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welingerinwinterscarf

Scarf designed by Christiana Lambert for Knotty Tie, Co. in 2016 (sewn by an employee who is a resettling refugee).

I have all the words—and they’re just running rampant in my head and not getting out into the world. I have so many words that—forgive me—I’m not going to find it possible to “mind the metaphor,” as my friend used to caution.

I returned to work just under a year ago (anniversary date=02.01) and have yet to find my way back to my writing routine. But what a year this past year has been—exactly not the year for me to go silent. Heck, what a week it has been.

How many of us have been rendered almost speechless daily by the changes wrought on our nation? You’re just trying to do your part by performing the work you are paid to do and then you come home to discover yet another congressional action or executive order has happened—and you are stunned. Stunned that what it meant to be the United States of America can change so radically in such little time.

As I sat in church this morning, I listened to lessons from the lectionary (a three-year cycle of prescribed bible verses that many churches follow) that seemed hand-picked for just the times in which we are living. Coincidence? Not likely. Micah 6:8’s exhortation to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” and Matthew’s beatitudes (the “blessed ares” that turn the power of this world on its head) as well as 1st Corinthians’ talk of the seeming “foolishness” of following Christ’s ways are words I needed to hear to remember that God is in charge—even if His not-so-subtle message is that we’re going to have to walk our walk for Him in the days and months ahead.

I have one writing prompt this week and it’s to write a prayer to pray at choir this coming Wednesday. What follows is my brainstorming for my assignment. I originally chose that date because Wednesday is almost Candlemas, which is celebrated on February 2. Traditionally in the church, February 2 is the day that commemorates the presentation of the infant Christ in the temple, as the date follows 40 days after His birth. Candlemas also was when families would bring in their candles to have them blessed for the year ahead. We here in America celebrate Groundhog Day on that day as we look for a furry critter to predict whether spring will arrive early or come as planned. From a strictly chronological viewpoint, February 2 is halfway through the winter—a time when we either start to wonder if spring will ever come or when the slightly longer days remind us that spring’s arrival is getting closer.

This year it seems we are stuck in the darkness of this particular winter of our discontent. We can hardly look ahead to spring. We are a nation in discord with members of our own families, with neighbors, and with other people of faith—as well as with our traditional enemies (both personal and national). Well, that groundhog has already seen the shadow—and it is the shadow that holds our prejudices and fears as well as our turning away from the pain and suffering of others.

But Candlemas is all about blessing the candles—which were the only source of light for homes in the days before other light sources were invented. Those simple sources of light were all people had to brighten the remainder of the year. In other words, the Presentation of the Lord is the ceremony that reminds us that He is the Light of the World. And that we who follow Him are called to be that light not just in our own homes, but also in our home that is this earth.

I don’t have a clue as to how we’re going to fix this mess our country is in, but I know God does. He knows how He’s going to mend the fractures amongst people who follow Him as well as with those who profess another faith and those who profess no faith. And I think it’s going to look an awful lot like people walking their faiths in order to bring about light.

In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “We loiter in winter while it is already spring.” No matter what the calendar says, we have all the light we need to fight this darkness and bring on a period of growth. I’ll just continue my quote-fest here by adding the motto of my alma mater (Wittenberg University): Having light we pass it on to others.

Having light (that means we already have it!), WE pass it on to others.

I can’t tell you why but during one of the darkest national times in my experience during one of the traditionally darkest months of the year, this typically stoic Lutheran kept wanting to throw her hand up in the air while singing about the beatitudes in the hymn “Blest Are They” (by David Haas and Michael Joncas). (Might it be God, perhaps?)

Providing blessings and bringing light into this current world is going to look a whole lot like walking—walking among those who are poor in spirit—for theirs is the kingdom of God.

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(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) 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

So many seemingly hopeless situations happening these past few weeks around the world and in our country. The slaughtering of children in their classrooms, not by fellow classmates, but by adults who chose to make those deaths the message. The unrest exacerbated by seemingly excessive force. The retaliation against such force by an individual set on revenge.

Those are the “in our face” news stories of the most recent days and, yet, the war against hope pervades so many of our interactions and seems to be celebrated by many, including those in the press. Hope is not just one particular person’s mantra—does it really make sense to drive around with a bumper sticker that states “no hope”, as if that’s a goal for which we should all strive?

