seasons

A New Year and a Forever God

This is my first post as regular contributor for Women Encouraged. I’m delighted and honored to partner with them in the intention to put worthwhile words out there that point to the best ones. Wrote this piece desiring to remind us of the timeless hope we have!

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There is a sense of wonder that comes with the new year. The first days of January show up filled with daring hope. A fresh, new page on your wall calendar feels inviting and pregnant with possibility. Plans beg to spring forth. This is the time when we declare New Year’s resolutions, before the rhythms of our everyday life trample over them.

 

These coming days will witness changes in ourselves and those around us. Children will grow a few inches. Students will finish another year, and some will graduate and go on to the next phase in their lives. For some of us, there will be a few more grey hairs, and each of us will celebrate another trip around the sun on one of those calendar pages.

 

There will also be unforeseen events: an endeavor that didn’t flourish as we’d hoped, a diagnosis we didn’t expect, a move we didn’t plan, or even good news that forces change. These will feel like an unwelcome invitation to walk down a path we don’t know - one that isn’t marked ahead of time on the calendar.

 

Yet this unknown is as much a gift as the wonder we feel on January 1st. It will hold an opportunity to walk by faith on ground we don’t know and can’t see, made possible because we are known by the God who knows and sees everything, holding all the days of our lives in the palm of His hand.

 

For a few days, the newness of the year takes our breath away before it quickly becomes old to us. And in the midst, there is a different new that is out of the ordinary. It happens within us,

Slow Is Good

A few months ago, a realization caught me off guard, only because my day slowed down enough for me to see it.

I was reading and taking notes. My work felt worthwhile and busy. A few hours in, feeling tired, I stretched my back and looked up. In that pause, seeing my tiny apartment cleaned and orderly, I remembered when I vacuumed and did laundry earlier that week. It’s work that feels tedious and that God had been teaching me to view as an offering. A way to love my household well and honour him. I realized how the Lord of the universe makes Himself just as present in the mundane, as in the extraordinary. All moments are lived in his presence. We may not feel it, but He sees us and hears us, always.

It’s not the sort of thought I would have had in the past, simply because I would have powered through the reading and studying as quickly as I could to move to the next thing. Same with laundry or cleaning. Furthermore, I would not have viewed folding laundry or cleaning as something to do for the Lord.

Slow is good. It creates a pause, which allows for quiet, unseen moments to be seen by us, and remember they are seen by God too.

Slowing down enough to stay still and hold a quiet pause is hard. It doesn’t come naturally, at least not to me.  I think we often feel we can’t afford it. After all, time is always running somewhere, and we are usually behind it. There is something rushed about our rhythm.

In this season of redefining worthy and successful in light of God’s Word rather than my own narratives, a gentler pace has been essential. It shifts me to a slower gear, facilitating that breathing room to exhale. In that breath, I lift my eyes from the ordinary and glimpse into the grace of the moment.

When you think of the word slow, what comes to mind? Give it a moment before reading on.

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These are the thoughts that come to my mind: not fast enough; two steps behind; a long wait; not efficient. Basically, all negative connotations that bring frustration to any given day. And I confess, in my mind, the list ended with “not first.” See my point? It evidences so much of the narratives that have in the past dominated my thought-life. It’s interesting that I did not equate it with steady, gradual or leisurely. All valid synonyms according to my thesaurus.

Over the past year and a half, I have been reading the Bible in chronological order. The experience has been deeply enriching, and eye-opening. I purposefully try to let my mind steep in one book and story at a time and look for how is God’s character revealed in the story. What is important to him, and his interaction with humanity. Throughout both the old and the new testaments, and especially the gospels, I’ve noticed that God is never in a rush.

There are plenty of messy situations where circumstances are hard. And they may call for swift action on the part of the people facing them. But a rushed existence is not the call, nor is it God’s pace. In fact, quite the opposite. Abraham had to wait fifteen years between receiving the promise of a child and Isaac’s birth. After the call by Jesus on the road to Damascus, it would be another three years before Paul would formally begin his ministry. Waiting is often part of the equation with God. And, in the waiting, we feel the narrative slow down. In the slower pace faith is tested and refined; the soul is trained for living.   

