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In these harsh times of unprovoked war in Ukraine, we see images of sunflowers everywhere: in Facebook feeds, artwork, and artificial blooms placed outside homes. Ukraine is a land of blue skies and fields of yellow—grains as well as sunflowers. But what is a sunflower? A plant that grows without fuss—one that can thrive with little watering, added nutrients, or pampering of any sort. It can grow sideways, through cracks in the pavement, or in other harsh conditions. Sunflowers can be planted by birds, squirrels, or wind. These plants that were once considered only a weed by farmers who deliberately planted other crops are now a commercial crop and not just another weed. But, no matter—sunflowers grow regardless of whether we intentionally plant them or not.

In Spanish, the word for sunflower is girasol: turns toward the sun (and, yes, sunflowers do follow the sun). As these days and weeks of great destruction and uncertainty have gone from one month into the next—when it seems so much hangs on the decisions of one person with evil intent—it is time to keep turning to the Son of God. To pray without ceasing, and to send resources—monetary, equipment, or the kinds of human support that operate from without—whatever can be shared. With so much light shining from corners all around the world, how can darkness prevail? Gire al sol—and turn to the Son of God.

And, so I pray:

Lord,

We turn to you and implore you to wrap your arms around the Ukrainian people—those who defend their homes as well as those who have left behind their homeland as they seek shelter and safety. Comfort those who mourn. We know that you judge between the nations and settle disputes for many peoples. Sow seeds of peace now—so that those currently under siege may safely beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (reference: Isaiah 2:4). May the sunflowers of Ukraine push through yet this spring.

Amen

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(c) 2021

This morning I returned to the river—more in need than last Sunday morning. The river, she greeted me with the peace I so crave. The air was crisp, the skies blue, the snow white, and the birds plentiful.

As I got out of my car, I saw heads swivel and look up. I could hear the “oohs” as a bald eagle flew off into the distance.

I started off at a pace I couldn’t maintain, trying to beat back this winter of my loss. But to persevere, I needed to slow down. Soon after I crossed the bridge, I encountered a hawk perched in a tree above me, closer than I have ever been to what I consider my spirit animal—and a sign of continued protections. I stopped for a moment and thanked the hawk for its beauty, presence, and proximity.

Despite the barren season in which I find myself, as my feet again renewed their journey, I sensed the approach of spring.

God’s peace to all trapped within a landscape that appears empty of hope—may renewal arrive when you least expect it.

Kazoo and Furgus, (c) 2021

Furgus—who had surgery on his right knee on January 18—returned for another checkup on Wednesday. Recovery is going as planned, but there’s still another four weeks to go before he’s released from restrictions. And that’s pretty hard news for a guy who loves snowstorms like the one that happened that day. The good news for him is that we live in Colorado and there’s a reasonable chance we’ll still get some snow in late March and April (and—that’s where I’m going to stop—for now).

Furgus is a sweet boy—unless you’re a squirrel or the kind of malefactor who walks your dog on the sidewalk in front of our house. Even the squirrels and said malefactors are catching a break from Furgus this winter. But, don’t worry—he’ll be back, barking at the fence as soon as allowed.

For now, Furgus spends his days snuggled up with Kazoo, who turned one two weeks ago. Lazy days, but filled with much love from his admiring brephew (Furgus is genetically Kazoo’s uncle, but lives as his brother—or Bruncle Furgus, as he’s called here).

Like Furgus and Kazoo, I’m finding it hard to be patient waiting for better days. But, if we can’t get out much, at least we all have each other here, which includes my husband Sherman—as well occasional visits from our kids and their dogs.

These are the dog days here—which is a pretty decent way to wait out a pandemic, if that’s what you have to do.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

My prayer today is that my words will be heard as a message of love, not as an incitement to fight. As of today, our country has lost over half a million souls to a virus. Yes, God is sovereign—and, yes, He also sends help through human means. I am confused that some of most faithful people I know believe that God can’t be behind the science or behind government leaders’ attempts to put protections in place for our society.

What if all these restrictions aren’t part of some evil plot to lessen our faith, but are God-given methods for us to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves?

God created the whole world. And that means He created people who are driven to help others through our current challenges, whether that’s through doing research, applying their knowledge to understanding and abating this novel coronavirus, caring for others in medical situations, leading government policies that help reduce the risks, or lifting up others by speaking God’s truths.

God doesn’t want us to live in fear during these times, but to trust in Him. But what if trusting Him means performing simple acts that help mitigate our chances of infecting others with this disease—that while not dangerous to many—is deadly to some? And that it also means trusting Him enough to refrain from declarations—such as “only” a small percentage of people die from this—that minimize the risk of harm to a great number of people.

God is in control here, but we still can choose to control what we can control. When Jesus went out into the wilderness, Satan sought to tempt him. Though Satan suggested he throw himself from up high, Jesus replied that it was not right to test God. Wearing masks over our noses and mouths or following social distancing doesn’t show a lack of faith—instead, we show respect for God by not testing him.

