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(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

Last night my son and I stumbled on a video my daughter and her friend created when they were in high school—we had a great time laughing at how early this silly video shows up on a Google search for her name. Just imagine her future employers finding it—and seeing a little bit of who she was on one day in the year she was sixteen. Heck, I even make a cameo appearance in the video—and I am sprinting—not bad for a younger/old gal, right?

But the nostalgia for those days pulled at me and reminded me just how much water has passed under the so many bridges she has crossed since then. While watching, I longed for those simpler days—the before when so many things seemed easier.

Until I looked at the date stamp. The time frozen in that video was not an easier era—it was just one golden moment in the midst of a very dark period. The moving pictures showed a seemingly ordinary good day made all the more extraordinary by my discovering the date when it happened.

Just goes to show you that images are not always what they seem and that even when life is difficult, there are often moments when we shed the weight burdening us and live with joy one moment to the next.

My daughter graduates from college in two weeks—two weeks!

May she always remember that life is full of golden moments, even in the darkest of times. We may have just this one goofy visual reminder of a day when she smiled and I sprinted, but we also have smiled and sprinted on many other days, too—and still do. The trick for anyone is reminding yourself that grabbing small, beautiful moments, such as those shown in that video, is always possible. Always.

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(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) 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.

Christmas Lessons, 1969

Christmas Lessons, 1969

Today when you’re running any last minute errands, peace out! Seriously, after driving and walking yesterday I was really wondering if any of those in cars were focused at all on peace and goodwill. Think of the irony of rushing to complete tasks for Christmas while nearly running other cars off the road or running over pedestrians in the parking lots—does this make sense?

Yesterday while I was out to go to an appointment, I couldn’t believe the hyper-awareness I needed to maintain to keep myself safe while on the road. I was singing along to “O Holy Night” when I first almost got sideswiped—after I had checked for an empty lane and used my turn signal—the huge SUV that almost got me kept bouncing among lanes without ever using a signal, but the driver of that vehicle was far from the only one.

This sort of thing kept repeating—I had to keep turning up my music and reminding myself to calm down. And when I could see the drivers’ faces, those faces seemed blank and set in stone. The people did not seem angry or aggressive—it was as if they were not there—perhaps they were running through to-do lists in their heads.

After I almost got hit as I walked into the pedestrian crosswalk outside of Office Max—a crosswalk protected by stop signs on both sides—when a car blew through as if neither the stop signs nor I existed—I decided I was done. My errands could wait if this was how my fellow humans were sharing the holiday cheer. All I had to do was get to my own street—where I was greeted by another large SUV going the wrong way down our one-way street. After that car had passed and as soon as I could turn safely, I was followed by another vehicle that had turned so quickly behind me that it had been visible neither in my rear view mirror nor through my front windshield.

When I parked my car in front of my house, I resolved to stay home the rest of the day—no matter what else I might have wanted to accomplish out and about.

All I can think is that too many people have bought into the myths that our celebrations of Christmas have to be perfect and that everything has to be done by December 24 or all is lost.

Well, long ago my father shattered the myth of perfect Christmas for me and I’m finally starting to think it was one of the better things that happened to me. Believe me, I did not always see my personal story this way. What happened was this: I presented my parents with this huge list which I compiled from poring over the Sears Wishbook. Remember those? Well, Christmas Eve came and the present Santa brought was from that list but was not what I most wanted. I threw a fit and my father threw one back. He said, “Fine—there isn’t any Santa, you know. We do the shopping and that’s what we could find that was on your list.”

I used to think he could have been more sensitive, but now I know just how much of a brat I was being. He was running his pharmacy six days a week and then had to rely on my mother—the K-12 music teacher who had the elementary music program, as well as junior high and high school choir and band concerts, to run—to get to the closest town with a store that sold toys so she could buy our presents. No store was open on his day off, which was Sunday. They were busy decorating and providing us with all the trappings of Christmas while doing their jobs that paid for such things—they were exhausted. Too bad you didn’t get the perfect Christmas you wanted, kid. Neither did they, neither did they.

Unfortunately, the Christmas Machine is so much bigger today than it was when I was growing up. We not only have stores that are open on Sundays and late into the evening, we now have stores that stay open 24 hours a day the week before Christmas. We have online shopping and next day shipping. But that doesn’t mean the stores—brick or virtual—have that “perfect” gift you want to buy. That doesn’t mean we have any more hours in the day to live our normal lives while preparing for the holidays—even if we can go shopping at 2:00 a.m. if we choose. And that doesn’t mean no one should ever be disappointed.

What I learned that Christmas—OK, what I later realized I learned that Christmas—is that the real present is what others have done for you with their intent. It’s their love and time that matters more than receiving the perfect material gift.

And, of course, if you believe Christmas is really about a little baby bringing light into this world, how can any of this rushing around without love really be what matters most?

Even if you don’t believe Christmas is about that baby, do you really want to mar your celebrations by damaging your vehicle or by getting charged with careless driving—or by harming someone else’s body and/or property?

