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How to End a Pity Party

The aqua blue waves brushed gently against the silky white sand, covering my feet and cooling me from head to toe. It was a picture perfect day at the beach; the kind of day that refreshes a person in both body and soul.

But that’s not what was happening to me.

I didn’t feel refreshed at all and it wasn’t the sun or the sand’s fault. It was all me. I was too blame because I was too busy have a pathetic pity party to enjoy a walk on the beach.

The pitiful party all started when I began rehearsing the past. I just couldn’t seem to get the last nine years out of my head. I kept returning to opportunities gone by, missed milestones and a decade of disappointments. For days my thoughts had been traveling down “poor me” lane, lamenting time and dreams lost thanks to Lyme Disease.

While the pity party was going strong, joy and contentment were nowhere to be found. Consumed with thoughts about what I don’t have robbed me of enjoying the gifts that were right in front of me – namely the beach, sun and life.

It was that last, critically important gift that put an abrupt end to my pity party. As I wiggled my toes in the sand, it suddenly dawned on me: You’re not dead.

To most people, that wouldn’t have been a shocking or profound thought. Especially while sitting upright and very much alive on a beach. But, given my past nine years of ill health, thinking about the life in my body stopped my party dead in its tracks. And with that, I called off my pity party and showed my ungrateful, pathetic, self-absorbed thoughts, feelings and emotions the door.

A moment later the pity party had completely packed up and gone home and, immediately, in it’s place, a new thanksgiving party up shop.

With gratefulness back as the host of my heart it was as if the beach transformed before my very eyes. With my gloomy attitude lifted, the sun began to shine brighter. Suddenly the water took on a sparkly hue and the sand felt softer, like a heavenly mattress just begging me to sit down and take a rest.

And so I did.

As I sat myself down on the sandy earth and dug my heels into the sand, I thanked God for my feet and the incredible healing that’s occurred in each and every toe. As I glanced up and down the beach I thanked God for restored eyes that can see such a beautiful world. Next, I looked at my legs and arms and thanked God for muscles that are relaxed and no longer flaring. Then I looked up to the cloudless sky and thanked God for Jesus, my friend and Savior who rescued my soul that once was perishing.

During my silent and solo beachside worship time, I was reminded that the joy of salvation is mine to enjoy the moment I stop the pity party and invite Jesus back onto the throne of my life. As soon asI put an end to the  lamenting and ask the Holy Spirit to come and refresh me with the joy of salvation, Chris always comes flooding my heart, renewing me from the inside out with streams of abundant gladness. Resurrection power ushers in the indescribable peace that can only ever be experienced while content and at home in His presence.

Let’s face it. Pity is never a very good party. It is always pathetic and sad. But when Jesus enters in that’s when the real, holy, eternally jubilant party gets started. And the good news is, it will never, ever have to end.

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A Table for Two

It was six o’clock in the evening and time for dinner. But I didn’t feel like eating alone…again.

As my tummy grumbled, my heart did, too, longing for someone to share a meal with. For a few pathetic minutes, I sat frozen at the kitchen counter, wishing there was someone to sit across from me and exchange conversation between bites of food. As I glanced at the empty chairs, I silently lamented the fact that no one would be arriving to fill them. “Oh, how I wish I did not have to eat alone anymore!”

My inner dialogue was interrupted by inner rumblings of hunger. So, to satisfy my need for food and desire for company, I hopped in the car and drove to my go-to place for a bite to eat. “At least there will be people around,” I told myself.

Twenty minutes later I found myself seated at a round table with three chairs and only one person to fill them. My purse took a seat and I took another, then I prayed over my cup of chicken noodle soup and began to eat.

As I filled my spoon and ate my dinner, nothing visibly dramatic happened. I didn’t spill my soup bowl or run into anyone I know. It was, by all outward appearances, an uneventful meal. But, on the inside, an attitude-altering transformation was underway.

The change occurred when I opened my Bible and began to read Philippians chapter three. In his letter, Paul wrote about living as a citizen of heaven, not a citizen of earth.

“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

And that’s when it dawned on me: loneliness is always an earthly emotion.

