Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Strength in Weakness: Your Biggest Hurt

9,923,401,207:  The approximate number of tears I have cried over my biggest hurt.  I'm pretty sure that's enough to fill a few swimming pools, though I haven't done the math.

There isn't much frilly language I can add to this to make it witty.  This is coming from a place so deep inside myself that I'm hesitant to share it, but if you read my blog a few days ago, I'm doing this series because there is a chance that my greatest mission could come from my greatest hurt.  What good is it to have that knowledge and not put it to use?  Everyone has something that's agonizing to them.  A loss, a betrayal, a failure, a flaw, a horrifying, traumatic experience.  Everyone has the inkling of the age-old question, "Why do bad things happen to good people" somewhere inside of them.  And whatever your hurt is, don't read this blog and compare it to mine.  Please read this blog and apply it to yours.

I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to have a baby with my husband for almost eight years.  He's not the problem, because we already have three kids and they're all biologically his from his previous marriage.  He's been tested, I've been tested, everything's 'fine'.  I'm not telling you these things because I want your sympathy, or your ideas on what to try next, so please, please do not give me either of those things.  While I appreciate your thoughts and prayers, that's not what this is about.  I'm sharing my hurt with you because I'm sharing my Journey with you while you're on yours.  To do this, I must be completely honest, so the rest of this post might come as a shock to you in its bare-naked honesty.  The one thing I've learned, however, is that God can take our honesty -- the more real the better -- because He knows us inside and out, and he wants us to give it all to Him: the good, the bad, and the so-bitterly-horrible-you-feel-like-dying-sometimes.  So, here goes.

I've run the gamut of emotions, watching my friends have babies over the last several years.  Some who were trying, some who were not trying, and some who were trying everything *not* to have babies.  I've been happy for them, of course.  I've been there for them in any way I can, whether it was in the hospital while they gave birth, or in my prayers, or babysitting, or hearing stories of the funny or gross stuff their kids did.  I love it all.  Yet, there is a part of me that, with every smiling Christmas photo of a happy couple and their child(ren), that dies a little more inside.

I have asked God for a baby.  I have wheedled God for a baby.  I have flat-out begged God for a baby.  I have thrown myself on the floor in agony, sobbing incoherently, babbling to Him that I just don't understand what's wrong, or why He's doing this to me.  I have screamed at Him and told Him how unfair He was, how He knows what a good parent I've been to kids I didn't give birth to, so why?  WHY won't He let me have the joy of having a baby with my husband, one we don't have to share with an ex-wife, one we can raise 100% the way we want to raise.  A baby we can be involved in the raising process from birth to adulthood, without one or the other of us missing a few years or months or weekends of.  A little hand to hold onto as we cross the street, a little mouth forming the word 'Mama' for the first time.

I ache inside my heart in a way that I cannot fully describe in words.  I am angry.  I am so terribly angry at God I can't even think about it without bursting into tears.  And He knows it, because He's God.  I can't hide it from Him.  I have never wanted something so badly in my life.  It's something GOOD.  It's not like I'm having an infernal desire for some crazy sin and He's not giving it to me.  It's a pure, biblical desire -- "Be fruitful and multiply," He told Adam and Eve.

He has a reason.

As true as those words are, let me continue my stark, blatant honesty:  I hate those words.  I know He has a reason.  I'm not pouting because my Mommy wouldn't give me a cookie after I brushed my teeth for bed.  I'm grieving because I'm infertile.  Telling myself that He has a reason does not make me feel better.  It makes me feel worse.  Because I don't  know the reason.  As if, somehow, knowing the reason would make me feel better.

My anger and frustration and sadness has only recently started to become numbness.  With each new pregnancy of a friend or family member, I maintain my happiness for them -- but instead of the grueling envy or instantaneous rage at God I have felt in the past, I just don't feel anything.

You're still waiting for the inspirational outcome of this tirade, aren't you?

I can't tell you that I'm inspired.  I can't tell you that I am, as yet, completely comforted.  All I can tell you is that God can take it all.  He can take your anger, your frustration, your sadness, your disillusionment, your weeping, your bitterness, your sense of injustice.  You don't have to hide it from Him.  He wants you, all of you, just as you are.  It's when you begin to trust Him, when you begin to give it all over to Him, that you begin to heal.

I might not ever be able to have a baby.  That's not going to kill me.  Certainly it will hurt me deeply, but what will hurt me more is if I kept this all to myself and never helped anyone else by using the knowledge I've gained on my Journey. 

We hold our children's hands as they cross the street for a reason.  They pull and yank and want to run free, right into oncoming traffic, because they don't know any better.  They want what they want.  We keep our toddlers from touching a hot stove.  It looks bright and exciting and joyous to them, but we know the harsh consequences if they get what they want.  They cry and stomp their feet and throw a little tantrum when we pull them away, but we did what was best for them.  We cut their hotdogs into tiny pieces so they don't choke.  We put them in a carseat despite their wailing protests.  There is a reason for everything we do.

