Friday, January 23, 2015

Big News

Yesterday marked an important day in my own Journey. I finally became an ordained minister and my credentials are on their way. I'm not a different person from the one I was on Wednesday, and this doesn't make me any more special than anyone else. But it's important to me, and it was (believe it or not) a big step for me to take.

I know a few people who have done the same thing as I did: clicked on the link, typed in their name, and were instantly ordained. I know there's a difference between studying in seminary school and typing your name in a box. I do. But I also believe that when you feel called to do something, you need to do it. Even if it sounds ridiculous, or pointless, or ordinary. There's something about taking a step in the right direction that makes the ordinary extraordinary.

I've been thinking about doing this for quite a long time, actually -- over a year, at least. I'm not sure why I hadn't yet but I'm pretty certain it's because the timing wasn't yet right for me. I don't believe in coincidence, as you might know if you're an avid reader of this blog. (All two of you. Both of whom I appreciate. Greatly.) So when an acquaintance of mine with whom I worked a few years ago for a very short time popped up with a question for me, needing someone to officiate her wedding, I put some feelers out for my 'go-to' guys in this area, but none of them panned out the way they should have if it were meant to be. The first thought that jumped into my head was, 'Well? What are you waiting for?' and I told her that I'd been contemplating getting ordained myself so if it didn't work out with the others, I might be able to perform the ceremony on her date in a few months.

Then I did it. I just... did it.

I know, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal, right? Because YOU could go do it right now, with no forethought, no prompting. But it was a big deal to me. When I left that job a few years ago it was because I was feeling compelled to leave. The money was good, the work was what I'd 'always wanted', but I just had a bad feeling about it; it felt toxic to me, every day. One of the last exercises we did while I was there was to write out what we would want someone to say at our funeral. I kept my tiny scrap of paper because that was the moment I knew I wasn't supposed to be there anymore and made up my mind to leave as I'd been feeling called to do. Everyone else's paper had something about business or money or legacy on it (none of which were bad), but mine stuck out like a sore thumb, talking about how God's words would work through me to make a positive impact on people's lives.

I'm not a writer because it makes me incredible amounts of money. None of my three jobs do that. I'm a writer because I feel like that's my ministry. Using the words God gives me to encourage, help, reach out, bring comfort to, and otherwise 'minister' to people. So it only makes sense that I should have a certificate that says that's what I am, right?

Every day, I'm one step closer to figuring out the 'why am I here' question of purpose that most of us contemplate at some point or another. Granted, I might not ever fully be cognizant of the reason but it's the step-taking that matters.

That being said, I can now officiate weddings -- the man/woman kind or the same-sex kind if it's legal in your state (which, if it's not, I'm hoping it will be soon.)

Thanks for walking with me on my Journey. I'm happy to be on yours with you as well.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dreams to Reality

There are dreams we can't do anything about. My favorite dreams are the ones in which I'm flying. I'll be running as fast as I can across a long stretch of open land with my arms out, just like a little girl playing, and suddenly I'll lift up off the ground. Long, airborne jumps become a free-flying experience where I lift up over the treetops, looking down on buildings and people who are unaware of my sky-bound presence. The feeling is indescribable in words, but it's something I feel deep in my bones and I ache for it when I awaken from these dreams. They happen so seldom these days but, when they do, I'm filled with joy and excitement and I try instantly to fall back asleep to experience it for just a little while longer before coming back to reality. Because, in real life, I can't fly.

Then there are dreams we CAN do something about. Goals we can aspire to and achieve, desires we can build upon to bring them into reality. I'm not just talking about our dream home that we want to build, or a career path we want to follow in our schooling. Those, too, of course... but, more importantly, dreams that will change the course of humanity.

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his infamous "I Have a Dream"* speech which, as yet, still cries out to become a reality. Every time I feel like our nation is making headway, or that the human race is becoming more civilized... more human... another disappointment comes along to throw a wrench into things.

How is it that, nearly 52 years later, we haven't made much headway in the grand scheme of things? How is it that, so often, one group of people looks at another group of people and thinks that they're better? That they're more important? That they deserve more in life? How is it that groups of people are left behind while others step right over the tops of them to take what they want? How is it that, in 2015, we still can't all look at one another and see equals?

You've probably heard the 'I have a dream...' part of the speech a hundred times, so often that you've forgotten what it even says. But how about this gem?

"We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of 'Now'. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

His words were true in 1963, and they're true now. They're true not just of racial injustice, but of the injustice that plagues the LGBT community, of the injustice that plagues the low-income community, of the injustice that plagues women in the workplace, single parents who are raising their children and working three jobs, the retired community who aren't receiving enough income to make ends meet and have to go back to work.... there is injustice everywhere, so much so that by taking all of these minority groups and adding them together, you find that a majority of people are being treated unfairly.

And so, in 2015, I cannot stress enough the urgency of 'Now', just as Martin Luther King, Jr. did in 1963. Change doesn't just magically happen. Gandhi said to be the change we wish to see in the world. Have you been treating someone as 'less than' because they are different from you?

Stop that.

Have you been feeling superior to a group of people because you think you worked harder to be where you are and it's their own fault for not doing what you did?

Knock it off.

Have you been assuming that God puts favor on you because of your belief in Him, that He hears your prayers before others because of the works you do on His behalf?

Quit it.

Regardless of whether or not you can accept that we're all equal in the eyes of God, we ARE, in fact, equal in the eyes of God. And so when MLK called for this justice to be a reality for all of God's children, we should be finding every opportunity to do so every day of our lives until that dream becomes a reality.

I can't fly. But I can write. And maybe, someday, words will change the world.

What can you do?
DO IT.

Stephanie Jean

*Click on the link to read the entire speech, and happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Widening the Narrow View


I'm sometimes taken aback at the narrow view of God that so many people take. I don't see Him as this long, white-haired fogey amongst the clouds, waving His large white hand willy-nilly, doling out reward or punishment as He sees fit moment to moment. To be quite honest with you, regardless of whether you follow the 'Father, Son, Holy Spirit' mentality where you instantaneously picture a male, God is much bigger than gender, too. I choose to refer to Him as a Him because it's what I was brought up with, not because I believe He has male anatomy and relates better to His male creatures. Each one of us was created in His image; that goes for females as well as males.

That goes for LGBT people as well as heterosexuals, too.

*a hush goes over the room*

If you're a follower of the Journey blog, you likely read about my trip to Provincetown in Massachusetts, and my tears of joy at the church where they were celebrating ten years of marriage equality. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, personally, that one's sexuality is not a choice that one makes. That should make complete sense to everyone... because, why would anyone CHOOSE to be ostracized, bullied, thought of as 'different', or sometimes beaten to an unrecognizable pulp or murdered? Yet here we are in 2015 with just as little tolerance for people who are 'different' from us as we had back in the 1800s. Or, you know... in the caveman days.

I've become a binge-watcher of Grey's Anatomy. A little over a month ago, my husband and I started watching it together from the beginning, never having seen an episode before (well, I hadn't...) and we're now 20 episodes into the seventh season. That's what I mean by binge watching. And if you haven't seen it but PLAN to, then I have to give you a

SPOILER 
ALERT!

STOP 
READING 
RIGHT 
NOW 
AND 
JUST 
COME 
BACK 
NEXT 
WEEK 
WHEN 

BLOG 
AGAIN!

But seriously, two women get married in this episode. When Callie's mother finally tells her that  marrying a woman and having a baby out of wedlock are two things that make her certain that her daughter will not be in Heaven... I cried AND got sick to my stomach at the same time. Because this is not just a character in a television show... this is a representation of parents everywhere in the world. Callie begins to cave to this mentality, as she becomes distraught at the cruel, cold, UN-Christian heart that her mother brings to the picture. But Miranda Bailey comes to the rescue with a speech I could listen to a hundred times:

"Okay, first of all, you do not need the law or a priest or your mother to make your wedding real. And the church can be anywhere you want it to be -- in a field, on a mountain, right here in this room, ANYWHERE, because where do you think God is? Come on! He's in you! He's in me! Just right here, in the middle of us. Your church just hasn't caught up to God yet. Your mother... she hasn't caught up to God yet. And, by the way, she may not EVER catch up... but it's okay. It's okay! If you are willing to stand up in front of your friends, family, and God, and commit yourself to another human being to give yourself in that kind of partnership for better or worse, in sickness and health? Honey, that IS a marriage! That is REAL, and that's all that matters. Besides, I got legally married in a church. Look how well that turned out."

This is a phenomenal monologue for a number of reasons. First, she is talking about a much bigger God than most people have a concept of, and she is 100% correct. He's in all of us, and we are all in Him. In the second place, it's not a matter of what other people think of your marriage or commitment from the outside, it's what's on the inside that counts. That love between two people? God blesses that. Don't believe me?

It's in the bible.

"Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. FOR EVERYTHING GOD CREATED IS GOOD, AND NOTHING IS TO BE REJECTED IF IT IS RECEIVED WITH THANKSGIVING, BECAUSE IT IS CONSECRATED BY THE WORD OF GOD AND PRAYER." I Timothy 4:2-4

God didn't just create love, God IS love. When two people give themselves over to a covenant to love one another for the rest of their lives, it should be received with Thanksgiving. By forbidding same-sex couples the right to marry, we are not, in any way, upholding the 'sanctity' of marriage. The sanctity is between God and the couple. Outside of those three entities, no one else has anything to do with the sanctity of any given marriage. Which brings me to another thing Dr. Bailey touched upon in her speech. The very last sentence: "Besides, I got legally married in a church. Look how well that turned out."

The mockery being made of marriage in the U.S. and in the world has nothing to do with whom we allow or do not allow to get married. It has everything to do with what we make of the vows, of the covenant, of the sanctity of what we have entered into. I am divorced. My husband is divorced. Neither of us went into our first marriages thinking that it would be a 'starter marriage'. We meant what we said when we said it. Perhaps we were too young to have made the decision, perhaps our hearts changed, perhaps our significant other changed, or perhaps we were just not meant to be with that person from the beginning. I know one thing: this marriage, the one we have to each other... it's impenetrable because we had God as our foundation and went into it with unconditional love for one another, taking our vows very seriously. And let me tell you something else while I have your attention...

His male anatomy makes not one single bit of difference to me.

I fell in love with a man and, in this world, one could call that 'lucky'. Lucky that I found a person of the opposite sex who was perfect for me. The things we have in common, the enjoyments we get out of our life together, the views we have on the world, on spirituality, on religion, on politics, on love, on marriage, on ministry, on education, on child-raising, are all perfectly compatible. I fell in love with a person, and it didn't make any difference to me that he just happened to be male. If she had been a female, I would've fallen in love with her just as hard as I fell for him...

But boy, would my world have been different. Imagine the hatred spewed at you daily for loving the person you love. Imagine people staring at you, threatening you, telling their children to look away or stay away from you, picketing your wedding with signs about how you're going to Hell, beating you up behind a bar and leaving you for dead or, worse, killing you. And all for loving the person you love. Take your spouse and everything you adore about them, change their gender, and imagine your whole world being turned upside down by hate.

Or imagine this: a world in which people are not only FREE to love and marry the adult human they are loving and marrying, but they are encouraged to do so. They are given the blessing of their parents because they already have the blessing of God. Imagine a world in which we don't harm or bully or torture or kill people because they're different* from us. A world in which we love and accept each unique person for who they are.

Jesus did that. They killed Him, too.

It's time we actually did what Jesus would do. Stand up for what we believe in regardless of what other people think. Stand up for love because it's all He stood for. And take a stand against hypocrisy because we're ALL sinners, but we're ALL covered by His love, which makes us white as snow.

