Sunday, June 24, 2012

One Day at a Time

I used to watch this show when I was younger -- in fact, the theme song is running amok in my head as we speak.  (Well, as I type.) The adage itself was not something with which I was familiar at the time.  I lived EVERY day one day at a time, without even having to think about it back then.  The future, to me, was a nebulous, nearly non-existent notion.  I spent my time in the very moment: running through a sprinkler in my underwear and a little flowered t-shirt, building sandcastles on the beach, splashing through puddles in the driveway (perhaps there is something to the zodiac, huh?  I am a Pisces and have quite the affinity for water, it seems...)  My days began when I felt like waking up, and my evenings ended when I was too tired to keep my little eyelids propped open any longer.  I might not have realized it then, but THAT was living.

Now, I drag myself out of bed when my alarm goes off, and the first thought that runs through my head is inevitably, "Can I sleep ten more minutes?"  I do all of the things that I 'have' to do, pushing aside the things that I 'want' to do.  It's a rare occasion when I have time to turn on the sprinkler to water the mostly-yellow lawn, much less run through it, thereby ruining my clothes for the rest of the day, and the cell phone that's in my pocket.  It takes me an hour and a half to get to any beach, and I get annoyed when it rains because it makes my commute take longer.  What happened to the happy-go-lucky spirit that once lived inside?  It's too busy worrying about the mistakes I've made in the past, the obligations I have in the present, and the unforeseen problems that might occur in the future to take the time to just




Jesus was a lot of things, and one of the things is something that doesn't really occur to us very often.  He was a fun-loving guy.  He took great pleasure in his friends, in going to gatherings (also known as "parties"), in talking with a myriad of people.  Don't get me wrong, He was here on business, too.  But one of the things He said makes me smile. 

"Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, about what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?"  --Matthew 6:25 

I'm pretty certain He wasn't saying we should starve and go naked, but He had his priorities MUCH straighter than we do these days.  God was first and foremost -- after that, it was THE MOMENT He was in.  Every moment was a new experience: healing, teaching, being a rebel, storytelling, turning water into wine, eating, traveling, fishing.  He was a man of action.  A 'verb' man, if you will.  He's always doing something.  And you might also notice something else: people were drawn to Him!  They wanted to be where He was, listen to what He had to say, follow Him wherever He went.

Some other words of wisdom: 

"Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own."  Matthew 6:34.  Ain't THAT the truth?  Why should I get so bogged down about what tomorrow might bring, when I should be living in the moment I have right now?

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these." - Matthew 19:14  Think of not just the innocence of little children, but their willingness.  Willingness to go where you go, to follow you, to spend time together, to try new things, to do anything and everything as long as the two of you are together.  To dive right in and relish the moment, any moment, every moment.

I have to wonder -- if our priorities were straight, would more people be interested in living such a life?  If we didn't focus constantly on our jobs, our problems, our cars, our issues, our past, our savings, our debts... if we focused, instead, on OTHERS in the moment, any moment, every moment -- what a difference that might make.  Not just in our lives, but in theirs.

Isn't that what we're here for in the first place?

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Wind Beneath My Wings

"But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not grow faint." --Isaiah 40:31

From the first time I watched the movie "Beaches", I was obsessed with that song by Bette Midler.  My dad was also a huge fan of her music, and I would wander around the basement singing that song while he was working on wrapping custom fishing rods.  If I sang something else, he'd ask me to sing that one before I went back upstairs, and I always did.  I was shy, so I didn't look at him, or I'd hide around the corner.  I liked to perform, but I didn't want people looking at me.  (I know, it's an oxymoron, but it is what it is.  To this day, I like to be on stage as a character, but if I'm on stage as myself, it's terribly frightening.)

For my senior year in high school, I sang this song and I dedicated it to my father.  It was my first real solo at school, and I was, again, horribly nervous, but I got through it.  I cried a little at the end, knowing that I was going to be leaving for college soon and my whole life would be different.  A few years later, I danced with my dad to this song at my wedding.  Never has there been a time that I've heard it on the radio without thinking of him.

My father is many things:  he is intelligent, quiet, calm, logical, and has a quick wit.  He is also compassionate, hardworking, honest, and loyal.  He most certainly was the bar I set when I started dating and all men have fallen short save one.  I want my sons to grow into the type of man that my father is, and that my husband is... and I want my daughter to marry the same sort of man.

