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.
When I was a young mom, I had very fixed ideas about how the perfect mom should be and what she should allow her children to do.
For example, they would certainly never, ever play on those hand-held video games in church.
And...they would never pretend to shoot one another. How uncivilized!
We would have set amounts of screen time and instead of listening to the radio in the car, we would of course, sing the alphabet song or recite our multiplication facts.
Besides all this, I was fairly convinced that organization was the key to keeping things running smoothly. Books were alphabetized and legos were sorted according to color. And...I vacuumed every day.
And then, one day my oldest son came home from preschool and promptly told me that his best friend's dad was a 'bad guy.'
He proceeded to tell me that his friend's dad must be a bad guy because he carries a gun and he's in the Marines. "Bad guys carry guns," he told me.
Ah. Not perfection. I had some back tracking to do.
Now, I have a whole arsenal of weapons in my house. I detest it. And...I also think it's ok.
My kids have also been known to have a charger at church in my office, so they can juice up their pocket video games when the batteries run low.
It's not ideal. It's not perfect. But, I will tell you something.... it's a lot more authentic. It's a lot more real.
Yes, my kids scope out places in the forest to battle it out with their nerf guns. But, they are playing together. And they could sit for hours (if I let them) playing video games. But, they can't wait to show me the new level they've reached. And, our legos are all mixed together and we don't follow the directions....
It's all just a beautiful mess. I think I'll take that over 'perfection' any day (well, most days....a perfectly clean house once a month would feel like heaven, but that'll have to wait about 18 years).
My house is drafty. It was built in 1935. The windows are thin and not tightly sealed. Since it was built in 1935, there are plenty of projects to do, so I haven't done a thing about the draftiness besides slide a draft stopper thing under my front door.
My kids didn't notice the draftiness, but they did notice the draft stopper.
The door's hard to open with that under it. The door mat keeps getting pushed out of the way. We trip over this draft stopper as we leave - it's cumbersome.
Today, my youngest son pulls a magazine insert card out of his pocket and says, "Oh, Mom, I found this in a magazine. It's FREE. Free Housewarming....". And he hands the card to me with a big smile on his face.
I looked at it. I looked at him. And I smiled as I said to him, "Oh, Coop. Thanks. Housewarming."
He was still smiling as his brothers said, "What is it?"
"Housewarming," he says.
He was certain this was going to make his mom happy. A free way to warm our house. The card was actually an advertisement for credit cards...for those who had just moved to the neighborhood. And I ended up explaining to him that a 'housewarming gift' is when someone brings you something that makes your new house feel more like a home - like a plant or plate of cookies or a door wreath.
I guess my explanation is true, but today there was a homewarming at my house. Warmed by the care, giving and, love that carried that card in his pocket all day, just so he could give it to me over dinner.
The free way to warm our house ended up being that card, but in a much different way than my youngest son had anticipated. Housewarming. Homewarming. Heartwarming.
I've known that this year anniversary of mine was coming up for some time.
Today marks my one year anniversary of ordination. It is a big deal in 'my world' - although in the scheme of the world, not such a big deal. However, we all do seem to mark time by remembering anniversaries.
Last year at this time I:
was snowed in
postponed my ordination due to snow
cancelled Advent 4 due to snow
and....was fairly certain that 'this time next year' things would be very different. I was certain getting a year under my belt, so to speak, would make all the difference in the world.
So, here I sit, one year later and it seems like the only thing that is predictable in my world is the snow. The irony of 'potential significant snowfall' in the next few days is not lost on me.
I've been waiting for the "Oh, I've done this before" feeling to hit. I would love to feel like I know what I am doing....but every day I wake up and know that I don't know what the hell I'm doing.
But - don't be scared (especially if you attend the church I serve). I really don't have a clue...but God does. And, if I have learned one thing over this past year it would be, when serving God becomes predictable, then we're probably serving ourselves.
I crave organization; ministry is messy. I crave predictability; God's unpredictable. I crave rest; God is relentless. So, here's where I am at on my one year anniversary:
Right where I started.
Confused and unsure.
But faithful. To be sure, I fail sometimes, but I am trying. Of course...it's going to snow; it's only fitting, because last year at this time I said, "I'll probably never have to deal with this again...".
So, what difference does a year make? I am not sure.
But, this much is clear - I will be spending the rest of my life making the differences God calls me to (and calls you to too), whether I happen to be able to point to them or not.
The other day I was having coffee at an area Caribou Coffee shop. I looked down at the sleeve on the cup and read: Life is short. Stay awake for it.
Caribou Coffee's been stealing from the Gospel of Matthew. Really - they have. Check it out: Matthew 24: 42 - Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your LORD is coming. (For Advent 1 reading click here). It's probably an occupational hazard that I read a coffee cup and think of Jesus, but still....
Truth be told, they haven't been stealing, but they've tapped into something that we all know - the fact that many of us feel like there isn't a whole heck of a lot to stay awake for. During this Advent season we are urged to stay awake, look for life!
I probably over analyze things, although I like to think it's looking for a deeper meaning, but as I looked at that coffee sleeve, urging me to stay awake for life, I thought:
'Isn't that an interesting dichotomy [yes, I actuallythought that word - dichotomy. I like it...much of life is such dichotomy]...if there's so much to stay awake for, why do I even need this hyped-up caffeinated beverage?
As many of you know, I drink more Diet Mountain Dew than possibly any other person on the planet. I like my caffeine. So, the more I've been thinking about this coffee sleeve, the more I've wondered, do we need the caffeine to stay awake for life?
Because if we do...then we are in trouble. Trouble may not be the right word, but....you know, life itself is enough to stay awake for. There are amazing things happening and coming, but we don't see them sometimes. At least I know I miss amazing things on a daily basis. Maybe we are too numbed out on caffeine, I don't know.
