Poison Dart Frogs are some of the tiniest and beautiful creatures on the planet; they are also incrediably deadly. So, why call this blog "Tiny Dart Frog"? It goes back to the old adage - good things come in small packages. We are all created exactly as God has intended - unique, strong, and beautiful.
Many times when I run alone, I pray. But lately, I feel like I have been moving so fast through all the pieces of my life that I don't have time to pray. How is this possible, I wonder? Especially, when I have I figured out my "best" way to pray...I know that for me running works. Usually. Usually it slows me down, which sounds contrary, but it's true.
So this morning, as I was running I was very aware of how quickly I was running and how much I was not praying. It bothered me. That time in the morning is my built in Sabbath - my time for me and God and I was squandering it.
Initially, the freezing rain just made me go faster, but then I almost slipped and realized I better slow down. So, I made a conscious decision to force myself to pray...I knew it would center me. I know it sounds bad that I was making myself pray, but it was more like I knew what I needed, but my naturally anxious-self was winning out.
So, I started, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me..." right in time with my footsteps. My words could barely be ushered through my mind fast enough to keep up with my feet...that's how quickly I was moving.
Then, I breathed, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me..." slowing down - a bit.
Sabbath, Sabbath, Sabbath - it's a gift. God and I need the Sabbath - together.
And again, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me..." a fraction slower.
Then, all of a sudden I was praying this same prayer over and over again, but people's faces would flash into my mind and I would put their name in place of 'me'.
I didn't know who to pray for, or what to pray for, or even how to pray this morning. Those words - I hear them or say them every Sunday. But today, God gave that prayer to me.
Step by step, breath by breath, moment by moment we pray, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us."
The following is a sermon, to be delivered at Epiphany Lutheran Church, however extreme snow has kept us from celebrating the last Sunday of Advent together as a congregation. Tomorrow we were to come together for our first Sunday together as pastor and congergation. For my new friends in Christ:
Based on Luke 1:34-45
My living room has been in dire need of a make-over for at least 5 years. The furniture had holes in it, the curtains were these heavy velvet drapes that just overtook the whole room, and the walls were marred up and in desperate need of a paint job. I had very good intentions of getting it done, but I always felt like I didn't have the time or energy to get it done. I needed to pick out a paint color, patch holes, coordinate furniture, drapes… the list goes on. And then, one day this summer I was alone in the house for a week and I decided - spur of the moment - to do something about that room. I grabbed a neighbor and put the old furniture on the curb, took down knick-knacks, bought some paint and got to work. Room was done in 3 days. No planning involved.
This week my office was painted by some wonderful congregation members. As I was doing some final coat touch-ups, I remembered my painting from this summer….and I thought, "hmmm, who knew, painting would prepare me for becoming a pastor?" Yup, who knew.
As much as we want to prepare and isn't that what Advent is all about…life, in some ways, is about learning to prepare for the unexpected.
Besides my living room looking atrocious, my other motivation for getting it done was I was alone. Quite alone. I didn't have a job, my kids were gone for a week…basically I was questioning what God had in store for me.
So when I was painting again this week, I was thinking how Mary is so unprepared and yet she jumps right in. She proclaims, just before this passage, "let it be". Basically, Okay Gabriel, I'm on board. And then, she dashes off to see Elizabeth. I wonder if Mary was like, "Oh shoot, what the heck have I gotten myself into?"
So, off she goes to see Elizabeth. Elizabeth, her cousin, her older cousin, her cousin who happens to be pregnant. Somehow, Mary knows that Elizabeth will be able to help her. Mary needs someone. The angel has left as quickly as he came and there she stands…quite alone, quite unsure of what God has in store for her, and I would imagine, quite scared.
All Mary does is great Elizabeth…maybe she says "hi" or "I have a problem" and Elizabeth knows…she knows something is happening, she knows that Mary is the mother of her LORD. Think about this scenario…an old, pregnant woman and an unwed, pregnant woman standing there - greeting one another and knowing. Truly, knowing what the other is going through. They meet..they come together and reach out to one another. They hang onto each other for dear life, because life is about to change.
Together they can anticipate the unknown. Yes, they can prepare for what they know, but they cannot prepare for everything. It's like this for us…and sometimes it's only when we look back at the past that we can see how events and people in our lives prepare us for what comes next. They help us get through. I'm pretty sure Mary never, ever thought, "Oh, I am so happy to have an older cousin, so when I am unexpectedly pregnant I can go to her and she will help me get through it." But…that is exactly what happens. In some ways, Elizabeth demonstrates for us how very, very crucial and important we all are to one another. Elizabeth becomes a sanctuary for Mary…and Mary becomes a sanctuary for Elizabeth.
I must confess that over the past day or so I have prayed a few times - okay many times, "Please God, not snow now. Please make it go away." But, God does not work in that way. The preparations we make can only take us so far and then, at some point, we say...let it be, God. I'm really thinking about this as I listen to weather reports of snow and questions of what will we be. Will we have enough food to see us through? Will we have worship? Will there be an ordination? When will the shopping get finished now? Will the snow cancel games and events and Christmas pageants? I do not know… I do not know what will happen, but whatever it is, let it be and see us through.
I've often thought how strange it was that Mary's response in the midst of all the craziness was a song. She sings…and I think she sings because there's just so much. So much going on around her and inside her that she can't help but sing. Finding a safe place in Elizabeth, Mary is able to be free to express the inexpressible through song. Sometimes there just aren't words…only sighs, or songs, or cries.
