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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:


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.



(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

I can’t even begin to understand how prayer works—or if it even should in some ways—but I’m really grateful when it does. Often there’s no way to know a prayer matters, but you just send it out anyway.

My difficulty at slowing down tends to get in the way of praying, so it turns out that I send out many more bullet (i.e. short and/or random) prayers than anything else. Someone comes to mind and I call up a quick prayer to God. Even when I start out intending to pray longer for one person or one cause, often at some point my mind just drifts away. I figure if God can be God then He knows both the prayers I send and the endings of the ones I don’t finish.

Every time I see someone ask for prayer on Facebook, I try to pause and pray, even if I don’t really know the person very well. Sometimes I comment and give public support, but often the person for whom I pray may not ever be aware that I pray for them. The truth is we have no way of knowing how many people are praying for us, whether invisibly somewhere–especially thanks to the randomness of the Internet–or specifically as part of their prayer practice.

The other night I was the one who needed prayers. In the middle of the night I sent out detailed prayer requests to specific prayer warriors as well as a generic request on Facebook. Despite all the heaviness weighing on my heart, I slept well that night and woke up to see that many had responded to my requests.

I’ll never discover just how many other prayers were lifted in my name, anonymously, from people who paused in the moment and responded to my request, but I think I felt the power of all those interceding for me. My mood and thoughts were calmer and a seemingly hopeless situation took a turn for the better.

However prayer works, we should just thank God for it—in prayer, of course—as well as remember to continue to pray without ceasing for one another. We’ve got God’s whole world in our hands, too.

(c) 2012 Trina Lambert

Most of us have things we fear more than others. Sometimes those fears are common occurrences and sometimes they are not. I had one friend who was afraid of finding shards of glass while drinking. As far as I know, he’d never experienced anything like that, but there you have it.

One thing that holds no attraction for me is fire—which isn’t quite the same as a phobia, but maybe only because I try hard not to be around it so I don’t have to think about it. Or maybe I just haven’t admitted it’s a phobia until now . . . when so much of my state is burning.

My brother Scott was just the opposite. He was always fascinated by fire, although I’m sure his opinion changed somewhat in past years after experiencing a raging old-style prairie fire (other than all the modern suburban structures in the way) that ended about 300 yards from his home in Oklahoma.

Still, the 60s were more innocent times—kids weren’t nearly so protected from dangers in their homes, but if my dad, a smoker, left out his lighter or matches, Scott couldn’t stay away from them. I remember countless times his tricycle (that says something about his age) got put up in punishment for his playing with fire. I even remember that once he and my mild-mannered cousin almost started a fire in my parents’ bedroom—otherwise they weren’t rebellious kids at all—does being a fire sign really make that much of a difference?

And legal firework season? That kid was in heaven. When we were really young we lived in a neighborhood surrounded by retired people while most of our school friends lived on farms. Scott really had a hard time amusing himself, except for when he had firecrackers. Yes, in the 60s grade-school-aged kids often used fireworks unsupervised. I remember him running around with a lit punk in his hand, lighting strings of firecrackers in various places in our yard and sidewalk. Nothing bad happened either.

But I could never even get beyond feeling scared of that moment when the tip on the matchstick ignited in flames.

Later we moved to a newer neighborhood, which on the prairie means there wouldn’t be good-sized trees for decades. One time warring pop bottle rockets started a small grass fire—once again, not that unusual for the 70s either.

If I’m really honest, I can tell you that all that fire safety information I learned in 5th grade scared me even more. I kept my door shut and felt to see if it was hot before I left my bedroom. A constant insomniac while I lived in that newer ranch-styled house on the prairie, I used to worry about flames licking through the house, trapping us all in our bedrooms where I would probably be the first to break through the screens because I had been waiting all those years for fire.

My asthma was misdiagnosed for years, so maybe all these weird childhood fears come down to the fact that fire is especially bad for people with underlying breathing problems. But at the end of the day, smoke and pollution (which all housing-related smoke is filled with due to all the chemicals in our building products and our possessions) are my biggest breathing triggers.

