(Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead)
To the one facing a long season of winter in your life, longing for the spring to come, I want to tell you something today.
Spring is coming.
You may be tempted to not believe it. You may be crying out to God, How much longer God? I can’t endure this for another minute… Your heart may feel joyless, hopeless, lifeless. You might look at your life and feel like spring is an impossibility.
But, can I boldly whisper something to your heart?
Spring is coming.
I don’t know the details of how or when, but your spring will come.
Seven January’s ago, winter came into my life like a blizzard com with frigid winds ravaging me, blinding me, numbing me, right there in the midst of a very real and very cold Midwest winter, as my husband and I buried our little girl.
I remember walking from the funeral home to her burial site, struggling in my black high heels through the frozen ground and layers of crunchy snow. I remember sitting in below freezing temperatures, just cold and numb. Tears trickling down my face, grief-stricken, heart-broken, but numb. Numb from the pain of losing her, numb from the frigid air. Numb and in shock at the sight of my baby girl’s tiny casket in front of me.
Winter reigned in my heart long time, long after the cold ground thawed.
Without her in my arms, with our future destroyed, with so much unbearable pain, life lost its color, its joy, its purpose. And there continued to be a spiral of loss and trials following her loss.
Winter blanketed me. If you’ve ever read or watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, in which C. S. Lewis writes, “Where it was always winter, but never Christmas,” I felt like I was there. Always winter.
But I was yearning for spring to come again, though I couldn’t fathom it. No matter what good I could imagine in my future, nothing could be “good” enough to bring me spring again. Nothing could change what happened; therefore, I falsely believed nothing could change my winter.
But I had a foundation of faith, and I cried out and sought God during my winter. Crying out for Him to save me and bring me a spring. I wanted to see His promises fulfilled in my life, but my heart was broken and the pain was blinding. I wanted to hope so desperately, but it was as though I lost my ability to.
I longed for someone to make sense of this season that didn’t make sense to me. I sought out anything that spoke to this sacred space of tragically losing a child. Anything that shared it, that attempted to articulate it, that revealed a faith in the midst of suffering, I craved. Early on this was through songs, books, blogs… words.
Almost immediately words from one of my favorite books, The Shack, came to my mind. I had read the book before I was ever pregnant with a child, and it instantly became one of my favorite works of fiction because of how deeply it moved me. After having lost my child, I sought connection in this fictional story of a man’s grief and faith journey after his little girl dies.
The book opens with the main character, Mack, deep in his grief, in his “winter,” The Great Sadness as Young calls it:
In one day he had spent a year’s worth of emotions, and now he felt numb, adrift in a suddenly meaningless world that felt like it would be forever gray.
Emotions are the colors of the soul; they are spectacular and incredible. When you don’t feel, the world becomes dull and colorless. Just think how The Great Sadness reduced the range of color in your life down to monotones and flat grays and blacks.
Young described my world in these words.
Some find The Shack to be controversial or even heretic, but I don’t. But I’m also not hear to preach on it or against it. What I am here to do is share how the book personally impacted me. To me, it’s non-fiction, it’s not a direct representation of the Gospel, nor does it attempt to lay out the path to salvation. What it is, is an undeniably moving story that breaks your heart (a heart break I knew) and makes it soar as we see this character’s deep suffering and his relationship with God. Of course it is not God’s word, but there is healing found in the book’s words and story.
I reread the book several times because I wanted to be moved. I wanted connection in my lonely winter. I wanted the incomprehensible I was walking thorough to be articulated as it was so beautifully in this story, even if it was fictional. And I wanted to dream of an ending like Mack’s, where he finds healing and hope and life again, where the winter ends and spring comes.
And then there were the songs in Steven Curtis Chapman’s worship album Beauty Will Rise. They came as a result of his own story of losing his little girl, and I resonated with them. His songs were real and authentic expressions of his faith in the midst of grief. And I found healing in his words.
The lyrics to “Spring is Coming” were one of the many sets of lyrics that spoke of my experience and heart’s cry. This was how I began to worship God, not through joyful praise or faking fine, but through honest and hopeful expressions like the ones found here:
We planted the seed while the tears of our grief soaked the ground
The sky lost its sun and the world lost its green to the lifeless brown
Now the chill in the wind has turned the earth as hard as stone
And silent the seed lies beneath the ice and snow
And my heart’s heavy now but I’m not letting go
Of this hope that I have that tells me
Spring is coming. Spring is coming.
I fell in love with the words of Young and Chapman because of the message they share:
In the frigid ache of winter, we have the hope that the spring is coming.
Both writers artistically and authentically express the hope and joy and love of our Father in the midst of great heart-ache and brokenness.
That was seven years ago when I first “met” these stories of loss and these themes of winter and longing for spring to come.
Seven years later, my worlds collided with theirs again in an interesting orchestration of what I prefer to think of as God-ordained events.
This weekend I found myself in a place I once thought to be an impossibility.
My spring was here.
It wasn’t over night. It’s been years of journeying and transforming and growing, and little glimpses of spring have been sprinkled around like treasures of the hope to come, like the daffodils that bloom at the end of winter, but now, it felt like it had officially come.
