The Dead of Winter: Reflections on Hope

There’s a reason it’s called the dead of winter.

Though I’ve lived through thirty-two winters, there comes a time each winter when I begin to doubt that the spring will ever come again. Oh, I know objectively that the snow will thaw, the days will lengthen; but the cold seems endless, the darkness punishing. Right now, it seems, this winter will be eternal. Right now, it doesn’t seem worth the wait.

Have you ever been in a winter so dark and deep, you believed it would last forever?

This week I stood at the kitchen counter, shoulders heavy, back to the kids, peeling a manufactured orange. The day had been a catalog of colossal parental impotence. My children’s interactions with friends that turned mean-spirited, ugly. The reality that sin spills over, that that’s the nature of entropy. That we will come to place of feeling powerless, lacking in hope.

And while I was dealing with my own thousand failures, in that day, in myself and in my children and in the ones who met with them, I saw the failures of not just individuals but of generations.

Because as human beings, we are subject. Subject to the sins of our fathers and mothers, who were subject to the sins of their fathers and mothers before them. We repeat the mistakes and the monstrosities; we each do it in our turn, despite our best efforts. We scream when we should be silent and we are silent when we should speak. We turn ravenous eyes on the meagerest of sins and are blind to the vastest, most insidious violations. We are loosed from our homes into the world where the children of others are making their mistakes the way their own families knew how. And our children carry the curse. We see the flash of rage in our sons’ eyes, and recognize our fathers. We hear the note of wild fear, the self-hate in our daughters’ voices and we hear the voices of generations of women flinging blame, indicting themselves, running for cover, taking the ship down with them.

Souls configuring and reconfiguring themselves to the warped shapes of the souls nearest them.

On our own, we are beyond screwed.

We are nailed.

And I realize:

That’s what the cross is about.

We nail our mistakes and our catalogs of failures because at the end of the day, we have no choice.

We are already there, nailed by the hammers of sheer human inertia. We are there, bound up in the ways we hurt, and we hurt, and we hurt again, till our blood runs together and it’s impossible to separate out whose rage, whose despair, whose fear belongs to whom. Individuals and families and nations alike. We are there – we are all complicit.

We are the dead of our own long winter.

We were dead in our transgressions…

And that is why we needed a Savior who resurrected.

… but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.

It is by grace you have been saved.

Grace. A startled daisy in a war-ravaged field. A stroke of light on a winter’s day.

And I met it there, standing at the counter.

“Yup!” A sudden, bright little voice.

I turned around, half-there. “Yup, what?”

“Yup,” said Sam, apropos nothing, “I want to have kids someday.”

He was standing on a chair with a giant grin on his face, like he was about to give a speech.

“And you’re going to be a grandmother,” he said. “And Gracie is going to be an aunt. Aunt Grace!”

“Noooooo,” came the impish two-year-old protest from downward-dog position on the kitchen floor.

“Yessss,” said Sam, “and I am going to be Uncle Sam. Hey! Like the fourth of July!”

And then kids’ laughter, breaking through the fog.

Wow, I thought, so we are not completely screwed after all. In this banged up world he actually believes being a parent is something to wish for, to hope for.

Hope.

Sam’s words came out of thin air, or maybe they didn’t. His words were themselves like a battalion of angels, sent to tell me that despite myself, despite himself, despite all the pain that my children had and would ever endure and inflict – that we must still stay in the business of the giving of life.

And maybe that’s what hope is: it’s a grace in itself, the gift of a future in which redemption is possible – in fact, is already given. His name is Jesus and it’s in the reality of his resurrection we live. If we really believe that God can raise the dead, he can redeem anything. From the smallest infraction to the ugliest violation, to the shattered, the turned-inside-out.

What you meant for evil, God used for good. Those were the words of a brother whose siblings had faked his death and sold him as chattel and still he believed there was a God who could save. And the end of his story is one of a family restored and an entire people rescued: hurts not just patched up but made beautiful and useful somehow. A world artfully orchestrated by a sovereign God to cover over our fatal choices. The mystery of grace. The gift of hope.

When I looked out the window again it was 5:15. For the first time at that time, unlike the endless string of five-fifteens before it, there was a little hint of light. Enough to show the shadows, but also just enough to glimpse the slope of the slide on our swingset, the patch of earth under the snow. They often come together, the shadow and the light, but it’s the light that’s dynamic, that’s truly in charge. And in this slow dawn is the promise of a future, that spring will come again. And every time how this spring surprises us, how lovely, this gift of hope and grace.

 

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