Tuesday, December 3, 2013

There Was A Time

If you're a Les Miserables fan, you just sang that in your head and then kept going with "...when love was kind." That's not how I envisioned it, but having been in Les Mis this past summer, I sang it in my head even as I typed it.

What I was going for, however, was that there was a time when I was an inspired writer. When I felt like I produced good, solid writing. Most of it was passionate and, at the end of the day, I'd see what I'd written and give it a nod of approval. I don't often feel that way anymore. Most days, I don't even bother.

I've spent the last hour or so looking back into my blog archives to see how A Journey of Reinvention has evolved. Though I began the blog in 2008, it became A Year of Reinvention in 2009, then A Journey of Reinvention in 2010 and has remained so because the title embodies how I feel about my life.

Looking back not at the blog but at my life, I am shocked that I've become the person I am today. I don't mean that in a negative sense; on the contrary, I feel much better about myself and how far I've come than I ever expected I would. I spend a lot of time talking about God and trying to show people a better way of life because that's how I got this far, but I never really dig into the nitty gritty details (nor should I, in a public forum) of who I once was versus who I am now. Suffice to say that, had you known me a decade ago, you wouldn't be reading about my life, wouldn't be taking my advice, and would probably be talking badly about me behind my back.

Evolution: Any process of formation or growth; development.

The process of evolution begins when a body is not suited for its environment any longer. Small changes occur gradually and, eventually, there is a transformation. Anyone who says they don't believe in evolution is an idiot. Evolution happens every day. It happens in our attitudes, our speech patterns, our habits, and our thoughts. I was a horrible person for a long time. When I suddenly realized that I was not suited for that environment, I didn't change overnight. The person you see (or read, I guess) here today evolved gradually from that horrible person more than ten years ago.

Has my writing evolved? Yes and no. I believe the same level of ability is there (though I'll admit it's dormant from time to time), but the attitude and direction has evolved into something much different. I used to write for me. Now, I write for you. It's why I feel guilty when I don't write as often as I 'should'. It's why I look back through and edit, to be sure the message is what's best. It's why I spend more time trying to find just the right picture to go along with the message than I do writing the message. It's why I call it a message instead of a blog. I've always hated the word 'blog'. It sounds unprofessional. But here's a newsflash, writer-lady: you're not a professional. Sure, you've written books and articles and been paid when they're published... doesn't that make you a professional? No. If writing were my profession, I would be a professional writer. (Now I've gotten to the point where the word 'professional' doesn't look right. Ever typed or written something so many times in succession that it just seems weird?)

My blogs used to be more organic. They weren't scripted or honed or laden with angst on whether or not they were 'just right', and that was the beauty, I think. And I find, looking back, that a lot more people commented on it. That's what I want. I want feedback. I want conversation. I want to be a part of your lives and I want you to be a part of mine. Not for any self-involved reason -- just because I feel that we're supposed to connect. The only thing I've ever truly wanted to do in life is to write. There's something wrong when I no longer feel joy in doing the one thing I've ever truly wanted to do.


This almost feels like I'm breaking up with you. I'm not. I love you people. I love you for reading, whether or not you agree with my sentiments. I love you for responding when you do, though I haven't given you much reason to. I'm just taking the time to explain why my posts may start to look a little different in the near future, and hoping you'll stay on for the ride as you always have. I know, I know... every year when it gets close to the New Year, I mix things up or I have some new thing going on, it's true. But, I'm still me, you're still you, and we're still here together, walking hand-in-hand on this journey.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, November 24, 2013

In Everything, Give Thanks

I did not draw this particular turkey. If I had, it would be worse.
I love Thanksgiving. The three things I love the most are all combined into one day: Family, Food, and Football! I sit around with my loved ones, gorging myself on things that I rarely get all year long such as homemade mashed potatoes and gravy along with a juicy, delicious turkey filled with delightful triptophan that will make me snooze later in front of the TV watching overpaid men tackle each other because of a little brown oblong ball.

But I didn't always love Thanksgiving. There are some stigmas attached for me. First, let me tell you about the Terrible Turkeys. I seem to be the only child in my family that didn't receive any artistic ability. I can sing and I can write and I can act. But I cannot, for the life of me, draw, sculpt, paint, or even draw a recognizable stick figure. My little sister can draw intricate designs, cartoons, anime, tattoos. My older sister can draw Disney characters. My brother has his own sign company so he works with computers and art every day, and used to draw and sketch cartoons all the time when we were younger. Me? I can't even trace my hand properly to make a picture of a turkey. Seriously. My Terrible Turkeys are a joke that runs rampant through every Thanksgiving get-together. One year, my mom pulled out all the turkeys my little sister and I had made throughout elementary school. Hers were a beautiful progression of how her art had improved. Mine, you couldn't tell the kindergarten turkey from the fifth grade turkey. No kidding.

But after fifth grade, I was no longer forced to draw turkeys. I changed from a public school to a parochial school during my middle school years so, instead of the embarrassment of failing to draw something that resembled plumage each year, I was introduced to my new Thanksgiving duty: praying at the meal. My parents figured that, since I was going to church school now and we prayed at lunch each day, it would be a good test of my public speaking skills and my ability to form a coherent thought to give the prayer before our Thanksgiving meal. This also saved my mom from doing it, since she's never been one for public speaking. So I would pray. I was nervous every time, but I wanted my parents to be happy and, more importantly, I wanted to sit down and chow down. I felt so great once it was over and I could reward myself with tasty, tasty food joy.

Flash forward to college. Still the designated pray-er at holiday meals, I was in the midst of my struggle with belief. Already questioning and doubting, I recall one Thanksgiving I came home to be with the family and to say grace and pig out. As I asked the blessing, I specifically said, "Please bless our family and those who are not able to be with us today, and keep them safe until we see them again." As we sat down to eat, not five minutes later, the phone rang. My uncle had been in a horrible accident, and we finished the rest of our meal in quick concern, jumped in our respective vehicles, and drove to Wisconsin to see him -- but it turned out, he never regained consciousness and our trek wasn't as much to see him as it was to whisper our goodbyes.

I felt like God had ignored me. No, more than that -- I felt like God had slapped me in the face. If He was even there to begin with. I didn't pray out loud again for a decade. And that was because I didn't pray in private for a decade, either. If He was going to ignore me, I was going to ignore him.

The Journey of those ten years of my life is a long, intricate story for another time, but it has a happy ending, I assure you. It's the reason I'm writing this today. It's the reason I do everything I do. Yes, I came to believe again, but in a completely different manner. In doing research this week to speak at a church for their Thanksgiving services at the last minute because their scheduled pastor had to drop out, I found out some really interesting things from the book of Psalms which, traditionally, has not been my favorite book -- but this year, I've been delving into it in a different way than just my usual perfunctory skim.

I have the Amplified version of the bible this year [I get a different one each year], but I found out that, at least in the King James Version, the phrase 'thanks' or 'give thanks' occurs 73 times. Most of those are in the book of Psalms. If you pick up a bible, any bible, and put your finger directly in the middle of the book, you'll find the book of Psalms. That used to be a neat piece of trivia for me, but it makes perfect sense and I don't believe it's a coincidence. The Psalms are full of the strong emotions of human beings. Great joy on the mountaintop highs of life. Desperate seeking, longing, crying out for God in the valleys. Betrayal by other humans, feeling like God is ignoring us, facing the storms knowing that He is our only refuge regardless of whether or not we 'feel' His presence. And that's the truth, that's the crux right there: God is with us, always. 1 Thes. 5:18 says "In everything, give thanks." It's easy to give thanks on a mountaintop. The trick is to be able to give thanks in the valley, too.

