Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What is Love? (Roxbury Song in My Head Now...)

For centuries, even the most skilled artisans of prose and poetry have been stymied in their attempts to define Love.  Essays, odes, and epic tales of valiant honor and swooning maidens can’t begin to put a finger on such an esoteric notion as Love.

Listen to a teenager for fifteen minutes.  First, talking to their girlfriend or boyfriend, you’ll hear, “I love you.  I love you so much.  I love you more.  You hang up first.  No, you. Okay, I love you.”  “I love double cheeseburgers so much.” “I love Mr. Soandso, he’s the best teacher ever! No homework all weekend!” “I love that movie!” “I love this blanket, it’s so fuzzy.” “I love that eye shadow on you!”  We know that none of that even comes close to what love really sounds like, but it is a series of feelings about different things, and they’re all positive.  At least, from the teenager’s point of view. 

Are we any different, though?  We throw the word around without fully grasping its meaning in many of the same ways.  We love our spouses, our kids, some peace and quiet and downtime.  We love certain holidays, certain friends, certain days of the week more than others.  We love a good, hot cup of coffee, a sense of accomplishment, and our pets.  But doesn’t even that seem trite in comparison to what we were made for?

I’ve heard it said that love is a choice, not a feeling.  I don’t think that’s completely true.  I’ve heard it said that God is love.  I suppose that comes somewhat closer, but still doesn’t capture exactly the heart of it.  And, though I’m not going to come any closer to grasping a single definition than anyone else in history, I’d like to offer one more to the mix.

I think that Love is God.  We are created in His image, yes?  So we have a shadow of His feelings and notions impressed upon us.  I don’t mean to say that we should worship Love.  I mean to say that, when we feel Love – positive, overwhelming feelings of happiness, joy, peace, contentment, affection – that is God inside of us.  In the same vein, when we choose Love – forgiving someone even when they don’t deserve it, helping someone when it’s taking up time we could be doing something for ourselves, giving to someone less fortunate than we are – that is also God inside of us.  

The word “Love” occurs 686 times in the New International Version of the bible.  The New Testament words of Jesus reflect Old Testament notions, as well – “Love your neighbor as yourself” comes from Leviticus 19:18, and “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength” is from Deuteronomy 6:5.  These were what Jesus called the two great commandments – loving God, and loving others.  “All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments,” He said in Matthew 22:40. 

Love is the great cause.  Love is what should get us out of bed in the morning, guide our day, and put us peacefully to sleep at night.  It’s not a melody, a single line of notes to be played alone – it’s a magnificent harmony, in which we immerse ourselves into the lives of others and they immerse themselves into ours, for the sake of the Kingdom.  Listening to one musical instrument for any length of time is tedious, but imagine a well-practiced orchestra playing your favorite song…

That’s what God hears when we’re trying to love the way He loves.  
Stephanie Jean

Monday, January 28, 2013

Facing Our Storms

More than once during a massive thunderstorm, I have been awakened from a deep sleep.  Not by the crashes coming from the sky or the intense thump of rain on the roof, but by a very small and very frightened black and tan dog - our miniature pinscher, Doobie.  (Yep, that's him - all dressed up for Christmas.)

During his bouts of anxiety, he has a very clear process he goes through to emotionally comfort himself.  First, Doobie burrows under the covers, slinks his way up towards my head, and sits as close as possible to my face, shivering.  If this does not alert me to the impending storm, he will then walk across my face to the other side of my head.  I can't see it, of course, because it is dark, but since there is something about warm dog breath three inches from your nose in the middle of the night, I am aware of his presence.  By the time the lightning flashes twice, Doobie has migrated to a standing position atop my chest cavity, and has put his nose as close to mine as possible without actually touching.

Sometimes I am compassionate and make every futile attempt to assure him.  Other times I am irritated at being shaken from my comfortable rest by smelly dog feet on my face.  Either way, I try to explain to him that there is no danger, he is safe, and I will not let any harm come to him.  Still, he is inconsolable.  He hides beneath the bed, the night stand, whining and scraping at me with his paw.

Yet, because I have wiser reasoning than a dog who still barks at our kids as though they are strangers every time he sees them walking home from the school bus, I know that this storm will pass and Doobie won't even remember it tomorrow.  Therefore, I try to be as gentle as possible because I know that his anxiety is very real to him, that the rumbles of the storm force him into gale-force trembling until he sees the sunshine once again. 

