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!
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.