I sat motionless on the floor. A pale light filled the room and, for a moment, kept the shadows at bay. I faced the lone window and stared above the evergreen treetops. Light snow flecked against their dark silhouettes. I shoved open the old window and listened. I heard the hollow sound of wind passing through the evergreen groves and barren oaks standing in the valley just behind the house. The green giants moaned, then creaked. Then all was calm. The winter air began to fill the room, but I didn’t care.
I kept listening for more sounds; I kept staring at the fading winter day. The pale light turned gray and finally gave in to the shadows pushing it across the floor. Winter’s night had come.
I could hear post-Christmas bustle and banter downstairs. Life moved and chattered among my Johnstown family, my wife’s mother and father and aunts and uncles and cousins laughed and ate, while the dead time of snow and cold quietly put the world to sleep outside.
I was caught between two worlds—the living voices below and the dead voices outside. And in my in-between world of observation and silence, tears welled as I wrote frantically in my journal.
I wrote of my love for my new family. I wrote of my love for my own family enduring the Christmas cold in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on this night of nights.
In those quiet moments we so easily break and our souls reach to climb inside those we love. I wrote and wept for love.
It extends farther than you think, the reach of your love, the reach of your life. It reaches high. It is taller than trees. It has been planted and cared for and we have grown so close for so long I forget when we were ever apart. I feel as though our souls were waiting for life together in some cosmic paradise, a waiting room for the souls of the world, the threshold of eternity.
How the everlasting stretches out in my mind. What a wonderful paradox: eternity placed in us by the Maker yet lost in the depths of our spirits. Perhaps we strive for the love that comes out of eternity, the everlasting knowing from one end of the stars to the other.
We search for ways to express it and hold on to the thoughts of love like the barren trees of winter—these barren trees in front of me, standing next to the green giants—cling to the passing wind.
They reach to cling but do not grasp. But in the reaching a mystery is created. And when on a night like tonight, we see the trees and hear them in the valley, that mystery climbs up our spines and pulls us close. We run to capture it—as I do now—on paper or canvas or something, or some way we cannot explain, in a song perhaps.
Oh, the mystery of wind passing through barren trees!
Oh, the mystery of this eternal love I so desperately reach to hold. Our lives fill with moments of perpetual grasping of this love.
But the limbs of the trees capture something, don’t they? They capture the sway produced by the wintry gales; they seize the whistling in the upper branches. Their grand gestures in the waning half light whisper, “Though death is all around and snow blankets the mountains, life still comes. It moves in and through us.”
The barren trees and evergreen grove stand at attention, waiting out this nothing time of winter for the grand reawakening of spring. And this is what captures us—what stirs our hearts with wonder. Their quiet song of creaks and moans and whistles beckons to the anticipation of the great push.
So it is with my love for my family and friends. So many times sitting in a room not saying a word causes a deep peace and a longing for more of the same. That is what love is, being in the same room with someone and not needing to say a word—the Spirit wind moving among us, causing our souls to moan in quiet undulating prayer.
Silence is the whisper language of love, and I am whispering to you all—you the reader, you my family, you my friends—at this time.
In the quiet stillness of winter, in this room dimming with the sun I am speaking to you in whispers of silence. I am connecting with your spirits through a cosmic portal, whispering like the trees in the wind, like the sway in the upper branches. How I reach for you all, like these trees reach. Our love is taller than trees.
Give me each season in all its dynamic fury.
Give me the shadow flag of winter.
Give me the faerie sunshine of spring.
Give me the dancing rainbows of summer.
Give me the turbulence of autumn.
In it all the cycle of life reveals itself to us. In spring the seeds go into the ground, the rains water, and the sun warms. Then we harvest the seeds that have grown from the cold dark soil into the gourds and corn of autumn. Finally, the death-like season of winter covers the living in its quilt of quiet.
The magic of birth, of a child entering a hardened world, and of the ensuing growth into adolescence and then adulthood dazzle me.
There is also the magic of beauty coming forth from age. Like the mature trees in the valley, human aging brings quiet confidence. Storytelling comes forth from my mother’s eyes. It is deep in my father’s eyes as well. It is a story of struggle, toil, and hurt, of love, joy, and celebration. The echoes of prayers ring through their lives like sleigh bells on a winter’s night, ushering in contentment, granting peace.
We push through the seasons of life like the crocus, out of dirt, into glory, into death. All the while we collect the sunlight of life in the form of experience and knowledge. The longer we live, the more we understand, the more we do, the more we hurt. Each crocus brings its own unique glory. Each dainty plant adds its beauty to the whole of the landscape until we gasp, half choking on the magnificence. Without individual crocuses the beauty in the landscape stands incomplete.
And so it is with you and me.
The Maker purposed the world with you in mind. I stand incomplete without you. Your beauty adds much to my pushing, dirty life. Like when you struggled in the autumn storm, nearly dying from the flood. You yearned for the quiet of winter, and now I clamor to escape this winter—the nothing and solemnity. Your struggle and bruises encourage me as I cycle through the seasons of life.
Life carries on like the seasons.
We grow and endure. We flourish and suffer. We increase and fall away. We harvest and germinate. But what is the point?
To love and be loved.
The dynamic of suffering and victory throws us into the grand story arc of God. We love in order to see his face. We suffer in order to be his face to loved ones.
But the seasons show us the strength of this love. This love determines the work of a thing. It tills the soil and sloshes through the rain. It prepares the fields and wakes early to tend and cultivate.
It rejoices in growth but does not lose sight of the harvest. It cares for the land surrounding the crop. It readies the reservoir in case of drought. It rests.
It suffers the length of the dark autumn mornings in harvest. It does not rest until the barns burgeon. It looks to future need. It stares at winter and does not flinch. Love never fails.
Where are you in the fury? Wasting away in your solitary winter? Scrambling through a summer drought? How far does your love extend to those closest to you?
In this life you and I will suffer. But we will also experience the joy of harvest. Like the seasons, life changes. But our seasons require us to look outward. If we fail in this, we will wither. Kept to ourselves, the seasons become nothing more than the constant outward wasting away of life.
But the cycle continues. Always a new seed finds its way into the ground. Always there stands another who needs to know how to navigate the waiting of summer, the cutting of autumn, and the death of winter. Our experiences are the water to comfort others.
Paul reminds his readers that God comforts us so that we can be a comfort to others. The dynamic of our lives directly affects and possesses the power to encourage someone else. This is why we can’t allow life to force us into ourselves. God’s comfort overflows into our lives; our comfort should overflow into others’ lives. What joy to share in sufferings and comfort!
When I shut the window, the warmth of the house returned. I shook off the cold and continued to write. I could taste the quiet and the lingering love within it.
From down below the Christmas conversation ebbed on with exclamation points of laughter—the smell of coffee etching the memory into permanence. When I closed my eyes I saw my family, three hours to the east, lost in laughter and coffee and cherry surprise.
It was winter, and all of us huddled close to our roots. We fed our depths with one another as the snow fell, as the wind blew, as winter carried on.
Our love reaches taller than trees, but it begins in the roots. It continues in the shared experiences and the fury of life. It galvanizes in the endurance needed to make it just one more day. It is our shining veil, like the sunlight on March soil.
How I need you all to make it through.
In our hearts we all feel the sentence of death. But who accuses? Not the Comforter, not me.
I am reaching for you even through the opacity of words written on paper. I am reaching for you like these barren trees reach for the wind. And what I grasp is not the wind itself but the sound and the fury.
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.