louder than his lies was God’s voice of truth. With a decisive, “not today satan”, I snubbed the devil on my shoulder, opened up my mouth and, with bold conviction, proclaimed to the barista, “I’m a writer!” Then, to my pleasure, she asked what I write about, to which I was able to respond, “devotionals for Jesus.”

As I sat down with my coffee and opened up my computer like I have nearly every day for the past decade, I said a silent, “thank you” to God for the opportunity to hear and respond to His voice.

I also thanked Him for reminding me of what Paul wrote to the Colossians. “Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ.” (3:23) Although the Colossians weren’t faced with the challenges of social media, that doesn’t mean they were immune to the enemy’s taunting. Just like you and I experience today, the Colossians were tempted to measure success in worldly terms. In his letter, Paul reminded them, and us, that we are citizens of Heaven and, therefore, we are to live for the King of Heaven. Honoring God, not gaining worldly honor or likes, is what gives life real purpose, enduring meaning and eternal value. Faithfully obeying and following Jesus in any and all situations, whether big or small, is how we are to truly glorify God.

When the curtain falls on this earthly life, all social media accounts, book deals, and awards will mean nothing. They will not accompany us past this grave. But what we will take with us is the heart we surrendered to God and the life we dedicated to an audience of One.

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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.

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Every Thought Captive

Hello, my name is Stephanie and I have a tendency to feel sorry for myself.

It’s not something that I talk about very often, at least not out loud (or at all online), but, in the recesses of my mind, I must admit, I am prone to thoughts of self-pity and poor me.

It always starts with that sneaky and destructive mental exercise known as comparison. I click around on FaceBook (a sure way to feel inferior), observe couples out and about or simply think about all of my childhood dreams that haven’t come true and end up feeling gypped. All throughout my twenties, when I planned to graduate from college, get married, excel at a career and build a family, I ended up stuck in an ongoing saga of sickness, false starts, and loss. It’s like I ended up with the short end of the destiny stick and it doesn’t feel fair.

This pathetic, poor me dialogue could very well go on indefinitely but for the grace of God. Sooner or later, in His gentle yet get-to-the-point way, the voice of Christ always manages to interrupt my pathetic thoughts with a question that pierces the heart. “Are you taking every thought captive in obedience to me?”

It’s a drop the mic moment and a humbling one, too. To answer honestly, I have to tell Jesus, “No, I’m not taking every thought captive.” Which He already knows since I couldn’t possibly be taking every thought captive to Him when I’m consumed with comparing myself to the people around me. It is simply impossible to embody a spirit of holy obedience while harboring thoughts of ungratefulness. 

But, praise God, there is a way to rescue the mind and restore it to Christ and it starts with the cross.

First, I must crucify my thoughts of comparison. Those thoughts never die willingly. They only go by force.

Second, I must fervently seek the cross and let Christ take my thoughts captive by asking Him consistently and consciously to be the Lord and Master of my mind.

Third, I must intentionally guard my mind. It’s popular to say, “guard your heart” and, it’s true, the heart needs guarded but so does the mind. In this world, there are copious sources of temptation that invite in thoughts of comparison, envy and lust. This is why it is so important to guard what intercepts the mind and be choosey about what is allowed take up residence in that sacred place.

When I’m stuck feeling sorry for myself, journeying into the valley of “poor me”, one thought in particular always brings my mind back into the captivity of Christ. It is the thought of my BC life. When I think about who I was before Jesus took hold of my life, I cringe. I was headed for destruction until God, in His unmerited, undeserved, unconditional mercy, saved me from myself. He broke the enemy’s stronghold and set this captive free so I could go on to live as one who is rescued, reconciled and redeemed.

When I look to the cross, I can’t find a single reason to feel sorry for myself. All I can feel is gratitude and reason to praise the Savior who has given me everything I will ever need for this life and eternity.

 

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” – 2 Corinthians 10:5

 

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Waves of Amazing Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Christ’s perfect blood washed me clean.

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

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

 

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

– Titus 3:5

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Salvation, Sickness & Singleness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Today’s reading: Psalm 16