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My mother with my brother and me.

Life is complicated—and included within that expression is the understanding that human life is complicated. I understand that many people, including dear friends of mine, think of life in black and white terms. For me, there is no way to ignore the varied shades of gray. It is simpler to say something either is or is not—and, yet, I cannot do so. I have listened to Bible lessons and sermons all my life—and I’ve dug into the Bible on my own and through study with others. God and Jesus and their Bible are also complicated. My heart and prayers tell me to look for the love within the rules. If God and Jesus are love—and I believe they are—then wrestling to find the love in the complications is part of that commandment to love one another.

When the rule is defined as life begins at conception—despite the science on the matter—and when there are no exceptions, then we are saying that emerging life is primary to existing living beings, and that any effects on other humans are secondary.

So when the young mother in the 1920s is in labor with her first child—it will be discovered the infant is a son with such severe hydrocephalus that he will not survive and his delivery will kill his mother. The decision is made to lance his head so she will not die. The sorrow at this loss will follow her to her grave—as she spends the rest of her life decorating his grave every Memorial Day. But she will go on to give birth to 5 living children, who will have 22 who live past birth, to 42 in the next generation to a number near that in the current generation.

Another young mother in the 1920s will have ectopic twin pregnancies, growing outside the womb, until they burst and destroy both her fallopian tubes. There was no chance for those fertilized eggs to grow safely, given a fetus cannot survive outside of the uterus. Unlike most women of her era, the woman survived the infection that followed. She recovered, but she had forever lost the opportunity to be a mother. (And the Depression years that followed turned out to be a hard time to find babies to adopt—somehow surprise babies were rarely born.)

Enter the 1950s. A married mother of two young children finds out her current pregnancy will kill her. A doctor (not a back-alley doctor, but a respected local physician) terminates that pregnancy. Years later, the woman who assisted with the hush-hush procedure will see that mother out with her children and realize just how different those children’s lives could have been.

None of these situations addresses the ability of a woman to control the size of her family—these were all women who had welcomed those pregnancies—and were devastated when the pregnancies did not end with a healthy baby in their arms. But with 1960 came the introduction of “the Pill.” And with Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, married women around the country could turn their focus to the children they already had. Thirty years later as I reveled in the births of my miracle twins, I would listen to these women talk about the relief they felt when they could raise the three to five children they already had—and not worry about the cost, time, and possible physical complications of having more children.

Of course, unmarried women still had to wait for a decision on the right to birth control until the early 1970s, which was followed by Roe v. Wade in 1973.

I have known women who bore little responsibility for preventing unwanted pregnancies and who took a casual approach to abortion. But, so many more weigh the decision against a lot of those gray factors. And how do we as a society show love for women who do choose life in difficult situations?

The same people who would deny abortion (and many forms of birth control, should precedent also be thrown out against the privacy laws guaranteed by the 14th amendment) are often stingy about helping those in need. Education, medical care, food, and housing assistance are all called out as socialism—and admonishments to take personal responsibility come from political leaders and media sources. There is little recognition for how poverty affects the parents and those lives that were saved. It’s as if society’s own responsibility to care for life stops at birth.

Which is exactly the opposite of what Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount. He doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who take personal responsibility.” And, instead, he continues to provide parables that show he is not so concerned with personal responsibility as are so many in our current times. The older brother in the “Prodigal Son” story is not the hero—despite how responsible he has been. The first workers in the vineyard are not praised simply because they have always done the right thing. These kinds of people are called out because they lack compassion for those who have made mistakes. And they are reprimanded for not thinking they should share with those “others.”

If you’re pro-life, then you really need to also show that by supporting a society that provides a safety net for those who need help to raise that life. But, really, pro-life should be pro-God, which means trusting God to be in the details. Jesus didn’t address abortion in any way. But he did address topics such as loving all your neighbors (including your enemies), caring for the poor, forgiving 7 x 70, and “judging not lest ye be judged.”

Lest we forget, our country was founded with a separation of church and state. Not as a Christian nation nor as a nation where Christians get to tell everyone else how to live. The best way Christians can promote Christian values in this nation is by following Jesus’ mandate—to love one another. And empathy is a huge component of love. Taking baby steps in others’ shoes is a way to begin to understand how complicated life is. Taking away someone’s choice is oversimplifying all the repercussions of continuing life at all costs. In the gray, we can take circumstances into consideration.

But with the current push toward legal changes with their all-or-nothing application, I fear my whole large family’s future existence would have been erased in the moment when the doctor was required to let my grandmother die.

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

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

And, so I pray:

Lord,

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

Amen

Almost 40 years ago, I received a gift of shoes from a grieving mother—shoes I never had the heart to wear. The thought that kept running through my head at the time was “I can’t fill Jenne’s shoes.” No, but I know now that her mom wanted me to honor her by walking in her shoes. Not to be her, but to show my love for her by wearing something she, too, had worn.

I’m much older now and have said goodbye to many significant people since then—but Jenne was one of my first goodbyes, and I didn’t yet understand much about grieving.

