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These Ticks are Ticking Me Off

Hailing from Pennsylvania, AKA “tick country,” you can bet I did my do-diligence on the Tennessee tick situation before making a move to the Volunteer state.

“Come to TN,” the articles said. “We’re tick free!” they said.

But “they” were wrong.

In the past 36 hours I have extracted three ticks from two living beings (ie: myself and Faith)and we’re not even in the Smoky Mountains! The first tick was discovered on my leg, the second on Faith’s leg and the third on her belly. All were successfully removed – which gives me an idea. If my current line of work dries up maybe I could start a tick extraction business!? Heaven knows I’d have enough experience to enter the field. “Stephanie, the extraordinary tick extractor” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

But enough about my future in the tick business and back to my current tick troubles.

After pulling tick number three from Faith’s belly (he was already dead – thank God), I felt utterly defeated. In the past 36 hours I’ve upped my tick defense for both Faith and I, applying copious amounts of repellant spray and administering special supplements to Faith’s food. I even purchased one of those ghastly expensive tick and flea collars touted as “the gold standard” in preventative care. And yet, the ticks are still coming fast and furious. They are dog-on determined to latch onto my dog and me, sucking our blood while infecting us with God knows what.

I know that for the average dog owner this might just be a routine, day-in-the life occurrence. After all, ticks are a part of life. But for a long term chronic Lymie like myself, a tick is an anxiety inducing pest. When I see one of those detestable creatures I see the nemesis who hijacked my twenties and nearly killed me. To me, ticks are the bearer of debilitating disease and severe suffering. They are also the deliverer of death. Remember, my Pippy love died from an enlarged heart caused by Lyme disease that she contracted from a tick. Tiny as they are (some as small as a pin head), ticks have caused me ineliminable and unforgettable damage.

As I sat there on the floor with Faith, expertly holding tick number three between the arms of my trusty tweezers, I told my little pup how sorry I am that I can’t seem to protect her from these nasty bugs.

This would probably be a good time to admit that sometimes I talk to Faith like she’s a human. But, seriously, what dog owner doesn’t? As all my fellow dog owners well know, when we talk to our furry friends, we never actually get a worded reply. Our pups do us one better. They just look at us with these incredibly knowing expressions, conveying more in their smile than a thousand words ever could. And this is just the kind of look Faith gave me in response to my apology. It was sympathetic and yet encouraging; knowing and reassuring. With her signature ear to ear grin, it’s as if Faith was saying, “It’s okay. Just have faith.” 

We could all use that simple reminder at times, couldn’t we? Sometimes, when a worldly trouble ticks us off, we just need to be told to “have faith.” Not, “have a better preventive treatment” or “have a more effective repellant.” Not “have a chill pill” or “have a better attitude.” Simply “have faith.”

There is good reason why God tells us to “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), for when we do, we are set free from the anxiety and worry that lurks in the shadows of life’s trials, troubles and tribulations. Faith releases us from the burden of the world’s brokenness so we no longer feel the need to fix everything ourselves or become discouraged when problems persist. The weights of defeat and hopelessness are lifted off our shoulders when we give our cares to Jesus and faithfully abide in Him.

Faith-filled followers beware: the enemy will try to use every challenge (and tick) you face to crush your hope and do damage to your faith. But never forget that what the enemy means for evil God means for good! When we let Him, God will employ every trouble to deepen trust in His sovereignty and cultivate confidence in His plans. He will transform every trial and tribulation into a golden opportunity to strengthen our faith in Christ and His foe-conquering power.

Dear friend, remember that there is no tick on earth God doesn’t see and no trouble He does not understand inside and out. Trust Him, for He is the Creator, Sustainer and Ruler of all things. Have faith, for He is worthy of your unwavering confidence and belief.

 

 

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Lessons from Lightening Bugs

Something magical happens almost every summer night right around 8 PM… lightning bugs appear.

As if on cue, the rear ends of these beloved flying creatures begin to illuminate the dimming sky at the precise moment that the sun starts saying good night. Even though they arrive without a sound, the lightening bug’s presence is undeniable. Like flickering lights, they dance across the grassy earth in a captivating display of nature’s unrivaled beauty.

Although lightening bugs are relatively simple creatures, they are simply wonderful creatures, too. They boast impeccable timing, showing up at precisely the same moment every night. And they are utterly dependable, returning every summer, without fail, to entertain children and adults alike. But, more than that, lightening bugs are a marvelous picture of who God is and how He reveals Himself to man’s eye.

