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(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

I was born in the heat of summer but fall—and especially October—is when I most feel at home. I like to think it’s the annual reminder of the day I married my life partner or the explosion of autumnal colors or the cool nights or the rhythm of routine that returns in the fall, but maybe it’s because October is the month when I didn’t die—the month when I was reborn.

I have no memories of what happened that first October of my life—just the subjective tales my mother told me. For most of my life I’d tell you these things that happened to me didn’t matter. Well, other than that ugly long scar on my belly that might have ruined my bikini days if the coloring hadn’t become my own thanks to being only four months younger than I was.

Road Trip 1962

Road Trip 1962

My mother’s stories took on an almost biblical quality. While we trekked across deserts and mountains for what was supposed to be a relaxing autumnal trip to and from the Promised Land of Oregon, little of what I ate stayed with me. Upon our return, it became obvious that travel alone could not explain why I grew so weak. For three days and nights Mom rocked me in her arms, my pharmacist father keeping me hydrated as best he knew. The myth of my stoicism at the time is large but I have no way of proving this wasn’t some tale my mom told herself so she could will me into becoming someone who would not only grow up but also grow up strong and healthy.

That I did, but my near-resurrection from being an inch close to death could not have happened in an earlier era. I don’t remember being whisked from my mother’s arms to an uncertain outcome. In fact, my distance from this major event in my life kept me from realizing, until a few years ago, that I never told doctors I’m missing my appendix, something surgeons removed while they were inside removing the gangrene. For years I’ve told myself that since all that happened to pre-memory Me, it didn’t really matter except for how it affected my parents and how they treated me.

Me, before surgery

Me, before surgery

Wasn’t really until muscle imbalances brought about painful back and hip difficulties that I started looking for more subtle explanations. The more I worked with my yoga instructor and massage therapist, the more I realized that abdominal pain and surgery as well as being restrained or needing breathing help during recovery would have changed how I moved and developed—whether I experienced delayed development or my development modified in other ways to accommodate my unique situation.

Yet, how could I have believed that only my body suffered from those days? Surely there is something primal to fears of pain and mortality in addition to that of being separated from our first caregivers.

Whatever the little infant I was suffered that first October of my life, she also was born again. I can’t tell you the exact date of that rebirth but somehow I think my body knows that October is when it got to start again—for good.

All I know is that whenever the earth starts readying itself for rest, that’s when I feel most renewed and ready for growth.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Yoga is funny—there you are being all mindful—or at bare minimum focusing on how long you have been in the moment of one particular pose—when something else pops into your mind. Maybe something about moving a certain part of your body brings that thought to surface or maybe it’s just another mystery of how your own mind works.

At the end of Wednesday’s class, I thought I was relaxing into savasana when somehow my mind turned to who I was when I was growing up. Too many heart-chakra opening poses so soon after my recent high school reunion trip must have jogged my brain into thoughts of, well, jogging/running.

And just like that I was mad at running.

Oh, Running, I thought you were The One. My first True Love. I was devoted to you—monogamous. Sure, when I met you, I did so with my teammates at my side. Unlike some of those girls, I never shirked on workouts or pretended I didn’t see the coach’s signal to start. You should have loved them more—with their longer legs and easy breathing—but they would not commit to you as I did.

And when that school year ended, I began taking those baby steps that lead toward what eventually became an obsession. We began to meet almost daily. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night—nor unrelenting winds that ranged from 95-degree furnace blasts to sub-zero chills that froze my eyelashes together—kept me from my appointments with you.

I wanted more from you—I dreamed of glory but what I got was quiet time and peace in the moment and a chance to hear the thoughts in my own head. As the miles passed beneath my feet, I learned to love the process and how not to focus only on results.

But you turned out to be a fickle lover. You broke my heart with a kind of pain I didn’t expect. I knew the pain of working hard and strengthening my body. I knew the pain of keeping moving through all sorts of weather or feeling as if my lungs could not catch air—which was ironically the result of an undetected medical condition that would not be discovered until 13 ½ years after we started together. What I didn’t know was that though my body was designed to keep up with you, it wasn’t necessarily designed well to do so for as many miles as I did without adjustments to how I moved. That pain didn’t exactly make me stop, but it made me understand I couldn’t just all out follow you without possible repercussions. What I did for love was not enough—I had to protect myself by not trusting you with abandon as I first had.

