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Fear Not

“You should be afraid.”

My neighbor’s words took me aback and I didn’t know quite how to respond. I was just being lighthearted, trying to infuse the coronavirus pandemic with a little “social distancing” humor. Apparently, she didn’t find my joke comical. I would have tried to pick my jaw up off the sidewalk, but I was too stunned to think that clearly. Her violent reaction to my harmless banter left me completely speechless.

When I finally found words, they were lame. “Are you seriously telling me I should be afraid?” She confirmed that she was indeed dead serious and then expounded, making it very clear that I was not only a fool – I was offensive, too.

I walked away from that exchange feeling like both the victim and the perpetrator of the crime.

The mix of emotions was unsettling and, in the hours that followed, I struggled to shake them. While replaying the scene over and over again in my mind, I felt like Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail, as she lamented her inability to come up with zingers on the spot. But it wasn’t a “gottcha zinger” that I wished I would have produced in that moment. It was a “God’s got this witness” I kicked myself for missing. I wanted to rewind time and go back to the sidewalk so I could tell this neighbor that I’m not afraid because I trust God and His perfect providence. I joke, banter and laugh because I am at peace knowing that God is in total control. There is no need to fear the past, present or future because Jesus has already won the ultimate war – the war for the sinner’s soul.

Had my facial muscles and brain been firing on all cylinders, I would have gone on to tell this woman that I learned not to be afraid of death, sickness and uncertainty in the fires of disease. Then I would have undoubtedly expounded, explaining how, two years ago, I was sixty-eight pounds, living with a “comatose” blood pressure reading that caused many a nurse to go ghostly white. I would have told this woman that, against all human logic, God carried my body throughout that storm, making it possible for me to stand before here today as a living testimony to His sustaining and overcoming power. If only I had confidently and joyfully told her that I don’t need to be afraid of a virus because I know the Great Physician!

But, more than a physical story, I would have told her about Jesus’ story that makes it possible for anyone to live free of fear – regardless of what storms they’ve faced in the past.

When Jesus hanged on the cross of Calvary, He bore all of our sins, shame and burdens. He took eternal death to the grave and, when He rose again three days later, He left it there. When Jesus resurrected, He opened the door to Heaven so that every man, woman and child can join Him there forever. And all He asks is that we accept Him and turn our lives over to Him. Pretty good trade off, don’t you think? We surrender our earthly life – fears and all – and, in return, He gives us eternal, abundant, overcoming life. Jesus graciously takes our heavy load upon Himself and gives us abounding hope and unshakable assurance instead.

Followers of Jesus can endure every earthly problem and pandemic with peace and confidence, knowing that their Savior has already overcome this world. They can smile, laugh and experience joy in the midst of suffering and uncertainty because their greatest fear – the fear of eternal separation from God – has been put to rest.

Unfortunately, I didn’t speak any of those glorious truths to my angry neighbor and since I have a feeling she’ll be social distancing herself from me in the future, I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to share what I so wish I would have said in the moment. Fortunately, God’s ability to save my neighbor (or any of our fearful neighbors) is not limited to my ability to recite a spellbinding testimony on the sidewalk. He does not need my words to do His work. And although I hope to witness to His majesty with more power, joy and love in the future, I know that He has already forgiven me for the past. The moment I sought His mercy, He extended it without delay, graciously assuring me that there is nothing added to my record of wrong that can’t be washed away by the blood of the Lamb. Nor is there anything I said or left unsaid that His Holy Spirit cannot overcome.

The more I’ve pondered the scene on my humor fail, the more I’ve been compelled to pray for my neighbor. I cannot undo what was or was not said but I can take the situation, my regret and my hopes for this woman to God. He knows my heart and He knows her. And, what’s more, He can restore, heal and deliver us both.

So, that’s my prayer for her. May God restore her soul, heal her heart and deliver her from all her fears.

