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What’s Your Greatest Fear?

What’s your greatest fear?

Mine is ending up alone.

For some people, the thought of ending up alone isn’t the least bit scary. But I’m not some people. I’m some person who spent her growing up years daydreaming about meeting and marrying a Brad Pitt look-alike, moving into a movie-set worthy house and raising a family complete with two boys, two girls and a dog (or two). That was my fantasy, my hope and my dream. That was my plan A and I didn’t have a plan B.

Unlike some of my female peers, I never had my sights set on a career path or any path apart from matrimony, family planning and happily ever after. But God’s sights were set on an entirely alternate route and, eight years ago, right around my twenty-first birthday, He started taking me down a path marked with chronic sickness and just as chronic singleness.

By now, one would think I’d be used to the solitary life and over my fear of ending up alone. But one would think incorrectly. Instead of my fear diminishing, it’s been increasing. With each day that brings me closer to the big 3-0, my fear intensifies.

Now I know, thirty isn’t “old” but, in Christian circles, it practically makes me a spinster. In the past eight years while I’ve been alone, the field of male prospects has been dramatically reduced (see the wedding announcements for proof). Every time I turn around, someone is getting married and every time I glance down, someone is wearing a wedding band on their left hand.

All of this holy matrimony has caused me to wonder (and, if I’m honest, fret), “is there anyone left for me?” While I’ve been battling illness and fighting for my life, did I completely miss the marriage train? And, if I did indeed miss it, will there be a later one I can catch or am I doomed to stand at this single’s station indefinitely?

It’s when I allow these questions to fester in my mind that fear starts to seize me, followed by a crippling cascade of depression and hopelessness. It’s just plain crushing to imagine a future without love, companion and a family of my own.

But when I turn my questions over to God, He always stills my fears, relieves my depression and restores my hope. He does all of that with one verse from His Holy Word. Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the plans I have for you…plans to give you hope and a future.”

If I take God at His Word, then I have no reason to fear the future because, come singleness or come marriage, I know that God’s ways are always and will always be good. Even when those ways are challenging and different than my own, I can take comfort in the promises of God and rest in the assurance that His way is leading to an eternal holy ever after. 

What’s more is that God’s future plans are not limited by age or what I perceive as potential “prospects.” God is able to bring me a mate at any time and any age because nothing is impossible for Him! And because nothing is impossible for Him, I have every reason to never give up hope. God has the power to change the circumstances of my status in a second – He can work that fast!

But, even if God doesn’t change my status in a second or ever, His goodness will not be diminished. Even if I do end up alone, God will still be good and His Word will still be true.

Because, you see, God doesn’t need to send me a spouse to bless me with an abundant life. When God sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the cross, He gave me everything and every ONE I will ever need for a truly wonderful life. In Jesus, I have the perfect companion, friend and Savior who makes me whole.  In Jesus, I have the Lord who upholds me and the love that completes me.

Every single time I come back to the foot of the cross, bearing my lonely burden, I find that Jesus was there all along with arms wide open, ready and willing to take away all my fear and replace it with the overcoming, reassuring peace that I have never been and never will be alone.  

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

~ Jeremiah 29:11

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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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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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I Have a Dream…

I was born a dreamer.

As a young girl I dreamt that one day I’d be a married mommy. I imagined four little ones and a minivan.

My dreams were so detailed that I even pictured how I’d dress my kids for Sunday morning church. The girls would be in ruffled dresses with bows in their hair. The boys would be in seersucker suits with bowties.

I dreamt in Gap Kids ads. 

Then I got older and my dreams shifted. But only slightly.

Instead of dreaming of a minivan I switched to a large SUV.

By age twenty my dreams became a bit more realistic. Sunday dresses might end up with stains before the service even started. The large SUV might have spilled milk in the car seat. Home might not be as spotless and pristine as an HGTV décor magazine.

The number of kids varied, too. Maybe there would be three adopted kids or even five? I let go of the precise number and left that detail in God’s hands. But the fundamentals of my dream never changed. Husband. Kids. Home.

I was confident that by age thirty my dream would be well underway to coming true. According to my dream timeline, I would be a wife, homeowner and mother to two before I entered my fourth decade of life.