We’ve had that kind of on-again, off-again relationship that friends will warn you about. I don’t expect so much from you anymore. I set boundaries for myself and—mostly—live with them. Though I still have the speed to try to catch you, I’m not ready to push myself just to have another piece of me break again. I see you more as an old friend these days than as the focus of my passion. And that’s mostly OK. That we can still meet is almost good enough—except for during those rare moments when my heart remembers that I thought we could have so much more together.

Maybe if I keep working, one pose at a time, I’ll find the peace that brings me to accept that however many miles you and I get to share, those miles belong to a good-sized portion of the best days of my life—past, present, and future. May all that practice help me to open up to releasing what was in order to make space for whatever is yet to come.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

The winter of my son’s discontent has begun to thaw thanks to—his Grandma Mae’s accordion? Really. These long days and nights of waiting for his post-concussion syndrome to subside have left him with time on his hands since he is still banned from doing his martial arts—the activity that previously filled his evenings and provided an outlet for the excessive energy that runs through his body whether or not his head is aching. Winter’s low light, his restrictions, and his pain have led to a massive case of cabin fever, especially as he has no idea when his healing will pick up. He needed something (safe) to do and we needed him to have something do when he wasn’t at work—which was more often since he’s still not released to work a full schedule. Who knew the accordion really could step in against the face of doing too much of nothing?

Not I, but I was getting desperate. If you don’t know, people who are concussed (mini-rant: when did that become a proper term?) get pretty irritable. Plus, any brain challenges a person has get exacerbated—which means my son’s rant gene (we’re pretty sure there must be one in our family including in his mother) has ramped up the monologues around here. What could he do that would grab the attention of his brain while having a physical component? I thought he’d try out my LEGO suggestion but instead he grabbed onto the accordion idea, especially after I pointed out he could start learning by using the Internet.

After the first two days he had already played the thing for eight hours. His bored (yet bruised) brain sang with joy—or at least his fingers did. Pretty soon he was researching how the accordion was put together and how to fix the stuck buttons. He knows the background of his accordion’s brand and has a good idea of its age and value. He can tell you about different styles of instruments and accordion-playing traditions across different countries and over several time periods. I’ve become used to falling asleep to the sound of an accordion—which is fine since he most often chooses to play with a sweet tone—it’s almost as if I’m rocking asleep in a boat in Venice. Almost.

At first our dog Sam ran from the music. Something about the vibrations or the movement of the bellows scared him in a way that our playing other instruments hasn’t. Thankfully Sam’s made a truce with the instrument because I don’t think it’s going away any time soon—and that’s a good thing because this personal music therapy has done more for our son than anything else has over the past three months.

Perhaps he’ll become the next Lawrence Welk? When I first said that, I meant it in jest, but after finding a really old video of the Bubble-master playing his accordion, old Lawrence is much redeemed in my eyes—I’ve yet to forgive him for all those dull shows of his I had to watch while visiting my grandparents, but if he’d played his accordion that way in his later years, he would have kept my attention.

Maybe my son had to get hit on the head to find his true calling—or not. But thank goodness the accordion is a friend when he needs it to get through this overly long healing period. Even if his music didn’t sound so sweet, that alone would make it enough for me. How sweet it is indeed.

P.S. Check out Lawrence Welk’s playing–it’s well worth a listen.

Shoes by Christiana Lambert (2010)

Shoes by Christiana Lambert (2010)

Who touched me? That’s the question Jesus asked when he felt his healing energy find a target on its own. The woman who dared to grasp at the slightest thread of his cloak had little to lose—she had been bleeding for 12 years and, thus, had been declared unclean.