Loneliness is not of God. It is of man. It is a self-absorbed feeling that has nothing to do with eternity and everything to do with what is temporary. Loneliness is a sneaky trick of satan used to distract God’s children from enjoying fellowship with Jesus. It is an emotion born out of self-pity – “Poor me, I’m alone again.” Not born out of thanksgiving – “Praise God, I am never ever alone!”

Whenever I am lamenting loneliness, I am always focusing my attention inward and downward. My forlorn feelings arise when fixating on myself and what I want. But, praise God, He does not abandon me in my pathetic, self-absorbed state. The way out of lonesome sadness and sorrow is found by refocusing outward and upward, on Jesus and who He is. The crippling grief of unwanted solitude is supernaturally dispelled by the cheering gratefulness of God’s unfailing companionship.

The moment I turn from my lonely lament and let Jesus satisfy my desire for companionship I am always relieved to discover that He was right there all along. The third seat at my table was never empty. The table is always full because God’s Spirit is always with me. He is my faithful friend who never fails or leaves me. He is with me every step of the way and seated beside me for every bite of every meal.

Because my citizenship is in Heaven, my company is, too. My faithful friend, my Savior, Jesus is always with me and I am truly never alone.

 

My table is never set for a party of one.
There are always at least two seats taken – one for me and one for God.
Jesus meets me at every meal and walks with me every moment in between.
He never leaves me nor forsakes me. He stays with me through thick and thin.
At times it may appear that I am all alone but don’t be fooled by the earthly view of my companionship.
The truth is I am always in the best company – the company of my Savior.

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But what about Saturday?

Every year during the week of Easter, my thoughts turn to two events in the life of Jesus. His crucifixion on Good Friday and His resurrection on Sunday. But what about Saturday?

On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Jesus was dead and buried in a tomb. He was neither seen nor heard from. The day before He had been crying out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” but on Saturday His voice was silenced. His spotless, blameless, nail-pierced body lay still and motionless in a dark, lifeless grave.

For the followers of Jesus who loved Him and were witness to His death, Saturday was a day of confused heartbreak. They loved Jesus and believed He was the Son of God, the Messiah they had been waiting for. They left behind families, possessions and livelihoods in obedience and dedication to Jesus. All of their hope and trust was in the person of Jesus

But how could they believe in His power to save if He was dead?

Then there was the memory of the bewildering statements the Messiah made before the crucifixion. Jesus explained to His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem and suffer unto death before being raised to life again. These words were beyond His followers’ comprehension.

Why would their Savior have to die and how could He rescue them from their sins if He couldn’t rescue Himself from the cross?  

Although Jesus clearly described the events of His rescue mission as they were to unfold, it was such an unlikely way to save the world that even His closest friends struggled to understand it. And so, on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Jesus’ disciples and followers mourned, fearing that all hope was lost. It was a still, silent, sorrowful Saturday indeed.

In this post-resurrection world, we have the blessing of 20/20 vision and can look back on the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to read about what happened after Saturday. Jesus most certainly did come back to life.

On Easter morning the stone was miraculously rolled away, as explained by a radiant angel. Jesus did walk along the road and talk to His followers, encouraging them with the truth of scripture. He even helped His disciples catch fish and prepared a place for them to partake of it.

When Jesus rose from the dead He not only redeemed the brokenhearted, He removed any need to fear the silence. At His resurrection, the Son of God proved that stillness does not signify hopelessness. Just because Jesus was silent did not mean that God was absent. Even while Jesus lay behind the stone, in a dark and empty tomb, God was at work accomplishing the impossible, orchestrating His redemptive plan, reviving the dead in spirit with new, eternal life.

Although as post-resurrection Christians, we live as children of the Risen, Ascended King, we will still encounter days of silence. There are destined to be seasons when we will not see the visible evidence of God’s promises in the circumstances of our lives. At times, the covenants we received from God will appear to be dead and buried.

But those who have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb have the assurance of Easter Sunday.

As God’s redeemed children we need not endure our still, silent seasons with hopelessness and sorrow because we know that, behind the stone, God is working all things together for our good and His glory. We can obediently and faithfully praise Him on Saturday knowing that, when the time is perfect and right according to His will, God will miraculous open the grave and reveal His resurrection power.

As followers of the risen Christ, may we spend each and every silent day and still season worshipping God with hopeful expectation and the full assurance that He who promised is and always will be faithful.

