Sunday, May 7, 2017

Dreams: Delayed But Not Dead

Keep Following Your Dreams!
People used to ask me when I was slinging coffee for a living, "How are you?" every day (without really caring, it's just something they said to their barista on the way to their coffee order with barely a pause for me to answer before they went into their half-caff mocha with a pump of caramel and two Splendas but blend the Splenda with the chocolate before the espresso.) And every day I would reply, "I'm living the dream."

Dripping with sarcasm, of course. It was not, in fact, my dream when I received my degree from the University of Michigan to ever sling coffee. My dream was to write. But the thing about writing is that you need to sling coffee to pay for that dream because it's not often that dream pans out as lucrative enough to pay the bills that come with having a dream.

I'm forty. You probably already know that, as I doubt this is your first time reading the blog. I'm still not "living the dream" that I have always had. And maybe I never will. (And maybe that's why La La Land resonated so much with me that it left me sobbing at the end. No spoilers, I promise, and this has nothing to do with the love story because my love story is the best one there is, thank you.) But I still live with the very strong hope that anything can happen in the future if I put my all into it. That bestseller is lurking inside of me and it just needs to get from my brain onto the paper into the hands of someone who believes in it like I do so that it can someday get into your hands and the hands of all your friends and their friends.

This hope that I have, though, isn't without merit. When a started dating this extroverted introvert somewhere around a decade and a half ago, we told each other our dreams because that's what you do when you fall in love with someone. And we decided that our purpose was to help each other make their dreams come true. In a couple of days, one of those dreams will come to fruition.

I have watched my 46-year-old husband (who evolved from the 31-year-old man I met so long ago...) work a number of jobs since we first got together, all the while maintaining a strong force in local theatre and remaining a loyal, wonderful husband and father. He got married very young the first time around and started having kids right away, so his dreams of getting his college education were somewhat delayed. So delayed, in fact, that he will be receiving his Indiana University degree this Tuesday night -- as President of the Student Government/Student Body at Indiana University South Bend. Over the last four years, he has worked harder and more passionately than I've ever seen a college student work while, at the same time, having a baby with me, tutoring, peer mentoring, becoming Editor-in-Chief of the Undergraduate Research Journal, bringing the Student Economics Club back to life as its President for a year, and so many other duties I'm unable to list them all here at this late hour. He's received awards and scholarships the likes of which I never even imagined possible. And did I mention that he's 46?

Why is this important?

Because he's never given up. There have been so many struggles over the last four years and at any moment he could have stopped, delayed it further or just let go of the dream altogether. Frustrations with classes, tragic deaths in our family, and the insanity of a brand new baby being born at our geriatric ages could have led to a delayed dream becoming a dead dream. But this man did not, would not, allow that to happen because he believed in something so strongly, wanted something so badly, that he was not about to let it go.

I am so proud of him that I don't have the words to adequately express it. He is an inspiration to me to continue following my dreams regardless of the trials that will inevitably pop up along the way, regardless of the naysayers, regardless of the odds.

Stephen Michael, I love you and I cannot wait to see the rest of your dreams come true.

"So bring on the rebels, the ripples from pebbles, the painters and poets and plays...
and here's to the fools who dream, crazy as they may seem." --Audition, La La Land

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Inspiration

As a writer, it's often difficult to find time to write. When I do have that rare nugget of time to write, it's often completely devoid of inspiration. Sometimes I'll sit down with an empty notebook (one of my favorite things in the world) and just stare at the page and the pen, willing something to come of them. One time I wrote random words and then, on the corner of the page, "Inspiration WILL come. Anytime now, clown." There are days when I want to get that quote made into a t-shirt so I can hide under my covers wearing it and waiting.

I don't feel particularly inspired right now. The baby is napping (after a bottle, Curious George, singing, and a drive around three subdivisions in our area.) The little dog is incessantly scraping at the back door and barking to be let in, which I can't do because then he will bark inside and wake the baby and then I will have to murder the dog. (What is that, caninicide? Is that a thing?) I'm eating pistachios and looking around the room trying to force something that isn't there.

These are the times when I question EVERYTHING. I've never wanted to be anything other than a writer in my real, grown-up life. Sure, I wanted to be a Scarecrow when I was four, a Solid Gold Dancer, a lawyer, a radio DJ, a singer, an actress... but there was one point at which I knew, beyond all shadows of all doubts, exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. And then I grew up and realized that I had to do a hundred other jobs to pay the bills while I wrote as a 'hobby'. I ask myself, is this what you WANT to do, or what you're MEANT to do? Are those things the same, or different?