Who do we call unclean? We don’t really have a list of conditions such as a bleeding disorder, but we do start to question others’ health realities after a certain amount of time goes by. When people don’t get better fast enough for us or if they have some underlying issue that is either fairly hidden or just not well understood by the medical community and/or the general public, we wonder why they don’t “get over it” and move on.

Sometimes we have a reference point such as our own recovery or the recovery of someone we know and we assume that there is a formula that states that “X” disease/injury = “Y” recovery time in every circumstance.

Often, however, we know little about a condition and just grow rather fatigued with the inconveniences caused to us by the length of others’ recoveries.

In either situation we can begin to question the person’s motivation or the health care provided.

I think it’s just another example of our belief we control many factors that we may not. I want to believe that if I work hard enough or rest well enough then I’ll get well quickly and regain what I have lost. Isn’t it easier to believe someone is contributing to his or her slow healing than to realize just how at risk any of us is to capricious health threats?

In some ways we act as if it’s catching to be around someone who isn’t well, even when the condition itself isn’t contagious. They should just buck up and get themselves well and stop slowing down our lives.

As if a slowed-down life is a desire for most. As if it isn’t heartbreaking enough to experience enforced rest—from work and life’s other activities—often in conjunction with pain without feeling further abandoned by others who seem over the wait for healing.

Imagine that woman who—thanks to a medical condition—was treated as if she were a moral threat to healthy individuals. In her time of great need she was treated as if she had caused her own problems and as if she deserved her ostracization.

Let’s not make the mistake of declaring others untouchable during the moments when their bodies are most in need of healing as well as the time to do so. Since they don’t have the opportunity to grab Jesus’ robe as he walks by and in lieu of hitting the bull’s-eye of absolute healing they crave, might our patience and support instead be the next best miracle they can receive? The power of Jesus’ healing touch flowing through us lands not far off the mark.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

My friend shared on Facebook how differently his life has turned out from the plans he had 30 years ago when graduating from college. Instead of becoming Mr. International-Business, he is back living in his childhood home, after choosing to be his parents’ full-time caregiver. His life is full of love and laughter, despite the tears and despite having to do hard tasks for his parents. He understands how to find joy in ordinary moments such as walking along the river, observing the patterns created while pushing a snow blower, or reveling in sharing memories with his mom and dad while their shaky hands slowly help decorate the Christmas tree. And yet, he is happy in the life he has.

That kind of happy is easy to be around because it’s not the kind of happy that comes from having, doing, and/or achieving. Instead, it’s the kind of happy that comes from being—and loving.

Today I sat in a radiology waiting room with a man so like the one my friend thought he would be all those years ago. This man was busy—and, as far as I could tell, happy with all that busyness. He made one call after another. “I’m not sharing this with anyone else yet.” “I won an award.” “Please change the flight for our nanny for the Hawaii trip.” “I’ll be in a conference call from 2:30 to 5:00.” Call after call, the man just kept going.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t trying to listen—I’m just sharing some of the snippets that kept intruding on my plan to read my book in relative silence—while, once again, waiting for someone I love who was at a medical appointment. I was looking for a quiet, peaceful moment when I could relax and try not to worry about the whys for our visit.

Most likely our visit was just a rule-out activity, but it’s not lost on me that for some people this is the place where what they never planned to experience is discovered.

From the cheerful banter and movement from one phone call after another by the other occupant of the waiting room, I got the impression the man was there for something such as a picture of an achy knee or some other sort of a hitch in his get-a-long—some body part that was slowing down his fast-paced life.

That’s why I was surprised when I heard his offhand tone as he said, “Oh, I’m just waiting to get a CT scan. They want to look at those blood clots in my lungs. They’re saying I might not be able to fly.” After a pause and a short laugh, he added, “Well, that won’t work. I have to be there, you know?”

Despite his almost frenetic activity, I really did get the impression it was no cover for fear. He just didn’t have time for that sort of thing (health difficulties) in his life—he had things to do, people to see, and places to go. Something like that just wasn’t going to slow him down.

I wish him well, but I just wanted to shake him and ask him if he’d heard himself. If nothing else, there are the people who rely on him at work or at the companies with which he deals, not to mention his wife and the two boys under his nanny’s care. Might taking a break from all his plans be better than letting everyone else figure out how to do without him permanently?

