Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pedicure with Satan

I've had a pedi with Satan. Okay, I've had a mani/pedi with him. Don't get all judgy wudgy. You may not have had a mani/pedi with him but I bet you car pooled with him at some point. Or he went grocery shopping with you. If you're married, then I know he's been on a date with you and your husband. 

He's a sneaky slippery snake but I've eaten out of the palms of his freshly manicured claws...and so have you. Maybe you haven't...OOH! Right there...he just did it! Liar! Liar! Putting one thought into my brain. One thought of insecurity. One thought that makes me feel unloved, isolated, silly for sharing. One thought that leads to another thought that leads to another...and all of a sudden, I forget I was bought with a price. The price of the cross of Jesus Christ. I forget to take my thoughts captive and then my thought life becomes my reality and that reality, the one founded in lies, well, that reality bites!

Here's how Satan gets me : 

He sneaks in masked as your BFF (best friend forever. Forever ever? Forever ever!). I'm not talking about your real-life BFF. Not your girlfriend with skin. I'm talking about that place you go in your head because, if you're honest, you're afraid that your BFF may not be able to handle the darkness/insecurity/depravity within you. She might not love you anymore. She might judge you. (Another LIE. Godly women sharpen you! They make you better! Get you one!). 
Back to Satan...
At first he's just listening. Listening to you whine (and maybe some of you wHine). Whine about your husband and the list of honey-do's you're holding on to from your first week of marriage. (Every honey-do list is different. It ain't all "Wash the dishes. Help with the laundry". That actually comes innate in some men. Some honey-do's are "Hug me. Look at me. Love me.") And then after Satan listens to you grumble for a while, he validates you with a lie, "Yes, guuuurrrl. You remind that "man" where he gets his bread buttered. He's not worth this trouble. There's nothing left to fight for in this marriage. You fell out of love with each other ages ago. You've given your best years and your beach body up for his blankedy blank blank blank."  (Satan is a cussing scum bag.)  But his lie grows. And so does your distance between you and your husband. So now you're ready to pack his bags or your bags and do some walking with your cute new toesies, except that you haven't even gotten to the point in your pedi where your freshly-shaven legs are physically assaulted with the "refreshing" and flesh-tearing-sea-salt-scrub. 

So you sit. 

And think. 

And you downward spiral...

You now know, after consulting with the "father of lies", that your marriage is a sham. Like, for sure. You totally get Taylor now. I mean, you're never EVER EVER getting back together! 

Your marriage is a failure.

Probably because of how much you suck. I mean, you really do. You really are a failure. You gave up your dreams and your hopes and for what? A new SUV and a boat? You have no purpose. You're just a trophy wife. And not even a good trophy anymore. You're a dusty bowling trophy in your Grandma's knick-knack room. (Reminder: schedule botox this week.) Now you check FaceBook. Oh great, the Mitchells just posted pictures of their weekend at the family lake house. They look so happy. Why can't we be happy like the Mitchells. Maybe we should buy a lake house. Yes, we should. No, wait, we're never ever ever getting back together, so a joint lake house seems stupid. OOH! We should have another baby! We really got along during the fifteen minutes it took to make the other two. Ooh, what time is it? 3:02. Oh good, I've got a few minutes before they realize I'm late picking them up from school. UGH! What kind of mother says that? The kind behind bars telling her scary story on tonight's LifeTime t.v. movie. Your children are better off if CPS intervenes right this minute. All you're going to instill in them is doubt, insecurity and possibly some sort of confused sexual identity that will lead to an expensive therapy bill that they'll probably send to you to pay b/c you failed them so miserably in their spoiled lavish lifestyle that they can't hold a job but they call themselves "Social Media Experts" because they have a Twitter account, FaceBook account, email account...but NO CHECKING ACCOUNT! But they only got to this place in life because you were trying to buy them a lifestyle to cover up what a failure you are as a wife and mother. 