At some point, though, I get a bit frustrated that he won't just listen to me when I try to soothe him.  In my estimation, there are much more horrific things going on in the world than his little anxiety, but he is so fixated it consumes him.  He can't just let go and enjoy the warm, dry home, and companionship of his family.  No matter how often he comes to me for consolation, he ignores and rejects it when I give it to him, only to lean on his own understanding that the world is going to end and I won’t do anything about it.

I wonder if I am experiencing just a fraction of what God must feel each time we bring our anxieties to Him. We lay them at His feet to be sure He is aware of them, ask for His help, then continue to dwell on them, wondering why He won't make everything better.  We lean on our own understanding, and ignore His Word, which tells us, "God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble!” (Ps. 46:1), and "Fear not, for I Am with you!” (Jer. 46:28). We continue to try to make things better our own way.  We weakly scrape at our problem, not allowing ourselves to be consoled even when He says, "Cast all your cares upon [Me], for [I care] for you!” (1 Peter 5:7)

What must God think when we bring our problems to Him and then don't trust that He is big enough to take care of them Himself?  Perhaps our present circumstances seem as overwhelming to us as a thunderstorm is to a 14-pound dog. Perhaps we think we know better and have more control over our lives than He does.  Or perhaps we are so consumed by our current fear that we have disabled ourselves in the trust department and haven't yet realized that, from God's omniscient point of view, we won't even remember this particular storm tomorrow.

Yet, He is there, faithfully, to listen and help us through our problems. If I can have compassion on my little dog, how much more can our God have compassion on us when we are in fear?  If I can speak words of comfort to this shivering, anxious animal and hold him close, how much closer is the Lord in every situation of our lives? 

God has control of our storms, no matter how big they might seem to us, and He is there with us, too. When we are screaming and sobbing, when we think we can't take any more and we are going to drown, He is there to make our storm subside. (Luke 8:22-25) He knows how our problems began and how they will end.  He is there to console us, protect us, and guide us through whatever we are facing and lead us to the other side.   

When God promises us that everything will be all right in the morning, He is never wrong!

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Just One Step

Wouldn't it be awesome if, wherever you were, you could see this sign and know, in no uncertain terms, the right path to take?  Would you take it?  I mean, if you looked to the left where it said 'Success' and you could see nothing at the end of the long, winding path... but you looked to the right where it said 'Failure' and there was a total hottie standing there with chocolate silk pie and a bag of money to hand you, it might still be a difficult choice, right? You'd have to trust more in the sign than what you saw with your own two eyes.  You'd have to have more faith in the sign than you had in your physicality which is screaming, "GO WITH THE RICH HOTTIE WITH THE CHOCOLATE!"

So, maybe the sign is there, has been there the whole time, and we're just not paying attention because we're letting our circumstances dictate our path instead of following the way we know is right in the end.

Take a step.  Take one step. Turn away from the hottie, the pie, the money, and take one single step in the right direction.  The sign is right there. You can clearly see where you're supposed to be going.  Because, who knows what lies at the end of that long and winding path? There could be bevy of hotties with an infinite supply of every kind of pie you could ever dream of lying atop treasure piles the likes of which dragons wouldn't even be large enough to guard.

(I'd like to take this opportunity to say that I had an awesome piece of pie today next to my hottie husband and we're getting our tax returns in a few weeks, so that might have dictated a bit of my imagery today. Just sayin'.)

My point is, we tend to know the direction we're supposed to be walking.  Sometimes we choose to take the immediate gratification instead. Sometimes we choose to take the easy way out.  Sometimes we choose to do the wrong thing just because it looks fun for a moment or two.  And sometimes we choose failure simply because success was so distant we couldn't really wrap our minds around it, even though we knew what it would take to get there.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step," said Lao-Tzu.  If we want to put our life back on track, to turn from the ways that have done us nothing but harm and led us nowhere but failure, we have to start by taking a single step in the right direction.

My other suggestion is to get a walking partner.  Nobody wants to walk a thousand miles alone.  We need to be lifted up when we fall, and we need to be there to lift someone else up, too.  Sometimes we need to be carried.  I'll admit it -- sometimes I need to be dragged.  As long as it's in the right direction, choose a friend, a partner, a spouse, a companion for the journey.  It's not only easier, it's more fun to do life together than it is to do it alone.

