Usually I’m not a big fan of February, except for my daughter’s birthday and Chocolate Day, oops I mean Valentine’s Day. And when you’re in a season of grief, it’s a relief to get through one more day, and especially a string of long, winter days. But as we are halfway between Christmas and Easter, I’ve come to realize that February days are generally void of merriment but they’re not without meaning. These are the days when intentionality is essential to my soul. My lawn is dormant (no grass mowing = bonus!) but my soul can’t be. I must choose to embrace hope in the in-between.
So when writer, speaker, and artist Emily Freeman (Chatting at the Sky) asked her followers to consider what they’ve learned in February, I started thinking that this February, probably more than any other, has touched a barren place in my heart with the limitless bounty of God’s grace.
Here’s a little of what I learned, with touches of superficial, significant, and in-between:
1. I really prefer the summer Olympics over the winter Olympics. By the second week of the Sochi games, my interest had grown, well, cold.
But I was struck by 2 things about the Olympics: I really liked Proctor & Gamble commercial about moms who are dedicated to the aspirations of their kids who turn out to be Olympians. But I liked even better the AT&T commercial about the mom who is taking care of her kids and, oh by the way, training to be an Olympian.
And while watching the Olympics, it occurred to me that many of the events are focused upon an individual athlete – the figure skater, the skeleton racer, the snowboarder. But in the shadows of the spotlight are hundreds of people who give the Olympians their moment to shine. And success and failure best happen in community. Bronze medalist Erin Hamlin returned to an “Olympic-sized celebration” thrown by her NY village of 600 people who enthusiastically supported her through many years of training. In the 15-K skiathon, Swiss cross country skier Dario Cologna waited 28 minutes after his gold medal victory to congratulate Peruvian Roberto Carcelen who competed with a broken rib and finished in last place. And when Russian Anton Gafarov fell in the cross-country race and broke his ski, Canadian cross country coach Justin Wadsworth jumped into the moment to replace it.
These examples remind me that, in my successes and my failures, I’m not alone. Yes, there’s personal effort and accountability, but for the most part I’m intertwined with people that I call spouse, family, friends, neighbors, church, and community. On my best day, gold-medal moments come only with lots of support and encouragement from the people who pour grace into my life. And on my worst day, these people remind me that this is a race for the long-haul, and it’s time to persevere.
2. There’s something about being creative that is so good for the soul. I think it has to do with the image of God. Because God is the Creator, and when I use my hands I remember and celebrate and reflect His creativity. I used to be a crafty person with a little cake-decorating business, but those days are sadly past. One of the happiest, most fulfilling days that I’ve had in a long, long time was the day of preparing for my daughter’s birthday. It reminded me of how my soul craves creativity and art and celebration. As image-bearers, I believe that creativity will be one of those eternal characteristics that we carry into Heaven. I can’t wait to see what that looks like!
3. Flexibility is a component of fitness, physically and spiritually speaking. Stretching involves going beyond the usual range of motion. Maybe it’s trying something new. And perhaps it feels awkward. But flexibility is a learned characteristic that makes my spiritual muscles more pliable. Sometimes I need to set aside my usual routine and range of motion and allow God to move me as He wills and where He wants.
4. Speaking of exercise, faith benefits from a work-out. On February 18 came a question from the daily devotion by Charles Spurgeon, “For how can you know that you have faith until your faith is exercised?” Just a few minutes after reading that, I called my husband to let him know that I really wanted to attend a writer’s conference but I was anxious about the cost. His reply? “Sounds like a time to exercise some faith.” Yeah, he’s a good guy like that.
5. Not a lesson I wanted to learn, but it’s true — girl drama is alive and well among grown women. At least my most recent rejection helps me be more sensitive to my preteen daughter’s fears. So now I’m doing some reading about women in relationships, and I have more studying and writing to do. But for now, let me say one thing – Just Be Nice.
6. The recent epic snowstorm in the South made me realize how easily dissatisfied we are. Within 2 days on social media, the same people who had been pining for the first snowflake were posting status updates along the lines of Get.Me.Out.Of.This.House. Another classic example of the old adage – be careful what you wish for (ahem, preaching to myself).
7. Speaking of snow, I am so glad to be a Southern girl who somehow got hitched to a Massachusetts-raised (ok, Yankee) husband who is not afraid to drive in the stuff.
8. From the Gideon Bible study by Priscilla Shirer, I’ve learned many things, but one thing that has really struck me is the realization that I am simultaneously in the younger and older generation. There are wise women in front of me who are sharing beautiful examples of discipleship, marriage, and motherhood while I am setting a path for women who come behind me. I need to be intentional about creating and maintaining mentoring relationships. This place in life is a gift, and I want to be a faithful steward.
9. It’s a glorious thing when the Body of Christ functions as it is meant to. When tragedy hits someone in my community, my merciful heart serves best when joined with a brain and hands and feet. It’s amazing to see how God provides through the gifts of His people when they operate as one. We are better together.
10. In times of crisis, a cell phone just doesn’t do. Recently, as my mother and I were coming out of a restaurant, I noticed a lady in front of us who seemed disoriented. When she turned to face us, she immediately blurted, “My sister just told me that she has stage-4 cancer.” Without missing a beat, my mother enveloped her, gave me a subtle elbow in the side, and said “We’re going to pray. Right now.” And we did. Sacred moments happen in person. Even with strangers.
11. I have a tremendous appreciation for people who know math, from 6th grade calculations to taxes.
12. The Word of God is alive and rich and unending in its applicability to life. I love to read a familiar verse but see it in a new light. One of my favorites is Isaiah 49:16 – “I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are ever before Me.” Until just a few days ago, I thought of “walls” in the way of obstacles, frustrations, and figurative mountains in my way. And that made sense to me; of course God gets it when I keep banging my head against sins or hang-ups that hinder me from moving forward in faith. My name is written on His hands, and He remains faithful and compassionate. But then I learned that the “walls” in this verse refer to the rubble of destroyed Jerusalem. And I got a brand new picture – God sees my brokenness. My ruined dreams. My weak places and failures. But God’s purpose is not destroyed. In fact, the very next verse tells me that a plan to rebuild is in place.
God is a redeemer and a restorer. And that’s the most valuable lesson I will carry out of these February days….