The reason I liked the question, "What do you stay awake for?" so much is because it points to what Matthew doesn't say. If I could rewrite Matthew, which would probably get me in loads of trouble with Bible translators, I would add that piece, "Therefore, keep awake, because there's much to blow your mind going on out in the world. You certainly don't want to miss it." I'd probably need to add some more therefore's and art thou's and thy's.
Matthew reminds us to stay awake. And Matthew says that the LORD is coming, so we should stay awake for that, but he doesn't ask us: What's so compelling about your life that you would want to stay awake through all hours of the night without the added assistance of caffeine?
So...what do you stay awake for?
Matthew would say, stay awake for Jesus.
So - would I, but I would add this one caveat... how?
If it's not the caffeine that's getting me through life, then what is?
I stay awake for:
crisp morning runs which clear my head
kisses from boys who don't care they've been throwing up for three days
texts from friends which make me laugh out loud
small gifts which make a big difference
pre-school kids who hug me tight
smiles from strangers who receive an invitation
There are more to be sure...but those are the things I've stayed awake for today (and I've only be awake for 7 hours). I stay awake for those things, because I see God in them. I see the person of Jesus in smiles, in tears, in touches... Honestly, there is something saving in those for me - something Jesus-like. Something realer than real.
I'm not inspired by the perfect cup of coffee, but I am inspired by the perfect imperfectness of Jesus.
And I don't need caffeine to keep me awake for that. I know there are people who read this blog who aren't sure if they believe in God... and I guess I stay awake a lot because of that...because I once heard someone say, "If you've ever wondered about Jesus, about life after death, I'm here to tell you there's nothing truer in the universe. That's my job."
I stay awake because I know that to be true...
What do you stay awake for?
Think about it.
And then....really stay awake for it, because it will be there that you will meet Jesus.
Wednesday evening I had the opportunity to worship at a church down the street from the one I serve. I was going with a few people from our Wednesday evening Bible Study to a Thanksgiving Eve service.
And...I didn't worry about a thing.
It was nice.
Sunday mornings are not like this for me.
I hardly sit.
I try not to worry, but I do.
It is still nice.
So, I sat. And I prayed. And I sang and sorta danced in my pew - and I'm a terrible dancer.
And I didn't care.
And soon the pastor got up to preach and all I wanted was for him to tell me about God.
Just tell me again, the same thing I preach every week...
Tell me about God. I'll never tire of that - of someone saying:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And I'll never tire of someone saying:
Let us pray....
And I'll never tire of someone saying:
God is like...
or God loves you...
or God gave his only Son...
or God forgives you...
And as I sat there, longing to hear about God, I knew...the task of the preacher is not so much to be creative, but to just talk about God like you really care. Because for some reason, we just can't get enough.
I have a different prayer practice with each of my three sons. My youngest son and I say a prayer in this manner:
Cooper: give you this day
Cooper: of our work
Cooper: all of our play.
Cooper: that we do
Cooper: all that we say.
We've been saying this same prayer together since he was about two (yes...probably time for a new one). We began alternating so he could learn the words....I gave him the prompts.
Last night as we said this prayer for possibly the 1800th time, Cooper says to me,
"Mom, how can we give God the day? God gives them to us. That makes no sense."
Wow. I was shocked he'd even heard the words...let alone hearing them in a new way. Now it's true that theologically we give our days back to God. How we live and act and play (which is what I explained to him)...
But the beauty of his statement was that what he saw first was that his day(s) is given to him by God - first and foremost.
That each and every day is a gift. Sometimes that's harder to see. Since I've worried lately about his days - how he's feeling about our recent move and all, it's nice to know that he still sees them as pure gift.
Recently I preached a sermon during which I touched on the project called "It Gets Better" . This project is targeted at bullying in schools, specifically bullying of those who are gay or perceived to be gay. The reason for this project...in the past few weeks there have been at least 7 reported suicides by youth who are between the ages of 12 and 16, who were bullied based on their sexuality.
So, the "It Gets Better" project invites adults to minister to youth - to tell them that they are not alone, that this is not the end of the world, that there are people out there who will wrestle with them. That there are blessings that come out of struggles - that things will indeed 'get better'.
As a mom of three boys ages 8-13, I am sensitive to 'sex talk' and 'suicide talk' and 'not wanting to scare them talk,' but I am also keenly aware of the fact that they live and breathe and play in the very same world that these youth did.
So, as we climbed into the van that day, after I had preached that sermon, I said, "So...does anyone have any questions about my sermon today."
"It was weird."
"I don't believe it. That a kid would kill himself."
Me again, "I thought I needed to say something, guys. It's important that the church talk about things that really happen and where God is in those cruddy times."
"Yeah. I agree."
"Yeah, you think those kids knew that God was with them?"
Me again, "Yeah. I think they did. Jesus knows a lot about feeling alone and the end of the world."
Jackson: "You know why I think God lets people do what they want?"
Me: "You mean, like 'free will'?"
Jackson: "Yeah. Well, you know how God's eventually going to make earth part of heaven? Well...God wants us to help make earth into heaven, so we have to learn how to do that. And....the only way we learn is by doing. At least that's what my soccer coach says."
Me: "So, we learn through our mistakes and successes?"
Jackson: "Yep. But if it takes us too long, then God will just fix it or send some more angels or something. Maybe a bunch of pastor angels."
Me: "I don't know if people turn into angels. It says that God made humans 'just a little lower than angels'."
Jackson: "I guess, but seriously Mom, if God can make people out of dust, then I think God could make angels out of people."
Me (giggling): "You're right, buddy. Time for bed now..."
This blog has always been called the "Tiny Dart Frog," based on the beauty and strength and smallness of the poison dart frog.
When I was in college I got a poison dart frog tattoo. I got it to remind myself that I may be tiny, but I am strong and I am okay and I am made by God. Okay, the "made by God piece" wasn't quite formed that solidly when I was in college, but it's still true.