There is a reason.

He has a reason.

I don't like it, and it doesn't make me feel better, but as a parent, I know I'm right when I tell our kids something they don't like.  So, as a child of God, I have to trust that His reasoning is better than mine.  I know the answer to my "Why?" is Him saying, "Because I said so."  I know the answer to my "Can I?" is His "We'll see."  I know that no amount of tantrum-throwing, sobbing, crying, pouting, or moping is going to change the outcome.

What I know most of all is that He is my Father, and there is nothing I can say or do that will make Him love me less.  He can handle my emotions, even when I don't feel like I can.  He has heard every cry, and He has comforted me time after time when I come to Him for it after lashing out.

Lamentations 3:31-32 For the Lord will not  cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.  

Sometimes, God is looking at our pain, saying and feeling what we, as parents often do: "This hurts me more than it hurts you."  

I take comfort in knowing that whatever the reason, and whatever the outcome, He's there for me now, for all my emotions, and He'll be there after all is said and done, loving me just the same.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, July 30, 2012

Strength in Weakness: Trust Issues

Have you ever been lied to by someone you love?  Betrayed?  You know that feeling when you never expected to have the rug pulled out from beneath you, but now you're laying on the floor, looking up, thinking, "How could I not have seen it coming?"  And now that you've lost the trust in 3.4 seconds, it will take years, and years to get it back... if you ever can, that is.

I've been on both the receiving end of such a feeling, and on the giving end as well.  I've placed my trust in people who have let me down, and hurt me fiercely.  On the other hand, I have destroyed the trust of some of those I love most dearly in the world, and turned their lives upside down.  Neither end of broken trust is the good end.  Neither heals quickly, and rarely does either forget, even when forgiveness has been achieved.

So many of us have trust issues because we're placing our faith in the wrong place.   We want to trust people we love, but the truth is, we're all flawed human beings.  We make mistakes constantly.  We're not perfect.  We're weak, we're self-centered, and our biggest drive to do something is because we want to do it.  Often, that means we put the feelings of others aside and pursue our own desires.  Sadly, just as when hurtful words escape your lips you cannot unspeak them, you also cannot un-lie, or un-hurt.

When you've had trust broken or when you've been the one to break trust, an awful lot of forgiveness is necessary to begin rebuilding the cracked foundation of a relationship, be it a marriage, a friendship, a colleague, or a family member.  Some hurts are bigger than others, and some are nearly unspeakable.  But there is a point when, if you can get to the place of forgiveness, the trust issues now linger in the background, and second-guessing abounds.

We cannot place our trust solely in one another.  Yes, we can trust.  We can build it and, if necessary, rebuild it.  But the foundation of trust must be built in God.  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." -- Proverbs 3:5 says.  Good advice, and for more than one reason.

1) God will NEVER let you down.  You may not always get what you want, but He is the One you can trust with your life, to always do what is best for you in the long run.

2) When humans do let you down, or when you've let someone else down, He's the one to go to first.  Make things right with Him, and seek His guidance to make things right with the other person.

3) Our own understanding is clouded and short-sighted.  His vision involves not just the present hurt, but the past that led up to it and the future that it holds after it.

God covers our past and forgets about it.  "In all your ways, submit to Him and He will make your paths straight." -- Proverbs 3:6.  If we give over our trust issues to Him, He can help us to make amends, to forgive, to begin again: this time on the right path.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Strength in Weakness: Self-Esteem Issues

This is a picture of me in high school.  What? You don't believe me?  Well, let's take into consideration that I have what many consider to be a nose at least slightly too large for my face.  As we know, if you have spent more than five minutes in high school, people will make fun of you for something, and it's going to be the first thing they think of.  Day one (literally) of my freshman year, I was told 1) I had a big nose and people were now going to call me Schnoz for the next four years, 2) I had a mustache, and 3) I had become very ugly since the last time they saw me (which was in 5th grade... I changed schools for three years, then came back.) 

I reiterate: this was DAY ONE of high school.

This did not just set the bar for how the next four years were going to play out, but it put in place a slew of self-esteem issues that would haunt me for the rest of my life.  I have allowed myself to be plagued with it. I won't walk into a room full of people I don't know unless someone else walks in front of me.  I don't want to be looked at.  Ironically, I enjoy being on stage -- this is because I can be someone else.  Someone who is not me.  Someone who is a character.  Then, if they laugh -- it's the character, not me.  If they hate -- it's the character, not me.

The simple truth is this: I hate myself.

This post is not one where I desire pity, or where I need you to build me up.  This is something I've dealt with for decades, and I'm not sharing it because I want or need people to make me feel better.  I'm sharing it because I know there are plenty of others out there who have been plagued the same way their entire lives.  I'm sharing it because I hope that you see a bit of yourself in this story as well.

