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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

This morning “Santa” handed out gifts to the residents where Mom lives. Many experienced great joy in opening those presents, but others, like my mother, didn’t remember what it means to open a present. Nonetheless, I tried to put together a package that expressed the person she used to be.

First of all, my mother worked in a drug store and that meant she learned to wrap presents well, as did my father, the pharmacist. In fact, they both did such a great job that I hardly learned how to wrap a present. It took me years to do half as good a job as they did. Still, this year I got out the fancy foil carousel horse paper Mom had bought from my kids—she loved carousel horses so much she collected small versions of them (we couldn’t afford to get her a real carousel horse!) And then I pulled out the curling ribbons and created a much reduced version of the frothy ribbon ornamentations she and Dad could do.

OK—I’m also pretty excited about the red sock monkey flannel nightgown she pulled out of that box. If I could have found an orange gown, it would have been even more her kind of gift. But, it is soft and warm—and full of life.

Truly, though, the biggest gifts I give her now are holding her hands and helping her to eat and drink. Her life has slowed to the most basic of basic activities.

So like the Little Drummer Boy, I had no idea what I could really give her that mattered.

Until I remembered that sound is supposed to be one of the last senses people experience. Beyond smells, what greater memories do we have of our Christmases Past than the songs from those times?

Of course, Mom’s parents taught her the German carols we know in English in the original language—German words I only faked. However, I have access to the Internet—and access to a college friend who, by the Internet, gave me a pronunciation lesson to see me through a little higher level of faking.

When our pastoral intern Jess Daum and I set up a time for her to give communion to my mother for Christmas, I realized she might be able to get in on my Little Drummer Boy plan. What good Lutheran minister (or minister-in-training) in the U.S. hasn’t heard a few good German phrases or had to pronounce some complicated German last names?

And so I passed Jess the cheat sheet sent to me by Lisa Richards. A few moments later we sang both “Tannenbaum” and “Stille Nacht” for Mom, without any rehearsal. From the moistness in Mom’s eyes, I know we got it as right as it needed to be.

To help my mom through her dark nights, I pray she sees the light coming into the world this stille nacht. And if not, that she hears the promise in the songs she heard upon her mother’s lap. Schlaf in himmlisher Ruh.


(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

A couple posts ago I wrote about how certain dates or seasons can stir up emotions. Well, as anyone with a memory knows, a number of things can grab us and transport us back in time—smells, tastes, sights, locations, just to name a few. And if what happened is bad enough, we can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms when reminded of what we’d rather forget. That’s just part of the baggage we pick up along the way.

The trick is to notice we are only experiencing an emotion in the present, not really going back in time. Of course, PTSD is a recognized mental disorder, so sometimes we can’t just will away our responses, even when we understand why we feel so anxious. However, with a whole lot of work and some more time on our travels, maybe we can lose that baggage in transit—or, if nothing else, reduce the size of the luggage.

Nonetheless, it was hard to pack away that luggage enough to let our daughter go so far away to college. Despite our daughter’s improved mental health, we were concerned about the distance between her and us, as well as from the providers who knew her and had helped her get back on track. Freshman year is complicated for almost all—even for those who have no record of mental illness difficulties. Dorms are poor places for good health practices, mental or physical. Yet, we figured her breaks would allow her access to her providers and we could re-assess treatment after her first year away.

Good plan except Sherman’s work switched insurance options in July—which left off her providers from our list of those covered. So I began trying to find providers where she would attend college—or through the college counseling center. After several conversations with the director of the center, she and I decided her needs could be handled through the center.

Well, turns out the center isn’t really funded well enough to keep up with the campus needs. After she had a few bungled encounters with different people at both the counseling center and the health center, we no longer felt we could trust those providers with our daughter’s needs. Since time had passed getting to that conclusion, we needed to find providers ASAP.

Finally, we realized we could pay her former providers out of pocket for now and decide later.

Which meant she and I got to visit them in their location twice this week now that she’s home from break.

Yesterday, as we waited an additional half an hour for her scheduled appointment, she said, “I don’t know if it’s me or not, but I always feel sick when I come here.”

Me, too, baby. Just returning to that building brings on multiple emotions and responses from me.

First of all, I don’t want to be reminded of all those hard times our family experienced together in our own home and otherwise. And then, I’m also trying to forget the people within the system who were harmful to us rather than helpful. Additionally, every trip there requires all patients and their families to go through multiple frustrations: difficult highway traffic, constantly changing parking situations, security systems that delay appointment arrival once in the building, lines at the check-in desk, having to wait for providers even though a patient’s late arrival can mean a charge and re-scheduling, etc. Plus, there is always an underlying worry the illness will return and the location will become too familiar once more.

