Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gifted


It's inevitable.  Each year I swear to myself that I will have all of my shopping done, presents wrapped, and cards written and mailed by December 1st.  This plan goes awry sometime in November when I realize that, once again, Thanksgiving comes before Christmas and it's right around the corner and I don't have time to shop and I should've been finding bargains all year long and... and...

...and it's December 23rd and I'm doing my second day of shopping. 

It's usually not as bad as that, but this year it certainly was. With cars dying and jobs changing and life happening so fast, the whole notion of Christmas just got away from us.  Even our daughter said to me this evening on our way to pick up some last minute items at CVS, "It doesn't even feel like Christmas."

That struck a chord.  Because that's what it is, right? It's a feeling. 

"Christmas isn't a season; it's a feeling." -Edna Ferber

It's a feeling that evokes nostalgia, that pines for snow on the pines, that brings forth a giddiness that only childhood can hold.  It's a feeling that there is goodness and hope, both in the world and for the world.  It's a feeling of deep desire to make a difference: to light up a person's face, or their life; to give; to serve others; to love more fully.  It's a feeling full of memories and goals.  It's a feeling of an age-old story being told once again, anew, each year -- one of fondness and warmth and peace.

Where is the place for that feeling in our technologically-overloaded, me-centered universe? What has our gift-giving become? We've made it obligatory rather than something we do out of the kindness and joy in our hearts.  We've made it about saving money or going on a spending spree, about racking up credit card debt, about staying up all night to get the best sales possible...

Somehow, we're missing something. 

The greatest gift that could ever have been given appeared not in sparkling holographic wrapping paper, not in a mansion emblazoned with a massive display of LED lights set to music, and not in a limousine decorated with antlers and a red nose on the grill. 

The Gift appeared in a manure-filled barn behind an inn, surrounded by animals and in the middle of nowhere.  It ended up that night wrapped in cloth and stuck into a feeding trough because there was no suitable place.  It began as a scandal.  It ended with betrayal and murder, and then a miracle that saved the entire population of humankind forever. 

This is what we celebrate, as we scavenge bargain bins for stocking stuffers, holler at people in parking lots for taking too long, mutter to ourselves consistently that we can't wait for the holidays to be over.  I'm as guilty of it as anyone else, and usually more so, since I tend to postpone as long as humanly possible before shopping.

But I'm taking a breath right now.

I'm remembering what that feeling of JOY is like -- being surrounded by family, hearing Christmas carols in the background, watching the snow fall.  I'm remembering that the reason for that joy isn't just around at Christmas, it's available in our hearts at any given moment, whether it's December 25th or mid-July.  It's a feeling.

I don't care if it IS Christmas.  I want it to FEEL like Christmas.

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." -Charles Dickens

That's my goal... starting now.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Humble Request

Tragedy: a lamentable, dreadful, or fatal event or affair; calamity; disaster. --dictionary.com
 
 Friday's senseless massacre has had me on the edge of an emotional breakdown just beneath the surface all weekend long.  I tend not to let my thoughts linger very long on such things because I learned long ago that my anxiety attacks are triggered when I allow myself to dwell.  That being said, this is a subject that I cannot let slide.
 
It has come to my attention that, after the initial shock and horror, many people have been using this tragedy as a platform to spout their personal beliefs and, while I'm dismayed, that is a right that each of us possess.  If you're all about gun control, then this becomes a gun control issue.  If you're all about the right to bear arms, it becomes a right to bear arms issue.  If you're a die-hard athiest, you'll use it to your advantage in attempting to prove there is no God.  If you're a homeschooling parent, you'll solidify your choice to keep your kids out of the school system.  If you're a Westboro Baptist Church-goer, you'll use this atrocity to get your face in the news once again on the wrong side of what Christianity is really all about.
 
But I'd like to think that, if you're a human at all, you have this feeling somewhere in your heart that says, "This is something so wrong, so horrible, it hurts my heart to even think about it."  
 
That's the way we should feel.  Regardless of our personal belief system, there is no valid ethos in which the slaughter of small children should or could be championed.  Something is wrong.  Something is terribly, terribly wrong.  
 
To address the issue that is, of course, on my heart, I will go ahead and ask -- then attempt to answer -- the question that I've already both seen and heard more times than I thought possible:
 
"What does God have to say about this?"
 
 I think it's safe to say that God is not always pleased with the manner in which His creations exercise their free will.  And although I cannot speak for Him, I can clearly see when He speaks for Himself.  Proverbs 15:9 says, "The Lord hates what evil people do."  It doesn't say He hates evil people, for God hates nobody.  He loves all of His children, even when they make horrendous choices that affect the lives of everyone in the community -- in, to be certain, the entire country. 
 
Our mindset, however, dictates how we, as fellow humans, will deal with such a tragedy.  We can spout off about the evil, we can cry for the lives lost and the families left to grieve, we can champion our own political cause, we can hold our own children tightly and live in hopes that such a tragedy will never affect us personally.  One thing is certain, though: this is not the last calamity we'll see in our lifetime.  How we deal with it defines who we are.  
 
Are you going to be someone who takes advantage of such horrors to further your own political or religious viewpoint?  Or are you going to be someone who wants to make a difference in the world in any way you can?  
 
"Part of you is broken, and the other part is bitter.  Part of you wants to cry, and part of you wants to fight... There is a fire burning in your heart.  It's the fire of anger.  And you are left with a decision.  Do I put the fire out or heat it up? Do I get over it or do I get even? Do I release it or resent it? Do I let my hurts heal, or do I let hurt turn into hate?... Without forgiveness, bitterness is all that is left." --Max Lucado 
 
We can't change what happened, we can only change our reaction.  We can't bring back the dead, but we can affect the living.  We can't turn a blind eye, but we can help others to see the hope that is out there.  Do I think that dead children are a blessing?  Absolutely not -- I think it's an unspeakable atrocity.  Do I think we should hate the man responsible? Absolutely not -- God doesn't hate him, He weeps for his loss as much as He does for the people the guy murdered.  Do I think God is at fault?  Absolutely not -- I am humbled that I was given the free will He blessed each of us with and pray constantly that I use it to remain on His chosen path for me, and not stray from it, lest I become so far gone that I commit some horrible act that affects the lives of a nation.  
 
I humbly request from each and every one of you that you take a few steps this week:
 
Pray for not just the families that lost children, but for the entire school system, and all the children left who witnessed such atrocities.
 
Release from your heart the anger and bitterness, and let forgiveness and love sink in deeply and firmly, becoming rooted as the one and only foundation you have.  Do not allow yourself to hate, for hate only drives more tragedy.
 
Make it your personal mission to do anything and everything you can to lift people up, bring goodness and happiness to those around you, and to be a harbinger of light and joy and peace.  Who knows what lives you may affect?  What if YOU bring a message of hope to someone that might have otherwise been the cause of another terrible disaster such as this, and lives are saved that you will never know about?  
 
None of us knows the impact we have on each other.  None of us is aware of the ripple affect our words and actions may have on a person, on a community, or on a nation.  None of us is innocent, and none of us is righteous.  
 
We are all fellow sojourners on this Journey of Reinvention.  All each of us can do is keep taking step by step in the right direction and bring others along with us.
 
Stephanie Jean
 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Charlie Browniest

I've been called a lot of things in my life.  Quirky, different, special, gifted, a geek, a nerd, a *****, pretty, ugly, big-nosed, statuesque, talented, a lot more things with those little asterisks in them.  But, truth be told, I've always felt a lot like Charlie Brown.

