Loving and Listening to God in Every Season

In every season, my garden speaks, reinforcing in leaf and humus Scripture’s messages around patience and diligence, inviting me to rejoice with the arrival of every cucumber and blazing pumpkin and to lament with the erect skeletons of sunflowers, their heads bowed at season’s end. Predictable and yet ever new, the cycling of beauty and fruition, the presence of thorns and the dirt under my fingernails together corroborate the peaceful truth that heaven and earth conspire in declaring the glory of God.

That is the message of All Shall Be Well by Catherine McNiel, in which she shares the trajectory of her own awakening to God’s presence in his messy, abundant world. Her observations pay tribute to every season in its turn:

Find spring on a walk outside, coupled with a look inside.

Spring is the season of thawing hope and widening light. It invites us to look despair in the face and to trust for joy because God is present in the clouds that obscure our view. Spring-hope whispers that if you listen with your heart, you will hear God’s voice rejoicing over you with singing.

McNiel’s spring tonic is a prescription to take in the beauty with all your senses–the aroma of green and the sound of wetness–and to make a celebratory list of all the gifts of the season.

Find summer with wide open eyes that take in the night stars on a sultry evening or the power of wind and lightening during a storm.

The season of abundant fruition, summer is also the season of toil. Long daylight stretches faithfulness thin and makes demands that remind us of how cushy our life is in other seasons. McNiel interjects the concept of telos–a Greek word that means “end purpose” or “goal” (68)–to tame summer’s crashing pandemonium. Flourishing in the midst of the buzz and brouhaha of summer requires clarity of purpose and a mindful stewarding of our faithfulness.

Find autumn by celebrating the advancing darkness with candles and twinkling lights.

In all its bright beauty and generous harvest, autumn whispers a gentle warning. While we celebrate with pumpkin carving and corn mazes, McNiel reminds twenty-first century readers that harvest carried a dire significance just a couple generations ago–and still does in many parts of the world–for abundant fall harvest is the only way to eat and live through a long, bleak winter.

The curriculum of autumn assures us that death is transformation, that letting go of the old makes room for something new; and the twilight hours are for resting, pondering, and deepening as the light gives way to darkness.

Find winter in every season by making room for rest.

God’s creative work in winter is quiet as a blanket of snow and dangerous as sub-zero air. McNiel warns readers of the futility of trying to “overcome dormancy… mutinously straining to move forward anyway.” (131) In winter, we celebrate the arrival of snow with hot chocolate and snowmen, maybe to protect our hearts from the knowledge that cabin fever will set in come February as the glory of whiteness begins to feel like wilderness living.

Celebrating every sign of life and giving thanks for the borrowed strength that comes from God and others, we are called in winter to exercise faith that endurance is not for nothing, and that a long slog through a bleak season may require good traveling companions who carry and sustain us with their presence and their love.

Predictable and yet ever new, the cycling of beauty and fruition, the presence of thorns and the dirt under my fingernails together corroborate the peaceful truth that heaven and earth conspire in declaring the glory of God.Because I love to greet each new season with joy, I will be keeping All Shall Be Well handy for, like its author, I hear God inviting me to come near in their unique beauty, and “I’d like to get better at meeting him halfway.” (32)

 

Many thanks to NavPress for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Because “all manner of things shall be most well,”


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase All Shall Be Well: Awakening to God’s Presence in His Messy, Abundant World, simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Evidence of Grace in the Cycling of Seasons

When my thrifty mother-in-law made mincemeat, she would start with the venison roast from a deer who may have had the audacity to nibble on her tulip leaves.  From there, she would improvise, adding whatever needed using up on that particular day:  a batch of jam that didn’t “set up” just right or an over-abundance of applesauce.  Somehow, the mincemeat always simmered fragrant and delicious.

When I make mincemeat, I follow a recipe – to the letter. But it is likely that if any of my daughters-in-law find a need for that particular pie filling, they will just buy a jar off the shelf.
(Or I will give them one of mine!)

I’m well aware that generational change is a given.  Good and exciting things happen quickly once our kids hit the double digits, so I’m braced and on board.  Change is on the menu whether I like it or not.