Failure. Epic failure. 

You look up, an hour and a half has slipped by since you first sat down. 
You pick yourself up out of the chair, almost drunk off the low. So this is how shawty got low (anyone getting these musical lyric jokes?). 

You walk to the check-out counter, slide your card (praying it isn't declined) and you smile, "Thank you! I feel so great!"

But you don't. 

Because you had a mani/pedi with Satan. And you bought Every. Single. WORD. And then you elaborated on those 'words' and you turned them into sentences and paragraphs and you assigned those thoughts a value and now that value is your belief. A belief that you place higher than the WORD of God. Because now you're walking in the word...of Satan, the accuser. You're literally walking in it. Carrying it with you. You're going to take it with you to pick up your kids from school. You're going to take it home with you to greet your husband with a "hey" and a grunt instead of a hug and a "hi. how was your day?" You're going to view yourself through the lenses of a liar. 

And all cuz you didn't have a beat down on the first ugly, critical thought that entered your brain. 

Armor up, ladies (Ephesians 6:10-18). Take captive every thought. Don't let one slip through. Or your marriage is doomed and your kids are doomed and your purpose is doomed. Satan is prowling around looking for someone to DEVOUR. He wants to eat you alive. Does that sound like someone you want to have a mani/pedi with? I think not. Sounds like someone I want to throat-punch. Throat-punch with the true Word of God. 

Throw some punches at the enemy today (reminder: the enemy is NOT your husband or your children). 

Keep Going.

"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Enter the Darkness

I've been reading through the Old Testament. I've made my way through the Genesis adventures. Falling more in love with the flawed characters. I find my pride and vulnerability in Eve. I find my anger and jealousy in Cain. I find my lust and curiosity for sin in Lot's wife (who looked back just one more time). I remember my infertility in Sarah AND find my stubborn wantonness in her as well. I find my desire to obey, lead and commune with God in Abraham. In Joseph, I find my loneliness and favor with God. And in Moses, I find a person who was willing to enter the darkness to find God. 

I relate to that. 

Exodus 20 is where God is giving the Ten Commandments to Moses and the people of Israel. He gives the "Thou shalt nots..." and then at the end of the chapter, beginning in verse 18 and ending in verse 21, the people fear. When God's presence appeared before them belting out His Commandments, it wasn't accompanied by a string quartet as its soundtrack. It was stinkin' scary. God's presence was brought through thunder, lightning, trumpet sounds and a smoking mountain. 

So picture this, God's about to talk to you and give you His law and the sky turns black,  and lightning, so bright, so electric, begins flashing through the sky that it looks like heaven is falling. And then lightning gives way to its voice: THUNDER. Thunder so loud and so quick that when you try to count, "One one thousand...two one thousand..." you can only get to "One...." and then lightning flashes and thunder crashes and you realize, "well, this is how I'm going to die. I sure hope my...uh, camels and goats are in order" (b/c you're an Israelite in the desert so all you've got are camels and goats). And then through the deafening thunder you hear a trumpet. So loud, that you can't help but look up at the treacherous sky because you want to find the source of the sound of the trumpet that is shredding your eardrums. But your eyes don't find the trumpet. Instead, they find that the mountain you're standing at the foot of is smoking. You're standing at the foot of a smoking mountain in a crazy lightning storm in high winds and all you can think of is "Oh dang. This mountain is going to erupt. THIS is how I'm going to die. Goodbye camels and goats." 

And then through it all, the lightning, thunder, trumpet, and smoke, you hear the scariest, mightiest, holiest thing you've ever or will ever experience, the voice of God. And the sound of His voice makes the rest of the "show" look like the opening number from an episode of "Glee." 

And you're afraid. Very afraid. 

So afraid, that when God stops talking, you push Moses to the front and say, 
"Okay, buddy. You go, you deal with HIM. We'll stay back here. You brought us here, you're our guy. We took a vote and it's unanimous! Go ahead. We'll cheer you on!  Hip Hip Hooray!  M - O - S - E - must be the GREATEST, BEST! GGGGOOOOOOO MOSES!" 

