Blackberry Winter

It’s the kind of weather that I’m convinced will be the norm in Heaven:  Cool evenings accented by a warm fire and just-warm-enough days that allow us to wear a light jacket when the skies are overcast and shorts when the sun is out.  The pansies still bloom happily, peeking their cheerful heads over the rims of pots and dancing brightly around the hanging basket on the shepherd’s hook.

Though the tomato harvest will likely start later because of these cool temperatures, I can’t complain.  This is my weather.  This cool breeze as I sit alone on the porch swing is what makes me absolutely love life here in Tennessee.

Today I drove out to the farm where my middle daughter has spent the last twelve Wednesdays doing what she loves:  Art, sewing, and playing with the colt and the chickens and the lamb.  The farmer’s big dog appears to be pregnant and lumbers about in the tall grass as the children run wild and play “Tree.”  It was bittersweet for me, as I love the drive out there every week and today is her final day on the farm.  Next year she enters the 6th grade and we have found a wonderful tutorial for her and the younger two.  It is also out in the country.  There are chickens and a garden to dabble in while the children take breaks from learning.  They will love it.  They would start tomorrow, if they could, but it is always hard to say goodbye to something that has been a blessing.

Change.

God is always moving us towards the next thing, isn’t He?  I tell my kids He loves us too much to let us stay put, and I believe it.  Contentment is good, complacency is not. Change keeps us on our toes and reminds us of our dependency on Him if we will allow it.  Change is a good teacher.

Though I am enjoying this Blackberry Winter with all that is in me…this cold snap that I didn’t expect yet am relishing while it lasts…change is inevitable.   I know the heat of summer will come soon and we will all be sweating and jumping in the pool for relief from the sun.  The trees’ bright green will grow tired and the grass will trade it’s delightful lime hue for a deeper shade in order to toughen up and survive the August that is to come. Some change we expect, some is thrown at us.  But, again, if we are teachable we can see the purpose in it.

Am I teachable?  As I prepare for this next season, homeschooling 4 of my 5 children (one in HIGH SCHOOL) and diving into a tutorial with the three younger ones for the first time, what is God going to want me to learn?  As the seasons of life pass by and my teenagers prepare to grow up and drive away, can I appreciate the good and pick it out from amongst the thorns of the hard?

I struggle, sometimes, to enjoy now.  I look back on the years when we were younger and life was simpler and I miss those long, sweet days.  Then I remember Paul’s admonition in Philippians 3:13…to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead.  I think I sometimes make an idol out of the past, especially the good parts.  I want that sweet time to last forever, but it didn’t.  It can’t.  Like this Blackberry Winter, it was a beautiful season of respite and joy.  But the season ahead, though heated and full of struggles and growing pains, is beautiful as well.  I have to look up, stop and breathe and take in the sunrises and sunsets of each day and remember that God is on his throne and every part of this season of life is being used to bring about His will, not mine.

Goodness, that is so hard.

So today I did what I have said I would do all throughout this spring but never had.  I stopped and pulled over into the parking lot of a little country church and took a photo of my girl with her handmade quilt with a field of wildflowers behind her.  I breathed in the scent of spring and didn’t hurry to drive home.  Then I planted that white rose by the mailbox and stuck my nose into a magnolia blossom, nearly fainting from the beautiful perfume that filled it.  And then I sat here, on my porch swing, to write because I just haven’t taken the time to do much writing lately and tomorrow is our last day of school for this year.  There are leftovers in the fridge and my son drove his little brother to basketball practice, giving me this time to do what my heart needed.

My boys, alone in a car.  What I wouldn’t give to be privy to their conversations.

Yes, there is sweetness in every season.

 

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Hope.

Spring is springing and suddenly it is cold.  Frost clings to the bright green buds and frustrated kids run to the car with their breath hanging in clouds around their faces.

This is not what we expected.