If you watch the shows (or even READ the comics...), he's filled with anxiety.  He's a bit strange looking, just enough to be marginalized from the group.  He's smart, but overlooked.  He has a lot of emotions -- he desperately wants to be loved.  He wants things to have meaning, to not be commercialized.  He wants very much for people to listen to him, but they tend to ignore him or walk right over him to do what they want to do, even though he has good ideas.  From time to time, when he stands up for himself with a tiny bit of confidence, things work out.  He wants to believe in the goodness of the human spirit, so he allows himself to do it time and again.

And every single time, Lucy pulls the football out from under him and he falls flat on his back.

But do you know what the most important part of the Charlie Brown lesson is? He always gets back up and tries again.  He puts himself out there, he takes care of the ones he loves, he tries with all his might, knowing that chances are he'll wind up flat on his back again... he just keeps trying.

That's how I feel.

Granted, my path has not been so harrowed or so dangerous.  Most of the time, it's been small obstacles in comparison with many others in the world.  But my mountains are my mountains, and my valleys are my valleys.  They're fraught with their own difficulty, and I've overcome them all to be where I am today.  Which is still Charlie-Brownish, but I don't view that as a bad thing.

I'd rather be quirky and marginalized than be cruel and part of the in-crowd.  I'd rather be mocked for being myself than be praised for acting like someone I'm not.  I'd rather trust in the innate goodness of humanity and fall flat on my back than live my whole life in a pessimistic refusal to be involved. 



Stephanie Jean

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Reason


I am thirty-five years old.  I have been watching A Charlie Brown Christmas for thirty-five years.  I was cognizant of the meaning behind this monologue from a very young age.  It was something I heard not just once a year on A Charlie Brown Christmas, but every week in church.  Jesus was born.  He was a baby.  He was in a manger.  There was a star, and wise men, and presents.  Oh yeah, I was aware of the meaning...

But not the reason.

I've been aware of the reason for less than a decade.  I learned that it wasn't about a baby in a manger, but a God loving his creations so much that He laid down His life for them.  I learned that it wasn't about a story of old times, but of an everyday relationship with Someone very real.  I learned that it wasn't about something that happened once 2000 years ago, but about something that happens constantly, every moment.

The reason is love.

We have such a skewed view of love.  Love means expectations to us -- it means closeness, or things in common, or finding someone cute/cuddly/sexy/fun.  It means settling for the best we think we can get.  Love means co-existing with someone who has similar quirks.  It means compromising with someone for a mutual disappointment.  Love is an attraction between us and someone or something we desire at the moment, for the moment, and something or someone else in the next moment.  We love Dr. Pepper.  We love Dr. Phil.  We love Dr. Mario.  We love Dr. McDreamy.  We love our dogs, our new cars, our favorite celebrities, mashed potatoes, big screen televisions, the latest version of the iPad, the desert, the beach, the Walking Dead.  But how many of us actually have a good grip on what true, unconditional love is?

Here's a clue: it may have started in a manger, but it ended, bloody, bruised, and broken on a cross. 

Our relationships are dependent on feelings, emotions, attractions, fulfilled expectations.  Our relationships are based first on 'chemistry' and then on 'quid pro quo'.  You did it, so I'm going to.  You didn't do it, so I don't have to.  You do this, and then I'll do that.  If you don't do this, I'm not going to do that.

That's not love.  That's certainly co-existence, but it does not describe love in any way, shape, or form.  Real love, true love, gives.  Gives at all costs.  Lays down its life.  Puts the other ahead at every instance.  Endures past any realistic expectation.  Forgives constantly.  Holds no grudges.  Is patient to a fault.  Real, true love lifts you up when you're down without blaming you for tripping.  Real, true love is absolute in every way, and has no conditions.  It doesn't change with the feeling of the day.  It doesn't depend on whether or not you've fulfilled your end of the bargain. 

This is the background behind why people who call themselves 'Christians' often tend to judge others and put limitations and boundaries on Christ's love.  It's because they, themselves don't understand His real, true, unconditional love.  It's only human love that they understand.  It's a miscommunication that has kept countless people from coming to find that very unconditional love because they see the so-called followers and they run screaming in the opposite direction.  If only they knew...

If only they knew that HE has no conditions.
If only they knew that HE loves them for who they are, right where they are.
If only they knew that HE wants them; He doesn't reject them.

If only they knew that HE doesn't care what they look like, who they fall in love with, what they've done, where they've been, who they've been with, what mistakes they've made...

HE loves them.  Fully.  Wholeheartedly.  Enough to die for them, and them alone.  Even if they reject Him, laugh at Him, ignore Him, betray Him, or make a mockery of Him... He loves them.

He loves us.

He loves you.

For who you are, right where you are, even if you never take a single step in the right direction.

When you hear people talking about the 'reason for the season' this year, remember this story.  Even if you're not following Christ, if you're not a church-goer, if you don't like snow or trees or ornaments or Jesus-people.  Just remember that it has nothing to do with what anyone else has said about Him, and everything about what He has to say about YOU.

He loves you.

THAT puts the 'merry' in Christmas. 

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Family... Redefined

It's official.  Family has absolutely nothing to do with blood.  I know this for a few reasons.

First and foremost, because I have three kids even though I've never been able to give birth.  That's right -- they're mine.  I laugh with them, cry with them, worry about them, give to them, instruct them, watch over them, guide them and -- did I mention? -- love them unconditionally, now and forever.  They're not my blood, but they're my family. 

Secondly, I have some 'family' who have been hurtful, divisive, belittling, condescending, deceitful, and who have betrayed me and others I love many times over the years. Though they are my blood, and though I love them to this day, I no longer feel the familial ties which, according to the world, supposedly 'bind'.  It does not mean there's no forgiveness -- there is.  It does not mean there is no love -- there is.  But it means that the definition of 'family' evolves each day.

Most importantly, there is a firm biblical definition of 'family' and that's what I'm talking about today.    Since I have some other friends who are going through familial issues right now, and it's taking its toll on them, I thought I'd share what I read this morning.  One of my favorites, Max Lucado, writes:

"Does Jesus have anything to say about dealing with difficult relatives? Is there an example of Jesus bringing peace to a painful family?  Yes, there is.  His own.  It may surprise you to know that Jesus had a family at all -- you may not be aware that he had brothers and sisters.  He did. [...] AND it may surprise you to know that his family was less than perfect.  They were.  If your family doesn't appreciate you, take heart: neither did Jesus'.  YET he didn't try to control his family's behavior, nor did he let their behavior control his.  He didn't demand that they agree with him.  He didn't sulk when they insulted him.  He didn't make it his mission to try to please them." --He Still Moves Stones

During a particular time of betrayal by his family, when they were themselves saying he was possibly crazy, when they did not believe in him, when they were questioning him, Jesus did not let it get to him.  When he was told that his mother and siblings were outside and wanted to speak to him about all of this, he said to his companions (the people who were close to him, the ones who were listening to him, the ones who supported him): "My true brother and sister and mother are those who do what God wants." Mark 3:35.  He goes on to say that blood is not thicker than water: trust and love and acceptance are thicker than blood.  "Obedience is thicker than blood," is how Mark 3:35 is translated in "The Message" bible, my personal favorite for really learning and getting into the story of Jesus. 

The bible also tells us something very important about people who are of the divisive ilk.  "If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them." - Titus 3:10.  We're not supposed to bend over backwards trying to force someone to see things our way.  We're not supposed to keep shoving things in their face.  They've been warned and given the information.  They've been asked to see things as they truly are. Sometimes they come back around and everything is okay, but often their nature will rear its head again, and we're in the same situation.  We are to remain content and at peace, and not let their divisiveness sway us from DOING WHAT WE KNOW IS RIGHT.

