Monday, December 17, 2012

Bathroom Makeover

After giving up hope of ever having a wedding shower, I decided to just use the few gift cards we did receive to redo our bathroom! The floor of the bathroom is awful. No matter how much you scrub it, the stains on the tile aren't going anywhere. It's tiny, outdated, and needless to say, not my favorite room in the house.  So! Here are our attempts to make it better!

A glimpse of the before.
(Don't mind the toilet paper rolls. They are for a project.)

Another before! 

My awful terrible rugs! They literally just came out of the washer.

Table 

Shower curtain close-up 

What a great husband!!! 

He even tried to hang up the new towel... (Which I love, love, love!) 

Yay for new soap dispenser and toothbrush holder! 

Close up! Love the green glass. 

Minus the crappy metal bar, the bronze shower hooks make me smile! 

Switched the mat color! The towel goes great with my seahorse dish! 

Mega thanks to DJ & Rudy for our shower curtain!  
Eeeeek! LOVE my new rugs! 

Green tumbler 

Painting from Chelsea. And new towels! They are the best! 

After! ...Almost...

Something about these silver knobs... 


A quick coat of paint on the knobs! 


And a few sheets of scrapbook paper to fancy up that white background!  
Voilà! 

Home for the Holidays!

Here is my attempt at making our humble abode into our home for the holidays!

Whole living room from the hallway 

Christmas card and snow globe! 



Branches and bulbs! And another snow globe! 

Birdhouse from our wedding and yes, another snow globe! 

Christmas tree! The skirt is hand-painted by my grandma. 

Attempting to decorate my insanely white walls. 

Another view of the whole room. 

I've added a lot more cards in the dining room. I am attempting to shape them like a tree. 

Tree on the dining room table! 

Saluki tree in our room!  


It's the little things that make it home! :) 

Snow globes <3 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Negativity Fast-Gratitude Feast: From Negative Nancy to Positive Patty

I have been struggling so incredibly much. And sadly my husband, mom, and a few of my closest friends have been having to deal with the brunt of that. I saw a post earlier on twitter about a 30 day Negativity Fast-Gratitude Feast. The details can be found here. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was something God is calling me to do... I have been watching myself slip away, but it wasn't until I suddenly became a sobbing mess on the phone with my husband tonight that it finally all hit me.

I am so broken.

I look back at the person I used to be and I realized how I am nothing like that anymore. I think about the days I was filled with love and with joy last year and realize how callused my heart is, and how truly awful I am becoming... I don't even recognize myself anymore.

Praise God for a truly patient and loving husband who is understanding to the n-th degree. He is so incredibly encouraging even in my moments of utter despair. He told me tonight that it's no wonder I am how I am today. Look at what I've been through the past year.

(Just stick with me. I promise it will get better!)

A church that I had been faithfully attending for over 3 1/2 years all but shoved me out the door. Friendships that I had invested my heart and soul in fiercely ended, and I was left in a whirlwind trying to figure out what the heck happened. I lost people that I had considered my truest friends, one in particular that I would have considered as close to me as a brother. Boom. In an instant, it was gone. I was left immensely bitter, unforgiving, and angry at the church. It was a hurt I had experienced before by a church in high school, only this time it truly shook my entire core. Regardless of how much I have tried to move on and put the past in the past and forgive, it just doesn't happen. I watched my Christian brothers and sisters behave in ways that are completely un-Christ like and be praised for it. It utterly disgusts me and fills me with hate towards them and towards their church. It is a wound that hasn't even started healing mainly because it keeps being ripped open. Through Facebook, posters at SIU, running into people at Walmart, living a few blocks down the road, and having a husband who was invested in that church until we were getting ready to be married it has been a billboard, constantly slamming the door in my face reminding me of how unwelcome I was.

From there, I was abandoned by my family. Not all of them, but a pretty vast chunk. I was told that my grandparents would disown me if they were alive, that I was warned not to marry a coon, and that I was no longer welcome at family functions. If you had asked me a year and a half ago of my perspective on family, it would have been this: Regardless of where you go or what you do, you never walk out on family. At the end of the day, they are all you have. I lived by my grandma's dying wish of keeping our family together. At all costs, family sticks together. ...Until you marry a black man. Then shit hits the fan. Past transgressions from years ago are strung out for everyone like a hamper full of dirty laundry. It becomes all out World War 3 of who can ruin whom the fastest. Phone calls, emails, home visits, it is every man for himself. I am constantly waiting for the dust between battles to settle to see who I can still count on.
I was at work on Black Friday when I received a text message from one of my cousins. He said, "It really sucks that you an't spend time with your family because of how bigoted some people can be." I literally sat at my desk crying, longing to just be a part of my family, to be surrounded by the love of the people who I thought were supposed to be there through everything. Mourning over days I have lost with my loved ones and wondering if it ever would be any better.

I then moved on to being forced out of my home by one of my closest college friends and, at the time, roommates. I then lost my new roommate over a ridiculous situation, and lived with a random girl I barely knew just to pay my rent. I was paying two rents at a time out of my savings.

I got married. And still struggle over the parts of the day that I missed out on. Like being at my reception, meeting my husband's family, sharing our first meal together, hearing all of the toasts to us (because I was getting our champagne and glasses), and more. My heart hurts for what I missed on what was the biggest day of my life, the day I made a commitment to the man of my absolute dreams and the love of my life. I still can't look at all of my wedding pictures without crying.

I lost two of my best friends from high school, assuming because I was such a Bridezilla over just wanting to have a wedding shower. When the truth was that my husband got incredibly sick a month after we had been married, I felt like my life was falling apart from the stress of that and school, and all I really wanted was a day that I could treasure. Our wedding day was so frazzled that I wanted just one chance to savor time with my loved ones who were celebrating that Ray and I were married instead of cursing me for it. Which is why I am stricken with a deep jealousy of my friends who have recently got married and have posted pictures and memories about their showers.

