Sunday, February 19, 2012

Not Alone

It's interesting to find that there is nothing I am going through that is uncommon. Throughout history, my troubles are not unique. Even in ancient times, the feelings and emotions I have on a regular basis were valid, were written about.

I've never been much of a fan of the Psalms, but periodically one of them hits me in just the right place in my heart at just the right time. My life seems to be cyclical -- I feel renewed and energized, I get a lot accomplished, I have a sense of worth, then I have some setbacks, life is a great struggle and I am overwhelmed, and I feel like a failure. Inevitably, when I am low, I can't imagine ever being 'up' again and, when I am 'up', I still have a clenched sense of imminent failure and doom slyly working its way through my psyche. I always feel like, no matter how well things are going,


Today, I read this passage. I've read it before, but never with the sense that it spoke to me that I had today:

"Create in me a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." --Psalm 51:10-12

The history of this passage has nothing to do with my present circumstances. This is a Psalm of David, written after the prophet Nathan had come to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. He is in the midst of contrition, but he knows there is nothing he can offer God; no sacrifice, no song, nothing. He simply asks for this renewal because David knows God so well that he is certain God will give him the renewal he needs though he doesn't deserve it.

Historically, I've always heard David referred to as "a man after God's own heart". This gives me great hope. It takes away my fears of failure because if this man, who betrayed and murdered and cheated could be so beloved by God, then I know I can be, too. I know that in the midst of my most miserable mistakes, He won't give up on me. I know that in my torpor, or in my moments of being so overwhelmed I cannot think straight, that He is there waiting to give me that same renewing spirit to sustain me that David had the nerve to ask for thousands of years ago.

David even begins this Psalm by asking, "Have mercy on me, oh God, according to your unfailing love." (v.1) That's God's M.O.! Unfailing love! It's not based on what we can do for Him, because He knows and we know there's nothing we have to offer Him.

We're like little kids coming to our parents with skinned knees and failed attempts, wallowing in our failures and hurting because of what we've caused, and He picks us up, dresses our wounds, kisses it for good measure, and holds us close until we've stopped crying. Even if our parents told us not to ride our bike in the gravel and we did it anyway, it doesn't end their compassion when we're hurt, and it doesn't inhibit their love for us. So it is with God.

Whether it's a mistake I've made that leads to failure, or simply taking on too much at once that leads to exhaustion, I can be sure that He is there to give me that renewal of spirit like a fountain inside my heart and soul. What I do with it is my own choice -- it's His free gift to me, along with the gift of free will. I can squander it or I can use it to spread joy. I can be like a miser and keep it all to myself or I can share it with those around me who, like me, also don't deserve it.

The gift is His.

The choice is mine.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A New Venture

This is me, coming to you live from Cool Breeze Players' Club in beautiful close-to-downtown Niles, Michigan. Located in the historic Belle Plaza district (or that could be Bell Plaza, depending on which sign you're looking at), Cool Breeze is an internet cafe that offers free sweepstakes game where you can win cash. For instance, if you purchase $20 worth of internet time, you get 2500 sweepstakes credits, where you can play online games while you're here. If you win, you get cash. If you don't, you still have your internet time. Fun in the sun, my friend. Well, not in the sun -- but it is pretty bright in here, and there are free snacks and drinks. The atmosphere is pretty quiet today, so I'm catching up on some writing and other 'usual Sunday things' while I wait for people to come play. If you're reading this: come play. I'm here all day. Try it, okay? (Rhyming is fun -- yay!)

In other news, I'm not surprised at Whitney Houston's death, though it's a sad thing. She had incredible talent and left her mark on this world. I am, however, more saddened by the constant barrage of 'non-information' coming from the television. This reminds me of when Princess Diana died. How many people knew that Mother Theresa died the same day? Not many. The media is fine-tuned to give you absolutely no information whatsoever and yet make you think you're learning things. For instance, this morning was a scene outside the hotel on television where Whitney Houston had died. The only information they actually had was that Whitney Houston was dead, this is the hotel where she died. They played the same scene over and over, making quite certain you knew that Whitney Houston was dead and this is the hotel where she died. We don't yet know how she died. We don't yet know if foul play was involved. Then there was speculation as to how she might have died, but a reiteration that we don't yet know. But she is dead, and this is the hotel where she died. Here are many of her songs. We're going to play them for you in case you're uncertain as to who Whitney Houston might be. Here are some movies she's been in. Here are some people who knew her. This is a video of her singing at church when she was younger. This is the hotel where she died. We don't yet know how. I had to shut the television off.

