Sunday, November 2, 2014

Because I Gotta Have Faith, Faith, Faith

Granted, I love me some George Michael as much as the next guy, and this song is probably going to be stuck in my head for the next three days, but I was re-reading some good stuff in the book of Mark this morning and it prompted me to write. (Good reading always prompts me to write.)

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about my little sister getting out of the hospital, and my 'grabbing His robe' blog had a lot of response. It was the first time I really delved into the whole 'Pray with belief that it WILL happen' viewpoint. It shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did. The bible talks about praying with belief so often, it should be second nature. But right now, it's second nature to me because it has to be.

Someone I dearly love is a soldier stationed in Afghanistan right now, and I have no recourse other than to pray constantly for her safety with the belief that God will provide just that, and will bring her home to us sooner rather than later. I don't pray the same thing over and over again, doubting that God heard me the first time, or fearing that He might just ignore my plea. I pray for her safety, her happiness in the midst of difficulties, her peace in the midst of strife, her positive attitude to overcome the negativities, her strength to overcome her anxieties, her courage to do what is right at every turn, her endurance to get through whatever it takes to do her job and be triumphant, her social sphere to be supportive and, more than anything else, for her to turn to God every day and to trust not only in His ABILITY to keep her safe, but the assurance that He will do so.

Why do I do this? How do I know that she will be fine? Because there's this great story about Jesus and His disciples in the book of Matthew, chapter 17. Jesus is hanging out elsewhere and He comes upon His disciples with a man whose son has been having seizures since birth. The man tells Jesus that he brought his kid to the disciples, but they couldn't heal the boy. Now, you might find this unsurprising, but you'll see in the gospels that Jesus gave the disciples full ability to heal, to perform miracles, and even said that those who came later would perform even more miracles than He had. The caveat was faith. Jesus heals the boy (of course!) and then the disciples ask why they couldn't do it. Verse 20 says, "He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'"

So, what does this mean for us? We can't very well just stare at a mountain and say, "Move, yo!" and then watch it scuffle out into the middle of the sea. But we all have our mountains. He's speaking in a parable here, as he so often does. The mustard seed is the tiniest seed that branches into a large plant when it comes to fruition. The mountain is something huge and moving it seems something that's not ascertainable in the least. But when you take this in the context of our own problems, it becomes clear to see that Jesus is simply trying to make us understand that it's not our own efforts that will change our circumstances, but our faith in God to do so. 

This verse is echoed with a bit more clarity in Mark 11:22-24: “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

The key? Do not doubt in your heart. Don't pray for something while, at the same time, doubting that it will happen. You also can't be an idiot. You can't pray, "God, don't let me die" and then jump out of a plane without a parachute. But when it comes to your everyday problems, God is big enough to handle them on His own. He doesn't need your guidance in how to do it -- you need HIS. Pray for safety, pray for healing, be specific and, above all, be believing. 

He will give us our daily bread every day, without fail. The Israelites learned this as they wandered in the desert (though not as quickly as they should have.) He told them He would provide food for them every day. Whenever they attempted to gather more than a day's worth of food because of their lack of faith in Him to provide, the food would spoil by the next day. But when they would have faith in Him, He never failed to provide for their needs, day by day.

It's the same God, and He will continue to provide for our needs day by day in our lives as well.

Stephanie Jean



Sunday, October 19, 2014

=

Something tells me not everyone is going to like this post. But something also tells me not to care, because truth needs to be spoken (well, written) and I can't just sit around waiting for someone else to write it. A lot of blogs and articles have hit on different places in my heart, dancing around describing what equality means to me, wandering nearby how I believe God feels about His creatures. But nothing has quite nailed it yet, so it's time for me to speak up.

I don't care who you are. God doesn't love you more than He loves anybody else.

No, I don't think you heard me. He doesn't care that you're white. He doesn't care that you're straight. He doesn't care that you're male. He doesn't care that you're college-educated. He doesn't care that you vote Republican.

No, I don't think you heard me. He doesn't care that you're black. He doesn't care that you're a lesbian. He doesn't care that you're female. He doesn't care that you dropped out of school in eighth grade. He doesn't care that you don't vote.

No, I don't think you heard me. He doesn't care that you are a Buddhist. He doesn't care that you have green hair. He doesn't care that you have more skin covered in tattoos than bare. He doesn't care that you're addicted to gambling. He doesn't care that you are living with that girl you're not married to.

No, I don't think you heard me. He doesn't care that you're Asian. He doesn't care that you own a Mercedes. He doesn't care that you don't want children. He doesn't care that you had your brother sent to jail for something he didn't do just because you were angry with him.

Here's what He cares about:

YOU.

Not your skin color. Not your religion. Not your education. Not your money. Not your political leanings. Not your sexual orientation. Not your views on global warming.

God doesn't love you more than He loves anybody else. But on the flip side, God doesn't love anybody else more than He loves you.

This world, man. I get so desperately angry I just want to cry. I spent the week in Massachusetts with my mother. I toured Salem, where women were persecuted and hanged for witchcraft by people who thought they were better. I toured Plimoth Plantation where we were shown how the Pilgrims came into the Wampanoag's land and treated them like objects, taking some back as slaves, asking if they could 'have' some of them as gifts, as if a human being could be a present to another human being, because they thought they were better. I toured Provincetown, where the 30th Annual Women's Week filled the streets with same-sex couples in a place where they felt safe, where a door to a church read 'Celebrating Ten Years of Marriage Equality in Massachusetts' and I was moved to tears because that's something SPECIAL, something RARE... it's not the norm. The norm is persecution. The norm is hatred or intolerance or misunderstanding at the very least. The norm is, "Well, we'll think about possibly voting on offering you the rights that everyone LIKE US has already," because they think they are better. Then I sat at a marching band competition where the people behind us were making fun of Asian people and Asian culture because they think they are better. And then I came home to watch an episode of Parenthood with my family where a young half-African American boy hears the "N" word for the first time, and his black mother and white father sit together to explain it to him and my heart just breaks.

My heart breaks because I think to myself, "HOW? How can people ever even come up with the notion, the concept in their heart or their mind, that they are somehow superior to any other human being for any reason? ANY REASON AT ALL!?"

But we're surrounded by it. And, so often, it's in the name of 'Christianity', and that just burns me all the more. Christians should know nothing but love. They should exhibit nothing but love. They should be the first ones to stand up for the downtrodden, the first ones to care for the brokenhearted, the first ones to stand up and say, "This persecution is not right." Whether it's slavery, whether it's withholding marriage/benefit rights from someone because you think a passage or two in an ancient book dictates how we should manage everyone's lives today, I've just got to encourage you to FINISH THE BOOK. Read the REST of it. Because, if all you can see is a few random Levitical laws out of context, without knowing the audience it was speaking to, without knowing the bigger picture, without learning about what Jesus really meant for all of humanity, then you can't very well call yourself a Christian. You can call yourself a person who has picked and chosen some verses to back up their own bigoted beliefs, if you like. You can call yourself a sometime scholar, a fair-weather fingerpointer... but you can't call yourself a Christian and give people who really, truly live and die by the love of Christ a bad name.

