Saturday, December 31, 2011

An Open Letter to God

Dear God,

It's the end of 2011. I'm feeling pretty good about the beginning of a new year. No, I don't believe all the hype about the world ending in 2012. That book You had a bunch of people write says that 'no one knows the day nor the hour except the Father', and that's You, so I don't listen to all the yahoos who make crazy predictions. I don't even listen to movie critics, why should I listen to end-of-the-world-shouters? Anyway, I guess I just wanted to look back on the past year one last time before starting January.

It was a pretty crummy year for me. I know, I don't have to tell You, You saw it all. But I'm not even talking about all the junk that happened TO me, or TO my family, I'm talking more about the things I've screwed up, things I'm just not proud of.

I've spent 87 months trying to have a baby. Obviously, I haven't been meant to have one, or ready to have one, or whatever, in all that time. I understand that it's not up to me, that it's up to You. I understand that You have a plan, and when and if I have a baby is Your prerogative, not mine. I've just gotten to the point of coveting, and it's my fault I've let myself get that way. I want to be able to enjoy time with my friends and family and all their adorable little ones without internally sighing that they have something I want so, SO badly I can barely breathe. I love them all so much, you know? I don't want to keep letting that love get clouded by my desperate desire to have that experience for myself.

What makes a mother, really? I have my own ideas, and I wonder if they're the same as Yours? I think a mother is someone who loves deeply and fully and unconditionally from every depth of her heart. Someone who would give her life for her children. Someone who puts her children's needs, and potential, and goals, and good above her own, regardless of what sacrifices she has to make, regardless of what dreams she has to give up. A mother is someone who takes 1 Peter 5:2-3 literally: "Tend the flock of God that is your charge not by constraint, but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock". I have three children. I don't see them as stepchildren, regardless of how they refer to me. I know I'm not their mother, I know they have a mother. But I don't feel that makes me any less of "a" mother. I love them, deeply and fully and unconditionally from every depth of my heart, I would give my life for them, and I put their needs and potential and goals and good above my own, even if it means working in a coffee shop and living in Middlebury and being taken for granted 99% of the time. I don't do it for any other reason than Love. And if I never go through the joyful experience of being able to have a child with my husband, I'm grateful that You gave me the experience of helping him get custody of them and helping him raise them into the men and woman you had in mind when you created them. I'm grateful enough just to be along for the ride.

I know that, often, I am impatient and unkind. I know I'm often demanding, and bitter, and resentful, and that I can say things in the heat of the moment that are hurtful. There's no need for me to list them all because, for one thing, it happens so often that it's impossible for me to do that and, for another, You already know. You've seen me at my worst and at my best, and even at my best I fail miserably. I want nothing more than to be able to touch people with the words You've given me, to be a spot of brightness in someone's life, anyone's life, ONE person's life even. I need to eliminate as much negativity from my persona as humanly possible, and let You do the Divinely possible through me. "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)

I don't profess to be any type of guru. These thoughts on virtual paper that I toss onto the blog from time to time, they're just ideas. I sometimes feel they're unrealistic, these dreams of Forgiveness, and Generosity, and Unconditional Love. But then I remember that they MUST be realistic. You embody them all, and You're more real than anything I've ever encountered face to face. You've given me so much, so many blessings, so many abilities, so much love in my life. You've given me a husband who, though he's a flawed human being just like me, knows the true meaning of love, and marriage, and commitment, and devotion. You've given me children to raise even though I haven't given birth. You've given me a wonderful home, a wonderful family, and so many gifts I just cannot begin to count.

As awful as I felt 2011 was, I'm just thankful to be alive and grateful for another year. Thank you for all your blessings, and please help me to remember them every moment of every day.

Love,
Stephanie Jean

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Simply Christmas


The snow was missing, but I wasn't necessarily missing the snow. It's always nice to see the beauty of it, just never nice to have to drive around in it. That's the blessing and the curse of living in the midwest.

Christmas this year was an emotional grab bag. The pressure at work has been building, things in our home life have been pushed back so everything has been last minute for Christmas. Friday night, our little dog ate enough chocolate to give himself chocolate toxicity, and of course he did so when the vet was closed and it was Christmas weekend. I had to induce vomiting, buy activated charcoal capsules and rip them apart, mix them with water, hold him down and syringe them down his throat, then clean up seven piles of vomit all night long. That same night, as I was wallowing in my bad luck and worrying about my dog, my mom told me to watch the news. It turns out my cousin Heidi was robbed. They took everything out from beneath her tree, and several other items from the house. She'd gotten over a thousand dollars in presents for her family, all three kids, and it was all gone. I was devastated for her, and to think that there is anyone out there who could do such a thing.

I got to see my parents and little sister last night for a bit, which was wonderful. Today was Christmas at home with the kids, and it was the first year our oldest son was not here for morning presents, since he moved out in September, so that felt not-so-good. He met up with us at Steve's parents' house today for Salisbury Christmas, so that was nice. He got us all gift cards to the places we love the most -- I got Dunkin' Donuts :) Hoping to spend some time with my brother and his family in the coming week as well.

The kids got few things under the tree this year, but we spent more than we have in the past. Aria got a Kindle and Batman Converse, and she couldn't possibly have been more excited. Michael got a cell phone (finally!) that's also an MP3 player, so he's psyched, and we paid for the first month of service. He also got some nice gloves for his punching bag downstairs. I might steal them from time to time to work out some of my excess aggression. Daily.

With January right around the corner, I start the resolutions in my head once again. There are so many things I always want to change, to improve upon, to evolve. There are so many things I want to better about myself, about my surroundings. Goals, ideas, lists. All part of the Journey, you know.

Really, what I'm looking for is peace. I've been told that peace comes through acceptance. I can accept that. Heh. It makes sense, doesn't it? We can't stop the struggles from coming, we can't stop the trials from occurring. Bad, bad things will happen. They just will. We have no power over them. But being able to accept whatever life throws at us and to roll with the punches, that's what gives us peace. We can attempt to minimize our own negative input, and we can attempt to show compassion and forgiveness towards others. Perhaps these are my new goals -- minimize negativity and maximize compassion.

Now, if only I can get all these stupid jerks in my society to do the same.

(Yes, that was a joke.)

I might not have mentioned it yet, but I'm wearing the fluffiest, fuzziest robe ever which my loving husband got me for Christmas, along with the fluffiest, fuzziest Michigan slippers. I adore him. He's not one of the aforementioned stupid jerks. At least, not usually.

I hope that everyone out there had a blessed Christmas. Here's to the rest of 2011 treating you well, and 2012 being the best year ever for us all.

Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On The Third Day of Christmas...



1 Peter 4:8 -- Above all, love each other, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

Let's say you find a baby. It's on your doorstep. It's crying. What's the first thing you do? Do you stick a bottle in its mouth? Do you spoon some baby food into its mouth? Do you leave it on the porch and dial 911? No. At least, I hope not. You pick it up and hold it.

We all want to feel safe, secure, and loved. There are very few needs we have as humans -- food, water, some bodily functions -- but a life without love is rarely survived. I'm not talking about ooey, gooey, mushy, sweet, sap-covered, "I love yOOooOOooOOu more" kind of love. I'm talking about the sort of love that covers a multitude of sins.

In any relationship, two people will not always see eye to eye. Spouses, siblings, best friends, colleagues. There will be strife, and tension, and arguments. The question is, are you going to let it get in the way of loving one another? Is your desire to be right more important than your desire to be peaceful? To love and be loved? To be happy?

Let's say your significant other leaves his or her dirty t-shirt on the floor next to the laundry. Choices: yell at them until they get it right, ask them nicely to put it where it belongs, pick it up yourself and put it where it belongs because that takes two seconds and isn't demeaning at all.

Next level: Let's say your significant other pulls your car out of the garage and breaks off the mirror. Choices: make a scene about how awful and irresponsible that was, tell them it's their responsibility to call and make an appointment to get it taken care of, bash their mirror with a baseball bat, or duct tape it up and make an appointment yourself.

There are many levels to which we can take this. But my point is, there's always a choice in how we can deal with things. Letting Love rule is always the best option. Whether someone has hurt you emotionally, accidentally destroyed something you prized, or was simply thoughtless or careless, loving them through it, in spite of it, can place your relationship smack in the middle of something beautiful.

My husband loved me when I was at my lowest. When I did not deserve love. When I did not give love. When I could not love myself. He was compassionate to me when I was devoid of compassion. He taught me what true, unconditional love, was all about. Engraved on the inside of each of our wedding rings is, "The greatest thing..." The whole quote wouldn't fit. "The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return." Without him, my husband, loving me... I would be lost. I feel that with this gift of love, I'm more equipped to love others. Loving him is easy. Loving others, not so much.

