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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.

(Note: These words were written—and then forgotten—in the busyness of March. Almost two months later, much more is different and changing. Healing continues in more ways than what we could even guess back then. Hallelujah!)

(c)  2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Back from my retreat from my life—ha, ha, right? OK, so three nights and three days helping my daughter get around college post-surgery didn’t really constitute a break, but it did limit how much else I had to do since I wasn’t in my own home but in the home of my daughter and her friend.

My main duty was to be the chauffeur to get her to and from her classes. A distance that translates into reasonable commute times and good walking exercise under normal circumstances is pretty challenging post-surgery recovery. Campuses aren’t exactly car-friendly anyway, even when you’re not parking, so I was pretty darn happy to have a small car to drive on our short travels.

Somehow the extra quiet time on my own seemed fitting for starting my Lenten journey. Though I couldn’t sing with the choir at my church, I could take in a midday Ash Wednesday service and receive the cool, gritty ashes on my somewhat furrowed brow. No, I hadn’t planned to spend more time away from home and duties and, no, I didn’t really enjoy watching my daughter’s pain or absorbing some of her stress from trying to work with her professors regarding extensions, but I could relate to being on a journey not of one’s choosing and yet still feeling God’s love.

I am so weary of the health-related challenges and the difficulty of walking alongside someone in need, but I do so because of love. God loved me enough to give me this child when I asked him. I also know he walks with me always in all our challenges together.

In my solitary moments, I read or wrote or escaped outside to run along muddy trails through bits of nature preserved within the developed spaces. I let the girls’ current foster kitten purr on my neck as well as on my laptop in whatever strange position she chose to flop—provided she wasn’t suffocating me or loading up unknown programs on the computer. And I prayed—prayed that healing would come sooner than later and that the school would work with my daughter enough so that she could stay on the planned track—and prayed for happier days for all of us.

Together we ate simple foods, relaxed with TV, laughed at the kitten, and worked through her assignments—not that she is taking a single course with which I could provide any more than moral support. I was the keeper of chronos time, both for staying on task (usually!) and for keeping up with the allowed pain relief in the forms of alternating Tylenol and ibuprofen. I was the photographer’s assistant who pointed out angles and light and shadows and watched in amazement as the artist in her forgot, temporarily, to limit her movements in the quest to get the right shot. I was also—for one of the few times in her life—the better sleeper as she struggled to find any comfortable position.

After a hard week’s work for her, we returned to our home so she could attend her post-op appointment where the doctor pronounced her as healing in the typical manner—which meant she still has some hard days ahead of her and yet she has every reason to believe she will feel better soon.

Though tired of the uncertainty of the hows and whens of healing in one way or another over the past several years, she also had a chance to reconnect with an old ally who is so often able to help her spark her own sense of renewal and hope and help her along the path to recovery in so many ways.

These past several years have been a journey seemingly set forth in so many ways by outside forces and, yet, there is still time to renew a sense of joy and direction. Healing happens so often when we accept that the valleys that got us to where we are now can teach us to see joy in things ranging from a kitten’s purr to a long overdue apology and point us back onto a road that still leads to both ordinary and extraordinary peaks in a life too long subdued.

Sometimes we need to put to ashes our old pains so we can get back to resurrecting our future.

(c) Christiana Lambert 2009

I am still here and craving getting back to the keyboard. So often I’m reminded of the conundrum I couldn’t figure out how to get around in my creative writing class back in a decade long, long ago (here’s a hint: there was lots of big hair and shoulder pads, but first came the understated preppy styles.) Kent, as we called the professor, was always telling us we had to get out to live life to write about it. I was always wondering how I would have time to write if kept myself so busy.

Still don’t have the answer for that, which explains a lot of my recent silence. The lack of words is not at all surprising when I look back at the last few weeks—in fact, when any of us in our personal family explains the past week alone, we mostly receive stunned silence from others.

You see, the kids came home for Spring Break—which makes life busier anyway—but there wasn’t a lot of time for goofing around. In our lighter moments we call last week “Spring Break 2011: The Funeral Tour.”