The great thing about taking a step is that it usually make it that much easier to take the next one.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Things Real Christians Don't Do

I'm one of those people who doesn't believe much the first time I'm told.  I like to search for myself to find the answers to things.  I've been burned too many times to just flat out believe someone when they tell me something, you know?  You have, too, I'm sure.

Which brings me to the concept of Christianity.  If you are to believe the most vocal of those who call themselves Christians, then we're all a bunch of hateful, holier-than-thou, judgmental jerkfaces who pride themselves on sinlessness and making others feel bad about themselves.

What's wrong with this picture?

Well, I'll tell you what's wrong. It's filled with people who have absolutely no idea who Jesus is, what He did on this Earth, what His words meant, and how His actions and reactions should be perceived.  In fact, it's pretty obvious through the actions and reactions of those particular people that they likely haven't even read the bible for themselves, and they are perpetuating something that was passed down to them by other people who hadn't read the bible for themselves.  Ignorance begetting ignorance.  You know, like racism and homophobia and all other types of bigotry. Just a hypocrite breeding another hypocrite and creating a lineage of misinformation.

Somebody's got to set the record straight.

Look, everybody and their brother knows John 3:16, right? It's all over the place.  "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  That's wonderful news.  But there are a few misconceptions about it.

First, it's perpetuated by many that the real meaning of the verse is "For God so loved us Special Ones that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him (and does good things and goes to church and helps homeless people and points out the flaws of others so they can fix themselves so God can love them, but not if they're black or gay or liberal) should not perish but have everlasting life." 

Yeah, that's not what the verse says, in any translation.  Nobody is favored over anybody else.  Nobody has to do anything to receive this love.  Nobody has to go through a litany of rituals to make God love them.  It's already there.  It's there whether we change our path or not.  It's there whether we go to church or not.  It's there with no fine print.  It says what it says, and that's the end.

Or is it? Because what does John 3:17 say? Oh, you're not aware? No worries... I'll tell you.  It says, "For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him." Wait, what? No condemnation? That's absurd, right? I've never heard that before!

Haven't we? What about the way Jesus treated the woman who was caught in adultery?  John 8 has the story.

    1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.2Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them.3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court,4they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.5“Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”6They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.7But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.8Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.9When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.10Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”11She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

Notice the things He doesn't say:  "You're a sinner.  You're not good enough.  You deserve punishment. All these guys are right.  All these guys are sinless, so why can't you be? Grab some stones, boys! The law says we should kill her.  You're worthless.  You'll never be any better than you are right now.  You have to change for me to love you. You're a whore.  I condemn you.  If you sin again, I'll condemn you again."

If you follow the very simple definitions, it will lead you to the correct picture of Jesus, which should therefore be the correct picture of Christianity.  Christians follow Jesus. Jesus = God.  God = Love.  1 Corinthians 13 has the list of what Love is.  If we do the math, it should turn out to look something like this:

Christians are Patient.
Christians are Kind. 
Christians Do Not Envy.
Christians Do Not Boast.
Christians Are Not Proud
Christians Are Not Rude
Christians Are Not Self-Seeking
Christians Are Not Easily Angered
Christians Keep No Record of Wrongs
Christians Do Not Delight in Evil
Christians Rejoice with the Truth
Christians Always Protect
Christians Always Trust
Christians Always Hope
Christians Always Persevere
*Christians Never Fail...

*There is only one problem with this equation, and that is the because of the substitution.  We aren't Jesus, we're following Jesus.  We aren't perfect, we're striving toward perfection but always falling short.  We DO fail, and that's built right into the bible as well.  Jesus was one thing we're not: sinless.  No matter how hard we try, we're not going to achieve the perfection, and that's okay.  It's not a race, or a competition, or a game that we can win at, or beat other people at.  It's a Journey that we're all in together.

Why does Jesus say to the crowd of accusers to let the one with no sin cast the first stone? Because they were all sinners.  Romans 3:23 says, "All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God".  John 1:18 says, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." No, we're not perfect. Yes, we do fail.  But it's across the board -- EVERYONE fails.  It doesn't matter what color your skin is, who you sleep with, what your political affiliation is, what you do for a living, how big your house is, what church you go to or don't go to -- we're all in the same boat.

Once people stop judging and hating and teaching others to do so, maybe someone out there might hear what Jesus really wanted us to hear:

That we're loved so much, we're worth dying for.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, January 14, 2013

Positive Powers Activate!