 

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

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Wash Your Hands… And Your Heart

While the whole globe is in hysterics, I just keep wondering, do we really need this many reminders to wash our hands?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the coronavirus. If you didn’t find out about it on the news, then you might have discovered the pandemic while standing dumbfounded in the empty toilet paper isle of your local grocery store. Or perhaps you were notified when your email inbox was inundated with a flurry of messages about “coronavirus precautions.” Or your child is no longer allowed to attend school. That last one makes me question who’s behind this whole coronavirus hysteria. I have a feeling it’s middle schoolers who are secretly high fiving in collective victory.

But, more than any of those germy thoughts, my mind has been wondering a far more impactful question: what if people took Jesus as seriously as they are taking the coronavirus?

I’m convinced that if people were as consumed with Christ as they are COVID-19, we wouldn’t have a global fear pandemic. Instead, we would have an international faith explosion! There wouldn’t be a frantic run on toilet paper (sorry Charmin) but there would be great revival of praise. Schools wouldn’t be shutting down (sorry students) but more churches would surely be opening their doors. While out and about, you probably wouldn’t see many people dawning hospital masks. On the other hand, you would definitely see more people shaking hands and even exchanging hugs.

If we as a global community, took the eternal Jesus more seriously than we take an earthly virus, our entire world would be transformed. If we paid as much attention to safeguarding our spiritual well-being as we are paying to protecting our physical health, our communities would be turned upside down.

During His earthly ministry, when germs were running rampant and viruses were no joke, Jesus told his followers, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”(John 14:1)

Notice that Jesus did not say, believe in your toilet paper or your hand sanitizer or your face mask. He also did not say that we are to believe in man’s ability to come up with a vaccine or the government’s quarantine regulations. What we are told to do is actively guard our hearts from being troubled while believing in the unshakable foundation of the Almighty God.

If you bought a lot of toilet paper, I’m sure it will come in handy, but it won’t save your soul. If your kids are off of school, I do hope that measure is effective for keeping them healthy, but it won’t make their spirit well. Only Jesus can do that. Only the Son of God who died to cleanse our hearts and make us whole can protect us from the greatest virus of all: the sin that destroys our eternal lives.

So, don’t just wash your hands. Let Jesus wash your heart.

Bring your sin and stain to the foot of His cross and let Him purify you from the inside out.

Drop your fear and welcome in abundant faith.

Pick up praise and rejoice as all panic falls away.

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Nothing But the Truth

It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a pen (or put my fingers on a computer’s keyboard) to write about life with a chronic illness. But my silence has not been on account of absence. My silence has been on account of fear.

Since moving to Nashville, I’ve shied away from typing about, talking about or testifying to the reality of my disease out of fear that it will define me and this new season of my life. The last thing I wanted when I made this move was to have sickness follow me. Illness had been my shadow for long enough and I wanted a fresh start with a new identity that didn’t include a devastating disease and debilitating ailments.

So, I tried to hide from the reality of my present suffering. I took the tree falling in a forest approach, reasoning that if I didn’t acknowledge my health struggles, maybe they would cease to exist. I did everything in my power to make myself and others believe that my sick days were dead and buried, going so far as to write my disease’s obituary and celebrated its defeat. In my desperation to turn the page and begin a new chapter, I disallowed myself from giving voice to persistent pain and lingering physical dysfunction that plague my daily life, arguing that no one needed to know about the storm brewing on the other side of my smile.

I thought that by rejecting my reality, I could reinvent my identity but, instead, I wound up removing myself from the peace and confidence of God. I began living in a state of denial which, as I came to learn, is like being buried alive. Denial is like trying to have a funeral for that which isn’t actually dead.

From inside my body’s lively grave, I’ve heard symptoms whispering in my ear with a troubling voice that can’t be ignored or outrun. “You’re living a lie,” the voice says, “you’re withholding the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about your life. You’re trying to write a new reality – one that God hasn’t given you yet.”  

