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.
For those of you who know me personally, I'm sure that the thought, "What in heaven's name is she thinking?" just crossed your mind. If you don't know me, you should know that I'm all of the size of a tall dwarf. The very act of holding up the motorcycle takes more effort for me than most people. It's heavy and cumbersome and I could be easily crushed if it fell on me. As the only woman in the class, I felt very conscious of my size and vulnerability
But.... I've always wanted to do this and I decided now is as good a time as ever.
Let me tell you, it's intimidating. Heavy, hot, loud, fast machinery. With the only thing separating me from the ground if I crash is a helmet. Indeed... What in heaven's name was I thinking?
After a little practice I was able to maneuver decently. I could follow the large oval path we were driving and swerve around some cones. I could stop without dropping the cycle on myself. I could shift gears.
I was starting to feel pretty confident.
Until they put me in the box. To do tight, hairpin U-turns. On something that could, did I mention (?!), crush me under it's weight. How to turn the handle bars, and balance, and see where I was going?
We were to enter at one end of the box, do two tight turns, and exit out the other side without falling over, without going outside the lines.
I couldn't do it. My turns were too wide. I was too scared. I just didn't want to crash and burn. This was, I decided, the thing that was going to prevent me from passing.
Exasperated, as I practiced, I'd shake my head. Getting irritated with myself, I'd try it slower and then faster. No avail. I'd turn my handle bars more or less. No avail. I'd do positive 'self-talk' and get angry. Still. No avail.
Finally, my instructor said to me (in a not so nice and encouraging tone), "What are you doing?"
I wanted to 'hiss' at him. Didn't he know what I was doing? I was trying to get out of the BOX!
And then he said, "Where are you?"
Again, didn't he know where I was? But, I responded, "I'm right here in the box."
He responded, "And that's the problem." Which he quickly followed up with, "You don't know what you're doing, do you?"
Boy, was I furious! I did know what I was trying to do. I was trying so very, very hard. Sweat was dripping down my face, my hands were hot, and my knees were bruised. What in heaven's name was I thinking? I had paid money for this?
And then he said, "Christine, you have the skills to do this. But you're looking where you are... You need to look where you want to be."
"Look ahead. Pick the point you want to get to and the rest will follow, if your gaze is right."
Well, in U-turns it isn't as easy as looking ahead. It's looking to the side, and sometimes behind, and sometimes the 'look' is a blind look... But I tried it.
And... I hit the point. I made the turn. I got out of the box. If I'd had more gumption I would've fist pumped the air I was so thrilled.
Look where you want to be. Not where you are.
It's easy to get crushed under the weight of all the things we're trying to figure out. For me, that day, it was figuring out how to manage this giant beast of a vehicle, but that's tame compared to some of the crushing things we get dealt in life. In some ways that cycle was an embodiment of my life: Powerful, dangerous. exhilarating, and scary. The unwieldiness of it all... Life can be like that.
And once you're in the BOX, it sure feels as if just one wrong move will send the whole thing tumbling down on you. The box becomes all there is. All you can see. No way out.
But, if you look where you want to be, where you want to get to....this amazing thing happens.... The rest of you follows. Your heart follows, your mind follows, your body follows. And suddenly, you've left the box.
Now, the truth here is there are always more U-turns to make and more boxes to maneuver, but, as my instructor told me, I've got the skills. It's one thing to drive blindly around the path you've always taken, shifting predictably up and down through gears. But, it's a whole new adventure to take the twists and turns and not loose your balance.
Where do you want to be?
I know where I want to be. Jetting out of the box, with the wind whipping in my face, and the taste of salt on my lips...because I'm having just that much fun learning to live.
This past weekend I ran the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, Ohio. I've run marathon's before, so the question of whether or not I would finish never really crossed my mind. I knew I'd finish, but I felt insecure about my 'readiness' for this race. My training had been great, up until about 4 weeks ago and then everything hit at once.
First, it was Holy Week, then it was Easter, then I was sick, then there were all these other obligations - too numerous to mention, but probably not so unlike your own life, so you know what I'm talking about. Every time I turned around there was another 'then...'. It was, as I told many of my friends, the 'perfect storm'. No way I could keep up or catch up.