I took a look at some songs I've heard the last few years on the radio and it occurs to me that Psalms aren't just in the book. They're available to us, too. These particular songs echo the same sentiments as I felt during those darkest times of my life, and I'm sure you've felt this way too, from time to time. I'll just put a few of the lyrics from each here, but a link to the whole song if you'd like to take a look yourself.

Blessings by Laura Story
What if Your blessings come through raindrops? What if Your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near?

Never Alone by Barlow Girl
I cry out with no reply and I can't feel You by my side, so I'll hold tight to what I know: You're here, and I'm never alone.

Hold My Heart by Tenth Avenue North
So many questions without answers; Your promises remain. I can't see, but I'll take my chances to hear You call my name.

The thing is, we're NOT alone. We may feel that way from time to time, or even often. But no matter how bereft we are of money, friends, home, or health, God is always right by our side. The Psalms are full of themes that echo His grace, His mercy, His loving kindness, the fact that He hears us. At least three different Psalms begin with, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good -- His love endures forever!" We might look at other people's lives and think they have everything, and feel hurt or lost or jealous. We may even feel covetous as though we're living right and have little, and other people are living the wrong way and have all kinds of things we don't. The bible addresses this, too. Psalm 37:16 says, "Better is the little that the righteous have than the abundance of many who are wrong and wicked." This is not the life we will have forever. This is not the home we are meant for. Until that time, we need to remember that "it is a good thing, a delightful thing, to give thanks." (Psalms 92:1,2).

So, this Thanksgiving, whether we are surrounded by friends and family and food and we can, indeed, 'Taste and see that the Lord is good' (Psalm 34:8), or whether we are alone and without a feast, we can remember this:

"Because Your loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You. So will I bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. My whole being shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise you with joyful lips." (Psalm 63:3-5)

HE is our nourishment.
HE is our blessing.
HE is our greatest gift, even if we have nothing else.

Be thankful for sight, hearing, taste, food, family, football, marriage, health, safety, and a home. But if you have none of these things, be thankful anyway because God will never leave us, never harm us, never let us be alone, never stop loving us, and never give up on us.

That is all we need to be truly thankful.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Crazy Life -- A Recap

Yes, the footblogs will resume. I'm just taking a hiatus. No, it's not because we lost AGAIN. (Yes, it's because we lost AGAIN. *grumble*) But I promise, I'll finish out the series.

Here's the latest and greatest on what's happening in the life of a simple Middlebury gal, in no particular order:

1. Working four days a week at the local video shop.

2. Cleaning houses and doing housecleaning estimates, taking on new clients, with my best friend and ministry partner as often as possible.

3. Writing and editing for two different magazines as well as updating the online calendar and creating and sending the weekly e-newsletter for one of said magazines.

4. Working on a budget for the cloth diaper ministry's first class: a three-month project, and looking to find an umbrella non-profit organization to absorb us for now until we can either file papers on our own or find a permanent umbrella non-profit to call home.

5. Doing the final background work needed to direct the upcoming musical 'Company'which auditions in December at Elkhart Civic Theatre and goes up in March.

6. Awaiting news on a grant for our cloth diaper ministry project from The Pollination Project.

7. Doing 'dog maintenance' -- the husky who recently has been suffering from a staph infection looks to be cleared up, but making sure she doesn't scratch because of dry skin or any new flea infestation is a full-time job in itself. Just this morning I melted coconut oil and massaged it into her skin. Yes, you read that correctly. No, she did not tip me.

8. Making my own laundry and dishwasher detergent as well as baking my own bread, making homemade macaroni and cheese, and other from-scratch recipes as often as possible.

9. Gearing up for Christmas and planning some inexpensive homemade gifts for my loved ones to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas instead of the commercialism that runs so rampant this time of year. Yes, I'm poor.

10. Celebrating my husband's successes at school -- he was chosen to give his speech on Speech Night (only 20 out of 500 students are chosen) and he was recognized at a Scholarship Recognition ceremony yesterday.

It's a crazy, full, time-consuming schedule but there are so many perks. I get to grocery shop and watch movies with my daughter while my husband does homework, so we get girl time. I get to chat online with my sister while I'm at the video store, so we get sister time. I get to snuggle with my puppies and husband late at night when he finally emerges from the office to have some downtime and we can watch The Walking Dead or American Horror Story. I get to talk to my mom or dad (or both!) every day and catch up. I have the satisfaction of not being at a job I hate, of being surrounded by the people I love the most, and of serving my God in every way I can.

What could be better?

-Stephanie Jean

Monday, November 4, 2013

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

"It was a dark and stormy night..." Ah, Snoopy! My inspiration! As a writer, I often giggle harder than I probably should at his constant use of this phrase as an opener. That's because he never failed to write, which I often do. So, if I have to open with "It was a dark and stormy night...", then that's exactly what I'll do.

The problem is, as Snoopy found, even the greatest of opening lines has to have something to follow it. I don't have a tried-and-true second line, so now I have to think.

There have been a lot of changes in my life over the past year and, while some of them seemed frightening at the time, all of them have led me to be where I am in this very moment: peaceful.

At the beginning of the year, I was troubled at my place of employment and struggling with the dilemma of whether to stay and continue being uncomfortable in my own skin or to leave and be financially in danger. I took seeing my family for granted, as something that I could do 'when I had time'. I often expressed bitterness, resentment, and, at times, downright hatred for a few select people in my life and when I wasn't expressing it, I certainly was feeling it in my heart. As much as I loved God and always knew to put Him first in my life, I was paying little attention to my own advice, and was trying to muscle around His plan to create some sort of amalgamation of His plan WITH my plan. That never works, just FYI.

In May, I almost lost my little sister. It put everything into perspective. It taught me (rather, reminded me) to seek God first and everything else would fall into place. In my growing relationship with Him, He gave me the courage to do what I knew in my heart to be right: leave my current place of employment and trust Him to provide for us. After making God my first priority, my family was next, and I dropped everything else in my life to be with them. Nearly all of my relationships have done nothing but thrive since that point and, while I still have negative feelings from time to time toward certain people, I don't dwell on them. I turn them around into what I think God must feel toward those people. I have learned that loving God means loving others. It's my job to be His hands and feet. His arms are not closed off, and His face is not hateful. His heart is not hard, and His lips don't spout negativity.

My life has changed dramatically and I'm telling you that yours can, too.

Isaiah 43:2 says that even though we walk through the fire, it won't harm us, because He's taking care of us. He doesn't say there will be no fire, just to trust Him to get us through it. Every trial we face is honing us to be the person He meant for us to be. It's our faith in His ability to get us through that matters, not in our own abilities. He's shaped us to be who we are, and the first thing we are? Children of God.

"It was a dark and stormy night..." but now it's not, because I'm basking in God's light. Give it a shot. You won't be disappointed.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Footblog #9: Sometimes, You're Going to Lose

It's true. There's nothing you can do about it. Whatever the circumstances, the other team is just too tough, or you're not prepared, or something takes you by surprise and, sometimes, you're going to lose. End of story. Last week was a pretty rough week for me. After going 5-0, my Wolverines finally lost and, of all teams, it was to Penn State. Penn State!? Really? It's not like we lost to Western, but still. They're not a real powerhouse, and we had no good excuse. Especially after the great game we'd had the week before. Was it just bad luck? Was it a lack of preparation? Was it an underestimation of the other team's skills? Was it the 'all stadium white-out' in Happy Valley? Whatever it was, it made me angry, and frustrated, and I said approximately 427 words I should not have said out loud. Or probably even thought.