By trying to keep my circumstances a secret, I slipped into the destructive territory known as “the double life.” Broken on the inside but “pretty much fixed” to the outside world; revealing my struggles only to those closest to me while telling the masses “I’m doing well.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in wearing a smile and having an upbeat attitude but those qualities aren’t meant to mask the truth under a cloak of denial. A smile and positive outlook can’t be the façade for trying circumstances. If that’s the foundation for a cheerful disposition, then it isn’t truly genuine. A sincerely joyful countenance isn’t just a face to hide hard circumstances; it is a spirit of faith in the midst of hard circumstances.  

But the negative implications of denial don’t end there. Living with denial is a double-sided coin with destructive ramifications on both heads and tails. If heads is the double-life disunity between the public and private persona, tails is the disconnection between God’s glory and our story.   

Throughout the many years when I wasn’t living in a state of denial, I watched God use painful ailments and disquieting symptoms to mend and shape my heart. Using disease as a sculpting tool, He carved out a purer, more complete faith in Jesus Christ. I wrote about that process regularly and rejoiced in it even when my body was falling apart.

But during the last year I decided that my time of being chiseled by disease was up. In my mind, I was past due for a new storyline and so I told God I wanted a new challenge. I no longer wanted to “bloom” in the garden of Lyme disease in which I was planted. I didn’t want to spend any more time on the potter’s wheel of pain and physical suffering. So, I determined to bury my old trials – even if it meant I was burying them alive. Little did I know I was burying the peace of Christ and joy of His Spirit along with it.

This decision, even if subconscious, was an act of rebellion. By refusing to live in my God-given reality, I cut myself off from letting God’s glory shine through my story. Pretending that my circumstance didn’t exist was essentially like telling my Maker and Savior that His way wasn’t right, good and perfect. While trying to bury that which God hadn’t put in the grave just yet, I became enslaved to my secret instead of empowered to honor Jesus with the truth.
 
The depression of living a double, disconnected life has taught me that it is simply impossible to deny my circumstances and, at the same time, give glory to the Author of them. I cannot bloom when I reject where I’m planted. I cannot live in a state of denial and expect to escape spiritual, emotional or physical defeat. In order for there to be harmony in my heart, fruit in my spirit and healing in my body, I must joyfully accept where God has me and embrace my weakness so that it can become a looking glass for others to see the overcoming strength of Jesus.

This is why I have decided to return to the grave of my disease and dig it back up again. I’m taking a shovel to the ground of my sickness and asking God to revive my spirit as I face the reality of where I am in His perfectly timed healing process. I’m uncovering my Lyme without fear of being defined by it, knowing that my identity is not determined by my physical condition. Because I am a daughter of the most-High King, who I am is rooted in the spirit of the Risen Christ who conquered the grave and defeated death so that I can victoriously rejoice in the midst of suffering, not just praise His holy name in the absence of it.

Even if I go to my grave with disease still coursing through my veins, I will praise God by rejoicing in the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because this is God’s story and it is all for His glory.

But I’m in the very presence of God
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

– Psalm 73:28 [The MSG]

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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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What are you collecting?

My coffee mug collection began innocently. A whimsical, ice-skating snowman inspired mug here. An Easter bunny and carrot themed mug there. “A mug for every season” – that was my motto.

Over the years, as my coffee cup collection has steadily grown, so has the chaos in my kitchen cabinet. There are now so many mugs crammed into that little space it’s a wonder the door even closes.

Recognizing the excessiveness of my drinkware situation, I have, for years, resolved to cut off all coffee cup purchasing and pare down my current collection. My intentions have been good but my follow through has been quite poor. I’ve tried picking just my favorites and donating the rest, but I find that they are all my favorites for one sentimental reason or another. I’ve even tried the Kon Mari technique, asking myself “does this bring you joy?” To which the answer is always, “Yes. This llama mug most certainly does bring me joy.”

But coffee mugs aren’t my only collection. I have a second, not so visible and far less joyous collection that I’ve had trouble parting ways with, too: a collection of fears.

