Saturday, November 24, 2012

Family... Redefined

It's official.  Family has absolutely nothing to do with blood.  I know this for a few reasons.

First and foremost, because I have three kids even though I've never been able to give birth.  That's right -- they're mine.  I laugh with them, cry with them, worry about them, give to them, instruct them, watch over them, guide them and -- did I mention? -- love them unconditionally, now and forever.  They're not my blood, but they're my family. 

Secondly, I have some 'family' who have been hurtful, divisive, belittling, condescending, deceitful, and who have betrayed me and others I love many times over the years. Though they are my blood, and though I love them to this day, I no longer feel the familial ties which, according to the world, supposedly 'bind'.  It does not mean there's no forgiveness -- there is.  It does not mean there is no love -- there is.  But it means that the definition of 'family' evolves each day.

Most importantly, there is a firm biblical definition of 'family' and that's what I'm talking about today.    Since I have some other friends who are going through familial issues right now, and it's taking its toll on them, I thought I'd share what I read this morning.  One of my favorites, Max Lucado, writes:

"Does Jesus have anything to say about dealing with difficult relatives? Is there an example of Jesus bringing peace to a painful family?  Yes, there is.  His own.  It may surprise you to know that Jesus had a family at all -- you may not be aware that he had brothers and sisters.  He did. [...] AND it may surprise you to know that his family was less than perfect.  They were.  If your family doesn't appreciate you, take heart: neither did Jesus'.  YET he didn't try to control his family's behavior, nor did he let their behavior control his.  He didn't demand that they agree with him.  He didn't sulk when they insulted him.  He didn't make it his mission to try to please them." --He Still Moves Stones

During a particular time of betrayal by his family, when they were themselves saying he was possibly crazy, when they did not believe in him, when they were questioning him, Jesus did not let it get to him.  When he was told that his mother and siblings were outside and wanted to speak to him about all of this, he said to his companions (the people who were close to him, the ones who were listening to him, the ones who supported him): "My true brother and sister and mother are those who do what God wants." Mark 3:35.  He goes on to say that blood is not thicker than water: trust and love and acceptance are thicker than blood.  "Obedience is thicker than blood," is how Mark 3:35 is translated in "The Message" bible, my personal favorite for really learning and getting into the story of Jesus. 

The bible also tells us something very important about people who are of the divisive ilk.  "If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them." - Titus 3:10.  We're not supposed to bend over backwards trying to force someone to see things our way.  We're not supposed to keep shoving things in their face.  They've been warned and given the information.  They've been asked to see things as they truly are. Sometimes they come back around and everything is okay, but often their nature will rear its head again, and we're in the same situation.  We are to remain content and at peace, and not let their divisiveness sway us from DOING WHAT WE KNOW IS RIGHT.

For those of you who are struggling with family, it's especially difficult at the holidays.  You may have many wonderful memories of childhood or young adulthood with those that you love and care about who have now become divisive and spiteful.  My advise is to CHERISH those memories.  Do not let current circumstances stain your nostalgia.  There is good and bad in everyone, in each of us, now and always.  Nobody is perfect -- nobody is even close.  Circumstances often change, and perhaps, in time, those who have been hurtful will be apologetic.  It's not up to us to force the issue, it's up to us to continue doing the next right thing in our own lives, and to pray, and pray, and pray for those we love and care about.

Going into the Christmas season, be grateful for the family that you have in your lives regardless of whether or not there is blood between you.  There is a blood that binds us all as brothers and sisters, as children of God, and it is that blood that we should think of before any other.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's Just Your 19th Nervous Breakdown...

This week has been particularly trying.  I'm not certain if I've yet mentioned it, but the car I've had for 11 years finally gave up the ghost, and I sold it for cash.  Incredibly difficult for me to do, since it was chock full of memories, but it had to happen.  Thankfully, we had one working vehicle.

The operative word here being 'had'.

On Wednesday evening, I went to my neighbor, a very close friend of our family, and asked if he'd mind if we borrowed his extra vehicle for a couple of days.  I had a huge work commitment Thursday and would have to be there from 8AM to probably close to midnight, and didn't want Steve to have to figure out how to get home from work.  I figured if we had TWO working vehicles just that one particular day, we could get everything accomplished and all would be well.  He said no problem, gave us the keys, and all was, indeed, well.

Until Thursday morning at 5:15 AM when my husband called me and said his van had broken down on the side of the road on the way to work.  

My prayer on the way to pick him up was simply this: Please, God, provide for us.  You always have, and I have no other recourse than to trust you now.  We don't have the ability to buy something new or take out a loan right now.  We officially own NO working vehicles.  Please help us.  Provide for us.  Please.  (Over and over, all the way to pick him up, drop him off at work, come back home, change, and go to work myself.)

Partway through the morning, my husband called to tell me that the man at the garage where the van had been towed said there was no point in putting anymore money into the van.  Figuring if the man who could've taken our money said it wasn't worth it, we decided against having it worked on.  The man did, however, say that there was a very inexpensive car for sale with only 67000 miles on it, and would we be interested.  We were.  And, within an hour, my neighbor called us to tell us that he didn't need his vehicle back until next year after the winter.  

Could it be that prayer works? 