The bright sun is deceptive.  One step outside and we are driven back to grab a sweater and the youngest one whines, “It’s COLD, Mom.”

Yep.  That it is.

We saw snowflakes last night on the first day of Spring and not one of my five children was happy about it.  Why?  Because our minds have shifted and we have been in full-on shorts and flip-flop mode for a solid two weeks.  No one likes to backtrack to Winter.

Holy Week has begun and, though the stores are filled with flowers and bunnies and chicks,the cold has most likely driven the real critters inside for shelter.

But maybe this isn’t a bad thing.

My focus, during this Lenten season, has been off at best.  The busyness of life and kids and sports and homeschooling and allergies and therapies has made focusing on what I intended to focus on very difficult.  I lie in bed, intending to open my Bible, and find myself scrolling mindlessly through Facebook.  I fell asleep once this past week and my phone nearly hit me in the face.

How embarrassing.

I did not grow up observing Lent.  Easter was about bunnies and eggs and candy, never about Jesus.  When I accepted Him as my Savior at the age of 21 it changed everything and holidays took on new life.

But this year, during this season of Lent, I have felt cold.

Distractions have threatened my intimacy with God and I am saddened at the wasted time that I will never, ever be able to get back.

So this week, I am going to search for the warmth.  In the midst of an unexpected winter, I am going to walk forward and remember that Spring is here, even in the cold.

The flowers are blooming, even in the cold.

The sun is shining, even in the cold.

God is our shelter from the cold.

Let’s hunker down and let Him cover us with His warmth.  Let’s turn off the screens and open the real, crinkly pages of our Bibles.  Let’s focus on this season, this week, and what it meant for all of us…how the long-ago sacrifice of Jesus STILL saves just like it did that first day after He rose from the dead.  Let’s put our hope in Him once again, remembering the joy and wonder of our salvation.

Let’s go to our Father and find warmth and comfort and purpose and HOPE.

Yes, hope.  Because without the empty tomb we would have none.

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Almost.

Fat buds await on the leaf-empty branches as we kiss Old Man Winter goodbye.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, sir.

I sat on my deck in shorts yesterday.  SHORTS.  My pasty white skin glowed shockingly in the afternoon sun and my beautiful brown kids laughed at mama.  Today we motored through our homeschool assignments and tested the waters of the pool for the first time in weeks.  Delighted that it was “warm enough” my babes leapt in with abandon and swam to their hearts’ content.

It is a good day.

Winter was cold and hard.  “Real” snow broke up the overcast grey misery for a few delightful days but, still, we longed for warm.    We have been counting the weeks until shorts and flip-flops and the lake and freedom.  We grew tired of “finding things to do” because the weather was nasty.  Now there is running with abandon and the splashing and giggling of children gracing the near future.

Oh, I know.  Winter is not over yet.  There are bound to be some cold, if not freezing, days ahead.  But we have been given a taste of what is to come, which will make the remaining cold snaps more bearable.

Hope springs eternal.  Summer springs after the cold of today.  Beauty and warmth awaits and our good, good Father is so gracious to remind us that the bitter cold is not how it ends.

It is just a season.

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Weary.

The battle.  You know the one.  It has been going on for weeks, months, years.  It has worn you down and stolen your joy and brought you to your knees.  It has caused you to doubt that God is listening, much less caring.  You want to run away.

Prayers bounce off the ceiling.  Hospitals, counselors, doctors, lawyers, they all are getting a piece of you but still the battle rages.  There is no end in sight and no assurance that there will even be an end to it on this side of the veil.  It has become very, very hard to hope.

Despair is chasing you down like a hungry wolf.  You don’t think you can run one more step.

How do we live like this?  How do we press on when we are pressed?  What forces us out of bed in the morning and keeps us moving when all we want to do is anything but what we are doing?

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Hope is like the sunset.  Always, somewhere, there is glory and beauty even though it may be beyond our line of sight.  The day has worn us down and we feel like it will never end, but then we look up and there…

in the distance…

brilliant colors creep up from the horizon and illuminate the sky as the day draws to a close.

