Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Fresh Start

What if you were in a serious jam financially?  I mean, you've made a train wreck of your finances so that you're a couple hundred thousand dollars in debt with your credit cards, and your home is about to go into foreclosure, you've got two car payments of $400 each month, and you quit your job three months ago and can't find work?  There isn't a shred of hope in sight for you and you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you cannot fix this mess yourself.  You put yourself in this position by your own choices, and there is only one thing that can possibly save you: a miracle. 

As you're sitting in a sobbing heap on the floor of your (soon-to-be-The-Bank's) living room, there is a knock at the door.  You peek out to see a man in a suit who's obviously selling something.  Rolling your eyes, nearly walking away from the door, you decide to open it and just send him along his way.  There's something about his eyes that says he's seen rejection before, but he's going to be persistent because he has something for you that nobody else can offer you.  When you open the door, he tells you exactly that.

"I can't give you anything," you say in disgrace.  "I have nothing."

"That's okay," he tells you.  "You don't have to give me anything.  You just have to let me in and hear what I have to say."

With nothing to lose, and nowhere to go, you let him in.  He doesn't sit until you invite him to do so and you can't even offer him a cup of coffee because there's no coffee left in the house.  He starts to talk, and he doesn't stop.

"I have something unique for you that nobody else can offer you," he begins.  With a knowing smile, it's almost as though he can read your thoughts when you want to interrupt him to tell him this is pointless, so he holds up a hand to stop you when you haven't yet parted your lips, and he continues.  "I'm going to get you out of this bind.  By my calculations, it would take exactly $572,038.23 to get you out of debt right now.  It would pay off your credit cards, your vehicles, your mortgage, your student loans, the money you borrowed from your parents, the money you borrowed from your best friend that you haven't spoken to in two years because of your guilt at not being able to pay him back, the personal loan you took out at a credit union, and the paychecks you never got around to giving those payroll advance places."

In absolute horror and awe, you stare at his face, unable to speak.  It's incredible: he knows you, inside and out.  He knows your every thought, your every debt, every mistake you made.  He has your number, that's for sure... literally.  Part of you wants to crawl under the couch in shame, and the rest of you wants to shout in anger at his audacity until you hear his next words.

"I have exactly $572,038.23 in this briefcase and I want to give it to you.  It's not a loan.  It's a gift.  You will never owe me anything for this.  We can be friends after that, or you can never speak to me again, it's your choice.  But I want to give you this briefcase, and the only thing you have to do is take it from my hands."

I'm going to stop the story right here, right now and ask you a question.

Would you take the briefcase?

It's not a no-brainer, you know.  There are a lot of emotions pent up here.  It's easy to say, 'Sure, I'd take it!'  But how would you feel about taking it if you were really faced with this situation?  Would you be able to accept such an incredibly large gift from a stranger when you know there's no way you deserve it?  No way you could ever pay it back?  No way you could ensure that you wouldn't completely screw up again in five years?  Would you be able to trust what he was telling you?  To open the briefcase and really believe that all of your money, down to the cent, was in there to be repaid?  Could you allow yourself to stop in your tracks, the tracks that had led you to this mess, accept this gift, and turn around to start over?

We have to be able to admit to ourselves that we fail.  That we cannot do it alone.  That we aren't equipped to deal with pressures, with temptations, with daily life all on our own.  We have to see the ways we make mistakes and learn from them.  We have to confess that we're lost most of the time, just trying to find our way in the dark.  And when someone comes along with a light, and we see that we're going the wrong direction, we have to follow the light, not keep stumbling along in the dark because of our own pride.

What if it's not financial?  What if it's emotional?  What if it's spiritual?  What if it's sexual?  What if it's physical?  What if it's all of these, all wrapped up into one huge lifetime full of mistake after mistake after mistake?

Then someone comes to you and says, "Hey.  There's a really simple solution to all of this.  This guy, He gave His life for you, so that you could start over.  He's not asking for your money, or your deeds, or your piety.  He's not asking for your perfection, or your constant preaching about His awesomeness.  He just wants to help you.  He wants to love you like you've never been loved, and like you never will. He wants to take all of this mess that you made away, and replace it with goodness.  With kindness, and love, and compassion, and joy.  Joy like you wouldn't believe.  All you have to do is accept it.  Just believe that it's there and say, "Yes!  I'll take it!" 

Because that's the real question here.  It's not about money.  It's about love. 

