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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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Thank God for Unanswered Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 4:16

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A Decade in Review

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

  1. Sickness

  2. Singleness

  3. Salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is good.

God is faithful.

And He isn’t finished yet.   

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Memories that matter: a cradle and a cross

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

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

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

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

Heaven knows, I didn’t have a clue!

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

But my health didn’t stick around.

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

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

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

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

The answer is an emphatic, “no.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Perspective: how we see what we see

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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God is Faithful

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

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

But tonight, I’m awake.

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

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

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

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

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

I am alive today because God is faithful every day.

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

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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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The Power of a Compliment

“Hey, l like your haircut!”

My head spun around as if it were on a swivel. Who was the unfamiliar voice talking to, I wondered. And could I get the name of their hairdresser?

But, when I looked behind me, there was no one there. Confused, I turned back around, thinking I must have been hearing things but that’s when I realized that the stranger was staring straight at me. Convinced I must have misheard what he said I kindly asked, “I’m sorry, I missed that. What did you just say?”

“I said, ‘I like your haircut.’” Then, just to be sure he was heard and taken seriously, he added, “It’s a really good haircut.”

My bad hair day hair and I were so stunned by the stranger’s compliment that it took me a second to get the words, “thank you” out of my mouth. Before I could elaborate further, the stranger opened a door, turned down a hallway and disappeared. It’s as if he was an angel sent for a brief moment in time to brighten my day before being sent on his way to bless another weary soul.

Looking back on that fifteen second exchange, there are so many responses that come to mind that I wish I would have said.

If I could go back, I would have been more profusive in my thanks, conveying to this kind man how worn out I had been feeling and how his words provided a much-appreciated lift to my day. Chances are I would have blabbered on about feeling like my hair was laying too heavy on my head and making my face look drawn. On second thought, it was probably better that the stranger didn’t stick around for that conversation.

But, if he would have had time to really chat, I would have gone deep with the kind stranger, telling him the story of how, four years ago, I chopped my hair off on account of illness and disease. I would have poured my heart out, describing how letting my hair go was a step of trust in God, believing that He could heal me if He wanted to but was still good even if it was His will that I remain sick. Then I would have gone on to explain that, since cutting off my hair, I’ve struggled with feeling feminine and beautiful and that little compliments, like the one he gifted me with, are precious reminders that I am still attractive even with a short pixie haircut.

But I didn’t have the chance to say any of those things. All I managed to squeak out was an awkward, caught unawares, “thank you.

So, here’s the moral of the story (because there is always a moral to the story). Be overly kind. Catch someone off guard with a compliment. Make a stranger’s day by shining the light of Christ into it. Be someone’s God wink.

And, to those who receive the compliment, graciously accept it and pass it on. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to take this gift and give it to someone else because there is power in a kind compliment and smiling face. In those moments of generous compassion, we get to be the face of Jesus for someone else, even if only for a few fleeting seconds.

PS…To the stranger in the hall who complimented my haircut, I give you my sincerest thanks. What you said went so much deeper than strands of hair. Your kindness was truly a gift from God that touched my heart, reminding me of Jesus’ love and inspiring me to pass it on to someone else.

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Belief: Is it bigger than butterflies?

“Do I believe that God is good even when His will and ways don’t feel good?”

This is the faith-revealing question I’ve been asking myself on repeat ever since Pippy passed away twenty days ago. As a devoted follower of Christ, I know that my response should be a resounding, “yes” but my emotions have tempted me to reply with a noncommittal, “I’m not so sure.”

And so, like a doubting Thomas, longing for confirmation to strengthen belief and faith, I prayed, “Lord, show me that you’re good. Send me a sign!” In short order, God answered my pitiful prayer with remarkable butterfly encounters.

My first butterfly encounter occurred just hours after Pippy passed away. It flew up in front of my car’s windshield and proceeded to do a little dance in front of the glass. That particular monarch lingered for quite some time and, as I watched her wings flutter, I felt the sadness in my heart lift. The butterfly delivered an overwhelming assurance that Pippy has gone home to Heaven where she is safe in the presence of God.

Over the next few days more butterflies arrived. In fact, not a day went by in the entire first week after Pippy past without a noteworthy butterfly encounter. Each day I was gifted a dazzling demonstration of God’s goodness winged its way into my world and, in response, I thanked God profusely for answering my prayer. I praised Him for reassuring me of His promises and vowed to keep looking up and out with an open heart and mind so that I would never miss a single butterfly blessing.

But, in recent days, something terrible has happened to my butterflies. They’ve disappeared. My world has become suddenly and dramatically butterfly-less. I’ve searched for them outdoors and even paused near bushes just in case God has one waiting in the leaves, but they’re no where to be found.

In the absence of the butterflies, God has turned the tables on the questioning. Instead of me asking Him to prove His faithfulness, He is asking me, “Even when you don’t see any sign of it, do you still believe I am good?

In the book of Hebrews, Paul wrote, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) If that’s what true faith is, then my questioning God and requesting a special sign was faithlessness. By asking God to prove that I have grounds for believing He is good, I make my faith evidence dependent instead of Jesus dependent.

Now I know why God gave and then took away the butterflies. He gave them because He loves me, and He took them away because He loves me too much to let me remain weak in faith. He is invested in growing and developing my belief in who He is, just like He was for the doubting Thomas.

In John chapter 20, right after Jesus rose from the grave, He gave His follower, Thomas, an opportunity to feel His hands and side so Thomas could have physical proof that the Messiah was alive. After Thomas affirmed his belief, Jesus made an important distinction about faith with sight versus faith without sight. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Jesus obviously loved Thomas – that’s why he made a special visit just to see him – but Jesus wanted Thomas to understand that the faith God desires doesn’t require the aid of a visual. The faith that receives the blessing is the faith that remains unshakable even when there is no hand to touch or sign to see.

As we know from scripture, Thomas’ living color experience with the Risen Savior was only temporary. And so it is  with my butterflies.

God’s removal of my butterfly encounters is a gift unto itself. It is a second chance to use this season of grieving to affirm my belief that, in all seasons and circumstances, God’s will and ways are always perfect because He is always good.