I’m choosing to like it.

Today I’m anticipating the cycling changes that come as the tilt of the earth’s axis begins to register longer days and more direct sunlight. However, here just below the 45th parallel spring is still weeks away and will arrive in its own good time.

The majestic evergreens and the kindness of low  bushes that turn a deep red after they drop their leaves are all that rescue my early spring landscape from a panorama of sepia and gray.  Last night, Venus and the waning crescent moon were veiled in mist, and the damp cold that is seeping into my bones today tells me that change is on the way.  And I welcome it.

If spring is still an unfulfilled promise anyway, then let it be cold.  Let the ground stay hard, and let the sky send a fresh, clean blanket of white every few days to relieve the monotony of all that has expired.  Better to walk on frozen ground or across the crunch of snow than to sink into the mud of early spring acedia.  Better to bring my mittens, my shovel, and my small resiliency to a beautiful world than to mourn the slow and uncertain advent of spring.

I can never make less than six quarts of anything!In this season of slow sunrise, when the daffodils snooze and the robins make angry phone calls to their travel agents, I will make kielbasa bean soup and fill up the empty spaces around my table with people who need the full feeling that comes from a hearty welcome.  After all, no matter how earnest my intentions, I cannot make less than six quarts of anything.  (And I can’t shake the idea that if Jesus had walked the frozen fields of New England instead of the dusty roads of Galilee, He would have worked His way with a metaphor around an abundant kettle of steaming chowder.)

With sons coming and going, who knows how many bowls I will need to put on the table?  This ever-changing count provides a concrete measure, a confirmation of the vague sensation I carry that someone, somewhere has thrown a lever, releasing a huge gush of life from this busy and crowded home.

This season of change includes kids with parenting questions, kids with careers, kids with house-buying dreams–and “the baby” just bought a car! I’m certain that the boy behind the wheel was napping in his crib just yesterday, while I weeded green beans and scribbled in a journal.  We gave him a cell phone to keep in his car–just in case. (He is happy to leave it there, because it’s not a very cool model.)

My first cellphone had a tiny antenna on it.  It rang infrequently, but when it did, I usually missed the call anyway, because, buried in my purse, it sounded like a distant chainsaw in the woods.

I still keep my phone in my purse, despite the “fervent counsel” (i.e. nagging) of my children.
Them:  “Where were you?”
Me:  “In the garden.”
Them:  “Why didn’t you take your phone with you?”
Me:  (momentary silence while I try to adjust my wording and tone to be kinder than I am feeling)  “Because I carried a baby monitor around in the garden for ten years.”

Is it a sign of progress that, now, when I hear a distant chain saw in the woods, I run for my cell phone?

A more urgent question:  Am I willing to “outgrow” my crankiness and claustrophobia about technology in order to connect with the important people in my life?

Facebook updates me on the steady advance of the cancer that is tunneling its way through one more friend or of the dementia that steals the self-hood and the memories of yet another precious personality whose creativity and warm laughter will be forever lost to this world. Thanks be to God that the offset of all this lament comes in celebration of the full-body smile of my grandson and the mischievous giggle of my blue-eyed granddaughter. Both have absolutely no idea how much joy they add to the world just by inhabiting their own tiny skin.

And while it is true that it is the voice of the Lord that “strips the forest bare,” it is also true that when “winter is past [and] the rain over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth . . . and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.  The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance,” (Song of Solomon 2:11-13).

I will bring what I am learning about patience from this cycling of the seasons to my navigation of a life of perpetual change.

I will start where I am with my full days and my inconsistencies and my pitiful mixed motives.

I will use what I have, putting it all in the pot to simmer, and somehow, by the grace of God, I believe that it will be enough.

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Sending Grace Downstream

Dining on cubes of watermelon and calling it breakfast, the youngest son stands pajama-clad at the counter, his toothpick a dowser for the juiciest chunks.  In just a few end-of-summer days from now he will be up to his fetlocks in geometry, and I will be preserving the summer sweetness of our red tomatoes with one eye on the clock and the other eye (fierce!) on the boy’s screen time allotment.  We will approach breakfast with business-like efficiency, thinking about food groups and family devotions and the day’s agenda.

