A Baby and the Cold Slush of Winter

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I slog my way through dirty, melting snow as I walk to work. The pristine fluffy white of one week ago is replaced by the dirt and grime of the city, coupled with slush caused by rising temperatures.

It is Thursday, my last day of the work week, and I am tired. In winter everything takes longer. It takes longer to get ready in the morning, longer to walk to the subway, longer for the subway to arrive, longer to get groceries.

Everything is longer. Everything is harder. It’s more difficult to see grace; more difficult to give grace.

Yesterday I visited a friend who has just had a baby girl. I held her little body in my arms, marveling at her perfection, struck by how this little miracle came to be.

In the midst of the cold slosh of winter, I got to hold this wonder in my arms. Outside may feel cold and heartless, but inside is warm with wonder and grace.

Outside the world is raging, unaware that inside is a six pound wonder. Outside people argue and push, morosely facing winter’s worst. Across the country fires and floods change people’s lives in moments.

But inside there is a baby, perfectly formed and known by a God who still believes that this world is worthy of being redeemed. She is entrusted to, and loved by, an imperfect family and friends; people who will hold her and teach her, love her and cry with her.

And as I hold her I am in awe – in awe of baby soft skin and six pounds of perfectly formed fingers and toes, in awe of the strength and fragility of life, in awe of my friend who waited so long and wanted this baby so very much. Mostly in awe that somehow God believes that we in our human frailty, born as helpless babes who grow to be imperfect children and adults, are worth redeeming.

It’s Thursday and I’m tired. But then I remember – there’s a baby and it’s all okay.

On Snow Days and the Waste of Hate

This piece was written last Thursday morning, when I had an unexpected and delicious snow day.

It’s a Thursday morning and I wake up to a world of white. Snow has been falling steadily since the early hours, providing much needed excitement for weather people who have been increasingly bored this winter by the warm temperatures and happy humans.

I have an unexpected snow day. It’s hard to describe how welcome this is — it’s like Paschal cheese after Lent; like your first meal after you deliver a baby.

Snow days are pure grace.

I used to hate snow. I couldn’t bear the flakes, the cold, the wet. I hated the shoveling, the scraping off of ice, the misery.

And in a way, all of those things are still true. Snow does wreak havoc. Snow does cause disruption, it does slow things down. Snow is not convenient.

As I look out on this world of white, I can’t help thinking about all the time I have wasted hating snow, wishing it away. I can’t help being reminded of the times that I have  hated that which life brought me.

Hate is such a waste. Hate takes so much energy. It exhausts your body and your mind, it plants itself and needs little water to grow. It is nourished easily and depletes us of that which is good. The roots need little encouragement to go deep, and they are painfully pulled. Hate depletes the soul.

Hate is a giant waste of time, and I have fallen for this trap. I have wasted time in hate – not only in hating snow, but other things. I have wasted time fighting life instead of accepting it. Hate destroys creativity and limits our minds. Hate takes away our motivation and leads us to settle for less.

Supposedly hate is the antonym of love, but I think hate is the antonym of life. Because you can’t really live if your mind is filled with hate.

I sit in complete quiet, the white world around me. Hate feels far away, its roots pulled, replaced by something so much better. And I am grateful.

Digging My Hope Out of a Snowbank

As I heard a weather forecast today and learned that more snow is covering a nation already groaning under the winter of discontent, I particularly appreciated this post on hope by Robynn. What about you? How is your winter going? 

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Winter is the most deceiving of the seasons. You look outside the window. The sun is shining. The trees beckon to you, inviting, calling. A few birds flit by. And so you think, okay then, I should go out. A coat, because logic demands it, gloves, they just make sense, and out you go! Whoosh! The wind immediately mocks. The sun sticks it’s tongue out. The imaginary birds have vanished. Winter wins! Her deception has tricked you again and you, the seasonal fool, have fallen for it again!

This winter has been particularly sneaky, long, cold and white. It’s been wearisome.

I find that in the midst of winter my sense of hope takes flight too and all but disappears. Or perhaps she’s buried under the snow bank. Maybe she melted into the grey slush. Whatever the case she’s gone. She’s done.

I’m determined to hunt her down. There must surely be shreds and shards of her left. Surely hope cannot have all been rendered shrapnel in the explosions of season and snow? Finding her has proven difficult. Despair and darkness cloud my vision. Depression drifts build up. Superficial and shallow comments salt the wound-roads. Trite talk ploughs through, wreaking havoc at the end of my pathways. The search has been hard wrought and I am sad to say, I have really only caught glimpses of hope hiding…Hope hasn’t jumped out to get me. Unlike young children playing hide and seek, she doesn’t seem to want to be found.

