Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Birthday

Today, I am at my mom's house in my jammies. Today just so happens to be my birthday!
I was born on snowy and icy December 28th, 1976 at 7:47 pm. The doctor said,
"7:47 and it's a BIG ONE."
Poor mom.

She gave birth to me...
a chubby, not-so-cute, bruised and squashed, 9 pound-2 ounce baby girl that was going to be named Tricia. My dad didn't like that name. He liked the name, Stephanie. I had one sister, Stacie, who was 4 years old.

(Is my sister choking that bunny?)

When I was 6 months old, I got very sick. Mom knew there was something wrong but wasn't sure what. We were on vacation in the mountains and my mom just had a sinking feeling something was very wrong. When they got me to the doctor, they realized I had what was called intussusception. I had a blockage in my intestines. If it wasn't treated within 24 hours, it could be fatal. So, I went into immediate surgery. Mom was scared. I was in the hospital for about a week and God saved my life.

I grew up in an extremely loving home. My dad- loving, gentle, and kind and my mom- nurturing and classic June Cleaver. I went to a Christian school where my mom was a school teacher. I learned about Jesus Christ my whole life. I was drawn to Him at a young age. I think I may have even loved Him at a young age. But as I grew and changed schools, my heart grew further and further away from my first love. I began to rebel. I began to play the "Church game" (if there is such a thing). I was in Church every Sunday. Sunday school too. Summer youth camps. Young Life in our home and Windy Gap every summer. My body was in all the right places but my heart was far from God. I began to have a heart of rebellion. A heart that wanted to test the limits. So I did.
I was mischievous and sneaky in high school and caused my mom and dad much heartache. I got in a lot of trouble.
All this time, I knew God had a plan for my life. That He wanted to use me... that I was marked for His purposes. So, like Jonah, I RAN. I ran from God. I tried to escape the great love of Jesus Christ. I didn't speak to Him for years. I developed idols. One favorite. I lived for me and my idols- not Christ. In college, I joined a sorority and went to all the hot fraternity parties. I jumped into a world of sin with both feet and the heart of the little girl who loved Jesus Christ faded further and further away into the distance. While I was in these places of spiritual darkness, I would hear a loving voice in my heart that said, "You don't belong here". But I would turn the music up louder and ignore that beautiful voice. Maybe one day I would return to Christ... but not today. For years I ran. Getting tangled in more sinful webs and further into a world of darkness.
I have written about how God pursued me on here before. It started with a philosophy teacher who said, "There is no God. If you believe in the Christian God- you are a FOOL." I would leave those classes upset, mad, and confused. I knew there was a God. I knew because I had seen my mom read her Bible every day. There must be a God.... right? My faith was getting rocked and it had no foundation. Then my favorite idol (a boyfriend) began to lie to me and we started fighting a lot so that wasn't working out so well. The parties and places I went seemed more and more empty and dark. And, finally, I found out that my mom had breast cancer.
All of these things brought me to a place of brokenness. I began to pray for the first time in years. Pray that God would heal my mom. But it was as if my prayers hit the ceiling. I had placed years of sin between God and me. I knew He wanted to help me but my sin was in the way. I was alone in my room in a house in Sequoyah Hills when I opened my Bible and began to read.

Who was this God I had been running from for so long?

Was He real?

And if so, what did He want from me?