Over the past decade I’ve collected more fears than coffee mugs. I have a fear that I’ll wind up being a lifelong single and a fear that I’ll never regain my full health. Then there’s that pesky fear that I’ll fail at every career I try. And who can forget the niggling fear that I’ll end up moving back into my parent’s basement (again). For every setback, failure or struggle, I’ve added another fear to my collection, creating an internal space that is so chock-full of anxiety, worries and concerns it makes my kitchen cabinet look sparse.

Like I do every January 1st, I made a resolution on this New Year’s Day. “This year,” I thought, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to cut ties with this excessive coffee mug collection and bring order back to this chaotic cabinet!” Nowhere in my mind was I thinking about my fear collection – that’s a collection I didn’t want to admit even existed. I wanted to keep that door securely shut. I wanted to keep my fears, anxieties and worries a secret.

But that wasn’t meant to be.

As soon as I opened the kitchen cabinet to attack the out of control coffee mug collection, a revelation dawned on me like a lightbulb illuminating above a cartoon character’s head: Why are you so fixated on this coffee mug conundrum? Don’t you see that you have a far more pressing situation to address – all those paralyzing fears you’ve let take up residence in your mind? Can’t you see that you’ve become like this cabinet – so crammed full of fear you have no room left for faith.

As I surveyed the plethora of coffee cups all stacked and squished behind the cabinet’s glass door, I realized that, just like that cabinet, my mind has limited space and I must be intentional about what – and Who – I let fill it. If I relinquish control to the enemy, he will cram me full of anxious thoughts and fearful emotions, destroying my joy and robbing me of peace in the process. But, if I allow God to fill my sacred internal space, He will strengthen my faith by enriching my mental collection with wisdom and truth. When I invite God into my mind and ask Him to control my collection of thoughts, He defeats the enemy’s lies, exposes every destructive fear, and fills me with His overcoming peace and abundant joy.

It was this new revelation that revived my resolve – but not my resolve to part ways with my llama mug, that mug is here to stay. This time, I determined to get rid of my collection of fears.

But how?

If I couldn’t part ways with a few coffee mugs, how could I part ways with an entire mind full of fears and dooms day thoughts? To successfully accomplish this resolution, I knew I needed help clearing away the anxious clutter I’d let accumulate inside. So, I did what anyone who wants to declutter their life should do. And, no, I didn’t turn to Kon Mari to refresh my memory on her Tidying Up technique. I turned to the only One who has the power to break every chain – including every chain of fear. I turned to Jesus, relinquished control of my collection and asked Him to take over cleaning my internal house.

In no time at all, a verse came to mind. “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2) Or, in coffee mug speak, when the enemy is trying to sell you an earthly fear mug, leave the store, run to God and stock up on the eternal treasures revealed in His word.

You see, Jesus claimed victory over fear when He conquered the grave. When our Savior defeated death, He made it possible for you and I to enjoy freedom from all fear. But, in order to experience that freedom, we have to be choosy about what we allow into our mental, emotional and spiritual collection. We must stop buying the fear lies and quit even giving the enemy’s sales pitch the time of day! Instead, we must fix our eyes, ears and heart on Jesus and invest in a faith-filled collection packed with God’s promises and busting at the seams with His extravagant love.

And, if you must buy something, just go buy a whimsical coffee mug. I suggest shopping at Home Goods, TJ Maxx or Marshalls. They always have the very best selection. Tell them Stephanie sent you.

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Faith > Fear

Fear is a deceptive and paralyzing force that takes root in the most innocent and natural of human concerns such as failure, loneliness and rejection, just to name a few.

But fear never stops where it starts.

Fear and worry multiply like rabbits and if they aren’t put to death in a New York minute, they can easily wind up trapping their victim in a box called “common sense” that’s roughly the size of a comfort zone.

From afar, the common sense box looks safe and logical but, up close, the box is actually a stuffy tomb devoid of real peace and joy. Although the box itself isn’t necessarily a bad box, it can become a bad box if Jesus is standing on the outside of it, calling His follower to step out in faith and join him.

When it comes to heeding the call and following Jesus in the face of fear there are only two options.