This week has been especially dismal.

Still my brief sightings of hope have birthed in my sorry soul an expectation that she is still out there. Like the pearl of great price, hope does linger in my town. I want to find her. I need the energizing motivation she trades for my well-worn weariness.

Yesterday I met a friend at Grace’s Asian Fusion café. Piano music met me at the door. I looked around for the speakers and much to my delight realized the music was live. In the far corner of the room stood an old upright piano and sitting upright on the stool was a gentleman even older than the piano. He gently, gracefully, invited classical tunes filled with emotion and energy to come out of that ancient instrument. And out they came, and filled the room, sweeping it with joy…. And dare I admit, a little hope!

My friend joined me and we tried Miso soup and some interesting sweet dumpling-bread. We ate cold sesame noodles with vegetables and peanut sauce. And we talked. She’s hit a wall in her faith experience. Everything programmed in her is being questioned and reexamined. She’s rethinking religion and rules; structures and systems. But we talked about Jesus and his wide wonderful mercy. I firmly believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father… But I have come to think that there are many paths to Jesus. And we talked about that and a bit of hope surfaced.

Today I drove to Wichita to watch our seventeen year old sing with his high school Chamber Choir at the Kansas Music Educators Association Convention. I drove through the Flinthills and across the prairies. Yesterday’s hay bales still scattered last season’s fields. However through the grey grasses bits of green were starting to shimmer. Hope is sprouting softly through the (hopefully) waning winter.

One of the songs the Chamber Choir sang was a Wendell Berry poem (The Peace of Wild Things) set to music. The music was written by a local composer, a KState Professor, and a father of the one of the students. It was filled with expectation. And it was contagious. Hope filled the auditorium together with the voices of the young singers who sang with strength and optimism.

My spirit has been snowed under. I’ve been physically ill for a month and my soul has caught the infection. I’m bowed low. The weight of winter wears me out. But I’m determined to protect my Hope. If I don’t have hope I will spiral deeper, darker, lower. Hope protects the soul from despair. Hope preserves moments of pure joy in the midst of great sorrow. Hope guards, redeems, rescues. I firmly believe that hope is not seasonal. It’s eternal and certain.

I don’t know about you but for me hope is not natural. I’m not normally inclined to being hopeful on my own…. I have to work for it. I have to hunt her down. I have to dig her out. What little energy I’ve had these past couple of weeks I’ve tried to dedicate to finding hope! A text message early in the week from a friend said, “Robynn just sitting here reading and I’m reminded that Christ in you is the hope of glory. Take courage sweet Robynn, he has overcome all that you are facing.” It was another push toward hope. Miss Cindy gave me courage to hope-search. Hope was in me—the Christ of Glory…. It’s a quest for the Super-natural. Hope has been elusive but in looking around, I have seen her. I’ve experienced her gently. I’ve been graced with her small moments.

“When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” Psalm 94:19

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace…” Rom 15:13

The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

*photo credit Stefanie Sevim Gardner

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When Winter Stretches Past Its ‘Use By’ Date

I feel so restless I could bite someone. Winter is stretching far past its ‘use by’ date and with every passing day the longing for spring grows greater, the belief that it will never come stronger.

I feel like I am in exile.

Banished to the land of “Forever Winter”. Lost in the White Witch’s spell of “Always winter and never Christmas”. The video above, created by a friend, completely captures how I feel. 

I do everything I know to do to cope with this restlessness:

  • I work
  • I exercise
  • I read
  • I write
  • I bake bread, muffins, cookies
  • I play games
  • I watch Brooklyn Nine Nine, Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Nashville, Figure Skating. (yup – I watch a lot of TV during Exile)

But the restlessness pursues and I feel like I’m climbing the walls.

Exiled. Marooned. Banished.

The prophets write a great deal about exile and a people in exile. And it is no coincidence that God is speaking to me through the prophetic voices of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Speaking to me, a 21st century woman, and confronting, convicting me.

Jeremiah had a strong message for a people in exile. In fact chapter 29 of the book is devoted to those living in exile. And he offers instruction, hope, and warning.

The instruction is basically to keep on living life. Despite the exile, despite not being in the place they belong, the place they wish to be, despite wanting to (perhaps) bite someone, they are to build houses, settle down, have kids, “Seek the welfare of the city in which they live”.

The hope is a look to the future – a look to when the people of Israel will be back in a place where they belong, where God will show them a future that includes Him, answers to prayers, fulfillment of longings.

And then there is the warning – the part I want to skip over or write out of the narrative. Because the warning is as clear and straightforward as the instruction and the hope. The warning has to do with not listening, with not heeding words that have come from God and have been said again. And again. And again. Words that came from God and through prophets.

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So in this time where I feel exiled, even though I’m really not; where I feel far from where I want to be, the words of Jeremiah creep into my waking and my sleeping. Words of truth about exile.

Words that include God bringing me out of, back from, but most of all — faithfully through exile.

Do you feel exiled? How do you deal? 

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When the Tree Lights Go Out

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It happens every year. After Christmas and New Year celebrations end, a melancholy comes upon me and I struggle to make sense of life.

I’d like to blame it on the cold, but weather has little to do with it, for the melancholy has come in desert sun and in northeast snow. It isn’t about depression, or seasonal affective disorder, or disillusionment.

It’s about living out the reality of Christmas once the lights on the tree have gone out.

When my winter world sparkles with white light and presents I can believe that God is here and he is Good. I can believe that all I do matters, that I can make a difference, that the world can be redeemed.

And then the lights go out and the world feels dark. And I understand how my toddler felt when I used to turn the lights off and leave him alone in the dark with Jesus.

It’s now when I need the verses I have committed to memory; it’s at this point when my theology faces off with my reality; it’s in this place that I need Truth to feed my soul and calm my spirit. It’s today that my Faith needs to walk.

How about you? As the lights of the tree fade into your memory and photo book, how do you live the reality of Christmas?

There’s Something About That First Snow!

The flakes started falling as I walked home from work. It was twilight and the street lights had just come on. The snow flakes reflected off the light and gave the length of the street a magical feel.

There’s something about that first snow.

It’s an all things new snow. It’s a start of the season snow. It’s a belief that wrong can be righted snow. It’s a before I’m bone tired of winter and hate anything that resembles cold snow. It’s an anything is possible and this is magic snow.

Footprints marked my way on the steps and a snow flake melted on my nose.

And I thought about all things grace, all things lovely.

Too often my thoughts go a completely different direction — a cynical inner social commentary on the world and all around me; thoughts of putting up the middle finger when no one is looking; diatribes against all I disagree with. These thoughts are not gracious and they are not lovely, and I have to constantly look to God to capture those thoughts.

But this first snow was a reminder that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things* – and I can somehow do that in this first, white, fluffy, pretty, first snow.

There’s just something special about that first snow…

*Philippians 4:8

Blogger’s Note: Those who know me will laugh at this post – I am known by most as one who hates winter. I mean Hates winter. Or at least I did …. and then 2 years ago I decided I would stop complaining in the winter and something significant changed.

These Three Remain – Hope in the Middle

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13a

Although we’ve had only a bare touch of snow, winter is fully upon us, and though it’s not the middle of winter – it feels like it is. It is a time when it is easy for me to lose hope, to give in to sadness and feel overwhelmed. I’m not good at living, coping or recreating in the cold and feel that cold is created for muffins and tea.

At the beginning of the cold we have the Advent season, a season of hope. And then that season ends and we move into a cold, grey January. We are in the middle. Not at the beginning where excitement resides, and not at the end where relief is evident. Right in the middle.

In the verse I quoted above I’ve often wondered why ‘hope’ is in the middle. There’s faith on the one side – faith in all it’s strength, setting a foundation. There’s love at the end – love as a benediction, a blessing, put at the end and recognized as the greatest of the three. Then there’s hope. And hope is in the middle. It is neither foundation nor benediction.

It’s place in the verse is symbolic of hope’s greatest gift, for hope is most needed in the middle. I need hope most when I am in the middle of a crisis. At the beginning my adrenaline kicks in and I run on autopilot doing what I need to do to survive.  Towards the end of a crisis, I know I have gone through the worst and I have survived. But in the middle? In the tunnel that is the middle I am at the end of myself. There seems to be no future and no help. This is where I need hope.

Hope in the middle of chemotherapy for cancer.

Hope in the middle of the nightmare of losing a child.

Hope in the middle of a messy divorce.

Hope in the middle of addiction recovery.

Hope in the middle of the night when echoes of loss or sadness elude sleep.

Hope in the middle of a move, the middle of the journey, the middle of life, the middle of chaos. Hope.

Hope in the middle demands that I rely on One greater than me. Hope in the middle demands faith and longs to know that God is love, it needs both faith and love to survive. As long as there is life, hope will be in the middle.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? ~ Romans 8:24