But, when I got it, the tattoo was about me. About me claiming myself.
When my youngest son was around two he began kissing my frog tattoo. For some reason he thought tattoos are for kissing. Once, when we were at the bus-stop another mom's tattoo was peeking out the bottom of her short's leg and he walked over and kissed her tattoo...because that's what he thought you do. I had a bit of explaining to do.
My tattoo had become about him. It was about him claiming me; carrying a piece of us around as he experienced the world.
When I started blogging my random thoughts, however insignificant they are, it was about sharing something more. Something that wasn't only about me....but about God, about life. It was about connecting all the 'me's' of the world in cyberspace.
I've been given a lot of frogs over the past 15 years. They sit on my desk, hang on my wall, rest on my bed, ink my body, and sometimes find their way onto the lobes of my ears. I can tell you who gave me almost every one or where it came from. My tattoo, which started out about me finding me, became me finding others and others finding me. I like that.
Recently we moved and my youngest son was scared getting on the bus. Scared is not an adequate word - terrified maybe, distraught possibly, insecure probably. So, I grabbed the closest thing to me - my work bag. My work bag is covered with pins and patches. Quickly I unpinned a little frog pin and fastened it on his pocket.
I pin that frog pin to him everyday right now. I wish I didn't have to. I wish he didn't need that visible reminder, but he does, at least for now. I know what that's like - to need a reminder. Heck, a pin is a whole lot less permanent than a tattoo.
It's little bit of me attached to him. And in some ways, it's a little bit of you too, because all of us have our insecurities, worries, and fears. Pinned to him right now is the whole "you may be tiny but you can do this" piece. A little courage in his pocket. A little you are loved and beautiful and made by God tacked on him.
Frogs and whispers. Birds and songs. Me and you. These are the things that get us through and make us who we are. May you learn who that person is and may you help someone find who they are.
My normal practice is not to publish sermons, because I feel they are 'moment' and 'time' driven.... It's always impossible [in my opinion] to capture the Spirit afterwards or on the paper. However, after a few requests for this one based on Luke 16: 19-31.
"So, almost every day I drive bysomeoneholding up a sign that says:
“Homeless, please help.” Or, “Will work for food.” Or, “Wounded Veteran. God Bless.”
When I lived in Virginia, there was a man just like this, that I saw every day. I saw him over and over – every day he was in the same spot. Rain or sun; day or night. And, whether it is right or wrong, whether he used what was given to him for good or ill, I almost always gave him money. In my mind I sort-of adopted him – I felt connected to him.
I doubt he hardly remembered my face from time to time, but for some reason, his stuck with me. Even my kids would say, “Hey, mom. There’syourguy…”
Don said once, “You knowyourguy? He’s not looking so well.” And then, I didn’t see him for a really long time. I wished I had done something else for him. But honestly, I didn’t know what that would be. Eventually he returned to the corner of Lee Highway and Sycamore Street.
At first, it bothered me that they referred to him as “your guy”. After all, I didn’t even know him, really, and it felt like such 'ownership' language. But after awhile, when I would talk about him, I called him ‘my guy’. I didn’t know his name, but he did matter to me. I needed some type of relationship language to talk about him.
He’s probably still there, I’m sure. I’m fairly certain I would recognize him anywhere. But why him?
I’ve been thinking a lot about him, because the other day, I exited 495 onto Connecticut and at the bottom of the ramp was another man, holding another sign. And I looked down, pretending I was looking at something. Pretending I didn’t see him, when I really did.
His sign, it said, “How much does it really hurt to give a little?”
Really, that’s what it said. Since I still remember that moment and what his sign said, I think maybe it hurts more tonotgive. The not giving has been eating a little hole in my heart.
So, why not him? Why the one and not the other? Why these giant chasms between people?
I don’t know about you, but I envision ‘The Rich Man’ on one side of the Grand Canyon and Lazarus and Abraham on the other side, with this giant hole in-between them.
The ground they both stand on is solid, firm, fixed. And, between them, carved out of that which would be whole, is this chasm, this hole.
The words which really haunt me though, especially when I confess my own inadequacies and failings to you all, is the part in this parable that says, “And besides allthis, a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”
It’s the chasm piece, the hole piece, that just makes me squirm, makes me worry. Basically, scares the hell into me. What’s Jesus’ point in this parable?
First, I’m going to need you to think back to 3rd grade when you learned about homophones. Homophones are two words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings, like hole [h-o-l-e] and whole [w-h-o-l-e].
A hole, like a chasm, is a hallowed out place in something solid, making the whole, less than whole. This is the problem here....in this parable. There is a hole or a chasm between two people. Lazarus and the Rich Man. Between me and the man standing on Connecticut, a great chasm has been fixed.
The two men, begging on the street corner for some money, for some food, for a chance. Not so different from Lazarus. Let’s face it though - it’s not two men, it’s around 3 Million, at any given time in America that are homeless.
Their lives are not as God would have them.... God does not desire people to stand on street corners, or lie at gates, or rummage through trash. That is not the whole, abundant, fruitful life God has planned for his children.
My new little green bungalow is only going to provide so much insulation and safety. If take seriously the words, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them,” and I don’t...then I am tossing not only the poor at the gate, but myself too.
The Rich Man - he didn’t listen, really. He didn’t see, really. Why? Who really knows, but I’m guessing for the very same reasons that it’s hard for us to hear the words, “And a great chasm was fixed....”. Maybe it was justtoohard to hear,toohard to see...toomuch to give up.
It seems to me, that the place I stand, that we all stand sometimes, is just on the edge of the chasm. We want to be relieved of distresses without having to move, change, or grow. Without having to suffer, see the unseeable, and hear the unhearable.