Nothing against the man—well, except for the fact it never seemed to occur to him that maybe I didn’t want to listen to all his phone calls—but I question his priorities. His body clearly has some problem, but he acted as if he thought he was just spending time waiting to check off another “to do” from his list.

If that’s the kind of person my friend had become, then we probably would have drifted into way different circles.

But long before his parents became ill, he recognized those original goals weren’t really his. He is a healer of a person, not a wheeler and dealer. I am blessed to know him—the him he was and the him he allowed himself to become. And truly the world would be a better place for us if more people such as he is were the wheelers and dealers of this world, but I don’t think that lifestyle would feed the healers of this world in the ways they need to be fed.

Blessed are those who feel blessed, even when they have few of the trappings of the world—for they know how to slow down and see God in the tiniest grain of sand or while experiencing a nano-second of joy.

Well done, oh good and faithful servant—you “get” it.

(c) 2013 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2013 Christiana Lambert

As your kids grow—even when they aren’t away from home—you know less and less about their lives—as is right. You see some of their successes as well as their fumblings, but you often don’t spend a lot of time with them.

When you notice them moving in a good direction, you cheer the possibilities. Like me, my son gets great benefit from physical activities, and I’ve enjoyed watching his growth—both physical and mental—from his participation in martial arts over the last several months. Thanks to this practice, we’ve seen less and less of him around our home lately.

That is, until last month, when his head got injured at work. Since then he’s had to take a hiatus from the physical aspects of his martial arts, as well as from his sometime weekend gig as well as from working full days at his regular job.

The news is full of the long-term effects from head injuries these days with more information available about the difficulties all levels of athletes are experiencing from previous concussions. I was raised by a mother who had a head injury with effects that lingered for her lifetime so I do understand many of the concerns surrounding the distant future.

But what I didn’t understand was just how much a seemingly minor head injury affects someone in the short term.

My son is receiving care under Worker’s Compensation for his injury. At first he was released to full-time work but with physical reductions. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that focusing at work for the normal time period led to excruciating headaches that chased him into a dark room post-work. His maximum allowed work hours were reduced to five a day.

Although he feels much better with more rest, he is not healed and it is not clear how long it will be until he is. He is so frustrated that he can neither perform to his own standards at work nor do the activities he likes, such as the martial arts and snow skiing. Plus, he feels the clock ticking as work and friends wonder why he isn’t better yet. Trust me, so does he.

He is being seen by medical professionals who are searching for that answer. Despite what some have said, I’m not cynical enough to believe they would drag out the process just to make money. That doctor’s office today was plenty busy with people who were there on private insurance. In fact, if I’m cynical at all, it’s because some people I know have received sub-standard care from worker’s comp providers. So far I don’t feel that either case is true for him.

I hate being so aware of the costs for this—I know that workplace injuries like this can drive up premiums for small businesses. If I could I would have suggested he receive care all along on our insurance to avoid all that—but that’s not how the systems function. He didn’t get hurt doing martial arts or putting up Christmas lights at home or walking down the street, for that matter—he got hurt while doing his job, working a position that is physical enough to have some risk of workplace injuries.

All I know is he’d rather be working full-time and continuing his moonlighting position and growing in his martial arts and going skiing with us and just living his everyday life. Instead, he’s had rest imposed on him—which is tough at any age, let alone at 22.

My mother’s heart hurts that he has to put his life on hold and that his body has been damaged. “Stuff” happens in everyone’s lives but that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens to someone you love.

He’s young and time is on his side, but, for now, time is moving way too slowly for him. As my mother-in-law always says during tough times, this too shall pass. Guess we’ll just have to enjoy how his slowed down pace gives us more time to pass with him.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

That’s right, this year I aspire to live up to the shirt I won on Saturday—well, at least the “been there, done that” part. Since I already own a Polar brand watch that doesn’t have GPS, I’ll just have to stick to using my phone app to know where I’ve been.

