When you go to church every Sunday, sometimes the messages can start to run together in your mind as common themes- themes of hope, redemption, power, love, calling, forgiveness, community. Every once in a while though, a message is shared and it’s the specific words that you remember. What must be at least fifteen years ago, and what feels like a lifetime ago, I heard such a message delivered by our then pastor, Greg Curtis.
Greg spoke of life in terms of the cyclical nature of seasons— the abundance of summer, the harvest and change of fall, the inevitable loss of winter, and the hope of new life in spring. To help illustrate, Greg played a video of a song with lyrics by Nichole Nordeman (then and now a personal favorite). That message and song resonated with me immensely at the time, and it’s one I’ve continued to draw on since. As a born and raised Southern Californian, the idea of seasons and their endless cycle was one that fascinated me and spoke truth to what I observed in life, but it was not one that I had physically experienced. When we moved to Boise over a decade ago, I was finally able to personally experience the four seasons in all of their glory, and the truth of how life imitates nature was made even more evident.
Every evening sky, an invitation to trace the patterned stars…
We moved to Boise in the hottest part of the year— July 15, 2006— when the highs reached well over 100º. We pulled up to our new home around 9:30pm, the sun still high enough in the sky that the outside was fully illuminated. Because a Boise summer brings long days, allowing the abundant life to be enjoyed to the fullest. As non-morning people though, we quickly learned that we needed black-out curtains… we weren’t ready to enjoy the abundant life quite so early. We were excited about this new life we were creating- one where we could slow down, start a family, enjoy exploring a new place. Shortly after our arrival, I turned 25, which felt like a noteworthy milestone. I was finally an adult (at least according to rental car companies), and my husband and I were setting about making a life of our own. It was an adventure and we couldn’t wait to see what was down the road.
I notice You when change begins, and I am braced for colder winds
Turns out that what was down the road was cold. What seemed like overnight, the chill in the air settled in and nipped at our flip flops. Change was all around us and it was gloriously beautiful. In California, we had a few trees that would change, but in Boise, oh, in Boise the colors were vibrant and alive and everywhere. We bundled up in BSU sweatshirts (because when in Boise…) and enjoyed the show. But inside, there was a change too, the warmth of excitement was cooling off. We were struggling to find jobs, we had no friends, and we were not mentally or emotionally prepared for what moving 1,000 miles away from home would do. We were grateful for our family in Boise, but I was embarrassed to admit that I was struggling. So I silently let the cold in.
And everything in time and under Heaven finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation shivers underneath
When we were making plans to move, we had been told that winters in Boise are mild. It snows a bit, just long enough to be pretty, then it melts. And that’s true. Usually. That winter, as 2006 gave way to the new year, as the BSU Broncos famously defeated Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, snow fell in Boise, and it didn’t show much sign of stopping. It was beautiful, but in a melancholy way. It covered everything over in white, including the roads. We lived with family about 45 minutes “from town,” and I was equally ill-equipped and terrified to drive in the driving snow. So I pretty much hunkered down. I watched every episode of Friends. Twice. And it wasn’t long before I started to believe that they were the closest thing I’d ever have to friends again. By February, I was convinced that there would never be anything other than white again, that snow was all there was and all there’d ever be, and that we’d made a huge mistake in moving and that we should go back. I started looking for jobs and apartments in California and trying to decide exactly which words I would use to tell my husband that, even though, just a short time ago, I’d begged him to take us away from our hometown, I wanted more than anything in life to just go back.
Everything that’s new has bravely surfaced, teaching us to breathe
And what was frozen through is newly purposed, turning all things green
The thing I learned that first winter, and that’s proven true every winter since, is that just when you think the darkness and cold will never end, you start to see signs of life. New life springing from dead ground. And the hope that you feel is nothing short of miraculous. I didn’t know until that spring what a crocus was, but it is now my favorite flower in the world. It’s the first one to brave the cold and poke it’s beautiful bloom through the hard soil. The first to greet you and say, “You made it. Welcome to Spring.” As the days started to lengthen and the world started to thaw, my heart followed suit. I began to believe (again) that our new home held promise and that God had not led us astray in guiding us there.
So it is with You and how You make me new, with every season’s change
Since that first year in Boise, I’ve seen the cycle of seasons repeat over and over in my life, although they did not always coincide so poetically with the world outside. Right in the prime of last summer, I received news that plummeted me deep into the throes of fall, with winter quick on its heels. On August 3, 2018, while on vacation with my family, I received a phone call from my father; he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and the prognosis was grim. Just a few months later, my grandfather, whom I was very close with, lived with, and helped care for, was also diagnosed with cancer. Outside our windows blazed a hot summer, then a warm fall, but winter was raging on the inside. It would continue to tear through our family as we learned that our grandpa’s cancer was too aggressive to be beaten, and we lost him in January of this year.
I’m learning, though, to find beauty in every season, even winter that can feel cold and isolating. Last winter, as I would drive my grandpa to medical appointments and radiation, I noticed that even though it was bitterly cold, the sun was shining bright almost every day. I’d often breathe a prayer of thanks for that bit of light in an otherwise dark time. At the time of his passing, it was hard for me to see any light at all. I trusted God and believed in him as my strength, but I was hurting, and I knew he could bear the brunt of my pain and frustration. Eventually though, I started looking at what all had happened during that time. I discovered that there was beauty to be found in the loss and emptiness of winter. Family drawn together, vulnerability embraced, meaningful words spoken, and ultimately and most beautiful of all, Grandpa dancing with Jesus on legs that worked in a body free from cancer and pain.
I don’t mean to sound trite or like life is always so predictable. But there are definitely patterns to this life and the way God handles us as he walks alongside us in our circumstances. John 15 goes into detail about how Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, and God is the gardener. I did a little bit of research on how grape vines are pruned. It’s done carefully, with the ultimate goal of encouraging growth. Anything that isn’t contributing to growth is removed, and it’s done differently depending on the season. Gardeners call this “training,” and if that’s not fitting, I don’t know what is. Once a vine is mature and established, even fruitful branches may be removed to encourage further development of the best branches. This is all done in an effort to bring about a flourishing vine that produces the best fruit. The pruning done in each season serves a purpose.
And so it will be as You are re-creating me,
Summer, autumn, winter, spring
What season do you believe your life is in? In the US, it’s autumn by the calendar, but our lives rarely coincide with the equinox. Sometimes it’s hard to know what season you’re in just by looking around. There are cold, rainy days every summer, and this year in Boise, October was the coldest it has ever been, making it feel more like winter than autumn. Life may feel tough, but you’re actually in a spring, fighting to bring new life out of death. Or things feel great, but you’re at the end of summer heading into a season of change and loss. I personally am transitioning into spring, even though the frost every morning shows that winter is looming. My dad’s cancer is in remission, I’m writing a book, and I’m finding new ways to worship by showing up fully as myself.
Does knowing your season change circumstances? No, but it can help you read them a bit better. It can help you prepare for what’s coming, to bundle up in preparation for winter, or set intentions for enjoying every day of summer. All seasons have their challenges and gifts; they’re easier to notice when you know what to prepare for. Just as you adjust your clothing and activities when the weather shifts outside, you can adjust your heart, mind, and perspective along with your life season to be best prepared to fully process, be present, and take notice of the gifts offered in your season.