It’s time we declared a truce on this war against hope. A collective sense of hope is necessary for all, especially in these particularly dark times.

And for those who are having a hard time finding hope in their personal situations, this collective lack of hope is even more crushing.

I know, because my own family’s dance with hopelessness really began in earnest about the time the economy crashed and the political bickering intensified. My own loss of innocence—so to speak—about hopelessness coincided with this dark period we as a country can’t seem to leave behind.

I sit in church on Sundays and try to believe that others still value kindness and want to treat people well and attempt to listen to one another, even when they hold opposing views, but so much of what I’ve seen over the past several years gets in the way of believing what I used to believe so easily about the essential goodness of people. Man’s inhumanity to man (really, people’s inhumanity to people) overwhelms me so often these days and I grow weary.

I know there are way more good people in this world than bad, but what we hear about more often and those who get the most press are those who take hope away from others or those who do not care about others’ feelings of hope.

I will never stop striving to maintain whatever sense of hope I can and will do my best to keep my actions and words building hope for others as best I can, but it would be so much easier to do if I felt the “no hope” crowd were much smaller.

On my own, maintaining this hope thing isn’t very possible—somehow I just have to trust that God will help me and this world in which we live to keep the faith.

No matter how much my own hope fluctuates, I do still believe God sent light and hope into this world—a world that was as dark or, likely, darker—around 2,000 years ago. Because of that, I fight for hope, not against it.

The Light of the World is coming—stay hopeful.

(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) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

In the Bible there are all these stories of Jesus removing demons from people—and I confess that I have prayed for such miracles in our times and in our homes. To those who have never been touched by or loved someone with a serious mental illness, sometimes all this darkness seems clinical, at best—and, at worst, something people and/or their loved ones have brought upon themselves. But, truly, for many the darkness is a demon that strikes no matter what they or we do.

You can expound all you want about the evils of treatments such as psychiatric medications or the benefits of diet and exercise and positive thinking, but it appears that for some people it is just so much harder to feel hopeful than for others.

For anyone other than the person who is feeling suicidal to say that he or she is weak or only selfish shows a lack of understanding about the beastliness of suicidal feelings. How does any of us know that these people haven’t been required to face more darkness than we can ever imagine—and that they haven’t battled valiantly, time after time, year after year, against the darkness that descends upon them like some demon?

What do we know of their pain, especially if we have not been given a similar level of pain to fight in our lives? I don’t speak of the pain that comes from specific life experiences but of the pain of an organic darkness that for whatever medical reason overtakes certain people no matter what is happening in their lives.

How humbling to know that sometimes love for us is the only reason our loved ones continue the fight. That in those moments of pain and darkness for them, it is not a love for this life that keeps them here, but simply that love for us. No matter how grateful we are for this gift of continued living, wouldn’t you rather the demon be exorcised—for good—so that life itself—with all its normal ups and down and lightness and darkness—would be more than enough reason for them to stay amongst us?

While we ourselves might not often have the power to cast out demons permanently for others, we can bring as much light into this world as we can by being kind to one another and by providing whatever help is at our hands—as well as by refusing to judge those whose pain we can only pretend to understand.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep praying for miracles . . . both for those possessed by the demons of mental illness and for those of us who have also been touched by the darkness within those whom we love.

 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

The people walking through the darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2, NIV

When something subtle but huge has been missed in diagnosis and treatment, it’s easy for darkness to overwhelm any light, let alone a great light. With little change and improvement, life as previously known can seem dead and the new normal bleak at best and hopeless at worst.

Yesterday I heard these words in church and thought, “God has heard our prayers. The light is coming back.” I know it’s too early to say that light is returning for good in our family, but for now it seems as if the yoke of darkness has been shattered.

We’re years beyond thinking we’d just rather the darkness go away for good. By now we can accept that proper management will be light enough—because that’s likely the best healing we will get and because it’s so far from past darkness that we know it can be enough to illuminate a life well-lived.

For another day to consider the tears and rage of those years that can’t be regained—too much of that will allow the darkness to obscure the light we do have. For now we will walk toward the light—and rejoice at the dawn of a new era.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert