Sunday, May 20, 2012

Work Ethic

When I was in high school and college, I spent a couple of summers working with my dad at the place of business where he has been for decades.  I was not (and still am not) a morning person, so to be awakened from my beautiful slumber around 5:00am for such a menial thing as "work" did not sit well with my pampered teenaged self.  I would complain.  I would sleep as late as possible.  I would grumble to my dad about why he insisted on getting there early -- if work started at 6:00, why did he get there at 5:45? 

"Early is on time, and on time is late," he would tell me.  For my father, you see, had (and still has) this incredible work ethic.  You do what needs to be done, and thoroughly.  You follow the proper steps that need to be followed, and every time.  You show up early to prepare for the day, and you stay late if the job is not yet finished.  You go in for overtime if the job calls for overtime.  You don't complain, you don't make excuses, you don't call in sick unless you absolutely cannot drag yourself out the door, and you do it because that's how it's done.  I might not have understood that when I was 17, 18, or 19 -- but I can certainly understand it now.

The greatest part about working there was, I was working with my dad.  I got to see how much effort he put into his job, and I got to see his satisfaction when the job was well done (which it always was).  There was another thing I noticed.  The founder of the company worked there (and still does) every day, too.  He didn't have to.  He could simply have hired people to do that sort of thing for him, and never get his hands dirty.  But he was out there with everyone else, the same work ethic as my dad, doing what needed to be done, day after day.  I might have thought they were slightly crazy at the time (because, as we know, teenagers know absolutely everything and their opinions are always correct).  But now, looking back AND looking on today, when these men are in their 60s and 70s, it speaks volumes about their character, their determination and ambition, their commitment level, and their integrity. 

It also speaks an allegory that I just recently thought of as I was reading my devotionals.  Max Lucado, in all his awesome Max Lucado-ness, points out things in his writing that most people don't see on the surface.  He was talking about how, when we are doing our work for God, we're not alone.  God works right alongside us.  We're not just employees, we are co-workers.  Just like my father, and the company's founder, and myself when I was there.  Sure, they were both my bosses.  Sure, they told me what to do -- but in a gentle manner with as much instruction as I needed.  Both men were full of praise for me when I did something right, and full of forgiveness for me when I did something incorrectly.  At the end of the day, we were all working toward the same goal -- a beautiful, finished product without flaw.  Whatever piece of the job we had, it was the same job, and we were all in it together.

Isn't this just like our other Father?  He might shake His head from time to time at our naivete, our lazy work ethic, our desire to just 'phone it in' instead of pushing through and getting the job done, but in the end, He is always full of praise when we've done what He wanted us to do, and He's always full of forgiveness when we make mistakes. 

The best part is, He is working with us while we are working, with the same goal in mind for His kingdom:

A beautiful, finished product without flaw.

Thank you to my father, Mike Stowe, and to Mr. Saratore, for modeling what a true work ethic is.  You both embody Colossians 3:23 -- "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for men."

--Stephanie Jean

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I Hate Hatred

I find it peculiar that, so often, hatred is disguised as Christianity.  This sort of hypocrisy does not gel with me.  Homophobia, racism, sexism -- there is no truly Christian basis for any of these things.  You can pick and choose certain verses in the Old Testament and even the New in an attempt to justify your own personal hatred, but the bottom line is, Jesus said to love everyone.  Everyone.  He didn't say to love those whom we are comfortable loving, to love those who love us back, to love those with whom we have the most in common.  He flat out said to love our enemies, for goodness' sake.  (Literally... for GOODNESS' sake.) So how can we translate any of what He said into such hatred, such judgment, for those that we deem different from ourselves? 

It breaks my heart that, more often than not, these people are the most vocal of all the people who call themselves 'Christians'.  I don't profess to know the mind of God any better than anyone else on the planet, but I most certainly know that, as a parent, I do not love one of my children more than the others.  I can tell you flat out that every single person on this planet is a child of God, and if we are made in His image, ALL of us, then you have something in common with not just the people you love, but also with the people you hate.  And for all your spouting off about sin, and indecency, and morality -- you are just as much as sinner as the next person.  For every judgment you make, you're being judged as well.  The bible tells us that "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God".  Not just the people you don't like.  You.  Me.  Everyone on the planet. 

The group of people that Jesus gave the most grief to while He was walking around on the Earth was the Pharisees.  (Read Matthew 23, and see how often He says, "Woe to you, Pharisees, hypocrites!") They were the ones who thought they were better than everyone else, who thought they had the market on righteousness cornered, and that they knew the mind of God better than the rest.  They went out and about making judgments, telling others how to live their lives, making a big show of how perfect they were, all the while belittling everyone around them.  (Sound familiar?)  Who did Jesus hang around?  A bunch of foul-mouthed fishermen, prostitutes, a tax collector, lepers... you know, all the ones that the Pharisees thought they were better than.  And He did nothing but preach love the entire time He was here, so you'd think that's the one thing that people who call themselves 'Christians' would get right.

I'm not perfect.  I sin, every day, every hour.  I make thousands of mistakes in a given week.  I have hurt people I care about deeply, and I have made myself miserable trying to dig out of the holes I've created, only to find myself in a bigger hole. 

We can't save ourselves.  We're not good enough.  None of us.

It's the whole reason why He did save us.  It's why He loves us, even now.  Because we're imperfect.  Because we need Him.  Because nobody is better than anyone else, even when we might think we are.

We're supposed to clothe ourselves with meekness, humility, and servanthood.  None of these things are possible when we strive for superiority, point fingers, and live with bitterness, resentment, and haughtiness in our hearts.  We're supposed to be kind, gentle, and patient.  None of these things are possible when we spend our time accusing others of wrongdoing, jump the gun and lecture others on how to live their lives.  We are to be role models, to bring others into the light, not excommunicate them into the darkness because we think they don't deserve to be there. 

Jesus looked at you, and me, and everyone else -- with all our flaws, fears, and failures -- and He said, "I love you enough to die for you."  The word 'Christian' means that we are followers of Christ.  Where He goes, we go.  How much love do we have in our hearts? 

There'd be a lot more room if we eliminated the hatred.

--Stephanie Jean

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Owed To Mothers

We owe our lives to our mothers.  Granted, we also owe them to our fathers, and most especially to God.  But a lot of times we gloss over the fact that, for somewhere around nine months, we shared a body with someone else.  Every single thing they did affected us, much like every single thing we did affected them.  We could make them throw up.  They could make us wiggle around.  We could make them completely and utterly uncomfortable no matter what they tried.  They could nourish us or destroy us by what they consumed. 

Motherhood is a magical thing.

Something else that I find magical about it is the ability of women who have never given birth to be innate mothers when, oftentimes, birth mothers aren't cut out to be.  I have three very different children -- different interests, talents, abilities -- that are each incredible in their own way, and I love them more dearly than I can possibly express.  I didn't give birth to any of them, but that doesn't affect the way I feel about them one bit.  They are mine, and they will always be loved, unconditionally, non-judgmentally, forever by me. 

This picture is of my mom and myself at Red Rock Canyon in Nevada.  Traditionally, my mother has always been afraid of flying and afraid of heights, so the fact that she flew out to Las Vegas with me and took a picture on a rock where it appears we're about to fall off the edge of the world says great things about the lengths a mother is willing to go for her children.  This picture speaks volumes, if you read enough into it.  Her strong desire to travel, her obvious ability to overcome fears, her health, her complete lack of looking her age... you can see all of these things if you look closely enough. 

Here are some things you can't see from the picture, but you could if you took the time to look into her soul:

Her compassion
Her heart, breaking for someone else's that was breaking at that very moment
Her moral compass
Her strong will
Her great strength of spirit
Her undying love for all of her children, regardless of whether or not she's given birth to them
Her incredible faith, even in the most trying of times

Such are the things that we take for granted in people all the time.  We set aside one day a year to honor our mother, or our father, or grandparents, or our Valentine... but who looks into the soul of these people every day, every minute of their lives? 

Only God.

He knows what's on our hearts at any given moment, and He's ready and waiting to share in it with us.  He's full of unconditional, parental love for each of us as individuals, with our different interests, talents, and abilities.  He accepts us when we've made mistakes, He comforts us in our greatest moments of heartache, and He gives us the strong will and strength of spirit -- His Spirit -- to move on and live to do the right thing another day.

For any woman who has shown love to a child, this is your day -- but so is everyday.  You should be blessed and praised not just once a year, but all year long.  To those mothers lucky enough to have given birth, yes -- but to stepmothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, grandmothers who have taken a hand in raising their grandchildren, and anyone else who has assumed the responsibility of a mother -- thank you. 

Thank you for the love you have in your heart.

Thank you for the sacrifices you have made.

Thank you for changing and shaping the life of a child, forever.

Happy Mothers' Day.

--Stephanie Jean

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Enjoy the Silence

There's this great song by Depeche Mode called "Enjoy the Silence".  It contains such wise lyrics as "Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm."  Most people pay no attention to the words that come out of their mouths, or out of their fingertips on social networks.  It's not that I'm vehemently opposed to places like Facebook, Twitter, and such -- it's just that I think they're avenues of passive-aggressiveness that become more and more like unharnessed monsters each day. 

Back when letter-writing was en vogue, if you were upset with someone, you had to sit down, write everything out longhand, buy a stamp, put it in the mailbox, and wait for it to arrive.  Then, with the telephone, you could have a conversation with someone without having to look them in the eye.  If you didn't like what they were saying, or felt you had to have the last word, you could hang up and not answer if they called back.  Then, email came around.  If there was a disturbance in your relationship, friendship or otherwise, you would type out how you felt about the situation, and click 'send', whereby it would nearly instantaneously appear in their inbox.  Your filter was gone -- on some occasions, you'd learn from your mistakes, realizing that typing and sending without really thinking it through probably wasn't the best of ideas. 

With social networks, your emotions are instantaneous.  Any feelings you have in a moment can be broadcast to 750 of your "friends", so that they can all comment on how they feel about the situation, too.  If you're mad at the news for interrupting your favorite TV show, chances are 50 other people are upset, too, and 38 think it's no big deal.  Then you can argue about who's right and who's wrong.  That in itself is annoying, but when it comes down to real life issues -- friendship, marriages, families, employers and employees -- throwing your momentary feelings out there for everyone to see is dangerous and hurtful.  Sure, you're mad.  Sure, you're upset, or hurt, or feel like retaliating.  But let me tell you something -- once it's out there, it's out there.  You can post something for literally thirty seconds and then delete it, but I guarantee you: SOMEONE saw it. 

It makes me wonder how kids these days are even learning to deal with their emotions at all.  People will throw someone under the bus in a heartbeat online when they would most certainly not have the guts to say the same words to their face.  They would holler and complain about a person or a situation that they'd never stand up in public and blast.  The social network isn't a safe haven, my friends.  It's a breeding ground for resentment and bitterness, and I, for one, will not be a party to such things.  If you have something to say to me, say it to my face.  You'd better believe that, if I have something to say to you, that's what I'm going to do.

This wasn't spurred on by anything specific.  I just scroll through my news feed from time to time to see things that surprise me.  Don't get me wrong, I've been guilty of hating before.  I've been jaded, and angry, and wanted revenge.  I've been known to say things without thinking.  But the power of the internet can make anything viral.  It's why cyber-bullying is such a problem.  Not only do you get picked on in school, now even being home isn't safe -- you turn on your computer, and you can see what people are saying about you from the former comfort of your own bedroom.  It's why predators have it easier and easier -- people are willing to say anything and give out information just because things online seem so safe, so far away.  People are willing to hurt others drastically simply because they don't have to see the painful look on the face of the person they've hurt.

"When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need -- words that will help others become stronger." -- Ephesians 4:29.  Yeah, see, there was no internet back then, or else the author would probably have said something more along the lines of, "When you post your status or comment, don't type hurtful things, but say what people need -- words that will help others become stronger."

Whether something is said aloud or written online, the sentiment is still there.  You can help people or you can hurt them.  You can build them up or you can tear them down.  And the adage is the same now as it ever was -- if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all.  Imagine the tables being turned, how you would feel if someone immortalized terrible words about you on the internet, and gleaned comment upon comment from others weighing in on a situation they know nothing about. 

Actions do, indeed, speak louder than words.  Sometimes the greatest action can be NOT writing something that will bring sadness and hurt upon a fellow human being.  Friend or enemy, our job is not to demean or belittle.  If you hate someone, that's on you -- you should do whatever you can to get rid of that hatred and turn it into apathy, then into sincere desire to help, then to love.  If you physically harm someone, you cannot take it back -- the scars are there for life.  Words are the same way.  Once you put your hatred online, there's no going back from it.  You can say the most awful things, then apologize -- it doesn't take the words away.  The only thing that can take the words away is to never have said them to begin with.

I have a high-pressure job in which I have to mind my tongue more often than not, because I want to speak out against injustice, against haughtiness, against superiority complexes.  Most of the time, I can hold back and just go through the motions, but it takes a great deal of prayer and downtime for me to rejuvenate day by day.  I continue to wonder how different our days would be if each of us had more than a modicum of respect for one another, didn't believe we were any better than anyone else, and went out of our way to make everyone feel comfortable and at ease.  Can such a life even be envisioned on this planet?

Stephanie Jean