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