winter

Spring

First it snowed. The next day it was warm and breezy and we played outside in the sunshine on the swings. The day after that it snowed again. Today it’s raining.

That has been April so far. Spring so far. One step forward; two steps back.

My heart has been doing an identical dance because inside I’ve felt a kind of winter for a little too long. And while I sense I might be in the last gray days, they haven’t all felt like a forward march.

I’ve sometimes thought of spring as a coy, young thing. She’s a little shy, coming ever closer down the path but darting behind every tree as she draws near, peeking out, only one eye showing.

Or as a tease in a game of hide and seek. While I stand quiet in the woods attentive to every rustle of leaves underneath her feet, she moves from hiding place to hiding place. At first the game is thrilling as the giggles ring off of everything, but in time it turns wearisome and I find myself sighing and then muttering, “Enough already.”

Or as someone indecisive or even capricious. One day she’s this and the next day she’s that and the day after that she’ll be something else entirely.

Maybe that thinking originates in the pastels and petals, the scents that flit by with the breeze, the sudden storm that’s just as suddenly gone, and the gangly and helpless new creatures. All these signs of new life feel so delicate and ephemeral.

But I’m starting to think spring is a soldier.

The garden and the grass arm themselves with sharpened spears to pry open the hardened ground. The delicate flower must first burst open the branch with a bud. And marshaling heat enough to chase away the months of cold is a terrible feat. Spring comes in bits and pieces because she’s only just beginning to break through enemy lines. Some days she’s beaten back, and some days she takes ground. She soldiers on.

As I anticipate the coming of a kind of spring in my own heart… I might need to fight.

Blessings In Branches

Nests.png

Cold and sunless and slushy and windy and colorless. Winter is here, and it seems inclined toward proving right all the disparaging remarks everyone's been making about it.

But we woke up on a recent Sunday morning to a blanket of snow, just enough to give everything the veneer of white but not enough to obscure the pointed blades of grass that poked up from underneath. But it kept coming. Karen and the kids and I sat at the kitchen table nestled in the corner of windows that looks out on the towering maple in the back yard. Our hands wrapped around cups of tea, cocoa, and coffee, respectively, as we willed their warmth to transfer to our chilled fingertips. We marveled as the snowflakes grew bigger and more beautiful, becoming the kind of snow that covers Christmas cards. My dad has always called those kinds of snowfalls "Hollywood snow," and it was enough to cause Karen to exclaim, "We're in a snow globe!"

Sunday is a day of rest around our house. A day for playing games, reading a book (if a quiet corner can be found in this boisterous house), taking naps, and sharing meals with one another and the occasional friend. That particular Sunday I also knew would need to be a day to run. Running and rest seem unlikely friends, but I knew that something about whisking through the woods near our home, the snowflakes falling and my breath coming out in puffs of ephemeral fog would be rest for my soul, the part of me that needed it most.

So as the rest of the house tucked in for a long winter's nap I donned running apparel and my warmest knit cap. (Rhyme intended)

Throughout the first quarter hour I was sure I had made a mistake. I hadn't run for almost a week because temperatures had plunged so low, and my lackluster pace through the woods was feeling like anything but rest.

Finally, I fell into a rhythm, and I was able to look up and enjoy the view. Not long after, I began noticing all the nests in the trees. Everywhere I looked the bare branches held birds' nests. All summer long they'd been hidden by thick canopies of green, but now they were unmistakeable. Nests are often symbols of safety, security, and warmth, but as I passed underneath them I realized that I was finding them menacing somehow. I wondered why.

They were these bundles of leaves and splayed twigs set on barren branches, silhouetted black against the grey sky. The winter chill had sent all the birds seeking warmer climes, and now the nests stood unprotected and abandoned, standing out like tumors in the trees, mere caricatures of the vitality they once held. And the trees were as bare as bare can be. They were themselves with no adornment. They had been stripped. And only then could be seen all that lay in their branches. Only then could one see without obscurity what belonged and what did not.

I paused for a moment and gazed up at the branches swaying in the cold, creaking and clacking against one another in the wind-whipped snowfall. Then I ran on.

Truth be told, I am still in summer. My life is good in so many ways right now. I feel fortunate and full. But we all have our winters. Mine will come. It's not pessimism. Just life. And I'm writing this down because I need to remember. I feel like that's what God whispered to me, the restfulness he gave me on my run. He told me to remember. When my leaves fall, and my branches are laid bare to creak in the winter winds, I need to remember that while there is obvious blessing in the golds and greens of summer, there are also blessings in branches that are barren. Only in winter can we see what has made its home in us. Only when we're stripped bare—seeing what we're really made of—can we decide what will stay and what must go.

Hibernation

Winter Sleeves

Winter comes in with a deepening chill. The wind blows the rain, sideways and cold, painting everything with droplets of grey. The sunshine is hemmed in on all sides and obligated to shorten its tenure.

Every year I feel it. I'm finding I feel it more deeply than I realized.

Maybe I'm a bear.

I was reading the other day about bears. Common thought says that bears hibernate for the winter, but some scientists argue that their “hibernation” is not as deep or as physiologically altering as other animals who truly hibernate such as ground squirrels, bats, snakes, and other creatures.

Instead, the bear version of hibernation is referred to as “winter sleep” or, more condescendingly, “winter lethargy.”

Now I'm certain I'm a bear.

Winter is not the time when I earn my keep or demonstrate my creative prowess. I am perfectly content spending the winter months holed up in my lair to read, rest, and reflect.

And I've decided to stop beating myself up about it. I am forthright on my belief that the life of an artist must be a disciplined one, one in which the artist must create by sheer will when genius is elusive. My creative life has been changed by that thinking, and that thinking will not change. And yet…discipline must also capitulate with the natural seasons of living.

Every living thing must rest so that it might be revitalized.

With springtime come the buds of green. The air is laced with the fragrance of petals that bloom on the trees and flutter in the breeze. The days inch longer and longer, giving the sunshine a little room to stretch and breathe.

Likewise, each spring I find in myself new life. My inner world is revived and, somehow, sweet. I find wonder and am inspired by the smallest things, and my energy is renewed.

I'm learning that a period of hibernation—a period of outward dormancy and inner renewal—is right and good. Just don't sleep through the spring; it's too beautiful to miss.