Saturday, March 17, 2012

On Aging


I know a great many of you probably think that turning thirty-five is no big deal. It probably isn't, in the grand scheme of things. Yet, on the other hand, I recall very strongly thinking that thirty-five was terribly old, so there might be some of you in that camp as well.

This picture is of my mom, my best friend since second grade, and myself. Let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, there was a fearful, insecure, dark-haired little girl. She liked to sing and act and be a 'ham', but that's because then people would praise her for those things instead of seeing who she really was and criticizing her for that. She wasn't athletic at all, had no agility, and spent most of her young years as gangly, and skinny, and awkward -- all arms and legs and nose, no curves or shape. Though the little girl didn't cling physically to her mother, she definitely clung emotionally and metaphorically to her almost all the time, looking for acceptance. Most of the other kids were scary to her -- they were rough, or mean, or sarcastic -- and the little girl was very sensitive and easily hurt.

When she met the little blonde girl, it was as though they had known each other forever. They spent time in the pool (where the little dark-haired girl couldn't swim without plugging her nose). They spent time on the lawnmower, blades up, driving around with their arms around one another, laughing like crazy. They watched movies, staying up all night and putting each others hands in a bowl of ice water to stay awake just a few minutes longer when they started to fall asleep. They played computer games. They shared everything. They made up dances to songs they liked, lip-synced, choreographed ways to sit in chairs. They went to the beach, to the movie theatre, read books, wrote stories, drew pictures, researched the Loch Ness Monster, planned to "drive" to Scotland someday when they were all grown up, had "BE FRI" and "ST ENDS" necklaces that hooked together to say "BEST FRIENDS", rode scooters in the basement, clung to the electric garage doors so they could hang upside down like bats, and, most importantly...

They always had each other's backs.

In thirty-five years, I've had many acquaintances, a few friends, and a couple of enemies. I've been married and divorced and married again. I've been a secretary, a baker, and a storybook maker. I've had a few highs and a great many lows. I've made mistakes I cannot erase, and done a few things that I'm quite proud of. I've had my heart shattered into pieces, and I've broken a couple myself. I've gradually evolved into the person I am today, who is not the same person I'll be tomorrow, or next year, or when I'm 70.

But she's always been there, and she's never let me down.

As I turn 35, I remember myself at 8 years old with her. I remember myself at 12, and at 17, and reuniting at 28 with her. And I think to myself that, regardless of all the changes and experiences I've been through in my life, regardless of how often we might get to see each other or talk to one another, it's pretty incredible that we still have each other's backs.

It's a rare occasion when someone comes into your life, puts roots inside your heart, and grows there.

I wish I could be in Las Vegas with you for my birthday -- but I love you, Christy, and I'm grateful for the friendship we've always shared.

Stephanie Jean

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Excerpt from My Upcoming Book on Hypocrisy...

This is from a chapter on LOVE:

I mean, everyone knows that Christians love everyone! Oh, wait – does everyone know that? Or does everyone think that Christians judge everyone? They shouldn’t think that, since love is all Jesus preached while he was healing and ministering. Paul even flat out told us to stop passing judgment on one another and not to put up a stumbling block in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13) But, unfortunately, that’s exactly what we do instead of loving.


But let’s be real, you and I, shall we? People are irritating. They do annoying things. They take forever in the line at the bank or in their car driving in front of you while they’re talking on their cell phone. They smack their lips when they eat right next to you. They talk loudly in the library. They take your parking space. They don’t show up at your New Year’s Eve party when they said they would, and you bought four tons of food that no one’s going to eat. They do hostile or rotten things. They slash tires or key cars, they tailgate you with their brights on, they egg your mailbox or T.P. your house.

And some … well, they do horrible things. They kidnap children, they abuse their pets, they murder their own families. People are hard to love.

Here’s an exercise for you. Take a notebook and pen and list all of the people that you do love. Then, being very honest with yourself and with God (who already knows anyhow) write a second list of all of the people that you don’t love. You might even be astonished to find that there are even more people on the second list. Or at least, quite a few. Which is quite a few more than there should be, right?