I second guess myself constantly.  There is not a day that goes by when I don't look at my husband and think, "What is this guy doing with me?  He's going to leave me someday when he wises up."  There is not a day that goes by that I don't look at someone else's life and think, "I'll never have that.  That grace, that poise, that composure.  Those looks, that style, that class."  If something comes out of my mouth, I'll spend the next two days replaying it in my head to be sure I didn't say something dumb, or hurtful, or that might be misconstrued.  I am my own worst critic.  I expect the worst from myself, and I often get it.

But here's something interesting.  A lot of times we see the verse where Jesus commands us to love others as only loving others. The actual verse, however, reads, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength...and Love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12: 30-31)

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Inherently, we are to have love for ourselves as well.  Humility is different from self-hate.  We are to recognize the talents, abilities, beauty, and uniqueness that God has bestowed upon us.  After all, we, too, are His creation.  He made ALL things beautiful (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and we are also a part of all things.  How can we have love for our neighbor if we don't even love ourselves?  How can we recognize the beauty and special things about anyone else if we can't see them in ourselves?

If we get tripped up only seeing what the world sees, and we let that hinder us, we're not going to get very far on our Journey.  People will always try to hold you back.  Whether it's out of fear, jealousy, or just plain different taste, they will put us down.  In turn, we need to lift them up.

Take some time today to talk to God about helping you recognize the ways He's blessed you.  Ask Him to help you see the good He's put inside of you, and the ways that you might help others on this Journey instead of hindering them.

I'm rather hoping that eventually I can start seeing myself in a different light:

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Strength in Weakness: Confessions

"Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts.  The things you're most embarrassed about, most ashamed of, and most reluctant to share are the very tools God can use most powerfully to heal others." --Rick Warren

Well, thanks, Mr. Warren.  I've crafted a comfortable little hidey-hole where I share just enough of my personal life so as not to impart too much information, combined with whatever inspirational thought God gave me for the day that I feel I should share to relate to said tidbit of personal life.  I know I'm supposed to put myself out there.  I know that.  But allow me just a little moment of whiny-ness to stomp my foot and say, "I don't wanna!"



Okay, I'm done.

Look, the truth is, every single one of us is flawed.  When we pretend to be perfect, we're nothing more than hypocrites.  I know that, you know that.  If you've read this blog for more than week, you'll realize I say it all the time.  God loves us not just in spite of our flaws, He loves us because of them.  It's in our weaknesses that His strength shines through the most.  It's in our worst moments of sobbing and the gut-wrenching realizations that we're not in charge and we screw things up wholeheartedly when we try to be that His grace shines through and we're made whole in Him.  So why would I be hesitant to bare my soul?  He already knows every nanosecond of my life anyhow, it's not like I'm hiding anything from Him.

We like the illusion.  We cling to the misguided notion that we can hide something, anything, from Him just by not talking about it with anyone else.  But the thing is, He wants us to talk about it.  He doesn't want a spectacle made, but He wants us to help other people through their trials and tribulations by sharing ours.  How can anyone be made to feel better?  By hearing that they're not alone.  Someone who has just gone through a great loss through death, a great betrayal, a great disappointment, an earth-shattering realization -- how are they ever to cope?  By commiserating with people who have already been through it and lived to tell the tale.

So it's time, isn't it?  Time to stop hiding, or attempting to hide?  Time to drop to our knees and pray, "Give the the strength to share my fears and failures with others, so that Your glory can be revealed."  Time to stop trying to fool ourselves into forgetting we're not perfect, and letting our imperfections be our ministry?

Are you afraid?  Don't be.

"I am the Lord your God, who holds your right hand, and I tell you, 'Don't be afraid.  I will help you.'" -- Isaiah 41:13.  

Stay tuned.

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Overwhelming Overwhelmment

Tonight is the final dress rehearsal for the show that my husband and I are directing, "Into the Woods" at South Bend Civic Theatre.  It's been a long haul, since BEFORE auditions in mid-May, to get to where we are now.  At this point, there are just some finishing touches, some tweaks, some final details left, and it will be a beautiful thing.

It's amazing what goes into a process and what comes out on the other end.  People that come to see the show will, I hope, be greatly pleased at the beautiful set, costumes, lighting, music, and the incredible talent of all of our actors on stage, and the crew backstage as well.  They will not know any of the story of the countless hours of effort that each person went through to get it to the point it's at when it's seen on stage.  We each had our own Journey taking us there, our tears and our laughter, our seemingly endless notes, sleepless nights, ad infinitum. 

It reminds me of our actual Journey here.  Though our lives may intersect, not a single one of us has lived the life of anyone else.  Though we can empathize with their hurts and struggles, we're usually more focused on our own.  Though we can respond with kindness, we all-too-often choose selfishness.  When we are overwhelmed, we lash out.  When we are on edge, we push other people over in an effort to save ourselves.

What if, instead, we grabbed on and held each other?

This week has been frustrating, high-stress, and difficult all around, but it's leading into something incredible that will never be duplicated. 