For those of you who are struggling with family, it's especially difficult at the holidays.  You may have many wonderful memories of childhood or young adulthood with those that you love and care about who have now become divisive and spiteful.  My advise is to CHERISH those memories.  Do not let current circumstances stain your nostalgia.  There is good and bad in everyone, in each of us, now and always.  Nobody is perfect -- nobody is even close.  Circumstances often change, and perhaps, in time, those who have been hurtful will be apologetic.  It's not up to us to force the issue, it's up to us to continue doing the next right thing in our own lives, and to pray, and pray, and pray for those we love and care about.

Going into the Christmas season, be grateful for the family that you have in your lives regardless of whether or not there is blood between you.  There is a blood that binds us all as brothers and sisters, as children of God, and it is that blood that we should think of before any other.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's Just Your 19th Nervous Breakdown...

This week has been particularly trying.  I'm not certain if I've yet mentioned it, but the car I've had for 11 years finally gave up the ghost, and I sold it for cash.  Incredibly difficult for me to do, since it was chock full of memories, but it had to happen.  Thankfully, we had one working vehicle.

The operative word here being 'had'.

On Wednesday evening, I went to my neighbor, a very close friend of our family, and asked if he'd mind if we borrowed his extra vehicle for a couple of days.  I had a huge work commitment Thursday and would have to be there from 8AM to probably close to midnight, and didn't want Steve to have to figure out how to get home from work.  I figured if we had TWO working vehicles just that one particular day, we could get everything accomplished and all would be well.  He said no problem, gave us the keys, and all was, indeed, well.

Until Thursday morning at 5:15 AM when my husband called me and said his van had broken down on the side of the road on the way to work.  

My prayer on the way to pick him up was simply this: Please, God, provide for us.  You always have, and I have no other recourse than to trust you now.  We don't have the ability to buy something new or take out a loan right now.  We officially own NO working vehicles.  Please help us.  Provide for us.  Please.  (Over and over, all the way to pick him up, drop him off at work, come back home, change, and go to work myself.)

Partway through the morning, my husband called to tell me that the man at the garage where the van had been towed said there was no point in putting anymore money into the van.  Figuring if the man who could've taken our money said it wasn't worth it, we decided against having it worked on.  The man did, however, say that there was a very inexpensive car for sale with only 67000 miles on it, and would we be interested.  We were.  And, within an hour, my neighbor called us to tell us that he didn't need his vehicle back until next year after the winter.  

Could it be that prayer works? 

I have a genuine belief that God will handle things.  He will handle everything.  When we put our faith in Him instead of in ourselves, that's when things start falling into place.  Whether we see Him or not, hear Him or not, we can choose to believe Him for what He has told us: Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened.  We don't have much money.  We can't take out a loan right now because we're trying to refinance our house and we're so close we can't delay the process any longer.  We work 25 and 45 minutes away from home, respectively.  We have no choice but to trust God to take care of us.  To provide for us.  And within an hour, he gave us the ability to have two working vehicles.  

There's something about throwing your hands up and saying 'Jesus, take the wheel', isn't there?  Carrie Underwood had it right.  When we stop trying to fix things and make them work, and we trust Him to do it, that's all He needs to hear.  Why is it that we wait so long?  Why isn't it our first instinct instead of our last resort?  Like a little kid saying, "I wanna do it!" and then attempting to dress themselves for ten minutes before sitting in a sobbing heap and finally letting us do it... we, as fully developed adults, do the same thing.  We make an absolute mess of our lives, again and again, defiant and determined to do it our own way until we finally sit in a sobbing heap and let Him take over.  We'd save ourselves so much time, effort, and heartache if we'd just let Him take care of things to begin with.

To all of you out there who wonder if He's listening, He is.
To all of you who worry that He might not be real, He is.
To all of you who wonder if He hears your prayers, He does.
To all of you who think you're not worth it, He believes you are.
To all of you who are losing faith, He has faith in you.

Don't give up.  Just give it over to Him.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, November 10, 2012

More Than Just Thanks

I usually try to put a really pretty picture here, or something that draws the eye.  But this drew MY eye.  At first, it's just cute.  Then, it goes deeper.

If you're reading this, you're alive.
If you're reading this, you're literate.
If you're reading this, you have access to the internet.
If you're reading this, you have time on your hands.
If you're reading this, you're not starving in a third world country.
If you're reading this, you're not a refugee in a prison camp.
If you're reading this, you're not at you're child's funeral.
If you're reading this, you're not standing in a minefield.

We have so much to be thankful for that we consistently take for granted.  It's not a once-a-year thing, this attitude of gratitude that we should be carrying with us.  We should be smiling more.  We should be thanking people at every opportunity.  We should be thanking God each day we wake up.  The question is, why don't we do this?

When we're so used to blessings, they mean less and less to us.  We're used to having plenty (or at least, enough) food to eat.  We're used to clean water, and plumbing, and electricity.  We're used to two-car garages and cars to put in them.  Endless forms of entertainment.  Blankets on our bed.  A bed.  We're accustomed to having such an array of clothing that we get to choose what to wear each day before we walk out of the house.  We're used to being able to walk.  We're used to a furnace to keep us warm in the winter, and an air conditioning unit of some sort to keep us cool in the summer.  Once, it was a novelty to get our drivers' license and hop in a car and go anywhere we wanted -- that quickly faded to 'having' to go places instead of 'getting' to go places.  Whatever this wonderful life drops in our laps, we're always more concerned with what this terrible life is throwing at us.

We have become entitled.  

If you have six dollars in your wallet, you can get a Starbucks Frappe (and leave a tip, if you have a soul!) or you can feed a child in a third-world country for a month. 

A MONTH.

For a few bucks here and there, which you might toss aside for a pack of chewing gum and a Mountain Dew, you could buy mosquito nets to save ENTIRE FAMILIES' LIVES in Africa who might otherwise die of malaria.You can help provide clean water for whole communities.  You can be instrumental in preventing people from HIV infection. You can make a difference.

All of these things you and I take for granted?  For every one of us, there are tens of thousands of people who don't have the opportunities we do.  Who don't have the comfort or safety we do.  Who don't have the rights we do. 

Instead of this sense of entitlement that permeates every aspect of our lives, there should be an overwhelming joy in our hearts each and every day we're alive, and for every blessing, big or small, that comes our way.

I want to start living that way today.

How about you?

Stephanie Jean


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Giving Thanks

I have to say, it's fantastic to see so many people taking the 30-day challenge to post something they're thankful for each and every day of November.  I wish it were like this all year long.  Everyone has a right to post what they want on Facebook, of course, but sometimes I just get so depressed reading up on everything that's wrong when I know there are so many things that are right that we're not focusing on.

Yesterday, we drove down to Indianapolis and back with one of our good friends and two of her daughters to see our daughter and her son march in the State Marching Band competition.  Our band came in sixth and hers came in fifth, and everyone seemed pleased.  I'm looking forward to some whole weekends coming up, and very grateful for the 'fall back' of Daylight Savings Time today.  It's nice to be this wide-awake and writing at 9:30am instead of 10:30am, though in the grand scheme of things I still appear to be lazy.  Not true, of course -- appearances aren't everything.  I just need some down-time now and then. 

I'm gearing up for Thanksgiving now -- I want to shed a few of these pounds I've put back on so I can keep myself from going overboard in a few weeks.  The family is coming over for Thanksgiving here, which is my favorite -- I like having everyone in one place.  I'll have to do a little extra grocery shopping over the next couple of weeks to stock up, but I'd rather do that than buy everything at once. 

We're doing well with our budgeting and financial stuff (we learned a lot before the financial class we're taking, but that's helped, too) so things are in a good place for us right now.  We're not rich (and I'm sure we never will be) but we're not struggling, either, so it's a good balance, I feel.

There is a lot happening around me, and inside of me, but I'm happy.  I love my husband.  I love my family.  I love my friends.

I'm at peace.

(It's kind of strange... I'm not used to it.)