1 Timothy 6:12 says that we are to "Fight the good fight of faith."  Hebrews 12:1-3 says, "...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Why are we given these instructions? If we were to have the great fortune of winning every single time, we wouldn't need this sort of encouragement, would we? It's plain to see that we are going to have trials in this life, and some of them are going to be mighty big, my friend. We're going to lose people to death, to betrayal, to disease, to drugs and other addictions. We're going to endure painful hardships the likes of which we haven't even the heart to think of right now. There are close friends with whom we are not going to have the ability to share eternity, and that's perhaps the most heartbreaking part of it all. Some, no matter how many times they hear, no matter how many ways the story is told, no matter how much you beg or plead or prove or try or cry or pray, they're not going to listen.

Sometimes, you're going to lose.

But take heart, because the very One for whom and in whom we are living, though He emerged victorious, He has also felt the pain of loss. Everyone that hurts you, hurts Him. Everyone who betrays you, betrays Him.  The pains of this world, that are common to this world, every single one affects Him as well. Remember the verse above, particularly the part that says, "Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Sometimes, you're going to lose.

I used to play video games a lot as a kid growing up, most in arcades but also on Atari, Nintendo, you name it. Space Invaders, PacMan, even Pong. I loved that you always had the option to continue after your game was over. You could choose to put another quarter in and pick up right where you left off. Your little cartoon death wasn't the end. Your failure wasn't that bad. You could brush yourself off and, with the click of a joystick button, be right back up there climbing the rickety ladders to save the princess from the monkey. I saved her once or twice. I lost pretty often. I was spectacular at Galaga and Tetris but, no matter how honed my mad skillz were, I still made mistakes.

Sometimes, you're going to lose.

But don't lose heart. You can feel free to add whichever cliche you like best: Tomorrow is another day, all's well that ends well, every dog has its day, put another quarter in the game and continue, ad nauseum. But the real point is this: whether you win or lose, God's got it. It's in the palm of His hand. All you can do is your very best, all the time, praying all the while, and look to Him for guidance. Maybe you were meant to lose a particular game. Maybe the learning you'll do in the process is worth a thousand wins. Maybe, just maybe, God knows what He's doing, hmm? (Spoiler alert: He does!)

I just happened to write this footblog after TWO games: the tragic loss of last week, and the consequential win of this week. If you don't let yourself become deflated and lose heart after a loss, you're bound to get right back in the swing of things. Usually, I'm one to holler "GO BLUE!" at the top of my lungs, but in case you need a little bit of encouragement, I'll throw this one out there instead:


Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Footblog #8: Perseverance and Positivity

The Little Brown Jug
(Trophy of the game between Michigan and Minnesota)
After the extremely necessary bye week, we won our first Big Ten game on Saturday against Minnesota. The last several games have looked more than a bit lackluster, and we struggled to pull through against teams that we should have been easily defeating. This week, I watched what I like to call the 'real' team; instead of making mistake after mistake and just squeaking by with a win at the end, the Wolverines gave it their all and it certainly showed. Obviously it wasn't a perfect game, but we're once again building momentum, have learned from our mistakes, and are a force to be reckoned with. Our teammates needed to trust the coach, keep a positive attitude, and persevere.

It begs the question: with a little perseverance and positivity, how far could each of us go in our own lives? Are we going to give up at the slightest mention of a difficult situation just because we don't think we have the strength, the patience, the gumption to tackle it? Are we going to allow ourselves to get mired down in a depression when things don't go our way?

My day yesterday, for instance, was pretty cut and dry. I was supposed to have a short photo shoot for the magazine I work for, then a six hour shift at my second job; then I was going to go home to change and drive to Elkhart to clean a new house (my third job.) All of that happened until I got about five minutes into the drive to Elkhart and the serpentine belt in our only vehicle shredded like a cabbage on its way to becoming cole slaw (okay, so my similes need some work). The power steering immediately went out, and I had to stop driving 60 MPH, pull off to a county road, and let it coast off the edge because it died completely, then call my husband to have him call my father-in-law for a rescue, then call a tow truck, text the client I had to let down for the evening, and spend the night at home.

My options:

1) Trust God to take care of this situation, remain positive, and persevere
2) Panic, rant, and become an emotional train wreck

Thankfully, I chose option #1. I've spent a great deal of time in my past trying to control every single situation down to the most minute details and then having panic attacks and depression when things don't go my way. I've chosen option #2 more times than I'd like to admit, and it's NEVER ONCE been the right choice. For all that panicking, ranting, sobbing, woe-is-me-ing that I've done, it's only been when I turn things over to God that the situation begins to improve. Eventually, I learned to go there first. (Duh. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you." You'd think I'd have learned it after I'd read it four or five times, huh?)

So, I'm sans vehicle with plenty of plans for the upcoming week, but I know that God's Got This and I don't need to spend a moment of time worrying about it. If the car no longer works and can't be fixed, then He's got something else in mind for us. If the car costs $1000 to fix, He's got a way to provide it for us. My job is to trust Him, keep a positive attitude, and keep working toward the goals He has for me.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, September 30, 2013

Footblog #7: We Need a Bye!

Mmmm. Bon-bons.
I remember when I was first really getting into football, I was annoyed at having a bye week. I mean, I wanted to watch football! Let's DO this! Why are you guys just sitting on your butts eating pizza and bon-bons while I'm riveted to my television waiting for you to delight me with another win? (Really? Bon-bons? I'm not sure why that's even my go-to phrase for relaxation. I can't remember the last time I saw a bon-bon.)

I started to understand the concept a bit better when I stopped whining and really thought about it. When you're going non-stop week after week, pressures high, practices rough, exhaustion rampant, you're bound to lose sight of the goal. Though I'm sure they get at least a minimal amount of much-deserved relaxation in the two weeks between play, much of what they're doing besides practicing is re-assessment.

At some points in our lives (many points, in fact) it's extremely important to stop what we're doing, take a good look at it from an outsider's point of view, and figure out what's next. Are we happy where we're at? Are there things we need to work on? Are there things that we're completely failing at that we need to change? Is there a perspective that we're missing? Is there some strategy that we should be employing that we have not yet tried? Is there a weakness we're allowing to hinder us? Is there a hidden strength we have not yet tapped? Mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually we need to be re-assessing our approach.

What good can we be to ourselves or to others if we never give ourselves the opportunity to grow? How can we thrive in life if we have not yet attempted to figure out our purpose or to take steps toward fulfilling that purpose? None of us are useless, you know. Sure, we might not be the quarterback, but what good is a football team that just has a quarterback? (Contrary to popular belief, Denard Robinson was not the entire Michigan team over the last few years, but his presence did prove what happens when one person is relied on too much.) A good team needs all of its players, even the ones on the bench. Everybody plays a part, an integral part, to the team and, more importantly, to the purpose of the team. If you think that just because you have been sitting on the bench for two decades you're not important, you are sorely mistaken. Get up, my friend, and get in the game. You're here for a reason.

"Yeah," you say, "but how am I supposed to figure out what my purpose is?" Well, that's simple. Take a bye week. I don't mean drop out of all your obligations, I know none of us has that luxury. I'm talking about doing a re-assessment of every aspect of your life.  In what areas are you stagnant? In what areas are you growing? In what areas are you thriving? In what areas are you failing? Once you assess your situation, set goals. Figure out what things you want to change and begin taking steps to change them immediately. It doesn't have to be a complete 180 by the end of the week, but you can certainly take one small step in the right direction, can't you? Each day this week, take some time out to establish some new patterns, change some things that just aren't working in your life, and by next week you'll already feel a sense of renewal that you wouldn't believe.

Above all, pray for guidance. No member of the team can truly thrive without direction from their coach, and when we're all listening to the Coach, our lives become a well-oiled machine. No, it doesn't mean we'll completely avoid failure -- sometimes we need failure to learn our next step in life. But it does mean that we'll have encouragement, camaraderie, and faith along the way.