And you stay behind because you don't want to die. You're sure that to be close to God's presence is sudden and certain death. And Moses is like, "Don't be such a skeerdy cat! Don't fear God, R-E-S-P-E-C-T Him and obey Him and you won't have a problem with Him." 

But Exodus 20:21 (NKJV) nails it. It says:

"So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was." 

God's presence was covered in darkness. Darkness is a terrifying place for me to be. I like to be in control. I can't control what I cannot see and I cannot see in the darkness. 

But the places I have been closest to God have been in the darkest places. 
The aftermath of my Dad's suicide. Darkness. Pitch black. And God was there and He rescued me. 
The time I miscarried twins. Darkness. Hopeless. And God was there and He rescued me.
The next time I miscarried a baby. Darkness. Despair. And God was there and He rescued me. 
The time my marriage was falling apart. Darkness. Black. And God was there and He rescued me. 
The time I almost gave completely in to my selfishness, sin, flesh, temptations. Darkness. And God was there and He rescued me. 

God has not left us. Especially when it's dark. His presence is in the darkness. You're not alone. You may not be able to see, but that's okay, Jesus has this way of giving sight to the blind. 


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2 Truths & A Lie

2 Truths and a Lie: (you try and figure out which "fact" is the lie)
1.  I am working on my Master's Degree in Church Leadership thru an online university. 
2.  I've been a licensed massage therapist.
3.  I drive a minivan. 

I played this game one time when I led a women's Bible study at my church. I gave the exact same clues. In a group of 85 women, only 4 women (who didn't know me super well), guessed the right answer. Only 4. Hehe. 

TRUTH: I WAS a licensed massage therapist. Talk about the long, expensive way to try and outrun God's will & call for your life. Silly girl. Thinking I could outrun my call to serve God full-time. Oh the things He allows us to go through - and the time and money we waste! (PS - I'm DONE wasting my time and money, aren't you. Let's OBEY...say it with me: OBEY!) 
Now let's memorize 1 Samuel 15:22 (nlt)
Samuel said:

“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
    your burnt offerings and sacrifices
    or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
    and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.

TRUTH: I drive a minivan. Oh yeah I do. And I love it. We actually bought this sexy beast of a vehicle a year before we even had a child...that's love. 
I was an associate student pastor for about 18 months and when I got the swagger-wagon-grocery-getter, one of my beloved Mamas (Mrs. Teresa Shelton, I'm talkin' bout YOU), she gave me a coffee cup and stationary that said, "I'm too sexy for my minivan."  Yes, yes I am. I LOVE that minivan. Seriously L-O-V-E it! It's so easy and practical. And it has buttons that I press to open the doors. Press a button, BOOM: doors slide open, kids climb in.  BOOM: jealous much? Not yet? Let me continue...did I mention that my 2-yr-old can climb into it all by herself. My sexy sleek mama wagon sits low enough to the ground that my baby child can crawl into it by her self. BOOM: now you're jealous!

LIE: I am not working on my Master's Degree in Church Leadership (or any other studies). But I consider myself to be a student of the church. I love reading all things church and leadership and discipleship. I don't ever want to stop learning. The day I stop learning is the day I hope that I draw my last dying breath. 

What about you? What's a surprising little fun fact about your life that most people would find difficult to believe? 

Have a super great Wednesday. (and KEEP GOING!)