I was never very much into superheroes.  (I know, big gasp coming from the crowd -- I totally fit the 'She's-Into-Superheroes' bill).  But it just wasn't my thing.  Even lately, I'm not into all the superhero movies.  I read Archie comics, Fright Night comics, Strangers in Paradise graphic novels.  I loved horror movies.  But I couldn't ever figure out what the hype was about superheroes.

Maybe I'm just jealous.

I'd love to be able to fly.  I used to have these fantastic dreams about flying... I'd be running really fast with my arms outstretched like a bird and then I'd just float up in the air.  I can close my eyes right now and feel that feeling: wind in my face, swooping down toward the ground only to hop back up and fly up over a tree and land on a rooftop.  I mean, it's so real it's as if I'd actually done it in the past, not just dreamed it.  I would wake up and spend most of the day dejected that it had been a dream.  And, sometimes, on a bad day, I'd stand alone in the breeze on campus, at home, after work -- and wonder what if? What if I had the power, right now, to do something absolutely incredible?

We do, you know.  There lies within each one of us the potential for greatness.  There are many avenues that lead to that greatness but I can guarantee you that the crossroads of greatness is always negativity.  You'll come to a standstill and have to make a choice: the negative route or the positive route?  Though choosing one might take you a long time to achieve what you want, choosing the other will guarantee that it will never be achieved.

There is great power in positivity.  When you're giving off a good vibe, people want to be around you.  You're cheerful, they're cheerful.  You're laughing, they're laughing.  If you smile at a stranger for no good reason in the store, nine times out of ten, they smile back.  They might not know why you did it, but it brightens their day for just a moment because you're exuding positivity and people like to be around that.

There is also great power in negativity.  When someone shoots you an angry look in the grocery store, it might haunt you the rest of the night wondering what their problem was with you.  When someone is cranky, it can bring down your good mood in ten seconds flat.  When you sit at a delicious dinner with a negative person who does nothing but complain about their food, the service, what they had to go through to get there... it sucks all the joy out of the occasion.

So the next question is this: what can positivity accomplish that negativity can't? Pretty much anything you set your mind to.  I've been plagued with a negative mindset most of my life until I realized that I was the one setting loose the plague.  If you don't like your mind, change it.  If you don't like your attitude, choose a different one.  If you're not able to achieve goals you've set it's because you don't believe you can achieve your goals.

Proverbs 17:22 says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." The result? Positivity heals, and negativity kills.  It's as simple as that.  If we look at a situation as hopeless, it is, indeed, hopeless.  But if we look at a situation as something to be improved upon and muster the gumption and the faith and the hope to tackle it knowing that, if we work hard, it will become what we want it to be... then we've changed the end of the story.

It doesn't take a superhero to move mountains.

It just takes faith and a smile. 

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Be the Change

It's entirely too easy to give up and say that the world is what it is, and that nothing I say or do will make a difference.  It's comfortable to continue living my life the way I want to live it and not to help where I see a need, not to go out of my way to make an impact, and not to put too much effort into something that I feel won't directly affect me.  I mean, come on, right? When it's just one person against the world, nothing's ever going to get accomplished.  There are billions of people out there. I can't possibly make a difference all by myself.

That's absolutely true.

So, what if everybody said that?  What if nobody on Earth did a single random act of kindness? What if there were no good Samaritans? What if there were no doctors or nurses because people didn't care about the health of other people?  What if there were no police officers or firefighters because nobody cared about the safety of other people? What if nobody stopped to help anybody ever on the side of the road because they ran out of gas or had a flat tire? What if homeless people had nowhere to go because nobody cared enough to build a shelter? What if out-of-work people starved to death because nobody bothered to donate food to local pantries?

What if you didn't have a single person to talk to you about your troubles in life?  What if you had to face everything alone -- no partner, no friends, no family?

The great thing about this flawed existence is that we do have one another.

We are not meant to live in isolation.  Just as there is someone who will be there for you to lift you up, you may be certain there is someone else out there who you are to be building up and encouraging as well.  This weekend in our church service, Dr. Bob Laurent (whom I am convinced is a lot like what Jesus would be like if He were walking around this planet today...) talked about resetting our relationships and how we were not meant to face this world alone.  THIS is why we're on the Journey together.

Joyce Meyer says this: "God places certain people in each of our lives to help us.  If we do not receive their help, we can become frustrated and overworked.  Likewise, they feel unfulfilled because they are not using their gifts and are unable to develop their own sense of accomplishment... Let as many people help you as possible.  If you do, you will last a lot longer and will enjoy yourself a lot more -- and others will be blessed as they find purpose in doing their part.  God has created us to be interdependent on one another, not independent of each other.  WE NEED EACH OTHER!" [emphasis mine].