Loving people you already love, when they love you back, is usually pretty simple though, right? Learning to love people you can't stand isn't. Loving people that you don't think deserve your love is nearly impossible. "If you love those that love you, what credit is that to you?" -- Luke 6:32. "But I tell you who hear me, love your enemies. Do good to them that hate you." -- Luke 6:27

Wow. Talk about difficult! There may be nothing harder to do than to love someone who hates you. The people who treat you terribly. The people who you can always count on to make you feel like the smallest version of yourself. The people who get under your skin, who talk about you behind your back, who make your life a living Hell. I mean people who have lied to you, betrayed you, ruined your reputation, messed up your past, caused others to hate you, made fun of you, belittled you, condescended to you, lied about you, broke your heart, and stomped on your trust.

How do you love someone like that? Isn't it impossible?

How did God love the world so much that He sent His Son to die for us? To give us another chance?

We've treated Him terribly. We've wasted His gifts. We've talked badly to Him and about Him. We've tried to lie to Him, we've betrayed Him, we've spread falsehoods about Him, we've caused others to hate Him, we've belittled Him, put Him down, made Him inferior to our own wills, and broken His heart countless times. Every single one of us, every single day.

Sure, He can do it -- He can love us, because He's God. He's omniscient, omnipotent, eternal. He *is* perfect Love.

Oh, but wait... that same book also says that we're made in His image.

If that's the case, then inside each one of us dwells the spark of potential. We have the ability to love. We just have to exercise it. Some of us know what its like to want to exercise, but to be so exhausted at the end of the day that we have no desire left to do anything but eat potato chips and watch sitcoms. At the end of a long day of being bombarded by anything BUT love, the last thing we feel we can do is love others. But we can.

We can.

Start by looking deep within yourself and identifying your own flaws and problems and wrongdoings. Put yourself in another person's shoes -- how would you feel if you had to live their life? This isn't something that happens overnight. You don't just simply decide, "I'm gonna love people today" and then it happens instantaneously as though it were a made-for-tv movie. It takes soul-searching. It takes gut-wrenching honesty on your part. It takes courage, and strength, and wisdom. It takes prayer.

Oh, man -- does it take prayer.

I'm praying for each and every one of us, not just in the Christmas season, but all year long, to be able to love. To exercise that potential within us. To stretch our hearts as far as they will go. There's a little Grinch in each of us, isn't there? We might be surprised to find that our hearts are a few sizes too small... but if we place ourselves in the right circumstances, those hearts are bound to grow.

Our resolution starts today.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, December 19, 2011

Grown-Up Christmas List -- Item #2


The last post was about Forgiveness. (In case you haven't read that one yet, stop what you're doing here and read that first. I'll wait. Go ahead. Ok, are you back? Great.)

This post is about Give-Ness. (See what I did there?)

Chances are, if you're reading this right now, you have internet access. Granted, you might be reading it at the library where there's free internet on the free computers, but most likely you're reading it on your own computer, whether laptop or desktop, or on your cell phone, or some other form of electronic wizardry. This means, by definition, you are not dirt poor.

There are people who are dirt poor. As much as I grumble and complain about customers that come in to my job and treat me as though I were inferior, this in itself says something pretty important: I have a job. I don't take that lightly. It's not a job I ever envisioned myself working, nor is it a job I foresee myself staying in for the rest of my pre-retirement years. However, with the unemployment rate being staggering at this moment, with friends of mine getting laid off left and right, with people on so many street corners with signs asking for work or money, I'll take what I can get right now. My car is over ten years old, has had a crack in its windshield since before I even met my husband. But I have a car. I buy my clothes at Goodwill. But I can buy clothes. I get my groceries at Aldi. But I can buy groceries. I have a plethora of blankets in my living room to ward off the cold because there aren't as many heat ducts in there as the rest of the house. But I have heat. I have running water. I have electricity. I have a roof over my head.

There are people who don't.

I'm not talking about third world countries, those devastating commercials they play on television and appeal to your more sensitive nature to please give them your credit card number, please sponsor a child, please help them survive their poverty and disease-ridden lives. That's horrible enough -- the thought that that sort of thing even exists breaks my heart. If I had millions of dollars, I'd sponsor thousands of children. But I'm talking about in our own country.

In our own state.

In our own town. There are people in our town, right now, this very moment, while we're online checking our Facebooks and emails and Twitters and whatnot, updating our status, posting pictures of our kids in various goofy settings in various silly outfits -- there are people right now who don't have a home. They don't have a bed, or a pillow, or a blanket, or a meal.

I'll fully admit that I'm jaded, and I despise that about myself. I hate that when I see someone asking for money on the street, the first thought that runs through my head is that they're not really poor. It's a ruse. They probably make more money standing on the corner in a few hours than I do at work all day. I hate that I think those things. Those things may or may not be true. But is that up to me to decide? If I have two dollars in change lying in the console of my car, is it really so important to me that I have to debate whether or not to give it to the person with the cardboard sign because they may or may not be telling the truth? What am I out, in the long run? Two bucks. What might that two bucks get that person if, in fact, they are for real? A coffee and a breakfast sandwich at McDonald's. A little warmth. A quelling of the hunger for a few hours. And how agonizing must it be to watch car after car drive by, likely shopping for something they don't truly need? How much faith in humanity, or faith in God, must these souls even have left when, minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, we drive by and do

nothing.

I have some experience with this, actually. When I was in college, there were two homeless men that sat outside of one of the dorms and asked people for change. I noticed them there a few days in a row, sitting, waiting, asking, waving, hoping. And even then, at 18, 19 years old, my more crass nature told me to steer clear. But one day I stopped. I dropped a couple of dollars into their hats, and then I sat down. Their names were Jeff and Randy. They had made a series of poor decisions in their lives, and they no longer had anywhere to live. They'd sleep in alleys, sometimes shelters if there was room. Sometimes a do-gooder would offer them a room for the night, but never enough to help them get on their feet. The next day when I packed my lunch, I made sandwiches for them, brought them over, sat down and ate with them between classes, and helped them ask for money. You would be astonished at the number of people who act like they don't see homeless people. As though "out of sight, out of mind" actually works. As though, if you look straight ahead and don't make eye contact, they don't really exist.

They really exist.

Jesus didn't say, "Hey, if you deem it appropriate and you have an overabundance of cash on a particular day, you should give a few bucks to the poor." He didn't say, "As long as you don't get too close, or anything, you should rustle up a box of extra clothes that you don't like anymore or that don't fit you so that you can give them to someone who will probably appreciate that ugly cardigan your grandma gave you six years ago." He didn't say, "Do some good things before you die, because that's how you get into Heaven."

He said, "For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me in. I needed clothes, and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me." Then the righteous will say, "... when did we do this for you Lord?" He said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:35-40

See, the thing is, it's not up to us to decide who deserves it and who doesn't. None of us deserve anything. It's not up to us to figure out how much we should give. It's not our money, anyhow. It's not our prerogative, it's His.

Christmas is about giving for a reason. We received the greatest Gift imaginable, and we give gifts to others to honor that Gift. It's not about getting the coolest, newest, shiniest, awesomest gadget. It's not about who has the most presents under the tree. It's not about how much money we spend, or whether or not our wrapping paper color coordinates with our bows and gift tags.

If you're reading this, you can do something for someone that will mean something. You can help someone -- it doesn't matter who -- that needs help. You can offer the gift of money, or food, or time, or a listening ear. You can offer them the gift of encouragement, and prayer, and support of some sort. You can give. It doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, where or if you work, how much money you make or don't make, what church you go to or even if you go to church or even if you believe in God. You have the ability to give.

The only question left is: why wouldn't you?

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, December 18, 2011

(Forgiveness)(70)(7)


Yes, I just used a mathematical term to name my blog post for the day. Forgiveness Times Seventy Times Seven. It's in the bible, you know. Matthew 18:21-35 gives both a clear statement about forgiveness and a parable to illustrate the meaning. We are to forgive. It doesn't matter if the person deserves it or not, if they asked for it or not, if we want to or not. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone causes strife, or pain, or does things they will live to regret, if they don't already regret them. Everyone needs forgiveness. Not just "everyone else" -- EVERYONE. That includes me, and it includes you.

It's not easy. Believe me, I know. I've had people treat me despicably. I've been lied to, betrayed, hurt, put down, and made fun of. I've been disrespected, made to feel I was inferior, unintelligent, unimportant. I've been talked about behind my back and I've been diminished to my face. The lesson I've learned is this: it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks of me, or what anyone else does to me. I'm not on this Earth to please them. Their thoughts of me, their ideas of how I should be, are meaningless. We're all equals -- my friends, my family, my enemies, and myself -- regardless of belief system, color, agenda, orientation, finances, or anything else. I'm not here to judge them and they're not here to judge me.

