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Eclipse. (c) 2017 Trina Lambert

Advent is all about waiting—but this year, despite the arrival of Thanksgiving and the busy shopping season it ushers in, we are still lingering in a form of calendar limbo. Check it out: Calendar A for the previous liturgical year ended on November 26 with Christ the King Sunday, but Calendar B for the coming liturgical year starts with Advent on December 3. So where are we now on November 29? Waiting for the waiting?

And, yet, it is so ironic that while we wait and prepare for the season of giving, our screens are filled with stories of people who go through life taking, in one form or another—just as in the days when the Chosen People were awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. They thought they were getting a Messiah to come to fight overarching power with power—but what they got was a baby, which is pretty much the opposite of power. Then after they waited for him to grow to become a man, he spent his time with them telling them to take on power—by loving and giving? Can you imagine?

Sometimes it feels as if we have no idea how to help those who are hurting or how to go about confronting the powerful forces that would keep taking from the world. But we need to remember that we do have an idea—it’s simply to love and give. That’s it—each of us has to figure out for ourselves how we’re going to go about doing that loving and giving—and bringing about light in a world full of darkness. That’s the kind of power we can claim without harming others—and we don’t even have to wait—not for Advent, not for Christmas, not for any day on any calendar.

Imagine the brilliance of our combined light.

Oh, Lord, help us to turn on that light—now.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

Hello—long time no write. Oh, I have some good excuses—paid work, volunteer work, cleaning for family, and being with family, etc.—but the truth is more along the lines that I don’t want to be just one more angry voice in this year of discord. So often I have reacted to what I’ve heard and read this year with anger. Lucky you—I’ve pretty much saved those frequent rants for family and friends.

I am still waiting for a Rodney King moment this year—not the “beat on Rodney” moment, but the “Can’t we all get along?” Rodney moment. Seems that if that’s what I’m waiting for I’m just not going to write in 2015, you know what I mean?

But we’ve reached one of my favorite times of the year: Advent. I’m not talking about the Decembers of “spend, spend, spend” or too many great Christmas carols turned into “are you serious?” pop versions or calendars full of “must-dos” and little empty space. I’m talking about waiting in the darkness for a light that comes to save us from ourselves and our petty human ways. I’m talking about how a little child shall lead us. I’m talking about God Immanuel.

And, boy, don’t we need a God with us these days? Not the God referenced in all the various and opposing opinions expressed in the public arena, but a God who sent his son to change us from our petty humanness. A God who asks the lion to lie down with the lamb. A God of peace. Peace on this earth? Can you imagine?

Last night in choir practice, our group of very human singers was struggling mightily with a piece called “Magnificat” by Halsey Stevens. Stevens’ “Magnificat” is an arrangement with many changing time meters and notes of discord between parts that mar any perception of harmony—except in the resolution of the final notes at the end of the piece. I get what the metaphor expresses—about just how jarring was the angel’s revelation to Mary that she would bear a child—a child not conceived in the usual way and a child of God in a human form in a way that had never happened before. But that is not the Mary of Luke’s Magnificat passages.

Oh, she was greatly troubled at the angel’s initial greeting: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28, NIV) Yet after she asked questions and received his answers, she was all in. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38, NIV)

Next Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth. Before Mary can say anything to Elizabeth, the Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth and Elizabeth knows that Mary is indeed blessed to be the mother of God’s child. Other than asking why she would be so favored, Mary does nothing but accept what she is called to do.

However, she not only accepts, but she also sings that her soul glorifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God. There is so little discord in her song.

The Mary of this story glows—she is all light.

Thirty years ago I saw such a Mary in an obscure play (The Christmas Miracles) at the local performance venue. The pre-fame Annette Bening became this acceptance and joy in a manner that sticks with me always, especially when I hear the words of Mary’s song.

May it be so with me—that I not dissolve into discord and misgivings no matter how dark the times. That I not let the darkness swallow me and keep me from bringing forth the kind of light—pale though it may be to the Light of Mary’s story—that I myself am called to share.

In these dark times we need to be lights in a world that would rather stay in darkness. We need a little Magnificat right now, right this very minute . . . we need a little Magnificat right now.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

This month has gone by in a blur! Buying another car, Sherman’s dad falling and needing surgery again, our daughter applying (and getting accepted) to the drawing program at college, traveling by car to Oklahoma to help with a wedding, attending that wedding, our son rehearsing for a play next week, both kids on break from college this week, and the Thanksgiving celebration with family. Here we are already on the last day of November, facing the arrival of both December and the Advent season tomorrow. Yikes.

