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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

‘Twas the day before Christmas Eve and all through our house, not many Christmas decorations were showing, except for a few stockings and some easily-accessible items that could be set up high. My year had been long, filled with too much gloom and doom, weighed down by parental possessions “stored” in my home, and hampered by physical injury and pain, at the same time sharp puppy teeth remained ready and able to destroy anything left below three and a half feet.

In short, I didn’t know if Christmas could happen in a living room where all those extra possessions had arrived at a time when everything in our home had to be out of reach and when my back’s condition lowered my already low ability to deal with the physical manifestation of my parents’ lifetimes.

The dust and I collected in that room where my spirit often felt trapped by my body’s limitations and those boxes. Add in the rollicking of two exuberant young dogs who brought in dirt from the great outdoors, and we had our own little Dust Bowl, right in our own home.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

As determined as I had been to find the floors and table so we could decorate for Christmas—as well as move past this year—by December 23rd I had lost my commitment to finish with anything more than the most basic goal of a clean-enough house. After all, our Christmas tree stood lighted in the room even if I couldn’t imagine any ornaments would be truly safe in our house this year—perhaps that was decoration enough.

That’s when a not-so-little elf stepped in, inspired by the movie Elf.

While Sherman and I were out shopping, Christiana—the once-preschool-artist who used to make artwork from items snatched from the recycling bin—pulled out paper, scissors, and an X-Acto knife in order to create a festive yet puppy-friendly set of colorful decorations: chains, snowflakes, and cut-out ornaments such as candles, stars, and gingerbread men.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

The hot pink, lime green, neon orange, lemon yellow, and blue-purple chains made a tropical paradise out of my frozen Christmas spirit: I hadn’t missed it, after all. Why it was only Christmas Eve Eve—plenty of time to save the holiday.

She cut, stapled, and hung. Sherman and I wrapped after our elf suggested we could still have presents out if we put them on top of the piano where our puppy, AKA Goat Boy, could not reach. Christiana made a skirt tree from paper to cover the tree stand, but we made do when we decorated the piano top.

Truth is traditional Christmas colors didn’t match the paper chains anyway. Other than grabbing a few more lights and some tinsel from our usual decorating boxes, we left everything else in the garage. No, the material on top of the piano came from leftover quilting projects—after a few snips with my mother’s pinking shears, we had a virtual rainbow of colors resting beneath the presents.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

The tropical transformation continued once again during the daytime hours of Christmas Eve.

Our traditional “winter wonderland” the kids make on top of the piano that suggests skiing and sledding and a White Christmas? Well, instead we put down purple material and Jackson and Christiana created the scene with various colorful toys. Blue bears, dragons, Pokey, dinosaurs, and Kermit—oh my?

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

With all the life changes we had experienced, we needed to find a different way to celebrate—this year was not at all like all the Christmases we knew.

But with the lights twinkling amidst all the color, and other elves doing more basic cleaning and preparations, I soldiered on and got that table cleared—a few days after the longest night of the year, but just in time for the brightest night of the year. Upon that table we set out multi-colored Fiestaware instead of matching china and crystal, said our prayers, and then toasted—to what had been and to what was still to come.

Without the helpful push for Christmas spirit in our home, I might not have opened up to the Christmas story and the Spirit celebrated later that night in our church. Sometimes, when our faith is on the shelf, God has to send human hands to remind us of light on this earth before we can see the True Light.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

You know my messy table isn’t really the problem—it’s just an obvious sign that deep down all is not well with my soul.

This is one of those years when I can’t talk myself into seeing the happy endings—or at least the unhappy endings that lead to deeper understanding and long-term happier endings. No matter what I said about wanting to be done with talking about unhappy topics, I am not. I can’t will myself to come up with the neat and happy moral of the story that will tie up a less-than-hope-filled post.

Although I’m feeling a bit like George Bailey on the bridge, I’m not looking to jump into the river. No, I just want to take that suitcase I bought with happy travels in mind—and run—anywhere that isn’t where I’ve been.

You see, I know God is hearing my prayers, but I’m having a hard time saying them. The good thing about God is He hears the prayers that have sunk so deep within us that we can’t even use our voices to speak them—they become so much a part of us that they rise from our very pores.

If nothing else, perhaps He’ll send me a bumbling Clarence to show me a better path than the one I am on.

