I know so many people who look forward to, and even cherish, the cool, colorful autumn season. For me, the warm colors, rich smells and cozy sweaters are just a harbinger of things to come. There is not a
crackling fire bright enough to dispel the coming darkness or hold back the icy winds that I dread so much. Truly, truly, I dread the arrival of winter. I could list a thousand reasons why and at the top would be exchanging flip-flops for bulky jackets, open windows for cold hardwood floors and the sound of crickets for the hum of the furnace (cha-ching!)….but what I dread the most, what weighs on my body like a heavy, lead jacket, is that each day the coming winter snatches another two or three minutes of sunlight from my eyes.
To you this may sound absurd, but for me the trouble begins as early as October. One day I am my normal self, and the next I can barely drag myse
lf out of bed in the morning. After lunch, I fight valiantly – mostly for the benefit of my employers and coworkers – to keep my eyes open and mind alert, lest someone find me slumped over my keyboard and drooling on the week’s worship order. Before dinner, I frequently fall asleep on the couch which inevitably leads to an evening battle with insomnia and then…sleep, sweet sleep, just 10 more minutes, please! Some mornings, the only thing that gets me out of bed is telling myself that I can sleep again in 12 hours…eight, if things are really rough. How sad is that?
There are plenty of studies out there that define this condition and even some supposedly effective therapies, but expensive solutions for feeling tired quickly take a back seat to braces, college tuition and new tires for the car. So this time of year, you will find me counting down the days until December 22, when the sun starts rising earlier and setting later. As of today, there are 66 more days on the downhill. 66 more days of sliding headfirst into the abyss. 66 more days of darkness. I empathize deeply with our ancestors who worried, year after year, that the sun might sink below the horizon and never return. Had I lived back then, I likely would have joined the chanting and dancing and whatever other rituals thought necessary to summon the sun back up into the sky. Oh, the things we take for granted…like the air we breathe and the sun rising faithfully every day!
You may think I’m exaggerating but seriously, what other season is universally synonymous with death? When you read a book or watch a movie – excepting Christmas specials and Hallmark Channel Valentine’s movies – you know the barren trees and gray skies signal nothing but heartache. I poke fun but the reality is that every October a part of me goes to sleep while the rest of me longs for those spring days when I will once again feel fully alive. Yet the worst part of all is that the tiredness from lack of daylight brings with it a real and genuine sadness, a heavy heart and physiological pain I can’t escape.
The steel skies and withering grass remind me all too vividly of the cold, barren winters of my heart – particularly seasons of loss and grief. Leaves, far past their youthful days, give in to the relentless winds and let go, falling slowly to the earth. How many of those whom I’ve loved, have done the same? The winds blow through me and, for a moment, steal away my breath…the emptiness is so consuming, even my chest feels hollow. Time does not heal all wounds. The scars remain. Tell me something new. Tell me something of hope.
Over our recent Columbus Day weekend, we New Englanders were given the rare gift of bright, sunny, 80 degree weather for four beautiful days. My husband and I spent one of those days working in the yard – weeding, trimming and getting ready for winter. Only it felt like late June. I pruned dead branches and leaves from our lilac bush, careful not to snip the buds which are already set for spring. After I finished with the lilac, I visited my azalea and rhododendron bushes. I knew better than to clip anything from those early bloomers, and simply stood there for a while, wondering at the plump, promising buds. Swiftly, but not abruptly, the world seemed to stand still – like God had stopped the sun in the sky or pressed the pause button on his giant remote. Time felt suspended and my feet, unmovable. It was one of those moments where you can almost hear God whispering in your ear, “Pay attention.”
Tell me something new. Tell me something of hope.
Have you ever experienced that instant when something you already knew or had seen a thousand times or had recited to others over and over, suddenly became real to you? Before you knew, but afterward you understood. Before you believed, but then you received. That’s what happened to me. It was as if God had been cultivating the soil of my heart for that perfect moment when I had turned just enough for him to slide his shining blade beneath my armor, enabling him to skillfully and painlessly plunge into the hollow of my heart a new and precious seed of truth. Immediately, the seed took root and filled my chest with a peaceful warmth.
My heart, my mind, my body – all were still. Warren Wiersbe said, “Nature preaches a thousand sermons a day to the human heart.” I listened. I listened and my soul was still. Silently, I received the promise which God revealed to me through the autumn buds of a spring-blooming flower. Even in winter, we are never without the certain hope of spring. Before the first frost touches a single petal, before the biting winds blow or even one snowflake falls, God places spring in the heart of his handiwork. On every bough, a bud, and in every bud, a flower.
I stood motionless, full of wonder and gratitude. God had just spoken – sweetly, tenderly, directly to me. He knows my weaknesses, my fears and my doubts and he doesn’t roll his eyes at me, or tell me to suck it up. Instead, he meets me where I am, with his arms offering comfort and in his hands, hope. ‘I know you are dreading this coming season, Nichole. I know. But it won’t last forever. Look here! I have already prepared the flowers for spring. See! Evidence! A sign of hope for you. My promise of spring for you.’ There are only a few times in my life when I have genuinely, tangibly felt God’s love – this was one of those times.
Yet, this message, however personal and pertinent, reaches far beyond the seasons, into the place of promises eternal. In this world, there are a thousand winters – winters of the heart and of the soul, winters of the mind and of the body, even winters that bewitch and blind our spirits. But in every winter, even the winters of sorrow, bitterness, darkness and defeat, we are never without the certain hope of spring and the peace, joy, life and victory that it brings.
Nature declares the glory of God and through creation we catch sight of the Creator, and of ourselves. Who is God, and who are we to him, that He would not leave us to doubt or despair, but rather allow us a glimpse into tomorrow? What compassion! What grace! Before winter even begins, a glimpse of spring. As darkness falls and the storms rage on, a glimpse of hope, a glimpse of heaven.
No, time does not heal all wounds. The wind whips around my shivering bones, and frost settles on my skin…yet long ago, when my heart wandered in the darkness of an enchanted winter, God planted there the first seed…the Seed of eternal spring. A ray of sun, warm and bright, pierced the darkness and slowly, the ice packed around my heart began to melt. The spell was broken, the endless winter ended. Though the coldness comes, its icy fingers have no hold on me. Yes, scars remain and sometimes, the pain still steals away my breath. But I rest in knowing there is no winter God has not written, no abyss beyond his reach, no one lost he cannot find, no darkness he has failed to light, no sorrow for which he has not prepared a Spring.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. ~ Romans 1:20