Looking out the window, I saw the trees darkened by the soaking rain. The remnants of snow clung to the fallen leaves that collected on the ground over the long winter. Not the view I typically enjoyed but I drank my morning tea and took it all in just the same. I noticed the birds searching for cover. The pop of color and the movement grabbed my attention. I saw flashes of blue and red, and even the robins’ amber bellies stuck out in contrast with the stark backdrop of leafless trees. A few evergreens stood majestically among the bare trunks, showing strength and promise; their clothed branches foretelling what was to come.
On a wooden stand in my morning room sat a yellow pitcher with white polka dots. I found it for $3 at a local department store. The cheerful pitcher sat in the clearance section like a lone flower in the middle of a grassy field. It had an “AS IS” sticker so I examined it for scratches or chips, but it was perfect. Excited by my find, I brought it home and filled it with fresh flowers. That next day, it snowed; but that pitcher filled my home with a bit of sunshine; and on this rainy day, it was a welcome sight.
I curled up on the couch with my tea and a blanket and watched the rain and the birds for a while longer. The phrase, “April Showers Bring May Flowers” came to mind. In Pennsylvania, spring was always slow to start; and this year, it was no different. A snowstorm hit just as spring finally arrived. Snow lingered on the ground and the rain was cold and biting. At first glance, no signs of spring were visible, but you could imagine the leaves growing inside the branches and the grass growing under the soggy, dead leaves. In all its glory, spring was coming … we just had to wait a little while longer.
It was always at the end of a very long winter that we got restless and impatient. We grew tired of the snow, the cold, the barren forest, and the cloudy days. We wanted leaves to cover the trees’ branches, the green grass to carpet the ground, the flowers to bloom in glorious color, and the sun to warm our faces. We knew it was coming, but we grew tired of waiting.
When things weren’t going our way, we looked ahead to better days. We used phrases like, “when I finish school’, “when I get my promotion”, “when the kids start kindergarten”, or “when I retire”. We pushed off doing something scary… or that made us happy. We pushed off doing something risky… or fulfilling. We justified our inaction based on our circumstances ‘right now’. We allowed our mood to be determined by our circumstances ‘right now’. We surrendered that things were always going to be a certain way because that was how they were ‘right now’.
Imagine if the trees felt that way, if they gave up because all their leaves fell off in the fall and it was taking them too long to grow back? Imagine if the grass felt that way, if the grass decided not to grow again because the leaves and sticks piled on top of the ground made the grass unsure it could grow again? What if the flowers felt that way, if they refused to bloom because the ground was too hard and the warm weather took too long to arrive. Thankfully, the leaves, the grass, and the flowers knew to hold on and to wait a little while longer; because winter would one day be over.
In its time, spring would arrive.
The leaves, the grass, and the flowers knew that while they endured the long winter and then waited for spring, they had work to do. They didn’t complain and they didn’t give up. The leaves, the grass and the flowers weren’t visible yet but they were growing on the inside. The leaves formed inside those branches, the grass grew under the earth, and the flowers sprouted from their bulbs. They rested and grew and prepared for their springtime emergence. They worked hard and became stronger to survive the early spring frosts. They worked hard so the leaves and grass sprouted a brilliant green and the flowers bloomed in an earthly rainbow of colors. For without that careful preparation and internal work, they would not persist to enjoy the rebirth of spring.
We suffered through the long winters of life. We endured the floods of adversity, the droughts of understanding, and the storms of grief. We sought shelter when the pain rained down upon us. We kept our heads down when the winds of despair left us battered and beaten. We searched for something to hold on to when the river of trouble overflowed its banks.
We prayed for the storm to pass. We prayed for the sun to shine.
But sometimes, that didn’t happen as quickly as we hoped.
Sometimes, we endured suffering far longer than expected. Sometimes, we waited for relief that never came. Sometimes we absorbed yet another blow when we hadn’t yet recovered from the first one.
In desperation, we called out to God.
We asked for help. We questioned our circumstances.
In those times of suffering, God worked on us from the inside out. Like the leaves growing inside the branches, He prepared us for the storms sure to find us. Like the grass growing under the earth, He prepared us for the trampling sure to wound our hearts. Like the flowers sprouting from their bulbs, He prepared us to endure the harsh conditions that sought to destroy our spirit.
In those times of suffering, God built our strength and fortified our endurance. In those times, God taught us patience and built upon our faith. The trials we suffered ‘right now’ prepared us for the future. The trials we suffered ‘right now’ allowed us to be a witness to others, an inspiration in times to come. Like the leaves and the grass and the flowers, God prepared them to do exactly what they needed to do … grow.
And just like the leaves and the grass and the flowers, God prepared us to grow too, in different ways, but in the exact ways we needed.
I drank my last sip of tea and looked at the plaque hanging on the wall above that cheerful pitcher filled with flowers.
It was one of my favorite Bible verses.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.
For this is God’s Will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
This verse is often a difficult one …
“Give thanks in all circumstances”
It was hard to give thanks when we suffered, to give thanks during a difficult time. The leaves, the grass, and the flowers, after enduring a long, hard winter, taught us that those hard times were necessary to strengthen us, that our situation was preparation for our own springtime. If we remembered the leaves, grass, and flowers when our patience was thin and our relief was nowhere in sight, we could better understand that we should rejoice always, and give thanks in all circumstances. For we should be thankful in times of sorrow, just as in times of happiness.
Although I was not necessarily thankful that I had cancer, I was truly thankful for the lessons I learned through this journey. I was truly thankful for the love and support I was given from family and friends. I was truly thankful for the grace God gave me throughout my medical treatment. I was truly grateful for the faith that strengthened me through my experience. I was truly grateful for the sharpening I received during my long, cold winters.
For if not for the winters of life, how could we truly appreciate the arrival of spring?