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Salvation, Sickness & Singleness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Today’s reading: Psalm 16

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The Hope of Heaven

Her body was shockingly skeletal and small. Her skin was pasty white and paper thin. As I stood in the doorway of her hospital room and saw her lying in the bed, completely still, I wondered if I’d come too late. Was she already gone?

I walked across the room to look for signs of life and found one in the shallow rise and fall of her chest. I let out a sigh of relief and then took a seat in the chair next to her bed. “Hi Lucy,” I said. “It’s Stephanie and I’ve come to read to you.” I knew she couldn’t respond, and I didn’t expect her to, but I was sure her heart would hear the word of God.

So, I opened up the scriptures and turned to my favorite Psalm – Psalm 23. I read through it slowly, adding special inflection to each line. I read the beautiful words as if they were golden honey flowing sweetly from a hive.

For the first five verses of Psalm 23 Lucy didn’t make a move. Her eyes were closed and breathing was barely visible. But once I reached the last verse of the passage and read “I will dwell in the house of the Lord,” something miraculous happened. Lucy’s leg leapt for joy.

My eyes must have turned into the size of saucers at the sight of Lucy’s physical response to the promise of Heaven. In her leg’s movement I could see her heart’s exuberance. Even though she lay trapped in a failing body, nearing the end of her earthly life, Lucy’s spirit was strong and her hope in heaven was healthy and well.

For the next thirty minutes as I read through many more scriptures, one word continued to strike a chord with Lucy: eternity. Each time I shared a passage about heaven and the mansion being prepared for her in that splendid place, Lucy’s legs moved in celebration at the new life to come. Over and over I watched as the joy of the Lord became her strength.

The great promise that we, as born-again believers have, is eternity. In this life we endure hardship, pain and suffering, but, through it all, we look ahead to the everlasting life to come.

With our faith securely established in the resurrection of Jesus, we can rest assured that no matter what becomes of our earthly tent, our true home in glory awaits us.

Although this world and every body will pass away, Heaven, where we are headed, will endure forever.

Within days, doctors expect Lucy to be gone from this world, but when her body passes away her soul will enter through Heaven’s pearly gates, more alive than it has ever been before.

So, before I left her hospital room, I told Lucy that I look forward to worshipping with her in glory because I know someday we’ll both be there, leaping for joy, praising Jesus forevermore.

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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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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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Harveigh: The Survivor Cow

Harveigh is a survivor cow.

During Hurricane Harvey, the category four storm that hit southern Texas in 2017, twenty-seven billion gallons of water fell in just four days causing the loss of over one hundred thousand homes and eighty-eight lives. The hurricane, often referred to in Texas as “the storm of the century,” left wide spread devastation in its wake.

Set in the midst of this heartbreaking scene we meet Harveigh, a baby calf born in the midst of the storm. In the chaos of the hurricane, Harveigh’s mother abandoned her and left the poor calf in the pasture to fend for herself. That’s when farm owners, Mr. & Mrs. Canton, spotted Harveigh standing all alone in the flooded pasture. The rain was still falling and the waters were rising quickly. They knew Harveigh was in imminent danger and hopeless without help.
Despite the treacherous weather conditions, Mr. Canton jumped into action. He went straight into the pasture and maneuvered through frigid, muddy waters to rescue Harveigh and pull her to safety.

But when she was out of the flooded pasture she wasn’t home free yet. Not even close. Harveigh was malnourished, weak and chilled to the bone. She had been battered by the worst of the storm and hadn’t been nursed in days.

Although the Canton’s house was already full of dogs and families displaced by the storm, they rushed Harveigh into the warmth. They laid her in a dog bed and covered her with blankets and towels. The vet warned that Harveigh would likely not survive but the Canton’s weren’t about to give up hope. They were determined to fight for Harveigh and do everything in their power to help her survive. They drove through flooded streets to buy formula so Harveigh could be fed by hand. The Canton’s loved on Harveigh, prayed for her and nursed her back to health. Even the family dogs became Harveigh’s friends, encouraging her to recover and join them in the yard to romp around and play.

Today Harveigh is over four hundred pounds and a beloved member of the Canton family. She is playful, gentle and spirited. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the Canton’s, Harveigh not only survived the storm, she has gone on to thrive and enjoy a full, abundant life.

Harveigh’s story reminds me of the greatest rescue story of all: Jesus’ act of rescue that saved you and me from our devastating storm of sin.

Like Harveigh, you and I were caught in the “storm of the century.” Our storm of sin separated us from everlasting life and the eternal protection that is only found in God’s house. We were spiritually weak, malnourished and chilled to the core of our soul. We were stuck in rising flood waters, helpless and powerless to get out.
But Jesus spotted us.

From up on high, Jesus saw our desperate need and jumped into action to save us. He entered into the lowliest of circumstances, a humble manger, and walked through the muck and mire of this life to rescue us. Jesus Christ lived and died in our pasture to save and deliver us from certain eternal death.

But, just like Harveigh, our story doesn’t end at the rescue.

After He saved us, Jesus opened the door into God’s house and welcomed us in. He prepared a special place for us to keep us warm and well fed. He cleaned us up from the ravaging effects of the storm and wrapped us in blankets of grace and love. To bring us back to health, Jesus Himself came and nourished us with the Holy Spirit’s strength and overcoming life – an act of infinite love He still performs to this day! 

Glory be to God who redeemed us by the blood of the Lamb and restored us in His house. We are made survivors because of the Savior who rescued us and gives us full, abundant, eternal life!

 

**Check out  a video about Harveigh!