I often catch myself acting like life must be taken in big gulps at a certain speed to show it’s going somewhere. This familiar passage in Ecclesiastes shows in the very words a rhythm for living. The fact that there is a time for each activity marks a space between them. We’re not meant to live all moments at once. Or skip through them to get somewhere faster. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens

The human experience happens in morsels and sound bites. And God can be invited into each one of these. There are new mercies for each day’s worth. When I’m in a hurry, I remember to invite God mainly because I need him to finish up quickly, not because I want him.

I’m so grateful for the gift of slowing down enough to find grace in each moment, especially in the unseen ordinary ones that are so easy to dismiss. He is working in my life through those, likely far more than the big events I look to as markers.

 

 

 

 

Dying to Self

Since 2012, I live in a city where each of all four seasons is experienced deeply. It is one of my favourite gifts received through immigration. I am not poetic, deeply is indeed correct. Winter can go as low as -35 C (that’s -31 Fahrenheit for my American readers), while summer temperatures can trampoline all the way to the other end of the thermometer at 40 C (104 F). Autumn is a beautiful carpet of crunchy brown and red leaves, that quickly turns frigid. A prequel to a long cold winter. Spring is often a wet mess of rain, melting snow, cool temperatures and then a magnificent show of colour when least expected.

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Winter is, if you know me at all, my beloved season. I’ve lived in countries with seasons, but Montreal’s winter is its own category. I’ve never seen anything so majestic in a metropolitan city. It’s winter showing off beauty seen on a mountain while skiing. For weeks on end, a death-like slumber of white covers everything like a blanket. The same streets that only months before you walked wearing Birkenstocks, now you must struggle through feet of snow with arctic boots and coat on. Nature is dead, it seems. Trees are grey and naked. Parks are colourless. It’s hard to recall the rainbow of leaves and flowers of previous seasons.

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Each activity needed for nature to live and thrive is allotted a time. An appointed space in the calendar for a specific purpose to enable the whole to operate. The rhythm of winter, spring, summer and fall, is a promise of hope straight from Genesis: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” Genesis 8:22

In other words, while there is life, there will be seasons to sustain that life. The sustaining includes a series of events by which life must diminish, weaken, and die, to then regenerate and bloom again. To be fruitful. To be born again.

I think of the seasons of life. The entrance into a different chapter requiring new rhythms. Motherhood. College. Marriage. New job. Divorce. Moving. The death of a loved one. Growing up. Growing old. Like in nature, to enter a new stage of life usually means the ceasing of another. Something is given up to gain something. The college student gains more freedom and gives up the comfort of the familiar. Motherhood is an invitation to live for someone else and no longer is your time yours. When you marry, mine becomes ours, I is now we, and so goes for the calendar, the budget, and the remote control.

Mostly these are small deaths unto the self. But, what does it mean to die to oneself? Perhaps the better question is, what does it feel like? Sometimes it feels like a disappointment.  Or giving up a preference. It often feels like the unwanted middle seat in a row of three of an airplane. Uncomfortable. Not our first choice. Can we take this back, please? - we ask.

I think of my husband who every day dies a hundred little deaths to put me, his wife, first. I think of the way a parent will forgo personal comfort to provide for their child.

It is both simple and so hard to die to oneself. To let that seed of desire and pride to fall and crack open, be rendered small, that I may grow into someone that understands the cross better. It’s not our natural bend. None of us begin our day thinking of ways to give up what we want, go last in line, give up our seat and stand on our tired feet, and trust that we will still feel full after giving up our space. Because a small part of me dies, and I don’t want to.

But if a healthy thriving life implies dying that we may be made fruitful, then we need help outside of ourselves.

These words of Jesus strike me: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24 (ESV). The New International Version says, “it remains only a single seed,” as in fruitless.

If I remain all of me, my desires and my will unhindered, I remain only a seed. No fruit. Like a kernel of wheat, when I am broken, my life is fertile.

Some seasons feel like we are given more than we can bear, maybe because we are. Not to defeat us per say, but to help us need a Saviour more than we need to have our way.

Like nature, seasons shift us dramatically from one state to another. Who we are and what supports it, falls apart. It’s like a seed. It must hit the ground. It must break open. Then it will germinate, take root. And in due time, the old patterns of thought, old habits we like a little too much, give way to new ones. That is the Master Gardener pruning and cultivating the heart, that out of a single seed broken it may yield life. That’s what Jesus is doing in your life and mine through the season we are facing now and the ones to come. And it is ultimately good. Because He is good.