Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jesus, Pour Out Your Spirit on Me.

One of the first Sundays back to school in September, Kris and I went to Exodus church as we do most Sundays. The pastor, as he usually does, asked us to repeat after him some key phrase that was critical to his sermon, necessitating audience participation. I followed along, repeating the phrase and letting the words slip off my tongue rather carelessly, ignorant of the effects of the words I was uttering.

"Jesus, pour out Your spirit on me."

Over the next few weeks, we uttered these words throughout the church services and were encouraged to repeat these words throughout the days and weeks to come, replacing "me" with family and friends, coworkers, our enemies, local churches, civic leaders, etc.

What I presumed to be careless utterances turned into Truths that would come alive over the next few months as Jesus lead me to a journey of radical growth and transformation. Jesus would come to pour out His spirit on me, but certainly in ways that were entirely unexpected.

Let me explain...

On Wednesday, September 29, 2011, I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a disease that effects your GI tract, causing inflammation and various other problems. The symptoms vary from person to person. I have inflammation particularly in my colon (also called colitis) and my illeum, which is where the large and small intestines connect (to learn more check out the wikipedia page). My Crohn's disease is pretty mild, and flares up largely in response to stress. I've decided to go gluten-free, and when I'm having problems in particular, I eat very mild foods such as rice, fruits, plain chicken, potatoes, eggs, etc. In addition, I've recently been told that I have mytral and tricuspid regurgitation in my heart as well as recent boughts of tachycardia and shortness of breath. I've had a bacteria in my stomach that has been treated twice with anti-biotics over a period of 3 months and doesn't seem to want to go away. This particular bacteria causes me to constantly feel tired, weak, sick, bloated, nauseous, etc. And if it's not treated, can become life-threatening over time (although I'm totally fine because I'm being monitored!) And in case that wasn't enough for you all, I'm fighting a sinus infection and found a dime-sized lump on the left side of my chest (ended up being nothing! YAY!).

Oh, and my truck broke down...twice.

The last few months have been anything but easy. Moments of rest are cherished, 'good poops' are rejoiced upon, and the feeling of fullness is typically fleeting as my new diet abruptly stole most of the things I once loved to eat (namely Chalupas). My body doesn't always feel good, in fact, most of the time I feel pretty terrible. My heart beats too fast. My stomach hurts way too often. I have to go to the bathroom at least 5x more than the average person. I take 13 pills a day (it was 18 when I was on my anti-biotic). I've been to the ER twice, the hospital 3 times and to countless doctors appointments. I've missed upwards of 20-25 classes this semester. Missed two tests, a duty, 3 office duties, and multiple days of work. I've had tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills, food bills, and prescriptions, lab work, procedures, you name it, I've probably had it. Colonoscopy, endoscopy, heart echo, 2 EKG's, ultra sound, 24-hr holter monitor, at least 7 sets of blood work, 1 IV (will be 2 after the endoscopy). I think I could fill this entire blog with the happenings of this past semester of my life.

There are many times when I would just cry because I wasn't sure what else to do. I would call Kris at 1am, crying because I thought I was going to fail both my test and presentation the next day (ended up with a 98 on the test and a 90 on the presentation -- to Him be the Glory). I would cry because I was happy, scared, sad, burdened, overwhelmed, stressed. Someone would ask me how my day was or how I was feeling and I would fight through tears with a quick 'not well'. Friends and family would tell me how strong I was, but the truth is, I felt entirely weak. My pride caught up with me and broke me down. My scheduled plans erupted. And I was left crying out to Jesus for some serious, real help.

I say all of these things not to complain but in Truth. However, I also must say that these past few months have been incredibly JOYFUL.

My boyfriend has been so incredibly supportive. He's put areas of his life on hold in order to devote his time and effort to doing whatever he can to make my life easier during this time. He has loved me a supported me in ways that I didn't even know I needed support, and I can't thank him enough. And his mommy makes me delicious, home-cooked meals that I can eat, and sends me cookies. My family has been at every doctors appointment, every procedure, seen almost every poke and prod, and pooled their resources to keep me eating healthy and getting the medicine I need. I'm so blessed by them and their unconditional, supportive, empathetic love for me.

I've realized over the past few months that I don't deserve good health.

In fact, I don't deserve easy.

I don't deserve food, or medicine, or medical care, or incredible support systems, or life.