And when those behaviors protect so many other than ourselves, I don’t quite understand the fight. I really don’t.

I pray we are turning the corner on this—and I pray you all stay well. As for me, I will do what I can to protect myself—and anyone who might be around me.

Sunday mornings used to be time to sit in a pew, so I never made it to my running club’s Sunday morning runs at the river. But now I can run and do church—well, by “going” to church at home while sitting in my own chair instead of a pew—and by not needing to change out of my running clothes.

I have to go down to the river as we live on the hill above the South Platte valley. I started attending the now socially-distanced and masked Sunday runs in July when, even early, the river was alive with action—of the human, canine, and avian kinds. Being by the river and the birds was soothing even as the trails were full of activity.

But as the weather turned colder and certain birds flew off to warmer spaces, peace became the river’s language. Fewer humans and dogs ventured out during the chilly morning hours, but more ducks and Canada geese claimed the waters.

In a way, my pre-church runs by the river have become part of the liturgy that is my church worship in these winter days of 2020/2021. With the now later start of the group runs, I have little time once finished before I must jump in my car and drive the ten minutes back to my home up the hill.

I take that peace—like the river—into my corporate worship—or what counts for corporate worshipping these days. Even if we aren’t all together as physical bodies, I feel the pull of the congregation as I see the familiar faces of the pastors and other leaders in our sacred space.

One day I will return to the good old way of in-person worship with my church community, but, for now, I appreciate going down to the river with my (running) sisters and learning new ways to pray.

Last weekend brought about dangerous temperatures for running outside, but skipping my run gave me extra time to get ready to run—especially since members of my running club had additional discounts last week at Runners Roost Lakewood.

Today I stepped out wearing my new purchases: visor, support gear (!), and shoes! Although the afternoon’s weather is already turning as the next storm arrives, on my travels this morning, I felt a balmy breeze caressing my neck. I haven’t seen so many people out in weeks—it’s as if we all know to appreciate the current conditions more after last week’s frigid temperatures (short-lived for us)—as well as the horrid conditions that have lasted longer for others.

As always, I was grateful that I was able to get out. Even if some runs are harder than others, running teaches you is that you can do tough things—and get to a better place. Last year I battled heel pain—in previous years it’s been my back or my hip—it really is always something for me. And as much as it seems these pandemic days will never pass, running tells me otherwise.

Stepping out is one activity that helps me on my Lenten journey—or through any time in my life that feels like it might as well be Lent. Thank God for running—especially now.

What a great metaphor—this puzzle that I’m really sorry I insisted we buy. Sometimes you think you know what you want, but it doesn’t turn out to work out as well as you’d expected. Nothing like working on this puzzle to humble me.

All I can do is string puzzle pieces together—I can’t even figure out where to put them. But, luckily, I am not working on this puzzle alone. It’s good to have a partner who can pick up where I leave off.

Lots of lessons in this puzzle. How very appropriate for Lent.

How do I calm my raging heart—on any given day, but especially in times such as these when my activities and comings and goings have been pared down in this time period when we await abatement from the virus’ relentless effect on daily life?

Since March 16, 2020—when I came home to work—and the week when everything on my normally busy calendar was erased, my main solace has been time spent in exercise. First, solitary running, and then, bit by bit, electronic classes—both with my regular local fitness teacher and classmates and with sources beyond my neighborhood. And, from time to time, I have ventured out to run close—but not too close—with others.

Still, what was immediately stripped from my life last March was singing in community in my choir and church. The night of March 11, I was engaged in the risky business of going to a Lenten church service (complete with communion!) and singing in choir practice. By the Sunday that followed, church had been reduced to my laptop screen. While my spiritual needs are often met by connecting to the messages from the ministers and other leaders, it’s not quite the same singing harmony by myself along with the sounds projected from the few people allowed in the sanctuary.

My voice has become husky with disuse. Of course, I can sing by myself at home, but with my naturally limited range, I don’t have much of a voice for singing melody. My strength lies in singing harmony. I can—and occasionally do—sing harmony along with music I play for myself. But I miss singing in church—with other people. Almost every Sunday since I was 10 (give or take several during college and in my early 20s) until March 15 of 2020, I have been singing harmony from the hymn book—with others.

So, I asked myself, what can I do to sing, even if I can’t sing in the way I want to sing? Well, for Lent, I’ve broken out my copy of Bach’s St. John’s Passion, and I plan to sing along with Cyber Bass or YouTube. Tonight, I gave that scratchy old voice of mine permission to sing out—badly or not. To tell the truth, I had an easier time singing the notes than I did singing the German words. Sure, I might have scared the puppy a little bit (in all fairness—he’s scared of most everything the first time he experiences it!), but not the older dog, who heard me practice those songs often throughout Lent 2015.