I mean, you can... and a lot of people ARE... but, well... you shouldn't. It's deceitful. And there's quite a bit against that in them there books, too.

You want something to focus on? Focus on this:

The Greatest Commandment -- Mark 12:28-34

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

That's it, people. That's from the mouth of the Big Guy Himself. That trumps anything else you might have snaking its ugly self around in your heart or your mind. We're supposed to love God, and then we're supposed to love other people. It's so simple, right? It can't be so simple.

But oh, yeah. It is. It really is. Because He created the white people AND all of the other skin colors, too. He created the straight people AND He created every single person on the LGBTQ spectrum, too. He created people who became pastors, and He created people who became accountants, and He created people who became strippers. Whether you were born a certain color or gender or sexual orientation, whether you were born into a wealthy or poor family, whether you chose to live for Him or not, He loves you exactly the same as He loves all His other children: with a completely unconditional, constantly pursuing, blatantly unabashed, I-would-die-for-you-and-DID kind of love.

Stop looking down on others. Stop looking down on yourself. Stop thinking God is so small. Stop hating. Stop bullying. Stop everything you're doing unless it's loving someone else.

Because that's the only thing you can do in this life to get it right.

Stephanie Jean


Monday, September 29, 2014

Live Like a Dog

I wrote an article for a magazine a few years back in the voice of my dog, Nikita, an 11-year-old Husky/Shepherd mix. It was called "Love Lessons from the Dog," or something adorable like that. Thinking back on it, it was one of the better pieces I'd written for that particular magazine because I abandoned my preconceived notions of what an article should look like and just wrote what felt right in the moment.

That's basically what dogs do, you know. They do what feels right in the moment. Sure, sometimes it's disgusting or bad, like when the little dog, Doobie, ate an entire bag full of chocolate candy and threw up in fourteen spots on the carpet, futon, chair, bed, rug... but more often it's a zest for life that human beings usually tell themselves they cannot afford.

The best part of my dogs' day is when someone comes home. It doesn't matter who it is. They are exponentially more excited every time someone new shows up. The possibilities that lie beyond the closed door are endless but, to the dogs, all of the possibilities are good. Whether it's Mommy, Daddy, one of our kids (the 'puppies'), or a new friend (i.e. absolutely anyone that comes over, whether they've been here before or not), the dogs want to be with that person. They get close, they sniff, they snuggle, they lay next to, they lick, and they finally burrow and/or fall asleep on/next to said person.

Also ridiculously exciting? Taking a walk. Say the word, even in the midst of a sentence having nothing to do with them, and they cock their heads to the side and begin to prance. Pull out a leash, and they literally quiver with excitement, and then bound around the house with such anticipation that you can barely get them to stand still long enough to slip the leash around their necks. The walk itself is nonstop action: zig-zagging, sniffing, peeing, more sniffing, chomping on something that probably shouldn't be chomped on, giving the least amount of slack in the leash possible at all times, pulling so hard they nearly choke themselves. It's that kind of happy.

Rides. Opening the car door and watching their eyes dart with excitement as they dash from the kitchen into the closed garage directly into the car and immediately stick their noses up to the top of the rolled up window, waiting for the magical car fairies to roll it down, is pure glee. It truly does not matter to them where they are going. Often, it's a 1.5-mile trip to pick up Mommy at work, and then right back around. Sometimes it's even to the vet. Sometimes it's across the street to the high school to pick up one of the 'puppies'. Overwhelming joy, I tell you.

Can you imagine if we were to be happy all the time? Not fretting tomorrow, not stewing over the past, but just breathing in the daily joys of life like they were the first time, every time? If taking a walk, traveling in the car, seeing a loved one after a few hours, or meeting a new friend held that kind of boundless enthusiasm for us?

Live like a dog, my friends. We all know an entire bag of chocolate is no good for anyone, even if it DOES feel great in the moment. But we can have the finer qualities in common with our pets.

Forgive quickly, love wholeheartedly, and be ready for adventure at any given moment.

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What Happens in Vegas

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

New York may be the city that doesn't sleep, but Las Vegas is a vampire. "Sleep all day, party all night" as The Lost Boys movie tagline says. The flashing lights and pervasive mega-music festival of Fremont Street pull everyone in for a slam dance of fast action. They pile onto the inner road where no cars are allowed, pulse against each other like it's a mosh pit, drink a little (or a lot) too much, get wild and frantic and... then they sleep. They sleep all morning, past noon, wallowing in hungover self-pity, grab a quick bite at a cheap buffet, and get ready to do it all over again. Every night, the names are different, but the game's always the same. Cliche doesn't ring true -- what happens in Vegas definitely does NOT stay in Vegas. Trust me, I know. I've been there eight times, and I love every minute of it. But I come back home with the three hour time difference, unable to sleep at night because I'm still hard-wired to be up partying, and feeling like a train wreck throughout the day because it feels as though I've never slept in my life. Ever.

After a week in Vegas, you don't feel the heat. Even when you stumble out of an arctic, air-conditioned casino onto the sun-filled Strip and head back into the next one (which looks like it's fifty feet away but, in reality, is at least a half mile.) You start to become numb to the clanging, excited drone of slot machines and it becomes white noise every time you enter a new building (casinos, yes, but bars, gas stations, and even grocery stores have them.) You begin to know your way around the crowd. You notice which people are paying attention and which are too involved in their penny slot venture to get rich quick to even realize they ran into you.

And after two weeks, you look up.

There are mountains. There's a desert. There are palm trees.

There is a magical beauty to this town that most people never encounter because they're too absorbed in the myth. What happens here is much better when you have your own experiences, not the television and movie kind. What happens here is something that doesn't stay here. What happens here goes back with you to your 'home' and stays with you forever in your heart.

What happens in Vegas has the potential to change your life.

People keep asking us why we love it so much. Why on earth we would want to move there as we've always said. What could we possibly do in Las Vegas for more than three days which is the average amount of time our friends stay when they go. The only answer I can give them is that it's the most beautiful place we've been.

Have you ever wondered what makes something beautiful? Is it true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Of course it's true. When I fly into Las Vegas (preferably at night), I have the most joyful giddiness in my heart. All of the potential of what's going to happen for the week. Not gambling and getting drunk and losing all my money. That's the myth. That's the TV and movie experience. I mean the lights and the sounds and the people, the desert and the palm trees and the mountains, the sky and the weather and the desperate need of so many people just to be seen. To be heard. To be loved.