And...this doesn't take into account my family.
I thought I knew one thing though: the way to make it to the end (which ironically, the marathon was the culmination of all these events), was FULL speed ahead. Press on through.
The morning of the marathon, as I found my corral, [the starting position each runner is assigned based on previous times and anticipated finish times] I was not only acutely aware of my lack of 'readiness', but also my 'aloneness'. Almost every other race I've run I've been with someone. This race, I did have a friend with me, but she was in a different corral.
I knew that I was going to have to run a different race than I'd done in the past. So, I positioned myself in the corral in proximity to the 3:30 pacer;* standing just far enough away that I knew where he was and waited for the gun.
I don't run with a pacer. Ever. Or at least, I should say, until that day - I'd never run with a pacer. I run my own race....
I go out fast and hard for as long as possible. That's my usual strategy. I run my own race, my own way.
But this morning was different. My uncertainty left me longing for support and so, as I stood there, I decided to run with the 'pacer guy,' which is what I was calling him in my head. But I didn't tell him that. I didn't tell the pacing group that. I kept it to myself, figuring I would run on the fringe.
As we took off, I looked out over the river, and tears crept into my eyes. It struck me that the 'marathon of life' had finally caught up with me.
I hung out there on the edges, holding myself back with the pacing group, maintaining a steady pace. Not rushing ahead. Not dashing around the guy in front of me.
It was hard. I race. I compete. I don't hang back.
But I had made a decision that morning to try a new way.
At about mile 9, when my legs were itching to just GO and I was about to leave the pace group behind, Doug, the 'pacer guy,' asked the group where they were from. Well, everyone was from Ohio, except me. I had my headphones in, because as I said, I really didn't plan on committing to the group. But, I piped up, "Maryland".
Doug glanced over at me and said, "Hey. How long did it take you to get here?"
"Oh, not a long flight. An hour and a half. About nine hours if you were going to drive it," I responded.
He sort-of did a head bob and said, "Well, tuck yourself in here, because we're coming into some tight turns and we don't want to loose you."
So, I did.
It was.... odd. Didn't want to loose me?
As much as I believe in team and community and supporting one another, I often get scared of relying on someone else. So, I end up running my own race, in my own way.... Full out all the time.
Until I crash and burn.
Which is typically how I end a marathon. Towards the end, my miles get slower and slower, which by the time you've logged 20 miles, let alone 26 miles, makes sense.
But this time, I found myself inching closer to him as we ticked off the miles. We chatted. We ran.
And, as I pressed the lap button on my watch at each marker, I noticed that every single mile was consistent - within seconds of one another. And I wasn't tired. I could maintain this for a very long time.
I was keeping pace. Not rushing ahead. Not falling back. Just in the moment.
And while it's true that I could 'feel' the wear of the miles, around mile 20, Doug asked me, "How are you feeling?"
And I said, "Well, I'm starting to 'feel' it..."
His response, while most likely not profound to him, resonated deep within me. "If you weren't starting to feel it by now then you should've been in another pace group. You are exactly where you are supposed to be, Christine."
Keeping pace...Exactly where I was supposed to be. That felt nice.
And the pace helped me arrive exactly where I was supposed to be in so many ways.
Not too tired to enjoy the ride, but tired enough to feel the burn of satisfaction.
As we rounded out the last few miles, we were both quiet - just putting one foot in front of the other - drawing energy from the other. Committing ourselves to that pace for that race, committed us to each other. We were in it together.
This, this, was new to me.
I most certainly let people push me forward...but not often do I let people hold me back.
I most certainly give of myself to others...but I'm not very good at receiving.
So, at mile 25 when he looked at me and said, "Just GO. You got this....".
I went strong. And certain. And with energy. And gratefulness. And I experienced the end....
because I never hit the 'wall'. Mile 26 was even just a touch faster than my overall average. I enjoyed the culmination without crashing and burning.
When I crossed the finish line I turned around to see Doug cross the line and I smiled. My whole sweaty, exhausted, weak body smiled. I walked over to him, shook his hand, and said, "Thanks."