Sometimes no amount of research or any continued pursuit for new solutions can fix a problem. And you especially can’t make someone else choose to see the hope in their situation if they prefer to see only loss.

You’re probably thinking I must be talking about myself, right? See, that’s the irony, isn’t it? So easy to see how to solve someone else’s problem, but then you look in the mirror and realize that maybe you’re so busy trying to solve someone else’s problem because it makes it easy not to be responsible for solving your own problems.

The years of trying to help others with celiac disease, dementia, depression, and ADD have taken their toll on me. I’m fresh out of perky solutions that are always met with a big “but”—because after all I have no idea how bad it is for someone else.

Well, the truth is they don’t know how bad it has been for me to watch them suffer. If I could, I would wave a magic wand and remove the problem. Would be much better than searching for other possible solutions that will never be good enough because the only solution the person really wants is to wake up completely healed.

They also don’t know how much I’ve suffered watching them refuse to consider anything but Plan A when I would fight to find them Plan B through Plan Infinity to aid in their movements forward. This week I realize I’m done being the pep squad. All that energy spent helping those who at this point won’t help themselves is making me feel like a failure. I know I am not—I tried, as God is my witness, I tried. Maybe I tried so hard that they didn’t think they needed to do so. But in the end all any of us really can do is help ourselves.

And during all those times of caregiving, I did not help myself. In some ways it’s just not possible to take care of yourself in the midst of others’ crises, but in other ways you have to be careful not to see any results as the only proof that what you did mattered. Some problems can’t be fixed despite anyone’s best efforts.

And so, I need a Clarence to come show me how I helped even if I could not beat back the demons of the diseases. I need to know that without me this place would have become a Potterville. Maybe I have a bit of a savior complex, but, by God, I’d like to know that sacrificing my potential trips around the world made some difference to others.

But short of that, the only thing I can control is the direction of my own footsteps in the future. A future where I stop trying to find solutions for everyone else and start looking for my own regardless of who is coming along with me on the trip.

Clarence, are you ready to earn your wings? Then help me climb down from this bridge so I can pack my suitcase for the trip of my lifetime.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Warning: this is not a happy little holiday post; in fact, it’s not even a happy little everyday post. No, it’s the post that should I get it out of my head might yet lead me to be able to sleep tonight.

However, this is not about sleeping tonight. No, I keep thinking that if I can just get the dining room table cleared during the daylight hours tomorrow, somehow I’ll find a way to salvage what’s left of 2011 and get myself ready to shed this year for the possibility of 2012. If you’re like me and have ADD and you’ve been through a lot of recent loss, you might understand how something as mundane as a bunch of random items on a table or any similar space can grow to appear as a physical manifestation of the condition of your heart and mind.

Yes, a year ago today began my mother’s last month on this earth. I can’t even tell you that was a bad thing because of the Alzheimer’s that had ravaged her mind as well as her body. But it was a very hard thing to watch her go in that way, to know that her brain kept everything—from her thoughts to her vocal cords to her feet—from working as they were used to doing. And to know that as inadequate as I felt, it was my job to hold her hand on that final journey.

I understood that the start of the new year would bring the end for my mother, which was really a kindness to both her and anyone who knew her previously. That part I accepted, as much as anyone really can. One day, after three years of daily concern for her—whether or not other capable hands cared for her—she was gone.

The thing is the losses kept mounting. My uncle died six weeks later and a few days later we lost our dog whose cancer had appeared as my mother was leaving. Sherman and I have been to too many funerals for friends’ parents over the last sixteen months, none more agonizing for me than those for people who were destroyed in the same way my mother had been. Even though our other dog’s life ended at a somewhat expected time, the timing in the midst of this year was hard to accept.

Of all the things I did to soothe my soul, exercise and maintaining my body’s strength brought me the most moments of calm and peacefulness. I had no idea that the other great joy—welcoming a puppy (and another dog) into our home—would negate much of what exercise could do for me. If I had known that that fateful long road trip to bring home our pup would take away so much of my strength for so long, I would have found another way to get him here.

That I am regaining some of my former energy does not make up for the months without it. I am so discovering that I crave using my energy for more exciting activities than the “have-to’s” of this past year, including the huge task of going through the mess left behind by my parents’ lifelong possessions—especially since I did not have enough of me to go around just to get through my regular daily commitments.