There is an ember inside of me, gradually charring its way out. The idea is one that will help people and that, I feel, is what my ultimate purpose in life is. Writing is the medium through which I will likely achieve that purpose, if I do indeed achieve it. It's the most fleshed out in relation to my other abilities and it's the thing I enjoy most out of everything I can do. To what end, however? How will I measure that success? It certainly won't be monetary. I can't imagine a life in which I don't have to weigh the pros and cons of Walmart versus Aldi when it comes to groceries because I've spent that much of my adulthood trying to save money and build a better life. All the while, the better life is around me just waiting to be grasped and it has nothing to do with how much money I can or cannot save for the future.

The success, in my opinion, will be measured in a life well-lived.

But what does that look like, exactly? Well, there is no precise picture. I imagine that helping people will be its own reward. Seeing a smile on the face of someone I care about or, especially, on the face of someone I don't even know. Having someone ask me to help them write something or to edit their work. Having someone come to me with a problem they feel safe talking with me about. Thinking about money as 'just money' and giving it when I have it to give.

A life well-lived is a life focused on others.
My husband, my children, my parents, my siblings, my friends.
Strangers. Prisoners. Homeless. Hungry. Violated. Addicts.
Anyone. Everyone.

I think it's time to get started.
Stephanie Jean

Friday, April 7, 2017

Life Without Fear

Without going into much detail (maddening, I know)... I'm going through something right now that could be the most fear-inducing experience of my entire existence. Yet, for the first time in my life, I am not freaking out. I am remaining calm, collected, and doing what I always tell other people in my situation to do: I'm trusting God.

I fully realize that I don't talk a lot about God on the ol' blog anymore. I don't hide my beliefs, I just don't typically flaunt them or attempt to force others to align themselves with mine. I have friends from a variety of spiritual and non-spiritual backgrounds, and my 'ministry' in using this forum is not to recruit others to my point of view; rather, it is to help everyone, regardless of their beliefs, along their own path. So this story is my current story and, leaving out details for now, I'm going to present it as-is.

Something scary happened to someone I love. Then something REALLY scary happened to compound the first scare. And right now, I'm in torpor -- waiting to find out whether the final outcome is going to be good or bad. You, faithful readers, know just how much I suffer from anxiety and fear, so when this kind of trigger pops up, I typically lose my ever-loving mind.

I've found, however, that absolutely nothing ever comes of my fear or my worrying. I'm not saying that the bad things that I dwell on don't ever happen. Of course they do. But living in the fear and the worry itself does not change the outcome of what will be; it simply makes me miserable while awaiting said outcome.

If I change my mindset to one of positivity and joy and living in the moment, and if I rely on God to take care of my circumstances, trusting that He will provide the best outcome, trusting that He is hearing my prayers, and trusting that He wants only good for me... I will not only cope with the waiting, I will be content. Happy, even. And who doesn't want to be happy?

I recite verses: "Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you." "The LORD is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me." "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy." "For I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and not for harm, plans to give you hope in your final outcome." "For which of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to your life?" And so, so many more. And I declare that the good outcome I am looking for has already happened, and I live in the belief and trust that it HAS.

The outcome will be what the outcome will be. I choose to believe for good, without fear.

And I am happy while I wait.

Stephanie Jean

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Radio Silence

I find it interesting that, in the past 30+ days while I have been off of Facebook, I very rarely hear from people that I don't already talk to on a daily basis. What I mean by that is, with over 550 friends, you would think that people would call or text or email to check in. While I did receive a number of texts and calls from family members on my birthday, I can count on one hand the messages I have gotten from anyone else.

I'm not complaining, not at all. This actually solidifies my plan to disconnect from social media. I will be going back onto Facebook after Easter, as my original intent was to give it up for Lent. However, it will become a much lower priority for me. It will be more of a place for me to keep my photos and such, and less of a place for me to interact.

I have spent a great deal of time outdoors, even when it's been cold and wet, in the last few weeks. Morel mushroom season has already begun (and no, I'm still not telling you where my hunting spot is!) I've clocked at least 10,000 steps a day for over a week with the exception of one day in the midst of that time frame. I've had so much fun playing with the baby, visiting with family and seeing a friend or two, and trying to wrap my mind around the idea of going back to this 'virtual world' just seems... well, in a word, pointless.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Next Forty Years

I remember when I was a teenager and the daughter of a family friend was turning thirty. I thought how very old that seemed. I couldn't picture myself at thirty -- what I would look like, what I'd be doing, what I'd say or even where I'd be living. And being in my thirties for the past decade, I kept looking at forty sideways thinking, I know... you're on your way. I won't be ready for you when you get here. I'm too young to be so old.

I'm not sure what I expected as I turned 40 this past weekend. I knew the world wasn't going to end, of course. I knew it was just one more day past 39, and I'd already felt old for some time. But I realized that day that it wasn't the big monster I'd made it out to be, just like thirty wasn't.

