Author Archives: Stephanie

About Stephanie

I am a wife, mother of three (Seth-17, Lena-15 and Eli-12), ordained pastor, follower and vessel (albeit sometimes a broken one) of Christ. One of my other titles is that of homeschooler to my daughter (never saw that one coming!). Iced coffee, reading, baking, exploring, friendship, and musical theater are some of my favorite things. I enjoy speaking to and empowering women as they navigate various seasons in life. I hold a special passion for encouraging families with a child struggling with a mental disorder or other unique challenge.

As the School Year Begins Again: My Prayer as a Substitute Teacher

Lord of my life,

May I develop a posture that reflects your welcoming presence, offering a place of refuge

May I see you in their faces, a reminder of the breadth of your character and creativity

May I offer mercy when it seems least deserved because that’s what you offer me

May I exhude patience knowing that we are all people on the way

May I sense your wisdom when the complexities of humanity bear their wounds

May I breathe out your name when I say theirs so that they realize they are known

May I be a vessel of help to the one who is usually sailing the ship

When the days become long and heavy, remind me that you help carry the load in this place you have called me

Amen

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

Learning to Thaw Five Years After a Polar Vortex Blew into My Life

Anniversaries remind us of where we have come from and where we are headed.

Five years ago, I was recovering from a polar vortex which had pushed it’s cold breath into my family’s landscape. As many hid within the warm confines of a home, we felt the cold air penetrate our walls. The icicles appeared as frozen fingers clutching our family with its sting.

Five years ago, illness and death attempted to paralyze us. We became accustomed to confronting the exhausting days of mental illness. It has woven itself into the identity of our family. But this time, we encountered something new, My teen son became suddenly ill. Moments turned into days turned into weeks. More of the story can be found here: https://stephaniejthompson.com/2017/01/31/httpstephaniejthompson-com20170131how-i-found-peace-living-in-the-not-yet/ In the midst dealing with his duel health struggles, deaths of loved ones released punches to the gut.

Wrestling with grief

Unexpectedly a family friend, young and healthy, passed away in her sleep from a heart attack. The reality of traveling lightly on this earth smacked our souls.

My husband’s beloved grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. Our 97 year old matriarch whose resilience to previous injuries and illness made us believe she would always rally, actually passed from this life. Her impact on our lives and others around her left a festering wound.

His aunt, with whom we were very close, died from a stroke. As we grieved once again, my younger son recognized the ways funeral had become a part of our rhythm. One more good-bye. Could we sustain one more fierce blow?

Apparently so.

One day, my husband announced that his job might be eliminated in a corporate buy out. After a week sitting in the frozen tundra, we received an answer. As it turned out, he remained employed but his company family no longer resembled what he had known.

Learning how to respond to a Polar Vortex

Five years later the polar vortex blew in again. However, this time, we found ourselves on the other side of the last one. We experienced some small stings of the weather that surrounded our landscape and our lives. But this time, we knew that we pushed through the last ones. We recognized the need to not face this chill alone. We need the warmth from huddling with others in prayer and accepting their help to keep walking toward spring. Toward a season of new life.

We are still thawing out. The brain and body don’t easily forget the sting of frostbite. A bit of fear at the thought of experiencing it again remains. Truthfully, a bit of the sting of the warming period permeates my body. My senses are heightened at the sound of an ambulance, when my son is out of my sight, and at the presence of a symptom in one of children which appears to indicate a recurrence of the previous affliction.

But I can’t live in fear. So I remember that summer arrived this year as it did five years ago and the three others in between. I soak in the sun during this season of rebirth. I find comfort knowing that regardless of the season, I am held and loved by God who sees me. (Genesis 16:13).

Learning from the Wisdom of Pecans

I am thankful for pecans.

I’ll admit I have taken them for granted and that’s worthy of lament. The knowledge of the profound design and fruiting process of pecans is largely unknown. That has sacred implications for me as an individual and us as a society. For there is much to learn from them.

As I savor the words written in Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, I feel my soul feasting on their nourishment. The native people, in her case, the Potowotami Nation, share what they know about the sacred design of earth and all that inhabits it. Creation points to God’s character. As image bearers, we can’t afford to be deprived of that wisdom.

Kimmerer shares the story of her grandpa discovering the gift of pecans as a boy recently resettled to a new territory in Kansas. Like the previous nuts that scattered their land, these fruits held a reserve of protein and fat for survival during the winter. It even comes in a naturally protective shell. The mast fruiting process of the trees indicates a system of sharing resources so that all fruit together-whether small or large,rooted in fertile or infertile land.