Stephanie Jean


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Uninspired Inspiration

It's been one of those weeks.  You know, the weeks where you feel like you're just plugging along, uninspired, and that nothing is quite going your way?  You're one step behind (sometimes two, or three, or fifteen) and each time it looks as though there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, it was just a firefly and you're still stuck in the dark with no real direction.  Yeah, one of those weeks.

But you know something? I've come to a place of quiet acceptance inside.  I realize that things aren't always (maybe ever) going to be rosy.  I understand that each day I live will be filled with trials and blessings, and it's my choice to focus on one or the other.  I accept that, no matter how hard I try, I'm going to fail at certain things and no matter how little effort I put into them, I'll excel at others.  It's simply the way this life is and I've come to embrace that.  I don't always like it, but there it is.  A wise friend keeps telling me it's all about acceptance.  He's right. 

So my challenge today -- this week -- this lifetime -- is just to continue along that path.  One of my favorite 80s movies, "Better Off Dead", had one guy telling another guy how to tackle the ski slope:

"Go that way.  Very fast.  If something gets in your way?  Turn."

I've never skiied, but it sure seems like great advice for life.

Stephanie Jean


Friday, October 19, 2012

I'm Letting Go...






It's funny how my life always goes in circles, and the center of the circle is God.  It's like an orbit -- I'm scurrying around trying desperately to go my own way, but when I focus on my center and let go, He takes me on the orbit I'm already meant to be on, and everything falls into place.

Today, it got to a point where I just stopped.  I stopped trying to scurry, stopped panicking, stopped planning, stopped thinking... and just got on my knees.  I stayed there for a very long time and the first thing I said to Him is that I knew that was where I belonged.

It is, isn't it?  It's where we always belong.  Even if we can't physically get down on our knees, or we're not in a position to close our eyes, the bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to "Pray without ceasing".  I tend to pop out a quick prayer in the morning and try to get myself to fall asleep by praying in the evening, but it's rare that my heart is really in it.  Fast grace over a meal, rapid lists of blessings I want for friends and family.  But to spend real, heartfelt time in prayer?  Only when someone's on their deathbed, usually.  It shouldn't be that way.  It should be my way of life.  It should be 'my thing'.

One of my best friends is a prayer warrior.  In fact, I call or text her just to pray.  Sometimes I don't even tell her why.  I just tell her I need it, or someone needs it, and she's all over it.  He listens to her, too.  You know those certain people that just seem to be more in tune with Him than others?  There are times I even feel kind of jealous, but I know it's my own fault.  This is a relationship she's worked on with Him for many, many years.  What makes me think I can just try to jump right back into the orbit and have Him listen to me, too?

Oh.  Because He promised me He would.  "For the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him."  --Romans 10:12

He doesn't listen to her more than He listens to me.  She just listens to Him more than I listen to Him.

What good does it do if I ask Him to direct my life if I go the opposite direction?  It's like telling your GPS it's wrong.  I know, I know -- sometimes it IS.  Well, God's NOT.  He's always right, never fails, and knows way more than I can possibly even think of in my tiny, little, narrow-minded human brain.

I wholeheartedly STINK at giving things over to God, which is ironic because the few times I've ever succeeded at doing so, He's fixed everything.  (You'd think I'd learn, huh?  You'd also think my dogs would learn that the vacuum cleaner has never harmed them and will never harm them.  You'd be wrong.)

Look, sometimes humans can be just as stupid as the other animals seem to be.  (Most of the time, even dumber.)  But the truth is, I know inside that God can handle everything.  I know He's waiting for me to give it to Him so He can handle it for me.  Whether it's stubbornness or selfishness or arrogance, I always think, "I got this."  And then I don't got this.  But He does.  So I tuck my tail between my legs and go back to him when that's where I should've been all along.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Just Another Piece of the Puzzle

I hate to harp on it, but I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason.  I've said it time and again.  Trials and blessings and milestones and tragedies -- they all come together at the end to create the perfect masterpiece they're supposed to.  It's why I have a puzzle piece tattoo on my foot: you look at a puzzle piece and it's a meaningless blob, sometimes ugly, but if you put it with the rest of the pieces, something beautiful comes together in the end every time. 

I still don't know what my masterpiece is going to end up looking like, but I'm putting more and more stock into it each day.  The things I've learned or am learning, the mistakes I've made or am making, the people I've met or am meeting... there's a purpose behind it all.  There are a few select people that I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, are supposed to be a major part of what's coming.  There are some from my past that, I am positive, I would not be the person I am today without.  And I know there will be more coming into my future that are integral in putting all the pieces together.

So often in my life, I've felt like giving up.  I have struggled so hard with something only to have it fail miserably and, in turn, I viewed myself as a failure for not being able to make it work.  I've learned I can't blame myself for that.  Like sitting down in front of the puzzle, it doesn't matter how often you try to shove two pieces together that don't fit -- they DON'T FIT.  It's never going to work.  So, you move on and try new things until you find the right combination.

Instead of wasting time trying to get the wrong fit to work, we have to open our minds and hearts to the possibility that we're not always right.  We don't have all the solutions.  Our path is not gospel.  It's the path OF the Gospel that is right.  The good news should be our leader, and we have to humble ourselves to find the right way to go.  Humble means to 'make low'.  When you're almost finished with a puzzle and you're missing a piece, where is the first place you look?

On the floor.

Down on your knees.

It's the first place we should start when we're trying to find the right path on our Journey, too.

Stephanie Jean



Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Fresh Start



What if you were in a serious jam financially?  I mean, you've made a train wreck of your finances so that you're a couple hundred thousand dollars in debt with your credit cards, and your home is about to go into foreclosure, you've got two car payments of $400 each month, and you quit your job three months ago and can't find work?  There isn't a shred of hope in sight for you and you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you cannot fix this mess yourself.  You put yourself in this position by your own choices, and there is only one thing that can possibly save you: a miracle. 

As you're sitting in a sobbing heap on the floor of your (soon-to-be-The-Bank's) living room, there is a knock at the door.  You peek out to see a man in a suit who's obviously selling something.  Rolling your eyes, nearly walking away from the door, you decide to open it and just send him along his way.  There's something about his eyes that says he's seen rejection before, but he's going to be persistent because he has something for you that nobody else can offer you.  When you open the door, he tells you exactly that.

"I can't give you anything," you say in disgrace.  "I have nothing."

"That's okay," he tells you.  "You don't have to give me anything.  You just have to let me in and hear what I have to say."

With nothing to lose, and nowhere to go, you let him in.  He doesn't sit until you invite him to do so and you can't even offer him a cup of coffee because there's no coffee left in the house.  He starts to talk, and he doesn't stop.

"I have something unique for you that nobody else can offer you," he begins.  With a knowing smile, it's almost as though he can read your thoughts when you want to interrupt him to tell him this is pointless, so he holds up a hand to stop you when you haven't yet parted your lips, and he continues.  "I'm going to get you out of this bind.  By my calculations, it would take exactly $572,038.23 to get you out of debt right now.  It would pay off your credit cards, your vehicles, your mortgage, your student loans, the money you borrowed from your parents, the money you borrowed from your best friend that you haven't spoken to in two years because of your guilt at not being able to pay him back, the personal loan you took out at a credit union, and the paychecks you never got around to giving those payroll advance places."

In absolute horror and awe, you stare at his face, unable to speak.  It's incredible: he knows you, inside and out.  He knows your every thought, your every debt, every mistake you made.  He has your number, that's for sure... literally.  Part of you wants to crawl under the couch in shame, and the rest of you wants to shout in anger at his audacity until you hear his next words.

"I have exactly $572,038.23 in this briefcase and I want to give it to you.  It's not a loan.  It's a gift.  You will never owe me anything for this.  We can be friends after that, or you can never speak to me again, it's your choice.  But I want to give you this briefcase, and the only thing you have to do is take it from my hands."

