Tuesday, February 9, 2016

It's Under Control

The struggle over the remote control used to be very real. It would be in my hand and then, suddenly, it wasn't -- because my husband took it. As though it were his God-given right to have ownership over the remote control. I protested, grabbed it back, hid it when he wasn't around, argued about it like it was the last can of Pringles in a bomb shelter. And then, one day, I just gave it up. I was sick of the struggle, of the stupid, pointless fights, of the tension... I just stopped trying to get and keep control of the remote control.

(See, it's a metaphor...)

Now, there are times when I'll pick it up (when he's not home) and then I have no problem putting it back down when he shows up. This isn't a diatribe on the distribution of power in our marriage, don't get me wrong. It's a reminder to us all that control isn't really important because we don't truly have it anyhow.

I LOVE statistics. I mean, I love them. I took a stats course my senior year in college as a blow-off class to pad my GPA and aced it. But I used to debate weather statistics with an old friend on purpose to irritate him. There's a 70% chance of rain, he'd tell me. No, I'd counter, there's a 50% chance. And back and forth we'd go because he was certain he'd heard on the news that it was 70%. I'd say, you may be right but the real statistic is 50%. It's either going to rain, or it's not. He'd become irate, I'd laugh like crazy, and we'd have the conversation again the next day.

It's the same thing with events in life. Something is either going to happen or it's not. Sure, we can plan ahead, we can try to control the outcome of a given situation for better or worse, and we SHOULD do our best to work toward a positive outcome. But, in the end, we have to give up control and let what will happen just happen. You can advise a friend not to cheat on her husband, but you can't NOT cheat on her husband for her. You can raise your children a certain way but it doesn't guarantee they'll make the same choices when they're adults, and we have to be okay with that. You can do everything right and, sometimes, the wrong thing will still happen.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try. It means we need to learn when to give up control.

By the same coin, you can't spend your life being indecisive and apathetic, either. Taking the stance of leaving everything up to 'fate' or 'God' or 'the Universe' without attempting a positive outcome just ensures that we'll wind up disappointed and regret later that we didn't try.

So when DO we give up control? Well, it's a day-to-day, situation-to-situation basis. I will never stop loving or trying to guide my children in the right direction but, as three of them are now adults, I have to give up the idea that they will always follow our lead. I have to make space in my brain and my heart to allow them to be who they are without judging them or being disappointed when they don't reflect my thoughts and beliefs. I can do this because I love them unconditionally. I will never stop loving or encouraging my husband, or trying to help him make decisions that affect his health and our future. But I have to give up the idea that he's going to do what I want him to do in every (or any!) given situation because we are different people with different emotions, backgrounds, and sometimes priorities. I need to be able to make space in my brain and my heart for the idea that he might make a different choice than I would but trust him and know that whatever decision he makes will be the right one for him and for us, honoring our family and our future. I can do this because I love him unconditionally.  It makes things that are difficult so much easier in the long run.

The trick is to be able to have that unconditional love for our family, ourselves, and all others. True love has no conditions. It's not just tolerant, it's exuberant. It's not just accepting, it's inviting. When we can look at our day, our situation, and try our best but still be willing to say that whatever happens will work out for the best, that's when we've got it right. The truth is, it IS under control.

Just not always ours.

Stephanie Jean

Monday, February 1, 2016

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad

Last year was pretty amazing with the birth of our baby boy who, for those of you that don't know the story, we had tried over ten years to have. We couldn't be more grateful and now, at four months old, he's smiling, laughing, saying "Hi", rolling over, and a dozen other milestones.

On the flip side, some pretty awful things happened. Following delivery, I developed a massive breast infection which turned into several abscesses and required drainage surgery and weeks worth of wound care. Read the full story on Unexpectant, a great blog that I was featured on throughout January. In addition to that, two people with whom I am very close and love dearly lost babies to miscarriages. And our beautiful, wonderful 17-year-old niece was diagnosed with stage four cancer.

I hear a refrain so often both from people who believe in God and from people who do not:
"How could God let things like this happen?"

It's a good question, honestly. I'm not going to sugar coat it with cliches or attempt to defend my beliefs by brushing off the bad stuff. Rape, murder, molestation -- horrendous acts happen every day and some even in the very name of God. Many of those are due to human choice, but things like child cancer, miscarriage, starvation... we call these "acts of God", don't we? This implies that not only does God allow them to happen, He actually causes them to happen. It's no wonder atheists so adamantly disbelieve. Things like this often make me wish I didn't believe, myself.

But I do.

And here's why:

I've always had trust issues. It's hard to pinpoint where they came from. Sometimes they're so overwhelming I forget all I know to be true and become paranoid. They affect every aspect of my life. I don't trust myself, I don't trust other people, and I spent a very long time not trusting God because I blamed Him for all of the reasons I didn't trust myself and other people. Plus, you know - all those bad things in the world.

But I came to a point in my life in my late twenties where I realized that whenever I tried to take control of a situation, I screwed it up immensely because I was human, I was flawed, and I was driven by my desires to do things that felt good at the time but were really detrimental to myself and to others. I decided to acknowledge God and ask for a fresh start, and I am not kidding you when I say that absolutely everything changed from that moment on. My mindset, my emotions, my relationships... I felt an immediate difference. There's no way to explain it unless you've experienced it. Call it whatever you want, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was a Creator and that it was Good.

How do I reconcile that with the negatives, though? It's difficult. It's not like I glance around the world and see these atrocities and think, "Well, they need Jesus." Because frankly, a lot of situations are covered in Jesus and they still stink to high heaven. (No pun intended. Well, maybe a little.) In the end, I think that God, however one might construe that entity (He/She/It, a Being, a Feeling, the Universe, a Higher Power....) is not absent. I think that God is completely involved in the life of every individual. Just as we have no understanding of light without darkness, we have no understanding of love without the absence of it, and no understanding of good without the absence of it. Darkness is simply the absence of light. Hate is the absence of love, evil is the absence of good. Edmund Burke is attributed with the quote, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing."

There's a great song by Matthew West called "Do Something" -- the lyrics that resonate with me the most are:

I woke up this morning, saw a world full of trouble now.
Thought, how'd we ever get so far down? How's it ever gonna turn around?
So I turned my eyes to Heaven and thought, "God, why don't you DO something?"
Well I just couldn't bear the thought of people living in poverty,
Children sold into slavery; the thought disgusted me.
So, I shook my fist at Heaven, said, "God, why don't you DO something?"
He said, "I did. I created you."

We're said to be created in the image of God. We can sit around and look for something to blame, shove aside responsibility for anything and everything, or we can be the divine reflections we were meant to be. We ARE the light. We ARE the good. We ARE the love.

I keep seeing this meme floating around Facebook with Neil Degrasse Tyson's quote that "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it." I absolutely agree. I also believe God is the same way. I believe that you and I are each outposts of God on this Earth and that when we see a need, we're here to fulfill it. When we see hurt, we're here to heal it. When we see hunger, we're here to feed it. When we see injustice, we're here to stand up for the truth. If we're going to sit back and blame, or sit back and not believe, neither of those things are going to do anyone any good and the atrocities will remain.

Whether you believe in God or not, you can be a decent person by doing what you'd want someone to do for you and yours. 
Help people.  
Accept people. 
Encourage people. 
Feed people. 
Teach people. 
Give to people. 
Champion people.
LOVE people.

Welcome to 2016. Let's make the journey a good one for everyone, together.

Stephanie Jean