Then I had to wonder -- what would have happened if there had been this type of media around the time of the crucifixion?

I assume a travel crew of paparazzi would have begun following Jesus and the disciples shortly after he entered into his ministry. Maybe not right at the beginning, but when word started to get out about the healings, the driving out of demons, the dead being resurrected, the back-talk towards the Pharisees -- Jesus would have been a paparazzi's dream. I can't imagine that He'd be one for the showmanship, however. I believe He'd continue doing what He was meant to do, regardless of the cameramen that followed Him and His own crew around.

I can see Him standing on a hilltop, giving the sermon, crowds of people around Him like they were, but also an annoying nest of people snapping pictures, standing in front of cameras with Jesus and the multitudes in the background, saying inane things like, "I'm here live on the scene as Jesus of Nazareth, whom some are beginning to refer to as the 'Messiah', gives another homemade sermon. For those of you who aren't familiar with Jesus, here are some of his previous sermons." (Roll montage of Beatitudes, Parables, etc. with single line sound-bytes) "Here are some of His healings." (Roll clips of Lazarus being raised from the dead, a demon-infested man being healed and pigs running themselves off a cliff, etc.) "It is not yet apparent whether or not Jesus is actually the Messiah. All we know right now is, this is Jesus, and He is speaking. Back to you, Judas." Yeah, I inserted Judas even though He's still one of the twelve hanging out with Jesus at this point. It was for humorous effect. That's how I view the media. It's my own personal parable. Get it?

What's frustrating to me is that, in all of the hype, with all of the sensationalism, nothing real is being accomplished. You either know who these 'superstars' are, or you don't. No amount of musical montages or movie clips are going to bring the reality of their death to you if it's not already apparent.

"I'm here live at the tomb on this bright, Sunday morning. The body of Jesus of Nazareth, whom many have taken to calling 'the Messiah', was laid to rest last evening. His claims of late, that He was the 'Son of God', led to his crucifixion and entombment here. Our camera crew brings us this footage from early this morning -- (roll clip of stone mysteriously moving from front of tomb) -- as you can see, the stone was rolled away only to reveal an empty tomb. Where IS the body of Jesus? All we know for sure is, He was pronounced dead yesterday, placed in this tomb, and His body is missing. We do not yet know His whereabouts, or whether foul play is suspected."

I realize it sounds as though I'm making light of all of this but, in reality, I'm more impassioned by the lack of COMpassion in the world. Invading people's lives in their midst of their misery, broadcasting death and destruction, making sensational stories out of rape, murder, drug overdoses, infanticide -- it's sickening to watch the news each day. Fake looks of concern, and -- my personal favorite -- the old, "I'm here live..." when anything that actually happened there took place five or six hours before, so you're standing live at a completely empty location where nothing is occurring now, and wasting money traveling there and back, setting up a camera, when you could more easily and thriftily given us the exact same information (or non-information as the case may be) from the studio. This, my friends, is why I blog: I'm aware that I have very little of interest to say and that it's fairly belated in its informational value. I'm just humbled you show up.

Back to real life: we're getting a new (to us) sofa today, which is a great blessing because ours is really ratty and uncomfortable. Our oldest son is coming over for dinner tomorrow, which I'm looking forward to since we don't get to see him very often these days. I'm anxiously awaiting getting our tax returns which claim to be showing up in our bank account this week, and I can finally pay things off. I haven't had Mountain Dew in two and a half weeks. Michigan is currently beating Illinois in the basketball game I'm watching as I write. I like working here. And my mom just had her 39th birthday again yesterday, so I took her out this morning to breakfast with my little sister before work, and it was lovely. Though I'm full, that won't keep me from eating potato chips and having a Coke to keep my headache away. I had a killer one last night.