I'm going to stop the story right here, right now and ask you a question.

Would you take the briefcase?

It's not a no-brainer, you know.  There are a lot of emotions pent up here.  It's easy to say, 'Sure, I'd take it!'  But how would you feel about taking it if you were really faced with this situation?  Would you be able to accept such an incredibly large gift from a stranger when you know there's no way you deserve it?  No way you could ever pay it back?  No way you could ensure that you wouldn't completely screw up again in five years?  Would you be able to trust what he was telling you?  To open the briefcase and really believe that all of your money, down to the cent, was in there to be repaid?  Could you allow yourself to stop in your tracks, the tracks that had led you to this mess, accept this gift, and turn around to start over?

We have to be able to admit to ourselves that we fail.  That we cannot do it alone.  That we aren't equipped to deal with pressures, with temptations, with daily life all on our own.  We have to see the ways we make mistakes and learn from them.  We have to confess that we're lost most of the time, just trying to find our way in the dark.  And when someone comes along with a light, and we see that we're going the wrong direction, we have to follow the light, not keep stumbling along in the dark because of our own pride.

What if it's not financial?  What if it's emotional?  What if it's spiritual?  What if it's sexual?  What if it's physical?  What if it's all of these, all wrapped up into one huge lifetime full of mistake after mistake after mistake?

Then someone comes to you and says, "Hey.  There's a really simple solution to all of this.  This guy, He gave His life for you, so that you could start over.  He's not asking for your money, or your deeds, or your piety.  He's not asking for your perfection, or your constant preaching about His awesomeness.  He just wants to help you.  He wants to love you like you've never been loved, and like you never will. He wants to take all of this mess that you made away, and replace it with goodness.  With kindness, and love, and compassion, and joy.  Joy like you wouldn't believe.  All you have to do is accept it.  Just believe that it's there and say, "Yes!  I'll take it!" 


Because that's the real question here.  It's not about money.  It's about love. 

Can you allow yourself to be, for the first time, loved in such a way that nothing else matters?  Because I guarantee you, it will change your life forever.

Take the briefcase.

Accept the offer. 

Let Him change your life.

Stephanie Jean


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Financial Peace

So, we're taking the Financial Peace University class at our church.  I was pretty sure it wasn't worth the $95 because I'd already read "The Total Money Makeover", we've spent the last several years recovering from my husband's bankruptcy after his divorce from the ex and some student loans, we're in a really good place right now and I just got a new job that pays alotmore (yes, that can be one word if I want it to).  But it's giving some good pointers and will help us to keep saving and start investing.  Good stuff.  I'm a big fan of stuffing money into coffee cans, but I suppose I could be making a little interest off of it, huh?

After the disheartening loss to the Irish yesterday, I'm still as big of a Michigan fan as ever.  I'm not a sore loser.  I don't like being taunted by jerky winners, don't get me wrong.  But that game was pretty ugly.  The weather held out, though, which was nice.  All the rain and hail came early, so by the time we got there to tailgate, it was cool but dry, and watching the night game from the stands was quite fun and comfortable, even if I was surrounded by a lot of ND fans.  They're okay most of the time, just not when they're playing my team.  Or beating the pants off of them.  The only negative thing I have to say is, I think they should boil down their helmets and sell them to the "Cash 4 Gold" guy so they can feed a small country.

This new work week is really going to help me get organized.  I had this past Friday off for the first time, and I overhauled the house.  Dusted (which I despise), vacuumed, organized the closet and files in the office, disassembled an old computer I haven't used in quite awhile, sorted through all of the piles of papers and stuff in bags that's been collecting in the kitchen for weeks.  It just feels great.  I have more projects that need to be taken care of, so this coming Friday will prove to be helpful for that as well.  If I can tackle something different on each of my 'days off', so much will get accomplished, and I can't wait.  This house (and my sense of well-being) has needed it for quite awhile.

Finishing the Emmy Awards, and awaiting blissful sleep.  My nap was interrupted today by the husky who decided she needed to loudly inform me that the neighbor had friends over.

Stephanie Jean



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Calm

Calm.  Placid.  Peaceful.  I need to be these things.  It's funny how, every time something changes, something still stays the same.  Every time things are looking up, something creeps out and bites you in the butt, then runs away.  The trick is to remain peaceful, regardless.  It's right there in my list of things I'm attempting to achieve in this Journey, I think.  Peace is a beautiful place.

Notice the sheet-of-glass reservoir pictured above.  This is its natural state.  You can throw a stone in, and it will cause a ripple, and it will return to calm.  The storms can blow, stir up the waters, make them murky and cause waves to splash and lick the shoreline, and it will return to calm.  There is no ugly churning beneath the water that causes its own ripples or waves.  It simply is.  It is in this state that I want to exist.

Whether it's a feud between loved ones, a daunting new task, a taxing day at work, a financial struggle, a physical malady -- I want to be able to continually return to this peaceful, easy feeling as my default.  I know it's possible.  I've heard tell of others who have done so, and continue to do so on a regular basis.

I feel like, more and more, this is coming to fruition.  I've kept my eyes set higher, and that makes a big difference.  Max Lucado says, "As long as our eyes are on God's majesty, there is a bounce in our step.  But let our eyes focus on the dirt beneath us, and we will grumble about every rock and crevice we have to cross." --The Great House of God

I'm trying.  I'm praying -- not just for myself, but for many, MANY others.  Most often, I find it's the best I can do.

Stephanie Jean


Saturday, September 15, 2012

The New Job Post

This is a picture of me during my first few weeks at the new job.  Okay, well, perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration.  It felt like this at times. I'm trying to keep my head above water because it feels like there is constantly something new happening and I'm struggling to keep up with it.  I haven't been fired (yet), so that's a plus.   I enjoy what I'm doing, however, and think I'll pull through just fine eventually.  Thus far, it's just a matter of getting 90% of things done, then going, "OH... yeah... I forgot about that!"  Then, while I'm working on the 10%, another round of 100% comes sneaking through the door.

My husband and I signed up for Financial Peace University at our church, the Dave Ramsey seminar with a workbook, hardcover book, and other materials.  We've been listening to him for a long time, and I've read his book "The Total Money Makeover" so I was hesitant to sign us up at a cost of $95.  I will say, however, that even going to the first session this past week, I've seen that it will be productive for us.  We have a leg up over a lot of people who are attending, or who have attended, because we've been working for years to get ourselves out of debt and to start saving.  We even thought we might be able to lead FPU next year, perhaps. After eight years of marriage, we've paid off all of the straggler-loans and debts from his previous relationships and endeavors, gotten a much better credit score for him, paid off my car loan and credit card, and we're in a good position right now.  With both of us working, we should be able to save and get a traditional loan on our home sooner rather than later, then pay it off early.  We have a lot of expenses right now, but nothing we can't handle.  The car is going to die any moment but, right now, I'm working on the prayer-ignition-system: I sit in the driver's seat, beg God to let the car get me back and forth to where I need to be that day, then thank Him when I get back home.  I'll assume that the day this system does not work is the day that God wants me to get another pre-owned vehicle which will cost less than what we have saved up, because we will. not. take. out. another. loan.

I'd like to interrupt this blog to say "Go Blue".

It seems as though the new job will keep me quite busy, so I might not be posting quite as often as I was in the weeks leading up to being hired there.  However, I'll attempt to post once a week during our day of rest -- not just to update you, but to keep up the inspiration on Facebook as much as possible.  As much as I dislike Facebook, I can definitely see the positive uses and, if at all possible, would like to use it to empower and inspire others.  I realize I won't always be in the mood to do this but, at the very least, I can refrain from posting negatives, right?