If you want to preach something at people, preach THAT.

Stephanie Jean


*(I've already been through the 'but the bible says' arguments and refuted them one after another by putting them into context and with using other sound doctrine, so I don't care to hear it here, please. See the above verses which are NOT taken out of context. If you have questions or concerns, direct them to a private message on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/AJourneyofReinvention. I promise to answer every email I get.)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Don't Be That Guy

Don't be that guy.

You know, that guy nobody wants to hang out with because he constantly complains all the time, about absolutely everything? You never feel good when you're with him, you just feel like you're being totally drained of all happiness simply because he opens his mouth? If you say something good, he finds a way to turn it bad or worry or warn you about any or every aspect of whatever it was you were happy about to begin with? You know, that guy who, just by showing up to a party instantaneously makes it the worst party ever, or you spend 95% of your energy at the party avoiding him so you don't have to be sucked into the black hole of negativity? He mopes, whines, tells depressing stories, gives doom-filled statistics, and seems to have no hope whatsoever for anything at any time?

Don't be that guy.

But, you know that OTHER guy, the one who smiles every time he sees you, whether he's just finished a ten-mile run and is exhausted, or has the flu, or his dog just died? That guy who builds you up and encourages you even when you don't have any energy left or you feel like nobody is listening, and nobody cares? That guy who always answers the phone when you call and listens to every word you say, not just waiting for his turn to talk, but REALLY listens? The one who takes your negative statements and finds a way to make them positive, to give you hope and support every step of the way? You know that guy who writes you a note out of the blue and emails it or posts it on your Facebook page just to tell you that he thinks you're great and lists all of the reasons why? That guy who everybody wants to talk to at the party because he never says a single bad thing about anybody, ever? The one who wants to hear about your dreams and then helps you make a plan to make them come true?

Be THAT guy.

If you change your way of thinking, talking, and interacting to a more positive mode, you'll be surprised at what you can accomplish and what others will want to help you accomplish. That's what we're all about here on the Journey -- helping each other take steps, small or large, toward their goals. Becoming better people -- more positive, hopeful, and full of joy and contentment. We're in this together, and we're not going to let each other down or put each other down.

Thanks for being a part of it!
Stephanie Jean

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Deliverance Vs. Endurance - Steel Cage Match

I just figured out why I'm often unhappy. Don't get me wrong, I'm not ALWAYS unhappy. But I spend a great deal of my time wishing, hoping, praying that things were different. Asking for more money in case something goes wrong and I don't have enough to pay for it, wishing that I had a cheaper gas and electric bill, hoping that I'll win big the next time I go to the casino, or praying that a better opportunity will show up soon. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of those things -- with wanting to be delivered from your circumstances, or with dreaming of a better life.

The problem lies in the constant desire for something different. I've said this before, but it bears repeating: when I was in elementary school, I couldn't wait to be in high school like my cool older brother so that he'd want to hang out with me. When I was in high school, I missed the simplicity of elementary school because I was miserable and couldn't wait to go to college where people would finally treat me with respect and stop being immature and making fun of me. When I was in college, I missed my parents and little sister back home, and I couldn't wait to graduate and get married so that I could move closer and get started on 'real life'. When I was married the first time, I was miserable because I had wasted four years of college wishing to get out of it when, really, it would've been fun if I'd allowed myself to enjoy it, and now I was in a depressing marriage and couldn't be happy until I finally got divorced and found 'THE ONE'. Once I found 'THE ONE', I couldn't wait to have a baby so that we could live happily ever after. Once I spent ten years unable to reproduce... well, you get the picture by now, right?

"God is more interested in changing US than He is in changing our circumstances." -- Joyce Meyer.

Well, that just shoots an arrow right to the heart, doesn't it? All of these things I prayed for over the years and none of it has been completely fulfilling without SOMETHING else, and it's because all of this time, I haven't allowed myself to be completely fulfilled with GOD'S PLAN for the day, for the week, for the year, for my life. I've been asking Him to change my circumstances for 37 years but never have I thought to ask Him to change ME.