On Saturday my husband and I saw a matinee showing of The Shack, and on Sunday I opened the pages of Steven Curtis Chapman’s new book Between Heaven and the Real World.
The stories in which I first found mine seemed to come together one last time in some sort of full circle moment. It was almost a strange reunion among old friends, who shared a journey, and who gathered together one last time to look back upon it.
And it was so interesting, what happened with our weather this weekend too, given all God was showing me about winter and spring. When our town in Tennessee–which had been experiencing signs that winter was over and spring was here with warm temperatures, birds singing, longer light to our days, plants blooming, flowers flowering, and new growth everywhere–got snowed on! An odd reminder that winter is still here, but spring is so close, even this snow can’t stop it.
As I watched the movie and opened the pages of the book as the world danced in between winter and spring outside, one main theme moved me and stood out to me the most this time:
The coming spring.
Hope. God’s rescue. God’s redemption.
In The Shack, after burying his daughter in one of the most moving scenes ever depicted on screen, the scene that threatened to spill all of the tears I had been holding back out into heavy sobs in the middle of a theater, spring comes to Mack’s life. He buries her in this hole in the middle of the garden depicting his beautiful, mess of a soul, the character depicting the Holy Spirit sprinkles the tears she has collected of his on the fresh dirt, and in a spectacular visual display, life bursts forth, plants grow, specifically a beautiful tree of life filled with butterflies emerges. Mack experiences healing and finds a vibrant life with God. Winter is gone, his spring has come.
And then in the beginning of Steven Curtis Chapman’s new autobiography, he tells the story behind the song “Spring is Coming.” The inspiration came from the day he buried his little girl, in the message the pastor shared about how what seeds God plants in the winters will bloom in the spring. About the promises of new life. Whether it’s redemption and transformation here and now or new life in heaven, there will be life again where life is lost. Death, tragedy, evil, and heart break do not have the final say. As Lysa TerKeurst puts it, “His resurrection power has the final say… Jesus wins.” Spring is coming was the message.
Now, confession, I haven’t finished Chapman’s book nor have I reached the chapters that go more in depth about his loss, but this is the part I read this weekend, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that his words mirrored the scene that moved me the most in The Shack. The events that reminded me of the hardest moments of my life, the moments no one likes to talk about, the source of my winter, burying my baby girl. I imagined myself seven years ago at her casket, in the darkest and coldest of winter, and then stepped back and looked at myself now, in my spring experiencing the abundant life.
I believe God wanted me to see the transformation.
My heart soars when I think of God’s marvelous works in my life over the past seven years.
And that’s why I love the words of Young and Chapman (and Lewis), because they evoke this very real love for God in my life and make me rejoice having experienced His powers firsthand of leading me from winter to spring. They make me celebrate His saving grace and His faithful love, even in tragedy, trauma, or trial, and for that, I give profound thanks and have profound joy.
I also just have to share that I found it quite interesting that Young writes this in the foreword of The Shack which I only noticed now, referencing back at the book:
These days are very different than seven or so years ago, when The Great Sadness entered his life and he almost quit talking altogether.
Seven years. Seven years for this transformation in Mack’s life. The same number of years it took me to fully recognize the transformation from winter to spring in my own life. How ironic.
So here’s what I now know to be true that I once thought to be an impossibility:
Winter doesn’t last forever.
My circumstances didn’t change, but God changed me.
To go back to Lewis, even in Narnia, it doesn’t actually stay winter for always. The curse is broken by Aslan (the lion character representing Jesus), and Lewis writes,
That strange feeling–like the first signs of spring, like good news, had come over them.
All around them, though out of sight, there were streams chattering, bubbling, splashing and even (in the distance) roaring. And his heart gave a great leap… when he realized the frost was over.
Spring will come.
Can you believe this today?
Maybe your winter is child loss too. Or maybe it’s the loss of someone else you love. Maybe your winter is an abusive past or present. Maybe it’s a betrayal from a spouse or friend. Maybe its is a broken down marriage or family relationship. Maybe it’s an unexpected illness. Maybe it’s crippling fears and a sinful addiction. The list could go on and on.
Sometimes it seems like there’s pain around every turn, but there’s also so much beauty waiting to be discovered.
Sometimes we need to go through the pain and journey with God to trust the spring is coming, and eventually find ourselves lost in the beauty of it.
In my winter all I could see was pain. But God gave me a heart to see His beauty. And now it’s spring and beauty and hope bloom all around.
The Shack concludes with these comments on Mack’s life, which I believe echo where I find myself now:
He embraces even the darker shades of life as part of some incredibly right and profound tapestry; crafted masterfully by invisible hands of love.
[He lives with] simplicity and joy; abiding in simple trust and wonder.
To the one reading this (thank you for reading this far with me), know that God is doing something in our cold winters, in every season.
May we all walk through our winters with Him, to find the glimpses of beauty and hope, holding tight to the promise that spring is coming.
I don’t know if it will take seven days, seven years, or seventy years, but…
Spring is coming for you too.
Some verses to trust in as you wait in hope for your spring:
I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10b
Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits… who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. Psalm 103:2,4
In Your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; Incline Your ear to me and save me. Psalm 71:2
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses. Psalm 107:19
“Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name. “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. Psalm 91:14-15
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 2 Timothy 4:18