I dropped a ring down my sink a few weekends ago. The drain in my bathroom has no stopper, so as I was slipping my rings off and placing them in a jar, the ring I purchased on a whim last summer slipped out of my hands, bounced onto the white porcelain, and fell straight down the rabbit hole.
The ring has a pattern of four small lines that repeats around the band. When I found it, I was wandering through stores in the domestic departures area of the Houston airport, waiting for my last flight back to Florida.
There were a lot of rings on the rack, but this one stuck out, simple as it is. I tried it on and bought it immediately. I needed the reminder.
In Scripture, the number four is a symbol for seasons – these are the rhythms we recognize that exist in our natural lives because they echo what is true in the spirit. Seasons. Chapters. Change. Growth. Death. Rebirth.
It is an Ebenezer of sorts, a reminder in a dry season about the promise of rain.
I have spent most of my life living in places with one season, so my experiential understanding of seasonal change is pretty stunted. A childhood spread out across Florida will do that to a person. For a few brief years, however, my family and I lived in northeastern Pennsylvania when I was still young, tucked away in a wooded neighborhood at the end of a gravel road on the side of a mountain in a township that barely appears on maps.
That autumn, we saw leaves fade and then fall for the first time with our own eyes. Talk about magic. And then the winter came, and the sun disappeared by 4:00 pm and everything was cold but somehow still magic.
Months passed. The magic evolved into piles of muddied snow taller than a tractor lining the sides of the road, shoveled neatly in the faraway spaces of the Super Walmart parking lot. It lasted a long time.
I think about this now, years later, while I am listening to the rain whisper renewed promise to the ground in a country I have since adopted as my own. As a girl, I would sit by the iced windowsill in the mornings before we left for school, scanning the dead grass for a flicker of wildflowers. It was my strange way of reminding the earth that I hadn’t forgotten about spring.
Do the trees ever worry? I ask myself this now. Do the they panic when the winter is longer than the humans anticipated, when the people are grumbling about still having to salt the roads and scrape ice off the windshield? When no one can see what’s growing inside, do they worry?
I think about spring, about the manifested promise of rebirth. It’s part of our life cycle, the old fading away as it welcomes the newness of life.
Winter is for waiting.
I have seen many people pass through our ministry since I arrived just over two years ago. There have been many seasons between then and now. It has been a formative part of my young adult years, to say the least. I mean, who loves goodbyes? They are a delicate thing – intricate in nature – easily startled and even more easily made bitter by the wrong type of perspective.
All this time I thought that saying goodbye well was a science. Follow this formula, and find this result. Measure it out, and the result can be replicated – safely behind glass, calculated and crisp. I was counting heavily on methodology and ritual.
Now I see it another way. I am finding that saying goodbye well is instead an art form. It never looks the same twice. I am learning to depend on the mercy of it, to co-exist with the risk involved in the end of one season and the beginning of another. This fact leaves me both comforted and overwhelmed.
I, myself, am not going anywhere. On the contrary, my roots here in Guatemala are growing deeper. But I feel the winds of change picking up again as our ministry develops and some of my friends make way for new places.
For me, all this time, the trick has been to find the new season when the setting stays the same, when I’m still walking the same streets to the grocery store and going to the same coffee shops for a bit of silence.
God knows the difficulty I’ve had with this very discipline in my life. It’s easier for me to rip out the roots and replant. It’s shoddy and lame, but my very natural human tendency. In a fight or flight scenario, give me some wings and call me a bird because my inclination is to fly away as quickly as possible.
He’s teaching me to stick things out, increasing my endurance.
And, as such, I am discovering something that has felt like a secret all along: I’m stronger than I look.
I have a C.S. Lewis quote hanging on my door that my best friend from childhood drew out for me in the most beautiful calligraphy. It reads, “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
Sometimes I catch myself staring at it, sitting on the prospect of such a declaration. It’s mysterious, but somehow true. I look back on my life, flip through the pages and chapters, and find that yes – somehow things were always better with the next step.
Even when they became worse before they became better, I see now that they were still better because I wasn’t stagnant. I was moving in some direction. I was making decisions. And even when I wasn’t so actively making decisions, I had my ear to the ground, waiting for God to speak.
It’s still a decision, to actively remain still before the Lord.
It’s still movement, to wait.
In Matthew 5, Jesus is teaching the disciples and there is a framework that he uses several times. “You have heard this …” he says, “but I tell you this.” It’s interesting. I wonder from whom the disciples heard these ‘original truths,’ let’s call them. It’s not so hard to guess, though, because I don’t think we’re that far removed from such practices either. Each culture has plenty of its own wisdom, passed on through parents, teachers, religious institutions, neighbors, coaches, family members, and all the others that make up the villages of our lives.
Everything Jesus says in that chapter is seemingly backwards. I think about when this actually happened, and realize that the reason Jesus was teaching this to the disciples and not to the masses is because his audience had to be with people who walked with him so they could trust what he was saying, even if it felt backwards at first.
“You have heard that you should not commit adultery, but I tell you that if you even look upon a woman with lust in your heart, you’ve had an affair.”
“You have heard that you should love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you love your enemies and pray for those who oppress you and make life extremely difficult for you.”
I can imagine the disciples, wide-eyed and perhaps a bit skeptical. But what he was saying is true. It produces good fruit. Think about it. In both dichotomies, which reality produces more dependency upon the Lord?
You have heard that you should hold on tightly to any good thing you come across and never let it go because life is not always so kind, but I tell you that if you let it go at the appointed time, better things are ahead as a direct result of My kindness.
Sounds crazy, I know. But which propels me towards greater trust?
There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
I think another way to say that is this: to receive the best, we must release the good. There is not enough room for both.
Because I will never know the glory of summer if I do not release the beauty of spring.