How does all of this weave into 'being the change'?  It's simple.  As I stated before, a single person cannot make a difference.  But the coming together of several single people can, and will.

Surround yourself with people who are committed to making positive change in their own lives and in the world around them.  If you're following the Journey, you've already got a head start.  Now let's share it with others, too.

Stephanie Jean

Friday, January 11, 2013

Healing and Helping

I was never very good at riding a bicycle.  I didn't learn until I was eight years old and, as uncoordinated as I was (and still am), I ended up riding it up a tree, flipping over, and having it come crashing down on top of me.  Yeah, ouch.  Although my pride was likely bruised more than my body, it still really hurt.  You'd think I would've cut my losses and just walked places until I was of driving age.

At thirteen or fourteen (hard to remember because the impact made my brain a little fuzzy) I was riding my bike down the street when, out of nowhere, gravity took over and I was in the middle of the cement, shoulder bleeding so badly that some other, deeper liquid was oozing out at the same time.  I dragged myself off the road and, partially in shock, limped my bike home.  There's still a scar on my shoulder to this day, over twenty years later, and I can feel the pain of the fall like it was yesterday.

The body has a miraculous ability to heal from so many physical wounds.  Granted, medication and bandages and doctors certainly help a great deal.  But the adage 'That which does not kill you makes you stronger' holds true for a lot of physical damage.  Broken bones heal stronger than they were before.  Being subjected to certain strains of disease can make you immune to them. 

But what happens when the wounds aren't physical?  What if they're emotional, or psychological? What if you're subjected to heartache and betrayal and severe damage to an already-fragile ego? What if your self-esteem has taken blow after blow by someone you've loved?

Joyce Meyer says this: "My mess has become my message; my misery has become my ministry, and I am using the experience I gained from my pain to help multitudes of others who are hurting.  I encourage you not to waste your pain.  God will use it if you give it to Him. He has given me beauty for ashes, just as He promised in Isaiah 61:3, but I had to let go of the ashes. [emphasis mine].  I had to learn to have a good attitude... I had to learn to let go of the bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness I felt toward the people who hurt me.  When we have been hurt, it is important not to let the pain go on and on by having a bitter attitude.  We hurt only ourselves when we hate people... Remember, God is our Vindicator, and He will bring good out of what the enemy intended for evil."

If you refuse to get a cast on a broken leg, it could be crippling to your body for life.  If you refuse to forgive and allow bitterness and resentment to build, it could be crippling to your heart and spirit for life.

I don't post this to oversimplify things because I know for certain that such things as abuse (emotional, sexual, physical) or any sort of emotional trauma caused at the hands or words of another can be devastatingly detrimental.  But there's a choice that lies within us.  We need counseling, we need to work through what happened.  I'm not saying 'suck it up and heal'.  Emotional healing takes time and effort and tools just as physical healing does.  And, just as physical wounds are so deep that they often leave a scar, so do emotional wounds.

Emotional scars can carry the weight of such manifestations as paranoia, trust issues, anxiety, knee-jerk physical responses that didn't used to be there, low self-esteem, depression, and a myriad of others.  These are not easy to overcome, I can guarantee you.  But if we trust God to help us -- if we give the ashes of what happened to Him -- he will give us beauty and healing and a new attitude like we never could have imagined.

I struggle daily with many of these manifestations.  I've seen my share of emotional trauma, and I have also seen quite a bit of healing over the years.  I find that, when I focus on using the negative things that have occurred in my life to help others with their own struggles, my burden becomes lighter and I can breathe a bit better.  If we bottle up our struggles and hide our wounds, we internalize things so much that the pressure builds up inside, screaming to get out.  We become angry, horribly depressed, or a sobbing mass of tears.  (Or a delightful combination of all three.)

When we allow Love to come in and help us to heal, we may still have the scars, but the wounds are no longer fresh.  We can counsel others with the knowledge we gain from our wounds.  We can let people know that they are not alone.  We can guide them around the traps set by others so that they can heal more quickly.  We can help them avoid hatred; in turn, the healing process is not hampered by bitterness and resentment, which can be akin to pouring salt on an open wound.

Thus, the same adage holds true for emotional healing as for physical: that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.