The first is to say, “Thanks but no thanks, Jesus. I’m just going to stay here in my box.”

Although Jesus will never force us to relent or drag us out of the box, we miss out on the fulness of God’s plan if we decide to stay inside our comfort zone. When we deny the Sprit’s call, we reap the joyless, restless consequences of that decision.

Just take Jonah for example.

God called Jonah to Nineveh and gave him the task of proclaiming righteousness and holiness to the lost. It was a great responsibility that fulfilled a real need but there was a big problem. Jonah was afraid. The people of Nineveh were a rough crowd and Jonah had his concerns about what fate would befall him in that hostile place. So, instead of heeding the call, he ran.

Jonah’s next move was to escape by boat. He thought he could flee the call of God and be free of fear but stormy consequences followed him. Soon waves buffeted the boat and threatened the lives of everyone on board. After questioning the passengers, everyone agreed that Jonah was to blame for their misfortune. Because Jonah had denied God, they had all become cursed.

What happened next must have made Jonah wish he’d gone to Nineveh in the first place. In the middle of the storm, the passengers on the boat lifted Jonah up and overboard. He landed in the ocean where he was swallowed by a gigantic whale. Still alive inside the whale’s belly, Jonah had a “come to Jesus moment.” He prayed, “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” (Jonah 2:7)

As soon as Jonah asked God for forgiveness and recommitted his life to salvation’s cause, God responded by ordering the whale to spit Jonah up. Once back on dry land, God gave His fearful follower, Jonah, a second chance to heed the call.

What happened next in Jonah’s story is our second option when confronted with the call of God: choose faith over fear and bravely obey.

That’s what Jonah did and the results were incredible. When Jonah told the Ninevites about God they repented of their sins, ceased worshipping false idols and returned to the Lord. Their response to God’s mercy was miraculous.

From Jonah’s life story we learn that fear is debilitating but faith is empowering. Fear weakens but faith strengthens. Fear creates a coward but faith cultivates bravery. Fear gets in the way but faith will always make a way.

When confronted with fear, brave faith is needed to ignite courageous obedience. To overcome fear the follower of Jesus must consistently, constantly and confidently chose to walk by faith and not by fear. As children of the Most-High King we must determine to heed the call of Jesus on the basis of who He is and not the conditions of His command.

So next time fear comes knocking at your door, don’t answer it. Instead, return to faith and recommit to following Jesus. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, take the next obedient step of faith and heed the call.

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Heart to Heart: A pen for every season

It took becoming sick to teach me how to talk to God. Lyme, pain, a pen and paper were a few of the choice tools God used to draw me closer to Jesus.

At first, I was resistant. Or, more accurately, I was distracted. The illness was my all-consuming obsession. I was fixated on symptoms, possible causes and an accurate diagnosis. The only time I picked up a pen was to write my medical history in a doctor’s office.

But then something shifted.

The sickness didn’t go away. It remitted – briefly – but then it got worse – much worse. I lost all control of my body and no amount of research could get it back again. Failed attempts at doctoring left me feeling misunderstood. I desperately wanted someone to listen, care and get what I was going through. I needed to vent, be real and know I wasn’t alone.

But what I truly needed most was help from on high; aid from the Great Physician who could carry me through the mystery that had become my life.

Although I had come to know Jesus years before my illness began, I didn’t know how to actually be in a relationship with Him. I had yet to rely on Him fully and in complete dependence. I was saved but I wasn’t walking with my Savior step-by-step and hand-in-hand. Jesus was definitely my friend, but He wasn’t my bestie.

But sickness changed that.

The seed of change that was my need took root in a pen. Writing was God’s gift to me – a communication method that helped me disconnect from the world around me and reconnect with His Spirit. Although the pen and paper, in and of themselves, weren’t the salvation, they were a vital tool God used to deepen and strengthen my relationship with Jesus.