There are more than 500 churches in Las Vegas, of all denominations. There are mosques and temples and places of worship both within and outside of the city limits. And people can go TO church, and that's all fine and good. You can stop there and get your weekly fix of what you feel is 'good' and then go back into Sin City and revel in it for six more days, if that's what you want to do. You wouldn't be the first. But the real difference isn't made inside of a building, as it's NEVER made inside of a building. It's made on the streets, it's made one-on-one, it's made by people who care and who love, whether or not they identify as Christians.

My best friend is an absolutely amazing woman I've known since I was in second grade. She has the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met. She is humble and compassionate and loving and agnostic. She has a great dislike of religion and believe me when I say, I don't blame her. I have the same dislike. There's nothing good about hypocrisy, about doing something for a reward, about doing something for show. The Big Guy railed on that all throughout His own ministry in the gospels. But Jesus also had more in common with my best friend than most Christians I know.

He wasn't afraid to get His hands dirty.

Each week, my best friend goes to the store, buys bread and sandwich items, fruit, cookies, bottled water, ice... she and her boyfriend painstakingly make as many sandwiches as they can, pack lunches in brown paper bags they purchased, put waters in a cooler of ice, and hand deliver at least 40 lunches to homeless people in town. They don't do this because anyone told them to. They're not a part of some church group that goes to preach about Jesus and also feeds people to lure them in. (However, they have encountered these groups, who are somewhat territorial about THEIR homeless people that THEY feed so THEY can teach them about Jesus...). No, my friends do this because they love people. They just love them. They care about them. Incredibly, my agnostic friend and her boyfriend are two of the most Christian people I know.

Why do I say this? Because I've read the bible. I've read it almost as many times as I've been to Las Vegas. I've read it in four or five different translations. But one things rings out true every single time, without fail, and that's that Jesus didn't give a crap whether or not people went to church. He didn't care how eloquently they spoke, how pious they were, how much money they had, who they were born to, whether they drank too much alcohol, whether they were disease-free. He loved people. All people. And, shortly before He was murdered for His radical beliefs and teachings, He said one last all-encompassing thing:

"I give you a new commandment: that you LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Just as I have loved you, so you, too, should LOVE ONE ANOTHER. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples: that you SHOW LOVE TO ONE ANOTHER." -John 13:34, 35 [emphasis mine]. Pretty mind-blowing, huh? Only 42 words, and he repeats the words LOVE ONE ANOTHER three times in there.

Jesus is leaving His disciples with this consummate direction. All this time, He's been showing them what this love looks like: compassion, serving, forgiving, teaching. Humility, taking no glory, sharing what little He had, concern even for those among them that were the outcasts: children, lepers, demon possessed, prostitutes, tax collectors. Laying down His whole life for others, ultimately. And then He said, "BY THIS, people will know you are my disciples."

We see people who call themselves Christians picketing and protesting, shouting and complaining about being persecuted, hollering at others, calling them sinners, condemning and judging. We see people who call themselves Christians slandering entire communities of people they deem different from themselves. We see people who call themselves Christians doing things simply for the glory and fame, and wielding their title like a weapon, taking verses from a book some of them haven't even read and using them to belittle and hurt others.

So I ask you, is this what we're known for? Our overwhelming, far-reaching, humble and compassionate love? Our serving of others with no desire for credit or glory? Loving one another as Jesus loved us, as He commanded us to do?

It's not?

Well, shouldn't it be?

Stephanie Jean

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hide and Seek

One of the great joys of my childhood was playing Hide-and-Seek with my mom. We loved to play inside the house or outside, and not just when I was a very little girl, either. I remember playing into my preteen years at the very least. Even as I got older, whenever we would walk through an antique mall or museum, we'd point out 'nooks and crannies' (which we LOVED) and say how great of a place it would be to play Hide-and-Seek.

How boring would that game have been if there were just someone hiding and nobody seeking? You'd sit there forever, ignored, feeling lonely and wishing for someone to play along with you.

How maddening would that game have been if there were just someone seeking and nobody hiding? A forever search with no 'end of the rainbow' prize.

The game was so great because the two players enjoyed each other's company, had the same sense of fun and joy, and really put their all into it.

I find, these days, that I lack a great deal of joy from time to time. Not always, mind you. My life is a blessed one, for sure, and I'm grateful all the time for the people and things that I have in it. But have you ever noticed that there's a difference between being happy or content and really experiencing true joy?

Like, I'm happy if I have a couple of chocolate chips when I've got a sweet-tooth nagging at me. But I feel great joy when I sit and eat a bowl of chocolate and peanut butter ice cream while watching my favorite tv show next to my daughter and my husband.

Like, I'm happy if I get a hot bubble bath at the end of a long day, but I feel great joy when I get to take a day off and spend it at the beach, when the waves are high and I can jump into them with abandon, and the water is just the right temperature, and the sun is shining brilliantly.

Like, I'm happy if I hear my favorite song on the radio, but I feel great joy when I'm at a concert from the band that plays my favorite song and they PLAY MY FAVORITE SONG! LIVE!

I'm happy with my life. I truly am. My family is the best, all of them. I married the man I was meant to marry and I'm still crazy in love with him a decade later, probably annoyingly so. We have a big house, can pay all our bills on time each month, live in a quiet little town, have two dogs and a car and a nice backyard and garden. I'm happy with my life.

But I feel great joy when...

When?

When I stop trying to 'make everything work'. When I don't just toss out a list of prayer requests and then go about my day trying to answer the prayers myself. When I take a breath and play Hide-and-Seek... with God.

The difference is, He's never hiding. I'm just hiding Him. I put Him into this tidy little corner underneath a blanket for a rainy day.

But I'm called to seek. "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you," says Matthew 6:33. It doesn't say, "Seek first all of these things and then spend some time with God telling Him what you still want when you have a free moment." It doesn't say, "Spend time trying to make all of your plans work and then come to Him if they fail." It says to seek Him first.

FIRST.

It really doesn't sound too difficult in theory, but we're hardwired to be in control. We live in a demanding world with a million responsibilities and we feel we have to compartmentalize things, to organize them according to priority, and for the most part that's all true... but how is it that God falls lower and lower on the priority list? Because we can't see Him in front of us? No. Because He's less important than the daily things? No.

It's because He's not demanding. He's not going to force Himself on us. He's inviting. He's going to let us know up front that He's there for us for any and every reason, that He should be our first resort and not our last, but He's never going to stick a cattle prod to us and drive us His way.

It's up to me to do the seeking. And when I finally do, I find Him... and I always feel great joy.

Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Aftermath: Suicide, Cynicism, and Celebration

I was sixteen years old when I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, door locked behind me, and every bottle of pills in our family's medicine cabinet sitting on the sink in front of me. I had a glass of water and a more-than-heavy heart. My life had gotten to the point where I didn't want to see one more day. I couldn't shake the depression I'd been feeling for months. Pressure, stress, negativity, abandonment, deep self-loathing, too many changes I wasn't prepared to deal with, and an inability to figure a way out of the hole of desperation I'd been gradually sinking into left me stark white with dark rings beneath my eyes, and no real hope of a future I wanted to be a part of.