And it's not just Mary's life or Elizabeth's life that changes. Or even just Zechariah or Joseph's life. It's yours and it's mine. In some very real ways, we are the pregnant ones…. the ones waiting on a child. We are the ones today, waiting and watching for Jesus.
I guess the truth is, watching for hope is sometimes paired with turmoil; watching for joy is sometimes paired with sorrow. Waiting for love is sometimes paired with heartache and waiting for peace…sometimes unrest. The promise we hear today is that God meets us and greets us and sits with us in the waiting and questions.
So, as I was painting and pondering how past events prepare us for future events and how these two women come together in a new way for the first time… I was thinking about us. About you all, and me, and God. We are all here together, in new way. We are the same as we always have been, yet we are different. We have come together, to embark on adventures unknown, with anticipation of what is to come, yet confident that in the arms of God we will find refuge and sanctuary. It is as Micah prophesies, "the LORD will come, and the LORD will feed his flock in strength and majesty and they - the people of God - will live secure."
In some ways today, we have been given the gift which was given to Mary and Elizabeth. Neither of us alone. We have been paired together by God to sing the song of Mary to all the world. Blessings given, blessings received, and refuge along the way. Amen.
I am desperately trying to get my Christmas cards done... Last year, I ordered such cute cards with pictures of my kids on them with very, very good intentions of mailing them and... they sat. Those cards sat in the box full of love that I wanted to send, full of news I wanted to share and I just didn't get it done. I never mailed them.
Hence, my desperation to get them done this year. One of my very closest friends and I were talking about Christmas cards today. She was saying how much she loves getting the cards with pictures on them - she likes to see how her friends' kids have grown (and I'm sure how her friends have aged). I agreed. I love the photos! And I love the Christmas letters. I know, I know - people either love those letters or they hate them, but since I can't even seem to get the cards in an envelope, I can appreciate the efficiency of "the letter".
As we were talking, my friend said, "I thought about just sending an email out this year, with a picture attached, but I just couldn't do it."
'Hmmm...,' I thought. That would not be the same. I like email, because it makes my life easier. Frankly, email makes my life doable. But I don't get excited for my email in the morning. I don't anticipate it.
I said, "You know, this is the only time of the year I look forward to getting the mail."
It's true. I actually start checking it around 11am. I love to open the door and see brown box sitting on the stoop. I love seeing a mailbox bursting full of brightly colored envelopes. My kids have such a handle on excitement and anticipation. During December, the daily mail gives to me a taste of that anticipation, because honestly, I get wrapped up in my to-do lists and what has not gotten finished on my to-do list. I've sort-of forgotten how to get excited.
If Advent is about anticipating the birth of Christ, then we need to feel some anticipation. My mailbox run - it's my reminder that surprises happen. My kids see me get the mail and often say, "Did anything come?"
And today, and almost every day this month, I can say, "Yes!"... and I hand them an envelope with a sticker on the back, or a tiny green card addressed just to them, and sometimes I even get to say, "Oh, this one's for me!" Surprises come!
The mailbox run also reminds me that the answer to, "Did anything come for me?" can always be, "Yes." Because, yes, something came. Rather, someone came for me. And someone came for you. Maybe not in a brightly colored envelope, but definitely filled to the brim with love and remebrance. That's the promise, that's the surprise of Christmas. That's what Advent ANTICIPATES! It is exciting.
You, my friend, you my sister or brother in Christ - are rembered this Christmas. Be surprised. Be excited. Someone comes for you - Jesus is yours.
This evening is one of those times when, frankly, I am coming up short every time I turn around.
Short on patience - I actually asked my youngest son if he was "trying to annoy me to death."
Short on brain cells - proportional fractions - WHAT?! Short on the ability to help with homework because of brain cell shortage.
Short on love - barely hugged the kids as they walked out the door to their dad's.
Basically, coming up short on being a good mom...that's how the evening feels.
Yup - it's going to be one of those nights when I pray to God to erase this evening from my children's sweet minds. Probably I need God to erase it from my mind. I need someone else's blog to tell me all will be well. Seriously - this just came to me - that's sort-of what the Bible is - God's blog!
Here's a blog post from God's blog:
"God will swallow up death forever. The LORD God will wipe away tears away from every face, and God will remove the disgrace of the people from the whole earth. The LORD has spoken."
I come up short a lot; I'm feeling pretty darn thankful for grace and forgiveness right about now. Usually I don't blog when I mess up...not too "uplifting" but I was thinking that maybe someone else out there is having a "short" evening and could use a little company. Good news - we've got the best company around...God is with us - that's what Advent anticipates - that's the promise of Christmas. Praise be to God!
I haven't put up a single Christmas decoration... it's just Novemeber 30. But I plan on getting my stuff out tomorrow, so we can begin counting down the days until the birth of Jesus. Or...the arrival of Santa Claus. Or...the excitement of grandparents. It all gets mushed in there together.
I do have one decoration up...a nativity. I leave it out year round. Once someone said, "Oh, you forgot to put away a decoration last Christmas?" No, I leave it up all year to remind me of the amazing gift of God found in Jesus. I need a little Christmas everyday.
Around this time of year people talk a lot about their traditions regarding the nativity. Add a piece at a time, put baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve, wrap baby Jesus up and open him Christmas morning as the first gift, put all the people out at the same time. There are other traditions, I am sure.
I have a bunch of nativities - I love them. And - I put all the pieces out as soon as I start decorating. Here's why:
My kids and I will hear over and over this Advent season about Santa. They will see Santa at the mall, at the bank, on TV, in the form of chocolate, as a lego piece, on wrapping paper, postage stamps... Everywhere they look, they will see Santa. In my house - they will also see Jesus.