Can you allow yourself to be, for the first time, loved in such a way that nothing else matters?  Because I guarantee you, it will change your life forever.

Take the briefcase.

Accept the offer. 

Let Him change your life.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Financial Peace

So, we're taking the Financial Peace University class at our church.  I was pretty sure it wasn't worth the $95 because I'd already read "The Total Money Makeover", we've spent the last several years recovering from my husband's bankruptcy after his divorce from the ex and some student loans, we're in a really good place right now and I just got a new job that pays alotmore (yes, that can be one word if I want it to).  But it's giving some good pointers and will help us to keep saving and start investing.  Good stuff.  I'm a big fan of stuffing money into coffee cans, but I suppose I could be making a little interest off of it, huh?

After the disheartening loss to the Irish yesterday, I'm still as big of a Michigan fan as ever.  I'm not a sore loser.  I don't like being taunted by jerky winners, don't get me wrong.  But that game was pretty ugly.  The weather held out, though, which was nice.  All the rain and hail came early, so by the time we got there to tailgate, it was cool but dry, and watching the night game from the stands was quite fun and comfortable, even if I was surrounded by a lot of ND fans.  They're okay most of the time, just not when they're playing my team.  Or beating the pants off of them.  The only negative thing I have to say is, I think they should boil down their helmets and sell them to the "Cash 4 Gold" guy so they can feed a small country.

This new work week is really going to help me get organized.  I had this past Friday off for the first time, and I overhauled the house.  Dusted (which I despise), vacuumed, organized the closet and files in the office, disassembled an old computer I haven't used in quite awhile, sorted through all of the piles of papers and stuff in bags that's been collecting in the kitchen for weeks.  It just feels great.  I have more projects that need to be taken care of, so this coming Friday will prove to be helpful for that as well.  If I can tackle something different on each of my 'days off', so much will get accomplished, and I can't wait.  This house (and my sense of well-being) has needed it for quite awhile.

Finishing the Emmy Awards, and awaiting blissful sleep.  My nap was interrupted today by the husky who decided she needed to loudly inform me that the neighbor had friends over.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Calm.  Placid.  Peaceful.  I need to be these things.  It's funny how, every time something changes, something still stays the same.  Every time things are looking up, something creeps out and bites you in the butt, then runs away.  The trick is to remain peaceful, regardless.  It's right there in my list of things I'm attempting to achieve in this Journey, I think.  Peace is a beautiful place.

Notice the sheet-of-glass reservoir pictured above.  This is its natural state.  You can throw a stone in, and it will cause a ripple, and it will return to calm.  The storms can blow, stir up the waters, make them murky and cause waves to splash and lick the shoreline, and it will return to calm.  There is no ugly churning beneath the water that causes its own ripples or waves.  It simply is.  It is in this state that I want to exist.

Whether it's a feud between loved ones, a daunting new task, a taxing day at work, a financial struggle, a physical malady -- I want to be able to continually return to this peaceful, easy feeling as my default.  I know it's possible.  I've heard tell of others who have done so, and continue to do so on a regular basis.

I feel like, more and more, this is coming to fruition.  I've kept my eyes set higher, and that makes a big difference.  Max Lucado says, "As long as our eyes are on God's majesty, there is a bounce in our step.  But let our eyes focus on the dirt beneath us, and we will grumble about every rock and crevice we have to cross." --The Great House of God

I'm trying.  I'm praying -- not just for myself, but for many, MANY others.  Most often, I find it's the best I can do.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The New Job Post

This is a picture of me during my first few weeks at the new job.  Okay, well, perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration.  It felt like this at times. I'm trying to keep my head above water because it feels like there is constantly something new happening and I'm struggling to keep up with it.  I haven't been fired (yet), so that's a plus.   I enjoy what I'm doing, however, and think I'll pull through just fine eventually.  Thus far, it's just a matter of getting 90% of things done, then going, "OH... yeah... I forgot about that!"  Then, while I'm working on the 10%, another round of 100% comes sneaking through the door.