You see, like lightening bugs, God is most visible in the dark. While the world’s lights are blazing with earthly ease and glittery pleasures, it is all too easy to miss the majestic light of Jesus moving before our very eyes. We become so distracted by entertainment, productivity and the everyday comings and goings of a comfortable life that we fail to see the very Light of Life. But when our lives go dim and the blinding glare of earth’s desires fade off into the distance, what remains is the captivating glow of Jesus’ light piercing through the darkness.

Perhaps this is why God allows His children to end up in the dark, permitting the extinguishing of earthly lights and stripping away of worldly securities. Because our God is a jealous God who wants our full attention. He does not want us distracted and preoccupied with temporary gratification. He wants us entirely fixated on and completely captivated by the brilliant and eternal light of His Son, Jesus Christ.

To see lightening bugs, we must go out at night and wait for dark but, beloved, that is not so with God’s light.

Unlike the lightening bug, God’s light is not seasonal nor is it only visible during a certain time of day. His glorious light can be seen anytime, anywhere and all year round. Although we might not always perceive Jesus’ brilliance shining into our lives, that doesn’t mean the sparkle of His Spirit is not there. Right before He ascended into Heaven, Jesus promised that He would be with us, “even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) But in order to find Him, we must intentionally and wholeheartedly seek His light, much like a child looks for a lightening bug on a warm summer night. (Jeremiah 29:13)

Beloved, God’s light is all around you. Do you see it? Day and night, the splendor of His presence is right before you. Does He have your attention? Oh, how I hope and pray you will turn your eyes upon Him tonight and let Him captivate you in body, mind and soul. I can assure you of this, when you enter into the presence of God and fix your eyes on Jesus’ Light of Life, you will never want to return to the dark.

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Recognizing Jesus

One of my favorite post-resurrection accounts of Jesus is found in John chapter 21. Let’s return to the scene.

It’s nighttime and five of Jesus’ disciples are itching for something to do. Simon Peter decides he’ll go fishing which sounds like a fantastic idea to his four friends. And, with that, the five gather their nets, jump in a boat and hit the salty seas.

But there’s a problem. The fish aren’t biting. The disciples wait all night and into the morning, but they still don’t have enough fish for breakfast. That’s when they see a man standing on the sandy shore of the beach. He’s far away – maybe a hundred feet or so – but he seems to understand their predicament and, what’s more, he has a solution. “Cast your net on the other side,”he says.

Since the disciples aren’t having any luck doing it their way, they figure why not take the advice of the stranger on the beach? So, they lift their nets and cast them off the opposite side of the boat. And that’s when the incredible happens. In no time at all, the net fills up with so many fish the men can’t even muscle it up out of the water and onto the boat!

It’s at this miraculous point in the story that John looks up and across the water. And that’s when it clicks. The man on the beach is Jesus. “It’s the Master!” John says. Without missing a beat, Simon Peter throws on his clothes (he had been stripped down for work but that wouldn’t be any way to greet his Lord and Savior) and flings himself into the ocean. His excitement is uncontainable! Meanwhile, the other men begin rowing their little boat hurriedly across the sea and back to shore to join in the post-resurrection reunion.

When the men make it back to the beach bearing 153 big fish, they might assume that Jesus will be using their bountiful catch for the meal but, to their surprise, a tantalizing feast has already been prepared. While they were waiting for the fish to bite, Jesus was at work by the fire, browning their protein and carbs for the brunch.

The disciples never actually confirm that the man on the beach is Jesus. No one asks, “Umm, hey, Jesus, I mean sir, uh, I just want to just double check something…. you’re really the Messiah who was just crucified and rose from the grave three days later, right?” They don’t make such inquiries because they don’t need to. The men were sure this was really Jesus because they recognized His face from a hundred yards away. They had no doubt it was their Messiah because, when they heard and heeded his instruction, they experienced another one of His indescribable miracles. Because of their great love for Jesus, their hearts were open to receiving and responding to His surprise visit.

I love this picture of Jesus with his disciples, don’t you? His gentle instruction. Simon Peter’s passionate devotion. The abundant catch. The breakfast spread. The whole scene is a glorious picture of Jesus’ pursuing love and faithful friendship that delights in making surprise visits.

Now, just because Jesus has ascended to Heaven and isn’t preparing your omelet on the seashore doesn’t mean that He isn’t showing up unannounced. Jesus, in the form of His Holy Spirit, still takes great pleasure in making surprise visits. The question is, do we recognize Him?