Honestly - I love the "magic" of Christmas...not in a Harry Potter sort-of way, but rather I love the mystery, the awesomeness, the surprise, the togetherness which Christmas brings. Basically - the holiness...that's what I love. The holiness is the "magic" for me.
My kids do get visited by Santa...I love it. In some ways, for me, Santa helps my kids become more giving. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But by putting Jesus out there for me and my kids to bump into everyday we're reminded that Christmas is not even about us learning to give - it's about what's been given to each of us out of extravagent love.
Really - whatever your traditions - celebrate them. We carry those on, we use those traditions to make sense of our lives. As you anticipate and watch for the coming of Christ this year, may you bump into him in unexpected and surprising places.
It may be that I have "The Kingdom of God" on my brain, but none-the-less...I saw something this morning which was so inspiring.
I was out for a run, going at a pretty decent clip to rid my body of some pent up stress when I saw a bike on the side of the bike path. I looked over to make sure nobody had crashed or something. There was man down by the creek with a bag - at first I thought he was feeding ducks, because he had his hand in the plastic bag. But - no ducks.
Then I realized that he was picking up trash out of the creek and from the brush. I thought to myself, "That's great. Wow." As I continued to run, something was telling me that I should've told the guy how great I thought it was. But, I didn't.
Then, I heard a "passing on the left" behind me..it was the trash guy. "Kingdom of God," I thought.
As I came to the intersection of two paths, there he was again, standing at a trash can. That's when I realized, he was doing more than collecting trash. Any wrappers he picked up he was putting in the trash and any aluminum or plastic he was putting in his plastic bag for recycling. And - he was actually taking recyclables out of the trash can!!
I took my earphones out of my ear and walked up to him. I think I frightened him a bit. I said, "I just want to thank you for doing that. For picking up the trash and all."
And he said (I love this part!), "It's not hard, plus I'm trying to teach my kid. I don't care what people think." Then he points to an extra bike helmet on his bike and says, "We ride bikes to his school everyday and do this...I'm just on my way back home."
"It's really great. I saw you back there and wanted to say thanks and didn't and here you are again, so I just had to say something," I responded.
And, then get this, he says, "Well, thank you for taking the time to say something to me - it really means a lot!"
What?! Man. Kingdom of God, I swear, it was!
He has a great point too...if we want our children to learn - whether it's manners, conservation, respect, faith, love, perseverance - we are called to teach them.
Be on the look-out...Kingdom of God - closer than we think - in a good way...no "Left Behind theology" here.
My kids are off school today...and they were off yesterday...and they only went to school for a half day the day before that. As I am typing there is a mad thundering of footsteps going on upstairs. I'm fairly certain I have about three minutes to type before someone is bleeding from the head. This is the way it is when you are a mom of three rambunctious boys.
The truth is I had big plans for these days - we could clean out their closets, read together, have yummy meals, maybe going on a hike, have friends over to play. And we have done those things, amidst the chaos and rain which has ensued.
The following are things that people just don't tell you when you are contemplating parenthood - in the past few days I have been reminded that:
1. children bleed - a lot. 2. children can eat vast quantities of donuts and not gain a pound. 3. children (especially boys, I think) can turn anything into a weapon, despite the fact that I really despise violence of any kind and tell them this repeatedly. 4. children burp a lot and they think it's very funny. 5. children see no reason to get dressed, shower, brush their teeth, or in general practice any type of hygienic measures when they don't have to go to school. 6. children forget what an "indoor voice" is after awhile. 7. children can never, ever have enough legos (I do not understand how this is possible given the amount of legos we own, but I am quite certain it's true). 8. children do not sleep in when there is no school, however they are sooo tired when there is school. 9. children can look around at an amazingly messy room, full of toys and claim there is nothing to do (when all I can think is, "Really? Nothing? Hmmm...how about clean up this disaster area!") 10. children...thinking I should leave this blank - I still have to get through the weekend.
But, seriously...there is a lot to be said for that list, which it just doesn't convey, like:
How nice it is to not have to do anything, how compassionate my children are (at least when someone is bleeding), how they can turn anything into a game, how their whole view of life is it's for fun, how they just can't wait to start the day...
I know we have these "Professional Days" so teachers can have conferences with parents, but in some ways, maybe they should be called "Child Days". There's not too much professionalism going on, but the children are having a damn good time. And, me, well, I'm pretty darn happy surrounded by the mayhem which is my life.
My youngest son, Cooper, plays Single A baseball. This means there's a lot of coach involvement and various levels of ability...it also means they hit off a pitching machine.
Cooper loves baseball. And by loves, I don't just mean he's happy to win or likes to see his friends. It's more of an obsession. All the other kids are out there just happy to be playing and then there's Cooper. He's ramping up the excitement; he's the kid holding his hands up to signal how many outs there are; he's the kid doing his hot-shot move when he gets on base; he's the kid the does that little "stretching-with-the-bat" thing they do in the majors... OBSESSED. But last night, he really made me laugh...
He was playing catcher. Of course he had to be there in the mix - throwing off his helmet and doing a little trash talking. He even has the stance down - for seven that's pretty impressive (or maybe it's just because I'm his mother).
But then someone said to me, "What's Cooper doing with his hands?" We looked and realized, Cooper was giving hand signs to the pitcher. Remember - the pitcher is a machine. He's giving hand signals to a pitching machine. Very funny.
My bleacher neighbor jokingly said to me, "Did he paint his fingernails white too?" Hmmm...no, but it wouldn't have surprised me at this point.
What I love about this, besides just how darn cute he is, is how into it he is. He is out there giving his all to something that he loves. So focused, so intent on learning... that is such a good sign of the times.