 “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” – Jesus [Mark 9:31]

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A Message From a Tree Stump

Freshly cut tree stumps abound across the northern post-winter landscape and they’re delivering an unexpected message of hope.

Every year there are trees that don’t survive the winter weather. Some come crashing down under the weight of snow and ice. Others succumb to the pressure of fierce winds. Then there are trees that, although still standing at the end of the winter season, are in such a bent or cracked condition that they’re a hazard. Since it is better to be safe rather than sorry, those trees must be leveled, too.

The result of all this tree damage and destruction is a very busy season for stump grinders.

In early spring, before the surviving trees have sprouted the buds of fresh foliage, the stump-filled landscape looks desolate and depressing. The gapping holes in the ground where tree trunks once stood stand out like sore thumbs. Without new leaves to cover the bare spots, the absence of the demolished trees is too obvious to be ignored.

But, every year, I am reminded that this barren early spring scene will not last forever. The landscape never stays bleak for long. Life always returns to the earth and, when it does, the stumps aren’t so glaring. In time, the demolished trees will become a distant memory.

In the freshly cut tree stumps there is a message of hope for the brokenhearted:

God is faithful and full of grace. He never has and never will abandon His own.

Even if the landscape of your life appears barren today, look to the Tree of Life that is standing eternally victorious. Fix your eyes on the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and rejoice in God’s power to restore, redeem and renew even the most desolate of conditions.

Though stumps may abound for a season, God is always at work beneath the surface, cultivating fresh root systems and bringing forth new blessings upon the landscape. Remember that through the door of death, God ushers in new life. In the perfect timing of His providential seasons, God will transform the landscape of your life with the lush leaves of His goodness and a bounty of foliage that testifies to His redemptive power.

Trust Father God as He develops the buds of His Spirit upon the branches of your soul. Submit to His pruning. Wait on Him with hopeful anticipation and full assurance. Rest in the promise that God has wonderful plans for you and a future of abundance that will bring restoration to the landscape of your post-winter life.

 

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelations 21:5

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New Life Resolutions

“I hate new year’s resolutions,” the man said to his wife with a gravelly, sneering tone that conveyed absolute contempt for the annual tradition. In five forceful words he made his feelings known. Convincing him to change his mind would have been a waste of time – a fact his wife must have known because she didn’t even try. Silence followed the man’s statement and the conversation abruptly ended.

The exchange that unfolded between the man and his wife is a common new year’s scene. People tend to either love or hate new year’s resolutions. The pro-resolution crowd believes it is good to at least make an effort to better one’s self. The anti-resolution crowd says it’s a silly tradition especially since 80% of resolutions fail.

Resolution haters have a point. Every year like clockwork the resolution resolve that was so strong on New Year’s Day wanes by Martin Luther King’s holiday and is ancient history by Valentine’s. After a few slip ups (and who doesn’t slip up?) the resolution feels more burdensome than beneficial. The promises made get trapped in the ruts of life and rarely do they make it out before December 31st.

New Year’s resolutions have earned their bad rap. They have a horrible track record for producing lasting change which is why this year I’m promoting a whole new kind of resolution: A New Life Resolution. A promise to make a spiritual change with eternal significance.

My new life resolution for 2019 and beyond is to pursue Christ…and nothing else.

For my entire life (up until now) I have pursued Christ AND something else. Christ and education…health….a miracle healing modality…a career…a killer business idea…a calling…a livelihood….a passion….a purpose. I believed it was acceptable to seek what this world has to offer while still honoring God.

Turns out I was wrong.

Seeking the world’s offerings made me more like a frenetic squirrel than a faithful follower of Christ. Like a wild, bushy tailed animal that scurries up every tree in search of a tantalizing nutty treat, I frantically searched for purpose and usefulness in this world. I thought if I could just find the right tree bearing the treat I’d be happier, more content and fulfilled.

What I’ve discovered is that I can’t pursue the world in addition to Christ. The result is a life of dissatisfaction, confusion and distraction. Balancing two lives, one lived for God and one lived for the world, doesn’t work. God requires my full, undivided attention be given to knowing Christ and making Him known.

In order to fully obey and glorify God I must put an end to my frantic search for a place in this world. I must surrender my former life of dual quests so I can live exclusively in pursuit of Jesus – His way, His truth and His life.

