“Seasons of life” always struck me as a bizarre phrase. How do you know it’s a season, and how do you know when it’s changed? Do you see the metaphorical leaves changing colors? Do you watch the flowers bloom? Do you feel the heat? The cold? And regardless, isn’t it better and less pretentious and less, I don’t know, Biblical to just call them phases?
In mid-February, I sent this text message: “I promise you, winter is almost over.” I meant it literally. Technically, spring was a month away, but in Georgia we were in the final couple weeks of legitimate cold, and an obnoxiously-timed ice storm was potentially getting in the way of plans and progress. But more importantly, I meant it symbolically. This phase – this season – of tremendous pain and change and uncertainty was almost over. He was one morning in court away from some stability again. From a simple answer, even if it wasn’t the one he’d counted on for the last seven years. And for maybe the first time, I saw the literal and the symbolic align, and the “season of life” thing made more sense.
A couple weeks ago, I was practicing, as I do most mornings. I was in the middle of the standing sequence, which opens each practice, and a thought that had trickled into my brain the night before would not leave me alone. It felt a little like God was (gently) knocking me on the head with it. Over and over. And for the first time, I stopped practicing to open my journal and write:
“I think it’s time to let go. I’m scared of it. Part of me wants to hold on just so I can keep scrolling through moments in my head. But for the time being – for this moment, this new season – I have to release this grip. I have to wish you peace and love and light and growth and let my fingers and shoulders relax in surrender and submission and faith and grace. I want to remember all of it. I still have so many questions. So many loose ends. But I’m setting you free. I’m setting me free, too. I don’t know what will happen. With anything, really. But I’m going to be ok. Spring is almost over.”
And so, as we start summer, as I let go, I think it’s time to talk about spring.
At the end of January, a month that felt like it lasted a year because so much changed so fast, I wrote that I had no idea what this meant for the rest of the year – I knew my life would look vastly different by September – but I thought I was excited about it. Winter was a whirlwind. A few days into it, on Christmas Eve, I asked God to help me find purpose. He did. Abundantly. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more productive and useful and helpful than I did during the next two and a half months. My life had meaning in a tangible way that I felt and saw reflected back from people I love every single day.
And then spring came.
I hate the cold. I’m cold all the time, and I hate it. But in an ironic twist (God loves that stuff), I am a furnace. I exude heat. I go to bed with sweats and long sleeves on and wake up in the tank and boy shorts I wear underneath. So even though I kind of hate winter, I’m good at it. Spring…spring, with all its seemingly dead things trying to come alive again, with all its sudden, powerful, difficult growth, with all its rain…spring is hard.
There was so much birth in winter and so much death in spring, and it feels like it should be the opposite. Maybe that’s what made it harder. You expect a season known for growth to produce good things, to feel warm. But maybe that expectation says more about our misconceptions and idealizations of growth than the reality of spring. Because growth is basically another word for the middle, and we’ve already talked about middles. They’re brutal. Usually mired in pain and uncertainty. And even though we know the end result will probably make sense – the final product likely gorgeous – the trust and faith and discipline it takes to muddy through the growth is gut-wrenching.
I got bad news the week after my birthday. I wasn’t sure it was bad news until I got it. Up until that point, I’d been on the fence about this fork in the road, and it wasn’t until the decision was made for me that I realized I was hoping I’d get to go down the other path. And the truth is this bad news wasn’t as bad as the bad news I got the week before my birthday. This one hurt. That one was soul crushing. That one was the kind of one that gets a pretty stable late-20-something to emergency email her therapist, get three hours of sleep in her best friend’s bed, and stumble into said therapist’s office at 8 a.m., for the second time in 16 hours, with red eyes and tear tracks, in last night’s yoga clothes, clutching her coffee like it’s the only thing she believes in anymore. This wasn’t that. But it was the last in a line of heartbreaks, and sometimes the last one packs the hardest punch.
I got a sub to teach for me that day and went to hear Annie Downs speak at Single Series. Disclaimer: I kind of hate Single Series. I mean, how exactly are single people supposed to take advice from happily married people? There’s a flaw in that premise, yes? But Annie is different. Her talk from the winter hit home with me. I read her book right after, and I finished it on a flight home from Miami, a trip that changed things. I was starting to freak out about just how much had changed when I read the last page of Annie’s book, which included John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” And then I laughed, because I had written that exact verse in a card the week before. A card I wrote right after I promised that winter was almost over. And on that plane, on the way from warm Miami to cold Atlanta at the end of February, with Annie’s words in my hands, I could feel God patting my shoulder and telling me to calm the f down.
