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 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….

The Magic of Late Winter, Part I: Guest Post by Kimberly Margaret Miller

Mug in a bright window.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As I posted about last year, late February through March are usually the hardest time of year for me: the glitter of the holidays is long gone, the snow turns to slush, and New England is a mess of gray fog and ice storms. Crocuses and warm winds take a long time to arrive.

This year, however, my own writing and engagement on The Habit (an online writing community) have reminded that me that I live in a world of wonders created by an almighty God, and my art gives me the power to perceive and create beauty in the grayest places.

Some of my favorite writers have already done the work of re-enchanting this season, transforming it from depressing to mysteriously beautiful: Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights, James Hogg in Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Seamus Heaney in “Glanmore Sonnets,” and others.

So I want to approach this late winter season with a spirit of joy and wonder. This blog series will explore the magic of late winter and very early spring: pearl-gray skies, silver-white ice on the dark surface of ponds, rain-speckled snow, damp winds that spread the smell of wet soil, rain-speckled snow, birdsong on misty mornings.

For this project, I’m partnering with some wonderful writer-friends from The Habit, as I did last Thanksgiving. First, Kimberly Margaret Miller graciously let me repost this exquisite poem from her blog, a meditation on winter sunlight. Kim lives in the deep South, which doesn’t usually receive heavy snows, but can be gloomy with “short days, barren trees, and overcast skies.” 

This poem originally appeared on Kimberly’s blog.

Winter Sun

Your beams stretch,
            Arms beckoning,
a final embrace as you bid adieu.
Reaching, leaning, tilting
                        You scatter color
across the bleak horizon.
Then you are gone.
            Longing fills.
                        Cold darkness envelopes.
                                    I forget.

My alarm pulses.
            Shuffling through routine with half open eyes,
                        Morning tea in hand,
I pull back the curtain.
I wasn’t looking for you,
                        But there you are.
                                    Waiting for me to behold.
                                                Your quiet grandeur
whispered in hues of pink and purple.
                        I stand and listen with rapt attention.                                   
And suddenly, I awake.

Leash in hand, I walk Curiosity—
            The chase is on.
                        Weaving through bare trees
you pursue,
                                    Streaming brilliance.
        Stopping in my tracks,
I think of night.
                                  And already I miss you.

Your arms stretch,
            Across beams,
no final embrace as you bid adieu.
Reaching, leaning, tilting
            You scatter crimson
across bleakness within.
Then night comes.
            Longing fills.
                        Cold darkness envelopes.
                                    I forget.

My hunger craves.
            I shuffle through my days with half-open eyes.
You pull back the curtain.
I am not looking for you,
                                    But there you are,
                                                Waiting for me to behold.
                                                            Your quiet grandeur
whispers in hues of love and peace.
                I stand and listen with rapt attention.
                              And suddenly, I awaken.

The Day is at hand, I walk forward.
            The chase is on.
                        Weaving through barren places
you pursue,
                                                Streaming brilliance.
            Stopping in my tracks,
I think of night.
                                    And already I know
You will never leave.

Picture of Kimberly Margaret Miller

Kimberly M. Miller is a writer, wife of 28 years, mother to four children, and granna to one amazing little boy. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism in 1991 from Mississippi University for Women where she served as editor of The Spectator for two years. Kim’s writing has ranged from advertising copy and press releases to short stories and essays. Since retiring from 24 years as a homeschool mom, she’s devoted her time to honing the craft of fiction writing. Her current work-in-progress is a historical novel set in Mississippi in 1834.

Three Thanksgiving Meditations

Here is part two of the creative project I posted about yesterdayElizabeth Giger, Bethany Sanders, and I wrote poems to meditate on thankfulness, giving thanks in times of suffering, and our personal thanksgiving. In writing these, we each tried something new:

  • Elizabeth Giger wrote a lovely meditation using a series of contrasts both within the language used and the number of stanzas chosen.
  • Bethany Sanders wrote from a new perspective, incorporating Biblical and natural imagery.
  • I tried a rondeau, a French verse form with a refrain and a specific stanza and rhyme scheme.

Enjoy!

Woods filled with soft light on yellow and green leaves.

Thanksgiving

by Elizabeth Giger

Thanks be in the shimmering and shining,
In the comforted and cherished,
In the bright and the beauty.

Thanks be in the lovely and loved,
In warmth and wholeness,
In joy and justice.

And in the dark and doubt,
In the sinking and sorrowing,
In the broken and the bent?

And in the murk and the mire,
In the unknown and unfulfilled,
In the loss and in lament?

Where is the thanks in these?

It is in hope and help,
In peace and provision,
In love and liberty.

It is in the Spirit and salvation,
In the cross and cleansing,
In restoration and renewal.

Thanks be in the lovely and ugly,
In the dancing and mourning,
In the feast and in hunger.

Thanks be in the rich-robed and sackcloth,
In the surrounded and the lonely,
In the made-new and the shattered.

This is our sacrifice of praise.

Thanks be in all things.

To read more of Elizabeth’s writing, visit her blog, Made Sacred.

Sparrow's nest.

House Sparrow

by Bethany Sanders

Look there! A strip of paper.
Sun-bleached and frayed,
but soft as the edge of a feather.
I wing back to the house eave
with the paper rustling against
my shoulder as it ribbons in the wind.
Another lining for the nest.

This spring I weave by myself.
My mate and I sang with the flock
Until a shadow glided between us.
Hawk! Scatter-scatter-scatter!
But then she never returned.
Creator, remember us,
lest we fall alone.

The house eave is quiet and dry.
In here is the whorl of my nest.
I prick at the brim of the nest’s bowl,
then snake the paper into the weave.
Pluck here, tug there, hem the edge.
I sit. Warm and soft. Come time,
my future brood will be secure.

To see more of Bethany Sanders’s work, see her online webcomic, The Pelkern Cycle.

Golden sunlight on November trees.

Remaker

by me (Alicia Pollard)

You are the God who remade me
Through silent days when the earth turned slowly,
When cubicle-caves were empty and gray,
And pale screens replaced the light of day,
In two years of waiting, longing to be free.

Through two iron winters, you sent sparks of glory:
Laughter at the hearthfire, deep talks over coffee.
You gave me dreams like the northern lights at play;
You are the God who remade me.

Golden lake-days, musings in that silver valley,
Nights of exile, wondering who you called me to be:
You kindled a blaze that burned my thorn-hedge away
And grew wildflowers where the ashes lay.
In that green country and the tower by the sea
You are the God who remade me.