My husband and I signed up for Financial Peace University at our church, the Dave Ramsey seminar with a workbook, hardcover book, and other materials.  We've been listening to him for a long time, and I've read his book "The Total Money Makeover" so I was hesitant to sign us up at a cost of $95.  I will say, however, that even going to the first session this past week, I've seen that it will be productive for us.  We have a leg up over a lot of people who are attending, or who have attended, because we've been working for years to get ourselves out of debt and to start saving.  We even thought we might be able to lead FPU next year, perhaps. After eight years of marriage, we've paid off all of the straggler-loans and debts from his previous relationships and endeavors, gotten a much better credit score for him, paid off my car loan and credit card, and we're in a good position right now.  With both of us working, we should be able to save and get a traditional loan on our home sooner rather than later, then pay it off early.  We have a lot of expenses right now, but nothing we can't handle.  The car is going to die any moment but, right now, I'm working on the prayer-ignition-system: I sit in the driver's seat, beg God to let the car get me back and forth to where I need to be that day, then thank Him when I get back home.  I'll assume that the day this system does not work is the day that God wants me to get another pre-owned vehicle which will cost less than what we have saved up, because we will. not. take. out. another. loan.

I'd like to interrupt this blog to say "Go Blue".

It seems as though the new job will keep me quite busy, so I might not be posting quite as often as I was in the weeks leading up to being hired there.  However, I'll attempt to post once a week during our day of rest -- not just to update you, but to keep up the inspiration on Facebook as much as possible.  As much as I dislike Facebook, I can definitely see the positive uses and, if at all possible, would like to use it to empower and inspire others.  I realize I won't always be in the mood to do this but, at the very least, I can refrain from posting negatives, right?

Things are looking up.  God has plans.  Jeremiah 29:11 is becoming my mantra for myself and for my husband, especially when he's not (or I'm not) really feeling it.  "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and a future."

I believe Him.

Sometimes it's not about sight, it's only about trust.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, September 3, 2012

Blast from the Past

I moved to Ann Arbor in the autumn of 1995.  I was eighteen, three-and-a-half hours from home, and scared out of my mind.  I desperately wanted my freedom, but I also desperately wanted my parents at the same time.  Over the four years I was in school there, and the two more years I lived there before moving to Indiana, I had some good times and some good friends.  Each year, my husband and I attempt to spend our anniversary weekend in Ann Arbor -- thankfully, though he's a huge Notre Dame fan, he also enjoys watching Michigan games and tooling around the campus with no real agenda.  We love the food, the ambiance, the buildings, the shopping, the food (oh, yeah, I already said that).  But this time in particular was even more special.

When I lived there, there was a small group of us that spent as much time together as possible.  Both before and after my divorce, these were friends that knew both my ex-husband and myself, and spent time with both of us.  I'm lucky enough to be friends with my ex, and I rarely even think of him as that.  Most of the time I just think of him as a friend that I've known since I was sixteen years old.  I've been close with my friend Danny for most of the time after I moved, and the other friends have been a part of my life off and on, but there have been a couple that I haven't seen in over a decade.  I got to see them this weekend and spend at least a little time catching up, and it made me very happy.  I've missed them dearly, and I do hope it's not another decade until we get to see each other again.  My husband's a real trouper, too.  Not only did he put up with a four-mile walk around midnight last night, he also doesn't get freaked out when I share a bottle of chocolate wine with one of my guy friends and hug the other one with all my might because I miss him so, so much.  I recall that there was a time in my life when I only had male friends.  I still have very few female friends these days but, then, I really don't get to spend much time with any of my friends, male or female.  Who knows when the next time I'll get to see any of them will be? 

We also got to ride horses at the Barton Farm in Belleville.  Chris and Rachel have a lovely place with five acres, and Rachel was wonderful enough to saddle up Ruby and Brooke and let us ride around with her through the woods and down the road.  We had a great time and even talked Chris into driving back to Ann Arbor so Rachel could get ANTHONY'S PIZZA with the rest of us!  Ahh, Anthony's, how I've missed you.

Now we're safely back at home, ready to jump into another work week.  I have a meeting, photo shoot, and an interview tomorrow.  Wednesday (our anniversary) I have a private tour of the Snite Museum.  Thursday I'm looking forward to properly homemade Hungarian Goulash at the Nichols residence.  Friday is comedy night, where I'll be writing jokes for THE Dave Kempher.  Saturday is a bridal shower for one of my good friends.  Sunday, I leave for Chicago because next Monday is my Jeopardy! audition, and another week begins.  Things are happening so quickly right now, I barely have time to blink, so this weekend was much needed.  I'm so glad to be back home right now, though -- I need a hot bath and a good, long rest to tackle everything that's coming our way.

To each and every one of my friends out there: whether we're together every week, once a year, or once a decade, you hold a very special place in my heart and you always will. Thank you for a great weekend, and for marking my life with your friendship.

Stephanie Jean