It is “dry season” here. It is dusty, hot, and brown everywhere you look. Funny to see the juxtaposition of winter here in Uganda, Africa against the winter of my childhood. It was snowy, cold, and white everywhere you looked back then in Chicago. Such a difference, and yet so much the same.
Winter, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “1: the season between autumn and spring comprising in the northern hemisphere usually the months of December, January, and February, 2: the colder half of the year, and 3: a period of inactivity or decay.”
I am a homeschooling teacher of my 8 and 10-year-old and our school calendar has accompanying illustrations for each changing season. The same little bird illustration flutters from season to season and has now donned a ski hat and mittens – which would imply that this is the colder half of the year… that bird just must be from Chicago.
It might not be cold here, but that doesn’t mean ol’ Merriam-Webster has mis-defined… in fact, the latter part of the definition “#3: a period of inactivity or decay.” hits quite close. As I reflected back on my 2017, embracing the charge of Auld Lang Syne from our HopeisHard fearless leader, I am overwhelmed by the theme of winter within.
On January 1st, 2017, I was sitting before the LORD seeking Him in my usual way. This morning, however, had an energy in the air that was undeniable. IT WAS A NEW YEAR! Friends on social media were already posting their resolutions and I longed to embrace the game. I yearned for a word from the LORD and so I sat. I prayed, I cried, I read, and this is what I heard:
“The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8
The verse jumped off the page and I knew it would be my 2017 defining verse. (I even made it “Facebook official”.) At the time, I thought I knew what He meant by it.
A dear friend of mine had been told that he had 100 days to live. His wife, their three girls (all under three-years-old), and many dear friends were desperate to defy the odds. Those days were rich as I stormed the heavenly gates in prayers, fasting, meditation, and daily study. Since hearing of his terminal diagnosis in December, I committed to proclaiming verses such as James 5:16, “…pray for each other so that you may be healed..” and Isaiah 58:6-8, “…Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear…”
My journal tells me it was January 3rd when the LORD led me into the familiar story of Exodus 13-14, Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. Pharaoh had changed his mind and now he was seen pursuing the Israelite slaves with every chariot of Egypt. The Israelites cried out in despair as the avenging cloud advanced towards them,
“’What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’ Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.’” Exodus 14:11-14
It was then and there that I was convinced my brother Tony would be healed. I was a physician and my medical colleagues were convinced there was no cure. How could I question their expertise? I was in Africa where people died every day of common illnesses such as diarrhea. How could Tony’s advanced case of cancer be healed? None of my faith made any sense but then again, “…faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) I knew I sounded foolish in the flesh but I was convinced in the Spirit and I knew my God could be trusted.
It was March 1st when Tony died. This is an awfully abrupt shift to our story, especially after my preceding monologue on faith and certainty, but it was with this same abrupt pang that I heard the news.
I hated my “year’s verse” for most of March and April. I knew we are mortal, I knew that Almighty God is not, but there was no comfort to be found in the harsh reality of these facts. I moved along in 2017 and would be blessed with an all-expenses-paid retreat offered to full-time missionary women. I had never been to anything like this, but I flew off to Namibia and I postured myself to receive whatever the LORD had to share. The book we worked through for the entire focus of the retreat? EXODUS.
Fast forward to September of 2017 and I would be invited to speak at a women’s retreat here in Uganda. The other main speaker and I were sharing out of the book of Habakkuk and I was assigned 1:12-2:20. To be honest, I only knew Habakkuk was a minor prophet by testing my kids on that factoid in their homeschooling Bible curriculum. I quickly reacquainted myself with the book in its entirety and this is some of what I found:
“O Lord, are you not from everlasting? Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” Habakkuk 1:12-13
Ah, it stung deep in my gut. No, I wasn’t an Israelite watching the wicked Babylonians carry off God’s chosen people to live in captivity. But what the enemy, CANCER, did to my Christ-following friend and his widowed family felt just as treacherous and wicked to me.
Where did God meet me in my preparations? Well, my section ended with this bold truth, “But the LORD is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before Him.” Habakkuk 2:20
Friends, it felt cold, desperate, and confusing during that season of lament. I could be seen doing things, productively passing the time of each day away, but my heart felt inactive, decayed even in a way. My heart was in a season of winter.
After Tony died, I chose to focus on the loss, the dust, and the pain all around me. I saw daily examples of grass and flowers withering and falling and I was buried underneath the pain and heaviness of it all.
But God’s word does not end there.
As I silently stood before the LORD, the fullness of our God met me in the fullness of His word.
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God… Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low… And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
2018 will be in full bloom any day now and what do I hope this New Year will have in store for my thawing soul? SPRING.
“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” -Anne Bradstreet