Wednesday, February 14, 2018

From Philia to Agape - There's Love and There's LOVE

*Warning* I may rarely use the word or post about it these days, but I'm (gulp) Christian. This is a near transcript of the most recent message I gave, and I felt pressed to post it on my blog this week. HOWEVER - DO NOT FEAR! You have not reached a Christian blog, or a Fire and Brimstone Website. You have reached an inspirational website that sporadically posts about Jesus because ... well... I'm Stephanie, and I'm a Christian. ("Hi, Stephanie...")

John 13:34-35 – A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples: that you love one another.

It’s the season of love – Valentine’s Day is here, where we eat too much candy, spend too much on dinner, buy greeting cards for approximately $10 apiece these days, spend fifty bucks on flowers that will die within a week, and celebrate in the name of what we call “love”.

Do I sound like a little bit of a curmudgeon? A little critical? Maybe. As many little girls did, I grew up seeing love through the eyes of Walt Disney, where everybody got what they wanted and lived happily ever after, there was a prince out there for every princess, and love always won in the end.

That’s not necessarily the case in the real world we live in right now. I suppose I should have figured that out right about the same time I figured out that woodland creatures weren’t going to talk to me or do my household chores.

The divorce rate stands at right around 50%, give or take. And before you get all holier-than-thou, you might be surprised to find out that the divorce rate of Christian couples is the same: 50%. That means for every two weddings we go to, one of those couples will statistically be divorced at some point down the line. My own first marriage ended in divorce after just two years married, and I was pretty jaded about that for awhile.

I spent a long time trying to fill that empty hole where love should have been. I didn’t trust men, or marriage, or even relationships for that matter. I was young and thought the world owed me happiness. I had left the church for over six years at that point in my life and clearly did not trust God to take care of this problem either. I wouldn’t even have been able to tell you that there was a God. I was alone. In my mind, I was alone.

Loneliness is one of the worst feelings in the world. It’s mixed with so many other emotions: depression, helplessness, sadness, sometimes anger. And when people are lonely, when they feel ‘alone’, they make choices they would not otherwise make.

Let me give you an example of a girl named Cassie. This isn’t her real name. But I met Cassie by chance a few weeks back. I’ve been trying to organize my house and get rid of things I don’t need since the beginning of the year, so I’ve been putting items up for sale online, mostly on the Facebook marketplace because it’s so easy to use. I had a small recliner for sale for twenty dollars, and she messaged me asking if she could come that night, on a Sunday, to buy it. I said sure, and awaited her arrival. I started loading, and then my neighbor and Cassie's friend finished loaded the recliner into the back of her van, and it was heavy and took quite awhile, and while we didn’t have the fourteen inches of snow we have now, it WAS very cold. And Cassie waited until that point to pull out her checkbook.

This was a red flag. Everybody that uses this online network to buy and sell knows that we are supposed to bring and accept only cash. But I certainly didn’t want to unload the recliner and have her come back again with cash. It was cold, and like I said, it had taken a long time. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and let her write me a check. She put her phone number on the top, too, so I felt safer, and she said, right before she pulled away, to wait until 4 pm the next day before I cashed it. As she drove off, I had an uncomfortable feeling that I had been duped, but I thought – you know, I am just not a very trusting person and I need to get over that.

I waited two days before I cashed Cassie’s check, took the twenty dollars, and got a few groceries. A few days after that, I got a notice from my bank that the check had not cleared, so they were deducting the $20 from my account – AND a $10 check fee. It was not because the check bounced. It was because the account it had been written from was a closed account. Cassie did not accidentally bounce a check. Cassie, on purpose, scammed me out of twenty dollars and cost me another ten in addition to that.

Well, I was pretty upset about this, of course. So I did the only logical thing and called Cassie’s number that she had written on the check to tell her what happened and ask her to meet me with the cash. And this may surprise you… because it surprised me… because I wasn’t thinking… but the phone number WAS NOT A REAL NUMBER. It was a closed phone account. Because, you see, Cassie did ALL of this on purpose.

Not having the ability to call her, I got back on Facebook to find her, and looked up some things on her page. I read a bit about her and found out that she was looking to get closer to God, and felt like she was running and was very tired. These were vague things she said, but it troubled me. I was still angry, but I tried to maintain my cool, and sent her a message to please make things right and give me the money back. She did not respond.

I posted her name on the Facebook Marketplace to warn people not to take a check from her, lest they also be scammed. And THEN things really took off. I received private messages from other people telling me they had also been scammed, or she had written bad checks to their business; I even got a message from a local prosecutor telling me to call the office because they had her name on a bad check list and could give me information. Someone else gave me her place of employment. Someone else gave me her actual address! Bombarded with all of this information, I didn’t know what to do, and so I prayed.

