Sunday, April 29, 2012

I'm Not Home

Friday was one of the most trying days I have ever had.  By 3pm, I was fearsomely frustrated, horribly harried, angry and aggravated, and I just wanted to punch someone.  Hard.  You know the feeling, right?  It seems like everything is out of your hands and, no matter how hard you try, you can't make anything work.  Then, of course, if you have to stand in line anywhere, it takes four times as long as it normally would and, if you have to drive anywhere, you're inevitably behind somebody's great-great-great-grandmother going 15mph below the speed limit, and you hit every possible red light between your starting point and your destination.

Talk about a Journey.

Walking with my husband every day has been such a release for me.  I've found that I have to seek out little happeys along the way, else I fall prey to the imminent meltdown.  (Happeys can be a word if I want it to be.)  We both need the exercise, and it's a great way for us to communicate about our day, good or bad, while getting a break from said day at the same time.  Also on my little happeys list: premixed margaritas.  No, I'm not a lush.  Moderation is the key, my friend.  While I had a bad enough day to drink the entire container of premixed margaritas, I only had one small glass.  And a half*.  And I felt less like I wanted to punch someone.

Our middle son had his final choir concert on Friday evening, and he did a fantastic job.  He played his new guitar and sang "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi.  He was a little nervous, I think, but he did a good job.  I'm proud of him no matter what.  He graduates in June, turns 18 in June, gets his driver's license anytime now, and I'm not panicking as much as I was last year at this time with Zachary doing all the same things, because at least Michael is planning to stay home while attending college for the first year or so.  I always feel safer when I have them at home.  I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's the truth.  Michael's going to IUSB in the fall, to the School of Music.  He's written quite a few songs, and I think he has a great future ahead of him if he keeps it up.

Saturday was even more relaxing -- slept in, got caught up on some reading, and Steve and Aria went grocery shopping with me which was delightful, because I despise grocery shopping alone.  I'm not fond of it in general, but when I'm alone it's ten times worse.  We watched a couple of movies together as a family last night, then I slept in a bit this morning, too, before coming to work at Cool Breeze in Niles.  I enjoy it here because it's pretty quiet most of the time, and I get a lot accomplished while I'm working.

I'm doing my first giveaway on Facebook!  It's been up all week, and I only have eight entries so far, but at least eight people are paying attention, right?  Haha!  I have a beautifully scripted resin cross with two bible verses on it ready to give away.  It's open until Midnight tonight, then I do the giveaway by random number drawing tomorrow... I'm very excited.  I hope the winner is happy!

I'm trying very hard to be an encouragement and a help to others.  It's difficult for me because I've traditionally been a very pessimistic person, but I'm growing and learning more every day.  I've read the bible twice through, and the New Testament in particular at least three or four times.  All I keep coming away with is how it's about OTHER PEOPLE.  It's not about me.  It's loving, and helping, and being compassionate, and being available, and serving.  I get frustrated, yes.  I get angry, and disgruntled, and jaded, yes.  But through the pain and the heartache, my purpose is to be there for others through their pain and their heartache.  If I don't have a baby, so what?  At least I can comfort other women who haven't been able to have babies.  If I have struggled financially, it is so I can help counsel others with their financial struggles.  If I lose a loved one, it is so I can help others during their time of grieving.  If I resist the desire to punch someone, it is so I can help calm someone else who is as angry and frustrated as I've been.

To me, the Journey *IS* the destination.  I already know I'm loved unconditionally -- I need to help everyone else know that they are, too.  The trials and tribulations this life throws at me are nothing.  I'm blessed beyond words -- I have so many wonderful people in my life, so many things, so much food -- I need to share what I have and what I've learned with others.  That's my job.  And when I get so overwhelmed I can't take it anymore, I just have to remember one thing...

I'm not home yet.

When I am, the little happeys of this world and this life will be nothing in comparison to the everlasting joy I'll have in that one.

Stephanie Jean

*I don't suggest this method to anyone under 21, or anyone who is an alcoholic.  Thank you for reading my disclaimer.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Inspiration and Wm. Paul Young!