And that, my friend, is a metaphor for your life.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, July 21, 2012

For a Purpose

Here's how architecture works: an architect thinks, "I'm going to make a building!"  Then he or she gets together lots of different materials and throws them randomly together in a couple of hours, and a building appears.  Then, the architect decides what they want to use the building for: is it going to be for offices, or church services, or basketball games?

(Psst... if this does not sound like the correct formula for architecture to you, you must be insane!)

All right, all right.  I'm making a point.  Just as an architect does not throw things together in a haphazard fashion, neither does God.  An architect has a plan, a blueprint, a well-thought out and well-designed masterpiece that will, in the end, be the perfect building for the purposes for which the building is being designed.  Other people come on board with the correct materials, the right experience, and the structure is built.  The purpose comes first.  The design comes second.  Then things start coming together.

God has a design for you.  He has a purpose for your life that you might not recognize right now, but when you were born, He didn't just say, "Well, here's another baby."  We all have different drives and passions, different talents and abilities, different interests and experiences that go into the blueprint for who we are as individuals.  If you're not living up to your potential, it's perhaps because you haven't yet realized what you are meant for.

It's time to start realizing.  You're here on purpose.  You're here FOR a purpose.  You can do things that nobody else can.  You have thoughts and ideas that are unique to your brain.  You have skills that can bring things to fruition that will only be wrought by your hands.  You were meant to change the world for the better.  No, not alone... but if you don't feel that spark inside of you, nobody else can make you feel it.

Listen to the voice inside your heart.  That's God saying, "I made you for a reason.  Let me show you why."

Stephanie Jean

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Before and After... and DURING!

Have you ever noticed when you're on a diet, you're extremely excited the first time you notice the scale move a pound?  Then that excitement quickly fades when you realize that absolutely nobody else noticed the difference.  You struggle to drop a few pounds here and there, only making a dent, and eventually sometimes you give up because it's not happening fast enough and it doesn't seem to be making an impact on your body, on the way others view you, and on the way you feel.  However, if you don't quit, if you keep working at it, if you persevere long enough, then the changes that are happening gradually are sometimes suddenly noticed.  "Have you been losing weight?" a friend or co-worker might ask.  Then a smile comes across your face and you say whatever your newest landmark poundage was: "Yes!  Twenty-two pounds!" It gives you the motivation to continue, and to do your best to reach your goals.

The seeds we are planting in ourselves on this Journey are not to be expected to blossom immediately.  Your life won't suddenly become an upheaval and then you will be perfect.  That's precisely why it's the Journey.  Beaming has not yet been perfected, as far as I'm aware (but I can check with my Physics Phriends on this one).  You can't just drop a seed underneath an inch of dirt and expect a fully formed rose to pop up the next day.  In the same manner, you can't expect to attempt to incorporate these positive changes in your life and immediately have a Master's Degree in the craft of Life-Honing.

Each day is a step.  Each step is a small piece of a Journey.  And each Journey is different.

"Over time, a slow, steady stream of water will erode the hardest rock, and turn giant boulders into pebbles.  Over time, a little sprout can turn into a giant redwood tree towering 350 feet tall." -- Rick Warren

The trick is not to give up.  Even if no one else notices a difference in you yet, you know where you used to be, and you know how far you've come.  Sure, you're not perfect.  Nobody is.  Sure, you have a long way to go.  Everybody does.  It's why we're in this together.

Have you seen Finding Nemo?  The curmudgeonly clownfish Marlin is given a lively pep-talk by his somewhat annoying friend, Dori... she starts singing, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming!" Your assignment for the day is to find some time to watch that movie because it always makes ME happy when I watch it, and it contains that catchy little ditty which will not leave your head (nor will it leave mine for the rest of the evening).  It's a lesson in perseverance.  You might find that most of the time, it doesn't seem like what you're trying to do to change your life for the better is making the slightest bit of difference at all.  Believe me when I say it will.  And, in the meantime, whenever you feel like giving up?

Just keep swimming.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fear Not

"So do not fear, for I am with you.  Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous hand." -- Isaiah 41:10

We've heard Psalm 23 hundreds of times, where David so beautifully put into words that he would not fear even in the valley of the shadow of death, because God was with him.  The same is true today, whatever our valley of darkness is, whatever deep, dank woods we're lost in.  We are not alone.

My husband and I have had both the challenge and the privilege of directing this summer's musical at South Bend Civic Theatre, "Into the Woods".  Some of the lyrics speak to this very notion: you are not alone -- truly, no one is alone.  Granted, I am attributing spiritual undertones here that some people would not, but having jumped through hoops and averted obstacles and overcome hardships galore in my life, I can see nothing BUT the spiritual undertones in lyrics such as these.  "Hard to see the light now -- just don't let it go."  If I had a dollar for every time I've had to think such thoughts just to get through the day, I'd have been rich long, long ago.