Then Cassie called me from a different phone number. I wasn’t home at the time and she said she was at my house and wanted to make it right, she would pay me thirty dollars to make up for it in cash. She said she would leave it at my house. I thanked her and took down the message from the internet, thinking it was all over. I texted my neighbor and asked her to grab the money from the mailbox just in case anyone found it and took it. In the two minutes between Cassie leaving the money and my neighbor going to pick it up… it miraculously wasn’t there! WHAT? I HAD BEEN DUPED AGAIN! Fool me once, shame on  you… fool me twice, and NOW I AM REALLLLLLY MAD! I called Cassie again and she said, okay, if you can wait until Friday I’ll give you forty dollars (which was tempting, because the entire purpose of this was that I needed money...) 

Now I had a choice. I could be fooled a third time, or I could stand my ground. “Cassie, no,” I said. “You did this on purpose. You didn’t bounce a check, you wrote it from a closed account. That’s illegal. I could turn you in. But I’m not going to do that because I think you want to do the right thing. I don’t want forty dollars, I just want the thirty you owe me. I need it tonight or I’m going to have to turn you in. You’ve done this to a lot of people, it’s not just me, and you know it isn’t right.” There was silence and then she sighed and said, “okay”. An hour later, there was thirty dollars in my mailbox in cash.

The story could end there. This sounds like I got what I wanted. But a verse would not leave me alone. It was haunting me.

2 Peter 1:5-7 says: Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with steadfastness, steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

It’s a process. So often, when we hear Jesus command us to love one another as He loved us, we think it can’t be done. Or else we think we’re failing because we can’t live up to that kind of a love, a love that would die for us. And DID die for us. We’re supposed to love one another as he loved us? Turn the other cheek to the point of death? How do we do that? How is that even possible?

But see, we don’t just start off with love. Did you know there are different types of love? Different words for love? In Ancient Greek, “Philia” means brotherly love, a term of affection. This is why Philadelphia is called City of Brotherly Love, it’s from that root 'Philia'. It’s a mutual kind of affection, so you typically have friends that love each other with this kind of love, not just one person who loves another that way without it being requited. The love that the disciples had for each other, that we have for each other as disciples, as Christians, it’s considered 'Philia' – a brotherly love. But the love of God for man and man for God is considered Agape love. It is the highest form of love, and this is the love to which we aspire – the love to bring all loves together. It embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance.

This is the love that 2 Peter 1:5-7 is building toward. This is the love that I needed to show to Cassie. And man, was it hard. And I’m a minister. But I was SO angry, and I felt so stupid, that I almost couldn’t do it.

Then I remember that emptiness that I had once felt, when I thought that love wasn’t real, that loneliness I felt when I thought there was no God. And I remembered Cassie’s words on her own page, about how she was feeling empty and tired of running, and wanted to be closer to God.
I exercised my self-control. I had faith, I had knowledge, I knew the Godly thing to do. I knew how I would treat a friend, with brotherly love… with Philia. But this was the final step. She had wronged me. I needed this love to be the love that Jesus called us to in John 13, that he commanded us to love with. This needed to be Agape love – unconditional regardless of the circumstance.

I sent her a message and said, “I’m not turning you in. I really appreciate that you did the right thing and paid me back. I see that you want to get closer with God, and I can help you with that if you want. I’m a minister, so it turns out you tried to scam the right person this time. Let me know if you want to talk.”

In the past two weeks, we have chatted back and forth a number of times, talked about her background, about her fears, and, most recently, she asked me for the number of a domestic abuse shelter locally. Cassie was more in need of help than anyone could have imagined, and God put her in my life for a reason, and me into hers.

When we think of love, we think of the ones we get along with, that we want to be with. We think of our spouse, our children, our parents perhaps, our friends, our Jesus. But God is, day by day, putting other people in our life that we need to take steps to reach. We need to take steps in our own life,  in our own abilities to love others without judgment, so that we can help them get to know the kind of love we know. The Agape love of the Father for each of us. He has that same love for everyone. He loves Cassie, in all her emptiness and mess, just as much as He loves you and me.

Jesus told a parable once about two people who had been forgiven a debt – when he’s in the house of Simon, and the woman is anointing his feet with oil and tears, and Simon is disgusted because the woman is a sinner. Jesus says in Luke 7, “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender – One owed 500 denarii and one owed 50. Neither had the money to pay him back, so he forgave both debts. Now which one will love him more? Simon replied, I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven. You have judged correctly, said Jesus.” This woman was a sinner, but God loved her as much as he loved Simon. The woman, however, would end up loving God more because of all of the lavish love and forgiveness he gave her, which she did not receive from others.

I can’t help but wonder what Cassie’s life is going to be like when she realizes that she’s not empty and lost, but that she is lavished with love by the Creator of the Universe, our Father God, and that He sent His son Jesus Christ to die for her.

