spring is coming.

When my heart was fast asleep
You were resurrecting me
I thought that I would never breathe
I thought the pain would never leave
But you’re redeeming everything

—Amanda Lindsey Cook, Awakening

———

A couple months ago, my hometown notified us that as part of a city beautification plan, they were going to plant trees along my street. A few weeks later, a stick appeared in our front yard. It seems that someone planted it there. But I never would have taken it for a tree.

Even though it’s about as tall as me, the poor thing is probably about half an inch in diameter. It’s suspended between two poles that are literally holding it up. It’s almost embarrassingly un-treelike. I’ve looked up and down our street at all the other trees that got planted, all of which seem to be doing a lot better—most of them are covered in leaves, take up more than one square inch of space and are, well, more tree-like. My family and I have joked that maybe the tree-planters were running low on nice trees, and then saw our front yard full of weeds and brown grass and decided this skinny sapling would be an appropriate fit.

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Ever since it was planted, this little tree has been leaf-less, and almost branch-less too. Quite often I’ve wondered if it was even alive at all. It seemed so frail and weak, and there were no signs of growth or life at all.

But as I was exiting the driveway to my house earlier this week, I caught a flash of green from the corner of my eye. I did a double take and stared in wonder at the little tree: there were tiny, bright green leaves sprouting from its topmost branches. Nothing impressive at all. But in that split second as I saw the leaves, I felt in my heart God speaking to me: “This is you.” Tears started to my eyes and I knew that God had directed my attention to see those leaves on purpose.

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I’ve thought a lot about that moment this week. And I’ve realized how much I do, in fact, feel like that tree.

I have felt fragile this year. I have felt weak and sometimes even barely alive. I’ve even been quite literally uprooted from a place where I had finally begun to feel secure and replanted back in a place where I no longer felt entirely at home.

It’s easy for me to compare myself to others, much like I did with our tree, and see how much better they appear to be, how much more happy, alive, or spiritual. And then to look at my own sad heart and feel ashamed for how little growth seems to have happened, or at least frustrated by how sad I feel so much of the time.

I’ve felt stuck in winter and honestly, it’s hard to remember when the last time was when I was not in winter. Ever since my sister’s adoption over seven years ago, I’ve felt a weight of sadness that has never quite gone away. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been joy and moments like a deep breath of fresh air. But if I step back and look at the overall color of these past seven-plus years, it is dark. It’s felt like I’ve been in a perpetual night, and while there have been bright stars that were moments of beauty, joy, and grace, they were only moments. Sometimes the bright periods lasted for several months. And I am deeply grateful for them. But I’ve often wondered if I would ever see daylight again—light that lasts.

Part of me wonders if this inexplicable joy I’m feeling now is just one of those moments. Maybe it is. Maybe this is just how life is. Maybe it’s presumptuous of me to assume that life is actually meant to be full of light and beauty and joy. Maybe most of life is dark, and that’s what makes the stars stand out all the brighter. Maybe human life here on earth is marked by sadness, and we will only ever experience everlasting joy in heaven. But I don’t want to believe that God is a God of darkness only. He works in and through the darkness, yes, but his deepest desire for me is joy, joy in him and in the life he has given me, right here and now, in my time here on earth. He is a God of resurrection life. Bringing dead things back to life is what he does and who he is.

These past couple weeks, I have felt more alive and awake than I have in a long time. I have felt God whispering small messages of resurrection to me, through beautiful music, solitary walks on the beach, unexpected tears and laughter, words spoken over me by a friend, the literal changing of the seasons, a scrawny treeling producing leaves.

I’ve wondered if I would ever feel spring again. But I think God has been showing me this week that he is doing something new. He is bringing life out of death. He is causing growth even when it feels like I will be stuck in pain forever. And how appropriate to celebrate this today, the day we remember Christ’s glorious resurrection from the grave.

This week for the first time, I truly believed in my heart that perhaps, this winter I’ve been in is almost over. The death and screaming and sorrow of Good Friday will one day give way to the triumph and life and joy of Resurrection Day. Perhaps this season I’m in is only a brief glimpse of light, like all the other brief moments before. But even if it’s short-lived, it’s still a reminder that one day, Christ will come again and bring with him everlasting light and joy and beauty that will never fade again.