One might think that I had a bad childhood, or that I was dealing with something that no one else could understand, but the simple fact is that I had a wonderful childhood, supportive and loving parents, a few really close friends, a Christian upbringing and belief in God, and still couldn't handle all of the sadness, the depression, the day-to-day traumas that we all face. I was no different from anyone else. I didn't have a substance abuse problem, I didn't have an addiction, I didn't have a mental health issue, I wasn't abused...

I
just
didn't
want
to
live.

Obviously, something changed my mind and I'm here today and that's a different story for a different time.

Robin Williams appears to have committed suicide yesterday, and the world has lost itself in commentary. I've heard deep loss and grief, I've heard prayers and condolences, I've heard snark and cynicism, I've heard judgment and condemnation, I've heard love and admiration, and I've heard, periodically, just a glimmer of understanding.

There's a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is when you have experienced something yourself and can relate. Empathy is when you haven't, but you can feel some of what the person must be going through. If you've lost someone you love to suicide, you can relate to what the family is feeling. If you haven't, you may be able to empathize. Sympathy is 'feeling WITH'. Empathy is 'feeling INTO'.

I have lost a few people to suicide. They were not extremely close to me, but their loss affected me nonetheless. And the same situation holds true, with all of the same condolences and judgments and prayers and condemnations. What is it about something so tragic that makes us feel so much, so many things?

How SHOULD we feel?

What a question, right? There is no right or wrong feeling here. Certainly love should always be the guiding factor, but we can't help what our heart cries out. We never can. We just have to ask ourselves how we would want someone to speak if it was our husband, our wife, our son, our daughter, our best friend who was in such a place of desperation and depression that they could see no other path for themselves but to end their own life.

Do I believe in Heaven and Hell? Yes.

Do I believe that suicidal people are condemned to Hell? Absolutely not.

The bible says very clearly in 1 Samuel 16:7 that God doesn't see how humans see. We look at what we see on the surface, but God looks so much deeper, into our hearts. We have a loving and kind Father, a Father who understands our feelings, who understands our desperation, who understands our hearts even when our fellow humans have nothing positive to say about us. The same Father that gave Robin Williams the comic genius that he had, the unparalleled acting talent, the improvisational skills, the infectious hilarity we all felt when we watched him... that Father SYMPATHIZES with whatever Robin was feeling when he was in that place of tormented desperation where he felt he needed to end his life. That Father sent His Son to die for Robin Williams just like He did for each and every one of us. And everyone knows John 3:16, but the next verse is just as important IF NOT MORE SO: "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him."

Suicide is heartbreaking. Judgment is even more heartbreaking.

Suicide is shocking. Condemnation is even more shocking.

Suicide is sad. Cynicism is sadder.

My dream -- my plea -- is that we spend less time talking and more time listening to each other. That we spend less time spouting off our ideas, our judgments, our criticisms and spend more time interacting on a positive, joyful level with everyone we come into contact with. That we empathize even when we might not be able to sympathize. And that we realize that our surface understanding of one another will never add up to the deep, thorough, complete understanding God has of our hearts and thoughts and souls.

May Robin rest in peace, his family be comforted, and our social interactions with each other be filled with empathy and devoid of condemnation in this and every tragedy.

Stephanie Jean

PS -- My husband and I had the pleasure of meeting Robin Williams after he performed locally several years ago, and he was humble, gentle, and greatly appreciative of his fans. I'll treasure that memory forever. And this cheesy, cheesy picture.



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Bitter Pill -- and the Antidote

I've been a-tacked! (Get it?)
I just came down from a weekend of Family Reunion recently. Dozens upon dozens of Hungarians all together in one place. Let me tell you a little something about Hungarians if you're not aware. We love to feed you. Food = love. If you've gained 85 pounds since your wedding day, you might have married a Hungarian.

Let me tell you something else: we have tempers. We hop into a fiery rage in a split second, which isn't the greatest thing in the world, I'll admit. But we also are usually very quick to forgive and to love once again.

When I was four years old, my older brother and sister and I shared one bedroom for a short time. My brother was pretty cool; he was eleven, and liked Pac-man, and played croquet with me. My sister was in a whole different realm, though. She was... wait for it... A TEENAGER! She got to go places! Do things! See boys! And, on one particular evening, she was out rollerskating, and I was in our bedroom looking for a toy, probably Hungry, Hungry Hippos, when my sister perpetrated the most horrendous act imaginable. She cut me to the core. My joy had been sabotaged! I screamed in pain and looked down at my foot where a pushpin from her bulletin board had inadvertently been left on the floor and was now protruding from my bleeding arch.

I. Hated. Her.

After fixing the wound and soothing my sobs, my mother left me to my own devices which, for a rage-filled miniature Hungarian, might not have been the best choice. There was a great deal of silence while I hatched my plot. My mother walked in on me crouching in front of my sister's bed a while later. I had pulled all of her pushpins out of the bulletin board, and was lining them up, sharp side pointing toward the sky, in front of her bed.

"WHAT are you doing?" Mom asked, appalled at my vindictive nature, certainly.

Nonchalantly, I replied, "I want her to know what it feels like."

Four years old, and already I'd had a taste of the bitterness of resentment. I wanted my suffering to be noticed, and wanted an eye for an eye, a pushpin for a pushpin. I was not going to be satisfied until the ground was equal. She needed to know what she'd done, and she needed to pay for it.

Proverbs 12:14 says, "There is a way that appears to be right but, in the end, it leads to death."

Have you ever smelled vanilla extract? It has this incredible scent, evocative of richness, sweetness, and all things delicious. I remember making a batch of chocolate chip cookies on my own for the first time and I was just overcome by the aroma. I was about to pour a teaspoon of the extract into the bowl when, suddenly, the urge was too strong and I stuck the spoon, instead, into my mouth, letting the liquid drip over my tongue, as I was sure it was going to be the most wonderful thing I'd ever tasted. It seemed right...

I gagged. I ran to the sink and spat, and began shoveling water into my mouth directly from the running faucet, unable to cleanse the awfulness from my taste buds. I never made that mistake again.

But the funny thing is, even though I know how to avoid the taste of bitterness on my tongue, I still have a hard time leaving the shadows of bitterness out of my heart. Emotional bitterness can ruin friendships, end marriages, keep parents and children from speaking for decades. It takes very hard work in our hearts and our minds, but there is absolutely an antidote to the bitter pill of resentment.

It's called 'Forgiveness'.

Proverbs 25:21-22 is a very interesting, yet very misunderstood passage written by Solomon, the wisest man to ever live. It says, "If your enemy is hungry, give him food. If he is thirsty, give him water. For in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head and the Lord will reward you."

