Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gifted


It's inevitable.  Each year I swear to myself that I will have all of my shopping done, presents wrapped, and cards written and mailed by December 1st.  This plan goes awry sometime in November when I realize that, once again, Thanksgiving comes before Christmas and it's right around the corner and I don't have time to shop and I should've been finding bargains all year long and... and...

...and it's December 23rd and I'm doing my second day of shopping. 

It's usually not as bad as that, but this year it certainly was. With cars dying and jobs changing and life happening so fast, the whole notion of Christmas just got away from us.  Even our daughter said to me this evening on our way to pick up some last minute items at CVS, "It doesn't even feel like Christmas."

That struck a chord.  Because that's what it is, right? It's a feeling. 

"Christmas isn't a season; it's a feeling." -Edna Ferber

It's a feeling that evokes nostalgia, that pines for snow on the pines, that brings forth a giddiness that only childhood can hold.  It's a feeling that there is goodness and hope, both in the world and for the world.  It's a feeling of deep desire to make a difference: to light up a person's face, or their life; to give; to serve others; to love more fully.  It's a feeling full of memories and goals.  It's a feeling of an age-old story being told once again, anew, each year -- one of fondness and warmth and peace.

Where is the place for that feeling in our technologically-overloaded, me-centered universe? What has our gift-giving become? We've made it obligatory rather than something we do out of the kindness and joy in our hearts.  We've made it about saving money or going on a spending spree, about racking up credit card debt, about staying up all night to get the best sales possible...

Somehow, we're missing something. 

The greatest gift that could ever have been given appeared not in sparkling holographic wrapping paper, not in a mansion emblazoned with a massive display of LED lights set to music, and not in a limousine decorated with antlers and a red nose on the grill. 

The Gift appeared in a manure-filled barn behind an inn, surrounded by animals and in the middle of nowhere.  It ended up that night wrapped in cloth and stuck into a feeding trough because there was no suitable place.  It began as a scandal.  It ended with betrayal and murder, and then a miracle that saved the entire population of humankind forever. 

This is what we celebrate, as we scavenge bargain bins for stocking stuffers, holler at people in parking lots for taking too long, mutter to ourselves consistently that we can't wait for the holidays to be over.  I'm as guilty of it as anyone else, and usually more so, since I tend to postpone as long as humanly possible before shopping.

But I'm taking a breath right now.

I'm remembering what that feeling of JOY is like -- being surrounded by family, hearing Christmas carols in the background, watching the snow fall.  I'm remembering that the reason for that joy isn't just around at Christmas, it's available in our hearts at any given moment, whether it's December 25th or mid-July.  It's a feeling.

I don't care if it IS Christmas.  I want it to FEEL like Christmas.

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." -Charles Dickens

That's my goal... starting now.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Humble Request

Tragedy: a lamentable, dreadful, or fatal event or affair; calamity; disaster. --dictionary.com
 
 Friday's senseless massacre has had me on the edge of an emotional breakdown just beneath the surface all weekend long.  I tend not to let my thoughts linger very long on such things because I learned long ago that my anxiety attacks are triggered when I allow myself to dwell.  That being said, this is a subject that I cannot let slide.
 
It has come to my attention that, after the initial shock and horror, many people have been using this tragedy as a platform to spout their personal beliefs and, while I'm dismayed, that is a right that each of us possess.  If you're all about gun control, then this becomes a gun control issue.  If you're all about the right to bear arms, it becomes a right to bear arms issue.  If you're a die-hard athiest, you'll use it to your advantage in attempting to prove there is no God.  If you're a homeschooling parent, you'll solidify your choice to keep your kids out of the school system.  If you're a Westboro Baptist Church-goer, you'll use this atrocity to get your face in the news once again on the wrong side of what Christianity is really all about.
 
But I'd like to think that, if you're a human at all, you have this feeling somewhere in your heart that says, "This is something so wrong, so horrible, it hurts my heart to even think about it."  
 
That's the way we should feel.  Regardless of our personal belief system, there is no valid ethos in which the slaughter of small children should or could be championed.  Something is wrong.  Something is terribly, terribly wrong.  
 
To address the issue that is, of course, on my heart, I will go ahead and ask -- then attempt to answer -- the question that I've already both seen and heard more times than I thought possible:
 
"What does God have to say about this?"
 