School has been a whirlwind. Two of the top people in my college have lost their positions and the teacher that I was assigned to for internship decided to move, meaning my entire placement has been tossed here, there, and yonder. I have missed an incredible amount of class due to Ray's doctor appointments, follow-up visits, and surgeries. And by helping a classmate with an example of how to do a lab, I was taken advantage of, copied off of, and charged with plagiarism, earning me a zero on an assignment that could cost my A in the course and drop me from Summa Cum Laude to Magna Cum Laude, a goal for which I have worked four and a half year thus far.

I gained a mom, dad, four brothers, a sister, and a huge extended family on my husband's side. And, a step-brother, soon-to-be sister-in-law, step-sister, brother-in-law, brother, stepmom, and dad on my side. I am incredibly blessed but am living in constant fear that I will make some mistake that will cause me to lose them like I did my own family.

And I am just exhausted. School. Work. My internship. Being married. Raising Lelan (my husband's brother). Trying to adjust to our new church in West Frankfort while treasuring relationships with those at my church in Murphysboro, a place that I so deeply love. Trying to make ends meet as we pay bills. Fighting insurance companies and accepting our losses. Trying to be a housewife. And maintain relationships with friends.

It's. Just. Too. Much.

Which is why when I saw the negativity fast I knew this was God saying to me, "Please Stephanie. Just     stop. Let me heal you."

So on my first step to healing, I am writing this blog post. Amidst an incredible amount of tears, I am laying everything out there, and leaving it there. In cyberspace or wherever. I am laying it down, all of it down, and moving on. In a desperate attempt to let God heal me, take me down a path of restoration, I am striving to purge myself of negativity and feast on the gratitude of being so tremendously blessed by Him.

I want to thank you all so much who have loved in me, believed in me, encouraged me, and have stood by me during my worst-of-the-worst year. You honestly have no idea how incredibly much it means to me, and I am forever indebted to you. I love you all so much, and I pray that God will give me the opportunity to bless you in the ways you have blessed me. So from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Nigga'

Something that happened in class yesterday is still racking my brain this morning, so I thought that I would write about it.

For those of you who don't know, I am working on a certificate to teach English as a Second Language. Although my goal is to teach international children, I have several non-native speakers of English in my classes at SIU. Working on my certificate has honestly been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I have loved having the opportunity to learn about cultures from across the world and being able to provide a perspective of what it is like living in a small town in southern Illinois.

Thus, it is this give and take of information that struck me yesterday. We were discussing about teaching not only Standard English but spoken/slang English as well and how that best benefits the learner.

Slang. No problem.
Yo- a way to say hello.
Sup?- What is new in your life?

You get the jist.

But then the conversation took a turn into what can easily be considered as a "Hot Topic." The use of the "N" word. (Disclaimer: If you are easily offended by just reading this word, then do not continue.)

It was brought up by the professor when she described one of her previous student's mistakes. The girl read classic American literature often, and when the black UPS man arrived at her house, she yelled to her roommate, "Hey! There is a nigger UPS driver here." The girl had only been in the US a few days and had no idea of the severity of her statement.

This was followed by one of the students from Saudi Arabia. He was describing how he took it as an honor to be called that. He said he felt that he finally belonged to the group when they referred to him as their "nigga."

Instantly, I was reminded of part of the Tunnel of Oppression that was at Grinnell Hall last year. In it, two black men performed a spoken-word poem angry over the use of the word nigger/nigga that has plagued our society. They described the origin of the word's use, the hate that is attached to it,  and the men who had to suffer through that word until it was no longer considered acceptable to say. They then continued in their outrage at the way it is used in music, movies, the internet, and in casual conversation. It was an overall look at how with the use of this word we have regressed.

What struck me in class though was not only how the culture in today's society has embraced the use of the word, but also how the word was never once said in class. Neither the professor nor the students ever let the world actually cross their lips. It was either referred to as "the word," "the N word," or there was a designated pause used in their point. It was considered to be so offensive overall that it is entirely unacceptable to even use the word in an educational context.

And that is why I am still mulling it all over this morning.

Do I suggest using the term "nigger" in a room of 5th and 6th graders? No.

But what about in a room full of adults when you are discussing the word's history and its use today? Is it still then considered to be so far beyond acceptance that you can't even say the word?

It was this question that I was confronted with yesterday after class. The student from Saudi Arabia wanted to know why some people avoid the word like the plague, some state it as though it is a word just like any other, and while others embrace the word as a term of endearment.

How do you answer that?

How do I say that when I hear the word being used as a term of brotherhood it hurts my heart because I know that when others say it, it is being used as a term of utter disgust. And how do I say that I use the word "nigger" in our discussion because I believe that when we avoid the word entirely that we are ignoring the history that comes with it, and we are further allowing it to become socially acceptable. (So long as it is said as "nigga" instead of "nigger.")

Furthermore, how do I describe this to my children someday?

How do I say, "When we are at your dad's family reunions and your cousins embrace you with a hug while excitedly exclaiming, 'MY NIGGA!' it is ok. But when we are in Enfield and you are walking to the park and someone sees you and says, "We told Stephanie to keep her little niggers in Carbondale." it isn't ok, and you should be upset."

The answer to myself is that I won't say that and that I don't embrace the word in any fashion, nor do I intend to allow my future children to view the word as a "good" thing in any way.

It was a was a wake-up call to say the least. I knew that manner in which I was going to have to approach the word in the future; however, now I am left with knowing that I am not only facing a society in the United Sates that embraces the word's use, but that I am also going against a growing trend worldwide.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thankful.

Everyone always says they married their best friend. But for a girl who is pretty attached to her female best friends, that has been a concept that I wasn't able to truly wrap my mind around.

Until recently.

Ray is working 7-6 at Enterprise and then coaches for Morthland every evening. That usually places him home about 9:30-10:00 every night.

At first I had expected it to be like our life last year. He was gone a lot for basketball, and with our work, school, and extracurricular schedules, we learned to relish in the few moments we did have together intermittently throughout the week. However since we've gotten married, I feel that each passing week causes me to miss him more.

We celebrated our one year anniversary of being together this past Monday, but like usual, we weren't able to spend anytime together. I was already asleep when he got in from work.