There is something to be said for this, because so very few of these men exist, or have ever existed.  Someone you can trust in absolutely every circumstance to put your health, safety, and livelihood before their own.  Someone you can count on to be there in any situation if you need them.  Someone whose company you enjoy, and someone who, even when you disagree, always respects you.

Someone who loves you absolutely and unconditionally.

There are only three of these beings with whom I've ever had this sort of relationship:

My father, my husband, and my Jesus.

That's a lofty list.  But none of them have ever let me down.  Were it not for them, I would not be the woman I am today.  I love you all, more than I can ever express.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Trust the Engineer"

"When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don't throw away the ticket and jump off.  You trust the engineer." -- Corrie ten Boom

I've decided that it's all about the vantage point in this world.  For all the things I can see, there are far more things I cannot see.  Circumstances, history, future -- all of these play a part in the path I am to travel in life, and they shape the Journey far more than my current situation and surroundings.  With my eyes closed in the morning, I can still feel a small dog walking across my chest, and I know that his warm, disgusting breath in my face means that he's happy to see me, and I need to get up because he has to go outside.  I don't have to see him to know all of that to be true, it just is.

The same holds true for control.  I never flew in an airplane until I was somewhere around 26 years old.  I had met a pilot before, I'd been inside of a grounded plane, seen what it looked like, toured the cockpit, but I had never flown.  It wasn't necessarily that I was afraid of it, I'd just never had the opportunity or the money, and anywhere I'd been to was within driving distance.  Gas used to be cheap, for those of you who aren't aware.  Driving for vacation was a viable option.  But the first time I was on a plane, my heart raced inside of me -- I didn't have so much faith in the pilot, whom I had never seen, though I was certain this wasn't his first flight.  I had that sense of "how can this many tons of metal soar through the clouds" and "this can't be possible through the laws of physics", but then there was that point where, suddenly, there was air between myself and the ground and I was, indeed, going to die if that pilot didn't know exactly what he was doing.  (I am pretty sure that I did utter the words "We're going to die" and was quickly admonished by my then-boyfriend, now-husband, that those are not really words one should say out loud on a plane, even if one thinks them.)

Having flown several times since then, I have much less trepidation.  I see more than I did then.  I now have some understanding that it is not necessarily the pilot who is in charge so much... there are air traffic controllers who have a much better vantage point.  If it were up to the pilot to fly the plane only by what he/she saw, we'd have crashes galore.  You can't see through clouds.  You don't have a clear view far enough in front or to the side to know where anything else might be.  You can't take off or land such a gigantic monstrosity as an airplane without MORE than what meets your eye.  You have to have someone with a much bigger and broader vantage point guiding you every step of the way.  Telling you where to set your course, when to move, what direction you should be going right now and what direction you will be going soon.  Above all, you have to listen even when it seems like what you are seeing at the time doesn't gel with what you are hearing.  You have to listen, and follow, every direction you are getting from the tower.

Yep, I'm relating it back to God.  Don't I always?  Heh.  I have been in some terrible situations in my life.  Things that are horrific.  Things that make absolutely no sense whatsoever.  Things I cannot foresee my way out of.  Mistakes I have made, problems others have caused that I am stuck with, muck and mire beyond comprehension.  I have to continuously remind myself that there is a higher vantage point, and I cannot guide myself out of this mess without listening to every instruction from above and following it to the letter.  I cannot save myself.  I've never been able to in the past, and I'll never be able to in the future.  I can only see what has been and part of what is now, but I cannot see the whole of things as they stand in relation to past, present, future, and eternity.  There is only one Air Traffic Controller that can do that, and when He speaks, I should really, really pay attention.

That's the meaning behind the pithy, overused phrase 'Let go and let God'.  Sometimes there are adages for a reason.  When I find myself in a situation where I have exhausted my resources and talents and abilities, when there is no foreseeable way out, where I cannot continue on the course I've taken without correction, I have to take direction from the big ATC in the sky.  He can see it all -- not just my life, but every life of everyone who has ever lived and will ever live.  He sees how it all fits together in perfectly woven tapestry where, if one string is out of place, the picture goes out of whack.  He sees how it all gels together in a masterfully crafted jigsaw puzzle where, if just one piece is missing, none of it was worth anything to begin with.  Each of us has a purpose, and our job is to let Him direct that purpose every step of the way so it comes to the most beautiful fruition it possibly can.