With a little rest, some re-assessment, a new outlook, and some brand new goals, you'll be surprised at what the rest of the season has in store.

Stephanie Jean

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Footblog #6: What a Slump!

What am I feeling after the disgustingly ugly win against UConn this past Saturday? As Cajun Man would say on Saturday Night Live, DEPRESSHONE! It's nothing short of melancholy-inducing [cue The Cure music] when you watch your team, supposedly one of the powerhouse Big 10 schools, play so terribly for the second week in a row. SO terribly, in fact, that I'd go so far as to say they didn't deserve to win. That's really difficult for me to admit, because a true fan usually celebrates a win -- ANY win. But at the moment, I'm so down in the dumps I can barely lift my head up to holler a half-hearted 'hail'.

I know that this will pass, eventually. I have hope that, sooner or later, we'll start playing a fantastic game once again and be not just victorious but stunningly victorious. But when I get weighed down like this, it's hard to keep that hope in mind. It's difficult to look ahead to a bright future when you're sullenly sitting amongst the gloom.

Feels almost like real life, doesn't it? We go through waves and troughs, seasons of victory and seasons that feel almost as though we're doomed no matter what we say or do. One moment we're high on a mountaintop, shouting about our joy and happiness, and then next minute we find ourselves in the pit of despair, barely able to hold on, and certainly not able to bring ourselves around to crawling out anytime soon.

What's got you down? There's a reason and a season for it, you know. It could be that someone very close to you recently died, or was diagnosed with something from which they are not going to bounce back. It could be that you were betrayed by someone you thought you could trust. It could be that you're feeling helpless in a situation and don't know what the right thing to do might be, or how to go about doing the right thing if you do know. Life throws us some botched snaps now and then, and it's up to us to catch it anyway, and do the best we can for the rest of the play.

The bible says it like this in Ecclesiastes 3:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun. 
A time to be born, and a time to die. 
A time to plant, and a time to uproot. 
A time to kill, and a time to heal.
A time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh.
A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them.
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to search, and a time to give up.
A time to keep, and a time to throw away.
A time to tear, and a time to mend.
A time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate.
A time for war, and a time for peace.

Often, we wonder why we have to go through trials. I believe it is not just to make us stronger, but so that we can minister to those who are going through similar trials in their lives. When we get through something, we have an experience that will help someone else. When we experience grief or betrayal, we are then able to help someone later on who will experience grief or betrayal. When we experience fear and anxiety, we can help others learn how to conquer it in their own lives. We're called into community. Everything we experience relates us better to someone else. It is our purpose in life to discover those relationships and intertwine ourselves with others. At all times, we should be learning from someone as they teach us and we should be passing our own knowledge along to someone else as they learn from us.

Whatever slump you're in, don't let it keep you from having hope. You WILL get through it. There IS a purpose for it. There IS a positive outlook, even if it doesn't feel like it right now.

When you're lying on the floor in the fetal position, just remember -- you've got nowhere to go but up!

Stephanie Jean

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Footblog #5: Beware the Underdog! (A Lesson in Humility)

I perched on the sofa, one foot on the floor and the other curled up underneath of me, ready to pounce at the television screen at any given moment. All week long, I'd heard from fans, friends, and fools how lousy of a team Akron was, how easily we would beat them, how simple of a schedule we had for the rest of the season. It's convenient and comfortable, sitting up on this high horse after beating Notre Dame and then going on to a team like Akron. Have you ever even heard of them!? Well, if you have, you'll know that before playing my Michigan Wolverines this past weekend, Akron had only won FOUR of their last THIRTY-EIGHT games. That means that, when playing, Akron wins less than 11% of the time. So, what are the odds they were going to even score against the great Wolverines? They should be happy -- no, they should be honored -- to even be playing in the Big House, which seats 107,501 people (not counting the people who aren't seated, which usually adds up to another thousand or two or three...). The population of the city of Akron isn't even twice that. Seriously.

So, imagine my disgust when they scored a field goal, because my Wolverines allowed them to get close enough to score a field goal. And then a touchdown. And then TWO MORE TOUCHDOWNS! I went from annoyance, to anger, to rage, to humiliation in just four fifteen-minute segments of play. Never mind that we won. Never mind that we outscored them in the end by a mere four points. Never mind that I wasn't at the game but I was screaming at the television like I was coaching the players myself (and, to be honest, coaching the coach...). Never mind that we were playing poorly and they were playing well. Never mind that their name is the Akron ZIPS! Just remember this simple phrase that lolled around inside my head, writhing and then churning and then spinning out of control:

We are better than they are in every way, and they're embarrassing us.

(Wow. Talk about haughty.)

Here are some things I didn't think about: 
The joy they must have felt at being the underdog and being able to score any points at all.
The thrill of being able to stop the offense of such a legendary team.
The elation at being able to wind their way through the Michigan defense in their own stadium.
The happiness they received from proving themselves more than just an underdog in front of over 100,000 fans of the opposing team.
The pride their coach must have felt in not only a game well-played, but a game-well played against a force to be reckoned with.

This is where it comes down to the old adage, "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." And it comes down to the same adage in our own lives every day.

Are we going to play the game with such haughtiness that we allow ourselves to slip? That we look down on others as not being good enough? That we scoff at the efforts of anyone else because we're so prideful that we think we'll always come out on top no matter what? Are we just going to phone it in instead of giving it our all? Are we going to wallow in our arrogance every time something doesn't go the way we want or expect it to? If that's how we play, then we're in for a big surprise, and a great deal of humiliation eventually.

Or are we going to play with joy and excitement regardless of circumstances? Are we going to play with determination, endurance, and a drive to do everything the right way so that maybe, just maybe, we will be victorious in the end? Are we going to practice everyday, look at every new challenge as an opportunity to do our best, and jump into even the most frightening of circumstances with hope and faith?

"Do nothing from factional motives or prompted by conceit and empty arrogance. Instead, in the true spirit of humility, let each regard the others as better than and superior to himself [thinking more highly of one another than you do of yourselves]. Let each of you esteem and look upon and be concerned not for his own interests, but also each for the interests of others. Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus..." Philippians 2:3-5 [AMP]

Because, in the end, if we play the game the right way? Everyone wins. Even the underdog.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Footblog #4: Trash Talk, Baby!

First off, let me just say "Hail to the Victors", because this Michigan fan couldn't have been happier with the outcome of this weekend's game. Well, I guess I could've been happier if our QB hadn't tossed up a safety only to have it become a full-on TOUCHDOWN for the other team, but... a win is a win, even if it's ugly in there a little, right? GO BLUE!

I'm wary of trash talking before the game. It's not that I have an aversion to building up my team (or even putting the other team down, for that matter)... for me, it's a matter of 'later dignity'. I'd hate to build up the awesomeness of my Wolverines only to have them fail me. I'd also hate to run another team through the mud when that team might end up being victorious in the end. I certainly don't want to have the other team's fans all up in my face when all is said and done, laughing and pointing and making fun of me because I was so haughty. And, there's the part of me that doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. (It's a really small part, though... I'll definitely trash talk AFTER the game is over and I win, particularly if you tried to trash talk ME before the game. Because, haha.)

It's all fine and good in football, but I've noticed there's even trash talk in religious circles, and I'm not talking about sports, either. Often, one religion... or even one denomination... spends a great deal of time 'bashing' another one, or calling out all the reasons they're better than the other. Not only is that not necessary, it's not right. Most of the time, this kind of trash talk comes from a lack of understanding of the other person's viewpoint. So much would be accomplished by sitting down and talking to, and learning from, one another. When we're talking about different religions, if you feel passionate about yours and want the other person to understand it more thoroughly, you're certainly not going to accomplish that by pointing out all the flaws in their religion. And, within the same religion, you won't 'win any points' by telling others what's wrong with their viewpoints and why yours are superior.