In reality, I deserve death because I am (like all people) an incredibly sinful person (Romans 6:23).

God sent His son Jesus to die a brutal, painful death on a cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. And because of His death, I am alive and well. I am able to give and receive love and support and medicine and all these wonderfully special gifts that He has provided me with.

I may not be able to eat EVERYTHING I want, but I have food in abundance. I have the resources to get the medical attention and prescriptions I need. I have people that love me. I have bosses and professors that are understanding and empathetic. I may be sick but I am ALIVE.

My most consistent and relentless prayer is that my situation, my struggles will be used to glorify the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:13). That through easy times and hard times, Glory can be brought to His name, and Truth can be shared.

And it is in these times of strife that the Lord presents Himself most clearly to us. He has shown me that He will bring me to, into, through and out of each and every battle in my life, and use it ALL for His good. He will not abandon me or forsake me, and when I cry out to Him or even utter words carelessly, HE ALWAYS HEARS ME.

I've learned that the Lord does, in fact, give you more than you can handle. Not because He is cruel, but so that we MUST rely on His omnipotence and sovereignty. In our weakness, His strength shines so fervently (2 Corinthians 12:19).

Thank you all for your love and support during this time in my life. Sometimes it feels as though it is never-ending, but I KNOW the Lord is good, and that He will give me peace and calm in due time.

So for now, I pray with full intention and without reserve...

"Jesus, pour out Your spirit on me."

1 Corinthians 2:6-16 [Wisdom from the Spirit]
Romans 8:26-27
2 Corinthians 1:3-11 [The God of All Comfort]
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Philippians 4:11-13 [Contentment in all situations]
John 3:16-17 [Gospel Truth]

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I have always been amazed by the fact that something so beautifully and intricately designed as a human can be capable of producing something so horribly destructive. It destroys cells. Moves to organs. Then to entire bodies. To lives. To families. To communities. To dreams.

I decided to look up the definition of cancer in the dictionary, and this is what I found... "any evil condition or thing that spreads destructively".

Cancer. Evil. Destructive.

Cancer has taken the life of some of the closest people in my life -- death is a huge part of my life. It is a part of my story that can never be erased.

And on this bright and sunny Tuesday, two people that I know have been diagnosed with this dark, ugly disease.

There are times in our lives when we can't help but fall to our knees and question the certainty of the Lord's plans. It's hard to imagine that anyone should have to suffer from such a ferocious monster with a microscopic origin. It's impossible to fathom how suffering and death can be a perfect part of His good and glorious plan. I've found myself time and time again crying out in desperation to the Lord, wondering how cancer could ever make sense.

"The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." Isaiah 58:11.

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are you ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than you thoughts.'" Isaiah 55:8-9.

The ways of the Lord may not make sense, but we can rest in the truth that He uses all situations for the advancement of His kingdom. We have to trust in that. The Lord is all-knowing, all-good, all-loving -- we will never be able to understand His plans, but we can have confidence in the truth that His plans are so much better than ours.

And it is in these moments of darkness that the Lord's strength shines so fervently.

While we may feel the world caving in on us, we must not lose hope -- we must never lose hope. Because Jesus Christ died and rose again so that we may have hope in the future and confidence in the eternal.

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Yo tengo tanto para agradecer.

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 4:8-11.

These words buzzed through my mind all week long, and it's no coincidence that God chose 1 Peter for me to read during my three hour layover in the bustling Dallas/Fort Worth Airport as I waited to board the plane to Monterrey, Mexico. The truth and power in these words fueled the strength that I maintained throughout one of the most physically and emotionally challenging weeks I have ever experienced.

Throughout my week in Mexico, God's presence was overwhelming. I went into the week on my own, without the slightest hint of an expectation, and with an open mind and a prayer that God would use whatever gifts He has given me to faithfully serve others in a way that would meet their needs in every way possible.

We began the week by doing a lot of cement work at both Casa Hogar Douglas and Casa Hogar Del Norte, two orphanages in Monterrey. Let me tell you, never in my life did I think I would be helping to mix and pour cement or shovel gravel into a mixer for three hours straight! We were able to help make both homes safer for the children and able to withstand various weather situations. Later in the week, we painted the room where all the boys sleep at CHD, making it feel more like home for the boys. Because Hurricane Alex swept through the area in early July, the paint on the walls was severely chipped. We also were able to take the Casa Hogar Del Norte kiddos on a field trip to a place called Kidzania, which was an absolute treat for them. It was so fun to see the joy on their faces when we told them we were going to Kidzania!