Of course, I have higher aspirations than running more this year, but what I know is that when I can run more, I am in better mental condition to meet all my other aspirations. Running is circular for me—and not just when I’m running on a track.

What I don’t know is just how to get my body to heal in the ways I wish or how to keep myself committed enough to keep doing the hard work necessary to achieve the type of healing I want—especially in light of last year’s low results.

At the beginning of last month I was excited to get out on the roads, but instead my body got to fight that weird infection I hosted—and then it was fighting back against the treatments! Add in my son’s concussion and its effects along with waning light and all the tasks surrounding getting ready for Christmas and you can pretty much say I fell off the wagon, both in miles run and in maintenance exercises. Did what I could when I could with attending my regularly scheduled classes, but there was more of fudge than fitness about me in December. Usually I revel in the quiet focus exercise gives me during December’s crazy days, but this year my focus felt fractured.

Now it’s already January as well as time to pack away my excuses and direct my healing toward what I can do. Part of me has wondered if something about my prescribed exercises was keeping me achy during sleeping but simply by virtue of not doing those exercises, I can at least state that the exercises, as a whole, seemed to be helpful after all. I am again out sleeping on the couch with the dogs (where I go for a few hours when my hip thinks the bed is too uncomfortable) more nights than previously.

So while those exercises aren’t as obviously productive as I’d hoped they would be, they seem to help me more than not doing them—which means it’s time to jump back on that wagon—or at least back on the foam roller (and yoga mat) for my daily at-home routine.

And if the weather doesn’t cooperate with good running conditions, I’ll just have to pay to run inside. I don’t mind the cold, but what I really don’t need is a slip on ice to compound troubles for my wish-it-weren’t-so-achy hip.

At last Saturday’s run, I tread carefully on any icy or snowy spots and didn’t worry that I was at the back of the pack. Went there, (very slowly) ran that, and lived to win the T-shirt after standing out in the cold during the drawings for swag.

Then I went home (heated car seat cranked), then sat there in my (hot) bathtub. Been there, done that, and gonna’ keep doing it again and again if necessary—along with my exercises, of course—because I’ve got a shirt to live up to—and so many more places to go and things to do in my life.

Yes, I still have miles to go before I sleep—don’t want to miss them just because the road has been more than a little bumpy. Going to go there, do that, and keep dodging the potholes as best I can.

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

Most all was calm, most all was bright. That’s how this Christmas felt after so many years of distress and darkness. I’m not a person who expects a perfect Christmas, but it’s been a long time since our Christmases felt normal-enough in any way.

First there was the Christmas Eve when my mom fell and we couldn’t deny anymore that who she was was slipping away. There would be three more Christmases with her—each one with less and less of her present. But the first Christmas without her here at all, I could hardly imagine “doing” Christmas, knowing she would not be part of the celebrations at all, except in our memories. And so we created new traditions, even down to changing almost everything about the way we decorated.

But my mother was not the only one who had changed in a big way during all these years. The Christmas after Mom’s fall, my daughter—and our whole family, of course—was also freefalling into a developing mental illness—something with which we had no experience. After initial improvements and a couple seemingly reasonable years, her descent accelerated, all while we were trying to figure out what she needed from the distance as she attended college. Last Christmas, though seemingly bleak enough, brought the present of a different diagnosis—which has led to more appropriate treatments—and a renewed sense of hope—for her and for those of us who love her.

Though I still miss my mother at Christmas—and always will—I am learning to accept her absence and to find comfort and joy in the new traditions, just as I did in the Christmases after I lost my father. For most of us beyond a certain age, figuring out to how celebrate again after losing our grandparents and parents and other older loved ones is a life passage through which we must live. I am finally coming to terms with what Christmas means now for me without both of my parents.

However, a renewed feeling of calm and hope for my own children—something I took for granted years ago—is the most precious gift I have ever received. I treasure these things and ponder them in my heart.

Of course, this Christmas season, though more normal than it has been in years thanks to our daughter’s improved outlook, has not been perfect. Now my husband’s parents are in decline, even if not so precipitously (mentally) as my mom had been. And our son is suffering lingering effects from a concussion he received mid-month—time will yet tell how well he heals.