As I embark on my new life resolution it is important to acknowledge that the key to success does not rest in my own power. If I bank on my own resolve I am doomed to fail as miserably as most new year’s resolutions. The only hope I have of realizing my resolution is to rest in the truth and assurance of Christ’s resurrection. All the strength I need is available at the foot of His cross and to receive it I must stay put, resisting the temptation to be the squirrel that goes scampering off after every distraction. I must continue in the way of obedience, constantly surrendering myself to Jesus and God’s will for my life.

Jesus said in Luke 9:24 that “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” With the Savior of the world as my sole pursuit in this world I have no idea what the year ahead will bring but I know who will bring it. And knowing Him is enough for me.

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Redeemed by Belief

December 2018 was a bust – well, almost.

The first twenty-three days of my December were short on Christmas spirit and high on Christmas angst. The dominating thoughts in my mind revolved around shopping and sulking. If I wasn’t on a frustrating hunt to find the perfect present for every person on my list, I was most likely in a depressive funk. My mood was more melancholy than merry. Sadly, I must admit I was more prone to crankiness than cheeriness. To those who had to share a roof with me this Christmas season, I’m sorry.

Sadly, I know I’m not alone in experiencing a depressing December. When Christmas lights come on and jolly tunes are turned up every sadness and heartache gets magnified. Smiling Santas betray the despondent, mocking them at every festive turn. “Have a holly, jolly Christmas” doesn’t ring true. “I’ll have a Blue Christmas” sounds more appropriate. For those who have an identifiable “reason” to be sad it’s easy to slip into a season of sulking come Christmastime.

And so, on December 1st, that’s precisely what I did. I entered into a twenty-three day season of sulking.

While out shopping I was hopeless, unable to find the perfect gift for the loved ones on my list. While at home I was discontent, trapped in the sadness of my not-so-perfect life. Staring me in the face was the heavy weight of grief born out of a life sidelined by sickness. Although there was much to celebrate since last Christmas – more healing, vitality, improved health – I was blind to the many healing victories. All I could see were a lifetime of dreams and plans destroyed by a decade of sickness.

But then the light of God pierced into my darkness on December 23rd by way of a simple children’s Christmas play.

At New Life Community Church, the home of my church family, a small group of children performed a short and sweet Christmas program that shared a powerful and profound message. With bed sheets for costumes and a simple Bethlehem set, the kids told the story of Jesus’ arrival into the world. Mary and Joseph entered the manger scene followed by angels who appeared to shepherds as they watched their flocks by night. After telling them the good news about the Savior’s birth the young shepherds excitedly declared their desire to travel to Bethlehem and see the promised King of Kings.

As the play came to a close the audience’s attention was drawn back to the narrator as he said, “In believing, they found the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, their Savior. And tonight, just as it was in Bethlehem so many years ago, God has chosen you to hear the good news and believe.” That one line changed the spirit in the room – or at least it changed the spirit in me.

Belief transformed my heart.

Belief in Christ, who He is and what He came to do transformed my December bust into a beautiful time of celebration. By returning to Jesus Christ and fixating on His life from the cradle to the cross, my depression lifted and quickly disappeared. In the Savior’s presence the sadness I had experienced all season long was replaced by abundant joy and overwhelming peace.

Whether it be Christmastime or the middle of July, when we approach the manger throne believing in Christ and the salvation He delivers, we will encounter His peace, comfort and joy. By seeking the Savior and entering into His presence our hearts will be renewed by redeeming love.

Come to God bearing your bust of a month. Surrender your sadness and sorrow so He can transform it. God is faithful. He will redeem and restore you. Come to the manger and God will revive you with an eternally abiding Christmas spirit.

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Christmas is a Box of Chocolates

Tucked in the basement of an old church in downtown Erie, Pennsylvania is the fellowship and dining hall used by the Upper Room, a local homeless shelter.

The windowless space is dim and the kitchen’s appliances are ancient. The long, rectangular tables have seen better days and the hard metal chairs aren’t particularly comfortable. But, on Christmas morning, there’s no place I’d rather be than that humble dining room.

