On this snowy day in Michigan,
We imagine spring.
Tendrils and damp earth,
Seeds sprouting with the warmth of soft spring sun –
But we don’t just imagine it
As if daydreams could bring winter to an end;
We plan for it, marking rows
Where carrots will dig straight furrows in the soil,
Fennel will sprout pale shoots of joy,
Tomatoes will bud and swell and blush.
Buried under banks of snow,
We tether our minds to Spring.
(Copyright Rachel Ann Hess, 2018)
It doesn’t feel like Christmas is three days away. Right now the snow is receding into murky puddles on the sidewalk and the ground looks like a flea-bitten dog covered in bare patches. After a week of white blizzards that made me hopeful for a snowy Christmas, the weather has turned warm and wet.
But more than the weather, my heart doesn’t feel Christmas-y. I’m still going about my day-to-day activities, with a few more fun events and background Christmas music thrown in, but nothing major. Nothing that arrests my heart.
I do this to myself every year. I keep waiting for some Christmas magic in the form of a beautiful song or a perfect snow or a meaningful memory made with family. I hope that will jolt my heart into a Christmas feeling. But I don’t think that’s the true answer, as nice as all of those things are.
How can we prepare our hearts for Christmas? To truly feel the magic and special-ness of this season?
Stop and take the time to see Jesus. To think of your life not in terms of to-do lists and cookies to make and events to go to and people to buy for, or even in terms of the “me time” you need or the fun things you’ll do on your break – but in terms of Jesus.
To feel His presence drawing near as you are still, praying and looking up through the blinds at the cloudy sky. To hear His invitation in the songs you sing. To think of Him when you’re tempted to be selfish or overwhelmed or sad during this season.
Put simply, the way to feel like it’s truly Christmas is to be aware of Jesus in each moment. To look for His nearness and hope for His coming. To hold on to the facets of His character that He’s revealing to you right now – as the God who is Near, Light of the World, Humble Man, Lover of your Soul – and seek to see that everywhere, in everything. To see the God who is already here, working in your everyday, normal life.
That will not only make Christmas feel more special, but will infuse every day with wonder – like a beautiful present picked just for you.
Snowflake dust dots my windshield
Like immigrants from another world
Trickling in through escape hatches
Of dark brooding clouds.
Some trees still cling to their green
though the space around them clears;
Slowly the grey, tired air
Drains color from their bones.
And yet, the sun still shines
And golden leaves dance on blacktop streets.
Why is the air sparkling
As if someone sprinkled glitter on the world?
Here I am, after three days of darkness and dampness, sitting at my living room window dappled with sunlight. A spot of blue sky melts away the clouds, and for the first time today I notice how fast the wind is moving. Everything is churning, turning, murmuring in the gusts that come and go like a woman’s sighs.
The sun almost blinds me now as it bursts forth more gloriously than before. The white gauzy drapes catch the light and glow with their own radiance, a thousand brilliant dots suspended in midair. My body breathes with the sun; deep inhales of joy as the light brightens and slow exhales of dreariness as it darkens and is covered again. And then I wait, questioning, for the air to brighten again with new hope.
Now darker clouds have blown over the sky, and I see the familiar drabness of rain. Since I have seen the light again I wish it would always stay. That my heart could always be lifted. But alas, it cannot be.
Yet my heart instructs me as a last glimmer of light shines through. How much would I appreciate light if I only knew it? Maybe for a time I would glory in it, but soon it would become as drab to me as these dull rainy fall days. If my life was only light or darkness, I wouldn’t know how to cultivate hope.
We are on the edge of a season of close skies and dark days. Yet my hope is already kindled by the light I have come through to get here. I know where these dark days lead. Into more glorious light.
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
made his light shine in our hearts
to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory
displayed in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6
I woke up to the close feeling of darkness. Not middle-of-the-night darkness, but something-is-going-to-happen darkness. As the morning progressed the sky has pressed closer and closer, until it finally pressed out the rain within it. The sky is trembling now as the rain sheets down, catches a breath, sheets down again.
I’m stuck here in half wonder, wishing I could experience this sweet summer rain more fully without getting my clothes dirty. Wishing I could pull back the curtain and the window and the wall and allow the rich smell of earthy steam to penetrate my senses, without getting a ton of bugs and water on my wood floor.
You’d laugh, but you’re probably wishing right along with me. Some part of you would love to dance in the rain, even as another part recoils in horror at the clean-up you’d have to do. Some part of you wishes you could experience that beauty fully without all the mess that inevitably comes with it.
I think this happens in every area of our lives. You don’t want to deal with the crush of rejection, so you say no to that potential first date. You want to see the mountains of Switzerland, but that pile of bills seems too high to even consider it. You’d love to start a family, but you’re too scared from all the pregnancy horror stories you’ve heard. You share in your husband’s dream of starting a farm, but you’re too skeptical to start making it become a reality.
But don’t you see? When you refuse these opportunities because you’re focused on the mess they’ll make, you miss seeing the beauty they create as well. You miss out on an opportunity to experience beauty – the rush of new love, the jaw-dropping glory of a far-off land, the closeness of a baby in your arms, the pride of living off your own land. Even just the warm summer rain splashing on your face.
I, for one, don’t want to miss any chance I have at experiencing beauty. Why? Because each glimpse of beauty is more than just a great experience or a wonderful feeling; it is a glimpse into the face of God. And that is worth all the stains and pains and tears that stand in the way of my pursuit.
Spring always surprises me. Despite its slow advance, there’s always a point, a day, a moment, when I look around and think, “Where did this lushness come from?”
Suddenly the world seems more full and thick and green with life. Bare patches break forth in blossoms, trees feel huge and hovering, the ground carpeted and inviting. That weedy dead vine sprouts beautiful leaves overnight, the bush I thought was just a nuisance turns out to be a lilac. What looked like little shoots of weeds actually becomes a garden, with hostas and ferns and daffodils and other flowers I haven’t even uncovered yet.
None of this I expected. None of it I could have known, having moved here in the late fall last year when all this beauty was faded or dead. It’s like I’m experiencing spring with fresh eyes, a new expectation I never had.
Too long I had been used to seeing the lilies pop up here, vinca over there, hyacinths and tulips in that corner of my childhood home. Even then I loved the anticipation, but it was always set, always planned. My delight was in finding what I already knew to be there. And now my delight is in finding what I never could have expected or imagined.
Isn’t God like that? There’s a subtleness about His presence that shows he’s always been there with us, even under the coldness of our winter. Every time we see Him show up, it’s really just the veil fluttering off our face for a moment. His presence is truly the most constant thing in our lives. Though sometimes we don’t feel his nearness, even with the evidence in our lives that he is there.
As we grow older and see winter fade into glorious spring time and time again, our certainty of him grows stronger and stronger. ‘Til even when we don’t see Him and we feel stuck in an eternal winter, we can hold on to the promise that Aslan is on the move. And we can grasp the hope of spring firmly with both hands.