The King James Version of the bible uses either the phrase 'fear not' or 'be not afraid' 103 times.  It's pretty obvious that we have to be told that.  How many people have irrational phobias?  I run screaming if I see an earwig across a crowded room, and hide from clowns, averting my eyes if I see one on television.  I know there's really nothing either of these can do to harm me.  But it certainly helps if someone that loves me, who understands my fears, however irrational, just holds my hand and says, "Don't be afraid.  I'm here."

What about deeper fears, though?  Loneliness.  Betrayal.  Death.  Sometimes there is no one in this world who can make us feel better when the one we've trusted and loved is the one that's gone.  In times such as these, we have two choices: pretend we're alone or realize we're not.

"You are not alone.  Truly, no one is alone." -S. Sondheim

I challenge you to use a bible app, a search engine, or an old-fashioned concordance, and find each verse that tells us not to fear.  Find one that speaks to you, specifically.  Next time you're feeling alone, as though the whole world were against you, repeat it -- and remember how much you are cared for and loved, even if you can't see it right now.

1 Peter 5:7 says "Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you."  Find reassurance in the fact that, no matter where you go, even when no other person is around, you have a listening Ear.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, July 14, 2012

At the Car Wash

When I was younger, and automated car washes first made a big 'splash', I thought it was pretty much the coolest thing ever.  Better than sprinklers, even.  It was like you were going on a rainforest safari.  I'd unbuckle my seat belt and push my face right up against the inside of the window (quickly reprimanded by my mother, of course, for now there were nose prints on the inside that she'd have to fix when she got home).  As I got older, the excitement of the technology faded, and with a car of my own, I rarely went to the car wash anyhow.  I felt about car washing the same way I felt about hypocrisy -- what good is it to make your car all shiny and pretty on the outside if it doesn't run well to begin with?

In one of my favorite passages (Matthew 23), Jesus warns the hypocrites that the outside is not nearly as important as the inside.  He flat out tells them it doesn't matter that you look all shiny and professional and classy.  It doesn't matter if you have fancy clothes and jewelry, if your house is a flawless mansion filled with riches.  It means nothing at all if you smell like perfume and bathe twice a day.  If your heart is not right, if there is no love inside of you, if your shiny shell is filled with bitterness and hatred and condemnation, you're in trouble.  Verse 27 says, "Woe to you... hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are filled with dead men's bones, and everything unclean."

Ever take a walk and pass by some roadkill?  Yeah, it's gross.  It is quite possibly the most disgusting smell in the universe, decomposition.  You could put up a little silver cross and a sculpted marble box on top of it, but it still smells and looks disgusting underneath.  This is what Jesus is likening the hypocrites to.  He is saying that you can clean yourselves up, you can memorize the scripture, you can follow every letter of the law to a T, you can attend church every week, you can lead a bible study for twenty of your friends, you can pray ten times a day on your knees out loud, you can abstain from smoking and drinking and cussing, but if the inside of you isn't right, it makes no difference.

Take a closer look at these hypocrites He was talking about: they spent their time with narrowed eyes, looking for others to make a mistake so they could point it out and hold them accountable.  They made a big deal of their prayers, wanting people to hear how well they spoke and how thoroughly they knew the scriptures, which meant nothing more than that they were full of pride and arrogance.  Everything that was important was lost on them.  Love was a concept with which they were not familiar.  Blame?  Sure!  Judgment? Absolutely!  But love? Who has time for that?

"You cannot love someone and judge them at the same time" is one of several paraphrases of a quote attributed to Mother Teresa.  Since Jesus said the two greatest commands were to Love God and Love Others (Luke 10:27), judging people gets in the way of doing what we are meant to do.  Making ourselves look great on the outside defeats the purpose of both of these commands -- we need to change our focus from polishing ourselves up to look perfect, and put our focus instead on loving others WHERE THEY ARE, and FOR WHO THEY ARE.  It's not up to us to judge or to change people.  It's up to God.  If we're inaccessible because of our fake perfection, how are we ever to lead others at all?

I'm a real person.  I drink margaritas.  I say bad words from time to time.  I get angry, frustrated, and sometimes fly into a road rage.  I worry, I fear, I get mad at God and yell at Him once in a while when things don't go my way.  I quit smoking seven years ago but crave cigarettes every single day of my life.  I don't always put my shopping cart in the corral.

I am a sinner.

That describes every single one of us on the planet, and if we try to claim we are above sin, not only does it make other people not want to be around us, it makes us liars.  (1 John 1:8)  Jesus, who actually never sinned, didn't try to shine and polish Himself up on the outside.  He came to us.  He gave up riches and glory and heavenly perfection to get down in the dust and dirt, to walk around with loud-mouthed, cursing fishermen, to sit and talk with prostitutes and tax collectors, to fellowship with straggling wanderers who didn't understand much of what He said, but certainly wanted to be around Him because of the loving, caring, kind way He treated each and every one of them: the lame, the blind, the lepers, the shunned, the adulterers, the cheaters, even the ones who betrayed Him.