Do you know who this man is? His name is William Paul Young, the author of the bestselling sensation The Shack (hence the picture of the book next to the picture of his face). Until today, that didn't mean a whole lot to me. I haven't finished the book yet -- I started it quite awhile back when everyone was abuzz about it (who even says 'abuzz' these days? Sometimes the 86-year-old inside of me can't be contained). But, life being life, I never got around to finishing it, and now I have to start it again.

Because today I met William Paul Young.

As you probably know by reading this here blog, I attend Granger Community Church, and have for the past eight years. From time to time, they bring in a celebrity or two, and we get to listen to their stories. Some are adept at speaking, some are not. I'm always wary at the beginning when I'm not familiar with the speaking style of the person on the stage, but today I wasn't just pleased. I was inspired.

Paul walked up on stage to a standing ovation, and he stood there applauding God, back to the congregation, giving up all the glory which at once impressed me.  That was just my first glimpse. When he turned to address us, it was with such ease that I felt as though I was sitting with him in my living room over a cup of coffee while he told me stories about his life.

In turn, he touched my soul.

The piece of thread that wove everything together in the stories was that (and forgive me for paraphrasing -- I wish I had the mind of that girl in "Unforgettable"!) there is a God who is good all the time, and He is intimately and intricately involved in our everyday lives. Everything he said was what I have always believed -- nothing happens for no reason. Nothing evil in this world was given to us by God. He loves us in an unfathomable way, regardless of whether we choose the right path or the wrong one, and there is nothing we can do to separate us from that love. We were, as individuals, a part of the plan from the beginning of time itself. I wish I could make this sound as vivid and real as Paul did while I sat there listening.

When he talked about his journey writing The Shack, I listened with probably even more rapt attention than I did everything else (and believe me, THAT was pretty rapt attention as it was). I have been working so hard on my own journey -- the writing, the inspiration, the infertility, the spirituality -- and just knowing that God worked in such a complex way in Paul's life gave me renewed hope that He is yet working in the same complex way in mine.

After the message, I normally zoom out, regardless of the speaker, but something told me to hold back and meet this man. Instantly, I was glad I did. He was warm and caring, he gave an embrace to everyone he met. I didn't want to take up much of his time since there was quite a line behind me and I didn't have my copy of the book with me to sign, I really just wanted to meet him. I would have most certainly stayed to watch the message again if I had the ability.

Please visit Paul's website, WindRumors, and if you are in the Michiana area, get to GCC tomorrow at 9:30 or 11:30 to see him in person. If not, don't miss the message online this week -- just click any of the GCC links on this page.

Paul, if you did happen to read this, thank you so much for being God's vessel and letting Him inspire us through you.

Stephanie Jean

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Midweek Nostalgia

What? She's writing at night in the middle of the week? Something must be wrong...

Indeed, something is wrong. I'm thinking too hard, and that is never good for me.

My great uncle passed away on Monday, the day after I wrote the last blog. The day after I went to his house to visit. I could tell at the time that it would be soon, and, in fact, prayed for exactly that. His quality of life was gone, he could enjoy nothing here anymore and was on his way to the next world. He'd been talking to people who had been dead for years, which meant he wasn't really in this world anymore. It reminded me of my grandfather when he passed away, twenty years ago.

They were brothers, Steve and Paul. Paul was my grandfather and, had he survived, he would be 100 years old this August. He died 11 days before his 80th birthday, back when I was fifteen years old. I often wonder what I would be like as a person now if he had survived. Paul was the strongest spiritual influence in my life from a young age. I went to church every week as a child, and he was always there, without fail, passing out candy to the kids, gum to the adults, smiling and shaking hands. He always had prayer requests, always had testimonies of the blessings God had poured out on him and his family, of answered prayers and unexpected joys. When he wasn't working outdoors, chopping and hauling wood, watering the garden, feeding chickens, gathering eggs, or any of the other hundreds of jobs he found to do around his home, he was inside on the utility room sofa, near the stove, reading his bible.