In a typical day, we would wake up around 8am and eat breakfast together. Then we would break off and have a half hour of quiet time followed by a half hour of small group time. After small groups, we would work for several hours at one of the twelve orphanages that Back2Back Ministries serves in Monterrey, helping to meet whatever need the orphanage had such as painting or cementing. We would pack our lunch and eat it at the home, and then we would have two or three hours to spend time playing and interacting with the children, which was definitely my favorite part of the day. Around dinner, we would head back to the Back2Back campus and eat some of Vita's delicious authentic Mexican cooking (which is a lot more bland than American-Mexican food!). And then at 8pm every night we would head over to the "Big Palapa" and have a time of worship and a teaching from a staff member. Beth Guckenberger, the founder of Back2Back, spoke three times that week, which was such a blessing! She is such an inspiration to me.

Going into the week, I was under the impression that the language barrier was going to create a roadblock in communicating with the children. And after five years of Spanish, immersing myself in the culture proved to reveal how terrible my Spanish really is. Luckily though my Spanish began to sharpen, and by the end of the week I was actually translating for those in my group who knew very little Spanish. But throughout the week I learned that actions truly do speak louder than words and that the language barrier was broken down by the truth that we are all human. And that unconditional, blind, selfless love is the same in every language.

The most incredible experience of the trip was when we went to a place Back2Back calls "Rio III", a squatter village along the river on the East side of Monterrey. Rio III is an area of extreme poverty and an area that was vastly devastated by Hurricane Alex. It's nearly impossible to describe the depth of poverty at Rio III; there is extreme, heart breaking poverty in the United States, but none so barren as Rio III. Full families live in houses smaller than my tiny bedroom at home and were built with whatever resources they could find. Their only mode of transportation was malnourished horses pulling along rickety carriages, and the men would go out during the day in search of materials to utilize to create a shelter for their families. We were able to serve the women and children lunch at the church in the center of the village that serves as a sort of community center.

At Rio III, I met a little girl name Estefani that was attached to my hip the entire day. Estefani is 11 years old and lives in the village with her family. She loved that we have the same name and also loved my big sunglasses. They are on her head in most of the pictures I have with her, and I ended up giving them to her when we had to leave. It's amazing what a pair of sunglasses can do for a little girl. I take so much for granted.

I think one of the hardest things I learned this week was how much I really limit God. I tell myself that I can't do something or that I deserve this or that. But when we limit God, putting Him in a box as a result of our ignorant feelings of entitlement or inability, our hearts become hardened. And when He chooses to take us on a detour that seems completely ludicrous compared to the plans that we have crafted for ourselves, we see them as roadblocks instead of opportunities. But when we choose to trust the Lord completely with our lives, to stop limiting Him and allow Him to use us to serve those in need, He does incredible things. And He allows us to do incredible things for others.

There were moments throughout my experience when I didn't know how much longer I could make it, when my arms and back hurt so much from shoveling gravel for three hours or when I played the counting game with Blanca for the 50th time, that I remembered that verse from 1 Peter. The Lord tells us to serve others with the strength that He provides us with. It was the strength from Him that helped me live fearlessly and fully that week, pushing myself farther than I could ever have without His help. And in my weakness, His strength shines so fervently.

I believe that God has His hand in everything we do, in every action we choose to take, but I think there are few times in our daily lives that we can look back on an experience and see God so evidently throughout every step of the way. My trip to Mexico proved to be an experience crafted solely by the Lord and one that radically changed my heart, providing me with a new view of the world and of God's incredible character.

I have so much to be thankful for.
Yo tengo tanto para agradecer.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Make straight the paths that crookedly lie, oh Lord, before these feet of mine.

I am trying to understand how to walk this weary land.
Make straight the paths that crookedly lie, oh Lord, before these feet of mine. When my world is shaking, Heaven stands. When my heart is breaking, I'll never leave Your hands.

The song "Your Hands" by JJ Heller has really reached into the depths of my soul and so beautifully extracted the exact words that have been in my heart for the past year of my life.