Because every day does draw to a close.

Every day we are reminded to lay down our burdens and rest.

Our eyes take in the glory and, suddenly, we remember we are not alone.

The battle rages, yet we live.  Our hearts hurt, yet God draws near.  When we think we cannot bear it any longer, God rejoices at our helplessness because He can now help.  Our rescuer swoops in and lifts us up out of the pit and paints the sky a million brilliant colors and strengthens us for one more day.

One more day.

He is near.

Stop trying to fight alone.

Necessary Winter.

The morning dew is frozen on the still-green grass.  Winter has been delightfully late in the deep south this year.  Many of us have enjoyed the warm temperatures and even hoped that maybe, just maybe, cold weather will skip us altogether.

I drove my teenagers to school this morning, my heart heavy over hard news.  This news triggered memories of a precious friend who went home to Jesus almost five years ago.  I examined my life.  How would I be remembered if I died today?  In the difficult season of life this past year I have become so self-focused.  Often I find myself muttering, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

“This is too hard.”

“I have no idea what I am doing here.  I am failing.”

Tears stung my eyes as I turned into my neighborhood.  The woods are beautiful today, backlit by the sun and the grass was covered in a million frost-diamonds that glistened and beckoned me to stop and get out my camera.

An inner voice spoke:  “Try, just try to capture this.  There is a lesson here.”

Last week there was a mosquito in my pantry.  I laughingly joked to my husband that we need a good, hard freeze to get rid of the critters.  Today, as I knelt down close to the frozen green grass I saw what I needed to see today.

The freezing days are necessary for us to truly enjoy the warmth of Spring.  If the “critters” are not dealt with…frozen literally to death…they will torment us with a vengeance and make it difficult to enjoy the beauty of green grass and dogwood trees.  We will be so busy batting away insects that we might be tempted to hide indoors.

So on this frozen morning, as I remember the joy on my friends’ face as she neared her last day, as I hear her voice saying, “God is so close, Jeanine.  I can feel His presence.  It is like nothing I have ever felt before,” I also remember that her joy, the light in her eyes, was the result of suffering.

As I pray for those who suffer today and as I look hard at my life and seek to remove the plank(s) from my eye I will choose to be thankful for the frozen grass, for the hard death of winter.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.  Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.  Revelation 3:18-19

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Beginning Anew

I am a sucker for a sunset.  Maybe it is because no two are ever the same.  Maybe it is because I am not an early morning person so I don’t always appreciate the beauty of a sunrise in my pre-coffee state.

Maybe it is because the end means a beginning is coming.

That we are not guaranteed tomorrow is true.  At least, not in this life.  But so much more lies ahead than our finite imaginations can picture.

Eternity.

The word feels like rest when I speak it.

In previous writings I have been restless, trying to find myself.  Trying to figure out exactly what I want to say and why I am here in the cyber-world.  How do I glorify Him while writing about me?  In the words of Father Tim, “Therein lies the rub.”

There are a billion and one blogs out there.  (I guess now there are a billion and two.)  But I want this one to be different.  This time, I am looking up before my fingers tap away at the keyboard.  I am not writing on a schedule or for anyone else.  I am writing because there is beauty to behold in these woods.  I am writing with an eye looking ahead to eternity and choosing to see how God reveals glimpses of forever in the everyday.  So often I find myself looking down, weighted by the hamster-wheel that tries to entrap me, just taking the next step and forgetting to look up.

That is no way to live.

There is poetry in every sunset.  As a chapter closes on my day, a new one is opening somewhere yet unseen.  Somewhere in the vast parts of this God-formed world it is always sunrise.  Someday soon, in the indescribable beauty of the New Jerusalem, we will stand together before the Risen One.  I am writing forward to that Day.  May these words bring glory to the King.

Let’s begin, shall we?

Look up.