It was the biggest bible I had ever seen and, to this day, it still seems pretty large -- it wasn't just because I was a kid. He had terrible eyesight, so he needed the large print, but I think there was something symbolic to that bible as well. It was the biggest part of my grandpa's life. Nights, he would fall asleep on his knees next to his bed. I'd hear him snoring in the bedroom, and peek my head in to see him: head bowed, hands folded, having so much to say to God that he just couldn't get it all out before his body wore out and he started to snooze.

I took one look at my great uncle Steve in his bed, and saw such a strong man, such a hardworking, family-loving, humorous, talkative, compassionate, caring person like my grandfather was, and not only did I remember what it was like to lose my own grandpa, I thought of how all the kids and grandkids of Steve's must be taking this, here, today in 2012. When you lose someone who is an icon to your family, your life is never the same after that. It's an incredible blessing that we had uncle Steve for 93 years, as his daughter Adrienne said on her Facebook page -- and he, like my grandpa, will be an incredible inspiration for generations to come.

Something strongly spiritual is stirring within me. Not like usual -- not the normal, "I want to be better" stirring. I mean sure, that's there, too. And not the "someone in my family just died" stirring, either. This has been coming for awhile. I am discontent. Not with my life, per se, but with certain circumstances. I feel that something, or many things, need a-changin'.

See what happens when I think too much? I get in trouble.

There is something specific I'm supposed to be doing. It involves writing, of course... but more than that. It involves helping other people, of course... but more than that. More than the two combined. And you must know what it feels like to have something -- a word, a phrase, a song title -- right on the tip of your tongue but be so intensely frustrated because, try as you might, you cannot think what it is, right? THAT is the feeling I'm having. I'm so close. I'm almost there. And I know that 'almost there' doesn't mean it's the end-all, be-all of my existence, and Life, The Universe, and Everything (42), and if I can just figure this out, everything will be perfect. No, it's none of that.

It's just the next step in the Journey. But I'm ready for it.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Stormy Sunday

This morning, as I got up to go to job #4 in Niles, my husband told me that there were really bad storms coming out of Chicago, and that there had been tornadoes in Oklahoma. For some reason, I always think weather-related issues can't touch me if I don't yet see them. I promised him I'd be careful, then got into my car and started the 45 minute drive.

Approximately halfway through the drive, the light sprinkling raindrops that had accompanied me for the first part of the trip turned on me. Their friendliness instantaneously shut off, and I was betrayed. Almost suddenly, a driving beat of thick drops of rain outran my windshield wipers on their quickest setting. I stopped driving 70MPH and slowed down. And down. AND DOWN. Eventually, I was driving 35MPH with my hazard lights on, and I was finally nervous. A semi passed me and splashed the standing water up onto my windshield. I couldn't see a thing. I promised God that I'd tuck my tail between my legs and get off the next exit if He'd just keep me safe (and yes, I am fully aware that bargaining with God doesn't work.) When I pulled off the next exit, the rain almost as suddenly stopped its vendetta against me and my little red Saturn. It went into a low drizzle, then a spattering of droplets. I pondered getting back on the bypass, but decided this was safer -- if I needed to pull over again, I could, without worrying that some other crazy driver behind me going 70MPH would run into me on the highway.

The rest of the drive to Niles was completely peaceful, and it's been somewhat dreary outside, but there have been no storms.

Sometimes I wonder if I don't experience things to shock me into humility from time to time. I know I have no control over the weather, but sometimes I REALLY need to know that. One thing I do have control over is my outlook, and more often than not, it's negative.

The previous post about nullifying negativity is a lesson I have had to relearn a hundred times, and probably will continue to relearn on a regular basis for the rest of my life. I have a tendency to see the worst in a situation before I can see anything good in it at all. The only thing I thought about the storms were that, if they did occur, they were going to really get in my way of making good time on my trip, and that would be bad on my gas mileage, and throw off my plan for the morning.