After almost a decade of writing, I have accumulated boxes of notecards, stacks of journals and numerous files on my computer’s hard drive. Every word (some written on tear-stained paper) a testimony to Who sustained me throughout my sickness. The reason I kept fighting for my life and believing in the future is written on those pages. The Person that kept me even when I wanted to end my own life is revealed on a those reams of paper.

It was Jesus. Always and only Jesus.

I’ve often wondered what will happen when I’m not sick anymore. Will I keep writing? Will I still rely on this pen and paper to communicate with God? Will this still be a key tool He uses to meet and chat with me?

I don’t know the answer to those questions. Only God knows what He has planned for the next seasons of my life. But I do know this: Jesus will be there and He’ll keep providing plenty of tools to connect with Him along the way.

Whether or not God uses writing, I know He’ll keep revealing Himself. With or without the use of a pen and paper,  He will continue to show His love by faithfully making His spirit known in incredible and unexpected ways.

In my heart, I sure do hope He keeps using writing to draw me closer to Jesus but I trust that Father knows best. He knows my desires and, more importantly, He knows just what I need in every season of my life. He will provide in the future just like He has in the present and past. Because God is good… He is faithful… And He isn’t finished yet.

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The Shield of Faith

A long, long time ago (read: fall of 2017) a mysterious bubble appeared on my eyelid (thanks chronic Lyme disease). The bubble grew so large that, at times, I thought it might explode. But, by the grace of God, it never did. In time, the bubble began to diminish until one day it was entirely gone.

In my mind’s eye I saw that bubble as a battle in the war for the health of my eyes;a pussy, protruding fight for the territory of my vision. With the bubble gone, I thought the battle was won, once and for all. Until two weeks ago, when a new, less protruding, just as painful, eyelid problem presented itself.

I first encountered my new eyelid issue one night as I was laying down to sleep. All of a sudden, a stabbing pain assaulted my eyes and I couldn’t blink without feeling tortured. I cried and moaned in agony for over two hours until I finally fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up with the same debilitating pain and made a frantic appointment with an eye doctor. After peering into my cornea with a bright light and quizzical look in her eye, the doctor flatly declared, “your eyelids are like sand paper.” 

I was a bit taken aback and confused. How did my eyelids become like sand paper so suddenly and what could I do about it? The doctor didn’t have an answer to the first question but she did have an idea for the second. “Wear your contacts,” she said. “They’ll act as a shield. When you blink, your sand paper eyelids will scratch the contact, not your cornea.”

I rushed home to my contact, excited to put the lenses in my eyes. The moment the contacts met my cornea the discomfort reduced dramatically. A smile spread across my face as I blinked free of stabbing pain. Before long the redness in my eyes diminished and the burning subsided.

Fast forward two weeks and my eye lids are still like sand paper. As the doctor warned, this is a condition that may not go away. But, as has been true throughout every twist and turn of my illness and healing journey, I still believe God can heal my eye. He has the power to redeem and restore everything that is broken – including eyelids.

 

But even if He should choose not to heal this part of me, He has not left me without hope and help for my condition. The Great Physician has provided two shields to protect my cornea: contacts and faith.

As I take up the shields God has provided I must remember that my enemy, satan himself, wants to use this latest healing set back to derail my faith. To kill, steal and destroy my confidence in Christ is always his goal. So, although I’m sure satan wouldn’t mind robbing me of physical vision, that isn’t his primary target. It is spiritual vision he’s after.

But before I ever knew I would have sandpaper eyelids God had a plan for my protection. His solution to keep me guarded from satan’s schemes and every one of life’s problems is faith in Jesus Christ. Even when pain assaults my physical being, the assurance of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus’ resurrection is my unfailing shield. I can stand tall as the battle within my body rages on because the victory for my eternal health and vision is already won.

Thanks to my sandpaper eye lids, I pray to God in a whole new way. Each morning, as I put in my contact lenses, I talk to God and say… “Heavenly Father, thank you for redeeming and renewing the eyes of my heart. Thank you for showing me how to walk by faith and not by sight. Lord, I pray that my eyes will stay fixed on you even when the enemy attacks my body, mind and soul. Help me to hold tightly to the shield of faith so I can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one by the indwelling of Jesus’ resurrection power. Amen.”