Trying to not be sulky about it, I started thinking over the past few weeks. Ray has has an unusual amount of days off because of his doctor appointments and surgery. Every day he had off meant we got to spend the day together at the doctor's office. Would I have rather simply spent the day with him out and about or even at home together? ...Yes. But it didn't matter. I was with him.

This past Sunday was a defining moment for the concept of marrying your best friend. We were coming home from my mom's house, and I started to open up to him about the way I have been feeling about our life, schedules, and the trials we have faced over the past year. The conversation covered a wide range of topics, but at one point I was a blubbering girl of emotion. He simply reached his hand over and rubbed my neck.

It was a gesture that literally swept me. He didn't have to say anything. He didn't have to do anything. He just let me know that he was there.

The love of my life
It is that feeling that made it click for me that he really has become my best friend. After all, simply being there is what made my best friends, my best friends. This is not to discredit their countless hours of advice, encouragement, love, support, generosity, and laughs over the course of our friendship, but it's those moments of them just being there that have truly meant the world.

And for that I am so thankful.

Locker neighbor to FINALLY my bestie beyond distance, Keri 

My best friend since birth, my sister Sarah.
Who knew a conversation about cool whip
would lead me to this girl?  

StuCo truly changed my life by blessing me with this girl.

High school. SIU. She's been there for it all.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Update from the Lewis Family!

The past few months have been absolutely crazy. 

There have been several times that I wanted to post something but never had the time. Details about our wedding. Life as newlyweds. Transforming our apartment little by little into our "home" instead of a place we stay. And other random events. But life has just been too much.

In the past two months:
We got married. 
I started back to school along with working about three days a week and teaching two days a week. 
I met my step-brother and step-sister for the first time and, in turn, have gained an entirely new family.
Ray and I have been adjusting to raising a teenage boy. (Which could be a million blog posts on its own.)
Our car died.
We purchased a new car.
Ray started coaching women's basketball at a college. 
We have been trying to settle into a church. 
I found out my cat has to be put down soon.
Ray has had crazy medical stuff going on with his kidneys, including two minor surgeries.
I've lost touch with close friends and am not sure where to begin to repair those relationships.
We have been traveling almost every weekend for the past month to various family functions.
And, in the daily chaos of trying to work, go to school, teach, help Lelan adjust to living with us, taking care of a husband, paying bills, I am trying to keep our home running smoothly.

It has been so crazy that my professor actually told me I had too much "life" happening.
I couldn't agree more...


I originally typed the rest of this blog yesterday and talked about how envious I was of the people who have a moment to enjoy life. And how I wished I could just spend time being instead of running like a crazy person. But then last night happened...

I got off work. Ran home to check the italian beef I made for Lelan and Ray, grabbed a sandwich, and took off to go chaperone the fall dance at the school where I am observing. I had no idea what to expect, but I was excited to see my kids outside of the classroom.

Little did I know just how great the experience was going to be.

At one point they did a dance where all of the girls threw one shoe to the center of the floor. In order to find a partner for the slow dance, the boys had to pick up a shoe and find the girl to whom it belonged. Some of the boys grabbed the closest shoe, while other boys grabbed their "girlfriend's" shoe. But my heart absolutely melted at one of the students we have with special needs. He ran to the floor, grabbed a shoe, and took it to one of the girls in his class. When she said no, he threw the shoe, ran back and grabbed another one, again, taking it to the same girl. He repeated the process multiple times until she went and pointed out her shoe for him.

If you ever wonder if there is good in the world, I believe that moment exemplified it. The excitement that was on his face, the smiles from the students around them, and the tears in his mother's eyes as she watched from the group of chaperones... It was priceless.

And, it made the rest of the evening completely worth the time out of my day. To see the giddiness of the girls and to watch the boys try to be cool reminded my why I am living through this crazy time. It was a moment that made all of the headaches and frustrations with school and the tiredness from having to work to pay for school seem insignificant compared to the end goal.

But most importantly, it was a moment when my to-do list took a break, and I got to actually enjoy life instead of watching it pass by through the lens of my overbooked planner.



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Connecting Dreams and Reality

In 2009 I started keeping a journal of letters to my future husband. I didn't write in it often, but it was when I found myself thinking of him and wanting to tell him what was on my heart. My entries often contained how much I looked forward to meeting him, how much I loved him, and how often I prayed for him. And, as I continued to write to him, I found myself only continuing to grow more in love with my husband to be. 

Now, three years later, It is still amazing to me to think that the man whom I have been thinking about, praying for, preparing myself for, and loving actually exists. And that in ten days, he is going to be my husband. It's almost surreal to think that this arbitrary man to whom I've been writing is real. 

He has a name, an incredibly handsome face, a laugh that makes my smile, a personality that makes my  heart melt, and a love for me that often brings me to tears of joy. 

It is because this man is real and that I am marrying him in less than two weeks I'm that I shared my journal with him two nights ago. 

At first I stumbled over explaining what the journal was and was really hesitant about being so open. After all, I had written these letters having no idea who they would be read to. It didn't take me long to begin pouring out my heart to Ray. I realized as I was reading  just how perfect God's plan is because everything I had said fit Ray perfectly. It was as though I was looking at the finished puzzle of prayers I had been praying. 

It was incredible to say the least. To be reading to the man to whom I've so long written, that I've deeply desired to meet, and the man I have been so in love with for so long. 

There were pages of promises, sincere apologies for giving my heart away prior to him, and a display of the peace that I felt when I gave my heart and its future over to Jesus. 

There were also tears of joy, answered prayers, happiness, hope, forgiveness, peace, and of love. So many tears of love. 

It was honestly one of the most memorable moments I've shared with Ray. And it makes me that much more excited to vow those promises of love to him in front of our friends, family, and God in just a few short days. 

Praise God for His love and mercy to place the man of my prayers in my life and making my him better than I could have ever dreamed. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Galatians 5 Husband

There are so many things going on in my life right now that it is almost impossible to wrap my mind around everything. But in the midst of this storm that has suddenly turned into a tornado, I am choosing to focus on the positive. (More like forcing myself to do so.)