After putting my will aside to get to Niles as quickly as possible, I began to see the beauty of the situation. I put aside my own agenda, drove the route that was going to take a LOT longer, and looked at the sunshine peeking out from behind the clouds, the sparkling drops of water atop the fresh blossoms on trees and flowers alongside the road -- my morning had not been delayed too much, but my spirituality increased greatly. All from a little rain.

Okay, a LOT of rain.

On another note, I went with my mom to visit her Uncle Steve. He has not been doing well for quite awhile, but things have taken a turn for the worse. At 93 years old, he is one of the few links I have left to my own grandfather who passed away when I was 15, though it feels like just yesterday. My grandfather, Paul, was a tough, hard-working Hungarian man born on the boat on the way over from Hungary in 1912. His brother, Steve, equally as hard-working, looks so much like him it's uncanny. As I saw him in the bed today, sleeping, it brought me back to the place I was when I was 15. I know he doesn't have much time left, and I pray simply for God to take him peacefully so he can be with his brothers, sisters, and his wife. There is a thin veil between this world and the next sometimes, I think. He's been calling out to his brother "Paulie", the last couple of days. It just reminds me, one more time, that anything is possible -- God has great things planned for us that won't necessarily happen in THIS lifetime. It's the next one where we rest, where we rejoice, where we are finally home.

Remind me of that next time I tell you how exhausted I am and how horrible of a week I've had.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, April 14, 2012

An Excerpt -- On Negativity

Another excerpt from one of my books in the works:

“I was sad that I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.” – Chinese Proverb

There are bound to be portions of our life when it seems like absolutely everything goes wrong all at the same time. Problems at home or at work, car accidents, diseases, losing loved ones, pay cuts, affairs, divorce, even natural disasters. (It doesn’t help our mindset much when such things are referred to as ‘acts of God’, either!) Why does God allow bad things to happen? A question for the ages, of course – there are detailed answers, short answers, and entire books on the subject, but the bottom line is, He is God. He has a reason for absolutely everything that happens in your life, in mine, and in everyone else’s on Earth, whether we like it or not.

Perspective can be everything. For instance, I was recently driving my little sister, an avid animal lover, to work with me. We rarely get much time together, so we try to make the most of it when we have a “Sister Day”. Laughing and joking around, but still paying attention to the road and driving safely, I saw a rabbit run out in front of me at exactly the wrong moment, and there wasn’t a thing I could do to change the outcome. Stunned silence pervaded the formerly joy-filled car. I started to cry, so I quickly pulled over. Most of why I was so upset, I realized later, was because my mind was thinking, “Why right now?” What was the purpose? I know animals get hit by cars every day and that eventually with enough roads and enough animals and enough driving time, I’d be the culprit sooner or later. But in the middle of my precious, rare time with my sister, when I hadn’t hit an animal in literally seven years, why right then? Was God cruel? Was He punishing me for something else I’d done? Was I not focusing enough on Him?

After a couple of days of my mind jumping back and forth to the situation, I wondered if maybe God had a real reason. (Duh!) If I hadn’t hit the rabbit, maybe I would have continued with my good time, but what if I were paying less attention to my driving while I was having fun and joking around with my sister? What if, around the next curve at the residential area coming up, a little girl might have run out in front of my car instead? Or I might have lost control going too fast around a corner, or another car might have cut me off and ended all our lives – had I not pulled over to cry because I hit a rabbit.

God does not cause bad things to happen, he simply allows them to happen so that a greater good may be accomplished in the long run. I know this simple story doesn’t compare to the loss of a loved one by a drunk driver, or to a years-long battle with cancer, but the premise behind it is the same. Our timetable is miniscule in comparison to the eternal existence of God. A lifespan to us is less than a fraction of a second to Him. Therefore, we are so shortsighted when we think negatively during the hard times in our life. Negative thinking and acting do not help any situation. They cause us to sink into a depression and pass on the negativity like a virus to everyone with whom we come in contact. This is nowhere near the best way to be an example to others for the Lord.