While studying John 21:1-15, I discovered that the disciples’ actions and attitudes reveal three key principles for recognizing, receiving and responding to Jesus. Let’s look at them:

First, we must look up and out. Until John looked across the water, he didn’t know that the man on the shore was Jesus. And the same is true with us. Jesus still shows Himself to His followers today. His Spirit is active and moving all around us but we must have our eyes open and gaze focused outward in order to perceive Him.

Second, we must keep our ears attune to His voice. While out on the water, the disciples weren’t listening to the news and they most certainly didn’t have ear buds in. If we want to hear Jesus, we could benefit by following their example and keep our ears and minds free from competing noise. Oftentimes, our own inner dialogue is the greatest distraction from hearing the voice of Jesus. Therefore, we must guard our minds from ourselves and from the outside world, intentionally filling our mental space with thoughts that are true, right, pure, lovely and admirable. “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) Then, when the voice of Jesus comes (and it must assuredly will come), we will be prepared to receive it.

Last, but certainly not least, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul. When you love someone, you can recognize them from afar. When you love someone, you can watch them walk from a hundred yards away and know that it is them just by the way they swing their arms. It is this love and devotion that positioned the disciples to be attune to their Saviors voice and familiar with the distant sight of His face. Love sent Peter jumping into the water. Love left the disciples in holy awe and wonder.

How are you doing when it comes to recognizing Jesus? Are you regularly receiving His surprise visits? Are you responding with sold out surrender and devotion?

Jesus is still appearing and if you look, listen and love, you won’t miss a single surprise visit.

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Turbulence & Trust

As the plane taxied down the runway, the pilot’s voice echoed over the PA system, welcoming passengers on board flight 2071 with service to Charlotte. After a dutiful greeting, he went on to warn that turbulence awaited us in the skies above. I hoped he was wrong but, twenty minutes later, the airplane turned rollercoaster ride proved him right.

As the plane hit choppy air the whole cabin began to rock and sway. The flight attendants stopped beverage service on account of severely sloshing drinks and the captain turned on the fasten seat belt sign. Meanwhile, the stranger seated next to me gripped his armrest a little tighter and took an extra deep breath. That’s when I shut my book, closed my eyes and began praying the lyrics of a simple worship song: “Oh God, you are my God and I will every praise you…”

This wasn’t the first time I turned to the lyrics of “Step-By-Step” while on an unsettled airplane. It’s actually my go-to turbulence lullaby. The words of praise shift my focus away from fear and onto the foundational truth that God is in control. As I sing, I remember that the atmosphere is not more powerful than its Creator and aerodynamics are no match for the Maker of the skies. 

No matter what unrest lies ahead, God is in control.

But it’s not just while flying at a bumpy 35,000 feet that I need reminded of God’s almighty power and unwavering control. Down on earth, my spirit is just as desperate for the steadying truth that God is bigger than any force or foe I will ever face. No power of hell or scheme of man can thwart His flawless will. No trial or tribulation can alter His unfailing goodness. No unrest can disrupt His perfect providence.

Turbulence is no match for the Almighty God!

God holds the whole world in His hands – including yours and mine. He sees every sparrow in the sky and charts the path of every plane through the clouds. Nothing we encounter surprises Him or shakes His confidence. Just like the pilot knew that flight 2071 would hit rough air before the plane’s wheels ever left the ground, God has known, since before you and I were ever born, every detail of every trial we would ever counter.

Friend, whether you are traveling through rough air in a plane or a rocky road on the ground, remember the unshakable greatness of God. Instead of relying on an arm rest to calm your fears, lean on the presence of Christ. Let every bump along life’s way bring you closer to His perfect peace as you prayerful praise His holy name.
 

“I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.”

– Psalm 145:1-3

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Walking Into the Wind

Have you ever been out on a walk when, all of a sudden, a mighty gust of wind sweeps in from seemingly out of nowhere?

I wouldn’t mind these surprise gusts if I could control their direction and guide the wind to push me from behind. But gusts of wind rarely blow the way I’d like them to. Instead, they tend to direct their invisible force square right into my chest and face.

Just the other day, while on an afternoon walk at a park, I encountered this windy phenomenon. As it so happened, the wind arrived at my front at the precise moment that I approached the bottom of a hill. As I made the ascent, the gusts effectively slowed my otherwise quick clip down to a snail’s pace while simultaneously causing my lungs to work a little harder.

The moment I crested the top of the hill the wind mysteriously disappeared. I looked around to observe the trees and they were completely still. It’s as if the wind had only shown up so God could teach me a lesson – which he proceeded to do the moment I turned around and saw who was rolling up the hill behind me. 