In our house, tonight is about going to church and being together. But we also give ourselves the gift of celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas—which means Christmas begins tomorrow for us. We don’t have to be done by the 25th because we’re going to keep celebrating.

While you (and I) are busy completing any necessary tasks today, keep singing “Joy to the World”—at the top of your lungs, if you must, to remind yourself what all this busyness is all about. Give yourself—and others—the gift of having a merry little imperfect Christmas.

Peace—let it begin with me and you today.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Mention you go to yoga and many people will say, “I can’t do yoga. I don’t bend well.” Me neither—that’s exactly why I started doing yoga. I’m coming up on ten years of practicing yoga and I’m still not that “bendy” person people believe every yogi is. But that’s OK because becoming “bendy” is really not what doing yoga is about.

Well, then what is it about?

My yoga guru/instructor, Dr. Dennie Dorall, is always reminding us that the purpose of doing yoga is to experience joy.

In yoga class we work on joy, pose by pose, breath by breath. So often that whole notion seems counter-intuitive, especially when not all yoga poses feel joyful and certainly some breaths seem to keep us focused on pain for far too long. In many ways the joy received from yoga is something you can only develop with conditioning: the conditioning of your body, mind, and spirit over time to better receive that joy.

But joy is not a cheap emotion—so often it must be earned by going through sorrow or pain. That’s the sort of resilience that practicing yoga helps build. Breathing into and holding onto a difficult pose when your mind is saying you can’t teaches you that you are possibly capable of so much more than you imagined. At the same time, your emphasis on your body in that challenging moment teaches your mind to tune out the extraneous noise or that which has nothing to do with the present and join to struggle and rest with that body.

By learning to fully be in moments you would not choose for yourself, you gain strength to get through so much of what life throws at you. You celebrate when you discover you can do what you formerly could not—and you keep believing that someday you will be able to do that which today you cannot do. Nonetheless, whether or not you ultimately can or cannot do something, you learn to be fully present in the attempt.

As much as yoga has taught me to how to be more present in the present, it has also taught me not to hold on to the past so much that I miss the new “present” offered to me. For me, being more open to receiving joy has taught me to put aside a focus on regrets on certain losses outside my control.

In this past Wednesday’s yoga class, Dr. Dennie asked us for a word for that day and then challenged us—each in his or her way—to share that word with others. My assignment? To tell you all about joy.

That day I could have felt frustrated or even a little angry about the time lost to my recent illness, but instead I woke up happy that I got to do all the ordinary activities I had to miss last week—and that I wasn’t too tired to enjoy them either.

On an unseasonably warm December day, complete with blue skies and snow-capped mountain views, I could hardly wait to get out for a post-yoga run. I knew it really didn’t matter that I was going to have to take it easy after my hiatus—but I got to go—I just had to tell my number-cruncher side to take a hike and let me enjoy a leisurely jog on a gorgeous day—which it (the number-cruncher side) did and I did, too.

That’s the kind of joy I used to miss out on before I began practicing yoga.

You may associate joy with something seasonal, but I like to think joy is something I can carry out into the world with me throughout the year. However, this time of the year the concept of joy seems to have been misapplied to concepts such as getting or noisiness or busyness—or at the very minimum to some sort of grand emotion we are “supposed” to feel.

True joy is more the sort of thing that allows a young unwed mother to give birth in a barn amongst animals and yet to call herself blessed and to treasure and ponder in her heart all the commotion surrounding this humble birth.

As for me, bending my mind and spirit in yoga has helped me to be more willing to receive that in which I already believed, allowing me to be more open to giving—as well as to receiving.

Practice feeling authentic joy in each moment during this season of waiting for hope to come into this world. Your practice of joy has the power to light up a world desperate to receive both hope and joy.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

She walks in beauty, but not necessarily because of raven tresses or the goodness she has done or traits such as calmness or softness or innocence. She walks in beauty because of the best of dark and bright within her eyes—eyes which shine with her essence, be her essence more of night or of “gaudy” day.

Women and girls get so hung upon the perfectness of features—the lips not too thin but not too full, the flat belly, skin lacking in acne or scars, hair that performs as expected, thighs and calves that fit into skinny jeans—most often whatever they do not personally possess—or what they used to possess. Whole industries are built around telling us we are not enough unless we purchase certain products that hide who we are.

But who we are is where the true beauty resides. A woman who is doing something she loves wears beauty she cannot purchase. Joy radiates, whether at night or day.

Yet joy does not come simply to women who live in innocence or in soft ways. Joy comes in searching or discovery or mastery. Joy also comes from spending time with people who bring out the real persons inside and is reduced by spending time with those who expect us to conform only to their wishes of who we should be.

If nothing else, beauty comes from believing in one’s own beauty. How many women have you known who walk as if they are beautiful and, even if all the little pieces are not beautiful—a nose too prominent, a waist too thick, a smile too crooked—still have you convinced that they indeed walk in beauty?

Show the world who you are and the world will see you walking in beauty.

P.S. For another day to discuss whether or not walking in beauty should even matter . . .

[See “She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron (George Gordon)]

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