Let's even take it to a one-on-one basis. Regardless of religion or viewpoint, the old saying, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" still holds true. The only way you're going to influence people toward worshiping your God is to show them what's different in your life because of it. Since actions do, indeed, speak louder than words, stop trying to talk people into it. Stop trying to point out what's wrong with their lives, and what's right with yours. Start using compassion, start caring, start giving and loving and being kind. Believe me, they will notice what's different about you, and they will come to YOU to ask about it. Not in so many words, probably, but they will most definitely want to spend more time around your positive energy and, in the process, you'll have the opportunity to show them why you are the way you are.

For me, it's Jesus. My life changed dramatically when I experienced His love through the love of someone else. It wasn't that person telling me what was wrong with me (because, let's face it, I already knew.) It wasn't that person telling me I needed to change. It was that person loving me like Jesus does, loving me as the flawed, failed woman that I was (and still am), and it made all the difference in the world. It made me want to change. It made me want to be better. It made me start on this Journey and never want to stop.

In the end, the victory is there... there's no need to trash talk to gain it.

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Half Time*!

*Note: This is not a part of the FootBlog series, which is why it is entitled 'Half Time'... take it as an intermission, but be sure to come back and read more of the FootBlog series SOON!

Please read the following in a very fast-paced, teenagerish sort of way. 

So, this one time? I was 25 and sad and miserable and broken and divorced and I was wild and partying a lot and didn't get much sleep and I really wasn't happy with who I was and I wanted to be single, or so I thought, and I just wanted to date people but I didn't really want to get into a relationship so then there was this one guy who came into the picture and completely turned my entire world upside down and he was, like, the most genuine and sincere and sweetest guy ever and he took me out to lunch and then out to a movie and then he was all nervous when he kissed me for the first time and then, even though I wasn't going to be in a relationship anymore, I sort of ended up being his girlfriend and then he asked me to marry him a few months later and I totally said 'yes' and I was all, like, 'squeeeee' and all crying and he was smiling and then a couple of years later we finally got married and it was this beautiful wedding outdoors exactly the way we wanted it with a lot of music and a skit and he sang to me and I wrote him a song and I wore a black dress and he wore a white tux and looked really handsome and then we did that thing where, like in cartoon love stories and Disney movies and stuff, you live happily ever after, you know, and we're still totally doing that!

(Okay, now you can breathe, and then read the rest of this like an adult wrote it.)

That's the way I feel about my husband today on our anniversary. I know he gets uncomfortable when I talk about 'feeeeeelings', particularly online where other people are reading it, but it's also one of the things he knows I'll never be able to stop doing. Feelings are important, it's true. However, MORE important is listening to God's voice over your own feelings. Often, there are things we want to say in the heat of the moment, in anger or hurt or frustration, that aren't going to be the right things to say. Often, there are walls we want to punch, screams we want to scream, people we want to shove. Sometimes that person will be the person we love the most. It's important that whatever the situation is, we step back and breathe and listen to what God has to say, then go with HIS reaction instead of our own.

People are flawed, and every single one of us is imperfect. We need to love each other in spite of our differences and our failures, and do everything within our power to lift one another up, to encourage, edify, build up, strengthen, support, and inspire each other. This is especially true with our spouses. Many times, the person that is our partner is the one we neglect the most, taking them for granted and thinking they can deal with our worst because they love us. Certainly they CAN, but also, they should not have to. We should always be honest and open with our loved one, but we can also choose to be kind and loving at the same time. If we guide ourselves by the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, we will have the recipe for the best marriage possible:

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.

You tell me... if you gave these things daily AND received these things daily, don't you think you and your spouse would be happier than you've ever been?

If you haven't been using these as a guide, start today and see what a difference it makes.

Happy Anniversary to the love of my life, the man who taught me what all of these things were. Neither of us are perfect, but we're certainly perfect for each other.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Footblog #3: Teamwork!

As I excitedly celebrate our first football victory of the year (Michigan 59, Central 9), I'm happy to report that I had a lot of thoughts about teamwork and how it relates to 'real life' while I was watching the game. In between the hooting, hollering, and yelling. And snackies. I LOVE football snackies.

I watched the Wolverines work together this year. It wasn't, as the past few years, a show all about one person, or a team that relied too heavily on one aspect. A good team knows they need each other to do the job properly. There isn't a position that's more important than another. One might be used more often, but if the others are not also in play, nothing will get accomplished. If there is no one to block, you don't have a win. If there is no quarterback to throw or run, you don't have a win. If there is no one to receive a pass that's been thrown, you don't have a win.

In the same vein, you might think the people on the sidelines or those behind the scenes are less important, but they all have their calling as well. Cheerleaders are a source of encouragement, rallying the spectators regardless of how it appears the team is doing as a whole. Spectators cheer for their team, make noise to distract the opposing team, celebrate victories, and commiserate in their losses. The band brings everyone together with music, some new and some old, some traditional and some cutting-edge. They play instruments and march and dance, always joyful and supportive. There are offensive and defensive coordinators, assistants, people to help with water or Gatorade, the ones that move the chains, the refs, and so many more that help to make the game possible.

The coach is obviously the most integral part of the entire entity of football. With no coach, the team will fight amongst themselves to appoint leaders, bringing nothing but misery and negativity, ensuring that proper teamwork will not occur and, therefore, no wins, either. With a poor coach, the team cannot reach its potential. With a mean coach, the team, regardless of wins or losses, is made to feel beaten down and discouraged.

However, with a caring, driven, passionate, and COMpassionate coach -- one who is knowledgeable about the game, has a proven record of past wins, who takes the players' individual personalities and abilities into consideration, who has a master plan and knows what it takes to achieve the desired outcome, and who demonstrates strength and commands respect without demeaning the players -- every member of the team will be both fruitful and joyful, and the team will most definitely be victorious.

It seems the same is true for the followers of Jesus. Some of us are good at working with people one-on-one. Some can sing, some can quote scripture and find the perfect verse to comfort someone in need, some can perform skits to bring realities to light, some can bring healing words, some can pray, some can stand on the sidelines and cheer and encourage. Some can write, some can speak, some can listen. Some can lead praise and worship, play guitar or piano, teach our children, serve soup to homeless people, teach job skills, volunteer to make sandwiches for hungry kids on the weekends when they don't get a free meal at school. If every one of us uses the gifts and talents we've been given, the team is a well-oiled machine and the goal can be accomplished.

Best of all, we have the greatest coach in the world -- driven, caring, passionate, and COMpassionate. He is most definitely knowledgeable about the game of life, has a proven record of past wins (just read the bible!), He takes his followers' individual personalities and abilities into consideration, has a master plan and knows what it takes to achieve the desired outcome, and He absolutely demonstrates strength and commands respect without demeaning anyone. He loves us all the same but created each of us differently, with a different purpose to fulfill both separately and together. If we listen carefully and do what He says, every member of our team will be both fruitful and joyful, and the team will most definitely be victorious.

How's that for teamwork?

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Footblog #2: Anticipation

The countdown to kick-off is now two days. I wait all year long for this, very impatiently, and when it comes right down to it, I'm so giddy I can barely stand it. I might appear calm on the outside as you have a conversation with me, but inside my head I hear about 30% of what you're saying and the other 70% is filled with "Foooootball. Go Blue. Wolverines. Fooootballllllllll...." So that blank stare I have on my face from time to time? Yeah, you can blame that on the little oblong brown and white thingy there. It's evil, I tell you. But oh, so good at the same time.