Boy, am I glad that in our home we get to celebrate the quiet Advent season before it’s really Christmas. No Black Friday (Black Thanksgiving??!!) shopping for us, unless we must count that trip to the art store to find supplies for our daughter’s future projects.

The mild weather here has helped me stay in an autumnal mood. Didn’t want to go back inside after my run on Tuesday so instead I continued to “earn” my sunshine by performing (really) late season weeding. Thanksgiving Day we made sure to get out on the path with our dogs before we needed to prepare dinner items—and we weren’t the only ones since the paths were filled with families and their pups. Today we tried out another new path close to the rehab center where we visit Sherman’s father.

Nope, I’m not going to buy into the Christmas rush yet. After our crazy-busy November, I’m especially glad for the rest I can find in being an Advent person who believes that good is worth the wait.

Oh yes, I need a little Advent to remember just exactly Who it is for Whom I wait.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Here we are again in the Advent season (the December days leading up to Christmas), waiting for the Light to come into this world. I’m busy trying to take my time about jumping into the Christmas season. If you look around my house, you will know I have succeeded here!

Due to a lifelong focus on celebrating Advent, I rarely decorate for Christmas this early. What a difference there is in a year, though. I would say there is more hope in our home this December, even though it would be hard to see it if you were expecting this home to be decorated for Christmas by now.

The most obvious change in the house since last year is that my parents’ remaining items (the ones about which I have not yet made decisions regarding their fates) are not making a limbo of the living spaces, but are relegated to storage areas. Any disorganization in the living room comes from our everyday present life: laundry to fold or books being read or toys pulled out by dogs. The new window blinds regularly allow the sun to shine in, leading the way to the dawning of a new era here. You see, it’s not so dark in here anymore these days as we wait for the Light.

Sunday in church we once more heard the words about making the crooked straight and I thought, “That’s about me!” I mean, my body is now more straight than crooked. Last year I needed to approach Sunday morning church choir activities as if they were athletic events. I had to do warm-up exercises first thing at home if I wanted to survive all the standing, sitting, and walking required for singing in choir. And no matter what, I came home exhausted and in pain.

No, now I can sit and stand as expected, not needing to fidget in search of a better position or not having to do subtle exercises to make it through services.

I can also see more clearly how the seemingly-crooked paths my children have taken are straighter than they appear on the surface.

Even my mother who comes in my nighttime dreams is more often the mother I knew than the one lost in the darkness of her last years.

Maybe making straight my crooked body has let in enough sunshine to make straight the crooked ways of my heart and mind, too. At the same time, I understand better that sometimes you just have to believe you’ll make it through the darkness—and do what you can to wait patiently for the Light.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

My grandfather was a man’s man. From my youngest days he used words in everyday conversations that I was never allowed to say, kept his refrigerator stocked with beer, and played pool almost daily with his cronies at the Elks where he tended the “gentlemen’s” bar into his 80s. But every winter when the light turned low in Nebraska, he got restless. I think he had what we call Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

Well, I’ve said it before, but I will probably declare it each and every year once Black Friday arrives: I am an Advent person. Advent is the church season preceding the Light coming into this world at Christmas. Advent is all about waiting with expectation and hope for the light that will brighten our days—and our nights. But we are not a world much into waiting these days.

In an era when our culture seems to be experiencing an extended period of SAD—global economic uncertainties, financial difficulties in our own homes and neighborhoods, political stalemates and hostilities, and a real absence of long-term feelings of hope—shortening our Thanksgiving celebrations to jostle in lines to get those shiny new big screen TVs and other devices that run on light is not going to provide long-term light therapy.

No, what we need in these darkest of days is to turn to the true light from true light.

Advent—not this too early, too long, and too lacking in Christ-centered way of celebrating Christmas—is what is lacking in our collective focus.

Even though I am also tempted to forget to seek that true light, my own personal needs have again brought me to my knees. While my grandfather experienced winter blues, most likely my grandmother suffered depression during even the sunniest of days, just as my daughter does. These seasonal changes hit us all, but are often darker for those who struggle with darkness year round.

So I ask for prayers from friends both close and far away, as well as try to pray without ceasing myself. I pray for her, but also I pray for discernment and ideas, as well as for those people, professional and otherwise, who can help her.

What can we do besides pray to reduce the darkness? For one, we got her a light therapy box. Crazy, but the blue lights remind me of Advent and its liturgical color of blue.