“The pecan trees and their kin show a capacity for concerted action, for unity of purpose that transcends the individual trees. They ensure somehow that all stand together and thus survive, ” she writes.

A small nut. A simple treat. A gift that speaks of a great God whose handiwork in a tiny piece of provision points to the beautiful picture of community as it was intended.

Pecans add a sweet crunch to my salads, infuse the flavor of my husband’s favorite ice cream and offer a little treat in the midst of the mundane. Yet, wrapped within these tiny nuggets, are life giving elements. Literally. For that, I give thanks.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

How do you see tastes of Heaven in your landscape?

Why I Can Sit With the “Middle” Parts of My Story

The temptation to peek beckons me. How can I live in the tension of an unfolding story?

Whenever, I read a book, I am drawn into a new place.. The pages introduce me to new characters whose lives speak into mine. Their world challenges me to evaluate the mores of my own. I become immersed in a life outside my actual one; at times, I wish desperately that I could talk with these new friends with whom I connect. Maybe someday I will.

Regardless, I develop empathy for their struggles. How can I leave them in situations of uncertainty? Will they seek restoration for themselves and others? What if they make choices that are not in their best interest? Being present in the middle of the story and sitting in it is often uncomfortable.

I learned that I can’t necessarily control how the story ends. My story or others’ stories. Certainly I have choices that affect the unfolding of events in my life as well as the lives of others. We are connected. But I don’t always get a peek into how those “middle of the story” conflicts in the plot will resolve. That’s hard. But I know that God is redeeming those moments even if I can’t see it.

As tempting as it is to turn the page to the end, I recognize that won’t really resolve anything. I will miss all that the author reveals in the uncomfortable details of the “middle.” I won’t be privy to the dimensions of a character’s humanity and how it plays a key role in other elements of the story-not just the ending. I need to sit with every part.

So, I’ve learned to resist peeking at the ending. I don’t want to miss the beauty that can still be found in the hard, uncomfortable middle moments. In pages or in reality.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

God’s Character is Not Intimidated by Distance: New Lessons from a Familiar Story

“Then Jesus[b] said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[c] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’  Luke 15:11-19

The story is familiar …at least in my mind. It seeps into my mind and heart through the filter of my contemporary Western European context. Still, I am pointed to God’s character: forgiveness granted unconditionally..As the “prodigal, I recognize the implications of my trespasses to my Father and others by my choosing distance. As the older brother, I am jealous by a Father who loves the rebel sibling with the same intensity as one who strives for obedience..

Last year, I realized I was missing something.

But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[d](Luke 15:20-21)

N.T. Wright in his book, The Lord and His Prayer, brings this perspective: “…in Jesus’ world, the more senior you were in a community, the less likely you were even to walk fast. It shows a lack of dignity, of gravitas.

So when Jesus told a story about a man running, this was designed to have the same effect on his audience, if, say the Prime Minister were to show up for the state opening of Parliament wearing a bathing costume. It’s a total loss of dignity.”

And when we discover why this man is running, the effect is even more shocking. This man is running to greet someone: someone who has put a curse on him, who has brought disgrace on the whole family.”

Well, now ….what do I do with that?

God’s character is not intimidated by lack of reverence. God’s character is not intimidated by the extreme nature of the sin. God’s character is not waiting to respond until we have done “our part.”

God already begins running toward us before we have acknowledged our trespasses. Distance is not a means of separation.

Jesus tells us “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who sin against us.” I admit I have struggled with the nuances of this this new Kingdom. How could God run toward me in such a posture of embrace? What does that imply for the way I “do likewise” as an image bearer and disciple to my human “siblings?”

God’s character penetrates the distance between us. I pray for a heart and a posture that becomes a vessel of pouring that truth into others.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community! Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

What Jonah Teaches Me About Being Willing to Be Part of God’s Story

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jonah lately.

Not in the nostalgic “children’s songs about-Jonah and the whale” kind of way. Not even in the Veggie tales version of the account (and I love their story telling.) But in the hard no- sugar coating- what- obedience- to -God involves kind of way. Sometimes the temptation to be swallowed up in the belly of a big fish seems enticing.