We planned Mom’s North Platte, Nebraska service for Spring Break because the kids’ college is so far away from both here and there, but we didn’t plan for the other events that transpired. When we set up the time back in January, Christiana wasn’t 100% convinced we should wait. Her argument? Death isn’t supposed to be convenient.

That statement came back to haunt us since even when death is conveniently timed it is always inconvenient—which is a major understatement, by the way. Disruptive, earth-shattering, heart-breaking are a few more words and expressions that apply.

Each of the events that transpired deserves its own reflection, but first I must summarize, if only to break out of my own stunned silence.

Fordham, our dog who had cancer, was getting harder to move around, but with nice weather the first week in March, we were able to take him out in the morning and let him move himself all day. It was amazing how a dog so crippled by a leg three times its normal size could visit all the sides of the yard during the day in search of new sleeping positions. Then we would bring him inside as it got dark and he would ask for a little help to follow us around and finally he would ask to go to bed—where he would still harass our little dachshund by moving onto him and his tiny bed.

By the time the kids came home, though, he had his first really bad night, when we had to be outside in our pajamas straining to get him back in. That Saturday we all knew we couldn’t wait, but we gave him another night—which was thankfully peaceful. Two days in a row he got his ride in the Radio Flyer around the block—and then into his final moments where his unexplained exuberance left the staff in tears.

We couldn’t distract ourselves enough—we got out of town and went skiing for two days to pretend this was a normal spring break. We had a lovely time except for when we remembered—but it had been time to let him go. (Still working on that . . .)

Next came packing—we weren’t on our way to Mom’s memorial service only but also to Uncle Carrell’s funeral. (If you knew Carrell, you know it’s really possible that he wanted his service to be convenient to my mother’s service—he was our family planner.)

But first stop: Ash Wednesday service. And that’s when I really realized my mother and Fordham were ashes—and Carrell, too, in his own way. Like I needed the smudge on my forehead to remind me. But I did need the pastors’ words to remind me that it is the way of the living to end—and it’s never going to be convenient—except for the resurrection factor.

In many ways, having the two services on back-to-back days was a blessing. Our extended families came together to sing individually and corporately. Bill, our family’s ordained minister, personalized the words of comfort in a way only someone who has known the people since birth can do. We were conveniently together to support one another—at very inconvenient times.

So here I sit at my keyboard, many of the hard tasks behind me, ready to write my way into whatever comes next. I know my grief will return to me in waves, likely in inconvenient times, but I will just keep writing my way through it.

That’s pretty convenient in its own way, if you think about it.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

I feel as if I’ve been on a Lenten journey for a couple years, but I’m so scattered I haven’t been following many Lenten practices.

Last week was Ash Wednesday—hard to believe a year has passed since the last one. Attending Ash Wednesday service is one of the best ways to get myself to return to a more contemplative life.

Only so far that experience hasn’t really reined me in—no doubt my attitude that night did not help. I arrived at the service angry and beyond frustrated with some of the bureaucracies in my life. I felt like a worm, but just didn’t want to turn to God for help. In fact, during Pastor Ron’s sermon, I pulled out my notebook and paper and started writing about feeling like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Can you say dark mood?

Kafka’s hopelessness is nothing to pack for the Lenten journey.

What I need to do is follow the instructions from the wise women in my spirituality group at church. Other than one woman whose only child will be graduating when mine do this spring, the rest are grandmothers. They are in a phase of life when they can focus more on themselves—but they choose to focus on God first.

These women, as a group, have developed various centering practices to get themselves to slow down long enough to hear God. Their Lenten discipline includes using Lenten prayer beads, along with prayer and contemplation of psalms, for getting into a daily Lenten walk with God.

So far I have only made it through one day of the beads, but I resolve to pull myself back onto the path—to not wallow in Samsa’s type of paralysis. It is good to have something tactile to guide me into a renewing slowdown. I so need this. It is time for me to be still and remember that I know God.

He hasn’t forgotten me and neither should I forget to turn to him and take that walk—the one that leads to Golgotha—and then beyond.

When I take quiet time with God, it is so much easier to remember that the Christian promise of metamorphosis makes us much more, not much less.

Practice, practice, practice.

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