As I observed the scene, I saw a young woman in a manual wheelchair completing the windy climb. There was no one else with her to assist with a little push or word of encouragement. She was all by herself, persevering up the windy hill with her own God-given strength and persistence.

Had the woman looked weary and worn out, no one would have faulted her. She had every excuse to feel exhausted and beaten down. But, as I saw her reach the top of the hill, there wasn’t a hint of defeat in her expression. What most people would call a disability did not interfere with her ability to overcome the windy hill challenge while wearing a genuine smile on her face.

As I saw the beautiful woman’s joyful countenance, it hit me like a gust of wind: that’s how Jesus’ followers should carry themselves when walking into life’s winds.

As Christ’s followers, we are called to not only endure the winds of this life but to do so with joy. It is as we walk through trials and tribulations with gladness that our spirit testifies to the goodness of the Lord. As we let God live in and through us, our countenance becomes a looking glass for others to see the greatness of our resurrected King. With a genuine smile, we show the world that we are being upheld and strengthened by the overcoming power of the risen Christ.

Dear friend, next time you face a wind, I pray that you’ll wear a smile on your face and keep moving faithfully forward full of joy, peace and hope. Let the love and grace of Jesus control your countenance as you conquer the climb one victorious step at a time.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Romans 12:12

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Shelter in the Storm

On a wet and soggy weekday morning, I witnessed three turkeys running up the sidewalk on Mack Hatcher Road, a four-lane boulevard set between the mountains in middle Tennessee. The feathered fowl were moving fast – well as fast as tri-toed feet can be expected to move. From my rain covered window, I could see the feverish look on the birds’ faces as they frantically searched for shelter from the storm.

The scene was peculiar. It’s not every day you see turkeys doing their own trot along the sidewalk. But it was a bit comical, too, since, only a few feet away from the turkeys, was a covered pavilion. If the turkeys wanted to be protected from the rain, they should have simply turned around. Then they would have seen the picture-perfect safe haven positioned right behind them.

As I drove along, chucking at the irony of the turkey’s dilemma, the smirk on my face melted away as a revelation dawned on me: “I’m not so much different than those birds.”

Like the crazed turkeys running up Mack Hatcher, I have been known to become frantic when caught in one of life’s storms. Just like the silly birds that dread a drenching rain, I dread trouble and difficulty. I’m human and this means I don’t relish life’s soaking wet situations. I want to be safe, dry and carefree. And, so, when dreary conditions arise, I gather up my feathers and flee as fast as I can.

But, in the end, I wind up looking as ridiculous as a trio of turkeys running up Mach Hatcher in a rainstorm.

Instead of leading me to a place of refuge, my frenzied attempt to flee the storm leaves me shuffling up a sidewalk while being pelted with the very problem I was trying to avoid in the first place. I slip and slide in an anxious attempt to find illusive rest and relief. Meanwhile, as I frantically search for an overhang or escape route, I wind up missing the picture-perfect safe haven that’s right behind me: the cross of Christ.

If only I would stop desperately darting my eyes from left to right and fix my eyes in Jesus’ direction, I would see that He has already prepared a shelter from the storm. Long before I ever knew the thunder and rain were coming, He readied my refuge under the shadow of His wings. The Lord Jesus, in His infinite grace, love and mercy, doesn’t expect or want His beloved followers to face a single downpour alone. He lived, died and rose again to be the unshakable Strong Tower, Mighty Fortress and immovable Anchor in every circumstance and every storm, for every child of God that calls on His holy name.

When the rain starts falling, which it will for all of us sooner or later, we have a choose to make. We can follow in the turkey’s tri-toed footsteps and frantically run away in search of our own deliverance. Or we can faithfully follow Jesus and run to the foot of His cross.

My recommendation? Don’t be a turkey.

Instead, seek Jesus with all your heart, mind and soul. Trust in the resurrection power of Christ as you run to His cross while rejoicing in the words of the Psalmist: “He will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you.” (Psalm 91:4)

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Southern Hospitality

For as long as I can remember I’ve heard about Southern hospitality but have questioned whether or not the phenomenon is true. Does geniality really corollate with geography? I doubted it until I moved to Tennessee.

In just two short months, Tennessee has made me a Southern hospitality believer. What can I say? People are just plain friendlier in the volunteer state. They offer up kindness free of charge and provide service with a smile. Cashiers strike up conversation and somehow manage to find a topic that goes deeper than the temperature. The atmosphere in Tennessee is so welcoming and inviting that it’s easy to feel right at home in the buckle of the Bible belt.