Finding something we love to do is hard sometimes...finding a true calling, our vocation. Cooper may not grow up to be a pro player, and that's not the point. The point is - whatever we're doing give it our all. And if you don't love it...at least minimize the time you have to do it. I know we can't all love every aspect of our lives 24/7, but I know that God calls us to share love and peace and acceptance through our daily lives. We gotta like what we do, we gotta be invested in what we're doing in order for that to happen.
So....batter up! It's time to PLAY BALL!
"Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus." Mother Theresa
I ran the Marine Corps Marathon this past Sunday. It was Reformation Sunday, so being Lutheran and all, I felt a little guilty about skipping church on this particular Sunday. I wanted my dose of "freed by grace through faith alone" - which in regular English means to us all that we're absolutely OK in God's eyes. And being OK is something that most of us struggle with, even if it's just a teeny-tiny struggle. The Reformation is/was about many things, but mostly, it was about getting Jesus' message of LOVE out to everyone.
I had already reconciled my missing worship on Sunday. I was running for a charity organization called Love Without Boundaries. They do really amazing and inspiring work with children in China who are born with cleft palates and some with heart conditions. These children are given a chance at life through the LOVE of those involved in this organization. Through the LOVE of doctors, LOVE of caregivers, LOVE of administrators, LOVE of adoptive families, LOVE of contributors, LOVE of runners. I know I'm forgetting someone, but you get the point - through LOVE, the smallest of the small, the least among us is given a chance. So, I was happy to be worshipping God in a different way this past Sunday.
But, God has this funny way of speaking to us when we least expect it...and I gotta say, when I'm running 26.2 miles, what I want to hear from God is "You made it" or "You're done" or "Here, let me run these last 10 miles for you." Yeah, well, no such luck, but I did hear from many, many people (almost all strangers), "GO TEAM LOVE". And, I thought, "Hey, today that's me..I'm part of TEAM LOVE!" Isn't that great?!
"GO TEAM LOVE!"
So, right there, in the middle of Constitution Avenue in Washington DC, I heard God say, "LOVE, it wins outs!" Love wins out even when we're exhausted. Love wins out when we don't think we can take another step. Love wins out when we can't see the finish line.
Love wins out because Love is a team... Father, Son, Holy Spirit...Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer...
So, today I say to anyone who has ears, "GO TEAM LOVE!" Love will never fail.
I have, taped to my refrigerator, a bookmark entitled:
How To Build Community. It's been taped there for at least 4 years. I don't think it sums up everything there is about community, but I do think what it points to is - we already know how to be close with others...it's the doing part that's harder. We want close communities, vibrant churches, and thriving schools (all communities), but the enacting of it is harder. It's sort-of the old - no need to reinvent the wheel concept.
So, here's what my bookmark says:
Turn off your TV. Leave your house. Know your neighbors. Look up when you are walking. Greet people. Sit on your stoop. Plant flowers. Use your library. Play together. Buy from local merchants. Share what you have. Help a lost dog. Take children to the park. Garden together. Support neighborhood schools. Fix it even if you didn't break it. Have potlucks. Honor your elders. Pick up litter. Read stories aloud. Dance in the street. Talk to the mail carrier. Listen to the birds. Put up a swing. Help carry something heavy. Barter for your goods. Start a tradition. Ask a question. Hire young people for odd jobs. Organize a block party. Bake extra and share. Ask for help when you need it. Open your shades. Sing together. Share your skills. Take back the night. Turn up the music...Turn down the music. Listen before our react to anger. Mediate a conflict. Seek to understand. Learn from new and uncomfortable angles.
Know that no one is silent though many are not heard - work to change this.
I do know building community - really building relationships, is not as easy as a "to-do" list on a bookmark, but... I also know that if it's showing up on a bookmark, then there's enough people out there who miss and long for true community. So, I say, enough with the to do lists, and the wishing things were different, and the new programs.... help a dog, kiss a child, say a prayer, share a smile. Something will happen - and I am positive - once the Holy Spirit gets moving, we better watch out. Sort of like a wheel - once it gets rolling, you gotta just go with it.
I think Legos are about the best toy ever created, despite the fact that I often end up stepping on one in the middle of the night. As a goal oriented person, I love there's a defined result....follow the directions and all goes well. As a creative person, I love that there's flexibility when building with Lego's. Pick a different color, add an extra piece, abandon all reason and make-up your own idea. But as a mom, the best thing about Legos is they can always be put back together.
With three boys in my house who are obsessed with Legos, it' s inevitable that a model gets broken (or stepped on), that one brother steals a piece from another, or it's just been played with too much and falls apart.
When their masterpieces get broken, when the best laid plan doesn't work, I often say, "The best thing about Legos is you can make something new or put it back together. That's what they're for."
And honestly, they see the logic in this. Yes, maybe something better can be made!
When things get broken - like Legos - but more like dreams or goals or hopes, what helps us keep going is the belief that the shattered pieces can be put back together. The pieces of our lives can be gently scooped up, brushed off, and molded into something new. Our lives and dreams may not look exactly how the instruction manual showed or laid out just like the final product in our heads, but when it all comes together in the end, we often feel like the brokenness served a purpose.
That sounds all fine and dandy, but the hard, the crappy part is when we've done the scooping up of the pieces, we've brushed them off, we have a new vision and still the pieces aren't fitting.
This is what I wrestle with because I do believe that good things always arise from bad things, that hope triumphs despair, that laughter drowns out sorrow, and yet sometimes I can't see how. Sometimes my vision fails, the instruction manual makes no sense, and a few pieces have probably been lost under the sofa.