I read Galatians. I read of God's great love and grace. I read of my sin and how it had separated me from God and that people who lived like I was living would not inherit the Kingdom of God. That verse was what brought me to my knees. My face actually. I felt as if God said, "Are you for me or against me. Choose this day."
I cried out to God on Nov 1, 1997 for forgiveness of my sin and rebellion toward God. That was the night I stopped running. I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I said, "I have nothing to give you but I give you all that I am. I want to be used by You." I said, "If I can know You, I want to know You."
At that moment, it seemed as heaven opened and grace, love, acceptance, forgiveness, peace, and purpose poured out onto me in that room. I met Jesus Christ in a real way. I fell in love with Him. He proposed to me and I accepted. I became His Bride and entered into the greatest love story ever told. All because of God's great love for me... a rebellious sinful girl who He constantly cleanses and calls beautiful.
I was changed radically that night. I can tell you by looking at pictures whether it was before I was walking with the Lord or after. He changed me so completely that my countenance changed.
I began to read my Bible and read and read and read. This book that had been collecting dust all these years began to breathe and SPEAK. I was falling more and more in love with my husband.
Those years are precious to think back on. They were hard because the Lord had to prune MANY branches off my dead tree to make it fruitful and pruning hurts. But He walked with me and held my hand and began to teach me His Word.
I graduated from UT Knoxville and was suppose to start an internship and begin working on my Master's Degree. I had a problem though. All I wanted to do was study the Bible and find out God's plan for my life. I had never asked Him what He wanted me to do with my life. I had made all these decisions apart from prayer and wisdom (**young girls- ASK GOD HOW HE WANTS TO USE YOUR LIFE while choosing a major in college). So, my pastor's wife, Tracy told me about a Bible College in Austria where I could study the Bible and learn how to serve God. I applied, got accepted, and left everything to go.
Before I got on the plane to go to another country alone, my mom gave me a letter. As the plane took off, I began to read. Mom wrote about when I was in the hospital as a 6 month old baby and how she prayed over me during those scary days and told the Lord that if He saved my life, that I was His. To be used for Him.
I ugly cried as I read seeing big pieces of a heavenly puzzle falling into place. My mom's prayer for my life was heard. God, in His grace (and for no other reason), wanted to use me for His glory. So, He kept pursuing me all those years, cornering me in every wrong turn, summoning me by name. The Prince of Peace in love with an empty-handed girl clothed in dirty and guilt-stained rags. What an unfathomable love story John 3:16 truly is.
So is this just my story? Or could it be that For God so loved YOU that He gave His One and Only Son? That His great love is also for you? That you have felt His pursuit also yet turned the music up louder to drowned out His voice. Do you know that YOU bring God great joy? That He desires forgiveness and restoration? That He doesn't want to punish you- He TOOK your punishment. That God created you for His pleasure and He delights in you!
"You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created."
Rev 4:11
He desires a close relationship with you! Have you placed years of sin between you and the Lord like I had? Those sins can get swept away into the depths of the sea-- RIGHT NOW! Only by the power of the Cross is this forgiveness available to you. May His love buckle your heart and your knees as it did mine when I read of His great love in the Bible. You don't need to wait or run any more. May today be the day you stop running. If you have sin in your life, repent. Turn from your sin and turn toward God. He is so loving. Slow to anger and ABOUNDING in love.

"Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,"
Joel 2:13
But He will not force you in. He is loving and patient... not wanting any to perish. His return may hinge on your decision to repent and begin a relationship with Him.
It is your decision.

Are you for Him or against Him?

There is no fence.

"Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation" 2 Peter 3:15

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." Matt 24:14

"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
2 Peter 3:9

"Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation."

2 Cor 6:2

Time is running out and it will run out. If you do not know Christ as Savior and Lord, I urge you to stop right now, open your Bible and bow before Him while there is time. God is holy. We aren't. There is only one way to be forgiven of your sin and spend eternity in the presence of a holy God... Jesus Christ.

"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,"
Acts 3:19

"Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
Ps 95:7,8

So, today, I am 34 years old. I was dead for 20 of those years. So, I really just started living 14 years ago. God has given me more than I could have ever imagined just as He promised me in 1 Cor 2:9. If you want to read my love story with my 2nd love- my earthly husband, click HERE.
I have been on some HIGH mountaintops and in some long and LOW valleys. All the while, My Good Shepherd has been guiding me.
Jesus is constantly forgiving me, helping me, changing me, teaching me, loving me, replacing my rags with His robes,and giving to me all that I need.

"Thank you, Lord, for 34 years of your love and faithfulness. Thank you, Lord, for forgiving me and changing me.
For meeting me in that room that night and proposing to me. Thank you that you never stop pursuing me... no matter how far I run.
Thank you that you are faithful and true.
Help me to trust you when life doesn't make sense. Help me to never stop believing and learning your precious Word. Thank you for calling me by name. If there is someone reading this who does not know your forgiveness, may today be the day of their salvation. Show them your great love for them so that their only response is to fall on their face in submission to You and Your great plan for their life.
Teach me to number my days and redeem the time I have wasted.
May I use this year to teach my children about You and to share the gospel with the world You love.
God, my prayer will always be the same...
I have nothing to give you but I give you all that I am.
Use my life for your glory.
Your Unworthy Bride~

"How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord."
Ps 116:12,13

"My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure." Psalm 71:15


Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, Steph - I love you sweetie! God has blessed me so much with you...run away with me :)

Julie said...

Happy Birthday, Steph! I've been reading your blog for a while now and have commented but it's been a while. Once again, your words - your honest and open words, spoken from your beautiful heart - have touched me to the core. Thank you!

Sending many prayers and blessings to you on your special, special day!

-Julie in Indiana

Unknown said...

Happy Happy Birthday Stephanie!!! :) I hope you have an Awesome Happy Day!!

Anonymous said...

just hoping you are well -and wondering about your grandparents - prayers.