Ray. And the tremendous blessing he is in my life. I am so amazed that God has blessed me with him.

When we first started dating, I set down the ground rule that he was in charge of being the spiritual leader in our relationship. I knew Biblically what that should consist of, but I had no idea of what it was  going to look like. Which is why I am constantly awestruck at God's work in my soon-to-be husband.

Ray's church was going through a series on the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It was a taught as sort of a self-check to see if there is evidence of God's work in you.

Ray is a man of all of these characteristics and more.

For those of you who don't know, we made the decision to have his youngest brother Lelan move down with us to attend Carbondale high school (Go Terriers!). And for some unknown reason, we have received tremendous, tremendous amounts of grief over it. But that's another story.

Positive. Stay positive.

What I have learned from the short time we have had Lelan with us is not only the how much of a Godly man my fiancé is, but also what a leader he is. I have been so blessed to watch him talk with Lelan, read the Bible with him, encourage him, support him, and guide him. Speaking from his 85 + years of wisdom (or so he thinks he has), Ray paints for Lelan a picture that is bigger than the south side of Chicago. And for me, I am blessed with a small snapshot of our life to come.

Ray is someone who continues to surprise me as more of his heart is revealed. His love for others, the joy he finds in all situations, the peace he clings to in the midst of trials, the abundance of patience he daily (more like hourly) shows to me, the kindness he exhibits to all those with whom he comes into contact, the goodness of his heart, his faithfulness not only to our family but to Christ as well, the gentleness he shows as he cares for me in my moments of true brokenness, and the self-control he has when situations do not go as planned.

Ray truly is a Galatians 5:22 man.

And in three weeks from today, he is going to be my husband.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow! (As Michael likes to say...) What a mighty and awesome God we serve who provides us the blessing of a rainbow as a promise that the storm will someday pass.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Hebrews13:8

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Going to the Chapel!

We're getting married! ... NEXT MONTH! August 25th to be exact!

I know that this is a big change from our June 15th, 2013 date, but we could not be more excited!

God has really been working on our hearts, and after prayer and heavy thinking about why we were waiting, we decided to change the date!

It was a decision that left me struggling at first. What about the wedding we had been planning? The church? The caterer? The reception hall? The DJ? Do we disregard those plans entirely? Originally, we thought, "Why don't we have a small ceremony now, with a big reception as our one year anniversary party?" The places were opened then, and we felt so blessed! If we were feeling called to get married now, we were following it. Even if that meant having a less-than-traditional big day, I mean big-days.

But then the girl in me kicked in. And the thinking about other people. I hated the idea of asking all of our loved ones to travel twice. Ray has 4 brothers and a sister. My mom is one of five. Ray's mom is one of eight. Then you throw in their spouses and our first cousins. Even if we tried to have a "small" wedding, it would still be a boo-coo of people. There was no way we could ask all of them to travel here for a wedding this year and then a reception on our one year anniversary. It would be waaaay to much of a hassle. So we decided that we might have to sacrifice our reception. Call our down payments on everything a loss, and just have a simple cake and punch reception.

But you know how God is the author and perfecter of all things awesome? Yeah. He did just that in our  lives this week. The DJ was able to shuffle his schedule, the caterer was open, and the reception hall just had a cancellation on that date this week. I literally cried in excitement. I cannot believe God is blessing us this much. We get to have the wedding we had been planning!

The funny thing about all of this is that when Ray and I were first picking out our date, I asked him if we could have a small wedding this year, and had actually mentioned August 25th. Him, knowing how crazy I am about planning, convinced me to go for something farther off. More time to plan, less of a rush, several sound reasons. But God has a way of changing your heart and making you see what's truly important.

Our wedding day is about us and starting our life together. It is about committing ourselves to each other in front of Jesus and those we love the most. It is about celebrating that we found "the one whom our soul loves" (Song of Solomon 3:4). It is about marrying the most incredible man on the entire planet who puts up with all of my "devilbook" using, my recent obsession with Twitter, my need to be organized in all areas of my life, and my everyday emotional roller coaster I drag him on. It is about becoming one family who is dedicated to serving Jesus and loving others. It is about rejoicing over our future.

It is about all of those things and so much more. About realizing that it's not about the day. Or the invitations. Or the groomswear. Or people approving of our menu choices. Because by-gum, I just don't care. I don't care what people think. Because if they don't like it, that's just too bad. This day isn't about them. It's about us and starting our life together.

That said, I'll be keeping you posted on how things progress this next month! It is going to be crazy, CRAZY busy, but we are absolutely thrilled.

Thank you to everyone who has gone above and beyond to help this come together. Without you helping us on our invitations, making our flowers, altering my dress, allowing your children to be our ring bearer and flower girl, frantically looking for dresses, and calling all over everywhere to help the details come together, this would not be possible. God has truly blessed us by placing you all in our lives. We love you from the bottom of our hearts and look forward to the day when we can serve you. 


Smile often,
-Soon(er)-to-be Mrs. Stephanie Lynn Lewis

Saturday, July 7, 2012

It will never happen to me...

So we all hear about Internet safety. We get warned in school, by our parents, through the media. And we all think it will never happen to us. Or that those who become victims by the creepers on the web are somehow at fault for being so stupid as to publicly display their personal information. That's way we all think right? I mean, I'm guilty of it. "Well it's no wonder that girl got murdered, she met up with some guy on the internet. Doesn't she realize how many people get killed that way!"

I always thought like that. 

Until I suddenly became a victim. 

You know how you have those nightmares where someone is following you or trying to get to you? I had one the other night. It was so real that my thrashing to get away from the guy actually woke me up. There is nothing worse than a realistic dream like that. 

Until that realistic dream suddenly hits a chord of reality. 

Friday morning at 4:30 my phone rang with a number I didn't recognize. Having no idea who would be calling me in the middle of the night I answered my phone in a half asleep stupor. 
"Hello..."
"Stephanie?"
"Yeah. Who is this?"
"This is Mike."
"Mike who?"
"You don't know me?"
"No. Mike who?"
(laughs) "We talked..."
"No. We didn't. Who are you? How did you get my number?"
(laughs) "I found you on Facebook." 

