December 16, 2021
Advent: Finding Courage to Bloom in Winter
Happy holidays to you all! Can you believe it’s already December and 2022 is just around the corner! To be honest I’m not the biggest fan of all that comes with the holiday season and I never have been. The rush, the hype, the pull towards consumerism are just not for me.
What I do love is connecting with friends and family, and sinking into the spirit of gratitude and anticipation of good things. I also love reflecting on the year and dreaming about what lies ahead.
Speaking of reflection, in the last few years, I’ve really come to love and appreciate the Advent season. While we did celebrate Christmas growing up, we didn’t celebrate Advent. I didn’t really even know what Advent was until last December.
Quite simply I discovered Advent is just about fixing my eyes on Jesus and anticipating His arrival - and for me - that’s really personal. It’s mysterious and it’s an illumination of God’s love in the depths of my soul, my inner being.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. He is, and always will be now, with us in our sin, in our suffering, and at our death. We are no longer alone. God is with us and we are no longer homeless.”
One Season I’m Very Familiar With: Winter
This too has been my experience when it comes to discovering the beautiful mystery of Advent. It’s come through my own spiritual poverty, pain, and suffering. While I’d say my faith and a relationship with Jesus has long been central to my life, I never took the time to consider what treasures could be found in the rhythm of practicing Advent and in the dead of winter.
It’s really ironic because if anyone is acquainted with winter - like the reality of living through long winter days - it's me. I’ve spent most of my life living in Alaska - which is the land of winter and darkness. Today alone the sun didn’t rise until just after 10 am and sunset was precisely at 3:41pm. I wish I was joking.
So while I’m familiar with dark winter days and waiting for spring to come - I’m just beginning to discover the multiple layers of Advent and I’m not going to pretend I have a full understanding of the magnitude and glory that surrounds the story of Jesus’ arrival as a small helpless babe. But today I want to share just a few glimpses I’ve had into the mystery of Advent that completely transformed my life this past year.
It was this time last year and the months leading up to winter that I was truly depressed and I didn’t even realize it. And looking back - it’s hard to fathom just how heartbroken, numb, and raw I truly was.
Experiencing My Own Dark Night of the Soul
In 2020 while the world was shutting down and experiencing a winter of sorts - it was certainly a year of weariness, death, and barrenness for our little family.
I’ve shared in earlier episodes we miscarried back in the beginning of the pandemic and it rocked me to my core. Then shortly after, we moved back to Alaska a bit unexpectedly to spend time with my dad before he passed through heaven’s gates a little over a year ago.
The heaviness that came from our losses was magnified the closer we crept towards winter. I hadn’t planned to ever experience another Alaskan winter and the thought of cold dark winter days was crippling. And I mean truly crippling.
And instead of fleeing or fighting, I simply crumbled in my fragile state.
It wasn’t that I was just subject to biting temperatures and dark winter days. I was personally walking through a winter of the soul - or what men and women for centuries have referred to as the dark night of the soul.
What I didn’t realize was that the deeper we got into the winter months, the closer we moved to our baby’s due date - and subconsciously I was mourning the absence of a precious life in my womb.
Just like the barrenness of long cold dark winter days, so was I. Instead of holding our New Years’ baby, I was left wanting and waiting. And in the days since then, I’ve never revered life more than I have - after my brief stint carrying his little life. It showed me life is precious no matter how small - how seemingly insignificant it is - even if it’s still in seed form.
Our Need for Winter
One of the attributes of winter is that its harsh coldness brings forth a season of dying. But if you think about it, this death is a necessary bridge to new life. Before new life appears in the warmth of spring, death must come first.
I had initially spent a week or two grieving our loss but quickly began to busy myself to keep my emotions at bay. I know I’m not the first person to stuff their emotions but there I was. And the closer we got to winter (and my due date) the more fragile I began to feel.
Until finally, one night sitting in the shower, nearly seven months after I miscarried, the tears started flowing and they didn’t stop rolling down my cheeks for what felt like forever.
In my pain, I cried out to Jesus, my faithful friend. I asked Him to awaken my heart again to the passion of life. I wanted to feel pain and joy. I was at the end of my rope and needed healing and restoration.
I asked for help and the ability to believe and receive His life, His light, His hope because the darkness was blinding and I was trekking in unfamiliar terrain, not knowing or being able to see the path ahead. But I knew unlike me, God wasn’t intimidated by the winter and He can see in the darkness.
King David once wrote of God, “even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”
A Breakthrough and Raw Prayers
Holding on to this truth, I petitioned that God would take me to deeper wells of his love and that he would swallow up my pain. I asked for rest for my weary soul and for the type of peace that puts broken things back together better than their original state.
As I sat in the shower, praying and crying - God was there with me and He didn’t leave me alone. Jesus is Emmanuel - God is with us. That’s part of the mystery of Advent. God became flesh - so that I - so that we could experience His presence with us, forever.
Still crying - my heart began to feel. And being wrapped in total Peace, I heard a voice whisper, “Trust me fully.”
What? How was I to trust again - I was afraid.
And it’s definitely easier said than done when you’re engulfed in darkness and hiding out from the harsh winter winds like I was. It takes courage to believe and to anticipate goodness and dare I say - to bloom in winter when you can’t see past the darkness of the night.
But in this moment of crying out - Hope - the person - comforted me yet again. And it was in this season, my suffering became an invitation into a greater understanding of the first advent and what it means to wait in hope. Here I learned that there are some things that can only grow in the starkness of winter - during the dark night of the soul.
