Monday, December 29, 2008

On the Wings of a Dove

God, listen to my prayer. Pay attention to my cry for help.
Hear me and answer me.
My thoughts upset me. I’m very troubled.
I’m troubled by what my enemies say about me. I’m upset because sinful people stare at me. They cause me all kinds of suffering. When they’re angry, they attack me with their words.
I feel great pain deep down inside me. The terrors of death are crushing me.
Fear and trembling have taken hold of me. Panic has overpowered me.
I said, “I wish I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away and be at rest. I would escape to a place far away. I would stay out in the desert. I would hurry to my place of safety. It would be far away from the winds and storms I’m facing.”
Lord, destroy the plans of sinners. Keep them from understanding one another. I see people destroying things and fighting in the city.
Day and night they prowl around on top of its walls. The city is full of crime and trouble. Forces that destroy are at work inside it. Its streets are full of people who cheat others and take advantage of them.
If an enemy were making fun of me, I could stand it. If he were looking down on me, I could hide from him.
But it’s you, someone like myself. We used to enjoy good friendship as we walked with the crowds at the house of God.
Let death take my enemies by surprise. Let them be buried alive because their hearts and homes are full of evil.
But I call out to God. And the LORD saves me. Evening, morning, and noon I groan and cry out. And he hears my voice. Even though many enemies are fighting against me, he brings me safely back from the battle.
God sits on his throne FOREVER. He hears my prayers and makes my enemies suffer. They never change their ways. They don’t have any respect for God.
My companion attacks his friends. He breaks his promises. His talk is as smooth as butter. But he has war in his heart. His words flow like olive oil. But they are like swords ready for battle.
Turn your worries over to the Lord. He will keep you going. He will never let godly people fall.
God, you will bring sinners down to the grave. Murderers and liars won’t live out even half of their lives.

But I TRUST YOU
.

-PSALM 55

It’s amazing the way God speaks to me through kids’ devotional materials. Today I was looking through my Vacation Bible School Director’s Kit as I prepare for the summer of 2009. I came across a couple verses from Psalm 55 in one of the handouts for the kids. The handout was talking about how it is possible to be a “survivor” because we have the power of Christ. Psalm 55 verses 6-8 were included in this packet to show the kids that even some of the Bible's greatest heroes went through tough times and had to depend on God for survival. “I said, ‘I wish I had wings like a dove! Then I would fly away and be at rest. I would escape to a place far away. I would stay out in the desert. I would hurry to my place of safety. It would be far away from the winds and storms I’m facing’.” I read those verses and felt as if God was speaking DIRECTLY to me. Let me just tell you all, after my week at home for Christmas I was definitely wishing that I could fly on the wings of a dove and escape to a desert far away (to put it nicely).
You see, when I go home I am reminded of what my life used to be. I am reminded that things used to be “normal” and now they will never, ever be the same. Christmas is always a difficult holiday when you have lost a loved one. It’s so filled with memories, tradition and expectation that sometimes it’s like losing that person all over again when things turn out to be anything but "traditional".
I came home on Sunday the 21st to find my parents’ house without a single Christmas decoration. No stockings, no wreaths, no candles, no Christmas tree. Nothing. I tried really hard not to make a big deal out of it because I know that my dad is just as disappointed as I am. He tries so hard to be both the mom and the dad and I know it gets tiring for him. He doesn’t know how to decorate a house or make it feel “homey”. His domestic skills don’t go much further than his homemade cleaning solution (equal parts water, bleach and peroxide). Walking into a non-decorated house is just another HUGE reminder that my mama is gone. She was obsessed with Christmas and loved to decorate. She went a little overboard sometimes, ok MOST of the time, but I never had to worry about whether or not my home would feel like Christmas when I walked in.
On Monday morning I went up to our attic, pulled out the boxes of Christmas d├ęcor and hauled the artificial Christmas tree down the stairs. I started assembling it by myself and eventually my dad came in to lend a hand. He helped me string the lights and then I decorated the whole thing by myself while he sat in the other room, tears filling his eyes.
We both tried to swallow our sadness and act strong for each other. I try not to break down in front of him because I don’t really think it’s fair when he has so much pain inside too. I finished decorating my mom’s beautiful tree, covered with her ballerina ornaments and sparkly snowflakes and then I called my best friend. I called Jennie to see if she could come help me decorate the rest of my house. She immediately agreed and promised to come right over as soon as possible. Her sister Steph and their mom came too. When I saw the three of them, such dear and beautiful friends, I knew that it was going to be ok. They got right to work, hauling up wreaths, trees and candles from the basement and telling me how beautiful they thought everything was. Within an hour our house was transformed and I finally felt at home. I hardly had to do anything, it felt as if they carried me.
I know that Christmas is still Christmas even without the decorations and presents and everything else but there is something inside of me that aches for things to feel the same, even though I know that isn’t possible. I read the Psalm above and I can identify 100% with what the writer says. I wish so badly that I could escape these troubles. I wish that my little brother would surrender himself to God instead of running away, I wish my sister’s heart would be healed and that I could take her hurt from her and I wish my dad could feel whole again. I know that it is quite possible that I may never see some of these things restored in this lifetime. I also wish, more than anything, that broken relationships could be healed and that repentance would be made known. The author of this Psalm is right when he talks about how it's easy to shrug it off when an enemy is attacking us, but much more difficult when it is someone like us, someone we know and love.
I feel like I am constantly hanging between this stage of acceptance and denial. There are some days where I feel ok about everything, like I have just enough strength to face the world, and other days where I want to run away and pretend that the last three years have been nothing but a nightmare that I will wake up from tomorrow morning. You can only tell yourself that so many times before tomorrow becomes today and then you realize nothing has changed. (And everything has changed.) The comforting thing about this Psalm is that I see this same friction in the author’s writing. He goes back and forth between anger and pain to surrender and trust. But the beautiful thing is where he ends up. The Psalm ends with the phrase, “But I trust you.” I can look at my life, at everything that has happened and I can say that I trust Him. I trust God to love me and walk with me through it all and although it is painful, and messy and sickening at times I still KNOW that God is enough. He is enough for me. He’s all I need and He is going to bring me through. I have faith and know that this is not the end. Somehow, someday there will be justice. I may never, ever see it but I know that God is faithful and He will take care of me.
I also have faith that someday I will be able to “be far away from the winds and storms I’m facing.” Isn’t that what God promises us when He speaks of heaven? I believe that one day I will be able to see the beauty in all of this. Maybe my mom already can.


He who has promised is faithful.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Back to the Homeland

A few weeks ago I got to go home to Iowa for the first time in almost six months. I spent four days at home with my friends and family and got some much needed rest! Here are some pictures of that trip. Sorry I am just now getting around to posting them!

This is our official 2008 Christmas card. Merry Christmas from the Stephens Family!
Me and the Ol' Man waiting for Crissa after church...
I got to see my very best friend for the first time since July.
It snowed while we were home and our backyard looked beautiful! It was just too pretty not to take a picture. (Editor's Note: My dad is NOT the greatest photographer that ever lived.)
Sissy.
Jennie, Dave, Crissa, my dad and I hung out one night. We watched Grizzly Man and laughed until we cried. I'm not really sure if that movie is supposed to be funny but for "some odd" reason it is hilarious.
So, as you can see. It wasn't too exciting. Nothing overly-thrilling happened but I had a great time! Sometimes the quiet, uneventful trips are the best ones. Now it's about time to head back for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chestnuts Roasting...

Have you ever noticed how Christmas songs always sound so lovely, peaceful and soothing? Ha. I don't know about you but so far my Christmas season has seemed anything BUT restful, peaceful and quiet.
Working at a church is always busy but it's especially chaotic this time of year. I have Christmas parties every weekend, I had three Christmas programs for the daycare last week and have one program for my church kids next week. I attended the women's ministry Christmas dessert night, my staff Christmas party, I have a Christmas party with friends this Friday as well as one next Friday at my house. Our church Christmas dinner is Saturday night and then on top of all of that I have to drive (8 hours) home for the holidays with my family. Someone pinch me please. I feel like I am living in a neverending dream, some sort of alternate universe. I wander through the days hoping that I remember to do my hair and feeling really proud of myself if I actually get makeup on. My newest and greatest acccomplishment is this: I learned how to do all of my makeup while driving my new car, which happens to be a stick shift, in city traffic from Carmel to Fishers. Crazy, you say? Nope. Just doing what I have to do to make it from one day to the next. All the while I'm trying to balance a personal life, get things done at work, handle family stuff and take care of my own body. I am getting dizzy just thinking about all of it!
But the crazy thing is, I wouldn't have it any other way! Yes, of course, there are times when I wish I could sleep in or spend more time just hanging out with my friends. But I have been so blessed with a job that allows me to spend my days interacting and building relationships with other people. I don't want to say no to babysitting jobs, party invitations, lunches with friends or Christmas programs because I love all of the people that I am surrounded with at these events. I go and I do what I need to do and somehow God has allowed me to be mentally present at each and every thing. He has taught me how to live in the moment and enjoy things as they happen. What a gift! I am learning not to stress about the small things. (They always get done.) But rather, I am soaking in every minute of this crazy time. Sure, I haven't bought a single Christmas gift yet but I'm sure I will find the time I need.
I encourage you to stop, relax and enjoy your holiday season. Soak in every minute and enjoy the days as they fly by. 2008 is almost over!
I wonder what's coming in the year that lies ahead...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Field of Dreams.

I love living in Indy. I have a great life here. Great friends. Great job. Awesome church. Beautiful apartment. It’s all very surreal. But there are still days when I miss my humble upbringing I Waterloo, Iowa. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Why? Iowa sounds lame.” And let me be the first to say, you are right. Iowa is a pretty bland place…but it’s my home. I’m not a huge fan of cattle and cornfields but I am a huge fan of the people that live there. A piece of my heart is in Iowa and a lot of my love belongs to these people:
The FAMILY

This is my dad. A lot of people have told me that I have the best dad in the world and I have to agree. He listens to me when I talk about boys, he gives me recipes when I'm having people over for dinner and he comes to the rescue when I need him to kick certain butts. He is a great dad. He protects me and cares for me more than anyone else in this entire world. I know that whenever I need him he will be there for me. He has offered to come all the way out to Indiana on two separate occasions in the last three years to beat up boys for me. I usually have to calm him down and say, "Dad. Lets just think about this for a minute. Take a deep breath." It's so amazing to know the if it ever came down to it, he would fight for me and I KNOW he would win.

When I was a junior in high school I was FREAKING OUT about what I was going to wear to prom (serious business, I know). My dad asked me what dress I wanted and I showed him on the internet. He wrote down the item number and the color and ordered it for me. Then, on top of all that he dressed up like a medieval soldier at the after party. All of the junior parents were in charge of planning our post-prom and this is what my dad looked like when I showed up with my date!

For my 21st birthday I wanted to go skydiving. Although I made the jump alone, my dad and my best friend were there to support me the entire time. This photo is a great depiction of our relationship. I was about to go 10,500 feet up in the air to jump out of a moving plane and I was a little bit nervous. My dad comforted me and let me lean on him (literally) until my nerves settled. And, being an industrial safety man by trade, he very meticulously checked all of my equipment before I boarded. The trainer said to him, "Sir, we've already done the safety check and she is good to go." My dad looked him straight in the face as if to say, "I don't trust you."


I bet most girls my age can't say that they spent spring break of their senior year of college in Florida with their dad. But I did. My dad and I went with some of his motorcycle buddies to Daytona Beach for Daytona Bike Week '08. We had such a good time! I love spending time with my dad and Rick and Maggie. I went on spring break with a bunch of 50 year olds and it was one of the best vacations of my life!

The FRIENDS
My best friends Jennie and Dave are largely responsible for the person I am today. They have loved me through some of the most difficult experiences of my life.
Dave has always been like the big brother that I never had. He has let me know that I am beautiful, even when boys are being stupid. He's let me cry to him and he comforts me by sharing words of affirmation and he listens to me when I need advice or when I need to vent. Most girls probably can't say that they have such an amazing guy friend. I am so lucky that Dave has been a part of my life. We've been together since we were 5 years old and we were raised as siblings. I can't imagine my life without him in it!
Jennie is my closest friend in this world. We have been through things together that most people never experience . Seven years ago I cried with Jennie when our dear friend, her boyfriend passed away from cancer. I saw her rise up and face grief head on. She came through this tragedy honoring God and showing the love of Christ to others even as her heart broke. Little did I know that five years later Jennie would grieve with me as I faced my own tragedy. She sat with me while I stared silently, she wiped my tears and rubbed my back while I cried. When everyone else walked away she was there. I can never thank her enough for the way that has loved me through the last three years.
We love to be girly together. I can not even begin to tell you all of the memories that we have made while shopping together. The above picture is our relationship in a nut shell.Last year Jennie and I went to Florida for New Year's. It ended up being 40 degrees while we were there. We thought we were going to escape the Iowa cold but ended up bundling ourselves up just to walk out on the beach. This was such an exciting time for us because Jennie and Dave got engaged a couple days before we left. Five months after this photo was taken my two best friends married each other! And let me just say, I take all of the credit for the two of them getting together. I like to believe that I was the common bond between the two of them. That's why they take such good care of me now. :)

So, as you can see, Iowa isn't so lame. The Hawkeye state is filled with people that I love. I love living in Indy but I sure do miss these people.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Fighting Irish

Crissa and I recently spent the weekend in South Bend. Her sweet friend Jim took us around the campus for a tour and then we enjoyed some serious Notre Dame football on Saturday. We had such a good time laughing and being sisters. Here are a few photographs from our journey into the black hole that is Notre Dame. I swear that place is like an alternate universe. Hopefully there will be both more trips to South Bend and more photographs to come.

Here is a picture of our view from Section 20 Row 56. Great view of the student section...more on that to come.

I told Crissa to make a face of what she thought about the game. Her face says, "Hey! This was fun! I wish we could come back tomorrow!" And mine says, "Oops. I'm sorry that I ruined everyone's plans and got us kicked out of the student section by handing my falsified ticket book back to Jim right in front of the usher."

Here we are waiting for the guys to come find us after the game. We definitely got separated thanks to me. THIS is exactly why I have an overactive conscience! I can not do anything without getting caught!

Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils

"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. On the other hand, this not knowing has its charms."

-Tom Hanks as Joe Fox (You've Got Mail)

As a little girl I always dreaded the end of summer, knowing that the fall brought cold weather, the start of the school year, and shorter days. I am, and always have been, a summer LOVER. I love warm weather, I love the sun, I love flip flops, fireworks, ICE CREAM. I love everything between the months of May and September. But now I have to admit that I am really starting to appreciate the fall. Every year my mom pointed out the changing leaves. She loved the way the world changed in September. We had a massive oak tree in our backyard. Its branches hung like an umbrella, shading our entire yard. Well, I am sad to say that that beloved oak tree eventually got some traveling only-in-Iowa disease and had to be cut down. My mom video taped this monumental event and actually cried as the branches fell to the ground. Needless to say, she wore her emotions on her sleeve. Something about that story sticks with me even now, almost four years later. Trees are very symbolic. I have heard so many "Christian" analogies using the tree. But for me it's more simple than that. To me they represent beauty and they symbolize change. I recently took a trip up State Road 31 from Indianapolis to South Bend. As I drove I watched in anticipation to see the changing leaves. Although it's still early in the season, the colors are beginning to show up. Orange, red, dark purple, brown. It's all so comforting to me. This is also especially significant in my life as of late because I feel as though I have been in constant transition for the last few months. My life has been defined by change and consistency is something of the past for me.

My senior year of college was, as I'm sure it is for most people, an awkward season. I wanted so badly to be "present" in everything that I did at school but I was also mentally pulling away, knowing that my life would change a year later. And here I am, after months of searching for a job, interviewing, closing doors, opening new ones, moving, standing up with my best friends on their wedding day, ending relationships, building relationships, starting a new job and now preparing for a huge new transition. Our church is in the middle of a season of change. Things are going to be drastically different in the coming months and I am preparing for a time of uncertainty, unknown future and growth. Even as I wait...and dream for what the future may hold I know that God has a plan and that He already has this figured out. God's grace amazes me every day. I am so undeserving and yet he continues to love and care for me. Right now the leaves represent change.
I have learned many a life lesson from the movie You've Got Mail. It is a Stephens' women favorite. My mom, sister and I would watch that movie at least 5 times a year and quote the entire thing, laughing each time as though we had never seen it before. And just as Joe Fox (F-O-X) of Fox Books says, "this not knowing has its charms". Something about transition and change is comforting. I don't want to live a predictable life. And as my personal life continues to change, so does the world around me. Just as I continue to find the beauty in the changing leaves, the huge fall sky, and the crisp, cool weather, I also continue my search for beauty within the transitions of my own life. Someday I know I will be able to look back and see the hand of God, the way he brought me through this season and the way he worked through it all. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Speechless.

Has anyone ever asked you a question that you absolutely do not have an answer to? That happened to me tonight and for some reason it really bothered me. Tonight at small group John asked us all, "What is your identity? Who are you? What defines you?" I told all of the people in my group that immediately after those words came out of his mouth I started feeling sick to my stomach and I felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. The truth is, I don't know. I don't know what my identity is. I know that I am a daughter of Christ and I know that my true identity comes from him. I have never doubted that. But even with that in mind, I don't think I know exactly who I am.
Growing up in Waterloo, IA, I was known as Dan and Sue Stephens' daughter, Nik's older sister, Crissa's younger sister. I was known as the quiet one. I had tons of thoughts running around in my head but I preferred to stay below the radar. I never really did anything to shake things up and I avoided calling attention to myself at all costs. My family was incredibly involved in our church, my mom was on staff and my parents devoted a ton of their time, passion and energy into the ministry there. It was a church of almost a thousand people but I feel like my parents knew everyone. Maybe it just seemed that way to my young, immature mind but I sometimes think that we were in the spotlight a little more than the average family. My parents were also very involved in my school. I went to a tiny private high school where EVERYONE knew EVERYTHING about EVERYONE. I guess it was always easy for me to identify with my family. My parents had an image and a persona that they upheld and I just tagged right along. I never really had to make much of an identity for myself because I knew that no matter what I did, no matter who I tried to be, I would always be known as Dan and Sue Stephens' daughter, Nik's older sister, Crissa's younger sister...the quiet one.
Now things have changed a lot. I went to college eight hours away from home. I knew exactly two people when I moved to Indiana Wesleyan University and I was able to make a new identity. I was able to start over knowing that no one there knew who I was. They didn't know my family and they didn't expect anything from me. For the first time in my life I was able to be me. I was able to freely and confidently act and think as an individual. I've always been independent and stubborn on the inside but this was a new feeling, something I had never experienced before. My freshman year of college changed me. I left school and went home that summer as a confident, independent young woman. I knew my convictions, I knew what I wanted, I knew who I was and I wasn't ashamed of it. For the first time I was proud to be me. Because of my new boldness and freedom I was able to make some incredible friends at school. I was able to connect with people and share my heart with them knowing that all they wanted was for me to be genuine. This was the first time in my life that I experienced true Christian community. God showed me how to live life with other people and he surrounded me with people that spoke life into me, people that built me up and people that challenged me in my faith.
Here's where it all changes. That year my world was rocked. My life was flipped upside down and I felt like the earth fell out from beneath me. I had spent 18 years living as Dan and Sue's daughter and even though I had become my "own person" that was still a HUGE part of who I was. Then that all changed. I found out on Thursday, January 12th that there was a small possibility my mom may have cancer. I went home on Friday the 13th and she died on the morning of January 14th. I stood in a hospital room and held my mom's hand while a pastor prayed over her and her heart stopped beating. I watched my dad kiss her forehead and I stared at him as his tears dripped onto her face. Then we walked out of that hospital room and my life has never been the same. This is something that I absolutely can not explain. It is impossible for one to understand something like this until you go through it yourself. I can not even begin to put into words all of the thoughts and feelings that were running through my head. I think my main question was, "What now? What am I supposed to do now? My mom is gone, therefore everything I have ever known is different." When you lose someone close to you, you lose a part of yourself. My mom was a part of me. I have her DNA, I have her eyes, I have her smile and I have certain parts of her personality. All of those things will always be a part of me but there is another part of me that died with her and that's what is so confusing now. How am I supposed to know my identity? How am I supposed to know exactly who I am, knowing full well that part of me is missing and will never, ever be replaced?
All I know is that I now, more than ever, I have to strive to be the woman that God has created me to be. I want to be beautiful. I want to be beautiful because of the way that I radiate Christ and the way that I allow him to shine through me. When people look at me I want them to think, "I see God in her." I want my identity to be fully and completely found in my relationship with Christ. Without him, who am I? What am I doing? What is the point to my humble life? I have so much growing and maturing and changing to do. I know my passions, I know what I love, I know what I want to do and who I want to be. Now I have to make sure that I follow those passions, that I pursue that love and that I do what I want to do and become who I want to be. So I guess right now when I am asked the question, "Who are you?" my only response is, I am a mess. I am an ever-changing, forever growing, straight up, complicated mess. But I'm God's mess and although I will never be perfect, I will always be His.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Picture Update.


Here are some photos of things that have happened in the last few days. Enjoy!

My kids rockin' out to "We Wanna See Jesus Lifted High". LOVE IT.

Auntie Cate and Baby Roxy, enjoying some quality family time.

My niece is getting so big!

Inside playing with the dogs while everyone else socialized in the kitchen. This is after we got in trouble for reading Jess's "journal". We look a little mischievous.

Debra and I at Jess and Nate's bonfire. The guys were all playing guitars and singing and we were taking pictures, talking and goofing off.

So there you go. A little peek into my not-so-eventful life. Until next time...

The Small Things.

Lately I have been noticing little ways in which God has been blessing me. This past week he gave me an overwhelming sense of peace and joy. But it was actually more than that. To me joy is a constant feeling that stays with us whether we are going through sorrow or if we are having a great day. There is an inexplainable "joy" that comes as a result of having a relationship with God. I remember this feeling even as I endured some of the hardest times of my life. But the last few days God has allowed me to feel happiness again. Happiness is a different type of feeling. It comes and goes and is usually a result of our circumstances. Lately I have felt free. I haven't felt this way in a long time. My friend Jess told me that God has been "refining" me. She has said, "I don't know why He is choosing to do this in such a painful way but He is doing it and the result is going to be something amazing." She is so right! God is working on me. He is forming me into the woman that He wants me to be.
I guess the theme of my past week was contentment, laughter and satisfaction. It didn't come from anything huge, just a lot of little things that made a HUGE difference. I tried to record these things so I can look back on them and remember how God cares so deeply for me.
Here is my list:

  • Last Sunday, August 24th
    • Spending time with my small group after church. We went out to lunch and then all went to Sam's club. I enjoy spending time with these people. For 2 and a half months I avoided John and Danielle when they invited me to small group activities. I was intimidated and insecure for some reason. Now I'm a little upset at myself because I see that I missed out on 2 and a half months of blessing.
    • John, Danielle, Zoey (their dog) and I took a nap in their living room before we headed back to church.
    • The staff/board meeting last Sunday night. It was so awesome for me to be able to see and hear the hearts of the board members at our church.
    • Jess came over and spent some time with me. We sat on the couches in my house and talked about nothing for three hours.
  • Monday, August 25th
    • I usually have Mondays off but I worked this day. Danielle and I accomplished a lot of stuff for the Children's Ministry. I left work with a feeling of satisfaction and pride.
  • Tuesday, August 26th
    • One of the first graders in my after school program read me his entire reading worksheet. He was learning the sound of the letter "A" like in the word "cat". He was so proud of himself that he knew all of the words! I loved being able to connect with this child.
    • I met Jess and Debra at Starbucks after work. They both had things to do because they're in school. I was a complete annoyance to both of them as I distracted them from their work. We ended up staying there for a couple hours laughing and talking.
  • Wednesday, August 27th
    • I had chapel with the preschoolers at the daycare. I taught a lesson on anger and they all paid attention and were very engaged. They are so precious!
    • Danielle, Bill, John and I went to lunch and laughed so hard we cried as John told us a story. I had heard the story before so I knew what was coming but it was Bill's first time hearing it. I looked at him and his face was bright red. He had tears streaming down his face and he was laughing so hard he could barely breathe. Every time I looked at him I laughed harder. We all had sore abs by the end of the lunch.
    • I got to have a great conversation with one of the parents from the daycare. She cried when I told her how well her son was doing and how he was blowing me away with his great behavior.
    • I spent some time in the kindergarten room. One sweet little boy in that class makes me laugh so hard because he's so cute and he says the greatest things.
    • God gave me renewed energy as I spent some time with the kids of the youth group volunteers. We watched a movie and hung out while their parents were upstairs with the teens.
  • Thursday, August 28th
    • Danielle and I had an awesome meeting with our senior pastor. We were able to share with him all of the great things that have been happening in children's ministry and he was very pleased. It felt so good!
    • My after school kids are doing better and better everyday. The program is really starting to become what I knew it could be and it makes me proud to know that I had a part in it.
    • Jess took me on my first trip to the Goodwill Outlet. That's right people, I said OUTLET. It is a crazy experience. Here's a little clue to how insane it gets in there: everything costs 59cents per pound! Ha!
  • Friday, August 29th
    • I had the day off and got some much needed cleaning done at my house.
    • I spent the afternoon/evening with friends. We had dinner and a bonfire at Jess and Nate's.
  • Today
    • I slept in and just got back from two hours at the pool. Relaxation, anyone?

So you see, it's the little things that have been bringing me so much happiness lately. Nothing huge has happened. Nothing monumental or life changing. God has just been showing me his love through the way he provides ways for me to smile. I am so content exactly where I am. I know that God has placed me here for a reason. I feel so unworthy to be in such a great place, surrounded by incredible people working at a job that I love. I am so thankful for the small things.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Friends Like That...

Here are some pictures from our recent photo shoot.
Jess, Nate, Debra, Tim and I were hanging out a couple of weekends ago and we decided it was about time we documented our adventures. These are my friends. They're the kind of people that bring out the best in me, allow me to be myself, make me laugh and love me through it all.

Meet my friends:

Jess and Debra have been there through it all. They've seen me at my best and they have definitely seen me at my worst. The crazy thing is, they always come back for more.

And...I rest my case.
We love to laugh.
All of us...
You may not understand it...but it makes sense to us.
There are no words.

I am constantly amazed and humbled by the way that God has provided for me. I realize that not everyone has the opportunity to live life with such amazing people. Why do I deserve this? I have no idea. But I do know that I am truly blessed to know these people.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Surrender.

Lately it’s been difficult for me to gather my thoughts. I feel like I’m running about a million miles a minute and doing everything I can not to get burnt out. God has been teaching me again about what it means to trust him. It’s easy for me to trust and believe when everything in my life is going well. In fact, usually when life gets “easy” I try to take control of things for myself. I like to be in control. I like to think that I am the one with the wisdom and knowledge. But then God reminds me, sometimes painfully, that my plan is worthless. I am immediately forced to place my trust back in him and realize that I am nothing without my Savior. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to remember that.

I don’t want to be the kind of person that pushes God to the side when things are going well and only calls on Him when my circumstances get difficult. The thing is, you’d think I would have learned my lesson by now. I’ve been through some difficult “lean-on-God” type of moments and yet I continually forget that God is there everyday, even when I think I have everything under control. I guess this is where His grace comes in. I am so incapable of being perfect. The beautiful thing is, my God knows that and He loves me anyway. He doesn’t expect me to have it all figured out. He doesn’t want me to be independent. He wants me to surrender my desires and live totally, completely, entirely dependent on Him.

So why is that so hard? Why do I want so badly to take control?

I guess the time that this is most difficult for me is when things happen that I have no control over, when people in my life make decisions that I hate but can not change. I’ve realized more than ever before that just as much as I can not control everything about my own life, I also can not control the hearts, actions, or wants of other people. It’s a challenging thing to surrender relationships and expectations to God but I KNOW that that is exactly what he is asking me to do right now. It’s hard to make boundaries and it’s even more painful to stick to them. And yet I know that without certain boundaries in my life I can not function the way that I am supposed to. Sometimes I wonder why God allows certain things to happen in our lives. Why does he allow people to die unexpectedly? Why does he allow our families to fall apart? Why does he allow us to love people that don’t love us back? Why does he allow us to have faith in people that don’t deserve it? I have so many questions that I’m not sure will ever be answered. The only thing I can think to bring me comfort is the fact that if I didn’t have all of these questions I would not need God. If I knew the answer to everything, if I was capable of keeping everything under control then God would be worthless. However, my lack of knowing, my lack of perfection and my incapability (as incredibly frustrating as they may be) keep me humble. These things remind me that God is totally, absolutely, without a doubt in control. He is the same always, never changing and always loving. I am so undeserving of His grace and yet he continues to shower me with it. Now there’s a lesson in humility.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

This too Shall Pass

"I've achieved so much in life
But I’m an amateur in love
My bank account is doing just fine
But my emotions are bankrupt

My body is nice and strong
But my heart is in a million pieces
When the sun is shining so am I
But when the night falls so does my tears

Sometimes the beatings so loud in my heart
That I can barely tell our voices apart
Sometimes the fear is so loud in my head
That I can barely hear what God says

Then I hear a whisper that this too shall pass
I hear the angels whisper that this too shall pass
So I walk in faith that this too shall pass

The one that loved me the most
Turned around and hurt me the worse
I’m doing my best to move on
But the pain just keeps singing me songs

My head and my heart are at war
Cause love ain't happening the way I wanted
Feel like I’m about to break down
Can’t hear the light at the end of the tunnel

So I pray for healing in my heart
To be put back together what is torn apart
And I pray for quiet in my head
That I can hear clearly what God says

Then I hear the whisper that this too shall pass
I hear the Angels whisper that this too shall pass
So I walk in faith that this too shall pass

All of sudden I realize
That it only hurts worse to fight it
So I embrace my shadow
And hold on to the morning light

This Too Shall Pass
I hear the angels whisper
that troubles don't have to last always
I hear the angels whisper
Even the day after tomorrow will one day be yesterday.
I hear my angels whisper.
I hear my angels whisper.
This too shall pass."

