The season you’re in (and the one you long for)
Note: This is a letter I wrote in October 2015 after visiting a friend’s ministry farm in North Carolina. I’ve been thinking about seasons (again) as mine shifts, and read this to remind myself. I decided you might need a little nudge, too. Love, A.
Part I: The season you’re in
Dear Jesus People of the Farm,
I never understood how some were so infatuated with October. Coming from pine tree country, my framework for autumn was mostly grass turning brittle and inconvenient frosts stealing my beloved summer and strawberries away. I’ve always been a summer girl. Give me strong sunshine and full bloom, thick grass and long, lingering evenings. Nothing makes me happier than salty hair and sandy feet.
And spring? Spring is messy. New birth and growth is always like that. Some days feel like winter, some days tease you with glimpses of summer. We glamorize it a little with fuzzy chicks and daffodils, but let’s not forget the mud, the awkward patches between puddles and fledgling buds.
Women love to swoon over babies but many of us fight the spring of our motherhood when those babies are born. I’m not sure you ever know how good it is to be fully alive and present until you’re hit with the train wreck that is sleep deprivation and the haze it leaves in its wake. Too many mamas wish the spring away and miss the wonder of coming alive because crying and little lungs gasping for air accompany that same coming alive. Unless you’re postured well, the crying and gasping can sound like noise interrupting the peace. Baby growing season is hard, predictably unpredictable. It’s a season of losing control. Some days feel like winter, some like summer, but always in between is a little mess and mud as we give way to the new growth that comes whether or not we felt prepared or equipped.
But here on the farm all I can see is autumn—glorious October. There’s a maturity that lives here, silently demanding the name Beautiful. When you’re in the autumn it can be hard to remember how important the spring is—that bridge between what feels like nothing and something. Friends, as you watch your leaves turn, give thanks for all those baby sprouts that got you to where you now rest. Remember how hard the new growth season is and enjoy your harvest. (It’s time to enjoy your harvest—dig in, breathe deep.)
Papa Ken taught me something on the hill yesterday. He didn’t know it, but I caught it as we stood near the ‘prayzeebo’ that Jonathan built with his college money. “See out that direction?” he asked me. “You can see the mountains through there during the winter.” That’s all he said but I heard more.
We often think of winter being the season where things are hard to see. That’s when the blizzards come; that’s when the fog rolls in. But in the desolate season of barren trees you can see farther ahead and on through than you can when life is in full bloom. My winter has been like that. It was quiet as if all the creatures were burrowed down, guarding what little they had to sustain them through the cold. Quiet can sometimes feel lonely.
I couldn’t hear much during those winter days, but I could see. I saw clearly.
I saw Jesus and kindness and hope as I envisioned my roots digging deep to find him. I certainly couldn’t hear those things, but I saw them as I imagined him making all things new, starting from right under the frozen-hard ground.
Let us not forget that talking about the seasons is such a ‘Christiany’ thing to do. We recycle the same metaphors over and over and almost become immune to their potency. If we’re not careful we’ll fool ourselves into thinking we’re being poetic or spiritual but often we’re just relaxing into tired clichés, regurgitating what someone else we admired once said. Until we’re not. Until God breathes life into the metaphor. (Because that’s what he does.)
You know that right? That the oldest of metaphors can come alive and be born again right into our hearts?
Lean in friends: don’t despise the season you’re in. Don’t long for someone else’s season or place or state of being. And please—oh dear God, please—don’t size up someone else’s season or place or ministry to be less spiritual than yours because you’ve forgotten what it’s like in the spring or you’ve never arrived on winter’s doorstep yet.
I’ll remind you as I remind myself—we all see dimly, and perceive a little incompletely. We need one another so we can see Jesus more clearly. Don’t we?
Some of us will be led to live in long seasons of spring—tending to babies (our own or spiritual ones)—and it can look messy and unstructured and immature. Half the time it looks like we have no idea what we’re doing and we don’t. We’re listening to Jesus and listening to our instincts and listening to the saints who’ve gone before us—all those mamas who shushed their babies in the night and took them to the breast when nothing else seemed to work. And half the time we look as if we know exactly what we’re doing because we do. We were born for this—the muddy, messy work of growing new life. But spring is like that—it’s not either/or; it’s both/and. We all know this to be true: those babies are no less human than their mamas or their grandmothers, so let’s treat them with the reverence they deserve, when we know exactly what we’re doing and even when we don’t have a clue.
And yes, I’m talking about babies of all ages. Look deeper and you’ll see those same nurturing truths apply to those we mentor, too.
//Live where you are//
(Can I keep speaking through the metaphor, friends, regardless of what your kitchen calendar says?)