In an instant I was wide awake, my heart was racing, and chills were flying through my body. Fear greater beyond comprehension gripped every fiber of my body. ...No. This only happens in movies.

Or so I liked to believe. 

The conversation progressed about how he found me, wanted to come meet me, and how he wanted sex from me. I mentioned having a fiancé hoping in my naivety that he would suddenly change his mind. That, however, seemed to only make him more aggressive. 

I felt like I couldn't talk. I felt paralyzed. Thank God, Ray happened to be staying at my house that evening. I handed the phone to him as the reality of what was happening took my breath away. 

The next few minutes seemed like hours as Ray tried to convince the guy to leave me alone, combating his threats with consequences of if he came near me. Ray snapped into action as he quickly hung up and dialed the Carbondale police station. Meanwhile, the creeper calls back without leaving a voicemail.

The next few hours flashed by like minutes. The officer arriving, asking us questions, and realizing that no, this is not phone harassment by some ex, or some guy, or someone I know like the police originally thought. Then the phone rings again. Placing the phone on speaker, I answer. 
"Hello."
"Stephanie."
"What do you want from me?"
"Sex."

At this point, the officer took the phone and informed him that this is no longer a game. Mike, on the other hand, didn't seem to care what the policeman has to say. He refused to give any information. The officer hung up. He then proceeded to tell me to have his number blocked, not to worry, etc. Then Mike called back.

The officer answered. 
Mike's response? "Excuse me. I didn't call to talk to you. Put Stephanie back on the phone." 

Me. Why me? What did I do? I made no effort to ever contact someone I didn't know online. I set my entire page to friends only. I have a picture of me and my fiancé as my display picture. I don't have revealing pictures. I don't have drunken pictures. I have nothing, nothing on my page eluding to the idea that I am someone who is ok with this. Why out of every person on the internet did this guy find and pick me? 

More discussion with the officer happened, and at 6:30 he left. It was over. It was done. I'd have his number blocked. It was over. The police were going to take care of it. 

Ray, furious and protective, took the day off and went to work with me at camp. We pulled in about 9:30 and boom. My phone rings again. This time, I am more determined than ever to figure out why me. I am sure he has no reason, but I just hoped that I could say something that would lead him to give me an answer. Instead, Mike became extremely aggressive and explicit. Which led me to hang up. 

Minutes later he called again. 

"Hanging up on me wasn't nice..."
"WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME! JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!"
"Stephanie. Don't you understand. I wandered the internet. I found you. This is how it happens. ....I'm just obsessed with you." 

Those words. "Obsessed with you." I still hear them. It's only been a day, but I still hear them. They still ring through my ears. They still twist their way down my spine. They still grip ever fiber of me with fear. What if he's serious? What if he isn't just a creeper who is far away, who found my number, and will stop calling me? What if he's more? What if he knows me? What if he found his way onto my page? What if he knows where I live? What if he knows where I work? Who knows what he could know about me? 

Obsessed with me. 

I instantly called the police station back, and got a terrific dispatcher who didn't seem to care about anything I was going through. Awesome. So thankful for the help. 

Mike called back 4 more times without leaving voicemail. 

Then, nothing. No more calls. Just to be safe, I had his number blocked that afternoon, but he didn't try for those few hours in between.

I went to the police station when I got back in town, and found out his phone was still turned on and was located near Chicago. Not the greatest news, because the police didn't know anything more than the town in which it was located, but at least he isn't in Carbondale. 

I know it's not over. I know I have a lot more to handle with the police. And I know he could still easily contact me again. (Which if he does, will hopefully give the police enough reason to actually do something about it...) But they seem to believe he's just a creeper. A prowler. Looking for a quick fix on some female prey, and once he has to put forth any more effort will move on. 

But what if he's not. 

I'm not telling this story to be dramatic about what happened to me this week. I'm telling it, because I never thought this would happen to me. Because I thought I was safe, and that this only happened to people who purposefully put themselves out there for this to happen. This guy could very well be what the police described. He could just move on, calling female after female. But he could not be just that. He could be more. He could be following me. He could be stalking me. He could be that guy you see on TV who becomes obsessed and does come after me. 

It is that possibility, and that conclusion which brings me to my point. I thought I was safe. I had my page set to friends only. My page. My pictures, my school, my work, my details, all private. ...Except my phone number. 

I have my number on there so people from camp and school can get a hold of me. I often end up calling someone from class over some project, and I got their number on Facebook. Having my number on there wasn't my problem. Instead, it was my ignorance of Facebook's privacy policy that was the issue. 

On your page, you have several privacy settings. Just because your default setting is friends only, doesn't mean your contact information is. Instead, you have to manually set your phone number and email to friends only instead of public. This is a change from what it used to be, and it was a change of which I had no idea. 

So please, for your sake, just take two minutes and check your settings. Make sure you don't make the same mistake I did. Because, believe me, things like this don't just happen on TV. 

-Stephanie Lynn 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Engaging in Engagement

Remember that meeting with our married friends I mentioned before? Where they filled us up with tons of good advice? In fact, we keep rethinking about all the things they said. But the one thing that keeps ringing through our period of engagement is the tip we were given about the difficulty that we would be facing. For them, their hardest two years as a couple were the year they got engaged and the year they got married. I truly believe this is ringing through in Ray and I.

All of the things Ray and I have went through since getting engaged has me wondering how people are able to enter into marriage so flippantly. We have done nothing except constantly dig deeper into each other, and let me tell you, this is not always fun. Instead, it reveals several hard pains that are embedded deep within us. And, it brings to light the scars held by us that must be tenderly cared to by the other person. It's a lot of work.

That whole glorified Hollywood, We TV, TLC version of love? They have pulled the wool over this girl's eyes for sure. Being engaged has been a hell of a wake up call.