But this year I’m going to turn twenty-nine and not one single detail of my childhood dreams have been fulfilled.

In my mid-twenties I came to the realization that the fantasies I grew up holding in my heart may not unfold the way I’d hoped. It was a tough pill to swallow. I’d spent years day dreaming about my future picture-perfect life. But the reality of my early adulthood hasn’t look anything like my picture.

A few years ago, I wrote about letting go of my dreams. It was like holding onto a bundle of balloons and, one-by-one, releasing them into the sky. The kids. The house. The husband. The adorable little family attending church together. I had to let go of my death grip on my dreams and let them float away.

But, truth be told, I’ve never let those balloons out of my sight. I’ve tried. Trust me, I’ve tried. But I keep looking up into the clouds, trying to spot my dreams dancing around in the wind. All along I’ve been hoping God will let them gently descend back into my life.

But God hasn’t fulfilled my returned dreams desires. Instead, He’s made a special delivery and sent new balloons into my life. He’s given my dreams brand new life.

The dreams God has given me are unlike any I had as a child. The dreams I had for myself appeared achievable. God’s dreams appear impossible. The dreams I formulated sounded realistic. God’s dreams sound completely intimidating.

God’s been sending me dreams so lofty I’ve been afraid to speak them out loud for fear of sounding foolish. I’ve been holding them close to my chest, too overwhelmed by their magnitude to admit they are real.

But God won’t let me stay silent any longer. He wants me to proclaim the dreams He has delivered and believe that, because are His, they will come true.

So, in obedience to God, this is my God-delivered dream:
To have a worldwide ministry that encourages people to surrender their entire lives to Christ, trust God to be their sustainer and obediently follow Him wherever He leads.

I have no idea how God plans to make that dream a reality but I do know He can do it. I am not sure how it will be accomplished but I know it won’t be accomplished by my own ability and power.

And I believe that’s exactly why God’s given this dream to me. His desire is that I be totally reliant on His power to do the impossible. He is calling me to step beyond the limits of my weakness and live by the indwelling of His limitless strength.

Declaring the dream God has given me is the first step in trusting Him to make it happen. He has not given me this dream to abandon it. He has given it to me because He is going to show up and make it a reality. God, the deliverer of the dream, will be the fulfiller of the dream.

“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

– 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Perhaps, one day, God will bring back my old dreams to unite with my new dreams. If so, I’ll be there with open arms, ready to receive the gift of a husband, kids and home.

But, until then, I’m going to stop scanning the sky for those old balloons and let my eyes rest on these new, glorious God-given balloons. I am going to stop shrinking back with fear and doubt. I am going to bolding grab hold of God’s dreams and begin confidently and joyfully praising Him in advance for fulfilling them.

God, I can’t but you can. What is impossible for me is entirely possible for you! I know that you have given me this great dream to bring you glory. I am standing confidently in who You are and what You are going to accomplish. Lord, Here I am, send me. Here I am, use me. Take my life and use it to make Jesus known.

Amen

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I believe in a thing called love – even when it’s running late.

The leaves were running late this year.

The leaves in Northern Pennsylvania typically begin changing color in early October. By October 13th the annual green leaf transformation is usually well underway and dazzling shades of red, yellow and orange are expected to display their finest glory on October 19th – give or take a day or two.

But not this year.

In early October the leaves didn’t begin their annual color change. When October 13th arrived most of the trees were still covered in green. Then the 19th came and went without even the slightest hint of a fall foliage display.

It was around that time that Northern nature lovers began questioning the absence of autumn’s seasonal tree transformation. Where are the colors of fall? They asked. When will the leaves change? People wondered. Where is the beauty of autumn we all expect to see this time of year? Was the question on everyone’s mind – mine included.

Fall is my favorite time of year and when the leaves didn’t change colors I missed the beautiful foliage scenes expected during the month of October. I become depressed, worrying that this year the leaves would never change color. I became sad when I imagined an October without nature’s autumn masterpieces painted across the Northern Pennsylvania landscape.

And then I saw it. I saw fall on full display in the mighty Maple tree.

On October 30 while driving down the road on a bright blue Tuesday morning I saw a gorgeous Maple tree draped in autumn leaves as stunning as spun gold. Swaying peacefully in the gentle wind stood flawless fall foliage on grand display. The sun hit the leave’s yellow hues and made them sparkle and shine. The Maple tree was seasonally picture-perfect, as if it had been cut from the cover of a fall foliage brochure.