Being surrounded by hospitality has caused me to question why. Why is the south known for their hospitality? After all, southerners are human beings, no different than northerners. Is it something in the water? Or perhaps something in the sweet tea? Could it have to do with the warmer temperatures? Maybe people are kinder when exposed to less cold air?

But then I looked up at the landscape and realized that southerners aren’t more hospitable on account of a beverage or the climate. They are more hospitable because of active belief in Christ.

You see, when I look across the landscape of middle Tennessee, I see an absolutely glorious sight. Steeples. Dozens of them in just a few square miles. Steeples in middle Tennessee are like Starbucks in New York City. They’re everywhere.

In the buckle of the Bible belt where churches are thriving, so is the gospel message of kindness, generosity and hospitality. People are hearing the words of Jesus and, the good news is, they’re practicing what He preached. The even better news it that anyone, no matter where they live, can embody this same characteristic because being hospitable isn’t dependent on where we live but on Who lives in us.

 

“…Always be eager to practice hospitality.” – Romans 12:13

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Belief: Is it bigger than butterflies?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pippy Love

At 2:39 AM on August 9, 2019, my dear Pippy Love departed this earthly world and entered into doggie heaven.

I know that some people don’t believe there is such a thing as doggie heaven, but I disagree with some people. Ever since my childhood dog, Puff, crossed over that rainbow bridge I’ve believed that God has set apart a special place in heaven for our furry friends. After all, He allowed dogs to be given His name spelled backwards. Could there be any question He has a special place for them in His heart?

Bottom line: our God is too good to not prepare a place for our pets.

To say that I’m devastated is an understatement. Pip was only eight years old. She was supposed to live till at least fifteen – at least that’s what the dog gurus said I could expect given her size and breed. Even when she was diagnosed with Lyme disease and congestive heart failure a few months ago, I was confident she’d beat the disease. After all, that’s what she helped me do when I was diagnosed with Lyme and I was sure I’d help her do the same.

In her last weeks of life, Pippy’s future looked bright. At Frontier Park – her favorite place to sniff and explore – she ran with the vigor of a dog half her age. Her energy was such a source of hope that Mom and I even said to each other, “Look, the Pipster is coming back!”

But, then, on the evening of August 8th, Pippy took a sharp and dramatic turn for the worse. Her breathing became so labored she couldn’t relax. She stretched out her neck, gasping for air. A panic look pierced her sweet, tender eyes. It was terribly distressing just to watch. I can’t even imagine how much more distressing it must have been for my dear Pip to experience.

At the vet we were given two options: put Pip down or put her on oxygen and drain the fluid around her heart. The first option was a sure death. The second was a possibility of three more months of life – best case scenario.

I hated both options, especially since both meant leaving Pippy on a cold metal table in the hands of an equally cold veterinarian. Knowing Pippy, I know she hated those options just as much as I did.

In our eight years together Pip never had to say a word to speak volumes. The two of us communicated on a deeper level. With one simple head tilt to the left I could read her detailed message. It was different than the message she sent when tilting her head to the right. That’s how tight Pippy and I were. We could read each other’s head tilts.

So, when the vet gave me two options, I knew what Pippy wouldn’t want. She wouldn’t want to be left hooked up to a machine with tubes and wires. But I didn’t believe Pippy would want to die by injection underneath the fluorescent lights of a vet’s office, either. The idea of playing God and deciding Pippy’s destiny was unfathomable to me. I wanted God to play God, so I prayed and waited for divine feedback.

It was the middle of the night and we were back at home, laying hands on Pippy and praying for the Holy Spirit’s intervention. That’s when Pippy began struggling even harder to breath. I told my Mom we couldn’t stand by and do nothing. She suggested we get in the car and drive. I agreed.

As we began heading east, in the direction of the vet, I fervently asked God to step in before we reached the doors of that sterile place. “Heal her or take her home,” I asked, hoping for the former but surrendered to God’s will no matter what the future held.

And that’s when it happened. In the arms of my Mom, while listening to WCTL on the radio, Pippy’s labored breathing became shallow. The struggle suddenly ceased as her body relaxed. Her heart beat slowed to a stop and within a few minutes she was gone.

I pulled over near Frontier Park, overcome with heartbreak, shock and disbelief. Just a few hours earlier Pippy had been enjoying a walk along those paths, sniffing grass and breathing in the great outdoors. I couldn’t – and still can’t – fully comprehend that she could die that same night. It didn’t make sense but, then again, when does loss ever make sense?