For me, the hardest thing has been the realization that Ray is here. And he has no intention of going anywhere. As a hardheaded, quick to anger, quick to speak girl, I can't tell you how many times I think he is going to leave. I figure he is eventually going to find enough faults that it is inevitable. But instead, he continues to be my rock, and he continues to love me. Faults and all. ...And I am so incredibly in love with him for that and so much more.

I could go so much deeper into that, but instead I think I'll just keep trucking. The next thing that I struggle with is being a domestic woman. It was as if his sliding a ring onto my finger transported me back to 1950. I fret over trying to make sure he has clean clothes, and he eats, and the house is clean. I try to balance our schedule, plan out our days and weeks, and keep our hectic lives straight. ...Let's say, trying often results in failing. I am just not a domestic diva. I am not. I have an empty fridge because I just don't have time to cook, so instead I grab a can of food from the pantry and go. I have a pile of laundry that still needs to be put away. And his house... I decided rather than cleaning it, I am just going to wait until he moves. It will be easier to just do upkeep when he gets to his new place. (Plus I am afraid of catching something from his and his brother's bathroom. Yuck!) How do women do this?

I feel like being engaged not only leaves Ray and I facing the deep issues in our relationship and the daily business, but it leaves me thanking Jesus constantly for His mercy and grace. It's as though every time Ray loves me when I fail I am reminded how Jesus loves me when I make a mistake. Every time I find myself being selfish in our relationship, I think about how selfish I often am in my relationship with Christ. The parallel between marriage and a relationship with Jesus really is spot on. And I am so thankful for this opportunity of an engagement to be growing not only closer to my fiancé, but for the two of us to be growing closer to Jesus.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Tackling Thursday- The Victory Dance

Today has been an incredibly productive day. I woke up early this morning. Decided to wipe down the sink and the toilet using non-chemical based cleaners. (See Going Green blog here.) Then tried to consider what I wanted for breakfast. I needed something that could be carted to class and eaten later, so in other words, cereal and oatmeal were out. But then something that I saw on Pinterest crossed my mind. Baked Oatmeal.

Boom. I was on a role of productivity, (I had already printed out my extra credit article for class and read it as well) so I decided to not stop the movement. I pulled up Pinterest, searched baked oatmeal recipes and went for it.

I used a recipe I found on a blog. These things looked delish major. But, her recipe calls for lots of things I didn't have. Stevia, flaxseed, bananas, and baking powder... Yeah. I don't keep those on stock. So what did I do? I left them out. Instead I used other supplements, or just decided they weren't necessary.

Don't you love my 70s countertop?
I ended up with these ingredients: Plain, dry oats, applesauce, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and honey.
You also add one egg, but I didn't figure a picture of the shell was necessary...

Now you might be thinking. Where is the processed sugar? Or the low-cal chemical sweetener Splenda? There isn't any. The sweetness comes from the honey and the applesauce.

I did take the other blogger's advice though and decided to make some flavored ones. My muffin tin is only makes six, so I did two plain, two with frozen blueberries, and two with a some broken up Dove dark chocolate. I popped them in the oven, jumped in the shower, got ready, and after 35 minutes on 350, they were done!

I quickly dished a few of them out and into my glass Pyrex dishes (aka- my avoidance of more plastic) and headed off to school with my cup of Starbucks coffee. (I finally gave in an bought a bag. Great Value just wasn't cutting it.)


I have to say, they were pretty incredible. And it felt good knowing that I not only made them myself, but I avoided loading them down with tons of sugar or an icky chemical faux-sweetener.

So as for Tackling Thursday? I'd say it's safe to call it a win. ...Now I just have to make it through class for the next 9 hours.

I forgot to take a picture of the finished product,
so I figured I'd substitute with a picture of us instead :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Going Green!

Last year I read the book "The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking." I thought it was really great, but I didn't really have it in me to become "green" like the author. But then I took the class Humans and the Environment this semester. I thought that it would provide me some great ideas and resources for teaching environmental ideas in my classroom someday. Little did I know though, that I was starting to foster an obsession.

I am all up for the idea of recycling, up-cycling, reducing, reusing, whatever. But I just don't have the time to put all of those crafty Pinterest ideas into use. So instead I have a coffee can, a jar, and a collection of wine bottles cluttering my cabinet. I feel like it's such a waste just to pitch them. What I didn't realize though is that it wasn't going to stop at just these items.

I stood yesterday holding my empty gallon of milk staring at the trash can when suddenly I felt this clench in my gut. Here I am getting ready to toss this plastic into a trash can to be taken to a dump where it will sit for 1000s of years when I could just take it somewhere and recycle it. It was at that moment I decided that this weekend I am buying some bins to start recycling. I am just sick of the idea of wasting things that could easily be recycled. It bothers me so much that it honestly makes me sad to know my laziness is harming Earth. (Go ahead. Make fun of me. Whatever.)

This whole going green idea was also fueled by a booth I saw at the Illinois Reading Conference. It was for Lights for Learning. In a nutshell, it's a school fundraising program that allows students to sell lightbulbs for their school fundraisers rather than overpriced cheese and wrapping paper. (See more information on this awesome program here.) The cool thing is they also come to your school to do a presentation about energy and conservation. Such a great idea.

The third part of this life change comes from cleaners. After reading that book that I mentioned earlier, I suddenly became aware of all the gross things I put into my body. Radiation from microwaves, insane amounts of chemicals from reheating plastics, toxins from cleaning supplies and plug-in air-freshners, all of it. Ugh. So, I got rid of my microwave and switched to glass glasses and containers. Eventually I plan on ridding myself of Teflon, which releases chemicals when heated beyond a certain temperature, and I am preparing myself to make the switch to green cleaners. (Thankfully some of the best cleaners can be made from vinegar and baking soda. For how that works, check out this blog.)

So, if you are good a being green, share some tips! I'm a total rookie, and I am trying to not be terrified to how daunting this transition seems. But I figure if I am saving the Earth and not loading my body with ridiculous amounts of chemicals, it's worth it :)


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Realizations.