Don't bother wasting time trying to be perfect.  Nobody is, and nobody can be.  The best thing we can do is get our hands dirty helping and loving anyone and everyone we come across on our Journey.

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Happy ReBirthday to Me

I used to make fun of this.  I used to shake my head in wonder that anyone believed they were saved to begin with.  I would listen skeptically, nod and smile, then behind their backs go off on a tirade about how just saying "Sorry, let me take a mulligan" didn't put you back in good graces with God.  It didn't change your life.  There was no assurance whether there even was a Heaven or Hell, much less which place you might be going.  But you can bet your boots (who even says that!?) that, either way, just asking for it wasn't going to get you there.

You know what else I used to do?  Never admit I was wrong.

If you read the last few posts, I shared a bit about how I ended up on my knees sobbing, begging God to fix the incredible mess I had made of my life.  I told Him what He already knew: that I had made more mistakes than I could count, that I couldn't even name them all because I couldn't remember them, that I couldn't right my own wrongs, that I couldn't go on living the way I was, and that I needed Him to just take it all and forgive me, and help me to start over.  That's exactly what He did, and in a split second. 

July 12, 2004.  I guess that makes me officially eight years old.

I know some eight-year-olds.  They're eager and exuberant but also somewhat sarcastic and jaded already.  They know some things, but there's a lot they don't know.  There is a lot they have to learn yet, and people around to teach them.  They experience happiness quite often, but they also experience a great deal of disappointment.

Yup.  Sounds about right.

But all in all, life is good, and I thank God every day for that.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Have a Drink on Me

After spending the last couple of posts talking about what it feels like to be spiritually dehydrated, I want to let you know about a moment of pure, unadulterated, water-covered bliss.

I know that anyone who's been steeped in churchy churchiness their whole life is going to think I'm talking about baptism, but let me stop you right there.  Yes, baptism is an incredible experience, but it's not the first moment that you feel the soothing, all-encompassing relief.  To get there, I have to tell you a little story.

I'm an idiot.

I guess that's not the only way to start this story, but it's probably the best way.  I spent a great deal of my life avoiding God, Jesus, all things religious or spiritual, and it didn't really have anything to do WITH God, Jesus, or all things religious or spiritual.  It had to do with people.  People who called themselves Christians.  People who represented Christ.  People who were telling me who I had to be and how I had to live my life and, worse, judging every word that came out of my mouth, every hairstyle and article of jewelry I walked out of the house with, every place I went, everything I did, and everyone I hung around with.  It was a slow fade from being and believing to becoming jaded and angry and losing my faith completely.  I could feel my heart hardening, and I didn't care.  I wanted a wall, a great big steel and concrete layered wall, between myself and these people who were claiming to be Jesus' Chosen Remnant People (which, in and of itself, seemed such an arrogant phrase it would close most people off).

So I built that wall.  I built it out of Great Debates, arguments that a good and kind God would not love one person more than another, would not hate any of His creations.  I built it out of sarcasm and a self-centered need to be right.  I built it out of an attitude that said, "If you're God's favorite, I'd rather go to Hell than spend eternity with you."  I removed all of what I had been taught from my brain and started over.  I screamed back at the college campus preachers when they told me I was going to Hell.

None of that is the "I'm an idiot" part.

That part came from a lack of love.  I began to fill my heart so much with hatred of these people that it clouded everything God was trying to do through me to begin with.  I believe that any ministry He might have been working in me began twenty years ago when I argued with my own mother about whether or not to wear earrings to church.  We didn't think there was anything wrong with jewelry, but our church did.  So we'd take off our jewelry when we went to church and put it back on when we came home.  Thereby, my disgust for hypocrisy began.  I didn't think it was bad, I didn't think that GOD thought it was bad, so who was I trying to please by taking it off?  Other people.  Other people who would judge me for wearing it.  It wasn't their place, true.  But they would do it nonetheless.  My hatred began as just a tiny spark of injustice, of 'that's not fair'ness, of 'it's MY relationship with God, not yours'ness.  I let it grow over the course of more than ten years, to consume the inside of my heart with nothing but a disgust and superior attitude toward and an intense hatred of...

everyone who did not believe the same way I did.

Are you following me, here?  I'm an idiot because, by building this steel-and-concrete wall between myself and them, I was no better.  I was arguing that they were no better and had no course to judge others, and yet in my own heart, I was judging them.  I thought I was better and more enlightened and superior to them.  I had become the very thing I hated the most.  I had become a hypocrite.

I've had a great many negative experiences in my life.  I have chain-smoked, I've been drunk, I've tried drugs, I've been a betrayer, I've been betrayed, I've been in a miserable marriage, I've been divorced, I've been made fun of, talked down to, fired, I've lied, I've cheated, I've stolen, and if I spent the next half hour typing 120 words per minute, I still wouldn't be done naming all of them.   But none of it matters.  It doesn't matter because there was a moment, a single moment, where I took everything that I had become, every web I had woven, every lie I had told, every hole I had dug, and I dropped them all.  I laid them all down, stopped where I was, stopped running towards the edge of a cliff and spoke to God for what was probably the first time in years.  I was sobbing, I was nearly passing out, and I cried out loud,

"Please help me! I can't do this myself."