“One day long ago, God’s Word came to Jonah, Amittai’s son: “Up on your feet and on your way to the big city of Nineveh! Preach to them. They’re in a bad way and I can’t ignore it any longer.”But Jonah got up and went the other direction to Tarshish, running away from God. He went down to the port of Joppa and found a ship headed for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board, joining those going to Tarshish—as far away from God as he could get.”

The human tendency is to run from the source of fear. The discomfort creeps in and pulses through my veins. My heartbeat becomes an unrecognized rhythm-frantically trying to keep up with the racing thoughts running through the brain.

Jonah’s solution lacked logic but that’s what happens when you resort to the story in your head. Jonah ran not just from Ninevah but from God. The problem is, we can tune out God but God doesn’t tune out us. God is well aware of the bigger story.”

God has a way of showing me the implications of resorting to my own head stories. For Jonah, a storm erupted. And the consequence wasn’t known only to him.

At that, the men were frightened, really frightened, and said, “What on earth have you done!” As Jonah talked, the sailors realized that he was running away from God.11 They said to him, “What are we going to do with you—to get rid of this storm?” By this time the sea was wild, totally out of control.12 Jonah said, “Throw me overboard, into the sea. Then the storm will stop. It’s all my fault. I’m the cause of the storm. Get rid of me and you’ll get rid of the storm.” Jonah 1:10-12″

God’s purposes for us aren’t just for our benefit. Yes, we may broaden our understanding of God’s character . We may be reminded once again that God sees us and our ability to trust in our Creator and Sustainer is renewed. But we also are sacred vessels of heavenly interaction with each other. Our willingness (or lack of) to follow divine leading directly impacts others.

Whoa! That’s worthy of reflection. How many times have I unknowingly benefited from a word, an attitude, or an action that was a result of someone else’s obedience. What if that person had chosen to jump on a ship going the other direction instead?

I think of all the times, I’ve wanted to jump on that other ship. When suddenly being asked to take on roles of immense responsibility for someone’s health within an unfamiliar environment. When feeling betrayed by those I trusted yet having to continue to cross their paths in community. When realizing I am surrounded by loud, intimidating voices of neighbors who see life differently. When entering a new workplace with new lingo and protocols.

I have no idea how God has spoken in those circumstances. Maybe I said or did something that affirmed to a hospital employee that God saw them. Even through tears. Maybe in my pain over broken relationships, I recognized our common broken nature. Maybe my voice raised in my community challenged someone to listen to a new perspective or liberated someone else to share theirs. Maybe my vulnerability led someone else to bare their soul.

Maybe I don’t always see the reason for going to Ninevah. But God is well aware of the bigger story. Just as Jonah eventually surrendered his fears, so must I. Because I can try to tune out God but God won’t tune out me. Or the people who are part of my “Ninevah” journey.

This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/ (*Disclaimer: I sometimes go a bit over the time limit 😉 )

Front Porch Conversations: When Did You Eat Food Outside your Geographical Comfort Zone?

Food fills our stomachs and our souls. It doesn’t have to be much but the connection that happens around a table is sacred. This is especially so when we step out of culinary comfort zones.

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to her home for a graduation party. She happened to mention that they would also be having a crawfish boil. Having never even heard of such a thing until a few years ago, I was intrigued. This Great Lakes raised girl has a taste for seafood but crawfish have never touched my lips. In addition, I have never traveled to the southern states. Much of our culinary experiences are tied to the cultural narratives that are written as we gather around the table.

I have to confess that the idea of eating something that had been living only a half hour before was hard to digest. But, I do eat meat and I have strived to acknowledge what that means. How does my theology inform my diet? How do I live in the wrestling of caring for creation while also giving thanks for that which is provided locally for food? Having a daughter in culinary school and engaging in some of the conversations around her assignments has opened up paths for reflecting on cultural impact on diet. I’ve been challenged to pause, when tempted to say, “That’s disgusting!” Instead, I think about how my biases may be informing my views of stewardship.

Back to the party. I first heard about crawfish boils a few years ago. After a few references, I became curious but they are not a common event in Illinois. However, my friend’s husband’s roots in geography and culinary preferences originate in Louisiana. Sharing those literal life shaping experiences around the table with others is love. So I felt honored to be invited. The presentation amazed me. A beautiful, colorful bounty of corn, crawfish, mushrooms, and potatoes spread across a table. And everyone feasting from the same “plate.” After the gracious offer of having it peeled for me, I tasted the crawfish. A bit fishy tasting but that’s coming from someone whose tastes have not been raised on it. The mushrooms and potatoes though? I confess to eating more than my share.