Even when the train goes through a tunnel and things seem so dark you can't imagine the light once again, hold on -- the Engineer knows what He's doing.

Even when the plane suddenly drops and your stomach does flip-flops, don't just trust the pilot -- trust the Air Traffic Controller.

Even when your life is so dismal you can barely get up in the morning to trudge through another day, don't let the bleakness get you down.  Trust God, because He has a plan for your life -- "...plans to prosper, and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future" (Jer. 29:11).

Trust the One with the highest vantage point.  You'll never be sorry you did.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, June 10, 2012

It's a New Dawn

I cannot express to you how often I just want to quit.  Quit my jobs, quit my obligations, quit trying to make a difference, quit trying in general.  So often, I feel like the entire world is against me, that if I continue the path that I'm on I'll fall off a cliff into the ocean, but I'm caught in the midst of a tornado, and I can't turn around because there is a herd of elephants running right at me.  Yeah, that's pretty stuck.  That's my point.  Just because I write an inspirational blog doesn't mean I have all the answers, or that my life is in perfect shape, or that nothing bad ever happens, or that I don't screw up on a daily basis.  I am in my hidey-hole right now, snuggled in bed, covered in a heap of pillows with my little dog curled up by my feet, and I just. don't. want. to. get. out.

It's a familiar struggle, I know.  There's not a single person I've spoken to in the last year who hasn't felt like this.  It's overwhelming, the weight of the world.  Not just the murderous rages, the 'zombie attacks', the hit-and-run accidents, the cancer and AIDS, and the rest of such horrible nightmares, but even our daily lives.  The anger, the tension, the bitterness, the depression, the feeling that, no matter what you do or how hard you try, nothing makes any difference and you're still in the same leaky boat where you began.

(Um, why am I still reading this? Now I'm even MORE depressed!)

Because, in the end, you know I'm going to say something that will give you a bit of hope, right?   And I will.  I'll get there.  It's just that right now, I want to commiserate a bit.  I have these dreams and aspirations that I've worked for all my life.  I went to college to become a writer and, after years of trying, I'm doing that.  I am, for all intents and purposes, a writer.  I have two published books that sell a couple of copies a month.  I write for a few local publications and actually even get paid for it.  I write on the Journey on a quasi-regular basis.  It doesn't yet pay the bills, so I also have to clean houses and work at a coffee shop but I am, in fact, a writer.  So why doesn't it feel like my dreams are coming true?

Because I wanted more.  My dream was not, apparently, to become a writer.  My dream was to become ONLY a writer, a best-selling writer, a writer who made a comfortable living at writing and writing alone.  A writer who left the house for fun, for inspiration, for dinner -- not a writer who left the house to go to her other jobs.  Here's the other thing, though, the thing that keeps me up at night besides caffeine.  As I've grown older, I've wanted more than that, too.  I want to be a writer who makes a difference with her writing.  I don't just want to write about death and vampires and relationships and sex and best friends and ghosts.  Don't get me wrong, I also enjoy writing about those things, and I still do that.  But I feel, and have felt for quite awhile, that I don't just have this ambition for the sake of ambition.  I feel I am supposed to be doing more with it.

Hence, the Journey.

A Journey of Reinvention began as a blog called "A Year of Reinvention".  I'm not even sure what I was going for back then, if I thought I could turn my life around in a year and tell other people about what was happening to me and they'd find it humorous and fun and pass it on to their friends.  I spent a year trying to read 100 books and blog about them, and that didn't go well -- I think I read somewhere between 50-60, at least one of which was a Little Golden Book, I'm sure.  But at some point, something clicked.  It became A Journey of Reinvention for a reason, whether or not I knew it at the time.