Therefore, with the anticipation of the next 50.5 hours before kick-off (yes, I have it down to the hours), let me make a few remarks about anticipation.

Anticipation brings with it connotations of hope and expectation. When we look forward to something, it brings us joy. In my estimation, the opposite of anticipation is dread. With dread, you know something is coming but it carries negative connotations instead.

We anticipate a visit with our best friend.
We dread running into an enemy.
We anticipate our favorite meal.
We dread having to choke down something made by a terrible cook.
We anticipate date night.
We dread a break-up.

Anticipation is a great deal like faith. We have positive expectations of something that has not yet happened. Just like I constantly hope for the National Championship Season each year, I also hope for peace, for joy, for the best life for my family and friends that they could possibly have. Having faith in God, then, is like rooting for a team that can't lose; even when things look glum and hopeless, faith teaches us to look beyond that, excitedly anticipating the time when victory occurs and we run wildly onto the field, embracing each other in a jubilant happy dance, and pouring Gatorade on our coach's head. (That's considered anointing someone's head with oil, right? Hey, the analogy works. Just go with it.)

Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." 

That word 'assurance' is a pretty big deal. We're constantly looking for assurance. If I could have ASSURANCE that we'd have a National Championship Season, that would be huge, right? A lot of this is perspective, too; though we might not have the astounding winning season each year that I'd like to have, we might end up with an overall winning record in the next hundred years. We may not win every battle, but we win the war in the end.

So, while I sit here in my Maize & Blue t-shirt, eagerly awaiting my sofa-tailgate on Saturday with snackies and drinks, I'll also be anticipating something else, like I always do:

"And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself so that where I am, you may be, also." -John 14:3 

Because it's great to know that even when this world drags me down, even when I fail, even when others fail me, even when I'm exhausted, when I have no money left at the end of the bills, when I am talked badly about, when I'm depressed, when I've been betrayed, when I lose someone I care about, when I'm sick, when I'm so weary of this life that I can't think of any reason to go on... there IS a reason. There will be a day so great that everything I've been through will be worth it, and will pale in comparison to the rest of eternity.

THAT, my friends, is anticipation. 

Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Footblog #1: Following All Fired Up

Oh, here it comes. I can feel it in my veins. The excitement boiling, the 'any moment something's going to happen' feeling. It might still be too warm outside, and the leaves might not be turning, and it might be happening a bit earlier than usual BUT...

Football season is upon us.

My husband is a huge Notre Dame fan, so much so that a win or loss often dictates his mood on football Saturdays (and, from time to time, post-football Sundays). I'm a Michigan grad and my veins course with Maize & Blue blood. I'm also a yeller. I yell at the other team when they make me mad, I yell at my team when they're being stupid, I yell with glee when good things happen, and I yell at the coach when I could've done a better job. It might be the Hungarian temper, I'm not sure. It might just be that I'm so worked up I can't contain myself. Either way, it's hard to do any theatre during football season because sometimes I won't have a voice for the rest of the week.

There's nothing wrong with getting worked up over something when it's in the right spirit. I used to go to a very conservative church growing up. We didn't even applaud. Someone would give a heartfelt rendition of a beautiful song and when it was done, in the place where applause would normally be, there was a half-hearted scattering of 'amen's throughout the congregation. I never understood that... and after reading the bible several times, I still don't.

Psalm 100: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the Earth..."
Psalm 47: "Clap your hands, all people! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!"
Psalm 149-150: Praise Him with : dancing, tambourine, lyre, loud crashing cymbals, strings, pipe, lute, etc...

It seems that, in this stadium of life, God is appreciative of our loud praise and our outbursts on His behalf, regardless of their volume or their shape. And why shouldn't we get fired up for Him the way we do for football? God's team is always going to win. It might not look like it sometimes to our untrained eye, or to our faithless or fickle fan's heart... but, in the end? It's going to be what looks like a come-from-behind victory to smash every winning record ever held. Stay tuned for more fun foot-blogs to come!

I'm on the sidelines cheering for you... just be sure you're listening to the Coach from the right team!

Stephanie Jean

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lessons from Olives

"But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercies of God forever and ever." -Psalm 52:8

Three years ago, my husband and I took a trip to Italy for his 40th birthday. Traveling the hills of Tuscany, I looked out the window of the bus and saw what could quite possibly have been thousands of olive trees. The grass around them wasn't particularly lush, their leaves were a greyish-green that didn't really stand out, and their trunks were mostly twisted instead of the strong, thick trunks of trees back home that I was used to. Still, I couldn't take my eyes off of them. They were spectacular because of their simplicity and seeing so many together really made an impact.

If you look at this lone green olive tree, you'll notice a few things. Upon more than just a perfunctory glance, this tree appears as though it could be two trees wrapped around each other, but it's not. Growing from the same roots, two pieces of trunk crawl up and around, almost in an embrace, then branch out at the top to go in different directions and produce leaves and fruit which, in turn, will produce an astounding crop, rich bottles of olive oil, and ever so much more. With just this one simple tree, the possibilities are myriad. Olive trees can grow in almost any condition and can take a battering of weather, soil, and abuse, yet still thrive to bring one forth one of the most basic staples of diet in many places. Immediately after the biblical account of the flood, the sign that was brought forth to Noah that the land was ready? A dove carrying an olive leaf. A historic symbol of peace and victory? The olive branch. The most famous sermon in all of history? Given on the Mount of Olives.

I'd like to formally welcome you to the new name of the ministry branch of A Journey of Reinvention and Ours + His +Mine = Nine:

Green Olive Ministries

Formerly just titled after this blog, my main ministry partner, Andie Kingsbury, and I decided upon Green Olive Ministries as the name for our hands-on work together locally. She and her large family have been trusting God to provide a new home that would fit all of them comfortably, be in the right place for them to minister to the community, and to bring the financial aspects together while they are both unemployed. God being the miracle-worker He is did exactly that, and they are now in a home three times the size of what they'd been occupying until now. They are in a prime location to live missionally in their neighborhood and beyond, and I couldn't be more excited about the way God is working in their lives. On this end, after leaving my former place of employment because I'd felt so strongly that God was leading me to do so (though it made ZERO sense financially because we had also recently made the decision that He was leading my husband to finally go to school full time)... He has done nothing but provide for and bless us at every single avenue. Door after door has opened, and every time we've needed income, it's been there -- from random refund checks from water softener companies, to finding $5 on the ground, to having someone randomly call and say, "You used to clean houses, do you still do that?"

Like olive trees, our families are thriving in every environment, no matter what kind of weather, soil, or abuse we've taken, and we're coming together as the hands and feet of Jesus to produce good fruit right where we are, to branch out and provide sustainable living solutions for those in need around us, to feed hungry kids in the community, to teach new mothers to make cloth diapers for their little ones, to pray and to help and to love everyone we come in contact with, just like Jesus did and does today.

If you would like to make a donation to Green Olive Ministries, please know a few things: we're not shoving Jesus down anyone's throat. We're helping people, as many as we can, right where they are. If they're a fan of Jesus, great. If not, great. We're not judging, condemning, forcing anything on anyone... we're just in this to do the next right thing at each step. That being said, if you're on board with a monetary donation, a donation of your time, a donation of your goods and services toward any of our upcoming projects, or if you just want to learn more about how you can be a part of something bigger than all of us, drop me a line at AJourneyofReinvention@Gmail.Com and I'll get back to you right away.

More than anything, we need your prayers. So much will be happening in a short amount of time and we're trusting God to take the lead. We're just along for the ride...