Have I mentioned yet that the life of a true Christian isn’t always easy? Instead of all this negativity, even though it is sometimes difficult to have a positive, forward outlook, it is extremely helpful. Not only to you and your attitude and ability to cope, but also as an example to your friends, family, and everyone else around you. Whereas negativity usually puts a bubble around you that repels others and breeds more negativity, a positive outlook draws others in and makes them feel warm and comfortable so they want to be around you more often. We should strive to be that sort of influence in the lives of all others at all times. If we can draw more people to us, He can lead more people through us. We can’t let our own negative attitude be a barrier to ourselves or to others.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sacrifice of Sacrifices

Things are not always what they seem.

Imagine that you put all your hopes and dreams into something, or someone, and just when it looked like everything was going to be perfect, devastation came and pulled the rug out from under you, leaving you alone and empty.

The historic description, or general idea, of a Savior, a Messiah -- it was a conquering King. Someone was going to rise up and change the world. One by one, as people heard His words and saw His deeds, they became closer followers of this man named Jesus. No one had upset the status quo as harshly, opened the eyes of the blind, put themselves on the same level as lepers and harlots and those swindling tax collectors before. No one had told the Pharisees, those law-loving, exacting, judgmental perfectionists what they really thought before. So they gained respect for Him, and He gained popularity. They assumed He was the one that would rise up, conquer, change things for them. He was their Robin Hood. They listened, and they learned, and they told everyone they could about this guy, because there had never been anyone like Him before.

Then, just like that, His wrists and ankles were spiked to some pieces of timber, and He was strung up next to a couple of criminals, starving and bleeding and sweating and deteriorating right before their eyes in the hot sun. He suffered madly, He cried out passionately, and He died alone, like we all die alone in the end.

The rug was pulled out from beneath them.

What now? they must have thought. If He wasn't the ONE, then who was? No one else would be able to speak like Him, heal like Him, have compassion like Him, make them feel like they were important like Him. No one else would have mercy on them like Him, promise them freedom and everlasting life like Him. And could they place their hopes and dreams and joy in anyone else after having been with Him these few years? The only thing left to do was to go home, rest for the Sabbath, and come back on Sunday to pay their respects, then get on with their lives.

"Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat upon it. And for fear of him, the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, 'do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay." Matthew 28:1-6

All of His esoteric words about destroying the temple and rebuilding it in three days, about going to prepare a place for us so we can join Him, about being the Lamb which was the sacrifice for the sins of all -- He was anything BUT a phony. He was anything BUT a liar. Everything He had alluded to was now coming to fruition, and instead of believing wholeheartedly, they had allowed their preconceived notions of what Messiah was supposed to be like interfere with their actual hands-on knowledge of who Messiah IS.

Don't we do the same thing today? Don't we expect so much from God, so many things to be different, and yet pay no attention to the words He's actually saying to us? He didn't promise that life would be carefree. He promised we could cast all our cares on Him. (1 Peter 5:7). He didn't promise that we could have the power to do whatever we wanted, when we wanted. He promised that we can do all things through Him, with His strength in us. (Philippians 4:13) He didn't promise we wouldn't suffer and die -- even His own Son did that! He promised us that, if we believed in Him and His incredible sacrifice, that we would have the life that really mattered -- the eternal life. (John 3:16)

It amazes me that it's so simple, really. We don't have to be perfect, because we can't be perfect. We don't have to follow hundreds of exacting little laws dictating what part of an animal we can eat with another part, who we can love, what we can wear, what parts of our facial hair we can shave - we don't have to kill an animal and burn it every time we make a mistake, we don't have to live in the horrible fear that we could be struck down at any given time for some stupid mistake we made in the heat of the moment. We don't have to forever live with the pain of divorce or betrayal, the fear of death and loss, the horror of murder and rape and starvation.

Today we can celebrate, because He said, "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, bu you will see me; because I live, you will live also... Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, I go away and I will come to you." John 14:18, 27-28

Everyone knows and talks about John 3:16, and I'll admit it's possibly the most wonderful, most important verse in the bible -- but no one follows it up with the next verse, which I think is equally as incredible:

"For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."