You know, I don't have an answer to this pondering. It seems too trite to say it all works out in the end. Well, we know that, but life isn't just getting to the end. Life is about putting things together - putting our families together, our communities together, our countries together, our religions together. Life is about building - not tearing down. So - here's the thing - no answer today - nothing profound, but a request:
Help someone today, and tomorrow, and the next day to pick up just one piece of their life. You don't have to put it in place for them, but hold it gently for them in prayer or brush away the tear, or listen. Because man, I don't exactly know how to put all dreams and lives back together, but - I do know scattering the pieces doesn't work. Take it from a mom. Take from someone who honestly belives the grace of God is the glue which holds her life together - like the little Lego bumps.
Waiting. Waiting.. Waiting... Much of life is waiting. This morning I was waiting at the bus stop, as I do every morning. It's the same each morning - at least for me. I walk to the bus stop - the kids run. I chat with the parents - the kids run around in the park. The big, yellow bus pulls around the corner and all the kids run to their parents for the obligatory hug.
Jackson, my middle son, hugs me and runs along his merry way. Cooper, my youngest, always lingers a bit longer, hugs me a bit tighter, and engages in that moment more than Jackson. More than me.
This morning he hugs me tightly, laying his head on my chest for a few seconds.
"Mom, do you have your ipod on?"
"I hear something..."
"Oh, you must hear my heart beating."
Lays his head back on my chest, "Oh yeah, that's what it is. It sounds so nice." Then, he kisses my belly; I lean down and kiss him on the forehead and off he goes.
The sound of music, while waiting at the bus stop. I didn't even hear it. I didn't hear a thing really, or at least nothing really registered until that moment. Who knew that I sounded as good as an ipod. Now, since his current favorite song is, "BOOM, BOOM, POW" I'm not sure I really want to sound like that, but to know that me, just me, sounds like music to my son. Man, I will take that any day.
Psalm 139:14 "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
The other morning I was out running early, very early. Early enough that I knew it was raining only because I could feel it on my skin. I couldn't see the rain falling. Although when I passed a streetlamp and looked up I could really see just how hard it was raining. The rain streaked down like glistening tinsel.
It's easier for me to run in the rain when it's dark. I can't really see what I'm in for...and once I'm out there, well...I'm already up out of bed, dressed, and wet, so I may as well stick it out.
By the time I got home I was really glad I had spent the early morning hours outside. Something about the monotonous, humdrum of the rain against my skin, and the splashing of my shoes through the puddles made me feel just right. Just right in the way that everything in the world may not be just right, but I was just right. I felt fresh. I felt renewed. I felt ready to take on the world. Maybe, I sort-of felt baptized. Awake.
That feeling stuck with me as a new heaviness set in. The weight of my soaked clothing practically begged it to be stripped off of me. And that's about when it hit me - the weight of water.
Water is heavy. One liter of water equals a little more than 2 pounds. As I was out there in the rain, being cleansed by the water, it was also sticking to me - weighing on me.
I'm thinking about this so much because we so often focus on the renewing, cleansing, refreshing, sanctifying aspects of water...but we forget about the weight of it. We forget that when water is added to something it makes it heavier. There's this notion that water whisks away the dirt, the imperfections and therefore, the water is making the thing lighter, because the bad stuff is gone. We forget that just a little water adds up quickly.
So, in light of this, what does it means to be baptized, to be drenched in water? To be totally covered in the rushing waters of the Jordon, the rains of the great flood, to cross the waters of Galilee?
I should say that I don't mean for baptism to sound like a burden, but rather if we could think about the weight of it - the enormity of the gift, then maybe we wouldn't forget it so often. We wouldn't forget that we are claimed by God, that we have been drenched with an enormous gift.
The promise in Baptism isn't just that we are cleansed and renewed and claimed....but that we are cleansed and renewed and claimed even in the dark. Even when the weight of the world seems too much to bear - the weight of Baptism is more. The gift of God is more. The love of Christ is more. The breath of the Spirit is more.
Because, you know, we walk around a lot in the dark. We don't see the drips of grace falling fresh on our heads. Maybe sometimes it helps to be reminded to lift up our heads in the dark times, so that we catch a glimpse of the gifts of God raining down on us.
At least once a day some conversation with one of my kids begins with, "When I grow up...". Usually it is followed by, "I want to be a "fill-in-the-blank".
Right now my youngest son is obsessed with clowns. When he grows up he wants to be a clown. Yes, a clown. He's been researching juggling, having me paint his face like a clown, wearing a hat... He's predominately interested in being a mime - very specific in his clownly desires.
So, I've been answering lots of questions about his attire. My response has been, "Yes, Cooper has decided he wants to be a clown when he grows up." Then I sort-of roll my eyes and say, "Really aiming high, huh?" Being a clown just doesn't seem to be an aspiration, plus could he support himself? Pay the bills? I mean, really -he does need to get practical
I've been thinking about it though...my oldest son - he used to want to be (and maybe still does)a comedian. He's totally funny - a real gift. I have people come up to me and tell me that he's the funniest kid they've ever met. And my middle son, he'll help anyone or anything. Once I saw him pray over a dying baby bird. He has a double dose of compassion.
So, it seems that I have children that want to grow up and entertain people, make people laugh, and care for people and animals. Man - those are things to want to be when you grow up. Those are things a mom should be encouraging, not rolling her eyes about.
I don't know about you, but sometimes I get lost in the labels or the expectations of life. Maybe it's just this time of my life... But, when I grow up, I hope I am doing those things that my children are so attuned to. I hope they don't lose that wonder at life and that they never stop imagining what they will give to the world.