So what happens when someone you love slips? A modern day parable, if you will:

Someone you love is climbing a mountain but the two of you are on the outs, so to speak. This person -- they don't have the gear necessary to climb the mountain, they're full of snide remarks about your lack of ability to climb the mountain, and you're angry at them for being stupid enough to think they can do it their way and not the proper way. You turn away, walking back to the car in anger, when suddenly you hear the sound of rocks slipping, a small scream, and when you look back all you can see is one hand desperately grabbing on to a root hanging off the side of the cliff. You are at the decision making point. Are you going to let their pride, their stupid choices, and their insistence on their own way dictate who YOU are? Are you going to say, "Well, they obviously didn't want my help or my opinion, they thought I was weaker than they are, less intelligent than they are. They made fun of me. They're in this position because of their own poor choices, so they're going to have to get out of it on their own. I'm not going to help."

Or -- do you run, just as desperate to save their life as they are, throw yourself down and grab them with both hands, pulling them to safety?

See, the thing is, we're all struggling. We're all a bunch of self-centered, egotistical, "My way is right and yours is wrong", stubborn people. We all want what we want, when we want it. We all think our way is the best way. EVERYONE. Not just other people. We're like this, too. What would happen if we were off the side of the mountain, slipping to our death? We'd want someone to save us. We might think that we're not stupid enough to fall off the side of a mountain, but we all have our own mountain.

A mountain of debt -- some financial curse that keeps us from achieving any new, safe ground. A pile that we can't seem to get out from under, regardless of how hard we try or how much we sacrifice.

A mountain of hurt -- we've treated someone we love like trash, but we're too proud to apologize.

A mountain of vice -- alcohol or drugs or food has become the all-encompassing goddess of our lives, it's ruining everything else in our existence, but we can't seem to shake it though we know how much we have to.

A mountain of betrayal. A mountain of faithlessness. Disorganization. Hatred. Anger. Resentment. Bitterness.

We all have our own mountain, and we'd all want someone to throw themselves at us in desperation to save us if we slip. When we slip. As we slip.

We're slipping right now.

Listen, friends -- there's a reason that part of the Lord's prayer is "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." We have nothing we can offer God. He's not beholden to forgive us when we make mistakes. He's not obligated to give us a new start. We've offended and hurt him so much, every day of our lives, by our words, our actions, our lack of faith, our hatred towards Him and towards humankind -- but he forgives us anyway. He loves us anyway. Why would He do that, if not to model that sort of a lifestyle for us?

Someone might not deserve it. Someone might not change because of it. Someone might go right on hurting, or hating, or living their self-centered ways for the rest of their lives.

Forgive them anyway.

In the end, it's not what they've done to you or what they haven't done for you that matters. It's what God did for you, and what He does for you every day. We aren't supposed to model ourselves after other flawed human beings. We're already flawed human beings. We're supposed to model ourselves after Jesus. He didn't say, "Hey, knock it off with the beating! This crucifixion shouldn't be happening! I don't deserve this! I didn't do anything wrong! You guys are the jerks! You guys are the ones in the wrong!"

"Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." -- Luke 23:34

This is the Christmas season. We're excited about the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Let's not forget what the reason was for that birth. It was for the redemption of the world, the salvation of every single one of us from our own mountain. The forgiveness we don't deserve. Our reconciliation that we could not bring about ourselves.

Let every heart prepare Him room.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Charlie Brown Christmas



My favorite show to watch every year at this time is A Charlie Brown Christmas. Don't get me wrong, I love How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon one, not the Jim Carrey movie), and Elf, and Christmas Vacation, and A Christmas Carol, and I'll tolerate It's a Wonderful Life once a year because of my husband's affection for it... but A Charlie Brown Christmas seems to mean the most to me. I still tear up every single time the lights go down and Linus quotes scripture.

I try not to get caught up in the materialism of the holidays. We don't spend a lot (mainly because we don't have a lot to spend), but I really just enjoy spending time with people I love, sitting by a warm fire, drinking hot cocoa, going to church, and listening to Christmas music (as long as it's past Thanksgiving, which it has been for awhile now!)

This year, we did the Christmas show at Elkhart Civic Theatre. It's only the second time we've done it -- the first time, it was still called "A Season's Serenade", but now it's called "Winterlude". I have a solo, which is scary to me because I'm not used to being the only person on stage. It freaks me out. Tomorrow is our last performance, and a lot of family is coming which simultaneously makes me nervous and puts me at ease, if that makes any sense at all.

I'm learning peace. The key to that is acceptance, which I've also been learning. Its strange how it's washed over me recently. Things that used to make me just flare up in anger are rolling off my back. Things that would once make me panic don't seem to have any effect. This is not to say its the norm -- in fact, I had a massive anxiety attack this past week that kept me up half the night in fits of wrenching sobs for absolutely no good reason. But in comparison to the constant anxiety-filled days I had up until recently, one crummy attack ain't nuthin'. (See, I'm even playing fast and loose with my English and not being anal retentive about it. It's a whole new me.)

The thing is, I can't control everything. In fact, there are very few things I can control at all. I can control my temper, my attitude, my outlook... I can't control my circumstances, but I can keep my circumstances from controlling me.

I'm learning and changing and growing every day. Most of the days, I don't look like it on the outside, but I can certainly feel a change on the inside.

I guess that's the part that really matters, isn't it?

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Choosing Joy


Snarky. Sarcastic. Scathing. These are the comments, the posts, the statuses, and the 'likes' that seem to rule Facebook. My husband deleted his account recently because of how rampant passive-aggressiveness runs there. I can't say that I disagree with him. My original view of Facebook wasn't wrong -- I never wanted to join, because I knew it would take up a great deal of my time, it would keep me from doing a great deal of things I need to do, and it would become more of a burden than a friend. That being said, I'm not to the point where I want to delete my account. At least, not quite.

I've decided to make the rest of December "Positive Status Month", at least for myself. I'm so sick of feeling sorry for myself, and the temptation to post something so that other people feel sorry for me, too. I appreciate the forum that this blog allows me. I attempt in every way possible to use it for the betterment of myself and perhaps for the few others that are in the habit of reading it. I want very much to join into whatever positive realm around me that God has provided as an outlet. So this month, I'll be posting at least one positive status on Facebook each day, along with positive and inspirational quotes and/or stories in my newsfeed. It's my hope that others might join in with me and that, by January, the feeling won't fade. A high goal, I realize, but it's worth a shot, don't you think?

The quote I most recently posted was one I've written upon before. It's painted above my husband's work space at our job: "I discovered I always have choices, and sometimes it's only a choice of attitude." -- Judith Knowlton. It's the truth. I might be enduring what I feel to be unimaginable circumstances, great pain emotionally and/or physically, and I might feel trapped, or that I have no choice in anything that's happening to me. But I do always have the choice of attitude. I can let the negativity pervade my spirit and leave me bitter, jaded, resentful, and full of anger and hatred. Or I can choose to "accept life on life's terms" (p. 417, Big Blue Book) and remain positive and joyful regardless of the circumstances. The bottom line is, the circumstances are going to occur regardless of my attitude. Why waste time allowing the bitterness and resentment to grow, thereby doing nothing but making me feel worse and worse with each passing day, inevitably making things worse for those around me because negativity breeds negativity? Why not focus on the positive things (which there always are, even if not on the surface) and allow my heart to be grateful, full of hope and happiness, even in the midst of a crisis? I reiterate: the crises will occur anyhow. The choice is in what we make of them.

Today has been restful, a rare occurrence in our weeks and months. Football, coffee, robes all day, time together as a family, no rehearsal, nowhere to go, no obligations. Just a warm, comfy couch covered in blankets. I'm grateful. I'm joyful. I'm close to being unemployed after Christmas, but I'm joyful.

That's a choice of attitude.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Closer to the Beginning


Each day that progresses at work seems to be closer and closer to the end of an era. I've been there for five and a half years, and the sales are the worst they've ever been right now, whether it's the economy, the weather, the construction, the Christmas season, or the randomness of the gods of schadenfraude. I'm meant to be doing something else. It was clear when it began that this was where I was supposed to be. And, I feel just as clearly now, this is no longer where I am supposed to be.

I had the privilege of attending the Broadway Tour of Beauty and the Beast today at the Morris Civic Auditorium. It was very well done. There were a few songs that, if they were in the Disney movie, I don't remember it -- and one in particular touched me. The words were:

"There's been a change in me
A kind of moving on
Though what I used to be
I still depend on
For now I realize
That good can come from bad
That may not make me wise
But oh, it makes me glad

And I-- I never thought I'd leave behind
My childhood dreams
But I don't mind
For now I love the world I see
No change of heart; a change in me.

For in my dark despair
I slowly understood
My perfect world out there
Had disappeared for good
But in its place I feel
A truer life begin
And it's so good and real
It must come from within

And I-- I never thought I'd leave behind
My childhood dreams but I don't mind
I'm where and who I want to be
No change of heart'
A change in me."

I feel like I'm closer to the beginning of something than I am the end of it. For years, my every thought was of making it big: whether it was a bestselling novel, a singing contract, a place on Broadway, a role in a movie. Perhaps it's the age I've come to, or the experiences I've had, but I find that I've left behind my childhood dreams. It doesn't mean that I don't still think of them from time to time, but I haven't set my whole heart upon them as if they were fact. I didn't have a change of heart. I didn't change my mind and decide that I want to be a wife and mother instead. I changed. It was a change in me.