Through this dating and, now, being engaged to Ray, I have learned SO many things about myself. What is the most interesting to me though, is that I can see a connection between all of them. And often, that connection is disheartening. For those who don't know, I have extremely, extremely low self-esteem. An issue that has been especially prevalent throughout my relationship with Ray. Between not thinking I deserve him, to hating the way my body looks, and the complete and utter fear I have of failing, the list of disappointment I often see in myself seems as if it could go on forever. 


I believe that this realization of just how much stress I put upon myself for a lack of belief in myself and who I am has really shaken my core. Which is why I have spent much of my thought time lately figuring out exactly what the cause(s) of this is(are). 


Does it come from being relentlessly picked on in school? 
Or having a father who was never really present?
Is it a result of my mom's fears transferred down a generation? 
Or is it something far beyond this? 


What I realized through a conversation Ray and I had with some married friends of ours is my role in the family. For Ray, he is the one to succeed. He's the one to graduate college, be successful, and provide for his family back home. He's the achiever. For me? I was stumped. I searched and scrambled for words describing how I felt in position with the rest of my family.  The husband of the couple looked at me and said, "You're the one they expect to fail aren't you?" Suddenly it was as if this light flashed as it made connections all around my brain. 


Yes. That was exactly what I felt my role was. 


I have spent my life being a people pleaser. I may have been a terrible, exhaustive child/preteen/teen to put up with, but I have greatly and intensely matured in college. And everything I do, I often don't do for myself. I do it for others. My grades, my financial decisions, my obsession over having the pillows on the couch straight. Everything. I hardly let what I truly and desperately want to happen come to the surface, primarily out of the fear of failure. But what I have realized alongside this idea, is that it isn't necessarily failure in my eyes that causes me grief, but it is confirming that I have indeed failed in the eyes of others. 


It's as though despite all of my efforts, despite paying for college and cost of living by myself, maintaining a job all throughout college, participating in extra curriculars, earning a 3.862 GPA so far (which will be a 3.9 by the date of my graduation), being involved in a church, working at a church camp and at 710 seven days a week in the summer, growing closer to my mom, not drinking until I was 21, losing almost 90 pounds, and finding someone incredible with whom I am going to spend my life, despite all of that, I never feel as if it's enough. 


Instead, I am left feeling as though all anyone ever sees are my failures, my shortcomings, my mistakes. I feel as though they are so quick to throw it in my face. And then, to top it off, they throw the "You always think you're the center of attention" card in the mix. 


But I don't try to be. Does it happen? Yes. Because I just want to feel like I've accomplished something my family can be proud of. Because earning two years worth of free rides in college isn't enough. Because staying an extra year with 5, count them FIVE added certificates to my teaching degree, isn't enough. And because wanting someone to just for once say, "Hey. You've done great." is asking incredibly too much... I am not saying that as an I want that as a response to me drawing it out of them through listing all of the good things I've done, but because they are just naturally proud of me. After all, the only reason I spout off that list that I have worked so hard to create is for them to just be proud of me. That's it. To just believe in me. Treat me as if I'm not a failure. 


But instead, I get told to "Fuck off" and have the door slammed in my face. (Literally.)


It's no wonder I am such a wreck. It's no wonder I have these habits and days of just crying uncontrollably because I just can't relax. I just can't calm down. I just can't enjoy life. .Because if I am doing those things, I am not doing everything in my absolute power to make sure my list of accomplishments stays solid. Because if I am just holding my head high and resting in the peace that comes from knowing that I'm not so bad after all, then I am an instant from falling flat on my face in failure. 


I say all of that, but I just want to take a moment though to say this isn't just my family. And, in fact, there are soooo many people in my family who are incredible. That is why this entire process of coming to these realizations has been so difficult on me. Because it has brought out just how truly and deeply I love my family, and how vastly much I long for their approval, because they mean the absolute world and beyond to me. Because I just love them, and want them to be proud of me. 


But this whole lack of belief in myself also comes from the kids in middle school, too. The ones who called me "Moo Moo" and who stole my winter hat and spit in it before they threw it in the trash can. The principal and teachers who made me feel as though it was my fault for just not getting over it. 


From the high school teachers who never really expected much out of me anyway. 


From the church family members who only saw my mistakes, who labeled me, who pushed me aside, and eventually out of their doors. 


From the media. 


From Satan. 


From my own lies I have concocted over the years. 


This overwhelming pressure comes from so many places, that it hasn't been until recently that I have just been feeling like enough is enough. And whether that it was from my college professor who pulled me aside to tell me I was one of 4 students in the class he saw having the potential to do more, and who said "Don't stop," and who didn't look at me with  only a Bachelor's, but told me he saw me with a Master's and a PhD. 


Or whether it's been through the insane amount of closeness that has been developing between my mom and I as I savor these last precious months before I get married and move out of the nest for good. 


Or if it's been through the love of the most loving, wonderful, supporting, caring, understanding, and patient fiancé I could have ever dreamed of having. 


Or the actual answer, that God has orchestrated all of these events, including a loving and nurturing local church family, to come together at the same time, and to finally begin healing these wounds that are so deeply imbedded within me. 


Praise be to Jesus for long awaited healing. 


...I know this blog is lengthy. And, I actually picked up my computer to type up a blog about the wedding plans. But apparently, I just needed to get all of this off my chest instead.


So, just incase you are still reading, thank you. Because more than likely, you are someone who has loved me, encouraged me, believed in me, supported me, and has blessed me more than I will ever be able to describe to you in words. Through text messages, phone calls, emails, visits, and so much more, there are so many of you who have gotten me through the toughest times in my life, who have been the voice of encouragement in my ear, believing in me when I didn't believe in myself. I praise God that He blessed me with you on Earth to be a living reminder of the way He loves me, cares for me, and provides for me. 


So from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. And, I pray that He blesses you in return for the ways you have blessed me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Well Needed Break

Spring Break. Oh how the resonation of those words still have the ability to bring about a sense of calmness in my life.


Last week was incredible. Just the opportunity to not think about school was exactly what I needed. (Ok. I wasn't able to go the entire time without thinking of school, but for the most part I was successful.) The trip began Saturday night after work with Ray and I taking off to Chicago.


