Monday, January 30, 2006

Finding freedom

I am feeling much better today. Things are making more sense, and I feel once again like I am going forward rather than standing still and looking back.

I took a step forward in becoming involved in the church plant, and will now be attending the Bible study there on Wednesday nights. When I got off the phone with the pastor, I felt such a sense of joy and freedom. I know that God is going to do big things, and I firmly believe that this initial step of faith is going to take me out of the rut I've been stuck in and move me into position to receive whatever is waiting for me in Petoskey.

I also received some news about my business, but it is bittersweet due to the circumstances behind it. The other agent working in my immediate area is going through a lot of personal issues, and has been since they started with Aflac about six months ago. I talked with that agent tonight, and was informed that they may not be doing Aflac anymore, and they are more than likely going to give me all the groups they just signed. Meaning, I will inherit three or four groups, and being that this is the first year these groups have been with Aflac, I will receive the first year commission when I write the business. For anyone who doesn't know, the first year commission is significantly more money than I'll receive on the renewals in the years to come.

I told the agent that I want them to really think about it before they make a decision, because I don't want them to do something they will regret later. However, if they do decide to quit and I inherit those accounts, it will significantly increase my book of business, generate significantly more income, and bring me that much closer to having what I need to participate in the "coordinator in training" program. So, do I hope they quit? I wouldn't say that. If it is meant to be so, it will be. If not, that just means God has other things in mind for both of us.

All in all, this day has been one of wonderful surprises, amazing freedom, and restored joy. And it comes as no surprise...Jesus said that He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. It was never His plan for us to live in sadness, confusion, or any kind of despair. Weeping may remain for the night...but rejoicing comes in the morning!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Moving on

I can't say that today has brought a whole lot of comfort where yesterday's subject is concerned. However, I have concluded that this was a necessary injury designed to get me moving forward into something that holds promise, rather than holding tightly to what I've known for awhile I need to let go of.

I have known for awhile now that this season of my life was coming to a close. I have felt it with every fiber of my being, and it has been a bittersweet realization. If there was anything keeping me from truly taking the first steps toward whatever God has for me next, it has been the love and affection I feel for the people that are in my life right now, and all I associate with that. I have had a fearful reluctance to let them go and move forward on the path God has lead me to.
But, with all the turmoil and confusion and crying of the last few days, I have realized that the time has come to take proactive steps of faith, and move on.

When I considered getting involved with the church plant in Petoskey, I have said all along that I will get more involved after I'm able to move up that way. However, today, it occurred to me that the opposite is true...God will provide what I need to move, after I get involved. He will give me what I need, when I start living like I mean it.

So, tomorrow, I'm going to get more information on what is going on at the new church right now, and see how I can be involved in that. I am excited to see what doors God will open from this.

Is all the sadness and confusion tied up with a pretty bow and tucked away now? No. But, I can put it in some perspective now.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Much ado about nothing...?

There are times in life when we think we have something resolved, and we have been able to neatly package it and file it away with the relics of our past, never...we be seen or thought of again.

Such was the case for me where Herbie was concerned. I thought I had long ago dealt with and conquered any romantic feelings toward him, and that I had made great strides in moving forward. I had developed other interests, and I can honestly say, I have not thought of him romantically in quite awhile.

Then, lately, that has changed. And it scares me.

More than anything, I am just confused right now. Needlessly, I am sure. Herbie has said and done a few things lately that have caused me to wonder what exactly his intentions are, but then I have to is Herbie, the incurable flirt, who is all sweet gestures and flattering words, with no real intention behind any of it.

I know this to be true of him, which is why my confusion is so frightening. Having once been bitten, you would think I would now be twice shy.

My confusion peaked a few nights ago when I had a most disturbing dream.

In my dream, Herbie had married a girl from Oasis...a girl to whom I feel in all ways inferior, by the way...and suddenly, everything between us was different. I was completely heartbroken, to the point of choking back tears whenever I encountered them in the dream. I remember wanting so much to talk to him, and tell him that he and I should have been together, but thinking there was no point to that, as he was already married and it would be completely inappropriate and futile. Throughout the entire dream, and even into my waking hours, I felt such an incredible, unshakable sadness, as if my heart had been utterly and irreparably broken. Even a few days removed from the dream, I am still disturbed by it.

I am not sure why this has all surfaced just now. I know Herbie's sweet but meaningless gestures have certainly assisted in stirring up old feelings, but beyond that, I am not sure why there is such confusion.

I don't suppose there is anything to be done about it, but ride it out and wait for it to pass. In the meantime, I am treading carefully. I do not want to find myself in the position I was in a few months ago, investing emotionally into something that looks like a duck and walks like a duck, but is by no means a duck.