Whoa! That sounds pretty harsh! Like, 'Haha, you were mean and I was good and God loves me more, nyah nyah, doesn't that BURN?" Coals of fire on your enemy's head? Kind of goes against that whole 'Turn-the-Other-Cheek' thing that Jesus taught about, right?

Nope. Not if you know your history.

In the time of Solomon, the Israelites had the temple, the sacrifices, the Day of Atonement. During this, the priests would fill their censer with coals of fire and place incense inside, creating a pleasing aroma. The cloud of smoke would cover the Mercy Seat, and God would accept their offerings because of it.

So this verse doesn't mean you're doing nice things for your enemy so you can make yourself look good, or make them look bad. It means you're, in essence, becoming the way for them to come back to God. You're giving them the tools necessary to be pleasing to God. You're covering their sins with your love (because "love covers a multitude of sins" [1 Peter 4:8]) and presenting them to God as an unblemished sacrifice. You're the example for them to follow in love and in forgiveness and in mercy.

There's a great story in Matthew 18:21-35. We've all heard the whole 'forgive your brother 7 times 70 times' which is how it starts, but the rest of it is just as compelling.

21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seven times seventy.g
23“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of goldh was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.i He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’34In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Every one of us is a sinner. The bible is clear that all have fallen short of the glory of God. We're all in the same boat, and baby, that boat's going down like the Titanic. But we're all forgiven through Christ Jesus who died for our sins. He is our shining example when people ask us how often we're supposed to forgive. How much did HE forgive? Well, in the midst of being murdered on a cross for crimes He didn't commit, being beaten and tortured and becoming the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live eternally, what did He pray? Did He pray against them, "Father, kill them, for they're hurting me for no reason!" Did He pray, "Father, strike them with lightning, for this is unjust!" 

No. He prayed for them. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

How often is that true, do you think? It's been said that holding onto anger and refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It burns inside of us. It makes us sick, drives us crazy, puts tremendous pressure and stress on our daily lives. Forgiveness doesn't mean you disregard what was done. It doesn't mean you invalidate the pain it caused you. Forgiveness is simply a release from the punishment. We no longer hold it against our enemy. Now, don't get me wrong, there are certainly cases in which we just have to do this from afar. If the offender is dangerous or if they have passed away, we can still forgive but not let them back into our life. There's no problem with that. Forgiveness doesn't mean it's okay for them to walk all over you or to hurt you again and again. It's just a response different from 'an eye for an eye', different from 'I'm going to put tacks around your bed so you can get hurt and know what it feels like'. 

Instead, we place the sweet-smelling incense and the coals of fire for atonement in their direction, pray for them to do what is right from now on, and pave the way for reconciliation. 

When we say the Lord's prayer, we remember that it's exactly what Jesus said when He was asked how we should pray. In it, one of the simplest phrases is, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those two trespass against us." As freely as we accept God's forgiveness of us, we should be just as free to forgive others. Seven times, seven TIMES seventy times, it doesn't matter. It's a guideline to be forgiving because forgiveness and reconciliation is the entire reason for Jesus' existence. 

There is no other way for people to learn how to love and forgive than to BE loved and forgiven. 

Stephanie Jean



Sunday, June 22, 2014

Moments of Mindfulness

I'm too busy.

So often, that's my excuse for anything and everything that comes to my attention before I can even process what the offer or obligation actually consists of. All of the work at all of the jobs I have, all of the things the kids have going on, the rides they need to the places they must go, all of the prior engagements I have scheduled, all of the unexpected duties that pop up at the last minute... it's overwhelming, yes? Plus wanting to spend time with family, with friends, with God, with myself. Tending a garden. Feeding the pets. Housesitting for the neighbors. Doing the household chores. Preparing and cooking meals. Random bursts of fitness when I have 'spare' time.

But what if I read that as not an excuse, but a statement?

I'm too busy.

Yes, yes I am. So I have to ask myself, are there things that I can say 'no' to that are already on my agenda? If not, are there moments... albeit brief ones... where I can take two minutes out of what I'm doing and just breathe a prayer for strength and patience, for endurance, for communion with the Creator? Yes. A resounding YES.

When I take into account the time I waste each day, even the moments, there are dozens if not hundreds of times when I can stop, breathe, pray, and start again. Every time I pick up my phone and scroll through my Facebook feed mindlessly is a moment I can use differently. Every time I close the bathroom door I have at least a couple of minutes where, even if I'm ... ahem... 'doing something', I don't have to focus on it, for goodness sake. I can focus somewhere else, on Someone else.

Someone who's drowning doesn't need to reach the shore, necessarily. As long as they have one square foot of sandbar, they can keep their head above water. I have my day of rest, my 'shore', each week and, for that, I'm so grateful. But I certainly need a small sandbar everyday, here and there, so that I can regroup.

Moments of mindfulness make a world of difference in the mundane.

Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Real Choice

Somebody blew my mind this weekend. It was simple and quick and without any fanfare. I was sitting on my couch, watching our church service through the internet hooked up to our TV, and suddenly light was shed on something I've been hearing about my entire life and never really got.

I'm not really one of those people who cares about Creation versus Evolution, about whether dead people go directly to Heaven or if they have to wait until Jesus comes, or if the Earth's been around for a few thousand or a few billion years. It truly makes no difference to me whatsoever in the way I live my life in the here and now. But there's this story, and it's right smack at the beginning of the bible. It's been allegorical in history... well, throughout history. It's a garden, and a couple of humans, and two trees. One tree is allowed and one tree is forbidden.

So what do the idiots do? They eat from the forbidden one.

And every time you read it, you think, "WHY!? It's so obvious. Don't do what you're not supposed to do. Do things the right way. Don't be bad. Be good."

Oh, but we all do it, every day. It's easy to sit here in 2014 and mutter, "I'd never have eaten from the wrong tree if it'd been my choice." But we all make the same choice, it's just not in the shape of fruit. We choose the wrong path constantly. Sometimes it's simple to see, sometimes not so much.

But what's really at the heart of the issue? Is it sin? Is it being good versus being bad? I don't think so. If sin is at the heart of the issue, then the issue is doomed from the beginning. Is rule-following what it's all about? Nope, that can't be, or else what Jesus did on the cross would have been pointless.  After the extensive amount of reading and studying and meditating on scripture and writing that I've done over the last few years, I'm in awe at the simplicity of it ever single time the realization hits me again.

It's about Grace.

The Amplified Bible always adds 'God's unmerited favor' after the word grace, just for a little bit of extra explanation. Unmerited means we didn't earn it. And we didn't earn it because to earn it would make some of us better, some of us more deserving, than others. It would mean that Jesus' death and resurrection was pointless because we could've earned this grace without Him. It would tie our salvation to something trivial and temporary instead of something profound and eternal.