In fact, just seeing the table as it is tells me how ready I am to skip catching up. If there is any way to forgo another month of mourning, sign me up. I want to be a person who can converse without feeling compelled to talk about anything negative happening in my life, including in this blog. Oh, to regain the sparkle in my eyes and the spring in my step. Next time I have a hard time falling asleep, I hope it is not because my hips hurt or because my heart aches, but because I have too much I want to do.

There’s no catching up only starting anew. I can pat myself on the back for all I have cleared off that table, but in the end I am so over all the crap that has been so much a part of this year. I’m tired of it tripping me up and reminding me of what is past—I just want it gone. On the days when it doesn’t irritate me enough, I know I have become too complacent in this boring yet painful state. If I can’t bring back to wholeness what has been lost, then it’s time to rage, rage against the dark night that is this year of loss.

This is the next-to-longest night of 2011—just one more night until light once more begins its cycle of growth.

So now that these words have eased from me enough to let me rest for the remainder of this dark night, mark my words: today’s light shall shine yet on a freshly cleaned tabletop, open with possibility for what comes next.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Nope, I don’t want to return to finals week insanity ever again. Got my fill during my secondary school, college, and graduate school years. Lived through my husband’s graduate school and my kids’ high school ends-of-semesters and didn’t really enjoy them that much more even when someone else got to do the work.

Which is why it’s a blessing to have our kids away at college right now during this high-pressure week. Except . . . our daughter had to come home smack dab in the middle of (well, really at the beginning of) finals week to have a medical exam, too. Yes, timing is everything, but nothing we could say could convince the doctors’ practice that their scheduling was about as bad as it could get for a college student.

So instead of waiting another month to get on the road to healing, Christiana agreed to ramp up her stress during finals week. The university worked to coordinate a new exam schedule for her—not like the original plan for finals at 11:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. the first day followed by exams the next day at 7:30 a.m., 9:40 a.m., and 2:00 p.m. made any sense in the first place. Yikes.

On the last day of the semester she put to bed one final and has already received the good news that all went well—no given considering how badly the professor’s teaching and testing styles mismatched with Christiana’s learning and testing styles. This afternoon she takes one test and tomorrow morning she finishes with two others.

But first she had to turn in and be critiqued on her final art project today. Yes, she’s an incredibly talented artist, but not only does she set very high standards for herself, but also she has a teensy bit of a problem with jumping into a project before she’s absorbed all of the instructions.

Combine those approaches with her having a cold while coming home for 42 hours for a very ill-timed trip to do an uncomfortable test and you have a very stressed-out cranky art student—who is likely not going to find my observations very funny right now, but maybe she will change her mind after she recovers from this week. Maybe . . .

To complete studies in any areas of academic concentration often requires most of us to take a few courses that do not reflect our passions. Christiana can draw realistically, but she prefers a freer rein for her imagination. Usually, you can’t ride that particular horse in figure drawing class. She was just excited that this final project, for once, allowed a little fantasy: drawing an animal’s head on top of a human’s body.

The problem? The human body needed to be unclothed, just as in all the other assignments. She had a couple choices: she could either go to an optional class session where a model would be provided or she could find her own model. Snicker, right? But would our artist take the easy out? No, because then her work would be too similar to the other classmates’ work. Yes, sometimes her pursuit for artistic uniqueness puts her in challenging situations.

Let’s just say she got a certain nameless person to pose partially clad—and figured she’d just imagine the rest since she’d been drawing nudes all semester—except a lot depends on the angle you’re observing.

After staring at her reference textbook and only coming up with one realistic-looking side for the animal/woman, she was about to give up. No, she wasn’t ready to allow any more real-life models to help out, especially a certain (cringe-worthy) close relative. So I ran back and forth to the mirror several times, observed what I could, and then came back to describe and/or critique her version. Good thing I am a wordsmith!

Yes, I think she may have pulled it off, or at least as well as she could at that point. Oh, this kind of stress did not add to her pre-procedure mood, but thank goodness the procedure meds improved her attitude considerably, at least for an hour or so post-op.

Several hours after her medical procedure, she finished the other details for the project, applied the fixative, and put away the animal/woman.

That’s all the finals-related stress I needed. Thank goodness the doctors got the medical pictures they needed and she finished her drawing in time to rest overnight—before heading back to the insanity that is finals week.