He didn't do what He did to one-up us, or to prove how awesome He is, how we are failures because we can't be perfect like Him. He didn't do it to show off, or to wave it in our faces. He did it to save us from ourselves. He did it to give us hope and a fresh start. He did it to make our lives so phenomenally simple that many of us can't even grasp how simple it really is.

Believe. Accept. Take the free gift. It's not like when you get a sales call that offers you a free vacation, and there are sixteen pages of fine print saying that you have to pay to get to the airport and back, and you can't check any luggage unless you pay extra, and you'll be liable for all the taxes and gratuities and you have to sit through four hours of a time share and you can't drink any alcohol on the premises and you have the be 18 years of age and no pets allowed and... and... and.

No, it's actually a free gift.

No, we don't deserve it.

No, we don't have to repay it.

All we have to do is accept it.

Happy Easter, everyone.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, April 1, 2012

For the Birds

I've been watching "Frozen Planet" on the Discovery Channel with my husband and daughter lately. I've always been fond of penguins -- they are my favorite things to watch at the zoo. They're adorable, of course, but there's another layer to them than what most people see on the surface. You can watch the live, 24-hour penguin cameras at Sea World and see something pretty interesting. There is a land cam and an underwater cam.

If you take a good look, you'll see that, adorable as they might be, penguins are slow and awkward on the surface. They waddle. They look funny. One might take a quick glance at them and make all these judgments: they're not "real" birds, because they can't fly. They don't look majestic. They don't have feathers. They're just funny little beings with no real purpose.

Look below the surface, my friend. This awkward, flightless fowl is majestic beneath the water. It gathers massive speed, swiftly pivots back and forth, propelling itself ahead and bursting up and out onto the land. In its element, the funny little being is phenomenal. No, it can't fly. No, it can't run. But it can swim like nobody's business.

On the other hand, I've always known the beauty and majesty of the eagle. I recall seeing an eagle soaring in the Upper Peninsula one time, effortlessly gliding through the sky. They're known for being such regal creatures, American icons. But have you ever seen an eagle underwater? Or trying to run very far, for that matter? No. It's not their element. And if they tried, they'd fail miserably -- just as miserably as the penguin fails at flying.

And finally, the ridiculous-looking, gangly freakish ostrich. Yeah, that's what we usually think when we take a look at this gigantic bird. They also can't fly. They also can't swim. But they can take off and run at speeds upwards of 40 MPH -- faster than you can probably pedal your bicycle on a sunny day. They are incredible, majestic creatures... when they are in their element.

All of this is to illustrate a point. I've been looking at my life all wrong. I've been striving to be, hoping to be, praying to be, taking steps to be an eagle. I want to have that effortless glide all my own. I want to be sky-high, overlooking the earth, ruling the air. I've failed miserably, a hundred thousand times, at being an eagle. I'm not majestic -- I'm ordinary, if not completely awkward. I set myself up for failure more times than not, and I trip over my own feet when I try to set goals, change my life, be better, succeed.

This is because, I have finally realized, I am not an eagle.

I am a penguin.

When I am in my element -- quietly writing -- I thrive. I can get so much accomplished, type at ludicrous speeds, pour my heart and emotions onto pages and bring things to life that I cannot accomplish in any other way. I can't talk people into things. I can't act or sing with precision. I can't serve coffee without becoming disgruntled. I can't draw to save my life. But when I write, though I make mistakes, it seems right to me, in my soul. Tidying grammar, painting a word picture, drawing with sentences, creating with paragraphs -- it's my element.

I am a penguin.

Now that I've stumbled upon this realization, I have to focus all my energy on being the best, most penguiny-penguin I can be. I have to weed out distractions, throw all my soul into succeeding beneath the water instead of soaring and crashing above it. I have to make my living in a way that makes sense to me instead of tripping over my own ambitions to be something I was never meant to be.

I'm done with standing on land. I'm diving in.

Here goes.

Stephanie Jean