What about you?

Why I Can Take Heart Living in This Place of In-Between

” Jesus answered them, “Do you finally believe? In fact, you’re about to make a run for it—saving your own skins and abandoning me. But I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:31-33

I grab onto that last phrase with as much strength as I can muster. My body absorbs the overwhelming noise of the world right now. I seek to center myself; to find solitude and refuge in its midst. Sometimes, I long to escape. I wish, “Couldn’t this side of Heaven be Heaven?”

But life with Jesus begins here. The Kingdom unfolds here. And with that comes the aches and pains of restoration. It resembles a body that isn’t yet whole wrestling with the hope held out for what could be attained.

Jesus didn’t bait and switch. He tells it like it is. “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties.” But the wrestling isn’t exclusively contained to an “us” and “them” narrative. Sin has a way of creeping into all of humanity. Even those who profess to follow him. When not acknowledged, it leads to decisions that benefit self in the short term rather than wholeness to self and your neighbor in the long term. Sometimes, the noise of self righteousness hurts my ears the most. From others as well as myself.

I am blessed when I glimpse into the window of a restored world with all it’s splendor: celebrations, new birth, beauty, unity in the hard places, empathy, complete healing, and the putting on love for another regardless of the cost to self.

In the meantime, I hold on to the hope Jesus professes: “But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” I need the reminder that I’m not left to navigate through this place of in-between by myself.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

Why Traveling Across the World Expands Our View of God’s Character

Photo by Nicole Harrington on Unsplash

I pinch myself as I feel my feet on the new terrain. The reality of literally walking on the ground of a land across the globe feels surreal. Though I will live in Sweden as an exchange student in college lasted for only three months, the experience will transform me for a lifetime.

Thirty-two years later, I find myself repeatedly connecting to the culture that became my brief home. It shapes my politics, my worldviews, my lifestyle, and my theology. But it wasn’t comfortable at first. Oh, the anticipation of adventure, a first plane ride (nineteen hours!), the quest for independence as a young adult and the wonder of landing in new soil fueled a racing rhythm in my heart. But, truthfully, those elements became a backdrop for the most profound changes that took place.

I was no longer in a comfortable place. It wasn’t familiar. I didn’t know my place in the social/political scene. How was I viewed as an American? Living in community with others who do not share any part of your country’s influential narrative, puts you in a vulnerable place.

But it’s a good place. A humbling place. I am dependent on someone else to show me the ropes. For everything. How do I find transportation? What if I can’t speak the language right (which happened and if the people that I addressed were laughing inside, they didn’t show it), We’re eating WHAT for breakfast? What’s the expected routine? In the midst of that rhythm of exchange between learner and teacher, a connection takes place. One that puts a face to the “them” who are not American. I recognize my only identity is as another human created in God’s image. Nothing else.

It is a blessing to share life, if even briefly, with those who live a world away. Yes, there are differences. But we need to be exposed to them. We need to hear diverse voices speaking into our lives. Because God created a vast world and a mosaic of people reflecting the Imago Dei. And one small perspective of our world does not give us a glimpse of the expansive character of God.

Where have you traveled that changed your life?

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/

Front Porch Conversations: Where Do I Find Joy Where I Live?

The three framed photos in my hallway  give a glimpse of my narrative. As I trek through my daily routine collecting laundry, making trips to the bathroom, and various other tasks, the lighthouses beckon my attention.  A friend took the photos of the three lighthouses several years ago. As a fellow Michigander, he understood the beauty, history, and geographical relevance they represent.

Growing up in southwest Michigan, the lakes contribute to the economy through business and pleasure. My fondest memories include weekend afternoons with family  playing at the beach-a quick half hour drive to relish in hours of sand castle building and seeking refreshment as the warm waves wash over the skin. The beach provided hours of free entertainment.

Transplanted in Illinois as a college student and now a resident, I crave the Michigan beaches.   Perhaps the familiarity is part of it, but they offer a haven away from the noise and stress of “life.” When summer arrives, my heart jumps. The hour and 15 minute drive to my happy places provides an opportunity to be serenaded by the calm, lulling, rhythm of the waves serenading my sun bath. I find joy in escaping into the pages of a book. Yet, as an extrovert, I can simultaneously enjoy the colorful landscape of beach towels and human interaction around me.

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