Some of us seem to live in the summer—perpetual honeybees and sweetness and obvious fruitfulness. We dance there oblivious to anything else but the sun on our shoulders. I don’t have much to say about summer because I haven’t been there in a while and perhaps I’ve forgotten a little of the innocence she conjures up with her campouts and late nights under the stars. (She’s coming though, circling back around; I can see her out there ahead and I love her, still.)
Some of us will find ourselves in the autumn. We see shortening days but they are brilliant and mature, warm and inviting. There’s a harvest there that’s far more than we need and it’s our delight to share it with all who come to the table. Hungry, they will come (so feed them). Spread your table thick for a feast and leave the dishes for the morning.
And some of us will land in winter, chilled to the bone and exposed. The forest may grow quiet during winter but remember: sometimes we lose our ability to hear so we can learn to see (and reach) farther than we realized possible.
Part II: What is it you desire?
Before the days of internet and instagram I packed my backpack and a Lonely Planet guidebook and sat at the Frankfurt airport. With a train reader board ahead, a snowboard at my feet, and a highlighter in my hand I looked for convergence and circled my destination when I landed on the bold letters spelling out ‘yes’ to my soul.
I planned to be away for two months in the Alps and came home a year and two months later having left bits of my heart in Hungary and Greece, London and Prague, and a million cobbled streets in between. I didn’t learn much about snowboarding that year but I did learn a few things about myself and about the world around me. I didn’t know Jesus but he managed to unlock my spirituality anyway.
That was the year I discovered I had wings and learned how to use them. When I came back to the States (afflicted hard with wanderlust) those wings had become as much a part of me as my lungs. Maybe no one else saw them but I knew they were there.
//Born with wings//
We’re all born with wings, but so much of the time they’re buried under the skin of expectation and cultural norms and a thousand other layers of excuses. You have them too, Jesus People. You may not have had the opportunities like I’ve had to spread them or strengthen them, but they’re there.
Twenty years and forty-ish nations later, those wings have taken me all over the world. I’ve circumnavigated the globe serving and preaching, giving and receiving, teaching and learning, being changed and becoming myself. If someone ever tried to clip them I’d howl as if they were attached with actual sinew and marrow.
For the last two years my family and I have been in transition, living out of suitcases, making ourselves like chameleons for a constantly changing landscape. For a year we lived in a 95-square-foot caravan. We bought a forty-year-old trailer and painted her up pretty and folded our family into that tiny space. I’ve lost track of how many zip codes we’ve been in or pathways to the bathroom we’ve mapped out and memorized for when it turned dark.
You might say the gypsy life sounds romantic—and it does, it is. We’ve taken our babies on adventures around that great big continent of Australia in ways that baffle my mind with gratitude and wonder.
But as much as I love my wings my heart yearns for roots. You see unless you are grounded, you can only have little seedlings, potted plants if you’re lucky. They are small and beautiful and very much alive but can never grow into mighty trees.
I believe we’re born with roots and wings. Most of us like to keep our metaphors tidy and neat but the Kingdom isn’t always tidy and neat, my friends. (You know that, I think.)
Did you know you can have both roots and wings? Let’s think about this together.
Some of us love our wings so much that we’re never willing to put down roots. We make those wings into an idol and we thrill at the possibility of possibility and shirk at the idea of becoming grounded. And some of us love our roots so much that we become root-bound. We get tangled up and intertwined so hard in the land that we have no ability to see beyond our little radius that continues to circle around us. Our personalities will help us swing to one or the other. So will our culture, our heroes, our mothers and fathers, and—yes—even our theology.
//The Kingdom of God is like//
Friends, the Kingdom of God is a mixed metaphor. Our longing to fly and our longing to burrow down—it’s all Jesus calling us home, reminding us that we’re still aliens, sojourners. Our citizenship is lodged somewhere completely other and also completely here; the Kingdom is at hand and the Kingdom is coming—the paradox of the here and not yet, the mixed metaphor of roots and wings.
No matter how much you fly, you’ll always long for something more.
No matter how much you homestead, you’ll always long for something more.
When a desire is from Jesus (you need to know the difference), you’d be a fool not to surrender to it. Fighting [Kingdom] desire will wear you out like trying to catch the wind. My friend Amber says, “the fruit of desire will help you know where it comes from,” and I think there’s truth there for all of us worth chewing on.
The desire for home was written into the fabric of our beings. It makes us sprout wings and it makes us dive deep. There’s a season for it all, Jesus People of the Farm. There’s a season for it all, friends.
Thanks for sharing your autumn with me. I’m richer for having dined on your harvest. You’re doing a very good thing here, friends—growing community, loving Jesus, listening, creating, sharing, feasting, living well.
A good thing, indeed.
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