I have a genuine belief that God will handle things.  He will handle everything.  When we put our faith in Him instead of in ourselves, that's when things start falling into place.  Whether we see Him or not, hear Him or not, we can choose to believe Him for what He has told us: Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened.  We don't have much money.  We can't take out a loan right now because we're trying to refinance our house and we're so close we can't delay the process any longer.  We work 25 and 45 minutes away from home, respectively.  We have no choice but to trust God to take care of us.  To provide for us.  And within an hour, he gave us the ability to have two working vehicles.  

There's something about throwing your hands up and saying 'Jesus, take the wheel', isn't there?  Carrie Underwood had it right.  When we stop trying to fix things and make them work, and we trust Him to do it, that's all He needs to hear.  Why is it that we wait so long?  Why isn't it our first instinct instead of our last resort?  Like a little kid saying, "I wanna do it!" and then attempting to dress themselves for ten minutes before sitting in a sobbing heap and finally letting us do it... we, as fully developed adults, do the same thing.  We make an absolute mess of our lives, again and again, defiant and determined to do it our own way until we finally sit in a sobbing heap and let Him take over.  We'd save ourselves so much time, effort, and heartache if we'd just let Him take care of things to begin with.

To all of you out there who wonder if He's listening, He is.
To all of you who worry that He might not be real, He is.
To all of you who wonder if He hears your prayers, He does.
To all of you who think you're not worth it, He believes you are.
To all of you who are losing faith, He has faith in you.

Don't give up.  Just give it over to Him.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, November 10, 2012

More Than Just Thanks

I usually try to put a really pretty picture here, or something that draws the eye.  But this drew MY eye.  At first, it's just cute.  Then, it goes deeper.

If you're reading this, you're alive.
If you're reading this, you're literate.
If you're reading this, you have access to the internet.
If you're reading this, you have time on your hands.
If you're reading this, you're not starving in a third world country.
If you're reading this, you're not a refugee in a prison camp.
If you're reading this, you're not at you're child's funeral.
If you're reading this, you're not standing in a minefield.

We have so much to be thankful for that we consistently take for granted.  It's not a once-a-year thing, this attitude of gratitude that we should be carrying with us.  We should be smiling more.  We should be thanking people at every opportunity.  We should be thanking God each day we wake up.  The question is, why don't we do this?

When we're so used to blessings, they mean less and less to us.  We're used to having plenty (or at least, enough) food to eat.  We're used to clean water, and plumbing, and electricity.  We're used to two-car garages and cars to put in them.  Endless forms of entertainment.  Blankets on our bed.  A bed.  We're accustomed to having such an array of clothing that we get to choose what to wear each day before we walk out of the house.  We're used to being able to walk.  We're used to a furnace to keep us warm in the winter, and an air conditioning unit of some sort to keep us cool in the summer.  Once, it was a novelty to get our drivers' license and hop in a car and go anywhere we wanted -- that quickly faded to 'having' to go places instead of 'getting' to go places.  Whatever this wonderful life drops in our laps, we're always more concerned with what this terrible life is throwing at us.

We have become entitled.  

If you have six dollars in your wallet, you can get a Starbucks Frappe (and leave a tip, if you have a soul!) or you can feed a child in a third-world country for a month. 

A MONTH.

For a few bucks here and there, which you might toss aside for a pack of chewing gum and a Mountain Dew, you could buy mosquito nets to save ENTIRE FAMILIES' LIVES in Africa who might otherwise die of malaria.You can help provide clean water for whole communities.  You can be instrumental in preventing people from HIV infection. You can make a difference.

All of these things you and I take for granted?  For every one of us, there are tens of thousands of people who don't have the opportunities we do.  Who don't have the comfort or safety we do.  Who don't have the rights we do. 

Instead of this sense of entitlement that permeates every aspect of our lives, there should be an overwhelming joy in our hearts each and every day we're alive, and for every blessing, big or small, that comes our way.

I want to start living that way today.

How about you?

Stephanie Jean


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Giving Thanks

I have to say, it's fantastic to see so many people taking the 30-day challenge to post something they're thankful for each and every day of November.  I wish it were like this all year long.  Everyone has a right to post what they want on Facebook, of course, but sometimes I just get so depressed reading up on everything that's wrong when I know there are so many things that are right that we're not focusing on.

Yesterday, we drove down to Indianapolis and back with one of our good friends and two of her daughters to see our daughter and her son march in the State Marching Band competition.  Our band came in sixth and hers came in fifth, and everyone seemed pleased.  I'm looking forward to some whole weekends coming up, and very grateful for the 'fall back' of Daylight Savings Time today.  It's nice to be this wide-awake and writing at 9:30am instead of 10:30am, though in the grand scheme of things I still appear to be lazy.  Not true, of course -- appearances aren't everything.  I just need some down-time now and then. 

I'm gearing up for Thanksgiving now -- I want to shed a few of these pounds I've put back on so I can keep myself from going overboard in a few weeks.  The family is coming over for Thanksgiving here, which is my favorite -- I like having everyone in one place.  I'll have to do a little extra grocery shopping over the next couple of weeks to stock up, but I'd rather do that than buy everything at once. 

We're doing well with our budgeting and financial stuff (we learned a lot before the financial class we're taking, but that's helped, too) so things are in a good place for us right now.  We're not rich (and I'm sure we never will be) but we're not struggling, either, so it's a good balance, I feel.

There is a lot happening around me, and inside of me, but I'm happy.  I love my husband.  I love my family.  I love my friends.

I'm at peace.

(It's kind of strange... I'm not used to it.)

Stephanie Jean