A January Affair

A January Affair

On January second, I’m fidgety and half-panicked; we had friends over for New Year’s Day dinner, and my house is still fully decorated.

It’s time for January’s long, cold, beautiful blank slate —
but I haven’t had time to erase December.

I carry box after box from the basement storage room, still in PJs and nursing coffee. There’s no time to waste.

I cradle cheap glass bulbs and German handblown ornaments alike in yellowed newspaper, soft as oilcloth, worn over years and years of use. I place nativity figures in their original styrofoam depressions and sandwich the two large pieces together; slide them into the box, shearing off bits of white foam.

I stuff unwieldy garlands into large plastic bins and tuck poinsettia linens and candy-striped tapers in amongst them. I bag up the huge pinecones from my sister’s old farm. {How I wish I had a few bowls more of those beauties now, but she’s long since moved.} I package knick-knicks and linens and glassware and more, until all that’s left are bare tables spread with dust and pine-needled floors.

Two days later, I have fully reclaimed my house. It looks larger, uncluttered, fresh. With the kids at school and the husband at work, the silence is so thick and luscious, I could scrape it up and spoon it on toast like jam.

I light candles. Put on classical. Smile.

You see, January is my month — my birth month and my respite month. Though bitterly cold and draped in ice, though filled with days short and dim, January provides a precious and necessary gift:
She provides us with fallow time.

A fallow field is one a farmer plows, yet purposely leaves uncultivated for one or more seasons so the land can become fertile once again. It’s a practice leading back to ancient times, a necessary rite in order to prevent the soil from becoming depleted of nutrients.

Consider January a season-ordained Sabbath:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens …

What if, this January, we allowed ourselves to tuck the furrowed ground of our distracted minds and burdened hearts under a blanket of soft, white snow?

What if we took time to replenish our ravaged reserves by the simple practice of rest?
What if we took time to savor stillness and be quiet?

Of course, we must still go to work. We must still cook meals and fold laundry and go forth into the world.

But, when we do have a patch of time, it seems only right, only fitting, to curl into the sofa with a hot cup of tea and a novel for an hour {or three} on a blustery January day.

It seems only reasonable to become overly attached to fleece throws and nubby sweaters.

It seems perfectly acceptable to spend an entire weekend by the fire, with a hearty stew simmering away, and a stack of board games to play.

In Denmark, they call this practice “hygge.” Danes are experts, weathering long, cold winters with exceptionally short, dark days, and, yet, somehow, they are known as some of the happiest people on the planet.

No doubt they’ve learned to savor what’s warm and cozy and bright and lovely in a harsh season, knowing that it is precisely winter’s bitterness that makes these soothing rituals so meaningful.

NPR writer Claire O’Neill explains hygge, tongue-in-cheek: “From what I gather, it means something like ‘fireplace warmth with candles and family and friends and food, tucked under blankets on a snowy day, cup-of-coffee conversation, scarf-snuggle, squiggly, warm baby love.’ Or something like that.”

But, in all seriousness, hygge is about lit fires and glowing candles, fragrant comfort foods and hot drinks, time spent with loved ones, cuddling in cozy fabrics, and an attitude of gratitude and joy in the simple things.

This January {and winter} more than ever, I’m giving myself permission to be intentional about slowing down and savoring. I might choose an afternoon with a novel over running errands. You may find me snuggling with my springer spaniel and having a second cup of tea instead of starting dinner. And, it is entirely possible I may be binge-watching a BBC Masterpiece series of some kind instead of scouring my countertops —

it might look like rest {and it is} but it’s much more too.

It’s honoring the process of fallow time.

When Spring Doesn’t Show

When Spring Doesn’t Show

As I sit here writing, on the second day of Spring, I’m cupping a large warm cup of coffee and wearing black and gray — leggings, tall suede boots, two tanks and a sweater. I don’t feel overdressed.

While the calendar may tell me it’s Spring as of yesterday, the thermometer marked 18.9 degrees this morning as I got the kids ready for school {see Instagram feed}. I woke to yet another covering of snow. Two days ago, the rain froze and pinged against our windows as it fell and caused a two-hour school delay. My 8-year-old daughter literally burst into tears Tuesday night when she saw the cold forecast for the first day of Spring.

How can it be so cold on the first day of Spring?

I try to explain that Spring is really just a date to mark, a date from which the weather should start to gradually warm. It’s certainly no guarantee.

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Last night, I couldn’t get warm. True, our indoor thermometer showed 62 degrees in the master bath as I readied for bed … not exactly a toasty temperature, but pretty typical for our house. But, instead of dealing with it, as I have all winter, my body decided it was done. No more sucking it up and shivering; I wanted to be warm, bonafide, cozy warm. So, I pulled on long PJ pants, a tank, and a long-sleeved top. I layered a hoodie on top of that and zipped it all the way up. I climbed into bed and pulled the thick comforter up to my nose. Still cold. I got out of bed and put slipper socks over my regular socks. Still cold. I put the hoodie up over my head. Still cold. I closed the bedroom door and cranked the space heater up to high. Still cold.

So, I thought of God, and how comforting it is when I connect to Him as a loving Father {rather than viewing Him as a distant almighty or judgmental God}. I asked Him to hold me in his arms, and I finally stopped shivering and fell asleep.

***

This Winter in most of the East has been cold and long, from a purely meteorological standpoint. From a spiritual one, it’s been a heady combo of bleak and joyful for our family.  The pure joy I’ve had in blogging, following my God-sized Dreams here and here, and making meaningful connections through Holley Gerth’s God-sized Dream Team {the book launch team for her newly released book, You’re Made for a God-Sized Dream} have sustained me with a smile on my face many days.

Yet, some days, fear and misgiving come roaring in, threatening to overcome, often spurred by illness, bone-chilling cold, and exhausting days caring for three kids {oftentimes with a husband who’s out of town or totally snowed under by work responsibilities}. We are also walking through the unknown with our second child, who was diagnosed this fall with an autoimmune disease {which I write about here}. We’ve been blessed to see remission of most of her symptoms, but we’ve also experienced some of the not-so-pleasant side effects of daily medication. We’ve gotten all too familiar with the inside of Children’s Hospital, where we go for a monthly overnight, so our daughter can receive IV treatments.

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We can’t know the future, which with autoimmune disease, can go one of three ways: 1. Total remission 2. Remission with flare-ups 3. Chronic with continual medication needed. We are learning to walk with that uncertainty, in prayer and trust — and, often, honestly, just relegating it to the back of our minds for now.

That’s our Winter. It’s slowed us down. It’s made us seek the warmth and comfort of our Father’s arms.

It’s made us doubly appreciate the small things, like the sunshine {when it decides to show}, the sound of our daughter’s laughter more often than her tears {now that she feels so much better}, and the time we spend with family and friends.

We’ve found the joy that floods in when we count our blessings, rather than enumerate our wounds. <—Tweet This!  We’re learning to praise our God, Winter and Summer alike.

 Where’s your heart today? Winter or Spring?

The day is yours, and yours also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
 It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.

Psalm 74: 16-17