Often, especially in the church, we talk about being the ‘hands and feet’ of Jesus, which we are, which is beautiful. But, I think, before we can actually be the hands and feet, we have to be the ears and eyes of Jesus.
We have to see as Jesus sees. Hear as Jesus hears. Not as I hear or see; or you hear or see, but as God experiences the world.
The reason I cared about the one man was because I saw through Jesus’ eyes. I saw his humanity when I saw his wounds, his pack of cigarettes, his brown tussled hair - which at some point became a buzz cut. The day he wore a trash-bag as a rain coat and his hand touched mine a bit longer than usual as I passed him some money, his eyes met mine and he said, “God Bless you.” Jesus saw him, and I got to take part.
We miss a lot when we see through our eyes and ears. We miss seeing the scars of the world as the scars of Jesus; the wounds of Lazarus as the wounds of Jesus.
We can lie in a bed next to someone and be a million miles away, just as easily as we can cast our eyes away from the gates of hell which scatter the world. Out lives are riddled with gaping holes which seem impassible.
But Jesus promises us that the chasms can be bridged. It doesn’t specifically say that in this parable directly, but underlying it, rests that promise. Jesus promises us through this parable that when we, “See. Hear. Hold. Love. Touch. Talk....then the chasm never gets dug.”
But we know, just by looking at our own lives, there is erosion; there are holes in our lives and our relationships with others. We know that distances exist.
Jesus isn’t going to do the hard relationship work for us, but he will do it through us, if we allow him to. God wants nothing more than to bring wholeness to this world.
Jesus, we pray, that somehow you will help us to see others through your eyes and hear with your ears. Amen."
I've been lost a few times...okay, maybe more than a few.
You too, you say?
It's a damningly hard thing, this being lost bit.
The truth is though, once lost and then found...
You're never quite lost again.
Just in-between, waiting for the day
When home feels like home,
Alone doesn't feel lonely,
And the dawn, in some ways, doesn't feel fresh anymore....
It just feels 'normal.
This post may be many things: a disclaimer, an excuse (at least for my text study group), a rationalization...but mostly, I am fairly certain, in the end I will know this experience as a true gift.
Yesterday morning, I sat, prepared to lead text study with a group of colleagues - I had actually prepared and I had decent theological thoughts (heck, I even knew what I was going to preach on - on Wednesday no less), and then...I started to cry. We aren't talking about wet eyes here; we are talking about giant crocodile tears, streaming down my face...I couldn't talk. Thankfully, someone took pity on me and told me to 'take a break'. What I couldn't express then...the reason for my tears, I will express now.
One of the texts was from Deuteronomy...at the beginning it says, "See, I have set before you life and death. If you obey the commandments of the LORD....then you will be blessed". I happen to love the book of Deuteronomy. It's not that I like laws [which much of the book is filled with], although the control freak in me appreciates it, but I like the involvement of God in our lives...appreciate the specificity.
The reason I adore it really has always been the statement God continuously makes: "I am the LORD your God". The entire book is based on this fact. That God is for us, that God lays claim on us. I like knowing that I belong to someone that can spin entire universes into being. It's pretty cool.
So, yesterday, I was all prepared to talk about this fact...God's claim on us. And I looked at my note to myself that said "I, YHWH, am the LORD your God" and I was angry, and sad, and knew in a very real and true way God's claim on my life.
I had just moved my kids away from their friends, away from the only home they had ever known because of God's claim, God's work in the world. I uprooted them for no other reason than that statement, "I am the LORD you God"....in my heart when I read that, I heard, "and you shall go where I ask you to go".
All of this sort-of happened in a blink...I heard that and I thought, "I'll go, but you could pave the path a bit. Not make it so hard on the kids. Make it hard on me, not them." I was, for lack of an educated way of saying it, "GRRRRR!"
I was furious at this claim of God. Downright furious. And when I am mad and I try to talk...then I start to cry. Well, I am a crier anyway, but that's what happened yesterday.
It is not so easy following this Jesus we follow; the claim of God on us sends us into unknown territories. God does promise life and does give the promised land, but it's also true that it's a 'little by little' kind of thing (it says this in Exodus 24).
Here's the thing, as ticked off at God as I was in that instant yesterday, the reverse is true today. Today I said to my son who looked at me with scared, weepy eyes, "You can do this." And - I know he can and I'm going to keep on reminding him of it. God has a claim on him too...a claim to bring him to a new life, to a new home, to very, very good things.
Following Jesus isn't easy and never was meant to be.
Dear text study group....I sort-of meant to say something like that yesterday rather than, "Please excuse me...I'm so sorry....sniff, sniff, sniff".
Not too long ago I preached a sermon about prayer...prayer as a practice in listening.
Well....I happen to be failing as a listener right now. I am a 'doer' when there are things to be done. My prayer life feels like a woodpecker picking at a tree over and over again. Like I just keep shooting thoughts, worries, concerns up at God... peck, peck, peck.
This morning as I was doing this, I was so frustrated with myself. I felt like I was participating in everything that I feel prayer is not - basically 'telling' God what I think God should do....leaving no room for God to speak, act, or even breathe.
My prayers were making me more anxious. So - I began to pray about this. Pray about my anxious prayers. It was then that I realized that as much as I believe prayer is about listening, sometimes it's hard to get into a listening frame of mind when one is carrying around so much.
I was in a quandary. What to do? I needed to voice stuff, but I needed to slow down to do that, so that I could listen. What I needed most was not answers, but rest. I needed my brain to chew on something that wouldn't make me think of my 'to do' list.
Something (or someone) said, "Chant". Now...let me tell you, there's no way I could do Gregorian chant while running. Plus - gotta say, with a nod to the Church Fathers, that Gregorian chant is just not my thing. At least not normally, but there was something about the humidity, rain, and steam of the morning that felt a bit like a hot yoga studio, so I began to chant [in my head] the words to "Jesus Remember Me" in conjunction with my breathing. This was as close as I could get to a chant.