Here's the thing that blew my mind (...you like how I'm jumping around like I'm playing Hopscotch on crack?):

The two trees, said the teacher this weekend, are The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Duh, I already knew that.) But what became apparent to me that had never in 37 years made sense until now is that they're tied to Grace versus Legalism. They're tied to doing things God's Way versus doing things Our Way. If we have 'knowledge of good and evil', like the law of Moses which Galatians said was given to us for that very purpose, to illuminate our sin and make us aware of it, and we rely on THAT tree... if we choose to eat from THAT tree... we're putting all of our efforts up in hopes of salvation. We're using works to get us into Heaven, into God's favor. We're saying that what we can accomplish is more important than what Jesus already accomplished. We get up in the morning and make our to-do lists, checking them off as we go: time for bible reading, time for devotions, time for work, time for charity, time for finances, time for tithing, time for rest, time for prayer, time for bed. If we get them all 'right', then God will love us more, right? If we get one of them wrong, we'd better be sorry and beg forgiveness or He won't love us as much, right? Isn't that exhausting?

The Tree of Life is the Tree of Grace. It's fruit is forgiveness, favor, prosperity, and, above all else, UNCONDITIONAL love. Last night, my daughter just happened to ask me what love meant to me. A million things flashed into my mind, and it took awhile to put into words, but the thing I needed to explain to her the most is that love -- real, true love -- has no conditions. You can make a million mistakes, it's still there as strong as ever. It doesn't say, "You do this, then I'll love." It doesn't say, "If you do this, I won't love."

This is why God's love is the only flawless love that is, was, and ever will be. Human love is tied to human works. Marriages, friendships, familial relationships -- so much of it is cause and effect, if-then mentalities. Sure, there are flashes of unconditionality in it, but we're flawed humans and so our love is flawed as well. Knowing this, knowing that we can't ever go through life checking off every box on the to-do list with the perfection of our Deity, isn't it a complete comfort to know that there ARE two trees? It's true, we all have a choice in life, in every area, every single day.

Our choice isn't to be good or to be bad.

Our choice is to ACCEPT GRACE or REJECT GRACE.

It all depends on the tree you're eating from.

Choose wisely.


Stephanie Jean

(For more on this subject, recommended reading is Galatians 3.)



Thursday, May 22, 2014

Trade Ya!

When I was in elementary school, I didn't take hot lunch. It was too expensive and I was (and still am) quite possibly the world's pickiest eater so, for me, the perfect lunch involved a brown bag with some potato chips or cheese crackers, a chocolate pudding, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread with my mother's homemade black raspberry jelly. To this day, it is the only jelly I will eat. This is the reason my mother must become immortal. It's that good, and no one can replicate it. Not even me.

So delicious was this sandwich that I would devour it with complete abandon, the gusto of my gigantic bites not shying away from the fact that my entire face from nose to chin on the vertical and ear to ear on the horizontal was covered in a dark red goo (or, as I refer to it in my brain these days, the nectar of the gods.)

There were some other kids that would sit nearby giggling at me, calling me "Jelly Face", and I just didn't care one bit. My love for this food overshadowed any derogatory term the other 7-year-olds could muster. My mother was a genius with a brown bag lunch, and they were just jealous. I often was sent to the bathroom to wash up after lunch BEFORE recess, if that tells you what a mess I made of myself (though, in retrospect, the teachers could have been predetermining the mess I would become if the sticky face came in contact with the dusty ground...)

Then there were the traders. Not traitors, mind you -- that's a completely different thing. These were the kids who also brought brown bag lunches, but the mothers of whom were not as culinarily gifted as mine. A thin sandwich with store-bought jelly or, worse, no jelly at all, on some dark, disgusting-looking bread. VEGETABLES in a baggie. An all-natural juice pack. I pitied them, no doubt, but darned if I was going to fall for their sunken eyes and disappointed frown. They'd try to pawn off their mess-in-a-sack to me in the hopes of gleaning my delectable sandwich, pudding, and chips with two words, sometimes in question form as though just testing the waters but not really believing it to be a possibility:

"Trade ya?"

Not on your life, my friend. Usually my mouth was too full to answer verbally, so I'd just shake my head and keep chewing while they tried the next victim. Sometimes they'd get a pity cheese from someone who had two strings in their bag, but usually they were stuck with their original offerings and, often, the bag ended up in the trash, contents uneaten, while the kid bought a Pudding Pop from the ala carte menu and sauntered out to the playground.

My lunch was too good to give up. It was the. best. thing. ever.

It's funny that, as I grow older, I'm surprised at what can be traded. There was even an entire television show dedicated to trading 'up' to get cooler items. Keep trading and you'll start off with a broken bicycle and end up with a classic car, just by making incremental deals that are to your benefit. I even recently brokered a very nice used bicycle for my son by putting up part cash and then trading a used piece of exercise equipment that I'd been trying to sell in every yard sale I've had for the last five years or so. People trade services for other services, like a housecleaning for a massage. They trade homemade items for other homemade items from people with different skillsets, like home-brewed beer for knitted sweaters and crocheted scarves. But it's a rare occasion indeed where you see someone that has something absolutely, incredibly UNBELIEVABLE who will trade it for something that's completely worthless.

In fact, it's only happened once in the history of humanity.

We live lives that are full of mistakes. We fail constantly, even to our own standards. We try to do right, we try to be good, we try to balance and control everything. But we are unbalanced and out of control most of the time anyhow, if we are being honest with ourselves. We hurt people, we hurt ourselves, and we hurt our Creator.

But 2 Corinthians 5:17 says something pretty powerful:

"Therefore, Jesus took his amazing lunch, looked at your pathetic one, and said, "Trade ya!" --SJS Version, 2014

Okay, those aren't really the words. It's even better than that.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old is gone! The new is here!" --NIV

All of our mistakes are covered before we even make them. He traded His perfect life for our messy ones. His death and resurrection ensured that we can 'trade up' for the rest of our earthly lives. Does that mean we can skim by in life and do whatever we want? Of course not. It simply means that we are taken care of and forgiven for our failures if we are 'in Christ'.

What does it mean to be 'in Christ', though?

It means, you're on the Journey. You're seeking. You're learning. You're changing, and turning around, and taking steps in the right direction. There's no set rulebook you have to perfectly follow in order to be a follower (nope, not even the Bible... we CAN'T follow it perfectly, that's the whole reason for Jesus in the first place!)

It means you should just make the best lunch you can and Jesus will trade you His better one for yours, no matter what it looks like. His is even better than my mom's.

(...and that's saying a LOT!)

Stephanie Jean


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Triumph in Our Troubles

He's already reaching... just grasp!
Do you ever get that feeling that you're waiting for the other shoe to drop? So many things have gone wrong in your life that whenever it seems they're all going right... something can't be right? We spend a tremendous amount of time expending energy on our worries and anxieties. Trust me, I know. I have an anxiety disorder that haunts me on a daily basis, particular if I let it have free rein. (Or should I say, 'free reign', as though I'm letting it rule me? Either way works. A runaway horse or a tyrannical monarch come to the same end inside my brain.)

