I’m sitting here this morning with my coffee, looking at the beautiful cut flower arrangement and the deep pink, potted azalea on my kitchen table. The ones we brought home from my mother-in-law’s funeral last night. Valentine's day. Ugh! It all happened way too soon. She didn’t even make it to 70. Cancer is a monster.
This is the third year in a row that we lost a family member in February, all within the same week. What is it about this deep, dark time of winter? This wasteland month of death and despair? The snow has been deeper this year than I remember in a long time. The winds bitter and brutal. “It feels like Narnia,” I told my husband.” Always winter, never Christmas.” Winters are just so long, so hopeless, that it can drain you of life and joy, if you let it. Even more so the older I get.
But as I look out right now at the sun rising up in the blue sky, casting tree shadows on the fresh-fallen snow . . . as I inhale the living scent of the soil and greenery and vibrant pink petals in front of me . . . as I watch the sparrows and juncos jostling for position at the birdfeeders . . . I know that winter won’t last forever. Because there is life still there, under the snow somewhere. Warmth and hope and spring are on its way. Even if I can’t see them yet.
This is one of the greatest hopes and joys of a Christian, knowing that death and winter and sadness won’t always last. Warmth and hope and spring are on its way. There are moments of joy and peace to interrupt the pain and longing. And ultimately, we have hope because we know that Jesus will come back eventually and make all things right.
And I long for this daily. I pray for it daily. Because frankly, this world sucks sometimes. Civil wars ruin bodies, destroy homes, create orphans. Tornados wipe out neighborhoods. Children are dying of diseases they shouldn’t have. Another politician makes you lose faith in the government. The death rate is 100%. Another friend loses his job. The daily battles of life are long and exhausting. Relationships aren’t what they’re supposed to be. And most days, you have to work so hard just to live that you don’t really get to enjoy life. Life feels like it’s always covered with a layer of smothering, depressing, life-sucking snow.
I can’t seem to get out of this “winter” season of life. I feel like I’ve been here for years. And so while I wait for the “spring” seasons of life to come around again, I have to be deliberate about finding the blessings in the winter ones. I have to seek out the hidden joys that come with the snow and the cold. Or else the despair will swallow me whole. I have to celebrate and thank God for the little tastes of Heaven that I find here on earth, even in the barrenness. I have to daily trudge through hip-deep snow, soldiering on and doing my job to the best of my ability for God’s glory, because this is where He has planted me right now. And as much as possible, I need to do the little bit that I can do to be a candle, to bring light and hope and joy and warmth to those who are also in the dark, cold winter.
But I cannot produce in myself the kind of light and hope and joy and warmth that will get me through the long, dark, cold months. Just as the cut flowers in this beautiful arrangement cannot keep themselves alive. They have nowhere to draw their life from, no roots, no soil. And so I’ll enjoy looking at them for the few days they bloom, and then when they die I will throw them away.
But the potted azalea will live. It has roots growing strong in the life-giving soil. And like this azalea, I can only be filled with life if my roots are firmly anchored in the only Real Source of hope and life and peace and joy: Our Heavenly Father. And so I cling to Him daily, holding to the hope that spring is on the way. To the hope that this winter season – that this winter life - won’t last forever.
I am going to try to keep this azalea alive, to take care of it just right so that I can transplant it into my garden this spring, nestling it in with the two azaleas that came with the house. I know that it will only bloom for a short time every spring, that it will have only green leaves and no vibrant blossoms for the rest of the season, and that it will be bare and “lifeless” during the frozen, long winters. But it wants to live. It wants to live the life it was made for, even if it means blooming for only a very short time.
I want that for my life, too. I want to live the life I was made for, even if it means there are no blossoms for most of the year. That much of the time, there will be deep snow and bitter winds. And that there will only be short periods of flowering.
The amazing thing about an azalea is that when it blooms - even if it’s only for a short while - it blooms big. It lives large in those few weeks, bursting into brilliant color on every branch. Fulfilling its unique, God-given role beautifully and in its time. And if that is going to be my life too, then so be it. Clinging to God in the long winter seasons of life, the times when I feel set aside and futile. But blooming big and living vibrantly in the spring, when God finally allows the bright sun and warm winds to melt the frozen ground and bring forth new growth.
I long for the day that the snow thaws for good, that all things are made new, and that Satan’s icy grip on this world is destroyed by the coming of Christ. I long for the day that we can really live life the way it was meant to be lived. But I know that this won’t happen until Eternity. Until Jesus comes back and sets all things right. And so until then, I cling to Him. Whatever the season of life.
As long as we remain connected to the Source, we can make it through the winter times. We can hang in there through the long, dark nights of the soul. We will get the nourishment that we need to keep going – to keep putting one foot in front of the other - even if things look hopeless and lifeless. It’s only after learning to be content and thankful during the winter that we can truly appreciate the spring and bloom the way we were meant to.
God-willing, this azalea will be a part of my garden for years to come. I don’t know if my little experiment will work, if the azalea will live and transplant well. And I won’t know until I see if it comes back after next winter. But it wants to live, and I’ll do what I can to help it live to the fullest.
And if it survives, every time I see the deep pink blossoms in the spring, I will be reminded that we each have our own unique God-given roles to fill, even if it means that most of the time our job will be to do the un-showy and unglamorous daily things. I will be reminded that the different seasons are a part of life, and that I need to accept them as from God's hand. I will be reminded to keep my roots deep in the Source of all that matters so that I can find contentment whatever season I am in. And I will delight in hearing my boys say, “There’s Grandma’s azalea again!” A beautiful reminder of a beautiful soul taken from this earth way too early! We have such a short time on earth to bloom. So when it’s your turn, bloom big!