-India.Arie

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Hawkeye State

My dad and I at the '09 Harley-Davidson roll out. They introduced all of the '09 models to the public for the first time. There were tons of people at the Harley shop waiting in anticipation to see the updated bikes. Every time I go to a biker event I am absolutely fascinated with the culture and the people that show up there. There are some funny characters at these things.

I recently took a trip home to spend some time with my dad. He has had a rough couple of months and I knew that I could cheer him up. I packed up my car, went to work and left Indiana straight from church on a Wednesday night. I got in the car at 6pm Indiana time and arrived home at 12am Iowa time. Needless to say, I was going crazy! I love driving. Usually it is very relaxing to me because it gives me a chance to be alone with my thoughts. I put my iPod on shuffle, turn on the cruise control and just chill. However, this time I didn't want to be alone with my thoughts. My thoughts have been kind of crazy lately with everything that's been going on. By the time I made it to the Iowa border I was ready to give up but I bravely persevered and made it back to the 'Loo safe and sound. My poor dad was sound asleep by the time I got there because he had to get up and work at 5:30 the next morning. I said hi to him, put my stuff in my room and headed over to the newlyweds' house for the first time since they unpacked all of their stuff. Jennie was waiting for me at the front door. We both screamed and ran to each other like we do every time we reunite. We're best friends. It's what we do.
Jennie, Dave and I rented a movie on Friday night and started to watch it at their house. However, now that I am a real adult and have a job which requires me to keep a normal schedule, I fell asleep and ended up having to leave before the movie was even half way over with. Oops.

This is us, being best friends, doing what we do.

Their house is beautiful! The best part is their awesome porch area. We sat out there for about ten minutes, until Dave got home and then moved our little party inside to avoid the sticky, wet, disgusting Iowa humidity. The three of us sat together like we always do, laughing and arguing and laughing and talking and laughing some more until finally I couldn't handle one more second of social interaction. I headed home to bed and woke up the next morning to an empty house. It was nice to be home and relax for a while until my dad got back from work. Of course as soon as he got home we jumped on the motorcycle, went for a ride and went out to eat. It's great to spend time together just the two of us. We had a lot of time to talk through some stuff that's been going on and I know it was good for him to have someone to process it all with. My dad constantly amazes me by the way that he handles the tough stuff in life. He constantly says, "We can't control what others do but we can control the way that we react to what they do. My response is my responsibility." That is a typical Dan Stephens phrase.
All of the Bauers came over on Friday night for a cook out. It's pretty typical for them to come over once a week in the summer. I miss our family get-togethers so it was great for me to see them! Levi and I went into the den and sat in the big chair together while he practiced his harmonica. I turned off all of the lights in the room except the one that is over the chair. We called it his "spotlight" and he ended up doing a concert for all of us on his "stage." We were all dying laughing the entire time.

After spending a couple of much needed days at home I jumped back in the car on Saturday and drove back to my new home in Indiana so that I could be here for church on Sunday morning. We had a great time in Kid's Church and then enjoyed a picnic with all of our VBS volunteers. I love spending time with the families in a relaxed and casual setting. I always end up playing with the kids while the adults talk. I can't help it though! When a sweet little four year old boy begs me to play on the playground with him I just can't say no! One of my sweet little boys asked me if I would hang out with him after he finished his lunch. I knew that I was supposed to be socializing with the parents so I tried to stay out of his eyesight as long as I could, hoping that he would forget about me and leave me to be with the adults. But then after about 30 minutes he came up to me and said with a sad face, "Miss Cady, did you forget?" It makes me want to squeal right now just thinking about it! I politely excused myself from whatever conversation I was a part of and joined my little pal on the playground. It was well worth it! I have so much fun with my kids every time we're together.
Things at work have been pretty much insane. We are planning for our fall programs and we're right in the middle of recruiting volunteers (which is BY FAR the most difficult part of my job). Right now I am praising God because we have had such a great response and have had a lot of people sign up to help for the fall. I am praying for about four more adults for Sunday mornings and 5 more for Wednesday nights. I have faith that it is all going to come together and our kids will be blown away when everything starts up again! Until then I have a lot of busy days at work, crazy weekends full of church activities and sleepless nights. I think I'm going to start sleeping with a notepad next to my bed because I wake up at least once a night with new plans and ideas that I need to write down. Gosh! I feel like I'm going a million miles a minute! I know that soon things will slow down and I will get into a regular routine but until then I just thank God when I make it through the day.

Monday, July 28, 2008

CateFest'08

So birthdays in the Stephens' family are usually a pretty big deal. For some reason my mom always made a huge production out of every birthday. Every year on July 24th before I fell asleep my mom and dad would climb in bed with me and tell me the story of how I was such a sick little baby. They would tell me all about their experience from the time I was delivered to when I was driven in an NICU ambulance to Des Moines to when my heart stopped beating, to my blood transfusion and on and on. Every year I just sort of sat there and listened because I obviously don't remember any of it. It all seems so weird to me now. Needless to say, my birthday is a time when I really REALLY miss my mom. Moms have a way of making you feel special unlike anyone else in the world. This year my friends did a really good job of making me feel special. It ended up being three days of celebration, starting with line dancing on Thursday night with Jess and Deb.
They had been telling me for a week not to make any plans on Thursday night because they had a surprise for me. They wouldn't tell me where we were going or what we were doing. The only hint I got was that I needed to dress like a cowgirl. We all met at Jess's house on Thursday night after work. It was kind of funny because I had to drive so Jess was telling me directions and I blindly followed her commands. We ended up at the 8 Second Saloon in a part of Indianapolis that I have never even seen before. As we pulled up we saw a couple in their mid-fifties walking out in their western get-ups. We were giggling the entire time! The last time I went line dancing was in a sketchy looking farmer hang out off the interstate 380 in Iowa. That place was a little less than glamorous but we had a good time. It was a couple of years ago and the main thing I remember is that I was TERRIBLE at the steps. I don't know how my mom was a professional dancer and I can hardly handle the hokey pokey. My shyness definitely comes out on the dance floor and Thursday night was no exception. Finally the girls made me go out and join in the choreographed cowboy steps and I managed to do a pretty decent job. It ended up being a night full of surprises and lots of laughs. We had such a good time being girls and enjoying each other. It was fun to dress up and pretend to be somebody else for a night. This kind of thing is so far out of my comfort zone but I always ended up loving it when I'm done. I even two-stepped! That was probably the funniest part of the night because my poor partner didn't know what to do with my extreme clumsiness. It ended up being ok though because he made up for my mistakes.