All these fires burning in my adopted state are pretty far from me, even if I can see the smoke and our air quality is affected slightly by them, depending on which direction the wind blows. But the pictures of what these people near the fires are experiencing are terrifying. I can’t imagine what it’s like to see my house flame up and disappear while knowing that if I don’t leave, I, too, will disappear. These fires are so intense right now that I doubt anyone has time to worry about how the scenery around them is changing for our lifetimes. Right now what’s happening is like something from a horror movie, only the smoke and flames are real, as are the fears, unlike in my past experiences.

The feeling when we visited Fort Collins earlier this month, with its orange sky and the falling ashes, seemed post-apocalyptic, but these scenes playing out on the west side of Colorado Springs seem apocalyptic with no “post” in sight.

And, then I have to think how my friend in the Woodland Park area asked others not to spread rumors and to stay calm and to work through all this together. My response, “And carry a towel?” (It’s true, though I can’t stay awake through The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, my family has taught me enough of the catch phrases to remember the humor.)

Just because I have an irrational phobia and others have very rational phobias developed by what they are experiencing doesn’t mean it does anyone any good to panic.

In times like these, we do need to keep calm—as well as maintain our humor, help one another, and follow fire bans.

While I don’t think it will harm us any to carry a towel, especially a wet one, I think carrying prayers with us is an even better idea. So, don’t panic, carry a towel, and pray—without ceasing.

(Christian Science Monitor June 27, 2012 article link re: Waldo Canyon fire)

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

My grandfather was a man’s man. From my youngest days he used words in everyday conversations that I was never allowed to say, kept his refrigerator stocked with beer, and played pool almost daily with his cronies at the Elks where he tended the “gentlemen’s” bar into his 80s. But every winter when the light turned low in Nebraska, he got restless. I think he had what we call Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

Well, I’ve said it before, but I will probably declare it each and every year once Black Friday arrives: I am an Advent person. Advent is the church season preceding the Light coming into this world at Christmas. Advent is all about waiting with expectation and hope for the light that will brighten our days—and our nights. But we are not a world much into waiting these days.

In an era when our culture seems to be experiencing an extended period of SAD—global economic uncertainties, financial difficulties in our own homes and neighborhoods, political stalemates and hostilities, and a real absence of long-term feelings of hope—shortening our Thanksgiving celebrations to jostle in lines to get those shiny new big screen TVs and other devices that run on light is not going to provide long-term light therapy.

No, what we need in these darkest of days is to turn to the true light from true light.

Advent—not this too early, too long, and too lacking in Christ-centered way of celebrating Christmas—is what is lacking in our collective focus.

Even though I am also tempted to forget to seek that true light, my own personal needs have again brought me to my knees. While my grandfather experienced winter blues, most likely my grandmother suffered depression during even the sunniest of days, just as my daughter does. These seasonal changes hit us all, but are often darker for those who struggle with darkness year round.

So I ask for prayers from friends both close and far away, as well as try to pray without ceasing myself. I pray for her, but also I pray for discernment and ideas, as well as for those people, professional and otherwise, who can help her.

What can we do besides pray to reduce the darkness? For one, we got her a light therapy box. Crazy, but the blue lights remind me of Advent and its liturgical color of blue.

We sent her back to college with that box, so our own access to that type of light therapy will have to wait, but for me, light therapy also comes in the lyrics I’ve learned from my choir songs. When darkness overwhelms me so much that I can’t even rest in the peace of sleep, those words arrive unbidden to voice the hope I do not always feel.

I like to think God is telling me to look to Him for the light, while pointing us to resources and support. And, so, in this quiet Advent period (well, in our house anyway) I ask Him to help me to wait, knowing He will in His time dispel the night—and SADness will flee away.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

I’ve been down before, heck I’m most likely down now thanks to assorted losses, but that doesn’t mean I understand what it’s like to have major depression. What I’ve experienced is more that feeling where you hit a bad spot, but you keep problem-solving or trying different things to feel better. You know, you believe that “someday” you will feel better, even if you don’t have a clue when that someday will be.