Consider the Amaryllis
While sitting down to reflect and collect my thoughts for this episode my dear husband texted me a beautiful spoken word titled: Amaryllis Story. This beautiful word given by Christy Nockels describes much of what I’ve experienced and am sharing with you. She describes winter and how the Amaryllis flower is a picture of the hope we have in the life of Jesus.
She says: “In the bleakness of winter the Amaryllis will spring up, pushing through the soil, displaying the beauty it was created to share. Sure it would be easier to wait until the comfort of spring but the Amaryllis bulb knows it cannot wait. It does not bloom because conditions are perfect - in fact, the conditions are counter-intuitive to new life - but the Amaryllis blooms in winter even still - it will not look to the world around it for nurturing and care but will instead obey the world within it and become exactly what it was created to be to bear the image of the beauty inside itself set there by a creator not bound by time nor season.
Many of us know the Bible story of the miraculous virgin mother and a baby in a manager but fail to intimately grasp the power of what actually took place when Jesus plunged into the darkness that night as a piercing light.
Jesus didn’t arrive in perfect conditions. I’m not just talking about the fact that he was born in a stable but that he came to the world at a time when God had been silent for 400 years. The world was in one long dark night of the soul, in a winter that seemed like it would never end.
Sound familiar? I’d like to propose that our world today is in the winter season. And just like then, many have given up hope that God is still with us or that He even sees us. But let me tell you, God is with us and sees us. God sees you and me and we don’t have to figure out our lives on our own.
How Jesus Came Right on Time
If we go back to the Christmas story, it was when the world least expected it - and when they were groping in the dark for the way forward that His brilliant love humbly broke through the night as new life.
He redefined winter by showing us that with him, Emmanuel, God with us we too can bloom in winter and shine in the night sky.
And here and now, we find ourselves waiting for the second “arrival” of Christ as if somehow things one day will be magically better. As wishful thinking. But we have been given a promise - that Jesus is with us now and is coming. It’s this promise that gives us hope, keeping us steady in the wind and the waves as we wait.
The Gift in Waiting on God
Advent is about waiting in anticipation and expectation that Jesus is coming. Most of us hate waiting. I think partly because we live in such a fast-paced time in history and we like the endorphins we get from instant gratification.
However, Henry Nouwen in his essay, “Waiting for God” suggests that waiting is so hard for us because we are so fearful. Afraid of our own feelings, other people, and afraid of the future.
He then goes on to describe the posture of biblical waiting as: “People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them. Like a seed that has started to grow.”
In the spirit of Advent, we wait in hope because we’ve received a promise. We eagerly await, in the darkness, holding lamps, anticipating the arrival of the King. He’s coming and our job is to be ready.
Why the Wait Ends with Jesus
So why do we dare to do this? We do this because He is our lamp and our promise wrapped up in one.
Through my miscarriage, I’m starting to understand waiting in hope, rooted in promise. I miss our son and long to get to know him. New Year’s will forever remind me of the future I have ahead with him. While he’s not running circles around me now, he’s residing in heaven and the anticipation of our joyful reunion one day gives me hope in my waiting.
When I reflect on this last year I’m reminded that yet again, Jesus consistently shows up in the darkest corners of my life. While yes, He will return again - He is here now with me. Emmanuel. He sits with me in pain and suffering, isn’t afraid of getting stained by my mess, and is never far off. His light once again permeated the darkness, bringing color to my night skies like the aurora in the dead of winter.
I can’t tell you how but after I had that epic cry fest in the shower while I was bearing forth my soul to God something happened. In the days and weeks ahead I started to see new blossoms of life appearing. And the suffocating pain that was snuffing out my life light subsided. My loss wasn’t dismissed but was transformed into something beautiful. I don’t quite have words to describe it, but it’s the fruit of Jesus shining bright in my night skies and at work in the depths of my soul.
In exchange for my pain and depression, I was given a gift of hope and anticipation that good things are around the corner and this hope has carried me through. This experience proved to me that it’s possible to bloom even in the dead of winter.
Pain Is An Invitation To More In God
For me, my miscarriage was an invitation into deeper depths of intimately experiencing the beauty and mystery of God’s love. While you may or may not have experienced a miscarriage, I bet there is something in your life that’s caused you pain and that you can resonate with heartache, loneliness, or what it’s like to be in your own winter season.
These things are inescapable parts of the human experience. But God offers each of us new life - a new start right where we’re at. The gift of hope, comfort, and deep love is for you too.
It’s in my darkest of nights’ I’ve found love and not judgment from God. My prayer today is that for those of you that are weary and or experiencing your own sort of winter, you’d encounter the person Jesus - the light of the world and that His peace would cocoon you right where you’re at today.
He has come and is coming that you might have life and that your soul would prosper no matter what your circumstances look like.
This is only one of the many facets of the mystery of Advent and the Christmas story. There’s much more I’m chewing on and contemplating this year as we move through Advent. But I hope this leaves you encouraged in whatever season you find yourself in.
An Advent Gift for You
And with that, let’s wrap up this Christmas episode with a little something I’ve put together for you.
I believe music is so powerful and love having something to listen to as I go about my day. So, I created a Spotify playlist with some of my favorite songs for the Advent season to be a source of encouragement and inspiration for you and yours. You can find a link to the playlist in the show notes and the description of this episode.
Also, stay tuned we have some exciting things for you around the corner coming in 2022!
And with that Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Links & Resources Mentioned
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