Lately, I've felt that I want nothing more than to be at home, taking care of my husband, the kids, the house, the dogs, the organizational things that need to be done, and I feel like maybe that's where God's putting me. If I lose my job, it's because something better -- the beginning of something wonderful -- is on its way. I don't feel that God closes doors to open windows. I feel that He closes a door because it's time to turn around.

I'm still writing. If I'm meant to do great things with that, it will happen. It's not going to fall into my lap as I once thought it would when I was a child. But after writing, working, cleaning houses, taking care of the home, acting, directing, and trying to get us out of debt, I'm stretched like a rubber band between two football posts. If I'm losing hours at work (which I am), and things just keep getting worse (which they do), then I have to believe that's a door in the middle of closing, and it's time for me to turn around.

I have to have more confidence in myself and the abilities God gave me but, more importantly, I have to have more faith in Him to fulfill His promises. It's one thing to say I believe and I trust, but it's another thing entirely when it gets to the point where I am only living on faith. I have a feeling that's where He's taking me, taking our whole family.

I'm ready.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, November 26, 2011

When Insomnia Attacks


It's not that I have actual insomnia, which I know plagues tens of thousands of people. It's that I have ridiculous eating and sleeping habits that wreak havoc with my ability to fall asleep at a normal time in the evening. I heart caffeine. It's my oldest friend. I often tell people at the coffee shop that my grandfather used to put coffee in my bottle with half cream and sugar, shake it up, and give it to me. Then, near the age of four, my Dad started me on Mountain Dew. I prefer to think of it as a lifestyle, not an addiction. I have plenty of addictions, I don't need another one. At any rate, living on coffee and Mountain Dew, getting up at 6am on the weekdays, then sleeping in as late as possible on weekends -- it all makes for a difficult night. Plus, I like naps. Naps and caffeine. I realize I cause my own problems.

So, here I am, 12:35 in the morning, wide awake because I slept until almost ten, drank a cup of coffee and three glasses of Mountain Dew, took a nap, and did nothing pretty much all day long besides pick up and cash my check and write out checks to pay all my bills, leaving me with very little more than I'd started with at the beginning of the day. Michigan beat Ohio State for the first time since 2003 which was nice, but Notre Dame lost handily to Stanford which is disappointing, and Michigan State beat Northwestern which is annoying.

Our son wrote us tonight, which was nice. I was beginning to worry that he never wanted anything to do with us again. Granted, that's a fairly common teenage point of view, but it's a world of difference when you're the parent in the situation and not the teenager.

I think we'll put up our tree tomorrow after church and a quick trip to the mall to buy something for Christmas I can only buy at the mall. I can't tell you how much I hate the mall around Christmas. If we go tomorrow, maybe Steve can stay in the car and just pull around and pick me back up so we don't have to find a place to park. I've gotten quite a bit of shopping done online this year, which is great. I will have to find some time to actually do some real physical shopping, not just a zoom-in, zoom-out of the mall. Traditionally, that comes closer to the end of December. Unlike my dad, who shops on December 24th, I prefer to get mine done around the 22nd, or even as early as the 21st.

I do so love the day AFTER Christmas shopping, though. My mom, little sister, and I get up ridiculously early in the morning and get as much half price stuff as we can for the following year, and buy some items for birthdays later on in the season, and whatever decorations we think we might possibly need. One recent year, there was a horrendous ice storm and, though it took me over an hour on the toll road just to travel 20 miles, and though I fell flat on my back and cracked the back of my head in front of Macy*s, we kept calm and carried on. I remember thinking that the deals probably weren't worth dying over... but I've kept going back each year, so what does that say about my dedication to craziness? I can't do Black Friday shopping, though. I did it once. I was seventeen. I got claustrophobic and paranoid at the same time because too many people were way too close to me in an open space that was no longer open. I'm a very big fan of Cyber Monday, though.

There is no rhyme or reason to my ramblings this evening, and for this I apologize. I know you've come to expect more from me, and periodically I don't deliver. My mind is being pulled a million different directions right now. Work, kids, family, finances, friends... I feel like Silly Putty! Sometimes I'm stretched so thin I feel like I'm going to break. Other times, I feel pressed into something so I mold myself to it until it's over, then move on to the next item of business. Most of the time, though, I feel like I'm shoved inside of a hard shell to protect myself from the elements of the world.

Whatever the next leg of this adventure is, I'm ready for it. I'm tired of living in torpor.

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving


I have a great deal to be thankful for, I know this. I have found the love of my life, we have a beautiful home that is just the right size, a fantastic family, food, fun, and furry little friends. Thanksgiving was a bit different this year -- we were going to have a whole ton of people from Florida, Georgia, and Wisconsin, but in the end, everyone bailed and there were just nine of us. It was wonderful, don't get me wrong, just different than usual because there are normally between 15-20 people here for the holiday.

Our oldest son had to work, and then opted to go to his grandparents' house afterward instead of to our home for Thanksgiving. His choice, of course. He will be nineteen in a few days. But I certainly missed him. This is a very strong struggle for me. I know he wants to be independent. He has shown that in almost every way conceivable over the past year, at times to the detriment of our relationship. There's something that resides within a parent, however, that just yanks your heart back and forth like a tornado when they're this age. The only thing I want is for him to know how much we love him. I'm not sure that he's ever understood that, or ever will. Maybe someday if he becomes a father, it will be crystal clear. It's all I can pray for at this point.

We had a good time, however. Watching football, eating too much, playing poker and Catch Phrase, and visiting with family. Apparently, surreptitiously hiding clown stickers around my house was a pre-decided past-time as well. Thus far, I've found 13. Once my family fessed up, I was told that I had many more to find. One was above my bed. ABOVE MY SIDE OF THE BED! STARING DOWN AT ME! Have I mentioned I greatly dislike clowns? Gotta love 'em! (The fam, that is -- definitely NOT clowns!)

My cousin (adopted sister) is back from South Korea and we have her until December 9th, when the Army removes her from our grip once again. It's bittersweet. She, also, is more than old enough to make her own decisions, and it's so hard to watch her leave, knowing it will be so long until we see her again, and she'll be so far away. We love and pray for her every day, though, and know that God is watching over her way better than we ever could.

Work is a struggle as well. We've had a bad few weeks, financially, and every day just looks more bleak than the last. I know that God will provide. I'm not living in fear of how we will be supported, I just dread the tension that comes with each passing day. I awaken wishing I could stay in bed another half hour, two hours, another day, or week. I feel strongly that there is something else that I'm supposed to be doing, but I haven't found the guts to follow my gut.

Now it's time for Christmas music. I usually hold back until the day after Thanksgiving. My husband has an entire MP3 player dedicated solely to Christmas music, and I saw it charging up today, so I know what tomorrow holds. I'm okay with that. Christmas is a time for joy, celebration, for remembering the Greatest Gift of all, and I'm most certainly ready for that. Whether or not I still have a job next week, whether or not my son recognizes my love for him, whether or not I become a 'real' writer -- I am a child of God. I am precious in His sight. I have great love for some, and some love for all.

What more could possibly matter?

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Keep The Faith

I'm reading this book called "Experiencing God" concurrently with the Big Blue Book from Alcoholic's Anonymous. No, I'm not an alcoholic (and no, I'm not just saying that because I'm in denial). I'm reading it because a very close friend of mine recommended it as a life-path regardless of alcoholism, and since he is someone I look up to as much, much more evolved than myself on the spiritual path, I decided to give it a shot. Reading both of these books at the same time is a bit surreal, I must say. I read a chapter in each one when I sit down to read, and almost always, one sheds light on what the other says.

I have a very hard time dealing with anxiety, as do many women in my family lineage. Mine manifests itself in the most harrowing ways, and it's nearly consistent. It's almost like I have no rest emotionally. Whenever my cell phone rings, I immediately think it's bad news. Whenever I call a loved one and they don't answer, I think something must be wrong. I am inherently a person who does not have an easy time trusting others, so I constantly think something's going on behind my back. I can't shake it, it seems. Even when things are going really well in my life for a good amount of time (which rarely happens, hah!) that's when I am most anxious because I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Getting that off my chest has been therapeutic in and of itself. My daughter calls my Spiritual Guru Friend (from paragraph one) my 'shrink'. He recently gave me the advice to just sit with my anxiety next time it occurs. Don't try to fight it, don't feed into it, just sit with it like a distraught child and see where it takes me. And let me tell you something, he's a genius. The few times this past week that the anxiety has crept in, I've done exactly that and after just a few short moments, it stops its pouting and stomping for attention and goes off somewhere else in my brain to amuse itself without bothering me. I'm not saying I expect this to happen every time, nor do I expect it to steer me away from a full blown anxiety attack when it is wont to occur, but it might. It just might.