I've found it to be true, however, without fail that each time I have to endure some hardship, inevitable good comes of it. Hard times bring out either the best or the worst in us, and sometimes both. But how you handle it is what makes you who you are. Do you fall apart? Do you back into a corner? Do you let a pervasive attitude of woe take over your life? Do you have hope? And optimistic view? Do you go through cycles of all of these depending on the day? Welcome to reality, then. Nobody can spend their entire life in joy regardless of circumstances, can they?

...can they?

"Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5 [AMP]

Have you been through a lot? Yeah, join the club. It's not a contest by any means. We all have our past, our trash, our regrets, our fears, our triggers, our shame, and our horrors. But wouldn't it be a wonderful thing to just feel all of that lifted from our shoulders? To stop carrying the burden of who we feel we are, or who we used to be, or who we're afraid we'll become? The mistakes we've made, the life we feel we have to lead each day just to make it to tomorrow, the choices that have led us to this point... nobody can lay all of that down, turn around, and walk away, can they?

...can they?

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.] Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good, not harsh, hard, sharp or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne." Matthew 11:28-30 [AMP]

Learn from your mistakes. Endure through your hardships. Triumph in your troubles. The word 'repent' simply means 'turn around'. When it feels like it's all too much, so much so that when good things are happening you can't even trust them, it's time to turn around. God's got His hand reaching out for you to hold onto it. All you have to do is grasp and He'll do the rest.

-Stephanie Jean

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Mentors, Mentors Everywhere

Mentor I am. 
What an absolutely gorgeous day it was today! I only stepped outside into it for a few minutes, but it was beautiful. Yesterday, too... just cold. It's been quite an introspective weekend for a number of reasons, but I'm happy for the silence to write in right now and for the sunset that I get to watch out of my work window.

My father lost a very close friend this weekend, a mentor of sorts, a bit of a father/older brother figure at the same time. My father is a very quiet, private person and this gentleman was much the same. They enjoyed fishing together, and talking about money and politics and the world. It's interesting to find out that, as we grow and age, we never stop learning. I don't think of myself as young, by any means, now that I'm pushing forty... but to see my father at 67 still learning from people older and (at least, he feels) wiser than himself, it's a very inspiring thing. His friend and mentor will be dearly missed, and he most definitely left his mark on this world. As great a man as my father is, I know he feels that he's a better man for having known and learned from this wonderful friend of his.

At the same time, our middle son finally decided to move back home from attempting to live on his own with his older brother and some friends. He has learned a few things while he's been away -- mostly what we all learn, eventually: that our parents are not complete idiots. (Well, most of them aren't.) He came back today and is willing to live by the rules of the house so that he can get back on his feet financially and to start over once again.

It takes a lot of courage to do that, no matter what age you are. Particularly when you're young, because you're so full of the desire to prove others wrong, and to do what you want to do and make it work no matter what. Life often has other plans, however. I remember being the wisest teenager on the planet, absolutely certain that the "man" who asked me to marry him when we were sixteen and seventeen would be the man I would spend the rest of my life with. For eight years, I battled with all of the 'idiots' who told me otherwise, parents included. And then I finally gave up the fight, got divorced because I was miserable and was only making him miserable along with me, turned around in the right direction, and started over. I couldn't be happier with the man I'm with now, the man I was supposed to have married all along. My life is beautiful and blessed, but I never would have learned that if I hadn't made mistakes and then taken the time to finally listen to the ones who were trying to guide me the whole time.

Learning from those who are older (or even younger) but definitely wiser than we are is an extremely important thing for each of us to be able to do. The recognition that we're not an island, and that we don't know it all, is sometimes difficult to process and then to fully admit but, when we can get to that point, healing and true wisdom can begin.

To my father this weekend, and to my son, I'm extremely proud of you both.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Next Phase


A bittersweet goodbye to our production of Stephen Sondheim's COMPANY at Elkhart Civic Theatre, and a gigantic embrace to the next leg of the Journey to come. Tomorrow evening is a very important meeting for Green Olive and I, for one, am greatly looking forward to it. Now that our first fundraising campaign is over, we are in fairly good shape to get started on the cloth diaper project and are trusting God to give us the rest of what we need financially and emotionally to make it happen as time marches on. This first project will be a trial so we can learn how to teach, learn what the women are needing besides what we're providing, and learn how to make this a well-run program for the future.

In the meantime, some changes are happening for me, personally, as well. I'm tired of looking at myself in the mirror, or jumping on the scale, and being disappointed. I recently listened to a CD from the Oasis Network where speaker Lucas Miles discussed how we should be seeing ourselves as God sees us, recognizing the power of Christ within us, and that we have the ability to make changes in our thoughts and actions even when we don't feel like we do. Couple that with reading the beginning of The Daniel Plan book which I've heard a bit about so I did some research, and I have a new found desire to overhaul my life once again.

I look at it as shedding skin. Seasons in my life all have a purpose and I don't regret or begrudge them their time. However, when it's done, it's done. I've learned and grown, and need to strip that skin off and grow into my next one. I believe wholeheartedly in evolution -- we are evolving every single day. My main goal in life, always, is to constantly find the path that God has set out for me and to follow it. It's not simple, you know. It's not just, "Oh, there it is..." and then bouncing along like Tigger, filled with joy. No, sometimes you'll go through a deep, scary forest. Sometimes a storm will wash the path from your view. Sometimes the darkness will overshadow it and you'll lose sight. So this Journey of life is just finding it over and over again and sticking to it as best you can, asking God for help all along the way.

It's not easy.

But it's totally worth it.

Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Remaining True

I've made a lot of compromises in my life. Some have been necessary, but many of them have been more out of my fear of defeat, my fear of others disliking me (because so MANY disliked me in the past), and my fear of failure.

I've found, however, that few things in life are more satisfying than making a decision and sticking with it, regardless of what others might think. I long ago grew tired of trying to please everyone all the time (because, you know... there's a saying...). My desire in life is to please God. As long as I'm doing what I feel I'm supposed to be doing in the manner I feel I'm supposed to be doing it, that's what really matters. Nothing else should stand in the way of this. It trickles down into every aspect of my life.

Let's take my work, for instance. I have a few different jobs. One of them, I get paid minimum wage for basically sitting on my butt all day. (The American Dream!) But I choose to make better use of my time - I create marketing strategies, do organizational and cleaning work to try to ensure more business (or at least keep the business we DO have). I do other work at the same time; editing, writing, research, and more. I take time to learn about the customers, their lives, their families, their interests. I'm not saying this to put myself up on a pedestal, it's just the way I live my life. Why? Why not do the bare minimum, if I'm not going to get paid any more? Because it's what I feel I'm supposed to do. People have tried to talk me out of this, if you believe it.