The truth is, we never know how much time we have here. I might not even be halfway through my lifespan. I might have a heart attack tomorrow. There's no possible way to predict, so what's the point in trying? Why focus on how much time you may or may not have left? Why not, instead, focus on what you can be doing with the time you DO have, day by day?

I spent a great deal of my life waiting for The Next Thing. I've spoken of this before (well, written.) When I was in elementary school, I couldn't wait to be in high school because my brother was so cool and his friends were so cool and I wanted to be like them. I couldn't wait to drive. I couldn't wait to get out of my parents' house and go to college. I couldn't wait to be married out of college and move closer to my parents. I couldn't wait to get divorced and stop feeling miserable all the time. I couldn't wait to be single, to date, to have an apartment of my own. On, and on, and on. At some point, I learned that I regretted things so much more often when I couldn't wait to do them, jumped in, and then pined away for the good old days. The good old days before I had bills and responsibilities and pressures, before I had obligations and payments and expectations laid upon me. So I lived my life in this torpor between wanting the future and missing the past.

So I was never happy.

Do you know what I am now? Right now, in this moment? I'm happy.

Not because I have finally gotten to the place where I want to be, but because I have learned to enjoy where I am while I'm there. Instead of complaining that the baby never sleeps well, I'm taking advantage of this delightful nap he's taking by getting some things done I've been wanting to do. Instead of lamenting that we had to buy a new washer the day after we had to fix our garage door, I'm loving the fact that I can do my laundry and press a single button to lift my door up and down. Instead of wishing for the day when I can move out of this area to somewhere I can get good coffee and have pizza delivered, I'm finding joy in the things I CAN do while I'm here.

I'm thinking about the next forty years, but realizing that I can wait for them. I can wait, day by day, living in the moment, basking in the joys when they're here and scurrying past the sorrows when they're near.

As I look back, these last forty years went pretty quickly. My goal is to fill each moment with as much impact as I can so that, when I'm eighty, I can look back without regret and look forward to whatever the next forty will bring...

Stephanie Jean

Monday, March 6, 2017

Breaking the Silence

I cannot believe that it has been 3/4 of a year since my last post. My life has become a whirlwind named Stevie. He's 17 months old now, still not sleeping through the night, running everywhere, climbing everything, and as exhausted as I am, it's exhilarating at the same time. To have wanted and waited so long, and then to be given this magical little creature -- it's indescribable.

But there is life aside from crazy toddlers, yes? And currently it is enmeshed in political turmoil and media overload (both traditional and social). I had to step back. I used Lent as the reason for removing myself from Facebook for several weeks but the truth is, I couldn't stand myself anymore.

After very little, and quite sporadic, sleep, I would awaken to a cranky child pulling at me to carry him while I fixed my coffee and his breakfast, and we would sit down to eat at the breakfast table where he refuses food unless he watches a video of some sort on YouTube (hey, whatever it takes.) On the second window, I would be scrolling. At one point, I had 1100+ 'friends' on Facebook and had pared that down to a mere 700. I now stand at 550. Let's be honest, nobody has 550 'friends', right? So there I scrolled, through an endless sea of food pictures, kid pictures, political rants, political memes, 'fooled you' videos, screaming goats, and so much more, but so little at the same time. And I realized (as my toddler pulled at me, because now I wasn't on the computer while feeding him anymore, I was walking around the house glued to my phone, begging carpal tunnel with my thumb and finger blooping scroll, scroll, scroll...) that I had had enough.

I won't change anybody's mind politically, spiritually, emotionally. And they won't change mine.

I don't really care what someone else made for dinner because they didn't make it for me, I wasn't hanging out with them, and I know nobody cared what I made for dinner no matter how good my Instagrammed photo of tuna casserole looked.

I didn't care whether the news was fake or real because the lines had become so blurred, so skewed, that I just wanted to pull my eyes out.

Yes, your kid is cute. Yes, my kid is cute. But I was wasting so much time with my phone in front of me trying to take the perfect picture and post it so you could see just HOW cute he was, that I wasn't enjoying my time with him. I was upset with him for moving while I tried to take a picture. Of his cuteness. Because he was moving, cutely.

And it occurred to me that, a decade ago, two decades ago, three decades ago -- life was so much different. I'm not saying it was better or worse, it was just different. I remember saying a few years back that if I ever DID have a baby, he wouldn't be playing with my phone or a tablet or watching TV all the time. I remember looking at people in restaurants on their phones next to their spouses thinking how disrespectful it was, and where did romance go, and what could possibly be more important on that phone than the person in front of them?