The Bible is very clear on this. We are to love everyone. Not just accept them, not just tolerate them, not just acknowledge them. We are to love them. Our friends, our family, people we have just met, people we have known our entire lives, people that annoy us, people that we think are horrible, people that are our enemies. Yes, our enemies. (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27,35) People we try to avoid. People who grate on our nerves the moment we hear just the sound of their voices. We are to love them. It’s what we are called to do.

...

Love everyone as a fellow child of God. It’s what you are, and it’s what they are. Everyone you see is a child of God. Of course, we are not omnipotent or omniscient, but if we attempt to look at people from the point of view of their Heavenly Father – see them as beautiful created beings – it makes loving them so much easier. And when we recognize our own sins and downfalls, it makes it even easier to accept others for who they are, no matter how irritating we might find them.

One trick in particular that I try to use when I find myself having a difficult time loving someone is to ask myself why I’m feeling this way toward them. If it is because they have done something to me that is offensive, I need to look past the offense and forgive them. If it is because they are annoying, I need to discern what I find annoying and realize how meaningless that annoying thing really is. I should not let it get in the way of loving that person the way God intended for them to be loved. If the reason is something deeper and more painful, then, as in all things, I need God’s help and guidance to learn to love through the pain. Loving someone doesn’t mean they have to become your best friend. It doesn’t mean you have to spend a tremendous amount of time together. It means you have to be open to working in their lives however God wants you to work there.

Love is the one thing Jesus was adamant that we do. If nothing else, as true Christians, it should be the one thing we get right.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Springing Forward



The sun is finally shining, and from the looks of it, it's a beautiful day. I'm stuck inside for the next few hours, but thanks to our clocks popping forward an hour in the wee hours of the morning, it will still be light out when I drive home after work. If I'm lucky, I might even get to walk around in it for a few minutes before it disappears.

This time of year brings many happy feelings. I used to dislike every season except for autumn, but about ten years ago, something changed. I met the man who was to become my husband. Most of you know the story: jaded, recently divorced girl, swore off relationships, blah blah blah. If you don't know the story, it's in the blog archives somewhere so now you have to search for it, mua ha ha. But the feeling I'm describing is that delightful nostalgia of how you felt sometime in the past being brought back on you all of a sudden because of something in the air now.

Our first date almost didn't happen. I was working at an eye doctor's office in Goshen. Normally, I would take a 25-minute lunch in the break room and get right back to work. We were allowed an hour, but had the option of taking less and getting paid more. All the time I'd been there, I had never taken an hour lunch. So, when I decided to accept this nice man's offer to take me to lunch, it didn't occur to me that it might be a problem at work, since that option had always been on the table. The morning of the impending date, my office manager said she needed me to be on the phones at 12:30 because one of the other girls was taking her lunch at that time. A panic in my voice, I said, "I can't!" She looked at me skeptically. I further explained, "I have a date!" The skeptical look became comically skeptical. I was emphatic. "REALLY!" I said. She just shrugged and said it was fine, but I definitely had to be back by one. I walked out to the parking lot to see the man reading an Anne Rice novel, waiting for me. The date went exceptionally well for someone who said she'd never date again. So well, in fact, that it eventually culminated in 'happily-ever-after'. Well, as 'happily-ever-after' as real life gets... we're not oozing money or anything, but we're still in love after a decade together and I can't imagine my life without him.

In other news, my birthday is coming up. I'll be 35 years old. Saying it out loud just feels weird. I don't feel 35. I feel, simultaneously, 17 and 82. My brain is full of ideas, spontaneity, excitement, lists of things to do, fresh zeal, and the like. My body, however, is overweight, exhausted, stressed out, and consistently pushed to the limits of fatigue. I have no energy to do the things I have ideas for. I have no gumption to embody zealousness. I just want to take a few months and renew myself: body, mind, and spirit. Perhaps that will happen when I retire. At age 82. Heh.