I digress. In reading these two books at the same time, I'm noticing a constantly woven theme. The theme is faith. Faith in a Higher Power. Faith in God. Not just faith in name, but in action. I can't just say that I have faith that God's going to take care of things, and then sit around and worry that God's not going to take care of things. That makes me both a liar and a hypocrite simultaneously. And I greatly dislike liars and hypocrites, so I want no piece of that cheesecake, my friend.

This whole pressing 'fertility/infertility' issue I have -- it's a matter of faith, of trust. Am I going to believe God for what He's told me? He said to be fruitful and multiply. He said that children are a gift, a reward. He didn't ask for my human ingenuity -- He didn't say "I might not be able to take care of this alone, so you should look into adoption or IVF even though they're really expensive". He told me something, and I just have to believe it will happen in His time, and stop trying to force the issue. I have to live my life as though the baby will arrive any moment. I don't know if I'll get pregnant or if someone will ask me to take their baby or if the stork's going to drop one off, or what, but I'll get one. Both books, "Experiencing God" and the Big Blue Book, tell me that I'm not the one in charge. I have to accept my circumstances and see where God wants me working within them. Acceptance is the key to all of my problems today. See? It's like they're mirrors, reflecting one another in their wisdom.

Other things: I was told today that I don't have to try to make peace. The teller may be younger than me, but she sure had some good advice. I spend much of my life trying to make peace between people when most of the time it's not my problem. The problem I have with that, however, is that a lot of times the problems are between people I love and care about. When I see two people I love and care about not getting along, it hurts me. I want them to be closer. I want peace. I want kindness, and forgiveness, and compassion. The problem is, the only ability I have to make that happen is prayer. I can't force people's hands or hearts. I can only tell them what I think and then sit back and pray that they do the right thing. That goes for my friends, my family, and most of all, for God.

I cannot tell God what to do. I can tell Him what I want, though He already knows, and I can ask Him for things, but ultimately, He knows what is best for me. I can continue to ask for something again and again, but if He has something better in mind for me, why would I settle for the lesser thing that I want instead of the massive blessing He has in store for me?

Acceptance is the key. Right?

Now... I just have to accept that.

Stephanie Jean

Friday, November 4, 2011

Worn Out

Periodically, I ask myself, "Why is life so hard?"

I know that's a pathetic question when my life really isn't all that horrible in comparison to many others. But I always hated when teachers graded on a curve. Why should I compare myself to others? I'm entitled to my feelings from time to time, right? Just because there are horrible things like famine and flooding and devastation doesn't mean that I can't just be really, really frustrated and want to kick somebody because I've had a bad day. Or a bad week. Or a bad month. Or a bad few years.

I just want to vent for a few minutes. I don't like to do this, but sometimes I have to.

It feels like most of the people in my realm of existence are out to get me. Like, no matter how much good I've done, it's not enough. No matter how hard I've worked, I didn't do a good enough job. No matter what I plan, it falls apart. No matter how much I pay towards eliminating debt, something else comes up that has to be paid for. No matter how stressful a day has been, there's plenty more waiting for me the next day.

I'm tired.

I am physically and emotionally tired. I just want to take a break. I want a Sabbatical. A nice, long, month or two of rest. I feel like I deserve it, you know? I've worked since I was thirteen years old: babysitting, doing yardwork, fast food, office jobs, cleaning houses, coffee shop, teaching high school, teaching college, warehouse. I've taken one single unemployment check my entire life, and it was only because I was working a contract job that specifically directed us to take the check for the month we were out of the contract before the next one started up.

I told my husband today that I'm going to write a musical about our job and use the music of Queen. The customer's song would be, "I want it all... I want it all... I want it all... and I want it now." And, in the end, our song would be We are the Champions: "I've paid my dues time after time. I've done my sentence, but committed no crime. And bad mistakes, I've made a few. I've had my share of sand kicked in my face, but I've come through." That's what it feels like every day of my life. I had someone tell me this week that I was just a little too intelligent to be working at a coffee shop. That sentence was wrong on so many levels, I can't even begin to describe it! First off, are you assuming that people that work at a coffee shop aren't intelligent? And secondly, that being what your argument is predicated upon, you deem me only a LITTLE too intelligent to be working there? And I could go on and on. The condescension I put up with in one day working there is more than I've dealt with the rest of my life, and that's saying a lot. Any shred of optimism for humanity I had in the past has slowly withered over the last five years. Now I just fake a smile, close my eyes and shake my head as I walk away.

Sleep. Sweet, sweet sleep is what I need. It heals so many wounds.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blissful R&R

If this weekend had been any more relaxing, I'd probably be in a coma. I spent most of the time in my robe, watching football and more football, then movies galore. We did step out to go to a Hallowe'en party for a couple of hours, and I threw clothes on for fifteen minutes today to pick our son up from work and grab some fast food. Other than that, we were home. We watched:

Secretary
Cyrus
Pirate Radio
Gulliver's Travels

I might be missing something in there, but those are the ones I remember, anyhow.

Tomorrow the work week starts again. As I am not yet independently wealthy, I shall clock in at 7 a.m. At least it's Hallowe'en tomorrow, and I get to wear my costume to work. I find the tips to be especially good each October 31st. Come in to the Grind tomorrow if you'd like to know why.

Our son seems to have developed some random food allergy, and we're trying to isolate it. I'm fairly certain it's either lactose- or peanut butter-related. Either way, he's got to figure out what it is so he can stop eating it.

This week holds: barista-ing, housecleaning, taking dogs to vet for wayyyy overdue shots and a nail clipping for the feisty little one, picking up some groceries I forgot on grocery day, and preparing for our post-Hallowe'en party next Saturday night. It's rare we have people over these days, and it's nice when it happens.

I should try and get some sleep, I suppose...

I sound really boring today.


Stephanie Jean

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Midweek Mindlessness


Howdy.

Yeah, it's really me. I know, it's been awhile since I've written anything in the middle of the week. I used to, back when I was optimistic and adventurous with this whole new blog thing. By now, you're probably sick of hearing from me even on the weekends, am I right? **taps microphone** Is this thing on?

Anyhow -- so, it's Wednesday. I'm fond of Wednesdays. Work is busy, i.e. tips are good, and the day passes pretty quickly. This week's already been an adventure. Tomorrow I get to awaken somewhere around 5:15 in the morning to drive my husband to work because the van has finally been laid to rest. Well, we laid it on the front porch of an auto repair place, anyway. We have an appointment at the place we normally use, but that's not until November 7th because its the earliest they could get us in. I love my husband and I admire his work ethic, but I sure as heck don't want to get up at 5:15 in the morning for the next two weeks, ya feel me? So, hopefully they can get that bad boy fixed tomorrow and by Friday everything will be hunky dory. (Weird -- the spell-check would accept 'dory' but not 'dorey'. Are either of those actually a word? Yes, says dictionary.com -- 'dory' is a type of boat.)

In addition, the little dog has stubbed his toenail once again and it's hanging off oddly, so he's constantly licking it. It's not broken or bleeding so I'm not taking him to the vet. I already have to get him and Nikita in next week for overdue shots (I'm aware that I'm a bad doggymomma, thank you very much) so I'll just have them trim his nails and fix it then. Two dogs at vet: $140. Van repair price yet unknown. Groceries tomorrow. I have literally $6 in the checking account right now. Six dollars.

But do you know what I'm thankful for?

My husband, my kids, my family, my paycheck, my house, my cousin coming home from the Army in a little over a week, my doggies, my laptop, my writing, my friends, and my life -- regardless of how trying it can be from time to time.

It's amazing what a little optimism can do for the spirit.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Turning in Circles


On the first day of the week, every Sunday, I have this impulse. The previous week is over, no matter how good or bad it was, and I want to improve myself. I have these ideas of what to do in the coming week to diet, to exercise, to write, to be nicer to people, to take better care of myself, to spend time with the ones I love. I catch up on my weekly reading, I make plans for correspondence, write lists planning out what I want my week to look like.

Then, sometime early Monday morning, everything goes to crap.

This past week was one of the hardest, trial-filled, harrowing weeks I've had in quite some time. At some point on Wednesday, I had a complete emotional meltdown and was just sobbing on my bed, and that day wasn't even over yet. It started to get better -- I put the rest of the day behind me, showered and dressed and started over, going to dinner and karaoke with my brother and his wife and it was very nice. After getting back home, the night ended like the day had begun, but approximately 100 times worse. Teenagers, I tell you. They like to throw unexpected gum into the works. And there was much more emotional stress to be had over the next couple of days, too. So much that I just want to do what my little dog does: find a blanket, burrow under it, and fall blissfully asleep, so heavily that even picking me up and dropping me back on the bed will not wake me.

I haven't crawled out of my cubby hole yet today. Well, I did have to let the dogs out once, but I've been sleeping and snuggling in my blankies because that and a hot bath seem to be the only thing that make me feel better, and I'm out of bubble bath. That's how stressful it's been: I am OUT of bubble bath.