And he leaned over, put his hands on his knees, and looked up at me and smiled. A 'whole body' smile and said, "You kept me going there at the end. Thanks...".
And that, I didn't expect.
I actually probably expected nothing...at least not from 'pacer guy'.
The race and he.... and well, God, through those miles gave me so much.
A huge metaphor for my life.
Going into this marathon I was so very tired. The 'marathon of life' was racing along, making me feel as if I wasn't running my race, but that the race was running me. I wasn't pacing. I wasn't slowing down. I wasn't letting others do (at least not without feeling guilty)... and, well, it wasn't working in terms of being able to enjoy the 'ride'.
So, as I gingerly walked to meet the friend I came with, she ran up to me and said, "Wow! Best time ever!"
And I said, "I ran it differently then I've ever done. I ran with a pacer the whole time. I totally recommend it. I'll do that again."
I'll do it again for sure. And not just while pounding the pavement.
See, what I really heard out there through the sweat and the cheers was a small still voice running alongside me pointing out a different way to do life.
Give and Receive.
Swift and steady.
Go out in joy and finish in joy.
*A pacer is a runner which agrees to help other runners maintain a given pace to help them achieve their desired finish time. A pacer typically paces a group which is slower than his or her own marathon pace, so that they won't get too tired to help others.
I have three boys - aged 14 (almost 15, I think he would tell you), 12, and 9. They ingest a lot.
I'm not sure how many gallons of orange juice and milk we go through a week, but it's a lot. And then there are the numerous cups of yogurt consumed, packages of roast beef and cheese, and vats of ketchup. And, I would be remiss in not mentioning the vital role our fridge plays in keeping my Diet Mountain Dew at the perfect temperature.
It's the Holy Grail of of delicacies, an ark of Goodness. A sacred object.
Many of you who know me, may now be thinking that I've started worshipping Mountain Dew or something. Not the case. The reason our fridge is 'sacred' has nothing to do with what is contained on the inside.
The things which actually nourish me are on the outside.
I know this about my fridge... that I post things all over it. But the other morning, as a friend stood in my kitchen looking at all the things pasted all over my fridge, I couldn't help but think, "That's my life... right there on the fridge."
Everything that I hold sacred is there - displayed for my family to look at each day. Laid out for everyone who enters into my life to observe, take in. My fridge says much about who I am.
If you send me a Christmas card with a photo on it... I'll trim the photo out of the card and long after the holidays have past, you'll be on my fridge someplace, as a reminder of the endurance of friendships. Friends I've known for 20 years are up there.
Friends I've known for 5 months are up there.
My niece and nephews are there... with their silly forced smiles, reminding me of the capacity to love.
There are magnets from family vacations....vacations that I loved. And even times that I desperately miss - times I wish I still had. But there they are - reminding me of places I've been.
Of course there are the practical pieces:
The cork screw to aid in sharing a nice glass of wine with a friend.
The orthodontist appointment reminders and health insurance information.
The church phone directory.
The landscaper's phone number.
There's my youngest son's 'contract' to help him reach behavior goals. Every night we put a sticker up (or not...) as a tactile reminder of the day's accomplishments.
On my fridge is something from every church I've belonged to in the last 14 years.
And then there's the art work.
The stick figures throwing bombs and guns (UGH - but yes, they are boys).
The hand-made magnet that says: Butterfly go hover; near my mother; and tell her that; I dearly love her.
Sometimes, all I need to do is glance at that... and know that at the end of the day, at least, I am loved by a child.
And then there are the cards and notes...
There's a "Parking Violation" from a friend - telling me that I work too much (which I need to be reminded of often) and that she's in my corner.
There's the card from another friend - telling me that together, we can make it through anything (and God knows, we sure have).
There's a card I got with flowers from my ex-husband on the anniversary of my first ordination (it's been up there for a few years now...) - reminding me of grace.
There's an invitation to a birthday party for a dear family friend's daughter from when she turned one (she's 2 1/2 now, but I love the photo so much...) - reminding me how vast my family really is.