The three of us enjoying our night as cowgirls...

Jess and I. I didn't really follow the directions for the picture. Long story.

Throwin' the deuces for my 22nd birthday.
Doing the 22 Two Step.

Deb and I.

The celebration continued on Friday (my actual birthday) at work. The ladies from the office took me out for a nice lunch and forced me to wear an extremely obnoxious hat in the shape of the star that said "party". People stared at me and I looked away every time because I hate calling attention to myself. It was so nice that they took the time to celebrate my birthday with me. I felt so loved and appreciated!
All week long I had been asking my daycare kids, "Who's birthday is on Friday?!" And they would all say, "It's yours, Miss Cady!" I promised them that I would bring treats for their afternoon snack so I went out and bought popsicles and cookies and brought them in on Friday afternoon. I bopped into the room with my crazy star hat on and yelled, "It's party time!" They all SCREAMED and dropped what they were doing to join me at the snack table. They sang happy birthday and ate way too much sugar. I looked around after we were done and half of them had bright blue mouths. Their teeth, lips, and tongues were stained from their birthday treats. I think that partying with kids is the most fun. The simplest thing ends up being such a big deal to them!
My sister came into town on Friday night and was at my apartment when I got home from work. She did my hair and we laughed as we talked about our lives and the funny things that have happened to us lately. Then we went to dinner at the Melting Pot and enjoyed some birthday fondue. I got us incredibly lost on our way there and we ended up driving up and down 82nd street for 20 minutes before I realized we were supposed to be on 86th. Oops. We ended our night at the movie theater where we saw the late showing of "Mamma Mia!" We were both so tired by the end of it that we came home and went straight to bed. The next day we went to breakfast, bought books at Target, and laid out by the pool until Crissa had to go. It was a perfect day.
Cammi and I had a bunch of friends over on Saturday night. There ended up being about 10 people here and it was a great time hanging out and story telling. A bunch of our friends from Indy came along with my friend Jess from school. My friend Tim called and said he was in town from Nashville so he ended up coming over too. It was the perfect end to a perfect birthday!
Until next year...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The New Digs...

My new bedroom. This is after all of my dad's hard work and 4 trips to the hardware store.


I am finally, after almost 7 weeks in Indiana, getting settled down! I moved into my new apartment on July 10th but didn't have time to unpack because Bible school began two days after I moved in and I was at the church 12 hours a day. It was such a restless feeling knowing that my closet was still a mess and my things were scattered all over the house but now it's all put away and I finally have a sense of peace when I walk in! That's what home is supposed to be, right?
Moving was a pretty crazy process. On June 12th I packed my tiny little Scion TC and moved to a temporary apartment. We couldn't get into our real apartment until July 10th so I spent a month sleeping on an air mattress and living out of boxes. My room was completely bare, not a thing on the walls, and I never actually unpacked all of my stuff. During our last week at the old apartment Cammi (my roommate) and I were counting down the hours until we got to move. FINALLY the day came! I had to work but luckily Cammi hired movers. I gathered all of my things together, went to the office at the new apartment, signed my lease, paid my rent, and headed off to work. I felt like such an accomplished adult! And by the way, I had never even seen this apartment inside. We had seen the model and we had seen the floorplan of this one but had never actually been in it. Let me just tell you, it is beautiful! I came home from work that day and wanted to scream when I walked in the door. Even though there was stuff everywhere and the place was a disaster, I still loved it! And the best part about it is that it's mine. I am paying for it and I am taking care of it. Independence is a beautiful thing!
My dad and sister came that Friday night and John and Danielle showed up to help us move everything in. My dad had driven through Chicago and picked up my sister along with all of the furniture she was giving me. We moved everything up to the THIRD FLOOR and all wanted to crash when we were done. Thankfully John and my dad did all of the really heavy stuff! The next day my dad, Crissa and I were off to find a headdboard and other necessities for my new living quarters. We spent the entire day running all over Carmel and eventually got what we needed. My dad put my bed together, hung my roommate's curtains, helped me hang my mirror and even took me out for my birthday! We had to celebrate two weeks early because I knew I wouldn't see them on the actual date.

Working hard putting the bedframe together. I helped him but he ended up redoing everything that I did. I got in trouble for not using the washers before I screwed the screws in. Who knew those things were so important?!
Crissa and I goofing off, taking pictures in the mattress store while my Dad found the bedframe. He looked at us laying on the bed with the camera and then walked out in shame. Sometimes he acts like we embarrass him but I know he loves it!

We all went to church the next morning and Crissa and my dad came to children's church to watch me teach. I could see them laughing out of the corner of my eye because I didn't know the actions to any of the songs we were doing. How embarassing. My dad had the time of his life because we did an experiment during small group time with the 3rd-6th graders. They got to put a spoonful of baking soda into a cup of vinegar and watch it fizz over. I was giving them all about half a teaspoon until my dad grabbed the spoons from me and handed them all HEAPING spoonfuls. Most of their cups overflowed all over the tables. They all screamed and Dan loved every minute of it.
Right after church they headed back to Chicago to pack up my sister's apartment. She is moving in with some friends until she moves to Chile in February so my dad had three solid days of packing up his girls and driving his trailer all over the Midwest. What would we do without him?
Now my apartment is completely unpacked other than a couple of things that need to be hung up. Hopefully everything will be finished this weekend when we have people over on Saturday night. The birthday festivities are fully underway, ending Saturday night with a party at our apartment. Tonight Jess, Deb and I are celebrating and Crissa gets into town tomorrow. I'm just glad I have a warm, comfortable place for all of them to stay!



Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Isaiah 43:18-19

It's amazing how God reveals himself to us in such unexpected ways. I was reading over some of my pastor's old sermons this morning. I started to look over one from when I visited the church with some friends in May. At that time the church was in the middle of their 40 Days of Community series and I was entering into my last week of my senior year of college. At that point I thought I had things pretty figured out. I had accepted the job here and I was anxiously waiting for it to begin, I had a roommate and a place to live, I was in a pretty serious relationship that we both thought would lead to marriage and my family seemed to finally be settling down after over two years of heartache.
Now I look back on that Sunday and think how wrong my perspective was. I had MY plan and I knew what I wanted to do. I wasn't waiting on God to reveal himself to me because I thought I had everything figured out. So selfish. The funny part about all of that is that the first point of Pastor Steve's sermon was that selfishness destroys relationships and selflessness builds them. I want to be selfless. I want to think of others before myself and I want to look to God to carry out his plan for my life, rather than making self-gratifying, shallow plans for myself.
A lot has changed since that Sunday. I am here, at Fall Creek, loving my job and the people I work with, which is funny because this job was the one thing that didn't make sense to me in my plan. I had a million reasons to turn it down but for some reason I knew that I had to come here. I knew that this was the place for me and if I went anywhere else I would be being disobedient. Now as I look back I can see exactly why God wanted me here and I praise him that he didn't allow me to go anywhere else! And God has blessed me with an awesome roommate and great new friends both inside and outside of church. But other than that, things haven't really turned out the way that I planned. My serious relationship has ended and my family is going through some pretty difficult stuff again. Sometimes I wonder when the insanity will end. I don't know that I will ever see wholeness and restoration brought to my family in this lifetime. I am so proud of my dad. He has come so far in his faith and in his leadership to us. He has had to make some heartbreaking decisions over the last couple of years and he has done so with strength, integrity and kindness. He has shown me what a true man of God looks like. It's funny because some of the normal people that I would usually talk to about this stuff are not a part of my life anymore but God has blessed me beyond what I could ever imagine with supportive people and amazing friends.
At the end of Pastor Steve's sermon outline I read this verse and it just made sense. I am so thankful that God cares enough to speak to me and give me just enough strength to make it through every day. Now I'm here, a preschool teacher and children's ministry director in Fishers, Indiana, waiting in anticipation for God to do something new. I may be waiting a long time but I know that He who has promised is faithful.

"But the Lord says, 'Forget the things that happened in the past. Do not keep on thinking about them. I am about to do something new. It is beginning to happen even now. Don't you see it coming? I am going to make a way for you to go through the desert. I will make streams of water in the dry and empty land'."

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fun on the Fourth

This year I got to spend the fourth of July with some of my best friends! I am so fortunate that I have such great friends so close to me since my family is so far away. I feel like I have my own miniature family here in Indianapolis and it is great to spend time with them!
We were all invited over to my roommate's boyfriend's house for a barbecue and then we made plans to go to downtown Indy for the fireworks. I was a little worried because it was pretty overcast and cloudy looking for most of the day. But thankfully the sky cleared up and the temperature rose in time for the fun!
Debra and I went to Jess and Nate's house to hang out for the day before we went over to Keith's for dinner and fireworks.

This is Jess and Nate's sweet new puppy, Roxy. She is just a tiny baby so she sleeps all the time. She's chubby and cute and we love hanging out with her!


This is a picture of Jess and Nate's dog, Sydney. I love playing with him when I go to their house! I wish so badly that I could have a dog, but until that day comes I just have to hang out with my "nephew," Syd.

We all had to bring food to Keith's house to go with kabobs. I freaked out at the last minute because of my non-existent cooking abilities and just decided to buy fruit. I still have faith that someday I will conquer my culinary fears and learn how to cook. It's a slow process with me though so I just decided store-bought, pre-cut fruit was the way to go. It ended up being ok because there was tons of delicious food brought by all of the other kitchen savvy party-goers.
Hanging out in Keith's backyard with Roxy.


Jess and Nate...

We spent a couple hours grilling out and watching as the guys lit off fireworks. I was a little nervous that they were going to explode my car with their insane pyrotechnic show but it ended up being ok. We left when things started to get a little crazy, avoiding a possible disaster.
Jess, Nate, Debra, and Deb's brother Tim and I all went downtown to meet Nate's parents and their friends to watch the fireworks. We weaved our way through the crazy city traffic and ended up finding parking in a public garage, (which was quite the accomplishment since most of the streets were blocked off by police officers and the parking meters were turned off.)
We walked through the downtown area which was jam-packed with patriotic hoosiers wearing crazy America-themed outfits and we ended up having a really good spot to watch the fireworks at the Indiana War Memorial.
And now I would like to take a moment to give a little shout out to Walnut Ridge Baptist Academy. All those years in the choir paid off for me as I joined with the Air Force band in singing every verse of the Armed Forces medley word for word (along with many, MANY other songs of American pride). Lets just say, my friends were a little shocked at my patriotism, and to think, I owe it all to Miss B and her Patriotic Program.

"You're a grand ol' flag, you're a high flying flag and forever in peace may you wave! You're the emblem of the land I love, the home of the free and the brave!..." (You get the idea.)


Jess and I as we waited for the fireworks to start.

Debra and I enjoying the show!


Jess, (Roxy), Nate and I before we left. Jess and Nate are such great friends and such an amazing couple! I absolutely love them!
It really did turn out to be a great night. What more could you ask for on the 4th of July? And I felt a sense of personal accomplishment as I arrived in the parking lot of my apartment that night because I successfully navigated my way through the downtown area (complete with lane closures and one way streets), out of the city traffic and home to my humble apartment in Carmel. I used to get stressed out driving in downtown Waterloo on the fourth, but now I am on my own and I'm stepping up to the plate. Ahh...the American dream.