I finally got my wheel bearing fixed this week. Now my car no longer sounds like small countries are fighting a war beneath it when I drive. However, the van is on its deathbed, and I'm not sure how much it will end up costing. The one bright spot in the foreseeable future is that October is a 3-pay-period month, so the checks we get at the end of this week can pay for those repairs.

I hope.

I turn my feet in the right direction, it seems, then immediately trip and fall. I stand up, brush myself off, and the "Taxi of Life" drives by and sprays mud on me. I wash up and begin again and a piano falls on my head. I feel like I'm living in a Looney Tune, only it's not funny in the least. All I can do is keep chasing the stupid RoadRunner, knowing that eventually I'll end up with an anvil on my head. (Shout out to Little Chicken -- my husband is probably laughing right now, and not because of me, it's because of you! :)

Usually, at times like this, I have something spiritual to ponder, some sort of bright light at the far, far end of the tunnel. I attempt to retain a positive outlook as I sort through things in my life. But right now I just want to crawl back under these covers and sleep for the rest of the day, so please forgive me if I can't always be pithy.

Sometimes I have to lay beneath the wreckage for a while before I find the strength to crawl back out.

(I guess I can always be pithy.)

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, October 9, 2011

On The Precipice


"I'm on the edge of glory, and I'm hanging on a moment of truth." -- Lady Gaga

Confession time: I am in my mid-thirties and I cannot swim underwater without plugging my nose. It's fairly hard for me to admit that, considering I grew up with a dad who was a charter boat captain and I spent a tremendous amount of time at the beach. Also, my best friend had a pool with a diving board. She was like a mermaid in the water, as though it were her natural habitat. Up and off the diving board she would go, into the air, cutting through the water and popping up on the other side, always trying to get me to go next.

I could swim, don't get me wrong. I still can. Not Olympically, or anything, but I can get from point A to point B without drowning. I can float for hours, like I'm made of water-wing plastic. But if I turn over and put my face in the water, I immediately feel that burning sensation in my nose and I choke and sputter and I have to get out and do something on dry land for awhile before I get back in. Forget your good intentions, and do not offer to teach me because "it's so easy" or "I just haven't gotten used to it yet" or whatever other well-meaning platitude you have. It's not going to happen.

Yet, I remember fully the feeling of standing on the diving board, toes curling over the edge, and staring down into the 9 feet of blue to the rings on the bottom that it seemed everyone could recover but myself. Despite my inability to accomplish the perfect bubble-blowing maneuver that would allow me to swim underwater like my companion, I could open my eyes while I was down there. I could swim with one hand. I could do one-handed handstands in the shallow end. So what was holding me back from jumping off, grabbing the ring with one hand, and emerging victorious?

Pride.

She would see me plug my nose as I jumped off. She would sense my fear. I didn't have the same abilities that she did. And, more than anything, her taunting older brother whom I of course had an enormous crush on would see me as well, and never, ever let me live it down.

I crawled off the board, went back to the shallow end, and walked around pretending I had no interest in deeper waters.

I've been doing that my whole life.

The problem is, that's nothing more than living a lie. Being crippled by pride, or living in fear of the unknown, fear of failure -- it's pointless. Anxiety over something that may never happen and, in all honesty, probably WILL never happen, is the high-flying banner of a life wasted. I'm sick and tired of standing on the edge of glory, of hanging on a moment of truth, and then backing off and walking away, whether it's out of fear or pride or laziness.

Every moment is a new beginning. Our destiny is an amalgamation of God's plan for us and the choices we make. There is absolutely nothing we can change about our past. We cannot change our actions, our reactions, our choices, our decisions, our accomplishments, or our mistakes. Our life hinges on our present and our future. Allowing ourselves to become crippled by bitterness and resentment, by pride or fear, or letting our past dictate our current actions, reactions, choices, or decisions is an exercise in futility.

What does every red-blooded American do on December 31st? They write a list of resolutions, things they want to change in the upcoming year. By the end of a few short weeks, they've given up again, thinking they'll wait until the beginning of next month, or until their birthday, or until next January 1st to start trying again.

I reiterate: Every moment is a new beginning.

If you were driving down the interstate and you turned left instead of right, would you continue on your incorrect path thinking that, eventually when you drove around the entire world, over mountains and through the oceans, you'd end up where you wanted to be? No, you would turn around the moment you realized you made the mistake, cut your losses, be a slight bit off course, and end up where you wanted to be a few minutes late because you'd made a bad choice, but you fixed it as soon as you realized it. Yeah, the other people in the car might laugh at you a little, you might hear an "I told you to turn right!", you might have to hear about it for a day or two as they told the story to some other people, but in the end, you'd end up where you wanted to be instead of Timbuktu.

I'm telling you this from the bottom of my heart, because I need to follow the very same advice. If you are not on the right road at this very moment, turn around. Throw your pride out the window, ignore your fears, admonish your anxieties, and turn around.

If I could stand on that diving board right now, I would hold my breath, plug my nose, and do a cannonball to the bottom of that pool, open my eyes, grab the ring, and swim one-handed to the surface. I can't go back and do that now. But I can learn my lessons from the past and let them shape my future.

So can you.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Purpose


"Purpose -- it's that little thing that lights a fire under your ***" -- Avenue Q.

It's constant. I constantly feel as though I should be doing something different with my life. Something more. I've come to the conclusion, though, that God has placed me where I am for a reason, and that reason is that He's building something inside of me because I'm not ready yet to move on.

I'm learning patience by working at the coffee shop. Patience with people who think they are better than me, people who don't feel they have time to be friendly, who feel it's completely fine to use no manners whatsoever when they order or receive their food and drinks, who feel that my entire existence is devoted to please them and that I'm not really living up to their ideal. It's difficult, believe me. Most days I rebel, if only inside, my mind screaming, "I don't have to take this from you! I work hard for a living, regardless of what I'm doing to earn it. What makes you think your job is any more important than mine just because you wear a suit and I wear jeans, and you make approximately 8 times more in a year than I do? What possesses you to think that God loves you any more than He loves me?"

But then I look at myself and my own actions and reactions, and I'm filled with guilt. There are people that I just cannot stand, who have treated me and my family despicably, and I have to stop and ask myself -- what makes me think God loves me any more than He loves them?

I'm learning patience.

I'm learning compassion. At times, I have a line full of people and there's inevitably that one person who comes in and just stands there, not sure what to order, and then likes to talk about whatever is going on in their life. My first instinct is to ask them to step aside so I can help the five people behind them who come in every day, the ones I can instantaneously help because they get the exact same thing every day, and if they would just get out of my way, I could do my job.

But then I wonder what that person might have been through. Did they just come from the hospital where their mother is dying and they just need something to perk them up because they're surrounded by morbidity and they have to talk about something, anything, other than their miserable sadness? Do they just need a smile, a little laugh, someone to look at them and see them as a person instead of a problem?

I'm learning compassion.

And dear, sweet Jesus, I am learning humility.

I spent four years in high school with basically no social life, studying and working as hard as possible to get the best grades I could because I knew my parents couldn't afford to send me to college on their own, so I needed scholarships and grants. When I got them, I spent four years working my butt off to keep the grants and scholarships and get a degree which I desperately desired to get my career started, teaching, writing, doing what I felt I was meant to be doing. I've cleaned houses since I had the ability to drive myself places at sixteen, to help pay for my books and food in college, and have continued cleaning ever since to save up for things our family needs, for Christmas and birthdays, for bills and whatnot. Living in Middlebury, Indiana, there aren't a lot of positions in writing, editing, publishing, or any other mileu I'm cut out for. Where can I make the most money with a flexible schedule that allows me to help provide for our family in Elkhart County, which still has a dramatically higher unemployment rate than most counties in the country? Slinging coffee and cleaning toilets. People talk to me like I'm uneducated. People are surprised, impressed when I can do math in my head and give them correct change without looking at the register. When I wear a Michigan shirt to work, and conversations strike up with customers about Michigan football, and one of my co-workers tell a customer I went to Michigan, they always have that look of shock on their face like they're not quite sure what to say to someone who has failed so miserably in life.

Every part of me is raging, wanting to holler, "WHY do you think you're better than me? Why do my choices have any right to dance around in your head while you stare at me? Do you have any idea what it's like to love so much, so deeply, that you will sacrifice all of your dreams, put them on hold, and, with your husband, do whatever it is you have to do to support your children? To put food on the table, to keep them in a good school? To *not* pursue the NYC life where you work for a publishing company while you're husband is on Broadway? To put coffee in a cup and hand it to you instead? DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT IS LIKE?"

Dear, sweet Jesus, I am learning humility.

