Our Advent story today is in video format, and comes from Kate Casavant.
Kate Casavant has been a part of the St. Stephen's community since her birth in 2007. She is in 3rd grade and a Part of Atrium II. She is also into Minecraft. Like, really into Minecraft.
Despite growing up in a household full of God’s love and teachings, I still had to understand God on my own. Finding my place of worship was like truly finding God for myself for the first time. I felt an undeniable connection which was strengthened through worship and study of the bible. Yet, my connection is closest to God when I have dedicated prayer time. It is because of this that God not only dwells in me but in my daily life. He guides me with my family, shows me purpose in serving in my church and beyond, and continues to teach me about living by faith. It is only because I allow God in all parts of my life that I am able to learn and grow and He shows me this every time I rely and call upon him.
I currently serve as the School Community Liaison. As the School Community Liaison, I plan and coordinate school events, provide support to the parent community as well as assist with the daily operations of the Admissions office.
On June 27, 2015, I received the greatest blessing; I married my best friend and love of my life in front of God and our closest family and friends. Father Vacek married my parents over 30 years ago and I have clear memories of them referencing his impact on their marriage throughout my childhood. When David and I got engaged on July 12, 2014, after celebrating with our family, we asked my parents if there was any chance we could meet with him before our wedding. Father Vacek not only met with us, but married us in Wyoming. His prayer with my family before we walked down the aisle, is a memory I will forever treasure along with his beautiful homily and constant support and love.
Through David and my discussions over chocolate chip muffins, coffee, and a walk in the rain with Father Vacek in the Jesuit Home at Loyola University in New Orleans, the three of us talked about God and our beliefs. I could feel God’s love pouring over us through Father Vacek. Post our wedding, I have sought a real relationship with God more than ever. I have grown even stronger in my faith through discussions and prayer with my parents, twin sister, Emily, and St. Stephens.
-Kate Lawrence Bridges
An imaginative, fun-loving kid, I recall my childhood holidays filled with sentiments of wonder, delight and love abound - still holds true for me now. I keenly remember the warm embrace of mutual adoration, happiness and lots of laughter existing among modest gift exchanges. I am grateful for humble and hard-working farming and ranching family roots, providing for my sincere love of nature and genuine relationships. Authentic connection is central to who I am. Intentionally living a simplistic life, brings me joy and allows me to focus on my primary need of shared moments with people, not things. Both personally and professionally, I look toward the future with a vision beyond historical inequity, material acquisition and societal status quo. I care to invest time in appreciation of the unique tapestry of God's creation in others, really. I identify and naturally gravitate toward diverse and varying aspects of the world. It is both uncertain, yet thrilling for me to engage in areas apart from created safe parameters. Of higher importance to me, however, is that I remain open to opportunities of personal exploration and growth. Truly knowing that in these particularly vulnerable and real moments , God dwells within me...all the while.
I originally became a member of SSEC in 2004 and was involved with Worship Acolyte duties and assisted in providing adult ESL classes in the community. Upon returning in 2013, I am currently involved with Altar Guild , Worship, Rosary Group, Presence Group, Service Ministry Co-Chair and Integrity Houston board member.
- lee lozano
Throughout my life, the presence of God has been very different. When I was younger, I felt God daily. There was even a time in my life when I considered becoming a priest. Obviously, I did not go down that path, I found that my true calling was in music. I grew up within an extremely devout New Mexico, Spanish Catholic household. Now, if you don’t know what that means, it means that we didn’t necessarily love God, we were mostly terrified of the Devil, and Evil. God, for most of my life, was mostly a protector from Evil. I knew to call upon him for help when I felt evil in my life. It wasn’t until later, when I was divorced, and my mother was diagnosed with cancer, that I started wanting God not as a protector, but as a friend, someone I could turn to when everything was dark in my life. Since then, my relationship with God has changed. I don’t find that just going to church satisfies my desire for God. I need to actively participate, I sing in the choir. I feel that I don’t connect if I’m just sitting in a pew; I need to give back at the same time that I’m receiving. In my life now, I’ve found that a quote from a High School teacher speaking at an induction ceremony, has had the most profound effect of allowing God into my life. At the end of the speech he said, “if you take nothing else away from this speech, remember this: Do what you can, when you can, for those who can’t”. Those words inspired me more than I ever realized. Now, in my mid-thirties, I find that God is with me, when I am helping; when I take a pillow and blanket to a homeless man I’ve seen 4 nights in a row, when I make sure someone has food to eat, when I sit and listen to students sing and get to sing with them. It is these moments when I catch myself giving of myself, that I find God within me.
We begin this fourth, and last week of Advent with the prompt: Describe space(s) in your own life in which God has come to dwell. Our first story comes from Mychal Reitman, teacher at St. Stephen's Episcopal School.
Quite simply, God is love. Regardless of creed, it is what resides in one’s heart that determines one’s place in the cosmic scheme of things. I find strength in love, empathy, and compassion, three basic tenets of my life which dwell within me. I can thank all of my guides and role models for instilling and cultivating these basic humanistic values which have led me on my path. As an agnostic, I find God’s love in the strength of those around me. I find love in relationships with the people I come across, in romantic and platonic relationships with a partner, friend, acquaintance, or stranger. I find love as a nurturer, in my role as a caretaker and educator, and in my role as a builder of community. I find love in caring for those going through struggles, in giving my time and effort, and in striving to make the world around me better than when I found it. God’s love emanates through my love. My love makes the world brighter.
Mychal Reitman is in his second year as a member of the St. Stephen’s family, currently serving as the Lead Teacher for Lower Elementary (grades 1-3),
After I graduated college, I signed on to do full-time evangelical ministry in India for one year. I had thought that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I quickly learned that this type of ministry was not a good fit for me, and my time in India was the hardest few months of my life to date. I didn’t know how I was going to last an entire year. About 3-4 months into my stint, I became sick. After going to several hospitals and receiving multiple tests, my sister (who is a doctor here in the U.S.) told me I either needed to go to the hospital for a blood transfusion or fly home the next day. I decided to return to the U.S., was treated and completely recovered very quickly, but at the time I was very upset that I would be unable to fulfill my one-year commitment. In due time, however, I saw God’s hand through all of it. He delivered me from 8 more months of doing work that I clearly was not cut out for, and it was in perfect timing to set my current career goals in motion.
- Lauren F
Our first Advent Story today is from Grace Joseph.
Several years ago I took a road trip with a friend. We left Rochester, New York and traded off driving every two hours. At the end of the second day, we reached my friend’s mother’s house in rural Louisiana. The next day I set off on my own to Texas. A week later we reversed the trip, this time with my mother-in-law riding back up with us and a car full of goods we needed to transport. The third day we reached my friend’s apartment in Rochester. We unloaded her things, and my mother-in-law and I got back in the car to finish the last few miles of the trip. The car wouldn’t start at all; wouldn’t even turn over. The battery was completely dead. How glad we were that we were in a safe place when we needed to be! We thanked God that we hadn’t been stranded somewhere. We were able to call someone to pick us up and take us home with all of our belongings and replace the battery the next day. A shop-keeper from the street where we had to leave the car overnight approached me to tell me that he would keep an eye on it for me.
I should have checked the road-worthiness of the car before the trip. My inattention to detail put the safety of all three of us at risk that week. But by God’s grace, we experienced deliverance. As so many times in my life, God’s power overcame my own shortcomings and rescued me. I invite you to think on God’s deliverance in your own life, whether physical, psychological or spiritual.
Grace Joseph and her family have been attending St. Stephen's Episcopal since relocating to the Houston area in 2012. This is their third year as participants in the Foyers program. Grace serves as a reader at the 8:30 service, and is on the School Board.
I have always felt the love of Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ in my life. I had been attending an English congregation for the past 12 years when I began to feel the prompting to move back to my old Spanish congregation. The message was loud and clear to go back to Spanish language congregation. I talked to my family about it, thinking they would not be supportive of the idea, and I was wrong. They also had felt the same prompting. We happily listened to our intuition and moved to a Spanish congregation. After a month had passed, my husband was called to serve as bishop of that Spanish congregation. I knew from that moment on, without a doubt, that we were delivered and prepared by Christ’s love for this calling of service in our church. More than 2,000 years ago, God sent Jesus Christ to be our Savior. Jesus Christ was born to save us from our sins, born so we can be born again and return to live with God someday. Let us rejoice greatly this Christmas season, for unto all of us a savior is born.
Gladis Martin has been a Teacher at St. Stephen’s Episcopal school Houston for 10 years.
Growing up in a Baptist church deliverance and stronghold formed the basis of my theological framework—we all sinners struggling with some stronghold, some proclivity we haven’t conquered on our own and thus in need of deliverance which can only come from repentance of sins. Prayers for deliverance shaped my corporate and private prayer life as a youth even as I struggled with what deliverance really means. It felt heavy, disempowering and passive where many aspects of our faith required action on my part.
As I’ve gotten older and reevaluated some tenets of my theological beliefs I’ve come back to deliverance again and again. Sometimes that word feels so icky and theologically laden that I want nothing to do with it. Deliverance for me is often asking God to step into the places I feel unable to affect change on my own. As such, in my own life deliverance has not only meant a bringing out of but also as a bringing to.
When I first became a mother to a tiny, beautiful baby girl, I was surprised by the absence of joy in motherhood that I felt. She was born at the beginning of January, over Christmas break, just after two feet of snow had fallen and right in the middle of a bad flu outbreak on campus. We had no visitors and the winter days in New Jersey were cold, windy, and short. The nights, long and dark. Instead of feeling joyous about this new life I felt trapped and scared of the responsibility. So I prayed. I prayed for deliverance from feeling trapped and instead to find joy in every stage of my child’s life. As the days passed, growing longer and warmer, I began to marvel at my sweet girl’s growth, her little bitty feet and hands, how her eyes followed us around our apartment, how she quieted down when I cuddled with her on the sofa. She and I spent hours on the floor just looking at each other, her on her belly strengthening her abs for future crawling and walking, me on my belly laughing in wonder at her delight with her new skills.
One day I looked up and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself at the threshold of joy. I delighted in my baby’s gurgling, her love of baths and her bright eyes. I found myself rushing home after class to snuggle with her while reading for a paper. Somewhere along the way my prayers shifted from asking for joy to thanksgiving for the blessing of motherhood—a prayer I didn’t see myself praying in those earliest days.
I don’t know that I’ll ever have a full understanding of deliverance, but I am thankful for the change it brings within us.
Ryan is the Youth Missioner and Director of the Da Vinci Lab, After School Program for St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.