This is why we're here together; to help each other heal, and to help ourselves.  We've all seen our share of problems, and we all have healing to do.  It's so much easier and quicker to do that healing together, isn't it?  If you're all alone and you fall, there's no one there to pick you up, so sometimes you just let yourself stay on the ground for days.

Let's get you up off the ground and keep walking together.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Need a Hand?

In the wise words of Morrisey:

"Oh, give yourself a break before you break down. You're gonna need someone on your side." How about this one, from the same song? "You can't do it by yourself any longer.  You're gonna need someone on your side." (Yep.  Totally quoted Morrisey on an inspirational blog.)

Does it sound familiar?  I mean, have you been trying desperately to be all things to all people?  To succeed at work, succeed at home, succeed with organization, cleanliness, finances, relationships, spirituality, time management, education... are you exhausted? I mean, because, I am.

Jeremy Camp echoes this sentiment: "Have you been standing on your own two feet too long?  Have you been looking for a place where you belong?  You can rest.  You will find rest."

Look, you belong here.  Not just on Earth, but here, on this Journey, with this group of people.  You're trying to do it all, all by yourself, and you can't.  We can't. You're going to fail.  We all fail, in and of ourselves.  But there's something inside of us that reflects bigger and better things.

I encourage you to spend some time today listening and reflecting.  Reflecting on what you're really meant for in life, but also reflecting what's inside of you that you're missing.  Let this old life crumble.  Let it fade.

You were meant to live for SO MUCH MORE.

Stephanie Jean

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bittersweet Symphony

Ever hear one person play one note on one instrument?  It can be either pleasant or annoying.  Then they play a scale, or a few notes randomly and you get a better idea of what they're trying to accomplish.  Then a friend comes over and adds their different musical instrument to the first one, and it starts getting into a nice harmony, and you enjoy it a bit more.  Yeah, I'm going somewhere with this.  The more people working together, the more beautiful the sound, especially if they're all getting better at what they do by practicing.

Oooh, see what I did there? Now I'm talking about the Journey!  When you're all alone, sometimes life seems overwhelming.  You get up, you go to work, you deal with your issues, you eat, you go to sleep.  That can either be pleasant or annoying, depending on the day.  But you know how great it is when you get to spend time with a friend? You have little inside jokes, you do stuff that's way more fun than your 'regular' day, and you have a smile on your face when you go to sleep that night, remembering the conversations and laughter.  You have a little more joy in your life.  Now add some more friends; maybe a group of you who haven't seen each other in a long time, and you're all reminiscing, having a blast, sledding or bowling or whatever it is -- it's tons of fun to have the group together!

It's like that for the internal work we have to do, too.  Emotionally, we're not cut out for going it alone all the time.  I'm not saying solitude is a bad idea, but it's certainly a bad idea to try to always carry the weight alone.  Take a look at Jesus: from time to time, He went off on His own.  Most of the time, however, He was surrounded by friends.  Other people on the Journey with Him.  He asked them for favors, and they had His back.  They didn't always get along or agree, but they were there for one another.  And He's said the same for us: "I am with you always, even to the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20).  He's put other people in our lives, though, for a reason.  We're supposed to lift one another up with encouragement and inspiration, pick someone up if they fall, walk and talk and study and learn and grow together.  Even from the beginning of time that was the plan! "It is not good for man to be alone," it was said in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:18).  That doesn't just mean you find your mate and procreate, it means we're not cut out to do life alone.  And that was in the Garden of Eden!  Perfection!  The way things stand in 2013, we need each other just to survive, wouldn't you agree?

This symphony we call 'life'... it's not just a bunch of notes.  It's beautiful and heart-wrenching.  It's bittersweet and joyful.  It's painful and delightful and agonizing and wonderful, and I wouldn't have it any other way than with you fine people.

I want to thank you for reading.  My goal is to reach out to 400 followers on the Facebook page by March 1st, so if you would like to help see US reach that goal (you, me, and the rest of us on The Journey), please cut and paste the following into your Facebook status and let's get this train rolling!  The more the merrier, I say.  One is a loner, two are a couple, but 400?  That's a party, my friends!


www.facebook.com/pages/A-Journey-of-Reinvention/109381922477397 Are you on the Journey for 2013? Go here, click 'like', get encouraged, win stuff, take some steps with us. What've you got to lose?

My most humble thanks to each and every one of you.  Here's to a new year filled with next steps for each of us!