There's even a card up there which says, "YOU DON'T SUCK," and heck, sometimes... that's all I really need to know.
The point is...
This large, seemingly mundane, white, rectangular prism stands in the midst of my kitchen being the Holy Grail of my life.
It speaks of everything that God has ever placed into my life.
It's not neat and proper.
It's not Holy Water or Consecrated Wine and Bread.
But it is indeed sacred.
Bespeaking of God to all who enter my home of the goodness which dwells in life.
And so I wonder today, for you, where's your Holy Grail?
*Disclaimer: I am a pastor... but I also have my moments of doubt and question... and this is one of them. Please know that going into this... and that despite my wavering trust, God's faithfulness never wavers.
Running is my normal respite, even at 5am when it's 20 degrees out....I'll go. And mostly what drives me to get out of bed is knowing that in the wee hours of the morning, I reconnect with God.
However, the other morning the only thing which got me out of bed to run was the fact that I was meeting someone to run. On that morning God couldn't have drug me out of bed.
I was angry with God...madder than I'd been in awhile. Truthfully, I'd been hurling curse words up towards God. Yes. I swear at God occasionally. The last thing I wanted to do was 'connect' with God.
But since I was running with someone I was pretty safe. I knew I'd be able to squirrel God away to the farthest regions of my mind and heart and just blabber to my running partner.
And - lo and behold - I was safe....for most of the run. She wasn't running as far as I was, so I ended up doing the last bit by myself. After dropping her off I instinctively began to pray. It's almost a reflex for me to pray as I run.
My prayers were more like a one sided shouting match with God. I had all these things and people that I was worried about, all these painful and difficult situations, all this confusion.... and I was furious that God wasn't doing anything (or at least that's how I felt). I could see all their faces flash in front of my eyes and through my mind as my feet landed one after the other on the pavement.
My pace quickened as small tears began to slip out of my eyes. The air was so cold that they froze a bit on my cheeks.
I'm a creature of habit so my runs are fairly mapped out, so I can go on autopilot. The route I was running that morning necessitates my crossing over a railroad track. I must cross this track 3 times a week....always at about the same time and there's never been a train barreling down the tracks until this particular morning.
Still yelling at God in my head I came upon ringing bells and flashing lights, letting me know that a train was coming.
"You've got to be kidding me," I thought. For a split second I contemplated dashing across to beat the train, but as I looked down the tracks I could see the headlights rushing towards me. So, I stood on the platform....waiting.
Waiting. And mad.
And as that train began to rumble past me - the ground shook and the wind wiped across my face and I was reminded of how so very often in the Bible when the mountains shook and the wind roared it was because God was doing something.
And the people couldn't withstand God's power.
The freight train rushed past so quickly that I dared God to knock me over. I wanted to feel God's power. I wanted God to prove to me that he really was powerful.... which sounds arrogant and unfaithful and yet I stood there daring Him.
I was swallowing so hard to keep my breath, and I had to close my eyes to shut out the dust particles, and I swayed a bit from the force....but I stayed standing.
"Is this ALL you have God?! Really?"
Oh, I was so mad. So very, very mad that God wasn't more impressive than that.
The train finally passed and I was still standing. So, I squared up my shoulders, wiped my eyes and started off...determined to just get home without thinking about God.
And I did. It wasn't far from that freight train to my house.
As I got into the shower I fell. Not really - not like I kept begging God to do while I was standing on the platform, but I fell. The water seemingly was more powerful than the train. It softened me.
I felt like a fraud. I no longer felt stronger than God...I felt small. And I wished I trusted God implicitly. Shouldn't I? As a pastor, shouldn't I always trust God?
Now in the shower, as I thought about that freight train barreling past me I realized that maybe God was allowing me to be stronger than He...for a time. Maybe God knew I needed to have some sort of power... I don't know.
All I now knew was that it was me that didn't want to trust God. But in my core I knew that I always could trust God.
I'm hoping God understands this about me... That I love Him deeply and it's unnerving sometimes. That when I can get out of my own way I trust Him with my life.
And that sometimes it does take a freight train to get through to me.
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.