For the homeless, Christmas can be one of the loneliest and most depressing days of the whole year. While families congregate and celebrate the day with delicious meals and carefully wrapped gifts the homeless go without, often spending the holiday alone. Even places they usual gather (McDonalds and soup kitchens) are usually closed, making Christmas not only one the loneliest days of the year but one of the hungriest, too.

It was this lonely, hungry thought that inspired the Christmas Morning Brunch at the Upper Room. Five years ago members from around the community began what would become an annual tradition of hosting a meal for those in need. At the morning meal guests are invited to indulge in a spread of home cooked food complete with fluffy egg casseroles, a variety of muffins, juicy Honey Baked Ham and freshly cut fruit. There is hot coffee on tap, second helpings and even the finest chocolate in all of Erie, PA – Stefanelli’s melt-aways.

Of all the delicious food and baked goods at the Christmas brunch – and there was lots – the box of Stefanelli’s chocolates  was by far the most treasured delight. The white box filled with luscious chunks of rich chocolate was purchased from a local company in town and placed conveniently by the coffee pot where everyone could grab a piece . As guests happened upon the chocolate I watched as their faces lit up. They immediately recognized Stefanelli’s candy – everyone in Erie does. It is considered a luxury and a rare treat, especially for those who often go without daily meals. So it was no surprise when everyone that passed by the box stopped in amazement before scooping up a piece – or two – of chocolatey treasure.

Watching the reception of the Stefanelli’s chocolate struck me as profound. What I witnessed was so much more than men and women being offered chocolate to freely enjoy. What I was watching turned out to be a sweet picture of how God offers us the greatest gift ever – Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. 

Like the special box of chocolates offered at the Upper Room on Christmas morning, God made Jesus accessible to all. He sent His most precious gift, His Son, into the lowliest of circumstances – a humble stable with only a manger for a bed. Although God could have delivered the Savior into a guarded palace or high, lofty estate, He didn’t. He could have kept Jesus far away for the people and out of reach but He didn’t. Instead, God delivered Jesus right into the middle of our broken world where He could shine His light of life in the darkest places and to the most desperate of people. He made Jesus approachable, knowable and conveniently within our weak and feeble reach.

God made Jesus available to all – the worst of sinners, the sickest of individuals and even the dead. When Jesus went out into the world, He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus didn’t come for only the people who had their act together or who had a stellar pedigree. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, the hopeless and the “too far gone.” His gift of salvation was and is for anyone and everyone who will come to Him bearing broken lives, believing He is the Son of God who rescues sinners by way of the cross.

God gave Jesus in endless abundance – just like the box of chocolates.

By the end of the brunch we’d run out of a few breakfast foods. Certain casseroles were all gone and the hash-brown potatoes were no more but the box of chocolates was still half full. Somehow even though nearly every guest had indulged in the rich, meltaway chocolate the supply never ran out. There was enough for everyone and then some.

And so it is with Jesus. In Jesus Christ we have the one and only gift that will never run out and is always fully stocked. Anyone who approaches Jesus’ manger throne in search of the richest mercy and sweetest, most amazing grace will always find that the storehouse of His Salvation is full. Jesus, the Savior of the world, is abundant in boundless love, limitless grace, unfailing forgiveness and abiding peace. His goodness knows no end. There is always more than enough of Jesus to go around…and then some.

On Christmas morning it was a box of chocolates that delivered a special message: that God sent Jesus Christ, the greatest gift of all, into our broken world to offer us salvation through His sacrifice completely free of our charge. All He asks is that we come as we are from wherever we are and partake of heaven and earth’s sweetest, richest, eternally abiding gift: God’s one and only Son.  

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How Moods Go: By Kicking

Oswald Chambers wrote, “Moods never go by praying, moods go by kicking.” And he’s right. “Gently” isn’t an adjective that can be applied to mood-removal. Moods must be eradicated by force.

Although I’ve read Chambers’ words countless times and heartily agree that what he wrote is undeniably true, I must admit that I’m often reluctant to kick my moods – especially “sick” mood.

When chronic illness gets me down and I become trapped in a dark and gloomy pit I call it “sick” mood. In an emotionally sick state I feel too low to rise and too hopeless to try. I reach the end of my rope and all I want to do – all I can think to do – is sulk. Tears are usually shed as I cry over my physical maladies and question why God has allowed this debilitating illness to plague me for so long.