But today, summer is still in full sway and grace is on the menu — along with the watermelon.  In the busy days that lie ahead, is there a way to keep on living juicy, to hang onto the full brightness of summer solstice even though the planet keeps tilting us into shadow?  Brushing crumbs from the dining room table, I wonder if there’s a way to send grace downstream, like a note in a bottle, by deciding today how I will navigate the current of busy days around the next seasonal bend in the stream.

Today is a harbinger of the eventual, which means if I have my eye set on being a godly old lady someday in the far-off future, there are character qualities and mindsets that need to be set in bedrock ahead of time so that the accumulated complaints of life will weigh like feathers in the balance against the collected weight of blessings.  What better time than this seasonal transition to acknowledge the truth that bedrock does not lay down overnight?

In both of his letters to Timothy, Paul rattled off instructions and laid down guidelines for ministry.  Timothy had his hands full there in Ephesus, and that young pastor had a lot of sorting out to do.  However, tucked into Paul’s lists of qualifications and exhortations is this:

“Take strength from the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . .”  II Timothy 2:1 NEB

From one soldier to another, Paul was sending grace downstream to Timothy in the form of truth.  Truth can change the course of a day.  It can re-set a mind set.  Elisabeth Elliot translated Paul’s words into gritty practicality with one sentence:

“Whether you can take what life dishes out depends on what you take first.”

Is it possible that Paul saw a drift toward weakness in his younger brother and sent Truth as a course correction? On this late-summer morning, I invite Truth to inform my own feelings about the changing seasons with three small thoughts that carry the warmth and freedom of summer into autumn days:

There is always enough grace.

Even when my best efforts fail and progress on my self-salvation strategy of the day (also known as my do-list) proves that I am insufficient, I will remember that I am justified before God by my belief in HIS adequacy.  My obedient following makes the unseen visible and preaches truth to my own reluctance, for my smallest movement along “paths of righteousness” is met with God’s unfailing supply of grace for the next move.

Spoken words make a difference.

God stands ready to meet my unsure with sure and to galvanize my wishy-washy with a firm foundation.  There’s a good reason for Paul’s consistent use of the words “grace to you” at the beginning and ending of each of his letters, for he knew the Spirit-words that had been breathed to him would be read aloud to a fledgling church and believers would be strengthened in their faith.  Spoken aloud in a pick-up or drop-off run, murmured at the kitchen counter, these same words come off the page and dance in my imagination:
Take strength!
Don’t get tangled up in today’s mess!
Even if I am faithless, He remains faithful! 

To promote a deeper discipleship and a more faithful following in every season, I will choose to talk to myself more than I listen to myself.

Persevere in the Preserving.

Here just south of the 45th parallel, summer is a fleeting and an in-between season.  It won’t last for long, and even though the Atlantic Ocean is gorgeous all year long, there are only a few days in July and August when I can bear to feel its temperature on my skin.  The green cucumbers and plump tomatoes come in a rush and the last stragglers are snatched before the first frost.  What a perfect reminder that every moment on this planet can be a freeze frame, plucked from the blur and preserved in memory.  The colorful jars of beets and green beans shelved in my basement inform me that no good gift should be taken for granted.  Gratitude preserves joy, so I will persevere in the fight to train this oblivious heart to give thanks.

Instead of fighting the current as it carries away the last days of summer, I’m sending grace downstream by feasting on it today.  In True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer wrote about “faith in the present moment,”  and I’m convinced that moving with grace into schedules and lesson plans, cleaning and canning, will not be aided by day-old faith.  So I will speak to my soul today:  “Take strength!” in the bee-buzzing days of summer, because this practice today and the next day (and the day after . . .) sends grace downstream by training my heart in habits of strength for a day when the living is not so easy and grace might seem a little more difficult to find.

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Beginning September 7th, I’ll be hosting a discussion group focused on Wendell Berry’s  Jayber Crow.  His story spans much of 20th century American history and demonstrates the poignancy of this quote from his musings:

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful.  There is always more to tell than can be told.”

 

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Photo in featured image by kazuend on Unsplash