If learning how to depend on Jesus as my shield is the reason for my sandpaper eye lids, then to God be the glory for great things He has done! 

 

“…take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” – Ephesians 6:16

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Trust the Process

“Trust the process.”

It’s one of Dr. J’s favorite sayings and one I’ve heard countless times over the past two years. When I first heard about a “healing process” I thought I knew what it meant and what to expect as the process progressed. But it didn’t take long for me to find out I was clueless. Heaven knows I had a lot to learn.

In April 2017, at the beginning of my Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease healing process, I was told it would take two to three years to complete. Although in my optimistic (read: naïve) mind I believed I’d crush the doctor’s estimated time to full physical restoration by completing it in one year – two tops.

Well, two years have come and gone and my process it not over yet. I am still in route to full health, living day-to-day life with lingering ailments and stubborn symptoms. I am not 100% healed but I’m not where I once was and I’m not who I once was.

Along this journey I’ve come to learn what Dr. J means by “healing process.” Unlike I originally thought, it is not only physical. It’s mental and spiritual, too. Healing from Lyme has changed me in body, mind and soul, restoring and renewing from the inside out.  It is a long, challenging and rewarding journey that has shaped, strengthened and sanctified me every step of the way.

The Lyme healing process is unique in its physical manifestations but it is universal in its spiritual application. Whether or not you ever journey through a physical healing process, if you give your life to Jesus and receive His gift of salvation, you will most certainly embark on a spiritual, mental and emotional healing process. Along the way you will encounter setbacks and days of utter defeat, just like I have on my Lyme journey. There will be days you’ll be tempted to give up and plenty of days you’ll struggle just to get up.

But if you keep turning back to Jesus, He will give you the strength you need to continue in the process. Carried on His wings of grace, you will experience unspeakable glory and indescribable mountaintop views. He will lift you from deep pits and set you on your feet again. By His Spirit, He will guide your journey through valleys low and lead you up hills that higher than any you ever imagined you’d climb.

During the past two years of my healing process I have learned priceless principles to healing God’s way. I’d like to share seven of them with you and hope that they bless and encourage you in your own unique healing process:

P: Practice patience. The healing process probably won’t go as fast as you like but if you remain “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer,” you’ll discover that the slow road to healing is a rewarding one. (Romans 12:12)

R: Remain firmly planted in the foundation of facts over feelings. The healing process is a battle which is why suiting up in the full armor of God is key. Buckle the belt of truth around your waist and stand firm in the promises of God. (Ephesians 6:14)

O: Overcome by the strength of the Lord. Even when the process feels like too much for you to bear, remember that you “can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

C: Keep calm and let Christ carry you on. The process is not yours. It is God’s. Be still and let Him fight for you. (Exodus 14:14)

E: Expect a breakthrough. Even when the process feels endless, remember that God has plans and a future in store for you. Live expecting to meet Jesus and experience His grace along the journey. (Jeremiah 29:11)

S: Set your heart, mind and soul on who Jesus is. Watching the process is like watching a pot of water while waiting for it to boil. It seems to take forever. So don’t count the days of trials and troubles. Count the blessings of being loved and saved by the Author and Perfector of your faith. (Hebrews 12:2)

S: Stay the course. To enjoy the healing up ahead you cannot give up. You must give yourself fully to the process, trusting God entirely. In due time a harvest will be produced “if you do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Although it’s true that Jesus saves us in an instant, He sanctifies us for a lifetime. Renewal in His spirit is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing process. Healing God’s way isn’t a quick fix. It is a journey that will peel back every layer of your being and purify every crevasse of your body, mind and soul.

The process of letting Jesus heal you will try and test you but in the end, if you let it, God will use every moment of it to make you into the person He created you to be.

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Spring will Spring Again

 I’m mad at winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 119:140-141