The bar is set high. I will fail, inevitably, on a daily basis. I will make choices that don't mesh with what I believe. I will fall victim to my emotions. I will say or do something I cannot take back. But I am learning. We're expected to make mistakes, but we have to learn from those mistakes. We have to learn, and grow, FORGIVE OTHERS AND FORGIVE OURSELVES, if we are to make it through this journey in life. We have to release ourselves of the bitterness and resentment we allow to build up inside of our hearts, towards others and towards God, because it doesn't help anyone, and it only hurts us in the long run. We have to be humble enough to realize that, though we believe the world revolves around us, everyone else believes the world revolves around them, too. We have to be patient enough to take the time to put our immediate needs aside and tend to someone else's wounds. We have to be compassionate enough to not allow ourselves to be led by our emotions, but to be led by what we know in our hearts to be right and to be true.

I've yet to figure out what my purpose in life is, but maybe it's not necessarily my purpose that matters. It's God's purpose for me, and I'm never going to figure it out until I stop trying to do everything myself. I have to let the air out of my tires and let Him tow me to the place where He wants me next, wherever and whenever that might be.

I'm learning.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Decade


It's amazing what ten years can bring.

Ten years ago today, I was lying in a troubled slumber on the sofa of my house in Goshen. I had moved there just a few months ago with my husband, "CJ". I was in this troubled slumber on the sofa because he and I were in the midst of deciding whether or not we wanted to continue to make each other completely miserable for the rest of our lives because we'd been doing so for the past several years already and, to be honest, we hadn't really been happy since we were teenagers. I had this overwhelming sense of doom. I hated the house we were living in -- it was cold and blank and boxy. I hated the subdivision we were living in -- I didn't know any of our neighbors after all these months. I hated the town we were living in -- it was right on the Goshen/New Paris line, so I couldn't even get good pizza delivered, absolutely no night life, nothing fun happening anywhere, I couldn't find a job and I was sick of being home all the time doing nothing. I was lonely, I was gaining weight, I was sick with guilt for wanting a divorce but I thought it was the only thing that might give either of us some hope in our lives, some joy, some peace, some... something.

I had taken to sleeping on the sofa because sleeping in the bed just felt like a lie. We had started off as friends, and that was the most important thing to me, but now we couldn't even BE friends. I lay there, night after night, unable to sleep. Two, three, four in the morning, I would put on CNN Headline News and turn it down low, just to hear someone talking, and I would sleep as best I could for as long as I could because sleep was the only thing that made the pain go away. People rarely called. I had auditioned for a theatre production and met one friend which was really nice. I could get used to the theatre life. If nothing else, it provided an escape from the house.

On this particular morning, I didn't sleep until noon. The phone rang, pretty early, which was so out-of-the-ordinary, I almost didn't answer it because I assumed it was a wrong number. When I groggily grabbed it and mumbled my 'hlo', "CJ"'s voice on the other line was filled with what I'd always deemed his emergency tone. But this time, it really was an emergency.

"Turn on the television. America is under attack."
"What?"
"Turn on the television."
"It's already on."
"Turn it up."
"Oh my God."
"Yeah."

That's a word-for-word of the beginning of the conversation. The rest I don't remember, because my head is filled with the images of what I saw that morning.

Ten years later, I don't want to turn on the television. I know I'm going to, and I know I have to, and I know it's important for historical purposes, and I know we must not forget, and I know that our children need to know. But it places me at a time where I already thought my whole world was going to end and, when I saw the television that morning, I knew I was right. But then, I thought that EVERYONE'S world was ending.

Say something profound, Stephanie.

You see, I can't do it. I can't express what I felt, or what I feel now, about these attacks. I can only see images and feel my gut wrenching inside of me. I can only remember my new friend, and how she had just moved here from New York, and how she knew people that were there... still there... and the look on her face when we talked about what was going on. I can only remember the students I had at the time, as an English teacher, and how their assignment that week was to write an essay about anything they wanted -- a simple assignment, but they ALL returned an essay about the attacks. I can remember the tears, the betrayal, the hurt, the dismal faces, the disillusionment of millions of Americans who'd spent their lives thinking we were safe, and insulated, and #1. The feeling that you have when you've puffed yourself up to watch a game, and then your favorite teams loses. The feeling that you have when you search for a week for your missing dog and then find his body on the side of the road. The feeling you have in a nightmare when the bad guy is right on top of you about to murder you, and you can't move, you can't scream, you can't breathe.

It's like all of that, all at once.

Something else we cannot forget, however, is the heroism that came from that time. Out of the ashes of destruction and disillusionment came this force of nature that rose above any and all evils that had occurred. Men and women putting others before themselves. People filled with such love and compassion and honor that they would, instead of fleeing from the site of the terror, go at it with full force, throwing 'good judgment' behind, and doing what needed to be done to save as many lives as they could. Such love is a wonder. Such heroism is beyond comprehension. How many of us could have done the same? How many of us were cooped up in our comfortable homes thanking God it wasn't us out there?

But it was us, wasn't it? It's us every single day. It's us every time we walk by someone in need of help and don't help. It's us when we make a decision whether to lay aside what is comfortable in order to do what is right.

When they continue to tell us "Never Forget", don't just take it literally. Of course we should never forget that we were attacked, or that we are not iron-clad. We should never allow ourselves to live in the illusion that we are safe. But, at the same time, take it as a euphemism for DOING THE RIGHT THING.

Never forget that loving others is more important than our own well-being.

Never forget that doing what is right isn't easy, but it's what should be done at all costs.

Never forget that while it seems the whole world is ending, hope rises from the ashes.

Ten years ago, I met two people. I met Stephen Salisbury and Amberly Hershberger. In the midst of my own personal tragedy, the smoldering wreckage that was my life, the divorce, the disillusionment, the fear, the "end of the world as we know it"... these people helped me through it.

One of them gave me a place to live and a friendship that will survive anything and everything.

The other gave me a new last name, a family, a home, and a love that will never die.

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." -John 15:13

I'll never forget.

-Stephanie Jean

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Just a Sample...

An excerpt from the novel in progress (not the beginning, not the end, just some random portion in the middle to tease and annoy you and make you want to read more...):


************************************************************************************

Jenna made sandwiches for the beach. It began well, better than she’d expected considering the last thing she wanted to do on October 27th was go to the beach, but the weather was surprisingly warm, and Jack was downright jovial instead of exhibiting his traditional perverse behavior. Although she was used to working around his idiosyncrasies, it annoyed her that she had to make the sandwiches his way. White bread only, no condiments, crusts cut off, American cheese and honey ham, sliced diagonally in quarters, in zip bags as opposed to the less-expensive fold-over plastic bags. He wouldn’t even watch if she were eating hers cut the “wrong” way, so she just made her sandwiches exactly the same as his, but added catsup. That was a crap shoot. Sometimes her affinity for catsup disgusted him, and sometimes he didn’t even mention it. But she had to have something to make the sandwich go down easier, and the only other alternative in her little apartment fridge was a jar of mayonnaise that her friend Casey had left there a month ago, and mayonnaise disgusted Jenna more than catsup disgusted Jack, so that was out of the question. Even through her sandwich annoyance, Jenna was in an upbeat mood. Whatever Jack had planned for the beach today would be an adventure, since he rarely wanted to leave his house or her apartment when they were together.

He pulled up precisely at 9:45, precisely when he said he would be there. Punctuality was very important to Jack. Though he’d never been diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, he most certainly embodied all of the symptoms. Thinking of him that way helped Jenna to work around all of his idiosyncrasies because if she didn’t think of him as OCD, she’d simply think of him as an ass.

Sometimes she did that anyhow.

Jack honked, growing impatient. Jenna knew that was because she was walking out the door at 9:48 instead of standing in front of the apartment at 9:45. She also knew that there was no way he would refrain from commenting on it, and no way that she’d refrain from acting like it was no big deal when she opened the door of his little blue ’91 Corolla.

“You’re late,” Jack stated.

“Yeah, because we’re on an exact schedule for this mission.” She rolled her eyes, tossed the bag of sandwiches in the backseat, and lowered herself into the car. “Thanks for getting the door,” Jenna barked sarcastically.

“Your sense of independence would’ve been bruised had I gotten out to do so.” Jack backed out of the parking space and slowly pulled forward. “Do you have your keys?”

“Of course I have my keys. Why would you even ask that?”

“Because last time we left your apartment in my car instead of yours, you forgot your keys and it was a major pain. I’m just covering all our bases. Are you certain you have your keys?”

“I have my keys,” she assured him through gritted teeth.

“Where?”

“In my purse,” Jenna seethed.

“Where?”

“IN THE BACK WITH THE SANDW…” she began. Jack stopped the car, reversed, backed into the parking space, and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel while Jenna got out. After a few minutes, she returned, cheeks flushed, purse and keys in hand.

************************************************************************************

I <3 Writing. That is all.

SJS

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Journey Continues...


It started off as "A Year of Reinvention". It became "A Journey of Reinvention". The problem is, there hasn't been a whole heck of a lot of reinvention. I throw around noble ideas sporadically and then don't really do much to gussy up my life. It's not like I'm walking around beating up nuns or anything, but there's a lot I could suck up and change if I would just... suck it up and change.