When it comes down to semester’s end preparations, sometimes you just have to throw out a few educated guesses and hope that the details you fill in yourself are close enough to picture-perfect.

"Furgus" (c) 2011 Trina Lambert

Our dogs have very different backgrounds, although they both came from old West frontier locales. Sam is a rescue dog who last year spent most of his winter days outside in Cheyenne, Wyoming where the winds never stop—brr. Furgus was born this past February on what I like to call a puppy ranch outside of Tombstone, Arizona where yucca plants were the main vegetation in those white desert lands. The little he knew of “winter” came from a short May Day pit stop on a snowy Colorado mountain pass.

Poor Furgus—his breeder had worried he’d catch a chill on a sunny Arizona day with temperatures in the mid-70s. She wouldn’t let us head back to Colorado with him until we put a sweater on him—we shed that thing by the time we’d made it back to Tombstone.

"Sam" (c) 2011 Trina Lambert

Of course, Furgus arrived in Colorado in the late spring when most of our snowy days were gone. However, from the beginning he didn’t mind the bitter cold May showers that delayed our spring flowers this year. Sam and Furgus couldn’t have been happier than when heading out into the rains for our necessary walks—if you want to keep a puppy from eating everything in the house, you have to get him tired!

Arizona Boy, as we started calling him, also loved lying outside on summer days, his black hair baking in the midday heat, while Sam preferred hanging out inside with the swamp cooler’s breeze blowing on him.

Come the first snowfall, Arizona Boy had forgotten about snow. Faced with a white world, he timidly approached the edge of the porch where his grass had changed—to what? Didn’t take long for Furgus to decide he liked snow—he really liked it.

Too fast for my camera skills!

Sam likes it, too, but he certainly acts concerned about how long he’ll be outside. I don’t think he’s forgotten those long hours shivering in the Wyoming winds. But Furgus craves his snow time—thank goodness Mother Nature has provided for him. Sam goes out to do his business and/or play with Furgus, but he’s not afraid to let Furgus stay out there alone running like a nut. He’s quite happy to rest dry and warm at my feet, thank you very much.

Last spring I was missing my Fordham and his larger than life Springer Spaniel ways. Despite how much cleaner the house remained with just one little long-haired dachshund, I vowed I wanted the chaos of another spaniel, no matter the mess.

Well, I’ve certainly gotten what I wanted—two loving, chaotic spaniels and a lot of mess. Thankfully at least one of them does not have larger than life Springer Spaniel ways.

"Furgus" (c) May 2011 Christiana Lambert

The other, though . . . could have gone head-to-head with Fordham. Furgus loves both the snow—and coming inside to see me. Despite the baby gates in the kitchen, I’m not winning the battle with his muddy paw-prints—yes, this is Colorado where our snows melt often—today is such a day. I’ve tried skating around on a towel, using a Pipi Longstocking cleaning-style to remove those paw-prints, but more keep appearing. Our kitchen floor is starting to look like our own personal O.K. Corral without the gunfight (and the outlaws and Earp Brothers and the cattle and . . .)

Arizona Boy does not need a sweater! No, what he needs is a personal butler. Or else I need a maid!

(c) 2011 Sherman Lambert

Like many other people, I’ve come to associate the Messiah with the Christmas season, even though Handel wrote it to be performed during the Lenten days leading up to the Easter triumph. Most of us who dabbled in high school choirs at all have sung the “Hallelujah!” chorus and many communities host sing-a-longs for people long past their high school days. Although I’ve never participated in one of those events, since I found about six copies of the Messiah in Mom’s music collection, I can have a sing-a-long all by myself whenever those songs come on my radio station.

In fact, last Christmas Eve after our family attended church, I got out a beat-up ancient Schirmer copy and tried to keep up—though I failed miserably—with the songs while my family members were busy covering their ears!

This year, however, I am one (small) voice in the Chancel Choir at Bethany Lutheran, a church whose large choir, directed by Dr. Dan Grace, has numerous talented singers, many who are trained musicians as well as professionals in the field. I’ve sung various songs from Messiah with choirs, but last Friday was the first time I have been part of a Christmas production of Messiah, complete with soloists and an orchestra. The people in the pews were no doubt thinking “Wow!” but so were choir members such as I who got to rest often to listen to the serious musicians perform the magic that is the “wow” of these pieces created almost three centuries ago.