See the sexy beast behind me. 
That's what 'practical' looks like. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Star Trek & Other Family Escapes

There will always be 'those' people. You know the ones. You might be married to one. You might be raising one. Or, Lawt forbid, you might BE one. They begin journal entries with "Star Date...". They believe speaking Klingon is the true gift of tongues from the Holy Spirit. They might even have a onesie-track-suit. And they definitely sit and deliberate how awesome it will be when the government finally lets us use teleporting (you know they have the technology...come on! Hey Uncle Sam, what do you think we are, STUPID?!?! CRAZY?!?!). 
Mean people call them freaks, geeks, but good Christian people, we call them what they are:


My Dad was a Trekkie. More of a closeted Trekkie. But in the privacy of his home, with his family eating salisbury steak and mashed potatoes from TV trays, watching our 19-inch tube television (that had been struck by lightning and only powered on by an "ingenious" toggle switch which sometimes caused the screen to roll and stop just perfectly so that a person's nose, chin and lips were at the top of the screen and their forehead and eyes were underneath the bothersome scroll line in the middle of the screen, making our crap tv the first-ever split-screen). But side-by-side, eating, watching, bearing the intensity of the amazing writing and acting, we were all a happy family of Trekkies. Dad wanted to be James T. Kirk. And I think Mom would have happily traded Dad in for the Captain.

But I remember it as family time. Watching old reruns together until "Star Trek: The Next Generation" came along. And then it was new episodes. New enemies. New heroes. New drama. New fun.

But as much as I love "The Next Generation", my Daddy raised me right, and thus, I'll always and forever be a beloved Trekkie devoted to "Star Trek", The First Generation."

And in that same living room, our weird Trekkie family prayed together, read Scripture together, and laughed together and cried together. We got happy news together. And we received devastating news together. 

But we did it together

So my big Trekkie wisdom for you today is: KEEP IT TOGETHER

Stay with your stupid husband because you love Jesus. Stay with your stupid wife because you love Jesus. Because your stupid kids aren't stupid. They're watching it all. They're hearing it all. They're building an arsenal inside their hearts and minds and one day, our sin will return to us through them if we don't break these cycles of selfishness. 

God is good. Your spouse might not be. But you might not be, either. 

Find a fun family escape - play Skipbo, Monopoly, Checkers. Take it old school, like we do, and pull out the sprinkler in the backyard and make everybody run through it. Trust me, you can't be mad and plotting your escape route when you're being chased through a sprinkler by your kids and your spouse. When Brad and I just can't take it anymore, we throw balls at each other. Yeah. That's right. We go outside and let Emmy run around the sprinkler and he & I throw either a beach ball or a bouncy ball at each other and we basically play "hit it or dodge it" - but it makes us laugh. 

Sometimes we just have to KEEP GOING through the pissed off phase so we can get to a place where we can laugh. Laughter helps us calm down, stop taking ourselves so seriously and remember why we fell in love in the first place. 

So find that escape for your family today. In the Johnson house, one of our escapes was "Star Trek". In the Phillips house, it's running through the sprinklers and/or throwing a ball at each other (not actually trying to "David & Goliath" somebody). 

As I learned from Star Trek (and from the Bible), our enemies are not from within our ship (uh, I mean, our home). Our enemy is out there, and if we find that he made his way IN, then we gotta armor up and kick him back to hell where he belongs. 
"For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age." Ephesians 6:12 (GNT). That's serious, people. We're fighting against "the wicked spiritual forces". Oh dang. I've got chills. 

Our families are worth fighting for.

Don't leave your door open to the enemy. And stop looking at your spouse as your enemy. He/she is your gift from God. And don't even think about re-gifting him or her. (I know it crossed your mind!) 

Someone reading this is hanging her/his head with tears filling their eyes internally whispering, "But you don't understand. I can't take it anymore."

And I respectfully and lovingly say back to you, "Oh yes I do." 

I've been there. Maybe I was there a day ago or a week ago or a year ago. But I've been there. And when I couldn't count on my spouse to fill my heart or expectations (which he never can - he wasn't created for that God-shaped hole in my heart), I return to my Savior. And He heals me. Every. Single. Time. And He helps me stay (and WANT to stay). 