Amazing that all these feelings are stirred up by this place where a few people did bring about great healing—which is why we return despite all the reasons not to.

Thankfully, the providers we saw this week have been helpful. Coming back was the right decision for now. But I think she and I both ought to recognize there’s nothing odd about our mixed emotions when we enter that building. The few neutral emotions we have about the place cannot quite hold up against other intense feelings and responses.

We’ve just got to keep working through what got us there and doing what we can to make sure this is no Hotel California for us—we do get to “check out” even if after each visit it takes some time before we lose sight of the place–and how we were at an earlier date in that place–in our rearview mirrors.

So the best I can do is to turn the car onto the road home and get us away from there as fast as I can. It’s like that Stan Ridgway song “Drive, She Said”—only the baggage she and I carry isn’t stolen from some bank, but something we’re hoping to dump off at the first chance. Yup, I’m driving getaway straight to that pier.

Animas River, Durango, CO

I’m the kind of person who makes her therapist cry. Not really, but I think I’m driving her nuts—which seems a little backwards, doesn’t it?

I started seeing her because part of her expertise is in helping adults who have ADD and I wanted to figure out how to live better with my ADD. Mind you, I didn’t go in to deal with my emotions about ADD, but to learn how to handle my everyday life in ways that my emotions wouldn’t be so much of an issue.

Maybe I should have told her that upfront!

The bigger part of our work together has been helping me figure out how to handle everyone else in my life who has ADD tendencies and who needs my help without all those needs driving me crazy. Sure, this may just be denial on my part, but that’s what I think we’ve been working on.

Anyway, as I am facing Mom’s final illness, my therapist worries she’s not doing enough for me psychologically. The practical person in me is thinking how much can she do? I’m going to have to let go of my mother and deal with how hard it is to do so. She can’t change that.

See the funny thing about me is that I don’t go to a therapist to mourn my losses or grieve through my problems. I go to figure out what I can do about what I can control. And maybe, just a little bit, to understand how my emotions might get in the way of doing those things that I know would help me—if I could only get myself to do them.

In fact, I finally realized my therapist is worried that I am not facing my emotions because I am mostly level-headed in her office. And, without realizing just how crazy this sounds, I thought, “Well, if she’s not sure I’m facing my emotions, why doesn’t she just read my blogs?”

How’s that for not quite getting the therapist/patient dialogue? I want her to “read” how I feel?

Ah, but writing has been my therapist for much longer than she has. I only went to her after I realized that talking to myself, through writing, wasn’t going to be quite enough. Even if personal writing had gotten me through many dark nights of the soul, maybe it wasn’t going to be enough to move me forward.

But in combination with therapy, I’d say writing’s healing power is why I don’t need even more help. Really. It’s been twelve years since I finally committed to personal journaling after I began working through Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way program. That writing habit, combined with prayer, regular exercise, good company, and a commitment to doing other creative activities, got me through for many years.

Still, I came to realize that ADD was managing me. And that’s when I started treatment for the ADD. Good thing that I did since the lives of many I love blew off course soon after.

I promise I do cry and I do lose control of these emotions that can seem so measured to others. I do get down on my knees and wail over my losses—just not in a therapist’s office. Ask my dogs if you don’t believe me.

This post marks a milestone: my 200th post since I began this public blog of my personal writings. Blogging has been one of the best things—psychologically and otherwise—I’ve done for myself throughout the difficult odyssey that has been the last two years of my life.

Now, would it be considered denial just to print out these words and hand them to my therapist?

(c) 2008 Christiana Lambert

We all have anniversaries of the heart—some declared and some secret. A certain kind of weather, a date on the calendar, or anything else that brings back difficult memories can give us pause and remind us how much we miss certain people or how close we came to losing others. Often memory grabs us in ways that don’t even make sense.

Why do I frequently think of losing my neighbor Jenne when I type? Is it simply because she was good at typing and I wasn’t? Maybe, but it’s really because she is just that irreplaceable—she mattered to me. The years stretch out, almost 26 later this month, and yet from time to time she appears in my thinking unbidden, especially when I’m confronted with milestones she never met.

Of course, by now, she’s one of many who are gone who can’t be replaced in my heart—some connected by blood and love, and others by love alone as she was.

However, Decembers no longer just point to saying goodbye to Jenne anymore, but now they also remind me how someone I love felt so replaceable to some that it didn’t seem to be enough to her at that time to know she was irreplaceable to so many more, including me. While I cannot forget those dark days, I also do not fail to remember how grateful I am that light did return for her.

