I thought I knew what winter was.
I grew up in super mild climates. First, in South Texas and then, Western Washington #northwestisbest
As a kid in suburban Houston, winter was just the time of year the public pools closed and the tar on the streets took a short break from boiling. As a teenager, I lived where I live now, in the good ole’ PNW. It gets colder in the winter, but even a thin layer of ice shuts down the entire region. When that white stuff starts falling, better prepare for the end.
All that changed when I was 17 and lived one year in a tiny town in northern Montana. I realized in November of that year that everything I knew about winter had been a lie.
In winter, you leave your car running when you go in to the store so that it doesn’t freeze – and don’t get me started on the whole “plugging it in” thing. In winter, large bodies of water really do freeze over (ask me later about the time we built a fire on the ice). In winter, you cover everything except for your eyes while walking outdoors so that you don’t choke on the icy oxygen, not to mention that you’ve never actually had chapped lips until you’ve experienced a true winter. In winter, a real winter – in a town that experiences winter – there are no snow days. This was the saddest part of the whole affair for me. The school district in Eureka, Montana seemed to think that learning can still take place when it is -40° . . . I’m still not so sure.
Winter – a real winter – takes some serious preparation. And, if you haven’t experienced it before, it can be scary. I remember feeling trapped by the cold and snow and closed roads.
Just like we go through physical seasons, we go through seasons in our lives. Summer is smooth sailing . . . Fall is when things start to change . . . Spring is a time of new things and new life. But Winter, Winter feels a lot like death.
It’s when the quiet is overwhelming. In Winter, it’s easy to feel trapped with no clear escape. When everything that used to be alive seems dead . . . when everything that used to be filled with light seems ruled by darkness. When life itself is asleep – the long hibernation of the heart – and feels like it might not wake up.
It’s in the winters of my heart that I have learned this most important truth: I believe God is the Creator of Seasons – and I believe that God is Good. Therefore, every Season is Good. It’s not that the sucky things that happen in the hard seasons are Good – but God loves to take things that should defeat us and bring Good from them – even if, especially if, it looks different than we planned.
God designed the earth itself to be a picture of His ability to take dead things and resurrect them. In the very core of wildlife and plants and forests is the DNA of regeneration. In winter, everything seems impossibly quiet and lifeless. But then, spring comes. The ice melts with the sun and the ground itself warms back to life. Light wins, every time. The sun never stops shining, even behind the clouds. The earth itself awaits its awakening when the clouds clear and the skies open.
And, me? I am just a small part of this grand universe God has designed to tell His Story. I am one word, on one page, in one volume of a collection of books that the Earth could not even contain.
My purpose in Winter is to wait for the Spring. My purpose is to be a part of the story – whatever part God has designed me to be. When I trust in the Creator of the Seasons, I realize Winter is necessary to experience the freedom of Spring. The power of the resurrection only resonates when there is Death to defeat.
There is a letter that one of the leaders of the early Church of Jesus wrote to a young leader he had been teaching. At the end of that second letter that Paul wrote to Timothy, there is a short phrase that screamed at me from the page. Here’s what it said:
Do your best to get here before winter.
Do your best to get here before winter. Of course, Paul was just asking Timothy to hurry and get there so he didn’t get physically stuck away from him. It’s a simple and perfectly normal thing to say.
Perfectly normal. Get here before winter.
But, what if we all got to the place in our hearts in which we trust the God who created the Seasons before Winter? What if we were prepared to experience what feels like death because we believe in the promise of New Life – whatever that may mean? What if, we did our best to get to a place of surrender before Winter?
Wouldn’t it hurt less to breathe in the Winter air if we got to that place before it came? Let’s get there . . . before winter.