So - what about you? What do you want to be or do when you grow up?
I remember when I had my first child, Carter. They laid his sweet, perfect body all tightly swaddled in a hospital baby blanket into my arms. I gazed down at this little miracle and took in every ounce of him - they way he smelled, how fragile he felt, how utterly dependant on me he was. Mom's of older children would stop by the house to meet him and every single person would say, at some point in the conversation, "Oh, he's so small. I forgot how little they are."
I would think to myself, "You forgot? How could you possibly forget this?" And, then - Carter grew and I forgot. And, the next two times I had baby's I remembered this...this time is so short, it's so precious, it goes by so quickly.
All my kids are growing up and in some respects the are growing up so that they can leave me and move on to new adventures in life. Every day they and I are saying good-bye.
But we're not saying good-bye to each other forever. We say good-bye to parts of our relationships, but there are always new things which make their home in the places which were vacated. I said good-bye to holding them all night in my arms, but said hello to giant celebrations for a great goal on the soccer field. I said good-bye to making bottles and feeding them, and said hello to baking cookies with them and having them set the table.
I know that they will leave physically at some point, but I also know that they will never truly be gone. We're a part of each other.
I'm leaving seminary. Today was my last class, Friday is graduation. Lots and lots of good-byes are on the horizon. Seminary has been a home for me - a safe place. That will be gone - the physicality of my showing up on the campus will be gone.
In some respects life is a whole lot of good-byes strung together. But it's also...a whole lot of hellos. We can only have the opportunity to say good-bye, because we once had the opportunity to say hello. Evey piece of seminary, every class, every professor, and mostly every student is part of me now. I've been raised, in part, by seminary.
Good-bye. Hello. Adios. Hola! Au revoir. Bonjour! Go in peace, serve the Lord. The Lord be with you.
Last weekend I attended two funerals - they could not have been more different from one another. Saturday I went to the funeral of a 50-something woman. There was not an empty seat in the church - pews were packed, extra seats in the aisles were filled. It was standing room only. The woman who had died had everything planned to a T. She had breast cancer, so she had thought a lot about her death and her celebration of life. This funeral was definitely a "going-home" celebration. Friends got up to talk about their relationship with her...they made us all laugh and cry. We all learned knew things about our friend...pieces which we could hold onto. She reminded us each to live...not to live as if we are slowly inching closer to death. But to live, live until the day we just die.
My friend was a frequent lay assistant at church...she was an amazing "pray-er". One of the things she always said in her prayers - "We stand in awe of the power of prayer." Each time she would recite that, I would think, "Yes, yes we do." That day was awe-filled. It was assurance filled. It was couched in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It felt as if the sting of death was there...yet, we knew it wasn't.
And then....the Resurrection. Easter Sunday. It was sunny and bright - a glorious day for new life. Another funeral was not on the agenda, but as I tucked in my middle son and checked on his gecko, which had been sick, I knew something was wrong. The gecko was cold and stiff - and, my baby had just snuggled into bed. I had to tell him though, because I knew he would find him in the morning.
Oh, the tears, the sobbing. I was crying as hard and he was. His brothers, his dad, and I all traipsed out to the garden for an unplanned funeral in the dark. As we walked to the garden, Jackson said to me, "Stripe (the gecko) died on the same day Jesus came back to life." Oh, my heart ached - more than I thought possible for the loss of a gecko. I just said, "Oh Jackson, I know." I didn't know what else to say. But Jackson knew...because then he said, "But, at least we know that Stripe is with God now." I thought, "Oh yes, Jackson. At least we know that."
We are promised that!
So, we dug a hole and we placed Stripe into the dark ground and covered him up. Jackson knelt down on the cold, dark earth and bowed his little head over the gecko. I whispered to Jackson, "Do you want to say a prayer?" He shook his head "No," - he wanted me to say it. The words, the prayer - it just came. I was crying, Jackson was crying. And as soon as the prayer started, his brothers and dad were crying. There's something about prayer. There's something to be in awe of...a power that we have no claim on.
His dad said later, "That was a damn good prayer for a lizard." Hmmm...the words just came. It was God, I know it.
That's when I made the connection to the funeral the day before. The funerals were so different. One well-planned, one make-shift. One packed full of people, one 5 people total. One in a beautiful, sunlit church, one in the chilly, dark of the night. One for a woman, one for a tiny gecko.
And yet, they both held prayer and love in common. They held the promise of the resurrection in common. They held the assurance of God's presence in common. A prayer in time of need holds healing and grace, power and gentleness. A prayer in time of need reminds us that there is something awe-some whispering about in the corners of our lives.
I don't consider myself a singer. I'm not horrible - my average voice doesn't prevent me from singing in the car, praising God, or breaking into song with my kids. But nobody is going to stop and listen when I sing.
Last Sunday I had just returned to my seat from the communion table - I had sat down to join the singing and I suddenly had this experience of being wrapped in a warm cloak. I stopped singing and listened. There were three men singing, one to my right, one to my left, and one behind me - all with these pure, clear voices. Their song became my song. I didn't sing. I listened. It felt so much more worshipful to listen than to make a sound.
While these people were not singing to me - they were praising God, I realized that for me, in that moment, I was feeling what a child cradled in it's parent's arms must feel like when they are sung a lullaby. Protected, loved, surrounded. The baby takes it in and, somehow through simple song, hears a truth beyond just the words of the song. The baby knows love.
I think God gave me the gift of a lullaby last week. A time to rest in the arms of God. Those men were God's voice and, in some way, we were all wrapped in the warm Spirit of God.