"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom..." Over and over it went through my mind. I had heard it last week during the offertory during worship and it seemed so fitting now. An offering, a prayer, a chant, a plea, an acceptance.
Eventually, my brain did become occupied with these thoughts...I did feel a space open up between my temples. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom..."
Listening is so hard, when there's so much to say. But it's hard to listen if all we think about is what we have to say... Today was my very first realization of what a chant actually provides, beyond being 'traditional church music'. The chance to listen while speaking.
I bought new running shoes recently. They are the same brand and model I have been buying for 5 years. So, they are new, but not different. This is such a 'girl' complaint, but they are always blue or teal or...some boring color. So, while I was waiting for my 'same-old/same-old' to be brought out of the store room, an exquisite bright orange and pink shoe caught my eye.
The salesclerk brought my shoes out and I said, "What's with this shoe? I've never seen it before."
He responded, "Oh, it's totally new. It's designed to keep you on your toes while you're running." [For those of you who don't know...the 'proper' running form is on your toes, not rolling through your heel.]
I responded, "It's soooo CUTE! I've been buying the same shoe for years, maybe I will check this one out."
I'm pretty sure he was rolling his eyes as he said, "Well, you better try them on and get on the treadmill over there before you buy them. They really feel different."
So, despite the fact that I was in a skirt, I laced them up and got on the treadmill and.....HATED THEM.
I wanted to like them so much, but they felt so wrong. And the reason they felt this way is because they were forcing me into the right form. Now, I normally maintain very good form - for the first 5 miles or so, then I start to rest back on my heels because it's easier.
"So, what do you do when you get tired in these shoes?" I asked.
"You're supposed to work up to your usual mileage, because it's going to be harder, but it's almost guaranteed to help you run faster, because you maintain form."
Well...I didn't buy them. I wanted to. They really did help. And they really were super cute. But I didn't think I could live up to the shoe's expectations.
Actually, I didn't think I had it in me to maintain proper form the whole time, like when I got tired, which I knew would happen. So, I've been trying to work on my form without the shoes. This morning I tried to stay on my toes the whole time...and I did go faster and I did enjoy my run more.
All morning I've been thinking about those adorable shoes. Not that I'm going to go get them, but more about 'form'. How when we maintain form, we function better.
So, what's the proper form for a human? I guess we all have different answers to this, but I've been thinking a bit about mine, as much of my life seems dismantled right now. My form...the things which make me really feel like I am functioning rightly revolve around: morning runs, real conversation with people, honest prayer, a good book, weekly worship, a few of my favorite foods (which aren't fancy but are comforting), and lots of hugs from my children.
Honestly, my form was a lazy. It was like I thought because I was tired I couldn't maintain the form, so I scaled back to self-preservation mode. No good books, less prayer, no time for friends... Not really that bad, but certainly not what I know I need. In the past week I've been thinking that my form is what helps me function...my good form. I do have good form. I know this. I know that these are good things which help me to thrive...sometimes they are just a bit scary or intimidating or force me to stay on my toes.
But...life on my toes is much better than just rolling through - heel to toe. And, it helps if your form has some cuteness involved too. Good thing I've got my kids.
What's your form?
This is a disclaimer...not so much for my thoughts, but for the fact that I struggled to get the thoughts out of my head and into type. Maybe a first for me - at a loss for words. Basically...this whole blog boils down to: we need to talk, really talk in real and intimate ways, to get to know one another. That means, we will have to learn to really talk. Someone said to me today: "Do I really know you?" It's made me think...
My kids have a secret language. Maybe secret is not quite the right word. People know about their made-up words. They have special words for orange juice (and apple juice - because these are hot commodities in my house), happy/good; they each have nicknames...there's a whole host of words which escape me. They talk with one another using this language, interspersed with 'normal' verbiage. It all makes sense to them. The funny thing is...it sort-of makes sense to me too. Even their babysitter has picked up on it. But to someone from the outside, it would not make sense at all.
Sometimes their dad says to them, "Remember to use regular words when you're talking to other people." I don't really think he has to say this, because they only use these words around people they know. Actually, not even just around people they know...they use this language around people they feel safe around and love. The language is more of a shared experience between brothers who love each other.
Today I heard a report about relationships that last...how nicknames and inside jokes are good for relationships, because they help bond people. I think this is really true. And...I've been thinking about this in terms of my relationships.
I have many names: Weeze (this is what my dad calls me and how I sign all my letters to him), Chris (this is what my family calls me), Christine (my grown-up friends call me this), Mom (Obviously, my children refer to me as this), ex-wife (my former husband and dear friend), Pastor (people in my congregation)... Now these aren't secret, except maybe Weeze. And...if you really know me, then you know how I got my name Weeze. These are names, which say something about my relationship with these people though. Words that by themselves mean very little, but when experienced in context express almost everything there is to me.
The reason I really am thinking about this though is in terms of theological words. Do we have a 'secret code' of words? And, if we do (which I don't necessarily think is a bad thing) are we using those words to connect us or divide us? My kids will teach anyone their language. Like, when I was learning the word for orange juice (orankdid), I used to always say, 'oink'. They would laugh and remind me. Even that brought us together.
As I think about words we toss around so freely in the church...I am wondering if we know what the words mean...to us each, personally. Really, what's glory? What is it? And...reign, and sacrifice, and Son of God, and resurrection, and salvation, and atonement, and omnipotent, and transcendence, and....See what I mean? I like these words, actually I love them. I like that I don't fully understand them, because no matter how hard I try, I do not and just flat out can't, fully understand God. But, I would like to be in a conversation where we let down our guards and talk about what these words mean. What they really mean. Not what we think they mean, or what we were told in church they mean.