I am at a place in my life where the future is rapidly unfolding before me in an overwhelming way. I am making decisions that are affecting the rest of my life, determining relationships that are worth keeping, but also solidifying the values that I hold dear. I am learning that there are times in our lives where we must shed relationships that are toxic to us - the relationships that steal life from us and break us down in ways that leave us a little less free. There are times when no matter how painful letting go of a relationship may be, we must enter into that pain and face it head on while also basking in the loneliness that we all so deeply fear.

Why do we fear loneliness? There's a place in a lot of us that fills up our schedules to the brim to escape any glimmer of loneliness until our stress surges so deeply that we become hardened to the world or an emotional basket case [either one!]. We have a breakdown, we prune our schedules, we decide that we can take on more, and then the process begins all over again.

I'm taking this time in my life to just stop. To sit on the morning bench with the Lord. To bask in the frightening loneliness. To work through the hardships in my life and let them continue to mold my character.

I think we are afraid of loneliness because it is so encapsulating. We allow loneliness to take over our whole being. We lose control and give in to the power we falsely believe it has over us. We let it creep in and slowly take control of every aspect of our lives until we can't stop it. We fear loneliness because we are told that it is an equivalent of weakness. We fear loneliness because the Christian community tells us that if we feel lonely, then there is something terribly wrong with our relationship with Christ.

I have felt terribly lonely over these past six months. I've lost several relationships that once defined who I was. I'm learning that I must define myself by the One who is perpetual, by He who provides me with unconditional, everlasting, true love. Not the fleeting love I want to feel.

I've learned that it's ok to feel lonely. We must take that time to run to the Lord head on with everything we have, even when it feels like a hopeless and daunting task. It is in the moments of loneliness that the Lord so profoundly shapes our character and our relationship with Him, even if we don't feel like any change is happening. Loneliness is not weakness, however you must expose and confront the feeling of loneliness before it takes control of your whole self. And loneliness is not always the mark of a broken relationship with the Lord but rather an opportunity to bask in the fullness of His enduring love that will never abandon or forsake us.

I'm at a really interesting place in life right now. I'm learning what it means to be a true sister in Christ, and let me tell you it's not an easy task to learn. It's painful, lonely, and frightening, but it has been such an overwhelming experience of growth for me. I think I can safely assert that I have never really known what true friendship looks or feels like. I've had a bagillion "best friends", but I have let go of a majority of those relationships. I've always felt like that person that has given so much of myself to a friendship, nearly identified myself by them, and never truly felt the same support and love that I value and work to achieve in return. But I'm realizing that not only was I wrong, but that I'm learning what true, Christ-centered friendship with women is like, and it has been something that I didn't know I was truly searching for until I found it. I think Christian women put up a wall of fake vulnerability. We reveal struggles to each other that we know will be accepted by the Christian community and met with a "Oh hunny, I've been through that. Pray about it, and God will change your heart." It's not good enough. I've made it a goal of mine to break through those false barriers and be uncomfortably real with those around me. I'm not telling you that you should go spill your guts to whoever is closest to you and just automatically trust that they won't tell the whole world. It is important to check your motives behind sharing with others. But what I am saying is that when we can be genuinely vulnerable with each other, our friendships will be so much deeper, so much more fulfilling, and so much more glorifying to God.

And praise God for providing these genuine friendships in my life.

I'm learning that there are some relationships that you must let go. We are human, we are not meant to be stifled but to live. We must allow ourselves to bask in the loneliness and move on to bigger and better things, allowing God to move and work in our lives even when we don't see or feel Him there with us.

We will never leave His hands.

Monday, March 29, 2010

the beauty lies in the uncertainty.

Well, I’ve been praying for God to move mountains friends, and it looks like He may do just that. God has this funny way of continually putting me in my place, gracefully humbling me in a way that leaves me simply….in awe. I’ve had an overwhelming passion in my heart since Beth Guckenberger came and spoke at Cru early last fall, and it hasn’t left my heart since then. I’ve felt unsettled, shaken, and entirely broken for orphans all over the world, and the desire to let them know how much they are loved by God has taken over my heart. I attempted to contact Beth and her husband through Back2Back ministries in January, hoping but not expecting the Lord to move in the hearts of the ministry and just simply share my own heart with them. The first response I received was positive, stating that they hoped they could get me in, but would email me back within a month with a more definitive idea of availability. I waited, and waited, and waited, and finally got impatient enough to email them back myself. And I received a reply stating that it was a very good chance that there wouldn’t be enough room for me.