With two rehearsals and one performance happening three nights in a row, last week I spent a lot of time in the words and musical notes of Messiah. No doubt our senior minister, Pastor Ron Glusenkamp, was also immersed in the words featured in Messiah, especially since much of the text mirrored the lectionary for the second Sunday in Advent. Thus his sermon words built on those I had been singing or had listened to others sing.

The truth is those words found me where I have been, which for so long is too focused on the aches in my body. However, because my current treatments are also returning positive energy to that body, I am better able to balance the physical with my mind and spirit, letting the body’s attention-seeking antics recede to a more normal prominence. To be sure, one of the reasons I planned the new treatments for when I did was so I could sit and stand as needed throughout the Messiah performance—which I did with much more comfort than any previous time this fall during the shorter weekly Sunday services.

Still, when Pastor Ron’s sermon focused on comfort, you can bet my first thoughts were on the physical. Yet when he discussed the bruises we get and give—both from life experiences themselves and from one another—my next thought was that we all need spiritual Arnica.

Both traditional and alternative healing often use Arnica as part of the cure for aches such as bruises. My own personal experience with Arnica has been just short of miraculous—oh not for my current deep wound—but for other painful yet more superficial wounds. I have had muscle knots that severely limited my gait, only to have them disappear after a couple topical applications of Arnica—so much so that I even forgot that I had ever felt the pain. The miracle of Arnica is that it can be so much of a spot remover that the “spot” can seem as if it never existed.

The words of balm spoken in Isaiah and repeated by Handel and Pastor Ron are that spiritual Arnica for me. So many crooked paths to make straight and so many rough places to make plain in my life—who among us doesn’t have iniquity in need of pardoning or spots we wish could disappear? Every valley time in my life, such as this year so full of losing loved ones, combined with my own physical pains and concern for my daughter, shall be exalted.

Comfort me—with words a few thousand years old and notes a few hundred years old—in this world that, though it has yet to shed its need for spiritual Arnica, has a Redeemer who one day shall stand upon this earth.

Hallelujah!

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Today marks seven months since my (underlying) injury flared up and commanded my attention—guess those muscles decided I needed The Fatal Attraction treatment—you know, “I will not be ignored!” Thus began the days when my steps became more like shuffles in time.

Not here to debate the best way to treat my type of lower back/hip injury. In fact, one of the more frustrating aspects of this injury has been deciding which school of thought and/or type of professional I should choose for healing. Anyone who has gotten better has an opinion as do people who work in the fields, but so often the reasoning and treatments differ.

All I know is that I don’t just want to reduce my activity levels permanently and focus on pain management—I want to heal what’s ailing me. Yeah, I know, just another Baby Boomer who can’t read the calendar, right? Maybe, but the truth is not only have I had to give up my fitness goals, but also I have had to live with reduced energy levels that are nowhere near what is normal for me.

This week—for the first time since those fateful April car trips that led to this more sedentary lifestyle—I have sustained energy all through my days. In fact, I would say I am finally feeling like myself again.

Yes, I have been like a stranger living in a strange body. Sometimes a person’s body changes permanently, but I wasn’t yet ready to accept that was the case with my body. I mean, the source of my injury was sitting down too much for a week? Really?

The real me walks very briskly. She may not accomplish nearly as much as she’d like, but it’s more for lack of focus than for lack of doing. It’s about going in too many directions at the same time.

Without my usual energy levels, dealing with life’s challenges has also been much harder. So much of my successful “therapy” has been movement-related. Despite keeping moving, I have had to proceed with caution, always thinking about whether what I’m doing will make the injury flare-up stronger. That kind of reduced activity level does not calm my restless mind in the same ways that moving without constant over-thinking does.

To be sure, I am putting more effort into relearning simple things such as getting into and out of chairs, cars, and beds, how to reach for or pick up items, and ways to better capitalize on the exercises I already do. For now I do have to over-think these types of daily activities in order to get back to moving more effortlessly.

But those types of everyday movements have stressed my body for almost half a century—I need quicker relief than simple retraining can bring about. So today I celebrated this injury anniversary by continuing the trigger point dry needle therapy I began a week and a half ago. In that short time I have begun to remember who I am and what I still dream of doing.

Besides miles to go before I sleep, I’ve got steps to dance—with a little bit more work, I am about to get stepping back into the time I still have.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert