the risk of a fickle march

image1Hope is a risky thing.

The buds on the trees have been slowly developing over the past few weeks – so slowly that you might not have noticed them until now, when their colors start to fade into focus.

Last summer, we planted a “Jane Magnolia” tree – a tulip tree – and I have been eagerly anticipating spring when pink and white blooms would present themselves for the first time.

Last fall, we planted daffodils, and my insides have become giddy as the bulbs have recently bloomed to welcome spring. This is our first March in our new house; next month will make one year since we moved in, and I feel that our own daffodils blooming is the last piece of the puzzle to make this house our home. Daffodils have always been my favorite.

With a milder winter, I certainly haven’t complained about the lack of snow, but I have suspiciously resisted from calling it an early spring. March snows are always a possibility, and I fear for the state of the blossoms peeking out from under their covers. I don’t want to get my hopes up that winter really is over, because I fear being pounded with inches of snow and having to dig out my puffy coat again.

That has to be one of the worst feelings in the world – getting your hopes up for something, and really believing it will happen, only to be thoroughly disappointed and discouraged. It jades us, makes us cynics in a world that is increasingly more welcoming to the cynical and doubtful.

Hope can seem too risky, too naive.

We want to outsmart the things we can’t control, so we hold back from believing in what is possible, suspect that things won’t ever really change, or refrain from making plans because we hate the idea that they won’t work out. We want to be able to say, “I told you so” to cover our disappointment and to pretend that we aren’t hurt.

But if I’m not careful, I will carry this attitude with me all through the month of March, claiming that spring is “too good to be true.” Then April will hit and I will realize that I missed the joy of the whole month – the early bloomers, the budding trees, the grass slowly turning green. The joy of the world preparing itself to reveal life after a bare, windy winter.

I will have missed delighting in the daffodils for fear that they will be killed by a late snow.

“You set your heart too much on things, Anne,” said Marilla, with a sigh. “I’m afraid there’ll be a great many disappointments in store for you through life.”

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them. Mrs. Lynde says, `Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.’ But I think it would be worse to expect nothing than to be disappointed.” –Anne of Green Gables

I don’t want to miss out on the fun of looking forward to what’s next.

Often, the anticipation of something is just as fun as actually getting it. Think about a child trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve, or the planning and packing for a big trip, or the moments leading up to a bride walking down the aisle to her groom. Time seems to move so slowly when you want something to happen, but it’s a feeling that you can’t create unless you are in the situation. The better the thing you are waiting for, the harder the wait. The more you start to doubt that it won’t come. But the rush of emotion when it does come is better than the numbness of never believing it would come in the first place.

I want to live a life that is hopeful, not suspicious. I want to enjoy March for all it has to offer, even if it teeters on the possibility of early spring regressing to late winter. I want to take out my sandals and short sleeves without shame, without worry of what tomorrow might bring.

And I want to be present in my own life seasons of March.

In the waiting for a baby, it’s easy to let the months pile up as reasons to doubt that the future will change. Don’t they call insanity doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? Yet that can pretty much feel like the journey to get pregnant. It’s discouraging, it’s uncontrollable, and it doesn’t seem to change.

Maybe you can relate in your own season of March, in the wait for a desire to be fulfilled. You start to feel ashamed each time that it doesn’t happen, you begin to quiet your sadness when talking to others, you want to outsmart your hope each month that something will be different. You harden yourself to hope, instead thinking it’s easier to just forget your desire and avoid the pain that comes each time you realize it’s not going to happen.

But I don’t want to live in ignorance of the buds which are starting to unfurl in this season. There’s beauty in those early stages. I don’t want to avoid disappointment at the cost of avoiding the experiences of life – both joy and pain. I want to be present each day in the month of March, not worrying about whether or not the temperature will drop in a week.

Because there is joy in anticipation and fun in the wait. There is something to be valued in the suspense of this beautiful yet unpredictable life, especially as we remember that we have a God Who is sovereign over those details. He tells the bulbs when to bloom and He reminds us that His hand is in every detail of March. We can hope not because it will guarantee a change in circumstances, but because our hope draws us closer to God. He alone holds the power to move us into spring or stay us in the winter, and His purpose in either season is greater than what we can understand.

I know the risk, but I am choosing to hope in the fickleness of March, bringing my hope to His presence no matter what happens next.

if winter offers no answers

IMG_6099I lay down on the concrete, cat-like in finding the perfect spot for sunning in late January’s taste of spring. Ridley joins in as he perches beside me, scanning gaps between fence posts for signs of passerby activity.

My soul needed this weekend, as I am sure yours did, too.

In no time at all, the coats and gloves will stow away for the majority of the year. Tulips and daffodils will be the forerunners of Spring’s arrival, shooting through crunchy grass to trumpet her arrival.

After today, I expect Spring will hit the snooze button and fall back asleep for another six weeks, but her 65 degree stretch-and-yawn this weekend gives me just the hope I need – the reminder that winter doesn’t last for forever.

We all want that reassurance when we find ourselves in a season we would rather not remain in. Just a glimmer of what’s coming to give us strength to endure the winter for a little while more.

So what do you do when you don’t sense that glimmer, when the cold and gray envelopes you with no promise of letting go?

How do you find hope when none is offered? How do you live in the tension of what you are trusting is next and the reality of where you are right now?

I’ve struggled to write about this because I honestly don’t have the answer.

I’ve pondered and processed how to fight with hope against the cynicism of “it’s never going to happen” or “this is the way life will always be,” while also surrendering my heart to “not my will but Yours be done.”

And the best answer I have come up with is that it’s not a black and white thing, which is hard for me to accept – but which I am noticing the Lord wants to remind me of more frequently these days.

I am a self-aware legalist, thriving on rule-following and clear-coated ethics and knowing without a doubt that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I am Nicodemus in John 3, asking the Christ for the 1-2-3’s on how to ensure my rightness with Him, finding the idea of “being born again” too odd and unattainable.

How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?

How can I trust You completely with my desires but protect against hurt? What is the secret to avoiding depression, grief, misplaced hope? How do I wholeheartedly follow You where I don’t think I want to go? How do I communicate honestly, tell You what I want, without being demanding or selfish or resistant to Your plan?

I am learning that my perspective, like Nicodemus’s, is wrong.

I so badly want to handle life “the right way” or “the way I should” that I miss the gift of God’s grace. I falsely think that spiritual maturity means growing to need God less and less the way we grow apart from our earthly parents – Look, Mom and Dad, I’m all grown up and filing my taxes without your help! However, I once heard someone say that spiritual maturity actually means that we grow to acknowledge our need for God more and more. It’s not about being able to stand on our own two feet but, instead, frequently falling in God’s arms and allowing Him to be our stable place, our rock.

He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:2)

I am not shaken because of Him, not because of what I in myself am capable of.

I find my assurance not in how well I follow a checklist but in how well I know Him and accept His love for me.

So back to having hope but not being devastated in getting my hopes up.
To living in the tension of God’s goodness but God’s unexplainable purposes.
To how I am “supposed to” handle this spiritual and emotional season of winter.

I am humbly recognizing my need to let go of looking for the answers to my questions and instead look to the truth of Who God is, regardless of my circumstances. Not that He isn’t a God with answers, but sometimes He asks us to trust without the explanation we are looking for.

And He wants us to acknowledge that we are a mess and that we need His help, because, the truth is, we don’t handle life the right way. While I am feeling lost right now, I am taking comfort that He is present as I sort through what I don’t understand. His grace covers my continual shortcomings, my frequently incorrect thinking. His grace covers my pain and my lack of faith.

I am so grateful for this weekend, but I know that Spring doesn’t always show herself in January. When she doesn’t, when she remains in hiding, it doesn’t mean that she is no longer coming. It simply means we must continue to faithfully wait, trusting a Creator Who sets purposes in motion even if they are first buried beneath the surface of a frosty ground.

seeing growth in grayscale days

Unexpected spring in January definitely makes it on my list of favorite things – it’s right up there with camping at White Rock, new wool socks, baking bread, and the smell of dirt.

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Today it’s 65 degrees and sunny and perfect. Ridley Dog and I went to Gulley Park and I prayer-walked while he made friends with each dog we encountered. I prayed for friends and for ministry and for the people who financially make my ministry possible. Then we sat on a bench to rest in the warm sun and soak in gratitude.

I needed this day.

Not just a day to focus on my relationship with the Lord, but a day of warmth and light and promise. A day to turn off the heat and throw open the french doors leading to the porch. Despite the brown grass and bare trees around me, today is a reminder that spring is coming. The gray skies and cold winds will not last forever, and in just a couple of months, life will be revealing itself all around us. Life that is right now being kept in the ground to form roots and hide from winter. That life is beginning to grow right now, though to look around the yard you might not see it.

I forget about that aspect of growth, sometimes – that it’s not always visible. Eric and I planted tulips in our yard last October, and I had practically forgotten about them until today, when I started daydreaming about spring’s arrival. Right now, there’s nothing to be said for those bulbs except that there are patches of dirt where grass has not quite grown back over the holes we dug. I wouldn’t want those flowers to sprout today; knowing Arkansas weather, we will have a chance of snow in the forecast within the next week. The flowers would last for a day or two, then be killed by the winter we still have left before they fully bloomed. I want those bulbs to continue rooting themselves into the dirt, shoots holding fast to soil and bulbs beginning to unfurl in preparation for March. I trust that they are growing, but I won’t know for sure until green shoots emerge from the dirt.

Growth isn’t always something we can know. We can’t capture the moment it moves from nothing to something or stagnant to active.  It usually starts out in ways invisible to us, yet growth is happening nonetheless. In the midst of a dark winter, I need that reminder. I need to know that something is sprouting. This taste of spring, however short it may be, will keep me looking ahead to the time when we can peel off coats and dust off bicycles and see the fruit of what was happening in the dirt all this time. It gives me hope even while looking through  the grayscale that often filters the world during this time of the year.

Life abounds, even in the midst of winter. Even when all looks brown and dead, life can be found.

Not only do I need to know that for the world around me, but I need to know that for the heart in me.