 I think it's safe to say that God is not always pleased with the manner in which His creations exercise their free will.  And although I cannot speak for Him, I can clearly see when He speaks for Himself.  Proverbs 15:9 says, "The Lord hates what evil people do."  It doesn't say He hates evil people, for God hates nobody.  He loves all of His children, even when they make horrendous choices that affect the lives of everyone in the community -- in, to be certain, the entire country. 
 
Our mindset, however, dictates how we, as fellow humans, will deal with such a tragedy.  We can spout off about the evil, we can cry for the lives lost and the families left to grieve, we can champion our own political cause, we can hold our own children tightly and live in hopes that such a tragedy will never affect us personally.  One thing is certain, though: this is not the last calamity we'll see in our lifetime.  How we deal with it defines who we are.  
 
Are you going to be someone who takes advantage of such horrors to further your own political or religious viewpoint?  Or are you going to be someone who wants to make a difference in the world in any way you can?  
 
"Part of you is broken, and the other part is bitter.  Part of you wants to cry, and part of you wants to fight... There is a fire burning in your heart.  It's the fire of anger.  And you are left with a decision.  Do I put the fire out or heat it up? Do I get over it or do I get even? Do I release it or resent it? Do I let my hurts heal, or do I let hurt turn into hate?... Without forgiveness, bitterness is all that is left." --Max Lucado 
 
We can't change what happened, we can only change our reaction.  We can't bring back the dead, but we can affect the living.  We can't turn a blind eye, but we can help others to see the hope that is out there.  Do I think that dead children are a blessing?  Absolutely not -- I think it's an unspeakable atrocity.  Do I think we should hate the man responsible? Absolutely not -- God doesn't hate him, He weeps for his loss as much as He does for the people the guy murdered.  Do I think God is at fault?  Absolutely not -- I am humbled that I was given the free will He blessed each of us with and pray constantly that I use it to remain on His chosen path for me, and not stray from it, lest I become so far gone that I commit some horrible act that affects the lives of a nation.  
 
I humbly request from each and every one of you that you take a few steps this week:
 
Pray for not just the families that lost children, but for the entire school system, and all the children left who witnessed such atrocities.
 
Release from your heart the anger and bitterness, and let forgiveness and love sink in deeply and firmly, becoming rooted as the one and only foundation you have.  Do not allow yourself to hate, for hate only drives more tragedy.
 
Make it your personal mission to do anything and everything you can to lift people up, bring goodness and happiness to those around you, and to be a harbinger of light and joy and peace.  Who knows what lives you may affect?  What if YOU bring a message of hope to someone that might have otherwise been the cause of another terrible disaster such as this, and lives are saved that you will never know about?  
 
None of us knows the impact we have on each other.  None of us is aware of the ripple affect our words and actions may have on a person, on a community, or on a nation.  None of us is innocent, and none of us is righteous.  
 
We are all fellow sojourners on this Journey of Reinvention.  All each of us can do is keep taking step by step in the right direction and bring others along with us.
 
Stephanie Jean
 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Charlie Browniest

I've been called a lot of things in my life.  Quirky, different, special, gifted, a geek, a nerd, a *****, pretty, ugly, big-nosed, statuesque, talented, a lot more things with those little asterisks in them.  But, truth be told, I've always felt a lot like Charlie Brown.

If you watch the shows (or even READ the comics...), he's filled with anxiety.  He's a bit strange looking, just enough to be marginalized from the group.  He's smart, but overlooked.  He has a lot of emotions -- he desperately wants to be loved.  He wants things to have meaning, to not be commercialized.  He wants very much for people to listen to him, but they tend to ignore him or walk right over him to do what they want to do, even though he has good ideas.  From time to time, when he stands up for himself with a tiny bit of confidence, things work out.  He wants to believe in the goodness of the human spirit, so he allows himself to do it time and again.

And every single time, Lucy pulls the football out from under him and he falls flat on his back.

But do you know what the most important part of the Charlie Brown lesson is? He always gets back up and tries again.  He puts himself out there, he takes care of the ones he loves, he tries with all his might, knowing that chances are he'll wind up flat on his back again... he just keeps trying.

That's how I feel.

