The weatherman says that as of now our Wisconsin nights will be longer than our days, that darkness will prevail. He says it will stay this way until March. My heart clinches and drops. I feel anxious, as if I’ve forgotten something, missed something very important. A deep-seated sense of frantic rises up.
“Too soon. I’m not ready yet.”
I feel a twinge of sadness for the dead days ahead.
It was a late spring, cool and wet. Our furnaces ran into the summer months and farmers were late to the field. Birds and blooms and spotted fawns appeared deeper into the season. The grass was higher than the baby rabbits by the time I noticed them.
But I noticed less this past spring, and for months before and beyond. It was a trying year, manic and mangled and sicker than I’ve been in years. I scared my friends, scared myself and I held out for buds and blooms as tightly as the next sunrise. I wasn’t so sure I’d see either, but prayed I would.
She tells me that I need to take it slow, to rest. “You have the time, you have the space,” she says. “It’s been a hard year for you. You need to recuperate.”
Replenish, she tells me.
Friends say, “It’s okay to do nothing for a while.”
One friend says, “Be still with God. Sit at his feet.”
I don’t know what that means. I’m not sure I could if I did.
It’s hard for me to do nothing. Nothing means my mind is free to roam, to run, to carry me away with its crazed frenzy. So, I’ve made myself a Martha in constant motion taming those synapses into submission by way of distraction. It’s safer that way. I trust myself more.
I make the coolest things.
Besides, I was bred a Martha, my value verified by what I accomplished, how well it came to be. Being still was “lazy” and “you’re burning a hole in daylight”. There was this, that and the other to do, always something else. Always something more. “Get with it, Girl.” I strove and longed for those “good job” smiles that never came, but I never quit trying.
I’ll get it right.
I’ll be good.
Just you wait and see.
I’m driving along now and watch all these leaves brown and blow by in a matter of days. They stick to my windshield, the soles of my shoes. Branches are baring fast. But a faint green still speckles the beans in the fields and the corn still stands, striving for the sun.
It’s not all gone yet.
But, it comes, those cooler nights edging into cold, fawns further behind their mothers, spots fading, squirrels hoarding fallen nuts and the hummingbirds long gone.
How do I not feel a sad sense of loss? A melancholy rooted in time having passed me by?
What have I done?
What have I accomplished?
I watch neighbors pile bales of straw by their mailboxes, scarecrows perched lazily on top. Mums in vibrant golds and blazing oranges poke out between pumpkins and gourds. Some start the seemingly endless continuum of leaf raking and burning. Earthy smoke fills the air and my nose. My heart lurches this way and that.
“Still, Bren.” I whisper to myself.
(This is going to take some getting used to, some white-knuckle wrestling.)
Soon all that can will hunker down in dens and crooks of trees, knots chiseled out by pointed beaks. Grey and wet will shroud our days, a tingling frost will blanket our nights and there will be this dead silence save the coyotes on the edge of town, an owl or two.
Fields will lie fallow.
My heart heavies, would weep if it could.
I weave S-like along these country roads while elms and oaks shed their leaves before me. I think about the year before, how it seemed I slipped further and further back, so very far back. I remember how my faith withered like these falling leaves and how the voice of God seemed so faint and sparse. I remember the days upon days, weeks, even months I thought God had thrown up His hands and walked away finally worn from all His efforts. No “good job” smile for me.
I remember the fear that withering faith gives rise to. That anxious panic like now.
God was so very quiet so very long, like those 400 years long ago.
I come through a straightaway with a canopy of branches covering the road. Golden leaves swirl in the breeze and I recognize this moment, I notice the now. In an instant I’m in the now and able to see my going backward propelled me forward. I’m not the me I used to be in those dark days. The mountains towered over me all those wilderness days, the days I called the dead ones, blocking the sun.
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
(Psalm 27:13-14 NIV)
But in this moment I see they were not dead days at all. They were germination, like seeds sprouting deep in the soil. I didn’t see it coming, didn’t notice the happening. Somewhere along those days I stretched up and out of the dark season like corn striving for the sun. I stood and walked up out of that valley just as strong as bones brought back to life.
I couldn’t have done that on my own.
I didn’t see the dead days shift into nurturing days, imperceptibly slow like dough rising, like seasons changing.
I am here, now, no worse for the wear. No, there is a strength and wisdom I never knew, planted like a seed tucked into sleeping soil, soil left to rest to restore its fertility.
The river still flows beneath its heavy layer of winter ice.
Our God is a tenacious God. He doesn’t hunker down for a long winter’s nap. I see remnants of His hand, His slow and steady flow.
They were there all along. He was.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
(Psalm 121:1-4 NIV)
I see Him in the me He’s made, in the me He’s making.
I make it home and inside just as rain begins to fall. My space is cool, early fall wind blowing in, leaves collecting on my windowsill. I close the window and sit, pull a blanket over my bare toes.
I watch rain slip down the window and feel a sense of comfort, a subtle hug against the cold. I shut my eyes in the quiet of the room and squirm again before I settle. I practice stillness, learn to find gratitude in the replenishing. The dead days have passed. I’m still and listening and lean into this hushed change flowing on like water under ice.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
(Psalm 46:10-11 NIV)