I kid you not, He answered.

I didn't hear a voice, there were no angelic bells and whistles and shiny lights, no burning bush or moving mountain or doves descending.  I just felt it.  You know this 100+ degree weather, and what it feels like to be out in it with no A/C, no water, no respite?  It was as though I'd been wandering in a desert, but an oppressively humid desert, my skin burning, my feet aching, flesh being pecked from my face by preemptive vultures when suddenly, I stopped, turned around, and right behind me was this air conditioned oasis.  I just opened the door and walked in, and was immediately led to a pool of cool, refreshing water, and a glass of ice water brought to my lips, a frozen washcloth applied to my forehead all at once.  In all that imagery, all that wonderful relief, I might not have heard Him say the words, but I most certainly FELT Him say, very clearly,

"It's okay.  I've got this."

My life didn't change overnight.  All of the wrongs were not suddenly made right, I didn't instantaneously become perfect, sinless, and upright.  I didn't stop making mistakes, I didn't start going to church regularly,
all the people I had hurt or alienated didn't instantly forgive me.  For all intents and purposes, nothing on the exterior changed.  But the interior?  I was filled.  Filled with a hunger to change, to help, to love, to forgive, to be better, to care.  I was so thankful, so grateful.  I could look at myself in the mirror once again and though the reflection was the same, I knew something deeper and more meaningful was underneath.

Once you've been forgiven, you know how to forgive.
Once you've been loved, you know how to love.
Once you've given it all over, you know where to turn.

I encourage those of you who are 'testing the waters', so to speak, to allow yourself to be open to learning, to listening.  Let the wall come down.  No one is perfect.  People get stuck in their ruts and their own little worlds.  Yes, they may be completely wrong when they express their beliefs.  They may be offensive, and they may not at all be representing Jesus when they call themselves Christians.  But for all the judgment they are throwing out, we're no better than they are if we're judging them, too.  God loves each and every one of us, no more and no less than the next.  My advice?  Don't be an idiot.  Jesus and the Beatles both said it:

All You Need is Love. (Matthew 22:36-40.  And Lennon/McCartney.)

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Serious Drought

Recently, I posted about a dehydrated spirit.  There are some of us who have gone so far beyond the dehydration that we're in the midst of a full-on drought.  Not only is our spirit in need of some nourishment, the repercussions of living dehydrated for so long also need to be taken care of.  It's hard to know where to begin when things look as bleak as they are.  Sometimes when you stand back and survey the damage, things look so hopeless you want to do nothing more than curl up and die because a solution seems impossible.

Matthew 19:26 tells us that Jesus said, "With man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible."  Isn't it refreshing to know that we don't have to rely on our own power to get things done?  Most of the time, we assume that, if something must be done, we have to take care of it.  We don't delegate, we don't seek assistance, we just power through and sometimes fail miserably.  We do the best job we can at repairing things, making amends, patching up, starting over.  But the truth is, any attempt we make alone is going to pale in comparison to the beauty that could be if only we would give it all over to Him.

You cannot accomplish the overcoming of a drought in a single day, a single simple lesson, a single session of searching for a few verses for inspiration.  You cannot take a single watering can to a dry, cracked patch of earth and expect to sprinkle enough hydration on it to see it lush and blossoming in 24 hours.  There must be persistence, endurance, hard work, and -- the key -- several steps.  You start with something small, somewhere.  You do what you can in a single moment.  If you do nothing, nothing will change, except sometimes for the worse.  If you do something, anything, albeit a tiny step, you will put yourself on the right track.

Let's take an intense, overwhelming hatred for someone who has truly ruined a big portion of your life.  You can't just make up your mind to have a loving, mutually beneficial relationship with them, forgetting the past and starting over the way you envision things could have been.  There is so much bitterness and resentment built up in your heart, so much desire for vengeance, so many hurtful memories, so many incidents with that person you can't even count them.  But you can take a step.  You can ask God to help you do one small thing on your journey.  You might not even be able to forgive them right away, but you can begin by an analysis of your own heart.  You can search for things, something, anything you might have in common with this person.  You can try to even the field, stop feeling so superior and realize that you are both flawed human beings, both children of God, whom He loves equally.  You can search yourself to see what you might have contributed to the chasm between the two of you.  Nothing happens suddenly -- you won't wake up and feel relieved of all the pain and hurt and resentment one day without taking steps toward that.  But you will, one day, if you make a concerted effort to take small steps everyday to get to that point.

We can't do anything.  God can do everything.  It's a matter of allowing ourselves to become vessels for Him to work through.  I might not be able to love someone I hate right away, but I can allow God, working through me, to show me what He loves about them.  Why He died for them.