Things are looking up.  God has plans.  Jeremiah 29:11 is becoming my mantra for myself and for my husband, especially when he's not (or I'm not) really feeling it.  "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future."

I believe Him.

Sometimes it's not about sight, it's only about trust.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, September 3, 2012

Blast from the Past

I moved to Ann Arbor in the autumn of 1995.  I was eighteen, three-and-a-half hours from home, and scared out of my mind.  I desperately wanted my freedom, but I also desperately wanted my parents at the same time.  Over the four years I was in school there, and the two more years I lived there before moving to Indiana, I had some good times and some good friends.  Each year, my husband and I attempt to spend our anniversary weekend in Ann Arbor -- thankfully, though he's a huge Notre Dame fan, he also enjoys watching Michigan games and tooling around the campus with no real agenda.  We love the food, the ambiance, the buildings, the shopping, the food (oh, yeah, I already said that).  But this time in particular was even more special.

When I lived there, there was a small group of us that spent as much time together as possible.  Both before and after my divorce, these were friends that knew both my ex-husband and myself, and spent time with both of us.  I'm lucky enough to be friends with my ex, and I rarely even think of him as that.  Most of the time I just think of him as a friend that I've known since I was sixteen years old.  I've been close with my friend Danny for most of the time after I moved, and the other friends have been a part of my life off and on, but there have been a couple that I haven't seen in over a decade.  I got to see them this weekend and spend at least a little time catching up, and it made me very happy.  I've missed them dearly, and I do hope it's not another decade until we get to see each other again.  My husband's a real trouper, too.  Not only did he put up with a four-mile walk around midnight last night, he also doesn't get freaked out when I share a bottle of chocolate wine with one of my guy friends and hug the other one with all my might because I miss him so, so much.  I recall that there was a time in my life when I only had male friends.  I still have very few female friends these days but, then, I really don't get to spend much time with any of my friends, male or female.  Who knows when the next time I'll get to see any of them will be? 

We also got to ride horses at the Barton Farm in Belleville.  Chris and Rachel have a lovely place with five acres, and Rachel was wonderful enough to saddle up Ruby and Brooke and let us ride around with her through the woods and down the road.  We had a great time and even talked Chris into driving back to Ann Arbor so Rachel could get ANTHONY'S PIZZA with the rest of us!  Ahh, Anthony's, how I've missed you.

Now we're safely back at home, ready to jump into another work week.  I have a meeting, photo shoot, and an interview tomorrow.  Wednesday (our anniversary) I have a private tour of the Snite Museum.  Thursday I'm looking forward to properly homemade Hungarian Goulash at the Nichols residence.  Friday is comedy night, where I'll be writing jokes for THE Dave Kempher.  Saturday is a bridal shower for one of my good friends.  Sunday, I leave for Chicago because next Monday is my Jeopardy! audition, and another week begins.  Things are happening so quickly right now, I barely have time to blink, so this weekend was much needed.  I'm so glad to be back home right now, though -- I need a hot bath and a good, long rest to tackle everything that's coming our way.

To each and every one of my friends out there: whether we're together every week, once a year, or once a decade, you hold a very special place in my heart and you always will. Thank you for a great weekend, and for marking my life with your friendship.

Stephanie Jean


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Picture This...

You see this?  This could be me.  Okay, probably not.  But they did said if this stuff works, there's an 8% chance of twins.  'What stuff?' you might ask, since you care so very deeply about my fertility?  Clomid.

This stuff.  Right here.  It looks like headache medication, like it could alleviate some joint discomfort, or maybe dissolve in some water and take away my heartburn.  Instead, it could quite possibly help me do something I've been trying to do for eight years. 

Look, the truth is, the timing is better right now than it ever has been.  I can work from home if need be, since I'm not slinging coffee anymore and I have a laptop on which I can do my work.  We're financially in a better place than we ever have been.  Our house is big enough.  But the only thing that's going to make this happen is God.  Not us, not Clomid, not standing on my head.  (Seriously, I've tried it.)  It's God.

So, if you wouldn't mind, please do some of this for us:
And I'll keep you posted.

Thanks, you wonderful, wonderful people. 

Stephanie Jean





Saturday, August 25, 2012

What a Difference...






Two years ago at this time, we were gearing up for our trip to Italy for Steve's 40th birthday.  We had been (and have been) struggling financially, but I'd saved up all of my tip money for a little over three years because I wanted to make this trip happen for him.  He had no idea until I told him in February, because I wanted us to be able to plan this trip together and be sure it was everything he wanted it to be.  I wish we could go back right now.  It was beautiful, incredible, and nothing could possibly compare to such an experience.  My hope is that, someday, we'll be able to travel much more often and experience such things as this.  I never thought it would be on the horizon.

Now, I find myself in the midst of learning a new and more lucrative career, and I would describe myself as slightly overwhelmed but completely invested.  This week, there was an open house at the office for all of the writers, advertisers, and friends of The FAMILY Magazines.  I met quite a few people and could put faces to names that I'd been hearing and writing to for over a week already.  I received my business cards... BUSINESS CARDS!  *gasp* and put them in my business card holder that Steve Russell, one of our actors for "Into the Woods", got me as a cast gift.  For the first time in my life, I can foresee a light at the end of the tunnel.  We're no longer in debt, but this means that we can start saving for the future and moving up.  I know that, in the grand scheme of things, materialistic things in this world are not important.  I just want to be able to provide for our children, to educate ourselves more and more, and to be able to travel and see the world.  None of that is as important as helping others, and that's my biggest goal.

Last night, we attended the celebration for Rob and Michelle Wegner, one of our pastors at Granger Community Church, and his wife.  They have served our church together for 20 years now, have three children, a strong marriage, and a love for others that is unparalleled.  I was blown away by the outpouring of love not just from our church members, but from other communities as well.  The number of lives that Rob and Michelle have touched is nothing short of a miracle.  From Granger, Indiana to the country of India, they have been instrumental in the movement I wholeheartedly believe in -- loving people right where they are, and letting God do the changing.  They are humble in heart and demeanor, they are unconditionally loving, they are fun and friendly, and they are willing to do anything to get more people to Jesus.  I am in awe at how devoted they are in their Journey, and more than pleased that God brought them into our lives, and us into theirs.  We met Rob in 'real life' in the coffee shop, and he was so real and genuine, and exactly what a pastor -- or any person -- should be.  He brought Michelle in shortly thereafter and we got to meet her as well.  They both attended the open house on Thursday for FAMILY (as Michelle is one of our very talented writers) and we told them we were going to see them for their celebration, too.  We were almost unable to do so, since a conflict came up at Steve's job, but in the end, it happened, and MAN, were we glad it did.

It's a rare occasion that we feel full and inspired.  Attending the celebration for Rob and Michelle was something we wanted to do, but closing in on the actual time to go, when we thought we weren't going to be able to make it, I was very upset.  I wanted us to be there as a family.  I could have still attended without Steve, but I told him if he couldn't make it, I didn't want to go without him.  At the last minute, we were able to go, though it took some quick changing and driving.  The entire celebration itself was worth it, but the end of it was nothing short of miraculous.  I've rarely seen my husband as 'fired up' as he was when he saw John Schlitt from Petra walk out onto the stage.  I could see how excited Rob was, since he didn't know it was going to happen -- none of us did -- but my husband was just as thrilled as Rob was, nearly in the back row.  I could tell he needed the inspiration, and nothing makes me happier than seeing him inspired.  I'm so grateful for Granger Community Church.  God completely transformed the trajectory of our lives when we began attending there eight years ago, and I am so thankful every day of my life that He led us there and worked on us while we've been there.  More and more, good things are happening, and all the glory is His.