I know how my life changed when I found True Love. His Love. His Agape Love.

THIS is the greatest of all commandments, and THIS is what we’re to be known for. THIS is how Jesus said that people will know that we are His disciples. It’s easy to love people who love us back. It’s easy to forgive people we know care about us. But it’s our CALLING to love everyone else, too.

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, February 8, 2018


I had the pleasure of writing a feature-length article on a community theatre for a local magazine, and it inspired me to think about how much I love theatre once again. I have my mother to thank for this, as she took me to see traveling Broadway shows like Hair at age 12 (yes, they were naked; no, I didn't freak out) and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at age 14 or so (yes, the one with Donny Osmond; no, I didn't get to see him because it was his understudy that night.) I've been told so often in my life what a performer I was as a child, and I see that same reflection in the little clone I gave birth to a couple of years ago. It's funny, though, that in the past decade and a half since I was on a real stage for the first time, I've become much more comfortable -- and joyful -- behind the scenes.

If you knew me in high school, I was awkward both socially and in the looks department, so I tended to stick with people I trusted not to make fun of me. (I think there were like, three of them.) I took Theatre Arts my freshman year and would have taken four years of it if they hadn't pulled it from the curriculum immediately after I fell in love with it. On the stage, I could be someone else. It was okay for people to look at me, because I wasn't "me". I was a particular character. If I screwed something up, I could play it off as though it were on purpose. But being in front of a crowd as Stephanie was, and is yet, highly uncomfortable for me.

The following year, I joined choir. I was myself, yes... but in a sea of people, so it was still safe to be on stage. Since there were voices much better than mine, I didn't get a solo until my senior year, and the fears that ravaged me then are the same ones that ravage me now whenever I stand as myself in front of a large group of people who are all looking to me to entertain them, educate them, or inspire them. Yet:

I've been a teacher at both the high school and college levels.
I am a minister, giving messages at least once a month.
I sing -- it's rare these days, but it still happens upon occasion.

However, I get the most happiness out of what I do in the background. As a director in theatre, as a writer on this blog for my ministry, and as a mentor to students overseas who will likely never see my face a single time in their lives. I like this because I've come to the conclusion that MY life... is not about me.

Helping others to reach their potential is the reason I'm on this Earth. Sure, I have dreams and aspirations of my own... but they mostly have that common thread. The book I want to write? It's to help others learn to love themselves and to love other people. The child I gave birth to? It's to be able to help him grow into a good human being from the moment of his very first breath. The man I married? It's to help him achieve his highest calling in life. I've been given the ability to encourage and support up to 25 high school students a year from a completely different country while teaching them necessary skills for college in the United States. It's not about me. It's about the One who placed me where He placed me, and the people into whose lives I have been woven by Him.

I used to want to be famous. This was because I figured if I were famous, people would have to like me. Now, I couldn't possibly care less if people like me or not. I have a life to live, a purpose to fulfill, a journey to trek. Sometimes I love it. Sometimes I hate the world and everything in it. Some days I'm full of joy and ambition. Some days I don't want to get out of bed. But every day, I learn something new, experience something new, grow a little bit, and find the strength to keep on moving.

Contrary to the Hokey Pokey lyrics, THAT'S actually what it's all about.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, January 29, 2018

Waxing and Waning

My mother instilled within me a deep love for the night sky. We would walk outside in the dark, looking up at meteor showers, constellations, the deep blue-black of the heavens. Sometimes we would sit on a blanket, other times we'd camp out on the upper deck of our house with her gigantic telescope. But, oh... then there was the moon! All of the phases it went through, blue moons, blood moons, the corona around the moon, the man on the moon, the craters, the reflection of light from the sun, the moon landing, the tides -- so very many stories from just one white circle (or sliver) in the sky.

It occurred to me recently that the moon isn't the only thing that waxes and wanes. I recently posted on Facebook that my faith in humanity waxes and wanes on a daily basis. I'm nothing more than an observer in certain situations -- hearing news of mass murders, of rape, of children being neglected and abused. I feel my soul, like the moon, waning away from other humans, wanting to crawl into a little sliver and then disappear from the planet completely. Then I see marches where people stand up for themselves and for one another, love winning out, outrageous generosity, and my emotional moon waxes, swells to full in pride and in faith. Other times, it's a personal affront, being scammed out of money, or having someone talk about me behind my back... or a personal victory like getting a raise or accomplishing a goal.

What is it about this journey of life that constantly makes it worth getting up each day, plugging away at the grind that emerges every 24 hours, just to blink some sleep and start all over the next?

Maybe it's your faith. Maybe it's your family. Maybe it's your friends, your cat, your determination, your persistent warrior spirit, your curiosity, your incredible sense of adventure.