Brandon Heath has a fantastic song which, if you're a Facebook follower, I'll be posting the video for in a few minutes, but here are some of the lyrics:

"Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the brokenhearted
Ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see."

 With God, all things are possible.  The closer our connection with God, the less chance we have of a drought.  If you find yourself dehydrated, quench your thirst right away, and then share with others.  If you're already in a drought, start with small steps... take a few sips here and there, and you'll find yourself more able to receive the hydration than you were before.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dehydrated Spirit

"I spread out my hands to you -- my soul thirsts for you like a parched land!" -- Psalm 143:6
My first year of college, I didn't take the best care of myself.  I was constantly walking: from the dorm, to class, to work, to the computer lab, to the dorm again, and I lived on Mountain Dew.  One morning, before my 8am physics lecture, I found myself extremely dizzy and slightly nauseated while standing in the shower.  I put my hand on the wall, felt the air pressing in on all sides, and slid down to the floor, water still soaking me, in a greyish-brown haze.  After a few moments, when I felt I could stand again, I held myself up, rinsed off, and walked down to the R.A.'s room in my robe to let her know what had happened.  I spent the next four hours in the emergency room at the University of Michigan Hospital.

Test after test, they ran -- on my heart, my reproductive system, my blood -- and they came to the conclusion after all that time that I was dehydrated.  They gave me water and orange juice, charged my $270 dollars, and sent me on my way back to the dorm with the wise advice to drink more water when I got there.  I followed it.  I felt better.

It's incredible how, when we don't pay attention to what we're imbibing day after day, it catches up with us.  Sometimes just switching out a few glasses of soda for water, or making sure to drink a small glass of water once an hour throughout the day, can make all the difference in the world to our health and well-being.  You can go from a darkened haze to a healthy glow in just a few moments' time.

The same is true with a dehydrated spirit.  This world is completely overwhelming, that's no secret.  With our busy schedules, our fears and concerns, and our stress levels, we tend to push aside the things that really matter for the crisis of the moment.  The symptoms of spiritual dehydration are more detrimental than physical dehydration, though.  We find ourselves hunched over in tears because we're unable to handle the pressure.  We're heartbroken, lonely, vengeful, bitter, and full of rage.  We're inaccessible, self-centered, and prideful.  We constantly fight for power and control over any and every situation, refusing to humble ourselves.  We let people less fortunate than ourselves down because we explain away their circumstances without trying to help.  We fill ourselves with "Spiritual Soda" like pithy bumper stickers referring to God, or we pop in to church each week to check it off our list, but at the end of the day?  We're still thirsty.  We're exhausted of the rat race, we can't fathom having to tackle it all again by ourselves the next day, and we just want to curl up in the fetal position on the floor.

Just like you can't face a day and go through the motions if you're physically dehydrated, you can't let your spirit wither and expect to be all right.  We're not all right.  You can't expect that, when you're physically dehydrated, you'll suddenly start to feel better without drinking any water, or changing your habits.  The same is true here -- you have to figure out what soul-watering nourishment you're lacking and dive in.

Prayer isn't just telling God what you want and waiting for it.  It's a conversation -- you talk to God and God talks back.  Sometimes HE initiates it, and you need to notice.  Sometimes the dehydration is so bad you can't hear this or feel it anymore at all, if you ever did.  It's okay.  There's a cure for that.

Reading the bible isn't just flipping from page to page, memorizing scriptures, or pointing your finger randomly in the middle of a chapter and verse, hoping God will speak the words you're desperate to hear.  It's a way of life, a habit you pursue.  You learn in context, with different translations, commentaries, and concordances.  Sometimes the dehydration is so bad, you try to read and you can't get more than one chapter in before your mind wanders and you can't focus.  It's okay.  There's a cure for that.

Spending time with a spiritual mentor isn't just sitting at a coffeehouse picking their brain about your problems and expecting them to solve it all in one sitting by giving cookie-cutter answers.  It is watching someone whose way of life you are moved by, seeing how their relationship with God and with other people works, learning over time to incorporate new things into your own life that will bring you closer to God and to others.  Sometimes the dehydration is so bad, you spend an hour with a spiritual mentor and you just can't wrap your brain around everything they do all at once, and you can't picture yourself living exactly like they do.  Don't worry.  It's okay.  There's a cure for that.

"Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened for you." --Matthew 7:7  The cure is in the asking, the seeking, the knocking.  He told us he would give us fountains, bubbling springs, of spiritual water for the thirsty.  That we would never thirst again if we drank from Him.  It doesn't mean we won't have problems anymore, or that we won't feel overwhelmed sometimes, or we won't experience sadness, despair, loneliness, or anger.  It means that He will fill us with His strength to carry on.  He will hydrate us with His words and His spirit.

Jesus said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." John 7:37

The cure to physical dehydration is to drink some water. The cure to spiritual dehydration is equally as simple. 

Stephanie Jean