And so I knew I needed to go hear her spring talk. Spoiler: I cried. Sobbed, really. I was such a mess that when I talked to Annie after, I couldn’t even get a “Go Dawgs!” in between my crying and stumbling over words. But as I suspected, Annie had some magic for me. The series focused on hearing God. Annie talked about hearing God even when you’re hurt or disappointed or angry or scared. About that being ok. That you could be upset with or terrified of the ways God has been responding to you. That he’d still talk. That you could still hear Him, even if your back was turned. And to trust those little things, the little inklings that pop into your brain and settle in your stomach and feel like they’re speaking from your bones. When she said all of that, I was in a puddle because I was so scared and so uncertain. I didn’t know if it was a remote possibility for me to hear God at that point. But a couple weeks later, on my mat (not a coincidence), I heard “Let go,” and I knew it was Him.
Here’s the catch though: hearing it doesn’t make it happen. Neither does writing it down. And as much as I knew I needed to follow through, a big piece of me resisted. The dealing and healing process had forced me to dive deeply into my path to this place. It required me to think back on the last four years of my life and all of the decisions I’ve made in my career and relationships and self-growth and discovery. It made me reevaluate. And some of those memories have a gravity that feels more powerful than me most days. They have a strength and a sweetness and a story that feels like it could fill a thousand books. Swimming in them was good for me, but it was dangerous too, because I am a water baby, and sometimes I really did not want to dry off and come inside. I wanted to wade through the anger and resentment and rebellion and righteousness. I wanted to float in the ease and intimacy and desire. I wanted to sink into the irony.
So I made myself a deal. I had two weeks until spring officially ended, and I would spend those two weeks swimming and splashing and preparing to walk away from the water. I wrote a lot. I made sure I captured my favorite moments, and I recorded the less graceful things I wanted to say to the people who hurt me. I thought all the really mean things I couldn’t bring myself to write, and I imagined the most dramatic ways I could call out the hypocrites and their crimes. More practically, I turned down a job opportunity, and I opted not to engage in a conversation that would only end in more grief and futility. And I tried to tell all of the people around me who have showered me with grace just how grateful I am for them.
Two weeks later, last Thursday, I got home from teaching, poured a glass of wine, and sat down to say goodbye to spring. To the fear. To the animosity. To the resentment and hurt. To the feeling that I am unworthy and unlovable because I have a lot of feelings. To the notion that I am not good enough, not strong enough, not brave enough to weather a storm the size of a season.
I cried and I poured another glass of wine. I wrote eight pages in 45 minutes, and, maybe in a perfect sign that this is who I am and who I’m supposed to be and where I’m supposed to be, I felt a lot of things at once. Sadness. Loss. Frustration. Peace. Forgiveness. Hope.
I thought about hope a lot in the two weeks leading up to summer. Because I want to rest there, but I also want to be careful about it. I don’t want hope to mean expectation. I have strong instincts about how some of these things play out, and if there is one thing I’ve learned from the last four years, it is that you should pay close attention to your instincts. If you cultivate them carefully, they are almost always right. But I don’t want those heart whispers to morph into wishes I expect God to grant, because I know that’s not how this works. Not how He works.
On Wednesday, the day before I said goodbye, I found my way to Psalm 62:5 (NIV): “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him.”
On Thursday, I ended those eight pages with this: “At the very least, we’ll swap adventure stories in heaven.”
And so, here I am on the second day of summer. Spring behind me but also in me, like a seed. Hope in my heart.
I move in five days. I go to the beach in 10. And I leave for Thailand in 18.
I said it in January, but I feel it now: everything is different.
I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know what I’ll find. I suspect there’s a lot more growth needed here, and that will probably be hard, but I’ll be ok.
A year ago, I got this plant that sits on my desk. I’m not very good at keeping plants alive, so I was nervous, but he said I only had to water it every week or so. Just keep the rocks wet. And maybe that’s how it is sometimes. Maybe the seeds have to take root deep below the surface, and maybe the growth creeps along slowly, and maybe sometimes all you can do is keep the rocks wet.
The plant is alive. It’s held up with binder clips and painter’s tape, but it’s growing.