There are not many ways to express the joy in my heart.  Not just the new job, or being out of debt, but a settling peace and acceptance that will be there regardless of circumstances.  We have been through a lot lately, not all of which I'm able or willing to share, but the through-line always remains:

God is Good.  All the Time.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Finally in the Air

There are few things more tranquil and fulfilling to me than a crisp autumn morning, when the leaves aren't quite beginning to change, but you can feel them thinking about it.  You have that sense of urgency inside, like something incredible is about to happen, and it's coupled with a sense of nostalgia at the same time.  I love the air, the breeze, the sun shining but not boiling my skin, the birds twittering about, debating whether to start thinking about migration or to pull that worm up out of the soil.  I am filled with expectation and excitement for the upcoming season -- school starting, pumpkins ripening, neighbors raking, pies baking. 

This season, I have been blessed with so much already.  I'm transitioning from the job I've had for over six years into something I've always wanted.  I'm working with my husband two days a week and working with a different team the other three.  I'm saying goodbye to old habits and friends and embracing new routines and faces.  It sounds so cliche to say 'God is good all the time', but I've found nothing to be truer in life than these words.

For so long, I've been immersed in a depression that I couldn't quite put my finger on, always hoping and praying for something more, something new, something different.  I've known that He's had a plan, I've said it time and again, but just spouting platitudes has never done anything for me, or for anyone else.  I have been in torpor.  I have been numb.  I have been angry at God and I have doubted -- OH, how I have doubted.  But just as He loved Thomas the Doubting One, He loves Stephanie the Doubting One just the same.  His plans are greater than plans I could have dreamed or schemed.  His will for me encompasses ever-so-much more than I could have imagined or fantasized.  I know that this is just the beginning, and that He will be with me as I scale this new mountain.  He will be with me when I make it to the top, and He will be with me when I scale the next. 

He will be scaling them for me.

Life is not without its deep canyons, for certain.  I still have no idea whether or not I can or will get pregnant.  I don't know if a horrendous car crash will take my life tomorrow or the life of someone I love.  I haven't a clue as to whether I'll succeed or fail in the rat race that we call Earthly Life, but I have more than an inkling of how to get through it. 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding.  In all your ways, submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight." -- Proverbs 3:5-6

It's time I started living for His plan instead of my own.  It's never failed to be the best plan, and it never will.

Stephanie Jean


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Patience Pulls Through

My Dear Readers,

I first want to apologize for the unannounced hiatus over the last few days.  I know I was posting pretty regularly there for awhile, and I plan to start back up again, but I had some transitions to deal with and I needed to step back for a short time. 

As you know, our production of "Into the Woods" at South Bend Civic is finally over.  It was a great success, and we had a wonderful theatre experience with a few old friends, and a great deal of new ones.  It was an experience that we will remember forever, and think of often and fondly. 

In the midst of tying up the loose theatre ends, I received a letter from my editor from Family Magazine, a publication for which I've been writing the last two years.  She was stepping down, as she'd been out of town for a little over a year and working from home.  Very long story short, it is now two weeks later and I have been hired into her position.  It was a completely unexpected whirlwind, and this past week was my first week -- Steve and I had already planned to take a 'staycation' week from work, so we were scheduled for a few days off, and I was asked to start right away.  I will still be at the coffee shop for six more days, spread out over the course of the next four weeks to help facilitate the baking, ordering, etc., but for all intents and purposes,

I am the new Editor for Family Magazine!

This is a dream job for me, and a door that God opened for a reason.  I graduated thirteen years ago from college and, since, have not had an opportunity arise in my milieu for any sort of career.  I taught for a short time, but it was not for me.  This is the realm where I thrive, and to be able to jump right in and start is nothing short of fantastic.  It's part time for now, but it affords me the ability to no longer have to clean houses which I have done for seventeen years to help make ends meet.  I know this was not luck.  I know this was the product of patience and prayers, and God is, as always, Good.

On a side note, it's a little-known fact (and somewhat of a chuckle) that anyone who leaves the coffee shop gets pregnant, so perhaps all my fertility needed was a change of daily scenery?  Haha!

I want to thank you all for your outpouring of congratulations, prayers, and well-wishes on Facebook.  It's meant so much to me that you're all following my Journey, and that I can be a part of yours.

With Love,
Stephanie Jean

Friday, August 10, 2012

Out of the Woods

Crests and troughs.  That's what life is all about, crests and troughs.  Like waves on the ocean, things happen for a fleeting moment, then disappear, leaving behind them fragmented pieces, both good and bad.  Since before May, we've been working on building the show we have been directing, "Into the Woods".  Talking with the set designer, with the costumer, with our production staff of music director and choreographer, and finally, in mid-May, we held auditions.  Since then, we've spent 4-6 nights a week in rehearsal and in production once the show finally began and now it's coming to a close.

It's rare in the theatre realm that 20+ people with a 40-year age range, with different personalities and backgrounds, can get along swimmingly for three months.  It's even more rare that they enjoy being together so much they go out after almost every show, regardless of how late it is or how exhausted they are or what has to happen the next day.  Never have I been involved in a production where this has happened, especially on such a large scale.  We directed this show because it was something we were passionate about, and it turns out that every single other person involved was, or became, just as passionate about it -- and each other -- as well.

Now we're going out of the woods.  Three more performances, one more party, a set to strike, and we're off to our separate parts of the state, "Back to life, back to sense, back to child, back to husband, no one lives in the woods!" as the Baker's Wife says.  But what a wonderful place to have spent so much time. 

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival." --C. S. Lewis

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Starry, Starry Nights






The annual meteor showers are coming up, culminating between August 11th-13th.  I have so many fond memories of laying on the ground and staring up to see and count the stars falling over the years, I can't even recollect every one of my stories.  With my mom, with my friends, with my daughter... there's something about a vast, unfathomable piece of beauty that just draws people together.  You can't stare up at the sky next to someone and watch something so incredible and feel hatred in your heart for anything at the same time.

God didn't need to create.  He didn't need to create us, or the planets, or the galaxy, or the universe.  We weren't some project He set out to do in His spare time.  Everything was planned, and created for a purpose.  Everyone is unique -- we share traits, but we don't share souls.  How you perceive things is singular to who you are, what emotions you're experiencing, what thoughts you're having, and what your past experiences have taught you.  For me, laying under the stars is one of the most humbling experiences of a lifetime. 

It puts my problems into place.  In the infinite wisdom of a Designer who created an infinite universe, my tensions and stress are fleeting.  Something better is to come.

It connects me with people I love, regardless of how far away they might be.  "And even though I know how very far apart we are, it helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star." (--Somewhere Out There from the movie An American Tail.)  I remember that they're really not that far, in the grand scheme of things, whether they're alive or dead.  I will see them again.

It puts me on an even playing field with people I do not like.  We're all under the same sky, under the same God, with an equal amount of love flowing from Him to us, whether we are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, whether we are White, Black, Asian, whether we are Rich, Poor, Middle Class, whether we are Preacher, Teacher, or Murderer.  We're not to judge.  We're not in charge.  We're no better or worse than anyone else under the sky.

Find the time to watch the stars this week.  You'll be amazed at what occurs to you in the silence, in the dark, in the midst of a moment of incredible, breathtaking beauty.

Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Strength in Weakness: Your Biggest Hurt


9,923,401,207:  The approximate number of tears I have cried over my biggest hurt.  I'm pretty sure that's enough to fill a few swimming pools, though I haven't done the math.

There isn't much frilly language I can add to this to make it witty.  This is coming from a place so deep inside myself that I'm hesitant to share it, but if you read my blog a few days ago, I'm doing this series because there is a chance that my greatest mission could come from my greatest hurt.  What good is it to have that knowledge and not put it to use?  Everyone has something that's agonizing to them.  A loss, a betrayal, a failure, a flaw, a horrifying, traumatic experience.  Everyone has the inkling of the age-old question, "Why do bad things happen to good people" somewhere inside of them.  And whatever your hurt is, don't read this blog and compare it to mine.  Please read this blog and apply it to yours.