Major depression, however, seems closer to not believing in that someday.

And as much as I don’t know what that’s like for me, I do know what it sounds like in my daughter. When someone you love has fallen into the abyss of major depression, you just can’t give them platitudes such as “just deal with it” or let them experience every natural consequence of their actions.

To each person who tells me to relax and let her get herself through this blue period, there is this gut response that tells me we can’t afford to see if that will work—the potential cost is just too high—and Sherman agrees.

Until we’d walked with her on this path before, I would have thought they—especially the experts—were right.

This time she didn’t cry for help as early. You see, she’s older and wiser, which may actually mean she is deeper into depression this bout because of the coping skills she has gained over the past few years.

So why, during this period in her life, is this the semester she is studying The Bell Jar? What is purely literary or a treatise on various aspects of society in a time and place long past becomes something more to those who identify too well with the narrator’s thoughts. I’m an English major, for goodness’ sake, but this book has long since moved from the academic to the personal for me—and I still don’t really “get” what Plath is saying in the same way my daughter does.

While I did what I could to get her connected with help within the university, I cannot assume it is enough, even if we’ve been really blessed to encounter caring, knowledgeable professionals—and believe me, after our previous experiences with her depression, we do not trust someone just because of a title or supposed experience. Still, at a time when I do not live where my daughter does, it helps me to have these contacts who can reach out to her if she stops reaching out to them or those closest to her.

Constant vigilance—despite the cost for me. Yes, this is supposed to be my time—to either move on to what’s next or at least to mourn my losses—but I no longer feel this discord with our daughter is something personal or natural to this age in her life.

No, I believe major depression is talking for her, drowning out the sounds of possibility and hope that do exist in the midst of all that seems so hard right now. The good she minimizes while amplifying the bad.

I must fight for the someday of her feeling better while her defenses are down, even as I and others direct her to believe that she can fight for herself. Someday can’t come soon enough—especially for her.

And so, I also pray without ceasing all the day long.

So I was wrong—going to church on Sunday did give me some relief. I had been up in the middle of the night worrying about whether or not I could do my Father’s work and then you can guess what the sermon was about. See, I really am not in charge—thank you, God!

First came the reading, including Isaiah 35:4-5:

say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Oh, for my children’s eyes to be opened and their ears unstopped—and for me to not fear.

Then Pastor Ron Glusenkamp began his sermon titled “God’s Work. Our Hands.” by reading again those words from Isaiah. Then he repeated, “Be strong, do not fear!”

As he launched into the words from the baptismal ceremony—the ones where we parents are asked to teach our children God’s words and bring them to his house—I was reminded that we had done those things faithfully. These words are an if/then clause. If we do this, then such and such will happen.

Of course, faith is not so logical as such a statement would like it to seem. Just because the statement says it is so does not make it true—for now, anyway. Though my children do not now put their trust in God in the ways we had hoped, they do carry out other parts of that if/then clause in that they “care for others and the world God made, and work for justice and peace.”

“God’s work. Our hands.” is the phrase the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) uses to reiterate that we are called to do God’s work in a tangible way in this world. In his sermon, Pastor Ron pointed out various ways we use our hands to do just that.

As parents, we use our hands from the earliest days with our own children, especially to hold them. We also use them while we do all the physical chores involved with raising children.

But in the gospel of the day—the story of the woman who begged Jesus to cast the demon from her daughter even after he tried to brush her off—we hear a story of how parents’ hands are used to advocate and pray for our children, also. Over the past year, especially, I have had to advocate for my daughter in the healing community: asking questions, pointing out possibilities, and even speaking out to protect her from those whose job it is to facilitate her healing. I know what it’s like to feel that woman’s desperation, to want nothing more than for the demon to leave my daughter.