But what do they mean to you? What do they say to you through your life? I'll tell you something about me...I mostly think the glory of God often takes up residence in a shower stall. You'd have to know me really, really well to know why, but it's the truth. And, I don't know if I really think God is all-knowing. There you go. It's better than me nodding my head like I agree. And - a whole host of other things...
If we (either you and I, dear reader OR you and your best friend or mom OR me and a friend - whatever), if we started talking about what our words mean, then I bet our relationships would be a whole lot richer.
We'd have the words to say..."Yes, I need a friend." OR "My life is just in the biggest shambles right now and could you please help me?" OR "The other day when I was praying...I saw the glory of God."
I've been through this before....nursing a dying lizard back to health. Last time, although we tried, we prayed, we went to the vet - we were unable to save my middle son's leopard gecko.
Back then...we were nervous when we walked into the vet, but when I asked in a hushed whisper, so my son could hardly hear, "So, do you think he's gonna die?" The vet responded, "No, he should be fine. This is fairly common." We were hopeful. Confident.
When Stripe (the first lizard) died, my son said he wanted to wait awhile before having another one. He waited about 9 months before he thought he was ready. Jackson loves lizards. Actually, he loves all living things. He has a connection to the inner beatings of creatures. He is the most himself when he's outside in the forest or digging in the ground...anything God created, Jackson loves.
So, when he said to me a few weeks ago, "Mom, something's wrong with Norbert (the new lizard). I think he's sick. You have to take him to the vet," I couldn't help but feel the injustice of it all. Jackson coos over this lizard, feeds it, turns it's lights on and off.... He does every single thing we were told to do to care for Norbert.
Turns out...we didn't have all the information. We hadn't been caring for him as well as we should have been. Jackson was scared. And - Jackson was livid, because in his words, "All the pet store cares about is the money. They don't care about the pets." Hard to argue with that.
I took this little bearded dragon to the exotic pet vet where he received a shot, a bath, an eye treatment, calcium, and a super-duper vitamin boost. I was 'taught' how to syringe feed him at home. How to bathe him and help him shed. How to give him calcium and put ointment on his eye. How to rub his belly to help him poop (Yup - the things a mom will do for her children).
As Jackson watched me do all these things, he said, "It's worse than I thought, Mom." Hmmm....me too.
"Is he going to die?" he asks.
"Oh, Jackson, I don't know. It's 50-50. It's a precarious situation. We'll do everything we possibly can but there's no guarantees." I didn't want to promise him anything.
Every day we've been going through this regimen. And...he's been getting better. At first, I didn't say anything about it to Jackson. I didn't want him to start to hope and then have his hopes dashed.
Jack eventually noticed and said, "I think h'es getting better."
"Yes, it looks that way. But...don't get you're hopes up too much. You never know," was my response.
But Norbert is getting better. He ate live food yesterday - crickets dusted with calcium. I've begun to hope myself. And, I've begun to realize..what is life without 'hope'? And why did I try to take that away from Jackson? If we hope, we may get hurt. But if we don't hope, our hearts still may break.
Hope doesn't guarantee...but hope is what hanging onto life is all about.
Am I afraid to hope still? Maybe. Maybe in many, many areas of life we all are a bit afraid to hope. Discovering what it means to hope is probably about as close as we get to discovering what it really means to live.
Come on, Norbert! We're all hoping and praying for you.
I'm moving. Moving...
It still sounds strange for me to say it.
But, I'm actually not moving yet...because I have to pack.
I'm packing. Packing, packing, packing...at least I am trying to.
I'm not so good at packing because I am not a pack-rat. I do not by my very nature keep things that I do not think I need. Most things I own because in some ways they are special to me.
So, when I sat down this afternoon to go through the FIVE large shopping bags filled with artwork my children made... WOW!
That may be all I can say- WOW! I looked at all their 'All About Me' books from pre-school and their hand-print turkey pictures and their funny chalk self portraits.
I don't need this stuff...it's been in my closet for years and I haven't peeked at it, but oh, did my heart just swell. Swell with happiness when I thought about how Cooper used to want to be an astronaut; swell with longing for those tiny baby dimples of Carter's; swell with joy at the "You are the Best" cards from Jackson. And then I saw this scrap...this tiny scrap that I had saved and I remembered it immediately.
It was just a piece of computer paper, with two red stick figures, standing by a little yellow stick figure baby. Above it were 3 blue candles and 1 pink candle. And I remembered this picture. I remembered the day that Cooper brought me this picture and gave it to me with a huge smile on his face. And he told me to hang on the fridge, because that's where all the best art goes.
That was a day when I knew that God had been working in Cooper's life and I didn't even know it. That was a day when the Spirit was manifest and I thought, "Oh - this may be what being a mom is all about....a scrap of paper, a few crayons, a giant smile, an outstretched hand with a gift just for me."
If I'm being honest...I almost have tears in my eyes now.
I need that picture.
I can't recycle it. I must pack it up and take it to our new home. There are many of those pieces of art which will not make the journey (because, let's be honest...I really only need one bag - not five!). But I think, that scrap may find a new home...
It's a home we don't know yet, but I have a feeling that when I hang that picture up it'll feel a bit more like home.
But, in the meantime - I will have to continue to pack...maybe I will find more treasures.
Lately I've felt my oldest son pulling away...this doesn't really bother me because I know he supposed to do it. And - he still talks to me - sorta. And every once in awhile he'll send me a text that's a smiley face or something - so I know we're good.
Today he and I were in the car alone together and I was goofing around with him. I said something like, "Oh, you know Bud, this is what mom's do. We are supposed to act silly and embarrass you. It's just because I love you."
He rolled his eyes.
I continued talking about an idea I had to do at church...something I thought he would like. Something I thought was "cool" enough for him...
He laughed and rolled his eyes.