My coffee is cold. I realize this isn't a tragedy or anything, but it's a bit of an annoyance seeing as how there's not a microwave here. Maybe if I set the coffee cup out front in the sun, it'll warm up? Probably not the safest way to go about it. Strange how coffee has to be warm and Mountain Dew has to be cold, but they have the same caffeinated effect, and both are gross the other way around.

I have no wisdom for you today. It's just a day of relaxing at work, I suppose, and enjoying the small things like the weather, getting paid to do relatively nothing, and playing with the karaoke machine when no one else is around. Happy, bright, Springy Sunday, everybody!

Stephanie Jean

Friday, March 9, 2012

Stressed are the Peacemakers



There's something inside of me that can't take tension. It's not that I'm afraid of confrontation, by any means. If I have something to say, I'm going to say it. I stand up for what I believe in. I don't usually have a problem conveying my emotions or my intentions. But when there's a rift between people -- be it myself and someone else, or two other people in my life and I am merely a bystander -- I take it to heart. Sometimes a great deal more than I probably should.

It eats away at me when I've said or done something to offend anyone, especially someone I care about greatly. If I hurt someone's feelings (even when I didn't mean to do so), I feel that hurt as well. Even if I'm still angry, or upset, or frustrated with them. And I don't feel that this is a character flaw, really. I'm not saying it's something I'm proud of, either. It just... is.

I have to step back and pray about things fairly often. Again, I don't think this is a character flaw. I think it should be our go-to solution for any situation, frankly. If more people stepped back and prayed about something before they went off the handle trying to 'fix' the situation on their own, the world would be a better place. I wish I did it more often. Most of the time, I rail right through trying to adjust the world like a television set. (For those of you too young to understand this simile, "adjusting a television set" was something you had to do to get it to come in without a snowy, fizzly screen...) I write letters to people telling them how I feel about a situation that they quite probably don't care how I feel about in the first place. I try to initiate conversation between old friends or family that haven't held conversation in years. I send Christmas cards to long-lost relatives that no one else seems to miss. I have this urge, constantly, to be... *gulp*...

A Peacemaker.

Remember that movie, Stand By Me? Chris Chambers (played by the late, great River Phoenix, and God bless the Phoenix family for getting in on the 'naming our kids weird stuff' kick early) was described as a peacemaker. Oftentimes, to a fault, it seemed, he would step in and try to make two people get along. In the end, he died for it. (I don't even care if I gave away the ending... if you haven't seen that movie by now, you're not going to, but it was great. Great, I tell you.) I always thought it was a terrible tragedy that such a thing would get him killed. But, as I've grown, I thought -- there are probably few more honorable ways to go than trying to make peace.

It yanks my guts around like a fishhook sometimes. Especially when I can't piece the puzzle together and make things go the way I want them to, either for myself, or for friends or family. I sit back and look at situations, and I can see how they could so simply be fixed, "if only..." But my skills as a peacemaker aren't quite as honed as they need to be. Or, maybe they are exactly as honed as they need to be, and that's not really my calling in life, which is why it's so stressful. Hmm.

"Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." --Matthew 5:9

What does this mean, really? Simply looking at the text, I'd have to disagree. Nobody has ever walked up to me and said, "Hey, child of God, can you get me a latte?" *insert drum rim shot*

I feel like it's a positive, at least. It doesn't say that peace has to actually be made. I don't think that's inherent in the definition. I think it's in the attempt. God calls for us to be reconciled to one another just as we're reconciled to Him through His son. He calls for us to lay aside our offerings to Him, and forgive and ask forgiveness of one another, before we come back. Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians. So, it's a pretty important factor in life, wouldn't you agree? So important, in fact, that by making that attempt, we shall be called children of God.

Jesus was a peacemaker. That was, in essence, His entire agenda on Earth. To reconcile us to God. He gave up His very life for that cause. It was certainly more of a struggle for Him than my daily life is for me. I spend an inordinate amount of time complaining when I could be directing that energy toward more important causes. More praying, more studying, more learning, more forgiving, more reconciling...