This is remarkably painful, for something so simple.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

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How big do you dare to dream?

When we saw "The End of the Spear" on Saturday, I found myself crying through most of the movie. Certainly the story in itself had woven a tapestry of tragedy and joy, but the sadness I felt reached beyond the familiar story playing out on the screen. I remembered my days back in Bible college, hearing stories of this very mission, hearing the words of Jim Elliot echoing through the halls of the campus, and I felt called to something so big...and yet, even then, I still felt hampered by the grind of the day to day, wondering how I would make it all work.

As I sat there watching the movie, I was challenged with the question, "When did my vision become so small?"

I was further challenged with the idea that perhaps it is not that my vision has become so small, but that it was possibly not that large to begin with.

Ephesians 3:20-21 reads:

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen!" (NIV)

There is a subtle challenge here. The challenge to dream big dreams. Dreams that are so far beyond what we can do for ourselves that it takes the power of the Creator of the universe to make those dreams a reality.

I like the Amplified version...

"Now to Him Who, by consequence of the action of His power that is at work within us, is able to carry out His purpose and do superabundantly, far over and above all that we dare ask or think--infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes or dreams--to Him be the glory...forever and ever. Amen."

Sometimes, I feel God calling to me, "Stephanie, come dream with Me for awhile." And in those moments, when I allow myself to sit with Him and just dream, all the things that keep me from dreaming big dreams with God seem to slip away, and nothing seems impossible. Indeed, with God, nothing is impossible.

Do you dream? Are you dreaming big enough?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

In most ways fairly uneventful, today was a good day nonetheless.

I went to Meijer's with my sister, as I have been in need of a winter coat for quite some time. I picked up a particularly...interesting...looking coat and tried it on. It fit, but I didn't like it. As I put it back on the rack, I was shocked to see that it was a size SMALL. Holy shnikeys!!! I actually put on something that was a size SMALL, and it fit!!!

I never imagined I would be able to do that! I ended up buying something that was...not a small. I'm not even sure if it fits, as I don't even know what I look like anymore. I'm not accustomed to seeing myself in a smaller body. In my mind, I am still well over 200 lbs.

I was talking with a friend of mine tonight about some confusing problems with men, and our conversation worked its way around to a movie I saw with some friends on Saturday.

"The End of the Spear" is a movie I have been anticipating for quite awhile. I only saw one little blurb about it on Sky Angel, but as I was familiar with the story behind the movie, I was very interested in seeing it.

I think my reasons for wanting to see it were primarily nostalgic, perhaps peppered with a bit of curiousity. When I was in Bible college, we often heard about Jim Elliot and the mission in Ecuador, and how the events that took place there changed the face of the mission field forever.
However, seeing the movie turned out to be a very different experience than I expected.

To begin with, Saturday was a day filled with despair for me. I felt lonely...incredibly I had not been able to see my friends in about a week. It's not as though I live right around the corner from them...seeing them takes time and resources, and resources have been in short supply lately. In addition to all of that, I was worried to the point of distraction about how I was going to put gas in my car to get to my appointments in the week to come. Beyond that, I was concerned with how I would get to a fax machine to fax in the documents to complete the business I sent in so I could get paid...It was going to cost money to fax it from the library, and I didn't have any money...and yadda yadda yadda...

My wonderful friends offered me a movie ticket and some gas money if I would come out to see the movie with them, so of course, I went.

As I watched the movie, I braced myself for what I thought would be the worst part of the film...the scene in which Nate Saint and four other missionaries are speared to death by the Auca tribe. This scene was horrible, and I did feel the tears rising as it played out, but it was nothing in comparison to what would come.

As the story unfolded, I learned that the death of those five men was in no way the end of the mission in Ecuador, but the beginning. If it were not for the deaths of these men, doors would not have been opened, the chasm would not have been bridged. Were it not for these men and their willingness to give it ALL for Jesus, the tribe they so wanted to reach would have remained desperately in the darkness.

These men left behind wives and children who were also willing to risk it all to bring Jesus to these people...People who had taken from them husbands and fathers...

As all this played out on the screen, I began to weep. Yes, it was all tragic, and yet not...but more than that, I felt God challenging me.

Here I had spent the better part of my Saturday, wallowing in despair...Worrying about silly things like how I would put fuel in the tank, or send a few pages over a fax machine...Not only worrying, but worrying to the point of being consumed with this worry.

I felt challenged, and thought...When did my vision become so small? When did I trade the eternal promises of God for the day to day grind?