Self-absorption is key to “sick” mood. Fixation on the self is at the heart of it. While trapped in a “sick” mood I am entirely consumed with my chronic illness, my pain, my suffering and my personal disappointments. My every thought revolves around me, myself and I.

The very last thing I want to do in a “sick” mood is kick myself – even if only metaphorically. I want the exact opposite of a kick. I want a hug. I want to be coddled, indulged, justified and humored. I want to be told that my feelings are understandable; that it is okay to get down in the pit; that I should lay low and feel my pain. I want to vent to God and lament my lot in life.

But “sick” mood always makes me sicker – physically, mentally and emotionally. When I give “sick” mood an inch it takes a mile and, before I know it, I’m completely paralyzed by pain and suffering. By indulging the mood I issue an open invitation to sorrow and sadness. Every negative, depressed, hopeless feeling receives a boost of discouraged energy and I get dragged deeper into the dark pit.

There is only one way out of “sick” mood: a round-house resurrection kick.

Even in the midst of pain and suffering Christ’s light and overcoming life is available to me but I can’t experience it if I’m unwilling to kick my mood. Until I reject the sadness of sickness and take hold of Christ’s resurrection power the mood won’t flee. I cannot capitulate to chronic illness and claim the joy, love, peace and hope of Jesus at the same time. One must go for the other to thrive. “Sick” mood must die for the Risen power of Christ to survive in me.

Jesus stands at the ready, willing and able to provide all the strength I need to kick “sick” mood and it can be mine the moment I surrender my will, ways and self-absorbed wallowing. The second I deny myself at the foot of the cross and claim the truth and life of the Holy Spirit “sick” mood is defeated.

When “sick” mood gets kicked abundant life is ushered in. Overcoming, spirited, energetic joy is revived. Restful, calming, comforting peace is restored. Hope makes a comeback and all is well with my soul.

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Jesus, take the pen

For the past few months I’ve been fighting every writer’s arch nemesis: the dreaded dry spell.

Every time I sit down to write a prolific, enlightened word my fingers freeze up and mind draws a blank. Even when compelled to share a particular message the words don’t come out right. The moment my fingers hoover over the keyboard my thoughts evaporate. I hit the keys, racking my brain for the right words but it’s useless. The dry spell has me in its clutches and I’ve been unable to escape.

Being caught in the arid land of a writing dry spell has caused me to experience great grief. For eight years, writing has been a rich source of joy in my life. While experiencing loneliness, isolation and loss, writing has been a much-needed buoy for my ailing soul. When chronic illness closed doors and changed the course of my life, picking up a pen provided me with purpose.

But, more importantly, writing has been my lifeline. As I’ve struggled through sickness, God has used writing as a means to communicate with me and fill me with His strength. Through writing God has reached down and lifted me up from the depths of despair.

Although I didn’t write about it at the time, over the past few years I have experienced severe depression. At my lowest points I have truly wanted to die and a desire I shared with my Mother on numerous occasions. Plagued by the ongoing agony and pain of chronic illness my will to live has been threatened. Physical affliction has compelled me to plead with God and ask Him to release me from my suffering – if not by instantaneous healing then by the escape of death.

But God didn’t give me what I asked for. He didn’t let me die nor did He heal me in an instant. But God didn’t abandon me, either. Every time I fell into the pit of hopelessness and begged for death He gave me what I needed most: an infusion of hope.

God carried me through the darkest periods of my life by giving me one command: get up and write. He used writing as a lifeline to fill me with overcoming life and encourage me with truth. When depression broke me and brought me to the end of myself God grabbed hold of me using a pen and a blank page. Over and over again He has reached down and guided my hand to write a message of perseverance and endurance when I needed it most. To save my life and rescue me from the brink of despair Jesus has truly taken my pen.

In the past few months my body has experienced remarkable healing, much less pain and an improvement in overall health. With the physical improvements have come emotional improvements too. My bouts of depression have become less frequent and less severe while my daily pain levels have been greatly reduced.

But the physical renewal has had ill effects on my writer’s life. Without a need for ongoing, moment-by-moment emotional support my ability to formulate thoughts has dried up. The healing of my body has resulted in a barren season in my writer’s soul.