Pippy was an incredible dog and saying goodbye to her is breaking my heart for a million reasons.

While I was alone and single for the past eight years, Pippy was my companion. I hopped from Florida to Ohio to Florida again to Pittsburgh, with multiple stints in Erie in-between, and Pippy always came along for those rides. She was my constant in a world of change.

Then there was her spirit. Pippy had such a great way about her. She was docile and sometimes even timid. Pip was so kind she would never have dreamed of hurting a fly let alone a human. She was good natured and sweet. Truly a gem of a dog and friend.

Pip was obedient, too. She could walk off leash nearly anywhere and behave like a good dog should. I’ll never forget when we lived in Chagrin Falls, OH where I used to walk with Pippy down in the village – off leash, of course. Bystanders couldn’t believe that Pip stuck right by me without ever venturing into the street. She even stopped respectfully at crosswalks. Before stepping one paw into the street she’d look back at me for guidance, as if to ask, “Is it okay to go, Mom?”

Pippy was my baby, my friend, my comforter and my reason for living for the past eight years. When I was too sick to do much of anything, I still always walked Pippy. There were so many days when my own illness threatened my life and will to live. I used to cry because I felt so useless. “What good is my life if I’m always sick?”

Once again, Pippy gave me my answer. With her big, sweet brown eyes, she would look at me as if to say, “Your life is important to me.” Getting up and doing right by Pippy was incentive for me to keep fighting for my health when defeated tempted me to give up. She gave me reason to keep pushing ahead and, for that alone, I owe her a debt of gratitude that I could never repay.

Pippy was the most incredible dog and I am the most blessed dog mom to have had her by my side for the past eight years. I will miss her more than words could ever convey and I’ll certainly cry more than I will ever admit. But, even in season of mourning as I grieve the loss of my best buddy, I will give thanks to God for the life of my precious Pippy who provided me with such great friendship, comfort and love.  

Pip, I can’t believe your gone but I know that we’re going to meet again.

You were such an amazing dog and I can’t imagine my life without you being in it. You brought joy, laughter and comfort to the hardest decade of my life. Before I ever knew I would need you as my “therapy dog,” God knew and He provided me the perfect pup for the job.

I am going to miss you more than words can say but I will keep your memory with me every single day.

I love you Pipster…You’ll always be my Little Bear. 

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Waves of Amazing Grace

Walking on the beach is one of life’s simple – and serene – pleasures. There is nothing quite like strolling next to the vast ocean, breathing in the salty air and listening to the waves break against the shore. While the warm sun beats down from above, cool water rushes in to refresh from below. It is a calming scene that elicits feelings of tranquility and peace.

After a walk on the beach, I breath a little deeper and feel more relaxed and at ease. I used to think the ocean air was to thank. Perhaps all of that salt is good for the lungs? Or maybe it was the visual sight of the water? That seemed to make sense since studies have shown that just watching ocean waves helps to relieve stress and anxiety.

But then, as I was walking on the beach one day, I looked behind me and saw the waves washing over the footprints I’d left in the sand. And that’s when I realized that what both my body and soul love about a walk on the beach is the picture of grace I see when I look down.

When I looked down at the shoreline and glanced back behind me, I saw the footprints I left behind and the impact I’d made on the perfectly smooth, moist sand. The memory of my every step was right there before my eyes but only for a moment because, seconds later, they were gone.

Like an artist’s paint brush sweeping across a canvas, the ocean’s wave glided effortlessly across the sand, completely covering the ground below. With one fluid stroke of salty water, every speck of sand was renewed and my every step was erased.

As the wave receded and pulled back into the vast ocean, it left behind not a trace of my footprints. There was not a trace of evidence that I had just traversed that stretch of sandy beach. The ground looked completely new and untouched by the soles of man.

And so it is with God’s redeeming love and grace.

At the shoreline of my life I covered the sand with steps of disobedience and rebellion. With my sinful actions I left behind imprints of shame and guilt.

But Christ’s perfect blood washed me clean.

Jesus, in an amazing wave of grace, died to cover my guilt with purifying waters of mercy and love. Then, with overcoming redemptive power, He rose to new life again, erasing every memory and trace of sin’s stain in my life.

And that’s when I realized that the most powerful benefits from walking on the beach don’t come from the salty air or the motion of the ocean. They come from seeing Jesus’ redeeming love in every sandy step washed away in the waves of God’s amazing grace.

 

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,”

– Titus 3:5