We sent her back to college with that box, so our own access to that type of light therapy will have to wait, but for me, light therapy also comes in the lyrics I’ve learned from my choir songs. When darkness overwhelms me so much that I can’t even rest in the peace of sleep, those words arrive unbidden to voice the hope I do not always feel.

I like to think God is telling me to look to Him for the light, while pointing us to resources and support. And, so, in this quiet Advent period (well, in our house anyway) I ask Him to help me to wait, knowing He will in His time dispel the night—and SADness will flee away.

(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

It’s a good thing the season of Advent is all about waiting because I’m all about waiting until the last minute to do anything about getting ready for Christmas. Oh, would that it were because I was busy keeping Christmas in my heart. That’s what I want it to be about, but with the kids’ college applications, performances, final projects and exams, plus their being sick—again—it’s about too little time in the day.

Still, it beats where we were last year. That alone makes me feel joyful, even if the physical representations of joy have yet to be unpacked in our household. Trust me, I do remember the spirit of last Christmas past. We were happy enough to taste relief and to believe we could see an inkling of the promise of something better to come.

I’ll gladly take the everyday chaos that’s holding back this year’s preparations. I’d like to believe I will never again take the frustrations of typical days for granted . . . but I am human, after all. It’s so easy to forget to keep Christmas in your heart in December, let alone all the year through. I, for one, don’t have the saintly attitude of a Tiny Tim against the little challenges, let alone against the really big ones.

Forgive me for the gratitude I don’t express nearly enough.

Tonight we plan to wrap our gratitude in the blankets Jackson prepared for Children’s Hospital’s Snow Pile event. Since he is not germ-free enough to deliver them, Sherman and I will need to be the messengers of our thanks for not needing those blankets in our own home this year. Is that task so hard, really?

I don’t think so.

Last year one night while driving to visit my daughter in the hospital, I listened to the Barenaked Ladies CD, Barenaked for the Holidays. Children’s Hospital, complete with the flashing lights ready for emergency helicopter landings, loomed into the dark night as the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” came on. I looked on all those lighted windows, knowing that place was full of kids who did not want to be there, especially for the holidays. I wondered, could they feel Christmas at all?

But, just a few days earlier, I had felt Christmas at the Snow Pile event and knew somewhere there was Christmas for those kids, even if they couldn’t feel it—or didn’t know it—yet.

So we return this year to bring a little bit of Christmas into whatever shade some kids are experiencing:

At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade.
And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy.
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.
But say a prayer and pray for the other ones
At Christmastime.

It’s the least we can do in a world of people hungry for light.

Some things can wait during this season—like decorating our houses just so—but don’t wait to let others know it’s Christmastime again. Feed the world, however you can.

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

One of the questions I always want to ask is what to do with your grief other than acknowledge it. When I tell people some of the things going on with my mom, they state how hard it must be for me. I agree, but like the dental hygienist said, “But what can you do but do what you have to do?”

Exactly. That’s why sometimes you don’t even know you’re going to feel sad. You’ll be sitting there in present time and something will remind you of how things used to be and, boom, you really remember your loss.

Today is the second Sunday in Advent, so the choir processed into the church singing “Prepare Ye” from Godspell, with a great deal of energy (especially for “Frozen Chosen” Lutherans!) to the rhythms of drums.

My mom would have loved it. As a church musician, she liked nothing better than to introduce new ways of worshipping, to keep the services both fresh and relevant to the current times. She really didn’t like doing things the way they’d been done forever if there were no liturgical or valid historical reasons for opposing the changes.

Mom was a bit of a rebel musically. This was the woman who let her early 70s swing choirs (in a small farming community in the middle of Nebraska!) wear psychedelic shirts and bellbottoms. The kids added electric guitar riffs and the beat of drums to piano accompaniment for music such as “California Dreaming.” No, we didn’t listen to rock and roll in our own home, but she listened to her students about music choice for school.

The 70s were a time of great change for churches. Though I was too young to be aware of it, there must have been a lot of discussion about how to appeal to the great mass of Baby Boomers. Nonetheless, many people thought there was no room for rock-influenced music in the church. Our minister, however, had a daughter who I don’t doubt argued for change at their family’s dinner table. At the same time, my mom was willing to lead a more casual-style youth choir.