In any reasonably functional family, none of our family members is replaceable, not a single one—no matter if others beyond our homes act as if it is so.

I cannot shield those I love from the cruelties of the outside world any more than I can from the cruelties of mental illness, but for the rest of my days, in both good times and bad, I will declare that you are all irreplaceable.

Never stop believing you matter—there is only one of each of you. Your names are written on the only heart I have, just as Jenne’s name is.

(c) 2010 Trina Lambert

Right about now nineteen years ago, I was finishing up my first year of coursework toward an MBA—courses I took in the evening after going to my full-time job. December and its celebrations could wait.

That semester I was involved in one of those group projects from Hell where everyone does the work but doesn’t always agree. Early in December our group came together to put some final touches on the project. One member apologized that she was a little slow because she had been sick while another apologized since she was in charge of the company holiday party and had been up all hours celebrating. That’s when I told them I could top their excuses—not only was I pregnant with twins but also since I had just hit my second trimester, I had been pregnant most of the semester and had been happy to stay awake during class, let alone finish the work. Just completing that term was one of the best gifts ever, if only so I could sleep more.

Our Decembers have been crazy busy ever since, despite our best efforts to keep Christmas celebrations themselves in line. It took me three more Decembers (and another half year) to finish that degree while living with young twins. The first post-graduation Christmas, free from the additional stress and work of school deadlines, was a delight!

A few years later Sherman began his Master’s degree studies—by that time all the activities related to having grade-school-aged children made it even harder for him to fit in his schoolwork, especially during December. When he graduated in December of 2002 (yes—we added a graduation into the December mix—but saved the party until January!) we vowed that from then on, only family members born in 1992 could attend college—and now they are—which means they are experiencing their own December madness right now.

But the years in between Sherman’s graduation and now have been full-speed-ahead years also. Middle school and high school added more challenging final projects and tests and, of course, concerts and parties, too.

(c) 2010 Trina Lambert

When Mom broke her heel three years ago on Christmas Eve, little did we know how much more involved we would become in helping her with her daily life. That Christmas it seems we barely had our tree up two weeks—we needed to take it down to make space for papers and other items we had grabbed to figure out how to transition to having her live in our home, for awhile, and, later, make a permanent move to Denver.

Meanwhile, our kids continued with the fast pace of high school December requirements. Although we finally purchased one of those pre-lighted trees and could set out the tree otherwise unadorned, we were happy to get out the remainder of the decorations by December 21. And what wasn’t necessary didn’t happen.

Which makes yesterday’s activity—a mundane one for many of you—seem all the more miraculous. After replacing our porch six years ago and losing the built-in attachments for Christmas lights, we finally made it possible to hang lights again. Sherman installed new hooks—I held the ladder—while the dogs, Fordham and Abel, surveyed the neighborhood. Then I continued to hold the ladder (or my husband, when necessary, to keep him from falling into the rosebush and its sadistic thorns) while he hung up our brand new chili pepper lights to go along with the 3 Margaritas paint colors. Then he added blue light ropes we already owned that really match our house now.

OK, we still needed new extension cords, but by 9:30, after some additional ladder ballet (and a few inappropriate language choices), our 3 Margaritas home was ready and lighted for Christmas!

Not only that, but there are already presents under the tree—on December 13, no less. Who knows, maybe we’ll write and send out the sequel to our last Christmas letter—the one we sent in January 2006 . . .

(c) 2010 Trina Lambert

At the same time, we’ve given the kids the gift of being able to do their own projects and tests! Jackson finishes today and Christiana finishes tomorrow. With good weather and traveling mercies, we expect to see them very soon—tired from their own crazy busy Decembers—and in just a little bit of awe to see what their parents can accomplish with a little bit of time.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

‘Tis the season to re-read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Yes, lest we forget the lessons Ebenezer Scrooge had to learn the hard way and much too late.

Sherman and I have been reading the book out-loud this week right before bedtime. Goodness, Dickens knows how to throw in a few too many words and commas as he tells a story! Thankfully, so far neither one of us has had nightmares about ghosts visiting us on cold, snowy nights to “spirit us away” (clad only in our nightclothes) to witness the true heart of Christmas—or lack thereof. Still, we no doubt have our own bits of “undigested beef” to chew on as we reflect upon the story and how we ourselves might appear to the spirits in the tale.

When asked to contribute to buying “the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth”, how similar are our replies to Scrooge’s reply? “I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I support the establishments I have mentioned (prisons and workhouses)—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

In today’s world, there aren’t too many of Scrooge’s means—or of ours—who don’t make merry. Even Scrooge, while not exactly making merry, did have a bigger fire than the one he allowed his clerk, plus he had the means to take his meals in a tavern.