I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to have a baby with my husband for almost eight years.  He's not the problem, because we already have three kids and they're all biologically his from his previous marriage.  He's been tested, I've been tested, everything's 'fine'.  I'm not telling you these things because I want your sympathy, or your ideas on what to try next, so please, please do not give me either of those things.  While I appreciate your thoughts and prayers, that's not what this is about.  I'm sharing my hurt with you because I'm sharing my Journey with you while you're on yours.  To do this, I must be completely honest, so the rest of this post might come as a shock to you in its bare-naked honesty.  The one thing I've learned, however, is that God can take our honesty -- the more real the better -- because He knows us inside and out, and he wants us to give it all to Him: the good, the bad, and the so-bitterly-horrible-you-feel-like-dying-sometimes.  So, here goes.

I've run the gamut of emotions, watching my friends have babies over the last several years.  Some who were trying, some who were not trying, and some who were trying everything *not* to have babies.  I've been happy for them, of course.  I've been there for them in any way I can, whether it was in the hospital while they gave birth, or in my prayers, or babysitting, or hearing stories of the funny or gross stuff their kids did.  I love it all.  Yet, there is a part of me that, with every smiling Christmas photo of a happy couple and their child(ren), that dies a little more inside.

I have asked God for a baby.  I have wheedled God for a baby.  I have flat-out begged God for a baby.  I have thrown myself on the floor in agony, sobbing incoherently, babbling to Him that I just don't understand what's wrong, or why He's doing this to me.  I have screamed at Him and told Him how unfair He was, how He knows what a good parent I've been to kids I didn't give birth to, so why?  WHY won't He let me have the joy of having a baby with my husband, one we don't have to share with an ex-wife, one we can raise 100% the way we want to raise.  A baby we can be involved in the raising process from birth to adulthood, without one or the other of us missing a few years or months or weekends of.  A little hand to hold onto as we cross the street, a little mouth forming the word 'Mama' for the first time.

I ache inside my heart in a way that I cannot fully describe in words.  I am angry.  I am so terribly angry at God I can't even think about it without bursting into tears.  And He knows it, because He's God.  I can't hide it from Him.  I have never wanted something so badly in my life.  It's something GOOD.  It's not like I'm having an infernal desire for some crazy sin and He's not giving it to me.  It's a pure, biblical desire -- "Be fruitful and multiply," He told Adam and Eve.

He has a reason.

As true as those words are, let me continue my stark, blatant honesty:  I hate those words.  I know He has a reason.  I'm not pouting because my Mommy wouldn't give me a cookie after I brushed my teeth for bed.  I'm grieving because I'm infertile.  Telling myself that He has a reason does not make me feel better.  It makes me feel worse.  Because I don't  know the reason.  As if, somehow, knowing the reason would make me feel better.

My anger and frustration and sadness has only recently started to become numbness.  With each new pregnancy of a friend or family member, I maintain my happiness for them -- but instead of the grueling envy or instantaneous rage at God I have felt in the past, I just don't feel anything.

You're still waiting for the inspirational outcome of this tirade, aren't you?

I can't tell you that I'm inspired.  I can't tell you that I am, as yet, completely comforted.  All I can tell you is that God can take it all.  He can take your anger, your frustration, your sadness, your disillusionment, your weeping, your bitterness, your sense of injustice.  You don't have to hide it from Him.  He wants you, all of you, just as you are.  It's when you begin to trust Him, when you begin to give it all over to Him, that you begin to heal.

I might not ever be able to have a baby.  That's not going to kill me.  Certainly it will hurt me deeply, but what will hurt me more is if I kept this all to myself and never helped anyone else by using the knowledge I've gained on my Journey. 

We hold our children's hands as they cross the street for a reason.  They pull and yank and want to run free, right into oncoming traffic, because they don't know any better.  They want what they want.  We keep our toddlers from touching a hot stove.  It looks bright and exciting and joyous to them, but we know the harsh consequences if they get what they want.  They cry and stomp their feet and throw a little tantrum when we pull them away, but we did what was best for them.  We cut their hotdogs into tiny pieces so they don't choke.  We put them in a carseat despite their wailing protests.  There is a reason for everything we do.

There is a reason.

He has a reason.

I don't like it, and it doesn't make me feel better, but as a parent, I know I'm right when I tell our kids something they don't like.  So, as a child of God, I have to trust that His reasoning is better than mine.  I know the answer to my "Why?" is Him saying, "Because I said so."  I know the answer to my "Can I?" is His "We'll see."  I know that no amount of tantrum-throwing, sobbing, crying, pouting, or moping is going to change the outcome.

What I know most of all is that He is my Father, and there is nothing I can say or do that will make Him love me less.  He can handle my emotions, even when I don't feel like I can.  He has heard every cry, and He has comforted me time after time when I come to Him for it after lashing out.

Lamentations 3:31-32 For the Lord will not  cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.  

Sometimes, God is looking at our pain, saying and feeling what we, as parents often do: "This hurts me more than it hurts you."  

I take comfort in knowing that whatever the reason, and whatever the outcome, He's there for me now, for all my emotions, and He'll be there after all is said and done, loving me just the same.

Stephanie Jean


Monday, July 30, 2012

Strength in Weakness: Trust Issues

Have you ever been lied to by someone you love?  Betrayed?  You know that feeling when you never expected to have the rug pulled out from beneath you, but now you're laying on the floor, looking up, thinking, "How could I not have seen it coming?"  And now that you've lost the trust in 3.4 seconds, it will take years, and years to get it back... if you ever can, that is.

I've been on both the receiving end of such a feeling, and on the giving end as well.  I've placed my trust in people who have let me down, and hurt me fiercely.  On the other hand, I have destroyed the trust of some of those I love most dearly in the world, and turned their lives upside down.  Neither end of broken trust is the good end.  Neither heals quickly, and rarely does either forget, even when forgiveness has been achieved.

So many of us have trust issues because we're placing our faith in the wrong place.   We want to trust people we love, but the truth is, we're all flawed human beings.  We make mistakes constantly.  We're not perfect.  We're weak, we're self-centered, and our biggest drive to do something is because we want to do it.  Often, that means we put the feelings of others aside and pursue our own desires.  Sadly, just as when hurtful words escape your lips you cannot unspeak them, you also cannot un-lie, or un-hurt.

When you've had trust broken or when you've been the one to break trust, an awful lot of forgiveness is necessary to begin rebuilding the cracked foundation of a relationship, be it a marriage, a friendship, a colleague, or a family member.  Some hurts are bigger than others, and some are nearly unspeakable.  But there is a point when, if you can get to the place of forgiveness, the trust issues now linger in the background, and second-guessing abounds.

We cannot place our trust solely in one another.  Yes, we can trust.  We can build it and, if necessary, rebuild it.  But the foundation of trust must be built in God.  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." -- Proverbs 3:5 says.  Good advice, and for more than one reason.

1) God will NEVER let you down.  You may not always get what you want, but He is the One you can trust with your life, to always do what is best for you in the long run.

2) When humans do let you down, or when you've let someone else down, He's the one to go to first.  Make things right with Him, and seek His guidance to make things right with the other person.

3) Our own understanding is clouded and short-sighted.  His vision involves not just the present hurt, but the past that led up to it and the future that it holds after it.

God covers our past and forgets about it.  "In all your ways, submit to Him and He will make your paths straight." -- Proverbs 3:6.  If we give over our trust issues to Him, He can help us to make amends, to forgive, to begin again: this time on the right path.

Stephanie Jean