Stephanie Jean

Friday, January 4, 2013

Staying Dry

I've lived in an emotionally wrenching world riddled with anxiety for far too long.  I am on the verge of paranoia constantly -- the most bizarre things will manifest themselves as answers to the most simple things.  For instance: if the phone rings, my first thought is (always), some horrific thing has happened, and the person on the other end of the phone will be sobbing incoherently when I answer it.  These sorts of worries plague me daily, minute by minute, and I'm exhausted.  I've often wondered why I feel so fatigued at the end of a day, even on days when I've not had to work, when I've been physically rested.  It is this vicious, useless anxiety and I've had enough.

Repeated exposure to something reinforces whatever the 'something' is, like a Pavlovian response.  I've been allowing myself to have the same response each time to these anxieties, and all it's done is reinforce my fears and concerns, pushing it to the point of a repetitious paranoid hum.  So the answer is, quite simply, to reprogram myself with a different response.

The bottom line is this: either my fears are/will be true, or they are not/will not be true.  My worrying is not going to change the outcome a single bit.  My obsessive-compulsive need to ask the same questions over and over will not change the answers.  My sharp intake of breath when the phone rings is not what prevents the horrific thing from having happened to the person who is calling. It either happened or it didn't.

There are literally hundreds of places in the bible where God tells people not to be afraid.  That's comforting to me, because it means I'm in good company.  I'm not the only one who sometimes worries herself into a stupor for no good reason.  For instance, Isaiah 41:10 says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; surely I will help you! Surely, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

That doesn't mean that bad things aren't going to happen, of course.  It's an imperfect world filled with imperfect people.  It means, however, that He's there with us.  Whatever our fear, whatever our sadness, whatever our storm -- He's next to us in the rain with an umbrella.  Instead of fretting over the storm, we need to scoot over next to Him and stay dry.

I'm scooting.

Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

In the Beginning... Again

I love, love, LOVE a fresh start.  I love a new beginning, a chance to rewrite a story. This website was built from precisely that desire within me to not just remain content with the person I was, but to consistently strive to build upon that person.  To learn, to grow, to journey, to nurture innate passions, to say goodbye to the ones that needed to dry up and wither away so that something else could thrive in its place.

If you're seeking a new start, you've found the right place.  And the best part of this news is, it's not a one-time-only gig.  It's a daily, hourly, minute-ly chance to rid yourself of the past and begin anew.  This life is not a one-shot deal.  If it were, my shot would've been up a long time ago.  We make mistakes, we fail, we fall, and we get picked back up, dusted off, and placed on the right track once again.

And again.

And again.

With every new start, there's a driving force inside of me itching to succeed.  With each new year, specifically, I have goals in mind as most of us do, and a firm desire that THIS will be the year I achieve those goals.  It rarely works, mind you -- sometime mid-February or before, it becomes 'too difficult' or 'other things take priority' or whatever pathetic excuse I choose for the day.  Doesn't really matter what the goal is, in fact.  I'll find a way to circumvent the course I was on with some useless distraction that I deem 'more important'.  That's when I let daily life get in the way of the life I'm supposed to be leading and, once that happens, it's a simple head-turn away each day that leads me to the wrong path, the wrong choices, the wrong direction.  I step away from the Journey and, wouldn't you know it? There's a wolf staring me in the face.

Every fairy tale and/or good horror story has that token warning not to stray from the path, but they do it anyhow.  Whether it's Little Red Riding Hood or the guys in American Werewolf in London, it's the same message: if you step off the path, the wolf is always there to find you.

What's your wolf?  Is it junk food? Distraction? Drugs? Is it lust? Greed? Arrogance?  Is it temptation in general?  Or is it something you just can't quite put your finger on, but you know it's there and you really, really don't like it but... but a part of you does?

I'm not a fan of platitudes.  I'd like to be able to assure you that if you stay on the path, the wolf will never get you.  But I'm not going to lie to you.  Sometimes you'll be going the right direction, on the right path, taking steps toward the right goals and the wolf will just step right in and stand in your way.  It's then that you have to make a choice: do I let him steer me off the path, or do I hop over him as just one more hurdle, and keep going the direction I was going?

The choice is yours, each and every day.  If you stumble, you get back up.  If you veer off, you jump back on track.  If you find yourself taking steps in the wrong direction, you turn around.

And if a wolf crosses your path?

Stand tall and tell him, "G'won, GIT!" and you keep Journeying, my friend.

Stephanie Jean