Whatever it is, I encourage you to keep getting up. Out of bed, off the ground, back on the horse. This is the most spectacular ride you've ever been on. And even when you feel like the world is collapsing around you and it's not worth it, I assure you -- it is. It IS worth it. You have a purpose, even if you haven't figured it out yet.

Bundle up tonight and go stand beneath the moon. Just look at it. Witness how majestic it is, how something so still can be doing so much just by BEING THERE.

Then, realize, you are the same. You are the moon. You can reflect the light of Another, you can influence, you can be still while accomplishing so, so much. Even if nobody takes the time to look at you, you can be there.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Be Still

My life is a non-stop whirlwind of toddler, dogs, husband, older children, parents, siblings, work, cleaning, errands, bills, and so much more. We revel in our busy-ness, don't we? "I can't, I'm busy" seems to be the drumbeat of the millennium. It astounds me that we have all of these time-savers like laptops and smartphones and microwaves and cars, and yet we still cry out, "I don't have time for that!" Whatever 'that' might be...

But oh, isn't it usually something we need? Something we crave? We don't have time to read a book, or sit and watch the birds. We don't have time to sit and play because we have to X, Y, and Z.

"Be still, and know that I am God."

"But, I don't have time for that!" I say.

There is NOTHING I need more, though. I'm sitting in a beautiful moment right now, alone in the house but for sleeping dogs and a sleeping child. A thousand things drift -- no, jog with maddening speed -- through my mind that I should be doing right now. Checking things off my to-do list, working on articles that aren't even due for two months, or immediately jumping on the two essays in my inbox that came in today even though I have a five day response window... but do you know what I did?

I read three chapters of a book in a hot bubble bath. I prayed. I wrote to my sister. And right now? I'm going to shut everything down, and I'm going to be still.

Try it.

You won't be disappointed.

-Stephanie Jean

Monday, January 15, 2018


Now that I'm 40 and all grown up (hah), I'm trying to get a better grip on my time. I've always been fairly good with time management, but over the last couple of years it's become progressively more difficult, which may or may not have anything to do with the demanding TIC (Toddler In Charge). But when one aspires to write a bestselling book while simultaneously advocating for social justice and debunking archaic and ill-informed conservative viewpoints on the LGBTQ+ community, one needs to get a better grip on time management.

One of the things I need to do to make this happen is to make myself accountable to you fine people. If I write about it, you expect it. If you expect it, I need to make it happen because I am a woman of my word. (Those of you who knew me in a past life, I was not always this woman. But I am now. Promise.)

And so, I blog! VIVA LA BLOG! It pains me to look back upon my archives to see how loftily I started and how far I fell, judging by the number of blog posts per year. Last year was six, by the way. Pathetique! But, day by day, I'm writing what I need to do in my day planner and praying for the strength and endurance to make it happen, even when Cranky McGrumpyface won't sleep for fourteen hours. (He's super cute, though, don't get me wrong.)

If you pray, please do that for me. If you're a good-viber, a pleasant-thoughter, or anything else positive, I'll take that, too. I have a message I need to get out of my heart and onto paper and it actually IS a matter of life and death for some. I believe in God, and I believe this is my purpose. So, if you see me online, feel free to say, "HEY. How's that book going? And what are you doing on social media?"

Thanks for that. I appreciate it. Now, go love one another. Because, contrary to the Hokey Pokey lyrics, THAT is what it's actually all about.

Until next time,
Stephanie Jean

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Another New Year, Blah Blah Blah

It's the most promising time of the year. We have that motivated sense of being able to do anything! Accomplish those goals! Achieve those dreams! Lose that weight! Read those books! Purge that house! And, sometime around February 1st, we lose our steam and begin to think that we are fat, lazy failures who can never finish anything. At least, that's how I've felt the last 25 or so New Years. It's like a honeymoon phase, a whirlwind of excitement and possibilities. And then you look at your resolutions one day, and they look at you, and instead of snuggling together you just nod in mutual disdain and go your separate ways.

Whoa. That escalated quickly.

Listen, though, it doesn't have to be that way, right? We KNOW it doesn't have to be that way. But if we sit in our isolated little cubbies and don't walk this path together, then it's just going to keep being that way.

So, here's the Journey. Get on it. Share it. Talk to each other. Talk to me. Talk to yourselves. That's okay, we do that all the time. (Don't ask yourselves questions and then start fights with yourselves when you don't give you the answer you're looking for, though, that's a bit awkward.)

It's about goals, yes, but it's about community and support and encouragement. It's about loving ourselves, and others, exactly where we are, and going the step further to inspire each other to be the very best that we can be. That I can be. That you CAN BE.

It's not a new month. It's a new YEAR.

What do you want to accomplish? Because you can.

We can.


--Stephanie Jean

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