Granted, my path has not been so harrowed or so dangerous.  Most of the time, it's been small obstacles in comparison with many others in the world.  But my mountains are my mountains, and my valleys are my valleys.  They're fraught with their own difficulty, and I've overcome them all to be where I am today.  Which is still Charlie-Brownish, but I don't view that as a bad thing.

I'd rather be quirky and marginalized than be cruel and part of the in-crowd.  I'd rather be mocked for being myself than be praised for acting like someone I'm not.  I'd rather trust in the innate goodness of humanity and fall flat on my back than live my whole life in a pessimistic refusal to be involved. 



Stephanie Jean

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Reason


I am thirty-five years old.  I have been watching A Charlie Brown Christmas for thirty-five years.  I was cognizant of the meaning behind this monologue from a very young age.  It was something I heard not just once a year on A Charlie Brown Christmas, but every week in church.  Jesus was born.  He was a baby.  He was in a manger.  There was a star, and wise men, and presents.  Oh yeah, I was aware of the meaning...

But not the reason.

I've been aware of the reason for less than a decade.  I learned that it wasn't about a baby in a manger, but a God loving his creations so much that He laid down His life for them.  I learned that it wasn't about a story of old times, but of an everyday relationship with Someone very real.  I learned that it wasn't about something that happened once 2000 years ago, but about something that happens constantly, every moment.

The reason is love.

We have such a skewed view of love.  Love means expectations to us -- it means closeness, or things in common, or finding someone cute/cuddly/sexy/fun.  It means settling for the best we think we can get.  Love means co-existing with someone who has similar quirks.  It means compromising with someone for a mutual disappointment.  Love is an attraction between us and someone or something we desire at the moment, for the moment, and something or someone else in the next moment.  We love Dr. Pepper.  We love Dr. Phil.  We love Dr. Mario.  We love Dr. McDreamy.  We love our dogs, our new cars, our favorite celebrities, mashed potatoes, big screen televisions, the latest version of the iPad, the desert, the beach, the Walking Dead.  But how many of us actually have a good grip on what true, unconditional love is?

Here's a clue: it may have started in a manger, but it ended, bloody, bruised, and broken on a cross. 

Our relationships are dependent on feelings, emotions, attractions, fulfilled expectations.  Our relationships are based first on 'chemistry' and then on 'quid pro quo'.  You did it, so I'm going to.  You didn't do it, so I don't have to.  You do this, and then I'll do that.  If you don't do this, I'm not going to do that.

That's not love.  That's certainly co-existence, but it does not describe love in any way, shape, or form.  Real love, true love, gives.  Gives at all costs.  Lays down its life.  Puts the other ahead at every instance.  Endures past any realistic expectation.  Forgives constantly.  Holds no grudges.  Is patient to a fault.  Real, true love lifts you up when you're down without blaming you for tripping.  Real, true love is absolute in every way, and has no conditions.  It doesn't change with the feeling of the day.  It doesn't depend on whether or not you've fulfilled your end of the bargain. 

This is the background behind why people who call themselves 'Christians' often tend to judge others and put limitations and boundaries on Christ's love.  It's because they, themselves don't understand His real, true, unconditional love.  It's only human love that they understand.  It's a miscommunication that has kept countless people from coming to find that very unconditional love because they see the so-called followers and they run screaming in the opposite direction.  If only they knew...

If only they knew that HE has no conditions.
If only they knew that HE loves them for who they are, right where they are.
If only they knew that HE wants them; He doesn't reject them.

If only they knew that HE doesn't care what they look like, who they fall in love with, what they've done, where they've been, who they've been with, what mistakes they've made...

HE loves them.  Fully.  Wholeheartedly.  Enough to die for them, and them alone.  Even if they reject Him, laugh at Him, ignore Him, betray Him, or make a mockery of Him... He loves them.

He loves us.

He loves you.

For who you are, right where you are, even if you never take a single step in the right direction.

When you hear people talking about the 'reason for the season' this year, remember this story.  Even if you're not following Christ, if you're not a church-goer, if you don't like snow or trees or ornaments or Jesus-people.  Just remember that it has nothing to do with what anyone else has said about Him, and everything about what He has to say about YOU.

He loves you.

THAT puts the 'merry' in Christmas. 

Stephanie Jean