Let's take theatre. I'm directing a show and working with a great many talented people. I have a lot of input from different sources on how I should be directing. In the end, I must remain true to what I feel should be done regardless of the opinions of others, reviewers included, because they're all just opinions. What good is there in directing a show if I try to please everyone else? I'm greatly pleased with what I'm seeing on stage, so I won't change anything unless I feel it's disturbing the integrity of the show. So far, so good.

How about marriage? Sure, we all compromise in our relationships so that the other person can be happy from time to time but, ultimately, Doing The Right Thing is what's important. The way we treat one another, the things we say (or refrain from saying!) to each other, the life we make together - it's not cookie-cutter. It looks and feels different for every couple and, in the end, we're only beholden to God and to each other. I'm blissfully happy, regardless of any snide remarks and busy-bodying from folks in the past. I like to think my husband is, too, but I won't speak for him.

The bottom line is, as long as my feet are on the right path -- whatever that path looks like for me -- that's what matters. My choir teacher used to have a mock-Latin phrase on a board above her door in high school that read, "Don't let the b**tards wear you down" (or something to that effect; it was 20 years ago, I just remember there was a cuss word in it, hah!). At any rate, I have to keep remembering, every day, to leave the ones behind that bring me down and focus on the One who matters. If I keep that in mind, my life is filled with joy.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Being Alive

"Somebody, crowd me with love. 
Somebody, force me to care.
Somebody, let me come through;
I'll always be there, as frightened as you,
To help us survive
Being alive."

Yes, these are song lyrics. No, they're not on the radio. This is the last verse of "Being Alive" from the Stephen Sondheim musical COMPANY that I am currently directing for Elkhart Civic Theatre at the Bristol Opera House. It's been a long and sometimes grueling process over the last few months, but it's not without its rewards. This weekend, we opened our show and the audiences truly enjoyed what they saw and heard, and I was proud of my cast and my production staff for bringing their very best to the table.

But the lyrics. Oh, the lyrics. There is so much power in words, we don't realize it sometimes until they're set to music. So much of this show is about what it means to be part of a relationship with another person, and how you navigate emotions within that relationship. It makes me sit back and examine what my most important earthly relationship means to me.

In my life, God comes first above all else, then my husband. By committing your life to that one person, you sacrifice a lot of things (one of the themes in the show) but if it's right, you don't even notice those sacrifices for the bigger picture. You stop keeping score. You stop thinking in terms of 'missing out' and start living for the life you've built with one another. You understand that your happiness is not dependent upon another person, but upon your own outlook. You begin to realize that "alone is alone... not alive".

Married life is not a series of joyful events in rapid succession until you cease to exist. It's a covenant between two people who have decided to take the good and the bad and to remain on the same side of the field, tackling together anything that dares to get in their way. It's in the "little things you do together" that make life worth living.

I spent twenty-five years of my life alone... even when I was with someone else. Then an incredible man changed my life by loving me, unconditionally, even when what I was was detestable. Because of him, I've grown, changed, evolved, gained confidence, become loyal, learned to love myself, and I've realized that, regardless of what this life throws at me, he and I are always on the same side. I love and respect him more than any words, set to music or not, could ever express.

My joy comes from living in those little moments when we can, together, just enjoy being alive.

Stephanie Jean

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Are You KIDDING Me, Arizona!?

I'm angered (and saddened) to see a hundred years of progress going right out the door. Yes, I'm talking about you, Arizona. When I read the headline, I thought I was possibly reading one of those fun parody newspapers, the satirical "Onion" perhaps. But, no. You're actually allowing businesses to refuse service to people based on their sexual orientation with the backing of a closely held 'religious belief'. Here's where I stand on my soapbox, folks.

I don't care what religion you are. I really, really don't. The bottom line is, nobody is better than anyone else. Black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, or anywhere in between, how can you possibly believe in a God that thinks you're better than someone else? Because regardless of what you believe, a sin is a sin is a sin. If you think it's a sin to engage in a homosexual lifestyle, that's your choice of belief system. If you choose to not serve someone because they engage in what you consider sin, that's fine.

That gives me the right to choose not to serve you because you are a hypocrite.

Yep, that's right. That's what I said. Are these so-called 'religious beliefs' of yours your version of 'Christianity'? If so, let's take a look at that word. The suffix "-ity" means 'The condition of being", so this means 'Christianity' is 'The condition of being Christian'. Being a Christian means that you are a believer in the teachings of Jesus, called Christ and, likely, you're basing your belief system on the stories told of Him in the New Testament.

If this is true, if you feel it describes you, then before you stand on your lofty high horse looking down at those who are different from you, feeling superior in your whiteness or your straightness or your wealth,  I highly suggest that you READ IT.

There's a group of people that Jesus specifically calls out, rails on, admonishes, tells off... whatever you want to call it. And they're not gay, they're not poor, they're not 'losers' or 'degenerates'. They're the Pharisees. They're the ones who did exactly what you're doing up there. They looked down on everyone who wasn't like them. Too lazy/no time to read the whole New Testament that you base your entire 'religion' on? Here. Read Matthew 23. Go ahead, click on it. Or are you afraid you'll find you're not really as perfect as you thought you were?

Or how about Matthew 20:26 where He says, "Whoever wants to be the leader has to be the servant." (Psst, that means you have to serve people. All of 'em. Even ones you don't like or agree with.) Or good old John 8:7 where He says, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." (Psst, that means you sin, too! Does that give me the right not to serve you because I know you cheated on your wife, or that you called your father a bad name, thereby dishonoring him, or that you sat around for an hour thinking about your neighbor's car and how he doesn't deserve it but you do, or how you worked a night shift last Friday on the biblical Sabbath, or that you took a sandwich from work without paying for it?)

Look, people -- I'm not professing to be any better than anyone else here, either. But let's have a little common decency. Let's have a little humanity in the human race. For the love of that God you so claim to believe in, let's stop persecuting people and marginalizing them for the way God created them. It doesn't surprise me that people are treated horrifically simply for who they are -- Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the Savior of the world, the only perfect person ever to grace the face of this planet, and we beat and brutally murdered him. But I find it unbelievably ugly, this hatred. It's not becoming on you, humanity. So let's do something else, instead.

"I put on righteousness as my clothing. Justice was my robe and my turban."  Job 29:14

Not your own righteousness. The righteousness of Jesus. Not your own flawed 'justice' but what's truly right for humanity. And then take a good, hard look at 1 John 1:7 which really sums it all up if you want to keep calling yourself a Christian:

"But if we really are living and walking in the Light, as He Himself is in the Light, we have true, unbroken fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin and guilt and keeps us cleansed from sin in all its forms and manifestations."

Let's stop looking at each other and start looking UP. When our eyes are on the Kingdom, everything else is pretty easy to put into place.

Fine, I'm off my soapbox now. Carry on. Preferably with more love and kindness and acceptance and forgiveness and humility.

Stephanie Jean