And I thought...maybe it isn't that my vision has become so small. Maybe it's that my vision was never that large to begin with.

How easily we become consumed with ourselves! How easy it is to truly believe "it's all about me" ! So easy to forget that we did not come to Christ only for our own salvation, but to be vessels of His mercy and grace to others, that they may come to know Him, too. If we truly believe that the point of knowing Jesus is only to save our own skin, we have not realized what it is to be His.

It is difficult to remain an open vessel for Christ when you are consumed with fear about things that do not matter. God owns it all!!! He owns the fuel my car needs to operate, He owns the fax machines I need to conduct business...He owns my business...He owns the money I make from my business...He owns EVERYTHING!

God, help me to see beyond myself. Help me to have a vision that goes beyond the day to day. Help me, God, to have a vision that is as big as Yours. Teach me to dream with You.

Friday, January 20, 2006

One of those days

It's been one of those days that has left me feeling incredibly frustrated, a bit hopeless, and wondering what the flip is going on.

Almost two weeks ago now, I sent in two policy applications. I anticipated being paid within a few days, and was looking forward to actually having a few dollars to...oh, I dunno, put gas in the car, buy groceries, etc...Ordinarily, commissions are received within a week. Here it is, two weeks later, the business I sent in is still pending, and needless to say, I've not been paid yet. Getting the business out of pending is going to require documents being faxed. I do not have a fax machine. I have access to one at the regional office, which is about 45 minutes away from me. How I am going to get there, I do not know.

Money is far from being everything in life. However, not having it really has a way of screwing things up. I have the fuel that is in my vehicle...about 1/8 tank...and nothing more. I do not have money to purchase any more fuel, or anything else for that matter. This translates into...How the heck am I supposed to work if I can't even get to my appointments? ( I am SO fighting the urge to curse like a sailor here!)

As far as appointments go, I do have a few lined up, and those few are promising. I did write business earlier this week that should amount to a few hundred dollars in commissions. For the moment, though, I am flat on my face broke, and it will likely be at least another week until that changes. I closed a group this week, and will be closing at least one group next week, which will help generate a healthy income. In the meantime, though, I have no idea what I am going to do. I can't keep relying on other people to carry me through this dry spell.

I am frustrated beyond words right now. I understand perfectly that this is a plot of the enemy (interesting note: The premium calculation on one of the pending apps was done incorrectly at headquarters. The amount they calculated was....$666.00). I am not oblivious to his schemes. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the utter lack of income is starting to become quite a burden, especially because there are things I need to do...things that will be profitable...and I do not know how I will do them without at least enough money for fuel for the week.

Equally frustrating is that this crunch is keeping me from being able to spend time with my friends. I do not have any friends in my own neighborhood, and I cannot get to the friends I do have.

God, help me to trust You. Help me to remember that You brought me here. Help me to keep in mind all the things that lead to this place, and that the enemy cannot pluck me from the palm of Your hand. Help me to remember how eagles learn to soar.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Wonders never cease

Just when I start to feel a little discouraged, God brings a new level of amazing to this whole journey.

I had a meeting with my district sales coordinator today, and she told me that she would like me to consider participating in the "coordinator in training" program within the next few months. She said I will not be eligible for it until I've been with Aflac for six months, and there are certain sales requirements I'll need to meet, but she sees me as someone who is well suited to be a district sales coordinator.

All of this is even more amazing because she went on to say that, in her two years as a coordinator, she had not yet nominated anyone for the program because she had not had a quality new agent...until I came along.

She has apparently already discussed this at length with the regional director, and they are in agreement that I am well suited for taking on a management position in the future. She believes I will have no problem meeting the sales and group requirements, and that I will be well on my way within the next couple of months.

Needless to say, this is an exciting time for me. It seems that as soon as my faith starts to waver just the tiniest bit, God brings along another sign to remind me that He has brought me here, He is directing my path, and I do not need to worry about what tomorrow may bring...He's already got it taken care of.

This is indeed a season of change for me, and I am excited to see what He has in store.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

My, what a big God we have!

You know, I love the way God works. When you least expect it and are not at all looking for it, He pours out amazingly wonderful blessings.

After the disappointment with my fellow agent last week, I really was unsure of what would happen next. I need field training, but with my district sales coordinator being so busy, I was not sure how I would get that accomplished. Still, I pressed on, holding tight to the faith that God was in control, and He would continue to guide my steps.

At a meeting last week, I met up with the agent who first introduced me to Aflac 10 years ago. He didn't seem to remember me, which was okay, because it had been several years. That's to be expected.