Scrooge seemed to have a great capacity for ignoring the miseries of his fellow men (and women) until Marley and the other ghosts pointed out real examples of people in need. So easy to dismiss a group in theory, but so much harder to look into someone’s eyes and see the personal suffering.

Are there people whose choices cause their personal suffering? Of course, there are. Does that mean all people suffering have only themselves to blame?

Oh, these are hard times even if so many things have improved since Scrooge’s day. We have many more safety nets available to people in our society. Still, it’s easy to think that if we can take care of our own problems, so can others—as if every single thing we’ve achieved is only the result of our own hard work and determination.

No doubt Scrooge could very truthfully point to how he kept his “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone . . . .” Yet even with his miserable upbringing, he had been provided an education and the kind of connections that allowed him to learn a trade and get ahead—there are plenty of grindstones that simply don’t achieve such high returns from the investment of hard work.

But getting that return for his work wasn’t enough for Scrooge to feel gratitude. His reaction is the typical older son’s reaction in the parable of the Prodigal Son: afraid someone else is going to get something without earning it.

Some days I am also that older son—but how often do I forget when the fatted calf has been prepared for me?

Because I do forget, I keep reading, year after year. God bless us—every one—whether we’ve earned it or not.

(c) 2010 Trina Lambert

Shh—keep the noise levels down, OK? At least in our house we’re celebrating Advent—Christmas can wait—and it will.

According to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s website, “The season of Advent marks the beginning of the church year and comprises the four weeks before Christmas.” As New Year’s celebrations go, Advent is pretty low key—except for the lessons telling about John the Baptist and his apocalyptic warnings.

I am an Advent person, too. Unlike John, though, I don’t dress myself in camel-hair cloaks or eat locusts dipped in wild honey. But I do believe that by skipping the waiting and longing, the depth of Christmas is diluted.

Thus, I am that curmudgeon who snarls involuntarily when I hear Christmas music in stores long before Thanksgiving. No wonder most people want to stop celebrating Christmas right when it’s just beginning. Me, I’m only breaking out the Christmas tunes and decorations in the days before December 25.

The way we in the U.S. celebrate Christmas, you’d think Jesus was born in the Ritz Carlton, not in something less substantial than a barn. And, you’d think the story began and ended with his birth.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m OK with reasonable gift-giving, celebrations, decorations, etc., but I believe it’s easier to understand the true gift if you slow down enough to walk beside the very pregnant Mary as she rides that donkey toward her destiny. All the frantic activity of our current celebratory practices has developed as a way to distract ourselves from the darkness that comes with the long nights of December.

Some years my life really is in such a place of light that maybe I forget how much I need the true light that arrives with the babe in Bethlehem. But even in those joyful years, I try to delay some of the excitement so I’m not overly distracted from what matters during the season.

Other years, it’s easy to understand the concept of waiting for a light to shine hope into my own darkness. And while those are the times when I am tempted to call off the whole celebration, that’s when I need to remember this principle the most: the light comes for all, whether or not our burdens are heavy or light. It’s up to us to understand that the gift is bigger than the immediate fixes we want for ourselves or those we love whose journeys have turned hard.

(c) 2010 Trina Lambert

Good times or bad, I try to pull back from the machine and find ways to quiet myself. My techniques to nurture hopeful waiting are both physical—in the form of regular exercise—and spiritual.

I love that Advent’s color in our church tradition is a cool blue, signifying that hope. Blue is a color that doesn’t hurry—you can rest in blue. Blue understands that sometimes hearts get heavy. Blue is also Mary’s color.

Yet the craziness of our own household’s Thanksgiving weekends—so far—has frustrated my vow to start the first Sunday in Advent by lighting the first blue candle in our own home Advent candle-holder. One thing I can rely on, however, is receiving Pastor Ron Glusenkamp’s daily H20 Devos to align my sense of time with the calendar’s date (his post for today, December 6, is appropriately “blue” in tone.)

Eventually I set out the blue candles for these early December days, even if I don’t light them as I wish.

Yesterday in church I realized that the irony of having my mother in hospice means that what I wait for most this season in this year is for my mom to experience the light coming into this world by her leaving this world.

Thoughts like that also make me aware of needing just a little more light in my personal world in the days ahead.

So for now our tree stands simply lighted and “skirted” with a swath of blue fabric—before we pull out the rest of the Christmas trappings. I deliberately darken the room, then sit to watch the lights twinkle—while I wait.

And in that moment, once again I am an Advent person and all is calm. Come, Lord Jesus . . .

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

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