Spring is coming. And it will be glorious.

———

“But forget all that—
it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

—Isaiah 43:18-19


— postscript —

Something that, I feel, has played a significant role in this re-awakening of my heart is the new album House on a Hill by Amanda Lindsey Cook. It has felt like a breath of fresh air to my soul. Her words and music have both wrecked me and put me back together, and I cannot recommend this beautiful album highly enough. Go give it a listen—or better yet, take an hour to spend just soaking in the powerful truths conveyed through these songs. Here’s a link to Amanda’s album on Spotify, as well as a link to the powerfully moving music video for the song Awakening, which I quoted at the beginning of this post. :)

Poems & Practice

Last month, I wrote a poem every day. (Scroll down if you want to read more about my process for creating these poems!)

I’ve realized since graduating that without the motivation of assignment deadlines and a tight class schedule, it’s a lot more challenging to keep creating. Something I heard about a lot in school was the importance of setting up a daily practice. After doing something every day in June for a collaborative project (see it here), I realized that a daily practice was quite manageable and really enjoyable. I decided to try a daily practice again for the month of September. This time, I made a goal to write a short poem every day, resulting in 30 poems by the end of the month.

I’ve found that daily practices are helpful because they keep me creating something every day, without the pressure of needing to make something amazing each time. A daily practice leaves room for experimentation and even failure. Because I’m making something small every day, I’m not expecting that everything I make will be a polished final product. But more often than I expect, I find that I’ve actually made something I really like.

The consistency of setting a simple goal for each day also keeps me making, whether or not I feel like it. As with any daily routine, there are some days when the creative juices are flowing and ideas abound, and other days when I have no inspiration or motivation to make anything. Having a daily practice is helpful for the “dry” days, because it forces me to at least try something and not keep putting off creating until I have a moment of inspiration or perfect plan (which may never happen). In fact, creating even when I don’t have any ideas may actually result in new ideas and inspiration. Keeping a daily practice is like training for a race: jogging a little bit every day, keeping up a momentum (even if slow) so that when a good idea does come, I have something to work off of instead of trying to start from ground zero. It’s a rhythm of making that I engage in every day that keeps my mind fresh for when a good idea does occur.

I’ve discovered with other projects that it’s really helpful to have a set of rules to follow when creating. And I think that’s especially true when doing a daily practice. Just telling myself “I need to make something today” isn’t very helpful, because I just get frustrated when I can’t think of a good idea. So this month, I made a set of rules to follow for writing my daily poems. (I’ve actually used this same system before, to create the poems in in time will return)

I collected a list of 12 sources, books which I’ve read this summer and the music which has been on repeat:

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

  • In the Shelter by Pádraig Ó Tuama

  • The Messiah Comes to Middle Earth by Philip Ryken

  • The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen by Lisa Gungor

  • The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien

  • Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot

  • The Gospel of Mark

  • The Gospel of Luke

  • The Psalms

  • Gungor’s One Wild Life trilogy

  • Sleeping at Last’s Atlas: Year Two project

  • My journal

I then followed these steps:

  • Pick a source at random.

  • Use Google’s random number generator to generate a random number within the number of pages in the book (or, for the music, the number of songs in the record).

  • Go to that page number in the book (or that song, for the music).

  • Generate another random number between 1-100.

  • Count words on that page/song up to the second randomly generated number.

  • Look at the word landed on. If it’s boring (prepositions, a/an/the/and, etc.), look at the two words on either side of it. If one of those is a good word, choose it (repeat the process if needed until there’s an interesting word).

  • Repeat the process with 3 other sources.

  • Use the 4 words randomly generated from the 4 sources and write a poem (aim for haiku length, but it can be longer).

I used this system to write one poem every day for the month of September. Of course, not all 30 of them were perfect poems (quite a few were pretty cheesy or didn’t make much sense), but I was happy that I was able to consistently make something every day, and that’s a reward in itself. The ones in this post are my favorites. Since this process went so well last month, I want to try it again this month, this time with taking photos instead of writing poems. I’ll post the results in a few weeks!