West wind blows cold this morning as I zip my jacket and head to the barn. Cornflower-blue skies backdrop sunlit orange, yellow, and red leaves beginning to fall. Green has said its last goodbye to trees tucking in for the long, winter rest. Branches shedding jeweled adornment reveal themselves, bare and dark.
Trees know they cannot change weather and seasons. They just do their work of the day—every day, every season. And so must I.
There is a time for everything, King Solomon says in Ecclesiastes. And life is brim-full of opposites. Spring and Fall. Planting and reaping. Birth and death. Laughing and weeping. God’s timing and way is perfect in opposites but we, often impatient and scared creatures, rush through or around what we don’t like and miss the blessing that comes in facing and embracing opposites.
We want birth without death. We want laughter without tears. We want peace without war. But life’s pendulum swings both ways, regardless of what we want and we cannot stop the motion.
I like peace.
I don’t like conflict.
I like happy.
I don’t like sad.
Regardless of what I like and don’t like, I have to deal with real if I want true life.
Pretending, ignoring, clinging, denying, avoiding—these kill, little-by-little, sooner-or-later.
Death is far more than physical. There are walking dead everywhere around us—walking dead seeking true life.
We live in a broken world. And our hearts break. Running and denying and stuffing and ignoring and trying to fix on our own—our ways fix nothing. At best, they prolong pain. At worst, they exacerbate pain and kill the little we try to save. Opposites.
But we have hope with God because birthing beauty from brokenness is God’s specialty. Bringing life from death is His ability alone.
I learned something about deciduous trees. They embrace opposites.
Wet spring, dry summer, warm fall days, cool autumn nights—combine all and expect a remarkable autumn color show. Opposites works together for spectacular.
Opposites work together for life. If trees were to pretend there was no winter coming, they would die. They would cling to their leaves and freeze to death. Shedding and baring—doing what God designed them to do in the fall—keeps them alive through the winters of life. Spring trees bud and leaf. Fall trees shed and bare. It’s for their good, for their life, God knows.
Of course, trees have no choice in opposites. But we do. We can choose to pretend and try to cling to the pretty, fooling ourselves right to death’s doorstep. Or we can choose to shed and bare when needed and learn to really live.
We have a choice. Do we embrace life’s opposites, trusting God to do His seasonal work in our lives?
God has taught me well through the past decade and a half, a season of opposites. Fifteen years ago, this autumn, our excitement was high, our dream about to come true. Fifteen years ago, this autumn, my husband and I left for Russia to adopt our first two children. Two years later, we returned and adopted our third child. I remember the first time I laid eyes on Anna, almost six, in the orphanage. She walked into the room, hand in hand with the orphanage director, and looked straight at me. The woman leaned over and whispered something in Anna’s ear. A huge smile filled Anna’s face, she dropped the woman’s hand, and she ran across the room toward me—arms wide, eager to hug—excitedly saying, “Mama!” We embraced and I thought I would faint for joy. Then, in Russian, she said, “I have waited so long for you!” My heart nearly broke.
Opposites. Barren became Mother. Orphan became Daughter. In that special, sudden moment, I held a child who had no mama for six years. No mama to hold her. No mama to soothe her. No mama to give her a present. No mama to call her own. And then, in a moment, loneliness—aloneness—touch starved—mama starved—the pendulum swung. Life changed in a moment. Same for our two sons, then four and nineteen months. Life as they knew it was over. For good. Life as my husband and I knew it was over. For good. Double income/no kids changed to one income/three kids. But that wasn’t the only opposite we faced and embraced.
We came home and began new life as a family. Soon, we started noticing that our children were not developing like other children and we came to learn that all three of our kids had permanent neurological and physical challenges resulting from fetal exposure to alcohol. We were rocked by reality, painful and permanent. I wish I could say I was a mature Christian who took it all in stride but I can’t. I started spinning with emotions I didn’t like and tried to reject, hide, and stuff. I was supposed to be a happy and grateful and loving mother. And I was. I am. I have been incredibly happy to become a mother when my body would not allow—so grateful for three beautiful children born half way around the world who are sweet and loving and kind and appreciative just to have parents and food and a real home.
But I also I have been madat birth mothers who drank while pregnant leaving their babies with permanent brain damage. I have been sad for the challenges our kids have in daily living and for the parental and marital challenges of providing for special needs that will continue after my husband and I leave this world. I have mournedthe loss of dreams. I have prayed my way through fear of the future, trusting that God will provide for our kids when my husband and I are gone.
Opposites. This wrestling with God through hard emotions—not denying or glossing over—has brought me closer to the God I already loved before we adopted. Fear, anger, grief—they have ALL been blessings. Fear, anger, grief—they have all been transformed by God, into greater faith and love and thankfulness and rest—deeper soul rest than I could have ever imagined possible.
Sometimes—often—wrestling with God through the hard tires us so much that we finally, simply—just let go. We shed our grip. We become bare. And then, we find rest in God. We rest and wait for His promised Spring. And it always comes in perfect time bringing new life, new beauty, new fullness.
God brings life from death. God fills emptiness and longing with Himself.
Beth Moore said in her Bible study on James, “The only thing God intends to be empty is the tomb.” Jesus overcame death. He fills all voids with Himself—if we shed and bare and LET HIM FILL.
The only thing God intends to be empty is the tomb.
With trees and people, God uses falls to bring springs—death to bring life. Falls of hopes and expectations bring springs of life. But I wrestle. And no one can wrestle without getting seriously close to the one with whom they wrestle. Serious closeness with God can’t end in anything but transformation and good—trading death for life—trading empty for full-filled.
And what of my scary strong emotions I shed before my Maker, becoming bare in His presence?
God hasn’t squashed me like a bug despite some pretty heated monologs, some torrential outpouring of tears. Now I know, from experience, He loves my honesty, no matter what. He loves my vulnerability, no matter what. He loves that I trust Him with what I think is ugly—with all I’ve tried to hide that He’s known about anyway. He just plain loves me. He just plain loves us. He just plain wants REAL relationships where we shed everything, especially the ugly, and allow Him to give us all He has for us which is nothing short of amazing grace. Discovering His absolute love and faithfulness in our gut-wrenching trenches of life brings true joy—true life—true full-fill-ment. Such opposites! Such holy grace!
Today the trees shed their leaves and rest and wait for new life in spring. It will come.
Today we can choose to shed and bare and rest—in peace. God will birth new life—true life—as sure as Spring.
With God, we can rest—in peace—while LIVING.
Rest in peace.
With Jesus, it’s possible.
Our souls find rest in God alone. Psalm 62:1
Jesus said, “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.”