I teasingly said, "You used to not roll your eyes at me, you know? You used to snuggle me and look at me like you loved me."
He rolled his eyes and said, "Oh, Mom, don't worry - this is just the new way I look at you to tell you that I love you."
Then he rolled his eyes again and went back to looking out the window.
I'm glad he said that. I didn't need to hear it, really. He and I have a fun relationship and most of the time I look at him and think he's amazing. But, I'm glad he said it to remind me (and himself) that love looks very different and varying points in our lives. And not one of them is better than the other - just different. And harder to appreciate sometimes.
The look of love - look for it, you may find it in unexpected places...like in a van on the way to a birthday party.
Recently I ran the Boston Marathon, which has been a dream of mine since the 10th grade. When I returned many, many people asked me, "How was the race?"
My response was almost always something to the effect of:
"It was GREAT! My time wasn't that great though. I ran 8 minutes slower than my usual marathon pace."
And then I proceeded to talk about how exhilarating it is to stand at the start line with 25, 000 other runners, to run the oldest marathon around, to struggle and conquer Heartbreak Hill(s), to spend the weekend with one of my best friends, to have a chance to relax....
It isn't often that I wake up and know that today a dream will be fulfilled.
One time I went through this - reliving all the amazing pieces of my marathon experience and ended it with, "So, it was great even if my time wasn't."
The person responded, "Sounds to me like your 'time' was amazing."
Hmm...that's right. That is spot on, I thought. My time was amazing. Bookend life with that...you can't actual quantify 'time' if you look at it that way.
So, yes, I was a bit slower - chalk it up to really steep hills or taking in the scenery. Whatever. I had an amazing time.
When my oldest son was young, I was the careful mom. My son looked cute - all the time. I always had a spare diaper, some nutritious snacks, and made sure he followed the rules. Among the rules was: No Running with Sticks!
Seriously...if he ran with a stick, he could trip, and then he could fall, and then he could impale himself in the eye with a stick, and therefore he would be blind for the rest of his life. No running with sticks.
Then, I had another son, and another...and my rules get less and less strict. I dressed my kids less and less matchy-match - and basically hoped they had clean underwear. And...we ate whatever was in the house.
Now...my oldest is, um - gulp, almost a teenager. I hear him talking about girls - he texts all the time - doesn't talk too much anymore either. And I thought I needed to worry about him running with sticks.
There don't seem to be any rules for this...I gotta let him run. It's scary though.
Running with sticks, or lightsabers, or sword fighting sure doesn't seem like a big deal anymore.
The other evening I went for a bike ride... The previous few days had been incredibly busy and I needed a stress release. Normally I run...it's definitely my first choice when it comes to letting it all go. However, there is an aspect of biking that doesn't happen much with running.
It's the freefall. You know, the point where you ride up this huge hill - pushing, straining, laboring.... and then on the other side, when you reach the summit - there it is: the freefall. I love this!
I pause just before letting my pedals go - just so I am ready to take in the rush of air, the speed, the freedom, the weightlessness. For me that feeling I get is how I envision "freedom in the LORD". It's purely living. Worrying about nothing. Doing nothing wrong - enjoying everything right.
The one other time I have this same sense of weightlessness is during the last 5 minutes of church. When I used to sit in the congregation, I waited for this part. I knew it was coming and I would relax my shoulders, breathe deeply, shut my eyes, and wait...for the weightlessness when I heard:
"Now may the LORD bless you and keep you. May the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the LORD look upon you with favor and give you peace."
Ahhh....freedom. Really - it's my favorite part. And it really does feel like a rush for me.
It's the sun shining, spirit blowing, and the hand of God all rolled into one...
Go ahead....let it go. God's got your back.
If you are a man, you may have a hard time relating to this post.
The surest sign that Spring is on it's way: No Empty Pedicure Chairs!
That's exactly what I found the other day when I arrived at the nail salon. It was my day off and I had been looking forward to this little treat I had planned for myself for two weeks. It was one of the things I kept looking forward to when I was knee deep in the muck and muddle of life (muck and muddle=need for prettied up toes).
I hadn't ordered the beautiful, sunny 60 degree day, but I sure was thankful for it. A whole lot of other people were thrilled too....they all went to get pedicures. Pinks, reds, purples....all sorts of colors. All colors screaming Spring.
It was as if all the toes of the world were thankful to strip off the ugly boots and thick socks they had been wearing all Winter. Spring had arrived...and even the toes were ready.
As I sat there, reading and relaxing I listened to the chatter going on around me - some in English, some in languages unknown to me. What I heard in everyone's voices was excitement. Excitement for warmth and sunshine. Longing and hope hung in the air. Longing for the freedom of days gone by - days running barefoot through the backyard grass, of wiggling toes in dirt. And hope that those days might return again.
If you've sat in a pedicure chair, you know that most people mind their own business, at least I do. It's my time to not speak to a soul. I didn't speak to anyone on this day either. Yet, we each sat on the precipice of that same hope. We sat in our chairs, with our naked toes being clothes in bright colors, looking out onto the horizon of better days.
What's your color gonna be...because better days are on their way.
This "Fire Safety Plan" has been taped to my cupboard for 5 1/2 years. My oldest son wrote it up for our family after school Fire Safety Week. The steps of the plan are:
1. Alarm goes off.
2. Roll out of bed (PS, if at night)
3. Crawl too door, check if its hot. If cold go out.
If hot, go out the window and call nine one one.
4. Help family. Meet at tall tree.
5. and YELL.
I think about this plan a lot. It's actually quite good (except we don't really have a tall tree). But it's a plan which has many floating pieces.
We think of plans very linearly. We do step 1, then 2, then 3....they follow in a course of action. That's the plan. But as I think about this very basic fire plan, I realize the focus is the goal. The goal of being safe. The emphasis is not on all the how's. So...the plan is whatever gets you to that goal.