Gazing upon the golden kissed Maple Tree all of my questions and concerns about the future of fall disappeared. I breathed a sigh of relief, reassured that the leaves were still destined to change color. The golden leaves on the Maple tree stood as irrefutable evidence that the seasons still shift the way they always have – just not according to my time.

The glorious vision of the Maple tree reassured me of God’s faithfulness to the seasons. Even when the green stayed on the trees weeks past what is considered “typical,” God’s forecast for fall was already predetermined and established. The transformation of the trees was always destined to arrive according to His perfect timing.

And so it is with love in my life.

God is as faithful to my love life as He is to the changing leaves on the trees. The dazzling, and slightly delayed, Maple tree reassured me that God has the love of my life predetermined and established, destined to arrive according to God’s perfect timing.

God has not abandoned me as a twenty-eight year old single. Although love appears to be running late, God has my future scheduled according to His perfect timing. I trust and believe that the very Author of love, the Ultimate Match-Maker, is writing my love story so that, when the time is just right, a love as glorious and golden as a Maple tree at the peak of fall foliage will be revealed upon the landscape of my life.

The love of my life is going to arrive just like the colors that transformed the Maple tree. Later than usually but as brilliant and beautiful as ever.

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Enjoy the Ride (and the view)

“NO SINGLE RIDERS.”

The rules were printed in big, bold red letters and displayed so prominently they couldn’t be missed. Solo rides were not allowed on the amusement park Ferris wheel…under any conditions.

A ride on the Ferris wheel was the sole reason I had entered the amusement park in the first place. It was a perfect summer evening to take in the view of the sun setting over the lake and I planned to enjoy it riding in a solo Ferris wheel car. In hand I had the four tickets needed for one person to enter the ride. I was all set for a single’s adventure until I saw the sign.

Despite the crystal clear no non-sense warning, I paused at the ride’s entrance and considered my options. I wondered if maybe, after waiting in line and putting on my sweetest (most pathetic) face, I could persuade the ride operator to make an exception. If that didn’t work out, maybe I could join a small group that had room to spare in their car. If I asked nicely, I might be able to snag the extra seat.

For a few minutes I stood by the ride’s entrance as groups of teens, families with small kids and couples on dates went dashing up the walkway prepared to enjoy a ride on the Ferris wheel. I couldn’t bring myself to encroach on anyone’s evening nor was it proper to ask for a solo rider exception. So, with four unused tickets in hand, I turned and walked away from the Ferris wheel.

Dejected but not defeated, I decided I would use my tickets and find a different ride that welcomes singles. I heard the roller coaster off in the distance and, for a moment, thought that might be a fun adventure. But the roller coaster ride is over so quickly there would be no time to enjoy a view of the sunset.

To my right I could see single passenger swings flying high up in the air and decided that would be the right ride for me. I was about to walk in that direction until I heard yelling above my head. I looked up and was filled with joy when I saw the perfect attraction for a solo rider.

The Sky Ride.

Fifteen minutes and three tickets later, I was up in the air traveling slowly above the amusement park. The Sky ride didn’t ban singles from riding. In fact, the bench seats were filled with solo travelers enjoying a peaceful ride above the park while taking in a breathtaking sunset view.

On my solo amusement park adventure I was reminded that while traveling through life there are rides that aren’t suited for singles. There are particular adventures, events and occasions that only welcome couples and groups. Certain life experiences cannot be enjoyed alone. But that doesn’t mean that singles should leave the park of life dejected with perfectly good, unused tickets in hand. Attached isn’t the only way to ride through life while enjoying a beautiful view.

The park of life is full of rides that welcome single riders. If one ride in particular can’t be enjoyed alone you need not walk away dejected or throw away your opportunity to experience a full life. All you need to do is look up and out to discover that there are countless opportunities to use the ticket God has given you. In the park of life God has filled it with rides and attractions perfectly suited for singles to enjoy. And they boast beautiful views, too.

Whether single or attached, enter the park, buy the ticket, and live life to the fullest by enjoying the ride that’s just right for you.