At this point, I wrote off going to Mexico for this summer, and I began thinking of ways that I could make it there in the future. I also decided to spend a large portion of my money going to Anna Maria Island in Florida with 8 other RAs for Spring Break. Now let me explain that I wasn’t planning on going to Florida because I wanted to save up my money to take the trip to Mexico. So three weeks before Spring Break was to arrive, I found out I wasn’t going to Mexico, and with much deliberation and frustration but ultimate satisfaction in my decision, I decided to spend spring break with 8 great friends.

Its funny, you know? I’m a planner. I thrive off of getting myself in order and purposefully planning out life. I try to plan out all the big things with careful consideration and preparation. But God likes to put up barriers in my life and thrust me into entirely new directions. And like He did with Cru band and RA stuff, God decided to tell me no, let me go on spring break, and then say, “Oh Steph, I was just kidding! I want you to go to Mexico this summer even though you don’t have enough money for it and really have no clue what you are getting into.”

But friends, that’s the beauty of it. The beauty lies in the uncertainty. God has given me a wonderfully visible opportunity to completely and fully trust in Him and His provision to get me to Mexico to help those sweet orphans. Because to be honest, I can’t really afford it. I’m going to HAVE to rely on support from friends and family to pay for this. I’m going to have to put a hold on starting to save money for after college when I’m up to my ears in debt. But it is so worth it, and I have so much faith that God will provide.

I have faith because it’s not about me. It’s not about the money. It’s not about the fear. It’s not about the fun i’m sure i’ll have or anything. IT’S ALL ABOUT GLORIFYING GOD IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE. It’s about sharing His love with some of the neediest in the world. It’s about loving people in the way God loves us and instructs us to love others.

It’s about being uncomfortable.

I’m swimming in uncertainty, but I am content.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight” -Proverbs 3:5-6.
God this one is yours. I know you will not fail me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Outstretched Hand
by Anthony Flora

Grey eyes and a dirty beard
hang down to holy sneakers and
cracked hands holding cardboard
that asks God's blessing on those who give to the poor.
Weathered flannels, stained yellow teeth
don't find much to chew -
an empty stomach nags
a worn soul.
Scabs blemish two arms
filled with used veins
that can't often run in a straight line
since it makes the night warmer,
the bench softer,
the memories a little foggier.

So can you spare some change he asks -
'cause the night is long...

Monday, March 22, 2010

You give and take away.

God is so good, and He has given me so much.

I have always tried my hardest to fully appreciate everything He has given me, but sometimes it takes God making you feel like He has stripped you of nearly all of the things you feel make you who you are to fully grasp and appreciate the true depths of His glory.

I'm not going to lie, God and I weren't very tight over Spring Break, and I really REALLY miss Him. I lived a week without thinking about Him all the time and without really thinking about what Jesus would do in situations I was put in...and let me tell you, it was extremely draining. I just really miss Him. I'm looking forward to getting back into the Word and getting lost in Him again and not taking anymore breaks from God. I need Him.

It's so amazing the wonderful things that God provides if you just give Him a chance. He has really shown me that He does give and take away, but it is all for His purpose. He's taken away a lot of great things, but I'm beginning to see and feel the GREATER things He is providing me with. It's definitely taken some time, but it was soo worth the wait. I'm really, really happy. I'm confident in the choices I have made thus far and feel like they are so God-driven. I feel like when I make decisions now, I'm listening to what God is trying to tell me. What an amazing and fulfilling feeling to be living life in this way! I'm just so unbelievably blessed.

I'm looking forward to singing with Cru again this week. Over the past few months, worshiping with the Cru band has been one of the most stable components of my life, as silly as that sounds. It has kept me grounded in Christ, and it has almost forced me [in an amazing way] to keep my focus on Him in the most genuine way possible. When I first joined Cru band, I was sort of nervous and just really didn't know what I was getting myself into. But looking back, it has been one of the best things that has happened to me. Plus, I love my band brothers! :) What amazing men of God they are and what a wonderful influence they have had on me!

Women's Min is starting soon, and I am so excited and nervous and pumped and joyful, etc. I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm just following what God has layed so heavily on my heart for so long now. I don't feel like I'm worthy to help lead such a potentially powerful and life-changing ministry, but I'm just listening and letting the Lord take this one. When God is the center, great things always happen, and I'm not losing faith in that.

Hope everyone's Spring Break was as relaxing as mine was!