The woman persists for her daughter’s sake—and Jesus’ own ears are opened. The girl is healed.

“Ephphatha!” “Be opened.” Pastor Ron then discussed the commandment that Jesus used to heal a deaf and mute man—and how we all have something in us that needs to be opened.

Pawnee Grasslands, (c) PSL 2005

Pawnee Grasslands, (c) PSL 2005

For me, it’s remembering that if God can send demons packing, then he can also open eyes and ears. Surely by persisting with both the physical work I do with my hands and the folding of those hands in prayer, I am doing God’s work.

Every day is the prayer—do not fear.

cbaptism1992Every time I go to church lately, I feel like crying. In a lot of ways, I’m not sure why. I suppose a good part of why tears form in my eyes is because I have so little contemplative time these days. It is so rare that I can just sit still and be alone—or somewhat alone—in my own head. And, well, there are burdens in my life these days that are heavy.

All these tears are almost enough to make me want to stay home from church. Isn’t that funny? The last place I want to be seen crying in public is in church. Can you tell that I am one of the “frozen chosen”? Yes, I prefer to keep my church cerebral, not emotional. Yet if you can’t allow yourself to cry in church, what good are your church and your faith?

I admit that it’s not really my church’s fault for this attitude, but no doubt many of the other people in those pews feel the same way. Our Scandinavian and German forbears didn’t take much stock in crying—or little things like physical contact or admitting weakness. Forgive the pun, but it’s a crying shame that more of us don’t reject our upbringing, despite knowing how unhealthy those attitudes really are. How often do we really tell others how things are? Not often, unless we really, really know them well. Even then, we tend to downplay the problems.

jbaptism1992Maybe that’s why I am so comforted by seeing family groups leaning into one another. This past Sunday I watched a six foot plus sixteen-year-old boy rest his head on his even taller father’s shoulder as they stood in church. Was he tired from having too much fun the night before or even just from being up on a Sunday morning? Did he have something heavy on his heart? Or was leaning together just part of how he experiences church?

And, in one of those recently too frequent moments where I swing from joy into sadness, tears filled my eyes. Despite how I want my heartaches to stay private, here I am telling my story to the world. I cried because my children weren’t there to lean on me nor could I lean on them. Our casual contact from Sundays past is a distant memory, not because they’ve left home, but because they don’t want to come with us.

It’s not out and out rejection of the faith of their parents. Just doubt, apathy, and the critical assessment of youth toward the foundations of previous generations.

“Nobody in our generation believes anymore,” I hear. In my head my voice responds, Tevye-like, “And this makes all these kids so happy?”

Just because certain traditions aren’t applied perfectly by previous generations, doesn’t make them invalid. Although the questions themselves are as old as our faith and well worth asking, staying away doesn’t make it easy to improve how things are done.

Previous generations would have insisted, “While you’re in my home, you’ll do as I say.”

jcbaptismcandles1992Me, as part of my own generation, I ponder whether forcing attendance is really a good way to demonstrate why my faith is valid or to show the initial love behind all the imperfect traditions and institutions based upon that love.

Yet, that doesn’t stop me from feeling a pang in my heart and acutely feeling their absence whenever our church leaders mention the importance of faith foundation. I’ve tried to build that cornerstone. I brought my babies to the baptismal font, to classes and services, placed the Bible in their hands, prayed with them, discussed the issues, but as long as I believe it’s my cornerstone to build, I am guilty, once again, of thinking I am the one in control.

1stcommunion2001Christ is the true cornerstone and I can only attempt to build upon that foundation. In the end, it’s up to Him. I just have to trust that, in the words of their baptisms, they are children of God and are marked with His cross forever.

It’s my job to pray—and to be ready to welcome them back to our fold whenever the day comes when—God willing and the creek don’t rise—they take up, again, the faith of their father and mother. How can I demonstrate the worth of attending church if, tears or no, I am not in the pews to hear God’s word myself?

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