Something our senior pastor says on a very regular basis at church is that if you are pointed in one direction, and you take steps that way, you will end up over there <---.  If you are pointed in the other direction, and you continue taking steps THAT way, you will end up over there --->.  For awhile, he said it so often people laughed, but the truth in his illustration rings out loud and clear.  If you allow yourself to wallow in your bitterness, resentment, anger, rage, envy, and selfishness, the end result is an existence so ugly and jaded it can barely be looked upon.  On the other hand, if you turn your feet in the opposite direction and persevere, letting your heart be open to forgiveness, humility, joy, compassion, and love, all of the awful things that happen to you along the way will slide right off your back and you will be at peace.  You will be more than content, you will be fulfilled.

A Journey of Reinvention is just a series of steps in the right direction.

No, it's not always simple.  No, it's not always fun.  No, there's not necessarily a million dollar prize for doing the right thing.  But, with every step you take, you can feel your heart lighten, your pulse race, your burden slide, and your countenance lift.

It's a new dawn.  You can start over, any time.  Just turn around, and start taking some steps in the right direction.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Time to Weep, A Time to Rejoice

Ecclesiastes 3 (and the Byrds song) tells us that there is a season for everything in life.  If you can imagine it, there is a time for it to happen, good or bad, joyful or depressing.  The range of emotions that we encounter in a lifetime is nothing short of awesome, and I don't mean that in the 1980s 'totally gnarly, awesome, radical, man' kind of way.  I mean, we should be in awe of it, truly.  Like a rainbow where there are just a few basic colors but an entire world created of blends of those colors, so are emotions.  There are shades of happy, shades of angry, shades of sadness.  Right now I am feeling a very distinct blend of joy, sorrow, and hope.

Our son is graduating from high school tomorrow afternoon.  He, himself, has run the gamut of emotions this year, most especially in the past month, for a myriad of reasons.  Graduating is a happy occasion, it's true -- but it's also a fearful occasion.  So much that you knew before is over: waking up at the same time five days a week, seeing familiar faces you've known your entire life on a regular basis, picking your meal and eating off of a tray, being in a band or choir or club -- the list goes on and on.  Granted, there will be versions of this in little flashes throughout your life.  Getting up the same time every day for work is different than it is for school.  Eating off a tray at McDonald's is different than being surrounded by 200 people you've known for so long, in the same room, laughing and goofing off and getting ready for your next class.  The reflections of high school will last forever, but this time, this moment... it's over.

I have spent so much of my own life waiting for the next moment.  This is a subject I've brought up before, so its no doubt a bit old hat by now, but I want to continue warning people not to get stuck in this rut.  When I was little, I wanted to be older like my brother so I could go out with my friends whenever I wanted to.  When I was in high school, I just wanted to get away from there because I lived in misery most of the time.  When I was single, I couldn't wait to be married, and when I was married the first time I couldn't wait to be single again.  When I lived in Niles, I couldn't wait to get out of there, and when I lived in Ann Arbor, I couldn't wait to get home.  The problem with this mentality is that now, I look back on everything I "couldn't wait" to do, and I am hit with the stark realization that I should have waited.  I should have tried to postpone so many things for as long as I could, because there are times in your life that you will not get back.

I will never have recess again.
I will never learn how to drive a car again.
I will never stand on the gymnasium floor and play 'popcorn' with the parachute again.
I will never have a first kiss again.
I will never live in my parents' home again.
I will never be in a building with the 92 other people I graduated with again.

On the surface, there are positive and negatives to all of these statements, but the rush of emotions that each one of them conjures up is something that I will only ever again experience in memories.  I look at where I am in life right now: a small town in Indiana, working three to four jobs on a weekly basis, and waiting for the next milestone in my life.  Whether it's moving to Las Vegas, or having a baby, or writing something that really sells, I'm waiting for it.

But I've learned some things along the way.  I'm not pushing *this* moment aside while I wait.  I'm living in the season of life that I am in, enjoying the clip-clop of the horses that carry the Amish buggies down our county roads right here in Middlebury, being able to see the stars so clearly every night, having fun with our teenagers instead of constantly changing diapers and having sleepless nights, directing theatre and working with my husband, and holding hands on our second-hand sofa while we watch the biggest TV we can afford, all 32 inches of it, in our living room at night before we fall asleep exhausted and tackle the next day together.

I've finally learned to cherish this season while I'm waiting for the next instead of suddenly looking around and wondering where it went someday.

Thank God for small miracles.

Stephanie Jean