For example, step 3 actually has two possibilities - both dependent on an outside variable. It's still a plan...it just is weaved together a bit more like a spiderweb.
The reason I think about plans a lot is because I often hear people say, "I know God has a plan," or "This must be God's plan...." Well, yes, God has a plan, but I think there are many, many forks in it...many variables which play upon one another.
God's plan is to bring about goodness, wholeness. God's plan is to usher in God's kingdom. That's the plan. Sometimes we are able to walk right through the door because things are going smoothly. And sometimes, we have to jump out a window, praying for dear life because everything is on fire.
Some of you may wonder, but what about God knowing the end result beforehand. What about God ordaining it all? I believe that too...just not linearly. God knows what the result will be because God's not going to rest until God's goal of the Kingdom is realized. And, I guess I think that time and space are a bit more fluid than we can conceptualize. Maybe God's beyond time? I don't know. That's another post.
Be Safe. Help your family. Love God. Pretty decent plan.
The other day we had a small snowstorm (today we had a huge one - but I'm not talking about this one). So, the other day we had about 6 inches of very light, fluffy snow...my kids were home from school (they've been home from school a lot lately). My kids were bribed to help shovel the drive with a bit of money...
After they completed my drive, my youngest son took off with his little kid-sized shovel and cleared my neighbor's whole drive! She paid him $5. Then, he went to another neighbor's house and cleared their whole drive. They paid him $5.
I silently laughed to myself - "Leave it to Cooper. He sure knows how to finagle a buck." But then their Dad told me the rest of the story.
"He's taking the money to school for the Haiti collection."
I sort-of choked on my words, "What?! Really?! Cooper?!"
"Yeah. They were talking at school about it and how they may be little but they can still help out."
'Wow,' I thought. And that's when it hit me.
All the stuff we teach our children - it does sink in there. And the really beautiful thing about this is I felt so supported by the school. They, in their own way, are enriching my kids' faith. And not only am I supported by the school, but they hear this in church too. And they hear it from me and their Dad. And they hear it from coaches, and friends, and family...
And - wow! I'm just so thankful I am not doing it all by myself. My kids and your kids...they are all growing up to be amazing because they are cared for by so many people.
Thanks, Cooper for showing me what a giving heart looks like.
It's January. If you were not reading this, you would've heard an audible sigh.
I hate January..okay hate, is a strong word. I don't even like my children to use that word. I tell them I prefer 'strongly dislike.'
I realized this morning that I haven't blogged much this month, which means I haven't been pondering much, which means I've felt a little diconnected with God. (Yes, I'm a pastor, so I'm probably supposed to feel connected), but...
Truthfully, I do feel connected with God in the way that I know God is connected to me, but...it's January. And I strongly dislike January. It's harder for me to see God when it's dark all the time, even though I know God sees me. It's harder for me to feel God's warmth when it's 15 degrees, even though I know God is my shelter. It's harder for me to rest in the presence of God when I know if I sit down I'm just going to fall asleep, because....it's dark all the time, because it's January.
See, I am in a viscious circle.
It's also almost February - which isn't a whole lot better (about now, I bet you're thrilled your reading this...). But just around the corner from February is March, which gives me hope. In my mind I'm wondering if in some weird way I should be thankful for the "Januaries" because they enable me to see the "Aprils" so much better.
So, I'm just sort-of wondering...in the middle of January, where do you see God? Come on, April.
I've been looking at a little orange light on my dashboard for, oh....about 4 weeks. The light says,
I looked down at my odometer which read, "52,000". I figure that light's just on telling me I'm over-do for my 50,000 mile check. "No big deal," I think.
Then I looked at the sticker on my windshield which also told me I was overdue for an oil change~by 2000 miles. "Hmmm..probably still okay, but better put that on my to-do list," I think.
This morning I climbed in my car and another light was on.
Out of windshield wiper fluid.
"Okay, okay," I thought, "I get the message."
My poor van. I do this all the time - push things to the limit and then wonder why they conk out on me.
Just before I climbed in my car this morning I had had a conversation with a friend about taking care of himself - getting sleep, taking a break. My whole logic was if you just keep pushing and pushing, then...you're not going to be effective. Essentially, you're going to break down and not run.
I am one to talk though...I forget my limits often. We all do, don't we? We forget our "personal maintenance," whether that's exercise, sleep, prayer, time with family, days off - the list could go on.
So, when I take my van in and I have to sit there in the chilly Jiffy Lube, I'm going to try to remember that it's not just my van that needs maitenance. I'm going to try to take that time as an opportunity for my personal maintenance.
MAINT REQD...don't let the lights begin to flash before something is done.
And, yes, I'm hoping the gas light's not on when I climb in later on this evening...haven't checked that in awhile either.
I've been thinking a lot about church lately. I've recently been ordained as a pastor, so I guess that's a good thing. I thought my years of study, my life experiences, and my life-long experience with church had prepared me well...and they had, they did. There was a ceremony - which was exciting. There were prayers - which made me cry. There were friends and family - which made me feel amazingly loved. And then....I was a pastor. At least, I was declared a pastor.
Here's what I am realizing though....the actual "becoming," takes a bit of time, takes a little growing into. And the truth is, even when I am worried or stressed, the "becoming" is so much more than I ever dreamed.
On Becoming a Pastor
Flushed cheeks and shaky whisper...
with heavy hands of God's promise
on her head.
how the Spirit weaves hearts to churches
so delicately -
with strength of a whirlwind and the softness of a sigh.
how one's heart finds a new home
so quickly -
with the aching joy of bursting.
She worries, she hopes, she cries, and she laughs.
She remembers God's promise
to soothe worries, to be her hope, to wipe away tears, and be her joy.
This is, she is coming to see, what becoming a pastor means.
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.