Our disconnect has gone so much further than being absent physically from our loved ones. Technology bridges a gap between those overseas and across countries, but it creates a rift in front of those we are right next to, or want to be right next to, day and night.

I thought sure I'd miss it -- I'd want to scroll everyday, wondering what I was missing out on, what comments I could be making, what pictures I could be posting, what funny or tragic thing was happening that I wouldn't be privy to right away.

I don't.

I don't miss it.

I looked at the sky today. It was still up there, where it's always been, beautiful shades of grey and blue and white, tiny skyrocketing drops of rain pelting my face intermittently while I went to get the mail. I stared at the budding flowers bursting through the damp soil near the house, and the birds flitting from branch to branch debating whether or not to take wing because I was so near. I looked into the eyes of my toddler, and he smiled and kissed me, and was so much less fussy than usual as we shopped, and played, and ate breakfast. I read something REAL. I visited the library, ran errands, listened to music, read some more. And look -- I wrote! I actually wrote something for the first time in so many months I wouldn't even have been able to recall if it hadn't been right there in front of me when I logged in.

And I think about the people who didn't look at the sky, or the rain, or the plants, or their children and I'm telling you -- I don't miss it.

Not at all.

Stephanie

Monday, July 11, 2016

Again...and Again... and Again... and Again...

There's this fantastic song by Casting Crowns that I've already quoted in previous blogs. I know this because it's one of my favorite things I've ever heard and because I feel like I've written this before. I have this sense of deja vu lately, like all of this has happened, and it's happening again. It's probably because all of this has happened, and it's happening again.

If we are the body
Why aren't his arms reaching?
Why aren't his hands healing?
Why aren't his words teaching?

"Innocent" is such a powerful word, isn't it? Just as powerful as "guilty". Just as powerful as "truth".

The truth is, there's no such thing as innocent. The truth is, not everything is black and white. The truth is, nobody understands anything unless or until it affects them personally.

One of my readers asked me to write about the body of Christ, and how we are all a part of that. It's hard for me, because I try to keep this blog as non-"religious" as possible. I will admit that I'm a Christian (don't you just love how I said that like it's a confession, because so many people that say those words treat people in ways that contradict its very nature?) I'll admit it, but then I'll also be quick to tell you that I'm NOT innocent, that I'm NOT judgmental, and that I'm NOT the one with all the answers. Or any of them, most of the time. Just some ideas here and there. And right now, there are so many ideas swirling around in my head, it's like the movie Twister.

People are murdering people. And I don't understand why.

What is it about the color of a person's skin that makes someone else assume that person is guilty? What is it about the color of a person's skin that makes someone else feel frightened, or defensive, or superior, or entitled, or any number of other instantaneous thoughts, fleeting or otherwise?
What makes white people so incensed by hearing the words "Black Lives Matter"?
What makes anyone think that their God loves them any more than anyone else?

I grew up listening to vinyl (kids, ask your parents) and when the needle would get stuck and play the same thing over and over, I wouldn't just sit there and listen to it. I'd immediately get up, pick it up and put it back down, or 'scootch' it over even though that wasn't the best plan, but I couldn't stand just hearing it again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again... you get the picture?

Yet, I feel like we're stuck in this endless loop right now. A loop of hatred, of retaliation, of revenge, of bitterness, of mistrust, of betrayal, of despair. It's deja vu. I've written this before because I've felt this before because this has happened before.

For those of you who consider yourselves Christians, we are to be the body of Christ. He did not judge, he did not show partiality, he did not kill. He loved, and he gave, and he healed, and he taught, and he was killed for it. Sometimes, you do absolutely nothing wrong and you're killed for it just because someone doesn't like who you are, even if you're the savior of the world.

Because they're afraid.

The Jesus you think you know doesn't look like those pretty white boy pictures you see in your churches. He wasn't a white, long-haired, clean-cut guy with a pretty white robe. His skin was probably just as dark as most of the people in those neighborhoods where you drive through and lock your doors.

Romans 2:11 and Acts 10:34 both say that God does not show partiality/favoritism. Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman at the well, offering her living water, when Jews didn't speak to Samaritans, much less male Jews to Samaritan women. Jesus railed against hypocrisy in Matthew 23 for pretty much the entire chapter, talking about how those in power weren't the special snowflakes they thought they were.

So again, if we are the body... why aren't we healing those who are emotionally sick, why aren't we reaching our arms out and embracing those who look different from us, why aren't we teaching our children that racism is one more of the evils of this world? Why aren't we walking towards justice and peace? Why aren't we using our voices to speak up for the oppressed as Jesus did when he was on the Earth?

Stand up, pick up the record needle, and fix the problem. People need to stop murdering people. People need to be heard. People need to be loved. People need to be rescued.

What can we do?
What can YOU do?

Stephanie Jean