Pretty soon we had a name for the choir, shirts in all colors of the rainbow, cut and sewn from sheets (Maria from the Sound of Music would have approved!), and a church banner for use during services when we sang. My mom’s choirs brought in the first drum set to our church, along with music from Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. I know some weren’t happy, but this was a fairly young church, the locking orange chairs—no stuffy pews for us—filled mostly with families whose kids ranged from babies to teenagers.

That choir kept several kids—and not a few fathers!—from sleeping through the services, thanks to the vision and openness of a leader such as my mother.

So, forgive me for not singing along with the jubilant choir as they prepared the way. The service “stirred it up” even more when the sermon included visits from “crazy” John the Baptist and Saint Nicholas, along with sections from the Bob Marley song “Stir It Up”—accompanied by guitars, of course. All this my mother would have enjoyed.

And so I mourned that I could not share it with her, that she wouldn’t even recognize that thanks to people like her who prepared the way, we didn’t have to get all stirred up about humming along to a reggae song on a cold December morning—in church—but could instead really focus on just how much John the Baptist stirred up the world in the days before Jesus began to do his work on this earth.

Thanks, Mom, for preparing the way. Deep down, I am always stirred up by missing you, but not shaken from knowing who you were—to me and to others.

(c) 2008, Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Yesterday at our church service, we began the new church year by lighting the first Advent candle. The emphasis, as always during the season of Advent, is on waiting. Watching the candle burn, I found it hard not to be reminded of how much we were waiting upon hope last December—and how it took a lot longer than just the month of December to reach the light.

And, so we give thanksgiving that somehow we all survived that bitter month and those that followed, even if scars remain, some visible and some hidden beneath the surface. The world has rotated another year and we are back, much better prepared to believe in the light.

Yet, somewhere out there, there are others who walk a path into the darkness and question where the light went. Their journey is either just beginning or, perhaps, they have gotten lost in the shadows.

Last year, when our daughter ended up in Children’s Hospital the week before Christmas, we hadn’t had time for much of a hopeful mood, let alone for decorating or shopping for Christmas. Advent was as dark as it had ever been in our home. Our family was leading a one-day-at-a-time (or hour) existence.

Children's Hospital, (c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

Once she was in the hospital, we were definitely in the proverbial “deer in the headlight” mode, just trying to figure out the hospital’s program for helping her get better, along with making twice daily trips to visit her. There wasn’t much time to contemplate the financial costs, but even though we thankfully had a maximum out-of-the-pocket expenditure, suffice it to say the healing was not going to be free.

Enter an invitation to visit the Snow Pile, Children’s annual event where families with hospitalized kids go to “shop” for those kids, as well as for siblings. Part of me thought we didn’t need such help, but that wasn’t really true. Getting healing for your child is priceless, but even middle class families with insurance are stretched when using high deductible health care plans. Besides, who has time to shop at such a time?

My daughter didn’t know about the event and my husband had to work, so I showed up early on my own to do my “shopping” before visiting hours. So far I haven’t been able to convey well enough the experience to my other family members—that “shopping” trip remains for me a glowing light in a time of deepest winter.

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

A volunteer escorted me through a large room piled with toys, stuffed animals, books, clothes, blankets, hats, games, etc.—but no snow! The volunteer worked from a checklist of the types of items each patient receives, as well as each sibling receives. When I told him my daughter really wanted a Slinky Dog (from Toy Story), he walked over to the mountain of toys for younger kids, searched, and found it. Before leaving, we stopped at another table for wrapping supplies. Last stop, being handed off to another volunteer who carted all the holiday goods off to my car in those little red wagons frequently used by the littlest patients at Children’s. Wow.

Then I went back to the hard tasks of visiting and meetings, but with a lighter feeling in my heart. I promised myself I wouldn’t forget. Somehow we had to help with the program in future years.

Fast forward a year (not really!) and I hadn’t really figured out how to help. When I called, I found out this year’s event is already filled with volunteers. But, what they need (frankly, what they need every week of the year, not just during the Snow Pile) is blankets for the patients.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Well, what my son needed to do was some service hours for his civics class at school. So, yesterday he did the excruciating work of standing in line at Joann Fabrics, waiting to buy polar fleece. Really, that may be the toughest part of the project, especially for any man in my family! The fabric was on deep discount, so we bought enough for eleven blankets—he’s got five done so far.

Sometimes when you’re stuck in darkness, it helps to know that someone who doesn’t even know you or your family is blanketing you with love. Charlie Brown’s friend Linus had it right—we all need something to hold onto that reminds us of hope—especially when we’re busy waiting for the light’s return.

Washington Park Sunset, (c) 2009, Christiana Lambert

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