And what a ride it is!

Stephanie Jean

Monday, August 5, 2013

Les Debriefing

"To Love Another Person is To See the Face of God."  --Victor Hugo

Since May, I have spent nearly every waking moment either at the theatre, thinking about the theatre, rehearsing songs for the theatre, learning lyrics for the theatre, and theatring theatre for the theatre. Les Miserables at South Bend Civic has just become the highest grossing show of all time there, with three additional performances being added after the run began, and with every single performance selling out and receiving a standing ovation. This girl was blessed and honored to be sharing the stage with some phenomenal people, most of whom you can see in this photograph by Jon Gilchrist Photography, but one in particular whom you cannot:

My husband, who played the dynamic, compelling role of Jean Valjean. My husband, of whom I am so proud, words cannot express it.

This show was an emotional rollercoaster. For those of you who do not know the story, it is possibly the most beautiful allegory EVER of what true Christianity looks like. Jean Valjean, a convict who stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving family, spends nineteen years doing time for this crime and for trying to escape. When he is finally freed, he's treated despicably by everyone with whom he comes in contact because he has to show his prison papers for the rest of his life wherever he goes to find work. A kindly bishop takes him in and, thinking of himself first with no other option in sight, Valjean steals the silver from the table and runs, only to be brought back to the bishop by the police. Instead of condemning him as everyone else has, the bishop tells the police he gave these items to Valjean. When they leave, he shows Valjean another way of life -- the path that God has for his soul. Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and interwoven with some other tales of love and misery, Valjean turns his life around and truly learns what it means to love unconditionally, to put others above himself, to dedicate his life to the right path. It's everything we believe in, and everything we're striving towards here on the Journey.

Tears were shed daily. Watching the audience be moved by the lyrics and the presentation was one thing, but really feeling it inside was another. At the beginning of the rehearsal process was my sister's two-week stint in the hospital where she almost died. Another cast member's engagement was broken off during this time. Another cast member's father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, another cast member's uncle has a partner who was on his deathbed, another cast member tore his Achille's tendon and was unable to perform the last three shows, and much, much more. Together, we got through everything with flying colors, a tremendous amount of prayer, and a lot of love for one another.

How can a group of 40+ people get so close? I'd love to say theatre is always that way, but it's not. So often, there are cliques and drama queens and backbiting and gossiping and general pain-in-the-rear divas. But this cast was different. Sometimes we cried with each other, sometimes we celebrated, and most often we just came together for a common cause: love.

Our director dedicated this show to his wife whom he lost a few years back to cancer -- he had directed a high school version of it, and it was the last show of his that she saw, saying it was his best work yet. Keeping that in mind, and watching his passion for what we were creating together on stage, how could we help but be inspired? So often, people would ask my husband 'How does your voice hold out?' The answer was, it just does. When something is meant to be, it's meant to be... and it's beautiful.

Though I'm in the midst of a million different things including A Journey of Reinvention's first official hands-on project, an ambitiously large local cloth diaper ministry (see the Facebook page for details!) I needed to take some time to quietly thank each and every person involved in making this show a success this summer. I've made some incredible friends that I know will last a lifetime and I truly believe that we all cross one another's path for a reason.

I love you all,
Stephanie Jean

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Every Step You Take

Now that the hauntingly awesome 80s song 'Every Breath You Take' by The Police is running through your head, let me write out this quote from Joyce Meyer that prompted my title today:

"God will tell us the way to go (see Psalm 37:23), but we have to do the walking. A walk with God develops by taking one step of obedience at a time. Some people want the entire blueprint for their lives before they will make one decision. God does not usually operate that way; He leads us one step at a time. By faith, we take the step God has shown us, and then He gives us the next one. At times, we may fall down and must get back up; we may stumble, but He always helps us. We continue on by His strength and His grace, knowing that every time we face a fork in the road (a place of decision), God will guide us."

Verse 24 of that same Psalm reads, "Though he falls, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord grasps his hand in support and upholds him." Wherever we are in life, whatever our past, whatever our present situation, and whatever our future -- God has it under control.

As human beings, we have this constant desire to be in control. When we aren't, we feel like things are chaotic. Very few people actually enjoy chaos, even when they profess to do so. It's when things become SO FAR out of our control that we become overwhelmed, anxiety-ridden, panicked, depressed, or a myriad of other emotions that we feel we cannot handle. We often feel as though, "If I could just sit back and relax, everything would fall into place." In those moments, we're so close to the truth, and we don't even know it...

The bible tells us, in no uncertain terms, that when we put God first in our lives, everything else will, indeed, fall into place. Time and again, we've heard the verse telling us to seek first the Kingdom of God, and all the rest will be added to us. It's not just a catch phrase, you know. It's a monumental truth that we have a difficult time grasping because of our need for control. What if we COULD just sit back and relax? What if we had someone who would bear the burden of the responsibility and we could trust them completely to handle each and every situation, good or bad, that came our way? Well, we do. It's on us, however, to trust and follow.

My mother used to tell me that my conscience would guide me, step-by-step, and that if I listened and followed what I knew I was supposed to do, that little voice would get stronger and I'd more easily know the right response in every situation. She also warned me that if I ignored that voice, it would grow weaker day after day, and there would come a time when I might not be able to hear it at all. The woman is usually right, and this was no exception. There was a point in my life when I absolutely knew the right thing to do, and I did the opposite. Time and again, I'd defy what I knew to be the promptings of my conscience (read: God!) just because I wanted to be in control.

What I found out after many years of doing that is that God is so good, He will let us make that choice. He will not force us to listen. He will allow us to be in control of our own lives. I also found that when I'm in control of my life, I do nothing but make a big, fat, ugly mess of it because I don't have a beautiful vision for the future. Humans are junkies for instant gratification. We want what we want, and we want it right now. We don't think through what the repercussions might be or, if we do, we don't care and we do things we shouldn't anyhow. The result is said big, fat, ugly mess. Emotionally, sometimes physically, and always spiritually.

There's a beautiful parable that Jesus told about the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Basically, a man has two sons, and one of them is a selfish jerk who demands his inheritance, leaves his family, squanders everything he has, makes a plethora of terrible decisions, ends up broke and hungry and hurting and finally realizes that the only safe place is back home in his father's arms, but he's afraid of what dad might say. What he finds is that his father is so good, so loving, that he doesn't even get a lecture when he comes home. He gets a celebration, the likes of which hadn't been equaled. His father loves him unconditionally, regardless of his failures, his rebellion, his selfishness. And he is not just accepted at home, he is embraced full-throttle by his father who comes running at him when he sees his son far away.

The moral? God loves us so much that it doesn't matter what a mess we've made of our lives. When we're ready to throw in the towel and admit we can't do it all on our own, when we're ready to stop trying to control everything, He's there. He's there waiting, running towards us with His all-encompassing, unconditional love, even when we don't see Him over the hill.

Take a breath. Take a step in the right direction. You'll be surprised at how quickly you'll be embraced.

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Do One Small Thing

I have a buck and seven cents in change roaming around my car. That buys any number of things from a dollar menu at a fast food joint in Indiana. (Depending on what state you live in, the seven cents could be a penny or two more or less, but the dollar menu price remains the same.) I know that I don't have the ability to take a homeless person out to a nice meal because I don't have the ability to take myself out to a nice meal. But I drop a dollar seven like it's nothing most of the time. Wouldn't be too difficult to buy a McSomething and hand it over to McSomeoneElse. That's one small thing we can do.

I have 24 hours in each day of my life. Granted, I'm a pretty busy person with a husband, three kids, two dogs, two jobs, an involvement with community theatre, and a non-profit organization to get off the ground, but there's got to be an hour a week (or even a MONTH) where I can say, "This hour belongs to someone else. I'm going to donate this hour to help paint, clean, teach, sew, babysit, volunteer..." and then use that hour to make a difference in the life of someone else. Whether it's stocking at a food pantry, watching a toddler so a single mom can go to a job interview, serving at a soup kitchen, moving furniture into someone's first apartment -- I can help make it happen. And, if I'm honest with myself, I can probably do it for two or three hours instead of just one. That's one small thing we can do.

I try to take a walk pretty often, sometimes even once a day. I see a lot of trash on the side of the road, even in my small subdivision. I get annoyed, but it's there every day. Someone should clean it up. It's probably not going to be the person who tossed it out their window. It's not too difficult to sling a re-usable bag or two over my shoulder and pick up plastic bottles, aluminum cans, candy bar wrappers and fast food bags, then put them in my trash and recycling when I get back home. Plus, the bending is likely good for my abs. That's one small thing we can do.

Who doesn't love the great big price rollback store, am I right? Where they put one or two items in your thin plastic bag, then double bag it so it won't fall through, and when you purchase five items you come home with approximately 37 bags? Not too hard to take a re-usable with you and ask the cashier to put your items in there or even use the self-checkout so you can do it yourself. And I know it's 2013 and we're not living in those days where we help sweet little old ladies with their groceries... but... what if we did, anyway? What if we actually returned our cart to the corral? Or someone else's that 'forgot'? What if we smiled? What if we didn't glare angrily at the screaming infant in the cart or the three-year-old that's jumping up and down begging and throwing a tantrum for a candy bar but, instead, let the mother know we have compassion? What if we didn't tap our fingers and roll our eyes when the cashier doesn't get the scanner to work right on the first two tries? What if we thanked everyone for everything they did for us? That's eight small things we can do.

No one can can change the world. False.
No ONE can change the world. True.

There's a very small word that puts everybody together in the same boat on this planet: we.

WE can change the world. WE just have to do it together.

Stephanie Jean

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Non-Jesusy Reasons to Be On the Journey

You don't have to be a Christian to be a good person.

"What!?" (That's right, I hear you gasping.)

Oh, yeah. You see, A Journey of Reinvention, though faith-based, is not on a mission to shove Jesus down anybody's throat. We do what we do because we love people, and (in our minds) we love people because Jesus loved people. But there are a fair number of atheists in our lives and -- spread the word -- they're not evil. They're human beings just like everyone else and deserve love and respect, friendship and companionship. Put aside any agenda to 'save' someone (since, ya know, we can't save anyone anyhow...) and just love people. All people.

So, you and I might believe in God and Jesus and Heaven and all the spiritual stuff that we align ourselves with that is integral to who we are. If that's your paradigm, then doesn't it stand to reason that the God we believe in loves people who don't believe in Him? Since He created them in His image just like He created us? And have you ever wondered what keeps atheists being atheists? I'm sure hypocrisy doesn't help. It certainly didn't help ME when I renounced my faith in Jesus and God for a decade. If we're claiming there's a God out there that loves everyone equally and then WE don't love everyone equally, surely that's not helping us plead our case.

But I digress. A Journey of Reinvention is about helping and loving people, yes.  Do you have to be a Christian to love and help people? Nope. (Stop gasping, it's throwing me off.) Do you have to believe in God to love and help people? Nope. Do you have to be a Christian or believe in God to focus on sustainable living solutions, or to feed hungry kids, or to teach interview/cleaning/hygiene skills to those in need? A resounding 'NOPE' once again.

We're on a mission, yes. We're living missionally, yes. We're trusting God, having faith, loving people, yes. But no one ever becomes part of the Journey until someone else invites them, right?

We're a safe place with no judgment and no exclusion here. Be sure to tell that to your friends, whatever their beliefs may be, when you invite them to be a part of something bigger than all of us.

Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

When in Romans...

My husband told me today that I should write a book on the book of Romans. I agree wholeheartedly. I find amazing tidbits in there each time I sit down to read it, and it's so very appropriate to so many situations going on in my life all at the same time. The overwhelming message, though, is love. And that's what I keep coming back to on this page in the first place. Why? Because it's all that matters. 

If you're doing 'good deeds' out of a desire to be praised, out of an internal duty to cross things off of a checklist, out of a need to look good in front of others, and you don't have love in your heart, then all the good deeds in the world are meaningless. (Okay, granted, that's in the book of Corinthians, but there are echoes of it in Romans as well.) Take chapter 14 of Romans, for instance. On the surface, it looks like a bunch of rules you can break if you want... it's about whether or not one day is more important than another, or if eating meat or vegetables is better in God's eyes. But the point that Paul is trying to make is this: whether you believe one way or the other, be convicted of it. Don't be wishy-washy. And if you encounter someone else with a different conviction, don't tell them they're wrong... that's not your place. Your place is to respect their beliefs and be a good role model. Let's say you are a carnivore and you go to eat at a vegan's house. Are you going to chastise them for their choices, or are you going to thank them for the meal and be grateful that they cared enough about you to invite you over? Or, if a close friend of yours is against drinking... are you going to invite them to a party and then serve so much alcohol that the rest of the party-goers are drunk? 

"Then let us no more criticize and blame and pass judgment on one another, but rather decide (endeavor) never to put a stumbling block or an obstacle or a hindrance in the way of a brother...if your brother is being pained or his feelings hurt or if he is being injured by what you eat, then you are no longer walking in love. [You have ceased to be living and conducting yourself by the standard of love toward him.] Do not let what you eat hurt or cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died! Do not therefore let what seems good to you be considered an evil thing by someone else...Let us then definitely aim for and eagerly pursue what makes for harmony and for mutual upbuilding (edification and development) of one another." (Romans 14:13-19, AMP)

The more mindful we are of the feelings of others, the more mindful we are of our purpose here on earth. When we're so immersed in what we want, how we live, what we do... we can't get out of our heads and into the hearts of others.

I used to smoke. A lot. I loved it. I miss it. I don't think it's evil or that it's sending anyone to Hell. I think it's unhealthy, but I certainly don't judge those who make the choice to do so. Smokers are welcome at my home. They can smoke on the porch, in the yard, in my car. Why? Because I think smoking is a good choice? No, because I think investing in people is a good choice. If I sit with someone while they smoke a cigarette, and they tell me their life story, it's time well-spent, even if I spend the rest of the night coughing after they leave. I know better how I can help them in their Journey. If I say, "You can't smoke here," because I don't smoke, I might have just cut off a bond that could've been a lifelong friendship, or the chance to really make an impact on someone's life. Forcing our beliefs on others is NOT what we're here for. Loving them is. 

The same is true in the opposite direction. If I like to have a glass of wine with dinner, and I've invited a recovering alcoholic to my home, am I going to drink my nightly glass of wine in front of her? Or am I going to partake of something we can both share? What might be no big deal to me could present quite the stumbling block for someone else if my focus is not in the right place. Again, it's about loving people enough to put their needs ahead of our own at each and every level. Not just when we feel like it, not just when it's convenient. At every juncture, always.

If we're really honest with ourselves, we all have our pet peeves. Whatever the peeves are, we can't let them get in the way of guiding someone else along the right route in life. Sure, that person might be the most annoying or smelly or foul-mouthed person you've ever met... but that doesn't mean that God loves him any less than He loves you. It's just one more reason for us to get out of our own heads and to try to see people the way that God does. We're all equal in His eyes. We all make mistakes, we are all flawed, we all do stupid things, we all have quirks and idiosyncrasies that drive each other crazy... but we all have one other thing in common:

He loved us enough to die for each of us. 

Stephanie Jean