During our latest painfully frigid cold snap, I got to pondering about our intense change in seasons. As I was driving my kids to school, I started thinking about how amazing it is that in just a few short months (hopefully less!) all of this barren and colorless landscape will be totally transformed into beautifully vibrant hues and filled with new life.
I think of those non Minnesota friends, when they ask “How can you live in a place so cold!?” My response has always partly been, “Well, it does build character!” I think that the cold can make us more adaptable, more tolerant…and yes, even more patient! For example, as we parents know, it takes twice the time in the winter as it takes in the summer to get our young kids dressed to go outside! Our patience is also tested when we have to wait patiently for the sidewalk or driveway to be shoveled, or for our car heaters to successfully warm up!
I feel that the seasons of nature so often seem to mirror our own seasons of life. Just as the season of winter brings a period of painful waiting , so do the painful burdens or situations that we weather throughout our lives. We all have had very difficult heart wrenching struggles that have left us wondering, “How am I going to get through this?” And yet, after a period of patiently waiting, trusting, and praying, our particular burden was finally gently lifted and we could once again see that healing light. Sometimes our burdens became lighter due to the love and charity shown by those around us…and at other times our heavy burden was lifted entirely. In either case, within those healing moments, we were able to see that for us, it was a small miracle to be shown that kind of unexpected compassion and mercy.
I myself, have had many heavy burdens in the past few years that I never dreamed I would be carrying in my mid 30’s. A year and a half ago, my heart was painfully heavy as I sat in a court room in downtown St. Paul sitting with my brother and sister and our lawyer listening to a judge deem our 66 year old mother mentally and physically incompetent. I could hardly hold it together as I watched my sister bravely sit up on the stand and describe for the judge all of the many ways my mother is mentally and physically impaired . Inside my head, I fervently prayed a litany of Hail Marys, as the judge told us that my sister and I were now our mother’s legal guardians, meaning that from now on we are to make all of her medical decisions for her. I am now legally responsible for my mother’s life. At times, that feels like a very heavy burden to carry. Yet, in a way, it has started to feel more like an honor lately, knowing that I am able to give her that needed loving care and attention.
I think of the burden I carried the other week, when I received a call from my mom’s nurse asking me to please talk to my mom and try to calm her down. My mom, who suffers from dementia, had the belief on that day, that both of her parents had tragically died in a car accident while driving back from down south. I patiently and lovingly tried to explain to her that her mother has been gone now for 10 years, and that her father has been gone now for 25 years. She was very anxious as she described for me how she had to go to the memorial service for her father, that she thought they were holding that day. I proceeded to explain in a few different ways just exactly how and when both my grandma and grandpa had passed away. At one point I remember saying, “Mom, I think you a little confused, nana and bapa are in heaven now watching out for you.” to which she responded with, “I think YOU are confused…..and if they are watching over me, they aren’t doing a very good job!” A part of me felt like saying, “Well, I can’t really argue there!” But, a bigger part of me knew and still knows that God is and always has been watching out for her, it’s just that his ways of growth and protection don’t always look like our human ways!
At this moment, I carry the burden of remembering her scared face today as she desperately and emphatically told me, “Mary, please, please don’t give up on me….please, don’t stop praying for me. I don’t know what I would do with out you.” I am carrying the burden right now of remembering her screaming out loudly “HELP, HELP, HELP!” to the nurses, as I was exiting the building. When she is in those anxious states of mind, she is much more in need of attention and companionship.
As I talk of my burdens, I am reminded of what Jesus said:
“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest for your souls. For the yoke I give you is easy and the load I will put on you is light.” Matthew 11: 28-30
This verse gives me much comfort because it reminds me that no matter how overwhelming or impossible a situation or a burden of mine is, I know that Iwill never have to carry it all by myself. I think of Jesus and the colossal burden of our sin that he accepted willingly, with complete trust in the will of his Father. When Jesus said, “Father, if you will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Not my will, however, but your will be done” , I think of the tremendous amount of courage and strength that was required of him. I think of how he sweat blood as he agonized in despair because of that tremendous burden. His deep and intense level of sacrificial love is astounding to me. During my really difficult times, I sometimes picture him there with me lifting up my aching burdens of fear, despair, helplessness, and loneliness, as I offer it up to him and I try to see him lovingly reaching out to take it all from me. Sometimes, as I am walking by his cross at church or in my home, I picture myself handing over those burdens to him and saying to him, “Here you go, God! I just CAN’T do it alone today!” It never seems to fail, my shoulders always seem to lighten and the joy and peace often rushes in, or slowly seeps in, depending on the day!
Recently I was meditating on the words of Jesus from John 15, “Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me.” It reminds me that as long as we persevere in our faith, and try to stay connected to God through prayer….then we will always be able to weather any storm during those difficult seasons in our lives. He will always grant us the necessary peace, hope, strength, patience, and joy to endure….because he has PROMISED!!
I wrote the following poem recently, which was inspired by the promises of Jesus in John 15:1-17.
The Real Vine
Alone I stand,
my branches atop
a deeply rooted,
strong and sturdy tree
sure and stable, enduring any storm
Our Lord, holding me up
with calm stillness
and timeless assuredness.
From the start,
His grace has taken root in my heart…
remain in Me, and I in you.
My branches yield and bend
Yet, stay connected
combatting the fierce and changing winds.
Their arms extended.
Their leaves changing,
with each passing day
knowing what must come…
The warm spring sun
Comes yet again, to give new life,
bringing the promise
of bearing much
enduring and glorious fruit…
Chosen and appointed,
my forever Friend,
Your joy in me,