We had another meeting today, and he was there. We made small talk, much like at the last meeting, and I carried on with my day when the meeting was over.

Shortly after returning home, I got a call from my district sales coordinator. She told me that the agent said he would take me under his wing and field train me. She said he agreed to do this because he finally remembered me from so many years ago, and was actually embarrassed that he didn't recall my face sooner. He agreed to take me out into the field for cold calling, presentations, enrollments, etc...and to take little or none of my commission during training. My district sales coordinator told him that I was already doing well, but could do better with help from a veteran agent, and that I was definitely going to be a great agent when my training was complete. I was pleased to hear this, of course. And I was elated to be offered the help, and to realize that God is continuing to bless this path.

My goals are becoming a reality. It is quite feasible now that I could be moved up to Petoskey by late spring/early summer, if not sooner. I feel that God has indeed made a way, and I will be stepping into the next season of my life very shortly. I feel blessed and terrified all at the same time.

And it is just like God to do it like this. To ask you to take a path that defies all conventions, operating solely on faith, and then to bless that path beyond your imagination.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Back to Egypt...?

Well, the whole partnering up with another agent thing did not go as I'd hoped it would. I am glad I did it, in that it was a valuable learning experience. But, it has nearly cost me my first sale, and I don't think I'll be doing it again any time soon.

I did manage to close the sale successfully nonetheless, but we'll see how long the individual keeps their policy.

Without going into a lot of detail, I will simply say that the agent was not as helpful as I thought they would be, and I will continue to either work on my own, or find a more seasoned agent to work with up in the Petoskey area.

Still, I feel this is all moving in a very positive direction. One disgruntled client aside, I am still making very good contacts in the community, I have confidence I will be writing more business very soon, and I know I will be successful if I just stay the course through the difficult times.

God continues to break me, teaching me what real faith is. My first sale ended up being less than half of what was projected, which means my commission is significantly reduced. My last paycheck from Shanty Creek was not as much as I thought it would be, and is in fact already gone. I have $20 to hold me over until my commission check comes through, which will be sometime mid-late next week. I have no idea how I will get through now, without another paycheck to fall back on. But I really believe that God is asking me to step out in complete faith, and trust that He will provide, so I have not started looking for a part-time job.

This is a difficult place for me to be in, because I feel as though I have so little control over what is happening right now. Then again, there isn't a lot over the last few months that I have had control over, and things are already working out better than I imagined they would.

Earlier today, I thought briefly of how secure everything seemed when I was at CMH. I was making a good living, I had a healthy, steady paycheck, health care benefits, paid time off, a retirement plan...all the things that are supposed to make us feel safe and secure. I thought of that, and for a moment, wondered why God took that away.

Then I thought of the Israelites. I cannot recall which passage it is, specifically, but they were in the desert, complaining...In a time of discomfort and uncertainty, their life of slavery in Egypt seemed preferable to holding on to God's promises of freedom and abundance. They forgot about the hardship, the death, the suffering, the brutality of their former life, only remembering that they had food and shelter and certainty, even if the certainty was only of more suffering.

And I heard a quiet whisper of, "So you wanna go back to Egypt?" And I knew, I couldn't turn back now. I am in the desert right now, for sure, but I must cling to His promises and remember that He lead me to this desert, with the purpose of leading me through this desert, to a place of abundance beyond my imagination.

And so I will wait for Him. Just as He gave the Israelites food, water, and shelter when they needed it, He will provide me with what I need to get through this dry time. He has blessed me with wonderful friends, and that is a blessing beyond measure. He has never abandoned me in my time of need, and I don't believe He intends to begin doing so now. I need to walk steadily forward, stay the and obey.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Movin' on...

Today was a great day, and full of wonderful surprises.

The meeting this morning went well, and I'll be able to make some extra money, which is always welcome.

Perhaps of even more significance, though, is that I met the other agent working in Bellaire, and we have decided to team up and sign accounts together. We are both in a place of being ready to move on to better things in our lives, and we both need to generate more income to be able to do that. With her connections in the Bellaire area, and the connections I am establishing in Petoskey, we should be able to write twice as much business as either of us could do on our own.

We have both had our share of struggles in getting started. She started in October, and is not much further along in her business than I am, and I only started a few weeks ago. We have each wanted someone to work with, but with our sales coordinators having so many other responsibilities, it has not been easy to establish a steady working relationship with anyone. We are both very grateful to finally have another person to work with, and we seem to work well together. I am very excited to have this added element. Between the two of us, I think we are both going to be generating a significant income in no time. Not enough to buy property and build a dream house...but maybe enough to start looking at a new apartment within the next couple of months, and make plans to move up and out.