And I know why.

I’m in a dry spell because for the past eight years most of my writing has been about suffering, affliction and pain. Sickness has been the story of my life – the one ’ve been equipped and compelled to write. But my body is healing now. I’m physically stronger than I was and I’m thankful for that.

The dry spell I’m experiencing is not truly a writer’s dry spell. it is a sickness dry spell. All of these years I have depended on the thorn in my flesh to draw me to the throne of God. I have relied on physical suffering for inspiration and illumination. But physical sorrow isn’t the only reason to write. Pain and suffering is not the only reason to ask Jesus to take my pen and fill the page.

Praise God, I am not spiritually dry. The presence of God’s Holy Spirit is alive and well in my life, compelling me to continue writing and praying, “Jesus take the pen.”

 

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Choose Joy

It was 5 PM on Halloween night and the thought of Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat attire was taunting me. “You’re too sick to dress up in a fun-loving character’s costume”… “You feel too lousy to wear a stripped hat and big red bow… “You certainly can’t put on a cartoon character smile in your physical condition.”

Weeks before the October 31st holiday I purchased my Cat in the Hat costume accessories. With high hopes for my Halloween day health I double-clicked on Amazon and, two days later, Prime delivered a classic Dr. Seuss inspired ensemble featuring the Cat’s signature tall, white and red-stripped hat, big red bow and white gloves.

When the package arrived at the door I let out an audible sigh. On the day I clicked “Complete Order” I’d felt strong and hopeful for my health’s near future. That had only been two days prior but already my gut had taken another hit. With Halloween still a few weeks away I silently prayed that the suffering in my stomach would subside before the holiday arrived. “God, I want to be a joyful Cat in the Hat on October 31st but I can’t if I’m plagued with a gripping pain in my gut. Please heal me…and quick!

For the next three weeks the costume accessories remained unopened in my closet as I waited for my prayer to be answered. Days passed and the pain didn’t. When October 31st finally arrived my physical condition wasn’t the least bit improved. In fact, it had worsened.

As the sun was beginning to set on Halloween night and trick-or-treaters were about to hit the streets in search of candy I laid on my closet’s floor gripping my stomach in pain. That’s when I looked up and, out of the corner of my eye, caught a glimpse of the Cat in the Hat attire still in its bag. All day I had tried to avoid the accessories, too discouraged by my condition to consider changing into a costume. The very thought of the Cat in the Hat produced in me feelings of sadness and grief until I looked up and noticed a picture on the side of the package – a picture I hadn’t noticed before: two smiling faces dressed like Cat in the Hat smiling back at me.

The sight of those smiling faces quieted my mind’s taunting voice and flooded my spirit with a fresh burst of resolve. It was as if the Cat in the Hat himself were beckoning me to rise up, change my attitude and my attire and choose joy.  

Five minutes later I was wearing black pants and a black button up shirt underneath a white suit jacket. Around my neck was a big red velvety bow. On my hands were white cotton cartoon gloves and on my head was a tall, wide brimmed, white and red-stripped hat. On my face was a big, wide toothy, cartoon smile and in my heart was overcoming joy.

On Halloween 2018 I embraced the joy and delight of the Cat in the Hat. On All Hallows Eve I choose to wear a smile. Yes, I was in pain. Yes, my gut was still in distress. But my heart was full of persistent hope. In my spirit that was determination and resiliency.

Choosing joy transformed my Halloween night from one of defeat into one of overwhelming victory. Choosing joy will do that – it will change things. It will change people. It will transform circumstances and outcomes.

When I prayed to God weeks before October 31st I believed my pain needed to be removed in order for joy to be restored but God showed me the error of my ways. God used a Cat in the Hat costume to remind me that the presence of joy is not contingent on the absence of pain. I do not need to be painless to be joyful because the joy of Jesus is so powerful it can overcome my pain.

Every time l rise up and approach God’s throne of grace with faith and belief, asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit and joy of Jesus’ victorious life, God always delivers. He annihilates pain’s power in the presence of Christ’s resurrection power. He lifts sorrow and sadness and replaces it with joy and gladness.

Every day I get to make a choice about the attitude I will wear. By the grace of God and the strength of the Risen King I pray I’ll always choose joy.