the clarity that winter brings

Two of my favorite worship leaders, Jonathan and Melissa Helser, have a song called “Sing Winter” and in this video Melissa explains the heart behind that song:

“The [trees] get the necessity of seasons, of rest and barrenness, to the fruitfulness of the spring and their harvest.”

This story consumed my heart as I took a walk through the snowy woods today. I had gone out to find a place to sled, and was drawn into the woods by a curiosity for adventure. I was struck by how quiet it was. I could hear every sound. The crunch of my footsteps in the snow, birds landing on a branch, the wind blowing through the barren trees. I walked through the trees for probably close to 45 minutes, but it seemed as though time had stopped.

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I found myself pausing every few steps, looking up, and all around. Every tree was unique, there were lots of fallen trees and branches, twisted trunks and thorny bushes. Everything looked beautiful covered in snow. Normally I would not have gone just trudging through the woods, but the snow was so clean and bright, and the trees so bare – I was captivated. This is the clarity that winter brings.

Everything might look dead, or asleep. But it’s quietly waiting. And there is such peace. I felt safe to explore, caught in the wonder of it all. As I walked, I noticed some deer tracks in the snow. Just for fun I decided to follow them. For all I know I was following them backwards…the deer was probably tracking me. But the possibility of seeing one out there, and being quiet enough to catch her off guard – I just kept going. There were many different sets of tracks; they are probably the only ones who walk through those woods.  There was some barbed wire that stopped me at one point, but I slipped through a break in the fence and kept going.

Only a few steps in, I realized I was surrounded by thorned branches. And I mean surrounded. They were stuck to my pants, and I was quickly becoming entangled. Thankfully I was able to step backwards and go back the way I came. I don’t know how the deer managed to get through there, but I sure as heck wasn’t going any further. This made me stop to think – when we run into thorns in our path, sometimes we don’t see them right away. Sometimes we get entangled in sin, or doubt, or confusion – before we realize there was a way out before we ever got stuck.

I kept going, following the tracks as I found them (I would be the worst tracker ever…I probably followed the same sets of tracks in every direction), and stopped to breathe in the crisp, cold air every once in a while. I imagined what kinds of creatures lived out there, every time I saw a tree stump or nest. This is their haven; away from people and cars and noise. For me today, it was my haven too.

I kept having to stop and go a different way, whenever I worked myself into a group of trees and branches that was too difficult to walk through. It was interesting to me how there were clear paths almost, where it was easy to walk and free of thorns, yet venture a few feet off and you’re stuck. Much like walking with God – sometimes our curiosity gets the best of us, and we wind up someplace we never intended to be…

All of a sudden I realized I no longer had any idea which direction I had come from. I was doing really well following the same path, but I had turned too many times, just haphazardly exploring, and I realized I was actually lost. I didn’t think this was possible at first, because there was a major road at one border of these woods, and some apartments along another side. I couldn’t hear traffic anymore, so I knew I wasn’t close to that end, but nothing looked familiar from where I had started. Yikes.

I tried to find my own footprints to follow back, but I had walked in a circle and crossed back over the tracks (again, I would be the worst tracker), so it wasn’t clear which direction I had come from. I just picked one direction to follow and went for it. Within a minute or two, I realized I was almost right back where I had originally entered the woods. I literally laughed out loud. What are the chances?

I had entered the woods with no plan, just wanting to explore a little. I was tentative at first, and didn’t go very far, but then I decided to walk and see how far it took me. I got distracted by deer tracks and thorns (I may or may not have pretended I was in the Hunger Games for a second…) and ended up very lost and confused. Thankfully I didn’t get to full on panic mode before I figured out where I was.

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This is much like my walk with the Lord to me. We enter every new season of life with no plan (or I might think I have a plan, but let’s be honest, I have no clue). Sometimes that is exciting, but most of the time it is scary. I am going to be seeing my first clients in the next week or so. This is uncharted territory. Just like the barren winter trees, I wonder, will I bloom again? Will I succeed? Just when I get close to panicking, He reminds me I am safe. I choose to trust in the season, and stay rooted in what I know for sure. The necessity of winter is that it provides preparation for new life in the spring. I am safe when I follow my guide, my Helper – the Holy Spirit. I may have the freedom to explore, but when I get stuck, I know to go a different way. When I can’t hear His voice, and I have gone too far, He helps me back to the path I was on. This may lead me back to where I started, but this time I have footsteps to follow.

I am thankful for His grace, and for the healing clarity that winter brings.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow” Isaiah 1:18

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