So crazy how hard it sometimes is to feel the true joy of the greatest miracle of all time when you have been seeking other more personal miracles in the lives of those whom you love. And yet, in my own dark nights of my soul, I continued to understand the longing for light to come into this world—and have clung to that light even when joy itself has seemed elusive except in the smaller moments. I remain grateful for the miracles—small and large—that have happened in our lives.

I open my arms and heart to receive this gift of a Christmas that has had more laughter than tears—something I haven’t been able to say for many long years. One of the greatest miracles is that I can still believe in a merry-enough Christmas after all.

God bless us one and all—especially if this is one of those Christmases when you are still trying to convince yourself to continue believing that one day, you too, will again celebrate a merry-enough Christmas.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

I never thought about the size of my jaw or my ear before, but let me tell you, when those items are swollen out of proportion you really start to realize just how lovely a fairly symmetrical head is and how often you’ve taken for granted that your head will remain that way. I also discovered that I’m much more vain than I believed: not only did I change my hair’s part in order to cover the most obvious results of my infection, but also I used the word “hideous” almost every time I described the swelling. Thankfully, by now I’m not certain a stranger can see any difference in me and even I can only see the slightest discrepancies.

I don’t read much science fiction and/or fantasy but last Tuesday I suddenly felt I’d been thrust into some plot involving some sort of weird science. The initial medical conjecture is that it was cellulitis attacking me and various parts of my head. My Internet research—through respected websites, mind you—told me way more than I wanted to know. I decided not to ponder the possibilities too much and stick to the doctor’s suggestions for treatment, including going to see a dentist to rule out any underlying dental troubles.

I wasn’t too certain all that was necessary, but scheduled the appointment anyway. My friend validated that decision Friday night when I went to her party—hair parted over the offending side and ear covered by a stocking cap as part of my costume—and she asked how I was. After my giving her a short explanation, she said, “You do know why I had surgery in June, don’t you?”

Not the particulars, but I had known it was something extremely odd as so much of her health difficulties have been.

Then she proceeded to explain about a year of misdiagnoses and the near-miss averted when her dentist discovered evidence of bone-eating (!) bacteria after his looking at her facial X-ray. She had to have diseased portions removed and replaced, as well replacement for areas that had already disappeared—and have four front teeth removed and replaced as well. She could have developed brain damage or even died without proper diagnosis.

Now that story should be science fiction—only it isn’t. While her experience is very, very rare, I agreed with her that maybe my going to the dentist wasn’t so silly after all.

Today my dentist saw nothing out of the ordinary. He described to me various parts of my panoramic X-ray—a procedure scheduled anyway as part of my general dental health and wellness maintenance—and showed where he would expect to see trouble if my infection were related to some dental root. He pointed out signs that my previously overblown lymph node was back to its unremarkable and fully functioning state. Then he used the opportunity to—once again—work on scaring me into being more proactive about protecting my mouth from infection through adding Waterpik treatments and more regular flossing to my routines.

Perhaps I’m scared enough on my own to take better precautions.

Despite my family thinking that I’m some sort of hypochondriac because I always research medical possibilities, I didn’t really expect this sort of thing to happen to me. Now, I admit I first thought about ruling out some weird sort of Hantavirus response—which is an infection for which there is no cure except for the possibility that medical supervision along with hydration can provide the best environment to give you a chance to recover. And, while the few mice we trapped in our home were not deer mice, the CDC does advise people to use the recommended precautions for cleaning since other mice may carry the disease—and we did not always follow those cleaning precautions, plus a local man really did lose his fight to that disease a couple weeks ago.

However, infection is a much broader threat than something specific with specific risks such as Hantavirus—which actually makes it easier not to think about. Even with my father-in-law’s more than yearlong battle with staph as well as the healthy respect I gained from his experience as to the power of infections to run rampant, I really haven’t thought about getting such an infection myself. In my own mind I realize I associate that with people who have been way more antibiotic-happy than I have been—and, yet, who is on a serious antibiotic right now?