God loves you. God never left you. God never cheated on you. God never chose his work over you. God has never had a problem with pornography, alcohol, lying, gambling, eating, drugs, over-spending. God is the lover of your soul. The One who created you. He knows you just as you are and He wants you anyway. Exactly your weight. With your unforgiveness and your anger...He wants you just as you are right now.   

So go to Him. And KEEP GOING to Him. He's in the business of bringing what was dead back to life again. He did it through His Son, Jesus and He can do it in your marriage, with your kids, in your family. 

Keep on Trekking. 

"Submit yourselves to one another because of your reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:21 (GNT)

(My parting gift to best Trekkie look. Slicked back hair, big ears, high-neck-track-suit. You're welcome.)

I'm very busy and important. 
Check out that BIG ear!! 
PS - I'm typing in Klingon. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Awkward Family Photos

When we were growing up, my Mom had one camera. Like one camera for my entire childhood years. I think it cost something like $35. It was a "super fancy" 35mm camera. Some of you thirty-somethings remember those. The flash was nearly blinding. And it had like some sort of crank that you cranked after you took each photo. And it was copied to film that had to be dropped off at Walgreens or Walmart to be developed. These are all words and concepts that make it sound like I'm from 1910!

And back then, we didn't know that we weren't supposed to look disheveled, unkept, off-guard and awkward in every picture. We had not yet figured out what the cool, young hipsters have now mastered..."the easy pose." The "best side of your face" pose. The "stick this leg out slightly to look thinner" pose. The "put your hand on your hip, but turn your arm ever-so-slightly forward so you look gaunt" pose. 

Nope. Back in my day the pose was "Look at the camera and say 'CHEEEEESE'" and cheese is what we got. 

But my beautiful sister, Jenni, and I try REALLY hard to be photogenic now (since most photos of us from age 7 thru 18 show ragamuffin clothes, bad hair, bad teeth, bad skin (and bad Sally Jessie Raphael red-rimmed glasses for Jenni). 

NOW, we do the Kardashian pose - you know, suck in, put on spanx, tilt the head to make the nose smaller, the cheek bones higher and the lips thicker & poutier. 
The go-to smile begins with slanted, smoldering eyes that seem to twinkle or flirt;  your lips are softly closed accompanied by a side-smile (as though you're smirking to your self about the inside joke that all these other fools aren't in on). Option #2 is the teeth smile - this is when you smile wide enough to show teeth. This smile is tricky because it must not be wide enough to show your 33 yr old jowls. You know jowls, it's when your cheeks fall and land somewhere around your chin line. So when you smile and you have jowls, it makes you look like you're carrying extra weight. Jowls suck!

If you're totally lost right now, that's okay, probably a great sign that you have not experienced "vanity run amuck". 

But we do live in "vanity run amuck!" And we do try to take the gorgeous "No, I'm not posing, I always effortlessly look like a movie star standing in weird, uncomfortable shoes, and spanx so tight that the only way I'm going to the bathroom tonight is if I have a pair of scissors in my hand so I can cut my way out of these suckers!"

Yep, we're the new posers. Sometimes we get it right.

And other times, the outcome is just.....AWKWARD.

Enjoy the AWKWARD (and a few of the pretty) at our expense. 

Beautiful Sister Pic

What is she digging for?!?!

Some sort of dancing/mating call, I guess. 

Sunset behind us picture just looks creepy! WE make it look creepy!

Jenni & Brenna cracking up. So sweet. So awkward! Love it 

I'm too awkward for this picture!

Posing like Minnie Mouse. Totally normal for a 30 yr old!

I think Jessica is having a stroke & Jenn is praying for her. 

Sisters all fancied up for Jenni's wedding. 

Creeper got in the photo. Brenna looks nervous/scared, etc. 

Di sticking her tongue out, Jenni smiling nervously and politely. 

(but kinda awkward for some reason)

The Johnson Girls: Jessica, Jenni and Linda Mae

Only b/c we were pinning Jenni's wedding dress together...and b/c of the obvious (Elly the creeper photo bomber!)

What was I thinking? 8.5 months pregnant and wearing all that shiny fabric. Tragic!

Jenni & Diana (gorg!!)

Jes & Jenni are T.A.N.

Match Christmas pajamas! 

You're welcome! 
More Awkward family photos will be coming so get ready for those!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Do You Ever Just Feel....

...CUTE?!?! Yes, my "funny ha ha" mantra is "I picked pretty" - (see my "complete profile" before you get all judgy). 

But I don't feel pretty very often.  

Listen up girls, I KNOW we all have those days that we just don't like how we look. The pants are too tight. The shirt is wrinkled (and since the invent of Downey wrinkle spray we have NO idea where our iron is or how to use it IF we did indeed find it). We're having a bad skin day. A bad makeup day. A bad hair day. All-in-all, it's a bad mirror day. And then we drop our kids off at school, mother's day out, or we walk into the 'office' feeling as low as we can go, low-and-behold, there SHE is. Probably vetted as People magazine's "Most Beautiful Woman Alive" but she turned it down because she ate a grape and was bloated that day. The comparisons continue throughout the day until you downward spiral so severely that you resign yourself to going home, putting on old maternity pants and eating ice cream and drinking wine on the couch. Oh, just me? PUUUULLLLEEEAAASSSE, guuuurl! I know I'm preachin' to the choir. I know we're all in this boat together. 

But aren't you thankful for ONE day (in like 42 days) that you actually feel CUTE! 

I'm having that day. I feel cute today. I'm usually in yoga pants, sloppy pony tail & hat, minimal makeup (revealing all my skin conditions: dry, oily, old, wrinkled, eczema, acne). But today I did my hair and put on really put on makeup. I'm wearing colorful clothes, not my usual "black is slimming" pants & shirt combo that makes me look more 'fashion victim' than 'fashion forward.' I'm wearing heals. My husband said, "You look pretty today." Hey, I'll take it! 

When I write people notes, I often end it by saying "KEEP GOING!" 
So today, if you feel ugly, gross, fat, less-than, defeated...KEEP GOING! Today ain't over and tomorrow is just on the horizon. Keep going! 

My hair started out BAAAAD today, but I kept going. The small victory for me was that, in the end, I feel cute. 


Here's some pics for the encouragement of your...laughter!

Curled bangs + Callick = YUCK!

So I kept going...

And check it, direct it! I pulled out my weapon of mass destruction (blue titanium flat iron) and whipped those bangs into perfect shape!


I hope you feel cute. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ode to Stephanie Ann Dale Miller

I wanted to share something I wrote about a friend. She was a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother.  This is my belated "Mother's Day" thought...

April 11, 2013


Some news just plain hits you in the gut, takes your breath away, and breaks your heart. I got that sort of news this evening. The kind of news that has made me cry my eyes out, reflect, pray, wrestle with and submit to my Maker. 

Here's what happened:

I walked in to meet my Mom for dinner tonight. Emery was freaking out like she does every single time she sees her beloved grandma. She was moving as quickly as she could through the crowd to get to Gaga and I was trying to guide her with one hand so that she didn't plow down any bystander. In all the commotion, I didn't notice how still Mom was. I didn't see her expression as I guided Emmy into "Gaga's" lap, stuffed the diaper bag into the booth and plopped my tired self down. And then I saw the look on her face. She couldn't even look up to meet my stare as I instinctively asked, "What's wrong, Mom?" 

"Have you checked Facebook in the last three hours?"

"Umm" I had to think, "yeah, I think so...why? What's wrong?"

"I can't say it." 

She slid her phone across the table and I picked it up with both haste and reluctance. There it was. Facebook official from the page of my childhood friend, Rachel, it read: "My sister, Stephanie Ann Dale Miller, has gone to meet her Savior today." Steph had battled brain cancer for two and a half years and this cool day in April, she had drawn her last breath and was now healed and whole before her Lord. She was 37. She left behind a husband and two daughters. 

I bowed my head and wept. Thankfully I was wearing my workout clothes and a ball cap that covered my face so I didn't cause anyone to lose their appetite with my ugly cry. I unashamedly wept.
The waitress stopped, "Are you okay? Can I get you anything?"

Mom answered, "We just got sad news."

The waitress, obviously a Believer, replied, "Should I bring chocolate cake?”

I'm a Texas girl through and through but I am originally from Kansas City, Kansas. Our family lived about a decade of my childhood years in Kansas before Mom and Dad got right with the Lord and made our permanent home in Texas. God was good to us in KS. We had tons of family around us, Grandma lived three minutes away, we purchased our first house, belonged to a great church family and best of all...we had The Dale Girls. 

Mrs. Dale, whom Jenni and I inappropriately and accidentally always called by her first name, Nelda, was funny and charming and beautiful and full of life and love and music and the Word. She loved God and she loved her family. And she loved to laugh. And she raised her daughters with those characteristics fully in tact.

The youngest of Mrs. Dale's three daughters was Melissa. Melissa and Jenni were the same age and they were thick as thieves. Adorable and silly and funny and so incredibly annoying to me and...

Rachel...the middle daughter and my best friend. Rachel was my age. Equally as self-righteous and know-it-all as moa. It's a wonder we ever got along. But Rachel was my muse. When we moved from KS to TX, she was the inspiration for my now famous poem, "Friends In The Heart". (It will be remembered with the greats, like Emerson and Dr. Seuss.) Rachel was smart and well read and she always did what was right. She was the friend I didn't ever want to disappoint.  

And then there was Stephanie. The eldest of three daughters. A natural beauty. An entertaining thespian. A singer. An actress. A comedian. You name it, she could do it, be it, mimic it. When Stephanie smiled, you couldn't help but wonder what was behind the smile, because she didn't just smile, she laughed. There was a laugh behind her smile. She smiled with her eyes, her cheeks, her nose and her lips. Stephanie was larger than life. She was three and a half years older than me. Just enough age difference for me to watch her, imitate her, hold her in high esteem. I secretly worshiped and idolized her, even though I pretended to be frustrated and annoyed when she would yell at me and Rae for bothering her. Having no big sister of my own, Stephanie was my surrogate big sister. She was bossy and loud and funny and sarcastic and charming and witty and polite. She could speak comfortably in front of a crowd, even a crowd of adults. As a matter of fact, she was incredible in front of a doting congregation...her best and truest self. She oozed confidence and charisma. Yeah, I totally worshiped her.  She was always singing...usually some show tune from a musical I had not yet seen or heard of. She had a great sense of style that sometimes stretched her parents but she was obedient and in the end she chose modesty and made it look cute.  She had friends and she even had boyfriends...whoa...she was so cool. 

Steph was so cool that "playing" with the four of us younger girls was beneath her, and looking back, I totally get it! What would a thirteen-year-old want to do with a herd of eight-and-ten-year-old babies? But every now and again, we would beg, plead and somehow con Steph into helping us in one of our games of school or house. The most memorable for me was the time the "Fab Four" (i.e. Rachel, Jessica, Melissa & Jenni) joined forces to play some sort of version of house. I think Rachel was the "Mom" because she was making us all sandwiches in the "kitchen". And I think Jenni, Melissa and I were all actresses or singers...maybe the first Dixie Chicks. But the most notable moment of our pretend world game was when we were going on "stage", doing our hair and makeup, and Stephanie helped us stuff our shirts with socks so that we would look more "womanly". Maybe I shouldn't write that, maybe it's inappropriate. But we were young and innocent...and flat-chested. I remember Rachel being both horrified and amused at the three of us and our voluptuous, yet lumpy bosoms. Stephanie laughed the entire time she rolled tube socks for us. Showing us how to tuck our shirts into our pants just right so that the socks were held into perfect place. And when her masterpiece was finished, she paraded us into the kitchen yelling, "Mom! You gotta see this!" Mrs. Dale laughed her infectious howl and called Jenni "Dolly Parton". 

Yes, that's what I remember about Stephanie...teaching me how to stuff my shirt with tube socks. Every girl needs a big sister to teach her the important things in life. 

But the "Stephanie" memory that stands out as the brightest in my mind is seeing Stephanie sitting in a wingback chair near the fireplace in the formal living/sitting room holding her Bible. It sticks out in my mind because I remember thinking, "That Bible is HUGE". She must have been reading a study Bible or Life Application Bible because at that age, the Bible looked big enough to be the "Family Bible" in Steph's small and delicate hands. She was writing, maybe in the Bible, or maybe in a journal, but I thought, "Look at her. She's reading the Bible and no one is making her." She was maybe thirteen years old. 

What a testimony. Diving into the Word because she wanted to. Because she loved Jesus. Because she was hungry for Truth. Because she was His. 

In later years, we would see The Dale Girls on other occasions when we would visit family in KS. I had the honor of being a bridesmaid in Rachel's wedding when we were nineteen. Stephanie was there...a newlywed. And she was even more fabulous at 23 than she was at 13! And, again, I saw her reading her Bible one morning. She was radiant. Beautiful. Full of Light and Love. She was full of the Lord. 
Steph gave me great big sister advice on that trip, "Jessica, whatever you do, DO NOT get your bangs trimmed the week before you get married." And then she handed me her bridal portrait and she cackled as she let her laugh roll from her belly. Her bangs were short. But I didn't laugh, I was breathless. She was perfect. Flawless. She looked like a royal princess bride. And her prince, Phillip, what a beautiful couple. They were regal and young and full of life. 

Three years ago, my phone rang and to my surprise, it was Stephanie. She had read my blog about our struggle with infertility. She was calling to offer me encouragement and hope. She, too, had struggled in getting pregnant with their second daughter, Emily. I remember telling her that I had stopped all fertility treatment because my heart and mind couldn't take any more hurt and disappointment for that season. Stephanie was quiet. She didn't try to fill the space in my aching heart with empty words. She listened. And when she responded, her words were wise and life giving. And later that year when I did get pregnant, she sent me a message on FB telling me how happy she was for what God was giving us. It was the same month that she was diagnosed with her brain tumor. She was writing to offer me more encouragement and love and hope even in the face of her own mountain. 

And so, when I read that she was now in Heaven, I hung my head, ball cap covering my face, and I wept. Because the earth suffered a loss. And Heaven gained one of its own. I know many family members greeted her. And I imagine that my Dad waited in line to hug her and welcome her. And they smiled at each other…those infectious smiles. And they laughed. And they worshiped at the feet of Jesus. 

And today though there are holes in earthly, human hearts because of our temporary loss, Stephanie is whole. She is with her Savior, the Lover of her soul, her Great Physician. 

You are missed, Stephanie. But you will never be forgotten. 

Love Your Surrogate Other Little Sister,
Jessica (PS - I finally got boobs)

Proverbs 31:28-31
(Ode to Steph, the virtuous woman)
Her children rise up and call her blessed; 

Her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many daughters have done well, 

But you excel them all.”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, 

But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands, 

And let her own works praise her in the gates.”

Side Note: 
I was blessed to attend Stephanie's funeral a week later and her brave Mama and Husband both spoke her praises AT the funeral...WOW! 
Her Mom (Mrs. Dale, aka, "Nelda") left us with this incredible verse: 
"I have no greater joy than to hear my children walk in truth." 3 John 4 

Oh that we may all walk in this same joy so that we can hold each other again in heaven! 
Go, ye, make disciples!!

(pictured below: Melissa, Stephanie, Rachel)