And, you know what? My darkened heart—along with my lowered voice—felt a little bit lighter for singing harmony—even with the tinny background sounds coming from my laptop.

Isn’t it time I stopped keeping myself from singing?

As March 2021 approaches, we’ve been hitting landmarks that continue to remind us of what we didn’t know at this time last year. And how unaware we were that we were living through the end of an era. Oh, we were getting some pretty good hints by Ash Wednesday of 2020, but it seems that most of us just didn’t get what was going on or what was coming.

I’m not even sure how to pray this Ash Wednesday. What is appropriate when over 2.4 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19, including over 488,000 of my fellow Americans? As a people, we are diminished by the loss of so many. Grief tears at our hearts. If there were any doubts that from ashes we came and to ashes we will return, 2020 put a whole new emphasis on that statement of mortality.

Yet in this time of great loss and fear surrounding physical health, I am especially reminded of how human I am otherwise. Even as I am so grateful that I live and breathe, I am aware that my heart has hardened so much in this past year. Yes, I am sad at all we have lost—especially those people I’ve lost (not due to COVID). But when I sat down to write tonight, I was confronted with how angry I am. All. The. Time.

And not just angry, but also unforgiving toward those who do not approach the pandemic the way I do. More so lately as one in my own circle has been engaged in battle with this deadly virus.

This Lent I will sit with this anger and my God—and try to hear a way back to loving others.

Fear-shaming seems to be a thing these days. As if showing respect for a novel coronavirus and figuring out how to minimize its risks are somehow the actions of cowards (and/or the faithless) versus a fact-seeking mission to determine what we can and cannot control about this threat that has seemingly thrown our world off its axis.

For years, my family has called me Safety Mom, in part because I had writing jobs about safety and baby products. But I guess you could probably argue that I was able to get hired for those jobs because I’ve always been one to think about safety concerns. Do I live my life in fear? No. Yet I do live my life by researching safety risks and analyzing various protections and preparations. When it comes to safety, there are many factors not under our control—my approach is to put my efforts toward simple ways to reduce risks. In the end, that’s all anyone can do. After all, we’re not in charge!

For background, I admit that I come from a somewhat overprotected childhood.

First of all, my dad was raised an only child, but, really, he was the child who followed the death of his parents’ only other child. My grandparents were so afraid of losing him that he was raised as a fragile piece of china—even though he grew up on a Depression-era farm. His nickname in school became “Mittens”—because he wasn’t allowed to get dirty or roughhouse. He grew up to earn a professional degree and work as a pharmacist, only using his hands to count pills and type labels. My father seemed a stranger to his own body—living in a cerebral world where physical risks were minimized. For him, it was his lifestyle focused on comforts that threatened his physical health more than outside risks or movements.

And, for me—I was the baby who did not die when my body raged with infection at four months of age. But the experience left me underweight and scrambling to catch up. My dad’s mom would grab my hands and say things like, “She has hands like a bird. Do you think she will make it?” And whenever I fell down in her presence, she would gasp in fear for me—a reaction that never went away throughout all the normal bumps and bruises of my childhood. Not until I could get my tonsils out, a procedure delayed by my lack of weight gain, could I finally grow into a sturdy child—one who tried to pump hard enough to wrap the swing around the bar, who rode my bike up gravel country roads, climbed trees, screwed up her courage to plunge off the high board, and who, in my teens, jumped at a chance to learn to ski.

Compared to my husband (he of a very physical childhood with his two brothers and more than a few broken bones between them, and a current serious mountain-biking addiction) and my own kids, who I strove not to inject with the legacy of fear my family had attempted to swaddle me in, I am a delicate little flower.

However, I do not often cower in fear. I prepare myself by reading the latest studies (from a layman’s perspective), while watching for bias or updated information. My educational background is in reading and writing, and my current editing work falls in the area of science education—an area where I was NOT naturally drawn to at a young age. No doubt my growth into Safety Mom drove me toward trying to figure out how different factors affect health. In general, if my research tells me something I don’t want to hear, I have to decide how badly I want to avoid the risks.

Unfortunately, what I read at this point in our early days of understanding the current viral threat is that how I respond to safety precautions matters to the health of many beyond my own circle. I don’t really spend a lot of time worrying about myself—or even about those whom I love. Instead, I spend time making certain that—as much as possible—I follow the current recommended safety precautions.

What looks like fear to many is actually love. I am doing unto others what I want them to do for me (see Matthew 7:12). I do this because of what Jesus said—not because I don’t have faith. What if keeping our lamps trimmed and burning (see Matthew 25:1-13) is actually about being prepared to care for others in this interim of waiting for better solutions to this illness? Could the inconvenience of loving our neighbors by maintaining distances and wearing facial coverings actually demonstrate that we are willing to accept God’s timing and ways—in all things, including how and when the bridegroom will arrive?

Fear not, but prepare wisely. Because we do not know the hour or time, one way to keep watch is by showing your love.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

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