The Magic of Late Winter, Part VI: Guest Post by Hope Henchey

Pictures by Hope Henchey

Friends, the natural world is changing from gray to green, chilly to warm, frozen to refreshed, but it feels like the human world has gone mad. This pandemic has reshuffled the cards of our lives. I pray for those who are sick, grieving, afraid, jobless, homebound, or lonely.

In the midst of grief and fear, I remember an ancient truth: the God who sits above the circle of the earth and inhabits eternity is our refuge – in pandemics or prosperity, peace or war.

The LORD God is our stronghold. I hope to honor Him by seeking joy in dark places and pursuing beauty through these gray days. Therefore, I am going ahead with the next installment of my Magic of Late Winter series, a guest post by Hope Henchey about late winter in Florida.

Hope’s meditation on the beauty and transience of this season in Florida stirred me like a dream of summer in the midst of winter. I love how she captures this season’s precious, fierce, fragile joy. Enjoy!

March in Florida: The Last Days of the Shire

Text and pictures by Hope Henchey

I’m a season snob, I’ll admit it.

If you ask my opinion of living in Florida for 22 years, the answer you get will vary widely depending on what month it is. You should ask in a month like March.

Those who live in colder climates might look to March with hopefulness of sunny days and fresh air. As a Floridian, however, I’ve already been enjoying sunny days and fresh air for the past few months, so I cling to March tightly as I watch the last specks of sand drizzle through the hourglass, signaling the season when my Shire will transform into Mordor.

March is so, so lovely. It’s the tail-end of strawberry season, which means those delicious berries are cheap, plenteous, and ruby-red ripe. Since we live only five minutes from strawberry fields, we actually eat strawberries at every meal. To continue with Lord of the Rings imagery, I devour strawberries in the same way the steward of Gondor murderously eats tomatoes. The juice drips from my chin like blood, but I don’t even care. It’s glorious.

March is a month when mosquitoes (“our state bird”, as we say) are still mostly gone, and the air is cool enough to enjoy all the local rivers, trees, and beaches. My favorite beach is Siesta Key, where the sand truly looks and feels like powdered sugar. Nearby is the gorgeous John and Mable Ringling Museum and Estate (yes, the circus guy) where my daughters enjoy savoring aromas in Florida’s oldest rose garden. On the way home, we like to stop by a delightful orange grove that sells soft-serve frozen orange juice. March days are full of such adventures.

Though we still might get sunburned if we’re outside more than ten minutes, the big ol’ Star seems more like friend than foe in months like these.

There is, of course, an uneasiness that pulls at my sleeve in March. I know that the hot half of the year is hurtling toward us, with its bugs and crowds and threats of heatstroke. Especially since I’m entering my fifth pregnant summer in nine years, I know that I have months of difficult breathing ahead since my organs get all squished up, yet the fourth-most humid city in America doesn’t seem to care. Even walking to my car feels like I’m underwater in a 100-degree pool. I dread that feeling so much.

But that’s the thing with seasons, isn’t it? We don’t get to control them. Unless we have the flexibility to chase around good weather, we don’t get to pick what season we’re in. I wish strawberries were always cheap and ripe, but the plants must die and be replanted and grow from seeds again. I wish the air could always feel fresh and delightful, but heat and humidity must come.

If I could customize seasons of life by sheer will, I would cut out a lot of the things going on in my life right now, issues that are heavier than hot weather or lack of berries. But the world is broken, and God has given me limits. I can receive each season as the blessing it is, given by God for His glory and my good.

There’s beauty in every season. Even summer holds things I love such as mighty yet calming lightning storms, Vacation Bible School, and lower prices on grapes. But while it’s still March, I’ll enjoy every last moment of blowing bubbles in our yard and gator-watching at Lettuce Lake Park and meandering downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk.

I thank Him for this season and trust Him for the next.

Bio picture of Hope Henchey

Hope Henchey

Hope Henchey lives in the suburbs of Tampa, Florida with her husband and four kids (fifth on the way!) She writes on her blog and microblogs on Instagram about homeschooling, RV living, theology, childbirth, and more @called.beloved.kept and @lightingfireshomeschool. She has written for Christianity Today and Daughter of Delight.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part III: Guest Post by Reagan Dregge and Kristen Kopp

Sunset over snow-covered trees
Photo by Kristen Kopp

This blog series on the magic of late winter has been a cross-country exploration of regional beauty – Kimberly Margaret Miller gave me a glimpse of winter sunlight in the deep South, and Loren Warnemuende showed me the snow and flowering dogwoods of southeast Michigan. This week’s post is written by Reagan Dregge, with pictures by Kristen Kopp. These writers are from Minnesota, the prairie, where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent a year On the Banks of Plum Creek and temperatures can drop to -30 degrees Fahrenheit in winter (wind chill can drop to -68 degrees).

Reagan Dregge‘s breathtaking imagery reminds me that we live in a world of wonders, a place just as wild and magical as Faerie. Kristen Kopp‘s images remind me to open my eyes to the beauty of the ordinary, the precious gift of snow and sunlight, leaf and sky. Enjoy!

Winter Magic

by Reagan Dregge
pictures by Kristen Kopp

You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.
Annie Dillard

By late winter the air is scorched ice. The snowscape is sucked dry, colorless. Lungs burn. Skin stings. The ground is a slick slab of sheer adamant. Frost laces windowpanes like fractures into faerie. The frozen world is transparent. I can see through every stilled molecule, through trees that crack the sky, through the thin atmosphere all the way to the Milky Way wrapped like a scarf around our galaxy. The frigid stars blaze bright and sharp. I imagine standing on the surface of the moon. The constellations spin above in dazzling clarity.

Have you beheld a sundog-flanked dawn? The sun, shattered into shards? Three fire pillars pierce the cobalt firmament, diamond guardians of earth’s rim, or an archangel with two swords barring reentry into paradise? On winter evenings, neons melt on the horizon. Charged particles scatter solar flame. Unnamed, unnumbered hues are born in the bent beams, next to which rainbows are a faded polaroid.

Bitter winds writhe and moan across the plains. Windows rattle, porch bells ring. The shrill surgeon slashes and severs, casting withered sticks and shriveled limbs across the brittle bier beneath attending silver maples. Huddled hedges offer brief respite from the biting chill. Fog’s froth condenses and crystallizes, coating every stem, twig, and chain link with rime ice armor. Glass-sheathed grass sheaves gather at the edge of ditches. Lake waves freeze into a gleaming fleet of fairy sails. The cold cuts words short, and they drop to the ground like bubbles blown in subzero temps or evaporate instantaneously like a pot of boiling water thrown into the air. Weather fluctuations can be detected in the length of icicles dangling from every lip and gable, dripping into their own trenches or dropping like grenades in the night.

Spread out under an open sky the snow sparkles like champagne, and in the crisp gold light a toast is raised. Blizzards blow across the plains, covering forest and field with mountainous shifting drifts. The polar vortex unfurls its coffers and foams forth layer after layer over the bounding breadth. Clusters of vapor flurry and fall, spun and splintered and studded. No two alike, each flake a delicate intricacy. They melt the moment they touch tongue or alight eyelash, existing brief as a breath, fleeting as a flower. From wet heft to pellet sleet, snow’s forms are as bottomless as Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. The sounds of my walk down our quarter-mile driveway change with every day: creak, crunch, slurp, slush, swish, sweep, whisper-soft absorption.

Deep within the frozen earth, amphibians sleep in soundless stasis. Bird and butterfly have long since flown south, but woodpeckers and white-tailed deer remain, subsisting on bark and acorns. Rabbits and mice trace patterns in the morning dusting. I once saw a hawk’s wingprint stamped in a snowbank. Wisdom and miracle abound in this stark and solitary season.

To those who find winter blank and monotonous: you must write your psalm and I must write mine. There is glory hidden in the gray—look for it when the cold burns and the light dims. Look, and you will find winter crowning the year, robed in alabaster, strewn with rubies, fragrant as juniper, fresh as citrus, warm as cinnamon.

Reagan Dregge and her family

Reagan Dregge
Reagan loves names and words and stories. She once studied creative writing and theatre arts, but today she homeschools, writes handwritten letters, and salvages her own little house on the prairie with a husband, daughter, and multiplying menagerie (one cat, two dogs, a dwarf netherland rabbit, and a small flock of chickens). Her favorite seasons are winter, spring, summer, and fall. Follow her blog, The Grace Book, to read more of her work.

Kristen Kopp

Kristen Kopp
Kristen lives in a cottage on the prairies of Southern Minnesota. She works in her local Community Development Department by day and spends the rest of her time wandering in the woods, writing letters, and gathering with friends and family to share meals and play board games. Follow her on Instagram at @kristenannakopp.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part II: Guest Post by Loren Warnemuende

Pink blossoms
Photos by Loren Warnemuende

Last week, I posted the first in a series on the magic of late winter, or the special beauty of this season between midwinter mystery and spring awakening. This week, I have the privilege of posting an achingly beautiful piece by Loren Warnemuende, another writer-friend from The Habit writing community. Loren’s encouragement and wisdom have been a blessing to me in my writing, and her work has the warmth and richness of the first golden day of spring.

Snow and Flower

by Loren Warnemuende

I remember a day in late January, 2009, when the snow fell thick and heavy. It fell unhurriedly; it had plenty of time, and plenty to dump. Southeast Michigan in January tends more to gray days and ice, but on that day, the skies cried soft snow.

I drove, my mind churning, my tires cutting through ruts of previous vehicles. One of those vehicles carried my daughter Keren—an ambulance that sped far ahead, out of sight. I didn’t know if Keren still lived.

The snow paused. A shaft of light cut through the clouds and caressed a white field. It was as if God reached down to remind me, “I am here. I am holding all of you.” The cold and snow lingered, the heart monitor flatlined, but the sunlight touched the field.

Six months later we cleared lava rock and weeping mulberries from our yard, replacing those horrors with grass and a dogwood tree. Though Michigan dogwoods can’t compare to their southern relatives who shake out white and pink blooms each spring like antebellum debutantes at a ball, the Michigan dogwood defies winter. We trusted its pretense of fragility and delicacy when we planted our memorial for Keren. We watched our dogwood through the months. Around Keren’s seventh birthday, the leaves fell, mourning the end of summer. On the first cold January anniversary, the tree’s branches stuck out straight and brown, bare of the red berries they bore at Christmas. April arrived trumpeting resurrection. I watched the tree. Each day I checked it. Each day it stood unchanged. Then one day I noticed woody knobs tipping some branches. On others, brown points cut through the ends of boughs. A month passed from knob to bloom. There were days I bit my lip to resist shrieking with impatience. I wanted to see the flowers! Other days I inspected each knob and point, marveling at the process of glory superseding lifelessness. The sharp-tipped branches forced out pairs of leaves, raised upward like hands in praise. The knobs expanded until they broke, quartered, and unfurled crosswise, not into petals, but four leaf-like bracts. At first these bracts twisted brokenly about the center. Yet life flowed and the bracts spread, flushed, and dimpled. They imitated petals, each set of four surrounding a crown of tiny yellow flowers. The tree held her wine-red blossoms to the clear blue spring sky.

I don’t know how many years it will be till I see Keren again. Life has charged on, bringing new challenges and changes. Our family has lived in a different country, and we now hail from East Texas where great dogwoods bloom in March, and the magnolia in front of our dining room blossoms in January, dropping pink petals as softly and slowly as the snow fell that day eleven years ago. Sometimes I long for our reunion with Keren—I want to see her flower! Other times I feel like God is forcing sharp points through bare branches in my life. Yet then there are days I am enthralled by the blossoms God is slowly unfurling in those of us who wait. Often they seem warped and broken, but someday our blooms and leaves will be complete.

Photo of Loren Warnemuende

Loren Warnemuende

When she was in fourth grade, Loren won a story-writing contest and decided that she’d grow up to be a writer. Since then God has led her into many roles, including six-and-a-half marvelous, stretching years as mom to Keren, who was born with Trisomy 18. Loren is wife to her Renaissance man, Kraig, and mom and teacher to their three kids (who stretch her differently than Keren did!). Loren also teaches Worldview and Bible to high schoolers in a homeschool coop, and adults at church. Through all these roles writing has been a source of hope, healing, and stress-relief. Loren lived most of her life in Michigan, but lived in Guadalajara, Mexico, for two years and now calls East Texas home. You can find more of her sporadic writing on her blog: Willing, Wanting, Waiting….

October, Traffic, and Gentleness

Trees and a pond in golden sunlight.

The mornings are getting darker, but this week, the air has been muggy – I’m waiting for the cool feather-touch of October winds. Every day brings treasures: tall pines casting long shadows against the gold of the setting sun, the rich smell of leaf-mold in the woods, and the reflections of trees glimmering green on blue water. 

Last Friday night, I went to a lecture that gave a spiritual/psychological perspective on anger. The speaker said that anger reveals what you love – your self-image, time, possessions, or people. He used traffic as an example: if getting stuck in traffic angers you, that anger reveals your love for feeling in control.

Traffic has become a daily reality in this new place. In the north, I could shave off a few minutes by driving fast on the highway; here, my commute time could easily double with accidents, holiday weekends, or rain. And yes, I get frustrated. I view my time as my own, and hate it when I lose any. 

I’ve discovered that I treat obstacles like traffic as if they will only happen once. After I finally get home, finish a dentist appointment, put away my groceries, or get my car oil changed, I can finally be free. But standing in a Walmart checkout line the other day, I began to realize that these daily irritants are not going away. 

Under the fluorescent lights, as the cashier and current customer waited for a manager to come do something to the cash register, I tried to remind myself that I don’t have to become angry when I’m forced to wait. It takes so much strength to be gentle; but snapping every small frustration or injustice would embitter me. 

I also remember being a cashier during summer jobs and continually making mistakes that forced customers to wait. Once, a woman with rich brown hair and a gentle smile didn’t complain once when she had to return to Barnes & Noble because I messed up her payment. A man with a round face and a plaid shirt watched me clumsily try to wrap his coffee table book, exclaimed “oh, dear,” and showed me how to wrap it properly.

As for traffic – as a young, anxious driver, I remember other drivers protecting me from my own mistakes, such as letting me into their own turn lanes at intersections at the last minute. Once, a driver in the parking spot across from me watched me struggle to park straight, and then backed out so I could pull through neatly into his space. 

I promised myself then, and again now, I would try to treat people as those strangers treated me.

But I need to be motivated by more than memories of kindness: to be patient and gentle, I need to see clearly. Yesterday morning, I thought about the last creative writing class I took. Our first week was about Vision: trying to see the world not as ordinary or mundane, but as God’s spectacular Creation. Driving on the interstate this week, I tried to remember that every car crawling around me contained at least one immortal.

A true, cosmic perspective of the world is gentle and joyful. I can remember that in heavy Friday night traffic, long lines at the RMV, and in the cool woods as the dying leaves fall.