Joyce Meyer goes on to say, "He does not delight in watching us suffer or have a difficult time, but He does delight in our spiritual growth. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that most of our spiritual maturity develops during the hard times in our lives, not during the easy times. Opposition stretches us. It stretches our faith, teaches us not to trust in ourselves to solve our problems, and gives us compassion for other people who go through difficulties. The apostle James said that our trials will eventually bring out patience and that when patience is fully developed in us, we will lack nothing. He even states that we should be exceedingly joyful in various trials and tribulations because of what they are working in us."

What if we were fully joyful in whatever God gives us to sustain us throughout the day? What if we remained faithful and trusting that, no matter what the circumstances, He would be there to give us what we needed moment by moment and that if we really would seek Him first, He would be faithful to HIS promise and add all these things to us? What if we prayed for joyful endurance rather than deliverance? What if we prayed for a change in US instead of a change in our circumstances?

Going through a difficult time in your marriage? What if, instead of asking God to change your spouse's mind and make them different, you asked for Him to make a change in YOU... your outlook, your mindset, your patience, your kindness, your thoughts, your ability to love unconditionally?

Going through a difficult financial struggle? What if, instead of asking God to rain more money down upon you to help you pay for what needs to be paid for, you asked Him to change your outlook on what 'struggle' really means, and to really believe that you can trust Him for your provision on a daily basis instead of living in fear that your world is going to collapse?

Whatever your circumstance, it's not wrong to ask Him to deliver you from it or to make it better. But, at the same time, start asking Him to show you what you're to be learning from the circumstance while you're in it. Start asking Him to help you to find joy in every day, regardless of what you're going through. Start asking Him to help you to seek Him (His way, His plan, His kingdom) first and to trust in Him unconditionally to give you what you need -- not just to survive, but to thrive.

I guarantee, He will come through every single time without fail.

Stephanie Jean

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Beginnings... Every Day!


In case you just crawled out from underneath a log (likely because your NYE hangover...) it IS January 1st, 2015. As annoying as that guy is who always says something like, "This is the first day of the rest of your life!" with a huge, cheesy grin on his face, he's right. It is. As much as you want to smack that girl who keeps posting, "Today is page 1 of a 365-page book...", she has a point. It's a fresh start. It's a new beginning.

But, when you think about it... isn't every day?

Isn't every moment?

I was recently asked to speak at St. John's United Church of Christ in Elkhart and, since the new year was fast approaching, I talked at great length about how we don't have to wait until January 1st to start over. God gives us a way to come to Him every moment of every day and say, "I screwed this up. Please fix it and let me start over." Because the fact is, being human and being imperfect are inseparable phrases. We will never be perfect. We will always make mistakes. But God loves us anyway, and we can always come to Him for forgiveness and a fresh start.

Each year, we make resolutions. We're adamant about them at the beginning and really good at keeping them... until we don't. Once we slip up, we're more apt to slip up again because our resolve has faded. That little voice creeps in that says, "See, I knew you couldn't do it. You messed up, you'll mess up again, so you shouldn't even bother." The trick is to talk back to the little voice because THAT little voice is not your friend. Learn to say, "Of course I messed up. I'm not perfect. But I'm not on 'the prize at the end'. I'm on 'the Journey'".

What is it for you? Is it diet and exercise? Is it breaking an addiction? Is it reining in your untamed tongue? Is it organizing and scheduling? Is it spending more time with friends and family? Is it a relationship-with-your-Higher-Power thing? What is it for you?

Just know that, whatever it is, 2015 is here and, regardless of how many times you've screwed up in the past, or how many times you'll screw up in the future, there's no shame in trying.

And there's certainly no shame in trying again, and again, and again.

If you're reading this, you're in my prayers this and every year. You can do this! And, even when you can't, God can.

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Stephanie Jean