When my father died, I brought home his hiking boots—the ones he thought he needed for his new life in the mountains. But as he was rather the same person in the mountains as he had been on the plains, those boots didn’t get much use. From him that is. I, on the other hand, wore them out. By then, I realized that wearing someone’s shoes was a way to keep someone walking with me just a little longer. It was my goal to take my father to all sorts of summits and vistas and show him what you can’t really see from a car. I liked to think about him when I hiked in those boots that are long gone—though not so long gone as he is after these almost 20 years.

My mom’s feet were smaller than mine are, so I shared her shoes (including her hiking boots, which she did use on a few trails) with others. From her, I ended up with socks I bought for her to wear in her care center. If you’ve had a loved one living in such a place, you know the drill—you have to mark the name on all their clothes and shoes. So, after 11 years now, I’m down to a pair or two of dark socks with “Elda” painted on the bottoms (in Wite-Out) that still make me smile.

And, when I got a text last summer from my nephew’s wife asking whether I had shared a shoe size with my late sister-in-law, I remembered all those trips together to the outlet mall when we could never find size 9 ½ shoes—for either one of us. Yes—I shared her size.

Oh, did she have shoes—and I couldn’t even fit in all her shoes. These are good quality shoes, the kinds you can wear for working on your feet or walking while shopping. The first trip I took her on was up to Estes Park, CO, where we used to meet when my parents lived there. And just like back in those days, we ended up in the grocery store gathering picnic supplies so we could eat outside, and we walked around town shopping and shopping—just like she would have done. Then when day was almost done, I walked her beside the lakeshore where we left behind part of her and her son. What a hard walk that was.

But for much of this winter I have practically lived in her Bearpaw boots. It’s hard not to think of her as I go about my life—knowing that I get to walk while she is done with that journey.

It’s that thought that has inspired me to keep wearing my mask when so many are done with them. I consider my masks a way to honor her—by protecting others who might be vulnerable as she was. I don’t know when I will stop with the masks—even though the CDC today said I am pretty much free to do so. What I know is that I have so many shoes to walk in—because she didn’t get to do so. And not only did she die, but she did so in a protracted, horrible way. So, I hesitate to change my habits yet.

Here we are a year later—a year after that morning when my brother’s phone call came way too early to be good news. She’s still gone. Every time my brother sends me a card with only his name on the address label, my breath catches.

The world is emptier for her absence. It’s cliché to say, but she was one in a million—and one in 947,417 of those lost to Covid-19 in the U.S. (according to Johns Hopkins, as of today, February 25, 2022). I carry my memories of her in my heart—and right on down to my feet.

Walk on.

People who work in close contact with others in jobs that must continue with contact are considered essential workers in these times. They are also exposed more often to COVID-19.

You know what else they are? Essential to people in their lives away from what they do for work. People love them and want them to be around for a full life span.

When I wrote earlier this week* about the loss of 500,000 people, I was sad that those people I didn’t know had lost their lives and that they left huge holes in the lives of those in their circle who remained.

At the time, I was breathing a sigh of relief because my loved one appeared to be getting better. Oh, I was angry that she hadn’t been better protected—both by institutional procedures and mandates and from people who didn’t believe that this disease was a big deal—but I was trying to focus on praying for her recovery.

And then, three days ago, her heart stopped. I don’t even want to hear you all insisting that she didn’t die from COVID. Because she did—the strain this disease puts on other systems can cause them to fail when they wouldn’t otherwise do so. The willful and/or unintended misinterpretation of how causes of death are assigned on death certificates tries to tell us we don’t have the right to be angry at people who refuse to take responsibility for protecting others.

In fact, when we had our last family loss (not from COVID) six months ago, I implored people to follow precautions as no one needs such grief in our lives.

Still, I see some of you complaining about overbearing restrictions and proclaiming that people should go out and live their best lives. What about our loved ones’ best lives? What about our best lives that would have included them still with us?

Every life is essential. How about we act like it?

* Post was written on 2/28/21–but I didn’t have the energy to share it in the midst of my fresh grief. But, somehow, here we are again, as infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are increasing. According to the CDC website today, the death toll in the U.S. has reached over 614,000. That’s over 614,000 people who were essential. Please don’t be the kind of person who doesn’t worry about COVID-19 unless and until it affects you and yours personally.

(c) 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Kazoo and Furgus, (c) 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Looking west from the Museum of Nature and Science in Denver’s City Park. 2021

One way for me to stay centered is to be grateful for the beauty I experience in my life. Today was a bluebird-blue day here in the Denver area—complete with temperatures above 60 degrees. In February. The day before it’s supposed to snow again.

Even though I had to stop working early to go to a dentist appointment, I didn’t want to miss out on a chance to run in a skort and tank top today. Enough so that I sat down at my computer early so I didn’t have to give up a running break before leaving to get clean teeth.

No pictures of this perfectly extraordinary ordinary day—but I do have one from January that came with a view—a particularly Denver kind of view as seen from the Museum of Nature and Science in City Park. We are blessed with memorable views here in our town.

While the view I saw today was of my own neighborhood, what I spied in the west was even better than what I saw in the photo I am sharing—the mountaintops are much whiter than they were a month ago. It’s been snowing in the high country all month—and that’s a thing of beauty, both for our eyes and for reducing drought conditions.

Wherever you are, enjoy your view!

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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