We arrived about 11:30ish to Lansing at the Sleep Inn hotel. (Ray's family is moving, so there isn't much room to crash amongst the boxes.) This was about halfway between the old house in Calumet and his new house in Chicago Heights. We spent most of the trip shuffling between the two.


Sunday morning we headed to his new house to pick up his little brother and take him to their Grandma Lorraine's house, nicknamed Mydear. (Pronounced My-Dear, so I am assuming it's spelled that way... We'll go with that.) Here I met his Aunt Tara, three of his little cousins, and his cousin Wayne. We visited for a while, then headed onto other adventures.


The next stop included hanging out with his high school best friend, Justin, Justin's fiancé, Bobbi Jo, and Ray's cousin Karl. Here I got to hear lots and LOTS of stories about Ray's high school days and watch him light up over the good times. Needless to say, my heart melted.
Meet some of the groomsmen! 
Later that night we drove up to the west side of Chicago to visit the infamous Malcolm. He is Ray's oldest brother, and I have been heavily warned about him and his quick wit. Luckily for me though, Malcolm got married last year, and thanks to his wonderful wife Mariah, and his daughter Mattison, he's much, much more easy going than Anthony led me to believe. (Anthony- Ray's brother who goes to SIU and who lives with him. AKA, the pest who tried to scare me out of meeting the family.) It was amazing spending time with them because I got to see a glimpse of what life will be like for Ray and I in the future. I'm not saying Ray is exactly like Malcolm, but there are some major, major, similarities in personalities. Mariah kept beaming and saying, "See what you've got to look forward to!"


It was that comment that changed my outlook for the trip entirely. What I have to look forward to, that I was getting to really see what my future was going to be like. I was spending time with the people who will be my new family, who are my new family. I was getting to know the people who will be in my life forever. And I realized at that moment that I wanted to soak up every minute of this trip.


Monday was our day to go to downtown Chicago. We took the L in from Malcolm's, walked around the city, went to Navy Pier, ate at Bubba Gump's, saw Grant Mitchell (a friend from down in the So Ill who happened to be at Navy Pier at the same time we were), rode the Farris wheel, and took in the beautiful weather around us. We then went back Malcolm's town and stopped in a Mexican ice cream shop and a bakery, which was an adventure all on it's own. The day was wonderful.


You'll have to ask me about the ice-cream trip.
It was quite an adventure.
Tuesday we didn't do much at all. Can you say fantastic? We spent the whole day just hanging out in the hotel, went to eat some tasty food, and went back to doing nothing. (Speaking of food, we did nothing but eat the most delicious and wonderful food the entire week. My midsection is paying for it now...) With both of our busy schedules, we never get days to do absolutely nothing, so we soaked up every minute of it. We then went and picked up his youngest brother Lelan. He is the one sibling Anthony had nothing to warn me about. In fact, he told me that he would be my favorite. After just a brief weekend with him, I can honestly say that I love this kid. He is funny, sweet, talented, smart, everything you could ever want in a little brother. Not that Anthony isn't any of those, he is. But if I start being nice to Ant now, then I am stuck doing it forever. (Can you tell just how much I love my in-laws?)

Me and Lee!
Later Tuesday night by meeting up with Ray's second-oldest brother, Lyiel. As long as things go according to plan, he will be the one officiating our ceremony. Family really means a lot to us, and I am excited to incorporate more of his family into our special day. (Also, Lyiel will hopefully be making a trip south very soon to baptize Ray. Yaaaay!)
Ray and Lyiel- Can you tell they are brothers?
We closed the evening by going back to his grandma's house. It turned out to be one of the highlights to the trip. Ray abandoned me in the kitchen as he went out to the garage. Thanks, baby, for being a typical man. This left me, his mom, his aunt, and his grandma. Nooooo pressure.


It was a blast. The laughing. The stories. The jabs at the new girl. (Thanks to Tara!) By the time Ray came back in, I honestly felt like I was part of the family.
Ray, Renae, Me, Tara, and Tiff
Wednesday our trip was dwindling down. We went to see his old house with his mom, and I got to take a trip down memory lane as all the stories Ray told about "home" came to life as we walked room to room. I was also given a huge bag of pictures to look at on our way to Mydear's house to say goodbye. This brought our trip to a bittersweet end as we gave hugs and prepared to leave.


Mom-in-Law, Me, and Ray
Another reason why visiting the in-laws is great
:) Isn't he adorable!!!
On the way home I was still processing everything. I can't believe how blessed I am with the family that I am joining. They are some of the most open, loving people I have ever met, and I enjoy the ease of being around them. They are people I know will take both me, and my mom, into their lives. (I look forward to toting my mom up north for holidays with both sides of the family. I mean what's going to be better than having both grandmas at the same time?)



Once we arrived back in Carbondale, I readied myself to head to the reading conference in Springfield. That deserves it's own post, so I will fast-forward to the return on Saturday night. Not wanting Spring Break to end, we immediately headed to Paducah as soon as I got back into Marion. (I have an insane love of Paducah, and if Ray happened to get a job there and want to move there, I would say yes in a heartbeat.) We stopped along the way in Metropolis to view Community Christian Church. I personally love this church, and even Ray said it was the first place where he could see us getting married. That, however, is a decision still yet to be made. We then went to a local coffee shop in Paducah, walked to the river, and enjoyed the beautiful weather. We spent a few hours just walking around as we waited to eat at a restaurant down one of the alleys. It was an absolutely perfect night and the best way to end our week.
Down by the river in Paducah
This break was so great for Ray and I. As most of you are aware, things have not been the smoothest on my end of the family. And some recent events have made it even more difficult. Being able to just spend time with Ray without life's daily distractions was exactly what I needed. I was able to just focus on him and the reasons why I am so incredibly in love with him. And I could stand knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the man with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. This week solidified the fact that in a little over a year (424 days), Ray is going to be my husband. He is going to be the father to our babies. He is going to be the old man I sit on a porch with. He is going to be the love of my life forever. And that, ladies and gentlemen, made this Spring Break the most incredible week it could have been.