This Winter has probably been one of the most challenging seasons of my life—husband in a mid-life ministerial vision crisis, once again our family is geographically displaced, my seemingly unused education coupled with health limitations. I have been wrestling with God for purpose and blessing. Can you relate? All of us walk through the winter of our vision when nary a green sprout can be found and the dream of summer and vitality are blanketed with layers of cold hard snow.
We embarked 20 years ago from seminary brimming with vision and purpose. We had been excellently trained in God’s word and as marriage therapists. What could hold us back? That first year was hard applying the praxis of our experience and education in overpriced southern California. We watched as fellow seminarians landed prime ministerial opportunities, bought homes, raised families and seemed to flourish, while we seemed to sink year after year into deeper debt and, although we touched a few lives, seemed to have minimal impact to what we had longed to see. Our hopes were deferred year after year. Where was Spring?
An unplanned moved to Washington state this year brought us face to face with Winter, literally. Our bank account dried up. Our homeschooled children began public school. My health deteriorated. Our vision blurred. Day by day the white oaks, aspens and maples morphed from green to red to yellow. Temperatures dropped to levels I hadn’t experienced since teaching in Ukraine in 1994. And most bleak, our vision waned. The poet in Proverbs 13:12 tells us that Hope deferred makes the heart sick. Sick indeed. Oh how we longed for dreams fulfilled and looking around felt no purpose whatsoever. Where was He? Had we been abandoned? Remembering the sins of our lives before Christ, was this karma or divine retribution? We had longed to serve God in ministry and felt like complete failures.
Outside the terrain was dead and bleak. No part of me wanted to leave the house, the warm comfort of my studio. It was all I could do to bring myself to drive to the gym every morning. And then it began to snow. Day after day I curled up in an overstuffed chocolate brown leather chair, cup of robust black coffee in hand, and simply stared out the expansive family room window as large flakes drifted softly fell. Day after day it snowed, making me feel more and more closed in, isolated from all as snow piled up. Even driving became dangerous. My hope felt dormant.
I had been interceding in the spirit for Truth for quite some time—Truth in our politics, in society, in the church, and of course, myself. What is Truth? In John 14:6 Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. His Word has been the bedrock of my life regardless of my feelings.
For the first time since beginning jewelry design I had unlimited time to create—the kids were in school and my husband found part time work. In the studio as I created, I found myself listening to hymns of worship, Holy, Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty…It is Well with my Soul…In Christ Alone my Hope is Found… I Need you More…Great is your Faithfulness…and designing. Mac Powell told me to cry out to Jesus. I leaned into the Word and at times tears streamed down my face as I remembered.
Countless scriptures exhort us to remember.
I turned His promises over and over in my mind as a lover reads and rereads her love’s time worn inked letters of passion and promise. Remembering. He knows the number of hairs on my head (Luke 12:17). I Corinthians 1:9-11 tells me He is faithful. Philippians 2:13-14 declared, it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Oh, and how encouraging that He takes all things and works them for my good and His glory (Romans 8:28). That meant the icky things, the mistakes, the sins and failures. Could he even use them? Yes, he can and additionally promised me in Jeremiah 29:11,
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
In meditating over the Word I came back to my gardening days—the laborious soil cultivation, planting, daily watering, and hoping for the day a first flicker of green would break through the unpromising surface. I remembered Christ’s teachings, that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. I began to see the snow, the bleak winter, the seemingly dead dreams, as a seasonal component to the promise—the promise of a Hope and a Future. In allowing my dreams to be planted and die as that seed, to be watered by His Word, I stood on Truth. Ecclesiastes 3 told me:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
This was a time to be still, a time to heal, to die.
I began to find great beauty in the falling flakes—they covered a multitude of ugliness, broken tiles, scrappy jalopies, a multitude of imperfection—beauty from brokenness. It was okay to cry.
I discovered how the snow prepares the soil for spring planting. And I began to HOPE again. Hope for a future, for the promise, for dreams long deferred, for Truth. I found courage in Truth, not my accomplishments or potential, but Truth. If He said it, will it not happen? In my simple minded humanity who was I to question or stomp my feet and scream at the wise all-knowing multi-dimensional Father when in the silence of winter, He didn’t allow Summer to prematurely manifest itself??
Hope is cultivated on Truth.
As Paul wrote, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” This is truth. My father used to tell me that feelings are deceptive. He was right. I don’t always feel pretty or significant. But the Truth is that I am beautiful in Christ. Truth says that Christ died for me. Truth is He knows the number of my hairs, which as all women know, changes hourly, so He is also intimately aware of every dream and hope I cherish. I don’t feel significant. The Truth declares that He has a plan and purpose. I don’t feel worthy. The Truth responds that Christ died for ME.
My husband and I began intentionally declaring God’s Truth over our lives this year. Purpose. Wholeness. Freedom. We are choosing to cultivate HOPE. Cultivation is intentional; it’s not merely a feeling of warm fuzzies or heroism, but a choice. In the winter of my spirit, the apparent dormancy of my soil is necessary. He is perfect in all of His ways, even Winter.
The beautiful featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonki for The Cultivating Project.
Mary has cherished life-long literary dreams coupled with a passion for ministry, all of which lead her to study English literature and later theology and counseling in seminary. She has been designing artisan jewelry for eight years while homeschooling son Ian and daughter Julianna. She and her husband Mark Miller have been in ministry for the past thirteen years in San Diego and temporarily moved to Washington with their cat Lord Peter Wimsey while Mark finalized his dissertation. Dr. Miller is now pursuing ministerial opportunities nation-wide. Mary enjoys off-the-wall humor, gardening, cooking, and curling up with anything penned by Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, or Jane Austen.