All in all, it's been a good day so far. I'm ready for a nap -- uh oh, I can't take one while I'm here. Guess I have to wait for bedtime. Hmm. Maybe work IS overrated...

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, February 5, 2012

More on Forgiveness

"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." -- Mark Twain

I wish I'd had my computer at church today so I could have just typed, verbatim, what Jason Miller had to say about Forgiveness. I highly suggest that, if you are in the Michiana area, you get yourself to Granger Community Church sometime in the next few weeks and, if you're not, you watch it online. This series is bound to be phenomenal, if today was any indication.

Keeping score -- we do it all the time, and I'm not talking about the Superbowl, kids. I'm talking about relationships. Your spouse, your parents, your siblings, your kids, your exes, your enemies, your friends, your co-workers, and people you pass on the street. That's what this series is about. We keep score constantly, and what a heavy load it is, and how we need to be instigators of reconciliation. Oh, my, doesn't that sound simple?

Anyone with half a brain knows it isn't.

II Corinthians 5:18 -- All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

What does this mean, then? It means, we have a level playing field. There's no home-field advantage. We're all the same. You, me, our brothers and sisters, people we love, and people we hate. We've all hurt other people, and we've all been hurt. We've all done things we're not proud of, and we've had things done to us that would make your skin crawl. But it also means that we are called to forgive, no matter how hard that might be, if we want forgiveness ourselves. Or, in another light, we've already been forgiven -- so, how can we not forgive?

But who, in any argument, wants to take the first step? Who wants to admit their own wrongs, knowing full well that the chances of the other person admitting their wrongs is pretty slim or even non-existent? Who, when they're so angry at someone for doing all of this terrible stuff to them, takes the time to think -- but I also must have done something wrong. I'm not innocent in all this. What can I apologize for?

Pride is a difficult thing to overcome. Humility is a difficult thing to grasp, much less hold onto. How can a human, any human, put their selfish desires aside, put their need for justice not just on the backburner but in the trash? How can we bring ourselves to admit defeat? How can we deign to lower ourselves to kiss the feet of the one person who has hurt us more than anyone else? Or to all the people who have hurt us over the course of a lifetime?

Well, how do we do anything in this life? We just do it. A soldier, fighting on the front lines to defend the country. A mother, throwing herself in front of a truck to save her child. A betrayed spouse, granting the betrayer another chance.

We do it because, in the end, what other choice do we have than to do the right thing?

The choice to do the wrong thing.

How often does that work out? Never. That's why they call it 'the wrong thing'.

While I was there, listening to Jason Miller (who, by the way, I think could possibly be both the best speaker and most humble person I've never actually met) talking to me -- TO ME -- from the stage, I thought of at least a dozen different people I thought needed to hear what he was saying. Simultaneously, it occurred to me how often people must listen at church and think of someone else who needs to hear what they're hearing.

But I was hearing it for a reason. None of the other people I was thinking of were there. But I was.

And it occurred to me how many people I need to forgive, against whom I've been harboring at least a modicum of resentment over the years and for many of whom I just have a full-blown disgust. Why? Because of the way they've treated me or my husband or my children. Because of the injustices they've perpetrated. Because of the emotional and even physical torment they've gotten away with in the past.

I'm the worst offender.

If I cannot forgive, what good am I? If I harbor this resentment in my heart, how can I counsel anyone else to be good to one another? How can I accept forgiveness if I am unwilling myself to be reconciled to the ones I feel are in violation?

I'd like to say I have a rough week ahead of me, but the truth is, the scar tissue that's been building has to be scraped off for these wounds to heal properly. I'm a realist. I don't have a rough week ahead -- I have a rough indefinite amount of time ahead.

My request: pray. Not just for me, but for yourself, and for those you love, and for those you have yet to love.

My advice: forgive.

And get yourself to GCC or GCCwired. The message should be up sometime in the next 24 hours. It's an hour out of your life that, believe me, is the best investment you might make this decade.

Stephanie Jean