Just over a day’s worth of meds to take, plus I plan to follow-up with probiotics, but boy am I counting those not-so-little bright blue pills.

So hard to tell whether it’s the naturally occurring science or the science that we have created that is the bigger danger in many situations. Do you dance with the devil you know or the one you don’t know? Isn’t an out-of-whack balance between the sides of science a requirement for any good science fiction story? All I know is I’m tired of being the protagonist in this science fiction story.

Maybe, with the right balance of science and just a little luck, all this will pass—and then I’ll just be left with a really good “can you believe it?” story to tell.

“You should have seen my ear—it looked as if it were going to give birth to an alien—or maybe to Rosemary’s baby. One night I went to sleep and the next morning it was just there. Whatever it was, it didn’t care if this host survived its birth or not. It was alive, I tell you—alive!”

But, hey—thank goodness for a truly boring and pretty much happy ending.

2014 Sherman Lambert photo of sidewalk chalk art

2014 Sherman Lambert photo of sidewalk chalk art

Years ago—almost two decades ago—my husband Sherman and I attended classes at church based on a series of short stories and essays—more often secular than not—where readers were challenged to hear God in the words, even if the author had no intention of addressing God from a faith tradition. Over time we studied all four volumes in the Listening for God series.

I liked the classes. They reminded me of the “Portraits of Jesus” class I had taken in order to meet the religious course requirement at my college. I wouldn’t have signed up for the course, but I was studying abroad and had to rely on my fairly unconventional advisor to register me for the next term. I was surprised he had chosen this class for me after receiving my instructions where I told him to find me something different since “I had gone to church and Sunday School all my life.”

But, boy was I wrong about what that course was about. The first day of class the professor handed each of us a sheet of paper with various facial features for us to cut and paste into a portrait of who we thought Jesus was. Dr. Wolff presented Jesus in the varying Christian gospels, from readings from other faiths, and through all sorts of secular literature and movies where we looked for the Christ figure. He did not tell us what to think though I knew for a fact he attended a Lutheran church close to campus. Surprise, surprise, but at the end of the course I still thought Jesus was the guy I was taught he was while growing up, even though a bit grittier and more nuanced.

Our church is revisiting the Listening for God story series and this time Sherman is taking turns teaching the course with the woman who originally taught it back in the 90s. Sadly, since I sing in choir now I can’t attend most classes, but I’m still re-reading the stories so I can work with him as he ponders the coursework.

What I realize is that these stories are much darker to me now than they were the first time around. I and the world have changed. I see depths I could not see then—I am not quite the sunny optimist I must have been years ago. Is this part of the natural process of aging or have my own life experiences dimmed my ability to read with a more objective eye?

Frederick Buechner’s words in “The Dwarves in the Stable,” an excerpt from his autobiographical Telling Secrets hit me hard, especially now that they were so personal to me. In it he discussed a time in his life when his daughter was dangerously anorexic and how trapped he felt in his fear. He compared himself to C. S. Lewis’ dwarves who cannot accept the food and drink offered by the lion Aslan (of the Chronicles of Narnia) because they are so afraid that they cannot see love when it is offered.

“Perfect love casteth out fear,” John writes (1 John 4:18), and the other side of that is that fear like mine casteth out love, even God’s love. The love I had for my daughter was lost in the anxiety I had for my daughter.

This time I really got what he meant when he stated, “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.” Maybe it was the daughter part—which I now understand to my core having lived something similar—but somehow in earlier days I hadn’t connected with how fear—of anything—drives out God’s love. Maybe all fear for me pales compared to the fear for a loved one’s life.

Oh, the darkness was always in the stories but now I know fear much more personally. Unlike Buechner, though, apparently I have not done enough of the hard work of putting aside my fear in order to receive the love freely given to me.

That God’s love is greater than fear and darkness is a lesson I seem to have forgotten. As I once read those stories from a place of innocence and light, my bigger task now seems to be re-learning to see the light that is also in all those stories—and all around me.

Fear not, indeed. And so I renew my search for light—and continue listening for God.

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