She and I also had a chance to have a good talk with a veteran agent...the agent that introduced me to Aflac 10 years ago. (He didn't remember doing it, but I have kept that tucked away all these years.) I appreciated the time we had to talk with him, because he was realistic with us about what we could expect from this business. He acknowledged that it is difficult to get started, that you have to be realistic about your goals, that it is possible to make a good living, but not the grandiose amounts of money some might tell you that you will make...He was very honest about what we could expect, and I think that was something my new partner and I really appreciated. It's easy to get so excited about a product...any product...that you present it as being much more than it is. He didn't do that, and I walked away from that meeting today with a greater sense of where I wanted to be going and what I needed to do to get there.

I did not have a chance to talk with the pastor today, but that is one of my goals for tomorrow. There is just so much happening, all at once.

It's time to rest. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Relaxing my grip

Over the last couple of days, I have had this gut-wrenching feeling that God has me on the brink of unbelievable blessings. I have already been blessed richly thus far, but I feel as though I am on the verge of stepping into something that reaches beyond what I can imagine right now.

I have talked a little bit about my "plan" (though I've learned how far my plans actually go in the larger scheme of things) to move to Petoskey by next summer. I just have a feeling that the move is going to happen, and it's going to happen a lot sooner than I anticipate. I have a feeling that God is already putting things in motion to make that move a reality.

So why is it gut-wrenching?

When I realized that it would not be possible to adequately operate my business out of Traverse City, I also realized that the time would come when I would have to leave behind some of the things and the people that are dearest to my heart, and start all over again. I know...Petoskey is not worlds away from Traverse City. But, it is just human nature...people move on.

With the increasing "certainty" that I will be moving sooner rather than later...and bear in mind, I have no reason to believe this other than an unshakable gut-feeling about the situation...I realize that the time to say goodbye will happen much more quickly than I imagined. I have a growing certainty that my time in this place is short, and I need to prepare myself to move forward into something new.

It is wonderful, and I'm terrified.

When I think about moving on, and all that means, my heart aches when I think about leaving behind Herbie and his roommates. They have truly become my best friends, and they have been, in their own ways, my constants throughout so much of the last year or so. Despite all the ups and downs, the ache of love unrequited, and the bliss of true friendship discovered...they have collectively been my one true thing. It is painful to think about letting go and moving on to something with far less certainty.

I do realize that nothing is happening immediately, and all the sadness I am feeling is not necessary for this moment. Still, I do need to prepare myself for what I think is going to happen sooner rather than later, so it is best to make peace with some things right now. Enjoying it while it is mine to enjoy, for certain, but also realizing that this season of my life is coming to a close.

Tomorrow, I am going to be in touch with the pastor who is working on the church plant in Petoskey. I am also attending an Aflac meeting that is about coordinating enrollment for a huge account our district just inherited...which holds the potential for a chunk of change for me. Tomorrow could be a huge day.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Off to a good start

I did make it to the party on Saturday night, despite the blue funk that had been hanging over me for the last few days. The funk stayed with me for the first couple hours of the party, but a few hugs from Herbie and a disco groove later, I was feeling fine. I am glad I went.

I have been feeling unbelievably inadequate lately. As if, by this point in my life, there is so much more I should have accomplished. I should be on my own, established in a career, financially stable, perhaps married, and so on. Looking back at 2005, I feel as though this year, more than any other, seemed to highlight my shortcomings more than my successes.

But, as a good friend...and hostess...told me last night, there is nothing to be done about anything that happened in 2005, so there is no point on dwelling on it. And I suppose she is right. Precious time is wasted when dwelling on things that there is nothing to be done about.

I have to believe that God has good things in store for me this year. He has already lead me to a path that is full of promise for my future, and He continues to open doors and make provision for this path. Last year, even before the winds of change swept over the landscape of my life, I felt as though I was standing on the edge of something that would leave my life dramatically different before it was all over. And so it has. This year, I feel as though I have stepped over the threshold into blessing, and God has things in store for me that are so much bigger than I can even imagine.

I spent about two hours on the phone tonight, talking to another good friend about this and that...and he reminded me again of the precious time I waste in dwelling on things that are completely out of my hands. Just as this new career came about in God's timing, so will all the other desires of my heart. Of course, there was more to it than that, but that is the gist of it. And he is right. He was telling me something I already knew, but I needed to hear it.

May 2006 be a year of less time wasted on thinking of what I don't have, and more time celebrated in the great blessings God has already given me.

“Carpe diem! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.”


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