When I turned 16 my dad taught me how to change the oil in my car and how to change a tire. I sort-of paid attention, but not really. I have no interest in cars outside of their practical use. So, breaking down on the side of the road is way up there on my list of dreads. I always fill my car up with gas - I am not one of those people who gage the miles just so I can inch by on the last 1/8 of a gallon - I fill up as soon as the gas light comes on.
Today, as I was leaving seminary, I stopped to fill-up - just to be sure I wouldn't run out. I hopped in my car and was on my way. All of a sudden the car began sharking violently and most of my control over the car was lost. I was able to pull over to the side of the road. I got out, and started to walk around the car. I had no idea what I was looking for, since, as I said, I know nothing about cars. But as a approached the rear tire, the problem was obvious. Flat tire.
We are not talking about just a low tire here. It was totally blown. Holes in it - on both sides. There was absolutely no way I could drive it; I was an hour and a half from home; and...I certainly don't remember that tire changing lesson my dad taught me. I distinctly remember thinking - "Why do things have to be soo hard right now?"
Two separate times I was asked, "Geez, what did you do to this tire?" It was that bad. Why is everything blowing up?
Needless to say, I was not happy. I was cursing and frustrated and wishing I was home. But here's the thing - I saw all these angels today. Things do blow up - but then there are these angels that show up.
*A woman turned around, came back and got me, and drove me to the seminary. *The song on the radio was singing, "if you put your light with my light, we'll make the world a little brighter". *A good friend at seminary is a whiz with cars - drove me out, filled the spare, took the blown tire off, and put the spare on....followed me to a tire store. *The men at the tire store met me as I pulled in - "You need a new tire?"...Uh, yeah. 5 minutes later, brand new tire on the car and I am on my way. *Grandma was at the house to get the kids, so I don't have to worry about them. *It wasn't raining or cold (this is huge for me).
The truth is I was scared, crying, and frustrated and simultaneously incredibly aware of people, even strangers, loving me through it. That is an amazing thing.
Things blow up...my tire was just a reminder to me that this is so true. Angels show up too...lights and love, hands and hearts joining together to put things back together.
I have this sort-of funny thing going on with my youngest son involving communion. Most parents I know have children that either take communion or don't - really no in-between. And, in most churches there is a given 'practice' involving communion. Some churches begin communion whenever the child desires (or the parent), some churches it's the 2nd grade, some churches it's 5th grade, and some others still it's 8th grade. The "acceptable" time to commune is up for discussion.
Cooper, who is now 6, really fits none of the categories, accept the first - whenever the child desires. He's the in-betweener kid. Last year on Maundy Thursday we were involved in a Seder Meal. Cooper listened attentively the whole time (at least as well as a then 5 year old boy can). After this ritual, we all went up to the sanctuary and stood in a circle. As the bread and wine were being distributed, he cupped his hands and looked up into the pastor's eyes, as if to say, "Me too. I am a part too. I love Jesus too. This includes me too."
I think about that a lot. I know that Cooper understood, as fully as any of us do, what the celebration of Holy Communion is about. And I think as we grow and wilt, ask and deny, open ourselves and close ourselves, we all come to new and fresh understandings of communion and God's love for us.
I haven't gotten to the funny part yet....this year we returned to our home congregation after being gone a year. Cooper decided he didn't want to take communion anymore - he said he wasn't supposed to. And - I thought it didn't really set a good precedent me up at the altar forcing him to take communion (that surely can't be grace...). So, he stopped taking it, also excusing himself by saying he didn't like the grape juice. I let it go. Besides, there is precedent for those not feeling worthy to come for a blessing as they confess their sins, instead of receiving bread and wine (although I don't necessarily agree with this - who among us is worthy?).
Today though, just a few weeks before Maundy Thursday, he cupped his hands and looked up into the pastor's eyes... different pastor, same feeling. The pastor looked at me, looked at him; Cooper looked at me, looked at him. I said, "Okay. Yeah, give it to him." He asked. What can we say to that?
Ask and you shall receive - it's the promise of Jesus. Ask for grace, ask for love, ask for forgiveness, ask for just a foretaste of all that God has promised to each of God's beloved children. Because when we ask - we receive, one way or another.
Today I got dirty. The sun was out and I had some weeds to pull in my garden. I had looked forward to this since the weatherman predicted a mid-week warming. I expected to have a lovely time, anticipating the smell of the earth, squirmy worms, and the promise of planting tomato plants soon. These are the things I expected. But, when I invited my youngest son to help me out, I 'found' something else.
"Cooper, do you want to help me pull weeds in the garden?"
"No," he said. "Why not? It's great out," I asked.
"Well, I'll help, but I'm digging for dinosaur bones."
Well, you and I both know that Cooper was not going to find a dinosaur bone here in Northern Virginia. His expectation was intoxicating. The whole time we were out there, he kept digging. And every time he would hit something, he would say, "Mom! I think I found one. I bet it's a T-Rex."
After a few of these I said, "Do you really think you are going to find a T-Rex?"
"Maybe not a whole head, but maybe a tooth, or at least a crystal," he says.
I smiled. Expectations. Anticipations. Maybe I set mine too low? And, maybe it doesn't matter if I set them too low or not, because today a mischievous, red-headed six year old, surprised me and reminded me that there are still numerous discoveries to be made.
My youngest son and I have been coloring a large poster together (see our work!). My oldest son looked at it and said: "That's ironic. Cut down a tree to make a poster that says 'Save the Rainforest'." Isn't that ironic? Good point...