Psalm 34:14 says, "Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it." If nothing else, at least I'm on the right track. I just have to remember that, in the end, the peace that is made is not mine. It's His. Just like everything else.

I'm just happy to be a vessel.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, March 3, 2012

'When Anxiety Attacks', Next on Fox



For a great many years, ever since first grade, I've been plagued with anxiety attacks. I vividly remember the first time I had one. I was watching a movie with my mom, and I began to hyperventilate. It was triggered by something in the movie, though what I was watching had nothing to do with my present circumstances. I asked my mom what was happening, she explained to me that it was an anxiety attack and I was hyperventilating. I got over it, though it took awhile, but it was great to have my mom to help me through it and to remain calm while explaining it. She didn't tell me to stop worrying, she didn't tell me I was wrong for having these feelings, she just sat with me and talked me through it. The next day at recess, I was running up the hill and couldn't catch my breath. My teacher said, "Hurry up, Stephanie" and, at six years old, said, "I can't... I'm hyperventilating. Just give me a minute."

For those of you that have been lucky enough never to have had an anxiety attack, let me try to explain it to you. Let's say, for instance, you're afraid of spiders. An anxiety attack, then, is akin to being tied down to a bed and having a tarantula walk across your face. Or, if you're afraid of heights, standing on the very edge of the Grand Canyon with nothing holding you back from falling off the edge except your own agility or lack thereof. The problem with an anxiety attack is that it cannot be pinpointed. There is no precise fear. No "this is happening, so that is why I am scared to death" thing to attribute it to. It's a sense of impending doom that may or may not be attached to anything else that's going on in your life. For me, when it occurs, I can usually handle it because it's been happening for so long I've learned to recognize and thwart it before it gets out of hand. I have to accept it for what it is... something small and innocuous threatening to be a big scary monster. It's only a big scary monster if I let it be.

First, my stomach falls. You know the feeling when you start to go down a rollercoaster, the initial drop of your stomach before the rush of excitement? That one second of "I AM GOING TO DIE" in your belly? That's how it starts. Then something fixates inside my head and it won't leave. No matter how much I tell myself it isn't real, it's not happening... it won't leave. I have trouble breathing. My brain won't stop churning. My heart beats erratically and my hands get clammy. My mouth gets completely dry and I have to go to the bathroom. I can't catch my breath. I am breathing like mad, but I don't feel like I'm getting any oxygen. I can feel a huge weight in my chest, first pressure and then pain. The corners of my eyes go black -- my peripheral vision, I mean. I feel my temperature rise to where I think I'm going to pass out. And all the while I can appear on the surface like everything is fine -- I can go about my job, I can smile, I can fake conversation, but on the inside, the entire time, I am absolutely positively convinced that something horrendous is going to happen, or, in fact, IS happening, RIGHT NOW.

Eventually, it dissipates. Sometimes I need to hear someone's voice. Sometimes I need to just sit and be with someone. Sometimes I need to drink something, or eat something. Sometimes I need to put my headphones on and listen to really loud music. Sometimes I need to watch a movie and get my mind off things. Sometimes I just need to let it get the best of me, and sob my eyes out. And sometimes I need to hear my mom telling me that I'm okay, that I'm normal, that I'm not crazy.

It's a comfort to know that I'm not the only person who has ever had these. All the women in my family have them from time to time, some more often than others. Stress, obviously, is a major trigger, but who can eliminate stress from their lives? The best we can do is slow down once in awhile, and, in most cases, just pray.

1 Peter 5:7 says "Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you."

It's also a comfort to know that, even when I can't talk to my mom someday, I can still talk to Him. He'll tell me I'm okay, I'm normal, I'm not crazy. I might not hear His voice on the phone, but it's there if I listen.

And, just like that, the big scary monster turns into a little ball of fluff, and I go on with my day.

Stephanie Jean