You'll have to pardon me, bleach fumes are messing with my head. After getting back from Vegas, I did a good sit-down-and-write-stuff list (because it makes me feel good to sit down and write stuff), and one of the things on the list was the remove the stanky mildew from the bathroom. We have no fan in there (which we should with a small bathroom and five people living here), so the humidity plus the extra hotness from the water, etc. really does a number on the bathroom walls and ceiling. I used Tilex with bleach, which wasn't that bad (it didn't do a perfect job, but pretty good)... the problem was, I got distracted by the non-whiteness of the bathtub and walls while I was doing the rest of the bathroom, so I moseyed into the utility room to get the bleach. I straight-up bleached the walls in the shower, the tub, and apparently the cilia inside of my nose. And maybe part of my brain, I'm not sure. If I ever have to have some sort of neurosurgery done, be sure and have the doctor check to see if at least one hemisphere of my brain is particularly crisp and gleaming.

Where was I? Ah, yes. Fixing myself. I spend a great deal of time thinking about fixing myself, talking about it, writing about it, praying about it, and most of the time not actually doing it. I have lofty ideas of how to fix myself (and how to fix most other people, too, if you ask me). But I keep forgetting the cardinal rule of self-improvement: I can't do it by myself. All the list-making, exercise, meditation, or working in the world will not improve me. Only God can improve me, and only if I want to be improved. Sounds like a cliche. (How many counselors does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to really WANT to change...) (That reminds me, I have to buy a new light bulb for my night light. Yes, I have a night light. No, I'm not scared of the dark anymore. I like to read when I try to fall asleep. [Okay, sometimes I'm scared of the dark, but only when the dogs are looking up and in the corner like they see something there that I don't.])

I'm pretty sure I might be one of the most envious people on the face of the planet. And frankly, I'm sick of it. I don't really want to be anyone else. No matter how easy they might have it on the surface, everyone has their own problems. If I had millions of dollars, I'd probably screw up my taxes when I did them anyhow, and then get thrown in jail, and the IRS would take all my money. Yes, I would do my own taxes if I were a millionaire. Because I like doing them.

Today was the first day back at work. I kept as positive as possible, which, in the course of the day, certainly was more than before I went on vacation. The irritating people were seemingly less irritating, which was nice. I realize that's just a matter of perspective, and I need to have the right one more often. A positive perspective.

Some things that I really want to do:

Finish this novel (140 pages thus far) and publish it
Learn American Sign Language
Have a bonfire and roast hot dogs and make S'mores
Get a newer vehicle (or at least fix the evil wheel bearing in mine)
Re-do the basement (paint, carpet, ceiling tiles, another wall)
See Fright Night on Friday (the remake!)
Teach Steve's dog to sleep at the foot of the bed instead of with his butt against my face
Get my MFA in Creative Writing and teach at the college level
Have a baby (I'm pretty sure that goes without saying these days, but in case you haven't read anything I've written on here in the last ... three years...)

There's a nice bunch of random thoughts for you. Pieces of the puzzle called 'Stephanie'. I'm going to go take a hot bath and read. Maybe the bleach has cleared out by now...

Stephanie Jean


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Leaving Las Vegas


It has been a wonderful week, it has. Why is that, you ask? Because I was in Las Vegas, Nevada, which I lovingly refer to in my head as "home". The weather: 96-105 degrees with 3% humidity each day until today, when it rained (a rare occasion on our trips out here). The week begins with such promise, and ends with that uncomfortable tugging on my heartstrings. I know it won't be long until we're able to move here if, in fact, this is where we're meant to be, but I can't help but be slightly depressed whenever we fly back.

We flew out of O'Hare in Chicago last Friday evening and arrived around midnight Vegas time, got our rental car and drove to Fitzgerald's hotel and casino downtown. Being frequent travelers to Vegas, we feel more like locals, so we bypassed the entire strip by taking I-15 North which is parallel, and we didn't have to fight the traffic or stop at any lights on the way. It's not that we don't love the lights and sounds and crazy nightlife of the city, it's just that when we've spent that long traveling, the only thing we want to do is crash in our hotel bed and sleep, and sleep, and sleep until we wake up on our own to the sunlight peeking in beneath the blinds. We were on the fourth floor which is enough for a pretty view of the city but not so high in the tower that it takes forever in the elevator.

There's always a routine that we establish when we get to wherever we're staying. This time, our stay entitled us to two free breakfasts each day (and they served breakfast all day, which was lovely). We got two eggs, potatoes, toast, and choice of meat, so the first thing we did was walk across Fremont street to get out Dunkin' Donuts coffee, then we brought it to the hotel so we could have it with our free breakfast. Vegas does not frown on your bringing whatever drinks you like into whichever hotel, casino, or restaurant you're at. They're just happy to take whatever money they can get from you. That's the beauty of the city. Well, that and the shininess, and the desert, and the mountains, and the weather.

This time we took a trek to Red Rock Canyon where there is a 13-mile scenic drive, and it was beautiful. Every thirty seconds, the view changed. There were some places where you could drive off and hike if you wanted, but we weren't equipped for that and it was pretty hot even after 5:30pm. We got a few pictures, though, and it was quite a nice little trip.

Also this week, we saw a few shows. "Nunsense", which I was looking forward to, was absolutely terrible. It was at the Hilton in the Shimmer Cabaret room (which, for those of you who don't know, is cool because my alter ego for years in college and after in online RPGs, etc, was Shimmer). The acting was terrible, the timing was no good, the choreography would have been lovely had any/all of the actresses been aware of what it was at the same time. It was definitely not worth half of what we paid to see it. However, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Community Theatre performance of "Little Shop of Horrors" at the Summerlin Library Performing Arts Center was fantastic! We also saw a season preview of the Las Vegas Little Theatre season in which they had a few actors doing staged readings of scenes of all of their upcoming shows, and that was a lot of fun also. And it was free. I'm big on Free Stuff To Do In Las Vegas.

Also free was the three and a half hour time share presentation for Planet Hollywood Westgate Towers which was only supposed to last one and a half hours. We were also supposed to receive $100 free slot play each, a two-night stay in any of their resorts in the next 18 months, and free tickets to see the Beatle's LOVE Cirque du Soleil show. We paid a $15 each fee for taxes on the tickets, etc. When we checked out, we didn't receive any of those things, and were told that the Beatles show was sold out until Saturday night, so which other show would we like to see. We were livid. So livid, in fact, that I'm going to write a SWL (Strongly Worded Letter) to the company. It wouldn't have been that big of a deal had we not specifically said we would NOT do this unless we got those particular tickets, and they were supposedly booked three days in advance... but the worst part was, they were NOT sold out. We went right down to the ticket place the next day and bought tickets for Friday, so we saw the show. I'll be including a copy of our credit card receipt in the SWL so they can reimburse us. Jerkfaces. DO NOT BUY A TIME SHARE WITH ANY WESTGATE PROPERTY AND PLEASE TELL YOUR FRIENDS! (I would make that a gigantic, annoying font, but I'm pretty sure the all-caps makes the point I wanted just fine.)

I also got to spend time with my oldest friend, the best friend I've had since 2nd grade, Christy! She and I still have such a great time together all these years later, and I appreciate her so much. We hung out a few times where she bartends, the Motor City Cafe, and we also went to dinner once at our hotel, hung out for awhile on Fremont Street, had Yama Sushi (all you can eat) with her and her husband, Kei (although I did not in any way, shape, or form consume sushi, I just had a nice water), and we saw a couple of bands for free at a local arts place (Artifice) and the Double Down Saloon. Have I mentioned how much I love it here?

If that's not enough, even the airport is lovely. Slot machines abound, and there is free wi-fi, not the kind that you have to pay for by the day, or have a membership to at the airports, or whatever. The bummer is that our plane is going to be leaving an hour later than scheduled, so we have to sit here for three hours instead of two. Meh. At least it's more time in Las Vegas!

The worst part about leaving is that 'real life' starts up once again. Work on Monday, kids start school this week, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, waking up at stupid hours with the dogs because they randomly decide they have to pee for no good reason, or they have to rendezvous with a rabbit under the deck. That sort of thing.

I have gotten a good deal of writing done on the novel this week, though. I'm on page 139 (still working on 400, for good measure...) My idea is branching out a bit, and something happened in the story I wasn't quite prepared for. But something super-cool also happened this week: I saw one of my characters in real life. I'm not joking. This guy at our hotel was working a booth next to the restaurant where we've been having breakfast, and he looked precisely like the description of one of the main characters in my book. So much so that I really wanted to get my picture taken with him, or ask him if he was, by chance, into acting because if it's ever a movie, I wanted to cast him in the role! It was very cool. I felt for a moment like I was in the movie "Stranger than Fiction"! (If you haven't seen it, see it. NOW.)

Well, that's about all I have for now. Things that will be good at home: seeing the kids, the family, the dogs. Sleeping in my own bed with my own pillows and blankets. Making money instead of spending it. That's about it. I'm already planning next year's vacation in the back of my head.

Hope everyone else had a nice week. I know we did!

Stephanie Jean