So true: Remarked to me by my nine year old son today upon our first big snow storm - "Snow sure wouldn't be such a treat if you lived in Alaska. And recess would really suck because I bet they wouldn't let you even throw a snowball. You'd probably be lucky if you got to build a snowman. It's pretty great for us though, huh, mom?"
Every once in awhile one of my kids says or asks something, which is very innocuous at the basic level, but then the more it rolls around in my head, the more profound it seems. I often wonder if the depth of what their statements conveys is known only to me or if I read into things too much. A little of both, I guess. At this point in my life, as we all embark on a new Lent, it feels more like God talking. So, here's a little portion of how a conversation went with Jackson (age 9) today...maybe it'll speak to you.
I'm folding laundry as Jackson curls up on the couch and asks, "How come we don't celebrate Mardi Gras?"
"Hmmm," I am thinking, "well, we sort-of have before. Remember last year at CLC (my internship congregation), when we had the Pancake Supper? That was on Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday. It happens the day before Ash Wednesday." I am fully aware that my answer is insufficient and don't go into spiritual disciplines of fasting, remembering we are dust, and simplification. For some reason I think it's just too much for him (maybe it's the mom in me protecting his self-esteem - yes, I know...pride can be a sin...).
Jackson says, "But why eat pancakes before Ash Wednesday?" Exactly what I was trying to avoid. "Okay, here it goes," I am thinking. So, I say, "Well, Ash Wednesday is the day we start Lent, which is the 40 days which lead up to Easter. And during Lent we remember and try to focus on God and what has been done for us in Jesus. We try to simplify things. So, people eat pancakes before Lent as their last chance for awhile to over-indulge."
Jackson innocently states, "So, I guess we're not going to be having pancakes for awhile?" I laugh and say, "No, we can have pancakes..." He says (and this is what I love because it's simple and profound ), "Yeah, I guess we could have pancakes, but definitely no 'all-you-can-eat buffets' - that's definitely out of the question."
So - no 'all-you-can-eat buffets' for Lent, no 'it's all about me', no satisfying myself with things which ultimately don't satisfy. I'm hoping during Lent this year I can sit simply with God at the sparseness of the foot of the cross and be fed on the simple offering of bread and wine - then I really will be full.
Last week the weather was incredibly warm here in Washington DC. It seemed to be that way across the nation. In a matter of days, we went from 7 degrees to almost 70 degrees.
My running partner and I were out one morning and she said, "Listen. It's a bird - a sign of spring." It really did sound like spring, and with the warmer weather, even at 5:30 in the morning, it felt like spring.
I said, "Yeah, it's just a tease though. I can't really enjoy it because I know it's not going to stick around."
"I don't know. I think of it more as a respite. We have 7 more weeks of winter regardless - might as well get a break to help us get through the rest of it," she said.
Hmmm.....a respite, not a tease. I think she's on to something. Enjoy the moment. Take the gift that offered. I consider myself a "half-glass full" kind of person, but in that moment I realized I was wishing parts of my life away just because they are filled with darker, colder days. And - when I was given the respite, the chance to bask in a little warmth, I wouldn't even take it in because I knew it wouldn't last.
I've had some darker days, some days that I wish had never happened. I think we all have. I've also seen some amazing things come out of the darkness and cold. Do I wish some of those harsh winds hadn't blown into my life? Yes. Have I seen beautiful gifts of warmth and song come about? Yes. Is there a certain sweetness to the smell of spring in the very midst of death? I think so.
You know, the cold weather's back. The respite is over. But I have this new perspective. The twist of it all is: having had the warmth, having had the break, having had the brief encounter with tranquility and birds singing, I know it'll be back again. And that, that promise of good things to return is something to hold onto. It's not a tease of something you can't have for good, but a promise of what is always around the bend.
The other day I bought a new snack at Trader Joe's...green beans. Now, these are not your regular, run-of-the-mill green beans. They are crunchy and salty and very tasty, did I mention they are fried in canola oil. So, essentially, they are a potato chip made out of a green bean. I sort of fooled myself into thinking it's healthy, it's a green bean. But seriously, with 7% of the daily value of fat and salt, how healthy can they still be? They were at one time good for me, but then, something went terribly wrong (okay, yes, I am being a little dramatic)....but why is it we go and mess with things which are perfectly good as they are? A green bean is just a little example, but we all have our own personal and global examples of when we try to "fix" or "improve" something and it ends up either becoming something unhealthy or just worse than it was. And sometimes, I don't even think we realize we are doing it. Often our intentions are good. I guess what the green beans made me think about is how much time we spend altering and fixing and improving things, rather than appreciating and accepting and listening. Just a thought.
This is not me (way too profound for anything I would write), but Dante: "When he had slowed the hectic pace that mars the dignity of any action, my mind, at first withdrawn into itself, now eagerly took in the wider landscape."
So, what do I do about the green beans? Love 'em or toss 'em? It's a little quandary I'm in...because I am not really sure I can make a stand on a green bean, but they could cause me to slow down and take in the bigger picture.
My name is Christine Stephan, although I answer mostly to Mom or Pastor.
I am a Lutheran pastor for an amazing group of Jesus' disciples just outside Washington DC AND a mom to 3 of the best boys in the universe.
I blog here about family and faith and frustrations....That thing we call 'life'.
My boys are passionate about all things legos, anything involving a ball, video games, and chocolate.
I am an avid runner, a lover of interesting books and deep conversation, a very amateur writer, and also a lover of chocolate.
I also love theology (which is weird, I know), but I don't love theology more than Jesus.
This blog is hardly ever profound, but it is real. As a pastor and I mom, I find 'real' to be more helpful in my journey with Jesus than crossing all the t's and dotting all the i's.